Friday, 2 April 2010

Weekly News 2 April


Short Circuit Review
A lovely new unsolicited review for Short Circuit, from a Richard Hallows who runs a website and a publishing venture for short stories, and a competition for them too – called Spike the Cat, HERE.
Not only has he left a marvellous review of Short Circuit on his site, he also copied it to Amazon UK. Thank you, Spike the Cat. He says:
“I really can't recommend this book highly enough. I started carrying it round with me and taking it in the car so I could keep reading it. (When parked I hasten to add.) It is that good...”
Check out the link for the rest of the review.

The Fiction Workhouse
This time, the Fiction Workhouse site, complete with all the craft libraries and discussion places, is home to 28 undergraduate students from the English Dept of Stockholm University. It was good to fill the place again. Some neat flash writing has filled the forum with fresh ideas and connections, ready for more formal activities to come, in preparation for my two week stint over there in a few weeks time.

ACE grant.
I had a second meeting with my mentor Maggie Gee, on 22nd March, in London. I know where I am going with the rewrite now, and value her input and thoughts immensely. Those who know me well know I was trying to finish this piece of work for my father- who was brought up in the town in which it is set - to see it published. He has been a great supporter through thick and thin. A gentle, but tough individual now aged 94. Sadly, his toughness is escaping him. He has been diagnosed with short term memory loss, which is unlikely to get better and is causing him and us, great distress. He also has what might be an unforgiving medical condition.
I have had to make some difficult decisions – which in the end, are not difficult at all.
I have called a halt to the rewrite, have stopped most writing activities for the first time in eight years – bar encouragement for the Stockholm students and some accepted invitations - and have written to the ACE to keep them informed. Cancelling the visit to Anam Cara was the only very hard thing I had to do.
It is odd not being a writer any more, for the moment. I am wandering around a bit aimlessly, feeling blank. A writer has to be someone who writes…not someone who thinks about it.

The sweetest rejection...
In case readers of this little blogette think friends in this writing world publish each other willy nilly, which lots do, sadly, it is not always like that, me dears. I had the sweetest rejection today, from the lovely Tania Hershman, fiction editor of Southword.

Lecture, Sussex University.
I have already written the lecture I will be giving to the students at Sussex University later on in May – in case things get more awkward round here. I decided to talk about the real need for contradiction, inspired by Ali Smith and Jackie Kay’s quote:
“A writer needs self confidence and self doubt in the same measure.”


Cultural Tourism/Writing Other
The topic rolls on, in the comments on the post under this one. It seems a balanced debate – until you realise that it isn’t. And probably, it will never be allowed to be such.

D-Day
Thanks to the younger son who looked after his Gramps here in Sussex by the Sea, we went to the D Day Beaches last week accompanied by Col (Ret’d) Michael Bradley, of the Green Howards. Three days of visits to all the beaches, to iconic places like Pegasus Bridge and Café Gondree (where we had lunch with Mme Arlette Gondree, who was 4 in June 1944), to the cemeteries – Commonwealth, German and American (and noted such vast differences in our approaches to war dead…). But the highlights have to be those moments when Mike took us to farms, fields, copses and ditches, and described exactly what happened there. In that exact spot. By this tree. Including the exploits of Stan Hollis, the only VC of D Day. Marvellous.

Sunday, 28 March 2010

CULTURAL TOURISM - WRITING 'OTHER' -


Continuing the Really Interesting Elephant Trap Discussion About Creativity With Or Without White Peacocks Which Was Not Intended To Be A Debate At All, on Sara Crowley’s blog last week, HERE.

Zimbabwean writer Petina Gappah adds a considered post to the discussion thread, and finally, we have an actual piece of work to illustrate the issues. Maiba's Ribbon, by meself.
Petina says this:
“the characters were Zimbabwean only because the writer (says) so, even their names were wrong, a sort of pidgin Shona in a country with no pidgin! I was not offended by the stories, but I was amused ... amused in the way I am when I read Dan Brown's plastic characters. My reaction was not about "cultural" authenticity, it was simply a reaction to (…) writing that seemed to want the exotic setting without going for any kind of truth in the characters.”

That is good feedback. And an important learning point, among other important learning points - not to trust one’s sources of info on the internet. The names were found on this rather jazzy website HERE which lists Zimbabwean children’s names and their meanings. If they are incorrect, that is bad enough, but if they are ‘pidgin Shona’ that is worse - no wonder Petina laughed. It is sad if there is no other truth in the characters in her opinion - which matters - and as always, this writer will try to do better.
But this raises the question, how accurate do we have to be in general, as writers? Does it matter, in general? If the story worked as fiction for a few editors and their readers, where is the issue? Yes, it matters to me, personally, because I don’t like to get it wrong – but I’m learning, here.
Edited to add: the piece Maiba's Ribbon is leaning very much on those names, to paint character. And if those names are wrong, it might not work. I asked Petina Gappah the obvious question: "Where can I find out the right versions of those names?" and Petina has pointed out that actually Godfrey and Elizabeth would be as authentic, because English is an official language... and that challenges the writer here, to look again, and see how 'authentic' the characters are if I give them those names instead. Hmmm.

A bit of history: This story was published initially on Foto 8 online, (Foto 8 is a photojournalism magazine) to illustrate working with images as prompts for creative writing. It was included in a special series on Notes on the Underground edited by Clare Wigfall. And performed at Whitechapel Gallery last week - I'd forgotten that, couldn't be there...The point is, the fiction convinced well enough, until it hit ‘home territory’. And sure, that’s not exactly what I wanted to hear.
Petina makes the point that the story probably wasn’t intended for Zimbabwean readers – and she’s right, in that it wasn’t ‘intended’ for anyone at all. I saw the photo, knew roughly what the story would be – looked up the names before I wrote the flash. Then I was asked to send work to Foto 8 and so on..
But, and it is a big but - I ask myself the question – would I have sent it to a publication in Zimbabwe? The answer to that has to be ‘no of course not’. Then I ask myself why that is.
There are a lot of questions here, and I don’t have the answers.
• If you are moved by something and seek to understand it - is it OK to try and write a character from another culture, get it wrong unwittingly and hope to do it better next time?
• Is it somehow more ‘respectful’ to assume that you will never get it completely right, that someone will be offended, and therefore you should (as a writer) avoid otherness completely?
• Isn’t it by making mistakes that we learn?
• If we worry about offending, we’d never write anything, would we?
• If we don’t worry about offending at all, are we just being exploitative?
• Where should we worry and where shouldn’t we? Where is the cut-off?
• Are there some mistakes that are less easily forgiven than others?

Clare Wigfall, in her interview in Short Circuit, talks about The Numbers, the short story set in the Outer Hebrides which won The National Short Story Award in 2008. She created a fictive world that worked well at the highest level. Having visited the islands where The Numbers was set, after the story was published in her collection, (The Loudest Sound and Nothing, Faber and Faber), she discovered that in terms of voice, things were not exactly accurate. She knows that geographically, too, there were things ‘wrong’ if one was looking for facts. But, she says, sensibly,
“I never aimed at correctness. I just wrote fiction.”


Sometimes, writing is a minefield. People will be offended, when no offence is intended. How many times have I cringed, when ‘my’ subjects – adoption/abandonment are the most obvious - are tramped all over by writers who have no idea? I may cringe - but I have not been ‘offended’. If the writers asked, I’d give them the facts as I see and experience them. For example, I spent a few hours talking to the author Nicky Singer, researching for one of her novels.
"Other" is part of why we write. There’s something pushing us to make up other people… whether they are people who live our lives, in our homes, lives like ours, or others – I do the latter. And sometimes, as now, you have to stand up and be counted.

