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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 20 February 2023

I Wanted To Be Close To You by Katie Oliver

I am excited to welcome writer Katie Oliver onto the Blog to talk about her fabulous debut short story collection I WANTED TO BE CLOSE TO YOU (published by Fly On The Wall Press).  

My review of Katie’s collection can be found at the end of the interview below.

About Katie Oliver:

Katie Oliver is a writer based on the west coast of Ireland. Her debut short story collection, I WANTED TO BE CLOSE TO YOU, is available to order from Fly on the Wall Press, and she is a first reader for Tiny Molecules. She can be found on Twitter and Instagram @katie_rose_o

"I wanted to be close to you. So I went to the forest..."

Gardens, relationships and imaginations run wild in Katie Oliver's debut short fiction collection. The world is unpredictable and no woman is safe. Boundaries are blurred: between fantasy and reality, technology and nature,

autonomy and oppression. The threat of violence simmers throughout as women transform into birds, converse with plants and plot their revenge. These dark, surreal tales will put down roots and stay with you long after reading: how close... is too close?

Q. I loved everything about this collection and at times it felt as if I was looking inside my own head ... I'm intrigued to know what triggers a story idea for you, can you share the back stories to writing some of these pieces?

Thank you! And I don’t know whether to celebrate or commiserate with you as the owner of a similar sort of brain… Anyway, I’m so happy you asked this as it’s something I love talking about. My stories often come from something I’ve physically come across. For example, ‘Spider Season’ was inspired by a ton of webs appearing in my kitchen, and ‘Gum Leaf Skeletoniser came about after I read this article. Similarly, I wrote ‘Puff’ after reading this review of a sleep robot. There’s a Susan Sontag quote about a writer being someone who looks at the world and I wholeheartedly agree with this. I don’t really ever struggle for ideas because I feel like they’re always there, smacking me round the chops when I least expect it. The notes app on my phone is a disaster, as you might imagine.

Then there are the strange stories that seem to arrive into my head fully formed, or else appear to me when I’m in sort of a fugue state in the shower. That sounds silly, but I really do get some of my favourite ideas while I’m under running water. ‘All That Glitters’ was one of those; I’ve racked my brains and have no sense of how I actually came to formulate the idea or the protagonist. 

Q. How long have you been writing? Can you tell us about the journey to finding a home for this collection?

I’ve always enjoyed writing but took a fairly meandering path to where I currently am. As a child I wrote a lot for fun, but as a teenager this quickly shifted into intensive reading. Then as an adult, while working in a nursery I developed a love for children’s fiction. I had several unsuccessful forays into writing/pitching various picture books (RIP Fed Up Fred the disgruntled snail), and then decided to do an MA in Children’s Literature when my son was four months old (I know, I am a masochist). Despite the obvious challenges I enjoyed it a lot and my dissertation became the first 15,000 words of a novel I wrote for young adults, which I queried but got nowhere with. Meanwhile, I entered my university’s annual creative writing competition on a whim - it was fiction for adults and I wrote ‘TimeOut’ as a result of being very sleep deprived. To my shock it won! That experience was totally pivotal for me as I realised that maybe I could write for adults, and should really knuckle down to it. One of the tutors suggested I start submitting my work to journals, and I am nothing if not obedient, so I did. Fast forward three years and I had a few publications and enough writing for a collection. Fly On The Wall was actually only the third publisher I sent the collection to, which I’m aware makes me sound jammy, but I think it was a really lucky case of finding someone like Isabelle who really got what I wanted to do with it. I feel so fortunate to have her on board!

Q. Are there themes/topics that you want to explore further or highlight with your writing?

More of the same! I absolutely love writing about weird stuff from the natural world, body horror, new technologies, etc. However, I’m also working on expanding my repertoire a bit, through the prism of the themes I already write about. I’d like to try a few ghost stories, and to write a bit more about characters actually rooted in reality (terrifying).

Q. One of my favourite characters from the collection is Lara in 'The Sanctuary', whose secret talent is talking to plants. Do you have any favourites amongst the characters you've created? And if you had a secret ability what would it be?

Cecilia from ‘All That Glitters’, hands down. I don’t know why, I just like her, and really sympathise with her. She just wants to be loved! My dream secret ability would have to be either teleporting or magicking dinner being ready.

Q. If you suddenly had a bonus day off to do whatever you wanted, what would you do?

This sounds so boring, but it would honestly be going for a run in the morning, and then going for a nap in the afternoon - two favourite activities I don’t have enough time for!

[I think this sounds a perfect day off, the run for me definitely and LitPig never turns down the opportunity to nap!]

