Thursday 6 December 2012

The Cheshire Prize for Literature

Actually, the High Sheriff's Cheshire Prize for Literature - my mother insisted on writing down the full title of the prize so that she could tell people that... I won it. On Tuesday 4 December, unexpectedly and delightfully.

I'd been shortlisted for the prize once before, and published in the anthology three years ago, but this was my first time at the ceremony, nibbling my fingernails in a packed auditorium along with the other 269 entrants, waiting for the announcement of the winners. My 11yr old daughter was with me, determined that I should win, which added to the suspense. She's been to so many readings and evenings with me, always cheering me on. This time she did a little dance of joy and hustled her way into the photos, after dodging the camera two days earlier at my brother's wedding. I was very happy to be able to finally reward her cheerleading with a win.

Loyd Grossman read my story, Udumbara in Lytham St Anne's, and handed over a cheque for £2,000, after which I was "millionaire mum" all evening. The lovely judges said wonderful things about my story, a little snippet of which (in first draft form) I had read at ShortStoryVille in 2011. I think Dr Emma Rees, the mastermind (mistressmind?) behind the prize was a little taken aback when I hugged her hard for making my year, but really, she has. It's been a tough slog, 2012. If ever I needed a shot in the arm, it was now. And what a lovely shot this was.

Thank you, Dr Rees and everyone at Chester University involved in the running of the Prize. The runner up was Adam Green from Manchester for his story The Gift. Simon Gotts from St Asaph’s story Taidi’s Big Party and The Adventures of Him and Her by University of Chester student Hannah Riordan from Gloucester were highly commended. Congratulations to all!

Wednesday 21 November 2012

Geeked Magazine (in good shops now)

It makes me very happy to blog about the inaugural print edition of Geeked magazine, a funky, thoughtful and provocative new venture that's packed with style, plus two pieces of my flash fiction illustrated beautifully by the very talented Gavin Read. You can flick through the mag online, here. Or, better yet, buy it in good bookshops like Foyle's.
Porn is like Pot Noodle. There’s really nothing to it, no substance, until you fetch up with the boiling water. I’ve tried explaining this to my husband, who prides himself on his tolerance for my chosen career but secretly wishes his wife didn’t earn her keep writing screenplays for people with names like Victor Stallion or Stormy Blue.

CyberCandy sells Twinkies, and Rainbow Twizzlers. It has Hostess Ding Dongs in boxes of 24, good for up to a fortnight past the sell-by date if they're stored in cool dark conditions. 'Cool dark conditions.' I love that. If I had a computer, I'd never leave the house; CyberCandy's online, ships direct to your door. I've lived in London all my life, was raised on sherbet fountains and dib dabs, liquorice shoelaces, blackjacks and jelly wellies. These days I'd rather a Ding Dong than just about anything else.

"Porn is like Pot Noodle" can be found on page 72. On page 74 is "Cyber Candy". Enjoy!

Saturday 20 October 2012

Real and Imagined Lives at MShed

When I grow up I want to be a farmer like my granddad. I’ve seen pictures of him with a beard and a big hat, where he’s dug a field and it’s bright red, and you can’t tell whether he’s planted any seeds yet, though he’s grinning like he’s done a great job so it might be corn or wheat, but I hope he’s planted potatoes or sprouts because if you’re ever seen a sprout when it’s growing it’s totally mad, like a bunch of baby aliens on a big stalk. I hope it’s not flowers because that’d be boring, unless it was horse crippler cactus flowers, which are real and not made-up like you might think. And I’ve seen another photo of my granddad, only he’s not in it, just a field of red poppies for the men and boys who couldn’t wait to go to war until they actually got there, so sometimes it’s good not to get what you want, but he was happiest as a farmer and he had cows, which are madder than they look, so that’s why I want to be a farmer when I grow up. Either that, or a spaceman.
by Colin Pillinger, aged 8

Possibly the coolest writing project I've ever done, and certainly one of the most satisfying: a 200-word story about Colin Pillinger, inspired by no more than this portrait. It's part of a new exhibition at MShed (Bristol's coolest museum) in partnership with the National Portrait Gallery. The portraits of people with a local connection, including JK Rowling, Stephen Merchant, Neneh Cherry, Rosamund Pike, Iris Murdoch, Tricky, Banksy, are hung alongside book-sized wooden plaques that open on hinges to reveal the 200-word stories by local writers, including Catherine Bruton, Cally Taylor, Holly Corfield-Carr, and Anna Britten. It was a real thrill to watch people's faces as they read the stories - as close as we'll ever get to the personal (private) experience of someone else enjoying our words.

The exhibition opens today and runs until 6 January 2013. Highly recommended!

Thursday 18 October 2012

Geeked: The Pheasant Feather Hat

I'm delighted to have my story, The Pheasant Feather Hat, in the first ever issue of Geeked, a new magazine that's both intriguing and provocative. Best of all, my story's been illustrated by the hugely talented Gavin Read, who blogged about the artistic process here. You can read my story - and see Gavin's full illustrations - by checking out Geeked's mini mag online. I'm on pages 34-35. And check out the rest of the magazine, which goes into print in November. You can support the venture here.

The Pheasant Feather Hat

She wore white, of course. A vision, isn’t that what they say? She was a vision. Her bouquet complemented his buttonhole. Lemon blossom for fidelity, sorrel for affection. She provided little cards so we would know exactly what was signified by the arrangement she held to her bosom. A marble shelf, her bosom, thanks to the frock. Sepulchre in satin.

‘All flowers and plants,’ she divulged,‘have special meanings.’

