Welcome to my blog

Welcome to The Literary Pig's blog - a safe haven for all those afflicted with
the unbearable urge to write.

Monday, 23 November 2015

Dissertation Blues

Today I uploaded my dissertation for binding. Next week I hand in the bound copies and then my MA in Creative Writing (University of Chichester) is all over ... well, until I get the final mark mid-March. I've been working on the dissertation for almost six months and like any goal it seems a bit of an anti-climax now it's done. There will be a few celebrations once I've actually submitted -  a workshop group session down the pub is definitely on the horizon - but the reality is I now have to reassess my writing goals for 2016.

One project clamouring for attention is my completed novel. I suspended submitting this while I focused on the dissertation. To date it's gone out to a handful of agents and one publisher. I've had several requests for the full manuscript but despite some very positive comments on my writing, these didn't lead to any offers.  Later this week my writing chum, Wendy, is coming round. We plan to bunker down in the writing war-room (my lounge) and work on Operation Agent. The objective is to sort: cover letter and the 'dreaded synopsis' and determine where to find and how to approach literary agents. No teacakes will be involved, but I have bought the biscuits (posh chocolate ones) and will stock up on coffee. Knowing both of us this is likely to evolve into some sort of contest, but it all helps!

Otherwise this is what I plan to do in December ...
  • READ, READ, READ, anything that I want!
  • Visit the tame teenager in Bath before he breaks up for Xmas holidays. Bath holds a wonderful Xmas Fair and has a terrific bookshop 'Mr B's Emporium', so lots to look forward to. (Just before Xmas my son turns 20 so he'll no longer be a teenager. Not sure I'm ready for that!)
  • Bake and cook as much as I can from Mary Berry's Christmas Collection - have borrowed this from local library and I can't wait to try some of the recipes.
  • Empty my brain of all things MA related so it's receptive to anything new.
  • Recharge brain with lots of walking / running / swimming and junk TV. (Don't know why but it has to be junk TV to get my cells firing, perhaps because I mentally switch off when watching and start to float off into ideas. My favourite junk at the moment is Psychic Detectives on TruTV - please don't judge me.)
  • Blitz agents with my wonderful novel.
You can see from the photo that LitPig has a stack of books ready. He does have good taste, doesn't he? Oh heck, sorry I have to go and wrestle those chocolates off him straight away...

Monday, 16 November 2015

Literary Salmon - a new fish in the publishing pond

Here's something that caught my attention for National Short Story Week: 3 writers get together,   set up a publishing venture and launch a quality anthology. Who are they?
Literary Salmon ...
Jane Roberts @JaneEHRoberts
Bernie Deehan @BernieDeehan
Francoise Harvey @zarahruth
And here is their first spawning: a collection of 12 short stories all titled The Casual Electrocution of Strangers.

You can download this collection FREE from Literary Salmon here.
I loved the concept of one title and 12 writers. Each story is a unique interpretation of the title, including both contemporary and speculative stories. There are some talented short story writers involved: Lisa Blower, Darren Lee and Jane Roberts to name a few. Tragedy and comedy happily entwine with some wonderfully diverse characters ... a woman executioner on death row, a boy obsessed with the Ghostbusters film, a mysterious and dangerous Parisian ex-Madam. Prepared to be stimulated by these electrifying tales.

I've met the absolutely lovely, Jane Roberts, at The Word Factory short story salon (held on the last Saturday of every month in Waterstones Picadilly). Jane's a terrific writer and talented flasher (flash fiction and all that) and kindly agreed to guest on here today and talk about Literary Salmon ...

Q. You launched Literary Salmon in October with its debut collection of short stories ‘The Casual Electrocution of Strangers’ (excellent title!). Can you take us back to how and when Literary Salmon was spawned and where did the name come from?
Three little words. The Word Factory. Proving that the concept of the Literary Salon is alive and well. More than that, it is a vital resource for writers and readers who wish to connect with literature and like-minded people.
So Fran, Bernie, and I took that idea and got a bit excited about a fun, fishy pun (with a glass of Word Factory wine). Yet it was only till later on in the year that we spawned the idea for the collection when crime queen Val McDermid mentioned on Twitter that she was having problems with people ringing her doorbell in the dead of night. You can look back on Twitter Search and see the conversation we all had back then. It’s amazing to think a few words created a whole collection of twelve short stories.

