Saturday, 27 September 2008


On 25th September 2008, I hosted the final Shangwe Poetry Night at The Poetry CafĂ©, Covent Garden, London. The theme for the show was ‘Journeys’. This special event featured two poets: Christine Bell and Ursula Troche with five open mic performers: J C Abraham, Jennifer, Christopher, Julie and Mark.

Whilst we were being entertained with superb, quality spoken word performances, we dipped into a box of home made cakes, courtesy of Christine Bell who got these gems whipped up at 5am that morning!

I felt a mixture of pleasure and pensiveness as it was such a goose pimply evening for me made even more emotional by Christine Bell’s finale poem highlighted below:

Farewell to Shangwe

Sweet celebration mixed with sadness
Saying farewell to Shangwe
So many connections forged
Friendships fostered
A kinship of those who care for creativity

The speciality of Shangwe will endure
Open atmosphere allowing
a freedom of expression without fear
Rich diversity forming a fabric
of shape and sound
Magical power of personal stories
Unfolding in rhythm and rhyme
Enriching the gathering

Heartfelt thanks to our Nicole
Creator of Shangwe, keeping things going
Encouraging others to blossom
No ending really but sweet certainty
of the birth of something even more beautiful

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Short Stories

In this month’s Talking Point, my focus is on the short story genre. One of the ‘issues’ that arose at LitCamp’s unconference was how short stories are not perceived as worthy of mainstream publishing since they generally don’t sell well, or sell in enough volume as say novels.

Even if this is the case, I have found reading short stories as satisfying, and in some cases more satisfying than novels. For example, I vividly remember reading Olive Senior’s second story collection Arrival of the Snake-Woman (1989), an enchanting book of seven short stories, which were particularly well written and a pleasure to read.

In my view, short doesn’t equal less good and ‘less is more’ comes to my mind, since a lot of writing skill is required to be economic with words and yet ensure the depth of a story is there so that nothing is wasted.

According to Dianne Doubtfire in Creative Writing, (2003), ‘Short stories can be any length from 500 to 2500 words, depending on the market, or up to 5000 words for writing competitions. An average 850-1000 is a good ‘canvas’ for a story as it is a popular length with magazines.’

If you are new to writing, the thought of writing a novel of say 60,000 – 80,000 words can be quite daunting, which is why attempting to write a short story can be a great way to test your skills and learn the trade – the craft – of writing.

Suggested Reading:

Arrival of the Snake-Woman by Olive Senior. Publ 1989.

Turf: Short Stories by new black writers. Edited by Jacob Ross and Andrea Enisuoh. Publ 2004 by Black Inc

The Monkey’s Typewriter with Contributions from Willesden Green Writers’ Workshop. Publ 2005 Winner of Raymond Williams Award.

*Centerprise Literature Short Story Competition 2008. Welcomes short stories from new and established writers on any theme. Stories should be 4000 words max and will be judged by the Centerprise in-house creative writing team: Jacob Ross, Martina Evans and Andrea Enisuoh.

Competition Deadline: 15th October 2008 - for entry form and competition rules please email: All winning entries plus shortlist will be considered for publication in a future anthology of work to be published by Centerprise. The top three selected entries will be read by a Literary Agency with a view to future developments.

*Centerprise Literature is an arts development agency for the promotion of access to and enjoyment of literature in all its forms. Through local and community based initiatives we offer courses, workshops and one to one support to new and aspiring writers.

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Make a Living While You Write

Bridget Whelan, (pictured above) who I met at LitCamp, provided a useful list of relevant websites to contact if you want to make a living while you write:

General: – trade union for writers


Writer in Residence:

Arts Council guide to being a writer in residence:

National Union of Journalists:
NUJ Freelance Branch guide to freelance rates – constantly being updated:
Free job email alert and news service:

Schools, Universities & the Community:
Life Long Learning:
National Institute of Adult Continuing Education:
Creative Partnerships:
National Association of Writers in Education:
Creative Writing Section of the Higher Education Academy:

Monday, 15 September 2008


A writers’ unconference

On 12th September 2008, I went to LitCamp – a writers’ unconference, held at London Metropolitan University. LitCamp was a space for writers to meet, talk, and share ideas and experiences. The day’s schedule included a range of events – panel discussions with publishers, editors, agents and other writers.

The unconference kicked off with an introduction by Dr. Sarah Law, poet and tutor at London Metropolitan University, followed by a prologue: DIY Book Publishing presentation by

I signed up for ‘Getting inside the editor’s head’, a discussion, which aimed to lift the lid on publishing, which it did, although one and a half hours felt too long. On the panel was Rosalind Porter, senior editor of Granta Magazine, Laura Barber editor of Portobello Books, Tom Chalmers Editor of Legend Press and agent Hannah Westland of Rogers Coleridge & White.

The afternoon sessions faired better time wise, starting with an hour panel discussion of 'Publishing in a digital age', but lacked structure and could have done with a chairperson’s input to direct the panels’ waffling.

One of the most practical and enjoyable sessions was ‘How to make a living while you write’. Led by Bridget Whelan, this 45 minute session was particularly insightful, comprehensive and inspiring. Look out for my forthcoming blog, where I list all the relevant websites that Bridget provided on how to make money while you write. NB: Bridget teaches at City Lit and Goldsmiths College, London. Her first novella A Good Confession is soon to be published by Severn House and she is also the author of a short book Make Money from Your Writing.

By now, I was getting full of the day’s unconference and a bit tired but attending a 30 minute session on Willesden Green Writers’ Group, brought me back on track. The Group was established in 1994 and won the Arts Council administered Raymond Williams Publishing Award in 2005 for their members' anthology, ‘The Monkey’s Typewriter’.

Although I have led a few writers’ groups in the past, I am considering starting one again and picked up practical tips for running a successful writer-led group. The group provide a 2 hourly weekly space for writers of all backgrounds and abilities to share/read their work and receive constructive criticism.

The final 30 minute session was led by author Courttia Newland, co-founder and editor of Talk Tales who inspired me with his perspective and encouraging views on the short story genre. Of particular interest was how he and Nii Ayikwei Parkes merged a short story Talk Tales’ live tour delivered using unique ‘sound-scapes’, which Courttia wasn’t sure was a good idea at first, but was pleasantly surprised at how successful this new venture was – the audience really liked it too!

By now it was 6pm and the evening session’s tone became more laid back and a drinks reception followed in readiness for short readings from LitCamp participants – a nice way to end the day.

On the whole, it was a good unconference and provided a ‘rare’ opportunity to meet publishers, editors and agents in an atmosphere where they’re away from their desks and telephones and are actually looking for fresh faces. I made the most of it!


London Metropolitan University:
Bridget Whelen:
Willesden Green Writers’ Group:
Tell Tales Short Story Anthology:
Publish Your Book:
Monthly Webzine of fiction, listings and reviews:
Tall Lighthouse – new poetry press: