Friday 21 August 2009


Until Sept.
Son did v well in first A levels.
Son passed his driving test.
Am 6500 words into rewrite of a novel section, and 2500 into a new one.

Sunday 16 August 2009


Yes, chaps, I have discovered Photo Booth on my laptop. Yes… I know… I am always late finding these things. As I am a Gemini I thought the above two-headed monster was rather appropriate.

Writing news
Not much to report. Ploddeth on. Maybe it has to do with younger son taking his driving test this week, coupled with the imminent arrival of his AS levels. Maybe it has to do with having a party here for a few thousand on Friday night and a Saturday morning headache... or the husband having toothache for the first time in his life. Or the cat keeping me awake fighting underneath the bedroom window. Or, far more likely, my own lack of motivation, and needing a holiday. In the end we may blame everyone else and the cat, but there’s only one person who can write our stuff. Us. Me.

Book news
Short Circuit, the Salt Guide to the Art of the Short Story, is in line for typesetting at the publisher’s. And marketing plans are being mulled over. The file has also gone to the head of CW at a regional university, and I am keeping my fingers crossed for an endorsement quote.

Teaching news
Plans for the Bridport festival workshop are now finalised. I needed to create something that would be suitable for all comers.
As follows:
Kick-Start your Creativity
The question ‘Where do stories come from?’ is finally answered. ‘Everywhere!’
A buzzy, busy participative workshop designed to open up creativity and liberate the imagination. Come prepared to have fun, to share and to write. Start your very own story seed-bank.

Ursula le Guin’s book news
I bought a copy of Ursula le Guin’s book ‘Steering the Craft’. For a writer like me it is superb - we seem to think the same. Lots of excellent advice, exercises. Like talking to a friend. WHY didnt I know about this one?

The ‘plagiarism’ debate
It rolls on. Paul Auster’s New York agent has been in contact with Jane Smith (she of the laudable and rather brilliant How Publishing Really Works, where the whole sorry saga unrolled itself recently), and have expressed their displeasure.

Off to Cornwall for two weeks, on Friday 20th. the first week with friends, the second with family. Then off to Ireland on Monday 7th Sept, to Anam Cara. Escaping to write for a whole fortnight, or just over.

Fiction Workhouse
I have not yet been informed of the name change, but as far as I’m concerned, my Fiction Workhouse has closed. I have had a few sweet messages from writers who valued the place for however long. Had this comment here,
Thank you for having set it up in the first place, and for running it with such vast reserves of energy and commitment.
I have made friends for life, whose feedback I value extremely highly, from the brief spell at FW. Not to mention writing, getting critted and rewriting a story in a day which earned me a grand. That wouldn't have happened if it hadn't been for FW.

Thank you Susannah Rickards. I cant tell you what it meant to read that. (She won the Conan Doyle Award with that story. A tidy grand. Congrats again.)

Almost finally 'Good poets steal' - T S Eliot
This from the website of Nancy Prager, Counsellor and Attorney at Law, who researched the meaning of the above. The whole article is excellent.
The actual quotation is taken from T.S. Eliot’s critical essay on the playwright Philip Massinger, and his works.

Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different. The good poet welds his theft into a whole of feeling which is unique, utterly different than that from which it is torn; the bad poet throws it into something which has no cohesion. A good poet will usually borrow from authors remote in time, or alien in language, or diverse in interest.

I loved the trees in Yosemite, growing out of cracks in granite, their roots finding what they need somehow, against all the odds. That gives me comfort at the moment, because I see being a writer like those trees. Sometimes it is hard to carry on. Sometimes we get 'blocked'or life brings bad times. But if those trees can do what they do despite the odds, so can we.

Finally finally
I have a new blog. One In Half A Million. HERE It's self-explanatory.

Tuesday 11 August 2009


Seems like it is a popular passtime, copying the work of others. The Telegraph Online carries a story about would-be prize-winning poets who have been found to be lifting lines from published poets in a bid to earn themselves a cash prize. This from the website:

Prison poets caught in plagiarism bid
A project to encourage prisoners to explore their inner self through verse has suffered a setback after inmates were caught plagiarising poems in a bid to win a £25 prize.

The Telegraph online has the whole story HERE

Monday 10 August 2009

Salt Publishing Bestsellers of all time

Well, I can't tell you how many books Salt Publishing has been midwife to, over the years. A lot.
And it is extraordinary, see that there are a few familiar books in their All-Time Bestseller list, posted this week on their website.

