Sunday, 31 August 2008


Tip No 1

The first in a series of handy tips for writer-people.

If you are a writer, why not visit the Poetry Library website. Oodles of information, magazines, competitions, events, education... and masses more.


Wonderful place to visit, in the South Bank Centre, London. FREE.

Read all the poetry magazines on their shelves. Write in peace. Think. Dream. Meet mates for lunch. Have lunch alone. Walk along the river. Go to Waterloo and people-watch. Watch the skate boarders. Listen to the buskers under the bridges.

If you can't get to London, browse the magazine archive kept by the Library, issues of amazing poetry mags sitting there waiting for you to read em.

Use lines as prompts. Write your own. Prose, flash, poem... who cares?

Waste of Space Face Book

well I dunno. I CANT work this place out.And its probably a good thing, or I'd be on there all day by the looks.

I know a handful of people on there (and a handful of their friends, all seem really nice peeps.)

I logged in today cos I has something on email, (I use a defunct Hotmail addy, check it every few weeks. Use it for subs and comps and I'm not doing much of that now.)

And me, this unknown, has this list of unanswered things:

4 friend requests
5 group invites
I human gift request (huh?)
23 li’l green patch requests (double huh?)
4 funwall friend requests
4 smile requests
3 good karma requests
I historical figure request from Susan (who I still don’t know.)
I blog networds invite
2 pies for you requests
1 Monty Python gift request
I mirror blog invitation
I egg from Sharon
I coffee for you
2 super wall invites
1 flower from kate
I2 event invites
I buy your friends invite (huh?)
I own your friends invite (double huh?)
2 I am a writer invites
1 video request
1 smile from Susan request (I don’t even KNOW this person)
I good karma from Susan request (this woman is cuckoo)
1 ireadit invite
1 titaniawrites invite (ah! Someone I KNOW!!)
I vampires request (as if…)
I scramble invitation
2 retro sweets invite
1 Playboy girls for you invite (Susan again!)
1 Have you ever… request (Susan needs wiping out)
3 likeness quizzes (all from Susan, who ought to be locked up…)
1 egg from guess who (Susan!! Wheee!)
1 hatching egg from Kate
I rearranging words invite
1 artistic v scientific invite.

Well it may be the most wonderful invention since the suspender belt, but I just don't get it.

What is all this stuff FOR????

WHO the hell is Susan????

Why do I want or need all this rubbish?????

Why not just email me, huh???

I have cancelled my account.

Saturday, 30 August 2008


Look, it's on my desk!!! It arrived this morning! THE WHITE ROAD!

The most fabulous collection, this one. A mix of short stories and flash fiction, many inspired by quotes from scientific journals.

And I've planted a tree! For every copy sold a tree will be planted, thanks to Eco Libris.

Friday, 29 August 2008


Aren't they just lovely, these kids?

Isn't Cornwall great, even when it's grey?

From left: Sophie Bee, Jimbo, Sibs, Jared, Toby (Gebbie), Millie

Booby's Bay, high tide.

Toby and Jared, posing like crazy...

Red flag... no surfing until later...

Sophie, Millie, Jimbo, Sibs, Toby, Jared, outside the barn.

Thursday, 28 August 2008


A week with six teenagers, in a converted barn on Trevose Head, in Cornwall. Chris and I are knackered.

The kids collected their GCSE results from school then climbed on a train and met us in Cornwall. We drove down the day before, and chilled out at a B and B half way.

Anyway... I decided to READ all week. To READ novels, NOT short stories. I took two of my own that I wanted to read, and picked two off the shelf at the holiday house. And I read em all, four novels in six follows:

First, one I took myself: Shifts, by Christopher Meredith. It seemed a good idea... he's one of the tutors at Glamorgan (not mine) and the subject interested me. 1977, a dying steel town, South Wales. I was loaned the book by a Welsh writer friend. I got to the end and felt sad. Why? WHY hasn't he written loads more if he could write like this??? Written in 1988... TWENTY years back. And it is so good, the whole thing aches. The characters are living breathing people. And I lay on the settee and read it cover to cover in a day. I hadn't done that in years... because with most books, something puts me off fast now, and I give up. Can't be arsed. Life too short. Might die tomorrow. Is this really the last book I would have wanted to read...

This was a really good re-entry into the novel, and a reminder of how you can sustain emotion, making the reader care, for that long. Strong,lovely prose. Great descriptions of the steel works, the characters, the work. Great dialogue.

Second, one off the shelf in the barn: The Eagle Has Landed by Jack Higgins.
Hey, a page-turner that I wanted to read! Loved it. I've seen the film ages back, and was still hooked. I was also fascinated to see how the book was structured. How the writer made me want to carry on. How the stories were woven. And I loved the character of the Irish IRA fighter Liam Devlin. Again, read in a day, and part of the night... retired to bed with a beer, and curled up under the duvet to finish it. Great rollicking read. Slipped by easily, and it was read for the plot, although the prose was fine.

Third: Aaaagh. The Captains and The Kings by Taylor Caldwell.
Oh my Gaaad. And having set myself this task, I was NOT allowed to sneak it back onto the bloody shelf and find another. I chose it as I remembered that it had been filmed. The blurb sounded good. Impoverished Irish family displaced to the USA at the time of the potato famine. Rags to Riches.

