Wednesday 27 May 2009

Oh alright a few more pics.

More pic prompts... enjoy.

Tom's Voice Magazine

Oops. Forgot. Issue 9 of my special ezine has just gone up, thanks to Zoe King.
HERE it is. Tom's Voice Mag.


Am off to get me a few briges. Back soon. Write well, people. Make sparks. Here's a few pics to write from.


Here's the info on the West Cork Literary Festival, where I have just been asked to run the week-long Short Story for Beginners workshops.

The website now has me up there, but apparently following the previous writer's teaching plan. Which I will not be! We all teach differently.

If any participants are reading this, I don't mind what you bring along. Bring anything you like! Bring stories you have tried and you quite like but aren't sure about. Bring ideas! Bring the characters who knock on your eyes when you are sleeping, and the ones who natter to you whilst you are driving.

Bring that old photo you found, which won't quite let you forget it. Bring your favourite short story.

Or just bring yourself. The bit of you that wants to write. But doesn't quite know why or how.

West Cork Literary Festival HERE. 5 July to 11th July, Bantry, West Cork, Ireland.


You heard it here... the blog that doesnt know much mostly, but sometimes does.

The Salt Publishing Just One Book Campaign has come to the notice of Newsnight Review. Chris Hamilton Emery will be interviewed on this week's programme. BBC 1 11 pm, Friday 29th May.


Fantastic portrayal of first draft writing processes... in paint!

By writer Ania Vesenny. Whose blog is a real treasure box.

From the blog of writer Ania Vesenny HERE!


Beg, borrow or steal a ticket for this stage production of Michael Morpurgo’s novel War Horse. Please! (No, on second thoughts, don’t do the last option…) But do whatever you can to get to see this?

On the face of it… a children’s novel, on stage with puppet horses? Come ON!

Well, I took us up to see it last night. Us being bad-tempered husband, 63, ‘What on earth are we going up to see this for?’ and equally bad-tempered teenage son, 17. ‘Mum. I am tired, OK?’

I was listening to the radio in the car a few months back, and the lady who does the traffic news came into the studio. And in the chat’n’natter before she did her thing, she talked about War Horse, which she had seen the night before. She was breathless with excitement. ‘You just have to see it,’ she said to whoever was in the studio. ‘You just have to. I can’t describe it…’ This wasn’t an advert… but it was the best advert in the world.

War Horse tells the story of Joey, a colt from Devon, and Albert the 16 year old boy who loves him. It is WWI seen through the eyes of the horse, with fantastic coups de theatre that had us gasping. (We were right in the front row… and that was spectacular!)

It pulls no punches. It is raw, highly emotional, shocking and very very clever.

No longer bad-tempered husband. ‘That was spectacularly good.’
No longer bad-tempered son. ‘Thanks. Great stuff. Fantastic.’


Tuesday 26 May 2009

A FLYING FISH TALE. A short story.

This is the short story I wrote yesterday on the back of a fag packet, kind of, in the courtyard of the Royal Academy. I needed to convince myself, that no matter who nicks my creations, there are always and always more where that came from.

A Flying Fish Tale

It is a little-known fact, but fact it is, that far away in a country we now call Japan - and so many years ago that we do not have a number small enough to record the year – all the fishermen were poets and tellers of stories. Indeed, yes. They worked in all weathers on boats made of little else but paper, layer upon layer, glued together with the spittle of birds. And these boats were as light and as fast as the flying fish they sought.

Every day, with the exception of the annual celebrations commemorating the appearance of the first hair on the chin of the young Emperor, the villages and towns were supplied with copious amounts of flying fish.

Eating flying fish was thought to impart great power. It was believed, not without reason, that flying fish were the souls of drowned warriors killed in ancient battles with invaders who breached the horizon in sail-less boats made from the still-growing canes of green bamboo. To eat the fish not only imparted great strength and the sharpest wits, but if enough was consumed the eater was accorded the privilege of being able to commune with his ancestors.

But I digress.
The makers of poems and stories could no more make their words on land than fly. To stand on an earth that was unmoving, surrounded by mountains that merely stared back even when decked with snow or plum blossom, was a poor substitute for the sea. (Indeed, the old word for ‘a poor substitute’ is almost exactly the same as that for ‘earth’.) No- they needed the wind in their faces and on their chests- the skin nearest their minds and their hearts.

Their words came as they fished. The lightest words they made into sailcloth. The strongest words they wove into nets. And the heaviest words, the ones that came the hardest, from somewhere deep within their souls, they fashioned these into anchors and anchor chains.

Every boat fished its own apportioned section of the sea and never trespassed into the fishing ground of its neighbour. The seabed is never flat but mirrors the earth, and the anchor chains of each boat were made with an exact and secret number of links allowing the fishermen to drop anchor exactly in the right place. Their paper boats would be held secure with just enough play to rise and fall on the waves, whilst the fishermen spread their nets in a fine mist in the air, catching the fish as they flew by.

In this way, for countless centuries - a greater number than has yet been invented - the poets and storyteller fishermen nourished the country we now call Japan.

Their lightest words billowed and carried them through the most treacherous winds. Their strongest words caught flying fish in numbers not recordable. And their heaviest words, the ones that were hardest to make, tethered them to their chosen fishing grounds, holding their paper boats steady and safe until it was time to weigh anchor and head for home.

