Back in 1998, I was living in East London and reading Henry Miller, John Fante, and Charles Bukowski, Toni Morrison, and a few others. I felt that there were no magazines or books that really described what I was seeing. In Dalston Market, I’d see people going about their business. I loved the market, it was a true melting pot of cultures. I realised that I was part of a rich, culturally diverse London community; Dalston was jam-packed with African, Carribean, Southern Mediterranean, Asian, British, Irish, and Jewish people.
Something about that part of London evoked the Victorian era. There was a kind of meta-dialogue going on between the inhabitants and their surroundings. Without realizing it, bleak, funny, brilliant, colorful or phantasmagoric characters started emerging in my imagination, as though there are lives that whisper to us from the stones in the walls, from the pavements at our feet, from old or derelict houses, from the arches of chapels, or the well-trodden pathways of cemeteries. In the darker corners, you sense remnants of Sweeny Todd, the butcher’s shop becomes a place where the black market meat is human flesh. Those penny dreadful stories fill the ether, and in our urban imaginations, they stay in draft form, waiting to be released. At that time, there were a lot of densely written literary novels about the city, but nothing that spoke to these strange aspects of the imagination.
So I wanted stories that broke from ‘literary’ and into a more visceral landscape, depicting the city as I saw it. I was hoping to find work that revealed, as Bukowski did, the utter insanity of life and that gave an alternative vision of reality.
In setting up the zine back then I hoped to find poets, short story writers, anyone, with an idiosyncratic or even aberrant vision, and the ability to describe the beautiful, often decrepit confusion of the age – as we were approaching the year 2k. I didn’t quite find what I was looking for, but I am still hopeful that NLW publishing will one day recreate that odd, quivering, between two worlds atmosphere of the city as I imagined it back then.
On a writing course some years back, I was roundly criticised for using dialogue I had heard a traffic warden speaking. A few aggrieved souls accused me of racism. That sort of psychological badgering irritates me profoundly. Why do some of us feel need to police language? The near Victorian attitude to certain words – the ‘c’ word for instance – even today is amazing. My attitude is that words themselves are innocent, right? Construe them how you will. Really all language is artifice, illusion. Autobiographies are new reconstructions of lived experience, so it’s questionable whether we ever capture the true – (if true it be) – an experience we think we have had.
People – if they so choose – should feast themselves on every idiom, word, or phrase available for art. Dive in and unfold your unique vision of the world, write something that speaks to you, something close to your inner truth. Look, everything is on the table for our use. Even so, with storytelling, often it is a matter of personal taste. Personally, I grow impatient with bad plots, out of context or gratuitous violence, elitism, and/or sexism, or posing, but I’m all for using the basic stuff of our lives in art. Dickens did, and when it comes to creating character, you should try to aim for an authentic voice or at least an authentic impression of that voice. Right?
In the late 90’s Indie publishing was starting to thrive. Low printing costs meant that small press publishers could exist. Microsoft had improved MS Word for document production and text layout. Pagemaker was still the standard DTP application of the day, along with Quark, but I did layout and design with MS Word, working all hours to get the file ready for printing. Bleary-eyed, I sent the floppy disc off to TTA Press in Cambridge.
The design concept was simple, black and white text and graphics, with delicate kerning and lots of white space. A Canadian artist helped design the front cover of the first issue, based on a mysterious dream I had about the moon.
A plethora of small press outlets existed in the 90s and there was lots of energy and creativity. For instance, TTA Press had a Science Fiction magazine called The Third Alternative, now Interzone. The Edge magazine came out of a flat in Hammersmith, (featuring Nicholas Royle and Ian McEwan).
New London Writers – mark 1 – ran for three issues. It attracted many subscribers, including the legendary, A P Watt. We had budding street poets, future Guardian columnists, and even Quentin Crisp graced us with a poem written in lavender ink. Centrepoint bookshop in Hackney sold the magazine for a year.
In 2011, after completing an MA, I decided to resurrect New London Writers online. For some reason, we attract writers from Asia and America, as well as the UK.
Paul was a member of NLW writer’s workshop in South West London. He was working on a novel, and I enjoyed the cool eye of the narrator as he explored death, grief, and guilt. Paul has given generously of his time to New London Writers. When my brain isn’t functioning, he steps in as chairman of the board!
I was a script consultant on feature films including, ‘The Bird Catcher’ , ‘Starred Up’  and ‘Desiree . My company Twelvechairsfilms.com is developing a number of film projects and we are looking for new ideas, so check out the site.
I’ve had many short stories, poems, and articles published, and a book ‘‘Dancing In the Waves’’ [Mer 1998]. For ten years I was editor of ‘Screenwriter magazine.
I have run European writing workshops and lead the MA Screenwriting programme at Birkbeck College, London University. I founded and am on the board of Euroscript, the UK’s premier independent script training company.
Now I’m working with Alice on developing New London Writers, reading material submitted through the website, and hoping to expand the magazine’s networks. A mix of energy and commitment have kept this project alive, it’s a labour of love.
My full profile is on Paul’s Website