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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, 22 December 2015

Merry Christmas and all that

As you can see LitPig is all set for the festive holidays. Best wishes to all our lovely followers for a very Merry Christmas. Normal service will resume once I can get the remote back ...

Monday, 14 December 2015

Anyone for a drabble?

Did you know a story containing exactly 100 words is called a drabble? Did you also know you can win £2000 by writing a drabble for the Reader's Digest 100-word-story competition? This is a popular annual competition with no entry fee. £2000 to the adult winner, along with 2 x £200 prizes to the runner-ups. It closes on 20 February 2016 and full details are here. Once a shortlist is selected there is a public vote, which is not to everyone's tastes. Another drawback is that you hand over copyright to Reader's Digest if your story does well. However, they often publish stories not shortlisted so basically be prepared to lose your copyright - if this bothers you then don't enter. Personally, I'm happy to risk losing copyright on 100 words for the chance to win £2000.

Top tip: create a grid of 10 x 10 squares and write a word in each to reach the maximum. I try to avoid any hyphenated words as never entirely sure how these are counted. Title is optional and not included in the 100 words.

I know other writers have blogged about this competition - so why mention it again? Everyone believes this sort of competition is impossible to win ... OK, I've never won it but in 2013 I was one of two runner-ups out of >2000 entries. My 100 words netted me £100 in book tokens, which didn't last long! Unfortunately, I can no longer find any links to the story - sorry.  I wrote it in my head whilst swimming. Jotted it down when I got home and hardly tweaked it before submission - I did not labour over this for days. It was a tingle story - I got a good feeling as soon as it was done ... and for once I was right. So, you never know how well you can do unless you submit.

Go on have a dabble and write a drabble!

Monday, 7 December 2015

Spread the book love

I read recently on The Prime Writer's website that the best way to support an author, and particularly an author friend, is to buy their book. I like to extend that in supporting as many authors as possible by buying books. My book buying habit can get a little out of hand so I try to spread the love in as many ways as I can. Let me count the ways ...

1. Independent bookshops - We're really lucky to have a terrific local bookshop in Steyning. The Steyning Bookshop had its 30th birthday last year and regular hosts author events. Sarah the owner is very friendly and knowledgeable. It's a wonderful place to browse and inhale books. They support local authors and stock Wendy Clarke's short story collection Room in Your Heart.

2. High street bookshops - I've recently discovered Waterstones has a Click and Collect service. You can reserve a book and later collect in store 2 hours later. I'm not sure why but it's cheaper to do this. I reserved and collected 3 books last week saving £8 on the in-store price.

3. Online - Yes, I do buy from Amazon. Having Student Prime means I can get books next day. I do occasionally buy second-hand from Amazon. I know this doesn't support the author but sometimes books for my MA course were simply too expensive new. However, if I love something I often then get a new copy later.

My workshop mates recommended Hive. You can buy books (and other goods) online to have home delivered (free for next 5 days) or collect from a local indie bookshop. With each sale they give a percentage to the local bookshop that you nominate. When I went to check them out for this blog post I ended up buying Mary Berry's Christmas Collection as it was £4.25 cheaper than anywhere else. I rather like this idea of buying online and some of the revenue still goes to an indie bookshop.

4. Library - OK, this is not buying books but it still supports the author via the PLR system. Again I'm very lucky to live close to 4 excellent libraries: Steyning, Horsham, Storrington and Worthing. To date these seem to be surviving but you never know ... I try to regularly borrow books from all of them as my thinking is use 'em or lose 'em.

5. Charity shops - Again, I know this doesn't directly support the author, but I like to feel I'm supporting a charity instead. Also it can get you into a new author you've not read before. I recently bought this stack of books all in excellent condition from local Lions bookshop.

6. Author events - if you can get the chance to hear a favourite author read or meet them at a signing then go for it. If I go to any event then I usually buy a book and get it signed. I've met some of my all-time heroes this way, such as Rose Tremain, Matt Haig and Edna O'Brien. My recent hot flush moment was chatting to David Mitchell when getting my copy of Slade House signed.

I'm sure there are plenty more ways to spread the book love and support an author. What other ways do you have?

Monday, 30 November 2015

Reading interlude

Sorry, there is no blog post today ... as you can see the wee LitPig is too engrossed in The Good Son. Just hope his trotters are clean cuz I want to read this next! (If you've not come across Paul McVeigh then check out his website and Twitter @paul_mc_veigh as he promotes competitions and opportunities for all forms of writing. He's also involved in @WordFactoryUK and a massive supporter of short stories and those who write them.)

Posts may be a bit sporadic during December as Operation Agent is now seriously underway, along with lots of thinking about new writing goals for 2016.

Monday, 23 November 2015

Dissertation Blues

Today I uploaded my dissertation for binding. Next week I hand in the bound copies and then my MA in Creative Writing (University of Chichester) is all over ... well, until I get the final mark mid-March. I've been working on the dissertation for almost six months and like any goal it seems a bit of an anti-climax now it's done. There will be a few celebrations once I've actually submitted -  a workshop group session down the pub is definitely on the horizon - but the reality is I now have to reassess my writing goals for 2016.

One project clamouring for attention is my completed novel. I suspended submitting this while I focused on the dissertation. To date it's gone out to a handful of agents and one publisher. I've had several requests for the full manuscript but despite some very positive comments on my writing, these didn't lead to any offers.  Later this week my writing chum, Wendy, is coming round. We plan to bunker down in the writing war-room (my lounge) and work on Operation Agent. The objective is to sort: cover letter and the 'dreaded synopsis' and determine where to find and how to approach literary agents. No teacakes will be involved, but I have bought the biscuits (posh chocolate ones) and will stock up on coffee. Knowing both of us this is likely to evolve into some sort of contest, but it all helps!

