Hello there

Jim Minton is a new writer of fiction, based in London but raised in the North East of England. On this website you can read his published works, which are mostly - but not all - darkly funny tales of growing up in Northumberland. You can also find out about Undertone, his new novel and read more about Jim, if you wish. All works are his copyright. So you can't pretend they are yours, even if you want to!

Sunday, 2 November 2014

More gigs - and Owen Jones or the boozer

Got a busy month coming up, which started last night on November 1st at Purlfest at The Brook, Wallington. I was on a mixed and high quality bill with some of my favourite spoken word chums, Alison Eley, Raven Garcian and Nick Houghton. The pic is of me mid flow, swearing most likely.

Being a festival, we also had a great soundtrack, from Heidi James, Joe Dunbar, Alison Craw and The (mad) Scrambles. It was a top night - first time I have read out in such company and to such a varied crowd. I'd written something new, and it was a bit of a departure. I am beginning to realise that it is not enough simply to write a decent story - it has to be something that can be performed and can engage the audience. My piece was called One foot in front of the other. It is supposed to create confusion in the audience, as it veers across different fragments of stories, told almost from other perspectives, but always processed through the voice and narrative of the narrator - who remains clear about what is going on. It surprised people, but I think it provoked them too, and they enjoyed it. Or maybe it was just late and they'd all had a few beers! It is a bit strange reading after a band has been playing, but the crowd were good, and respectful.

My next gig is on Sunday 15 November at 6pm in Whitechapel, where I am performing as part of the Red Army Fiction session at the Tower Hamlets Write Ideas Festival. Come along, you might enjoy it! I am on before Owen Jones. So you can stay and watch him - or buy me a pint.

Hope to see you then!

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Wounding by Heidi James - a review

I was on holiday last week and so finally got round to setting some time aside for reading. I've had something of a 'reader's block' over the past year or so. Since I started writing seriously, I've found it very difficult to concentrate on other people's work, however fantastic it is. In fact it has been so bad that up until last week, Murakami's 1Q84 is the only thing I have finished in the past 12 months. But I have known Heidi James for some years now, as a friend and an inspirational teacher, as well as a writer I admire. So I wanted very much to make sure I was in the right frame of mind for reading Wounding, her first full length novel, published by the same wise and innovative folk at Bluemoose publishing who bought us Pig Iron - coincidentally the last thing I read before 1Q84.

I was glad I gave myself time and space, for Wounding is not an easy book. That is not a criticism - a distaste for writers who over simplify plot and character, or make things all too neat and simple is one of the reasons I've found reading new work so difficult recently. Wounding doesn't make things neat or simple. It treats you like a grown up. Cora, one of the two narrators, though undoubtedly the central character, invites you to experience her deepest, most intimate fears and insecurities. Her husband - I think I am right in saying he is never referred to by name, only as an adjunct to Cora, in a neat twist on convention - similarly shares his anxieties, about Cora's increasing distance from him, their failure to communicate, and the different values they espouse.

At its heart it is a desolate delayering of a disintegrating relationship. Neither Cora nor her husband have the ability to tell each other what they really feel or need from one another. I don't think this is about a lack of courage though. I think that - particularly for Cora - it just feels pointless. If she could articulate her isolation, there would be a risk that it could be rationalised, or worse that someone could attempt a 'cure' - through medicine or perhaps worse through counselling or therapy.

Instead she seeks out her own method for coping. Shutting out her husband, and becoming less and less tolerant of her children, Cora is always aware of the judgments that people will make or her because of this but unable or unwilling to arrest her own decline, instead seeking out her own retribution on herself for the 'transgressions' she has made. Wounding is dedicated to mothers, and reads - to this man at least - as a powerful and emotionally intense exploration of the impact of motherhood. Heidi is brilliant on the affects of the physical changes - in Cora's body, in her health and tiredness and even in her availability to work - and in turn their effect on her mental health and wellbeing.

But Wounding doesn't over analyse. The pain of Cora's husband is in his desperate attempts to rationalise things breaking down - whether that is the place of his former lover, Lucy, or his devoted relationship to his own parents. He just can't understand how Cora sees the world so reaches out for things that he does understand as justifications.

