Friday 30 May 2008


Salt Publishing have a blog to follow the fortunes of their eight longlisted collections, of which Words from a Glass Bubble (her on right) is one.

You can keep up to date with reviews, interviews, readings, and general stuff.


Thursday 29 May 2008


One of those three in the morning revelatory moments that no doubt all writers of short fiction already know...

Call yourself a storyteller, and people know exactly what you mean. They spark. Because it is in our psyche, listening to stories. It is deeply rooted, the need to share events, happenings, lessons learned through a drama.

Call yourself a short story writer, and they go all negative. What's that? Why aren't you writing a novel? The markets are so diverse, that there is no immediate understanding about what you do.

So I am a storyteller.

The only thing is... (and whether this is a feature of the 'academicisation' of writing, or whether it is a stylistic thing that would have happened anyway)...much of what is written is so impenetrable.

In story terms, impenetrable. So many flights of language, or flashbacks that drop the baton, or exposition rambles... that the flow of the story is lost.

Isn't that why 'voice' is important? Because stories are meant to be voiced. Either literally (in the telling) or in our own act of telling stories to ourselves, in our heads as we read?

THAT was the thought that came to me at three o clock. The best ones I've managed are the ones that have both strong voices and reveal themselves bit by bit in a clear 'listen to me' story style.

There are also ones that work rather like poems, in the rhythms of prose that are just lovely to listen to either really listen, or again, in your head.

But it all goes back into the mists of whenever. We're on a continuum, mustn't lose sight of the simple things.

I guess everyone knew that anyway. Duh.




Open International Creative Writing Competition for Short Stories and Poems

CLOSING DATE: 30th June 2008

The website is open for entries - You can now enter online by uploading a Word file or a PDF, or as before by cutting and pasting text.

Listen to Christopher Buchlman reading his winning poem for 2007

Find out about the new award for Dorset writers. This new prize will reward the highest placed DORSET writer with an extra prize of ฃ100 and a specially commissioned trophy

The Bridport Prize 2007 Anthology ia also available now and offers the reader a taste of the best of new writing from the winners of one of the toughest open writing competitions in the English language.

Prize money again totals ฃ14,000 and the 1st prize winner in each section gets ฃ5000 making the Bridport the richest OPEN writing prize for unpublished work in the English language. Winners and short-listers also benefit from the high regard in which publishers and agents hold the Bridport.

The judges for 2008 are Helen Simpson for short stories and David Harsent for poetry.

Don Paterson the poetry judge for 2007 said, "The Bridport is a prize all serious poets want to win"

Tracey Chevalier the short story judge for 2007 said, "The popularity of the Bridport Prize is a tangible reminder that the short story is alive and well"

Read the details, buy the Anthology or enter online at:

Or go online at to pick up an entry form which you can print out to enter by post.

If you prefer to receive an entry form by email, please email

Wednesday 28 May 2008


The Workhouse (well, thirteen or so of them) are going to have a flash or two between Saturday evening and Monday evening.

if anyone'd like to do a bit of writing 'with' the team, I'll stick some of the prompts up here on Saturday morning. But beforehand, everyone's writing down a list of first names (M and F) that resonate with them. And a separate list of objects that for whatever reason hold some significance.

There will be a bit of a difference with this one. Usually, we work to packs of six or so prompts, opening up the pack and working with ones that 'say something', then writing for five, ten fifteen minutes, until the flow stops.

We don't try to force complete work. We experiment with voices, characters, scanarios. We write whatever comes... not putting on the pressure.

Again, this time, I'm doing something different...


With the help of a tutor, I’ve been putting together the proposal for the M Phil.

This is a document detailing the three things you propose to work on for the duration of the course.

Three areas. The Writing Project, the Critical Study, and the Writer’s Jurnal.

Its interesting to log my reactions to doing this exercise. The proposals have to go before a panel, who say ‘yea or nay’ to the proposals. And who typically, apparently, might not have anyone who writes themselves among their number.

The research element was nice to do. I could focus on the books I need to read, and was helped to identify the academic texts that will back up my own work.

The Journal… no problems. A diary, and looking at self doubt… and continuing to write things up as honestly as I can here.

But my reactions to setting out what I want to write (ie, the novel-in-progress outline), surprised me. I felt very protective of it. I didn’t want to expose it to possible rejection at this stage, from non-writers. But more than that, I was reluctant to write down too much as it seemed a dangerous thing to do. Like plotting too much…and setting things in concrete. And we all know what happens to things set in concrete. They sink.

Saturday 24 May 2008


What a feast for the starving writers in the audience.

A L Kennedy (Hilarious, sharp, witty, scarily brainy with more than a twinkle as she surveyed the Charleston ladies... ), and Lorrie Moore (wonderful liquid diction and prose, gentler...) both generous-spirited and wanting to share something of what makes them tick as writers.

