Monday, 30 November 2009

it's niche comedy

but I love him -

Off to see the versatile singer-songwriter John Shuttleworth from Sheffield South Yorkshire's new film - Southern Softies. AND Graham Fellowes is doing a live Q&A after the screening.

Even better, well what's making it even better for me is that my cousin is coming too, we're the same age and loved John Shuttleworth as teenagers. I don't get to see her much these days but it's ace when I do.

All that's left to say, is 'Oof'.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

opportunity: new competition from Leaf Books

Seems Leaf Books are expanding their competition-setting horizons with a few new categories - the one that's caught my eye is a 'Writing about writing' challenge.

They'd like 750 words on the theme of writing:

You can send us creative writing (a story or poem) or an essay/academic/journalistic piece, or even a stream-of-consciousness writers-block-induced panic, provided it’s on the subject of writing.

Lots of scope, I think, for interesting pieces. There's a handsome £100 first prize, plus publication in a pilot edition of a Leaf Books magazine - if the magazine takes off that'd be a nice addition to your writing CV.

There's a £3.50 submission fee, or £10 for 4 entries.

Closing January 31st 2010.

Since most writers love talking about writing, and writing about writing in their blogs, this could be a popular comp.

Good luck to all who enter. Just make sure you do some 'actual' writing too. (That's a reminder for me more than anything...)

Thursday, 26 November 2009

so that Bridport thing

happened at the weekend. Feels like a world away... it did take us 12 hours to get there and 12 hours to get back - but when you think of some of the other winners coming over from the US I realise I have no cause to mention my journey.

It's hard to know where to start - so I'll just start at the top and see what happens.

I woke up nervous. Really nervous, the kind of nervous where you think of all the times you've been an idiot in public and you're certain you'll be that idiot again. Or someone will ask you a question about writing and you'll answer it badly - thus revealing your actual non-writer status. Or you'll be dull. Bland. And you'll shake. You'll shake when you're reading your story on stage, and your mouth will be full of wool and your tongue is far too fat to be reading out loud anyway...

This lasted about an hour, but luckliy M is very good at bringing me down from such ridiculous heights of insecurity. I dusted myself down and felt better. Think I just needed to purge.

We were due at the Arts Centre at 12noon for champagne and photographs. I think we might have been amongst the first to arrive, but we were greeted warmly and given name our badges. Even M had one, but his did not have a red sticker on it - which meant 'a winner', rather than 'sold'.

We were directed upstairs to an exhibition space where the photographers were. The champagne went down quickly. I had my photo taken holding the anthology, which I hadn't seen yet - but when I started leafing through it the photographer assured me I'd have a copy waiting for me at my place on the table in the town hall where were having lunch. I stopped pawing it.

We made our way downstairs again, and in the time we'd been upstairs, so many more people had arrived, and the place was crowded. Frances, the organiser of the whole Bridport operation, recognised me and after we'd said hello she asked, "Have you met Ali yet?" I hadn't - I didn't know she was there - and Frances, knowing I was nervous, took my hand and led me through the crowd to her.

She is small, as small as me, and lovely, and warm, and her first words to me were, "Teresa - In a seaside cafe," and I felt phew - she did read it then. Which was obvious, she knew everyone's stories. Later, in her speech, she spoke baout how she'd spent the summer reading them and getting to know them. She was genuinely sad for the ones that didn't make it.

We talked for maybe 5 minutes. The first 30 seconds were taken up by me fawning, I won't use any direct quotes - but let's just say she looked a bit embarassed, and a bit stern, and she frowned and then swerved the conversation to me, and my writing, and my story. Which was an odd and brilliant experience. She said she was happy when she saw, that because of the alphabet, my story is the last in the anthology. She thinks it's a good one to end on.

She asked what I'm working on at the moment, and raised her eyebrows when I said I'd started a novel and one of the reasons is because so many people say you must write a novel asap if you want to get published. She didn't go into what she thinks about that, but she asked how I felt, and if I was ready to write a novel. I said I'm finding out, making notes and seeing where it takes me.

