Monday, 31 December 2012

2012 in photos

A year of two halves. (Halfs? No, halves.) It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

It was the most unsuccessful writing year I've had. Here is a photo of my rejection section (the back of my notebook where I keep track of the stories out there being considered for publication/prizes)

In case you're in any doubt, this was the result of most of my subs this year:

In total, I sent 22 pieces away and had only one 'YES'. Here it is, a little boat holding onto hope in an evil and callous sea: (why am I getting rejected when I write so evocatively????)

The story that got that one 'YES' of the year is called Fake French Fish and it appeared in the print edition Oblong Magazine. A little bit of shine is taken away from that though because it's my friend's magazine, and she asked me to send something. She still could have said 'NO', of course.

What's this?! Neither a YES nor a NO but a maybe - well hello:

This question mark is for a thing I am waiting to hear back on - a short travel piece I sent to Litro Magazine a few months ago - they contacted me a couple of weeks ago to say they really liked it but it didn't quite feel finished - would I consider extending it? YES, I said. So I added a couple more hundred words (they were right, it did need more) and sent it back at 'em. That was Dec 20th, so I'm guessing they might be on holidays - so maybe, maybe, maybe baby - they'll like it and publish it in the New Year. That'd be chuffin ace. I'll keep you posted.

So yeah, if you look at the year in terms of getting stories published this writer had a dry one.

BUT. The upside, regular readers will know, is that I set myself the task of creating an anthology of my short stories, some existing, some half existing, some I birthed out of me all new in October as I spent the month focused on having a collection to sent to Salt Publishing's Scott Prize.


These individual stories merged together into a whole which I called Things Which Are Not True. (That's actually an exclusive piece of information right there.)

I'm not sure of its fate yet. Salt will announce the shortlist in February, so there isn't too long to wait. I feel at peace with it, whatever the outcome.

 And so it's time to leave 2012 behind and move forward. I'm a big fan of New Year. I've always liked the passing of one year to the next, and I always feel optimistic about the year ahead. Anything can happen. I have a few things in mind for this year, but mostly I want to keep going as I am. I don't feel a need to make any big changes but to just grow naturally (easily done this time of year, ahem) and stay true to the kind of writing I like to write.

So, I wish you all a happy and peaceful time. A time you make your own, doing what you love, on your own like lone wolf full of confidence, or alongside the others in your pack.

Friday, 28 December 2012

More stuff about 2012

Some things that happened this year:

 - I deactivated Facebook

 - I discovered the Golden Syrup and Chocolate varieties of Weetabix.

 - I hardly wrote anything with a pen and on paper

 - I noted that some people look at me with sympathy when I wear my bobble hat

 - I stopped doing two spaces after full stops

 - I got a lot more relaxed about a lot of things

 - But I confronted some people when they'd pissed me off

 - (example) I stared at the girl who served me in KFC until she returned my 'Hello'

 - I don't have a designated writing space anymore.

The last one isn't strictly true - I do still have the space, I just don't use it. In April I bought a netbook so I could take my writing around with me, and since then, even when I'm at home, I don't use the desk anymore. I didn't think this would happen. At my desk there is a computer and also a bit of space (if I shove things) to write on paper.  I have things around me that I like, there are some pictures of those things here.

I liked having that space to sit and think. But I suppose I wasn't that loyal to it after all.

Now I sit on the sofa, cross-legged, a cuppa at my side. 

Or I sit in a cafe, cuppa at my side (what I'm doing now).

I might reclaim that space this year. Might need to have a re-think and a re-arrange to make it feel new and fresher. More fresh. The freshiest.

It would be nice to have a whole room (of one's own) one day but I'm not yearning for it, not really. What I need more than physical space is mental space, head space. I can sit somewhere busy and manic and write as long as there is freedom in my mind, that's what belongs to me, and that's what I try to claim for myself.

What about you? Where do you write?

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Some things about 2012

Between now and the New Year I'm going to write a couple of posts about things about 2012. It's all quite vague at the moment, I'm not planning it out meticulously, I'll just write something every few days.

Today I'll tell you about... a writing lesson what I learned.

