Friday 29 February 2008


I'm delighted to put a link here to Per Contra, International Journal of the Arts, Literature and Ideas.


Please turn to the Non-Fiction section and read the work by Chris Ellis and Jo Neane, both of whom have had a bit of a fight with life. I met them when they were students of mine on Creative Writing workshops.


Then turn to the poetry section and read the previously unpublished poem by John Updike together with more of the USA's most revered writers.

In the Fiction section, check out the flashes in particular. I love this form. It's so concentrated. Successful flashes ought to leave you a bit breathless, and these (especially Dave Clapper's) do just that, for this reader.)

I'm lucky enough to be in there as well, for a different reason. But the greatest buzz is seeing my two guys up there with the serious players!

Well done, Chris, and well done Jo.


I am not reading enough.

However, I have been reading a collection of short fiction by Japanese writer Shusaku Endo. "Stained Glass Elegies"

The first story, "A Forty-Year-Old-Man", set in a long -term hospital, and written apparently shortly after Endo himself was released from hospital, introduces the image of a myna bird, a sorrowful, tattered, priestly figure who watches the events of the story unfolding with pity, not judgement.

It seems that the underlying philosophy of the story (according to the introduction) is that "the actions of a human being are never self-contained."

as I said. I am not reading enough.


I'd like the writers (or presumably writers) who hid behind anon labels here recently, to have a think about censorship and what it is that gives them the right to censor my thoughts, my questions?

If they feel it right to prevent a single person asking an uncomfortable question, to prevent that person rocking the boat, what on earth would they do on a mass scale?

It is frightening. Think about it. Orwell did.


The point I was making, (somewhat lost now) was that the churches seem hypocritical. That masses for the dead, requiem masses, funeral services, call them what you will, in whatever religion you choose... are NOT for the souls of the dead, but FOR THE LIVING, to comfort them.

Sure, they comfort the living in their grief and loss. But also, comfort is offered BECAUSE THERE MAY BE NOTHING ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE DIVIDE.

Is that clearer?


(edit: and no, Mimi or other anons, I am not entering into a timewasting 'debate'.)


I am the proud recipient of calorie-free cakes from one of my favourite online mags,


Calorie-free they may be, but they are delicioso.





But there's as serious side to this cake stall. Please consider chipping in and buying a cake to help Tis a good place.

No, Ive never managed to get published on there, but that doesn't mean I don't think it's worth buying a flipping CAKE.


So get to it, writers...

Wednesday 27 February 2008


The following is copied from the Glass Bubble blog (link to the right) where the book herself is nattering about life as a book.


I must be careful how I get out of bed. Last night my writer was very over-excited, because she had something called a review. Whatever that is, she was pleased.

There's this place called Tim Love's Literary References. He does something with computers, or er (I don't know) at Cambridge University.

Cambridge University is a few old buildings and a few old professors. I am still in Infants myself, and am just starting Red Book 3. We have new buildings and I like that. Less spiders.

However. This person has this great website that's chocca with information and links and this and that all to do with his love of literature.

That's why he is called Love. I don't know why he's called Tim.

But HE says I'm OK.

So that's good.

He even says I've got enough good stories in me that I could be used to teach how short stories ought to be written... Wow.

That means I am nearly better than Red Book 3.



I am a lucky writer. I have been interviewed by Kelly Spitzer, for her Writer's Profile project.

Hundreds of questions. She is a superb interviewer, and asks all the right things.

So, any readers wanting to know about

Words From a Glass Bubble,

Salt Publishing,

My time in Alex Keegan's Bootcamp for writers,

How I walked up Snowdon in high heels,

How I found out I had three sisters I knew nothing about,

How I love flash writing

My teaching at schools and with adults of all shapes and sizes

The novel in progress

A new competition success

The magic retreat I go to in Ireland

my ezine, Tom's Voice,

and loads more...


Tuesday 26 February 2008

Launch Party, Eating, Eating, Eating, and a drinkette.

It’s all that Tania Harshman’s fault. She’s over for a few weeks, visiting family, friends, doing readings, and coming to the greatest party this side of Christmas.

We went up to London yesterday, and the day went like this:

Lunch: Chez Gerard, at the Grosvenor Hotel, near Victoria Station. Hamburgers and…chips.

