Self-publishing News: Indie Writers Are Doing It for Themselves!

My latest guest post for The Huffington Post on the latest trends in self-published writing.

It comes just as my own  As I Walked Out Through Spain in Search of Laurie Lee    self-published book has become a top 20 Amazon chart hit

Just in time for all those setting off to Spain for the Easter Holidays !

What Makes a Writer – Nature or Nurture?

My latest blog is a guest blog for ALLI- The Association of Independent Authors and describes my journey as an indie writer.

Thanks to Chris Tuff Photography for the stunning photo

Malcolm Bradbury-Norwich’s History Man

photo 1(2)

Norwich is in the news at the moment due to the launch of the latest Alan Partridge film, Alpha Papa set there. For him a sad city so easy to parody. And yet for me, the city and its literary heritage has come to define my attempt to create a Second Chance in Life, the theme of this blog over the last two years or so.

I was entirely unaware of my Norwich links until recently.

As for making headlines recently Norwich was also nominated by Unesco as England’s first City of Literature.

It was only when I was asked to write about Malcolm Bradbury, as part of a project to celebrate this nomination, that I came to appreciate the role of the city in my life. Bradbury was one of the founding fathers, in the 1970s, of the iconic Creative Writing Department at the University of East Anglia on the edges of the city. The university department has been in the vanguard ever since of Norwich’s growing status as a crucible of emerging literary talent.

The commission to write the article was linked to a project to commemorate 26 writers with Norwich connections, from 1094 to the present day, by asking contemporary writers to write about them and the Norwich of the time that inspired them.. A new website 26 for Norwich launched this week, presents the 26 pieces along with the creation stories of how and why the stories were framed and written. My piece is entitled “Say Hello to my Giacometti.”

I am a writer drawn to writing about my literary heroes. Currently I am writing about Laurie Lee and how his life was shaped by a few years in the 1930s by the Spanish Civil War. My book, As I Walked Out through Spain in Search of Laurie Lee (seeking a publisher for the run up to Lee’s Centenary year that starts in June 2014), tells the story of how, last year, I retraced Lee’s journey, much of it on foot, across Spain on the eve of the Civil War in 1935. At a time of personal crisis, I was looking for inspiration from Lee and from Spain to try and make sense of my first life which seemed to have become stuck.

I discovered a lot about Lee and about myself. I came to realise that Lee,a heroic figure and constant companian in my adolescence and throughout my life, although on the surface, a successful and fulfilled writer and man, was actually a somewhat tortured and secretive individual. And yet for me, I discovered a new empathy with my erstwhile literary hero, I discovered that failure is a most universal of human conditions and to experience it and be challenged by it, does not always mean the end of the journey.

When I set out to research Bradbury I came upon a number of links that have shaped my own journey towards being a writer:

Susannah Marriott, my non-fiction writing tutor for my book which I started on the MA Professional Writing at the University of Falmouth, started her own journey towards becoming a successful writer and editor by studying at UEA. She taught me to be bold and audacious in style and voice.She also gave me my title for my Malcolm Bradbury article “Say Hello to my Giacometti.

Richard Holmes, Director of the UEA Lifewriting MA from 2001- 2006 and successful author and biographer, provided the inspiration for my book on Laurie Lee through his innovative book Footsteps: Adventures of a Romantic Biographer. He showed me how immersing yourself in the sense of a place can connect you with people who have been there before and find, in Chatwin’s words “a trail of words and musical notes along the line of the footprints.”

Kathryn Hughes, Professor of Lifewriting UEA , chaired an academic conference on the future of Biography, Turning Points, at UEA in February 2013. The conference inspired my MA Paper on Biographical Writing Trends which was accepted for a possible post conference publication.Hughes introduced me to the Turning Points of Biography, “the event, the collective and the return of the life in parts.” To capture the essence of a biography you have to freeze the crystallising moments of a life and start from there. For me the start and end of Lee’s life turning points was his first step on to Spanish soil in Vigo off the boat from Tilbury in 1935 and the moment in which, as an enlisted International Brigade soldier he killed his one and only Fascist in the Spanish Civil War or did he?

Kashuo Ishiguru who studied for an MA at UEA in 1980 wrote a novel The Remains of the Day that struck a chord with me when I was researching the life of Laurie Lee. The book chronicled the unravelling of a man’s life underneath the novel’s perfectly still surface. A portrait of a wasted life, with 1930s Britain and the movement for appeasement always in the background. A man suddenly sees with clarity the wastelands of “the remains of his days.” He has let his life slip by, a life wrecked not by tragic flaws but by adherence to ideals. “Ideals” Ishiguru shows us,“can corrupt as thoroughly as cynicism.” Ishiguru underlined for me the complacency of my first life and pointed me towards the need to live a second life, before entering “the remains of my days.” Sadly, as I show in my book, Lee also seemed entrapped in a stultifying nostalgia for the England and Spain of his youth, his first and only active life stalling at the age of 23. He saw out his days through a haze of alchohol and drew his last breaths choking on the bitter taste of disappointment and unfulfilled potential.