All was well. Until late one day, as darkness fell, in the week before the celebration of the first hair on the young emperor’s chin, under the cover of darkness, a boat made of the still-growing canes of green bamboo steered by a single oar, approached the sleeping fleet.

The lone sailor was a small man who wanted to become a fisherman. He wanted to catch his own flying fish and eat more than he could afford to buy at the market, rendering himself able to speak to his ancestors. But did not want to spend the years it took to make enough of his own words to weave sailcloth, make nets and forge heavy anchors and chains.

The bamboo boat floated between the sleeping fishing boats, and the small man looked round very carefully until he found the things he wanted. He climbed quietly onto one boat, and took the sails. He took the nets from another, and the anchor and chain from a third, then, on the tide, he floated out of the harbour and out to sea. Once in the open water, he secured the sails to a spar, and the wind filled them. The bamboo boat was carried many miles out into the ocean, past the fishing grounds, and on, towards the horizon. And when he was out of sight of the land and its few lights, he prepared to catch flying fish.

He trimmed the sails and set up the nets, raising them into the air on thin willow whips. And he waited. He did not have to wait long. Soon, flying fish flew into the nets in their dozens, and the small man rejoiced, and began singing to the fish.

But the weight of the fish caused the boat to drift… it began to circle lazily, and the next shoal of fish flew straight past. To catch more, the boat needed to be secured, to stay in one place.

The small man stopped in his singing and tied the end of the anchor chain to the boat with thick ropes. And he heaved the anchor over. The anchor fell down through the water, the chain curling down, down and down, deeper and darker, while the man watched and waited for the boat to stop drifting.

But the sea was deeper than the length of the chain. The anchor stopped dead in its fall through the water, and the bamboo boat began to tip, pulled down slowly but surely by its great weight. And with no one to watch save a few flying fish who were glad to be returned to the sea, the bamboo boat and all it contained, including the small man, was drawn beneath the water, down and down, until the anchor made from the heaviest words of others tethered it finally, deep in a crevasse. Where both it and he remain to this day.

It is said in those parts, that when the wind drops, and when the sea is calm, if you listen carefully - you can hear the last song of the would-be fisherman, singing still, a sad high song to the flying fish he caught just the once, trying to persuade them to let him speak.

Kuniyoshi, Salena Godden, Nick Hogg, Sue Guiney and

A day off fretting about my personal responsibility for letting a highly morally suspect writer into my writing life, and hence into the lives of my friends and colleagues. I DO feel this responsibility and hurt, and it will take a long time to get over it. People tell me to move on. And of course, I will.

However. Today was wonderful from start to finish! Look.

Train to London, where I had a blissful, indulgent and necessarily cathartic lunch with the novelist and poet Sue Guiney, at The Wolseley in Piccadilly.

Conversation ranged from the state of independent publishing, to how our books are doing, to what we are working on now, to plans for leaping on the technological bandwagon, to ‘isn’t this Bandol nice shall we have another glass and what about sharing an apple strudel?!’

We parted company with me feeling very jealous that Sue is off to Anam Cara Writers’ and Artists’ Retreat tomorrow.

Over the road to The Royal Academy, where I joined the queue that snaked in the bank Holiday sunshine, waiting to buy tickets for the Kuniyoshi exhibition.

From their website:
The Royal Academy of Arts presents an exhibition on one of the greatest Japanese print artists, Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1861). Featuring over 150 works, the exhibition presents Kuniyoshi as a master of imaginative design. Open until 7 June.

It was very different, great fun, and packed solid. As always, I get inspiration everywhere, and after the exhibition I went and sat with a few cups of tea for an hour or so, in the RA courtyard café, and wrote a story on the back of some scraps of paper. I shall post the story next.

Then, I walked to Soho, to Romilly Street, and down into the basement of no 23, where Salena Godden’s Book Club Boutique weekly literary and music event was hosting the launch of the paperback version of Nick Hogg’s Show me The Sky.

Cor. Blimey Moses. Has to be one of the BESTEST things I have been to for YONKS. (Is that enough capitals??)

Here are the rest of the line up… but there was also a lovely talented singer/flautist, who was Czech…if anyone can tell me her name, please do and I will add it in here.

Nicholas Hogg’s novel, Show Me the Sky (Canongate)

Salena Godden, punk poet and singer, and writer (article on her and her forthcoming book, here.)
Salena Godden's short stories and poetry can be found published in various magazines including Drawbridge; Rising; The Illustrated Ape; Nude Magazine; Salzburg Review; Trespass; The Gay Times; Le Gun; Litro; The Guardian; The Camden New Journal & Plectrum. Her work has also featured in many anthologies; Penguin’s IC3; Canongate’s Fire People; Serpents Tail’s Croatian Nights; Hodder & Stoughton’s Oral & Dedalus The Decadent Handbook. This spring, 2009, her writing will appear in two brand new anthologies; Punk Fiction & Dwang, alongside the likes of Dan Fante, Cathi Unsworth & Billy Childish among a great many others. HarperCollins / HarperPress won the auction for her debut childhood memoir Springfield Road to be published in hardback in spring 2010.

