Contemporary short fiction, poetry and more

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The Reverend Richard Coles

Most people I know understand your state of bereavement. I think it is absolutely terrible that you have lost your civil partner, in effect, your husband. I feel very sorry for your loss. You seem like a very empathetic person, to whom an emotional loss would seem worse, because of the sensitivity.

I am not going to comment on people who have criticised you, since David’s death.

The people on the side of righteousness believe in love.

A 5-minute introduction to the contract law of England and Wales for writers and other creative workers

Before we start, I need to explain that I am not a lawyer.  My father was a law lecturer, and my mother was a very eminent solicitor.  One of her main specialisms was contract law.  But I am not a lawyer.  I am offering general information, not legal advice. 

I have been interested in law for a long time, and I do know the basic elements of contract law. 

The purpose of this article is to deal with a hypothetical situation in which a freelance writer is selling a piece of writing or other service (proof-reading, editing, teaching, and so on) to an outlet. It will include analogies with other kinds of transaction in order to make some legal concepts as clear as possible. 

A contract is a legally binding promise (written or spoken) by one party to fulfil an obligation to another party in return forsomething called a “consideration”. A basic binding contract must comprise four key elements: offer, acceptance, consideration and intent to create legal relations. 

“Intent to create legal relations” means that if you say to your Derby County supporting friend that you will eat your hat if Derby beat Leeds on Saturday, and they do, your friend cannot take you to court over the matter. It means things to do with buying and selling.

A contract often begins with something called an “invitation to treat”.  An invitation to treat is less serious than an “offer”.  Words like “offer” and “acceptance” are potentially binding.  Here is an example to illustrate some of the terms.

I go into a branch of Currys to buy a flat-screen TV.  I find a model I like, and it is advertised for sale at 99 pence.  I ask the assistant if I can have the TV for 99 pence.  She says no.  I say, “But the price label says 99 pence”.  The price label is an invitation to treat.  It is not binding.  I go to the desk, and am told that the price is £499.  (“Offer.”)  I say that I will have the TV for £499.  (“Acceptance.”)  That means that I have to pay Currys £499, in return for which, I will get that flat-screen TV. 

On the basis of information which is very scant, because of the constraints of social media, I will now try to run that past you again, based on a recent example to do with writing.  Most of what follows is made up, because I don’t have the full case history.

A body concerned with the arts, called Indulgent Projects, advertises for a copy writer, to write 3000 words in a forthcoming brochure.  The advertisement says that the recipient of the work will be paid “the market rate”, and asks for 50-word proposals, from which the selection will be made. 

A writer, called Harriet Struggler, responds to the advertisement with her 50 word proposal.  She receives an email which does not explicitly say that she has been selected, but asks her to provide the full piece, of 3000 words. 

Harriet books time in her schedule to write the 3000 words.  She sends an invoice to Indulgent Projects for £995. 

Indulgent Projects then email Harriet to say that they are not going to pay her anything, because they have found someone else, who will do it for nothing. 

What is Harriet’s legal position? 

It comes down to whether a contract has been formed.  The details of offer and acceptance may depend on the wording of individual emails or messages. The point is that there does not have to be paper and ink for the formation of a contract. 

In my example, the request for the 3000 word piece is the offer, and the sending of the invoice is the acceptance.  After that, it is not up to Indulgent Projects whether they want to pay, or not: they have to pay. 

Lawyers, writers, publishers are welcome to contribute in the comments. 

The next stage, having established a grievance, is how we go about prosecuting it, and what remedy we seek.

BBC Radio 4 drama: Escape Kit, 14:15 Tuesday 5 November 2019

My debut radio drama will be broadcast on BBC Radio 4 as the afternoon play on Tuesday 5 November at 14:15. It will be immediately after The Archers.

For anybody who is interested in the process of adaptation of the novella, copies of it are still available for GBP 4 each, which is a discount of GBP 1.99 on the cover price.

Review: Black Teeth And A Brilliant Smile, Freedom Studios, Cluntergate Centre, 16/06/2019

The venue was packed.  There were 7 rows of seating, with 18 on each row, and there were a few people seated on tables, at the back. 

There was no stage.  The set was as the same level as the seating.  The set consisted of a pub bar, with pumps on it for drinks such as Castlemaine XXXX.  There was pub furniture in front of the bar.  This, like just about every other element of the production, was re-used for more than one purpose.  Not only did all the re-uses work, they enhanced the production. 

