Word on the Street

My novel ‘Word on the Street’ will be out in paperback and ebook in September, published by Cillian Press. They are a new independent based in Manchester and they’re a great team. I was allowed in on a meeting with the cover designer, which is probably every writer’s dream. It was so interesting to be part of a meeting between the three parts of the process – writer, publisher and designer – all working together and looking at things from the different angles. ‘Word on the Street’ is about homelessness, life writing and dermatology. It’s dark comedy, and that was one of the hardest elements to convey in a cover. We didn’t want it to look like a crime or mystery novel, even though it is both of those, and we didn’t want it to look like a romance, even though it is. I’m looking at book covers with new eyes now.

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Mike Johnson’s career in poetry writing

 My poetic praxis principally stems from PhD studies on twentieth-century kinaesthetic and otherwise experimental poetry (e.g. visual poetry, sound poetry, Merz, L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E) – what could be called avant-garde Modernism or Postmodernism.  Making it new, both in terms of structure and content, predicated on an unambiguous acknowledgement of living in a scientific epoch, with the machine achieving ubiquity (for good and ill), are significant factors. A chunk of my thesis was published by Routledge and can be found at: http://www.scribd.com/doc/36374179/KURT-MERZ-SCHWITTERS-AESTHETICS-POLITICS-AND-THE-NEGENTROPIC-PRINCIPLE-Mike-Johnson

Early success in being professionally published (including Macmillan and Oxford University Press) was simultaneous with these studies and I found equal amazement and amusement in the fact that the most fecund outlet for my poems began to lie in the general area of children’s  poetry! Naturally, pieces were increasingly targeted to a young and/or crossover audience (which additionally prevented a degree of self-indulgence) and the use of intriguing layouts on the page and an enchantment with language play turned out to be highly effective. So fruitful, in fact, that for much of the 1990s I was regularly asked to contribute poems for anthologies and I had something like 220 poems published. Anthology work has lessened in the twenty-first century, though I still get requests e.g. for a collection celebrating the Olympics, last year. Performing my poems in schools to an eager audience and then getting them to write their own, has been an supplementary joy, over the years.

According to the ALCS (Authors Licensing and Collecting Society) my poetry has  frequently been used in various ways and for diverse purposes, from Canada to Finland to New Zealand and places in between – I’m global! Details of much of my writing can be found at http://poetryzone.woodshed.co.uk/johnson1.htm

An agreeable concomitant of being in so many collections has been that I have subsequently had work selected for educational publications in UK, China, Germany and North America with Ireland forthcoming. I also had a poem published in The Times and I have appeared on several radio stations.

Enjoying the challenge of being inventive is still a major drive. I seek publications and competitions all over the English-speaking world and I recently had success in the Age UK Poetry Competition, eventually performing to Royalty – details of this can be found at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KBAwx-K8pLY

I have been lucky with my poetry in that my passion for the imaginative is shared by a number of editors, adult readers and especially children.  In teaching for the Open University and elsewhere, I try to project this passion (within module parameters). To date, I have seen 19 students published professionally – I would dearly love to reach 20 soon.

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Northwords Now on Kindle

Despite my best efforts to keep at least one foot planted in prehistory (I’ve yet to send a text to anyone, let alone work out the nuances of textspeak), it isn’t just my occasional OU blog (and all the online tutoring) that’s throwing yours truly into the bright, digital future. The new edition of Northwords Now is now available in e-reader form as well as good old fashioned paper. It won’t roll into a ball quite so easily but it does mean that there’s now a solution to that annoying moment when readers realise the last copy of Northwords Now has vanished from their local bookshop. Also, we get to extend the reach of the North further still.
The new Kindle edition has been specially put together with an e-reader screen in mind and boasts the same fine mix of fiction, poetry, articles and reviews as the paper magazine (Tom Pow, Kona Macphee, Liz Niven and Ian Stephen all feature in our latest issue). What’s more, we remain free of charge, which these days is no bad thing.
If you’re in any way vexed by how e-readers work and whether you’ll have to fork out precious lucre on a special contraption (you don’t) just visit the Northwords Now website where there are really clear instructions on how to download the magazine to an e-reader, PC, tablet or smartphone.
Cheers and happy reading!

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‘My Mind’s Eye’ short story by Joanne Reardon Lloyd – a collaboration between art and fiction

Joanne Reardon Lloyd was commissioned to write a short story My Mind’s Eye in collaboration with the award-winning artist Iain Andrews as part of the Mythopoeia exhibition running at Warrington Art Gallery and Museum.  The paintings for the exhibition were commissioned in direct response to some of the historic works on show at the Gallery.  The story, published in the catalogue accompanying the exhibition, was written in response to both the original paintings and their contemporary responses.   The exhibition is part of the Warrington Contemporary Arts Festival 2012.                    

Here’s how it happened:

In February 2012 I was approached by Iain Andrews to collaborate on a project which involved him creating a series of paintings in response to historic works in the Gallery’s collection.  He asked me to write a short story in response to both his paintings and the original inspirations.

