Imagine a world where…

For the past six months I’ve been writer-in-residence at St. Mary’s College in Hull, working with First Story, a charity promoting creative writing in secondary schools. The premise is – 1) Do creative writing with your selected kids, using their stories with their voices and experiences. 2) Put a real live anthology together for real live publication.

As a sort-of* genre writer, I was wary of coming at the workshops with a SFF slant, but also wondering if and how I might bring this to the table. But as it turned out, it wasn’t my decision to make. Almost immediately on running through the 20 questions style intro session, we’re thick into talk of things I recognise: Manga, Hogwarts, The Hunger Games, Tolkien, and a whole range of recent YA genre books that I’m not (but should be) familiar with. I realise science fiction and fantasy is already embedded in these kids’ lives.

Cool.

I soon learned that some of these kids are going to write about zombies, aliens and monsters regardless of what I ask them to do. Or at least, to be mindful of that kind of thing. Maybe it’s because that’s their foil for the world. Growing up in the age we do, with dictatorship, terror and rampant inequality looming on all sides, it’s only too easy to be thinking in terms of apocalypse. Zombies. The end of the world. Colonising space. Perhaps thinking like this is just a sign of the times.

But more than escapism, there’s a negotiation going on. I was impressed by how savvy my bunch were personally, socially and even politically. They bemoaned Brexit. They had a healthy wariness of Trump and the state of America at the moment. There was much more LGBT awareness than would have been acceptable – nor even comprehensible – when I was at school. And as someone who is always looking to justify the genre I write in* I can’t help but think that this open-mindedness is something that goes hand in hand with reading SFF.

That base premise:  “Imagine a world where… ” is a powerful one. It means that, if you can get lost in these stories, you can accept another way of being. You can understand, tolerate, appreciate – and even learn to love – a whole different way of life. A different culture. Race. A species. You can question the way things are, and wonder at the way things could be. In the spirit of SFF, these kids can, and regularly do Imagine a world where…

One of the great things about doing First Story as a writer is that you actually get to do some writing. Having your head stuck up the next overbearing project can be a bit of a slog. But in these sessions, I freely wrote things I otherwise wouldn’t. And I found that writing with these kids, we got into a happy place. A kind of inclusive, optimistic but concerned kind of environment, where no-one is really worrying about genre and all that blarney.*

Cool.

Perhaps surprisingly, the resulting collection is very light in terms of SFF writing. What we did in the end get from our writers is their stories with their voices and experiences – with or without monsters and zombies and outer space – as appropriate. Good, free spirited writing and liberal use of the imagination. Which is the main thing, no?

Imagine a world where the glorious future generation join together to write brilliant, inclusive and expressive stories, which may-or-may-not incorporate SFF-and-that’s-fine…

*various rants on genre are available in earlier posts
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FORZA!

A long overdue update –

Nearly six months ago now, THE BASTARD WONDERLAND launched at a fine event hosted by Kardomah94. In a packed house I was interviewed on stage by the splendid Russ Litten, and it went really well, was a good laugh, with an engaged audience, and fine musical support from HorseGuards Parade. Afterwards, there was a signing queue that – -astonishingly – spanned the room. It felt like a proper occasion, the culmination of a shitload of work, waiting and anguish finally MARKED. So, glory be to Wrecking Ball Press on that front. I do wonder if a bigger publisher would have put on such a warm and bespoke spread.

(I’m obliged to remark at this point that TBW is available in Waterstones, on Amazon, direct from Wrecking Ball Press and Inpress Books, and also in eBook format on Kindle, Kobo and Nook.)

Post launch, the modern blogosphere of reviewers has been disappointingly tight about picking the book up for review. We had a list of around 100 SFF genre reviewers, bloggers, BookTubers and the like, but scarce few responded to the initial review copy queries. It seems reviewers are as overworked as everyone else, with a great backlog of Books To Be Read, and so in these tight conditions – again – the most popular reviewers seem to be in the sway of the majors. I was disappointed with the lack of even a “Thanks but no time” response. It would have been something.  Despite this, there’s a quiet, but ongoing stream of favourable Joe Public reviews between Goodreads and Amazon – which seem to suggest people really ‘get’ the book, despite(or even because of) its genre defying nature. Woop, etc.

