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

Monday, 12 March 2018

Paisley Shirt by Gail Aldwin

I am delighted to welcome Gail Aldwin onto the Blog today. I first met Gail last summer at the Flash Fiction Festival in Bath, and then again at West Sussex Writers’ 80th birthday/Writing Day in Worthing. We chatted about ongoing projects and I’m pleased to share that her debut collection of Flash Fiction is now available from Chapeltown Books.

Paisley Shirt is a collection of flash fiction, 27 very short stories which will surprise, delight and make you think. I was quickly immersed in these and read them all in one sitting, but it’s a great collection to dip into and read in stages too. Gail’s flash stories often take you in one direction, almost lulling you into a sense of cosy expectation and then the character(s) reveal their true selves, often with surprising results. One of my favourite stories from the collection is the title flash ‘Paisley Shirt’ where Aunty Maggy reveals a past secret that surprised me. Another is the poignant ‘Stone’, a tiny story with a lingering punch to the heart.

Gail Aldwin is a prize-winning writer of short fiction and poetry. Her work can be found online at Ink, Sweat & Tears, Slamchop and Words for the Wild. She also has stories published in a range of print anthologies including Flash Fiction Festival One (Ad Hoc Fiction, 2017),
Gli-ter-ary (Bridge House Publishing, 2017) and Dorset Voices (Roving Press, 2012). Cast Iron Productions (Brighton) staged Killer Ladybugs a short play Gail co-wrote in 2017. As Chair of the Dorset Writers’ Network, Gail works with the steering group to support writers by connecting creative communities. She is a visiting tutor at Arts University Bournemouth and author of Paisley Shirt a collection of short fiction.
Paisley Shirt:
A fascinating collection of twenty-seven stories that reveal the extraordinary nature of people and places. Through a variety of characters and voices, these stories lay bare the human experience and what it is like to live in our world. 

Q - How did you go about sourcing a publisher for a flash collection?

I received an email from Chapeltown Books inviting me to submit stories for a single author collection of flash fiction. I had an existing relationship with the publisher Gill James who has included my stories in the Best of CaféLit series and the annual anthology by Bridge House Publishing. Submitting stories to CaféLit as an emerging writer is an excellent way to have your stories reach an audience. I set about putting a collection together by using the theme of human resilience to link new stories and others which had been previously published. One of my favourite stories is about an old woman who reflects on an earlier relationship which became the title story for the collection, Paisley Shirt.

Q - Can you share what you love about flash fiction?

I like to write short fiction alongside on-going projects so that I get a sense of satisfaction in having completed a piece of writing. Flash fiction contains all the elements of a longer story and part of the joy of flash fiction is the ability to distil the details into a short form. Editing is where the fun begins! I love to see my flash fictions become more textured and layered through this process.

Q - For the flashes in this collection have you ever taken a character into a longer piece? If yes, then why and can you tell us more?

Most of my characters come fresh to the page with each new piece of writing. I sometimes reuse the setting of a flash fiction story to develop a longer piece. One of the first pieces of flash fiction I had published was called At the Hostel. It tells the story of an elderly homeless man who befriends a young girl at the homeless hostel by reading her poetry. I used this setting again when I wrote a 30-minute screenplay about young people struggling with the challenges of homelessness in an urban environment. This was delivered as a scripted reading at Bridport Arts Centre in 2016.

Q - You also write longer fiction, can you tell us about that and any other writing projects you're working on?

I’ve become really interested in working collaboratively with other writers over the last couple of years. I am working with four others on a 90-minute screenplay called The F Word about middle-aged women who celebrate a fiftieth birthday by going on a foraging experience. As you can imagine not everything turns out as they expect. Another collaborative group concentrates on scriptwriting and we are hoping to develop enough material for a short play night in the not too distant future. With five failed attempts at writing a publishable novel, I’m still not perturbed. This Much I Know is my current WIP. It uses a six-year-old narrator that gives a child’s view of the interaction between adults in a suburban community where a paedophile is housed. The trick in writing from a child’s perspective is to exploit the gap in understanding between the child and the actions of adults around them. I’m having a lot of fun playing around with strategies and techniques to capture the voice of a young child.

