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Who is Sean?

Sean Elliott-Maher wanted to be a highwayman but due to a lack of demand for anti-heroes on horseback he spends most of his time writing. He has traveled far and wide, but has always agreed with Dorothy that there is no place like home. For that reason, unless otherwise suggested, everything Sean writes has been harvested from his time in his hometown.

Sean has written in a creative capacity in many forms, and for a number of publications and formats. Creative non-fiction, critical writing, reviews and writing for corporate clients have similarly resulted in getting to grips with a range of varieties of writing.

His non-ghost written creative work includes articles for a range of print and online media, including the BBC, numerous fiction pieces, an independently produced documentary, and has a novel pending publication with another under construction at the moment.

Sean possesses a broad literary reference base with specific expertise and interest on local writers such as D. H. Lawrence, subjects on which he has lectured to a range of audiences. The literary teaching accompanies his writing coaching, which has helped many ambitious writers improve the effectiveness of their work.


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Creative Writing 15-17

Whatever the weather is doing there are lots of reasons to be excited about the summer at NTU. Whilst there is an outstanding array of short courses available the one that makes my socks roll up and down with excitement the most is Creative Writing for students aged between 15 -17 years old.

I’ve designed and delivered the predecessor to this course for a number of years and as much as last year’s Writing Tomorrow was fantastic I’m always looking for opportunities to improve in the new course on behalf of the University.

In years gone by I’ve been delighted to have met some really wonderful people and coach them with their written world. It has been a pleasure to see writers thrive outside of the confines of the traditional classroom environment and see them embrace the collaborative atmosphere of a room for writers. Sharing the atmosphere of professional writing rooms of the varieties seen in broadcasting writers will be able to refine their process, approach, and ultimately improve their output.

It’s great to hear that the since enrolment opened the course has been quickly filling up, although I’ve been assured that places are still available so anyone thinking about jumping onboard may want to contact the short course team soon. To all those already signed up I really look forward to meeting you and I’m already confident that it’s going to be a great week.

Until next time word fans.


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Faces in the Fog update

It’s fair to say that I’ve always had a scorched earth policy when it comes to editing my own work. It is entirely normal for me to commit hundreds of thousands of words of writing that ultimately ends up amounting to nothing more than preparatory when it comes to the end product. This may be a result of poor planning, although I would venture to dispute that. I’m not claiming that there’s any sort of virtue in this behaviour either, only that it is my process to write as well as I can, and if something isn’t up to scratch to edit it as far as possible, and if it still doesn’t work, to condemn it to the obsolete pile.

Reflecting on your own process is always in danger of being a self-indulgent activity, and possibly self-deluding after all how much can anyone truly understand with clarity why they do what they do. Nevertheless I’m writing this so even if I’m self-indulging in delusions of my own making here I am for another few words.

My impetus to write anything creatively, particularly sustained pieces of work, is not to explore some grand narrative or intricate plot, it is to express what is like to experience a given stimulus or to convey a way of living. It’s already well into the pretentious zone on a concept level so it’s true that my writing is not for everyone. My process however is excoriating and ruthless. If I’ve committed a few hundred thousand words to something and it still isn’t providing the essence of what I set out to then I stop, re-evaluate, and start again. A lot of other varieties of fiction have no need to behave like this and I applaud that. Certainly genre fiction can make the content work, or can determine a really solid plot and then power through. Other literary fiction writers may very well be able to start with a plot on page one and then look up when the first draft is finished, and whilst I don’t begrudge that I certainly am envious.

Former students of mine may recall a phrase that I will so frequently use “keep digging”. When I say that I mean that the writer may be heading in the correct direction, but there’s greater quality or dramatic truth to locate. This sense of excavating the story within the writing process is the same way I work myself. Sometimes you end up digging way past what you were aiming for and end up somewhere else entirely and you have to take a few steps back. Sometimes you find that things are working just fine but aren’t what you still aim for and so have accidentally written another story. As much as I’ve committed so much of my life to being a bit of a story expert, when it comes to my own process I have to explore and never impose, and whilst typing those words make me cringe a little, I know the sentiment to be true.

This chunky bit of explanation carries me all the way to the current status of the so many years in development novel…

After more time than I freely wish to admit last summer I hit what I believe to be the correct voice of the novel, which directly unlocked the rest of the endeavour. Applying that voice to the existing content resulted in a chunk of the material being archived and the rest of it being filtered through the new voice. Alongside and following that new content was created which was authentic to the voice and sentiment that I had been aiming at since I first began. Fast forward to now and I believe that the project is nearing completion; a tinkerer by nature means I always struggle to draw a permanent line underneath it but in order to hit the publication deadline I think I’ve got to let go and hand it over. Just not today, I think I’ve had an idea.


