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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, 24 December 2018

2018: a writing year

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

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

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

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was the novel should not have been read by any literary agents, which ruled out all of my existing completed novels (unpublished but called in previously by agents).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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 1 October 2018

Table Manners, a short story collection by Susmita Bhattacharya

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 20 August 2018

The Cartography of Others, a short story collection by Catherine McNamara

I met Catherine McNamara a couple of years ago at the launch of the Willesden Herald anthology (New Short Stories 9), when we both had short stories featured, and we’ve kept in touch via good old Facebook ever since. I am delighted to welcome her onto the blog today to talk about her writing.
My own review is at the end of this post. 

Catherine McNamara grew up in Sydney, ran away to Paris, and ended up in West Africa running a bar. She was an embassy secretary in pre-war Mogadishu, and has worked as an au pair, graphic designer, translator and shoe model. Her collection The Cartography of Others came out in 2018 with Unbound. Her book Pelt and Other Stories was long-listed for the Frank O’Connor Award and semi-finalist in the Hudson Prize. Her work has been Pushcart-nominated and published in the U.K., Europe, U.S.A. and Australia. Catherine lives in Italy.

The Cartography of Others
A Japanese soprano sets sail for arid, haunted Corsica where she seeks her lost voice. A nude woman at the window of a Hong Kong hotel watches her lover dine in an adjacent building, but is her desire faltering? With a young son and her photographer partner, a journalist traverses Mali to interview an irascible musician. A son relives his mother’s last hours before a hiking accident in the Italian Dolomites, while in London a grieving family takes in an ex-soldier from the Balkan wars, unaware of the man’s demons.  
The Cartography of Others takes us from fumy Accra to suburban Sydney, from scruffy Paris to pre-fundamentalist Mali. Each bewitchingly recounted story conveys a location as vital as the fitful, contemplative characters themselves. Lives are mapped, unpicked and crafted, across vivid lingering terrains. 

Q: You have such a wonderful portfolio of short stories, published and award winning, how did you go about making a selection of what to include in the collection? I'd also love to know how you decided on the order of stories, what criteria did you use in putting stories next to each other for example?
This is such a writers’ question, and one I’ve often wanted to ask short story writers, and am very happy to answer. The collection shifted over a number of years before becoming the version it is today. However, I was always certain of the order of the first few stories, the final story, and the ones that would precede it. I wrote the first story ‘Adieu, Mon Doux Rivage’, in late 2013, and ‘Three Days in Hong Kong the same month. I think the last stories were written in 2015. Over that two year period I wrote the twenty stories that make up the collection, with a lot of submitting, rejections, revisions and publication through that period. For some reason, I ended up with slightly more male protagonists than female, a couple of second person stories, a handful of first person stories, and many more pieces written in the third person. Having spent years living in West Africa and in Europe, half of the stories are set in West Africa, and the others spread from Western Europe to Hong Kong and Australia. So when it was time to arrange an order I had to think of location and voice and tone, making an even transition from story to story. As you know, this is not easy! I wrote the titles on strips of paper which I lay down on a rug in my attic, and for a week went up there just to ponder and rearrange. Even now I worry there are order changes that I could make. Although I think this is the nature of the writer – never being satisfied.
Q. What first triggers the idea of a story for you? Is it a theme, or title or a line of dialogue? I know for every writer it's a different process. How do you know you have a short story beginning to form?
For me the trigger has to be the pulse of the first sentence. Which as a writer you must be allured and intrigued by – as much as the reader. Diving into the story with this scent or hint of motion is very exciting and I never know where a story will take me. If I know too much I am likely to overturn everything and veer another way. I like to feel breathless and entranced through to the last word.
Q. What are your favourite short stories and/or short story writers? Could you recommend any collections or anthologies to read, particularly for writers just starting out to write this form?
My first short story loves were Katherine Mansfield, D.H. Lawrence, Patrick White, but I have discovered so many along the way, and intend to reread old favourites and discover many more. I also enjoyed the stories of Mavis Gallant, Grace Paley, Carson MacCullers, John Cheever, Yukio Mishima, Joseph Conrad, Shirley Hazzard, Ben Okri, John Salter, Patricia Highsmith, all high priests and priestesses of the form. Contemporary loves include ZZ Packer, Nam Le, T. Coraghessan Boyle, Viet Nguyen, Miranda July, May-Lan Tan, Deborah Levy. A collection I would recommend is Kasuo Ishiguro’s Nocturnes and Daphne du Maurier’s Don’t Look Now – pitch perfect works. Collections I’ve read and enjoyed this year include Alison MacLeod’s All the Beloved Ghosts, Rebecca Clarkson’s Barking Dogs and Daphne du Maurier’s Don’t Look Now.
Q. Can you tell us what you're working on right now? What new projects are you planning or hoping to work on in the near future.
Right now I’m working on the occasional short story or flash piece, but I’m focussing on writing a novel. It’s been a bumpy year so I’m almost looking forward to the long winter so as to straighten out my ideas. I also have a flash collection on submission and am collaborating on a film script for one of the stories in Cartography. I know that my main love is the short story but it’s useful to explore story itself through different forms. I find it makes me carve straight into the essence, and also to consider the diverse ways of conversing with the reader.

