Category Archives: writing

By and about

There was a piece featuring me and the sale of BiNS on the BBC News site last week. As ever with ‘news’ I felt the interesting stuff didn’t make it to the actual article and in fact I’m sure I didn’t say anything about gaps quite like that. I thought what I said was a bit more like this tweet:

But that’s the way it goes.

There’s also two writing projects that I’ve contibuted to over the last few days. One is 280 stops—a sort of Internet piece of collaborative fiction. I’ll let Jon Hickman explain:

“This is a tribute to two wonderful things: the 11 bus route which runs through Birmingham (oh, and bits of Solihull and Sandwell), and Geoff Ryman’s novel/website 253.”

The other is not fictional at all. An idea by Jez Collins and Craig Hamilton‘101 Things Birmingham Gave the World’ is a tumblr that celebrates Birmingham’s impact on World Culture.

Fused – Special edition

Fused magazine, which (as well as sister publication Area) I’ve done stuff for in the past, has just released a very special edition. It’s thick, beautiful and perfect bound and it’s the first volume of what they’re calling the second volume of the mag. It’s got some fantastic photography and illustrations and rather wonderfully for me three of the best interviews I’ve ever done. Read what happened when I talked to bass-god Peter Hook, Barney out of noisecore legends Napalm Death and David Shrigley who’s one of may favourite artists.

 

Buy it for a fiver, here.

You can read it online too, here.

Paperback Collator

Poorly Collected Works 2010-11 is the title of an eBook I pulled together at the end of last year. It sold a few, and jumped into the Amazon charts when it was part of a promotion, but was more of an experiment. In continuing experimentation, now Createspace is working with Amazon UK I made it into a real paperback too. It’s available to buy now at a cheapish price.

It does contain a few treats not in the similar e-book—amongst them a previously unpublished interview with Barney from the grindcore band Napalm Death, a few pieces focussed on the referendum for an elected mayor that was held in Birmingham in the early part of the year, and excitingly I think a small piece of my half of Pier Review—that real book that I’m writing that will come out sooner rather than later.

Createspace also does DVDs/film downloads as well as books—it’s a fairly simple way of creating work and self publishing. You need to fiddle a little with their formatting and do a lot of checking, but it’s easy enough.

Spreading the word about the mayoral referendum

I’ve been supporting the Yes campaign for an elected mayor in Birmingham, and one of the big issues is awareness that the referendum is even happening (one poll said less than 40% knew) and especially when you think of younger voters. So it was really cool of local culture guide Area magazine to let me write an article for the April issue. I tried to keep it funny, neutral and relevant. Did I succeed? Have a read here:

 

Twitizen Kane

Yesterday, I tried the Twitpanto method on “the greatest film ever made”. As part of  ‘Yarn presents Five Stories High’ at Flatpack Festival, I re-interpreted around ten minutes of Citizen Kane. It was a tight deadline, so plans to do something really different fell behind just writing a script and getting together a few ‘actors’ I could trust.

In a live setting I was interested in how the audience would understand the language of the Twitter feed just being projected on the wall. I hoped to get heckles and confusing stuff too.

The script, is here. We got ‘moved on’ (for reasons of time I suspect) just before the bit about the principles, which I thought was the crux of it. Never mind.

I’m not sure everyone got what was going on but this quick review from another participant means that at least someone did:

[blockquote]“obviously, members of the audience start tweeting using the hashtag, and it was just hilarious. And silent, and awkward, but in a brilliant way.”[/blockquote]

The weekend’s other Flatpack activity for me was to chair a Q&A with Lawrence (ex of Felt etc), that was both more conventional and a little better received I think. Great fun, and really nice to meet a musical hero.

NewsJack — writing comedy quickly

I like to think I’m an amusing writer, and that I can think quickly. Doing a radio show for a couple of years I think demonstrated that, and I’ve tried my hand at stand-up comedy. But until recently, apart from the odd Twitter witticism  I’d not really tried writing topical comedy. BBC Radio Four Extra’s NewsJack is one of the few radio shows that has an open submissions policy, meaning that anyone can send in jokes and sketches and maybe get on and then get paid for them. I’ve had a few near misses that made it to the recording but not the edit, as they’re topical they’re disposable really so I wouldn’t share them. But this one from this week has a little bit of longevity so I thought I’d pop it up here. Hope it makes you chuckle.

NewsJack the Jung Ones

Buy, or get free, some ebooks I’ve written

I’ve been experimenting with ebook publishing, once the sheer hellish pain of writing something you’re happy with is over the format, upload and sales part is fairly easy. Well, when I say sales I mean ‘putting on sale’ rather than getting people to buy them… that’s a whole other story.

I’ve got two ‘books’ available at the moment:


Poorly Collected Works 2010-11

A collection of writing from various sources. 20,000 odd words from the last year or so, culled from blogs, papers, mags and Dirty Bristow (the literary magazine I founded and edit).

“Exclusively contains all the grammatical errors and jokes edited out by original publishers. It’s a chance to pay money to read what you can for free if you search it all out individually.”

Concrete and Cocktails: a journey to Birmingham’s glitter-stained independent heart.

