Thoughts of a stand-up comedian: ‘I Have No Voice But I Must Perform’

stand up

When I’d just begun stand up, the excellent Scottish comedian, Matt Winning, told me something along the lines of “You should wait till you’re at fifty gigs before you decide whether you’re funny or not, because by then you will have found your voice a bit more.”

I’ve reached my fiftieth gig, through a mixture of open mics and a few ‘proper’ booked gigs. It’s probably natural then, that I’m returning to Matt’s advice. I’m usually pretty funny. Well, last night I told an extremely unfunny joke about the experimental noise artist Prurient that nobody understood and insulted an Albanian man, but I’m usually pretty funny. I make people laugh on a regular basis. I’m hardly the funniest new comedian around; but I’m not bad.

I’m concerned, though, that I’ve yet to find what my voice actually is. I don’t mean this literally of course, I’m well aware of the fact I have a prominent London middle class accent. I’m not proposing that I begin performing in course Glaswegian tones or the husky growl of Tom Waits, although both of those sound quite funny so I might give them a go.

Most successful stand-up comedians have a distinctive flavour to their comedy. You could identify a Stewart Lee routine by reading it off the page, let alone hearing it spoken. Simon Munnery; Josie Long; Bridget Christie; Tony Law; each one a top stand up and each one totally unique. Even outside of the arty alternative, comedians like Michael McIntyre or Kevin Bridges can arrive on stage to an audience who already know what  to expect.

The voice of a comedian is not just the content of their jokes; but their phrasings, rhythms, timings and looks. Different comedians can give the same material have drastically different meanings. Tim Vine and Simon Munnery both often tell neat, clever puns. Tim Vine just tells them like a father who continues to joke at a daughter who is publicly embarrassed by him because he knows she’s secretly enjoying it. Simon Munnery, meanwhile, can make a simple bit of wordplay seem like the arcane wisdom of a wizard whose brain has been fried by powerful magic. Same jokes, vastly different outcomes.

Even the better comedians  a newbie like me is able to get on bills with have their own distinct voices. The audience – that’s to say the real, non-comedian audience – will probably have no idea who they are; but, within a minute of their performance, little that follows will be a real tonal shift. The audience will remember their presence, if not necessarily their jokes. Ashley Haden’s air of having uncomfortably trapped you in the corner of a pub to let you know, hilariously, exactly what’s been bothering him. Joseph Murphy’s weary commitment to the telling of his wonderful jokes, as if he’s being forced to continue by a mad king who really loves spooky puns.

I could continue list the styles of my favorites of the comedians I’ve gigged with, but it would be little more than an open-mic masturbatory exercise so I’ll refrain from doing it. They’re all very good though and I love each one of them. Especially you (if you’re a comedian or a loved one).

I’m still not sure where I fit in. Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve veered between the personas of a man who hates both his own jokes and the audience, an energetic fun loving hawker of bee puns, and a passionate, smart, political satirist. At present I’m not sure exactly what my persona will be until I actually step onto the stage and begin my first joke. I’m not at the stage where I’m a confident enough performer to be able to deliver my jokes in a certain fashion irrespective of my mood.

Perhaps though, those who have seen me multiple times would have a different opinion. When I saw Daniel Kitson (who is probably the greatest working stand-up and performs like a child who’s just discovered a particularly rude word and is delighted to tell everybody about it) he did an hour long show about how our impressions of our own character are less true than how other people define us. Perhaps stand up is like that. Perhaps I’ll never really understand exactly what my own voice, or style, actually is.

I think it’s probably more important for me, at this early stage, to understand my own weaknesses, limitations and strengths. I know I struggle with crowd interaction, I’m not yet very good at saying something amusing about somebody’s job or telling men that they are less attractive than their girlfriends. My attempts to do looser, stream of consciousness style bits have also all resulted in dismal failure.

I can’t be great at every style of stand-up and, while I probably need to improve the areas in which I’m weakest, it makes sense to focus on honing and exploiting my strengths. The two gigs in which I’ve arguably been at my best, last week, I used an angry, shouting style, hurling words at my audience and  barely pausing to allow for laughter. I enjoyed performing like this and I know the audience enjoyed it too (one of the great things about stand up is that you get immediate feedback on your work); but in subsequent gigs I’ve had difficulty maintaining the level of energy required.

As my on stage-character is an ironic figure – a male feminist who doesn’t understand feminism , the worst of middle-class liberalism – I also need to overcome my worry that the audience will genuinely think I’m a dickhead. A friend recently saw me perform and said “if I didn’t know you were genuinely a proper feminist, I’m not sure what I’d conclude about you as a person from what I just saw”. I think it’s something that, as long as I’m being funny, I shouldn’t worry about. Anybody worth talking to will be able to appreciate the satire.