Q. One title. Twelve different writers for each story. What’s that all about?
An intriguing creative exercise is what it boils down to! We decided to each choose three other writers from our various backgrounds to share in our project. Our combined writing backgrounds range from: founding (or working for) publishing houses and literary festivals, editing, performance and spoken word fiction, poetry, novels, and short fiction published in many places with fixtures as high up as shortlisting for the BBC National Short Story Award. We didn’t know what our writers would do with the title; we only knew that we had faith in them to bring something uniquely theirs in terms of style and approach to the project.
Best of all – every writer in this collection has the lead story. We are very proud of each individual story.

Q. With three of you involved in the venture how did you share out the tasks? And who’s behind the fabulous cover image and the stunningly funky contents page?
This is just a note to my fellow Literary Salmon Crew. It doesn’t often happen that you get to work and share ideas with Very Lovely People. They are. The commitment, enthusiasm, and creative boundaries that have been explored as a group – it’s been a wonderful process.
We all dipped into the final edits; after several rounds of the writers commenting on or editing three other stories as well as their own. I think we all felt honoured by the level of trust people were willing to share in their groups. Comments were always set out to be constructive and helpful to the writer(s); there would have been no room for any kind of abuse or heavy-handedness in this project.
A big vote of thanks from us all to Fran for web-related procedures and formatting. She’s the technology genius in our camp! Bernie has been a fantastic force with an eagle eye on editing, ideas, and formatting. Mostly, I’ve been badgering people to look at what we’re up to and keeping the Twitter-side up: here, I must add a huge vote of thanks to everybody I have badgered – you know who you are and you have all been amazing with your time, suggestions, endorsements, and reviews.
We all had quite a concise idea of how we wanted the collection to look and feel (even if we had little idea about the content and style of the stories being entered at the initial stages), because we all read widely in the short story field – many volumes of Salt Publishing’s Best Short Stories, Unthank Books Unthology series, many literary magazines (Litro, Bare Fiction, Short Fiction, The Stinging Fly, The Lonely Press, Wales Arts Review…), not to mention veritable libraries of modern and classic short fiction authors.
The artwork is the brainchild of Harry Milburn (@realprintsharry). The Literary Salmon logo was created by Kate Townsend (@KateJTownsend). The realisation of an artist’s interpretation of some of those tiny seeds of our initial ideas is awe-inspiring. People who haven’t read the collection yet comment to say the artwork has inspired them to read the stories. A fantastic marriage of creative talent.

Q. I’ve really enjoyed this first collection, but what does the future hold for Literary Salmon?
Can you talk about your next venture? At present readers can download the collection for FREE - do you plan to charge a fee at some point? You must have overheads to cover etc.
The future plans for more Literary Salmon leaps in the “Fresh Waters of Literature” are yet to be more precisely-delineated. But Fran, Bernie, and I are keen to keep the Literary Salmon buoyed up and afloat.
We are extremely proud to have been supported by so many generous people in the publishing world. We will be having a swim around in the next few weeks and months, promoting the work of our writers in the collection, and, most importantly, promoting their new collections, novels, performances, and workshops however we can. I feel we have made a bond between some people where only a fragment existed before – a sort of mutual support network.
It would be a shame not to try and get The Casual Electrocution of Strangers into print copy. Perhaps, along with some exciting new stories… Samples of fiction work very well to hook a reader. With the wealth of difference in the inaugural collection, and the statistics of our “shares” and “downloads”, Literary Salmon has made an impressive first leap. On Twitter alone, a Literary Salmon tweet nets views in the thousands. Not bad for a small fry! Of course, if a print copy became a possibility, it would be judged in-line with similar projects in terms of reader-friendly pricing strategy. And it would be wonderful to be able to give something back to our writers!
We’re all learning new skills on the job. Our enthusiasm for the love of reading and writing – and sharing that love – knows no bounds. If anyone has any suggestions or ideas, we would be more than happy to hear from you.