Otherwise this is what I plan to do in December ...
  • READ, READ, READ, anything that I want!
  • Visit the tame teenager in Bath before he breaks up for Xmas holidays. Bath holds a wonderful Xmas Fair and has a terrific bookshop 'Mr B's Emporium', so lots to look forward to. (Just before Xmas my son turns 20 so he'll no longer be a teenager. Not sure I'm ready for that!)
  • Bake and cook as much as I can from Mary Berry's Christmas Collection - have borrowed this from local library and I can't wait to try some of the recipes.
  • Empty my brain of all things MA related so it's receptive to anything new.
  • Recharge brain with lots of walking / running / swimming and junk TV. (Don't know why but it has to be junk TV to get my cells firing, perhaps because I mentally switch off when watching and start to float off into ideas. My favourite junk at the moment is Psychic Detectives on TruTV - please don't judge me.)
  • Blitz agents with my wonderful novel.
You can see from the photo that LitPig has a stack of books ready. He does have good taste, doesn't he? Oh heck, sorry I have to go and wrestle those chocolates off him straight away...

Monday, 16 November 2015

Literary Salmon - a new fish in the publishing pond

Here's something that caught my attention for National Short Story Week: 3 writers get together,   set up a publishing venture and launch a quality anthology. Who are they?
Literary Salmon ...
Jane Roberts @JaneEHRoberts
Bernie Deehan @BernieDeehan
Francoise Harvey @zarahruth
And here is their first spawning: a collection of 12 short stories all titled The Casual Electrocution of Strangers.

You can download this collection FREE from Literary Salmon here.
I loved the concept of one title and 12 writers. Each story is a unique interpretation of the title, including both contemporary and speculative stories. There are some talented short story writers involved: Lisa Blower, Darren Lee and Jane Roberts to name a few. Tragedy and comedy happily entwine with some wonderfully diverse characters ... a woman executioner on death row, a boy obsessed with the Ghostbusters film, a mysterious and dangerous Parisian ex-Madam. Prepared to be stimulated by these electrifying tales.

I've met the absolutely lovely, Jane Roberts, at The Word Factory short story salon (held on the last Saturday of every month in Waterstones Picadilly). Jane's a terrific writer and talented flasher (flash fiction and all that) and kindly agreed to guest on here today and talk about Literary Salmon ...

Q. You launched Literary Salmon in October with its debut collection of short stories ‘The Casual Electrocution of Strangers’ (excellent title!). Can you take us back to how and when Literary Salmon was spawned and where did the name come from?
Three little words. The Word Factory. Proving that the concept of the Literary Salon is alive and well. More than that, it is a vital resource for writers and readers who wish to connect with literature and like-minded people.
So Fran, Bernie, and I took that idea and got a bit excited about a fun, fishy pun (with a glass of Word Factory wine). Yet it was only till later on in the year that we spawned the idea for the collection when crime queen Val McDermid mentioned on Twitter that she was having problems with people ringing her doorbell in the dead of night. You can look back on Twitter Search and see the conversation we all had back then. It’s amazing to think a few words created a whole collection of twelve short stories.

Q. One title. Twelve different writers for each story. What’s that all about?
An intriguing creative exercise is what it boils down to! We decided to each choose three other writers from our various backgrounds to share in our project. Our combined writing backgrounds range from: founding (or working for) publishing houses and literary festivals, editing, performance and spoken word fiction, poetry, novels, and short fiction published in many places with fixtures as high up as shortlisting for the BBC National Short Story Award. We didn’t know what our writers would do with the title; we only knew that we had faith in them to bring something uniquely theirs in terms of style and approach to the project.
Best of all – every writer in this collection has the lead story. We are very proud of each individual story.

Q. With three of you involved in the venture how did you share out the tasks? And who’s behind the fabulous cover image and the stunningly funky contents page?
This is just a note to my fellow Literary Salmon Crew. It doesn’t often happen that you get to work and share ideas with Very Lovely People. They are. The commitment, enthusiasm, and creative boundaries that have been explored as a group – it’s been a wonderful process.
We all dipped into the final edits; after several rounds of the writers commenting on or editing three other stories as well as their own. I think we all felt honoured by the level of trust people were willing to share in their groups. Comments were always set out to be constructive and helpful to the writer(s); there would have been no room for any kind of abuse or heavy-handedness in this project.
A big vote of thanks from us all to Fran for web-related procedures and formatting. She’s the technology genius in our camp! Bernie has been a fantastic force with an eagle eye on editing, ideas, and formatting. Mostly, I’ve been badgering people to look at what we’re up to and keeping the Twitter-side up: here, I must add a huge vote of thanks to everybody I have badgered – you know who you are and you have all been amazing with your time, suggestions, endorsements, and reviews.
We all had quite a concise idea of how we wanted the collection to look and feel (even if we had little idea about the content and style of the stories being entered at the initial stages), because we all read widely in the short story field – many volumes of Salt Publishing’s Best Short Stories, Unthank Books Unthology series, many literary magazines (Litro, Bare Fiction, Short Fiction, The Stinging Fly, The Lonely Press, Wales Arts Review…), not to mention veritable libraries of modern and classic short fiction authors.
The artwork is the brainchild of Harry Milburn (@realprintsharry). The Literary Salmon logo was created by Kate Townsend (@KateJTownsend). The realisation of an artist’s interpretation of some of those tiny seeds of our initial ideas is awe-inspiring. People who haven’t read the collection yet comment to say the artwork has inspired them to read the stories. A fantastic marriage of creative talent.

Q. I’ve really enjoyed this first collection, but what does the future hold for Literary Salmon?
Can you talk about your next venture? At present readers can download the collection for FREE - do you plan to charge a fee at some point? You must have overheads to cover etc.
The future plans for more Literary Salmon leaps in the “Fresh Waters of Literature” are yet to be more precisely-delineated. But Fran, Bernie, and I are keen to keep the Literary Salmon buoyed up and afloat.
We are extremely proud to have been supported by so many generous people in the publishing world. We will be having a swim around in the next few weeks and months, promoting the work of our writers in the collection, and, most importantly, promoting their new collections, novels, performances, and workshops however we can. I feel we have made a bond between some people where only a fragment existed before – a sort of mutual support network.
It would be a shame not to try and get The Casual Electrocution of Strangers into print copy. Perhaps, along with some exciting new stories… Samples of fiction work very well to hook a reader. With the wealth of difference in the inaugural collection, and the statistics of our “shares” and “downloads”, Literary Salmon has made an impressive first leap. On Twitter alone, a Literary Salmon tweet nets views in the thousands. Not bad for a small fry! Of course, if a print copy became a possibility, it would be judged in-line with similar projects in terms of reader-friendly pricing strategy. And it would be wonderful to be able to give something back to our writers!
We’re all learning new skills on the job. Our enthusiasm for the love of reading and writing – and sharing that love – knows no bounds. If anyone has any suggestions or ideas, we would be more than happy to hear from you.