All roads lead back to Bradbury and his History Man, Professor Kirk, who leaps off Bradbury’s pen like Bram Stoker’s draculan big black dog, stalking and prowling the pages, turning them and people over. The anti-hero Kirk epitomized the amoral tone of the 1970s, the decade when I went to a Polytechnic to study Spanish Literature in an old Lorry Depot in Portsmouth and where I took my first steps in my first life towards becoming a writer in my second life. In my second life I was drawn to the sea to study for an MA (Distinction) Professional Writing at the University of Falmouth and started my book on Laurie Lee.

For Bradbury, the last word falls to him:

He wrote once that ” A landscape comes to life through what has been written in it; writers come to life when we follow in their steps.”

Why do all goalkeepers cheat at penalties?

“All that I know most surely about morality and obligations, I owe to football.”- Albert Camus.

Ok, the gloves are off!

I have been writing this blog for six months and I have avoided the subject of football throughout this time (more or less) and I have not ranted. I am about to do both so look away now if you might be distressed by this.

Incidentally, I can be calm and rational, I really can. How do I know? Because The Guardian says so today in the paper and online.  

I am writing this wearing my favourite Philosophy Football T-Shirt bearing the above quote from Albert Camus. He was a half decent French/African writer but crucially also played football as a goalkeeper for Algeria.

Yes, so this is a blog about having a second chance in life as a writer so what’s that got to do with football I hear you say. Well I would put forward in my defence, Nick Hornby, John Crace, Emily Barr (come back to her), Colin Shindler (for Jim and Rhianna).

So back to Emily. She is a successful writer who used to write a column for Guardian Sport.She spoke as an MA Guest Speaker at University College Falmouth recently and admitted that the column about a young women living with a football obsessed partner was fictitious. It got me thinking though and I realised that I could well have been that person.

Who else would be so preoccupied with the fact that goalies cheat every week with millions watching on Match Of The Day, Sky Sports( and the odd few on ITV) and NOBODY notices except for me… and that’s the problem, I feel more and more that it’s just me. It’s affecting me, my writing, it’s a conspiracy. I need to get it sorted!

To get technical for a moment- and no I am not going to touch on the current offside law(but I could do because it is an abomination)-if a side is awarded a penalty, the goalkeeper must stay on their line until the penalty is kicked. But they don’t, every week they jump forward a split second before the kick, narrow the angle, and more and more kicks are saved illegally.

Gary and the boys scratch their heads about why more and more penalty kicks are missed BUT they know, all the players, referees, linesmen, commentators know but nobody says anything. Now, Albert Camus knew all about conspiracies and feeling like an outsider and he played football for Algeria as a goalkeeper. He would sort it out, but he can’t, he’s dead. So I have to!

I have had letters published on this issue by the Guardian and the Observer ( though David James wouldn’t discuss the issue!), I have tweeted on the subject with @thesecretfootballer, who admitted the whole thing.But the cover up goes on. The popular You Are the Ref strip discusses ball-to-groin outrage,huge punts and metal toecaps but it doesn’t go near the penalty scandal. Why? Someone put me out of my misery please?

Ok, so does this one obsession make me a total football nerd, perhaps not, but I have previous. Consider the following:

  • Supporting a team for 50 years whose last major success came in 1963 when he was eight..
  • Forcing a non- football loving girlfriend to listen to the crackly BBC World Service and keep a written detailed record, minute by minute, of the first half of the 1981 cup final.I arrived home in time for the second half. She left me a year later
  • Buying his six year old daughter a Goal Net for her birthday and made her stand in it for hours on end in the wind and rain while he scored goal after goal.
  • Purchasing a ticket for a Spurs game in Madrid knowing that it coincided with a holiday break in Edinburgh with his mother and wife. Despite having the full backing of a certain Alistair Campbell to go to the game (Long story but I was his chauffeur on a charity gig that he did and we spent all day talking football-he’s a Burnley nut- and discussed amongst other things Tony Blair’s alleged sighting of Jacky Milburn playing  for Newcastle. “Seize the moment” he said but I bottled it. We lost 4-0 and my wife divorced me 6 months later anyway. Alistair, by the way, was amazing on the day and is a brilliant ambassador for Mind.
  •  Considering a tattoo having noticed It seems to be the fashion amongst his younger writing student colleagues. Ankles, shoulders and just above the groin seem to be the preferred locations of choice.  A Tottenham Hotspur Cockerel would be the only possible design choice! Could be another ball-to-groin-outrage!

So, football nerd or not, I will leave that to others to decide, I will conclude this rant by making a simple request.

Watch football today, live,  or on the telly ( listening on the radio or following online is no good) and decide for yourself how many goalies cheat on St Patrick’s Day 2012 and tweet me about it on @hotspurman.

