Recreate your own London to Brighton bike ride without leaving the house… you don’t even have to change out of your dressing gown!

It’s basically the same.

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Shoegazing in the Brighton Fringe 2017

It’s me shoegazing

I’m very much looking forward to doing my Shoegazing show in a couple of days. It’s at the Sweet Dukebox as part of the Brighton Fringe. 

The show is about music, romance, shyness and my life told through the shoes I’ve worn over the years. It’s where La La Land meets Lemmy. Basically, I’m most well known for wearing two-tone shoes. One of my best press quotes is about them (“Excellent shoes” – The New Current) …so I made them the stars!

It was interesting to go back to the show after a couple of years. It’s the show I did in Edinburgh in 2014 but it has since had a few tweaks to it. Rehearsing the show recently, I’ve found I like it quite a lot. So I’m hoping also to record it for posterity.

Come along if you like! It’s £5 to book or free if you just turn up on the night:

https://www.brightonfringe.org/box-office/shows/view/jim-holland-shoegazing 

 

The Story Totaliser 2016

Happy new year! Did you know I’ve not got around to writing one of these blogs since before Christmas? Of course you did! You’ve been on tenterhooks for the last three-and-a-half months about my whole “12 stories in one year” challenge, haven’t you? Did I manage to catch up with my aim to send out a finished story or “thing” per month? Is finding out the answer enough to get you to read the rest of this blog post? Well how about a hand-drawn Blue-Peter-style totaliser? Yes, there is one and it’s only a few short paragraphs away…

Here’s how I did with my 2016 writing resolutions:

  • I did join a writing group and I blogged a bit.
  • I didn’t listen to the song “Scott Pilgrim” by Plumtree first thing every morning for the rest of my life. (That seemed funny back in January 2016. What a different era we live in now.)
  • I definitely spent at least four hours a week on the writing process but only in the last couple of months of 2016
  • I read more on the bus but spend too much time on Twitter still.
  • Not only did I learn by reading about writing… I did a Short Story Masterclass. So… bonus points?
  • Did I send out one finished short story a month to writing competitions or other opportunities? Well, here comes the totaliser…

I did it! The hand-drawn Blue-Peter-style totaliser says, “Yes!”

 

Back on the 28 October, I had sent out three stories: A short story about Judge Dredd for a 2000AD competition, a rewrite of a 2015 story for Titter, and A Story About A Box for Cast Iron Theatre’s Horror Story night. I decided to send out another nine before the year was out to meet my “one a month” target.

Before the end of the month I sent “Orange Spray Paint” to my writing group’s anthology, A Haiku to a haiku competition (Cheating!?), “Dinner before Death” to a Tower Hamlets competition and “Escaping the Shackles” to the Commonweath competition. These were all rewrites of stories I had been working on previously, hence the quick turnaround (except the Haiku / which was a Haiku so / easily written).

In November and December, I sent off four newly-written short stories and did a short story masterclass. Strangely, none of the stories I sent off were a result of the Masterclass. There was more work there that might see the light of day in 2017. Three of the stories I did send off were 100-word-stories for the Drabble. These also allowed for a quick turnaround.

The three Drabble 100-word-stories were “A Quick Snifter” in November, “The first time she met him” in December, which was also rejected, and “Beneath the Surface” which was also sent in December. It’s about a lady throwing bread at some ducks. I thought it was still too quirky for them, and I was right because it, too, was rejected. Hey ho.

The other newly written piece was my first short play for Cast Iron theatre, “The Queen’s Messy-age” which is covered here.

That’s eleven pieces so far. There was one left. I sent the final piece off on new year’s day. It was for the Fiction Desk’s Ghost Story competition. I read about the competition a couple of months previously and had a piece in mind: A rewrite of my 2015 Halloween Dukeanory story. It was the first competition I’d paid to enter (£8) so I wanted to submit the best story I could. I had done quite a bit of work on this one since it had been read at Dukeanory. I also got feedback on it during my masterclass as well as from friends, so it should have been as spiffy as it could be.

I recently found out that it didn’t make the short list…

Ah, whatever. The point is, I accomplished my own goal. Which wasn’t to win competitions but to enter them. It’s the taking part that counts, etc, etc. So really, I’m very pleased.

…Convinced yet?

I feel I’ve already cheated a bit with the Haiku and the 100 stories, but by my own low standards I have acquitted myself. Twelve stories sent out into the world / void in one year!

