Thursday, 31 December 2009

ROUND UP OF THE DECADE!!

Ten years ago we saw in the new millennium on a boat on the Thames, with the whole gang – friends and family. Moored directly beneath the Houses of Parliament, our little boat appeared on the front page of The Daily Mail the next morning, along with a few others! I’ll never forget the fireworks. The blackened faces of the men on the barges setting them off – looking like something from a Dickens film. The noise! How we couldn’t even hear Big Ben, towering over our heads, for the yells and screams of the crowd. And good old human nature – the snipes about the ‘river of fire’ the next day. How ‘poor’ it had been. Well I was IN it and it looked fairly spectacular to me.
I wasn’t even thinking about writing back then. I would have to wait another four years before I started writing, after reading W G Sebald’s Austerlitz. His obit is HERE, together with a great account of his ethos as a writer. That is what I was responding to... That was like a thunderbolt – I could do this. Here was a writer talking directly to me – telling me this was exciting, the ‘rules’ could be broken, and that a story could hold the reader suspended out of their world for while, if it was good enough. I wanted to do that. I could do that.
An aborted course at University led to me working online with another maverick for eighteen months, on and off. On and off because this was the hardest thing I had done, ever. I didn’t realise quite how hard. If there is one thing I have learned in this game it is that you have to work at writing if you want it to be any good, and that ‘good’ does not necessarily equate with publications and money. If it does then you have also been lucky.
I have had a little of that luck, and found myself in the right place at the right time now and again. It’s unnecessary to list the achievements as they are sitting there, my two books, soon to be joined by a third thanks to the marvellous Salt Publishing. Now I am teaching this thing I love, at workshops, lit fests, schools, now at university level. And the best bit? I am still learning myself, still finding it frustrating, annoying, marvellous.
I have learned a bit too about the world of writing. How most writers I’ve met are wonderful, interesting, fun, passionnate and generous both with their knowledge and their engagement with the work of others. I’ve learned that sometimes, generosity is not obvious and reveals itself a lot later. And that sometimes, people don a generosity outfit, but it’s cheaper than the genuine article, and after a while, the seams always give way.
High spots on the journey have to begin with the first publication. That first acceptance is such a milestone for any writer and mine will never be forgotten. David and Zoe King accepted a story called ‘Stinker and the Taff Vale Railroaders’ for his online magazine, Buzzwords. And here it is in Buzzwords archive, originally published there in May 2004, I think!
And allied to that, the generosity of the tutor (Alex Keegan) who worked with me for hours and hours on that story, for absolutely nothing - to show me how to deepen the story thematically, as well as how to sharpen it craftwise, turning Stinker into Spike, the main character in ‘Cactus Man’ (now anthologised three times). I will not forget that, either. Nor will I forget the numbers of other writers who write him off as a poor teacher, just because he bruised their egos. Mine too – and a lot else. But he taught me to write well. More than that, he made me see that you never ‘get there’ and if you think you have, you’re absolutely finished - I am eternally grateful.
The numbers of lovely writers I’ve met and who I am privileged to call my friends are too many to list. But I will mention Tania Hershman whose writing I have loved ever since I read a flash called Plaits back in 2006. I will also mention Julia Bohanna, who, without knowing it, has taught me one helluva lot and I am privileged to know her. And Andrew G Marshall, whose steadiness, support and friendship I value greatly. (Check out his forthcoming book.)
I have also come across a few writers who seemed great, but who eventually and sadly, showed their colours. One colleague stole work and was later found to have stolen from other friends. That episode underlined how very important it is to be careful with whom you work. Ten years ago, I couldn’t use a computer, let alone the Internet – now I know it is an amazing thing, a wonderful resource, enabling positive fast communication. But it is also an enabler for less pleasant habits.

Back to nicer ground! Ten years ago I did not know I had four full blood sisters. I now do, and have met three, and the fourth is pending. Exciting. See HERE for more. Finding out who your birth family is at my age is amazing. For a writer to be given this gift is mind-blowing. Not that it will get written, directly. But everything feeds you.

***

On the boat on the Thames ten years ago, was my eldest son, then aged 21 and his girlfriend. They are now married, he has his own business, and is doing fine. My youngest son was 7 years old. He is now getting offers from Universities to study marketing and business. My father was 84. He is still living in his own house. My husband was working, and planning to carry on for years and years – the best laid plans - he retired in late 2008, and we’ve lost a lot of his pension in this recession. We are a LOT poorer than we were ten years ago, than we have ever been.

But hey! I’m still going, busier than ever and working at doing something I love. A year ago, said husband and I went on the best holiday we’ve had. Booked and paid for before he retired – it now seems totally mad – but we went to Antarctica via New Year in Buenos Aires and visited the Falklands, South Georgia, and bits of Argentina and Chile– a dream we’d both had ever since we married, 33 years ago.

I saw calving glaciers and endless icebergs, whales swam round the ship and we walked in colonies of penguins that stretched as far as the eye could see. The world is beautiful.

What a way to go, eh!

The best book I’ve read in the last decade? Aaaagh. There are so many. But W G Sebald’s Austerlitz has to be the very best, for many reasons. And I’ve recently discovered William Golding again. Lord of the Flies is fine… but Pincher Martin and The Inheritors have to beat it hollow.

Here’s to the next decade. I wish you health and happiness and if you are a writer, I wish you staying power if not wealth. I like to be realistic. Cheers!

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

SUSSEX HOUSE PARTY – THE ART OF THE SHORT STORY


Fabulous invitation! To eat, drink and talk about writing at the Sussex House Party, on January 16th. How fantastic is that?
The Sussex House Parties are the brainchildren of Gilly Smith, whose creative energy and entrepreneurial spirit equals three barns full of ordinary creative spirits.
Check out Gilly’s website HERE and be prepared to be both amazed and exhausted. Gilly has some fourteen books out there, including biographies of Nigella Lawson and Jamie Oliver. Founder of the incredibly successful Juicy Guides to Brighton, without which no self-respecting shopper, eater, buyer of property, etc etc would be seen dead.

The Sussex House party is a dinner event for eight guests only, held at her wonderful home set in the Sussex countryside. The guests will all be writers looking for a refresher, ideas, a buzz, the company of other writers.
The formula is simple, and brilliant, as all winning formulas are – make the guests a great, home-cooked dinner, start with a champagne reception to warm the conversation muscles, make sure wine flows. And the secret ingredient – add a published writer into the mix who adores what they do, loves sharing, and isn’t averse to a glass or five of bubbly.
And the stage is set for a terrific evening.
Check out the websites for further information
– the Sussex House party dinners cost £50.00 a head – including said champers and wine, and food (naturally) and said writer. Metaphorically speaking.

Also, watch out for more news. There is a fabulous barn in the grounds, in the process of being converted into a writing retreat. With facilities tailor-made for writers looking for space and time to write alone in the most beautiful part of the South East. It will also be perfect for complete workshops for groups. I reckon this is one of the most exciting developments in the area.
Gilly is letting herself be inspired by proximity to Charleston Farmhouse - playground of the Bloomsbury set. This retreat will be anything but staid and boring - my guess is it will surround creative spirits with inspiration. Can't wait.
*
Stop Press: Virginia Nicholson, grand-niece of Virgina Woolf and granddaughter of Vanessa Bell, and author in her own right - of among others 'Singled Out' has confirmed for the February 26th Sussex House Party. Same deal - eight places only, £50.00 per head.

