Monday 31 December 2007


It’s been a very good year. Since December 27th 2006, I have kept track of all submissions, acceptances and rejections, on another blog. (

The exercise was to show how hard work pays off. How you don’t get any acceptances if you don’t send your work out. How rejections DO come in, and writers who pretend they don’t are fibbing!

My stats are this:

75 Submissions. (33 competitions, 42 open)

36 hits ( 3 anthology publication, 2 non-fiction article, 1 anthology, 7 print mags, 8 ezine, 4 reading invites, 1 recording invite, 3 shortlistings, 1 longlist, 2 First Prizes, (Paddon Award Exeter Uni, Daily Telegraph Novel Comp), 3 Second Prizes [Bridport prize, Fish short story and Flashquake flash, ...]) 1 Third (normblog flash)

63 rejects (16 ezines, 11 anthology subs, 5 print mags, 8 flash comps, 1 non fic comp, 3 monologue, 15 story comp subs, 5 radio)

(of course, the maths won’t add up. The timelag between submissions and responses can be months and months. The above reflects some responses from submissions sent out in 2006, and there are still some results to come back in the New Year from 2007 subs.)

Acceptance breakdown is as follows:

Anthology publications: See You Next Tuesday (Better Non Sequitur), scheduled April 2008), New Short Stories 1,

Non-fiction articles: Per Contra (scheduled 2008 March), New Writer

Anthology: My own collection of short fiction accepted by Salt Publishing, publishing date: March 1st 2008)

First Prizes: Paddon Award, Exeter University, Daily Telegraph Novel Competition (First 1000 wds, plus synopsis)

Second Prizes: Bridport prize 2007, Fish Short Story prize 2007, Flashquake ‘Less is More’ flash fiction competition.

Third Prize Normblog flash

Shortlistings: Willesden Herald Competition, Philip Good memorial,

Longlisting: Happenstance

Print Journals: Riptide, Birmingham Arts Journal (2), Thema, Steel City, GUD, Penumbra,

Ezines: Café Irreal (2), Tien Ve (Vietnam) Burn (Italy) work taken from Café Irreal and translated), Onepagestories, Night Train,

Reading Invites: Short Fuse (2), Tales of the Decongested, West Cork Literary Festival (July ’08)

Recording Invite: Talking Newspapers

Rejection Breakdown:

Short Story Competitions: Herts University, Cotswold, Blinking Eye, 2 subs at Fish, Phillip Good memorial, V S Pritchett, Kid’s story comp, New Writer, Lichfield, Yeovil 3, 1 Bridport sub, Glass Woman, Fish Histories, Times ghost story,

Flash Competitions: Some European mag (cant remember!), drabble comp, 1 Flashquake, Ascent Aspirations, Guardian nano, BBC drabble, Fish history v short, 1 normblog sub,

Monologue comp: SWWJ (3)

Anthology subs: Comma Press (5, modern horror 2, new writers 3), Honno, Clockwork Phoenix, Apis (3)

Radio: 5

Print Journals:


Smokelong (2)
Cezanne’s Carrot
Tattoo Highway (2)
East of the Web 5
Vestal Review
Everyday Fiction
Strange Horizons
Summerset Review
Six Little Things

Handout: Broadsided

Subs Withdrawn: Shortalk (nothing seems to be happening after an interesting start)

I cant get it all to add up, but then I’m a writer not a mathematician!

However: early in the year I apologised that this was going to be a thin year for submissions as I am writing a novel, or trying to! And relative to the last three years it was thin. But the hit rate was far higher. I am not scribbling so much flash work, and have not been zapping pieces out there unless I reckoned there was a good chance of hitting. Also, I have learned the market, to a certain extent. I know where my stuff might hit.

What is surprising is the consistent rejects from the ezines… But then, I look at the acceptances and have to shrug.

Its been a interesting year. I’m doing more interesting things… readings, invites to contribute to this and that.

And f course the collection coming out soon from Salt… fabulous.

I started this writing lark in 2003. had first acceptance in early 2004. I’m pleased, overall, with progress. I guess I don’t have to prove anything any more. And that is great, on the one hand.

But it also takes away a spur, on the other…next year will be very very different. Lots of teaching scheduled already. The Workhouse continuing to buzz along, with regular flash blasts, consistent high quality critiquing. Working hard on promoting the book. And getting a flash collection ready….


Thursday 27 December 2007


I'm delighted to have a story in the latest issue of cult magazine GUD.

From the website: (links below)

Issue 2 celebrates Heaven, Earth, and Space in-between; it is touched by religion, grounded in technology and comfortable with the occult.
Including a language-stretching piece triggered by the Talmud from the legendary Hugh Fox, poems by haiku heavy-hitter Jim Kacian, the surprisingly touching “By Zombies; Eaten” from Christopher William Buecheler, and an alien perspective on human spirituality by Tina Connolly in the remarkable “The Salivary Reflex”
— all part of a drool-worthy two-hundred page selection of over twenty authors and artists.

What is GUD?
GUD (pronounced “good”) is Greatest Uncommon Denominator, a print/pdf magazine with two hundred pages of literary and genre fiction, poetry, art, and articles. Fiction ranges between 75 and 15,000 words.
The hardcopy is 5"x8", slightly narrower than a mainstream paperback but solid in the hands, easy to read with one hand while drinking your coffee or munching your sandwich. Or perfect for curling up with in your favorite lounge chair, sipping tea. The paper is "natural" 60-weight; a little rough to the touch, off-white so that the contrast of type's not hard on the eyes when reading outside or under fluorescents…

For listings and tasters of all the work in this collection CLICK HERE!

Including V’s offering, Jamie Hawkins’ Muse: READ THE TASTER HERE!

Then go to the website and buy the magazine. NOW.

A Writing-Free Christmas

A belated Merry Christmas to everyone who pops in here.

I managed to have a completely writing-free Christmas, apart from loads of congratulations about the book. (see right).

I heard from Salt that a few orders have been placed already, complete with cheques! I I get roughly £1.00 per copy in royalties, and a donating all that to Cancer Research.
Aiming at donating £1000...

well... you have to have a goal, don't you!

Saturday 15 December 2007



I know we live in a throwaway society. This however, goes too far.

It is reported today that a Dutch diplomat and his wife have ‘returned’ their adopted daughter because she did not fit in.

The child is of South Korean origin, and was adopted at the age of a few months when the diplomat was stationed in Indionesia. She is now seven years old.

Raymond and Meta Poeteray, it appears, already has their own son when they adopted the child, whose name is Jade. They subsequently had another son of their own. The family moved from Indonesia to Hong Kong three years ago, when Jade, was, one assumes, four years old.

Three years later, Jade is being sent back for readoption in Hong Kong. The reasons given include claims that she was not adapting to Dutch food, and culture. And yet this little girl had been their daughter for nearly seven years.

It also appears that she was looked after by indigenous babysitters and nannies. One babysitter has said she seemed a normal if quiet little girl. “I took care of her in the evenings, while an Indonesian woman was with her in the daytime.”

The Poeterays now also have another son, their own, born in the last few years.

Now, let’s get this straight. You fancy having a second child. So you go and get one. You don’t spend much time with the child, but hand it over to nannies and babysitters, who talk to the child in its own language, and make the child their own food.

You never apply for Dutch citizenship for the child…

And SIX YEAR later, you complain about bonding issues, about a failure to assimilate your culture?