Since the flurry of activity at the end of the last year, I haven’t done much writing. “Real life” has intervened and I think I was a bit burnt out from writing stories, writing this blog and doing the short story course at the same time. I have just come back from a couple of weeks holiday which allowed me the time and space to write again. I wrote a few little first drafts. Nothing very good as yet. But it got the cogs turning again and I will try and make a regular space for writing amongst all the hectic life gubbins.

All of 2017 is ahead of me!

Alright, well… some of it.

The Hatchery Anthology

My very short story, Orange Spray Paint,  has been accepted for an Anthology by members of my writing group, The Hatchery. You can download a copy onto your kindle, or other electronic book of your choice, right now!  They make perfect last minute stocking fillers! …For electronic stockings?hatchery-book-on-kindle-cropped

Alternatively, you could get a physical copy by… contacting me, I guess? I won’t get them to you before Christmas but I’ve got a couple of spare copies. They make the perfect New Year’s Eve gift? For your physical, bound-paper New Year’s Eves?

book-cover-v2

Whilst I’m plugging things, Brighton: The Graphic Novel is still available, electronically and physically. However, since my story is the first in the book, you can basically read the entire thing online using Amazon’s “Look Inside” feature. Which is fine by me.

img_9824I’ve also got some spare chapbooks of All The Presidents Hens which I made up to give away at Titter and then was too embarrassed. So if you want one of those let me know too.

Comment on this post or send me a message via the contact page.

I don’t know why on Earth I’m plugging these things now. Buy early for Christmas 2017!

Masterclass dismissed!

Unbelievably, I’ve gotten through the five-week short story Masterclass already. It’s been very difficult trying to juggle the homework with everything else that’s been going on but I’ve tried to keep up. As well as writing lots of little exercises and gaining a better understanding of the short story, I have also produced at least one new complete first draft of a story that hopefully shows some improvement from my studies.

The course was from Short Fiction Journal. I highly recommend it. You can sign up here and it costs £125. As well on handouts on things like the history of the short story, narrative voice, narrative silence, subtext and themes, you also get pointed to short stories and interviews to learn more about the form and you get feedback on your work from professional writers and your fellow students.

I think what I really learnt was a greater respect for the short story. I must admit, I saw short story writing as the first step you have to take as a writer. It didn’t seem to make sense to me to plunge straight into a novel. I figured you need to practice the craft of writer, study and get to know your own style first, so short stories make sense to start with.

But as I learnt on the course, short stories are more than ‘technical exercises’. They have strengths and advantages of their own. Short stories have to work harder in a shorter time and so can be more intense.

One of the exercises from the course was to read all these interviews with short story writers  which is something you could do now, for free,  if you wish. I found it quite inspiring. I was particularly fond of the interview with Steven Millhauser. I had not heard of him before but have added him to my reading list. I liked his attitude and the level of experimentation he talks about in his writing.

It reminded me that when I was young I used to read a lot of sci-fi which  would use the short story to explore an idea until it was maxed-out and then stop (though often the characters seemed paper thin). Doing this course and reading more widely has reminded me of the power of the short story to stir emotions and thoughts that stay with you much longer than might be thought possible.

As Graham Mort says “A good story has a really big impact, lingering in the reader’s mind” and it seems to me that the ability to reach out to people and affect them with your work is something that would be really worth gaining mastery of!

graduate

This is me wearing my official Short Story Masterclass graduation hat. Okay, it isn’t. It’s just another picture from hipsters-who-run-the-website-I-get-free-photos-from. Though, if it makes it more truthful, I’ll do the same pose and smile as I write this at my keyboard… There. Did it! Is that better?

Rejection

I had my first ‘rejection letter’ a couple of weeks ago (I’ve put that in inverted commas because it wasn’t a letter, it was an email). It was from The Drabble from the 100 word piece I had sent to them. I wasn’t particularly stung by it, if anything it was nice to know that an actual person had read something of mine, even if they didn’t like it. It was fine. Just… fine!

I have been sending short stories and other work out as part of aiming to send out 12 things into the world this year. But it feels more like sending them out into the void. I never expect to get anything back – it’s just a goal to force myself to write.

The ‘rejection letter’ was quite nice too. It just said that it ‘wasn’t the sort of thing they were looking for’. (Inverted commas for quotes this time.) And I immediately thought, ‘Oh, no, I suppose it isn’t’. (Inverted commas for thought. Aren’t inverted commas fun?)

The letter box at the top of the page isn't mine. It's what the hipsters-who-run-the-website-I-get-free-photos-from think of as a letterbox. Similarly, the lady above isn't me, and neither are the many-handed creatures on either side of her.