If that isn’t electrifying enough, Literary Salmon are proud to be featuring in a slot at the Word Factory December Party! We can’t think of a more apt way to celebrate – come and join us! Details on The Word Factory website.
Q. Can other writers get involved in future publications -will there be submission opportunities?
We are all absolutely thrilled by the level of engagement – both from our writers and readers. It would be fantastic to involve more people in the future. One clear response is that sometimes a writer needs to write something for the love of writing, to re-engage with the fun and joy of the processes without the fear of rejection and the stress of deadlines. Furthermore, writing in this way produces a piece of fiction that can inspire a lot of readers. It is a potent gift, to be able to enjoy these simple acts. Who wouldn’t want to take part in that?

Please look out for further Literary Salmon sightings as we continue our Blog Tour, and thank you, Tracy (& LitPig) for hosting us! As a writer we all admire, it is fantastic to have your Salmon support!

Catch the Literary Salmon
Twitter: @LiterarySalmon and #LiterarySalmon #LitSal

Monday, 9 November 2015

From short story to novel with Joanna Campbell

LitPig is tickled pink to welcome his special guest, novelist and short storywriter, Joanna Campbell to the blog today. Firstly, CONGRATULATIONS to Joanna for winning the 2015 London Short Award last week - a terrific achievement. Read more here ...
He's been a pig fan of Joanna's writing for many years and is delighted that she's here today to talk about her obsession with the characters of a short story evolved into her debut novel Tying Down the Lion.

Joanna Campbell:
When I tried to write new stories after finishing the two-thousand word tale, A Temporary Uprooting, I discovered that, for several reasons, I had failed to seal the membrane over the Bishop family.

Firstly, having created and followed the Bishops to the point of departure for a momentous journey t a city featuring one of the most brutal fortified barriers on earth, I left them at the edge of the action. Roy's hands in his beloved driving-gloves were gripping the steering wheel, but I had not allowed him to engage gear. I was unable to shake off the image of the family who had stalled at the very outset of their quest.

Also, although it achieved a short-listing and a commendation in competitions, when A Temporary Uprooting was rejected for magazine publication, I questioned further its suitability for a workable piece of short fiction.
In addition, although I had not intended to blend fictional and real people, I had to accept that two of the Bishops were riddled with elements of my late father and brother. Although I feared my emotional attachment might encumber the writing process, I could not miss the chance of embarking on a final adventure with my family. As Bridget Bishop discovers, some steps in our lives need to be retraced.
I developed the story into a novel by adapting it as the first chapter. This, however, turned out to be a flawed idea. A short story is rarely the end of everything, but it is the end of something.
Short is not the same as incomplete. The act of ending a short story is a natural block for the writer, even if the reader would like it to continue. By trying to plough through the closure—albeit a poised-to-go closure—I encountered the drawback of beginning a novel with something essentially finished. In order to facilitate a smoother transition, I needed to open and unlace that ‘something’, then reconnect it in a different way.
Although further deletions took place during the final edits, elements of the original story were eventually incorporated throughout the novel, a process not unlike separating eggs. Just as any stray specks of yolk in the whites prevent a meringue from rising to peaks, if I had allowed too much of the short story’s inherent narrative flow to make the cut, it would have disturbed the novel’s pacing and structure.
In A Temporary Uprooting, Grandma Bishop stays behind when the family travel to Berlin. However, early readers of the novel asked if this larger-than-life lady could have a seat in the car, which meant blending in a back-story to deepen and soften her character and also delineate a more stimulating narrative arc.
Jacqueline Bishop did not plan to write a journal in the short story, but, despite her role as narrator, she appeared too passive and purposeless for the novel. Therefore, I gave her the task of producing a project about Berlin, not only for school, but also to bridge the widening gap between her and her German-born mother.
The semi-autobiographical character of Roy remained unchanged in the novel, his spirit and mission already established from the outset, via both my pen and my heart.
We can highly recommend Tying Down the Lion, a funny and moving read that's hard to put down. Here's my review from Goodreads:
I've been following Joanna Campbell's short story career for years - as we've featured on many a shortlist together (she usually won!) - and have always admired her excellent writing. Her debut novel doesn't disappoint and lives up to expectation. Well written and surprisingly funny throughout. Joanna knows how to weave tragedy and comedy together to create an incredibly satisfying and lingering read. I loved spending time with the Bishop family, particularly Nell the gran with attitude - I think we all know a few old ladies like Nell. Also enjoyed the 1967 setting, which brought back many early childhood memories of Woolworths / Angel Delight / Twinkle magazine and many more ... Longlisted for the Not-the-Booker-Prize 'Tying down the Lion' is a brilliant debut and I can't wait for Joanna's next novel.

Finally a little bit about Joanna and her writing career: Joanna's stories have been published in magazines such as The New Writer, Writer's Forum, The Yellow Room, Woman's Weekly and The People's Friend, as well as in collections published by Salt Publishing, Cinnamon Press, Spilling Ink, Earlyworks Press, Unbound Press, Rubery Press and Biscuit Publishing.
Shortlisted five times for the Bridport Prize and three times for the Fish Prize, she has stories in both the 2010 and 2013 Bristol Short Story Prize Anthologies.
You can follow Joanna on her writing blog here.
When Planets Slip Their Tracks, her first short story collection, will be published soon in hardback by Ink Tears Press.
Tying Down The Lion is published by Brick Lane. You can buy it from Amazon and I also ordered my copy from Waterstones.







Monday, 2 November 2015

The joy of workshops

Just a quick one from me as I REALLY should be working on my dissertation submission ... One of the biggest learning experiences from my MA in Creative Writing has been the joy of discovering that workshops work. At first the whole process of submitting work to a group of other writers for was daunting. I wasn't used to getting feedback on work-in-progress - usually the only feedback I got on my writing was either an acceptance or, more likely, a rejection. Sharing feedback face-to-face was terrifying. I'm still adjusting to that bit, but in the last two years I've learned to listen and act upon the feedback. I've been incredibly lucky to have worked with some very talented writers, specialising in fiction and poetry. In a later post I'll talk a bit about my current workshop group and how they're getting me through the dissertation, but today is a THANK YOU to a group I worked with about a year ago. They reviewed and commented on a short story called Custard Creams and Lemon Polish, which had been submitted quite a few times without any success. I took on board all the feedback and revised the story.