And you give the child back, as though it is faulty goods, covered by a guarantee?

I find these people beyond the pale. Children are not fashion accessories. They are not covered by guarantees. And just as these ‘parents’ are deeply, deeply morally flawed, so the child will have been damaged by her early childhood, and will now be doubly, trebly damaged, thanks to this couple.

I quote Law Chi-kwong, Professor at the Department of Social Work at Hong Kong University. “They adopted her when she was a baby. They are responsible for shaping the child’s mind and culture. How can you say that the child cannot adapt to the culture in which she was raised?”

But isn’t that the point? She was never considered their daughter. She was a thing. Like a dog of a fashionable breed, who falls out of favour because the owners do not follow the correct diet and care instructions?

I suppose Jade should be grateful.

We put dogs down.



I was at The Foundling Museum in London recently, firming up the arrangements for the launch of my book.

On the ground floor is an intensely moving, fascinating exhibition explaining the history of Thomas Coram's vision, The Foundling Hospital.

Among the exhibits is a small display case containing tokens left by the mothers who originally left their babies in baskets outside the gates, as otherwise, their only option was to abandon them.

I will explain more in later posts. But suffice it here to know that when left there, babies were then sent to Kent for their infancy, and brought up in the countryside. They were then returned to London at the age of five, often without warning.

But here, I'd like to draw your attention to three benches where you can sit to listen to recordings made by three people who were brought up within Coram's vision, as the Foundling Hospital only closed in the 1950s.

I find it impossible to listen to these recordings without wanting to weep. At their gratitude, their sense of otherness, their sadness, the fondness with which they recall the Kent families who cared for them until four or five. The tough regime they experienced once separated from their foster-families, for that was how things were done back then. The education, the music (Handel was a great supporter, founded the choir, I believe..)

I could go on.

I was reading something in a display case near these benches, and was vaguely aware of two women sitting down to listen to one of the recordings. An elderly man who recalls his foster parents with such love...and who says he has had a good life, but still wishes he had hugs at bedtime when he came to the big school. He describes in sharp detail the everyday routines, and although he is grateful for his chance in life, you can sense he really ached for warmth as a child. And that ache remained in the old man, telling his story.

One woman to another. "I say! He awfully articulate, isn't he."

Other. "I know. Amazing, isn't it,"


No, madam. It's your attitude that is, frankly, amazing.

Friday 14 December 2007


'Young Turks' have the ascendancy in today's writing world, thanks to the image-conscious publishers and marketeers. I was wondering what the female equivalent of the Young Turk might be... this band of young writers who are meant to be the future of literature.

Then I got it!! They are 'Turkish Delight'. (See above)

Sweet. very sweet. Instantly satisfying. Not worth analyzing the ingredients... none are good for you. Only to be consumed sparingly, or it becomes cloying. And if left for too long, becomes hard and crusty.

Just like the rest of us....


Wednesday 12 December 2007


It’s a pleasure to announce here that two writing colleagues I work with in a flash forum on Zoetrope are taking over The Write Side Up ezine and print magazine.

I have agreed to join the team as a submissions editor for future issues, together with a few great writers. I am looking forward to this

There’s some fascinating writing in the first issue under the new management.

And a flash from me: The Wig Maker. CLICK HERE TO READ

Monday 10 December 2007


Brilliant Noise: Semiconductor Films

A sparky few days for writing. On The Fiction Workhouse we are in the middle of a Blastette ( a little blast...) of writing to prompts, posted my Mel. This one started Saturday evening at 8.00 pm and finishes tomorrow evening, same time.

This is the fourth event like this, the idea being that whatever you are doing between those times, and can grab a spare ten minutes or maybe a bit longer, you leap to the computer, open a prompt and just write, then post for feedback.

Theres no obligation to try to produce perfectly formed pieces, although sometimes they do appear. Mainly, it's a way of opening things up, finding new voices, characters, connections... sometimes it is a few lines, sometimes a complete 'story'.

In the middle of all this I escaped to Brighton, to FABRICA, where The South had organised a fascinating writing workshop.

Led by poet Jackie Wills (see below for bio) we watched a film (Brilliant Noise, by Semiconductor Films)in black and white (see above) of sunspots, solar flares... accompanied by an extraordinary soundtrack. natural radio sounds from space, enhanced and mixed. The sights and sounds fed off each other. We made notes of the connections in our heads as we watched.

First, we wrote free, from the most surprising connections. Circus and holocaust... a dissonant mix, powerful images. I'll go back to that.

Then, something I found really hard (that's good!!) creating a soundtrack in words for an inanimate object with no inherent sound of its own.

We discussed the concept of the magnetic poles shifting, and wrote from that... mine was an extremely silly but creative monologue. Sometimes its lovely to just let go and be daft.

A very good, thought-provoking few hours.


Jackie Wills' fourth collection of poetry, Commandments, is published this autumn. Her first, Powder Tower, was shortlisted for the 1995 TS Eliot Prize and in 2004 she was one of Mslexia magazine's top 10 new women poets. Her work has appeared in anthologies, BBC News Online, national newspapers and BBC Radio Four.

Saturday 8 December 2007



The Times reports today that
teenagers could soon be able to pass an English exam at GCSE level without having to read a single novel poem or play.

Read article HERE in Times Online

How does making kids plough through novel-length set texts when they don’t read, of their own volition, anything other than comics, leave them with anything other than a deeper abhorrence of reading?

Rather than just pull the plug, why don’t they try a few years of English GCSE based on set short stories?

You could argue that, in many novels, the prose is not as good as in a well-written short. So why…..


Essays to be handed in by next Friday.

Friday 7 December 2007

The Short Review

Issue 2 of The Short Review is now up. Thanks to Tania Hershman, the world of good short fiction has a new champion!

I am reviewing two collections for the next issue.


from this issue:

The Collected Short Stories by Katherine Mansfield...stories that purposefully belie the perception of a whole class and generation of writers (and women) as closeted, white-gloved, garden party-goers.

Come Together, Fall Apart by Cristina Henriquez.. paints a lush portrait of everyday people craving connection in these beautiful stories set in modern Panama.

Fifteen Modern Tales of Attraction by Alison MacLeod... a fearless writer, pushing at the shape of short stories.

The Loudest Sound and Nothing by Clare Wigfall ....A dark, disturbing and quite beautiful collection

Magic for Beginners by Kelly Link... weaves realistic character portrayals with noir fairy tales and new monster stories to create wondrous-yet-familiar worlds.

Self Help by Lorrie Moore... sharply clever collection ... satirizing the self-help genre, through an edgy, sometimes painful humour.

The Sky is a Well and Other Shorts by Claudia Smith... One flash from this collection packs the narrative/descriptive density of a novel.

Sleepers Almanac: The Family Affair anthology by Various .. stories by ..Australia’s hottest new writers.

Tales of Galicia by Andzrej Stasiuk... a kaleidoscope view of post-Communist Poland haunted by the past.

You Are Here anthology by Various... ridiculous, heartbreaking, provocative and bleak tales

Monday 3 December 2007


Well. What a great occasion. I used to be in a terrific reading group in Brighton, and stopped three years ago, when I was focusing hard on sussing out short stories, and didn't want to be sidetracked by novels.

Tonight, I was the guest at their Christmas meeting, and they discussed two prizewinning stories, Words from a Glass Bubble, and Dodie's Gift., both of which will be included in the forthcoming collection from Salt Publishing.