There was a story I'd been working on for a while. A good long while actually. Though not continuously, I'd been hacking and hammering away at this story for about 2 years. I'd sent various versions of it away, and it didn't ever get anywhere. The ending was wrong, all the endings I'd tried were either too quick or a bit too sentimental or a bit... mental (main character turned into a spider).

So. When Costa announced their all new really good sounding Short Story Prize, I thought - right, story - you're gonna get finished  - finished in a good way - and I'm gonna get you sent off to win the Costa Prize.

Amazingly, something clicked and I got the pacing and the ending just right and felt good about the whole story at last. A new character had arrived at the last minute, a small one, but she lifted things in the right way. The problem was - she existed in real life, in name at least. But from my long ago past - she was a primary school teacher. As I wrote this character in, I used the name of that real-life teacher because for the time being I couldn't think of another name, and I didn't have loads of time. It wasn't really her - it was a fictionalised version - nothing that she did in the story was true - I just 'saw' her as I wrote it. I knew I'd change her name before I subbed it.

And I did. I used good old 'find and replace' in Microsoft Word. But this name was also a word. Not this word, but a word like 'Right'. So I replaced all the instances of  (Mrs) 'Right' with a new name, 'Barker'. But that replaced all the times I'd used the word 'alright' as a normal word as well - but it was okay because spell check threw them up in red. e.g sentences like, (but not) "it's going to be alBarker". Ho ho ho. So I corrected them all, and with a few minutes to spare I subbed my story - and I felt all good and optimistic.

And then. I thought, 'I'll just have a look over that story again. After all, it is pretty amazing,' (oh you're heading for a fall, Stenson) and within about 8 seconds I saw a typo I'd missed, a product of the 'find and replace', which hadn't shown up in spell-check red because it was spelt okay but just made no sense. It was  in the very first sentence and just looked - well, weird. It read something like (but not) "the opposite of wrong is Barker".

A daft mistake in the first sentence of the story I'd been reaching for for 2 or more bloody years. Gah, aaagh, bleugh, and other noises came from me. I fell back on my bed and slapped my own face several times. YOU IDIOT, STENSON! You left it until the last minute AND you trusted a computer program to do your dirty work, YOU IDIOT! I raged, imagining the 1st reader of my story casting it aside, 'the opposite of wrong is Barker? what is this IDIOCY? rahahaha'.

So - after a few minutes more of slapping my face I let it go and thought - what will be will be. They might get over that weird word and find a story they like. They might think I'm really innovative and avant-garde, making words up or something.

None of these things happened. I didn't get anywhere in the competition but I did learn - or should hopefully have learnt (we'll see) - not to leave it to the very last minute and NEVER EVER to use find and replace so nonchalantly and also possibly to not use real life names of real life people in fiction.

So there we go. Meanwhile, really serious things are happening elsewhere in the world.

But this is a writing blog. Did you learn any writing lessons this year?

Friday, 7 December 2012

Interview with David Lear, Editor at Firestone Books

Firestone Books, a new publishing company set up by David Lear, are now open for un-solicited submissions from writers. As well as novels, they accept short story collections. This being fairly rare to find I thought it’d be a good idea to have David along to the blog to chat about Firestone, and what they’re looking for.

Hi David. Tell us a little about yourself.
Aside from my interest in fiction, I’ve had fun over the last few years learning circus skills (mainly acrobatic tumbling), drawing, genealogy, geology and trying to fathom the strange universe that is quantum mechanics. 
I also met three killers before the age of eight, and saw a ghost when I was a child.  Luckily my adult life has been less frightening!

Why did you want to start up your own publishing company?
I’d always enjoyed writing and had a story published in an anthology a couple of years back.  When I got my copy of the book I noticed a few errors and I wondered if I could do a better job.  This idea quickly mutated into dreams of setting up a publishing company.

What makes Firestone Books different to other publishing companies?
Our first two anthologies contain the earliest science fiction tales ever, dating back two thousand years.  As far as I’m aware we’re the only company to have put together such anthologies.  

For the moment at least, we’re more likely to accept submissions than other publishers. We have at least half a dozen slots to fill, so we’re well worth approaching. 

I also have ideas which I daren’t mention just yet (sorry), but if I can pull one of them off it’ll bring a host of readers (and new authors) to Firestone Books. 