Lorrie Moore read from a ghost story. No, don't switch off... it was a marvellous thing, utterly real. You got to know the ghost well before she entered the scene, and the relationships between the narrator and the rest of the characters... stunning. I bought the book and will finish the story later.

A L Kennedy read from her latest novel Day, the story of a rear gunner in WWII. Scenes from a pub, listening to airmen joshing about the events of the day...a brilliant switch of tone when the MC asks a quiet question, 'What is it like?',a meeting with a girl, and the most poignant scene from the end.

Her longer name is Alison. That didn't fit at all, so I will think of her as A L.

more later

Friday 23 May 2008


A fascinating hour or so spent tonight in a tent in the grounds of Charleston farmhouse, where Salman Rushdie was talking to The Times Literary Editor, Erica Wagner, as part of the Charleston Festival.

The tent was packed. And it was quite amusing. Lots of aging Bloomsbury types. Careful hippydom, with expensive glasses and designer handbags. Chris and I found seats at the back, with half an hour to go, so had an eagle’s eye view of arrivals, scurries for glasses of pink champagne and jostles to peck late arrivals on powdered cheeks. I’d say 90% of the audience was female. Old female. Like me, but with powder. And friends.

Salman Rushdie gave an excellent performance. I’d bought the book that was the subject of the evening (The Enchantress of Florence) on the way in, and read the first chapter when not making mental notes for wicked characterisation exercises.

Lovely. Mental note made to read it again without distractions, grey ponytails, (the women nearby) and the scent of Johnson’s baby powder.

He began by reading the same chapter. And that was very good… he has the most lovely voice, rich, and seductive. I will now read the whole thing hearing that ‘voice’ in the prose as I read.

The subsequent conversation and responses to audience queries took in the origins of the book (an historical novel that brings together 16th century Florence and the Mogul empire), his education (studied History at Cambridge), his views on the critics (they studied literature … and like to tell writers what their novels are about…even finding a couple of sentences in The Enchantress that seemed to prove a pre-held opinion)…his views on whether women readers/ writers do things differently to males (he carefully sidestepped the issue of chick lit and womags, saying that none of the female writers he respected wrote differently to the male writers he respected. It’s all in the respect! Mind you, he also said that he doubted whether many female readers would opt to read action novels full of ‘lots of explosions and machinery’. Hmm.)

He spoke about the difference between Homeric ‘storytelling’ (where the ‘stories’ were already known, and all that was being done was recording them) and the tensions caused by ‘unknown’ storytelling, where a storyteller is making up the unknown.

And in a flash of vulnerability he spoke about how the Satanic Verses debacle had changed his public persona… that people who hadn’t read him believed he was this awkward, serious, controversial figure who wrote heavy religiously controversial novels, when actually he is funny. He sounded hurt. Or … maybe not. Maybe he enjoyed the focus.

He kept telling us he was funny, and yes he was. Also utterly charming. A consummate entertainer.

Why do we read? Why does he read? For enjoyment. He likes to be taken into a world that is true, believable, in which he is made to feel joy, sadness, intrigue and so on, thanks to the rules of that world. He said the story, indeed all stories, have a single perfect way of being told. And that if the writer can find the perfect way to tell it (structurally, chronologically, etc etc, revealing information at the right time and in the right way, ) then they hold the reader in thrall. If however they miss, just once, the reader loses the thread, and it is hard to get it back.

That’s the fictive dream… James Frey. Just goes to show. There’s nowt new in this world.

A great evening. And a great book to come!

Wednesday 21 May 2008


Fellow Salt author Elizabeth Baines, talented lady, has also been interviewed by Eric Forbes.

We have met several times, and her company sparkles.


For anyone near Manchester, there is a reading this afternoon (22 May) as part of the Manchester Year of Reading, with Elizabeth and three other Salt authors, Carys Davies, Shamshad Khan and Andre Mangeot.



Clare Wigfall, whose short story collection The Loudest Sound and Nothing is on the longlist for the Frank O'Connor Award, has been interviewed on a blog called The Good Books Guide, written by Eric Forbes, dedicated to good reading, good books. It makes pretty good reading itself.



Three colleagues from The Fiction Workhouse (one no longer with us, but we hope she'll be back sometime) have had their work selected for the 50 best flashes on the internet, 2007.

Go and make a cup of coffee, sit down and read these three gems.

