Monday, July 30, 2012

Mother America touches down...

I am delighted to be hosting  Nuala Ní Chonchúir's second appearance on my blog in 12 months - for the second book of hers that has been published in that time! You may remember she was last here in December talking about The Juno Charm, her glorious fourth poetry collection. And now here she is again with her glorious fourth short story collection, Mother America (New Island) - and there is her novel,You, published in 2010.

A little about Nuala: She is a short story writer, novelist and poet, born in Dublin in 1970 and living in Galway. A story from this new collection, Peach, was published in the Winter 2011 issue of Prairie Schooner, and won the Jane Geske Award and was nominated for a Pushcart Prize.

This is a fabulous collection, which combines so many images, themes and Nuala's trademark beautiful use of language. It contains one of my favourite stories of last year, the Dublin Review of Books flash-fiction-contest winner, The Egg Pyramid. Read it. It's unforgettable.

For her stop here, I didn't want to ask Nuala questions I've asked before so I thought we'd play Word Association. I threw words at her that I drew from her stories and she responded to each without planning or thinking too hard. Read her responses below - and do feel free to play it yourself with the same words and share your responses in the comments section! Take it away, Nuala!

The beautiful art that fills my home by people as diverse as my father and my old friend, Pat Jourdan. Art makes me happy.

A mother is what I have been for nearly 19 years, so almost half of my life. I think it’s a difficult job but has its good bits too. Also the word mother is one half of the title of my new book so I am extraordinarily fond of the word at the moment. 

Oooh, one of my favourite colours. I collect blue and white pottery and glass. I love blue for its deep, mesmeric qualities. 
Dublin. I live in Galway, but Dublin is home. 
Knickers. That was my science teacher’s nickname. Bless her, she may have been brilliant but I learnt nothing. 
A subject dear to my heart. For me it’s all positive – I love a good feminist, man or woman. 
A country I have fallen in love with, despite its flaws. I love American people’s positivity and can-do-ness. I have had fabulous times in New York, Los Angeles, Nebraska, Arkansas, Chicago. And I’m going back next year for more. 
This word makes me think of my wider family who mostly live in Dublin and whom I miss being around. They are good fun – we laugh a lot when we get together. 
One of my favourite things on earth is the short story, as reader and writer. To read a sublime collection, like Sarah Hall’s recent The Beautiful Indifference, makes me feel good about the world and about writing. Hall’s language; the tension in the stories – just wonderful. 
I hate money but would like lots of it. I am convinced I would make an excellent rich person. 
Being in love is the best thing ever. And giving and having my kids’ love blows my mind sometimes. I am surrounded by love these days and it is fantastic.

Thank you, Nuala, what a beautiful note to end on. Find out more about all Nuala's writings and activities at, buy Mother America  - and if you didn't read The Egg Pyramid then read it now.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Stroud stories

Bill Jones, organiser of the excellent Stroud Stories live lit night at which I had the honour of reading a few months ago, asked me to post this:

Stroud Short Stories is back on Sunday, 14th October, and is looking for stories to be read by their authors at this event.
Stories can be between 50 and 1500 words in length and can be on any subject but, as Halloween will be approaching, SPOOKY STORIES ARE ESPECIALLY WELCOME. The deadline for submissions is: Sunday 16th September.
Please send your stories to 
Looking forward to hearing from you.
With best wishes,

Visit: for more information and photos of previous events.

Thursday, July 26, 2012


Just a quick note to say that I am over at Women Rule Writer today, where Nuala has made me answer the author questionnaire I'd been getting authors to fill in for The Short Review but never thought I'd answer myself  - about My Mother Was An Upright Piano! And, if you want even more of me waffling on, Joe M at Bristol Short Story Prize has kindly published the speech I made at the awards ceremony at ShortStoryVille on July 14th - my "while stocks last" speech! I've never really given a speech before, but was happy I managed to get a little physics in there too (but no Higgs boson, sorry). Also, the program has now been announced for the fab Cork International Short Story Festival so make your plans, book your train/plane/ferry, you don't want to miss this. And do come join me in the four-day flash fiction workshop I'm running, or one of the other fantastic workshops, including the above-mentioned Nuala -  we're going to have fun!

