Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Oxord Literary Festival

Off to Oxford to The Sunday Times Oxford Literary Festival
and the official UK launch of One World, the anthology of short stories published tomorrow by New Internationalist.
With not a little trepidation I will be joining our great leader, Nigerian journalist Ovo Adagha, literary megastar Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and fellow contributors Elaine Chiew and Jude Dibia on a panel at 6 pm. We will all be reading excerpts from our work, and talking about the anthology.

here they all are. You know what I look like.

Chairing the panel will be Dr Elleke Boehmer, Professor of World Writing in English in the English Faculty at the University of Oxford, and Professorial Governing Body Fellow at Wolfson College. She is the Founding and General Series Editor of the Oxford Studies in Postcolonial Literatures, a series which offers accessible introductions to postcolonial writing.

From the Literary Festival Programme: New Internationalist has published a collection of twenty three short stories from fourteen countries, each of which speaks with the clarity and intensity of the human experience. The swift transition from story to story, from continent to continent, from child’s perspective to adult’s; together, these evoke the complex but balanced texture of the world we live in. The diversity of subject, style and perspective results in vivid and poignant stories that haunt the reader. The collection also reflects what can be done by writers thousands of miles apart in the borderless world of the internet, where many of them first met. Come and hear four of these writers discussing their stories and the anthology. The authors are donating their royalties to Médecins Sans Frontières.

I am also planning to hear Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie at 2.pm, when she is being interviewed in celebration of her new short story collection, The Thing Around Your Neck, (Fourth Estate, 2 April).

This from the Literary Festival programme:
The twelve stories in this brilliant collection straddle the cultures of Nigeria and the West. Orange Prize winning author of Purple Hibiscus and Half of a Yellow Sun, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie creates characters battling with the responsibilities of modern life, a world in which identity is too often compromised. The title story depicts the choking loneliness of a Nigerian girl who moves to an America that turns out to be nothing like the country she expected; though falling in love brings her desires nearly within reach, a death in her homeland forces her to re-examine them. Searing and profound, suffused with beauty, sorrow and longing, this collection is a resounding confirmation of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's prodigious storytelling powers.

Click HERE for an interview with the author, some years back, by another of the One World team, Molara Wood.

Monday, 30 March 2009

A Poem from Leah

Sometimes, lovely things happen and make me think this writing life is a good place to be breathing.

Particularly lovely was this: being sent a poem in progress by a young Welsh writer called Leah Ebdon- she had been inspired to write by reading something on this blog. She caught the mood perfectly, and it was really lovely to feel that someone had ‘got under the skin’ of the emotional connections. Sometime or other I will write about it too, but can’t yet.

The original post is HERE. To do with finding a collection of stones and fossils when visiting my birth father’s study last year.

Leah Ebdon studies writing at Glamorgan University.and she blogs HERE
One of her poems was commended at The Welsh Poetry Competition last year. For details on this competition FOLLOW LINKS HERE

Sunday, 29 March 2009

My Writing Shed

Lovely sunny day one day last week, and I opened up the writing shed. There were a lot of dead spiders and a book of poetry I had put down open, face-down last November.

I bought a pink desk, pink cushion, and very very sexy pink n black lounger for reading, to keep the men in my life out of MY shed. I don't think people believed me, so here they are. Minus spiders.

Getting madder by the minute...

Wonderful weekend, based at Albrighton Hall Hotel north of Shrewsbury, participating in a charity classic car rally. Whizzing about in a 1947 Allard, acting as navigator for my friend Sheila the intrepid driver.
Our 'very nice man' sorting out the throttle before starting the rally yesterday. It was sticking. Sheila had to pull it back up from the floor with her foot all the way to Shropshire from Sussex. Not to be reccommended, in a car that reckons it is racing car...
The Allard (her name is Eleanor, as she is an 'L' Type...) outside Stokesay Court, one of the stops.
Half of the lineup, in the meadow at Loton Park this morning, where we had coffee. We did the Loton Park Hill Climb afterwards.

The rally raised over £21K for breast cancer and prostate cancer research.

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Western Morning News writes about Fish Story

I was interviewed by journalist Simon Parker about the Fish story, and the article appeared this week, in the Western Morning News. It is also ONLINE HERE with a photo of Levant tin mine, where the story is set.

