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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, 9 March 2020

10 years, 90 published stories

Last week I celebrated the 10 year anniversary of leaving my full-time job and career in the pharmaceutical industry. (As you can see, LitPig knows exactly how to celebrate!) From that point onwards my life changed, and for the better as I reinvented myself along with beginning a new career as a writer.

I could rattle on for pages detailing my writing path in the last 10 years but I'm simply going to state for the record that I've never been happier or healthier in the previous decade. I've also met a whole new bunch of friends in the writing world, who I never would have met if I'd continued in my original career. Friends such as Wendy Clarke, Richard Buxton, Sarah Hegarty and Ingrid Persaud, along with many others I now know from Twitter and literary festivals/events and of course the MA in Creative Writing at Chichester University. I share work and projects with many of these new friends and their advice is invaluable, but mostly I value the wonderful support and nurturing that other writers freely give. I feel blessed to have found my tribe.

In February I also hit a milestone of 90 published stories. You can read my 90th story here on the brilliant Fictive Dream @FictiveDream (editor Laura Black): BUZZ WORD.
The piece is accompanied by original artwork by Claudia McGill. Here you can read her thoughts on the illustration and also why she completed two paintings. I love these illustrations and am proud that Claudia "got" the story.

I now own both of the original paintings and hope to soon have these framed and displayed on the walls of my writing cave. Aren't they beautiful?

Finally, LitPig and I would like to thank all loyal followers for sticking with us. Here's to the next decade of writing. I'm looking forward to new projects, goals and to continue learning all that I can about the craft.

Monday, 13 January 2020

A Dinner Party in the Home Counties: a poetry collection by Reshma Ruia

I am delighted to welcome Reshma Ruia as my first guest on the blog for 2020. I first came across Reshma’s writing in May we borrow your country (published Linen Press) and you can read more on this wonderful anthology in a previous post here. Reshma has now published her debut poetry collection A Dinner Party in the Home Counties (Skylark Publications) and has joined us today to talk about her writing …
Reshma Ruia:
Reshma is a published author and poet. Her first novel, ‘Something Black in the Lentil Soup’, was described in the Sunday Times as ‘a gem of straight-faced comedy.’ Her second novel manuscript, ‘A Mouthful of Silence,’ was shortlisted for the 2014 SI Leeds Literary Prize. Her short stories and poems have appeared in various British and International anthologies and magazines and commissioned for BBC Radio 4.  Her debut collection of poetry, ‘A Dinner Party in the Home Counties,’ won the 2019 Debut Word Masala Award. She has a PhD and Masters in Creative Writing from Manchester University, a Bachelor, and Masters Degree with Distinction from the London School of Economics. She worked as a development economist with the Food and Agriculture Organisation and the World Food Programme of the UN. She is the co-founder of The Whole Kahani-a writers’ collective of British South Asian writers. Born in India and brought up in Italy, her narrative portrays the inherent preoccupations of those who possess a multiple sense of belonging.
Q: How did you come to write this collection, and what do some of the poems mean to you?
I started my journey as a writer through poetry. My earliest memory is winning a UNESCO award at school for my poetry and the first prize was a trip to Paris. I can still remember that heady mixture of excitement and fear as I boarded the overnight train from Rome to Paris.  ‘A Dinner Party in the Home Counties’ has grown organically over the years. There have been digressions in terms of writing novels and short stories, but poetry has always been there, quietly ticking away, biding its time.
 These poems are about people travelling between worlds- geographical, cultural, and emotional. As such, they reflect my own hybrid identity, which straddles India, Italy and Britain. There are poems about letting go of old certainties, of hope and of betrayal and loss too. Identities are in a constant flux, being shaped and reshaped by an imperative to belong whether to a map or a feeling.
 The poems are personal in tone but will I hope resonate universally through their exploration of grief, loss, love and age. The poems are particularly relevant to our times when there is a growing sense of parochialism and hostility towards ‘the outsider.’ They will resonate with all those who have portable roots and are at home everywhere and nowhere.
The poems also portray the emotive minefield of relationships, questioning the ambiguity behind maternal or filial love. Society conditions us to love our parent or child or partner but my poems challenge this by describing the tug of war between a woman’s sense of self and the roles she is expected to play.
 I have dedicated the book to my father. I lost him last summer and some of the latter poems in the collection echo with his absence.
 Q: Could touch on the differences in the creative process (if there are any for you) in writing poetry versus fiction (I do love your short stories)?
 I seem to gravitate between the genres. Someone once said that people read poetry for emotion—not information and I believe this. When I write poetry, it is an attempt to arrive at some kind of understanding about what it means to inhabit this world and be human-flawed, imperfect, torn by tribal loyalties yet capable of astonishing kindness. There doesn’t need to be an obvious plot or narrative arc in poetry, there is fluidity instead and I am conscious of language, its tonality, texture and imagery. Some emotions and themes can only be captured in verse. It’s almost a visceral, an intangible tug at one’s core, at what makes us human, like mother’s milk-it’s a taste one never forgets.
Short stories need to be less condensed and more structured in terms of conflict and resolution. Pacing and resolution must be snappy and less open ended than poetry. As Frank O'Connor said, in a short story the crisis is the story. Yet in both genres, I try to capture the predicament of everyday people being at a crossroads, making choices that have far-reaching consequences.  

