Wednesday 30 April 2008

This is where I find out the names of the winners of the Fish One Page Prize... from the Fish website, published today.

and the titles and authors are:










I was fascinated to see who the writers were. And am nodding to myself about the maleness of the crew. I know Fiona Ritchie Walker's name. I just looked up the winner. He's a journalist with short fiction credits already. One to watch?

And I'm delighted at the geographic spread!! Wheee.

1 Scotland,
1 Ireland
2 England
1 South Africa

Good old Fish. A truly international competition with truly international winners.

Monday 28 April 2008

Workhouse News

A few nice bits of news from members of the Fiction Workhouse:

B has zapped First Prize and a highly commended spot in the Grace Dieu Short STory Competition.

C has zapped Third Prize in the Spring JBWB short story competition, and has just been longlisted at Bristol

D has been nominated for the Million Writers' Awards twice, been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and had his book shortlisted for a Book of the year award by Foreword magazine

E has been contacted by a top agent.

F was commissioned to write an article for Writers' Market UK (2009) on sale now in all good bookshops. The FW gets a mention!!

G has completed Napowrimo.

Hits in the last few at Tenemos, Penumbra, GUD, Humanist, Short Fuse, The Delinquent, elimae, Southword

sorry if I've missed any out.

Meme-free zone

I hereby declare this blog a meme-free zone.

Ive been researching what they are. Having started off as some scientific jargon for interchange of cultural ideas (or something that takes Wikipedia several acres of screen space to define) they seem to have been appropriated by the blogging world.

I found one really useful one that suggested participants should take photos of their knickers. That sounds really useful, in some circles!

Being of sound and sometimes open mind, I'd love to hear from anyone who has something good to say about them.

Why are they not just a pointless timewaster?

Sunday 27 April 2008

Judging Brighton College Flash Competition...

Maybe if I'd checked my horoscope for April it would have said 'you will sit in judgement and will need the wisdom of Solomon' or something??!

I am waiting for all the entries to come in the post from the organisers of a competition run in the internal student magazine of Brighton College.

Not too many, this time! And someone will win £50.00.

Back to Cadenza competition reading...

It's such a different thing, reading flash work and reading full length short stories. The first needs a concentration rather akin to that used when you read poetry, seeking out the essence...and the short story needs something allied but different.

So after spending the best part of last week on the Fish One Page Story shortlist, and loving every moment, it's now time to return to reading ALL the Cadenza short story competition entries. Good, bad and middling. Not for us the luxury of only reading the cream of the crop!!

It makes me realise what a privilege it was to just be served the Fish shortlist, whittled down by a team of readers from over 900(seems like) entries, through longlisting, sifting, sifting, until a nucleus of very good pieces is reached, and this forms that shortlist.

The Cadenza entries are read by both the editor (Zoe King) and I. We read the whole lot separately, meeting up to discuss the short lists if possible, towards the end. But it is lovely to report that in the vast majority of cases, we agree on both initial sifts and in the final placings.

We both tend to use craft element analysis as we go, and read everything blind. We each allocate a 'grade' and then swap the complete lists and comments to see if we've agreed.... trying to split them into three groups, A B and C, with subdivisions B+ or B- for example.

The A group is no trouble. It will be very small, and very good. A dream to read.

The B++ B+ ones are great too, but may have something flawed in the construct, or a craft element less than strongly developed. B and B- need care... they will always be looked at with extra care on the next read, to make sure the decision is not a purely subjective one.

C is easy, and always the biggest group, sadly. Often the writers won't have really done their research.... and I wonder if this means they have never even read a single copy of Cadenza? C will contain badly written anything. Genre, in particular. We find a lot of cliche-ridden work in this category...stereotypical characters, meaningless yarns, twist in tail plots. 'It was all a dream'!

And this last group always makes me wonder... where are the writers getting the impression that the work is suitable for a competition run by a literary short story magazine, albeit a small one? Worth punting a fiver on?

Is it the courses they are on? Or the courses they are not on?

Saturday 26 April 2008

Finishing Fish

After sleeping on it.

I read the last stories again. And the winner just got better and better. No worries at all about confirming that!

And the finalists too, one in particular... if there had been a runner up prize, it would have gone to this one.

A fantastic bunch of stories, the whole shortlist. I read 24. They will ALL find very good homes, I have no doubt of that.