Monday, 28 December 2009

CREATING CONVINCING CHARACTERS


Well, there I was, trawling for online articles on characterisation – specifically, the importance of drawing your reader into a ‘relationship’ with your characters – ie, making the reader believe in them, believe they are ‘real’ for the duration. Not everyone has a copy of Short Circuit - shame...
Without the belief of the reader my friends, you may write a nice story, but without the compliance of that reader, you are telling the story to yourself. In sex, there’s a word for that… which best not use here, OK?
So – whether or not YOU believe in your character is irrelevant. Actually. What you need, if you are still learning, as most of us are, is an indication that other people, readers, also believe. If you ask for feedback - including submitting to an experienced editor – and they tell you they don’t believe your character is real, or they ‘would not do/think/act like that’…… especially if they are good writers, experienced readers, don’t simply brush off their opinions. It is possible you’ve failed. Have the humility to think for a moment or two, that they may just have a point? Or you are in danger of - er- telling your story to yourself. Oops.

I digress. I wanted to share this article with you, as it seemed good stuff. On Fiction Writing - Convincing Characterization by Sandi Payne.

Or this one...actually, masses of different articles!

Or, you can just buy a copy of Short Circuit, and see what a group of top prizewinning writers have to say about it. Buy from Salt Publishing at 20% off. Cheaper than Amazon!!
Next craft article: dialogue. As and when.

Sunday, 27 December 2009

URINATING MEERCATS...


The best Christmas present, from my daft son. Wobbling meercats, which, if positioned carefully behind low shrubs, look as though they are having a quick pee...blissful and gigglesome. What daft pressies did others get, I wonder - or were your gifts all veeeery sensible?
Oh if I had the cash, I'd make these into widdly fountains, all four of em.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

HAPPY CHRISTMAS


New beginnings. Hope. Clean slates. Innocence. Health. Whatever you believe personally, I wish you good things. Happy Christmas.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

A bit of sex at work...

Or a least, a poem about sex at work...HERE

A FEW CHRISTMAS GIFTLETS...

A few Christmas gifties for you! Books and plays.
First, a list of extraordinary books HERE that have not ‘caught on’ for some unaccountable reason. Considered by their publishers and agents to be the best unread books of the decade, this list appeared in the Guardian online. So if you are looking for a quality read – do try something from here and let me know! Was there a reason why these didn’t take off – or have the reading public really lost out?

I have ordered Mutiny by Lindsey Collen. This is a précis of Mutiny’s section from the Guardian’s article.
Mutiny was published in 2001. It is her fourth book. She won the Commonwealth Writers' prize for the Africa region and was longlisted for the Orange. John Berger called Mutiny “a break-out and a breakthrough". She was published with great energy and commitment by Bloomsbury. She is an extraordinary woman whose own experiences of an oppressive political system and incarceration as a result of that system fed directly into the writing of Mutiny. The reviews she received were excellent. The novel is not an easy or comforting read; it is fierce and challenging but is utterly compelling.

Plays.
Dickens- one of the greatest storytellers, meets Callow - one of Britain’s best actors

You have until January 31st to see Simon Callow in two one-man plays by Charles Dickens at the Riverside Studios, Hammersmith. Directed by Patrick Garland, set design by Christopher Woods. A fabulous, different, quality performance.
Meet Mr Chops - the dwarf who wins the lottery and enters society, and Doctor Marigold - the cheap jack with a heart who sells tat off a cart. These monologues have not been performed in London for 150 years but they are so sparkling and relevant, they might have been written yesterday and Simon Callow is just perfect. Yesterday evening the audience included Sir David Attenborough, so that was nice - and totally irrelevant to this post!
Details HERE and tickets are not expensive chaps...I paid £18.00.
.
(pic of Simon Callow from the Riverside Studio's website)

Sunday, 20 December 2009

SHORT CIRCUIT BLOG TOUR VISITS WRITING TUTOR UMI SINHA


And today, we are half way through the blog tour! I'm delighted to be visiting the blog of writing tutor Umilla Sinha, better known as Umi. She was my tutor during the year I spent at Sussex University, in early 2003 - so was one of those who kick-started this lazy old bat into a writing career.
For this tour stop. Umi asked me to talk a bit about structuring short stories - about what advice how-to books could give beginners. Whether structure templates were a good idea. And about competitions - how I knew what to send where. That's easy - I didn't!
Her website is HERE. And her blog and my guest article, HERE. There's a fascinating article on the worthwhileness or otherwise of writing workshops... have a read.
The blog tour is not featured on Salt Publishing's website, yet. However... all is not lost. Short Circuit has its own website, thanks to the multitalented Tania Hershman - and the whole tour is linked there.

Saturday, 19 December 2009

'STEAMPUNK RELOADED' - CALL FOR REPRINT SUBMISSIONS

STEAMPUNK RELOADED, edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer and to be published in fall 2010 by Tachyon Publications, announces an open reading period.

The sequel to the World Fantasy Award finalist anthology Steampunk will read submissions between December 15, 2009, and February 15, 2010. Any English-language story previously published in the past decade on a website or print publication is eligible for consideration. Our definition of Steampunk is fairly broad, so if in doubt, send it. Keep in mind that Steampunk has become much more diverse over the past few years, and we are very interested in non-traditional and multi-cultural points of view.

Submissions between 1,500 and 10,000 words should be sent in a Word or RTF document to steampunkII at hotmail.com. We don’t care about margins or format, but please cut-and-paste the first three paragraphs into the body of your email, include prior publication information, but do not include any biographical information about yourself. Alternatively, use snail mail by sending your work to POB 4248, Tallahassee, FL 32315. Snail mail submissions should be marked on the outside of the envelope as for Steampunk Reloaded consideration. No SASE is required if you prefer email response. You can send your email submissions before December 15, but we won’t begin reading them until December 15. All submissions will be responded to no later than February 28; please do not query about a submission prior to that date.

Payment will be on publication, at standard reprint rates of one to two cents per word, against a share of any royalties from the North American or foreign editions, as well as one contributor copy.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

GUEST POST - ON STRICTLY WRITING

Short Circuit and its editor make a stop today at the marvellous STRICTLY WRITING. An article, this one, rather than questions and answers - some research neeed. Very interesting what I found...

ALI SMITH and JACKIE KAY, ON WRITING

These are from the talk by Ali Smith and Jackie Kay at Bridport Literary Festival 2009. And why, as a writer and a teacher, they strike me as so good.
“Imagination has no gender. It has no colour, no creed. No sexual persuasion. It is irrelevant what the writer is…”

I love this – how often do we hear that there is ‘women’s writing’ and men’s writing’. What tosh, whoever says it. There is writing. Full stop. Why aren't we honest and say there is writing that appeals to more female READERS then male, and vice versa? And that has to do with interests of the readers, and their values, and other things. Nothing to do with the writer.

“Voice is so important. Each story has its own voice. You need to find it, then you’re off.”

I love this – Find the voice of the STORY and you will find something fundamental. I wonder how many writers get stuck trying to find ‘their’ voice? I remember the thunderbolt moment when Jacob Ross (short story writer, novelist, tutor at a fab Arvon course) recognised my writer’s voice from a bit of scribble I’d just done – to me it was nothing like the pieces I’d submitted to the course. This was the thunderbolt. Voice is NOT for us to actively recognise. It's for others…
“A story goes off in its own direction – despite the writer. You are unaware of the thing.”

“A writer needs self belief and self doubt in the same measure”

Wonderfully put. If we just think we are marvellous, we put a stop on our learning. If we just doubt, we don’t fight for anything. It’s that swing between utter doubt and confidence that enriches and drives.
“Writing is 50% instinct, 50% editing. Let yourself go, then rein yourself in.”

“Reading and writing are opposite sides of the same coin”

“Form is a leap of faith – you don’t get to choose. If you try to choose form it will elude you.”

“If you’re going to write, you won’t escape it. Even if you leave it late.”

“A writer who shows you that you can do anything you like, is Grace Paley.”

