Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Two videos

First, another piece of video art by the talented Richard O'Callaghan (watch his video inspired by The White Road), this time inspired both by my story I am a Camera (which you can read here) and by Fellini's La Dolce Vita! Who would have thought...

And this, via Sarah Salway, which is wonderful, Kurt Vonnegut's advice on writing great short stories...

Monday, December 27, 2010

Retreating, and bringing it back home

I have been meaning to write about my retreat experience for a while but other blog posts got in the way. Well, I have been thinking about it a lot, as well as those new year's resolutions again, because those 10 days at Anam Cara at the beginning of the month were the closest I have come to bliss in a long, long time. On previous occasions at AC, I have received majorly good news - Salt offered me the book deal there in 2007, I won the Binnacle Ultra Short Comp in 2009 - but those have tended to be somewhat of a distraction from The Work. And the reason I went - with my two great friends, Vanessa Gebbie  (who had just received her own amazing news) and Sue Guiney, was to work. To write. 

It felt like I hadn't done any "proper" writing for months and months. Or perhaps years. I've been reading Paris Review interviews (the latest with Jonathon Franzen and Louise Erdrich), and both were talking about how important it is to have your next project in the works when a book comes out. And I've talked here before about how I most certainly did not have that. I had no clue. I hadn't believed that my book would actually be published, it was utterly unreal, and I had spent the 15 months from book deal to publication mostly holding my breath. I couldn't get down to anything that required concentration - so i set up The Short Review as a distraction. (Ah yes, beware of those "small" distractions!)

That was when I started really devoting myself to flash fiction - it was and is a sort of "instant gratification" for me in terms of the process. It's heady, addictive, for me it happens in one "splurge", on sitting, with some tinkering afterwards but not the same kind of revising that goes on with a longer story, the kind of story you carry around with you in your head for weeks and months. I didn't have that head space, it was filled with ecstatic anxiety!

And then, when the book came out, was that when life got back to normal? Yeah, right. More things to fill your head, namely the question "How can I get people to read it?", which whirls around and around...

So, basically, to cut this very long story short, we three had planned this retreat in August and I was desperate for December to come because, 2 years after publication, I have my Arts Council grant for the Next Book (or Project, as I prefer to think of it in order to psychologically fool myself) but hardly any time or head space to write it. I've been so incredibly lucky over the past 15 months since we moved to England, I have had wonderful invitations to read, meet with book groups, teach workshops, around the country. But for me, if I know on a Sunday that the week coming up includes some kind of event, I feel like I can't relax, can't settle down into my writing. It's mad, I need to get over that. But first, I needed that 10 days to get myself on track.

And get myself on track it did. I was worried - always worried, see?? - that I wouldn't be able to get down to work. I had a commissioned story to write (for Comma Press's exciting anthology of fiction inspired by scientific breakthroughs) which I hadn't been able to physically write due to hand pain. What if that took the whole 10 days? Okay, not the worst thing. But I wanted to do more. 

Let's just say that it couldn't have gone better. The story for Comma, which had been causing me anxiety because it had to be a minimum of 2500 words and the longest story I've written since 2007 is 1500, had been spinning in my head for so many weeks that it all came out. (I had to write it in short flash-like sections and then actually printed it out, cut them up and rearranged them by hand, which was fun and so tactile). First, I was relieved since I was on deadline. Second, I learned I could write something over 2500 words (about one word over...). Third, it was done by day 2, so I had 8 more days to do more!

And do more I did. This involved all sorts of writing related things, from transcribing stories and beginnings of stories from my notebooks to the computer to adapting a flash story into a poem for a poetry competition (thanks, Sue!), and reviewing a fabulous short story collection for The Short Review.  And, much to my astonishment, it resulted in my starting to write something so far out of my usual "comfort zone" that I don't know what to call it! It seemed to be a result of reading 5 books by Fred Vargas in as many weeks. I don't normally read crime thrillers, but was intrigued by Sarah's blog post in October. So I got one book out of the library. And was delighted. So I got another... and another... These books are not just well-written, but they are funny and quirky, no-one says the predictable thing. They are steeped in Frenchness, which is lovely for a Francophile like me, and they are not really about the whodunnit but about the characters, who are singular and fascinating. 

What really inspired me was the humour but also the way Vargas (who is female) uses an omniscient narrator who moves from one character's head to another, often on the same page, and how well this works. I had always thought this would impede flow, I don't think I'd seen it done well before.

Whatever it was, something was released in me, and I have started "something" which is now 3000 words and not yet finished, and dips into the heads of at least 5 characters. And more importantly, it makes me laugh as I write! I have no idea what might happen, if it's some sort of crime thing, but right now I don't care. I occasionally write short stories that make me smile but more often than not they disturb me and sometimes upset me, so this is the most wonderful contrast.

Fear not, I am still writing short stories, working on my Arts-Council-funded project inspired by the biochem lab I am in and the 100-year-old biomathematics text book. The retreat helped me figure out what I have already done and where I might be going. I just really hope I can hold onto even 10% of the feeling I had there - with nowhere I had to be, nothing I had to do, not even make meals or feed the cats or even talk to anyone during the day - then I might be able to keep this up. I have my new study set up in our new house  while we consider options for my writing shed (when the freeze is over) and in it I have a single bed donated by a friend (thanks, Alison!) because I learned at Anam Cara how important it is to have a horizontal option in my writing space. I get all my best ideas at night, in bed, so why not try and simulate that at other times?