If that isn’t electrifying enough, Literary Salmon are proud to be featuring in a slot at the Word Factory December Party! We can’t think of a more apt way to celebrate – come and join us! Details on The Word Factory website.
Q. Can other writers get involved in future publications -will there be submission opportunities?
We are all absolutely thrilled by the level of engagement – both from our writers and readers. It would be fantastic to involve more people in the future. One clear response is that sometimes a writer needs to write something for the love of writing, to re-engage with the fun and joy of the processes without the fear of rejection and the stress of deadlines. Furthermore, writing in this way produces a piece of fiction that can inspire a lot of readers. It is a potent gift, to be able to enjoy these simple acts. Who wouldn’t want to take part in that?

Please look out for further Literary Salmon sightings as we continue our Blog Tour, and thank you, Tracy (& LitPig) for hosting us! As a writer we all admire, it is fantastic to have your Salmon support!

Catch the Literary Salmon
Twitter: @LiterarySalmon and #LiterarySalmon #LitSal

Monday, 9 November 2015

From short story to novel with Joanna Campbell

LitPig is tickled pink to welcome his special guest, novelist and short storywriter, Joanna Campbell to the blog today. Firstly, CONGRATULATIONS to Joanna for winning the 2015 London Short Award last week - a terrific achievement. Read more here ...
He's been a pig fan of Joanna's writing for many years and is delighted that she's here today to talk about her obsession with the characters of a short story evolved into her debut novel Tying Down the Lion.

Joanna Campbell:
When I tried to write new stories after finishing the two-thousand word tale, A Temporary Uprooting, I discovered that, for several reasons, I had failed to seal the membrane over the Bishop family.

Firstly, having created and followed the Bishops to the point of departure for a momentous journey t a city featuring one of the most brutal fortified barriers on earth, I left them at the edge of the action. Roy's hands in his beloved driving-gloves were gripping the steering wheel, but I had not allowed him to engage gear. I was unable to shake off the image of the family who had stalled at the very outset of their quest.

Also, although it achieved a short-listing and a commendation in competitions, when A Temporary Uprooting was rejected for magazine publication, I questioned further its suitability for a workable piece of short fiction.
In addition, although I had not intended to blend fictional and real people, I had to accept that two of the Bishops were riddled with elements of my late father and brother. Although I feared my emotional attachment might encumber the writing process, I could not miss the chance of embarking on a final adventure with my family. As Bridget Bishop discovers, some steps in our lives need to be retraced.
I developed the story into a novel by adapting it as the first chapter. This, however, turned out to be a flawed idea. A short story is rarely the end of everything, but it is the end of something.
Short is not the same as incomplete. The act of ending a short story is a natural block for the writer, even if the reader would like it to continue. By trying to plough through the closure—albeit a poised-to-go closure—I encountered the drawback of beginning a novel with something essentially finished. In order to facilitate a smoother transition, I needed to open and unlace that ‘something’, then reconnect it in a different way.
Although further deletions took place during the final edits, elements of the original story were eventually incorporated throughout the novel, a process not unlike separating eggs. Just as any stray specks of yolk in the whites prevent a meringue from rising to peaks, if I had allowed too much of the short story’s inherent narrative flow to make the cut, it would have disturbed the novel’s pacing and structure.
In A Temporary Uprooting, Grandma Bishop stays behind when the family travel to Berlin. However, early readers of the novel asked if this larger-than-life lady could have a seat in the car, which meant blending in a back-story to deepen and soften her character and also delineate a more stimulating narrative arc.
Jacqueline Bishop did not plan to write a journal in the short story, but, despite her role as narrator, she appeared too passive and purposeless for the novel. Therefore, I gave her the task of producing a project about Berlin, not only for school, but also to bridge the widening gap between her and her German-born mother.
The semi-autobiographical character of Roy remained unchanged in the novel, his spirit and mission already established from the outset, via both my pen and my heart.
We can highly recommend Tying Down the Lion, a funny and moving read that's hard to put down. Here's my review from Goodreads:
I've been following Joanna Campbell's short story career for years - as we've featured on many a shortlist together (she usually won!) - and have always admired her excellent writing. Her debut novel doesn't disappoint and lives up to expectation. Well written and surprisingly funny throughout. Joanna knows how to weave tragedy and comedy together to create an incredibly satisfying and lingering read. I loved spending time with the Bishop family, particularly Nell the gran with attitude - I think we all know a few old ladies like Nell. Also enjoyed the 1967 setting, which brought back many early childhood memories of Woolworths / Angel Delight / Twinkle magazine and many more ... Longlisted for the Not-the-Booker-Prize 'Tying down the Lion' is a brilliant debut and I can't wait for Joanna's next novel.