Fidelity and affection. Lovely copperplate printing in the card, very black and emphatic. When it came time for the tossing I stood aside, taking refuge beneath the brim of my hat. All you could see of my face was the smile I’d painted there in lipstick: Rum Kiss.

Read on (pages 34-35)

Saturday 13 October 2012

Undead at Heart

Calum Kerr is a bit of a hero in my book. The founder of National Flash Fiction Day and a tireless champion of short short writing, co-editor of Jawbreakers, and author in his own right, of often quirky, always intriguing prose, as evidenced in his collection, Braking Distance, published by Salt.

When I heard Calum had published a novel - and that it starred zombies - I had to have me some of that flesh-eating action. (Those of you who've known me any length of time will know I'm a horror film fan, and that George Romero is a fave director.)

Undead at Heart is a terrific little thriller, full of human interest and very nicely executed action sequences (see what I did there?). What really shines through is the obvious glee on the part of the author, writing about a subject that grips him and which he's wise enough not to take too seriously.

The story opens on a sunny afternoon in the heart of England and all seems normal. Until a burning truck flies through the air and lands in the middle of everyone's lives. Tony, Nicola and a group of others find themselves on the run from aliens and zombies, trying to seek safety and to kindle a romance or two, along the way.

Calum writes with the easy confidence of someone who loves his genre, and knows it inside out. He conjures a convincing zombie - not an easy thing to do on the page, which is why I tend to prefer horror films to horror books. But between the oozing eyeballs and ruined throats, there's visual viscera aplenty for the hardened addict. Kerr also manages a very effective and rather touching line in post-apocalyptic romance, and I found myself rooting for Tony and his girl even while the undead were converging from every side.

A absolute snip as an ebook, I'd recommend this one for Hallowe'en, or any dark night between now and Christmas. You can buy it here.

Monday 17 September 2012

Story Fridays, A Word in Your Ear

Very happily, I'll be reading at this event in Bath this Friday, 21 September. They've chosen The Catwalk is a Landing Strip, a flash I wrote a few years back, inspired by a strange dream. I know, I know, such a writerly thing to say...
But, I'd love for you to come along to Bath on Friday and hear me read. If you miss this one, I'll be up again on Saturday 20 October, at the Hooper House in Bristol, as part of Unputdownable.
And I have some lovely news about MShed's new exhibition, Real and Imagined Lives, which opens at around the same time. A little story of mine will be accompanying one of their portraits of a celebrity with a Bristol connection...
Watch this space (that's not an annoying teaser, it's the title of the story).

Sunday 16 September 2012

The Wicked Girls by Alex Marwood

If you've ever bemoaned the tendency of the publishing industry to leap on bandwagons just as they're bowling out of town, or yawned over serial formulas and longed for more complex plots with more compelling characters and more compassion damn it, from the author, then stand by your beds. Alex Marwood has delivered a book that packs a genuinely surprising punch.
One fateful summer morning in 1986, two eleven-year-old girls meet for the first time and by the end of the day are charged with murder. Twenty-five years later, journalist Kirsty Lindsay is reporting on a series of sickening attacks on young female tourists in a seaside town when her investigation leads her to interview funfair cleaner Amber Gordon. For Kirsty and Amber, it's the first time they've seen each other since that dark day when they were just children. But with new lives - and families - to protect, will they really be able to keep their wicked secret hidden?
This blurb, for a cracking first crime novel, hardly does justice to the content, which is political, unsettling and multi-layered. The girls of the title are glimpsed at intervals, barely recognisable now as Amber and Kirsty, the grown women at the centre of the story. On the flip of a judicial coin, the eleven year olds are sent to very different juvenile detention units. One of the most fascinating aspects of the narrative is recognising how their experiences altered them, and what (if anything) remains of the children they once were.
This is a crime novel in which the crime takes a backseat to the characters. That won't satifsy every reader. But if I tell you that the concept of crime is explored here - what part society plays, the price of forgiveness, the tenuous mercy of the tabloid press through whose lens the majority of us experience and judge crimes - you'll know to expect a richly rewarding read.
Marwood, herself a journalist, writes with authority: clear, fearless prose that refuses to march to the tune of so much commercial crime fiction. She won't deliver us to a point of reassurance, nor will she sugar the pill of ambiguity, which for me is the best reason to love this book, the ending of which is perfectly - painfully - suspended for our judgement, and our mercy.
If all that makes this sound like heavy work for a reader, it's not. The story rattles at a great pace, peopled by likeable and unlikeable characters, dollops of plot twists and surprises along the way. But there are lots of great plotters out there. What's rare is to find a writer that makes us really think and ask questions, of ourselves and our society. This story will disturb your sleep, not because of the monsters it introduces to us, but because of the monsters we already know. 
The Wicked Girls. £6.99. Sphere 2012.

Cultural writing and inspiration: Pangea blog tour

Pangea is writing 'for all worlds', with 25 authors across 13 countries, giving a rich flavour of what's influencing and inspiring today's short story writers. I asked two Pangea authors, one with links to South Africa (Liesl Jobson) and the other to India (Fehmida Zakeer), how important their roots were in their writing. Did they feel they'd have written differently – or about another subject – if they'd been born or were rasied or lived elsewhere?

Fehmida: I was thrilled when my story was chosen by Rebecca and Indira for the anthology especially because when I was writing it I never thought it would appeal to readers who are not familiar with the cultural background of the story.  It was a pleasant surprise when fellow members of the short story group appreciated it and an even more surprise when it was chosen. The story though set in India, is set in a small geographical area where practices differ greatly from the mainstream, so I was doubtful whether the finer details would strike a chord, but happily I was wrong. My cultural roots makeup the background for this story ― so yes, I think I would have written this story just as it is at some point even if I were living somewhere else.