Simone Felice (who is a bloke)
And his writing is HERE

Simone Felice is the author of two novellas, GOODBYE, AMELIA and HAIL MARY FULL OF HOLES, and numerous short stories, poems and songs. He is a founding member of The Felice Brothers and his new band The Duke & King makes its UK debut on May 26th at London's Bush Hall. He is at work on a new novel, BLACK JESUS. He lives in the Catskill Mountains of New York State.

Nikesh Shukla is a writer, rapper and Saved By the Bell enthusiast caught between the cityscapes of Bombay and the green and pleasant land of London. His writing has been featured on BBC2, Radio 1 and 4, Resonance fm, Tell Tales and he has performed at Apples and Snakes, Soho Theatre and Glastonbury in his quest to destroy the perfect metaphor. He recently completed his first collection of short stories, I’ve Forgotten My Mantra, and records under the name Yam Boy, and with the group The D’Archetypes. Nikesh Shukla on HERE

I read a story to a packed bar. Could have heard a pin drop, bless em all. Summat called Road Kill - to do with war and explosions (very good for the psyche at the moment!). Seemed to go down OK. Got home at 1.00, and wrote for an hour.

Monday 25 May 2009

PLAGIARISM - What is it?

Recent events have made me interested in the definitions of plagiarism.

The US academic community seems to have a clear sense of what it is. Here is the advice to students from one university, the University of Indiana, taken from their website, HERE. I thought this was very clear, and very helpful. Although it is obviously an academic context, this definition appears to be applicable to creative writing too. I post it because it mentions not just words, but ideas.

Plagiarism. What it is and how to avoid it.

What is Plagiarism and Why is it Important?
In college courses, we are continually engaged with other people’s ideas: we read them in texts, hear them in lecture, discuss them in class, and incorporate them into our own writing. As a result, it is very important that we give credit where it is due. Plagiarism is using others’ ideas and words without clearly acknowledging the source of that information.

How Can Students Avoid Plagiarism?
To avoid plagiarism, you must give credit whenever you use

* another person’s idea, opinion, or theory;
* any facts, statistics, graphs, drawings—any pieces of information—that are not common knowledge;
* quotations of another person’s actual spoken or written words; or
* paraphrase of another person’s spoken or written words.

In addition, a quick look at an online guide to avoiding plagiarism for creative writing students at Lancaster University, turns up this:
You are committing plagiarism if you copy without acknowledgement:
• an idea;

I highlight areas of interest to creative writers.

.Little burglar-person from HERE

Sunday 24 May 2009


With thanks to Tania Hershman's blog , I can post a précis of what has happened in Salt’s Just One Book Campaign which started on Wednesday.
But before I do, a THANKYOU to everyone who loves reading and who values the importance of independent publishing. Especially those who have bought ‘just one book’ over the last few days. Have a little drink on me!

Oh my goodness. There I am with a HARDBACK book, which don’t sell easily at the best of times, (just so’s I can nod to my late Mum, a librarian, and say ‘Look, its beautiful, this book…). And despite that, you lovely lot made my book rise to unheard of heights in the Amazon charts, bobbing about in the top 100 short story collections with the best of them. Kafka. Miranda July. Ms Hershman’s The White Road. Lots of erotica collections. And several other Salt collections… David Gaffney’s Sawn Off Tales and Elizabeth Baines’ Balancing on the Edge of the World.

My little hardback Glass Bubble bobbed about fine, thanks! Held her own just as you’d expect from a lassie wearing a pink jumper.

Here’s Tania’s précis of Chris Hamilton- Emery’s post today.

Wednesday 23rd: In the next eight hours, I receive hundreds of notes of support. We receive 122 orders and sales begin to grow, around £2,600 before we switch off our lights and close the bedroom laptops. Something extraordinary is beginning.

Thursday, 21 May, Jen can’t wait to see Tom’s face in the office. It’s the largest number of orders we’ve had in a day......

....Hundreds more orders have come in. Everyone is picking books from the shelves, packing and franking post. There’s a system emerging. Tom handles the UK, Jen is drop shipping orders in the US, Charlotte is handling unusual and awkward orders where stocks are in multiple locations. I’m given the task to spread the word. By the end of the day we’ve taken a further 260 orders and the news of Salt’s plight is going global. ...Hits to the Web site explode.

Friday 22 May, the team have managed to catch up with the previous afternoon’s orders. The Bookseller pick up on the story. The phone doesn’t stop ringing. During the course of the day, a further 157 orders come in. Twitter is full of the news, our authors are picking up on the story. It seems as if everyone we’ve known is pulling together to save Salt. We’re overwhelmed. All I can think of is the closing scenes of Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life and Jen and I are James Stewart and Donna Reed. I wonder if it will continue, if it does, in 18 days we’ll be saved, in 30 we’ll be able to take the business forward.

Saturday 23 May. A further 51 orders have come in this morning. We’ve vowed to stop drinking in the evenings. We need all our wits. ...I soft launch the new author portal. I cycle back to feed the kids and swap over with Jen. She heads off to package up more orders. We’re overwhelmed, astonished, humbled. Humbled. How often do we use that word in business?

Little drink pic from HERE

BABIES!!! Welcome to Juno!

Congratulations, Nuala ni Chonchuir and Mr Nuala!
One proud Mum.
One gorgeous, scrummy new Juno.

The middle two pics nicked from Nuala's blog and website.
Foot piccie from here

Saturday 23 May 2009

20 Photographs, 20 Stories

My story, in the frame!