What kind of submissions are you accepting?
We're currently accepting science fiction, fantasy, crime, mystery and horror fiction. These can be novels or short story collections.  We're not accepting poetry, plays, picture books or individual short stories, I'm afraid.  To contradict myself slightly, if an author had say three titles published by us and the titles were selling well, we would consider publishing either poetry or plays by that author. 

When you're reading a manuscript, what do you look for?  
Aside from following the submission guidelines which my colleague has mentioned on the website, I’m looking for good, commercial fiction.  I want a good plot and interesting characters.  Prose should be easy on the eye, rather than intellectually demanding.  I’d love to sign a modern day Virginia Woolf, but it would be even better to sign the next JK Rowling. 

What can a writer do to make their submission stand out?
Following the guidelines is a good start.  It is very easy to overlook something a publisher has asked for.  The cover letter is vital and writers should sell themselves as much as possible here.  If a writer has had stories published elsewhere and they have their own website, it shows both talent and commitment, and can tip the balance in their favour.   

What should they absolutely not do?
Disregarding the submission guidelines is probably fatal.  A genuine mistake is completely forgivable.  We’re happy for writers to simultaneously submit their work elsewhere, as long as were notified of this. 

When you take a writer on, what can they expect from Firestone Books?
The writer will either have an eBook contract or both an eBook and paperback contract.  If it’s the latter then the author will receive six complimentary copies of their book.  In both cases profits will be split fifty-fifty between the writer and publisher, which is pretty generous.

If they have an eBook only contract, they can choose the length of the contract (between one and five years), and if their eBook sells five hundred copies or more, the writer will be automatically entitled a paperback contract.

Authors who have paperback contracts can get involved in creating the cover if they want to. We’re hoping to use the very talented Stuart Bache, who has created covers for the likes of Stephen King and John le CarrĂ©.

We won’t ask for a cut of film, TV and other rights, which is something many publishers do.  The author will retain all these rights.

And what do you expect from the writer?
I hope our authors will be up for interviews with magazines, as this will be one of our main marketing methods.

I also see Firestone Books as an investor in authors, rather than in books.  By this I mean that we’d hope to publish more than one book by any author we sign.  Having twenty four books by twenty four writers isn’t good.  It’s harder to manage, and returning readers will be disappointed to see their writer only has one published work.  Having six authors with four books is a much better state of affairs, so I hope authors, in the long term, will be looking to submit more than one book to us. 

Tell us what's coming up for Firestone in the next year.
Our two early science fiction anthologies will be coming out in paperback in the next few months and I’m looking forward to welcome the first few writers aboard.


Thanks, David – that all sounds fantastic. I like that you see investing in writers as important, and it’s heartening that you accept short story collections too.

You can find Firestone Books website here.
And follow on Twitter here.

David is happy to answer any questions you have in the comments here, so please just ask and interact if you wanna. 

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Where've ya been

Well well well. It's been a while.

So what happened is... I haven't been writing. After all the motivation and getting-it-done of October, November carried with it good intentions, but no real hutz-pah. I've been turning up, you know, sitting at the laptop, having a go, but there isn't really much to show. (Though I do seem to keep rhyming, accidentally.)

Now November has turned to December and the oh-shit-it's-nearly-christmas feeling has kicked in and I find it much harder to focus on writing. I always feel like I should be doing something else this month, like there isn't enough time to do it all. Time goes a bit mad in December, doesn't it. In truth, I long for January, the whole year stretched out ahead, anything possible. Til then I'm going to take all expectations off myself and let this month unfold the way it wants.

Announcement: on Friday we'll have a special guest here, David Lear, Editor of Firestone Books - open now for submissions, to talk about what they're looking for. Do come back for that.

How are you finding December? Can you switch off from all the jingle-bells and write? 

Monday, 12 November 2012

Writing Competitions Closing soon

So, after a little break from writing (a week-ish) I have my sights set on my next project. Completing the challenge I set myself with the anthology has boosted my confidence in terms of how much work I can do, and there's one particular project I've been slowly adding to over the years that I'd like to have a similar sense of completion on. I'm going to head off to a coffee shop in a bit to bash out a plan. I'll let you know how it goes.

