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


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


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.