I would encoursge anyone to visit this place for the atmosphere, the history. Among other things it makes one realise what we've lost by closing down our mines.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Another attack on authors...free novel downloads

It was bound to happen…free novel downloads for your enjoyment.


The owner of the site calls himself The Burgomeister. And he says this:
Who is the Burgomeister?
All you need to know about me is that I'm a reader: a connoisseur and a lover of literature for whom paper is finally passé. I recognise no genres, no categories; the sole criteria are truth and excellence.
Thought is like the wind; it cannot be bottled and sold. In the form of electromagnetic pulses it is less fettered still: free to roam in a universe of electrons untethered by 19th Century notions of ownership and property. On the digital frontier, our imagination's nourishment is at last free - free as in Liberty, free as in accessible to all, regardless of income, locality, or place in the pecking-order.

Well, Burgomeister, I am delighted you are a reader. And obviously a serious one. But why should Mark Haddon’s book be free – to pick one example?

It is lovely to know your imagination is being nourished. Spare a thought for the actual nourishment of the writers you deprive of a royalty.


Monday, 23 March 2009


You may or may not be interested to know the provenance of the short story that has come second in the Fish Short Story Competition, The Return of the Baker Edwin Tregear.

The story was written about two years ago, after researching a mining accident that took place in a tin mine in Cornwall, in 1919.

It was entered for the Fish Historical short story competition in 2007. (too quickly)

It bombed.

It was entered for the Willesden Herald Competition in 2007. (too quickly, and not listening to the message...)

It bombed.

I could not stand back to 'see' that story. It was the first piece of researched historical fiction I had attempted.

So, I got a professional critique done. Plenty of things pointed out. Too many characters, overladen with detail in places. 'A novel packed into too small a package'.

Willesden Herald published a list of things wrong with their entries. The nicest ththing they could have done.

I used that list to reappraise the story together with feedback from the critique, and over a few months, I rewrote the story completely. I changed it from a third person narration to first person, forcing the main character to talk directly to me and to the reader. I dropped my 'favourite' character completely, deleting a whole 'sub plot'. (kill your darlings). I introduced one very minor but important character, device-wise. I changed the ending radically, to underpin the theme.

I entered it for Fish Historical Short Story competition again, mid 2008.

A few months later, Fish cancelled their Historical short story competition, offering entry fee back or the chance to sling your work into the main short story maelstrom and let it take its chances alongside 1500 (in the end) entries.

I left it in the running. And got on with things.

It wins a nice prize.


Moral of the story, if there is one:

Don't think because you have won a few prizes, that you always write super stories.
Don't forget you can get things badly wrong, and that you are always learning.
Don't be too proud to ask for good, professional comment, and pay for it.
Don't be too proud to listen, and try to stand right back and disentangle yourself from the emotional tugs of some characters.
Don't be afraid to change a piece of work completely radically. How you see it is one thing. Others will see it totally fresh. Try to see how they will read it.

Do give yourself time, to put distance between you and your work.
Do rewrite well, thoroughly.

And do go on loving the story, and trying to get it as right as you can.


The Willesden Herald article: How NOT to Win Short Story Competitions can be found HERE.


Teaching, reading, visiting

Like waiting for a bus. Nothing for weeks then...
1) Invitation to attend a meeting of local U3A writers, to read and talk about my recent Fish Competition story. (see above post)
2) Invitation to attend a meeting of three reading groups, one of which is reading Words from a Glass Bubble as their April book choice. There will be a lasagna supper, then I'm talking and reading. More Bubbles on sale. Tickets and book sales will raise dosh for breast cancer.
3) Invitation to lead a buzzy blasty creativity/flash workshop for twenty gifted and talented 14-17 year olds in April. Decent fee, plus travel and a night's accommodation.

Saturday, 21 March 2009

Maggie Gee's Book Launch

Maggie (seated) and left to right Marian Garvey, Sarah Butler, Adam Marek

Highlight of the week, a party at Al Saqi bookshop in Westbourne Grove to celebrate the launch of Maggie Gee's new novel, My Driver.
Lovely to spend the afternoon with Marian Garvey (winner, the last Asham Award for new Woman Writers, and now working on a bigger project with funding from the Arts Council, mentored by Maggie. Lucky lady.)
Lovely to see Sarah Butler at the party. I reckon this lady will hit the big time some day. You just know when you read someone special...
Lovely too to meet Adam Marek again. And to skive off to a nearby noodle bar together after the party started winding down, to natter writerly things and plan stuff.

