Friday, 27 February 2009

SPARKS Reading event Brighton - Call for Submissions

SPARKS, the terrific little Brighton flash fiction event, held in a mini-theatre above a pub (Upstairs at 3 and 10) is back, and calling for subs.

The next one will be 21st April.

Email your flashes - no theme, under 1000 wds - to editor/compere Jo Mortimer at


One of facebook's proposed terms:

2.3 For content that is covered by intellectual property rights (like photos and videos), you specifically give us the following permission, subject to your privacy and application settings: you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use, copy, publicly perform or display, distribute, modify, translate, and create derivative works of (“use”) any content you post on or in connection with Facebook. This license ends when you delete your content or your account.

I guess this can be interpreted as follows: if you use the note facility to upload images such as phiotos, images of paintings, collages, sculpture etc...and written work such as poems, stories, chapters of novels, non fic works, entire novels, and any other content covered by intellectual property rights, we have the right to use those in whatever way we like, with no payment to you, without crediting you with having created them - until you delete the account?

I wonder how many writers are aware of this one? The note facility, as it can be set to only allow certain contacts to see the works, has been a useful way of sharing work for feedback.

I have just deleted my account. Or rather 'deactivated' it. I notice you cant delete your account. So - does this mean everything I've put on there is now theirs to do with as they wish? I hope not!

Oh well. I guess anyone who really wants to keep in touch can find a way to do so.

Wednesday, 25 February 2009



Are you the most exciting new female voice in fiction - but, as yet, unpublished? At Harper's Bazaar, we love discovering great new writing, and are thrilled to be teaming up with Orange to invite you to write an original short story for our annual competition.


The winner will collect her award in the presence of the literary world's top editors, publishers and agents, at the Orange Prize for Fiction award ceremony in June. Previous successes include Clare Allan in 2002, who went on to write the acclaimed Poppy Shakespeare. Last year's winner, Sukhraj Randhawa, was taken on by literary agent Zoë Waldie (Rogers, Coleridge & White) on the strength of her entry, and is currently working on a novel.

This year, the judging panel will be chaired by Susan Sandon (managing director of Cornerstone, a division of Random House), with judges Kate Mosse (co-founder and honorary director of the Orange Prize for Fiction), Marina Lewycka (novelist and previous nominee for the Orange Prize), Lauren Laverne (presenter of BBC Two's The Culture Show), Peter Straus (managing director of literary agency Rogers, Coleridge & White) and senior editors from Harper's Bazaar.


Imaginative and stylish writing.


1 An original 2,000-word story on the subject of ‘Mother'.

2 A 200-word autobiography.

3 A passport photograph of yourself, attached to a sheet of A4 bearing your full name, address, telephone number (mobile number where possible), occupation and date of birth.


Three finalists will be selected by the judges to attend a writers' masterclass and lunch at the offices of Random House in London. The first prize is a cheque for £1,000, and the publication of your story in Harper's Bazaar. The two runners-up will receive £500 each. All three winners will also receive copies of all the shortlisted books for this year's Orange Prize for Fiction.

Rules and Regulations

1. All entries should be submitted no later than Tuesday 14 April to: Naomi West, Commissioning Editor, Harper's Bazaar, National Magazine House, 72 Broadwick Street, London W1F 9EP.

2. Entrants must be unpublished female writers aged 18 or over (in this instance please take "unpublished" to mean that entrants do not have an existing or previous contract with a publishing house.)

3. Harper's Bazaar holds the first publication rights, with exclusivity for a period of 56 days following publication.

4. Entrants must produce all writing themselves, without any assistance, and the completed piece must be the result of their own labours. Entrants warrant to the National Magazine Company that nothing within the piece is libellous, obscene, or in any way infringes the copyright or rights of third parties.

5. Entry to the competition and acceptance of any prize constitutes permission to use the names of the winner and runners-up for promotional purposes, without consultation.

6. The competition is not open to employees of the National Magazine Company or Orange PCS. The judging panel's decision is final, and no correspondence will be entered into.

7. The winners agree to take part in publicity as a result of the competition.

Promoter is Orange Personal Communications Services, 33 Wigmore Street, London W1U 7QX.

