Tuesday, 29 December 2009
Thursday, 24 December 2009
Thursday, 10 December 2009
Tuesday, 8 December 2009
A. "Can you smell carrots?"
Wednesday, 2 December 2009
Saturday, 28 November 2009
I was lucky enough to receive a Commendation for my entry. The editors sent a lovely email: "Your work was highly commended by the judges. This year we have done something new in the Annual, and created a Commendations List. Your name and the title of your piece The Pheasant Feather Hat are listed on this page. There were only 50 commendations per section, so this is a great honour."
Over 2,500 short stories were entered, a tremendous number for any contest. I'm really looking forward to reading the winning story.
Friday, 20 November 2009
So I'm going to celebrate my 100 as a piece; we've grown up together.
According to the Scoville Scale charting the comparative heat of chillis, at 100 we're a Peperocini, or Cherry Pepper. In Bingo Calls, we're Legs Eleven (11) plus Dirty Gertie (30) and a Brighton Line (59).
In champagne nomenclature, we're half a dozen Balthazars plus a Jeroboam, or simply five Nebuchadnezzars.
As an American banknote, we'd feature the portrait of Benjamin Franklin.
As a Euro, our colour is green. Our Roman numeral is C. Our Dewey Decimal Book Classification is Philosophy. Were we a Poker Hand, we'd be 25 Royal Flushes.
In Canasta, we'd be Going Out. Count us in decibels, and we're Firecrackers. Or, as a Haydn symphony, we're The Military (in key G).
We're equivalent to 10 Greek Aceana in length, and 20 bushels (measured in man loads) in weight.
Count us in moons, and we have 5 times the number of Uranus; 50 times more than Mars. But we're only one tenth the size of the number of sweetbreads aboard the Titanic.
Thursday, 5 November 2009
Sunday, 1 November 2009
Exciting developments with regard to local publishing connections are afoot, and I hope to be able to update here soon. It's all happening and my feet haven't touched the ground much in the last six weeks, nor have my fingers been at the keyboard. Nevertheless, after a brief spell of feeling utterly overwhelmed and exhausted, I am on a new high energy regime which is paying dividends in terms of my mental stamina as much as anything else.
Drinking lots of water, walking whenever I get the chance, as much fresh air as I can get into my lungs every day - it's all paying off. I'm feeling razzed!
Tuesday, 27 October 2009
Monday, 26 October 2009
Saturday, 17 October 2009
Wednesday, 14 October 2009
Friday, 9 October 2009
Hooks. Twists. Surprises. Shocks. All story is conflict.
We’re taught these lessons from the very start. We’re not at war with our readers, of course we’re not. Rather we’re colluding with them. Taking them on a journey that pit-stops in places of danger, delivering vicarious thrills and frights as well as quiet moments of enlightenment, and perhaps joy. Even something as cosy and comforting as a light romance will sign-post disappointments and set up bush-tucker trials for its heroes and heroines before they reach their happy destination. In fact, by using ‘even’ at the start of that last sentence I am probably doing writers of genre fiction a disservice; they never stray far from the path of delivering the reader what he/she wants. By contrast, some literary fiction can feel as if the author has forgotten such a thing as a reader exists, other than as a plebian nuisance the author must endure en route to a prize ceremony or two.
“Words are dead until they’re read.”
This is a quote from John Simmons, a terrific business writer who has much to teach writers of fiction, at least that’s how I felt reading his book, We, Me, Them and It. However much we love our words, they only come to life when they’re read by someone else. The words are the dry ingredients but it’s the reader who brings the hot water, reconstituting our words into something which should, if we’ve done our job right, satisfy the appetite that brought the reader our way in the first place.
We hope to engage the attention and affection of our readers. Business writers work from this as a first principle. Maybe fiction writers should, too. Or more of us should more often, anyway. Simmons said something else that resonated with me.
Every time we engage with the reader we set up an expectation
As writers of fiction, we have the luxury of being able to pervert the expectations we set up. Most business writers can’t risk doing this. Although there are examples of copywriting coming close. Carlsberg’s Probably is a great example. Because what it’s actually saying, of course, is Definitely. The copy colludes with the reader. It shares their sense of fun. It’s self-deprecating; perverting expectations of brand advertising to plough a fresh furrow to its audience’s bloke-ish hearts.