Well. Rags to Riches it may have been, but it was via a tedious and clunky route in which every female character was dressed in flounces of lace and smelled of violets, tossed their ringlets, showed their pantelettes, and in which all the male characters were either charmless cardboard cutouts who amassed much money but no happiness, or cutie-pies with curls and cherry red lips.

I have never BEEN so bored. I was glad when they all died. And I just hope the actors managed to inject a little life into the characters, cos they sure as hell didn't have any on the page.

Speed read, in a day and a half, knowing what I had waiting when I finished...

Day, by A L Kennedy. Has to be one of the best thing I've read in years, one of those you have to read with a pen and paper by your side because every other sentence makes you zing with thoughts for your own writing. Superb stuff. Superb.

Wouldn't have minded dying after this one... so long as I'd finished it first....

Tuesday, 19 August 2008


At least we hope normal service will be resumed. One never knows...but I'm aiming at 29th.

We are off to Cornwall for a week with six lovely guys and girls who will get their GCSE results on Thursday. Converted barn, rain forecast, kids coming down on Thursday by train... omigad.

We are staying close to this beach, where most of the time the kids will be surfing, building bonfires at night on the sand, baking spuds, partying, and drinking far too much beer.

Mind you, I might join them

And tis funny to think that the same headland features in this piccie of a little apprentice Queen Canute, aged two. 1954. Moi.


(PS. I leave with the novel at 55,650 wds)


More timewasting which ends up not being timewasting at all...

The question of train journeys, and writing. Or writing in cafes. (Maggie Gee writes in a cafe. So did J K Rowling and they aren't the only ones -)

I found THIS LINK to an article on noise by the author of a book thereon.

Among the snippets, the fact that noise can be brown and pink as well as white.

And that Asimov used to set up his typewriter in a shop to write, surrounded by noise.

I think he may be off-beam though. It's not just the actual sound - its the place as well. It's sounds and events that are meaningless and cancel out the noise in your head, so you can just create.

Train journeys, cafes, all the same thing.

Line breaks in poetry

Well there I am between transcribing a wodge of novel written on the train (why is it that train journeys are so great for writing?) and reading a novella for a friend...and in pauses, I'm worrying about line breaks. I'm fiddling and re-writing poems so they look totally different, so that the rhythms are pointed differently, even thought the words are the same. (huh?)

And I see this:

….I am mindful
that only yesterday
in Birmingham, Alabama,
our children,
crying out for brotherhood,
were answered with fire hoses,
snarling dogs and even death.

I am mindful
that only yesterday
in Philadelphia, Mississippi,
young people
seeking to secure the right to vote
were brutalized and murdered.

And only yesterday
more than 40 houses of worship
in the State of Mississippi
were bombed or burned
because they offered a sanctuary
to those
who would not accept segregation....

and to me, it says poets are born, a little. That in the rhythms above there are echoes of addresses in church heard by a small boy and IN his being. That there is natural repetition, internal rhymes, alliteration and all sorts of clever things.

Written as a poem?

Nah. Tis Martin Luther King's acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Think on, Nessie.....

Saturday, 16 August 2008

Men are from Mars, wimmin are from the hairdressers...

Here's a prime example of 'Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus' offered by an English professor from the University of Phoenix .

The professor told his class one day, 'Today we will experiment w ith a new form called the tandem story. The process is simple. Each person will pair off with the person sitting to his or her immediate right. As homework tonight, one of you will write the first paragraph of a short story. You will e-mail your partner that paragraph and send another copy to me. The partner will read the first paragraph and then add another paragraph to the story and send it back, also sending another copy to me. The first person will then add a third paragraph, and so on back-and-forth. Remember to re-read what has been written each time in order to keep the story coherent. There is to be absolutely NO talking outside of the e-mails and anything you wish to say must be written in the e-mail. The story is over when both agree a conclusion has been reached.'

The following was actually turned in by two of his English students: Rebecca and Gary.



(first paragraph by Rebecca)

At first, Laurie couldn't decide which kind of tea she wanted. The chamomile, which used to be her favorite for lazy evenings at home, now reminded her too much of Carl, who once said, in happier times, that he liked chamomile. But she felt she must now, at all costs, keep her mind off Carl. His possessiveness was suffocating, and if she thought about him too much her asthma started acting up again. So chamomile was out of the question.

(second paragraph by Gary )

Meanwhile, Advance Sergeant Carl Harris, leader of the attack squadron now in orbit over Skylon 4, had more important things to think about than the neuroses of an air-headed asthmatic bimbo named Laurie with whom he had
spent one sweaty night over a year ago. 'A.S. Harris to Geostation 17,' he said into his transgalactic communicator. 'Polar orbit established. No sign of resistance so far...' But before he could sign off a bluish particle beam flashed out of nowhere and blasted a hole through his ship's cargo bay. The jolt from the direct hit sent him flying out of his seat and across the cockpit.


He bumped his head and died almost immediately, but not before he felt one last pang of regret for psychically brutalizing the one woman who had ever had feelings for him. Soon afterwards, Earth stopped its pointless hostilities towards the peaceful farmers of Skylon 4. 'Congress Passes Law Permanently Abolishing War and Space Travel,' Laurie read in her newspaper one morning. The news simultaneously excited her and bored her. She stared out the window, dreaming of her youth, when the days had passed unhurriedly and carefree, with no newspaper to read, no television to distract her from her sense of innocent wonder at all the beautiful things around her. 'Why must one lose one's innocence to become a woman?' she wondered wistfully..

