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Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Year-End

Approaching the end of 2010, I feel quite satisfied all round, I think. As a family we have been through some miserable months, but have begun seeing a glimmer of hope that those problems may be fading now. Two of our daughters have faced depression and personal problems. The biggest shock for me was that I couldn't help them. With maternal arrogance, I thought I could put them back together myself, only to discover that too much emotion of my own is invested in the girls. Which meant that talking about things I couldn't make better resulted in me feeling a failure and adding to their unhappiness. Professional help was needed and has given positive results. The girls are much happier, fitter, brighter and moving on. And I have discovered that a mother just has to be here for them. That's what counts.

Writing-wise, I have been fortunate. I have had lots of rejections of course, but some pleasing results as well throughout the year. I have just heard that I've won first prize in The Yellow Room Competition. It was a story that fell out of my head like a cake from a well-greased tin. There it was. And I just kept smiling as I wrote it. It gave me so much fun and pleasure that I would have treasured it even if it had never seen the light of day out there. So I'm really glad for the story that it succeeded. It just seemed to be sitting there, ready for me to tip it out into the world. I almost feel like the middle-man really. Many thanks to Jo Derrick of The Yellow Room for liking it too. It's a fantastic magazine with all kinds of good stories.

I wish everyone kind enough to read my posts a merry Christmas and a brilliant, shiny, happy 2011, with lots of writing from us all. And, hopefully, more success for every one of us.

Sunday, 31 October 2010

A Bit Fishy


Oddly, a lot of my recent stories have a fish in them. I have no idea why. My middle daughter is sketching a lot of fish for her GCSE art coursework. I think we must have cast our nets into the same pond. She's drawing them and I'm writing about them. I had to buy her a fresh sea-bream, which she dissected all over the kitchen table, and then drew it. The remains are now in the freezer in case she needs to capture it again. When my youngest daughter sat down for tea, I heard a cry of "OMG, there are fish guts all over the table!"

I had a new idea for a story while I was cooking today's dinner and, believe it or not, there is a fish-theme again. So I think I might put them all into a collection at some point. I like the idea of a group of stories with a link. I have always wanted to extract a character out of one story into the next, and then yet another from that one, so there is cohesion, but without one story being dependent on another. That could be my next move before I try writing a novel in the New Year.

I'm so pleased that 50 Stories For Pakistan is on sale now. All the money goes to help the victims of the floods and is available from blurb.com

I'm also very pleased to be in the shortlist for the Bridport Prize. I was in the final one hundred out of 6,000 entries. So I'm quite pleased. I didn't get placed in the top thirteen who won prizes (congratulations to all those writers), but that story can now travel with confidence to a new destination. And there were no fish in that one.





Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Six Things About My Writing

Thank you to my lovely friend Joanne Fox for the Sweet Friends Award she has given me. I feel very happy about it and accept it with these six facts about my writing:

1) I sit, hunched like a witch (I have the big nose and long messy hair too), with bowls of cereal over my keyboard, frowning and screwing up my hopeless, short-sighted eyes.
2) I get frightened of my spreading backside, causing me to leap up now and again to do exercises from an ancient Claudia Schiffer keep-fit video. (I don't mean Claudia Schiffer is ancient. I love her for trying to help my hips.)
3) I write humorous stories when I'm low and dark ones when I'm happy.
4) I punch the air, slap the table, jump about and shout 'Yes, Yes!' when I get an acceptance or see my name on a shortlist, longlist or any sort of list. (This is embarrassing if a passer-by looks in the kitchen window at the time. Especially the time I danced to Honky Tonk Women.)
5) I've grown to like rejections. (This is untrue. But I try to see the positive side. And, almost always, I can see why they didn't make it. Eventually.)
6) I keep using favourite words in my stories, e.g. vanish, spread, slither and scarlet.

Thank you Joanne. I'm ready for a day's writing now. I'll just go and get the Special K first...

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Autumn

Autumn seems to bring a change in me, as well as its gradual misting and moistening and russeting of the outside world. Oddly, I feel much more nostalgic and emotional. I remember being a child more vividly at this time of year. Perhaps I recall the excitement of the new school year and the magic of having a virgin pencil case and new shoes (even if I loathed my mother's choice of the latter and sulked all the way home from the shoe shop).

