Thursday, December 27, 2007

A year in statistics

So, am feeling a little dejected after a rejection today, another competition I didn't win, so I thought I would cheer myself up by looking at the year in total according to the Writingstats2007 blog Vanessa and I have been keeping since last Dec 27th. (Excuse the maths - it doesn't all add up exactly, but take it as a pretty good estimate!) It's really been a wonderful exercise which helped me keep the bigger picture in mind. So, that said, drumroll....

In 2007 I...

Submitted 155 pieces of writing (not 155 different pieces, often the same story was submitted several times) -
88 to story comps,
3 to play comps,
1 to filmscript comp,
60 to open calls for submissions,
2 to open call for audio submissions,
1 fellowship

Out of these, 30 were "hits", which is to say they got somewhere

1 short story collection accepted for publication (!)
1 radio story commission,
1 anthology acceptance,
6 acceptances by online mags,
5 acceptances by print mags,
1 flash comp 2nd prize and 1 finalist,
3 stories made shortlists in short story comps
4 made longlists in short story comps
1 Honorable Mention in short story comp
2 highly commended in short story comp,
1 commended short story comp,
1 commended in play comp

And 94 were misses (no that doesn't add up to 155 - some submissions still outstanding)
I didn't win:
43 short story comps
1 story collection comp
7 flash comps
1 novel comp

And my stories were rejected by
16 print magazines,
6 online mags,
11 flash fiction publications,
2 anthologies,
2 audio submissions,
1 scriptwriting comp,
2 short play comps

Financially speaking I..

Spent £484.50 (on entry fees etc...)
Earned £494 from my writing. (plus 30% discount off Abroad Writers Conferences (could be worth $750... if I want to pay the other 70%)

So I am ten pounds in the black....

All in all, I am thrilled - I have a ratio of almost one acceptance to every three rejections (30: 98), or a 25% acceptance rate (30/128) which is certainly far far better than I have ever done before! And it makes me so happy to see the range of submissions, not all to competitions, but to online and print publications too - and the odd short play comp. Of course, the highlight was the acceptance of my short story collection by Salt... nothing tops that! But it doesn't mean I can rest on my laurels... I now have to work on self-promotion, which is not something that comes easy to me.

I have a feeling 2008 is going to be an interesting year. I will be promoting my book come June, and am still sending out stories, still waiting to hear, still looking for great publications to read and submit to (thank you Duotrope!) But I go into 2008 not just as a published author, but as an editor, of The Short Review, my new baby, something I have set up single-handed and am running, with the assistance and input of an ever-growing raft of wonderful and enthusiastic reviewers. It is turning out to be a lot of work, but it is work which involves my passion, the short story, and every hour I spend on it thrills me. For the first time, I feel like maybe I am making my small but unique mark. Onwards and upwards!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

I flash therefore I am

A couple of revelations this week. Firstly, someone I met yesterday asked me what I did and for the first time I said, with no hesitation, "I'm a writer". Not "Well, I used to be a journalist, but now, well, um, I write fiction, I'm trying to... um". Just straight: "I am a writer". Felt very good.

Second, I have been beating myself up for the past six months about not being able to write "full-length" short stories, i.e. anything over 1000 words (4 pages or so). Ever since my book deal in June, I have felt blocked on this front and I was despairing. However, I have been writing flash stories, under 500 words, loads of them. I've written at least 30 in the last 6 months. And Jen at Salt Publishing is a huge fan of flash. My book deal gives Salt first dibs on my second collection, and I have finally decided that this will be a flash collection. Yesterday I decided that it is totally fine to write only short short stories. Why not? Just as I resist all pressure to write a novel, I can resist my own pressure to write a short story. I love flash fiction, I love how it feels to write it, the process is completely different from a short story. So why shouldn't I just do this for a while?

I had two flash stories accepted for publication this week by Brand Magazine.... so I shall just continue in this vein. Sometimes we need to listen to what makes us happy, and stop trying to do the things we think we "should" but which feel far too much like hard work. I flash. That's what I do right now. And I'm proud.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Hava negila - 21st century

Ok, this really freaked me out.... Apparently it could be the UK Christmas number one! Wierd.

Embedded Video

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Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Sunday Salon: Fifteen Modern Tales of Attraction

The Sunday
I've just posted my Sunday Salon blog over at The Short Review's blog, and today I blogged while reading Alison MacLeod's short story collection, Fifteen Modern Tales of Attraction. Stunning stories! The Sunday Salon is a group of bloggers around the world who blog every Sunday about what they are reading while they read. Pop into the blog and learn more about it.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Another interview

A profile of me, on Normblog. Lovely to be asked, but still rather wierd for me to be on the receiving end of the questions. But it's good to think about all the things Norm asked me to think about. And he's linked to my favourite poem and song. You'll have to head over there to find out what they are!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

I'm the interviewee, for once

I knew that when I gave up journalism, I'd not be doing any interviewing. But now I have been interviewed! Kay Sexton, the author of the wonderful writing blog Writing Neuroses ... mine are rare, yours may be legion, interviewed me about The Short Review and how it started, and about my own writing. Thank you, Kay! Do pop by and leave a comment.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

The Short Review Issue 2

I am delighted - and exhausted - to announce that The Short Review Issue 2 is now available. 10 reviews, great reads, do stop by and sign up for the newsletter.


Monday, December 03, 2007

Back home after a very writerly trip

I got home yesterday after twelve days in England, exhausted but inspired... sad that I left J over there for another 3 weeks, but energized and looking forward to a productive month. I already had some lovely news: my portfolio of three short stories has been Highly Commended in the Biscuit Publishing Short Story Competition.

I've got a busy week - I'll be launching the second issue of The Short Review on Thursday (fingers crossed!) and with almost 1000 hits to the first issue, I have high hopes that this issue - which is bigger than the last, with more reviews from my expanding stable of reviewers- will get even more hits from far and wide.

One thing I did in England was pick up several review copies of books sent to me by kindly publishers and distribute them to the wonderful women of the online writers' forum Fiction Workhouse on our fabulous day out last Sunday in London. I had only met one of them - Vanessa, the FW's founder - but due to the nature of the Workhouse, we all felt we knew each other already. Julia, Zoe, Susannah, Mel, Elaine, Vanessa... what a fabulous groups of wise and witty women. We met up at Holborn tube - just before it was shut due to a security alert! - and joined a Wellcome Trust walk about the medical history of the area, called Blood, Guts, Gore and Children. It was fascinating, despite the pavements being a little tough on the feet. Then we repaired to a nearby vegetarian curry house for the real purpose of the day: talking. Hours passed like minutes, and for me, to sit around and natter about writing was like being in heaven! Eventually, everyone sadly had to get back to their respective corners of England, but I really hope we'll do it again, and that more FW members will join us.

For me and Vanessa, the fun carried on, with a trip to Cambridge the next day to meet Jen Hamilton-Emery from Salt Publishing, the small press that is publishing our story collections, hers in March and mine in June. For three hours we talked about stories, about publishing, about our work and other people's, serenaded by the Italian owner of Clowns cafe, who took quite a shine to Vanessa! Jen insisted on taking our pic... spot the tiny clown in the background.

Meeting Jen - who is just delightful, with seemingly limitless energy and highly infectious enthusiasm - made it finally seem real to me. Months I had been worrying that her email with the offer of publication was a mistake, that she would withdraw it when she realized what she'd done. Now, after seeing her in the flesh and hearing her enthusiasm for my stories, I can almost believe it. We had another Salt meet-up last week:with excellent timing (for me!) Salt held a party on Thursday night at Foyles bookshop in London, at which many of their recently-published authors - poets and short story writers - read from their work and signed copies of their books (for pictures see Jen's Myspace blog).

For the first time, I was not sitting in the audience as other writers read and wishing it was me: for the first time, I knew it would be me, this time next year. This was further emphasized when, in the interval, I met several fabulous Salt short story writers that I had heard of and read: Chrissie Gittins, Elizabeth Baines and Carys Davies. We had never met, yet all three of them, without me saying a word, said "You must be Tania". Being someone who thinks of herself as having wallflower tendencies, observing from the sidelines without being seen, I was completely taken aback. But the world is a different place now - the world is blogs and websites and myspace and facebook, and The Short Review. Seems as though I can't quietly observe any more; now I am actually taking part.

