Room for a little one? Always at Swanwick Writers’ Summer School

There is always room for a little (or non-specific sized) one in this family; it is a family, a professional networking family of writers that I have been involved with since 2006.

Swanwick

The school has just celebrated its 65th year and it is still going strong despite rising economic problems. Delegates catch the bug known as “Swanwick magic” which may sound cheesey but is unavoidable. This magic is made by group meals where you discuss the day’s experiences, a wide range of courses and workshops that ensure any fledgling or experienced writer has the opportunity to develop their skill set, and inspirational speakers covering topics from the journey to screen (Deborah Moggoch & James Moran this year) to creating young adult fantasy fiction (Curtis Jobling did this perfectly after he stopped wowing us with his drawings and animations).

But the real magic is in the people. There are very few boundaries between writers – be that in experience, age or background. For a week you are simply a writer and that is the most freeing opportunity of all. I spend a lot of time with other writers at literary events etc and although there is a level of honesty about our work and lives, this does need to be built up over time if and when we see those friendly faces. Swanwick on the other hand is an intense week of relationship building. Swanwick is full of authenticity. Networking is done casually but with your annual return there are those that you want to see again and again. When there are 200-300 delegates you are bound to find someone or many on your wave length.

As a course leader and 1:1 mentor, there is a certain level of professionalism that I hope I adhere to. However, that did not stop me from letting my hair down at the last night disco or staying up until 2am talking with agents and writers alike. In fact I think this year, an early night was considered to be around 1am, and yes, I was up and at breakfast by 8.30am. Perhaps adrenaline is another part of the Swanwick magic! It’s also worth mentioning that even with all the teaching/mentoring I was involved with, I also started my next novel (2999 words on the procrastination free day) and worked out that I also want to screenwrite (more on that soon).

You will leave Swanwick with a notebook full of ideas, and iPad (or any other device…!) that won’t stop pinging with follows and friend requests, and friends that you cannot imagine your writing, or otherwise, life without. If you’d like to find out more about Swanwick, take a look at the website, follow them on Twitter, or like them on Facebook. The next Swanwick Writers’ Summer School will run between the 9th and 15th August 2014.

Baring all to conquer writing fears

photo (2)I’m a procrastinator. To extraordinary lengths. Creating this blog was an exercise in procrastination at the point where my first novel was being difficult. And then of course my writing freed up and my writing almost became the procrastination against having to work out what I wanted this blog to be. But this month I have hit a conundrum. I’m stuck with my writing, and I’m stuck with the blog… I should probably explain some more.

 

My fear for my current writing project is managing to give the characters and ideas justice in words. That my words will be enough. I’m at the beginning of my second novel, and worries about it are causing me to worry more about that than write. But when I’m honest with myself I know these worries are just excuses. I know I’m scared of the ideas/topic/themes I’m crossing into, because they are BIG. They involve dealing with human pain in a way I haven’t conquered in my writing before, and possibly that I haven’t dealt with in myself yet. Yes, I could choose an easier subject; but the thing is I actually can’t. The characters are there, mumbling but very much present and they need to be written.

But when I came to writing the blog, I found my fears lurking here as well and they are similar to the novel. I want to be able to provide a service whilst be professional, but also to be me and be honest. And that’s the fear – can I be both? Can I write a blog about fear and yet be professional about my own fears that are so personal? Well, I’ve done it now, and I can only hope it works.

I dealt with my fears about writing this and continuing the novel by doing what I do best – procrastinating. By researching fear and writing with it as a procrastination to doing the actual writing, I’ve found that I am not alone. I knew this before but now I really understand it. I may debate for many moons on whether all of that was worth sharing, but the research I definitely think it has it’s place for most writers.

You are not alone. This is something we all forget and yet it can take the simplest and hardest thing of reaching out to others to find this out. The hive mind of Twitter was the answer for me. I asked my followers (most of whom are writers or connected to writing/publishing): what do you fear about your career/writing? I fully expected to hear nothing, I wondered if I’d be brave or honest enough to answer the question myself. With time (once the Murray match was over) and a couple of tweets, some brave writers stepped forward with their fears and presented them to me. There were a wide range of fears; finding out that someone else had got their first, wasting people’s time, of the balance between writing and work, of the loss of the career. The most common single fear and overriding “theme” was failure, throughout the whole process of being a writer: of being able to write, of having their book in a bookshop, to get readers. Even failure to cope with failure.

