Friday, 23 December 2011

A few weeks ago I lit this candle

which I had been 'saving' for some yet to happen purpose, like winning a writing prize or finishing some big piece of work. I hadn't won anything, or finished anything, but decided to light the candle to celebrate what can be done.

I haven't written much these past few weeks. As much as I escape into writing I also need a calm headspace to operate in, and Christmas brings about turbulence and demands like no other time of year because, as some of you will know, it also marks the time I lost my Mum, 2 years ago.

I had a sense that I wanted to make something in some way so I set about making christmas cards, mostly for the people I really appreciate knowing but don't see very much. It took me a week, and a fair amount of sequins and gold pens and glitter paint. Sometimes I sat with a big pair of headphones on and sang out loud as I stuck stars onto glittery skies. It felt good.

Now, 2 days after Mum's anniversary, I suddenly feel calm again. It's like getting over another hurdle. For the first time in a while I feel optimistic, and rested, and loved, and ready to face Christmas. And beyond that, the New Year, and all that can be done.

Whatever this time of year means to you, I hope you can find the calm in it all.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

India's Book: call for submissions

Do you know India Emmott?

She's about 25, has lived in London all her life, plays clarinet. Ringing a bell?

Go here for more info, see if it's the girl you're thinking of, and if it is, write about her, or your time with her, and send it to Matt Shoard (editor of Fleeting Magazine) who's putting together a biography about her. Do this by Dec 31st and it may be included in the book, The Life Of India Emmott.

The book is represented by lit agent David Miller at RCW. And I'm gonna be in it, cos I knew India once.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Leibster Award

Thank you to the poet Myfanwy Fox who gave me a 'Liebster Award' last week and said some pretty lovely things about me on her blog. (As well as broadcasting the fact that we've slept together.)

Thank you, Myfanwy - whose poetry is just beautiful, more so if you have the privilege of hearing her read it aloud in a quiet kitchen in a corner of the Yorkshire Dales - pins could have dropped with some volume.

As is the nature of the bloggy award I have a task or two to do. Here's the info on this particular one, which is different to a few of the others I've had before - dammit - you don't get to read 7 new things about me - shame.

Leibster is a German word meaning dearest, and the award is given to up-and-coming bloggers with less than 200 followers.

If you receive the award, you should:

1. Thank the giver and link back to the blogger who gave it to you.

2. Reveal your top five picks and let them know by leaving a comment on their blog.

3. Copy and paste the award on your blog.

4. Hope that the people you’ve sent the award to forward it to their five favourite bloggers and keep it going!’




The 5 blogs I'd like to suggest to you are:

Other Words by Karen Jones: for her brilliant 12-part 'Cruise Diary'. Karen's Mum has been trying to get her to go on a cruise with her for ages - Karen yielded this year - and entertained hugely with her daily observations.

Escape Behaviours by Rachel Fenton: a fascinating epic graphic poem by poet and artist (and more things besides) Rachel Fenton. In her own words:
"More of an oddity than an Odyssey, Escape Behaviours is based on the real life experience of me and my partner migrating to New Zealand from the North of England, getting broke, getting married, and almost getting immediately divorced, but mostly it's a tongue in cheek exploration of stuttering. I gave my husband speech bubbles so you can understand him and love him too."

Anna Cathenka by ... Anna Cathenka: she's a feisty feminist and she's not afraid to construct an intelligent and thought-provoking post. Oftentimes inspired by David Mitchell for she loves him.

Ava and the Snowman by Kendal Chalk: for lovely photography of a new and adventurous family.

And this one is a kind-of cheat because it's not a blog, but a website, that most of you have probably heard of - so totally out of the spirit of this award which is meant for blogs with less than 200 followers... but etsy is a great website to find and buy unique and interesting gifts from independent sellers and artists... and in that way it's quite 'small', and so it is perhaps appropriate.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Feeling lucky, punk?

...this writer is: JF Rodrigues

He's put a bet on himself at William Hill that he'll win the Man Booker before he's 60. (He's 47 now.)

It's ambitious, driven - I won't be doing it myself but whatever gets you motivated, right?

My favourite grape variety in white wine is Sauvignon (this is relevant, honest) and knowing that the Sancerre region of France is famed for its Sauv Blanc I asked Mario to buy me a bottle last Christmas so I could save it and open it when I'd finished writing something longer than a short story.

11 months on and it still sits atop the kitchen top.

(Now I must reassure myself) Don't panic, Teresa! You are a bitty writer, you write a bit here, a bit there, work on several things at once, all is not lost, etc etc.


ANYWAY. That wine is my motivator. But I'm worried now - how long will it stay 'good'? It says 2009 on it - how long have I got???


What about you, do you have anything set up to motivate you?

Friday, 18 November 2011

I said this post would be awesome...

...it *might* not be.

But I was thinking how much I love having days off to write. I work two jobs and my shifts can vary, but at the moment they are Friday - Tuesday so Wednesday and Thursday are free, and they are usually the days I knowingly and more fully dedicate time to writing. And even though these days are my own, I definitely have a programme of some kind, a routine I follow.

So because I like it when writers tell you a bit about their routine (and if you read my previous post you will know I am rehabilitating myself as a blogger) I thought I'd share my recipe for a good writing day.



1. Mario is at work/out. I can write when he is at home, but I realised a couple of years ago that I need, and like, time to myself to write, and that should only be interrupted if I interrupt it. Also, that way, if I don't do much, it's MY FAULT, no one else's.

2. I do all the boring stuff early on. Washing up, laundry, posting parcels (which I don't do a lot of, but I did today), food shopping. All done before noon, ideally.

3. Coffee in a coffee shop. I sit there with my notebook, maybe a paper, maybe a writing magazine, and if I don't write or feel like it it's okay, this part is just about being somewhere I've chosen to be on my day off and having a good coffee. Usually I write at least a list of what I want to do that day.