( Gary )

Little did she know, but she had less than 10 seconds to live. Thousands of miles above the city, the Anu'udrian mothership launched the first of its lithium fusion missiles. The dim-witted wimpy peaceniks who pushed the
Unilateral Aerospace disarmament Treaty through the congress had left Earth a defenseless target for the hostile alien empires who were determined to destroy the human race. Within two hours after the passage of the treaty the Anu'udrian ships were on course for Earth, carrying enough firepower to pulverize the entire planet. With no one to stop them, they swiftly initiated their diabolical plan.. The lithium fusion missile entered the atmosphere unimpeded. The President, in his top-secret mobile submarine headquarters on the ocean floor off the coast of Guam , felt the inconceivably massive explosion, which vaporized poor, stupid Laurie.


This is absurd. I refuse to continue this mockery of literature. My writing partner is a violent, chauvinistic semi-literate adolescent.

( Gary )

Yeah? Well, my writing partner is a self-centered tedious neurotic whose attempts at writing are the literary equivalent of Valium. 'Oh, shall I have chamomile tea? Or shall I have some other sort of F**KING TEA??? Oh no, what am I to do? I'm such an air headed bimbo who reads too many Danielle Steele novels!'








Go drink some tea - whore.


A+ I really liked this one

Lunch with David Grubb

Lovely lunch yesterday (day or so in London)to mark a few months of mentoring, tutoring, by poet David Grubb. Id taken him a bottle to say thank you, and he treated me to a lovely lunch in the restaurant at the South Bank centre, overlooking the Thames. Wonderful bottle of Sancerre, I felt proper tiddly. Lunch lasted from 12.00 until 3.30, and we had such a good natter -

He also presented me with a book and DVD set, brilliant! Bloodaxe's In Person, 30 Poets. Just out, coupla months back. You read, AND listen... it is my own interactive Poetry Festival!!!
(for a taster of this fabulous book’s DVD, follow THIS LINK and click on the link for the You tube thingummy)

You will see and hear five poets reading from 'IN PERSON'
filmed by Pamela Robertson-Pearce
DVD-book edited by Neil Astley

Benjamin Zephania
Imtiaz Dharker
Brendan Kennelly
Jackie Kay
C K Williams

. . .

Then the 'come-down':

Got home just now, to find a copy of 'How Poets Work' bought from Amazon second hand, at £35.00. (ahem. It's meant to be very good) I wouldn't mind, but what they didn't say when describing its condition, was that inside it is clearly stamped "WITHDRAWN FROM STOCK", and the frst few pages are torn out. (This is 'excellent condition, apparently)

And to add insult to injury, 50p was pencilled inside, where the front pages containing the library register form thingy had been removed.

So Richmond Books, who I bought it from, have lost a customer.

Nemmind. Im sure it's very good....

"Psycho Buildings" at the Hayward Gallery

You have a week left to see this amazing exhibition, a week left to go boating above London!

Twelve pictures here, on the Guardian online, and a write-up here, also on Guardian online.

The first psycho building is an edifice that looks something like a spider’s body sans legs, made from nylon mesh over wood, with vast hanging sacs inside, (think of that thing at the back of your throat), filled with spices. The whole is vast… it looms in the fist space, towers up the best part of two floors, and through a false ‘ceiling made of more mesh, like a stretched cobweb.

It is scented, with pepper, and spice, whatever it is, in these 'things'.

I sniffed one of the ‘things’, which look rather nastily scrotal, or cancerous - and it was filled with cloves. Got it on my nose and was followed round the whole exhibition by the scent.

Was rather glad to leave that one behind. Less of a building, more of a nightmare/filmset thing, I expected it to move.

Then there is an extraordinary edifice made by a Korean artist, who moved to the USA, of his family home, a simple one storey house, crashed into the side of the apartment block he lived in in the USA. That was extraordinary, thought provoking. The contents of each house are all there, some jumbled, slid about in the collision, and others still in place, horribly normal.

The same artist has a suspended red nylon staircase and vast red nylon false ceiling in another part of the exhibition.

There is a fabulous ‘city’ made of lit doll’s houses, reminiscent of a Disney ride… something disturbing about it, all in the dark, all these little windows watching you. I found myself looking for the one that must be unlit, and couldn’t find it.

There is a metal tunnel like edifice, like a birth canal of a vast robot, which clangs and resonates as you walk up it.. There is also an ‘exploded’ house, with bits of furniture and building materials suspended on wires. I didn’t like this, thought it was too ‘easy’ It felt forced.

There was then the most amazing two rooms, in which false walls had been attacked by the artist (we assume) a reconstruction of something previously on show in Edinburgh. Mike Nelson's To the Memory of HP Lovecraft (1999). Scratch marks, gouges, holes in the walls, tears… damage everywhere, a very violent otherwise empty space, in which you, the viewer, became part of the aftermath of 'something', complicit.

There’s a roof level boating lake, on which you can take a rowing boat! A huge plastic domed structure in which some people stand inside at ‘ground’ level and experience what its like to see others lying or bouncing on the level above. There’s a tissue paper and wire mesh room, (didn’t like this. It reminded me of a 4th form project.)

There’s a cinema out on the roof, inside an organic wooden structure, which felt like being in a huge gullet, and the light passing along the walls set up a sort of peristalsis.