I have no idea how many there were in total... but the numbers on the shortlisted pieces went up to a whisker off 900. Hats off to the Fish Readers!

Friday 25 April 2008

How it works

As I'm judging the competition (below), I will also show how it all happens, from my perspective.

The One Page Story Shortlist arrived via email in an attachment from Fish. The pieces are all numbered, as the Fish system receives them. No identifying anythings.

My first task was the print them all off, each to their own page.

My second task was to read them all, a once-over.

Then a few hours later, I sat down and re-read them a few times, slowly. This time I annotated.

Then a day or so later, I listed the ones I remembered, and why.

I re-read the lot, marking 'A' for 'probable finalists', B for 'read again, open mind so far' and 'C' for 'sorry, this will find a home, but not here, this time...'

'C' goes to one side.

'B' list gets read again and a few weeded out into 'A'.

I sleep on it again.

Today I read all the B list. All the A list. One change, upwards.

I read the 'C' list. No change. Put aside properly.

Read A and B. No change. Put aside B.

I'm left with A.

In my mind there's a clear 'winner' and a good cohort of runners up...but I'm sleeping on it again, see if I feel the same tomorrow.

Reading the Fish One Page Shortlist.

I've had the shortlisted One Page stories from Fish Publishing, and will be working on those today. Decision by tomorrow, and someone is on the way to being a thousand euros richer!

The shortlisted stories come in as received by the system... numbered, and the formats are identical. The words are all... and I'm waiting for them to speak.

It's both a privilege and one helluva responsibility.

Thursday 24 April 2008

Influences on the writing process

I'm making notes about things that have a positive and negative effect on my writing.


The memory of the following:
The company of good writers.
Inspiring discussion about writing.
Debate, new ideas, talking about what makes other writers tick.
Analysing the work of good published writers in company. Sharing discoveries.

Calm, peace, quiet.
Looking at a beautiful view. Water. Loch, sea, river, lake.

Reading the right things. Fiction, Poetry.

being 'switched on' by intellectual debate.


Dissonance. Argument. Unfairness.
Stress. Worry.

Noise. Including music. Which becomes 'noise' if you can't engage with it.

The memory of the following:
Stressful situations
attacks, arguments,

Writers etc treating each other badly.


Too much time to do nothing.

The internet.



Explanation of this last: After each 'success' last year, I was frozen and couldn't write for weeks. It was cumulative.

Fish in March 07. Didn't write anything sensible for two months.
Telegraph in May 07 . Weeks.
Bridport, heard in Sept 07 . Didnt write until November.
Per Contra, Feb 08. Just starting to write freely again. (I tried to ignore the 'fear' this time... worked through it. The work was SO hard. Felt wooden.

As far as I can see, it's real fear. Fear that this is the end of the road, that I wont do anything like this again. Apparently there's a 'second novel' syndrome which can freeze perfectly competent writers into total non-production.

needs research.

Wednesday 23 April 2008

University Update

I start in September. At Glamorgan. A stone's throw from 'home'... a little older and wiser, but hey....


Far more interesting... saving tadpoles.

I went on a long walk on Monday up a hillside overlooking a loch, pine woods, rivers and snow-covered mountains. And in damp patches and puddles up this hillside there were many splodges of frog spawn, hatching and wriggling. Miles from the real water.

So...on Tuesday, while all this crap was going on (see below), I went back to the hillside with a friend, two dogs, one large green bucket and a scoop.

Think of all the lives we saved! And wow, does a bucket of frog spawn and taddies weigh a lot. It was a fair trudge back to the car, and a fair drive to a suitable pond.

Sunday 20 April 2008

Reading Groups, Bonnie Scotland

I'm spending a few days in Scotland.

Frst, I was invited to attend a meeting of a book group (actually an amalgamation of two book groups) in Elgin, last Friday. Glass Bubble had been read and inwardly digested by some very incisive, sparky readers! It was a brilliant occasion, loads of good quality feedback and great questions to tax the old brain.

The book's been taken to a school, and requested at the local library.

Then, I came over to Ullapool, where I'm staying for a few days in a guesthouse that has to have both the best view and the best food in the universe, Tanglewood House, struggling with a bit of the novel.

It was lovely to wander into the Ullapool Bookshop, and find Glass Bubble on the shelves.

