Sunday 24 January 2010


Did anyone see The Sacred Made Real at the National Gallery? It closed today, sadly, so if you missed it you’ll have to travel to Spain instead (what a chore!) and visit the many different churches, monasteries and cathedrals that loaned their works of art for this extraordinary and deeply moving exhibition of polychrome statues and paintings.
St Francis of Assisi featured several times, as statue and portrait. I’d forgotten the words so often attributed to him – aren’t they wonderful? Happy writing, and be kind to each other until St Ryan of Air brings me home to my study.

Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change
the courage to change those that I can
and the wisdom to know the difference.

Saturday 23 January 2010


Some great guys are pulling an anthology together as fast as they can, 100 Stories for Haiti will be an e-book, and all profits to help the Red Cross in Haiti.

Get your flashes out, dust em off, polish and send, fast.

I am reliably informed that previously published work is fine - so long as you hold the rights.

100 Stories for Haiti
We want short story submissions to help raise money for disaster-stricken Haiti. Out of the submissions, 100 pieces of fiction will be chosen to appear in an e-book, the proceeds of which will go to the Red Cross.
If you want to send a short story, please follow these guidelines:
• Do not exceed 1,000 words.
• No stories containing graphic violence, death or destruction.
• Send all stories in the body text of an email to Stories sent as attachments will not be opened.
Stories must be received by Monday 25 January, 2010.
Nick Harkaway, author of ‘The Gone Away World’, will be editing a story for the book as well as penning the introduction.
The book will be sold on SMASHWORDS, whose founder and CEO Mark Coker will be waiving the normal 15% commission.
100 Stories for Haiti will be published in mid-February, 2010.

More information HERE on I Really Should be Writing...and HERE on the e-book's very own website - fresh off the press. As it were.
Greg McQueen is one of the guys behind this project, backed by Mark Coker, CEO of e-book publisher Smashwords (see above for link).Here's Greg, talking about the project on YouTube

A great initiative, please spread the word, FAST!!

Friday 22 January 2010


I am gorn.
Or will be soon
I am not saying where,
I wish to be alone.
However, I will give a clue.
Or two.


Glimmertrain is one of those I’ve never cracked – never so much as made their longest of longlists. Their latest Very Short Fiction Award closes for entries on 31 Jan – details are below.
They have a useful record of subs, via their website. I just checked to see what I sent them over the years, and I’m cringing! All those pieces I sent off (paid) when they were freshly written, when I thought they were simply great, in that first flush of creative bliss. No Nessie, they weren’t. You hadn’t added TIME into the mix. Looking at the titles now, I’m blushing - how embarrassing!
But - I also tried them with Words from a Glass Bubble, for a comp seeking stories about family. It got nowhere, but was later picked by Michael Collins for 2nd place at Fish, and it also got a finalist place at Willesden, picked by Zadie Smith.
I hadn’t even read Glimmertrain when I tried to find success there! Daft person. That was a few years back, I hasten to add. I now have, and even the look of the work on the page is nothing like mine. The style they seem to like is nothing like mine, the look on the page, even – the issues I read seemed to favour third person, dense prose, heavy on exposition.
Two morals of the story – read your target mag. Even if work is ‘good’, it won’t be successful everywhere – this thing is not a science. But do always send out your very best, remembering this - it is highly unlikely that your very best is the one you just wrote.
Here's the details.

Deadline: January 31
• 1st place wins $1,200, publication in Glimmer Train Stories, and 10 copies.
• 2nd-place: $500 and possible publication.
• 3rd-place: $300 and possible publication.
Results post on March 31. Winning story will be published in Issue 79.
Other considerations:
• Open to all writers.
• Length not to exceed 3,000 words. Any shorter lengths are welcome.
• Reading fee is $15 per story.
Glimmer Train Stories, represented in recent editions of the Pushcart Prize,
O. Henry, New Stories from the South, New Stories from the Midwest, and Best American Short Stories anthologies.

