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Monday, 2 October 2017

What Was Left - Retreat West anthology

The beautiful anthology from Retreat West - the coloured dots representing the twenty stories, some darker, some more hopeful, and the rest reflecting the nuances in between.

I feel privileged my shortlisted story lent the title to this anthology, What Was Left, a beautiful collection of short stories and flash fiction from Retreat West

It was so good to see writer-friends Diane Simmons, Jude Higgins and Jo Derrick again, and to meet Amanda Huggins and Retreat West founder, Amanda Saint, at the September launch in Waterstones, Reading.

Huge congratulations to winners Judith Wilson (On Crosby Beach) and Jude Higgins (At The Hospital), who held the audience spellbound with their readings.

It was especially lovely to be in Reading as I met my husband there thirty-three years ago when we were both working in WH Smith. One of our daughters took this picture of us outside the store in the very spot where we first met.

The shop has been rebuilt since we worked there, but I think the entrance is roughly in the same place!

Thank you so much to Amanda and everyone at Retreat West for all the hard work that produced the book and the launch. Retreat West offer writing competitions for short stories, flash fiction and novels, as well as beautiful writing retreats and creative writing courses, so do check out their website .

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Novella-in-Flash - How To Make A Window Snake

This beautiful book, compiled by Bath Flash Fiction Award and published by Ad Hoc Fiction, contains three novellas: 'How To Make A Window Snake' by Charmaine Wilkerson, 'Things I Dream About When I'm Not Sleeping' by Ingrid Jendrzejewski and my own 'A Safer Way To Fall'.

The form of novella-in-flash pairs the punch of a flash fiction piece with the gentle unfolding of a longer story, gradually magnifies characters we meet at the most intense moments of their lives, allows for the recurrence and resonance of motifs which become pulses throbbing throughout the pages, and, story by story, unravels the truth at the novella's core.

It is a fascinating form, both to write and to read. Working on 'A Safer Way To Fall' was absorbing, especially the detection of connections between individual stories. It was like looking at a heap of disparate, blank jigsaw puzzle pieces, the picture forming only after I'd discarded some, reshaped others and created one or two which were entirely new. Fitting them  together to discover the finished picture was the best writing moment I have experienced yet.

Huge thanks to Jude Higgins and Meg Pokrass from Bath Flash Fiction and congratulations to winner Charmaine - here is BFFA's interview with her - and Ingrid for their mesmerising novellas.

The book is available to buy here for £9.99.

Monday, 29 May 2017

Bath Flash Fiction Evening

We had a wonderful time at the Bath Flash Fiction Evening at St James' Wine Vaults, and our readings rose to the occasion by competing staunchly with the intermittent rousing choruses of Happy Birthday from a group of revellers outside!

l-r Ken Elkes, Jude Higgins, me, Tracy Fells and Jane Roberts

It was inspiring to listen to such talented writers as well as great fun to read my own stories, which included a new piece written for reading aloud. It was still difficult, however, to choose which ones might work best and I changed my mind a dozen times before the event.

Jude Higgins organised the evening with great care and I was thrilled to be included, especially as it gave a rare opportunity to reunite with special writer friends and to meet Tracy Fells for the first time after years of internet friendship.

John Holland from Stroud Short Stories, who was first to read

I love listening to stories read aloud and being part of the spellbound audience, but it is also a great privilege to stand at the sharp end, hoping to give people something they can take away with them, either something which inspires or gives cause to ponder, but most of all, to entertain.

Thursday, 18 May 2017

RA & Pin Drop Short Story Award 2017

I am so thrilled to see my story, Brad's Rooster Food, on the long list of the RA & Pin Drop Short Story Award 2017. And equally thrilled to see some familiar names on the list, including Melanie Whipman, fellow Ink Tears author, as well as Ken Elkes and Hannah Persaud.

The winning story is read by Dame Penelope Wilton at the Royal Academy of Arts at a ceremony in June. Wishing everyone on the list the very best of luck.

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Stroud Short Stories, Bath Flash Fiction and short flashes of news

"Possibly the best short story event in the South West" (Cheltenham LitFest)

In a busy writing year so far, I am terrifically pleased my story, Paper Sails, has been chosen for the next Stroud Short Stories event. This is a brilliant evening of readings by Gloucestershire writers with a warm and welcoming atmosphere. I can hardly wait to read Paper Sails, but even more, I am looking forward to listening to the other stories and meeting their writers, especially as we are all local. Writer and organiser of Stroud Short Stories, John Holland, recent winner of the Ink Tears Short Story contest, ensures the evening runs beautifully and tickets have already sold out, so it is a great honour to be taking part.