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Nice things...

First of all this is an adelie penguin introducing me to her chick. 'Look,' she's saying.' Isn't he just gorgeous?'

And the other nice thing is that I spent ages on the phone this morning to Clare Wigfall, who is generously nattering to me for a chapter in the forthcoming craft book.

Sunday, 22 February 2009


A warning... a short story competition seems to be running, asking for your hard-earned cash as an entry fee. And the grand prize is... nothing.


Makes you wonder what is going on. I have emailed the administrators, to find out if they have omitted to mention the prize on the website. I will keep you posted.

Of course, if it is there, and I have missed it, please do let me know!

Updated, Tuesday 24th feb

No response to my email: BUT This has now appeared on the website:

The short story competition ....will be judged by the renowned local author Greg Mosse. There will be prizes for three winners in the adult category and a book token prize for the two best under -16 entries. These will be presented at a high profile prize-giving at a literary event during the festival. The competition is open to ages 12 and above and the theme is open.

Deadline is fast approaching though – 31st March – and information on how to apply and the competition rules can be found here or by sending a SAE to: The Short Story Competition Secretary, 67, King's Stone Ave , Steyning, BN44 3FJ .

There will be prizes... but WHAT!!! I'm afraid that isnt good enough... until they specify what you can win for your outlay of £4.00 for one, and £10.00 for three entries... I'd advise entering your work elsewhere.

...edit, March.

Right, they have finally stated the prizes. One weekend for writers, at a fixed date, in West Sussex. (what if you aren't free?) and two small cash prizes.

Thursday, 19 February 2009

Gentoo penguins ...

Following on from Balancing on the Edge of the World - I did my own visit to the very edges of the world in January on my visit to Antarctica. Time to share a few penguins...

These are gentoo penguins, who build nests of small stones. This was taken right by the Chilean base Gonzales Videla, in Paradise Bay on the Antarctic mainland. HERE.
The base is a protected site, as is everything within thousands of miles. Penguins nest right up to the walls of the canteen.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009


Today I am hosting the next stop in Elizabeth Baines Cyclone blog tour for her superb collection of short stories Balancing on the Edge of the World(Salt Publishing)
I feel close to this book… a few times, Elizabeth and I were reviewed together, and I found that a real privilege! Then we met several times, at bookish things, and I enjoy her company as much as her work!

So -what to ask? I am fascinated by the mechanics of writing, whether they are mental mechanics or otherwise… so I dived in, knowing that the stories I wanted to talk about had already been aired… so I was hoping to get something different out of the writer!

I'd like to start with your use of metaphor, because to me, that is one of the striking things about your work. I know we could go on all day... so let's focus on one story: Compass and Torch, perhaps? I loved this story... thematically it chimes strongly with me. And the whole journey becomes a metaphor doesn’t it? But the tools themselves, the compass, the torch. When the father realised he had left his compass behind... that was an almost physical jolt for this reader, followed by the attempt of his son to be like his Dad, even in the negative, underpinning the vastness of the loss surrounding him. Did you do this consciously as you wrote, or is this something that happens subconsciously?

Well, I’m really pleased that you like the story so much! This question follows on in an interesting way from what I said about ‘Compass and Torch’ last week on Sarah Salway’s blog , in particular the fact that I did actually see a young boy and his father setting off on a camping trip like this. In the past I have tended to resist talking about which elements of my work relate to ‘fact’ or ‘real life’, not least because, as I am always saying on my blogs, it encourages reductive biographical readings of one’s work as a whole. However, it seems inevitable for some of the discussions I’m ending up having on this tour, and acknowledging the fact that I actually saw a similar boy and his dad to the ones in this story is essential to an explanation of how the symbolic elements of the story emerged.

