Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Changing Perspectives - videos inspired by science-inspired fiction

The launch on Friday of Bristol University's Changing Perspectives art/science exhibition at the Grant Bradley Gallery in which I have several art pieces (my first time ever attempting a piece of artwork featuring some of my stories) was great fun! Do try and get down there if you are in Bristol - and check out all the events during this month long celebration of art inspired by science.

If you can't make it, here are two brand newly-commissioned films inspired by two of my short stories - which in turn were inspired by science. Enjoy!

'We are All Made of Protein but Some of us GLow More than Others ' from richard ocallaghan on Vimeo.

Read the short story of the same title that inspired this piece here.

'Like Flowers' from James Murray-White and Steve Mazillius on Vimeo.

Monday, March 28, 2011

New flash story in Metazen

I am totally and utterly bloody thrilled to be in the fabulously nutty Metazen with a new flash story, Retreating, I Retreated. Love Metazen. Love it. (5th story published this year already, I feel like that might be a record.) Got another story coming out in Metazen mid-April. How lucky am I?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Photos of the Writing Shed

Very interesting discussion on revising short stories going on in the last blog post - and I am going to write more about that, I think it's a vital topic. But while I mull and gather opinions, here are the shed pics I've been promising this for a while! The writing shed is finally ready - and it is bliss! Here is a pictorial journey from start to finish:

Existing shed in the garden when we moved in...

 ...was a little cluttered...

We moved all the clutter out, and our wonderful builder, Simon, started work on the insulation...

...until it looked a little like a sauna.

Then I started moving my things in, including my crucial Einstein "Imagination is more important than knowledge" poster...


and all my short story collections on the shelves above and below the window...

Look at all those lovely books!

Simon even made me a special inner door for extra privacy. And a corner nook where I can work standing up (like Hemingway).

and also a desk.

Now all that remains is for me to spend lots of time in there and produce work worthy of such a shed!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Revising short stories - science or art?

So, I've long subscribed to the theory of revising that says you need to do it with your "analytical" head on, that it's not a creative act, almost more of a scientific one. This is the type of revision I always felt I should be doing. But I rarely do and I feel guilty about that, as if I'm not a proper writer, or something. This week I took a first draft of a story and sat in my writing shed (yes, pictures soon!) for 2.5 hours, with NO INTERNET and did that kind of analytical revising, trying to "fix" or "solve" issues my writing group had drawn my attention to. Boy was I pleased, I had written some new scenes that did seem to do this, how wonderful!

Then I read it the next day, and felt that something was really wrong. I had put in more of this, less of that, plugged some gaps, but the whole nature of the story had changed. It had had a sort of magical and non-closed ending and now it was no longer magical, it was very harsh. I showed it to my writing group again and they all, without prompting, said the same: they preferred the first version. So, by approaching it analytically, I messed it up completely.

Since then, I've been canvassing opinion from writer friends about their processess. I don't even want to call it "revision" (which does remind me of school). Let's call it "working on" a short story. It seems that I should have asked sooner, because it might have saved me some guilt! Quite a few writers go back into that dreaming "zone", that creative space, to work further on a story, rather than switching hats and turning on some Editor with a capital "E". So, what do you do?

One friend looked through the Paris Review interviews and found this from Marilynne Robinson:
"If I write something and don't like it, I basically toss it. And I try to write it again or I write something else that has the same movement. But as far as going back and working over something that I've already written -- I really don't do that. I know there's a sentence that I need, and I just run it through my mind until it sounds right. Most of my revision occurs before I put words down on a paper."
What works for you? I think the message here - I assume - will be that different tactics work for different people. Let's share some!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

New Yorker and Janet Frame on creativity

I am always on the lookout for different ways to approach creativity and especially writing, this odd thing that we do, and this weekend I found some excellent quotes in the New Yorker and in Janet Frame's astonishing and often sublime The Daylight and the Dust: Collected Stories.