As authors, we can pervert expectations but we must never lose track of them. If we do then the dialogue is broken; the reader trusts us a little less. If necessary, be boring and keep a list at the end of every chapter (or paragraph, in a short story; or word, in a flash piece). Ask yourself,
All right, so it’s not exhaustive. But it’s a damn good starting-place. And I don’t think I’ve seen it described so succinctly in any of the many books I’ve read about writing fiction. It had to come from a book about business writing. Didn’t I say it was funny?
Sunday, 4 October 2009
On the first page of my dreambook
It’s always evening
In an occupied country.
Hour before the curfew.
A small provincial city.
The houses all dark.
The storefronts gutted.
I am on a street corner
Where I shouldn’t be.
Alone and coatless
I have gone out to look
For a black dog who answers to my whistle.
I have a kind of Halloween mask
Which I am afraid to put on.
Charles Simic, “Empire of Dreams” from Selected Early Poems. © 1999 by Charles Simic
Sunday, 27 September 2009
Tuesday, 22 September 2009
Tuesday, 15 September 2009
"Sarah Hilary throws light on forgotten barbarity at the end of World War II. Sarah weighs the human cost of propoganda in wartime and offers hope that human spirit, and morality, can overcome tyranny." Stephen Morris, Editor
You can view the piece as it appears in Bristol Review of Books by clicking on the link above and then choosing the option to download and open the document.
This piece of writing first appeared in Foto8 Magazine in Spring 09
Friday, 11 September 2009
Saturday, 5 September 2009
Wednesday, 2 September 2009
I can recall more or less precisely the moment when I put aside the textbooks on how to write and learned to trust my instinct. I had listened to enough of the right people saying enough of the right things (and sometimes enough of the wrong things) for me to know when I was on the right track. I realised that I could trust my instinct rather than the opposite. But it doesn't take much to knock that confidence for six, even now. I try not to molly-coddle it too much. I make sure I expose it to knocks which will test it for soundness, the way an expert in fine china will ring a bell with a flick of her fingers to be sure it isn't hiding a hairline crack or three. I'd prefer it didn't get whacked by a hammer, but I don't hide it in bubble-wrap on the top shelf.
I have started to sub to big places, punching above my weight when I can, always raising the bar. But I also sub to venues I've come to trust and like. I hoard the small successes because they give me the confidence to keep punching higher up. Let me give you an example.
A week ago I was despondent about my writing. In a mood that was nine parts masochistic, I subbed a story in anticipation of a rejection. It hit. And another, which also hit. I took my courage in both hands and pitched an idea to the editor of a magazine. It was a cold pitch. I sent him a sample of my writing, the non-fiction piece about my mother's childhood in a prison camp. The editor loved it, asked permission to publish it. And now I'm going to have a headline feature in a respected print magazine with a wide readership in my new city where I'm trying to make my name as a writer. I won't say any more than that until it's published, and I do realise I've come full circle back to my own trumpet, but the point I'm trying to make is that confidence begets confidence. Hoard ye small successes while you may, if I can say that without sounding all hey nonny and a bit insane.
A last word to the lovely Jennifer Stakes, whose blog Writer in the Wilderness invited readers to nominate a collective noun for synopses. I suggested a SOD IT! of Synopses, and Jen was kind enough to award me a beautiful virtual espresso cup as my prize. Perfect for that first strong cup of coffee at 6am. Thanks, Jen!
Tuesday, 1 September 2009
Sunday, 30 August 2009
Wednesday, 26 August 2009
Shute, now. Does not put a foot wrong. Her heroines are never likeable, the things they do are often abhorrent, but they are consistent. Shute is honest in the way she deals with the characters, and her readers. Her Life-Size is excellent, and Freefall also. Neither is a crime novel.
Wednesday, 19 August 2009
Tuesday, 18 August 2009
Friday, 14 August 2009
Enough of the egg analogies, you think? Oh wait, there's one more. Yes, it's our old foe, head-lice. One trip to the swimming-pool and the blighters are back. Not to worry, lotions have been applied and combs wielded, appeasement offered in the form of the Beano. All sorted. Now, where did I put those tasty soldiers..?
Eggstra, eggstra, read all about it! The new issue of Yellow Mama carries my flash about Lizzie Borden, who whacked a few eggs in her time, I'm sure. Fall River, August 1892, won the Fish Criminally Short Histories Award and was first published in the Fish Anthology 2008.
