Thursday, June 20, 2013

Julie Maclean Tells Us Where She Is

One of the wonderful things about going on writing courses (and teaching them) is meeting new writerly people, and Julie Maclean - an ex-Bristolian so long ago relocated somewhere in Australia near the sea (no, geography was never my strong point) that she sounds fully Aussie - and I hit it off on our first evening as we became giggling teenagers in the face of demands to write serious poetry. Serious? Poetry?

Julie's debut poetry collection
I'm delighted to welcome Julie to the blog to answer my infamous Writing&Place questionnaire in honour of the publication of her first book, a poetry collection, When I Saw Jimi, freshly published by Indigo Dreams. These poems, says Julie, are about growing up in Bristol, and seeing Jimi Hendrix live. Here is a sample of her wonderful work.

Lost Days and Barbie Dolls

Filaments on a stamen, autumn comes soft
to my garden  Pumpkin flowers flare like
nostrils on the velvet pony I always wanted
I think of a tilting crinoline, sails of a sinking
pirate ship, the woman jumping
off  Brunel’s Bridge in a past century
Dad brought home pink silk, a parachute
from the war.  I dressed a Barbie doll
in a Fifties skirt cut roughly round a saucer.
To fit the hourglass it split stretching over
silicone breasts.  Tottering in micro stilettos,
ankles snapped in rehearsal   Cinderella lipstick bled.
Dog rose grew in the hedgerow then.  We plucked
the petals one by one.  The stigma left a stain.
Blood, the finger pricked, the blood.
Grassy breath of horse and boy; the mane I held.

And here are Julie's answers to my questions:

Tania: Where are you? 
Julie: Good question. In front of an open fire with a glass of wine pondering the last five weeks. It's winter here in Australia and about the same temperature as England midsummer. I know this having returned from there in the last two days. I go back to England every year to visit my mother in Bath and this time I launched my debut collection of poetry. When I saw Jimi, a retrospective of growing up in England in the Swinging Sixties,hence the title, which refers to the time I went to the Colston Hall in Bristol to see the great man.
Julie sits in front of this fireplace
and watches Mad Men,
 drinking a glass of Aussie wine.
   The publication of the book came about as the prize for winning the inaugural Geoff Stevens Poetry Prize. He was an irreverent Black Country poet and the launch was held in a fabulous little theatre in the outskirts of Birmingham where their next production is Calendar Girls and yes, the local gals will be baring all behind plastic sunflowers for the locals.
   In 2012 I'd been shortlisted for the Crashaw Prize (Salt) which really seemed to kick things off. Friends have been so excited for me and I have received congratulations all over the place, but I have to say that getting to the stage of having a book published has been a rough ride. Thrills, anticipation, satisfaction, fear, rejection, angst and hard work are the costs. Having just written that makes me realise that the experience of writing and being published has made me feel acutely alive and akin to having given birth. And what now?

T: How long have you been there? 
J: I've been in front of the open fire for two hours and in Australia for 35 years.
Julie grows veggies in the back garden.
Getting this book out was for me a coming home. Born in Bristol after the war I found myself writing about my past more and more. I felt the need to get this down as a journal, a way of diarising my life. Initially, I thought it was to be a legacy for my only son, but now realise it is about leaving a mark, leaving something behind like a garden or a scent on a lamp post. I really wish I could be a proper Buddhist and not feel this base need to tell the world, maybe later.

T: What do you write?
J: Lists, notes, poems, fiction (anything from 50-35,000 words), creative non fiction. I try to avoid the academic essay. The demand for quotes, references and bibliographies sucks the life out of me. There are several projects on the go. A full collection of poetry on the dark side of the Aussie outback. Not an original response but a new voice, I hope. I have a chapbook ready to go with a snowy, Scandi feel. There is also a collection of short fiction and a novella that needs tweaking. I find I write sad, quirk, irony, sex and death. No different to every other writer.
Julie can see this pond from her writing room.

T: How do you think where you are affects what you write about and how you write?
J:Travel is a great stimulus and trigger for my writing. I love to feel the spirit of a place. Last year I was on a study tour in Scandinavia. It seemed so clean and well behaved it bordered on the boring so I wrote about the Neo Nazis, the neutral tones of the well behaved and the confusion and anger that the influx of refugees is creating. I loved looking for the Noir in this snow and strawberry landscape. And I found it in spades. Heartbreak is always brilliant for writing and I love nothing more than writing from a melancholy place with that little dig of irony if I can squeeze it in.

Thank you, Julie, for such enlightening and inspiring answers - having spent a week with you, I don't find it surprising that you chose to write about Neo Nazis! You can find out more about Julie and her writings on her website and buy When I Saw Jimi at Indigo Dreams or the Book Depository.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Two new stories

It's always immensely exciting when my stories find wonderful homes, and two of them have in the past few weeks - first, Also Tends, an astronomy-inspired flash story, in the excellent The View From Here. The second, There Was No Boat - a story that has taken 4 years to find a good home - is published today in the fabulous Tin House as part of their Flash Friday series! This thrill never wears off, it truly never does.