The open book... with thanks to Nik's blog for the pics.

Sometimes, far from being a negative thing (I am still battling with the colleague who has gone too far in borrowing the work of others, and fingers crossed very tightly that something is getting through the rhino-hide....) this writing experience is simply lovely.

In the post this week came my copy of 20 Photos, 20 Stories. And I must say how beautiful the book is. My own camera has decided to throw a tantrum, otherwise I would have pictures of it, on the desk, outside in the garden, in my shed..everywhere. Because it is really something to be so proud of.

The book is a really lovely thing to own. The photographs are wonderful. Each one makes me want to use it for a writing prompt. They are wistful, enigmatic, and carry such potential. I have it on the coffee table thing/footstool in my sitting room, and it is causing a buzz of interested conversation with my visitors.

The official launch of the book is this Sunday. You can read about it on Nik Perring's blog HERE and on the photographer, Katherine Lewis's website HERE

The book has been done for a good cause. All profits are going to an Alzheimer's charity. Again, all details are on the websites linked above.Setting up the launch...

From Katherine's website...

Friday 22 May 2009


Salt Publishing has been wearing its heart on its sleeve this week... and the response from people seeing their messages has been moving, extraordinary. It's a little like Peter Pan's exhortation to make Tink better by believing in fairies. Their message is this:


Words from a Glass Bubble has risen to 24 in the Amazon charts of short story collection sales.Tania Hershman's The White Road and other Stories is higher than that. No 6 or something. And two other Salt collections, Balancing on the Edge of the World by Elizabeth Baines, and Sawn Off Tales by David Gaffney are in the top 100.
This is like the top ten of my teen years, only better!

I have all those. So I just bought a few more copies of Ballistics, by Alex Keegan. A fabulous, fabulous collection. I use it to teach from, and someone always wants my copy....I have to have backups.

If you read this, you probably read blogs where Salt’s message is reproduced in full. It doesn’t matter where you buy a book from. But please…

WRITERS: support one of the best independent presses in the UK. Let the Arts Council grant money they should have had pay instead for established writers with mainstream contracts to research their next novels …(this is like the parliamentary scandal!!) but LETS BACK THE INDIES!

READERS: In the end, the variety and depth of books available is thanks to the indies. Without them, we’d lose access to the work of countless authors, poets, novelists, short fiction writers. The real shelves and online shelves would be bursting with WAG memoirs, and time fillers for beaches. Mostly.

Salt Publishing books can be bought direct from SALT PUBLISHING HERE
From AMAZON HERE from The Book Depository HERE and can be found or ordered in good bookshops.

Thursday 21 May 2009

photo prompt for workhouse...

The View from the Bridge

To Brighton's Theatre Royal to see this iconic play about betrayal, identity, family honour and love this afternoon. At least, thats what I think it's about. It seemed to be about so much that I can't possibly do it justice here. Save to say it was one of the best plays I have seen.

Wednesday 20 May 2009

Well well well

Curate's egg, yesterday was.

First the nasty bits. I discovered a writing colleague has maybe been appropriating the work of others, changing it slightly and submitting it as original work. Plagiarism is a dreadful thing for a writer to do. It is an abuse of trust, and in this case, of friendship.

Also, my publisher, Salt, put out several statements yesterday that seemed to be telling me and others that my/our books were not to be published.

Nicer bits:

I am assured by Salt that my books WILL be published. (Roller coaster...)

I attended a charity supper, a mix of three reading groups and various. Me speaking. The charity, breast cancer. Twenty guests, lovely supper, wine flowed. Twelve or thrirteen had bought the book in advance from Amazon/shops etc.
I took 18 more along, and took just one home. That lot I gave to the charity, and peeps were kind and bought them for about a tenner each. So thats about £170 before we start. It will be interesting to see how much the evening made.

Nicest bit... I got my copy of the wonderful photo/story book Nik and Katherine have put together for an Alzheimer's charity.
I am dog-tired and emotional following point one. Or I would do a proper post for the wonderful book! But I would probably get the links wrong at the moment, so I will put that up in a more sparky post tomorrow.

Tomorrow is another day. I am writing all night, to remind myself that writing IS GOOD.

Or... maybe not. zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Tuesday 19 May 2009


Ive been a bit blocked writing the next bit of dear old Great oeuvre. So am keeping a note of wordcount for today here as I go, with the aim of doing a few thousand. (I am out for lunch talking about interesting writery stuff, and also out this evening at a charity supper where I am guest speaker... so don't have as much time as I'd like...)

Before putting kettle on: 414 words. 7.49 am
Going for brekkie: 747 words. 08.20 am
Takes a long time to read the paper, answer the phone... 927 words. 10.15 am
Hopeless habit: I go back and edit, get voice right, unwriting etc.. 1047 words. 11.32.
Fab. My characters are doing unplanned things.. 1249 wds 12.13
Break for lunch.. 1670 wds 13.04

The last few hardbacks...

You can check the availability of books at Gardners the book people HERE. You just put in the ISBN number, and can watch the numbers of your book dwindling, or annoyingly, staying steady. Hmph.

It was always going to be a gamble, deciding to do my collection in hardback. I did so for a few daft reasons, none to do with clear thinking about marketing... more for sentimental reasons.
My late mother was a librarian, she adored her books, and they were all hardback. She saw paperbacks as disposable, and no decent book was ever disposable. But also, I wanted a beautiful object to enjoy. So not clear headed thinking at all!