Then again, perhaps it is the prospect of log fires, frosty windows, warm scarves, hiding Christmas presents and drawing the curtains at four in the afternoon that combine to induce that feeling of cosiness and being wrapped up against the world. I must have felt very protected and warm at home as a child. Hence the nostalgia. I also love autumn for its strange arrangement of the bleak and the colourful, for its bitter cold and glaring sun, for the feeling that it is acceptable to hibernate at home and refreshing walks can be forgivably brief.

I am also thinking about how fortunate I am to be enjoying myself so self-indulgently by the fire with my writing. I do feel guilty about how I take it for granted at times. So I am really pleased to have had a story chosen for 50 Stories For Pakistan, the 'follow-on' from 100 Stories For Haiti and the brainchild of the lovely Greg McQueen again. Sales of the book will help people in desperate circumstances of the sort that we shall never experience in our safer, more insulated world, whatever the season.


Friday, 17 September 2010

Old Friends

We all try to recognise rejections as opportunities for a different market and many of us discover that a story succeeds after a couple or more attempts to find its true home. However, I still have lots of stories that may never be read by anyone. They've been sent to all the obvious places and turned away. I can bear them in mind for competitions, but they clearly need some further work, or even stripping down to the core and rewritten.

However, it has occurred to me during an idle moment or two, that I want to keep some of the characters, even if I discard their story. Most of my stories are character-led and I have become attached to them. In fact, 99% of my social life revolves around fictional friends. This is actually true. I have few friends in reality. I am terrified of friendships. If I make a friend who seems to like me and becomes keen to meet up frequently, I feel trapped and make excuses not to see them. It's lucky I like my own company, or I don't know what would become of me.

But my thought was really about characters. I think I should keep a list of them all, so that I can be reunited with them in the future, even if I have decided not to use their story. There are one or two who keep haunting me and I can't always recall the title of the story in which they featured.

I made a lovely man called Johnny Carpenter. He is aloof, but charming and irresistible. He is tough, but has a vulnerable side. Sadly, I killed him in a shock ending. But that doesn't stop me from summoning him back to life. That's the other advantage of fictional people. You can make them appear wherever you want and do whatever you tell them, whenever you feel like.

Maybe I'm a secret control freak? In real life, I find it hard to say no. I'm one of the least assertive people in the universe and my husband calls me a soft target. But, when I'm writing, I can bend and shape people to my heart's content. It's probably the perfect antidote to real-life for me!

I think virtual friends are perfect. We can drop in and out of each others' lives, or segments of our lives, at times to suit ourselves. We can think about responses and never have to be put on the spot. I once had a friend who would arrive at my home unannounced and ask what I was doing on a certain day. Thinking she was going to suggest a nice outing, I would say I was free. Then she would ask me to babysit her children for her. She got me every time! I'm hopeless when I'm caught unaware. I always say yes before I know what I'm being asked!

I wondered, before I began rambling, whether other writers keep a list of favourite characters and allow them to see the light of day on more than one occasion? Or does each new story need a completely fresh viewpoint? Sometimes I like a character so much, I can't bear to let them go and actually miss them when the story ends.




Friday, 3 September 2010

Back To Earth

We may have to live on bread and water for a long time, but it was worth it. We have just returned from a big holiday, the first one spent in hotels rather than self-catering. It was the first time I haven't had to plan and cook meals in thirty years. We gazed into the strange depths of the Grand Canyon, waded through the heat and bright lights of Las Vegas, drove along Route 66, melted in the sunshine at Palm Springs, craned our necks to peer up at the endless height of the sequoia trees in Yosemite, mingled with the strange human life crammed into Venice Beach and left great pieces of our hearts in San Francisco. And more besides. We planned and saved long and hard for that holiday and the memories will live forever. It was monumental and we feel blessed to have had such an incredible experience.

Perhaps only writers will therefore understand why, back at my writing desk with all this mind-broadening depth of travel experience to trawl for inspiration, I am writing a story this morning about a decaying parade of shops in Ealing...