Amazing. I sat on the floor and wrote down whatever lines came to me in each room.

And whether I ‘liked’ the exhibits or not, I was wowed, challenged, made to reappraise, think. We don’t do enough of that. At least, I don’t!

(Pictures by Stephen White)

Thursday, 14 August 2008

Being made to think, ii

Some clarity, and really helpful clarity, on the issue of 'patronising' the characters, and by extension, the reader. More emails.. and again, Im thanking this colleague.

It seems to come down to a fine difference between the way I write some characters but not others. And it is very interesting. As I said before... this is magic feedback. And I was just a wee bit off beam supposing it was anything to do with writing characters who differ from me as a person!

My colleague went into some detail about the portrayal of some characters whose head I seemed to be in 100%, so that the work was organic. And then others who I was less engaged with, it seemed, where there was a sort of distance between me and them, and therefore, the impression is that I am slightly 'outside' them, and showing them somewhat deliberately to the reader.

A few lines were quoted, places where characters are introduced in a direct way by the writer. (I am Miguel or Who is Harry?).

I now understand more, and he's right... its a sort of authorial 'intrusion', which in the hands of a real humdinger of a writer (I love that word!) would be far more successful!

Or...would it? is any authorial intrusion successful?

Hmph. You see, I love reading stories where the writer is talking to ME. Addressing me directly, making me part of the play that's unfolding. When I was a kid I used to go 'all goosey' when I came across something like, "and then what do you think happened, dear reader...?"

Oh I loved being the writer's 'dear reader!'

Wasn't I a nerd. Still am.

So it is a subtle thing, and one that has something to do with style preference, but which also does point up an interesting and fine craft issue.

Amazing website for nerds:

All sorts of publishing statistics, worldwide. PARAPUBLISHING.COM

Millions an gazillions of facts and figures: including

950,000 titles out of the 1.2 million tracked by Nielsen Bookscan sold fewer than 99 copies.

Another 200,000 sold fewer than 1,000 copies.

Only 25,000 sold more than 5,000 copies.

The average book in America sells about 500 copies.”

-- Publisher’s Weekly, July 17, 2006

Canada: 31% of adults did not read a single book for pleasure in 2007. (Compared to the U.S. at 27%.)
-Ipsos Reid Survey

2007. Last year Brits bought an estimated 338 million books, at a cost of £2,478m. This was 13% higher by both volume and value than five years ago, according to the Book Marketing Limited's latest Books and the Consumer survey.

Being made to think...

I had an interesting discussion this morning with a writing colleague whose opinion I value greatly. And in the discussion it was suggested that I patronise my characters, and by extension, my reader. That has never been said before, and of course, I’ve spent most of the day worriting at it like a terrier, and looking up exactly what ‘patronising your characters’ might mean.

What follows is thoughts and discoveries made today, and posted with thanks to said colleague for making me think.

I’ll start with a fascinating post and subsequent discussion on Susan Hill’s blog HERE, in which she is taken to task for liking Alexander McCall Smith’s lady detective stories set in Botswana, as they are, (some say) patronising.

Also, I work in a face to face group with a few playwrights, one of whom has a wonderful play set partially in Cameroon, in which all the characters are Cameroonian.

The play was sent to a theatre company for a rehearsed reading, the job given to black actors, who liked the play…. until they saw the writer, who is white. It then became ‘patronising’, and they refused to read.

So why is it patronising for a white writer to write black characters? Because that seems to be the issue with both the above.

I write Irish characters, Welsh characters, Cornish, Alaskan, Jewish, Londoners, Japanese, Spanish, male, female, old, young, dropouts, middle class, drug addicts, loners, farmers, postwomen, bank managers, homeless, morticians, single mothers, boys in homes, poets, cleaners, fishermen, hotel workers, bakers, city workers, painters decorators, teachers, carpenters, miners, beggars, social workers, priests, hairdressers, colonic irrigation specialists, soldiers, ex-soldiers, librarians.

I do not write an awful lot of headmistresses, magistrates, queens, kings, prime ministers, lords, ladies… because their lives don’t interest me in the slightest.

Am I patronising because many of my character have issues to overcome? In most of my work, it is the least likely characters who are the catalysts for change, in others. Those who appear to be the 'weakest links'. But I don't think they are, at all, so that's why I write them, I suppose.

But I’m wondering, do I patronise them all, because they are not me, in the same way people are saying white writers can’t write black characters without patronising them? Or conversely,black writers cant write white characters. Or the queen cant write a begger, or a beggar can't write a magistrate?

Are the only characters we do not patronise very very close to our own actual experience? Is that why many writers only ever write ‘what they know’? But I know every emotion that my characters feel. So why does it matter that I am not the embodiment of them in aggregate, externally. Maybe I am, internally.

My colleague also said maybe the comment made had more to do with her/him as a reader, rather than me as a writer. Even more confuddling!!

Distinguished, Moi?

I have been the Distinguished Guest on the forum Eratosphere, this week - invited by moderator Tim Love - introducing a little of the sparkle of flash fiction to a mainly poetry site.

The response has been great, some really interesting work is being written. Many of the writers are already accomplished poets, and it is fascinating to consider the cross over between flash and prose poetry.

It is an open forum: FICTION at ERATOSPHERE HERE

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

New words up there on header...


