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?