Thursday, 20 October 2016

Umbrellas of Edinburgh: poetry and prose inspired by Scotland's capital

I've been quiet lately, squirrelling away at editing books. And one of them (I edited it with Megabaddassatron Editor, Claire Askew) is about to be welcomed into the world...

Presenting - Umbrellas of Edinburgh: poetry and prose inspired by Scotland's capital city

It's available from Freight Books for a mere £9.99, and includes contemporary poetry and short stories about Edinburgh, from 70 top-notch writers. Spiffingly, this anthology includes work from writers of colour, writers who identify as LGBTQIA+, who live with disabilities, writers who have lived in countries other than Scotland, and its contributors predominantly identify as women.  

Christmas is coming, I think you know what to do...

Russell Jones

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Agents: assemble!

I'm putting on my Smug/Happy Writer hat. How grand it looks, how heavy it feels!

It's been a sharknado of literary excitement at JonesHQ the past couple of months. Following the shortlisting of my YA novel, The Talkersfor the Half the World Global Literati Award, I've been interviewed in The Times and had some juggernaut publishers and agents tapping on my windows with bags of breadcrumbs.

And I'm most chuffed to share this top drawer news: I'm now represented by United Talent Agency, who have their thumbs in so many pies that they're banned from Greggs The Bakers and have a restraining order from Mr Kipling.

Best of all, I'll be represented by these three amazing agents, across sky and ocean, tarmac and Toblerone: Juliet Mushens on bass (aka: literary things); Mary Pender and Jason Richman on trombone (aka: film/screen adaptations).

If you think you'd be interested in The Talkers or my fiction more generally, you can find their contact details here. And now I can use that hot chestnut of a phrase: "talk to my agent(s)".

Adieu, time to polish the hat.

Russell Jones

Monday, 4 July 2016

The Times

Photo by James Glossop
Interview by Mike Wade, The Times (July 4th 2016)

read the full article online in The Times

Hear ye, hear ye! I've an interview in The Times (4 July 2016), about my novel (The Talkers) being shortlisted for the Half the World Global Literati Award. It's a full page, with a snap of me in bed. Here's the interview, from the pen of the brilliant Mike Wade.

An author whose unpublished manuscript has been turned down by at least a dozen agents has been nominated for a book prize.

The Talkers by Russell Jones, a novel for young adults, did not seem to appeal to the British literary establishment. A panel of judges in America took a rather different view and shortlisted it for the $50,000 (£37,600) Half the World Global Literati Award.

The Edinburgh-based writer has another feather in his cap. As the title of the prize implies, it aims to reward books that “give a voice to the inner lives of women”. Men are rare among the shortlisted writers.

Fortunately Jones is “a strong feminist” as his writing, apparently, makes clear. His girlfriend, who works for a charity helping women who have suffered violence, encouraged him to enter the competition.

The novel is a sci-fi fantasy following Chris, a highly intelligent but emotionally tangled girl of 15, as she seeks her parents’ killers in a world ruled by “Talkers” – powerful individuals who can psychically control animals.

According to the citation, the depiction of the matriarchal world is a means of “critiquing the gender inequality that exists without our societies.” The narrative is told in the third person “telling Chris’s story from an outside view”, said the author.

“We do slip into her mind. I didn’t really find it a challenge, to be honest. Essentially, I just wrote a character I liked, wanted to talk about and follow. The gender elements were outside her. It was just a question of writing a good character. She happens to be a 15-year-old girl.”

Jones, 32, worked for eight years as a teacher and as a teaching assistant in Wester Hailes, a tough housing scheme in southwest Edinburgh. “I guess I have an affinity with young people,” he said.

He now earns the bulk of his living over three or four hours a day by helping to write commercial websites. The rest of the time he makes from what might be called a comfortable living from literature: he writes prose and poetry from his bed, at home in a flat near Meadowbank, Edinburgh.

Jones recently had a book of poems published and is editing a forthcoming collection of Edinburgh poems and prose. He is also deputy editor of Scotland’s only sci-fi magazine, Shoreline of Infinity, and says that he has the plot of another sci-fi novel in his head.

