Sunday 28 February 2010


Salt Publishing have announced the four winners of their inaugural Scott Prize for short story collections.
And they are:
Patrick Holland (Australia): The Source of Sound
David Mullins (US): Longing to Love You
Suzannah Rickards (UK): Hot Kitchen Snow
Tom Vowler (UK): They May Not Mean To But They Do

Many many congratulations to all of them, but especially to the two friends on the list - Tom and Susannah, whose books will be simply stunning.

For a link to Tom's blog, please scroll down on the right here...


£6.90. That’s what it cost to send my novel draft to Maggie. So that’s the first little bit out of the 'admin and etc' included in the ACE grant fund. It was a goodly parcel – 310 pages in the end. And when it was received at Gee Towers, I had an email to let me know (bless the lady) with the comment that it was so well packaged, I had a future with the post office…so that is a great relief. Something to fall back on!

I am slightly in limbo now, until March 8th, when we have our first meeting in London. So I am catching up on other things.

First on the list has been reading a final novel draft for a friend prior to it going to her agent. I finished that yesterday, finally – having enjoyed it SO much. It was hard to drag myself out of it to write the occasional note in the margin - “slows up a little here” or “I would have liked this information earlier…” A privilege indeed, and a great responsibility. I can’t wait to talk about it when it is on the chocks- It is a really marvellous tour de force, N – and lots of good luck, which you will not need!

Next I had a chance to read those great websites and blogs that people had kept telling me about and which I was saving up.

I was delighted to visit the website of poet Aonghas MacNeacail (which is probably Angus MacNichol to the non Gaelic among us). It is a wonderful place to spend a while – there are recordings of his work to enjoy in both English and Gaelic -
And I was delighted to see that he is doing his bit for Haiti – rather like the 100 writers who gave their work for the anthology (more on that this week) look at this, taken from said website:!
Poets for Haiti
Aonghas will be among '20 of the foremost poets in the land' performing to raise funds for Haiti, along with Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy, and three other laureates, Gillian Clarke (Wales), Liz Lochhead (Glasgow) and Ron Butlin (Edinburgh), as well as Don Paterson (shortly to receive the Queen's Medal for Poetry), Sean O'Brien (winner of both Forward and TS Eliot Prizes), and such distinguished Scots as Alasdair Gray, Douglas Dunn, Jackie Kay and Kathleen Jamie, among others. The venue is Edinburgh's Queen's Hall, on the 28th February at 6.00 pm, and it should be quite a session!

It is his wife, BAFTA award winning actor/writer/director Gerda Stevenson who I must thank for this link… I gather she gave him the website for Christmas! Her own website is HERE . Do visit – I’m actively looking out for her name now – here are just two of the dramatisations she has done:
2009 – dramatisation of Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s novel Sunset Song,BBC Radio 4’s Classic Serial, Spring 2009.
2007 - dramatisation of Sir Walter Scott’s epic novel The Heart of Midlothian, BBC Radio 4’s Classic Serial, Autumn 2007. Nominated for the 2008 SONY AWARDS.

And last, but by no means least. The Sussex House Party on Friday night was stunningly good. Having been at the head of the table last time I went, now I was a mere mortal, as we guests sat round the feet of Virgina Woolf’s great-niece, the author Virginia Nicholson.
Here she is, pictured at Charleston farmhouse, home of the Bloomsbury set, and now home to the Charleston Festival and The Small Wonder Festival....
We chatted over huge glasses of prosecco first, and drifted to the table (black marble this time, very swish!) to enjoy a started of home cured ham and parmesan roulades on fresh leaves while we all introduced ourselves. Among the guests was an ex-headmaster who is writing a novel, a lawyer who is a screen writer, and the supplier of the starter who, quite apart from running a farm, is also working on her debut book – eagerly awaited by the agent who commissioned it. And of course, the host, Gilly Smith. Really interesting people, and the conversation sparkled. Virginia Nicholson was a generous and fascinating writer to share the meal with. She told us about the in-depth research she does for all her books. About her childhood and how she came to writing thanks to helping her late father, Quentin Bell, write a book about Charleston farmhouse. She is currently researching and writing her fourth book, about the lives of women in the 1940s - the generation of women who produced the children who would be the Sixties and transform things yet again. And it sounds really fascinating if incredibly hard work. (I’m not a researcher, and can’t imagine doing that in such depth each time I wrote something!)
Among her existing books is 'Among The Bohermians', and it sounds really fascinating. I came home and ordered it, to perch on the ever-growing pile for when I've finished the novel. Her website desribes it thus:
a rich and detailed exploration of the way of life of those men and women in the first half of the twentieth century – the majority of them artists, poets, writers and composers - who were brave enough to jettison Victorian conformity. Rebels and free spirits, these were the pioneers of a domestic revolution. Escaping the confines of the society into which they had been born, they carried idealism and creativity into every aspect of daily life. Deaf to disapproval, they got drunk and into debt, took drugs, experimented with homosexuality and open marriages, and brought up their children out of wedlock. In the spirit of liberty, they sacrificed comfortable homes and took to the road in gypsy caravans or moved into spartan garrets in Chelsea. Yet their choice of a free life led all too often to poverty, hunger, addiction and even death.
Among the large cast of flamboyant characters depicted in Virginia Nicholson’s book are such giants of the artistic scene as Augustus John, Jacob Epstein and Eric Gill, alongside their literary counterparts Dylan Thomas, Robert Graves and Arthur Ransome. Lesser-known (but no less colourful) characters include Kathleen Hale, Iris Tree, Philip O'Connor, Nina Hamnett and Ruthven Todd.