Not a good idea, really, in hindsight, with credit crunches and recessions to add to people not buying books anyway. But somehow, my collection has managed to stay in the top few of Salt sales on Amazon, and that's lovely.
So it is with mixed feelings that I watch the last few copies of Words from a Glass Bubble in hardback dwindle at Gardners. I have a few here, then that is that.
The paperback edition is on the chocks, and will be exciting to see. It's also been a chance for Salt to put some more review quotes on the cover, and that is great.


The next in my awards for courteous editors goes to Christian Ward of the poetry/prose site Ink Sweat and Tears. (See their submissions details HERE)
Frequently, he gets back to you within hours. 24 hours is a long time for him.
Thank you, Christian, on behalf of beleagured writers everywhere!


I was reading this again at the hairdresser's this morning. Surrounded by copies of 'Hello' and 'OK' and 'um' and 'er'. It has to be one of the best short stories in existence, and if it isn't, I'd like to know why.

I found the text online, HERE. Just for you. Go on. It's short...

One thing struck me as I began the story. By the end of the first page (the first fifteen lines of the text above), I have a clear sense of five characters and their relationships with each other, interpersonal tensions as well as family relationships. Perfectly done. It underlines for me that it is in reading work like this that any aspiring writer can learn so much. Direct from a master.

(The shirt? Read the story.)

Thank you to Tom Conoboy, whose seriously literary blog is HERE for THIS LINK where you can download a file and hear Flannery O'Connor reading A Good man Is Hard To Find herself.

(I chose the slow option, it took 3 years and froze my computer. Maybe there is a skill to this that I have not yet mastered...)

Monday 18 May 2009

I made a word up...

Well.. I didnt KNOW I made a word up. But I did. I have always referred to the (sometimes) bad writing that appears in some womens mag short stories as 'womaggery'.
Done it for years. If you google the word, its mine all mine!
(I was informed of this today on the Workhouse.

Coolio. I have been awarded a thingummy by two nice peeps...PEEP ONE HERE and PEEP TWO HERE. Thank you!!!

It comes with conditions...
You have to link to those who nominated you. You have to list seven things you love. And pass it on to seven blogs you love. Well, see, that’s using the word ‘love’ wrongly. I like and enjoy blogs, but I don’t ‘love’ them, I’m afraid!!

Hmm. Things I love.

1) All my family.
2) The scent of the air after rain. Go outside as the rain stops. Shut your eyes and breathe in slowly… nothing like it.
3) The sensation of being suspended in water. (I enjoy swimming, but it is the feeling of water round me that I love. Iris Murdoch loved it too. Maybe I’m going the same way as Iris…)
4) Meeting new thoughts, ideas, being challenged. Learning something new.
5) My means of writing whether paper and pencil, pens, computer and keyboard. I do not love my computer otherwise.
6) Solitude. I enjoy my own company, time to reflect, think, not think. Just ‘be’. I love going to Anam Cara Writers’ and Artist’s Retreat, seeking just that. The joy is that you can also dip your toes into good company and withdraw when it suits.
7) Reading a short story that is so good, so resonant, that I disappear totally into the fictive world for the duration of the story, am carried along in the current then thrown back into my world, gasping. No novel can do this. There’s a challenge… if you know better…

And I have to send the award to others.

But the blogs I enjoy have probably already got the award… hey. I don’t care! I award this to you lot for the enjoyment you give me, for educating me, for making me smile, for your honesty and for putting life into perspective.

Willesden Herald
Sara Crowley
Sarah Salway
Tania Hershman
Literary Rejections on Display
Nik Perring


The ten finalists in the StorySouth Million Writers Awards 2008 have been announced HERE on Jason Stanford's blog.
These are as good as you'll find anywhere, arguably...I am going to have a lovely time reading and then choosing one to vote for!

Sunday 17 May 2009


Following my recent exhortations to mag editors to be a little more courteous in their dealings with submitters, I am dee-lighted to report that there are a few 'awards' (from here and there!) for speedy/courteous replies.
Firstly, Tania Hershman reminded us HERE how fast and efficient is Coop Renner, editor of elimae. He will often come back to you within a day, and has even suggested alternative places to submit.

Now I have one to add. The organisers of the Binnacle Untra-Short competition, (University of Maine) have taken the trouble to email all their entrants to explain exactly how the judging is progressing, as it is taking longer than the suggested timeline on the website. And how, if you don't hear by 15th June, you can check a specific link to see if your work is free to send elsewhere.There are over 900 writers to contact. Done, dusted. Lovely people. These guys are writers themselves, I will bet.
If they can do this, then why on earth can't similar venues?

I would love to hear of similar lovely editors/organiserrs. Let's let them know how much we appreciate them! If you know of a great editor who replies fast to your submissions, let me know. I have a few more to add to the list, later.

here's the Binnacle email.
Dear Vanessa,

Thank you for your submission to our Sixth Annual Ultra-Short Competition. We at The Binnacle have received over 900 entries this year and are very pleased about the quality of the submissions. We apologize for the delay in replying to your message, and we would like to take this opportunity to explain a few things about the competition and how it is progressing.