What is the appeal of sci-fi? “It is a genre which breaks boundaries and allows us to project current concerns into the future, or to take them to an extreme and see what happens,” Jones said. “It is about lack of restrictions.”

Half the World Holdings was established this year on International Women’s Day as an investment platform devoted to women’s interests. The literary award was a response to research showing that recent prize-winning books rarely had a woman “at the heart of the story”.

Entries can be screenplays, novels or short stories, but must be unpublished. The public can read the shortlisted works if they sign into the awards website.

As well as the first prize, there is an audience award of $1000 for the most popular new work. The Talkers was in second place in the public vote yesterday.

“The fact I’m on the shortlist and near the top of the public vote is probably good for me,” said Jones. “Maybe an agent will notice.” 

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

"The Talkers" shortlisted for major international writing award

It's not often that I throw off my grumpsome exterior to bring a grain of light to this blog, but here you are - enjoy it!

My young adult novel, "The Talkers" has been shortlisted for the Half the World Global Literati Award!

The prize has some really impressive shortlistees, and the prestige of the judges is a bit terrifying. Oh, and did I mention that the main prize is $50,000? With recent British economics, that could be my retirement fund!

"The Talkers" follows Chris, a teenage girl seeking her parents' killers. It's set in a matriarchal world ruled by Talkers: powerful individuals who can psychically control animals. Chris faces off against deadly enemies, making friends and finally reaching the country's capital, where she uncovers a dark plot to strip everyone of their freedom.  

The Half the World award is in its first year and aims to celebrate written art which "gives voice to the inner lives of women". My YA novel, set in a matriarchal society, explores the gender inequalities of its fictitious world as a way of reflecting on the issues inherent in our own. I wrote this novel to challenge stereotypes and acknowledge the importance of language in defining, repressing, and hopefully readdressing and breaking down these barriers. After all, we still live in (apparently cultured and civilised) societies in which babygrows say "Superman" for boys and "Do my thighs look big in this?" for baby girls. Language and social attitudes which breed and maintain these inequalities need to change, and books (especially those for young people) are an important way of doing that.

Anyway, this isn't a lecture, but those are my thoughts on why this novel is important for young people, and why it was potentially shortlisted. I'm also looking for an agent to represent my writing career, which is why this competition is triply important to me. More details about my fiction can be found on my prose page.

If you have the time and inclination, I'd very much appreciate you voting for my novel. Aside from the $50,000 grand prize, there are smaller prizes for different categories, which include a $1000 prize for the most public votes.

Right, back to the shadows...! 

Russell Jones

Saturday, 14 May 2016


Last time I posted we were deep in winter, moaning and scowling. Well, cheer up Moany McMoanface, because I've a few updates about goings on and all that...


I've had a very short story published in the York Literary Review, which contains some fine writing which you should go and read! Here's my story (if you enjoy arson, you may like this - you sicko).

Shoreline of Infinity issue 3 is born! With loads of great sci-fi artwork, stories and poetry (from none other than Jane Yolen and Marge Simon!!!)

And some of my poetry found homes:
SpacecraftPress (Jan 2016) – “Birds 1.0” (published as a chapbook)
ScottishMountaineer (Feb 2016) – “Out, Out” - go to page 46 for my poem!
CityWalls (Stanza 2016 Exhibition) – “Signature Piece”
Poetry Planet: Animals and Creatures(Feb 2016) – “The Ant Swap”
Bliza (March/April 2016)- The Insider, The Bang, The Flat Opposite, Apologies to My Body and Hanging Out the Washing at Night (translated into Polish by Wojtek Boros and Kasia Kokowska)
BestScottish Poems 2015 (SPL, online published 2016) – “The First Kiss”
Causeway/Cabhsair (May 2016) – “Abigail”


Shoreline of Infinity have put on 3 more Event Horizons (Edinburgh's sci-fi night) 2 of which were at our new venue: The Blind Poet

It's on the first Monday of each month, at 7:30. Come! Event Horizon 8 is on 6th June and will feature music from the artists of Cat and the Howling Moon, prose from Andrew J Wilson and Caroline Grebbell, and poetry from Jane McKie!