Earlier this year, I submitted a novella comprising flash-fiction pieces I have written over the years to the Bath Novella in Flash competition. I was delighted to be a runner up and am looking forward to seeing my novella, A Safer Way to Fall, in the print publication alongside those by winner Charmaine Wilkerson and runner-up Ingrid Jendrzejewski, both highly talented and exciting writers. I am so looking forward to reading their work.

To create this novella, I explored the recurring themes and characters within all my flash fiction pieces and teased out the connective tissue naturally marbled throughout. What I found was remarkable - the selected pieces could remain whole and distinct, yet also combined to form a cohesive novella.

I gathered the flashes which shared the strongest relevance to one another, but also included others which were slightly more remote as a way of retaining the 'flashness' within the finished novella. I reworked every piece until the connecting threads became stronger, but most of all I wanted to establish a rhythm which would give the disparate works a single, beating heart.

I worked on it every day for three intense and absorbing weeks, during which every single cup of coffee turned cold. Inspiration came from judge Meg Pokrass - whose captivating novella in flash, Here Where We Live, is in the book, My Very End of the Universe - and here is her report on the winning novellas, in which she highlights the need for 'tragic urgency' - a fitting phrase for this form.

The wonderful organisers of the Bath Flash Fiction Award are running a festival on June 24th and 25th this year with all kinds of workshops and readings. Unfortunately, I am unable to go, but it promises to be a fabulous event for all flash fictioneers, both those new to the form and those with more experience.

I will be reading at the next Evening of Flash Fiction organised by the Bath Flash Fiction Award on May 26th, and more importantly, will be in the amazing company of first-rate writers, Meg Pokrass, Tracy Fells, John Holland, Jude Higgins and Ken Elkes.

I haven't yet had the pleasure of meeting Meg or Tracy in real life and, like all the others, they have given me and my writing steadfast support in cyberspace, so this will be a huge thrill for me - once again, I can hardly wait!

The only difficulty lies in choosing which of my pieces to read. I have picked out so many and keep changing my mind. Ultimately, I will opt for the ones which work best when read aloud and have been creeping about in the chilly dawn to practise before the rest of the family are up and about. I can't test them out on my husband and daughters, even though they would happily oblige, because they will all have their own views and I still won't be able to decide!

I am so excited that my story collection, When Planets Slip Their Tracks, is on the long list for the prestigious Edge Hill Short Story Prize, and so is Melanie Whipman's Llama Sutra, both published by Ink Tears.

The Prize is the only UK award to recognise excellence in a single-author, published short story collection and the list includes established authors such as Mark Haddon, Susan Hill and Helen Oyeyemi. I am excited to see the upcoming short list and to reading more of the fantastic collections.

I have had some other stories shortlisted in competitions recently, which I will talk about next time, and have also finished a novel which I pitched on Twitter for the Curtis Brown #PitchCB day in April.

It took me an age to whittle the entire novel down to a hundred and forty characters for the tweet, but it was so much fun, especially the nail-biting wait to see if any of the agents from Curtis Brown or Conville & Walsh 'liked' it, since the 'like' offers the author the chance to submit directly to the agent.

Watching and waiting was horribly tense, so I ignored Twitter for at least five minutes before having another peek. The afternoon continued in this ridiculous vein, but I was turning cartwheels (not a pretty sight) when the all-important 'like' finally appeared. By the end of the day, a second 'like' came through as well, sufficient reason to celebrate another small step forward.

I have sent my submission package with high hopes, but, as always, have already moved on to writing new stories and planning for the next novel. I know that most submissions to agents, even 'liked' ones, prove unsuccessful and, while I always like to remain hopeful, I never have any expectations. There is a such a vast difference between hoping and expecting. The one keeps you buoyant and productive, while the other can often lead to disappointment and downheartedness.

Apart from the occasional lapses my husband has to suffer ('I'm a terrible writer.' 'I've wasted a whole day pretending I can write,' 'Why would anyone want to read my stuff?'), I tend to stay upbeat to the point of being actually quite annoying, but the way I see it, if rejections get me down, I give myself two problems instead of one.