And don't forget to check out my previous blog post with upcoming deadlines, places to send your short stories and flash fictions.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Upcoming deadlines

It's been a while since I did one of these, here are a few upcoming deadlines for short story competitions:

July 31st The Sean O'Faolain short story competition: An excellent contest not just for its amazing prizes but because one sole judge reads every single entry!  Up to 3000 words, open internationally. First Prize: €2,000 (*approx $2690.82/ £1685.27), publication in the literary journal Southword, AND a week-long residency at Anam Cara Writer's and Artist's Retreat in Ireland. Second Prize: €500 and publication in Southword. Four other shortlisted entries will be selected for publication in Southword and receive a publication fee of €120. Entry fee: €15, US $20 or £15. Enter online or by post. Open internationally.

July 31st Ink Tears Flash Fiction competition: 500 words or less, previously published okay. Winner: £300 • Runner-up: £50 • 4x Highly Commended: £25 Entry fee: £3 for first entry, subsequent entries at a discount. Enter online.  Open internationally.

Aug 15th Gigantic Sequins flash fiction contest: Submit 3 stories per entry, each up to 1000 words, open internationally. publication of the winning piece in issue 4.1, special feature of the writer on our website this fall, a Gigantic Sequins 1-year subscription, $100 cash, and more! Entry fee: $5. Enter online. Open internationally.

Aug 26th Stringybark flash fiction and microfiction contests: Flash fiction: up to 1000 words, with link to Australia. Microfiction - 100 words, no Aussie link needed. Open internationally. First Prize - A$350 cash + publication + certificate + e-book + paperback (Value $368) Second Prize - A$150 cash + publication + certificate + e-book + paperback (Value $168) Third Prize - A$75 cash + publication + certificate + e-book + paperback (Value $93) Entry fee: AUS$9 per flash fiction. Microfiction - free entry with entry to flash fiction competition. Enter online. Open internationally.

Aug 31st Nanofiction flash fiction contest: Submit 3 stories per entry, each up to 300 words, open internationally. Prize awards publication and $500  - all entries considered for publication, all entrants receive a one year subscription to NANO Fiction and winners will be announced in September. Entry fee: $15. Enter online. Open internationally.

Sept 7th Costa short story award: Stories up to 4000 words, one entry per author. The winner will be announced at the Costa Book Awards ceremony in late January 2013 and will receive a cheque for £3,500. Two runners-up will each receive £750. No entry fee. Enter online. Residents of UK and Ireland only.

Sept 21st Sunday Times EFG Private Bank Short story award:  "The judges are looking for an outstanding English-language story of 6,000 words or under from a fiction author from anywhere in the world who has been published in the UK or Ireland. Stories can be unpublished or first published after 1st Jan 2012. The winner will receive £30,000, and the five shortlisted writers will each receive £1,000 as well as having their work published online. A longlist of 16 will be announced in January." No entry fee. One entry per author. Online or postal entry.

And a little further off...
Oct 1st  StoryQuarterly short story comp Open to short stories and novel excerpts of 8,000 words or less. Grand Prize of $1000 and publication in StoryQuarterly 46 First Runner-up $300 and publication in SQ Online Second Runner-up $200 and publication in SQ Online. $18 contest fee includes subscription toStoryQuarterly 46, to be published in the late Fall, 2012.

Oct 31st  The Salt short story and flash fiction prizes (there is also a prize for poetry). The Short Story Prize: max 5,000 words. 1st PRIZE £1,000 plus publication in The Salt Anthology of New Writing. 2nd PRIZE £500 plus publication in The Salt Anthology of New Writing. 3rd PRIZE £50 book token for use in Salt’s online shops plus publication in The Salt Anthology of New Writing. SEVEN RUNNERS-UP A further seven finalists will be published in The Salt Anthology of New Writing. Open internationally. Entry fee £10 for first entry, discount for subsequent. Enter online or by post.
The Flash Fiction Prize: Max 350 words. 1st PRIZE £500 plus publication in The Salt Anthology of New Writing. 2nd PRIZE £250 plus publication in The Salt Anthology of New Writing. 3rd PRIZE £50 book token for use in Salt’s online shops plus publication in The Salt Anthology of New Writing. SEVEN RUNNERS-UP A further seven finalists will be published in The Salt Anthology of New Writing.Open internationally. Entry fee £5 for first flash, discount for subsequent. Enter online or by post.

