Monday, December 28, 2009

Good news to end the year - and Resolutions starting early!

So, I had all sorts of things I wanted to blog about  - why so many of my favourite short story writers are Scottish, for example - and then the nicest email last night and all my priorities shifted. The Scots will have to wait. The Binnacle, the delightful people who awarded me the Grand Prize in their Sixth Annual Ultra Short Comp last year, wrote to let me know that the publication of the Ultra-Short issue has been a little delayed... but then took my mind off this entirely by telling me that they have become my Favourite Lit Mag Ever by nominating my winning story, My Mother Was an Upright Piano, for a Pushcart Prize!

For those who aren't familiar, here's the Pushcart Prize info:
Little magazine and small book press editors (print or online) may make up to six nominations from their year’s publications by our December 1, (postmark) deadline. The nominations may be any combination of poetry, short fiction, essays or literary whatnot.
Over at his excellent blog, Perpetual Folly, Cliff Garstang does his annual Pushcart rankings, a listing of lit magazines according to how many Pushcart prizes and special mentions for fiction they have received since 2000. Cliff does this with the Pushcart because of the way they call for nominations from the editors themselves rather than getting a guest judge to pick.  It makes for interesting reading - the Top Three are Ploughshares, Conjunctions and Zoetrope-All-Story. Says Cliff:
I'm a fan of the Pushcart Prize Anthology and I happen to think that it is a good indicator of magazine quality. It isn't perfect, and it doesn't mean a whole lot, frankly, but when I'm making my decisions of where I want to submit, I look at this list and aim as high as is realistically possible.
Read the list here for some submission ideas. 

Anyhow, the Pushcart gets 8000 nominations (it's only open to American publications and presses), and publishes 30 pieces of prose and 30 poems in its annual anthology, so the chances of getting any further are very, very slim. But it is an enormous honour to be nominated, I have been looking longingly at other writers' bios where they say "nominated for a Pushcart prize", and it's really thrilling for me to be able to put that too.

So, a good way to end the year that was rather up and down, with the lows being far lower than anything I've ever experienced, and which saw us make the radical decision to move countries - and then actually do it. The cats are more than 2/3 of the way through quarantine, 8 more weeks, which is wonderful, that has been very hard, for us and them. I am really loving being here, every few weeks meeting up with people who just want to talk about short stories and writing!

The main thing, though, that I haven't been doing is writing. So last night I decided to implement my New Year's Resolutions a few days early, in order to avoid that inevitable desire to sabotage the whole thing on Jan 1st. This morning, fighting that self-sabotaging demon, I got dressed before having breakfast and headed out for a walk, with just a notepad and paper (and mobile phone, switched off, and a little money for emergency croissants should I need them).

I walked for about 45 minutes around the neighborhood, avoiding slipping on the frost, and determined to come back with "something". But also determined to give myself a break and not to expect too much. I jotted down some words, a few phrases and things, as I walked, and just tried to follow my thoughts. It didn't help that I couldn't stop humming the damn song I heard on the radio before I left. Note to self: Don't turn the radio on before walk!

I came back, and continued with my new regime by not switching on my phone or the Internet. Not at all. Nope. I went into my study, and didn't check email at all until 4pm. And guess what? Felt much calmer, and was rather more productive. There's a surprise! I  did a radical overhaul of my assortment of short stories and flash fiction and set up a new Folder on my computer called "2010" so that I can start the year with a clean-ish slate, sort of. All those old half-stories that I just haven't got around to doing anything with got swept under the digital carpet just so I don't have to look at them and despair! And I decided not to split up Short Stories and Flash Fiction, just have one Work in Progress Folder. Might make life a little easier.

I actually didn't even want to check my email all day - and of course when I did I found that there was nothing urgent, nothing that coudn't wait, or could even have waited longer.

It's 7pm now, am allowing myself to blog, catch up on FB, Tweet a little... listen to some music. And then... after dinner I am going to try something else that I have wanted to do for ages and can do this week because there's nowhere I have to be in the morning. And that is: come back into my study at 10pm and spend a few hours writing. I have this desire to write at night, I love nighttime. But there's always somewhere to be in the morning etc. Well, this week the diary is clear. Will report back.

If it goes well, the plan is that I can set up my schedule around this: For the 2 days a week that I am at the Nanoscience and Quantum Information centre for my short-story-writer-in-residence, I could go in after 12, and just not plan to do anything before that. I am not aiming to work all night, that would be quite odd, and when would J and I see each other? But I am open to seeing how I feel - apart from tired - and what comes. I know several writers work at night. It's an experiment!

Is there anything else I'm going to do? Hmm. In the last few weeks I have been slowly starting to work on the next issue of The Short Review instead of leaving it all til the 5 days before I want to get the issue up and making myself - and Diane - crazy. That's been more relaxing and enjoyable, so will probably try to keep doing that.

I've also almost almost finished my Arts Council grant application for the residency - just a little unsure about the budget part, it's confusing me. But I really hope to get that printed off and sent tomorrow. Fingers crossed!

This turned into quite a long post, sorry about that. Wishing you all a Happy and Creative New Year. Any Resolutions anyone wants to share?!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Science, science, science...mmmm

I spent a day at a physics conference last week, had a great meeting today with the head of Bristol University's experimental psychology department, which involved discussions about caffeine and optical illusions, and tomorrow I am going in to the Nanoscience and Quantum Information Centre - ooh, I just love saying it! - where my short-story-writer-in-residence position will be based, to get signed up so that I get a swipe card and can actually get into the building. So: all systems go for the preparatory phase of my position. I'm applying for an Arts Council grant and can't begin until that has been processed, so will be spending the 6 weeks or so after the holidays finding my way around, meeting people, trying to determine the structure of what I will be doing. I have a lot of ideas, and am meeting the head of the University's Centre for Public Engagement in Jan too, to see if there is something I can do there. It is not just inspiring - it's over-stimulating. I have so many ideas whirling around in my head and am dying to get the time and space to set something down on paper. I am sure it will happen soon!

In the meantime, Bristol is snow covered, which was a lovely novelty this morning and is now rather slippy and slushy. Happy holidays to you all, see you on the other side! 

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Short Circuit at Ride the Word: A Lovely Time Was Had By All

A wonderful time last night at the special launch event for Short Circuit hosted by Ride the World XX at Cafe Yumchaa! Here I am in full flow, reading three flash stories (photos courtesy of Elizabeth B):

The variety of readings was wonderful, with Vincent de Souza, Jay Merill, Short Circuit Editor, Vanessa Gebbie, Sarah Salway, Marian Garvey, David Gaffney, Lane Ashfeldt, Elizabeth Baines, and Alex Keegan... there was stationery porn (pens and paper), dodgy doings on the M62, and much much more. Wonderful evidence that Short Circuit is a book written by real writers, all of whom write very differently.

Several of those above were online friends I had not met yet, lovely to meet you in the flesh (and Bob J too!). Thanks to all who came, celebrated, bought copies, cheered us on! Jen Hamilton-Emery from Salt Publishing was there too, and as well as celebrating Short Circuit, she thanked everyone who helped Salt when it was going through hard times this year... and that thanks goes to so many of you. We all appreciate it.

Find out more about the must-have Short Circuit: A Guide to the Art of the Short Story on the newly-created website (umm...designed by me).

