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.

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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.

A Literary Inquisition

As a writer and editor, I’m sure I’m not alone in wanting to reach out to fellow writers to further educate myself in the craft of writing and publishing; the want and need for learning and further understanding is infectious. We attend seminars, workshops, read books/blogs/general websites.

As a reader, this education continues whether we wish to learn more by exploring unknown genres or subjects, or the simple act of escapism and exploration into new worlds. We often choose what we read dependent on our peer opinion – be that your best friend raving about a book over coffee or a rating on an Amazon suggestion.

With the internet at our fingertips, there is more and more of a chance to reach out to the authors that inspire or interest us. Which is where I come in with this opportunity for someone to awarded with the prize of a beautiful new paperback in return for your literary inquisition.

Vanessa Gebbie‘s debut novel, The Coward’s Tale is being launched in paperback on the 29th March, and she will be taking this tale on a blog tour which will stop here on the 30th March.

The Coward’s Tale is a powerfully imagined, poetic and haunting novel, spiked with humour. It is a story of kinship and kindness, guilt and atonement, and the ways in which we carve the present out of an unforgiving past

Bloomsbury

I’m inviting you, whether you’re a reader, writer or both, to send me your questions which will be answered by Vanessa on the Q&A blog on the 30th March. The most searching question will be picked out by Vanessa and awarded a paperback copy of The Coward’s Tale*, so please get thinking and ask your most burning questions!

  • Send your questions via email to lexi@servicestoliterature.co.uk
  • Leave your question here using the comments section below
  • Feel free to comment/reply to me where the link is shared on FB or Twitter

Vanessa Gebbie is the author of two collections of stories and contributing editor of a creating writing text book. She has won numerous awards – including prizes at Bridport, Fish and the Willesden Herald (the latter judged by Zadie Smith) – for her short fiction. An extract from The Coward’s Tale won the Daily Telegraph ‘Novel in a Year’ Competition.

*Winner will be announced on 30th March 2012

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.

Digital Stories: an experiment into the unknown

The title is mostly true. It was an experiment and some of it was unknown. However, the concept was something that as a story teller, I should know very well; taking elements of the world around me, imagined or real, and constructing a story from them.

The course, created by Spread the Word and Kate Pullinger, was described as:

Kate Pullinger, award winning writer for both print and digital platforms, will be running our Digital Stories workshop on Saturday 5 November exploring how digital media can help develop your creativity. Kate has written and spoken about the excitement and challenge of writing on projects that are “born digital”. She has used digital platforms to work collaboratively with other writers, has worked with game developers and even used facial recognition software for one of her projects. In this experimental one-day workshop the focus will be on thinking about new ways to tell stories. It promises to be an opportunity to stretch your imagination, harness your creative skills and explore ways to build future collaborations and open your mind.

© Spread the Word

The promises that Spread the Word gave were not idle and this course did match their description. In a room full of a mixture of creative people, there was a place for all; traditional fiction writers and poets looking for a new device or form for their work, journalists and travel writers looking for an alternative route for their crossover into creative work, even a teacher looking for a new way of getting their students to connect with creative processes to overcome learning disabilities. After discussing ourselves including our current work and aims for this course, Kate introduced us to a range of projects she has worked on, which have been helpfully collated within the Resources section of her site.

Using the techniques she used with five Suffolk schools on the Ebb and Flow project, we looked at ways in which stories can be created by a manipulation of Google Maps. This was also used in Kidmapped where Tim Wight tracked the journey made throughout Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped, adding video diary readings of the novel and opening the experience of the novel to new readers who were welcome to join Tim as he continued his journey.

We were invited to take our cameras and notebooks for a wander through the surrounding areas to find the stories of Clerkenwell. This was a daunting if liberating exercise where we wandered until we stumbled into the elements which appealed to us. For some it came quickly, a detail in a building, a face, and even overheard conversations. I overwhelmed myself with choice as I would do when creating stories in a more traditional form, however this time I hoped I would be able to incorporate the inspiration into the story by not only creating fiction from them but allowing the photos and video to become part of the story. The rules were all there, we were just going to be bending the end result and maybe doing some rule-breaking along the way. Which is no bad thing and as many of you may know, it is one of my favourite things to do. By overwhelming my senses with images and video grabbed within the hour we had to find our stories and eat lunch, I quickly constructed a story. Others created their stories which inspired by a single photo, these beautiful and often profound moments that will eventually be shared with a blue pin mark on a map, where anyone can discover it.

