Saturday, December 24, 2011

China Mieville and Preserving the Mystery

I have read an entire, 400-page book today: Embassytown by China Miéville. And it has made me think. So, I thought I would record some of my thoughts here, for me and maybe for you too. This novel is his 9th book - 8 previous novels and one short story collection - and it is quite astonishing. And I might even say brilliant. It is a novel about language, about truth and lies, about simile and metaphor, set on another planet about humans and aliens. It is unlike anything I have ever read before, anything. It itself is a metaphor.

What's so amazing is Miéville's language. Look at this, the opening paragraph of the book:
The children of the embassy all saw the boat land. Their teachers and shiftparents had had them painting it for days. One wall of the room had been given over to their ideas. It's been centuries since any voidcraft vented fire, as they imagined this one doing, but it's a tradition to represent them with such trails. When I was young, I painted ships in the same way. 
Anyone understand this? Anyone know exactly where we are, what's going on? How many words we've never seen before? Enough to signal we're in a new territory, literally and linguistically.

Perhaps this is familiar from science fiction novels, I don't know. I'm reading more and more work that is labelled "science fiction" but Miéville prefers to call his writing "new weird" and that sounds about right to me. Anyway, there are those readers who will no doubt be put off by this opening, or if not then by all the continuing novelty that swiftly follows. This is an introduction that is almost an anti-introduction. It almost says: "You will not understand me, but if you persevere it will be worth it". And it is.

Suffice it to say, Embassytown is an immensely complex novel which employs Miéville's new and highly inventive language and concepts to illustrate fundamentals about how we communicate, the need to be able to lie, and about love, friendship, community, safety, war and power. He doesn't provide definitions of his many, many new words, and that's what captivated me - I had to work hard, I couldn't skim anything, just to keep my footing, or at least one foot on the ground! And I loved that.

Now here's an interesting thing: I found the final 100 pages less compelling. Yes,  it was a happy-ish ending, yes it tied up lots of loose ends. But I think it was more than that, I believe it was because I finally understood all the new words, got to grips with the novel concepts, which species was which, who did what. The mystery? Gone.

This made me think, of course, about my own writing. And also about the stories i am reading as part of the sifting I am doing for a short story competition. How often do you read a story that keeps you working hard? How much more compelling is it if the story doesn't give itself away too soon? However, the majority of the stories I've read for competitions not only give it away, they then add far too much information. Background, backstory... descriptions, explanations... All of which, for this reader at least, serve to push me away from the story. I think, Well, why should I keep reading? What's there left to find out? What's the mystery?

I do try and apply this to my own work, although it's harder to know how a reader who is not me will read it, since I am all-knowing (well mostly) about my own story. I tend to err on the side of too mysterious, too cryptic and minimalist, I think. But I think that it's better to err on that side, have your reader a little confused and curious than pile on information and lose their interest completely.

What helps (and here's a clumsy segue into the other thing I wanted to mention!) is having a trusted reader or group of readers read your work, not something I do that often anymore. "Trusted" is not easy to come by, and as Robin Black talks about in her excellent blog post over at Beyond the Margins,  sharing work can lead to horrible experiences. She suggests that reading and commenting on a writing colleague's work should be "a process of honoring the fact that the piece exists at all, as opposed to shredding or praising it." I like this very very much, she gives eminently sensible advice and airs issues that are not often talked about public. Check out the blog post,  On Reading One Another's Work.

I also highly recommend China Miéville's writings. I loved his short story collection, Looking for Jake (published in 2005 and reviewed on The Short Review here), which is weird but very different from Embassytown, and am going to seek out more of his books. I hear him speak recently at the One Culture science and literature festival held in the Royal Society in London and was extremely impressed by the way he talks about writing, about stories, about genre pigeon-holing. You can read a blog report of that event on the Royal Society's blog.

And perhaps, as 2011 draws to a close and 2012 approaches, next year will be a year of opening ourselves up to the mysterious in our writing? Of giving the reader some space to figure things out for him or herself? And of celebrating that in our colleagues' work too, if they share it with us. A giving-in to the not-knowing, perhaps. Because, really, what do we actually know? Happy holidays, everyone.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Story in New Scientist

This has definitely got to be one of the highlights of my year - a year which began with my short story in science journal Nature ends with my science-inspired short story in science magazine New Scientist's Dec 24th print edition, available worldwide! It's not available online, so if you fancy reading it, I'm sure it's in your local newsagent, or whatever the equivalent is outside the UK. I'm unbelievably excited about this - they asked me for a story, which is something I'd dreamed of for years. Thank you, New Scientist! Happy holidays to all!

ADDENDUM: turns out it is published online too, on the New Scientist blog!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Workshop with Sarah Salway: Postcards to Yourself

Thanks to Sue G for drawing my attention to this - so that I can draw your attention to it! Sarah Salway and I co-tutored an Arvon Foundation course in May so I know firsthand what a fantastic teacher/tutor/inspiring person she is. She is running a course entitled "Postcards to Yourself" together with Alison Piasecka, who runs Moving Thru Transitions, here in the UK in February, here are more details:

POSTCARDS TO YOURSELF in Othona, East Anglia  22-24 February 2012 
A 3 day workshop led by Sarah Salway and Alison:   
Wish you were … where? 
Do you want to rediscover that creative spark you thought you’d lost and have fun exploring your life on the page through a varied series of short guided writing exercises? During this course, you’ll forget the grammar police, red pens and even neat handwriting as you give yourself space to tune your unique writing voice, liberate your imagination and use language as a map to support your journey to self-discovery and growth.  You’ll write at your own pace, and with absolutely no need to share unless you want to. No previous writing experience is necessary. 
For prices and more information click here

There is only space for 10 people, and the place itself looks stunning, so I would get your skates on... (anyone snowed in today? Very bright and sunny here in Bristol!). Have a lovely weekend.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Vote for your favourite particle-accelerator-inspired flash story!

So, this UK particle accelerator, Diamond Light Source, held a short story and a flash fiction competition. And I went in for both. And now the flash fiction entries are all posted on the website, and you can vote. For your favourites. Not that I'm saying anything. Not that I'm happening to mention mine is called The Beam Line. (Others I know on the list are Pete Dominican and Kevlin Henney). This is just for your information. Right? Ok. Here's the website. (You do have to very quickly register to vote. Just so you know. In case... ) I'll be quiet now.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

The Juno Charm visits the blog

Photo: Emilia Krysztofiak
I am very luck in that I have many multi-talented writer friends, one of whom is Nuala Ní Chonchúir - she writes short stories, novels, poetry. Nuala - who is the same age as I am - has published, umm, let's see, three short story collections (Nude, To the World of Men Welcome, The Wind Across the Grass), a novel (You) and now her fourth  poetry collection, The Juno Charm, (the others are Molly's Daughter, Tattoo Tatu, Portrait of the Artist with Red Car). Do I feel inadequate? Is this about me? No, it isn't. It's about Nuala. Here's her full bio:

Born in Dublin in 1970, Nuala Ní Chonchúir lives in Galway county. Her début novel You (New Island, 2010) was called ‘a heart-warmer’ by The Irish Times and ‘a gem’ by The Irish Examiner. Her third short story collection Nude (Salt, 2009)) was shortlisted for the UK’s Edge Hill Prize. Her second short story collection To The World of Men, Welcome has just been re-issued by Arlen House in an expanded paperback edition. The Juno Charm, her third full poetry collection, was launched in November.