If you want to find out more about writing ‘other’, here are two thoughts –Petina Gappah’s course on Writing Other Lives with Faber has sadly come and gone, but it sounded great – maybe they will run it again -
And thanks to N for this great article by black writer Leone Ross on tackling a black main character, (she is black). A black male main character (she isn’t a black male). A gay male main character (she isn’t a gay black male). An American gay black male. (she isn’t American, but Jamaican. She only visited the US once, as a tourist. Florida. Nuff said.)

Cultural tourism. A minefield. And a large one. I hope we are all allowed to walk the edges, if we are brave or daft enough.

Monday, 22 March 2010

VISIT TO THE D-DAY BEACHES


Very lucky to be spending a few days visiting the Normandy beaches in the company of Mike, a retired officer from The Royal Green Howards - the only British regiment to win a VC on D-Day.

This is the soldier who was awarded the VC - after being recommended for it not once, but twice, on D-Day. Sargeant-Major Stanley Hollis, VC.
Details of Stan Hollis's bravery can be found HERE - and there is a biography of this extraordinary man - details HERE

Friday, 19 March 2010

SEAN O'FAOLAIN SHORT STORY COMPETITION OPEN FOR ENTRIES - JUDGE SAYS 'I LOVE FLASH FICTION...'

Official. Tania Hershman, judge of this year's Sean O'Faolain Short Story competition, gives her backing to very short stories. (see comments thread following this poast) Entries do not have to be right up to the word limit. Tania's own collection The White Road and Other Stories contains 50% flash fiction - and was commended by the judges of the Orange Prize in 2009. I think that could be a useful little himt there - and you heard it here first! Her comment says:
Thanks, V - could I take the chance to say how much I love flash fiction? Please feel free to send very short stories, that would make me very happy!


From the Munster Lit website then:

The Seán Ó Faoláin Short Story Competition is an annual short story competition dedicated to one of Ireland's most accomplished story writers and theorists, sponsored by the Munster Literature Centre.
First Prize: €1,500 (approx US $2000) and publication in the literary journal Southword.
Second Prize: €500 (approx US $650) and publication in Southword.
Four other shortlisted entries will be selected for publication in Southword and receive a fee of €100 (approx USD $130).
There will be a long list of twenty entrants published.


Judge: For 2010 Short Review founder and editor Tania Hershman.
Tania Hershman, a former science journalist, is the author of The White Road and Other Stories, (Salt Modern Fiction, 2008) which was commended by the judges of the 2009 Orange Award for New Writers. Her award-winning short stories, one of which has recently been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, have been widely published in print and online and broadcast on BBC Radio 4. Tania is founder and editor of The Short Review, a journal dedicated to reviewing short story collections. Her website is www.taniahershman.com and she blogs at TaniaWrites http://www.titaniawrites.blogspot.com

Thursday, 18 March 2010

ASIAN SISTERS VERSUS THE COMIC NOVEL


Erika Wagner’s article in today’s Times begins with the immortal words,
“Last time I checked, there are a lot of books about Asian sisters didn’t really count as literary criticism.”

Said by Daisy Goodwin, one of the judges of this year’s Orange Prize, who is fed up with reading novels concerning the exploits of Asian sisters, this made me laugh. It comes a couple of days after the debate opened up by Sara Crowley, albeit unwittingly, on her blog, (HERE and the post above this one) about ‘cultural tourism’. Sadly, people seemed intent on being grievously offended in that discussion, and needed to wave their subtexts in the air.
The Times, brave souls, risks the wrath of the ‘grievously offended’, and pokes fun at the current fashion for books peopled by Asian sisters. And there are obviously rather a lot about. Must admit, I hadn’t stumbled over any, yet, and The Times doesn’t exactly make me want to seek them out, either.
But the article moves on, far more interestingly, to why novels that make the reader laugh, are not winners of the literary prizes, when they are good stuff, well written, and hard to get right.
Daisy Goodwin:
“I think the misery memoir has had its day, but there are an awful lot of books out there which had not a shred of redemption in them,”
That is thought provoking. So much is in the eye of the reader – plenty of intelligent, astute readers loathe McCarthy’s The Road, and find it unremittingly bleak. I didn’t – I found it a hymn to the human spirit, tenacity in the face of annihilation. But there you go – it takes all sorts, thank goodness.
Wagner says:
“Comic novels — let’s call them terrific novels that happen to be funny — tend to fall through the cracks, especially where prizes are concerned. Publishers have to choose which books from their list to submit for a prize such as the Orange: is a book that makes a reader laugh really worthy of a prize?”

The article, HERE, makes good reading. And concludes with a list of Erika Wagner’s top ten comic novels:
Erika Wagner's Top Ten comic novels:
What a Carve Up! by Jonathan Coe
Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer
Headlong by Michael Frayn
The Believers by Zoe Heller
Free Food for Millionaires by Min Jin Lee
A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka
Deaf Sentence by David Lodge
Moo by Jane Smiley
Digging to America by Anne Tyler
The Wife by Meg Wolitzer

I could add anything by Tom Sharp, Jerome K Jerome's Three Men in a Boat. Any more?

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

CHEERS!! THE NEW WRITER SHORT STORY COMPETITION RESULTS


I was sent a total of 34 stories, all writers' names removed. They arrived on the day after I got back from Ireland, in early February, having just completed the first draft of the novel. The entire longlist. My wonderful job was to read these stories, selected by the readers of TNY from hundreds of entries, choose three winners, some 'highly commended' and some runners up.
This is what I did. I opened the parcel and sat with the pile of stories, all paperclipped together, on my knee. And I flipped from story to story, reading the TITLES and the FIRST LINES only. If my interest was piqued, out that story came, put to one side. I read those first.
I started three piles.
1)YES, a definite maybe.
2)MAYBE, a definite re-read.
3)NOPE, sorry, not this time.
When every story had been read twice(it took a week or so) and allocated to a pile, I took a break. Left them for a few days.
I then took the NOPE pile and over two days, read them all again. And again. And shifted a few stories up to the MAYBE pile.
Then I did the same with the MAYBEs, shifting a few stories up or down as necessary. Then the YES pile, again, making each one work hard, to convince me it was in the right place, by now, or down it went.
I ended up with five stories in the YES pile. And over three days they shifted position on the dining room table, until three separated themselves out as the top three.
But what a top three. They are so different. Chalk and cheese. Apples and bananas. Toffees and mintoes. Gin and beer. How to decide? Here, breaking each one down by craft element helped hugely. And - I'm putting this bit in bold - in the end, it was a sci-fi story that came out on top. Which gives me a real buzz! It is a terrific story.

Then, having given my decision to Merric Davidson of The New Writer - the fun of waiting to find out the names of the entrants - knowing that I would recognise lots of names - the town of the short story is a very small one. It is not even a town, it is a village. You can't do anything without the neighbours knowing!
Anyway - here are the names of the stories, and the names of the marvellous writers who wrote them. Many congratulations to everyone - I enjoyed them all.

SHORT STORY category
1st Judi Moore The Dark Side of the Moon
2nd Gill Belchetz Out of Holbeck
3rd MP Stanley Construction Over Water: An Elegy for Wanda

Highly Commended: Gabriela Blandy Borrowed Light; Hilary Fennell Not Like Us; Susannah Rickards Mudlarks.

