Friday, 31 July 2009


So 2 months ago I entered a story, Blue Raincoat, into the Yeovil Literary Prize, which closed at the end of May. There was an online entry system and after the deadline you could actually check the status of your story by logging into your account (how cool).

I've checked it about once a week (how restrained) in the past month to see if there was any change from the 'Accepted, but not yet classified' status it achieved when I submitted it. There was no such change until today, when I happened to log in to see it 'Was not shortlisted'.


But please note, the 'bugger' is not too heavily attached to not getting shortlisted (although that would have been lovely).

You see, for a while I've had this year's Hay Short Story comp, with its given theme of 'Lost', on my list of potential places to sub to, and the deadline was today. It occurred to me a few weeks ago that Blue Raincoat would fit Hay's theme of 'Lost'. I didn't try to write it as a story about loss, but it is, so it might have been a subtle and maybe interesting take on their given theme. But it was out in Yeovil.

So, that 'bugger' feeling is more to do with the big faux-pas of entering writing prizes - thou shalt not sub simultaneously. It is not okay to send the same story to more than one place. Very rarely will you see 'simultaneous submissions okay' in the guidelines of a prize or a publication.

So usually it is either a rule breaking act or it's just frowned upon, and you'd be likely to piss off an editor or prize organiser if they contacted you to say your piece had been accepted/shortlisted and you had to 'pull it' because it had found a home somewhere else in the meantime.

And you'd be gutted if really you'd rather it have been placed in the place you'd be pulling it from.

So, I see simultaneous submissions are not just (often) against the rules of a competition but are also a pretty big gamble for the writer.

But, as I've said, I did think 'bugger' when today doubled as the 'Hay deadline day' and coincidentally the 'Yeovil finding out' day. A poetic bugger, at least. (I hope the word 'bugger' isn't offending anyone seeing as it's littered throughout this post... it's very British, nothing to do with bums.)

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

the view from

my desk (2006-2008)

*This post comes to you directly from the "I have not written anything new or subbed anything or have anything truly writerly to talk about today" side of my brain*

So I will tell you about how, in and around 2006, the view from my writing desk looked like this
(I have been perusing old photos, this one stood out, and I like it. Plus it's from a time before I went digital, so these are actual photographs):

It's out of date, and if it were a representation of my life and those I love, there are many people missing.

However. In this particular collage of a photograph you can see-

-many great friends

-including my cousin, taking centre stage (arm up like Bruce Forsythe)

-my boyfriend, Mario, top right (all the good blogs have a clever name or abbreviations for their other halves, don't they? Not I.)

-old housemates

-couples who sadly (only for me - they've moved on) are no more

-couples who are still together and even made babies (actually, just one such couple)

-family from the past (top centre - the only photo I have of me, my Mum and my brothers)

-the inherited family, that is Mario's family

-two girls I grew up with in school, and one I grew up with at university

-me and a pint (middle, far right) in Covent Gardens

-a piece of paper, on which I copied and pinned up the quotes from the Asham Award judges (2007?) saying what they wanted from their winning short stories.


I still find that useful now, and often reflect on these words. They asked for:
"Originality, ambition, daring, poise, wit, gusto. Wonderful characters. A brilliantly evoked sense of place. Fine plotting. Pitch perfect dialogue. I want to learn something."
(I particularly like those first 6 words.)

So that's that.

It's not the view from my desk now, even though I'm in the same room. I dismantled that board of photos because they started to feel out of date (those broken up couples, and the absences of the missing people) but I'm glad I took that photograph.

I took that little post-it down with the Asham judges ideals too, but it's burnt in me somehow - it's something I often recall when I'm writing a short story.

So, do you have a set of ideals you aspire to? Are they your own inspirations, or from elsewhere?

Friday, 24 July 2009

this writers life has its up and downs

and while I'm not 'down' as such, I felt a little 'downer' this morning when Flash Fiction Online decided not to go with my story after all (I wrote a few posts ago that 'How much breath?' had got to the second round of their selection process).

