Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Things I learned this holiday

1. Rococo's Sea Salt Chocolate wafers are the best. I intend to eschew all other chocolates from now on.

2. You haven't heard poetry until you've heard a seven year old reading The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. To a seven year old this is a story and so she reads it as a story, with the paranthesised sections in a whispered aside and the exclamation marks emphasised! It shakes the whole thing up and you hear the heart of it in a way you never did before.

3. Madagascar 2: Escape to Africa is very funny. Better than the first film.

4. I can no longer eat bread sauce without getting heartburn. I'll be sticking to the Rococo chocolate from now on.

5. Grace Paley is a writer I want to read. Her short story, The Loudest Voice, is the best thing in the Everyman Book of Christmas Stories.

6. I go mad if I'm not allowed to write at least a few words every other day. Less than that and I become a misanthropic misery.

7. World Monopoly is a piece of cake to play but how did they settle on which cities to group together? In the old London Monopoly you knew the rough parts of town were cheap to buy (pre-Islington revival, obviously). And £15million seems an awful lot of money to start out with.

8. I have some really good friends. People who stay calm and compassionate under fire, who give of their time generously, whose stamina and whose talent is humbling and a joy.

So... what did you learn?

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Seasons Greetings

I've been busy behind the scenes, writing and editing the column about the family history photograph which has been approved by the editor of the magazine who will publish it in the New Year. I'm very excited about this. On Christmas Day, my story Kanti chooses Santa is up at Every Day Fiction. I hope you enjoy it. Merry Christmas and a peaceful and productive New Year, everyone.

Monday, 15 December 2008

Literary Mama

Literary Mama have published a second of my short stories, this one called The Swimming Pool and the Sea. I wrote it, oh, ages ago. When Milly wasn't quite three. I'm so glad I did write it because it's a story I can give to her when she's older and say, 'This is when I started writing again, because I wanted to write about you.'

Dogzplot and Neon

A couple of my flashes went live today. The first is Crawl Space at Dogzplot, a new venue for me. The second is The Derelict, which is up at Neon. Thank you for reading!

Friday, 5 December 2008

The Best of Every Day Fiction

It's out, it looks beautiful and it contains stories from writers I know and love but won't list as I'm bound to forget someone. A big shout out to the editors who made this happen, and in time for Christmas. Thanks Camille, Jordan, Steve and the whole of the EDF team. Oh and there are four stories from me in here. I'm proud to be a part of this.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Coming down

I am slowly, slowly coming back to earth. Today I finished working on a short story I started in the Summer. It was one of those stories that wormed its way under my skin, had to be written but had to be right. Between when I started it (a furious scrawl in long-hand which I hardly ever use these days) and now, I have been close to abandoning it many times. I have felt in turns defeated and overhwelmed but today, thanks in no small part to the enthusiasm and support of a writing buddy, I can look at it and feel elated. It may just be one of the best things I've written. It's certainly the one of which I am most proud. Now I must put it in a warm coat and send it out into the world. And I must find my footing in a new story.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Good news from home

My mother met with the oncologist yesterday and it's been confirmed that the surgery got the whole tumour and that it hadn't spread to her lymph-nodes. She needs six monthly scans for two years but it's the best possible news for the time being. We can look forward to a family Christmas! Thanks again to everyone for your support and kind wishes.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Smokelong Quarterly

I wish I knew who was reading this! I've retained my Number 1 slot for a second month running, another month during which they had over 101,000 readers. I'm still stunned.

Monday, 1 December 2008

Ranfurly Review

The stupendous (and tireless) Colin Galbraith, editor and publisher, has released the new issue of Ranfurly Review, a wonderful celebration of writing, prose and poems. I'm lucky enough to have a story in this issue, The Tooth Fairy, alongside work by Kerry Hudon, Douglas Bruton, Sara Crowley and Avis Hickman-Gibbs. Happy reading!

Friday, 28 November 2008

Feeling bookish

It's the weather or the season, or the fag end of a cold I can't shake off but I want to squirrel myself away with a pile of books and just... be. Last night I was watching television and someone had to stay up all night writing a piece of work they didn't want to write. I was envious. When was the last time I stayed up all night, writing? Or reading? I've ticked a lot of boxes this week. I've entered contests, finished stories, received commissions and juggled home, work and school. But I don't feel connected to myself. I'd like to sneak away to a windowseat or maybe the new coffee shop with its nooks and crannies, sit in silence and turn pages, shape a spine or two to my hand, get comfy with the words. I have a callous on the second finger of my writing hand which comes from years and years of pen-holding, scribbling. There's a place, I'm sure, in my palm that's meant to be filled with the brim of a book. I want to read everything Patricia Highsmith ever wrote. I want to read Loot: Inside the World of Stolen Art. I want to finish A.L. Kennedy's Day and start The Silver Swan. Here's to a bleak December of blanket days spent indoors with my hands and head full of pages.

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Family history

A while ago I pitched an idea for a story to the editor of a photo journalism magazine. The story was based around a propaganda photograph taken in 1944 of my grandparents and my mother (then five years old). The editor liked the pitch and asked me to develop it and submit a short sample of the sort of text I would write. I ended up writing a first draft of the whole story. My first attempt at journalism and I was trepidatious, wanting so much to do justice to the power and importance of this story.

Yesterday the editor emailed to say he found the story compelling and wants to work with me to get it to a final version which he 'definitely wants to publish'. I'm so pleased to have got this far, still anxious about getting it right but very happy to get the chance to work with the editor towards that goal. Maybe the exercise will release the block I've been suffering with the fictional short story I want to write about this period in my family's history. I hope so.

Monday, 24 November 2008

The house of books has no windows

This is a piece of art by Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller commissioned by Modern Art Oxford and the Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh. 5,000 books glued together as bricks to make a house you can step inside. The smell inside is wonderful, of starch and paper. But I wanted to take it apart and READ. Today I wrote four pieces of short fiction in just under three hours. I'd pledged to write three pieces within three hours. All four stories were written to prompts provided by a writer's forum. The prompts were excellent, thought-provoking and meaty. The forum is pledged to write a total of 100 stories within two days and looks set to achieve that target. Each story is posted anonymously and then commented on by the other writers. For each story you post you must comment on at least three stories by others.

