Wednesday, 21 December 2011



When you fail, you cry
Because you believed the lie
That if you try
With all your might
If you pursue a single line of sight
Looking neither to the left nor right,
Ignoring the distractions and delights
There is no height
You cannot reach
So when you don’t
You’re the failure, right?
Not them.
Your dreams provide their alibi.

But I know there are things I’ll never achieve
And I deceive myself if I believe I will.
My limitations are a bitter pill
Of stillborn expectations
And thrills I had to leave behind
But I was too blinded by stories
Of glory, fame and wealth
To see that I had whored myself
To the lie that I’m alone.
You see the only dream that counts
Is that we all count,
That every voice is heard
Every hope, anxiety, despair
Every tear you shed that no one saw
Because you turned away
And every desperate word
That you were too ashamed to say.
And I can’t do that on my own.
And that’s

Do not comply
With what they tell you to desire.
Defy the boundaries
They place upon your mind
And start a fire
That will not die
Until your whisper
And that of every brother, sister
Mother, father, lover,
Every angry fist in history
Unclenches and becomes a kiss
And every pair of lips becomes a choir.

Don’t let your dreams provide their alibi.
Make them accountable for every crime,
For every voice that they deny.
Look them in the eye
And let your rhymes and passion fight them.
Unite and let your love and the fact that after every disappointment you still believe in this sorry species indict them.
When you embrace humanity in its broken condition,
When ensuring those who cannot speak are spoken for’s your mission
And you chase the truth till every eye is open,
Every sleeping conscience woken,
Then your vision can incite them
To a revolution.
So take a moment, and your dreams,
And write them.
Go out into the alleys and recite them
And if humanity evolves
Sufficient to resolve
To make a reckoning
Of those who were involved
In lifting us from the mire
And those who just devolved
The choice to someone down the line
You’ll stand absolved,
Your head held high.
Their dreams,
The ones that you made fly,
With a whisper, quiet as a lullaby,
Those dreams will be your alibi.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Play Pit - do you have a tumblr?

In the light of my previous post, I've made myself a playpit in which to do all that playing. I'll keep it updated as much as I possibly can, full of jottings and scrawled ideas, flashes and photos and manifestos that never get kept and the like.

Anyone out there with a tumblr, do post the URL in a comment so I can follow you. I am
for no better reason than that I thought Last Man Out of Eden might look good on a hoodie :)

Thursday, 15 December 2011


(yes, I know that's Porcelain, but it's from the album Play :))

It's that time of year again. The reflective one. Last year I brought you both contemplation and a simple message: live. I've been thinking a lot about what to say this year. So much has happened from the extraordinarily good (Blackwell's favourite Oxford novel! Sell out show at Stoke Newington Literary Festival!) to the almost unbearable (my mother getting diagnosed with cancer, my best friend withdrawing altogether from the literary stage). Maybe there's a place for it all.

But that place isn't here.

Last year brought a simple message that remains as true now as it was then.

And this year's message is equally simple.


The best, and possibly the only valid, response to a year that might have left me (often did) more jaded than a Chinese art warehouse.

Last month I wrote what I imagined to be a provocative piece where I, um, might have not so inadvertently called pretty much every author on the planet a soulless hack. In fairness, my point wasn't to dismiss what writers spend much of their time doing so much as to encourage them to do something else. This was the core of it:

"Forget keeping your nose in “how I sold a gazillion copies of my ebook”, forget the endless round of commenting on everyone’s evangelical how to be an indie revolutionary blogs, forget the ambition to “get out, get anywhere, get all the way to the FBI” (but if my references seem just weird spare the time for a quick read of The Silence of the Lambs).

Spend a month remembering that nothing matters but the storytelling. And with that in mind, forget the words on the page and go find yourself an open mic or a bookstore near you and Read. Out Loud. To a group of real people. It’s how stories have been told for tens of thousands of years. It’s the most rewarding experience a storyteller can have. And if your kdp reports really mean more to you than following the whites of a person’s eyes as you drag them through hell and back again, for pity’s sake have the decency to call yourself a hack like any of the rest of us working 9 to 5s to make rent and don’t pretend to be a storyteller."

Now that's all pretty limited in scope. A month. Reading out loud. I want to open that up and get you to make a resolution with me:

In 2012 I will not think, not once, about how to make a single penny from my writing. In 2012 I will devote myself to playing.

There, that was easy, wasn't it!

But wait wait wait. Why why why? Well, think of it as a sabbatical. Or a gap year. Or, go on, why not, think of it as just plain fun!! But you need to make a living out of your writing? Wow, you're making a living out of your writing, fabulous! The 0.2 people I know who can do that may be duly excused and head back to the desk job their writing has become. You see, that's one of the problems with setting out to have writing as a career. It may seem so much better than spending 40+ hours a week tied to a whatever and getting home knackered having to do all those other things you do at home and desperately trying to squeeze in a few minutes at the laptop - but the moment you make writing your day job money *has* to be your focus (unless you're lucky enough to have independent means, of course). And whilst that may incidentally involve all sorts of other fun things to make your writing more likely to sell, there's been a fundamental shift. Which is why I'll stick to the poorly paid job that almost covers my bills and not bring my writing into it.

