The Writing Notebooks

This year’s biThe Notebooksg project is the first three of a series of Writing Notebooks. An idea that was concocted at a meeting with BIS Publishers at the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2014 has evolved into three exciting notebooks for writers that will be launched at this year’s Frankfurt Book Fair. Here’s a sneak preview of the covers. And if you click here, you can read a bit more about The Writing Notebooks.

Write Around Town: A London Creative Writing Adventure, 19 Oct – 14 Dec, 2013

An exploration and writing workshop around London

19 October – 14 December, 2013

An exciting and practical writing workshop exploring ways of engaging with the city through writing. Whether it’s for you or your characters, we’ll create stories in art galleries and the spaces around them, write while walking and eating, and use the city landscape as a rich resource for personal and fictional stories. The workshop will teach you how to map a character’s journey (and your own) through the city; look closely at ways in which the environment impacts on psychology; and explore the shapes and symbolic resonances of the urban landscape. London will be our laboratory, so whether you’re writing fiction, science-fiction or memoir, the exercises are devised to suit all genres and cities!

All participants will be included in a final anthology, and be invited to contribute to the project’s blog.

You’ll also get to explore the works of other writers who’ve used the city as the setting and inspiration for their fiction, and be guided by psychogeography’s principles to roam the city in the name of discovery and transformation, and to deepen your understanding of your own place in London’s landscape.

There’ll be writing suggestions and exercises between each session. All participants will be included in Writers in the Crowd, an anthology of writing in the city.

limited to 8 participants

The workshop will be led by Shaun Levin

Places we’ll visit this term

Tutor: Shaun Levin is the creator of Writing Maps, and is the author of the books Seven Sweet Things, A Year of Two Summers, and Snapshots of the Boy,amongst others. His most recent work is a fictional biography of the London-born painter, Mark Gertler. He has taught writing for twenty years, and run workshops in cafes, art galleries, bookshops, parks, a cemetery, and a zoo. Shaun is passionate about exploring the landscape, the sea, the urban environment, as well as other art forms to enrich our stories and take writing to new and unexpected places. He has lived in London for the past fifteen years and has made the city an integral and important part of his work.

Dates and Times: Saturdays, 2-5pm (fortnightly) (19 Oct, 2 Nov, 16 Nov, 30 Nov, 14 Dec)

Venue: Various

Fee: £210 (£190, early-bird rate before 15 August)
Click to book
price includes entrance fees and afternoon tea at The Wallace Collection

Write Around Town: An Online Creative Writing Course, 21 Oct – 25 Nov, 2013

A writing exploration of the city: an online creative writing course

21 October – 25 November 2013 (6 weeks)

An exciting and practical online creative writing course to deepen your understanding of a sense of place in both fiction and creative non-fiction, and introduce you to new ways of looking at and engaging with the urban landscape. The writing course is devised to stimulate your creativity and keep you writing, and will include practical exercises, critique, craft tips, and a close look at relevant literary texts. All participants will be included in an anthology to be published later in the year.

“…fiction depends for it’s life on place.” Eudora Welty

Write Around Town
is an opportunity to look closely at the role of place in the way you write and the themes of your work, as well as being a chance to examine, through writing, the centrality of place to the creation of characters in fiction. So, whether it’s for you or your characters, you’ll be sent out to walk, paddle, eat and write in the city you’re in. You’ll be encouraged to use the city itself – from the Zoo to the Art Gallery – as a rich resource for personal and fictional stories. No matter where you live or what time of day or night you like to write or wander the streets, Write Around Time: Online is a writing adventure that will inspire and surprise you.

For the 6 weeks of the course, weekly writing prompts and exercises will be sent to your Inbox, or, if you prefer, to your mail-box at home. The exercises will teach you how to map a character’s (or your own) journey through the city; look closely at the ways in which an environment impacts on psychology; and explore the symbolism in various aspects of the urban landscape. Whether you’re working on fiction, science-fiction or memoir the writing exercises are devised to suit all genres and cities!

“Sense of place is the sixth sense, an internal compass and map made by memory and spatial perception…” Rebecca Solnit

You’ll be encouraged to share your work with other course participants, and will receive regular feedback from the course tutor. Each participant will be offered detailed feedback on one short story written during the course to suggest ways of
expanding and refining the story. The course can be done in real time, or you’re welcome to save the exercises for when you’re ready to write. You can follow the exercises and prompts in the city or town you live in, or take them with you on holiday or while you travel. All course content will be relevant to any urban environment.

Writers in remote or rural places are very welcome to join, too!

