Thursday, July 31, 2008

Follow-up on the retreat & other news

La Muse has a room for me in November, so I will be often on my French mountain-top seclusion for three weeks - although I am assured there is WiFi in every room (and a wood-burning stove) so I can still play Scrabulous while I work. Am delighted, and I am now trying to figure out the cheapest, fastest route there from here, which will probable involve going via Barcelona and then taking the train to France. I love train journeys, this will definitely get me in the mood, airplanes are so sudden, so soulless. The train gets you there and you feel you have truly travelled.

In other news: A capella Zoo, a new "independent literary magazine" which called for experimental writing, has accepted my flash story, We Keep the Wall Between Us As We Go (inspired by a line from a Robert Frost poem) for the inaugural issue, due out in October. Good luck to them, anything that promotes experimental writing deserves support.

What am I up to? Well, I am working on the website, which will accompany my collection. If you go there now there isn't much there yet, but I have grand plans, and will unveil them on Sept 1st, publication day. Ambitiously, I might even include a page for any book groups who might want to read my book. This seems extremely presumptuous to me, so that idea might not happen. Ach, it's all exciting.

I wanted to say Happy belated birthday to Nik, and good luck to ya to Sara and Jo who have begun writing their novels 300-words-at-at-time. Congrats to Jo on being appointed contributing editor to Red Peter! Did I miss anyone? Feel free to let me know!

Monday, July 28, 2008

Lovely news: a retreat fellowship!

A few months ago I applied for the wildcard fellowship for a month's paid retreat at the gorgeous-looking La Muse Writers and Artists Retreat in southern France. La Muse offers one unaffiliated fellowship a year, during November. I had my fingers crossed and crossed again, the place looks amazing and is set up for writers to be able to focus on their projects without too many other distractions (apart from French food, French wine and every other French delight!). I put together what I thought was an interesting application: how many other ex-British former science journalists living in Israel and working on a series of linked stories about a young Irish girl in the 1950s and a flash fiction collection would there be??

Well, I got this lovely email this morning from La Muse:
We've selected you as the Runner-Up to the Wildcard Fellowship. It was a very tough selection process. Your application was really great, so congratulations.

As a runner-up, we'd be very happy to welcome you to come to La Muse at a 50% discount for the month of October. Just so you know, there is only one runner-up, and it's something we decided to offer specifically because of the quality of your work. If you're able to come in October let me know! Otherwise, we can take a look at other months in the near future.

So excited. So so so excited. Sadly, October doesn't work for me, it is chock full of Jewish holidays which require that I be around here. I am hoping that it will work out for me to go soon, I feel this urgent need, especially with the book coming out, that I get on with the next projects, and I just haven't quite got the space and headspace here to focus. I know I can get so much done on retreat - my two one-week stints at Anam Cara have shown me that. I only hope I'll be able to still play Scrabulous online! (see previous post).

Friday, July 25, 2008

Focus, Insight and Creativity, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Scrabulous

This is interesting. Very interesting, actually. Perhaps even a revelation. There I was the other day, sitting with my laptop in a nearby cafe. I had the beginnings of a flash story in my head and was determined to get it down. Now, I have been trying for months to wean myself of the highly addictive Scrabulous (online Scrabble for Facebook users), with little success. In fact, I am playing a game now as I write this blog post. So, on Wednesday, even though I had opened my word processor and was beginning my story, I couldn't stop myself from starting a new Scrabulous game, even though I felt very guilty about it and angry at myself that I had so little self control. But I did it anyway.

And here's the odd thing: I was in that writing "zone" and every few lines, when I was a little stuck I went to play a turn on Scrabulous - and I finished the whole flash story, 300 words. And more than that: I felt that playing Scrabulous actually helped me finish the story. As I wandered home, I pondered about how that could be: it seemed as though the game distracted those demons in my head that start niggling about how the story's not working, how bad it's going to be, how I might as well stop. They were so busy trying to win the Scrabble game, they left me alone to write my story.

