Friday, 22 November 2013


Thanks so much to everyone who commented, retweeted and just generally helped spread the word about Andrew David Barker's guest post. Andrew very generously donated 2 copies of his novel The Electric for a give away, and everyone who commented and RT'd went into a bowl (NOT a hat as previously suggested). It's now time to reveal the winners. 

I did two draws - one to win the e-book and one to win the real book. I thought it'd be more exciting if I took photos of myself drawing the names out of a bowl. I think you'll agree it really livens up what is essentially a very straightforward procedure.

To begin - this is when I thought I was taking a photo of myself but it was actually video. CLASSIC!*

 Okay she's getting the hang of it now. This is the bowl.

 Yep, she's picked a name out.

This says 'Fixated' but back to front. Congratulations to Steve, the man behind the radio show 'Fixated On' - you've won a real life paper and ink copy of THE ELECTRIC!

And Jane - co-founder of The Bath Short Story Award - you've won THE ELECTRIC e-book!

Andrew will be in touch with you both via Twitter to organise getting your books to you.

Thanks again.

*It's quite impressive the transition from POSE to CONFUSED to REALISATION isn't it. 
All THAT in 4 seconds.


Monday, 11 November 2013

Andrew David Barker writes a letter to himself

I'm really excited to bring you a new letter-to-self guest post (remember when Vanessa Gebbie and Kerry Hudson did it?).

This time it's the turn of Andrew David Barker who's just released his novel The Electric, a coming-of-age tale about a fifteen year old boy, Sam, who 'discovers an old abandoned cinema playing movies made by ghosts, for ghosts'. I was really captured by that line in the blurb. Very intriguing. Here's more:

Sam, along with his friends, Emma and David, find themselves drawn into a world where the likes of Humphrey Bogart, Lon Chaney and Theda Bara are still making pictures; where Harold Lloyd and John Belushi team up for roustabout comedies, and Karloff and Lugosi appear in films scripted by Edgar Allan Poe. Sam comes to learn the mysteries of the Electric cinema and his part to play in its long and strange history.
With shades of Ray Bradbury, the more nostalgic work of Stephen King, and the early films of Steven Spielberg, THE ELECTRIC is about movies, ghosts, and that ephemeral moment in all of our lives, childhood. 

Win it!
You can win a copy of The Electric just by commenting at the end of this post. Anyone who writes something between now and Monday 18th Nov will go into a hat and have a chance to win either the e-book or actual real life copy of the book - you just need to state in your comment which you'd prefer.

For now though, let's pass over to Andrew. It's 1991 and curtains are the way to wear your hair.

Dear Me. The 1991 me. The just-left-school me.

First off, let me tell you - it’s going to take you a long time to get over school. You’re nostalgic at 16 and that is a problem. Straight after you leave school life – from which you receive no qualifications – you’ll find yourself working for a window fitting firm for £10 a day, not knowing what the hell has happened. (Be warned: low, low wages and struggling from week to week will become something of a theme.)

You’ll do that for a while and then go to college. There you will try and recreate your school days by hanging out with friends, drinking, making films, playing in bands, and generally doing as little actual class work as possible. And like school, you’ll leave college with absolutely no qualifications whatsoever.

You’ll barely be able to read and write. You don’t even read a book voluntarily until the autumn of ’91. It is a fantasy novel entitled Out of their Minds by Clifford D. Simak. It’s not a great book by any stretch of the imagination, but with nothing to compare it to, you’re blown away. You’ll become a voracious reader after this, and the head-full of ideas you’ve always had will begin to whirl and take some kind of shape.

Soon after reading Out of their Minds you begin to write an outline for a comedic fantasy novel of your own. It is about a school kid named Tony who is run over and dies only to discover that Heaven is run by a villainous Elvis Presley. It is not very good at all, but at 16, you’ll think it’s great. You’ll begin writing the novel with a school friend, Ben Waldram, and together you’ll spend the next five years turning it into a trilogy! You’ll never finish it.