I am delighted to be hosting this stop on her blog tour for The Juno Charm, an exquisite, moving, lyrical, visceral - and often very funny - collection of poetry. Since I am a poetry novice attempting to write a few poems, I used this as a chance to pick my talented friend's brain, get some tips. I hope you'll find it interesting too - and it will whet your appetite for the book, which would make an ideal seasonal gift!

Tania: Welcome, Nuala!  Your poems are a wonderful combination of very physical and visceral and soaring flights of language. You use some words I have never heard of (English words!) but didn't want to look them up, I loved the not-knowing. How do you write your poems? Do you search for words that are new to you?

Nuala: I’m now very curious to know what those words were!! [Tania: here are some of them: "jiddering", "drupe", "anchoritic", "lanugo", "vernix", "ocellated"] My poems are written when something flashes into my mind’s eye because of something I have read/seen/heard. Lots of thing interest me but in order to make a poem, a thing has to really grab me and nag at me until I write about it. Like most writers, I love to add to my word-hoard. I use the thesaurus and dictionary daily, when I write, because it’s important to me to always use the right word. I hope that by being a careful writer – meaning one who cares about everything from words to grammar to the overall feel and look of a poem – that I will eventually write something of worth. So, yes, I am always alert to new words and often that new word by itself will spark a poem. ‘Peabiddy’ – Flannery O’Connor’s word for peachicks (baby peacocks) – was a new word to me and it became the apt title to the poem ‘Peabiddy’ which is about my daughter Juno’s birth and my hopes for her. Here’s the text of it:


The flaps opened and out you popped,
biddy-in-the-box, one wing raised
in a super-heroine’s salute.

We put you there, cock and hen,
rattling feathers and shrieking softly
under canvas in a midland field.

You, our emerald peabiddy,
the actual fact of you musters pride
as we watch amazed at your evolution.

How you stomp on sturdy legs and
perfect your calls: the eee-ow of your tribe,
the vowels and consonants of ours.

Safe passage – we cannot fly with you –
but our nest will always be here and
we can guarantee a soft landing.

T: Just a gorgeous poem, thank you! Many of the poems here deal with extremely personal experiences – sex, miscarriage, birth – is this something you feel that poetry helps you express in a way you can't in other forms – fiction or non-fiction?

N: My poetry tends to be about my life (other than when it involves narratives of other people’s lives, like van Gogh, Kahlo etc.). So it centres a lot on life events like birth, death, illness etc. My fiction tends to me more made-up, that is, not drawn directly from my life, but it will always contain parts of me – my opinions and experiences. I have written about all the same things in fiction (pregnancy loss, sex etc.) but I have transposed those things onto people who are clearly not me. It can be nerve-wracking, in that sense, when a poetry collection comes out because now people know all about the real, raw me, rather than the disguised, fictional me :)

T:Your poems seem to be in conversation with each other, reading the book in one go is a wonderful, complete experience. Was this in any way planned??

N: It wasn’t planned in that the poems were written over a four year period and they reflect what was happening to me and obsessing me over those years and before that. So the writing just grows organically out of whatever is going on, in this case marriage breakdown, divorce, pregnancy loss, remarriage, new love, new baby. So if it’s a conversation, it’s one with myself, trying to make sense of all the ups and downs of the past few years. The planning came later, then, in the ordering of the book – which poem to put where. That’s always a daunting experience but satisfying when the book has a narrative flow. I also ended and began with poems on a high note, to lure the reader in!

T: One final question? What advice would you have for a beginner poet , especially one who writes in other forms (i.e. me!)?

N: Read lots of contemporary poetry - find out what people are writing about and how they are doing it. Go to poetry readings and listen to your peers. Some poets read wonderfully and can be an inspiration. Learn a little about form - you don't have to write in forms but it's good to know a little about them. Maybe get a copy of The Making of a Poem: A Norton Anthology of Poetic Forms, edited by Eavan Boland and Mark Strand. Write about the things that possess and interest you, the things that are dear to your heart. You knit, Tania - I challenge you to write a knitting poem! Thanks so much for having me here today. Next week my virtual tour takes me to Mel Ulm’s The Reading Life blog in the Philippines.


Thank you so much, Nuala, for visiting the blog and for sharing something with us about your process and the writing of poetry, what it means to you. (I have the Mark Strand book so i am on the right track!) Nuala blogs at Women Rule Writer, where you can follow the previous and next stops on her tour. You can buy The Juno Charm here. Go on, you know you want to!

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Flashing at the Bridport Open Book Festival

I just spent four wonderful days in Bridport, a town near the Dorset coast, which may be small in size but is bursting with arts activities! I was honoured to be running two flash fiction workshops as part of the first Open Book festival with Vanessa Gebbie, and she has just done a great write-up of our time there on her blog, so good that I can't top it! Head over there to see what went on...

But just before you go - a big thank you to all those who came and wrote flash fiction with us, it was an honour writing with you. There seemed to be a kind of "religious" conversion taking place amongst a few who had never "flashed" before, and it was a joy to see - and hear - tiny stories by those who had never known that they could write such things. Such wonderful stories, too...!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Finishing Sarah Salway's Sentences...etc...

So, I'm over at Sarah Salway's blog today, finishing her sentences.... And also in Bridport, running 2 flash fiction workshops at the Open Book festival together with Vanessa Gebbie (workshop one this morning was wonderful, thank you if you came along and flashed with us!) And thirdly, I'm thrilled to have been shortlisted, for the third year running, in PANK's 1001 Awesome Words contest, for my piece, The Tragedy of Tragic Men, to be published in PANK next February. Congratulations to all! The full list is here.

And finally, Ink Tears did a video interview with me, about short stories (of course!) and I was a bit nervous about being videoed, and then about seeing it, but Sara-Mae Tuson did a brilliant job editing it so I thought I'd share...:

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Sir Paul Nurse and Poetry

(Cross-posted with the Bristol University Science Faculty blog)

Photo: Royal Society
There were two great events held here in Bristol last night, one at the University and one at the Bristol Old Vic, and I was hoping against hope that I would find a connection between them to make this blog post flow! And... what do you know? I did. The first was Sir Paul Nurse, president of the Royal Society, Nobel Prize winner, geneticist, president of Rockefeller University New York... all-round very very interesting scientist and excellent talker-about-science! He was giving the Sir Anthony Epstein lecture at the Wills Tower, in the largest, cathedral-like space, which was packed to the rafters... His topic was "Great Ideas in Biology" and he was quick to point out that these weren't THE great ideas in biology but his pick of great ideas... although he felt that most people would agree on 4 out of the 5.