Runners-up: Sophie Coulombeau Church Going; Caroline Freeman The Ginkgo Tree; Jacqui Rochford Red; Sharon Zink The Log Flume.

Longlist: Joanna Campbell, Paul Curd, Sarah Evans, Suzanne Ferris, Lynda Fletcher, Clare Girvan, Ghislaine Goff, Rhonda Grantham, Eliza Hawkins, Jonathan Haylett, Helen Hogan, Liz Hobbs, Helen Kitson, Nancy Le Nezet, Rebecca Mayhew, Kenneth McBeath, Teresa O’Brien, Ali Pardoe, Iain Pattison, Glenn Price, Eira Reed, Frank Talaber, Nemone Thornes, Mark Wagstaff.

Finalists: Tina Aidoo, Robert Atkinson, Gill Blow, Cyril Bracegirdle, Jo Campbell, Rebecca Camu, Jo Cannon, Thomas Croger, Franca Davenport, David Gibson, Jenny Gordon, Barbara Henderson, Anthony Howcroft, Karen Jones, Cliff Kitney, Hilary Lloyd, Ann MacLaren, Nina Milton, Prue Phillipson, Julian Ruck, Joanne Rutter, Aoo Sanusi, Adrian Sells, Fleur Smithwick, Chip Tolson, Nicholas Underhay, Judy Walker, Lisa Weir, Laura Wilkinson.


And yes, it is weird, seeing names of people I know in there. The standard, as they say, was very high, unsurprisingly.

So what was I was looking for? Not much - a good story, told well. A story that held my interest. Great characters, of course. Originality, quality of writing, and something that wouldn't quite let me go when the story ended.

Monday, 15 March 2010

WIN SARAH SALWAY's NEW NOVEL!



According to Publisher's Weekly, Sarah Salway's new novel Getting The Picture, is rather good stuff. So after reading their review, here's a little comp to win a signed copy!
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Publisher's Weekly say this:
Getting The Picture refutes the adage about old dogs and new tricks in this breezy epistolary novel set in a British retirement home. Not that the residents of Pilgrim House don't know plenty of old tricks already: Salway's appreciation of her characters is refreshingly nonpatronizing—her oldsters have rich and naughty pasts, but live in the present, very much alive and eager to gossip, conspire, and seduce... relationships and characters evolve nicely in this lighthearted novel about family and lovers and the not-so-lighthearted secrets that separate them.

Sarah is a simply great writer. And something of a rarity, a generous-hearted one. (Although ALL the writers who read this blog are the same, right?!) Her chapter in Short Circuit is terrific, an object-lesson in finding inspiration. And she is running a mini-comp to publicise her new novel - about love in an old people's home...Yes! Can't wait.

What you have to do is this. Find/remember/the best quote you can about love and old age. And send it to Sarah at sarahsalway - at - googlemail.com or visit her blog HERE and even HERE at the relevant post - add it into the comments. Who knows - a signed copy of this book could be winging its way to you soon.
I thought I was being dead smooth, adding my own fave quote, which I thought was by T S Eliot. Apparently, it is also by several others... and what I hadnt noticed was ,its also Sarah's own fave. So no book for me then. (grump.)
"Those who love deeply never grow old; they may die of old age, but they die young."
It’s on a scrap of paper on my wall, scribbled as being by T S Eliot – but it isn’t! depending on who you believe, it is either by A. W. Pinero, Benjamin Franklin or even Dorothy Fisher! Hmph.
Anyway. Can I suggest, if you don't win - get your own copy...Amazon.com can send you one - HERE Salway is a special writer. But don't take my word for it - Neil Gaiman says so. Look:
“Sarah Salway is an astonishingly smart writer. Her fiction is always beautifully structured, touching and clever. She manages the trick of creating characters you care about in stories you admire. I can’t wait to see what she does next.”
—Neil Gaiman

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(The Publisher's Weekly review of Sarah's new book is is Copyright of Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc.)

Saturday, 13 March 2010

GREAT DISCUSSION ON CREATIVITY

There's a great discussion on different aspects of creativity on A Salted, Sara Crowley's blog, HERE
It tackles the Fiction/Autobiography relationship, quotes Lorie Moore, Janice Galloway, among others. It also tackles the knotty topic of cultural tourism. Good stuff.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

REWRITING, EDITING



Monday 8th March. The real start of the activity for which I have the ACE grant. My mentor, Maggie Gee and I, met at the British Library, near St Pancras. I had never, to my shame, been here – the largest new build in the UK in the whole of the last century. I was late. A tube train broke down at King’s Cross, holding up the system – typical!

Maggie (henceforth ‘M’ as in Bond, James Bond) had read through the whole draft manuscript – the first time anyone has done that. So her feedback was always going to be invaluable, and my ears were pinned back from the off. It was great - straight talking, no flannel, encouragement and an honest appraisal of where work was needed.

I am very aware of my limitations here, hence this working relationship thanks to ACE. I know a bit about writing short stories, and that is not helping me. Whoever tells you that a novel is a natural progression that begins with the short story may not be talking from experience, that’s my conclusion – there is little in common as far as I can see.

We talked for two hours. M had already spent at least 8 hours reading and making extensive notes…so I needed to listen, and ask, and remember. It felt exhausting. She must have been so too.

She made me ‘see’ the work through the eyes of the reader. To recognise the importance of narrative pull-through. To begin to see where, although there is a backbone to the work, it is weak in places needs strengthening. A very important relationship between two central characters, is very weak – maybe because it only appeared very recently. There are over 60 characters in two timeframes… many subsidiary – and that needs simplifying. I drop important characters and pick ‘em up later – or introduce a new important character too late when they need to be ‘present’ earlier on. All stuff that will hold up the reader – most of whom will read much faster than M, and each omission will stop them in their tracks.

That is THE most valuable lesson. To bring the reader into the equation – something I haven’t done much as a short story writer. Maybe it is easier to just ‘be’ the reader as writer for a short – to hold the whole in your head as a coherent balanced entity. Whereas for a novel, and a complicated one – it is not as doable, and you need a different mindset.

M reckons it is 80% ‘there’.

As my house is full of builders and electricians, and plumbers at the moment, I am working at a friend’s house – doing the minor stuff first. Letting the major stuff mull.

Monday, 8 March 2010

A rather nice name-check

The Books Interview on The new Statesman, with Maggie Gee


Which contemporary writers do you read?


I read non-stop, and there are so many crowding each other out. Of writers between 25 and fortyish, I read and admire Adam Marek, Nii Parkes, Diana Evans, Marian Garvey, Salena Godden, Vanessa Gebbie.



The whole interview can be read HERE

Maggie's memoir, My Animal Life is published today.

Sunday, 7 March 2010

SUNDAY TIMES SHORTLIST... MOSTLY BLOKES!


Cue racing commentator -
"And coming up to the final furlong it is neck and neck between six champions - sadly we saw some excellent steeds drop out back there, but I've just checked and all seems well. Last seen making for the Queen's Enclosure bar, where I am sure they will be well looked after.
Now, all eyes are on these six. And we have to ask, what happened to the girls? And its Gappah holding the fort for the girls still, but outnumbered by the blokes - even one aged 77, which is quite unusual here at Goodwood.
I can see an enquiry coming up later in the month, but meanwhile, lets sit back and cheer these plucky steeds as they battle for position down the final straights...still a few nasty jumps to go, including the renowned A S Byatt Beecher's Brook, which has recently been widened...".



