Monday, 10 December 2012
It has a lovely glossy cover displaying David Derrick's thoughtful and inspiring photography, sometimes black-and-white and often containing a glorious warm amber glow.
Inside is a wealth of literary stories of all kinds. Jo, who founded and edits the magazine, accepts submissions via email or post and is especially keen to receive stories up to 1600 words in length at present. However, stories up to 2500 words are eligible.
Flash fiction is also welcome.
Jo also runs a competition twice a year for stories up to 1500 words or flash pieces up to 300 words.
The magazine is of very high quality, both in terms of content and appearance. Jo is so enthusiastic about new and emerging writers, hoping to give an opportunity to those whose writing sparkles with originality, risk and that special magic. I always send her my best work! It's an honour to be part of such a vivid collection of stories in this neat A5 format, almost more of a book than a magazine, with its solid spine and crisp pages.
The previous issue, Number Seven, featured a story by Carys Bray, who has since had a wonderful collection, Sweet Home, published by Salt. I would highly recommend this book. I couldn't put it down. I was reading it while cooking, while Christmas shopping, while I supposed to be doing my own writing, hiding upstairs with it while the family were trying to find me. I read it until it was finished and then wished I still had it all to come.
One of my favourite short stories, At The Launderette, by Sarah Barr appeared in issue Two of The Yellow Room. I still read it as an example of the craft whenever I need a reminder of how an excellent story should be written.
Spare language, smooth development of the main character in a believable and careful progression throughout, a great stirring of emotion and a perfect ending. I won't say any more about it here, but will maybe devote the next post to why I think it's so compelling. It taught me a lot about taking care to pare a story down to the bone.
Issue Eight of The Yellow Room is available now.
Sunday, 19 August 2012
1. I have never felt bored. If I'm in a boring situation, my mind switches to imagination mode and I think all sorts of ridiculous things that keep me entertained. When my headmistress gave the sixth-form a long speech for our leaving day, I recall imagining her dancing the can-can. It was a complete contrast to her stiff and starchy image and when she appeared to look straight at me, I was convinced she could read my thoughts. About four years ago, I adapted my tendency to live in a dream-world to writing fiction. I love it more than I can say. The disadvantages of an over-active mind are that I never see anyone wave to me and I have to ask what happened when we've finished watching a film.
2. My father bought me a paperback every Saturday morning. Our day began at the kitchen table, where I would read Bunty or Mandy while he scanned the racing pages of his newspaper. We drank lots of tea and I ate lots of those iced biscuits (like Party Rings, only square and with iced pictures on them. I think they were called Playbox) for breakfast. Then he took me into the town and deposited me in the miniature branch of WH Smith to browse while he visited the turf accountant. When he collected me (hours later) he bought me whichever book I'd chosen. They cost two-and-six then. If I couldn't choose between two, he might agree to buy both, depending on how the horses were running. No Saturday could have been more perfect than that.
3. I developed a horrendous kidney disease when I was five. My parents were told it might be leukaemia. I was covered in bruises and in terrible pain. Driving me to hospital, my father screeched to a stop outside the toyshop, ran in and came out with a huge box for me. It was the Playdoh factory I'd wanted for ages.
I'd only just started school then, but was at home recovering for over a month, during which the entire class sent me pictures and paintings and cards. I remember the package being delivered and sitting on the stairs to read them all, wishing I could go back to school soon and get to know them all. I did recover fully, I'm glad to say, and caught up with school life. But I was always the shyest girl in the class.
4. After living in Germany for almost a year when I was twenty, I discovered I should have applied for some sort of visa and had my passport stamped. I lived in fear after that, especially when I was caught without the correct ticket on a bus in Hamburg. I was asked to produce my passport, but I didn't have it with me. The inspector was terrifying and issued me with a large fine. A lovely lady in the seat in front of me turned round to ask him to be lenient and to bear in mind that I was English and would get a dreadful impression of the German people if he wasn't prepared to let me off with a warning. But he went ahead and gave me the fine. I sat there with tears rolling down my face at the lady's kindness and at the humiliation. I couldn't eat anything except cheap bread for a week to pay the fine. And I drowned my sorrows with a bottle of very cheap wine, scraping out the cork with a fork, which took a whole afternoon, but is possible.
