Guest Bloggers!

The Eel is constantly searching her little fish brain for new and exciting ideas she can present to her loyal fishers. Like a lot of editors in the blogging and zine worlds, the Eel is also a humble scribbler and has experienced many of the frustrations writers have to endure on a weekly basis. Because of the amount of submissions Eel receives, it is one of her greatest laments that she is unable to work more closely with writers by providing them with constructive feedback on their work. This has prompted the Eel to dedicate part of her site to offering tips and advice on the art of writing and getting your work out there. The Eel has therefore decided to invite editors and writers from around the world to be her guest bloggers and share their thoughts on anything and everything to do with writing. Following the success of interviews with Victoria Watson, Rose Drew, Meg Tuite Ian Parks, Jackie Nerney and Jim Higo, the Eel has decided to make having a guest blogger a regular thing, and is proud to welcome her  sixth guest, Mamta Madhavan to the blogging stage!

February-March Guest Blogger: Mamta Madhavan

Tell us about yourself:
The most difficult question in this interview was being asked to write about ‘Me’. This is because anything I wrote about myself would seem like bragging. So, let me keep this minimal. I started writing poetry when I was around 13. I don’t remember what got me into writing. There was no major incident which I could think of which made me pen my first poem. I always liked reading poetry and that was one of the reasons that made me pen one. This was my first poem:
The Wind

Arrived at last the windy day;
Blowing boisterously and fiercely,
The day which i loathe
And yet love.
Dust and dirt particles,
Sailing in the air;
I say "ugh"
Arrived at last the nasty wind.
Tugging strands of my hair,
And tying knots in them;
I become a hell-cat,
Hurling abuses at the wretched wind.
When out of the blue, Blows a sudden gust,
A whistling wind squeaking in delight;
I hug life close to me
Lest it be blown away.
The leaves, the trees dance to its tune;
An exciting sight, merry and mirthful
The windy day is back again.
When I read it now, I find it juvenile. But I remember my English teacher asking me whether I wrote it all by myself or someone helped me. After that I contributed to the college magazine regularly. That went on for five years. During those days, I was highly inspired by the romantic poets – especially Wordsworth, Keats and Shelley. After I left college, there was a long gap in my writing. It was as if I had lost interest and I had forgotten that I wrote. I don’t even remember reading poetry during that long break. But somehow the writing that was embedded in me kept my thoughts alive though I conveniently forgot to put them down. Then once when I had gone home, I rummaged through my mom’s cupboard and found my old college magazines. I read my poems and then started my second phase of writing poetry. I had totally lost touch with my writing and I realized the poetry scenario had changed. No one wrote rhyming poetry and alliteration was not in. I had no confidence. So I started with haiku. I stuck to writing haiku for a while till I started writing longer poems.  It was at this juncture I joined gotpoetry. I got to read a lot of poetry and I realized that there were a lot of other poets apart from Shakespeare and the romantic poets whom I had never read.  My initial comeback poems were a disaster. When I read them now, I find them absolutely lame. I have revised most of them though.
Apart from writing poetry, I love gardening. It gives me immense pleasure to nurture a plant and see it flower. It’s like watching my own baby glow and bloom.