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

WORDS and FRIENDS and PIZZAS and GETTING HOME VERY LATE

Ride the Word was lovely, with ten of us Short Circuiteers reading, a lovely warm speech from Salt Director Jen Hamilton Emery, followed by a rowdy pizza party up the road - and a visit to a pub en route. Here's a few pics courtesy of Elizabeth Baines - pics of various doing readings - Tania Hershman, Alex Keegan, Elizabeth Baines, Lane Ashfeldt, David Gaffney, Sarah Salway, Jay Merill and meself, who acted as ringmaster again and read a bit from Edwin Tregear just to depress the hell out of the audience. I'm getting good at this. (Ringmastering, not depressing people...!)

It was lovely lovely lovely to see friends from the old Fiction Workhouse in the quality audience - Claudia, Alison, and a real surprise - a great one - Bob Jacobs - who used to be the technical lord behind the whole thing. Also there was Jon Pinnock, Emily Benet (we swapped books) and Selma Dabbagh. And it was great to meet Tom Chatfield, Arts Editor of Prospect Magazine. I was sorry not to have more time to natter - but the Short Circuit Christmas bash beckoned...
Here is a slice of pizza for all the writers who couldn't be there. We had a great time, catching up with old friends and cementing some new friendships, planning reading events, more books, all sorts!
Back on Gatwick Express, dropping Marian off in Brighton at half past midnight. Then I'm steaming along the A 26, half asleep, eight miles to home... and this...
which meant an unscheduled detour back to the coast, along to Newhaven, up to Lewes, and then home... a round trip of far too long at that time of the morning! Got home at 2.am. getting a bit old for all this...but it was a lovely event. Thanks to all who read, all who came to listen, to Jay and Vincent for the invitation, and to Jen for the lovely money for pizzas and wine!

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

FISHY OPPORTUNITIES FOR FLASHERS AND POETS


From Fish Publishing:
FLASHERS HERE...
Poet John Hegley and writer/comedian Simon Munnery will judge the 2010 Fish One-Page Prize This deceptively challenging form requires stories of no more than 300 words. We will publish the best ten in the 2010 Fish Anthology, alongside the best short stories and poems from the other Fish competitions. The first prize is 1,000 Euro and the nine runners-up receive 50 Euro and five copies of the Anthology. All of the competition details are on the Fish Publishing website, linked above - including on-line entry and postal entry instructions.
POETS HERE...
Matthew Sweeney is the judge for the 2010 Fish Poetry Prize. He will read all of the entries himself, lest, as he says, one should get away. The competition closes on 30 March 2010 and results announced April 30. The best ten poems will be published alongside the short story winners in the 2010 Fish Anthology, and the first prize is 1,000 Euro. Entry is 12 Euro on-line or 15 by post. Again all details and entry possibilities online as above.

Good luck all.

Monday, 14 December 2009

Short Circuit visits Fiona Joseph


The next stop on the Short Circuit blog tour is the bloghome of Fiona Joseph. HERE Some fantastic questions, which took me a long time to ponder - hence the lateness. Oops, sorry chaps!

SALT PUBLISHING's TOP 20 BEST SELLERS THIS CHRISTMAS - SO FAR .. .. ..


Nice Chrismas pressies all round. Both Short Circuit and Words from a Glass Bubble are in the Salt Publishing Top 20. Yippee iy ay or summat. And it's a real party of good friends too - There's Tania and Elizabeth (with two entries!) and Nuala. Fab.

Here is the list, from front page of Salt Publishing's website, and links to the books, for those last minute extra Chrissie pressies you know you want to give - or get!! (My choices are the Shop Girl Diaries, and Contourlines (see below!). Both of which I will get tomorrow - as Emily is coming to the Ride the Word event, and Jen is hopefully bringing down Contourlines for me.

1. Emily Benet, Shop Girl Diaries
2. Neil Wenborn & M.E.J. Hughes (eds), Contourlines
3. Vanessa Gebbie (ed), Short Circuit
4. Chris Agee, Next to Nothing
5. Siân Hughes, The Missing
6. Elizabeth Baines, Too Many Magpies
7. Tony Williams, The Corner of Arundel Lane and Charles Street
8. Jasmine Donahaye, Self-Portrait as Ruth
9. Paul Magrs, Twelve Stories
10. Karen Annesen, How to Fall
11. Anthoy Joseph, Bird Head Son
12. Tania Hershman, The White Road and Other Stories
13. Nuala Ní Chonchúir, Nude
14. Olivia Cole, Restricted View
15. Eleanor Rees, Eliza and the Bear
16. Luke Kennard, The Migraine Hotel
17. Elizabeth Baines, Balancing on the Edge of the World
18. Vanessa Gebbie, Words from a Glass Bubble
19. Shaindel Beers, A Brief History of Time
20. Tom Chivers, How to Build a City

Sunday, 13 December 2009

GEMINIDS SHOOTING STAR PARTY - DEC 13/14


Get thee outside tonight or tomorrow night, wrapped up warm, and away from bright lights, towns. Preferably somewhere high up. And sit back and enjoy. Younger son Toby drove his Mum up to Firle Beacon, near Lewes. Perched on the Downs overlooking Newhaven in the distance. Lovely clear night. We saw between 25 and 30 shooting stars in less than 30 minutes! It was coooold.
They are the Geminids, and this is what I just found out, if you are interested:

The Geminids, the last major meteor shower of the year, will peak in intensity on Sunday night/Monday morning. Experts are forecasting up to 100 meteors per hour. Besides meteors, once a year photo opportunities await.
The Geminid Meteors are caused by the Earth racing through a trail of debris from a “extinct” comet called 3200 Phaeton. As the Earth orbits the Sun, it passes through this trail of space junk every December, reaching the thickest stretch of debris on the 13-14th. However, Geminid meteors can be seen over a week before or after that date. The bright streaks of light are caused by small particles of debris hitting the Earth's atmosphere and burning up on entry. The shower gets its name because the meteors seem to radiate from the constellation of Gemini.

CHRISTMAS 'RIDE THE WORD' - LONDON - TUESDAY - FREE !!!



If you're in London on Tuesday, and are looking for something writery/readery/short storyish/poetryish/flashish/fun-get-togetherish - look no further!
RIDE THE WORD is a freebie event, but come early - venue not large, and the audience - - vast.
Hosted and organised by poet Vincent de Souza and short story writer and novelist Jay Merill, RIDE THE WORD is a monthly live literature event, held at different venues across London.
The Christmas Special is er-special. In addition to their invited readers, and the usual open mike slots, ten Short Circuit writers and Jen from Salt Publishing are there to read and to party. And other rather special guests -
Here's the invitation - do come and say hello!

