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Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Stroud Short Stories, Bath Flash Fiction and short flashes of news

"Possibly the best short story event in the South West" (Cheltenham LitFest)

In a busy writing year so far, I am terrifically pleased my story, Paper Sails, has been chosen for the next Stroud Short Stories event. This is a brilliant evening of readings by Gloucestershire writers with a warm and welcoming atmosphere. I can hardly wait to read Paper Sails, but even more, I am looking forward to listening to the other stories and meeting their writers, especially as we are all local. Writer and organiser of Stroud Short Stories, John Holland, recent winner of the Ink Tears Short Story contest, ensures the evening runs beautifully and tickets have already sold out, so it is a great honour to be taking part.

Earlier this year, I submitted a novella comprising flash-fiction pieces I have written over the years to the Bath Novella in Flash competition. I was delighted to be a runner up and am looking forward to seeing my novella, A Safer Way to Fall, in the print publication alongside those by winner Charmaine Wilkerson and runner-up Ingrid Jendrzejewski, both highly talented and exciting writers. I am so looking forward to reading their work.

To create this novella, I explored the recurring themes and characters within all my flash fiction pieces and teased out the connective tissue naturally marbled throughout. What I found was remarkable - the selected pieces could remain whole and distinct, yet also combined to form a cohesive novella.

I gathered the flashes which shared the strongest relevance to one another, but also included others which were slightly more remote as a way of retaining the 'flashness' within the finished novella. I reworked every piece until the connecting threads became stronger, but most of all I wanted to establish a rhythm which would give the disparate works a single, beating heart.

I worked on it every day for three intense and absorbing weeks, during which every single cup of coffee turned cold. Inspiration came from judge Meg Pokrass - whose captivating novella in flash, Here Where We Live, is in the book, My Very End of the Universe - and here is her report on the winning novellas, in which she highlights the need for 'tragic urgency' - a fitting phrase for this form.

The wonderful organisers of the Bath Flash Fiction Award are running a festival on June 24th and 25th this year with all kinds of workshops and readings. Unfortunately, I am unable to go, but it promises to be a fabulous event for all flash fictioneers, both those new to the form and those with more experience.

I will be reading at the next Evening of Flash Fiction organised by the Bath Flash Fiction Award on May 26th, and more importantly, will be in the amazing company of first-rate writers, Meg Pokrass, Tracy Fells, John Holland, Jude Higgins and Ken Elkes.

I haven't yet had the pleasure of meeting Meg or Tracy in real life and, like all the others, they have given me and my writing steadfast support in cyberspace, so this will be a huge thrill for me - once again, I can hardly wait!

The only difficulty lies in choosing which of my pieces to read. I have picked out so many and keep changing my mind. Ultimately, I will opt for the ones which work best when read aloud and have been creeping about in the chilly dawn to practise before the rest of the family are up and about. I can't test them out on my husband and daughters, even though they would happily oblige, because they will all have their own views and I still won't be able to decide!

I am so excited that my story collection, When Planets Slip Their Tracks, is on the long list for the prestigious Edge Hill Short Story Prize, and so is Melanie Whipman's Llama Sutra, both published by Ink Tears.

The Prize is the only UK award to recognise excellence in a single-author, published short story collection and the list includes established authors such as Mark Haddon, Susan Hill and Helen Oyeyemi. I am excited to see the upcoming short list and to reading more of the fantastic collections.

I have had some other stories shortlisted in competitions recently, which I will talk about next time, and have also finished a novel which I pitched on Twitter for the Curtis Brown #PitchCB day in April.

It took me an age to whittle the entire novel down to a hundred and forty characters for the tweet, but it was so much fun, especially the nail-biting wait to see if any of the agents from Curtis Brown or Conville & Walsh 'liked' it, since the 'like' offers the author the chance to submit directly to the agent.

Watching and waiting was horribly tense, so I ignored Twitter for at least five minutes before having another peek. The afternoon continued in this ridiculous vein, but I was turning cartwheels (not a pretty sight) when the all-important 'like' finally appeared. By the end of the day, a second 'like' came through as well, sufficient reason to celebrate another small step forward.

I have sent my submission package with high hopes, but, as always, have already moved on to writing new stories and planning for the next novel. I know that most submissions to agents, even 'liked' ones, prove unsuccessful and, while I always like to remain hopeful, I never have any expectations. There is a such a vast difference between hoping and expecting. The one keeps you buoyant and productive, while the other can often lead to disappointment and downheartedness.

Apart from the occasional lapses my husband has to suffer ('I'm a terrible writer.' 'I've wasted a whole day pretending I can write,' 'Why would anyone want to read my stuff?'), I tend to stay upbeat to the point of being actually quite annoying, but the way I see it, if rejections get me down, I give myself two problems instead of one.

I will post news and pictures of the upcoming events next time and meanwhile wish friends and followers masses of happy writing!

I made scotch pancakes for my daughter because she helped me write the pitch, whereas I had gin and tonic.


  1. Wow, such a lot of interesting and inspiring events. Congratulations on the novella - I really like the sound of the way your re-worked and wove stories and flash fiction pieces to produce it. Food for thought there. I hope you have a fabulous time at the both the Stroud and Bath events. Good to see the West country having such brilliant events. (I'm Gloucestershire born and bred!) Congratulations on the #pitchCB - mine didn't get anywhere. Look forward to hearing more news!

    1. Thank you so much, Lindsay! The novella was such an interesting new exercise and made me wonder about possibly writing a full-length novel in this way. It is really good to be involved in some local events - this is my third attempt at submitting to the Stroud Short Story event, so perseverance definitely pays in the end! I'm sorry about your pitch - however, I don't know how much the 'like' counts as I still haven't had any news! xxx

  2. Such a lot to celebrate, Joanna. I am so pleased your writing is taking you out and about. I wish I could come along and listen to you share your stories - I'm geographically hindered but I'm sure we'll meet one glorious day, and I'd love to have a gin and tonic with you :) Good luck with all that you're doing at the moment.

    1. Thank you very much, Nicola! I'm sure we will meet over a gin and tonic one day - that would be so fantastic! It's really lovely to meet other writers - such a kind and supportive community to belong to. Wishing you lots of success with your novel in the meantime and looking forward to reading it too xxx

  3. Excellent to see so much good and interesting news.
    Long may it continue!

    1. Thank you so much, Bernadette! I feel as if I have rambled on far too much with this post, so it's lovely and reassuring to see these kind comments! Much appreciated! xxx

  4. Pan cakes are always my favorite since my childhood.
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