I will post up the link to our Google Maps story trail around the area surrounding Free Word where we were based for the day, because there are so many brilliant stories based on moments captured on film; showing all of us that when pushed creatively you can produce anything, even with limited technological skills. The reason for the delay in this link is because we have been given the week to continue the tweaks and uploading of photos. The day was not without its technical difficulties due to Apple vs Windows vs Google which is an argument that we’re all familiar with. Kate was able to provide us with the knowledge we needed on the most part, and where she couldn’t, we worked as a group to solve them.

And that was a major point of this course. With collaboration comes great experimentation but also a share of the load. We less technical creatives love to be creative, but often can get bogged down in unfamiliar ground when it comes to technical issues. Kate gently explained, we do not need to do it all. By working with someone who knows more about delivering beautiful digital stories from a technical point of view, it allows the writer more freedom to create more and bounce ideas off another person without losing your project aims. An example of this would be the Inanimate Alice series which has been created by Kate and Chris Joseph. Providing a novel as a “reading-from-the-screen experience for the “always on” generation”, this has now taken on a life of its own by the readers who have enjoyed it so much that they have created the following episodes to continue the story in weird and wonderful ways and is being used by teachers to provide additional literacy development for their pupils.

Inspired by these more technical projects, and by Kate’s mention of stories via PowerPoint, I wanted to see what I could create with the software which I’m so familiar with using but, as I’ve now learnt, I wasn’t getting enough from. So instead of posting the photos and a short story to go with them, I wanted to start to make them work together. I began by using PowerPoint to create a slideshow to produce the story, however I found this was limited in the ability to upload and embed within my own site let alone Flickr which we were using to produce the html coding or links for the pictures and stories. So, continuing the experiments at home, I tried out Microsoft Photostory 3 which would work perfectly if it would include video files rather than just photo files. Then remembering that Windows Live Essentials had some neat tricks up its sleeve, I tried out Movie Maker for the first time. I quickly recreated the slides I had on Powerpoint and I was able to overlay the story text via the caption facility, and I was able to add in the video clip I had taken to include within the final story.

This is the “final” result, so please, tell me what you think!

In the 5 short hours we spent with Kate, we all learnt how we could start pushing our creative projects into the rapidly evolving digital formats, without having the “traditional paper under glass” effect. Kate said to us all towards the end of the day “collaboration is a lot of fun” which is certainly was proved to be, allowing us to escape the necessary solitude which can be found within traditional novel or poetry creation. In this course, Kate equips writers with a new form to not only explore and experiment within but also with the skills to make real inroads into a new form that is developing at an incredible rate.

If you would like more information, Kate has also kindly provided more resources for digital storytelling on her site, so please explore them now!

Swimming Home – an inspiring exploration of human journeys

I don’t normally write reviews, and I’m not sure that this is one, but I couldn’t help myself. I needed to dedicate some space to a novel, Deborah Levy’s Swimming Home, which got under my skin and is still turning over in my mind.

Levy takes an intelligent and bold look at the way depression can have many forms and how it can affect those who seem “mad” and/or seem “sane” from the outside. The portrayal of the flighty, slightly obsessive and strangely grounded Kitty Finch seems like she has the basis to be the archetypal depressed person; the stereotypes are thrown from her in all directions.  Yet she is held in comparison to the normal, yet not so normal, Jacobs family who are placed in the middle of so many conflicts: Isobel, the mother, works as a war correspondent; Joe, the father, works as a poet reporting on the times in a totally different way; Nina, the daughter, is forming within her teenage years with internal and external conflict with herself and those around her, particularly affected by how her parents’ relationship ebbs and flows.

Levy explores how the three of them have to feel their way through their shared time: it’s infrequency allows for a summer a year where they can play at being a family. They are disrupted firstly by Isobel’s need to invite a friend along to cope with the time with her family, yet Laura and Mitchell also have their hidden conflicts and everyone’s surfaces are hiding their depths, waters as cloudy as the over chlorinated pool. How they are all disrupted by the uninvited visitor, Kitty Finch, goes on to unravel and also concrete their relationships with each other. This subject or theme of the disruption by the Other has been an interest of mine for some time, both in reading and writing; I think Kitty has just replaced Ali Smith’s Amber (The Accidental) as my all time favourite disrupter. Or maybe a joint first place…

Levy’s portrayal of depression felt so true to life, the way it is known and not discussed or dealt with; through institutions as it is with Madeline’s reaction to her understanding of Kitty, or within the Jacob’s family, or indeed with Laura and Mitchell off page relationship. There is very rarely an open middle ground and it quite easily can become a monster in the dark that claims the strongest. This is open exploration where what is not written is just as important as what has been written.