The rejection smarted like all rejections do at first. Any writers out there who have been subbing for years and don't feel that smart at all? Just curious.

I've been thinking lately about the difference between entering writing competitions and submitting your work to a publication, and the rejections that often follow.

Competitions don't formally reject you, they just don't contact you. You usually have an idea from the website or rules when they'll be contacting the winners, so at some point between sending your entry and not hearing anything back, you peacefully accept that you haven't won/been shortlisted.

But when you send a thing to a publication, you (usually) get a direct 'yes' or a 'no'. The time it takes varies, but most places will contact you to let you know the outcome of your submission. This is useful as far as getting a 'NO' goes, because you know for sure, and can dust yourself off and get the story sent elsewhere.

I've been sending work out to competitions and publications for quite some time, but this difference in the way you're rejected only recently came to mind.

It's part of the process of writing, of putting yourself out there to be judged in some way, and it's necessary if you want to be published. (Unless you're one of those people whose best friend's cousin is going out with the brother of an editor of a massive publishing house and somehow he stumbled upon your MS and he just bloody well loves it. Not you? Me neither. But that's ok. I like that saying about how you can wait for your ship to come in, or you can go out and meet it.)

The Guardian have contacted the winners of their short story comp, so knowing I'm not in that number I have sent that story to Tonto Books. I did this very quickly. Without editing, or refining (much). Tonto Books are running a competition, but they are also a publication. Will this result in a direct reject/accept email? Only time will tell (did I actually just type that?)

I have also sent another thing to Six Sentences, because I love that place. They published my story 'Velcro' a few weeks ago, and I felt like trying my luck with them again.

Tell me your acceptance/rejection stories and feelings. Not that we should dwell, but I'm interested.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

If I didn't have to go to work today

I would:

  • go for a long walk and have at least 3 amazing story ideas by the time I got home
  • make some coffee and set myself up by the window with notepad and pen
  • write something freehand, original and long without stopping
  • not even think about going online
  • type up the first draft of brand-new story on my laptop (still not thinking about going online)
  • edit and finish several works in progress and find places to sub them to (this will involve going online but I'll be very quick and productive)
  • be amazed as all the components of a plot for a novel fall into place in my mind for the first time ever
  • write the first 1000 words of that novel
  • eat very healthily and maybe do a few sit ups inbetween the various writing tasks
  • enjoy feeling completely fulfilled and happy about how I've spent my day

So it's just such a damn shame I have to go to work because today really would have been, like, the best writing day, ever.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

a snippet

of good news-

The editor of Fiction at Work emailed to say Approaching girls in Dixons has been accepted and will be published in their online magazine at the end of September.

I'm really pleased they've gone for it. It's quite a short and odd thing of about 75 words. And I can promote 'Fiction at Work' from the 'Waiting to hear back from' list into 'Coming Soon', which is a great feeling.

That's all for today, s'been a varied week so far: zombies, a long walk, Bruno at the cinema, reading, but no writing. Well, some notes, but no writing. Should see to that, really.

I think something might be happening sub consciously. Do you ever feel like that?

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Sunday was

a couple of days ago now, but still bloody brilliant.

So - all my worries aside about whether or not I'd be any good on camera - forget all that, because Sunday was about blood, and guts, and entrails, and bites, and fake limbs, and -

-okay - if I've lost you here I'm sorry - but it was ace being on set (ahem, in the alley way where we filmed) with everyone invloved and especially 2BadiesFX who came all the way from Leeds and Bradford having spent the past few weeks (or months?) making torsos and working out how to project blood from ankles and necks and bellies and...

-okay. I know, it's weird and gross and maybe not that interesting if you weren't there. But these 2 guys from 2Baldies, Darren and Ian, came with so much enthusiasm and expertise it was just cool to be involved, and see them at work.