A fabulous occasion, and the first time I have been on the writer side of the equation, at a reading group, answering intelligent questions from intelligent readers, who had all pored over my work.

Actually, it was intensely moving, and if it wasn't for the fortification of a glass or two of red wine, I'd have come over all wobbly.

Glass Bubble was discussed for almost an hour. The main character, Eva Duffy, made a deep impression on the readers - all women, all mothers of sons. We discussed the Don Camillo books which were such an inspiration for the relationship between Eva and the little statuette of the Virgin Mary (dubbed The VM, by Eva. They drew the requisite parallels between Eva and her son, and the VM and hers... and saw them as just two women coming to terms with loss.

It was fabulous! Exactly as I hoped...

Dodie's Gift made a different impression. The character of Dodie they loved, found her warm, vulnerable, real. Chimed with the theme, that of the evils we do to each other being meaningless, ultimately... but the human spirit being strong enough to turn tragedy into something positive.

Interestingly, they really loved the ending, and found it resonated long after the story finished... and even more interesting, for the writer, several wanted to know more... they felt it could be a novel length piece. What was the backstory, they asked. How did Dodie come to be there. Certainly something to think about.

I have made promo flyers, incorporating the endorsement quotes for Words from a Glass Bubble. Reading groups are a great place to visit... and it strikes me that for each group there are members who know friends in others... circles within circles.

So here we go...

Weddings, funerals, Bar mitzvahs. Vanessa's your early while stocks last...

Saturday 1 December 2007

Salt Party at Foyles

Jen from Salt chatting to poet Vincent Da Souza with Jay Merrill in the background, and Callum listening in.

Wow, what a party. And what a lucky person I am to be part of this publishing house.
I went up to London with Tania Hershman and her partner James. (They were staying for a few days with us in Sussex. Chris joined us later.

Salt Publishing had organised the party in the Gallery space at Foyles, on Charing Cross Road in London. There were short readings from twenty or so writers published this year, both poets and fiction writers.

It was a delight to meet up with Carys Davies again, who I last saw at Bantry at the Fish prizegiving. What a talented writer she is... her collection 'Some New Ambush' is just fantastic... I really chime with her writing.

Carys Davies reading from Some New Ambush

And David Grubb. (I begin to see how small this world of writing is...) I sat next to him a fortnight ago at the Bridport event, where he too won a prize for a short story. Today however, he was reading from his most recent poetry collection "It Comes With A Bit Of Song".

David Grubb reading from It Comes With A Bit Of Song

I met Chrissie Gittins, Matthew Licht (wow, what a powerhouse!), saw Jay Merrill but didn't have a chance to say hello...and last but not least... Elizabeth Baines.

Elizabeth Baines chatting to Tania Hershman

I have long been an avid reader of her Fictionbitch blog... wonderful to finally meet up.

As I am trying to write poetry, I bought David Grubb's book and Peter Jaeger's. All really thought provoking work... very different styles, and I was drawn to them both.
I look forward to studying them, seeing where they take me.

I also bought Matthew Licht's book. I loved the rawness of his writing, and its honesty.

After the do, some of us repaired to a nearby pub. I had a long and lovely natter with Elizabeth Baines.... I liked her directness and spark enormously. Chris nattered to Carys... the pub was so crowded, we were all shouting over other people's noise. Not easy!

A wonderful event, and I am keeping my fingers crossed that it will be repeated. It was really memorable, quality stuff. I left that party (and the pub!) feeling very proud indeed to be part of the Salt team.

Tuesday 27 November 2007

Sunday, walking with writers, Monday, meeting publishers...

Brilliant weekend.

Seven Fiction Workhouse inmates escaped and we met in London, many of us for the first time.

We decided to go on an organised walk, and chose one arranged by The Wellcome Collection, starting by Holborn Tube, lasting two hours, and entitled Blood Guts Children and Power.

We were led by a Byronesque young man brandishing a furled umbrella, who stopped in every Square and gave us a fascinating series of talks on the history of medicine. Turns out he is a prizewinning poet as well as a Byronesque walk guide... you'll have to ask Julia for details...

Lunh in a vegetarian Indian restaurant followed, and I dunno, for seven serious writers there was one helluva lot of noise.

The great Workhouse 'bloody animal' avatar debate continued over lunch, fuelled by bottleds of Cobra Beer. I am glad to report no further outbreaks, but a rather stubborn dog and cat remain. However, one has to give thanks that cartoon shetland ponies, hamsters and gerbils have been avoided.

I have threatened to make an avatar out of a ghastly photo of a half-decomposed cat, taken on an Ibiza beach. That would suit me perfectly.

The rest of Sunday I spent with my mate Tania, over from Jerusalem with her partner James. Ate far too much, in the wrong order. Strawberry cheesecake followed by sushi is an exciting mix.

I stayed overnight at The New Cavendish Club, where V has associate membership thanks to membership of a writing association.

The off to Cambridge to meet the great (or tiny) Jen from Salt Publishing. What a power house. And I'm SO jealous of her job... I'd love to be bringing the work of new writers to the shelves/shops/Amazon.

We had tried to meet before but several Acts of God had prevented us meeting. One bomb then a bout of concussion, from memory. Some people will just do anythig to get out of meeting me.

But this time, there were no possible excuses, and the little Italian caff in Cambridge called Clowns was perfect. We nattered for over two hours.

And V is now officially working on a flash collection and keeping fingers crossed.

Saturday 24 November 2007


The Head and students, Gateway Academy
Yesterday, I went to Gateway Academy, Tilbury, to meet with the staff behind an invitation to two of us from New Writing South, a playwright (Jo) and a prose writer (moi) to work with groups of Year Nine students after Christmas.

It was a wonderful introduction to a City Academy. As we sat in the reception area, waiting for the Head of Dama, there was a helluva din coming from the assembly hall right nearby... shouts and yells, screams.

"Are they OK?" we wondered, as the screams increased in volume.

"Is there a member of staff in there...?"

Then a policewoman went in. Shoulders set.

"Oh God. There IS something wrong..."

The screams continued.

We looked at each other. Then two boys came out, sauntering away down the corridor. Shaven heads.

"Cor, that was tough, mate."

"Yeah. Not easy..."

And the policewoman came out... grinning.


It was a doughnut eating contest. The doughnuts were too fresh. Apparently, it aint easy eating a doughnut fast when its fresh.



The meeting went really well. Both Jo and I will be working at Gateway next term, for ten two hour sessions.

The group I will have ... fifteen Year 9s. And there's SO much we can do! The Academy has taken a community newsletter under their wing... we can look at journalism, for that. Editing. Advert writing.

We can spend as much time on Creative Writing as we want... look at what they are reading, talk about that, why they like some stuff, why not other stuff. See who's writing anyway quietly without telling anyone.

Talk about writing the stories THEY want to read themselves. Working perhaps to a theme of regeneration. (Tilbury is at the centre of a huge regeneration project, seems to me.)

We can look at stories, flash fiction, all the craft stuff... we can work together as a group, or in pairs, or singly, creating characters, and fun stories, scary stories, wierd stories, stories from real happenings, thought provoking stories, stories about Tilbury's past, Tilbury's future...because these kids are Tilbury's future, aren't they?

I'm thinking about a short story competition, a poetry competition, about working with the great staff we met to use this series of sessions to create a real buzz about writing!