I’m going to perform the same, shouty, set at least eight times over the next 2 weeks. If I can pull it off as I’ve envisaged it I hope I will have found my voice for the time being. Stand up is an evolving medium, and I’m sure I’ll continue to grow and evolve over my ‘career’ but for the time being it’s heartening to be finding myself on the stage.

About the author of this post

Daniel Offen is an aspiring comedian and writer. He has written four jokes and half a book. He assures us he is capable of all of the usual thoughts and emotions of an unusual twenty four year old man and will talk about them at length. He deals primarily in irony and whimsy. He tweets as @danieloffen.


YA Author Lola Blake’s Top Ten Writing Tips


In a series of posts, we here at Nothing in the Rulebook have been asking writers to share their top tips and advice on writing. Today, it is our pleasure to bring you the top writing tips from YA Author, Lola Blake.

Every writer is different

Every writer is different and every book is written in a way that is unique to the author, as well as to the book itself. Some authors use formulas, other’s creative license. Some writers are night owls and work best at 3am, others get up early and write by the dawn light. As I said, every writer is different so some of these tips may not work for everyone, so take what you need from what I’m about to say. These are my top ten tips for settling into completing that pesky manuscript that’s been playing on your mind for a while. This is what works best for me, hopefully there’ll be a tip or two on the list that will work for you also. Enjoy!

– Lola

Lola Blake’s Top Ten Writing Tips:

  1. Know your characters

Character motivation is what drives a narrative. If you understand your character’s reasons and motivations, the story will almost write itself. Think about your story’s main issue or point of contention, then consider; what does it mean to each and every character? How is your character(s) going to react to this news? Consider the voice and temperament of your characters. Before I start my manuscript, I like to write out a brief character summary of each and every player. I decide whether or not that person is headstrong or easy-going, manipulative or level-headed. I refer to my notes before I put any dialogue on paper.

  1. Find a method to your madness

When Stephen King puts pen to paper, his ideas are driven by his imagination. He has no plan or rough storyline drawn out, he just goes with it and ends up where his clever mind takes him and this method has proven successful for him. For me, personally, I’d get tangled up in a web of my own convoluted ideas, if I went with that method. I write my ideas out on paper and then try to come up with a timeline of cause-and-effect events to that there’s no gaps in my narrative. This works best for me. Some writers take this a step further and write out blow-by-blow synopsis for each and every chapter. This also wouldn’t work for me. To each, their own, but find something that works for you.

  1. Don’t procrastinate

I lost months, maybe even years, of potential writing time by waiting to feel ‘inspired’ to write something. Over the past couple of years, since I became a published author, I’ve learned that free time is the best time to write. Even if your mind is blank, you’re feeling tired or particularly unmotivated, once your fingers start scrambling across the keyboard, the words will come to you. I’ve written some of my best pieces during times of apparent lethargy. I disconnected my pay TV and now I keep my laptop in the living room, in plain sight. It helps!

  1. Know how to overcome writer’s block

Nothing on your mind? No words coming out? Can’t think of an interesting predicament, scenario or character to get your thoughts on paper? Take an ipod, listen to some cool tunes and go for a walk in the fresh air. A long walk! I don’t know if this will work for everyone, but it certainly works for me. Lots of ideas will come to you when you’ve got nothing to think about except the scenery and the music will stir up different emotions to get your synapsis firing.

  1. Get some sleep

No-one ever won a literary prize for something they wrote when they were sleep deprived. Sleeplessness has the same effect on the mind as intoxication. I should know, I tried to write the first chapter of my second book while looking after a newborn. When I read it back a few weeks later, I couldn’t believe the garbled crap I had been prepared to put on the shelf! When my little one started sleeping through the night, I rewrote the chapter and felt much better.

  1. Keep reading!

Whenever I hear someone say ‘oh, I’d really like to be a writer, but I hate reading’ I wonder why on earth they’d choose writing as a profession in the first place. Read a range of books, have at least one book on your bedside table, read when you’re on the train, even if it’s only for twenty minutes or so every day, but keep reading! It’s good for the soul, it opens you to new ideas and reading is great for keeping you up to date with grammatical structures and literary language.

  1. Think about your audience, but not too much

Granted, if you’re writing a Young Adult novel it’s probably not a good idea to fill it full of F-Bombs, however, many writer’s get bogged down in the idea that they have to produce a book within the guidelines of a particular formula, to appeal to a certain market. Whether or not there’s truth in the idea, I couldn’t tell you, but I can tell you this; so many authors burn out creatively trying to write a book that’s interesting to others but not to themselves. If there’s an idea that’s interesting to you, explore it. Write the book you’d want to read yourself and chances are, someone else will like it too.

