Let the title do the talking*

12 short stories. For you to read. Now. Get electrocuted.

casualelectrocutioncasualelectrocutioncontents

I am so proud to be involved with this project. With thanks to Fran for inviting me and all her hard work alongside Jane and Bernie. They are super stars and this is the first of many for Literary Salmon.

Did I forget to mention, read the collection now.

*if the title doesn’t work, then the praise and inspiration should! Find out the full story on Twitter – follow the salmon.

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Dog Horn Presents – free launch event on Monday 8th July

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Join me in conversation with Aliya Whiteley and Montague Kobbé on Monday evening at The Victoria Library, Westminster from 7pm. This will give you a chance to hear them both read excepts from their new books, as well as put your questions to them.

Tell us if you are coming along!

Aliya Whitely launches her latest novel, Skein Island: Marianne Percival has been summoned to Skein Island by its owner, the reclusive Lady Amelia Worthington. There’s only one problem – Lady Worthington has been dead for years. So who wrote the summons? And what does it have to do with the disappearance of Marianne’s mother? All the answers lie on Skein Island. It’s a retreat, and it holds many strange relics from a time of heroes and villains. At its centre stands a library that holds the stories of thousands of women. And underneath the library there is a secret that Amelia Worthington kept from the world. A secret that is about to be uncovered.

Montague Kobbe launches his collection of micro-fictions, Tales of Bed Sheets and Departure Lounges: Fifty bilingual micro stories strung together by emotional ties progressively weave a sense of reality that is both drastically different to that expressed in each individual tale and at the same time shared—perhaps even created—by the entire collection. The conventional tropes of love and lust, travel and sleep are deliberately approached with awareness of the tradition and a dose of provocation, sending the reader on a dangerous path along the outer edges of the cliché, hanging by the thread of irony and humour over the abyss of the banal. Form is central to a concept in which the short story has been boiled down to its most fundamental core: action. In this sense, context has often been totally or partially removed, giving primacy instead to the verb and its echoes, both within the collection and in relation to literary tradition. Equally central to the concept is the role of sound.

News. Of the big variety.

My debut short story collection will be published.

There. No messing about. No, what should I say. No, it’ll be small – nothing to worry anyone about. No, looking at my feet. Because essentially that has what I have been doing for the last couple of months.

The details, which will be fleshed out over the next year or so, are that it will be published by Liquorice Fish (whom I have spoken of in previous posts) who continue to provide a wonderful home for my short stories.

And now I am getting very excited about it. Not least because I just told Ali Smith. And she grinned and gifted me the title of my collection.

In truth she wrote down the words I gave her, when I floundered over what I had been considering as possible titles in the small hours between sleep. And you know what, this is perfect.

Yet to be determined (for those who can read Ali's handwriting)

This is happening. To the people who I have should have told by now, offline, please forgive me.

Finding my voice with Liquorice Fish

Liquorice Fish, literary imprint of Cinnamon Press, have lfish_logo-300x300announced the winners of their ‘Lost Voices’ competition and I’m very pleased to say I’m one of them!

My short story, Once There was a Bear, will be alongside six other works in an anthology which will be published in Spring 2015. All the authors’ work are described here along with details of the commended and highly commended entries.

I’m thrilled to note that the anthology will also feature a preview of Vanessa Gebbie’s next work. Ed’s Wife and Other Creatures. This will be the second Liquorice Fish publication;  “a striking, surreal, and poignant collection of micro-fictions” written by Vanessa and illustrated by Lynn Roberts. As someone who is constantly inspired by her work, I really cannot wait for my writing to be with hers in the anthology.

Liquorice Fish is a “new imprint from Cinnamon Press to promote the innovative and idiosyncratic in contemporary writing: writers who are passionate and committed to finding an individual voice and approach to their writing; who are restless and want to explore the many possibilities inherent in language and the written word; or who wish to celebrate and extend the vibrant and varied traditions — and anti-traditions — that emerged during the 20th Century but which have been too often marginalised and belittled by the world of corporate authorship.” Find out more on their website.

Once There was a Bear has been described by Liquorice Fish as “the fabulous and mundane exist side-by-side in this delicate short story from an up-and-coming young British writer.”

I can’t tell you how chuffed those words make me. 2015 is going to be a very good year and this is just the beginning.

What I’m really linking… 25th August 2014

The reading one(S)

beautiful1I am one story away from the end of Sarah Hall’s collection The Beautiful Indifference. I’m late to pick up on how challenging, honest and brutal Hall’s stories can be but I am savouring every one. Difficult to do as a short story fiend but this is a collection worth time.

stonemattresshowtobebothAdding to my reading excitement, two of my most favourite authors have new books out this week. Ali Smith with her Booker short-listed How to to be both, and Margaret Atwood’s new collection of short stories, Stone Mattress: Nine Tales. You know where to find me on Thursday when these hit the bookshelves.