The truth is that when I saw the real-life pair my partner John and I had also just parked our car to go for an evening walk in Wales. I was waiting for John to put his boots on when their car approached the gate. Now something about them immediately arrested my attention, and I was riveted by everything that happened, which it did in the same way as in the story – even down to the horses – although I couldn’t actually hear what the boy and his father were saying. John decided to look at the map so I was still standing watching them when they were disappearing over the top of the nearby hill, by which time, I will confess, I was crying: John looked up and found me with tears streaming down my face. Which of course was when I realized that what they had triggered was my own memories – both of my own childhood and of my divorce and the way it affected my children. Everything in that scene - the way the sun and clouds seemed to open up curtains on the landscape and then close them again, the horses softly watching, the torch, and above all the darkening vastness of the evening landscape across which they had to walk – all of these things hit me in the gut and tugged on my own memories and emotions. I couldn’t stop thinking about the scene afterwards, and these things were the essence of it, and would therefore be the essence of the story I would eventually write. But it was a gut thing entirely, at that stage, and it was only as I began to formulate the story that I came to see that they were symbolic: of the start of the journey into a new life of loss and loneliness, of the vastness of the struggle ahead, the way the father and son would now only ever be able to ‘camp’ in each others’ lives, the struggle for emotional direction, the lack of emotional equipment for the situation and the shutting down and turning away from emotion. The compass was something I introduced into the story myself, and it now seems such an obvious symbol, but the fact is that I couldn’t actually see that until it was already in the story, and even then I wasn’t fully aware right away of its significance. I remember considering stopping to think about whether or not it worked as a symbol, but then not bothering because it FELT right, and anyway I didn’t want to interrupt that instinctual ‘flow’ which is always for me (as I said on Barbara Smith’s blog ) the first stage of writing. Trusting your gut instincts is the most important aspect of writing for me. I don’t think it’s luck or coincidence that those elements of the scene turned out to be so symbolic once they were in the story: I had already, subconsciously, made them symbolic of the emotional aspects of my own memories. And although I had no rational understanding of their symbolism at that stage, because they were so emotionally powerful for me I just knew to trust them when I embarked on the writing.

And so that’s my answer: that the symbols aren’t thought up consciously, but arrive more instinctually as the emotional substructure of a story. And here’s how subconscious they can be: it was only after ‘Compass and Torch’ was published that I realized the symbolic significance of the ambiguous first sentence: ‘The road ends at a gate.’

Dorothea Brande embodied! It is lovely to find reality mirroring theory! And leading on from the above. I find your child characters absolutely compelling. (Maybe because I am a big kid myself…) But it is because I think, they are acting out scenarios that mean a lot to me. Much of the excellent characterisation is thanks to the voices you use/create. Star Things, Leaf Memory, and Power... the young characters are almost physically reaching out, speaking authentically. Talk to me a bit about voice, about how you get inside the head of a much younger person, and why you find this a successful way to write.

It’s interesting that people have picked up on the stories in the book that take the viewpoints of children - Clare Dudman did, too, when I visited her blog – and it’s very gratifying to me that you find their perspectives authentic, especially as you have adopted the voices of young people so movingly in your own stories! I did talk a bit on Clare’s blog about the voice in these particular stories of mine, but your HOW question gets to the crux of it. The key, I think is memory: quite simply, remembering, never forgetting what it was like to be a child – and I think it’s significant that you, a writer, call yourself a ‘big kid’! I have to say that when I was in my early twenties I made a conscious vow, for the sake of the children I had begun teaching and my own future children, never to forget what it was like to be a child and suffer the casual injustices of adults who did seem to have forgotten, and therefore to hang on tight to those childhood memories. But I do also happen to have a very good memory: since I’m in for a penny on this interview, I’ll confess that the story ‘Leaf Memory’ is based on a real-life memory of my own, aged two years and two months, the age I was when my sister was born. Of course, the way children experience the world is sensual rather than intellectual, in terms of sight, sound, touch etc (and this story is actually about that: the different perceptions of children and adults), so if we can remember what it’s like to be inside a child’s head, any story we produce from there has a good chance of being vivid. But remembering what it’s like to experience the world in that way, on the sensual level, or rather continuing to do so, is an author’s best equipment for any writing, not just writing about children: it’s the basis of show not tell. Who was the famous author who said that: that the writer should always stay in touch with their childhood self? I knew once who it was, but I’ve forgotten (so much for my supposed great memory!) and I can’t find it anywhere. In any case, I think it’s one of the great truisms about writing.