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Sunday

Today the family were busy with their individual interests. My husband and youngest daughter were playing a game on the WII. My middle daughter went to visit a friend for a few hours. The eldest is away with her boyfriend. So I asked my husband to think of a few random themes and chose a couple to use as inspiration for short stories. I set myself time limits and wrote continuously, keeping the flow rapid and not allowing myself time to ponder. This is similar to Write-Invite, the on-line competition I take part in every Saturday at 5.30.

I so enjoyed writing on a Sunday and was pleased with the two stories. I shall look at them with a colder eye tomorrow of course. I don't usually write on Sundays, but today was different. Everyone was occupied and I wasn't needed for a while, so I didn't feel too guilty! And I had cooked and cleared up lunch, packed my husband's case for our holiday next week and typed up an itinerary for the holiday too. Apart from that, I was up at five this morning (insomniac) and wrote a poem. I'm thinking of entering the National Poetry Competition and wanted to have a try once the idea started niggling me in the chilly dawn. It went very well, but I don't know how I'll feel about it tomorrow. I really hope I still like it, but I think it will need lots of tweaking. So I'll be hunched over it in the early hours again. Poetry works best for me at that time.

I'm tired now, because when I realised I didn't need to feel guilty about neglecting the family on a Sunday, I started feeling guilty about sitting for so long. I could feel my backside spreading across the sofa. Brian, the cat, was looking disdainfully at me from the next cushion, as if he didn't have enough space. So I went on a mammoth bike-ride. Well, half an hour to the next village and back.

So I am now guilt-free. Except I am about to have a large glass of wine and watch TV.




Monday, 19 July 2010

My Day In Bristol

I had the great privilege of meeting some writers on Saturday. Actually in the flesh! People like me, who fret about words and pound away at their keyboards and worry all the time about getting it right and learn to cope with rejection after rejection. And, on this one day, have a chance to meet each other and share that magical bond that binds them - the sheer love of writing.

It was so good to realise that we all have similar insecurities and self-doubts. We share broadly similar domestic lives that sometimes go awry, clouding the ability to write. We also feel the same joy when our writing goes well and is recognised with success.

We were in Bristol for the awards ceremony of the Bristol Short Story Prize. We all had a story published in the anthology and gathered for its launch. The first, second and third prize-winners were announced and the rest of us were genuinely delighted for them. There was such a warm and encouraging sense of kinship among us. And we were all shaking in case we won and had to make a speech. Everyone agreed we would rather write than speak publicly.

The winner, Valerie O'Riordan, richly deserved it. Her powerful story was just three hundred or so words. (The rest were the usual two to three thousand.) That tells you how good her story is. Every single word worked hard and she made them all count. It is a story that I will remember forever. It is a perfect example of the kind of writing that makes you hold your breath as you read it. Then it haunts you for a very long time. My elder daughters read it and turned pale. Congratulations, Valerie.

For me, just being there and part of the book was more than I ever thought I was capable of. I could hardly bear to look at my story in the book, but I've read and loved all the others over the weekend. I know I would want to change things and wish I'd done it differently here and there if I read mine now. I'm just grateful it's in there and hope people like it.

Apart from meeting people and having such a wonderful time with them, the other great thing that was that my husband and daughters were there with me too. They were so proud and happy and that meant more than anything. They've encouraged me to write from Day One and have been unwavering with their support.

It was one of the best days of my life. Thank you Bristol Prize!

Monday, 28 June 2010

Terrible Twins

I am always intrigued by exceptions to rules and discovered one at the weekend. The guidelines for writers, particularly writers of magazine fiction, steer us clear of clichéd, well-worn story-lines, such as tampering with car brakes or mysterious behaviour turning out to be connected with a surprise party rather than an affair etc.. They also state that narrators shouldn't be animals and that anything to do with twins should be avoided.

I went to the theatre to see Blood Brothers on Saturday and the story hinges completely on twin-ship. You probably all know it, but the story concerns the separation of twins at birth. Their mother is poor, already has a brood of children, and has been abandoned by her husband. She cleans the house of a wealthy childless wife, desperate for a baby of her own. This woman talks the poor mother into giving up one twin. As their lives unfold, they meet and become blood brothers, unaware of their true relationship. Their lives run on different tracks with tragic consequences.