These were the fears of excellent writers and I am grateful they took the time to explain how they deal with their fears. Their fears drive them to keep writing, to work harder on what they produce. When the fear gets too much they know to take time to step away and gain perspective, even if that means leaving a project until the fear has moved away or onto something else. They learn their lessons and hope they remember them for the next time. To just keep going.

If you’re scared of reaching out, there is always a video. In my research, I found that, like most topics, if you can’t broach the subject with another person then someone else will have filled in the blanks via google. I certainly don’t think it is the same as connecting with another human, far from it, but it can certainly add to the not alone feeling. I’d recommend the following sources if you do want to get some more thoughts on dealing with fear and writing with it:

I hope this helps you on facing your own writing fear. Sometimes it will be an uphill battle but it’s always worth the fight. Personally, I’m using Neil Gaiman’s words in my plight.

“This is how you do it: you sit down at the keyboard and you put one word after another until its done. It’s that easy, and that hard.”

― Neil Gaiman

A day for Flash

Today is a day of moments: the moment you can run between the car and house without getting soaked; the storms that rage are highlighted by flashes of blue sky. Can you tell the pathetic fallacy is getting to me as much as the rain? Today is National Flash Fiction Day and the weather is allowing me to indulgence in a couple of wonderful collections that we ought to all share.

Scraps_cover_frontpdfFirst up, Scraps, the second official anthology for National Flash Fiction Day. I talked about  Jawbreakers last year and if you haven’t got it yet then buy it now as even if it wasn’t in a free promotion until Monday 24th it would be very much worth the money. Anyway, back to Scraps. The collection features stories from Jenny Adamthwaite, Jenn Ashworth, Oliver Barton, Alan Beard, Natalie Bowers, Cathy Bryant, Joanna Campbell, Nuala Ní Chonchúir, James Coates, Claire Collison, Chris Connolly, L.A. Craig, Judy Darley, Ariel Dawn, Vanessa Gebbie, Kylie Grant, David Gullen, David Hartley, Kevlin Henney, Tania Hershman, Sarah Hilary, H Anthony Hildebrand, Eva Holland, Holly Howitt, Thaddeus Howze, Anouska Huggins, Claire Ibarra, Paul Kavanagh, RM Kealy, John Keating, Calum Kerr, Clare Kirwan, Mark Kockelbergh, Emma J. Lannie, Cathy Lennon, Beverly C. Lucey, Amy Mackelden, R A Martens, Ana Martinez, Thomas McColl, Stephen McGeagh, Danielle McLaughlin, Siobhán McNamara, Freya Morris, Andrea Mullaney, Clay Norman, John Paul O’Neill, Sonya Oldwin, Jim O’Loughlin, Amanda Oosthuizen, Jonathan Pinnock, Dan Powell, Amanda Quinn, Eabha Rose, Sam Russell, Shelley Day Sclater, Emma Shaw, Ian Shine, Diane Simmons, Tim Stevenson, Becky Tipper, Stella Turner, Tracey Upchurch, Bart Van Goethem, Alison Wells and Brendan Way…wow sorry, I ran out of breath too.

This collection has entertained, challenged and developed me in one afternoon. I no doubt will go back to it again and again as I do with Jawbreakers, but the stories that have captured me this afternoon are Finding Trainspotting by Clare Kirwan, Bright New Morning by Joanna Campbell, Feed a Fever by Freya Morris, Planets by Vanessa Gebbie, and The Short Tree Has its Hand Up by Tania Hershman. In fact I could probably go on about every single one of the stories but do us both a favour – buy the book and comment below, I’d much rather chat about it! As ever, these collections allow readers to explore new writing and new writers and I can’t wait to find out what else is available from these authors.

