On the issue of subsidies

This month’s post is from Sandy Chadwin:

pexels-photo-207636.jpegSO I SAID I would do January’s blog and I had a bright idea about considering the issues arising from the Art Council’s report on the future of Literary Fiction which was released at the tail end of last year. The report says that it, literary fiction, is dying out and ponders whether subsidy might be the way of keeping it alive. This, of course, begs the question that literary fiction should be kept alive. After all, if no-one wants to read it then why should the taxpayer fund it? You may deduce, from that last sentence, where my sympathies lie in this matter. Will Self is on record as saying that he believes that literary fiction will end up becoming an esoteric hobby, like Morris dancing I suppose, with small amateur groups keeping it alive.

The problem, or at least one of the problems, in this discussion is that no-one seems to be entirely sure exactly what Literary Fiction is. Some presumed that it was fiction that was not consciously written to fall into one the established genres – crime, science fiction, romance and so on – but that was quickly disabused by those who said that such writing is actually ‘general fiction’. The closest I came to a definition was someone on the Guardian website who suggested that literary fiction was fiction that concentrated on character and style to the exclusion of all else which led me to a tetchy Kingsley Amis-esque harrumph that if that was indeed the case, then the sooner it died out the better. That peculiarly WASPish form of fiction is one that I am not sympathetic to.

And yet, and yet. I do strongly believe that the arts deserve and need public subsidy. And furthermore that such subsidy makes sound economic sense. When Newcastle City Council a few years back made the headline grabbing announcement that it was going to cut its arts budget to nil on the grounds such funding only benefitted middle class people, it was pointed out somewhat forcibly to them that every pound put into the arts by the taxpayer brings back £5 in tax revenue. It might also have been pointed out that if you want to get businesses to relocate to the north-east, while they may not actually go to the theatre or concert hall or poetry readings, most business people like to live somewhere where they could if they wanted to. The policy was, of course, quietly dropped and the council closed all but three of their libraries instead in what seemed to be an act of rather petty spite.

So where do I stand? Direct government payments to Will Self (the only novelist everyone seems to agree writes literary fiction) sticks in the craw. The novel has never been directly funded by patronage, which is all subsidy is. Poets, composers, painters and even playwrights have taken the penny from the obliging aristocracy and taking the Government’s penny is no different, but novelists never have. Well, Fay Weldon did that weird thing a while back when she wrote a novel sponsored by a jewellery company if memory serves, but it hasn’t seemed to take. Fiction has always had to stand on its own merits, like rock music in that way, another art form that has never been directly subsidised.

Ay, and there’s the rub. Directly subsidised. All the arts of all forms have benefitted immensely over the centuries from indirect subsidy and patronage through the provision of education and libraries and town and village halls where bands can play and actors act and writers read, from the provision of night classes where people can study and learn about the cubists and the modernists and the romantics or whatever there may be a demand for. So, rather than give Will Self £20 grand a year to keep him in similes, let’s keep Cullercoats Library open, let’s return to the old adult education system when you could, for about a tenner, sign up to learn Latin or all about the Bloomsbury Set. Let’s teach music in our schools and take the children on outings to the theatre and to the concert hall.

Yes, that’s a subsidy I can get behind.


Guest Post: Graham Swann


Today, we are joined by Graham Swann, as part of his book tour for Kimmy the Koala Helps the Honey Bees in Summertown Wood, a story about how a kindly koala, Kimmy, helps out the dwindling honey bees.

Graham has written the following about his inspiration, and his process of writing for children.

The inspiration for the books of course comes from my grandchildren Dan, Leah, Max and Naomi. I have two great nephews Taylor and Ethan who are four and two years old who are also a source of inspiration. All the kids in the family have a love of animals as I did and still do. As Leah is getting older she is now eight and requests birthday or christmas gifts when asked to be certificates to sponsor all sorts of animal charities, not gifts for herself.

On reflection children are generally born with a love of animals and no bias and as AA Milne discovered they totally get a bear walking hand in hand with a boy or a tiger.

So my characters started from my past. When I was small there was a Guerrilla in London zoo that I loved called Guy and this was the first character I came up with. Guy to my mind as a child looked sad as he lived in a concrete and metal cage affair not like today with zoos having large compounds with animals having space to move around. So the thought of living free in a wood came to me and the other characters started to come along.