I loved the performance and enjoyed the story-line. I felt truly moved at the end. It made me wonder about clichés. I guess it's a case of giving them your own voice or a unique twist. Then you might have an exception to the guidelines/rules. Sometimes I dismiss ideas for stories because they seem a bit 'used'. Sometimes I receive rejection letters that state my theme was an old one and therefore of no interest. It can be hard to decide what is a cliché and what isn't. And if you think it might be one, you sometimes feel you've put a different spin on it. In which case, you should give it a try. It might be as successful as Blood Brothers one day.

And maybe it's Blood Brothers that began the twin-cliché in the first place. That's why they can get away with it and I can't. That's perhaps why they aren't a cliché. It's a shame because I often think about stories with twins and then have to discard them. I can recall a film about twins, in which Bette Davis played both parts. The twins were very different in personality and hair-do. It may have been a clichéd film, of course. But who decides?

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Indoors, Outdoors

My eldest daughter and her boyfriend have just finished their first year at university and plan to go camping. Last night they practised in the garden. We have a peculiar garden that is not attached to our ancient cottage, but is accessed by a long path and extends into the middle of the village, ending at the war memorial and the Stirrup Cup pub. One of our cats joined them down there for the night (surprised they were sleeping in his territory) and they were woken by a raucous dawn chorus this morning.

They have now emerged in one piece, are having breakfast and planning to go a bit further afield for their next night under canvas. My daughter and I remember a book we both read years ago, Four Rode Home by Primrose Cumming. A group of people and their horses are dropped off many miles from home and make their way back, riding all day and sleeping under the stars with the trusty ponies tethered to trees. My daughter would love to ride and camp like that; living life outside and concentrating only on the journey, the daily destination, the next meal, the building of camp-fires and the care of her horse.

If I went on a trek like that, I would probably find so much to inspire my writing and my mind would surely clear itself of mundane distractions. I would focus on my imagination, fired by the beauty of the great outdoors. However, I am a terrible home-body. I crave the great indoors and home comforts as much as my daughter loves the freedom of the world outside. Even as a baby, she only slept well outside in the fresh air, tucked into the pram and protected from cats by a net in the old-fashioned way. I love nothing more than to be at the kitchen table writing. Going outside doesn't come at all naturally to me, but I'm sure I should make the effort. Perhaps I'm just lazy. Or maybe a little agoraphobic? All I know is that when I go out, I can't wait to be back inside again.

I still love reading about other people's great adventures beyond their front doors. I shall dig out Four Rode Home and enjoy the ride that way. In the meantime, I am full of joy at the sparkling eyes of my daughter following her 'night out'. She has been ill for two years, so her renewed energy is a sign that she is now stepping out on the road to recovery.

Monday, 7 June 2010

The Scenic Route

I am so pleased that one of my stories has been included on a shortlist for the Bristol Short Story Prize. All twenty stories in the shortlist will appear in the anthology. The first, second and third placings will be announced at an awards ceremony in July. I can't wait to see the book and read all the other stories.

The one I sent was quite unusual. I managed to think far outside the box when I wrote it. As Meg Rosoff said, it is helpful to place yourself on the edge of experience, allowing the outline of the story to become buckled. This warping of events can stop the reader in his tracks, turning a straightforward situation into an intriguing and unique set of circumstances.

The road I travelled during the making of this story had some odd diversions. They seemed like dead-ends at times, but then I twisted them back round and returned to the main track for a while. Then I went off at tangents again. I wasn't sure this scenic route would work, but I had an instinct that I should send the story. Fortunately, it was one of those times when instinct worked in my favour. A rare occurrence!

Saturday, 15 May 2010

An Evening With Meg Rosoff

Yesterday evening, my middle daughter and I went to a book festival event in a lovely old Quaker meeting room. It was in an ancient building I have passed many times and at last I was in there. There was a warm and friendly atmosphere in there under the oak beams, not to mention home-made cakes.

