Listen to the Whisper Network

If only you’d listened to us, none of this would have happened.

Chandler Baker’s novel, Whisper Network, starts and ends with a call to be heard. For the women at the heart of the novel to be heard, for the voices that inspired their stories to be listened to.

The novel is not straight forward, stories like these rarely are, and it’s suitable that it doesn’t fit in the narrow boxes that publishing houses like it squeeze most into. In parts, social commentary, thriller, women’s fiction: dark humour edges it but with the bite of reality that stops you laughing too hard.

It’s a story of how one man’s actions affects the lives of multiple women. It is the story of how the world sees the action of few women that would change the course of one man’s life. It’s the story of how the world views one story as more important than the others. It’s the story of our mothers, sisters, daughters. Our bosses and our assistants. The invisible and the seemingly seen. The story of how all actions will have consequences but they’re not always in our control.

I don’t want to deep dive into the story, pick it apart and re-present it for you. Because that’s what happens. I want you to explore it and find your own story in it, as I did, and as the author wants you to. Her notes on why she wrote the book are as worth reading as the novel itself.

One thing I will say, is that I went into reading it with this marketing bi-line:

Big Little Lies Meets #MeToo in THE Must Read Book of 2019

I often avoid the books that come with the hype, the order to read it, and to be honest for the first chapter or so, it tainted my reading. I was looking for the clever cinematic reveals and the self-reflected story. Yes, that does come with it but it’s a carefully told story with excellent literary devices. And they are all more the satisfying when they happen to you rather than you looking for them. Let their stories take you in, as hard as it is hear all of them.

Whisper Network is published today. I hope women, and men, will read it, discuss it, and continue to learn with it.

On being ready to tell

20160312_182813I first went to the opera eleven years ago. I vividly remember the train journey into London, the panic on my then-girlfriend-now-wife’s face as we arrived late to find the doors closed, the view from our first seats and the move to our actual seats during the interval, the little bar in Covent Garden where we drank champagne and de-constructed ourselves on our first valentine’s. I do not remember anything about the opera itself.
On revisiting the Coliseum for Philip Glass’s Akhnaten last weekend, I explained that I couldn’t remember the finer details of the opera, or even the building, from the last time. I feel I wasn’t emotionally or mentally ready for the experience, that it was too big for me to connect with. After the second opera experience I was left with the memories of how the music made me feel, the way the symbolism on stage fulfilled the story in my mind, my relation to the height of the seats and the grasp of a hand in mine as we waited for the next act.

So why am I telling you this on a writing blog?

I have found myself drawing parallels with this experience and my current writing processes. Stories need to be given time to be told but the story teller has to be ready to to tell the tale.

I have never been a “one draft wonder” and I don’t really believe there is such a writer. Developing your characters, understanding the story’s theme, time, place, all takes redrafting. Some stories take much longer, the ones where you think you’re finished and then you get a hint of something misplaced or missing. If you find that happening, this is my advice.*

Look inwards. Try not to get lost in there, just look. What does this story mean to you? Who is this protagonist to you? What do they mean to you?

This is where that creative writing “rule” comes in – write what you know. I don’t think that it’s true for everything and finding out about new things or writing from a perspective utterly different to your own is part of the creative process but understanding what you know about yourself, your characters, those emotional and mental connections, is vital.

You don’t have to literally put this in the final draft – you just need to know. When you’re redrafting with this knowledge you will connect with the story you’re telling – that’s where the readiness lies.

What did the * mean above? This is advice for myself too, I tend to forget. I have been writing a story that I already thought was flying. Turns out it came back, and sat pecking at my feet until I really began to understand what the story meant to me. Stella Duffy gave me this advice last year at her masterclass for Word Factory – Stay at your desk until it’s all out. It won’t be comfortable, you may find yourself crying it out, but it will be worth it. Sometimes it takes time for advice to sink in. It will always be worth it.

Good things come in…fours?