Sunday, December 13, 2009

RIDE THE WORD Christmas Special 'Short Circuit' Celebration

Come along and hear me and some of the other contributors to Short Circuit, the Guide to the Art of the Short Story, read their own work at:

RIDE THE WORD Christmas Special 'Short Circuit' Celebration

Ride the Word XIX
Free Event at The CAFE YUMCHAA
When: Tuesday 15th December 2009
6.30 for 7pm - till 9pm
Where: 45 Berwick Street, Soho, London W.1
Vincent de Souza,
Jay Merill,
'Short Circuit' Editor, Vanessa Gebbie
Salt Publishing Director, Jen Hamilton-Emery
Arts Editor of 'Prospect' Magazine, Tom Chatfield
Tania Hershman, Sarah Salway,
Marian Garvey, David Gaffney, Lane Ashfeldt
Elizabeth Baines, Chika Unigwe,
David Grubb, Alex Keegan, Catherine Smith
Floor Spots on first come first served basis
Hosted by
Jay Merill and Vincent de Souza

(nearest Tube: Oxford Circus, Tottenham Court Rd.,
All Oxford Street buses - to Berwick St stop)

Monday, December 07, 2009

Shameless self promotion & The Year of Flash Fiction?

Ok, here is the hard-nosed self-promotional author side of me coming out! If you have a gap in your Christmas/Chanukah/Divali/Yule present list and you're looking to buy something for someone who loves books, how about a Salt Bundle? My book is part of the "Contemporary Student" bundle, alongside Broken Things by Padrika Tarrant, The Brand New Dark by Mark Waldron, Sawn-Off Tales by David Gaffney and Third Class Superhero by Charles Yu.

More info:
This bundle suits them all, often tripping along the line of avant-garde or deftly plunging right in, this bundle longs for an open minded reader who wants to embrace the wonderful and the abstract- however dark it may be at times.

Buy it for the contemporary writer/artist/student in your life or keep it and expand your mind by treating yourself to a journey to all the strange and beautiful literary crevices it has never been before.
Buying each of these books individually would cost you £54.95 (RRP) so buying them in the bundle saves you nearly £20, a fine deal if I do so say so myself.
In fact, it all sounds so good, I think I should buy myself one! More info here.

Ok, shameless self-promotion almost over: I am thrilled that the fabulous Sara Crowley, the short story queen at Waterstone's Brighton, and a great writer, has unveiled a brand-new display case in the shop, devoted entirely to.... Flash Fiction!

I am thrilled to be there alongside the most amazing short short story writers: Lydia David, Amy Hempel, Barthelme..Now, my theory is that 2010 could very well be The Year of Flash Fiction. If so, Sara's display case is a vital part of the lead-up to this momentous year, as is the Bridport prize's new Flash Fiction category and (shameless self-promotion warning) my week of flash fiction on Radio 4 in June 2010, perhaps? You hear it here first - if we talk about it enough, surely it will come true!

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Suprisingly delightful - my story rebroadcast on Radio 4 tonight

Thanks to Miriam, I discovered yesterday that my short story, Drinking Vodka in the Afternoon, which was first broadcast on Radio 4 in 2007 as part of a week of Afternoon Readings commemorating the 50th anniversary of the launch of Sputnik, was being rebroadcast tonight! It was wonderful hearing it again, and now the story is available on BBC iPlayer for the next 7 days, in case you want to have a listen.

Hearing it again was like being back with old friends. I was deeply attached to my main character, Mary Margaret, the first character in any of my stories that stayed with me after this one was finished and compelled me to write more. I have... the other pieces haven't found homes yet, maybe it's all supposed to go together, I don't know. And, before you ask: No, not a novel. No!

Thanks to Teresa for the Kreativ Blogger award, I have had one before but each time it is a great boost, that some of what I am waffling on about might be of interest to someone else.

And: following several comments about lack of readability of my new blog design, cool as it was, I have managed to tweak the template so that it is clearer - I hope! Dad, can you read this??

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Fiction and science and science fiction...

I had a great meeting on Friday with a physicist from the Uni's physics department, briefing me on an upcoming physics conference which he is hoping will inspire me to write some fiction. (This is the first step towards the start of my writer-in-residence position which I will take up at the University's Science Faculty in January. What form it will take -and who will fund it! - is still up for grabs.)

It is always a thrill for me to go into a science department! But what was interesting about this visit for me, as someone who studied physics 20 years ago and really didn't have what it took to be a physicist, is that this time I was looking at everything differently. My "eye" has changed.

For example, someone was stripping posters off the walls in preparation for a new coat of paint. Something about the remnant (see pic left) spoke to me, but not because I understood the equations. It was something more aesthetic, less about learning and knowledge than about symbols, patterns, shapes, colours.

As we walked to get coffee in the common room (is that the term?) he showed me some of the posters on the walls talking about the team's current research. Wonderful terms jumped out at me: Catastrophe Optics! Quantum carpets! And while I am most definitely fascinated by the science itself, it was another part of me, the writer part, itching to take these phrases, to twist and turn them, to make them my own.

In describing to me the Aharonov-Bohm effect, whose 50th anniversary the conference is to celebrate, he drew this on the board:

My first thought? Not - Oooh, look at those magnetic fields! But: It's an eye. I am seeing things differently, and, more than that, I am now allowed to see things differently, to see them however I want. And that is truly thrilling.

The most moving part of the meeting was when we talked about my short story, The Painter and the Physicist. It was read out at a Liars League event, and you can hear the actress read it or read the text here. Now, I thought I had made this up. I did. I made it up. I had no knowledge of anything like this, of anything that concerned the thrust of the story, in which the Painter asks the Physicist what colour he imagines electrons, protons, neutrons to be. So - imagine my astonishment when this physicist said that he and his colleagues have spent much time discussing what colour they think an electron is! Chills went down my spine.

This has happened before, me making up a story and then someone telling me that it happened to them. And it's ALWAYS freaky. And yet, in some way, gratifying. I can't really say why.

Finally, today's lovely news: there is a story I have been trying to write for YEARS. I mean this (as Vanessa and others can testify.) It is basically about a mother dealing with her son's very bizarre behaviour. I tried it in so many ways, coming at it realistically, trying to find out why the son behaved the way he did, showing it to many, many writing groups. Never hit it. Then I was inspired by reading Paddy O'Reilly's wonderful short story collection, The End of the World (my review here) to try a brand new structure, and suddenly a new language appeared, something more experimental, more visceral. Aha!

This happened after my book was finalised, so I held on to it. And now it has been accepted for publication by Electric Velocipede - a (paying) print magazine that wanted something "a little weird" and that I have been wanting to make it into for quite a while. Stories published in  Electric Velocipede and the magazine itself have won Hugo and World Fantasy Awards - THE  awards for so-called "genre" writing, (sci fi, fantasy, speculative, steampunk and other categories) which actually, I have found since setting up the Short Review, reward some of the most wonderfully-written and imaginative fiction I have had the pleasure of reading.

Reviewing the Logorrhea anthology (edited by Elec Velocipede's editor, John Klima) shattered my shameful misconceptions of "genre" fiction, and it has been a dream of mine for quite a while to cross this artifical divide myself. I liked to think I was writing "literary fiction" and aimed my stories at lit mags that fit this  - but once I released myself from these self-imposed restriction, I discovered a whole new world. I now subscribe to Interzone, the UK's leading sci fi magazine and love it. Open your mind!

Now EV's 4 issues for 2010 are full already, so my story, Under the Tree, won't be published til 2011. That's something to look forward to.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Petina Gappah wins the 2009 Guardian First Book Award!