So, what were his great ideas? Well: The Cell, The Gene, Evolution by Natural Selection, Life as Chemistry (and Physics) and the fifth, possibly contentious one, Biology as an Organized System, by which he meant looking at the biological networks and how they are structured, looking at the flow of "information", at the system as an information carrier.

It was all fascinating stuff, some of which I already knew a bit of, but always good to be reminded what a chromosome is, for example... with some great slides and historical perspective! I was then heading to a poetry event, so, I hear you ask, how are the two connected?? Well, it was at Great Idea Number 3, which you would assume centred around one Charles Darwin. But no, in fact Sir Paul wanted to focus on Charles' grandad, Erasmus, who was the first to talk about evolution (Charles later supplied the vast quantities of data to prove it). Not only that, apparently Erasmus - who was a colourful figure, so large that he cut an oval out of his dining table so he might sit rather nearer to his supper, and fathered 14 children - was a poet, at one time "one of the best known poets in England"! And not only that, he wrote much of his scientific reports in blank verse! (See Jenny Uglow on Erasmus Darwin's poetry in The Guardian). The Poetry Foundation gives us his poem, The Botanic Garden, and here is an excerpt:
 “You taught mysterious Bacon to explore
Metallic veins, and part the dross from ore;
With sylvan coal in whirling mills combine
The crystal’d nitre, and the sulphurous mine;
Through wiry nets the black diffusion strain,
And close an airy ocean in a grain.—
Pent in dark chambers of cylindric brass,
Slumbers in grim repose the sooty mass;
Lit by the brilliant spark, from grain to grain
Runs the quick fire along the kindling train;
On the pain’d ear-drum bursts the sudden crash
Starts the red-flame, and death pursues the flash.—
Fear’s feeble hand directs the fiery darts,
And strength and courage yield to chemic arts;
Guilt with pale brow the mimic thunder owns,
And tyrants tremble on their blood-stain’d thrones.

Stirring stuff! Now the poets I went to see after this lecture, Luke Kennard and Tom Philips,  did not deal directly with biology but I feel that Erasmus D would have enjoyed the evening, which moved from a searing critique/love poem about Portishead to a tale of the Murderer being taken for a haircut. I was immensely impressed by the whole event, organised monthly by Word of Mouth -  highly recommended if you are in the vicinity!

So, an evening of poetry, biology and biological poetry, what more could I have wanted?

Monday, November 14, 2011

New Scientist & Beat the Dust

I've been waiting years to be able to say this: New Scientist have asked me for a science-inspired short story to run in the December 24th issue! I am very very excited... it's a flash story inspired by my time in the biochemistry lab, we will see what New Scientist readers make of it! The title story of my collection, The White Road, which is inspired by an article from New Scientist, was published in New Scientist online just after the book came out and that provoked some interesting discussion....

I'm also delighted to have a flash story, Move Quickly Now, in the current issue of Beat the Dust, along with a playlist inspired by the story, which was a wonderful thing to be asked to do.  A taster:
She said, “Move quickly now and we'll go together. No, don't look behind. No, don't.” He wondered but followed, only being small and not yet ready for disagreements. Or rather, not yet ready to see if this would be what he decided to be disagreeable about. He was a small boy who chose his battles carefully ....
Read the rest here.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Happy 4th Birthday to The Short Review!
Happy birthday! This month The Short Review, the journal I founded and edit, turns four years old. In that time, 439 story collections and anthologies have been reviewed, by our forty or so reviewers worldwide, and over 250 authors interviewed... We all do what we do for love of the short story and to spread the word about as many short story collections as possible so readers can get hold of them, demand them from their local bookshops or libraries, buy them as presents.

 Four years on, we are so overwhelmed with offers of collections to review that we have had to declare a hiatus in accepting new review copies so that we can catch our breath! A good sign, we think. A very good sign! How could you help us celebrate our birthday? Tell someone about a short story collection you love. Tell ten people. Spread it around! 

This month's issue includes an unprecedented seven reviews of multi-author anthologies, which means that we are bringing you short stories by more authors than ever before! From women aloud to the bride stripped bare, the gold boy and the emerald girl, the best british and european fiction, what doesn't kill you if you're with the bears or on the Paris metro in nineteen seventysomething... and... ... 

Giveaways - In honour of our birthday - and of the UK's National Short Story Week - we are giving away NINE books: 4 of the books we are reviewing this month - and an extra 5 short story collections! You could win Best British Short Stories 2011, Best European Fiction 2012, the National Short Story Week charity audiobook anthology Women Aloud - and Affirm Press's Long Story Shorts set of six short story collections, which includes Barry Divola's Nineteen Seventysomething. Visit the Competitions page to find out how to win.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Publication Day for Vanessa Gebbie's The Coward's Tale!

Huge congratulations to my great mate Vanessa Gebbie who's fourth book ( hot on the heels of two short story collections and Short Circuit, a book of articles about writing short stories) The Coward's Tale, her first novel, is published today by Bloomsbury. First, the cover is absolutely gorgeous, isn't it? Second, I cannot wait to read it, I've sampled Chapter 1 and can't wait to get my hands on the rest... It's getting wonderful reviews already, which doesn't surprise me one bit.

Here's a taste for you:

‘My name is Laddy Merridew. I’m a cry-baby. I’m sorry.’  
‘And my name is Ianto Jenkins. I am a coward. And that’s worse.’ 
The boy Laddy Merridew, sent to live with his grandmother, stumbles off the bus into a small Welsh mining community, where he begins an unlikely friendship with Ianto Passchendaele Jenkins, the town beggar-storyteller. 
Ianto is watchman over the legacy of the collapse many years ago of Kindly Light Pit, a disaster whose echoes reverberate down the generations of the town. Through Ianto’s stories Laddy is drawn into both the town’s history and the conundrums of the present. 
Why has woodwork teacher Icarus Evans striven most of his life to carve wooden feathers that will float on an updraft? Why is the undertaker Tutt Bevan trying to find a straight path through the town? Why does James Little, the old gas-meter emptier, dig his allotment by moonlight? And why does window cleaner Judah Jones take autumn leaves into a disused chapel? 
These and other men of the town, and the women who mothered them, married them and mourned them, are bound together by the echoes of the Kindly Light tragedy and by the mysterious figure of Ianto Jenkins, whose stories of loyalty and betrayal, loss and love, form an unforgettable, spellbinding tapestry. The Coward’s Tale is a powerfully imagined, poetic and haunting novel, spiked with humour. It is a story of kinship and kindness, guilt and atonement, and the ways in which we carve the present out of an unforgiving past.

Visit Vanessa's Coward's Tale blog to find out more... and buy the book on Amazon here.