I was contacted by Josie Melia, a fellow member of New Writing South, to let me know she has started writing comic screenplays, and also started a blog.

I have been so slow with the novel recently. Putting it all down on a proposal for the University was not good for the creative process. Over the eighteen months I've been writing it, and enjoying, and finding out, I hadn't ever really looked closely at what it was 'about'... or set out in detail what happens. Deliberately. I don't know how to work like that.

As soon as I had, some of the magic went out of writing it. It didn't seem a journey of discovery any more. It felt like I was standing in a lit window with no clothes on, and although I kept trying to write, if I was unhappy with something it got deleted completely. So I would get to 50,000 wds, rejoice, then a day later find a scrap I didn't like, and get rid. Back to 48,000. Then six weeks later, 53,000. Then back to 51000. Its painful. But if I KNOW a section is poor, I don't want to keep it, or let other people massacre it, do I??? Recipe for disaster, that.

The I read Josie's blog, and followed a link to a blog called Emotional Toolbox (I know... I know... cheesy!!) it has the Confucius quote above. It seemed good, solid, and there also seemed a reason why I was reading it now.

There was synchronicity in reading that email, and finding that quote, when I was honestly feeling like throwing in the towel and waiting until October for the first residential weekend to talk stuff through.

Go slow, just do bits, seems to be the message. But don't stop completely.

OK Confucius...

Interesting, I went back to that blog just now to check the spelling of Confucius. The quote has changed to one by Edison. very nice, but not quite.....

checked out, back in (she's getting a lot of hits!!) I liked the next one too:


"Success seems to be connected with action. Successful people keep moving. They make mistakes, but they don't quit." Conrad Hilton

(Success in this case will be actually finishing first draft...! )

Monday, 11 August 2008

You couldn't make it up!

93 year old lady has her first novel published to a thundering advance from the publisher. It sells so well she is able to sell her flat and buy a five bedroom house, and invite friends to leave old folk's homes to come and join her. (or apply for a room... she will vet the applications)

Stranger and stranger, this one.

The book was self-published by a vanity publisher Author House on 12 July, (name of publisher from Daily Telegraph. Date of publication from Amazon, who arent stocking the book but can get it.)

This publisher doesn't pay advances. Or royalties. Huh???

The news hits all the papers, the BBC the e-news distributors... with the plea... buy my book. Help old people to live in my house!!!


Summat not quite right here.

But what a publicity stunt. According to Amazon, the book's shot up in the ratings today, from 24 000 when I first read the story, to 900 ish at last view. Amazing!!!

See Tania Hershman's Blog for details , and link to original article at telegraph.

Mad mad mad world.

Update: Apparently, the lady was on Radio 4 yesterday afternoon. Bewildered at all the fuss. She is now not exactly getting her friends out of care homes....

Ink, Sweat and Tears

Well I said I would be having fun.

here we are, a composite post on Ink Sweat and Tears... and guess what, I know all the other writers. This is lovely.

Sarah Hilary and I were at Bantry, spent hours nattering, shared a car to get there from Cork. T is a great buddy. Jim pops in here now and again. And there's little me with a philosophical humdinger.



Saturday, 9 August 2008


Congratulations to Tania Hershman... prizes are falling out of the sky onto this clever lady's head...fabulous writer, whose collection The White Road and Other Stories I can't wait to read.

Three competition notifications in a very few days, this week. Second at Vignette Press, Third at Momaya Press, and first at a competition she can't reveal until later in the year. This comes hot on the heels of securing two residencies in fabulous international writing retreats, won on a competitive basis.

T and I shared over a year's worth of writers' ups and downs, and she describes what it feels like to suddenly have all this good stuff landing, on her BLOG HERE:
It is lovely lovely to be able to blog about this. As it is to blog about all friends successes.

But: something to think about.

One of the last discussions on The Workhouse, one that really upset me, was when someone posted Gore Vidal's quasi-famous quote:
Every time a friend of mine succeeds a little part of me dies,
- of course loads of us went 'huh'??? We were a group who supported each other, celebrated and commiserated together. Like a family.

I am thick, badly read, have been living with my head in a hole. I hadn't heard this one before. And it did upset me. And I cant get it out of my head. It seems evil, to me.

I thought of all the writers I have worked with since late 2003, and it suddenly became clear. Writers seem to fall into two groups. Those who are delighted when their friends and colleagues succeed, and those who are not. I have experienced the ghastly, potentially very damaging behaviour of the latter, and have no intention of coping with it again, if I can help it.

(Oh sure, if two of you were going for the same comp and one succeeded, and the other didnt... there is frustration, a bit of bashing the wall...but there is also pleasure for the colleague, isn't there? Unless I am a totally naive idiot!!)

Slightly different to the treatment I had on occasion, a while back. Including this:
Anon 'helpful' emails were sent to the organisers of not one but two competitions when my name was among the winners, announcing that my entries ought to be disqualified for breaking the rules. They hadn't.

But the embarrassment was not nice!!

What I cant understand is this... how Gore Vidal can call himself a 'friend' of those whose success makes him 'die inside'. Surely, self preservation makes it likely that he would go out of his way to prevent that 'death;, and therefore try to ruin the chances of the said 'friends'.

Some friend, Mr Vidal.

So writerly reader types...I suggest that if you know any writing colleagues who look like they might be of this type... run a mile. Or ten!

