On Saboteurs, innovation and publishing

Later this month it will be four years since Burning Eye Books published its first title, Slinky Espadrilles by Ash Dickinson. Earlier this month it was announced that Burning Eye had been nominated by enough people to make the shortlist for Most Innovative Publisher in Sabotage Review’s Saboteur Awards. This was the fourth time Burning Eye has been shortlisted for this award. We didn’t win in 2013, 14 or 15. I don’t think we will win this time either. That’s cool we are kinda small and kinda fringe. As I am fond of saying, just getting nominated is not bad going for a press run part-time from a spare bedroom near Bristol. But as usual it has made me ponder the innovation question. What exactly is it that we  do that makes people think us worth nominating? On the face of it,  you see, we all (the shortlisted publishers) publish physical books. Either fairly standard trade paperback format or fairly ordinary (in terms of the physical specification of manufacture) hardbacks. Some aspects of  how we try to work in a collaborative manner with our writers might from some quarters be seen as innovative, but we are not alone in this and unless you have worked with us as a writer you would not necessarily know the specifics of that, so the number of potential nominators would be pretty small. There are some under the hood kinks in the Burning Eye business model that might arguably be considered innovative from some angles, but these are known only to a handful of people. So what is it?

My perception is that Burning Eye gets nominated for publishing what we might call standupslamperformancespokenword poetry. In which case the nomination is perhaps best understood as a vote of appreciation for the curation of the catalogue of writers. But is it innovative? Maybe I am wrestling with that I-word too much. Looking for atom splitting invention when innovation in the 21st Century is more about small incremental change rather than revolution. Maybe it is my outsider/imposter syndrome kicking in. What Burning Eye? Really? Innovative? Are you sure? We just publish poetry we like and work with people we like working with, is that innovative? Maybe I just need to shut up and do some work. After all it is the 11th of May as I write and we have only put 10 books out so far this year (combined Burning Eye and BX3)  and we are not even half way yet!




Download HashtagPoetry# – the @StAnzaPoetry Edition (Free)

Download your FREE ebook or PDF: HashtagPoetry# – the StAnza Edition.

At the beginning of March 2016 I had the honour of being the Hashtag Poet in residence at the StAnza International Poetry Festival in St Andrews (Scotland).  The residency had three elements:

1. An installation / projection of a selection of the work I had produced over the previous year as I had developed my HashtagPoetry# project on Instagram and Twitter.

2.A DIY open workshop at the Byre Theatre in St Andrews encouraging festival attendees to make blackout / hashtag poems (see some of the results at the end of this post**).

3. Creating and posting (mostly) new work in response to the festival and its themes.

For the final element I lined up a series of pieces ready to post during my stay in Scotland and then added new work created over my three days at the festival. I will admit I did re-post a couple of older pieces just because circumstances reflected the content and they worked within the specific context of those moments but the majority of the work was created specifically for StAnza.

I have collected these 28 pieces in a FREE ebook & PDF, HashtagPoetry# – the StAnza Edition. You can sign up to download it here.

I continue to post new work as part of this ongoing project on Instagram and Twitter and am currently creating a new piece each day throughout April as part of NaPoWriMo.


** Here are a selection of blackout / Hashtag poems made by StAnza Festival attendees:



I call this Impossible-Polaroird-Wall-Poem#3 made with words collected at StAnza. Thanks to all present at the festival for a total mind feast and in particular to the following for their companionship, support, camaraderie, conversation and inspiration: Harry Man, Jo Bell, Tania Hershman, Kevin Reid, Justin Stephenson, Scott Tyrrell, Ryan Van Winkle, Nora Gomringer, Daniela Seel, Sophie Gainsley, Lyndsey FineranBen Gwalchmai, Jim Carruth, Brian Johnstone, Elizabeth Hare, Kirsten Luckins, Dave Coates, Jemima Foxtrot, Malika Booker, Katie Ailes, Kevin Mclean, Joey ConnollyBas Kwakman, and of course of course of course Annie and Eleanor for inviting me to StAnza. It was an honour. 

The Method: How to Make a HashtagPoem#

I made the first app-poems and posted them to Instagram back in early 2014 during the final stages of making Cutting Up The Economist. These involved photographing elements of the contents pages of editions of The Economist and then editing and manipulating on a smartphone using a couple of different apps. This lead to an interest in exploring how I might create poems using only my iPhone. I started taking screen grabs from the Twitter app intrigued by the cut-up flow of information. That put me in mind of William Burroughs whereas Cutting Up The Economist has been all Tristan Tzara (“take a newspaper / take some scissors”). Also during a (as yet unpublished) third montage project that sat between Cutting Up The Economist and HastagPoetry# titled The Palimpsest Girl I started decorating the poems with coloured dots influenced by the work of Yayoi Kusama and carried this across into the smartphone exploration. The early results looked like this:


Method One was born. I made 11 poems like this in March-May 2015 and then stalled. The text editor element that provided the XXX’s was hard to manipulate on the small screen of my phone and they could take hours of back and forth to get right.