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Talk is cheap, and worth more than paper

I received an email from a former student the other week about a project that she’d been working on with a friend and how to get it back on track. It’s prompted me to put up a quick post to try and help other people avoid the experience that she’s having, and that I’ve had a few times in the past.

When people collaborate on a project and share in the endeavour of creating something with meaning wonderful things can happen. Some of my favourite works of art, books, graphic novels or music have been the result of two or more people with a bag of talent knocking their heads together and magic falling out. If you think about it you could probably come up with a dozen examples from your own sphere of reference where collaboration lifted the prospective output of an individual and made it something very special.

I’ve been working with the wonderful American artist Sam Thuman for the last couple of years on a graphic novel, and things are moving along well. Creative dynamics between multiple contributors can be tricky things and when they begin there’s no guarantee that they are going to be successful. When Sam and I started this particular project we spent some time talking about how we would work together, not just what the graphic novel would be. My advice to anyone wishing to collaborate on any kind of project with another creative party is to do exactly what Sam and I did.

With the best of intentions I have launched into various creative projects with other collaborators in the past, and despite enjoying their company socially and admiring their work enormously a number of such projects have ground to a halt. Please don’t get me wrong, others have worked out brilliantly despite an immediate commencement of the content of the project, but the successful conclusion was by no means assured.

Early on in my writing career I was advised by a mentor to never discuss or overtly preview works yet to be released, and I’ve always tried to observe that rule. This being the case I can’t go much further than nods when it comes to the work I’m doing with Sam, but I can say that the experience has been wholly rewarding. For various creative reasons and other commitments the project has been able to move at its own pace and I believe that the extra opportunities to plan and reflect have ultimately improved the graphic novel.

If you’re thinking about starting a collaborative project, or are early on in the development of one please, please, please take a minute to talk through how you’re going to work together. Think about time demands and availability, including deadlines. Consider financial implications of the sort of project that you are doing, what sort of resources are needed? Talk about roles and responsibilities and nail it down to the letter so that you can ensure that everything will get done and that all parties know who is going to do it. After you’ve locked all those matters in then get into the specifics of the variety of project that you’re doing to ensure that you’re still on the same page. If everything is still looking good then go out and make some magic of your own.

If you want to avoid having such a practical conversation or find the prospect a little icky and direct then just be careful. It’s all too easy to smile and nod your accommodating way into a project which costs a fortune that nobody has the money to finance, where most of the work is being done by one person, where participants have conflicting time availability and so it runs on and on until someone or everyone just gives up. The flip side of this is if you are entering into a collaborative project do not agree to do things day one that you have no intention of doing day five hundred. If all parties are honest and can align their creative efforts then there’s every chance that the project will be a success.

I could write more, but for now I won’t. Good luck to all the collaborators of the world, you will only need it if you don’t talk.


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Mahendra Solanki – Ten Poems About Home

Mahendra Solanki is one of the wisest, kindest, and most talented people that I have ever met. Being fortunate enough to have been one of his students when I was an undergraduate at university meant that many of the bad habits and skewed values were knocked out of me at an important age. When it came to doing my MA I stayed at the same institution where I am now fortunate enough to teach. The combined talent of David Belbin, Graham Joyce, Georgina Locke and Mahendra Solanki meant that the programme was very strong indeed. Sadly because I chose to pursue fiction and screenwriting it meant that beyond social events I never sat in any of Mahendra’s classes, but I certainly benefited from his ongoing guidance.

Over the years I’ve stayed in contact with Mahendra so when I heard that he had edited a new poetry anthology I was eager to see what it would contain. Mahendra generously invited me to the launch and I was pleased to listen to his readings, along with a fantastic panel of fellow poets and academics. Mahendra’s reading of his own poem from the collection was especially arresting, which further underlines the incredible impact that words can have; honestly it’s at times like that when you can readily believe in the power of magic spells summoned from the right words in the right order.

Anyone wishing to buy the anthology, and I urge you to do so, can locate it at at www.candlestickpress.co.uk


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Fake News, Post-Truth or Fiction?

There was Brexit, there’s a new face in the White House and with the French election in the not too distant future there are many people who are struggling to believe that this is the new reality. I feel some sympathy and that has nothing to do with politics and everything to do with the atmosphere that has been created around the reliability of information being published in the various media. This has prompted me to start thinking about the concepts of fake news, post-truth and fiction.

Fake news is such a bizarre concept that I struggle to come to terms with it. Throughout history propaganda has existed with the intention of convincing the public that a situation is either much better or worse than it actually is. The purpose has always been simple, to obtain or retain power. How is propaganda different from fake news? In principle not at all, the crucial difference is what it is and where it is. Fake news is a variety of propaganda appearing in the most concerning of places: newspapers, news channels, radio broadcasts, online journalism. Admittedly news agencies have always been liable to a biased interpretation of events based upon their editorial slant, but for the most part the facts themselves were reliable. Fake news strays so far beyond mere interpretive differences and amounts to wholesale manufacturing of stories to distort the perception of a person or issue. Blogs, vlogs, and opinion editorials have generally been understood to be a little further from hard facts and as such readers, viewers or listeners are likely to be more suspicious of what they are being asked to accept. When it comes to news articles or reports we are in new territory.