The New Yorker article by Dana Goodyear is about Barry Michels, a kind of therapist to the Hollywood entertainment industry, but about work, not about their fraught love lives, etc... So much of Michels' counselling techniques made sense to me, got me thinking. For example, when dealing with a screenwriter who couldn't write, "Michels ...told the writer to get an egg timer. Following Michels' instructions, every day he set it for one minute, knelt in front of his computer in a posture of prayer, and begged the universe to help him write the worst sentence every written". The writer thought this was stupid and pointless. But,  what do you know? It worked... "six weeks later, he had a 165 page script... when the movie came out the writer won an Academy Award". There surely can't be a more compelling way to start an article!

Michels and his colleague are working on a self-help book that basically involves "patients [being] told to visualize things going horribly wrong". Not sure about that, but this spoke to me:
"By far the most common problem afflicting the writers in Michels' practice is procrastination, which he understands in terms of Jung's Father archetype. 'They procrastinate because they have no external authority figure demanding that they write,' he says [Ah, does this ring a bell? Sure does! T] 'Often I explain to the patient that there is an authority figure he's answerable to, but it's not human. It's Time itself that is passing inexorably...Every time you procrastinate or waste time, you're defying this authority figure.' Procrastination, he says, is 'a spurious form of immortality,' the ego's way of claiming that it has all the time in the world. Writing, by extension, is a kind of death."
What Michels' makes his client do, in the face of this, is sit in front of their computer for a fixed time each day and say "I am surrendering myselt to the archetypal Father, Chronos. I am surrendering myself to him because he has hegemony over me." An interesting suggestion, I may well try that. You can read the whole article here.

Talking about procrastination and time wasting, I was very struck by a story in the Janet Frame collection, the daylight and the dust. I  had never read anything by her, I got this collection out of the library, read the first story and though, This isn't for me. Yet, I kept renewing it, something telling me not to give it back yet. And whatever that something was (Father Time??), it was right. I read a story from the middle of the book and was absolutely blown away. Her writing is stunning, poetic, rhythmic, hard-hitting, moving, shocking. It really really spoke to me, I loved what she did with language, I could hear it singing to me in my head and for the first time ever I was compelled to read a story out loud

One of the stories that I wanted to mention here is the Pleasures of Arithmetic. Basically a two-page flash story about the mind-numbing effects of television:
"Each night in each of these ten living rooms there are ten times how many people watching the same programme, receiving news bulletins (the diminutive of bullets, listening to the same music, and in the end thinking the same thoughts, in the end hosts only at the point of a gun to thoughts donated to them by courtesy of the television company... Thoughts in identical clothes... dull suspicion, criticism, my house is yours....
'What we need,' said the politician, 'is unity.'
'Our aim,' said the poet, 'is like-mindedness'."

A cautionary tale against abdicating our own thoughts in favour of mass mind control  - the remedy is to be found in another story, One Must Give Up, in which the narrator gives up the newspaper, the radio, the television:
"I am now a maker of my own news, a distributor of my own time. I receive news which no-one thought to broadcast on radio or film for television or report in the newspapers. I choose for myself again. it is long since I knew such freedom. Tight-lipped runners arrive bearing word from far countries - from friends two streets away. The cherry tree is in flower."
I love that line, that news has become something that comes from "friends two streets away". Frame hammers the message home beautifully at the end of the story:
"Fact or fancy. There comes a time when one must rely on one's own news, images, interpretations, when one must resist the pressure upon one's house of conforming, orthodox, shared seasons, and use the panel in the secret room, make one's escape to fluid, individual weather; stand alone in the dark listening to the worm knocking three times, the rose resisting, and the inhabited forest of the heart accomplishing its own private moments of growth."
Just typing that has made me shiver all over again. This was written in an age before Facebook which purports to bring its users "news" constantly, but in this ever-streaming babble, where is the sound of the "worm knocking" or our own heart's "private moments of growth"?

I couldn't find a Janet Frame story online, but here's a radio interview with her on YouTube.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Tonight at Wise Words!

First, a new flash story of mine is in PANK magazine's March issue: That Small Small Inch. Love PANK, I can't wait to read the rest of the issue.