Quick plugs:
Marian's winning story leads the field in this great Asham anthology:
and Adam's collection, An Instruction Manual for Swallowing, has to rank among the best single-author collections I've read. Original, quirky, beautifully written.

My book giveaway - but...

ya dont get summat for nowt from me! My litle comp is still running -
All I need is a short piece of fiction (max 500 wds) inspired by the photo below. Send to me at vgebbie at gmail dot com

Friday, 20 March 2009

Book Titles to die for???

These are real, actual book titles. Arent they a scream?

A challenge... write a flash for each title?

1. How to Avoid Huge Ships by John W. Trimmer
2. Scouts in Bondage by Michael Bell
3. Be Bold with Bananas by Crescent Books
4. Fancy Coffins to Make Yourself by Dale L. Power
5. The Flat-Footed Flies of Europe by Peter J. Chandler
6. 101 Uses for an Old Farm Tractor by Michael Dregni
7. Across Europe by Kangaroo by Joseph R. Barry
8. 101 Super Uses for Tampon Applicators by Lori Katz and
Barbara Meyer
9. Suture Self by Mary Daheim
10. The Making of a Moron by Niall Brennan
11. How to Make Love While Conscious by Guy Kettelhack
12. Underwater Acoustics Handbook by Vernon Martin Albers
13. Superfluous Hair and Its Removal by A. F. Niemoeller
14. Lightweight Sandwich Construction by J. M. Davies
15. The Devil's Cloth: A History of Stripes by Michel Pastoureaut
16. How to Be a Pope: What to Do and Where to Go Once You're in the Vatican by Piers Marchant
17. How to Read a Book by Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren


Es Vedra


.CENT Magazine

My contributor's copy of .Cent Magazine (LINK HERE) arrived today. A4 horizontal - thick paper, beautifully produced, 134 pages, a second supplement, all in a boxed cover. It is a lovely thing to have, and to be in. There is not much fiction, so I am very honoured. The whole is a veritable treaure-trove of amazing images and articles all around the theme set by this issue's guest editors, greyworld -( Link to Greyworld HERE- urban installation artists)

Theme: "The Spaces In between" - a perfect theme to get yours truly scribbling.

Thursday, 19 March 2009


I have a new website. I have often wondered why creative people have some of the most staid sites about. My new one is most definitely NOT staid. MY NEW WEBSITE HERE Send me a message, and look at the graphics on the 'contact me' page!!! I might even reply.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Sunshine, books, Fish

Five days unbroken sunshine, in Ibiza since last Thursday. Plenty of paellas, beers in the sun, and a chance to read.
Read The Reader by Bernard Schink - do read this one, it's simply fantastic. Superb writing, and it raises such questions. One of those you can't finish then start another book immediately after.
Also read The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry, because it had won The Costa Prize. Remind me to contact the writer and tell him how an adoptee actually IS. (Nothing at all like his character). And remind me to ask him politely not to use adoption as a plot device. It is tired, cliched, transparent.
The book is flawed. The whole rests on the reader's ability to believe that an arthrictic old lady who can no longer play the piano thanks to her painful fingers, can find the wherewithal to write reams and reams of beautiful prose as a 'secret memoir before she dies.'
It also rests on one's ability to believe that this old lady (incarcerated for the greater part of her life in a mental institution) has exactly the same vocabulary/voice as her consultant psychiatrist.

I also came second in Fish. Which is a joy and a lovely thing. I get a week in my favourite place on this planet and e300, which will cover getting there.
Stereo fish, as a celebration.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009


Here's a few pics taken in Cork, during the Frank O'Connor Festival last year.

well - you didnt expect pics of readers and chair filled rooms, did you? Nah!

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

The HORROR of sending off a manuscript

For those who think this writing thing gets easier...I am sending off a manuscript today. I have been delaying, tweaking, reprinting the covering letter, changing the order of the pages. Changing the order again. Thinking out loud that this is a hopeless thing to be doing. Why bother. They won't even comment, let alone reply.