Congratulations to Short Circuit contributor Adam Marek, whose chapter entitled "What My Gland Wants: Originality in the Short Story" might just hold a clue to the success of these six. is that book on the ball, or wot?
Congratuations to Petina Gappah, (Whose story 'Midnight at Hotel Calfornia', from the collection Elegy for Easterly is listed as one of my faves in Short Circuit - 'tis deffo on the ball, that book!
Congratulations to C K Stead - who at 77 waves a flag for anti-ageists - good writing is good writing - doesn't matter who writes it.
Congratulations to David Vann
Congratulations to Joe Dunthorne
Congratulations to Will Cohu

Sunday Times Online article HERE

Saturday, 6 March 2010

MEET THE POET WITH THE RED CAR - NUALA NI CHONCHUIR

Nuala ni Chonchir's website is HERE. And, she blogs HERE.

VANESSA: Nuala - We're both short storyists - you are also an acclaimed and award-winning poet. Aagh. Hang on while I try to say summat reasonable.
I loved Portrait of the Artist with a Red Car. Why? I love that it is not coy, this stuff you do, these scenes you paint with your words, these thoughts you make come real and alive in my head. Without knowing the ‘how’. While being wrong-footed and delighted by the turns in the path along the way.
I love the way your words are beautiful but solid as well. How they stand there, like a toddler on braced legs, looking back at me unflinching and saying ‘You take me as I am or not at all.’
I love the sense I get when I read these poems, that I am intruding into the poet’s space, half-invited. It makes my senses prickle, as though I was creeping through your house at night trying not to be heard.

NUALA:Thanks, Vanessa. I think that’s a very vivid and insightful description of what poetry can do to a reader. My poetry comes from a hugely personal place, especially in the last few years when I have been on somewhat of a personal rollercoaster. I have found writing about it all (marriage breakdown, new love, fertility issues) has helped me cope in some way. Writing is woven into my life as much as my children are. It is just ever-present.

VANESSA:‘Body Gifts’ for example, each couplet beginning ‘I give you’. Less than 50 words, it is a small and perfect hymn to lovemaking and I love it! It is playful, as well, talking of
lip-flesh
made plump as twin seals.


And another hymn (you’ll have to excuse me, N – it’s just how I feel the words?) – ‘Aubade to an Extraordinary Life’ – a poem that begins

In the afterglow, I watch your bear-like doze


and weaves round to,

…the ordinary sharing and partings of life:
a dinner made together, lunches packed in schoolbags,

bedtime stories read, the call of Monday morning
that sees you bound for the train, me to my desk.


NUALA:I enjoy writing love poems – I like when they occur to me. The aubade form is usually about lovers parting at dawn and it struck me that my partner and I always separate in the wee small hours as he works nearly a hundred miles away. So I thought I’d try an aubade and make it positive. I don’t use forms much but sometimes they are fun to try.

VANESSA: Patrick Cotter, whose own work is fiercely honest and raw sometimes, I think, endorses this collection by saying ‘there is not only music in Ní Chonchúir’s words, there is dancing too. (…) But beneath the surface there is also substance as (she) explores the closest relationships with an honesty so raw it scratches.’
Maybe it is because I come at the words as a woman, I don’t find your words ‘scratch’. They burn, sometimes, but not scratch.

NUALA:He actually said ‘scorches’, so that matches what you felt. (Memo to self: buy new reading specs…V)
Patrick is a great poet and it is pleasing to have such positive words from him. I admire his sensual, sparky poetry very much. While I don’t think he’d call himself a feminist, he is one of those male poets who actually likes women and celebrates them. We are lucky in Ireland that we have a few of them!


VANESSA: As the mother of sons, the final stanza of ‘Other People’s Children’ comes back at me again and again for example, because you are saying this for me, and it brings tears even typing this:

And, I know, I will fail my sons somehow,
maybe all-how, but still I try
- try my flawed best –
or somewhere near to it at least.


NUALA: I re-read that poem today in preparation for a reading this Friday and it resonated with me too. I sometimes feel like a disaster as a mother (much too focussed on my need to write) but I guess I am better than some, not as good as others. Being a writer and a mother (especially when they are young and you live outside your home area) throws up a particular set of difficulties. You are always torn between scrabbling round on the floor/giving them time, or sneaking off to write and dream and read when you can. It’s an extremely hard balancing act and I’m struggling with it a lot just now.


VANESSA: And I love, and am happily jealous of, your ability to take the ‘ordinary’ that is never that – and paint it so it turns ordinariness on its head,

…still my baby labours in me,
adding lanugo and vernix
to her cornucopia of miracles,


I’m bowing down here to a poet who can make those words echo. Lanugo? Vernix? Come on! But you do, and I look again, and see it for what it is. Anything but ordinary – see? And extraordinarily beautiful.

NUALA: Thank you, Vanessa. I know what you mean. I love to read a poem with the words ‘Motorway’ or ‘tractor’ in them – seemingly unpoetic words – and find that they work well. Feck poetic words – poetry is in and about everything.

VANESSA: ‘Dancing with Paul Durcan’ made me laugh out loud at the beginning – it is like a game of Consequences. Having been at one of his readings, been totally seduced, and bought three books no less – yes, his poetry is ‘filthy with longing’. And you continue the conceit of this into ‘Dream after a Reading’ – underscoring both the metaphor as well as the very real sexual power of some writing.

NUALA: I’m a big Durcan fan – I admire and fear him, in a way; I’m always cowed by immense talent and he has a particular presence in person. The poem is a bit of imagined whimsy – I’ve never actually danced through a bookshop with Paul. Maybe one day!

VANESSA: I hope some records the moment for posterity... the bits that can be recorded, I mean...!
It’s hard to say which poem is my favourite. But after a lot of thinking, it has to actually be one that leaves these themes behind. That seems to me to be a loner here, or maybe it is just that it speaks to me in a different voice? The marvellous poem that begins with an image, an artist - Max Ernst - seeing things including the ‘menacing nightingale’ in a knot of wood. And finishes with the parent holding back truth from a frightened child, because
…I don’t dare to tell him that airplanes do fall,
that people condemn, and that there is menace in more
than paintings of children threatened by a nightingale.


NUALA: I’m glad you like that one, Vanessa. It’s one of those poems that started out in one place and ended up someplace else. It maybe follows Robert Frost’s idea that “like a piece of ice on a hot stove the poem must ride on its own melting.”

VANESSA: What a brilliant quote to finish up on. Thank you for writing these poems, Nuala. My life is richer for them.

NUALA: And thank you, Vanessa for being such an involved reader of them. It was lovely to hear your thoughts.


Nuala's collection is special. It won the Templar Poetry prize in 2009, and can be bought, among others, from the publisher HERE.

Templar Poetry is running their competition for short collections again in 2010. Details are HERE on their website.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

"THE MAILMAN'S JUST BEEN..." - GREG McQUEEN OPENS A BOX - EXCLUSIVE!

Here we are - Greg's visit to this blog, in his 100 Stories for Haiti tour - the book that was published yesterday, his brainchild. We've seen an earlier video of a slightly bemused Greg, shocked at the support for his idea on 23rd January... HERE.He thought it would be nice to have another video to share...
We've seen 400 writers submitting their work, for free... and 100 pieces selected for inclusion. We've seen the setting up of a 100 Stories natter site, the efforts of readers, editors, and dramas surrounding the original print publishers. We've seen Bridge House, a small UK indie publisher, jumping in to save the day. We've seen a salesforce of 100 writers, and the rest of the team, spreading the word via flacebook, twitter, blogs, word of mouth. We've seen the book listed on Amazon, Waterstones, and other online outlets.
What did I like about this project? It is not about anything other than helping Haiti. And that, in today's cynical old world, is nice.
Right. Get your tissues out, get ready to wipe an eye as a guy in deepest Denmark takes his daughters play scissors and opens a box...