4. Freedom - I downloaded this programme for about £6 and it's ace. I spoke about it here. It blocks the internet - and this focuses my energy to, you know, writing. I find 2 hour chunks work well for me.


Link

5. Ssssh. Quiet. Not like deadly silence, but I can't write with music on. I wish I could, it'd be nice to be one of those writers who gets inspired by music and tiptaps away all full of intense musicality.

6. Tea. I've had a coffee, I'd like a green tea in the afternoon, please. And a biscuit. Ta.



That's usually it, actually, but every so often...

7. I like to put on my favourite shirt. It is falling apart, I can't wear it in public, but there is something about it I love. When I'm wearing it I think I'm a bohemian painter or something.







Tell me about your recipe for writing - post in the comments below or create a post of your own and I'll link to it.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Blog-o-fear

I have become a hestitant blogger. If I don't have any writing news, I don't know what to write (here). Or I do, but there is a voice in my head saying, 'Whogivesashit?'.

So apologies for a real lack of blogs posts here these past few months.

Does anyone else have this problem? Any easy bloggers who don't have that voice there? Or maybe you do but you push it to one side? I think I've done that in the past.

Maybe it's like a lot of stuff, if you think too much about whogivesashit you realise not many people do, or you realise how insignificant the thing you're considering is.

And then you loop back round to, well, just do it - if peopledontgiveashit they'll stay away, right? I reckon it stems from a fear of being judged, like - why are you talking about how many words you've written or what kind of notebooks you use in a public place???

I should just get over myself. I'm being far too British in my hestitating and now far too American in my searching for answers. (Stereotyping a go-go.)

Next post will be awesome.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

overheard

Middle-aged man in the pub to his friends:


"Would I take her back? Yes. Do I sit there and think about it? No."


Monday, 10 October 2011

New thing and an admin

Well, 'some' admin, I just like the way that title sounds.

The new thing first - nothing to announce or point you towards, but note-worthy for me. I've been dabbling lately in non-fiction, and have just sent away a short feature article to The Daily Telegraph for their 'Just back from' travel writing competition.

It runs every week, and the winner each week wins £200 in the currency of your (assuming you win, like) choice. I have no travel plans, nor any of my own currency money to spend on a trip, so if I win I'll just get euros and go mad in Top Shop or something. But I'm telling you because I'm excited to have written and subbed a non-fiction thing. A while ago I wrote an article on diary-keeping and pitched it to Oh Comely Magazine but they didn't get back to me. Darn. It is in the process of being re-shaped and will go to this competition very soon instead.


The admin - I have just, at last - I was putting it off because it feels a bit icky, bit big-headed - updated this blog with 2 quotes from 2 well-known and proper writers who judged my stories and said good things about them. They are over in the side-bar now, so, you know, read if you want to.

On a serious note, I'm very happy to be able to add those quotes. They are lovely and generous and I'm proper grateful.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Early Sign Of Wanting To Be A Writer, Number One

"Dad, I want to be a writer."

"Okay, Teresa, good idea. Why not start by writing to the letters' page of the local paper?"

"Really? And say what?"

"Well, they've just reduced the size from A3 to A4, you could comment on that."

"I could! Afterall, it is more efficient. Anything else?"

"How about writing what you like about the paper?"

"Good idea! Afterall, it is informative and gives me a good idea of what is going on in Armthorpe. Thanks, Dad."

"You're welcome."



I found this in my box of diaries. It's slightly embarassing, the tone is so serious, the letter fairly pointless. But I do remember that conversation with my Dad, his suggestion of writing to the paper and a few pointers on what to say. I didn't get too far though, did I? That list dried right up.

Monday, 29 August 2011

Overheard


An old lady in a coffee shop, to her coffee drinking companion:

"Now, I need you to do me a favour. Do you get the Advertiser? Right. I need you to look for something for me. You can probably guess what I'm getting at. If there's a certain death announcement, cut it out for me. No, he's not dead yet. Look, it's a long story, just cut it out if it's there."


I heard this (she had a loud voice) before I looked up to see where it was coming from. I actually thought the lady was speaking on the phone, but when I looked she was addressing her friend. I'm sure the real-life situation isn't as crazy as she made it sound, but it was very intriguing so obviously I had to transcribe it there and then.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

"Oh hey so I love you! Oh, no, I just sicked it up."

Maybe the strangest title I've used so far for a short story. But I like it.

A while ago I wrote about my experience of taking part in The Art House Co-op Fiction Project back in April/May. Today I got a notification to say the notebook I submitted has been digitized and is now available to read online.

Oh hey so I love you! Oh, no, I just sicked it up is a light-hearted story about being young and being dumped. It's semi-auto-biographical, based on a long-ago experience of breaking up with my first boyfriend when I was 17. I didn't set out to write that story, but it grew as I made notes for the chosen theme of my notebook (Inside/Outside) as that age-old line came into my head: 'I love you, I'm just not in love with you.'

So we fall in love, we fall out of love, and the poor buggers who stay consistently in love sometimes get dumped. And sometimes they do ridiculous things after they've been dumped, like decide it hasn't really happened just so they don't have to think about it for a bit. Then they face it again, and like any bad experience, it feels too big, too impossible to deal with. Then, a spark of light might show, and it will probably sod off again fairly quickly but it was there, and it will come back, and it will join up with other bits of light to make you feel better.




This is the first page, click here to read the rest (a further 27 pages).



Monday, 15 August 2011

Stand by your ban

Well, it's more like a challenge than a ban.

For as long as I feel like it, the only writing I'll be doing will be on my book. No short story-ing, no entering competitions. Not for too long, you understand. Maybe a month.

Why would I do this? Well, I really want to get some momentum going on my book project and I think I need the focus.

I'll let you know how I go... it's been 3 days thus far.

la la la.