Tuesday 15 April 2008


Just a thought... because I wonder how many writers bother to thank the reviewers when their work is reviewed?

I didn't know Frances Clarke at all, but wanted to thank her when I saw Glass Bubble had been reviewed in Mslexia.

On her bio it said that she was a novelist and a short story writer among other things. A Google search threw up the rest, and I sent a message. Good old Internet!


Wow and thrice wow!

Words from a Glass Bubble has been selected for the pick of the short story reviews, on MSLEXIA'S WEBSITE

the feature is headed:

In each issue of the magazine reviewers assess books across selected genres. These are the ones they liked best.

Extraordinary, and lovely.

Thank you Frances Clarke and thank you Mslexia.

Full review:

reviewed by Francis Clarke
Words From a Glass Bubble by Vanessa Gebbie (Salt, £12.99)

There is a wide range and variety in the 19 stories in Gebbie’s Glass Bubble. In the poetic ‘The Kettle on the Boat,’ we see events from the viewpoint of an Inuit child and a fragile world is brought to life; a poignant finality is deftly captured in the image of a kettle sinking in the sea. ‘I can Squash The King, Tommo,’ with its Dylan Thomas echoes, has a blithe and energetic narrative drive, and the emotional weight of it is carefully kept in balance with the thread of each character’s revelations so that the climax is genuinely moving. Characters teem throughout the collection, and Vanessa Gebbie boldly takes on different voices, from a teenage boy in care to a boy with a junkie mate. The stories themselves are riveting, but phrases like ‘Billy…always looked wise but hurting like Jesus being nailed to the cross…’ occasionally keep characters at arms length rather than bringing them to life. All of these stories bar one have won or been placed in major competitions and the humour in some of them is especially enjoyable. In the title story, for example, a plastic Virgin Mary is taken out for a drive, ‘...her face like a small boy’s pet mouse in a blue hood,’ and Serbian Vera is a character in the otherwise sad ‘Irrigation’ who is simultaneously tragic and hilarious to great effect.

Monday 14 April 2008


"Buddha" by Beverly Jackson (collage/encaustic 2007) is in the collection of John and Nancy Cottle, Destin, FL.

ECLECTICA'S new issue carries the work of no less than four Workhousers.

Firstly, three flashes written to Beverly Jackson's stunning collage (above). The Eclectica eds looked at ten pieces submitted blind, and selected their top three.

So... for Beverly's own writing, then that of Michelle Tandoc-Pichereau and Anna Britten CLICK HERE NOW!

Then new arrival Ravi Mangla, by chance, has a longer story in the same issue... CLICK HERE NOW!


Writing to images is a wonderful thing to do.... something I learned a while back and now use a lot.

Two other flashes written 'to' Bev Jackson's collage have been accepted for print publication by Southword. One by Joel Willans, the other by yours truly.

Try it... I'd love to see the results!


I just got this email to Cadenza Editors (both female!!)

And no, I do not frequent dating websites!! My sons and my husband would have a fit.

Hello My friend.

I have written down yours e-mail on a Website of acquaintances. I remember as this datingwebsite called. Probably Date-club. I have decided to write you a letter. I hope that you will answer my letter. I want you answer me. This is my first letter to you.. I wish to get acquainted with you. Maybe we can create good relations in the future.

Do you understand my English? I will try to use English that you understood me. I want you understand me as good as it is possible.

I will tell you more about myself. I am a Russian woman. The usual woman who searches for love. During this moment I live in Russia in S-Petersburg. it is a very beautiful city.
My girlfriend gave me an advise me to search for a man in United Kingdom. She is assured that I can find a good man. I believe that I can find love in United Kingdom. My Russian girlfriend has found English man. She has left for United Kingdom 2 year ago. She is happy near English man. They live together. The husband is engaged in studying the nature. Something like ecologist.

My girlfriend has suggested me to arrive to United Kingdom at any moment.

blah de blah de blah

University Update Mark 99...

Nothing in the post today (Monday), no emails.

So I emailed them, again:

"Can I ask, is there confirmation of my M Phil place?"

That was at 09.25...

it's now 11.44...

...and counting...

Edit: 12.00...reply: "I am trying to contact the professor..."

and counting...



no post

at 10.45 am, no emails

Saturday 12 April 2008


I had my sixty minutes of fame today, being the guest on Coastway Radio in Brighton.

