Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Writing Game

Some time ago I came upon a blog written by an English man in prison in America – Jon’s Jail Journal It was a gripping story of his experiences whilst incarcerated in Madison Street jail in Phoenix, Arizona. It was a prison run by the notorious Sheriff Joseph Arpaio who boasted that it cost more to feed the guard dogs than the prisoners, who put women in chains and outraged human rights campaigners. Towards the end of his sentence he asked a guard how the Sheriff got away with the inhuman conditions rife in his jail and was told that the world had no idea what went on in there. Jon aka Shaun Attwood decided it was time to change that.

He started to write a memoir:

‘Green Bologna and Pink Boxers: Surviving Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s Jail is an account of my journey through America’s most notorious jail system, a netherworld revolving around gang violence, drug use and racism. It provides a revealing glimpse into the tragedy, brutality, comedy and eccentricity of jail life and the men inside. It is also a story of my redemption, as incarceration leads to introspection, and a passion for literature, philosophy, and yoga. The book ends with me starting Jon’s Jail Journal, exposing the conditions in the jail’

An organisation - The Koestler Trust gave Shaun the unique opportunity to be mentored by Sally Hinchcliffe, a published author with an M.A. in Creative Writing from London University.

I once wrote to Sally to ask her advice about getting published and she took the trouble to give me excellent advice the main gist of which was to find an agent which - eventually - I did.

Shaun hoped to get published as soon as he got out of prison but Sally told him if he was seeking immediate results he needed to find another occupation. That getting published can take years; his book should be presented in the right way because he only had one shot with each publisher and the book in its present form would be rejected,

The mentoring sessions are of immense value to any would be writers IMO and Shaun is very fortunate to have them.

If you scroll down you get links to each mentoring session which I found illuminating and helpful.

Incidentally ‘Out of a clear Sky’ by Sally Hinchcliffe is a rattling good story and gave me a taste for a psychological thriller. I’m presently enjoying ‘Cut Short’ by Leigh Russell one of our own bloggers.


Guyana-Gyal said...

Wow! That sounds like something from long, long ago, that sort of cruelty in prison. I wonder what the reaction to Jon's truths was like.

As for getting published, yes, it takes years. Finding the right agent is a must.

And the day job...that is true too.

My day job, if I were living in a Caribbean island, would be writing. There are lots of other forms of writing [full time] other than book writing - magazines, television, radio, newspapers, ad campaigns, speeches. Here they want your words for free.

Jimmy Bastard said...

I'll follow up on the links Pat, with interest.

PI said...

GG: I think the vital thing is to keep writing which is why I try to keep Past Imperfect going. No money but great feed back and friendship.

Jimmy: I'll be interested in your thoughts.

David said...

There are some, like me, who think that jail is not meant to be a place of comfort, or rights, or leisure, and who support the Sheriff in providing a grueling experience to convicted felons as a deterrent to committing crimes in his jurisdiction again.
I believe it is an injustice to spend massive amounts on convicts and to not have enough to educate our children. I am sorry for Jon, but only that he expected too much from "prison"? what was he thinking?

R. Sherman said...

One of the reasons things such as this occur, is that these positions, i.e. sheriff, are elected positions. Thus, it behooves the candidate to adopt a "tough on crime and perpetrator" position and keep at it. The public will side with law enforcement 99 times out of 100 on these issues.

Thanks for the links.


kenju said...

I would like to read those, but I am having trouble finding the time to get around to all the blogs I try to read everyday. Life intrudes!

PI said...

David: what was he thinking indeed? I really hope he is sincere when he speaks about redemption but the whole point of the post is to illustrate how a mentor can guide a writer to make their book publishable.

Randall: it is interesting to get more local information about the prison system in the US and David's comment supports what you say.
I hope you find the links interesting.

Judy: I understand. Sometimes my heart sinks when I see links but for anybody engaged uinthe writing game these are good value.

Queenie said...

Fascinating stuff, Pat. I've just read quite a lot of his mentoring story, and it looks like I also have three more books for my tbr pile - thanks... I think!! ;-)

Zed said...

"Out of a Clear Sky" is a brilliant book that Sally sent me as I agreed to be part of her virtual book tour.

I never full-filled that and live to this day in guilt because the book is incredible and well worth buying/getting hold of.

And I ditto David's comment.

Keith said...

I'm still waiting for a "rattling good story" from you. I keep checking Amazon to see if it's out yet!

Nea said...

Thanks Pat, the links were interesting,especially the mentor and Shaun's different views of their sessions.

Scarlet-Blue said...

I will follow the links... but now I'm off to see Shane!

PI said...

Queenie: I though you'd find it interesting. I keep going back and having another read. It would be wonderful to have someone like that. Ironic that you have to have been in jail to get it.

Zed: how strange. She's an excellent writer and a very nice person.

Keith: if/when it happens I certainly won't keep it a secret and you will be one of the first to know:)

Nea: it was an eye -opener to me - not least that such a strong atmospheric story still needs months of work.

Scarlet: I'm sure you'll like him. In a good way.

OldOldLady Of The Hills said...

This is amazing Pat! This weeks NEW YORKER--JULY 20, 2009, has a "PROFILE" of this horrific Sherrif! I began reading it and found it so disturbing and distressing that I put it aside till whenever. It is really strange that you would be writing about this man who was a Prisoner in that Arizona Jail, the day after I began reading this article.

Thanks for those links, my dear. I will take a look at the Mentoring stuff....To get GOOD advice on what to do as a writer is a great great gift!

Eryl Shields said...

Gosh, this has got me all of a twitter. Followed the link to Jon, read a bit: very interesting in both respects. I really do hope he gets published as I'm desperate to find out how an English Stockbroker ended up in an Arizona prison. I'm going to have to buy that Martin Amis book now too.

AndrewM said...

I'm an old testament kinda guy so I don't have a problem with tough conditions for convicted felons. I cannot condone Sheriff Arpaio's regime, however.

Jon (Shaun whatever) has paid his dues and is now helping guys he met inside (and other inmates) to explore their creative side through writing. I admire him for that.

PI said...

Naomi: that is extraordinary. I'm so glad it was worth doing the links. One can learn such a lot and hopefully cut down on one's bad habits (me I mean).

Eryl: I knew you would be as avid as me. Not to spoil it foryo but he made a fortune promoting raves and I'm fairly sure drugs were involved which lost my sympathy but what AndrewM says is very valid and when you read what he endured in prison he really did pay his dues. Cock roaches and gren meat anyone?

AndrewM; thank you for summing it up so wieely.

Leigh Russell said...

Hi PI - I'm so glad you're enjoying Cut Short! Sorry I didn't make my way over here sooner but I've been away book signing - sold out again! So far I've done 7 book signings and sold an average of 40 books at each. Today's bookshop had only ordered 20 copies so we sold out by 11.30 and spent the rest of the day by the canal which was beautiful!

PI said...

Leigh: that's a great success story and gives us all hope. And you did all this on your own - virtually. I hope you'll write about the process sometime.

Charlie said...

Pat: I finally get around to visiting you and lo and behold, you mention Sheriff Joe.

I have lived in a Phoenix suburb for 13 years and Joe is about as popular with the electorate as the electorate can be. He runs the county like it's the wild, wild West, and he gets away with it.

But perhaps not for much longer: the FBI is investigating him for something hush-hush.

I have visited you before on the lurk because I love the photos you post (and your writing, of course). My mug is the newest one on your Follower's list.

And now I'll follow all your links.


PI said...

Charlie: welcome and how interesting to hear your comments on Sheriff Joe. Thank you for the kind things you said about my blog and I'm glad you are my new follower.