Visit to The Foundling Museum, not open on Mondays, to finalise arrangements for my launch party. First time T has visited. We had a private tour and talk, taking in the best bits… and discussed all the schedules, guest list (now pushing 110), drinks, books, etc etc.

Tea: Goring Hotel. The best tea in London. Warm scones, strawberry jam and clotted cream. There’s a sheep in front of the fire…

Supper: Ebury Street Wine Bar, where we met a friend, Bilal Ghafoor. (for Mimi et al… he was a reader at Willesden…) Champagne, spinach and ricotta spring roll, calves liver, bottle of San Miguel, peppermint tea.

Nightcap. We all repaired to Molly O’Grady’s at Victoria Station for a farewell bottle of Becks.

That’s the sort of day all writers should have now and again.

Sunday 24 February 2008


Yesterday morning I spent three hours in the company of eleven seriously buzzy writers, taking a Flash Fiction Workshop for The South, a writing organisation based in Brighton.

Link to The South HERE

My objectives were to send the participants away with some new tools in their 'writer's toolbox'. To revisit the elements of fiction, and look how the focus sharpens for flash fiction. To send them away with at least three strong pieces of writing for them to work on, and market information so they could, if they wished, submit them for consideration. And to show them how flashwriting as a process is a fantastic tool in itself for writing in general.

It was a very busy session, and I was delighted at the results. Particularly the look on almost every face, when, after the fist exercise . (SO simple, SO easy to do) they said 'Wow. That is simply extraordinary. I don't write like that, normally..."

The images, connections, the prose... all surprised them.. And me!

If I have one single phrase that pushes me on it's this:

"If your writing doesn't surprise you, then it sure as hell ain't going to surprise anyone else..."

In the end, half the group stayed on with me after the session officially finished. We were having such a good time. I tell you... I will never be rich at this game. But I will be happy.

Friday 22 February 2008


Mr Willesden Herald Has Spoken, ...

Stephen Moran has written a long article on writing for literary competitions.

It is a comprehensive list of reasons why stories do not make it. Please read it, and if you are in any way serious about writing literary fiction, copy and keep it.

It’s worth reading a few of the comments on THE WILLESDEN HERALD POST HERE, from editors of good literary magazines, agreeing with the list, saying they see these all too often. (and we are talking top ranking places here).

Heavily prĂ©cised, these are the ways entries fell down: (My entry would have been discarded as 14, among others…!)


1) NOT FOLLOWING THE RULES. Putting the name of the writer on the work, for example. Those would not even have been read. Straight into the bin.

2) OVERCROWDING THE CART. A short story can hold only so many characters.



5) WELL ENOUGH WRITTEN BUT...SO WHAT? “The uncongenial protagonist or narrator, arrogant, cruel-minded, usually petty, often attempting gross-out effects, and usually going round in ever-diminishing circles before vanishing in a puff of studied triviality…”

6) POOR ENDINGS: Story peters out, or story rambles on past the natural finishing point.

7) POOR OPENINGS. The ‘Throat-clearers’, where the story actually started way down the text.

8) BORING, UNNECESSARY DETAIL. Stephen says, ‘We have lives of our own. We don’t need to substitute somebody else’s dreary domestic arrangements in our minds for our own..’

9) BANALITY. “Life can be banal, but we turn to fiction to find transcendence.”

10) MUSH and FAIRYTALES. To translate: Womaggery and elves.

11) FAILED EXPERIMENT: “It’s fine …to try an experimental format, but it’s not an excuse for slightness, skimpiness, overwriting, repetitiveness, underwriting, forced or boring content…”

12) UNCONVINCING. THIN. “This is fake, phoney baloney, unbelievable but presented as supposedly realistic. Often forced and plot-driven.”

13) WEAK PREMISE: “The triviality of some themes submitted is hard to believe. When you get a story that is 30 pages all about a minor ailment that has no apparent effects or significance, what are you to make of it? The writer is talking to himself…”

14) NOT A SHORT STORY. Essays, mini novels.


16) PANDERING TO THE JUDGES, Sending them copycatted stories.

17) POOR DIALOGUE. Tags. Undifferentiated voices.


19) SUMMATION. TELLING NOT SHOWING. “All sense of immediacy is lost.”

20) OVERWRITING. Purple prose etc

21) UNDERWRITING. Skimped, rushed.