We are said to now exist in a post-truth age where the truth is not the evidence of empirical facts, but instead what a person or group of people believe. This is the inevitable by-product of post-modernism and if anything the rejection of meaningfully quantifiable truth seems to have taken a mercifully long time in absorbing consciousness. The internet can very easily become an echo chamber for ideas due to the freedom to publish, and create a space for like minded people to express their version of the world. It’s dangerous. It is easier than ever to convince yourself of something due to the repetition of hearing it and the impossibility to fact check everything when even the references could be unreliable. As much as I am prepared to concede in all manner of social politics a reinterpretation of history and society is not only justifiable and necessary there remains the vital importance of what is actual real. Hard data does not lie, if only it can be located, but at this point in time even that is being rejected as a power construct. The presence of opinions at the end of news articles online or on television alarms me. If there is an expert in the studio who has studied the issue and done the research legwork then the opinion of @StokeJohn5 (just a random typing of words and with apologies if such a Twitter handle exists) is not worthy of getting the final word which will ultimately colour any interpretation of what has just been said.

Weirdly fiction seems to be my most trusted place to find information. At least in fiction it is an honest lie; indeed one perspective I recall goes something like “politicians use the truth to tell lies, but fiction writers use lies to tell the truth.” I’m really rather comfortable with that.


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Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2016

When people think of comics they are either informed or they aren’t. When people think of comic conventions or festivals they probably think of superhero movie announcements, or of cosplayers doing their level best to replicate their favourite characters. I’ve attended such events and I’ve been really pleased to make some good industry contacts at them, but if I’m honest they really aren’t my cup of tea. That’s fine we don’t need to all get excited about the same thing otherwise there’d only be one flavour of ice cream.

When I first heard about the Lakes International Comic Art Festival (LICAF) I was excited at the more European variety of comic festival, where creators are able to meet and discuss as well as spend time with their fans and other industry people. In my time at LICAF I’m yet to see a mob of people swamp Robert Downey Jr. but as movies haven’t yet polluted the event I have seen the likes of Bryan Talbot or Dan Berry speaking with fans in coffee shops or pubs. It’s just such a wonderfully genial atmosphere that it makes me make all kinds of flowing hand gestures. Throw in the fact that the Lake District is outstandingly beautiful or that Kendal is a wonderful place to drift through streets it induces a hyperbolic state in me that either ends in needing to rest or staying awake for several days.

Nottingham’s own Page 45 is a wonderful store and I’ve been so grateful to be able to bounce ideas or questions off them over the years. I consider the staff tastemakers and highly influential guides, so when they were announced as patrons for LICAF 2016 I was already pleased to be attending. Soon enough I discovered that Dave McKean was scheduled to perform a live production of his stunning graphic novel Black Dog: The Dreams of Paul Nash and booked my tickets to see the event at the Brewery Arts Centre. The performance itself was beyond my expectations, which is barely surprising considering that Dave had some great performers sharing the stage, and that he is one of the most talented artists in any of the dozen or so art forms that he inhabits. Following the performance I had a short and warm conversation with Mr. McKean and was jolly glad to have done so for no other reason than being a fan.

Here’s another couple of highlights about the people of Kendal who had nothing whatsoever to do with LICAF.

I’m a fairly smart guy but I have an uncanny knack to miss really obvious information. You know how Sherlock Holmes can tell you how many hair follicles someone has from across the room or how many siblings a murder victim has by the positioning of their elbow? Were I to join Holmes at such times I would struggle to clarify what was meant by “room” or if someone was even dead. Because of this I wanted to eliminate each possible avenue for error so I checked and re-checked the opening and closing times of the multi-storey car park on an independent website.

Confident in my planning and following a great day of walking with my lovely wife and we drove into Kendal for the final day of the festival.

Pulling straight into the multi-storey car park I soon enough found a space and off we went to catch up with the great chaps from Page 45. The day passes in a lazing in a rowing boat in the middle of a lake sort of way, and then after a delightful Thai meal we wandered back up to the car park.

That was gated and locked.

No matter, there was another entrance. Locked too.

We needed to talk to the attendant in the adjacent shopping centre. That was closed for business until Monday morning. The independent website held out of date information. Thanks.