And I have a whole WEEK to fill with other things before the novel opens again--- it seems such a long time!

Friday 26 February 2010

An Oscar...

I have today been awarded one of the highest accolades a person can be awarded. An Oscar. Or rather an Oscar's Oscar - 'For Metaphoric Mechanics and Literary Lubrication.'

(I'd better explain - Oscar Windsor-Smith who Twitters here was one of the participants at the Get Writing 2010 workshop last Saturday. I think he enjoyed himself!) Thanks Oscar!

Thursday 25 February 2010



The Authors' Foundation
The Authors' Foundation gives grants to authors whose project is for a British publisher. Grants can be to help with research costs, or to buy time to write.
Please note, the Authors' Foundation does not cover self-published authors as grants cannot be awarded to help towards the costs of publication.
The Roger Deakin Awards: one award in each round of grants will be made in memory of the environmentalist, writer and film maker Roger Deakin. This award offers funding to authors of creative works of any genre concerned with natural history, landscape or the environment.
The Elizabeth Longford Grants: Flora Fraser and Peter Soros kindly sponsor an award in memory of Elizabeth Longford every six months. Historical biographers working on a commissioned book will be considered for an award of £2,500.
The Michael Meyer Awards: one award in each round of grants will be made in memory of Michael Meyer, a generous benefactor, who wrote about the theatre and translated plays.
The Arthur Welton Awards: one award in each round of grants will be made in memory of the philanthropist and poet Arthur Welton.
The Great Britain Sasakawa Grant: one grant of £2,000 is awarded each year. Works of fiction or non-fiction about any aspect of Japanese culture or society, or set in a Japanese context will be considered. Preference will be given to works which help to interpret modern Japan to the English-speaking world.

There are 5 different bursaries available in two categories, Buying Time Bursaries and Enabling Bursaries:
Buying Time Bursaries:

1. New Writers’ Bursaries can be awarded to writers who have not previously published a volume of their work. At least 10,000 words of prose of work-in-progress or 15 poems must be submitted with your application. If you have had work published in anthologies and periodicals, please send samples with your application - one copy of each item.
Maximum award: £10,000
2. Published Writers’ Bursaries are for writers who have already published a volume or more of work. At least 4,000 words of work-in-progress OR 8 poems must be submitted with your application. Please send one copy of a sample volume with your application. These will be returned if requested.
Maximum award: £10,000
3. Children’s Writers’ Bursaries are intended for writers for children and young people in Welsh and English. The Academi is keen to encourage the following in particular:
i. English-language writers whose work has a Welsh background
ii. Writers producing longer novels in the Welsh language.
Applicants should provide a representative selection of the work-in-progress.
Maximum award: £10,000
Enabling Bursaries:
4. The Miscellaneous Fund can offer small-scale support related to specific writing projects. Examples include travel costs, research, work in other languages, childcare, renting quiet space to write and other items. Capital grants (such as the purchasing of computers) are not available from this fund.
Maximum award: £2,000
5. Enabling Bursaries for specialist equipment (For Disabled Writers only) are awarded to assist Disabled Writers. Examples can include aid for the following:
i. to purchase specialist equipment
ii. to assist with particular travel costs
iii. towards secretarial assistance such as editorial work, typing, printing etc.
iv. for training opportunities relevant to your writing
The Academi can also consider applications for assistance with other issues affecting disabled writers.
Maximum award: £2,000