Thank you for having me Tracy!

And thank you, Catherine for sharing your process. You’ve also listed a lot of short story writers that I need to track down.

You can link with Catherine on:
Facebook: Catherine McNamara
Twitter: @catinitaly
Instagram: @catinitaly

And buy your copy of The Cartography of Others:

Gardners (for booksellers)

Plus all good book shops. 

Here is my posted review of Catherine’s latest short story collection, which I highly recommend, and using her words (see above) her stories made me feel “breathless and entranced through to the last word”:

The Cartography of Others by Catherine McNamara (Unbound) is a collection of 20 short stories, which together map the complexities that link men and women. These are beautifully constructed stories, the language lyrical and poetic yet still authentic and real. Many of these stories felt like the beginning of longer pieces, you could believe in the characters, see their lives continuing far beyond the story’s conclusion. I wanted most of them to be longer, to carry on reading and learn more about the people who populated McNamara’s intricate worlds. The voices are varied, both male and female narrators share their moments, and the settings stretch from Japan to Paris, Mali and Spain, Sydney to a boat cruise round Corsica. Each place is exquisitely drawn and always integral to the atmosphere and mood of the story. McNamara often focuses in on a couple’s relationship at the moment where everything is about to change. The passion and pain of love beginning, or ending, is in these stories. Sexual tension, aggression, along with obsession and unrequited longing are here and the emotions are achingly real.
My personal favourite is ‘Adieu, Mon Doux Rivage’ where a Belgian music manager and his Japanese soprano wife have booked a week-long cruise around Corsica. Their relationship is brought into taut comparison with that of the couple managing the boat. There is also humour here as the cook’s ambition is to see the soprano’s hidden toes. The soprano is delicate and nervous, her voice apparently damaged and degrading. The interplay between the four characters in this story was breathtaking, their complexities and neuroses written with a poignant understanding of humanity. It would make a glorious film. I wanted more of these characters – the cost of the collection is worth it simply for this story, and then you have 19 bonus stories to enjoy.
I envy anyone reading this collection for the first time – they have a wonderful experience ahead of them.

Monday, 23 July 2018

Breaking the (writing) rules

When you first start writing it's best to learn the rules and try to stick to them. Experimentation can come later when you feel more confident. That was my own approach to writing. I also have several golden rules that I stick to ... but then rules are there to be broken, aren't they (I'm sure someone very wise said that).
This weekend I traveled to Bristol for the Flash Fiction Festival at Trinity College. If you write or read flash or are interested in learning more about flash fiction then this is THE annual event to get to - I highly recommend you follow @FlashFictFest on Twitter to find out about events and the 2019 festival, and get your place booked early! This year's festival was wonderful: great workshops with very experienced flash writers, lots of time for networking (ie chatting/gossiping), opportunities for Open Mic, mini competitions, terrific food, a well stocked bookshop (note to self: take more cash next year!) and oodles of time for socialising. I wish I'd had Hermione's time twisting necklace (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban) as each session I could have signed up for several simultaneous workshops. Here's a flavour of the tutors: Meg Pokrass, Jude Higgins, Vanessa Gebbie, Nancy Stohlman, KM Elkes, David Gaffney, Michael Loveday, Carrie Etter, Christopher Allen, Ingrid Jendrzejewski, Nuala O'Connor, Haleh Agar, Santino Prinzi and so many others. Basically the Stars of Flash Fiction were at this Festival. Writers had traveled from the US and Australia for the Festival, as well as coming from Ireland and all over the UK. It felt truly international, yet still like meeting up with old friends. I met some lovely new friends too and several of my heroes of flash fiction.

