Thursday 27 August 2015

Science and Story at Space Centre - Siobhan Logan

An August Blog Event - Leicester Writers

My final Leicester Writer Visitor has a  story to tell that is truly out of this world. Siobhan, a writer friend for many years, is more than qualified to tell the story herself so please give an astronomical welcome to Siobhan Logan:

Thanks to Jacob Ross for this picture
Next week I am joining scientists and astronomers to celebrate the Rosetta space mission at the National Space Centre. Pinch me now. In all honesty, I was rubbish at science at school. The Bunsen burners scared me, Physics was the dark arts and the only bit I enjoyed was drawing diagrams. Yet as a poet and storyteller I don't seem to be able to stay away. Why didn't they tell me then that physics could explain rainbows and Northern Lights or take you on astral journeys across the solar system?

So when the European Space Agency steered a space probe 317 million miles from Earth to land on the alien world of a comet, I was on the edge of my seat. Watching Philae plunge into the darkness, 'may-fly winged, fire-fly bright', I knew I wanted to write about it. The drama of Philae's tricky descent, only to bounce out of sight, was riveting enough. But then there were the extraordinary photo-shots of comet 67P's landscape that mother-ship Rosetta captured. I'm quite a visual writer and those black cliffs, empty dunes and mysterious sink-holes had me mesmerised for months.

The other thing that hooked me is the ESA's preoccupation with myth. They named their mission after the Rosetta stone that decoded the language of Egyptian hieroglyphs. And they are promising to unlock our solar system's secrets as comets are believed to be amongst the oldest bodies left-over from its formation. As I researched the myths, I found more parallels. The Egyptian version of astronomy revolved around the long, perilous and cyclical journeys of the sun-god Ra, sailing his boat across our skies by day and through the underworld at night. A wonderful analogy for Rosetta's trip, dodging fierce jets of ice-dust and gas as the comet's orbit brings it back towards the sun.

So here I am relishing this collaboration with local scientists and preparing a 'mash-up' of poetry & physics, ancient myth and modern science to enthral our audience. My poems will appear in the form of an Egyptian scroll and we have a 'build-your-own comet demo'. Come join us! It's on Tues. 1st September 7pm at the National Space Centre. Leicester Astronomical Society welcome guests (£2 on door) but advise pre-booking on their Facebook page here.

You can read more about this exciting event on Siobhan's blogon this University of Leicester press releaseon the Rosetta Blog and on the Space Centre Website.

Siobhan Logan's prose/poetry collections Firebridge to Skyshore: A Northern Lights Journey and Mad, Hopeless and Possible: Shackleton's Endurance Expedition are both published by Original Plus Press. They have been performed at venues including the British Science Museum, National Space Centre, Ledbury Poetry Festival and British Science Festival.
Between a teaching day-job, she writes, blogs, reviews, mentors other writers, offers workshops, performs, gives talks and writes some more. In 2014 she led WEM's first-ever digital residency on writing Letters to the Unknown Soldier at Paddington Station. Her latest obsession is space: the race, the rockets, the final frontier …

Siobhan's blog Shaking out the Colours 
Siobhan's website

Thank you so much for all your visits during this month devoted to Leicester writers. As I've already said, there are many, many more of us. It truly is an exciting place for wordsmiths to live. Next week I'll be back with my usual mix of work, life and thoughts. Have a good Bank Holiday weekend.


Tuesday 25 August 2015

Why do I write? Maria Smith

An August Blog Event - Leicester Writers

There are so many Leicester writers that if I were to include them all it would take me a good year at least. I've tried to fit in as many as I could in a month and apologies to those who have been omitted. Today please give yet another warm welcome to my friend and penultimate guest, Maria Smith:

I don’t make my living from writing, and presently have nothing to sell. I put words on paper, I’m writing a novel, and who knows one day I might even finish it! I pen short pieces, and enter writing competitions, and sometimes if I’m lucky, I’m successful, and I win. One of my stories was made into a short film, and I’ve had articles accepted in magazines too.

I’m on Twitter, and along with another writer we started #writingchat on Wednesday evenings, where writers drop in and join the discussion on a topic of interest for an hour.

If you visit Leicester, you’ll maybe catch me scribbling in Costa Coffee by the clock tower, or Curve Café in the cultural quarter. I do write about the city, I use many locations in my writing, and yes, I people watch, and have been known to find my characters amongst the locals.

