Tag Archives: Bluemoose

M-Ilkley’ing it

1 Oct

I’m off. Not like the milk (we have a rather fab local milkman, you see) but I’m actually referring to the Ilkley Literature Festival – where I’m going to be doing various bits and pieces; championing pals Bluemoose indie publishers in their ‘Northern – Not Wanted’ session,  as well as working with the amazing Razwan ul-Haq.

I’ll blog about Raz’s work a little bit later on during the festival, but I just wanted to give people a bit of a teaser about our session. We’ll be aiming to share ‘what brought us to creative writing as individual’ but our main thrust will focus on the human connection.  On how friendships and laughter – untampered by the powers that be, unfunded by institutions and organisations – can create better understanding and harmony between people from different communities and backgrounds. In fact, Razwan and I believe that this approach has much better chances of succeeding in healing rifts between communities, than the politically correct overkill and the orchestrated by men-in-suits stuff can. So isn’t this kind of thing more important than ever – in an ever-increasingly Islamophobic world?

I’ve copied the press release for those of you who are interested what The Razster and I do. And why.

Maybe we’ll see some of you there? If not – bung us message if you ever want me and that dodgy looking fella to appear at an opera house near you.  (NB – *joke* about the opera house. Raz cannot sing for toffee. Although he claims he likes to tinker on church pianos. Which is probably blasphemous. Or something.)

EAST IS EAST and WEST IS WEST?  ***(PRESS RELEASE)***

chris n Raz ATTITUDE in black and white

At first sight, it might seem that Razwan Ul-Haq and Christina Longden have very little in common and that ‘Never The Twain’ should meet. But a serendipitous meeting at a previous literature festival founded a new friendship between two authors; one that embraces Islam, Christianity, class and culture – as well as injecting plenty of comedy and humanity into their writing.

Christina, author of ‘Mind Games & Ministers’ brings a bit of Northern mirth to everything she does, whether it be a blogging at ‘funnylass’ or her current role as a Director of Lorna Young Foundation, an international charity based in west Yorkshire. Razwan Ul-Haq, Islamic Artist and author returns to the Ilkley Literature Festival again after his talk last year’s Ilkley Playhouse talk on his “Sultan Vs. Dracula” novel. Both are Lancashire born but ‘saw sense’ but defected to Yorkshire, many years ago, with Chris settling in Huddersfield and Raz in Bradford.

In a world torn apart with opposing narratives, both authors want to offer festival-goers a bit of humanity and freshness in ‘Never The Twain’ – a lively evening conversation which will touch upon everything from religion to politics; on writing about what you believe in and allowing harmony to develop with others, whilst remaining true to yourself. Come along to their FREE session at Ilkley on Sat 3rd October 7.45pm at Church House and find out how to build bridges between some of the gaps that exist between different ethnic groups in the UK, because, as both Chris and Razwan advise others “it ain’t rocket science, you know…”

Too often, projects, programmes and events are built from the outside “looking in.” Isn’t it time we began to heal ourselves through the human connection?
****EDITORIAL NOTES ****

West Yorkshire is not perceived by the media to be the UK’s most racially or religiously integrated region; yet after a serendipitous meeting, Razwan and Chris discovered an unusual friendship and the inspiration to share with others, their stories – of having far more in common than many might think…
Chris’ career has always focussed on advocacy for marginalised people – whether representing the San bushmen of the Kalahari or fronting up to the UK government when fighting the cause of council housing tenants. Her venture into fiction with the Yorkshire-based ‘Mind Games and Ministers’ series uses comedy and social commentary as a way of informing others about the juxtaposition of wealth, poverty and prejudices in UK society
Razwan’s work also seeks to expose some of the incorrect assumptions that we all make with regards to groups of people in society. ‘Black Taj Mahal’ is a mystic love story, set in two continents. We all hear so much about the ‘plight of the Muslim woman’ – however Bradford is home to many newly-arrived oppressed Muslim Pakistani men too…
‘Never The Twain’ at Ilkley Literature Festival, Saturday 3rd October, Church House, 7.45 to 8.45 pm.
Chris blogs at http://www.funnylass.wordpress.com Razwan can be found at http://www.ulhaq.com

ILF Leaflet actual PHOTO

HLF Flyer ILF approved pdf

 

A Killer? Minus The Caffeine.