Cora herself is un-placeable. Although we see her own parents - briefly - and witness a childhood incident that other writers might have over-milked - these aren't used as excuses or explanations for how Cora is. It is as if she doesn't want to need to defend or explain herself. And this makes it all the more powerful as narrative, despite what was for me a real sadness at its heart.

Wounding won't be for everyone. As I said, it is not easy. But as a portrait of the break down of relationship and family, and more importantly as an assertion of the independence of a woman it is a powerful, important and captivating read.

Monday, 21 April 2014

Slow progress - but lots of fun stuff anyway

I have just submitted Undertone to The Borough Press open submissions. Total long shot, as they will be inundated with all kinds of different stuff, but you never know. Enough people have been positive about the novel so far for me to trust that it is actually pretty good, even if no-one has bitten yet. About to start on a new short story for Red Army Fiction which is back on again in May. I havent written anything new for a while and can feel a bit of an urge to change direction. We'll see how it goes. Otherwise I have been busy - training for and doing the London Marathon which was fun - and trying to catch up with art, film, cinema and music. Saw The Wave Pictures at Islington Assembly Hall last week which was great, even if he is just a little smug. Got a great May of music ahead too, with Neutral Milk Hotel, She Makes War, Hurray for the Riff Raff and the Local Shhhh festival all inked in. There is a new Artangel exhibition on Van Gogh and something new at Raven Row too, so it really feels like the cultural sun has begun to rise. Oh and of course my great friend and mentor Heidi James will celebrate the publication of her brilliant new novel Wounding in a couple of weeks. So delighted for her and can't wait to see it in Waterstones.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

New year, more reading, less writing

So 2014 is already a couple of months old. I've been sending the completed draft of Undertone off to agents and the odd publisher. I'm totting up the rejections, though there have been some positive sniffs. I'll keep going for now, and see what happens. It was fun writing it, which was the main thing. If you want to read it get in touch and I'll happily send it to you. Beyond the rejecting agents, those that have read it have enjoyed it.

Having finished has given me a bit of scope to do a bit more performance spoken word. In January I read at Red Army Fiction's south london night. I read Skinless and Boneless which I'd written about 3 years ago. I usually like to read something new, but didn't finish what I'd been trying. I enjoyed reading S&B again - it is still a good story - but I feel already like my writing has moved on quite a bit.

Got another Red Army night tomorrow (20 February) in Bethnal Green. Again, I will probably read something I've already written - it is so unlikely there will be anyone in the audience who has read any of my stuff any it will sound like new. Let's see - I might surprise you.

Anyway if you want to come along it is at the Gallery Cafe in Bethnal Green.

I've also finished - and properly enjoyed - a novel for the first time in about 2 years. Since I've been focused on my own novel, Undertone, I've felt really unable to concentrate on other work - which has been a real pain. But on holiday last week I raced through all 950 pages of Murakami's 1Q84. And loved it. Great to be back!

Thursday, 2 January 2014

2013 culture highlights

Picture is of Steven Adams performing at the Crypt, Crouch End as part of The End Festival in November 2013

For the first time I kept a fairly accurate record of every gig, exhbition, film or play that I went to see in 2013. OK, it is a bit OCD, but it has come into its own now as I consider the cultural highs of the year.

This is - of course - a set of totally subjective lists, based only on the stuff I happened to get along to. Inevitably, since I live in London, it is pretty London centric, though I did try and get further afield when the opportunity arose.

The sample of cultural events I am drawing on is reasonable in terms of spread, though not particularly deep, especially as far as film and theatre are concerned. In terms of the totals, in 2013 I:

- saw 13 films at the cinema
- visited 22 art exhibtions in the UK, and also visited the Venice Biennale, Museum du Monde Arabe in Paris and the fabulous Cafesjian sculpture park in Yerevan.
- watched 12 gigs and went to 6 festivals seeing 55 bands perform live in total; and
- sat through 10 stage performances (plays, musicals, comedy).

So in each of these categories, here are my top 3:

Not a vintage year, I didnt think, but I did miss a few good ones, because of other stuff going on. Nevertheless, I found 3 that I could heartily recommend:

Act of Killing
We were fortunate to see the director's cut of this at the fantastic Hackney Picture House. An amazingly brutal but surreally funny documentary about unrepentant mass murderers. Incredibly, given the subject matter, it felt tender and compassionate.