If you're honest with yourselves, I think you'll find that most of you are in the same boat as me. Writing is your passion. You do it because you have to. Because you have a truth you have to express. A story you have to tell. Something you just have to lay before the world. Your aim. Your goal. Your dream. The thing that stopped you sleeping all those yeas and makes you catch your breath when you think about it. That's not "to bank some pounds from my writing in 2012." Is it? Really?

So, what I want you to do is write down what that was. That thing. That made you feel like a lovesick teenager whose hand has just been grasped, sweatily and expectantly for the first time. And devote 2012 to that.

Only make your devotion loose. Experimental. Have a kind of Bloomsbury-ish relationship with your goals. Be willing to consider anything once. Or twice. Out of curiosity that it may be useful. Last year, for example, I stumbled on cell phone novels and slam poetry and had a fabulous time. As well as learning things about editing and rhythm. And little handmade booklets. Whcih taught me about care and craft and space. And were fun.

Play at least once a month. Write something you wouldn't have considered writing. Go to a part of the web you wouldn't have considered visiting and say hello. Go to an event you wouldn't normally go to, or a gallery you wouldn't usually be seen dead at. Try teaching someone something writery (for free). Try volunteering for someting writerly. Try making something. Try leaving cards with a haiku and a URL on tables in bars.

Just try it.

Without expecting anything but fun and that goosebumpy anticipationy what-might-happen-nexty kind of excitement. By all means tell the world what you're doing. And by all means put your work out there on sale. Charge $100 a paragraph on Kindle if you like, but don't try and sell it.

Play not pay. There. Simple. Now, shall we have some fun together?

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

It's Cold Outside

About 18 months ago I put on a show at Oxford's OVADA Gallery called Open-Armed and Outcast. Its description was simple:

"Have you ever KNOWN that you’re just a stranger in your life? Not known where your place is except that it’s elsewhere? Then much of the work we’re offering tonight is for you; very different accounts of what it’s like to be an outcast in your life and in the world. And to find your home elsewhere."

Around the same time, I was sitting in the Albion Beatnik bookstore half reading and half eavesdropping on the table next to me (there's always an interesting conversation going on there - it could be the spiritual home of competitive people-watching). They were talking about deserts. Great topic (so good I once held an exhibition called Into the Desert). One of them made the very interesting point that she didn't like using the word "desert" because it implied a space that was "outside" - the desert outside the city walls, the space beyond the fertile land. In other words, calling something a desert, just like calling yourself an outsider, has the effect of defining a space by its relation to the thing it is not.

That got me thinking. I'd always thought of myself as an outsider. I'd always *been* an outsider. I'd always been laughed at, shunned, ignored, excluded from "regular spaces". That made me an outsider, right? Well, sort of. It certainly gave me a name to call myself, and that matters. It's the same feeling as finally being diagnosed with depression - the feeling, "thank goodness for that, there's a reason I feel this way."

On the other hand, I got to thinking more and more that my identity was about what I did, who I was, not what I didn't do, not what I wasn't. And over the spring and summer that thougt began to mature, and found an outlet in a couple of places. I was asked to contribute to a great collection of urban writing called Urban Feel. My piece, "My Feet Are Wet I Must Be At The Beach" (about the way water and associated metaphors are used as mechanisms of control in urban spaces), contains the passage:

"The punchbag lad in the cardboard box; the smackhead’s hollow skin dropped down through the pavement floor; the free-runner jumping the skag-iron rooftops a hundred feet above the mossy park. The young don’t leave our world; they build their own"

I was aware I didn't agree with a lot of the implications of that. Most homeless people are homeless because they are running away from an alternative that's unbearable. Likewise denying the escape that drugs offer would be banal. But I couldn't help thinking the passage should stay. It made a point, however inexpertly articulated, that needed making. Society's outcasts, its outsiders, are not just the detritus from something normative. "Outsiders" are a parallel, a world of our own, with our own codes, our own structures, often our own very rigid rules of engagement and moral codes.

And equally to the point, we are as diverse as any regular office space or suburb if not more so. Maybe we *are* all outside of something, but to make that what defines us is so limiting when we are so much more, and so many different things.

That sense of being more than someone who "doesn't belong" wherever finally found its expression when I started up eight cuts gallery, in particular in this section of the manifesto:

"we are rats

we live in our own space, build our own communities, societies, foundation myths and bodies of work.

we share some of your doorways, and sometimes you will see the traces we leave behind. traces like this. often they are strange, unfamiliar, and consequently seem frightening, but they are doorways onto a whole world that exists, fully formed, in parallel with yours.

for too long we have been expected to push at these doors, and gaze around them in wonder and admiration, dreaming, cap in hand, of one day entering the world beyond them. we think maybe it’s time for us to offer an invitation the other way."

Again and again I find myself being pulled back to the idea of being an outsider. I guess in a way it's romantic. Which is wholly the wrong reason - that's the kind of empty nostalgia and posturing I so dislike in the so-called mainstream. I wonder also if it's an excuse. I've not done abc because I'm not xyz. Which is probably true. But it's not helpful. It won't help me get on and do pqr!