The main driver of the narrative is Andrea Dunbar, played by Emily Spowage.  She plays the character of Andrea, and acts as narrator, and plays Andrea playing the character of the London producer.  This part includes the most direct confrontation with the self-destructive elements of Andrea Dunbar’s character. 

Whatever it is that passes for lager in this production, Emily Spowage has to drink at least 5 halves of it, some of them in quick succession.

‘Young Andrea’ is played by Lucy Hird.  But ‘Young Andrea’ is not one character, in the same way that Andrea is not just one character.  Both characters age during the narrative.  This is very expertly handled, in the way the characters are costumed and made up, in the script, and in the acting. 

Laura Lindsay, Claire-Marie Seddon, and Balvinder Sopal, all play more than one part, in the sense that they play different people, as well as people at different stages in their lives.  Their parts are difficult, for different reasons.  They have to portray characters of different social classes, and different speech registers, with hardly any time to enact the change.  It all works.    

The set is re-used, in a way that I can’t describe without giving away the story, but it works. 

And so, I got to walk 10 minutes from my house to a drama venue (the Cluntergate Centre in Horbury), pay £5 to get in, and sit 5 feet six inches from the dramatic action.  The dramatic action was a story which was both new and, in some ways, familiar.  I do not come from a working class background in the Buttershaw Estate in Bradford, but I am a writer who has come to writing via an unconventional route. 

I was captivated by the play.  If it were on at the same venue, tomorrow, for the same price, I would definitely go and see it, again.  But, as regards family planning, or providing a role model for aspiring, working class writers, it is completely useless.  This is not motivational propaganda: this is a depiction of a tortured genius.  You can come from the Buttershaw Estate, and still be a tortured genius, for all the good that will do you. 

Review: Glory by Red Ladder Theatre at Cluntergate Community Centre 22 March 2019

The set is a wrestling ring, some litter, and some lockers.  The play deals with the subject of wrestling.  It is not about wrestling. 

This masterpiece, which I’m guessing may have been produced on a limited budget, has, in my opinion, two very minor technical defects.  The first is that some of the monologues were backed by electronic samples that sounded like wind blowing.  These were in keeping with the tone of the monologues, but the monologues could have stood for themselves, and didn’t need the backing track.  The second is that one of the actors plays two parts.  The two parts he plays are dramatically at odds.  It is obvious how this works, but it would have been neater if a fifth actor could have been employed.  This is a message to Arts Council England as much as to Red Ladder.    

Apart from that nit-picking, this is the tightest dramatic script I have ever witnessed.  The drama includes anger, hate, frenzy, regret, despair, triumph, and many things, besides.  Every line depicts character, ramps up dramatic tension,  or resolves it.  I mean, every line.  One of the ways I measure live performance is by how many times I check the time while it is going on.  The time check score for ‘Glory’ is zero.

An even more extreme nit-picker might say that the plot line about the financial difficulties of the owner might have been recapitulated.  I am not saying that. 

The play makes you think there are three characters, but then a fourth turns up, and not as an afterthought. 

There are several fight scenes, but the play is not about fighting.  The fight scenes are masterfully handled, and, I cannot deny, homo-erotic. 

The character of Jim Glory occasionally resorts to meta-drama, and speaks directly to the audience.  This is also well handled and adds to the engagement.  The explicit comparison in the dialogue of Shakespeare’s “Wooden O” with a wrestling ring underpins the parallel between this piece and Elizabethan drama.  It is a play that intends to give the audience back themselves.  It is a play that intends to make the audience want to be better people, without any trace of preaching.  Was this play intended to educate, or to entertain?  We will never know, because it did both. 

If you are very short of time, then see this production before all others, because not a single second of it is wasted. 

I have deliberately not listed the characters, or the actors, or given you my opinion of their performances.  You will have to go and see it, and decide all that, for yourself. 

Review: Attrib. by Eley Williams

ISBN 978-1-9103121-6-2


There is never going to be a good time to say this, and so it might as well be now.

Attrib. by Eley Williams is the most original short fiction collection by a British writer I have ever read. 

The recurring theme in Attrib. is narrators who have to filter their view of reality through some kind of cognitive thing.  For this reason, if no other, I felt immediately empathetic to the narrators in the stories. 