I will post news and pictures of the upcoming events next time and meanwhile wish friends and followers masses of happy writing!

I made scotch pancakes for my daughter because she helped me write the pitch, whereas I had gin and tonic.

Monday, 12 December 2016

Ink Tears Launch!

Launch cupcakes!

It was a long haul from our village to London, especially in festive Friday afternoon traffic, but every mile was worth it. At The Sun pub in Covent Garden, we filled the cosy room upstairs with our books and cupcakes, but most importantly, it was filled to capacity with lovely, kind people who came to support Llama Sutra and When Planets Slip Their Tracks.

Many thanks go to Sara-Mae Tuson, editorial director at InkTears, and Agnes Meadows from Loose Muse for all their enthusiasm and hard work organising and hosting the event.

Melanie's beautiful book, Llama Sutra, with stunning cupcakes

Although I was meeting Melanie Whipman for the first time, I immediately felt as if we had known each other forever. Writers often have an instinctive connection with one another, but Melanie is so lovely, it would be impossible for anyone not to be entranced by her straightaway. She and I both read from our books and the audience was incredibly warm and responsive. I had found it hard to choose which story to read and the one I eventually picked demanded my dodgy northern accent. (Had to apologise to anyone hailing from Bradford.)

When Planets Slip Their Tracks with their matching (only slightly dog-eared) cupcakes, which somehow survived the journey. Melanie brought hers on the train without mishap!

I loved every minute of reading aloud and then socialising and signing books afterwards. I was overwhelmed to meet in real life some very lovely Twitter friends and fabulous fellow writers. Thank you so much to the brilliant and lovely Fiona Mitchell, CG Menon and Sarah Hegarty. I was truly overjoyed to see you there and hope we meet again soon.

Mel and I with each other's books. I'm so looking forward to reading Llama Sutra.

I was very touched and thrilled to see my cousins, Brenda and Andrea, at the event too. Staunch supporters of both my books, they have suffered a heartbreaking event this year, so to see them set aside everything they are going through to be there for Planets meant the world to me. And long-standing (I didn't say old!) friends, Ian and Janet, who were the usher and bridesmaid at my wedding thirty-two million years ago, have also been an absolute pillar of support and it was truly wonderful that they could come too.

The hubster, Adrian, did all the driving - six hours of it, including an unscheduled U-turn in the middle of Piccadilly Circus, during which, incredibly, no one hooted us. Our three daughters came with us as well, having helped with all the preparations. I know that not all writers have this amount of family support, so I feel blessed and grateful to them all for never failing to be enthusiastic. I don't really deserve it - I didn't even think to bring any food with us (apart from the hallowed cupcakes) and as soon as we pulled up in Drury Lane the girls made an emergency dash to Pret.

Thank you to our daughters, Georgia, Alexandra and Olivia, for always being there.

Books are the perfect companion for solitude, but this event was a great example of how reading also brings people together. The old-fashioned way of story-telling by reading aloud was so well received, with several people saying afterwards how relaxing and comforting it was to be read to and how it reminded them of the quiet afternoons at infant/junior school, just before home-time, when the teacher's voice softened and everyone calmed down from the excitement of the day.

Having the time of my life reading from Planets

I had a fabulous surprise when I arrived home - a very positive review from the lovely author and reviewer, Jen Campbell (no relation). She has a very informative, entertaining and highly regarded YouTube channel where she talks engagingly and intelligently about the great variety of books she reads. I was thrilled enough that she was keen to read Planets, but when I saw her speak with such enthusiasm about it here, it was the icing on the cake.

Thank you so much to all my friends and family who have showed such support for me and my writing throughout the year. Writers may disappear to work alone throughout all their early drafts, but they can't share their words single-handedly.

Monday, 21 November 2016

Ink Tears Launch

On December 9th Ink Tears are launching Melanie Whipman'a short story collection, Llama Sutra and my own When Planets Slip Their Tracks will have its (slightly belated!) launch at the same time!

The event takes place at The Sun pub in Covent Garden from 7.30 until 10.30 in the evening and both Melanie and I will be reading excerpts from our collections.

We would love to see you there for a glass of wine to celebrate the occasion.