22) GENRE WORK. 22. “Unicorns and elves, chick lit, police procedurals and bodice rippers. These should only be submitted to specialist competitions for their specific genres. The Willesden is for so-called literary stories.”

23) HACKNEYED WORK, whether in jolly bars in Ireland or in exotic locations, with stereotype beings peopling the pieces.


Thank you to Stephen Moran for this fantastic article.

Wednesday 20 February 2008

I Dont Know What To Call This Post

I'm afraid I don't know what to call this post. All the titles I tried sounded wrong.

I have a writing friend, Beverly Jackson..She is a kind, wonderful lady, and had a strong emotional reaction to something I wrote. It reminded her that her father's body is buried somewhere in France. He was in the US Airforce, and was shot down in World War II. She didn't know where he was buried.

I did hardly anything... looked up the US war graves organization, searched for his name, and there he was.

How do you tell someone you've just found their father's grave?


Tuesday 19 February 2008


I like to have a picture of 'anon' snipers... and have been casting about for a suitable piccie for Mimi, my would-be nemesis.

Something suitably grumpy, humourless, with little eyes, and an expression that says 'I mean you great harm...'.


Then today this !!!!

MIMI!!! Hello.

(Actually this is a distant relative of Mimi's... the Hell's Frog, remains of which have been found in Madagascar. But I have it on excellent authority that she looks very, scarily similar.....)


Saturday 16 February 2008

Six -Word Love Stories

Normblog featured a few six-word love stories on Valentine's Day.

Among them was one penned by VG with a nod to Hemmingway.


Friday 15 February 2008


Short Fuse Story Slam: Brighton's Komedia Theatre bar, 21 Feb, 8.00 pm

Fabula presents Brighton’s only night dedicated to the short story. This monthly live lit event features a line-up of four great short tales from both local and national writers.Presented in a relaxed cabaret style, with music and bar between readings.

Short Fuse Story Slam: To celebrate St. Valentine, February 21st will be a special Short Fuse flash fiction competition entitled 'LOVE'. This will be an exciting and raucous event with writers reading their five minute stories to a stopwatch and an applause-o-meter. Judges will include renowned local authors.

(including me. I'm renowned!)

There is a bigger incentive however than the kudos of being hailed The Short Fuse Slam King or Queen. We will be handing out a decent cash prize and other goodies to the winning writer and the runners-up.

So, if you want to enter, interpret the theme any way you like, bring your 500 word story with you on the night, put your name in the hat, and hold tight. And if not, come and enjoy the tall and terrible tales of our first slam, writer or not.

For further information and tickets email or call Tara 233703, 07929 265089.

Thursday 14 February 2008

Eye Hospitals, "Sudden Fiction"

This morning, I was afraid I was losing the sight in one eye.
I am not. But for those hours it was a possibility. I was planning what I would do. Panic set in.

I took a book to read at the Eye Hospital. In case...


SUDDEN FICTION INTERNATIONAL, Ed James Thomas and Robert Shapard. Intro by Charles Baxter.

Brilliant, wonderful short short fiction carefully collected together over 20 years ago from writers from around the world. Few pieces more than five or six sides.

Who says flash fiction is new ?!! This was published in 1989.

In the intro, Charles Baxter talks about the 'space' of fiction... not its brevity.

Listen to this:

"Quite a few critics have been worried about attention spans and see very short stories as signs of cultural decadence, bonbons for lazy readers...but many of the wonderful stories gathered in this volume compel quite a lot of attention and the duration of that attention doesn't seem as important as its quality..."

He goes on to call one of the stories here 'one of the most beautiful stories in this collection and one of the best stories written by anyone anywhere'.

The Grasshopper and the Bell Cricket by Yasunari Kawabata.

If you read none of the others (and they kept me sane this morning...they are wonderful, sparkling, aching and hold such depth...) buy it for that single story.

I weep that I can't write something like that.


It has been a revelation, seeing how people are taking my attitude re: Willesden and Zadie Smith’s refusal to award the prize this year.

(I refer to a few blogs I've visited, intelligent people... a few well known people. And to an office of excellent writers from around the world on Zoetrope, working together on a multicultural project)

I supported her decision. I am apparently gloating. Just because I was a joint winner two years back and won a mug, I am now gloating that writers (including a super writer I know personally) have been hurt and disappointed.

