Idle Hands

...are the Devil's playthings. A collaborative writing partnership. Let's see where it takes us.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Collaborative book selling

Our stall. Subtle and understated

Pigeon Park Press had a table at the Birmingham Independent Book Fair on 12th April. 
We wanted to explore some of the ways that we might draw people in to look at our books, so we tried to make our table visually attractive and interesting in as many ways as we could.

We made some colourful bunting with the Pigeon Park Press logo on it. If you're interested in how we made it, there's a Youtube video! We also painted up a couple of chalk boards with our logo, which we were pleased with. We realised during the day that while the logo was nice and visible, it wasn't too obvious what our actual name was, as several people asked. This is something we'll need to fix for next time. 

Another idea that we had was the Birmingham Reader's Map. The low-tech version of this was an ordnance survey map of Birmingham that we spread out on our table and speared with little flags. Each flag represented a story or poem that took place in the location where we placed it. The idea was to show people who live in Birmingham what fictional things take place near to where they live. Lots of people came and helped us to add things to the map during the day, and racked their brains to come up with authors who'd written things set locally. We're working on an online version of the Reader's Map, so that we can share it more easily.

So all of these things drew people to our stall, but what worked best of all? Free cookies. 

Pre-bought discs can help to disguise a complete lack of decorating ability
We made them the day before the fair, but cunningly ordered some little rice paper discs with our logo, so that we didn't have to work very hard to make them look nice. The words "free" and "cookie" seem to work well together to get people's attention. 

Having drawn people to our stall, it turned out that we had a secret weapon. 
James Brogden (right) showing that he and Mike Chinn (left) share a sense of shirt style

Author James Brogden had joined us for the day. His (excellent) books are published by Snow Books, but Snow weren't present at the book fair so he put some out on the Pigeon Park Press stall. James apparently worked in a shop in one of his previous incarnations, so knows a thing or two about selling stuff to people. We watched in awe as he made sure that nobody could glance sideways at our books without being subtly charmed by his patter. It's possible that for future book fairs, various booksellers will be fighting to have James's books on their stalls.

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Ten To One Author Interview - Jason Holloway

Iain is currently acting as editor and cat-herder-in-chief on a collaborative novel with TEN (count them, TEN) writers. A contemporary story set in a tacky British seaside resort, the Ten To One novel follows ten characters whose lives intersect that of a mysterious old man…


We thought we’d ask those ten writers about themselves and their involvement in collaborative writing. All ten interviews will appear here over the course of the project.


Today, Jason Holloway…

Who are you?

Just a guy, wandering the earth, getting into adventures, ripping off lines from movies. I live across the Potomac from DC. Just close enough to smell the rot. You can’t live inside the Beltway and not be influenced by it. Not even the pure of heart, like me.

To date, I’ve written non-fiction editorial pieces, mostly. I’m your guy if you have a rag up against deadline and need fifteen hundred words of sarcy nonsense.

In terms of fiction, in fourth grade I wrote, produced, directed, edited, managed, and casted, a three act play that a very evil man decided should be inflicted upon my entire grammar school which, in turn, inflicted multiple daily beatings upon me in its entirely justified righteous wrath. I called it a day as a playwright after I was released from the hospital.

Since then, I’m not sure I had any specific writing goals until Ten To One came along. I thought about writing more than actually doing much of it and fiction seemed like an absolute non-starter to me. Things are different now. I’ve been blessed/cursed with at least some degree of validation that I can write compelling fiction. Sort of changes everything, I feel like if I can do it, I probably should.

Tell us about your writing.

I write in bed like Proust on a laptop. I usually have the TV on to distract me from working. I can’t think of anyplace more ideal than bed. If I fall asleep midsentence, I know I probably need to pick up the action a little.

I write for an audience. I like to entertain with stories. Something about being the center of attention, I think. I write one draft, edited on the fly, and avoid ever reading it again. Writing is difficult for me. I’m not interested in making it even more so.

Would you say that fiction has to be “correctly” written?

I spent time in the publishing trenches as an editor. I can, when necessary, be very correct but that’s usually not much fun. My rule is that I’m allowed to break every grammatical rule as long as 1) I have a reason for doing it, and 2) I know that I’m doing it.

What first drew you to the Ten To One project?

I truly don’t remember. I didn’t even have a decent piece of fiction to submit as an example of my work; just a bunch of nonfiction filler. But I caught fire on the idea and wouldn’t let up on Iain until I’d sold him on letting me participate.

I think it must have been the prospect of working with serious writers. When I read the backgrounds of those vying for a place in the final ten, I realized that this was something that was going to happen with or without me. Once I understood that, I understood that I needed Ten To One if I was ever going to write fiction in earnest.