How did you get into writing?
 I guess creativity was in my blood and that probably got me to writing poems. Though not encouraged at home for my writing poetry, I was never stopped from doing what I liked. Off late, I have ventured into writing poems for children and have got a few of them published. I enjoy doing them. It’s like visiting the child in me once in a while.  I like to see my poetry illustrated. It gives another dimension to it.
What inspires you?
My inspiration is nature. I spend hours gazing at trees, birds, flowers. The quiet strength of the trees, their calmness, their roots, everything about trees always fascinated me and I have always shared an intense relationship with them. That accounts for their mention in many of my poems. I am also a sucker for moon, sunrises and sunsets. Everything in the universe can inspire you if looked at with the right perspective. Then of course, life and its vagaries.  Very little of my writing has been personal, though at times I have been told there is an underlying pathos in my writing. I should mention that those are purely unintentional, or maybe the subconscious mind working while putting them down.
How difficult is it to write in a second language?
Though English is my second language; I was proficient to the extent that I never felt it was not my first language. I graduated in English literature and I had a love for that language which took me to writing in it.  And the love affair still continues.
Tell us about what you do at gotpoetry.
As a curator at gotpoetry, we believe in respecting the poets’ freedom and their poetic liberties. Hence all types of poems are approved when submitted to us. We reject only if it is spam. I would like to thank the site owner and editor John Powers for giving me an opportunity to curate. I have learnt a lot during my seven years there, and I am still learning!  The site has exposed me to different styles of poetry, broadening my perspective to a wider range of poems. I have also realized that everyone is not as serious about poetry as others are and each one is in a different stage of penning poems.  Being there and reading the many poems posted there have helped me to stop judging why some of them write mediocre poetry and don’t want to improve their writing. Our forums are a great help if a poet is keen to hone their poetic skills. Thought I don’t post my poetry there anymore, I still get an opportunity to read some wonderful poetry. The critiques I receive whenever I post in the forums still help me enhance my craft and further improve my writing.
Do you get writers’ block? If so, how do you deal with it?
Yes, I get writers’ block quite often. Sometimes there are months when I just don’t want to write and sometimes though I want to write, it doesn’t happen. Initially I used to find it frustrating because for me writing poetry is cathartic and therapeutic but now when I can’t I don’t attempt to write. I wait for it to happen again.
Have you got any tips and advice for new writers?
Be progressive in your writing. I come across poets who still write poetry like in the times of Romantic poets/Victorian era. I think the style of writing and language used has changed considerably since then. It shows that the writer is not aware of contemporary poetry, or is not reading poetry. So read, read, read more poetry – that would be the advice. Also have a willingness to learn and adapt to the new style of writing.
Mamta Madhavan is a freelance writer based in India. Her poetry has been published in anthologies, print and online literary journals and zines all over. She is also the author of children's poems and short stories. She currently works with under-privileged children, and is also a curator on staff at

December Guest Bloggers: Jackie Nerney and Jim Higo
Tell us about Incandescent, and what inspired you to start the project?

Jackie: Incandescent came about initially as a result of the thriving poetry scene in Hull and a desire to give local poets a chance to get into print.  There are some wonderful zines around at the moment and we wanted to produce a book that built on the ethos they have established.  The aim of Incandescent is to be all inclusive and to avoid the elitism that restricts a lot of poetic publications.  We select a piece based on its content and value and not on the reputation or previous work of the writer.  Incandescent Issue One had several established poets but also a number of poets who were being published for the first time and we were proud of this fact.   

 As editors, - what do you look for in a submission?
Jackie: We have a three person editorial team and we tend to look for a unanimous verdict which does sometimes cause conflict.  I wanted Incandescent to be all encompassing and not become known as a publication that has a specific type or genre of writing.  Consequently we have avoided asking for submissions on a theme or topic.  There are lots of things that make us select a piece but we tend to look for originality of thought or new and novel ways of portraying views and ideas.        

What advice would you give to a writer looking to send their work off for the first time?  
Jackie: Read previous issues of a publication to get a feel for what has been accepted and tailor your submission accordingly.  Listen to feedback but don’t be put off and always believe in yourself.  Read as much of other’s work as possible and learn from it but always maintain your own style and identity.  Never be put off by rejection letters.

You have quite a reputation as a performance poet, Jim. What would you say makes your poetry a performance rather than just a reading? 

Jim: My performance style has evolved and developed out of necessity in order to survive in pubs, clubs and music venues.  To take poetry out of the safe and insular confines of the traditional poetry groups and overcome the preconceptions that poetry is boring and pretentious needs a style that can grab and maintain the attention of an audience of people out drinking and socialising.  To do this I try to write poetry that engages, inspires or amuses and deliver it in a style that is confident, forceful, brash and assured.  Performing poetry in a non-poetry environment is not a job for the timid and faint hearted.             

Going to open mic nights and performing your work is a great way of meeting other writers and like-minded people. However for someone who has never performed their work to a live audience it can be quite nerve wracking. Have you got any tips/advice for people on how to deal with stage fright? 