The process works very well, smooth and seamless. It was the first time I'd taken part at this particular forum, which includes some stellar writers, and I'll admit I was nervous. But once I'd pledged to take part, which I did on Friday, I relaxed that part of my brain where I keep a tight lid on the voices that are always bubbling under waiting for me to pay attention to the stories they want to tell. I let three voices rise to the surface and let these three check the prompt lists until they found something that suited. Then I wrote. The fourth voice came direct from the prompt itself which is I suspect how I was meant to approach the whole exercise.

It's been interesting to see how other writers critiqued the stories, not just mine but everyone's. These are serious writers, many of them award-winning. They had serious comments to make about the stories posted at the forum. What interested me most was a tendency to read the stories not as tales being told to them but as tales they would have told differently. They read, in other words, as writers rather than readers. I went back and checked my own critiques. I did the same. We are nearly all of us reading in this way, seeing a story we would like to tell and nudging the author in that direction. This is not to say that the comments aren't useful and constructive. They are. But I made a mental note to put my writer's hat aside and read as a reader, keeping my own ego out of it. (I mean ego in the true sense rather than as vanity, although god knows I suffered some serious pen-envy reading some of those stories!)

All in all, a great day's work. I thoroughly enjoyed the writing, the reading and the taking part. Congratulations to all the writers who participated - expect to see the fruits of these labours in print soon.

Friday, 21 November 2008

Briefly

It's been a busy week, lots of writing, some progress although not as much as I'd have liked. I subbed the family history story to the photo journalism magazine and am waiting for the verdict. I sent the complete ms of the novel to a second agent who'd requested it. I subbed a collection of fifteen flashes to a chapbook contest. I started rewriting a new short story which I hope to enter in the Fish contest, and tried to shake off a head cold which doesn't want to leave and brought a migraine as a house-guest for three consecutive days. Tomorrow I intend shopping in Oxford for my Christmas presents, having bought everyone else's. I'm getting slippers and pyjamas. We shall have lunch at Browns and see the Christmas lights. It might even snow on us. Wonderful!

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Every Day Fiction

My story, Me and the Mouser, is up at Every Day Fiction. Please do pop along and read, and comment, if you have the time. Thank you to everyone who does.

Monday, 17 November 2008

Big Pulp and the Battered Suitcase

Two new venues for my stories, and two lovely acceptances. The first came from Big Pulp for a story about the pros and cons of memory loss. The second from The Battered Suitcase for a tale of colonial life in India. Is it me or are venue names getting more marvellous?

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Unwelcome Bodies

The anniversary issue of The Short Review is online now. Congratulations to the editor, Tania Hershman, on reaching this milestone. This latest issue includes my review of Jennifer Pelland's Unwelcome Bodies, a weirdly wonderful collection of futuristic stories. Read an interview with the author here.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Smokelong Quarterly statistics

They've published the reader statistics for October over at Smokelong Quarterly and my story, Two minute silence, topped the list. I'm staggered and delighted. Thanks to everyone who popped across to read from here or elsewhere. They had over 100,000 page views for the site as a whole in October, which is pretty amazing. And how fitting that I can post this news on Remembrance Sunday.

Friday, 7 November 2008

Checking in

I've spent the week subbing stories and entering contests, also writing pain!fic which is my weakness but a great way of getting shot of excess adrenline. An oppportunity has come up to write a piece (part journalism, part diary, part fiction) for a high-profile international venue about the subject closest to my heart. Family history. I'm nervous as heck about it, but excited too. I need to get out all my files and photos and look for the best angle. I have two weeks to sub something good enough to hold the editor's interest which is definitely there just needs pinning down. Wish me luck?

Sunday, 2 November 2008

Milestone

The latest version of the novel is complete. I spent today reading through one last time, polishing here and there. Tomorrow it goes to the agent. I'm nervous, happy, exhausted, fretful. I need to switch off the part of my brain which has been in charge for the last three months. I'm going to read, write a few flashes, play, watch TV. All the things I've been neglecting to get this task done.

Saturday, 1 November 2008

The Best of Every Day Fiction

EDF have released the list of 100 stories which made it into their first anthology which is being published shortly. The lovely editors have chosen four of my stories, bless them. Big shout out to Kevin Shamel, Gay Degani, Tania Hershman and K.C. Ball who all have stories in the anthology. Links to my selection are below.

Lolita's Lynch Mob
Someone else's slip
The facts as I know them
Mug's game

The clever eds have chosen some of my favourite stories from the first year of EDF, including Gay's brilliant The Breach. Check out the full list and look out for the antho when it's published. You won't be disappointed.

Friday, 31 October 2008

Happy Hallowe'en

I love this time of year. Spooky stuff on the television (who's watching Dead Set on E4?) and pumpkins and silly things like LiveJournal renaming itself UndeadJournal just for the holidays. I'm organising a party tonight for seven year olds, with skeleton straws and cocktail sausages on bat sticks and tomato ketchup with a new label "Blood". Costumes have been bought, and party bags with spider pens and monster bookmarks. Let the celebrations begin!

A nice slice of news

Just a little thing but it came at a crucial moment, as I'm about to send the revised novel to the agent, suffering from the usual anxieties that accompany this stage of the process. Anyway, an email this morning from the editor of The Sigurd Journal, saying, "I wondered if we could discuss reprinting Revenge of the River Gods in our journal. I thought it was by far the best thing Every Day Fiction has published this year. I wanted to find out if you... are amenable to considering letting us reprint this story in both our print and email versions of the journal." As I say, nice timing. I shall consider it a good omen.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Character over plot

I love it when a crime writer preaches the gospel of character over plot. It give me a warm fuzzy feeling (of hope, that I can hack it in this genre). Thanks to Frances for pointing me towards this interview with James Sallis, who is now on my list of To Read crime novelists.

"The barely-there storylines in Salt River almost evaporate on the page. You don't get lost in his plots, they tend to lose themselves. "Plots are a contrivance – our lives are plotless – yet they're necessary, I think, to literary form," explains Sallis. "My way of dealing with this has been to move the plot offstage a bit, to write around it." Is this why, when I think of Sallis's books, I'm hit by smells of home-brewed coffee and wild magnolia rather than anything that actually happened? "Those are the parts of the world that we own, what comes back to us about times in our own lives when we think of the past," he insists. "All too often I'm reading this great book with a solid setting, characters that walk right into my own life, then somewhere around the fifth or sixth chapter the plot kicks in – and all that falls into the background. I want all that stuff, that surround, to remain in the foreground."