Also - HAWTHORNDEN CASTLE Hawthornden Castle Fellowship
Hawthornden Castle, The International Retreat for Writers, Lasswade, Midlothian EH18 1EG
Phone 0131 440 2180
Fax 0131 440 1989
Established 1982 to provide a peaceful setting where published writers can work without disturbance. The Retreat houses five writers at a time, who are known as Hawthornden Fellows. Writers from any part of the world may apply for the fellowships. No monetary assistance is given, nor any contribution to travelling expenses, but once arrived at Hawthornden, the writer is the guest of the Retreat. Applications on forms provided must be made by the end of June for the following calendar year. Previous winners include: Les Murray, Alasdair Gray, Helen Vendler, Olive Senior, Hilary Spurling.

I'd be happy to add to the list, let me know any other sources.

THE LEVERHULME TRUST HERE - gives £40 million per annum... Thanks to Tania Hershman for this link. Specifically:
grants for artists' residencies: These awards are intended to support the residency of an artist of any kind or nationality in a UK institution in order to foster a creative collaboration between the artist and the staff and/or students of that institution. The term 'artist' encompasses visual artists, creative writers, musicians, poets and other producers of original creative work.

"The resident artist should work in an interactive way with the surroundings, and contribute recognisably to the life and work of the host department or centre. Applications should come jointly signed from the artist and a representative of the proposed host group, as Principal Applicant. Individual artists seeking a residency may not apply directly to the Trust. "

(All the information is taken from the various websites. Before contacting anyone, it is sensible to check your eligibility, and check the information is up to date.)

Tuesday 23 February 2010

The human side of applying for an ACE Grant

I'd say it is a good idea to get to know the person in your area responsible for your ‘sector’ within the Art’s Council. I was able to meet with the Literature Officer for my area, and talk about the novel.

I actually emailed first, and was invited to drop in a copy of my short story collection, Words from a Glass Bubble and a CV to the regional offices. I added a copy of the Flash Fiction text book. I was meaning to ask about something smaller, something completely different – finding out whether there might be a grant available for travel to a conference. This nice guy breezed down to collect the envelope, and whisked me out for an unscheduled breakfast meeting in Costa.

It turned out that this was too small a sum. The Arts Council do not look at proposals for less than £1000.00. 'And anyway,' he said, 'these conferences are rather meaningless. An excuse for a jolly.' Hmm!

The conversation over a rather delicious cappuccino and almond biscuits turned to the novel. And to some of the ups and downs along the way – of which there have been a few. It was a very open, good conversation, telling him a lot about the various bits and bobs that have happened to some of the sections, mainly good stuff. This conversation was hugely supportive. It came round to the question of what I most needed help with, to finish it. Wow. This thing I’d been battling with for three years began to look solid. So what did I need most? Structure, definitely. Coherence?

I have to say, I am incredibly grateful for that meeting. It was his idea to focus on a mentoring process in which I would have a sounding board while I reshaped a finished draft. Did I know anyone I’d like to work with? Yes. That bit was easy.

The message was - OK, now go through the application process. He warned me clearly that there was a lot of competition for grants, and I may not be successful. But encouraged me to try.

The Arts Council website is stuffed with information. They are in the process of changing to online applications – but for me, you could check your eligibility online, forms and details could be downloaded, the guidelines (a 40 page book!) and you could ask for the application pack. Which was basically all that stuff in hard copy.

There are constant mentions of help available from the ACE staff. Phone numbers to ring, web addresses and so on. And it works - I did ring once to check whether I could apply to go to a writer's retreat outside the UK. Answer, 'yes'. And also, whether the proportion of 'in kind' and other funds was appropriate for the size of grant I was asking for.

The guideline book sets everything out systematically. If you follow the instructions, you will be fine – but they are complicated, lots of twists and turns as they cover each possible facet from all sides, often more than once. I found the budget section very hard!. You do need to have your wits about you and a second pair of eyes, at least.

My second pair of eyes was writing buddy Andrew Marshall, who is going to help evaluate the activity. And my daughter-in-law, who used to be something in the City- helped as well, especially with the budget.

And you only have 1000 words to spend on your proposal, which has to be quite detailed.

The forms were sent off, duly completed. After a while I got a call, from the Literature Officer I had had that breakfast meeting with – asking for a lot more information. The proposals had been sent to him, to assess.