Twitter: @gailaldwin


The Writer is a Lonely Hunter

Chair DWN: 

Gail’s new collection of short fiction Paisley Shirt is available in Kindle Edition from 
Amazon. The paperback is available from all good bookshops.

Monday, 12 February 2018

Stepping it up

2017 was a year of successes for my writing (read more here) and with 2018 underway I'm asking: how can I do better? Writing is now what I do, no matter how tough it gets (and sometimes it feels really tough), for better or worse this is me .. I am a writer. Feels good to say it out loud! I have over 80 publication credits for short stories, flash fiction and articles. My short story collection is ready and out on submission. I have several completed novels to work on and another in progress. All good. So I could just keep doing the same, sticking with my process to produce new work and my publication rate will probably mimic what's gone before.

But I want more ... and what I really want to do is step it up.

I talked about this with my husband over Christmas and he shared something he'd read about snooker (yes, snooker). Snooker players train/practise endlessly to improve their game. Many do well, gain successes but then hit a plateau where despite the process their success stalls. The World Champions get to the podium by reassessing and changing their process. Maybe not all at once, perhaps introducing small changes at first or continually trying new things. That is the push they need to get off the plateau and start winning bigger.

I think I'm stuck on my own writing plateau and I need to get off ...
[Naff homemade graph warning]
My writing process has proved successful to date. I don't start writing a new story until the entire arc is in my head. Then when I do begin the story easily comes out over a couple of days. I still have work to do re editing, sharing with readers etc but basically that has been my modus operandi for the last few years. Unfortunately, the stories have slowed down in their arrival in my head or sometimes fail to turn up at all.

I want to get off the plateau ... so I've been tweaking the process. In January I had only the sketch of a story in my head, not the usual oil painting, but I made myself sit down and start writing. The story started somewhere I didn't expect, which led to its ending - I wrote both back to back and then over a week I filled in the middle of the story. At almost 7,000 words it became one of the longest short stories I've written. It has been entered into a competition and only time will tell if this new approach is successful. What it did show me was that my process doesn't have to be fixed. I tried something new and I still wrote and finished the piece. I can change! Importantly, I actually enjoyed the experience.

I needed a kick to try something new and reading Chuck Wendig's 'The Kick-Ass Writer' has helped. This has "1001 ways to write great fiction. Get published, & earn your audience." Each section has 25
bite-sized pieces of writing advice - so a great book to dip into once a day - and often it feels as if Chuck is shouting in your ear. Each page has at least one memorable quote. It's funny, rude and all TRUE.
This is something from the book I am taking to heart: "It's time to start taking some risks ... Throw open the doors. Kick down the walls of your uncomfortable box. Carpet bomb the Comfort Zone so that none other may dwell there."

P.S. After writing this post I came across an article by Alison Moore in Mslexia (Sep 2017) 'I get knocked down (but I get up again' which sort of echoes some of how I've been feeling lately. One quote that gives me hope is: "A few times ... I noticed in retrospect that just when I had the gravest doubts about my work, and considered stepping out of the ring for a while - and maybe even did so - I was in fact in the process of making a leap forward."

Have you tried changing your writing process? Has it worked for you? Please share.

Monday, 22 January 2018

Bloodlines by Hannah Brockbank

I'm delighted to have talented poet, writer and artist, Hannah Brockbank as a guest on the Blog today. Hannah's debut poetry pamphlet Bloodlines (Indigo) has been recently launched and she's here to talk about her poems and process ... I highly recommend this collection and believe this is the just beginning of Hannah's poetry career.