Awards – after an early run of nominations in the pub brawl that is the Not the Booker Prize, the whole genre thing has proved problematic again, with the not-quite-this and not-quite-that nature of the book ruling it out for some of the more obvious prizes. But we’ll keep trying…

Events and that – I’ll be on the radio on North Manchester FM this weekend to do Hannah’s Bookshelf, a lovely little show all to do with books and writing and suchlike. I’ll be talking t’Wonderland, writing, and probably a bit of Hull and First Story, as well as picking out my selection for Hannah’s Library at the end of Days. If you’re outside Manchesterville, you can listen online from 2-4pm on February the 18th – and there are “listen again” links afterwards.

I also did an interview with SFF World, about all the mucky and otherwise challenging bits of TBW, amongst other things.

Cons – Since TBW launched, I have discovered the wonder of conventions. After attending FantasyCon by t’sea last year, I was almost immediately hooked. These events kind of complete a life in writing, and I will surely be in attendance at more in 2017, where I’m hoping to be involved somehow. On that note, I’ll be reading and taking questions at the 2nd Humber SFF event at Hull Central Library, along with prestigious genre-gents Steven Poore and Jim Hawkins. It’s public. It’s free. There’s a book raffle. You should come. Support your local library/SFF writers.

City of Culture is well underway, and my main participation thus far has been working as a Writer-in-Residence at a Hull school for the First Story charity, where I usher kids to do creative writing, and it’s ace. I’m going to write more about this in the near future.

As for what’s next – In a fit of actual insanity, I’m aiming for two books this year. A suitably ambitious sequel to t’Wonderland is well underway, and I’m also working on a new project, a more ‘YA’ pitched fantasy about a boy and his undead Nana.

So there.

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A boiled-down singularity of delight.

These are interesting times, and so, an update:

This week, I have finally received beautiful print copies of this here book –

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It is a slightly surreal experience to see the product of your love, labour and commitment over many years to be condensed into a slab of glory. Nice to be able to wield it as proof that I’ve actually been doing something in the world. It reminds me of that Wonka machine that huffs and puffs and clanks and takes ages to produce just one tiny sweet, a boiled-down singularity of delight.

Also, content aside, it feels really nice. Wrecking Ball Press have excelled and put some real love into the production of this book. I have been stroking it in private. We’re running away together.

It is now listed in such lofty places as Waterstones, Amazon, Wordery – and more besides. It now comes up as top search in Google, overthrowing the weird, WereBear porn that inexplicably resulted from the term.

Several luminaries have had some kind words to say about the book – “Utterly magical”; “genuinely fresh, unafraid to tackle the unusual”; “a breath of fresh air for the fantasy genre”; and, check this shit -“THE BASTARD WONDERLAND might just be one of the great 21st century novels”. So there. But don’t just take my word for it – see the blog homepage for accreditation from some damn fine writers.

Also, even though the book isn’t officially published until the 22nd, I have been nominated and longlisted for The Guardian’s Not The Booker Prize. If you fancy yourself as a reviewer, you can contact Wrecking Ball Press for an advance copy – you’ve only got until the 14th August to vote, but failing that, a review elsewhere would be swell. You can blog, Tweet, do a Goodreads review, etc. Every little helps. Even if you want to slate it. I don’t mind. A few one star reviews make things more organic.

As I say. Interesting times. Onward!

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A Land of Undiscovered Wonderment

Map_of_the_Andwyke-tex

The Bastard Wonderland is a genre defying sort-of fantasy, as various earlier posts and rants have declared.

Ever since I was a kid, I always wanted to write a fantasy epic. My own epic. There was appeal in the way that classic fantasy stories laid out the elements of story in stark, primary colours. All stories have a journey, adversity, an enemy, the finding of inner strength or help from elsewhere, an ultimate goal; and fantasy is appealing because it lays out these elements in simple Duplo Brick terms that can’t help but appeal. There is  a clear divide between good and evil; There is a quest, a purpose an end goal; there is right and wrong and the potential for happiness and truth.