Finally a little bit about Joanna and her writing career: Joanna's stories have been published in magazines such as The New Writer, Writer's Forum, The Yellow Room, Woman's Weekly and The People's Friend, as well as in collections published by Salt Publishing, Cinnamon Press, Spilling Ink, Earlyworks Press, Unbound Press, Rubery Press and Biscuit Publishing.
Shortlisted five times for the Bridport Prize and three times for the Fish Prize, she has stories in both the 2010 and 2013 Bristol Short Story Prize Anthologies.
You can follow Joanna on her writing blog here.
When Planets Slip Their Tracks, her first short story collection, will be published soon in hardback by Ink Tears Press.
Tying Down The Lion is published by Brick Lane. You can buy it from Amazon and I also ordered my copy from Waterstones.







Monday, 2 November 2015

The joy of workshops

Just a quick one from me as I REALLY should be working on my dissertation submission ... One of the biggest learning experiences from my MA in Creative Writing has been the joy of discovering that workshops work. At first the whole process of submitting work to a group of other writers for was daunting. I wasn't used to getting feedback on work-in-progress - usually the only feedback I got on my writing was either an acceptance or, more likely, a rejection. Sharing feedback face-to-face was terrifying. I'm still adjusting to that bit, but in the last two years I've learned to listen and act upon the feedback. I've been incredibly lucky to have worked with some very talented writers, specialising in fiction and poetry. In a later post I'll talk a bit about my current workshop group and how they're getting me through the dissertation, but today is a THANK YOU to a group I worked with about a year ago. They reviewed and commented on a short story called Custard Creams and Lemon Polish, which had been submitted quite a few times without any success. I took on board all the feedback and revised the story.

Is there a happy ending to this tale? Well, last week I received my contributor's copy of FIREWORD Quarterly (issue 5) containing my short story: Custard Creams and Plastic Lemons. The literary magazine accepted
the reworked version earlier in the year and now it's published. Was overjoyed to receive my copy as the quality of the magazine is outstanding. My story is also accompanied by a gorgeous original illustration by Karolina Burdon (see photo right). Yes, I think this qualifies as a happy ending.
If you have the opportunity to join a group of writers and share work then go for it!
You can order issue 5 of FIREWORDS here. Also watch out for submission opportunities for issue 6...

And look out for next Monday's blog where LitPig's special guest is novelist and short story writer, Joanna Campbell. He's so excited about the interview that he may even take a bath ...

Monday, 26 October 2015

Let's hear it for Wendy Clarke: 100 Sales!

LitPig has raided the chocolate tin to help someone celebrate a writing milestone. Okay, I confess it's not me. I've recently written short story number 118 and hit 47 stories published, but that's nothing compared to what my writing chum, Wendy Clarke has achieved. She hit 100 stories sold some time ago, that's old news, but last week she achieved a new milestone: 100 sales to The People's Friend. 100 sales to one magazine! That's pretty amazing we think. Pop over to Wendy's blog and read about her journey to this magic target.