  1. Manage your time

Decide when you’d like to complete your manuscript, set a date and then work out a schedule to achieve it. Most people that know me, can vouch that I’m an organisational Nazi, but I’ve also never missed a deadline in my life.

  1. Ignore self-doubt

You’re your own worst critic. No-one else will ever judge your work as harshly as you. Don’t be scared of rejection, it happens to everyone and no-one experiences rejection as often as a writer, so don’t be scared to send that manuscript. Send it to as many publishers as you can. Send it until you get that ‘yes’ response, or exhaust every avenue trying.

  1. Be proactive on social media

Lots of writers find social media exhausting (and it is!). Getting your name out there, updating your website constantly, connecting with your fan base, all of these things can be just as exhausting as the writing process itself, but it’s worth it! Even established writers use social media to connect with their readers, so don’t ever underestimate the power of social media. Even when it feels like you’ve been treading water for ages, you never know when someone’s going to click on a link to your website or Amazon author’s page. Persistence is the key!

About the author

Lola Blake writes both adult and young adult fiction. She grew up in Australia’s Surf Coast Shire, before moving to Melbourne to study creative writing. After completing her Bachelor’s degree, she spent the next ten years trying out various careers and travelling, before finally deciding on teaching. Her first novel, Coming Home was written in eight weeks, during a visit to the seaside. She now lives in Melbourne with her husband and daughter and still retains her love for the beach. She tweets as @LolaBlakes

What would Hemingway do? Minimalist typewriter, anyone?


The ‘Hemingwrite’ – a minimalist typewriter for distracted writers

Aspiring writers the world over know the perils of the digital age better than most. You’ve spent the morning vacuuming, organising your junk email folder, sorting all the fast-food leaflets stuffed through your door into alphabetical order and watered your geraniums – and you’ve finally sat down in front of your shiny new laptop to write that novel you’ve been working on. But, oh no! Disaster. Somehow you’ve found your way to a website for creatives who believe in giraffe sporting equality and are reading an article about some new-fangled typewriter. You check your watch and suddenly it’s 8pm and you’ve lost the day to youtube videos of cats riding tortoises and obscure articles about chaffinches. You’ve been distracted by the ravaging digital background babble. But don’t worry – there’s always tomorrow.

Of course, there are a whole host of ideas for how to get around this (apart from the obvious action of actually just writing your novel). You can press a button to turn off the internet. Or you can go cold turkey from social media. You could even pay a friend to tie you to a chair, sit you in front of your computer and unplug the Wi-Fi – promising not to return until you’ve produced this generation’s version of On The Road. But it’s another idea that’s got us talking here at Nothing in the Rulebook – the ‘Hemingwrite’: a minimalist digital typewriter.

Modelled as a distraction-free ‘smart’ typewriter, which stops you surfing the web but still lets you save files to the cloud, this is a Kickstarter-funded tool for procrastinators of all creeds.

A pair of designers have added a modern twist to the traditional typewriter, the inventors – Adam Leeb and Patrick Paul – insist “it combines the simplicity of a typewriter with modern technology like an electronic paper screen and cloud backups to create the best possible writing experience”.

And, because it doesn’t allow access to the web, it is claimed the Hemigwrite will help writers work more efficiently.

The device includes a mechanical keyboard, and e-ink display that can be read in daylight, and access to cloud storage, such as Dropbox and Google Drive.

The portable word-processor’s battery is also reported to last 4 weeks. Which, while longer than your average laptop, still falls someway short of the traditional – ahem – typewriter, which has a battery life of well, for ever, since it doesn’t actually need any batteries.

Retailing at around £300, the device may appear less for poor, broke writers and more for people who quite like the idea of popping up in Starbucks with a new hipster-typewriter to order a mochalattecino while they brood in a leather chair and loudly laugh at quotes from Machievelli, as if it were an olden-days version of Seinfeld.

Now that the prototype has been developed, its creators have lined up a leading manufacturing group to begin making these writing tools en masse. Mr Paul said: “The 2015 Hemingwrite will ship with a minimalist interface but we will also support a development kit (SDK) to fulfill the needs of more specialized professionals like screenwriters.”

Professor Wu’s verdict:

“Obviously, in theory any new device that helps writers concentrate on putting words to paper seems like a good idea. But for much less than half the price of one of these new-fangled gadgetizmos, you could just buy an actual typewriter. And if you want to access the internet and the opportunity to save your files, just stick with your laptop or desktop, and get on with the task at hand. The only way you’ll ever find out if you “have it in you” to write a novel, or a collection of poems, or a screenplay, is to get to work and see if you do. It’s hard to write, of course; but it can be harder not to. Maya Angelou said there was no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you. It’s true. The only way to override your distractions is to focus on that agony and to produce. So stop reading this article, get to your desk and ask yourself ‘what would Hemingway do?’” Professor Wu says.

