A win for historical fiction – and me!

Collecting the trophy!

Having seen my historical short story Silver Harvest shortlisted several times without ever making the winners’ enclosure, I was beginning to suspect that even if competitions were ‘welcoming’ all genres, there was a reluctance to give the overall prize to a historical piece. I’m happy to say my suspicions have been allayed , since on Friday night The Bird of Wax (from the same series as SH) took the adult prize at the Evesham Festival of Words.

The prize was presented at the official opening of the festival which featured a talk by writer and food supremo (suprema?)  Prue Leith who explained just how hard writing can be and how much she had to learn to get a novel published.


Prue Leith signing books


(Comforting to know even proven celebs have to put in the hours!)

However the main judge for the competition was acclaimed short story writer Vanessa Gebbie, whose work I’ve always admired, so that was very pleasing indeed, as are her comments, published with the story  in the festival anthology:



‘I enjoyed so much about this piece – the voice, the characters, the fascinating details which painted the era so well … I found the ending rather poignant and charged with hope.’

Vanessa also admits to googling my characters to find out more, which I think is a good sign! In fact of the shortlisted stories, two others are also historical. So at least one competition judge is in favour of period pieces – fingers crossed this is a growing trend.


Evesham booty

Vintage comedy – with Stokes Croft Writers

A few months ago I made the longlist for Christopher Fielden’s To Hull and Back humorous short story competition whose anthology is being launched at next Saturday’s Talking Tales in Bristol.


Knowing this was sure to be a fun affair ( yes, I got my TT badge in October!) I saved the date to go along and listen – then I heard that more submissions were being invited.

to-hull-back-2016-front-cover-188x300Well  nothing ventured! And now I’m  on the programme for Saturday too, not with my shortlisted story (“the one about the ukulele”) but A Fork Less Ordinary the very first  in what has become an occasional series of reflections on ordinary life teetering  on the edge of sanity (doesn’t it always?) Think domestic noir without  blood  (though this one comes closest to carnage).

Now, the  eagle-eyed amongst you (do these people really exist?) may notice A Fork was highly commended for a prize –  in 2007 – !!!  Yes, apparently it has been that long. So if you can make it along I can definitely promise you an evening of vintage comedy from many wonderful writers.

Let’s hope my bit isn’t showing its age.

Talking Tales - nights drawing in!
No music this time but plenty of laughs

When? Saturday  10th December

Where?  Leftbank, Stokes Croft (BS6 5RW)
When? 6.30pm


St Andrews Photography Festival – being part of it

“Celebrating 175 Years of Photography in the home of Scottish Photography”.

By invitation!

When I found out about the first St Andrews Photography Festival taking place this summer, I had a pang of regret that I wouldn’t be there to see it. However, in an unexpected  turn of events, I will actually  be part of it as I’ve been invited to read my historical fiction in a festival event on September 9th. I can’t think of anything more special than to take my work to the place where the story began, and present it to people who share my enthusiasm for early photography and its exponents.

I realise most of you will know about this via my outpourings on social media, but with the festival kicking off on August 1st (my event is Sept 9th) I thought it would be good to post about it here, especially for those who aren’t on Facebook where the festival has its main site.

Here’s a link to the full programme of exhibitions and events put together by the University Library Special Collections Department and running from August 1st to September 11th.


Please share it with anyone you know who has an interest in early or contemporary photography, especially if they happen to be in or near Fife.

And here’s a description of my event.

hillbell_st andrews

In Sunshine and In Shadow
Stories surrounding the photographs of Robert Adamson and David Octavus Hill, 1843-48

Fiction writer and St Andrews graduate Ali Bacon brings her own words to the calotypes of Hill and Adamson and lends a voice to those who sat for them.
In this series of readings you will meet Elizabeth Johnston Hall of Newhaven, Jane Adamson (sister to John and Robert) and literary critic Elizabeth Rigby, and hear how an encounter with early photography changed all of their lives.
Presented with illustrations from the University Special Collections.

It’s on Friday September 9th, 5.30 – 6.30 pm,
Martyrs Kirk Research Library
80 North Street, KY16 9 Saint Andrews

Again, I know very few of you can be there, but do spread the word. If you can be there, please register for a free ticket.

This post will be top of my blog page for a few weeks to come!


Stroud Short Stories – submissions open

stroud short stories
submissions open for April

It seems no time since I was up in Stroud at the Short Story event last October and telling you all how great it was. The good news is that submissions are open  for the next event on April 19th, with a deadline of March 21st.

All the rules and regulations are on the Stroud Short Stories website. As an October ‘winner’ I’m not allowed to enter this time and even if that’s a bit of a disappointment I do think it’s a really good policy to avoid the same people hogging the limelight which sometimes happens at events like this.

On the other hand the good people of SSS have decided to publish an anthology of the September and April performances – a great  way of celebrating – and showing off! – what we did. Details still in the pipeline

If you want to bag a ticket for April 19th they’re not on sale yet, but I’ll let you know when they are. I’m definitely hoping to be there.

Enjoying the moment in Stroud

Stroud Short Stories
The audience awaits!

Stroud Short Stories was a great evening for  readers and listeners – and I was lucky enough to be both. It’s a lovely venue with a fantastic atmosphere and I   can recommend the next event (April 2015) to anyone in striking distance of Stroud with an interest in short stories as a writer or a reader.But for me it represented something more. Okay, the audience was big (a sell-out!) and none of them had had an arm twisted by me – or as far as I know anyone else – to turn out on a winter’s evening. In fact they had paid a modest sum to be there. But something else changed too.

