Getting into comics: the British scene today, and where you can submit your stuff

 

Josh Spiller 1 - Copy

Opening to the 5-page story, Dude, what the hell happened to your…? Read it in full here.

Like any medium you want to break into, with comics, it’s important to know where the opportunities for aspiring creatives are. So, what’s the state of British comics today?

Go into a comic-book store, and an overwhelming number of the comics on offer will be American: Printed in America, and overseen by editors based in America.  In terms of easy contact and accessibility, this is not ideal for anyone living on a tiny, remote island somewhere in the far reaches of the North Atlantic Ocean.

So, instead, you might visit a homegrown store like WHSmiths. Again, many of the comics found here are American reprints, with 2000 AD being the main exception. This was the comic where, in the 1980s, most – if not all – of the brightest stars in UK comic-book history got their first big break. Today, as pretty much the lone survivor of the once-healthy British comics scene, it still represents the quickest route to a professional comic-book career. Unfortunately, however, it seems to rarely publish new writers; its time-honoured vehicle for doing so, the short twist-ending stories known as Future Shocks, having apparently largely disappeared from the magazine’s repertoire.

(For anyone who does want to get a story into 2000 AD, though, check out the ‘Thought Bubble’ convention in Leeds later this year. The magazine’s editors will be there running an X-Factor-style talent show, where, within a given limit, writers get to pitch a Future Shock story. The winning entry will be published in the magazine.)

 

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It’s superheroes, but not as we know them. From the story I Love You Thi$ Much – read it in full here.

But fear not! Despite this surface veneer of doom and gloom, there are opportunities and excitements to be found in surprising places.

For starters, while genuine British comics are in short supply, a part of the WHSmith’s magazine-panoply that does seem to be thriving is the children’s section. And in several of these children’s magazines, comics are printed as a regular feature, with their creative talent sourced in the UK. These magazines have a good circulation – some in the region of 50,000 per month – and would make an excellent port of call for any comic scribes looking to break into the business via the automatic cachet of having worked on an established franchise. More than that, if you’re story did address certain issues, you would at least be talking to readers who haven’t already made up their minds (obviously, their infantile brains won’t be able to even notice the sophisticated political, theological, nay, ontological points you’ll be making, but the illusion of making a difference could give you a real warm glow). At the last time of checking, those children’s magazines open to comic script submissions included: Adventure Time, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Dr Who Adventures (although I believe this is fully booked up until the end of the year) and The Phoenix Magazine.

But more than that, what’s staggering is how easy it is to have a chat, even grab a drink, with some of the top figures in the medium. For instance, David Lloyd, artist of the world-famous V for Vendetta, attends a monthly open-to-the-public meeting in Brighton called ‘Cartoon County‘ – a superb series of live interviews with comic book creators – and is down-to-earth, approachable, and generous with his time. In fact, he’s also the mastermind behind new digital comic anthology Aces Weekly, another potential place for new writers to get published.

Then there’s pre-eminent comic critic Paul Gravett, author of 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die. He seems lovely – nowhere near as aggressive as that title suggests – and often comes to an informal, monthly meeting at the Southbank Centre (details here).

Then there’s John Totleben, my favourite comic artist of all time, who just happened to be at a local comic convention, where anyone could go up to his table and talk to him.

And then there’s Kieron Gillen, writer of Marvel’s flagship comic Darth Vader, who recently did a free event on his creative process in Peckham Library.

You get the picture. The point is, the British comics scene seems to have an amazing, supportive network, where it’s not hard to meet and learn from some of the creators positioned near the top of the industry pyramid. Whether this is because they’re good souls, or because maltreatment from the industry they’ve devoted their lives to has left them with insufficient funds to distance themselves from the great unwashed masses, is something every aspiring creator will have to judge for themselves. Whatever the case, it’s good news, so I’d earnestly recommend taking advantage of these, and similar, social groups and events.

Finally, beyond getting published and meeting other creatives, it’s now easier than ever to build a portfolio by making your own comics. Artists looking for assignments are only ever an email address away. As for where to find them, the anthologies FutureQuake and Psychedelic Journal of Time Travel are great places to start, with all of the artists’ contact details at the back of the publications.

Josh Spiller 2

Sci-fi love, memory transplants, and murder. And the clock is ticking…from Before Tomorrow Comes. Read it in full here.

(Personally, I offer £40 a page, as it’s what I can afford. This puts some artists out of my price range, but it’s still enough to get some fantastic work.)

And of course, as a side note, conventions are always a useful spot to meet editors in person, and perhaps get a gig or at least open up the possibility of that happening in the future. The full list of UK & Ireland comic conventions for 2016 is here.

Well that, my faceless and anonymous friends, is pretty much that. There you have it: the bulk of the info I’ve amassed over the past three months of trying to progress in this wayward bastard medium, distilled into one ten-minute article. Hopefully useful for you; vaguely depressing for me.

Good luck with all of your creative endeavours. And if there are any artists reading this who would like to collaborate, just drop me a message on the link below. See you in the funny pages.

About the author

FullSizeRenderJosh Spiller is a published writer of comics, short stories, and scripts, and is currently looking for representation for his first novel. He’s also interacted with the “real world” by reviewing restaurants and theatre pieces for Flux Magazine and The London Word, and is worried that this bio is too self-centred. You can judge his work here, joshspillercomics.tumblr.com; and his very soul here – @JoshSpiller.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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7 Brilliant pieces of literature you can read for free on your lunch break

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Photography by Mike Dodson/Vagabond Images. 

In 1930, the great economist John Maynard Keynes predicted the working week would be drastically cut – to perhaps 15 hours a week, with people choosing to pursue leisure as their material needs were satisfied. Yet despite rising living standards, we are working longer hours than ever before. As the post-war compromise between big business and labour has been rolled back, the world of “ruthless corporate management” that legendary writer Willa Cather broke free of at the turn of the 19th century seems to be returning: leaving us with mountains of work and no opportunity to do anything else with our lives.