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Guardian Short Story

Things Which Are Not True

published on The Guardian website today as part of their Summer Reads Fiction Special

When Coral announces: "I'm just going on holiday for a lark, really," no one reacts. A word like "lark" is wasted on her colleagues. She heard it last week on a TV home makeover show, and Coral wrote it in her notebook under the heading Words To Say. In the column "Example" she wrote, "I'm just doing it for a lark, really" with "Casual, nonchalant" in the "Delivery" section. That word "nonchalant" has an entry all of its own earlier in the book. It also appeared on the list Things To Be In 2007.

Coral has sung Summer Holiday a lot throughout the morning, just to make sure everyone knows she's going away. When she came back from Llandudno in November, they hadn't even realised she'd been gone. This is different, though. She's also hummed Y Viva Espana in the photocopy queue. Plus she's taken her luggage to work, saying that she has to go straight to the airport at five o'clock. But really she's not flying until tomorrow morning, so the backpack is full of tinned food wrapped in towels to soften the edges.


click here to continue reading

and here for links to stories by Jon McGregor, Jennifer Egan, David Nicholls, and winner of the Summer Fiction competition - Fan Flaherty. The other 3 runner up stories were written by George Craig, Maggie Robb and Ursula Wills Jones.

Friday, 22 July 2011

Closing soon

A few places to send your short stories to that have caught my eye:

Hay on Wye Short Story Contest
Up to 2000 words
£400 1st prize, £200 for 2nd, £100 for 3rd
£6 entry fee
Closes 31st July
* postal submissions only *


Sean O'Faolain Prize
Up to 3000 words
1500 euros 1st prize + publication in Southwold Lit Journal + week retreat at Anam Cara, 2nd prize is 500 euros + publication. Four other stories will appear in Southwold and each will receive 120 euros.
Entry fee is 15 euros
Closes 31st July
* absolutely amazing first prize - they also promise to take good care of the winner if they come to Cork to collect their prize:
"...we will lavish them with hotel accommodation, meals, drinks and VIP access to the literary stars at the Cork International Short Fiction Festival (14-18 September 2011)." *


Ilkley Literature Festival
Up to 3000 words
£200 1st prize
£4 to enter
Closes 31st July
* postal submissions only *


Manchester Fiction Prize
Up to 3000 words
£10,000 1st prize
£15 entry fee
Closes 12th August
* There is only one prize of£10,000 - though this could be split between 2 winners if the judges decide to *

Monday, 18 July 2011

Guardian Short Story Comp Runner-up

Yes I am - I'm delighted/thrilled/excited/ecstatic and all those other words that don't quite fit and feel a bit weird to say... that my story, Things which are not true, was chosen by Jon McGregor and Nicholas Blincoe to be a runner up, that is one of 4, chosen as not-winners (there's one winner) but 4 'almosts' - who will be published online alongside some established authors (I don't know who yet) as part of The Guardian's Summer Reads fiction special on July 23rd.

I'm, well, all those words up in that first sentence there.

**************

AND

Radio 4 are planning to cut their 3-per-week programmes of 'Afternoon Reading' down to just 1 (it used to be 5, a very short time ago). Tania Hershman has written a blog post on this - please sign the petition, tweet about it, blog about it. The BBC support short stories, and Afternoon Reading broadcasts one per episode.


Thanks.

Friday, 8 July 2011

Don't be prissy, yeah?

I stumbled upon this quote today, over at AdviceToWriters, and had to share it. It's from Richard Ford. I think it's pretty spot-on.


Beware of writers who tell you how hard they work. (Beware of anybody who tries to tell you that.) Writing is indeed often dark and lonely, but no one really has to do it. Yes, writing can be complicated, exhausting, isolating, abstracting, boring, dulling, briefly exhilarating; it can be made to be grueling and demoralizing. And occasionally it can produce rewards. But it's never as hard as, say, piloting an L-1011 into O'Hare on a snowy night in January, or doing brain surgery when you have to stand up for 10 hours straight, and once you start you can't just stop. If you're a writer, you can stop anywhere, any time, and no one will care or ever know. Plus, the results might be better if you do.


Richard Ford



From Advice to Writers by Jon Winokur

Thursday, 7 July 2011

This week:

- I'm trying NOT to keep thinking how ace it would be to win one of the writing competitions I'm entered into (see sidebar)
- So with that I'm working on NOT checking my emails every 3-4 minutes
- And instead I'm working on writing new things / editing old things / seeking new places to sub to
- Trying to look after myself a bit better in general
- Ties in nicely with a free invitation to a health spa from my friend Anna. As well as eating cake while wearing a dressing gown I'm also going to have a reiki session - something I've been tempted by for a while, and I'm TOTALLY ready for my chakras to be balanced
- I have a penchant for capital letters
- I see that is a bit teenage
- I've finally started watching the BBC's adaptation of 'Case Histories' and have subsequently fallen in love with Jasan Isaacs
- I see that is a bit teenage

Monday, 20 June 2011

a few things

Just some bits and bobs.

I had a great weekend away with my writer-friends last week. We spent a few days in a ramshackle house in the Yorkshire Dales, talking, writing, cooking, and drinking. I actually wrote very little, but that's okay. We did a couple of critique sessions, and just being with like-minded people, who I happen to like a whole lot, was useful and inspiring.


My letter about the Lee Child article got printed in July's Writing Magazine. I was a bit alarmed (in a minor way) when I saw the heading they'd put above it, 'Challenging Child', and also that the letter by the side of it is from a writer who agrees with everything Child said in that interview. Only alarmed because I hoped I didn't come across as prissy, because actually I did agree with a lot of Child's points about writing, apart from the bit I wrote the letter about. I can't include the whole letter here (rights are with the mag) but here are a few snapshots:









Other stuff...

In an attempt to be useful to my readers who are writers, here a few competitions that close on June 30th:

The Bridport Prize
Stories: up to 5000 words
Flash: up to 250 words
Poems: 42 lines max
Story and poems 1st prize: £5000 each
Flash prize: £1000
Entry fees: Story £7, poem £6, flash £5.