I’d like to ask Liesl: though set in a different culture, in your story Boston Brown Bread, the mother's restraint and the barely contained impatience of the father was disturbingly familiar - it seemed as though some things are part of the global culture. The mother's dignity comes through in her calm replies, so too her helplessness. I loved your sensitive handling of the topic, the setting of the story, the slow and measured build up, the explosion waiting at each you plan the course of your stories beforehand or start out with an idea and see where it takes you?

Liesl: As the flattened vowels of my accent and the vloekwoorde (cuss words) that fly from my mouth affect the inflection and define the recognisability of my voice, so the manner of my observations of my place in the world informs my tales. As my pale skin that burns and turns to freckles inherited from my French Hugenot, German and Scottish ancestors is integral to how I appear visually in the world, so my interpretations of my country's dark history, and my reflections on the contemporary post-Apartheid culture are integral to the body of my writing.

In a sense one might rather ask, "How can they not be?" The primary goal of my writing is to know where I am – in my mind or out of my body – rather than to locate me in a city or continent. I want to know the precise location of my connections, the orientation of my relationships, the direction of my politics and the evolution of my religion. The journey into text is where I find my compass.

In writing about a child observing his parents’ marriage crack under pressure, I came to view the symbolic fissures that threaten the surface of my being. In writing about a middle aged woman learning to row that a bigger metaphor emerges about how I find my own balance. The stories I've written often show a whole lot to me about where I was at the time of writing that I didn't necessarily see at the time. My mother finds my old stories and says, Look! Here! Was the writing on the wall?

Writing is inevitably a way of homecoming at the most elemental level, a return to the core Self of the parts that split off in the daily business of living and get lost. My narratives are never planned. They always arrive, surprising me. The characters that appear are usually some aspect of myself, entirely symbolic, of course, but that is the medium of narrative.

This thumbnail definition of writing comes to you fresh from a recent visit to my psychotherapist, which is a rather expensive form of storytelling. Psychotherapy is a great way to become a writer, but it is frightfully slow. Probably there are faster ways of telling good stories but I haven't found them.

I’d like to ask Fehmida if she too sees writing as a kind of homecoming?

Fehmida: Exactly, writing forces me to look at things that bother me, forces me to look at things from a fresh angle. In writing about the bride looking through bits of fabric, I was trying to make sense of the bits and pieces that make up life, how circumstances change and how we adapt or are forced to adapt. It was also about dull and bright colours, fast colours that run, earthy ones that stay same...though in the final version this part is not immediately apparent.

My narratives start off as loops inside my head, and only the most persistent ones come down, the characters that refuse to go away until I write about most of the time I’m familiar with my characters, I have lived with them for some days or weeks, I know their little quirks and fears...once everything is put down, there is a sense of relief, the nag-nag in my head disappears and I feel free.

Thank you both for sharing your thoughts about writing and where it takes you. Readers can explore a world of stories in Pangea, and your two stories are perfect examples of that.


Fehmida Zakeer lives in the southern city of Chennai in India where she works sometimes as a freelance journalist and other times as an Instructional Designer. Her articles have been published in various Indian and International publications including Azizah, Herbs for Health, Good Housekeeping, Better Homes and Gardens, Prevention, and Child. Her stories and poems have been published in various online journals. You can read an in-depth interview with her, here.
South African writer and photographer, Liesl Jobson, is the author of 100 Papers, a collection of prose poems and flash fiction, and View from an Escalator, a volume of poetry. She won the 2006 Ernst van Heerden Award for Creative Writing for her collection, 100 Papers, was shortlisted in 2010 for the Sean O'Faolain Short Story Competition for On the Night South Africa is Effectively Eliminated from the World Cup, the Thomas Pringle Short Story Award for Help, and the PEN/Studzinski Short Story Competition for It Isn't Pretty. She edits Poetry International South Africa, and is a senior correspondent for Books LIVE. Liesl shares her book news, here.
You can buy the Pangea anthology, here

Monday 10 September 2012

Crawl Space welcomes Emlyn Rees

Emlyn Rees writes thrillers and comedies, including the Sunday Times bestseller, Come Together. If that’s not enough, he’s also the editor of Angry Robot’s crime imprint, Exhibit A, which is getting rave reviews in the publishing press. Welcome to Crawl Space, Emlyn!

A pleasure to be here - although it is a bit cramped...and these handcuffs do tend to chafe...

Q. Yes, they're on loan from Blackpool Dungeon... You wrote your first crime novel in your mid-20s then spent time writing comedies before you turned to thrillers. A natural circuit, or do you have a secret formula for success?

The older I get, the more I realise that you don’t get much choice in what you write. Books tend to choose you and not the other way round, depending on what your obsessions are at the time. Back in the 90’s, when I still had hair and smart phones didn’t render so many good plot strands untenable, I wrote one crime novel (The Book of Dead Authors) and one thriller (Undertow, which is being re-released by Constable & Robinson in a couple of months). My plan back then was to continue writing thrillers, which I was pretty much exclusively reading at the time, but then I met novelist Josie Lloyd. We got a tad squiffy in a bar one night and started telling each other far too much about our private lives and laughing about it. Then one of us (neither of us can remember who) came up with the idea of writing a “his/hers” view on modern relationships, which we’d tell in alternating “he said/she said” chapters. I sent Jo the first chapter a couple of weeks later and she sent one back. The book that came out of all this was Come Together. We were lucky in that it hit a chord with a lot of people and did very well, so much so that we ended up writing another six novels together - oh yeah, and getting married and having three kids too. All the time, though, I was writing thriller short stories and that’s where the character Danny Shanklin came from. It finally reached a point where he kind of demanded a full length novel of his own.

