Tuesday 28 April 2009

Short Story Celebrations – Sevenoaks, Ipswich and Bridport Literary Festivals

It is very nice to see how the short story seems to be creeping up in the visibility stakes in literary festivals. In the last week or so, I have received three invitations to three different lit fests, all of them asking me to do workshops on short fiction and/or read/talk/discuss/answer questions on them.

A very nice invitation came today, to participate in Sevenoaks Literary Celebration in September, with fellow Salt writer Carys Davies.
The event is the Book Groups Tea, a gathering of book groups from the area. Last year Nicola Beauman of Persephone Books drew a crowd of 100 people – so Carys and I have a lot to live up to.
It will be a brilliant afternoon if we have anything to do with it- of readings, questions and answers, discussion and debate about one of the best things in my life- so how can it be anything but terrific?.

This year’s programme is not yet announced, but Sevenoaks Literary Celebration 2008 can be found HERE.

I am running two flash fiction workshops for Ipswich Arts Festival, in July. And, lovely people, they are also putting on an evening event at which I will be reading from Words from a Glass Bubble and being interviewed about the short story among other things.
The flash workshops will be running back to back on the same day – one before and one after lunch.
I visited Ipswich last week, prior to running a schools workshop for Ip Art. The town is terrific – I have only bypassed it before. The centre, with wonderful new state-of –the-art architecture, a new university building (which will be at the centre of Ip Art) all round the old harbour, with yachts bobbing, restaurants and bars… fab!

And lastly but by no means least – the Bridport Literary Festival, in November. I met the organiser in a moment of utter synchronicity, at Oxford Lit Fest. The coffee tent was chocca, no tables were free, so I joined a pleasant looking lady at her table. I had just said goodbye to Elaine Chiew, who of course won last year’s Bridport Prize.

To cut a long story short, the pleasant lady was the organiser of Bridport Literary Festival. We had a great natter about all sorts, and swapped cards.

And a few weeks later, I am asked to run a workshop for them, invited to attend the prize-winners lunch (lovely! It’s such fun!) and another thing, which had better be under wraps at the moment, but is very VERY exciting!!!

(hint- I will be able to talk about the text book, which only has FIVE chapters by FIVE Bridport winners writing about writing the short story… nothing exciting in that, is there???!)

Friday 24 April 2009

Nice Things Done This Week

First, I spent a day with twenty students aged 14 to 18 from three different schools in Ipswich, taking a creative writing workshop day. A wonderful day, challenging, buzzy, and exhausting! By the end, I felt like Einstein looks in the photo!



Then I discovered a book of little known short stories by the greats of the nineteenth century. So far, I have read a story by Charles Dickens and one by Anthony Trollope. Shackleton
Then, I visited The National Portrait gallery, sepcifically to see the Constable Portraits exhibition. It is very good, very interesting. A real glimpse into the life of the times. And some are so lovely- the people could walk out of the canvasses. I did not know he was also a portrait painter. But then, having an hour or so to kill, I went to look at the early 20th century displays. Wow. All those massive canvasses from WWI, portraits of Kitchener, French, Haig, Smuts. And portraits of the Bloomsbury crew, and politicians, and explorers. having trodden in the footsteps of Shackleton earlier this year, that was lovely.

Lastly, I went to Chicago, the musical. ... interesting, but tired, tired tired. Despite some valiant efforts on the part of the lead women, the thing is wooden, and the routines are too slow!

Monday 20 April 2009

Judah Jones - notable online story of 2008

storySouth Million Writers 2009

Wow.. how lovely. My story Silver Leaves for Judah Jones in Per Contra Journal of the Arts, Literature and Ideas - HERE has been selected as one of the Notable Stories of 2008 in this year's Million Witers Awards.
And another Workhouser, Benjamin Bucholtz, is another 'notable' writer, with his story New Joe in Storyglossia, HERE

This is sort of the longlist. The full list is published today HERE. Now the shortlisting is done by the editor of storySouth.

Coo. This is lovely.

Friday 17 April 2009


You DO get them! My book has been out twelve months, and I thought I'd ask as I hadn't heard anything... so I did. And yes, there are royalties. So as soon as I get the cheque, I am winging it all off to Cancer Research.

