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
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!
Meanwhile 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.
Who doesn’t want to be a best seller? Perhaps in the title of this forthcoming event there’s a recognition that we can’t all be best-sellers and it might be as satisfying to find the right publisher for your book and sell it to the right audience. Or perhaps, since it’s being staged by a very small indie publisher, it’s an invitation to wonder if our work will ever suit the limited (and limiting?) requirements of the Big Six, and suggest there are other places to take it?
And of course there’s nothing that says you won’t be a best-seller by going with a small publisher. I’ve just been reading Graeme Macrae Burnet’s His Bloody Project, Man Booker shortlisted, from Scottish indie publisher Saraband Books. Sandstone Press has also had lots of mainstream success.
Linen Press, possibly the smallest of the small, came up on my radar years ago, I think because of the Scottish connection (director Lynn Michell was based in Edinburgh at the time) and their small but inviting website. Prompted by an online article elsewhere, I ordered one of their titles and thoroughly enjoyed it. Since then I’ve read and reviewed others and although not all have been to my taste, they have all had the stamp of quality fiction: well-written, thoroughly edited and with unique voices. Avril Joy’s Sometimes A River Song was one of my stand-out reads of last year and a worthy contender for the People’s Book Choice prize. (Read! Vote!) I can also recommend Susie Nott Bowers’ The Making of Her, a compelling novel about the media and the beauty industry.
Like many indie publishers, Linen Press accepts unsolicited submissions – always tempting for the un-agented author – but of course they take on very few of those who apply. So what does a small press look for? How does it work?
I think Beyond the Bestseller will be an intriguing event, lifting the lid on what it takes and how it would be to work with this or other indie outfits. £30 for a day (with lunch!) strikes me as very reasonable. I’m consulting my calendar to see if I can make it.
Having detached myself from the writing process and even the writing world for a month or two, I had no hesitation in dipping my toe back in the waters by helping at Hawkesbury Upton Litfest, organised by the Indefatigable (that’s a Homeric epithet by the way) Debbie Young in the Fox Inn. And I wasn’t in the least suprised that the whole event went swimmingly. So here’s my report from the sidelines.
Because Debbie wanted to let as many writers as possible take the stage, the evening was mainly in in two ‘strands’ with discussion panels (fiction and non-fiction) in the main auditorium (aka skittle alley!) and additional readings in a side r00m. We also had the use of a big tent, oops, small marquee for the earlier part of the evening, which in view of the gorgeous weather (more IDY magic) was a real bonus. Arriving at 4pm to lend a hand, I had time to sun myself in a few moments of happy seclusion as well as helping put out the chairs and shuffle things around on the increasingly crowded bookstall. Then there was the added pleasure of a lovely Italian meal with friends old and new before things really got going.
I kicked off the pre-festival readings but once things were under way I was happier hovering in the wings, unless you count a bit of compering (with help from John and Caro – thanks again) which was a great way to learn more about authors who had come from as far as Oxford, London and (on the day) Madrid!
Unfortunately in all the coming and going I didn’t give as much attention to as many readings or discussions as I woud have liked, but I particularly enjoyed the non-fiction session and a highlight was Paul Murphy’s ‘As I Walked Out Through Spain …‘ beautiful writing as well as a labour of love. If you want a reminder of all of those who contributed, check the festival website.
Of course there were some practical problems, mainly because of the huge turn-out (I hope someone was counting) which made speakers difficult to hear for anyone who couldn’t get a seat. (Microphones next year?) Similarly the bookstall was difficult to access and we probably should have thought about how to accommodate an audience (!) as well as the line-up of readers in the smaller reading areas. But needing more time and more space is a symptom of success!
So how did she do it? I mean not just sign up such big names as Katie Ffforde and Orna Ross, but also offer a showcase to a gamut of lesser-known writers and persuade most of the local population to come along? Never mind how, the point is that it can be done, and I have no doubt this event will go from strength to strength. An anthology is already promised as pre-publicity for next year.
Here’s to Hawkesbury and local festivals everywhere. Here’s to the indefatigable Debbies of this world!
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.