Saturday, 28 April 2012

Things that might interest you

I'm in the process of crafting a more personal blog post about writing fiction based on a true events. I've reworked an old (mostly)true story this week and it's got me thinking about how and when I use things that have happened to me in my writing. That post will be along in a day or 2.

Until then, here are some things I believe you may find interesting:

Flashmobbing! You know that thing that became popular a few years ago, where organised groups would just start dancing routines in railway stations and stuff? Well, think about that but with a literary spin and have a go at writing some flash as part of a mass writing event. Details here

And some places you could submit some writing to:

OBLONG MAGAZINE is seeking submissions of flash fiction under 1000 words for its 1st paper issue due in August. Editor Jo Beckett-King will be dropping by the blog in June to tell us a little more about OBLONG but as there are only ten spots in each issue it might be a good idea to send your work sooner.

THE 2012 YEOVIL LITERARY PRIZE closes at the end of May. There are 3 categories: poetry, short story and novel with generous prizes of £500/£500/£1000 for first placed in each category. 

I'm gonna go and look at my dinner now. It's been in the oven for 8 hours. I trust in you, Fabulous Baker Boys. Let's pull some pork.

What's for dinner round your house?

Monday, 23 April 2012

On a losing streak

I am getting rejected left, right and centre at the moment, I am. But, alas, tis part of the job/lifestyle/package/shebang of being a writer. I only submit to competitions/places I really want to be placed in these days. I tailor my writing energy to projects that mean the most to me, or get me excited. This might sound kind of obvious - but there was definitely a time I'd send work to places I didn't care that much about, just because I wanted a publication credit.

So when my stories don't make it there's always a little sting, and maybe a bigger sting the more I wanted whatever I was going for. Most of the time it's a fairly prestigious prize that will help elevate my career, or sometimes it's a project I think looks interesting and I'd like to be involved in.

The last 3 rejections have all been different but all were coveted intensely (by me) (and others too, yeah, but let's just stick with me for the purpose of this blog post about me).

I'll run you through them, and then I will let them go good and proper, like.

I REALLY wanted to win a week's retreat at Anam Cara. So much so that I relaxed my writing principle of only working on work that excites me - I was not excited about the brief but I was about the prize, so I gave it a go. Got nowhere. That's okay, really, because the stories I produced, although I sweated over them, weren't really my thing. And one day - I will get to Anam Cara.

Then there was the National Flash Fiction Day Anthology which I REALLY wanted to be in because there were so many good writers commissioned to be in it including my most favourite Ali Smith. So I sent 2 pieces of flash fiction that I feel good about and thought stood a fighting chance. Got nowhere. Felt a bit bummed out, natch.

BUT THEN, there was this thing I REALLY REALLY wanted a go at. And it was different to anything I'd tried my hand at. It was an application for a paid writing job - a one-off commission to write a short story for The Stockton Riverside Festival. The story would create and establish a myth about why the festival takes place each year, and as soon as I started digging around on the web and looking at this fantastic festival I got hugely inspired. And that thing happened where stuff started fitting together - where ideas were coming that felt like they were always there, that magic spark you get. Coincidences too - notes I'd been making for other things linked to possibilities for this thing. So, the application required a writing CV and a covering letter - there was no need to write the story yet. I put my CV together and felt proud what I could include on there (Bridport, The Guardian, Willesden Herald) while also being aware that I'm (okay, excuse me that this is a little icky) 'up-and-coming' (it's okay - I didn't describe myself as that) rather than 'got-shit-loads-of-books-published'. I hoped I might get an interview - because that was the next stage - and I could impress them with my enthusiasm. But no. I didn't get shortlisted, and that one stung the most, because even though I hadn't written the piece, I had totally invested myself in the idea of it. I knew it was a long-shot, but it was something I felt ready for. The fee was fantastic: £1500 plus £1000 in the research fund. I had let myself imagine being able to work less at my day job over the summer so I'd have more time to write.

