Archive for the ‘preston’ Category

Fleetwood + Preston Bus Station

Tuesday, August 16th, 2011

Unicycle Emptiness (‘an irregular guide to the North West and more) is one of my new favourite blogs. Just look at these pictures of Fleetwood, Pilling and Knot End. Fleetwood is where A Kind of Intimacy is set. It couldn’t possibly be anywhere else. I’ve still never been to an eerier place. A place that still provokes such curiosity in me that I wouldn’t be surprised if sometime soon I write about it again.

While I’m here, fellow Fleetwood lovers should make sure they check out Julia McKoen and Jayne Steele’s film, Frozen, a suitably eerie film set in the town. In Frozen, Fleetwood itself is as much of a character as the actors. The thing I loved best about this film was the ambiguity of it. Never sure if it was a ghost story, an allegory, a psychodrama, a thriller, all of them at once, or something else entirely. Like the town itself, Frozen prompts imaginings and is silent enough to hold the space you need to scare yourself with wondering.

My current work in progress (I actually have a title for it now, but don’t feel like telling just yet) is set in a very different place. Mainly Chorley, with little parts in Utah. Chorley is still close to home, for me, but the first one of my novels not to contain, in some way, the seaside, beach, shoreline. Sometimes I wonder if it is harder to capture and evoke the feel of a place that’s very familiar to you – that the uniqueness of a place that you know well can become invisible. So maybe Fleetwood and Preston and now Chorley are not strange, uncanny sort of places. But they have become that way, for me, because I have written about them and in writing about them I need to make them familiar and not familiar to myself at the same time.

I missed, while I was away, this strange Guardian CIF article about Preston Bus Station and (oddly) J. K. Rowling. Preston Bus Station (or a building based on it) features in Cold Light and for those of you who haven’t had the pleasure yet, is one of the main stars in the Cold Light book trailer. I’m not nearly famous enough to do the job, but if anyone did feel like getting a writer in residence for the good ol bus station, I’d be first in line to apply for it. And I’d be dead cheap on travel, as I can near enough see the thing from my house.

So many people think it’s an ugly, unnecessary, pee-smelling sort of place. I think it is a beautiful building and I could quite happily spend days in there, collecting and writing stories.

The photograph is (with permission) from Unicycle Emptiness, taken by Matthew Jones who’s flickr stream is here.

Cold Light book trailer – the stills

Sunday, April 17th, 2011

Click on the pictures to see how brilliant they are. Go on.

These are all stills from the Cold Light trailer – which I spent a day out and about in Preston on Friday helping to make.

My bit was very tiny but the guys at Progress let me hang about for a bit afterwards to watch the filming and see how these sorts of things are done. I’ve never had an experience like that before and I was blown away by the detailed and careful attention required to make even a short film. I could offer only a tour of Preston’s less beautiful corners and a styrofoam cup of parched peas as a token of my gratitude. And while filming in the bus-station, some tiny Preston scallies strutting around in their own little cloud of skunk-smoke threatened to stab us all in the neck. Sadly, they didn’t hang around long enough to sign consent forms so they could appear as extras.

Book trailers that show the faces of the characters run the risk of disappointing the reader. So much of the pleasure is to be found in imagining the faces of the characters for yourself. I know that because I like reading as much as I like writing, and so it was something I worried a little bit about. Especially when it came to putting the faces of Chloe and Lola out there. Cold Light is a gripping, page turnery book with a tangled investigation into a decade old murder at its heart but, like everything I write, it is really about the changing and troubled relationships between the characters. And these two in particular. More than event, more than setting – if Chloe and Lola were going to be cast for the trailer, it was important to get them right.

I met with the film makers in the pub the night before to go over the schedule for the next day.

‘You’ve not seen the girls yet, have you?’ one of the guys said.

‘Nope,’ I squeaked, and a few clicks and swipes of a mobile phone later and a picture of Becky and her friend Gemma appeared.

And I came over all teary eyed and emotional, which is unlike me. They are just right. And the the painstaking work that Progress did before filming – reading the book, casting the actors for Carl, Chloe and Lola, visiting Preston to scope out the locations, shopping for clothes, parkas, shag bands, bags of chips and more gold jewellery you can shake a stick at – means that these images are as close to what went on in my head when I was imagining the story as possible.