Lightship Literary Competitions

Stories: up to 5000 words
Poems: up to 200 words
First chapter: up to 5000 words + 400 words synopsis
Story and poem first prize: £1000
First chapter prize: expert mentoring from an acclaimed literary author, a top literary agent and a commissioning editor as you write your novel.
Entry fees: Story £12, poem £8, first chapter £12.

*Note - this is the first year of this prize and the judges are very high profile - looks promising*


The Cinnamon Press Writing Awards
Stories: 2000-4000 words
Poems: up to ten poems, each 40 lines max
Novel/novella: first 10,000 words
Story and poems 1st prize: £100 + publication
Novel/novella prize: £400 + publication
Entry fees: £16 for all categories
(steep, but includes copy of winners' anthology. I guess it's a high entry fee to fund the novel/novella category?)


Okay folks, those are the basic details, take a look at each website for more information on how to enter etc.

Good luck if you enter any of them.

Question: do you get put off by competitions that only accept hard copy submissions?






Thursday, 2 June 2011

The Fiction Project 2011

It's a few weeks since I completed my notebook for Art House Co-op's Fiction Project. Right now it's somewhere in the US amongst thousands of other notebooks getting ready to go on tour.

I wonder what the other notebooks are like. I wonder if my notebook is getting on okay with all the other notebooks. It's very lo-fi. I hope no one's making fun of him.

Having a blank notebook to fill was a really exciting and different way of writing a story. Different because the physical-ness of having the book, the end 'thing', gave focus as well as freedom - all these pages (80 sides) to fill with anything... could have been almost too much freedom. It would have been easy to get too distracted by all the ways you could fill these pages. Having a theme and a deadline helped with that.

I chose the theme 'Inside/Outside' when I signed up, and it inspired some early ideas before the final story I went with. And what I didn't expect was that I would re-work an already existing story in a really new way. Crazily, it's one of the first stories I ever wrote once I decided to 'be a writer' about 5 years ago.

'The Box' was about two just-broken-up-lovers who meet to go over the contents of their 'box' - a shoe box - that held all the mementos of their relationship. It was, as is common for new writers to do, written about a real life personal experience. But it wasn't really a story, it was me working through some old but resonant feelings from being dumped when I was 17. But I've often gone back to have a look at it, to see if something will click and I might be able to make something from it.

So - you know where this is going - but I'll lay it out anyway. I was writing out some notes, thinking about 'Inside/Outside' and it lead onto the idea of love - how we are fall in it, fall out of it, and when we're dumped it's usually because the other person suddenly isn't 'in' anymore, and it's baffling, hurtful, but wtf does it mean? It just means they've changed their minds really, but the effect on the dumped, the trying to make sense, and failing, appealed to me.

And I knew what it felt like, but I didn't want to write it from my POV. So I wrote it from a guy's perspective, a boy who has just been dumped out of the blue. Suddenly all this energy and comedy came to the story, and I got to use my own experiences, and see them, in a new way. The whole tone changed, and 'The Box' morphed into...




See, I said it was lo-fi. That's the girl being sick on the front, not a metal detector. There are a few drawings in amongst the words. I didn't fill the whole book, but I've invited anyone who reads it to write on the blank pages, to tell a story about a time they were dumped, or dumped someone else. It's nice to think the book could be added to.

It will be soon be available to read in full online, until then I'll leave you with a few more photos of the process and of some of the words.




It takes several notebooks to make a notebook - different drafts in different places ready to be copied up into the blank book on the right.




A slightly neater version than this made it into the end version. But I think the scruffiness of the drawings work for the story.





A couple of pages from the final version




The back of the book showing my unique bar code so anytime someone 'checks it out' to read it I'll get an email notification.





Me and the book just before I sent it away. We will never be reunited. Unless I go to Brooklyn Art Library where he will live out the rest of his days post-tour.


So yeah, a really free-ing way to put words together. And it's very 'fulfilling' that an old piece of writing from an even older event has found a new way of living.

I'm still not sure it's a 'story', it's probably a slice of life, but that's what I love about this project - you can do anything with your book, and I know there will be some amazing works of art around my offering, but I love the connected-ness of it, all these books with a bit or a lot of heart poured into their pages being read by total strangers who can scan their fingers over the pages and feel the dents I made with my pen.


For more information on Art House Co-op and their notebook projects have a look here.


Sunday, 29 May 2011

freedom

It's been too long since my last post. I've been using the internet a lot less, mostly because I bit the bullet and downloaded the ironically-named software 'Freedom' which you can use to banish the internet connection from your computer for a time of your choosing (between 15minutes and 8 hours).

It's pretty simple, and I like it. It allows me to control what I do when the part of my brain that's restless during writing prods me and suggests I check my emails (just in case I got any in the last 4 minutes). I've had it on my desktop for about 2 weeks, and actually I just realise now I haven't used it much this past week. I'm cured!

So I've been working on my book, and I'm about 6000 words in which is good going for me. I've started and stopped and re-worked and re-approached this idea so many times. I get so far and think, 'Is this really the right way to write this idea???' and that can be debilitating. But whatever I'm doing is working at the moment so I'm just steaming on with it, picking it up whenever I have the time/energy/inclination.

There's a nice mention for my story Willesden Herald shortlisted story Blue Raincoat in this interview with the first prize winner, Mary O'Shea. I was really thrilled when I read what Mary said, really honoured to be in her top 3 from the anthology. Which you can win a copy of if you leave a comment below the interview (before May 31st).

Other stuff... hm, didn't get longlisted for The Bristol Prize. Bugger. Still waiting to hear back from a few places for other stories. The new issue of Writing Magazine will be out in the next week or so, I'll let you know if my letter gets in. My letter-writing is at an optimum this month - I've also written to the head office of the company I work for about a policy they've put in place that has, erm, how to put this? Angered myself and the rest of the staff. Adding 'Disgruntled letter writer' to my CV fo' sure.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Dear Sir

Have gone all indignant about an interview I read with Lee Child in Writing Magazine - indignant enough to write to the letters' page about how I really don't agree with his view that writers who struggle with finding time to write, or the discipline to write 'are probably not motivated correctly to be a writer.'