CHRISTMAS SPECIAL
'Short Circuit' Celebration
at
The CAFE YUMCHAA
Tuesday 15th December 2009
6.30 for 7pm - till 9pm
45 Berwick Street, Soho, London W.1
With
Vincent de Souza,
Jay Merill,
'Short Circuit' Editor, Vanessa Gebbie
Salt Publishing Director, Jen Hamilton-Emery
Arts Editor of 'Prospect' Magazine, Tom Chatfield
and
Tania Hershman, Sarah Salway,
Marian Garvey, David Gaffney, Lane Ashfeldt
Elizabeth Baines, Chika Unigwe,
David Grubb, Alex Keegan
also
Floor Spots on first come first served basis
Hosted by
Jay Merill and Vincent de Souza
(nearest Tube: Oxford Circus, Tottenham Court Rd.,
All Oxford Street buses - to Berwick St stop)

Friday, 11 December 2009

Minnie on Normblog -


Jack Kerouac Rd has nothing to do with Minnie Beaniste. But I liked the place, (Right by City Lights Bookshop, San Francisco), and I like Minniebeaniste's blog, and the pictures she conjures with her writing. Link down there somewhere on me list. I also like her outlook on life, as evidenced by her super profile today on the blog of the great and wonderful Norman Geras - Normblog. HERE.
If she lived next door, we would probably spend a lot of time in each other's kitchens, drinking first coffee, then something more interesting - giggling like a couple of teenagers. (Er - What's that cackle I hear???)
Here are just a f ew of the questions and answers which tell me that I love this lady, a bit.
What is your favourite piece of political wisdom? > 'Never believe anything until it has been officially denied.' (Claud Cockburn)
What do you consider the most important personal quality? > Imagination, because without it there can be no creativity, no invention and no insight, empathy or compassion - no civilization, in fact.
What personal fault do you most dislike? > Greed.
She is more than generous, mentioning this funny little blog of mine, here. Minnie, Thank you!
These profiles are terrific. They do allow a glimpse of the person behind the screen - I know Norm sends out a whole raft of questions, and asks you to select the ones you want to answer. So the choice you make is also interesting!
I was 'done' last year - my profile is here. Some questions and answers chime rather well with yours, Min!
Congrats on your profiling. And I'm trumpeting it for you me dear, even if you won't.

SEVEN DAYS LEFT

Seven days left to enter The Willesden Herald Short Story competition. Always comes with a fair dollop of passion this one, it's run purely for the love of good writing and love of the short story form - and nowt else.
Past final judges have included Zadie Smith and Rana Dasgupta.
This year's winner, Jo Lloyd, went on to win The Asham Award for new women writers. Standards are high, and a couple of years back Willesden H were brave enough to decline to award the prize, for lack of suitable winners. There was lots of whinging about that.

I sent them a story that year. It WASNT GOOD ENOUGH (thats the key, peeps!) for the longlist let alone the shortlist, and it got absolutely nowhere. Then I used the Willesden Magic Formula list, available FREE on WH, HERE with huge thanks to the WH team to edit. And won 2nd at Fish this year with the edited version.

Mr Willesden Herald knows what he's doing. Good luck all! WILLESDEN HERALD - HERE.

THREE FIRST-TIME INTERVIEWERS


These great bloggy tour stops with peeps who hadn’t done interviews before! They are all so good, here's a wee drink. Three straws please...
It was lovely, putting together the blog tour schedule for Short Circuit – it’s a text book after all and I wanted to know what peeps who have completed uni courses or not, might think of it. So, I am visiting several people who have never done an interview for their blogs before --- and here are three of them.
Jessica at Writers’ Little Helper, today. On editing. J says this in her intro:
"Short Circuit is the kind of book I wished was around when I did my Masters and Degree. This book has a different author for each chapter as they explore the important elements of a short story. Reading their writing process is more insightful to a writer rather than the 'How to' approach that you find in most creative writing books. As well as using the advice for short story writing I also believe you can adapt some of the ideas for novel writing too. The reading lists and short exercises at the end of each chapter are really great for writers block cures!"


Kate at Emerging Writer, yesterday.

And earlier, Sophie Playle. On everything!

I think you’ll agree – some fantastic searching questions, and I’m delighted. These writers are where Short Circuit will sink or float and it looks like we're fine so far! Thank you so much to you all.

MELIKA SALIHBEG BOSNAWI


I am hugely privileged to be in touch with this Bosnian poet. I have her book, and she has sent me several pieces via email. This week, we swapped messages again. It is hard to do this. I feel so removed - anything I say cannot even brush the surface of her experience. But I try, and am grateful that I know her a little, and can share a little.
Please visit her website, HERE find out about a writer who records some of the worst moments in modern history, and its continuing fall-out. Read her biography. And like I do, feel humbled that you are a tiny trickle in this river of writing – in which Melika is a torrent.
Pdfs are available on the website. These lines are from the end of a poem about Sarajevo Rose War Rhymes.

A minute of silence for the souls of victims
in remembrance of whom
these War Rhymes,
Bosnian,
came into existence.
To be a living witness of that
living
literature.


Her book Sarajevo Rose is reviewed HERE by Adnan Mahmutovic.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

INTERVIEWED ON ROSE AND THORN BLOG


I was interviewed a while back by Kathryn Magendie, of Rose and Thorn, and the interview has gone live today. HERE
One of the best interviews, this - with one of the most searching questions - 'Are any of your stories letters to someone?' I love that question, and found myself losing a bit of my punch as I replied...
Anyway - returning the compliment, Kathryn Magendie is interviewed herself, HERE

To the Senders of Certain Extension Emails -

As you know, I am working hard on my poetry. Here, inspired by the thousandth email offering me a dick extension, is a poem. Or not...



RETURN TO SENDER

To the echoing beat of a coppery gong
that plays in the dark in my head
I lie awake the whole night long
counting pixels and widgets instead

I think it’s the fault of the stresses
from emails unbidden and rude
They offer extensions - and not for my hair -
for parts my bod does not include

I wish I could say to the senders
“a big dick would not suit me at all,
do say where you think I should put it –
perhaps it should go on the wall?”

On the other hand, this is the message
I’ll send them, whoever they be -
“Please check out the length of YOUR willies
before you come bothering me.”

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

BEHIND THE SCENES AT SALT!

WEBSITE! BLOG TOUR! PLANNING!



First, a huge thank you to Tania Hershman, multi-talented woman of many parts, for creating a fabulous website for Short Circuit. She even managed to wave a wand and buy ‘theartoftheshortstory’ domain name. I really love that. I love the way ‘heart’ appears in that name – as that’s where the best writing comes from! Have an explore, let us know what you think, and watch for news and views. HERE it is.

The first news and view to go up is the blog tour itinerary, as follows. I have included links to Nik P who was so keen to get going that he posted his the day after the book came out!! And Sophie Playle’s interview was stunning – some wonderful questions. Thanks Sophie and Nik. Im looking forward to the next stops.
16 November Nik Perring
5 December Sophie Playle
10 December Emerging Writer
11 December Writer’s Little Helper
14 December Fiona Joseph
17 December Strictly Writing
20 December Umi Sinha
4 January Sara Crowley
7 January The Short Review Blog
15 January Lauri Kubuitsile
21 January Sue Guiney
27 January Nuala Ni Chonchuir
29 January Tom Conoboy
1 Feb Jon Pinnock
15 Feb Sally Zigmond’s Elephant in the Writing Room

Planning – I am of course using Short Circuit as a set book in Stockholm next term. I will also use the work of many of my favourite writers including Ms Hershman as examples of the best – from Carver to Calvino, Constantine to Keret. But the other set book will be the anthology ‘Freedom’, compiled by Amnesty International, and reviewed on Short Review HERE.
And Guardian Online HERE
With short stories by some of the world’s best writers including A L Kennedy, Petina Gappah, Helen Dunmore, Yann Martel – based on clauses from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – if that doesn’t appeal to the ‘yoof’ of Stockholm, I don’t know what would.

Monday, 7 December 2009

William Golding - 'Pincher Martin'

Reading this - (from Wikipedia)

Pincher Martin is the third novel by William Golding (author of Lord of the Flies). When it was originally published in the United States, its title was changed to The Two Deaths of Christopher Martin, but later it was returned to its British name. It develops the themes introduced in Lord of the Flies concerning the cruelty at the basic nature of mankind underneath the thin veneer of civilization. The name "Pincher" comes from the Royal Navy tradition of giving that nickname to any sailor with the surname "Martin".