Elaine Chiew's God’s Small Hands from Juked
Kuzhali Manikavel's Little Bones from Smokelong Quarterly
Michelle Tandoc-Pichereau's Blank from elimae

Also, shortlisted were these:
Uncovering the Walkways from me, on Cafe Irreal

and this from a writer I've worked with:

Soccer Cake by RVJones on Flashquake

You can find the whole list and links to all the top fifty stories on WIGLEAF, HERE

Tuesday 20 May 2008

Feature on The Short Story website

I have a feature on the Short Story website. Something about short story competitions, how to maximise your chances...

We send off our manuscripts to competitions, and whisper ‘Good luck’ as we either hit the submit button, or as the envelope falls into the post box. We know our stories are going to find their way into a pile of anonymous entries, and depending on the competition, that pile might be thousands strong. But is luck anything to do with your story being picked for longlisting, shortlisting or final placing?

Yeah. A bit. See the whole article HERE

Monday 19 May 2008

Reviewers: Readers or writers? And allied questions.

It is an interesting conundrum… Do we want to be reviewed by readers or writers? In other words, which would we rather be, a reader’s writer or a writer’s writer?

Kay Sexton writes in response to this point made in a recent comment on her blog (link to the right):

We all want readers, and so when we review we should be asking a series of simple questions: was this worth reading - why or why not? was it enjoyable reading - why or why not? That’s what helps both the writer and a potential reader understand how the book works on the most important level – readability. Only then should we move on to the literary questions of voice, themes etc.

My initial reaction was that there is an element of truth in this… but on reflection, I think it is far too simplistic.

‘Was it enjoyable reading’ can only be answered from the standpoint of the single reviewer/reader. And if that is a reader who does not skim for plot excitement, actively seeks out well crafted work, layers of meaning, challenging stuff, interesting use of language, insights into life seen through the prism of another human being’s lens… then ‘readability’ itself takes on a more complex meaning.

‘Readability’ without 'literary questions' presupposes no effort. Easy riding. Those texts with the lowest reading age requirement. Beach yarns. Great fun. Fill a gap on holiday, and you leave them behind, eminently forgettable.

I’d like to think there’s more to reading for some. Am I a snob? Not at all. People can read and eat exactly what they what they want to. but crucially, being just 'readable' doesn’t make something ‘good’. And if I’m reviewing, I bring to the equation my own values of what ‘good’ is. As someone did with my work, found it badly wanting… and I'll use that as a spur to write stronger and better, in the end, not weaker.

Would I like to be a reader’s writer or a writer’s writer?

Both. In an ideal world, I’d like to be read for enjoyment and to have the respect of good writers.

Tuesday 13 May 2008

"YOUR WRITING REMINDS ME OF WILL SELF'S"....The reality of having a book out...

This, chaps, is the reality of having a book out there.

Oh Mimi, and teams of Zoetropers, you are going to love this!

So Borders set up a reading slot, get books in, publicise it all over the shop. They advertise on their website, and on 'What's On In Brighton' websites.

They are seriously supportive of local writers. (In stark contrast to both the local 'award winning' independent bookshops I visited, who told me very bluntly, to go away. Not interested in 'award winning' local writers. ... Unlike Ullapool Bookshop! My brain can't work this out.)

I drive to Brighton for the reading at Borders ....

And not ONE person turns up.

This from the manager of Borders. As much as I can remember. We nattered for an hour. He's writing a novel, and is extraordinary. Whatever he writes will be strong, intelligent, pushing boundaries.

"What's going on? I just read a story in here...Your writing is edgy, as much as Will Self's. What's going on? The cover might be wrong, have you thought of that? It looks 'girly'. When actually the writing is strong, raw, really cutting edge..."


So what are the thoughts going round in my head?

1) I've worked for four years for this.

2) I won prizes in top competitions. Thinking they meant something. They don't. Except to the tiny world of the literary writing community. Bridport and Fish Anthologies aren't even sold in the good bookshops....

3) I found a brilliant, well respected publisher.

4)) What more could I have done?

Answers please, in comments. I fully expect the following:

a)Be younger.

b)Be more beautiful.

c)Have an interesting and public sex life.

d)And don't worry about the writing.

Well. This is reality. Not how I'd make it up, but never mind. I'll just carry on working, writing. I dont have anything else I want to do.

Monday 12 May 2008


Looking forward to reading at Borders, Tuesday 13th May, 6.30 pm.

I'm also nattering about creative writing, and about getting your work out there.


Sunday 11 May 2008

Nice Review

I am not shutting up shop yet!

Had a good review from PULP.NET REVIEW HERE

Saturday 10 May 2008

Interestiing blog: Tom Conoboy

This blog, by writer Tom Conoboy
(whose name croppeth up regularly on competition lists) is always very interesting.

Recently, he mentioned a book that was so SO formative to me, L'Etranger, by Albert Camus. It made me think, how much are we 'formed' by meeting these books as teenagers (I 'did'it for A level) and how much do they hit home because they speak to something that is in us anyway?