And tonight, (Wed 16 March) if you are in London, I am taking part in Jay Live, sharing the bill at the Wise Words festival with these fabulous writers: Jay Merill, Elizabeth Baines, Sarah Salway, Catherine Smith and Susannah Rickards! We are reading at at 6.30pm The Luxe, Spitalfields,, and it's FREE! .. THE LUXE Spitalfields 020 7101 1751 is at 109 Commercial Street, E1 6BG Liverpool St tube. Here's the info. Hope to see you there!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Nice short story and flash news

The loveliest news is that I got a reply from Professor John Mullan in response to my email about the Culture Show's 12 New Novelists program - asking whether it might be possible to do it for short story collections (see earlier blog post). He said:
"I do sort of agree with you - at least with the idea that it would be great to do a programme on the contemporary short story. From my point of view, it rather depends on whether the BBC want me to any more such book programmes. If and when they come to me for ideas, the short story is one thing that I'll suggest. I'll let you know if it ever happens."
I think that's very positive - now we just need the BBC to step up. Am awaiting a few more email replies from those who might be able to take it further. Fingers crossed!

And on a more personal note, I just found out that I'm a semifinalist in the Vestal Review Ten Years in Flash Fiction contest and my flash story, Maneouvres, for which I have been trying to find a good home for about 2 years, will be read by the final judge, Steve Almond! There's nothing like the feeling that a writer you greatly admire will be holding your work (or staring at it on screen, of course). Lovely. Winner announced March 31st but this is a great boost, especially for an older story I had almost given up on. Congrats to my fellow semifinalists: Doug Cornett, Tessa Mellas, Greta Schuller, Ronald Jones, Cynthia Litz, Lili Flanders, Bruce Rogers, Tasha Cotter and Madhu Narayan.

Sinus update:

Half face is still slightly swollen but I was recommended Neilmed through Twitter (thank you, you know who you are!) and started using it this morning, things seem to be improving.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Few upcoming deadlines for you

Three weeks until March 31st and here are 2 lovely comps to send your darlings to before that date:

Short FICTION is accepting submissions for its 5th annual Short Story Competition from 1 January - 31 March 2011. This year's prize money is increased to £500. Stories must be no longer than 6000 words. All submissions must be unpublished in print or on the web. Also new this year, we invite entries from writers at any stage in their career. Award-winning Irish writer, Gerard Donovan will act as final judge. Mr Donovan is the author of three novels, including the much-landed Julius Winsome, and the story collection, Country of the Grand. A £10 entry fee allows entrants to submit up to two stories; all entrants receive a copy of the journal with the award-winning story in it (which itself retails for £10... effectively making the competition entry free). All stories submitted will be considered for publication in the journal. Please note: no changes to stories can be accepted after submission. The winner of the competition will be announced on our website no later than 1 May 2011.

Bristol Short Story Prize: (for which I am one of the five final judges again this year):
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. 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.

So, for a grand total of £17 if you enter both comps, you could win £1500 +£150 waterstone's vouchers and you get a copy of SHORT Fiction too. Frankly, I think it's not a bad deal... I might see what I've got to send to SHORT Fiction, since this year it's open to all writers. And I'm looking forward to reading your stories for the Bristol Prize - remember, short is sweet too, give us something to read that we can't put down!

Good luck!

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Short Story Collections on TV?

So, I'm at home today with bad sinus pain across one side of my face, and to take my mind off it all I watched the wonderful Culture Show episode for World Book Night about 12 debut novelists, including the excellent Jenn Ashworth. It was wonderful to watch a whole hour celebrating first-time novelists, hearing about their books, about their stories. But all the way through, that little voice in my head which is rarely satisfied kept whispering "What about debut short story collections? Where are the short stories?" Now I understand that this was a programme about novels - but the phrase "literary fiction" was used several times, and the novel is not the only form under that heading.

Several of the new novelists featured write short stories - Deborah Kaye Davies' short story collection, Grace, Tamar and Laszlo the Beautiful (reviewed on the Short Review here) won Wales Book of the Year in 2009 and she is also a published poet. I think it was Evie Wyld who mentioned in her interview on the show that she wrote short stories but wrote this novel because she was told that "publishers don't want short stories". No surprise there then.

Instead of grumbling and moaning too much, I wrote a tweet on Twitter asking who would like to see a similar TV show about short story collections - and the roar of response was deafening! It really cheered me up, and fuelled by this I fired off 3 emails to people I know with BBC connections, and also to John Mullan, the host of the Culture Show episode and very well known for the Guardian Book Club. As I write this I remember that he was the person who interview short story goddess Lorrie Moore last year about her must-have Collected Stories, an event I went to and which will stick in my mind as one of my short story highlights. So I have no doubt at all that he appreciates what an amazing short story can do.

