15 December 2011

The power of speech

I'm making a concerted effort at the moment to write more stories and read at more places. Last week, I performed (yep, that's the pic) three pieces of flash at Say Something, a fairly new kid on the Manchester lit block and on its third (I think) trip out, this time at The Castle (the first two were at the Lass O'Gowrie). It's run by poet Zach Roddis, who I know from the Bad Language monthly spoken word nights, and it is tipped in favour of poetry - only myself, my FlashMob colleague Fat Roland and Bad Language's Dan Carpenter read prose. Still, it was a good event and well done to Zach for getting a regular slot at The Castle on Oldham Street. Follow him on Twitter (@zach2504) to find out when the next one is happening.

Also now going steady at The Castle is Mark Powell's Tales Of Whatever, a spoken word night with a difference: basically recounting a true story live and without notes (a bit like The Moth on the other side of the pond). Six story-tellers (including open mic, if you get inspired on the night) get around ten minutes each, and all three ToWs so far (September, November and last night) have been entertaining, interesting, informative and even emotional. They're the second Wednesday of every month and the next one is Wednesday 11 January; all the upcoming dates and details, and even some recordings, can be found on the ToW website.

01 December 2011

Another headline herey*

Last night, the Bad Language crew celebrated a year of spoken word shindigs at The Castle hotel in Manchester's Northern Quarter. The back room was really packed, and it was great to catch up with some lovely people I've met at the night (and at other literature events) over the last year and to meet some new folk too. There was birthday cake and much merriment, and the launch of a new anthology (BL's fourth, if I'm not mistaken) with readings from some of the contributors, including prose types and fellow FlashTag writers Benjamin Judge, Fat Roland and Tom Mason, plus Nija Dalal and Nick Garrard, and poetry types Sian Rathore, Anna Percy and Mercedes Fonseca.

The headline slot was divided into two flash fiction sets: one from National Flash-Fiction Day organiser Calum Kerr; t'other from grandmaster flash himself David Gaffney ...and me! Yep, for one night only, and kept secret til the last minute, I was David's "glamorous assistant". I read four of his new stories while he accompanied me on a Casio keyboard with some specially created tunes, and there was rapturous applause and laughter at our comedy double act, silly dancing and ridiculous amount of swears. And yep, we rolled out the "David and his organ" joke. It would be rude not to, really.

Audioboo here. Lawks.

More write-ups of the soiree, from Nici West and Jo Bell and Guy Garrud.

You can read two of the stories, Eat Less Pastry and Inches From What You Want, on David's website here.

*Another one for the sub-editors amongst you.

25 November 2011

Headline herey*

Last night I read at the University of Bolton's Live Literature night, just little old me and the poet Steven Blyth, who was a very nice man indeed. This was the first time I've read an extended set - about 20 minutes in the first half and another 15 in the second; probably about 10 stories in all.

It was petrifying but really nice to get such a lovely reception: lots of laughing and clapping and people saying how much they enjoyed it. I even had to sign books (!) and do a Q&A, and when I was asked about flash fiction, I had to pretend to be all intellectual, like. Ah, you know me. Mentioned Ernest Hemingway; that seemed to do the trick. That, or the patent red high heels.

Anyway, I got quite a buzz from doing it, despite serious jitters beforehand and some awful shakes during (not the DTs, for once). So if you need me to perform at your spoken word night, wedding or Bar Mitzvah, just let me know.

The Live Literature nights are back in the new year. February is Zoe Lambert and Jon Glover, both of whom were in attendance last night and very supportive. The month after it's Jane Rogers and Gwendoline Riley. Can't ruddy wait. Check out the Bolton Uni website for more.

*That's a subbing joke.

21 November 2011

Points of sale tales

Ah, site-specific story-telling: this year's new black. But it doesn't matter if everyone seems to be at it; the great thing about writing about place is how the tales vary between writers: even one small location can open up so many different interpretations. At last week's Re:Tale, the location was the Jigsaw clothes store in Manchester's slightly odd Triangle shopping centre. Six writers who know each other largely via the monthly Bad Language spoken word night brought a crowd of 30-odd six very different imaginings of life in the retail sector, some of which linked together to form a coherent whole.

Kicking off with my Flashtag colleague Fat Roland and his many props, we were then taken past the wonderful glazed green tiles of the staircase to the circular personal shopping area where Nici West told the tale of deaths on the shopfloor. Nici led us on to Dan Carpenter in the main shop, where he disconcerted us with his store assistant stalker and a Polaroid camera.

Following a break for liquid sustenance, we were treated to the inimitable style of Joe Daly: exiting a changing room, he instantly had people in stitches with his shoplifting stockbroker story. Next up was another Flashtag member, Dave Hartley, till rolls a-go-go; then the event was rounded off by Nick Garrard, with the Triangle's lovely dome roof and glittering festive lights providing the backdrop.

I have to admit, I wasn't quite sure what to expect and was slightly concerned that this kind of thing has been exhausted, but this was a really inspiring, engaging and enjoyable event. And I want all the clothes, if someone could sort that out. Ta.

You can read another review of the event on Cultural Shenanigans, by Laura Maley (pictured above grasping the end of one of L'il Dave's till rolls).

01 November 2011

Books n blogs

So the bulk of Manchester Literature Festival is over, bar a couple of "bookend" events (Anthony Horowitz on Thursday; Jeffrey Eugenides on Sunday), and I'm just doing the last bit of mopping up as this year's digital marketing person. It's been really great, experience and fun wise, and I've been kept massively busy running the Twitter and Facebook accounts, writing e-newsletters and articles for the likes of Manchester Lit List and Creative Times, and editing the official Manchester Literature Festival Blog.

This in particular has been fab and has seen me introducing some new features in the run-up to the Festival to whet people's whistles: a redesign; "Writes & Reads" Q&As with some of the writers taking part during festival fortnight; "My Festival" top five picks with authors from in and around Manchester; a series showcasing the various themes running through the festival, and a number of jointly blogged events, which was also a first. I've also been to loads of events and blogged a few myself. Here are some of the reviews and previews I wrote this year:

Patricia Duncker
Manchester Fiction Prize
MLF VIP launch
Theme #4: Literary Tours
Theme #3: Family Fun
Theme #1: Modern European

22 October 2011

Lit chick, indeed

Wow, what a hectic couple of weeks it's been in literary Manchester. I've been working on the Manchester Literature Festival doing digital marketing and helping/blogging at various events; visiting the Book Barge in Castlefield; writing and distributing stories as part of my new Site Specific Stories project; pitching for an artist in residency slot with an in situ site-specific short story-writing idea; reading on stage at the Manchester Blog Awards; getting slagged off by someone for being part of the so-called "Manchester literati"; going on loads of literature-based and psychogeographical tours of this great city, and generally running about the place trying to down as many glasses of wine as is humanly possible (drinking wine is a prerequisite of being "literary", right?).

I would say it, but the Manchester Literature Festival has been ace, and it's a shame that it comes to its official close tomorrow (though there are a couple of "bookend" events in early November). Highlights for me have been the European Short Stories event, which was great from a linguist's point of view: stories read by the authors in their native languages (Dutch and Norwegian) while the English translation was shown on screen. Despite having not a word of Norwegian, it was really intriguing to see how you can actually follow it in translation. I also really enjoyed Patricia Duncker's specially commissioned short story in the grand surrounds of the Midland Hotel, plus a nice brew and a scone (note to self: start hanging out here). And PD - what a charming and enthusiastic lady, and such a talented way with words! Other short story joy was had at the glittering Manchester Fiction Prize and the Manchester Blog Awards, and there will be more this week at Bad Language, where I'll be performing a new number, and the Bolton Octagon, where David Gaffney will be reading as part of the Live Literature season, which I'm at next month, likely a quivering wreck.