There were other people waiting to meet her, and so we ended our chat. I think I touched her arm as I said goodbye... take that not as a stalker move, but as a relaxed one. It felt okay to do that.

I rushed back over to M so I could relay everything to him before it disappeared from my memory and therefore ceased to exist. I felt relieved to have met Ali so early on, and ready to keep celebrating the day. I had another glass of champagne.

Lunch was a lively and informal affair, and we were lucky to be seated next to some lovely people: a fellow short story runner up, Anna Britten, and her husband Peter; and also 2 Bridport readers, Maggie and Liz, who are part of the team of volunteers who read all of the entries. There were approx 6500 short stories entered this year, and Maggie and Liz read 400 each. It felt a real privilege to be able to chat to them about the process, which involves a team of primary readers, secondary readers, and then one man, Jon Wyatt, selects the list which is passed onto the judge.

It really hit home at that point how much chance has played a part in getting me there. If the primary reader who read my story didn't like it, or it didn't hold up against the other pieces they'd read, that would have been it. My story jumped through 3 hoops before it got to Ali Smith. Think of all the stories, as good as and better than, the ones in the anthology. I don't for one second doubt the capabilities of the readers - Maggie's been doing it for 7 years, and was very serious about how she dealt with reading everyone's work, ensuring each entry is given a fair read, and respected.

One of the things that stood out during the whole experience is that the Bridport Prize is this big international prize, but behind it all is this small but dedicated team of people who just love short stories and poetry.

After we'd eaten the prizes were given out. Ali talked about the process of judging, and as I mentionned before, she felt for each story that she couldn't put through. She talked about the short story form, which she did brilliantly and you can read something similar in her Judge's Report. Then she read out the names of the runners up - my name came first. It felt like a long walk to the front to collect my envelope, and it's a bit of a blur but it included her handing it to me, saying well done, and the two of us having our photo taken. The rest of the story prizes were handed out, and then Jackie Kay - a smiling, sparkling lady with real warmth, talked about the poetry entries, and then handed out her prizes.

We were then all invited to an 'after-show event' hosted by the lovely Vanessa Gebbie, who came over and said a friendly hello to me during lunch, back at the Arts Centre. This was where the readings were to take place, and so the nerves reared their heads again, but just a little, just normal-scale nerves.

It was a great experience. My voice held, I didn't have a wooly mouth, my tongue isn't that fat. My legs did shake.

Here's Vanessa introducing me:

(If you look closely you can see my hands clutching the anthology...)

And here I am, reading: (please note how Vanessa's throne takes centre stage. And rightfully so.)

And that was where the day should have ended, after everyone read, and said their goodbyes, and parted. We were on our way out when the photographer came over to me, looking worried. The only photograph that hadn't turned out from the whole day, was the one of me and Ali Smith. BUT, if I didn't mind, I could go with her to Ali's hotel, and see if she was there, we could take it again. I really didn't mind.

Though, when we got there, she wasn't there. We waited a little bit. I should add here that this photo wasn't a souvenir for me, but for the local-to-me press release. It seemed we didn't know when Ali would be coming back, and so the photographer decided we should probably leave it, but she was really sorry. So we got up to leave, and in she walked.

She was first suprised, then worried we'd been waiting for ages, and then very happy to have her photo taken again with me.

Look at my eyes - can they get anymore "OHMYWORDIMHAVINGMYPHOTOTAKENWITHALISMITH!"

And that, really was, that. We said goodbye and I left the hotel feeling thrilled, relieved, tired, excited, and ready for a drink. I found it hard to sleep that night, with so many things swimming in my head - my conversations with Ali, the people I'd met, but most of all the stories I'd read - there are so many wonderful stories and poems in the anthology.

In a way, I wish I'd had chance to read them before the event, just so I could tell the other writers how much I liked their work.

I am left with an inspired feeling, particularly about the short story form. I think I am a fan of fragments coming together to make a whole, which, I guess is what every piece of writing does, but when it happens in short form it's something else.

Friday, 20 November 2009

away I go

Just heading to London now for a brief stop-over to see friends before travelling to Bridport tomorrow - eeeek - prize giving is Sunday, I'll be back home Monday night.