Huge congratulations to Short Review author Petina Gappah, whose collection, An Elegy for Easterly, has won the 2009 Guardian First Book Award, "the second short story writer to win the award in its 10-year history, " says The Guardian today, "the first being Yiyun Li in 2006. Gappah's collection of 13 stories, An Elegy for Easterly, tells of the lives of people, rich and poor, caught up in events over which they have little control."

"The Guardian's literary editor, Claire Armistead, who chaired the judging panel, said she was thrilled to name Gappah as winner, particularly since 2009 is the year of the short story. There had been some wonderful first books, she said, and 'Petina Gappah's humane and disarmingly funny mosaic of life in Zimbabwe is undoubtedly one of the very best.'"

Congratulations, Petina! Read my review of An Elegy for Easterly, an interview with Petina about the collection, and the rest of the Guardian article.

PS I didn't know 2009 was The Year of the Short Story! Did anyone know about this? Oops, it's nearly over. Let's do it again next year.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Cinnamon and Aesthetica

Nice news to wake up to: Cinnamon Press has accepted my flash story, Straight Up, for their microfiction anthology. This same story was the European winner of the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association's short story comp last year (you can listen to it here), and was just commended in Aesthetica magazine's's Creative Works comp.

It's always funny/weird to win something, to in some way "beat" other writers - a horrible attitude, I don't think that way - and you think it's subjective, it's the whims of the judge, which it is, to some extent. But then when one story does well in various places, you think, well, it must have "something" that is quantifiable in some way. But what? Who knows? I certainly don't. If I did, I would damn well try and keep doing it!

Anyhow, a day of warm and fuzzy feelings, and an outing shortly to buy myself clothes appropriate to this weather... 15 years in Israel has left me utterly unprepared for a British winter. (Yes, an excuse to shop.... did you spot that?!) Congrats to my fellow microfiction anthologees, I look forward to reading the book.

PS For those of you who have problems reading my blog posts/comments because of the colours, I highly recommend the Firefox browser,  which enables you to ignore the colours on any site and set your own, whatever is easier for you to read. Firefox has a lot of other benefits too...

Monday, November 30, 2009

A wonderful book on creativity; a present for everyone

I have never read a book about creativity by a non-writer, so renowned dancer and choreographer Twyla Tharp's The Creative Habit was a real revelation to me. So refreshing to hear from someone who deals in something other than words - an artist in her 60s who has choreographed over 150 dances - and to see so clearly how I can learn from her in terms of setting myself up to be creative on a daily basis, something I sorely need. It has been years since I was last in that kind of routine - not since my MA in Creative Writing. I just haven't managed, as a writer of short and very short stories, to set myself up properly, and as a result I feel highly unproductive, uncreative, dissatisfied.

Something Julia said last week on her blog about her NaNoWriMo experience struck a chord: " I am calmer, more purposeful. This feels like a job now. I go to work and actually manufacture something." This is the feeling I want, the feeling that this is my job, that I am making something.

Twyla (if I may be so bold as to call her that) spoke to me from the very first page. She is talking about the blank page, the white canvas, the empty dance studio:
"Some people find this moment - the moment before creativity begins - so painful that they simply cannot deal with it. They get up and walk away from the computer, the canvas, the keyboard; they take a nap or go shopping or fix lunch or do chores around the house. They procrastinate. In its most extreme form, this terror totally paralyses people.

The blank space can be humbling. But I've faced it my whole professional life. It's my job. It's also my calling. Bottom line: Filling the empty space constitutes my identity."

Yes. I hear that. All of it. When I read the above I thought, This person can teach me something. And I was right. With chapters entitled "Rituals of Preparation", "Your Creative DNA", "Before You Can Think Out of the Box, You Have to Start with A Box", and "Ruts and Grooves", I started learning, in just one day's reading, a whole host of new ways to set up the Creative Habit.

I especially love starting a new box for each new project and filling it with the things that inspire, so I have begun a box (an old shoe box) for my new fiction-writer-in-residence position at the University's Science Faculty and have in it the program from last week's showing of five films made by the Faculty interviewing mathematicians. Inspirational.

My first box!

Now that I have my box I feel like something will come of this, that it is in some way "official" in my head, regardless of the outside world. And I love the idea of being able to rummage through the box in search of new inspiring material. What a great idea!

There is a great deal more wisdom in here, never passed on in a preachy or insistent tone, but gently yet firmly. This is someone who knows what she does, how she does it best and why. An ideal present for anyone who wants to do anything with a passion. I am off to read it again. And again. So no, you can't borrow my copy. Get your own!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Writing and Place Guest Blog post 4 by Nora

I couldn't be happier that this is becoming a vibrant and exciting series, the guest blog posts on Writing & Place, how where you are affects you as a writer. I am delighted to introduce Nora Nadjarian, a wonderful Cyprus-based poet and writer, author of the short story collection Ledra Street; we "met" when we ran a review of her book on the The Short Review. Nora has just entered the blogsphere, so do pop along to bettyboopinspired and welcome her to this craziness (as well as finding out the story behind her blog name)!

Over to Nora:

Where are you?

I’m sitting on a settee in my living room, in a first floor flat in Nicosia, Cyprus. Nicosia, for those of you who don’t know, is the divided capital of Cyprus – which is an island in the Mediterranean.

How long have you been there?

I’ve been living in Nicosia for the past ten years. I am originally from the seaside town of Limassol, and decided about ten years ago that I needed a change. It’s a decision I haven’t regretted.

What do you write?

I write poetry and short stories. I have also written a very short play, but lately I’ve been concentrating more on short stories.

How do you think where you are affects what you write about and how you write?

Moving to Nicosia brought me “closer” in many ways to the Cyprus problem, and although I am not at all into politics, I was obviously affected. I wrote “Ledra Street”, at least the title story of my book, after having lived in Nicosia for a couple of years. Ledra Street is now a thriving shopping street, but ten years ago, around the time when my story was written, Greek Cypriots could not cross over to northern, Turkish-occupied Cyprus. I always thought it was tragic that the street “stopped” at some point, and all you could do was look at the rest of it which fell into the UN buffer zone. On April 3, 2008, the Ledra Street roadblock crossing was reopened after 44 years. We like to think of it as our Berlin Wall.

If I hadn’t moved to Nicosia, the story (and subsequently, the book) would never have been written. I had written and published poetry before, but I always consider the story Ledra Street as the beginning of my writing career. I have also always been moved by stories of exile, of longing, of losing your space, of having to start all over again, because my grandparents were refugees from another country. I wish I had recorded the stories they told me. I am an Armenian Cypriot, I was born in Cyprus and I am happy about that, I love Cyprus, I am a Cypriot. But my soul is Armenian. All the feelings of love and loss and pain, and the general sadness which comes out in my stories I can attribute to the fact that I am Armenian.

A lot of my early stories were set in Cyprus, but I have recently been moving away from that. In many ways writing about Cyprus or setting my stories in Cyprus started getting a little “claustrophobic” after a while. I am not suggesting we forget about the past, but there is a tendency here, on both sides, to dwell on the Cyprus problem and turn to it for inspiration, if I can put it that way. I believe my work is well received abroad too, because it just hints at the problem or tries to present it in an original way.

