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 window...so 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.