14 Jul
Post 3 – for ReadKirklees

Occasionally I do chuck a book title or two into this blog as ‘recommended reading’ for like-minded folk. And last year I flagged up a book named ‘King Crow,’ by Michael Stewart. Mr Stewart happens to hail from the same side of the hills as I do (that dreadful Manchester place) and like me, he also did the defector thing – now happily living in west Yorkshire, hanging out in Kirklees and no doubt feeling as confused as I do, in terms of whether he’s more of a red, than a white rose.

Purchased in 1989 from Afflecks Palace. One of my many relics...

Purchased in 1989 from Afflecks Palace. One of my many relics from days of yore..

Now, ‘King Crow’ was a darned fine book. So much so that it won The Guardian’s ‘Not The Booker Prize’ award. So much so that I’ll be honest here; I didn’t really want to read Michael Stewart’s next offering. Because I don’t know about you, but these days, I rarely find a writer who manages to pack the same kind of punch with that ‘difficult second novel.’

But ‘Cafe Assassin’ has more than managed to pull this off. For me, the acid test of a damned good read is this; that you find yourself flicking back and forth in the book – checking facts and circumstances; reminding yourself of the vaguely sketched but now important, details of the story. Smiling to yourself ‘ah yes….that fits. I like that.’ And the proof of the pudding lies in the fact that you find yourself thinking of the story a few weeks later – pondering the characters, their motivations. And finally – when you find yourself trying to lend your copy to your mother (even though there are snippets in there that she might not fully approve of – and I’m not talking about the way the author disses The Cramps) well. Then you know that you really *should* flag the book up to all and sundry.

Be afraid. Especially if you're a posh QC who screwed your one-time best buddy over...

Be afraid. Especially if you’re a posh QC who screwed your one-time best buddy over…

Michael Stewart doesn’t just write books. He’s a bit of a scripter too. And his work always touches on the kind of themes that fascinate me the most; working class origins, poverty versus privilege, justice, people struggling to find their own unique voice in a world that seeks to sink the undesirables and the impoverished as fast as it damned well can.  And what I love most about his writing style is that it isn’t exclusive – anyone – of practically any reading ability – can pick up his work and engage with excellent prose, ultra-realistic discourse, canny social observations and humour – whilst actually educating themselves at the same time (i.e. I’m off to read some Baudelaire and a dab of Gerard de Nerval now.)

Neither does ‘Cafe Assassin’ lack on the storyline. Regular readers of this blog know that for nigh on 15 years, I’ve been involved in support to prisoners at home and abroad – so the blurb on the back of the book was a clincher for me; “Nick Smith went to prison for a crime he didn’t commit. Now, after twenty-two years inside, he is looking for the man who put him there…Nick wants everything that Andrew has. He wants it all and he will do anything to get it.”

To kick off with, we don’t know what Nick has done – whether he *has* indeed committed a crime at all – but we know for sure that he’s out and about these days and that he’s mega naffed-off.  In between the thrill of the chase – the desire for house, life, wife – I love the way that Michael Stewart deftly weaves in the colours of the North; I found myself hankering back to the days of mooching around Afflecks Palace in my monkey boots with the Rasta shoelaces, hanging out at The Dry and at The Night and Day Cafe, laughing at the ‘student-types’ at the Hacienda … (and will the lad who approached me on the dance floor there in ’91, informing me “Hey Girl – I’m digging your rave!” please email me? Because you are categorically the only man who has ever complimented me on my dancing prowess. And I would personally like to thank you. You were twisting my melon, man.)

Baggy jeans, maybe. But was there EVER an real excuse for me wearing these things?

Baggy jeans, maybe. But was there EVER an real excuse for me wearing these things down the Hacienda?

So from the dropping of E’s down at the Hac (not me, Mum!) to the violence of Cat A-Wing HMP Wakefield… right over to the triple-garaged homes of well-heeled Ilkley; our protagonist continues to lurk and plots the utmost in revenge. Yup – Cafe Assassin has all of the bases covered for me.

But I’m not going to spoil any of the suspense for those of you who want to read it (and believe me – there’s bags of the stuff in there) but I will say that for me, at any rate – the ending was rather unexpected.

dockers

Another one of my MADchester antiques

But certainly not a let-down.