Wednesday, 3 March 2010



I'm reading at Short Fuse in Brighton, next Wednesday, 8.0 pm at the Komedia Theatre bar. The theme of the event is 'Hair', and I had just the perfect piece sitting on the PC. Also reading is Tania Hershman - lovely! I feel a spot of supper coming on...

(Wig pic from here)

STEVE ALMOND on SHORT SHORT FICTION


"I want my heart broken, or at least punched pretty good...".
(Steve Almond, on reading short stories)
Writer Randall Brown wins a flash critique from Steve Almond - and he is generous enough to post the whole feedback, with Almond's permission, on Flash Fiction net. HERE
Do read - for other gems such as 'dont leave too much out...'!

Monday, 1 March 2010

SHORT CIRCUIT MEETS ELEPHANT...


SHORT CIRCUIT is lucky to be spending a little time chez Sally Zigmond, at her blog Elephant in the Writing Room, linked down there on the right - a source of great advice and insights into this writing stuff.

I love the comments she opens the article with:
I’m not psychic but I often get a tingle about something. It can be positive or negative. In the case of Short Circuit (A Guide to the Art of the Short Story) I knew before I even saw a copy, let alone read it, I knew, I absolutely knew, it would be fabulous. What I didn’t know then, but know now, is how quickly it would become my Bible. I keep it on my desk and every time I dip into it I find something new, something practical and something inspiring. I’m not sure whether I actually believe in the existence of the much-vaunted writer’s block—although I do know what it’s like to lose confidence, but if it ever strikes you—whatever it is—just spent half an hour in the company of Short Circuit and you’ll be itching to pick up a pen.Promise.

The rest of the interview/conversation/ruminations can be read HERE. Thank you Sally.

THAW – the new novel by Fiona Robyn
Fiona has decided to blog her new novel over the weeks to come… and I am pleased to have the first part here, as part of her great idea… blogsplash! You can read the synopsis, and the first part of Thaw here...

THAW: Synopsis
Ruth is thirty two years old and doesn't know if she wants to be thirty three. Her meticulously-ordered lonely life as a microbiologist is starved of pleasure and devoid of meaning. She decides to give herself three months to decide whether or not to end her life, and we read her daily diary as she struggles to make sense of her past and grapples with the pain of the present. "Thaw" explores what makes any of our lives worth living. Can Red, the eccentric Russian artist Ruth commissions to paint her portrait, find a way to warm her frozen heart?


These hands are ninety-three years old. They belong to Charlotte Marie Bradley Miller. She was so frail that her grand-daughter had to carry her onto the set to take this photo. It's a close-up. Her emaciated arms emerge from the top corners of the photo and the background is black, maybe velvet, as if we're being protected from seeing the strings. One wrist rests on the other, and her fingers hang loose, close together, a pair of folded wings. And you can see her insides.
The bones of her knuckles bulge out of the skin, which sags like plastic that has melted in the sun and is dripping off her, wrinkling and folding. Her veins look as though they're stuck to the outside of her hands. They're a colour that's difficult to describe: blue, but also silver, green; her blood runs through them, close to the surface. The book says she died shortly after they took this picture. Did she even get to see it? Maybe it was the last beautiful thing she left in the world.
I'm trying to decide whether or not I want to carry on living. I'm giving myself three months of this journal to decide. You might think that sounds melodramatic, but I don't think I'm alone in wondering whether it's all worth it. I've seen the look in people's eyes. Stiff suits travelling to work, morning after morning, on the cramped and humid tube. Tarted-up girls and gangs of boys reeking of aftershave, reeling on the pavements on a Friday night, trying to mop up the dreariness of their week with one desperate, fake-happy night. I've heard the weary grief in my dad's voice.
So where do I start with all this? What do you want to know about me? I'm Ruth White, thirty-two years old, going on a hundred. I live alone with no boyfriend and no cat in a tiny flat in central London. In fact, I had a non-relationship with a man at work, Dan, for seven years. I'm sitting in my bedroom-cum-living room right now, looking up every so often at the thin rain slanting across a flat grey sky. I work in a city hospital lab as a microbiologist. My dad is an accountant and lives with his sensible second wife Julie, in a sensible second home. Mother finished dying when I was fourteen, three years after her first diagnosis. What else? What else is there?
Charlotte Marie Bradley Miller. I looked at her hands for twelve minutes. It was odd describing what I was seeing in words. Usually the picture just sits inside my head and I swish it around like tasting wine. I have huge books all over my flat; books you have to take in both hands to lift. I've had the photo habit for years. Mother bought me my first book, black and white landscapes by Ansel Adams. When she got really ill, I used to take it to bed with me and look at it for hours, concentrating on the huge trees, the still water, the never-ending skies. I suppose it helped me think about something other than what was happening. I learned to focus on one photo at a time rather than flicking from scene to scene in search of something to hold me. If I concentrate, then everything stands still. Although I use them to escape the world, I also think they bring me closer to it. I've still got that book. When I take it out, I handle the pages as though they might flake into dust.
Mother used to write a journal. When I was small, I sat by her bed in the early mornings on a hard chair and looked at her face as her pen spat out sentences in short bursts. I imagined what she might have been writing about; princesses dressed in star-patterned silk, talking horses, adventures with pirates. More likely she was writing about what she was going to cook for dinner and how irritating Dad's snoring was.
I've always wanted to write my own journal, and this is my chance. Maybe my last chance. The idea is that every night for three months, I'll take one of these heavy sheets of pure white paper, rough under my fingertips, and fill it up on both sides. If my suicide note is nearly a hundred pages long, then no-one can accuse me of not thinking it through. No-one can say; 'It makes no sense; she was a polite, cheerful girl, had everything to live for', before adding that I did keep myself to myself. It'll all be here. I'm using a silver fountain pen with purple ink. A bit flamboyant for me, I know. I need these idiosyncratic rituals; they hold things in place. Like the way I make tea, squeezing the tea-bag three times, the exact amount of milk, seven stirs. My writing is small and neat; I'm striping the paper. I'm near the bottom of the page now. Only ninety-one more days to go before I'm allowed to make my decision. That's it for today. It's begun.




You can continue reading Thaw HERE. Or, of course, if you can’t wait to find out… you can buy it HERE!!!

Sunday, 28 February 2010

WINNERS OF THE SCOTT PRIZE...


Salt Publishing have announced the four winners of their inaugural Scott Prize for short story collections.
And they are:
Patrick Holland (Australia): The Source of Sound
David Mullins (US): Longing to Love You
Suzannah Rickards (UK): Hot Kitchen Snow
Tom Vowler (UK): They May Not Mean To But They Do

Many many congratulations to all of them, but especially to the two friends on the list - Tom and Susannah, whose books will be simply stunning.

For a link to Tom's blog, please scroll down on the right here...

ON POST OFFICES AND POETS, AND OTHER LITERARY NOURISHMENT

£6.90. That’s what it cost to send my novel draft to Maggie. So that’s the first little bit out of the 'admin and etc' included in the ACE grant fund. It was a goodly parcel – 310 pages in the end. And when it was received at Gee Towers, I had an email to let me know (bless the lady) with the comment that it was so well packaged, I had a future with the post office…so that is a great relief. Something to fall back on!

I am slightly in limbo now, until March 8th, when we have our first meeting in London. So I am catching up on other things.