What were the challenges that you faced in writing for Ten To One?

The flagrant disobedience of the Ten To One writers to kowtow to my character was a bit of an obstacle. Luckily, I’m not much of an egotist so I was able to let much of that resentment go.

And how much of your protagonist was a reflection of you?

Bobby? Bobby’s out of his head. I’m sanity personified, rational to the very core of my being. People confuse me for the latest edition of Aurelius. I’m nothing like Bobby. Of course, my favourite kind of character is the antihero or antagonist. How much cooler is Iago than Othello?

The character of Bobby has certainly taken us on a rollercoaster ride through murder, madness and possibly something that’s beyond the realms of human understanding. Is it possible to describe him? Who is Bobby and what is his story?

Bobby is something other. I'm not prepared to put a label on what he is at the moment. I'm working on various Bobby-related projects and his evolution as a fully developed character is still evolving.

There are certain things I know about Bobby. For instance, physically he's not entirely subject to the realities of Newtonian physics; however, that doesn't make him some sort of superhero, only that somehow he is able to act as if subatomic theory is his reality. The extraordinary speed, for example, he occasionally displayed in Ten To One, is based on his instictive ability to manipulate empty space which, from a subatomic perspective, is much of matter's substance.  If angels dance on the head of a pin, they do it on a subatomic level.

Bobby also subscribes to a moral code that values pragmatism over idealism. He's not without honor, but it's honor rooted in his self-appointed role as the lesser of many evils. In Skegness he had his fingers in all the traditional criminal activities: drugs (which he despises), prostitution, usury, gambling, protection, and general racketeering. His role, as he sees it, is to provide order and justice in a world founded on avoiding those very principles. Lawlessness is accommodated, but only with Bobby's countenance.

As you can probably tell, I like Bobby. His antics entertain me. Insane, delusional, supernatural, whatever he is, he's a lot of fun.  

Do you think you’ve been able to take away some positive experiences from Ten To One?

Frankly, I simply wouldn’t be considering writing additional works of fiction without the kick in the ass (arse) Ten To One gave me. Like I said earlier, writing is difficult for me. Being responsible to other writers drove my continued participation. A few times I wanted to throw my hands up and say to hell with the project (note my reference to the disobedience of the writers), but that wasn’t an option and I’m glad it wasn’t.

Writing-wise, what’s next for you?

I'd like to continue collaborating with some of the Ten To One authors--if any of them will have me--while reworking Bobby into a stand-alone character. I've also outlined (a HUGE step for me) a novella-length work of "dark" fantasy which should be notable simply for its absence of vampires, werewolves, teenage angst, star-crossed lovers, and quests for objects of ultimate power. I've tentatively entitled it "Freddy Mercury Wore Obscenley Tight White Jeans, Why Can't I?: A Tale of Unwashed Laundry". I have great hope for it,

Do you have favourite authors?

First and always, Papa. He was so full of shit and no one ever called him on it. I can’t imagine anything better than being drunk with Papa and saying “Say one more word and I’m going to punch you in the brain.”

Twain can make me laugh aloud even after multiple readings, as can Wodehouse. Then there’s me, of course, and I’m very fond of Joss Whedon as a TV/Film writer. I like Tim Powers. He’s an epeeist and, to my mind, one of the modern greats of fantastic/alternative fiction.  At the moment I’m into Raymond Chandler. I go through a lot of genre phases where I devour everything produced during certain eras.

Martin Amis, P.J. O’Rourke, Joss Whedon, Raymond Chandler, Guy Ritchie, William F. Buckley. It’s a very long list.

I still refuse to read Kesey, Kerouac, Ginsberg or any other Beat writers. I have some standards.

If you had to pick one, what would you say is your favourite book?

That’s like asking which is my favourite child. It varies from day to day.

It’s been a subject of disagreement in previous interviews. Where do you stand on the Harry Potter books of JK Rowling?

I hate them all like poison but I also find them very heartening. They’re proof you can rip off every author from Mervyn Peake to Tad Williams (another I should have included in my writing group) to Tolkien and be successful. I think Rowling is the worst kind of hack.

I like Tolkien and I’ll take to the piste to defend him. I’ve heard Brits describe his work as “twee” which is a word I don’t think I fully understand. I think it means self-consciously cutesie. If that’s the case, I see their point, what with the hobbit holes and such, but that’s such a small part of an epic fantasy adventure that’s the foundation for almost all modern fantasy that it seems petty to use as an excuse for dismissing his work.

My fencing club, by the way, is the “Olde Town Fencing Club.” Is the “e” at the end of “Olde” twee or just supercilious?

If you had any advice to give to an aspiring writer, what would it be?

