Monday, March 31, 2008

Words and pictures, voices and silence

So, finally, here are a few details about my recent gallivanting around the world. Well, England first. A wonderful time with my great writing friend Vanessa, who, the minute I arrived at her place an hour outside London informed me we were going back to London the next day to check out the venue for her immminent book launch. We had a great day, a private tour of the Foundling Museum, tea in a posh London hotel, drinks with another writer, B, and then back home to peaceful Sussex. Sadly, the photos of it all were on my mobile phone, which was stolen several days later, so you'll have to imagine it for yourselves.

Back to London, and I had a great time at Jewish Book Week with Jacqueline, listening to Shalom Auslander being interviewed by A L Kennedy. His book is Foreskin's Lament, a memoir of how his life was totally screwed up by a bizarre version of Orthodox Judaism in the town in the US where he grew up.

He was astonishingly candid, it was a disturbing event, but fascinating, perhaps in the same way that passing drivers are fascinated by a car crash. On a more positive note, I had a quick chat with A L Kennedy about The Short Review and, fingers crossed, will be interviewing her when her next collection comes out later this year!

Then it was off to Ireland to stay with my Dad and my stepmother, Carole. The usual glorious Irish weather - rainy, windy, very green everywhere.

See what I mean about the weather? I wasn't there to sunbathe, anyhow. A lovely afternoon was spent with Dad at the ridiculously expensive Inchydoney Lodge & Spa hotel, sitting in the lounge in front of a roaring fire, doing the Times crossword, and looking out over stormy seas.

Then to Bristol, a night with another great writing friend, Louise. She brought me along as guest to her writing group, which was lovely, a very warm and welcoming bunch of people. I gave them a little talk about The Short Review and about my book, how it came about etc...And then, as is tradition, we all went to the pub. The next day, Louise and I headed down to Exeter for the launch of the second issue of Riptide magazine. Coffee first with the editors, Ginny and Sally, writers and poets themselves, and Luke Kennard, Salt poet and author of wonderfully wack short stories. The launch was held in Exeter library, complete with a live band.

Sally and Ginny introduce the evening.

Me, reading from North Cold

Eight of us read the beginnings of our stories. I read from North Cold. This was my first proper reading, and it was pretty nerve-wracking (ask poor Louise, who had to keep me calm beforehand). I am going to have to get used to it, though. All the stories read that evening were excellent, very different, highly imaginative, and beautifully read by the authors. I was extremely impressed. If you want a great read, buy a copy of Issue 2 - it's really more of a short story anthology than a lit mag.

Back to London, and the highlight of the end of my trip was the launch of Vanessa's short story collection, Words from A Glass Bubble. The Foundling Museum was packed with friends, family and many of us from the Fiction Workhouse, and Vanessa, who is very proficient at reading her stories, read the title story, in three parts, throughout the evening.

Vanessa reading

I had a wonderful time, taking notes re my own launch (which won't be anything like this, the Foundling Museum is an exceptional place), mingling with writers, some of whom I knew only online.

Elaine, Susannah, Mel and Elizabeth

The next day, I flew to Italy, and romantically met up with James by the baggage carousels in Rome Airport. We headed off to Tuscany for a peaceful week free from cellphones and Internet, an hour's walk from the nearest town, in the gorgeous guest accomodation at La Mandria run by Paul and Renee, who couldn't have been more welcoming. And The Little Herbert, too.

Here are some pictures. Imagine: complete silence, just the rushing of the river in the valley below, and the odd birdsong. Heavenly.

The Little Herbert, who kept us company

(Yes, I did some work!)

What was the most wonderful aspect was that without telephone, Internet, email, I discovered that the stories just started flowing. I could hear my own voice again - and my characters' voices - because nothing was drowning them out. I could walk round with stories in my head, sit and think about them, give them the time and space to develop. I ended one story that had been a little problematic, began another story, started adapting a short story into a play. It was a very productive week. For an eco-perspective, James has blogged about our week on Green Prophet here.

Now that we are home and back into the normal chaos of everyday life, I am trying to preserve some of that inner quiet. For the time being, I have withdrawn from all the online writing groups I was a member of. I love the sense of community they provide, and that wonderful solidarity, the mutual commiseration over rejection and celebration of story acceptance etc... Sharing work is a vital part of being a writer, for me. But the first step must be the writing. And I wasn't writing. Writing has to come before all else - otherwise how am I a writer? So, for the moment, I am focussing on myself and my writing, knowing that when my book comes out in June, that will all probably be put to one side. For the next few months, though, I just want to listen to my characters and see where they take me.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Flash acceptances

Photos of trip coming soon... but in the meantime, some nice news. I have just had three flash stories accepted by the wild and wacky Mad Hatter's Review. And they also want me to record audio versions, which I am thrilled about. I'll have to dust off my acting skills. So, in the next few months, three flashes in Mad Hatter's, two in SouthWord, three in the Ranfurly Review and one in Greatest Uncommon Denominator (which actually pays). Not bad, and great for the flash collection I am assembling.

