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

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:
Granta
Thresholds Short Story Forum
Writing Magazine
Take-a-Break magazine
Spelk
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

MERRY CHRISTMAS

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:
Persistence
Patience
Positivity

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!



Friday, 7 July 2017

Horsham Festival - Writing Workshop 13 July

If you live near Horsham (West Sussex, England) and are free on the evening of 13 July then why not come along to my writing workshop. It will be held at Horsham Library (Lower Tanbridge Way, Horsham, RH12 1PJ, Tel: 01403 224353) from 7.30 - 9.30pm (refreshments included in the ticket price!) and is part of this year's Horsham Festival. The flyer is below with details on how to get tickets - £7 in advance from Horsham Library or £8 on the door - pretty good value for 2 hours of me talking about FLASH FICTION and HOW TO WRITE FOR COMPETITIONS. There will be some writing exercises, which will be very relaxed and you can choose to join in or not (I know not everyone wants to write or share their work in a group). I will be sharing some TOP TIPS from award-winning short story writers, well-known judges and readers for writing competitions ... golden nuggets of wisdom from those who've won BIG!

Right now I feel confident on sharing my experience of writing for competitions having just returned from Singapore and the Commonwealth Short Story Prize giving (I was Regional Winner for Canada and Europe). Look out for my next post where I share my experience of meeting the rest of the Regional Winners and one of the judges in Singapore ... In the meantime you could read all of the winning stories and watch the short videos we all recorded, click here.
You can also read Vijay Krishnarayan's Blog about this year's Commonwealth competition and the prize giving event - click here. Vijay is the Director General of the Commonwealth Foundation, which is a very imposing, and scary, title for such a warm and lovely man.

Monday, 15 May 2017

Generating writing ideas with Adam Marek

At festivals and book events the most popular question posed to an author is 'Where do you get your ideas from?' This becomes even more pertinent when the ideas are drying up. Recently, I've hit a block in my writing and the Ideas Fairy has taken a long sabbatical. I've continued editing and subbing work, with some success, but I've not written anything new since February. Consequently, Adam Marek's Masterclass in Generating Ideas (@adammarek) came at the perfect time for me. The workshop was held at the wonderfully named 'The Friendship House' in Lewes last weekend and organised by the talented writer/editor Holly Dawson (she also runs the monthly Lewes Short Story Club @LewesShortStory and weekly writing drop-in sessions).


Adam Marek is an award-winning short story writer with two collections under his belt: Instruction Manual for Swallowing and The Stone Thrower. I highly recommend both of these - his short stories are imaginative, surreal at times and yet still full of heart. As a fan I was looking forward to his workshop and came away enthused, inspired and, most importantly, ready to write something new. By the end of the morning I had a flash story drafted and two more short story ideas begging to be developed.

We all shared where we get our ideas from and the range was surprisingly wide. This is my list:
Reading, TV/Film, listening to the radio (R4 usually), swimming, walking, talking to people (I get a lot of story ideas from non-writing friends), listening in to other people's conversations (admit it - we all do this!), titles first then an idea and 'what if' thinking. Adam gave a lovely analogy of how a snowflake needs a piece of grit or dust to form - short stories evolve in much the same way. Many of my stories grow around a tiny element, perhaps a title or a line of dialogue and then develop from there. Adam recommended James Webb Young's A Technique for Producing Ideas (I've just ordered my copy) which covers a simple 5-step plan for producing ideas. The book is aimed at those working in marketing/advertising/sales but the principles work equally for writing. In its simplest form the technique works as follows:
1. Collate your raw material i.e. see my list above.
2. Look for connections. Get yourself worked up into a "peak of frustration."
3. Put it out of your head. Do something else, something completely different - mundane household tasks are perfect for this.
4. The idea should appear when you least expect it. Mine often 'pop' into my head when driving.
5. Consider and evaluate the idea - is it viable? Critically analysis the idea before you do anything with it.

Going to bed and sleeping on it often does the trick for me, letting my subconscious process the ideas without the interference of that dreaded inner critic. It's the same process as James Webb Young describes.

The final half of our workshop was a series of exercises to trigger ideas. In groups we moved around the room to four different 'ideas stations.' Coming together at the end it was interesting to hear that different stimuli worked for different people. Cutting up columns of magazine text and randomly sticking them together to form new sentences worked a treat for some, but did nothing for me. Whereas pairing up disparate images (photos, postcards, magazine pictures) triggered a complete flash story, which I wrote down immediately. The stimuli that worked best for me turned out to be music. Turns out I share the same taste in film soundtracks with Adam - we're both fans of Hans Zimmer (Inception, Gladiator etc) - and he'd created a loop of three or four different pieces of instrumental music. We had to write down the setting that the music evoked and as I'm a very visual writer I was soon immersed in a whole new world - a sci-fi setting and storyline that I'm itching to write.

I feel happier knowing I now have some techniques to trigger creative thinking. Getting out and meeting other writers on the Masterclass also helped. Being around creative people can only stimulate and inspire you.

Adam and others also raved about using Evernote as a virtual scrapbook. I understand you can use it to store images/website links/notes etc. It's something I need to explore. Does anyone else use Evernote? Would you recommend it? And what techniques do you use to generate ideas?

Monday, 10 April 2017

A slice of heaven

'A slice of heaven' was the original title for my short story that is out in this month's in Take-a-Break Fiction Feast (TABFF May issue), but they've changed that to 'Spoilt for choice.' However, I did notice it's used as the tag line for the story so I shouldn't grumble. I read it again over the weekend and thought what a good story it was, even though I wrote it! Funny isn't it how over time you forget the detail of a story, as I literally could not remember writing most of it. When I re-read it again and compared it to the original I realised they'd tweaked and changed a few things. The wine waiter is now Theo rather than Rene. The milkshake is strawberry rather than vanilla (ok, that makes sense but I love vanilla) and Miss Perkins' perfume has been upgraded from Lily of the Valley to Chanel No 5 (since she was the main character's maths teacher I'm so sure about this change).

The story was originally written early in 2016 for the Mogford Prize, which is always themed around food and drink. Now food and drink are some of my favourite things (you'll know this if you regularly read my posts) and the story was a joy to write. Basically, Aiden finds himself in a classy restaurant where the menu has all of his favourite foods. The waitresses are all the women he had crushes on when he was a boy ... including Miss Perkins and Yeoman Janice Rand from the original Star Trek series. I wrote in Yeoman Janice for my hubby - we're both fans of the original series and hubby had a bit of a crush on her himself. 'Spoilt for choice' is a sweet little tale about cherishing the important things in life. It came nowhere in the Mogford Prize and I put it away. Later in the year I wondered if it would be suitable for TABFF and sent it off with hardly any revisions. It took a few months but then I heard they wanted to buy it. It's always a pleasure to see a favourite story in print and the £250 payment doesn't hurt either!

April has started well with several bits of good news and you may have heard me shouting on Twitter and Facebook about this: Commonwealth Short Story Prize shortlisting for UK and Canada category, click here to read more. I'm incredibly honoured to have a story on this prestigious shortlist (it's also my second shortlisting, first in 2014) and am now nervously waiting to hear if 'The naming of moths' makes it through to the next stage.