Meanwhile, go and read some of Tania's work, it is fab. I just did, and it cheers me up when I'm down. She has such an original 'sparkly' 'sideways' take on life.

Friday, 8 August 2008


I have just finalised two writing workshops for The South, in Brighton.

Saturday 25th October. Become a Flasher in Three Hours

10 am – 1 pm at Brighton Writers’ Centre. Price £20 or £15 Concessionary Rates and Friends of THE SOUTH

Saturdays 29th November & 13th December. Writing for Competitions

10 am – 1 pm at Brighton Writers’ Centre. Price £40 or £30 Concessionary Rates and Friends of THE SOUTH


I'm delighted to see Catherine Smith's collection 'Lip' on the shortlist for The Forward Poetry Prize.

Brilliant collection, brilliant lady. Great fun as well as a sparkling poet. We read together at a Lewes event a while back.



An anon poster stated that My Weekly is 'the best fiction magazine on the market'. "Best" is relative.

Here you go:

This publication carries many short stories, and is described thus on Wikipedia: My Weekly is a magazine for women in the 45-and-over age bracket..... It tends to consist of short stories, reader contributions, knitting or sewing patterns, and celebrity gossip.

The same publisher produces this magazine:

Their webite has this to say:With a strong base of captivating fiction, a dash of crafts, a sprinkling of gardening and of course a good dose of tempting recipes, The People’s Friend is the perfect ingredient to brighten any woman’s day.

To appreciate the full flavour of ‘The Friend’, it’s best read in a comfy chair with a hot cup of tea and lots of time to spare.

And for comparison, here are two of the magazines that might be considered among the 'best' in a very different market.

From their website: Since 1953, The Paris Review has been at the vanguard of great literature, bringing superlative work by acclaimed and emerging writers to an international audience.


From their website: T.S.Eliot saw (The London Magazine) as ‘the magazine which will boldly assume the existence of a public interested in serious literature’.

Consistently on the pulse of the literary scene, The London Magazine is a meeting place for the day’s greatest minds.

Very different markets, I think. You cannot compare them. Each serves its purpose, and brings enjoyment to (I believe) different readers. I would doubt if, in the biographies of the writers in Paris Review, you would find that they also write for People's Friend. And vice versa.

Horses for courses. Chalk and Cheese.

And my own strategy for growth as a writer was not to seek criticism of my work from writers who want to focus on writing something entirely different themselves.

We all find our own best path. And those who do write for the women's magazines will probably get paid far better than those who restrict their writing to a less popular market.

In the end, we write what we want to read ourselves, don't we? A few writers may be very clever, able to be a Jack or Jill of all trades and write a bit of everything, well. I don't want to/could not do that.


(Sent to me by a Jewish friend)

The Pope and the Rabbi

Several centuries ago, the Pope decreed that all the Jews had to convert to Catholicism or leave Italy. There was a huge outcry from the Jewish community so the Pope offered a deal

He'd have a religious debate with the leader of the Jewish community. If the Jews won, they could stay in Italy; if the Pope won, they'd have to convert or leave.

The Jewish people met and picked an aged and wise rabbi to represent them in the debate. However, as the rabbi spoke no Italian and the Pope spoke no Yiddish they agreed that it would be a 'silent' debate.

On the chosen day the Pope and rabbi sat opposite each other.

The Pope raised his hand and showed three fingers.

The rabbi looked back and raised one finger.

Next, the Pope waved his finger around his head.

The rabbi pointed to the ground where he sat.

The Pope brought out a communion wafer and a chalice of wine.

The rabbi pulled out an apple.

With that, the Pope stood up and declared himself beaten and said that the rabbi was too clever. The Jews could stay in Italy.

Later the cardinals met with the Pope and asked him what had happened.

The Pope said, 'First I held up three fingers to represent the Trinity. He responded by holding up a single finger to remind me there is still only one God common to both our beliefs.

'Then, I waved my finger around my head to show him that God was all around us. He responded by pointing to the ground to show that God was also right here with us.

'I pulled out the wine and wafer to show that God absolves us of all our sins. He pulled out an apple to remind me of the original sin.

'He bested me at every move and I could not continue.'

Meanwhile, the Jewish community gathered to ask the rabbi how he'd won.

'I haven't a clue' the rabbi said. 'First, he told me that we had three days to get out of Italy, so I gave him the finger.

'Then he tells me that the whole country would be cleared of Jews and I told him that we were staying right here.'

'And then what?' asked a woman.

'Who knows?' said the rabbi. 'He took out his lunch so I took out mine.'

Thursday, 7 August 2008


Fellow Salt writer Elizabeth Baines, whose collection Balancing on the Edge of the World is lovely... has come third in the Raymond Carver Short Story Competition.

Fabulous news. Congrats, to Fictionbitch!


In today’s Times, Carol Midgely says it is women’s magazines that are the worst culprits in feeding women’s obsession with trivialities. Endless features on appearance, clothes, ‘beauty’ treatments, plastic surgery ops to keep looking ‘good’, botox. They are, she says filled with articles on ‘which celebrity has put on a little weight’, who has ‘wrinkly knees’. (Don’t laugh. A recent magazine felt it worth spending column inches on the state of singer Lulu’s knees.)

But don’t bash the mags. They need to sell, and they do. By the million.