I am writing this blog because doing all this in 140-character bursts on Twitter is rather restricting, and also to canvas more opinion. There was one tweet in reply which seemed to think there was quite enough short story coverage on radio and TV but I don't think those of us who disagree are just being paranoid. What do you think? Please comment below, perhaps I might need a petition in order to get the BBC - or another TV channel (Sky Arts? Mariella?) on side, so don't hold back!

Monday, March 07, 2011

Short story up on Necessary Fiction

I was delighted when Ethel Rohan, March's guest editor over at Necessary Fiction, asked me to submit a story for the Irish-themed issue. I spend a lot of time in Ireland, my father and stepmother live there, and some of my most amazing writing-related moments have been at Anam Cara, the heavenly writing retreat in West Cork. The story that is now published, Graveside, represents a first for me: it is the first time I have had a story published with a character who has appeared in a previous story -  Mary Margaret of Drinking Vodka in the Afternoon, which I was commissioned to write for Radio 4 for a week of stories in 2007 commemorating the 50th anniversary of the launch of the Sputnik satellite. And she wouldn't leave me alone, she kept clamouring for more about her. In Drinking Vodka... she is 16, in a small Irish village. This new story takes place many many years later. I don't think you need to have read the first story... I hope not. Anway, it's here. Thank you Ethel!

Also, I was stunned to find my book on this Booktrust list of 10 British short stories, in the glorious company of writing mates Vanessa Gebbie and Adam Marek, and the wondrous AL Kennedy. That's made my month, if not my year!

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Sue Guiney's far East tour

I haven't written much about me on here lately, not had a lot of time, but i am working up to it! In the meantime, I am loving my friend Sue Guiney's blog posts from her Far East book tour for her Cambodia-set novel, A Clash of Innocents. She's writing and uploading pictures like the one on the left - and videos. You feel like you are right there with her. Check it out!

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

World Book Day - addendum

I just heard about Nicola Morgan's wonderful idea for World Book Day - while she understands that giving out 1 million free books should have a positive effect, she also wants to boost authors and publishers by getting people to buy a book in honour of WBD. Do go and read her blog and perhaps even pledge to join in!

World Book Day Event in Bristol

I'm delighted to be taking part in a World Book Day celebration here in Bristol, on Saturday night at the Grant Bradley Gallery. Here are the details, do come - and if you'd like to take part, there are contact details at the bottom of this blog post!

The largest Book Give Away Ever attempted!

World Book Night at the Grant Bradley Gallery
Hosted by the Bard of Windmill Hill Trevor Carter

Saturday 5th March 2011

Join us this Saturday 5.30 - 7pm at The Grant Bradley Gallery to collect your FREE copy of Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin
Laura Chase’s older sister Iris, married at eighteen to a politically prominent industrialist but now poor and eighty-two, is living in Port Ticonderoga, a town dominated by their once-prosperous family before the First War. While coping with her unreliable body, Iris reflects on her far from exemplary life, in particular the events surrounding her sister’s tragic death. Chief among these was the publication of The Blind Assassin, a novel which earned the dead Laura Chase not only notoriety but also a devoted cult following.
Sexually explicit for its time, The Blind Assassin describes a risky affair in the turbulent thirties between a wealthy young woman and a man on the run. During their secret meetings in rented rooms, the lovers concoct a pulp fantasy set on Planet Zycron. As the invented story twists through love and sacrifice and betrayal, so does the real one; while events in both move closer to war and catastrophe. By turns lyrical, outrageous, formidable, compelling and funny, this is a novel filled with deep humour and dark drama.
The evening’s events will also include:

  • A live set by local singer song writer Barry Walsh
  • Performance poetry by the Bard of Windmill Hill Trevor Carter
  • Readings from the Blind Assassin
  • A chance to meet and discuss your favourite books
  • A display of local publishers books

If you are interested in doing a short presentation on your favourite book or reading, we would be delighted to hear from you. Please contact Trevor Carter windmillbard@aol.co.uk to tell us about your choice of book and arrange a slot. We look forward to hearing from you!