I am, once again, as I did last year, I am trying to cut down on online distractions. I have a note stuck up on the wall above my desk with a list of things I musn't do ("check Amazon rankings", "check website and blog stats")... and so far, today, I haven't done any of them. It's a start. Yes, I've played online Scrabble, but I still stick to my conviction that that does actually help the writing. Time will tell!

Anyway, Happy New Year of Writing to you all, I look forward to hearing great news from all of you, dear blog readers, thanks for being here, whether I know you're here or not. Feel free to say hello!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Sean O'Faolain Winner and Finalists in New Issue of Southword

For your holiday reading pleasure, the new issue of Southword journal has just been published with the winner and finalists of the Sean O'Faolain short story contest which I was honoured to judge this year. (See the final results here). The winning story is Eddie by Nikita Neilin and in 2nd place, No Angel by Bernie McGill. I hope you enjoy them, and the four runners-up, as much as I did!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

National Short Story Day in the UK

I think you know how I feel about short stories... so no need for another post here in honour of National Short Story Day today, (21st December is the shortest day of the year) - extolling their virtues! Instead, I direct you to the brand new issue of The Short Review for ten collections to start with, and to the Short Review blog, where there's a lovely widget showing you all the @shortstoryday activity on Twitter, recommendations of stories etc..., freely available even to those of you who haven't discovered the joys of twitter.

Happy National Short Story Day! Find out more about the day here.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Wellcome collection guest blog

I am planning a longer blog post about my retreat experience, which was heavenly, but for the moment, a few links:

Part 2 of my guest blog post on science-inspired fiction is now up on the Wellcome Collection blog, (part 1 is here). If you don't know the Wellcome Collection, it is a brilliant place in London, a "free visitor destination for the incurably curious, exploring the connections between medicine, life and art in the past, present and future." My guest blog is about examples of "SciLit" that I like, what works for me and what doesn't. A taster:

The first fiction inspired by science that I came across, and still my favourite, is Einstein’s Dreams, by MIT physicist Alan Lightman. Published in 1994, this could be described loosely as a novel-in-stories, an imagining of what Einstein might have been dreaming about as he was formulating his theory of relativity. Each chapter or story conjures up a different theory of time – it moves slower at higher altitudes, disorder decreases with time instead of increasing, it works in a groundhog-day fashion where people are doomed to repeat the same day again and again. Einstein’s Dreams is not only thought-provoking but beautifully written...
Read the rest here.

Huge congratulations to my friend Sarah Hilary who has acquired a top-notch agent! Read her very insightful blog post on how to get an agent... or not. Really good advice, especially about perseverance and accepting critique. Heed it well.

More soon...!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Menage a Trois: Part 1

It's wonderful having friends who are writers, sharing experiences, celebrating the good things and commiserating about the hard times. So first, some celebration: I am delighted that my great friend Vanessa Gebbie's first novel, The Coward's Tale, will be published by that venerable publishing house Bloomsbury, in the UK and the US, with hardback coming out in Nov 2011! Thrilling news and inspiring for all of us, it is a beautiful, poetic book, it's fantastic that a major publisher sees its potential for capturing a great readership. Congratulations!

Now, what is the title of this blog all about? Not just there to catch your eye... I have two writer friends, Sue Guiney - whose most recent novel, Clash of Innocents, was published in November - and Lauri Kubuitsile - Botswana-based author of 13 books - who are very prolific, writing all sorts of things, and a few months ago I thought I'd ask them how they did it. The 3-way conversation was fascinating, it went on and on... So we thought we'd split it in three parts and host a third each on our blogs, all on the same day - and also as part of Sue's virtual book tour. Hence: menage-a-trois. Right? Before I launch into my first third, here are their bios:

Sue Guiney: I'm a writer of fiction, poetry, plays. I'm a teacher of fiction, poetry, plays. Born and raised in New York, I've made my life in London with my husband and two sons.

Lauri Kubuitsile: I have 13 published books, including three books from my Kate Gomolemo Detective series. My children's book Mmele and the Magic Bones (Pentagon 2008) was shortlisted for the African Writers Prize (UK) and has since been chosen as a set book for all primary schools in Botswana.My short stories have won numerous prizes.In 2005, I was among three writers shortlisted for our national, biannual prize for creative writing the Orange/Botswerere Prize. In 2007, I took first position for the same prize.

And here's what we talked about. There'll be a link to Part 2, on Lauri's blog, at the bottom:

Tania: Hi Sue and Lauri. Tell us everything - everything - that you write!

Thanks so much for asking me to take part in this, Tania. So to begin, some may say my writing is all over the place:
Short stories
Magazine articles
My blog (of course)
Endless emails
Good morning Ladies,
Oh my- this might be a bit of an embarrassment showing explicitly what a writing whore I am but here goes:

Adult short stories
Short stories for kids
Detective novellas
Romance novellas
Adult novels
Children’s books
Magazine articles
Newspaper articles-primarily science and health
Newspaper column on writing books and publishing (this is new)
Radio educational programmes (science, maths and English for primary)
TV scripts- drama series for private production company and HIV/AIDS NGO
Science textbooks for primary and junior secondary school
English textbooks junior secondary

I think that’s it.
Tania: Wow! I had no idea that you were both so amazingly prolific. Ok next question, feel free to take your time with this:

2) How do you know what you're going to write before you start? Is it a conscious decision or not? Is it for some forms and not others?