So if you are after a rollocking good read for the summer; if you trust me on my previous choices and words of wisdom and if you want to support one of the best indie publishers in the UK (those Bluemoose people) then do snaffle this book up ASAP.

ms on cimbali

The only missing ingredient in the book? The caffeine.

In fact, my only criticism of the novel is that there was a distinct lack of caffeine involved.  But then, none of us are perfect.

 

 

Gym Bobbins

31 Oct

Over the years I’ve been a member of your UK swanky city-centre female-0nly places; your corporate-shop ‘love your boss – love your gym!’ deals. And plenty of East Mancunian Spit n’ Sawdust in-betweeners.

So I think that I do know my moolah’s worth – and that I’m good at judging the overall social-aggregate, when it comes to fellow gym-goers.

I know for a fact that I don’t want to be around the sort of folk who invest more in their lycra than in their love of fellow man. Or who think that they’re a cut above the rest of us.

So, I go to a friendly gym.  A proper, not up-itself gym. A place where a man some thirty years older than me will lend me a book because ‘”it’s like the sort of thing you were reading on the cross-treader here the other week. I think it’s a bit bobbins, like. But you might fancy it.”  A place where a woman will hand me a donation for the “charity thing that you’re doing with the African kids. Overheard you talking about it in the dressing rooms.” A gym where another fella will hand us a DVD (“Oh no, love – it’s not dodgy or ‘owt! But make sure that you check it first before the kiddies watch it won’t yer?  ‘Cause I can’t always guarantee that ‘Tinkerbell Two’ won’t turn out to be something that sounds a bit similar to the Disney version…but in’t…”)

And we’re an incredibly fit bunch because we manage to work out AND have a good gas at the same time (last week we covered – politics, religion, breakfast cereals, rat infestation, Manchester City, cruise control, salsa dancing, “smack the little buggers or not”, ‘the bin men’ and The Welsh.)

But this week I happened to overhear a conversation between three of the bigger, scarier looking fellas.  It went like this:

Man 1: Did you see that rainbow yesterday afternoon? Did you SEE it?

Sunset over Holme Moss. Be-yowtiful.

Sunset over Holme Moss. Be-yowtiful.

Man 2: Aye I did. It were be-yowtiful        [NB ***this is how ‘beautiful’ is pronounced in west yorkshire***]

Man 3: Yeah – about three o’ clock? It were stunning. Utterly stunnin, it were.

Man 1: It were like…. like one of those moments for me – like where you stop and catch yer breath and go ‘Eee – bloody ‘ell – I’ll have some more o’ that, I will.

Man 2: An I’ll tell you what else. Same afternoon – bit later – I were coming over the top of Holme Moss in the van and there were this light like – like shafts of light just peepin’ through the clouds down onto Holmfirth. Just as I turned the corner at the top. It were like… angel light. You know what I mean?

Man 3: Yeah – I know what you mean. Like – you just catch it at the right moment up there and it sorta dapples through.  Like little pockets of angel light or whatever you wanna call it – your little rays just pickin’ out the dark and the light in the landscape. And all o’ that.

Man 2: I know. It were that bad – well – it were that good. That I had to pull the van over and me eyes were just…transfixed. The light had this sort of almost greenish hue to it. You know like when your bronze … sort of…glows like that?

Small boy on Holme Moss. If this little chap turns out to be half as smashing as the Yorkshire blokes at the gym - it'll be 'Job's A Good 'Un'...

Small boy on Holme Moss. If this little chap turns out to be half as smashing as the Yorkshire blokes at the gym – it’ll be ‘Job’s A Good ‘Un’…

Man 1: Oh aye, I know what you mean.  When it’s like that – you think – well. Get me a pen and a bit of paper and I’m gonna write us a poem. Ha!

Man 2: Oh aye. I don’t mind tellin’ you. I cried I did.  In the van. Lookin’ at it all. I cried.

Man 1: Did yer?

Man 3: Yeah, I did. An’ the last time I cried was when I were watchin’ that ‘Britain’s Bravest Kids.’ I don’t cry often, me.

Man 1: Aye. I know what you mean, though. Be-yowtiful.