The Philosophical one

weareverbsWhilst considering my next moves for my first novel and the second one which is becoming louder, I’ve been delving into philosophical discussion on how we develop as writers and as humans. We are Verbs is my favourite so far.

The writing one

wt-circleThis week I’ve been taking part in The Write Track‘s trial of audio writing exercises. Led by novelist and top creative writing tutor Julia Bell to work out if writers find audio exercises useful, the idea is to take exercises out of the classroom and into people’s lives as they live them, kind of like a pocket writing coach. Soon their the goal-setting community for writers will be launched online – if this trial is anything to go by, this will be an exciting community to be involved with.

I would love for find out what is inspiring you at the moment – please use the comments box for links and feedback.

What I’m really linking… 10th August 2014

For the past year, although I haven’t been blogging, I have been inspired by so many articles etc online. I have tried to share these via social media which of course moves quickly and I have a collection of links that may benefit other writers, editors and readers too. Book Riot has a great weekly post, Critical Linking, which I love. What I’m really linking is born from reading this and wanting to do something regular and useful with this blog.

I would love for find out what’s inspired you this week – please use the comments box for links and feedback.

The writing one…

PM Scare 2Meet the instant gratification monkey and the panic monster. It’s very likely that you have your own, but this made me smile on a day when I let my monkey go for a wander when I should have been writing.

It won’t help that this became a useful blog addition.

The political one…

_Bad-Feminism--Is-There-Really-Only-One-Type-Of-Feminist--1 (117x110)I stumbled across this a couple of months ago. I like the comparisons it brings to the table in one place and shows up the media led bickering that goes on with feminism on what is wrong and what is right.

Not sure I’m with Moore on the feminist party ideas she’s come up with since but hey.

The science one…

tear1-620xTears are like snowflakes – every one is individual. But even more interesting is thow tears carry the human experience, looking different for every emotion expressed. I hope to eventually use this in a story.

The Topography of Tears is just beautiful.

The Cute one…

SAABbookI am a little bit in love with Jackie Morris’s bears. Stumbling across her artwork on Twitter led me to learn that she is the cover artist for Robin Hobb’s books as well as a writer and illustrator of many children’s books.

Jackie reads Mary her story. There is even flying bears on her blog.

The reading one…

Carys Bray’s debut novel, A Song for Issy Bradley, pulled me into the lives of the Bradley family. I couldn’t stop reading it. That’s not a cliché, I promise. I really did have to find out what happened to them all. Watch this Word Factory video to get caught up with them too.

Six steps to writing freedom…

…could have been an alternative title for the writing workshop with the award-winning writer Simon Van Booy that took place at The Society Club last Sunday afternoon.

As a writer and workshop leader I have taken and led many workshops to hone my own and help others hone their craft.

This intimate and intensive half day workshop allowed four writers five hours of insight into the practice of writing and how to push that towards the business of writing; a goal few writers (statistically) reach.

Simon began by exploring our personal goals. We were writers from different backgrounds and experience levels, but with the common goal of moving ourselves and our writing further along.

Simon led us through the six steps below, which he assured us would ensure freedom from ‘writer’s block’.

  1. A place to work
  2. Medium and conditions of writing
  3. Stimulating reading
  4. Inspiration boards
  5. Setting time
  6. Sketching

Sounds simple, deceptively so. These are the kind of steps you learn at the beginning of a BA in Creative Writing however it was refreshing to take the time on a Sunday afternoon, with Simon’s guidance and the supportive discussion with the group, to re-evaluate.

I realised how easily I developed habits that had been, and could still hinder my writing. Moving house meant that my writing space had stopped being exclusively mine which soon became an unconscious excuse. Challenging books had permanent fixtures on my shelves that stood unread, and procrastination or laziness often led to ignored opportunities for writing time.

We then moved to the topic of continuing to be inspired. Simon throughout the afternoon recalled his own experiences with his mentor and other writers; quoting writers, philosophers and more to illustrate the points being made.

The one line that truly stuck with me, was his own;

“not being inspired is often referred to as writer’s block”.

We discussed the different ways one can be inspired and how to use the little ways to reenergise our writing. Patience and mindfulness with the everyday is a critical part in this process but can be easily forgotten.

Which led us nicely into exploring sketching. Carrying a notebook everywhere is something many writers swear by (or swear when they don’t have it and are without the means to record thoughts that float away the instant they sit down to write). It allows us to pick up and record all the details that hit us on an emotional level, those sparks that hopefully will burn into story form. By taking the time to daydream and observe, and by giving up the idea of how we should feel, sketching can provide your own way into the unknown.