5. I have the best life ever and hope it goes on for a very long time.
Thank you, Teresa. x
Tuesday, 31 July 2012
They found their way into a farmer's field and nibbled ten new bales of hay. The packaging was ruined and the damp getting in. The owner of the other pony was cross with ours, who was the certain ringleader. And the farmer was fed-up with everyone, understandably. As the ponies were too full of hay and high spirits to be chastened, the two men got cross with each other instead!
Hubby had to act as peacemaker while catching our (exceptionally pleased with himself) pony and mending fences in every sense of the word.
Middle daughter made a notice for the field-gate requesting any remaining wedding-guests to please not open it, walk in and excite the ponies any more. As she attached the notice, four adults strolled past her, went in and proceeded to do just that! Whatever happened to the Country Code? I remember in the sixties/seventies seeing the reminders on television about closing gates.
Meanwhile our neighbours are replacing a fence and the removal of the old one has caused the boldest of our chickens, improbably named Spiffy-Peaches, to get excited and venture through the resulting gaps. Our small kitten, recently allowed to begin exploring the great outdoors, is amazingly not fazed by the chicken, despite being a third of her size. She is thrilled at the hunting opportunity presented by a plump, but small-brained bird on the ground. Hubby had to canter down the garden and rescue Spiffy-Peaches twice yesterday while he was trying to work. Thankfully, Coop, Bernhardt and Kevin Kiev are less adventurous.
I have seen one beautiful daughter graduate - what a wonderful day that was; another beautiful daughter pass her driving test (waiting for her in the test centre with the real driving-instructors gave me a lot of short story ideas) and a third beautiful daughter go off to a week's residential novel-writing course for ages fourteen to sixteen. She has a story published in an anthology, Objection To Perfection, published by Gentlemen Press, and full of pieces by young writers aged thirteen to twenty-one. So, feeling proud of them all, I'm fluffing up my feathers in a style reminiscent of Spiffy before she encountered the kitten and started jogging back up the garden.
In between animal escapades and motherly pride, I have read The Colour Of Milk by Nell Leyshon. I really enjoyed this little novel. It's very quick to read if you don't have much time and is so moving. The language is spare and direct, which adds further shades of grey (I didn't mean to say that) to the bleakness of the narrator's life. I thought I would be annoyed by the lack of capitals at the beginning of sentences. But it was appropriate for the narrator to write in that way and not distracting after all. And for me it was a good lesson in pared-down writing and how effective and emotive that can be.
I'm also looking forward to reading The Lighthouse by Alison Moore, which is long-listed for the Man Booker Prize and published by saltpublishing.com. They are running some short story competitions at the moment, which I have been busy entering. I've read an excerpt of The Lighthouse and really enjoyed Alison's style and voice.
Tomorrow, all being quiet in the garden and field, I start the first read-through of my own novel. This will be the day I read it as a reader, a very critical one who is easily bored by unnecessary description, tedious dialogue, rambling plots that go nowhere, characters who don't leap from the page and repetition of ideas in case the reader didn't get it the first time a hint was dropped. I know I can be guilty of all these in a first draft and I don't want to let any of it slip through the net. Or through the fence. Or out of the gate.
So I shall be ruthless and harsh. I won't correct typos etc., since they might occur in parts that I'll delete eventually. I'll cringe at the silly mistakes, gritting my teeth as I leave them where they are for now, and just note where the massive, sweeping changes need to be made. And I'll let you know how it goes. By the end of the summer, I hope I'll have made some real progress with it.
Tuesday, 3 July 2012
This story featured in the 2010 Bristol Short Story Prize anthology and is a surreal tale about a man metamorphosing into an ostrich during a job interview. As well as amazing depictions of the metamorphosis, they also picked out all sorts of other details, showing a good understanding of the story.
They used a variety of media and techniques: paints, inks, collage, pencil and pastels. Every student had their own ideas, yet they all helped and supported one another. Their teacher, John Bennett, was inspiring and enthusiastic. He worked so well with them while also encouraging them to think for themselves and follow through their ideas.
I never imagined being involved in anything as amazing as that when I dreamed up this strange little story about how the things we expect to go one way, in a straightforward direction, often divert us off course in a way we could not have envisaged. The other theme is that we should never underestimate what others might know about us, or plan to do with us, given the chance!
In a nutshell, anything can happen any time. And often when you least expect it.