Q. Can we look forward to more work from you? Any projects in the pipeline that you're happy to share?

Yes! I’m currently well into writing my next short story collection - it’s all short stories rather than flash and I’m genuinely excited about it. I’m also currently pitching a novel for adults, sloshing about in the tragic barrel of tears that is querying. I have one full request out but I know that doesn’t really mean anything. I’m not giving up on it yet! And I’ve got about 5000 words of a new novel which I’ll crack on with if this one comes to nothing. I’d have honestly been horrified if you’d have told the 23-year-old me that I might have to write multiple novels before getting an agent but now I accept it as part of the process. Also, I do absolutely love the writing of them, despite having to wildly shoehorn time in around work and domestic life, so it’s something I’d do regardless of any nebulous promise of ‘success’.

Q. Importantly where can readers buy a copy of I Wanted to be Close to You?

I will start by saying, if you have bought a copy, or are thinking of buying one, then thank you, thank you, thank you! I can’t quite underline enough how much it makes my day when I hear someone got my book, and even better, enjoyed it. I obviously coerced lots of my friends and family into buying it but it’s absolutely wild to me that people I’ve never interacted with before are engaging with it.

The best place to get it from is direct from Fly On The Wall Press, here. It’s also available both online and quite widely in store from Waterstones, Foyles and online at Blackwells. There are also some lovely indies stocking it and they are: Five Leaves in Nottingham, Bookhaus in Bristol, The Winding Stair in Dublin and Vibes and Scribes in Cork. And there is of course the option of asking your local library to order it in.

I will finish by saying thank you so much for asking me to be part of your blog, and that I’m really looking forward to getting my hands on your book, ‘The Naming of Moths’ - also out with Fly On The Wall later this year! [Thank you, Katie!]

My review of I Wanted To Be Close To You:

This is a marvelous debut short story collection from Katie Oliver showcasing her talent for exploring all things weird and wonderful. These stories are surprising, incredibly imaginative and often very moving. I cheered on the woman who listens to plants, and took a closer look at my own office plants after reading. Magical realism sits alongside speculative fiction, and at times I it felt like I was looking inside my own head (I think this is a good thing!). If you like your short fiction surreal yet still rooted in our challenged reality then I highly recommend ‘I wanted to be close to you’. 

Monday 19 December 2022

The Importance of Writing Goals

On the first Wednesday of every month I meet up with my best writing chum Wendy Clarke. We walk, drink coffee, eat cake and set our writing goals for the following month. Most importantly we WRITE these goals into our notebooks — this means we can always accurately check progress against what was set, but I’m convinced that the act or writing out the goal somehow makes them real and more likely to be achieved. 

In January we also set goals for the entire year, and again review those defined for the year concluded. Sometimes I write or stick them onto my office whiteboard. Every time I walk to my desk and laptop I snatch a glance at the whiteboard and am constantly reminded of what I’m trying to achieve … 

My writing goals for 2022 were as follows:

1. Write something new every month.

2. Submit something every month.

3. Do my best to find a home for collection.

When I meet Wendy in January for our annual review I’ll be able to report:

1. Partially achieved. 8 (or 9 if I get inspiration in December) new pieces written out of 12. 

2. Achieved! Out of the new pieces written 4 published, 1 winning a competition, 1 runner-up & 2 listings to date (others still subbed).

3. Achieved! Probably the toughest to pull off but the goal was to ‘do my best’ and that’s all you can do when working to find a publisher for your work.

As you can see from the photo (see below) the final goal was stuck on my whiteboard for added potency!

In October I received an email from Isabelle Kenyon of Fly On The Wall Press asking for a video call to talk about the short story collection I’d submitted during their open window in August … and now I’m delighted to share that The Naming of Moths will be published on the 10th November 2023. You’ll be hearing more from me on here and social media about the launch but you can pre-order your copy now here from Fly On The Wall Press. This indie publisher 'with a conscience' embraces sustainability and I am proud to be part of the author team for 2023. 

Isabelle has seen right inside my head and designed the most perfect cover. Here’s a sneaky peak … I love it, but what do you think?

If you want to make progress with your writing then consider setting yourself some goals, both monthly and 2023, and WRITE them down. Because ticking them off is the best feeling, and always something to celebrate. 

This is probably my final post for 2022 so from me and LitPig: MERRY CHRISTMAS and BEST WISHES for a creative 2023! 

Monday 13 June 2022

Unlocking The Novella-In-Flash by Michael Loveday

Today we have a brilliant guest on the blog, the multi-talented writer and guru of the novella-in-flash genre, Michael Loveday. He’s chatting with LitPig about his new craft guide and his own writing process.  

My review of Michael’s craft guide Unlocking The Novella-In-Flash (from blank page to finished manuscript) published by Ad Hoc Fiction can be found at the end of the interview below.

About Michael Loveday:

Michael Loveday writes fiction, poetry, and non-fiction. His hybrid novella Three Men on the Edge (V.
Press, 2018) was shortlisted for the 2019 Saboteur Award for Best Novella. In 2018 he began publishing a series of articles about the history and form of the novella-in-flash at SmokeLong Quarterly, and in Spring 2022 his craft guide Unlocking The Novella-In-Flash: from Blank Page to Finished Manuscript was published by Ad Hoc Fiction. He coaches artists, writers, and creative freelancers one-to-one, and also edits novella-in-flash manuscripts through his mentoring programme at www.novella-in-flash.com.