This post isn't about being wallowy, because like I said up at the start rejection is all part of it. And I also said I would let it all go. So go on, rejected feelings - away with you. Feel free to share any recent rejections (writing or otherwise) in the comments section and when you hit 'post' I promise the bummed-out feeling will go.

(By 'promise' I mean I 'hope')

Thursday, 19 April 2012

The Bridport Prize

If any blog title is sure to get the attention of short story writers - poets too - it's one that mentions The Bridport Prize.

But I'm not trying to get your attention, honest. (At least no more than usual.) I thought I'd put a post together because each year a month or two before the Bridport deadline I notice more people find this blog by Googling Bridport related phrases. I say 'people', I mean more specifically writers - who are also people, but people who have more than just a passing fancy in The Bridport Prize. They are hungry for information, thirsty for the facts.

I know what it's like to get your work ready to submit and desperately want to know stuff about where it's going. What worked in the past, what it's up against, how many entries, when the winners will be announced. I am still that writer - I still send stories out and I sit and refresh web pages or my email when the results are due.

I've written about this before. In May 2010 I wrote a few pieces of advice about entering the prize. And if you're interested in my experience of the prize-giving, you can read about it here.

It's not like I have any definitive answers but I can tell you one or two things based on my own experience only.

You can't read any Bridport winning stories online. This is the most common Bridport related thing people type in their search engines. You can buy copies of the anthology from the website, and you might find a few copies on Amazon.

The selection process takes a long time.
From the deadline to me hearing about being a runner-up took 3 months. And then I had to keep it under my hat until the prize-giving, almost 2 months further down the line. The best thing you can do when you have entered is let it go. I say this - I know this - I hardly ever do it myself. The main thing though is that a competition which receives around 6000 short stories is going to take a while to get back to you.

Your story will be read by a volunteer first, a reader who loves to read, who might have been doing this for the love of it for years. Bear in mind your story, like any short story, needs to grab and hold that reader from the start.

Selecting, and judging, is subjective. The story that got me into the final 13 in 2009 was rejected in 2007. It was the same story, I hardly re-wrote it. Simply put: it got read by the right person in 2009. Whoever read it first, liked it enough to pass it on to the next stage. And then someone else liked it, and then someone else, and maybe another person, and then Ali Smith.

The element of luck that is required in short story competitions is immense
. I never fully appreciated that until I attended the prize-giving, and got to learn a little about the stages of reading and sifting that stories go through to get on the long list.

This is part of the process of sending your work to any major writing competition and it can be overwhelming to think about. But the important thing is - 12 or 13 stories and poems WILL make it through all those parts of the process and one of them could be yours.

And, the thing that's most important - at least to me - when sending any of my work away is - send the story that feels true. This is nothing to do with facts or writing a 'true story' but is about the sort of writing that you feel is true to you. Write in your style, with your passion, in your way of telling.

And if your work is selected, you might get to look like this after the prize-giving. I think I look happy, tired, excited, relieved, drunk. My hair was nice as well, wasn't it?

I'm really glad that people can find this blog by Googling Bridport stuff. There are some things you can't get by looking at an official web page. I think in this digital age of blogs a-go-go, Facebook, Twitter etc, we're looking for personal connections to out of reach things more and more.

Good luck to anyone who enters. The deadline is a month earlier than previous years - it's May 31st. Details here.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

And the winner is...

Thanks to everyone who wrote a little something after Vanessa Gebbie's letter to herself. All names were put into a hat (well, okay, a digital version of a hat) and the computer said...

So the paperback copy of The Coward's Tale is off to Sylvia in Austria in a few days.

Didn't win? Bit sad? Like books that are really good?
Treat yourself.

FREAKS! Free story by Nik Perring & Caroline Smailes

Today sees the release of Freaks! a collection of 50 short stories written by Nik Perring and Caroline Smailes, and illustrated by Darren Craske.

To help celebrate the launch there are bloggers everywhere posting a FREE story and drawing from the collection. I am one of them bloggers - and here is the story, Invisble. Enjoy!