Can you drink in all of Birmingham city centre’s independent hostelries in one day? Yes of course, although it might not be sensible.

An unchained psychogeographic adventure from the editors of Dirty Bristow: Concrete and Cocktails: a journey to Birmingham’s glitter-stained independent heart.

Concrete and Cocktails free on iTunes. And free on other formats too.

Pier Review review

I’m currently knee deep in postcards, books about the seaside and still have sand in my good pumps. It’s nearly six months since I spent two weeks traveling around all of England and Wales’s surviving seaside pleasure piers and we’re about halfway through writing the book. It’s hard going, but fun. Here’s the picture side of every postcard we sent (one of each) to each of our funders—the trip was paid for by around thirty people, all of whom are awaiting publication with anticipation I hope.

But what was it about? Well, we were lucky enough to get the chance to talk to the great Andrew Collins and Josie Long on 6 Music, and that’s as good an introduction as any is likely to be.

Listen to Pier Review on 6 Music 

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And we followed it up a week later with another slot: 

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And we’ve also made our secret blog open to all, you can read some behind-the-scenes stuff now.

And if you promise to find our more and sign up at Pier Review dot co dot uk I’ll let you into the secret that you can read a very early draft of the first chapter.

Funny, ha ha.

The ability to make people laugh has always been something that is fairly central to my personality. I’m not entirely sure why, but it wasn’t for cliched make-the-bullies-laugh at school reasons, because I did—and they still hit me. 

That was a lot more to do with me being obviously poorer and shyer in a school full of the confident entitled. And a bit of a dick, I’ve always been a bit of a dick.

I’m wary of being seen to be taking anything overly seriously, or being unable to break the tension with a quip. Confrontation so rarely solves anything, so if you can dodge it all the better and that has something to do with it but there’s a streak of performance and the need for validation in there too.

Writing gentle satire, or being amusing around strict parameters is easy—there are hundreds of people doing it fairly competently around the country every day. Creativity is different though, if you have to come up with the ideas rather than react to situations, if you decide that adaption of existing jokes to the situation isn’t what you want to do, if you want to be funny without it relying on reference, then it’s somewhat harder.

I’ve done plenty of compering, quizes, awards, that sort of thing, where a tiny bit of wit will do wonders to prop up the ‘turns’. I’ve also injected the odd bit of humour into the various other bits of public speaking I do as part of ‘work’, that’s easy and really does help get the point across. 

What I’ve not done is stand-up comedy. 

Well, not until last week. When I, er did.

Stand-up is the purest form of entertainment, it’s just one person talking, and that’s exciting. It’s also quite scary, and difficult. I’ve always thought that I’d like to and would be able to, but have never got round to doing anything.

Part of the reticence has been because no-one is pushing me to do it, I’ve got plenty of creative outlets and it’s just another one. Putting myself forward to do even an open slot somewhere seems boastful somehow, I’d need proof that I could do it. Partly it’s that I want to be great at whatever I try, and as an art form it doesn’t offer many safety features: no-one can really tell how comedy is going to go down, and a silence at a stand-up gig leaves no hiding place.

All of which is why that, despite being bad at learning (or being taught, rather), I signed up for a course in stand-up a couple of months ago. I’d seen James Cook, the tutor, perform: being accomplished, funny, and obviously in control of an audience. There was stuff I could learn there, and I also had a vague feeling that the pressure to produce material might help my other writing.

I can write, I think, it doesn’t usually take me that long to produce something when I sit down to do it—but the time it takes me to actually start is sometimes a problem. I can only work well when inspiration strikes, or when a deadline is looming, and usually manage it by not attempting to work when I don’t feel right. I’m not going to do it, I figure, so I can get on with other stuff until the time comes. It’s a solution, but not a good one, and I thought perhaps that working on stuff across a couple of months could really help.

The other people on the course, run from a windowless but expensively carpeted conference room at mac, were a mixture of those that were thinking of doing it professionally eventually and those that just thought it might be fun. All were obviously comedy fans, which I guess you’d have to be. 

Alongside exercises, bits of stuff about things like mic technique, there were a couple of great sessions from comedians Andy White and Gary Delaney where they talked about how they worked and how they got started. The main thread of the sessions, though, was practical: listening to others trying out material and, when I could pluck up the courage, doing a bit myself.

I actually found this much more difficult than the more theoretical stuff. I didn’t want to say anything that would nudge people away from their own paths, I was worried about a homogenising effect with 14-15 would-be stand-ups working on routines in the same environment. It didn’t happen, without too much thought about style people seemed to find their own ways.

By the end-of-term showcase, in front of about 80 people, everyone on the course had enough stuff. Some had way too much and squeezed it into their allotted five minutes. It was an incredibly supportive audience, and each comic went down well.

I did struggle with material, I was after something that was sort of simultaneously clever and accessible and I couldn’t find anything I was happy with. In the end I’m not sure if I didn’t chicken out and go for easy laughs. I’m not sure I respect me as a stand-up, I think I can do it but I’m not sure if I can do it as well as I’d want to. I think I’ll wait for the big idea before having another go.

That’s not the fault of the course, which was really great and runs again in January. You’ll enjoy it if you have a go, I promise.