Saturday, 30 June 2012
And in the same week of this first step towards producing a book, my eldest daughter took the final one of her degree course at Cardiff University. She achieved a First and we couldn't be more proud of her. Not just for this wonderful result, but for the wonderful girl she is. She has overcome serious personal setbacks to reach this stage of her life and never once given up. And it was a hard road to tread at times. Her result is a triumph for her as a person, as well as an accolade for her hard work. She is also very beautiful and has a smile that, if it were the last thing I ever saw while gripping to the edge of a cliff by my fingernails like Mufasa in the Lion King, I would be smiling back.
Sunday, 10 June 2012
I don't usually make any lists or plans whatsoever, but I do love my cards. Just as I love my very weird spreadsheet for its coloured boxes. It may have something to do with colour. I have very bad eyesight, so perhaps I need things that stand out well.
Writing the novel, I reached the stage where I couldn't remember tiny quirks and individual characteristics, so now everything is added to the cards, if I remember to stop and do it. I also have a card for the street where they live. To a small extent, it forms a character of its own.
The other wonderful thing is that it gives a legitimate reason to procrastinate. I'm sure it's better for me to duplicate information on a blue or purple or pink piece of card when I need a pause from writing, than to wander through Amazon yet again, clicking away and adding to the ridiculously tall tower of books waiting to be read. I might count them one day, when I'm procrastinating again.
Monday, 4 June 2012
With the last 20K or so still to write, I was having great fun with it this week, having reached a crucial part of the main character's journey, the part I had looked forward to so much. And I had to stop. I hit a brick wall. Which is ironic, since the theme is walls, both physical and emotional. And here was mine.
It made me laugh to start with, this wall. I was supposed to be the author, steering and guiding my people up to and over their walls. And I'd met one I couldn't circumvent for them, bringing the whole process to a ridiculous stop. I spent the day trying to sort it out. The problem was that this turned out to be an historical novel. Initially, I planned to bring in a thread or two from history and just sort of weave them loosely into the fiction. But the history-aspect grew and grew. And I discovered that I'd set the whole thing a year late for the story-line I wanted. But changing the year would mean changing dozens of details, a painstaking editorial job that might really challenge my hitherto positive attitude to the whole work.
I paced and seethed, ate a lot of cereal and drank a lot of coffee. I was angry that I'd overlooked the details that might have shown me much earlier that I was heading the wrong way. I then stopped being a twit and tried looking at the problem with great care, researching my research before ploughing ahead with these massive, sweeping changes.
And I discovered I was OK! It was such a huge relief. I had panicked, misunderstood some facts and tied myself in knots for nothing. It was just a matter of not reading some information properly. My original research had been in order after all. (I think.) So I can carry on as planned and hopefully reach the end very soon before I put it away for that important month's break. I'll try to read it through in one sitting, setting aside a whole day to do so, without any nit-picking alterations, just being a reader rather than a writer and getting the feel of the whole thing. Then I'll get down to the cutting and developing and stitching disconnected bits together.
This novel began as a short story that became a favourite of mine. It was shortlisted several times in competitions, but never placed. I began to wonder if that might be because it wasn't complete as a short story. Maybe it was the beginning of something more, an introduction to something bigger. I liked the characters and wanted to know what happened to them next. They've kept me entertained ever since, so even if nothing further happens, I will have had a brilliant time writing it and learned a lot from it as an exercise.
I heard last month that I'd been shortlisted in the William Trevor/Elizabeth Bowen short story competition. I don't think I've got any further than that. But it was good to be in the final twenty five in that particular competition, since William Trevor is my hero. And I came second in the latest Yellow Room competition, which I was very happy about. I love the fiction in that magazine.
I'm also excited to have been invited to meet pupils at Henbury School in Bristol later this month. They have created artwork for ShortStoryVille, organised by The Bristol Short Story Prize. The details are here. They chose my story from the 2010 anthology as inspiration for their art and it's such a thrill to know that and to get the chance to meet them. The story was surreal, involving a man who became an ostrich. It's rare for me to write anything surreal, but sometimes I get the urge and it paid off that time. However, I've never managed to interest anyone in my story of a lady who levitates. Maybe that one was just too silly. I'm looking forward to seeing how the students have interpreted the image of the man/ostrich.