It wasn't until J and I were driving back to his mother's that night that it started to sink in - I met authors and they treated me like one of them. I am an author. I am an author. I got quite emotional, and, since I was driving, we had to pull into a service station for an emergency Crunchie. Felt much better.

Now it seems I have work to do - Jen has sent me an Author Questionnaire and I have to find my USPs, she says.... my Unique Selling Points. Well, listening to the other authors read on Thursday night did demonstrate to me that I seem to have USPs because my stories didn't resemble any of theirs so I must be doing something a bit differently. How to put it in words? I also have to think about launch events... Where? When? Who? And I also have to get used to the idea of reading my own work, out loud, in front of strangers, assuming that any strangers want to come and hear me! Life is changing. It's all very, very good.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Go Away on Every Day Fiction

Just a quick note to say that my story, Go Away, is Every Day Fiction's story of the day today. Comments welcome!

Also, I was delighted to receive an email last week from Riptide, a new UK literary magazine, saying that they'd like to publish my story North Cold. The UK short fiction scene is really hotting up, and I am thrilled to be part of it. Riptide is one of four new Uk lit mags, the others being Short FICTION, Brand magazine and White Chimney. From what I have seen they are a great read, and really worthy of support.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Sunday Salon

The Sunday
I have just had my first experience of joining in with The Sunday Salon, which sounds like a wonderful idea - bloggers blogging about what they are reading while they are reading! I have joined in from The Short Review blog, since that seemed appropriate, and blogged about the latest short story collection I am reading. Pop in and have a read of my blog post, and you can read the others here .

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Saving energy while Googling

I just stumbled across this, I think it's fantastic:
Blackle was created by Heap Media to remind us all of the need to take small steps in our everyday lives to save energy. Blackle searches are powered by Google Custom Search.

Blackle saves energy because the screen is predominantly black. "Image displayed is primarily a function of the user's color settings and desktop graphics, as well as the color and size of open application windows; a given monitor requires more power to display a white (or light) screen than a black (or dark) screen." Roberson et al, 2002

In January 2007 a blog post titled Black Google Would Save 750 Megawatt-hours a Year proposed the theory that a black version of the Google search engine would save a fair bit of energy due to the popularity of the search engine. Since then there has been skepticism about the significance of the energy savings that can be achieved and the cost in terms of readability of black web pages.

We believe that there is value in the concept because even if the energy savings are small, they all add up. Secondly we feel that seeing Blackle every time we load our web browser reminds us that we need to keep taking small steps to save energy.

Great idea!

Thursday, November 01, 2007

The Big Day! Nanowrimo and The Short Review

I can't quite believe this day has come. I've had trouble sleeping all week. Who would have thought November 1st would be so auspicious? First, Nanowrimo kicks off today, and all those of us around the world who signed up begin our 2000-words a day towards that 50,000-word target at the end of the month. I got up this morning and didn't do any of the things I usually do. No email, no switching cell phone on. I made tea, I turned the radio to the classical channel, I started up my laptop, and for an hour, I wrote. 2051 words. And NOT a short story. I think I might just be able to do this.

Then, and only then, did I allow myself to do the other Big Thing for today: I launched my new venture, The Short Review. The website is live, it's up now, exposed to the world. What is it? It's my small attempt to redress the balance, and give short story collections the spotlight they deserve - and bringing you something good to read. The site dedicated to reviewing story collections and anthologies. Every month we'll publish original reviews, and much more. Go over there and have a look, and pop into the blog and tell me what you think. I am so excited!

There is a little downside to today. J is going away for 8 weeks, a long, long time. I'll miss him terribly. I will try and keep busy. And I've got a lovely load of friends who will look after me. I hope it will be an interesting month.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

congrats, Liz!

Congrats to my fellow writer Liz Prato, who won third place in the Juked Fiction Prize, judged by Frederick Barthelme. Nicely done, Liz, crack open the champagne!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

A short story competition cautionary tale

Without naming any names, I feel duty-bound to pass this on as a cautionary tale about the big, bad world of not-real short story competitions. A few months ago I submitted a very short story in to a contest run by an online writing group for a £6 fee. I didn't check the terms and conditions of entry; i.e. what might happen if I won or got placed. Now it has come back to bite me. I was named as a finalist and was delighted to hear that my story would be published in the competition anthology. I received an email a few days ago that the anthology has now been published. So I reply, asking innocently "I assume that contributors receive a free copy?"

No answer.

So I am now expected to shell out a further £8 to buy the anthology. Which means that I have spent £13 to get my own story published. What have I won here?

Ladies and gentlemen, the lesson is this: check the fine print before you submit. And check it again before you agree to be published anywhere. I feel that a free copy of an anthology is the very least a competition can offer, since I already paid to enter! Unless this isn't a real competition at all, simply a way to generate content and 100 willing buyers. You make up your own minds.

Monday, October 22, 2007

It's good to laugh

I used to be a little obsessed with all those TV shows involving lawyers, cops and solving gruesome murders, but I've recently discovered what a difference it makes to my mood - and my ability to sleep at night - to watch things that make me laugh. Two quick tips: 30 Rock and The Big Bang Theory, both very silly and very funny! Enjoy.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

To Plot or Not

So, I've taken the plunge. I've signed up for NaNoWriMo. For those of you who don't know what this is, it may sound like torture. It stands for National Novel Writing Month, and the original idea was to stimulate writers who don't think they can write a novel, setting them the goal of writing 50,000 words in 30 days. The point is that these are not 50,000 good words, they are just 50,000 words. This is to show people they can produce quantity, and give them a rough draft to work on. You upload your daily writing to the site, which counts them automatically (no-one else sees your writing) and keeps a tally. Anyone who makes it to 50,000 is a "winner".

I signed up two years ago. Me, who has never written anything longer than 6000 words. I wrote a few hundred, and spent all my time in the forums moaning about how I couldn't write anymore. Now, when I seem to be comfortable with stories of less than 700 words, I decided it was time to push myself.

This time, though, I have a support group: six or seven of my fellow Fiction Workhouse members are taking the plunge together and egging each other on. We don't start til nov 1st, but already I feel calmer.

I actually have a main character already, someone from one of my short stories who intrigues me. But that is as far as I get. I have no plot, no novel-length story idea. And that terrified me. I found a few others on the NaNoWriMo forums who are in the same position but most people seem to have plotted their novel out. I was panicking a little.

Until this morning.

Until this morning I was firmly in the camp of the non-plotters. I've never plotted a short story before writing it. Hmm, but then I've never written more than 6000 words. However, today, I was shown a whole new way of working. I am taking an online screenwriting class, with the idea that we all write a full-length screenplay. I have had an idea in my head for a few years - but just an image, a beginning, a concept. Nothing else. One main character. I've tried over the years to just start writing the script and seeing what happened. But that just didn't work.

Today, however, I read the 2nd lesson that the instructor posted online, and in half an hour, following the guidelines, wrote an entire synopsis/Story Map of my film, with beginning, middle and end. The story unfurled as I wrote. Now I have the plot. And it may well be that the plot will change radically as I write the actual script, but I have somewhere to start.

I thought this might help with the novel, as well. I don't know - since I have never written a novel - which parts of this are specific to films, but I have a feeling it's quite similar, just adjust the terminology accordingly. So, tomorrow I will have a go. We'll see if I get anywhere.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

How to avoid writing

What do I do to avoid writing? One thing that is excellent for wasting hours is redesigning my website. Tweaking, changing colours, trying out a new layout. Hours and hours... Much better than washing up. What do you think of the new design? Do the pictures slow it down? Is it eye-catching or a bit too much? Comments very very welcome.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

string theory anthology

I was thrilled to receive an email tonight saying that my short story, Secrets, has been accepted for publication in an anthology inspired by String Theory. String Theory is the branch of physics that is trying to persuade everyone that the basic building blocks of matter aren't particles but instead tiny strings, that become different particles when they vibrate at different frequencies, a bit like the way a violin string can produce different notes depending on how you play it. There are still some outstanding "problems" with string theory, not least that if this theory is to work then instead of our four-dimensional world (three dimensions of space and one of time) we would need at least 10 dimensions, some of them folded up very small. Hmm. No, I don't understand it either. The discussions are ongoing. (If this has whetted your appetite, you can learn more here.)