“In fact, the man himself told us exactly what we needed to write, and it’s pretty simple. All you need, he said, is “The blue-backed notebooks, the two pencils and the pencil sharpener (a pocket knife was too wasteful), the marble topped tables, the smell of early morning, sweeping out and mopping, and luck.””

How to find a literary agent

literary agent

After embarking on an MA in Writing (/misguided attempt to avoid work), I wrote a story about a girl who is sent to live on an island surrounded by sea monsters. I had over-elaborate visions of mystery and madness and double- and triple-twists. It was the story I’d been trying to write and had wanted to read for years but had never managed to pull off.

Like all dedicated bookworms, I’ve wanted to be a published author for years. When I finished my sea creature story for the millionth time, and I didn’t know what else I could do with it, the only next step was look for an agent, those terrifying guardians of the gates of publishing. They’re like ghosts. Everyone thinks they might have seen one once, or knows someone who swears they exist, but they’re pretty hard to actually get hold of.

I’d sent stuff out before, really bad stuff, and felt immediately embarrassed by every rejection, but madness/fear of oblivion made me try again anyway. Three manuscript requests, a lot of rejections, and even more silences later, I was offered representation by DGA. I haven’t grown any wiser in the meantime, but if there’s anything I can say to other writers looking for an agent, it’s this:

Going sideways won’t necessarily work

Before submitting to agents in the traditional way, I threw myself at every conceivable opportunity to get my writing seen by someone. I wondered if I could sidle, like a literary crab, into the unsuspecting pocket of an agent relaxing at the metaphorical beach. I signed up for meet-an-agent events (there’s one at the Big Green Bookshop in Wood Green, and it demonstrates the soul and potential of independent sellers over online behemoths – you should go!). I went to snobby literary festivals and turned up whenever an agent came to campus. I entered competitions and threw stuff at magazines and read at launches in case there was an interested party in the audience.

Each opportunity gave me optimism, sometimes in the form of an actual business card, followed by the gradually dawning realisation that mostly people were just being polite.

But it’s worthwhile anyway. The more chances you get to meet other writers, the better. You’re doing something, practising for disillusionment, and collecting anecdotes (hard currency for when you’re swapping stories with other writers). And in any case, the approach might just work.

In my case, I clenched my teeth together and redrafted. Again.

It pays to be a lean, mean submitting machine

Later, when I couldn’t work on my manuscript any more without wanting to bang my head against the wall, I started a real campaign of submitting through agents’ slush piles.

Most advice about submitting to agents, written or verbal, is a variation on: choose who you submit to carefully. Research every agent and think hard about if they’re the right person for you.

Like a wayward teenager in angst mode, I immediately did the opposite. I callously worked A-Z through The Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook. I made a spreadsheet of agents and submission deadlines. I had full-on affairs with colour coding and date ranges.

It’s undoubtedly true that you should only sign up with an agent if it feels right, but I figured the chances of finding one were so astronomically slim I might as well ask everyone. In the end I found someone brilliant, so I’m glad I gave myself the best chance of that meeting. It’s not pretty, but I wouldn’t have dragged myself through the process without the bright lights of Excel and a fear-driven, one-a-day regime of submitting stuff.

Small aside: a creative writing course doesn’t help anyone get an agent

I loved my degree and MA. I met some fantastic people, took some great classes, and got to write, drink, and eat nothing but tinned soup for years. I learned plenty about self-improvement, but at no point did anyone other than my tutors seek out anything I’d written, and there were no connections to the world of representation or publishing (something that originally sold it to me when I was in sixth form, to be honest).

Creative writing students have more opportunities than most to get face-to-face with authors, agents and publishers, but my agent found me in the slush pile, and I don’t know anyone who has benefitted otherwise. Take a course if you want to be workshopped and spend years pinning poems to trees, but if not, save your money for booze and strip clubs.

A hodgepodge of tips

  • That thing they say about being careful with copy and paste in your cover letter is true. (Despite what I assumed was my unimpeachable professionalism, I went to that dark place.)
  • Rejections can be photo frame-worthy. If it looks like an agent has read past the first page, something’s gone a bit right. I was seriously proud when I was turned down for being ‘too dark for children’. (And you start being able to tell the difference between personal and form rejections very quickly, a great trick to get out at parties.)
  • Replies to unsolicited letters/extracts usually take months, except for when they only take hours, sending you into a sweaty panic because your full MS isn’t actually ready. Be prepared.
  • Consequently, it will become shield-your-eyes painful to open your email inbox. Professionals recommend that for the next year, a friend/pet should do it for you.
  • If an agent wants to meet/speak to you, there’s very little you can do to prepare. Try not to appear mad and you’ll be fine. It doesn’t actually matter what you wear, so it’s fine to put away those intellectual non-prescription specs.
  • Luck plays a huge part in the whole process, but if you open yourself up to as many opportunities as possible, you’ll get luckier. Go forth!


