Thursday, 20 August 2009


At the start of July, I wrote about subbing to Flashquake, * an online journal who ask for stories of 1000 words or less.

*that's the first time I've linked (lunked?) to a post of my own. Just sayin'. **

** I can’t stop saying ‘Just sayin’’ since I saw this

You can opt to receive 'editorial comments' with your rejection, and, with my rejection email today, I got this feedback:

Editor 1: 'No. A little pat.'

Editor 2: 'Maybe.
A familiar tale enlivened with well-chosen details.'

Thanks, Editor 2. I appreciate that (really, I’m not being sarcastic) but Editor 1 is right. And, in all honesty, I knew when I subbed that story that it wasn’t that hot. This isn’t me being all ‘yeah, I did it on purpose, wanted to be rejected,’ because, of course, that’s not true.

BUT, I knew, deep down, that I didn’t like that story much. It was a bit dull, and, thank you Editor 2, it was a little pat. I didn't really know what 'pat' meant before today. (It's just always been my Mum's name. And she's little.)

As I understand it, and what I think Ed 1 was getting at, my story being 'A little pat' means it’s a little shallow, surface, fake, and dishonest. That last word is the important one.

I wrote ‘With a name like that’ a few years ago, and I can’t even remember where the inspiration came from – which could mean that it didn’t – it might have been a response to a writing exercise, I really don’t know.

But I do know I don’t like it, it doesn’t feel real, or like I’ve written it. And it’s not because the main character is a 20-something bloke in 1994 who falls in love with a girl called Melody, because I’ve written things I feel better about which are totally out of my realm of experience: twins, child killers, obsessive voyeurs… but I got into the writing of those stories and something good came out, blended with the words and felt right. Felt honest.

It’s hard to really love what you write. And if you ever do, it might not last too long, because we evolve, hopefully get better, become interested in different ways of expressing ourselves.

For me, it’s too easy to trawl my ‘Completed work_unpublished’ folder and think it’s full of possibilities, just because the stuff is finished. I'm not sayin' I'll never sub anything old again - I mean often the older stuff has matured (or festered), been allowed to breathe, and I have had a few hits that way - by finding something surprising and seeing life in it.

And, it’s possible I might have liked ‘With a name like that’ when I wrote it a few years ago, but I didn’t when I sent it out last month – and that’s the crux of all this - I’m never subbing a story again which I don’t like, believe in, or find interesting. That doesn’t mean I'd believe the story is perfect, or that I wouldn’t listen to criticism, but it would be starting from a better place, an honest place.

So, I think I should include ‘With a name like that’ in this post, partly because I've been banging on about it for 500 words and also to really seal my new writing commandment: thou shalt only send out work you like, believe in, or find interesting.

Here it is.

the year.

It was music, it was Melody. Capital letter. Because that was her name.

She fell into my life like an almost-angel wearing a t-shirt with the words 'catch me' on it. I grew my hair for her, and picked up a guitar to pose in photographs she said made me look 'debonair'.

We were the couple who moved in together after 3 days. She was the girl who undressed as she walked from room to room. I was the boy who couldn't believe his luck.

She taught me how to argue because she loved to shout. Big, wild, accusations flew around the flat, thrown from her, batted back by me, until she made them too big for me to do anything other than fall under their weight.

I always said sorry. She would nod, in a small way.

The scarf was a gift for her from a stall in Camden. Orange, flimsy, and tasselled around the edges. She used it as a headscarf, a belt, a table cloth, a sarong.

Eventually she used it to wipe her arse with because we were out of toilet paper and I'd forgot to buy some the day before. She left it in the bath for me to find when I came home from work. It was all she left.

She knocked on the door the next day, and stood with her eyes closed.

"I've come for my scarf."

"It's in the bin."

That was an act worse than her using it as toilet paper, and it was the reason why she was leaving. She had already left, of course. I know that now.


was just
a year.

(What if Editor 1 actually meant the narrator is ‘A little prat’?)

A good day. I've toyed with this idea about feeling like my writing is honest as I write it - but it's the first time it's hit home that it applies to subbing work too.


Anne Brooke said...

I loved it. I'd take away the last four lines so you're left with the very powerful "I know that now" and you're done.

As an aside, those pesky FQ editors were a lot lot nastier to me. Stuff 'em.



Teresa Stenson said...

Thanks, Anne.

I suppose it's because the FQ editors give such short reasons why they don't say 'yes', so it feels quite abrupt. Hope you've recovered :)

Anne Brooke said...

Nearly, tee hee! I'm lying on a couch taking smelling salts. Oh, wait, that's what I usually do on a Friday!