[Super Power: The ability to make oneself unseen to the naked eye]

If I stay totally still,

if I stand right tall,

with me back against the school wall,

close to the science room’s window,

with me feet together,

pointing straight,

aiming forward,

if I make me hands into tight fists,

make me arms dead straight,

if I push me arms into me sides,

if I squeeze me thighs,

stop me wee,

if me belly doesn’t shake,

if me boobs don’t wobble,

if I close me eyes tight,

so tight that it makes me whole face scrunch,

if I push me lips into me mouth,

if I make me teeth bite me lips together,

if I hardly breathe,

if I don’t say a word.


I’ll magic meself invisible,

and them lasses will leave me alone.

You can order a paper copy of Freaks! here, or the e-book version here.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Vanessa Gebbie writes a letter to herself

Last week saw the paperback publication of Vanessa Gebbie's beautiful novel, The Coward's Tale. Vanessa is partaking in a mammoth blog tour, and I'm so pleased to have here today. I've met Vanessa a couple of times, once at the Bridport 2009 prize-giving, where she made me feel like everything-would-be-okay as I took the stage to read from my story, and again at last year's Willesden Herald prize-giving, where we had a good chat in the pub afterwards about the writing life. I joke that I'm following Vanessa's successes around, a few years behind. So I'm looking forward to Bloomsbury publishing my novel in, oooh, say 2014. Excellent.

On with today: I asked Vanessa to write a letter to herself in the past, more specifically to herself just as she started out her journey as a writer, and the superb result is below. Enjoy!


Below: The 2002 Vanessa

To Me, in 2002, from Me in 2012.

Dear Me

Today, you sheltered from a thunderstorm in Waterstones and came home wet through - but with three books. I guess you can’t drip by the 3 for 2 table without buying something. You made a pot of tea and sat down to read the third one, bought because you liked the cover... and you didn’t get up until you’d finished the book, it was that great. You will get a cold.

But that book, Austerlitz, by W G Sebald, made you think, didn’t it? It broke so many rules, beautifully. It told a story that held you - wet as you were - right through until it put you down. And you decided then - I love this. I want to do this. Whatever ‘this’ is.

Well, I’m here to tell you that you do ‘do this’. It will take a while to get off the ground - there will be false starts, and you will start workshops, and leave them, until you wonder if you are just a dilettante. You will meet people who proclaim themselves gurus, peddlers of tricks of the trade, you will fall for scams - oh there are so many traps for the aspiring writer. And although I could warn you exactly who to avoid, and when, so that you don’t go through these nasties ... I am not going to do that. It’s all formative, and in the end, it will add up to a great grounding, one that will serve you well.

After a few of these nasties, you will be fine. The turning point will come when you meet someone who points out the vast difference between ‘wanting to write’, and ‘wanting to be a writer’. And then, you settle into a sort of rhythm, and stop chasing butterflies. You will see that ‘being a writer’ actually means zilch - the term encompasses all that is surface. And that there is a world of difference between that and what you want.

Remember those moments when you used to have arguments with Mum, as a child - you wanting to read Enid Blyton, and she wanting you to read something ‘worthwhile’? And despite her, the Enids came home from the library anyway... but she fed them to you as one might sweets - a reward for reading something she had chosen... like The House of Sixty Fathers by Meindert De Jong? And remember how it slowly dawned on you that great as a page-turner was, the absolute magic of being transported into a complete world painted in nothing but words, was better than anything else. And somehow, Sixty Fathers did that? The child you were would remember that book and the people in it for over half a century, whereas the Enids - they would merge into a great fun pile of adventures, but the people... who were they exactly? Where did these things happen? Why?

Ok, so it is now 2002 where you are. If I could tell you the following, you probably won’t believe me, but I’ll have a go.

You will be told in 2003, by a professional whose opinions are based on years of knowledge, that you have four things against you. First: You are over fifty. Second: you are female. Third: you write short stories. Fourth: You write literary work. It is therefore unlikely that you will ever be published.