But just so's you know - if books are sold through Amazon you get precious little because of the discounts they demand. And if books are discounted through the publisher, you only get a percentage of the actual sales figures...not the list price. I didn't know that.
So I had been trying to calculate what I would be giving to the charity, in memory of jan, the friend who was a huge supporter and who died from breast cancer just before the book appeared.... and getting it a bit wrong, sadly.

However, I am glad to report that a good few hundred quid will be winging its way to them...as soon as...

Thursday 16 April 2009

Fun new market...

The Loquatious Placemat

This will either fly or flop, but I like it. An original idea, putting short pieces of fiction on paper placemats in coffee bars, cafes etc. Well, it's one way to keep the customers satisfied for a while!

They are calling for short flash pieces, poems, or manifestos. Full details on the blog HERE

They say:

Loquacious Placemat is gearing up to come in to the world! Our inaugural issue will be available exclusively online as a .pdf file. Future issues will be available in print as free two-sided placemat at various eateries in Eastern PA. We are going to have a fairly broad regional footprint; showing up in coffeehouses, diners and bistros from Stroudsburg to New Hope with loads of support in our native Allentown/Bethlehem/Easton area.

So what is Loquacious Placemat? It's a free double-sided black and white broadsheet style literary magazine featuring flash fiction and poetry ideally suited for a quick read over lunch, coffee or cocktails.

Scotland pics

The Forth Road Bridge is just a beautiful thing...
...and not that far away, a safe haven for bees. I hope they can read.

Did I say I liked the Forth Road Bridge?
I have a 'thing' about beautiful bridges, you see. Confession time...

There is a story here. These two meeting under the Forth Railway bridge, an abandoned bike, and the tide coming in...

Tuesday 7 April 2009

MOTHER GUY, by Mariel Newley

Mariel Newley

He will bury his mum in the manure heap. He’s looked at all the
possible places, and this is the best. Horse manure is just shit, even
though it’s got a fancier name. His mother deserves to rot in shit.

Before he buries her - because that’s what you do with dead people,
and because he will kill her - he has to make her.

The things he’ll use are in the house. He goes inside.

The house is turning, ratcheting around, click by click to how it was
when she found it. It smelled of mushrooms. Weird soft white stuff
spilled from the walls, like they were burst teddy-bears. She called
it The Dream House, she worked and worked. For one summer it was new wood, wet paint and the fresh start.

The dirt’s back now, and on the floorboards she cared for, repaired,
she slops food and drink. Drink, mainly. She’s hardened to it this
time. No more peeing herself and sick. Silent bed-bound drinking.

Outside again, he packs her jeans with her t-shirts, puts her legs in
her boots. It’s all her, except the head. The hat stretches round the
football, the knitted hat she wore in winter, when they had the two
horses, when she fed them and brushed them and loved them, because
she’d always wanted horses, because she was fresh-starting.

His mother is made. Flat out in the yard. More realistic than he expected.

He kills her with the biggest kitchen knife, once used to cut the meat
for dream-house stews. Stabs hard through her favourite jumper to her

He spades through the horse-shit, lifts his mother, pats her grave
firm around her rubber-gloved hand, leaves the hand visible. There has
to be something to see, otherwise it would be like nothing’s happened.

He stands. Waits.

It hasn’t made things better.

If the manure shifted, moved, and his mum climbed out, his real mum
with his real mum’s face ... his real mum before it started again, the
coming home late, the staggering and slurring, the throwing up.

If his real mum took him, and the horses, to the beach. To rocket
along and make the sand fly. To ride into the sea; to feel, under him,
swimming. To twist his hands in a salted mane.

If she did come back to life, though, what she’d do is reach for a
bottle. There’s one in the yard. Not an alcohol bottle, but this is
symbols. He puts the bottle in her rubber fingers.

That doesn’t help, either. No. It doesn’t.

He will dig his mother up. He’ll dig her up, pull the knife from her
body, make her alive.

He’ll bury the bottles. They’re what deserve shit burial. The empty
ones, and the full ones. All the bottles.