In the last week I've come out of my hibernation phase and caught up with friends I've been saying 'No, not just yet... can we meet up in November?' to for quite a while. The month ahead holds several more catching-ups and visitings, which is lovely.

Looking ahead are a few prizes I'd like to enter (if I have time around working on the project I mentioned up there). I won't be going for the first one, the essay-writing one, but it sounds interesting. Fish is a well established and well respected prize, though I know the high entry fee is off-putting to a lot of writers. And for those citizens of a Commonwealth country, the free-to-enter Commonwealth prize is very appealing. Mslexia is still one of my Holy Grails - I'm  pretty sure I will be entering their call for memoir writing - I have something lined up that might work. 

And so - here they are in more detail: the writing prizes that have caught my eye, all closing in the next month.

The Financial Times and The Bodley Head Essay Prize
Non-fiction essays up to 3500 words written by writers under 35years
Free to enter
£1000 1st prize, plus mentoring session
Closes 18th November
From the website: "We are looking for a dynamic, authoritative and lively essay of no more than 3500 words on a topic of your choice. It can be journalistic, it can be a case study; it can be wide-ranging or minutely focused. In keeping with the ethos of both sponsors, it can address any topic – from finance to history, from current affairs to a scientific discovery. We are not looking for a particular subject; we're simply looking for quality writing."

The Fish Short Story Prize
For short stories up to 5000 words
e20 / e22 entry fee (online/postal)
e3000 1st prize (includes e1000 for travel expenses to attend award ceremony), 2nd prize: retreat at Anam Cara, 3rd prize: e300
Closes 30th November

The Commonwealth Writers 2013 Short Story Prize
For short stories 2000-5000 words from citizens of a Commonwealth country
Free entry
£5000 overall prize, £1000 for winner in each region
Closes 4th December

Mslexia New Writing: Memoir
Up to 2200 words, from female writers
Free to enter (though postal entries only)
Best entries chosen by the guest judge will be published in the magazine
Closes December 10th

Good luck if you enter any of these - and with any projects you have on the go. I'm away now for my early morning coffee, write and plan. I do like my days off from my day job(s). Enjoy your day.

Saturday, 3 November 2012

She did it (Putting an anthology together: Part 7)

On Wednesday (the day of the deadline, and the day after my last post) I tackled that final to-do list and submitted my short story collection to Salt. It took a couple of hours to do the last few edits and organise the acknowledgements, contents page etc (that was exciting, though) and then it was as simple as emailing it over. A couple of clicks. Off it went.

In the seconds afterwards I felt a small sense of relief - I think the big 'YES!' moments had happened the evening before when I finished the last story taking me over the wordcount. That's when I knew I'd done it, save for actually entering the prize. That was a good feeling. It made me do a lot of exhaling and talking out loud to myself.

In the past 4 or 5 weeks I've been a mix of confident that I would do it, and concern that, in a practical sense, I just didn't have enough time. I considered how long it usually takes me to write a story (months, but I'm usually working on several things at once), and that I had seriously less time through October than any other month this year so far. I had to be strict with how I used the time I had, saying 'no' to social invitations but still giving myself enough time off from all kinds of work to not burn out or get too stressed.

I had 2 clear days off each week. I gave one to writing, and one to spending time with my loved one. As much as I could, I created a stable environment for myself. And in those hours before work, or nights when I wasn't tired, or in between shifts, if I felt like writing I did, and if I didn't, I didn't. I said, 'If I don't get it finished in time, it's okay,' then always added 'But I will'.

I had to have a bit of faith. This was hard when, on a writing day, I had a headache, no energy, and 6000 words to go. I tried, but made little progress that day. But 2 days later, a whole afternoon I wasn't supposed to have free fell into my lap, and the writing got done that day.

I used the extra hour the clocks gave us last weekend. I didn't plan it that way, I just got up early before work on Sunday and shut the internet off for an hour. A whole new story came to life in that hour, and on Tuesday another fortuitous thing happened out of nowhere - a full day off from work - and on that day the story grew and grew to 3000 words, the longest story I've ever written. I relished writing it, and the feeling of having room to let it become something different. I can't deny that it's better to have some distance from a new piece of work before editing and submitting, but I felt the energy in this one as I wrote it, and it felt 'true' in the sense I sometimes bang on about - when you write something that feels part of you.