What do you think?

I’m very pleased, and dead excited about seeing the finished product. Which should be soon.

Big (mega) thanks to Matt, Ben and Amy at Progress, Katy at Sceptre and Andrew, Gemma and Becky the cast. Andrew did a brilliant job of looking appropriately terrifying but is actually not like Carl at all IRL. So don’t send him hate mail because he’s a gentleman. 🙂

There’s No Place Like Home

Monday, October 25th, 2010

Half term at Ashworth Towers (and elsewhere, so I’ve heard) which means not so much new writing being done this week – but preparation for the second half of my creative writing course at UCLAN, a bit of manuscript appraisal and the finishing touches for my Blogging for Beginners workshop (I believe there are a couple of places left, still, if you’re interested).

Yesterday, the Rainy City Stories Panel event for the Manchester Literature Festival – Nicholas Royle, Clare Dudman and me chatting to each other about the way we use ‘place’ in our stories. Despite the fact that it’s going to be a little while before Cold Light is available, I read from it and that was exciting.

Clare talked about her travels – the way she prefers to visit places alone to soak up the atmosphere and find out things about a place you’d never pick up from books or the internet. For one of her books, she traveled though Patagonia on her own. I talked (less impressively) about my trips into Fleetwood on the bus with my then-toddler Small Fry for A Kind of Intimacy. Cold Light is set in Preston, where I’ve almost always lived, so the only travel I did was into my memories. I joked that I set all my fiction in places fairly near to me because I’m a lazy researcher, but now I’m starting work on book three (still no title) which is primarily set in Chorley but with one of the characters having spend significant time in the US, I am thinking a trip ABROAD to Utah might be in order.

And of course my interest in the North West is not because I am a lazy researcher. But I’m not a faithful, truth telling one either. One question from the audience made me think – I’d mentioned that for Cold Light, I’d had to do a little bit of re-jigging of what Preston looks like to serve the plot, and that I’m expecting some local readers to gleefully point out these ‘mistakes’ to me at some point in time. I shrug in response to this – it really, really doesn’t bother me because novels aren’t maps and I think we turn to fiction for other kinds of truth than the factual. Although I know that errors in fact are irritating to some readers when they find them, for me, unless we’re talking wilful ignorance, stereotype etc, it really doesn’t upset me as a reader either.

Something that we touched on during the discussion (we were only there an hour, but once we got going felt like we could have gone on much longer thanks to Nick’s excellent chairing) is the difference between evoking and depicting a place. I’m interested in conveying atmosphere and mood. In writing about what it is like to come from somewhere not very trendy, not very well known, and fairly hard to get out of. In writing about how disappointing, inward looking places impact on character and what it is like to grow up bored and disappointed. In paralysis, feeling trapped, not quite realising that in other places, it might be possible to do things a little bit differently. In giving anonymous, and frankly, sometimes fairly ugly Northern towns to readers who haven’t met them before. De-Preston. Not in writing a guide-book or a travelogue.

I think the difference between depicting and evoking is the difference between facts and fiction. I push what I know and what I see into a story and it becomes something odd, something that doesn’t exist anywhere except my book, and yet references Preston and hundreds of other towns. I hope that people who want to find out what Preston feels like find something useful in my book. They certainly won’t be able to use it as a road map.

On the train home, watching Deansgate, Salford, Bolton, Horwich and Chorley slide by the window, I was still chunnering about this question – remembering my bookseller friend who tells me that my book sells much better when they don’t market me as a ‘local writer’ and another very experienced poet who let me in on the secret that ‘local writer’ is (often read as) shorthand for ‘crap writer of interest to no-one other than their friends’. Regional writer? Is it possible to write about where you come from in a way that’s going to be interesting and illuminating to people who are not from that place? I think it is – after all, there are unfashionable, cut-off feeling towns all over the world: I am just writing about the ones I can write about without being a tourist.

I know from my stats that many of the people who read this blog are from Elsewhere and might have first read my writing in one of the overseas editions. So if you haven’t commented so far on the blog, now is the time to weigh in. I am interested in what these places look like to readers who might never have visited them before.