Much natter about Words from a Glass Bubble, writing, my teaching, competitions, and also mentioned were looping the loop, visiting Spitzbergen and writing in the garden shed.

My music was eclectic to say the least. This is hospital radio, covering the enormous Royal Sussex County and Brighton Eye Hospitals... I wanted to make it fun!

1) Tom Lehrer, The Elements
2) Tom Lehrer, She's My Girl
3) The Beatles, Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da
4) Andreas Scholl (Countertenor) Blow The Wind Southerly (beautiful!!)
5) Carl Maria von Weber, Clarinet Concerto no 1 in F. minor op.73, Rondo
6)Donovan, Jennifer Juniper
3) Dusty Springfield, I Only Want To be With You... (only Rosemary pressed the wrong button, and instead we had Ken Dodd singing Happiness... oh well.

Much mirth to finish off!

A brilliant hour, great publicity and a good laugh!

University Update

Remember? I was told a decision would be reached letting me know whether I had the place I had already been offered in another decision-making process, by the end of the week...

and was I?

(confusing, innit!)

Did the email go ping, the phone go ding or the postman ring?
Did a carrier pigeon land on my windowsill with a missive in its claw?
Did a little balloon float by with a small bear attached (remember Winnie the Pooh?)... and did the bear drop a letter down my chimney?

Am I being very silly?

Yes. Because I have again heard nothing.

What should/can I do now? All suggestions very gratefully received

Friday 11 April 2008

Writers Teaching Writers Teaching Writers....

Today I got a copy of Burning Your Boats... the collected short stories of Angela Carter with an introduction by Salman Rushdie.

He called her the most individual, independent and idiosyncratic of writers

I kind of like that... but why did I buy this book?

because I loved meeting Ann Enright's writing. And I read that Angela Carter taught her. And I wanted to learn too, from both of them.

Thursday 10 April 2008


Any writer starting out can take enormous heart from poet and novelist Sue Guiney. She is sitting in Chez Gerard near Victoria Station with me, smiling broadly, enjoying a rather delicious lunch, very fired up at the thought of the readings and marketing initiatives she will be involved in for her forthcoming novel. (Tangled Roots, Bluechrome Publishing, May 2008).

Sue and I met last year by chance at Anam Cara Writers’ and Artist’s Retreat in Ireland. We enjoyed each other’s work and decided to keep in touch after our stay was over.

So Sue has a novel on the chocks… but her journey to this point has not been smooth. She’s here to tell me about the ups and downs of it all.

But above all she's telling me that she did not take a couple of knock backs to heart and give up. If anything they seem to have fired her up to do more herself!!

Sue is American, but has lived for many years here in London, with her family. When she wrote her first novel, An Unlikely Guru, she decided to find a publisher in New York. Much of the novel was set in Brooklyn, and it seemed obvious to do so. An Unlikely Guru had as its main character an elderly woman who relates stories about her own life to Brooklyn strangers who find validation of their own lives in her words.

I asked her to tell me what the novel was about thematically, and what happened.

“It’s about moving forward,” Sue said, sipping her glass of wine. “It’s about what happens after tragedy. About coming to terms with events….For six months, the novel was with a well known publisher in New York. They were very involved, loved the novel, analysing it, asking for me to do substantial edits. And of course I worked on it to make it what they wanted. Then out of the blue they decided that it was not for them. I was devastated.

But I was already working on the sequel, A Variable Constant. This related some of the events from the first, but from the point of view of the woman’s son John, now grown up. He is not a spiritual creature like his mother… he’s a professor of Cosmology, a Physicist. There’s a real tension between the realities inherent in what he is and does, and the spiritual nature of his mother’s legacy…and this book is about resolving this conflict.”

Hey, hang on… so one book is effectively rejected and you still have the bravery to continue with the sequel?

Sue nods.

“Yes. My idea was that I would find a publisher for Variable Constant, and Guru would then be published subsequently. But the best laid plans…a good friend who I listen to carefully, always, said I was really writing the same novel, only a different facet.

That was extraordinary. For a while I fought that suggestion, but once I relaxed into the truth of it, I was off! I double-checked with several people whose opinions I trust, among them, Sue Booth-Forbes of Anam Cara. So both novels became intertwined, and the final product deepened, became far richer and more complex as a result.