We’ve written before about how the new work-life imbalance is stifling our creativity – and unfortunately it seems as though we are on a one-way street. There’s no chance to collect our thoughts when we’re always collecting emails and phone calls from irate colleagues: and there’s far fewer opportunities to sit quietly by ourselves – a necessary ingredient for creativity. It’s not a good time to be a worker. Or an aspiring creative, for that matter, since the 60 – 80 hour week doesn’t allow us to develop the required routines needed to create art.

So how can we fight back, and start reclaiming our right to live rather than just work and exist? Well, getting involved with unions and politics might be a start – and it seems lots of us are doing just that; with sales of left-wing literature seeing huge increase in sales at the same time as leaders like Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders are coming to prominence in the UK and USA, while radical left parties in Greece and Spain also win successive political victories.

But if you don’t have time to man the barricades, there are still ways of freeing your mind, even if you remain technically shackled by post-Fordist employment.

Perhaps one of the easiest – and most effective – methods here is returning to the humble book. After all, literature provides us with some of the most important knowledge we’ll gain as human beings, and reading – so intrinsic to human nature as to be described as “a biological act” by Umberto Eco – is ultimately an intensely satisfying and pleasurable experience – of which we these days experience far too few.

Yet how can you find time to read War and Peace when you can’t find the time to do anything other than answer emails all day?

The good news is, you don’t have to pick up a huge novel in order to experience the richness of brilliant writing and find examples of brilliant literature. In fact, below, we’ve compiled a mini-collection of incredibly short and incredibly beautiful stories from some of the greatest writers. And the best bit? You only need a few minutes to read them; and they are totally free (so don’t let the capitalists tell you that only things that cost money have value).

Here, then, you have a plan of action: reclaim your soul from your employer and take your lunch break today. Go outside, or find a relaxing environment inside if the weather is bad – and read these great pieces of writing. The stories below provide poignant revalations about life and, at only a few pages each, they can be read in the time it takes to eat a sandwich.

Saviours of the written word: go forth!

  1. Pygmalion – John Updike

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In 1966, John Updike told Life Magazine his subject was “the American Protestant small-town middle class”. His short story, Pygmalion, published in 1981 in the Atlantic, seems to fit the bill here – although the religion and class of the characters are never mentioned outright. The story is about a man who can’t understand a social gathering until his wife performs it, with pitch-perfect mimicry, back at home later in the evening. And, of course, it’s about much more than that, too.

Read it for free here.

  1. The School – Donald Barthelme
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Donald Barthelme – image via Wikipedia.

A schoolteacher seems to be followed by death. This strange story is a fantastic example of escalation – and dark comedy. We are encouraged to question both death and life – and the value we place on different things in the world – as the schoolteacher rather nonchalantly reacts to the events around him. Writers, take note here how Barthelme never uses an unnecessary word – and instead uses avoidance techniques and ellipses to highlight movement of times and trains of thought, and to also give the impression that something is awry. It’s an absurd world, which is nonetheless perfectly crafted. Post-modern and funny to boot – nothing is as it seems.

Read it for free here.

  1. Adams – George Saunders
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George Saunders – image via Wikipedia 

A curious story indeed, from a true literary genius. It takes Saunders less than two pages in this story to make readers question their understanding of right and wrong – and even question reality. Told from the perspective of an overprotective father, desperate to guard his kids from his neighbour, lines blur quickly – to the extent that we are quickly dragged into a violent world seemingly headed toward chaos.

Read it for free here.

  1. The Looking Glass – Anton Chekhov
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Anton Chekhov – image via Wikipedia

Chekhov’s short piece tells the story of Nellie, a young girl, who looks into a mirror and sees her future, which involves a desperate, hopeless attempt to save her husband from typhus. The story shows the battle between a young girl who believes in the power of love even while coming up against the harsh realities of life — the surprise ending shows how quickly those realities can be forgotten.

Read it for free here.

  1. The Last Night of the World – Ray Bradbury

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What would you do if you only had one more night? This is the subject science fiction legend Bradbury explores in this fascinating story, in which he explores a world where everyone has the same dream that the world would end – yet no one erupts into panic. Instead, the unstated end of the world lends a kind of calmness to society with everyone following their daily routines as planned. Touching and poignant.

Read it for free here.

  1. The Story of An Hour – Kate Chopin
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Kate Chopin – image via Wikipedia

‘“Go away. I am not making myself ill.” No; she was drinking in a very elixr of life through that open window.’

An early feminist writer, Chopin wrote her short stories in the Southern States of the USA during the 19th century. In this moving, intelligent piece, the events of which take place within the space of an hour, she examines how marriage – no matter how loving – can still become a prison for women.

Read it for free here.

  1. Boys and Girls – Alice Munro

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Like all good stories, this one is set on a fox-breeding farm. From here, Nobel Prize winning author Alice Munro details the work on the farm – the killing, skinning and preparation of the foxes – and tells the story of the painful process of growing up. Not only does the piece provide a smart commentary on gender roles, it also explores ideas of family – and of freedom.

Read it for free here.

The wit of the bard: 100 of Shakespeare’s greatest insults

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With recent news that a new copy of Shakespeare’s First Folio has been discovered on a Scottish island, we’ve been thinking of ways to celebrate the works of the bard. With his 400th Anniversary fast approaching (fortunately you only have to remember one date for both his birth and his death – 23rd April), we racked our brains and thought it was high time we brought to your attention this wonderful infographic of Shakespearean insults.

Created by Charley Chartwell, and available for the very reasonable price of just over £20, you can purchase a copy of this Grand Taxonomy of Shakesperean Insults here.

The wonderful poster will come in handy in this modern age of Twittersphere rants, rages and online trolls: what better way to deal with someone telling you to impolitely go away, than by calling them a canker blossom or a viperous worm? We certainly can’t think of any.