Explanation: Anyone who knows my background might understand this: I must be mad to be writing anything, sending anything out. Because rejection and a very deep-seated fear of it are at the root of who I am.

Don't we all react badly to rejection? Sure. But for some of us, the prospect of it is so appalling that if you looked at it head on you'd never do anything.

So I carry on. What else is there? Except to let others know that they ain't on their own if they feel the same.


Lovely day for writing innit?
So was yesterday. I met Tania Hershman at St Pancras station, straight off Eurostar, from the retreat in Belgium she won in the Biscuit competition. Clever lady. As I waited I browsed the shops, looked for Salt books in Foyles... not one. 'Harangue them!' T texted. Maybe I should have.
T and I had tea at Peyton and Byrne, whose cupcakes look... like toys. They look as if they are actually made to float in the bath. Unreal, like illustrations in a children's book! (see pic above)
Lovely to catch up with T. Lovely to see that she is looking OK, if tired. (I was worried, because I'm an inveterate mother hen). She is having a story performed TONIGHT by Liar's League HERE

Thence by magical hated Underground tunnel to Picadilly and Costa Coffee in Lower Regent Street for the Willesden Herald Short Story Competition award ceremony, in the company of this year's judge, Rana Dasgupta.
What a brill event. Sponsored by Pulp.net, the prize was this year the coveted grail of short story writing (the Willesden Herald MUG) and a bit of cash.
Readings by three shortlistees, Jo Lloyd from Wales, Margot Taylor from Somerset and Jill Widner from the other Washington, USA. Also present, shortlistees Claudia Boers and Jenny Barden. The MUG is too precious to photograph, so here is a pic of Lord Willesden-Herald perusing a back copy of his media empire.
Rana Dasgupta (Website HERE) took the floor, reading from his new novel, Solo. HERE. The novel ( this man's writing is endorsed by Salman Rushdie) tells the story of Ulrich, a 100 year old man in Bulgaria. Atmosphere, setting, character, intrigue, pathos... Rana Dasgupta

"And the runners up are...Jill Widner and Ben Cheetham."
Drum Roll...
"...and the winner is.....Jo Lloyd!" her story 'Work' leads the anthology, and the opening sentences are on the back cover. Not bad for a first publication, Jo. Many many congratulations.
Bought a copy of the brilliant looking Willesden Herald NEW SHORT STORIES 3

Then got it signed by as many winners and shortlistees as I could find in the crush.
Then a whole bunch of us went to the pub. Including the judge. Now that is a lovely thing for the guy to do.
Great to natter at length to Mrs (Lady) Willesden-Herald. These guys are simply great. So even though Mr Willesden herald would probably say 'No ta', I have elevated them both to the peerage. (Which means they will now be peered at. That's all it ever means anyway in real life innit?....)

Then home on the train. And read two stories: 'The Imperfect Roundness of Things' by Claudia Boers, and 'Ebb Tide' by Margot Taylor.

Much much enjoyed. The end of a poifick day.

Saturday, 7 March 2009

Jade Goody

A poll on AOL asks if people find the coverage of Jade Goody's last days distasteful.

I clicked no - I follow with interest. I find it moving, what she's doing. A person who made money out of the strange celeb culture we live in, despite her celeb status being a bit questionable - actually doing something prety brave, in my book.

The results of the poll were as follows:
Yes, it's wrong: 61%
No, I follow with interest 28%
Don't know 11%

I wonder how many of the 'it's wrong' voters were happy to watch her when she was doing absolutely zilch in terms of anything meaningful but being 'entertaining'? And now she is actually doing something serious, tough, they are judging the coverage of her last days as 'wrong'.

Food for thought. Maybe I should not read articles, or think about her. But I do. And am.

Five Sisters

For those who are following the saga of my new-found family - I met another of my sisters last night over dinner in London.

Sally lives in Boston USA, and was over for a week. No I didn't take a camera - I am beginning to feel like a zoo exhibit.. suffice it to say we looked very simlar, only she is far slimmer and prettier. She was wearing an amazing jumper from Chanel (a mix of breton sweater and gorgeous decorative chains. Smashing!)

In honour of the jumper, and the fact that we ate at a restaurant called Chez Gerard, we ate snails. Yum. I love them - little snerberts of wellington boot softened in garlic and parsley and butter.