Revenge of the River Gods

This short story of mine is today's read over at Every Day Fiction. My thanks to everyone who finds time to read, rate and/or comment.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Briefly

I spent the day in London but managed to edit a short crime story AND the final section of the novel during train journeys and pit-stops. I went shopping for books (at Hatchards, the bliss!)and came back with a Fifty Anniversary edition of Tom's Midnight Garden which I'm going to read to Milly at bedtime, plus Sol Stein's Solutions for Novelists and Stephen King's On Writing, because these are books I've been meaning to read for a while.

The book I'm most excited about is Patricia Highmith's Nothing that meets the eye, a collection of 'uncollected stories' with her signature, unsettling themes. 'Delicious poison' promises the review on the back. Yum. Plus, look at that lovely cover.

Monday, 20 October 2008

I dream of Pot Noodle

I couldn't resist posting this image, partly because it reminds me any number of gothic fiction book covers from the Victorian era. Or "The Nightmare", by Johann Heinrich F├╝ssli. Hold the sauce, anyone?

Porn is like Pot Noodle


This short "screenplay" of mine is currently showing over at Red Peter. You may prefer to open the link in the privacy of your own room. Enjoy!

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Autopsy of a submission

This has been around for a while but it's still good stuff. What did your last rejected story die of? I think mine suffered from terminally low Intent Antibodies.

Behler's Blog, part 1 & 2.

Extract follows.

"Fluff is the little inconsequential stuff that, when properly done, can round out a chapter or a character very nicely but has nothing to do with the plot. For example, it’s the quick sidebar to explain that the hopelessly rich Margarita Von Aldenbald was nicknamed Lampie during a inebriated foray into a trucker bar where she commenced to dancing on the tables wearing nothing but a lampshade while singing “I’m An Oscar Meyer Wiener.” It goes to development and adding richness to the story. "

Me! Me!

I was tagged by the fabulous Shameless. It goes like this. Display the award. Link back to the person who gave you this award. Nominate at least 7 other blogs. Put links to those blogs on your blog. Leave a message on the blogs of the people you've nominated. You can only answer in one word.

1. Where is your cell phone? Downstairs
2. Where is your significant other? Downstairs
3. Your hair color? Red
4. Your mother? Home!
5. Your father? Dead
6. Your favourite thing? Stories
7. Your dream last night? Forgotten
8. Your dream/goal? Contentment
9. The room you're in? Study
10. Your hobby? Nah
11. Your fear? Reasonable
12. Where do you want to be in 6 years? Published
13. Where were you last night? London
14. What you're not? Weak
15. One of your wish-list items? Summerhouse
16. Where you grew up? Cheshire
17. The last thing you did? Wrote
18. What are you wearing? Clothes
19. Your TV? On
20. Your pet? Nah
21. Your computer? Essential
22. Your mood? Giddy
23. Missing someone? Yes
24. Your car? Squeaky
25. Something you're not wearing? Hat
26. Favourite store? Liberty's
27. Your summer? Over
28. Love someone? Madly
29. Your favorite color? Grey
30. When is the last time you laughed? Today
31. Last time you cried? Yesterday

I tag Avis, Robin, Tania, Maria, Nik, KC and Douglas. Apologies to those already tagged. And tagging doesn't obligate anyone to anything. Just so you know.

That was fun, thanks, Kev. Now back to that novel.

It's no joke is lycanthropy

My debut at this venue! It's a very short story about a malcontent werewolf. It's also an entry in their annual contest but there's some fearsome competition so I don't expect a prize.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Turning a corner

It looks as if my mother will be given the all-clear to return home after cancer surgery ten days ago. She's had a rotten time of it despite the operation being a success (as far as we know at this stage), but I'm hoping she's turned a corner at last. Adding to the stresses of last week, I've been wrestling with the revisions to the novel. Thanks to the input from the agent I know what's right and wrong with it but the more I edit, the more it slips away from me. That's how it felt.

So yesterday I started writing a new end scene, entirely new. I was writing, not editing, not shuffling scenes around in the hope they'd fall out the right way. Of course now it seems so obvious: I needed to WRITE my way out of the mess. I'm sparky with ideas for how to fix it. Oh and I love my heroine (and hero) all over again. I know there are people who enjoy the discipline of editing but for my money you can't beat writing. I feel I'm flexing all the right muscles after months of trying to fit myself in a cramped space and sit tight.

Monday, 13 October 2008

Short it

The latest issue of The Short Review, edited by Tania Hershman, contains my review of Chavisa Woods' first collection, Love does not make me gentle or kind, plus an interview with the author. Also reviewed is Neil Gaiman's M is for Magic, which I'm thinking of buying for my daughter, and Tiny Deaths by Robert Shearman, which I'm thinking of buying for myself. So much wonderful reading to be done.

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Hold the burning match

In the aftermath of the Fish cull (see previous post), I've been thinking about the value of entering writing contests. Is a writer a gullible fool to fork out entry fees and should we eschew contests who charge them? Or is the very process of entering (and losing) contests a necessary part of our craft?

I think a serious writer needs a strategy. I spent my childhood years scribbling snippets of stories for friends and family. Lovely pastime! My readers told me I was brilliant; I basked in their unqualified praise. Then I grew up. I learned there are no short-cuts to getting published. That you have to work damn hard at it, and you have to have a strategy. You have to court criticism, and failure.

Success, I've concluded, is measured in your ability to accept failure and keep moving forward. I'd go further, in fact. Failure is your friend. It gives you a line in the sand, a measure against which to work. You might think that a hundred failed entries, or failed submissions, would equate to a feeling that you're unequal to the task you've set yourself. But the writers who give up, in my experience, are not the ones with a hundred rejection slips under their belts. They're the ones with one or two rejections or maybe none - because they didn't ever work up the courage to put their writing out there to be judged. Perhaps they told themselves it was pointless because contests are a rip off and a crap shoot. Funnily enough it's often not a lack of confidence that stops a writer subbing their work. It's ego. "Of course they'd never award a prize to such innovative writing."