Saturday, June 08, 2013

Lit Works First Page Writing Prize

Delighted to be involved in this:

We're accepting submissions! 

We’re accepting entries for the Literature Works First Page Writing Prize. We are seeking superb opening pages of unpublished novels (and a 150 word synopsis) from promising writers around the country. We’re looking for openings of a novel that make us want to read on, for that compelling first page of a novel that captures the imagination! Proceeds will support our Grassroots Literature fund, providing small grants for reading and writing activity across South West England. Please read our competition documents for submission guidelines and rules.

The Prizes
1st Prize – £1500 and a free reading of the first three chapters of the entry by a literary agent, who will provide an A4 single-page feedback on the submission
 2nd Prize – £350

 3rd Prize – £150

To Enter
Please read our guidelines sheet carefully. All entries should be accompanied by a completed cover sheet.

 Please send entries to: Literature Works First Page Writing Prize, Peninsula Arts, Plymouth University, Roland Levinsky Building, Drake’s Circus, PLYMOUTH, PL4 8AA The entry fee is £5, payable in pounds sterling, for first entry; £3 thereafter for subsequent entries. The closing date for the competition is 30 September 2013.

The Judges

Sarah Duncan is a novelist and screenwriter whose most recent novel, Kissing Mr Wrong, was shortlisted for the Romantic Novel of the Year. Her novels are published in fourteen countries around the world including the USA, France and Germany. Sarah is the Royal Literary Fund fellow at the University of Bath and has taught the Fiction Writing Workshop for the University of Bristol for the past eight years. Find out more at

 Tania Hershman likes it short, very short. Her new collection, My Mother Was An Upright Piano (Tangent Books, 2012) contains 56 tiny fictions, and her work has been published widely in print and online and broadcast on BBC Radio. She is writer-in-residence in the Science Faculty at Bristol University and editor of The Short Review. Find out more at

Christopher Wakling’s six acclaimed novels include What I Did, The Devil’s Mask, and On Cape Three Points. Born in 1970, he read English at Oxford, then worked as a farm hand, teacher and lawyer, before turning to writing full time in 2001. As well as writing fiction, Christopher is a travel writer for The Independent. He is also the Royal Literary Fund Fellow at Bristol University and has tutored many creative writing courses for The Arvon Foundation, The Faber Academy, and Curtis Brown Creative.

The Agent

Clare Wallace joined the Darley Anderson Agency in January 2011. As the Head of Rights, she negotiates deals for translation rights all around the world for all the Agency’s authors. Clare represents authors both in the UK and the US including Kim Slater, Polly Ho-Yen, Adam Perrott and illustrators Jon Holder, Loretta Schauer and Pete Williamson. Clare graduated with a first from a BA in Creative Writing and Cultural Studies at Bath Spa University and went on to gain a distinction on the MA in Creative Writing.

Click here for more information.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

National Flash Fiction Day June 22nd - Bristol and Beyond!

I wanted to let you know about a few things going on for this year's National Flash Fiction Day on Saturday June 22nd. First, to start with the question of what flash fiction is or might be, check out this wonderful article by Michelle Elvy in Awkword Papercut, with quotes from various writers, including me.

Then on to the day itself. Here in Bristol we have an afternoon of workshops (run by Yours Truly and by Calum Kerr, the brains behind NFFD!) and then an evening of readings by truly wonderful writers from Bristol, Oxford, Reading, Brighton and further! Here are the flyers:


If you simply can't make it to Bristol to join in the fun, then how about this, which you can join in with from the comfort of your blog?

The International Flash Fiction Day Blog Carnival and Competition
Deadline June 10th

 To enter, post a previously unpublished work of flash fiction (max 300 words, excluding title) on your own personal blog. Then: send the link to the story, the story text, a photo of yourself and a brief bio–all in the body of the email–to FLASH MOB 2013 ( by June 10. 

See The Contest Rules for complete information on how to enter. There is no fee to enter the competition. 

 * The Judges 
The competition will be judged by an international panel that includes Robert Vaughan (USA), Leah McMenamin (New Zealand), Marcus Speh (Germany) and Nuala Ni Chonchúir (Ireland). See the Judges page for more. 

* The Organizers 
The organizers represent various points on the globe, and work across timezones and font styles to bring this flash mob event to you. Christopher Allen does all that he does from Munich, Germany but edits for the daily literary ezine Metazen, which is actually run from Canada. Linda Simoni-Wastila resides in greater Baltimore, Maryland where she writes, professes, mothers, and gives a damn, and in her spare time serves as Senior Fiction Editor of JMWW. Michelle Elvy comes to us from New Zealand as editor of Flash Frontier: An Adventure in Short Fiction and Blue Five Notebook, though her latitude and longitude change daily these days.

So now there's no excuse for not flashing....!