Saturday, 8 August 2009
Given the huge number of US run writing contests out there, I was very happy to discover some new (to me) UK biased ones. Including the Cheshire Literature Prize, exclusively for those of us with a connection to Cheshire. Huzzah! Nik, you'll be entering this one, yes? Who else is eligible? Their word limit is 1,500 (short for a story, long for a flash), but it's prompted me to write something new which is great. I've got an idea for a story I'm going to try out here. Note: the website is in the process of being updated but if you email they'll send a pdf of the details.
Moving a little to the west, there's the Rhys Davies Competition, exclusively for Welsh writers. Their website has an excellent selection of links to other contests, see the right-hand bar for details, some with associations to Wales, others not. Lots of poetry contests, too.
With so many contests feeing the life out of the art (£20 for an entry! £15 is too rich for my blood), it's good to see Aesthetica Magazine offers two entries for £10. And Willesden Herald is sticking at £3 an entry (details tbc). Heck, if you're quick, there's even a free to enter tiny flash contest from MiniWords with £250 in prize money.
Finally, does anyone have an inside track on whether or not Salt are still running the Scott Prize? I'm assuming the answer is Yes as the details remain on their website. And, yes, it's £18 to enter but then they have to read 45,000 words not a piffling 2,000.
Friday, 7 August 2009
Wednesday, 5 August 2009
So much that I have heard of late has served to put me (and, I'm sure, a lot of you) off writing as part of a group. It seems to suggest that we'd all be better off back in our garrets, lonely as heck, hunched over our manuscripts, guarding our work as if our lives depended on it (as, indeed, our livelihoods just might). I'm not saying this is an over-reaction, because the depth and breadth of the damage that's been caused is such that any other response may actually be worse. I don't have a magic formula (sorry!) but I do have a bit of personal experience I'd like to share.
I fell in love with writing precisely because it was a solitary art. I shared a bedroom with a younger sister and writing was my way of stealing a little time and space to myself. That said, from the start I liked an audience for my writing, and would read my stories to my younger sister who, bless her, was always enthusiastic to hear more of my tales of winsome boy spies (of course I didn't know then that they were winsome; I fondly imagined the pair to be sterling examples of machismo). I continue to write such stories to this day. It's my way of relaxing my writing brain in-between the serious business of composing novels. And I have an audience for my spy stories, a loyal core of readers whose enthusings and stamina spur me on to write more and better. My spies are no longer winsome and my plots are a thousand times better. I write on-the-wing, no overall structure in mind, posting in chapters and using the feedback from my readers to help me shape the story as it unfolds. This is an amazingly fruitful way of working. My readers ask questions, of me and my characters, they make suggestions and requests - I thrive on the interaction. I have even written long sections in partnership with other writers, to whom I entrusted my characters (somewhat jealously, I must admit) because the enjoyment (and the constant surprises) outweighed the weird sense of invasion I felt at the outset. I suppose what I'm saying is that collaboration can be good, as long as everyone respects the boundaries and one another.
Secondly I should like to say that I never expected to derive any enjoyment from any aspect of writing other than the pursuit itself. I thought my happiest hours would be those spent alone, creating worlds and people to dwell therein. Had anyone told me that some of my golden memories would come from group activities with other writers, I'd have thought them barking mad. It was the loveliest surprise to discover just how fun I could have in the company of those who, like me, had chosen the solitary art (if you'll pardon the pretension). Thanks to the enthusiasm and generosity of Vanessa Gebbie (among others) I will always cherish the time I spent in Bantry last summer at the West Cork Literary Festival. And to think I'd always fancied myself as the misanthropic type!
I think it's one of the hardest things for a writers to do: to reach out to others and involve them; to share your most jealously guarded hopes and fears (a writer's raw material, in other words). Trust is a very tricky commodity for a writer. Perhaps this is why it hurts so much when that trust is breached. And why it means so much when it's extended in our direction. I remember telling a fellow writer (much older than myself, an uncle in effect) a smashing idea I had for a spy story. Almost the first thing he said to me was, 'Don't tell ME! I'm a writer! Don't ever share your ideas with another writer!' He was half-joking, but every writer reading this will know what he meant.
The lessons learned in the last few weeks drive home just how much courage and heart it takes to trust ANYONE else with our time and our ideas. I applaud those who are able to do this. They are a rare breed and deserve our support and thanks, because without them we'd all be garret-bound. And think how lonely that would be.
