Welcome to my blog

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

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Small Wonder Short Story Festival

Every September Charleston hosts the Small Wonder Short Festival and if you write, read or love short fiction then it's definitely worth a visit. The events are housed in a flint stone barn, which is surprisingly cosy (but can get chilly in the evenings). As this is a rural setting then many of the authors have to
contend with background heckling from cows, crows and the occasional tractor. Sweet fermenting hay (not dung as many assumed) provides a fruity sensual overtone.

The single track road leading up to the farmhouse and events has to be traffic controlled, so the Indoor Writer took the easy option the free bus service from Lewes train station. The free bus ticket also gets you a free bottle of Small Wonder beer brewed locally by Harveys of Lewes. Surprisingly few visitors took advantage of this terrific service - there were only 5 people on the Sunday morning bus!

A highlight was Graham Swift (Friday 26th Sep) talking about his latest collection 'England and other stories'. He also read 'Saving Grace' from the same collection. His reading was a masterclass in how to read your work. He took his time, read slowly and carefully savouring every word. It was mesmerising.

Swift shared that he believes a short story begins when "a sudden moment tips up a life". He's "never felt fear of any subject" and will often go into very dark places. He feels that's the deal as a writer. On the question of the differences between novels and short stories he said he felt the differences were exaggerated and the novel is "really just a long story". And that in reality the novel is the oddity because everyone is a short story writer, telling stories in the pub, waiting for a bus etc.

The annual Small Wonder short story slam followed and yes the Indoor Writer got to read! She didn't win (£100 cash prize), but it was terrific fun. Each year there's a different theme with a 3 min max limit. 'Red Letter Day' was the theme and prompted a surprising range of stories.

The Indoor Writer was back at the festival for Sunday afternoon and what a treat was in store ... Edna O'Brien followed by Rose Tremain. Both talking about their most recent short story collections and the art of writing short stories.

Edna O'Brien read extracts of her story 'A scandalous woman' (from 'Saints and Sinners' and 'The Love Object'). She confessed that "writing gets harder" as you get older and lack the energy of youth, but she still believes "literature is everything". A top tip for any writer was how she begins her writing day by first reading a page or paragraph of something remarkable such as James Joyce or Virginia Woolf - it's like training yourself with good language rather like an athlete warming up. Alice Munro is another favoured short story writer she loves to read.

The old favourite 'why do you write' prompted her to think carefully before answering. Looking back on her life she would still become a writer all over again, despite the lonely existence and how writing is not lucrative. "You might as well ask why do I breathe?" she declared. "Words have befriended and beleagured me, but the urge to write is far greater than ambition or vanity - it keeps me from drowning."
What more can you say ... An inspirational woman.

Rose Tremain, wearing rock star dark glasses (she had to swap them for her reading glasses at the lectern) was equally inspiring. She read a delightful story 'Extra Geography' from her latest collection 'The American Lover' (The title story is currently shortlisted for the 2014 BBC Short Story Award). Invoking a very believable New Zealand accent. In the interview she described the short story as "a little thing, standing periously on the edge". Interestingly, she has to have the whole story complete in her head before she starts writing (the Indoor Writer was pleased to hear this as this is exactly how she writes short fiction). Short stories sometimes come like dreams or out of historical reading/research or simply from a commission. She confessed to not being precious and sometimes a commission means she has to lock herself away like Rapunzel and just "get on with it". Her own favourite short story authors are mostly American writers (she taught Creative Writing modules in Nashville for some years where she got the taste) including Annie Proulx.

You can buy books at the event and then get them signed by your favourite authors. Unfortunately, the queue for Edna O'Brien moved slowly and the Indoor Writer had to rush off for the next talk, but she did get to chat with Rose Tremain (one of her all time favourite writers) - who is lovely. She also met some new writers either in the audience or on the bus, everyone is very friendly, which is good to know when you're not in a group.

There are still more events, including Margaret Atwood, continuing up to the end of Wednesday, but many sold out. Look out for this Small Wonder in 2015 and book your tickets early!

Sorry there are no photos of the speakers ... really need to sort out a better phone ...