First, we would like to reassure you that this is not at all a vanity competition. We have several judges scrutinizing all entries carefully: they will select approximately fifty to sixty works to include in this edition. (I will serve, as always, as arbiter.) Several of these fifty to sixty writers will receive cash prizes, and all the works included in the edition will be much admired.

Second, we would like to give you an idea of what our timeline will be. The judging is finally in progress, and we hope the judges will draw their conclusions by June 15. As such judging is no simple matter, we need to be patient. After the notifications are completed (see #3) and the file is complete, we will begin production. The production of the volume takes a good deal of time. As the volume is hand-produced in an alternative format, it takes months to produce. Though we aim for mid-October, we usually do not complete production until mid- or late-December.

Third, we want you to know how you will learn if your work has been selected. Though we would love to be able to contact all the writers and explain why each work will or will not be included, such notification, given our staff and commitments, is impossible. Instead, we offer you our update page at, which will list the winners and honorable mentions.

Fourth, all entries included in the edition and not designated as winners shall be considered honorable mentions. Once all the selections have been made, we will contact each winner and honoree to make sure that all our information is complete and up-to-date. Then we will get to work on the production of the edition.

Once again, thank you for your interest in The Binnacle. We believe that anyone willing to bear his or her work/soul/heart to others is a winner. Whether or not you are chosen for inclusion in this specific edition, we congratulate you on your efforts.

All the Best,


Gerard NeCastro
The Binnacle Editor/Advisor
& Sometimes Professor of English
& Sometimes Chair of the Arts & Letters Division
19 Kimball Hall
University of Maine at Machias
9 O'Brien Avenue
Machias, ME 04654

Saturday 16 May 2009


It apprears that Saturday 16 May has been designated Write Your Ass Off Day by the New York Writers' Coalition. So we're joining in. (Thats the Royal We!)
Thank to Emerging Writer for the logo and the info!

Actual stuff on NY Writers' Coalition websiter HERE
but lots of writers are picking this up and dedicating as much as they can of today (or tomorrow, in my case!) to their own writing. Internet off. No blogging. Just sink in....

Friday 15 May 2009

Another lit fest...

This is great fun! And lucky too.
Another literary festival has contacted me to run a series of workshops, and I have agreed to do so.
It won't be easy sorting this one out for one reason and another, but they have been very generous and are paying for transport, which includes a plane...and a hotel.
I won't say which festival it is yet, as I am replacing a writer who is unable for personal reasons to do the week. As soon as it is public, I will post. But I LOVE teaching, its a real buzz. And this festival has some lovely writers coming to it... so I shall have a brilliant time.

Thursday 14 May 2009

SHORT CIRCUIT A Salt Publishing Guide to the Art of the Short Story

Thanks to the generosity, hard work and passion of the writers and teachers below, the final manuscript of SHORT CIRCUIT finally went to Salt Publishing this week.

It’s taken six months of hard graft, during which it has been well nigh impossible to write much fiction myself… it was as though that side of my brain had closed down. But thankfully, due largely to the buzz of the Fiction Workhouse, I’ve managed to keep some level of creativity up, and hope to return to normal form very soon.

In these pages are generous chapters from some of the strongest writers of short fiction I could find.
In terms of major awards, this team have among others, won the folllowing:
The National Short Story Award, 6 Bridport Prizes, 3 Fish Prizes, 2 Commonwealth Awards, the Asham Award, Pen MacMillan Silver Pen Award, Writers’ inc Writer of the Year.

When you are asked to source the content, contribute yourself, and edit a book like this, it would be easy to close down under the weight of responsibility. Responsibility to Salt, who are just fantastic and dedicated and who are throwing themselves behind this book (born out of a conversation in Cork last year), responsibility to the aspiring writers who may pick up this book in the hope that it will help them on their way… but also a responsibility to myself… I was NOT prepared to fail on this one. Also, I decided not to source all the major chapters from Salt writers, over half had to be with other publishers.

It took a few days of thinking, in a mild state of panic, back in September, when Salt gave me this commission. And I came to the conclusion that the best way to approach the book was to create the book I would have loved to have myself, when I was a relative newbie writer.

I didn’t want to be talked down to. I didn’t want the very basic things you can learn anywhere, fast. I wanted in-depth discussion of the individual craft elements set in context – within a close look at the creative practices of successful writers of short fiction including many very successful teachers of writing.

I did not just want theory (although there is a place for that, and theory can be found in many many places.) I wanted to read chapters from writers prepared to analyse their own working practices, their own creative inspirations.

It is astounding how much generosity these writers have, their willingness to share with each other, their willingness to share with those starting out.

What I have created is the book I’d have loved back then, but also a book I will love now. Where I can find the companionship of other writers sharing their creative thoughts. I will find writing exercises for when I need to stretch myself and try different things. I will find list upon list of inspirational short stories, stories that have planted seeds in the spirits of all these superb writers.

Twenty four writers. In-depth chapters in the form of essays, two interviews with Tobias Hill and Clare Wigfall (that was fun to do - hours on the phone, talking writing with two great people, great writers. What an excuse!) And a buzzy 'epilogue' from six Salt writers.

I know Salt are busy creating the cover, and as soon as that is done, I will upload it here. Meanwhile, thank you to Jen Hamilton-Emery for giving me this project. It’s been exciting, amazing and exhausting!

Below are the contents, with links to the writers.