Indeed, your comeback repertoire is in line for a nifty upgrade, where you can take Shakespeare’s dagger-like wit and make it your own. The poster features 100 of his greatest put downs and zingers.

Divided into various sections – including ‘personal attributes’ (try “thou knotty pated fool”), ‘bodily qualities’ (try “thou thing of no bowles, thou”), and ‘professions’ (in an age of political scandal, “scurvy politician” has a certain ring to it) – you can easily choose which retort is most appropriate for whatever situation you find yourself in.

Featuring lines from a variety of Shakespeare’s plays, including Richard III, Henry VI, All’s Well that Ends Well and Hamlet, we thought we’d pick out a few of our favourites, which we’ve listed here:

“Go, ye giddy goose!” – Henry IV, Part I

“There’s no more faith in thee than a stewed prune!”Henry IV, Part I

“You heedless jolt-heads” – The Taming of the Shrew

You sanctimonious pirate” – Measure for Measure

“Thou damned and luxurious mountain goat” – Henry V

“You canker blossom!” – A Midsummer Night’s Dream

But of course, we want to know what you think! Which of these will you be using in your next online trolling battle, or quick-witted response when Muriel from Accounting tells you your company expenses form is all out of whack? Let us know in the comments below!

David Foster Wallace: the teacher’s spiel

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David Foster Wallace. Photograph via Wikipedia Commons

By now, David Foster Wallace has acquired a quasi-mythical status among followers of both literature and pop-culture. That there has recently been a film made about him, The End of the Tour, starring Jason Segal, has only fuelled the fascination and discussion that follows the late writer around. He is certainly no longer seen as “just a penis with a thesaurus”, as John Updike dismissed him in a 1997 review.

With his 2005 speech to students at Kenyon College, This is Water, having gone viral, and a plethora of articles and blogs written about him, it seems we just can’t get enough of a man we have elevated from tortured literary genius admired by an intense cult following into a huge presence in our cultural and public consciousness – a man seen by some as a sort of modern literary saint; a professor of sustaining wisdom who is there to shine a light to guide our way forward, and also who can help us make sense of a world, which so often seems senseless.

But what was he actually like as a teacher, as a professor? His various novels and essay collections aside – we gain intriguing insights through the collection of interviews Wallace took part in that are available online. And we can now gain an extraordinary look at what those students he taught might have encountered, via the course syllabus he wrote for the class he taught at Pomona College in 2005 – available to us all via Scribd.

DFW Syllabus

We totally recommend you check out the full text, but we thought we’d pick out some of our favourite bits, including what Wallace describes as the “basic course spiel”:

“The goals of [this course] are to survey certain important forms of modern literature […] and to introduce you to some techniques for achieving a critical appreciation of literary art. “Critical appreciation” means having smart, sophisticated reasons for liking whatever literature you like, and being able to articulate those reasons for other people, especially in writing. Vital for critical appreciation is the ability to “interpret” a piece of literature, which basically means coming up with a cogent, interesting account of what a piece of lit means, what it’s trying to do to/for the reader, what technical choices the author’s made in order to try and achieve the effects she wants, and so on. As you can probably anticipate, the whole thing gets very complicated and abstract and hard, which is one reason why entire college departments are devoted to studying and interpreting literature.”

Some other gems:

“There is no such thing as ‘falling a little behind’ in the course reading; either you’ve done your homework or you haven’t.”

Or:

“Our class can’t really function if there isn’t student participation – it will become just me giving a half-assed ad-lib lecture for 90 minutes, which (trust me) will be horrible in all kinds of ways.”

It’s also fascinating that Wallace tackles the question of himself as teacher head on in this syllabus. He writes: “[I am] not a professional literary scholar. In fact, though my job title at the college says “Professor of English”, I am not a professor, because I do not have a Ph.D.”

And, in an admonishing statement, he also notes that his experience as a teacher is limited – in fact is something he is essentially learning as he goes along: “There may be a certain amount of pedagogical clunkiness about this section of [the course]. You will, in effect, be helping me learn how to teach this class.”

Yet there’s no doubt that Wallace takes his teaching seriously – and for anyone who likes to think of him as the sort of spiritual mentor or teacher you might find in the swamps of Dagobar, think again. Wallace warns students: “I draw no distinction between the quality of one’s ideas and the quality of those ideas’ verbal expression, and I will not accept sloppy, rough-draftish, or semiliterate college writing. Again, I am absolutely not kidding. If you won’t or can’t devote significant time and attention to your written work, I urge you to drop [the course] and save us both a lot of grief.”

Whether we like it or not, David Foster Wallace sits securely within the epicentre of our culture. There is no shortage of “virtue signalling” carried out these days when we discuss modern society – and there is an eagerness often encountered by people keen to show they know about him (and perhaps even have Infinite Jest – read or otherwise – on their bookshelves).

Yet Wallace would perhaps never himself thought of himself as the teacher or guide that we have made him become – and this syllabus provides us with intimate, tangible glimpses of that.

 

Well blow little ducks: 12 bizarre idioms, what they mean and where they come from

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Photography by Petr Kratochvil, via public domain pictures.

Well the carrots are cooked! We hope you’re ready to start swallowing grass snakes, because we’ve got some of the most bizarre idioms – along with some information about their origins and meanings – for you to get excited about. It’s time to pay the duck (unless an elephant has stomped on your ear, of course!).

Enjoy, amigos:

 

  1. To slide in on a shrimp sandwich

Language of origin: Swedish.

Meaning: It refers to somebody who didn’t have to work to get where they are.

Used in a sentence: “Wow, the CEO’s son really slid in on a shrimp sandwich.”

  1. To blow little ducks

Language of origin: Latvian

Meaning: To talk nonsense or to lie.

Used in a sentence: “Stop blowing little ducks, Monique! I know you stole all the shrimp sandwiches.”

  1. Enough to cobble dogs with

Language of origin: English (UK)

Meaning: Refers to a surplus of something. For instance, if a cobbler has enough leather to cobble an animal that has four feet, then that cobbler definitely has a surplus.