Condensed Metaphysics has to still be my favourite story. I was hugely surprised when you said somewhere that it was based on a real incident. This is a te chnical question... seeking something of a masterclass for the blog! HOW do you take a real incident, and turn it into fiction that works? newer writers are told not to rely too heavily on fact, as it is very difficult to transform fact into engaging fiction. HOW did you prevent that incident taking over the piece, set in concrete, and swamping the story?

I think it’s in shreds now, don’t you, my vow to avoid talking about the real-life triggers of my writing? But yes, I have already confessed on one of my blogs that ‘Condensed Metaphysics’ was based on a real-life incident. The question you’ve posed is a huge one to answer, because once you’ve written a story it’s often hard to remember oneself where the real-life bits and the imagined bits join: they bleed into each other and become something else altogether, richer and more complex - which, as I say, can be denied and reduced by discussions about the various ‘components’. However, perhaps an in-depth discussion will indeed show up the complexities.

In fact the bones of this story – the events – closely follow what happened in real life, or at least what I remembered afterwards happening, and in many ways it felt like a ‘found’ story. But of course, as you say, you are never really lifting anything wholesale; you are always shaping – selecting and adding and tweaking by pointing up connections - to make a story. So HOW did I do this here? Let me see. Well, I was indeed out on the town with a group of friends: we’d been to a poetry reading where the wine had flowed freely, and, like the gang of friends in the story we were all a bit drunk. And my friend who shall remain nameless did indeed, like Ellie in the story, lead us all off for a pizza and then remember she had no money and with drunken irony ask a guy begging outside the pizza place to lend her some. And he did respond in just the way the guy in the story does, he was just as philosophical, and they had a similar philosophical conversation. Really, it was just too comically (and movingly) good to be true for a writer, though I must say that, with a few glasses of wine inside me, I wasn’t consciously thinking that at the time, I was just hugely entertained. Just like Ellie in the story, she did promise that we’d get him a pizza, and she did then forget and try and make us all donate a slice of our own pizzas to him, and then, ironically, he had disappeared anyway by the time we got outside. The people in the pizza parlour in the story were indeed the people in the real-life takeaway, as far as I perceived them, and, most crucially, my friend did strike up a drunken conversation with the researcher, and we did all think at first that he’d said he was researching ‘condensed metaphysics.’

Now that was a just wonderful gift – that phrase so fortuitously linking with the philosophical bent of the homeless man, but I suppose it was up to me as the writer to notice the connection and see how it could be the focal point, the basis of a story. It’s this sort of thing – the ideas and the images – that distinguish a resonant story from a mere series of events. I reckon that a writer should always keep the antennae out for them and it’s quite possible that subconsciously I was already shaping a story out of the experience even while I was in it. However, it was next morning as I was waking – and I think of lot of this sort of ‘gelling’ goes on while we’re asleep – that I consciously saw the connection, as well as another that could turn this into a complete story: I saw all of us in the pizza parlour – along with the homeless man outside – as a microcosm of society, and this suddenly linked for me with the notion of condensed-matter physics (the subject that the researcher was really studying, both in real life and in the story) which the real-life researcher did not in fact talk about at such length, but which I had read a bit about. The question of the relationship between the particles of solid matter, and the unresearched issue of what happens to it when outer forces are brought to bear on it struck me as a great metaphor for our relationships in society as a whole, for the potential stories of some of the pizza-place inhabitants (the pressures they had undergone in their lives), and for the effect they all had on each other in that one small but potentially significant incident. (I guess this was one story where a logical consciousness of the metaphorical underpinning preceded the writing, but it still felt ‘handed’ to me, partly from my subconscious as usual and partly, this time, from life.)