Have decided at last minute to do a reading from my story on Sunday - I was asked a couple of weeks ago but declined, thinking I'd be bad at it/nervous etc - but well, what the hell, it's a great opportunity to push myself a bit into a new territory so I'm going to do it.

Just need to hunt down a hard copy of my story now to take with me - printer's broken - got one somewhere...

Back Monday!

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

a Bridport 2009 winner

I've been sitting on this news for almost 2 months; I couldn't 'make it public' until now. Talking about it here was out of the question, which was tough - this blog being about the writing hike - and this news being the biggest writing thing that's happened to me so far.

On September 23rd I got an email from the organisers of the Bridport Prize to tell me that my story, In a seaside cafe, is one of the 13 winning stories this year.

If you're a writer who's been sending work out you'll know what the Bridport Prize means, and the weight it carries, and you'll understand how my face went numb when I read the email, and how because I was on my own in the house I had to get a large vodka right away to celebrate.

And, if you were around at the start of my blogging life (June) you might remember me talking about getting my Bridport entry ready, and how I felt both inspired and intimidated by this year's judge: my favourite writer, Ali Smith.

It is an odd feeling to know that she's read and chosen my story, and even harder to take in that there were 14,500 entries (including poetry) this year.

On Sunday I'll be attending the prize giving in Bridport, where Ali Smith will be, and I have no idea what the day will be like or if I'll meet her, but I'm excited, nervous, anxious, thrilled, and all the rest.

It's weird because I've known about this for so long I thought I'd got used to the idea - but my stomach is doing flips as I write this blog post.

And now I have to dash out to work. I'll be writing here about what happens next and the prize giving - unless I make a faux pas - which I have a habit of doing when in the company of people I admire (as a teenager I told Tim Wheeler from Ash that he was a 'babe'. I won't say that Ali Smith. Must not say that to Ali Smith).

Nano Week 3

I think it's week 3..?

Just a short post to say things are moving, just slowly. Wordcount is out the window. And irrelevant, because I'm not doing NaNoWriMo like all the people who really are striving and hitting wordcounts all over the place. I'm kind of mooching at my own pace, making notes, deciphering the story.

I've stopped taking my laptop out with me to write, and instead I'm filling a notebook with ideas and scenes and timelines and spidergrams and drawings. It feels impossible, and not right for me right now, to be thinking about wordcounts. I am dusting off my idea and seeing where it's going. I'm enjoying the process.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

a new competition

has been set up on the all-new Tomlit Blog.

We'd like you to write 500 words (or less) using the theme 'Reunion' as a prompt. Stories and poetry welcome.

The winning piece will be published in the next issue of Tomlit Quarterly.

If you'd like to enter
- become a follower of the Tomlit Blog (though we'd love you to do that anyway)
- email your submission to
- post a comment on the Tomlit Blog to say you've entered

This is our first competition and we'd really appreciate your support in spreading the word. If you'd like to link to us, or write a post about us, that would be wonderful.

Thank you!

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Opportunity - One Story

This week's Interesting Place To Send Your Writing To is a fairly unusual one.

One Story is a magazine that showcases one short story per issue. It's mailed out to subscribers (about 5000 of them) every 3 weeks.

It's small and neat looking. The website is impressive.

I like the feeling of the operation; they're very supportive of their writers.

I like that they'll only ever publish a writer once - so there's less 'in crowd', and more opportunity.

And, they pay - $100 dollars plus 15 copies of the magazine. Getting paid is nice, but what's nicer is that feeling I'm getting about how they feel about the short story - there's a lot of respect and admiration for the form:

We believe that short stories are best read alone. They should not be sandwiched in between a review and an exposé on liposuction, or placed after another work of fiction that is so sad or funny or long that the reader is worn out by the time they turn to it.

And they're thorough - there's a generous interview with the writer in each issue - a nice touch.