The White Road and other Stories by Tania Hershman
Some New Ambush by Carys Davies

Words from a Glass Bubble
by Vanessa Gebbie

Final Goodbye to The Fiction Workhouse

A final goodbye to the Fiction Workhouse, the online place I created back in February 2007, and where I worked for most of those two and a half years, writing, chivvying, critiquing, analysing, discussing, arguing, and bollocking.
I have taken breaks, even ‘left’ once intending not to go back, then did. But this is different.
Recent experiences are still taking their toll. I can’t work with people I don’t know well personally any more. I can’t post any unpublished work for feedback any more. I don’t even really want to read it out to anyone else. Although I will, I know. It is just harder to do right now. I need company and am getting that from my family.
I can’t expend huge amounts of energy supporting anyone else’s writing journey any more, both my hands having been bitten so badly. I need all that energy for my own journey.
But more importantly, if I am not there online, chivving, keeping an eye, I don’t know that things are still as rigorous, as focussed and as hardworking as I always wanted them to be in ‘my place’.
So, the forum has been taken out of my vast internet holdings and it is now officially owned by someone else. And it will no longer be called The Fiction Workhouse. I retain that domain name, and may well use it again in years to come. Besides, what if the site becomes a site for bad erotica writers? With zombies doing the erotics? And happy twist-in-the-tail/tale endings? What if it becomes in time just any old writing place, chat shop mostly and no focus, strings of low-grade hits and everyone rushing around congratulating everyone else when in their hearts they know it and they could/should be working differently. No progression?

Then it would not be The Fiction Workhouse would it?

As soon as I know the name I will add it here. And at some point I will write a post describing the vision that led to me setting it up, and how it was configured. How it worked.

(pic from HERE)

Saturday 8 August 2009

Review of Bubble on Vulpes Libris

A mixed review of Words from A Glass Bubble on Vulpes Libris today by the prolific and straight-talking writer Anne Brooke. I am eternally grateful that people take the time to read closely for comment, whether they give me a glowing endorsement or not.
To the review. As I say, some OK, some not. Some lovely, generous approval, of stories like Closed Doors, for example. And the title story of which she says,
There are some stories that are soul-grippingly good. Particularly class acts included the title story itself, “Words from a Glass Bubble”, which is a fascinating tale about the strangeness of religion and loss and how every human peculiarity can be used to produce a positive and satisfying result. Characterisation here is both intricate and clear – a special pleasure.

Poor old ‘Tommo’, among others, (see post below) comes in for less good comment.
On the negative side, some of the stories teeter dangerously towards shades of the melodramatic – parts of the already very dramatic “I Can Squash the King, Tommo” seem rather overwritten and the end particularly took me out of the world the author wanted me to stay in at a point in the text when I should have been fully immersed in the tale.

But the most interesting (and puzzling) assertion is that I ‘write for competitions’. I am not sure where that comes from. I have never said it, only done it once myself, and indeed, when I teach, I tell writers not to! My single exception is the flash on ‘lust’ for Small Wonder Festival slam back in 2006. It is on the Small Wonder Website.
This is what she says:
It also struck me as I was reading that some of the stories, especially those in the first half of the collection, had that particular feel of being competition entries that had not been edited rigorously enough to feel entirely at ease at finding themselves in a working collection – I’m not sure I can fully explain what I mean by that concept (and yes, shame on me for that evident failing). Something perhaps about the smoothness, the turn of phrase or the ideas expressed …? I could be wrong here (heaven knows, that happens often enough) but surely there is a difference between a story written for a competition and a story written because it demands to be written, and the writer’s life would be incomplete without it. It may be to do with the passion that every tale should have, and some of these here have a lighter scattering of that vital element than they should.

I would love to be able to ask her, how should one edit a story that happens to have won a comp, for a collection? What does she mean? Make it worse, somehow? I guess I will never know!
The whole Review on Vulpes Libris, HERE.

Anne Brooke blogs HERE and her bio is as follows.

Anne Brooke has been writing for eighteen years and is the author of seven novels, numerous short stories and poems. She was shortlisted for the Harry Bowling Novel Award in 2006, longlisted for the Betty Bolingbroke-Kent Novel Award in 2005, and shortlisted for the Royal Literary Fund Awards in 2004 and the Asham Award for Women Writers in 2003. In addition, she has twice been the winner of the DSJT Charitable Trust Open Poetry Award. Her GLBT romantic thriller, The Bones of Summer, is available at Dreamspinner Press. Her crime thriller, Maloney's Law, is published by PD Publishing and available from Amazon in the UK and US. In addition, another crime thriller, A Dangerous Man, is also available from Flame Books. Her psychological crime novel, Thorn in the Flesh, and her romantic comedy novel, Pink Champagne and Apple Juice, are both published as eBooks from Bristlecone Pine Press, and are also available as paperbacks from Goldenford Publishers. Her latest poetry collection is A Stranger's Table, which includes poems about mysteries, boats and women. This is available via her website.

Footnote: I was disppointed to see that Anne used the review to bash Salt for their recent Just One Book Campaign. I am not convinced that is strictly relevant to my work!

Friday 7 August 2009

Bridport Prizewinner's day 2009

Had a lovely natter with the powers-that-be behind The Bridport Prize, finalising the arrangements for my involvement in the Bridport Festival this year. I am delighted to be running a short story workshop for them on Sunday 22nd November on Bridport Prizewinners' Day in the morning, and will probably focus on opening up creativity. Finding stories. Inspiration. Freeing up. Creating a 'story seed bank' - to nick Jacky Taylor's words. Thanks Jacky!