So that was it: with the motifs of philosophy/metaphysics and condensed-matter physics joined together in that one phrase ‘condensed metaphysics’, I was off on a story, pulling in all the things from real life that fitted – keeping my antennae so well and truly extended in order to eliminate those that didn’t that I now have no memory of them - and making up others. I elaborated the homeless man’s speech, I made the researcher talk more than he had in real life, and more philosophically, about condensed-matter physics, and of course the reactions of the other characters and their discussions about it followed on from that; in reality, although the old drunk had taken an interest in everyone’s pizzas just as in the story, he hadn’t said very much at all, but I developed the philosophy theme by turning him into a pizza-parlour philosopher and giving him a backstory to relate which was my pure invention, or more accurately, probably, pulled from somewhere else in the depths of my subconscious memory store. There were certain images which resonated deeply for me: the way we all moved back and forth in the mirrors around the wall, the pizza cooks tossing the coloured chopped vegetables and the lights of Chinatown which we looked towards when the homeless guy pointed in that direction, telling us he slept there. However, as with the images in ‘Compass and Torch’, it was only as I was writing them into the story that I came to see that they were kaleidoscopic images and thus appropriately symbolic of my particle-relationship theme. The seemingly weird thing is that these images were essential, even central, to my experience of the incident before I consciously saw it as a story, and I think this probably does indicate that even inside the experience my brain was already subconsciously turning it into a story and selecting appropriate images.

So there we are. And you, Vanessa, have succeeded in making me strip two of my stories naked in public for the first time ever!! But thank you so much for having me here to do it, and for paying such close attention to my work!

Elizabeth, thank you so much. I found your answers seriously interesting and I hope others will too. So often, writers sidestep those issues they find hard to address, the minutiae of their craft. It is lovely that you have been able to stand back and dissect the process for us.

Salvador Dali on 'What's My Line?'

I am indebted to Stephen Moran for the following YouTube snippet... my favourite artist in a hilarious clip from the old TV programme, What's My Line.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009


The amazing Sequoia Nagamatsu has created this video. It is so good, SO good... turn sound on and listen. Even if you don't want to get the book... look!
(Oh and my copies arrived this morning. I am a tad excited...)

Monday, 16 February 2009


This has been my job for the last few months- cajoling and persuading some of the best writers of short stories around to contribute to a forthcoming guide to be published by SALT on writing the short story.

I have fourteen superb writers. And as their chapters come in to me, I shall reveal who they are:

First off the chocks is GRAHAM MORT

Graham won First Prize at Bridport in 2007. A widely published short story writer, he is also a much published poet. He lives in North Yorkshire and lectures in Creative Writing at Lancaster University where he directs the Centre for Transcultural Writing and Research. He has worked extensively in Africa, designing and implementing literature development projects for the British Council. His latest publication will be a collection of short fiction forthcoming this year from Seren.

In second place, hot on Graham's heels is PAUL MAGRS Paul is Senior Lecturer in English Literature and Creative Writing at Manchester Metropolitan University. He's also taught at the University of East Anglia. His first published writing was the short story "Patient Iris", published 1995 in New Writing Four (edited by A. S. Byatt and Alan Hollinghurst). This was soon followed by his debut novel, Marked for Life, the same year. Other novels include Strange Boy (2003) and To the Devil — a Diva! (2004) and he has also published collections of short fiction. He is also the author of four books in the BBC Doctor Who novel range, and co-authored the Creative Writing handbook, with Andrew Motion and Julia Bell.

In third place in my postbox - I have just seen the chapter from ELAINE CHIEW - fabulous stuff. Elaine won the Bridport Prize in 2008. Elaine is certanly a name to watch! Her publications include Hobart, Storiglossia, Night Train, and the forthcoming One World Anthology.

Me? I am Editor, contributor, project-manager, general dogsbody, and occasional interviwer over the phone.

Another shortlisting for Carys Davies!

First a shortlisting for the stringent Willesden Herald short story prize, (see post a few below) and now Carys's collection of short stories Some New Ambush (Salt Publishing) has been shortlisted for The Roland Mathias Prize.

The Roland Mathias Prize is a recently established literary prize for Welsh writing in English. £2,000 is awarded every two years to a single author for a published collection of poetry, a collection of short-stories, literary criticism about Welsh literature, or Welsh history.

Last year, Some New Ambush was longlisted for Wales Book of the Year...

Many many fingers crossed, Carys! Go for it!

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Black-browed albatross, Falkland Islands

I was sitting on a clifftop with my camera, watching black-browed albatrosses battle to land in a high wind. The size of these birds is extraordinary... they have a wingspan of 7 -8 feet.