We were there to listen to Meg Rosoff talk about writing. It was wonderful. She is down-to-earth and chatty, sparkly and intelligent. She said many things that I could relate to, but I was too shy, even when prompted, to mention that I was a writer when she asked if any of us wrote. I was just there to absorb her wisdom, I think, not talk about myself. And she was mesmerising company.

Her novel for adolescents, How I Live Now, is one of my favourite books. I couldn't put it aside once I started it. If I picked it up now, I would do nothing else all day but read it. My daughter prefers her other books and is just about to start reading The Bride's Farewell, the latest one. They are all very different, but Ms Rosoff does not consciously make these changes. She just sits down to write, without planning, which she loathes, and sees where the characters take her. She claims to be a bad plotter. Her books are character-led. She usually 'cheats', she says, by using the trusted themes of 'stranger comes to town' or 'a journey'. Her first successful novel, How I Live Now, unwittingly contained both!

She gets the first draft done quickly, so that she can feel the relief of having a beginning, middle and end. She can't wait to show this to her publisher, unpolished and rough though it is. After that, she loves working with words and weaving her own magic with the characters. She claims to be hard to live with because she doesn't like to stop writing, even to cook.

She told of a writer friend, who works in a little room upstairs in his house. When he realises he's wasting time on the internet or gazing out of the window, he imagines his characters sitting downstairs at his kitchen table, saying, "When are we going to do something? When can we get out of here?" The guilt at his neglect of them pulls him back to his writing.

She became an adolescent late, in her twenties, which may be a reason why she can appeal so well to that market. In America, her books are marketed to adults, however. American youth, she says, doesn't read books the way the English do. She is herself an American, who has chosen to live in London and clearly loves it. She meets other writers belonging to the London Writers' group on a regular basis for dinner, but they never talk about writing!





Saturday, 1 May 2010

My Brother

This weekend is the ninth anniversary of my brother's death. He was forty four. Making his way downstairs for a drink of water in the middle of the night, he stumbled and fell all the way down. Unconscious, unable to move, he was trapped in a small area of the hall of his tiny cottage, his chin down on his chest. His wife phoned the emergency services and was advised not to move him in case his neck was broken. However, there were no injuries. He died because he couldn't breathe in that position.

I recall having a slight disagreement with him on the phone three days before his death. He wanted to organise a surprise party for our mother's 75th birthday. He was very excited about the idea, as he always was with ideas like that. I said she would hate it, that she loathed being unprepared and having things sprung on her at the last minute. He was disappointed and I felt bad for deflating his plans. He was a little withdrawn when we said goodbye. But he rang again two days later and said he thought I was right. He was cheerful once more and I was so relieved that I hadn't hurt his feelings after all. That was the last conversation we had.

It is good not to let differences of opinion fester. I have been the world's worst at sulking with people when things don't go my way. But I try not to these days, because you don't know if the chance to speak to that person again will ever come. And I could never have forgiven myself if my lovely brother had died when we were at loggerheads with each other.

He had been having a troubled life, but it was finally coming together for him. He could be infuriating, but was also funny and kind. Once, to help me out, he fed mashed Weetabix and banana to my daughter when she was just about a year old. It was a labour of love because he was repulsed by banana. However, he was actually a little intoxicated at the time. He sat her in the highchair and spooned it all in. Eventually, he announced proudly, "There, she's eaten all that!" He was a bit too unsteady to unstrap her and lift her out. So I did that. And a mountain of mashed Weetabix and banana cascaded from her lap onto the carpet.

He helped with gardening and wallpapering. When we were short of money, he gave us his car for nothing. He had a mischievous sense of humour. There was always a sparkle in his very dark blue eyes. The only child he had was adopted, back in the seventies, because he and his girlfriend were only young at the time. He would have been the sweetest father.

He is often in my stories, or at least many of his characteristics are, and I love and miss him more than I could ever express.

(And at the funeral I discovered he'd already invited everyone to the surprise party before suggesting it to me!)




Thursday, 15 April 2010

Sketching In Details

Probably quite unwisely, we allow our eleven-year-old daughter to watch the hospital drama, House MD. She loves Hugh Laurie as Dr House and peppers her speech with medical terms, for example, "Can I have an MRI?" (She is quite serious when she says this) Or, "It's not Lupus."