During this time you’ll also play in local rock bands around Derby and continue to dream of making a film. The realities are, however, that you’ll simply drift from one job to another with absolutely no sense of direction or purpose. You’ll work on building sites (lots and lots of building sites: you’ll always keep coming back to this line of work as your dad is a bricklayer), as a railway worker, a carpet salesman, a factory worker (lots of factories), as a delivery driver, and as a night watchman at a hotel.

In the late 90s you’ll join a rock band as a lead guitarist and get signed by a small record label. You’ll record a single, go on photo shoots, tour up and down the country, and live quite a hedonistic lifestyle. You’ll think you’ve made it. You haven’t.

After four years for writing, recording, gigging, and drinking (and more besides), the band will implode and you’ll be left with nothing but memories. Also, you’ll be penniless. You won’t make any money from the band.

A few months after the band split you’ll find yourself back on a building site with your dad wondering, once again, what the hell happened. Befuddlement is another theme you’ll have to get used to.

It’ll take you another few years to get over the band. Then you’ll start to make short films. You’ll make a couple. They’re not bad. At least you think so. This leads to a long period of trying to fulfil a childhood dream: that of making a feature film.

You’ll network like crazy. You’ll meet a lot of people, and a lot of sharks too. You’ll begin to write screenplays with Matthew Waldram (brother of Ben, who you started out writing with) and you’ll go to Cannes in an effort to hawk them around. You’ll make a lot of contacts. You’ll talk to big players in Hollywood. Some of these big players will like your scripts. You’ll do a rewrite on one of your screenplays for a company owned by a major star, tailoring said script to suit his sensibilities. You’ll think you’ve made it. You haven’t.

You will make no money and sell not one script. In fact, the aforementioned company will completely rip off the central premise of your screenplay and make their own animated feature out of it. It will make big money and a sequel will be greenlit. You’ll go back to working on a building site.

However, in 2009 you will get the chance to direct an independent feature film.

A Reckoning will be a last-man-on-earth type story about one such man left alone in a desolate landscape. To give himself some sense of normality, he populates an entire village with straw people; he talks to them as if they are neighbours, and even teaches young straw people in school. However, before long his mind begins to crack and his make-believe world starts to take on a life of its own.

The film is shot at breakneck speed in two weeks during one of the worst snowstorms in England in a decade. Still, the film really comes together, mainly because of an incredible leading man (Leslie Simpson) and an utterly amazing crew.

You’ll spend the next year editing the film and that’s when the cracks begin to appear. Not with the film itself, but with the financiers. A series of escalating events lead to a complete breakdown in communication and a very nasty situation unfolds.

By 2010 the film is finished and getting stunning reviews. The financiers however, for reasons you will never, ever fathom, block it from ever seeing the light of day. Again, you go back to square one.

That is when you change your life. You begin a job as a care worker for young lads with learning difficulties and find it very rewarding. You get married to a wonderful woman whose support and encouragement in your creative endeavours are beyond measure, and also, you step away from everything and write a novel.
In writing it, you will dig deep into your past – into your teenage years – and feel a sense of completeness you have never felt in any of your creative pursuits before. You’ll find your voice  (for want of a better, less-clich├ęd phrase) and know that writing novels – where it is just you, no one else, pure and simple – is what you want to do for the rest of your life.

All that you will go through won’t be easy – I won’t lie to you – but that creative itch in your mind – that is small, but still very much there when you’re 16 – will grow, and sometimes it will overwhelm you. But everything you’ll go through will seep into your writing later on. For good or ill, it will make your work wholly your own and give you the strength to keep working at it, to keep writing, and to be true to who you are.

                                         Andrew David Barker, November 2013


Thanks so much, Andrew. I love that your journey has been so varied, real highs and lows. All working to get you where you are now.

Andrew David Barker was born in Derby, England in 1975. He directed an independent feature film entitled A Reckoning in 2009 and has since written or co-written several screenplays. He has also had several short stories published. The Electric is his first novel. He now lives in Warwickshire with his wife. 
He can be found at either or loitering around


So. Remember folks, to win a copy of The Electric say somethin' in the comments. And do remember to tell us if you'd like the e-book or the real book - we'll do two names-in-hats draws for this and the closing date for entries is end of Monday 18th Nov.


Saturday, 9 November 2013

Happening here, Monday

Just a little note to tell you we'll have a guest writer here on Monday.  