Twitter: @pagechatter 

Unlocking The Novella-In-Flash
: from Blank Page to Finished Manuscript is the first ever full road-map for creating your own novella composed of flash fictions, or very short stories. Whether you've written a novella-in-flash before, or are a beginner newly experimenting, this flexible, step-by-step craft guide will support you to produce a high-quality manuscript of linked narratives.

Q. Why did you decide to write the craft guide?

The honest truth is that it wasn't a book I'd intended or planned to write. Jude Higgins at Ad Hoc Fiction, with whom I'd worked before (teaching at the Flash Fiction Festival and judging the Bath Flash Novella-in-Flash Award competitions in 2019 and 2020), got in touch to suggest writing a craft guide to the form.

I had to think about it for a couple of days, as I was immersed in writing a short-short story collection, and also the time frame felt like a significant hurdle – Jude had initially requested that the book be written in 12 months, I think because she thought that the material I already had (from my novella-in-flash course) wouldn't require much alteration to produce a book. Having thought it through, writing a book seemed like an interesting thing to try – it felt like stepping into somewhat uncharted territory, and I thought… OK. I'll give it a go! But it wasn't a decision I took lightly - I felt a certain amount of responsibility to the flash fiction community to get the thing right!  

Q. How did you go about it? 

I mapped out an outline of chapters, and then worked backwards to create a weekly work plan based on the agreed deadline. In the end it took a few extra months. But I basically approached the entire time knowing what I would be working on every week – sometimes even every day! 

It felt like there was no other way of coping with such a big project other than to break it down into chunks and pace myself methodically! I went through step by step, researching what I wanted to research, drafting what I wanted to draft, and editing what I wanted to edit, ticking off the to-do-list systematically each week. 

I would never normally construct a book methodically from an outline – it more or less goes against my whole philosophy for the creative process! 

But it seemed necessary with this project, which felt daunting to attempt – a work plan gave me some reassurance. Plus it's a teaching book, a kind of (hopefully engaging!) textbook, rather than a book of my own creative writing, so I felt the more practical, informative nature of the book required a different mind-set. 

I also had a crucial phase when I shared some very rough draft chapters with a bunch of beta readers. I was wary of burdening too many people with reading the entire manuscript – two writers, Danielle McShine and Ali McGrane, very kindly agreed to read a shorter first draft and give me feedback, and then over a dozen other writers read one, two, or three chapters each, and gave comments on those. It was particularly essential to run some of the more technical chapters past beta readers, to solidify what I was describing. 

And towards the end of the process, I managed to get some Arts Council England/National Lottery Grant funding to cover a small number of weeks of my usual work as a coach and editor, so I could spend a bit more focused time on the manuscript. 

Finally, in the last few months, I could see that the challenge of mapping out the whole thing was going to limit my ability to fine-tune the individual sentences and paragraphs. There were simply too many ideas to integrate to complete the bigger picture and it was making my brain ache to get every little detail of every sentence right as well, especially under time pressure! Normally my editing process for a draft manuscript takes a long time. So I got some help from two people – John Mackay and Johanna Robinson – to give me some extra support during the copy editing and proofreading stage. 

Q. Can you share your process (including planning/research), and a typical writing day?

As a general rule, I tended to write or edit from about 8 a.m. to about 9.30 a.m., six days a week, usually two bursts of 30-45 minutes in that time. Sometimes I started earlier, and the hours went up and down slightly depending on tasks involved, but that was the broad pattern. Then the rest of the day was devoted to my paid work. 

In the late afternoons/early evenings, I also spent about an hour a day reading novellas-in-flash (or related books) throughout the 16 months in which I was writing the book. This helped me fine-tune what I was saying about the form. 

During the Arts Council-funded period I did three hours a day of really concentrated editing. I couldn't manage more intense concentration, day after day, than about three to four 45-60-minute bursts. It doesn't sound like much, in hindsight does it?! But when I concentrate intensely on a long prose manuscript, I find myself quite tired after each session of work, so I was pacing myself. Plus, I need time in between the bursts of concentrated writing/editing to let my subconscious brain kick in and do some integration work. 

Q. Do you have any different habits/approaches for writing non-fiction compared to fiction?

I don't know if it would apply to all non-fiction, but certainly for this teaching book, having a chapter outline and a clear plan from the start was essential, especially when facing a stiff deadline. I wouldn't normally write fiction that way – I normally allow a lot more exploration and uncertainty and happy dawdling down cul-de-sacs. 