I redid the proposal, ignoring the word limit, as advised. Adding in a lot more about me, about my proposed mentor, and why this choice. I suspect that the low limit is to help them sift the applications– and they ask for more if they want to know… but that’s just me supposing.

And a month later got the nice news. Again, any questions, fire away.

I mentioned this blog on the proposal – ‘an honest look at the ups and the downs’, . This grant is a definite ‘UP’! And it seemed a great idea to tell people about the grant process - good practice, or summat.

Monday 22 February 2010


Well, I will natter a bit about this lovely grant I have been awarded, from Arts Council England, funded by The National Lottery.
I often looked at individuals awarded these grants, and wondered all sorts of things - How? Why? What? When? and Where? mostly. What were they spending this money on? Was it pints of cider down the pub while drowning their sorrows at not being able to write today?

Now I know – so I can pass it on. Every penny has to be very carefully planned. Your activity needs to be set out in a very detailed proposal, which covers what you would like to do, why, how it will benefit you, and the public (that’s a hard one to answer!), and how it will be funded. You must set out in minute detail what funds you are asking for, and also the funds you will be supplying yourself via various means. This is a must. Including help in kind. If awarded, each of the pennies must be accounted for, exactly as the proposal.
So – if you are expecting pints of cider, they need to be requested up front, and just may not get a grant…. (!)

Here you go – this is my What.

My grant is to fund working with an experienced novelist. She will act as sounding board and mentor, while I polish and reshape the first draft of the novel. I am lucky to be working with Maggie Gee , a novelist whose own work I enjoy for lots of reasons. But in the context of this activity, it is her clarity of structure that draws me. As well as her themes – her seeking to make sense of things through her work… if that makes sense to anyone out there!

What I love about the conversations we’ve had so far, is the understanding that this is my piece of work. That I am in the driving seat. And for a novelist whose last novel is called My Driver that seems rather appropriate. I’m about to send my first draft – with all the issues I have picked up over the last fortnight… voice issues, bagginess issues, structural issues, aaaagh… to this lady. I have ironed out the inadvertent wifeswappings and home removals discovered in the last two weeks.

The list of questions I’m sending is almost as long as the novel!
Maggie was featured in The Guardian last weekend…HERE in pre-publicity for her forthcoming memoir, My Animal Life – an account of her life as a writer. This comes out in March and I am bloody lucky that she is finding the time to work with me. Here’s the Amazon page for My Animal Life.

And here’s what Claire Tomalin has to say about this book:
'Exceptionally interesting and brave - Maggie Gee's account of her life as a writer cuts to the bone as she relives triumphs, rejections, despair and renewal. It's a wonderful book, for its boldness and vigour, and for its piercing honesty.' Claire Tomalin

So, there you are. This is what I am being funded for -working with this amazing writer. Oh - and - eight days stay at Anam Cara Writers and Artists Retreat, in Ireland, to break the back of the work, later on. Any questions, fire away!

Sunday 21 February 2010


From Guardian Online: Ten rules for writing fiction
Get an accountant, abstain from sex and similes, cut, rewrite, then cut and rewrite again – if all else fails, pray. Inspired by Elmore Leonard's 10 Rules of Writing, we asked authors for their personal dos and don'ts...

I have picked out some 'rules' I smiled at because I believe 'em too. But the whole article is wonderful, thought provoking, and good to read.

Only bad writers think that their work is really good. Anne Enright

Don't wait for inspiration. Discipline is the key.
Esther Freud

Style is the art of getting yourself out of the way, not putting yourself in it. David Hare.

Defend yourself. Find out what keeps you happy, motivated and creative. A L Kennedy

(she has another about using stories from your family, friends, under the title Defend others. She means using their life events, characteristics, and disguising them so that the originator is unrecogniseable!)

Remember writing doesn't love you. It doesn't care. Nevertheless, it can behave with remarkable generosity. Speak well of it, encourage others, pass it on. A L Kennedy

Marry somebody you love and who thinks you being a writer's a good idea. Richard Ford.

The whole article is HERE

Saturday 20 February 2010


Well, what short story writer has not been waiting to find out how many big names are on the Sunday Times longlist? There hasn’t been much money in short stories, but it looks like things might be changing, with the £25,000 waiting for one of these lucky people. And the list includes several people whose work may be breaking through into the big time thanks to a lot of very hard work!