The letter box at the top of the page isn’t mine. It’s what the hipsters-who-run-the-website-I-get-free-photos-from think of as a letterbox. Similarly, the lady above is not me, and neither are the many-handed creatures on either side of her. It’s the only photo they have filed under “rejection”. Who is rejecting whom? I’m not sure.

What I sent them was a recording of a moment, an encounter on the street that I thought was funny. I sent it to them because I noticed it was about one hundred words and I then worked on getting the most out of the words available. I’ve been reading the Drabble since, and they generally publish short stories or poems, not slightly comedic observations.

So, I guess, the painfully obvious lesson for me here is to send the right thing to the right recipient and not just send something out because ‘it will do’ (Those inverted commas, again. What crazy guys.) Next year I aim to be a bit more fussy about what I send out. And I’m also determined to write something The Drabble will want!

This is what the hipsters-who-run-the-website-I-get-free-photos-from have filed under 'work' alonside lots of pictures of people sat at Apple Macs in cafes. Not that they'd know anything about 'work'. They are all wannabe media people and artists and short story writers... oh.

This is what the hipsters-who-run-the-website-I-get-free-photos-from have filed under ‘work’ alongside lots of pictures of people sat at Apple Macs in cafes. Not that they’d know anything about ‘work’. They are all just wannabe media people… and artists… and short story writers… Oh.

 

How does a playwright write a play right? (or ‘My first play!’)

I’d never written a play before and I had no idea if I could. I certainly didn’t know if I could write a play where you can’t specify anyone’s gender. Nonetheless, a couple of weeks ago we went to see the “Christmas Celebration Box” by Cast Iron Theatre which featured my first attempt to usurp The Bard as the greatest poet that ever lived. Or at least write something that wasn’t  complete trash. The idea was that local writers wrote short plays on the theme of Christmas that were “unwrapped” on the night and performed without having previously seen. Thus it had to be non-gender specific as you didn’t know which actor would be reading which part. I immediately made it more difficult for myself by having one of them be Her Royal Highness, The Queen.

I had to do quite a bit of research (I’m using the term “research” to make “googling the phrase ‘play template’” sound more fancy) and eventually found a few different styles of setting out a play from American and English colleges. I settled on one that made sense to me and had a layout style that meant it should have been about a minute per page. The plays had to be about 8 minutes, for two actors and with a Christmas theme. I brainstormed a lot of Christmas ideas and settled on the idea of a man (or woman) on his (or her) own at Christmas and talking back to the TV which was showing the Queen’s Christmas Message (or King’s Christmas Message. Actually, no, I decided it had to be the Queen. If it was a male actor, he’d have to just play it for laughs.) This idea was melded with the idea of the Christmas office party and references to Christmas movies to create the final piece. After lots of rewrites to get the plot and character working, it ended up being a rather complex two-hander play of just under eight pages (or, as the maths fans among you will have worked out, eight minutes).

My mood on the day of the performance was the same as my mood on the day of The Box performance: I was convinced that I’d written a load of rubbish. I hadn’t looked at the script since I sent it off. But I dimly remembered the complexity. I’d added an explanation for the actors at the start to say that one of them would be playing many parts (who were really one part) and the other would end up breaking the fourth wall and interacting with the audience at the end.

On the night of the show, Kerry and I toddled down to the Dukebox Theatre and got our tickets. Oh well. I’d just have to hide in the dark at the back.

I got a free ticket as one of the writers. ‘Sweet venues’? Sweet discount, more like!

There were four actors in the cast, two men and two women, who were put in pairings before a script was drawn at random. Of course, this meant I had no idea when mine was coming up. I just sat back and enjoyed the other plays. The scripts were really good, but what impressed me even more were the actors and their ability to breathe life into them on first reading.

Eventually mine came up. I knew it was mine because Andy Allen, who was the director and also one of the actors in the next piece,  had to explain to the other actor how it all worked and that she would be playing many parts (who were really one part). I giggled a bit and shrunk down in my seat.

However, it all seemed to go very well. As with the other plays, they really managed to breathe life into it and the audience seemed to follow it even if the actors were a bit overwhelmed.  When the ‘reveal’ came at the end, Andy spotted me at the back and said “I think that’s supposed to be his work colleague, isn’t it?” and the audience, thinking he was asking all of us, responded with a resounding, “Yes!”