Jim: Nerves are a natural part of performing.  My way of reducing the negative impact of nerves is to ensure I’m fully prepared and rehearsed and comfortable and confident in what I’m about to perform.  Most audiences, especially those at an open mic are either writers or performers themselves and understand how nerves can take hold so they will not be critical if the reading or performance isn’t perfect.  It’s important to remember that it doesn’t matter if you mess up and that everyone does at some time.  It is a cliché but the more you practice the better and more confident you become.  And if all else fails then I recommend a swift vodka before you grab the mic.

Jackie Nerney is a writer, editor and hypnotherapist. Jackie previously taught creative writing in prisons and has co-edited a number of magazines and editorials. Jackie organises and runs the 'Away With Words' open mic night, and is Editor in Chief of Incandescent Poetry. 

Jim Higo is a writer, poet and performer from Hull.  He wrote and performed a one man play at the Edinburgh Festival in 2010.  He is a poetry slam winner and his work has been published in a number of anthologies.  This year he has performed his poetry comedy show “That’s Not How You Spell Pedantic” at the Edinburgh and Ilkley Festivals. A DVD of his work titled “Lazy Poetry Slag” will be released in December 2012.  He also hosts a monthly open mic night “Away With Words” at Union Mash Up in Hull.

Incandescent's first issue is already available. However, Jackie Nerney and Jim Higo are still looking for submissions for their forthcoming issues. If you are interested in finding out more about the Incandescent team or are interested in submitting to them check out their website:

Ian Parks: November Guest Blogger
 Tell us about yourself. How did you get into writing and editing? What inspires you? 

I was born in 1959 in Mexborough South Yorkshire, into a mining family. It was generally accepted that I'd follow my father down the pit. There were no books in our house but I read avidly at school and at the local library. I can't remember a time when I didn't want to be a poet, despite the fact that I didn't have much exposure to it as I was growing up. I've always felt very strongly that writing poetry is a vocation and not a job. You can follow the path of a career poet - a degree in creative writing, a Gregory Award, poems in the right magazines - but that doesn't necessarily mean that you'll become a poet. I wrote the first poems I'd want to admit to having written when I was eighteen and started to get published shortly after that. My first collection, Gargoyles in Winter came out in my mid-twenties and I've never really looked back. Editing is a different matter. I was poetry editor at Dream Catcher for a few years which enabled me to publish poets I admired - or to bring on new and younger talents that came to my attention through the magazine. More recently, I found myself asking why there were so many good poets from Yorkshire but no anthology to gather their work under one cover. Instead of complaining about why no one had done it I decided to edit one myself. It will come out from Five Leaves Publications next year and will include the likes of Milner Place, Gaia Holmes, Helen Mort, Ian Duhig, Pete Morgan and Carola Luther. What inspires me? That's a good question. I suppose my reputation - such as it is - depends on my love poems although recently, with The Landing Stage and The Exile's House I've been drawn to wider, political issues. Other poets inspire me too. I've recently completed some versions of the modern Greek poet Constantine Cavafy and they will be published by Rack Press as The Cavafy Variations. I think it's true to say that poets inspire each other in all sorts of ways.

 What is it like being an editor?

 At the moment I'm poetry editor at both Endymion and Litro. They're very different magazines with divergent audiences. Endymion is published out of Leeds by Flux Gallery Press and is, I'd say, literary in the best and widest sense. Litro is a free arts and culture magazine which has a circulation of 100,000 in and around London. While a good proportion of Endymion is devoted to poetry I only have room for one poem a month with Litro which is basically themed around each issue. I was pleased to take a new poem by the West Coast poet Fred Voss for the American issue. The very different requirements of the magazines force me to think in different ways when I'm looking at submissions. I find being a poetry editor rewarding and exasperating by turns. The professional poets are, generally, very easy to work with and quite happily accept rejection; the ones who don't have much experience of publication are the ones who pester you and sent the death threats!