Over the weekend I broke two of my golden rules, as follows:
Never read after drinking alcohol. (See photo opposite, in which I look deadly serious. Photo by Debbi Voisey).
Another writer 'encouraged' me to sign up for the Open Mic readings on Friday night. By then I had drunk at least half a bottle of Prosecco. Maybe this was a rule that needed breaking ...

The second golden rule is not a writing one but since I was in the company of writers ...
Never (ever) do Karaoke.
By this time I had polished off the bottle of Prosecco and possibly started another ... I sang Human League's Electric Dreams (my favourite song of all time) along with Debbi Voisey.
I wish I could say never again, but actually I think I may have enjoyed breaking this rule.

Finally, another golden writing rule was:
Don't write a first draft just before a competition deadline and submit without anyone reviewing.
I broke this at the beginning of June when I wrote the opening 10K words of a new novel, then a synopsis and finally entered it into the 2018 Richard and Judy Search for a Bestseller competition (for debut novelists).
If you read this link to Richard and Judy's Bookclub website you'll learn that sometimes it really is okay to break your own rules.
Now I have to finish the novel and submit before 28 December. I'd better get writing then ...

Monday, 25 June 2018

Separated From the Sea: short story collection by Amanda Huggins

 I am delighted to welcome Amanda Huggins on the Blog today. I’ve known Mandy virtually for several years, mainly from seeing her name on competition placings and short listings, and have long admired her writing. It is encouraging and inspiring to now see her short fiction coming out in print and particularly her own short story collection Separated From the Sea (published by Retreat West Books).
All 26 stories are incredibly poignant and will linger with you long after reading. Huggins’ prose is both beautiful and heart breaking; she exquisitely captures those delicate moments where a relationship is about to experience a pivotal change (good or bad). The characters are as diverse and colourful as the settings; we peer into the miniature worlds of her characters as they cope with grief, failed love affairs and seeking their dreams. We travel all across the globe (US, Paris, Italy, Japan etc) and I particularly enjoyed the stories set in Japan, where Huggins’ lyrical writing really seems to take off. My own special favourites include: The last of Michiko, The Shadow Architect, No Longer Charlotte and well I could go on …

Amanda’s work has been published in anthologies, literary journals, and publications such as the Guardian, Telegraph, Wanderlust, Mslexia and Writers' Forum.
Her travel writing has won several awards, including the British Guild of Travel Writers New Travel Writer, and her short stories are regularly placed and listed in competitions, including Bare Fiction, Fish, InkTears, and Cinnamon Press.

A selection of her short stories appear in the InkTears showcase, Death of a Superhero, and her flash fiction collection, Brightly Coloured Horses, is published by Chapeltown Books. Separated From the Sea (Retreat West Books) is her first full length short story collection.

Separated From the Sea:
Crossing oceans from Japan to New York and from England to Havana, these stories are filled with a sense of yearning, of loss, of not quite belonging, of not being sure that things are what you thought they were. They are stories imbued with pathos and irony, humour and hope. 
Evie meets a past love but he's not the person she thinks he is; a visit to the most romantic city in the world reveals the truth about an affair; Satseko discovers an attentive neighbour is much more than that; Eleanor’s journey on the London Underground doesn't take her where she thought it would.
Q - Can you share how you went about finding a publisher for the collection and the steps involved from acceptance to publication? 
Prior to 2017 I had only submitted my short story collection to a couple of publishers, as in my heart I knew it wasn’t ready, and that there were at least half a dozen weak stories that didn’t deserve their place in the book.
However, when my flash collection, Brightly Coloured Horses, was accepted by Chapeltown Books at the start of 2017, it gave me the confidence I needed to try and find a publisher for the full-length collection again – this time in earnest.
 After a further edit I submitted it to another publisher, and this time it made the next round, and was sent out to readers. The response was very positive – one reader specifically asked the publisher to let me know that if the book were accepted she would definitely buy it. Yet in the end it was a no – they felt it still needed more work. I was now armed with suggestions for improvements, and as well as making all the changes, I wrote five new stories in a very short space of time that turned out to be some of the best I’ve written. (This is unusual for me, as I’m a very slow writer!). So I was finally able to ditch the weakest stories, re-title the collection and get it back out there.