A serious writer knows the value of failure, is intimately acquainted with its sharp edges and its blunt tone. Remember Peter O'Toole in Lawrence of Arabia, holding that burning match until it's ash between his fingers? "Of course it hurts. The trick is not minding that it hurts."

About this strategy business, then.

So few magazines pay money and even fewer have a profile with agents, publishers, editors - all the people you need to get onside if you want to make a living as a writer. Sure there are bound to be contests out there which operate as commercial ventures but these are generally easy to spot. Having been close to Fish in Bantry this year I can tell you that it's a labour of love for the people behind the venture. It cost me about ten pounds to enter but the prize money was close to six hundred pounds - I call that a good return for my investment. More importantly, it got me right in front of readers, learning important lessons about the hard end of the business. I got quizzed at length by a scouting agent, face-to-face. I'm trying hard to think how else I could secure that sort of exposure if I eschewed all contests on the grounds that I was getting ripped off.

I'm under no illusions; I'm a grown up. Fish was a calculated investment. And even had I got nowhere I'd have counted it valuable in the sense that unless we keep putting our heads above the parapet, keep courting the slings and arrows, how will we know we're getting anywhere? It takes nerves of steel to keep pushing our work out there to be judged, to be rejected. But without that process I think the danger is this becomes an exercise in ego-stroking. There is an acid test in the judgement of peers and professionals. Sure it's a crap shoot, to an extent. A lot of it comes down to subjective opinion of an individual or two. And luck. But I'd be interested to hear people's thoughts on how else we can get ahead, get better, stronger. Persuade me!

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Gutted

This just in from Fish Publishing - they've cancelled the Fish Knife Award for 2009 due to lack of entries. I was so excited about entering this for the first time, and worked hard to get my story good enough. Damn. Now I have to find a new venue. All suggestions welcome - it's a crime short story. I hope this doesn't mean Fish is going to dump other categories. I do understand their reasoning - they have to protect a certain standard if the winners are to feel they've achieved something - but all the same. Damn.

ETA: They've just cancelled the Criminally Short Histories Award, for the same reason. That's the category I won last year, and for which I'd entered several pieces this year. Double damn.

Sunday, 5 October 2008

Two minute silence

The new issue of Smokelong Quarterly is now published, and carries my story and interview plus the lovely illustration by Venetia Sarll. I'd be glad of all readers - thank you!

Friday, 26 September 2008

I am blessed with the best of friends

Here's another image that fits my story, Tuesdays and Thursdays, which has gone down really well at Every Day Fiction. My thanks to everyone who read and commented on it. Special thanks to Kevin Shamel, just about one of the most upbeat and supportive guys I've ever met, who excelled himself this week as custodian of my self-confidence. You're da man, Kev.

A big shout out to Gay Degani who's been keeping me on track this week, writing-wise. Gay's a blazingly good crime writer and having her watch my back is a gift.

Thanks to Tania Hershman for suggesting the buddy business and for her all-round sweetness and enthusiasm, and to Vanessa Gebbie for not telling me to button it about the perils of writing porn when we met for supper earlier in the week.

Thursday, 25 September 2008

Tuesdays and Thursdays


This flash of mine, Tuesdays & Thursdays, is Read of the Day over at Every Day Fiction. If you have time please do pop along and read and, if you're so inclined, star rate the story and leave a comment. Thank you!

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

How to write fiction

This is a series of booklets published with The Guardian newspaper every day this week. It's also available online. Tutorials, feature articles, exercises and advice from writers including Robert Harris, Kate Pullinger, Stephen King and George Saunders. Well worth a look.

Other booklets in the series include How to write Poetry (Wendy Cope) and How to write Scripts & Screenplays (Ronald Harwood). A complete menu can be found here.

"Plot is the good writer's last resort and the dullard's first choice." Stephen King

Monday, 22 September 2008

The Random Things Meme

I was tagged by Shameless. Let's do this. First, the rules:

1. Link to the person who tagged you
2. Post the rules on your blog
3. Write 6 random things/unspectacular quirks about yourself
4. Tag 6 people at the end of your post and link to them
5. Let each person you have tagged know by leaving a comment on their blog
6. Let the tagger know when your entry is posted.

Six Random Things:

1. I never wear heels. I own no dresses and only one skirt. I had great legs, right up until I turned 35, and even now they're not so bad. But I live in jeans or moleskins these days.

2. In my late twenties I spent the best part of eighteen months working with the Royal Navy, as a researcher. I toured around, went on nuclear subs and slept in the room where Prince Andrew bunked as a Naval recruit. I learned to call Royal Marines "Bootnecks" and RAF pilots "CrabFats". I had a whale of a time.

3. I love horror movies. I used to sneak into X rated slash flicks with my brother when I was just 15. I'd memorise a false date of birth in case anyone quizzed me; they never did.

4. I used to write boy/boy porn. A lot of it.

5. I have a mild case of survivor guilt because I wouldn't have been born but for the atom bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. My mother was a child internee in a Japanese camp, sentenced to death by the Japanese just days before the Allies dropped the bombs. This bothers me in all sorts of ways I don't often voice.

6. I love being a mother. Deeply, madly. It changed me as a person, in ways I'm still finding out. My seven year old is an independent as they come but still it's like I'm missing a limb when she's not someplace I can reach out and hug her when I want to.


As for tagging others, I think everyone I know has already been tagged. If not, consider yourself tagged!

The Skywatchers


This flash of mine is published today over at Bewildering Stories. My first attempt at Magic Realism. Do please drop by and read.

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Elvis in a trailer park

I got my copies of One Step Beyond, the Subatomic anthology which features my story, LoveFM. The books look fantastic, probably the best of any I've been in, funky covers, beautiful typesetting. They spelt my pen-name wrong, Hillary with two 'ells' but what the 'ell, I still love the books.

Monday, 15 September 2008

Watch the Hirst hit the fan


Whatever you think of Damien Hirst's art you have to admire the man's brass neck (and balls) for cutting out the dealers and taking his wares direct to the paying public. The middle-men must be cursing him all sorts of colours. Seeing them squirm is worth every penny of the publicity stunt. Apparently Hirst is now 'painting pictures', something he's never done before. I can hear the knives being sharpened already.