My thoughts on A Dinner Party in the Home Counties:
This whole collection was a joy from start to end. As a prose writer who loves poetry but often finds collections a little bit scary I found these poems incredibly accessible. Ruia's writing is fluid and lyrical, and I found narrative arcs within the poems and across the collection, which is divided into three sections to neatly present a beginning, middle and ending. Dare I say it but it was the prose that drew me into the poems here. There are many characters and voices, all with distinct stories to tell, often outsiders (for whatever reason) longing to belong or worse being made to belong, and I feel this is a collection I will continue to return to again and again. Ruia captures the thoughts, fears, hopes and dreams of both men and women. Her poems feature bored accountants, desperate mothers and echo how we are all trying to make sense of the world.
My copy is now jam-packed with yellow stickies where I marked up particular lines or stanzas I enjoyed. There really are too many to mention but I want to share some of my favourites as they perfectly illustrate the quality of the writing:
Class Reunion:
Her rose-tinted yesterdays that she ruled
like a queen have no echo in what she is today.
A woman greedy for a gilded past,
dancing in a room full of trick mirrors
that only knew how to lie.

This Could Only Be Lennon's Doing:
Imagine a day like no other.
The sky - a blue-skinned Krishna's belly.
Sun dripping its honey.

A Conversation With Sylvia Plath:
The clouds bleat heavy with rain.
The trick she tells me, is to balance while falling.
To stand still while burning quick.

And then there is this beautiful poem that I want to recite every day as it quietens my fears, bringing peace and calm into an uncertain world ... it could be a mantra for 2020.
(Note: I've aligned this centrally for the blog)
The Lord's Prayer:
Lord, grant me the quiet perfection 
of imperfect days.
The radiator breaking,
the kettle that won't sing,
the train leaving the platform just as I reach.
Lord, grant me sorrows that can be stilled
with toast and tea.
The sound of rain, washing a windowpane.
The world has had enough
of bullets and leaders barking blood,
women clutching babies as they sink.
The world has enough of peacocks.
Let the sparrows come out to preen.

[The Lord's Prayer is reproduced here with the permission of the author, Reshma Ruia]

I hope I've inspired you to share and enjoy A Dinner Party In The Home Counties, it really is a collection with something for all tastes in poetry.
May I also recommend you to read any of Reshma Ruia's short stories if you come across them. She really is a multi-talented writer and I am overawed by her ability to switch across poetry and prose.

And finally ... and most importantly here are some links to where you can buy your own copy of A Dinner Party in the Home Counties

Thursday, 5 December 2019

Top reads of 2019

LitPig is getting ready for Christmas and planning his stocking fillers. If you're anything like me then your Christmas wish-list is packed with books (and chocolate). To help you choose some stocking fillers here are the top 6 books I've read and loved in 2019 (in no particular order):

Something Like Breathing by Angela Readman:
I have been a fan of Angela Readman's short stories for several years, I love her writing voice and was excited to learn of her debut novel 'Something like Breathing.' Readman's quietly beautiful writing translates perfectly to the longer form of a novel. I was soon immersed in the lives of the two narrators, Lorrie and Sylvie (the story runs from 1957 to 1960) on their remote Scottish island. This is the story of their friendship and Sylvie's unusual gift. How exactly Sylvie is special is slowly revealed. Readman does not deal in glitzy tricks or twists and character is everything in this novel. I fell in love with the gentle and very wise soul of Sylvie and I didn't want it to end. I'm still thinking of the two girls ... Lorrie was a force to be reckoned with but I'm fretful for Sylvie let loose in a manipulative world - though she'd clearly inherited her mother's resilience and backbone. I'd love to know what happened next for both of them ...

Ellie and the Harp Maker by Hazel Prior:
All the blurb about this novel is true. It is a heartwarming, engaging, uplifting story about love and friendship. It will also make you smile (a lot) and cry (a lot - but in a good way). I quickly fell in love with Ellie and Dan, the main characters and voices, and felt bereft when I finished reading. I could happily spend many more hours in their company, along with Phineas the pheasant.
This book brought me comfort at a difficult time. It is gentle, written with love and understanding. This has jumped into my top ten of favourite reads, it is a book I will return to again and again.