It feels really important, nevertheless, when working to an outline, to cultivate moments where you can still have leaps of insight – about doing things differently. It's so important, as a writer, to stay connected to our creative, imaginative self. That way writing a long manuscript doesn't become a mechanical, factory-style process. So I would do a concentrated burst of writing or research, reach a natural moment to pause, then get up from the table and go and do something different that didn't involve concentrating – do some washing up, take a shower, go for a walk, tidy some papers (anything that involved solitude yet without using any brain power). 

And then new insights would come to me in those day-dreamy kind of time gaps, where little bits of information I was unintentionally processing would join up unexpectedly, and lead me to a realization about a certain clarification I could make. 

I really cherished those moments – they kept a kind of magic alive for me in the process of writing a book to an outline. I guess those are the kind of private, creative moments in the otherwise crazy life of being a writer that really keep me going – where you’re accessing something you’re not in control of. 

Q. Most importantly, where can readers buy ‘Unlocking The Novella-In-Flash’?

Here from Ad Hoc Fiction.

Thank you, Michael, for such an insightful interview! The amount of work and hours you invested in reading and preparing to write this guide is incredible, and it has definitely paid off. You have written something to be proud of. 

My review of Unlocking The Novella-In-Flash:

This perfect craft guide does exactly what it says on the cover, because everything you wanted to learn about writing a novella-in-flash is here, it truly takes you from blank page to finished manuscript. In fact I believe Michael Loveday answers in “Unlocking the novella-in-flash” every question you will have, from “what is a novella-in-flash?” to “how do I write my own?”

I have written a novella-in-flash (and been lucky enough to have it published), but oh how I wish I could take this craft guide back in time … it would have been such a marvellous companion & writing aid as I worked through my own nif (novella-in-flash). I found Chapter 14 on “Tapestry and Linkage” particularly enlightening with its guidance on selecting which chapters go where. The guide is divided into three phases, and for me phase 3: Integration was incredibly helpful on talking through what to put in / leave out, giving you permission to experiment with chronology. There are too many excellent top tips to detail in this review (every section is packed with examples and exercise to work through yourself) but one of my favourites concerned generating standalone pieces (which you could submit elsewhere) and then how to integrate these pieces back into the structure of a nif. Loveday uses the analogy of composing a music album i.e. laying down the album tracks to sit alongside the hit singles - a light-bulb moment for me (I’ll remember this technique for any writing any future nifs). 

My copy is plastered in yellow stickies and I will be continually returning and delving into different sections of this craft guide again and again.

Importantly, this guide contains many exercises and constructive advice that apply to and help with writing other forms of fiction, including short stories /flash fiction / novellas and novels. I’ve written in all forms and would definitely recommend Loveday’s guide when seeking guidance and inspiration on character development / structure / setting and creating new work. This clever book is an excellent guide to writing a novella-in-flash, and so much more ... think of it as a guide to writing good fiction and developing any narrative form.

Monday 11 April 2022

The Girls are Pretty Crocodiles by Angela Readman

I am delighted to have a very special guest on the blog today. I’ve been a huge fan of Angela Readman and everything she writes, ever since I first discovered her stories when she won the Costa Short Story Award in 2013. Her fiction and poetry resonate with me because her imagination is fuelled by all the weird and wonderful myths and legends of the world. 

My review of her new collection The Girls are Pretty Crocodiles & other fairy stories (published by Valley Press) can be found at the end of the interview below.

About Angela Readman:

Angela Readman is a British poet and short story writer. Her debut story collection Don’t Try this at Home was published by And Other Stories. It won the Rubery Book Prize and was shortlisted in the Edge Hill Short Story Prize. Her stories have won the Costa Short Story Award, the Mslexia Prize, the
NFFD competition and the New Flash Fiction Review Competition. She also writes poetry, her collection The Book of Tides was published by Nine Arches. Something Like Breathing, Readman’s first novel, was published by And Other Stories. You can follow Angela on Twitter @angelreadman.

About The Girls are Pretty Crocodiles and other fairy stories:

Fearless, fierce, vivid and strange stories that crackle off the page – from the multi-award winning master of magical realism. Bold, beautiful and spiky, Angela Readman’s stories are both magical and real. Following her acclaimed debut Don’t Try This at Home, she approaches the fairy tale with a scalpel. The Girls are Pretty Crocodiles reads like a love

letter to girlhood and a ransom note to all the fairy tales we have been told. In her prize winning work The Story Never Told, an illiterate woman sells fairy tales for a book she knows will never have her name on the cover. In What’s Inside a Girl, a class takes lessons on dating invisible girls. Dark, funny and surreal, these stories explore, challenge and ultimately transform the traditional fairy tale narrative. Women learn to be origami, climb into swan skins, feed wolves, flip burgers and snog kelpies. In dazzling prose that remains matter-of-fact, these tales take to task the happy endings we have been sold. Otherworldly, yet down to earth, The Girls are Pretty Crocodiles discovers the hidden voice in the stories we know and reveals the magic within working-class lives. These stories have teeth.

Questions for Angela …

Q. I love everything you write from flash/short fiction, novels and poetry. Your prose is often poetic and lyrical, so I wonder how your process works ... what initially triggers a piece of writing for you? 