There are 17 stories.  I have finished reading 13 of them.  The reason I am writing this review, now, is in case I get run over by a bus, or something.  I am mostly full of regard for buses, and suchlike, but you never know.  Anyway, I want you to know about it, before something bad might happen.  Call it an insurance policy, if you like.  You don’t have to call it, that.  I am just saying.

I want it to be understood that there is nothing wrong with the 14th story, which is the one I am reading, now.  As to the fact that I have not finished it yet: I don’t want you to go getting any ideas.  I read the collection while I am on my way to work, or my way home from work.  On the way to work, I have to look up when the bus does that turn round the bit just after The Redoubt, because if I don’t look up, then, I might miss my stop, even though it is a while before my stop.  I read ‘This Sporting Life’ like that and it seemed to work.  I am finishing Attrib. quite quickly, when you think about it.  Sometimes I have to read it on the train to Leeds when everybody in the aisle is standing up and I have to send a message of complaint to the train company but I want to keep reading. 

I am not going to tell you what happens in any of the stories, because then you might just read what I had put and not read the stories. 

Some of the stories are strange, and that is a big deal coming from me.  But most of them are both strange, and satisfying. 

If you only like boring stories, told by boring people, don’t buy this book. 

If you like stories which make you want to know what happens next, then buy this book. 

If you like stories told from the point of view of a white man in a Pringle sweater, don’t buy this book. If you like stories told from a new point of view, then buy this book.

I borrowed it from the library, because I am poor. But I commend it to you, Those Who Command The Riches Of The Earth.

Review: ‘An Otley Run’ by Joe Williams

  • Paperback: 76 pages
  • Publisher: Half Moon Books (9 Nov. 2018)
  • ISBN-13: 978-0995764293

This book is in an experimental format which works. It is not a collection of poetry: it is a verse novella. It is a story, told from more than one point of view. It has, for better or worse, a beginning, a middle, and an end. The inciting incident, I would suggest, is the premise of the book, itself. What makes this different from everyday life? The fact that people go out in togas and cowgirl costumes to drink at 14 pubs. Is that really an inciting incident? Does that represent a departure from everyday life? The reader has to decide.

I am a person who was conceived and born in Leeds, who grew up and went to school in Leeds, talking about a book by a man who is from the North East, but set in Leeds, about a cultural phenomenon in Leeds that I have heard of, but never experienced. The main reason I never experienced it is that, although I have a degree from the University of Leeds, it is a postgraduate degree. I did my undergraduate course in Liverpool, where, it should be noted, I never did the Smithdown Ten, because, in those days, I did not drink alcohol.

One of the things Joe Williams achieves is to describe an Otley Run from the point of view of a character who is not a student. The whole event may or may not have become a cliché. The way Joe Williams examines it is certainly against cliché.

All this goes to the heart of the work: Joe Williams is an outsider, observing an insider event, but with the insight of someone who is only just an outsider. Part of the point of this work is how we decide what is worth doing, which informs who we are.

The insight and clarity of the social observations is something that could never be outdone, and could only be equalled with difficulty.

If you want to know what happens, you are going to have to buy the book.

This is the kind of poetry that I argued with Kirsten Luckins about. I would describe it as “urban”. She said, “Does that mean it is rap?” I said, “No.” She said, “Give me an example of a poet who is ‘urban’ who is not a rapper.” I said, “Brian Patten.” You don’t have to come from Leeds, or have been to university in Leeds, to understand this verse novella. It isn’t fundamentally about Leeds, though Leeds certainly comes into it. It is fundamentally about our desperation to be appreciated and loved, about how we decide to spend our time, and whether what we do has any meaning or purpose.

This is, certainly for a work of this length, a very rare thing. It is narrated in recognisable voices, and written by a poet who has undoubtedly found his own voice, and hence the ways to adapt his own voice. It has a narrative arc. The social and historical facts are well observed. The underlying point to the story is built up out of minute details, not foisted on the reader.

I have never read anything like it.

Review: Strix #5

Strix is a magazine that features poetry and short fiction, published in Leeds, West Yorkshire. 

Issue #5 is the first one I have read.  I was surprised to hear that I get a free subscription to the magazine by virtue of gaining a place in the Northern Short Story Writing Academy 2019. 