Little by Edward Carey:
This is an extraordinary novel. Beautifully written and incredibly atmospheric. I was soon immersed in 18th Century Paris and completely absorbed by the narrator's story. Marie 'Little'(later to become Madame Tussaud) is the most wonderful literary creation, her voice still lingers with me: naive and yet strong and determined. This charts the early life of Little as she learns to create wax models from her very odd mentor in Paris. We learn about life at Versailles (she slept in a cupboard), her obsession with the King's sister and ultimately how Little survived the turbulent years of the French revolution.
Carey's language and story carried me through this almost dream like novel, and his own illustrations make it something very special indeed. This is going into my top ten of favourite all-time books.

What She Saw by Wendy Clarke:
This is the terrific debut thriller from Wendy Clarke that kept me absorbed to the end and ticked so many boxes: super twists, page-turning story, characters you care about and a Lake District setting. Quality writing that quickly hooked me in, I read this almost in one sitting.

Ironopolis by Glen James Brown:
This was the most intriguing and unusual book I've read in a long time. Glen James Brown is an excellent storyteller who's characters are unique creations, authentic working class voices drawing you into the dark and at times sinister world of Ironopolis. Ultimately this is Alan's story as he searches for the truth of his father. We become immersed in the community over three generations as the Middlesborough inner city housing estate begins to fade and decay, along with its inhabitants. Jean (Alan's mum) writes her story in letters to a stranger. Henry is the strangely attractive mobile librarian with a  disturbing secret. Alan hunts down what happened on the Day of the Dark, and the New Year Eve's bomb explosion by meeting the misfits and outsiders (like himself) who are trying to make sense of their lives. Throughout the stories the mystical Peg Powler haunts the river and pipes, a creature conjured to scare young children she seems to have been a reality for several characters.
This novel weaves between black humour, horror and a gripping story line that makes you want to keep reading. There is a brooding oppressive darkness that pervades Ironopolis and it will follow you long after finishing.  An atmospheric debut from talented writer Glen James Brown.

HAG, a poetry collection by Zoe Mitchell:
If you love mythology, folklore and ancient history then I highly recommend HAG by Zoe Mitchell. Her poetry is infused with energy and jumps off the page. The writing is equally vivid, visceral and incredibly lyrical. Her classical knowledge is woven seamlessly with the everyday, her characters will linger in your dreams and often inspire you to go search out more details on what lies behind their stories. The natural world appears in several poems, one of my particular favourites is ‘Sycamore Gap’ featuring an argument between the famous sycamore and Hadrian's Wall. ‘Lullaby’ really is the stuff of nightmares and ‘A Matter of Common Talk’ will make you either laugh out loud or cringe (depending on your gender). There are goddesses, Ancient Britons, lovers and the lovelorn, along with the forgotten voices of women doomed for simply being women. Once read and devoured, then this collection is one to read again and out loud so you can savour the delicious rhythms and joy of words that Mitchell has crafted.

You can read more about the creation of Zoe Mitchell's debut poetry collection here.

What have been your top reads for 2019? Please share ...

Monday, 29 April 2019

HAG - debut poetry collection by Zoe Mitchell

It is my great pleasure to welcome poet, Zoe Mitchell, onto the blog today to talk about her debut collection HAG (Published by Indigo Dreams Publishing), which was the joint winner of the 2018 Indigo-First Collection Competition. I first met Zoe at Chichester University on the MA in Creative Writing then later joined a workshop group with her (and two others) where we meet regularly to share and review each other’s work (and to eat cake!). We’ve now been sharing work since the summer of 2015 and it’s been a real privilege to have seen many of the poems from this collection at an early stage of their evolution. It’s also incredibly satisfying to now hold the final collection, brought to life, and share it with others so they too can appreciate Zoe Mitchell’s incredible talents.

About Hag

HAG is the debut collection from Zoe Mitchell. The poems address the ongoing search for magic in the modern world. Using ancient history and mythology as well as the inspiration provided by a wild landscape, the poems consider how to live and endure in an increasingly complex and challenging world. From uncertain heroes and heartbroken heroines to vengeful and lovelorn goddesses, Hag considers the human cost of history and how each individual must carry the weight of their own experience.

About Zoe

Zoe Mitchell is a widely-published poet whose work has been featured in many magazines including The Rialto, The London Magazine and The Moth. She graduated from the University of Chichester with an MA in Creative Writing and was awarded a Distinction and the Kate Betts Memorial Prize. She is currently studying for a PhD in Creative Writing at the University of Chichester, examining witches in women’s poetry. Her collection, Hag, was a joint winner of the Indigo-First Collection competition and was published in April 2019.
Twitter: @writingbyzoe
Instagram: @writingbyzoe

Q. Congratulations, Zoe, on the publication of your debut poetry collection HAG, can you tell us how it has been brought to life?