But I've also been getting a bit of a poetry fix, and today swung by the Whitworth, where the Poetry Takeaway van had pulled up (pictured). "The world's first mobile poetry emporium" was great fun - you divulge some secrets to one of the three poets therein (including someone from the well-renowned Bang Said The Gun) and they spend no more than 10 minutes rustling up a piece based on your witterings then perform it for you and provide you with a copy, wrapped in a kind of takeaway packet. My poem, Multi-task, was scribed for me by none other than exuberant "local" lad Dominic Berry, who I know from Bad Language; I can't believe what a genius creation he came up with - complete with the word "ladyparts", which I just knew I shouldn't have told him about, but which fits in well. It's brilliant and he's going to post it up on his blog soon, so watch his space.

19 October 2011

Writing - and reading

My new story, part of my new project I've been Twittering on about, has today been published on 330 Words, which is up for a gong in tonight's glittering Manchester Blog Awards. I will take to the stage and read it, so do pop by. I'll tell you more about the project here soon. In the meantime, feel free to check out the website, Site Specific Stories. You can read the story, Solid Foundations Are Of Paramount Importance here.

10 October 2011

errata 404

I am currently well into the idea of guerilla writing and I'm working it into a pitch I'm putting forward for a project. You know the concept of guerilla gardening, right? A bunch of greenies go round and plant stuff in urban areas that are unloved and uncared for. I remember sunflowers near Blackfriars, opposite the pub where I used to go to for my Friday lunchtime pie and a pint treat with my Scouse art director; Northerners in exile together. The other day, I spotted some tomatoes growing by the multi-storey near the Arndale. So think about guerilla writing as something a bit along those lines: basically leaving short stories or poems in places you wouldn't expect, like library books or magazines in dentists' waiting rooms or phone books in bars or under car windscreen wipers.

So I'm proper liking my mate David Gaffney's new literature project Errata, which is running until January in Cornerhouse Bookshop as part of Micro Commissions.

David - author of flash fiction collections Sawn-off Tales, Aromabingo and The Half-life Of Songs plus novel Never Never, and whose sound installation Boy You Turn Me is on at Birmingham Book Festival until 16 October (see my review on Creative Times here) - gave me the skinny on the project, which explores ideas around truth and authenticity.

Says David: "Errata slips are inserted into magazines and books to correct errors or typographical mistakes, but I'm using the format in a different way – to disseminate lies and tell stories. Each of my slips relates to a page of content in different periodicals in Cornerhouse Bookshop, adding a fictional dimension to the publication, disrupting the reader’s engagement with the text and throwing into doubt the veracity of what they are reading. As the slips are put in only certain magazines, and secretly, you won't know whether you will find one or not."

Hahaha, subversive. And they're funny too; I've been getting my kicks out of proofreading them. Scan the QR code for more or, if you're so last century, click here.

04 October 2011

Arts seen

It's one of those points in the year when, just like buses, all the art shows come along at once. Dark Matters just launched at the Whitworth (with pieces - from Bacon to Whiteread - exploring shadows and illusion, so I'll make it down Oxford Road at some point before 15 January), the same day Ford Madox Brown: Pre-Raphaelite Pioneer opened at Manchester Art Gallery until 29 January.

Much anticipated, this is the first major exhibition of the former Manchester-dweller's work, and it's definitely very comprehensive. I was treated to a tour by curator Julian Treuherz, who pointed out all the themes and styles and gave a potted background history of the paintings and painter. I found Brown's perspective somewhat naive and some of the colours rather on the kitsch side, but it wasn't not interesting and I did like the stained glass, the cartoons and the furniture he designed for William Morris. It's £8 or £6 concessions - head down on Tuesday 18 October, and you'll also get some poems about the show courtesy Jean Sprackland who has been specially commissioned by Manchester Literature Festival. See here for more on that.

On Saturday, Cornerhouse flung wide the doors to the first major public solo UK exhibition by one of the most prominent contemporary artists working in South Asia today, Rashid Rana. Everything Is Happening At Once is part of the Asia Triennial Manchester II festival, which is running concurrently across various venues in and around the city until 27 November.

Back to Rana, though, and I thoroughly recommend you catch this free show over all three of Cornerhouse's galleries (it goes beyond the festival to 18 December). Gallery 1 explores comparisons, and I was taken by the study of time versus space illustrated by The World Is Not Enough and Dis-location I, a pixellated image of a street scene made up by the mosaic of tiny snapshots of life in Lahore. Gallery 2 offers up some more controversial themes, from the blood and gore of the Rothko-like series What Lies Between Flesh And Blood to Veil VI, a collage of miniature jazz mag photos worked together to create a full-size piece and make a statement about the role of women in both Western and non-Western cultures. On the top floor, the montage of shop signs, ads and graffiti of Language Series II is almost Impressionistic in colour and abstractness, but the real treat in Gallery 3 is Desperately Seeking Paradise II (pictured). Approaching this huge, almost architectural, structure, you see yourself reflected in its mirrored surfaces, then as you move round the room it dominates, you can see behind the separate tiles and a whole new view becomes available - again from the small-scale images to the bigger picture: in this case a skyline not unlike a pre-9/11 New York, another political message, one presumes.

03 October 2011

Smut peddling

You can now finger Quickies: Short Stories For Adults, a collection of erotic flash fiction to titilate and tease. The book features 35 very varied stories on the subject of lust and love written by some of the UK’s best writers including David Gaffney, Emma Jane Unsworth, Chris Killen, Valerie O’Riordan, Socrates Adams, Claire Massey and Tania Hershman. Oh, and me. Heh.

You can stroke a hard copy (as modelled here by my Flashtag Writer colleague Lil Dave) for just £5 either by ordering through our website or by whispering sweet nothings to one of the Flashtag Writers, or by swinging by Blackwell's bookshop on Oxford Road.

You can also download the wares pixel by pink pixel - yes yes yes, we have a Kindle! There's a link on our website here or go direct to Amazon here.

30 September 2011

My writing here

It's dress-down Friday, the perfect backdrop for reading my story Dress-down Friday, which has more stationery and workplace action, and which was published this week on The Pygmy Giant. Yay! You can read it here.

Today, my contribution to the Paraxis Library Wall has also gone live, along with a piece from my mum and submissions from various of my friends.

You can see the whole wall here and my contribution here. The editors had to chop off the last bit of my story because of its smutty content (it is a "companion piece" to Susie Loves Words, which appears in the Quickies: Short Stories For Adults anthology we launched this week - details on how to get your mitts on a copy on the blog soon!), so I'm publishing the story in its entirety here...

Microfiche by Sarah-Clare Conlon

You spend half your working day flicking through the dictionary; “the good book”. You edit report after boring report and pretend to look up specialised jargon alternatives in the thesaurus. You are actually poring over rude words, testing your encyclopaedic knowledge of swears against Roget. You usually win; the man has no sense of imagination. You couldn’t if you invented such a complicated cross-referencing system.

The challenge gives you an idea for an art project: one you’re certain you’d get funding for. The arts lot’d love it; they’d put on their special voices and everything. You’d catalogue all your favourite naughty phrases using library coding parameters, store them on microfiche and display the results on a light box in a darkened room that adds to the suggestive atmosphere. Accompanying this would be a series of Venn diagrams: male bits intersecting with female bits; the subset of shared bits including nipples, arses, hard, panting.