Anyhow, back to me. I have been working on what I call "science-inspired" short stories for the past few years, stories that take as their starting point an article from NewScientist magazine and go often in mostly very non-scientific directions. Half the stories in my collection will be science-inspired. So when I heard about this anthology, I was very excited! Exactly my cup of tea. The call was:

Writers are invited to submit either a poem, a short story, a short play, or an essay. Fiction may be, but is by no means limited to, science-fiction.

I wrote a flash story especially for the anthology based on the notion of all these extra dimensions. So I am thrilled to have been accepted and am waiting with baited breath to see the anthology, due out in May, and read all the wonderful ways my fellow writers took this theory as inspiration and made something magical out of it.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Fish-filled sea

My flash story, Fish-Filled Sea, is Every Day Fiction's story of the day. They have a comment facility so pop by and let me know what you think.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

congrats, Zoe!

I just wanted to spread the wonderful news that my writing colleague in the Fiction Workhouse and dedicated editor of Cadenza Magazine, Zoe King, will be joining the Salt Publishing stable of authors, and her short story collection will be published in 2008. Congratulations, Zoe! Very well deserved, and very exciting!

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Drinking Vodka in the Afternoon on Radio 4

My short story, Drinking Vodka in the Afternoon, will be broadcast on BBC Radio 4 tomorrow, Wednesday October 3rd, at 3.30pm UK time.

It's very exciting - my third story on the radio in three years! And the first story that I wrote for radio. We'll see if it worked. Always slightly nerve-wracking, I never get to hear it in advance. Fingers crossed! It will be available on the BBC Radio 4 website for 7 days afterwards, and then, I hope, I will upload it to my website too, so you can still hear it if you missed it.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Inspiration is other people

I belong to two amazing online writing groups: the WriteWords Flash Fiction Group and the Fiction Workhouse , and both those groups are incredibly supportive and inspiring places to be.

The WW Flash group has a weekly Challenge, which one group member "wins" and then they set the challenge for the following week. And in the Fiction Workhouse we are now in the middle of something quite wonderful called a Blastette. This is a period of time during which we all write as many flash stories (under 500 words or so, no set rules) as we can inspired by 24 sets of prompts that one member of the group has compiled. This is the third Blastette that has happened since the FW was set up 9 months or so ago, and it is just an astonishing experience. There are 20 of us involved, on several continents, but the energy is palpable. Whenever someone writes a story, they immediately post it up on the site, anonymously, and as well as writing as much as we can, we try and give brief comments on other people's stories.

What this has taught me is that the more you write, the more you write. Writing is truly a muscle that will atrophy if under-used, but when kept healthy and given a good workout, is infinitely flexible. During the Blastette, there isn't time to think, there isn't time to listen to that Censor who resides in your head. You just let go, and write. And because you're not investing your all in just one Story, you don't care so much if maybe several flashes don't "work" for you. Something magical will happen in there somwhere, even if it is just a line or a character that you then do something with at a later date.

What working in both these groups shows me too is the power of taking inspiration from a prompt. I did, to my surprise, once have a conversation with someone about prompts who said "But isn't that cheating? Shouldn't you come up with the ideas on your own?" Does anyone come up with an unprompted idea for anything? We don't live in a vacuum, we don't just lie on our beds and contemplate the ceiling waiting for inspiration to strike. Prompts are all around us, and these exercises are just honing this, giving it some focus, encouraging it. No two people will ever write the same story from the same prompt. That is what is beautiful. The prompts may be the same, but we aren't. And it is wonderful to see the directions people go in.

This Blastette we are in right now is still ongoing (it's actually a 48-hour one, and we each drop in when we can), so I'd better wind this up and go and write more. I just wanted to share a little of the energy, and to thank my groups. Inspiration is everywhere.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Sukkah with WiFi

I am blogging from my sukkah.

It has WiFi.

This is only the second year we've had a sukkah in our little garden, lovingly built with much sweat and ingenuity by J from scrap wood and assorted sundries.

Yes, but what has this to do with writing?

Well, the Sukkah is intended to celebrate the Sukkot holiday, and supposed to be up for 8 days only... but last year I was so enamoured of it that we left it up for a few months and it become my little outdoor writing space, despite the worsening weather.

It's a little bit of inside and outside combined, nature and technology, permanent and fleeting, creativity and peace. Everyone should have one.

Monday, September 24, 2007


A gorgeous short story publication landed in my mailbox this morning. Called Minishots, they are produced by Vignette Press, a twelve-year-old "indie publishing outfit", as they describe themselves, operating out of Melbourne, Australia. So far they have produced 7 Minishots, which are stunning-looking small magazines each containing one story. Here it a selection of the front covers:

There is a similar American venture, One Story, to which I subscribed for a while, but their covers, while different colours, were plain, not like Vignette's, where the artwork is part of the overall impression. Also, I have to say that I only tended to enjoy one One Story story in every five or six, I found the writing too "American" for me. It's the same reason why I don't like most of the NewYorker fiction: so many of the stories they publish are, to me, like mini-novels, rather than being the unique and beautiful thing that is a short story, where every word counts, and where magic can happen in such a small space.

Anyhow, much luck to Vignette. I have only read Minishot #001 so far and was also impressed by the writing, so am looking forward to the other six that came along with it, and more as they are produced. It's great to find more English-language publications that aren't from America or the UK - which is my own fault, I know, I am sure there is a great deal I haven't found yet. (I stumbled across Vignette Press thanks to Duotrope, which is a godsend for writers and deserves much support and praise.).

All this only adds to my impression that it is an exciting time to be a short story writer, with imaginative and creative people like Vignette Press doing such wonderful things with our stories.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Writing and pain

My hands hurt. It's been a long time since this last happened, since my last bout of repetitive strain injury. Maybe 8 years. Back then, my whole arm went numb, I had to stop typing for several months, which is very difficult for a journalist. I remember I dabbled in voice recognition software but just couldn't get used to talking to myself. I had to stop knitting, too, which I was sad about. I had a lot of chiropratic treatment etc.. and that helped. Then I discovered yoga, and that really really helped.

I haven't had pain for years, I've been doing yoga regularly, sitting properly at the computer (I think), not really knitting. Then a few months ago I took up knitting again, delighted, because it's pretty trendy now, I don't get called "Grandma", everyone wants hand-made jumpers. But I must have overdone it, or over-used my laptop, or been careless about posture or something, because now I have those familiar twinges, mostly when I am not typing, not writing.

It's very upsetting, feeling I shouldn't type, shouldn't write. Writing by hand isn't any better. All I want to do is write. I did go to yoga last night and it felt like everything was stretched and wrung out, so that should help. In the meantime, I have to look longingly at the cardigan sleeve I am in the middle of, look longingly at my laptop. I do have this laptop stand

so maybe I can have a go with the laptop at a different angle. Although I know I shouldn't really type at all. But I am antsy, irritated, I need to write. Why should it be painful?

Monday, September 10, 2007

Paring it down

I've been rewriting. Or, closer to the truth, slashing. I've had some success in the past few months in taking a short story a few thousand words long that I like but that isn't quite working - and rewriting it as a flash, under 500 words. What happened in the case of one story is that it began with the same opening scene but then went in a completely different direction. That flash then won 2nd prize in a competition. I thought, Aha, I'm onto something!

I decided to try this with all of my "problematic" stories, of which there were four main ones. I rewrote two in the last two weeks and it has been a revalation. One, which I must have tried writing ten times from different viewpoints, tenses etc.. over the past year or so (that's not including different drafts, hundreds), I began again and pared down to 240 words. When I say "pared down" I mean stripped of everything. It's not even in complete sentences now. It has exposed the raw story, any waffle is gone, such as lengthy explanations of why my main character does the bizarre thing he does to library books. All it is now is the story - what he does. No why, almost no where. My online flash group seemed to love it, they said it was a great combination of form and content - the choppiness of the writing matched the plot.

The second story I redid in this way came out longer than 240 words, around 1000, but before my groups said that the main character's tone was wrong for the story - too flippant, too cheery. All previous drafts of the story had also been quite cryptic about what it was she was doing. So this time I began with the first line stating what she was doing, taking away the mystery. The story became why not what , and while laying out the why all her anger and bitterness at her life came pouring out. A completely different story.