Her love of Hugh Laurie led her to ask for a Fry and Laurie DVD set as an Easter present (as well as a small Easter egg.) I have been watching them with her, remembering them vaguely from the eighties, while she has been home from school for the Easter break. I have laughed a lot at the sketches, but the main thing I have gained from watching them (apart from realising she is also now in love with Stephen Fry) is that each comic sketch is just like a miniature short story.

They hook the viewer with either a shocking or entirely random start. They entertain well throughout the middle. Then there is often a twist or surprise to conclude, as well as, sometimes, a few satisfying loose ends to leave the viewer something to think about afterwards.

They are very imaginative when it comes to names and pay great attention to small, seemingly insignificant details. Just a change of tie or wig or accent or stance can alter their character substantially.

It all gave me an onslaught of ideas and reminded me how good it is to inject humour into stories. Mine are often dark and I so enjoy the funny ones. Yet they remain the hardest to pull off well. But what Fry and Laurie really taught me was that it's good to be bold, off-kilter, odd, puzzling. This will entice the viewer. Put a ordinary person into an unusual situation or an outlandish character into a 'normal' setting and you have a lure right from the start. Like those strange baits fishermen use for different sorts of catch.

I hope I can make my writing more visual by recalling the small points that bring these comedy sketches alive.

My daughter wants to watch some more while we have lunch on our laps. I'm sure that I shall come away inspired again and look forward to the writing that will hopefully follow.


Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Last Night's Scribble

Do I follow every instinct? Have I the time to feel my way along darkish alleys that might be dead-ends? I say this because I thought yesterday that I had written a complete story. (I rarely think they are good. First I sense that they are finished. And that's quite a satisfying feeling. Then I go back again. At that point I might hate them. Or, with luck, I might actually smile at them.) Yesterday's story was beginning to make its way into my affections. It certainly had a completeness about it.

However, as I was falling asleep last night, I realised it needed another character. There had to be a woman in the background. A mysterious one, whom we may never meet face-to-face, but a flesh-and-blood woman nonetheless. She was vital, my instincts said, for the story to be lifted off the rather flat behind upon which it was currently sitting. She would put a little meat on its buttocks.

Now I am sitting here ready to make her. I have last night's scribbled notes to hand. And I'm dithering whether she is necessary after all. Should I go with last night's feelings? I might waste a whole morning. Am I just itching to start something new? Or shall I go with my gut instinct and then file her away if I don't like her after all? I shall continue to ponder...

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

She Who Hesitates...

I have realised that if you find yourself hesitating when writing, you should go ahead and write it anyway. It's possibly something essentially good and you might be holding back through fear or shyness. You have to overcome that reluctance to reveal yourself on paper.

Don't think, 'I can't write that! People will be shocked or repulsed or disapproving. Or they might laugh.' You need a reaction, otherwise there's nothing to elicit a gasp or a giggle from your readers.

You can always delete things at the next edit. So let them go in at first. Then look coldly at what you've written the next time you revise it and you will know if it's good or not. It might mean that you can't send it to the publication you had intended it for. You have perhaps added things that render it unsuitable. But there is always somewhere else where it will find a home.

So, if you hesitate, write it anyway! You'll find out in time if it was worth it. And sometimes it is! Write as though no one is going to read it. And if you find yourself gasping/giggling, then you'll be sure you've got something good.

Friday, 19 March 2010

New Chapters

Well I didn't get into the last ten with the Fish Prize, but the disappointment lasted only a few minutes. I remembered that I was overwhelmed and ecstatic to reach the shortlist. I hadn't expected to get that far. The story in question has been tweaked and hopefully improved this morning and is now winging its way to another competition. And I shall keep packing it up and sending it off until it earns its keep somewhere. I am excited about its fate once again!