Previous acts you've missed (naughty naughty!) this year have included:


Atzi Muramatsu, Lynsey May, Aileen Ballantyne, Pippa Goldschmidt


Colin McGuire, Dee Raspin, The Dan Collins Band, Arcturus Voyagers


Pippa Goldschmidt, Painted Ocean, Monica Burns, me

Other stuff going on / coming up

I've been busy editing a new anthology of contemporary poems about Edinburgh with the ever talented Claire Askew. 

I've been doing the milk rounds at primary schools across Edinburgh, teaching poetry as part of the Edinburgh International Festival. I've also taught a writing course for LitLong, a really cool literary app which shows you what's been written about the city as you walk around it.

I'll be reading in Kirkcudbright on 20th May, as part of "Seeing Stars" - a new play about romance and science, starring Debbie Cannon and Jonathan Whiteside, written by Noel Chidwick and Pippa Goldschmidt.

Poetry Gang (me, Aileen Ballantyne, Lauren Pope, Jonathan Bay and Marianne MacRae) will be joined by Rebecca Tamas for a once-in-a-daytime poetry extravasomething in Cupar's Ti Amo as part of the Cupar arts festival (23 June, doors 7, start 7:30)

Okay, you're bored, I'm bored - go away (come back soon, I need you!)

Russell Jones

Thursday, 21 January 2016

Upcoming readings

Got no friends? Bored with life? Turn off the oven! Put down the pills! There are many wonderful poetry events you can be a part of, full of (potentially) interesting people and (potentially) free booze. Sounds like heaven? Well it (potentially) is!

Here are a few upcoming poetry readings going on, which just so happen to include me on their rosters...

Event Horizon: January 28th, Deadhead Comics (7:30pm)
Okay I'm not really reading at this one, but I organize and host it. It's a great night of sci-fi performances, and this time around it includes:

An Edwin Morgan SF dialogue poetry performed by actors Debbie Cannon and Sue Gyford.
Short stories from Tracey S Rosenberg.
Live art and discussion from Sara Ljeskovac.
Live music from The Chthulu Brothers.
Plus a raffle, comics, chat and more!

Shore Poets Quiet Slam: January 31st, Outhouse (7pm)
This is a bit like a poetry slam, but without all the yelping and whooping. Poets are judged on the quality of their poem and their delivery, with no marks for audience reaction. I'll be reading something suitably morose. Come watch me lose!

Poetry Gang: Words from Reekie: 4th February, Wash Bar (7:30pm)
Meet the most happenin' hip hop quinet around. With topics ranging from candyfloss to crack, unicorns to unicef. Each poet involved is a current or past PhD Creative Writing candidate at The University of Edinburgh, and they is street, innit. Includes readings from Marianne MacRae, Jonathan Bay, Aileen Ballantyne, Lauren Pope and me. There may also be a guest appearance from a real life mobster. (There won't be.)

Rally & Broad - Ampersand Edition: 19th February, Bongo Club (7pm)
I'll be performing live with the horribly talented Atzi Muramatsu. He'll be responding to my sci-fi comic poem (drawn by the ever impressive Edward Ross), with musical improvisations. It's a night of collaborations which ought to get the veins pumping.

That's all for now, but we're worried about you. Come out once in a while, have a shower, wear clothes...

Russell Jones

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Book Review: This Changes Things, by Claire Askew

This Changes Things
by Claire Askew
(Bloodaxe Books, 2015)

I’m nervous when I read my friends’ books. Sometimes, I’m so off-put that they end up sitting in a pile, pleading to me. The problem is this: what if I don’t like it? Then I have to see them, avoid the topic, try to swerve conversations in not-your-book directions, maybe even test out my poker face if they ask directly, “So what did you think?” It’s with a gram or two of that trepidation that I approached This Changes Things by Claire Askew. Well, here’s my review in a monkey nut: What a debut!