With regard to the individual poems, each one has their own story. Some of the poems were written whilst studying for my MA at the University of Chichester, some emerged from my current PhD research and others were written simply because they demanded to be written, for one reason or another. I wish I could tell you that I have a meticulous and fool-proof process for writing poetry, but I don’t really have one. The poems are inspired by things I’ve read or seen and blended with the real world, both in terms of news stories and my own personal experience. I have a particular interest in mythology and folklore, and I think some of those ancient stories hold great wisdom which still applies to our lives today.
The collection itself came about thanks to Indigo Dreams Publishing. I entered a selection of the poems found in Hag to the Indigo-First Collection Competition last year, and first of all I was excited and honoured just to have reached the shortlist. The prize was announced on National Poetry Day last year, and for me it took a while to really sink in that I had won. Even when I was working on the proofs for the book and discussing the cover with the Indigo team, I still couldn’t really wrap my head around it. Ronnie and Dawn at Indigo are a pleasure to work with, they helped me through every step of the process and I learned a lot about how collections are put together. I am very proud of the final collection, and a lot of that is due to their care and attention. Indigo Dreams really nurtures and supports writers, through their magazines as well as pamphlets and books, and it’s run by creative and caring people who understand poetry and poets so it was an honour and a privilege to work with them to bring Hag into the world.

Q. I understand for the collection and your PhD you have been immersing yourself in some interesting research. Tarot readings and witch summer school for example. You have to tell us more …

My PhD is focused on examining witches in women’s poetry. It’s a creative PhD, which means that alongside an analysis of major female poets who have written on the subject, I am compiling a collection of poems inspired by witches. As part of that, I’ve read a lot of history and mythology and visited various exhibitions and heritage sites, but I’ve also considered the value and practice of witchcraft in the modern world. I attended the WitchFest conference, taught myself to read the tarot and learned various simple spells, which I have since reflected on in poetry.
Recently, I was lucky enough to win a scholarship to attend a ‘Witch Summer School’ in Tuebingen, Germany. The weekend brought together academics from a wide range of fields to discuss the significance of the witch in culture. I met some brilliant and fascinating people, including a practising witch who had some excellent insights into the role of the witch in the modern world and in her life. I think perhaps my niece and nephew were a little disappointed that witch summer school didn’t turn out to be anything like Hogwarts – and honestly, I’m probably more Mildred Hubble than Hermione Grainger anyway – but I found the whole weekend very inspiring.
One of the things I really love about creative research is that it gives me a good excuse to explore the world and have adventures. Maybe no one really needs an excuse, but life so easily gets in the way of things and booking trips, whether that’s to a witch summer school or a visit to a historic site like Hadrian’s Wall, really help me with writing poetry. I think it’s because when we’re somewhere new, or with different people, we pay attention in a different way and poetry benefits from that close attention.

Q. What and who inspires your work? Do you have particular favourite poets or poems you always return to?

Is it too vague to say that the whole world inspires my work?! As I said, I am a very curious person and I love learning new things. I read a lot and also listen to a lot of podcasts – not just poetry podcasts but also factual podcasts like HistoryHit or Radio 4’s The Curious Cases of Rutherford and Fry – and I horde all the facts that fire my imagination and blend them for poems. The poem The Scarlet Mark from my collection came from a programme about the history and science behind red hair, for example. I am also a bit of a word collector, when I learn a new word, I make a note of it so that I can use it in a poem. Sometimes it might take years before the right poem emerges, but they all get used in the end.
Most recently, I’ve been writing poems which integrate the real world more closely with the mythological one. I doubt I’ll ever let go of my love of mythology, but we are living in strange and uncertain times and I think it would be impossible to ignore the political dimension at the moment. Sometimes I think it’s rather depressing that my work on witches is so relevant, but the truth is that women and particularly powerful women, are still treated with suspicion in the world. Poetry is a way for me to express my frustration and rage at the current situation, but also it’s a way for me to reflect on more personal aspects of my life.
In terms of favourite poets and poems, that is a very long list! My first ever favourite poet was Roger McGough because my Dad used to read me one of his books as a bedtime story and I used to request it over and over until he could recite the whole thing from memory, so he has a very special place in my heart for awaking my love of language and poetry. In my teenage years, I was very immersed in the work of Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath and they’re still among my favourites. I love the work of Audre Lorde and I would recommend that alongside her poetry, everyone should read her essays, especially Poetry is not a Luxury and The Uses of Anger. With regard to poets working today, I am in absolute awe of Glyn Maxwell, he has a delicacy and tenderness to his writing that is breath taking and however many times I re-read his work, I can’t quite see how he’s done it. I loved Helen Mort’s collection No Map Could Show Them about pioneering female climbers, and I would also recommend checking out the work of Kate Garrett, who is a bit of a magical pixie in the poetry world, editing poetry magazines filled with magic, folklore and mythology as well as writing her own unique and very striking work.
I have spent a very long time thinking about which poems to recommend – I have decided to compile some from poets working today to narrow the field but that still makes it very difficult to make choices because there are so many poets working today and producing exceptional work.
The poem Unsung by Kei Miller has haunted me ever since I read it, and I admire the quiet tenderness and insight.
Maggie Smith’s poem Good Bones often re-circulates on the internet when a tragedy occurs and for good reason; it holds the very delicate balance between sad realism and hope.
Inua Ellams’ poem Shame is the Cape I Wear is so vivid and exact you feel like you’re right with him in his childhood memory.
And I know I said I would pick from poets working today, but I feel that the list wouldn’t be complete without including the poem Wild Geese by the late, great Mary Oliver because it has saved me more than once. There is such comfort in that opening line, “You do not have to be good.”