Seasons, cardinal directions, card suits, limbs… Okay, so I’m scratching around and breaking the rule of three. Normally I happily live by that superstition but you have to celebrate when there’s more good things around. Here are a four great things that I wanted to share with you this week.

 

Library Friendship

Friends of British LibraryThis to me is the most wonderful of gifts. My parents purchased this for me for my birthday at the start of February. Having enjoyed the last exhibition on the Gothic Imagination, and the current one on the anniversary of Alice in Wonderland, the prospect of a year of opportunities there does make me extraordinarily happy, along with the chance to make the most of the member’s room when a spare seat in a peaceful place to write is needed. If you want to find out more, visit http://support.bl.uk/.

The Tiniest Literary Magazine 

Matchbook StoriesThe latest issue (number four) of Matchbox Stories arrived exquisitely packaged up from Book Ex Machina. I will be honest, this was an on a whim purchase but I’m so pleased I did. The four tiny stories by Ali Smith, Etgar Keret, Marti Leimbach and Frances Gapper are brilliant. Full of wit and wonder, these micro-tales left me thinking. Thinking of all the possibility there is in so few words, and the power that can be contained in no more than five sentences. If you’d like your own set then visit their site here.

Sublime Beginnings

Word Factory
Photo credits: James Lawson http://www.james-lawson.co.uk

Word Factory‘s year began on Saturday. Although Marina Warner could not be with us, and we all send our best wishes to her, the evening was a wonderful start to the year. I’ve written about how proud I am to be a part of Word Factory before, and although I have had to step away to concentrate on my collection in the past couple of months it still continues to be a great source of community, understanding, and inspiration. If you haven’t been before do let me know, I’d love to introduce you into the family.

Beautiful Monsters

Mslexia 69I have been subscribed to Mslexia for a good few years now. I’ve seen them refresh their design before to ensure they stay engaged with their readership and this one is no different; beautiful inside and out. It offers features which cut into what the industry and writers are thinking about, how-to advice from exercises to inspire to ways to reconnect with your writing and reading communities. The showcased stories are always worth reading – this month, Ana Salote’s left me chilled as the layers of meaning sunk in. Their website is also a mine of information so pop along and find out what you’re missing.

 

 

Waiting for stories to fly

Most short stories take time to write. The one I have finished a new draft of this morning as evolved over the past year. A year of thinking about it, writing it in part of another story, and then thinking about it a bit more. And a bit more. Then playing, seeing it from another view until the story I was trying to tell, became the story I am telling.

It is only an initial draft. It has gone through another filter by my reading it aloud to my wife, who I am grateful to have in so many ways but this morning mostly as my first reader. An honest first reader really helps. Then it will be off to the critique group I belong to who will give their invaluable feedback. After any further redrafting with my editor, its next journey will be as part of my short story collection.

I am an incredibly impatient person when it comes to myself, my work. Allowing my stories time feels like an impossible task. But when it works, when it clicks into place, it feels like how I imagine these Jackdaws feel.

 

The story is about a Jackdaw among other things.

Books are for life…(the short story one)

bookscuptureChristmasTree
Sculpture by Malena Valcarcel

This time of year brings the need to compile lists out in all of us. I’ll put the blame on the stories we were told by our loved ones in order to have some kind of clue (or just a short list) of what we would like to receive.

Books have always been high on my gift lists. Even before I could read, the greatest gift my family could bestow upon me was a well chosen book. I still have the first books my grandpa brought me – Swallows and Amazons, and a miniature library of the Beatrix Potter stories. They are among my most treasured possessions – a link to a man who I barely knew whose love I still feel through our shared imagination.

So there will be a few of these posts to inspire you to surprise your loved ones, along with the many more that are popping up across the internet, newspapers and magazines. First to start with my greatest interest at the moment – short stories.

20151121_164452This year short story lovers have been spoilt for choice. My currently-reading and to-read shelf is packed with collections from established and new writers, and I would recommend them all but for now here’s my top three female writers whose stories have fuelled my creativity and made me dream big whilst writing my collection.