What do you look for in a submission?
Two things: First that the poems operate within the remit of the magazine and the individual issue. For instance, a brilliant poem about China was never going to make it into the America issue of Litro for obvious reasons. The lesson here, I guess, is that the poet starting out should study the market and not send sonnets to a free verse magazine... however good the sonnet might be it will come straight back without being read. Secondly, I'd be looking for quality - for a poem that expresses itself in such a way that what it 'says' could never be expressed in any other way. It's interesting. I remember trying to get a poem in London Magazine for years. I sent eighteen separate submissions - forty poems in all - before finally getting accepted. The editor, Alan Ross would also enclose a brief personal note with the rejections slip saying 'not quite', 'almost' or 'try again' which kept you hanging on... He was also known for returning your submissions promptly. The joke was that you'd post them and by the time you got back home the rejection would be waiting for you!

 As a writer yourself, how do you deal with those dreaded rejection letters?
 Rejection has never bothered me. I've always felt that no-one asked me to become a poet and no promises were made. It always surprises me when my poems are published - either in a magazine or in a collection. And the best -perhaps only - piece of advice I could venture to offer a young poet is that they should learn to accept rejection as part of the process of becoming and continuing to be a poet. It isn't personal. The editor is rejecting the poems, not you or the sentiments expressed in your work. The secret is to persist. I've found that rejection - and there's been a good deal of it - has forged my identity as a poet. I've tried to learn from it.

 It's not uncommon for people to suffer from writers' block. Have you ever had this, and if so, have you got any tips for dealing with it?

I think all poets suffer from writers block. Glyn Hughes went for twenty-five years without writing a poem then came back stronger than ever. David Cooke has made a remarkable comeback after a similarly long period. Looking back, I tend to stop writing for around six months after a new collection has come out. Part of that might be due to the fact that I want to distance myself from those poems and begin, in some sense, afresh, although that isn't as conscious as it sounds. A good poet never stops writing. You might not be sat at the desk, actually working on poems, but the impulse to poetry is always there at the back of the mind and in the pulse of the wrist. You keep your eyes and ears open to the possibilities of image and language. The first time writer's block starts can be quite disconcerting as you feel you'll never write again. But experience has taught me that it will come back.

 Have you got any tips and advice for new writers sending off their work for the first time? 
 Be honest with yourself. If you don't like what you've written you can be pretty sure other people won't like it either. Start with the best magazines and if you get rejected either try again or have a go at some that are less well known. But if you don't try at the top you'll never know. Think about variety as well as quality: short poems are always a good idea as an editor might have a slot free for the right poem. Support the magazines you want to appear in. Support each other. Poetry is an alternative society, what I call in one of my poems 'a new republic of the heart'. Don't get anxious about where the next poem is coming from. If you're a true poet that will take care of itself. Thanks for giving me the chance to answer these questions.

 Described by Points North magazine as 'a heroic figure in Yorkshire poetry and a living legend in Hull', Ian Parks is the only poet to have poems in The Times Literary Supplement and The Morning Star on the same day. His collections include Shell Island (2006), Love Poems 1979-2009 and The Landing Stage (2010). His poems appear in The Poetry ReviewModern Poetry in TranslationThe Observer, The Independent on Sunday and Poetry (Chicago). He is currently Writing Fellow at De Montfort University, Leicester. Ian's latest collection, The Exile's House is published by Waterloo Press and can be found at this website:

*Acknowledgements are due to Daniel Lyons for the photo of Ian Parks. 

October Guest Blogger: Meg Tuite 
Tell us about yourself.
My mom told me I never shut-up as a kid. When I was a baby I had to be tied to the crib, (early bondage) because I crawled out the window one day at naptime. The only reason my mom knew I was missing was because she didn’t hear my unending chatter. All was silent up in my room. I assume I talked in my sleep as well. After that episode, I would stretch my chubby fat foot up and my mom would tie it to the corner of the crib. A beautifully psychotic beginning, I’d say!

How did you get into writing?
Writing was a passion from an early age. I used to write whacked-out poems that already had a dark slant from the few I remember. Here’s an example that I recite whenever I’ve had too many beers and am ripe to humiliate myself:

City Pity

As cars go by
and airplanes fly
other things are going on

such as people killing
and telephone billing
you can never really tell why.

I am positive I didn’t know what a telephone bill was, but it rhymed so there it lives.
My first favorite item I owned was a used desk from the rummage sale that the school had. I got this old desk, all beaten up and scarred with initials and petrified gum underneath. It was a desk that opened up so I could shelter my notebook and pencils in there. I LOVED it and spent much of my time, when it was raining, scratching intently at a novel about a girl running away. I never ventured far from the house, so it could never be tapped as a memoir.