Should a referee, two linesmen, a fourth official( plus two more in European games) spot this cheating if you and I can with our naked eye? I think so but will Gary, Alan, Lee, Mark, Alan or Adrian, Gareth, Andy refer to it. I don’t think so, they will be too busy looking at borderline offsides or shirt pulling.

Perhaps their editors should ask them?

Good, glad I got that off my chest. Now, what’s the team news for today’s big match.

Incidentally, I can be calm and rational, I really can. How do I know? Because The Guardian says so today in the paper and online.  

PS  Happy 25th Birthday to that six year old daughter for yesterday! She has escaped to Milan, sadly not to see a football match.

Love comes in all shapes and sizes (and typefaces)

I was brought up in a god fearing, Sunday Express reading, London suburb home. At the age of 18 I escaped to the flesh pots of Portsmouth to study and fell head over heels with an alluring Daily Mail. It was a heady affair but all too soon I was seduced by The Times, with a cut price deal for students, and I proceeded to flirt madly with the aristocratic lady of Fleet Street.

As I write this on Valentine Day 2012, my first for nearly 20 years as a single man(well, almost, the decree absolute will be dropping on my mat any day soon), my thoughts drift towards my one rock solid love affair with my one true soul mate, The Guardian. We met, funnily enough, in Spain. I was homesick for news of home as I spent a year in romantic Moorish Granada. A student of life and not much else, I imbibed the local culture, in the main, through my bloodstream. The international edition of The Guardian proved to be no holiday romance and the paper and I are still together.

Last Thursday was, however, a landmark in the relationship. For the first time I met a real life ex Guardian journalist, Emily Barr. Emily, now a best- selling fiction writer, came to speak about her professional life to a group of MA Professional Writing students at University College Falmouth. I am one of those students, having a second chance in life, training to be a writer.

I first became aware of Emily, as The Other Half, the writer of a 90s Guardian Sports Column about the travails of living with a football obsessed partner. I felt like I was that man (the other big love affair of my life being Tottenham Hotspur). Sadly, Emily confessed last week, that the column was entirely made up, that she knew little of football and male colleagues had helped her out with the offside law.It was her first entry into the world of fiction and the inspiration for her future career as a fiction writer.

I recently read a book that further cemented my affinity with The Guardian. John Crace, the author of the Digested Read G2 column in the Guardian, recently releasedVertigo. This is an account of his family life as seen through the prism of an enduring, mainly unrequited, love affair with his mistress, Tottenham Hotspur. John and I share many similarities (talented and successful writer and journalist not being one.) Apart from football and Spurs, we are of a similar age, we have both suffered from depression at times and both have spouses and a daughter who refuse to embrace the one passionate and constant element of our fragile lives. This latter point possibly explaining, in my case, the waiting for that solicitor’s letter to drop through the letter box

Perhaps it was John who Emily consulted about the offside law, the reality of life as a football fan and its impact on the other half?  

PS For those who also share a passion for the Guardian see The Guardian Open Weekend on 24/25 March 2012 for an opportunity for a weekend away with Polly, Charlie, Simon, Marina and Alan and others. Unfortunately I am otherwise engaged with a visit to the Sunday Times Oxford Literary Festival, at which John Crace is appearing (at the same time as I have to be at another reading….)

Emily, meanwhile, is appearing at Chiplitfest 20-22 April, despite the name, an apparently very respectable literary festival in Chipping Norton in the Cotswolds. She is bringing her characters to life at a workshop on Saturday 21 April. Catch her if you can.


Getting it Right First Time Round

Swimming Home is the title of Deborah Levy’s latest well reviewed novel, her first for 15 years. She was speaking about the novel at an event, hosted by University College Falmouth Department of Writing, last Thursday 25th November 2011.   

For me one really interesting story emerged from the Q and A session that followed the reading of an extract from the novel. This told of a serendipitous encounter that radically changed the course of her life as a writer.Levy had been asked what had been the most critical step in her finding her true voice as an author and becoming the writer that she is.

  This is what she told us: during a gap year before she was due to go to a traditional English university to study mainstream English Literature , she had been working at a small art house cinema in Notting Hill, London. One week it was showing films by the illustrious director,Derek Jarman.Jarman had asked Levy what she was planning to study and Levy had shared her plans.  He took her under her wing for the day, a remarkably kind act by the distinguished director and took her to an art exhibition by Joseph Beuys     a performance and installation artist.

The exhibition switched a light on in Levy’s head and she, as a result, decided to change course and study Performance Writing.  She ended up studying at Dartington College of Art , now incorporated into University College Falmouth  and the rest, as they say, is history.   

So: what’s this story doing in a blog devoted to grasping Second Chances in Life?

Simply, I guess,  that it illustrates that getting it right in the first place can save an awful lot of time  further down the line.

 We are not all as lucky perhaps as Levy, which is where” Second Chances in Life” come in.