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...