About Bloodlines:
Through a linked sequence of poems, Bloodlines gives witness to a woman’s struggle to find connection with an absent father. Encompassing themes of biological inheritance and cultural disinheritance, the poems are compellingly intense. Rooted in landscape, the language is elemental, coursing through a series of imaginary encounters and moments of clarity.
Q: This is your debut collection, can you share how this came to be written and then published?
A: Bloodlines was born out of a desire to explore my experience of growing up without a father. I have no recollection of how he looked, moved, and sounded, so this was very liberating creatively. I quickly realised that I’d tapped into a rich vein of emotion and was intrigued to explore it further through poetry. I became very curious about my biological inheritance, and also, my cultural disinheritance. As time progressed, writing about an imagined relationship with my father became a conscious decision. I could see there was enough scope in it too, for it to become the focus of my MA Creative Writing dissertation which I completed in 2015 at the University of Chichester.
Once I had a polished pamphlet of 28 poems, I set about looking for a publisher. I spent a good deal of time researching publishers that might be interested in my work in respect of its theme and style, and I also spoke to other published poets about their recommendations. I decided to send it to Indigo Dreams Publishing as I enjoy reading their publications and magazines. After a few months, I received an email saying they liked Bloodlines and wanted to publish it. I was over the moon!
Q: I particularly love how many of your poems have a very domestic setting and yet others beautifully weave in nature or animals. What triggers the birth of a poem for you? Can you talk through your process of first idea to finished poem?
A: A large proportion of the time, my poems are triggered by a strong emotional response to an image, although occasionally, an interesting phrase or an idiom can intrigue me too. I’ll then write a ‘spill’ in my notebook, which is basically a mind map, except it doesn’t have order and can even include sketches, or clippings, or odd words that wouldn’t mean much to an outsider. I’ll keep adding to it over a number of days. I often start to find links between words or images. I call these ‘serendipitous moments’ and they feel rather like a gift or a good sign. At that point, I’ll start to free-write the poem. After numerous redrafts, I’ll start to think about form and line, and how these can increase the poem’s resonance. Once I feel I have a reasonable draft, I will share the poem with my workshop group.
Q: You had a wonderful opportunity to spend time at the Museum of Motherhood in Florida last year, how did this come about? And did it inspire you to write?
A: I am currently studying for a creative Ph.D at the University of Chichester which includes the creation of a full collection of poems about my mothering experience, and an accompanying study that involves, partly, examining matrifocal narratives in poetry. I searched the internet for residencies that would provide time and space to write, and had opportunities to further support my research. I was delighted when I discovered the Museum of Motherhood (M.O.M.). in Florida. I immediately applied for a two week residency and was accepted soon after. I stayed between 23rd October – 6th November last year. Whilst at M.O.M. I was able to handle exhibits, research, write, and make good use of the museum’s full collection of Demeter Press works. I also made a good friend in the museum’s Founder and Director, Martha Joy Rose. A truly inspirational woman.
Q: What is your next project, can you share what you’re working on right now?
A: I’m currently taking a short pause from an intensive 8 months of writing poetry in order to recharge. As much as I adore writing poetry, it can be emotionally greedy, so I’ve learnt that taking a short break now and then is beneficial, and as a wise friend pointed out to me, will actually help future productivity. So for now, I am walking, swimming, and painting. I think a writer’s mind, however, never truly switches off, and I’d be fibbing if I said I wasn’t still jotting ideas down in my notebook.
You can buy Bloodlines here from Indigo Dreams.
There will be a book launch in early spring at the University of Chichester (date to be confirmed). I will also read at some local Open Mics in the near future. Please check my website for further details and updates.
Hannah Brockbank is joint winner of the 2016 Kate Betts Award. Publications featuring her work include Hallelujah for 50ft Women Anthology (Bloodaxe), A Way through the Woods Anthology (Binsted Arts), Full Moon & Foxglove Anthology (Three Drops Press), The London Magazine, Envoi, and When Women Waken Journal. Her poems also featured in the Chalk Poets Anthology as part of the 2016 Winchester Poetry Festival. She has also written feature essays for Thresholds International Short Story Forum.
Hannah is currently studying for a Ph.D. in Creative Writing at the University of Chichester.
Instagram: hannahbrockbankwriter  Twitter: @hannahbrockbank
Author photo by Natalie Miller




Tuesday, 2 January 2018

2017: A writing year

Tomorrow I'll be meeting my writing buddy, Wendy, to review how we performed against our goals for 2017 and to set new targets for 2018. Yes, teacakes will be involved. You can read about Wendy's writing year here. For me 2017 has been a true rollercoaster year with some spectacular highs, along with a deep, dark low. The low was a personal one when my mum died suddenly in February. I'm still processing that loss and her passing has triggered some difficult emotions and memories, along with extreme anxiety at times. But this is a writing blog and I'll focus on what I achieved in 2017 ...