My problem with it is that it's too black and white, doesn't allow for much deviation, but mostly I think it could be dangerous to read if you're a writer who's going through a bad spot.

I'll let you know if it gets published.


Other news

The Fiction Project book I'm putting together is almost finished - I have the content ready (remember - it's the story called 'Oh hey so I love you! Oh, no, I just sicked it up') and will transfer it into the Moleskine tomorrow and the day after, then it's going to the US where it hooks up with all the other participating Moleskines to go on tour, eventually winding up at Brooklyn Art Library. The whole process has been useful and interesting - I'll write a post about it when I've got it finished and posted away.

Away I go now to my evening bar shift. Often when I'm working later in the day I get more done, a race against the clock kinda thing.

Friday, 29 April 2011

age, lambs

I have passed into a new decade: I'm 30.

Aagh, eeugh, oooh. It's not that different. Is it? It is a bit.

I've been ready for it, I have to say. I've seen it coming. Been flexing myself. Facing it.

It's funny, I can feel old in some areas of my life like my day job: surrounded by students; my weekend job: mostly working with 20-somethings. But then I go to the shop for a bottle of wine and get asked for ID, or I'm at a writing event and people say - 'You're young to be a writer'.

S'confusing.

I know that when I was younger, I imagined a different 30 year old. She was definitely in control and totally sure of who she was and she probably had everything she'd need in life by then because she's 30 - i.e. she is OLD.

But it's not like that, is it? Does anyone ever feel they have it all sussed, feel totally in control, totally sure of everything they do? If they do, do I believe them? If I believe them, how interesting will they be after a few minutes? (Harsh?)

I know that I am grateful for what I have and where I am. Counteract any doubts with thankfulness. Be happy with now (because really - what else is there?).


So they are just some thoughts that happened when I crossed a decade.


Other stuff...

Holiday!


I worked to be at peace with 'the now' while on holiday - because it was so beautiful, so good to be away from things, with Mario, that on Day One I felt some kind of panic about leaving in 4 days! How ridiculous.

I'll share a few photos, and I'll end with some video footage of lambs. It's lambing season - and I must own up to loving all kinds of lamb, esp Souvlaki, before you think me a veggie, but I especially get excited by little (live) lambs. These photos will conclude with a video of some frolicking lambs.

I call it (imagine how thrilled I was to think up this play on words): 'Lamb-cam: Lamb-pede'.

Photos first.


Our cabin



Had a veranda (we live in a flat and I long for outside-ness) where we ate breakfast, drank tea, coffee, wine...




Where I had a sit and writ



We did lotsa walking



and climbing over stiles



and lamb-looking




Ready for Lamb-cam: Lamb-pede?

video

Friday, 15 April 2011

update

So - last week I went to the prize-giving for the 2011 Willesden Herald Prize, held in a room within an unexpectedly big library space in London. I knew I was one of the 12 finalists, and that my story was to be published in the anthology, and I also knew I hadn't bagged one of the top spots - so it was actually a more relaxed affair, as relaxed as these weird literary events can be.

Pleasingly, I got to speak to the judge, Maggie Gee, for some time in the pub afterwards. She was great, and encouraging when she found out we had something in common: both not taking a career route in our 20s, instead working in a job with little responsibility to have a go at being a writer.

This is good to hear. Every so often, especially as I'm 30 next week, I have a 'What have I done?' moment, compare myself to friends who are succeeding in their chosen fields and feel inadequate. It's part to do with confidence, and we all falter with that from time to time, and part because it's not always easy to measure success on this route. Being published and winning prizes are part of it, especially as markers, assurances that you're heading the right way, but they're not the whole story. Publication is good for your outer-writerly-ness, but nothing is ever really as good as the moments you are writing something that feels right and good at that very moment in time. But that's a solitary thing, a hard to communicate thing.

The prize-giving event itself was interesting and the whole thing was an enjoyable night. I feel really lucky to be one of the 12 writers in the book, especially as there were 385 entries to start with. It was also a real pleasure to meet Mary O'Shea, who won first prize with her story 'Out of Season', which I read the next day and thought was brilliant, moving and a very worthy winner. I'm in the process of making my way through the rest of the stories, but so far another stand-out story is 'Overnight Miracles' from A.J. Ashworth.

It was good to meet organiser Stephen Moran, and also see Vanessa Gebbie too - we met at Bridport in 2009 - she'd been a winner in 2007 and returned to host the after-event, and at this year's Willesden she was a kind of guest of honour, a previous winner again - I joked that I'm following her around the lit prize circuit, a few years behind.

Vanessa has written a review of the Willesden anthology here, and it was pretty wonderful to read within that review "There is the spare and enigmatic writing of Teresa Stenson" . This could be my first review... Although, Maggie Gee did a really generous thing too - in the speech she gave on the judging process she mentioned all 12 stories and why she liked / chose them.

This is actually rare, from my experience so far, and it definitely 'seals' something. It was filmed and should be available for me to link to at a future date. Aside from the ego-trip (for me) I think it's a useful speech about the judging process in general. I'm always fascinated to hear how these things work, even on a practical level. I like to know how many entries there are, who reads them all, how many get passed on to the judge, and that's all before you get down to the subjective nature of picking the 'best' stories. Anyway, I am going on a bit...


So that was Willesden. Sadly, it looks like it was the last one.

*UPDATE* - it is not the last one - they've only gone and bagged Roddy Doyle to judge this year's prize! (closing around Dec I should think, like last year) Amazing.



Other stuff...
I'm getting ready to go on an eagerly awaited holiday next week. Just somewhere in the countryside, just me and Mario, just can't wait. Reading and writing materials at the ready.