Graham Mort: Finding Form in Short Fiction
Clare Wigfall: “I Hear Voices”: Voice and building character
Alison MacLeod: Writing and Risk-Taking
Nuala Ni Chonchuir: Language and Style
Chika Unigwe: Settings. A Sense of Place.
Alex Keegan: Understanding Earthquakes. The Importance of Theme.
Lane Ashfeldt: Building a World
Adam Marek: What my gland wants. Originality in short fiction.
Catherine Smith: Myth and Imagination.
Tobias Hill: Character, dialogue, and much more.
Sarah Salway: Stealing Stories.
Elizabeth Baines: True Story, Real Story – Good Fiction?
Tania Hershman: Art Breathes from Containment
David Gaffney: Get Shorty. The micro-fiction of Etgar Keret.
Marian Garvey: On Intuition. Writing into the Void.
Elaine Chiew: Endings
Paul Magrs: Thoughts on Writing Fiction, at the End of Term
Vanessa Gebbie: i) Leaving the door ajar: Opening the short story
ii) Hard Work, Persistence, Luck and a Bowl of Fruit. The Short Story Competition game.

Epilogue: Some final thoughts:
Linda Cracknell,
Carys Davies,

David Grubb, Zoe King, Matthew Licht, Jay Merrill.

MANCHESTER FICTION PRIZE...£10,000 for a short story. Go for it, writers!

The Manchester Fiction Prize 2009
First prize: £10,000
Deadline for entries: 7th August 2009
Entry fee: £15

The Writing School at Manchester Metropolitan University is launching The Manchester Fiction Prize – a new literary competition celebrating excellence in creative writing.

The Manchester Fiction Prize is open internationally and will award a cash prize of £10,000* to the writer of the best short story submitted. The competition is open to entrants aged 16 or over; there is no upper age limit.

A bursary for study at MMU will also be awarded to an entrant aged 18-25 as part of the Jeffrey Wainwright Manchester Young Writer of the Year Award*. Eligible entrants are asked to indicate on the entry form if they would like to be considered for the Manchester Young Writer of the Year Award in addition to the main prize.

All entrants are asked to submit a complete short story of up to 5,000 words in length. The story can be on any subject, and written in any style, but must be new work, not published or submitted for consideration elsewhere. The competition will be judged by distinguished novelists and short story writers Sarah Hall, M. John Harrison and Nicholas Royle.

The Manchester Fiction Prize celebrates the substantial cultural and literary achievements of Manchester, building on the work of MMU’s Writing School and enhancing the city's reputation as one of Europe's most adventurous and creative spaces. The prizes will be awarded at a gala ceremony, held as part of the 2009 Manchester Literature Festival.

To enter the competition, click "online entry" in the column on the left of your screen. If you would like a printed entry pack for postal submission, or if you have any queries, please contact:
James Draper
Project Manager: Writing School
Department of English
Manchester Metropolitan University
Telephone: +44 (0) 161 247 1787

Downloadable forms etc on their website HERE

Monday 11 May 2009

An Elegy For Easterly -Petina Gappah

I would like to recommend this debut collection by Zimbabwean writer Petina Gappah to anyone who loves short stories and anyone who has yet to discover their power.
My review of An Elegy for Easterly appears in the current issue of HERE
When this book wins something major, remember you read about it here. (and in most broadsheets!)

Friday 8 May 2009

Courtesy in writing, editing, accepting and rejecting

I may be old fashioned, but I think, if you put out a call for writers to submit to you, and they do, that it is only right to respond graciously in due course. Whether you are accepting or rejecting the work.

Do As You Would Be Done By seems to be appropriate here.

Mentioning no names, no pack drill, but I am sure that the high falutin' editors of at least two very decent literary publications I have looked at in the last 24 hours would not be chuffed to be treated with the disdain with which they appear to be treating the vast majority of those who submit work to them.

Email submission is easy. And green. So is a return email with a standard 'thank you but no thank you' message after the appropriate time. And it makes it far more likely that those rejected this time round will keep you in their sights for next time. Unless, of course that is your real agenda. And what the rejects should be reading is 'Get lost. Your work is crap. Don't bother trying again."

"If you havent heard from us within four months, five months, even no time scale... hard luck," is, with today's technology, arrogant in the extreme. It is treating writers with disdain.

Thursday 7 May 2009

LES MURRAY at Goldsmith's

Last night Sara Crowley and I had a great visit to Goldsmith’s College where the Australian poet Les Murray, (winner among other things of the T S Eliot Prize and the Queen’s medal for Poetry) was giving a reading.
The last time I went up to London with Sara I manage to miss meeting her train at Hayward’s Heath. This time I was in plenty of time and was munching my way through a bag of crisps (late lunch) on the platform when the train came in.
Great to see both her and Les Murray, whose reading was simply great.
And it’s a funny thing, we were wondering afterwards, what synchronicities were at play in her invitation to attend. Then in her invitation to me.
I think we decided that it was a message from on high (or below) about being yourself, and just writing your own stuff. Not trying to ‘fit in’ with any movement, or requirements set by other people. And about not being blinded by bullshit, of which there are many peddlers about.

Sara blogs HERE
Les Murray has information and many great poems HERE

And HERE he is on Wikipedia:

T'was also lovely and fortuitous to meet Chrissie Gittins, whose latest book launch last week I has to miss, sadly. We had a natter about the precarious state of independent publishing.