Maybe people need to remember that I see hundreds of entries for Cadenza competitions every year and the standard of most is low. And those PAY to enter!! I therefore was able to imagine what happened with a free-to-enter competition…the bulk would have been not worth putting into the race.

Including my own.! Some you wins, some you doesn’t. You need time to see work for what it is...

But we are lucky. Cadenza has enough of a literary reputation that there have always been a cohort of strong stories vying for the little £200 prize.

Frequently, when we choose a winning story, we find the writer has won prizes before. Sometimes all three placed writers will be seasoned competition entrants. This time for example, I was delighted to find that the story we both picked blind as winner with no dispute at all, was written by GP Jo Cannon. She has won several awards.

Gloating? Come on.

If I wanted to, I could have hidden behind a pseudonym, or called myself anonymous to post on Willesden Herald. I didn’t.

The lady had a point, and I agreed with it. I SEE enough bad writing to be able to agree with impunity.

Eye trouble

Off to the Eye Hospital in Brighton this morning.

Something's not right with one eye... like a piece of tissue paper floating around right in front of my vision.


Tuesday 12 February 2008


George Steiner’s talk at Somerset House last night made Zadie Smith’s comments on the state of writing seem anodyne in comparison.

Talking about taboos, and the books he had not written because of them, George Steiner said that one of the great sources of power in literature used to be proximity to taboo. Now, we in the West are living in an era in which there are no taboos…everything goes… and the powerlessness is reflected in our writing.

“Our fiction is in trouble,” he said.

Picking up on the banality of much subject matter in the novel, he said, “I can’t face another novel on adultery in Hampshire”.

He thought our narrative structures were ‘tired’ and that stylistically we had little originality.

He mentioned a few writers deemed to be current ‘greats’ in the UK, and said they are merely aping the greats in America.

Our non fiction is written far better, he said. Biography, history, travel writing. All written better than most fiction.

And one of the strengths of contemporary writing is poetry.

Fantastic talk. Another wake-up call.

I found myself next to George Steiner in the queue for drinks after the talk. I thanked him for throwing down the gauntlet. Nearly said “Have you read about Willesden…?” but I didn’t. My guess is, he had.

Prior to the talk it was a privilege to see Sean O’Brien (Winner of the T S Eliot Prize for The Drowned Book) sign up as a Fellow of the Royal Society. Offered either Dickens’ quill or Byron’s pen, he chose the pen. Understandably.

Anyone can attend these talks. Anyone can join The Royal Society of Literature.


George Steiner information HERE

Sean O’Brien information HERE

Sunday 10 February 2008

Momentous times, momentous Times

Saturday a.m. saw me signing and returning a Client Agreement form to a London agent. A milestone on a long road.

Sunday a.m. saw me reading all about the Willesden competition on Page 3 of The Sunday Times.

Very exciting. And although I didn't agree with much of what was said, it is fantastic that the topic is getting such an airing.

I don't see how poor Zadie Smith saying that many entries seemed to be copycatting her own work could be called 'racist'... but there you are.

Point to add to the list of don'ts when entering writing competitions: Don't send in something similar to what the judge writes. They live with that all day, every day. Give them something fresh.

Saturday 9 February 2008


Dear old dead henry of Pretend Genius (Press) gives a sermon, one which will probably not be read by the blogtwitching hordes that descended on The Willesden Herald in the last few.

He/she addresses those who blasted the organisers and judges for not doing things as the blogtwitchers would have liked.

And in the midst of several distracting flights of pretend genius (what else?) he gives a sparkling exhortation from his pretend pulpit to ‘write gooder’. (If you are an aspiring serious writer… stick with this…)

But what exactly IS ‘gooder writing’?

‘Is he taking the piss,’ they all cried, sloping off to scribble yet another anon mis-spelled post. Relatives of Mimi (my would-be nemesis) in abundance.

NO he isn’t.

THIS is the key. THIS is what I was taught years back by a maverick who has been slated over and over himself.


Here’s the gist of dead henry’s exhortation.

I will call it something.