One landed, then another. They greeted each other, walked right past me as though I was a spare rock, then started 'necking'.

These have to be the most beautiful creatures I have seen. And they are totally trusting. No fear at all.

(If you click on a photo, I think it is a file big enough to fill your screen. Click on this last one... see how gorgeous this couple are!)

Saturday, 14 February 2009


The One World Anthology is being launched in the UK on 1st April (honestly!) at the Oxford Literary Festival.
I have a story therein, and am one lucky person.

Friday, 13 February 2009

BBC Money programme... PUBLISHING

Here's a link to the Money programme... dealing with publishing. Not very happy listening unless you happen to be a celebrity with a bio for sale, or a commercial writer who sits and writes with an eye firmly on the market. Losers? Literary writers, independent publishers and indie booksellers.


Thursday, 12 February 2009

Willesden Herald Short Story Competition Short List

Congratulations to all the writers who are on the Willesden Herald Short List. Especially to friend and fellow Salt author Carys Davies!!! I've linked Carys's bio below to her page on the Salt Publishing website.
The following is copied from Willesden Herald.

The following have been shortlisted for the Willesden short story competiton 2009:

"Propitiation" by Jenny Barden
"The Imperfect Roundness of Things" by Claudia Boers
"The Hate Club" by Ben Cheetham
"The Travellers" by Carys Davies
"Ante-Purgatory" by Carol Farrelly
"Amy" by Nick Holdstock
"Work" by Jo Lloyd
"Ebb Tide" by Margot Taylor
"Mina and Fina and Lotte Wattimena" by Jill Widner
"Tokyo Chocolate" by Morowa Yejidé

To find out who has won come back here or join us at the the Pulp Net Short Story Café event with Rana Dasgupta at Costa in Piccadilly on March 9th.

About the authors

Jenny Barden trained as an artist, then a lawyer, and for several years worked for one of the leading firms of commercial solicitors in the City of London. Chance research into a painting triggered a passion for writing. Journeys in South and Central America then led to ideas for a novel set in the New World during the Age of Discovery. That novel is now close to completion, and Propitiation derives from one of the chapters in an early draft. Jenny is represented by Jonathan Pegg of the Jonathan Pegg Literary Agency. For more about her writing visit:

Claudia Boers is originally from Johannesburg and now lives in London. She left behind a career in fashion to focus on writing in 2007. She's been published in Your Messages (a collection of flash fiction) and was commended in the Ilkley Short Story Competition 2008. Claudia's currently working on her first collection of short stories and is fascinated by the imperfect roundness of life.

Ben Cheetham lives and writes in Sheffield. His short fiction has been published or is forthcoming in The London Magazine, Dream Catcher, Staple, Transmission, Momaya Annual Review 2008, Swill, Hoi Polloi and various other magazines.

Carys Davies's short stories have won prizes in national and international competitions, including the Bridport, Asham, Orange/Harpers & Queen and Fish. They have been published in magazines and anthologies and broadcast on BBC Radio 4. Her debut collection of short stories Some New Ambush (Salt, 2007) was one of ten books longlisted for the 2008 Wales Book of the Year Prize and was also a Finalist in the 2008 Calvino Prize in the US. She lives in Lancaster with her husband and four children.

Carol Farrelly is currently a student of Glasgow University’s MLitt in Creative Writing. She has lived in Italy, London, Oxford and Brighton. Italy and London are the places she still misses. She has had several short stories published in magazines such as Litro and Random Acts of Writing.

Nick Holdstock’s work has appeared in Edinburgh Review, Stand, and The Southern Review. He recently edited the Stolen Stories anthology.

Jo Lloyd grew up in Wales and now lives in Oxford. Her stories have been longlisted for the Bridport and Asham prizes. She is not [sic] working on a novel.

Margot Taylor is an ex lollipop lady who lives with her husband and two teenagers in Somerset, UK. Her spare time is divided between her passions for boating, running on the nearby Quantock Hills, and writing short stories.