In other news, I’ll be checking the proofs of Cold Light next week AND I’ve seen what the cover is going to look like AND the book has recently sold in the US, and will be published with William Morrow. Which is all very good. And I’m investigating plane tickets for Salt Lake City.

Where the Trees Were

Sunday, September 5th, 2010

Avenham Park had an old and famous avenue of trees chopped down a few months ago because they all had Bleeding Canker (it sounds medieval enough, but people can’t get it).

I remember going to this park where I played and rolled my eggs when I was little, skulked and sulked in as a teenager, drank and laid about reading in pre-babies and pushed prams in post-babies and I remember seeing these huge trees laid on the river bank, the smell of broken wood and sap in the air. Very sad. Small Fry cried about it.

I thought about one of the prisoners in the creative writing group that met in the library I used to work in – he’d written and worked and reworked a poem set in this Avenham park about this avenue of trees – the way they frame the path that hugs the north bank of the Ribble and in the summer turn it into a green tunnel with the veined shadows of the leaves beneath your feet. His favourite place for thinking about his children and women and the first place he was going to go when he was out.

And those trees – hundreds of years to grow so this park will not be the same in our life-times. And I’ve been walking there again recently and the thick, toilet-freshener smell of the sap has gone and they’ve carved away the stumps from the bank – either to stop the disease from hiding in the soil or to make room for the new saplings or so we won’t be reminded of what was once there.

And the bare places are covered up now – pink fireweed and curly Japanese knotweed with the white trumpet flowers. Bees, and a crap attempt to fill in the sides of the path with flags and pebbles, and I got used to the bareness and realised you could see along the river much better now, and for the first time it felt okay again.

I was house-bound and missed most of the late Spring and summer so I didn’t see it happen, but I feel better now and it all grew back while I wasn’t there.

So that is one of the things I’ve been doing while I haven’t been writing.


Saturday, August 14th, 2010

Recently I took part in the judging panel of the Rainy City Stories / Creative Tourist short story competition, Rain Never Stops Play.

Lydia Unsworth is a worthy winner with her short story The City is Leaving Me If you like that, there’s plenty more where that came from – on her blog Getting Over the Moon.

I want to think more about the experience of judging things before I write about it here. The last time I was a judge was at last year’s Manchester Blog Awards – an event close to my heart because the earlier incarnation of Every Day I Lie a Little won the Best Writing on a Blog Category back in 2008. Last year Emily at My Shitty Twenties took the ceremony by storm and won two categories.

I wonder who it will be this year? I know there are a lot of Preston based bloggers who read these posts – so as a reminder, seeing as we’re in commuting distance of Manchester, we’re eligible to nominate ourselves too… there were two Preston nominees last year – Just Testing and I Thought I Told You To Wait in the Car and it would be great to see some more Preston bloggers get a bit of extra publicity for their writing this year.*

What can I say? I am a mad Preston Patriot. Get in.

*this isn’t a thinly veiled plea for you to nominate me. I’m fairly sure ex-winners aren’t eligible any more.

#1 / 100

Monday, April 12th, 2010

cherry blossom, railings, wheely bins outside my house.

I followed the project Emma did for 100 days to make me a better person and decided I wanted to do one too. I didn’t want it to be to do with writing. I thought it would be a good idea to have a break from writing for a while. I wanted it to be to do with noticing things, and trying to retrain my brain to be more positive than it is. I don’t know if it will work. I also wanted to try and get better at taking pictures. I’m not good at it at all, although I wish I was.

For 100 days I will take a picture of something that I see that makes me happy and put it on this blog. It might be that I do ordinary writing blogs too, or I might just leave it at the pictures for the time being. See how I feel. I don’t know if this will make me a better person or not. I doubt it. I might be a better noticer or a better photographer at the end and that would be most pleasing.

If you want to join in and post your own pictures, let me know and I will link to you.

Home Sweet Home

Friday, March 26th, 2010

Seems my work has taken on a bit of a theme in the past few weeks – not something I’ve planned, but something that’s happened on its own and now that I am noticing it, I quite like it.

First, there’s the storytelling / blogging project I’m doing in The Wirral – funded by Liverpool Biennial and project-managed by Elaine Speight, the brains behind the Preston art project Tunnel Visions, among other things. Yesterday was spent in Rock Ferry Library (I chickened out and went on the train, so no terrifying drive through The Tunnel) meeting prospective participants and firming up our ideas about the shape the project will take. More on this in the weeks to come.