As knuckleheaded as I can be, I am also fairly good in a crisis and with a capacity to deal with problems. It’s weird, somehow if I were on another planet I’m sure that I could have shrugged it off but boy, did I feel wobbly legged. I call the number on the main car park gate and am taken through to the local council automated switchboard used for everything from paying your council tax or applying for a bus pass; obliged after waiting for the beep I describe the situation with hope a distant memory.

Clever wife advises that we need to get a taxi back to the cottage where we are staying in Grayrigg. I call a firm… booked for two hours. She calls a firm: booked for over an hour, and she explains the situation should a cancellation arise and the dispatcher holds the line. The dispatcher returns:

“John’s just finished his shift, but I’ve told him you’re in a pickle so he’s coming for you now.”

John conveys us back to the cottage and just as we pull up my phone rings.

“Hello, I understand your car is stuck?”

“Yes, I’m afraid it is,” I reply, dry-mouthed and full of guilt.

“Give me ten minutes and I’ll come and open the car park for you.”

Dry mouthed and disbelieving I mention this to John and without hesitation he drops off my patient wife, and takes me all the way back to Kendal so that I can collect my car.

I live in a great city, and I’ve travelled to a bunch of them, but I don’t think there’s anywhere else where someone would have done either of those things so cheerily when there was no obligation to do anything than enjoy their own evenings.

Kendal, LICAF, thanks for being the best of your kind.


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Independence Day?

I’m not in the habit of debating politics and I have no intention of engaging in the debate with the 52% of the electorate who desired to leave the EU. All I wish to say is that this morning as the results were announced I found one scene repeating in my head: please click here

In the coming days, weeks, months, and years we may very well discover what the Romans did for us, and the French, Germans, Spanish, etc., and maybe even our soon to be former Prime Minister David Cameron.

I defer to Firefly‘s Capt. Malcolm Reynolds: “May have been the losing side. Still not convinced it was the wrong one.”

Happy to have been in the 48%


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Writing Tomorrow 2016

Writing Tomorrow is now in its third year and I have to confess it may well be my favourite short course to deliver. Available for 15-17 year olds this Creative Short Course has been developed by the Nottingham Trent University to offer ambitious young writers the platform to hone their hobby into the basis of a writing career.

Covering a range of aspects and topics with numerous engaging exercises all designed to take fundamental skills and refine them. Fostering raw talent with the development of professional writing habits, this short course crams as much content in to a week as is physically possible without brains melting. Every year feedback has emphasised both how beneficial attendees found it, as well as how much they enjoyed it.

The course has been endorsed by The Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme and is accepted as a residential option for the portfolio. A number of previous attendees said that their accommodation was preferable to sleeping in the rain under canvas!

If you wish to learn more about NTU’s Writing Tomorrow Creative Short Course click here


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Soggy socks

It’s fair to admit that I don’t frequently use this platform to write about my life, but there was something sufficiently poignant about a recent trip to Tenby with my dear friend Calum Heath that I felt compelled to commit a few words.

Before we go any further I want you to take a second to think about a place you visited regularly as a child. For many this may be a relative’s house, or a swimming baths, or maybe even the village hall where scouts or guides was convened. Whatever the place you have to remember it really well, and hopefully very fondly. For my good friend Calum this place would probably be Tenby, in Wales, which was the regular destination of his childhood holidays.

I’d never been to Tenby before 2015, and then in January a project that Calum and I had been working on required us to visit the beautiful seaside town. The trip there was largely consumed with detailing our activities there, but every now and then Calum would interject with some detail about his travels there as a kid. When we arrived we had a walk around the town and it was really heartwarming to see how he responded to being there. Then after the work was done we heading home and that was that.

Earlier this month Calum and I had reason to return to Tenby, only this time I understood the place for what it was to Calum, and the car journey there was filled with his recollections from his childhood. Our walk around the town on our arrival this time was far more extensive, and it was such a touching experience to see the place come alive for Calum, and for him to help me understand it for what it meant to him.

Ultimately I can never experience it as Calum experienced it, but I have my own places from childhood that I could equate it to, so it was almost like looking through the blurry edged binoculars at the edge of the promenade. Places are such incredible vessels for memory, and their smells and sounds are almost like a time machine, recalling more than just the details of what happened and when, but also what was felt, and hoped, and what was forgotten.

As hopelessly sentimental as I frequently am, I have to concede the problem with walking through someone else’s memories…

Calum wanted to take a photograph standing in the sea, and it was bitterly cold, but still we went for it. As you can see from the photo Calum looks his regular handsome and composed self. On the other hand, I took my turn in the sea and a small wave filled my wellington boots to the brim with the special December blend of Irish Sea/Atlantic Ocean. I then had to trudge around Tenby with my nostalgic tour guide squelching every step of the way. I got more than a few strange looks from the various shopkeepers and passersby. After a while the icy water warmed up, but the sound was present throughout…

For a story inspired by something similar why not click here?


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