I used to think that because I was writing about Cyprus nobody would be interested or be able to follow. But readers are very clever. You don’t have to tell them too much, they can just feel what you’re trying to say, more so if you do it subtly. People who had no idea about Cyprus have read between the lines in my stories, even wept at readings I have given in places as remote as New Zealand! I’m sure I have touched people’s lives in that way, and it gives me a sense of satisfaction. So, where I am is “here” reaching out to my reader who is often “there”, and we connect through words, poems, stories.

I also find that communicating with other writers through the Internet has been so important for me. It has kept me going at times when I have almost felt like giving up. I am a bit of an oddity, being Armenian Cypriot and writing in English. Many people ask me why. The reason is that I was educated in English from the age of about eleven. I also studied at universities in the UK and so I consider English to be my academic language, and when it comes to writing it is certainly my most creative. I once told someone in an interview that I felt my writing was my home, my own special place, that I could do anything with- and I still feel that way. I write because I love writing, and if it comes out best in English, why should I give reasons to anyone? I went to a brilliant conference in Brussels last year, where I met a Spanish-Basque author writing in Dutch, a Romanian author writing in French and an author of Turkish origin writing in Danish! There’s some wonderful work out there by authors writing in a second language.

Tania, thank you for giving me the opportunity to put these thoughts down. I’m really interested in your other guests’ opinions, too- It almost feels like we are all somehow, somewhere in the world, writing the chapters of a single book.


Nora, thank you.... another fascinating look at how where we are affects who we are, why we write, what we write. I am in awe of writers writing in second, third or even fourth languages. I can barely manage it in English.  Maybe this could be a book, some day, what a lovely idea.

Visit Nora's blog at bettyboopinspired and read more about her collection, Ledra Street, on The Short Review. As always, if you are inspired to send me a guest blog on Writing&Place, please do!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Bridport congrats...and...flash!

It's just wonderful to know people who win things, especially things as fabulous as the Bridport Prize for short stories, which receives thousands of entries every year. Last year, my great friend Elaine Chiew was the winner, the year before, Vanessa scooped second place. And this year I am delighted to see three names I know in the winners of supplementary prizes: huge congratulations to Anna Britten, Nicholas Hogg and Teresa Stenson! And there are more familiar names in the shortlist: Jill Widner, Carolyn Jess-Cooke, Kate Clanchy (whose stunning VS Prichett prize-winning story I just read in Prospect), D Norris. Of course, enormous congratulations to the winners, Jenny Clarkson,  Natasha Soobramanien and N Nye, it's a fantastic achievement, especially with a judge whose short stories are as breathtaking as Ali Smith.

And there's more.... did the eagle-eyed spot an addition to the Bridport Prize website for 2010? On the side menu, under Short Stories and Poetry is...

Flash fiction!!!

This makes me very very very happy. It says something about the status of flash fiction, for one, since this is the world's richest open writing prize (open because it doesn't require an entrant to have been previously published, and it is judged anonymously), and it also thrills me personally since flash fiction is what I love to write and love to read - and it takes the pressure off all those of us who don't write stories that are longer than 1000 words or so. The judge hasn't been announced yet... will keep you updated.  Yippee!!

Addendum: I just saw that Regi Claire, whose short story collection, Fighting It, we reviewed in The Short Review and who is published by Two Ravens Press, is shortlisted for the Saltire Scottish Book of the Year Awards, Scotland's major literary awards, alongside AL Kennedy, whose short story collection What Becomes is on my review pile,  and Janice Galloway, whose Collected Stories is also waiting for me. Congratulations, Regi, and more power to the short story!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Speaking from Experience event tonight

We're off to London shortly, braving possible strong winds and the rain that has flooded parts of the country, for this:

Speaking from Experience is a new event aimed at encouraging unpublished Jewish writers. I've been invited to be the guest at the first event, which is a great honour, I am in favour of anything that inspires any writers to write. I'll let you know more afterwards, am taking some of my books, in case I might inspire anyone to purchase!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Like a Kid in A Sweet Shop: Catching Up Part 2

I've been having a wonderful two weeks, rushing around to lit events like a kid in a sweet shop (or me in a sweet shop!), all of it reinforcing that this country is the right place for me right now. It hasn't left me much time for blogging, or reading other people's blogs - apologies for that. I won't make this a very long post (famous last words). So, where have I been?

Two weeks ago I flew to Ireland for the Waterford Film Festival awards evening on Nov 8th. I knew my screenplay, which I adapted from my short story, North Cold, was one of 20 finalists for the short screenplay award, but didn't know whether this was 20 out of...30? Well, I was delighted to find out it was 20 out of 100, and although I didn't win, we each received a certificate and it feels like a great stamp of approval for me for my first foray into writing film scripts.

Sadly, I didn't manage to see any of the films at this wonderful, small but dynamic festival, hopefully next year. Waterford seemed like a place I'd like to spend more time, too... but there never is enough time, is there? I am loving adapting my own work - have adapted two other stories into short plays, and one is shortlisted in a 6 minute play competition and will be performed in London in January. I won't have any input into the performance, and am eagerly and somewhat nervously anticipating the evening. Will let you know more details when I have them. 

Ok, so returned from Ireland on the Monday, and on Tuesday afternoon I dashed off to London to meet my fellow science-in-fiction-loving-friend Sue Guiney, and together we went to an event at the National Maritime Museum entitled Poems of Space. Renowned astronomer Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell has been collecting poetry about space for many years and talked us through what poets like to write about space (black holes, radio telescope arrays) and what they don't like to write about (telescopes on satellites, I think!). She is one of two editors of an anthology of poems on space called Dark Matter which I picked up a copy of.

What made her talk wonderful was that at the beginning she asked anyone who would like to read to take a copy of one of the poems she had printed out, and at certain points during her talk would mention the title of one of them and the audience member stood up and read. (I read Halley's Comet by Stanley Kunitz, one of the funnier poems of the evening.) This audience participation made it feel much less like a lecture than an intimate discussion.

Joining Dame Jocelyn on the panel after her talk were my blog friend Pippa Goldschmidt, an astronomer, writer in residence at the Genomics Forum in Edinburgh and blogger about science and fiction topics at The Write Reality, and Kelley Swain, poet-in-residence at the Whipple Museum of History of Science in Cambridge. It was wonderful to meet both of them, we will be getting together for more talk about science-inspired fiction soon, I hope. The whole evening was an inspiration, both to hear the poetry written about scientific themes, and to meet two writers-in-residence in science arenas. More on that later!

After a day's break, I was travelling to London again, this time invited by Jewish Book Week (yes, it's more than just one week) to spend the afternoon talking about short stories with pupils at a London secondary school. I was pretty nervous - firstly about getting up in time for my train (!) and secondly because I was going to do a flash fiction workshop with Year 9 kids and what if they sat there in complete silence, refused to write, refused to participate?

Well, transport did fail me - FirstCapital Connect was on strike in London, but they weren't going to divert me from my purpose and I managed to arrive on time, nevertheless. And, secondly, my classes went wonderfully well, it was a joy and a boost for me.The first class of around 30 or so Year 9  kids seemed to really enjoy the flash stories of mine that I read - expressing surprise that so much could be said in so few words, which was, of couse, the point. And then they picked some prompts, and we all wrote flash stories, even the teacher!

Then: lunch and a tour round the school, a Q&A session with a group of kids in the library during which I was asked the fascinating question, What are your hidden talents? To which I replied: Parking. I am very good at parking. And finding parking spaces. They weren't so satisfied with that so I had to reveal that I am a secret hula hooper. And yes, there were a few questions about writing, too.