Friday, 12 September 2008

Cast a shadow, create a doubt


More from the man who photographed the rusting cans, David Maisel, who has the best website. I love the idea of this project, Oblivion, about which William L. Fox says, "The term “shadowland” that Maisel uses when discussing the Oblivion photographs is appropriate. When you cast a shadow on a fact, you create doubt. When you shadow someone, you follow them invisibly. Shadowland is what the military calls those blacked-out areas where they wish to operate unseen, whether they are testing an experimental aircraft or interrogating people beyond lawful means. It is a land of spies and spooks, a place where ghosts live, and what Los Angeles looks like in Oblivion. The city is almost recognizable in Maisel's negative prints and yet not quite, as if we are seeing both more of what we know and less." Spooks, spies and smoke. Brilliant.

Thursday, 11 September 2008

Beauty in strange places


I bought a copy of The New Scientist to read on the train home from London yesterday. The article that intrigued me most was accompanied by this image, of a rusted copper can containing the remains of a patient who died at an insane asylum in Salem. So many stories suggest themselves from this one image. Thank you to Tania for reminding me to dip into The New Scientist from time to time. I'm resolved to buy a different magazine each time I travel home from London. If anyone has any suggestions for good reading matter that might spark story ideas, please let me know.

Sunday, 7 September 2008

Two minute silence


The nicest thing that happened yesterday was seeing the final artwork from the illustrator who's been working on my story for Smokelong Quarterly.

The story opens with the line, 'Molly Cottle was burying stolen spoons in the garden.'

The picture is just perfect. I love it. The illustrator, Venetia Sarll, has captured the essence of my heroine and her story. Here's a sneak preview of the inked version. The final artwork features red poppies. Smokelong say they are honoured to be publishing my story. Well, I'm honoured to have it illustrated so wonderfully. Thank you, Venetia!

Friday, 5 September 2008

On the bright side

Today was a wash-out, as far as writing went. I had so many good intentions, had reached the start of a new scene for the novel, but work intervened and one thing and another, but I won't say nothing got done. In fact I'm going to record three good things about today. Firstly, the post brought Tania Hershman's The White Road, which I've been dying to read. Secondly, I found several great website links for visual images and ideas for this new scene I need to write. Thirdly, I cleared some office work out of the way in advance of next week when I shall return to the novel anew. Isn't this a amazing picture? It's of a swan under Kingston Bridge. I love the colours, and the swan's shape in the water. If you click on the image you will be able to view it in a larger size.

Thursday, 4 September 2008

Refresh, Refresh



Woot! The latest issue of The Short Review is online. Another superb selection of stories and interviews to whet the appetite. I just loved reading the interview with Benjamin Percy whose book, Refresh, Refresh, I reviewed for the site. What'd I think? Find out here. A taster below.

I'm so proud!


Of my seven year old, who is one of only three children in her class of 30 at school who is reading at what they call 'stage 11' which, as far as I can tell, is about three years above the required reading for her age. Plus she's been given the job of trainee librarian at the school - a great honour as usually the school won't allow anyone below the age of nine to be responsible for the library. But she asked whether she could be a monitor and her new class teacher was so chuffed she created this trainee role. Way to bond with the new teacher.

Spam

Does anyone know how to block a specific "user" from these blogs? I've got a very obvious spammer who keeps posting "comments" (not even a real person, just an auto thing) and I'd like to block/ban based on their "name" without blocking other readers who come here. Any tips?

I've switched on Comment Moderation which means I now have to approve the comments before they appear. I don't like doing this but it looks like the only way unless someone can tell me how to block a specific user?

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Ink Sweat & Tears

Have published a flash of mine, After a long illness, quietly at home, which I wrote for a challenge set by Tania Hershman. Can you guess the structural discipline she imposed? I loved writing this, the process, the story. Thanks, Tania! And thanks, Charles, for liking it enough to publish in IS&T.

JuiceBox


This journal has just published its Fall issue, which includes my story, Gentian blue. It looks really lovely in situ, I'm delighted with it! This site has a facility to leave comments, but you need to register with a user name and email. I'm grateful for all/any comments, as usual. Thanks!

Ranfurly Review

This journal is available as a free downloadable pdf and features my story, What we did at half-term on page 8. It gets a special mention in the editorial on page 3 as it is one of two Editor's Picks for the issue. You can download the issue from here. It's a true story, by the way, every word of it.

Monday, 1 September 2008

Family tree


I'm in touch with a relative I didn't know I had. She is the great-great-grand-daughter of my great-great-great-grandfather. My great-great-grandmother was her great-grandfather's sister. Our shared relative (who worked on the railways) went by the fabulous name of Frederick George Rumble Olley (Rumble was his mother's maiden name). He died in 1912. His first wife, we believe, died in childbirth and his son later died in infancy. He married again and his second wife bore seven children, still managing to live until the ripe age of 90 years (no mean feat in that day and age). Anyway, my new relative (second cousin, much removed?) lives in the US and has for years been searching for someone who can visit Frederick George Rumble Olley's grave in Wolverton, to take flowers (and photos). She told me today that I would make her the happiest woman in the world if I could make that pilgramage. I have since emailed the church via their extremely useful website asking for confirmation of the burial and location of the plot. It's less than an hour and half's drive away from me, so I'll be going.

Every Day Poets - announcement

For the scribes amongst you. Oonah V Joslin (Managing Editor) says: Every Day Poets is a magazine that specializes in bringing you fine, short poetry. Starting on 1st November 2008, every day at 12:01am Pacific Time (8am GMT), we will be publishing a new poem of up to 60 lines/500 words or fewer that can be read during your lunch hour, in transit, or even over breakfast. Feel free to browse around the site, check out our archives as they grow, or even sign up to receive a poem in your inbox... every day! And if you are a poet, why not send us your best work? We are open for submissions now.

The White Road


Huge congratulations to Tania Hershman whose first collection of short stories, The White Road, is published today. I don't know when I last looked forward to reading a new book so much.

Enjoy your Big Day, Tania!

My first interview!

Those lovely people over at Every Day Fiction chose me as their first anniversary interviewee. Golly it was hard writing answers that didn't sound dull, dim or arrogant. I hope I pulled it off. You can read the interview here.