Q. Do you have any events/readings planned to promote collection so LitPig can put them in his diary?

I am speaking at the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic conference on 18th May, and I currently have readings booked for Loose Muse in London in September, Gloucester Poetry Festival in October and Loose Muse in Winchester in December. I keep a full list of my upcoming events on my website and I’m always happy to have the excuse to read my work and talk poetry with other writers and readers, so I can also be contacted through my site if anyone wishes me to read at an event.

HAG is available to buy HERE from Indigo Dreams.
It’s also worth noting that Indigo Dreams are running a great offer again this year; if you buy four books from them throughout the year, you can choose a fifth one free. You don’t have to buy them all at once, you can buy them throughout the year and it all counts to a free book… which means that buying more books is saving money, which I feel is excellent news for anyone trying to decide if they need more books! (Although, and I am sure you will agree with me, LitPig, the answer is yes, you ALWAYS need more books.)

Thank you, Zoe, for such an interesting and informative interview.

My review:

If you love mythology, folklore and ancient history then I highly recommend HAG by Zoe Mitchell. Her poetry is infused with energy and jumps off the page. The writing is equally vivid, visceral and incredibly lyrical. Her classical knowledge is woven seamlessly with the everyday, her characters will linger in your dreams and often inspire you to go search out more details on what lies behind their stories. The natural world appears in several poems, one of my particular favourites is ‘Sycamore Gap’ featuring an argument between the famous sycamore and Hadrian's Wall. ‘Lullaby’ really is the stuff of nightmares and ‘A Matter of Common Talk’ will make you either laugh out loud or cringe (depending on your gender). There are goddesses, Ancient Britons, lovers and the lovelorn, along with the forgotten voices of women doomed for simply being women. Once read and devoured, then this collection is one to read again and out loud so you can savour the delicious rhythms and joy of words that Mitchell has crafted.

HAG is endorsed by dragons.

Monday, 4 February 2019

May We Borrow Your Country: new anthology by The Whole Kahani

Photo by Jags Parbha

LitPig is delighted to welcome this lovely bunch of writers, The Whole Kahani, onto the blog today and to share news of their new anthology May We Borrow Your Country. You can read my review of this anthology at the end of this post, but first let's hear about this terrific initiative ...

The Whole Kahani (The Complete Story), is a collective of British fiction writers of South Asian origin. The group was formed in 2011 to provide a creative perspective that straddles cultures and boundaries. Its aim is to give a new voice to British Asian fiction and increase the visibility of South Asian writers in Britain. Their first anthology Love Across A Broken Map was published in 2016 by Dahlia Publishing.

May We Borrow Your Country is a contemporary collection of stories and poems published by Linen Press. It looks at dislocation and displacement with sympathy, tolerance and humour. It is peopled by courageous, poignant, eccentric individuals who cross borders, accommodate to new cultures and try to establish an identity in a new place. In the process, they encounter different versions of themselves, like reflections in a room of trick mirrors. The stories and poems are written by women. They are evocative and multi-layered in their portrayal of relationships, family, ambition, careers and friendship. They offer a fresh look at metamorphosis and many catch that fleeting moment of transition between the familiar and the new.