This isn’t it

I thought that once I’d signed on the agent’s dotted line I’d feel like a ‘real writer’. I thought I’d know what I was doing, and I would suddenly have the bravery to strike out on my own, sit down, and write. But if someone asks me what I do, despite the fact that I’m up at 6 AM to edit a new chapter in time for publication day, I say I’m a digital copywriter with a specialism in cat food. I still don’t feel like I have official permission to write (I suspect it’s a clandestine operation for everyone) and it hasn’t become any easier.

But if you can’t stop writing and you’re stubborn enough to keep trying, it’s the best sort-of job in the world. And on the whole, it’s great to know that someone else likes your demons (/sea monsters).

About the author of this post

Charlotte Salter is a digital copywriter by day, YA author by night. Her first middle-grade novel, Catacomb Hill, is due to be published in the US by Dial Books in Spring 2017. She likes sea monsters, mushroom identification, and sword fighting (but not all at once).

All the laurels in the world, and you give me these?

I woke up this morning
thinking I’d won the
Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.

This is where love and capitalism
has got me, having me on that
I can win a horse race in Paris,

when it’s obvious that
I’m only any good over
the jumps at Wolverhampton.

About the poet

Rishi Dastidar has worked as a journalist, copywriter and poet. He has written for a wide variety of brands in different sectors during his career, while his poetry has been published by the Financial Times, Tate Modern and the Southbank Centre amongst many others. His work was most recently in Ten: The New Wave (Bloodaxe, 2014). A winner of And Other Stories short story prize in 2012, he has also had reviews published in the Times Literary Supplement. He was part of the 2014-15 Rialto / Poetry School editorial development programme, and also serves as a trustee of Spread The Word.

Creatives In Profile: Interview with Rishi Dastidar


Creativity, in all its myriad different forms, can take us to the edge of the world and look beyond. It can inspire, inform, influence. Used in the right way, it can illuminate the path ahead.

Because of this, Nothing in the Rulebook has been founded to emphasise such creativity. Yet we’re also here to highlight not just works of creativity; but the creative individuals who write our stories and our poetry; take our photographs; create our artworks.

Our new ‘Creatives in profile’ interview series offers creatives the opportunity to discuss their life and art at length. And it is an honour to introduce our very first interview – with journalist, copywriter and poet, Rishi Dastidar – Assistant Editor at The Rialto.

He has written for a wide variety of brands in different sectors during his career, while his poetry has been published by the Financial Times, Tate Modern and the Southbank Centre amongst many others. His work was most recently in Ten: The New Wave (Bloodaxe, 2014). A winner of And Other Stories short story prize in 2012, he has also had reviews published in the Times Literary Supplement. He was part of the 2014-15 Rialto / Poetry School editorial development programme, and also serves as a trustee of Spread The Word.


Tell me about yourself, where you live and your background/lifestyle.


Ach, no, that stuff doesn’t really matter. Suffice to say: London-born and still reside; older than I’d like to be; over-educated, work in marketing; you’ll mostly find me in bookshops, theatres and burger joints. If your readers really want to know more, and frankly I’d be worried if they did, I’m not too hard to find online.


Is creativity and writing your first love, or do you have another passion?


Let’s say ‘writing’ rather than creativity, as in the advertising / marketing / brand world I also inhabit, it does have a different, means-to-an-end spin. It’s a love, yes, fraught with all the difficulties that implies… I knew I wanted to ‘write’ by the age of 14. But I had no clue what I wanted to write, let alone how I could make a living out of it. Thank God I did find out in the end… But music was actually my gateway to everything: discovering Queen, R.E.M. and then My Bloody Valentine early in my teens, and then the NME, the writers, the sub-cultures, the new genres… I have spent a lot of time being a neophiliac, chasing new sounds and new words, which in an analogue age was much harder than it is now.


How long have you been working with The Rialto – and could you let us know a little more about the magazine?


I’ve been lucky enough, along with Holly Hopkins, to be part of the most recent editorial development programme the magazine has been running along with the Poetry School. The programme started in October 2014, and we recently ‘graduated’ with the publication of issue 83 of the magazine. So about 10 months or so, during which we worked with Michael Mackmin, the editor, looking at submissions, choosing and then finessing poems, working out running orders, organising launches, even getting involved with behind the scenes stuff too – a real immersion in what it takes to get a magazine published.