21 September 2011

Smut and stuff

OK, so before I start getting complaints again about not updating the old blog, here you go. I've been working tres hard on the Manchester Literature Festival Blog writing posts and quizzing various writers about various things, so why not pop over and read those here.

I've also been busily squirrelling away at keeping my Wednesday promise of publishing bad words on We Hate Words. You can see that here.

Then, I've been writing another ton of short stories to submit to different zines and anthologies and wotnot and stuff and also to read at a number of upcoming spoken word events, starting with the Bad Shoes Festival this Sunday. I'm in the spotlight in the 2-2.30pm FlashTag Mcr slot in BoCho's Electrik.

And apart from all that (and other secret and not-so-secret projects), I've been frantically organising and promoting the FlashTag Smut Night, which takes place a week tonight - Wednesday 28 September, 8pm, Northern Lawn Tennis Club, Palatine Road, Didsbury. We'll be launching our collection of filthy flash fiction, Quickies: Stories For Adults, and hosting a night of dirty readings featuring our good selves and some of the contributors to the book (a book! A real-life book!).

As I say in the press release: “I’ve been gagging to run a literary-based Smut Night for ages and this seemed like the ideal opportunity – I think an evening of tongue-in-cheek saucy and romantic stories in the curtain-twitching suburbs will go down a treat!” Oo-er missus.

It's a free event and on stage will be, among others, Bristol Prize-winner and Whalley Ranger Valerie O'Riordan; Didsbury author Socrates Adams, whose debut novel Everything's Fine launches at Manchester Literature Festival in October; South Manchester-based Chris Killen, author of The Bird Room, described by The Independent as “exciting and perfectly formed”; Didsbury-based Salt New Voices poet Adrian Slatcher, and Claire Massey, whose work appears in The Best British Short Stories 2011 and Nicholas Royle’s Murmurations, which also launches at DAF (Monday 26 September, 8pm, Pizza Express, Lapwing Lane).

Our headline act is David Gaffney, the “grandmaster of flash fiction” (Bookmunch) and “one of the foremost writers in the short fiction arena” (The Short Review), and author of three critically acclaimed flash fiction collections, Sawn-off Tales, Aromabingo (which he's just lent me) and The Half-life Of Songs, plus the novel Never Never. At Smut Night, he will be reading the story he has written especially for Quickies along with some of his other work. You should so come...

18 September 2011

Preparation and procrastination

Preparation so far for the Mills & Boon writing challenge has involved: 1) thinking a lot more than I'd expected; 2) putting on a giant sparkly ring to help me channel my inner Barbara Cartland; 3) reading the first chapters of Stay Through The Night by Anne Mather (Modern Romance), Crazy About The Boss by Teresa Southwick, Break Up To Make Up by Fiona Harper and, by far my favourite title to date, Business Arrangement Bride by Jessica Hart. (The last three are all in the Romance series; pink covers.) I am now going to come up with some character names and write a synopsis.

16 September 2011

Mills & Boon challenge #2

Oh my giddy aunt. Mills & Boon are only looking for new blood for their Romance imprint and are after first chapters by 10 October. Aghhhh! So soon! But I said I'd apply myself to this challenge even before I knew about this particular challenge, so it seems like an opportunity not to be missed. Weekend activities sorted! I'll keep you posted as to progress via the blog and the Twittersphere...

15 September 2011


Ten days remain for you to hotfoot it over to Salford Quays to check out The Lowry's Warhol & The Diva show. I recommend that you do. It's really nicely curated, starting with Polaroids of each of the famous faces Andy Warhol persuaded to sit for him. Next, you move onto those famous huge bright screenprints. There's a fantastic Liza Minnelli, all black spiky fringe and shiny red mouth. There's a wonderful Debbie Harry, again red lipstick a-gogo, hung on an animal-print background which sets the picture off beautifully. There's Liz Taylor, there's Jane Fonda, there's Mick Jagger, and, of course, most famous of all, there's Marilyn Monroe - in fact, there are a few Marilyn Monroes.

The works have been borrowed from The Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, specially selected by curator Kate Farrell. Kate has cleverly juxtaposed the portraits with photographs of Warhol wearing a wig and make-up, himself the diva to Christopher Makos's lens, and with a really interesting video of the artist undergoing his makeover, seemingly very vulnerable and nervous. There's also a corridor-type room displaying copies of Interview magazine, which used Warhol's diva images on the cover, and this provides the context of Pop Art and serves to give the exhibition extra depth.

It's a well-rounded show, and worth the trip to the windswept wastes. And it's free. No excuse.

11 September 2011

Write here write now

Uh-huh, I know what you're thinking: she's neglecting her duties again. Well, in my defence, I've been busy sorting out blogs for other lovely folk, namely, this week, Manchester Literature Festival, Tweed Ride and Cracking Good Food.

I've also been tinkering away at another ton of short stories, and today the 200-word piece about spies, stationery and sex, Names Have Been Changed, was published in issue 6 of the wonderful Spilt Milk Magazine. Tell you what, why don't you have a mosey on over there and read that...

02 September 2011

A moment of fiction #16

Haven't done one of these for a while; been too busy writing and submitting my own stuff. Sorry about that; I'll try and pay more attention to you lovely people.

This is a poetry special: the next two weeks have some great sounding bits and bobs going on all around the rainy city.

Tonight, Dominic Berry's regular shindig Poets Get Smashed is on at An Outlet on Dale Street. It starts at 7.30pm and is £3/2 in. As well as a first-come-first-signed open mic, there will be a guest slot from James Quinn.

Tomorrow, there is the Writers Forum North workshop at Madlab on Edge Street, running 1-3pm. WFW(N) is a get-together for innovative/experimental poets to share and receive feedback on their works-in-progress. You can read more about it here.

On Sunday at 1pm, poet Sarah L Dixon heads up First Sundays, a monthly writing workshop in Chorlton Library, for a mere £2.

Monday sees Anna Percy's Stirred night at Sandbar on Grosvenor Street (£2/1). Kicking off at 7pm, it includes readings of work by current and forgotten female writers, open mic (men allowed if they read a female poet’s poem) and guest readers.

On Thursday from 5.30pm the 200th issue of Michael Schmidt (of Carcanet Press)'s poetry magazine PN Review is being celebrated at the International Anthony Burgess Centre on Cambridge Street. There will be a talk by Patrick McGuinness, PN Review contributor and Booker-prize longlisted author, a discussion about poetry magazine publishing, and readings by Tara Bergin and Jeffrey Wainwright. More here.

Also on Thursday, at 7.30pm, The Castle on Oldham Street plays host to Lend Me Your Ears, a monthly night with performances by poets, authors, singer-songwriters, bands and film-makers.

A week tomorrow, on Saturday 10 starting at noon, it's Second Saturdays, the regular writing (poems, prose, scripts, songs, blogs) workshop from paperplanes led by poet and Commonword trustee Steve Waling and Comma fiction writer Anthony Sides. £14/9; Trof on Landcross Road in Fallowfield.

On Monday 12, at 6pm, Knives Forks and Spoons Press poets Simon Rennie and Steph Pike will be reading at the Becker Room in the City Library on Deansgate. Free.

On Friday 16 at 7.50pm in Chorlton Library is Copland Smith's monthly Manky Poets event (£2/1), with open mic and guest Joan Poulson.

There's loads more listings for the rest of the month and beyond on this great MMU site.