I took photos, most of which I can't put up yet because they are essentially spoilers for the episode which isn't due to go online until Aug 10th. But I can show you some taster photographs.

Just a bag of entrails

Just a glob of blood hidden in my neck

Just a vat of blood

Just a vat of blood being poured into a beaker

Zomblogalypse episode 9 is online now (episode 10 is the one we just filmed).

Go to episode 9 to see the first episode the 2Baldies worked on. I'll just say 'brains'.

It's funny too, honest.

And I'm not usually into this sort of thing, honest.

(More about writing and being a writer again soon)

Saturday, 11 July 2009

Will I survive the Zombie Apocalypse?

- tomorrow I'll find out.

My friends Miles and Tony who make the awesome Zomblogalypse web series have roped me in to act in an episode.

Eeeeeeeek - is how I feel about it. I have a few film-maker friends and whenever I'm asked to be in something I feel the same.

I want to
, because I want to be supportive and I like what they're doing. I don't want to because I think I'll mess up and look stupid on film. Especially when magnified and projected onto a cinema screen. The I want to side wins though, it has to, because the I don't want to side is just lame.

If you haven't seen it yet check the website out - at around 10 minutes for each episode they're funny, gory and very inventive. AND they got a mention in Empire Magazine's newsletter last month. Ace.

I know just a few things about what I'll be doing - but the main one is acting 'traumatised' (easy). I can't give too much away or I'll spoil the episode, but I need two t-shirts of the same colour and their special effects guys will be there to do me a bite...

Oh, so I get bit - that answers my question up there, then.

And I've given quite a lot away, haven't I? Miles - if you're reading - tell me off if you want me to delete some of this :)

Friday, 10 July 2009

a thing completed, a thing rejected, a thing being considered

Completed - my submission for the Guardian Weekender short story competition. I stuck with my 'is it a story' story, fleshed some parts out, and sent it away.

Rejected - I received an email yesterday from Smokelong Quarterly to tell me they're passing on the flash I sent them. They only took 4 days to decide - which is a really useful turnaround. I felt that sting when I read the email, the 'whydon'ttheylikeit/me???' sting, before letting it go and reminding myself of all the reasons editors reject stories, and if they just didn't like it - that's okay.

Being considered - then this morning a much more hopeful email arrived in my inbox, and although I puzzled at the fact it's addressed to a 'Jenny', it does reference the name of the story I sent to Flash Fiction Online, who wrote to say it's passed the first round of their selection process. That's given me a nice boost, and fully exorcised any lurking rejection demons from yesterday. It's not a yes, but it's a possibility, and that's great right now.

Today I'm off work and I am having a day of no writing. At least no scheduled writing. I hardly ever do this because I always feel like there's something I should be working on. Today I think my brain needs to do something else. It's a beautiful day - so a spot in a cafe by the river I think, with Mslexia, is in order.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Some things I did today:

  • decided and believed that I'd write non stop between 10am and 12noon and in those 2 hours finish the story I'm working on for the Guardian competition
  • wrote very little between 10am and 12noon.
  • decided at 12noon that even though I only had today to really make progress with that short story, I was just far too tired and would have to lay on the sofa and watch Brothers and Sisters
  • got a second wind at 12.01 and changed my mind right back to: I WILL WRITE THIS STORY TODAY! In fact, I decided, I'd finish it by 2pm then reward that intense productivity with an afternoon with the latest issue of Mslexia (which arrived yesterday and I'm desperate to read it)
  • sat at a different side of my desk
  • unplugged the internet
  • plugged the internet back in and went on youtube to find this song by Simon and Grafunkel
  • played it loudly, thinking of this scene in Garden State where it rains A LOT on Zach Braff while that song is playing
  • noticed about half way through the song (as I stared outside my window, not writing) that it was starting to rain. Then it was raining A LOT.