Friday, November 04, 2011

New stories and upcoming deadlines

Yes, yes, it's been a while, where does the time go! A quick few links to recently-published stories:
  • Like Owls is published in SPECS, an annual print journal which is full of the weird and wonderful (my kind of thing). You can't read the prose poem online but you can watch a video of me reading it and read a short paragraph about how I came to write it.
  • All Activity is Silent is published in Issue 15 of kill author, an online journal also filled with weird and wonderful. (You can also hear me reading it on the site.)
  • And third for the weird and wonderful, The Watch My Father Wanted, in Metazen. Text only! These kinds of publications make me so happy, that there are others on my warped wavelength. They are full of gems, do check them out.
I've just had a story accepted by Beat the Dust, coming in November, and another by Metazen for December 8th Lovely, all lovely. To inspire - me and you! - here are some upcoming deadlines for story and poetry submissions:

Deadline Nov 30th:

The New Writer Poetry and Prose Prizes: for "fact, fiction and poetry" entry online or by post, open to all, prize fund £2500. Categories judged by Jon Pinnock (read my interview with him here), Sally Quilford (who produces a writing calendar) and Bill Greenwell.  

Whispered Words: 1000 words max: "welcomes fiction and non-fiction. We accept prose of all kinds: literary, science fiction, children’s, memoir, essay, creative non-fiction. Theme: Whispered Words," entry online, open to all, 1st prize  $1000.

Commonwealth Short Story Prize:Awarded for the best piece of unpublished short fiction (2000 – 5000 words). Submissions must be made by the author of the short story. Regional winners receive £1,000 and the overall winner receives £5,000. Entry online only, open to Commononwealth only.

Diamond Light Reading Short Story & Flash Fic Comp: Competition by UK synchotron (don't know what that is? Here's your chance to find out!): "we’re inviting you to submit a story of up to 3,000 words inspired by Diamond – the facility, the science and the people. There’s also a Flash Fiction prize for stories under 300 words. Stories can be in any genre and there is no minimum word limit. The top three writers will receive a cash prize, and these, along with those highly commended by the judges, will be published in an anthology of short stories." £500 first prize. Entry online only, open to all.

I'll stop there for the moment... got to go do some writing. Good luck to all!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Two great events and more coming...

My blogging is suffering, sorry about that, but here's a quick post about what I've been up to. On Tuesday I was involved in 2 brilliant events -the first was part of Bristol University's new Inside Arts festival, a session about reading groups, some of whom had read my flash story Plaits - a very enthusiastic audience chatted with me and Tom Sperlinger about reading, about writing, about flash fiction, it was just wonderful, I really enjoyed it. And I gained some insights about my own story, which is always such a boost. (And it was lovely to finally meet Debs Rickard!)

I then rushed off to Bristol Foyles for the launch of the 2012 Bristol Short Story Prize, which is something very close to my heart, not just because I've been a judge for the past two years, but in great part because the prize's organiser, Joe Melia, is truly a tireless champion of short stories and of writers. I am so honoured to be involved (not as a judge this year...).

The launch kicked it all off so well - with readings by last year's winner, Emily Bullock (whose winning story, hearing it read by her, stirred me all over again), Bristol-based writer Alan Toyne (unforgettable descriptions of a sweat lodge) and the fabulous Jonathan Pinnock (read my chat with him here), who read two flashes, one of which was new to me, Canine Mathematics - and anything to do with maths always warms my heart!

I wound up the first part of the festivities by reading four flash stories - including one I'd never read out before that was picked by the audience: I asked them to shout out a letter of the alphabet and I found a story whose title began with "W". (I read We Watched Him On Our Screens  which you can read here.)

The Bristol Short Story Prize is now well and truly open - get your entries in!  
Coming up: It's a busy week for me, I have three more events, all part of the new Unputdownable Bristol Festival of Literature: Friday at 6pm at Henleaze Library we'll be finishing off the citywide short story... Saturday 4-5pm at Hooper House Cafe on Stokes Croft I'll be reading together with the excellent Pauline Masurel, Amy C Mason and Jules Hardy... Saturday 7.30-9.30pm at Hamilton House, Stokes Croft, the citywide short story will be revealed... and I'll be revealing how I avoid writer's block!  

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Interviewed by Tim Love aka LitRefs

Just a quick post to direct you to Tim Love's excellent blog, LitRefs, a fantastic resource for all things literary. I've "known" Tim online for several years and he asked if he could ask me some questions - about our shared loved for fiction and science, about short stories, poetry, etc... Here's a taster:
What came first - Science or Fiction?
Definitely fiction! I started reading at a very early age, apparently, according to my mother (yes, she does say I was a prodigy, she is my mother) and stories were a big part of my childhood. Science came later, I have vague memories of reading some children's book about Famous Scientists but have no idea when that was. It was at school that I fell for maths (gosh now that sounds odd). I just loved solving equations, loved the right-or-wrongness, the lack of greyness, although now I understand far better that science and the scientific endeavour are full of grey areas.
You can read the rest of the interview here. Thanks, Tim!

Monday, October 03, 2011

White Rabbit Live Lit Tea Party

This is a recommendation for all you short story writers who can get to London, or Brighton - The White Rabbit's Are You Sitting Comfortably live lit events. It's described as "A cosy evening of cracking stories, cute cakes and comfortable chairs" but it is so much more! It's quite a Mad Hatter's tea party...

I was delighted to have one of my short short stories, Underground (previously published in PANK a few years ago - scroll down) chosen for their "Underground" themed night on Friday night, where it would be read by an actor. And I was invited to come along (they really like the writers to be there) and listen.

Well, I've been to live lit events before, but never one where the tables had proper cake stands filled with tiny homemade cakes, tea cups brimmed with sweeties (yes, gentle reader, I ate them all), and where the chip butties flowed freely! Not only were the readings - by organizers Gareth and Bernadette, actors and writers, and the guest reader, Fiona - excellent, but the atmosphere was wonderful, they constantly made sure that I was okay, since I'd come alone, and supplied with chip butties. After all the readings, we played pass-the-parcel! (Non-Brits, see here for explanation) with prizes! I felt well and truly back in the 1970s, in the best way - especially given the Wombles-themed story that came with soundtrack. I went home with a specially-printed copy of my story in a beautifully-made folder and a White Rabbit memory stick I bought with Gareth and Bernadette reading about 3 hours of stories.

A cracking evening, a delight for writers, a joy for anyone who loves stories and loves being read to - submit for their next themed nights, see The White Rabbit for more. I can't recommend this highly enough, thank you Gareth and Bernadette!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Aliens aliens aliens... and Mrs Darcy

There are some books that I know I am going to love reading. There are other books I pretty much know that I won't. And then there are the third and possibly most delightful kind, the unknown unknowns, the ones that come at you from left field and - BAMM - you are smitten! Such a book is one Mrs Darcy versus the Aliens  by one Mr Jonathan Pinnock, just published by Proxima Books, an imprint of Salt Publishing. I thought "mashups", I thought "aliens", I thought, "oh my goodness, no!".

I was wrong.

I giggled. I chortled. I couldn't stop reading. Not only is this an utterly wonderful story and oddly fitting with Jane Austen's characters (Lady Catherine‎ de Bourgh, an alien? Of course, silly me for not knowing that). I can't help but feel that Jane would be quite pleased.