Mesmerising stuff. Flagged by Golding's biographer as his best writing. I am retreating into its pages when I want to forget things.
From Golding's website:
The most extraordinarily imagined of all Golding's works, this is the anti-hero as hero; fighting a lone and hopeless battle for survival as a castaway on a bare rock in the North Atlantic, with ingenuity, courage and -- most terrible of all -- a growing awareness of the real nature of the struggle he is engaged in. The story contains some of Golding's most forceful writing: the eye-opening practicalities of such a situation, the memories of a bitter and ruthlessly selfish past, the complexities and simplicities of being human, and above all the utter refusal to accept defeat even at the hands of God - all are portrayed here with an immediate and physical exactness that precludes detachment. The novel is a modern Faust.

NORCAP lunch at House of Commons

On Monday last, I attended a fundraising lunch in aid of AAA-NORCAP (A charity which helps Adults Affected by Adoption - in case you were sending me off to Alcoholics Anonymous...)
It was a fascinating affair - the keynote speaker was journalist and fellow-adoptee Kate Adie. Also present and correct were poet Lemn Sissay, Alan Sillitoe, Sillitoe's wife the poet Ruth fainlight, and feisty MP Clare Short.
Clare Short of course gave up a son for adoption in her teens, and was reunited with him recently. Lemn Sissay was brought up as the only black child in a northern UK children's home, and only discovered his name and heritage much later. Alan Sillitoe donated a handwritten musing/letter for the silent auction. The letter began, "I dont think I'd ever have been adopted..." and it goes on to talk about what a grubby little tyke he was. Lovely warm letter.
Lovely event. I was accompanied by my husband, by fellow-adoptee and good friend Jo B who was so supportive when I was searching for my family, and with lovely writing-friend Sue Guiney.

An anthology has been produced, "Something that never went away" - with contributions from some 30 adults with links to adoption. Either mothers who gave their children away, or children who were given up - as I was. Supporting 'big name' contributions are fantastic - from Tracey Emin (drawing with autobiographical saying), Jo Brand (Cartoon featuring Madonna on the prowl for more kids to adopt), the letter from Alan Sillitoe, another from Joanna Trollope, a poem from Lenny Henry, and things from Kriss Akabusi, Gok Wan, Meera Syal, David Gower, Richard Rogers. And there are a few of us writers, described as 'established' whihc is nice. Nicole J Burton, Valerie Mason-John, Zara H Philips, Jacqueline Walker, Alex Wheatle. And me. I was asked to contribute something, sent a flash piece and a copy or two of my book for raffles and things. A trustee of the charity asked for more. So I have three bits in there. And am very proud of it.
I now have the Sillitoe letter, the original, and shall treasure it. Chris has the Jo Brand cartoon and will treasure that. It makes him laugh.

Carver's 'Collectors' - a synopsis.

The male narrator is out of work, cannot settle. He is visited by a vacuum cleaner salesman (Aubrey Bell) who produces a card with a Mrs Slater’s signature, saying she has won a free carpet shampoo and vacuum.
'Mrs Slater doesn't live here' says the narrator. At this point the reader has been 'set up' to see the narrator as 'Mr Slater'. But Carver is playing with us.
It is a wet day. Bell feels ill. Narrator gives him water and aspirin, asks him to go. Bell - somewhat aggresively - asks if he is speaking for Mrs Slater – and stays to do his job. He demonstrates his equipment, vacuuming a bed, a pillow, showing the resulting detritus on filters - and shampooing a carpet with green liquid detergent.
In context, those are almost the incidentals.
A letter is delivered. Bell contrives to use his bulk and the machine to prevent the narrator from collecting it – and picks it up himself. The question of whose home this is has already arisen. The question of who the narrator is has also arisen. One might assume he is ‘Mr Slater’ but it becomes evident he is not. The narrator seems detached. ‘Its not my mattress’ he says of the bed. His description of the bedroom is very odd – as though he was seeing it for the first time.
‘There was a bed, a window. The covers were heaped on the floor. One pillow. One sheet over the mattress.’
He never says he is Mr Slater. Not only is he prevented from collecting the letter from the doormat – but he allows the letter (bearing the name ‘Mr Slater’) to be taken away at the end of the story, asking only ‘You’re sure that’s who the letter’s for?’

Questions of identity run deep through this story, and I guess that’s why I was drawn to it.
I was/am also fascinated by the notion of ‘collector’ here. The narrator is prevented from being a ‘collector’. Bell is the only physical ‘collector’ in the piece. But the ‘collectors’ here are not only vacuum cleaners, or those who collect letters – but Death. And writers, ironically. Bell makes many comments through the story, about the habits of writers: firstly, W H Auden (who wore slippers in China because of corns). Then Rainer Rilke, (who lived in other people’s castles thanks to benefactors) then Voltaire, with uncomfortable mention of his death mask. Not his real name - 'Voltaire' used over 150 pen names during his career.

The story is all about identity, or lack thereof - at no time do we know the narrator’s name. We assume he is Mr Slater, until he does not argue when the letter to ‘Mr Slater’ is taken away at the end.
Carver’s story is a hugely fascinating, deceptively simple, dealing with existential questions. It was and remains one of my favourites. The weight of themes - non-belonging, displacement (embodied in the reference to Rilke), of physical discomfort, the fragility of the body and our certain mortality (embodied in W H Auden and to some extent in Bell as well as the breakdown of the body to dust throughout) underlined by Voltaire's dead gaze... are mesmerising. That's what short stories can do in the hands of the masters.
**
The above is a vast oversimplification - whole academic papers have been written on this one. If you don't already have 'Short Cuts' do get it. It contains nine stories, including the amazing 'A Small Good Thing'.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Toby scored a try


Last rugby game of the season, and this Eastbourne College team beat Brighton College 34-0!
Brighton College's Wikipedia entry says this: "One of the strongest performing co-ed sporting independent school (sic) in Sussex, Brighton College's major sports are rugby..." and goes on to say something about being the strongest in England. What happened today then?!
(Tobs is 8th from the left, and 8th from the right.)

Tania Hershman on Radio 4, again

Tania's great story 'Drinking Vodka in the Afternoon' was broadcast last night for the second time on Radio 4. Terrific characters, great story, which has found success in several venues. It's listenable-to for a while on the BBC i=Player. HERE.
And in the summer, Tania is to have a whole WEEK of flash pieces broadcast, also on Radio 4.
Go on, have a listen! And do drop her a line to tell her how marvellous these characters are.

The Collector

A very short story for you to read, linked on this blog a couple of times. Inspired by the occupation of 'vacuum cleaner salesman' Aubrey Bell in Raymond Carver's story 'Collectors' (who does not have OCD in my copy...) and published online in Green Silk Journal in late 2005. I love Carver's work. His characters are terrific, his dialogue wonderful, his marriages ghastly... a door to door vacuum cleaner salesman is a wonderful occupation for collecting bits of dead marriage via bodily detritus. Yik. And they do use filters, white and black. It's what vacuum salesmen do. Amazing and freaky to witness. Where does all the guff come from? No -don't answer that.