Could this be? Well, a day later, yesterday, I opened my new copy of the New Yorker and lo and behold, a fascinating article entitled: The Annals of Science: The Eureka Hunt by Jonah Lehrer. This article is about scientific research attempting to uncover the mechanism behind that eureka moment of insight, where you have been trying and trying to solve something, and then, suddenly, after you've stopping thinking about it, you're doing something else - there it is!
While it is commonly assured that the best way to solve a problem is to focus, minimize distractions, and pay attention only to the relevant details, this clenched state of mind may inhibit the sort of creative connections that lead to sudden breakthroughs. We surpress the very type of brain activity we should be encouraging. (My italics)
This is all about left hemisphere of the brain versus right hemisphere - one side (left) focuses on individual details while the other side is the "big picture" side, the side which can make unusual and surprising connections. And it seems that when we are focussed on the problem at hand, it is our left brain which is working. What should we do instead? Relax, say the researchers:
Schooler's research has also led him to reconsider the bad reputation of letting one's mind wander. Although we often complain that the brain is too easily distracted, Schooler believes that letting the mind wander is essential. "Just look at the history of science," he says. "The big ideas seem to always come when people are side-tracked, when they're doing something that has nothing to do with their research." He cites the example of Henri Poincare, the 19th century mathematician, whose seminal insight into non-Euclidean geometry arrived while he was boarding a bus.
My assertion is that creative writing requires the same kind of insight process at each step of writing a story. You know that feeling that if you "make" the story continue, if you think about it with your "rational" mind, something feels forced, not right. And just was with scientific problems, I now believe that letting one's mind wander while in the writing zone might really prove to be helpful. I see it as looking at the "problem" (where does the story go from here?) from the side, out of the corner of your eye, while doing something else, instead of staring and staring at it.
Concentration, it seems, comes with the hidden cost of diminished creativity. "There's a good reason why Google puts ping-pong tables in their headquarters," Kounios said. "If you want to encourage insight, they you've also got to encourage people to relax."

Monday, July 21, 2008

How to sell short story collections, Part II

Selling my book is very much on my mind right now. Following on from my previous post, an interesting article in Forbes magazine called Web Savvy Authors Reap Fame and Fortune caught my eye - unsurprisingly. About a first time author who decides to self-publish her "historical fiction tome" when she can't find a publisher:
But getting a book out in print is only 5% of the battle--getting it read is a whole different ballgame. So Newmark looked to the Internet to build a readership. She decided to throw a virtual book launch party and sent out 500,000 e-mail invites to agents, editors and reviewers. It worked: Her book became a best-seller on the day of the virtual book party.
This business article then goes on to portray book marketing in terms I haven't heard before and which, as someone who comes from the world of technology journalism and is familiar with this lingo, found interesting:

What struck me in Newmark's story is the parallel with the high-tech entrepreneurship world. In Silicon Valley, we do alpha and beta products--small prototypes of our vision--and recruit a small number of customers to gain early validation of the products' viability. These alpha and beta products, along with early customer validation, help us sell our ventures to investors and raise millions of dollars in venture money.

In Newmark's case, she spent less than $10,000 of her own money to "bootstrap" her self-publishing effort, she found customers online, and then she recruited William Morris agent Dorian Karchmar as her "investment banker," who then got her Simon & Schuster as a "venture investor." Newmark's deal with Simon & Schuster is widely rumored to include a seven-figure advance.

What can we learn from this? Would this work with a short story collection? Or was it more the case that she had the kind of novel that is eminently marketable and just hadn't waited long enough to find the right agent and publisher? I'm not saying she did anything wrong - but she did end up spending "less than $10,000", which I am assuming is $9999.99, when, if she had a novel that Simon & Schuster did snap up when they found out about it, she might not have had to go through all that for. The article says she went through 4 different agents. Is that enough? Should she have kept on looking for the "perfect" agent? She used to work in advertising, so maybe this approach suited her - and maybe it wouldn't suit, say, me.

I must admit, I thought to myself: OK, throw a virtual launch, invite everyone, go to the top of Amazon. Easy. But, what Forbes doesn't mention but surely knows, is the amount of start-ups that put out alpha and beta versions - initial prototypes - and never find funding, crumbling into obscurity, probably thousands of dollars lighter, soon afterwards. And, I have seen this myself, it is often nothing to do with their product. They have amazing technology, revolutionary, but they just can't get it out there, they don't know how to sell it. Or no-one wants to listen. I don't know.

Can we learn from this? Should we become Forbes-reading, hard-nosed businesspeoplewriters?