I am delighted to have the, sorry, author here today. Let me tell you a little about Mr Pinnock. He studied Maths at Cambridge University (a fact that endears him to me already, without the aliens). Then, as his bio says, "he drifted into the world of software and has remained there ever since. He has written one book on software development and co-authored a further dozen, most of which are now almost entirely obsolete. In the last few years he has turned to writing fiction and poetry and has won a number of prizes and has had work read on BBC Radio 4. Mrs Darcy versus the Aliens is his first full-length novel."

I already knew I enjoyed Jon's short stories, having (anonymously) highly commended his story, Advice re Elephants, when I judged last year's Sean O'Faolain short story competition and was part of the judging team who shortlisted his story rZr and Napoleon for the 2010 Bristol Short Story Prize. It's clear from these that he has a rather wicked sense of humour and a sly wit. So, I have asked him a few tricky questions, on your behalf:

Tania: Welcome, Jon. I recently met a very interesting biologist, Rachel Rodman, who also writes, and she has come up with a whole theory about literary mash-ups, of which I believe your book is one. Her article is published in LabLit. She calls you and your kind (!) "literary geneticists" and, using Pride and Prejudice and Zombies as her example, says: 
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is in this sense a genetically modified organism, derived from the ancestral Pride and Prejudice by the introduction of new (genetic) material taken from the unrelated "monster" genre. A small-scale comparison of the two texts supports this idea: all Grahame-Smith's modifications have parallels with genomic modifications performed (or harnessed) by laboratory scientists. Here, I examine six classes (Insertions, Duplications, Insertions with Duplication, Replacements, Over-expression, and Gain-of Function Mutations) of these modifications, and draw parallels with biological examples.
Her thesis is lengthy and erudite! So we will skip to her final thoughts:
These six sections consider only a few of the classes of Grahame-Smith's modifications. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is also marked by DNA inversions (in the form of transposed words and phrases), silent mutations (in the form of synonym replacements), and missense mutations (in the form of deliberately misspelled words), and so on. The molecular techniques used by Grahame-Smith have also been applied to other works, enabling the production of a range of genetically modified texts: Android Karenina, The Meowmorphosis, Jane Slayre, and others. These modified texts possess new phenotypes. Some are merely new twists of humor, curious for their own sake, like a mammal engineered to possess fluorescent skin. Others, more utilitarian, render the text appealing to new audiences, like a plant engineered for cold-resistance, enabling it to grow at new latitudes. The success of these variants – some commercial, some aesthetic – sets the stage for a new generation of literary geneticists, whose experiments will force the field in new directions. This new dynamic, converting the writing desk to a laboratory and the classic text to a model organism, may in addition pose its own ethical questions. We exist in a new era, exciting and disturbing, in which neither text nor genome is immutable, and in which humans, armed with new technologies, can force their evolution. [My emphasis]
Any reactions to this?

Jon:  Right, here goes...*deep breath* Firstly, a confession: I've never actually read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. This was partly because I was miffed about its unexpected appearance at a time when I was struggling to find a way into my own book and also because I didn't want to be accidentally influenced by it. I did feel obliged to refer to it in my book, because it would have felt odd not to acknowledge its presence, and it did provide an opportunity for going off at an interesting tangent with Jane Austen herself featuring as a disenchanted writer of cheap zombie novels. And I swear I never knew there were ninjas in P&P&Z until I read that article, although one of Jane Austen's supposed novels that I refer to also has ninjas in it!

However, having read the article, I am actually quite tempted to buy the book now because it makes it sound like an avant garde literary exercise worthy of Georges Perec or Tom Phillips. I like to think that what I'm doing is slightly different, because what I've written is an entirely logical sequel to the original book, rather than a mash-up of it. I originally described it as the bastard offspring following a drunken one-night stand between Pride and Prejudice and the X Files, which I guess in genetic terms means that it's less the result of gene splicing than the outcome of some dubious experimental breeding programme.

T: Dubious experimental breeding, love it! Entirely logical sequel? Ha! Okay, we'll keep this short: I couldn't stop laughing when I read the book, did you have that problem while you were writing it?

J: You're far too kind! Well, I know you're not supposed to laugh at your own jokes, but I did let out the occasional guffaw, usually when something completely unplanned emerged. Or at one of Lord Byron's double entendres. I have a weakness for those, I'm afraid.

T: And: I know you wrote it Dickens-like (or soap-operatically) in instalments, do you think your process/the end product would have been different if you'd attempted to do it all in one go, whatever that might mean?

J: Good question. It's a bit hypothetical, because I can't really think of any other way to write. I didn't have any sort of plan at all when I started writing the serialisation - although a plot of sorts did present itself once I'd got a chapter or two in. The thought of having a pin board with colour-coded timelines on it - well, it's just too weird to contemplate. Some of my favourite bits of Mrs Darcy... came about because I found myself at midnight on the day before the next episode was due to go live with nothing to publish. However, as a way of working it can be more than a little stressful.

T: Well, stress keeps us going, doesn't it? I say, Whatever works!

Thanks so much for stopping by, Jon. To whet your appetite, here's a pic I took of the book in the horror section of Waterstone's in Cork... Find out more, including how to buy it, excerpts and other crazy stuff, at Mrs Darcy And the Aliens and more about Jon and his other writings at

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Less hopeless, thank you

I feel better after writing yesterday's post. It wasn't journalism, it wasn't a post about how to get published/get an agent. It wasn't an objective post at all - it was just about how I was feeling. Several people in the comments thanked me for my honesty and really it was the first time I'd written a really honest blog post for a long time. It has become harder and harder to do that since people are actually reading my blog! (I'm very grateful, don't get me wrong, just a little shy.)

I try to stay upbeat here, but it's hard to be relentlessly positive when that's not what's actually going on. I think perhaps part of the "silence" of the blog title was my own silence about this and now that I've vented, got it out, I feel better. I did worry a bit that I was shooting myself in the foot, if any agents ever read the post that would be it for me. But sometimes you've just got to get it out.

And something certainly did get "out"! Yesterday, a few hours after the post went up and apparently completely unconnected to it, I heard from the assistant of the first agent I wrote to, 8 weeks ago, apologizing for the delay! I think she may have been overwhelmed by the gratitude of my response! So, what can we learn from this? That this agent, at least, is not in the "no response means no" business, and for this I am thankful.No guarantees, but the assistant liked my writing enough to pass them on to the agent.

Okay, that takes us back to some positive news. Here, on this very blog, tomorrow, I am hosting the almost-final leg in Jonathan Pinnock's mammoth "Mrs Darcy versus the Aliens" blog tour! Intrigued? Pop back tomorrow. And huge congratulations to my writer friend M on her book deal (more about that when I am allowed)! Good news all round!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The hopeless hopeful silence

I'm recovering from a packed ten days, first at the Cork International Short Story Festival and then this past weekend at the Small Wonder short story festival. Both were wonderful, but the reason I decided to treat myself and go to both is rather less wonderful. I've been feeling depressed about the short story. Not about the short story itself, good heavens no! How could I, when reading short stories brings such joy into my life and writing them might even have saved my life.