I’ve always kept a journal. I used to hold on to those piles of notebooks for years until I got into the pyro stage and burned everything, especially them. Sad, because each one opened with a written recording of all the books I’d read while writing in that particular diary. It would have been very cool to have a line-up of what authors I was reading at what time in my life. I think of all those books I read. Some are so vivid in my memory, and yet hundreds more are just vague titles and excerpts that seem familiar if I ever reread them. Some incredible authors I can almost remember line for line and the rest are blatant reminders of the start of early dementia.

Tell us about your projects.
I have a few projects in the works right now. I’m finishing up editing an art/poetry collaborative collection that should be out in a month or two. I have a full collection of stories that will be coming out next year and I have a novel that I’m shopping out there right now.

And, of course, there is the fiction editing. We just finished the sublime 2012 issue of the Santa Fe Literary Review, which is quite exceptional. There are so many great writers/poets in there. It’s an annual print magazine that comes out every Fall, and it’s always so exciting to see it all blend together at the end. It’s beauteous.

I’m also the Fiction Editor for Connotation Press, which is an online bi-monthly magazine and I really enjoy mixing it up each issue. Sometimes I do book reviews, interviews with the featured writer for each issue of Connotation Press, and I have had the authors record audio and video readings as well. Ken Robidoux,  (ed-in-chief) is a pleasure to work for and all the staff are outstanding.  I’m blessed to be a part of both of these dynamic magazines.

What do you look for in a submission?
When I read a submission for either magazine, I can tell you it makes me ecstatic when I find a piece that holds me captive, mesmerized by the language, the characters and the movement. Of course, this is a subjective thing because most editors are writers with different loves and tastes for certain writing.

I love poetic prose, flash fiction and those longer short stories that move while everything around me disappears as I’m reading them. I make sure to tell each writer I accept how much I loved their work and how excited I am to publish them. That is a privilege that I don’t take lightly. Naturally as a writer myself I receive enough rejections to fill entire suburbs and more than a fleet of eel! (Do eels travel in fleets?)When we connect with an editor than there is the possibility to connect with a larger audience and it’s wondrous to have people read your work. Never ceases to amaze me.

What’s it like being an editor?
Sending rejection letters is without a doubt as heinous as tarring roofs, (although I’m sure a roofer would disagree), but if there is something in the work that resonates with me, I will ask the writer to send another submission when they have it. It doesn’t have to be a ‘Dear John,” letter. The relationship continues and builds and soon there’s hope that you will both find a mutual love in the work.

Have you ever suffered from writers’ block? If so, how do you deal with it?
Ah, the dreaded writer’s block! I must say that whenever this ailment assails me, it is clogging my sinuses and I am buying those three-packs of Kleenex, you know what I’m talking about? It is only my stampeding brain that is unable to slow down and inhale. I teach and edit and also work to make some cash that doesn’t come from the writing and so all of these arenas can either be prompts for great characters or overload the circuits. Some days I wake up stoked and ready to work and other mornings I throw the pillow over my head. I’m sure it’s like that for everyone.

 I’ve been taking bike rides lately down this road that’s full of hellish hills that never seem to end and then when you get to the top you see this glorious valley ahead waiting for you to fly down it and after coasting for a while you find yourself changing the gears and making your way up again. Same with writing. If we see it as a seedy ride full of sweat, bugs, trucks swerving in to scare the shit out of us intermixed with moments of pure, silent air-flowing ecstasy then maybe we have come close to the deal of what it is to sit with that blank page before us.

Have you got any tips and advice for new writers?
I teach a class on flash fiction and publication. Half of the class is spent on the technicalities of sending out work. As for tips and advice? I say read, read and read! Check out any of the magazines you plan to send to. Find the magazines that you love and the writers they have published that resonate with you and follow them. Check out their blogs and buy their books and always subscribe to at least one print magazine a year that you love. Keep the flow moving!

Thanks to all the Eclectic Eels circling around for spending some time with me! I really enjoyed this and to those writers out there reading, send some of your winners to Eclectic Eel. She rocks!