We had originally discussed the idea of writing a fairy story because Andrews’ work is influenced by the idea of ‘myth-making’ and, in particular, the work of Tolkien (the title Mythopoeia is taken from a Tolkien poem).   However, many of the images tended to lend themselves to a more literary and realistic approach and the resulting story became a story about awakening and being in touch with the land as well as a spiritual search for lost things (in the story a bereaved mother searches for her daughter).  This does, in many ways, echo some of Tolkien’s themes but ultimately it is intended to be a story about healing and the tentative first steps towards recovery.   The paintings act as entrances to the story, the characters and images released to start a journey and become narrative. The writing isn’t based on one single painting; it’s based on several images and ideas which recur in each of the paintings – a half glimpsed shadow becomes a ghost, the remnants of a long lost city are a retreat where people come to be healed, musical instruments and voices find their way into the character’s working lives, and water, trees and earth become the elements that sustain them.

All of the original paintings are from the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, many of them display dark almost lifeless images. The new paintings breathe life and colour into their stories and the journey is picked up in the short story, a conversation between painter and writer working in reverse in the way that an illustrator might bring their interpretation to a written narrative.   The exhibition forms a dialogue between the paintings and the story in which the viewer is asked take part in the conversation.

Mythopoeia runs from 28 September 2012 to 13 January 2013

Details of all the paintings in the exhibition are available here: BBC News North West

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Kevan Manwaring’s Windsmith Elegy takes flight

This autumn sees the culmination of a ten year project for author and OU tutor Kevan Manwaring. With the publication of This Fearful Tempest, his five volume series, The Windsmith Elegy, concludes. The project began in September 2002, as part of his MA in the Teaching and Practice of Creative Writing at Cardiff. An early version of his first novel in the series, The Long Woman, was delivered as part of his final assignment. In Autumn 2004 it was published by Awen and a month-long tour undertaken, supported by an Arts Council grant. The follow-up, Windsmith, was published in 2006, with another month-long tour. The Well Under the Sea came out in 2009. The Burning Path, 2011 – as a result of being Writer-in-Residence, El Gouna, Egypt throughout May the previous year. And the final draft of the final volume, This Fearful Tempest, was written at Carrick Castle, Argyle, this summer – where a ‘live lit’ version of the novels (‘Song of the Windsmith’) was premiered. A tour follows.

Series summary: Fantasy and history clash in this metaphysical epic, which follows the adventures of Isambard Kerne, Royal Flying Corps observer and Edwardian antiquarian, as he explores the Realms of the Four Winds and beyond. Only by mastering the Way of the Windsmith will he finally find release from Shadow World – a parallel Earth he becomes trapped in after falling through a mysterious vortex in the First World War. A man alive in the Afterlands of the dead, his quest is to find atonement for the murder of his co-pilot and return home to the land of the living, to the soil of his soul: the British Isles. Along the way he meets the lost of history, including aviators Amelia Earhart and Antoine de St-Exupéry, side-by-side with legends, angels and demons. Only by mastering the Four Winds can this Edwardian Odysseus master his fate and find his way home.

About the show: The ‘live lit’ version of the novel has been created in collaboration with Bristol-based musician James Hollingsworth. Images are provided by Cornwall-based artist Jonathan Hayter. It was launched at the Castle of the Muse, Argyle, Scotland, on 22nd September.  James Hollingsworth & Kevan Manwaring, co-founders of The Steampunk Theatre Company, took the high road to the wilds of Scotland to perform a special preview of the show to a select audience of international guests. The response was overwhelmingly favourable: with a review by Lilian Helen Brzoska concluding with the following: ‘If you get a chance to experience a performance of ” The Windsmith ” grab the tickets with both hands and take along your whole family. Your will all hear a very fine story told with Light, Love and Honesty. Teenage sons and daughters, will find older brothers with whom to explore the inner reaches of the Human Condition with warmth, political awareness and Eco-Centric Wisdom.’  Future tour dates are listed below.

13 Oct – Song of the Windsmith, Acorn Theatre, Cornwall
30 Oct – The Storyteller’s Journey, Hawkwood College
2 Nov – Song of the Windsmith, Open House Hall, Stroud
23-25 Nov – Writing Life, Skyros Isle of Wight


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The Book of Guardians – Derek Neale’s new novel

Derek Neale’s debut novel has been published by Salt. Set in the UK and Canada, The Book of Guardians is a detective story for our time – the detective is no policeman but a cross between social worker and lawyer. It’s his last case. He finds fathers for a living, grapples with domestic chaos and tragedy on a daily basis – just as well. 

Derek says: ‘The novel grew from an image – of a shed at dusk with birdsong rising from an adjacent holly tree, a freshly watered seed tray by the shed’s window – that’s the key, something new growing from something dusty and overgrown. There was a woman with dark hair and a child, and a suspicion that Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre was in some way bound up with events. And who was the child’s father? Always a good question to ask.’ 