Jill Widner was the recipient of a 2007 Artist Trust/ Washington State Arts Commission fellowship; she was a resident at Yaddo in 2007 and 2008; and she is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. “Mina and Fina and Lotte Wattimena” is an excerpt from her novel in progress, The Smell of Sulphur, which fictionalizes her experience growing up in Indonesia in the 1960s. Other excerpts have been published or are forthcoming in North American Review, Hobart (online), and Kyoto Journal. Her fiction has also appeared recently in Memoir (and), 971 Menu, and Hitotoki (New York). She lives in Yakima, Washington.

Morowa Yejidé is a native of Washington, D.C. She was educated at Kalamazoo College, where she received her degree in International Relations, and graduated from an international exchange program at Waseda University in Tokyo, Japan. Her short stories have appeared in the Istanbul Literary Review, Ascent Aspirations Magazine, The Taj Mahal Review, and Underground Voices, and others. Her stories often focus on the layers of relationships and the inner landscapes of her characters’ minds. Tokyo Chocolate is a tapestry of her own experiences and impressions. She currently lives in Atlanta, Georgia with her husband and three sons.

Found Poetry

I suppose anything can be a found poem, if the finder finds it such. However. In 2008, when I started trying to write poetry, I also enjoyed finding lines everywhere that seemed to me to resonate, have rhythms, have something 'underneath' the words.

I played about on the Internet, finding places where poems 'appeared'. Found Poems aren't 'the finder's', though... the lines belong to others. So when I submitted a couple, expecting nothing, I always put the original sources in, and saw myself as 'choirmaster' or something. I did not expect them to be picked up, but they were, both by outlets of Ravenna Press.

Snowmonkey published Found Poem, HERE last month. All it is - lines from the suicide notes of the following, found on a website, selected from among many many others:
Virginia Woolf, Hunter S. Thompson, George Sanders, Terry Kath, Jon Erik Hexum, Kurt Cobain, Nicolas Sebastien Chamfort, Robert E Howard, George Eastman, Freddie Prinz, James Whale and Sara Teasdale.
But I thought the accumulated words built into something strange, it felt very wierd. As though all those people were in my study with me, nodding....

The partner of this found poem, Too Late For Fruit (I loved those words) was made up of lines from the last spoken words of some well known names, found on the same website: Stonewall Jackson, Amelia Earhart, Emily Dickinson, Victor Hugo, Jessica Dubroff, O Henry, Thomas Edison, Louis B Meyer, Pancho Villa, Woodrow Wilson and Walter de la Mare. Too Late for Fruit, published on Alba early in 2008, HERE

The IRREAL... fantastical writing.

The home page of The Cafe Irreal, one of my favourite places for inspirational writing, includes a short piece by Jean-Paul Sartre. It shows what Irreality is, far better than extensive literary analysis, for this reader/writer. Of course, there is always the danger that the reader will just think the work is 'mad'... meaningless, disjointed. But, if the writer creates a fictive world in which the absurd appears 'normal'... something magical is created.

After the short fictional example, he said this:
"... if we have been able to give (the reader)the impression that we are talking about a world in which these absurd manifestations appear as normal behaviour, then he will find himself plunged all at once into the heart of the fantastic." — Jean-Paul Sartre
The irreal fascinates me, it always has, and I am writing more and more. It's simply the way I 'see' things, sometimes. One example, written in a flash session, very fast and almost without thinking (which just shows what a strange place my brain must be!) is up on Cafe Irreal HERE
Other pieces of Gebbie irreality are in their archives.

Sunday, 8 February 2009


I have to thank writer Sally Quilford for the Competitions Calendar she maintains on her blog. I have linked to it on the right... under blogs worth reading.



I was very sad to get an email from Zoe King before Christmas, telling me that finally, she was pulling the plug on the little magazine with the big horizons, Cadenza.

I had only been associated with the magazine for a couple of years, but in that time, I learned such a lot about the hard work that has to go on behind the scenes to keep a literary magazine afloat. (ZK carried this publication in many ways for a long while... and I think that needs acknowledging.)