WomenRuleWriter discusses the aspect of getting book groups to read your books on her blog:

I ran a book-group in the bookshop I worked in for over two years. I ran two others in two libraries for over four years. Rarely could I interest my participants in short stories. Until a few writers joined the latter library group. Then things really took off and we had a discussionary ball, to coin a phrase. We read Hemingway, McGahern, Scott Fitzgerald, Edna O'Brien, Frank O'Connor and many more.

Check out the comments on her blog. Are short stories only what writers read? Maybe if we combined the two, and did a major marketing campaign in the book group, did little promotional gifts etc...

Chris Meeks, author of two short story collections, who I quoted in my earlier blog post, sent me a great email with some helpful tips of his own:
...[I] convince[d] a company specializing in making promotional videos for books, Expanded Books, to take me on and experiment with me. Expanded Books seemed to specialize in nonfiction books. After all, it's easier to talk about and sell something that's real. I told them that great fiction is about real things, too, and I could talk about what was behind some of my stories. That led to my first video about my first collection, The Middle-Aged Man and the Sea. You can see the video here.

Most recently, after seeing actors read/perform short stories at the New Short Fiction Series at the Beverly Hills Public Library, I convinced Expanded Books to create a video using an actor reading an excerpt, which led to this video.
So - virtual launch parties, beta versions, YouTube videos. All interesting advice. Think out of the box (I hate that phrase). My partner is a film-maker, so YouTube video shouldn't be too tricky, even though all you need these days is a phone with a camera.

Racking my brains last week led me to approach my old secondary (high) school, who now have a web site. I saw from the site that they have Creative Writing Clubs, never had that in my day:
Girls from year 7 to Sixth form are given a chance to develop their creative writing skills ... Scheherazade, a creative writing group for the younger girls, meets on Monday lunchtimes and specifically caters for the creative writers in years 7 and 8. The Year 10 and 11 creative writing club meets on Thursday lunchtime and the Sixth form meet on Friday lunchtimes. ...Girls are encouraged to evaluate their own and their peers’ work in ways which are probing but entirely positive. The clubs regularly display girls’ work, hold reading events, inviting the rest of the school and staff, and enter work into national competitions, in which we enjoy considerable success.
If only I had had something like this when I was at school. Ah well. So I wrote to them. And they were thrilled! Hopefully I will go and talk to the 6th formers, and maybe run a workshop with the younger girls. And perhaps they will part with some of their lunch money (does that still exist?) and buy a copy of The White Road and Other Stories, so that when their parents say, "So, what did you do at school today?" they can say "I met an author, and she studied physics and chemistry, and now she's written a book", and then their parents, who are very well-known literary agents, will take a look, exclaim over my unique genius and........and......................

Oops, sorry. I drifted off.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Writers on writers: My interview with Vanessa Gebbie in Eclectica

I was delighted a few months ago when Vanessa asked me if I would do an interview with her for the lit magazine Eclectica. That interview is now published in their July/August issue. It was a wonderful experience, thinking up questions for a good friend and fellow writer with whom I feel a strong writing kinship: I believe we approach writing in a similar way, although our stories (and now her poems and novel!) are very different. Her collection, Words from A Glass Bubble, published by Salt, is a must-have for anyone who loves lyrical and imaginative writing with a punch, stories that leave a lasting impression, for hours, days, and much longer, stories with strong voices and many, many layers. Go and get a copy. That's today's message.

Vanessa and I met through flash fiction, and she opened me up to the whole world of flash with the Blastettes in the literary writers' forum she created, the Fiction Workhouse. I tried to think of questions to ask her that I would want to be asked. A little snippet to whet your appetite.

TH Your first collection has just been published and it has been nominated for the Frank O'Connor Award. Congratulations! Tell me, the title of your collection, "Words from a Glass Bubble," is this symbolic of your writing, and, if you agree, what is the "Glass Bubble" that your words come from?

VG Thanks. It is great to be on the Frank O'Connor list. I have Salt Publishing to thank for that... wonderful people!

I think writing comes from a place that is quite fragile; at least, it does for this writer. It is so easy to be discouraged, easy to lose heart, easy to listen to the voices that say you can't do this properly. But the place writing comes from must be beautiful. It's at the heart of me as a person, and for all its fragility, it is a wonderful thing to be able (occasionally) to tap into that place.

TH A glass bubble is also transparent, everyone can see into it. And it also reminds me of a crystal ball, seeing something other people can't see. Does any of that resonate with you?