01 September 2011

Wordy Wednesdays

Last week I tripped the light fantastic over to The Other Room at the Old Abbey Inn (impossible to find, but really nice once you do locate it). This was my inaugural visit to the free experimental poetry event, and I shall definitely be gracing it with my presence again in future. Organised by Tom Jenks (of Station Stories), James Davies and Scott Thurston, this wasn't quite as hardcore experimental as I'd been slightly dreading, though Rachel Lois Clapham's set was a teeny bit bonkers. Rachel's film and showcard presentation was preceded by David Berridge with some very long sentences and a whole lot of page-turning. He was preceded by Philip Terry, with some modern-day Shakespeare-style sonnets that raised more than a few titters. (Like him, BTW: he's into Oulipo and Raymond Queneau. Squee!) The next installation of The Other Room is (irregularly) on Monday 26 September, 7pm, at the International Anthony Burgess Foundation on Cambridge Street. (Nice bit of Pierrot Le Fou action on the flyer for last time too.)

Last night it was the monthly Bad Language knees-up. In September (oh looky, we're here already), they're taking a break to come to the FlashTagMcr Smut Night launch of the Quickies anthology at Didsbury Arts Festival, but they're back at The Castle in October to celebrate their first birthday with a fourth anthology (submissions open now; theme: bad language. With my potty mouth I'm feckin sorted). Anyway, last night many of the usual suspects read (Tom Mason, Dave Hartley, Fat Roland) plus a few newbies, poet David Tait plus headliner Max Wallis. I read two short pieces, Tu, Vous, You, about an even bigger Francophile than myself, and Her Fancier Man, which has just been published on 330 Words so do go read.

We've teamed up with our chums from the aforementioned Bad Language writing collective to bring you our second Flash Language Literary Pub Quiz, following the success of our Not Part Of festival event back in July. It's next Wednesday (7 September) and the fun and frivolities kick off at 7pm in Barcelona Bar on Thomas Street in the Northern Quarter. It’s a pound each and we promise that for that vast outlay you will have oodles of laughs. Read more here.

31 August 2011

Books the trend

If you haven't heard of For Books’ Sake - subtitle: "books by and for independent women" - then where have you been? Apart from having probably the best title of any website ever, it's an ezine promoting and celebrating writing by women, and today it is one!

In the last year, For Books’ Sake has featured news, reviews and interviews with iconic and upcoming women authors, been involved in World Book Night 2011 alongside author Margaret Atwood, curated the three-day literary programme for Ladyfest Ten, set up their own lending library and interactive forum, collaborated with Pulp Press on an anthology of the best pulp fiction written by women, scheduled for publication later this year, and coordinated regular live literary events and book groups in Manchester and beyond - not just in that London, which deserves some praise in itself! Plans afoot include a monthly literary clubnight in Manchester, so watch this space.

The girls behind FBS are so ace, and deserve plenty of cake for their efforts. I didn't have any time for baking over the bank holiday, so I've provided a testimonial instead. It goes something like this: "I discovered For Books' Sake back in November, so no longer a babe-in-arms but already a healthy, bouncing site. As something of a spoken word fan, I really love to keep up to date with all the events news and reviews - and the FBS shindigs themselves - plus the regular writing competitions and submissions info." There you go. And if you want to read some stuff I've written for the lovely ladies, you can go here, here and here.

25 August 2011

Posts win prizes

In case you haven't heard, nominations are now open for the Manchester Blog Awards 2011, and you might even be in with a chance as this time round previous Best New Blog sash-wearer Words & Fixtures isn't allowed to enter. Could this be because: a) last year she got drunk and stormed the stage Cocker-style after not winning anything; b) the organisers fear that if they let her anywhere near a microphone all kinds of filth is likely to spew forth and fill the innocent minds of the great and the good there gathered; c) she works for Manchester Literature Festival, so it might look a bit weird as they're one of the sponsors?*

This is the sixth year of the awards, which celebrate the best online writing in the city, show what an amazing blogging scene there is here and give us the chance to sneak out from behind our computer screens to drink copious amounts of grog and meet fabulous fellow bloggers.

Visit the Manchester Blog Awards website to nominate your favourite Manchester blogs in the following categories: Best Writing, Best Arts and Culture Blog, Best City or Neighbourhood Blog, Best New Blog and Best Personal Blog. Nominations close at 5pm on Sunday 18 September and the winners will be announced at a glittering awards ceremony during Manchester Literature Festival at 7pm on Wednesday 19 October in the fab upstairs room at The Deaf Institute. As well as the presentation of gongs, there will be readings from the winners of The Real Story creative non-fiction competition (closing date for entries is this Saturday!) and Socrates Adams, who'll be treating the audience to extracts from his fantastic forthcoming debut, Everything’s Fine (proofread by yours truly).

*It's c.

18 August 2011

Flash fiction friction

Following on from yesterday's post, today I found out that one of my 100-character stories using the word "revolve" has made it into the top five in my group and got me through to the next round of the NYC Midnight flash fiction competition. Mine was the first choice in the public vote in my group's 25 stories - aw, shucks! This means I've been whittled down from 800 writers to the last 100, which is really rather marvellous.

Today, me and the other 99 remaining writers will be given another word to write three new 100-character tales about in 12 hours; the 25 top ones picked by the judges will be put to another online vote to ascertain who gets to win one hundred American dollars. This is definitely going to be a challenge since the new word is circulated at midnight New York time, so about 5pm BST, just at the point I'll be off gin-quaffing and am-dramming. Ho-hum.

Here's the story that has brought me this far...

Spin. Twist. Revolve. I'm mesmerised. Arms curved, leg kinked. I love you, jewellery box dancer. // by Sarah-Clare Conlon

17 August 2011

Short shorts

I've been writing some proper flash fiction this week. I've been whittled down from 800 writers to 500 in the first round of the 100-character micro challenge being run by NYC Midnight, and two out of three of my stories including the word "revolve" have been picked and are up for voting. Please go and put your ticks in the boxes here before the public vote closes RIGHT NOW.

I also submitted a 100-word story, inspired by a photo of a man getting on a train, to Stylist's short story competition. It didn't make it through, but here it is anyway...

Boarding a train instantly opens up a whole new unexplored set of opportunities and outcomes, possibilities and probabilities. Anything could happen; often it does. Colette is dragging her luggage onto the sleeper in Gare de Lyon when she feels someone hoof up the steps behind her. Jerking round at the suddenness of the pounce, her eyes fall into a brilliant gaze beneath a dark hood. The stranger shakes his head free, smiling, and takes the weight of Colette’s case. Pushing it into the second car along the corridor, he turns, reaches for her hand and pulls her in after him.

16 August 2011

Words and festival

Have I mentioned Manchester Literature Festival to you yet? I mean here, on Words & Fixtures, not here on the fabulous new-look Manchester Literature Festival Blog or here on the @McrLitFest Twitter feed. No I haven't. Well, I'm mentioning it right here right now because the line-up has just been announced and it is all very splendid indeed. The two-week shindig kicks off on 10 October and runs until 23 October. I suggest you head on over to the MLF website and have a shufty at all the fabulous things on offer.