The Alchemization of Blue Birds

“a blue bird, … once recorded by the brain, should not then be preserved …for the purpose of recitation. the blue bird should serve as a template that will become sublimated, transformed, coalesced, enhanced. i shall call this the 'alchemization' of the blue bird. …

should someone observe a blue bird only to recite 'blue bird' or 'flying blue thing with some other sharp pointy thing on its head' … this is non-fiction/journalism crap

it is necessary that two events occur following alchemization:

the destruction of the original template launches the mind into a realm known as 'imagination'. 'letting go'.
the mind, wanting to let go but not having the courage to completely let go produces writing based on …awareness, which resembles something that may have been the effect of this 'letting go' but in reality is an effect produced by wanting to let go, being afraid to let go, not wanting anyone to know you are afraid to let go, and finally not being able to let go. this is not gooder writing.

'letting go' is the most difficult and important part of gooder writing. should one not 'let go', the ability to access the alchemized blue bird in the 'imagination' is impossible.

(Complete sermon here)




Friday 8 February 2008


Great stuff.

Hannah Edelstein, in a well balanced article that looks at the wider scene and considers the feelings of the writers, comes out in favour of Zadie Smith and the Willesden Committee's initial decision not to award the prize.

She says:

It's ... rather depressing to think that...the committee was simply not able to elicit the calibre of entries they were looking for.
But after pondering this teacup-sized storm, and despite my sympathy for the disappointed competitors, I actually think that it is kind of refreshing. Judging from the banter on the blogosphere every time a new longlist is announced, it's apparent that many think the returns of literary prizes are diminishing.
So I rather think it's time someone stood up and said that they weren't just going to hand out stacks of cash to writers just because the calendar requires it. Of course there are going to be periods when the output of writers is more fallow, so why not remark upon it, rather than bowing to the pressure to celebrate something - anything - for tradition's sake? I kind of admire Smith and the rest of the Willesden judges for being the ones to make that stand.



Thursday 7 February 2008

The Wasteland twice, Agents, Russian paintings, tea with poets

Wednesday was good.

I read The Wasteland on the train to London. Not having had it beaten to death at school or university, and coming at it fresh as a writer, I can't get enough of it.

I had been invited to visit a literary agent to 'talk about my writing', and did so with great interest.

Then treated self to a glass of bubbly over a solitary lunch.

Then went to see the Russian exhibition at The Royal Academy.

Then met a friend, a poet, for tea at a nearby emporium.

Then read The Wasteland again on the train home. It holds such perfection in every phrase, every pause.

Now you see it... now you don't...(Willesden again)

But it's bravery all round

I like this. Last post regarding The Battle of Willesden (2008)by Bilal Ghafoor

I like the transparency of Bilal’s post. I like the way they are so open about their judging methods. I like the fact that this isn’t big business, but a bunch of good hearted intelligent people trying to do something good.

I like the heartrending generosity of the response of one of the short listed writers, Kay Sexton.


(And if you follow her blog, know her at all, you will know that she is going places, this writer. She’s both hard working and talented, and the two will produce great things.)

But one thing to add to her post... any comments on blogs can only be directed at the work in generic terms, NOT at the writers.

Would it still be a good idea to publish the anthology? Wearing my marketing hat, it could go either way. But as Stephen Moran said, without an outright winner, it would look wrong.

I’d ask Willesden to take note of one thing raised by Kay. Having been informed of her shortlisting status, she withdrew work from other competitions for which she’d paid an entry fee.

So she and maybe others are out of pocket…

Tuesday 5 February 2008

Willesden Update

Ah, as one Herald blog commenter wrote...the power of bitching. Or words to that effect.

Having stated that no story was strong enough to win, and a vibrant, brave exhortation to writers to do better, The Willesden Competition now has ten winners. The prize money of £5K is to be divided equally, in an act worthy of King Solomon.

One of the winners is a writing friend of mine. Congrats!

But, if I may, I am also sad. Sad because a wake-up call is so badly needed in short story writing all over, especially here. Sad because having taken a decision, however hard, I think it is best to stick to it. And sad because it's a fair bet that this might see the end of this brilliant competition. Will Zadie Smith really want this hoo ha again? It remains to be seen. And is there a Willesden competition without her? And will the hard working filter judges really do this again?

Why the f*** they had to bring money into it, is a mystery. It was lovely, generous, don't get me wrong.

But when the prize was just a mug, there was something straight and true about the competition. It was 'doing one's best for art and a pat on the back'. Thats how this writer saw it.