I made it my writing goal for 2018 to get Separated From the Sea published. I submitted it to three publishers at the end of 2017/beginning of 2018, and Retreat West Books was one of them. I sent the sample stories to Amanda Saint under a pen-name. I had met Amanda briefly at the launch of a Retreat West anthology in September 2017, and I wanted her to read my work without any pre-conceived ideas about the author! She came back to me very quickly asking for the full manuscript, and a few weeks after that, towards the end of January, she signed me up. I’m very proud to be RWB’s first single collection author!

I was expecting publication to be a slow process, and certainly didn’t anticipate Separated being out any earlier than 2019 – however as you know, the book launched on June 2nd, which is amazing. I had the final manuscript over to Amanda very quickly, and then she fired the edits back to me a couple of weeks later. Luckily, she liked my re-writes, and we had agreed on the final version by the beginning of March. By April, the RWB team and myself were proofreading, and I already had the wonderful cover designed by Jennie Rawlings at Serifim. Then the blog tour was arranged, and I fired my guest posts off to Amanda before I went on holiday at the end of May! Phew!

I think I’ve made it sound far too easy (!), and obviously there was a lot more to it than that – especially from the publisher’s point of view!  It goes without saying that there’s a lot more work now that the book is out there – all the ongoing marketing/PR activity by both RWB and myself.

Q - I love the imagery in all your stories. What triggers a new short or flash story for you ... a title, image, character etc ... can you talk us through the Amanda Huggins process of story generation?
 My stories are occasionally inspired by personal experience, yet I would never write an entire short story about something that actually happened to me. Instead, I draw on small incidents that really occurred and include those as part of a longer piece of work.

For example, just like the protagonist in my story ‘Better to see him Dead’, I did accidentally  switch the washing machine on with my cat inside – don’t worry, she escaped unharmed! And just like Evie in my story, ‘Enough’, I did slip on the ice and smash a flask of soup I was taking to a homeless man.
However most of my main story ideas come straight from my imagination, often sparked by something observed or overheard on public transport, in the street, or on the news. Sometimes the starting point will be a newspaper story, or a single scene from a film that inspires me to create a completely new story or an alternative ending.
Q - You are also a successful travel writer, and your sense of place is a key element I admire in your fiction. How do you split your time between the two? What is a typical writing day for you?
 When I started writing seriously a few years ago, I concentrated solely on travel writing. There were so many places I wanted to write about, and I had a pile of travel journals from various trips I’d made to countries such as India, Japan, Russia, and Eastern Europe. The first pieces I wrote were for specific competitions, as I found the deadlines were a useful incentive. I sent a travel piece to the Daily Telegraph every single week until they published me! 

In the last couple of years I have concentrated more and more on writing fiction. However, the sense of place in my stories is still very important to me, and the settings for my short stories are often countries I have explored on my travels. I was brought up on the North Yorkshire coast, and so the sea appears as a major character in a lot of my work as well.

I had to laugh at you saying ‘a typical writing day.’ If only I had a whole day to write – ever! I work full time in engineering, and so five days a week I’m at the day job. I enjoy getting out and talking to people, and writing is a solitary pursuit, so it actually makes for a good mix. However it does severely restrict the time I get to actually write! I have a half hour walk to work, which is useful thinking time, so I'm often jotting down notes as soon as I arrive.

I try and write most evenings during the week, but there are so many demands on my time that if I get an hour or two then I’m lucky. Fortunately my partner writes too - a very popular niche music blog - so we both understand each other’s need for creative space!

Q - Can you tell us what writing projects, fiction and/or non-fiction, you have in the Huggins pipeline? 
 A few months ago I started work on a poetry collection, which is something I’ve been wanting to concentrate on for some time. A number of the poems are about growing up in a seaside town in the seventies, but others explore themes of grief and loss, and of yearning for a different life, closer to nature.
I also have an idea for a novella which I plan to start work on soon.
However, it’s proving difficult to write anything new at the moment, as I’m still busy promoting both of my collections!
I'm also the judge of this year's I Must Be Off Travel Writing Competition, so later this summer I'll be reading the shortlisted entries, which I'm looking forward to!