David+Gaffney+More+Sawn+OffNext is More Sawn Off Tales by David Gaffney. Following on with the tradition of secondary collections of flash fiction to prove their importance, this collection sequels Sawn Off Tales (2010). David’s works stretches storytelling and twists language within the tiniest of forms – even the titles could be, and have been, described as miniature works of art (Thanks Emma Jane Unsworth for that review!). It’s a collection that leaves you feeling slightly unsettled as though you have seen more than you ever thought you would, even though the sights were within a blink of an eye. If that’s not enough to make you run to the nearest bookseller, Salt sums Gaffney up as an “expert miniaturist with the ability to stuff an elephant inside a flea without the insect noticing…”. I think that should do it.

keepcalmAnd lastly, a website which everyone should get well acquainted with: Flash Flood. The site is literally being flooded today with flash fiction selected from entries that were submitted in the last week or so. It’s a fantastic place to find new writers whether debut in general or just missing from your shelves. So take a look a look around, wallow in moments or in the case of Paul McVeigh’s Safe – sit open mouthed in wonderful horror.

Plans are unfolding…

…I am unfolding.

A confession for myself more than for you – I am not the neat little package I thought I should be. I am not the carefully laid plan I thought I would have. Knowing these things has helped me realise that there is not set way of getting from A to B. And that the safe prescribed shortest or quickest routes are generally not the most interesting. As a child my dad would let us choose which way to go the A to B journey we took almost every weekend for at least ten years of my life. Although I may know those road names and numbers now, I still think of them as the individual “scenic” routes; the one with the hill that made our stomachs flip, the one with the bridge where the trolls might live, the one that would cover the car in water from annual flooding (possibly the most exciting one).

Recently I had forgotten this, these journeys, these choices. I had begun to worry that I hasn’t been doing “it” the way I should have been. And by doing “it” I mean my life, my career choices, my plans for the A to B. I thought I should be on this set plan that everyone else seemed to be on, where 1+2+3+4 = the magical 10. But what about getting to that goal of ten with smaller numbers or starting with twenty and dividing it down to your goal. I had forgotten the story of which has become a legendary tale (within my family) of my stubbornness or fearlessness; I was born seven weeks early which now isn’t so much of an issue and health-workers know that it doesn’t restrict the possibilities for a premature child. But in the 1980’s at a check-up I was asked to kick a ball, to check coordination or motor skills one would presume. And instead of doing as I was instructed I told the health-worker “no”. That I could communicate my feelings towards the instruction assured them more than kicking the ball could have done. As children we take risks and we push boundaries until we know where there is safety. And then we often don’t leave that safe ground.

Challenging ourselves is even more important that challenging others; that is an easier task, but one that feeds my desire to work with other writers. I have an overwhelming passion for learning, particularly when it comes to literature and human expression through language. Recently I was told by a dear friend that I fascinated them when I spoke about the literature I read and write, and the plans for developing that for others, because my passions were suddenly on show and I was making them accessible for those I was speaking with. It was enlightening to be presented with this view of myself, even though I knew where my passions lie. Fear obviously is contained for many in the unknown, the not knowing. Mine is the fear of being found out to be unknowing. But we are all constantly learning and there is nothing wrong with not knowing as it will be part of the discovery. We are all unfolding, the plan changes as we develop and there is unadulterated excitement and pleasure in that self-discovery.

My decision for this open honesty has been inspired by recently connecting with a series of courageous women; my wonderful friend Charlotte Reeve who is following her journey (check out her fantastically funny blog), Sarah Butler who has just had her debut novel published Ten Things I’ve Learnt About Love who, whilst speaking at States of Independence yesterday, was refreshingly honest and open on the process of “being” a writer rather than just the author part, and lastly Amanda Palmer who has been inspiring me with her music for some time but her TED talk on The Art of Asking has taken this to a new level. So this is my gift back.

Is there anyone out there?

When I received this quarter’s Mslexia, I laughed. Very loudly.

Continuing Mslexia’s feature of guest editors, Suzi Feay and the Mslexia team have made a bold statement with the June/July/August edition. Featuring two gingerbread women, clearly in love, with the title “Dyke writers. What’s the problem?” As thought provoking and daring as the title is, my laughter subdued as I read the Agenda article.

Feay has shed light on the fact that there is a problem: not enough “dyke writing”. Although I identify as a lesbian, I am a writer, editor and reader: not a lesbian writer, -editor, -reader. Perhaps the lack of lesbian writers (lesbian author, lesbian content) is because more women are identifying themselves in a similar manner (?).