Sunday, 2 August 2009
Thursday, 30 July 2009
Monday, 27 July 2009
Tuesday, 21 July 2009
The View from Olympus
Kanti chooses Santa
Tuesdays and Thursdays
Revenge of the River Gods
And here is the link to the page where you can nominate one or more of the above for inclusion in the Anthology. If you do happen to read the stories I've linked to, and you like them, please rate them in the stars that appear immediately under the stories (hover the mouse pointer over the star of your choice, e.g. five stars if you love it, one if you don't) and click.
NB: There are many great stories to choose from by writers like Gay Degani and Anne Brooke, among others. I've nominated a couple of my favourites and will continue to trawl the archives at EDF for other stories I'd like to see in the new Anthology. It was a genuine privilege to be part of the first EDF collection, which was beautifully published in both hard and paperback
Monday, 20 July 2009
Despite his vagueness, he was an enthusiast who could speak for hours and knowledgably of Tudor history, cricket, Top of the Pops circa 1973. He held strong views on subjects others might dismiss as trivia. He had an opinion, often heated, on just about everything. He was, incredibly perhaps, an optimist.
I was two months pregnant when he died, and hadn't told him in case it upset him to think he wouldn't live to see a new grandchild. I was numb with new hormones. Three months later, my surrogate uncle died. It was expected, as he'd suffered a stroke and a bad fall some time before the stroke that killed him.
Then, when I was seven months pregnant, my grandmother died very suddenly. I didn't take the news well. Left to my own devices I would've gone into full grieving mode. I did in fact lie on a stone floor and wail at the ceiling. Which scared everyone, myself included. But I was about to have my first child; I couldn't have a meltdown. I put the grief to one side.
Now, nearly nine years later, it is still coming out. A little at a time. Some days I don't think about it at all. Other days I can hardly function because of it. Added to which, since giving birth, I have been prey to what I am told are 'perfectly normal hormones' which would be fine had I, for instance, ever experienced PMT before the birth of my child. As it was I glided through puberty on the wing'd feet of The Pill, which suppressed I suspect all sorts of chemicals with which my body now delights in tormenting me once a month and often more frequently (well, it's making up for lost time).
I have done some things I am not proud of in the last nine years. I have avoided thinking about the three deaths that came so quickly one after the other. I have avoided grieving. I have given in to rage against nothing and no one in particular, without seeking a proper cause for it. I have hurt some of the people I love, and others whom I hardly know.
On the other hand, I have raised a happy child. I have made my mother's welfare a priority. I have survived, which in itself seems a minor miracle when I try for a proper perspective on that period of time when I was so far from myself that it's extraordinary I never called out for help, in panic if nothing else.
In conclusion, I am a work in progress. I have no salient lessons to offer, expect perhaps to say that if you have grieving to do - do it. Give yourself space, even just a little at a time, five minutes every other day. Happy memories; it doesn't have to be Grief with a capital G. Give thanks for what you had, and for what you have. Get help if you need it, and be patient with yourself and others.
Friday, 17 July 2009
Wednesday, 8 July 2009
Tuesday, 7 July 2009
Thursday, 2 July 2009
I subbed the story to the editor at LITnIMAGE, who'd read and rejected (quickly, positively) a handful of my other flashes just recently. This being something brand new, I thought I would try it out and it was accepted just a day after I wrote it: 'We think your story is a wonderful addition to our upcoming issue and are very pleased for the opportunity to showcase your work... It's a beautiful and moving piece.'
I'd like to nominate the editor, Roland Goity, for one of Vanessa Gebbie's Best Editor Awards. His response time was super-fast and his comments unfailingly civil and encouraging. He took the trouble to suggest some small changes to my work but made it clear I had the right to accept or decline these as I saw fit. Best of all, he didn't mind me sending fresh flashes by return email for his consideration. Thank you, Roland, you made my morning with the acceptance of A Shanty for Sawdust and Cotton.
Wednesday, 1 July 2009
Sunday, 28 June 2009
Tuesday, 23 June 2009
Thursday, 11 June 2009
Sunday, 7 June 2009
Thursday, 4 June 2009
Hi Sarah, I'm a recent subscriber to 8 magazine and read your article "A Perspex Crucifix" today. I'm not normally a magazine reader, being more of a photo-and-news junkie, but this is one of the best short pieces I've read in ages. Being of Jewish background and my grandfather having served in the RAF while his friends and relatives vanished across Europe, I share a fascination and personal involvement with the legacy of the war. Thanks, Jerry
As Jerry and I discussed, there must be many people of our generation who are custodians of family history which needs to be kept alive. It was really good to hear from one of them, via the column in Foto8. I hope the story will reach (and touch) many more.