So, rewriting - paring down - is highly recommended. The discipline of making something a flash - whether under 500 words or under 1000 - brings out something very different, doesn't allow space for non-relevant padding. I have two more stories (at least) to tackle this way. Will see what comes of them.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Eco-Libris | Our vision

I just came across this and found it a very interesting idea:

Eco-Libris is for everyone. It enables people to do something reasonable, affordable yet with an impact: plant one tree for every book they read. We believe that taking responsibility for the environmental costs of the books we read is only natural.We strive for a world where reading books doesn’t have adverse effects on the environment, and therefore our mission is to make reading much more sustainable than it is today.

We are committed to doing our best for this to happen as quickly as possible. This is why we decided to aim high and to set a challenging goal for ourselves: we want to balance out half a million books by the end of 2008.Eventually (and hopefully sooner then later), books will be made from recycled paper or other eco-friendly materials. But till then, we can still do something to make the world greener. We hope not only to see more trees being planted, but that the Eco-Libris sticker you get to put on the books you balance out will inspire you to keep looking for more ways to make a difference.
Then I clicked on Our Team and discover to my great suprise that it is all Israelis. Why am I suprised? Well, living here, you don't get the feeling that environmental awareness is high on the list of priorities. We do what we can, we recycle plastic, glass and paper, but there are, obviously, slightly more pressing concerns, like survival. I applaud the founders of Eco-Libris for wanting to make the world we are trying to survive in not the same world we are depleting and destroying. Good luck to you!

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Thursday, August 30, 2007

Flying Saucers Go Into Production

How long have I waited for this:

US company Moller International has begun to manufacture parts for its Jetsons-like personal flying pod, the M200G Volantor.The M200G is the size of a small car and is designed to take off and land vertically.
Flying Saucers Go Into Production |Sky News|

And it only costs £45,000. A bargain. Watch out for me hovering 3 metres off the ground near you soon.

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Tuesday, August 28, 2007


I had an interesting experience this week. I was Googling myself, as you do (you do, don't you?) and I discovered a web page called Representations of Antarctica: Short Stories. And there, lo and behold, was this:

Hershman, Tania. "The White Road." Wonderwall. Route 16. Ed. Anthony Cropper and Ian Daley. Pontefract, West Yorkshire: Route, 2005. 29-37.

This is a story I wrote a few years ago, the first story I had broadcast on BBC Radio 4, and then published in Route's Wonderwall anthology. It is set in Antarctica, a place I have never been, nor did I do any research about it before I wrote the story (I don't believe in research for my fiction, it reminds me too much of journalism).

I was extremely delighted to appear on this website, and I wrote to them to find out how they'd found me. Turns out, the web page I stumbled across is the bibliography for a book called 'Fictions of the Far South' being written by Dr Elizabeth Leane, a Lecturer at the School of English, Journalism and European Languages at the University of Tasmania.

When I got in touch, Dr Leane asked me, naturally,
"why you decided to set your story in the Antarctic - did you have a pre-existing interest in the place?"

Hmm. I started feeling a little like a fraud. I replied:

The White Road was inspired by this article:

The White Road
"What's long, white, and very, very cold? The road to the South Pole is nearing completion… Almost a century after the explorers Amundsen and Scott battled their way from the coast of Antarctica to the South Pole, a US team is heading the same way but constructing a road as they go. Due for completion by March 2005, this road will stretch for more than 1600 kilometres across some of the most inhospitable terrain in the world.
- 07 February 2004

and then tried to divert attention from my lack of knowledge back onto her book. She hasn't written back to me yet!

This is quite a strange feeling, to have my short story, set in a place I have never been to, referenced in a bibliography for a book about that place. Should I have researched more? The story isn't really about Antarctica, it's about one woman's personal tragedy and how she deals with it (if you'd like to hear the Radio 4 broadcast click here). Should I have set it somewhere nameless? What is my responsibility as a writer of fiction? How much can we really make up?

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Sending books to prime ministers

Apparently, in an attempt to stimulate more interest in the arts, Booker-prize-winner and tiger-on-raft writer Yann Martel sends a book a fortnight to his Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, the Canadian PM. So far, Martel has sent Tolstoy; Hindu scriptures; and Strindberg's Miss Julie. Interesting. The article mentions that Harper is, of course, a very busy man, but Martel hopes he might fit in a page or two at bedtime or even on the loo. This inspires me to suggest that perhaps Martel should send something rather easier to read in tiny snatches of time - why short stories, of course! Some of his own (The Facts Behind the Helsinki Roccamatios) or some from Canada's many and wonderful lit mags, such as Front&Centre, Grain, Maisonneuve. or The Walrus.

It also got me thinking about who I might like to send books too, and why. Living in Israel, I'd like to send Gaza Blues, a collection of short stories by dark and funny Israeli writer Etgar Keret and dark and funny Palestinian writer Samir el-Youssef, to our dear Prime Minister, Mr Olmert and to Palestinian PM Mr Abbas, to show them what co-operation looks and feels like. Maybe they could start a book group to discuss? If anyone in high places is reading this, I am happy to lend you my copy and then come up with a few more suggestions.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

New project

I'm feeling better today. The last few days were pretty rough, not-wanting-to-get-up-in-the-morning kind of days, not something I've really experienced. But then last night this idea that has been buzzing around in my head for a while landed with a thud and insisted on being addressed. I am not going to go into detail, but I will say that it's related to short stories but doesn't involve me writing any. It's something for all short story writers and readers, I hope. No, it's not a literary magazine!

It's going to take a little while to set up, but it feels really good to have a focus, to take the pressure off me in terms of what I am going to write next, but still to be involved with short stories.

More details soon, I promise! In the meantime, visit my friend's wonderful new site JewButt and get yourself some new underwear! Congrats, Bev, we're all really proud!


Tuesday, August 14, 2007

a bit lost

I'm feeling a little lost today. Well, not just today, it's been about two months. I didn't believe that the offer of publication of my collection would throw me like this. I thought I'd just keep on going, writing stories. But I feel very stuck. I feel as though I should have a big project to work on - a new collection, a screenplay - something. But I feel completely at a loss to even think about what that could be. I wake up in the morning and I'm not fired up, not driven to jumping out of bed and creating. I wander around, waking up slowly, doing little things here and there, aimless, highly irritating to J, I imagine. Everything feels a little foggy.

I also feel guilty at my aimlessness and annoyed at my guilt. Layers upon layers. How dare I, who has the luxury of all this time, not use it to the full? Yes, but use it how? I have both the sensation that I can do whatever I like, and a heavy weight pressing down that is stopping me from doing anything.

I joined a wonderful forum called Bloggers With Book Deals, whose public face is Bookarazzi. BWBD has 50 or so members, all of whom blog and all of whom have book deals, some of them related to their blogs, and others not. I blog, I have a book deal, I can join in, I thought. Everyone seems lovely, but they are chatting about film rights, about their readings, appearances on major UK talk show Richard&Judy and interviews in the national newspapers, and I am lurking in a corner, totally overwhelmed. I can barely talk about "my book", I feel raw.

This is not how I thought it would be.

I thought I would move to the next rung up the ladder, to actual publication of a collection, with delight, with a boost to my confidence, smoothly moving on to the next thing you do. Instead, I feel as though I am half hanging off the ladder, I don't want to look down, the next rung is so far out of reach.

And I look back over what I have just read and am furious for even feeling like this. I'm so lucky, right? Why I am whining? I think I might take up pottery, maybe try and join a singing group. I should tidy up my workspace, which is utterly chaotic. Or maybe I'll have another cup of tea. Maybe I should just ride this out, notice my un-ease, my discomfort, as my meditation teacher would say. Don't judge it, it's not good or bad, just notice it, and breathe. Breathe. There's an idea.

Friday, August 10, 2007

post-publication neurosis

Thanks so much to Cally Taylor for this link to an article about the antics of a newly-published debut author trying to get people to buy his novel. Although written in a humorous tone, I really felt for Antony Moore (here, Antony, hope this shows up on your Google search!) as he keeps going back to Waterstone's to count how many copies of his book are still there, buying copies himself and writing his own Amazon reviews. He says:

I realise that’s what it means to publish a book: there’s a part of me over there on the shelves, and in Blackwell’s earlier today when a man took a copy down, rifled through it, and then, dismissively, returned it, I wanted to walk over and ask what the hell he was up to. Could he not see that he was touching a part of someone’s soul? Walk softly, I wanted to say, for you walk on my profits.

