Monday, 22 February 2010

Tell me how you write - Part 4 - Alex Thornber

Here's Alex: editor of Tomlit, story maker, appreciator of analogue, to tell us how he writes.

I write to try and understand; whether it is the tender relationships between men and women or my own mind, for some reason writing it down makes it more real, easier to deal with.

I write every day, it may not always be fiction but I will write something: fragments, observations, overheard conversations. Sometimes, when words are not forthcoming, I take photos or draw.

I used to search everywhere for the perfect notebook. Until a few years ago I just wrote on anything I could find: till receipts, flyleaf, old school books etc. This proved to be a troublesome, as I invariably misplaced it all. I was mostly writing songs at that time though and it is probably a good thing they were lost. My parents bought me an A5 plain page notebook for a birthday gift one year and I filled it up in no time with giant, unorganised scrawling. It was then that I knew I would need lines, discipline, structure. I couldn't go on wasting paper, trees, ink.

When I first had the urge to write every day I bought myself a lined pocket Moleskine. Amazon recommended one to me, I don’t remember why, and it was reduced, so I took a chance. To cut out a long rambling process of trial and error with planners, different notebooks and pens, I moved from writing everything in one book to putting different things in separate books. Now, in my arsenal I have one lined Moleskine-esque notebook for writing first drafts of stories. I found this one in my local bookstore for £3. Though it is an imitation, it has a border around each page and extra space above and below the top and bottom lines; these are perfect for editing first drafts.

For the rest of my activities, writing fragments, drawing, journalism notes/plans and my book journal, I use Moleskine Cahiers, in both plain and lined pages. To keep these in order and portable I made the book you can see below.

It is a hollowed out Moleskine 18month planner with the cahiers attached by elastic bands. This way I can take out filled books and put in fresh ones. The front addition is the wonderfully handy and organised Nabakovian index cards. I write various things on these and when they are filled I put them in the back cover folder until I have dealt with them.

I write exclusively with Bic Medium's.

This way of doing things has vastly helped my organisation. Now I no longer forget or lose anything.

Hemingway said that the key to writing is to “write the truest sentence that you know.” When I first read this line, a few years ago now, it was almost like everything I had done up to that point was wrong. It was a clarifying moment. I finally understood why the stories I had been making up were rubbish; they were made up.

Everything I have written since then has either happened to me, or to someone I know. In some way, I am in every story I write.

Hemingway taught me to tell the truth. Raymond Carver taught me that the average person is far more fascinating than the unique. Without those two, I cannot say whether I would be writing today.

I write to understand. To organise my mind. To trap my thoughts on a page where they can’t bother me.

Alex Thornber writes stories, non fiction and blogs. He loves typewriters and 35mm cameras. He edits Tomlit Quarterly and has recently entered the world of zines with 'No Use Crying Over Spilt Ink'. To read his stories and keep up to date with things go to

Friday, 19 February 2010

fish and see!

Fish - I've been longlisted for the Fish Short Story Prize, amongst 350-450 other writers - a huge number, and so my chances of making the shortlist are well, short, but I'm really happy to be on the long longlist, and will find out before the end of February if I get any further.

and see! - unknown writers do make it off the slush pile and get their first novel published for loadsamoney.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

some things

1. Tomlit Vol.2 came out a month ago and I didn't blog about it. This is bad behaviour for the Fiction Advisor (I'm very proud of that, check out the contents page). You can read it below, or visit the website, or the blog. The best thing you could do is read it, and if you like it, tell someone else about it. If you're a writer you could even send us a story, or a poem, for the next issue,Vol.3 which will be out in a couple of months.

2. Excitingly (is that a word?) 100 Stories for Haiti has a publication date: March 4th. You can order the paperback in advance, follow this link for the official website. Here's the front cover - if you look to the top right, above the logo, next to 'Greg McQueen' you'll see the first 5 letters of my name. Oh yeah, I'm in there.

The book costs £11.99 plus p&p. If you buy it direct from Bridge House Publishing, 60% of that cover price will go to helping the victims of the Haiti earthquake.

3. Yesterday I felt the happiest and most rested I have in a while. Nothing big happened, just a lie in, a matinee at the cinema and a pub meal. Came home and took a glass of wine plus notebook and pencil in the bath with me. Had at least 3 writing project/story ideas there - was it the wine or the relaxing day or that I wasn't really trying - not sure, but I felt connected to writing again.

4. Booked tickets to a Kate Atkinson Q&A and a Jon McGregor one too. Love Kate Atkinson, Behind the scenes at the museum is just one of my favourite books. And I'm half way through McGregor's latest novel - Even the dogs - and that's pretty inspirational too.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Tell me how you write - Part 3 - Diane Becker

Here's the third in the 'Tell me how you write' series of guest blogs. Over to the rebellious (she doesn't write on the lines) and enviable (she has a cat) artist and writer Diane Becker.

I remember being told off at school for writing between the lines. I was probably about five or six, and it wasn’t that I couldn’t do it, there was something about writing on-the-line that constrained me - still does - which is why I use unlined notebooks. I used to write in artist sketchbooks, but for the past couple of years I’ve used Moleskines. Give me one of these and the right sort of pen and I’m happy.

The right sort of pen is much more humble. I’ve only used four different makes of pen over the last twenty or so years. I started with those yellow-orange barrel fine BIC biros, graduated to the transparent ones - as long as it had black ink - and now love the Uniball Eye waterproof/fade-proof gel pens and Berol Handwriting pens (the red ones, for school, ironically) which allow my thoughts to glide across the page.

I like to have everything within arms reach when I’m writing. This is usually at the kitchen table, and at the expense of space for the two of us to eat. I have a stack of IKEA drawers beside me, my printer - covered with a towel to keep the coal dust from the stove out of it - and on top of this there’s usually a cat. This all sounds a little writerly, but this is how it is. I spend much of each day - probably too much if I’m being honest - sat at my laptop, doing some sort of writing, research or reading. I use the laptop for most things I do - it’s a MacBook - and I love it for lots of reasons, but mostly because the keyboard is bliss to use and it’s processor makes almost no noise at all. I can touch type as fast as I think and although I print out drafts, I do most of my revising and editing on the screen. My laptop is a microcosm of my world, which some might think sad - but really it’s my lifeline to what’s going on out there.

I derive a real physical and aesthetic pleasure from writing by hand, but save my notebooks for bedtime - for writing down ideas, snippets of dialogue, journal stuff and observations - and always take one with me when I venture out. I’d feel naked without one.

DIANE BECKER is a writer and artist/designer, based in the NW. She is deputy editor of The Short Review, has short stories and poetry in several lit mags including The Pygmy Giant and micro-fiction anthology, 6S Vol2 and a flash piece up now at Metazen. She blogs here.

Friday, 5 February 2010


to be in this list: the 100 stories for Haiti Book Project

I wasn't too confident about sending something, but really wanted to be a part of this. Wonderful.

Please follow the link and support however you can.