“Oh, well I’m glad someone’s following it,” said Andy, getting laughs.

I was full of pride at this point. The audience response felt like a great validation that what i had written was… good?  I was very pleased that the work I’d put in to make everything flow and make sense had paid off. Though I did notice a few errant “his”s had crept in to what was nearly a non-gender-specific script and it ran to ten or eleven minutes rather than eight.

I feel I’m probably under-selling it, though. It was bloody brilliant, mate! Kerry heaped praise on me and after the show we all trooped off to the bar and drank far too much.

Well, why not? It’s Christmas!

Ten years gone…

It was the best stand up gig I’d done all year… because it was the only stand up gig I’d done all year.  I returned to Rabbit in the Headlights, Brighton’s longest running new act night, for a special anniversary. It had been TEN YEARS since I did my first stand-up set at that very gig. But I’d only done two in the last two years. Would I remember any of my set? Would I die on my arse?

I don’t know if I can say I spent a decade in the comedy biz, maybe a decade near it. I probably only managed to do five years of proper gigging before I stopped to spend more time looking after my parents. I returned for a year to prepare and perform my Edinburgh show in 2014 but then had to stop again.  

I always try and do Rabbits in November no matter what level of gigging I am at. This time I was very rusty.  As usual, I forgot the mind-numbing terror involved in doing comedy. It comes in stages. A thoughtless booking of the gig: “Oh that will be fun”. A vague nervousness: “I should think about what I’m doing for that gig next week”. Stark realisation: “Oh my god. I’ve got to do a gig tonight. What if no one laughs? What if I forget everything? Why on Earth did I decide to put myself through this again?”

It’s easier if you gig all the time as it all becomes very familiar and the nerves diminish. It was not familiar to me. I wanted to try writing new material, but as the gig grew nearer, I realised it wasn’t practical. Being rusty, it was best to stick to the old stuff I knew well to give myself any chance of success.

The night before the gig I wrote a list on my hand like this…

The first part is made of bits and pieces of old sets that are either topical or can be dropped in anywhere. “Trump” and “First gig / actor” were new bits that had occurred by accident as I had been practicing. All of this should be about five minutes. “Fred” basically meant my entire first five minutes set that I did at that first ever stand-up show.

I spent most of the day of the gig worrying and trying to go through my set in my head, testing the new bits, wondering if they were worth it. At the end of the day, I went home and ate quickly, then set off.

When I first did Rabbits... it was at the The Malborough Theatre, then it moved to The 3 and 10, then the Basement. Now, it was residing at the Marwood Café, which I only ever been to once to meet friends downstairs for tea.

I went in and was directed upstairs where two rooms were joined by a large folding partition door. It sort of gave the impression of a small theatre. But with bench seating around the stage. In the other room the chairs were formed in rows. There was a microphone. There were lights. It was a good set up!

The other half-a-dozen acts were milling around in the “stage” room before the doors opened. I chatted to a couple of people I knew who are still doing comedy and Rob, who was compering the gig and kindly booked me onto it. I was very much: “Ooh. I don’t know about this comedy lark anymore”. The doors opened and we got a decent audience of 15 to 20. The comics left the “stage” area and sat in the rows of chairs. Rob loitered in the “wings”. I sat in the audience and tried to remember my “jokes”.

Rob was doing similar Christmas schtick to last year, handing out Christmas-flavoured crisps, liquor chocolates etc. It was all good fun and got the audience in a good mood.

I was on second. I did the “Ray” intro bit which I always mean not to but it gets the audience going so I end up doing it. I got through the older bits and pieces as intro which went okay, and the newer stuff that was definitely more “ideas” than “jokes” but the crowd let it slide.

So far it had all been going okay. The audience seemed warm to me. There had been laughter. I had adlibbed around any stumbles. It didn’t feel as slick as last year. I knew I was adding in a lot of unintended “erm”s and “you know”s. Then I got into the old set and it suddenly became like clockwork. No stammering or flubbing. Much cleaner lines and proper pauses for people to react. I did the old set with Fred and then a bit about being shy and then the coffee shop bit with the callback.

I’d been on stage for some time by this point and it felt like the natural end. But I was enjoying myself quite a lot and asked Rob offstage if I had time to do anymore? He responded by dangling a cuddly Santa* playing the saxophone from the “wings”. So I said, “Right. I’m going then” and added “Goodbye forever!”

The advantage of going on early is that I then got to sit and watch the rest of the show without worrying about my bit anymore.

I was pleased. It went okay! Unfortunately.