Friday, 29 August 2008

One Step Beyond

This anthology is now published, and I'm in it! A love story starring Elvis, set in a trailer park. Read all about it here, and order it here. I recommend migraleve for the groovy cover.

Smokin'

I'm going to make my debut in Smokelong Quarterly in September! I'm very excited, have been chasing this venue forever and at last they've accepted a story of mine, Two Minute Silence, which they will illustrate and everything.

Thursday, 28 August 2008

Back again


Lovely lovely break. Good food, great company and a terrific amount of walking. I feel pretty fit, for me. Nice news to come home to, I made the Highly Commended grade in the Biscuit Publishing Contest with a short story called On the Line. There were over five hundred entries so I calculate that's not a bad showing. The story is a piece of pure whimsy and this is the second time it's come close to a prize, so I shall now look for a new contest to send it to. Anyone know of any good ones for whimsical stories?

I'm read of the day over at Every Day Fiction today, with Slaughter of the lawns. All comments most welcome. Bear with me while I catch up on what you've all been up to - please direct me to important posts and news.

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Open Wide Magazine

More and more I'm learning to never take No for an answer. I got a nice rejection from this magazine, inviting me to sub again, so straightaway I sent two more stories and one of them has made it into the September issue (print only). I've been chasing this venue since I first saw it, partly because it has the coolest web page. And my story is the only flash fic in the issue; the editor is new to flash but appreciative of it as a discipline. I'm chuffed to bits about this one!

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Keep it simple, stupid


I keep telling myself that the agent wanting my novel to be 'simpler' ought to be better news than if she'd say, 'This needs to be more complex,' but honestly? I'm struggling. A fellow writer told me today that I have a mind like a corkscrew and I'm beginning to fear she may be right. Ever tried untwisting a stick of barley sugar? If so, tips please!

Saturday, 16 August 2008

Ticking the boxes

Well, I did it, subbed the crime short story to the Fish-Knife. And I wrote over 2,000 new words for the novel, editing roughly 1,000 that weren't needed (not in this book, anyway). The new scene was between my heroine and the other main character, who's the hero in so far as this book has one. You know what? The agent's right, the relationship between these two is "brilliantly done". I could've written another 2,000 words happily, but restricted myself to what the agent said was needed. Going offline now, for a bath and maybe a G&T and an episode or two of Curb your Enthusiasm.

JuiceBox: a journal of the ordinary


This colourful new venue has just accepted my flash, Gentian Blue, for their Fall issue (out in September). They've previously featured work by Tania Hershman, so I'm following in great footsteps. Really pleased about this one.

Friday, 15 August 2008

Here I go again


Back into the thick of the novel, thrashing out the latest round of revisions, helped hugely by the detailed guidance from the agent. I'm cutting, but also creating. I have an idea for how to tackle the need for deeper layers of motivation and meaning, and I'm going through the ms making notes of the places where I can run the new threads. I'm excited about it, in spite of the challenge posed by the new material. In other news, I'm about to submit a crime short story for the 2009 Fish Knife, thanks to some expert help with the chronology (thanks, V!). My first go at this contest, so it'll be something to see if I get anywhere. I doubt it, first crack out of the box, but it's a foothold in those hills.

Thursday, 14 August 2008

Micro Fish

I can't believe I won a place in July's showcase with a joke, but I did. It's called But it pours and you can read it here. If you scroll down a bit you'll see I was also a runner-up with The Scream. Not much chance I'll be amongst the major finalists (who'd vote for a joke?!), but the £25 will cover my entry fees for these and the flash contests, which is nice. And I think it means I'll be in the 2009 Anthology - hurray!

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Agent update


The agent called yesterday. So it wasn't an outright, 'Flawless! Let's storm the publishing world!' but it was the next best thing. A page of changes needed to make it work and a definitive next step, to submit the edited ms to a fresh pair of eyes at the same agency. She said she read 'with great pleasure', that my heroine is complex, 'a great character', and that her relationships with the other main characters are 'brilliantly done'. I'd like to say the required changes are just fine tuning. Well, no. It's rather more than that. In some places, it's major new scenes. I have much to cut, and some cunning re-aligning to do. But she clearly thinks I can do it; she's impressed by how far I'd come between the previous ms and this latest one. So I'm telling the niggling demons in my ear ('you ought to have cracked it by now, you haven't the stamina or the time to get it right') to shut up. This is what I needed: enthusiasm and direction. I'm rolling up my sleeves right now and diving back in.

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

A couple more

I'm delighted to have made the grade at Six Sentences with this Wendy, the water buffalo. Meanwhile, Literary Fever issue 3 has I cannot carry a tune. All comments welcome!

Monday, 11 August 2008

Ink Sweat & Tears

Have just published a short flash of mine, Passing on (homage to Hemingway), in the excellent company of Tania Hershman and Vanessa Gebbie. How lovely to be amongst friends! Please do pop along and leave a comment - join the party?

Saturday, 9 August 2008

A hard look at crime writing

Natasha Cooper, for me, ranks as one of the most important commentators on the current state of crime writing. She wrote a feature recently in The Times about why it's harder for a woman to hack it as a crime writer than it is for a man. Not long ago she wrote a compelling piece despatched in an email from the Crime Writers Association. No link, so I'm going to post it as it appeared in the email (see below). I'm reminded that Mslexia featured an interesting piece about this, from the angle of both women writers and literary types turning their hand to crime. More broadly, this piece by the British Council is interesting on the Moral Dimension of the Crime Novel. Oh and a couple of features on the recent Harrogate Crime Festival, from the Telegraph and the Independent on Sunday, for those like me still catching up with events. If you have links to better write-ups, please share them.

By far the most interesting take on all this - to me, right now - is Natasha Cooper's email from the CWA. Here it is.

Trends and Dangers in Crime Writing by Natasha Cooper

Fashion and luck are two of the essentials in successful crime writing, as in most other endeavours. But it's dangerous to fixate on the first and impossible to engineer the second. By the time any writer struck by a current fashion in murderous fiction has plotted and written his or her own version, taste will probably have moved on. And there's nothing more unattractive to editors and critics than last-year's fashion.