When the bottles are gone, his mother will get out of bed. She’ll say
she wants to hear the sea. She’ll run down the sand barefoot laughing.
‘Fresh start,’ she’ll say. ‘Fresh start.’


My Little Competition winner!

The winner of My Little Competition is Mariel Newley of Stoke Newington, London, UK.

Her story will appear in the next post, illustrated by the prompt photo. I liked this piece for its verve, the assuredness of the voice, and the rawness running through it. I was astounded to find that this writer is unpublished until today.

Congratulations, Mariel. A copy of my book will wing its way to you after easter… complete with a handwritten extra flash. In years to come, it will naturally be worth squillions!

Mariel says:

There didn’t seem to be anywhere to send the
sort of things I like to write until I discovered all the online
literary zines. I’ve been reading and enjoying those for a few years.
There are so many of them, it’s amazing!

It was my New Year’s Resolution to start submitting things to the sort
of zines that I like. I started well, in January, and sent out about
five or six pieces. Then I lapsed, and went back to writing but not
finishing again.

So far I’ve picked up a rejection from Elimae, a rejection from
Aesthetica, and a very positive, encouraging sort of rejection from
The Pygmy Giant. I’m still waiting on the others.

I’ve been trying to remotivate myself to get on with submitting, which
is why I entered your contest – I used it force myself to get
something FINISHED. And last week I sent a longer story to The Café

That’s it. That’s my entire writing history. I like writing flash, and
I find flash very interesting. Also, I’m thinking that writing mainly
flash is a way of fitting in some writing and submitting around
working full time.

I wish you every success!!

Tania Hershman - commended by Orange Prize judges

hey! My mate Tania Hershman, fellow Salt author and altogether lovely lady, has been commended by the judges of The Orange Prize!

"We were deeply impressed by the tremendous quality of this year's new writers," said Mishal Husain, BBC World News presenter and Chair of judges, "it was a very competitive field and therefore an excruciating process to choose just three of the 80 books we read. The shortlist we eventually decided upon reflects the dynamism and diversity of the entries, showcasing three authors with very different voices but an outstanding talent. We believe their extraordinary novels will appeal to a wide range of readers and also inspire the writers of tomorrow."
She continues," We would also like to commend two other authors, Tania Hershman and CE Morgan, whose work stood out for its remarkable quality. We look forward to seeing more of their writing in the future."

Tania's short story collection The White Road and other Stories is a remarkable book. And it is extra specially lovely to know that the judges have commended a short story collection!

This is the best best thing! I am moved, excited, and nearly squashed my lunch sandwich into the keyboard! Well done Tania, and here are many many many heartfelt congratulations.


My Little Competition - closed!

I have read all the entries with much pleasure, and thanks to everyone who entered!
I have picked a winner and have emailed the writer. I hope to be able to announce who it is later today.

Monday 6 April 2009


From the Rose Metal Press website:

The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction:
Tips from Editors, Teachers, and Writers in the Field
Edited by Tara L. Masih

ISBN: 978-0-9789848-6-1


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

With its unprecedented gathering of 25 brief essays by experts in the field, The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction meets the growing need for a concise yet creative exploration of the re-emerging genre popularly known as flash fiction. The book's introduction provides, for the first time, a comprehensive history of the short short story, from its early roots and hitherto unknown early publications and appearances, to its current state and practice. This guide is a must for anyone in the field of short fiction who teaches, writes, and is interested in its genesis and practice.

“A thoughtful and thought-provoking resource, casting fresh light on the practice of flash fiction. Each essay is a gem, encrusted with outstanding prompts and valuable exercises. Anyone who hopes to write (or teach) the very short fiction form needs to read this book.”
—Dinty W. Moore, editor ofThe MAMMOTH Book of Miniscule Fiction

“The Field Guide to Flash Fiction is an exhaustive, thoughtful, idea-producing guide to one of the lesser-known forms of literary expression, the short short story—I can't imagine that there's anything left out of this remarkable anthology of essays about flash fiction. It should prompt the neophyte and the veteran writer to get busy and try one of these difficult stories.”
—Anne Bernays, co-author of What If? Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers

“As professors of English, we find The Field Guide invaluable. The essays are cogent, clear and short—to the point. Students wishing to practice creative fiction are provided with tools, theory and inspiration throughout each step of the composition process. Writers reading about literature and then reading the literature itself will discover how effectively The Field Guide presents concepts as it eschews academic jargon in favor of a hands-on approach.”
—Jon Redfern and Jack David, editors of cleardot[1]Short Short Stories

“How many words does it take to tell an important story? In the many words contained in this Field Guide, written by masters of the short-short fiction form, you may begin to understand. Or not. There always remains the mystery that is fiction itself. Let's be glad.”
—James Thomas, co-editor of Sudden Fiction and Flash Fiction Forward

The book was edited by the hard-working Tara Masih.

Guantanamo Bay - by Miss Universe.

I am indebted to Petina Gappah of the One World team for a chilling post. Petina is a Zimbabwean lawyer, she lives works in Geneva and has her short story collection out with Faber and Faber. She blogs HERE.

Her collection Elegy for Easterly is endorsed by two extraordinary writers – J M Coetzee and Yiyun Li. If you only buy one short story collection this year, please do make it this one.

Petina reports that Miss Universe recently visited Guantanamo Bay, and wrote up her findings on her blog. Why visit at all? You may well ask. Here is her incredibly intelligent report, copied below. I am delighted to find that the sea is lovely and the beach is all twinky with little bits of coloured glass. And that lovely lunch and all those lovely marines and a lovely boat trip. And those sweet dogs doing tricks for them. How lovely. Must put it on my travel wish-list. Art classes, books and movies. Wow. Like a culture festival then? And nice to hear that history made an appearance: “they were informed us with a little bit of history…” (sic)

Here she is, lovely creature. Shame about the political sensibilities. Although I guess she was told what not to write.

her travel report in full:

This week, Guantánamo!!! It was an incredible experience.

We arrived in Gitmo on Friday and stared going around the town, everybody knew Crystle and I were coming so the first thing we did was attend a big lunch and then we visited one of the bars they have in the base. We talked about Gitmo and what is was like living there. The next days we had a wonderful time, this truly was a memorable trip! We hung out with the guys from the East Coast and they showed us the boat inside and out, how they work and what they do, we took a ride around the land and it was a loooot of fun!

We also met the Military dogs, and they did a very nice demonstration of their skills. All the guys from the Army were amazing with us.

We visited the Detainees camps and we saw the jails, where they shower, how the recreate themselves with movies, classes of art, books. It was very interesting.

We took a ride with the Marines around the land to see the division of Gitmo and Cuba while they were informed us with a little bit of history.

The water in Guantánamo Bay is soooo beautiful! It was unbelievable, we were able to enjoy it for at least an hour. We went to the glass beach, and realized the name of it comes from the little pieces of broken glass from hundred of years ago. It is pretty to see all the colors shining with the sun. That day we met a beautiful lady named Rebeca who does wonders with the glasses from the beach. She creates jewelry with it and of course I bought a necklace from her that will remind me of Guantánamo Bay :)

I didn’t want to leave, it was such a relaxing place, so calm and beautiful.


I am sure the place is great.

Saturday 4 April 2009

Oxford Literary Festival - Science and Literature

There was so much on, and I had an opportunity to stay over for a day or two - so I did. I went to several very good talks. One - on the marriage of science and literature - could have been very good but somehow, it just missed the boat. There should have been a debate!

The event, held in one of the most beautiful rooms in the college, near the Hall and hung with wonderfully ancient glowering portraits, was billed as a look at how far one has to be a stickler for correctness when writing novels with an historic or scientific basis. I was fascinated. I remember only too well the dreadful and upsetting comments left on The New Scientist website when Tania Hershman's short story collection was featured, and how some readers seemed not to understand that fiction was mainly 'making things up'.