Her latest book is a collection of poetry from Salt Publishing: I'll Dress One Night as You. The collection contains a sequence of poems chosen for publication by Les Murray himself in the Australian magazine, Quadrant.

The Commonwealth Short Story Competition

The Commonwealth Short Story Competition closes on 11 May. Get your entries in! You can send up to three entries, all under 600 words, and it is free of charge. What’s to lose?

From the website:
The competition

The Commonwealth Short Story Competition is an annual scheme to promote new creative writing. It was established in 1996. It is funded by the Commonwealth Foundation and the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association, who work together to administer the scheme.

The scheme exists to increase understanding and appreciation of Commonwealth cultures and to promote rising literary talents. Each year 26 winning and highly commended stories from the different regions of the Commonwealth are recorded on to CDs and broadcast on radio stations across the Commonwealth. The winner receives a prize of £2,000 and there are regional prizes of £500.

How to enter

The competition is open to all people who are citizens of a Commonwealth member country.

There is no age limit or requirement to write about a particular theme. Entries may be made by both amateur and professional writers.

Further details on the Commonwealth Short Story Competition website, HERE

Saturday 2 May 2009


Delighted to hear that a little micro-story inspired by an intriguing photograph of a chicken (!!) has been chosen for inclusion in a rather special book.
Author Nik Perring, who blogs HERE,
is working in partnership with photographer Katherine Lewis whose website is HERE
to produce a book of 20 photographs and 20 micro-stories.

The book will not be on sale very widely, so is limited edition stuff… and proceeds are going to an Alzheimer’s charity. If you want one, let them know fast.

They ran a little blogworld competition, inviting readers to send in 50 word stories illustrating one of Katherine’s photos. The one above.

And tis very funny... if you look at the link Katherine has given me, to Flickr HERE you'll see the photo much larger, and see that it is entitled 'Trust'. I didnt know that. But it said it through the image anyway. Perfect!

I love it when the writing world does things like this.

Friday 1 May 2009

ECHOES - Working with prompts

When I first started writing fiction, I was taught to write to prompts. My tutor would produce a series of them, words with no apparent connection juxtaposed, half a line of poetry, a colour, snippets from anywhere. I found it extraordinary how often I could pick a line for no apparent reason, just follow the connections, and if I wrote fast enough, a story would emerge.
One of the instructions would always be to pick the prompt that 'spoke' to you in some way. A quick glance over the list, and something would begin to resonate. Some sort of heat would rise off the page, or the screen. A vibration in my head. I can't explain it better than that.

Last night, a group of us who work online at The Fiction Workhouse used twenty prompts produced by a non-writing member of the team, to write a story in an hour. The deal is that you have to look at the prompts, start writing, incorporate every single one (you can change them grammatically, use a cental image rather than the whole line) in order, into your story. And within 60 minutes, your work must be written, checked and posted.

Four writers, yesterday. Same prompts.
Story 1) A boisterously voiced piece, first person, a traveller up in court for being among other things, drunk and disorderly. Hilarious. Very free and daft.
Story 2) Set somewhere in Africa, a couple returning from their jobs as servants back to their village for a wedding. Acutely observed.
Story 3) A lyrical exploration of a strange character who hears the ground singing, following the loss of his father in a mining acident.
Story 4) In bedtime stories, a grandfather tells his grandson of the war, and his experiences on a submarine. The last story he tells reveals something dark.

The point is, each writer had different things going on in their heads, and identical prompts took them to totally different stories. Its an amazing thing to do.
Conversation afterwards revealed that two writers had ideas already, and used the prompts to spill out a brewing story. The other two created new stuff, entirely.

Whatever way you use prompts, they can work wonders.
But one more thing. Further natter reveals that some writers (including me) use prompts to unblock half-written stories. I was reminded of the title story from my collection, Words form a Glass Bubble, which got stuck in the production line, and languished on my hard drive for months. Then I picked up a list of old prompts, thinking to just play, write a flash, something different. The story was not even in my head.
But something about the first prompt brought the story to mind. All it was was this:
"Me, who's never travelled" (or something like it -) and I opened the file, typed that line and I was off. An hour later, the draft was finished. Incorporating all the prompts in that list, in order.

They are still there. I know which they are, the reader wouldn't notice them because they became an integral part of the flow.

Why did they work? What was it about those particular prompts that opened me up creatively, melded with the story, became part of it?
I think it has something to do with echoes. Hence the title of this post. Think sonar. Think of words sending their sounds and meanings deep into our psyches. So that the initial bounce-back excites, stirs. And if you continue to send those sounds and meanings, the bounce back will set up a resonance that takes you out of yourself, into the world you are creating. Unconsciously. Your own mind sets up the vibrations, picks up rhythms, and lets loose connections that surprise and astound.

Not all prompts hold that magic. Although you can (and I do) write to amything. Words, images, sounds, scents. They can all work some magic.
But the right words, at the right time, when you are unconsciously looking for something, and some of its essence is hidden in their echoes, is indescribably good.

Is that why lines of poetry are good? Even phrases, but those created by amazing wordsmiths, the tips of icebergs, with layer upon layer of resonance beneath the words? I don't know.
All I know is this: words work. Words that echo. Echo somewhere inside, in your psyche. And for that reason, when you find them, keep them close.