This is a book of (literally) two halves, with the first section covering memory and family tragedy (amongst other things) and the latter taking on the narrator’s (we have to say that) adult life of moving house, finding love, holidaying and so on. The book also rugby tackles a variety of important issues such as checking-ones-privilege, our irrational pre-judgements of women and the unadorned, unappreciated luxuries of living and life. It has an obsession with death, but none of these issues are treated flippantly, none of them seem trodden or familiar. Askew doesn’t let you escape judgement but she also includes herself in those prosecutions, so it feels like her fingers are pointed in all directions.

That’s a sandpaper glimpse into some of the topics of the book, but of course the proof of the pudding is in the expression, and Askew is as about as original and vibrant as you can get. As a writer myself, I’m (usually unwillingly) trying to pick up on ‘how’ a writer manages to achieve success (by which I mean, a punch in the face) in their writing. There are several notable components and techniques to Askew’s style which make her writing identifiably hers (you KNOW an Askew poem when you read it). Firstly, she is brilliant at turning a line on its noggin’. Check out these cuttings from “Fire Comes”:

... Beyond the helpless trees somewhere, a dog rattles awake;
            the air brake
of a distant night bus seethes. Fire slides its tongue into the house’s

Askew builds the line to a particular expectation, then shifts it in an instant. When we first read “the air brake” we envision a sudden change in the atmosphere which, associated to the waking of the dog (which is achieved through the rhyme, and thus conscious and subliminal linking of “awake/brake” in our minds). This brake then transforms to the mechanical air brake of a bus, evoking a familiar (to me, soothing, but also potentially sinister) hissing sound in the mind’s ear. Similarly, the image of a burning house becomes eroticised (frankly, to my mind, in a somewhat grotesque way) when the image gains an “ear”.

The effect of this technique (it’s not unique to Askew of course, but she employs it regularly, and triumphantly) is to surprise the reader, undermining expectation to bring multiplicity of meaning and image.

Askew creates other surprises through her rhythm and rhyme. None of the poems in This Changes Things feels clunky; rather, they have a natural music which carries you through. This is particularly important because the collection is narrative-heavy (not a criticism, rather an observation). Without the music of her language, poetic narratives can feel laborious or flat. Success is more complex than it seems and it’s a great testament to Askew’s inner musician that she’s been so successful in keeping the engine chugging so virulently. Her use of rhyme is particularly impressive, simultaneously keeping beat and arousing those linguistic surprises I mentioned earlier. Here’s a section from “Wakefield”:

you’re hitching up your negligee
to flash the trains.

Wakefield, the ultimate lousy lay –
mutton-dressed catastrophe, shoving your hands
down the jeans of strangers in doorways

As you might have guessed, this poem isn’t the most subtle verse of the collection, but its energy and subversive humour make for a welcomed intermission between more serious pieces. It’s easy to see how Askew’s rhyme produces a rhythmical tango, with half and full rhymes strewn like a string of flickering fairy lights. However, the full effect is to create unexpected connections between those rhyming words: “negligee / lay / catastrophe / doorway(s)”. It is this twist on expectation which breathes life into the poems, forcing the reader to sit up and pay attention.

Okay, sorry – I got a bit technical there, but I think it’s interested to understand how a poet achieves their effects, because it’s those effects in particular which raise the poems from the ground. This Changes Things made me repeatedly curse, “Damn, I wish I’d written that.” Askew’s poems are brimming with crackling lines which sound newborn, and the poems don’t shy away from relevant, modern and important topics. The orchards and hills of Askew’s are never simply beautiful, never trapped in antiquity or nostalgia; they are fragile, fat, dead, contemporary, complex. This is what modern poetry ought to be aiming for.

This Changes Things is a wonderful debut collection, full of charisma, venom and vavoom. It’s teeming with heartbreak, comedy, damnation and brilliance which I will be returning to time and again. Buy it, buy it now.

I’m so relieved I can look Claire in the eyes.

Russell Jones