It has taken me a while to get used to being in front of an audience as a writer.  Despite having a stories and a novel published,  I wasn’t quite ready to inhabit my status in public.  Was I worth  listening to, was my work really worth coming out for? I suspect on some of my early outings my discomfort was clear. I read too quickly or too quietly and often edited bits out as I went along in my eagerness to get to the end! At Stroud I had worried my story would be dull compared to the others but as I got going I realised it wasn’t dull, it was just different. I also remenbered it actually sounded goodand out here in front of a microphone it did sound good or – at least better than in front of the bathroom mirror! It was time to enjoy the moment.

A final confession. Years and years ago, when I first started writing,  one daydream I allowed myself was to be standing in front of an audience (not the Albert Hall, just some cosy pub or arty cafe) who would listen with rapt attention to the outpouring of my genius. Since my genius at the time was more in my head than on any piece of paper, it didn’t happen, and it got crowded out by other dreams and ambitions ( some more realistic than others). But during my rendition of Preparing for Winter, it tapped on my shoulder and reminded me that this dream, however small on the cosmic literary scale, actually had come true. So a final thanks to all those who indulged me and gave a good imitation of being totally rapt while I was up there living my little dream.

Well that’s enough self-indulgence or one day. The powers that be have decreed that those who read in October will not be considered for the next Stroud Short Stories event. A very wise decision. If I could rustle up something else worthy of a spot, the fame would most certainly go to my head. But if you get picked I could well be there to watch.

This is me reading on the night and also Alice Jolly, a writer I’d already been in youch with on  Authors Electric. I’m looking forward to being in touch with her and more of the Stroud crowd.

reading at stroudAlice Jolly

It’s all happening – another events round-up!

You may have guessed that what with the start of my MA course and my monthly blog for Authors Electric, I’m less likely to be mulling things over here, but this is a reminder of some upcoming events and one great piece of news.

At the risk of repeating myself, this Saturday is ‘Books Are My Bag’ day,  so do join us at Foyles in Bristol if you can manage. Details below.

BAMB flyerFor those who can’t make it there’s a Facebook event which I’ll try (no promises!) to update during the day,  or look out for Twitter hashtag #bamb_bristol.
Now some real news!   I’m thrilled to have been selected as one of ten readers at the next Stroud Short Stories night in October. Living  in what sometimes seems like a distant suburb of Bristol, it’s great to  remember we’re actually South Gloucestershire – an area encompassing places as diverse as Kingswood and Kingswood (work that one out if you can) where the brave new world of Yate Shopping Centre rubs shoulders with the cosier confines of Chipping Sodbury. And of course our northern neighbours are in Gloucestershire itself, so it’s great to be meeting up with members of that writing community. I’m not so much pleased to be amongst their ‘best writers’ as totally over the moon. Nearer the time I’ll be brushing up on my performance skills – all tips appreciated!

And finally! You can catch me closer to home at the second South Glos Discover workshop in Bradley Stoke on October 25th.

Those writing questions answered by Judy Darley

JudyDarleycropI met  Bristol writer Judy Darley last autumn at a Bristol Literature Festival event and last week I reviewed her great short story collection over on the Unchained blog.  For those who can’t be at tomorrow’s launch of Remember Me To The Bees, (or even for those who can!) here are her rather intriguing answers to those writing question that have been doing the rounds.

1) What am I working on?

tea-cupGosh, as always so very many things. I task myself with writing a short story every month, and am just giving the one for March a final polish. It came to me with a rush and an image of a very bright blue suitcase on a luggage carousel, and begins with the protagonist stealing it. My sister actually did this – not intentionally, but, still, she walked away with someone else’s suitcase and didn’t notice till she got home. Mind-boggling!

I’m also working my way through a revision of a novel I thought I’d finished. Feeling very excited about this, as it seems like I’m finally getting it to express what I want it to – which is harder than you might think.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I’ve been told that my short stories read like novels, with layer upon layer of plots and sub-plots, so maybe I’m the writer of short stories for people who don’t think they’d find short stories sufficiently satisfying compared to novels. I’m also told I have quite a poetic way with words, which I think is probably because I love the visual arts and try to incorporate a sense of colour and texture into my prose.

Remenber me to the Bees3) Why do I write what I do?

It helps me to make sense of things. The majority of the fiction I write is to answer questions for myself. Why did this happen? What make someone behave like that? How did this result in that? I’m also endlessly fascinated in the way our experiences and cultural influences shape our understanding of the world, which is probably why my protagonists are often a little damaged in some way.

4) How does my writing process work?

I work as a freelance journalist, which means spending up to four days a week in publishing offices. If I’m struck with inspiration I’ll use my lunch hour or train journeys to and from work to write.

winter treesOn the happy, happy days when I’m working from home, I tend to get up relatively, grab my laptop, and curl back in bed, then write as much as possible before my brain is fully awake. Once my head has been tidily emptied, if the sun is shining I like to go for a run to give myself a chance to think about the next bit of the tale. That’s my plotting time, and the more ideas that flood me, the faster I have to run to get back home and stick it all on the page. Exhausting but effective!

For me the thinking time, whether that’s while running, waiting for trains or cleaning the bathroom, are the most crucial times, easing the fiction from my subconscious into the light.

Thanks to Judy for coming along and providing these gorgeous pictures too. I can really recommend her short story collection and can’t wait to hear more about That Novel.
As is the way with these things, I’ll be answering the same questions  ‘over  hers’ before too long.

Judy Darley’s short stories, flash fiction and poems have been published by literary magazines and anthologies including The Germ, Riptide journal, Litro Magazine, and The View From Here. She also writes extensively as a freelance journalist for magazines. Judy’s debut short story collection Remember Me To The Bees is launching on 31st March 2014, available to buy from http://www.tangentbooks.co.uk/products/Remember-Me-To-The-Bees.html. Judy blogs at www.skylightrain.com and tweets at @EssentialWriter