Together with generating a significant amount of writing, we will also look at extracts from the works of writers who have used the city as setting and inspiration, and, in turn, explore ways of using those texts to roam the city in the name of adventure, discovery, and a deeper connection to the places we know (or think we know) so well.

All participants will be included in Writers in the Crowd II, an anthology of writing in the city. A dedicated and password-protected blog will be set up for the course and all participants will be invited to share their work. The course is aimed at writers of all levels who are looking for new ways of writing about the city, or who have a particular interest in a sense of place in fiction and non-fiction, or who just
need that extra nudge to write more.

All participants will:

  • get weekly exercises and prompts
  • be included in an anthology of city writing, Writers in the Crowd
  • be able to contribute to the course’s dedicated blog
  • receive detailed feedback on a story written during the course
  • be encouraged to interact with other writers online

limited to 16 participants

Course tutor: Shaun Levin is the author of Seven Sweet Things, A Year of Two Summers, and Snapshots of the Boy. His most recent work is a fictional biography of the London-born painter, Mark Gertler. He has taught writing for twenty years in
colleges and other settings, and run workshops in cafes, art galleries, bookshops, parks, a cemetery, and a zoo. Shaun is passionate about exploring the landscape, the sea, the urban environment, as well as other art forms to enrich our stories and take writing to new and unexpected places. He has lived in London for the past fifteen years and has made the city an integral and important part of his work. Shaun is also the founding editor of the literary journal, Chroma, and is the director of Treehouse Press.

Dates: 21 October – 25 November, 2013

Venue: Online and wherever you are

Fee: £180 (£150 early-bird booking before 15 August)

click to book

Previous participants said:

  • “I like the exercises, they have ample content but are not too rigid, a nice balance.
  • “I love that it’s online as I can fit it into my daily life.”
  • “The feedback to one another is very helpful and an interesting variety of people/writers contributing.”

How beautiful it is to get up and go out and do something. (Kurt Vonnegut)

Reading to Write: Creative Writing Workshop, 8 May – 3 July

A (more-or-less) fortnightly writing workshop focusing on reading, imitation, and experimentation to expand and strengthen your writing voice

I read in order to write. I read out of obsession with writing.  Cynthia Ozick

What does it mean to read as a writer? How can we grow as writers by reading great works of literature?

In this practical workshop, we will look at five short novels or collections of stories (see list below) and explore through writing exercises and discussion how to create new and surprising stories, as well as discover the techniques and themes you can apply to your own work.

The workshop is devised to suit writers of all levels who are willing to try out new ways of writing and thinking about writing. Although we will look closely at the books we read, the focus is very much on your own writing and producing work in the workshop itself and between sessions.

This term’s books are (click on covers below to go to Amazon UK):

Tim O’Brien The Things They Carried
Toni Morrison Sula
Don DeLillo Point Omega
Naguib Mahfuz The Day the Leader Was Killed
Kate Jennings Snake
Dorothy Parker Complete Stories

Dates: Wednesdays (more-or-less fortnightly)
(8 May, 15 May, 29 May, 12 June, 26 June, 3 July)

Venue: Islington (details will be sent on booking)
Time: 6-9pm
Fee: £185 (£160 early-bird booking before 15 March)
tea/coffee and cake/snacks provided

click here to pay via PayPal

or contact shaun [at] to pay by cheque or bank transfer

for more details, call 020-7193-7642 or email shaun [at]

limited to 8 participants

…who are we, who is each one of us, if not a combinatoria of experiences, information, books we have read, things imagined? Each life is an encyclopedia, a library, an inventory of objects, a series of styles, and everything can be constantly shuffled and reordered in every way conceivable… Italo Calvino, Six Memos for the Next Millennium


Bomberg and the City: Repetition and Singularity

Morley College is running a series of courses linked to the new David Bomberg exhibition at the Borough Road Gallery, so I thought it would be a good chance to get back into the feel of the novel. The novel that will one day be written, but written when it will be written, at its own pace. After seven years of working on the Mark Gertler novel, I’m still not ready to embark on another huge writing project. But I want to stay connected to Bomberg. I feel his presence in my life. Monday’s Morley course was about the urban landscape, which I’m kind of obsessed with at the moment, so it was nice to go somewhere to be introduced to new ideas and be in a painting environment, which puts me into beginner mode/beginner mind in a way that excites me. I don’t expect to be able to paint; I still do it with my fingers, primarily. But being with painters and visual artists and being given license to sit opposite the demolition site near the Old Vic and sketch/take notes/do research is liberating and makes me feel closer to Bomberg, to the way he might have engaged with the world around him, especially during and after the Second World War when London was pretty much a demolition site.