Second, I’ve just been booked to deliver a few workshops in various Greater Manchester locations on the theme of writing about place for Rainy City Stories, Kate Feld’s story-telling project and have been preparing / procrastinating by delving through the archives. You can read my own Manchester story here and my thoughts about being a Lancastrian writer here.

Place, and a sense of it, is more than just where to set the fiction I was going to write anyway. It is more than picking a few street-names and landmarks to use for stage dressing and backdrop.

Here’s what I mean: A Kind of Intimacy couldn’t happen anywhere other than Fleetwood: the ‘I thought this was going to be like Blackpool’ sense of disappointment pervades the book and, I’ve noticed, means more to audiences I’ve read to and spoken with in the North West than elsewhere.  

Cold Light takes place in an odd, fictionalised version of Preston. It’s set in 1998, but not a 1998 that I ever experienced. The shops are open twenty-four hours a day, there are television screens everywhere, the outside world is a rumour and again, this sense of disappointment pervades – even though the school teachers get to wear their red socks on the morning after the 1997 election. I’m resigned to the fact that the topography of the novel will mean more to me and the ten or so Preston residents who read my work than anyone else. We’re not like Manchester, Edinburgh or Sheffield – the street names and landmarks don’t speak to anyone except for us. And I’ve used these landmarks in the book – not as stage-dressing, but to make this place familiar as well as strange. Cold Light‘s Preston  is the Preston it might have been, if what happens in the story really did happen – events so important they bend The City out of shape and make it into something foreign and familiar, uncanny and homely.

So I have discovered that for me, writing about a place is one of the ways I can interact with it – it’s more engaged and intimate than just taking a walk or taking a few pictures (although wouldn’t be, I expect, for a real photographer). And writing about a very familiar place makes it into something new and strange – just as whenever I try and write autobiographical pieces, factions, personal essays, whatever, they come out story-shaped and frilled with lies.

That’s the experience I’m hoping to give my Wirral workshop group – lending them my eyes – unfamiliar with their territory, and helping them to shape their thoughts and experiences into a set of linked, blogged fictions about Wirral and not-Wirral. They’re a group with vastly differing experiences of writing, blogging, working collaboratively and using the internet as well as the real world to make fiction. I’m not sure yet how it’s going to work out but I’m looking forward to finding out.

All this got me thinking about briefs, requirements, creative boundaries because for this project to work and for me to be able to tie up the stories into something linked and web-like, I’m going to have to be a little bit directive. And as a creative writing tutor and a human being, I try to avoid doing that too much. Deadlines and instructions and imposed forms are okay if you set them for yourself, but there’s a voice in my head, as I plan the story-brief for the Wirral writers, that is saying, ‘and who are you to tell them how they are allowed to write about their town?’

This made me remember the discussion I had with Sophie Hannah at Ormskirk Library a couple of months ago – she said she set herself the challenge of resolving the plot-conundrum that kicks off the action of the book (women claims the baby in her house is not hers, for example) and doesn’t allow herself to get out of it  – to fail. That for her, creativity means solving the problem and balancing the equation (I am paraphrasing). Then and now this and made me think about my own process as a writer and as a teacher.

I’ve been evaluating the project that I did at the prison – examining the feedback that I got from the men in the creative writng group as well as my own jotted-down throughts on the workshop as they happened.  There were two deadlines for this writing project, which involved flash fiction, memoir and lots of ‘what if’ thinking. I was fairly prescriptive about what ‘Flash Fiction’ meant, and what themes I wanted the men to address in their writing, and how I wanted them to interact with me and each other during the six workshop sessions I held in the prison.

Feedback time came, and I asked them about this – asked if I’d been too prescriptive and directive, if they’d have liked more freedom in the form or the theme, if they felt they’d been able to make enough choices about the way their own work developed. Generally, the feeling was that the form and the structure of the project had helped, that at best they’d enjoyed finding ways to be creative inside the ‘rules’ and that at the very least, they’d learned that writing didn’t always need to be heart-felt and spontaneous in order to be ‘good’ (I think the man who said this meant, ‘I liked what I wrote and felt pleased with it’ when he said ‘good’).