John is a kind of Everyman, exploring his roots, tangled roots going back to a different culture, complicated inheritances. Hence the title, Tangled Roots. It’s about one’s inability to escape the past, and having to come to terms with it.

I approach the work through Judaism, as it is what I know. I hesitate to call it a purely Jewish book. But one of the main strands is religion and the role spirituality plays in our lives.

Judaism these days is full of people who may not even believe in God but who still call themselves ‘Jewish’. I wanted to explore what that meant. John, Everyman, is fighting the conflict between the modern secular age and spirituality. He’s angry with himself, angry with his mother and angry with God. He has to untangle himself.”

Wow. This is extraordinary stuff. Out of the ashes of a rejected novel and a portion of the second, Sue has resurrected a far stronger entity, something that has taken on a life of its own. It is going to be a very important book, I am sure, and I cant wait to get my hands on a copy…The project took five years to complete in the end, and is now on the verge of publication. It is very exciting.

But almost a year of her agent talking to new York publishers was enough. Sue decided to bring the book home, and it's being published here by Bluechrome.

The launch party is at The Science Museum… hey, that is fantastic!

So, I wanted to know, how did she come to choose Bluechrome?

“That was easy! They had already published my poetry play, I knew how lovely they were, and I just felt the need to bring my novel home here. Bluechrome was my first writing ‘home’. My agent agreed. Anthony Delgrado at Bluechrome tried to dissuade me at first, saying that Tangled Roots might well hit at a mainstream publisher… but my mind was made up… if he was happy to publish it, so was I.”

Now one thing I am busting to find out is Sue’s hiring of a literary PR agency… how is that working?

“Well, small publishing houses are very stretched when it comes to marketing… they don’t have a big PR budget… so I thought hey, I’ll support the venture myself. Bluechrome gave me the names of a few agencies and I settled on Midas. They have both large and small clients… overall an impressive client list.

So far they’ve been dong the spadework, and it’s beginning to pay off. I was interviewed on Meet the Author, for example, and there are readings and magazine articles arranged… I’m delighted.”

Yes. I can tell. Tangled Roots is an exciting book, with depth and resonance. I know Sue’s writing… it will also be a very strongly written work.

I wish Sue every good luck with the novel. And it was a very very good lunch!!!


Do read this:

"Writers don't have to be saints but they do have to have empathy and live as civilised beings within the rules that apply to us all..." Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, Evening Standard.

What utter utter twaddle.

She was blethering about V S Naipaul's biography, in which he is revealed to be racist, tyrannical, a frequenter of prostitutes... blah blah blah.

She and others are saying that this man's flaws as a human being UNDERMINE HIS CREDIBILITY AS A WRITER.

My fingers won't type coherently enough, I'm afraid, and I'm sure there will be pages of dead tree and ether scribble devoted to this one.

But this nice civilised lady writer would like to make the following statement:


Tuesday 8 April 2008

Literary fiction. What is it?

Interesting debate going on on The Workhouse.

Literary criticism and whether it is useful when you write yourself. I'm not sure it is. I've seen writers deliberately inserting all sorts of things into writing because they've seen it in the work they've analysed. Thinking it's clever to do so.

Well it may be clever on one level, but does it work in their writing, or does it stick out like the proverbial cliched thumb as 'LOOK!!! I'M BEING CLEVER!!!I'M A CLEVER WRITER!!!

Question for me, from a proponent of such insertion, following our reading of a story called The Lottery by Shirley Jackson, in which she makes great play of the name Delacroix, inserting a few lines to point it up, 'notice me... notice me' stuff:

HIM : I'd bet a lot of money that Delacroix was intentional...otherwise, there's no point to the aside about the pronunciation of the name.

And I have to say, V, you seem to champion litfic while labelling the kinds of things people normally associate with litfic as "good old lit crit." I'm kind of baffled by what you think litfic actually is.

Good question. What DO I think literary fiction is? I slept on it.

ME: I think adademic analysis of literature and Creative Writing are extremely uneasy bedfellows. A divorce is advised.

Having said that, I loved the treasure hunt of finding things in Shakespeare, Milton, Donne, when I was studying. Fantastic. You feel so 'clever' when you 'get' allusions, references, etc.