Thursday 21 January 2010


Today, Short Circuit visits the lovely Sue Guiney, on her BLOG, HERE. I am just delighted to see what she says - the book has rattled her, creatively, in the nicest way possible. Thats simply great - its not a how-to book in the traditional sense. It is intended to challenge, to inspire, to get you thinking, arguing. Creating.
Thank you to Sue for a lovely article.
Sales on Amazon have been Ok today. A few sales have pushed Short Circuit to no 17 in the Books about Writing Skills category on Amazon UK. Higher than The Oxford Style Manual. Yippee. Thanks Suee!!


Let's celebrate Issue no.100 of THE NEW WRITER MAGAZINE!
An amazing achievement, and in the end,it is successful thanks to the quality of their advice, their stories, their poems. It just seems to get on with things, quietly, doing what it says on the tin very well, and has been a great resource for thousands of writers over the years. And, lovely people- this special issue contains a write-up of Short Circuit!
I'm delighted to be judging their current competition - the short story section. I will be getting a large parcel delivered mid-February - with mases of super stories selected for the shortlist by TNY's team of readers. I know it will be a very hard job selecting the winning few, but as usual, I will do my very best.
If you are looking for a magazine to subscribe to, that will give you a whole range of quality articles, recommendations, interviews with successful writers, alongside thought- provoking fiction and poetry, listings of current competitions, and masses of other must-have stuff for writers, HERE IS THEIR WEBSITE - Subscription details are there.
This is from that website:
The New Writer is a forward-looking magazine with a range of contributors, expert in their subjects. Whether you've just started to write or you're a more experienced writer wanting to explore new ideas and techniques, the practical and entertaining contents of the magazine equals essential reading. Can you afford to be without it? The team at The New Writer are committed to working with their readers to increase the chances of publication. That's why masses of useful information and plenty of feedback is provided. More than that, we let you know about the current state of the market and bring you the best contemporary short stories, cutting-edge poems, backed up by searching articles and in-depth features in every issue.

A powerful magazine, in the best way possible.
I was called a frighteningly powerful woman this week, and I hadn't laughed so much for ages. Made me think of an old advert for bath cleaning powder...
Seriously, peeps, no-one is less powerful than me. But I can be frightening - ask my sons...!

Wednesday 20 January 2010

Carry on Camping – with Trusted Readers

What is a trusted reader? It is someone you give your manuscript to, for close reading and comment – whatever it be. Short story, novel, novella, single poem, flash, poetry collection, flash collection - the list goes on.
There are no doubt many definitions, and timings – but for me, the peer critique process is one thing, useful when the work is in the process of revision, and the trusted reader is one of the final stops on the manuscript’s journey away from you. As you are letting it go – it is, if you like, that stage when you check your offspring is correctly kitted out for the long road ahead.
Have you packed the right clothes for all weathers, the right food, the right safety equipment, phone, the means to get cash, passport plus copies. Maps. Oh, and if you were my late Mum – a vest. (Vests had to go everywhere!)
Your trusted reader is metaphorically speaking, checking through the rucksack, making sure everything is as right as it can be made.

You wouldn’t entrust your offspring’s wellbeing to just anyone. You would not just stop the car, grab a passer-by and say, “go through this there’s a dear – will my child have the best chance possible?”

So. Having established that you need someone you can trust with your baby’s wellbeing, who might that be, if we are going down the analogy started above? (I’ve started, so I’ll finish…). Good friend of the family. Older sibling. Or even better, a godparent or the equivalent. Someone who cares that everything is as OK as it can be, and who may help you to repack if all is a bit chaotic in that rucksack. Who might even suggest a different tent, because the one you’ve put in has a hole in it.

Seriously, camping aside. You must choose your final reader with great care, and I suggest you consider the following:
Someone who knows you and knows your work.
Someone who is prepared to be honest with you, and who you listen to.
Someone who is an experienced reader in the genre you are working in, who knows what works and what doesn’t.
Someone you can trust.

