Word from the Factory floor

Today I was high fived by Deborah Levy.

That is enough to describe how I am feeling, even at almost midnight. I want to tell you why and how this came to be. Word Factory. Two exceptional words when placed together and carried by the wonderful founder, Cathy Galvin.

Word Factory is so many things and will become so many more, but at the core it is a literary salon that concentrates on short form fiction which takes place once a month in The Society Club in Soho, London. Around that, the team at Word Factory (and I am honoured to say that I am part of that team as an associate editor) strive to bring news of the short story to writers and readers in the form of video, articles, networking…the list goes on. Condensed, we love the short story. We also love writers and we are writers. If you want to get to the heart of the reasons behind the Word Factory and what it will become then please read this fantastic article by Cathy herself.

I stumbled upon Word Factory. I will call it fate because things have happened in ways I cannot begin the fathom but I am just grateful for them. I found myself surrounded by a high percentage of my past and present writing colleagues who seemed to have gathered in yet another twist of fate. More obviously, they just know how good Word Factory is at presenting the very best writing and bringing together wonderful people. 

I was hooked and came along to the next few Word Factory events before jumping on the chance to become one of the team. Since then I have been involved with supporting events both in London and now Leicester, maintaining and helping to shape the future of the website and this weekend I got the chance to be part of the latest Word Factory Masterclass.

Everyone who signed up for the Masterclass weekend knew it was going to be good, great even. With the line up of Adam Marek, Julia Bell, David Vann, Alison Moore, Carrie Kania, and Deborah Levy it was destined to be amazing. We arrived at Birbeck’s Keynes Library following a Friday night spent at The Hauntings, a Word Factory salon run from Earlsfield Cemetery – betwitching readings that continue their spell on us provided by Adam Marek, Alex Preston, Tania Hersham and Stella Duffy.

The masterclass started with Adam leading us through dream confessions, exercising ill-paired combinations and then circuit training through word cricket, blackout techniques well as musical and pictorial exercises. After a much needed lunch break, our refreshed brains were then expanded by Julia’s exploration of time management in fiction. Closing off the day, David taught us how style is a choice and that generosity in characterisation is worth the challenge it presents.

Sunday began with Alison showing us how are word choices can provide deeper context to the truth at the core of our stories. The readings in this session were outstanding, the group providing support and inspiration to one another. After lunch in the winter sun, Carrie navigated us through the truths and myths of publishing and working with an agent, with dry wit and much appreciated honesty. Finally our weekend was concluded by a session commanded by Deborah who assisted us in finding our voices and to express our strengths and weaknesses in writing. This allowed us to take control, reclaim our work and ensure that our strengths and weaknesses are no longer a secret to ourselves.

And so, where I began we can conclude. Perhaps what was not expected was how we surprised ourselves. By the end of the weekend, I certainly now know more about myself as a writer and about how I am going to continue my writing journey with even more skills and experience.

Word factoryDeborah and Alison will be reading at Word Factory on 30th November at The Society Club, alongside Michele Roberts and Dave Lordan. With hope, there will be further master classes in 2014, and if you wish to find out more and get tickets to the salon on the 30th then sign up to the newsletters on the homepage to get the latest news from Word Factory. Come on in and join us on the factory floor.

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.

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.

Literary Must-Reads…

RusbridgeSmithMcGregor
…from 2012 and coming in 2013.

As we shuttle towards the new year, here’s some recommendations to add to your library.

(come on, you know those Christmas pennies are burning a hole in your pocket).

This Isn’t The Sort Of Thing That Happens To Someone Like YouJon McGregor
For those whose new year resolutions revolve around reading a short story every day, start here. Sarah Hall describes this collection of stories as “strange and lovely masterpieces”, for me they are things of wonder, unusual beauty and inspiration.

The Bellwether RevivalsBenjamin Wood
This novel is astounding, simply astounding. The Bellwether Revivals is an intricately written exploration of an outsider, Oscar, entering the strange yet fascinating world of the Cambridge student family of the Bellwethers. The characters stay with you long after the pages are closed, and the fantastic and real world of the musical and medical opens your eyes to new possibilities and realities.

RookJane Rusbridge
Another musically inspired novel, Jane Rusbridge’s second novel Rook is simply stunning. You are dropped into the deep and muddy depths and allows you to explore the characters’ like hidden artifacts with the changing perspective of time. There’s much more information on Rook on the review and Q&A posts on this blog.