All the characters are very different with a mix of genders like Mini the mole who is a girl but wears a hard hat and loves to be in her garden digging and tending her flowers. The books have nine characters in all plus the addition of Warewood the talking tree who is old and wise and is always able to advise the characters in the best possible way so they can help each other out.

Eventually I invented Guy the guerrilla, Ronnie the rat, Mini the mole, Denny the donkey, Woo the owl, Hayley the hare, Lami the sheep, Penny the panda and Kimmy the koala who are all friends and help each other out so with nine characters that meant I had a starting point to write nine stories, one for each character.

Kimmy the Koala Cover

The books are simple stories, some have educational elements like the Kimmy story helping the bees, others are just stories that celebrate the first day of spring, or a boat race or a character needs a new home so everyone helps out. All the stories have a sense of caring about and helping each other as a group of friends and I try to involve as many characters in the stories as I can.

The visual style of the books is very important to me. The hand drawn style of the books is very deliberate. The characters are all hand drawn and I wanted the books to be different from other publications and have a fresh, colourful hand drawn style with plenty of interest on the page that can be included in the story telling when mum or dad are reading them to their children.

I wanted the children to engage with the characters in the books so I had the idea of adding coloring pages at the end so when the story finishes they can color in their favourite characters in any color they like and have a bit of fun.

Generally I think the books are universal as most children in this world have a fascination or love of animals and I hope they enjoy my stories as much as my family do.

Kimmy the Koala Helps the Honey Bees in Summertown Wood 

Purchase from Amazon UK – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Kimmy-Koala-Helps-Honey-Summertown-ebook/dp/B07443WR6K/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1501858679&sr=8-1-fkmr0

Purchase from Barnes & Noble – https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/kimmy-the-koala-helps-the-honey-bees-in-summertown-wood-graham-swan/1126636029?ean=9781911525882&st=PLA&sid=BNB_DRS_Core+Shopping+Books_00000000&2sid=Google_&sourceId=PLGoP67429


Graham Swan has worked as a graphic designer in the UK and is currently a college lecturer in Fife, Scotland. He currently lives in Kirkcaldy, Fife, Scotland. This is his first published book.

Anyone for tennis?

Last Sunday Sandy Chadwin participated in a literary cricket match in Cullercoats. It was The Cullercoats Test, part of the IRON in the Soul Festival…..

Sandy in colourThis time last week, for reasons that remain complicated and mysterious to me, I found myself playing cricket in front of a small crowd. This has made me consider my relationship to sport in books.

                Now I am not a sporty person. I have only ever been to two football matches, one cricket match and at school I was always the last boy chosen to be on the team. I rarely watch sporting events, though I do have a soft spot for the ball-by-ball commentary the radio does for the Test Matches. So, it is not altogether surprising that my library has little sport related material in it.

Amongst the many sports that I do not play is golf. So it is slightly odd that after the Jeeves tales, my favourite PG Wodehouse stories are his Oldest Member ones which are all about that particular sport. Wodehouse himself was a mildly obsessive player and was known to complain that if he hadn’t had to make a living doing all that writing and so on, he might have ended up with a half-decent handicap. Even if you’ve never played or watched a game and don’t know your mashie from your driver, do give them a go. They’re the literary equivalent of exquisite dainties to be relished and lingered over. And the Jeeves & Wooster stories are even better. Then there’s the golf match between James Bond and Goldfinger in the novel of the latter’s name which is surprisingly tense and entertaining to read. That has more to do with Ian Fleming’s underestimated writing skills than any putative interest I might have in the game. And the Magic Roundabout tie-in book, Dougal’s Scottish Holiday (written by Eric Thompson, Emma’s dad, who improvised the TV show’s narration) has the immortal line: ‘”Niblick?” said Angus. “At your age? ‘Tis a mashie-niblick at least.”’*thompsons

                Now, those of a certain age may remember a humour writer called Michael Green. He wrote an endless series of comic books with the running title of The Art of Coarse [insert subject matter here]. They were everywhere, along with those silver-spined Executioner thrillers and Alastair MacLean novels. Anyway, the first of this epic series was The Art of Coarse Rugby. Now, I had to play rugby at two the educational establishments I ended up attending and have been left with a deep and profound loathing of the game and all who have any doings with it. I do, however, have a soft spot for this comic guide to it. Possibly because it’s mainly about cheating and one-upmanship and has a happy disregard for the rules that would have reduced certain masters and enthusiastic pupil-players to apoplexy.