That’s it, then, sorted: it’s all a bit of gratuitous simplification to enable a bit of good old fashioned escapism.

Well, maybe. It’s true, I wanted to escape. My biography isn’t scintillating. I haven’t really travelled much. I wasn’t raised in an outlandish geopolitical setting. I’ve not served in the military, or been a social worker. I’m just a bloke from Hull. I was born here, I’ve lived in Hull almost all my life. So when it came to my early inspiration, I always thought that it was about escape: I felt better just making fantasy shit up in rejection of the domestic grime around me. The dead 80s: miserable, never-ending soap operas that seemed to domineer adult consciousness back when I wasn’t old enough to decide to turn the telly off. 80s Tabloid newspapers, 80s adultery, 80s dole queues and grime. So fantasy let me escape for a bit into a finer world.

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And this I did. Escaped from reality for a bit. Leading into the 90s, when school ran out, me and a bunch of close knit  mates dropped out of half-hearted attempts at further education (I was a failed artist). We disappeared for a year into a seedy underworld of sword and sorcery novels and Dungeons and Dragons campaigns. I was literally terrified of the prospect of work. I come from a grafting family, and whilst the fishing trade is gone, the work ethic reverberates: you work. You suffer work, and that’s that. And at my tender teen age, I couldn’t cope with this steely fact, and imagined that somehow work would actually steal my soul and numb my senses. (Years on, I’m not so sure it doesn’t, but I’m old and wise enough now to remember just this: You work). So, for about a year we dropped out of the system altogether, feasting on crisps and chocolate bars long into the night, roaming the streets, walking along the Humber, in a kind of feverish, mutual daydream, utterly rejecting the world we were supposed to be getting on with. It was all at once bleak, but kind of cool. Character forming, I think. And it was around this time that the seed of Mr. Warboys and his world started to sprout.

Necessity – and a cuff about the head from my Mam – got me working in the end. My Dad got me a job on a Factory line that packaged toiletries. I spent long days filling toothpaste tubes, whilst scary women from east Hull showed me their tattoos and stretch marks.  Six weeks of that was enough to terrify me back into education. I did A Levels next, and was hooked when a lesson about ancient origins of Hinduism brought me in mind of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. With mediocre A-levels and still no plan, I went to study Religion at Lancaster University. It has never earned me a career, or even a job, but ended up being really important. Having studied the oldest source of culture and human imagination throughout preceding human history through to modernity is a mind blowing resource for a writer. And let’s just say that, regardless of one’s own beliefs, there’s a lot of what you might call fantastical material there. The symbols and constructs from religion that hold steady and support and inform our understanding of stories. And, my friends, we need stories.

I’ve grown up a bit, now – and I’m not sure I could stomach all that Dungeons and Dragons, Forgotten Realms stuff we used to devour. But I just can’t resist a monster, a foreign setting, a dark power, etc. This is because, I suppose, the symbols of monsters and baddies and all that lark still have appeal, because they are elements of story. And fantasy, like religion, basically STORY. It’s allegory and metaphor, and something inbetween. It’s not just elves and dragons.

Anyway, thoughts of Warboys and his adventures persisted through Uni, and back to Hull, through further unemployed grime and more bleak jobs. And cor blimey, now I’ve only gone and written me that fantasy epic I promised myself…

It’s funny to think that I set out on a fantasy journey to escape the drudgery of 80s urban and domestic life, only to realise over time that this was exactly what informed my fantasy writing. Warboys and his world owes a lot to Hull. Not the grimy 80s, but the history that made it. The bombed out 40s, the lost trawlermen and their hard-working families, the grim work ethic from a dangerous, but grounding life, that had been passed on to my parent’s generation, the sense of a loss of something I never knew. The aimlessness that set me adrift in the 90s, bouncing from factories to fanatic refuge in Dungeons & Dragons, a kneejerk stint in further education, fuelled by a fear that pointless work and nothingness that would steal my soul: all of this is integral to Warboys and his world. And it was all there, all along in the 80s, in the textured wallpaper and the dole office, and in Dirty Den’s smarmy, adulterous smirk.