Fiction project

I'm working on making my book for the art project I said this about in February:

"I've signed up for this: The Fiction Project - it costs $25 to participate - they send you a Moleskine notebook, you fill it, send it back, it becomes part of an exhibition with other completed notebooks, goes on tour across America to selected arts venues, winds up at Brooklyn Art Library. It can be read, 'checked out' by visitors, and if you want to pay the extra $20 it will be digitised for the website, for you, for anyone to view whenever."

Here's a photo of what I started out with:




Pretty much a blank Moleskine notebook.

The theme I'm working with is 'Inside/Outside', which has done what I expected and hoped for - led to some interesting and exciting tangents of stories, snippets, scenes, that I am putting together to make a fairly light hearted story called 'Oh hey so I love you. Oh no I don't, I just sicked it up.'

Maybe the most charming title I've ever come up with.

You - what about you, reader - say hello to me (if you have a Blogger account, that is. If not, just wave.)

Sunday, 3 April 2011

worth remembering, I think.

Shaun Tan writes and illustrates picture books - beautiful creations. His book, The Red Tree, is one of my favourites.

"A nameless young girl appears in every picture, a stand-in for ourselves; she passes helplessly through many dark moments, yet ultimately finds something hopeful at the end of her journey.
"


Anyway, the thing that's resonated with me enough to write a blog about it is this quote of his I came across a few days ago:

The artists’ responsibility lies first and foremost with the work itself, trusting that it will invite the attention of others by the force of its conviction.

It's the first bit of the sentence that has struck me. It's not that I haven't heard something like that before, or felt it, it's maybe that it articulates it better than I've heard before. Or that it's come at a time when being reminded of that is good for me.

What do you think? Do you agree?
If you're a writer, who is your responsibility to?


Friday, 25 March 2011

question

Does anyone know, legally, if it's okay to use a living celebrity in a piece of fiction?

I've written a short story, set in this world, in a very ordinary setting, but a famous person happens to be in it. There's no slander, it's a humorous piece, but I just wonder if there are any laws that say it's not okay to use a living famous person as a character.

Anyone have any ideas?


*Later... I emailed the organisers of the competition I'm sending my story to and they are fine with it. Sac magique! Good to know. *

Friday, 18 March 2011

I knew this woman who fell in love

originally published in hum-drum Magazine a few years ago, it's a very short story with 2 picture accompaniments. Click here, or on the tab up there, to read it.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

oh look it looks so new!

So I've just spent a bit of time making the blog look new, and then I've added links to some old stuff - up there - those 'tabs' that say 'But in the voice (short film)' and 'Ball Wall' - take a look if you like if you will...

'But in the voice' is a short film based on a story I wrote a few years ago and features a spider and the voice of Peter O'Toole*, and me.

'Ball Wall' is one of the first very short stories I wrote and felt good about writing. Both stories appeared in hum-drum Magazine 2007-2008.

I just thought it'd be nice to have them here on my blogsite.

But looking forwards...

I haven't been blogging so much but I have been writing. My picture book / illustrated book / I-don't-want-to-categorise-you-yet-book is developing and I can feel myself getting closer to putting the bottle of Sancerre Mario bought for me at Christmas in the fridge ready for the 'I've written something longer than a short story!' moment which is its purpose.

Resisting the urge to start looking at agents/publishers until it's written. Blocking out the usual cries of advice to 'know your market!' - going with the flow and writing it first.


*voice of Peter O'Toole done brilliantly by me friend and movie maker Miles Watts

Monday, 28 February 2011

Look!

Just a quick one to point you to something I think looks ace.

Seems Nicola Morgan has started something with her call for a Complementary (not Alternative, as some places have reported it, including here before I just changed it...) World Book Night - have a look at this article in the Guardian

Friday, 25 February 2011

new project

I've signed up for this: The Fiction Project - it costs $25 to participate - they send you a Moleskine notebook, you fill it, send it back, it becomes part of an exhibition with other completed notebooks, goes on tour across America to selected arts venues, winds up at Brooklyn Art Library. It can be read, 'checked out' by visitors, and if you want to pay the extra $20 it will be digitised for the website, for you, for anyone to view whenever.

I'm really excited about starting, but I have to wait until my unique bar-coded Moleskine arrives. It's coming from the US so I expect it'll be a wee while yet. You pick a theme from a list, the theme acts as your starting point, but you can go anywhere from there. You have until May 1st to send your completed notebook back.


Other stuff...

As hinted at by my previous post, I've been more mindful about how I spend my time this week. After a few days of not getting much done, and not feeling relaxed about it, I took a step back from any ideas about how much writing to do. I've spent less time online and been for more walks, and turned a few corners with projects when I have felt like writing.

One of the things I'm working on is an illustrated story, and this programme on BBC4 is inspiring.
The Beauty of Books - Illustrated Wonderlands.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

step away from the computer

and make youself a writing den.


This is where I am this afternoon.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

oh-so-stylish

Thanks to Jessica Patient for giving me a Stylish Blogger Award. Stylish, eh? Well I have had my hair cut recently into a bob. It's well arty. In accepting I must tell you 7 things about me. A chance to tell you contrived things about myself in order to sound cool/quirky/lovable/soooo unique? Oh, okay!


1. For the past 2 hours or so I've had the Christmas song Phoebe sings to the friends in Friends in my head endlessly. 'Saw Santa Claus, said hello to Ross'. I'd like it to go out of my head now, please.
2. I like Friends. Still.
3. It's on a lot but I still like it.
4. But it might be responsible for people's unrealistic expectations of how friends should behave.
5. It looks like Courtney Cox has been at the botox.
6. I bet they do a reunion episode soon.
7. I didn't plan to just write about Friends, I just didn't fancy doing the 7 things about me thing. I like it when other people do it, and I did it before, here, so I'm not getting all moral or anything.


And now, I'll nominate 7 blogs I think are well worthy of a look-sie.