I am delighted to be attending the prizewinner's lunch. It will be a poignant thing for me; two years since 'Tommo' bobbed into the top three out of almost seven thousand entries, chosen by Tracy Chevalier for an award. I met her the night before the ceremony - attended her talk on the then new novel. She has yet another out now! And you know you have these formative moments in your writing journey? Well, having her sign my copy of Burning Bright was one. She wrote this before signing her name:
Congratulations Vanessa, Best wishes from a colleague.
I still get a wobble in my stomach when I remember that. That was such a generous and lovely thing to say and in a way, meant almost (almost!) as much as winning a prize. And yes, it has inspired me, helped to shape how I am with other writers. We're all on this journey together. Sometimes its nice to acknowledge that.

The day doesn't finish with the lunch. There will be a new and rather exciting event in the afternoon, I believe it will be free entry, at which everyone can come and hear the top winners of the Bridport Prize 2009, both poetry and short story, read their winning work in public for the first time. An informal event, because the compere is very informal - (!) - It will be a huge privilege.

Bridport Festival HERE

Thursday 6 August 2009


Singing bag lady.Totally irrelevant, unless this is me, after paying the solicitor?

Lots of generous suportive posts on my post below re plagiarism to counteract the aaaagh of the last weeks. I must share one in particular. Cos it was hilarious. Thank you BIRD I dont know who you are but we share a black sense of humour!

(In her post, Sally Z asked about a fighing fund...)

ME: Thank you to everyone for your messages. I have discovered that solicitors are expensive beasts, but I must pay whatever it takes to regain some peace of mind. No fighting funds, Sally... although it would be great to have a Greenham Common type demo outside his house, a line of writers in sleeping bags, chanting all night. Now there's a thought.

BIRD: You'd have to be careful what you chant. He'd probably have a chapbook of it up for sale within the hour.


Wednesday 5 August 2009

Borrowed Time

This blog is on borrowed time. Ive forgotten my Google password for this account, and its only held in the Firefox memory banks. As soon as my PC hiccoughs, lo! This will be a dead dodo.

Here is the child of dodo: actually, I may just call the new blog that..

Sunday 2 August 2009


This week has been the best of times. My new-found sister has been here. The first time any of my siblings have seen where I live. Susie has met my sons, and my dear Dad. (94 on Friday next). Here we are, in my garden. Friday 31st July 2009.

This week has also been the worst of times.

I discovered that a longstanding writing friend and colleague has apparently used/lifted whole stories and/or multiple unique elements from at least two writers we know of, (Tania Hershman and Paul Auster) submitting the results as his own work to competitions hoping to earn cash from their ideas. He also insists what he has done is no worse than writers like me who find occasional inspiration in a phrase used by another writer, a description, a character's occupation - and let their creative minds fly to create fresh work of their own. That comparison turns my stomach.

His story submitted to Cadenza magazine short story competition, Waiting in the Scriptorium, is published in Cadenza 19. Neither editor had read Paul Auster's work on which this story appears to be closely based. The novel Travels in the Scriptorium. But several subscribers had. The magazine has closed. Not as a sole result of this one incident. But Cadenza previously had a good reputation for publishing fresh, challenging work. Its reputation took a bad knock. Could we have been sued had Auster's agents read the piece? I don't know. Possibly.

Cadenza 19 is out there. So is the Auster novel. I leave it up to you to judge the extent of the similarities.

The same with a prizewinning story by Orange prize commended writer, Tania Hershman. He admits using her story closely and sending it out as his own work to a competition where it won cash. And yet says he has done nothing wrong. And will not post his story (since withdrawn from the competition site) for anyone to see the two stories alongside each other. See the debate on How Publishing Really Works, HERE. Many people, writers, editors, creative writing teachers, have seen Douglas Bruton's version and are aware of the great similarities.

I have had unpublished work, sent to him as a trusted reader, plundered for unique combinations of images and devices. Initially he assured me his piece was written as a bit of fun, and that of course he would not use it. He then submitted his work behind my back to a competition, where it was commended and published.

He asserts that he is furthering art by behaving like this. That he is improving the work of other writers. Tania. Paul Auster. Me.

He is also sitting on c. 40,000 unpublished words written by me. A magical, poignant series of 'letters' written in a close collaboration. And that novel section sent to him for feedback when we worked together.

I don't want to imagine what he will do with those. And I have a second meeting with a lawyer later this week. It is costing more than I have earned in a couple of years.

So, I am signing off for a while. I feel stupid, for trusting him. I am bewildered that he must have come to dislike me so much that he wanted to damage both me and my friend, and yet behaved sweetly to us as he was doing it. I no longer trust my judgement. And neither, my dears, must you.


Here's a final pic of my gorgeous younger son, who bungeed for charity last weekend.

Happy happy writing.