Is there a happy ending to this tale? Well, last week I received my contributor's copy of FIREWORD Quarterly (issue 5) containing my short story: Custard Creams and Plastic Lemons. The literary magazine accepted
the reworked version earlier in the year and now it's published. Was overjoyed to receive my copy as the quality of the magazine is outstanding. My story is also accompanied by a gorgeous original illustration by Karolina Burdon (see photo right). Yes, I think this qualifies as a happy ending.
If you have the opportunity to join a group of writers and share work then go for it!
You can order issue 5 of FIREWORDS here. Also watch out for submission opportunities for issue 6...

And look out for next Monday's blog where LitPig's special guest is novelist and short story writer, Joanna Campbell. He's so excited about the interview that he may even take a bath ...

Monday, 26 October 2015

Let's hear it for Wendy Clarke: 100 Sales!

LitPig has raided the chocolate tin to help someone celebrate a writing milestone. Okay, I confess it's not me. I've recently written short story number 118 and hit 47 stories published, but that's nothing compared to what my writing chum, Wendy Clarke has achieved. She hit 100 stories sold some time ago, that's old news, but last week she achieved a new milestone: 100 sales to The People's Friend. 100 sales to one magazine! That's pretty amazing we think. Pop over to Wendy's blog and read about her journey to this magic target.

I'll share a little secret with you. LitPig has a bit of a crush on our Wendy (see photo right) and fondly remembers when he interviewed her about launching her debut collection Room in Your Heart (read the interview post here).
Shyly, he plucked up the courage today to ask how she was planning to celebrate 100 sales. This is what she told him:
I've been asked a lot about how I've celebrated this milestone and my answer has got to be "I haven't". There have been many lovely milestones along my People's Friend journey - first sale, first article, first serial and of course the publication of Room in Your Heart that I couldn't celebrate them all. What I actually did after that 100th sale was walk the dog... then write another story!

There's a lesson for all wannabe writers. Celebrate by writing something new.

(I don't believe a word of it. I've seen her polish off giant slabs of cake without any excuse for a celebration!)

Check out Wendy's two collections of short stories:
They can be bought from Amazon as ebooks or paperbacks. Both are cracking good reads.

Monday, 19 October 2015

Reading off-piste: Discovering new voices (part 2)

In September I shared some of the new voices (new to me) I'd discovered from my dissertation reading (read the post here). Don't tell my tutor but I've also been reading off the list, off-piste so to speak, and I want to share some of my new finds. Here are a small selection of short collections that have caught my imagination ... so far ...
The Rental Heart and other fairytales by Kirsty Logan
An impressive debut collection of short stories. I enjoyed all of these. Some are saucy, others surreal and I love how many really did end happily.
Kirsty Logan recently won the 2015 Polari First Book Award for this collection.
(I was lucky enough to get my copy signed by Kirsty at the London Short Story Festival back in June. She is absolutely lovely and genuinely believes in happy endings.)

The Redemption of Galen Pike by Carys Davies
An absorbing and imaginative second collection of short stories from VS Pritchett winner, Carys Davies. I didn't take to all of these, a couple had late twists to the stories which I felt came too quickly to close the story but many were excellent. The title story is one of the best.

Carys Davies has just won the 2015 Frank O' Connor International Short Story Award for this collection.

Clown's Shoes by Rebecca F John
Clown’s Shoes is Rebecca F John’s debut collection of short stories and what a blazing collection of images it is. Several stories come with an excellent pedigree such as The Sunday Times EFG shortlisted The Glove Maker’s Numbers and Salting Home, listed for the Manchester Prize. I enjoyed the setting of each story as John seems to easily flit across time periods from the Victorian madhouse of The Glove Maker’s Numbers to a concentration camp in WWII. Others have a more contemporary feel or are suitably timeless in setting. I loved how her stories touched on a multitude of themes and concepts sweeping from live naked theatre shows of the 20s (Clown’s Shoes) to a death defying magic stunt (Bullet Catch). Clearly, this is a short story writer who pursues her fascinations and obsessions rather than concentrating on one theme – I relished this aspect of the collection as each story came as a complete package. Starting a new story was like unwrapping a gift, you had a hint of the contents from the title, but once inside it was a unique surprise – a genuine treat. A couple of the stories towards the end of the collection didn’t quite hit the mark for me, such as Running for Bernie (I’m not a fan of reproducing dialect/speech too accurately and this quickly began to irritate within the story, for me) and Hunting Shishe, which didn’t reel me in. One of my absolute favourites was Salting Home, a story about a long missing child returned home and the issues that linger after the happy reunion. I wanted to know so much more about the characters.

Rebecca F John has just been announced as the 2015 PEN International/New Voices Award for her short story Moon Dog (which is included in Clown's Shoes).

Have you read any of the above writers? Do share if you have any favourite contemporary short story writers...

Sunday, 11 October 2015

And the winner is ...

To follow-up on my previous post talking through the shortlisted stories for the 2015 BBC National Short Story Award the winner and runner-up were announced a few days ago. I was pleased to learn one of my favourites 'Briar Road' by Jonathan Buckley took the top prize, with Mark Haddon and his story 'Bunny' coming runner-up. You can listen here to Jonathan Buckley talking about his story on Front Row.

Monday, 28 September 2015

BBC National Short Story Award 2015: the shortlist

The shortlist of five has been announced for the 2015 BBC National Short Story Award (NSSA) and were broadcast on R4 last week. You can still listen to all five stories and below there are links, along with my thoughts on each one.

Did you enter? This time round I didn't bother because as you can see from the shortlist the standard is incredibly high, dominated by well known writers. The winner gets £15,000, along with substantial publicity, which explains why some very successful writers enter this competition (runner-up gets £3,000 and the others all get £500). So you need to enter your very BEST story and then be prepared to tie it up for six months. One plus is there's no entry fee, but you do need to have publishing credits, which again encourages the professional writers to enter. Earlier this year I made the final 50 long list for the Bath Short Story Award - and was pretty chuffed about that. The top prize was £1000 and there was an entry fee of £8, yet there were >1000 entries compared to 439 for the BBC NSSA, which again says something about the field entering the NSSA. The maximum word count for the NSSA is 8,000 - high for a competition, so you do need a longer story as clearly you will need to fill a 25 minute slot on Radio 4 ... So will I have a go in 2016? Hmm, I'm thinking about it, but don't yet have a short story long enough. Clearly, first person narration works well for an audio story, so that's another thing to consider. This could be a new goal for me post the MA dissertation ...