Then a final session with a small group of Year 10 pupils that I had been warned might not be quite as responsive as my first class. Not many hands went up when I tried to discuss what "story" meant to them. This didn't seem to be a room in which it was "cool" to respond, so it took some cajoling on my part, moving away from books to films and even to the idea of story in computer games, which did inspire enthusiastic comments. And I read out quite a lot of my flash stories, which they also responded to very well, it seemed. It was lovely to hear, as I read, that at the beginning of each story there would be fidgeting, a bit of whispering, but by the end, there was silence, which I hope was a good sign. I really enjoyed meeting this class, I felt like the fact that I had been told they might not be responsive but I managed to elicit great responses was really an achievement, and it was great to hear from them, from all the pupils, and not just listen to myself talk.

The school bought two copies of my book and I was thrilled when the librarian emailed yesterday to say that a girl who "has never asked to borrow a book before" went in to ask to borrow mine. Very happy!

After a long day at the school I headed off to a Society of Authors meeting for new members. I won't say much about this except that it was eye-opening and that no, despite pressure, I will not be writing a romance novel. I did get to meet one of my childhood heroines, Anne Digby, author of the Trebizon series of books, which I loved as a kid. What an honour. We were told we could bring a copy of our book to put on the table, and at the end a lovely writer I had been chatting to asked if I had a copy she could buy, so I sold it to her. The Soc of Authors staff were amazed when I told them - apparently I was the first person to ever sell anything at one of these events! (Used the money to get myself some dinner for the train ride home:) )

Yes, there's more. The day after, I had a meeting that I initiated with the Dean of the Faculty of Science at Bristol University to discuss the possibility of me becoming writer-in-residence. He was extremely positive about the idea, he is the newly-appointed Dean and has already initiated several arts-science type collaborations, including short films of interviews with mathematicians, and science-inspired photographs. So it looks like this is going to happen and I am very excited! Now I have to go about finding funding for the position, any ideas welcome. I am not sure whether it might just be too much inspiration to be the writer in residence for the entire faculty, all the departments and the labs they contain. But it's such a thrill, I can't wait!

After that, my head buzzing, a quiet-ish weekend, a wonderful Los Desterrados concert on Sunday night, and then off to London again on Monday. This time for two book launches: Rob Shearman's second short story collection, Love Songs for the Shy and Cynical, and Elizabeth Baines' Too Many Magpies. Rob's launch was great fun, he read a story which was both comical and poignant, and then did a Q&A with his publisher where we learned about his odd writing habits (Tooting Common, 3am)! A lovely writerly dinner afterwards with Vanessa Gebbie, Elizabeth and her partner, John, and Adam Marek and back to rest for the next night's launch.

The next day: great excitement. I discovered the first London branch of my favourite US clothes shop, Anthropologie. Had a thorough browse, then an excellent meeting with my publisher, Jen, from Salt, more of which in the coming weeks. And then Eliizabeth's book launch. I had offered to introduce her, and then she read, beautifully, two sections from her novel, which is magical, dark and moving. It was wonderful to meet writer and blog friend, Debi Alper, another instance of feeling like we knew each other before we met. And great to meet Alex Keegan and see Vicky, Rob, and Sue again. A wonderful evening, left me buzzing.

And... yes, that's it. I've had a request from an arts journal in Europe that wants to translate some of my flash stories, which is delightful. And am now trying to find funding for the writer-in-residence position, and thinking about the possibility of other school visits, lots on my mind. But the best kind of mental busyness! All short stories and books and writing and writers... lovely, lovely, lovely. We are back off to London on Sunday for the Speaking from Experience event on Sunday night, which should be another kind of fun.

Ok, it ended up being a long blog post, but there was a lot to say! Not going much writing myself, but it feels like I am positioning things, setting things up to get ready for the real writing. The next few weeks seem pretty busy already, which is something that used to freak me out, but it's ok, it's all good. It's all good.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Catching up part 1: competitions

I have loads to write about but let me start by saying..

The Bristol Short Story Prize is now officially open - too all writers worldwide!
3000 words maximum - no minimum length, deadline 31st March, seven pounds per story. Prizes: 1st-£500 plus £150 Waterstone’s Gift Card, 2nd -£350 plus £100 Waterstone’s Gift Card, 3rd -£200 plus £100 Waterstone’s Gift Card. Each of the 17 remaining shortlisted finalists will receive a cheque for £50.

I am one of the judges but it is all strictly anonymous, so please send your entry in - the earlier the better. Also: the max word count is 3000 but there is no minimum and I have it on good authority that this is really true. No need to bump your story up to 2999 words, just send in a great story, and, for me at least, it doesn't matter how long or short it is.

I am also one of the judges for the Brit Writers Awards which are also open now, deadline extended to Feb 26 2010. As it sounds, this is an award for Britain-based writers only. Check the website for more details. Short stories (minimum 1,000 and maximum 5,000 words), there are other categories too, so check out the website. For an admin fee of 10.95 pounds, you can submit as many entries as you like!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Strictly Writing: Nothing Beats Time

I owe this blog a proper post but it's probably a good sign that I've been too busy - with writing-related doings, of course! In the meantime, I have a guest blog post on the excellent Strictly Writing blog today, where I come clean about my failure to leave a new story long enough so that I could see what it needed doing.
Finally, I wrote a 1000-word story. I was excited to have something “long” (yes, you may snicker). I was so in love with the voice and the language, I thought it was great. I gave it to my writing group for critique, they spotted places where more information was needed but didn't give any “big picture” comments. So I thought, wow, that was quick: a finished story, and swiftly dispatched it to several competitions.

Read the rest of the blog post here. Does this happen to you too?

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Short Circuit - win a copy of the indispensible guide to the short story!

There will be much much  more on this over the next few weeks and months, but for right now, head over to Salt's blog to win a copy of Short Circuit -  the hot-off-the-press Guide to the Art of the Short Story, edited by my great friend and colleague, the wondrous and extremely hard-working Vanessa Gebbie. Short Circuit includes my essay on flash fiction and I am deeply honoured to be in the company of so many amazing writers who contributed to this book. A little more about the book:

Short Circuit is the first textbook written by prize-winning writers for students and more experienced practitioners of the short story. The 288 page guide brings together twenty-four specially-commissioned essays from well-published short story writers who are also prize winners of the toughest short story competitions in the English language, including five essays from winners of The Bridport Prize. There are interviews with Clare Wigfall, winner of The National Short Story Award — and with Tobias Hill whose short story collection won the PEN/Macmillan Silver Pen Award.

Go win yourself a copy, the three questions are easy for any short story lover - or very Googleable! And if you don't happen to be the lucky one, then it's available from Salt at a 20% discount right now. You won't regret it. Watch this space, and the Short Review blog, for more.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Speaking from Experience - submissions open

A quick post just to give emerging Jewish writers in the UK the heads-up about the first in a new series of events in London on Nov 22nd which I have been asked to be involved in:
Speaking from Experience gives Jewish writers a chance to present their work in front of a discerning audience. At each event you’ll hear a small number of short stories or extracts from novels read out by their authors, hand-picked by literary personalities, who will also be exhibiting new work. Those presenting material will be serious about launching a career as a professional writer.