Now we’ll get controversial. Should the trusted reader be someone you have worked closely with, in a writing group? The final decision on that has to be yours, but I would ask you to consider one thing. Is there a chance that the person you are considering might be jealous in any way of you?
Are you considering someone you have not met face to face? Perhaps someone you’ve worked with online? Again, controversially perhaps in this age of emails, forums, facebook, twitter and messaging of all types… if you are asking my advice, I’d say this. If you have not met them face to face, and felt completely at ease, think again. NOT that one then!
Even then, you can get it wrong. But knowing your trusted reader is important. Knowing that they have your interests at heart and would do nothing to harm you or your work, is important. Knowing that they would not hold back if they feel something is not right, is important. And knowing that when you are successful and your manuscript is picked up by a good publisher – they will raise a glass with you and mean it, is important too. Just as you will celebrate with them when their time is right.
On the other hand, there are superb professional consultancies around who will do the job for you. I would love to hear from anyone who has used one of these, and find out what the experience was like?
This wasn’t as easy to write as I thought. It just goes to show what a difficult thing it is to find a good trusted reader, and I hope it doesn’t mean that lots of writers just ask the person next to them on the bus…feel free to start debate, ask questions…

Tuesday 19 January 2010


First, the most fabulous list of UK lit mags that accept short stories and flash fiction, together with links to their websites, information about print/web, and whether they pay (!) IS HERE on Tania Hershman’s blog. Get thee over there, and find a home for your work, fast. I have to say, I didn’t know we had so many lit mags on this side of the pond. Amazing! Thank you very much to Tania for doing the donkey-work, and for her generosity.

And, for those writers who are seeking a bit of tuition – Boot Camp, run by writer/teacher Alex Keegan, is re-launching. It is not called Boot camp for nothing. Boot Camp is an online writing group where you WILL learn to write well, where you WILL have to work hard, not sit on the sidelines and soak it up courtesy of others, where the leader is a multiple top level prizewinner and a writing teacher.
You WILL also have to pay. You take your choice, really – you can have the same tuition that started me off, taught me how to work. Or you can stay somewhere cosier, where you don’t pay, and are told you are marvellous by those who are not marvellous themselves.
This, from Alex:
Boot Camp is about work-ethic, producing work regularly
and meeting deadlines; critiquing author-anonymous stories with
ruthless honesty to a set scheme (using the Boot Camp Grid),
DISCUSSING critiques and NOT "agreeing to differ".
We discuss craft, have flash/story prompts every day, expect a story
per fortnight (as the absolute minimum).
Members keep a daily log of new words written, cumulative totals etc
and are strongly encouraged to set goals, meet them and exceed them.

RE-LAUNCH OFFER - Sign up in January, paying for February and get your January days free.
Interested writers should contact Alex on either of these addresses:
alex.keegan AT
Snowball136 AT
or on facebook, AlexBootCampKeegan

Sunday 17 January 2010


One of the first stories I ever wrote (sometime in 2003) is published on Rose and Thorn. ‘The Comeback’ is about Philip, a young artist, adopted at birth, who discovers his mother is a well-known actress. And she is coming to town, to star in a play intended to be her comeback…
Cue poignant story written by an adopted adult who was exploring her own feelings at the time. It was runner up in Good Housekeeping Magazine’s short story comp, 2003/4 judged by Alexander McCall Smith, winning me £100! Things could only go downhill, really! I thought this fiction game was a doddle – little did I know. You can read The Comeback HERE.
It is interesting, looking at this one now - can see how much I have changed as a writer. I almost don’t recognise the style, in parts. But it is lovely to have it published now. And lovely to see Anne Brooke in the same issue with a great piece.