All they are doing is feeding the monkeys what they like best. Because, Carol M says, “they are overwhelmingly bought by women who gorge on the details like famished dogs on a bone.”


Now. Flip mentally to the FICTION that might occasionally appear in these magazines. Or mags like them, aimed at the same market.

And, imagine a writer who writes that stuff working in a writing group focussing on literary fiction (whatever that is… but it sure ain’t what appears in these things). And wait for the sparks to fly. In both directions.

How unpopular I have made myself, many many times… because I would NOT have womag writers in The Workhouse. Or for that matter, any writer focussing on ‘pulp’ genre work. Maybe it will change now, but I hope not.

It’s not a popular notion, but I believe that writers need to work with other writers working in the same broad area. Because then, they are speaking the same language when giving and receiving critiques.

Sure, mix it up for a bit of fun, exposure to other genres if they interest you. But then find your own kind and grow.

Think about poetry, if it helps. Would you expect a writer who wanted to compose rhyming couplets for birthday cards to contribute well to a group of award-winning contemporary poets?

And would the contemporary poets spend hours discussing the merits or otherwise of:

When I look into your eyes,
My love is true, my dear,
It’s being with you every day
That makes me glad I’m here.

I don’t think so.

Rest my case. For both parties, the marriage would be dreadful.

Carol Midgely’s article HERE

PS: Hey… you can get money for poems like that… where’s the phone book…

Tuesday, 5 August 2008


I have a short story up on one of the best ezines (a mon avis), The Cafe Irreal. It was great to have this said by the editors: You have a fine irreal sensibility. (My family could tell you that he's right!)

The story is called The Note Takers:

You are not looking forward to this. Your appointment is at three. You have been trying to remember what you dreamed about last night, for much hinges on it.

This is what they do now, these note-takers. There are scheduled meetings and they even have tea brought but it is no comfort. You sometimes think you can taste salt.

“So?” they say. (You cannot be specific as to gender. It is arbitrary.) “So?” (This is the overture.) “Tell me your waking dream.”

You do try. One’s waking dream, of course, is the easiest to recall, although fragmentary. You must create truth, like glass, out of sand dug from that strange country between sleeping and not.


Some great work up this issue, and small world: I recognise the names of Bruce Holland Rogers and Paul Blaney. Paul is guiding light of Tales of The Decongested in London, and teaches in the USA. Bruce Holland Rogers is a fellow contributor to the forthcoming Field Guide to Flash Fiction (Rose Metal Press).

If anyone is interested to read a little more about Irreal fiction,(think Kafka, especially) here are two excellent essays by one of The Cafe Irreal Editors, G S Evans:

Irrealism and the Dream State LINK HERE

What is Irrealism? LINK HERE

REJECTIONS... a little advice from an expert

I hate em. I feel sick when I get one. I always did, and always will.

However, I have had to learn to cope. This morning I was leaving a message on a friend's blog, after she had posted her real hurt at seeing a piece of work she knew was good rejected at some comp or other.

I said I was sorry to hear that, but I was GLAD. Part of the learning curve. learn to cope and move on up.

I have to really battle with rejection in this writing stuff, but also every day stuff. (I have yet to meet an adopted adult who copes well with it). And the only way to learn to cope is to expose yourself to it frequently.

So am I just woffling, or what?

Nope. Look at my poetry. Started writing this a few months back. And was pleased/astounded/worried in equal measure to see how pieces were being accepted. All online... but still.

So what did I do? I sent four pieces to the most prestigious place in the poetry world, sat back and waited.

TO BE REJECTED. C'mon, I'm a beginner at this stuff. To sit back and bask, which so many writers do, is just dangerous.

That reject is pinned up on my wall. A form reject, not even a line saying there was a glimmer....brilliant. Just what I needed.

I'm graduating to rejects from print poetry mags in the UK next... watch this space.


A writers’ unconference. London, 12 September 2008

Arrival/Coffee/Intro/Sign-up for Evening Session/10-minute Zone

The first page
Bridget Whelan offers a confidence-building session that allows you to discover the writer within.
Imaginative exercises to help you to find inspiration in the ordinary, create characters that live and breathe and encourage you to take risks with your writing. (prose - all levels)

Getting inside the editor’s head
Rosalind Porter, senior editor with Granta magazine, Laura Barber of Portobello Books, and Tom Chalmers of Legend Press open the lid on publishing from the editor’s Point of view. Later in the session we hear from agent Hannah Westland of Rogers Coleridge & White about where she, as an agent, fits into that process.
(fiction - advanced)

Finding, or inventing, the right place for your work
Dr Sarah Law, poet and tutor at London Metropolitan University, talks with Les Robinson, director of Tall Lighthouse Press, and poet Maggie Butt about innovative ways for young poets to drive their careers forward,
including poetry in galleries. (poetry)

Buffet lunch provided. Time to meet and mingle, browse the book table, take part in the 10-minute Zone, or use the Writing Room - perhaps even draft a fresh piece for the Evening Session.

10-Minute Zone
A space for informal discussion on writing related topics of relevance to LitCampers. Signup on the day, or just show up. Speakers have 4 mins, then it’s open to the floor for debate, questions. Change of topic every 10 minutes. Runs at lunch /recesses, or whenever, for people seeking an interactive space. Powerpoint accommodated.

Writing Room
A quiet space open all day for a break, reading etc. Laptops may be used, internet access tbc.