I came back to the project in October 2015. During a visit to Skye in the summer I have found some sets of coloured dot stickers in a post office. Influenced by Austin Kleon’s Blackout Poetry method (not for the first time I should add) and his advocacy of getting off-tech and going analogue I stacked up screen grabs from the Twitter app and printed them out on A6 photo-paper. Method Two was born:

1.Take a Twitter-app screen grab 2. Print it out on photo-paper 3. Redact with a black Sharpie 4. Decorate with coloured dot stickers 5. Photograph & post to Instagram:

HashtagPoem# 12

That worked through to HashtagPoem#38 and then I stalled again. The thought that I had intended at the beginning to explore the use of smart phone apps was nagging at me so I went back to the apps and tried a new approach. This time rather than hatching with the text editor I erased text using white paint function of the PhotoEditor app and then added paint dots of different size and colours by tapping my finger repeatedly on the screen. Method Three was thus established as a completely app based process:

1.Take a Twitter-app screen grab 2. Open it in PhotoEditor 3. Crop it. 4. Erase to leave the desired text 5. Decorate with coloured dots 6. Export it & post to Instagram. This GIF gives you a flavour of how it works:


This kicked off a creative run that remains ongoing. I like the aesthetic scope and variety it offers. The pieces that will feature in the installation at StAnza16 were all created this way but I will be using Method Two during the residency and encouraging festival goers to join me in creating new poems themselves. These will all be posted to the StAnzaPoetry Instagram during the festival.

I’ll arrive at the festival armed with my Creative Suite 0.0 which will include a bunch of A6 prints of random Twitter screen grabs (or maybe even screen grabs of the Twitter feeds of poets and other festival attendees – I am open to suggestions @clivebirnie on Twitter), plus a whole load of Sharpies and of course coloured stickers. It’ll look something like this:

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Creative Suite 0.0

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Time Travel Hotel… 1star or 5star?

9781909136526After publishing Time Travel Hotel last year I punted a few copies our into the world to see if it would garner some GoodReads reviews and maybe a few readers off the back of that. Here are a selection of comments from the results:

“Packed full of crazy characters and events, with a twisting storyline and atmosphere that reminded me of Catch-22 (as referred to in the influences) with a little sprinkling of Kafka and Beckett.”

“I enjoyed this book. It’s a bizarre and quirky time travel/looping book with some raunchy but very quick sex scenes. I enjoyed the author’s style and humor. Definitely not a sci-fi that will please everyone, but I thought it was fun.”

“This was one of the strangest books I have ever read”

“totally manic, somewhat confusing and often pretty revolting”

“follows a man who is hired to track down a man by the name of Eugenides. He arrives at the hotel, the time travel hotel (republic), and the book follows his search for the man gone astray, meeting various characters along the way. And I do mean characters. A girl with 9 lives, and a penchant for jumping off high balconies; a man who falls through floors, willingly or not; an alien from mars, terribly dissatisfied with the less than packing members of male earthlings. The entire thing was a bit odd, and I loved it for that reason.”

“if one is easily offended, one should not attempt reading this book.”

FB Ad1 18Mar15“I didn’t want to put the story down. It is very creative, to say the least, and extremely odd. Maybe a little too odd at times”

Time Travel Hotel was the wildest leisurely stroll I’ve ever been on. With a small cast of eccentric characters and a complex yet uncomplicated plot, it was a very easy read, despite being entirely bizarre and occasionally disturbing.”

“there is so much nonsense within this short novel (as I typed that, I started thinking about the absurdity of this book and accidentally typed ‘snort shovel’) that the reader isn’t really left with anything more than what he chooses to assume. ”

Yep. No complaints. I deliberately wrote an absurd time travel detective sex comedy that ran at 100 miles an hour but tipped its hat firmly in the direction of Waiting for Godot or Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead (I LOVE R&G are dead!). Throw in my love of Catch 22 and Sombrero Fallout and this is what you get. Also I had this image in my head of Hugo Ball or another Dada mayhem maker blowing a horn loudly while Tristan Tzara was reading a poem so that part of the narrative is obscured and therefore deliberately dropped the “plot” and reader down a mine shaft in the dark as often as possible whilst keeping the whole damn thing rocket speed readable. So no surprise that those who get it, love it and those who don’t REALLY hate it. Happy with it all. No one seems to have been bored!

One author poet I have published at Burning Eye emailed to say this:

“I meant to say I finally got round to reading Time Travel Hotel the other week, and thoroughly enjoyed it – old school Adams-ian sex comedy sci-fi Ken Campbell-ish trip, man.

Thanks for writing it.”

Time Travel Hotel is available in paperback and all manner of ebook versions. If you buy the paperback from Burning Eye and put the promo code DADA in the relevant box you will get it half price.