The Rialto is (adopts sales voice) the UK’s leading independent poetry magazine; going for 30 news now, based in Norwich, with an enviable track record in spotting and publishing some of then best new voices in British poetry. I might of course be a bit biased, but it’s really the place to come if you want to dive into and immerse yourself in poems, loads of them. And if you’re a writer – send some poems! We’re always on the hunt for good ones, from every quarter.


When looking to submit poetry, what are the steps and key aspects to consider before doing so?


I think talking of ‘steps and key aspects’ makes it sound far more of an intensive burden than it should be. It’s mostly advanced common sense, I think:

  • Make sure you read the magazine / publication you want to submit to: if you’re a writer of doomy melancholic epics, the editor of that light verse magazine isn’t going to be hugely impressed. Do your research.
  • Don’t send your first draft: it won’t be ready. I guarantee it. If it takes 8, 16, 20 drafts to get a poem right, then take that long. This is a patient game. And the poem will wait for you.
  • Speaking of patience, don’t be alarmed or downhearted if you don’t get an instant response. Most poetry magazines are labours of love, run in people’s spare time. Things do sometimes get lost and timelines slip; but if your poem is good enough, it will get found.
  • But do send. You won’t get on to editors’ radar without doing so – or rather, it’s less likely. And you deserve to give yourself that shot. Editors are hungry for new poems and new voices. And yours could be the one their page has been waiting for.


Do you have a specific ‘reader’ or audience in mind when you write?


Depends; I’ll often write poems which are for, or inspired by, a particular person, and I try to keep them in my mind’s eye when drafting. But mostly, I’m self-indulgently trying to entertain myself – that someone else then subsequently likes my nonsense is unutterably humbling and pleasing.


How would you define creativity?


Putting two or more different things together, and hoping for the best.


What does the term ‘poet’ mean to you?


On a good day: a post-modern Casanova. On a bad day: a failed post-modern Casanova.


James Joyce argued poetry was “always a revolt against artifice, a revolt, in a sense, against actuality.” In the modern world, ‘actuality’ is increasingly hard to define – with reality often seeming more fictitious than fiction and beyond the imagination of mainstream culture. How does poetry revolt against actuality in a reality increasingly ‘false’? And what role can poetry play in protest and activism – specifically protest and revolt against current dictats of ‘reality’?


Let’s separate some of that out, mainly because I lack the brain power to try and conflate poetry and power, and then deal with reality on top.

In terms of activism, politics, and the relation to power, poetry clearly can’t do much in terms of the hard stuff of changing things on the ground, policy, implementation. But where it can and must play a role is in that more indefinable sphere – the one of arguing for new vistas, new perspectives on problems; bringing into the public domain voices that might otherwise go unheard; opening up space for the imagination, because at one level politics is the art of using power imaginatively. I think part of the disaffection from politics as currently practiced that lots of people feel at the moment is precisely because the language of it is managerial and corporate, rather than poetic. People hunger for rhetoric – it wasn’t just because Obama was cool that people flocked to him; it was precisely because he could couch his arguments in ways that were, more or less, poetic. Of course, you have to deliver, but bloody hell you have to inspire too.

Now, you’ll note that I said that politics and imagination are linked. So I think part of what our job as poets revolves around imagining new realities – that is to say, not to take the world as it is, but to dig about, to reveal what’s underneath, sense what can be changed, find the language that can help to change it. If there is any revolt that poetry has to make, it’s against that sense that there is only one way of doing things, one way to the truth. Our gifts as engineers of metaphor should make us embrace the idea of multiple realities. Because we can do and do see the familiar anew, and we should wake the world up to that.


In an internationalist, interconnected world, ideas and creativity are constantly being flung across community threads, internet chatrooms and forums, and social media sites (among many others). With so many different voices speaking at once, how do you cut through the incessant digital background babble? How do you make your creativity – your voice – stand out and be heard?


If I crack that, I’ll be rich and I’ll tell you afterwards.


For all writing, the importance of finding the right ‘voice’ is of course crucial. Often, writers’ speak of developing an ‘other’ – who provides that voice when they write. How have you created and refined your voice and tone for your writing – and do you have a separate, ‘other’ persona who helps you write?


Hmmm; my day job involves a lot of writing for different brands, so I guess I’ve got reasonably skilled at some form of ventriloquism. Whether that’s come across into my poetry, I’m not so sure; but then, looking at the tone that’s emerging through a lot of what I’ve written over the last 18 months or so, the poet in them is probably more sure than I actually feel about things; probably more political than I actually am in real life; and certainly more articulate in conversation than I ever hope to be. Though I do worry the guy in the poems could be a bit too bumptious, and wearing if you have a prolonged exposure to him… How has that voice arrived? By writing and writing and writing, I’m afraid. No shortcuts. Oh and embracing the tendency to maximise that I appear to have. Even my short poems appear to be full – of nonsense mostly, but still.