The Bastard Wonderland is a fantasy epic – but it is also a down to earth family drama, a kitchen sink story of father, son, family and duty in trying times. So Ironically, I came around to writing – perhaps re-fitting I suppose you might say – the thing that I sought to escape in the first place.

Cosmic.

 

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Authorial

This week, in the lifelong buildup to publication of THE BASTARD WONDERLAND in June, I went to have an author photograph done by local photographer Richard Steadman, so that my mug can be on press releases and blogs like this. Make me look authorial, I said. Capture my best side. Make it snazzy, I said, so as to distract from my dodgy writing. And so I sashayed around against a backdrop of urban post industrial decay for a bit.

And here it is:

main-qimg-575a5c44b2a059fbbb1298ac45beceddNo, here it is.

The Authorial Lee Harrison

The Authorial Lee Harrison

See me loitering in a fading industrial past, whilst looking wistfully into an uncertain future – a bit like what the book does, and that! See me, sagaciously looking at a bit of shit on the wall! I thought I might try and smoulder a bit, like one of those perfumed ponces of off adverts, but It didn’t work. This was as smouldering as I could manage.

I like it a lot. I would like to thank Mr. Richard Steadman for his very professional work, and I have to say, it was a pleasure to see someone so enthusiastic and keen on what they do, even despite the bitter cold blasting off the Humber of a Sunday morning.

You can find more of his work, and contact him on Facebook.

So that’s my mug sorted. Next – a cover!

 

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Humbermouth Festival 2015

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It all began with lots of cheese, and a trip around the sun.

I’ve been to several of the Humber Mouth festival events this past week or so, and put short, it’s been special.  There’s a definite festival feeling, not just at the events themselves, but a wondrous sensation that’s followed me around, as if I genuinely have been in some trippy field all week.

There’s a lovely, core ‘arts crowd’ in Hull, many of whom I’m getting to know better as time goes on, and this community is ever refreshed and enlarged by the guests we’ve had here, both for Humber Mouth and the ongoing Head in a Book events.

DBC Pierre was one of the festival highlights. He had a kind of rock star type of charisma that held the crowd, and I was fascinated by the strangely uprooted, international life he’s led. I found on speaking to him that he seemed equally intrigued by our city, and by my more rooted, Born-in-Hull background. Not only that, Man-Booker and all that aside, he was a really nice bloke. There’s been a genuine sense this week of locality and internationality in my home town, and it’s been inspiring.

In short, Humber Mouth has shown things in a new light. Last night I heard Julian Cope doing a positive remix of the world with knowledge of history, and embrace doubt as good thing. Doubt, and question and comparison = good things! Being unable to see anything but organic objects for six weeks = questionable.

I’ve started to ‘get’ poetry a bit – in no small part because I’ve met some of the lovely folk writing and performing it. Also, I made music with jam jar lids.

I’ve met some swell folk from near and far, and made some new friends, I think. In more intoxicated moments(it’s been a been a heavy festival week in that sense also), I’ve dared to think that the world is much bigger and better than I perhaps realised.

So thanks to everyone behind and in attendance at Humbermouth – especially that core crowd I mentioned, who underpin it all and keep it going – you know who you are.

These cultural doo-dahs can activate and inspire – case in point, my son went straight home from the Matt Haig event, inspired to write  a story. How good is that? Are you watching, 2017?

I can’t wait for next year. I’m thinking of actually camping out.

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THE BASTARD WONDERLAND – coming in 2016

It’s official. THE BASTARD WONDERLAND will be published in 2016 by Wrecking Ball Press. And so, having done the rounds of the capital, Mr. Warboys returns to his spiritual home.

I told you so

Details and date to be confirmed. Chuffed.

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