VG I think it works both ways. When I write, I am laying bare what makes me tick, the things that really matter to me. How I filter the world. So it's me that becomes totally transparent in the real sense.

But I don't see it as a crystal ball. That's an important distinction if we're continuing these analogies. I'm not crystal gazing, more giving the readers glimpses, magical things, and fleeting, like the snow globes we used to have as kids with their magical scenes, moving, and settling. Although some of the stories have deep sadnesses in them, there is also a lot of humour, and, I'm told, beauty, uplift -perhaps that is the snow?

For more, visit Eclectica. There are also interviews with Jai Clare, author of the short story collection, The Cusp of Something (reviewed on The Short Review), fiction, poetry, humour and satire, commentary, reviews - is there anything this journal doesn't cover?! Enjoy.

Friday, July 18, 2008

How to sell short story collections

Very interesting guest post over at Dawn's She Is Too Fond of Books blog by Christopher Meeks, author of two short story collections, The Middle Aged Man and the Sea and Months and Seasons, about the process of getting published and how he marketed and promoted his collections. He hired a publicist for the second collection:

I hired a publicist so that the book might be reviewed in publishing industry journals such as Publishers Weekly and Kirkus Reviews, places that bookstores and libraries read to select what books they order. My publicist called to say she’d just spoken with Booklist, a major journal for librarians. “They said they rarely review short story collections—maybe two a year—and it has to be from a big-name author.” I wasn’t big name.

If librarians don’t see the book reviewed, how can short story collections get in libraries? If libraries don’t offer a lot of collections, then how do people consider short story collections? If book reviewers don’t consider collections, then it’s not on the radar of ordinary readers. Thus, it’s an extra challenge to get a short story collection seen.

It is saddening, this response from Booklist, as if short stories are so odd, different, unloveable, that of course Booklist wouldn't consider them. Where does this come from, this reaction? Why do we have to constantly defend the short story collection, prove and prove and prove again how it should simply be included - not put on a pedestal and lauded above the novel, just included. What a great loss for all those who miss out on wondrous writing because of this attitude.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Salt author page

Well, they can't take it back now, now I am up and officially a Salt Author. Wow. Big picture. Lovely cover picture, lovely. Great early birthday present! Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

On retreat: sometimes peace is only 20 minutes away

I am on a writing retreat - 20 minutes  by car from my house, and I am in a different world. I am at the Sisters of Zion convent in Ein Karem, which is a picturesque neighborhood/village on the southern outskirts of Jerusalem. I came here a few weeks ago for the introductory meeting of a workshop that I decided not to participate it, but was captivated by the place, and the idea to come for one night, just by myself, a writing retreat, started to grow inside me. 

This is where I am sitting now, in the gallery in the above picture, there are plastic tables and chairs between the columns. It is night, darkness, all I can hear are a few dogs barking in the distance. I thought I heard singing before, maybe the nuns? I can smell the day's leftover heat, and herbs, perhaps rosemary. To my left is a garden which runs the length of the gallery. Under my feet, ancient flagstones. 

There is no-one else here.

From my world of hustle and bustle, living as we do on a main road so that stepping out of the front door is stepping into the cacophony of traffic, fumes, dessicating sunshine, consumers, commuters, shops and cafes, I feel as though I am on another planet. I have stepped to one side. I have stopped. 

The first thing I did when I got to my small room with its amazing view over the valley, was sleep. Suddenly, I was exhausted. I brought retreat snacks: Pringles, Oreos, and one naughty cigarette. I had the cigarette at this place, below, sitting in the chair, watching the sun set. Heaven.

Have I done any writing? I started something, who knows what. But I am not pressuring myself. It may be that I don't do anything here, but that something is released which comes out tomorrow, or the next day. I am trying to quiet the voice inside my head, which was running a nonstop commentary as I sat with my cigarette. It has settled down a bit now. The main thing is to be here, to drink in the silence. Silence. Complete silence right now. No dogs. No singing. Unbelievable. I am so glad I found this place!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Clare Wigfall wins BBC National Short Story Award!

Many many congratulations to Clare Wigfall, who has won the £15,000 BBC National Short Story Award for her story, The Numbers. I listened to "The Numbers" the other day and I was deeply moved by it, an amazing story, a little different, strange and beautiful. (You can still listen to it online until Wednesday).