11 August 2011

Mills & Boon challenge update

It's 11 August. I'm sure you're pretty much aware of that, but I mention it as it's significant. It's exactly a month since I announced my Mills & Boon challenge and exactly a month later I am announcing its termination. Yes, I've given up. Call me uncommitted, but last night I picked up my seemingly well-thumbed copy of Julie Cohen's Featured Attraction and realised with horror that I've been reading it since 20 July and am still less than halfway through. They still haven't had sex; they've had a couple of snogs but Kitty the main character is properly mixed up in the head and keeps running off whenever Jack goes near her. She's basically playing hard to get, but she doesn't seem to realise it. Frankly, I just can't be arsed. I managed to read two and a half novels: the thought of getting through the original figure of seven (one per day for a week) now seems rather silly. I'm reading some proper sauce now instead: Confessions: A Collection Of Erotic Fiction. Expect some radio silence for a while...

Images by Oli + Alex.

09 August 2011

Rainy day

One of my short stories has been published on Rainy City Stories; you can read it here. It's called Poster Girl and the action takes place in the Northern Quarter. All the pieces on Rainy City Stories are set in Manchester; if you've not had the pleasure, the site is an interactive literary cityscape with the poetry and prose marked a bit like pins on a map you get in TV cop shows. I also have a poem, Hawthorn Lane, on the site. I know: poetry! Crazy talk.

Submissions are now closed for Rainy City Stories, which is a shame, but the folk behind it are running a new project, The Real Story. Part of Manchester Literature Festival, the competition is for short creative non-fiction. See my earlier posting for details.

04 August 2011

Day tripper

Yesterday I went on a train. This is obviously the kind of behaviour that warrants me the Twitter bio label "part-time adventuress". A train! Actually, I went on two trains: one there, one back. Imagine!

So I went on a train and the train went to Liverpool and I went on a train to Liverpool to look at some art. First off, I hotfooted it to the lovely becolumned Walker Gallery to see the show Art In Revolution: Liverpool 1911. It harks back to an exhibition of international Post-Impressionist and local avant-garde artists held in the Bluecoat 100 years ago. It didn't blow me away, I'll be honest, but it is very varied and there are some quite nice pieces (nice bit of Gaugin; some really nice woodcuts; a nice spot of Pointillist stuff, possibly even Seurat, I can't remember).

From here, I sauntered over to the Tate in the Albert Dockhhhhh. A giant table and chairs drew me Alice in Wonderland-style into Robert Therrien: Smoke Signals, but it was the towering pile of plates (above) that was really great - the gallery invigilator told us to be careful when walking around it, as the effect of the perspective throws you off balance. He wasn't wrong: it was an almost interactive experience.

Anyway, the reason why I really came to the Tate was to see Rene Magritte: The Pleasure Principle. It's on until 16 October, but I've been wanting to go for, like, ever. There's a ton of stuff: paintings, drawings, collages, ads (above), photos...
There's the bowler hat stuff, the train coming out of the fireplace, the Ceci n'est Pas Une Pipe series, giant apples, flapper ladies, lots of tits. I liked Les Charmes du Pays, a rifle next to an empty picture frame titled Paysage (above). Kinda funny. Also liked The Menaced Assassin for its strong narrative, Popular Panorama for it's cut-away multi-layered view, and The Lovers II (Les Amants) (below). Apparently this is inspired by an image from the cover of a private dick pulp fiction comic Nick Carter, Detective, where the dying heroine has her head hidden by a sheet, which has led to me spending a good part of the past hour looking at magazine covers on Google images. The Spicy Detective and Saucy Detective series look great.

02 August 2011

Badass language

Yesterday our good chum Daniel Carpenter, one third of Bad Language Manchester, launched a new writing and photography project: What Vanishes Will Vanish. All the info is on the website, but in a nutshell: submit a picture from your childhood along with a short story (up to 2,000 words), poetry (up to 40 lines) or non-fiction (2,000 words) inspired by it; a creative interpretation of the image, if you will. Submit words and pictures to dan@badlanguagemcr.co.uk. Follow @WhatVanishes on Twitter for updates.

Back to Bad Language, and I have been promising to do a little write-up of the shenanigans in the hottest room in Manchester last Wednesday, so here goes. I can't remember everyone who read or everything that was read, so this is just selected highlights and sorry if I don't mention you. The three hosts Nici West, Dan Carpenter and Joe Daly each brought us their usual high standard of tales, featuring subjects as disparate as team-building and star-spotting Paul Heaton on the bus. The guest star for the evening was the lovely Tom Fletcher, who read a few extracts from his second novel, The Thing On The Shore, which is nothing if not creepy.

Another published writer who appeared was Angela Smith, who I recognised from The Manchester Lit List write-up about the City Library launch of her debut poetry collection with Puppywolf, This Is The Me I Would Be If I Dared. Quite liked her pieces: modern and a bit in your face. Of the poets, Zach Roddis also deserves a mention. I like his stuff; it's young and fresh and he uses copious amounts of swears, which always keeps me happy. You can see some examples of his work on the Write Out Loud site.

On the prose tip, one story which stuck in my head was Nija Dalal's Young City, set in Atlanta, where she was brought up. Nija's work is always very personal and open, but at the same time intriguing and sometimes a bit David Lynchesque with her observations of America. In this particular story, I really liked the idea of her father dragging visitors to see the Gandhi statue and eating chutney sandwiches. I also loved some of the language and imagery, for starters: "Tumbledown shotgun shacks line potholed streets, close and huddled; a stern look could make these houses crumble" and "all roads intersecting Ponce De Leon Avenue change their names there, revealing an economic and racial fissure along a fault the whole world is guilty of".

Much to my dismay, I missed Fat Roland's (gimmick-free!!) performance of Michael Is A Beautiful Horse, A Dangerous Horse (yes, I was at the bar - needed some nosebag), but you can read the craziness that is that creation on FR's creative writing blog, Italic Eye, here. I don't want to give anything away, but can I just say one word? Carroty. Hahaha.

Tom Mason read his latest addition to his fantastic short story site 330 Words. Inspired by the current advert for match.com (which I've since seen), it's called Ukelele, and you can read it here. Tom even sang, though he's been embarrassed about it ever since. Tom's delivery is great; he always pauses for just the right length of time at just the right moments. Case in hand: "She hid her head under the pillow in embarrassment as he tried to think of a word that rhymed with foreskin.

"Nothing rhymed with foreskin."

I also read a piece from 330 Words, Bird Strike, which we won't go into again. This I bookended with two tiny tales of titillation, each, er, 69 words long. You can read them on my new home for saucy stories, Queen Of Tarts. (Disclaimer: adult content contained therein.) (Warning: this is a soft launch.)

31 July 2011

Viewing figures

The View From Here is the first major solo show by Manchester-based artist Andy Broadey, someone I've had the pleasure of meeting recently. Three photographic installations make up the Blankspace show: Display, Shadow Box and Day Room.

Display in the downstairs gallery is a series of monochrome photographs of overlapping Perspex leaflet holders, the sort you get in estate agents and job agencies. It gives the feel of a kind of chaotic order, and, if you look closely, you can see what appears to be a face in the plastic of one of the sleeves. Shadow Box, a set of four photograms - photographs made by passing light through a Perspex cube onto light-sensitive paper - are displayed in four separate smaller rooms upstairs alongside the cubes and lights that produced the almost watery compositions. Continuing with the light theme, Day Room, a wall-length site-specific work with very precisely presented images, shows the changing light in the large upstairs gallery over one day. This is an interesting project and the resulting artwork is visually appealing, with lots of subtle but warm colours. Andy's previous installation Day Room Summer Solstice 2009, pictured here, is a similar time-lapse concept and illustrates how effective the Blankspace piece is. Go and see for yourself; you have a week...

The View From Here runs all this week until Sunday 7 August. See the Blankspace website for more.

