Thursday, 16 November 2017

A story about grief

My short story, Much - in fact quite a long story at over eight thousand words - is in this lovely paperback collection of winning stories from the Exeter Story Prize 2017.

"One day...his ordinary life will shift back into place, rearranged around the gap of her."
I'm especially pleased for this story to be published because it focuses on ways of grieving and was especially moving to write. Narrated from the alternating viewpoints of a father and son, and told from the heart, it shows different ways in which the loss of a child can be experienced, expressed and ultimately accepted.

Available from Amazon at £6.99

Sunday, 22 October 2017

The Bridport Short Story Prize 2017

Lunch at the ceremony - so good to hold this magnificent anthology in my hands.

Heavens, it's such a huge thrill that my flash fiction story, Confirmation Class, came second in The Bridport Prize. Thank you so much to the flash fiction judge, the brilliant author Kit de Waal, for her kindness and her heartwarming words about my piece. It was wonderful to meet her, and also Peter Hobbs, the short story judge, at the ceremony. Everyone at the beautiful Bridport Arts Centre was so generous and welcoming.

After drinks and a gorgeous lunch, the prize-giving took place and we were able to read our stories or extracts to a very warm and appreciative audience. I enjoyed it so much, I wished I could go straight back on the stage and do it all again.

I was wearing a brand-new pair - and different prescription - of contact lenses that day - to try to improve my distance vision - and as a result, discovered I couldn't see well enough to read! So my husband dashed off to Boots and found me a pair of reading glasses to wear over the lenses. What a relief when the page transformed from a grey and white blur to recognisable words!

It was exciting to discover writer-friends at the ceremony. We had kept the news secret for a while, which meant there was no way of knowing in advance who would be there. So it was such a thrill to be there with C.G. Menon, highly commended in the short story category, Victoria Richards, also highly commended for her poetry, and Deepa Anappara, who won the First Novel Award!

It's fantastic now to be reading the incredible stories and poems in this anthology - hearty congratulations to all these talented writers. The Bridport Prize has been established for almost forty-five years now and attracts a huge number of entries from all around the world - the short story winner flew from Canada especially to be at the ceremony. It was massively exciting to be invited and a great honour for my story. Heartfelt thanks go to everyone involved, especially Prize Administrator, Kate Wilson, who orchestrates the arrangements so beautifully. Thank you all so much for this truly memorable day for me and my story.

Monday, 2 October 2017

What Was Left - Retreat West anthology

The beautiful anthology from Retreat West - the coloured dots representing the twenty stories, some darker, some more hopeful, and the rest reflecting the nuances in between.

I feel privileged my shortlisted story lent the title to this anthology, What Was Left, a beautiful collection of short stories and flash fiction from Retreat West

It was so good to see writer-friends Diane Simmons, Jude Higgins and Jo Derrick again, and to meet Amanda Huggins and Retreat West founder, Amanda Saint, at the September launch in Waterstones, Reading.

Huge congratulations to winners Judith Wilson (On Crosby Beach) and Jude Higgins (At The Hospital), who held the audience spellbound with their readings.

It was especially lovely to be in Reading as I met my husband there thirty-three years ago when we were both working in WH Smith. One of our daughters took this picture of us outside the store in the very spot where we first met.

The shop has been rebuilt since we worked there, but I think the entrance is roughly in the same place!

Thank you so much to Amanda and everyone at Retreat West for all the hard work that produced the book and the launch. Retreat West offer writing competitions for short stories, flash fiction and novels, as well as beautiful writing retreats and creative writing courses, so do check out their website .

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Novella-in-Flash - How To Make A Window Snake

This beautiful book, compiled by Bath Flash Fiction Award and published by Ad Hoc Fiction, contains three novellas: 'How To Make A Window Snake' by Charmaine Wilkerson, 'Things I Dream About When I'm Not Sleeping' by Ingrid Jendrzejewski and my own 'A Safer Way To Fall'.

The form of novella-in-flash pairs the punch of a flash fiction piece with the gentle unfolding of a longer story, gradually magnifies characters we meet at the most intense moments of their lives, allows for the recurrence and resonance of motifs which become pulses throbbing throughout the pages, and, story by story, unravels the truth at the novella's core.

It is a fascinating form, both to write and to read. Working on 'A Safer Way To Fall' was absorbing, especially the detection of connections between individual stories. It was like looking at a heap of disparate, blank jigsaw puzzle pieces, the picture forming only after I'd discarded some, reshaped others and created one or two which were entirely new. Fitting them  together to discover the finished picture was the best writing moment I have experienced yet.

Huge thanks to Jude Higgins and Meg Pokrass from Bath Flash Fiction and congratulations to winner Charmaine - here is BFFA's interview with her - and Ingrid for their mesmerising novellas.

The book is available to buy here for £9.99.

Monday, 29 May 2017

Bath Flash Fiction Evening

We had a wonderful time at the Bath Flash Fiction Evening at St James' Wine Vaults, and our readings rose to the occasion by competing staunchly with the intermittent rousing choruses of Happy Birthday from a group of revellers outside!

l-r Ken Elkes, Jude Higgins, me, Tracy Fells and Jane Roberts

It was inspiring to listen to such talented writers as well as great fun to read my own stories, which included a new piece written for reading aloud. It was still difficult, however, to choose which ones might work best and I changed my mind a dozen times before the event.

Jude Higgins organised the evening with great care and I was thrilled to be included, especially as it gave a rare opportunity to reunite with special writer friends and to meet Tracy Fells for the first time after years of internet friendship.

John Holland from Stroud Short Stories, who was first to read

I love listening to stories read aloud and being part of the spellbound audience, but it is also a great privilege to stand at the sharp end, hoping to give people something they can take away with them, either something which inspires or gives cause to ponder, but most of all, to entertain.

Thursday, 18 May 2017

RA & Pin Drop Short Story Award 2017

I am so thrilled to see my story, Brad's Rooster Food, on the long list of the RA & Pin Drop Short Story Award 2017. And equally thrilled to see some familiar names on the list, including Melanie Whipman, fellow Ink Tears author, as well as Ken Elkes and Hannah Persaud.

The winning story is read by Dame Penelope Wilton at the Royal Academy of Arts at a ceremony in June. Wishing everyone on the list the very best of luck.

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.