Last night I was the guest writer at Sussex House Party, hosted by the indomitable Gilly Smith. Almost all the diners were experienced writers, mainly non-fiction. Piccie shows a writer (right) who has just landed a marvellous agent for her book, based on a fictious blog, but very based on fact. And a very successful writer, left, who has many many text books out there – and who is now writing her memoir. We nattered a lot about their work, and did some ‘intercourse’ character exercises, drank delicious wines, ate gorgeous locally-sourced food. Much interesting natter about the advisability or otherwise of making real people recogniseable in your factual work.
The third writer in the pic is Michael Gould, whose daughter Tara runs the Short Fuse spoken word event in Brighton. He held us spellbound with his memories of Mr West from Stamford Hill – a Burmese gentleman who told fortunes. Michael has self-published a novel entitled Filfy O’Durr (it’s from a dog’s perspective, ha!). I said I’d give it a plug:

And I am honoured that a writing colleague has asked me to be her ‘trusted reader’ - reading her final novel draft carefully before it is sent to the agent, feeding back any glitches. She sent a covering note with the manuscript – saying thank you – but also, saying how exposed she felt now that her work has been given to someone else to read for the first time. I understand completely, sadly. At some point I will put together a post about the dos and don’ts of selecting your trusted reader, based on my own experiences, both great and ghastly.

Lastly - final confirmation that The Return of the Baker Edwin Tregear, the story that won a prize in Fish this year, is to be included in an anthology called Art from Art, by Modernist Press, a boutique publisher from LA and New York. I recognise some of the names here, among them Elizabeth Graver whose story 'The Mourning Door' is stunningly good, if you can find it (Ploughshares), and Pedro Ponce, who was successful in The Calvino Prize last time round (I bombed this year!). Other names picked at random include John Morgan Wilson ,Anne Whitehouse,
Felice Picano, and Steve Rasnic Tem .

Friday 15 January 2010


First a drink for the host, cos it's her BIRTHDAY!!! Happy Birthday to Lauri Kubuitsile - and many more of them.
Today, Short Circuit makes the journey all the way to Botswana, where it and I stay a while chez writer Lauri, on her blog Thoughts from Botswana.
Lauri asked me some terrific questions – here is one example, and one reply:
TFB: At the beginning and the end of the book you include this quote from Faulkner-
“Let the writer take up surgery or bricklaying if he is interested in technique. There is no mechanical way to get the writing done, no shortcut. The young writer would be a fool to follow a theory. Teach yourself by your own mistakes; people learn only by error. But when it comes right, it is the best feeling in the world.”
Why is this so important to you? Doesn’t this run head-on into the idea of writing a textbook on short story writing?
VANESSA: Exactly. It sure does. I think there has to be an element of total bewilderment allied to times of confidence/stubbornness if you are going to be a good writer. The swing between confidence and self-doubt sets up a dynamic that drives you onwards. Without the self-doubt we’d never bother to try to get better. Without the confidence in ourselves and our work we’d never have the faith to send work out.
Short Circuit is not a didactic ‘do this or else’ sort of book! The whole idea is to get away from the type of book that says ‘do this and you will become a writer fast’ and gives the budding craftsman/woman the impression that if they follow that ‘law’, they will cut a corner and become a great writer uber-quick. There is no substitute for writing and writing and writing, and reading and reading – and it takes a long time to get it right. I agree with the ‘teach yourself by your own mistakes’ quote.
But having a team of great writers and teachers all sharing tips and thoughts with you can only help on the journey – save a few of the pitfalls, sharpen your act, keep you on the straight and narrow, save you making fundamentally silly errors.

To read the rest, get thee over to Botswana, via Thoughts from Botswana, HERE and remember to leave a message to say HAPPY BIRTHDAY to Lauri before you leave.

