Friday, 30 January 2009


In the latter half I decided to join the 2008 Young InScribe programme run by Peepal Tree Press. It's for those under 25 who want to polish off their writing skills. And let me tell you, it's been worth it.

You see, up until 18 months ago, I never really bothered with workshops. Which is stupid. I used to run many a workshop myself at Sixth Form College, where I was leader of the Creative Writing Group. My writing was probably stronger then than it was whilst at uni. The problem I had, as I see it, was that I lost touch with that network of young writers I'd been part of and fell into bad habits. As many inexperienced writers do, I became self-indulgent. True, some of the stuff I wrote was inexplicably brilliant, but there were so many false starts, passive tracts, political treatises and obscure references cluttering my main project at the time (my novel In the Garden of Gethsemane), that it became an unwieldy behemoth. Those who love it think it was genius; those who think it a terrible mess (the majority) think it needs some of the better ideas extracting and the rest tossing out. I think I have to agree.

But when I finished my BA, I left that academic setting. Writing was no longer about completing exercises in postmodernism, experimentalism, surrealism and whatever other theoretical framework took my fancy that week--it was about writing something powerful enough to engage and thrill and transform. And that meant it had to be accessible--at least, moreso than it was. So I signed up for an MA in Creative Writing (the University of Leeds' excellent MA Writing for Performance & Publication), which enabled me to get back on track. I ditched my non-writing related jobs and focussed solely on fiction and journalism.

It worked. My prose is much better now than it ever was, and my non-fiction is now clearer as well as a result. The course also taught me much about scriptwriting, which I'd never really considered before. One of my most rewarding experiences was writing the pilot for a sitcom called Tales from Wonderland with old college friend Helen Lyttle. A couple of my scripts were even performed.

But there was one thing I'd missed: poetry. I used to write heaps of the stuff when I was younger. It was Grace Nichols' The Fat Black Woman's Poems that got me really into poetry. I loved her simple turn of phrase, with her elegant use of rhythm and meter. It was deceptive, because it seemed so easy and yet seemed so lyrical at the same time. And from 16-18, I wrote hundreds of poems (some of which are available here). But whilst focussing on my novel, which I thought would be the next Ulysses, I forgot all about poetry.

The InScribe sessions (which run from November through to the summer of 2009), have made me rethink my attitudes to poetry (I usually hate it), and I've begun writing again. Now I think I have enough for a short collection. At the moment it breaks down into a few sequences, such as The Fagmouth Papers and Third World War, but it fits together neatly as a collection that typifies my own experiences and viewpoint. Hopefully I can get some more poetry publications (my last was in The Leeds Guide some years ago) and then move onto a collection. I've been chatting to some of the staff at Peepal Tree Press, who've offered to help find the right publisher.

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