I came across this novel in the London Review Bookshop when on an Indie hunt. The Guardian started up their Love your Indie campaign for Independent Bookshops, and although I wanted to find some new independent stops to find new inspiration within, the London Review Bookshop is one of my favourites with fantastic staff and a brilliant layout. It isn’t huge, but there is now a cake shop next door and of course the much needed sofas and chairs placed so that you can get to grips with your purchases before even leaving. My needs are simple, what can I say. Deborah Levy is reading from Swimming Home at the end of the month which I would recommend!

With the right book we can all travel far.

© And Other Stories

The reason why I picked up this book was because of the cover. I know, don’t judge and all that, but I will always be more likely to pick up a book with a striking cover and clearly those behind And Other Stories have put their minds to how the book design should work. That’s not all they have been thinking on either; And Other Stories publications are based on a subscription from readers, thus creating the audience before the novels are available. They are exciting and unusual stories that other publishers may not take a risk on, they are not cheap but then most paperbacks are £7-£9 so why not spend £10 on a beautiful book inside and out.

shamelessly literary

© Stuart Evers, Guardian

All subscribers are thanked in the books, receive a numbered first edition (300 limit) and they really do want to hear from you as readers. I think, in my very humble opinion, it’s a fantastic model for publishing, and if it gets the novels across to readers who are connecting with the stories then all the better. Levy’s Swimming Home is the third in the series of four novels for 2011 from And Other Stories. I will be subscribing – will you?

The Art of Storytelling

I’m beginning to realise that this blog is some sort of curious insight into the twisted and jumpy thoughts that connect up my interests in language; a little like Daves’ curious links on the Chris Moyles show, so please bear with me…I have a point, I’m certain.
[edit: I think my knackered mind last night meant stream of conciousness…now more awake!]

This week, my thoughts have mostly been on the stories we are told throughout out lives, and how humans have depended on storytelling since, well I’m imagining since language was first formed and developed. Our lives are constantly surrounded by tales, of so many different kinds yet they help to shape our understanding of new and known thoughts, ideas and people.

Obviously the written word is a huge part of storytelling. I’m particularly drawn to literary fiction because of the exploration of language, form and style that literary prose, poetry and everything in between can take. However, I believe that the tradition of storytelling has it’s feet firmly planted in the performance of the stories told.

From tomorrow, the first London Storytelling Festival will be kicking off; started by a storytelling workshop with Martin Dockery and ending with the Gala Night on Monday 10th October. A quote from their website sums up the reasoning behind this new venture perfectly

If you’ve ever been swept up in the moment in the darkness by a campfire or had your mind blown at a candlelit dinner table – you know what we’re talking about.

The beauty within a crowd, or even a friend or child, when they are involved with a story so much that they are being delicately wrapped within the silk that any well told story can spin is one to behold. If you can, get yourself to this festival as the events are selling out fast…talking of which, I must book myself in too!

Other forms of performed storytelling have begun to interest me too. Folk music is not something I ever thought I would add to my eclectic musical loves, I’m a 70’s rock girl at heart – blame my father, yet it has wheedled it’s way into my heart by modern folk singer/songwriters like Seth Lakeman and Kate Rusby. The way they explore both old myth, legend and truths as well as modern occurrences, allows the listener to be enraptured by the tales they tell. For me, this particular happens with the songs which are written from the first person; someone, real or imagined, within the events.

Another singer/songwriter has crashed his way into my CD collection, even into the list of music that inspires me. Ed Sheeran launched his debut last month, and since then it’s been on repeat for me. Small Bump has most definitely caught my attention. It reads like a sonnet, well almost. Like a sung, slightly repetitive, sonnet which doesn’t follow any of the other sonnet “rules” apart from, resolution in the last two lines. I may have studies literature, but I’m far too practised at following the rules which is why this has jumped out at me! The song begins like a present, a hope for an unborn child from a new parent. Knowing Sheeran’s age only makes your further appreciate the nativity and genuine nativity that this song holds, be it from own experience or imagined; I’m not one to believe that writers shouldn’t stretch beyond what they know – that’s the whole point of imagination and, at times, research. The song then develops a whole new meaning within the last two lines, beautifully simple yet strikes exactly where the mark is – you didn’t see it coming:

‘Cos you were just a small bump unborn for four months, then torn from life

Maybe you were needed up there but we’re still unaware as why.