Q.  Tell us a bit about Danny Shanklin, the hero of your new thriller, Hunted. And maybe give us a sly spoiler for Wanted, your next book.

The thinking behind Danny Shanklin was always that I wanted him to be the one guy you would want on your side in a fight. But this was never going to be just about the fact that he’s very physically capable, it was also about wanting him to be morally the kind of guy you’d want on your side as well. I also wanted him to be realistic, meaning he’s not perfect and doesn’t always win in every situation he finds himself in. In fact, it’s very much the failures in his past and his desire to absolve himself that drives him. I’m in the process of tying up Wanted now and all I’ll say is this: not everyone makes it through till the end...

Q. Excellent, I love a downbeat ending. So, crime or thriller? Which rocks your boat, as a writer, reader and editor?

Ha. A tricky one. As an author, it’s got to be thriller (and I like the fact you refer to ‘crime’ and ‘thriller’ as separate sub-genres, because I really do think thrillers deserve their own spot). Writing a thriller is like driving a very fast car, with your foot pushing harder and harder down on the accelerator. It’s a buzz and one that’s highly addictive too. As a reader and editor, I consume all types of crime and thrillers. A well-constructed suspense novel can hook me in just as quickly as a chase thriller. I try to read as broadly as I can.

Q. Comedy question: I read on your blog that you mixed cocktails for Princess Anne and Sylvester Stallone. Which one had the Harvey Wallbanger? And what’s your favourite tipple?

Neither! Princess Anne does have special ice cubes, though, made out of Highland Spring Water. And why not? If one could, one would...

Q. That's posh for you... You’re the editor of Exhibit A. I can only imagine the heady power that comes with that role, given that you’re also a bestselling author. Have you ever been tempted to nobble the competition when it comes to new publishing deals?

I’d say privilege, rather than power. It’s a real kick to have been tasked with hunting out new talent for Exhibit A and there’s nothing more exciting than finding a new voice that you know plenty of other readers will be drawn to. But as far as ‘nobbling’ goes, I’m planning on steering well clear of that. The reverse is more likely, in fact, in that I’m often drawn to the kind of thrillers I write myself, whereas I want the Exhibit A list to be much broader in terms of its appeal to the crime reading community as a whole.

Q. That sounds like a good plan. In your role as editor, when was the last time you got really excited by a new manuscript – and what made it stand out from the crowd?

There’s not been a week gone by this year when I haven’t seen at least one exciting new novel. There are a lot of great UK writers out there looking to find a home at the moment. But Exhibit A is going to be publishing simultaneously in paperback as well as digital in the UK and US from next May, meaning that I get a lot of great US crime submissions too. My biggest problem is not finding books then, but choosing which ones to champion, because we’ll only be publishing fourteen books a year. We’re a commercial crime fiction imprint, focused on big ideas, big characters and, above all, big stories. And so whenever I spot something that ticks these boxes and, even better, is something I’ve never seen before, that’s when I really start to buzz.

Q. I'm envious of your job! Okay. Jason Bourne, James Bond and Danny Shanklin in a tube train loaded with Semtex. Who’d come out alive, and why?

Danny. No doubt about it. He’s a big boy scout at heart. Meaning he’s always prepared and would have already secretly snipped the bomb fuse before climbing aboard, and would only be using the continued threat of the train’s imminent explosion to sweat the other two into confessing which of them is a double agent...

Danny's my kind of guy. Thanks, Emlyn. See you in the bar at Bristol, or Harrogate.

Thanks. Make mine a scotch. And don’t skimp on the Highland Spring Water ice cubes.

Emlyn Rees’ Hunted is out in paperback now. Find out more at his website, here. Exhibit A publishes commercial crime novels. Check them out, here.

Sunday 2 September 2012

Ngaio Marsh Award 2012: Best Crime Novel

Huge congratulations to Neil Cross for winning this award, deservedly, for his cracking crime novel, Luther: The Calling. You can read about the award and the judging process, here. And here's my review of the winning novel, which originally appeared in Eurocrime (and on Neil Cross' website). I'll be interviewing Neil Cross here soon.
This is much more than a TV tie-in. It's a novel written by the creator and sole writer of hit BBC drama, Luther. Written as a prequel to the first series, it shows us how Luther became the man we met on television.
DCI John Luther is a man in crisis. His marriage is falling apart. He hasn't slept in weeks, maybe months. His work is nearly killing him. "His heart is a furnace", Cross tells us - and shows us, again and again. Luther will beat up suspects, set fire to their cars, dangle their pets over balconies; whatever it takes to get results.

With his hero liable to cross the line twice before breakfast, Cross is obliged to serve up a cast of villains so dark and twisted they make Hannibal Lector and Buffalo Bill look like boy scouts. His psychopath Henry is one of the scariest people to crawl off the page in years. The passages told through Henry's point of view are starkly edited and incredibly powerful. That we never quite learn the reasons behind his actions, is probably a good thing.

Fans of the TV show will know how it ends for Henry, but Cross serves up some truly sickening twists and surprises along the way. There are a couple of instances where the narrative threatens to stray into farce, by virtue of being so unforgivingly gruesome, but Cross keeps a tight rein on his words and denies us the light relief of being able to laugh at his monster.

Cross is candid in crediting Idris Elba, the actor who plays Luther, with much of the physical sense of his hero and, on the page, this story shares the editing technique and visual power of the screen version. But, more than anything, it's an astounding book in its own right.

Unapologetic, brutal and stunning - in the very real sense of that word - this is a novel that takes the extreme premise of the TV drama further than it would be allowed to go on-screen. In doing this, Cross makes the best possible use of the print medium. Novels shock in different ways to television. The shock feels more personal. The images summoned by his words stay in your head in a way that the on-screen images do not.