First on the list has been reading a final novel draft for a friend prior to it going to her agent. I finished that yesterday, finally – having enjoyed it SO much. It was hard to drag myself out of it to write the occasional note in the margin - “slows up a little here” or “I would have liked this information earlier…” A privilege indeed, and a great responsibility. I can’t wait to talk about it when it is on the chocks- It is a really marvellous tour de force, N – and lots of good luck, which you will not need!

Next I had a chance to read those great websites and blogs that people had kept telling me about and which I was saving up.

I was delighted to visit the website of poet Aonghas MacNeacail (which is probably Angus MacNichol to the non Gaelic among us). It is a wonderful place to spend a while – there are recordings of his work to enjoy in both English and Gaelic -
And I was delighted to see that he is doing his bit for Haiti – rather like the 100 writers who gave their work for the anthology (more on that this week) look at this, taken from said website:!
Poets for Haiti
Aonghas will be among '20 of the foremost poets in the land' performing to raise funds for Haiti, along with Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy, and three other laureates, Gillian Clarke (Wales), Liz Lochhead (Glasgow) and Ron Butlin (Edinburgh), as well as Don Paterson (shortly to receive the Queen's Medal for Poetry), Sean O'Brien (winner of both Forward and TS Eliot Prizes), and such distinguished Scots as Alasdair Gray, Douglas Dunn, Jackie Kay and Kathleen Jamie, among others. The venue is Edinburgh's Queen's Hall, on the 28th February at 6.00 pm, and it should be quite a session!

It is his wife, BAFTA award winning actor/writer/director Gerda Stevenson who I must thank for this link… I gather she gave him the website for Christmas! Her own website is HERE . Do visit – I’m actively looking out for her name now – here are just two of the dramatisations she has done:
2009 – dramatisation of Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s novel Sunset Song,BBC Radio 4’s Classic Serial, Spring 2009.
2007 - dramatisation of Sir Walter Scott’s epic novel The Heart of Midlothian, BBC Radio 4’s Classic Serial, Autumn 2007. Nominated for the 2008 SONY AWARDS.


And last, but by no means least. The Sussex House Party on Friday night was stunningly good. Having been at the head of the table last time I went, now I was a mere mortal, as we guests sat round the feet of Virgina Woolf’s great-niece, the author Virginia Nicholson.
Here she is, pictured at Charleston farmhouse, home of the Bloomsbury set, and now home to the Charleston Festival and The Small Wonder Festival....
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We chatted over huge glasses of prosecco first, and drifted to the table (black marble this time, very swish!) to enjoy a started of home cured ham and parmesan roulades on fresh leaves while we all introduced ourselves. Among the guests was an ex-headmaster who is writing a novel, a lawyer who is a screen writer, and the supplier of the starter who, quite apart from running a farm, is also working on her debut book – eagerly awaited by the agent who commissioned it. And of course, the host, Gilly Smith. Really interesting people, and the conversation sparkled. Virginia Nicholson was a generous and fascinating writer to share the meal with. She told us about the in-depth research she does for all her books. About her childhood and how she came to writing thanks to helping her late father, Quentin Bell, write a book about Charleston farmhouse. She is currently researching and writing her fourth book, about the lives of women in the 1940s - the generation of women who produced the children who would be the Sixties and transform things yet again. And it sounds really fascinating if incredibly hard work. (I’m not a researcher, and can’t imagine doing that in such depth each time I wrote something!)
Among her existing books is 'Among The Bohermians', and it sounds really fascinating. I came home and ordered it, to perch on the ever-growing pile for when I've finished the novel. Her website desribes it thus:
a rich and detailed exploration of the way of life of those men and women in the first half of the twentieth century – the majority of them artists, poets, writers and composers - who were brave enough to jettison Victorian conformity. Rebels and free spirits, these were the pioneers of a domestic revolution. Escaping the confines of the society into which they had been born, they carried idealism and creativity into every aspect of daily life. Deaf to disapproval, they got drunk and into debt, took drugs, experimented with homosexuality and open marriages, and brought up their children out of wedlock. In the spirit of liberty, they sacrificed comfortable homes and took to the road in gypsy caravans or moved into spartan garrets in Chelsea. Yet their choice of a free life led all too often to poverty, hunger, addiction and even death.
Among the large cast of flamboyant characters depicted in Virginia Nicholson’s book are such giants of the artistic scene as Augustus John, Jacob Epstein and Eric Gill, alongside their literary counterparts Dylan Thomas, Robert Graves and Arthur Ransome. Lesser-known (but no less colourful) characters include Kathleen Hale, Iris Tree, Philip O'Connor, Nina Hamnett and Ruthven Todd.


And I have a whole WEEK to fill with other things before the novel opens again--- it seems such a long time!

Friday, 26 February 2010

An Oscar...


I have today been awarded one of the highest accolades a person can be awarded. An Oscar. Or rather an Oscar's Oscar - 'For Metaphoric Mechanics and Literary Lubrication.'

(I'd better explain - Oscar Windsor-Smith who Twitters here was one of the participants at the Get Writing 2010 workshop last Saturday. I think he enjoyed himself!) Thanks Oscar!

Thursday, 25 February 2010

SOURCES OF FUNDS AND SUPPORT IN KIND FOR WRITERS

SOCIETY OF AUTHORS - WEBSITE LINK HERE

The Authors' Foundation
The Authors' Foundation gives grants to authors whose project is for a British publisher. Grants can be to help with research costs, or to buy time to write.
Please note, the Authors' Foundation does not cover self-published authors as grants cannot be awarded to help towards the costs of publication.
The Roger Deakin Awards: one award in each round of grants will be made in memory of the environmentalist, writer and film maker Roger Deakin. This award offers funding to authors of creative works of any genre concerned with natural history, landscape or the environment.
The Elizabeth Longford Grants: Flora Fraser and Peter Soros kindly sponsor an award in memory of Elizabeth Longford every six months. Historical biographers working on a commissioned book will be considered for an award of £2,500.
The Michael Meyer Awards: one award in each round of grants will be made in memory of Michael Meyer, a generous benefactor, who wrote about the theatre and translated plays.
The Arthur Welton Awards: one award in each round of grants will be made in memory of the philanthropist and poet Arthur Welton.
The Great Britain Sasakawa Grant: one grant of £2,000 is awarded each year. Works of fiction or non-fiction about any aspect of Japanese culture or society, or set in a Japanese context will be considered. Preference will be given to works which help to interpret modern Japan to the English-speaking world.