Artful – Ali Smith
As always, Ali Smith strives to ensure her work is not constrained by restrictive boxes for genre and style. Artful is a collection of essays intermingled within fiction, full of inspiring ideas and information as well as a little bit of the fantastic with a creative view of change and handling love and loss. I’ll be writing another post on this shortly as I think this is perfect for any literary writers, as well as generally being an insightful read.

Overheard: Stories to Read Aloud – ed. Jonathan Taylor
Stories are made to be heard, and this fantastic collection is another to dive into for the New Year. This collection includes stories by: Judith Allnatt, Jo Baker, Claire Baldwin, David Belbin, Kathleen Bell, Will Buckingham, P. J. Carnehan, Ailsa Cox, Katy Darby, Louis De Bernieres, Vanessa Gebbie, Denise Hayes, Tania Hershman, Jane Holland, Panos Karnezis, Hanif Kureishi, Joel Lane, Emma J. Lannie, Ian McEwan, Blake Morrison, Adele Parks, Simon Perril, Alexandros Plasatis, Kate Pullinger, Adam Roberts, Catherine Rogers, Lee Rourke, Salman Rushdie, Gemma Seltzer, Robert Shearman, Felicity Skelton, Karen Stevens, Jonathan Taylor, Maria Taylor, Sara-Mae Tuson, Deborah Tyler-Bennett, Michelene Wandor, Aimee Wilkinson. A long list, and I for one cannot wait to hear as many of the stories aloud at the launch on the 8th January 2013 at The Betsy Trotwood.

Born WeirdAndrew Kaufman
“The Weirds have always been a little off, but not one of them ever suspected that they’d been cursed by their grandmother.” Blessings that are really curses take their part in the five Weird children’s lives, and they resolve reunite the family and all their “blursings” before their grandmother dies, properly this time. This novel, due to be published on 3rd January is simply, but strangely affecting, it plays with language and possibilities until they are reality.

Short Circuit: a Guide to the Art of the Short Story – ed. Vanessa Gebbie
This second edition of the original guide to writing will be published on 15th April 2013, with new essays to bring up to date insight into the world of the short story. Each essay from a writing expert discusses their writing processes, whilst they share tried and tested writing exercises alongside lists of published work they find inspirational.

So these are my recommendations, but what are yours?

Take flight with Rook

If you follow me on Twitter, or are friends with me on Facebook, you may well have noticed me making a fair amount of noise about a new novel. And there is good reason for it, Jane Rusbridge’s second novel, Rook, is quite simply stunning.

The novel drops you into the deep and muddy depths and allows you to explore the characters’ like hidden artefacts with the changing perspective of time. I found that Nora’s story is displayed from everyone else’s view – Issac’s teachings, Eve’s all seeing eyes, Ada’s secrets – even though she is central to the novel and leads the third person perspective naturally.

“She has the familiar sense of being behind glass, flattened into a reflection.”

The musically inspired descriptions, even when Nora is not present, allows her presence to be felt throughout Rook. The way in which the dialogue flows from summaries into direct speech draws the reader into the intimate conversations without redirection. Colour, along with music, features heavily – from Rook’s black plumage, Harry’s colourless paintings and the eyes that haunt and follow Nora.

“colours spray like exploding dahlias”

Following the final breakdown of her relationship with Issac, Nora hides in the relative safety of her family home however she finds that her mother is determined to change for the future although this leads to a digging up of the past. The puzzling child-adult shifting between Nora and Ada pulls you into their relationship, with a subtlety which provides familiarity to many reader’s own experiences I’m sure. The unfolding of other relationships allows you to discover the new with Nora whilst the hidden past is also uncovered although at a different pace.

“Sometimes when our present is a little too empty, our past move in to fill the gaps.”

The swift manoeuvre of past and present guides the reader through Nora’s mind without force or confusion. Nora’s thoughts spring up from the narration to hang in the air, ever present. By shrinking both time and distance, Rook is a novel that speaks to generations and educates on both historical fact and fiction whilst exploring characters that speak directly to you.

There’s so much more I wish to say about this novel and I hope to bring Rook insights direct from Jane Rusbridge in the coming weeks, but in the mean time – celebrate today’s publication day by purchasing the beautiful Bloomsbury Circus paperback edition.

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.

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