Another positive aspect is that all of these flash stories ( all under 750 words in length, some much shorter) are very weird indeed, written in my writing group or during the 24-hour flash marathons on the Fiction Workhouse, an uninhibited and wondrous way to let the imagination roam free. I thought of most of these stories - which you could call surreal, magical realism, irreal, speculative fiction, even science fiction - as my odd-looking babies, that only I could love. I never imagined they would find a home, let alone 4 homes. Just shows you that there is always someone out there just as weird - or weirder - than you are. Thank the Lord for that.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

BBC NEWS Healthier hearts' for cat owners

I am preparing a lengthy blog about my recent travels around and about - England, Ireland, Italy - but while I wait for the pictures to come back (no, no digital camera) I just had to draw your attention to this:
Healthier hearts' for cat owners

Cat owners appear to have a much lower risk of dying from a heart attack than their feline-spurning counterparts, a study suggests.Researchers looked at nearly 4,500 adults and found that cat ownership was related to a 40% lower risk of suffering a fatal heart attack.The team speculated that having a cat may reduce stress and anxiety, and so protect against cardiovascular disease.

BBC NEWS | Health | 'Healthier hearts' for cat owners

I knew there was a reason we let our lives be controlled by our two terrors, Zac and Cleo. Maybe having two means that we will never die at all? I'll let you know.

Blogged with the Flock Browser

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Salt wins Innovation award

I am delighted that my publishers, the fabulous Salt Publishing, have won the Nielsen Innovation of the Year award at the 2008 Independent Publishing Awards:

Salt Publishing received the Nielsen Innovation of the Year award for its imaginative efforts to increase sales of collections of poetry and short stories despite very challenging market conditions. It impressed with its range of web-based marketing initiatives and partnerships and energetic development of its brand. "Salt is bucking the trend in poetry by growing its sales," said the judges. "Its innovation in lots of small ways adds up to a major achievement."

What wonderful recognition of the amazing job Jen and Chris Hamilton-Emery are doing. They are championing the short story when few "mainstream" publishers will do so, and though their operation is small, their beautifully-designed books - poetry and short stories - are in major bookshops and are constantly being shortlisted for awards. I must also say that, on a personal note, they treat their writers with great care and respect and I am delighted to be among that number.

Well done, Salt!

Well done also to the other winners - click here for more info.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

The Millions' Favourite short story collections & Flash stories on cell-phones

(Cross-posted with The Short Review blog)

Book blog, The Millions, just held a Short Story Week. At the conclusion of the week they published their 45 favourite short story collections. The list includes quite a few titles that are new to me. Wonderful to see Aimee Bender, Lorrie Moore, George Saunders and Diane Williams on that list, some of my personal favourites. The ones reviewed on The Short Review are:

* The Collected Stories by Katherine Mansfield
* Self-Help, by Lorrie Moore

So we have at least another 43 we should be reviewing, it seems.

The Millions also has a fascinating interview with short short story writer Barry Yourgrau whose book "Keitai Stories," a collection of flash stories, was released for cell phones by a prominent Japanese publishing house, before making the transition to print.

The Millions: You've been writing short stories for cell phones in Japan. When did you start? How did you come up with the idea?

BY: Got the idea when visiting In Tokyo for the first time in 2002, I saw kids surfing the Internet on cell phones (keitai). I thought my stories, which are generally very short, would be just right for cell-phone reading. Especially if I made 'em even briefer. (Which is an interesting exercise: as Woody Allen says somewhere, a general note to improve any comic writing is, Make It Shorter.)

Seems to be an excellent strategy - 100,000 readers accessed the stories online. What a great thing for the short - and short short - story!

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Keep drinking the coffee & buying books

I haven't posted for a while because I have been travelling but now I am settled for a few days and so I thought I would post a quick update. First, it is my opinion, given recent experience, that giving up coffee is a bad idea. I drink one cup a day, real coffee, none of that instant stuff. Last week I decided that perhaps it was affecting my sleep and so I stopped drinking it. On Coffee-Free Day Two I was due to fly to Ireland and a) I got the flight time wrong and nearly missed the flight and b) left my mobile phone on the train to the airport. I would like to point out that I never, ever do either of these things. I am normally very careful to check the flight times and to make sure I haven't dropped anything when getting off public transport. I blame it on the coffee withdrawal. I was too calm. See what happens?

Ok, back to writing talk. Whether it was the coffee or lack of it, I have recovered surprisingly fast from failing to get anywhere either with the Fish short story prize or the new Flosca short story competition. A year ago, I would have moped around, dejected, for days, wondering where I went wrong. Now, I was a little disappointed for an hour or so and then, poof, all gone. I am sure it has something to do with the fact that my book is coming out in 3 months (3 months!!). Nothing can really top the news that someone wants to publish your book. That's really it as far as highs go. Also, ever since the rather unpleasant experience a few weeks ago with the lit mag that I won't go into again, something has switched inside me. It's hard to describe exactly but it is something to do with power, and realizing that I actually have some. I don't have to wait to be "chosen", I don't have to accept publication on any terms, I can initiate my own projects. I did it with The Short Review, and now I have the beginnings of an idea for an anthology, and what's to stop me from just doing it? This is quite a turning point - moving from handing my fate to others to grabbing it back and forging my own path. Some might call it maturity. I don't know what to call it, but it sure feels good.

On that note, my great friend Vanessa's short story collection, Words from A Glass Bubble, is now available from all good book shops!

It's a stunning collection of stories, beautiful and tragic, inspiring and illuminating. I already have my copy. Get it now! Click here for more details.