Why do I write? It’s not that I don’t value my work. Of course it’s lovely to receive payment for my words. I could give you lots of answers to that question. I write to escape, to go wherever I desire, or I write because I want to go on the journey.

Mostly though, I write because it’s fun!

Maria Smith blogs at First Draft Cafe

My next and final Leicester Writer Visitor will be Siobhan Logan

Friday 21 August 2015

There's always more to learn - Farhana Shaikh

An August Blog Event - Leicester Writers

Farhana Shaikh is a well known face on the Leicester writers' scene. She works hard to create opportunities for Leicester writers, providing us with a shared forum for discussion and support. In fact, this month's blog was inspired by her tireless work and so please give a massively warm welcome to Farhana Shaikh:

This academic year, I’ve promised to devote time to studying journalism. I’ve signed up to do an NCTJ diploma in Newspaper Journalism. I’ve bought all the required reading materials, notebooks and pens, ink and paper. I’ve even written a couple of features and taken a free online course to ease myself in.

I don’t think I’ll ever feel like I’m done with learning. I’m filled by a constant sense of wonder, and a fear of knowing nothing at all. Last year, I took courses in Digital Marketing, Entrepreneurship and Writing for the Web without leaving my home or straining my income. 

Most of the courses I take aren’t related to writing and I just see where they go, rather than have a plan, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t helped to inspire or inform my writing. The year before last I took a course in Philosophy, which helped me to explore possibilities in my writing that I hadn’t ever thought about – suffice to say, it sent my imagination into overdrive.

There are lots of free courses for writers online, which you can access in your pyjamas. Some of them might even help you become a better writer. My favourite place to study online is EDX who specialise in online courses from the world's best universities. 

Farhana Shaikh is a writer and publisher born in Leicester and is the founding editor of The Asian Writer. In 2010 she established Dahlia Publishing to publish regional and diverse writing talent. She programmed the first Leicester Writes festival and hosts the monthly Writers Meet Up at Cafe Bru. She has facilitated creative writing workshops and judged competitions in the UK and India. In 2010, Farhana received an Arts bursary from the Royal Shakespeare Company and now regularly reviews productions for The Public Reviews. Farhana writes feature articles, poetry, short stories and scripts. Farhana lives in Leicester with her husband and their two children and can be found on Twitter talking about books and publishing @farhanashaikh

Maria Smith will be my next Leicester Writer Visitor

Tuesday 18 August 2015

Writing for the cartoon market

An August Blog Event - Leicester Writers

This week my guest is a writing friend who has been a constant support through all the ups and downs of this crazy writing business. We have a critique group meeting every fortnight and, together with several other local writers, we not only crit, we eat, chat and share our life problems too. So please give the warmest of welcomes to Debbie White:

I’d had two teen fiction novels published. Did I want to write another? A publisher was looking for series fiction for 7-9 year olds. Maybe I’d go back to writing for that age group. Much easier.

It started off well. The publisher loved the idea of a James Bond pigeon called Agent Blue. They even wanted two stories, to be published in cartoon format. Great, something new and I only had to write the stories, didn’t I? If only. OK, I wouldn’t have to do the artwork, just... 
  • give the illustrator minutely detailed instructions for each page...right down to a character’s body language. 
  • Say how many ‘panels’ I needed on each page (a panel contains a segment of action. Some pages might have two panels, others three etc.) 
  • Detail how speech bubbles should be drawn to express emotions. 
  • Explain what was going on in the background to the action.  
A tight page count meant spreading the text out carefully. A prescriptive ‘words per page’
count drove me to distraction.  Help! For every line of text I now had more than 20 lines of instructions. The texts went off to the editor. The cartoon roughs came back. Changes had to be made to text and illustration. Agent Blue’s code name was changed from Troy Trojan (Trojan’s the brand name for condoms in Australia.) A female Chief of S.P.I.E.S was better. RoboDove needed to look bigger and scarier. So many tiny changes, I was beginning to lose the plot! But somehow it worked. A final e-mail from the editor, “It’s been really lovely working with you. Hopefully they’ll take off and we’ll have a whole series of them to do in the future.”  Would I? You bet.

About Debbie White: Everything you might want to know about Debbie/Deborah is on her author website Deborah White It has some very nice (and highly misleading) pictures of the author. It lists her previous titles for OUP, Random House and Templar. It also explains why for some titles she is 'Debbie White' and for others 'Deborah White'. Basically 'Deborah' sounds more serious and definitely more appropriate for dark and scary novels like Wickedness' and 'Deceit'. 