The full longlist for The Sunday Times EFG Private Bank Short Story Award include:
• Richard Beard - James Joyce, EFL Teacher
• Nicholas Best - Souvenir
• Sylvia Brownrigg - Jocasta
• John Burnside - Slut's Hair
• Will Cohu - Nothing But Grass
• Joe Dunthorne - Critical Responses To My Last Relationship
• Petina Gappah - An Elegy for Easterly
• Jackie Kay - Reality, Reality
• A.L. Kennedy - Saturday Teatime
• Adam Marek - Fewer Things
• Charles Mosley - Constraint
• Chris Paling - The Red Car
• Ron Rash - Burning Bright
• Simon Robson - Will There Be Lions?
• Kay Sexton - Anubis and the Volcano
• Helen Simpson - Diary of an Interesting Year
• C.K. Stead - Last Season's Man
• Rose Tremain - The Jester of Astapovo
• Gerard Woodward - Legoland
• David Vann - It's Not Yours

I am particularly delighted to see three names on here. First a writing friend, Adam Marek,
whose work I love, and whose collection Instruction Manual for Swallowing I reviewed a while ago for The Short Review HERE
(Yay! Well done Adam!!! Ahem, I’ll calm down now…)
Second, Kay Sexton whose informative and entertaining blog is HERE and whose work I also (weirdly) reviewed for The Short Review HERE when it appeared as one of the stronger pieces in an anthology called Two Tall Tales and One Short Novel a few years back.

And thirdly, Petina Gappah, whose collection Elegy For Easterly has already won the Guardian First Book Award, and I think this blog has blathered on about her enough! But do a search on her name and you’ll find my review etc.

And do I wish I was writing short stories at the moment, not fighting with this novel, just because the market wants something called a novel from me...? YES!!!!! Dear market, please change....


I love this stuff, sometimes! First,
a monthly spoken word event now held in the wonderful ambiance of an upstairs room at The Wheatsheaf, Rathbone Place, London – where apparently, my hero Dylan Thomas used to drink.

TOTD is run by a couple of writing friends from the old Fiction Workhouse days. The room is great – private bar, stained glass in the bay window, not too big, not too small. This event was a platform to publicise 100 Stories for Haiti, of which you will hear much more over the next few weeks as the guru Greg McQueen will be dropping in soon. So many of the readers were contributors to this brilliant anthology – Martin Reed, Jac Catanneo, Katy Darby (of Liars League fame). Jac also read a contribution for Joel Willans who lives in Helsinki – and Martin read Greg’s own contribution – about the morning he was moved to DO something to help. I read my contribution, Naming Finbar, and a second piece called Creative Writhing (no that’s not a typo) which took Martin by surprise, as it required him to stand in as an adolescent snake. I sold a couple of books after announcing I'd give a fiver from each sale to the Haiti appeal.

Do submit to TOTD. It’s a great event, and if you are picked you are invited to read your work. Submission details HERE

Then I caught the train through all sorts of odd places to get to Hatfield – eg, Potter’s Bar. I love that name. Who were the original Potters at the Bar? Did they get very drunk? Did they just potter? I ended up at a hotel shaped like a plane, on a roundabout in Hatfield – fell into bed and slept like a complete tree. (‘Log’ is too insignificant!).

Today, I was at GET WRITING 2010 - see HERE
organised by Verulam Writers’ Circle, held at the stunning de Havilland Campus of the University of Hertford. I was giving a workshop lasting one hour – in which I was to cover flash fiction, flash writing and writing prize winning short stories - It was quite a packed workshop! It seemed to go down well – and I was delighted to see so many blokes in the room – that is unusual, and rather nice. Great to meet up again with Jon Pinnock who blogs HERE and who is writing a hilarious series called Mrs Darcy and the Aliens – a sort of Jane Austen spoofette. Jon is part of the Verulam Writers. He’d also acted as postman, receiving boxes of books for me from Salt – (seriously, thanks very much, Jon).

I slipped into the back of the main lecture theatre to hear a talk by two publishing professionals. Very interesting to hear. Very necessary. And very hard to listen to. Phrases like ‘Brand Marketing’, and ‘cutting our lists,’ and ‘many writers will only be published in digital form in the future’ and ‘today’s writers MUST be prepared to sell their books themselves’. But it was realistic – and as I say, necessary to hear.