Could you tell us a little about some of the future projects you’re working on?


At the moment it’s trying to pull a manuscript together for a first collection, and writing some more poems to flesh that out. There’s always other ideas for projects floating around, but I have great trouble committing to any one of them… but the itch to write something like a verse novel is becoming almost unbearable so I think I will have to attack that at some point soon.


And, finally, could you write us a story in 6 words?


‘Lazarus was tired of his trick.’

I’ve done loads of those. More here.

Diary of a Stand-Up Comedian’s First Edinburgh Fringe

Mark Tomlinson is an aspiring stand-up comedian. He thinks because he’s watched a lot of comedy that somehow means he’ll be good at it. After spending a year honing his material in various hovels throughout London (sometimes in front of as many as 10 people!) he’s hubristically decided to perform a split show at the world’s largest Arts and Comedy festival.

For the uninitiated, a split show means around four people performing four sets in one hour. For Mark this means carefully preparing 15 minutes of material, doing the first five, going off on a tangent because he’s lost his place and then deciding he’s sick of talking to people in the audience and leaving after a failed one-liner at the 11 minute mark.

Mark tweets at @MComedylinson. Mark likes writing introductions to his articles, eggs and talking in the third person.

Here, we present the unabridged diary of his experiences at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival…

Ed Fringe Diary Day -1

Dear Diary,

Finally ready to drive up North.
Finally ready to head to the Fringe and take part as more than a spectator for once.
Staying at relatives on the way to make the drive more bearable.
Questioning why I decided to drive in the first place.

Manowars ‘the Absolute Power’ live show will power my journey. All three hours of it. Unfortunately the only way I can listen to this in my car is by using my phone to send internet to my laptop which is then plugged into a radio transmitter which I then tune my car radio to. Perhaps CDs would have been a better idea.

Oh, also, my festival got off to a terrible start this morning with the cat jumping up and scratching my bell-end.

Ed Fringe Diary Day 0

Dear Diary,

Already seen Stewart Lee and Bridget Christie. Not as funny when they’re standing in a train station.

This could be a good omen though.

Ed Fringe Diary Day 1

Dear Diary,

First show today. I feel neither excited nor terrified. Which I guess means it will be average – either that, or I’ve finally achieved a state of emotional repression even Spock would be proud of…

Ed Fringe Diary Day 2

Dear Diary,

No egg cups.


Ed Fringe Diary Day 3

Dear Diary,

Number of people I know that I’ve bumped into: 4
Number of those people I want to spend time with: 0

Ed Fringe Diary Day 5

Dear Diary,

I am politely informed by my fellow comedians that today is known as “Black Wednesday”.

I am politely informed by passersby on the street that they don’t want flyers.

I mean, silence is a kind of politeness, right?

Befitting of its name, today’s show has our lowest turnout and yet our highest number of walk outs…

Unfortunately, I am going on last today and the audience numbers drop from twelve to two by the time of my set. So I just try and speak to them like normal human beings. I could do with the company by this point.

The remaining man kindly describes my set as “cathartic”.

Later we find a flyer where someone had written a note to their mate saying “this is awkward as FUCK” – with “FUCK” underlined three times.

Ed Fringe Diary Day 6

Dear Diary,

So it’s come to this; putting out a message on Facebook to try and find some company: “Does anyone want to go see a celebrated Lecoq company present their award-winning five-star sell-out spin on Spielberg’s classic Jurassic Park?”

Ed Fringe Diary Day 7

Dear Diary,

Starting to get a little concerned at my inability to find guest spots. People said they were easy to come by in Edinburgh; but no luck so far. Despite my spreadsheet.

Ed Fringe Diary Day 8

Dear Diary,

Just spent about half an hour lost in a seemingly abandoned night club looking for some toilets before a show. In terms of drinking, last night was the heaviest night so far. If I’m going to shit myself, today will be the day.

Ed Fringe Diary Day 10

Dear Diary,

Somehow left myself over half an hour to walk to my next show for the first time. Looking forward to seeing my first piece of theatre. Also to the prospect of arriving somewhere and not being out of breath.

Ed Fringe Diary Day 11

Dear Diary,

It’s not Edinburgh until you’ve had to apologise to someone for forcing them to watch some utter garbage.

Ed Fringe Diary Day 12

Dear Diary,

Still no guest spots.

Ed Fringe Diary Day 13

Dear Diary,

Success, first guest spot! I thought it went well. Afterwards had to sprint along Cowgate to grab some flyers for my show. Gave away seven.