This is the point at which most reviews would say 'Not for the faint-hearted', but that cliche is redundant in this context. If you weren't faint-hearted when you started reading, you'll feel it by the end. Whole passages are carried on an adrenaline wave that leaves the reader shaking and in fear of what comes next. If you don't suffer nightmares after finishing this book, you're a stronger reader than me.

No doubt about it, Cross is an amazing writer, capable of lyricism and pathos as well as some of the most traumatising scenes you're ever likely to experience in a mainstream crime novel.

Monday 20 August 2012

Interviews with Rhian Davies, Sophie Hannah, David Hewson, Zoë Sharp, Chris Wakling and Jenny Williams

I thought it was time I rounded up my interviews with crime writers (and reviewers), partly for ease of access, partly in preparation for the next batch (see below).

Mist and cobbles. It’s surprisingly tempting to throw them into scenes set in the past  Chris Wakling warns of the perils for historical novelists

Future interviews include Neil Cross (Luther creator), Emlyn Rees (author and editor of Exhibit A), Katy Wild (editorial director of Titan Books) and Richard Fee (series editor, Scott and Bailey, Exiles, Hit and Miss). Watch this space...

Thursday 9 August 2012

Pangea blog tour over at Women Rule Writer

I'm interviewed about my stories in Pangea by the lovely Nuala Ní Chonchúir today, over here. I've been a fan of Nuala's writing for yonks, and talked about her novel, You, here on Crawl Space when it first came out. Her latest collection, Mother America, has just been published and is picking up rave reviews both side of the pond. Thanks, Nuala, for hosting this latest leg of the Pangea tour!

Sunday 5 August 2012

The Coward's Tale on Not the Booker longlist

I've blogged before about the debt I owe to Vanessa Gebbie, a terrific writer and a generous friend. In 2008, when we'd really only just met, she persuaded me to travel to West Cork for the Fish anthology launch, providing transport and her companionship. One of the most memorable trips of my writing life, and I loved every minute of it. She subsequently invited me to join her online writing group, where I learnt a tremendous amount, and never stinted in her encouragement - of me and other aspiring writers. When I signed with Jane Gregory, she was one of the first to cheer (and she blogged about it).

In November 2011, Vanessa's tender and original novel, The Coward's Tale, was published by Bloomsbury. Since then, it's been named Novel of the Year by AN Wilson in the Financial Times, published in paperback and in the US. Now it's up for the Guardian's Not the Booker prize, which is designed to celebrate the many great novels that miss out on the Booker.

If, like me, you've read and enjoyed The Coward's Tale, you'll want to dash over there and vote for Vanessa to be on the shortlist, which will be announced next week. To vote, you will need to register (free) with the Guardian and be signed in to your account there. Then you need to post a 100 word review here (where you can also buy the book, if you haven't already) and link to it on the voting page. Let's get Vanessa on the shortlist!

Wednesday 18 July 2012

How to create a must read short story collection

Pangea just went global with a terrific interview at Nokia Connects by Joel Willans.

The wire and shadow image is just beautiful, and I like the debate about the future for readers and writers of short stories.

"... unless people really start appreciating short stories and demanding them from bookshops, and getting to know the names of the good short stories writers who are writing now, and asking for the works of those excellent writers, publishers will continue to overlook them in favour of the endless tedious novels they churn out."

What better rallying call to buy Pangea? If you come to Blackwell's on Park Street next Thursday, 26th July, you can meet some of the authors, two of whom will be reading: Vanessa Gebbie and Tom Remer Williams.

Tuesday 17 July 2012

An interview about Pangea and writing goals

Every Day Fiction Chronicles are hosting a week of interviews with Pangea authors who also write flash fiction. Yesterday, Vanessa Gebbie and Oonah Joslin talked about what inspired their stories in the anthology. Today, it's my turn.
 “LoveFM” was written in response to a contest with the theme, ‘the summer of love’. I knew I didn’t want to write a love story (I’m a bit perverse in that respect) so I set out to write a story which turned the idea of love and romance on its head. In “LoveFM”, the narrator is in love, but not with his girlfriend. The story involves Elvis and a trailer park, and is more than a little twisted.
Tomorrow, Pangea will be guesting over at Nokia Connects, a blog with amazing global reach (over eight million 'likes' on Facebook, 300,000 followers on Twitter - my head spins just reading those statistics) to which Joel Willans (another Pangea author) is a regular contributor.

The full list of the blog tour is here.

Sunday 8 July 2012

International blog tour for Pangea

On Thursday 26 July, at Blackwell's in Bristol, we're launching a new short story anthology, Pangea. I'm delighted to be hosting the first leg of the Pangea blog tour, and below you can read Reflections on the making of Pangea, by the co-editors. The rest of the blog tour looks like this:

July 12: ‘Working with other writers’ at Words in Place, California, USA. Gay Degani and Sarah Hilary discuss themes of support, discovery and feedback

July 18: ‘How to create a must read short story collection’ at Nokia Connects, worldwide. Feature by Joel Willans

July 30: ‘Promoting Pangea’ at Deborah Rickards blog, Bristol, UK. Debs Rickard reports from the launch of Pangea at Blackwell’s

Aug 9: 'Weddings fairs & trailers parks’ at Women Rule Writer, Ireland. Nuala Ni Chonchúir interviews Sarah Hilary about the inspiration for her stories

Aug 17: Pangea at Michelle Elvy's blog, New Zealand

Aug 20: Pangea at Valerie O'Riordan's blog, Manchester, UK

Aug 27: 'Pangea in India’ at Indira Chandrasekhar's blog, Mumbai, India

Sept 2: Pangea at Oonah Joslin's blog, Northumberland, UK

Sept 9: Pangea at Tara Conklin's blog, Seattle, USA

Sept 16: ‘Cultural writing and inspiration’ here at Crawl Space, Bristol UK. Fehmida Zakeer and Liesl Jobson chat about their stories

Sept 23: Pangea at Calum Kerr's blog, Southampton, UK

Sept 30: Pangea at Vanessa Gebbie's blog, Brighton, UK

Nov 2012: Feature article in ‘The New Writer’ magazine, worldwide


Reflections on the making of Pangea

The co-editors of Pangea - Indira in Mumbai, Rebecca in the UK - talk about how it all came together, and the search for a publisher for Pangea.