If you want to submit a piece, e-mail: If you just want to come and listen: Please do! For any queries, contact: The event will be at the The Legal Café, Belsize Park, 81 Haverstock Hill, NW3 4SL.
I was surprised and delighted to have been asked to be the "literary personality" who presents the work for this first event, alongside some of my own work. I don't in any way think of myself in those terms, and have never considered myself a "Jewish writer" in as much as my characters are almost never Jewish, but thinking about it a little more, I can see how my stories might be seen to have Jewish themes. Anyway, as the great Janice Galloway said at the Small Wonder festival a few weeks ago, it is not for the writer to put labels on her work, that is for the marketing people! I am happy to be involved in anything that stimulates new writers, and gives them voice. Please do submit, and perhaps I will see you there.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Writing and Place: Guest Blog 3 by Rachel

I am delighted that so many writers have thoughts on writing and place that they want to share with me. Writer and blogger Rachel Fenton blogs at Snow Like Thought.  Here are Rachel's answers to my questionnaire:

TH: Where are you?

RF: I'm sitting in my bedroom, with the curtains drawn (all white but for a chest of antique drawers, a bookcase, a 1960s school desk and two of my paintings), in a cedar house in a suburb of Auckland's North Shore, ten minutes from the beach and five from a little piece of bush. I am in my own gallery installation: art in a white box.

TH: How long have you been there?

RF: I left the UK in the summer of 2007, arriving into an Auckland winter with one bag of clothes and a realisation that our shipment of belongings was heading for the wrong place – we were meant to move to Wellington but I got cold feet and the one move we had done felt suddenly enough. I have lived in this house for two years exactly.

TH: What do you write?

RF: I write novels and short fiction mostly but I also write poetry (and I paint – painting and writing go very much together for me). I write about women and the ordinary or often overlooked “others”. I am fond of an underdog. I am attracted to tragedy and the potential for depicting tragic scenes in an aesthetically beautiful way.

TH: How do you think where you are affects what you write about and how you write?

RF: As someone who has always felt like an outsider, out of the loop in many ways, I am fascinated by “otherness”. This used to manifest itself primarily in my writing with a preoccupation with women as marginalised others but now I write about wider concerns as well. Since I came to New Zealand I have been feeling very English, which is both understandable and perplexing, insomuch as I never felt very at home in the UK. I am from a small Yorkshire mining town which lost its identity some years ago and for a while it felt as if this fading, bleaching out of heritage if you like, was happening in reverse, to the residents of the town – me included – that we were losing any ability to forge a positive identity or carve a future prospect, if that makes any sense? I was not accepted within my “home” town because I didn't have the right accent and hung around the periphery: a shy observer misinterpreted as aloof and standoffish perhaps, in any case I wanted to leave. Similarly, I felt class distinctions and a growing “Daily Mail” mindset was making other parts of the UK less attractive as potential homes. Essentially I wanted to be an observer of the UK rather than a participant. This comes across in much of my longer fiction: my characters are often leaving or returning to places of significance or alienation. I think I have an empathy for the displaced and what I like to call the “misplaced”, those who, for whatever reason, are not at home in the place society most expects them to belong. I have had an interest in post-colonial writing for some time now and coming to live in New Zealand has really brought this to the surface as far as my own writing is concerned. I have real trouble with the prefix “post”, I do not think we are “post”-colonial: post suggests we are past it, that we have moved beyond colonialism.

I recently travelled to a remote town in South Island to research for my current novel in progress and was really struck by a comment one local made, with regards to other locals not wanting to chat to me for my research, that if I had said I was from Yorkshire, not Auckland, they would have been more keen to speak to me. Am I now an Aucklander?

In Auckland I was called a “white whore”. Where is this place?

There is more than one breed of kiwi: I am discovering there are many New Zealands.

Since moving here I have stopped working to write full time but have also had a second child. My writing work habits are very much dictated by my children (my daughter is eight and my son is fourteen months). Through the week, I write when my daughter is at school and my son is napping, and in the evenings. At weekends I write for up to twelve hours a day. I have adapted to make the most of these hours and circumstances. We spend more time outdoors in the winter in New Zealand than we did in the UK and my fiction does seem to have decamped from the domestic to the great outdoors, too. I carry a notebook with me at all times and scribble down stray ends of conversations or anything which takes my fancy – I take lots of photographs, too. I am in a peculiar position of feeling familiar with my surroundings – able to write about them with knowledge – yet feeling, still, very liminal and noticing things anew. It is, for me, a very useful tool, to be both objective and caring, for a writer – and a human. Most crucially, I have discovered that “home”, for me, is an abstract: I carry it with me, within me. New Zealand, geographically, is very different from the UK. New Zealand (the parts I have experienced) on balance with the UK, is not so different. The real revelation for me is that I could live anywhere, but I don't need to. What I am discovering is that difference – real difference – is rare.

Thank you so much, Rachel, for sharing your thoughts on writing and place with us, and the gorgeous view  - it's fascinating for me to hear from another expat writer discussing what and who they are and where they are. Read Rachel's excellent blog, Snow Like Thought.

As always, anyone who wants to contribute a guest blog post, drop me an email!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Blogging, Lit fests and writing longhand

I am feeling less of a need to blog right now, which is interesting. It seems to be something to do with the fact that more people are reading my blog, so maybe I am feeling a little shy. Also, it probably has to do with feeling unsettled, still, as I talked about on Petina Gappah's blog the other day, and unsure about my words. I am finding myself doing in English what I used to do in Hebrew, which is rehearsing what I am going to say before I say it, for example to the girl at the desk when I went swimming this morning. I found myself practising in my head how to ask her whether I am on the mailing list... but it's English. It's supposed to be my native language. How odd! I guess here it's not the words that are the problem, which was often the case in Hebrew, even after 15 years, but the tone of the request I wanted to make, the cultural framing of the question, how formal to be, how informal and chatty? I need to re-learn all of this. So that's perhaps why I've not been blogging much.

What I have been doing is going to hear people talk about short stories, which is heavenly! Last week I spent two nights in Lancaster with a great writer and friend, Carys Davies, who was chairing a short story session at the Lit Fest with another great writer and friend, Alison MacLeod, author of 15 Modern Tales of Attraction, and Panos Karnezis, whose short story collection, Little Infamies, came out in 2002. First, the room was set up cabaret-style, with tables and chairs rather than the audience in rows, which made for a great atmosphere. Second, each author read a complete story, which is such a treat nowadays, when often even short story writers only read excerpts.

The authors came and chatted to people in the bar afterwards, so there was none of that Us and Them that accompanies some literary festivals where the authors sign, sign, sign books and are then whisked away to a Special Area. Carys and I, and festival director Andy, went for dinner with Alison and Panos afterwards in the brand new restaurant at The Storey, and much lit gossip ensued! The next night, we went to hear novelists Andrew Miller and Sarah Hall read several excerpts from their new books, an entirely different experience, also very stimulating.

During the day in between the two events, Carys took me to Morecambe, which was such a fascinating experience. An English beach resort sounds like a contradiction in terms, and in some ways it is, with an abandoned theme park and some empty arcades filled with video game machines (see some old pictures of how it used to be here).

But it also has considerable charm: the recently renovated Midland Hotel is a wonderful example of Art Deco, and has some Eric Gill works in there. And we sat in a small cafe at the far end of the promenade, a modernist box with a wall of glass giving the most fabulous sea view (plus homemade cupcakes).  