But now, from a writer's perspective I understand that those things probably did not get there consciously, many of them. They came from somewhere other than the top layer of intent. Many, not all. And I also understand from a teacher's perspective that to make a conscious effort to insert things is a sure fire way of killing something free and flowing.

But to answer your question, I have no idea what literary fiction 'is' apart from saying that for this reader, it is work that rises above entertainment while entertaining consummately. There is an element of transcendence in the relationship between the reader and the work, that doesn't exist in genre.

It's easier to say what it is not (for me, again). It is not plot driven, theme free yarns. It is not forgettable. It is most certainly not womaggery. It does not contain cliche-ridden prose, thin stereotypical characters, and does not pander to the market. Although the market sometimes finds it refreshing, I guess, to try to hype it by turning it into mass appeal media often with success too.

(Atonement is a case in point, although the book came in for criticism... cant comment as I haven't read it. I found the film boring.)

Good literary fiction does not explain itself.

For me, an insertion of any explanatory exposition is poor. It jumped out of the page as I read as 'this is not story, this is the writer being patronising.' Although here, it's neatly disguised and most readers wouldn't care. But I do. It's imperfect.

Imperfect. IMPERFECT. It was just that. And had been in The New Yorker, taught in schools, and all that jazz. That doesn't make anything 'perfect'.

We have to strive for something that IS perfect, don't we? Tis a long journey, full of ups and downs and I may never write anything perfect... but I'll keep trying.

Displacement activity...

To get away from all this stress, I have been seeking the company of other writers.

Today I had coffee with journalist Angela Wigglesworth, who wrote travel features for years and books on islands. We talked for ages about travel, about The Antarctic (where C and I are going in January) and about The Society of Sussex Authors. (I forgot to pay my dues... oops!)

(If anyone needs an excellent B and B in my area, just shout and I will give you her number... her garden looks up to Lewes Castle, and she does breakfasts in the garden on warm days...)

Then I met another writer, Jo, for lunch, and talked about the course she is embarking on courtesy of the Open University. That's a thought... but I don't think I would have the impetus, really.

Tomorrow, up to London to meet the brilliant Sue Guiney near Victoria. I want to find out all about her forthcoming novel. Watch this space.

Then I'm meeting a writer from last autumn's Arvon course... playing catch-up.

Might edit on the train.

Monday 7 April 2008

University update

For anyone interested in the university situation:

I emailed the administrator, having phoned to find out her name and being told she was away until today.

'I have no paperwork' I said. 'I've been told I have a place...' I said. 'But dates, fees, who my tutor is, residential requirements, thoughts on research proposal... actual written confirmation... zilch' or words to that effect.

Reminder: I was offered a place to start last Autumn by email, as someone dropped out. But was deferring, due to a student who threatened to leave if.... remember? (Only of course, I said nothing about that... and now I'm beginning to wonder if that was a mistake...)

I heard back from the administrator this pm.

I no longer have a place, for sure.

Current situation: they are letting me know by the end of the week whether I do.


But even then... if the answer is yes, all it does is repeat what happened last August. I had that reply back then!!!

If the answer is no... someone is having a real laugh, aren't they? When I applied I was 54. I will be 56 before I hear a reply. Nearer my God to Thee and all that.

I have to say, I am on the verge of giving up. I'm being advised to give up! I'm being advised to recontact the Uni who offered me the place I turned down... or to just forget the whole thing.

It's beginning to sound the least stressful option.

A Writing Exercise


This one needs a few people… although it can work with just two, or even just you with a bit of organising…

The organiser writes out a list of random words or phrases.

Here’s one for starters.

Yes, yes

(Make it as long as you like.)

Get the group to ready themselves, paper and writing implements at the ready. Tell them there’s no right, no wrong, that they won’t even be required to share their writing if they don’t want to. This just for them.

(That’s important.This is pressure-OFF)

So. The group will write, and AS they write, the organiser drops the words into the air, one ever few minutes, and the writers have to incorporate the words into their piece. Without breaking the flow. Without speaking, asking questions…

Organiser: Ask the group to sit quietly and dream for a second, and then to write down the first line that comes into their heads, and carry on writing without thinking. Tell them if the thoughts stop, to draw a line and start again, but not to stop writing if they can avoid it.