Book sales and signing went briskly during lunch. Both Short Circuit and Glass Bubble sold rather well!
And then after lunch, there was the announcement of the winners of the inaugural short story competition, and a talk from the final judge, Adele Geras. She spoke hilariously about surviving 90 titles. NINETY!! She did explain that some were children’s picture books with about a page of text… But in among the hilarity there were some real gold nuggets of pragmatism – sensible advice for writers on how to survive, mentally and physically. And she remembered to plug Nicola Morgan’s blog, Help! I Need a Publisher - as well, handing out cards.
I was so pleased – Adele was one of the first people who read Glass Bubble and gave me a ‘review comment’. I was so thrilled. And I made sure I went up afterwards and said thanks properly. Lovely lovely to meet her - poor woman, she had to put up with a hug.
And the poet on the train. Actually, there are three! I travelled last night with two, one of whom has been published on Ink Sweat and Tears. They attended Tales of the Decon, and were helping me not to get lost, which I do rather well. And our nattering was overheard by a young guy who also writes poetry, and was on his way to a poetry/guitar gig in a caravan near … guess where… Potter’s Bar! So good company all round.

Tuesday 16 February 2010


This is the other side of what I do - my magazine. Tom's Voice is an ezine , a rather special one, as it is only there for writing from those whose lives have been touched by addiction, in any way.
I created this little mag when I was teaching writing on a voluntary basis at a drugs rehab, 2004-07. The guys produced some marvellous work - it wasn't 'perfect' in some senses, but my God, it meant so much more than the pretty and 'perfect' twaddle that goes by the name of 'literature' these days.
Anyway. Here's Issue 10!!! With the majority of its content from submissions from the USA - simply marvellous.

And, please take a close look at the pic above. That's my desk. Tom's Voice Issue 10 is on the screen - and in front, are some bookmarks sent to me from a contributor to this issue, Aimee Dearmon. Aimee hails from Illinois, and she and some colleagues have formed a writing group , inspired by Tom's Voice. The bookmarks are theirs - and they have asked permission to call the group Tom's Voice. Needless to say, I am delighted, and hooured. So - meet the Tom's Voice Writing Group. of whom I am very proud.
TOM's VOICE MAGAZINE ISSUE 10, with contributions form Aimee Dearmon (in pic), and others, including fellow Salt author Matthew Licht and poet Jo Waterworth. With huge thanks to Zoe King, who uploads it for this untechy person.

(Oh also on desk, with the new Toms Voice bookmarks - a card saying 'Blessed are the cracked for they let in the light' - sent by a good friend who knows me well, and two fossils found on Charmouth beach. And on the wall behind the curtain - my promo poster for Words from a Glass Bubble, beneath the poster for the Frank O'Connor Festival 2008)

Sunday 14 February 2010


Righto – this has to be one of the best things, 100 STORIES FOR HAITI!!! Raising money for The Red Cross for its work in Haiti following the earthquake. Visit the website HERE - discover the entire list of writers!
1 unstoppable man with a vision – Greg McQueen
400+ writers who submitted their stories
100 writers whose work will raise dosh for the Red Cross
2 publishers
1 publisher for the print anthology – Bridge House Publishing
1 publisher for the e-book –

Publication Date – 4th March.

The Anthology is now available for pre-order - I just ordered 4 - one for me, one for both sons, one spare...from the publishers, Bridge House – HERE
Take a look at their website – it’s a small concern, but there is some very good information on the website. Including four downloadable documents - advice on marketing your work - freely available to all writers, which is commercially switched on and generous of them. Thank you Bridge House!

• How to plan a book launch
• Press Release template
• Press Guide
• How to promote your work
and here's the cover!


Not really! But Lemn Sissay has a wonderful poem on his website called ‘Invisible Kisses’, and ‘tis just great for today.
One of the verses goes like this:

If there was ever one
Who when you achieve
Was there before the dream
And even then believed;
Who would clear the air
When it's full of loss;
Who would count love
Before the cost.

You can read the whole poem HERE on his website.

(and I did get a huge bouquet of pink and white roses this morning, and a card that said I make my husband swoon… go figure.)