My own writing focuses on characters and their development no matter their sexuality. However, when writing my current project, I was struck by my hesitation to make another character a lesbian – I already had one featured and even that was thrown into question. Perhaps I should make my characters more obvious but in a “this is normal” way? I find it appalling that I actually have to think of ways to make the relationship/sexuality normal, by which I mean that the other characters will not have some kind of opinion or commentary on it. The natural assumption is for lesbian characters to maintain the stereotyped other-ness, or use sexuality as a twist within the character development. As Feay says,

I was startled to find novels in which lesbian characters were stereotyped as murderers or or deranged, or in which a character’s sexuality turned out to be the ‘twist’ in the story (as opposed to an unremarkable aspect of someone’s life).

*p.9 Mslexia JUN/JUL/AUG 2012

There are writers, of course, who create lesbian characters who do not fit into stereotypes as above. However, I agree with Feay, they are the same few again and again.

Which leads me to my main interest in the article; there is a distinct lack of “L in LGBT” writers going for the Polari prize and others, as well as within mainstream publishing. From an indie perspective, I’ve noticed the same whilst forming a long-list of authors to get involved with the Fruit Bruise Press anthology – there are a lot of male writers with diverse backgrounds getting in contact with us, but very few women; whether lesbian or not. At Fruit Bruise, we’re working towards promoting and supporting the transgressive, emergent, and excluded writers and I’d love to hear from lesbian writers who would like to be involved with the anthology and future programme for literary development. Following from Feay’s question, I’d like to ask “Is there anyone out there?

Discover more about Suzi Feay and her writing here: www.suzifeay.com. And find out more about Mslexia and the latest edition: www.mslexia.co.uk. If you would like to know more about Fruit Bruise Press and discuss writing with us, please contact me below or at lexi @ doghornpublishing . com.

A chance to view life Through the Eyes of Strays

Released into the big bad world yesterday, Through the Eyes of Strays is a collection of Glen Krish’s best short stories from the past twenty years. Full of speculative, gut-grabbing, mind-expanding tales, this is a collection you will not want to put down – I’m certain there is something for everyone in this!

The collection is described as:

Misanthropes and misfits.

Society’s loners observing, and in some cases, changing the status quo.

An agoraphobic woman is forced to face a ruined world after months of isolation.

A father faces the death of a child in a world where genetic perfection has done away with such traumas.

A lovelorn man searches for the perfect woman and, ultimately, finds himself.

A nameless drifter absorbs people’s pain, the filth rotting their souls, until one day he can no longer bear this burden alone.

In these and many more stories, Glen Krisch crosses genres, disrupts and disfigures them, until something entirely its own rises from this alchemical brew.

Published by Dog Horn Publishing, it was a fantastic project to work with and edit, Glen has introduced me to characters and hidden stories that cannot be found elsewhere.

You can purchase the trade-size print edition from Lulu. If you’d like to find out more about Glen’s work, check out his website and blog.

Do you Flash?

So today is officially National Flash Fiction Day. I would hope/think that most of you have heard of Flash Fiction; it’s a growing form which is now taking place in prizes and competitions across the country as well as in literary collections and magazines – in the online and offline world it is finding it’s feet. The official day was created by Callum Kerr, who immersed himself in this new form, creating a micro-story every day for a whole year – his talents are found at flash365.blogspot.com.

There seems to be a lot of debate about the form’s literary and/or artistic merit (when is there not some form of debate in the world of literature) however I think that not only is an artistic pursuit and can become beautiful literary (and genre) creations, it can also be the best form to use to hone your skills; ensuring that every word on the page (or paragraph) counts.

If you want to try your hand at Flash Fiction, remember, I’ll be running a short (well it would have to be…) course on Flash at Swanwick Writer’s Summer School in August this year – one of many courses and workshops to be explored during the writing-packed week: think about the number of skills you’ll walk away with in 6 days!

Want to know more?
Take a dip into the world of Flash on the NFFD website. There was a fantastic article in The Guardian on Monday by David Gaffney, and look out for more stories published today – favourites that were posted on the article. Also if you’re tweeting or facebooking, get involved with the fun and games there too.

The Tour of The Coward’s Tale

This month has been an exciting one, and today I am honoured to talk with Vanessa Gebbie about her début novel The Coward’s Tale. This inspirational novel was launched in paperback yesterday, as well as being available in hardback and e-book.

Alexa Radcliffe-Hart: Hi Vanessa, thank you for joining us and agreeing to answer my questions as well as those sent in.