And talking about regeneration... The school is moving next year to a purpose built school nearby. It looks fabulous. Seen from the sky, it is in the shape of a capital 'G'. Extraordinary!!

Thursday 22 November 2007

Second Update of the day

piccie: Virgin in a Glass Bubble from Ireland...but NOT my book cover...

Oh Oh. I need to sit down. I had a photograph I wanted to use, if we possibly could, for the cover of Glass Bubble.

I saw it, and thanks to some very helpful people at Glyndebourne, (it was used to illustrate Bach's St Matthew Passion) tracked it down to an agency.

It was taken in Prague, in 1968.

And is the most haunting, perfect image, and at the same time pulls together so many of the undercurrents in my work.

Just had confirmation that Salt have the image from the photographc agency and are working on it.

We got it!!!

And you can't see it!


But I will show you one I took meself, as it is nothing like my book cover.

Wednesday 21 November 2007

Words from a Glass Bubble update: Less is More.

The proof reading process threw up the fact that as set, the book had ten blank pages at the end.

The process works in multiples of sixteen.

Choices choices. To find another piece of work to fill those. Or, alternatively, to take out six pages.

I chose the latter, and have taken out two very short stories. On balance, and as Jen so wisely says, 'sometimes, less is more'.

My editorial assistant, Charlotte Chicken, is featured on the Salt Confidential Blog and on Jen's own blog at myspace... I hope this starts something.

Every writer needs an editorial chicken.


Shameless Lion invasion alert!

I have been awarded a lion (like the stamp on an egg) by Charles Lambert... and I have to pass the award on to five others.

Details HERE


Strong and honest writing...


Tania Hershman

Steve Finbow

Sara Crowley

Bev Jackson

and I will think of another one fast!

Tuesday 20 November 2007

Words from a Glass Bubble update 2

Well what do you expect if you give a chicken the job of proof reading?

But... you lucky peeps... this is my book!!! It is admittedly alll over the kitchen floor... but it IS my book...

and I did tell the chicken not to work in boots...

But chickens are deaf....


Words from a Glass Bubble update


Today I received the typeset proofs of my very own book. And I quickly discovered why books are bound. My printer printed out one hundred and seventy something pages and spilled them on the study floor in no particular order... very helpful!

It is an extraordinary thing, to hold something like this...a wodge of words, and they are all your own.

It did two things to my head... it made it more likely that I may at some point in the future, have a novel in my hands that is also mine. After all, if I can write this many pages... pah! But in truth, will the novel give me as much pleasure as I have had over the last few years? I doubt it. It's been quite a roller-coaster, and one can't live without ups n downs, can one!

But it also made me think... how very very lucky I am to have this collection coming out from Salt. How so many excellent writers specialising in the short forms of fiction never get to see this happen.

Maybe Salt and its faith in the power of the short form will engineer in part a turnround in the fortunes of those who 'only write shorts'.

I was having lunch with a friend today, and she asked how the writing was going. The conversation went like this:

"So how's it going then?"

"Good, at the moment. I have my first book coming out in March."

"The novel? Oh good!"

"Er.. no. That is a long way off! This is the short story collection."

"Oh right. So when do you think the novel will be ready?"


It IS extraordinary. This friend had just been bewailing that her time for reading was very tight, and that she did sometimes buy short story collections, in order to read a complete piece before bed.

But it must be sexier to know a novelist, rather then a short story writer!

However. I now have the job of going through the proofs with a fine toothcomb to see if there are typos and so forth. If there are it will be my own silly fault, for sending imperfect files through in the first place!

Sunday 18 November 2007

Bridport Prize 2007

piccie: Sweeties. Because that's how I feel. Like a kid who's been at the sweetie jar...

Dunnit. Got Second Prize at Bridport.

Bridport website link

Oh did I have a good time the last few days.

Chris (long-suffering husband) and I went down to Dorset for a long weekend, and stayed in a lovely village called Burton Bradstock.

On Friday we went fossil hunting on the beaches (all I have to do to find a fossil is look in a mirror, however... the beach drew a blank).

Friday evening we attended a talk by Tracy Chevalier, judge for the Short Story section of this year's Bridport Prize.

Link here to Tracy Chevalier's website.

She talked about her current novel, Burning Bright, inspired by her fascination for William Blake. She read from the novel. Answered questions. And also talked about her novel in progress about fossil hunter Mary Anning. How I would love to find something more exciting than a belemnite!

I had an opportunity to talk to Tracy afterwards, when she signed my copy of Burning Bright. What a lovely person.

The reception, lunch and prizegiving on 17th (yesterday) was a fabulous occasion. made even more special by sitting next to Jon Wyatt the shortlister. We had such a fascinating talk about reading for a comp as big as the Bridport. Further posts to come on this one.

BRILLIANT crowd. All the readers. They asked Chris and I to join them in a local bar after the lunch. Ahem. Suffice it to say that I staggered out of there full of Budweiser and having made a lot of great friends. I hope we meet up again!

Thursday 15 November 2007

Anam Cara, Unwriting, Fish


Anam Cara was wonderful, as always. Even more wonderful as I has won a week here (wheee!) and added on four extra days... so had ten clear days to write.

I had been playing with one of the sections of the novel in my head, and made myself sit and write it out. Using the iconography of Judas Iscariot, this section scribbled out over a few days to 7500 words. Then I unwrote it back over the next few days to 5500 words. I read it out loud last night... I can take out another 500 at least...

(I am henceforth using ‘unwriting’ instead of ‘editing’. It’s more creative.)

I then unwrote part of the overarching story, tinkered with a few new ideas. And wrote some poetry which was dreadful!

The other residents at Anam Cara were as follows:

Jo Campbell, the extremely talented short fiction writer. (Winner, Fish Histories, Second, Fish Short Story, and Second, Fish Histories at her second attempt at winning!) We had organised to go together; she was a joy to spend time with, and a joy to work with.

Kate Beswick, who has had a career in the theatre and is now a writer. Her novel won the Lichfield/Time Warner First Novel Competition. A fascinating person, and a wonderful writer… coming to the end of another novel set in Paris in the 1920s. A salutary tale about the Lichfield prize: although she won, £5K… the publishers declined to publish her novel …wait for it.. “Because it was TOO LITERARY”.
And they declined all the placed entries and commendeds… again… TOO LITERARY.

There’s a lesson there… if you want to get anywhere… dumb down folks!

J. D. Smith, multi-talented poet, writer of short fiction, children’s fiction and hilarious erotica, was on a two week placement, courtesy of a US National Endowment for the Arts $20,000 award. A sparkling talent, this guy, and wonderfully generous with his feedback.

Link HERE to J D Smith

And finally, the novelist and poet Sue Guiney
A warm and generous person, whose debut novel is appearing in mid-2008 through Bluechrome Publishing. She read from her play in poetry, gave brilliant feedback, and it was the combination of being with her and John that spurred me to write some poetry myself.

Link HERE to Sue Guiney

As always, the place and the people conspired to work magic. Not only did I work hard, I also made a cake (haven’t done that for years!), made fires in the evenings for us to gather round (there’s nothing like the scent of a peat fire). I fed the ducks and hens, chatted to little dog Jack, visited Mary Maddison the stone lady, had a drink or two of the Murphy’s, paid my respects to the Hag of Beara, the Ogham Stone, Kilcatherine, two stone circles, the Healy Pass and gazed for hours at the view from my achingly beautiful…across Coulagh Bay to the hills.