The Collector -

He is completely, utterly bald, the vacuum cleaner salesman. Shining. No hair anywhere I can see. No eyelashes, no eyebrows, smooth, pink cheeks like a baby, and clean, white, podgy hands.
“Mr and Mrs Braithwaite, I am privileged to introduce you to the Homevac system.”
Jane, my wife, has a problem with cleanliness. Compulsive disorder. It started when we were newlyweds… she washed her hands three times, drying between the fingers with a clean towel each time, putting the towels in the machine. “I don’t feel clean unless I do…” The bathroom is scrubbed every time it's used. Top to bottom. God knows how much bleach we get through now. The house is dusted , vacuumed twice, three times daily. Clean sheets every day, top and bottom. And if I touch her, if we… clean bedding straight away. Sheets in the wash. Now it's stopped, all that. We both have to wear underpants in bed.
She extra-cleaned the house today because we had this salesman coming. We wear out vacuum cleaners regularly. They burn out. The motors. Jane says they aren’t made for domestic use. I know they are. It’s just we don’t use them domestically. Her hands are red raw. “Why the hell didn’t you wear rubber gloves?” I say. But she’s never been one for rubber gloves. Says you can’t feel if there’s dust on things. Dust? How in God’s name do you feel dust?
He reminds me of a spider. A big, fat spider flexing its legs, waiting to spin.
Jane is hovering, watching, waiting to see this magic machine that will allegedly make her house so clean you could eat off the floor. Or eat the bloody floor. We can’t eat anything until he’s been and gone. It would untidy the kitchen. She'd have to wipe everything down, polish the chrome…
I’ve switched out of this. But something makes me look at Jane. She’s looking worried. Distraught. The spider (I don’t even know his name) is leaning out of the chair, assembling his machine on the carpet. He’s lining up black cotton or paper filters, like small coffee filters, on a side table.
“Soon, Mrs Brathwaite, you will see how your own bodies are betraying your every effort to keep your home sanitary…” he spits out the word ‘sanitary’ as though it is covered in old blood. Jane has gone pale. The machine is a large, silver canister, a hose, and interchangeable nozzles… I’m thinking it's exactly like any other vacuum. The spider gets up, bends with a grunt to plug it in, fits a filter over the hose and attaches a nozzle.
“Right,” he says. “Shall we start with your husband’s chair?”
“I don’t think so…,” I’m about to say… but the machine has been switched on, a high whine…Jane is pulling me upright, and I’m standing, watching this ill-fitting man sweeping the nozzle slowly, deliberately over the place where I’ve just been sitting, the chair cover pulling taut as the vacuum passes it.
“So strong…,” he soothes. “Can I ask you… when was this chair last brushed, cleaned, vacuumed?”
“Only this afternoon,” says Jane, biting her lip. I am willing there to be no dust…
The spider finishes, switches off the whine, detaches the nozzle, and takes the filter away from the hose with two fingers, holding it up for inspection, curling his lip. “Mrs Braithwaite,” he says. “Do you see this?”
He places the filter on the side table. There is a white circle in the black…he looks at me, and says one word,
“Bodies.”
“Look here," I say…" there’s all sorts of things come out of a chair if you suck hard enough… the stuffing, cotton, dust from the wooden frame…" (I’m searching frantically for things to make white dust that isn’t me…). He looks at Jane and says two words.
“Men’s bodies.”
She looks shocked, appalled. “What IS it?” she says, looking at the filter, not too close… one hand over her mouth like a mask.
“Dust mites. Dead dust mites. Dead skin. Dandruff. General bodily detritus. Tiny hairs. If you analysed this… (I wouldn’t suggest…) traces of faecal material maybe. It has been known. The bed? You sleep together?”
Jane’s eyes are huge. “Well, yes, I…”
He sighs. Picks up the machine, and Jane follows him to the hall, up the stairs. I listen for the whine.

****
Finally, after vacuuming the mattress with his nozzles and collecting me, my bits, in his filters, he comes back downstairs.
Lined up on the side table in my sitting room are half a dozen black circles, covered in white deposits. The spider sits back in his chair, strokes on the filters with a forefinger, lifts the finger, inspects it… for a second, I think he’s going to put it to his mouth, or smell it… but he says…
“There’s no rush. We have a policy. No hard sell.” He begins to collect the filters together, stacking them carefully one on top of the other, slides them into a white paper wallet, and seals it, licking the flap with a pink, wet tongue.

Jane is wringing her hands. “But we would love to buy your machine, Mr…. Please?” she’s saying as he unscrews the hose, curls it onto itself, packs the cylinder away.
He stands, suitcase in one hand, the wallet in the other.
“Thank you.” he says, walking to the front door. And I just watch my wife crumble, following him, saying, “Please? I need…”
And I sit down in my chair again, and wait.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

CALLING ALL CREATIVES - .CENT MAGAZINE

A call for submissions ...
.Cent magazine is a beautiful, heavy, punchy magazine that comes in its own slip cover and costs an arm and a leg to post, it is that heavy. I hadn't heard of it, until I saw a call for submissions - each issue is a compilation of original work from artists of all kinds.
This from their website:
.Cent is here to celebrate creativity. It is that simple. The process, the people, the products.
We like being different so at .Cent we ask the creatives themselves to write the content instead of working with journalists. This way, readers hear all about fashion, beauty, art, music, design, illustration, architecture, literature, film, gardening, food, and more. The editorial content comes from the creatives, about what inspires and excites them, in an emotive language directly to the reader.


A call for subs, people. get to it! here's the email from the power that be.
Hello from .Cent magazine. We hope you are all well.

Currently .Cent is working on the forthcoming issue ‘Sense of Purpose’ that will be released in Spring 2010. The Guest Editor for this edition is Keith Reilly, founder and Creative Director of the club and record label Fabric.
For those who haven’t received this biannual creative writing email before then I'll briefly explain: the contents of every new issue of .Cent is split up into chapters. Every chapter has a title chosen by the Guest Editor. For each chapter we encourage writers to submit work that interprets its title. Chosen authors’ work will be printed in the magazine, leading a chapter's content.
For issue 15 the chapter titles are:

Cause and Effect
In Pursuit of Beauty
Improbable Perfection
Simplicity of Form


If you’d like to submit your writing then the brief is as follows:
• Strict maximum word-count of 350.
• Submission deadline is Monday 4th January 2010.
• You can submit poetry/prose/script.
• You may submit to as many chapters as you wish.
• Submissions and published work are on an unpaid basis.
• Please state if work has been previously published elsewhere. The work will still be considered however we’d like to know in advance.
• Please feel free to interpret the title as you wish, although it is worth bearing in mind that .Cent will select the piece that best encapsulates the chapter theme.
• The chosen submissions will be printed in the issue. If it is yours then you will be sent a magazine and tears.
• Submissions that are not selected to be printed in the magazine could potentially be published on the website.
• .Cent reserves the right to make the final decision.

To submit work:
• Please email submissions to natalie@centmagazine.co.uk by no later than 4th January 2010.
• Please state how you would like to be credited. Therefore, your name as you would like it to appear in print + mention a website? Or a current project? Perhaps published work? However we can support you.
• Please include within the submission your contact details- email, postal address and phone number.


Good luck!

Friday, 4 December 2009

KNIGHT CREW - Nicky Singer


Last night I popped over to the Jubilee Library in Brighton for the launch of 'Knight Crew', a novel for young people by a friend, Nicky Singer. Benjamin Zephaniah has endorsed the book, calling it,
‘A story for this generation . . . written with love passion and intelligence.’ It was lovely to see so many kids from our local community college, they have been working alongside her to produce marketing materials for the forthcoming opera based on the book!
Nicky's first children's book Feather Boy won the Blue Peter Children's Book Award and has been shown on national television, winning a BAFTA Writer's Award. It is now being adapted for the London stage.
Knight Crew is a modern retelling of the King Arthur myth, set today and peopled by gangs of hoodies.
It is also to be an opera for young people, sung mainly by young people, to be performed over three days at Glyndebourne in the Spring. Nicky has been working on the libretto. HERE is the detail.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

THE BEST WATERSTONES??