Camus' themes circle round isolation, marginalisation. Those are mine. So I asked the question, and there's an interesting dialogue going on.

Friday 9 May 2008


Tomorrow, I'm going to London to meet up with writers from all over, in a pub. Among them is Bev Jackson, visiting from deepest darkest America.

Peeps may remember that a while back we discovered in an email exchange, and after some searching on the Net, that her late father's grave is in a US War Cemetery in Brittany, France. He was in the USAF and was shot down in WWII. Bev had photos of herself as a young girl with her father, but has no memory of him, sadly.

Long story short, Bev has arrived in the UK, en route to visit her father's resting place in France for the first time.

It's hard to type this without welling up.

READ BEV JACKSON'S BLOG TO READ THE WHOLE STORY... Including how she has just spoken to the only survivor of the plane... amazingly also called Jackson.

Bev and I work together on The Fiction Workhouse. Another writer there, Michelle Tandoc Pichereau, lives a stone's throw from the village in Brittany... so will also meet up with Bev. But the joy also is that the village are putting out the bunting for her, as her dad's a war hero.

Wonderful stuff.

So. Tomorrow, we meet, and she is coming to stay for a couple of days. I can't wait to meet her. The plan is to visit Charleston, and walk on the Downs, and have a picnic somewhere. And she has to put up with my cooking at a supper party tomorrow night!

Then I will see her off on the train to France, with a hug.

Bad Reviews

It's oh so easy to blog about the nice reviews I have had for Words from a Glass Bubble. But this is meant to be an honest blog, recording downs as well as ups for any writers who want to know what it is really like, this game. So here goes.

A reviewer disliked the book so much that the publication concerned declined to print the review.

That was, I have to confess, a bit of a shock. I've always thought I'd rather my work was seriously loved or seriously loathed... not ever EVER just 'liked'. And now that's been tested big time!

I am lucky. I had some generous feedback very fast, and will be eternally grateful that it was this way round.

But I am left wanting to know more... all the pieces bar a couple have done well in literary competitions. And yet...

I'm in a bit of a spin. Was it the aggregate that the reviewer disliked so much? Was it the tone, the mix of light and dark in each story, mixing laughter and tears? Was it the somewhat irreverent but important references to religious image? Did that offend? Did they read the titles, and see a story was called 'Fuck Magnolia', and put the book down thinking the story is about fucking? Did they assume a book of short stories would be light entertainment?

I will never know.

Thursday 8 May 2008

Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Flash...

There is an extraordinary list of contributors for the forthcoming Field Guide to writing flash fiction, to be published early 2009 by Rose Metal Press.


List of invited contributors follows, with links behind each name to interesting places I found on Google. There's obviously a lot more out in the ether, as some of the names are extremely (but extremely) well known.

Writers, teachers, and editors of flash fiction.... wow!

Steve Almond
Rusty Barnes
Randall Brown
Stace Budzko
Robert Olen Butler
Ron Carlson
Pamelyn Casto
Kim Chinquee
Stuart Dybek
Pia Z. Ehrhardt
Sherrie Flick
Vanessa Gebbie (me?)
Tom Hazuka
Nathan Leslie
Michael Martone
Peter Orner
Julio Ortega
Pamela Painter
Jayne Anne Phillips
Jennifer Pieroni
Shouhua Qi
Bruce Holland Rogers
Robert Shapard
Deb Olin Unferth
Lex Williford

Good day for selling books...

One email and a book goes off to deepest darkest USA, via pigeon post.

(The last one I sent off to California got sent back. I'd put 'Rd' instead of 'Ave' on the address. To get it sent back fast via airmail cos I was so embarrassed cost £9.00 plus...)

One phonecall, and two books go to deepest darkest Sussex. Personal delivery, and I had a cuppa and a flapjack for my pains. Now that is quality bookselling!

Tuesday 6 May 2008

Nice mention on Daily Telegraph Literary blog

Sam Leith is a good bloke... official.

He blogs today about two of the five winners of the Daily Telegraph Novel in a Year Competition, run last year.

Imogen Roberston is finalising a two-book deal with Headline, and V and her Glass Bubble are mentioned because of the Frank O'Connor.


Monday 5 May 2008


A short story competition with a real heart... entry fees are high, but will go towards enriching the lives of street children in South Africa.

800 words max. £20.00 entry fee.

AMOS TRUST Justice and Hope for the Forgotten

Short Story Competition terms and conditions here.

Frank O'Connor Award Longlist

Words from a Glass Bubble has been nominated by Salt Publishing for the Frank O'Connor Award this year, along with seven other Salt titles.

We are up against some extremely scary big names, big publishers.

But hey... lovely to be nominated, thanks for having faith in us all, Jen and Chris!