WELSH ACADEMI BURSARIES WEBSITE LINK HERE
There are 5 different bursaries available in two categories, Buying Time Bursaries and Enabling Bursaries:
Buying Time Bursaries:

1. New Writers’ Bursaries can be awarded to writers who have not previously published a volume of their work. At least 10,000 words of prose of work-in-progress or 15 poems must be submitted with your application. If you have had work published in anthologies and periodicals, please send samples with your application - one copy of each item.
Maximum award: £10,000
2. Published Writers’ Bursaries are for writers who have already published a volume or more of work. At least 4,000 words of work-in-progress OR 8 poems must be submitted with your application. Please send one copy of a sample volume with your application. These will be returned if requested.
Maximum award: £10,000
3. Children’s Writers’ Bursaries are intended for writers for children and young people in Welsh and English. The Academi is keen to encourage the following in particular:
i. English-language writers whose work has a Welsh background
ii. Writers producing longer novels in the Welsh language.
Applicants should provide a representative selection of the work-in-progress.
Maximum award: £10,000
Enabling Bursaries:
4. The Miscellaneous Fund can offer small-scale support related to specific writing projects. Examples include travel costs, research, work in other languages, childcare, renting quiet space to write and other items. Capital grants (such as the purchasing of computers) are not available from this fund.
Maximum award: £2,000
5. Enabling Bursaries for specialist equipment (For Disabled Writers only) are awarded to assist Disabled Writers. Examples can include aid for the following:
i. to purchase specialist equipment
ii. to assist with particular travel costs
iii. towards secretarial assistance such as editorial work, typing, printing etc.
iv. for training opportunities relevant to your writing
The Academi can also consider applications for assistance with other issues affecting disabled writers.
Maximum award: £2,000


FROM THE LITERATURE TRAINING WEBSITE – LINKS TO OVER 100 SOURCES OF FUNDS – HERE

Also - HAWTHORNDEN CASTLE Hawthornden Castle Fellowship
Hawthornden Castle, The International Retreat for Writers, Lasswade, Midlothian EH18 1EG
Phone 0131 440 2180
Fax 0131 440 1989
Established 1982 to provide a peaceful setting where published writers can work without disturbance. The Retreat houses five writers at a time, who are known as Hawthornden Fellows. Writers from any part of the world may apply for the fellowships. No monetary assistance is given, nor any contribution to travelling expenses, but once arrived at Hawthornden, the writer is the guest of the Retreat. Applications on forms provided must be made by the end of June for the following calendar year. Previous winners include: Les Murray, Alasdair Gray, Helen Vendler, Olive Senior, Hilary Spurling.

I'd be happy to add to the list, let me know any other sources.

THE LEVERHULME TRUST HERE - gives £40 million per annum... Thanks to Tania Hershman for this link. Specifically:
grants for artists' residencies: These awards are intended to support the residency of an artist of any kind or nationality in a UK institution in order to foster a creative collaboration between the artist and the staff and/or students of that institution. The term 'artist' encompasses visual artists, creative writers, musicians, poets and other producers of original creative work.

"The resident artist should work in an interactive way with the surroundings, and contribute recognisably to the life and work of the host department or centre. Applications should come jointly signed from the artist and a representative of the proposed host group, as Principal Applicant. Individual artists seeking a residency may not apply directly to the Trust. "


(All the information is taken from the various websites. Before contacting anyone, it is sensible to check your eligibility, and check the information is up to date.)

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

The human side of applying for an ACE Grant


I'd say it is a good idea to get to know the person in your area responsible for your ‘sector’ within the Art’s Council. I was able to meet with the Literature Officer for my area, and talk about the novel.

I actually emailed first, and was invited to drop in a copy of my short story collection, Words from a Glass Bubble and a CV to the regional offices. I added a copy of the Flash Fiction text book. I was meaning to ask about something smaller, something completely different – finding out whether there might be a grant available for travel to a conference. This nice guy breezed down to collect the envelope, and whisked me out for an unscheduled breakfast meeting in Costa.

It turned out that this was too small a sum. The Arts Council do not look at proposals for less than £1000.00. 'And anyway,' he said, 'these conferences are rather meaningless. An excuse for a jolly.' Hmm!

The conversation over a rather delicious cappuccino and almond biscuits turned to the novel. And to some of the ups and downs along the way – of which there have been a few. It was a very open, good conversation, telling him a lot about the various bits and bobs that have happened to some of the sections, mainly good stuff. This conversation was hugely supportive. It came round to the question of what I most needed help with, to finish it. Wow. This thing I’d been battling with for three years began to look solid. So what did I need most? Structure, definitely. Coherence?

I have to say, I am incredibly grateful for that meeting. It was his idea to focus on a mentoring process in which I would have a sounding board while I reshaped a finished draft. Did I know anyone I’d like to work with? Yes. That bit was easy.

The message was - OK, now go through the application process. He warned me clearly that there was a lot of competition for grants, and I may not be successful. But encouraged me to try.

The Arts Council website is stuffed with information. They are in the process of changing to online applications – but for me, you could check your eligibility online, forms and details could be downloaded, the guidelines (a 40 page book!) and you could ask for the application pack. Which was basically all that stuff in hard copy.

There are constant mentions of help available from the ACE staff. Phone numbers to ring, web addresses and so on. And it works - I did ring once to check whether I could apply to go to a writer's retreat outside the UK. Answer, 'yes'. And also, whether the proportion of 'in kind' and other funds was appropriate for the size of grant I was asking for.

The guideline book sets everything out systematically. If you follow the instructions, you will be fine – but they are complicated, lots of twists and turns as they cover each possible facet from all sides, often more than once. I found the budget section very hard!. You do need to have your wits about you and a second pair of eyes, at least.

My second pair of eyes was writing buddy Andrew Marshall, who is going to help evaluate the activity. And my daughter-in-law, who used to be something in the City- helped as well, especially with the budget.

And you only have 1000 words to spend on your proposal, which has to be quite detailed.

The forms were sent off, duly completed. After a while I got a call, from the Literature Officer I had had that breakfast meeting with – asking for a lot more information. The proposals had been sent to him, to assess.

I redid the proposal, ignoring the word limit, as advised. Adding in a lot more about me, about my proposed mentor, and why this choice. I suspect that the low limit is to help them sift the applications– and they ask for more if they want to know… but that’s just me supposing.

And a month later got the nice news. Again, any questions, fire away.

I mentioned this blog on the proposal – ‘an honest look at the ups and the downs’, . This grant is a definite ‘UP’! And it seemed a great idea to tell people about the grant process - good practice, or summat.

Monday, 22 February 2010

ACE GRANT


Well, I will natter a bit about this lovely grant I have been awarded, from Arts Council England, funded by The National Lottery.
I often looked at individuals awarded these grants, and wondered all sorts of things - How? Why? What? When? and Where? mostly. What were they spending this money on? Was it pints of cider down the pub while drowning their sorrows at not being able to write today?

Now I know – so I can pass it on. Every penny has to be very carefully planned. Your activity needs to be set out in a very detailed proposal, which covers what you would like to do, why, how it will benefit you, and the public (that’s a hard one to answer!), and how it will be funded. You must set out in minute detail what funds you are asking for, and also the funds you will be supplying yourself via various means. This is a must. Including help in kind. If awarded, each of the pennies must be accounted for, exactly as the proposal.
So – if you are expecting pints of cider, they need to be requested up front, and just may not get a grant…. (!)

Here you go – this is my What.

My grant is to fund working with an experienced novelist. She will act as sounding board and mentor, while I polish and reshape the first draft of the novel. I am lucky to be working with Maggie Gee , a novelist whose own work I enjoy for lots of reasons. But in the context of this activity, it is her clarity of structure that draws me. As well as her themes – her seeking to make sense of things through her work… if that makes sense to anyone out there!

What I love about the conversations we’ve had so far, is the understanding that this is my piece of work. That I am in the driving seat. And for a novelist whose last novel is called My Driver that seems rather appropriate. I’m about to send my first draft – with all the issues I have picked up over the last fortnight… voice issues, bagginess issues, structural issues, aaaagh… to this lady. I have ironed out the inadvertent wifeswappings and home removals discovered in the last two weeks.

The list of questions I’m sending is almost as long as the novel!
Maggie was featured in The Guardian last weekend…HERE in pre-publicity for her forthcoming memoir, My Animal Life – an account of her life as a writer. This comes out in March and I am bloody lucky that she is finding the time to work with me. Here’s the Amazon page for My Animal Life.