Paperback from Burning Eye>>>Paperback from Burning Eye>>>

Ebook from Amazon

Ebook from Kobo

Ebook for iBooks

Also available from Waterstones Foyles Blackwells Wordery Books etc

Here’s a sample…

What is going on with Time Travel Hotel?

Time Travel Hotel is a satirical sci-fi novel published by Burning Eye in April 2015. When I say satirical though I mean I use Sci-fi and satire as a way of exploring certain other ideas – I do not satirise Sci-fi. Too big a fan for that!

You can buy it from AmazonFoylesWaterstonesBlackwell’s, direct from Burning Eye or from Apple for iBooks, and any bookstore that doesn’t have it in stock can order it for you.

It is an exercise in accessible experimentation so on the one hand it is experimental. I fold several interwoven stories together and throw in a couple of dada hand brake plots turns but all the while writing with one eye on the rules of Elmore Leonard. Hopefully the end results is part art-experiment-pretension but always a zippy easy read. Dada plot experiment meets delinquent pulp fiction? Yeah. That’s what I was aiming for.

It is kind of 18+ though, I should warn prospective readers. It contains some bad sex. Not badly written (I hope) but bad as in failed, disastrous, embarrassing, cringe-worthy, clumsy and hopefully amusing. One Goodreads reviewer did decide that if you are easily shocked you should avoid Time Travel Hotel. Yeah – that was what I was aiming for.

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This is the back of my book.

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There are some serious undercurrents. I explore the 21st Century’s obsession with immigration and outsiders, how the same situation has different repercussions depending on race, gender, species, planet of origin.

It is also a novel that wears its influences on its sleeve and a canny reader will find nods, winks, and references to Herodotus, Catch 22, Kurt Vonnegut, Waiting for Godot, The Monty Python Cheese Shop sketch, Star Wars, the 15th Century Hungarian king Mattias Corvinus, The Wasteland, The Simpsons, Liutprand of Cremona – historian of Otto the Great and Hong Kong Phooey.

What is it about? Try this:

Occupied during an Anarchist riot, Battersea Power Station flicks out of existence and returns as the technologically ambiguous INTERFOLD – THE TIME TRAVEL HOTEL REPUBLIC, complete with a reputation for spontaneously relocation.

Black McCarthy, a detective, is sent to INTERFOLD by his client The Wolf in search of a man who may or may not be hiding under the name of Eugenides.

The Man Who Lived In A Vacuum Cleaner has shrunk to a few centimetres tall and become the subject of an Martian sex-periment to re-inflate him.

The Girl With Nine Lives has stopped counting.

The Dwarf With The Horse has migrated into INTERFOLD territory by mistake and finds himself in trouble with Eunuch policemen.

With Martians, Assassins, Bristolians and A Man Who Falls Through Floors, there are no shortage of characters willing to aide or hinder Black in his search. The problem is that he is not the only one who wants Eugenides found, and time is not only against him but is disregarding all the usual rules.

Think Hitchhikers, Catch 22, Sombrero Fall Out, Breakfast Of Champions, The Adventures of Tintin, an episode of Hong Kong Phooey, A splash of Monty Phython and The Wasteland put in a blender and wizzed up into the best of Elmore Leonard and tell me if I am close!

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… This is the back of my book upside down

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A short note about Time Travel Hotel (a novel)

9781909136526This novel took a long time to write, and not that long at all. In elapsed linear years from beginning to end was, I will admit, over a decade but as the real writing took place in 4 or 5 intense bursts it was probably less than a year. I will post thoughts and notes on it in the coming weeks and months but the intention of this post is to say. It is finished. It has a kooky cover by the excellent Dominic Brookman and will be published by Burning Eye (who else!) in April.

Here are some words that pretend to describe it:

Black McCarthy is despatched to INTERFOLD – The Time Travel Hotel Republic to track down “Eugenides”. His client, the Wolf, is on his back demanding progress as INTERFOLD keeps shifting time and place, throwing up residency and immigration anomalies as it does so. Help of a kind is on hand via the Dwarf with the Horse, the Man Who Fell Through Floors, the Girl With Nine Lives, the Nurse With The Curse, and Joylin – the INTERFOLD receptionist. But who is Eugenides? The ManWho Lived in a Vacuum Cleaner? The Man Who Dreamt He Was Dreaming? One of the other oddball residents? Is winding up naked in a sauna elevator in the Car Park at Infinity really going to help track him down? Unfortunately for Black, his client is not the only one who wants Eugenides found, Black is possibly the worst detective money can buy and time is not only against him but ignoring all the usual rules. Beneath the black humour, Time Travel Hotel is an exploration of identity and whether we are defined by a place of origin, residence, citizenship or by the decisions that propel us through life. It is a book about regret and missed opportunities. A book about going back – if only you could.