And when they seem to be writing fairly freely, just drop the words into the air for them to catch.

I do this one a lot, and have seen it produce extraordinary pieces, extraordinary connections.

Have fun.

You can also do this one yourself… keep random words in a tin, and pull them out one by one and write. Or use the thesaurus/dictionary and a pin! Not quite so effective, for this writer, but give it a go?

Sunday 6 April 2008


Writing can take you to fantastic places, fantastic people.

I have been working for a few months with a group of international writers brought together thanks to the Internet by Nigerian journalist Ovo Adagha.

The objective: to produce a strong anthology of short fiction exploring ‘Third World’ Issues.

Pretty quickly, and with not a little straight talking, we threw out that title, opting instead for one that seemed to say something about what we all believed.


There are many prizewinning writers in the team. The stories are varied in style, all very strong, and are bound together by a strong undercurrent.

I was blown sideways when Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Half of a Yellow Sun...)gave us a story!

Thanks to the unfailingly good humoured and courteous refereeing of Ovo, and the extraordinary commitment and energy of the team (not me… I was just too busy to participate fully in the run-up, but very honoured that my work was to be included), the finished MS is now being considered by several publishing houses.

Please watch this space for further updates.

The group:

Molara Wood (Nigeria)
Konstantinos Tzikas (Greece)
Lauri Kubutsile (Botswana)
Martin A Ramos (Puerto Rico)
Skye Brennon (USA)
Jude Dibia (Nigeria)
Pettina Gappah (Zimbabwe)
Ivan Gabriel Rehorek (Australia)
Chika Unigwe (Nigeria)
Ravi Mangla (USA)
Vanessa Gebbie (Britain)
Emmanual Kwa Dipita (Cameroon)
Lucinda nelson Dhavan (India)
Adetokunbo Gbenga Abiola (Nigeria)
Shabnam Nadiya (Bangladesh)
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Nigeria)
Ken Kamoche (Kenya)
Elaine Chiew (Malaysia)
Sequoia Nagamatsu (USA)
Wadzanai Mhute (Zimbabwe)
Ovo Adagha (Nigeria)

Writing exercise...

A new writer joined The Fiction Workhouse a few days ago, a man who has won quite a few awards already for his short fiction, but who wants to strengthen his game.

He read a very short throw-away flash of mine on site and posted a riff. I responded with another... same characters, same voice... just extending the story's scope. Two brains working together on the same thoughts but taking turns. The story went through various twists and turns... until between us we has a few thousand words, slightly disjointed some of it, but very, scarily coherent in other ways.

The whole thing sudden, unplanned.

My pieces were from a man's point of view, his from a woman's. They 'replied' to each other, echoing the content of the flash before, extending the idea in others. Fascinating!

The images if you dug them out, got more and more raw. There was unstated sexuality in the piece to begin with and it got stronger and stronger, darker and darker.

When we'd finished, we both went away and edited, turning the piece into first draft short stories.

Thematically this was a really fascinating exercise. While we'd been riffing and continuing a story set by someone else, our own themes were coming through. At least, mine were. I ended up, after a lot of tidying, editing... with a potentially strong story.

Try it... a great exercise, invented out of the air.

Saturday 5 April 2008


Glass Bubble is reviewed in Mslexia this issue.

See Glass Bubble blog (link on right) for detail

Thursday 3 April 2008

A trip round five bookshops

Talk about a reversal of what I expected.

I expected the well-established independents to show more interest in the book than the big guns. And you could almost reverse that.

Ive been to three independents: two large, well established, and one absolutely tiny, eclectic, a part of a music/book/gift shop.

Tiny independent: they loved the book, talked about readings. And have stocked it already.

Larger independents: one has taken the book and is asking 'their advisors' to read it and advise. The shop was seriously lovely... I could have bought the place.

The other showed little interest, and I asked to see their short story collections while they were doing so. I had to be shown where to go, right at the back of the shop, top two shelves, half hidden. They were all the big guns... Asham Award (Bloomsbury), a few other big publishers. No independent presses I could see. I asked about local author events. None. They only have events for writers on a circuit from the well known publishers. There was a list on the wall. All big names. I slunk out, tail between legs.

Waterstones: I called in to say thank you for featuring me in their Spring Newsletter. They were charming.