So, here's the basic info:
Send: literary fiction
Length: 3000-8000 words (consider that the story will be 'standing alone', so they're looking for a sense of satisfaction and wholeness)
How: online entry, automated system
Turnaround time: 4-12 weeks
Pay: $100 and 15 copies of the magazine

Take a look at the site and let me know what you think.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Inner critic rears head in Nano Week 2

Though, actually - it's pretty much always there when I'm writing. Just yesterday it was bloody persistent and took the form of a Newsnight Review panelist:

"...and that entire section of 2nd person, I mean - what on earth was that? Why bother? Oh yeah, observations about life, blah blah: meaningless. Nothing to do with the story, or the plot, just a contrived attempt to jazz up a - quite frankly - very dull novel."

Be gone!

Monday, 9 November 2009

Aesthetica results

Just had an email to say that while I'm not a finalist, my stories Blue Raincoat and Waking have been Highly Commended in the Aesthetica Annual Creative Works Competition.

There were 2500 stories: 50 were highly commended and 16 made finalists.

So, a pleasing result :)

an interesting fish

This week's place to send your work to is fairly big and well known. If you've been entering writing contests for a while you've probably heard of Fish Publishing and may even have their annual Short Story Prize on your calendar. It closes at the end of November.

But I actually wanted to alert you to their One Page Story Competition, which I found out about today, and am particularly intrigued about because of the interesting choice of judges, John Hegley (a performance poet) and, the one I'm really excited about: Simon Munnery.

Simon Munnery is a left-field comedian I've liked since I was a teenager (his character Alan Parker - Urban Warrior was much quoted in our classroom) and I've continued to like and appreciate his style as I've got older and seen so much fake and run of the mill stand-up comedy.

I saw him at Edinburgh a couple of years ago in a small but packed out venue and his show was so much more interesting and daring than the more commercial acts I saw. Simon Munnery is an artist of a comedian, and I'm really curious about his involvement in this prize, and what kind of judge he'll be. It will definitely make me consider the story I write for this prize, and push me to be daring too.

Here's the info:
Closes: March 20th 2010 (loadsa time)
Results: April 30th (quick turnaround)
Online entry fee: 12 euros
Max words: 300
First prize: 1000 euros plus publication in the anthology
9 runner up prizes of 50 euros and publication

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Days 6, 7 and 8: ahem

I decided to dedicate days 6 and 7 (Friday and Saturday) as no-Nano-zones. I'm on holiday from work and I planned a few visits to see friends and family at the end of this week, so knowing I'd be away from my laptop, in the company of others and travelling in between various places I thought it safest to give myself a break. Unless a magic inspirational thing happened where I had to write the novel. It didn't. I'm okay with that.

I love train journeys, and I made 6 in 2 days, visiting 2 sets of friends and then heading to Leeds last night to see Mew play- part of M's birthday present and a brilliant gig.

Being small, I'm used to not seeing everything that happens on stage, but Mew project animations created by their lead singer on the wall behind them - odd animations, line drawings, words, a cat playing a violin, an old woman telling us she was shaking... it was an eerie and wonderful effect and I appreciated the extra visuals no end.

The only video I could find one youtube is this one, take a look if you fancy. Go to 2mins 25secs - ish to see the violin playing cat. I just love the way it blinks.

So, okay then - today should have been a Nano-doing-day. It's day 8. I haven't Nano-ed.

Maybe I made a mistake leaving a couple of days out, so it's harder to get back 'in'.

Anyway, I decided to edit a short story instead, but then I got distracted by a new idea - what! I'm not supposed to be having new ideas until December! - but I went with where I was drawn to - grateful for the creative pull - and wrote a new piece of flash fiction. I've even sent it away already - it's gone to Six Sentences - fingers are crossed they'll like it enough to put it on the site.

So, 3 days without working on my novel, just a week in to NaNoWriMo. I'm not worried. I realised early on that I haven't signed up for this to get all angsty about what I'm writing and how much and when. Okay, that's sort of the point of NaNo - to write a definite amount NOW. But, I feel strangely at peace with the way I'm doing it, it's working out okay. I think.

Saturday, 7 November 2009

new piece over at Pygmy Giant

called 'Train starts to move'. I wrote it a couple of years ago, sent it to Pygmy Giant a couple of weeks ago - and here it is.