And do you know the form of the work right at the start, or can a piece evolve or transform (i.e. from story to poem or vice versa)?

You are too kind, it means a lot to hear that. Thank you so much for having me here. Every story is different, approaches vary. Usually, I start with a voice. It might be an observation or an image someone is focused on and their relationship to it. I'll write a bit down and see where it goes. I usually know if it's a story or a poem, though not always. Some characters won't be contained in a poem. They kick off the line breaks and want to smash things.

My story Fish Tail was like this. It started with an image in my head of someone laying a suit on the beach. It rattled around sounding like it a poem until I wrote anything. It kept going. Sometimes an image can unlock a whole story. I suppose that's why it might come across as poetic. Occasionally, a piece transforms when I don't expect it.  There's one story in the collection, Twelve Steps for Godmothers, I assumed would be a prose poem until a story started to unfold. Oddly, starting out thinking it would be a poem created a voice that surprised me. There's a contrast of the poetic and business speak. It seemed strangely right somehow, fairy tale Godmother's bug me a bit. I wouldn't go for a pint with one. They seem sugary but I always thought they seem a bit bossy. It's surprising how often things that bug you are stories waiting to be written.

Q. Once you've an idea for a short story how long does it take from that first idea to a final version? When is a story finished for you, are you working alone or do you seek feedback/input from others?

I've written stories that take a few days, others months. It's not that I'm working on them constantly, but I'll start something and set it aside until the writing rush fades and I can look at what it's really about. I like to feel less involved to look a story it again. The fastest write in the collection was a flash about Rumpelstiltskin, it took about 2 hours. Longer stories like Magpies and The Hobthrush, take about 3 weeks for a full first draft. Editing's another story, I can tinker forever. 

It's difficult to know when leave work alone, as writers sometimes we have to accept we may always wish it was better.  I think a story is finished when it seems like an independent creature. A story is a whole little world with its own concerns. When I find I can't touch it without introducing aspects that seem to belong to a different world, the story is finished and I know I've started a different story. It's rare I get feedback on my work. I'm shy, live in the sticks and don't know of any local story groups. It's something I crave since lockdown, I think, fiction friends. I'd love to be in a supportive story group in the future. I never know if anyone's going to like my stories until a book comes out, it's a bit scary.

Q. Magic realism, fairy tales and myths continually appear in your writing, what are your sources for fairy tales and myths, do you have any beloved/treasured collections?

I have a Brother's Grimm worn as some bibles. The cover's fallen off. I still have the copy of Alice in Wonderland I read when I was seven too, I feel guilty whenever I pick it up because I folded the corners. It's disgraceful. Many of my favourite poetry books draw on myths: Ted Hughes, Max Porter. Robin Robertson's Grimoire and Vicky Fever's The Book of Blood are classics I keep going back to. There's also a TV show called Clash of the God's I love. It's about Greek myths, the graphics are like a video game. The voiceover is so OTP it's like a 50 minute movie trailer. It's awesome.

Q. If you could live out a fairy tale or myth/legend is there any character (human or animal) you'd choose for yourself and why?

And is there a villain or monster from a tale that you secretly admire?

Oow, I love this question! I don't see myself as a heroine. I'm drawn to the outsider. I always wonder about the villains, what happened to make them that way. They're full of stories untold. I'd like to be an animal if I lived in a story. The wolf in Red Riding Hood is interesting. He's a wolf, he has fangs but chooses unusual methods to catch the girl. I imagine he just wanted to see what it felt like to be a person, just for a day. If he'd gotten away, I think he'd spend the rest of his life stealing clothes off washing lines. There's a fantastic sculpture by Kiki Smith of sirens that stuck with me, the sirens are tiny birds/women. Flying would be cool. There's a myth in Mexico and Texas, La Lechuza, about old women who turn into barn owls to right wrongs that have been done in their life. I'm not sure how they'd achieve that as a barn owl, but it would be fun to find out.

Q. Animals (both real and imagined) feature throughout all of your writing, where does this fascination with nature come from in your life? How do you keep yourself close to nature?

It's funny, for most of my life I've lived in a city. I think that's where the fixation with nature stems from, a longing. I lived on a busy road for 17 years and starlings would land on the school field at the back. I'd sit on my doorstep and just listen to them a few metres away.  I couldn't get close. The field was locked, all that lovely grass I couldn't sit on.  I started paying attention to little things like a bird on the wall, spotting a hedgehog in the lane. I didn't know anything about nature, but was drawn in. 4 years ago, I finally moved out of the city and got a garden for the first time. I like to sit in it for 15 fifteen minutes on my own every morning, just looking. If it's raining, I open the back door and listen.