No, I've been depressed about the "business" of short stories, and more specifically short story collections. It's only so much we short story writers and lovers can take of being told the same thing again and again and again... No-one reads short stories...No-one buys short story collections...No-one wants your work.. Oh, I don't like short stories... Then came the BBC Radio 4 Afternoon Reading cuts, which I found out about on my birthday. Charming. Sign the protest petition here. At least the comments by signatories are really heartening.

Then a few days ago someone in the audience at Small Wonder even asked one of the speakers why they write short stories since short story writers are "in the graveyard of writing", or something to that effect. You can imagine how I was feeling hearing that. We're in the graveyard of writing? We're dead? Who's dead? We write for the dead?

My first reaction is, No we're bloody well not, there are thousands of people worldwide who love reading short stories. Maybe even more than that. It was heartening in Cork to meet a wonderful Canadian writer, Deborah Willis, whose first collection was bought by Penguin Canada without an agent and was nominated for the Governer General's Award - and for her to tell me she is under no pressure to write a novel. Of course, in Canada you just say the words "Alice Munro" like a magic password if someone dares to suggest that you "graduate" from the little short story to the mightly novel.

Now, my rant here is not against novels - that would be utterly ridiculous. Some of my best friends are writing novels :) No, my rant here is that writers aren't being allowed to write whatever they want - and, more than that, what they are good at.

Second rant, and this relates to the title of this post and is more personal. I've been thinking it's about time I looked for an agent. I had a few meetings in 2009 when my book was commended for the Orange Award for New Writers, and everyone was very kind but I didn't have anything for them to sell. That made sense. Well, now I am 3/4 of the way through a new collection, biology-inspired fictions, funded by an Arts Council England grant, and so I thought this might be a good time.

I want to state categorically here that I fully expected the "I'm so sorry but we just can't sell short story collections at all right now". I figured there was a 0.0001% chance an agent would buck that trend. What I didn't bargain for was this: silence. Total and utter silence, from three agents. I wrote what I thought was a well-constructed query email, and I had a personal recommendation to each agent through writer friends and another agent. But... I was also completely honest about only wanting to write short stories.

No response. Nothing. And it's been 6 weeks or more...

And then last week I read about the new "no response means no" policy apparently being adopted by a number of literary agents. This equates to: if we don't write back, we don't want you. I am very thankful that I am not alone in find this quite shocking. You don't have a minute to even paste in a form reply saying "no"? Apparently, one agent said she employs the "no response" tactic because she doesn't like dealing with the "negativity" of having to reject people. Oh my.

I'd like to put my Short Review editor's hat on here. We receive a lot of queries asking if we might review a newly published short story collection, many more than we can, in fact, review (which is good news for short story collections). I have a form reply in which the first thing I do is congratulate the author or publisher - because, especially in this climate, I believe every short story collection published is a cause for celebration! I then explain how I will try and find a reviewer but it might not happen. It makes me sad, the number of collections we won't be able to review since we "only" review 10 a month. But I would never dream of ignoring an email. Never.

As editor last year of Southword, I had to pick 6 short stories for the issue. This meant rejecting hundreds of stories - a number of which were submitted by friends of mine. How did I feel? Sick. Because I knew exactly how it would feel to get that email, however kindly I worded it.

But to leave someone hanging, not knowing if the non-response is a sign that there is hope or not, is, frankly, cruel. I think it is deeply uncivilized. And if that agent thinks she is avoiding negative karma by not sending an actual rejection, she is mistaken. She should congratulate and applaud every single person who gets up the guts to write to her. Don't we all know how hard it is to move from "I'm trying to write" to "I am a writer", to take that leap into sending out your work to a publication, to then even contemplate the next step, the possibility of an agent taking you on?

Thankfully, there are a number of agents who have reacted to this "no reply means no" and said that they simply don't agree with this. I think we should vote with our feet - if an agent has a "no reply means no" policy, perhaps we should send them silence first, before they can send it back. And let's give ourselves a round of applause, for just putting ourselves out there.

It's not easy. I am trying to stop worrying so much about the "business" side of all this and get back into the writing. Thank goodness for all the amazing small presses out there who are publishing the books - not just story collections - that are the sorts of things that no-one thinks will sell. They are to be applauded too. As a very wise friend of mine said, mainstream publishing is a bit like Marks & Spencers  - they aren't going to agree to sell a limited edition of your hand-painted belts unless it's a very special occasion. And if what you're creating doesn't even really look like a belt... well then. 

 In the mean time, I'm getting down to some writing. I'm going to stop caring if I'm making the right kind of belts. I'm going to let it all hang out.

I forgot to mention that this also comes after hearing many many stories from fellow writers of non-responses, not just to initial queries like mine, which didn't include an MS, but after agents have requested an MS to be rushed overnight to them, they are so excited about it! And then.... silence. Is this a good way to do business?


I am being told that 12 weeks is about standard for a response time, so it seems I was jumping the gun here. But this isn't just about me, this is about a principle which I do hope isn't becoming the norm. I've just had a response from an agent's assistant apologizing for the delay - it seems it's a complete coincidence that it came today, and I have thanked her profusely for just ending the silence. I don't mind waiting and waiting... not at all, I understand how large the slush piles are. I just needed to know that I hadn't sent my queries into a void! An autoreply, as mentioned in the comments here, would have helped immensely.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Newly published + Kindle Special Offer

While I recover from and gather my thoughts - and my photographs - about the Cork Short Story Festival, here are a few new and rather nice things. It's a bit of a bumper month for me in terms of publication (a bumper year, actually  - this makes it 14 pieces published since January):
I have a poem, Moss, in the new issue of Alba, the Journal of Short Poetry. 
My prose poem, Timeless, written in memory of our lovely Cleo is published in .Cent magazine (Page 13), a stunning fashion mag which also has prose.
My short short story, Waving on the Moon, is in the latest issue of A capella Zoo, a fantastic print journal of magical realist and speculative fiction and poetry, it's well worth grabbing a copy!
I also have a few more stories and prose poems forthcoming in the next few weeks, in SPECS, kill author and Electric Velocipede. I'm immensely grateful too all these wonderful publications and encourage you to support them not just by reading what they publish but by also doing them the honour of sending them your work.

Lastly, Salt are doing a very special Kindle promotion right now which means you can purchase my collection for the Kindle for 86p or 99 cents! You can also buy books buy the Best British Short Stories, edited by Nicholas Royle, and books by the wonderful Wena Poon and David Gaffney, Luke Kennard and others... See the Salt blog for the full list. I don't have a Kindle but if I did, I would be overloading that Amazon whispernet thingy with all my downloads....

Okay, back to sorting out Cork festival photographs. In the meantime, read the blogs by Women Rule Writer, Orfhlaith Foyle, Ethel Rohan at Dark Sky Magazine and the official festival blog.