Hi Guys. This is fun. I think I may be different from Sue as I must make a living from my writing, I must have a monthly income of a certain amount from writing. My husband is a government school headmaster (translated as low paying) and we have two kids. I need to work. I don’t want to take a day job. I want to earn my share from my writing. I know it is politically incorrect to say that I write to earn a living, but that’s it. Keeping it real- as it is.

I have two adult novels I wrote with no market in mind- I just wrote them- they sit unpublished and will likely remain there unless I break out and then conveniently die. From that experience, I know I don’t like writing that doesn’t get published. I view it as a failure (normally) or as a lesson when I’m being kind hearted.

So having said that, I always know where I’m going when I start. I don’t always know which publisher I will send to, or contest, or magazine but I know if I am writing a romance or an adult novel or a children’s book; I know if it will be genre or literary. I am an anal Capricorn – I plan most everything in my life, and after those first two ‘organic’ novels I decided I was going against my innate nature to do otherwise with my writing. Occasionally I will tweak something afterward to have it more streamlined for a particular mag or publisher that I eventually choose. I usually start with an idea that stews in my mind until it gets the right amount of ‘tension’ behind it, but when I get to work at the computer,  I know already what I am writing.
Hi Guys.  I’m back!
First, I want to say that I  think Lauri is amazing to be able to reliably have a monthly income from her writing.  That is something I have only dreamed of...I don’t think it is “politically incorrect” at all to say that you write for a living.  It is what I aspire to.  I am very lucky in that my family does not rely on me for income.  To be honest, if that was the case I’m not sure what sort of writing I’d be doing at all.

But as far as knowing what genre a new piece will be, like Lauri, I know at the start.  An idea will come to me, and the form it will take will come along with it.  With poetry, I do tend to sit down with my “poet’s head” on and think, “ok, it’s time to write a poem. What will it be?”  But with other genres, the piece itself will dictate the form.  For example, plays will grow out of a very visual kind of imagining.  Although all my writing, including poems, seems to originate with character, in a play I imagine that character in a specific space like a restaurant or a sitting room, whereas fiction places the character first and foremost in time.  When I write a story, the time is compressed, as in a day or a few hours.  In a novel, time expands to cover a series of months or a year.  Certainly, there have been great novels that take place in just one day (ie Joyce’s Ulysses). And there have been many short stories that cover an entire lifetime.  But for me, so far at least, fiction examines how a character evolves over time and the breadth of that time period helps to dictate the form.    But to be honest, I have recently found that the more pieces I have written and the more pieces I am trying to find a home for, the more I need to think about how much time I myself have.  Do I have the time or energy to begin to write something that I know can’t possibly take me less than a year or two to finish, like a novel, or should I wait before taking on another task of that magnitude and use my time to work on shorter pieces?  For the first time in my writing life I find myself in precisely that position right now.  I presently have a novel, 2 plays, a short story and a poetry collection “out there.”  I know all of them will eventually need revising and reworking.  So I’m holding off beginning the new novel I have in mind until most of what is already out there is really finished.  So I suppose I’m saying that the more writing becomes a business for me, the more I put brakes on myself and steer myself towards one genre or another, depending on outside unrelated factors.

Yes, this is fun.  Lob us another one, Tania!

Tania: This is fun! And very interesting. Is there anything you'd like to ask each other while I am formulating my thoughts?
...carry on reading over at Thoughts from Botswana>>>>

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Video art of The White Road

I'm on a writing retreat here right now, but while I am away writing masses (I hope), here's a wonderful thing, an unexpected result of my book. Video artist Richard J O'Callaghan has made a piece inspired by the title story, The White Road. Here it is! I love it, I think it's just fantastic that someone was inspired to create pictures by my words. Thank you, Richard!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Retreats, short story events and workshops

So much to cram into one blog post! My hands are much better, partly due to Dragon NaturallySpeaking, although I don't really like talking to myself. Partly due to excellent osteopath! The nice news is that I have won a fellowship to the Hawthornden Castle Writers Retreat for next summer, am very excited. I am finding it so hard to find any time to write, I've realised I need to set up these retreats well in advance to actually get it done!

What's taking up my time? Well, The Short Review, for one - which is 3 years' old this month! No, I never would have believed it. If I'd known what it would grow into, I think I might have been too daunted to start at all. But I am so happy I did, and am very grateful to all my reviewers, past and present, all over the world, for making it happen every month.

Talking of short stories, it's National Short Story Week next week, and I've organised an event in Bristol, readings by many local writers, special guest Vanessa Gebbie, and a short open mic at the end - Wed 24th, 6-8pm, at the Blackwell's bookshop in Park Street - more details here, come along if you're in the area!

Talking about Vanessa, she's not just a wonderful writer but a great teacher too, and now you have the chance to experience that in the most wondrous setting, Anam Cara Writers' and Artists' Retreat (to which V and I and Sue are off shortly!). Here are the details, it will be a small and intimate retreat, so book your place now!

Short Fiction: So Much More Than It Seems...

Led by Vanessa Gebbie

One-week Residential Workshop Retreat

Arrival: Saturday, 28 May 2011

Departure: Saturday, 4 June 2011

A chance to explore in depth the craft of short fiction in all its challenging guises, in one of Ireland's most creatively exciting venues. A chance to focus on acquiring skills that will maximise the chances of your work rising to the top and standing out for the right reasons not only in publication slush piles but also in competitions.

