Save the dates!

It’s great to see everyone emerging from the winter gloom and getting together again.

Here are a few dates which should be of interest to anyone who loves writing, reading or just listening.

March 19th: Story Sunday ‘Another Country’

As you know I’m a member of Writers Unchained and hopefully this poster says it all. Writers have until March 5th to submit, or just come along and listen.


Feb 26th: submissions opening for Stroud Short Stories

stroud short stories

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? I am very pleased to be co-judging the next  SSS event (is this the closest a writer gets to promotion at work?!) which is not until May, but submissions are open from Feb 26th to April 22nd. Why not get thinking and writing now? To submit you do need some connection to Gloucestershire or South Glos, but the theme is open. Check out the entry regulations here. Join us on May 21st to see who we picked.  Feel free to get annoyed if it isn’t you!

molpcoverMeanwhile on March 11th I am thinking of taking myself  to the lovely town of Lyme Regis where the Magic Oxygen Literary Prize winners will be announced. Yes, I am shortlisted for the short story prize and I’m planning to treat myself to a day out in Dorset. If you’re anywhere in the vicinity, the evening event looks like fun,  and as well as celebrating great writing, these people plant trees in Kenya.

Tickets here.
Copies of the winners’ anthology will also be on sale.
How nice to be in it!




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.

Research – not always what you expect.

Royal MileIt hasn’t really been a week  for getting much writing done as most of it was spent in the wonderful city of Edinburgh where I combined a day of intensive research with another couple of days of equally intensive sight-seeing. So what if those pesky pandas were taken off show? Everything else  came up trumps including, remarkably the weather.

Of course the one day I had to spend in the National Library of Scotland (lunch-break spent with last week’s blog guest Jane – her book is out now, don’t ya know) was never going to be enough. I had also hoped to spend some time in the City Library finding out more about Victorian Edinburgh but somehow that just didn’t happen. Still, I did get a lot out of my trip and it made me realise there’s more than one purpose (or outcome) to research.

IIMG_4505n the end most of my time was spent studying the letters of D.O. Hill, and although this began as an exercise in establishing facts (who did he write to, when and about what) I realise by the end that since I am after all writing fiction, it wasn’t so much about getting to the truth as finding inspiration, in particular ideas for the kinds of things going on in his life in the years that general histories of photography have ignored. And then there were insights into his  family life, the part played by sisters, cousins and aunts, and the warm relations he maintained with his late wife’s family, in some ways as close to him as his own. So in the end I did learn a lot about Edinburgh in the 1840s and 50s since these primary sources brought home the reality of the extended Victorian family and other aspects of life more vividly than any text book.

 looking towards Fife from Arthur's seat
looking towards Fife from Arthur’s Seat

For instance, who would have thought that travellers routinely walked from Queensferry to Dunfermline? But when I checked the distance it is actually 7 miles. Perfectly walkable. But who would do it now?

Meanwhile –  I may not have mentioned here that I recently had a suprise win in the Southville Writers Flash Fiction contest (my entry’s here) and last night was delighted to accept my prize of a copy  of Jo Reed’s Tyranny of the Blood  and vouchers for a certain online bookstore. Now it’s time to get my head down. As for the book I spotted in the NLS book shop and was too mean to buy. I feel a spot of self-indulgence coming on.

Get Writing 1: the prize

Get Writing logoInterrupting my current musings/rants on blogging to report on a Grand Day Out provided by Get Writing Conference 2011 and  to say that my efforts to get there (2hrs 40 mins in never-ending downpour) were rewarded with an extremely well-organised day, some excellent speakers, and (roll of drums) – third prize in the short story competition.

When this was announced I was busy with mental preparations for the pitching session to follow, and found myself distinctly unprepared for the moment of glory, not to mention applause and photocall  (knew I should have had that hair cut!) but I’m really grateful to the judges for choosing Every Day a Washing Day.  Anyone who has read – or goes on to read – the story might like to know it commemorates our baby son Andrew who died at 4 months and who would have been, yes, 26 this year. It’s not something I have often explored in writing  but I make no apology for doing so. It also goes to show – I hope — that if you can apply the craft to the initial inspiration, therapeutic writing is not without  literary merit.   I’m  not sure of the rules, but it would be nice if the third place leads to publication either in an anthology or on a website so that eventually the story will be read more widely. I’m also hoping I’ll get the chance to read the first and second prize-winners some time.

Yes, this Sue Cook

As to the day itself, I managed to clamber from the back of the auditorium without falling over in front of anyone to get my certificate from  Sue Cook – and a second time to get the photo done.  Two more good results!

 For those who like to study the competition runes,  Every Day numbered 975 words in a comp with a word limit of 2000, another argument for not worrying too much about word limits.