Beautifully put. But it makes me a bit stressed about how I am going to be when my book comes out. I'm pretty anxious about the whole thing already - I've rounded up a couple of glorious blurbs, which is what the industry charmingly calls those quotes on the bookjacket, from two extremely generous authors whose writing I love, Sunshine O'Donnell and Melvin Bukiet.

But will anyone actually read it, anyone who I am not related to or knows anyone I am related to or knows me or knows anyone who knows me or who has been paid to read it? I'm not in England so can't go into Waterstone's and try and sneak my book onto one of their tables... So what will happen to it?

Yes, ok, maybe I am worrying so as not to get on with something else. Does everyone feel like this?

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Never stop learning

I had a great time at the Tin House workshop two weeks' ago in Portland, Oregon, and must say that I was surprised. I made the (extremely arrogant) assumption that because I have an MA in Creative Writing, because I've published stories, because I've been on two writing workshops in the UK and three in the US, because I belong to four writing groups, because I have a book deal - well, I can't possibly have anything more to learn about writing, can I?

I was wrong.

Thank goodness I was wrong. I can honestly say that I emerged from the week of workshops looking at my writing and other people's in a totally different way. That was down to my workshop's participants, and our tutor, Aimee Bender. There were eleven of us, ten women and one man, and the standard of writing was high. In my opinion, every story that each of us submitted several months in advance for the group to critique is - with a few tweaks and edits - publishable. And that is far more than I can say for my fellow participants in what was supposed to be a "Masterclass in short fiction" that I took at another American summer writing program, where beginning, middle and end were not something most people were familiar with or saw a need for.

The wonderful thing about this Tin House group was the astonishing group dynamic from the outset. No-one interrupted anyone. In fact, everyone seemed to listen respectfully and then build on previous comments. This group provided the most thoughtful and in-depth critique of a story that I have ever received. They looked at it on so many different levels - from the overall structure down to minutiae. Rather than feeling criticised, I felt washed with such warmth that they cared enough about my story - about all short fiction - to take the time and effort that they did.

The group's dynamics stemmed from individuals and their personalities, definitely, but also from Aimee Bender's gentle yet firm hand on the rudder. I knew when I read an interview with her before applying for the workshop that she was my kind of writer - she talked about character, about voice, about not knowing when she started a story where it was going to end. And when I read her latest collection, Wilful Creatures, which includes stories about a family with pumpkins for heads and a woman who has potato children, whose stories manage to be surreal, magical, yet painful and poignant, that I was going to enjoy meeting her.

Aimee is also a great teacher. It was not that what she said was revolutionary, but it was the way she described things that led me - and the others, I think - to see our writing in a different light. She talked about sections of stories that may just be "placeholders", useful to get us to certain scenes and emotions but not actually part of the real story; she showed us how beautifully-crafted phrases and sentences could be too "writerly" and not be in the voice of our character; she pointed out that sections that are too "technical", describing too precisely and accurately, can distract from the story; she gave us permission not to tie up our stories neatly and end with everything fixed; she talked about the media's obsession with finding the causes of someone's behaviour, showing the pyschological "reason" why they are doing what they are doing, and told us that we don't need to explain why our characters do what they do. Life is more complicated than that.

This last point, although I thought I knew it, when clarified so simply, led me to a major revalation about a story I have been banging my head against for several years. I couldn't believe I hadn't seen it myself - I'd always felt something was "clunky" and suddenly I realised it was because I was trying to explain the reason for my main character's wierd behaviour, trying to draw a straight line between incidents in his childhood and what he was now doing. But I don't need to explain anything. I can just cut all that out. Ohmigod. What a relief.

So, I have learned that I will never stop learning. I've got to a point where I would like to do some teaching, too. I don't know if I'd be any good, but I'd like to have a go because I love writing and I am passionate about short stories and I'd like to spread some of that around. Now that I have the example of such an excellent teacher and a wonderful group, I have a great model to work with.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007


No, this is not some new literary term like "foreshadowing", neither does it refer to a cough. Yes, I am currently at a writing workshop in the US, but I want to talk today about something else: hula hoops. First, drop the "hula". Apparently this is a trade name. Second, I bought a hoop in England a few weeks ago, a serious hoop that comes apart into 6 sections for eash travel, a hoop that comes with a DVD. I bought it because I fully believed the hype that it can banish the spare tyres accumulating around my waist. It took me a while to master, but I can now do about 5 minutes of straight hooping.

I thought I was doing well.

Then tonight, at the post-author-reading drinks, I meet a serious hooper (as they are known), and she clues me in to the big world of hooping and the people who hoop as if their life depends on it. She sends me to and here I read about Jonathan Livingston Baxter who "hoops for 90 minutes to two hours daily.". Ok, now I feel a little inadequate. Why does he do this? He says:

"about four and a half years ago, I broke my collarbone, and in an effort to heal from this injury I began a daily hoop practice. It has changed my life in so many ways, I still cannot grasp its full impact on me. But I do know that one of the first and most profound aspects of my life that hooping has changed is the way I handle depression. Before hooping, I used to allow depression to pull me down and keep me down for months. These days, through my daily practice, I'm able to limit bouts of depression to days or even hours. It's as if I have built up my emotional white-blood-cell count; I have both more immunity to the disease of depression, and more strength to fight the disease if it does creep in. Ultimately, my entire view of life has changed from feeling cursed to feeling blessed."

It is pretty well accepted that exercise boost positivity and combats depression. But I have to say, I think there is something more than that with a hoop. It is a reminder of childhood, and reminder of the time when we were unfettered with bills and jobs and anxieities about relationships and futures. When you're hooping you have to concentrate only on keeping that damn hoop up.... you can't start wandering off into thoughts about what you need to buy or who you need to phone, or the hoop just drops. The hoop keeps you in the moment, it's - I think - a form of meditation. And it's portable, you can do it alone or in groups, and it doesn't cost a thing - once you have the hoop (which you can make yourself: see Hoopmaking).

I didn't bring my hoop-which-comes-in-six-pieces with me to the workshop, silly me I thought I'd be discussing literature. But there are hoops here, newly made hoops, and I am looking forward to tomorrow morning's whirl. I need to work upwards from 5 mins, those spare tyres are still rather inflated. But I am really excited about this. Now that I know it's not just me... maybe I'll find a Hoop group. Join me! Together we can change the world!

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Further NY musings

I think perhaps I was too harsh yesterday. Today we moved into apartment number 2 in the Upper West side, and I really like this neighbourhood. It's quieter than where we were behind Lincoln Center, although that was a fab location. But here it feels more like a community, has more character, more small shops. I am sitting and surfing in a little pavement (sidewalk!) espresso bar with free WiFi and jazz playing. Gorgeous! And we had a lovely day in Brooklyn the other day, it's great over there, those brownstones are stunning, I could definitely swap apartments there sometime, if anyone out there wants to hang out with our cats in Jerusalem!

So, NY, all is forgiven for right now. Off to writing workshop in portland, oregon, on Sunday, will report from there. Everyone says Portland is lovely, and has the biggest bookstore in the world. Temptation, temptation.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Musings from New York

New York used to thrill me. When I found out we were going to swap apartments with a friend of my cousin's on 67th and West End, (behind Lincoln Center)I didn't sleep all that night, I was so excited. But now we're here, the thrill has gone. The city is full of things that are familiar to me - The Gap, Starbucks, Borders books, you can find them all over the world. The streets, the fire hydrants, the metal fire escapes, I know them so well from Law&Order, from NYPD Blue, from all the other American shows I watch. The American accents are the same as those I hear around me in Jerusalem. Basically, it's not new, and it's not exotic. It's actually a little boring.

This also may be because since I was last here a few years ago, I have learned how to thrill myself. No sniggering, that's not what I mean. I'm talking about writing. I'm talking about the buzz I get, the enormous high, from spending an hour completely focused on writing a short story, or on editing a story to make it better. Nothing beats that all-body sensation, that utter satisfaction of the truly creative act, part meditation, part inspiration, part dedication. No wonder New York doesn't do it for me anymore - I have a portable thrill-generator that I can take anywhere. Me. Can't get any better than that.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

magazines that make me happy

Ok, so I can't write right now. I haven't really been able to write anything since the news about my collection. V says that's normal. I don't call it writer's block. I'm not fighting it. I left the house a few hours ago with my laptop, thinking that I might try something. But then I found my letterbox full of goodies... and that was the end of that!