Nov 15th  Willow Springs fiction prize No word limit. The winner of the contest will receive a prize of $2,000, plus publication in Willow Springs.Open internationally. Every entrant receives a one year subscription to Willow Springs. Entry fee $20, or $25 for non-US. Enter online or by post.Open internationally.

Good luck to all!

Friday, July 20, 2012

If you were a piece of furniture...?

I love what my enormously talented and creative friend Vanessa Gebbie has done! She asked if it would be okay to use my new collection, My Mother Was An Upright Piano: Fictions, as the inspiration, asking anyone who followed her on Twitter this question: If you were a piece of furniture, what would you be? And she got the most marvellous responses from far and wide which she has now compiled into a fantastic blog post with many pictures! So, what would I be? A chaise longue, I think, slightly decadent and not terribly useful but with a hint of glamour!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012


I first heard of Niki Valentine when I read her excellent novel The Killing Jar (published as Nicola Monaghan) which I found utterly gripping, a dark story of drugs and family. So it's with great delight that I welcome Niki here to the blog in honour of the imminent publication of her new book, Possessed (published by Sphere), which sounds just as gripping! (My copy is on its way to me, I can't wait. How beautiful is that cover?). Here's the blurb:
Emma's life has always been a struggle, and now she's been accepted at a prestigious music school, she is determined to excel. But when the impossibly chic twins, confident Sophie and quieter Matilde, come crashing into her life - surrounding her with champagne and parties - they demand Emma's full attention. Then shy Matilde commits suicide and shockingly, her identical twin Sophie flourishes. Now odd things are happening to Emma: blackouts, waking up in strange places, bizarre dreams. Something, or someone, is consuming Emma's mind. Terrified, Emma begins to doubt everything and everyone around her, especially the beautiful Sophie... Powerful, twisted, atmospheric and disturbing, Possessed is a terrifying psychological thriller. 
Possessed is published as an ebook on July 25th and as a paperback on Oct 25th.

I thought I'd get nosey and ask Niki, who, as well as writing, teaches creative and professional writing at Nottingham University, my set of writing&place questions, which seem simple but I always find them very revealing! Welcome, Niki!

Tania: Where are you?

Niki: I’m in Aspley, Nottingham, just a couple of miles from where I was born, and streets away from where I spent much of my childhood, and where my first novel is set.

T: How long have you been there?

N: I’ve been living in Aspley again since last December, when my husband and I bought our first house. I lived on the other side of Nottingham before that, but was here again when my first novel came out, and when I got married. I’ve spent more time here than anywhere else in the world, despite all my travels. It’s a very working class area, with council and ex-council houses, and it feels like home when I walk the streets. I’ve been back in Nottingham, after wandering far and wide, since 2002, so ten years now. I came back to study at Nottingham Trent University, on their MA Creative Writing.

T: What do you write?

Niki and Allan Silitoe at the Broadway in Nottingham
N: I write gritty, realist literary fiction but also, more recently, psychological thrillers with a supernatural element. My last novel was a modern take on the ghost story set in the Highlands of Scotland and the new one, as the title might suggest, explores the idea of spiritual possession. I like stories about the paranormal that feel real, and where you can find alternative, psychological explanations for what’s happening to the characters.

T: How do you think where you and where you've been affects what you write about and how you write? 

Niki at the Empire State Building, New York City
N: Because I’d lived all over the world, for a long time I wrote about the big, glamorous cities I’d lived in, such as Paris and Chicago. When I came back to Nottingham, though, I realised how interesting my home city is and wrote a novel set here. Now, I tend to focus on ordinary characters in extraordinary situations, instead of the big cities. Being in Nottingham, especially close to the estate I grew up on, reminds me of being little. The world felt different then; more magical, perhaps, full of possibilities. Full of shadows too, and darkness. Walking these streets takes me right back there when I’m in the right mood.