From Wannabe to Published
Not every would-be writer successfully manages this transition, but Jane Wenham-Jones has done. The novelist, freelance journalist and non-fiction author has lots of very realistic tips to offer writers who are just starting out.

DIY Book: a self-publisher’s story - Paul Ewen
Paul, whose short fiction book London Pub Reviews is stocked in indie bookshops across London, shares his experiences.
This session covers the basic steps you must be prepared to go through if you choose the self-publish route. Come prepared to work hard! (short fiction)
“Paul Ewen is the funniest new writer I have read in years. Join him on his one man Campaign for Surreal Ale.” - Toby Litt

Poetry workshop with Sarah Law
An exercise based workshop designed to strengthen writing abilities for anyone new to poetry or needing fresh inspiration.
Sarah Law has published two collections of poetry with Stride. Her third, Perihelion, is published by Shearsman Books. (poetry - all levels)

The short story path to success - Vanessa Gebbie

A writer who has won many awards for her stories and whose first short fiction collection Words From A Glass Bubble was recently published by Salt Books, Vanessa shares ideas on developing your writing strategy, the importance of networking, and whether to blog. (short fiction - all levels)

How to make a living while you write
Earn a living while you draft and revise your magnum opus. Bridget Whelan teaches at City Lit and Goldsmiths College, London.
Her first novel A Good Confession is soon to be published by Severn House and she is also the author of a short book Make Money from Your Writing. (cross-genre)

4.15-5pm Coffee break + 10-minute Zone continues

Willesden Green Writers Group
The very first time that this group published a book of its members’ work, they won a prestigious award. Here to share practical methods for how to set up a successful writer-led group are Anne Mullane and Bilal Ghafoor
who is editing their next book. (cross-genre)

The Last Page
Farahad Zama and Nicholas Hogg discuss the challenges of completing a first novel, and ways of managing plot to ensure the final cut is one that works for readers.
Nicholas is the author of Show Me the Sky, and Farahad’s forthcoming novel The Marriage Bureau for Rich People will be published in 2009 by Little Brown. (novel)

Drinks reception sponsored by London Metropolitan University

The Evening Session
(6ish-8pm) Katy Darby (of Liars League) introduces an eclectic mix of writers drawn from LitCampers whose names we've yet to discover. Sign up early to get a spot.
Also featuring: Paul Ewen, Jay Bernard, Farahad Zama, Vanessa Gebbie, Bridget Whelan, Anne Mullane, Nicholas Hogg, Maggie Butt, Bilal Ghafoor…

Tickets, inclusive of refreshments, cost £36 full price, or £27 for the early 25% off rate (quota-based). Places are limited, to ensure your place please complete sign-up.

Access - full disabled access, please contact us via the pre-reg form if you need info ahead of registering.


Litcamp is based on the Barcamp model. In addition to the above, there are the ten minute slots for all comers to lead debate and discussion on any topic they choose.


Monday, 4 August 2008


Through the letterbox just now, the wonderful diversity of life as a writer.

First, my copy of The Rialto, a superb poetry magazine all the way from Norwich, the first of my subscription.

This seems to be Mecca for many poets I have spoken to.

One day, maybe!

Secondly,my contributor's copy of Better Non Sequitur's second See You Next Tuesday anthology of sex stories, from California.

Now, I am off to make a coffee, to curl up with them both. What a hoot! Strange bedfellows.

Friday, 1 August 2008


Thanks to writing colleague, playwright Gail Louw, my collection was chosen as the July read for her book group, and I was invited to attend the meeting at which it would be discussed.

I still find it amazing to sit in a room with seven people all of whom have bought and read my book, and to know the group is larger than that, but that some are on holiday but have also got the book - I must grow up sometime!

It was a generous and fascinating open discussion evening with loads of questions, interesting observations, gold-standard feedback.

Particularly interesting was the make up of the group: more than one social worker, one of whom worked in the adoption service locally. An adoptive parent with teenage children. Teachers. Male and female participants.

What did I take away? Golly, the mind is buzzing: but these points…
• The extraordinary affirmation that my work had seriously touched different members of the group in different ways. The emotional response was palpable, and there are no words to explain how that feels.
• How my work seems to be encapsulated, ‘timeless’ for the most part, untethered to a particular date/place, and the characters seem to transcend their own worlds. They could be anywhere, anytime.
• How differently people interpret the same sequence of events, and how you as a writer have absolutely no control over what the reader brings to the mix.
• How some readers will see ‘depressing and sadness’ where others see a balance of light and dark and hope.
• That people had their favourite characters, and talked about them as if they were real. That was extraordinary.
• That they had noticed recurring images, names, themes…. one of which I hadn’t seen myself!
• That the effect of the book can be emotionally exhausting.

The discussion included the topic of adoption, naturally. And it was great to try to recall the origin of some of the stories, as they wanted to know where this image or that image had come from.

I caught myself sounding very strange… talking about writing as though it is coming from somewhere else, not planned and controlled by me. But I know my writing friends will know what I am talking about… not the funny farm quite yet!

The view was expressed that it was a mistake to be in hardback. “I wouldn’t have bought it off my own bat and would have missed something really lovely…”

I came away feeling very affirmed as a writer, and as a person. And with the thought that is growing inside me that we have a responsibility to those who will read… and how do we manage that responsibility?

Thank you Gail, and thank you to the whole group.