Q. If you suddenly found yourself with a bonus day-off how would you spend it?

Hmm, a realistic day off, or an anything goes day? I think for an anything goes day I'd like to drive a motorbike. I can't drive, so it's unlikely to happen! In lockdown I started wishing I could, I suppose it's that longing for freedom at a time everything was limited. Realistically, for my day off I'd go to the coast for a walk on the beach. I'd go to Boulmer or Alnmouth, maybe get take-out macaroni cheese to eat looking at the sea. One thing I've always wanted to do is see puffins. There's a boat trip you can take to spot them when they return every year, for years I've been thinking it sounds awesome though I've never been. I'd love to go, I'd like to see what puffins look like when they fly.

Q. Most importantly, where can readers buy The Girls are Pretty Crocodiles?

It's at Valley press, I hope people will give it a try. 

My review of The Girls are Pretty Crocodiles:

If you’ve ever wondered how the Grandmother from Little Red Riding Hood felt after being cut out of the wolf then this is the collection for you. Angela Readman writes of people and places that feel recognisable, normal even, but there’s something off-kilter with her viewpoint - the story’s axis is often tilted towards the magical spectrum. This collection of stories peers into the lives of familiar fairy tale characters, but there are also brand new creations too, Readman’s own myths and legends born from her incredible boundless imagination. 

Between some of the longer stories are shorter pieces (flash fictions) of only a couple of pages, infused with Readman’s poetic but razor-sharp prose they fizz and sparkle like palate cleansing fireworks. These small interludes often showcase her more boundary-pushing writing, where images and ideas make you marvel at how she sees the world. 

In this collection you will find wit and dark humour, but also moments of poignancy and heartache. I cried over ‘Magpies’, which captures the emotional torture of living with teenagers. I cheered on the kick-ass Fairy Godmother and all the other females battling to get their stories heard. And ‘The night we killed the witch’ felt scarily authentic right now, hinting at the grim truth behind the creation of fairy tales. I will return to this collection, again and again, one reason being Readman’s descriptions. Her writing is both beautiful and mind-bending, her use of language is breath-taking and her sentences drip like jewelled fruits, lush and colourful but always leaving you hungry for more, and thankfully each new story brings more … 

A magical, readable and unforgettable collection!

Thursday 23 December 2021

The Great Monster Pie Off of 2020 (A bonus Christmas story for 'Hairy on the Inside' fans)

The highlight of my writing year for 2021 was the publication of ‘Hairy on the Inside’, my debut novella-in-flash (published by the wonderful Ad Hoc Fiction). It has some lovely reviews on Goodreads and Amazon, and, hopefully has been making readers laugh. If you read and enjoyed the novella then here is a bonus Christmas story featuring all the ‘Hairy’ gang. And if you haven’t yet read it then this is your Christmas taster …

The Great Monster Pie Off of 2020

It was Frank’s idea. With news that we were moving into Tier 4 and tighter restrictions from Boxing Day, then why not try something new for our two household gathering. Frank is a committed fan of Bake Off, hasn’t missed a single episode since it began, and has proposed we undertake a Showstopper challenge instead of cooking the usual festive feast. He’s calling it a Pie Off. Everyone is keen to join in, even our blood-sucking live-in landlord, Julien, whose culinary skills are confined to heating up left-overs in the microwave, not a sight for the squeamish. We can create a pie of our own design, using whatever pastry crust and fillings we fancy. I’m drooling at the thought. Thankfully, my time of the lunar month isn’t till next week; paws would have been a baking handicap. A Cold Moon will sap my strength, meaning I have every excuse to stuff myself silly beforehand. A selection of pies, washed down with pints of Prosecco, sounds a perfect day to me.

“I can hear your tummy growling already, Chloe,” says Frank, winking at me.

“Do they have to be savoury?” asks Marlene. She has a sweet tooth (the others rotted long ago) and loves desserts. 

“There are no rules. Make your dream pie.” Frank tips his head right back with excitement, straining the fraying stitches around his neck to breaking point. He’s recently been banned from our local supermarket after his head toppled into the frozen peas. 

I’ve invited Gemma, my support bubble girlfriend, to join us. We met between lockdowns and this will be our first Christmas. I’m a little twitchy about how she feels, really feels about me, or even if we have a future together. She arrives mid-morning with bags of gifts and all the ingredients for her pie. She’s not like me, nor the rest of my housemates. Gemma has a pulse and doesn’t shed hair on the sofa, but she’s been invited in and accepted by all. She’s kept teaching all year, a key worker, and Julien calls her a hero for our times. I think he secretly has a crush on Gemma, since he’s abstained from drinking in her presence. Or rather he’s abstained from drinking her.

Gemma selects an appropriately festive play-list on her phone, then Frank declares it’s time to “BAKE.”

Short, puff or filo. Pastry choices sound more like dog breeds to me. Frank is a traditionalist and opted for a hot-water crust, with turkey, stuffing and cranberry layers inside. He’s even fashioned a home-made pie mould using his melted down spare set of neck bolts. “No chance of a soggy bottom with this,” he says. 