For the geeks here are the stats:
Short stories written = 4
Flash stories written = 6
Features written = 2
1 new novel started
Crime novel was called in by 6 literary agents but sadly no offers (and very little feedback as to why...)
I was also commissioned to prepare and lead two writing workshops: one on writing for competitions and the other on micro fiction. Both were successful with a good turnout.
Competitions entered = 42 requiring fees, 21 free entry
  • Successes (i.e. long/short listings, placements) = 13
Submissions to magazines/anthologies/online opportunities = 22
  • Acceptances = 10
Income = >4 times what I earned in 2016, it has been a very good year for getting paid to write! However, I am still a long (long) way off paying income tax, which is my ultimate goal (albeit an odd one!).

Here are some of the places my work was published in 2017:
Thresholds Short Story Forum
Writing Magazine
Take-a-Break magazine
50 Word Stories
Reflex Fiction
In the Moment magazine
Flash Fiction Festival Anthology ONE
Brighton Prize Anthology
I YOU HE SHE IT Experiments in Viewpoint anthology (Huddersfield University)
Paragraph Planet

The Prosecco and Walnut Whips came out for the following successes:
Regional Winner (Canada & Europe) Commonwealth Short Story Prize, which included publication on Granta (links below in A-Z), £2,500 prize and an all expenses paid trip to Singapore for the prize giving. It was the high point of my year and of my writing career to date. Writing Magazine also published my 2-page article on winning the prize.
Other paid wins/placements included:
Runner-up Retreat West themed flash comps x2
2nd Prize GRIST Point-of-View comp
2nd Prize Flash500
3rd Prize Reflex Fiction Autumn Flash comp
Story of the month on 50 word stories

Notable listings included:
Longlisted for Mogford Prize, Reflex Fiction, Flash500 Novel comp (for a speculative novel)
Special Commendation for Fabula Nivalis prize
Shortlisted for Flash500 Novel comp (for a crime novel) and Bridport Flash Fiction.

Looking back at these stats makes me realise what a good year it has been. Odd, because I felt it was a bit of a wasted time as I hadn't written as much as previous years. Much of my success/publications came from work written before 2017, which demonstrates the 3 P's of writing: Persistence, Patience and Positive thinking. So I'm hoping new fiction written in 2017 will start to prosper and find good homes in 2018 (and beyond). I'm also really fired up to write new fiction: long, short and perhaps even some drama.

Finally, I looked over the stories published in 2017 and animals feature in many so I thought I'd end with a brief A-Z of animal themed stories that came out last year.

B is for Bird: Twitching, shortlisted for Bridport Flash Fiction and to be published 2018 FLASH: International Flash Fiction magazine
C is for Cat: Pandora's Cat, 3rd Prize Reflex Fiction - read it here
D is for Dragon: Skylighter, 2nd Prize Flash500 - read it here
H is for Hare: The Frost Hare, Brighton Prize Anthology (published in paperback) AND Hare, published on Spelk, read it here
R is for Rat: Positive Outcome, Runner-up Retreat West - read it here
S is for Swan: Inheritance, published on Reflex Fiction - read it here
M is for Moth: The Naming of Moths, published on Granta (CW Prize Regional Winner) - read it here
W is for Whale: Fish of the Sea, published Nov issue In the Moment magazine
W is for (Were)Wolf: Lunacy, Runner-up Retreat West - read it here

Did you achieve your writing goals for 2017? What new writing projects do you want to start in 2018? Please share ... and KEEP WRITING

Sunday, 24 December 2017

75 stories published!

I recently hit a milestone of seeing my 75th story published. Quite by accident it was on Paragraph Planet which only publish stories of 75 words exactly. That has to be auspicious, don't you think? The story was online for one day only so if you missed it here it is below. For anyone who enjoys a Christmas werewolf tale ...

Mistletoe and whine
Had he just explained how mistletoe was a parasite? The berries poisonous. What about romance? “Did you also know it was used to ward off witches and werewolves?” she says, glancing to the sprig above with its glowing orbs. She doesn’t add that not all folklore is based on fact. The full moon casts silvery shadows. A growl lingers at the back of her throat as he leans in for a kiss.