  • felt a bit weirded out (Zach - was it you?)
  • and then ran into the living room with my camera to hang out of the window trying to take photos of rain (see above)
  • found one of those jumping spiders on my window ledge
  • poked it back outside with a long ruler
  • looked on the Guardian website and noticed the judges are looking for stories which are:

  • wrote a bit
  • read a bit
  • kept looking at that piece of paper
  • wrote a bit
  • saw 2pm come and go
  • but kept on writing, slowly
  • pretty slowly
  • until 15 minutes ago - I finished the first draft at 6pm.

It's a weird one, I think that's one of the reasons I've had to push it out. It's told entirely in dialogue between two characters. I didn't quite intend for that to happen, and I'm not sure it's even a story - one of the biggest doubts I have when I write a story - is it actually a story?

It might just be a conversation.

How do you know when you've written a story? I mean - is it as simple as beginning, middle, end, but not necessarily in that order?

Or is there something else, an ingredient that transforms a scene into a story?

Monday, 6 July 2009

In a mad rush

cos I'm about to start my bar shift-

but here's where today's story went to: Fiction at Work

And, like yesterday, the story I sent is a very short thing that once thought it was a poem. Or I thought it was a poem. It is now happily, a piece of flash fiction of just 75 words. It's called 'Approaching girls in Dixons' - but I'm concerned that Dixons doesn't exist now - did it merge with Currys and Currys came out victorious (name-wise)?

In other news - I took my laptop out for a write in a cafe garden, and after a while noticed many, many ants anting around near and across it. I'm wondering if any crawled inside...

And so today's sub to Fiction at Work concludes the manifesto (am I using the right word here?) I announced last Friday: 'I shalt sub one piece of work each day for the next four days' (or similarly worded) .

So that's good.

The next four days I will: 'Get something new written for that Guardian Comp'.

Sunday, 5 July 2009

So this is great -

- that neat little place I wrote about a few days ago, Six Sentences, have accepted my story, Velcro, and you can read it here.



Now, to the next thing - I'm sure there is a 'short story that shalt be subbed' on my hard drive somewhere, and I'm not afraid to use it. Sub it. Send it. Where to? Later.

A most unexpected story has just been subbed to SmokeLong Quarterly. Unexpected because I found the piece lurking in a folder called 'Poetry' which contains several of my tries at poetry, even though I have no idea what I'm doing with it. Poetry for me means adding more line breaks than usual. But I like line breaks, and I try to add them at places that feel right.

So, something which was once (but never really was) a 'poem' has now been transformed into a piece of flash fiction, mostly by deleting white space. It hangs together interestingly, and it's very short at 160 words. I like it. The editors ask for
'language that surprises', which I think is a great thing to ask for. They only accept 2% of the submissions they receive. Eeek.

I'm pretty relieved because I wasn't sure I'd have something I felt good about sending out today, and didn't want to sub a story half heartedly or for the sake of it.

I've had a good time rooting around my hard drive, and might even have unearthed an interesting idea or two for the Guardian Short Story Competition, which closes at the end of this week. With all my best stories at their annual outing in Bridport, I need to pull something out the bag in the next few days.

Saturday, 4 July 2009


So I'm keeping up the manifesto I laid out yesterday: 'I shalt sub a story each day for the next 4 days' (why '4 days' - why not a week? I'm not sure. But by Monday I'll have 8 pieces out there being considered, then I'll focus on writing something new).

I have just emailed Flashquake : an online magazine who publish flash fiction (for these guys it's anything less than 1000 words, and no minimum) with a 280 word bit of something. I actually tried my luck at Flashquake two years ago with a, erm, well - I think it might be a piece of 'Prose Poetry', which was fairly rejected. I had a look over it recently and saw its flaws quite clearly.