I think the combination of being free with myself and being honest with myself is what got me through this month. Free to not write, and honest in looking at how I spent my time. The days off from it all were valuable, and essential. As was shutting the internet off for an hour or two or three when I needed it.

So, away my collection has gone, to be read along with hundreds of other manuscripts, all created in their own individual way by a hopeful writer, sent off to see if they're the one that will rise to the top of this particular pile.

I'm happy with my collection. It feels like it is me, it contains the stories I wanted to tell, in the way I wanted to write them. As I get to the end of a year with only one publication acceptance, I feel proud of myself for what I've achieved with this, that I pushed myself and took care of myself in fairly equal measure.

And now... what now? Well, anything.

Oh and this guy - a new friend I made (literally) (ish) on Wednesday night.

Thanks to everyone who's read and commented and cheered me on this past month - it's been a great help to have your support.
How are you? Are you working on something in particular? Do you have a deadline you're moving towards right now? Shall I stop quizzing you? Okay.

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Nearly, very nearly (Putting an anthology together: Part 6)

The deadline is tomorrow.

I'm going to show you the word count but I don't want you to worry. It needs to be a minimum of 30,000 words. Right now it is:

The reason you shouldn't worry is because the word count below will be added to the manuscript tomorrow when the story it's from has undergone a final edit:

Together they make more than 30,000 which is - well - a huge [swear word] relief.

I'm not there just yet, here's tomorrow's to-do list before I submit:

But the bulk of the work is done. Most of those points to-do are formatty-type things.

After submission I'll be back with something a little more wordy than this post, and I hope you'll forgive me for being low on words tonight. I am going to have a bath now (spiders, stay away) and then have something to eat because I've worked right through and not eaten. (Those who know me will now be convinced of how dedicated to writing I must be, if they didn't already know.) 

Oh, and Happy Halloween! We love Halloween here, and as a pre-birthday surprise for my boyfriend I spooky-fied the flat yesterday while he was out. I had about a 40-minute window in which to buy and stick things up after I finished work and before he came home. This week will go down in history as being the week I did loads of stuff.

Here are some pics.


Wednesday, 24 October 2012

A spider is trying to tell me something (Putting an anthology together: Part 5.)

There's a very short story I wrote a while ago with a spider in it. I have been undecided about whether or not it fits in with the collection, if it is good enough. It is a little odd-ball.

I hadn't thought much about it for a bit, but I found myself thinking about it in the bath today. (Some of the story happens in the bath.) I thought to myself: Should I include it? I flicked my eyes and the very next thing I saw was a spider.

Weird, I thought. Did a little laugh. Said, 'Oh, okay then, I'll include it' out loud. But I still wasn't sure I would.

I just told my boyfriend about it. He's always liked the spider story and reckons it should definitely go in.

I said I'm not so sure.

A minute or 2 later I logged in to my stat-counter account which tells me what people type into Google to find this blog, either purposefully by Googling my name, or accidentally by Googling other stuff which I happen to have written about. The most recent phrase that brought someone here: Spider ran at me. (Because I wrote this post when a spider ran at me.)

So, the question is: Do I obey the spiders, or keep hesitating to see what they do next?

Friday, 19 October 2012

IT'S ALL GOING TO BE OKAY (Putting an anthology together: Part 4.)

There's no word count photo to show this week.

What happened this week
Wednesday is my writing day - that one day a week which is MINE and completely MINE to do what I want with. (I'm a bit obsessed with it.) And I set out like always, to a coffee shop, with my netbook and my notebook and I felt great about being able to write, and totally tried to ignore the fact my eyes were tired and I had a heavy feeling on the side of my head which was probably to do with by the 13 hour day I did on Monday (of 'normal' work) and the very early start and long day of work I did on Tuesday too. I stayed there, in the coffee shop, for 3 hours (persistent) and managed a little editing, and a few notes on how to expand a story I have in my draft folder.

But the word count didn't do the thing I wanted it to do which was INCREASE by like, loads.

So I came home from the coffee shop and had some lunch and watched some TV and had a rest and then tried again but it didn't happen. I just didn't get the writing work done that day.

And, you know, I'm on a deadline with the Scott Prize. I need to have 6000 more words ready and added to my anthology in the next (something like, not counting, not counting in days) week and a half.