It is entirely possible that Brighton Waterstones is simply the best one in the UK. They have a dedicated short story collection bookcase, where the collections are displayed front cover out - all of them. The collections are not all by the larger publishers, the larger names, although there are superb works there by Carver, Yiyun Li, Janice Galloway, A L Kennedy. There are also books by less well known writers, and from great independent publishers, such as Salt. Yay! Nuala ni Chonchuir's book 'Nude' is there, as is 'Glass Bubble'. I feel very honoured and very proud.
We have Sara Crowley to thank for this display, and for the choice of books.
So, whilst raising a glass to Waterstone's Brighton for the space and freedom, here's another glass to Sara. Who, in case you don't know, is a very very interesting writer.
Sara blogs HERE and I have shamelessly nicked the photo from her blog.
And just to embarrass her, here is a little about the lady, who does tend to hide her light under a bushel now and again, so I will switch on the spotlight for a bit...
Sara Crowley's novel in progress - Salted - was chosen as one of the four finalists in the Faber/Book Tokens Not Yet Published Award, and she is the winner of Waterstone's 2009 Bookseller's Bursary. Her short stories have won prizes and been published in many lovely places, some of which are linked on her blog. HERE She reviews for Waterstone's Books Quarterly, Pulp Net and The Short Review and has written nonfiction articles for a variety of publications including Writer's Market.


Congrats on those lovely things, Sara. Here's to your next amazing achievements. And a heartfelt thank you for all you do to support the short story.

ELEGY FOR EASTERLY _ THE WINNER OF GUARDIAN FIRST BOOK AWARD


Many congratulations to Petina Gappah, whose terrific collection Elegy for Easterly has been named as winner of the 2009 Guardian First Book Award. Announcement HERE
Petina and I 'met' while working on the One World Anthology. We didn't get on!
But whether or not one is mates with a writer doesn't (or shouldn't ) make one's response to their work any different - and we both liked each other's work.
One of the stories in this collection - a story called 'Midnight at the Hotel California' (what a title!) is among my favourites. Its up there on my list in Short Circuit alongside a few others by writers like Carver, Englander and Yann Martel. So tis lovely to know she's been recognised at this level. Congrats again.
Here's Petina Gappah's website and here (from her website), is the opening sentence of that story:
It is hard to remember that there was ever a time when you could buy a half dozen eggs, a packet of Colcolm sausages, two loaves of bread, a packet of Tanganda tea and still have change from a ten dollar note for two Castle Laagers and a packet of Everest.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Lovely unsolicited article about Short Circuit

I missed this one! The writer Tom Conoboy, who keeps a blindingly sharp and intelligent blog, has not only read but written up his initial impression of Short Circuit. HERE
Tom scares the pants off me, he is an academic and analyses texts with a rapier. But he is also an extremely able writer, and so I valued his opinion on Short Circuit.
Nice! Exactly what I want - it's giving even a writer like Tom, who is currently studying for a PhD in American Literature, food for thought. Thanks Tom.

I have invited myself onto his blog for a stay in the new Year, to discuss Short Circuit in more depth. meanwhile, I'll put up with quotes like this from him:

I think it may become a definitive work.

I’ve read half a dozen or so of the essays so far, and skimmed through the rest, and there is good stuff here. I’m not usually very good with ‘how-to’ manuals, mainly because I won’t be told ‘how to’: the contrarian in me instinctively makes me do the opposite of what I’m told, even if I agree with the advice. That’s Calvinist atheists for you – we do a good line in nose-cutting.

Anyway, the advice here is good, in large measure because it isn’t dogmatic. At one point in her article, Lane Ashfeldt says: ‘I have no wish to waffle mystically about ‘inspiration’ here. A book on the craft of short story writing should provide more concrete advice than that.’ Agreed, and I think she goes on to provide that advice admirably, but what I like about this collection of essays in general is that what you don’t get is the usual collection of ‘thou shalts’ and ‘thou shalt nots’ of writing craft advice, the sort of nonsense that tells you to write two pages of drivel show in order to avoid telling the reader that ‘Johnny was in a fearful temper because he had a bad case of piles.’ No, what we have here is measured, considered advice on a range of subjects.

'HELP FOR HEROES' SKYDIVE



I am supporting my younger son, Toby, in his fundraising venture to raise £15,000 for Help for Heroes.
Tobs is seventeen, and in his last year at school. Whether or not you support the crazy offensives we've got ourselves mired in, the guys who go off and fight aren't that much older. In fact, Vijay, a great guy who was at school with Tobs will be going to Afghanistan after Christmas with the 4th Rifles, (previously the Royal Green Jackets).
When you're seventeen there's a lot of partying, and a lot of hard work trying to get to the right next step educationwise, or workwise. And this Mum is quite proud of her guy who wants to spend some of his time organising a fundraiser for something as worthwhile as this.
They are doing a skydive in the spring, and I gather that there are members of staff at T's school signed up, students, and parents.
Help For Heroes is a charity set up to help the guys who are wounded on our behalf, and their families. HERE it is online -
Three of Toby's mates walked the Southdowns Way earlier in the year, raising thousands for the same cause. They are a good bunch.
So although I wouldn't normally put fundraising widgets on here, I am making an ex ception.

There is a widget on the blog, over there, up top----->>> if anyone feels moved do add a wee bit to the total, HFH will be grateful.
Thanks.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

WALTZING, STALLIONS & WALTZING STALLIONS.


Where do you go for a waltzing lesson? Vienna of course. The best place in the world for learning to spin and turn, slip and slide, grip and glide. With one's husband, naturally, and one's older son and daughter in law. Two Gebbie couples, one instructor, and a dancing school called Talmeyer. I have to say, if you are going to Vienna (and we were, an early Xmas pressie from son and wife, who can't be with us for Xmas this year) a waltzing lesson is a stunningly good fun addition to the menu!
The waltzing horses are of course, the Lipizzaner stallions , seen at the Spanish Riding School. but although it was a beautiful sight, in a beautiful and historic building, and golly were we lucky to get tickets - I felt sad for these animals. There was something undignified about the thing. So there's a stallion running free. Not waltzing.
Vienna is gorgeous, stunning architcture - but I couldn't quite get the image of swastikas hanging from high windows out of my head. A small pilgrimage to Juden Platz and the Rachael Whiteread memorial to 65,000 Austrian Jews, victims of the Holocaust was good. But reading that local business people are complaining that their trade is damaged by proximity to the memorial, demanding it be removed - was not good.
The memorial is a 'library' of stone books placed in reverse on stone shelves. Spines (and therefore names) hidden. It is strong, and beautiful, and resonant.
Continuing the celebration of things Jewish, the Annie Liebovitz exhibition was hosted in Vienna by the Hundertwasser House. Nick wanted to go, and boy was I grateful he did. Those iconic portraits of John Lennon and Yoko Ono, of the great and good of stage and screen. Movers and shakers in politics, royalty. And so many personal photos, some harrowing, some joyful.
And don't mention the Sacher torte...

Monday, 30 November 2009

ELEPHANTS AND GLASS BUBBLES


The lovely Sally Zigmond has posted her analysis of the title story of 'Words from a Glass Bubble' on her brilliant blog, The Elephant in the Writing Room HERE
She calls it taking a microscope to the story, and it is done incredibly well. Sally says some nice things about my work which you have my permission to skip...but it was she and her colleague Jo Good who gave me my first breaks into print, in their magazine QWF. (QWF is, sadly, no more.) And not just me. Many writers have them to thank for their first 'real' publications!
Reading through her insightful analysis, I am so grateful to her for the time and effort she put into this. But also...what a wonderful resource Sally has created for the aspiring short story writer. To have a piece of work that has done OK out there analysed like this for free and gratis, is fab. So whether or not you 'like' the story, get thee over to Elephant in the Writing Room. Make a copy of the story (you have my permission!), and her analysis. Feel free to disagree, to dislike, to argue. And use her headings to analyse another story - maybe one of your own?
And the other thing it does, this exercise - it reminds me how much we gift our work to the readers when we put it 'out there'. And like a gift, we cannot control how the user will use it. One commenter sees a phallic symbol in my description of a statuette. Fair enough. I can't say I put that symbol there consciously, but if he sees that, then its fine by me! I'm only the writer. Not the reader. And I do not control the space between us, thank heavens. I am immensely moved that people read my work, and find it interesting enough to debate!