Saturday 13 February 2010


While I was away, there were two memorable stopovers for Short Circuit, on the text book’s blog tour which is drawing to a close this month. It has been a brilliant time with generous hosts, some very good searching questions.
In fact, so searching were some of the questions on one stop at Tom Conoboy's fascinating blog, that the discussion went on for three days… and turned into a tour de force interview/ discussion on short story craft, interspersed with eulogies for our old tutor who has not yet paid us(!).
The topics went something like this:
Time in the short story, resolution, the importance of reader-engagement with short fiction/reading for subtext, leaving room for the reader, plotting versus not plotting - Tom Conoboy Day 1
Appropriate language, the importance of character, opening a story, intuitve versus plotted writing, the issue of theme and the constraint of knowing what we are writing about - Tom Conoboy Day 2
Reconciling teaching craft with opening up creativity in students, the importance of a writer reading, reading, reading, my reading William Golding - Tom Conoboy Day 3

The importance of character’s names, using the senses in your writing, and the problem of procrastination – these were the focus at the stop with Nuala ni Choncuir, at her lovely blog Women Rule Writer.

Thank you both!

Friday 12 February 2010

Art's Council Support, National Lottery Funding

Regular visitors might notice a new logo. I am so pleased - have been awarded a grant to polish the great oeuvre, and my novel in progress now has the official support of Arts Council England and funding from the National Lottery. I am hugely grateful to them, and am looking forward with not a little trepidation to the next stage in the writing process.

One of the conditions of this lovely development is that I have to let people know about this support, and the logos will now be firmly affixed to everything to do with the great oeuvre. Part of my proposal was that I would use this blog to set out the process of grant application, and talk at intervals about my own use of the grant. Seems a nice thing to do, really. After all, the crossed fingers of the National Lottery could just as well be the crossed fingers of 'Please make my work as good as it can be...'!
If you would like to find out about Grants for the Arts, or any other aspect of the work of Arts Council England, please click on the logo over there.
And if you have any questions about the rather complicated application process I've just been through - do ask. I'll do my best to answer.

Wednesday 10 February 2010


You know, when you are reading, that moment when the writer comes crashing through into the room, sits beside you on the settee and takes over? That moment when the writing suddenly becomes 'about the writer' and not about the story/novel?

Those moments, those self-indulgent moments, come most frequently I've noticed, in descriptive passages. Where the writer loses the plot, almost literally, and disappears up their own pen (!) in flights of fancy, almost listing the senses in an attempt to create something 'real'. And the effect is the opposite. To kill reality.

We are told on courses, 'Use the senses' - but that does not mean list them as if you are ticking them off on your fingers as you write!!
While I was away, there were two super stops on the Short Circuit tour - both of which I will flag later - but one, at Women Rule Writer, with the great Nuala ni Chonchuir, picked up on this - on using the senses. See here.
But this is great. Here is an article written by Bernadine Evaristo. Published in Mslexia, it is a marvellous look at using the senses in fiction. Complete with this great saying,
""Writing fiction is not an academic exercise but an imaginative one. Knowing all the literary terms and jargon is sometimes useful and might impress others, but it won’t make you a great writer. Understanding craft, however, whether it’s instinctive or learned, is another matter altogether."

And, from Nuala's blog, her question and my reply...

One of my favourite essays in the book is by Paul Magrs; I love the amount of solid advice he packs into his piece while maintaining a very down-to-earth approach. I think his advice might work best for experienced writers – novices may be scared by statements such as: ‘How come it’s only paragraph one and you are already up your own arse?’ (!)
A salient point he makes is, ‘Don’t forget to appeal to all our senses.’ (Using colour, food, sex etc. in stories.) What are your own feelings on the importance of including all things sensual in the short story?

Guardedly, V replies, it is important, obviously, to allow our reader to experience the world you create for them. But. How many pieces have I read where the senses have been a bit shoehorned in, almost as though the writer was ticking them off on their fingers as they wrote.

'The smell of the sea rose through the open window together with the raucous cries of seagulls tussling over some scraps on the pavement outside the cafĂ©. The coffee this morning tasted so bitter. But it always smelled so good first – it was unfair. But then life was unfair. Hugo picked at a loose thread on his jacket sleeve – the rough tweed, browns and golds if you got close enough to it, felt rough under his fingers, like that old jacket of his father’s that used to small of tobacco and mint – his father always had Polos hidden in the pockets for the ponies…'

Blah blah blah…

blah blah blah...

see what I mean??!

Here's the link to the MSLEXIA article again - in case...
and HERE is Bernadine Evaristo's website.

IRELAND DIARY - 25 Jan to 10 Feb

all roads lead to here!