In the company of a well-published, multi-prize-winning short storyist, who is also an experienced tutor, this will be a focused, collaborative workshop retreat during which you will create not only complete new work and the seeds of many new stories, but you will also discover tried and tested strategies for editing and revising your existing work to make it as good as it can be.

Although biased towards the art and craft of short fictions, we will also be able to explore the relevance of the craft issues to poetry, prose poetry and longer works.

Monday, November 08, 2010

speech recognition software and science inspired fiction

Quite amazingly, I'm dictating this blog post with Dragon NaturallySpeaking speech recognition software! Maybe I'm the last person to find this out, but this thing is bloody good! I got it four days ago,spent about 10 min training it, and it's really doing very very well. Not only can you dictate, you can also give commands to navigate around your computer. Unfortunately, this means that I can't use my laptop, which runs the LINUX operating system, so I have to use it on our Windows laptop which is just there for emergencies. I'm not a fan of Windows, I love Ubuntu, it's a brilliant operating system. Ah well, can't have it all.The oddest thing I'm finding is that I don't know what to do with my hands while I'm talking!Any (decent) suggestions welcome.Also, it's a bit hard to drink coffee and dictate at the same time!

I had a lovely time in the last few days to book launches, the ones I mentioned the end of my last blog post,Susannah Rickards' hot kitchen snow, and Vanessa Gebbie's storm warning: echoes of conflict. Great ideas for Christmas presents, if you're stuck!(sorry for the lack of links, really don't know how to do that with speech recognition.)

Just wanted to point you towards part one of a blog post I have up today on the amazing Wellcome collection blog. They asked me to write about science inspired fiction, and I wrote so much that they've split it into two parts! Part one is here: your comments are very welcome.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Catching up

I haven't blogged for a while because - entirely due to my own stupidity - my repetitive strain injury has flared up again, and my right arm is very sore. So will keep this brief. Nice news: my new flash story, That Small Small Inch, is a finalist in the PANK 1001 Awesome Words contest and will be published in March. My story, Vegetable, Mineral, was a finalist last year, I feel like I'm approaching awesomeness, slowly, slowly!

Also, if you're in Bristol, come to the launch of the ShedFest Anthology tomorrow night, Wed nov 3rd, 8pm, at the Thunderbolt - this is the follow-up to the excellent ShedFest in September, the first ever literary festival in a shed! Organiser Mike Manson has compiled everything we read that night into an anthology, and £3 from every copy sold goes to the Pakistan Flood Appeal. Buy it here.

On that note, Greg McQueen's done it again: the man behind 100 Stories for Haiti has now produced 50 Stories for Pakistan, all of whose proceeds also go to the Pakistan Flood Appeal. The book features stories by Robert J. McCarter, Joanne Fox, Erik Svehaug, Susan Lanigan, Anne Mullane, Lisa Ricard Claro, R.J. Newlyn, Nuala Ní Chonchúir, Martin Webster, Jonathan Pinnock, Trevor Belshaw, Julia Bohanna, Iain Pattison, Laura Eno, Dave Clark, Pam Howes, Alun Williams, Annie Evett, Jennifer Stakes, Rebecca Emin, Marjorie Tolchard, Marit Meredith, Paul Malone, Ewan Lawrie, Jarred McGinnis, Alex Tomlin, Gail Richards, Benjamin Solah, Ruchira Mandal, Alyson Hilbourne, Ramon Collins, Darren Lee, Riaz Ali, Nasim Marie Jafry, Heather Parker, Shazia Bibi, Andrew Parrott, Brigid O’Connor, Rob Innis, Tony Williams, Annemarie Neary, Emma Newman, Robert Long, Beryl Brown, Vanessa Couchman, Joanna Campbell, Sylvia Petter, Rosemary Hayes, Paul Anderson, and Alice Turner. Get yourself a copy now.

I'm off to 2 book launches this week of two great friends: Susannah Rickards' Hot Kitchen Snow and Vanessa Gebbie's 2nd collection, Storm Warning. And greatly enjoyed two launches in the past few weeks, of Sue Guiney's Clash of Innocents and Elizabeth Baines' The Birth Machine. Nothing better than celebrating the birth of friends' books!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Paranoia, Mortification, The Family and Virtual Tours

I had a wonderful few days this week, talking to another library book group who were so thoughtful and asked really interesting, considered questions. Then I went to London where I caused an incident due to Jerusalem-ingrained paranoia when I thought that someone at a bus stop had abandoned two bags of shopping - and the other guy at the bus stop also thought so! I called the police, gave them a full description, which did include me peering carefully into said bags to describe the lettuce within. Then, just as I hung up, my bus came - and an elderly man who may not have spoken English and must have been lurking in the shadows, picked up the carrier bags and got on the bus! 

I was a little embarassed but then as the bus pulled away, I heard sirens, and two police cars sped past, then a third one pulled in front of our bus and two young police officers in bullet-proof-vests got on. I of course immediately admitted it was me, and they inspected this poor man's shopping and then headed off, murmuring into their radios - probably "Mad paranoid woman's wasting police time". Anyway, they haven't contacted me to tell me off, and I'd rather be paranoid and mortified than the alternative. Even if it was just lettuce.