More specifically, though, The Haunted was inspired by my honeymoon. Considering that it’s about a failing marriage, that might seem a bit ironic, but there’s the fiction in it. We travelled to the highlands and walked in the hills. We ended up walking through the dark one day, when we set out too late, and I was really struck by how quiet it was, and how lonely, and how frightening it could have been had I been with someone I didn’t trust. There are so many rumours about haunted bothies too, and I can understand why. The dark and the damp and the rugged landscape evokes the ghosts, I think.
Niki in her garden
I work at the University of Nottingham and, walking around its older campus, I’m often thrown back to what it felt like to be a student, away from home for the first time. Then I think about York University, where I lived for four years, and how young and naïve I was back then. I settled to it so easily but I was one of very few people from my kind of working class background. That got me to thinking about how the University experience could feel, especially if you were shy, and pushed into an environment where there was a lot of pressure. I love music, and taught myself to play the piano when I was younger, so all of that fed into my planning for Possessed. It’s not based on any of the Universities I know well but, in a way, inspired by all of those I’ve visited.

Thank you so much, Niki, it's really interesting to hear how you were inspired by your hometown after coming back from your world travels. Lovely to hear that you are enjoying living where you grew up, this is something that fascinates me, I can't really imagine it, I always think if I did, there would be too many ghosts of my childhood!

This makes me even more eager to read Possessed. You can pre-order it now from the Book Depository or Amazon (ebook & paperback). and do visit Niki's website for more about her books. Thanks for stopping by, Niki!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Verb!

I have now mustered up the courage to listen to myself on Radio 3's The Verb and didn't run screaming from the room at the sound of my voice so I think it's okay! You can hear me reading my specially-written physics-inspired flash story and then chatting to Ian McMillan about it and about flash fiction... what a thrill to hear him say the name of my new collection in his wonderfully-mellifluous voice, I want to snip that bit out and keep it!

You too can hear him - and me - online for another 5 days, by clicking here. My segment is right at the beginning and I highly recommend listening to the whole program, with Charles Ferynhough, Julia Copus and Paul Heaton, it's wonderful.

Last week was exhausting, in the best way - and real proof, if ever any is needed, that you never know on a Monday morning what might happen by the Friday night!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Higgs Bosons, The Verb, and ShortStoryVille

It's been a very busy week - a wonderful event at the West Meon Festival on Sunday, talking short stories with Zoe Fairbairns, whose excellent new book, Write Short Stories and Get Them Published, is now available. Then Monday, interviewed on the Love & Science show on BCFM (see previous post).

Then a call, on Monday, from Radio 3's The Verb. Would I be able to write a Higgs-boson and quantum-physics inspired flash story by Wednesday morning to read and chat about on this week's show? Would I? Oh yes! I did, (and the very tight deadline definitely brought out something new, something I'd never done before) and then yesterday morning at the BBC here in Bristol I was recorded reading it and chatting to the fantastic host of the show, Ian McMillan, about physics & fiction, flash fiction and the wonderful words of science. It will be broadcast tomorrow night, Friday 13th, at 10pm UK time, and should be available as a podcast for 7 days after that. Find out more here>> 

As well as all that excitement, Tues and Wednesday I was running two school writing workshops at Fairfield High School in honour of ShortStoryVille, which is Bristol's short story festival, taking place here this Saturday, at Arnolfini! The first event, at 12pm, will be me introducing some of the Fairfield pupils reading their stories, I can't wait! Here, to whet our appetite, is the ShortStoryVille trailer, made by my partner, James, and his team:

The events of the day include discussions about Angela Carter's short stories, about digital publishing and readings from several of Bloomsbury's newly-published short story authors - as well, of course, as the awarding, in the evening, of the Bristol Short Story Prize! Find out how to book tickets here.

Hope to see you there. And for me, next week is looking, well, a little quieter... but then again, who knows what might come up?!

Monday, July 09, 2012

Love & Science

Just a quick note to say that I will be live on the Love & Science show on BCFM Bristol Community radio 93.2fm this evening, 5-6pm, talking about science... and fiction etc...and perhaps reading one of the fictions from my new book. You can listen online too.