Here's what I got (not in order of preference):

Bravissimo's latest catalogue: bras, bras and more! This is heaven for the, err, more well-endowed of us who were fed up of heavy-duty scaffolding underwear. Lovely colours, all sorts of styles, tops with built in bras - even a raincoat customized to your bra size. Ahhhhhh, makes me very happy.

Bomb magazine: I entered this mag's short story comp and for my entry fee got a year's subscription. My first issue - Issue 100 - landed in the post box today, and what a beautiful looking mag it is. Lots of stunning artwork, articles about artists interviewed by artists, and a literary supplement with short stories and poems. I read a short short, very quirky, not at all what I would call "typical American short fiction", which thrills me! I am saving the rest of it for the 'plane ride on Monday to NY.

Seed magazine: So, if the first two speak to my shopping and literary sides, Seed talks to the scientist in me. But it's no ordinary science magazine, it's attempting hip & cool science and I think it's doing very well. Features on Roboethics, the meaning of life ( no less) and a review of the Museum of Time in France. Will be saving this for the plane, too.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

dream comes true

I can't quite even believe I am writing these words but here goes (deep breath): my first short story collection is going to be published in 2008.

There it is.

The amazing short-story-loving folk at Salt Publishing have been so astonishingly kind as to add me to their Authors' list. I found out last week and went into shock. How do you react when something you've wanted for 30 years, almost since you learned to write, is suddenly offered to you? Numbness. That's the first reaction. Then a grin which takes over your face for hours. A line that keeps going round and round in your head "My first short story collection..." "My first book..."

On the 'plane back from England on Monday, I watched the film Miss Potter, and when Beatrix Potter sees her first book in the bookshop, a little display of just her book, I cried. I guess I am a little emotional right now. But that's ok. This is an emotional event. I am telling people slowly. How to say it? "I have news..." and they'll think I'm pregnant. Well this is definitely a sort of birth.

In writing terms, it seems to have changed everything for me. I feel as though I have been shown the ladder and allowed to step onto the first rung. I stopped working as a journalist about 8 months ago, and I started telling people that I am a writer. I took myself seriously, so others, it seem, are taking me seriously. And what does a writer do? A writer writes. And a writer publishes. I'm going to have a book! I'M GOING TO HAVE A BOOK!

Ok, back to earth. This also seems to have removed an enormous weight from my shoulders that I didn't realise was there. I am breathing out. I can do this thing. I think that was the weight. Can I? Can't I? And now that's gone. I can do it. I am doing it.

This also allows me to put a whole pile of stories (around 25 short and extremely short stories) into one collection and mark them as "done", so I can move forward to my next work. Next work?? Hmmm. I already have a few stories that I am working on. I guess I will just carry on. I have some ideas, have two films scripts to be tackling, and my short play. So I'll be getting on with it.

That's all for now. I'm still grinning. OK, back to work.

Monday, June 04, 2007

commended in 6 minute play comp

Well, I'd written this one off as a failure ages ago - but never speak too soon! I just discovered that I have been commended in a Six-Minute Play Competition! I adapted a short story of mine, The White Road, into a play just as an exercise, requiring me to change it quite a lot to fit into the demands of theatre. It was a really eye-opening thing to do, teaching me about structure, characters and story. I am so glad I did it. And being commended just shows me that some of what I did actually worked. Might send it somewhere else now. Ahhh, a good day.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

reflections on Hay

Well, a few days after leaving the Hay Festival I have calmed down somewhat. Being there made me so agitated that I couldn't wait to leave.I was bitterly disappointed. Having read the program, I had worked myself up into great excitement about what I thought would be a truly literary event - a place for and by book-lovers, with publishers and books surrounding us and writers new and more experienced chatting with eager audiences. I imagined that in between the sessions I had booked for, I would find a quite corner to sit with my laptop and work on my own fiction, interrupted only by some friendly fellow book-lovers who wanted to chat about what we'd just seen and heard.

Wrong, wrong, WRONG.

What I found was a hideous artificial "city" of tents with barely a book in sight. Instead of stalls manned by small presses showing their wares, I found fudge, Penguin tea towels, and very expensive organic crisps. Books? Only in one tent and only those written by authors actually appearing at the Festival. The tents were draughty, seats uncomfortable, and much time was spent queuing (as the British love to do) to get in to the bloody events. As for the people, 80,000 people were attending over 10 days. That should have been warning enough. And they seemed to all be middle-class Londoners concerned more with celeb-spotting than with literature. Everyone was rather snooty, no-one talked to you or even looked you in the eye. The session I went to with three young novelists was embarassingly poorly-attending; people flocked to see celeb historian Simon Schama, but were uninterested in today's fresh new voices.

While I applaud the "green" focus on much of the festival, with a stall given over to SolarAid, a worthy environmental charity, it seemed at odds with the enormous pressure to "head over to the bookshop after the event, buy the latest hardback book by the author you've just heard, and get it signed". Recycled paper? Nope.

And what of the delightful little town of Hay-on-Wye with its 40 second-hand bookshops? Swamped by invading hordes, covering every inch of the little pavements, queuing outside cafes. But not buying books, it seems, according to the locals. Our hostess in the B&B we stayed in (the higlight of the trip - check it out - Ty Mynydd) said that the Festival used to be held in the local school and there was a lovely atmosphere. Now it's a separate "festival tent city" on the outskirts, bringing in its own traffic lights and using surrounding fields for parking (for a fee).

Ah well. High expectations, and they were all dashed. I was dying to leave. I'd had a lovely time at other Lit Fests such as Cheltenham and Bath, and assumed this would be the same, but alas, no. No more Hay for me. Next year, perhaps the Port Eliot Lit Fest or Small Wonder, the short story festival in Sussex. Or maybe I'll just stay home and read a book. Or, better still, write one.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Making Hay

Well, here I am at the Hay Festival. We arrived in pouring rain yesterday evening and I quickly realised that packing flip-flops was misguided. This morning I am wearing almost all the clothes I brought with me! Luckily, it's far less damp.

My first impressions are that it's quite a strange atmosphere - literary London, it seems, transplanted to a small town in Wales with 40 second-hand bookshops. Incongruous. Lots of trying to spot celebs, and much Fair Trade organic coffee. I haven't got far past the first impressions yet. More soon.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

short shorts

Now, I could be referring in the title of this blog to something a friend mentioned yesterday that had caused her great embarassment when her father wore them to pick her up from school in the 1970s, that great fashion era. But actually I am talking about Slingink's 140-word short story competition. My story, Sorry, is one of the finalists and will be published in the competition's print anthology. I love flash fiction, the shorter the better in my opinion (as opposed to the short trousers, which can be too skimpy, I believe). This short story actually came from a longer piece of writing that I wrote during one of the sessions I have regularly with writing friends around the world. At a set time, we all sit down and write for 45 minutes based on a prompt or set of prompts that one of us has sent out. Then we spend a few minutes looking over what we have written, and we send it out. It's a powerful thing, to write simultaneously with someone, even if they're not in the same country. I feel the joint creative energies flowing. And the short, sharp writing time and the prompts tend to bring forth some bizarre stories.

So these 140 words were towards the end of a story probably around 700 words in length. I looked at them and thought, Hmm, this seems quite self-contained. I am delighted that the judge of this comp also found them to be so. But my point is that a writing exercise is often useful not for all the words it stimulates, but for perhaps just a small section, a little jewel which can be extracted and polished. I am not sure I will ever do anything with the rest of the piece, but it seems to me that it has already served its purpose. It got me to that 140 words and I won't lament the loss of the other 600 words. They were vital, but not for actual publication. Sometimes we have to recognize what to shave off a story, and in this case it was 75 per cent of the writing that had to go. This is a good lesson to learn - it's just as important to know what to let go as it is to know what to save.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Follow-up and new design

First, how's the new blog design? I re-did it to match my website's colour scheme. Is it unreadable? Do tell me if it is.