Thank you, Mandy, for being such a sport and answering all of LitPig's questions. I have to admit we are really excited to hear about a poetry collection and look forward to reading that! 

Please do check out the links below to buy this wonderful collection. You can also follow Mandy on Twitter and her blog.

Published by Retreat West Books - 2nd June 2018
Ebook                ISBN: 978-1-9997472-7-5
Paperback         ISBN: 978-1-9997472-6-8
The collection is currently in stock on:
Mandy's blog - Troutie McFish Tales
Twitter: @troutiemcfish

Monday, 12 March 2018

Paisley Shirt by Gail Aldwin

I am delighted to welcome Gail Aldwin onto the Blog today. I first met Gail last summer at the Flash Fiction Festival in Bath, and then again at West Sussex Writers’ 80th birthday/Writing Day in Worthing. We chatted about ongoing projects and I’m pleased to share that her debut collection of Flash Fiction is now available from Chapeltown Books.

Paisley Shirt is a collection of flash fiction, 27 very short stories which will surprise, delight and make you think. I was quickly immersed in these and read them all in one sitting, but it’s a great collection to dip into and read in stages too. Gail’s flash stories often take you in one direction, almost lulling you into a sense of cosy expectation and then the character(s) reveal their true selves, often with surprising results. One of my favourite stories from the collection is the title flash ‘Paisley Shirt’ where Aunty Maggy reveals a past secret that surprised me. Another is the poignant ‘Stone’, a tiny story with a lingering punch to the heart.

Gail Aldwin is a prize-winning writer of short fiction and poetry. Her work can be found online at Ink, Sweat & Tears, Slamchop and Words for the Wild. She also has stories published in a range of print anthologies including Flash Fiction Festival One (Ad Hoc Fiction, 2017),
Gli-ter-ary (Bridge House Publishing, 2017) and Dorset Voices (Roving Press, 2012). Cast Iron Productions (Brighton) staged Killer Ladybugs a short play Gail co-wrote in 2017. As Chair of the Dorset Writers’ Network, Gail works with the steering group to support writers by connecting creative communities. She is a visiting tutor at Arts University Bournemouth and author of Paisley Shirt a collection of short fiction.
Paisley Shirt:
A fascinating collection of twenty-seven stories that reveal the extraordinary nature of people and places. Through a variety of characters and voices, these stories lay bare the human experience and what it is like to live in our world. 

Q - How did you go about sourcing a publisher for a flash collection?

I received an email from Chapeltown Books inviting me to submit stories for a single author collection of flash fiction. I had an existing relationship with the publisher Gill James who has included my stories in the Best of CaféLit series and the annual anthology by Bridge House Publishing. Submitting stories to CaféLit as an emerging writer is an excellent way to have your stories reach an audience. I set about putting a collection together by using the theme of human resilience to link new stories and others which had been previously published. One of my favourite stories is about an old woman who reflects on an earlier relationship which became the title story for the collection, Paisley Shirt.

Q - Can you share what you love about flash fiction?

I like to write short fiction alongside on-going projects so that I get a sense of satisfaction in having completed a piece of writing. Flash fiction contains all the elements of a longer story and part of the joy of flash fiction is the ability to distil the details into a short form. Editing is where the fun begins! I love to see my flash fictions become more textured and layered through this process.

Q - For the flashes in this collection have you ever taken a character into a longer piece? If yes, then why and can you tell us more?

Most of my characters come fresh to the page with each new piece of writing. I sometimes reuse the setting of a flash fiction story to develop a longer piece. One of the first pieces of flash fiction I had published was called At the Hostel. It tells the story of an elderly homeless man who befriends a young girl at the homeless hostel by reading her poetry. I used this setting again when I wrote a 30-minute screenplay about young people struggling with the challenges of homelessness in an urban environment. This was delivered as a scripted reading at Bridport Arts Centre in 2016.

Q - You also write longer fiction, can you tell us about that and any other writing projects you're working on?

