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.