1. Anna Cathenka for poetry
2. Lies, Ink from successful short story writer Dan Purdue (also has a competitions calendar)
3. The Coward's Journey for a peep into what happens after your novel is accepted by Bloomsbury
4. Fragments and Snapshots for great over-heard bits of conversation
5. Creepy Queery Girl writes with gusto about her quest for the attention of an agent
6. Snow Like Thought inspiring output from writer Rachel
7. The Happy Kimono always features amazing art and photography

Thanks again to Jessica - her writing blog is great too and it is here.

Friday, 11 February 2011

this week I've been:

- learning to tweet. It's weird. For some reason, I'm not getting the hang of it as quickly as I thought I would. I've written a few tweets, mostly in reply to friends I already know, but I don't feel like I'm all cool with it yet. I'm @TeresaStenson if anyone is a comfortable tweeter and wants to say hi.

- riding on the wave of the Willesden Herald shortlisting, a little more than I usually do with an acceptance. Aside from Bridport, it's the most smiley I've been over a 'yes'.

- a butterfly writer, delving into my folders of half-finished stories and seeing what can be shaped up and sent away. And keeping the cogs turning for my illustrated project, doodling and stretching the story in different directions.

- working the day job, as ever, and enjoying it, even the Spanish class I had to notetake in this week. I wish the lecturer had told the class I wasn't a student at the start - would have saved my endless replies of 'Hola, I'm not a student...' every time someone tried to converse with me.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

at last

after a year of rejections I got a hit!

I've been shortlisted for The Willesden Herald short story prize with my story Blue Raincoat.

This acceptance makes me feel especially good because:
- A year!!!
- It's a story I wrote a few years ago that's almost been accepted (shortlisted at Mslexia, highly commended at Aesthetica) but never quite made it.
- And maybe for that reason this feels unexpected.
- And it made me do a little dance when I got the email.


There are 12 shortlisted stories, but the top 3 won't be announced until the prize-giving event of which I know nothing about just yet. I'll keep you posted.

Must say cheers to Vanessa Gebbie for posting a blog about what this prize meant to her just before the closing date. I read her post and entered on a whim.

And well done to the other writers on the list. You can see who they are here.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

February, innit

At the start of January I made a list of what I'd like to get done, writing-wise, in the month. There were four things, and they were these (things):

Complete:
- story for Mslexia Magazine
- a piece of non-fiction

Continue work on:
- Book project 1
- Book project 2

Check out the colour-code. Green - I did those things. Red - I did not do that thing.

I started the non-fiction piece a few times, but a combination of the subject matter (needed more research than I thought at first) and that it wasn't a priority or deadline-based thing shunted it to the back of the queue. When I considered what I wanted to do this month, the non-fiction piece doesn't feature.

So many things came from my writing time in January that I am happy with. Like:

Book Project 1 soared to new heights with a 500 words per day output for a week or so.
And then it came to an abrupt halt. It didn't feel like it was going the right way. More words, yes, but there are things to do before the words increase any more. Vague, but part of February's writing time will be moving on with this project, and I will be sharing more with you as it develops.

Book Project 2 is the picture book I told you about in my previous post. It is forming nicely, still in its first draft, but edging together. Progress with this project is the priority for February.


I'm not as strict with the no-internet-before-writing pact I made a few weeks ago because I seem to be naturally veering towards 'Word' when I'm at my laptop instead of 'Mozilla'. I am excited about something I found on this blog about Better Writing Habits (thanks Miles). There's a program you can download for $10 that blocks your internet for up to 8 hours at a time (you choose how long you want rid of it). It's called Freedom, here's the link if you want to have a look. Dave Eggers uses it, this is a piece in The Guardian about him and it.

I'm thinking about it - I'd probably just try it for an hour or two at a time and see where it takes me. Or where I take me. It definitely answers my call of 'why can't the internet only come into my house for an hour a day???' which I've been known to wail when I've been more desperate and distracted.

Friday, 28 January 2011

end, middle, new

So we are nearly at the end of January. How did that happen? Oh, you know, one hour followed another, blah blah. It has gone pretty quickly for me.

I spent most of the writing-time I've had this month working on a story for the Mslexia short story competition. It's the one I was having trouble ending but I prepared for that and worked on it as much as I could without smothering it. In the past I've waited until a few days before a competition closes before I tackle the edit, often not subbing it at all because I've left it too late and it's not good enough. Or subbing it in a not-good-enough-state - that's the worst thing. Panic-subbing. Having said that, because this story's end went through so many re-writes, I didn't finish until the closing date itself. S'okay though - I worked at it, and it was the best it could be. Now - it's out there, and I have a sense of freedom that I can work on something else.

So, February's writing focus is on my book-project, and it's a totally different way of writing for me. Kind of. I'll explain - I'm working on a picture book, could be for young adults - though I'm not thinking too much about that yet, I'm just getting the story out. It's been brewing for a while, about 8 months. It started out life as some of my stories do - in my notebook with drawings around the sentences - and it's stayed like that. I mean, it hasn't graduated to the laptop. It feels natural that it has images with it, not always drawings, sometimes simple shapes, lines, or just the text broken up in a way that isn't like this: a sentence following a sentence. Then there are chunks like this: sentences following sentences. I am not thinking too much about how I will market this or what it's potential is. Not yet. I'm enjoying putting it together. As far as the story goes it's fairly loose, but the setting and the main character are strong.

I think, when I said it's a 'different way of writing' - that's not quite what I meant. It's a different thing I'm making. That's it.


And now, to be less about me and more useful for you - I used to list a website called 'Literature Training' as a useful resource for writers, but it has recently become integrated with the National Association of Writers in Education and is called 'The Writing Compass' with a new web address. It's now even more relevant and helpful (and isn't just for writers in education). There's advice on funding and mentoring, listings for competitions and literature magazines looking for submissions, job vacancies... Some of the info will be more relevant to UK-based writers, but the listings include comps and magazines that accept submissions from around the world. Here's the link.

Friday, 21 January 2011

Swoon

In the past I've been careful about taking too much from how other writers work - even though I love reading about their routines and habits and desks and what time they get up and all of that.