So I felt pretty rubbish. I looked ahead and saw that I only have one more Wednesday before the deadline (well, 2 if you include the day of the deadline, which I don't really want to). There are other opportunities in the week to write, the odd couple of hours before or after a shift.

I've just used a couple of those hours now to work on that story in the draft folder I mentionned before. And, that story has a 'sister story' (there are a few of these in the anthology, separate but related to each other stories) so I worked on that sister story too.

They're not ready to be added to the manuscript yet but they're nearly there, and I feel so much better about everything than I did 48 hours ago.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Putting an anthology together: Part 3. Liberation

I wish I'd come up with a snappier title for this series of posts.

This week:
I've added 3 stories to the collection. One is a new piece, which has just come together in the last 7 days. It has a very long title. It's called Tips For Customer Service Workers Who Work With A Till Which Sometimes Goes Slow. And it really is a series of tips about how to deal with customers when they're having to wait a bit longer than they expected. It's completely autobiographical. We are a nation of queue obsessives and working in customer service I've observed some shocking queue-related behaviour. It's a tongue-in-cheek guide to coping with a waiting customer when you also have a line of other waiting customers.

The most exciting thing about putting an anthology together is the liberation in what I can include. Tips for... wouldn't be the kind of piece I'd send to a competition, and I've realised this week that these past few years I've been focused on writing single stories for competitions which need to stand up alongside hundreds (or more) of others, and that makes you write in certain way. The idea of a group of stories alongside each other working as a whole has much more room in it, and yes, they still need to stand up alongside the other collections that are submitted, but, well - I guess it's that word 'liberating' again, it's feels like it's possible to really be yourself in a collection, or that's what I'm feeling at the moment anyway.

The other 2 stories that have been added were already written - one was published a few years ago, the other is unpublished but needed an edit. I didn't think I'd be including the already published one, but when I read over it this week it was better than I remembered and I thought it could earn a place in there.

So - my little white cards have been added to (25 stories now) and re-arranged a little and look like this:

  And, excitingly, the word count has risen from 20,962 to:

Salt have just tweeted a reminder for the deadline with the number of days to go. I haven't been thinking in terms of days at all. It's 17. I will not think of it in terms of days again. Right now it's somewhere between 2 and 3 weeks - that feels better.

Monday, 8 October 2012

Putting an anthology together: Part 2. Shut up.

You can be writing along, feeling okay about the words on the page, or your ideas in general, or what the finished piece will be like. You let your thoughts wonder to the idea of a reader. I don't mean the general reader who you take into account to make sure your words make sense and all those other considerations you make maybe without realising, I mean a specific person with a specific set of values and even a specific face.

This has been happening here and there since I've been working on the collection. In a way it's not new, it's the thing we call 'inner critic' - the voice in your head that tells you your work is shit.

But the difference is, or what I've just realised, is the bit about the 'specific face'. As I'm thinking about a book with stories in that I have written, I imagine someone I know, someone I really know in real life, reacting negatively to the stories. They don't see the point in them. They don't go anywhere. And who do you think you are putting these words in a book and trying to make people read them when there are so many real things happening in the world? And is this part of this story about xxx because you shouldn't have used that kind of language if it is. And why are you writing about THAT?! And why did that ending end so shit? Don't see the point.

She (yes, it's a she) has popped up this week and it was the first time I actually took notice enough to see it's a specific person, which I thought was weird. I've realised that sometimes when I listen to the inner critic, maybe as I'm writing a draft, it can be someone else I know, someone I respect, but this one, this week, is here because she represents what I think people who knew me a long time ago might think of my stories. And she snuck in when I was looking at the work so far as whole - so I imagined the finished book - and she said what she thought.

I can shut her up though so it's okay.

Does your inner critic ever have a face? Is it someone you know, or knew?


Friday, 5 October 2012

Putting an anthology together: Part 1. Jumping ahead?

So, my writing focus at the moment (and for the rest of October) is getting an anthology of short stories totalling at least 30,000 words ready to send to Salt Publishing's Scott Prize.