A Mouse and a Jellyfish

Mouse Years has just been posted on the Brighton COW (that’s Community of Writers, by the way) website. It has now been published in Scribble Magazine and was short-listed by Exeter Writers’ Circle earlier this (oops, last)  year. So if you feel like something light-hearted (and definitley non-scientific) , do take a look.  And for a complete contrast, read the winning story, After the Storm, by Catriona Stewart. It’s beautifully done with a most pleasing outcome. 

Aequorea_victoriaBut my prize for short story of the week (which I have just invented) goes to Tania Hershman’s We are All Made of Protein but Some of us Glow More than Others. The story was commissioned to increase understanding of bio-medicine. I found it absolutely mesmerising and although I still know very little about GFP (that’s green fluroescent protein) and the jellyfish from which it was first isolated,  I feel I have gained an insight into the processes of research as it progresses from the dawning of an idea through the gathering of data to the many tests that may one day result in the discovery of something new and potentially life-changing.

 To be honest after two readings, I’m not sure I have quite pinned this story down. But maybe that’s the point.

Short Story Time

I consider myself more a reader of novels than of short stories, but just as I have found time for writing short fiction, I am also learning to give it a place in my reading schedule – and for pleasure as well as for ‘educational purposes’. For this I am also developing some rules, e.g. I don’t want to read more than around 1500 words from a conventional screen, and so until someone buys me an e-reader, I’m unlikely to read a longer short story I find on the web. Even if it looks tempting, printing it involves a trip downstairs – which sadly could be enough to put me off.

I’m much happier with literary magazines, whose stories usually vary in length and are  perfect for a bus journey or a night when I’m between novels, and the annual volumes of winning stories from the bigger short story prizes are also a good investment  for entertainment value and for getting a clue as to what judges might be looking for (although not forgettting that the following year the judges will probably be different!) 

Up to now I haven’t gone for short story collections by a single author, but am thinking it might be time to put some on my Christmas list, and so if Santa  is listening, please send me any (or all!) of these: –  Tania Hershman’s White  Road, Vanessa Gebbie’s Storm Warning, or Tom Vowler’s The Method (both of these from the admirable Salt Publishing)

Meanwhile I do have the latest Yellow Room Magazine to keep me going, with a particularly nice cover this time, and (just spotted!) some very complimentary comments on Blue-Sky Thinking (which appeared in the previous issue) from an accalimed short story writer and teacher  – (and this year a novelist too) . Thanks Sally!

And in a final piece of good news, I heard at the weekend that Mouse Years (soon to be published in Scribble) is also in the final ten of the Brighton COW short story competition.

Brighton COW

 It turns out I’m not in the prizes, but the story may be read out on hospital radio, come the day. I must say I rather like the idea of its bringing a smile to the sick people of the South East. Assuming they like it, of course!

The Scone Effect

Forget bakewells, victorias, roulades and other members of the Great British Bake-Off,   if you want to raise a smile, try the humble scone.   First of all there was Alexander McCall Smith’s The Unbearable Lightness of Scones . I don’t think I have actually read it, but being familiar with the tenor of the Scotland Street novels, I  know that that if I did I would munch through it voraciously and might even have room for another, in contrast to the struggle I had with its heavy-weight predecessor,  which I started many years ago but despite my love of Prague never finished.

Love Revenge and Buttered SconesThe scone effect is also at work in Love, Revenge and Buttered Scones by Bobbie Darbyshire (Sandstone Press 2010).  I heard about the  author and the publisher in  the latest Leaf Magazine (yes, I’m in the next issue)  and having a vested interest in  Scottish publishers, rushed off to have a look. On the site I found not just the scone book, but also Tell Me Where You Are by Moira Forsyth, an author whose two previous books I loved and whom I didn’t know had written a third. Needless to say  both titles were ordered and arrived a few days ago. 

Judging by the first few chapters, LRBS lives up to its promise of light-hearted mayhem  centred on Inverness Public Library. Yes, you are already getting the picture. Of the three main characters, Peter  is a failed poet, Elena is an exiled Spaniard with an old score to settle and Henry is, well, just Henry, middle-aged and living in a world where dreams are destined to crumble.  It’s perhaps stretching things just a tad to have Peter and Henry as brothers and Elena and Peter to be looking for the same person and there is a strong whiff of Ayckbourn farce (complete with revolving doors) in the goings-on in the Reference Room on the night of the writing workshop. But then suspension of disbelief isn’t a problem, particularly in the company of Peter whose thoughts are as garrulously inventive  as befits a frustrated wordsmith. 

National Trust logoAs for the scones, so far no sign of them, buttered or otherwise. But as it happens I might be able to summon up a few of the real thing. Last week  the National Trust promised a cream tea to the best NT ‘poem’ tweeted on the day and hey presto my rhyming couplet took the prize. And so my own helping of scones is hopefully in the post!