If you plan to listen to these then I'd recommend not reading the blurb that goes with them on R4 - it does spoil the experience a little.

Briar Road by Jonathan Buckley (read by Maine Peake)
A well constructed and written story, subtle yet powerful. The first person narration is lifted by the skilful reading of Maxine Peake. Which did make me ponder on how much the chosen reader can enhance the story? This story totally absorbed me from the opening sentence to the very end. I can find it difficult to concentrate on audio stories, but this one mesmerised me. My coffee went cold. Highly recommended.

Bunny by Mark Haddon (read by Colin Buchanan)
There were changes in point of view, which I'm not a fan of in a short story, but for the narrative the changes were important. At first I thought there was nothing new in the theme of this story and then the ending came as a total shock. The final tragic 'twist' lifts the story, explaining how it made it to the shortlist. Unnerving.

Broderie Anglaise by Frances Leviston (read by Kate O'Flynn)
Another first person narration, read engagingly by Kate O'Flynn. But even the humour didn't keep me engaged. I've listened to this twice now and drifted off both times. It points to tensions in a family relationship, but possibly was too subtle for me and I may have missed its hidden depths.

The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher by Hilary Mantel (read by Rebekah Staton)
You may have already heard this version, as it was broadcast towards the end of 2014 when R4 serialised some of the collection (same title). Cynically, one could think the BBC saved a bit of dosh by re-using the recording... Again this is first person narration, though starts off sounding almost omniscient pov. Clever device to re-imagine a real past event and consequently the reader/listener can't predict the outcome. When I sat to listen again to this story I couldn't remember the ending. Even now I couldn't tell you how it ends - I remember the theme, but little else. Enough said.

Do it now, jump the table by Jeremy Page (read by Blake Ritson)
I would definitely read more of Jeremy Page after listening to this entry. The story leaps right in with a lively third person narration. Delightfully comic and yet tender, gentle and bittersweet. I was fully engaged and enjoyed every minute of this story. Highly recommended.

My favourites for the top prize are: 'Briar Road' and 'Do it now, jump the table'. These are the stories that lingered longest with me. I'm a huge fan of Hilary Mantel and her writing, but I don't think 'The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher' is her best. To be honest it felt bit of a gimmick - the controversial theme certainly must have helped to promote and sell her collection (published 2014). I don't know if the stories are read anonymously (up to shortlist stage), but if you know anything about the short story world you'd instantly recognise Hilary Mantel's story from its title ... Let's wait and see who takes the prize this year ...

Monday, 21 September 2015

Top tips for Live Lit

September in West Sussex seems to be a popular time for Live Lit events. I have three coming up in the next week or so. Take a look if you fancy coming along ...

Small Wonder Slam with The Moth magazine (the US mag): read more here. This is a true slam where you put your name in a hat and they pick ten readers for the night. The theme is BRIEF. I have a story ready, but it will be in the lap of the gods if I get picked ...

Live-Lit with Melanie Whipman: 28 Sep, 7.30pm start, The Holly Bush pub in Frensham (nr Farnham) - details here. If you live close enough and would like to read (poetry and prose up to 9 min slots) then just email Melanie (contact details on her website). I'm definitely reading at this one. The last event in June was good fun. It was great to see a group of young poets all reading their poetry - and all very talented.

Words and Music at New Park Centre (Chichester): organised by Raine Geoghegan, an evening of poetry, flash and music. Readings by named writers then an Open Mic session. Starts 7.30pm at New Park Centre, New Park Rd, PO19 7XY. (entry fee £4 to cover room hire). I'm delighted that Raine has asked me to read at this. You can read my piece here. I've chosen 'Tantric Twister' as it's a  saucy piece of Flash Fiction that reads aloud well (is fun to read too!) - it's a bittersweet comedy, but hopefully also says something about memory and aging.

You can probably tell I'm a fan of these events, but reading your work aloud can be daunting and, quite frankly, terrifying. So here are my own top tips for surviving a Live Lit event:

  • Time Limit: most events have a set time limit for reading. Slams and competitions can be VERY strict and will stop you reading if you hit the time limit - even if you only have a couple of words to go. So time your reading several times to ensure you have plenty of time to finish. Read it aloud at home, at the pace you intend to read at the event. Try not to rush through to get under time. If the story is too long, then edit or pick another.
  • Choosing the piece: think carefully about what you plan to read. If there is a theme then stick to it. If you've been to the event before then what pieces went down well with the audience? Comic pieces work well. Complicated stories with lots of voices may confuse. Twists work well. Evocative or very emotional pieces may not sink in at first reading to evoke a reaction. Also choose a piece you know you can read convincingly. I have several stories with foreign accents and I CANNOT do accents, so I never pick these. If you have lots of expletives and know you will falter or blush then avoid these too. If there are words that you will stumble over then edit them out or pick another piece - you control the reading!
  • Getting a slot: if you need to contact the organisers in advance then do this. Otherwise you could be disappointed that there are no slots free on the night. For competition slams then it can be pot-luck with names going into a hat. But many organisers will do their utmost so everyone gets to read if the time allows.
  • Location: if the event is somewhere new for you then ensure you know where you're going. Nothing worse than being late when you have to read first. Allow to get there early and check out room/stage etc.
  • Clothing: most events are pretty casual and laidback (like most writers). I know we often don't get out much, but if you glam up then be prepared to stand out. Others are likely to be in jeans and T-shirts. Dress for comfort. You may find yourself having to climb up steps onto a stage, so ladies those brand new heels may be risky - falling flat on your face will dent your confidence. Watch out for microphone leads etc too ...
  • Props: whatever you're reading from, be it Kindle/tablet or paper then check you have the correct story. If paper then I always take several copies and even keep a back-up with a friend (if going with someone). And check you have ALL the pages. (My writing chum Wendy likes to tease me about the reading evening we both went to at a friend's house, where I forgot to check the pages of my story. At the exciting part I suddenly realised I hadn't printed out the last 2 pages. Ad-libbing the rest of the story really didn't work.) Also check you can actually read the piece - make sure the font is big enough and you have the right glasses for reading! (My husband never seems to have the 'right' glasses wherever we go).
  • Timed slot: if there are time slots then don't dawdle, get up to read quickly when your name is called. Don't suddenly start searching through your bag for the story/poem. Don't waste time introducing yourself or the story, but do clearly announce the title of what you're reading even if the compere has already given the title. To me the title of the piece is often critical to understanding and enjoying the work. Don't hang about on stage after you finished - get off quickly. This could mean the difference between there being time for more readings at the end or running out of time.
  • Introductions & questions: if you've been asked to prepare a biog or introduction then bring it along. A compere may also introduce you if you've forwarded a biog. Some events encourage questions after the reading (Rattle Tales in Hove are famous for this. The audience all have rattles on the tables to use when asking questions or showing appreciation.) Be prepared to stay up on the stage for a few minutes to answer these.
  • Speed: take your time. I can't repeat this enough. Nothing spoils the enjoyment of a piece more than the reader gabbling through it at top speed - just to get it over with. Remember the audience has come along to hear stories and poetry (they may have paid to get in) - they want  to enjoy your work. People don't go to Live Lit events to see others fail - they want you to succeed! A lot of events use stages with spotlights on the reader. This is a good thing! Once you get up on the stage you realise the audience is hidden in darkness - you can't see any of them. Relax and pretend you're back in your kitchen reading to the cat (I always read to LitPig).
  • Alcohol: avoid it before you read. You make think one glass of wine, or pint of beer will help to relax you, but alcohol will dry out your throat. You may end up a little too relaxed. Stick to water or soft drinks before you go on. Once you've read then a glass or two is always a nice reward - you will have earned it. Though you may find the natural high after a live reading is better than alcohol!
Unfortunately, I don't have any photos to share of any of my previous readings. I'll try to get some at the next events. If you've survived any Live Lit/ Open Mic events then please share your experiences, good or bad or both!

Also next week R4 is broadcasting the shortlisted stories from 2015 National Short Story Competition at 3.30pm Mon-Friday. Starting with Jonathan Buckley's 'Briar Road' on Monday 21st Sep. I will be listening to these and posting next week about my favourites for the top prize. Along with my thoughts on the competition and why I didn't enter this year. Why don't you listen to the shortlist and share your favourites here next Monday.

Monday, 14 September 2015

Commonwealth Writers Short Story Prize: winner announced

On Tuesday 8th September, at Marlborough House in London, the prize winning story (and writer) was announced for the 2015 Commonwealth Short Story Prize. I was lucky enough to be invited, as I made the shortlist for UK and Canada region last year. The evening starts well with free-flowing wine as the international guests (from all over the Commonwealth) mingle and chat. I met up with the bubbly Debz Hobbs-Wyatt (shortlisted in 2013) to catch up on her writing news. Her debut novel 'While no-one was watching' (Parthian Books) is doing well and you can read all about Debz and her writing projects here.

There were short excepts from each story read beautifully by actress, Martina Laird. Then the winner was announced. I was right at the back of the room and being of reduced stature couldn't see anything of the winning writer, Jonathan Tel. Luckily, he stayed on for some time and I did get to congratulate him in person. His mesmerising story is 'The Human Phonograph' (you can read it here) and comes from a collection featuring other short stories set in China. He told me he's looking for an agent/publisher for the collection so hopefully this win will bring him the contacts he needs. His writing deserves to be published.

You can read all the 2015 regional winning stories from links on the Commonwealth Writers website here. My other favourite story is Light' by Nigerian writer, Lesley Nneka Arimah (African regional winner). I'm pleased Jonathan won overall, but for me it was a close call between the two stories. Read Lesley's entry here to see what you think.

After stuffing ourselves on the delicious canapes - sussing we were the veggies the servers continually brought us tasty platters of samosas, mini quiches and all things vegetarian - the party was thinning so we headed home. Picking up our goody-bags containing the new anthology of previous winning stories 'Let's tell this story properly' en-route. (Details here, I think you can get 20% off using the promotional code COMMONWEALTH)

The 2016 Short Story Prize is now open, full details of how to enter are here. Entry is free for a 2-5,000 word story. Overall winners receives £5,000 and the regional winners £2,500. To be in with a chance I think your story needs to have a strong sense of place and setting. My own shortlisted story was set in England but reflected the multi-cultural society we live in. It also had a lot of heart.

Though I had a pocketful of business cards and there were literary agents in the room I never seem to find the courage to just walk up and introduce myself. If anyone has a top tips on how to sidle up to agents and casually let them know you have a debut novel ready to go, then please share ...

Monday, 7 September 2015

Discovering new voices

What was my excuse for not blogging throughout August? I think it was a good one. Post completing the novel I needed to rest and re-energise my fraying thought strands - for me the best way to do this is by READING. And I had permission from MA dissertation tutor to 'forget about writing' and go read for a couple of months (she actually said 12 weeks! Wish I'd asked her to write this down as proof for hubby that I was under strict instructions). As my dissertation is a quartet of short stories (each one based around a character from the novel) she suggested a reading list of short story collections - 35 different writers in total! After picking myself off the floor I did feel a little chuffed that I'd already read many on the list and had their collections on my shelves. Great story writers such as: Helen Simpson, Adam Marek, Jhumpa Lahiri, Alice Munro, Raymond Carver and Alison MacLeod etc. But there were a whole bunch of names I knew and hadn't read, and some totally that were new to me. I can get a bit stuck in a rut with my reading, staying with familiar names I know who'll deliver the goods. But I headed off to the campus library (University of Chichester) to check out as many of these new names as I could. Weeks later I'd like to share the revelations I've discovered. These are a sample of the new voices I've fallen in love with. Well, they're new to me ...

Come to Me: Amy Bloom

After reading Amy Bloom's debut collection I am now a committed fan. Character driven stories all set in the US. Loved how several stories connected together. Her psychiatric/mental health background shows through in the problems her characters have to deal with, but all the stories were absorbing. 'Sleep walking' touches on a very taboo subject and will haunt me for some time. For lovers of short stories I highly recommend this collection. (I'm now reading her second, 'A blind man can see how much I love you', and it's living up to expectation.)