Friday, 6 March 2009


Not even launched yet, and a school in New Jersey is ordering 600 copies of our anthology for their students to read next term, and asking for authors to come and speak to the students in the autumn.

One school. ONE.

The issues in this anthology are fundamental to our world. Our ONE WORLD.

I am delighted that New Internationalist are publishing us. I support their ethos, and it is a privilege to join their publications.
I think we've got a winner. A real winner.

All royalties are going to Medecins Sans Frontieres. (Doctors Without Borders if you are in the US.)

Thursday, 5 March 2009


SHORT FICTION is running their third short story competition;

From their website: Prize is £300 plus publication in Issue 3 of Short FICTION (due out September 2009). Writers without fiction book publication (of novel or short stories) are eligible. Entries must be of previously unpublished work (in magazine or online). Submitted stories must be under 5000 words. There is no theme restriction.

Go on!!! Nice comp. They give you two options for entry. £5 for a story, or (much better, this...) £10.00 for one story plus a copy of the edition in which the winning work is published. And as the mag costs £9.50 anyway - seems like a good deal to me.

Good luck!

Full details on the website: HERE http://www.uppress.co.uk/shortfiction.htm

The comp info is a bit hidden - the link is on the right of the home page, near the bottom, in pale grey print.


Fab evening yesterday. As part of the World Book Day celebrations (or on the eve of it, World Book Day is TODAY, link HERE) Alison MacLeod and I read at Waterstone’s Brighton.
Find out about Alison and her novels, and short story collection HERE
Waterstone's bookshop made a lovely venue, they use the space normally inhabited by their coffee bar on the third floor, set out into an intimate and perfect reading arena. We had lovely squashy leather chairs, our books were beautifully set out on a coffee table, and the audience sat in a semi circle round us.

I met Alison for coffee beforehand and we planned who was going to do what, as well as nattered about our writing, and my Salt book for which Alison is writing a chapter - ( her chapter provisionally: Taboo and Tension in the Short Story… can’t wait!).

I read first, The Carob Tree from my collection Words from a Glass Bubble. Guaranteed to bring a lump to my throat, even now. So I followed it up with a daft flash entitled Barry Island Double Glazing, hamming up the accent something chronic and getting lots of laughs.

Alison read from Fifteen Tales of Modern Attraction Amazon Link HERE, choosing a story set in a riot in Ikea (fact… the riot happened a few years back...) and has everyone on the edge of their seats as a heavily pregnant shopper had an interesting time.

Lovely to see people I knew in the audience, Jac and James who have joined The Fiction Workhouse recently. Elizabeth Rutherford-Johnson and her husband Tim down from Lunnon, and intrepid follower of this blog and others, faithful supporter of Salt Publishing and the short story form, Pierre L. All the way from Reading.(Good to meet you Pierre! Thank you so much for coming.) And last but by no means least, another contributor to the Salt book, the lovely Sarah Salway. Find her HERE.

But especially lovely to meet Sue Roe again. Sue taught me for one term in 2002, was my very first Creative Writing tutor. It was extra nice to be able to sign a book for her… that was very special. (See her latest book HERE…reviewed on Vulpes Libris– The Private Lives of the Impressionists.)

Big thanks to Sara Crowley– who blogs HERE. She works at Waterstone’s, is a great champion of the short story form, and a talented writing friend too.

Signed a few books, then a bunch of us went off for supper. It was a pleasure to meet novelist Jeff Noon, and to share a tapas meal. He doesn’t like squid, but does like prawns so that was OK. This morning I have bought his Falling Out Of Cars. Jeff Noon HERE on Wikipedia… I must get out more.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Warehouse of abandoned books....

Well, I for one will not be looking too closely at the titles on the floor... look at this... the closeure of a warehouse operation that supplied Amazon has led to a free for all as people are invited to take what they want, for nothing.

One side of me says this is good. the other shivers.


Tuesday, 3 March 2009

My Little Writing Comp - Picture prompts... go on... WRITE!

Write a story of less than 500 words, inspired by my photo above.

Story has to be fresh. Only you know if it is. Unstale. And certainly unpublished.

I will send the writer of the best story a copy of my collection, with an additional flash story hand written inside. UNIQUE!

Deadline, April 7th 2009.

Stories to be emailed to me at vgebbie (at) gmail (DOT) com