I couldn't write for a month after reading Stephen King's On Writing - he made his way sound so simple, so alluring that I tried to emulate it and couldn't, and felt like a failure. That was years ago, and I'm sure there were other things going on rather than me just being halted by King.

But similarly, I was aghast last year when I read that Kate Mosse gets up at 4am to write. You get a lot of that - writers getting up really early to write - for a while I thought that was the only way to do it.

But there is only your own way - as long as you're doing it.

This week I've been influenced, in a good way, by Susan Hill. I've never read any of her work, but she's been interviewed in various magazines and newspapers lately and I think I may have fallen in love with her.

She's direct, confident, assured, and prolific. Totally grounded. Really refreshing.

From her Mslexia interview:
"Who says you have to start writing first thing in the morning? ... Who makes these rules? This sort of thing makes people anxious about their writing before they've even started."


And from The Observer:
It seems redundant to ask if she enjoys writing. "Oh, God, yes!" she exclaims. "I can't stand those writers who make a fuss. I mean, you don't have to do it. I just can't understand this 'it's all so difficult' business. Yes, I love it, and I can't be bothered with 'it's such agony'. That is so pretentious."

Yeah. I love her.


You can read the full Mslexia interview here
and the Observer one here.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

endings are my weakness

Often, I have real trouble with ending my short stories in a way I'm happy with.

I want my endings to be ending-y enough, but not too THE END-y.

Do you know what I mean?

With the story I'm working on at the moment it comes down to pace. When I started editing it last week I noticed it suddenly speeds up about 3 quarters of the way through, smacking of 'desperately trying to end this now!'.

I think pace is hard to notice when you're up close to a story. I keep making edges of progress with this one and then leaving it for a few days for a bit of clarity. This is proving useful, and the end is forming a bit more naturally with each session.

It will be trying its luck in the Mslexia Women's Short Story Competition which closes on the 24th Jan.

Friday, 7 January 2011

Focus

Of my writing resolutions for 2011, I've realised there's one that's more important to get right than the others, and it's the one I've battled with since I started writing about 5 years ago. I listed it as be less distracted by the internet in my resolutions post, but more broadly it's about being focused when I'm 'writing'.

What I really want to get better at this year is using the time outside of my paid job in a more meaningful way. And, actually, it goes beyond writing, and into looking after my well being too.

The most frustrating thing I am prone to doing is being at my desk, wanting to write, but being unable to make the mental commitment to doing it. It's ridiculous, and I completely agree with people who champion the fact that writing isn't that hard - just fooking do it.

I want to make things easier for my brain. And what I tell you next is not mind blowing or revolutionary in the least, in fact it's simple and makes sense but for whatever reason I haven't tried it before now.

OKAY.

For the past 3 days I have changed one small thing that has had a huge impact on what I've written.

Do not go online until you have achieved X, Y and maybe one more thing, Z.

At the start of each day I've decided what X and Y and sometimes Z are, so today:

X = 500 more words on the book
Y = re-edit of short story for Mslexia comp
Z = more work on other book-in-progress

(Z isn't always there, it depends how much time I have in that day to dedicate to writing.)

No emails are checked, no blogs read, no online news fixes quenched until I've ticked off each thing to do for that day. And, it's going really well.

It's not a new thing for me to make lists or find new ways of making lists or attempt new ways of being productive or find new ways to measure productivity but isn't this just the most straight forward way of doing things, ever?

I must credit Nicola Morgan here, for her post just after the new year. Nicola looked back on 2010 and realised she'd really not kept her 2 fairly simple resolutions to put writing at the top of her work priorities, and relax and exercise each day.

It was something about Nicola's realisation that these 2 things - writing and taking care of herself - are the most important things she should attend to in her day that stayed with me after reading her post.

That writing should come first before all else is like I said, simple, unrevolutionary stuff, but gets to the core of what I've been trying to work out for ages.

So, there it is. Three days of doing this and I've written more, read more, relaxed a lot more, and felt in control because it's easier to measure my progress.

Aside from 'No Internet until X Y and Sometimes Z' I've also stopped using the computer for writing or online meanderings after 6pm. This helps distinguish between working and not working, and is probably better for my eyes and my back and my head.

If you're prone to email/FB/google distraction I'd urge you to try these 2 things - though I also know that finding ways to work is a personal thing. If you do try it, let me know. Or tell us how you already focus your writing time.

Sunday, 2 January 2011

sofarsogood

(not sofas r so good)

So far (yes, it's only the 2nd January) I've been better at the things I wanted to be better at this year - this mainly means I've been more focused on writing and when not writing I've been more relaxed, and also more active (offline).

I've been working on my book, my mystery book - my not - a - novel - not - a - biography - not - non fiction - book book. If work on it keeps a steady pace I'll start talking about it here. I don't know about you, but I definitely can't talk about ideas when they are in the early stages. It's not a superstitious thing, it's more that I'm still working things out and saying things about whatever it is can make me think 'eff off, that's crap'. Also, it has a few different possible directions and I want to know which one I'm taking.

BUT yes. I feel good. I hope the new year has brought optimism and ambition for your writing too.

A few links that might interest you:

Vanessa Gebbie
, who recently landed a contract with Bloomsbury to publish her first novel, took my request that she writes about the pre-publication process on her blog and has gone one better, starting a brand new blog where she'll share the journey from a novel being accepted to its publication. I'm really glad that Vanessa took that mini request and is being so generous as to share what must be an exciting, but often overlooked, and no doubtedly full-on in terms of hard work, part of the process of being a published author.

Two of my real-life writer friends started blogs recently: Anna is inspiring, she writes with honesty and bravery at Whatever Works and Kendal over at Ava and the Snowman is a new Mum conjuring thoughtful and beautiful prose. Go see...


I'd like to add to the blogs I follow, do you have any you'd like to recommend? Tell me about your daily must-reads.