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Watch My Father wanted

While I work on my Cork Short Story Fest Day 2 blog post, here's an interlude: I am delighted to once again have a story in the fabulous Metazen. It's called The Watch My Father Wantedand, in keeping with Metazen's ethos, it's a little wierd. I like wierd. Thank you for listening.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Cork International Short Story Festival Day 1

So, I'm here in Cork, again, at the Cork International Short Story festival (formerly the Frank O'Connor International Short story Festival) and I am just so happy to be here! To be amongst like-minded short story folk, listening to amazing writers read their stories and talk about stories - til Sunday night - is just, for me, sublime.

The festival kicked off with the wondrous Helen Dunmore, here she is. (I forgot to take my proper camera, tomorrow's pics will be better, I promise!)

She read a story from her collection Ice Cream,  called The Polish Teacher's Tie, which I had only read a few weeks ago. It was lovely hearing her read it. Just lovely. And she talked about what it was like to win prizes... and not to win prizes! We had a very nice chat afterwards - she is dashing back to Bristol tomorrow, which is a shame, but  - SPOILER ALERT - she is going to be the guest on the Arvon Foundation short story course I am co-tutoring with Adam Marek in Nov 2012, so I just wanted to introduce myself, say hi. I tried not to gush too much! She and I expressed our dismay at the BBC Afternoon Reading cuts  (check out Wrath of God's latest blog post for more on that).

I was thrilled to finally meet my online friend and fabulous writer Ethel Rohan, who is reading at the festival on Friday - originally Irish, she now lives in San Francisco. We have published each other - I chose one of her stories when I edited Southword and she asked me to contribute when she was guest editor at Necessary Fiction, so it is just great to finally meet her and once again have that wonderful experience when an online acquaintance is just as great - if not more so - in person!

And then... the final readings of the evening, by Orfhlaith Foyle and Peter Murphy, Irish writers who knocked me - and the rest of the audience, I think - sideways with their astonishing prose. I felt flattened, in the best way, by their dark and powerful stories. Just astonishing. Seek them out! (You can read an interview with Orfhlaith on Nuala Ní Chonchúir''s blog here.)

Then we, as tradition dictates, retired to the local tapas bar to unwind. I am still wound though! Too much stimulation. Okay, must muster my strength for tomorrow. Check out the Cork International Short Story festival website to see what's in store...

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Congratulations to the Sean O'Faolain Prize Shortlistees

MunsterLit has just announced the shortlist for the Sean O'Faolain short story competition -  congratulations to all! Winner announced on Sunday at the Cork International Short Story Festival:

Guy Barriscale (Donegal, Ireland)--'Jamesy'
Jeremy Castle (Tipperary, Ireland)--'The Smallest Window in the World'
P.G. O'Connor (Limerick, Ireland)--'The Haggard'
David O'Doherty (Cork, Ireland)--'Post Office'
Laura Rock (Ontario, Canada)--'Woman Cubed'
Martha Williams (Cornwall, UK)--'Wet Stones'

Monday, September 12, 2011

Brand new short story competition!

Thanks to Women Rule Writer for this one: The Moth-Altun Short Story Prize is a new prize for a story of up to 2500 words. Entries by post or online. There will be one prize of €1,000. Entry fee: €8 Judge: Christine Dwyer Hickey Closing date: 31 March 2012 More details on The Moth's website.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Giveaways and great events

I thought I'd give a plug to a few great things:

Rosa Mira books, the wonderful New Zealand publisher whose Slight Peculiar Love Stories e-anthology includes four of my flash stories, is having an e-book giveaway. Visit their Facebook page for details. It's worth it!

If you're anywhere near Stroud - or could be - check out Stroud Short Stories, a live lit event held every few months. Submissions for the October event close September 18th.

And if you are anywhere near Brighton - or could be - check out this exciting-sounding FlashLit Fiction event from StoryStudio: "Flash fiction night with a digital bent launches at this year's Brighton Digital Festival": Flash Lit Fiction takes place on Sunday 11 September at Sticky Mike’s Frog Bar on Middle Street, Brighton, from 7-10pm. Advanced tickets are now on sale £6 from Eventbrite website or more on the door.

Much to enjoy!

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Guest editor at National Short Story Week

I am delighted to be this month's guest editor over at the National Short Story Week site. I talk about some of my favourite short stories and story collections and what's coming up (a lot) in the short story world this month. Pop by...

Friday, August 19, 2011

My guest blog post: Noticing

Every Day Fiction's Flash Fiction Chronicles blog asked me for a guest blog post quite a while ago and I just couldn't think of anything to write about. And then a few weeks ago I had a strange experience and it struck me that this was the thing for FFC... My guest blog post on Noticing is now up on the FFC blog. A taster:
A few years ago, I was told off by a fellow short story writer  for not carrying a notebook around with me. I had foolishly assumed that when an idea came, if it was “good enough” I would remember it. I was already then at an age where memory is not as sharp as it was. And there is so much competing for our attention that ideas don’t stand much of a chance of being retained.
Read the full post here>>

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Upside down world

It may be seen as ridiculous to be worrying about short stories - about fiction, about the arts in general - when looters are smashing windows around England, burning down buildings. It's a scary time. I feel it's been a scary time for quite a while now. How can I ask you to sign a petition to show Radio 4 how you feel about cuts to their Afternoon Reading slots when there are cuts that deeply and tragically affect people's ability to actually live? I can't really answer that question. I can only say that just because I spend a lot of time here talking about short stories, about fiction, about writing, doesn't mean I am not also doing other things, privately, that I don't shout about, to help in other ways.

I am finding it very hard to write this blog post. All I can say is that I don't consider the Arts "trivial", a "luxury" that should be put aside, that doesn't in some way save lives too, or make lives better, or hold a mirror up to our lives to show us who we are, who that Other is whose skin we can't normally get into, whose shoes we have never worn. Yes, this is partly because it's what I strive for, it's what I do... but it's also where I get comfort, inspiration, stimulation. It's what challenges me, opens my eyes, doesn't let me rest easy, coast along. Short fiction is my choice, but of course it's not the only choice. The thing is: if the Afternoon Reading is being replaced by more news... what's next? At what point will there be no choice?

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Dirt Story

I thought hard about the title for this blog post... did I want to attract the kind of readers I never normally attract??! What is this all about? Well, on my first visit to the excellent Wellcome Collection, a place which bills itself as "a free visitor destination for the incurably curious, exploring the connections between medicine, life and art in the past, present and future", to see their exhibition last year on Skin, I found the artworks and exhibits they had collected were really inspiring to me as a writer.

Then... I was asked by Danny at the Wellcome Collection blog to write a 2-part blog post about fiction inspired by science...

And then... I heard about the new exhibition, 'Dirt' (on til end August) and i thought, What if I write a flash story inspired by the exhibition and offer it to Danny for the blog? To my delight, he agreed. And the result, a short short story called Her Dirt, is now published on the Wellcome Collection blog. A quick taste:

She keeps her dirt, and at first her dirt is enough. But then it isn’t. So she takes to taking.