Monday, June 03, 2013

What Lies Beneath What Lies Within

I am delighted to welcome Tom Vowler back to the blog today. Tom is another of my immensely talented writer mates, and he was here a few years ago when his first book, the short story collection The Method, was published (Salt), talking about writing & place. Tom's second book, What Lies Within, a novel, was recently published by Headline, an enormously intriguing and powerful book, a very moving meditation on family, trauma and pain, with a very interesting structure. Here is a little about Tom:

Tom Vowler’s debut short story collection, The Method, won the international Scott Prize in 2010 and the Edge Hill Readers’ Award in 2011. Now an associate lecturer at Plymouth University, his debut novel What Lies Within was published in April 2013. Tom is also Assistant Editor for the literary journal Short FICTION. In 2008 he graduated with an MA in Creative Writing and is now studying for a PhD, looking at landscape and trauma in fiction. More at

Here is the wonderful book trailer for What Lies Within:

I decided to chat to Tom about something I've been thinking about for a while: where do we writers get permission from in our writing? I blogged about this here. Tom gave us some insight into his writing and his novel in particular:

Tania: So, I'd like to carry on the discussion I was having on my blog about permissions - who or what has given or gives you permission in your writing, and especially to do what you've done in the novel, which has such an interesting structure? Other writers, teachers, other people's books/stories/poems, other art forms? 

Tom: Hi Tania. Thank you for having me at your aesthetically gorgeous blog. Your question is a wonderfully refreshing one, worthy of pause and consideration. Focusing on my novel, the concept of permission is, as you’ve discussed below, related to a sense of risk, and in my case this resides particularly in the decision to narrate almost all the book from a female perspective. Firstly, there was the question of whether I could pull this off, capture fully the nuance of voice and behaviour across 300 pages. But also, as you’ve reminded me, I thought long and hard about the right (permission if you like) to do so. Of course as writers we frequently inhabit characters who are wildly disparate to ourselves; why should a switch in gender be any different? I suppose because I needed Anna (the main character of What Lies Within) to carry the heft of the entire book, its themes and motifs, the pace and narrative all had to emerge from her, including several aspects of life my own gender preclude me from. Fortunately I have several good female friends who were happy to share the vagaries of their lives, from seismic happenings such as childbirth to the more mundane aspects. And yet it was Anna’s inner world, understanding her reaction to the beautiful and terrifying things that happen to her that proved hardest.

As for permission, this was a question I had already resolved before the first draft. Most of my fiction emerges from a single event, often a piece of news that both appals and fascinates me. This becomes the book’s fulcrum, the driving force for its story and characters. And so without offering spoilers, once I’d found my subject matter (or it me), I had little choice. Hardly permission, but then I realised the fact I’d found great abhorrence with Anna’s terrible situation and its subsequent contrails, left me feeling I would tell her story with sympathy and respect. Likewise during the research for the novel, hearing the terrible things some women had to endure instilled in me a fierce desire to get it right, to respect not just my characters and readers, but these wonderfully brave women also.

 As for permission to write in its wider context, my hand was forced a little by a long illness that saw me unable to do little else. I worked as a journalist, and although my love affair with books was late to blossom, I soon realised the dark art of storytelling was for me. Permission at that time was more closely aligned with inspiration, and I was desperate to mimic the impact certain fiction was having on me in my own work. So whereas richly lyrical prose, compelling characters and concept-driven stories were important to me, I quickly became interested in the tone and texture of the novel, one of the main reasons I set the book on the uplands of Dartmoor. In this sense the brooding, menacing landscape became a character itself, alive and capricious, the reader investing every much in the tors and valleys of the place as the people of the book. As you mention, the novel’s structure carries its own risk as well, but it too was driven by my research and the need to tell Anna’s story fully and with compassion. But then it’s one of the first things I tell my students – to take risks. Learn from what’s gone before, understand why it works, but do it differently. To borrow some words for a change: risk nothing, risk everything.

 As for other writers who give me permission to take such risks, I think this occurs, for me anyway, on a subconscious level, or at least a level that sits just below the surface during composition. I love much of what Julian Barnes and Sebastian Faulks have done in this regard - especially the deployment of unreliable narrators in their recent work - but with such impressive oeuvres behind them, I imagine it feels less like risk-taking to them. Two books that have had an astonishing impact on me recently for their linguistic and emotive brilliance are Sarah Hall's short story collection The Beautiful Indifference and J.A. Baker's memoir The Peregrine, the latter hugely influential on the novel I'm currently writing. Permission here, I find, is bestowed on an emotional level by the feelings aroused in me when reading them. This is not restricted to books, though; my own sense of aesthetics comes as much from film (for example the work of Mexican director Iñárritu) as it does from the literary forms.

Thank you so much, Tom, I find all that you've talked about to be really fascinating additions to this ongoing discussion about permission and risk. And the "risks" you took most definitely paid off here! I highly recommend you all get your hands on both What Lies Within and The Method, both of which you can find more about on Tom's website. But wait! Tom has very kindly offered a free copy of What Lies Within to one of you, my lovely blog readers. So, if you'd like to win a copy, leave a comment and tell me and Tom what's given you permission - in any way at all - recently, and that way we can extend this discussion and Tom will pick someone out of the proverbial hat. Thank you for stopping by, Tom!