Cheers, Meg

Meg Tuite's writing has appeared in numerous journals including Berkeley Fiction Review, 34th Parallel, Epiphany, JMWW, One, the Journal, Monkeybicycle and Boston Literary Magazine. She has been nominated several times for the Pushcart Prize. She is the fiction editor of The Santa Fe Literary Review and Connotation Press. She is the author of Domestic Apparition (2011) San Francisco Bay Press, Disparate Pathos (2012) Monkey Puzzle Press, Reverberations (2012) Deadly Chaps Press and has edited and co-authored The Exquisite Quartet Anthology-2011, stories from her monthly column, Exquisite Quartet published in Used Furniture Review. Her books can be purchased at: and she also has a blog:                

August-September Guest Blogger: Rose Drew

 Ever wondered what editors look for in a submission? Do you feel like you're the only one who suffers from writers' block? Co-owner of Stairwell Books, Rose Drew is here to bare all...(Not literally)!   

When did you start writing, and what inspires you?
 I’ve been actively writing my ideas down since I was six. Of course, those first “stories” were one sentence protests over being made to learn my ABCs at the advanced age of 6! My mother taught me to read around 3, and by 6 I was thumbing through adult books. 

By ten I fancied myself a writer, and this has continued to the present. But somewhere in my mid-twenties I just stopped writing things down. Encouraged by the young lady then renting a few rooms on the top floor of my house in CT (single mom: ends to be met), I started writing again in 1995. Actually, first she told me to get a hobby: Em was a handful at that time with autistic tantrums and what have you. Hobby? Well, I don’t know.  How about poetry? Or music? I muttered that I used to write poetry and stories. At that she located an upcoming open mic and practically tossed me out on the night. I was terrified.  My poems were old and awful, plus the room was filled with people. Nobody laughed at a weak joke when I introduced myself. But I loved it. Something opened within me and I wrote about 50 poems over the course of a few months, which Kristen read, listened to and critiqued from our meeting place between floors, in the stairwell.

Tell us about yourself and what made you begin organising open mic nights.
By 1998 I had led a year of poetry reading and writing in a retirement home, at the end of which we took a handful of residents out to a local open mic: 95 year olds out to a Borders Books until nearly 10 pm! Fun. None of my poets would read, so I asked to be allowed to read on their behalf. Granted. Then I shyly asked, could I read one of my own?  Why, sure. That Borders store, about 10 miles from my house, soon became my favourite open mic of the month.

By 2000, I’d met Alan at that open mic; by late 2001 to early 2002, we were flirting; then a few months after that, Alan learned that a new Borders store was opening a few miles from my house in America. And so, recognizing an unmet need, we launched First Tuesday Poetry at the brand-new Borders bookstore in March 2003. (We still continued to support the other monthly reading too). Our formula was to have a “name” feature one month, a local regular feature the next, and have no feature the third month, on rotation. Well: there are only 12 first Tuesdays a year, and so in no time we were booking months or even the next year in advance. We were also quite pleased with the quality of our regulars and decided to do a book of poetry. In fact by then we were working in Miami most of the month and seriously considering the move to England for a PhD programme. The book became a final project.

We solicited work from everyone, and requested more than a few specific pieces we'd grown to love over the years. (Just like over here, where many of the regulars from York, Hull and Harrogate rove from one open mic to another, CT people can hit up to 4 mics a week with enough driving and effort). We'd known many from 1999 onward. By then, we were also tied to the pro-Slam poets from Bethel CT and New York, so we have quite a range in the book.  When we moved to York there were no open mics running so we launched what became two mics: The Spoken Word and Speaker’s Corner. We soon realized that as good as the CT writers were, and are, we were delighted by the locals in York. Another book was soon planned, and that quickly became a few themed books, (The Green Man Awakes; Along the Iron Veins; frisson), and then we started publishing individual collections by truly outstanding Yorkshire writers.

Have you ever had writers’ block and if so, how do you deal with it?  
 As all of us know, sometimes the words just aren’t there. When I have a poem, it often just leaps out, almost fully formed, a manifestation I call “projectile poetry”. I’ve scribbled things down while driving (yeh, yeh,): on the back of bank slips, my bare legs (they have warmer summers in CT), newspapers and my hand. It’s safer to jot down a few key words and pull over. Perhaps driving creates the proper meditative mood. It’s also better when poems occur to me at a desk, table, or an open mic.  Then I might fiddle with the poem for years, searching for that one elusive perfect word.