27 July 2011

A moment of fiction #15

Gosh, it's been a while, hasn't it? Sorry about that, kiddoes. Here's a round-up of current submissions, mainly short stories but some other stuff too.

First up, We Hate Words, under new management courtesy yours truly, is looking for contributions for publication every Wednesday. Anything up to 500 words (I lose concentration after a while); check out the website for submission details.

Paraxial Tales, run by the lovely Claire Massey and her mate Andy Hedgecock, is currently looking for up to 250 words on the subject of libraries. Deadline is 31 July.

FlashTag want submissions of filthy flash fiction (400 words max by 7 August). The successful contributions will go in an anthology - Quickies: Stories For Adults - alongside stories by Emma Jane Unsworth, David Gaffney, Nik Perring and others. Then on Wednesday 28 September, the collection will be launched at a special Smut Night as part of Didsbury Arts Festival with readings and guest slot by Mr Gaffney.

The bi-annual Manchester Fiction Prize is on the loose. Toby Litt won last time round, but it's open to new as well as established writers. Send in a short story of up to 3,000 words in length on any subject. It costs £15 to enter but there is £10,000 up for grabs for the winner plus the chance to read at a gala ceremony hosted as part of the 2011 Manchester Literature Festival. Deadline 12 August.

The Night Light are running a short story competition (up to 2,000 words on the theme of night) in conjunction with The Big Issue In The North. There is an entry fee of a fiver, but it all goes to charity, so no big deal. The closing date is 12 August.

The lovely ladies at For Books' Sake have joined up with Pulp Press to give gals a chance to put those dirty minds to good use. Enter their short story competition with a story of sexy heroines no more than 5,000 words. Closing date 15 August.

Submissions are being accepted until 15 August for the September issue of Salt Publishing's Horizon Review, the online review of literature and art: poems, stories, essays, articles and memoir, etc. See here for more.

The deadline for both the short story competition (up to two stories up to 2,000 words long each on the subject of maps) and Poetry Competition (one poem up to 40 lines also on the subject of maps) as part of Didsbury Arts Festival has been extended to 26 August.

The Real Story as part of Manchester Literature Festival is looking for creative non-fiction (personal essays or brief memoirs) of 2,000 words or less. Deadline 27 August.

Our mates Calum Kerr and Jo Bell's latest venture Gumbo Press are after flash fiction (500 words), short stories (2,000 words), poems (50 lines), script (2,000 words) and non-fiction (2,000 words) on the subject of light to put in their bi-monthly e-zine WordGumbo. Closing date for submissions 31 August.

Submissions are also currently open for the quarterly anthology of new short fiction published by The Fiction Desk (can't find a closing date, you'll have to do the legwork on that one). You don't have to pay them; they pay you! Not much, but a bit of beer money, like.

25 July 2011

More words please

This morning I was disappointed to learn that my Ask Ben & Clare co-writer Benjamin Judge's latest fledging project We Hate Words had been shelved due to pressures on his time. I was disappointed as I think it's a great site with good ideas offering a sanctuary for writers to vent their anger about rubbish words. I was also disappointed because I had submitted a piece about a word that I hate, and it hadn't yet been published.

It will be published on Wednesday. I have taken possession of the website's log-in details and that for the accompanying Twitter account. I urge you to check out the site and send in wonderful words about not-so-wonderful words. I have changed the submission rules slightly, so you don't have to write as much. I've also introduced a spelling mistake and poor punctuation section, so you can name and shame horrors of the grammar variety. Show and tell. I'm relying on you. Don't let me down...

23 July 2011

Art and literature

Yesterday, the wonderful wizard behind 330 Words (hi Tom!) published a short story I rustled up the other day and which I will be reading at Bad Language on Wednesday (7.30pm, The Castle - be there; I'll also be treating the audience to a couple of my rather more smutty stories. They are each 69 words long. Don't ask me why; it's a totally arbitrary wordcount, obviously).

Anyway, the 330 word story is rather less smutty, although it is about women withholding sexual privileges from their husbands and lovers (I nicked that phraseology off Wikipedia; more on that in a moment). It's sort of a feminist dystopia. I call women "birds", so that's likely to offend some people. The feedback I've had so far, however, has been very positive and one interesting comment I just heard is that it's not dissimilar to the Greek play Lysistrata by Aristophanes.

I had no idea. I was dragged up on The Wirral, mostly, and know nothing of Greek literature, except that it exists and I hear was quite popular. So Bird Strike, which you can read here, was not my poor attempt to plagiarise a far greater work of fiction. Still, I guess Aristophanes is no longer with us, so he's not going to get me on copyright issues in any case.

Wikipedia tells me that Lysistrata "is notable for its exposé of sexual relations in a male-dominated society and for its use of both double entendre and explicit obscenities". Good old Aristo, I like him already. And he had a bloody top beard.

The black and white illustration of Lysistrata is by Aubrey Beardsley, chum of Oscar Wilde, one of the dudes behind the Art Nouveau movement and exponent of those fabulous posters by the likes of Toulouse-Lautrec (Moulin Rouge - La Goulue pictured) and Mucha for which I have such a penchant. His work, I have learnt, is emphasised by the grotesque, the decadent and the erotic. Good oh.

22 July 2011

Perry good

Mother emailed to say how pleased she was to see me taking a break from erotic literature and talking about art on the blog again (she's an art teacher). So I thought I'd take the opportunity of having a spare lunchhour to nip to Manchester Art Gallery and check out the Grayson Perry aquisitions. Combine a snippet of sex with a bit of art. To my shame and chagrin, this mini show opened way back in February, but it's on until February 2012, so at least I still made it in the first half of its run.

Visual Dialogues
features the gallery's two recently purchased artworks by Grayson Perry: the large ceramic vase Jane Austen In E17 (2009) and the etching Print For A Politician (2003).

The long landscape (seen in the background in the photo), in the subtle red and cream hues of a French toile wallpaper, looks like one of those old city views or a battle scene, which is what it is. Various groups of mini figures are labelled, with the "tabloids" firing missiles across the sky, the "minimalists" crashing and burning in a plane, and "childless couples" threatening the rest of society in their helicopter gunship. There are "townies", "rockers" and "smokers", "animal rights activists" and "paranoid conspiracy theorists". It's good; I spent ages looking at the minute details. Great billowing clouds of smoke, lots of Goyaesque blood and gore.

Love that the "women" are just meandering around in bonnets and long Jane Austen-style frocks (I feel a common thread here) while the "men" are holding court at the top of a tower, which, as the tallest erection in the piece (even bigger than the mountains), presumably alludes to phalluses.

This is another running theme in the works on display: the companion vases Entrance To The Forest (2002) have pink flacid penises as trees and golden used prophylactics scattered about the woodland scenery. Perry says the pair of ceramics represent "the mythical gloomy wood, but also the seedy cruising grounds of urban parks". Ah, how romantic.

21 July 2011


Let's talk about art, baby. Yep, in a break to our usual scheduling, we're having a look at art, you know, like we always used to do before we got sidetracked by smut peddling.

So, you may have been aware that Manchester International Festival was on just recently, and last Thursday I finally got round to going to the 11 Rooms show at Manchester Art Gallery. Maybe it's just me, but a man in a soldier's uniform standing in the corner of a room staring at the wall isn't what I'd call art. Nor is a pre-teen girl reciting a very strange text and interacting with the audience. And what on earth was Marina Abramovic doing putting that poor woman up on a wall in the nid, seemingly pretending to be a clock. Her arms must've been killing her. Sorry. I was a little non-plussed, to be honest, although I will admit that I was rather intrigued by Xu Zen’s In Just A Blink Of An Eye with a guy mid backflip - real; not real? Also quite liked Lucy Raven’s out-of-tune pianola programmed with the worst Les Dawson duet ever. But is it art?