Anyone who posts platitudes about writing from famous authors on social media is someone to stay well away from.


Dear Reader,

You can help us shape the final Ten To One story by joining our beta-reader event. Simply click on this link, say you’re attending and start giving your views on the questions on the page. 


Sunday, 16 March 2014


Not the actual sunflowers, this is a fun toy that collapses when you press the base...
There's a free exhibition on at the National Gallery in London where they have two Sunflowers paintings by Van Gogh hanging side by side. One of them is normally to be found in London, the other is on loan from Amsterdam.
I went there yesterday, and it's the most fascinating experience to see them together. Each painting quite clearly features the same vase of flowers. You can look between the two and see that the same flowers are present, sitting at the same angles in the same vase. What is really interesting is to look at the differences. The colour choices and the brush strokes are miles apart. Each one has been composed in its own exuberant way.
I don't know why this made me think of collaborative writing, but it struck me very powerfully at the time that even a single person creating something is not a machine creating carbon copies. Here we have two depictions of the same thing by a single artist, each confidently unique. If a single writer were to create the same scene on two different days, perhaps in two different moods then they would write two different scenes, but each one would be valid and interesting in its own right.
This is amplified with collaborative writing. We look at the same picture, but make different choices about the words and the sentences we choose. We surprise each other, and occasionally shock each other, but we hope that we manage to make all the pieces feel as though they belong together.

The exhibition is on until the 27th April


Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Ten To One author interview - Sue Barsby

Iain is currently acting as editor and cat-herder-in-chief on a collaborative novel with TEN (count them, TEN) writers. A contemporary story set in a tacky British seaside resort, the Ten To One novel will follow ten characters whose lives intersect that of a mysterious old man…

We thought we’d ask those ten writers about themselves and their involvement in collaborative writing. All ten interviews will appear here over the course of the project.

Today, Sue Barsby…
Who are you?

I’m a new mum who has a full time job and a tolerant husband. A Southerner displaced, I’m a writer, knitter, conker fetishist, grammar nerd, and caffeine appreciator. When no one is watching I like to dance to John Paul Young’s ‘Love is in the Air.’ I also love music, Glastonbury festival, gin, second hand bookshops, pirates, and thunderstorms. I'm rarely seen without loud heels and a large handbag and I'm really good at kissing, handstands, cake making, and drinking tea.
I have written flash fiction, short stories and one and a half novels. (The first will forever remain in a drawer but I have high hopes for the half...) I’m also a regular contributor to Creative Nottingham and blog about creative opportunities and reviews in the city, as well as the occasional literary review for Left Lion magazine.

How on earth can you juggle writing and a family?

I’d pass on useful time saving tips but really it comes down to sheer bloody-mindedness. I work full time hours in four days so my work days are spent in front of a computer and  my non-work days are spent entertaining a toddler. Notebooks are essential. I have one by the bed, one in my handbag and if all else fails, I dictate onto the voice recorder on my phone – which I absolutely hate but it’s better than nothing. On work days, I spend my lunchtime in coffee shops with a notebook, and I also find myself thinking about stories on the bus, which can be hard as it’s too bumpy to write sensibly. Then I type things up in the evenings and work on them seriously on days when I haven’t been staring at a screen all day. It’s really easy to drop everything and think “I’m not going to do any tonight” but you have to persevere. When she was very small I’d bang the laptop on as soon as she fell asleep and had a blissful two months of maternity leave where I’d get loads written each morning naptime. Those days are long gone! Nowadays it’s quite possible (right now for instance) to be typing with a small person on my lap. It’s not ideal but better than not writing at all. 
I’ve  also always written very well on trains. There’s something about the public nature of them – where you feel you have to get on with something in case people think you’re shirking, combining with the rhythm of the tracks and having to shut out the noise of the constant announcements that means I get a lot done. I also write well in coffee shops – I guess a lot of that is for the same reason.
I have no “room of my own” or even a desk of my own at home so I fantasise about a space that I could write in. I think a converted train carriage somewhere would be very useful – with a kettle and an ipod dock obviously. Otherwise I yearn for a lifestyle where I could afford to take train journeys of around two hours, write on the train, disembark, have coffee and/ or lunch, wander about a bit and then get back on the train in time for my girl’s bedtime. One day.

Sue Barsby - juggling her priorities

What first drew you to the Ten To One project?

I tried a taster of collaborative working at a workshop (see and decided it might be a brilliant challenge for me to test myself and my writing skills. I wanted to feel part of a writing community and see how other people work. Obviously being so busy, I find my writing makes me quite isolated so it’s good to connect in this way.

You were one of the first writers to be voted out of the Ten To One novel.