The speakers were novelists Ann Lingard (website HERE) and Rebecca Abrams (website HERE), both of whom had new novels to talk about. Ann's novel is contemporary, and has this wonderful title: The Embalmer's Book of Recipes.. You can find a link to it on her website. Rebecca's is called Touching Silence and is based on the physician who discovered the cause of puerperal fever. Ann Lingard was a co-founder or Sci-Talk, a forum encouraging the inclusion of scientists in fiction - one can meet scientists of all disciplines and find out exactly what they do.

The event. It was chaired by Dr Jim Bennett, Director of the Oxford Museum of the History of Science, who professed bemusement at the topic right at the start, and that was not very conducive to a rich debate. The first half hour of an hour long session was taken up with the writers introducing their novels at some length - specifically their research... rather like a book launch. They then gave readings.

There was some talk about their research in conversation with the chair, who continued to look rather bemused as to why he was there. When it got to 'ten minutes to go', and no one had addressed the topic as it was advertised in the programme, I asked the first question. Something like 'At what point does story and character take off from the weight of research? How much fact do you feel necessary to include, and more importantly, can historic or scientific 'fact' be blurred to serve the story?'

Both writers asserted that 'story was everything'. Science was there to 'serve the story'. But then Rebecca Abrams added that in her case, the facts were of vital importance as she was exploring a real man, real medical events which were of vital importance to the history of obstetrics. What fascinated her was the human side of the story. And Ann Lingard looked rather nervously at Dr bennett, and said that if one was incorporating modern science into fiction, one had to be absolutely faithful to the science, or one would be caught out. Older science, she thought, might be used more flexibly within fiction... but Rebecca Abrams disagreed.

In the event, the audience (small--twenty of us or so) had many questions. And the chair bundled them up into a single question at the end.

The man next to me turned to me - I'm writing a historic novel, he said. I am really disappointed. I know no more now than when I came in.

I do, I said. I understand that it is unacceptable in the scientific community for fiction to play with scientific fact. And I dare say it is the same for academic historians.

I bought Rebecca Adam's book. I have read one hundred or so pages. And it is so laden with research, that there is very little real 'character', as far as I can see. I am not 'swept away' by the story at all. Having said that, I am finding the scenario absolutely fascinating. The writing is good, if a little overdone for this reader. But I am also utterly at a loss to see why she decided to write this as a novel, as to me, it feels far closer to biography. Well researched, but top-heavy with real details and explanatory passages that take this reader totally out of any semblance of story.

And that sort of takes me back to exactly where I was before I attended the event. Historical fiction is not an historical treatise, is it? Or does the inclusion of science in historical fiction render the facts sacrosanct, immovable? Likewise, why bring scientists and fiction writers together unless there is an understanding that fiction is IMAGINATION married to fact?




Friday 3 April 2009

One World Launch

The beautiful quadrangle where the launch took place.

Ovo Adagha and moi

L to R: Dan Raymond-Barker of New Internationalist, Jude Dibia, moi, Constantinos Tzikas, Elaine Chiew, Chris Brazier of New Internationalist, Ovo Adagha.

This took place in the JCR at Christ Church College, and although it had some fairly heftly competition (there are four or five events on in the same time slots), we were informed that it was a sellout! All tickets sold out. The room was packed, and there was standing room only. It was lovely.

Ovo Adagha was introduced by our lovely chairperson, and he intoduced the anthology, talking about his vision and how it came about. How it started as a Third World collection of stories and how we all threw out that concept very fast.

Elaine read first, then Jude, then it was my turn. I read the opening of the story, asking the audience to suspend disbelief to aee/hear me as a six-year-old Inuit girl! There was discussion about the project, how it was conceived, how writers were chosen. How we organised it, worked together and so on.

There was much mention of Zoetrope. The online forum where the anthology was born and where it grew up.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie read, then Ovo. There was much signing, and natter, and all the anthologies brought to the event went. Fantastico. I also signed a few of my own collection - Blackwells Bookshop had really done well.

We were then treated to dinner by New Internationalist at a nearby superb Chinese restaurant, in the company of James, the Fund Director of Medecins Sans Frontieres.

The anthology is much in evidence in the Blackwells marquee bookshop in the meadows!! One pile on a stand, and another on the signed books table.

It is REAL!