Player pianos seem to be de rigueur with the old artists at the moment. Constellations at Cornerhouse features a Yamaha Disklavier, although it didn't seem to be working when I went, and from what I saw, Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata was being played through a stereo. Still, it did mean that my friend could show off his own keyboard skills, which made curator Karen Gaskill laugh when I told her. I thought we were going to get slung out. The music is the result of Katie Paterson transmitting a Morse code message of the piece to the Moon, which, when reflected back to Earth, was turned into the score (like Raven's 11 Rooms work, imperfect) that you hear in the airy top-floor gallery. The punched pianola roll is also displayed as part of Earth-Moon-Earth, and, as a whole, it's an interesting project.

Image by WeAreTape, from the Cornerhouse website.

I was also partial to Takahiro Iwasaki's work in Gallery 2: miniature pylons and masts; structures we usually only consider large and imposing. I was particularly drawn to the composition with coloured towels, called Out Of Disorder, Towels (pictured). Maybe I like bathroom accessories.

Two other artists, Kitty Kraus and Felix Gonzalez-Torres, make up the remainder of the exhibition, which "explores impermanence, ephemerality and movement". The show continues until Sunday 11 September and is co-curated by Michelle Kasprzak. I only told you about Karen earlier because she is my friend. There we go: a bit of healthy name-dropping on a Thursday afternoon.

One for the ladies

Ladies, the fabulous gals at For Books' Sake have joined forces with Pulp Press to give y'all a chance to put those dirty minds to good use. Enter their short story competition (5,000 words max; closing date 15 August), why dontcha: all the details are here. Get cracking...

20 July 2011

More M&B action...

OMG, just look at this.

I have no idea who Oli + Alex are. I was shown this link through the magic of Twitter by @nerissact, and I just had to share, my darlings. You'd never forgive me if I didn't. I don't have the foggiest where Oli + Alex live, but as it's highly likely they're on this side of the Pond (given the media cuttings) and as they are creative partners at an ad agency, I'm guessing they're shithot on copyright stuff so I'm crediting them and hoping they don't mind me lifting their image: thanks for having such ace imaginations, Alex Holder and Oli Beale. Will you be my friends? (Original Dark Obsession book illustration by Len Goldberg, btw.)

One track mind

I'm afraid the Mills & Boon challenge hasn't been too hot so far - I've certainly not managed to read one a day as intended. I started with the rather quite good Charade Of The Heart by Cathy Williams, from the old Romance imprint, then went on to the disappointing A Passionate Protector by Maggie Cox, part of the more recent Modern Romance series. I was going to read one of the three pink books I have, which I believe are more soppy and with less sex, but I can't wait until chapter friggin 9 for the sex, so I'm moving straight onto Modern Romance Extra, and Featured Attraction by Julie Cohen...

"If Jack's dangerously sexy charm still has the power to set Kitty's pulse racing, the obvious solution is to avoid him... If only it were that easy!"

Woof! Well, while I get on with that, here's something for you to be reading: a magazine feature called 35 Sensational Literary Sex Scenes, which appears to range from the ridiculous to the sublime. Enjoy!

16 July 2011

Automatic writing for the people

Right. So the other day I did this thing called The Reading, as part of the Not Part Of festival. You may have read about it here. You have three hours to write, in a specified slot, in an art gallery and there are 72 writers in total; each one is given the last paragraph of the last person's story to use as "inspiration" to write a completely new story. A bit like a chain letter. (Bastard, I hated chain letters - they were all the fucking rage in the 70s. Not that I wish to divulge my age, or anything of that sort.)

Right, so, it's a sort of automatic writing - y'know like what the Beats did. Or Oulipo. And I took part in this artistic expression experience on Thursday. It was interesting, if a little difficult. Anyway, I thought I would share with you the culmination of my efforts; tell me what you think. If I were to give it a title, I think I'd call it The Plan.

The paragraph that I was left sprung forth from the genius mind of my mate L'il Dave; without further ado, here's David Hartley's final par and then, after the stars, a strange story by me...

She was faced with the end of the world but she wanted no part of it. If this was collective imagination, then the collective could keep it. Half a mile behind her, blades rotating through the past, Ollie's helicopter was waiting. She took one last look at the roaring future, shrugged her shoulders and walked away.


The past, the future: you can keep them. The present, that's where it's at; the here and now. Take each day at a time - you have no idea what it will throw at you. Just react as it happens. Live your life real time. Look at you now. You're live-streaming your thoughts out into the ether. You don't know why: as if anyone even cares, right?

But someone does, somewhere. They look at the words you spew forth every day on those modern-fangled fancypants networks you love so much. You tell them all about the most inane details of your meagre existence on this planet, God's green earth that is slowly suffocating in front of your very eyes. But you don't care, not really. Live in the moment. That's what you say, you think.

Keep plying your audience with the twaddle they seem to love so much. Look: I'm drinking a can of Coca-Cola. It's the full fat stuff: the taste is better, the packaging is a design classic. See: I'm smoking a Gauloise Blonde. Not a Gauloise Blonde Legere as they're not as strong, and I'm trying to portray an image of myself in a certain way. (Also, you can't have Legeres any more - European law, or something.) Watch: I'm eating a packet of Hula Hoops. I'm putting them on the end of my fingers then biting them off enticingly, one by one.

You're sending out messages. You're not all that sure why, but it's a way of connecting with them out there. Sometimes you even tap out stuff that only certain people will understand. It seems a bit pointless, but you want them to know you're thinking of them perhaps, even if you're only doing this by the power of describing your clothes, the contents of your bag, the book you've taken it upon yourself to try and read. What about Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451? You like a bit of dystopia. Breakfast Of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut, maybe? It has a good title.

People relate to that kind of stuff. Stuff. Like the coke, the cigarettes, the crisps. People understand, and those understanding people are the ones who are also living in the moment, like you. Who cares about the past? It's done and dusted, you can't change it, move on. Who cares about the future? You can plan and plan and plan, but it doesn't mean that everything is going to go according to that plan. There'll always be something: a spanner in the works, a fly in the ointment.

Take things as they present themselves. This could be an opportunity. It could be an adventure. It could be a disappointment, it could be a disaster. You can still be prepared - it helps to carry an umbrella in a rainy city, for example. And where would you be without that knife in your pocket, that condom in your wallet, that safety pin clipped to the hem of your trousers? Life-savers are handy when you have a life that needs saving.

And your life now - this life you're living one moment at a time, not making plans, going with the flow - is this life worth saving? Of course: it's fun, isn't it? Yes, but it's dangerous. Yes, but that's exciting. Yes. And people want to hear about it, remember? They're waiting to hear about it. You can't let them down now; you have a responsibility to Your Readers. They need you; perhaps they need to live through you.

Listen: I'm at the art gallery. I'm looking at art. I don't get the art that I'm looking at. Oh, I shouldn't admit that I don't get the art that I'm looking at. But I don't. It's dumb. Who the fuck funds this stuff, anyway? Why don't they give the money to me: I'm a living art experiment, aren't I? Living in the moment and all that. I could use the cash to keep up my body of work, extend my oeuvre, explore new forms of expressing these experiences everyone wants a piece of.

