Friday, 9 December 2011

Video: Reading at Manchester Book Fair

I hate watching myself... I haven't dared yet. But please do take a look at this.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Poems on the Road

A little late but here's the Manchester Literature Festival Page about the project and a link to the podcast.

Friday, 12 August 2011

Other Narratives.

There are so many theories to these riots (most of which are very neatly summarised here that it's very tempting to add one's own.

But each story created from the chaos, says more about the teller than the story.

Let's assume that each person there had their own narrative. A mob may behave like a mob, but it's a coalascing of a thousand different stories, just as each grain of sand in a dune came there by a different route.

So each person was there for a very different reason - the hardened criminal keen to make trouble, the political activist craving a different sort of world, the daft kid caught up in a moment of high drama, greedy children valuing themselves and each other only by what they were, the irresponsible, the disenfranchised, the vicious and the desperate.

Before we can draw conclusions we need to hear those stories. Critically, compassionately, but above all reasonably.

Until then we should stop trying to create our own stories. Let alone trying to build a world on the basis of imaginary narratives.

Friday, 15 July 2011

Who gave Murdoch his power?

Last night in my creative writing class we were talking about the importance of image in creative writing. They’re crucial. A potent image, concisely expressed can say so much about place and time and character. It can point the reader to emotions and to themes. It can tantalise and it can satisfy. We discussed the images of Rebecca Brookes we’ve seen in the last ten days - from the pale dappled beauty in a sunhat, to the harassed middled aged woman in a badly fitting shirt.
It would be easy to believe the image was everything. But it isn’t. No matter how dazzling the imagery, if the emotional or conceptual heart of a poem is flawed it won’t work. If the characters and plot aren’t convincing a novel won’t work despite the most brilliant of imagery.
It’s easy to make the same mistake in life too. We can become dazzled by the image and forget the substance. We can judge a person on first impression and not bother to go forward. We can fret with how others see us. But our sense of self has to come from within – from our values, our emotions, from authentic experience. The mirror others hold is a warped fairground mirror. It will always somehow distort. So to rely on it, or to try and manipulate it is a road to unhappiness or even madness.
Rupert Murdoch has made News Corp in his image. And if he had any affection for Rebecca Brookes, beyond dangling the effigy of a witch out of his bunker to draw the fire away from his own family, it is perhaps that she was one of the people most likely to keep News Corp going in his image, thus guaranteeing him a kind of immortality.
Murdoch is easy to hate. But he has acted to type. He has no duty to the public, unlike the other characters in this morality play. It’s no use blaming the fox for eating chickens. He’s doing what foxes do. The farmer needs to take responsibility for putting lots of chickens in the way of the fox.
If Murdoch has had unparalleled power it is because others have given it to him – all those who loved a bit of sleaze with their tittle-tattle to be sure, but more directly and more potently those who do have public duty – the police and politicians.
They have done so because they are obsessed with image. Neither of the two political parties, nor the Metropolitan police have had the courage to say “you will know us by our works”. They compulsively (even convulsively) try to manipulate the public’s image of them. Manufacturing that image has become the biggest part of what they do. We’ve watched them. We’ve watched the Met worm its way out of wrong-doing and bad decisions, rather than change things. We’ve watched politicians abandon their principles to curry favour with the press.
The person holding up the biggest and most distorted mirror has been Rupert Murdoch. Politicians and public servants have given him power because they have been obsessed with trying to manipulate that image, instead of giving service. That’s the reason for the garden parties, the lucrative contracts to ex-News International men. They’ve cared about image more than their values and more than the truth.
In short, they're institutionally narcissistic.

Thursday, 26 May 2011


There are a number of projects I'm able to offer through the Centre for Urban Education

Future Food.
This is a project combining science, creative writing and cookery to explore issues around food sustainability, nutrition, aesthetics and ethics. The publication from Stockport School can be read here

The Science Faculty at MMU are keen on zombies at the moment. I'm off to a meeting this afternoon. If there are schools interested the Centre of Urban Education would be able to help you run a zombies project, leading to the Science Festival in October.

The NanoInfoBio team at MMU are also keen to work with schools. I'm still thinking through possible project ideas, but if you think it's something your learners will go for please do get in touch and we'll work up something together.

I'm working with Thingumajig Theatre to create an Aliens project, looking at the physical laws of our world and fictional other world, and how living things are adapted to them. Thingumajig do amazing work. Check them out here

STEM Adventure CPD
CUE will be working with the Science Learning Centre to offer a days course to teachers, developing their own creativity and devising creative teaching experiences for learners.

We've also applied to the Wellcome Trust for funding for a project using creative writing to interrogate ideas around genetics and identity. If succesful we'll be working with Nowgen. You can check them out here. Wish us luck!

If you want to find out more about any of these projects please do get in touch either with me on or the Centre for Urban Education at

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Private Tutition

I've recently started doing private tuition - Science Maths and English with children of all ages.

I always knew it would be something I could do if I needed to. The revelation has been that I love it. It's reminded me of something I've always known - that children are great, the learning process is amazing - but that schools are difficult institutions.

The children who come to me come to me for different reasons - but often it's because they're not being served as well as they can by the education system. Sometimes that's because the teaching styles don't suit them. Sometimes it's because they're the quite kid, who teachers don't worry about because they don't cause any problems. Sometimes they're the bright kid whose not being stretched. Sometimes they have specific learning difficulties that the parents have become aware of, recognising the need to do something about it earlier on.

I think there's going to be more call for services like mine over the next few years. This is due in part to the English Bacc which puts pressure on schools to get as many pupils as possible to reach the benchmark of 5 A-Cs in Maths, English, 2 Sciences and 1 other subject. That in turn puts pressure on the children and the parents - like it or not pupils as well as schools are going to be judged against this standard. It's particularly hard for those students who are not naturally inclined towards the sciences. But it's bread and butter to me.

But there's something else I think is happening, something that was talked about for a while and then seemingly forgotten about, something that's probably already been happening for a while. That's the Easy Jet model of public services. Your taxes get you the basic bargain price service. If you want anything more, anything better, you'll need to fork out for it.

There'll be a proliferation of people like me, or small organisations of people like me, squeezed out of the education system from one end or another offering those services to parents or to groups of parents who can find a bit extra money to give their child a head start.

I'm not going to even try to make a moral judgement. I think it's probably inevitable. I worry about those children whose parents can't or won't find something extra for their children's education.

But for those that can and will, I'm going to enjoy making learning fun, exciting, personalised and get back some of the joy that the education system too often knocks out of it.

And if none of that has put you off, visit my tutoring website at