Vanessa Gebbie: Hi Lexi, and thanks you so much for asking me. It is great to be here.

ARH: Firstly, I’d love to tell you how much I enjoyed The Coward’s Tale. I found myself lost in the interwoven stories and unwilling for the connections to end!

VG: That’s really lovely feedback… thank you!

ARH: There are so many questions I could ask, but I wouldn’t want to spoil the beautiful unfolding of the novel for those who haven’t read it yet. Within The Coward’s Tale, the storytelling meta-narrative gains importance throughout the novel; did you originally set out to provide this additional layer to the novel, or was it a natural development?

VG: No, I didn’t ‘set out’ to do anything. The novel began as a simple series of stories exploring the reasons why so many in the town were strange in some way,  even though in other ways they are perfectly usual members of a small community – the window cleaner, the bank clerk, deputy bank manager, the teacher, the librarian, the undertaker, out of work miner, and so on.
As I wrote more and more, enjoying them hugely, some (the gas-meter emptier’s tale, for example, had me laughing out loud on occasion, much to the consternation of my family) each backstory seemed to go back to the same incident – the collapse of Kindly Light Pit.  It wasn’t until I began to concentrate on the overarching narrative, that of Laddy and Ianto, that Ianto’s own story had to come out. I think I had been avoiding meeting that one head on – it was hard to acknowledge – I love Ianto, as I love all the characters.
His story is the real catalyst – he has been the repository of the town’s history and has been sharing stories with whoever will listen. And it really isn’t until his own story is added to the mix that the whole series takes on a completely different resonance. He is ‘released’ in some measure, freed, after sharing his story. Just as the author was freed and was able to finish the novel. (!)

ARH: The gas-meter emptier’s story had me laughing out loud too, which proved an important balance for some of the more heart-rending tales.
Laddy is spellbound by the stories that are woven by Ianto, yet questions their truth because of the “stories” told to him by his parents. This transformation in innocence is a role reversal of the adult characters that search for the innocence they’ve lost. Do you believe that there is always innocence within storytelling?

VG: I wonder if there has to be a certain innocence – in that as soon as a writer exhibits a judgement one way or the other, the story is weighed down with a ‘message’? But I think I mean innocence as in ‘emotional honesty’  – otherwise a story does not work as well as it might.
But maybe more importantly, doesn’t the writer need an eye that sees things afresh, and the ability to use those impressions well so that the prose is fresh, not predictable?
Being able to see things in a new way – that is a childlike quality, akin to innocence – I don’t mean that the writing is childlike, but the ability to stand outside the normal responses, and rethink, re-experience, as if for the first time? 

ARH: I think that is where the strength of Laddy’s characterisation is, the way in which he provides the viewpoint with emotional honesty, which allows other characters to “re-experience” as well as the reader.
The use of the lilting Welsh accent within the narration as well as the character dialogue immerses the reader throughout the multiple characters, as well as providing fluidity between overall story and the individual stories. Was it straightforward to write with accent/dialect and did you find any difficulties in the process?

VG: To begin with, when the process first started, I was unaware. The first section I wrote (now The Clerk’s Tale) was fine, it was set in the south Wales I remembered from childhood, and the rhythms and sounds came back easily. It won a nice prize at Bridport. But as soon as I became conscious of it, and tired to reproduce the lilts, I went too far.
Luckily, I had an important bit of feedback on a subsequent section from the novelist Catherine Merriman, who said the voice was ‘like Yoda’ in places. I had no idea who or what Yoda was. When I discovered, I was horrified! But that was diamond feedback, and it led to me making every effort to return to my original voice.

ARH: There is such a fine line with many accents aren’t there? But the Yoda advice is perfect!
The Clerk’s Tale is not the only experience you have in writing award winning short stories, and The Coward’s Tale felt like an exploration between the short story and novel forms, especially with interwoven tales of so many characters which ultimately tells the tale of the coward. Was the novel evolved from one short story or many? At what stage did you know it was a novel you were writing?