Used in a sentence: “There are enough idioms here to cobble dogs with.”

  1. The carrots are cooked!

Language of origin: French

Meaning: The situation can’t be changed

Used in a sentence: “It’s a shame Jeremiah has sold his cobbling business, but the carrots are cooked!”

  1. It jumped the shark

Language of origin: English (US)

Meaning: The moment a television show or other cultural phenomenon stops being relevant and starts being ridiculous.

Used in a sentence: “The latest episode of Hippos vs octopuses really jumped the shark this week.”

  1. You have tomatoes on your eyes

Language of origin: German

Meaning: When you can’t see what everyone else can (but refers to physical, real objects, rather than abstract meanings).

Used in a sentence: “Oh Eunice, you must have tomatoes on your eyes if you can’t see the large cat on my head.”

  1. To swallow grass snakes

Language of origin: French

Meaning: to be so insulted by something, you are unable to think of a reply or find the right words to say

Used in a sentence: “I can’t believe you’d say such a thing, Candice. I must have swallowed grass snakes!”

  1. The thief has a burning hat

Language of origin: Russian

Meaning: When someone has uneasy conscious that betrays itself.

Used in a sentence: “How did I know it was Mervyn’s fault? Let’s just say the thief has a burning hat.”

  1. Pay the duck

Language of origin: Portuguese

Meaning: To take the blame for something you did not do.

Used in a sentence: “I’ll pay the duck, even if it was actually Prunella who put the cat on Gwenda’s head.”

  1. Did an elephant stomp on your ear?

Language of origin: Polish

Meaning: To have no ear for music

Used in a sentence: “Crikey, Dermot, did an elephant stomp on your ear? That wasn’t music; it was the sound of dog being cobbled in a back alley.”

  1. The pussy cat will come to the tiny door

Language of origin: Croatian

Meaning: What goes around, comes around

Used in a sentence: “At first, it was hard for me to accept being left at the alter by Stefan for his super-secret agent ex-boyfriend, but then I realised: it’s just a matter of time before the pussy cat comes to the tiny door.”

12. There’s nothing in the rulebook that says a giraffe can’t play football! 

Language of origin: English

Meaning: There’s nothing to stop you: do anything and everything that you can imagine

Used in a sentence: “You should totally set up a collective of creatives, where people can share awesome tips on writing, art, photography and everything else, and maybe even put together a list of a dozen crazy idioms that folk might enjoy. After all, there’s nothing in the rulebook that says a giraffe can’t play football!”

 

Turning ideas into reality: the four stages of creativity

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‘Krakow Sunset’ – Photography by Mike Dodson/Vagabond Images, via Flickr

One of the defining features of humanity is our ability to create; and to turn flashes of inspiration and new ideas into solid creative constructions: be they works of art; photography; writing; film; dance or any other one of the forms through which creativity can be channelled.

Yet just as creativity is an intrinsic part of who we are; so too is the difficulty in actually working through the creative process. “Creative Block” seems to be utterly tied with creativity, and we will all have encountered it in some form or other during our lives.

We’ve previously documented how various great writers and artists have tried to circumnavigate the various travails of creativity by developing rigid routines; but is there a more general structure we can, as aspiring creatives, use to culture our ideas and inspiration, and turn them into creative works of art?

Well of course there is! We wouldn’t have started writing a post about it if there wasn’t, would we?

In fact, the question of how to master the strange process through which the conscious develops with the unconscious; the voluntary becomes entwined with the involuntary; and we are able to somehow bring something physical out of the mystical realm of the imagination, was pondered 90 years ago in 1926 by the founder of the London School of Economics; Graham Wallas.

68 at the time, Wallas penned a rather incredible book called The Art of Thought – an insightful theory outlining what he saw as “the four stages” of the creative process. He based this theory on both his own empirical observations, as well as by drawing on the accounts of famous inventors and polymaths.

Sadly, the book is now long out of print, and only available in a handful of public libraries. You can, if you’re lucky (and rich), purchase one of the few surviving copies; but be prepared to spend around £1000 or so.

However, not so sadly, the general outline of Wallas’s model has been preserved in a chapter of the 1976 collection of essays titled The Creativity Question. Within this tome are to be found an invaluable selection of meditations on and approaches to creativity by some of history’s greatest minds; and we heartily recommend you purchasing a copy of your own (it won’t cost you a fortune).

Yet what caught our eye was Wallas’s outline of the four stages of the creative process, which he sees as being preparation, incubation, illumination, and verification. These stages can be seen as essentially universal across all forms of creativity. They proceed as follows:

  1. Preparation
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Photography by Mike Dodson/Vagabond Images. Via Flickr

Of course, some might argue that you can never prepare yourself for creativity or inspiration: ideas, surely, are known most of all for their ability to fly out at the most unexpected of moments, catching us off guard as we idly clip our begonias. However, consider the way in which ideas so often come to us shortly after doing or seeing something that inspired us. There is a reason so many ‘advice for writers’ articles place “reading” as one of the most important parts of writing: it is part of the process of preparation.

To return to gardening imagery, for a moment, during the preparation stage we ready the mental soil for the sowing of creative seeds; and the subsequent growth of ideas. Wallas describes this as “investigation in all directions”; by which he means the accumulation of intellectual resources out of which we are able to construct new ideas. Through this deliberate, fully conscious process, the unconscious is exercised, and the involuntary production of ideas and inspiration made possible.

It entails research, planning, and developing the right frame of mind and holding the right level of attention. Wallas writes:

“The educated man has, again, learnt, and can, in the Preparation stage, voluntarily or habitually follow out, rules as to the order in which he shall direct his attention to successive elements.”

  1. Incubation
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‘Dickens’s Dream’ by Robert William Buss. 

Once we have prepared ourselves, the next part of the process is a period of unconscious processing – the time we get the clippers ready and head into the garden; the times we sit quietly by ourselves and listen. It requires no direct or deliberate effort; it takes place in our unconscious; in our souls.

