Wednesday, February 28, 2007

What a week! Another shortlisting

Well, dear blog readers, I could get used to this. My flash story was shortlisted for the Biscuit Flash Fiction prize. It didn't win, but as I waffled on about yesterday, a shortlisting is a great affirmation. Thanks, Biscuit! And congrats to the winner, Jacqui Winn, an Australian writer who I see from a quick Google search has received many awards. I look forward to reading her story. She has a great name - perhaps I should change mine to Titania NumberOne!

What a week.....

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

A long listing... what does that say?

A new-ish story of mine, Garden Baby, made it to the longlist of the Happenstance Short Story Comp. Out of 170 entries, I got into the last 31. But don't get excited - they already announced the shortlist and Garden Baby didn't make it that far.

It's interesting, a longlisting. What does it mean, making it through the first round? Well, it means they didn't read the first paragraph and throw it down in disgust, or yawn and look around for something more interesting. I think it means they read it all the way through, and maybe even for a second time.

And then they thought about it for a while.

And then when they had to decide, they didn't shift it to the smaller pile because...

1) They didn't feel completely drawn in by the story
2) The characters weren't well rounded enough
3) The plot was not quite there
4) The ending missed the mark and they were confused/frustrated/disbelieving

It could be any or all of these things. And what it means is that I need to take a long hard look at this story, not necessarily tomorrow but maybe in a few weeks, and prod it and poke it and see what gives.

I am lucky, my wonderful writing groups have given me great feedback on Garden Baby (including the title, which a few found misleading!). I received some very thought-provoking comments on the story last week. So I have what to go on. Doing it alone is hard - it is damn difficult to step back from your own story and try and critique it with fresh, objective eyes.

Maybe that's what a longlisting means: take a long look and put in the work.

And a short listing means: it'd only take a short time to turn this into a winner.

I have a story that's been shortlisted twice now. But the wonderful thing is that it's not a case of always a bridesmaid, never a bride with writing: I believe that if I put in the work then my story can make it to the altar, will be the one wearing the white pouffy dress. This business is a little bit about luck, but mostly about hard work. And I'm up to the task. Tomorrow is a new day!

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Shortlisting & new (unpaid) job

Well, it seems that when I despair, something comes to lift me up. My story has been short-listed for the Philip Good Memorial short story competition. That news is pretty much enough to buoy me along for a week or so. The results will be announced in a few days, but the fact that it got this far is enough for me. I also wrote a quick flash story today which made me laugh, and that also made me happy. What a joy, to be able to make yourself chuckle, eh?

Thank you to the Writing Deities!

I am also giving a little back - I've just been accepted as a reader for a flash fiction publication. That means they'll be sending me a bunch of submitted stories each week and trusting my opinion about which are worth publishing. I feel a heavy weight on my shoulders. I hope I am up to it. But I believe that being on both sides of the divide will be good for me - I learn a great deal from reading other people's writing. And I love flash. I won't mention the name of the publication because I am not - I repeat, not - open to bribery.

Not even banana waffles with caramel....

Thursday, February 22, 2007


It's a great word, antsy - an American word, I believe, maybe coming from "ants in your pants" - one that exactly describes my condition. I fidget, I can't rest, can't relax, and right now I can't write anything. Everything I look at that I've started makes me squirm. I hate it. Did I write that? I'm crap. Yes, I've written good stuff in the past, but maybe that was it? I'm not depressed, I'm just... well, antsy. So I thought I would get the fingers moving here instead.

I am in a Chocolate Bar. No, not actually inside one, but sitting in the Max Brenner cafe at the Tel Aviv port whose theme is Chocolate. I decided after sitting in another cafe without any reduction in antsi-ness that chocolate was the thing. So I came here, had a waffle with banana, caramel, dark chocolate icecream and hot chocolate sauce. There are no words to describe it. Try one.

I feel much much better. Still antsy, though.

Let's talk about writing. I realised during the two weeks of flu-related malaise when I couldn't write that I had become rather obsessed with submitting. Submitting and getting accepted. The rejections were really hitting me hard because I wasn't writing. I was just submitting, and so everything stood and fell on those submissions. But submitting doth not a writer make. Writing is what counts, even if no-one sees it. So, assisted by J, I came up with a plan: submit stuff to several months' worth of competitions and deadlines all in one go, rather than on a daily basis. Then put them out of my mind.

That was the theory.

In practice I sent a load of subs in over the last few days (which is a very expensive business when competitions are concerned) but am still checking to see if competition results have been posted etc...Which is stupid because generally, if you win or get close, they email you. You don't generally find out about it on the website.

So, I need to calm down. I need to write.

In the meantime, I am reading. What I am reading right now is Under the Dam, a collection of stories by David Constantine which is absolutely fabulous. He is a poet, novelist, translator, short story writer... ah, one of those multi-talented people! But you can immediately hear from his stories that he is a poet and I feel that I have learned a lot from reading. His stories often seem to be written in a slightly old-fashioned language, with words sometimes set down in the "wrong" order so that you have to re-read a sentence just to check what it means. His language flows, he uses repetition to wondrous effect, and he creates gorgeous images. He plunges straight into the stories without a preamble. A few first lines:

Nobody noticed. Apparently they never do.