Fascination: William Boyd
I particularly enjoyed how Boyd experimented with form and structure in this collection. There are only a handful that follow a traditional narrative form and I liked that. He accurately captures the male voice in a time of mental, and usually mid-life, crisis, both with humanity and humour. There is a truly sinister story of spiritual possession, 'A Haunting', in this collection, which is a close rival to Penelope Lively's story: 'Revenant as typewriter'. A couple of these needed a second read from me due to their complexity, but they always improved on further reading. I'm determined to read more of Boyd's short stories and novels. The televised drama of his novel 'Any human heart' was heart-breaking and I really should get on and read the original book.

Birds of America: Lorrie Moore
Only just started on this collection, but 3 stories in and I'm hooked on her voice and characters. Very accessible reading. Comedy and pathos knitted beautifully together. In one story ('Which is more than I can say about some people') a mother and daughter take a road trip to Ireland from the US, with the ultimate goal of kissing the Blarney stone and boosting the confidence of the daughter for public speaking. At times this is very funny, yet also achingly sad when Moore shows the truth behind their relationship.

There were, of course, other writers that I didn't fall for. All well respected short story writers, but they just didn't do it for me. I'm not going to tell you about them because we all have such varying tastes and I like to focus on the writing/stories I do enjoy.

I also have been reading 'off-piste' as it were and have discovered even more new great voices in the short story universe. More on them later ...

Thursday, 3 September 2015

The Short Story - monthly competition

I've recently discovered this opportunity for short story writers: The Short Story - online platform dedicated to short stories (click here), it does what it says on the tin. It also runs a monthly short story competition closing at the end of each month. The max word count is 2,000 words. The winner gets
£250 for an entry fee of £4.99 per story (£7.99 with feedback). A real plus for this competition is the turnaround - the result comes out early the following month. You can read the winning stories online too.

The site also includes interviews with short story writers. There's even an interview with me: read it here. I feel honoured to be included along with some really great writers such as CG Menon, Tom Vowler, Paul McVeigh and Mark Newman (to name a few).

They also offer critiques, reviews, articles and links to online free short stories (some classics are here). Follow them on twitter: @ShortStory2000

Before I sign off I have to apologise for my blogging absence through August. Wish I could blame this on the scorching summer weather or an exotic holiday or even LitPig's laziness. In reality I took a break from writing after finishing the novel (I've started submitting & you can read my theory of Schrödinger's Agent here). More in my next blog on what I did instead of writing ... LitPig is giving you a clue.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Shrӧdinger’s Agent

Sometimes over dinner it feels like I live with the characters of The Big Bang Theory as the conversation often turns to mathematics or physics (Handsome Hubby and the Tame Teenager are both engineers). One topic I do enjoy is discussing Shrӧdinger’s Cat - a theorectical experiment often used to explain  quantum mechanics (read here for a Wikipedia explanation). In a short play of mine called 'Pandora's Cat' a character gives a simpler explanation: "Schrödinger was a physicist. To explain quantum mechanics he came up with a paradoxical question where a cat is put in a box containing a vial of poison. The poison can be released at any time, but without opening the box you can’t be certain if the cat is alive or dead. At any given moment you have to consider both states of existence are plausible: the cat is both alive and dead."

If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook you will know that I've recently completed a final draft of my novel. I've edited and reworked after feedback and comments from several beta readers (all great writers I've met at Chichester University on my MA in Creative Writing). I've also been lucky enough to get some constructive and helpful comments from a couple of agents (gold dust!). In the last week I've started the painful task of contacting literary agents to gauge if anyone is interested in taking on the novel. This got me thinking that once I'd emailed or posted the sample chapters then the concept of Shrӧdinger’s Agent kicks in. At any given moment the agent could be reading or not reading my novel. At any given moment the agent could be considering to offer representation or not and until you get 'that' email then both states of existence are plausible: they both love and hate the novel! Not much to cling to but it's cheered me up.

We don't have a cat, but my lovely friend Sarah Thompson has kindly given permission for me to use a photo of her gorgeous boy, Morpheus. He is of course posing in a box ...

Poor Morph is not too well at present and being treated by the Supervet, so sending lots of love and best wishes from me and LitPig xxx

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Is this cheating?

Today I hit the half-century mark for birthdays and so far it feels great. I've never been one to take much notice of age, nor act it. But I expect you want an update on that target I set? Hmm, in two months I've had one more story accepted for publication (not a great average), taking me to 46. I'm still blaming the novel for taking my attention away from short stories. One more week and I reckon it will be ready to submit in earnest. Then I'm looking forward to reading and writing more short stories (and I need to get on with my MA dissertation, but that's another story...).

Also I've been wondering about the goal I'd set ... I was aiming for 50 stories published by today. What I should have aimed for was 50 publishing credits. A number of stories have been published in several places ... so if I use that criteria then I've already exceeded 50 credits. That's not cheating is it?

(LitPig: "Yes, I really think it is!")

Thursday, 28 May 2015

How to jinx your writing

A month ago LitPig posted here how I was aiming to have 50 short stories published by 28 June (my 50th birthday). The total was 45 on 28 April. Go on guess how many have been accepted for publication since then ...


So yes I jinxed my writing big time!
I believe it's important to set yourself writing goals & targets. I also believe it's good to publicise them too. Put them out there in the universe. I'm not going to stop setting targets ... and you never know I may get a sudden splurge of acceptances in the next month. That's how the writing life seems to go sometimes.

Oh another way to jinx your writing is to upgrade your laptop's operating system. Having done this I'm now having problems with this blog, Twitter & Facebook. Ho hum ...

Hope you're all still on target for your writing goals. Do you have any writing superstitions? Why not come clean and share them with LitPig.

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Fifty for Fifty

The Indoor Writer has just hit 45. 45 pieces of short fiction published, that is! Now she's aiming to have 50 pieces published before two months from today. Why? Because in exactly two months she'll reach her own half century milestone.

Okay, so over forty stories published doesn't come close to her writing chum's achievement of >100 stories sold (yes, it's that Wendy Clarke again), but you have to aim for something.

I like Wendy because she always invites me to her book launches and let's me root around to snuffle up the crumbs - writers are so messy ...