VG: Honest answer? I was plagued with doubt the whole way, really. Not an easy ride, this one. I didn’t want to write a single narrative, and my agent (Euan Thorneycroft at A M Heath) encouraged me to write it as a novel, not a series of stories.  It started with The Clerk’s Tale, referred to above – I was signed by Euan on the strength of that story.
But whereas I knew what I was doing (more or less!) with the stories, the creation of and positioning of the overarching narrative and the interweaving that was necessary to create a different workable structure, was difficult – I needed help with that. Thanks to the Arts Council, to whom I shall be eternally grateful, I was able to have a period of mentoring from the terrific novelist Maggie Gee. I can’t sing her praises highly enough. I think we made a good team – very different writers – but something worked!

ARH: Thank you for your honesty. It’s brilliant to hear more on how creative mentoring can bring new light and understanding to writer’s work.
You provide the wonderful #storygym on Twitter to help writers all over the world be inspired with the writing prompts. Where do you find your own writing inspirations? Are there any particular writers you go back to again and again?

VG: I’m a very visual writer. I respond best to images, and to lines of poetry that are image-based, lyrical prose, lovely sounds too. I go back and back and back to the works of William Golding. But then I also love W G Sebald, and that’s hardly in the same ballpark! Female writers too – I’d pick Arundhati Roy, and a new writer, Suzanne Joinson, about to hit the shelves with a stunning novel called ‘A Lady Cyclist’s Guide to Kashgar’ (Blooomsbury, July). Her prose is really extraordinary and sets connections firing in this writer’s head.
I wake up every morning and tweet a #StoryGym prompt – it’s about the first thing I do after cleaning my teeth! Some of them are just nuts (not my teeth, the prompts…) – but it is lovely to hear from writers who are using them, and especially when a story has been published, or even won something. of course, that’s nothing to do with me, it is the skill of the writer – but it is a nice feeling to know that it started with a few words on Twitter.

ARH: Sometimes the most unusual of prompts can provide the best writing, huh!
Have you ever been inspired to write from the viewpoint of a character that you disliked? And if so, could you describe the writing process around this?

VG: Oh yes, of course. I can dislike things about someone, usually what they do – and still be intrigued by them, wonder why they are like that, how far they will go.  And more importantly, will they do something to redeem themselves. Example: I wrote a story (it’s in the collection, ‘Words from a Glass Bubble’) about a guy called Harry, in a story called Harry’s Catch. He’s done some fairly nasty things in his time – rape, for one. Now he’s old – the story explores his life, to the extent that I got quite fond of him in the end, even though he did something horrific almost at the end of the story…
Process-wise – I tend to focus on what the character does, rather than whether they can be judged as ‘loveable’ or not. People are never completely black and white, I guess. Human beings are complex animals, best to let them be that on paper too.

ARH: I agree, it’s that grey area within people and characters than can bring the most out on the page. The grey area questions continue…
How does an author create a sentence in which words resonate with a reader, to the extent that he or she describes a feeling exactly – not a physical sensation but a private thought and/or emotion, that when read, makes one realise that one is not alone in this world? This may be a subjective experience for each of us and is not replicated for all readers, or is it?

VG: A really interesting question – I’ll try to answer.
All a writer can do is observe life in all its facets, and use those observations in their work to build up an honest and emotionally true world which resonates so much with readers (hopefully…) that it becomes ‘real’ in their heads. That means honest observation of one’s own emotions and feelings too.
So, when a character is experiencing something, thinking something, feeling something, you to some extent ‘relive’ the experience yourself, with the character, as you are writing. If you are that bound up with your characters (as I tend to be) the feelings will be strong – and all you can do is put them into the most honest words you can.
I think originality also comes into it. We might read something described in terms we’ve seen many times, before, and whereas we will ‘understand’ the message, maybe we won’t ‘feel it’. Whereas, if the language used is different, drawing original parallels – no clichés in similes, for example – we look at the familiar through fresh eyes. That’s a powerful thing to learn to do.
The rest is up to the reader. It’s not possible for a writer to touch everyone, for the simple reason that we bring our own life experiences along with us when we do anything, especially when we read – the words written by the writer will either touch us, or not, depending on our own ‘baggage’.  But emotional honesty is an important tool, here – and an ability to express the subtlest of emotions.
Hope that helps! And I award a copy of ‘The Coward’s Tale’ to this questioner. 

ARH: Thank you for choosing the winning questioner! I would like to congratulate Sally Carlow on winning the paperback copy of The Coward’s Tale!
Continuing with the writing questions, what is the worst assumption any aspiring writer can make about their work?