I pretty much always write the first draft out by hand, and then when typing it up, other changes or repairs will almost always come to me. I do know, when the muse strikes, its best to capture it when you can.

But when I haven’t written a poem for a while, I have learned not to despair. Years ago, especially after that first giant volley of poems when the well dried up, I figured a natural phenomenon had reached its conclusion. Then something else set me off and I wrote more words. My writing was often about politics; or special needs kids and other disabilities. Yeah…I’m not exactly a laugh a minute. Oh, and I nearly forgot: Sex. I started going to open mics, and found listening to others was also inspiring. Even as recently as 2000, when I would have a dry patch I’d think, “Ah well. That’s it then, fun while it lasted”.  But over the years I have learned that the best way to return to writing is to accept that at the moment, you’re not writing. Go to open mics. Take part in writing workshops. Read a lot. Observe what goes on around you. Read the news, get pissed off by what our so-called leaders allow to happen. Read books that depict unknown lands and lives you’re not familiar with. I read a lot of history and get ideas from there. Perhaps I don’t write poems about Cromwell, but my mind stays active!

Tell us about Stairwell Books.
There are probably thousands of self-published and small press books coming out every week. Many are published as e-books. Desktop publishing makes it possible for almost anyone to come up with a viable piece of literature. What makes Stairwell Books stand out is our quality.

Also, Arts funding has never been an option: either we were too small, or now, the money just isn’t there. Saying “Hey kid, LOVE your stuff, we wanna do your book!! Here ya go, sign here, here, here, and here’s your 20 free copies and the royalties are on their way!” is not our business model and  it’s not the workable business plan for many small presses. Borders is gone, WH Smiths sells best sellers, and although Waterstones has repeatedly vowed to support the ‘little writer’, so far the branches don’t want to carry books from small presses. However, independent shops often will, especially if the owners have a relationship of some sort to the writer.

What do you look for in a submission?
We look for material that moves us, excites us, enrages us, and sticks in the mind. Stairwell Books can work in two ways. We can help you create a book, you pay all the costs in full, and then you get all the copies. Alternatively, we share the costs with the author, (as well as the rewards), and expect them to help us promote the book at as many events as possible.  Some writers have organized, attended or otherwise participated in up to 10 book fairs or launch/promo events a year, or have beaten the path to every bookshop, art shop, and library within a 40 mile radius! These are the writers who have sold out and made everyone a small bit of cash. Although absolute, unqualified success is a goal, it’s about getting your words out there, not riches. (And immortality of course)!      

 Rose Drew is currently based in York trying to wrap up her PhD. When she’s not messing about with human skeletons, she feeds her addiction to organising open mic nights and has co-founded three in two continents. She co-owns the small press Stairwell Books and is delighted that all the hard work is finally paying off. As if that wasn’t enough Rose is also a writer, and her first book, Temporary Safety (Fighting Cock Press) was No. 9 of the 2011 Purple Patch 20 Best Individual Collections . To find out more about Stairwell Books, check out this link More details about the open mic nights in York that Rose helps to run can be found here:                                                                 


              July Guest Blogger: Victoria Watson

Struggling with time management? Are you a new writer feeling overwhelmed by it all? Here's Victoria Watson to give you a few hints!

  What advice would you give to someone who is thinking of writing a book, but feels overwhelmed by the idea of it? 

There's no need to think about your work as a novel as you plan it - a lot of great novels started out as short stories which the author then went on to develop further. Stephen King and Irvine Welsh are great examples of how this method can be really successful. Think about your novel in small bite-size chunks. Don't make it a mountain to climb - make it fun. 

 Realistically, how much time would you recommend someone should spend writing their book each day (someone who already works full time)? And what time of day (and why)?