Andrew David Barker has written a fantastic letter-to-himself - you know, like Vanessa Gebbie and Kerry Hudson did - to mark the release of his debut novel, The Electric.

AND he's very generously going to give away TWO copies (one Kindle, one physical) of the book to TWO of you, my lovely readers, and all you have to do to be in with a chance of winning is to comment on the post when it goes up on Monday.

Look at the front cover of the book!

Read this extract of Andrew's letter!

In the late 90s you’ll join a rock band as a lead guitarist and get signed by a small record label. You’ll record a single, go on photo shoots, tour up and down the country, and live quite a hedonistic lifestyle. You’ll think you’ve made it. You haven’t.
All that you will go through won’t be easy – I won’t lie to you – but that creative itch in your mind – that is small, but still very much there when you’re 16 – will grow…


See you back here, Monday. 

Saturday, 19 October 2013

About old penpals

A few months ago Dan Purdue alerted me to this call to write a handwritten letter for a new journal, The Letter's Page, edited by Jon McGregor. Ooh, I said, that sounds right up my street.

Some reasons: I like making marks on a page, real pages. Especially with a biro, I'm okay without a fancy pen. I also like a little bit of autobiography, something from myself onto a page to someone else. That's what I loved about the Art House Co-op's Fiction Project (you can read about my experience with that here). I like making a real-life thing.

The Letter's Page theme for Issue 2 was 'pen pals'. Well, I've had a few of those. I got a bit obsessed by them in my teens, answering ads all over the place. At first - Smash Hits and (specialist) Take That fan magazines. Then later - a music magazine - I forget the name of it, it was monthly, with 'classifieds' in the back. I'd scan them looking for  mentions of bands I liked. Then I'd write to their PO Box and hope for the best. Most didn't reply.

I remember a girl who did, the same age as me (15). She wrote dark poetry (I did too, well - I dabbled) and she decorated her letters with glitter and pen drawings and told me how her and her friends would just go to the train station and catch a train anywhere. Just to, y'know, see where the day would take them. Oh my word I thought she was so cool. I wanted her to come and stay with us in the summer holidays. She didn't. I can't remember when/how we stopped writing. Maybe she was weirded out by my suggestion she come and stay at my house. I'd always wanted a sister. That's my excuse.

Before then, another girl. I was 13, she was older - 17ish. She was one I picked up from the (specialist) Take That fan magazine. She'd write really long letters, all about Take That. At some point she must have asked for my phone number because then she'd call me too, from a phone box, and we'd talk after school, maybe just once a month, but always all about Take That. Again, I'm not sure why we stopped writing / chatting. Maybe it was when I made the transition from being Take That's number one fan to Nirvana's. It was like I just flipped, changed, overnight. Hm, yeah, that is how it happened, and for totally superficial reasons. But she was nice. I wonder what happened to her.

And somewhere between 13 and 15 there was a man - who I hadn't expected to be a man when I replied to his classified in that music magazine. He was supposed to be my age, but he said the magazine had misprinted his ad, and actually he was 26. But he seemed ok, and he liked the bands I liked, so I wrote back. Then within a letter or two he was asking me very personal questions, and instead of just not writing back I wrote back and tried to avoid the questions by answering 'quirkily'. I see through it all now. Wish I had then.

And there were the letters I'd get from friends who I saw everyday at school. And my cousin, who I also saw everyday. We even had our own code to disguise the very secret things we must have been writing. These letters were not sent through the post but passed to each other at the start of the school day. And if you fell out with your friends, or they fell out with you, feelings were best articulated by a long and dramatic letter.

But my Letter's Page submission isn't about any of these pen pal experiences. It's about my very first pen pal, kind of, when I was 8, in 1989, when I behaved like a weirdo for a bit. That's all I'll say, because I might be lucky enough to have my letter selected for publication. If it isn't, I'll post the letter here. ('post')

The perils of writing by hand - you etch your words onto your desk


Here's the link where you can find Issue One of The Letter's Page. It's available to read as a PDF, and has some great pieces of letter writing. I was particularly moved by the one from Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer.

Monday, 7 October 2013

Things Found and Made - by Mario Gregoriou

Witness the rejection of hierarchies!
Smell the equality of expression!
Taste the freedom to question!