At this point, I do confess that I was wondering what precisely the gym owner had been injecting into the bottles of energy drinks on sale…

But all became a little bit clearer as I passed the guys (still waxing lyrical about the shafts of autumnal light across the peak district) and headed towards the exit doors.   “Here Chris!” said the receptionist. “If you’ve been looking for that Writing Magazine of yours – it’s been in the magazine rack all week.  You left it behind again. Take it home with you before they all start thinking that we’re gonna cancel the subscription to ‘Top Gear’ magazine…”

 

A magazine what'll up yer use of adjectives. Innit. Plus a pair of stinky old trainers.

A magazine what’ll up yer use of adjectives. Innit. Plus a pair of stinky old trainers.

_______________________________

Postscript:

I was especially relieved to have this magazine returning to me as bless ’em – the good folk at Writing Mag printed a letter from me in this (November 2014) edition. Copied below for those of you who are curious about as to why I get all hot and bothered about self-publishing versus traditional publishing etc…

DEAR WRITING MAGAZINE:

Leah Osbourne was appalled that literary agent Johnny Geller wouldnt view her as a serious writer – that she is more of a ‘hobbyist’ – because she is a stay at home mum and writes (like a devil!) between her other family commitments.

Virginia Woolf is a great point of reference of course – on being ‘the home maker’ and also being a writer. And I am with her all of the way when it comes to women and writing and childcare and ‘the home’ … And how women have been unable to be taken seriously as writers (especially ‘for income gain.’)
But I also have many male writer pals who would be as equally horrified at this demarcation between ‘professional’ and ‘amateur’ as Leah is.  Blokes who are damned good writers and who through circumstance are tied up with care for children, elderly parents, maybe even a full time job. A medical issue.

So even today (as any Marxist would chirply tell you!) the issue of who can afford to be *perceived by the powers that be as PROFESSIONAL’* versus the hobbyists … nearly always comes down to income. Or class. Or your ‘connections’ (not what you know…etc)

Some woman from Yorkshire. On a revolutionary rant.  Yawn. Pass the Pimm's,  Penelope!

Some woman from Yorkshire. On a revolutionary rant about writers having to doff their caps to the likes of us! Yawn. Pass the Pimm’s, Penelope!

What’s the answer? Well. We are living in writing-revolutionary times. For those who feel powerless – that the Big Guys are impossible to impress, to break into as a writer….Stop trying to doff your caps at them.  Go the self-publish route. Show them that you are serious about your art. And yeah this *does* mean  planning and pitching your work with the utmost professionalism. If writing a book for example, you absolutely can NOT afford to skimp on the professional editing. Don’t forget that indie publishing can be a two way process. You might well do a selfie and make a few bob yourself. But then pull in the agent or publisher who has stumbled across you via your indie status. As opposed to the desperado slush pile application.

Once you have been able to prove that you are ‘out there’ yourself …well. Then it’s totally up to *YOU* whether your writing is a ‘hobby’ or not.

As for biggie publisher and agent; Philip Pullman himself put it beautifully in the October edition of WM – “the market doesn’t know what it wants, until it sees what you’ve got!”

And I do have much sympathy with Johnny Gellar too. He is simply looking for guys n gals who can cut the mustard and deliver the goods. It is a scary new world for the agents and the publishing houses. We cannot blame them for wanting a simple way to sort the wheat from the chaff. The onus is on us lot to lead them to a new market – as opposed to one that reacts to their perceived ‘demands.’
Chris L Longden, Hudds
(Mind Games & Ministers – www.funnylass.wordpress.com)

Don’t Be A Bird Brain

16 Oct

Followers will know that I like to blog about all kinds of stuff, but that I can become the gobbiest when it comes to the issue of ‘outsiders’. Yes, I get all crabby about those who are on the fringes of society (because of lack of income or birth right or connections) but I also get my knickers in a twist in relation to the way that people who are deemed to be a bit ‘different’, ‘quirky,’ ‘eccentric’ or who seem to be singing from a completely different song-sheet from the rest of us ‘normals,’ are treated.

Elvis falls into one of these categories.  Not only is his name un-cool (because most families don’t listen to Elvis obsessively as we do) but he also happens to be a budgie. And after Father Christmas delivered him to us last year I have lost count of the number of times people have exclaimed “Ha-ha! You have a budgie! Aren’t they a little old ladies’ pet? How bizarre!”

He was a loving little companion. Until he shat on my copy holder.

He was a loving little companion. Until he shat on my copy holder.