You were a stubborn kid - and that seems to come back, but maybe it pays off. You will gradually amass publications of short fiction online and in print. Your first collection will appear in 2008. In 2009 you will be asked to compile a text book. In 2010 your second collection will come out. In 2011 your fourth book will appear, a novel called ‘The Coward’s Tale’ which has taken you six years to write. If this is 2002 - dear V - you will start playing with the voice of this piece, and the first little section, next year.

Enjoy, if you can. When you hate it, remember, it will come right in the end. And it will get out there, to join the millions of books all fighting with each other, fighting for publicity, fighting for review space, fighting for a platform at festivals, on bookshops shelves. Let it go. It will either swim or sink. You did your best, OK?

I dunno. What does this all prove anyway. You want to write, and you will. Your work will be ‘out there’ and may even give people pleasure, who knows?

You might even start to get invites to things, commissions, be asked for interviews in newspapers... all great, but...

But that’s not what it’s about, is it? The glitter washes off in the end. It won’t last. Good writing, if it really is good, will. So don’t give up, and never think you’ve ‘got there’ - to ‘get there’ would mean reaching the end.

Keep going. Keep trying to write better.

with love,



Thanks muchos, Vanessa. Tomorrow's stop involves a chat over at Jen Campbell's blog. And there's a full list of where Vanessa has been / will be here.

Now then - do you fancy winning a copy of The Coward's Tale? Well, you should, because it's really really good and I have one here and I'll post it out to you and everything.

Just leave a comment below - that's all. I'll draw the names out of a hat, or a sock maybe, in a week.

If you feel inspired to write a little note or a letter to yourself, here or elsewhere, please do. Just link back here, and let me know and I'll link to you.

Sunday, 1 April 2012


I've been spring-cleaning the flat. We've lived here for 7 years - wow - we only planned to stay for 2. We like it. It's in the centre of the city on one of the busiest streets for boozing - but somehow we don't get a lot of noise. We do pass piles of sick on our way to work in the morning (mustabeen a good night, I always think to myself) and the odd trail of blood (which always fascinates me, some go on for ages, and I can't look up til I've found the end, or the start). And it's just a little walk away from the river, so although we don't have a garden, on a day like today we can go and sit and have some sunshine. I usually take a flask of coffee and a mug to pour it into. Nothing as nice as holding a mug outside.

Oh yeah, so my point is that we've lived here a while and so we've accumulated stuff. It's been good to sort through things, and decide what to do with the things that aren't to be thrown away, but might have some life in them elsewhere. There's the usual charity shop pile, but I've also donated a load of books to the staffroom where I work, and taken 30 or so bottles of shower gel to a homeless shelter, and will be dropping off some never-used art materials to the children's hospital next week. There is something nice about being specific, seeking out the places that might directly benefit from the things we don't need anymore. And there is a lighter feeling in the flat, and I feel better about that.

It does mean I haven't written as much this week, but I don't want to think of the de-cluttering as displacement. I'm certain it'll be playing a part in some positive way.

Other stuff...

I missed the deadline of the Bristol Prize because I added an extra day into the month.
I D I O T.

I enjoyed reading about Reb Alexander's route to getting an agent.

And I've just been catching up with Vanessa Gebbie's blog-tour-in-progress to celebrate the publication of The Coward's Tale. I enjoyed Claire King's post which is a 3-way interview with Claire, Vanessa and TrĂ¢m-Anh Doan (Bloomsbury's paperback editor). Also Jonathan Pinnock's interview with Vanessa includes some encouraging information on Vanessa's writing process, and tells a little about one of the story's inspirations, 7-year old Robert Diplock and his Mum, Rita. Fascinating, and touching, especially if you've read the novel. I finished it a couple of weeks ago, and it's beautiful.

Which leads me to...

I'll be hosting Vanessa here on Thursday (April 5th). I've been thinking a lot about letters lately, letters to yourself, to people in your past, your childhood home, so I asked Vanessa to do something a little different to being interviewed. Come and see the fantastic result on Thursday, and there's a chance to win a copy of The Coward's Tale too.