Ed Fringe Diary Day 14

Dear Diary,

Just had a promoter who didn’t recognise me by face, despite us meeting several times, say my name had been mentioned to him on the circuit. This could ruin my plan of starting afresh with a stage name once I feel like I know what I’m doing.

Ed Fringe Diary Day 15

Dear Diary,

Just had a guest spot, which was going well despite being in front of my biggest audience yet, get cut short for a last minute pro headliner. It’s a dog eat dog world up here, and I am crouched in the handbag of a Hilton trying not to be seen.

Ed Fringe Diary Day 16

Dear Diary,

I’m getting sick of watching stand-up so I finally made it out the flat in time for a show that starts before midday. I’d bought tickets and everything – only to discover there are no trains in time due to something called “Sunday”. It’s the bloody Fringe – every day is like Sunday! Ten pounds down the drain.

Ed Fringe Diary Day 17

Dear Diary,

I’ve had a first-hand glimpse of the negative effect the Fringe can have on a comedians psyche. A fellow comic complained to me about people with charity buckets taking away change that people could be giving to free Fringe shows. I pray I never become like him.

Ed Fringe Diary Day 19

Dear Diary,

I’ve now became so desensitised to stand up that I was comfortably sitting at the back of a show I had a spot in (success!) while reading about the migrant camps in Calais and still laughing along to the show.

Although this created one awkward moment when I laughed out of time after reading about a militia called “janjaweed”.

Ed Fringe Diary Day 21

Dear Diary,

Going home tomorrow.

I am so sick of stand-up; sick of getting on a stage; sick of watching people who are terrible; sick of watching people who are so amazing I’ll never be as good as them.

I came to the fringe to learn and if I’ve learned one thing it’s that next year I’m going to watch a lot more theatre.

Ed Fringe Diary Day 22

Dear Diary,

In a last minute effort to make up for lost time I’ve crammed in three guest spots today and had my most enjoyable day! I think I’d quite like to come back next year…

Signing off until then,

Dylan Dodds

PS. My meagre earnings have been spent on the way home.… begrudgingly given to a not amused petrol station attendant in small change.

Jungle Books: Calais migrant camp’s newly opened library needs books!


Jungle Books (or Livres de la jungle in French), the makeshift library at the Calais migrant camp known as ‘The Jungle’ is in urgent need of books to populate its shelves and desks.

Already, the publishing industry has heeded the call, with Verso Books already sending books across the channel. But many more are needed.

Mary Jones, a British teacher who set up the library, wants to add more books in the native languages of the migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers, and hopes that eventually, the camp inhabitants will run the library.

Besides stocking around 200 books, the Guardian reports: “the library supports a school that offers classes to the refugees and asylum seekers that live in the camp.”

The library is stocked with giveaways, supplied by donations and staffed by a stream of volunteers sympathetic to the plight of the refugees whose stories continue to dominate the news right across Europe. So far, it stocks fiction and children’s books, dictionaries, reference books ad business titles. Yet Jones wanted to go beyond that. She told Publishing Perspectives: “I wanted to start something that offered real, practical help. Many people here are well-educated — they want to get on and they want books that will help them read and write English, apply for jobs, fill-in forms.”

Among the popular books at the camp are Gone Girl and Lord of the Rings, while there are also books by Tom Wolfe and John Grisham.

Requests have been issued for more literature – from books and dictionaries to texts and zines – in any and all languages. Camp inhabitants ask for all sorts of books, according to Jones, including short stories and poetry, and she made a specific request for the following donations: “Pashto-French dictionaries, Pashto-English dictionaries, Eritrean dictionaries, books in native languages.”

To contact Jungle Books directly, email Mary Jones.

Asher Jay’s top ten writing tips for writers

In a series of posts, we here at Nothing in the Rulebook have been asking writers to share their top tips and advice on writing. Today, it is our pleasure to bring you the top writing tips from Asher Jay – artist, writer, National Geographic Explorer and creative conservationist.

Whether you enjoy writing simply for the pleasure it gives you, or if you are looking to develop and improve, these great little pieces of advice will set you on your way!

  1. Write what you know, but more importantly know how you feel about what you know.
  2. Own your words. Own you.
  3. Don’t be afraid to speak up.
  4. Don’t doubt.
  5. Have someone else proof your work. (Ideally an editor.)
  6. Accept counter perspectives and criticisms gracefully.
  7. Assimilate the other. Don’t fracture yourself or the collective with your words.
  8. Cast a light not shadows with your content.
  9. Don’t sensationalize just to sell your story.
  10. Treat ignorance with compassion not condescension.

So there you have it, writers! Some excellent tips to mull over and help you through any unfortunate bouts of creative block – and send you on your way to publication. For further inspiration, we recommend visiting Asher’s website!