Wallas notes that the stage has two divergent elements – the “negative fact” that during Incubation we don’t consciously deliberate on a particular problem, and the “positive fact” of a series of unconscious, involuntary – Wallas terms it “foreconscious” and “forevoluntary” – mental events taking place. He writes:

“Voluntary abstention from conscious thought on any problem may, itself, take two forms: the period of abstention may be spent either in conscious mental work on other problems, or in a relaxation from all conscious mental work. The first kind of Incubation economizes time, and is therefore often the better.”

Wallas proposes a technique for optimising the fruits of the Incubation stage by deliberately building interruptions of concentrated effort into our workflow:

“We can often get more result in the same way by beginning several problems in succession, and voluntarily leaving them unfinished while we turn to others, than by finishing our work on each problem at one sitting.”

  1. Illumination
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Photography by Mike Dodson/Vagabond Images. Via Flickr

This is the stage that makes you drop your trowel/hoe/spade/cultivator (delete as appropriate), and gasp at the sudden exhilaration that comes with stumbling upon a new idea or creative thought.

Wallas based this stage on French polymath Henri Poincare’s concept of “sudden illumation” – the flash of insight that the conscious self can’t conjure itself and the unconscious self can only produce once all the elements gathered during the Preparation stage have been nurtured during the Incubation stage. The famous “Eureka” moment.

Wallas writes:

“If we so define the Illumination stage as to restrict it to this instantaneous “flash,” it is obvious that we cannot influence it by a direct effort of will; because we can only bring our will to bear upon psychological events which last for an appreciable time. On the other hand, the final “flash,” or “click” … is the culmination of a successful train of association, which may have lasted for an appreciable time, and which has probably been preceded by a series of tentative and unsuccessful trains. The series of unsuccessful trains of association may last for periods varying from a few seconds to several hours.

[…]

Sometimes the successful train seems to consist of a single leap of association, or of successive leaps which are so rapid as to be almost instantaneous.”

  1. Verification
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Photography by Mike Dodson/Vagabond Images. Via Flickr

The final stage of the creative process shares a more deliberate, conscious effort of focused will, as was necessary during the Preparation stage. It involves the practical art of testing whether or not the idea created during phases two and three is actually any good or not. For scientific discovery, this means testing the chemistry or maths behind it; for art, the act of putting paintbrush to blank canvas; and for the writer, the act of “putting one word after another”, as Neil Gaiman advised.

Wallas writes:

“It never happens that unconscious work supplies ready-made the result of a lengthy calculation in which we only have to apply fixed rules… All that we can hope from these inspirations, which are the fruit of unconscious work, is to obtain points of departure for such calculations. As for the calculations themselves, they must be made in the second period of conscious work which follows the inspiration, and in which the results of the inspiration are verified and the consequences deduced. … They demand discipline, attention, will, and consequently, conscious work.”

All together now

Wallas is keen to note that it is not possible to conjure creativity through any one of these stages alone – regardless of how well one executes that particular stage. None of them exist in isolation from the others, because they are each part of a much grander mechanism of creativity, which is built from innumerable complex, perpetually moving bits and pieces. He writes:

“In the daily stream of thought these four different stages constantly overlap each other as we explore different problems. An economist reading a Blue Book, a physiologist watching an experiment, or a business man going through his morning’s letters, may at the same time be “incubating” on a problem which he proposed to himself a few days ago, be accumulating knowledge in “preparation” for a second problem, and be “verifying” his conclusions on a third problem. Even in exploring the same problem, the mind may be unconsciously incubating on one aspect of it, while it is consciously employed in preparing for or verifying another aspect. And it must always be remembered that much very important thinking, done for instance by a poet exploring his own memories, or by a man trying to see clearly his emotional relation to his country or his party, resembles musical composition in that the stages leading to success are not very easily fitted into a “problem and solution” scheme. Yet, even when success in thought means the creation of something felt to be beautiful and true rather than the solution of a prescribed problem, the four stages of Preparation, Incubation, Illumination, and the Verification of the final result can generally be distinguished from each other.”

Neil Gaiman’s 8 rules for writers

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Few professions are as solitary – indeed, as secretive – as writing. Yet perhaps a strange quirk in the attitudes of authors is the willingness and desire of writers to share what they know with other students of the craft.

But of course, writing, to put it bluntly, is kind of a strange gig. There is a plethora of advice out there available to writers – aspiring or established – which they can choose to heed or ignore as they see fit. Some might term these pieces of advice as “rules” and, for want of a better term, we might follow them, especially when they come from some of the great masters of writing.

In 2010, inspired by Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing, The Guardian asked authors for their personal lists of dos and don’ts. We’ve gone through the full list, previously bringing you the writing rules of the brilliant Zadie Smith. We’re on the case again, and here bring you some timeless counsel from one of the great writers of the 20th and 21st centuries: Neil Gaiman.

Some of Gaiman’s rules sound deceptively simple, enjoy:

  1. Write
  2. Put one word after another. Find the right word, put it down.
  3. Finish what you’re writing. Whatever you have to do to finish it, finish it.
  4. Put it aside. Read it pretending you’ve never read it before. Show it to friends whose opinion you respect and who like the kind of thing that this is.
  5. Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.
  6. Fix it. Remember that, sooner or later, before it ever reaches perfection, you will have to let it go and move on and start to write the next thing. Perfection is like chasing the horizon. Keep moving.
  7. Laugh at your own jokes.
  8. The main rule of writing is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you’re allowed to do whatever you like. (That may be a rule for life as well as for writing. But it’s definitely true for writing.) So write your story as it needs to be written. Write it ­honestly, and tell it as best you can. I’m not sure that there are any other rules. Not ones that matter.

 

For more excellent wisdom on writing, consider the writing tips from author and creative writing lecturer Julia Bell; and complement that with some priceless advice from Kurt Vonnegut, alongside our compendium of writing advice from some of the greatest authors.