I love staying in hotels, and sometimes I book into a Travelodge for a few nights just to have complete peace and quiet to write and be away from everything and be in a different environment. And it takes me back to being a tourist in the city I’ve now lived in for the past seventeen years. Alain de Botton writes about hotels in his book The Art of Travel:

“Hotel rooms offer a similar opportunity to escape our habits of mind. Lying in bed in a hotel, the room quiet except for the occasional swooshing of an elevator in the innards of the building, we can draw a line under what preceded our arrival, we can overfly great and ignored stretches of our experience. We can reflect upon our lives from a height we could not have reached in the midst of everyday business – subtly assisted in this by the unfamiliar world around us: by the small unwrapped soaps on the edge of the basin, by the gallery of miniature bottles in the mini-bar, by the room-service menu with its promise of all-night dining and the view on to an unknown city stirring silently twenty-five floors below us.”

Granted, the Travelodge doesn’t have a mini-bar, though it does have an all-night menu, and one (sometimes even two) unwrapped bars of soap, and in the case of the one I stayed in this week, a room on the seventh floor looking down onto spectacular views and the soothing ta-ta-tum, ta-ta-tum of trains pulling out of and into London Bridge station. From the window of that seventh-floor room, London was there! The dome of St Paul’s, the new flats rising up around Tate Modern, a Holiday Inn Express, its lime-green sign a dab of colour in a monochrome cityscape. And the trains keep going back and forth, a soothing heartbeat sound, and the pressing of steel against steel, wheel against track, a metallic straining. First Capital Connect to… Brighton? The train’s bright yellow front, like the face of a caterpillar on a blue and indigo body.

The buildings are a conglomeration, a mess. There is only disorder, straight lines, the occasional tree or bush growing – flourishing! – on a roof garden or a balcony open to the sky. And I struggle to find ways to spell the sound of a train.

When we get to the demolition site there is a wall of mirror windows behind it, like the grid of an early Bomberg painting, like Ju-Jitsu, perhaps. And then, of course, it starts to rain, a light drizzle, like sea spray, and the rain turns the ink on the page to a watercolour. And the digger’s keep churning up the rubble, their engines nmnmnhnmhnmn-ing, hungry to be fed.

Which brings us to lunch in the Morley College canteen, and the repetition of sweetcorn kernels and the beans in a sausage-and-bean hotpot. And while I eat I think about Bomberg and how, for his entire life as a painter, he went looking for the singular landscape, a landscape without repetition. A mountain, a river, a hill. Full of light. The perfect light. Away from the incessant humming that repetition creates, the same thing over and over, pavement slabs, traffic lights, cars, road markings. Even the weather was a form of repetition: wet and grey. By the end, he would do anything to avoid that, the straight lines of the city, its sky the colour of rubble.

The city is a series of repetitions, samenesses, buses, windows, coffee chains, and every once in a while there is something singular, a one-off, which is part of why I love The Shard, but that’s another story. The Shard gives me hope that there is room in this world for the singular apparition, the freak that stands out, the knife-edge rising up from the ground, magnified, slicing through the earth – like the sword that parted the egg to gave birth to Eros – and making the city the glorious place it is.

Isaac Rosenberg’s Journey to Arras

A man sets out to visit Isaac Rosenberg’s grave just as his relationship back home in London is falling apart. Travelling by train through Northern France, getting lost in the heavy rain outside Arras trying to locate the cemetery, the man tells his own story and the story of Rosenberg’s last days through a series of anecdotes, impressions and thoughts. This story is an exploration of infidelity and allegiance, to the living and to the dead. Isaac Rosenberg’s Journey to Arras: A Meditation is an elegiac prose poem, homage to a visionary poet and a meditation on the nature of war and hope.

Isaac Rosenberg’s Journey to Arras is part biography and part autobiography, a story faithful to the conflicting powers of fact and the imagination.

£5, Cecil Woolf, 2008

the book is part of the War Poets Series produced by Cecil Woolf Publishing

order a copy here (includes postage)

My First Little Mark Gertler Book

It’s been a while. But I’ve been working. Honest. And I’ve got a new book to prove it. A little book that, hopefully, will be the harbinger of the bigger one, of The Novel. But I’m loving the smaller book at the moment, the intimacy of creating one and also reading them (Annie Ernaux’s Simple Passion is beautiful).