So, the London trip was for me to be the speaker at a charity lunch for the League of Jewish Women. I've never done after-meal speaking, was rather nervous and thought I might manage 15 minutes including reading my stories. Turns out, I read and chatted about short stories and writing for about 40 mins without having really prepared much! Then there were questions and just as someone was asking the final questions, there was a kerfuffle in the corner and it turned out someone had fainted. Warm room, lots of people - not anything connected to my speech, they assured me! It was dealt with swiftly, she was fine... and everyone carried on as normal. My fiction packs a punch, clearly. Anyway, a lovely day, despite the conditions in London turning thundery and it taking 2 hours to get across town.

Today has been odd, and it's only 2pm, but the highlight so far has been the publication of my weird flash story, The Family, up on the excellent Metazen. Thank goodness for lit zines like Metazen who like the stuff I like and don't read my weirdnesses and shake their heads in dismay and incomprehension. Love 'em! To whet your appetite:
Although the family is not always available, the family is on hand when it comes to death....

Read the rest here.

And next week I will be hosting a stop on my friend Sue Guiney's virtual book tour for her new and wonderful novel, A Clash of Innocents. Stay tuned.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Inspiring yourself...

I had an interesting day doing something I've never done before. Normally on Saturdays, I switch off TV, phone, Internet and I read... generally a whole book in one day. But today I read halves of two books, Is God a Mathematician? by Mario Livio, a wonderful book about the history of mathematics - an exploration of whether maths was invented by humans or "discovered" because it is actually an innate aspect of the universe -  and a fabulous (in both senses of the word) short story collection called A Life on Paper, stories by French writer Georges-Olivier Châteaureynaud translated by Edward Gauvin, which I am reviewing for The Short Review. I literally (and literarily) alternated between the two books - a few chapters about maths and then a couple of short stories, then another chapter about maths, reading both books at the same time. And the juxtaposition of the two set my brain firing in all sorts of directions, it was an immensely creative act. I think I read each book differently because of the other, fact informing fiction and vice versa, and it has really inspired me. I wanted to highly recommend trying this - it would probably work with any two books, has anyone else tried something like this?

Talking of inspiration, I wanted to mention a new venture by one of the most creative, generous and inspirational people I know, Sarah Salway, poet, short story writer, novelist, who is always posting writing prompts on her blog. Together with poet and writer Catherine Smith, Sarah has just launched Speechbubble books. This is what they say about it: " Our experience of collaborating with other writers, musicians, photographers, actors, directors and textile, paint and digital artists has shown us that good writing can go beyond the confines of two hard covers. Speechbubble Books allows us to share some of this work, and to bring new work out into the world." 

I want to wish them enormous luck with the new venture, and I am off to order their first product, Pillow Book: "an ongoing collaboration between textile artist Anne Kelly and writer Sarah Salway.Each postcard replicates a piece of textile art designed by Anne Kelly and already exhibited throughout the UK." Doesn't that already sound wonderful? Welcome, Speechbubble!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Write a flash, win a online lit mag, and more...

A few interesting things that have dropped into my email Inbox recently that I wanted to pass on. Firstly, here's a lovely idea: Kenney Mencher, a painter and professor of Art History and Studio Art in California, is offering a piece of his artwork as a prize in a flash fiction competition he is running on his blog. In his email to me, he said: " I have tons of drawings and I thought it might be nice to give some away." What a wonderful prize, take a look at his artwork, it is really stunning. You have til Oct 25th to post the flash story in the comments on his blog.

Two new short-story-focussed venues: 

Launched by the University of Chichester, UK, Thresholds is "the home of the international  postgraduate short story forum" but it definitely isn't just for postgrads, it is full of wonderful interviews and articles about different aspects of the short story. For example, Thresholds will run a live online Q&A on Oct 21st with Adam Marek, author of the short story collection Instruction Manual for Swallowing, shortlisted in the inaugural Sunday Times EFG Private Bank short story award, and author of the brilliant essay in Short Circuit: A Guide to the Art of the Short Story in which he talks about the "short story gland".(This is their glorious homepage pic, by Natalie Miller. Love it.)

Out of Print is a new short story lit mag, founded by Indira Chandrasekhar who I was delighted to meet because she writes fiction and she has a Ph.D. in Biophysics! The aim of the magazine is: "We seek original writing in English or translated into English that is strong, well-crafted and reflects the pace and transition of our times. Based out of India, we view writing with a connection to the subcontinent with particular interest but are open to submissions from around the world. We encourage new writers and we encourage writing that tells a story." The first issue includes a story by the excellent Kuzhali Manickavel, and I look forward to exploring the rest of it in more detail.

Best of luck to both these ventures! And... I've just posted a post on the Science Faculty blog in which I interview PhD student Becky Jones about her time in Austria for the Roche Continents: Arts and Science program, so head over there to find out what that's about.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Audio story and Bristol Short Story Prize

I'm reading my story, Vegetable Mineral, in the new issue of the excellent audio magazine, 4'33, if you'd like to listen. I've also contributed to Salt Publishing's article on the future of the short story with a little futuristic dreaming on my part...Read what the others have to say, they're far more sensible! Eg Nicholas Royle:
The short story will survive anyway because it is a perfect art form. A novel is too big to sit in your mind and unfurl like a flower. A poem is too short to tell you a story involving enough to absorb you. I guess it could do with a little help, though.
The full article is here.

And... the 2011 Bristol Short Story Prize is now open! Not only that, the first prize money has now doubled, to £1000. Sadly, I am a judge again this year so I can't enter. Hmm. Shame. But we all look forward to reading your entries - and do keep in mind that last year's competition was won by Valerie O'Riordan's fantastic 350-word flash story, so no need to nudge right up to the maximum word count of 3000 words. Write a story as long as it needs to be. International entries welcome.