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How we read: Theodore Roosevelt’s rules for reading

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Some of the greatest thinkers in human history have long pondered the power of books. Aristotle found that reading surpassed “all stupendous inventions”, while the great author and critic E.B. White suggested books could produce “a sort of ecstasy”. Not only have these great minds tried to give a reason to why we read; they have also put forward suggestions on where we should read – asking whether there is such a thing as the ideal sanctuary for books and reading.

Yet we have not yet tackled questions on how we should read – or whether the way in which we consume books, information and literature has a bearing on our reading experience.

This is a subject pondered by one of the most zealous readers in the history of mankind: Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th President of the United States.

To give you an idea of the level of Roosevelt’s literary consumption, it is well-known that he would read a book before breakfast every day, and up to a further two or three books again in the evening. By his own estimates, he read tens of thousands of books over the course of his lifetime.

A lifetime advocate of the power of literature, Roosevelt noted in his autobiography a series of points that can be taken as his suggested “rules” for reading, which, if applied correctly by the reader, can ensure they make the most of books and literature.

We’ve noted them here below:

  1. Dispense with booklists

Roosevelt writes: “The room for choice is so limitless that to my mind it seems absurd to try to make catalogues which shall be supposed to appeal to all the best thinkers. This is why I have no sympathy whatever with writing lists of the One Hundred Best Books, or the Five-Foot Library. It is all right for a man to amuse himself by composing a list of a hundred very good books… But there is no such thing as a hundred books that are best for all men, or for the majority of men, or for one man at all times.”

  1. Read what you enjoy

Roosevelt writes: “A book must be interesting to the particular reader at that particular time […] Personally, the books by which I have profited infinitely more than by any others have been those in which profit was a by-product of the pleasure; that is, I read them because I enjoyed them, because I liked reading them, and the profit came in as part of the enjoyment.”

  1. Ignore what people tell you to read

Roosevelt writes: “The reader, the booklover, must meet his own needs without paying too much attention to what his neighbours say those needs should be.”

  1. Don’t fake enjoyment

Roosevelt writes: “The reader must not hypocritically pretend to like what he does not like.”

  1. Beware the mad pride of intellectuality – don’t judge others for their book choices

Roosevelt writes: “Books are almost as individual as friends. There is no earthly use in laying down general laws about them. Some meet the needs of one person, and some of another; and each person should beware of the booklover’s besetting sin, of what Mr. Edgar Allan Poe calls ‘the mad pride of intellectuality,’ taking the shape of arrogant pity for the man who does not like the same kind of books.”

  1. Read poetry, novels and short stories

Roosevelt writes: “Now and then I am asked as to ‘what books a statesman should read,’ and my answer is, poetry and novels – including short stories under the head of novels.”

  1. Stock your library with the books you want to read – not those you feel you have to

Roosevelt writes: “Ours is in no sense a collector’s library. Each book was procured because some one of the family wished to read it. We could never afford to take overmuch thought for the outsides of books; we were too much interested in their insides.”

  1. Learn what it means to be human by reading

Roosevelt writes: “[We] all need more than anything else to know human nature, to know the needs of the human soul; and they will find this nature and these needs set forth as nowhere else by the great imaginative writers, whether of prose or of poetry.”

 

So! There you have it. Some wonderful guidance on reading from an ex-president. But just how did he read tens of thousands of books in his lifetime? Perhaps his speed reading is something we will need to revisit – I sense another post in the making! Until then comrades.

 

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What is the point of creative writing?

Creative writing

“Creative writing is not just concerned with competence in replicating a practice, its students are not just learning craft, but flexing their muscles as entrepreneurs within our cultural future […] We defer inventive thinking at our peril.” (Munden, 2013, p1).

 

Ever since the University of East Anglia established the first MA in creative writing in 1970, there has been extensive debate on whether creative writing should be taught as a distinct discipline within education. Many writers and teachers have voiced their opinions over the years; John Barth (1985, p3) argues that creative writing “can be learned, by the able; it can be studied, by everybody and his brother; it can even be taught, even in school,” while in contrast Kay Boyle (1975, p1) dramatically asserts that “all creative-writing courses should be abolished by law.” Hanif Kureishi (2014, p4) offers more balanced advice for contemporary students, stating that “aspiring writers who wish to be taught plot, structure and narrative are not mistaken, but following the rules produces only obedience and mediocrity.”

Despite this controversy, the number of universities that provide degrees in creative writing continues to grow, with over one hundred courses currently being offered in the UK alone. More students than ever are leaving secondary education to pursue a degree in this subject, which implies that there is something inherently essential about the place of creative writing within the curriculum of our schools as forerunners to these institutions.

However, in September 2015 the Department of Education (2015, p11) announced that they are axing the Creative Writing A-level – bringing the subject’s value into question. Having only been established in 2013, it is currently the only recognised qualification for creative writing in secondary education, and by discontinuing it, the DfE has effectively undermined its worth. The DfE explained that “it became clear that for AS and A-level in creative writing […], it has not been possible to draft subject content in accordance with the department’s guidance and Ofqual’s principles for reformed AS and A levels.”

Ofqual’s dilemma about subject content highlights a conflict within the subject; the assessment of something that is essentially a social practice and not merely a skill. As Anderson (2014, P97) states, “problems can arise when writing is approached as a discrete, individual skill to be learned in school, primarily in order that it might be tested. This is because writing is a socio-cultural practice, or set of practices. It involves people making meaning and getting things done within a cultural context…” By its nature, writing is universal, all-encompassing and intentionally broad in order to evoke higher order thinking.

The challenge of assessment also appears to have had a deeper impact in the development of the creativity within the whole curriculum according to Ferrari, Cachia & Punie (2009, p26). Assessment was reported as having a restricting impact on the educational process, endorsed by the work of Wyse and Jones (2003). They stated that “testing has narrowed school provision at the expense of creativity.” We are made to ask whether children should be encouraged to foster a curiosity that enables a freedom to be creative, rather than restricted by conformity that is so often created by the system of assessment?