The Road to Beara...25 Jan

What a wonderful experience, being ‘me’ for a whole two weeks. Right down to the fact that ‘me’ can’t count so ‘me’ booked for two weeks plus one day extra, plus two more days to travel. This was my Christmas present from the family- a chance to get away from things, to finish the first draft of the novel.
I stayed at Anam Cara Writers’ and Artist’s Retreat, spoken about many times here – in what has become my favourite room. And here is the view one morning, from my window...
There is a view over fields to Coulagh Bay, a huge double bed, a desk that never got used…because one of the things I discovered about my creative processes is that I need warmth. Physical warmth, to lull me almost to sleep. So – what better than to curl up with a hot water bottle…so please meet my extremely grown-up sexy bedmate. The Penguin.Here he is helping to edit something...

Yup. I worked for the whole two weeks, from 9.30 to 5.30 with a break for lunch, curled up here. Not sitting upright at a desk. And after supper, I worked again, in front of a roaring log fire, curled up with a glass of red wine or two, visited by Jack the Dog (the best editor in the business). Here is Jack the Dog, and the fire. Most nights I fell into bed by midnight. On a few nights I worked into the early hours.

What did I achieve? Lots! I’m not going speak about what I’ve done, but I had a great time, creatively. Some of it was very hard. Had to take some tough decisions. And other stuff was simply wonderful. I had a few of those magical moments where your plans go out of the window and the story veers off on its own. How I would KILL for more of those.
One thing I can talk about is the time when nearing the end, a very peripheral character from way back suddenly reappeared and took on what turned out to be a pivotal role throughout the book, necessitating a lot of rewriting and smoothing.

And I did it! Here it is, complete with Roget’s Thesaurus and a candle lit by Sue to celebrate, finished on Monday evening.First draft - done! Feb 8th

True to form, I decided immediately that one bit was wrong – so I got in the car and spent a few hours on Tuesday writing a replacement scene, in the right place for the character who was talking. Here. The man-engine building, Mountain Mine, Allihies.

I was alone at the retreat for most of the time, looked after splendidly by Sue Booth Forbes, without whom I would have now gone quite cuckoo – she is such a level-headed lady with more years of experience with this crazy writing world than I can count.
Then had a few days in the company (between scribbling) of Cauvery Madhavan, who is writing her third novel. See link below. She is writer of Paddy Indian and The Uncoupling – the latter published by both Black Amber and Penguin’s India wing. She took a pic of me putting a copy of Short Circuit on the ‘alumni shelves’ – the place where books written by Anam Cara residents are enshrined. Adding to the Anam Cara alumni shelves...Look closely and you will see Tangled Roots by Sue Guiney. The White Road and other Stories by Tania Hershman. Several books by Alex Barclay, and Cauvery’s novel The Uncoupling.

Some NICE THINGS happened in the world of writing – including an acceptance for the 100 Stories for Haiti Anthology which I plugged before going away. It is smashing to have work here with so many writers I know - Martin Reed, Jac Cattaneo, Joel Willans, Claudia Boers, Julia Bohanna, Nuala Ni Chonchuir, Tania Hershman, Sylvia Petter, Teresa Stenson, Alison Dunne, Lauri Kubuitsile - but a special mention and ‘wowee’ noise has to go to the wonderful Mr Willesden Herald himself, Steve Moran. Greg McQueen, the power behind the anthology, will be visiting this blog in the near future to talk about it. There will be lots more on that wonderful book later.

Martin Reed runs Tales of the Decongested, in London. A spoken word event – and on 19th Feb, several of the Haiti writers are reading their Haiti stories there to plug the book. Link below.
Another nice thing is a lovely invitation to give the annual lecture to the students and staff in Creative Writing at the CCE , University of Sussex, in May. And another to take part in Short Fuse during Brighton Festival. Both accepted with great pleasure.
I am waiting for the registered mail packet which will arrive tomorrow- the shortlisted stories for The New Writer short story competition. Looking forward to a read of someone else's work!!

Life carried on of course, while I was away, and I wouldn’t have been able to go without a rather wonderful husband, who took care of my Dad every day. AND took care of the cat, who developed a kidney infection before I went. Did you know you CAN take urine samples from a cat??? Yikes.
Toby took two A level exams. Fingers crossed. Plans were finalised for some orrible building work on the house, starting late Feb - which will hopefully end up as a nice new kitchen. With sexy black worktops. Grrrr.

Some links:
Anam Cara workshops scheduled for 2010.
Tales of the Decongested at The Wheatsheaf, Rathbone Place
Cauvery Madhavan – an interview on the BBC.

Finally, a pic for inspiration, maybe?? Now how did a lady's undergarment come to be hanging deliciously between a gorse bush and a gatepost...??!