I am really looking forward to meeting the host, Malcolm Love, and my fellow guest, Tim Kindberg, who sounds really fascinating! Should be available as a podcast afterwards, I will post the link here.

Addendum: Podcast here. It was a very interesting hour, I thought!

Thursday, July 05, 2012

The Languages We Speak and the Languages We Don't

I have just had quite an amazing month in the USA and am going to attempt to sum it up, as if that was ever possible, or at least sort out some of the thoughts in my head into some coherence! So, the first two weeks I spent at the amazing Hambidge Center for Creative Arts and Sciences in the mountains of North Georgia. If you don't know where that is either, it's the southern US:

This is the furthest south I'd ever been and to say I was unprepared for the landscape is an understatement. I was the "city girl" dropped into an artists retreat in which I was provided with my own cabin in the woods where they told me I might encounter bears, snakes, ticks, and the occasional wild boar. It was the most amazing setting, but the retreat was fairly spread out and I was the only one without a car, but equipped with a torch and a bear bell. Yes, a bear bell. To frighten the bears. Me, being a complete wuss, couldn't quite relax into this at all! I also discovered that this part of the US is not at all well-served by public transport, so i couldn't actually get anywhere without the kindness of my fellow Fellows. But... this is the thing. They were incredibly kind, incredibly creative, and incredibly inspiring.

This was my first time on a retreat with artists as well as writers, and it really opened my eyes. Hence the title of this post - spending time with visual artists John Folsom, Jessica Wohl, John Paul Floyd and John Allen, and art critic and curator Rebecca Dimling Cochran, and four dancers from GLO Atlanta was like stepping into another country. At dinner I listened to discussions of pastels, of pencil thicknesses, of panels used for mounting work, of the politics of art galleries and shows, of names I had never heard of but who were familiar to all the visual artists. And from the dancers I learned another language, as I discovered they don't do the traditional audience-sits-while-we-perform, but rather they perform in shopping centres, on the street - and for us, once, during dinner!

I wanted to bring you a small taste of some of their work which i found so incredibly exciting - and I am sure they would be delighted if any of you writers wanted to take inspiration from their work:

John Folsom, Dungeness Trail 2006
oil on gelatin silver print.

The White Family by Jessica Wohl, embroidery on found photograph

John Paul Floyd, The Eagle Slab. Photograph

Barry Kitterman's short story collection
There was another writer there, Barry Kitterman, a wonderful short story writer and novelist, and for a few days also poet Leigh Anne Couch (read three of her fantastic poems here) and every few days we writers seemed to gravitate together as if out of some need to speak our own language again, the language of point of view, of word count, of literary magazines, agents, publishers, books, past tense and present tense.

To be honest, I didn't get much writing done in my 2 weeks at Hambidge, but that was okay. Sometimes a retreat is about gathering inspiration for writing, seeing things in a new way, letting other people feed your creativity. I was, frankly, jealous of the visual artists and all the stuff, the tangible material they work with. I want to do something like that, and it has really made me contemplate how I might. I bought something in an antique shop in the nearest town ("antique" in the US means "from the 1950s!) that I may somehow use in my writing to create a one-off, unique object. This concept is in its infancy in my mind, so perhaps more later. I left Hambidge delighted to have been there - delighted to not have encountered a bear, snake, tick or wild boar - and full of ideas.

Doughnut Plant's Peanut Butter and Banana Creme Doughnut, image: ettible photography
Then I spent 10 days with friends in Boston and New York - all of whom I had known when we lived in Israel, so there is another shared language, the language of the ex-pat, and the ex-ex-pat.  I boosted the coffers of the sublime Doughnut Plant, (see pic) and also, without forward planning, ended up doing my first reading in New York, at the open mic part of the Fictionaut summer party at the KGB bar, where I was delighted to finally meet wonderful online friends Christoper Allen and Dora Dagostino among others, with a fantastic lineup of readers. [Just discovered there is a video of the event I can't watch myself, but you might like to!]

Then, I headed down south even further, to Little Rock, Arkansas, famous for President Bill Clinton. And incredibly, painfully hot. Over 100 degrees most days and not much cooler at night.