So even though our Elvis is one un-cool dude – he has clearly has a feathery little soul of his own. So he gets treated like royalty (better than royalty actually, if Prince Harry trucked up to our house – I certainly wouldn’t be cleaning his turds up with a wadge of Kleenex). During the daytime if the house is empty, Radio 4 is switched on so that he doesn’t get too lonely (he is a huge fan of Women’s Hour and has a bit of a thing for Jenni Murray). And if I’m working from home he accompanies me to the office (he’s sitting on the printer right now chirruping away – and yeah, it’s yours truly who has to leave the room if the phone rings. Not all professional callers are as understanding of a budgie’s need to squawk along to The Archers as you’d hope that they might be.)

Yesterday, I was in the middle of reading an excellent guide  for employers on how to create an autie-friendly workplace when my daughter (who was trying – and failing –  to train Elvis to sing a Beatles song) interrupted me with “Hey Mum, why do we use ‘Bird Brain’ as an insult? ‘Cause Elvis – and all birds – are way cleverer than my brother…” and this reminded me of a fantastic book that I recently read.

‘King Crow’ by Michael Stewart had me all fired up. Indeed, chuffed to bits. Because the action takes place in a very foreign, an oh-so exotic and distant place. Far-flung shores which are all too often overlooked by the UK south-eastern dominated publishers. Yeah folks, this venture into alien territory involves all of us suspending those LondonCentric belief systems and assimilating a superb tale that centres on a general geographical area known as ‘the North of England.’  And then focuses further on an even smaller microscopic part of the landscape which happens to possess a very un-Kensington and Chelsea place name. That of ‘Salford.’ Or pronounced ‘Sol-fud.’ (In case you somehow thought that it should be uttered as ‘SORL-FORRD’)

So yeah, thank God for people like Michael Stewart who are proud of their roots and who enjoy writing for the literati – as well as for plebs like me n’ mine. Folk who get all giddy because we used to wander through those exact same tower blocks which he touches upon.  People who know precisely what the terraced houses he mentions still look like (or indeed,  taste like … I used to have a thing for licking red brick work when I was a nipper. But let’s not go there.)

And my interest in reading this book was piqued further when I realised that the story is told through the eyes of a school boy who is autistic. Although the ‘A’ word is never used. It doesn’t need to be. Michael S  simply shows that his protagonist Paul Cooper, operates on a different plane to most others. And that Paul’s obsessive traits are focussed on birds (and unlike most teenage boys, this kid’s fixation is with on the ornithological – the feathery, rather than the female form.)

Who's The Daddy?

Who’s The Daddy?

Now, you might already be familiar with the ‘Rainman’/ Dustin Hoffman version of what being autistic might entail – but ‘King Crow’ is a beautiful reminder of how autism can take both stark and subtle shapes within a personality. And it also nudges the reader into realising that obsessions – which might at first hold no interest for the reader whatsoever, when so cleverly woven into a story with such a fascinating character – can leave your fingers itching to find out more via Google. Or cause you to fall into petulant arguments with your six year old as to whether “it IS a sodding Crow in the back garden. Or a raven.  Or…let’s get the damned field book out, eh our kid?”

I don’t normally blether on about books that you MUST read – but if you tend to care about the sort of things that I get all het-up about, then this is a book for you. And I won’t say anymore about it for fear of spoiling the storyline…

And for those of you who have already read this book and who have enjoyed other stuff delivered by Mr Stewart. you will be pleased to hear that his next book will be launced in the new year. (Although sadly, the guy cannot guarantee any budgie cameos.)

But hey.  Back to the report that I mentioned earlier*. And an excellent quote from it. Courtesy of a fella named Stephen Shore. Who offers some very sage advice.  Which I reckon, should be applied not only to autism but to many other hidden impairments. And to the overall issue of ‘intelligence’ itself.

“If you’ve met one person with autism. You have met one person with autism.” (Stephen Shore.)

 

Never mind your bloody bird-brain! Sherlock's latest cerebral rival...

Never mind your bloody bird-brain! Going pipe to claw.  Sherlock’s latest cerebral rival… (and never mind my northern bias – check out Museum of London’s ace new exhib on our Sherlock and his incredible legacy)

 

* ‘Making Employment a Positive Experience for People in Calderdale’ By Matthew Lowe – for Calderdale Council and National Autistic Society