We had a supper party with Clem Cairns and Lorraine Bacchus from Fish Publishing. Lovely to meet them properly, and only sad that Jo had gone home by this time… but we laughed, nattered, and read… John read some poetry and a comic erotica fiction piece, Sue read from her poetry, and I read the start of one of the novel sections.

Sad to relate, my genius attempt at historic fiction bombed at the Fish Historic competition. But Fish have an excellent critique service… so the story has gone off today with a wodge of euros to have some surgical intervention suggested…

More unwriting in the air!

Nice to be home.

And a quick turnaround, and off to Dorset for a prizegiving.

Saturday 3 November 2007

Writing in Ireland

I am off for almost a fortnight to ANAM CARA.

With my laptop, a load of books, paper, pens, notebooks, half written snippets.

Hoping to crack a bit more of the novel.

The swing seat in the conservatory, Anam Cara

Thursday 1 November 2007

Words From a Glass Bubble: Update

I heard from Jen at Salt that the collection has gone to the typesetters.

It's going to be a real live BOOK!! Or at least, the proofs of a real book.

But how do I feel? A bit scared. A bit as though I have just left a much loved son at university, and am driving home with an empty passenger seat.

They are my words, and most have had validation through various means. But putting them all together is somewhat exposing, I find. I feel a bit naked, too.

But Salt continues to be great.

Jen has taken out another story that didn't 'fit'. I trust her judgement implicitly. And also, we've been discussing the beginning of yet another story; whether the reader needed a little more or maybe a little less information up front to make the journey flow more compellingly.

Jen cracked it by adding one simple thing. Not a paragraph. Not a sentence. Not a phrase. Not a word. But a single question mark. It just flips a light on.

V makes a mental note: the power of punctuation...

The Short Review

My writing colleague and fellow member of The Fiction Workhouse, Tania Hershman, has started a new website.

Called The Short Review, it does exactly what it says on the tin. Carries reviews of collections of short fiction.


In Issue 1, the following are reviewed.

Gaza Blues by Etgar Keret & Samir el-Youssef

No One Belongs Here More Than You by Miranda July

The Complete Short Stories by Muriel Spark

McSweeney's Astonishing Chamber etc by Various Authors

Heavyglow Flash Fiction by Various Authors

Family Connections by Chrissie Gittins


A Faker's Dozen by Melvin Jules Bukiet

This will grow into a valuable resource. Good for Tania for plugging a gap in the market.


Some work is TOO good. A tale of persistence....

(Open letter to occasional blog commenter 'Mimi' who is a well published writer, but who dislikes the honesty of this blog.)

Dear Mimi

I hope you have finished your breakfast. You are just not going to like this post, and I figured it might put you off your Wheatie-wallops. Every day should start with something good, yes?

Like all 47 days on which a writing friend of mine submitted the same story. And all 47 days she opened the post to find rejection after rejection on her doormat. (Or mailbox. This is in the US.)

Oh dear, you'd have probably said, after two, maybe three rejections. And binned it. Not this lady. This piece of work 'worked' It was original stuff. Well written. So what was going on?

It was TOO GOOD.

I have often been told that some work is just too good for some competitions, some markets. And because the readers are only ever dealing in lower-grade stuff, they just don't SEE the quality. It's over their heads. I'm afraid we are back to Lower Burblingon on Twiddle Very Important Literary Competition here, (finally judged, as ever, by that friend of Mimi's, that unpublished doggerel writer - lovely person though she be -)

I have often been TOLD that work can be too good, by people who are far more experienced than I... but now I have a perfect example to illustrate it.

You see this writing friend really did have a story rejected FORTY SEVEN times. Wow. My record is sixteen.

But she believed in it enough to carry on submitting. In fact, she sent it out scattergun in the end, and didn't keep records. I can imagine her picking up yet another envelope...

"Oh so I sent it there, did I? Another reject...." and out it would go again.

Until the day she got home from work and found that she'd had a phonecall.

And that phonecall was from the The National Endowment of the Arts Creative Writing Fellowship organisers. One of the places the story had been sent, and forgotten about.

Her story had won, and the prize was worth ...wait for it... $20,000. (That's twenty thousand dollars, Mimi, in case your glasses have gone missing.)

The story was later selected for inclusion in American Fiction: The Best Unpublished Short Stories by Emerging Writers, edited by Joyce Carol Oates.


This all happened a while back. But it illustrates the point. Forty seven editors, readers, judges turned it down because it 'wasn't good enough'.

The point of this post. Believe in yourself, believe in your work. Of course, you have to learn to write well first (!) but sometimes you just KNOW something is good. Stick with it.

Wednesday 31 October 2007

Harper Lee and Rosemary Connolly

First, Harper Lee.

Finally, The White House are recognising the contribution this lady made to literature.

LINK to article in The Independent HERE

Whether she will turn up to the award ceremony is debatable. She has granted one interview in 33 years, at which she famously said very little, and is a recluse. Would she relish the thought of meeting the man who pushed for the impeachment of Clinton over Monica Lewinsky? I wouldn't know.

What I do know is this. The Independent article says:

"The novel is studied in more than 70 per cent of US high schools. In some ways, though, the White House is going against the grain of many academics who are unconvinced that the book's warm-heartedness is matched by a level of literary craftsmanship to warrant its stellar reputation.

The fact that Lee has never published again has led some critics to wonder whether the book's success was entirely due to Lee or the prowess of Tay Hohoff, her editor at the publishing house JB Lipincott.

Others have suggested that alcohol has played a role in Lee's subsequent writer's block."

So 'academics' do not rate the book because it does not conform to some craft rules. And these 'adacemics' are writers or just 'academics'? What on earth are they thinking? Does originality count for nothing at all? There must be a reason why 70% of US high schools s tudy the thing. Or is it a more comfortable way to study racial injustice in the Deep South? Easier than history lessons, because fiction is one step removed from a chilling (and not quite dead) reality?

(I say not quite dead, because I visited Virginia in April this year. My second visit to the USA. The first was to Florida 25 years back...enough said. I saw how black people are still treated. NOW. 21st century. Purely because of colour.)

So these 'academics' would like to lessen the book's impact, perhaps. And what colour are these 'academics'?

Then, look at the second point here.

some critics (...) wonder whether the book's success was entirely due to Lee or the prowess of Tay Hohoff, her editor at the publishing house JB Lipincott

And consider it in the light of the recent flurry of panic that Tess Gallagher's release of some of Raymond Carver's work, in the original, unedited state will burst a bubble... fear that much of his greatness was manufactured by his editor.

Where is the 'weight' in the provision of literature to the reader today? Is it with the writers, who provide the publishers with original work, and the publishers then produce that for the market? Nope. It is the publishers (I am talking the big houses here) who are driven by the need to provide dividends to shareholders, and rely on tried and tested formulae. Read any new writer's blurb, and the marketeers will say who they write like.

Carver's editor is being given the credit for a proportion of Carver's success. As is Lee's. Kudos being removed from the writers, even at this level.

Oh I know how important editors are. But stand back a moment.

I was in conversation with an excellent writer only this week, whose work has been recently anthologised next to a seriously poor piece of work by a beginner.

"Oh it would have been OK if she'd had a really good editor" said my colleague, whilst at the same time acknowledging that she had had many people saying what a poor piece of decision making his had been by the publisher.