And here’s what Claire Tomalin has to say about this book:
'Exceptionally interesting and brave - Maggie Gee's account of her life as a writer cuts to the bone as she relives triumphs, rejections, despair and renewal. It's a wonderful book, for its boldness and vigour, and for its piercing honesty.' Claire Tomalin

So, there you are. This is what I am being funded for -working with this amazing writer. Oh - and - eight days stay at Anam Cara Writers and Artists Retreat, in Ireland, to break the back of the work, later on. Any questions, fire away!

Sunday, 21 February 2010

TEN RULES FOR WRITING FICTION

From Guardian Online: Ten rules for writing fiction
Get an accountant, abstain from sex and similes, cut, rewrite, then cut and rewrite again – if all else fails, pray. Inspired by Elmore Leonard's 10 Rules of Writing, we asked authors for their personal dos and don'ts...

I have picked out some 'rules' I smiled at because I believe 'em too. But the whole article is wonderful, thought provoking, and good to read.


Only bad writers think that their work is really good. Anne Enright

Don't wait for inspiration. Discipline is the key.
Esther Freud


Style is the art of getting yourself out of the way, not putting yourself in it. David Hare.

Defend yourself. Find out what keeps you happy, motivated and creative. A L Kennedy

(she has another about using stories from your family, friends, under the title Defend others. She means using their life events, characteristics, and disguising them so that the originator is unrecogniseable!)

Remember writing doesn't love you. It doesn't care. Nevertheless, it can behave with remarkable generosity. Speak well of it, encourage others, pass it on. A L Kennedy


Marry somebody you love and who thinks you being a writer's a good idea. Richard Ford.

The whole article is HERE

Saturday, 20 February 2010

SUNDAY TIMES LONGLIST

Well, what short story writer has not been waiting to find out how many big names are on the Sunday Times longlist? There hasn’t been much money in short stories, but it looks like things might be changing, with the £25,000 waiting for one of these lucky people. And the list includes several people whose work may be breaking through into the big time thanks to a lot of very hard work!

The full longlist for The Sunday Times EFG Private Bank Short Story Award include:
• Richard Beard - James Joyce, EFL Teacher
• Nicholas Best - Souvenir
• Sylvia Brownrigg - Jocasta
• John Burnside - Slut's Hair
• Will Cohu - Nothing But Grass
• Joe Dunthorne - Critical Responses To My Last Relationship
• Petina Gappah - An Elegy for Easterly
• Jackie Kay - Reality, Reality
• A.L. Kennedy - Saturday Teatime
• Adam Marek - Fewer Things
• Charles Mosley - Constraint
• Chris Paling - The Red Car
• Ron Rash - Burning Bright
• Simon Robson - Will There Be Lions?
• Kay Sexton - Anubis and the Volcano
• Helen Simpson - Diary of an Interesting Year
• C.K. Stead - Last Season's Man
• Rose Tremain - The Jester of Astapovo
• Gerard Woodward - Legoland
• David Vann - It's Not Yours

I am particularly delighted to see three names on here. First a writing friend, Adam Marek,
whose work I love, and whose collection Instruction Manual for Swallowing I reviewed a while ago for The Short Review HERE
(Yay! Well done Adam!!! Ahem, I’ll calm down now…)
Second, Kay Sexton whose informative and entertaining blog is HERE and whose work I also (weirdly) reviewed for The Short Review HERE when it appeared as one of the stronger pieces in an anthology called Two Tall Tales and One Short Novel a few years back.

And thirdly, Petina Gappah, whose collection Elegy For Easterly has already won the Guardian First Book Award, and I think this blog has blathered on about her enough! But do a search on her name and you’ll find my review etc.

SUNDAY TIMES ARTICLE HERE
And do I wish I was writing short stories at the moment, not fighting with this novel, just because the market wants something called a novel from me...? YES!!!!! Dear market, please change....

READING, WRITING, ARITHMETIC, POETS ON TRAINS


I love this stuff, sometimes! First,
a monthly spoken word event now held in the wonderful ambiance of an upstairs room at The Wheatsheaf, Rathbone Place, London – where apparently, my hero Dylan Thomas used to drink.

TOTD is run by a couple of writing friends from the old Fiction Workhouse days. The room is great – private bar, stained glass in the bay window, not too big, not too small. This event was a platform to publicise 100 Stories for Haiti, of which you will hear much more over the next few weeks as the guru Greg McQueen will be dropping in soon. So many of the readers were contributors to this brilliant anthology – Martin Reed, Jac Catanneo, Katy Darby (of Liars League fame). Jac also read a contribution for Joel Willans who lives in Helsinki – and Martin read Greg’s own contribution – about the morning he was moved to DO something to help. I read my contribution, Naming Finbar, and a second piece called Creative Writhing (no that’s not a typo) which took Martin by surprise, as it required him to stand in as an adolescent snake. I sold a couple of books after announcing I'd give a fiver from each sale to the Haiti appeal.

Do submit to TOTD. It’s a great event, and if you are picked you are invited to read your work. Submission details HERE

Then I caught the train through all sorts of odd places to get to Hatfield – eg, Potter’s Bar. I love that name. Who were the original Potters at the Bar? Did they get very drunk? Did they just potter? I ended up at a hotel shaped like a plane, on a roundabout in Hatfield – fell into bed and slept like a complete tree. (‘Log’ is too insignificant!).

Today, I was at GET WRITING 2010 - see HERE
organised by Verulam Writers’ Circle, held at the stunning de Havilland Campus of the University of Hertford. I was giving a workshop lasting one hour – in which I was to cover flash fiction, flash writing and writing prize winning short stories - It was quite a packed workshop! It seemed to go down well – and I was delighted to see so many blokes in the room – that is unusual, and rather nice. Great to meet up again with Jon Pinnock who blogs HERE and who is writing a hilarious series called Mrs Darcy and the Aliens – a sort of Jane Austen spoofette. Jon is part of the Verulam Writers. He’d also acted as postman, receiving boxes of books for me from Salt – (seriously, thanks very much, Jon).

I slipped into the back of the main lecture theatre to hear a talk by two publishing professionals. Very interesting to hear. Very necessary. And very hard to listen to. Phrases like ‘Brand Marketing’, and ‘cutting our lists,’ and ‘many writers will only be published in digital form in the future’ and ‘today’s writers MUST be prepared to sell their books themselves’. But it was realistic – and as I say, necessary to hear.

Book sales and signing went briskly during lunch. Both Short Circuit and Glass Bubble sold rather well!
And then after lunch, there was the announcement of the winners of the inaugural short story competition, and a talk from the final judge, Adele Geras. She spoke hilariously about surviving 90 titles. NINETY!! She did explain that some were children’s picture books with about a page of text… But in among the hilarity there were some real gold nuggets of pragmatism – sensible advice for writers on how to survive, mentally and physically. And she remembered to plug Nicola Morgan’s blog, Help! I Need a Publisher - as well, handing out cards.
I was so pleased – Adele was one of the first people who read Glass Bubble and gave me a ‘review comment’. I was so thrilled. And I made sure I went up afterwards and said thanks properly. Lovely lovely to meet her - poor woman, she had to put up with a hug.
And the poet on the train. Actually, there are three! I travelled last night with two, one of whom has been published on Ink Sweat and Tears. They attended Tales of the Decon, and were helping me not to get lost, which I do rather well. And our nattering was overheard by a young guy who also writes poetry, and was on his way to a poetry/guitar gig in a caravan near … guess where… Potter’s Bar! So good company all round.
Phew.