Borders: nearly didn't go in... but they do stock some Salt titles nationally so I plucked up courage. Ended up with half an hour with a seriously buzzy manager, an agreement to stock the book, to put it on the local author shelves (facing out...) and on the independent publisher's shelves.

Also: an invitation to read at the store, and a fantastic long natter about the manager's own writing (novel, fascinating stuff..) and a recommendation for me from him, research for my book... a 'biography of the Bible'. Now that was brilliant, I was seriously impressed.

Mention on The Short Story Website...

Glass Bubble and writer are given a mention on The Short Story Website! It's sandwiched between two very illustrious writers... Ann Enright and Sophie Hannah... wow


Wednesday 2 April 2008

What makes a story 'beautiful'?

I have no answers to this one, just questions...

A writer asked me to give him an endorsement for a forthcoming short story collection a few days ago. (Ballistics by Alex Keegan. Salt Publishing (naturally!) June 2008... look out for this one.)

This is the guy who I credit with teaching me so much... and I was delighted to do so. I hadn't read his work for a while, and asked for a few stories to read, just to refresh...

I read a few pieces, and the floodgates opened. His stuff is terrific; I was instantly back in that place you are as a slightly wobbly learner, awestruck.

And the few lines I wrote (which will probably never be used, who am I anyway?!) included this phrase

"emotionally true, sharply intelligent and often beautiful."

And that got me thinking.

Then today, there's a review of Issue 2, GUD.

In one of the most beautiful stories in this issue, Vanessa Gebbie creates Jamie Hawkins in "Jamie Hawkins' Muse"


The story that won at Per Contra (Silver Leaves for Judah Jones...HERE) was described by the editors as 'beautiful'.

But WHY and HOW is work beautiful? What makes Jamie H so? The language is fairly simple and deals with a mortician! Judah is more rhythmic...and he's a window cleaner in love with a window... I dunno!

I know in the work of the writer mentioned above, its a combination of rhythm (he's Welsh, and the rhythms remind me so much of my childhood, and they sing, and flow), and character... the creation of real people who take you by the hand and look closely at you as they tell their stories... and thematic stuff. Themes that touch.

And I am sitting here wondering if you can be taught to write beautiful, and if that is what happened when I was taught, or whether its a hit and miss thing that happens with a combination of craft things almost by accident.

Because if I try to write beautifully, I miss by a few miles.

On the other hand, maybe its not in the writing at all. Maybe its in the air, the thing that happened when the floodgates opened, that made me feel a bit wobbly? Is it a chemistry thing?

I get =the same sense when reading The Shawl by Cynthia Ozyck, or In The Gloaming by Alice Eliott Dark. Both those stories are beautiful.

Tuesday 1 April 2008


The Nightingale Theatre, Brighton..LINK HERE

A huge thank you to New Writing South (link HERE) for organising a lovely party last night to launch Words From a Glass Bubble in my ‘home city’.

The venue was perfect: The Nightingale Theatre, above Grand Central Bar in Brighton. It’s a great space, and for the audience of about 30, there was bubbly flowing, nibbles, and a terrific atmosphere… everything candle-lit.

It was so professionally done. I was introduced very generously by Andrew Marshall (link HERE), with whom I work in a face to face writing group… he’s an extraordinary talent… writes best-seller self-help books, musicals, plays, fiction, and he’s a journalist on several broadsheet newspapers.

I read Dodie’s Gift and dedicated the reading to Zadie Smith, who took such a battering in the press in recent months for sticking up for standards. I think it went down well… although my dear Dad (who is fairly deaf) said afterwards that he thought it ‘went on a bit…”!

I was really delighted to meet up again with Carol Hayman, another extraordinary talent. She is very involved with New Writing South, but was also writer-in-residence for a BBC writing competition in 2006… we met in a one-to one workshop, and she was so positive and encouraging about my writing. I look back now and realise how very important that was… it would have been so easy to lose heart back then.

Read about Carol Hayman HERE… and watch out for her TV adaptation of the sparkling Ladies of Letters radio series she co-wrote… I wonder if it will be Prunella Scales and Patricia Routledge again… fingers crossed.

Sales seemed to go well, lots of signings, and a great couple of hours afterwards in Grand Central bar, with impromptu juggling lessons from the expert Rob Horsman, and rather a lot of crisps. The chef had gone home.