This issue contains the work of 40 writers, approximately 19 of whom are female (going on the names, only).  The print version is in an unusual format.  The pages are the same height as A4.  When I spoke to Ian Harker, one of the editors, he told me that it was A4 folded in half, but it is wider than that.  It is still narrow enough to fit in the inside pocket of my coat, and so I have carried it around West Yorkshire for several days, to and from work, to and from pubs, on buses and trains, gradually getting to know it.  The pages are stapled, and placed inside a loose, brown paper cover.  The cover art is stylised, monochrome lino cuts. All good.   

The problem I have with nearly all literary magazines is that I don’t understand them, and they don’t understand me.  I understand most of issue #5 of Strix, and, more importantly, it understands me. 

Two of the contributors, I know personally.  A third is Wes Lee, who lives in New Zealand.  Since 2012, Wes Lee and I have been entering competitions run by the Grist venture, run by the University of Huddersfield.  In the short fiction competition in 2012, Wes Lee came first, and I came second.  I don’t mind coming second.  Except for the fact that Wes Lee’s story doesn’t have a recognisable narrative arc.  Be that as it may.  We were both published from the chapbook competition in 2014.  Wes Lee’s chapbook is called ‘Cowboy Genes and Other Stories’.  Mine is called ‘Escape Kit’, of which I have copies to sell. 

As to the content of Strix #5, I have not read every page, yet, but I have read most of it, and it is very good, indeed. 

The contribution from my friend, Joe Williams, I have heard him perform, live.  And so I cannot comment on it, except to say that it reads almost as well off the page as he performs it. 

Matthew Hedley Stoppard is someone that I have performed alongside.  I am still trying to make him out.  He is either a complete charlatan who is preying upon the working class, and the underclass, or he is a poet who is writing about people in marginal situations.  I have not made up my mind, but I incline towards the latter. 

What follows relates to writers I do not know, personally.

Arji Manuelpillai has two poems which articulate what it is like to be South Asian in the UK.  They are called Curry night at Brewers Fayre and Watching the game.  These pieces are succinct and hard-hitting. 

Rebecca Sandeman has a piece of short fiction called ‘Semiplume’.  That opaque title sits atop just about the most remarkable piece of writing of this short length that I have ever read.  I would describe it as an anti-fairy tale, but don’t let that put you off.  A piece of short prose which takes off with its own exuberance and never lets you know where it is going. I can generally tell when a classic story is being re-told (because I do it myself).  I know – only after having read it – what the story is, in this case, but I am not going to divulge it.  You will have to read the magazine, and decide for yourself. 

Review by Mike Harris of Something I Need To Tell You

I am indebted to Mike Harris for the following review, which he posted on Facebook.  He has spelt my name incorrectly, but that doesn’t matter.

On this occasion

I applied for a job on Monday.  I had to check a box that said I was eligible to work in the United Kingdom.

I applied for two jobs on Tuesday.  I had to check a box that said I had experience of working with the General Data Protection Regulation, and provide a scanned copy of my driving licence.

I applied for three jobs on Wednesday.  I had to check a box that said neither I nor any member of my family was currently employed by the Civil Service, provide a scanned copy of my passport, and compose a 5-minute presentation on the life-cycle of fleas.

I applied for four jobs on Thursday.  I had to check a box that said I had experience of managing annual budgets over fifty thousand pounds in value, provide scanned copies of all my examination certificates, compose a 10-minute presentation on the South Sea Bubble, and give an undertaking that I was willing to commute to Birkenhead, 5 days a week.

I applied for five jobs on Friday.  I had to check a box which said that I had no unspent criminal convictions, outstanding county court judgements, and was willing to undergo a full-disclosure search for my criminal record, provide scanned copies of my parents’ birth certificates, compose a 15-minute presentation on the life of Andy Warhol, give an undertaking that I was willing to commute to Folkestone, six days a week, and undergo a full medical.

I applied for six jobs on Saturday.  I had to check a box which said that I had never lied, stolen, nor made anyone cry, provide a scanned copy of everything I was thinking at that moment, compose a 20-minute presentation that would make every member of the audience enjoy every presentation they would ever experience again, as long as they lived, give an undertaking that I was willing to commute to Murmansk, seven days a week, undergo interrogation under conditions of complete sensory deprivation, and agree to go back in time and attempt to assassinate Hitler.

I slept in on Sunday, read a book, watched a film.

On Monday, I received a lecture at the Job Centre on the importance of undertaking job-seeking activities every day.

They terminated my claim.