The details:
20 stories will be shortlisted.
The 20 shortlisted writers will be invited to an awards ceremony in Bristol on July 16th 2011 when the winners will be announced and the BSSP Anthology Volume 4 will be launched. Prizes and anthologies will be sent to any shortlisted writer unable to attend the awards ceremony.
Prizes :
Ist- £1000 plus £150 Waterstone’s gift card
2nd- £700 plus £100 Waterstone’s gift card
3rd- £400 plus £100 Waterstone’s gift card
The other 17 writers who feature on the shortlist will be presented with a cheque for £100.
All 20 shortlisted stories will be published in both print and ebook versions of Volume 4 of the Bristol Short Story Prize Anthology.
The closing date for entries is March 31st 2011.
The maximum number of words for each story is 3,000.
There is an entry fee of £7 for each story submitted.
Stories can be on any theme or subject and are welcome in any style including graphic, verse or genre-based (crime, thriller, science fiction, fantasy, romance, historical etc.).
While there is a maximum word count of 3,000, it should be pointed out that there is no minimum.
(If you're a reader of Venue magazine in Bristol or Bath, you can win a free entry.) Get your entries in!

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

A short short story contest - win books!

I was delighted when Red Room, the wonderful site for authors, asked if I would give away three copies of my book as part of the prizes for their first short short story contest for Red Room authors. Here are the details, if you're a Red Room member, why not enter?
This week, Red Room author Robert Olen Butler, who won the 1993 Pulitzer Prize for his collection of short stories, A Good Scent from Strange Mountain, will guest judge a short story contest for us. So write a short story and post it on your blog this week. There's no entry fee or run to the post office involved. Everyone will get to enjoy reading your story whether you win or not, since you enter by posting it on your blog. (For contest rules, please see below.)
Our esteemed guest judge, who will select a first, second, and a third place winner, has published eleven novels and five volumes of short fiction. The magazine Short Story recently published a retrospective of his work, which led him to unearth "Moving Day," his first published short story, which appeared in Redbook in 1974. His most recent novel is Hell, just released in paperback. It's a comic fantasy about a news reporter who dies and finds himself still delivering the evening news, this time in Hell.
Definitions of a "short story" include "fiction less than 10,000 words," "a brief, highly unified piece of fictional narrative," and "an essay written under the guise of fiction to protect the writer's family." Many literary journals and contests prefer 3,000 to 5,000 words for submissions.
We're calling this Red Room's "Scandalously Short Story Contest" because the word limit is only 1,000 words. That's something someone like Joyce Maynard could write in an hour but we'll give you two days to write, edit, and post it. When you're done, you might say: "It's so short, I can't believe it's a story!"
We hope you'll participate. The first prize winner gets a trophy mailed to them. (Yes, an actual trophy!)
The first-, second-, and third-place winners will each receive a set of three books by Red Room authors. Margo Berdeshevsky's Beautiful Soon Enough (2009) is a collection that captures the lives of twenty-three arresting women. Robert Olen Butler called it a "thrillingly cutting-edge work of photos and short short stories flowing together." Tania Hershman founded The Short Review, a short-story collection review website. Her debut collection, The White Road and Other Stories, was published in 2008 by Salt Publishing. N. M. Kelby writes both nonfiction writers guides and fiction; her most recent book, 2009's ATravel Guide for Restless Hearts, collects stories "for those of us who suddenly find ourselves tourists in our own lives."As always, we'll feature all winners and other notable entries on the homepage the following week.

So post your scandalously short story contest entry as a blog entry today
For help on how to blog, please see the directions here. We'll choose one of these blog posts to be featured on Red Room's homepage next week. Post your entry by Friday at 10:30 a.m. PDT (GMT-08:00).
Contest Rules: Only Red Room authors and members who joined before October 6th, 2010, are eligible. Entries will only be considered if posted on your Red Room blog by the deadline of Friday, October 8, 2010, at 10:30 a.m. PDT (GMT-0:8:00), and tagged correctly with the keyword term "short story contest" in the Blog Keyword Tags field so we can find it. (Please don't forget the tag. For more information about tags, click here.). Please do NOT post the story as any other content type (such as "story, article, or poem"). You must enter it as a blog entry or it will not be considered. Judging is at the sole discretion of Red Room. Your entry must consist of a short story that is 1,000 words or less. Email us if you have questions or need help with the contest.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

A prose poem and some upcoming deadlines

I am now officially a writer of prose poems! My first one has just been published by the Prose Poem Project, and that's how I found out that it actually was a prose poem. Sometimes it's wise to leave the labels to other people.

I wanted to say enormous congratulations to my writer friends - online and offline - who have been shortlisted for the Bridport Prize in all three categories, short story, flash fiction and poetry. The official shortlists won't be unveiled til Oct 31st, so for the moment, you know who you are!

On that note, a few upcoming deadlines, in all three of those categories:

Opium magazine's Shya Scanlon 7-line contest, October 4th: "The rules? Write a story or prose poem that is seven lines or less (8.5" x 11" paper with 1" margins). The winning story along with runners-up — and as many as 10 finalists — will be featured in Opium11, slated for release in March 2011. (We will not accept previously published work.) Grand prize of $1,000 (or the second- and third-place prize of $100)"  The wondrous Amy Hempel is judging!