                And that does seem to be pretty much it. Terry Pratchett’s Unseen Academicals (football) has its moments but they never entirely gel for me. And there was that children’s book The Goal Keeper’s Revenge & Other Stories which every boy had presented to him during the ‘70s but which I never read. Actually, if anyone reading this did read it, give me a shout. Remembering it, I’m now mildly interested in what it was about/like. Anyway, Dick Francis’ horse racing thrillers are nearly always fun. They were co-written by his wife, by the way, who was never given any credit as the publishers thought acknowledging the input of a woman (!) would damage sales. Hey ho.

                But to end on a happier note, I cannot speak for the rest of the mixed gender team that I played with, but it was fun and you never know, I might have a go at playing again.  Or at least writing about it.

*Dougal’s Scottish Holiday is worth reading for many reasons, not least being that it’s the funniest portrayal of ‘professional’ Scotsmen that I’ve read, and I’m an enthusiastic ‘amateur’.

Writers need people!

James Tucker is our guest blogger today….

I once remarked to my then-girlfriend about how artistic people could be hard work sometimes.  ‘Yes, you certainly are!’ was her response.  I hadn’t really thought of myself in those terms but then I felt good about it.  I could now strike official Artistic Poses, and my various gripes (block, comparisons, criticisms, doubt, obsession, etc) would be justified because I was a Tormented Genius.

Sometimes, though, the “artist” business strikes me as odd because writing is almost inherently introverted.  You can do it in company but it boils down to you spending a lot of time with a piece of paper or keyboard and your attention focused on the work.  It’s the kind of art that someone shy and possibly without any previously detected artistic talent or temperament can aspire to.

But I’m not sure there is any such thing as a pure introvert.  Sooner or later, you will need to get some motivation or perspective from another person to keep going.  Not to mention that writing is also a craft, and has to be learnt.  One of my lecturers defined a writer as someone who would write even if they knew for a fact nobody else would ever see it, but that would be unpleasant and inefficient at the least.James again

So here’s a rub: unless you are that rare person who writes entirely for your own enjoyment, then at some point, somebody else is going to have to read it.  Or, you will have to read it to them.  It may feel like you are exposing something deeply personal; if you have spent a long time with your work, you may even be a little jealous of sharing it.  You will discover whether being heard is a want or a need, or both.

After which, some of the people exposed to your work may say something back.  If you are lucky, it may be something you can use to improve, and you take it as such.  If you are very lucky, you may be that even rarer person whose first work is an instant success.  But that happens less often than you think; To Kill a Mockingbird is often called a brilliant first novel when in fact it was Harper Lee’s first published novel, there was at least one before that didn’t make it.

Of course taking a compliment can be pretty tough, sometimes even less comfortable than criticism.  Yet you probably aspire to more of it.

(Just to prove a point… this blog post is better for exposure to the Next Page group (Jennifer C Wilson, Elaine Cusack, Sandy Chadwin) and the Elementary Writers group run by Victoria Watson, not to mention John Evans at the Phil.)

If you successfully tread the path to major author, you will be expected to do readings and signings with talks.  Best get some practice in early.  You don’t have to be Jackanory but competence and comfort will be necessary.

So… don’t let the road be too lonely.  Sometimes you may walk together in companionable silence, sometimes pause to share provisions and compare blisters, perhaps even take time to plan your route with someone.  Or just nod to a fellow traveller as you pass.  It’ll be worth it.

Get inspired this weekend

How can you write without inspiration? You can’t! Why don’t you join us in Whitley Bay library this coming Saturday afternoon for Teenage Kicks, a creative writing workshop inspired by music?

Charming Salon PartyWe’ve all got our favourite songs, pieces of music which instantly transport us back to precious memories – first days of independence, first loves, first taste of the ‘real world’, or even the opposite, taking us back to more innocent times, when our biggest worry was whether our favourite group would have made it to Number One.  

Teenage Kicks: Creative Writing Workshop takes place this coming Saturday, 4th March, at Whitley Bay Library and is run by Jennifer C Wilson and Elaine Cusack. Attendees are  encouraged to  ‘bring along’  favourite songs (mentally only, no CDs needed!), and see where they go when combined with Jennifer’s prompts. 

Jennifer and Elaine  will be sharing songs and pieces of music to conjure up new inspiration, and show how songs can inspire some fascinating moods, characters and plots. 