When you choose to write is entirely a personal choice. Are you a morning person? Or a night-owl? Personally, I write all evening after finishing work but I know other writers who get up at 5am just to get 2 or 3 hours of writing in before work. Some people want to kick back after a day at work but I feel ready to tackle my writing. Others want to go to work feeling they've already achieved something - you need to decide which will work better for you. 
                   I suggest you spend as much time as you can writing the novel - the more you put into it, the more you will get out of it. I'm not advocating that you become a recluse and only write (although it did work for Harper Lee and J.D. Sallinger). If you enjoy seeing friends, or going to yoga etc, don't give up everything for your writing. However, for your novel to be successful, it will require dedication and determination. 

 What top tips would you offer to newbie authors? 

Make sure you have a strong network of writer buddies. I'm very lucky that I have a great group of "virtual friends" on Twitter and Facebook who understand the pressures of working and writing. Your writer friends can also be invaluable in helping you make contacts with agents and publishers. 
                  You could join a local writing group; if there isn't one, think about setting up your own - get the word out and you will have a group in no time. 
                  Find out what works for you. Some writers I know have 'idea walls' that are covered in post-it notes, plotting out their books. 
                  Your ideas won't necessarily be linear so don't expect them to come out as a fully formed book ready for the publisher.
                  Try not to be frustrated if the process isn't what you might have imagined (it always looks so easy on TV!) - take it as it comes and try to enjoy the experience. 
                  Read as much and as widely as you can, what you read can influence your style. You can also figure out what you don't like. 
                 You must be proactive. That book isn't going to write itself! 

 How long did it take you to write Letting Go? What obstacles did you face and how did you overcome these?

Letting Go is a collection of short stories that I wrote over the space of a couple of months. Some of the stories have been featured in anthologies and three were released as stand-alone e-books. However, a bad experience with a bogus "publisher" made me realise I wanted more control over my work and that's when I decided to put the stories into one anthology. 
                 Like any other author, I faced problems with time management and self-confidence but I overcame these by being disciplined with myself and setting myself manageable, realistic targets. There is no point telling yourself you need to write fifteen thousand words before you can go to bed - you're just setting yourself up to fail. Now, doesn't fifteen hundred sound more reasonable? That's just an example - some people will do far more in a shorter space of time but whatever you do - be realistic. The self-confidence issues are harder to overcome but you can share your work with someone you trust (preferably an honest friend who wouldn't be afraid to tell you the truth or one of your "writer buddies") and they will - hopefully - let you know what's going well and what could be improved on.

 What should someone write about?

Some say write what you know which is fine but there is no harm in research – without some research, we wouldn’t have books like ‘Wolf Hall’ by Hilary Mantel or Phillipa Gregory’s novels. Some writers take years and years to produce their masterpiece – spending every waking moment in the library. Again this is really personal choice – are you someone who enjoys research? There’s no point committing to an idea that will see you spending hours in the library but feeling like you couldn’t possibly be more miserable. My advice would be: write what you’re interested in. There will be countless revisions and edits and even the most exciting proposition will begin to bore you – this happens with me after I’ve read and re-read my work and edited it. However, the initial excitement or enthusiasm you felt when writing the project will shine through. If you choose a topic that you’re not passionate about, you’re just setting yourself up to fail. 

Victoria Watson achieved her BA (Hons) in Media, Communication and Cultural Studies from Newcastle University in 2008. She was awarded 'Young Reviewer of the Year' in 2009 and completed a Masters degree in Creative Writing in 2010.

             Victoria has contributed to publications including 'True Faith' (Newcastle United fanzine), NCJ Media's north-east titles The Journal, Evening Chronicle and Sunday Sun. She has also reviewed for Amazon, Waterstones and Closer Magazine.

               Victoria had a story published in the 'Home Tomorrow' anthology published by 6th Edition Publishing in 2011. Her work is also featured in 'Off the Record: A Charity Anthology'. and 'True Brit Grit: A Charity Anthology'. She published a collection of her short stories entitled ‘Letting Go’ in February 2012 (

Victoria writes a blog at and is proud to be a founding member of I Am Woman - One of Victoria’s short stories appeared in the first collection for the campaign ( currently lives in the North-East of England and dreams of living somewhere hot and sunny, paying the bills with her writing. She loves nothing more than settling down to read a good book.


  1. Brilliant advice. Thank you Victoria.

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