I say that because now I have re-awoken the love of doing it. I like coming up with ideas, and trying to get them to work. I like performing and working the audience when bits don’t land or whatever. Of course this is always the feeling after a nice gig. If I had died I would now be cursing stand-up and be glad to count myself out of it. But unfortunately I may have gotten the itch to do it again.

If I did start again it would have to be just for the enjoyment of it. I don’t see any hope of doing it professionally anymore. It would just be the odd gig around Brighton. Will I do stand-up again? Is it worth the work and emotional strain? Or will that really be my final gig after ten years? Is it “Goodbye forever”? If so I will have ended with an obscure reference to Daniel Kitsons mailing list sign-off. Which seems appropriate.

*It may have been a Santa, or a reindeer. Or a bear? I can’t really remember now. If anyone knows please add a comment to say what an Earth it was!

The five blogs of blogmas

It’s what everyone wants for Christmas: BLOGS!

…It’s okay. I know no one wants blogs. Even I wouldn’t be reading this except it’s appearing in front of my eyes as I’m typing and so I’m forced to see it. They never warn you about that when you learn to touch-type.

TEACHER: I have some bad news. I’m afraid this means you’ll actually have to read your own writing.
TRAINEE TOUCHTYPER SCREAMS LIKE DARTH VADER IN A TERRIBLE MOVIE
TRAINEE TOUCHTYPER: Nooooooooooooo!!!!!

Anyway, even if it’s just for my own benefit so I can read it back later, I will be updating this blog over the next few days with strange tales of my epic adventures. I have been having SO MANY mysterious encounters and unworldly dramas that I haven’t even had time to write about myself. THE HORROR!

To save you the time of reading them. They go like this:

  • Did a gig
  • Wrote a thing. It was accepted
  • Wrote a thing. It was rejected.
  • Did a course
  • Wrote a thing. It was accepted.

OH MY GOD.

PREPARE YOURSELF FOR THE ARCANE TERRORS YET TO BE REVEALED VIA THOSE SCANDALOUS PLOT POINTS! 

YOU WILL BE AMAZED.

YOU WILL BE APPALLED.

YOU WILL BE HOOKED.

My writing life has essentially been like this:

Masterclass of 2016

I started an online short story “masterclass” last week. I like the term “masterclass”. It implies you already have some skill in an area and are now moving to “mastery” of it. I am too humble to claim “mastery” of anything. If I’d been one of He-Man’s cronies, I would have politely asked if rather than “Masters of the Universe” we could be called “Dabblers in the Universe… We’re just having a go… Don’t mind us.”

So. I’m being sent writing exercises and reading and whatnot each week. It’s with a keen sense of humility that I am approaching this course. We have been asked to listen to readings of a few different short stories so far. They are intimidatingly literary with prose of the type that I don’t know I could aspire too. But maybe I can! My fear of how much there is to learn about writing is turning into some sort of excitement about the vast posibilities it presents.

I’ve sent in one piece of writing in for assessment so far.  I found it stressful knowing someone who knew their short stories from their elbow would actually be looking at my attempt and responding to it. When I got the email back with notes, I panicked about what they might say. I had to open it quickly before I thought about it too much, like ripping off a plaster. On reading it, I found the feedback I had was very nice. It encouraged me to write further but also usefully pointed out where I could improve.

I’m relieved to be getting some direction. Although I’m sending stories off to competitions, I never really expect them to get anywhere. It’s just a goal to keep me writing and learning. I’m only a couple of weeks into the five week course and, already, I feel it’s accelerated my understanding.

As well as writing for the course, I have managed to write a short Christmas play for the Cast Iron Christmas Selection Box.  This is a show where the plays are wrapped as presents under a Christmas tree onstage. The acts don’t see the scripts until they are unwrapped! I think my idea might be a bit tricky for the actors to deal with without prior knowledge of it, but if it’s chosen to be included in the presents, I guess we’ll see!

Finally, I am doing a stand-up comedy gig tomorrow. I have a couple of hours left to prepare! I’m not really doing stand-up anymore. But this is the tenth anniversary of my first ever gig at Rabbit in the Headlights in 2006 so it’s quite a momentous occasion. I haven’t done a gig since the 9th anniversary last year so I will be very rusty. I’m not sure what I’m doing yet. It’ll either be some old stuff I can’t remember or some new stuff that doesn’t make sense.

So come on down! If that doesn’t convince you, nothing will. I will try to be as “mythic” as I possibly can, as James Murphy says…