Wednesday 13 January 2010


Back in December 2008 I listened to local poet Clare Best reading her work at the Needlewriters quarterly spoken word event in Lewes. I was moved, and w rote somewhat emotionally about her work, HERE on the blog. her bio back then mentioned a residency she had done, on an organic farm called Woodlands, in Lincolnshire.
Woodlands Farm is a 690 hectare mixed organic farm on the fertile Lincolnshire fens in an area known as South Holland. Situated five miles south-east of Boston the farm consists of level silt fields which were reclaimed from the sea by the monks of Crowland Abbey some nine hundred years ago. This is a landscape of wide-open skies and colossal skies – 'all sky and geometry' the poet John Clare once said.

How marvellous - a poem in your organic veg box each week!
Tonight was the launch of that collection of poems, published by Happenstance in a beautiful chapbook - Treasure Ground. A great evening - in the company of other poets - Judith Kazantzis, who I worked aith for a while. Catherine Smith, whose wonderful chapter on Myth and the Imagination in the short story graces Short Circuit. And Janet Sutherland, whose collection Hangman's Acre I am still marvelling over.
And another publication for me today, three more strange and tiny flashes from the forthcoming collection - Fruit Fly, Cuttlefish and Lacewing - can now be found on a terrific placemat distributed to cafes bistros and coffee shops in a few states in the USA! Loquacious Placemat can be found HERE.

Monday 11 January 2010


First, the great news that the One World Anthology, launched last year at Oxford Lit fest, has sold over 4000 copies and is into its second print run. It has been taken up by several university courses in the USA, one of which has requested that the contributors put together a short commentary on the use of cyberspace to bring a book together. So we’re all answering the same questions for the students.
Second, am off to the South Bank centre next week thanks to a fabulous and very exciting invitation from poet Lemn Sissay, and to see a screening of his film “Internal Flight” (BBC) and extend oodles of congrats to Lemn for his honour in the New Years List, an MBE for Services to Literature. 100% inspirational stuff – moral of the story: ‘do not write off kids who are given away.’ We are a bunch to be reckoned with. More on this after Monday’s ‘do’. More on Lemn Sissay HERE.
Third, the manuscript for book no 3 is done and sent to the publisher. Ed’s Wife and Other Creatures, now scheduled for a June publication date (to coordinate with other flash titles coming out from Salt – David Gaffney’s among them!) will be a collection of flashes and micros.
It will include this flash, just published on the wonderful Night Train, and also read at Sparks in Brighton last year.

Friday 8 January 2010


This from Salt's blog:
The shortlist is announced of the inaugural Scott Prize for Short Fiction, an important new venture for Salt as we continue to discover and nurture new talent from around the English-speaking world. The prize forms part of Salt’s commitment to the short story, to debut collections and to our vision of new literature in English as an international endeavour.
From almost a hundred entries and a longlist of 25, 12 full-length collections have been selected and from these, 4 winning titles will be announced next month for publication in the summer. The standard of entries was incredibly high, with authors spanning the spectrum of writing styles and a fascinating range of subject matter. Reading them was a daunting but most enjoyable task; whittling them down to a shortlist almost impossible. However, we are delighted with the outcome, as follows:

1. Ben Cheetham: The Hate Club (UK)
2. Alexandra Fox: Roundabouts (UK)
3. Miriam Hastings: Demon Lovers (UK)
4. Patrick Holland: The Source of Sound (Australia)
5. Sandra Jensen: A Sort of Walking Miracle (Ireland)
6. Laurence Klavan: Family Unit and Other Fantasies (US)
7. Wes Lee: This Animal Kingdom and Other Stories (NZ)
8. Mary McClusky: Gift to the Dark Gods (UK)
9. David Philip Mullins: Longing to Love You (US)
10. Susannah Rickards: Hot Kitchen Snow and Other Stories (UK)
11. Tom Vowler: They May Not Mean To But They Do (UK)
12. Joel Willans: Buy Ma Biscuits or Kiss Ma Fish (UK)

Many congratulations to you all and best of luck as you go through to the next round.