Q: Can you tell us about the writers involved in The Whole Kahani, it sounds a terrific group of talent. How did you all come together?
The Whole Kahani was founded in 2011, so it’s been going for nearly eight years. Our members come from a range of different backgrounds – we have poets, novelists, short story writers and screenwriters. These days we tend to get approached by writers looking for a group rather than the other way around. Our readings and anthology launches are great places to meet us, and several of our current members joined after coming to hear us at festivals.
Q. In creating the anthology how did the group approach selecting prose and poetry pieces for inclusion? How did you decide on order and structure? Was this something you did as a group or were these decisions the remit of the editor?
We worked very closely with our wonderful publisher, Lynn Michell of Linen Press, to choose the pieces and ordering. It was a special challenge because this anthology includes both prose and poetry so we had questions of form to consider as well as questions of resonance and content. We all contributed a number of pieces and workshopped these together, so I think this made it easier since several of the pieces naturally worked well in proximity. Lynn also helped us find the resonances between other pieces, and consider how these might best be placed in the anthology.
Q. There is a strong theme connecting the pieces throughout the anthology, of people seeking to find and understand themselves, particularly when they find are living far from where they were born or their families. Were the writers asked to create work to a theme? Or was this something that naturally arose in the group’s writing?
We knew from the beginning that we wanted to write pieces that would discuss themes of “otherness”, belonging and crossing boundaries. One of the most interesting questions that came up was our choice of title. We were all very much in agreement that “May We Borrow Your Country” should not have a question mark – it should be a statement, or a question which expects no answer. We like the way it encapsulates a lot of different meanings, from colonisation to immigration, from cultural appropriation to cultural integration. It’s also wonderful to hear readers’ own interpretations of the title, as it means different things to everybody.
Q. Do you have any events/readings planned to promote the anthology?
We launched May We Borrow Your Country on Saturday 26th at the Gower Street Waterstones, to a full house. It was great to see so many other writers in the audience, and we do have more events planned. We’ll be speaking at the Wolverhampton Literature Festival on February 3rd, and we’re currently in talks with some more venues. We’ll be keeping everyone up to date on our twitter and website.
Q. Can you share what The Whole Kahani has planned for future projects?
Putting out our two anthologies (the first was Love Across a Broken Map, from Dahlia Publishing) has been such a great experience. We have another project in the pipeline, and in the short-term we’re looking to broaden the forms we work with. Our members have experience in writing such a variety of different pieces, and we want to emphasise this strength in all our future publications.

Social media links:
Twitter: @TheWholeKahani
Where can I buy the book?
My review:

May We Borrow Your Country is an anthology of prose and poetry involving women writers from The Whole Kahani writer’s collective. I thoroughly enjoyed this anthology, loving all the different perspectives within. I was delighted by the variety of character voices within the stories and poems, men and women trying to make sense of their lives and worlds particularly when finding themselves far from the homelands they grew up in. The stories were often poignant and bittersweet with both men and
women struggling to exert their personalities amid more dominant forces. But there is also plenty of humour here too and the uncanny. One of my favourites was ‘Natural Accents’ by Mona Dash, where: “After twenty years of living in a country where the sun rose and set at wildly different times depending on the season, and the clocks were changed to ensure a semblance of lights when people woke from deeply dark nights, Renuka decided she must acquire a pukka accent.” But be careful what you wish for … when Renuka invests in a voice box implant from the accent shop she declares her mother tongue as English forgetting the Indian language she grew up with. The story warns how in our rush to embrace normality and to ‘fit in’ we can sacrifice our cultural roots which make us what we are. Other favourites include ‘Fox Cub’ and ‘Sonny’ by CG Menon, ‘The Enlightenment of Rahim Baksh’ by Nadia Kabir Barb and the very funny ‘A Laughing Matter’ by Shibani Lal. Truthfully, I enjoyed every piece in this anthology, there really is something for all tastes and the writing is superb throughout. 

Monday, 24 December 2018

2018: a writing year

You will need to read on to find out why LitPig (left) is celebrating ... but first I'm going to quickly look back over 2018 and my writing year.

The first half of 2018 was quite mixed for me. I was struggling to write anything new. A handful of short stories and flash fiction emerged but I found few ideas turning into new pieces. Writing friends  encouraged me with their wise words and reassured that a fallow period was nothing to fear. It just meant something new and exciting was brewing. Have faith and the ideas would begin to surface.

I had an idea for a new novel and began planning it out during April and May. Using the excellent 'Structuring your novel' (along with the workbook and also 'Outlining your novel') by KM Welland I plotted the entire story. I made detailed notes, drew out a timeline on my whiteboard (it's still there) and jotted all the key scenes down onto index cards. I also did lots of thinking ...

But I didn't start writing ... I needed impetus, a trigger, to get it started. That came on 1 June, when after a seafront run I decided I was going to enter the 2018 Richard and Judy Search for a Bestseller competition. This was free to enter and for debut novelists who didn't have an agent or a publishing contract. One entry clause was the novel should not have been read by any literary agents, which ruled out all of my existing completed novels (unpublished but called in previously by agents). My only option was to enter something new ... Well, I had a new novel all planned - could I write the required opening of 10,000K words plus a synopsis before the deadline of 14 June? I can't resist a challenge and aimed to write a 1,000 words a day over 10 days.

Towards the end of June I learned that my entry THE OTHER SIDE OF HEAVEN was on the shortlist of 5 novels. All I had to do next was finish and submit it before the final deadline of 28 December. Gulp!