Trees at a Sanatorium is the new book and it’s part of Sylph Edition’s new series of booklets exploring masterpieces of 20th Century British Art. You can read more about the series here. My story is a fictional meditation on Mark Gertler, on his desire to paint, his struggle with TB, and his love for the artist Dora Carrington. The piece was originally extracted from my novel-in-progress based on Gertler’s life, though during the process of working with the publishers, it became a bit like a satellite that has detached itself from the rest of the novel and now exists as an independent creation, orbiting Gertler’s painting “The Bathers”.

It’s been a real joy working with Sylph – and although I haven’t seen the book yet (it’s at the printers), I have read quite a few of their other booklets and they are all stunningly beautiful. It’s so rare to come across publishers (especially small publishers) who are as interested in the writing itself as they are in the book as an aesthetic object, which, really, is about the reading experience. Their books make you want to own books. Their Cahiers Seriesis a treasure chest.

Jesus is My Favourite Jew

I did some stuff with Jewish Book Week this year. But before it all started, the people from Jeneration got in touch to ask if I’d write a little something on “My Favourite Fictional Jew” for a freesheet they’d be distributing throughout the week. I said yes, because it sounded like a fun thing to do and, let’s face it, I like the opportunity to get something in print. But I couldn’t think of anyone to write about, and then – yes, it was an epiphany – Jesus came to me, and I wrote this:

Even after twenty-three years of eating pork, I still get a thrill out of bacon. I grew up in a household where all things pig were ignored – they don’t exist! – yet treyf like oysters, mussels, abalone and snails were held in mythic esteem. Whenever my grandmother prepared snails, we’d traipse off to her house on Brighton Drive to watch my father eat them with that special fork as if they were something offered up to the High Priests of the Temple. Not changing the subject: I remember how shocked my uncle was when he went to sort out my grandfather’s things – he’d recently died – and found the New Testament by his bedside. I first saw Jesus in the rock-musical Godspell in a small community hall in Port Elizabeth, South Africa in the mid-70s. It was only when I moved to London that I came to rely on him. I know he’s not real – he’s a kind of fiction to me, like Moses and Job and Eve – but for many years, for most of the late 90s, really – I found huge comfort in Christ’s story, quintessenced in the image of him on the cross. I was suffering – I had a couple of crap jobs, very little money, my writing career was plodding along, my father was dying, and my nearest sibling was a 5-hour flight away – but the extreme pain, the frozen-in-time torment of the crucified man eased my anguish. I even – when no-one was looking – genuflected in a chapel or two. I have always turned to characters in literature for reassurance, and for lessons on how to be a man, a gay man, a Jewish gay man, a Jewish gay South African Israeli man in the world. And at times like now, Jesus has a lot to offer us – not for what people have made of him, but for what the stories tell about him: He was kind.

Make Me Write!

What a great idea. You have to try this out.


And this is what I wrote:

I’ve never tried this before but I’m willing to try anything – what with the way my life is at the moment and I barely have time to notice my breaths – to notice anything. I want to get back to a time when I took from the world – when I took time – sat in cafes and walked through galleries and noticed the way people behaved and spoke to each other and ate their cakes and drank their tea and milkshakes – (who invented the straw – what is the point of a straw unless you’re in hospital – or want to look really prissy in a bar) – and I used to walk through parks a lot and sit on park benches and look at ducks and coots and swans. I want to be outside when it’s sunny and sit with my face to the sun and feel fed by… The thing is I used to do this quite a lot and wrote so much about it that I’m not sure I could do it all again – I’m not sure I could do things that I have written about already – what I want is new things – Love? Travel? – I want something to write about – I want to go beyond the Whitechapel Boys. I want the days to be mine – to open up before me like an invitation and to be the party, the cocktail party that you go to with no expectations and land up having the best time you’ve had in years. I used to have those times (am I whining?) – those Friday nights when we’d go out dancing till the sun came up and then walk down to the beach in Tel Aviv and take off our clothes and swim naked just off the promenade, at the foot of all those big hotels that shield Tel Aviv from the sea, that would take the impact of the tidal wave or the terrorist attack that came from the sea – tourists and hotel workers first. Is that what I need to do? Go back to Tel Aviv for a while. Is there something I need to face there? And the point being, what? Ah, yes, so that is what writing used to do – take me to places that I wasn’t sure I wanted to look at, places that the day to day of teaching and editing and preparing and promoting and hustling make so easy to avoid. I want to sit down and write like this every day – like now, while the spinach and chick-pea soup is boiling on the stove and the red cabbage and walnut salad is marinating in the fridge and I might go out for a run in about half an hour or take a nap before everyone turns up for dinner this evening – for dinner and a run-through of what we’ll be doing tomorrow when we perform at Soho Theatre. Is that what’s new? or the same? What if you sat down and did this every day – 500 words in 10 minutes.

click here to go there