Surely, SURELY the editor is there as an equal partner in the relationship? Not the controller of the creative result? The one who acknowledges the originality of what he/she is working with, and just enhances it? NOT rewrites the lot...., to sometimes render (as in this case) navel-gazing beginnery drivel into literature?

My colleague was seeking to allow an editor to be ghost writer, to turn a bad piece of work into a good. Good enough to be anthologised alongside some experienced, well published, original writers.

Back to Harper Lee, poor woman.

So what have they done to her? They've tried to deny her any real credit for writing well. Tried to remove the influence her work has on generations of children. Suggested that it was not her, after all, any of the good, but her editor's.

And the final insult? They've stood right back from the appalling treatment they've handed out to Lee, denied that she might just have been adversely affected by any of it. And blamed something else for sending her to the safety of her own company for years...ALCOHOL.


Where does Rosemary Connolly come in? Oh yes. I was talking to another writer yesterday, a brilliant, stellar writer. I mentioned how I felt when the organiser of a lit festival when I asked about readings and so forth, looked me up and down (I'm both chubby and height challenged) and said "But we have to sell tickets..."

"Why don't you go on a Rosemary Connolly course?" the writer said brightly.

I thought that was a writing course.

It isn't.

It was acknowledging that how I look is more important than my writing.

On The Fiction Workhouse, I was bewailing that... and a colleague posted this,


Herewith a modern covering letter to an agent. TODAY's agent, working with TODAY's big publishers. Please feel free to cut n paste. I'm sure you will have great success ...

Dear Agent,
I have recently not completed a 100,000 word novel which I would like to send you. The book deals with nothing at all, as you'll see from the enclosed 0-page synopsis.

I consider myself to be a marketable commodity. I am empty headed, orange plastic faced, have large breasts, and a stick thin rest of me. I can't sing or do much else really, but I'm very 'open', if you get my drift.

Oh, and I can't spell, but fortunately, my manager can.

Yours etc

Honey Moneymaker

Tuesday 30 October 2007

Words from a Glass Bubble: Update ii

THE LAUNCH A conversation.

What, thinking about the launch already?

Doing more than thinking, peeps.

When’s this book coming out…March?


Come on. We’ve got Christmas, New Year, Bonfire Night, Valentine’s Day before then

Yes. And?


St David’s Day.


St David’s Day. Leeks, daffodils and Glass Bubbles.

Oh bloody hell. You’re one of them. Welsh.

Oh yes. Listen: Mae hen wlad fy nhadau yn anwyl I mi, Gwlad beirdd a chantorion enwogion o fri

Stop! My ears aren’t working. What’s that noise?

Welsh national Anthem, actually, idiot. Oh unlearned idiot.

You are no Bryn Terfel, Vanessa.

Sorry. Ahem. Back to the launch…

A launch with leeks and daffodils then? On St David’s Day?

I didn’t say that.

You said ‘And St David’s Day.' Like it meant something. So…

It does. The book might be published then. The launch might be a week or so later…

So no need for leeks. Thank Heavens for that.

No leeks.

So having a few drinks at home then?


Huh? So what ARE you doing?

Not finalised yet. Keep reading this blog…I’m planning to do all sorts.

Do? What do you mean, do all sorts? Launches are… launches.

Yes, course they are. However…

Oh God. Is this V thinking sideways again? When will you learn to think frontwards?

Never, I hope. Now. The launch…


Oh right… we’ll take you off the invitation list then…

Monday 29 October 2007

W G Sebald, my hero

Well, he is kind of my hero. He is the one who started me off on this writing journey, and to whom I will be eternally grateful.

Earlier this year, Norman Geras invited me to write on my favourite book for his illustrious series... and this was my contribution.

August 28, 2007
Writer's choice 117: Vanessa Gebbie
Vanessa Gebbie teaches creative writing and is assistant editor of Cadenza Magazine. Her debut collection of short fiction, Words from a Glass Bubble, is forthcoming early in 2008 from Salt Publishing. The opening of her novel-in-progress won the Daily Telegraph Novel Competition in May 2007. In this post Vanessa talks about W.G. Sebald's Austerlitz.

Vanessa Gebbie on Austerlitz by W.G. Sebald

Like Andrew Bolt earlier in this series, when I was invited to write on my favourite book, I started wondering what 'favourite' might mean. That wondering took all of five seconds. It's not like being asked what book you'd take to a desert island, is it? My favourite book is Austerlitz by W.G. Sebald.

I purchased this in a deeply intellectual moment, sheltering from a cloudburst in Brighton Waterstone's in early 2002, waiting for a break in the torrent so I could make a dash for my car. A deeply deeply intellectual moment... I liked the cover. (Here, one could break off and start a hare running about marketing, about airheads. About the effects of thunderstorms on the brain. But one won't. One will, however, use 'one' just twice more.) One was not a writer of fiction in 2002.

On one level, Austerlitz is 'about' a journey of painful rediscovery of identity that goes something like this: Kindertransport. Well-meaning upbringing in Wales erasing memory. The adult piecing together his own past. I was hooked. Well, give an adopted child like me (we never grow up) anything like that and they wallow... sure.

Oh, but.

Nothing in this book seemed to have grown from anything else I'd read. Where were the character descriptions - the oh-so-cleverly-placed mirrors allowing me to 'see' the furrowed or beetling brows, the tousled curls, the steady stare and other clichés? Where were the stage directions – Gerald rose from his chair, crossed to the buffet and poured a gin - or Amanda pouted, repaired her lipstick and closed her tiny shoulder bag?

They do not exist. They do not exist and yet I am 'with' the words. I 'see' just as if I was being led by the nose by a lesser author.

Where are the skeletons of structure? Where are the paragraph breaks? Indeed, where are the paragraphs? Where are the chapter headings? Indeed, where are the chapters? The things that let us break up a work into bite-sized manageable chunks. That allow us to 'read just one more bit before bed'?

They do not exist. They do not exist and yet I am not flummoxed. I do not drown in text. On the first read I did not even notice.

On the second read, I was enthralled for different reasons. Now, I felt, I was in the presence of a writer who was breaking the rules with impunity. And it was working. The book held more than one source of power for me, and that power still remains.

I remember after the first couple of reads, having one of those 'lightbulb' moments. I'd been writing as a freelance journalist for a while, hadn't thought of fiction, not seriously. Fiction was something other people wrote. Here was something telling me to write. And more importantly, telling me how, and why.

A week later, I enrolled on the certificate in Creative Writing at the local university. I wanted to do a dissertation (or whatever it was called there) on W.G. Sebald. When I said as much to the tutor, I had a two word reply: 'Who's that?' I lasted a few terms, and slid away. I'd been silly. My real tutor was in those pages.

Sebald's obituary (he died in 2001 in a traffic accident) in the Guardian says:

Sebald doubted whether those who had never experienced Theresienstadt or Auschwitz could simply describe what occurred there. That would have been presumptuous, an appropriation of others' sufferings. Like a Medusa's head, he felt that the attempts to look directly at the horror would turn a writer into stone, or sentimentality.