Charming Salon PartyTeenage Kicks: Creative Writing Workshop Saturday 4th March, St Mary’s room, Whitley Bay library.  Tickets cost £15 . Advance booking recommended. Click here to book

Writing for the publisher

Hello! At The Next Page, we’re keen to help you with every step of the writing journey, whether that’s through prompts in workshops to kick-start new writing ideas, or advice for people further along the writing path. For the first in our monthly series, we’re delighted to welcome Laurence Patterson of Crooked Cat, for some top tips in presenting your work to a publisher…


Writing for the publisher.

Let’s face it, authors, submitting your work to a publisher is one of the most hot-stake-through-the-eye painful and soul-bearing experiences you’ll ever have to put yourself through. What with the need to include this and that and this and that, it’s a wonder that they don’t ask you for a vial of blood and a bunch of hemlock, collected by light of a new moon. What makes it worse is not knowing really what they might be looking for, and thinking that they may be chuckling to themselves about ‘the state of your submission’. And we’ve all heard the stories of authors that have received rejection and rejection, with next-to no feedback attached, making it impossible to know quite what the problem was.

Follow a few simple rules, however, and at least you’ll know that the steps you took when submitting were correct.

  1. Check the submission guidelines on the publisher’s website. Don’t go by what your author friends say the guidelines are – go to the horse’s mouth and read it. If necessary, ask the horse itself: send an email to the publisher, asking for clarity. If they don’t respond, they’re not the right publisher for you.
  2. Gather everything together, normally (but not always) the following:
    1. The first three chapters (or 10,000 words) of your story. This should be the ready-to-go version, no first or second draft, no alternative version, nothing fancy. Just written text.
    2. A synopsis of your story, no longer than one or two pages of A4. Grab attention by introducing the story hook, if possible, as the first thing in the synopsis. But make the synopsis factual – tell the story as it is.
    3. A covering letter. Introduce yourself. Introduce your story. Make sure you address your publisher correctly.
  3. Address your submission correctly and use a tone appropriate to a formal introduction. We once received a submission from author which began ‘Dear Doris’. No-one working here is called Doris.
  4. Be patient! It may take weeks for a response. But it’s okay to ask for an update, politely.
  5. Handle rejection like a pro – it takes just one good publisher to like you. But it’s okay to ask for feedback. If you don’t get it, they’re not the right publisher for you.

A word to the wise. Publishers judge your submission not only on what you present to them formally, but also on how you present yourself publicly. In a world where publishers are likely to see hundreds or thousands of submissions a week, consider the degree to which you have already stepped up the plate and shown who you are, professionally, to the world. If you are not active as a writer, if that (small) circle of followers is not to be discovered, if you have engaged very seldom, online, you may be underselling yourself. Ensure that there is a trail for the publisher to follow – leaving them in no doubt that, as well as being a good writer, you are an engaging and active writer, too.

Laurence Patterson is co-founder of Crooked Cat, a small Europe-based publishing company.

Crooked Cat can be found online here, or follow them on Twitter here.

2016 – A good first year!

Sitting here in December, I cannot quite believe what we’ve managed to organise and achieve since the first ‘proper’ meeting of The Next Page, when Elaine and I took a wander through Jesmond Dene, had tea with Sandy, then hit the town centre to investigate potential workshop venues, and other ideas to look into.

ticketsourceOver a very productive panini and pot of tea in Mark Toney’s (other food-serving venues are available, but are they as lovely?), we decided on the name, and what we wanted to achieve – a series of workshops, a reading event, and mentoring. Six months down the line, we’ve managed to get going with all three.


We have now hosted two workshops, in July and December, and two Pure Fiction events, in July and November, as well as Elaine having hosted numerous one-to-one mentoring sessions.

We’ve had great feedback on our events, and especially enjoyed introducing new writers and their work to you via Pure Fiction. Selfishly, I personally really enjoyed the opportunity to give my first ever reading back in July, and hearing from Sandy, Kitty, Lisa and Carol has been fantastic.

But we don’t intend to rest on our laurels!

We already have our workshop plans in place for 2017, Elaine’s mentoring sessions are being set up, and we are discussing future line-ups for Pure Fiction. There’ll be plenty to keep us busy, and you both inspired and entertained. So keep in touch, and keep popping over to our Facebook and TicketSource pages for the latest information, and to snap up those tickets when they become available.

We look forward to the next year with The Next Page!