We sat and we both did some writing, by hand. And this brings me to my next topic. I've been pretty stuck recently, not knowing what Big Project I am working on, not really feeling focussed, productive. So, I decided to try something new: writing longhand in a Moleskine notebook (thanks, J!). It's only been a week, but I am really enjoying the change, writing in a cafe with no laptop in front of me to block the view, to form a barrier between me and everyone else. The process is completely different when you can't move words around, cut and paste, check the word count every few minutes. I also like not having all the stories I've ever written - the published and the unpublished and half finished - looming over me. And... of course... no Facebook with its myriad distractions. Yes, yes, I have my theory about how playing online Scrabble as I write distracts my logical brain, but trying it without has its benefits too.

Apparently, one very well-known writer has a large house and she begins writing in longhand in the basement and, over the course of the day, works her way up to the fourth floor where the computer is... And another well-known writer can only write with fresh apples on a wooden table. Ain't it interesting to hear how others do it?

The next day, I took the train to Manchester for part 2 of my literary festivities. I wandered around the city a little, once again looking for the ghost of myself there as a Physics student in the early 1990s, searching for a familiar corner, but the city has changed so much, I couldn't find one. But it is fun! The next day, I had a lovely meeting with three writer friends, Elizabeth Baines, Annie Clarkson (who I had never met) and Mel, and more discussion about how we write, what we write, where we write...and about not writing too! And then off to the Short Weekend at the Manchester Lit Fest.

First, a session after my own heart, the launch of the When It Changed - Science into Fiction anthology from Comma Press which brought together fiction writers and scientists in order to encouraged science-inspired fiction. (Yes, I would have loved to have been in it.. but I need no encouragement to get hold of some science, so it was great to see others who'd never tried it.) There was an extremely articulate astrophysicist who made me want to head off to an observatory, and another writer friend, Adam Marek, read the tantalising beginning of his nanoscience-inspired story. Let's hope this is the start of many more science-into-fiction collaborations.

I stayed for the whole afternoon to hear a video interview with Gazan writer Atef Abu Saif (who hadn't been allowed out of Gaza to attend, sadly) talking about fiction not being political and about the need to write, and readings by fabulous Irish author Bernard MacLaverty and Iraqi writer Hassan Blasim, who had finally been allowed into England to attend, and who read a story in Arabic, with the translation projected behind him. (I was thrilled to be able to sort of follow the Arabic...!) His short stories have an element of surrealism to them and I really look forward to reading his collection, The Madman of Freedom Square, also from Comma Press.

And then, to finish off my day, a reading by Chris Beckett, whose award-winning collection The Turing Test had opened my eyes to the possibilites of science fiction (thank you Roy!). Of course, after dashing off to catch my train, missing James Lasdun's reading, the train was delayed and I nearly missed the last connection from Birmingham to Bristol. But in the end, all worked out well.

So, back now with a week before I am off to Ireland to see if my screenplay, adapted from my story North Cold, has triumphed in the Waterford Film Festival's short screenplay competition for which is is shortlisted. Nice to be home.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Writing and Place: My Guest Blog

So, after having two guest posts here about writing and where you are, and how the two mix, I've finally written my thoughts on how it was to move countries and what that has done to my words, over at  Petina Gappah's excellent blog. An extract:
So we moved, with our two cats (who are now, sadly and cruelly, in quarantine), two months ago. And that is when the culture shock hit. Yes, I had been back often on holiday. But something shifted inside me, knowing that this wasn't a short trip, and I found that I couldn't get through a whole sentence in English without stopping to search for a word. After 15 years, there were gaps in my English that I would have filled in in Hebrew. (I like to think this bilingualism made my fiction more "innovative"!)
Read the rest of the post here I would love to hear thoughts from other "aliens" in their own homes!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Can Writers Learn from the Art World?

I have an interesting topic I'd like to discuss, and would love to know what others think. First, a few words on what I am reading right now. A great blog called Writers Read asked me this a few weeks ago and they have just posted my answer today - and you might be surprised that it's not all short stories, or even fiction!

And, to shock you even more, dear blog readers, sometimes.... I just don't want to read short stories. (I know!) Sometimes... I want to have that delicious experience of immersing myself in one story for several hours. I did this yesterday, and in one day read two  novels, straight through: Dear Everybody, by Michael Kimball (thanks, Nik, for the recommendation) and the Solitude of Prime Numbers by Paolo Giordano. Both were excellently written, devastating and moving. Both, oddly, dealt with characters who were deeply wounded in some way, and with the themes of disconnection from one's family, but in very different ways. I highly recommend them both.

 Now, to the other topic I wanted to discuss. I read an article in the New Yorker the other day about a 36-year-old artist who is now the latest Wunderkind (well, slightly older) in the art world for his odd installations (wax sculptures of women that melt as the exhibition progresses; a large pit dug in the floor of the gallery) and sculptures. His works fetch enormous sums of money, in the hundreds of thousands of pounds, and this is mentioned in the Arts articles as if it is simply accepted, a matter of course. So I say this: what is it about "art" of this kind that such sums are demanded and are received but that when it comes to the written word, the situation is so different? Even talking about artists who are not the latest Hot Item, a painting in a small local gallery has a price tag of several thousand pounds. And yet... if I get £10 for a short story, I am thrilled.

Here's my question: are we not asking enough for our work? Is it something to do with a sculpture, installation or painting being a "one-off", in some way unreproducable (even though this is not always the case)? Is it that the collector or buyer wants to own the art in a way that you couldn't own a piece of writing? And... is there any way we writers could somehow emulate these artists, by putting our work up for sale instead of submitting it to a journal? Any other ideas, thinking outside the box on this one? Is there a way we might write one-off pieces too, something we can guarantee is unique and unreproducable or  - and this is a big question - do people view an object that is made up of words, which are the currency everyone trades in, as far far less valuable, as something they could "probably do themselves if they tried"?

I would love to start a proper discussion about this. What do you think? While it is quite common to hear that someone is a poet, novelist and playwright, for example, I rarely hear of someone who is a painter and short story writer. Why the gulf? Is there "art" and then "art"??

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Giving up the day job, winning free books and chocolate

Yes, it may seem as though the title to this blog implies that if you give up your day job, many freebies will come your way, but that's deliberately designed to mislead, just so you'll come and read this post. Sorry! So: just a quick roundup:

I was asked by fellow writer and blogger Michelle Teasdale to talk about what it was like to give up my "day job" and become a full time writer, and I have tried to answer as honestly as possible over at her blog.

Now for the free books:

Tom Vowler's running a competition over at How To Write A Novel:
You have to write the best six-word story. Five words will be regarded as woefully short, seven as a rambling epic. And the prize? A signed copy of Lisa Glass’s debut novel, Prince Rupert’s Teardrop. Deadline Oct 31st.
Visit How To Write A Novel to win.

Canongate has very kindly given The Short Review five copies to give away of Rebecca Miller's short story collection, Personal Velocity. Visit the Competitions & Giveaways page and answer the pretty easy question for the chance to win one.

And the chocolate? Head over to Nicola Morgan's excellent blog, Help! I Need a Publisher, who has much Hotel Chocolat chocolate to give away. What to do?:
Flash fiction. A very short story, up to 100 words, which most gorgeously, elegantly, poignantly, creatively, wittily or movingly (or any combination thereof) includes three ingredients in any proportion or combination: chocolate, fear and the written word. Any genre, any age-range. 

Deadline: midday, British time, on October 21st. That's 21st, NOT 31st... 
If you want some inspiration for what to write and you're in or near London, I happened to know that there are a few spots still available on the workshop prize-winning writer Vicky Grut is running on Sat 17th Oct: "The Paper Clock: Handling Narrative Time". Visit London Writing Workshops for more info.