I’ve become really interested in working collaboratively with other writers over the last couple of years. I am working with four others on a 90-minute screenplay called The F Word about middle-aged women who celebrate a fiftieth birthday by going on a foraging experience. As you can imagine not everything turns out as they expect. Another collaborative group concentrates on scriptwriting and we are hoping to develop enough material for a short play night in the not too distant future. With five failed attempts at writing a publishable novel, I’m still not perturbed. This Much I Know is my current WIP. It uses a six-year-old narrator that gives a child’s view of the interaction between adults in a suburban community where a paedophile is housed. The trick in writing from a child’s perspective is to exploit the gap in understanding between the child and the actions of adults around them. I’m having a lot of fun playing around with strategies and techniques to capture the voice of a young child.

Twitter: @gailaldwin


The Writer is a Lonely Hunter

Chair DWN: 

Gail’s new collection of short fiction Paisley Shirt is available in Kindle Edition from 
Amazon. The paperback is available from all good bookshops.

Monday, 12 February 2018

Stepping it up

2017 was a year of successes for my writing (read more here) and with 2018 underway I'm asking: how can I do better? Writing is now what I do, no matter how tough it gets (and sometimes it feels really tough), for better or worse this is me .. I am a writer. Feels good to say it out loud! I have over 80 publication credits for short stories, flash fiction and articles. My short story collection is ready and out on submission. I have several completed novels to work on and another in progress. All good. So I could just keep doing the same, sticking with my process to produce new work and my publication rate will probably mimic what's gone before.

But I want more ... and what I really want to do is step it up.

I talked about this with my husband over Christmas and he shared something he'd read about snooker (yes, snooker). Snooker players train/practise endlessly to improve their game. Many do well, gain successes but then hit a plateau where despite the process their success stalls. The World Champions get to the podium by reassessing and changing their process. Maybe not all at once, perhaps introducing small changes at first or continually trying new things. That is the push they need to get off the plateau and start winning bigger.

I think I'm stuck on my own writing plateau and I need to get off ...
[Naff homemade graph warning]
My writing process has proved successful to date. I don't start writing a new story until the entire arc is in my head. Then when I do begin the story easily comes out over a couple of days. I still have work to do re editing, sharing with readers etc but basically that has been my modus operandi for the last few years. Unfortunately, the stories have slowed down in their arrival in my head or sometimes fail to turn up at all.

I want to get off the plateau ... so I've been tweaking the process. In January I had only the sketch of a story in my head, not the usual oil painting, but I made myself sit down and start writing. The story started somewhere I didn't expect, which led to its ending - I wrote both back to back and then over a week I filled in the middle of the story. At almost 7,000 words it became one of the longest short stories I've written. It has been entered into a competition and only time will tell if this new approach is successful. What it did show me was that my process doesn't have to be fixed. I tried something new and I still wrote and finished the piece. I can change! Importantly, I actually enjoyed the experience.

I needed a kick to try something new and reading Chuck Wendig's 'The Kick-Ass Writer' has helped. This has "1001 ways to write great fiction. Get published, & earn your audience." Each section has 25
bite-sized pieces of writing advice - so a great book to dip into once a day - and often it feels as if Chuck is shouting in your ear. Each page has at least one memorable quote. It's funny, rude and all TRUE.
This is something from the book I am taking to heart: "It's time to start taking some risks ... Throw open the doors. Kick down the walls of your uncomfortable box. Carpet bomb the Comfort Zone so that none other may dwell there."

P.S. After writing this post I came across an article by Alison Moore in Mslexia (Sep 2017) 'I get knocked down (but I get up again' which sort of echoes some of how I've been feeling lately. One quote that gives me hope is: "A few times ... I noticed in retrospect that just when I had the gravest doubts about my work, and considered stepping out of the ring for a while - and maybe even did so - I was in fact in the process of making a leap forward."

Have you tried changing your writing process? Has it worked for you? Please share.

Monday, 22 January 2018

Bloodlines by Hannah Brockbank

I'm delighted to have talented poet, writer and artist, Hannah Brockbank as a guest on the Blog today. Hannah's debut poetry pamphlet Bloodlines (Indigo) has been recently launched and she's here to talk about her poems and process ... I highly recommend this collection and believe this is the just beginning of Hannah's poetry career.