She just needs to add that her latest titles for OUP, under the name Debbie White, are:
'Agent Blue and the Super Smelly Goo'
'Agent Blue and the Big Swirly Whirly'
Both titles will be out in September, in comic book form.

Farhana Shaikh will be my next Leicester Writer Visitor.

Friday 14 August 2015

How do you make a living as a writer?

I'm really enjoying this series of Leicester writers. There are so many more that I could include but I've restricted it to just one month's-worth. Here is my next visitor, a friend who also shares my passion for therapeutic writing. Today she is talking about the commercial side of the profession, so please give a warm welcome to Maxine Linnell:

Last week I was lying on a couch while a young physiotherapist pressed on a tender part of my back.
‘You’re a writer!’ she said. ‘That’s wonderful. I’ve just finished my first novel, would you like to read it?’
I don’t know what I muttered into the facehole. I think self-preservation came into it. That particular spot is very sensitive.

A recent survey showed that more than 60% of the population wanted to be a writer. Another survey showed that only a few writers earn above the minimum wage. Nicky Morgan MP recently warned children not to go for a career in the arts, as they’d regret it. Facebook is a great source of half-remembered facts.

Writing, or perhaps writing-related work, is now my main source of income, after a lifetime of being a psychotherapist. If you’re after money, I’d endorse Nicky Morgan’s warning. But I need to be a writer, live in the writing world, talk writing, think writing, indulge my huge love of everything writing-related. So I feel very fortunate to have six published books, and as a result to work with writers as friends, and as an editor, mentor, ‘critiquer’ and teacher - even though it’s an unreliable, low-paid, hand-to-mouth income. I’m grateful to all the people who helped me get here, and help me do it. I’m also grateful to the people who choose to work with me, and love finding the gems in their writing.

‘Is it just luck?’ the physio asked me, shifting to another tender spot.
No, it’s very hard work. It’s hard work writing and editing your work till you think it’s going to die but instead it emerges crystal clear. It’s hard work selling it, hard work pushing your skills to their limits and using them, hard work giving time, energy and encouragement to others. And I find it difficult to make time for my own writing in the middle of all this. I don’t think I’m alone in that? And I love libraries so much, I’m putting a lot of unpaid time into keeping Rothley’s little library alive. And most of what I’m doing towards that is - writing.
Maxine Linnell

Maxine’s books are published by Five Leaves, A&C Black and Real Reads. 
Currently she has poems in The Book of Love and Loss, and the Soundswrite anthology to be published in October. 
From September she’s teaching in Leicester with Writing East Midlands and the WEA.

Debbie White will be my next Leicester Writer Visitor.

Tuesday 11 August 2015

Stories That Stay in Your Head - Emma Lee

An August Blog Event - Leicester Writers

I've known Emma for almost as long as I've been writing and I've always admired her use of language in her poetry. It is, therefore, with much pleasure that I welcome Emma to my blog:

I’ve always loved listening to stories. Before I could write, I built houses with toy bricks and invented stories for the people who might have lived there. Once I could write, I grew to love the process of focusing on a specific aspect or theme in a story and condensing it into a poem. Most of my poems focus on other people’s stories, often inspired by news stories. Many of the poems in, “Mimicking a Snowdrop” look at how the past coexists with the present, for example in the same flat, the presence of a Blitz survivor is sensed by a modern day shift worker.

Some stories stay with you long after you’ve finished reading the newspaper or closed the book. My third collection “Ghosts in the Desert” explores this, beginning with ghosts from news of wars, the aftermath of tsunamis, bombings, or ill-served by political decisions of others, and how these haunt survivors. One sequence explores fan fiction, written by fans who find characters from films staying with them long after the credits have rolled. 

We need stories to help keep memories alive and give us the opportunity to learn from past mistakes.

Emma Lee

Emma Lee is a poet and reviewer. 
She blogs at and has published three poetry collections: 
“Ghosts in the Desert” (Indigo Dreams Publishing, 2015),
“Mimicking a Snowdrop” (Thynks Press, 2014) and 
“Yellow Torchlight and the Blues” (Original Plus, 2004). 
She reviews for The Journal, London Grip and Sabotage Reviews.

Maxine Linnell will be my next Leicester Writer Visitor.