Mario Gregoriou's exhibition
in the upstairs gallery of City Screen, York
until Sunday October 13th

If you go there, you will find:

subliminal meanings within The Goonies
lost linguistics
the Wicker Man face off
fringe science that challenges norms and meat sweats 
what Kojak really smelt between his fingers on that fateful day 

If you go there, you will hear (from the speakers above you):

the music of Dunmada - songs and sounds from industrial rooftops, vocals that fly

If you go there, you will sit before a TV/DVD combi, and it will play:

a David Bowie rarity - the moment he fused China Girl with the theme tune from Steptoe and Son
'Tight Jeans' - the trailblazin tune from hip hop's very own Pussy Coal
the time Kings of Leon dueted with the Medulla Oblongata
audio clip of exchange between (sexy) Mother Hubbard and hungry dogs at dinnertime 

If you cannot go there, you can look at these photos

and you can have a go on this footage 

that David Bowie rarity - China Girl/Steptoe mash up

that (sexy) Mother Hubbard singin' with dogs at dinnertime

that duet with Kings of Leon and the Medulla Oblongata

For more information:
Click here to listen to the sounds of Dunmada

And finally
here we have the artist on the right, and this writer on the left

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

I keep waiting for the right time to write a new blog post

and this is not it, but I'm doing it anyway.

Hello - hello - so - I'm roasting a chicken and have about 10 minutes til I have to do something to it, like take it out of the oven. The light is dimming in the room I'm in and I can hear things boiling on the stove in the kitchen and I hope they don't boil over while I'm here. My other half is on the other side of the room working on some things for an exhibition of his work he's having in a few days - words and music and visuals all in one space, which is pretty exciting. We're both hunkered down over laptops, rushing to get words in before it's Chicken Time.

I've been in a sending and subbing work mode for the last few weeks, and stories have gone off to The Sunday Times, Flash 500, The Short Story Net and Literature Works. I've had a few days of stepping back from writing and replenishing a bit (and getting on with day-job type work) and now I'm setting my sights on the next few months, considering how I want to spend my writing time and the few places I want to send work to. In particular there is this - which looks fab - I've been drafting out a letter for it this afternoon, explaining a year in my long-ago past when I behaved like a weirdo for a while. I was very young. I will tell you about it another time.

I was runner-up in a competition to win a day at York Writing Festival a few weeks ago - didn't get the ticket but I made the short list and you can read my entry here. It's about a woman watching a man in a coffee shop. She is a bit weird, but she's not me, honest.


Saturday, 31 August 2013


(in the interim between posts I'll just tell you some fun things I overheard recently...)

11.30pm, two guys sat in a doorway, drinking strong lager. I walk past and hear them talking about someone they know.
"She's got links to the mafia, her. Proper mafia. I'm telling you."

Two girls, talking about their exam results:
"I mean, I got an A star and there was absolutely nothing exceptional about what I did."


In a coffee shop, there's a woman with purple hair, alone, with a pack of cards. A man sitting nearby has been watching her. When he gets up to leave, he says to her:
"You can't read the future - no one can - and I don't want you to read my future - you can't even read your own future!"
She smiles and says, "Actually I was just playing a game"
He's already walking away, he shouts behind him, "I can't hear you!"


Man on his phone, on a night out:
"It's not looking good. I mean, it's just not a good night if it starts with you accidentally hitting a female work colleague in the face."

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Agent Hunter - a review

One of the perils of having your email address on your blog is you get spam. There's the usual stuff from people like (the-very-real-sounding-they-just-must-exist) Mrs Fatima Hamilton or Mr Aubrey Smithe or (simply) Mrs Stella, all taking the time to email ME! from their various deathbeds because they like the look of my profile and want to give me a couple of million dollars. Soz guys, but I just couldn't take it from you.

Occasionally you got a more tailored bit of spam - someone who wants to advertise you or to be advertised by you - they've noticed your blog has a good amount of followers and they want in, they want to write a guest post about something, but that something would be totally out of place on your blog, like 'Higher Education' (had that one recently). Anyway you obviously don't go for these offers, they're not in-keeping with the spirit of the blog.