But what exactly does it mean to be creative, particularly in regard to writing?

Goodwin (2004. p2) describes creativity in literacy as “the ‘effective surprise’ that occurs when the unpredictable connections of otherwise unrelated bits of knowledge or experience spark new insights and understanding.” By this definition, creativity is often impulsive and random, which implies that it is unfeasible to assess every learner in the same way. It is something often noted by teachers and students; assessing creative “worth” is subjective.

This, surely, is to be expected. Creative writing is about imagination, being original/innovative, breaking conventions, going beyond the obvious. Robinson (2013, p 5), the former national advisor on creative and cultural educations, argues that “creativity is not a linear process, in which you have to learn all the necessary skills before you get started. It is true that creative work in any field involves a growing mastery of skills and concepts. It is not true that they have to be mastered before the creative work can begin […] The real driver of creativity is an appetite for discovery and a passion for the work itself.”

Robinson’s definition seems appropriate for two reasons. Firstly, it accepts the notion that creativity is inherently inside all children; that it can be nurtured and encouraged, mastered and honed, but initially, the innovation must come from within. The second reason is because his definition keeps a love of learning and intellectual curiosity at the heart of what it means to be creative.

Corbett and Strong (2011, p2), argue that breadth of reading is crucial to the development of creative writing, which contradicts Ofqual’s current narrowing of the curriculum. They assert that “Unsurprisingly, the best writers in any class are always readers. Reading influences writing – indeed the richness, depth and breadth of reading determines the writer that we become.” It is important that we actively encourage pupils to read widely in order to support their creative development in writing and also across the curriculum. Blythe and Sweet (2008, p310) warn us about the dangers of a narrowly prescribed reading list stating that those “who assign the great works can perpetuate the cloning effect,” where the writing of all pupils in a class begins to conform and mimic the work of a studied author(s). They also question the legitimacy of the assigned literature, asking “Who, some ask, determines what makes a great work “great”?” By avoiding a prescribed reading list, the creative writing A-level enables pupils to discover ‘greatness’ for themselves based on their exposure to a plethora of different writers.

Furthermore, it is important to distinguish the synergy between the knowledge acquired through reading and pupil development of creativity through producing original writing. It is   the role of the teacher to enable an environment where students can effectively analyse other writers’ works and then apply their individual creative talent. As stated by the author and teacher Gibbons (2009, p10), “There has to be a balance between teaching features of writing and leaving a space within which the child can experiment, yes, play with language.” This balance between effective experimentation and teaching writerly techniques is essential for children to productively channel their creative playfulness and take ownership of their work.

What might an appropriate creative writing reading list look like? A short, reasonable list might include a variety of authors, poets and playwrights, in a plethora of different forms and genres – for instance, Shakespeare, Vonnegut, Harrigan, Huxley, Orwell, Ford, Thomas, Salinger, Lee, Durrell, Bryson, Donne, Elliot, Fitzgerald, Moore, Bradbury, and Atkinson. For AS and A-Level students, such a list may be more extensive than they’d encounter even in English Literature, yet there is no limit to the number of writers students of writing should read. As Corbett and Strong assert: the “richness, depth and breadth of reading determines the writer that we become.” It also promotes a holistic approach to creative writing as this emersion technique encourages a limitless horizon for pupil learning. By setting challenging goals, we can create learning that stretches every pupil by offering a syllabus with an infinity rich list of literature to suit the strengths of each child.

Part of the risk of teaching creative writing in schools is that a medium that is supposed to free the student – the writer – from constraints can become restricting, when the only focus of the course is to pass exams and fulfil pre-set criteria. Yet the value of teaching creative writing does expand to other areas of a child’s – indeed a person’s – skill set and development. In particular, the innovative thinking and inventive assertiveness that children foster through creative writing seems to be fundamental across the curriculum. Poetry written in creative writing classes becomes the lyrics to songs used in Music lessons; while essay skills are improved in History or Business Studies; investigative, innovative thought applied to Science experiments; grammar and vocabulary skills improve in Foreign Languages. In short, teaching creative writing helps pupils become students not just of writing or of literature; but of the world.

Creative writing is rooted in having original ideas. Therefore, how can we expect pupils to flourish imaginatively and artistically by conforming to narrow assessment objectives? As Paul Munden, the director of National Association of Writers in Education, warns us, “We defer inventive thinking at our peril.” (Munden. 2013, p1).

It is only within a safe and supportive environment that pupils are able to cultivate their flair for expression in a manner of different mediums to produce overwhelmingly imaginative, thoughtful and evocative writing. What is the point of creative writing? Everything.

Bibliography

Anderson. G. (2014) ‘Writing’ in Davidson, J. and Daly, C4th edition,’ Learning to Teach English in the Secondary School, A companion to school experience.’ Suffolk: Routledge.

AQA Subject Content:

http://www.aqa.org.uk/subjects/english/as-and-a-level/creative-writing-2750/subject-content  [15/12/15]

Barth, J. 1985, ‘Writing; Can it be taught?’ The New York Times 16 June. Available from: < http://www.nytimes.com/>. [15/12/15]

Blythe, H & Sweet, C. (2008) ‘The Writing Community: A New Model for the Creative Writing Classroom’ from Pedagogy: Critical Approaches to Teaching Literature, Language, Composition, and Culture Volume 8, Number 2.  Duke University Press

Boyle, K. 1975, ‘New printers, new writers and a new literature’ The New York Times 14 September. Available from: < http://www.nytimes.com/>. [15/12/15]

Corbett, P & Strong, J. (2011) ‘Talk For Writing Across The Curriculum: How to teach non-fiction writing.’ (London). Open University Press.

Craft, A. (2002), ‘Creativity and early years education’ (London) Continuum. Bloomsbury Academic.