Don’t Try This at Home – Angela Readman

Any book from And Other Stories comes with an automatic recommendation from me. They continue to publish incredible writers, and if you are unsure of what to get for the book lover in your life then look at their subscriptions which are guaranteed to delight. With Readman’s debut collection, there is real magic in the ordinary – think Angela Carter or Adam Marek if you want literary comparisons. There’s a reason Readman is collecting awards, including the Costa short story award. These stories have taught me to be fearless, to go beyond what you initially see or create, and will be a collection I return to again and again.

An Account of the Decline of the Great Auk, According to One Who Saw It – Jessie Greengrass

Often with short story collections and anthologies, I dip in and out, selecting stories at the “right” time. Every now and then a collection comes along where I cannot help but read them in one go. With these I tried to pace myself, but consumed them all within a day or so. It was a day incredibly well spent. The stories are linked by the search of absolution which at times is captured rather than fulfilled. Most of all it showed that no matter whether in the past or future we continue to be surprised, out-witted and led by the creations of our imagination and our minds as a whole. ‘Some Kind of Safety’ reminded me that carefully chosen words and very little space (less than 3 pages) can create the most honest and intense stories. Greengrass is fearless when using the first person narrative allowing the reader to feel these stories as presented truths rather than tales. I found this collection on a table of selected short story writers at Waterstones Cambridge – well done them for selecting astutely. I had not heard of Greengrass before then but she will certainly be a writer I search out in the future.

The Rental Heart and Other Fairytales – Kirsty Logan

Another independent, Salt, who can always be relied upon to present us with wonderful storytellers (buy direct from them too ,- they have a 20% off offer on at the moment). I’m not sure how I had not heard of Kirsty Logan before, but ‘The Rental Heart’ is possibly the most perfect story and that level of perfection and exploration doesn’t stop there. Her retelling of traditional fairytales, are balanced by the creation of new ones. References to Angela Carter can be made again, as can those to Ali Smith and Marina Warner. Logan thrives in this condensed form, but her debut novel is also a fantastic escape; the extended tale of The Gracekeepers story in this collection. Along with her debut collection and novel, she has a second collection A Portable Shelter that came out as a limited run of 1000 beautifully bound books which now seem impossible to find due to 800 of them being pre-ordered! If anyone finds a copy, please remember I would love to receive this as a gift this Christmas! If you fancy seeing her read, and to get a signed copy of one of her books – come along to Word Factory next Saturday (28 November 2015).

I would love to hear about your inspirations – and let’s face it, we can all use a little help when picking out new books to surprise people with. Next on the blog will be the novel list…

 

Lost Voices: Published!

When I found out that ‘Once, there was a bear’ was a winner in the Lost Voices competition and would be joining six other works in the anthology pamphlet, my first thought was that I had almost got my wish to be published before I turned 30 as it was due out in March. But I was very happy to know I would be published at some point in the very near future.

Lost VoicesFor my birthday I disappeared up to North Wales to relax and write. On the way home, I switched back online and found that the anthology had actually been released a day before I turned 30. I don’t think I’ve stopped smiling since.

I have received so many wonderful comments about the story, and I love hearing from my family and oldest friends when they’ve received their copies.

2015-02-11 20.50.19 2015-02-11 21.13.44

I’m so proud to be part of such a wonderful anthology; beautifully edited and designed by Adam Craig. Which leads me to the next bit of news. I have been invited to submit a story for Liquorice Fish’s anthology Past Tense which is being created in honour of Cinnamon Press’s 10 year anniversary. ‘Fallen’, a micro fiction, will be part of a pamphlet anthology of 10 stories from past and present Cinnamon Press writers. Past Tense is due to be published in November.

If you’d like a copy of Lost Voices or to find out more about Liquorice Fish visit the Cinnamon Press site.

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.

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.

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.