About Bloodlines:
Through a linked sequence of poems, Bloodlines gives witness to a woman’s struggle to find connection with an absent father. Encompassing themes of biological inheritance and cultural disinheritance, the poems are compellingly intense. Rooted in landscape, the language is elemental, coursing through a series of imaginary encounters and moments of clarity.
Q: This is your debut collection, can you share how this came to be written and then published?
A: Bloodlines was born out of a desire to explore my experience of growing up without a father. I have no recollection of how he looked, moved, and sounded, so this was very liberating creatively. I quickly realised that I’d tapped into a rich vein of emotion and was intrigued to explore it further through poetry. I became very curious about my biological inheritance, and also, my cultural disinheritance. As time progressed, writing about an imagined relationship with my father became a conscious decision. I could see there was enough scope in it too, for it to become the focus of my MA Creative Writing dissertation which I completed in 2015 at the University of Chichester.
Once I had a polished pamphlet of 28 poems, I set about looking for a publisher. I spent a good deal of time researching publishers that might be interested in my work in respect of its theme and style, and I also spoke to other published poets about their recommendations. I decided to send it to Indigo Dreams Publishing as I enjoy reading their publications and magazines. After a few months, I received an email saying they liked Bloodlines and wanted to publish it. I was over the moon!
Q: I particularly love how many of your poems have a very domestic setting and yet others beautifully weave in nature or animals. What triggers the birth of a poem for you? Can you talk through your process of first idea to finished poem?
A: A large proportion of the time, my poems are triggered by a strong emotional response to an image, although occasionally, an interesting phrase or an idiom can intrigue me too. I’ll then write a ‘spill’ in my notebook, which is basically a mind map, except it doesn’t have order and can even include sketches, or clippings, or odd words that wouldn’t mean much to an outsider. I’ll keep adding to it over a number of days. I often start to find links between words or images. I call these ‘serendipitous moments’ and they feel rather like a gift or a good sign. At that point, I’ll start to free-write the poem. After numerous redrafts, I’ll start to think about form and line, and how these can increase the poem’s resonance. Once I feel I have a reasonable draft, I will share the poem with my workshop group.
Q: You had a wonderful opportunity to spend time at the Museum of Motherhood in Florida last year, how did this come about? And did it inspire you to write?
A: I am currently studying for a creative Ph.D at the University of Chichester which includes the creation of a full collection of poems about my mothering experience, and an accompanying study that involves, partly, examining matrifocal narratives in poetry. I searched the internet for residencies that would provide time and space to write, and had opportunities to further support my research. I was delighted when I discovered the Museum of Motherhood (M.O.M.). in Florida. I immediately applied for a two week residency and was accepted soon after. I stayed between 23rd October – 6th November last year. Whilst at M.O.M. I was able to handle exhibits, research, write, and make good use of the museum’s full collection of Demeter Press works. I also made a good friend in the museum’s Founder and Director, Martha Joy Rose. A truly inspirational woman.
Q: What is your next project, can you share what you’re working on right now?
A: I’m currently taking a short pause from an intensive 8 months of writing poetry in order to recharge. As much as I adore writing poetry, it can be emotionally greedy, so I’ve learnt that taking a short break now and then is beneficial, and as a wise friend pointed out to me, will actually help future productivity. So for now, I am walking, swimming, and painting. I think a writer’s mind, however, never truly switches off, and I’d be fibbing if I said I wasn’t still jotting ideas down in my notebook.
You can buy Bloodlines here from Indigo Dreams.
There will be a book launch in early spring at the University of Chichester (date to be confirmed). I will also read at some local Open Mics in the near future. Please check my website for further details and updates.
Hannah Brockbank is joint winner of the 2016 Kate Betts Award. Publications featuring her work include Hallelujah for 50ft Women Anthology (Bloodaxe), A Way through the Woods Anthology (Binsted Arts), Full Moon & Foxglove Anthology (Three Drops Press), The London Magazine, Envoi, and When Women Waken Journal. Her poems also featured in the Chalk Poets Anthology as part of the 2016 Winchester Poetry Festival. She has also written feature essays for Thresholds International Short Story Forum.
Hannah is currently studying for a Ph.D. in Creative Writing at the University of Chichester.
Instagram: hannahbrockbankwriter  Twitter: @hannahbrockbank
Author photo by Natalie Miller