VG: That it is any good at all. I think the best position to start from is that your work is awful. If you are right – then great – guess what, with a bit of hard work you can learn to write well. If you are wrong, you are probably a genius. And there aren’t many of those…
Wait until someone who knows what they are talking about tells you your work is OK. That does not mean your mates, your parents, your partner, or the person at the writing group with the loudest voice (who had a story published somewhere ten years ago) or the administrator of a vanity publishing organisation. You will know in your heart when feedback means something. And you will know in your heart when it doesn’t.

ARH: Good and constructive feedback is something every writer needs. Along with this, what is the most important book any aspiring writer should keep by their side?

VG: NOT a how-to book – not even mine! You need books that make you want to write as well as that writer did. For me, it’s anything by William Golding. Poetry – John Donne at the moment. And it’s also worth keeping a few books that remind you how terrible some people’s work is – go and download a few free self-published e-books at random.

ARH: Yes, having that scale is definitely helpful! Continuing towards publication, what is the worst mistake any aspiring writer could make when submitting a proposal?

VG: Telling an agent it’s their lucky day, and they are being given a one-off chance to represent the next big thing since J K Rowling. And copying the proposal to every agent in the book.

ARH: Thank you for your honest answers, I’m sure a lot of writers will find this advice invaluable. Looking to the future, how do you plan for your next project? Is it planned or do you go with what inspiration and imagination provides you?

VG: The next project is under way, if you really mean the next novel? The working title is ‘Kit’ – it’s come directly out of The Coward’s Tale, and revolves round the same two main characters, Ianto and Laddy. A prequel/sequel – perhaps. It’s a difficult thing – I know more about this one, and am thus less able to explore as I go. It’s a challenge, and I will complete it. Whether it will be any cop is another matter!
But my overriding feeling is this – I’m not young. I spent six years writing The Coward’s Tale, but it was never the only thing on the boil, and I won’t now make the mistake of focussing on one thing only – what if it’s not right, or isn’t wanted? Besides, I’m a Gemini – I need to be able to flit from one thing to another. So whilst ‘Kit’ is the big project, I’m also doing a lot of other things.
Viz:

  1. Working on a short story commission for BBC Radio, to go out during Brighton Festival.
  2. Revamping ‘Short Circuit, Guide to the Art of the Short Story’ for Salt Publishing’. Story, the art of story, is my first love. It’s a good book, used a lot on creative writing courses, and I want to make sure it stays up to date, doesn’t get tired like so many ‘how-to’ books do. ‘Short Circuit II’ will have additional chapters from stunning people like Scott Pack, Tom Vowler, Nicholas Royle, plus extended chapters by some of the contributors who had shorter pieces in the first edition. I chose well. Since writing their chapters for the first edition, many of the very successful, talented contributors have done even more amazing things in their careers – look! Graham Mort won the Edge Hill Prize. Carys Davies won the Olive Cook Award from The Society of Authors. Zoe King was elected Chair of the Society of Women Writers and Journalists. Alison MacLeod shortlisted for the National Short Story Award, and the BBC Short Story Prize.
  3. Continuing to learn about, write and publish poetry. Just finished a wonderful series of workshops led by poet Pascale Petit at Tate Modern.
  4. Acting as travel agent for a group of writers going on a tour of Arras and The Somme later in 2012, in the excellent company of military historian Jeremy Banning. That’s going to be a great trip – mirroring my own trip with him early in 2011, following The Swansea Pals to the Somme, Passchendaele and back to the Somme. Can you imagine what it must have been like for the lads who fought there in 1916, returning a couple of years later and finding they are fighting over the same ground where their friends died?
  5. Teaching – loads. Looking forward especially to a week-long short story workshop at the wonderful Anam Cara Writers and Artist’s Retreat, West Cork, Ireland – where I have been going to write my own stuff since 2005. I heard about the place via the Fish Publishing website – and took a chance and joined a creativity workshop – and have been going back at least twice a year ever since.
  6. Self-publishing a books of flash fictions with a friend, who is a terrific artist.

I think that’s probably enough!

ARH: Wow! That is a fantastic line-up of work; I personally can’t wait to see more of Ianto and Laddy’s tales!
Finally, I love your blog and website with its interactive design; particularly the musical map for The Cowards Tale where readers can find out excerpts about each of the characters. You also communicate with your readership through Twitter. How important do you feel interacting with fellow writers and your reading audience is in these ways?