I’ll be honest – I was surprised. And then upset. My goal, when I started, was just to make it though the first round and I did that so I shouldn’t complain. But I guess you hope other people really like you and what you’re trying to do – I wanted to get the chance to show more of Valerie’s loneliness and craving for approval that was hiding beneath her blackmailing exterior. I’m the kind of writer who develops the characters as I write them more and more so although I did a lot of prep for Valerie, trying to figure out who she was, I feel she could have gone onto better, greater things. On the other hand, doing this got me into a kind of routine, and I’ve been able to continue that to write some new pieces and work on another book. So it opened a door to me to do more and to fit more in.

You’ve been more of a Ten To One judge that you have a Ten To One writer. Was it interesting being a judge?

It was, though I do feel more of a sense of responsibility than if I’d just done some judging without seeing the other side. It sounds silly but in this I know what the writers have done to get this far and it makes me pay more attention than I might in normal reading and judging. I also chat to some of the other writers on Twitter so it’s more than just impartial reading – I want to do my best by them and make sure I judge them fairly and for good reasons.
I tried to judge writers in terms of clarity, entertainment and character development. We’ve had some moments in Ten to One where the writing has provided really visual scenes and I’m fond of some of the characters and the journey they’ve taken to get this far. So if you make me smile and your character does something new that fits with how they’ve been so far, you’ll get my vote.

Who is your favourite Ten To One character?

I liked Mabel and I do like Nell too. All the women stick together! Mabel had such a traumatic past and was trying to reconcile herself to it so I admired that, and I like Nell – she’s a tough bird. I do also like Mungo – remaking himself over and over again, he seems to be finding more and more layers to himself.

Generally, what is your favourite kind of character in fiction?

One who doesn’t give a shit. Rankin’s Rebus springs to mind. I also like Richard Russo’s characters for this – often they’re downtrodden men who’ve just had enough and no longer care about the consequences. Sully from Nobody’s Fool doesn’t care. It’s one of my favourite books – makes me laugh and offers so much to say about human beings. This is also a character trait that only works for men.

What is your favourite book?

For a long time it was Pride and Prejudice with Jane Eyre in second place. These days I’m inclined to give it to Jane – she’s fought her way to the top of my affections. With 84 Charing Cross Road following close behind.
With Pride and Prejudice I always liked the conversation. I’m not good at verbal sparring in person (although I improve if I’ve been drinking) so the dialogue is the best thing for me. And there’s one line I love: “She longed to know what at that moment was passing in his mind; in what manner he thought of her, and whether, in defiance of everything, she was still dear to him.” It conveys that uncertainty, of wanting to be loved and the trepidation you feel when you just aren’t sure of yourself, especially if you've been a bit daft, as Elizabeth has, but it’s phrased so gently – she was still dear to him. Wonderful.
Jane Eyre I first read when I was 13 and in bed off sick from school. I devoured it in a day. It grows in stature with me over the years. Jane’s fierceness and independence – she’s such a great heroine. And I love Mr Rochester – he’s a very flawed hero. And he knows it too.
84 Charing Cross Road is a book lover’s book featuring my two favourite cities. It’s the true story told through letters of an American English literature lover’s relationship as a customer of a bookshop on Charing Cross Road just after the Second World War. I’d have Helene Hanff in my ideal writer’s gang because I think we’d do well drinking gin and reading things out loud together. 

Are you on social media?

Facebook, Twitter (@basfordian) and I blog at (though that’s a parenting blog). I’m also behind the Writing at Rosy’s Writing Group and blog and tweet with that. (@writingatrosys
Rosy’s Writing Group came about because a couple of years ago I’d got to the stage where I felt I needed to expose my writing to others for criticism in order to develop and I looked around to find a writing group to join. The ones I found in Nottingham didn’t seem quite right for me at the time for various reasons so I decided to start one of my own.  We’re a small group – usually there’s 5 or 6 of us – and mostly all amateur part time writers or hobbyists but they’re a group of people I now trust to give good feedback on my work. We have one member who is a proper writer and I think we all really appreciate his input and comments – he takes us all seriously which was a real boost to our confidence. 
We meet once a month in Lee Rosy’s tea shop in Nottingham, and we’ve usually set some kind of exercise as homework so we discuss that and then we might do a speed writing or flash fiction exercise, or critique pieces that we’ve each offered for feedback. I was terrified for the first few meetings in reading my stuff out loud but it really helps you work out what needs improving and what just needs completely deleting! It’s also really interesting to see the range of stories people come up with when we all start from the same prompt or idea. I’ve got so much from the group since we started up.

Dear Reader,
You, like Sue, can help us shape the final Ten To One story by joining our beta-reader event. Simply click on this link, say you’re attending and start giving your views on the questions on the page.