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.


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?