You can actually opt to receive 'editorial comments' with your rejection, and reader 1 who said these 3 little words : 'Melodramatic, awkward POV' about my rejected piece was bang on the money. (I did bruise at the word 'Melodramatic' though.) I'm welcoming the editorial comments again for the piece I've just emailed. A good chance to thicken the writing skin.

If anyone is interested in subbing, their current reading period ends July 31st, and they'll let you know around Aug 15th if you're successful or not.

Just received Tania Hershman's short story collection, The White Road and Other Stories from Salt Publishing
. I've seen Tania's name in almost every shortlist I've never made it onto in the past few years (might not be entirely true - but don't you find that there are certain names you recognise from shortlists of the prizes / places you send work to?) and I'm really heartened by her success as a short story writer, and now with her own collection. It's just so rare for publishers to take on someone who isn't a novelist and publish a collection of their shorts.

Salt though, are an independent and forward thinking publishing house in danger of collapse. You might have heard of their 'Just One Book' campaign because it's been big news, with celebs (well, Griff Rhys Jones - a meaningful celeb) and the world's media reporting on their bull-by-the-horns scheme to save their small press. It's heartening stuff; I recommend you take a look at this blog written by one of the founders.

In other news, I definitely eat more fruit when it's sunny. I also drink more wine. Will the two balance out?

Friday, 3 July 2009

Mostly about a film, a bit about writing

A good couple of days. Interesting sleeping patterns, a real-life catch up with a friend and a few email catch ups that have been long overdue. There are some people I need to see this summer, for it has been too long.

And so my 'Waiting to hear back from' list increases by one, with the addition of Flash Fiction Online. They like stories of between 500 and 1000 words, and I've just spent a good couple of hours getting a piece ready to sub. They take between 2 and 3 months to get back to you, so I'll just let this one go into the world of 'Waiting to hear back from' and never think of it again. Apart from whenever I look at that list on this blog. Which is maybe every few minutes.

So my mission for the next 4 days is to sub a story to each day. And I will. I'll post here about where and anything else interesting I find.

In other news, I went to see 'My Sister's Keeper' at the cinema where I work and had a thoroughly draining and edgy time. In the last week I have witnessed many, many people sobbing on their way out of that film. I'm the kind of person who cries at films/TV show/adverts really readily, so I was prepared. And it's bloody good at making you cry, bloody bloody good. You're just on the verge of tears through the whole thing. Montage after montage of shaved heads, days at the beach, moments on a trampoline.

I haven't read the book (or any of Jodi Picoult's books) but underneath all of those emotional slaps across the face there's an interesting story. So that's what I'd say - I like the story. I like the idea of 2 sisters under that kind of pressure and in that weird, horrible, but all-they-know-environment. I like Abigail Breslin because she was ACE in Little Miss Sunshine ('Olive' - isn't that the Best Name Ever?) and, I DID NOT expect this - but I like Cameron Diaz in this film. What a face she has.

And there's a character in it called 'Mark T Wayne' - which, in my world, is not at all a nod to Mark Twain - but the names of my 2 brothers, with my initial in between. My Mum, a big fan of coincidences, will love that when I tell her.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Here's the plan

You see those lists to the right of my blog? I wanna make 'em longer.

In particular, the
'Waiting to hear back from' section - this is for places I've sent stories to which are being judged/considered.

If a piece is accepted it will be moved into the
'Coming Soon' list, and then the 'My stories appear in' bit.

It's quite a good, simple, motivational tool for me. A kind of reminder to keep things moving and flowing, especially as I'm not really working on any new stuff this week.

But I am looking over old stories and seeing (immediately in most cases) how they need to be edited and re-worked into something publishable.

Along with this, I'm looking at new places to sub, big and small.

So today's new thing I found: a neat little place that only publishes stories that are 6 sentences long. I had an interesting time re-working an already written story made of 13 sentences into one made of 6.

I realise that this could be obvious to the editors when they read it, so it will be interesting to see if they go for it. They promise a reply in 6 days, so I'll let you very soon.