Not only the regular reading of submissions, but the constant search for subscribers, the pleas to independent outlets to stock the publication, the need to retain the existing subscriber base…fruitless attempts to get funding, liaising with the poetry editor, the planning, designing, working on the layout, negotiating with printers, organising distribution, all done mainly by editor in chief Zoe King, against the backdrop of the main efforts to bring in the cash to run the publication… the twice-yearly short story competitions.

This is where my involvement started. I was lucky enough to firstly get long listed in 2004, then short listed, then finally… I was placed in a Cadenza competition in late 2005. The magazine may have been small, but I knew how stringent John Ravenscroft and Zoe King (the then editors) were. I knew how strong the stories were that bobbed to the top in their competitions, and I was delighted to join ‘Caddy’s published prize winners. It meant that I was getting somewhere!! And I owed them hugely for that affirmation.

For the next competition, I took on some of the reading duties… helping to select first the long list, then the short list. And I was delighted to find that my judgements tended to chime with John’s and Zoe’s. That was such good experience.

The John announced his retirement, and I offered to help. I was delighted again when Zoe accepted, and we worked together on plans for the magazine. We worked on some marketing initiatives, collaborating with some other magazines, such as Riptide… publicising them in ‘Caddy’ and they carried our ads in return. We increased publicity for the competitions, and left the entry fee where it had been for years.

I could not contain myself when some people complained about paying to enter the comp. I could not understand it when lovely sites like Duotrope didn’t list us because we charged a fee. They listed us at first, but then emblazoned our page with the fact that they could not recommend us because of the comp charges. It was as though we were doing something wrong. But all the good comps charged! The Bridport, Fish… the big competitions in the USA. All the myriad smaller comps that seemed to be popping up all over.

How on earth were we meant to fund the magazine, except for subscriber fees, and competition entries? I had a few explanatory email exchanges with Duotrope, and they kindly changed the page, ultimately allowing us to be listed. But I wonder if some damage had already been done?

Anyway. Onwards and upwards. The competitions thrived, and twice a year Zoe and I had scripts to log, print out and read. We live a couple of hundred miles apart, but thank heavens for the Internet! We would both print out and read every entry a few times, blind (no not that sort of blind… anonymous entries.) We NEVER read entries on screen. This for many reasons, not the least of which that we wanted to level the playing field as far as formatting goes. And because printed work is easier to curl up with over a mug of coffee! And you can’t concentrate properly I don’t think, reading hundreds of short stories on screen. You flag. And we owed the entrants more than that!!

So a few hundred stories to print, twice a year, and hours of reading and re-reading spent by two already busy writers/teachers/editors…. And we would rate each story, and then swap our ratings after we’d decided… and always, we were very close in our choices. It was great. We’d meet; usually I’d go up and spend a day or two with Zoe, and we’d thrash out the shortlists and the winners… sometimes by email, the last details done via lengthy phonecalls.

Z had the lovely job of letting the lucky winners know of their successes. And she selected the non-competition stories for inclusion. And did the layout work. And wrote articles herself. And liaised with the printers.

And, most importantly she dug deep into her own pocket to pay the printing shortfall every time.

Magazines like Cadenza do not attract the support of funding organisations, no matter how hard you try. We weren’t linked to a University. We only published strong STRONG writing by often unknown writers, so many of whom then went on to publish short story collections, or went on to win in far bigger competitions than us! We published poetry - it had its own section, edited by William Connelly. I tried… sent a few pieces in under a pseudonym… never got a sniff!!!

I guess the mag could have gone online. But do you know something? The work is the same. And the rewards aren’t there, for the owners/editors. There is nothing to hold in your hand at the end of the day. There are no subscriber fees coming in, and you need to increase the competition entries vastly to cover that shortfall…. And remember, the work is all unpaid.

Anyway. I just wanted to give you a glimpse behind the scenes, and to say how much I valued working alongside Zoe for a short while on ‘Caddy’. I for one will miss it.

Saturday, 7 February 2009


It struck me that I ought to explain why I have a pseudonym for my Fish entries.

I set it up in 2004, when I started writing and trying out comps. I used my younger son's Christian names, for luck. It seemed to work now and again! (There... that gives a hint as to which it is.)

It's easy to just carry on using it, for online entries, so I havent bothered changing it.

That's all. No great mysteries!