I'll share a little secret with you. LitPig has a bit of a crush on our Wendy (see photo right) and fondly remembers when he interviewed her about launching her debut collection Room in Your Heart (read the interview post here).
Shyly, he plucked up the courage today to ask how she was planning to celebrate 100 sales. This is what she told him:
I've been asked a lot about how I've celebrated this milestone and my answer has got to be "I haven't". There have been many lovely milestones along my People's Friend journey - first sale, first article, first serial and of course the publication of Room in Your Heart that I couldn't celebrate them all. What I actually did after that 100th sale was walk the dog... then write another story!

There's a lesson for all wannabe writers. Celebrate by writing something new.

(I don't believe a word of it. I've seen her polish off giant slabs of cake without any excuse for a celebration!)

Check out Wendy's two collections of short stories:
They can be bought from Amazon as ebooks or paperbacks. Both are cracking good reads.

Monday, 19 October 2015

Reading off-piste: Discovering new voices (part 2)

In September I shared some of the new voices (new to me) I'd discovered from my dissertation reading (read the post here). Don't tell my tutor but I've also been reading off the list, off-piste so to speak, and I want to share some of my new finds. Here are a small selection of short collections that have caught my imagination ... so far ...
The Rental Heart and other fairytales by Kirsty Logan
An impressive debut collection of short stories. I enjoyed all of these. Some are saucy, others surreal and I love how many really did end happily.
Kirsty Logan recently won the 2015 Polari First Book Award for this collection.
(I was lucky enough to get my copy signed by Kirsty at the London Short Story Festival back in June. She is absolutely lovely and genuinely believes in happy endings.)

The Redemption of Galen Pike by Carys Davies
An absorbing and imaginative second collection of short stories from VS Pritchett winner, Carys Davies. I didn't take to all of these, a couple had late twists to the stories which I felt came too quickly to close the story but many were excellent. The title story is one of the best.

Carys Davies has just won the 2015 Frank O' Connor International Short Story Award for this collection.

Clown's Shoes by Rebecca F John
Clown’s Shoes is Rebecca F John’s debut collection of short stories and what a blazing collection of images it is. Several stories come with an excellent pedigree such as The Sunday Times EFG shortlisted The Glove Maker’s Numbers and Salting Home, listed for the Manchester Prize. I enjoyed the setting of each story as John seems to easily flit across time periods from the Victorian madhouse of The Glove Maker’s Numbers to a concentration camp in WWII. Others have a more contemporary feel or are suitably timeless in setting. I loved how her stories touched on a multitude of themes and concepts sweeping from live naked theatre shows of the 20s (Clown’s Shoes) to a death defying magic stunt (Bullet Catch). Clearly, this is a short story writer who pursues her fascinations and obsessions rather than concentrating on one theme – I relished this aspect of the collection as each story came as a complete package. Starting a new story was like unwrapping a gift, you had a hint of the contents from the title, but once inside it was a unique surprise – a genuine treat. A couple of the stories towards the end of the collection didn’t quite hit the mark for me, such as Running for Bernie (I’m not a fan of reproducing dialect/speech too accurately and this quickly began to irritate within the story, for me) and Hunting Shishe, which didn’t reel me in. One of my absolute favourites was Salting Home, a story about a long missing child returned home and the issues that linger after the happy reunion. I wanted to know so much more about the characters.

Rebecca F John has just been announced as the 2015 PEN International/New Voices Award for her short story Moon Dog (which is included in Clown's Shoes).

Have you read any of the above writers? Do share if you have any favourite contemporary short story writers...

Sunday, 11 October 2015

And the winner is ...

To follow-up on my previous post talking through the shortlisted stories for the 2015 BBC National Short Story Award the winner and runner-up were announced a few days ago. I was pleased to learn one of my favourites 'Briar Road' by Jonathan Buckley took the top prize, with Mark Haddon and his story 'Bunny' coming runner-up. You can listen here to Jonathan Buckley talking about his story on Front Row.