I've been gearing up to do this for a few months, I've had it in my mind, been feeling my way with it. But it's only been the last 2 weeks where I've narrowed my writing tasks to just doing this. I've had a list of 'possible stories to include' on the go for a while, and I've been getting a sense of how many pieces are 'ready', and how many others need more work until I have an anthology of stories which add together to make the required minimum of 30,000 words.

I thought I'd write some thoughts as I go through this process of collecting and looking at and ordering what is about 5 or 6 years of short story writing, while also writing and editing new work to go alongside it. I'll post an update each week until the 31st Oct deadline, maybe more often if I have something to say.

Oh, and - just to give you some context, this is probably the busiest month I've had for a while. I have one day a week I can give to writing completely, and the rest has to fit around my 2 part time jobs. I take my netbook with me wherever I go, and try to add sessions in before and after work where I can. I'm also giving myself one day a week off completely too, because, well - s'important, innit.

So here's where I am at the moment.

This week I...
Read an interview with one of the 2012 Scott Prize winners, Carys Bray. In it, Carys talks about the process of ordering her stories, and there's a photo of the post-its she used to physically (as physically as you can) see them alongside each other.

(I have no idea why the font size is smaller here. I've tried to sort it but it just won't change. Tut.) 
I'd had an idea about writing a little card out for each story so I could get a sense of the whole collection, but I didn't think I was at the point where I could do that yet. But within a few days I'd done it anyway, even though I only have two thirds of the stories ready. I felt like I needed to do something tangible. It was actually a useful process, a new way of seeing the stories. Each card stated story title, word count, and a few words about its mood or subject. That felt a bit weird - writing words like 'Fun' 'Surreal' 'Infidelity', but I wanted to roughly get an idea of what they might be saying so I could see how they might fit together, and if any patterns I didn't know about cropped up. They looked like this:

They'll move about and be added to and more details might be added to the cards as the weeks go on. But having a physical representation really helped.

The other thing I did this week was something else I wasn't supposed to do until I had more of the collection ready. I put all the stories into one document, and I called this document 'Manuscript' which was a bit thrilling. They are in the order I devised with the cards up there, and I guess this was another 'physical' thing to do. Even though I thought I'd have more stories ready before I created this document, I also had a niggling feeling that if I left it too late it'd take too long or there'd be some formatting issue. So it's done now, well - it's begun now - and I don't need to estimate the word count. I know the word count. Here it is:

So even though these 20,926 words represent work written over the past 5 or 6 years, it is totally possible to have the remaining 10,000 ready in 3 and a half weeks. Totally. Really. Is.

Where I am is - I have a lot of stories started, on the go, that just just need time dedicated to them. And that's what this month is about. And in way, in doing some of the admin-y stuff by getting the existing finished stories ready and arranged, I feel free to finish my collection exactly how I want.

Because I also read this excellent discussion (which I found via the interview with Carys) with some short story editors and it fuelled my passion for what I write and why I write short stories. Writers, you should check it out.

This really resonated with me, on 'fragment stories' as apposed to beginning, middle, end stories:

But there's still story there. It's just hanging slightly outside, and that has to work. It's more difficult to do. It's either outside the text or internal, inside the character, but it's still there, and those elements still have to be there, suspended over the thing.
(Ra Page,  Comma Press)

I'm thinking about what I like to write, how I like to write,what I like to read, what excites me, and - as much as I possibly can - turning off the inner critic (more on her in another post) and also - when I need to - turning off the internet.

Thursday, 20 September 2012


I keep thinking about writing a blog post then thinking I don't have anything specific to say. But it's like that sometimes, isn't it?

So I'll just start telling you things and see what happens.

I had a tooth pulled out. Before it came out there was the nagging, persistent ache of toothache, and the swollen gums from the infected tooth, and I couldn't sleep or even rest my head on the pillow when it was at its worst, and I was trying every homespun remedy I could find on the internet (garlic, vanilla essence, cloves (of course) salt, teabags) until I could get to see a dentist. Then I saw the dentist and she gave me some options, and I thought the easiest, simplest, fastest way to stop the pain and deal with the infection seemed to be to take the tooth out.

Now, I've had teeth out before. I was quite a lot younger, a child in fact, so surely, I reasoned, I'd be even better equipped now to deal with having a tooth pulled out. I don't have a fear of the dentist. I even half know the dentist who treated me, she's very nice, it was as relaxing as it could be.