Published on a day when I'm making 3 train journeys - spooky.

Heading into town now to buy Writers' Forum - my contributor's copy hasn't arrived yet, but I want to see it - especially seeing as I've had a few text messages from my brothers saying they've seen it. I'm impatient.

I spent last night with one of my best friends, drinking wine and watching the film we watched pretty much on repeat as teenagers.

Still awesome! (yeah, I said awesome...)

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Days 4 and 5: voices

So many voices! I've got 6 bloody characters all fighting to tell their story.

So yesterday and today have been about letting them. I'm not being too strict with how I do this, just seeing who I feel like writing as and having a go. I'm not sure if in the final draft they'll all be there, but it's helping me, at this stage, to see how they link together.

I've, very roughly, split the story into sections of time, and arranged them in the order they might work in. So we go something like - present day to 1965 to 1981 to 1992 to 1968 to 2010 present day again.

I'm holding off doing any research on the 60s yet. When I do, I'd like to find a book called 'Everything you need to know about what it was like living in Britain in the 1960s' which will, as it proclaims, tell me everything I need to know. That's how it works, doesn't it? The research thing? One perfect book to enlighten you. Good.

Word count so far - 5000. I'm increasing what's on my laptop by roughly 1000 words a day, and making notes and scribbles in my notebook which sits at the side of it as I go along.

I usually write in a coffee shop in the morning and today I was treated to a low, soft, but fairly husky sing-along of 'Mr Bojangles' from the old man sat at a neighbouring table. He only knew those two words, so it wasn't really a sing-along - the song just went surround-sound every now and again.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Day 3: muchos notos

- which means today I have written a lot of notes.

This is good. I've been 'fleshing' today, getting closer to working out what's going on and why and when and to whom and with what and where.

Something that's suprised me about this process is the scope - in terms of time - my idea covers. It's not going back to Ancient Egypt or anythin, but it's gone back several decades further than I imagined in the beginning.

The story spans 40-50 years, but isn't told chronologically, so I'm playing around with the order that will best tell it.

Wordcount-wise, I'm not sure. I probably have 3 thousand words of notes in longhand as well as bits I've written in and around the story on my laptop.

Now, I'm going to go and run somewhere so as to feed that bit of my brain as well.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Day 2. Verdict: better

Yes, better, I was better at NaNoWriMo-ing today.

Still below the word count, but - things took off in an unexpected way, a background character became one of the most, if not the most, important character in the book. I say 'book', I mean 'scribble'.

It's exciting. It felt good. It wouldn't have happened if I wasn't doing NaNo.

And today I reminded myself that however I move forward with this is okay. It doesn't 'fit' at the moment for me to write reams of prose, and I'm probably not ready for it. My novel is still a fossil that I'm dusting off (that's a Stephen King-ism from his writing manual On Writing). So I'm playing around and making notes, often just typing ideas out or questions about where things could go, how characters link together, or scenes I should include.

It's fun! And it should be. I will remember that.

Oh, so wordcount: 2017

All good in the hood.

(yeah, I just said that.)

Sunday, 1 November 2009

NaNoWriMo Day 1

Is harder than I thought. That's a lie, I knew it would be hard. I have serious problems with actually sitting and writing a lot of words all at once.

I'm okay with that, most of the time, considering that we all write differently and I'm not a believer in pushing yourself so much that you lose the energy and thrill of it. And I sort of potter around when I'm having a writing session, going from story to story, laptop to notebook.

Having said that, I do want to get better at writing a lot in a day. So that's why I'm having a go at NaNoWriMo.

Day 1: 824 words. Not even half of what I'm supposed to have written (daily word count should be 1667 to hit the target of 50000 for the whole month).

Procrastination techniques used today: 3 episodes of Coronation Street, polishing the living room furniture, deleting old text messages, biting all my finger nails, reading synopsis of next 2 weeks worth of Coronation Street episodes, pruning basil plant, googling 'how old is Barbara Windsor's boyfriend?' (He's actually her husband. And he's 46.)

Tomorrow, I'll be soooo much better.