Second, a follow-up on my previous post, which generated some arguments as to whether Miranda July's method of promoting her short story collection was productive and informative. Here's New York magazine's interview with July, in case you were curious as to who she is and what people think of her. She seems to inspire rather strong reactions, but the stories definitely sound interesting!

As for me, I was Commended in a micro-fiction competition, found out today that one of my submissions got lost in cyberspace, and am waiting for all my writing groups' reactions to the new story I recently finished. On that note I wanted to draw attention to this absolutely excellent article by the wonderfully-named Ann Pancake in Poets and Writers magazine: Reading How You're Read - The Art of Evaluating Criticism. Ann's aim is to help writers deal with the critique we receive in writing groups, workshops etc.. As she says:

With your poem, short story, essay, or book manuscript back in your hands, the first thing you'll probably do is scan the feedback as quickly as possible with the secret hope that your critics have deemed the piece perfect. But once you see this is not the case—and before you can productively sort through the comments—you have to perform a balancing act that may be the most difficult step of the evaluation process. You must suspend enough of your ego to become somewhat objective while holding on to enough of it so that you don't sacrifice your vision.

For me, this is incredibly useful advice. Having just given my precious new baby to all my writing groups, I have to make sure that their comments don't interfere with the way I see the story, that I don't submit to what may be their visions of how they would write it.

you have to have a fairly strong sense of your vision for the work. This is why it is important to avoid exposing your writing to criticism until you have a solid grasp of what you're trying to achieve.

I think I am ready for this, but if it turns out I have given the story out prematurely, I will just sit on the critique and not look at it for a while. This is a great and helpful article, highly recommended.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

A New Story

I've just finished a new story. It's not a flash piece, which can almost write itself in one sitting. This is a story of two thousand or so words. It was slow in emerging, I wrote it in 500-word instalments, weeks going by in between, because I didn't know what the story was and I didn't want to push it. I let go into the uncertainty and waited until it came, until it was ready. And it was a joy, letting myself be guided by the process, not worrying about how it would end, how it might sound, whether the characters were working. I was inside it and enjoying it, loving the newness of my characters, and loving the glimpse I was getting of their lives.

I started the story twice. The first time I wrote 1500 words but didn't feel I was getting even near the action. I was telling the story in the first person, as theMain Character, now an adult, looked back on her childhood. It didn't work for me.

So I waited. And then it came to me, and I started again. In the third person, and in the present tense, right in the middle of the action. This time it worked.

I want to stress that "finished" doesn't mean it's ready for anything. All it means in this context is that I know I have come to the end of the story. Now I have my first draft. The creative part is over. Now the hard slog begins: the stepping back and trying to read it as if it wasn't mine, without a deep and abiding love for my main character. I have help in this endeavour: my invaluable and generous writing groups. I am looking forward to getting it out there and letting them pull it to pieces. Bring it on!

I am calm. This is my meditation. I forget this, and when a week or so goes by and I haven't written, I am crabby, I snap at J, my insides are tense. Why don't I just do what I know I need to do? Ah well. Maybe because when it comes it is even greater for the build-up.

PS got two rejections tonight, adding to two non-placings in competitions this week. But somehow I am not devastated. Maybe because I finished a story today. I guess when you know you can keep doing it, it makes everything feel a little better. For now, at least.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Vanessa and Salt

A huge and enormous congrats to my great friend and writing buddy Vanessa Gebbie on the fabulous news that Salt Publishing have had the good sense to choose her collection as one of the short story collections they will publish in 2008. Can't wait to see it in print, V!

Yes, this means you are a grown-up. It's not all bad, eh?

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

And now for something about me

After a pretty depressing few weeks of "no thanks" from fiction's all and sundry, I have had rather a nice few days. First, my story, Space Fright, is published in the latest issue of the Steel City Review.

Second, I received an Honorable Mention in the Abroad Writers' Conferences 2007 short story contest. I feel highly honorable to have been mentioned. (They awarded one first prize and five 2nd prizes, which seems rather original to me!)

Third... I heard today that I've been shortlisted for the People's College short story competition. The story that was shortlisted has been the bane of my life for over a year - I have written perhaps twenty different versions, changing the tense, the point of view, where the story started, where it ended, what happened in the middle. It made me crazy! Nice to know that the judge somewhat liked it - even if it doesn't get any further, this is a great affirmation.

Please remind me of all of the above when I write my next blog post whinging about rejections and why, why, why do I put myself through it. THIS is why I put myself through it. You don't get the highs without the lows, and without the lows the highs would just be floating aimlessly somewhere around waist-height.


Ponder that one.

Monday, April 23, 2007

congrats to Julian Gough

Huge congratulations to Julian Gough, the winner of this year's National Short Story Prize with his story The Orphan and the Mob (which is still available on the BBC Afternoon Reading site, until tomorrow, I believe)! I laughed out loud listening to it - and that very rarely happens to me! You can read it in Prospect Magazine too.

I feel very honoured that Julian popped into my blog last week to correct some of my misconceptions about the shortlist. I had slammed it as being full of already-well-known writers, and I am very grateful to him for pointing out that he, in fact, has had only one novel published, in 2001, and, as he says,

one small literary novel published six years ago doesn't get you stopped in the street very often. Or, indeed, ever.

Read his comments about the competition process and what it was like to have his story cut by the BBC for broadcast here. Well done, Julian - more power to the short story - and don't spend all that £15,000 at once!

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Six little things: perfect flash fiction

It's time for a little positivity and praise - I just read the latest issue of Six Little Things , a publication for prose poems and the short-short story, and was simply stunned by the gloriousness of the six short but sumptuous pieces of writing on the theme of Mortal Enemies.

I am in love with flash fiction. It has got to a point where not only can I not read most novels, I am bored within a paragraph by most short stories. Short-shorts and prose poems are what give me the shot I need, the slap in the face, the splash of ice water. Surely the MTV generation (is that an outdated term now? Should it be the iPod/MySpace/YouTube generation) with its teeny attention span would love this art form? Why is it not everywhere? Maybe I will start a movement. Watch this (my)space.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

And to follow up... a little censorship

This is a fascinating new development related to the National Short Story Prize:

BBC accused of censorship after cancelling short story broadcast

Owen Gibson, media correspondent
Tuesday April 17, 2007
The Guardian

The author Hanif Kureishi accused the BBC of censorship last night, after it dropped a radio broadcast of his short story describing the work of a cameraman who films the executions of western captives in Iraq. Radio 4 cancelled a reading of Weddings and Beheadings, one of five nominations for the National Short Story prize due to be broadcast this week, after concluding the timing "would not be right" following unconfirmed reports that kidnapped BBC Gaza correspondent Alan Johnston had been killed by a jihadist group. Kureishi, whose work includes The Buddha of Surburbia, Intimacy and the screenplay for the film My Beautiful Launderette, said he was angry at the decision, which he described as a result of "stupid thinking" on the part of BBC executives. "It seems to me that as a journalist, he would be against censorship," he said of Johnston, who has been missing for more than a month and for whom fears intensified on Sunday when a previously unknown group, the Palestinian Brigades of Monotheism and Holy War, claimed to have killed him. Kureishi said: "There are journalists and newspapers in peril all the time around the world. We support them by supporting freedom of speech rather than by censoring ourselves."

The short story, nominated for the £15,000 prize run by Prospect magazine, describes the work of a camerman who has been forced to take on work filming the executions that have become a feature of recent kidnaps in the Middle East. The BBC said it would have pulled the programme regardless of whether or not Johnston worked for the BBC or was a journalist. "An important criterion when deciding whether to transmit a particular story on a difficult subject is the timing of the transmission . We do not now feel that it would be right to broadcast at the moment. We will review this on a regular basis," it said. But Kureishi said it was important to uphold the principle of free speech: "It's not trivial or silly. It's an attempt to say something. It all seems rather arbitrary."

Personally, I think this is outrageous. If the Beeb are worried about offending their listeners, add in a warning before the story. But you can't turn around and tell one of the 5 shortlisted entries that they alone will not be broadcast, regardless of the subject matter.