So I’m trying to make this – my thinking about place, and rules around writing, form, structural decisions, the things I’m learning about myself through teaching and planning projects, my wish to help other people and myself to finding a place to be creative in – all these thoughts – into something useful for me to take into the planning phases of my next novel, which is glimmering in the corner of my eye and needs some attention.

I don’t think I am there yet. Maybe blogging about it is part of getting me to that spot.


Monday, March 1st, 2010

Pop is the noise of the champagne corks popping, for yes, I have finished.

For the time being. I’m sure there’ll be edits and proof-reads and the checking of galleys somewhere along the line, and like poems, novels are probably only abandoned and never really finished. But I can’t see anywhere to make Cold Light better for the time being, which means it is time for me to stop. And be finished.

It’s a peculiar, deflating feeling. A bit blue and ‘is that it?’ when life everywhere else goes on the same.

It seems novels take me about three years. A Kind of Intimacy did, and this one, very roughly, did too. Three years. I should get some sort of certificate. It’s as long as my degree or a PhD or the hard bit of bringing up the Small Fry. And second ones are supposed to be the hardest, so that’s got to be worth something – maybe the posh organic satsumas and not the suspiciously vague supermarket brand ‘citrus’.

I’m done though. Whoop!

Going to spend this afternoon drinking tea and reading the latest issue of Bewilderbliss. I’ve a soft spot for the magazine – issue one and A Kind of Intimacy shared a launch party, I invited them to come and read from issue two at one of my Word Soups (video readings for your viewing pleasure here) and now they’ve asked me to pick a theme for issue three – which I did. Untruth. Fellow Prestonian Andrew Hurley is featured, which is excellent to see.

And then planning readings and workshops for two ‘appearances’ this month. First up, I’ll be reading and speaking at Edge Hill’s Rose Theatre this week – and may give a bit of Cold Light an airing. Seeing as it’s done, and all. And then later in the month on the 22nd together with Jen Hadfield – hosted by the Manchester Centre for New Writing. I’ll be hanging about after both these events, so if you’re a blog reader, come and say hello.

Little Plugs

Sunday, February 21st, 2010

Layla, who won a free copy of A Kind of Intimacy in the great big blog give-away extravaganza to celebrate the launch of the new little version C-format paperback (phew) has posted a very kind review here….

I’m always especially interested in people’s reactions to my writing, but in particular to Annie’s character. I think I like her and feel sorry for her and want her to do well much more than anyone else does. Chris, who read a very very early scene from this novel (the house-warming party, for those of you who’ve had the cringing pleasure…) said that Annie was as gentle as a lamb. And yes, despite all the things she does, I think she is. But I think I’m possibly over-protective, and very biased.

Second plug: Tania Hershman, author of the Orange-Prize commended The White Road and Other Stories – as well as a blogger, and editor of the very good Short Review invited me over to her place to do a guest blog / interview for her Writing and Place series – a regular feature on her blog that lets different writers examine what place, home and location mean to them personally and how it affects their writing.

Without planning it, or realising it was going to become important to me until it did, I’ve written two novels set in Lancashire and soon I’ll be setting out on another. And there’s not a flat-cap, set of clogs or whippet in sight.

To find out why I think bread-bins drive a person to murder and how, exactly, Preston is like trousers, go here.

NB: Do NOT ask me how Cold Light is going. Who decides to get sick during half term? Who does that? Harumph. 

Places to Go

Thursday, January 7th, 2010

A friend of a friend told me about Judith’s Room, one of those Ning communities set up especially for women writers.

And I have been meaning to tell you about this, which is an on-line digital performance archive I’ve been working on as part of my job doing the Lancashire Writing Hub. Norman Hadley is responsible for taking and uploading much of the film. This project started small as a record of Word Soup, but other people are joining in and uploading clips of their live lit nights too. One of my favourites is Thomas Fletcher’s performance at Word Soup 7.

Budding performers can use the channel to see what works (and what doesn’t) when reading poetry and prose to an audience. Promoters can use this as an on-line library of North West performers – and the rest of us can sit back with a cup of tea and be entertained. If you do reading, writing or performing in the North West and you want to join in, you can contact me and we will hook you up. Top Banana!

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