Indira: In retrospect, I am glad Rebecca and I retained a certain naivety, an openness of perspective when embarking on the Pangea Anthology. The project had a level of intensity that might have dissipated our resolve if we had dwelled too much upon it before we began. When starting off, because of the many interesting stories on the Writewords online groups from which we were choosing work, I hadn’t anticipated how much more we would need to search in order to pick the stories we wanted. Editing the work was also a demanding exercise. Not only did we have to maintain the integrity and variation in voice and style of the stories in the anthology, Rebecca and I had also to be aware of each other’s sensibilities. In the end, that part was surprisingly seamless and straightforward, given that we didn’t know each other face-to-face but were working online from different corners of the world – this may seem trivial if you are sixteen, but we aren’t – and I think we both found a rhythm and understanding when going through the work, that made it a pleasure to do. Indeed, the experience was rewarding enough that despite the work, and the difficulties we faced, we would both consider working together on an anthology of short stories again.

Rebecca: The one thing that worried me about the Pangea project was that we wouldn’t be able to find a publisher for it amongst the independent publishers who accept submissions without the need for an agent, because so few publishers take on anthologies. In our search for a suitable publisher, we looked at and discounted four hundred and twenty seven indie publishers either because they wouldn’t have taken on our manuscript anyway, or because we thought them unsuitable according to the system we had set up. Of the publishers that looked possible, we checked out details such as how many books they published per year, how the books were distributed, what their book jackets looked like, how long the company had been in business and how long writers had to wait for a response. [There are hundreds of small publishers out there who publish no more than a dozen books a year and who warn you that they take several months to get back to you.]

We also watched out for publishers who only dealt in e-books; you frequently come across attractive publishers’ websites that are open and encouraging to writers, only to discover that they don’t get their books printed. There are also hundreds of publishers out there who go to great lengths to pretend they are traditional royalty paying publishers when they are in fact vanity publishers, but there is usually something about their websites and the way they talk about themselves - or don’t talk about themselves - that gives them away. A few of them are very clever however and do appear to be authentic, and during the search for a publisher for Pangea, we always consulted Editors and Predators to see if David Kuzminski, who runs the site, had singled them out as suspicious. David Kuzminski is in his own words ‘… a published writer in the fields of both non-fiction and fiction, both on and off the Internet. He believes strongly in the future of the Internet as a media of choice for future publishing. Having faced the same challenges as others in seeking publication outlets, he created ‘Editors and Predators’ as a way of reaching out to other writers with information and words of encouragement.’

In the end, we singled out just twenty publishers to approach, created a ‘marketing plan’ for those who demanded one, and sent off the whole of Pangea or bits of Pangea according to the different submissions’ instructions. It wasn’t too long before we had a response from Thames River Press and began to work with them to get the book published.

Rebecca and Indira: We were fortunate in that Thames River allowed us to use our own designer for the book jacket and we have lovely art from Steven Brunner and a fabulous design from Dan Baum, Steven’s partner. We’ve talked about the process of getting the cover on the Pangea blog. I think the exciting aspect of communicating with the artists was that, apart from the publishers, it was the first time we were talking about what Pangea stood for to anyone who had not been involved in the process. So to have a professional artist and designer appreciate the essence of the book and create a book jacket we both found satisfying – that was exciting.


Thanks, Indira and Rebecca, for getting us off to such a great start. Hearing the ins and outs of funding a publisher for Pangea makes it even more exciting - and impressive - that we're launching the anthology in a few weeks. Do please come on Thursday 26 July from 6.30pm at Blackwell's in Park Street, Bristol.


Follow the Pangea Blog Tour to its next stop, Words in Pace.
Follow Pangea on Twitter: @Pangea_2012

Pangea on Facebook

Friday 29 June 2012

Crawl Space welcomes Jenny Williams

Jenny Williams spent 14 years as a detective in the Metropolitan Police, and Avon & Somerset Constabulary, before choosing to work with schools to show how crimes are really investigated. CSI Kids works in primary and secondary schools, holiday clubs, youth groups and at children’s parties. Jenny covers subjects from investigation skills to personal and internet safety, and is currently also working on corporate and team building events.

Welcome to Crawl Space, Jenny!

Q. You’ve said that your aim with CSI Kids is to spark an interest in science by setting ‘hands on’ challenges in forensics. It certainly worked with my 11 year old, who came home from school buzzing with news of how she’d spent the day ‘rummaging in corpses’! Can you explain a bit about how you enthuse and educate the kids you work with?

When I was an investigator with the police, I’d often send stuff off to the lab – and results would come back, as if by magic. Eventually, my curiosity got the better of me and I got stuck into the science of case-solving: DNA, forensics and so on. I think with kids, it’s a similar thing. They have a natural curiosity and they love the hands on aspect of the workshops. I try to treat them like grown-ups as far as possible, setting challenges and seeing what they come up with. And of course I try to make it fun.