However. I was not prepared for the wrenching, the real, real, pulling effect, the effort it would take to get this tooth out. The fact that I'd have to have my held held still by the hygienist (she said it was like I was trying to reverse off the chair), or that my legs would be shaking so violently, or that the anesthetic seemed to do NOTHING despite me having been injected with extra doses of it.

I feel like I was a bit naive to think it'd be easy. I was also very desperate to get the infection out. The tooth, my gums, the nerves, would all have been extra sensitive, I'm sure. Plus it was a tooth at the back, it had 3 roots, 'the biggest tooth in your head' she told me. Afterwards.

The teeth I had out as a kid just had one root. I'm sure I remember they just came out with a little shuffling.

BUT. It's gone. It was sore for a while, but once I got home and over the shock (I do think I was in shock, actually) I fell asleep and when I woke up I was just so relieved to not have tooth ache anymore.

And then the next day I went to the Yorkshire Dales for a weekend with my writing group, and with a little help from a glorious combination of Ibuprofen and Codeine, I had a lovely time.

And what I'm focusing all my writing energies on at the moment is my entry for Salt Publishing's Scott Prize - and with just over a month to have 30,000 words of short stories ready to sub - I have a lot to do.

So I'll probably be here and on Twitter more than I should be.

(Turns out this post is not at all general, it's actually very toothy.) 

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Telling it like it is. I’m being real. I won't lie to you. That's just me. 110%. No?

Ever uttered any of the phrases above? Hang on - ‘uttered’ isn’t right. If you’re a real person who 110% tells it like it because you’re not gonna lie you’re just being you, you don’t utter. You throw your statements with conviction - as you should with all that insight you have. 

This post is about to get all opinion-y. Usually I just write about writing but today it's more about talking. It's me writing things about the things I've heard other people say. 
I love language, of course - I'm a writer so I'm interested in the way people express themselves. And I have no desire to write about anyone's 'bad' grammar or 'bad' English because I don't see language in those terms. 

What I'm writing about is this trend of making a really obvious claim about yourself and then glowing with pride about it. Mostly I don’t like this kind of talk because it can be used to excuse bad behaviour. But it also presents interaction – and people – in a black and white way. Not into that. But if you are, that’s cool. Just follow my guide to ensure you’re selecting the right banal statement for your needs.

‘I tell it like it is.’
Say this if... you've offended another human and need to justify it. ‘I'm just telling it like it is,’ you say. No - you're telling it as you see it. THIS IS NOT THE SAME THING.
‘I'm being real.’
Say this if... you believe you have a superpower: you, as a real person, have the ability to announce you are a real person. EVEN BETTER you can also spot a fake person. This is convenient because your world is divided into real people and fake people. (Nothing to do with automatons, unfortunately.)

‘I won't lie to you.’
Say this if… you like saying really ordinary things and making them sound controversial. ‘I won't lie to you: I don't like eggs.’ Great. And, in general, can’t we just always assume you won't lie to me?  

‘That's just me.’
Say this if… you want to behave however you like, and you can, because 'That's just me'. Being yourself - I’m cool with that. But if you use the 'I'm just being me' excuse after you've been a dick, you need to add it on: ‘I'm just being me. And I'm a dick.'

Say this if… you know the word 'Yes' but it’s just not enough. You need to make sure people REALLY understand how much you mean ‘Yes’ so you use the faithful percentage measurement. And, not content with the world-wide accepted maximum of 100, you like to add some on. Bizarrely, it’ll either be just a bit: 110. Or fucking loads: a million.  

Say this if… you want to appear like you're inviting people to disagree with you, but mostly you want to sound French. 'And this is what life is all about, no?' Eugh. Just no. As in NO.

Okay, those final two expressions are not as criminal. They’re habits. But the others display an absoluteness I’m suspicious of. They’re a sinister step up from ‘I’m mad, me!’, but at least the I’m-mads just want to be seen as interesting. The Tell-it-like-it-ises take pride in being twats, while simultaneously thinking they are astute. ‘I’m real, she’s fake’ and that sort of talk feeds into categorising personality types, which is limiting and finite. Be confusing; be confused about people. Explore the grey areas.