It was necessary, he found, to approach this subject obliquely, and to invent a new literary form, part hybrid novel, part memoir and part travelogue, often involving the experiences of one "WG Sebald", a German writer long settled in East Anglia. He was reluctant to call his books "novels", because he had little interest in the way contemporary writers seemed to find all meaning in personal relationships, and out of a comic but heartfelt disdain for the "grinding noises" which heavily plotted novels demanded. "As he rose from the table, frowning..." was precisely the type of clumsy machinery, moving a character from here to there, which Sebald mocked.
Sebald, who was a devoted photographer, used images in his novels. Sometimes they were found objects, postcards, or something from an old newspaper... The photographs appear without captions and acquire meaning from the surrounding text. We read those enigmatic images through the story which Sebald provides, and then, later, come to the suspicion that they were something more (or less) than an illustration or documentation of the story. The way he handled visual images was characteristic of the way he wrote, determined not to make his point in an assertive way, but with implication and suggestion.
His lectures were sardonic and challenging, and possessed the same dry wit, and feel for irony, which enlivened his conversation. He had an incomparable feel for the oddness of life in East Anglia, where he was an inveterate walker and connoisseur of the isolation of an area which has been left largely untouched. There was not even a decent autobahn in East Anglia, and that suited him fine.

One of the most important things Sebald taught me (and is still teaching) is to do with thematic content. I had always struggled with the concept of 'theme', never really understood the use of 'theme' in literary fiction other than to say that it's what 'drives' a writer to write. I could never get to grips with other writers' fascination with everyday relationships; they seemed to me to be just 'there', inescapable. Why write about them? What was new?

Sebald too couldn't see why writers seemed to find meaning solely in more or less banal relationships, and I'm guessing that's why I just couldn't see any thematic originality/strength in what many other writers were presenting me with. And why I love the surreal, the irreal. And Sebald.

Would it be totally off-beam to suggest that Austerlitz is the novel I would recommend to illustrate depth of theme as opposed to varying degrees of weightlessness? I'd recommend it to anyone who wants to see how a good piece of fiction 'works' thematically - the engine bares itself if you look hard enough.

And I'd also recommend it to anyone who wants to read a thematically coherent novel. How many novels have we all read that indulge in trips down side alleys, just because they can? And in the end, whereas those trips might entertain, they break the 'song'.

What 'song'?

Let's take it as read that this thing called 'theme' is the motivating force behind the work, the reason for it being in existence at all – the thing that the writer cared enough about to spend not only researching and writing time on but also emotional energy in crafting something to communicate that to his reader. It drives the work. It is what makes the work resonate, not just entertain. It's what makes it sing.

What makes something resonate? I guess if we are going back to 'resonance' as 'vibration' rather then something felt emotionally, it makes me think of the 'singing' of a wineglass, as a finger wetted with wine or spittle runs round and round the rim until the glass sings. A fine note rises into the air from no throat. It hangs there, a little bit of magic... Until the finger slips.

Literary themes have always fascinated me. Troubled me. I had the same sense that a child gets when it overhears adults talking and the language goes over its head. A sense that this was not the whole picture. Now, having met Sebald's Austerlitz, I might understand a little more of the strength of themes in work that has real depth as opposed to 'fine', 'OK' and 'competent' literary fiction that restricts itself to an 'exploration of relationships' as an end in itself.

Of course there have to be characters. And of course those characters will interact, and the causes and effects of that interaction will produce tensions and events that drive the work forward. They will entertain. May even provoke a frisson of recognition, empathy, disgust, whatever, in the reader.

But... I don't think that is enough. That is the small beer. So we are human... and? Since when was that original? Unless the interactions, causes and effects lead to the communication of something that forces the reader to reappraise his view of the world in a wider sense, they have been to a certain extent 'without meaning'. And that's what I didn't understand. I didn't understand how one made the jump from the creation of causes and effects that said relatively banal things, thematically, to the bigger guns.

What about the writer as a recorder of the issues of the era? What about the writer as social historian? What about the writer holding up a mirror to a generation? Isn't that something to reach for? And since when have 'I'm in a tired marriage', 'Oops, I'm going to die', or 'I'm lonely' been issues that define an era?

What about the writer as someone who illustrates flaws that run under the skin of generations, one after another, each generation refusing to learn from the mistakes of the last? What about the writer as exposer of political hypocrisy? The list is endless, and is beginning to sound to me like a 'reason' for writing. Austerlitz, in exploring one man's journey, gradually uncovers the journey of a nation and, by extension, exposes the flaws in all our histories.

The singing glass analogy above is about coherence. About not taking your finger off the rim of that glass while it's singing. About surrounding the reader with images, rivers and streams, roads and paths - use whatever analogy you want - but they must all be going the same way. Otherwise the music breaks.

You can't let the reader off the hook. You have to make the reader immerse themselves in the work, and surround them with the singing of the theme, like that wineglass, but you must NOT take your finger off the glass. You must not let the music stop. There has to be coherence.

That is entirely different from the idea of pacing and weighting the drip feed of emotion to 'hook' the reader, which seems a manipulative tool, and not a lot to do with theme.

Sebald shows me theme coherence par excellence.

If the whole book is to do with the painful uncovering of hidden memories, for a single individual and by extension, a nation, each section of careful, painstaking detail serves to illustrate that in some way. Whether it is a study of moths at night in North Wales, nurseries hidden behind false walls, shadow images thrown by sunlight, radio announcers' disembodied voices, in-depth studies of architectural history; then the plethora of detail for the sake of detail, in old libraries, catalogues of things, lives, incidents; the building of edifices over memories, so that we have to pull down those edifices to get at the memories - the whole is a kaleidoscope in which all the pieces tumble and fall to form a whole.

I could also comment on the structure echoing the content. About the gradual and painful journey both literal and metaphoric, echoed in the seemingly 'rambling' prose. But isn't that how memories surface? Piecemeal? The patterns only appearing some way down the continuum?

Some readers might criticize the coincidental meetings between narrator and Austerlitz on which the structure hangs. But again, to me these are entirely organic. Why question them? If you let go and read, the book works its magic. If you seek to judge it according to the 'rules' (whatever they be) it is the rules themselves that are found wanting. Because it works!

So yes. This is my 'favourite' book. I treasure it because it opened my eyes to me, the writer-in-waiting. The rule breaker. The maverick. And it is probably, too, the book I would take to my desert island. Why only probably? Because it's a scary question. It's not so much selecting what to take, but actively turning your back on all the others that's hard. Isn't it?

Words from a Glass Bubble: Update

The collection is coming together. I have to say that working with Jen Hamilton-Emery at Salt Publishing is great.


It's like having a friend who emails you and is putting together your precious first book, who really cares about getting it right, who isn’t shy of saying ‘I think these bits don’t go’, and who is happy to flex initial ideas.

The contents list is now twenty two stories, a real cross-section. Some are long, a few are shorter. One is truly flash length. Some are prize winners, some not. Most have been published before. What holds them together are the themes and the tone, I think. A muted palette, with the occasional vermillion spike.

(It’s interesting to see work in colour. I always look at each piece to find the ‘colour wash’ it inhabits.)

I have created the dedication page. I am dedicating it to a friend who died just before Christmas last year. I was trawling about for quotes. Should I, shouldn’t I have a quotation to say something about Jan, or would that be schmaltzy? I flicked onto some place or other and found a wonderful quote that really chimed… by Sir Winston Churchill. So I have the great man hovering around at the start. Terrific!

The acknowledgements page came next. Golly that is tough. My instinct was to name everyone I felt had been touched in any way by this obsession with writing. (Because writing is like a love affair for this writer. It takes you away from friends, turns you into a more intense being. Makes you high one minute and low the next. And it is impossible to explain to anyone who isn’t also in love…)

My acknowledgement page drafts were like bad Oscar acceptance speeches. I’d like to thank my agent, my granny, my local greengrocer and my bus conductor…
In the end, I named only those individuals who have really played a part in growing this writer, and mentioned others by group tags. Most of the page is taken up with ‘First Published In’ detail and so on. But I also wanted to acknowledge the influence great writers have had and always will. So I do that. I wonder if anyone reads that page?

