22.10.17

Open Letters podcast

I sat down with Owen Clements (founder of Open Letters) to chat about all things writing, inspiration and #foundfiction. It was recorded for the Open Letters podcast.

Click the image below to listen.




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19.10.17

I can't teach you how to make it as a writer

A few weeks back I gave a talk about #foundfiction at Bettakultcha, a monthly night of creative presentations at Belgrave in Leeds. 

Off the back of that, Bettakultcha organiser Ivor Tymchak asked me if I’d give another talk – this time at the University of Leeds, to final-year students, about how to find careers in the arts and creative industries. I said yes. 

The presentation was part of the arts faculty’s Expo17 event, where soon-to-be graduates went along to learn about how to take their first steps into the jobs market. Here's what I told them.


Sorry guys, I can’t teach you how to make it as a writer after university. I can’t teach the vision, belief and resilience you need for that. I can’t teach you that writing should be your one and one ‘thing’ – something you’re compelled to do all your life, no matter what. 

And even as your hundreds of characters wait patiently to see the light of day, I can’t teach you to feel like a seven-year-old flying your first kite, giddy on lemonade, as you create hundreds more at your keyboard. I can’t teach you to develop a fanatical obsession to keep doing this – determined to get better at writing for ever. 

I can’t teach you to believe you’ll be one of the great writers. I can’t teach you to believe in this so much that you start to see it. Millions of readers will be moved by your words, and non-readers will be aware of the many theatrical and film adaptations of your stories. Academics will say things like “the audacity of didactic prose!” in university lecture theatres, their arms outstretched, with regards to your impact on world literature. But I can’t teach you to believe that. 

Even your worst stuff – the crappy teenage poetry and that student play you had to convince your housemate wasn’t pathetic, but prophetic – will be released as ‘The Early Writings of…’ to widespread critical acclaim. 

If this doesn’t happen in your lifetime, it will when you’re dead, but I can’t teach you to believe that – unwaveringly, amid the many rejections you’ll get from the smallest of literary journals, newspapers, employers, or whoever. I can’t teach you to keep going, believing that in the end you either succeed or you give up. 




I can’t teach you to keep writing about what you know, because your life’s already novel-worthy. I can’t teach you to be brave enough to draw on the darkest moments of your life and write something from the heart that will reach out and take the hand of a reader you don’t even know, and make their life worth living. 

I can’t teach you not to look for inspiration, but to let it find you. I can’t teach you to see the stories begging for your attention every day: the raindrops racing each other down the window; the person waiting for a bus at the wrong stop; the ‘for sale’ sign outside a house. I can’t teach you to realise inspiration is everywhere.

I can’t teach you how to keep your mind fertile for ideas. I can’t teach you to see how airplanes, light bulbs, skyscrapers, and everything remarkable humanity has ever built, are just shadows of ideas that have come to people. Ideas floating around our collective unconscious; a place of pure feeling, where the dots connect, which you only catch a glimpse of now and then; a place less tangible but more real than our filtered, physical world. I can’t teach you to be comfortable spending time there. I can’t teach you how to take other people there with words – or pictures, or anything creative you do. I can’t teach you that creating something is about seeing, thinking and feeling. 

I can’t teach you to leave behind university and what Marina Keegan called ‘the opposite of loneliness’. “It’s not quite love and it’s not quite community, it’s just this feeling that there are people, an abundance of people, who are in this together. Who are on your team.” 




I can’t teach you not to be afraid to do something different and take a different path just to get started on the ladder you want to climb. I can’t teach you to compromise on your dream job straight away. Why would you want it straight away? Then you’ll have nowhere to go for the next 50 years. 

I can’t teach you to be comfortable taking yourself away from your family – moving across the country to take different entry-level writing jobs – to enjoy the greatest high the world can offer: getting the words right, and feeling like you’re getting somewhere. I can’t teach you to be cool about losing touch with your friends – and you will lose touch with most of them – as you move to different cities to pursue other opportunities, because you’ve got your eye on the bigger prize. Fulfilment. Development. Doing what you feel you were born to do. 

I can’t teach you to be happy about starting a job at a company where there are already established friendships that you have to break into – and I can’t teach you to believe me that it’ll be fine and you’ll meet great people at work just like you have at school, college and university. 