So, the countdown to 50 begins here. Only 5 stories need to get published ... will she do it?
Watch this blog!

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Second novel reflections with Jane Lythell

Please welcome author Jane Lythell back to the blog today. Jane's second novel After the Storm (Head of Zeus) came out earlier this year and she's here to share her reflections on how she approached the project  ...

I’ve heard it said that we all have one novel in us but writing your second novel can be difficult, so I thought I would share my experience of this. When my debut novel THE LIE OF YOU was bought by Head of Zeus they offered me a two book deal. They requested a synopsis for the second book and I produced a brief treatment for an idea that had been lurking in my mind for ages. They accepted the idea and gave me a year to produce the first draft of the second novel. 
My idea was that two couples meet one night in Belize City, an English couple, Rob and Anna, and an American couple, Owen and Kim, who have an old sailing boat they have been living on for three years. Owen suggests they charter his boat and he will take them to the island of Roatan. Anna does not want to go at all but Rob is really keen and he persuades her to board. Unknown to them Kim is desperate to go home to Florida. It is Owen who is determined to continue their life on the boat. Straightaway we have conflict of wishes between the four characters and a boat can be a very claustrophobic place when tensions start to build.
Was it difficult to write this book? My honest answer is not really. I’ve been to these places and I always felt they would make a great setting for a novel. What helped me was that I kept a journal and took photos while I was there. (I’m an inveterate keeper of journals!) These were a great source which enabled me to build the atmosphere of the island. The Roatan in my novel is sun-soaked and stunning on the surface but with something dark underneath.
I was thrilled to have the two book deal but as it turned out this meant that I delivered the first draft of AFTER THE STORM at exactly the same time as THE LIE OF YOU was being published. This was a strange experience. I was promoting my debut as well editing the second book so that my mind kept moving between the characters in each book. The two books are very different and I think you are always more involved with the book and the characters you are currently writing. So I had to pull myself away from Rob, Anna, Owen and Kim in order to talk about Heja and Kathy at literary festivals and book clubs. I’m not complaining. It was exciting and demanding and I know how lucky I am to be in this position.
You learn about writing from doing the writing. I think I learned a lot about how to tell a story from my first book. In AFTER THE STORM I moved to third person narration because with four characters you can’t do first person. Well in theory you could but it would be a major challenge.
And what now? Head of Zeus has commissioned a third novel from me and I’m writing this now. It is set in the febrile world of live television with all its monster egos! It is told from the point of view of the central female character who is a TV executive, divorced, and with a stroppy teenage daughter. I’m enjoying pulling up memories from my life as a TV producer. It’s scheduled for publication in June 2016.

LINKS to After The Storm:

About Jane Lythell:
I live in Brighton, UK, and I'm a sea-lover, star-gazer, film and football fan.
My novels THE LIE OF YOU and AFTER THE STORM are published by Head of Zeus.
My background is journalistic writing and television production. I was a Producer at TV-am and Commissioning Editor of Features at Westcountry Television. I left to become Deputy Director of the British Film Institute and later Chief Executive of BAFTA before joining the Foreign and Commonwealth Office for seven years. I now write full time. I love to hear from readers and you can find me here:
Twitter: @janelythell 
Facebook: Jane Lythell Author
My blog

Thank you, Jane, for sharing your reflections. Definitely agree that you 'learn about writing from doing the writing'. I loved how you set After the Storm in the beautiful Caribbean, yet portrayed it's very real sinister undertones. Now really looking forward to the next novel, which from your premise above sounds another page-turning read. 

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

A FISH-y story

I've sneaked on here while LitPig is snoozing in the spring sunshine. The theme of this brief post is NEVER give up. I try never to give up on a short story if I truly love it and keep trying with competitions even when there's no hint of success. One such writing competition is the annual Fish International Short Story Prize. I've been submitting entries to that one since 2010. The winners and listed came out last week for 2014/2015 - read them here. I wasn't hopeful of getting anywher ... but there I am on the shortlist (the last name!). And when I saw it I almost cried. Didn't win (or come close) but I didn't care. For me this was one very personal measure of success. We all judge our progress in different ways and that's what makes us unique. For me this was a particularly special moment in my writing career to date.

Another big deal for me was that the Fish shortlisted story is the second story taken from my novel. The first story was shortlisted for the 2014 Commonwealth Writers Short Story prize. So I'm taking that as a positive sign ...

What have been the special moments for you? Please share ...

Sunday, 8 March 2015

The Last Rose by Wendy Clarke

With only one week to go have you sorted your present for Mother's Day? If your mum is a reader then why not give her Wendy Clarke's latest short story collection, The Last Rose.

In his hand is the rose, as beautiful as I have ever seen - its creamy apricot petals curling inwards from his palm. He holds it out as one might a precious gift.
“The Last Rose is for you,” he says.
The Last Rose, is a collection of short stories of family and friendship. All thirteen stories have previously been published in either The People's Friend, Woman’s Weekly or Take a Break Fiction Feast Magazines. If you like stories with emotional depth and a satisfying ending, then these stories will not fail to leave you unmoved. 
The stories in this collection explore the intricate family relationships of thirteen ordinary people. In them, we discover the sorrow, love and joy that is shared... but not always spoken.

What LitPig has to say about the collection:
All of these stories are uplifting and will make you smile. Some will resonate and you may blink back a few tears. Wendy captures the true feelings between mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, and brilliantly evokes the love between grandparents and their grandchildren. I loved how she also effectively writes about fostering and the challenge of loving a child with Asperger's. These stories are also about friendship and finding new friends in new places. One of my favourites was the title story 'The Last Rose', a gentle and effective tale on the true meaning of friendship.

Wendy Clarke is a full time writer of women's fiction. Her work regularly appears in national women's magazines such as The People's Friend, Take a Break Fiction Feast and Woman's Weekly. She has also written serials and a number of non-fiction magazine articles.
Wendy has published two collections of short stories, Room in Your Heart and The Last Rose.
Wendy lives with her husband, cat and step-dog in Sussex and when not writing is usually dancing, singing or watching any programme that involves food! 

You can find The Last Rose here: Paperback, Kindle. Why not treat your mum and yourself to a copy. 
If you fancy a collection chock full of romance then check out Wendy's first collection Room in Your Heart available here: Paperback, Kindle.