And that mug and pat on the back was worth ten times the prize money.


However. This writer now has a 5000 wd stodgy historic story to inject a little zip into. No wonder it didn't get to the last ten!!



This is a message from Zadie Smith, in the announcement that after all, the Willesden Herald Competition is not going to award the prize.


And why on earth should they award it if nothing was good enough to win? People are already belly-aching about how the decision is discouraging to writers. But hang on a tick... Anon (probably Mimi!!) means someone ought to be given FIVE GRAND for something not good enough, just to encourage other writers? I fail to see the logic, Anon.

'What is happening? I wonder if it's the MFAs and MAs. If it's the careful and ploddy following of how other people 'do it'? A lack of bravery, a dipping toes in water that is freezing cold. Maybe writers are all going for the water warmed by hot water from kettles, poured by nanny and Mummy?

Maybe they are not taking any notice of zip and spark, and blood and gutsy characters?

Or maybe the other end of the spectrum, they didn't bother to LEARN any craft, and write bloody well.

rant over,

tis a shame the shortlisted writers had their hopes raised... that's hard. But this writing life ain't an easy ride.

This from Zadie Smith

I am very proud to be patron of this prize. I think there are few prizes of this size that would have the integrity not to award a prize when there is not sufficient cause to do so. Most literary prizes are only nominally about literature, they are really about brand consolidation – for beer companies, phone companies, coffee companies even frozen food companies. The little Willesden Herald Prize is only about good writing, and it turns out that a prize faithfully recognizing this imperative must also face the fact that good writing is actually very rare. For let us be honest again: it is sometimes too easy, and too tempting, to blame everything that we hate in contemporary writing on the bookstores, on the corporate publishers, on incompetent editors and corrupt PR departments – and God knows, they all have their part to play. But we also have our part to play. We also have to work out how to write better and read better. We have to really scour this internet to find the writing we love, and then we have to be able to recognize its quality. We cannot love something solely because it has been ignored. It must also be worthy of our attention.

Once again, the judges and I, we are absolutely certain there is great writing out there on this internet. Many of the entries we received suggested it. But we didn’t receive enough. And now, in order to try and draw whatever great writing is out there towards this little website, maybe my fellow judges and I need to be a bit more specific about what we’re looking for. Actually, as it always is with writing and reading, it’s more useful to say what we’re not looking for.

For I have thought, reading through these entries, that maybe the problem with this prize is that my name is attached to it. To be very clear: just because this prize has the words Willesden and Zadie hovering by it, does not mean that I or the other judges want to read hundreds of jolly stories of multicultural life on the streets of North London. Nor are we exclusively interested in cutesy American comedies, or self-referential post-modern vignettes, or college satires. To be even clearer: if these things turn up and are brilliantly written, they will not be ignored. But we also welcome all those whose literary sympathies lie with Rimbaud or Capote, with Irving Rosenthal or Proust, with Svevo or Trocchi, with Ballard or Bellow, Denis Cooper or Diderot, with Coetzee or Patricia Highsmith, with street punks or Elizabethans, with Southern Gothic or with Nordic Crime, with Brutalists or Realists, with the Lyrical or the Encyclopedic, in the ivory tower, or amongst the trash that catches in the gutter. We welcome everybody. We have only one principle here: MAKE IT GOOD.

So, let’s try again, yes? All the requirements for entry you will find below.

I’m very sorry for any disappointment caused this year, but this prize will continue and we hope it will get stronger with each year that passes. And we promise you now and forever: it will never be sponsored by a beer company.

Yours sincerely,

Zadie Smith


Monday 4 February 2008


The first few weeks of the year saw a poetry acceptance at Innisfree Poetry Journal. A complete surprise as I hadn't submitted any poetry before, and returned to writing the stuff recently. Needless to say I am delighted.

Right Hand Pointing ezine accepted a flash, as did the neo punk outlet Beat the Dust


Misses: Third time unlucky at Willesden (break out the champagne Mimi...!) Just my luck when there's money at stake. But many many congratulations to the shortlist. Some lucky bugger is going to win £5000!

Sunday 3 February 2008


I SAID the wonderful Chris at Salt would come up with something good.

And this is me, Treyarnon Bay, aged three
(Must be distantly related to King Canute...)