Particular congrats to writers I've worked with at one time or another - Joel Willans, Tom Vowler (blog linked on right somewhere), Susannah Rickards and Ben Cheetham from the old Fiction Workhouse - and Alexandra Fox from my days at Boot Camp.

Thursday 7 January 2010


The next stop on my bloggy tour is with The Short Review blog. And there is the chance to WIN a copy of Short Circuit, thanks to both Short Review and Salt Publishing for that! Editor Tania Hershman has a great essay in the book - actually, an essay that had one writer (an editor as well) messaging me this week to say it had completely changed her view of flash fiction, and above all, the flash writing process.
Tania asked me a very good question - would readers, as opposed to writers, find Short Circuit an interesting book? Would it make them read more short stories??? Get thee over there to find out what I said.

And visit The Short Review too! I reviewed a book called The Town of Fiction, by The Atlantis Collective. Review HEREAnd there are some terrific collections up this month - so much to read, so little time!

Reviewing this time was hard... I was very aware that I had a self-published book from a writing group in my hands. And in case any of the writers therein are reading this, take comfort from the fact that reviews are necessarily subjective, to some extent. And go read the review of Tales of the Decongested II - a terrific anthology which contains one of my fave flashes, one that takes the record for 'please read that one' requests. So I turn to it for a nice warm glow, to see nothing mentioned... except:

I loved some of the stories, and disliked others. Reading this collection is like a raffle where everyone wins something – it just depends on your literary taste. You could walk home with a gruesome troll figurine or with a real nugget of gold – and this totally depends on which page you open the book

See? That's me - the gruesome troll figurine! Ha!
My particular gruesome troll can be read, in part online, HERE... you'll have to imagine where the italics went!

Tuesday 5 January 2010


Luis Melendez self portrait (1746-7), Louvre (Paris)
Get thee over to the marvellous world of Minniebeaniste's blog, to read the most wonderful post about an artist I had never heard of. And soak up the words - not just about him, wonderful as he is - but words about how looking at things can open your eyes to seemingly unattached issues...invaluable for a writer.
thanks Min!

Monday 4 January 2010


In a desperate bid to save the nuts of the writing world, (especially mine...) Sara Crowley features Short Circuit on her blog A Salted today. HERE
Nuts? What IS she talking about? Well. you'll just have to read the interview! Thanks Sara, for some terrific questions!

Saturday 2 January 2010


A couple of great print publications for December and an acceptance from one of my favourite online literary journals. Something that never went away Edited by Perlita Harris with Chris Waterman, ISBN 978-0-9509901-9-4 Reflections on adoption. Published by AAA-NORCAP.
I have three pieces in here. One short story written in 2004, never published before. One excerpt from Cactus Man, which was solicited by the editors - lovely! And a flash. From the website:
Contributors tell it like it is in poetry artwork and prose. This highly original anthology brings together established writers, emerging writers and those who have never been published before, plus contributions from a range of celebrities including Kriss Akabusi, Jo Brand, Tracey Emin, David Gower, Lenny Henry, Richard Rogers, Alan Sillitoe, Clare Short, Meera Syal, Joanna Trollope, Gok Wan and Benjamin Zephaniah.
A number of established writers who are adopted or have been in care can also be found here. They include Nicole J Burton, Vanessa Gebbie, Valerie Mason-John, Zara H Phillips, Jacqueline Walker and Alex Wheatle. The artwork on the front cover is by birth mother, Lynne Byron, and inspired by her experience of relinquishing her baby to adoption.

I have a story in ORBIS 149 – and am delighted to share the publication with two poems by Kate Dempsey, who blogs at Emerging Writer HERE and who was kind enough to host me on my Short Circuit ramble ..sorry, blog tour, in December.
And a flash, “Stitches” accepted by Rusty Barnes at his great lit ezine, Night Train, for their Firebox Fiction slot. This was written at the writing retreat at the chapel in Wales this July and am soo pleased its now having a second airing.