Marlene cheerily calls out “Bingo!” She’s just won the soggy bottom sweepstake for guessing Frank would say it before the Queen’s speech. There’s no prize, but she helps herself to a celebratory sherry, filling her schooner glass to the brim. Marlene is petite and still shrinking post-mortem, so it goes straight to what’s left of her head and she’s soon singing the original lyrics to A Fairy Tale of New York, which makes Gemma get the giggles.

“That’s cheating, Chloe.” Frank sniffs as I pull out the ready-made sheets of puff pastry from the fridge.

“If it’s good enough for Mary Berry,” I retort, then spoon in my filling. In deference to Gemma’s veggie tastes I’m using chestnuts, spinach and mushrooms. Technically, it’s a Wellington not a pie, as Frank is keen to point out, but it’s made with love (not lard) for the one I adore. 

My housemates snigger, and I realise I’ve just said that last bit out loud. I’ve never told her this before and Gemma blushes under the flour dusting her cheeks. She’s chosen a shortcrust recipe packed with all my favourite species. Holding her nose, Gemma tips out the innards into the dish and my heart swells as I watch her trying not to gag. In true Bake Off fashion, Frank loudly announces we have two hours left. I have no idea if that’s a short or long time, I rarely cook anything from scratch and often eat alfresco.

Marlene’s baking her pastry case blind. It takes both Frank and me to pop her eyes back in. Her entry is a mulled wine apple pie (her own concoction). She may have gone overboard with the Rioja, but the kitchen smells divine, a heady scent of cinnamon, cloves and pure alcohol. Now we’re all singing along with Wizzard.

A tuneless whining accompanies us from under the table. “Who let the dog in?” says Gemma, as she bends to scratch behind the spaniel’s crinkly ears.

“That’s not a real dog,” I tell her. “This is Malcolm, from Julien’s Book Club. He’s monstrous, don’t let him look up your dress.”

She steps back, as Malcolm, in spaniel form, rolls over to offer his belly for a tickle. I’m not sure when he snuck in, but his presence contravenes the two-household rule and I wouldn’t like to be in his fur if Julien catches him here. When I open the back door to shoo him out, he’s shifted into a posh pink poodle, lips puckered as he poses under the mistletoe. 

“No chance, Malcolm.” I drag him outside by his satin white bow and scold him for being a “bad dog.” That was cruel of me, but he’s been shifting his shape and trying it on all year, never getting the message.

Gemma smiles at me, the way that makes me want to dance. She knows not to sing Last Christmas by Wham! – it brings back painful memories for Frank – but mimes the words to me, then leans in close to whisper, “This year I have found someone special. I baked my pie with love too.” Now I know exactly how she feels and I can’t stop grinning like a love-sick Labrador.

At sunset Julien flies in for the climax of the competition. True to form, he slips his pie (“one I made earlier”) into the microwave. Julien is simple in his tastes, O positive usually. I warn Gemma not to try his entry. 

With all five pies steaming on the kitchen table, it occurs to Frank that we haven’t got a judge. As competition bakers none of us can pick a winner, so we call up our friend Dottie for a video chat on WhatsApp. Dottie is our neighbour, the same age as the Queen (and Sir David), currently shielding until she gets her second vaccination. Unable to sample any of the entries, she unhelpfully decrees they are all winners, which puts Frank into a sulk. Julien saves the day, and Frank’s mood, by unveiling his surprise gift to the household. He’s downloaded every series of Bake Off, a virtual box-set we can enjoy all year round.

Against my better judgement, and with Julien’s permission, I whistle Malcolm back into the kitchen to name the Star Baker for our first Pie Off. He’s now a sleek grey wolf with golden eyes. Okay, he’s getting closer, but I wouldn’t fancy him if he were the last canine on earth. I take Gemma’s hand and she squeezes mine back. Leaping onto the table Malcolm tentatively sniffs and licks each entry, then snatches up Frank’s “turkey with all the trimmings” pie and scarpers.

Gemma climbs onto a chair to crown Frank as the winner. The yellow paper hat, salvaged from a cracker, sits unevenly on his odd-shaped head. “Shame your ears don’t match,” she says, suppressing a laugh.  

Frank beams proudly. “Did I tell you that I once met Mary Shelley? Though she was known as Wollstonecraft Godwin at the time.”

In unison we shout: YES. Then pelt him with cranberries.

Later, we all cram into the lounge to begin a Bake Off binge. Frank brings out a plate of warmed mince pies. “This year I made my own mincemeat,” he boasts.

I notice how several of his fingertips are missing and advise Gemma that the pies may not be suitable for vegetarians. We also share the last chocolate orange, Gemma brought one for each of us but the others have mysteriously disappeared. Marlene refuses to confess when I quiz her about the four empty boxes in the recycling bin, it’s a good job she’s already dead as right now I could kill her. 