Please go and listen to it, be it on youtube or his own site. Believe me, worth the wait for the twist in the tale.

The line within it which has truly inspired me though is

And I’ll hold you tightly and tell you nothing but truth
If you’re not inside me, I’ll put my future in you

Although I realise it is not about storytelling, although it is reminiscent of the way in which parents “storytell” the early parts of a forming life to a child later in their years, these lines made me connect to something which was written in the Guardian last weekend.

And yet through it all we struggle on, and every now and again our lives are illuminated by shafts of brilliance and beauty.

This is the stuff of novels. Everyone deserves to be the hero of a novel. What matters is not the class or location of the characters, but the degree of insight into the human condition. What matters is truth.

The way in which we as writers have a need, or perhaps a calling to provide truths which reach out to ourselves, or our audiences, by presenting the hard facts from within the heart of story – be them imagined or real life. The past, present and future of literature is in our, as readers/listeners/audiences/writers, need for understanding through language.

How language is developed has always been a big interest for me but before I leave greater detail on that for another day, I must briefly make you aware of a great new documentary series, Fry’s Planet Word on BBC 2 which has the ridiculously talented Stephen Fry searching the globe to uncover the origins of language; interesting, engaging and not to miss! I will follow up soon, with more on language….promises.

F.O.M.O. – The Curse of Being Double Booked

There is always, without fail, at least one other event on when you should-be-doing or want-to-do X, Y, or Z. You know that you want to be at such and such, but then you realise that you’ve already got something in the calendar which you should be/want to be doing.

And then F.O.M.O. creeps in.

F.O.M.O is the Fear Of Missing Out.* It’s what led Geraldine in The Vicar of Dibley to eat too many Christmas dinners. Well, that and the fact that she finds herself unable to disappoint anyone who invites her. Not a very literary example but an example nonetheless.

This month is rife with F.O.M.O particularly with literary events for me personally, so get your diaries out and see if you can squeeze in any events will ensure the fear doesn’t get to you too:

15th September – Supporting the Next Generation: Young Writers Outside Formal Education – London
Not so much a literary event in the more traditional sense, but definitely important for the future of literature. If you don’t follow the work that NALD do, then take a look now!

19th September – Cheryl B is Beautiful – London
A commemoration of Cheryl B, the New York writer and performance poet, who unfortunately died earlier this year; readings by Salena Godden and more.

20th September – Book Slam – London
If you haven’t been along to a Book Slam event before, do it this month. With the inspirational Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie among others on the line-up, I’m certain it’ll be a good introduction to the wonderful world of Book Slam.

22nd – 25th September – Small Wonder: THE Short Story Festival – Lewes, East Sussex
This is the one I really wish I could go to. Not only am I an admirer, writer, reader and editor of the short story form, I would love to be there as the weekend-long festival gives the opportunity to story-tell under the stars, listen to my favorite writers (including Naomi Alderman, Sarah Waters, Joe Dunthorne and Ali Smith among many more) and there’s even Harvey’s beer stocked in the bar! With all of that and more, the festival is opened by the Litmus event which involves Alison MacLeod, who I was very lucky to have as one of my tutors during my university years. 

24th September – 8th October – To The Lighthouse – Cambridge
One I nearly missed off this list, but not to be missed! Some fantastic readings are planned along with cinema, theatre, art, talks, exhibitions and workshops which draw from Woolf’s novel on this trip To The Lighthouse.

30th September – 16th October – Ilkley Literature Festival – Ilkley, West Yorkshire
I’m still hopeful I can get back ooop North for some of this – particularly for the event with fellow Chi Uni graduate and inspirational author, Isabel Ashdown.

Around this time of year I begin to yearn. I long for more learning, for new and interesting projects; I yearn for my university years. I’m pretty certain that’s because I had long periods of time to read, write and generally create without the guilt of responsibility, chores or bills, however, literary events give me the opportunity to revel in the escapism and inspiration which they can provide and I miss from the early days. Have you got any particular events that you know of or are involved with that should be shared so we don’t all suffer from F.O.M.O?

*With thanks to Heather for introducing me to the theory of F.O.M.O!