There's your application, right there. Copy and paste it into the online form, quick, before you forget, before something comes along to distract you: a phone call, an important email that Needs Answering Right Now, a meteor smashing into the polar icecaps and setting us all in a tailspin towards the sun, a gigantic spaceship hovering about Manchester Town Hall, demanding an audience with Richard Leese.

But that's not going to happen, is it? You, I and they all know that the aliens only ever put a humungous shadow over New York, Los Angeles, Washington, Johannesburg, Paris and London, at a push. Plus humungous isn't even a word. Probably gigantic isn't either; you can't remember and the dictionary has everything in it these days, colloquial, made up, everything.

You should know, you spend enough time flicking through the good book at work where you edit report after boring report and pretend to be looking up things like "data" (plural? Singular? Does anyone give a toss?) but actually what you're really doing is trying to find as many rude words as possible and testing your own encyclopaedic knowledge of swears against Roget. You usually win; the man has no sense of imagination. You couldn't if you came up with such a complicated cross-referencing system.

So, yeah, live in the moment. Get that funding bid off. Then get on with your next project idea: the one where you catalogue all your favourite naughty phrases using library coding parameters stored on microfiche and displayed on a light box in a darkened room that adds to the suggestive atmosphere. Or you could do a series of Venn diagrams: male bits intersecting with female bits, so to speak; the subset of shared bits including nipples, arses, hard, panting. And then there's the bedtime stories stroke of genius: two writers sat in a bed telling tales of titillation, like the Yoko and John of the literary world. The arts lot'd love that; they'd put on their special voices and extol the talents of the great minds who came up with such a brainwave.

But you're living in the moment, remember? These projects are plans. You don't have a plan. God, it's stressful, not having a plan. Why hadn't you noticed this before? You were trying so desperately to fly by the seat of your pants and cram in as many events and experiences and emotions and other things beginning with e that you've started to lose your way.

So let's make a plan, you and I. Maybe I'll make the plan and I won't let you in on it. Would that work? But then I'd be in control and wouldn't that be like playing God? That's twice now he's cropped up. But I don't believe in God, only extraterrestrials, because there's got to be something out there, right? Just not an old bloke with a beard sat on a cloud surrounded by cherubs playing lutes or lyres or whatever the damn things are.

If I make a plan, The Plan, would that be even more stressful? We're right back at the plans not going according to plan. That was the whole point of this discussion. Perhaps we shouldn't have these philosophical existential theological mental chats in our frame of mind. It's tricky, that's for sure. A proper dilemma. I can't make The Plan - surely that's for the Fates to decide. Leave it up to destiny, eh? But then you have to believe in the Fates and destiny to begin with, I suppose, and I don't believe in anything. Except extraterrestrials, of course. Remember?

But say we did have a plan. Just say. For argument's sake. Work with me here. What would The Plan involve? I can't see into the future, but I want one; the life worth saving, all that. You too, right? The life worth saving, I mean. Trouble is, my idea of the future would probably not be the same as your idea of the future, if you'd for just one minute think about the future and stop selfishly pretending you don't need a plan. Living in the moment, indeed. What kind of student anarchy thinking is that?

So we're getting nowhere with this. I want a plan, you don't want a plan. I don't want a plan, you want a plan. What, you've changed your mind now, have you? That complicates matters. Maybe that's the spanner in the works, the fly in the ointment: you've been pretending you don't want a plan, but actually secretly, all along, you've been squirrelling away thoughts of things that might happen in the future. I bet you've got tons of these thoughts hidden in the recesses of your great mind.

It's probably like one of those books you used to order off the back of cereal packets in the 80s, the ones where you get to the end of a chapter and are faced with a number of options, each one leading to a new set of circumstances. Like a tax return, only with princesses and monsters and pirates and monkeys. There were probably monkeys. So you got to the end of a chapter and had to decide your own fate.

a) Rescue the princess from the monsters and pirates and gallop off on a white monkey into the sunset where you'll get married and live happily ever after. Go to Chapter 2.
b) Don't rescue the princess from the monsters and pirates and save yourself from a loveless marriage and a lifetime of nagging. No one finds out what happens to the monkeys. Go to Chapter 3.
c) Rescue the monsters and pirates; leave the princess to set up a monkey sanctuary and die an old maid but she's content because at least she's put something back into society and you're content because you've got a whole gang of monsters and pirates to hang out with; ain't nobody gonna mess with you now, dawg. Go to Chapter 4.

So we need to think of the options in your head. I guess they're: carry on as is; don't carry on as is; carry on but this time with a plan. Oh, we're back here; I think this is a sticking point. If only we had some monkeys. They'd distract us if nothing else. We'd get caught up in training them to do party tricks; fetch and carry; make cups of tea. We'd be the talk of the town with our troupe of dancing simians throwing down rose petals for us to walk over. Now, that's a plan. (Note to self: look into monkey adoption.)

But let's not lose sight of the important details. The important details are The Readers. We'd kind of forgotten about them, but we'd be nothing if it weren't for The Readers. We need to keep them in new material, you know what they're like. So demanding. If we don't keep feeding them the snippets of information on the minutiae of our life, they'll get all sluggish and slow and eventually stop, like a Furby or a Tamagotchi. Discarded in the corner of the room, staring at the point where the two white walls meet, staring with dead eyes and no purpose in life.

We're the life-savers, after all. We thought it was our lives we were supposed to be saving, but really it's theirs. So let's get on with it; give them what they want, what they need. Words, sentences, paragraphs, chapters, books, libraries. That's why we're here. What else did you think?

15 July 2011

Festival season

Right, there's a lot of festival stuff going on at the mo, so here's a quick rundown of literary odds and sods you might be interested in.

First up, as part of Not Part Of, the Manchester International Festival fringe, might I suggest you swing by the Mad Hatter's Tea Party being run by the lovely ladies at For Books' Sake. It's tonight at 8pm at Nexus Art Cafe in the NQ. Emma Jane Unsworth, Claire Massey and other fab gals will be reading and there's other stuff going on to. I think it's a fiver in.

On Sunday, for Oxfam Bookfest, you can catch me reading a story about a well-to-do lady who turns to a life of crime and sauce. Also reading are the rest of the FlashTag bunch (formerly Flash Mob - we like to keep you on your toes), plus Bad Language. The event starts at 7.30pm and is taking place in Apotheka, also in the Northern Quarter. Info here and here.

Our new project, FlashTag, launched this week. Look: that's our picture above. Benjamin made that. Isn't he clever? (I think he's the brains of the operation.) We want submissions of short stories (400 words max by Sunday 7 August) on the subject of smut. You know what we're like. We're going to put the successful ones in an anthology alongside stories by our good selves, and some of our writer mates, including Miss Unsworth mentioned above, David Gaffney, Nik Perring... Then on Wednesday 28 September, we'll be holding a Smut Night as part of Didsbury Arts Festival. We'll launch the tome and have readings of some of the stories, along with a special appearance by Mr Gaffney.

Also happening for Didsbury Arts Festival and also involving David, as one of the two judges, is the annual short story competition (there's also a poetry comp). All the details are on the DAF website, but the closing date has changed: it's now Friday 26 August (not Friday 5 August), so you have a bit of extra time.

Next week it's Lassfest - literary events at the Lass O'Gowrie. Tom Fletcher and Nicholas Royle of Station Stories fame will be reading and signing Wednesday and Thursday respectively, both at 6.30pm, both £2 in.

Finally, Manchester Literature Festival will be running 10-23 October this year. If you want to get involved, check out the website. If you fancy blogging for the MLF blog, give me a shout here or via Twitter @wordsnfixtures.