Zero Dark Thirty
I was really cynical about this, partly because everyone knew the ending, and also because of the politics of filming - and risking glorifying - in effect a state sponsored assassination. But it was a tense and daring film, with careful politics, which, even if you didn't agree with them, you were encouraged to understand and engage with.

Again, I had my doubts: Blockbuster, special effects, unlikely concept, sentimental storyline. And it had all of those. But in spite of all that this was a really great cinematic experience, moving, entertaining and gripping.

Good also rans: Nebraska - nice but too cruel to ordinary folks; Selfish giant - generally great but a rushed confused ending

In contrast to film some real corkers this year, and a hard choice.

Jake and Dinos Chapman at the new Serpentine
Creepy and challenging but very funny, horrific battlefields of toy soldiers, dinosaurs and cartoon characters killing and being eaten by each other in huge numbers. Superbly intricate horror.

Souzou outsider art from Japan at the Wellcome Collection
An amazing collection of quirky and disturbing conceptual work made by people in various institutions. Challenges the idea of what art is - but some incredibly beautiful pieces on show, and some of them were later displayed at the Venice biennale.

Whistler Thames paintings and etchings - Dulwich Picture House
A surprise to me this one. Went with my mum on a cold November day. This was a beautifully curated slice of London history showing different aspects of the mid nineteenth century river Thames. I would not have chosen to go, but was so delighted I did.

Honourable mentions to: Iain Baxter and Adam Chozko at Raven Row - quirky conceptual stuff; Everything was moving: photos from the 1960s and 70s at Barbican. Brilliant world spanning exhbition.

Bands - live perfomances
A lot to choose from and many gigs at beautiful times (eg sunset) in lovely settings (eg Camber Sands in the summer). Top 3, though, were:

RM Hubbert - the tipi tent at End of the Road
Scottish acoustic guitar genius and gloom merchant. Beautiful songs and funny self deprecating humour in front of a completely respectful audience. End of the Road 2013 was a fabulous festival as always and this was its highlight.

Singing Adams (pictured above) and She Makes War - the Crypt, Crouch End at the End Festival
Late night tiny gig as part of The Local's fantastic pop up November festival. Cheating a bit as including both acts, but She Makes War, was a revelation with her variety of instruments, audience participation and quirky lovely songs. And Adams was at his finest. Acid but tender songs, some Broken Family back catalogue as well as his newer work. And a marvellous Herman Dune cover (going to the everglades). A tremendous gig, and there must have only been 40 people there to see it the room was so small. Very priveleged.

Waxahatchee - Scala
She is such a great songwriter and fantastic performer. Kind of Polly Harvey / She Keeps Bees but a bit sweeter. Lovely guitar and again and really rapt audience. Great gig.

Good performances also from: Woods at the Lexington - great rocky americana, in a superb venue; Allo Darlin at St Pancras Old Church - lovely intimate gig and they even played the song I shouted for as an encore (loser); The Wedding Present at Shepherds Bush - fabulous old school gig, even saw Stella Creasey MP there.

Plays / Stage stuff
A real mixed bag of very high quality this year. Musicals, comedy, ballet and plays. I got a bit obsessed by The Shed and the three things we saw there were brilliant but in the interest of balance i'll include a wider top three:

Moby Dick - Arcola Theatre
A superbly entertaining and innovative musical production of this classic tale. How you get the concept of an awe inspiring sperm whale into a small independent theatre in Dalston must have been a hugely creative challenge but they pulled it off magnificently. Great fun and very moving and powerful.

Nut - National Theatre at the Shed
I could have picked all or any of the three Shed productions I saw this year (Home and Protest Song were the others) but Nut just shaded it for its sympathetic, funny and incredibly moving portrayal of mental illness.

The Great Gatsby - Wiltons Music Hall
OK it is an over cooked story, but this was such a brilliant performance, with songs, dancing, audience participation and cocktails all at the tremendous Wiltons Music Hall. Havent been so entertained for a long time.

Also worth a look: Stewart Lee at the Tringe Festival in Tring - just a funny, funny man; Sleeping Beauty at Saddlers Wells - beautifully done and really entertaining

I could go on, but that is enough. Hope you had as much enjoyment last year as I did - looking forward to getting stuck into 2014.