At one time in the recent past the only crime novels that seemed to excite people with power in the booktrade were those dealing with serial killers. More and more writers created increasingly florid plots about men with twisted imaginations and sadistic impulses. Writers would introduce their readers to a young and attractive woman, of precisely the physical type that tweaked the killer's taste, just in time for her to become likeable to readers. She'd be the junior detective or a reporter, or the wife, girlfriend or daughter of the main sleuth. The serial killer would kidnap and hide her away to take his time torturing her, and readers were supposed to remain breathless with anxiety as they waited to discover whether she would be saved. Guess what? She always was. Boring.

Then there was (and, alas, still is) paedophilia. Long, long ago it was genuinely shocking to be made to see that child-abusers are not all grubby little men in dirty raincoats hanging about primary schools. As we now know, there are paedophiles in every social class and every profession. Many real criminals were abused in childhood and have gone on to become abusers themselves, citing the 'it never hurt me, so why make a fuss when I do it?' complaint when accused of their crime. Crime fiction must, I believe, reflect reality, but putting paedophilia at the heart of every novel is silly and tedious. It's also dangerous. You should never use a serious and desperately damaging crime in a way that provokes only boredom.

The latest fashion, following on from Dan Browne's astonishing success with The Da Vinci Code, is for novels about conspiracy in high places, preferably the Vatican. Now, whenever I read a blurb that mentions someone powerful trying to stop a world-shattering or religious secret getting out I shudder - in all the wrong ways..

As for luck, you'll need it if you're to find a publisher, win prizes, get picked by Oprah or Richard & Judy, see your title at the top of the bestseller list. Your own particular take on the world and the way you write have to fit with what publishers and critics and selectors happen to be looking for at the moment they light on your book. And there's nothing you can do to make that happen.

But you can write brilliantly, which will always help. You can plot with care and create characters who are psychologically coherent and credible. You can make readers like at least some of them, which you must do if you want to keep people with you all the way to the last page. And you can generate tension. You must set up huge and important questions and delay the answers. These questions aren't huge in the sense of the mad scientist trying to bring about the end of the world, but huge in the importance they carry for your characters and for the men and women you hope will read your novel.

Most of all you must care about what you write. If you don't, no one else will.

Thursday, 7 August 2008

Update (of sorts)


I emailed the agent to ask how the reading of the crime novel was going. She's hoping to be in touch next week, after reading the manuscript. So that's put my worst fear into touch, that she'd read it already and was figuring how to tell me, nicely, that it stinks. Of course she may still tell me that, next week. But for now I have back a glimmer of hope, the tiny seam of a silver lining.

The Beat

This venue has just published a story of mine, The view from Alcatraz. Please do pop along and read, and leave a comment.

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Slow death by anticipation


Just checking in to say I'm hanging in there, just. I finally got shot of a big work project that's been haunting me for weeks. It was like pulling teeth but it's done. If I was less of a nervous wreck, I'd be able to write.

Friday, 1 August 2008

But I know what I like

Science and art. Two subjects I struggled with at school but put them together and hot damn I love what you get. Such as this news story, and the paper published by the scientists involved.

Scientists Joris Dik and Koen Janssens used high-intensity X-rays from a particle accelerator to scan the painting and reveal the face beneath. The powerful X-ray bombardment caused atoms in the picture's layers of paint to emit "fluorescent" X-rays of their own, which indicated the chemicals they originated from. That enabled a colour map of the hidden picture to be produced.

Now, how cool is that?

Thursday, 31 July 2008

Ever so slightly bonkers


It's mid-summer in the English countryside. A pensioner in desert campaign shorts worn with knee length socks is judging - sternly - a race between two small boys on pedal scooters over on the village green. Our house smells of manure because it's that time of year when you need the windows open and the farmer needs to plough his fields. What isn't brown and stenchy out there, is much too green. The postman brought a terrific haul just now. Another five copies of the Fish Anthology, which will be winging their way to those who asked. A tin of biscuits from France - yum. And a big envelope with photos and memorabilia from the prison camp, courtesy of my mother's fellow internee. Right, back to work.

Monday, 28 July 2008

More memories


This time a Red Cross photograph taken of my grandparents and mother, to prove how content were the Japanese civilian internees. The crucifix worn around my mother's neck was carved from the Perspex windshield of a downed enemy aircraft. Dutch nuns interned with the civilians carved one of these for each child in the camp. My grandmother told me, years and years later, how she loathed this picture and could not stand to look at it. Because it was such a terrible lie. The look on my mother's face hints at the truth, but barely. She could easily be mistaken for a sulky child made to pose in a dress that was too tight for her. If you click on the picture it will open in a larger version.

Heatwave

I'm wilting, all but. The holiday was lovely, lots of sea air and sitting around in my mother's beautiful garden with cold drinks and books to read. I'm back at work now and it's much too hot, but I'm working on a couple of long-short story ideas, one of which is crime. The other is genre-non-specific and, if I can pull it off, will be the best short story I've managed to date. I'm excited about writing it, just wish I had more time to devote to the task.

Remembering


On Saturday I met up with four people who were in the Japanese internment camp with my grandparents and mother, near Kuching, 1942-1946. Two of these were brothers in their late sixties whom I've not met before, only seen as small blond boys in photos and film footage from the liberation of the camp. It was an amazing experience to meet and talk with them. On 17 August it will be exactly 62 years since the Australian forces liberated the camp, saving hundreds of men, women and children who would otherwise have been executed under orders from the Japanese. Hundreds more had already died by that time, and some of the survivors would face premature deaths from illnesses, physical and mental, resulting from their incarceration.

My mother is the girl held in the soldier's arms on the left of the photo, with her hand on her head.

Saturday, 19 July 2008

Postscript

Another flash acceptance, this time for a flash called Porn is like Pot Noodle, from a cool new venue, Red Peter. I can't wait to see how he illustrates the story. Also I get to send a snooty withdrawal notice to the buggers who've had that submission since January and ignored my polite chasing emails.

Friday, 18 July 2008

Off for a week


School's out and the Welsh seaside beckons. I'm taking books, deck shoes, jumpers and a small child.

Back in a week. Bye for now!

Nice news

I've just received two of the fastest ever acceptances, both from a new venue for me, Ink Sweat & Tears, and for stories I'm really fond of.