Q. What about the kids who want to muck about – do you have any tips for parents/schools?

I put on my old police hat… that generally does the trick! Seriously, though, I think if you engage kids’ imaginations, you won’t have any problems.

Q. You’re an Ambassador for STEM. Can you tell us a little about that? What’s been your proudest moment with them?

Well, I’ve done a couple of STEM workshops in schools, and I hope to go to careers talks in future. If it’s taught well, science can be one of the best subjects at school. I remember making soap in chemistry and absolutely loving it. In one session that I do with kids in the classroom, we construct a strand of DNA out of sweets. They love it. I call it science by stealth!

Q. You were 14 years with the police before you struck out on your own. Can you describe an investigation or two that sticks in your mind?

As a new detective, I was in charge of a drugs investigation where I had to search a house for drugs. There was a brand new patio in the back garden, and they’d given me this tiny dog that was also a newbie. The dog was convinced there was something under the patio. I had to decide whether to risk digging up this very new, very expensive patio – and incurring the wrath of everyone involved if we found nothing down there. The dog was so sure that in the end I gave the order to dig, and we found a thermos flask full of Class A drugs buried about two feet down. That tiny dog went on to become the Met’s top drugs dog.

A bit later, I was working a white collar crime case, involving a suspect who treated me like a bimbo. So I played up to that, let him think I was a dumb blonde, and he ended up tying himself in knots. He was convicted, which was hugely satisfying.

Q. I have to ask, do you read much crime fiction? If so, how realistic do you find it? How about TV crime?

I read very little crime, as I tend to find myself muttering about the inaccuracies. The same goes for TV, to an extent. Take a programme like Silent Witness. Anyone who’s ever actually been in a post-mortem room wouldn’t want to watch it on TV. And don’t get me started on the cross-contamination risks they all run, or the collusion between different parties – where’s their professional distance? All their ‘evidence’ would be thrown out before it ever got to court.

I did enjoy The Bridge recently. The main character being autistic was compelling to watch, even if the story was a bit weak in the end. Today’s mini-series are much better than the old days of The Bill, I think. The idea of the lone cop is just daft, though. The average detective team is thirty people – the only programme that comes close to that is Scott & Bailey with its cast of extras all hard at work in the background.

So much of what goes on in day-to-day policing just isn’t glamorous at all. Take CCTV footage, for instance. On TV, it’s always available really quickly. Well, in real life, a lot of CCTV footage is privately owned and can’t be handed over without paperwork etc. It can take weeks to trawl through just a few days of footage. Oh, and facial recognition software? Doesn’t exist as far as the police are concerned – we do surveillance the old-fashioned way; teams are trained to pass in a crowd, be dishevelled, wear neutral colours, never dye their hair and unlearn the ‘police’ way to drive a car and so on. I remember one day in training after I thought I’d learnt most of the key points of surveillance – it was raining and without thinking I turned up in a bright red mac. My training officer was not impressed!

Q. You run forensic parties for kids, with skeletons and fingerprinting… So much better than the average kids’ party! I heard a rumour that you’re thinking of starting something similar for grown-ups?

Yes! I’m actually thinking of murder mystery weekends, which will be interesting to organise. I was shortlisted for a parties’ award for the kids’ ones, which was great. It'll be fun to tackle grown-ups next.

Thanks, Jenny, that was fascinating – a real insight into your work, past and present.

Find out more about Jenny’s work with CSI Kids here.

Thursday 21 June 2012

International Short Story Day

Yesterday was International Short Story Day, and I had great fun collaborating with Stella Duffy, Tony White, Nicholas Blincoe, Maria Roberts and Calum Kerr, to come up with Dealing Honesty. The story was written in real time, with each of us allocated an hour to contribute 400 words, passing the baton as we went. I think the finished result is pretty damn smooth, given that six people pulled it together, against the clock. Teams in South Africa were also writing collaboratively. You can read their stories here. If you haven't already tried co-writing (think of Consequences, that game from childhood) I recommend you give it a go - terrific fun and a great way to kick your creativity into a higher gear.

International Short Story Day is being extended in my neck of the woods, so I can continue cheerleading at Ragged Stone in Portishead tonight, where I'm reading my stories and flash fiction as part of their Open Mic session. How're you all celebrating?

Monday 11 June 2012

Crawl Space welcomes Rhian Davies

Rhian Davies is a keen supporter of debut and midlist crime novelists, and one of the judges for the CWA’s John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger Award. Since 2005, she’s run It’s a Crime! (Or a mystery…), a blog focusing on books, literary festivals, publishing and authors – and one of the best online sources for crime writing news and intelligent (and entertaining) analysis.

Welcome to Crawl Space, Rhian!

Thank you for the invitation, Sarah.  This is a new experience for me.

Q. I think at the last count, your blog had over 190 book reviews. Are you always reading? How did you first get into reviewing?

It’s now 220 and not all of them are mine, although 200 probably are.  Bear in mind that’s over nearly seven years.  But the answer is yes, of course.  Not always crime novels either; my Android phone now performs many roles including phone (obviously), alarm clock, Kindle reading, and an internet resource for reading news and other stuff. 

And I have to tell you a story here.  I moved back to Wales in 2004 and a couple of years later bumped into someone from school at an M&S food hall.  We hadn’t seen one another for nearly 30 years.  She said to me, “I remember you always having a book with you …” adding, before I could get a word in, “and I was always the gobby one”.  I thought it was funny that I was remembered for being a bookworm as I can’t remember half of what I actually did read when young.  Said ‘gobby one’ and I then spent over an hour chatting at the end of the till area.  The girls had even switched over and we hadn’t noticed.  The one who’d been on the till came up and pointed to some chairs and said, “You could have sat there you know”.  But it was then time for goodbyes as M&S was about to close.  I hope the stream of customers passing through that till were entertained by salacious gossip from the valleys.