Genomics Forum Poetry competition, Oct 7th:  "Write a poem of no more than 50 lines on the theme of ‘improving the human’. First prize is £500, second prize is £200, and third prize is £100." This sounds like fun, I might even have a go, prose poems count too, don't they?

PANK magazine's 1001 Awesome Words contest - new deadline 15th October: "Any form or formlessness, 1,001 words or less. You know who you are. Now go to it. 1st Place: $650* and publication in PANK 5.2nd Place: $150 and Publication in PANK 5 ." PANK loves wierd stuff, so if that's what you write, send it in!

Sunday Times EFG Private Bank short story competition, Oct 30th:  £30,000 first prize (yes, really! that's what happens when you run a competition in partnership with a BANK). "The award aims to honour the finest writers of short stories in the UK and Ireland. It is open to authors with a previous record of publication in creative writing. Entries may be previously unpublished, or first published or scheduled for publication after 1 January 2010. All entries must be under 6,000 words and entirely original."  And... entries by POST only. They publish the longlist, so if you're eligible to enter, it's worth it. I know two of those who were longlisted so it's not all star-studded Big Names, and in fact almost all the BNs didn't get from the longlist to the shortlist, so there.

Writers Digest short story competition, Dec 1st: "We're looking for fiction that's bold, brilliant...but brief. Send us your best in 1,500 words or fewer.First Place: $3,000 and a trip to the Writer's Digest Conference in New York City Second Place: $1,500 Third Place: $500 Fourth Through Tenth Place: $100 Eleventh Through Twenty-Fifth Place: $50 gift certificate for Writer's Digest Books" Lots of prizes on offer here and "only" 1500 words to wow them with. Get your entry in early, that's my ex-judge's tip. Who knows if it helps!

That's all for now, folks. Good luck to you all!

Thank you to Sarah for this: Troubadour Poetry prize, deadline 15 Oct: "Poems must be in English, must each be no longer than 45 lines, must fit on one page of A4, must be the original work of the entrant and must not have been previously broadcast or published (in print or online)- shortest turnround of any major competition: poems in on/by Fri 15th Oct, winners know by Mon 22nd Nov, results by e-mail to everyone else after announcement on evening of Mon 29th Nov;- no sifters/chuckers-out, both judges read every poem;- not just £1000 top prize but 22 other prizes and the chance for every prizewinner to read at Troubadour Prize Celebration on Mon 29th Nov;- every submission, whether one poem or ten, supports our fortnightly Monday night readings in London's liveliest, longest-running and best-loved literary landmark venue, now surviving without Arts Council support and relying increasingly on poets around the country and around the world to keep literature 'live' in London."

Addendum 2: And thanks to Nuala for this: Gregory O’Donoghue International Poetry Prize, Dec 15th deadline."first prize of €1,000 (on 1 October 2010 approx. US$1365 or UK£850) and publication in Southword Literary Journal. If the winner comes to Cork to collect their prize in February 2011, we will lavish them with hotel accommodation, meals, drinks and VIP access to the literary stars for three days during the Cork Spring Literary Festival. There will be a second prize of €500, third prize of €250, and ten runners-up will each have their poems published in Southword and receive Southword’s standard fee of €30. The current judge is Leanne O'Sullivan, who will read each and every entry herself". This competition is being run by the Munster Literature Centre, for whom I judged the Sean O'Faolain prize, so I can vouch for them - and I can say that Leanne's poetry is absolutely breathtaking, so even if you don't enter, check her out.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

My September

September started as it meant to go on, with a reading at Bristol's Thunderbolt pub on Sept 1st, sharing the bill with musician Richard Burley, as part of the monthly Word of Mouth event run by the inimitable Bertel Martin - thanks Bertel for the fantastic (and perhaps fantastical!) introduction! That was my first event in our new home town, which felt great. No pics of that event, but news to report is that it was divided into two sets, and in the first set I read some pieces from my book. In the interval I realised that I didn't really want to do that any more, after 2 years it's hard to read those stories fresh - fresh for me and for an audience. So in the 2nd half I read newer stories and a few I'd never read out before, and that really gave me an energy boost, showed me that I need to read something different each time I read, take risks, walk that short story writer's tightrope!

Event No 2 was ShedFest, on Sept 11th, in this glorious structure above! Bristol's - and perhaps the UK's - first lit fest in a shed, we all had 5 minutes to read, which for me meant reading 3 flash stories including Drizzling, my shed story, which is fairly unfathomable on paper so who knows how it went down?! Thank you to Mike Manson for a wonderful evening, not just of great writing but of great food and socializing in between.

Then I headed out of the city to Birmingham on September 15th for the "There's Science in My Fiction... and Poetry" open mic night I'd organised at the British Science Festival, with my co-judges, science-loving writers and bloggers Sue Guiney and Brian Clegg. The event was free, no tickets needed, and held at the amazingly-gorgeous Old Joint Stock Pub function room, so we really had no idea who would show up. We had prizes at the ready:

(photo credit: B. Clegg)
and we waited... 

Wonderful to meet Alan Beard and get a copy of his brand-new short story collection, You Don't Have to Say, from Tindal Street Press, being launched this Thursday (more about Alan soon). And then the science-inspired writers flocked in! Well, ok, it was a small and intimate crowd, but that lend itself really well to discussions about using science in different ways, and to great readings. All those who came read poems - from the tale of the first forensic scientist to a quark love story, and poetry explaining the origins of the moon. They were all wonderful, many were magical, such a variety, we were delighted! I was a little sad that there were no other short story writers, so next time we'll get you out of the woodwork! Congrats to our winner, Heather Wastie, and to everyone who came, readers and audience, and my esteemed fellow judges, it was a really fun event!