The first, Passing on (homage to Hemingway), is a modern day response to the famous baby shoes story.

The second, After a long illness, quietly at home, follows a structure whereby each sentence starts with a consecutive letter spelling out F-L-A-S-H.

So two stories, each in its own way a tribute to this terrific discipline called flash fiction. They'll be published as a pair in about a month's time. I'm chuffed to bits.

Thursday, 17 July 2008

Today

Having posted off the novel, I felt a little bereft, so tried my hand at flashing. Six stories of 50 words each, linked to make a whole. I had this idea the link was subtle but visible, without my playing it up too much, so I left it alone to show itself as it sees fit. I trust to this instinct all the time when writing flash fic, but for some reason I lose my faith in it when writing short stories or tackling a novel, falling back on lots of plotting to help me through. I feel I need to loosen up my style.

Many Happy Returns of the Day


To Tania Hershman, a terrific writer whose first collection of short stories is coming out in September, published by Salt.

Have a great one, Tania!

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Brown paper packages


Nerves aside, I love this part of the process. Submission! Printing 300 pages, placing them in a clear plastic box file, wrapping the whole package in brown paper with parcel tape cut very precisely, all clean angles cushioned against the vagaries of the postal service. The weighty feel of it in my hands. I might hug it before I send it out there, to the agent, tomorrow.

Sunday, 13 July 2008

Rough stitches


As a child I learned to sew using rough stitches, or tacking, to hold two pieces of material together while I mastered the trickier task of small, neat stitches - the ones which would see the light of day and endure the test of time.

The last task of any sewing class was unpicking the rough stitches and removing the tacking thread.

This is the stage I fancy I've reached with the novel. After unearthing all the inconsistencies in plot and character, ironing out the timeline and uprooting typos, I've discovered an almost invisible membrane between the narrative and the reader, a layer of Author that needs peeling away.

At the risk of introducing another metaphor...

You know those plastic covers that come on fancy sofas and which some people choose to leave there, a layer of protection against casual wear and tear by family members and friends? Inadvertantly, I'd left the covers on parts of my narrative, held the action at arm's length not with the passive voice but simply by the unnecessary addition of "she thought", "she felt", "she wondered" or "surmised". I imagine this must have helped to steer me through the intricacies of how the action impacted on my heroine's psychology. They were the rough stitches, my version of those naff plastic covers on the sofa. So now I'm stripping them away, one by one, to allow the reader to kick back and get comfy in the story. Not that it's a comfy read, you understand.

Worth noting to myself, because I wasn't aware of the habit as I was writing the first draft. Nor did I spot it on a quick first read through. I feel I'm learning to critique my work far better than I was once able. At least I hope so.

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Fish!


I'm just back from Bantry, still on a high from the amazing buzz that was the Fish Anthology launch. I had an incredible time, more socialising in two days than I usually do in a year and every minute of it a joy. The people are fantastic, the organisers especially. Big shout out to Clem Cairns, and Lorraine and to Jock. You guys are just so lovely. And the writers! The writers were terrific. It was such a warm experience to spend time with other people who are working on novels and stories, writers on the cusp of big things and those who've made it. Never mind the wind turbines on the horizon, you could have powered a small town with the enthusiasm and adrenalin that was generated in just 24 hours. And I was only there for one whole day, the Monday. Lucky lucky people who were staying for the week. The buzz was building and could only get better.

Highlights? Well, of course the launch ceremony on Monday night when I read my winning story. I had a couple of dry runs in my room, and it went off well on the night. Several people came up afterwards and said they thought I'd read it beautifully. One lovely lady with a two year old in tow said it was her favourite story of the whole night. I was just bowled over by the reception to it. I was asked to sign a few copies of the anthology, which was such an incredible feeling, to be a part of something so big, so important to the writing world.

I stayed up past midnight both nights, for the bedtime story sessions, which were open mike with people reading poems and stories, including the collaborative flash story led by Vanessa Gebbie with a new 100 words added by a different writer every night.

On the second night, after a champagne supper with Vanessa and six other writers, all wonderfully warm and funny women, I was stopped by a lady on my way out of the hotel at just gone midnight. She congratulated me on the win and asked me lots of very serious questions about my writing, what I was working on and who I was reading. I was fairly myopic with fatigue by this stage but still buzzy, and we talked about Patricia Highsmith and Lizzie Borden and so on. I found out later she was an agent, which made me wish I'd given more intelligent - or at least coherent - answers to her questions.

I must mention Vanessa Gebbie's reading of the winning one-page story, an incredible story by Michael Logan. I'd loved the story when I read it in the book but hearing Vanessa read it out loud was a real treat, an experience I wouldn't have missed for the world. I hope she will record the reading and send a copy to Michael because it really is something special.

Thanks again, Vanessa, for encouraging me to go to Bantry. I had the best, most amazing time. I'm now planning all the stories I will enter for the Fish 2009 contests in the hope of making it over to Ireland again next year.

Friday, 4 July 2008

Fish Anthology 2008

Scroll down the right hand side of my blog and you'll find a photo of the front cover of Harlem River Blues, the new Fish Anthology being launched in Bantry on Monday 7 July. I'll be there for the launch, reading my story, Fall River, August 1892, which won the Criminally Short Histories Award. Another of my stories, The Eyam Stones, was a runner-up in the Short Histories category and is also in the same anthology. The first story is about Lizzie Borden (tiny extract under the cover image on the right, below). The Eyam Stones is about the village in Derbyshire sacrificed to keep the Black Death contained. I visited Eyam shortly before writing it; one of those have to write stories.

Because of the two stories, I get stacks of free copies of the Anthology and have earmarked a big handful for family and friends, including anyone reading this who'd like one. Go on, it'd give me a buzz to sign one for you!

Thursday, 3 July 2008

Crime pays

I've just listened to John Banville on Open Book, Radio 4, talking about the differences between writing literary fiction and writing crime. Interesting debate, plus an interview with Irvine Welsh about his new book, Crime. Well worth a listen.

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

And breaks


I meant to say how right it felt that immediately I finished writing (see previous post) the heatwave broke and rain sheeted down. I opened all the windows afterwards and the house smells of blown roses and wet grass.