I can’t teach you to realise that, when you’ve started out in a ridiculously high-pressure job just to get yourself onto the career ladder, or if you’re unemployed, the best years of your lives are not behind you. I can’t teach you to realise that the best years of your lives are part of you as you grow up and move to London, and away from London, and wish you did or didn’t live in London. You can still have parties when you’re 30. Guess what, I still go to parties and I’m 31. I’m planning to continue having fun when I’m old. 




And with all that change to adjust to – new people, new expectations, new cities – I can’t teach you to remember what’s really important: your passion and belief. You will be one of the great writers so it’s all worth it. I can’t teach you not to get rid of your inner seven-year-old. 

I can’t teach you to remember that you can still do anything. You can change your mind. You can start over. Go back and do a masters. Go travelling. Whatever. The notion that it’s too late to do anything is comical. It’s hilarious. You’re graduating university – you’re still young enough to make mistakes. I can’t teach you to know that you’re so young. 

You can’t, MUST not lose this sense of possibility because in the end, it’s all you have. I’m sorry, I can’t teach you how to make it as a writer after university. I’m still working at it myself.


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Click here for more Prose

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20.8.17

Creative Writing Classes


I can’t teach you the belief, resilience and vision you need to be a writer.

I can’t teach you that writing should be your one and only ‘thing’ – something you’re compelled to do all your life. I can’t teach you to take yourself away from your family and friends to enjoy the greatest high the world can offer: getting the words right.

And even with your hundreds of characters waiting patiently to see the light of day, I can’t teach you to feel like a seven-year-old flying your first kite, giddy on lemonade, as you create hundreds more at your keyboard. I can’t teach you to trust that each story you’re writing is better than your last. I can’t teach you to develop a fanatical obsession to keep doing this for ever.

I can’t teach you to believe you’ll be one of the great writers. I can’t teach you to believe in this so much that you start to see it. Millions of readers will be moved by your words, and non-readers will be aware of the many theatrical and film adaptations of your stories. Academics will say things like “the audacity of didactic prose!” in university lecture theatres, their arms outstretched, with regards to your impact on world literature. Even your worst stuff – the crappy teenage poetry and that student play you had to convince your housemate wasn’t pathetic, but prophetic – will be released as ‘The Early Writings of…’ to widespread critical acclaim.

If this doesn’t happen in your lifetime, it will when you’re dead, but I can’t teach you to believe that – unwaveringly, amid the many rejections you’ll get from the smallest of literary journals.

I can’t teach you to write about what you know, because your life’s already novel-worthy. I can’t teach you to be brave enough to draw on the darkest moments of your life and write something from the heart that will reach out and take the hand of a reader you don’t even know, and make their life worth living.

I can’t teach you to spy on your thoughts. I can’t teach you not to look for inspiration, but to let it find you. I can’t teach you to see the stories begging for your attention every day: the raindrops racing each other down the window; the person waiting for a bus at the wrong stop; the ‘for sale’ sign outside a house. I can’t teach you to look at the butter dripping through your crumpets and begin to see it as symbolic of anything.

I can’t teach you how to keep your mind fertile for ideas. I can’t teach you to see how airplanes, light bulbs, skyscrapers, and everything remarkable we’ve ever built, are just shadows of ideas that have come to people. Ideas floating around our collective unconscious; a place of pure feeling, where the dots connect, which you only catch a glimpse of now and then; a place less tangible but more real than our filtered, physical world. I can’t teach you to be comfortable spending time there. I can’t teach you how to take other people there with words. I can’t teach you that writing is about seeing, thinking and feeling.

I’m sorry, I can’t teach you to be a writer.


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Click here for more Prose

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9.8.17

JAPAN: a photo album

Images taken in Tokyo, Kyoto and Nara, April 2015.











































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Click here for more Photography

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23.7.17

Candyfloss




Blue was the colour of her mother's eyes when she said sorry and left.

Brown was the colour of the drink that sent her father to sleep.

Black was the colour of her uncle's belt that clinked when he came to babysit.

Green was the colour of the exercise book she thought was her best friend.

Purple was the colour of the seat on the bus she boarded with a stolen wallet.

White was the colour of the TV that showed her the 'missing person' advert.

Orange was the colour of the apron worn by the woman who offered her a job.

Yellow was the colour of her vest when she went running with the only person she ever trusted.

Pink was the colour of the sweet candyfloss she won on a date at the fairground.

Red was the colour of the police car light that flashed through her bedroom window.

Grey was the colour of the curtains where she saw her father's familiar silhouette.


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Click here for more Poetry

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