Jen has all the files and the stories are now off to the typesetters for proofs.

I am on tenterhooks about the cover. I know how vital good covers are. (Hey, it was the cover that made me buy Austerlitz by W G Sebald, starting the process of turning me into a writer.) I have sourced a wonderful photograph and have agreed with Jen that we will go for it. It is so ‘right’ for the book, I can’t imagine anything else fitting. But of course, it will. The problem with the photograph is that it is with a top agency, and the photographer must have final say if it is to be used for the cover of a book. It’s also expensive.

But what the hell. I may only do this once, and I want to be as proud of it as I can be.

Sunday 28 October 2007

Markets for writers

I am often asked where I find places to submit to.

The answer to that is easy. I mix with other writers, we share market information. I also use listings such as PLACES FOR WRITERS and DUOTROPE, which are free. I do NOT pay for information that is free if you look for it.

Check PLACES FOR WRITERS out here.

Check DUOTROPE out here.

I’m sure there are others, but what makes Duotrope good is that it allows the writer to search for the right market for a specific piece of work, by genre, length, whether submissions are by email or mail, and most importantly… whether you will get paid for it.

Also (and Mimi will not like this…) there is an indication on most markets of the acceptance rate for submissions.

If a place accepts 90% of things that come through to it, then it is not as tough a market as one that accepts 1%.

So… if you are like me, and you are a writer that wants to start at the bottom and work upwards, start by sending your work to the places that accept a high proportion of submissions.

Then move on.

That is hard, the moving on bit. Because until you find your level, you have no acceptances for a while. But when you do you know you are sharpening your craft.

Wednesday 24 October 2007

Do Successes Demotivate?

Well, I know all writers are different. But this writer has been sent into a compelete tailspin by a few successes this year.

Far from being motivating and spurring me on to do more, I an stressed, unable to concentrate, and fearful of ever being able to 'do it again'.

It was wonderful, therefore, to read on Emma Darwin's blog today about a discussion around this very thing. And even more wonderful to read that Emma herself experienced something similar after the runaway success of her novel Mathematics of Love.

LINK HERE to Emma's post, which also contains a link to the discussion. Well worth a read, if you are like me. It made me feel less like a freak.

Booker Prize selection

I am grateful to Fictionbitch for flagging this wonderful article. The last two paragraphs say exactly what I believe, only put it far more eloquently than I can.

BOOKER PRIZE:objective??

Tuesday 23 October 2007

Starting again

Thank you for dropping in.

I kept this blog for two years or so with the intention of recording all the ups and downs of being a writer.

I began writing fiction in late 2003, seriously, and have had many nice things happen and also many not so nice things. I wanted to share those with other writers who may drop by, especially new writers.

All too often, established writers just do not give the whole story when you ask or read about them. Anyone would think that these people woke up one day able to write prize-winning novels, prize-winning short fiction.

There is a great reluctance to share real experience and advice, I have found. Almost as though if you do expose the fact that you had to learn, that you had /have great self-doubt, that you have had rejections as well as acceptances, failures as well as successes, that you will somehow lose out.

Maybe you would lose out. Maybe marketing machines do not want you to admit that you have had strings of failures on the road to something better. Maybe publishers would not take you on if you seemed to be anything other then perfect.

But I have to believe that in the end, if you write as well as you possibly can, learn as much as you can and add a spark of complete originality, your words will be read.

Of course, many many writers are happy to write ‘for the market’, writing entertaining works that earn them a lot of dosh. This is fine, … for them. It is not what gives me pleasure, and not what I want to do. I have always been honest about that. To me, marrying craft with spark is vital. I do not want to write like anyone else.

Ther are ‘bear traps’ out there, and it is so easy to fall into them. Whether it makes one popular or not, I think it’s necessary for writers who find out about less than desirable practices in the writing world to warn others. Competitions that are not what they seem. Publications that are… empty.

Keeping a public document does open you and your words to scrutiny… otherwise why do it. It was lovely to engage in debate with other writers when they dropped by and left messages. One particularly good debate centred round ‘what is good writing’… a fascinating exchange that seemed to go on for ages between writers who saw ‘good spelling and grammar’ as ‘good writing’ and me, who saw that as a given, and good writing being something crafted on top. Who is to say who was right? Both sides backed up their arguments, and both sides I think enjoyed the cut n thrust.

Sometimes, I posted on subjects that were somewhat emotive. And made my own views known.

Examples of these are as follows (heavily précised)

1) Writing competitions. That there are some that are not worth entering because they mean diddly squat on a CV. You may as well run your own competition, enter it and award yourself the prizes. I advised writers to research, to find out who is judging, and whether that person’s endorsement of your work would mean something. I said that I no longer mentioned some of the little comps I had entered on my CV because they were meaningless, although at the time it was nice to call oneself a prize-winning writer. And that there are so many prize-winners now in the world of short fiction that the words are slowly coming to mean very little. I asked editors and other writers to ask ‘what competition’, and ‘who was judging’ if someone calls themselves a prize-winning writer.

2) Time. That how long it takes to write something does not matter at all. Something wonderful might appear in ten minutes. Other times it might take two years to get something ‘right’ (whatever that means).

Both the above had extraordinary responses, not from people who wanted to debate seriously, but people who came over as just fairly mindless. It is odd… they never posted as themselves, but seemed to have created blogging personas just to come in and twitter. Apparently I am arrogant, for telling things as they are.

One can only assume that I was touching a nerve. Good. The writing world can be so up itself, that maybe they needed it.

But to reiterate:

1) I am grateful for all affirmation of my writing. I love it when something I have done touches someone. But I am honest enough to admit that this pleasure is sometimes fleeting. It means far more to get affirmation from a tough editor, writer or final judge who is a good writer than from a well meaning unpublished or inexperienced judge.
2) It is possible, when on song, to write well first draft. Doesn’t happen often, and now that I’m writing a novel, it becomes a distant memory. But short pieces can be born almost perfect IF IF the writer has studied, learned their craft over time and is able to switch out and write free.

One anonymous comment recently said I was arrogant, that any successes I had were luck, and that she hoped my luck would run out soon. (Nice!)

She also said this: that literary competition judges might find out that I had said the above. That if my work had been selected for a place, they might Google my name, see that I said often unflattering things about the plethora of meaningless comps that were taking aspiring writers’ money and hearts… and that they would forthwith say:

“Oh. Vanessa G isn’t very kind to Little Burblington on Twiddle Terribly Important Literary Competition, (finally judged by some unpublished doggerel writer)… let’s delete her writing, and award the prizes to a writer who is more diplomatic.”

Let us hope that whoever this person is, that she does not judge any meaningful competitions. Because if she does, it is NOT the standard of your writing she will be interested in but how nice you are to her.

THAT is the appalling thing here.

Ach, I got angry, depressed, and deleted the whole blog. Two years worth. That was mindless, and stupid. I should have had the courage of my convictions.

When I can be arsed, I will write here again.

Any topics that spring to mind, let me know.

Meanwhile, check out my writing mate Tania Hershman’s blog for a near scam that caught her, and she is no newbie…