VG: I’m glad you like the website – I love it too – it is the work of Roger Betts, a musician friend, although we’ve never met. It’s very creative – well, we’re meant to be creative beings – I despair when I see the same old same old on writers’ websites – c’mon, guys! Less meaningful mournful stares, huh?
Writing is a lonely occupation – interaction with other writers is great, and keeps me sane. And it is really lovely to be in touch with readers on Twitter, and on Facebook too. It’s very important for me! Keeps me grounded. There is not much point in writing if readers aren’t in the equation, after all.
Thanks Lexi – super questions, I have enjoyed tussling with this lot. Thank yofor having me, as we used to say after parties, when I was six!

Vanessa can be found at http://www.vanessagebbie.com, on her blog or on Twitter.
The tour has visited Claire King, Tania Hershman, and Sara Crowley so far, and with more to follow so please check out the full paperback party schedule here.

Fruit Bruise Press @ Alt.Fiction

For those of you following the news about Fruit Bruise Press since I first mentioned this new literary imprint for Dog Horn Publishing, this is a quick post to fill you in with some more information and remind you about Alt.Fiction which is coming up in two weeks time.

There is more information about Fruit Bruise Press on the Dog Horn Publishing website now, so please feel free to read more about what we’re looking for the in the way of submissions and what we hope to provide with the writing development and anthology project.

The first outing for Fruit Bruise Press will be at Alt.Fiction on Saturday 14th April. The workshop “Jumping boundaries and breaking rules” will be running from 4-5pm, serving as a taster for what is in store for the future. Based in Leceister over two days for this year, Alt.Fiction is now in it’s sixth year of brilliant events for readers and writers of science fiction, fantasy and horror. Although Fruit Bruise does not focus on genre specific fiction, we welcome one and all to our workshop to help you find new ways into your writing whatever your background! The team at Dog Horn Publishing will be on our stand over the weekend, so please feel free to drop by and have a chat with us about your work or the DHP books available!

If you’d like to find out more about Fruit Bruise Press, Alt.Fiction and what I’m planning for the workshop, take a look at the interview by Katie Shanks on Left Lion: the home of Nottingham Culture.

It is always the quiet ones

When someone (or rather a blog) goes quiet on you, it could mean that the author has

  1. fallen off the face of the earth (highly unlikely)
  2. forgotten that they have a website (again, unlikely, but then again, possible)
  3. been concocting mad plans elsewhere (when it comes to literary folk, it’s almost always this)

So, I’m finally back with exciting news about new projects that are forming for 2012!

I’ve been working with Adam and the team at Dog Horn for a little while now, focusing on the more literary works that come our way. Together, we’ve been spending the winter putting together proposals and applications and, well, generally being under the weight of paperwork. However, the best made plans are starting to bear fruit, of the bruised variety!

Fruit Bruise Press will be launched this year (in a more official manner shortly) as an imprint housed by Dog Horn Publishing. Fruit Bruise is a writer development and literature promotion programme dedicated to championing the transgressive, the excluded and the emergent. The focus for 2012 is to run workshops across the country to begin working with new, exciting and hidden voices that are out there hoping to be discovered, with the project culminating in the publication and launch of an anthology.

We’re kicking off the project, with a fantastic slot booked at Alt.Fiction on Saturday 14th April. The workshop “Jumping boundaries and breaking rules: Literary beginnings” will be running from 4-5pm as a taster for what is to come! Based in Leceister over two days for this year, Alt.Fiction is now in it’s sixth year of brilliant events for readers and writers of science fiction, fantasy and horror. Although Fruit Bruise does not focus on genre specific fiction, we welcome one and all to our workshop to help you find new ways into your writing whatever your background! The workshop is included in the cost of the weekend ticket, which if you purchase before the 1st February, it is available for a brilliant early bird offer of £30! There are so many inspiring guests, workshops, panels, and readings on at Alt.Fiction this year, so please check out what else you could be involved with!

There is so much still going on behind the scenes currently, so this is a sneak peek. If you’d like to know more about the Alt.Fiction workshop, or about the projects coming up for Fruit Bruise, please feel free to comment below or contact me at lexi@doghornpublishing.com. There are testimonials available here too if you wish to find out more about the courses and workshops I have previously run.