Everyone agrees the Pie Off has been a success. We may have begun a new annual tradition. Julien makes a round of snowballs, with a glacĂ© cherry hidden at the bottom as a final treat. Gemma and I exchange a shy smile that reassures me we have a future. Clinking our glasses together, our two households toast what is to come. Old habits aren’t necessarily good ones, it could be the perfect time for change. 

If you enjoyed this story then why not treat yourself to the original novella-in-flash ‘Hairy on the Inside’ featuring these characters. Available from Ad Hoc Fiction and Amazon

Thank you to all my readers and followers. LitPig and I would like to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a creative, healthy and happy 2022!

Tuesday 14 September 2021

Hairy On The Inside launch!

I can't tell you how much it means to hold a book with just my name on the cover, and I am delighted with Hairy On The Inside published by Ad Hoc Fiction. I love the cover, which totally fulfilled the brief I gave John at Ad Hoc, and now LitPig has his very own mug to match. 

The launch for my debut novella-in-flash will be hosted by Jude Higgins on Wednesday 15th September 7.30 - 9pm BST. It's a double launch with Jupiter Jones and there will be readings from both of us, along with some chat, Q&A and raffle to win copies of the two novellas. If you'd like to come along (and it would be wonderful to see some of you there) then you can request the link by following the instructions here or if you're on Twitter then DM @AdHocFiction or @BathFlashAward.

For publication day my best writing chum Wendy Clarke gave me this beautiful patio rose to mark the occasion. I'm not sure I'd keep writing without her support and our monthly goal setting (not to mention all the coffee and cake... ). 

This novella-in-flash may not have been written without the encouragement and feedback of my workshop Dream Team: Richard Buxton, Bee Mitchell-Turner and Zoe Mitchell. I owe a big thank you to Michelle Elvy, who judged the 2021 Bath Novella-in-Flash Award and shortlisted Hairy On The Inside, and much thanks to early reviewers: Vanessa Gebbie, Amanda Huggins and Tim Craig, for all their lovely cover quotes. 

If you want to hold your own copy of Hairy On The Inside then they are available to buy from Ad Hoc Fiction or Amazon. If you enjoy the read then please think about posting a review online (Amazon, Goodreads, Ad Hoc Fiction). Or just Tweet about it, all and any pics of Hairy out in the wild (perhaps with a hairy/furry friend) are welcomed and much loved!

Monday 2 August 2021

Celebrating Writing Milestones

Today I'm celebrating two milestones in my writing career.  My short fiction has featured in many anthologies but finally there is a book coming out with just my name on the cover! That's a big deal for me. Here is the cover reveal for my debut novella-in-flash Hairy on the Inside, to be published by Ad Hoc Fiction on 27th August. You can now pre-order the novella with a 25% discount until publication day from Ad Hoc Fiction here.

Hairy on the Inside was shortlisted for the 2021 Bath Novella-in-Flash Award, for which it needed to comprise individual flashes (or chapters) of not more than 1000 words long. Note: A novella-in-flash should have a distinct narrative arc (tell a complete story) and is not simply a collection of unrelated flash stories. 

If you do pre-order then THANK YOU,  and if possible after reading please leave a review on Ad Hoc Fiction, Goodreads etc. It is intended to be a comic novella with the simple intention of making people smile (and hopefully chuckle).

Some advance praise for Hairy on the Inside:

Michelle Elvy, author of the everrumble and judge for 2021 Bath Novella-in-Flash Award - 

A group of flatmates try to hold onto their compassion and civilising tendencies in the face of pestilence and plague - mostly. Their new lockdown lives include all the typical things, from counselling sessions to book clubs. But this is no ordinary tale: you will howl when the moon is full and grimace when there's a hunger for blood. A funny and irreverent monster mash-up, with love in the mix, too, and a serious message about how to be the real you. Carefully written with excellent pacing but also: it's clear how much fun the writer had writing this!

Vanessa Gebbie -

Friends house-share during the pandemic - but that's where the real world fades out. These friends are the undead. Shapeshifters, zombies and werewolves have to endure the ups and downs, the privations and boxed sets of the pandemic just like the rest of us. Nothing escapes Tracy Fells's boundless creativity and wit.

Amanda Huggins, author of All our Squandered Beauty - 

In this original, witty and irreverent novella-in-flash, Tracy Fells sprinkles her skilful writing magic over a group of extraordinary housemates. The monstrous friends grapple with lockdown while pursuing love and doing battle with their unnatural urges, always remaining true to their real selves in the way only the undead can!

Tim Craig, Winner of the Brigport Prize for Flash Fiction - 

Hairy on the Inside shows what can be achieved by a novella-in-flash when it's in the hands of a real master of the form. I laughed. I cried. I checked under the bed...

And my second milestone... reaching 100 publications with a flash story on National Flash Fiction Day's FlashFlood Journal. You can read Brittle here

Brittle is very different in tone and themes from Hairy on the Inside, hopefully demonstrating the versatility of Flash Fiction!