It’s a story about searching for mothers and fathers, for antecedents, about searching through memories to invent ourselves; getting lost then found in the labyrinthine myths we invent about our pasts and who we think we are. That’s the grand version  – but as Derek says, it’s also ‘just a detective story’. He adds – ‘it has another starting point, well it has many, but one of its other starting points was work I used to do as a freelance copy typist – trying to pay for my first word processor. I regularly typed up these reports for court guardians, about child care cases, and these struck me as incredible narratives, the form of them, chronologies and interviews sitting side by side to create novel-like sagas. That was my primary research. I thought about the cases, of course, but also I thought about what it was like to deal with such cases on a daily basis.’ 

The result is ‘an often touching examination of the philosophy of  “care”, which tackles head-on the alienation and uncertainty of contemporary lives’, so says one reviewer. Derek studied on UEA’s MA in Creative Writing and has published stories in various anthologies and journals. The author of several articles and books about writing, he is Chair of The Open University’s Advanced Creative Writing module (A363) and is currently the OU’s Director of Teaching for English. 

You can see more about The Book of Guardians at Salt Publishing and www.derekneale.com

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Katrina Naomi is awarded writing residency

Katrina Naomi has been awarded a prestigious Gladstone’s Library Residency in 2013. She has just returned from reading at the Poetry on the Lake Festival in Italy, where she won second prize in the Poetry on the Lake short poem competition. She is currently working on a poetry commission for the Alex Katz exhibition at Margate’s Turner Contemporary Gallery.


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Pauline Plummer (Hughes): recent writing successes

Pauline Plummer’s verse novella From Here to Timbuktu has been chosen as a Read Regional book, by New Writing North.  This means that it will be promoted for the next nine months through readings and publicity.  The Read Regional campaign was launched publically on 20th September, and you can read about it here.

One of Pauline’s short stories has also been awarded second prize in this year’s Ilkley Literature Festival short story competition.

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Hi folks

This week you can pick up the summer 2012 issue of Northwords Now from the usual stockists, or tap a few keys and read the online version at northwordsnow.co.uk.

Not only is this issue packed with some great short fiction and poetry but there are also interviews with John Burnside and Iain Banks, plus a user’s guide to Scottish Literary magazines. If that wasn’t enough, the website has extra reviews, Gaelic poetry in translation and poetry podcasts. All this is TOTALLY FREE so can get your literature fix and bust the recession (sort of) all at the same time!

Cheers…Chris Powici, Editor

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Heather Richardson’s bid wins EPSRC Commercial Challenge

A couple of months ago a news item on the OU Home page caught my eye. It was the launch of a Commercial Challenge competition for researchers and research students who had come up with a business idea as a result of their work. Entrants to the competition would get training on Intellectual Property and Academic Enterprise, and could then put together a proposal for a short project to explore the feasibility of their idea. There were two £2000 prizes on offer to research students, which would allow the winners to cover any costs incurred while they were carrying out the project. The competition was linked to the EPSRC – the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council – which might not be the first place a creative writer would think of looking for funding, but I figured I had nothing to lose by having a go. 

I’m three years into a part time PhD in Creative Writing, working on an historical novel set in 17th century Edinburgh, and recently I’ve been thinking about ways of using the knowledge I’ve gained. I worked for many years in Sales and Marketing before moving into Higher Education, and I’m interested in the idea of creative entrepreneurship. I’m also a bit of a gadget freak, and am excited by the educational potential of technology such as smartphones and tablet computers. The last couple of years have seen the arrival of some brilliant iPad apps, such as Faber’s app version of T S Eliot’s The Wasteland, complete with PDFs of one of Eliot’s early drafts, annotated by W H Auden. All these elements – my research, my interest in entrepreneurship and my enthusiasm for gadgets – came together in the idea of a short Creative Writing course delivered in an app format. Because the focus of my research is Historical Fiction, I decided to propose an app specifically on that genre. 

The training sessions were very useful, but it was clear that most of the other candidates were from disciplines such as computing and engineering – the areas most likely to product inventions with a commercial application. Sometimes in the Arts and Humanities we have a tendency to think that we don’t produce a commercial ‘product’ (apart from the lucky few who write a best-seller) but in actual fact there is a potentially huge market for the knowledge and expertise we all have. That’s what I told myself as I put my proposal together. 

I was delighted to hear that I’d got through to the final round of the competition. This meant I had to pitch my idea, Dragons’ Den-style, to a panel of experts. Although this was a bit nerve-racking it also proved a useful process, as the panel gave me some practical and encouraging advice about my idea. Later that day I got an email telling me my idea was one of the winners – a brilliant, if unexpected, result! I’m now about to embark on my project. My three main objectives are to map out the course content in more detail, conduct some market research to identify customer needs and work with developers to get a clear idea of the costs of producing the app. I’d be delighted to hear from anyone who’d like to contribute their views to the market research: if you’re interested in being involved please email me on Heather.Richardson@open.ac.uk

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