So, free books, chocolate and a workshop. All we need now is for someone to make the tea. Good luck to all!

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Paying it forward

I am toughening up in the chilly English weather - there's me, in a coat, scarf and knee-high boots while around me, students stroll in T-shirts and flip-flops. I feel a bit mad. But... we joined an outdoor swimming pool  for the winter!!! I can't quite believe it. It's three minutes walk from our house, and actually, it's very refreshing. The whole set up is a bit posh, the revamped Lido, with a glass-walled cafe overlooking the brave swimmers. Going from the pool to the jacuzzi, my body is saying, What? What? What? I'll get used to it. Not swum in the rain... or sleet... yet!

So, onto business. So many lovely things have been happening to me that I have decided that it's time to Pay It Forward. The latest news is that my short screenplay adapted from my story North Cold is a finalist in the Waterford Film Fest's short screenplay comp, am off to ireland on Nov 8th to see if I've won.... and I'm a finalist in PANK magazine's 1,001 Awesome Words comp and will be published there. So, I'd like to return the karma. A few months ago I took Sue Guiney up on her offer to Pay it Forward: she sent me a beautiful gift in the post (her poetry play, Dreams of May, and a starfish pendant) in return for my promise to send a gift to three more people. Now it's your turn: I will send something to the first three people who comment here and promise to pay it forward too. Give me your email address if it's not on your blogger profile. Let's spread the love!

A bit more love: Kelly gave me a Kreativ Blogger award some time ago, thank you Kelly! The rules are:
  • 1. Thank the person who nominated you for this award.
  • 2. Copy the logo and place it on your blog.
  • 3. Link to the person who nominated you for this award.
  • 4. Name 7 things about yourself that people might find interesting.
  • 5. Nominate 7 Kreativ Bloggers.
  • 6. Post links to the 7 blogs you nominate.
  • 7. Leave a comment on each of the blogs letting them know they have been nominated.
So, 7 things? Ok: I used to have a piercing in my belly button; I speak English, Hebrew, French, German and a little Arabic; I wrote my first book when I was 6, a novel about triplets (unfinished and, fortunately, unpublished); I am right-handed but eat with my cutlery the "wrong" way round; I have a toe ring; I can hula hoop fairly well; I learned to do a headstand again at the age of 30-something. 

I nominate:

Diane Becker (with snazzy new blog layout!) 
How publishing really works full of very useful information
Mira's List fabulous blog with grants, fellowships and residences for creative people
The Quack Doctor "a collection of panacean powders, pills, potions and pamphlets, as advertised in historical newspapers."
God Shuffles His Feet  - always thought-provoking
Anam cara Writers and Artists Retreat - a creative blog about a heavenly place that nurtures creativity.
Branta: The Might of Write lots of interesting writing-related "stuff"

So, don't forget - first three commenters who agree to pay it forward get a gift!

Sunday, October 04, 2009

10 Reasons/Lame Excuses for Not Writing

  1. I've just moved countries and am unsettled (can milk this one for months and months...)
  2. The cats are in quarantine and I can't possibly write without them (another 5 months' shelf life for this excuse)
  3. My new study is an unfamiliar place, I can't write here until I feel totally comfortable (Yes, right, I can write in any cafe but not my own workspace?)
  4. I've got far too much to do with the Short Review (I have a great deputy editor, so really can't use this one)
  5. I do lots of writing-related things (Hmm, this old one...)
  6. I am in a fallow period and should be gentle with myself (ah, this is good, can use this one a lot)
  7. I'm still working on promoting my book (Oh, come on, it's been 13 months, get over it...)
  8. I write very very short stories so don't need very long to do it, I can always do one later (Yes, but I want to write longer stories, so I need to get down to it...)
  9. I don't know what I want to write (If I wait for this, I'll never write again...)
  10. Because it's the thing I most want to do and so, being contrary, I'm not going to do it. (I don't get this at all....but it's a strong one)

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Writing and Place Guest Blog post 2: Miriam's thoughts

As I formulate witty and insightful thoughts in my head about the cultural differences between my new city and Jerusalem, I am bringing you the second in the Writing & Place series of guest blog posts, this one from Miriam Drori, who blogs at An' De Walls Came Tumblin Down. A bit about our guest today: Miriam Drori came to writing late in life, prompted by a passionate desire to be understood and to help others. By profession, she is a writer of a different sort: a technical writer. Miriam lives in Jerusalem with her husband, three children, a cat who walked in one day and a novel that’s straining to get out into the world.

Take it away, Miriam!

TH: Where are you?
MD: In my office, in the fourth residence we have lived in since getting married. Like all the previous ones, it is in Jerusalem, Israel.

TH: How long have you been there?
MD: In this amazingly large and beautiful house with (thanks to my husband) a very special garden: 4 years. In Jerusalem: 31 years. In Israel: 33 years.

the view from Miriam's office

TH: Why are you there?
MD: That's a question I'm often asked, usually by people, in Israel or the UK or elsewhere, who can't understand why anyone would want to leave stable, cool and carefree England to live in a country with ... let's say: problems. And heat. In the past, I replied that I followed my husband-to-be to this place. Which is true, but it's not the whole truth. Another important reason is something I didn't have the knowledge or the words to explain then. It has to do with being in a "hidden" minority and with social anxiety. Social anxiety, very briefly, is a fear of people and especially of what those people think of the sufferer. I caught this disorder while growing up in England, but it could have happened anywhere. Combine that with being in a minority that's not immediately obvious (unless you dress to look the part – and then it helps if you're a man) and life is filled with difficulties. In the place where I am now, I can say "I'm Jewish," without worrying what the other person will think.

TH: What do you write?
MD: I began writing because I want to publicise social anxiety. Because I wish I'd known about it earlier and want others to know as soon as possible. Before that, I didn't think I was able to write anything beyond the technical writing I did for a living. Certainly, I didn't think I could be creative. Having a goal helped me to overcome that hurdle. Now, I write about many things, but I often return to my original topic.

TH: How do you think where you are affects what you write about?
MD: It doesn't – not majorly. I agree with Nik that similar things happen to people everywhere. However, if the story isn't abstract the characters have to be in some place. It's hard to describe a place you've never been to, or to describe living in a place you haven't lived in. I think all my experiences influence what I write about, and the places I've lived in are part of those experiences. I set my first novel in England. I didn't want to set it in Israel, because I felt that readers have certain expectations of novels set in Israel and I didn't want to address those issues. I couldn't have set it in say, America, where I spent a total of 10 days many years ago. Although I was left with a string of superlatives: coldest, strangest, wildest, ... place I've ever been to, I couldn't begin to describe living there.

I like to sit in our garden when I write. I was sitting there when I wrote a short story about an artist, and – guess what – she painted the very scene I was looking at! I think location can give a story character, even though it's not usually the theme of the story.

TH: And how you write?
MD: A tough question – again I agree with Nik. Perhaps it's because I don't know how I write. I don't know how I can be creative after having been certain, for so long, that I'm not a creative person. And I don't know how to describe how my stories are written, in terms of content, and hope that they don't all fit the same pattern or style. I suspect how has something to do with finally growing up and with being able to understand, partly, what's going on in my head. Nothing to do with where I am.

Thank you, Tania, for giving me the opportunity to ramble on. Now I can sit back and read other thoughts on location.
Thank you, Miriam, for sharing your thoughts with us. Nik Perring wrote the first guest blog post on Writing & Place. More  coming soon, let me know if you'd like to contribute.