So when I received an email recently from a place called 'Agent Hunter', asking me to write a blog about their site and services, I scanned it expecting it to be sent to Junk any minute. Only there were a few signs that this wasn't spammy, making me read it with a bit more attention.

Firstly, the sender (I didn't know at this point but he's Harry Bingham, an established and best-selling writer, as well as one of the folks behind the Writers' Workshop) referred to the fact that I'm a short story writer, and mentioned my placings at Bridport and The Guardian. He reckoned I'm in an okay position, if I had the material ready, to be approaching agents myself. The crux of the email was if I wanted to, he'd give me a year's free subscription to Agent Hunter, in return for me writing an honest blog post about the site. He also shortened 'because' to 'cos', so he felt extra human.

So, realising this was a good email, I replied and took Harry up on the offer. He signed me up for Agent Hunter, and I've been getting to know the site for the last week or so, and here's what I've found.

The premise is pretty simple - Agent Hunter is a database of all UK literary agents, agencies, and publishers. Think of it as a digitised version of The Writers' and Artists' Yearbook but with more detailed information - agent biographies, their likes/dislikes, along with the important stuff like how long they've been an agent, how many clients they have and who they are, if they're looking to expand their list, and how to contact them.

As well as comprehensive listings, there's a search facility which is very good, allowing you to narrow the hundreds of listed agents down to your preferences - by genre, experience, number of clients, keywords. Or you can search by agent name if you have someone in mind, or by writer to find out who represents them. You can then save and name any searches you run for whenever you need to come back to them. 

The database has been compiled along with the assistance of agents/publishers, all invited to give information about themselves and advice on how to approach them. Some have given more info than others, but even the basic details are comprehensive. The site is run by people who really know the industry so that's reassuring, and because it's online it should be up to date (though, sensibly, if you're submitting to a particular agent check their own website/agency guidelines too).

The only thing I think it's missing, and it's not a biggie cos it's get-round-able, is a button which lets you 'bookmark' a single agent. (It's get-round-able by running a search on that agent and saving the search with their name. So, yeah, no biggie.)

It costs £12 for a year's subscription to Agent Hunter. Really worth the money. AND - when you sign up, you're not charged for 7 days - meaning you can have a look and see if it's worth the fee, and if you don't think it is, you can cancel your subscription without being charged.

If you're looking for an agent now it makes complete sense to sign up, or if, like me - you'd like to be looking for an agent soon - it's a great window in to that world, a way of having a snoop around, and it's there - ready when you are - to help you get to grips with everything, all in one place.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013


How lovely to be able to share some result-y type news with you - my story After the cat has made it down to the last 20 in this competition, though the final results aren't ready yet. But it's really good to be there, on that list (AT THE TOP! BECAUSE OF THE ALPHABET!). I'll know by the end of September if I get any further.

Interesting to see the 'note' at the bottom of the shortlist - out of the 209 entries 92 had to be disqualified for not sticking to the rules. They were pretty basic rules - Arial 12pt, keep yer name off of your entry, don't go over the word count. I think that was it. It was free-to-enter, so maybe a few un-seasoned writers entered, not clear on how easy it is to have your entry cast out.

But there were 117 qualifying stories so I'm feeling good about being on the shortlist. And this story is a bit of a shortlist queen. And, ironically (though it might not actually be ironic because ever since someone realised Alanis got it wrong I never feel confident about calling things 'ironic') the story made it onto a shortlist at Writers' Forum last year, and it wasn't until months later that I noticed that I, yes me - oh seasoned writer - had disobyed the rules because the story was UNDER the minimum word count they ask for. So I was lucky to get shortlisted, really.

Another interesting thing (tolerant smile, thank you) is that every so often, someone finds my blog by Googling 'Teresa Stenson After the cat' and they have an ISP address at the BBC London. I've never sent it to the Beeb, but I like to imagine there is a top talent writing executive (they exist) desperately seeking news about me and that story. So, friend at the Beeb - hello - and yes, okay, you can make it into a mini series starring Jason Isaacs or Paddy Considine or Keifer Sutherland, whichever one is available, even though the only male part is in his twenties. Sigh.