"That horse makes me nervous," Judith said.


When Mrs Mercer came in she found her husband looking poorly.

Those are from some of the stories I have read so far. Each story is located in a different place, different city, country - we move from Manhattan to Singapore, Scotland, Paris, a glacier in Italy. But I didn't wonder whether Constantine had been to these places, knew them well, as a certain Guardian journalist seemed overly concerned with last week (see Kay Sexton's blog rant on his comments). I was swept up in the stories.

Reading good stories makes me want to write. To write good stories. Not in imitation - although it is always tempting to try and analyse what works for one writer and then have a bash at it yourself. But eventually I always come back to the way I do things. Coz, frankly, I am not good at not being my kind of writer. I hope the antsi-ness will leave me soon and I can get down to something. I thought it would be the other way round but that's not working right now.

Ah, maybe a little more chocolate??

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Feeling groovy

Well, no, I am not exactly feeling groovy yet, in fact it has taken me a long time to bounce back from whatever sent my temperature sky-high ten days ago. What is the specific complaint? A kind of non-specific malaise, feeling a sense of dis-ease, achey, bleuch. That's it. But while that's around I find it hard to write, to read, to do much of any value to mankind, or to my fellow writers whose work I am supposed to be critiquing. Sorry. I have just meditated and right now feel a healthy glow. Let's hope it lasts so real life can resume.

Just found out that my story that was long-listed for a competition didn't struggle through to the short list. But V's did, congratulations! Onwards and upwards. Waiting on results from a couple of flash competitions. I think I do better under 500 words. I am brevity. I haven't got much staying power. Not right now.

J and I are off tonight to a performance by a great Israeli singer, David Broza, together with a dance troupe that are the Israeli version of Stomp. Lots of banging stuff, I expect. I hope it doesn't set me back. I hope it gives me my zing back.

Happy birthday, B!

Monday, February 12, 2007

A very important debate

Today my blog is brought to you by someone else's blog. Namely, Vanessa, who has posted on a topic of great import to writers: Do we write for the market or for ourselves? Instead of writing about how I feel about that here, I have commented (in a comment longer than many of my recent short stories!) and I urge you all to head over there and say your piece.

Thank you.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

LIttle funny thing

I just discovered that there is a picture of me on the opening page about the MA in Creative Writing at Bath Spa!

I look like a real student, don't it? (I'm on the right in the khakhi green cardigan). I believe that was a short story writing module taught by Tessa Hadley. That was back in 2003-04. Ah, what a long way we have come since! I have got slightly less baggy jumpers and get my hair cut slightly more often.

Ooo, embarassing.

Delirium, congrats and crunchies

Well, my body is saying STOP, and so I let its temperature rise to over 101, only panicking slightly because J is away and the cats couldn't call an aambulance (badly trained, eh?). A bad night, but now all is better, mostly, or cooler at least. Still wobbly, but managing to watch much television (not on the actual TV, if you know what I mean). I am researching for my Mastermind specialist subject "The life and times of Meredith Grey and the rest of the cast of Grey's Anatomy". Go on, ask me anything, anything at all -except about Season 2 episodes 11-27, which I have to go and get from the video shop when i'm less wobbly (yes, alright, I watched the new episodes of Season 3, then Season 1 and now am filling in the gaps with Season 2. It's not so bad, knowing what happens in the end. It's so well-written!)

alright, i'm obviously delirious.

Phooey to all that, but congrats to MBR whose first work of fiction, the fabulously gripping Collaborator of Bethlehem, has just hit the shelves. No, it's not chick lit.It's a hard-hitting mystery with a Palestinian amateur detective trying to help out a friend. Dan Brown, watch out behind you. What fun to have friends with books! Please god by us all, I say.

OK, I could waffle on and on, but look at the time! More rubbish to watch. I've seen three episodes of You Are What You Eat: Gillian Moves In which has served to make me feel very smug about how much raw fruit and veg I eat and how few cream cakes and chips. Ooh, but I'd love a nice Crunchie bar.


More when I surface.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Good start to Feb: a prize and a longlisting

I got some great news last week - I won 2nd place in Creating Reality's 300 word Flash Fiction competition! This is the comp that I won first place in last year... and I sent in three stories this year, not thinking my luck would hold. But they actually told me that all three stories made it to the final list - anonymously of course. Gosh, what a thrill, and a nice £100 too! Just about pays for all the submission fees to the competitions I have submitted to so far this year.

What's nice about this story, Mugs, is it is a much shortened version of a story I wrote several years ago. That story, in my mind, was supposed to be poignant, touching. But when I read it out then in my writing class, people cracked up laughing. I realise that there was a problem.

So a month or so ago, in my flash fever, I decided to take the opening para, which I really liked, and then rewrite it as a flash piece. It came out totally differently, which amazed and delighted me. So this is a great example of Rewriting (see blog post ).It's not up on their site yet, but should be soon.

Also, just heard today that my story has been long-listed for the Fish Short Story Prize . This list is like the first round short list, and then there will be a shorter short list, and then the winners. So this is a little achievement, but there's still a way to go. However, as Vanessa says, this shows that the story "has legs", it didn't bore the pants of the readers and make them throw it down in disgust.

Winner announced March 17th. Don't hold your breath.