Other writing highlights of 2018 include:
Jan - 'Quiet Time' nominated by Nottingham Review for 2018 Best Small Fiction (published online).
Feb - Flash fictions published online with Fictive Dream (later nominated for 2018 Best Micro Fiction).
Mar - Longlisted for Bath Novella-in-Flash competition, shortlisted for Flash 500 Short Story competition, longlisted for Fabula Aesta's Short Story competition (published in anthology).
April - Longlisted in Thresholds Feature Writing competition (published online), flash story published in Flash:International Short Short Story magazine issue 10.2.
May - Finalist in Retreat West Novel Opening Award with THE IMMORTALIST. Highly Commended in Brittlestar Short Story Prize (judged by Nicholas Royle, published in Issue 42).
June - WINNER of Steyning Festival Short Story Prize (judged by Simon Brett & Elly Griffiths),
shortlisted for the Richard and Judy Search for a Bestseller.
July - Short story published in Unthology 10 & read at London launch. Attended the Flash Fiction Festival in Bristol (and took a week to recover).
Aug - Longlisted for Casket of Fictional Delights Flash competition.
September - Attended the Festival of Writing in York where I met with 2 agents who both liked my writing and wanted to read more.
November - Longlisted for Exeter Story Prize, shortlisted for InkTears Flash Fiction competition.

My short story collection was also called in by two agents and a publisher without success - and I had to stop submitting the collection or other novels once the R&J shortlist was announced. To me it feels as if I've achieved little this year for a full time writer, but that's because post June all my creative energy was focused on writing, researching and polishing the novel for the December deadline.

This Blog had a fabulous list of guests throughout 2018, what a talented bunch came on to talk about their writing projects including: poet Hannah Brockbank, and short fiction writers Gail Aldwin, Amanda Huggins, Catherine McNamara and Susmita Bhattacharya.

So why is LitPig celebrating with walnut whips and pink fizz?

I finished the novel. 
And it's now been submitted. That is something to celebrate!

Whatever happens next I am very happy and proud of what I've achieved with the novel. I also couldn't have done it without the continuous moral and practical support from writing friends, and the belief of my family.

In January I will be meeting writing chum Wendy Clarke to discuss and set our 2019 Writing Goals. You can read about her writing year here - what a year she's had! Until the New Year I'd like to wish all followers and readers of this blog a happy and peaceful Christmas. As you can see LitPig is all set for the holidays ...

Monday, 1 October 2018

Table Manners, a short story collection by Susmita Bhattacharya

I have been reading and loving Susmita's short stories for several years. From her features on Thresholds (The International Short Story Forum) I have also been introduced to short story writers such as Amy Bloom and Janice Pariat. Today, I am delighted to welcome her onto the blog today to talk about her writing and Table Manners, her new short story collection.
My own review is at the end of this post. 

Susmita Bhattacharya was born in Mumbai. Her short fiction has been widely published, been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and broadcast on BBC Radio 4. Her novel, The Normal State of Mind, (Parthian Books, 2015/ Bee Books India, 2016) was long listed for the Words to Screen Prize by the Mumbai Association of Moving Images (MAMI) in 2018.  She teaches contemporary fiction at Winchester University. She also facilitates the Mayflower Young Writers workshops, a SO:Write project based in Southampton. Her short story collection, Table Manners, is published by Dahlia Publishing.

Table Manners: 
A parrot takes on the voice of a dead husband. Two women in search of god and marriage learn what it means to love. A man living in exile writes home. 
From Mumbai to Venice, Cardiff to Singapore, this collection of short stories of love and loneliness in the urban landscape is delicately nuanced and sprinkled generously with sharp observation of the human condition.
A captivating debut collection which introduces us to a powerful new voice.

Q: How does a short story first come to you? I’d love to know how you go about ‘trapping’ a short story and then turning an initial idea into a real story.

Each story has a different process. Sometimes, I’m inspired by a visual. A person engaged in some sort of action. Maybe sipping coffee in a piazza in Venice. Or a street covered in broken glass after a football match. Sometimes it comes from a moment that I’ve personally experienced. The Luxury of Quiet Contemplation, for example, came to me when I was visiting my sister in India. Due to jet-lag, I didn’t get much sleep and I was disorientated because of the unfamiliar surroundings. I lay in bed and just listened to the sounds of the morning from the window above me. Sometimes I get ideas from the news or radio programmes. I love the Listening Project and I always have Radio 4 on when I’m cooking. Something about the amalgamation of the smells in the kitchen and the stuff I listen to on the radio seem to work. Maybe that’s why I have a lot of food in my stories.

Q. Every writer has a different process. Could you share how you complete a short story? For example, do you know the ending when you start writing or does it evolve during the writing process?
Again it is a different process every time. It could be that I know the ending and I work backwards to find the beginning to the story. I knew how I wanted Letters Home or Comfort Food to end. It was a matter of figuring out how to lead the story to the beginning. Or it could be the beginning and I have no idea of how it’s going to end. Then I usually just keep going until it finds the natural end. Sometimes that doesn’t work, and I have to keep going back to the story until I’m satisfied with it. In Buon Anniversario Amore Mio, I wrote about the protagonist through a writing prompt at a workshop I attend every month. (I try to attend every month!) The prompt was to write about the place – the setting being the focus of the exercise. I set it in Venice, having just returned from a holiday there. I knew why my character went there, but I didn’t know how it would end. The two characters in the story guided me to the ending they wanted. It was quite surreal, just following their lead. It has happened before, and I really enjoy that process because I have no idea where I’m going to end up.