DfE (2015). Additional reformed GCSE and A level subject content consultation:

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/459669/Additional-reformed-GCSE-and-A-level-subject-content-consultation.pdf  [15/12/15]

Ferrari, A. Cachia, R. & Punie, Y. “Innovation and Creativity in Education and Training in the EU Member States: Fostering Creative Learning and Supporting Innovative Teaching

Available from: < http://ftp.jrc.es/EURdoc/JRC52374_TN.pdf > [15/12/15]

Frater, G. (2004) ‘Improving Dean’s writing: what shall we tell the children.’ Literacy. 38, 78-82.

Gibbons, A. (2009) ‘Back to the Future – Or Putting the Creative Back in Writing.’ National Association for the Teaching of English. Classroom Issue No. 8.

Goodwin, P. 2004 ‘Lieracy through Creativity.’ (Oxford) David Fulton Publishers.

Kureishi, H. 2014, ‘What they don’t teach you at creative writing school,’ The Telegraph 25 January. Available from: < http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/10594606/Hanif-Kureishi-What-they-dont-teach-you-at-creative-writing-school.html>. [15/12/15]

Kroll, J & Harper, G. 2008. ‘Creative Writing Guidebook.’ London: Continuum.

Minot, S. 2003. ‘Three Genres: Writing Fiction/Literary Nonfiction, Poetry, and Drama’ 7th ed. (London) Longman.

Munden. P. 2013. ‘The Rise of Creative Writing’. SecEd Magazine 2/05/13.

Available from: http://www.sec-ed.co.uk/best-practice/the-rise-of-creative-writing [15/12/15]

Ofqual. ‘Further Decisions for Completing GCSE, AS and A Level.’ 2015. Available from:

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/479635/2015-05-14-reform-of-gcses-as-and-a-levels-in-2017-may-2015.pdf  [17/02/16]

Robinson, K. (2013) ‘To encourage creativity, Mr Gove, you must first understand what it is.’ Guardian. 17 May 2013.

Available from: < http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/may/17/to-encourage-creativity-mr-gove-understand > [15/12/15]

Wyse, D & Jones R. 2003 ‘Creativity in the Primary Curriculum’ (London): David Fulton Publishers.

 

About the author of this post

11920594_10153537595492145_200658208_nGeorge Vernon is a writer and English teacher based in the UK. He graduated from Warwick University with a first class (hons) degree in English Literature and Creative Writing in 2012, and completed his MA with distinction in Creative Writing from Chichester University in 2013. He has been shortlisted for the Almond Press Dystopian Short Story competition and won the Kate Betts award for most promising piece of fiction. When not teaching, George can be found writing; learning; living; loving. He tweets as @MrGeorgeVernon

Government plans to introduce new book-based currency

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The Government have announced an audacious plan to replace the British Pound with a new book-based currency.

The shock announcement came just weeks after Chancellor George Osborne’s most recent shambolic budget. After taking the United Kingdom to the brink of economic catastrophe through a series of ill-thought out neoliberal measures of privatisation, tax cuts for international conglomerate corporations and attacks on middle and low-income households, the Chancellor of the Exchequer has released a statement explaining that he sees books and literature as the only way to save the failing UK state.

“The British people have had to put up with a lot these past six years,” the Chancellor wrote. “And although I would say I have taken substantive action to make things easier for people, I am starting to recognise that we now need – more than ever before – new, innovative, some may even say drastic, measures and ideas to ‘stop the rot’ and make Britain great again.”

“As such, in order to ensure the British economy continues to grow and create jobs, and after consulting with various leading economists, we have decided to forge ahead with a new, literary-based currency,” Osborne continued. “Britain, after all, has given the world so many priceless works of literature – from Shakespeare through to J.K Rowling. It’s time we recognised that money, in its current form, isn’t serving the needs of the people, and replaced it with something that will enrichen the lives of everyone: books.”

The full details of what the new British currency will look like, or how it will function in practical terms, has yet to be revealed. One inside source close to the Cabinet told Nothing in the Rulebook they expect to see a quasi-bartering system introduced, while taking aspects of free-market economics and adapting them into something more cultural.

“Nobody likes money anyway,” our source said. “It’s boring and can get a bit of a weird smell. I’m sure people would be much happier to fill their wallets with book, script and poetry extracts rather than tiny bits of paper with pictures of old people on them.”

Prime Minister David Cameron said he welcomed the change in British currency.

“Forever more, the date of this announcement – April 1st – will be known as a great day in British history,” the Prime Minister said. “Introducing a literary-based economy, built on the shoulders of Shakespeare, Dickens, Austen, Golding, Orwell, Woolf and Hardy and so on, will help us pear down the deficit and support British workers.”

Some financial analysts, however, have voiced quiet concern over the plans.

“Replacing The Pound with a heap of books? Are they totally bonkers?” An incredulous colleague of economist Simon Wren Lewis said in response to the announcement. “First they ignore all rules of basic economics with their stubborn-minded pursuit of austerity, then they attack the incomes of the British people while giving tax cuts to a handful of their billionaire donors, and now this. I’ve never heard of a developed country using a book-based currency before, and quite frankly I am in no doubt that this will be yet another unmitigated disaster caused by the Conservative party.”

George Osborne dismissed criticisms of his plans as “the usual left-wing loonies getting on their high horse about what will be seen, in years to come, as the most financially astute idea in the history of economics.”

Analysis

Professor Wu says: “We have long agitated for the Conservative administration to recognise the value of books and literature, yet today’s announcement goes far beyond what we ever expected to achieve. We were originally just hoping that Osborne and co would stop slashing budgets for local libraries and start to invest in our culture, and schemes that promote the countless wonderful attributes of books and writing. But to have an entirely book-based economy? I personally can’t wait to use my first edition copy of Ulysses to pay down the mortgage on my flat. As David Cameron said, April 1st, 2016 will be a day long remembered in the history of this country.”