Next we discussed how to write your way into your own voice. Simon provided invaluable hints and tips before he spoke more about exploring form (short stories vs novels) and how our writing develops over time (a constant learning process).

Together we all dug into the trenches of writing – the detail in technique and style, why tenses and perspectives work for some characters but not others and the understanding that editors are the ones that can assist you in the removal of the scaffolding around your writing.

The conversations opened up to include Carrie Kania, Simon’s agent at Conville & Walsh, in the discussion on the business of writing providing us with the chance to ask questions and learn about the publishing industry first-hand. Coupled with Simon’s generous guidance, Carrie’s honest advice on working with small publishing houses, when to contact agents, and how to deal with contracts, were what made this course.

Although at the beginning of the workshop I had considered what I might learn, I was happily surprised at how taking this time to reassess has given me a new outlook in my writing practices and how I can continue to develop. Sometimes it can be as simple as retaking those first six steps.

More information:

Simon Van Booy was born in Great Britain and now lives in Brooklyn.  He is the author of The Secret Lives of People in Love, Love Begins in Winter (winner of the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award) and the novel, Everything Beautiful Began After.  His latest novel is The Illusion of Separateness.  His essays have appeared in the New York Times, The Daily Telegraph, The Times, The Guardian, and ELLE Men, (China), where he has a monthly column. He has also written for the stage, National Public Radio, and the BBC.  Simon teaches at SVA in Manhattan, and is involved in the Rutgers Early College Humanities Program for young adults living in under-served communities.  In 2013, he founded Writers for Children, an organization which helps young people build confidence in their talent, through annual writing awards. He was a finalist for the Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise, and his work has been translated into more than fifteen languages.

The workshop took place at The Society Club; ‘an independent bookshop, gallery and members club for the literary inclined. Set in the heart of Soho, The Society Club is a unique bookshop, gallery and cocktail bar. It’s elegant and welcoming like a Bohemian sitting room.’ To find out more about their events and when to visit, take a look at their fantastic new website.

Carrie Kania is an agent at Conville & Walsh and co-owns the bookstore The Society Club. Formerly of New York, where she was the Publisher of Harper Perennial and It Books, she now resides in London with her puppy Foxy Beckett. She is also a Consultant Editor for the Word Factory and is involved with the judging process of The Word Factory Apprenticeship.

To Inspire Generations

I don’t remember a time when I didn’t tell stories. Whether I was writing poetry at school, or creating stories for my brothers, or those first fledgling ones that I imagined whilst being read to. One of my first memories is correcting my mother when she added different words as she read. Yes, I was an editor from a very young age. I loved stories that much.

I love going to readings and events, to be read to again as we once were and to be inspired by writers – whether they be all time greats or début. One of my favourite bookshops, Toppings of Ely, has put on some great events this summer – including the Neil Gaiman event for The Ocean at the End of the Lane last Tuesday.

In relative terms, I’m a newbie to the following of writers who are inspired by Neil Gaiman’s work. When dating my wife, she presented me with a copy of Neverwhere because she knew I loved stories and she knew seeing London in this completely new way would spark my imagination. Now, no matter our distinctly different reading tastes, we always have a shared love of his work. His short story collection Smoke and Mirrors inspired me during my B.A. with writing that pushed boundaries and broke the rules in a very mastered way.

So it was no surprise when we saw that there would be reading relatively close to us, we jumped at the chance. The two of us and a friend, who has as much love for Gaiman’s work, met at 6pm in Ely thinking arriving early would ensure us a good place. We were in a good place. 382-384 in a queue of around 1000!

As expected, the reading was wonderful. Gaiman has a brilliant reading voice, which he confessed is a mixture of learnt and natural – a description that sums him up completely. I have continued reading The Ocean at the End of the Lane with the Hempstock’s Surrey accent firmly set in my mind, which I love.

Everyone who waited for their signing did so with pleasure, and we were all thankful that Neil would stay until everyone had their book signed. I’m not sure what time it finished, but given our position in the queue and that we spoke to him at around 11pm I can’t imagine that it ended any earlier than 1am. We watched the bats flying overhead through Ely Cathedral, talked about all his other works, and had conversations with complete strangers about cult films (there aren’t many places you can have a serious conversation about The Princess Bride. Believe me. I’ve tried).

Neil Gaiman signedI was always going to be pleased about getting my copy signed – we spoke about the bats, and then he drew one for me.

 

 

 

 

 

But nothing compared to getting a copy of Chu’s Day signed. We hope to have a child in the future, and we would always encourage them to read Gaiman’s work but how cool will it be to read them their first signed edition! And with such an important inscription.

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This weekend, we’ll be back in Ely and I’ve got another picture book for signing. This baby is going to be well read – Margaret Atwood’s Up in the Tree is next!

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