The fact is I'm not an outsider. I'm an insider in a world that not many people inhabit. It may be a world that's unrecognized or unvalued by the paymasters, which means I can't spend all my time there - but who can spend their whole lives "at home"? But I'm not a perpetual traveller, I am not a man in diaspora, or if I am, then it's only because that's the place I always come back to - not because I'm running away from somewhere else, but because it's my haven, the source from whcih I draw my strength, the spring that nurtures my creativity. It is where I can do what really matters, and get on with life.

How do you think of yourself? Do you feel like a stranger in your own life? And if questions of outsiderdom and identity strike a chord with you, you may be interested in my novella Black Heart High, which you can download for free here.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Not the Oxford Literary Festival 2012

Tomorrow The Oxford Literary Festival announces its 2012 programme. So I thought we should probably get there first for the most exciting literary event in Oxford next year, Not the Oxford Literary Festival

(Lucy Ayrton and Penny Goring at the 2011 Not the Oxford Literary Festival)

Two years ago, a few of us at Year Zero wanted to put on a gig at Oxford's (and the UK's) best bookstore, The Albion Beatnik. We were at the same time rather frustrated by the high admission prices at The Oxford Literary Festival, as well as the lack of representation of the incredible underground and spoken word scene Oxford has. So we decided to put on our own show. The first Not the Oxford Literary Festival, held the week of the festival on March 24 2010, lasted about an hour.

But it was a fun, fabulous hour. And it went down in history as the reason I wear a red glove every time I gig. A Year Zero fan had come over form Germany for the main festival but wanted to see us as well. But he didn't know where the Albion Beatnik was. He spied my glove through the window, came in, and since then the red glove has been my lucky charm.

Last year we decided to do it again and we had an even more fabulous, diverse line-up including slam poetry and electronica.

And people started asking about 2012. So 2012's Not the Oxford Literary Festival is spreading. This time there will be two days, March 27th and 28th, both based at the fabulous Albion Beatnik, and promising some of the very best, diversest literary fabulousness, just like you'd expect from eight cuts gallery. Watch this space - and if you're interested in reading something leave a comment!!

2012 Schedule (with more events TBA - if you have fantastic ideas for events do leave a comment!!)

Tuesday 27 March - Verruca Music (evening)

(Stuart Estell and Haiku Salut perform an extract from Verruca Music at Pow-Wow Literary Festival)

Writer and musician Stuart Estell performs his novel Verruca Music in full for the first time. Music, words, lyricism, tears, humour, and delight as Stuart takes us into teh world of a man who tries to battle depression by picking his feet. Accomplished on half a dozen instruments, Stuart, who has performed with The Fall, is one of the most entertaining spoken word performers around today, and this, we believe, is the best novel of 2011. The performance will last 2 and a half hours in total but you are free to come and go at will.

Wednesday 28 March - Poets vs Proseurs (evening)

some of the best writers of poetry and prose duel it out for your delight to decide which format lends itself best to live performance. Featuring Not the Booker Prize winner Micahel Stewart, Hammer & Tongue's Lucy Ayrton, Anna Hobson and many more - and open mic

And don't forget our all night think-in/drink-in on March 30th

Thursday, 8 December 2011


First, apologies for the temporary radio silence. I'm now well and truly back.

Some of you will know that for the past two years I've run Not the Oxford Literary Festival, an alternative to the regular festival showcasing the fabulous, and local, creativity that never usually gets a look in. It's been such a success that in 2012 we're making a whole week of it, and first and foremost this is an invitation to come and enjoy the wonderfulness - even if you're in Oxford for the main festival, come and join us for a night.

Second, it's a call for ideas - we have three nights spoken for at our amazing venue, The Albion Beatnik Bookstore, but if you have something you're burning to put on let me know - the more creative and outlandish the better.

Finally, I want to say a bit about the thing I'm most excited about. Oxford closes too early. As a city, and as a creative venue. For a while now The Albion Beatnik has made a stand against this and helped to remind people in what is supposed to be one of the UK's leading cities of culture that there are, in fact, not 8 or even 16 but 24 hours in a day, and that these are all equally available for creative purposes. And we want the festival to embody that.

Whether your night is just beginning, or you are heading home from the mainstream festival in search of something more stimulating, drop in to our all night festival of wonders, a place where manifestos will be written, thoughts pulled to their breaking point, performances honed, old favourites murdered on the guitar, films screened, and research, er, researched. Highlights include:

Gin Soaked Sheets

join performer and poetry workshopper Lucy Ayrton as she carries out the world's first scientific study on the effects of gin on creative output

zine workshop - by the end of the night something wonderful will be created that you can take away in your hands

improvlog - creative juices flowing? Let them run then upload the results as part of a global online creative think-in

guerrilla poetry - wouldn't you love to walk into work one morning and find that your route was full of poems? Wouldn't it be better still to make that happen for someone else?

This is your part -have a talk you want to give, an idea or poem you want to share, something you want to teach people how to do, or just want to be part of something fabulous: this is where I add your name and links