As for reviewing, originally I started a blog to share my first “Harrogate Crime Writing Festival” experience with online friends.  Being so inept with putting pics into free blogspot, I then moved to paid Typepad, thinking it would be better.  So I found myself with a blog I was paying for and then decided to populate it writing and enthusing about the books I’d read.  I never used the word “review” either.  It took until early 2010 when I was contacted by a well-respected author and mainstream media book reviewer asking me to “review” her latest novel before I felt worthy of using the description. 

Q. You review TV crime dramas too. Have you read any debut novels lately that you’d like to see adapted? Any adaptations you wish hadn’t been made?

Elizabeth Haynes’s Into the Darkest Corner would translate well to screen and I understand it has been bought for adaptation.  I’d like to see Danny Miller’s Kiss Me Quick go the same way, but as it’s set in the 1960s it presents one of the more costly adaptations because of the historical detail element and these are shied away from at the moment.  But there’s scope there for a series as Kiss Me Quick is the start of one and Danny Miller has already produced the second novel.

I can’t think of any truly dire adaptations recently apart from the non-crime Birdsong which was tedious in the extreme; something the book was certainly not.  It’s a shame the BBC wasted money on The Body Farm – the spin-off from Waking the Dead – as it was preposterous.  They’d have been better off spending the money on a second run for Zen.  If the stocks or hanging, drawing and quartering are brought back, please do the initial test on BBC1 Controller Danny Cohen.  I’ll happily supervise.

Q. I’ll second that. You took part in the Criminal Mastermind panel at this year’s CrimeFest in Bristol. Did you swot up for that?

I asked people to tweet me questions every day but everyone kept forgetting so I couldn’t rely on that!  I had plans though; just plans as it turned out.  Last minute, I managed a panicky overview for my specialist subject but that was about it.  It was fun and I am proud to say I didn’t come last.

Q. You also blog at Errant Apostrophe. Can you tell us a bit about that, share a favourite grammar atrocity maybe?

I set that one up after seeing another oh-so-obvious error in the Daily Mail online.  My patience had run out.  The blog covers more than just apostrophe misuse, but the apostrophe’s misuse is the one that gets me the most.  People are actually making up new rules when there’s no need.  What we already have is not broken and does not need fixing.  It’s simply a huge gap in education.  The Daily Mail has proven to be a rich source of blog posts by the way. 

Julian Fellowes has been written about quite a lot with the success of Downton Abbey.  But, ending with “s”, his surname presents some problems in the media.  My favourite “atrocity” has to be the one where his surname was effectively changed because someone could not deal with the possessive for him.  He was recorded as “Fellowe’s” thus suddenly making him Julian Fellowe.  Don’t know how to handle the apostrophe?  Oh, it’s OK to change someone’s name these days it seems.

But seriously, if anyone does want some practice in this, I suggest reading Anne Zouroudi’s latest The Bull of Mithros.  Set in Greece and with many characters whose names end in “s” – all are handled perfectly in the possessive.  It’s a beauty of a book on many levels.

Q. You’re also involved with Celebrating Reginald Hill for the CWA’s Crime Writing Month.  How did that come about?

Reginald Hill was much loved as a person as well as for his work.  I thought Crime Writing Month was a great opportunity to remember him, so I asked Margot Kinberg to co-host the idea with me.  Her breadth of knowledge across the world of crime fiction is highly impressive.  The first key area for us was to identify the right individuals to approach for contributions in the curation process.  The response has been overwhelming and we’ve had some fabulous input including from some who contacted us in the first week with offers of articles and pictures.  We’ve now extended the deadline for the site to July 5, the official closing date for Crime Writing Month.  Reginald Hill is sorely missed and fondly remembered, and it’s all coming out on the site.

Q. You’re something of a champion of debut and midlist authors. Is it all about discovering exciting new talent, or is there more to it than that?

It actually started when I became a bit bored with some of the bestselling authors and the production of too much “same old”.  I scouted around for new authors to read and found some great talents in both the midlist and the debut camps.  Both sets need support to get their names out there and I was very happy to help out in that.  It’s also very exciting finding a new, fresh and innovative voice.  I am about to take this one step further and will have some exciting news at the end of June.

Q. I know you have a policy to only publish reviews where you can be positive overall. Do you think this is a policy more reviewers should adopt?

I have seen this brought up and debated many times on blogs and, quite frankly, it bores me.  Each to their own.  We all have different constraints.  I once subscribed to the disclosure “policy” of acknowledging the source of a book, but when I became a judge on the Creasey this presented problems, so now I don’t bother.  It doesn’t suit me.  As I said, each to their own.  All that matters in my opinion is being honest.  Crime fiction readers are not stupid and can spot a gushing reader endorsement over a sensible and informed review.  What I write on the blog, and what I publish there from others, is aimed at honesty, but also a sharing of enthusiasm and encouragement to read.

Q. Having helped to judge Flashbang 2012, ahead of CrimeFest, what do you think the standard of entries says about the undiscovered talent out there?

It’s very healthy and thriving.  I think we will see some exciting new authors debut over the next few years.

Q. Finally, if we could bottle the essence of a good book review, what would the ingredients be?

What I look for when reading a book review: something that tells me what the book is about; what’s good about it; what’s not so good about it – if anything – and if that can be overlooked in the scheme of overall enjoyment.  I don’t consider scathing reviews to be productive; they often simply reek of jealousy on the part of the reviewer.  And if the reviewer has had extremely good sex from the author, I think this should be disclosed.  ;)

Thanks, Rhian, and see you in the bar at Harrogate!