A word in your ear....

You know those little chats good friends have with you? Well, please take this as one of those, if what follows applies to you.

You attend a talk, a workshop, a reading event. You contact the speaker/writer later, and say how much you enjoyed the talk/reading/workshop. And how much you want to learn about writing. The speaker/writer replies, thanks you for your nice message, and gives you a link or two to places where you can learn interesting stuff about writing.

You write to her again, to say thanks. How interesting. But you also attach some of your work, two full length stories, and say, 'Be honest. Give me some feedback. What do you think of these?'

The word in your ear is Please please don't do this. Entrusting me with your work may be a lovely thing to do, but you don't know me from Adam, or Eve. First of all, you don't know that I will treat your words with respect. You don't know that I won't 'do a Bruton' and use your ideas and plots for myself. Your ideas are precious.

But also, you are making an assumption. You are assuming I have a couple of hours to spare, with nothing else to do to fill them. You are assuming that I do not have my own work to do, my main work - my writing. You are assuming I will do your critiques unpaid, instead of the critiques I might be doing on a paid basis for other writers.

All I am doing is asking you to think...

Thursday, 26 November 2009

STOCKHOLM CALLING...


Fab news - I have been invited to tutor a creative writing course at Stockholm University next term. Using Short Circuit as one of the text books.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

WILLESDEN SHORT STORY COMP.. CLOSING 18 DEC


Stephen Moran, on Facebook: Somebody send some classy stories to the Willesden short story competition. Pretty please. Otherwise I'll have to shoot myself.

I think Stephen is saying that a lot of the entries so far are dire. Not all... some are smashing - but not enough of them. SO GET YOUR STORY IN!!

Details HERE

Short Circuit shifts apace... Orbis says yes.

Short Circuit is selling well at Salt Publishing, every day new orders are coming in. Lovely. And on Amazon it is selling too... currently it is:

#31 in Books > Reference > Writing > Writing Skills!!

And I had a short story accepted at Orbis.

The New Writer Prose and Poetry prizes - deadline looms.

Lovely invitation, to be final judge of the short story section of THE NEW WRITER: Prose and Poetry Prizes
You've got a few days to get your story in!!!
From the website: GUIDELINES

Short stories up to 4,000 words and novellas/serials up to 20,000 words on any subject or theme, in any genre (not children's). Previously published material is not eligible for entry. Entry fees £5 per short story (TNW subscribers two entries at same fee). £15 per Serial/Novella.
Single poems must be previously unpublished with a limit of 40 lines. Entry fee: £5 for up to 2 single poems (TNW subscribers 4 poems for £5).
Collection of poems (6-10 poems) can be previously published. No line limit. Entry fee £12 per collection.
Essays, articles and interviews up to 2,000 words covering any writing-related or literary theme in its widest sense. Previously published material is not eligible. Single entry £5 (TNW subscribers two entries at same fee).
All work should be clearly typed, double-spaced (poetry should be single-spaced), on white A4 paper and paperclipped. Entrants may make as many submissions as they wish but please include your name, address, title of entry, word count and category on a separate cover sheet with every entry. Preliminary judging will be carried out by The New Writer editorial board with guest judges making the final selection so there should be no identifying marks - apart from the title - on the entries. Entries are non-returnable. A full list of winners will be sent provided SAE is enclosed.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

The Bridport Literary Festival and The Bridport Prize, 2009


What a wonderful few days- staying in Bridport, meeting up with old friends, meeting new ones, attending some but not enough wonderful readings and talks. Running a sold-out workshop on opening up creativity, going to the fab Bridport Prizewinners’ lunch at the Town Hall, and becoming a compere for a brand new event - introducing the winners of the short story section of the Bridport Prize after the lunch. Phew.
Chris and I then drove up through the Dorset and Somerset floods to a secret destination (ho ho) and had a couple of nights and superb dinners… and it is now back to normal.

Highlights then:
Supper with Frances, (organiser of the B Prize) followed by the most hilarious event with itinerant poet Elvis McGonagall. -Elvis McGonagall himself -Weak with laughter, I had giggly-stomach ache for hours. He is a regular fixture at the Festival. Worth going for him alone, I’d say!

The launch at Waterstones of Candy Neubert’s novel Foreign Bodies (Seren).
Candy is my co-compere and is also highly important, being chief poetry reader and poetry shortlister for the B Prize.

An astounding talk by Horatio Clare about tracing the migration route of the swallow from South Africa to his family barn in South Wales. He with backpack only…This from a great review of the resulting book, Just One Swallow, from The Guardian:
“Clare (is) brave, modern, multicultural and open-hearted approach to travel itself. If he is not an explorer cut from the mould of Redmond O'Hanlon, he is at least an adventurer of the metropolitan kind. He enjoys a fleeting sexual liaison with an Ivorian beauty in Brazzaville. He is fleeced by hash dealers in Casablanca. He loses all his belongings in Spain. In Marrakech - where else? - he falls head over heels for a British-Asian from Rochdale and vows to marry within hours of meeting her. When he gets back to England, one is barely surprised to hear that his family seeks to have him sectioned.”
Whole review HERE
The double act of Ali Smith and Jackie Kay, this year’s judges for short story and poetry. -Ali Smith- They read, they laughed, they discussed, they talked, read some more… the audience at the Bull Hotel wouldn’t let them leave. And it was after that talk that I queued up to have books signed, and gingerly offered Jackie Kay a copy of Words from a Glass Bubble. (Why? Because we are both adopted adults, and both found birth parents on Google!) She was lovely, and accepted. And she demanded that I sign my book for her at the same time as she signed one for me, so amidst giggles, we synchronised signatures and messages. Amazing!

The Workshop. Wow. “Where do stories come from?” I asked… and hopefully answered the question – EVERYWHERE!! (Except by nicking other people’s entire stories, naturally – we did cover plagiarism. I’m getting good at spreading the word on that one.) We had a great time, aided and abetted by lots of props like earrings gleaned from Bridport’s charity shops, photographic books, fossils (found by ME on Charmouth beach), copies of newspapers, Big Issues, maps, and other delectables.
The lunch. Yum. this is a pic of the lunch, from the Bridport website. All pics taken by Dee (sorry Dee, dont know your surname!) The person standing up is reader Jacky Wyatt, who chose my story as a potential winner in 2007.
And the highlight for me...
The story prizewinners: Meeting Anna Britten again (ex- Fiction Workhouse) who is a runner up! And Annemarie Neary (who I met in Bantry earlier this year at the Fish Prizegiving, where she came 3rd), also runner-up. And Teresa Stanton, recently met vis Nik Perring’s blog, also runner up. Sad not to see Nick Hogg, who was also runner up… its quite a party of writing friends this year. And the wonderful winners. First: Jenny Clarkson, with her very first ever subbed story. Quite perfect!! (Ahem – take note.) Natasha Soobramanien second, and all the way from Colorado, Nancy Nye, third. this is Jenny Clarkson, the winner of this year's bridport First prize, chatting to the shortlister, Jon Wyatt.
The Big Event was a hoot. For the first time there were all three top winners in both poetry and story. Plus half a dozen runners up. And they ALL got to read. And Candy and I talked from thrones high on a stage about what winning a prize had done for us.... look! My throne. Being inspected by Ali Smith and Jackie Kay. See, I'm not making it up!!

Lots of books sold. A box and a half of Short Circuits and Bubbles went to good homes...fab.
And this is the secret hideaway we went to… if anyone wants a quiet and very special top quality bed and breakfast with 5* cooking in the evening, look no further: The Parsonage at Muchelney, Somerset Website HERE