Monday, 29 September 2014

BBC Short Story Award 2014

Ho hum the Indoor Writer didn't make the final five shortlisted short stories for the BBC award. With a top prize of £15,000 this competition attracts the big names in writing short fiction so it wasn't too much of a surprise when this year's names were released to include: Tessa Hadley, Rose Tremain, Francessca Rhydderch, Zadie Smith and Lionel Shriver. Several of these have recently released short story collections so I'm guessing their agents were keen to get extra publicity. Hilary Mantel has only recently brought out a new short story collection (with the eye-catching title of 'The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher'), so perhaps we can expect to see her name on the shortlist in 2015 ...

If you want to listen to the shortlisted stories you can still get them on iplayer or download the podcasts here

We've listened to all of them. They are well written stories, but to be honest nothing beyond the skill of many writers working in the short story form. Disappointingly none had any fantasy/magic/wonder element that the winning 'Mrs Fox' by Sarah Hall had in bucket loads from last year's award. If I had to vote for my favourites then I'd plump for:
Bad Dreams by Tessa Hadley - I even stopped dusting to listen to this as the atmosphere and language captured me from the beginning
Kilifi Creek by Lionel Shriver - a seemingly lightly written story with dark undertones. This is Shriver's second consecutive year of making the shortlist so hoping she gets in the top 2 this year.

The other 3 stories are:
The American Lover by Rose Tremain
The Taxidermist's Daughter by Francessca Rhydderch
Miss Adele amidst the corsets by Zadie Smith

If you were judging which story would you pick?

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Lakeland Interlude

Beginning of September the Indoor Writer and Handsome Hubby escaped to the English Lakes for walking, pubbing and reading. It was a chance to rejuvenate the writing cells and hopefully from the pictures below you can see why ...
Top: View from Orrest Head, Windermere

Right: William Wordsworth's grave, Ambleside churchyard

 Centre: Britannia Inn (worth a visit), Elterwater

This one's for Wendy ... Dungeon Ghyll Force, The Great Langdales 

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Commonwealth Writers Short Story Prize 2015

The Commonwealth Writers Short Story Prize 2015 is now OPEN! Full details of how to enter can be found here. Submission window closes 30 November 2014. And there is no entry fee.

For the 2014 prize over 4,000 stories were received so you may think what is the point of submitting? But I did enter and my story was shortlisted for UK/Canada region. To be honest I still haven't got over the shock. If I can do it then so can any one of you out there ... go on submit your best story, what is there to lose?

And as a shortlisted writer I was invited to the launch event for the 2015 prize. It was a fabulous evening at Malborough House where writers, agents, publishers and diplomats rubbed shoulders while the wine flowed freely and the nibbles were unusually tasty (and mostly suitable for veggies). Thankfully, I didn't have to attend on my own and first met up with Debz Hobbs-Wyatt (shortlisted for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize 2013) and her writing chum, Paula Readman. You can read a great account of evening on Debz's blog here.

There was mingling before and after the main event, a panel discussion on the topic 'No Laughing Matter? Conflict and humour - is there a line?'. Romesh Gunesekera was in conservation with writers Leila Aboulela, Kei Miller and Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi. It was an entertaining discussion and rather pertinent as Jennifer's 2014 winning story 'Let's tell this story properly' has many comic moments (read it here). Debz and I both discussed how our own shortlisted stories had comic elements, mainly in voice rather than deliberate jokes. Personally, I find it difficult to write any short story without some humour, simply because even in the most tragic moments there is always humour - it's how we survive.

A highlight of the evening was meeting and chatting with Jennifer. Ugandan born but now teaching at University of Lancaster, Jennifer is a novelist and short story addict. She shared how she entered lots of short story competitions and became so concerned about the cost that she now searches out as many free competitions as possible. I have similar worries as the entry fees mount up, so I avidly watch out for the free to enter competitions and these writers always manage to root them out: Patsy Collins, Helen Yendall.

To record the event Debz took this writer selfie of the three of us ... hmm now I'm thinking back to that Scottish play again ...

Tracy, Paula and Debz - from hereon known as The Bridge House Anthologists ... we all have short stories coming out in the 2014 Bridge House Anthology to be published December (more on that in a later blog...)