Q. I believe you share work within a writing group. Would you recommend this to other writers – how has it helped your own writing? Do you mind sharing how your particular group works? 
I think it’s incredibly valuable to share work with a writing group. As you know, writing can be isolating, and a lot of times the imposter syndrome gets the better of oneself. A writing group has many benefits. There is of course the social aspect. Being with people who understand you and do not think you’re crazy because you talk to your characters or that you have a different coloured pen for every notebook you own. There is the support network a writer needs so much – to honest feedback genuinely there to help improve the writing, a chance for you to read others’ work and have an input on their process. Deadlines are important too. You have a reason to finish that section of writing because you need it ready for the next meeting. I would definitely recommend it.
I belong to a Winchester based writing group called the Taverners – because we meet in a cosy pub called the St James Tavern. It is run by Claire Fuller, and there are eleven members. We meet once a month and share a maximum of three thousand words of our work-in-progress a week before the meeting. We read and annotate the feedback on the printouts, and then on the evening we begin with someone. That person reads out a section of their work, and then the others follow with discussion of that work. The writer isn’t allowed to speak or engage in the discussion. Once we’ve finished, then the writer concerned can ask questions and talk about their work. Then he or she chooses the first one on their pile and it goes on. It’s great fun. And extremely useful. A few of the stories in the collection were discussed in these sessions, and I definitely got some superb feedback which I incorporated into the final versions.

Q. Is there one short story, or perhaps an entire collection, which you wish you had written? Or one that significantly inspired your own writing.
 I love Jhumpa Lahiri’s short stories. I love her style, and the subtext that runs between the lines of her stories. Reading her work has been vital in the development of my own style. In particular, I love the collection Unaccustomed Earth. There is so much breadth in that collection, one cannot put her in a one-size-fits-all box. I love the quietness of her stories. Sometimes it feels like she’s just mulling over her thoughts on a page, but she does it with such finesse and confidence, it’s wonderful. From the South Asian writers, I love Pakistani writer Saadat Hasan Manto’s Bombay Stories. I’m partial to anything set in Mumbai. He really captured all of the senses and ethos of Mumbai. I wish I could write like that about the city I was born in. The city I love.

Q. Can you tell us what you're working on right now? What new projects are you planning or hoping to work on in the near future.
I have a couple of writing projects on at the moment. I’m working on a novel, which is set in Mumbai and Southampton. I’m also getting together all my flash fiction, let’s see where it goes.

Thank you, Susmita, for coming on the Blog today, it has been a real pleasure to have you.
You can link with Susmita here:
Twitter: @susmitatweets / @dahliabooks
Most importantly you can buy your own copy of Table Manners here:
Dahlia Books

Review of Table Manners:
Table Manners and other stories by Susmita Bhattacharya (Dahlia Publishing) is a collection of 18 mouth-watering short stories which paint poignant images of love and loneliness making you both smile and sigh sadly in equal measures. At times the stories are delicate and incredibly tender, then others are richly comic or heart breaking in their sadness. The prose is sharp and funny, fluid and immensely readable. I read and enjoyed every single story in this collection, and am already returning to read my favourites again. I particularly enjoyed the cast of multi-cultured characters and settings. Whether the story is set amongst the marbled beauty of the Taj Mahal, rich upmarket Singapore or a wet English seaside, you are truly immersed along with the characters and quickly feel part of their world.
Several stories had echoes of Jhumpa Lahiri’s writing where the main characters are dislocated from their homes and struggling to settle in a foreign land, such as Hoda in Growing Tomatoes craving her mother’s cooking, or poor Hassan writing home to his wife as he tries to fit into working life in Cardiff. The men in Bhattacharya’s stories are beautifully written, they are complex and multi-layered, never simply villains or heroes. In Buon Anniversario Amore Mio we share Andy’s pain and anger as he endures his wife’s cancer, constantly parading a ‘brave’ face. We nudge the gentle widower in the title story Table Manners towards his new Chinese neighbour, they have no language in common except a shared love of food and we hope their friendship is blossoming.
Picking out my particular favourites is tough, but I did love Mouli and her parrot in Good Golly Miss Molly, a surprisingly uplifting story about grief. Spider is an honest story about the realities of poverty and how a tourist regrets asking to be shown the ‘real’ India. I laughed along with the young couple in Holiday to Remember which took me back to horribly wet childhood caravan holidays by the seaside – this could have been a gloomy depressive story but in Bhattacharya’s skillful hands it becomes a reflection of what it takes to make a marriage work – it has a delightful ending.
Throughout this collection the writing is lush and sensuous, the characters diverse and multi-layered, the stories are expertly structured and you feel in the hands of a very talented author. These are stories to be savoured like a good meal, you will want to keep reading and not leave the table.