I wonder what will happen next.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

National Short Story Prize

Well, the shortlist for the "most lucractive short story prize" has been announced:
  • 'Slog's Dad' by David Almond
  • 'The Morena' by Jonathan Falla
  • 'The Orphan and the Mob' by Julian Gough
  • 'How to Get Away with Suicide' by Jackie Kay
  • 'Weddings and Beheadings' by Hanif Kureishi
So, once again (this is its second year) not only am I not on the shortlist (big surprise) they are all well-known writers. Also, strangely, I noticed when I googled them all that they are all published by Random House. Is this a bizarre coincidence? I have no idea. Far be it from me to start spreading wild conspiracy theories

I will just say one thing: I don't understand a competition that doesn't judge blindly. How is it in anyone's interest for the judges to know whose work they are reading? Surely a story should stand or fall on its own merit? Am I wrong? Am I just bitter? Well, a little - but I think this should apply to the Man Booker prize, too, for example. A big name should make absolutely no difference - otherwise how are the little people ever going to make it big? Reading a book by a well-known author, you begin with a set of expectations that have very little to do with the writing. You can go wrong, I feel, when you judge non-blindly, but how can you go wrong by judging blindly? The best work will shine through, no?

Sunday, April 08, 2007

1st Quarter: Taking stock

It seems to me, as the first quarter of the year has passed, that it is time to take stock. How has the year been so far, in figures( as recorded on our WritingStats2007 blog)?


I have submitted 94 stories to various places. These are not 94 different and unique stories, often it is the same stories sent to different places, either simultaneously or resubmitting them elsewhere when they are rejected. Here's a rough breakdown of where I sent them: 68 entries to story competitions, 1 entry to a 6-minute play competition, 1 entry to a film script comp, 22 stories submitted to open calls for submissions (not competitions), and 2 stories recorded as audio files for an Australian magazine that is producing an issue on CD.

The good news is: 8 hits, which means that either a story has been accepted for publication or it has made it to a significant place in a competition. So: 3 stories accepted for publication, and I won 2nd prize in a flash fiction competition and made 2 shortlists and 2 longlists.

The not-so-good news is that I have received 26 rejections - 16 from competitions, 2 from print magazines, 2 from online magazines and 6 from flash fiction publications.

Financial the picture is thus: Spent £ 326, earned £100 (prize money). So I am in the red to the tune of £226.

When I look at it all like this I wonder why on earth I am sending out SO many stories. What am I trying to prove by this? Does it satisfy me in some way? The rejections hurt less when you know there are still 70 possibles out there that might come through. But is it worth it? I seem to always be holding out for the next competition result, the next deadline.

Looking at the 1st Quarter from another angle, it has been extremely productive. Through the WriteWords group's Flash Fiction challenges I have written 14 new and oftentimes bizarre flash stories. The other online writing group I belong to, the Fiction Workhouse, has provided me with wonderful critique on two stories so far, and I have learned from critiquing others' work, as well as enjoying having a forum for celebrating acceptances and group commiseration on rejections.

I have a wonderful writing group here in Israel which gives me so much support, it really keeps me going, as well as helping me immensely with my writing. And I have just founded a new short story group here in Jerusalem which is a little slow to get off the ground but I have high hopes!

So, should this be enough for me? I keep thinking about halting my submissions and not sending off anything else. But I just can't quite do it. Why don't I wait until I have a story I absolutely adore, and which I think is pretty much there, and then send it off? I feel a little like I am racing towards something. Is this a throwback from journalism days when I needed deadlines? I imagine feeling quite lost without "somewhere" to send something to. But perhaps that is part of the writing life. Writing is about writing. Sometimes it's very hard to remember that. And very hard to just do it.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Ideas Above Our Station at WH Smith

A bit of nice news: Route's latest anthology, Ideas Above Our Station, which includes my short story, On A Roll, will be part of an Easter promotion at the major UK chain WH Smith's Travel stores at airports and railways stations. It's a 3 for 2 promotion which runs for two weeks from March 31st - so all of you in the UK, or travelling through, when you pop in to buy those two books you've been wanting, why not grab a copy of Ideas Above Our Station too?

Thank you.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

If it doesn't work on paper... how about the Big Screen?

I have had a very interesting day. I was at one of my writing groups last night and they were critiquing the story I had given them, when someone said, This would make a great film. Ker-ching! Something clicked in my head. Yes it would, I thought to myself. Maybe that's why i can't get it right on paper. The story involves quite a lot of technical details about making bizarre-looking cakes. I kept re-reading these sections and thinking, Gosh this is boring, but yet it's essential. I couldn't get past this feeling.

So today, in about two hours, I sat and re-wrote the story as a film. Well, I've done the first ten pages and a synopsis. I've adapted a short story into a radio play before, and that was a wonderful process. But the visual aspect of a film, now this is a whole different cluster of felt tips, as they say. I could see it in my head - I can generally picture what I write in my head, but this just felt filmic, somehow. And I loved being able to just give directions for something without having to explain it at great length in the main character's voice-over. A picture is worth many hundred words.

What's the rush? Well, there is a scriptwriting competition for fledglings such as myself, so I did it, all in the correct script format, which took rather longer than writing the thing. And then I submitted it online. We'll see. If I win I get a load of script consultancy and some cash.

I won't win. But this is a great exercise in trying a story in a different form. Paper may not always be the correct media. And it's so refreshing to try something new for a change!

Sunday, March 25, 2007

To cut a long story short

So the Guardian is weighing in on the subject of brevity now. They've asked well-known writers (mostly novelists) to attempt an Ernest Hemingway and write a story in 6 words. Some of the results are rather lovely (Ali Smith, of course, and Helen Fielding), some are a bit like some strange code where many words are missed out, (Jeffrey Eugenides).

I am wondering whether I appreciate this focus on the short form or whether by skipping straight from novels to a frankly ridiculous six-worder, which is not really a story in my opinion, The Guardian is rather taking the piss. I sway between the two: on the one hand, this is a welcome but extreme demonstration of how every word must count, but on the other hand, six-word-stories are not exactly a commercially viable form. Why not ask all these same novelists to cut their longest novel down to a short story or even flash fiction? Now there would be an interesting exercise in cutting away the fat!

Saturday, March 17, 2007

congratulations to Vanessa

Big big big congratulations to Vanessa on winning 2nd prize in the Fish International Short Story Competition, one of the major prizes in the short fiction world. Well done, V, we're very proud!Link

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Snow and sunburn

A small observation: four days ago, walking around Jerusalem, I got sunburned. Today I wake up and snow is falling.


Answers on a postcard, please.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

writing and rewriting

I have been very inspired and enlightened by Kay Sexton's fascinating blog post Rushing to Judgement and the comments from other writers and Kay's responses. I had never before considered the fact that "creating" a story and then revising/working on that story require two different parts of the brain. Kay even suggests writers don't both create and revise in the same physical location, because if you are in "revising" mode when you are creating or vice versa, this can cause trouble.

Wow. That really spoke to me. I was aware, as a journalist, that writing journalistic articles uses a completely different part of my brain than fiction-writing. I even went as far as to buy a second computer, a little laptop, dedicated purely to fiction-writing, just to keep the two worlds separate. But I had never looked at the fiction-writing process as being split into two. I had always sat down at my laptop, whether at home or in a cafe, and perhaps done a little creating of something new and then a little revising of some works-in-progress.

But when I am creating, I enter into that zone where I am completely focussed on what I am doing and my critical faculties are switched off, I am somehow letting the work come through me, listening to my characters speak and letting them tell me what the story is. It's partly meditative, and partly who-knows-what, that magical state when you aren't trying to write, you are simply opening yourself up to the flow.

But obviously - well, obvious now that Kay has drawn my attention to it - this state is absolutely no good at all for revising. if my critical faculties are off, or at least subdued, how can I look at my work with a critical eye? The ideal, I believe, is to be able to read your work dispassionately, as if it was someone else's, and critique it. Generally I am feeling kind of blurry and swept away after creating for an hour or so, how can I then revise, even if it's something else?

So, the other day I put this to the test and sat down with a couple of works-in-progress with my Revising Brain switched on. And it was great. I got so much done, because I was in the right space to analyse what I'd written and be pretty ruthless.

I am still a little nervous, though. I haven't written anything new since that day, and I am a bit worried that I won't be able to get back into Creative Mode. Completely irrational fear, i know. I just have to be a little organised in advance and plan what I am going to do in a particular session. Planning is not my best trait.

This fiction writing, this is hard work!