There is history here. A clean clean child. Or, rather: demands for a clean clean child. A pure-white home, a childhood washing and re-washing. Do you need to hear of distant mothers and of even further-spinning fathers?
You can read the rest here this is the first piece of flash fiction to be on the WC blog - please feel free to leave your comments there and let them know if there should be more!  

On the subject of MORE short stories... the petition against the BBC's planned cuts to short stories on Radio 4 is nearly at 6000 signatures. The fight is not over, please sign if this is something you care about. 

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Off to London

I'm off to the Big City today, various bits of business and pleasure - including the launch of Rob Shearman's third short story collection, Everyone's Just So Special! I hope the forecast temperatures don't actually manifest, sweaty London is not my idea of fun.

But I also hope I will have a chance to swing by Foyles, the new home, for August, of the PhotoStories exhibition. Here's me standing by my PhotoStory, We Watched Him on Our Screens, when it was exhibited at Saatchi's.

Rob Shearman also has a PhotoStory in the exhibition, as do Adam Marek, Clare Wigfall and 11 other fantastic writers. (The typographs are available for sale.)

Ok, I'd better go. Bye!

Friday, July 29, 2011

Celebrating the short story - The Short Review

Don't forget to sign the petition against Radio 4's planned cuts to short story broadcasts if you haven't already! Over 5700 signatures so far...

Today's short story celebration brings you the new issue of The Short Review -ten reviews of short story collections (this month all single-author, which is a first)

and a bumper NINE author interviews with a fantastic slew of writers: Anthony Doerr, Helen Oyeyemi, Gay Degani, Edith Pearlman, Courttia Newland, Emma Newman, Polly Frost, Carol Novack and Adam Golaski!  Read it all here: The Short Review

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Short Stories that Help

Two points about short stories today. I wanted to draw your attention to an excellent comment on the previous post by Hayley who mentioned that when depression left her unable to focus for long enough to read novels, short stories were recommended to her by a counsellor (Alice Munro was the first) and she has read them ever since. Has anyone else had this experience?

The second is how short stories can help in another way - the wonderful Metazen online lit 'zine is having a short story & poetry contest which is raising money for Somalian Drought Relief Effort (via East Africa Drought Relief Fund).Here are the details:

We will accept submissions with an accompanying fee throughout the month of August. All submissions will be considered and a winner and 3 runners up will be selected by our judges. Winners and runners up will get prizes. Yes.
So…you get to write, you get to win stuff and you also get to help support a cause. There is really no downside. Even if you lose, your karma will increase.
Please submit either one piece of fiction (limit 2500 words) or poetry (limit 2 poems).
There is no theme, we’re looking for something you’re proud of. Nothing filthy, nothing milfy, nothing too pithy. A little pith is okay. Not too much. Pith-ish.
Timeline: All submissions sent between July 24th and August 31st with corresponding paypal entry fee will be considered.
And here's what you can win:
First Place:
Publication on with accompanying commentary on your piece
10% of entry fees from contest
1 Copy of Frank Hinton’s “I Don’t Respect Female Expression” print and digital
1 DVD “MDMA” by MDMA Films
Runner Up (3 winners):
Publication on
(1) of the following:
- Fog Gorgeous Stag by Sean Lovelace
- Grease Stains, Kistmet, And Maternal Wisdom by Mel Bosworth
- Download Helvetica For Free . Com by Steve Roggenbuck
Get to it! Full instructions here.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Celebrating the short story - part 4

Very brief short story love today, because my laptop battery's running out and the power cord is downstairs (lazy, lazy) - just to say that I am loving the comments left on the Save Short Stories on Radio 4 petition, which has now been signed by Deborah Treisman, Fiction Editor of the New Yorker! This demonstrates that the reduction of short story broadcasts on radio 4 is an international issue, affecting writers worldwide.

I think all the comments should be compiled into something... something to be sent around to mainstream publishers who are convinced there's no market for short stories, perhaps? Staying positive here, it's just heart-warming, reading all the responses. Apparently, Radio 4's Feedback programme will be dealing with the issue next Friday, July 29th, so do tune in. Have a great weekend - happy reading!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Celebrating the short story - Part 3

One lovely thing that has emerged from the fight to stop BBC Radio 4 cutting its once-daily Afternoon Reading short story program to once-weekly is the wealth of wonderful messages left by those signing the petition to protest the cuts. Here are a few:
"Short stories are gems that light up our lives. Please retain them on Radio 4. Readers, writers and listeners all have our lives enriched by short fiction. I urge you to reconsider and then reverse this extraordinary decision."
"My father went blind in his later years and relied on audio recordings. Yes, there are audio books but the whole point to the radio is to have an opportunity to taste the unexpected."
"I've been learning English by reading AND listening to short stories. Reducing the short story output on Radio damages not only the pleasure of the listeners but culture/education/learning also."
Radio 4 has always been a beacon of light in the world of the short story - why turn off that light when it costs so little and achieves so much?  
My husband doesn't really enjoy reading, but will happily listen to short stories on Radio 4 and will thoroughly enjoy them. If we're listening in the car we have stay there until the story is finished, even if we've reached our destination! Far too important to cut back.
"I LOVE the short story slot. I switch on my radio at 3.30pm purely for that and nothing else...I even listen to the end of Money Box Live so I don't miss the beginning of the story. It is the one moment in my day where I can switch off from everything else and enter another world. We all need stories: they make us understand the world in which we live. They persuade us to empathise, to see another perspective, to understand other cultures, to imagine ourselves in someone else's shoes. Stories are what make us human and interactive. Don't take them away."
Click here to read more comments... and don't forget to sign!

Some more story positivity - Vanessa's comment on my last blog post needed a bit more exposure:
...Philip Pullman, speaking last night in support of the Save Our Six Libraries initiative, came out strongly in support of story. And spoken story. And the importance of hearing fiction read, (he talked about children, but in context, in a celebration of language - and his remarks can equally be applied to radio, and adults...)
Yippee! Save the libraries too...

And finally, a great way to celebrate the short story is to send your own stories out into the world, so here are a few upcoming deadlines for you:

July 31st: Sean O'Faolain Short Story Prize: Judged this year by Ian Wild. Entry fee €15, US $20 or £15, up to 3000 words. Prize is €1,500 for the overall winner, €500 for 2nd prize and €120 for four shortlisted stories. Online or postal entry.

August 12th: Manchester Fiction Prize: Judged by Heather Beck, John Burnside, Alison MacLeod and Nicholas Royle . Entry fee £15, up to 3000 words. Prize is £10,000 for the overall winner. Online or postal entry. All work submitted for consideration must be the entrant's own original writing, and should not have appeared in print or appear on a website (including blogs and social networking sites) or have been broadcast, or be submitted for publication or consideration elsewhere, for the duration of the Manchester Fiction Prize (which is deemed to begin on the date of entry and end on Friday 14th October 2011)

Sept 21st: Glasswoman Prize: a work of short fiction or creative non-fiction (prose) written by a woman. No entry fee, 50  to 5000 words. Prize is $500 for the overall winner, €100 for 2nd prize and €50 for runner-up. Online entry. Subject is open, but must be of significance to women