The White Road and Other Stories in the Frank O'Connor Fest window display in the wonderful Cork Waterstone's, who were so welcoming when I went in and signed a couple.
 The next day I flew to Cork to one of the biggest annual treats for a short story writer: The Frank O'Connor Festival. I had last been here 2 years ago, the week after The White Road and Other Stories was published, so had been in a state of mild hysteria the whole time. It was like short story summer camp that year, I met so many writers who have become great friends, from Alison McLeod and Adam Marek to Wena Poon and Nuala Ní Chonchúir. This year, it was the American contingent, as 5 of the 6 shortlistees for the 35,000 euro Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award were Americans: Belle Boggs, Robin Black, Laura van den Berg, Ron Rash and TC Boyle (who didn't come due to injury), alongside David Constantine from the UK. 

Robin Black and I had been online friends, it was lovely to finally meet her, and to meet Laura van den Berg, whose collection we'd recently reviewed on the Short Review. I read on the Thursday night with Belle Boggs, whose stories I hadn't read and whose writing enchanted me! She read the first half of her story, Jonas, from her collection, Mattaponi Queen. Here we both are, relieved, after the reading.

(Photo: C Hershman)

As well as that event, I took part in a flash fiction reading in downtown Cork in support of Irish support of the arts, and in a panel discussion about the short story and new media, which both excited and terrified me! I have no pictures from the rest of the 4-day extravaganza, but the festival's photographer, the legendary John Minihan, will have done a far better job anyway, will link to those when they're online. Suffice it to say, it was non-stop readings, so many excellent writers, including Karen Russell, author of St Lucy's School for Girls Raised by Wolves, and Nyk de Vries, a writer from Holland whose ultra-short stories and prose poems and ultra-dry delivery just delighted us all. Every night the festivities moved to the local tapas bar where writers and readers mingled, ate and listened to more readings. Read Nuala's blog post about Tess Gallagher and Belle Boggs' blog here.Madeline D'Arcy reading her short story with props was a wonderful experience!

The highlight for me was listening to Nikita Nelin read his story, Eddie, I had chosen from 849 stories as the winner of 2010 Sean O'Faolain short story prize (full list of winners here). His story has a unique rhythm and poetry and I wanted to hear him read it. It brought tears to my eyes again and I heard things I'd never heard before, the mark of a great story. It will be published in Southword shortly, and Nikita wrote about his festival experiences on the Electric Literature blog. And huge congratulations to Ron Rash, winner of the Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award! 

Bleary-eyed and exhausted, I flew back to Bristol on Monday (was that just over a week ago? Really?) to rest up for the last few events. Then on Thursday, heavily medicated to decongest, I ran a workshop on research-inspired fiction at Bristol University's Engage conference on public engagement. I was pretty nervous, I'd never done anything like this before, but it was just talking about what I am passionate about so I hoped it would be ok. 13 of us - mostly scientists - discussed examples of fiction which uses science in different ways (see my web page here for examples) and then, after a tea break, we picked prompts from a recent copy of New Scientist and did some writing ourselves. The energy in the room was palpable, a flash-writing session always creates a wonderful buzz, and then most people read out what they'd written, a great variety of short shorts! I will write more about this in a guest blog post I've been asked to write for the Wellcome Collection blog shortly. 

If you're feeling exhausted by all this then perhaps stop here and don't read about how the next morning, sneezing and coughing, I headed off to Lewes, Sussex, to the Small Wonder festival! It's held in Charleston, the glorious house that was home to Virginia Woolf's sister, Vanessa Bell, and Duncan Grant:

(photo: Axel Hesslenberg)

If you are anywhere near, you must go and visit, it's as if they just stepped out and might be back any minute, a house whose air is filled with creativity and experimentation.
After attending the Small Wonder short story festival for several years as an audience member, I felt incredibly lucky to be invited to do a session on Flash Fiction, with my great friend and writing colleague Vanessa Gebbie. V and I met through flash fiction in 2006 and so it was lovely to be up there on stage with her, talking about what flash fiction is and might be and reading 10 short short stories between us. Here we are in full flow:

(photo: Axel Hesslenberg)

We did a book signing afterwards and then repaired back to the very special Authors' "Green Room", which is the main house's kitchen, for dinner before the Short Story Slam. What a fantastic evening it was, and the whole weekend's events were a continuation of the literary delights from Cork, more talk of short stories and writing, more amazing writers... Here are Adam Marek and David Vann talking about their Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award shortlisted stories:

It was wonderful to see Robin Black, Karen Russell and David Constantine again, as well as so many other familiar faces. Enormous thanks to Small Wonder artistic director Diana Reich and her fantastic team, and to Colin McKenzie, Charleston Trust Director, for a wonderful introduction and summing up, running with my metaphor about flash fiction and very short flights ("the Easyjet of the short story world")!

I'm sure I've missed some people out here, my brain still isn't working properly, apologies if I've made any omissions. I came back home on Sunday night, missing my train in London due to appalling traffic, but even that couldn't diminish my elation at the weekend's events. Yes, I'm still sneezing and coughing, but would I have missed any of it? Most certainly not! Vanessa and I already have another invite to do our Flash Double Act next year, more on that nearer the time... I'm going to eat a load of oranges now and wend my way back to doing some writing, slowly slowly.