As you can see LitPig is already for Santa. Not sure how long the mince pies will last so I hope he gets here soon. From LitPig and me we'd like to wish all our followers/readers a very


Monday, 14 August 2017

How a dragon cracked a writing competition

Last Friday afternoon I received an email which concluded almost seven years of perseverance. The email came from Lorraine Mace, organiser and mastermind behind the Flash500 competition. If you write flash fiction then you've probably entered this quarterly competition at some point in your writing career. I've been entering since November 2010, with a total of 23 entries and 9 short listings. I was determined to get beyond the short list and make the top 3. And on Friday 11 August 2017 I did it - my story 'Sky Lighter' came 2nd, winning £200. You can read the story and the lovely critique from judge JJ Marsh here.
[Note: that number of entries sounds scary but many later went on to earn income from other competitions and many have been published elsewhere. Never waste a good story!]

I'd like to add how impressed I've been with this competition. It always turns around within 6 weeks of closing. The results and stories were up on the website within hours and I received my winnings the same day without delay. There are few regular writing competitions that can match the professionalism of Flash500.

I believe there are 3 Ps essential to writing:

and I kept true to all of these with Flash500. I believed that one day I WOULD crack the competition and I did ...
Coincidentally this echoes the subject of my writing chum Wendy Clarke's blog post today on not giving up, read it here.

'Sky Lighter' is a complete work of fiction. It is pure imagination and not based on any folk tale, though I like to believe an old storyteller once told fireside tales about Borealis the Sky Lighter dragon who flames the skies with the Northern Lights. The story haunted me for some time and I was working with poet and artist friend, Hannah Brockbank, on turning it into an illustrated book for children. We've both been swept away by other projects and Hannah is immersed in her PhD, but maybe we can pick it up again - though poor Hannah as the illustrator has the bulk of the work to do. Here are two of the initial drawings that Hannah created for 'Sky Lighter.' The girl/ Aurora backed by the Northern Lights and Borealis the Sky Lighter dragon (below).
Hannah Brockbank is a superb artist who also does commissions (read more here, find her on Twitter @hannahbrockbank). She is also a talented poet - her debut pamphlet 'Bloodline' will be published later this year by Indigo Dreams (watch this blog for news on publication date).

Illustrations have been reproduced here with the kind permission of Hannah Brockbank.

Monday, 31 July 2017

West Sussex Writers celebrate 80 years!

I'm rather proud to say that I was the Secretary of West Sussex Writers for three years. During my time on the Committee I met many terrific writers of all genres and one of my favourite jobs was having dinner with best-selling crime writer Belinda Bauer. As one of the oldest and largest writing groups in the UK, West Sussex Writers is celebrating 80 years of existence. On Saturday 29 July I was lucky enough to have a ticket to their Writers' Day event in Worthing.
Alison MacLeod gave the key note address with a evocative journey of pictures and words through Sussex from 1937 to 2017 (see photo right). Alison later led a writing workshop - she's always so enthusiastic and inspiring that several of us asked her if she could develop an 'Alison MacLeod APP' so that when a writer is in need of a shot of her infinite energy they could conjure her up along with her motivational words of encouragement. (Someone really should develop this idea.)
Throughout the morning and afternoon there were also workshops led by: Stephanie Norgate, Melanie Whipman, Umi Simha, Clare Best and Julie Everton, covering poetry, prose, life writing and screenwriting. Over coffee and lunch there were plenty of opportunities to chat to other writers as well as the workshop leaders - it was all wonderfully informal. I caught up with many old friends and also someone I'd met recently at the Bath Flash Fiction Festival - she'd travelled all the way from Dorchester for the Writer's Day. Finally, at the end of the day there was a birthday cake to celebrate West Sussex Writers' 80th year.
Thanks to my recent win in the Commonwealth Short Story Prize I was considered one of the group's success stories and was absolutely delighted when Richard Buxton asked if I would cut the cake. As you can see from the photos below I had to try out the typewriter first - wasn't it a magnificent cake? (It tasted pretty good too!)
It was a nice touch that current members got in FREE for the whole day and non-members paid £22, which seemed exceedingly good value considering the quality of the speakers and the refreshments.
Big thanks must go to all the current Committee members who made the day possible. All your hard work paid off. Congratulations and here's to another 80 years of West Sussex Writers!