I'm still trying to write short stories as well as the novel, but it's hard to fit both in. Mostly I just choose whichever jostles for position with the most urgency. I love both so much. The pleasure I get from writing never diminishes. When I'm immersed, I always wonder why I spend so much time procrastinating first. The writing is such a joy, even when I get it wrong, that it's odd to think I've sat there putting it off with visits to Amazon etc. I'm not on Facebook any more and I haven't ever really got into Twitter, but I still lose a lot of time gazing at things on the screen that have little to do with writing. However hard it gets at times, it's never as hard as the realisation that it's midday and not a word has been typed yet!
I hope you're all enjoying the bank-holiday break. It's nice not be rushing about. Having said that, we've been laying a floor and finding it very hard work in a large room that has no straight walls or true corners. Walls again!
Sunday, 22 April 2012
Monday, 9 April 2012
1) Rain. I love teeming rain and strong wind. I enjoy a good storm whipping the world up beyond my window. I realise I'm enjoying this perilous weather from the comfort of my own home. However, I don't mind being caught up in it for the joy of coming in to dry off and warm up. I like the smell of damp clothes steaming and the hot cup of tea that restores me. My mother always worries about damp. She is a fanatic about keeping it at bay. It's a foe that waits around corners with its foot out to trip her up. She wouldn't let me lie on our lawn - in 1976 of all summers - in case the grass was damp and I developed rheumatism.
2) The three very different smiles of my three daughters. One smile reveals an entire soul. Another is open to a thousand interpretations. The third is often shy, but can erupt like a volcano of infectious sparkling joy.
3) William Trevor's short stories. If I were marooned on a desert island, I would take this collection with me and be perfectly content for some considerable time. He breaks some of the rules about writing, but it simply doesn't matter.
4) Our cats. I love their aloof and indignant nature, the way they rule our home and get away with it. I enjoy their fur brushing against my legs and the way the chubby one settles in my lap and forces me to stroke his cheeks and the back of his neck, keeping me in the chair for ages even when I was just about to get up. They remind me of how important it is to stop and stare, especially when I watch them gazing out of the window.
5) On a topical note, I love researching the sixties for my novel. It brings back so many happy memories of my childhood. I must be careful not to overload the writing with too much detail. It's hard to resist throwing in a chain-belt here and a pale lipstick there. However, I'm sure these fashions have made a comeback. I seem to wear lots of sixties-inspired things. Or have I left that wardrobe clear-out a tad too long?
6) It has to be writing! I love it with a passion that I don't need to explain to all you lovely writers who know exactly how much happiness it brings us all. Especially those moments when the pieces of a story tumble into place and you want to shout it from the rooftops.
If I could add a seventh, it would have to be Walnut Whips, but only the plain chocolate kind. Very hard to track down.
Thank you Joanne and Harvey. I feel very happy just thinking about these things.
Tuesday, 27 March 2012
Thank you, Teresa, for tagging me with Lucky Seven! I've enjoyed locating seven lines on page 77 of my WIP, from line seven onwards. This WIP is a family saga with two main settings, a very poignant theme and hopefully quite a lot of humour. That's to say, it sometimes makes me laugh. But that might be from sheer desperation! I tend to laugh when things are really awful, so there's no guarantee that this WIP is working, but I'm having a lot of fun writing it!
Saturday, 3 March 2012
Monday, 27 February 2012
I have enjoyed being tagged by Teresa Ashby and thinking of answers to her eleven questions:
1. Do you wish you’d been born someone else?
No. I do like being me.
2. Who would you most like to have breakfast with?
Keith Richards of The Stones. Or the amazing writer, William Trevor.
3. Favourite subject at school?
4. Favourite television programme?
Twin Peaks. Also, 2000 Acres Of Sky.
5. Do you believe in ghosts?
6. What is your star sign?
7. Which Star Trek series was the best?
I must confess I have never seen a single episode of Star Trek.
8. If you could be a character from a book, who would you be?
Sophia in Our Spoons Came From Woolworth's by Barbara Comyns
9. What is your favourite animal?
The cat in all its forms.
10. Least favourite vegetable?
Corn on the cob.
All that gnawing and the ghastly smell of it.
I shall have to work out how to do the links-thing before thinking of eleven questions to pass on!
Many thanks in the meantime, Teresa! I enjoyed this very much and I'll do my questions in the next post.