Never say die. A new beginning awaits this story. Also, I can't wait to see the Fish anthology so that I can read the top ten and learn from them all. I know they will be very special indeed. I am certain I shall see why mine was not among them. I'll try to read them first as a reader, then as a writer. I sometimes make notes when I read a story that I really love. There are some I have particularly admired which are smothered in stripes of highlighter pen and have comments in the margin. I look back at these sometimes to give myself a lesson in good writing.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Mood Music

Sometimes I write to music in the background and I find that the type of music I choose affects the way I write.

If I am sure of the genre beforehand, I can choose the music to fit the writing. On the other hand, if a particular piece of music appeals to me first, I can let it lead me somewhere unknown and full of surprises. I think that is my preference. I like to have no plan, just ideas inspired by the music.

I use this method for the flash-fiction competition that I take part in on Saturdays. I start the music as I begin to write and let it take me away. That might be a dark place if it's the theme music from Twin Peaks, for example. But if I choose my beloved tacky supermarket music, then some humour will come into the piece. Classical music makes my writing calmer, deeper, somehow more emotional. And, as I mentioned in an earlier post, Brian Eno's Music For Airports is a favourite, very unobtrusive and therefore ideal for moments of intense concentration.

A CD I love at the moment is Dark Was The Night. It has an odd assortment on it, by a variety of artists I have never heard of. But somehow it is inspiring and keeps my imagination vivid. Maybe it's the strange mixture of different styles and tempo.

There are times when I prefer silence. Or I'm so engrossed that I don't stop to think about music. I just keep writing, oblivious of anything going on in the background. But I feel at my best and most productive when it's playing and especially when it blends into the words, so that story and music merge.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

A Story Writing Itself

Just taking a tea break from a story that is writing itself. I'm not complaining, but it can be daunting when that happens. The two characters will wait for me, I hope.

They are so real that I feel them here in this room, leading me. I can almost smell them. I had to distance myself briefly. I feel a little hunted down.

My fingers were flying over the keys in quite an unsettling way, as though I had less control than usual. I know it's a good thing and will be satisfying when it's finished. I hope it's good. Often these stories that whisk you off on a long journey turn out well.

The editing required is normally intensive, but this time it seems to be editing itself as well, as I go along. An exhausting process, but I love the two people very much and am intrigued to see how it ends. They haven't told me yet.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Haiti

The Haiti book is published today. I wonder how Greg McQueen feels? He is the man who began it all just a few weeks ago. It has happened so fast. It was pretty straightforward to submit a story, but the work involved in putting the book of a hundred together must have felt endless and stressful at times too.

So well done to Greg and let's hope a lot of copies are sold. I'm looking forward to mine!

Sunday, 28 February 2010

Hopes And Dreams

I am excited today, because it is March. The Haiti book is published this week and I can't wait to see it. I keep imagining holding it in my hands. That new book feel and new book smell! It will be very special.

There are also a few competition results due soon. I am really pleased to be on the Fish Short Story Prize short list. Two of mine reached the long list, which was massively thrilling. But when one of them moved into the short list, I was somewhat jubilant. It's a story that's a particular favourite and I had hoped it would do well somewhere. But I didn't realise it was good enough to find a place on this particular list. The winning stories are announced on the 17th, so I won't be able to help daydreaming. However, I shall still be delighted with the progress the story has made, even if it goes no further. And, as I've always said, if you believe in a story, it will succeed somewhere else. Just knowing that someone has liked it enough to keep it in contention, from 1800 entries down to the final 140, is good enough for me.

There are one or two other results due this month and I also have a lot of stories with magazines, which may notify me soon. One way or the other, it's good to know the fate of a story. The successes are always going to mean incredible joy. The rejections mean a twinge of disappointment, followed by sleeve-rolling, tweaking and re-submitting with all the fresh hope that brings.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Haiti

I am pleased to have one of my stories in 100 Stories For Haiti, £11.99, Bridge House Publishing.

The earthquake victims will be helped if people buy the book. I feel slightly less selfish about wanting to be a writer now that I have contributed to this.

Writing is a solitary and single-minded thing to do. Writers can become obsessed and insular. They feel guilty giving so much time and attention to writing, especially when it isn't easy to make a living out of it. The creative rewards are always there for the writer, but it is nice to see that sometimes the financial rewards can be there for other people as well.