I was here for the 12th International Conference on the Short Story in English, held every two years by the Society for the Study of the Short Story, somewhere in the world. This was my first time at this amazing event, which spanned 5 days and included both papers by academics and readings by short story writers, as well as much Southern food!

I was doing a reading, of 8 of the fictions from my book, with two native Arkansan writers, Jay Jennings, who read part of a wonderful sports-themed story, and Sara Shumaker, who read a beautiful, magical story. And I was also appearing on a panel about flash fiction organised by Sylvia Petter, who herself gave us a fantastic reading of her short and shorter stories! The flash fiction panel was headed by the Pullitzer-prize winning writer Robert Olen Butler, who was absolutely charming, very supportive of all the rest of us, and who gave excellent advice, and we were joined by the fabulous Nuala Ni Chonchuir (whose fourth collection, Mother America, has just been published, watch this space for more) and award-winning flash fic writer Sandra Jensen.

Sylvia had the brilliant idea of each of us reading one of our flash fictions as an introduction, rather than her introducing us, and this set the tone for the event, which was very participative, with the audience playing a great part. There were those who expressed puzzlement about these short short fictions, and those who find them as joyous as I do, it was a great discussion. And the next day during the panel on Experimentalism in Postmodern Fiction, Salome Osorio from the University of Minho in Portugal, talked about Lydia Davis' short short stories as part of her research into microfiction. So the shortest of stories had a definite presence at the conference and it will be interesting to see how it features at the next conference, in 2014.

I met so many excellent writers in addition to those above, I want to name check as many as possible  - in no particular order - and urge you to check out all their work!:

Paddy O'Reilly (Aus): Paddy and I have been in touch for the past few years, since I loved and reviewed her collection, The End of the World. She so kindly blurbed my new book - and I was really looking forward to meeting her. I was not disappointed! A fabulous writer and a fabulous short story conference companion! Her website is:

Adnan Mahmutovic (Sweden): Adnan and I have been in touch online for ages, it was such a joy to finally meet him, I had heard so much about him and he surpassed all expectations! His website is

Ryan O'Neill (Aus) - whose 3rd collection, the Weight of a Human Heart, is out in Australia and being published imminently in the US, UK, and Israel. Read the Short Review's review of his 2nd collection.

Alexander MacLeod (Can) - one of his roles at the conference was to introduce his father, legendary Canadian short story writer Alistair MacLeod, which he did beautifully and movingly, but he is also a much-acclaimed short story writer, his first collection is Light Lifting.

Mary Costello (Ireland) - we had met briefly in Cork at last year's Frank O'Connor festival, and it was a real treat to hear her read again from her debut collection, The China Factory.

Moira Crone (US) - who I knew through The Short Review, where we reviewed her excellent collection, What Gets Into Us. She enlightened me through many fascinating conversations about American society, it was so great to meet her and hear her read from her new science fiction novel. Her website is

Kelly Cherry (US) - Kelly's name was unfamiliar to me, but after I heard her read - she's the author of 20 books, where have I been?? - I vowed that I would seek out her work, the story she read was just stunning. I am a demanding listener, especially when told it would be 28 minutes, but she had me spellbound. Her website is

Jamie O'Connell (Ireland) - who had the dubious distinction, perhaps, of being the youngest writer! He's just published his debut collection, Some Sort of Beauty, which I can't wait to read!

Garry Craig Powell (US) - misleading me with his English accent, Garry now lives in Little Rock, and his first book, a novel in stories, Stoning the Devil, is due out shortly, can't wait! His website is

Suffice it to say, here is where I felt most at home, amongst those whose language I definitely speak. No need to defend what I choose to write, no need to apologise for failing to get an agent, for not wanting to write a novel. And that is such a lovely feeling and when everyone left on Sunday, scattered to many corners of the world, I felt sad, bereft. I'd like to stay in this world, in this country, speaking this language. But, that said, looking back at the beginning of this post, and knowing this so well from my own migrations, I do believe it is where we feel slightly uncomfortable, slightly alien, where we grasp to understand, that the friction occurs from which inspiration and creativity arise. It is vital to come "home" every now and then, but I am excited to see what my migrations to these foreign countries do for my writing... and other pursuits.