Congratulations to Clare, the youngest shortlisted author, who we interviewed and whose debut collection, The Loudest Sound and Nothing, we reviewed on The Short Review. And congratulations to the other four authors who were shortlisted - and the other 595 of us who sent a story in, even if we didn't make it ... this year. Clare, what will you spend the money on??

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Getting paid for fiction

I just received my copy of SouthWord, in which I have two short short stories (alongside wonderful fellow writers including Vanessa Gebbie, Chelsey Flood and Joel Willans), and together with it was a cheque for 61 pounds (80 euros). This, for two flash stories. Seems like a lot.

But why not? This is my work now, my full time job, why should I accept payment? It's a difficult concept for me, but one I have to get my head around otherwise this makes a mockery of my vocation. Payment for something I love doing...perhaps better viewed as payment for the time spent. Anyhow, nice to get during my Birthday Week, it's not disappearing into the overdraft!

Friday, July 11, 2008


Nik has tagged me in a meme which sounds like an interesting exercise in looking back so here goes!

1) What were you doing ten years' ago?

1998, I was already living in Israel, came in 1994, and working as a science and technology journalist. I had been living alone for a year by then in a cute flat with purple shutters with Zac, my cat, who is now 11 years old and still spritely. I appeared in my first play, as Beatrice in an amateur and quite experimental production of Much Ado About Nothing, which was a wonderful experience, I made a lot of great friends, and I realised that I was quite good at this acting lark. This led to a lot more acting over the five years that followed.

2) What 5 things are on your to-do list today?
Hmm, good question. The things I am thinking about right now are:
  1. Get some attention for my book which is coming out in September, set up some reviews and readings
  2. Trying to get hold of Sylvia at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' Arts and Literature Department who, it is rumoured, might fund writers to go to literary conferences abroad
  3. Tidy up my study/workspace, which I did today
  4. Exercise a bit more to keep the waistline shrinking (lost 2.5 inches in the past few weeks)
  5. Decide about my writing shed - is 1.5 metres wide too narrow, would it be like working in a corridor?
4) What would you do with a billion dollars?
Buy a bigger writing shed! Kidding. Actually, I would set up scholarships for short story writers to be able to just take time to write. I would love to do that. And, inspired by Sarah's answer, (which involves Bryan Ferry), in the realms of pure fantasy I would like to spend a few months living in Paris, a few in New York, a few here and a few at my retreat home in the countryside, maybe by the lake in the Berkshires in Massachusetts where we were stunningly fortunate to stay for a week exactly a year ago.

5) List the places you have lived:
  1. London
  2. Runcorn
  3. Grantham
  4. Paris
  5. Manchester
  6. London
  7. Jerusalem
6) List the jobs you have held:
  1. A week's work experience (does this count?) at British Aerospace when I was 16
  2. In the labs of ICI chemicals (boo) on my year out in 1990
  3. Writer for the public relations department of the Weizmann Institute of Science, I lasted 5 months, longest office job I have ever had
  4. Two weeks as a patent attorney (very boring)
  5. Reiki master (never made money)
  6. Theatre lighting (one play, never again!)

7) List the people you'd like to know more about:

I'd like to know more about: Clare, Sue, Julia, Alan Beard, Kerry and KatW. Your turn, people!

National Short Story Award 2008

I have just been listening to the first four of the five shortlisted stories in the BBC National Short Story Award, which are being broadcast this week on Afternoon Reading on Radio 4. I have to say how much I enjoyed Clare Wigfall's The Numbers, which left me feeling deeply moved, and Jane Gardam's The People on Privilege Hill, which had me giggling. However, I have no idea if this was because of the stories or because of the actors who read them so excellently (Tracy Wiles and Goeffrey Palmer respectively). Hearing a story read to you is such a blissful experience, but - and I know this too from hearing audio versions of my own stories - it doesn't necessarily bear that much resemblance to the written story, or, I should say, the experience of hearing may be very different from the experience of reading it. While I do applaud the creation of this award (formerly a "prize", not sure what the difference means) I do wonder whether it will actually encourage more reading of short stories. The slot in which these five are broadcast, BBC Radio 4's Afternoon Reading, is already established and has its following, so how does this award bring short stories to a wider reading public? Through the publicity the award receives?

What if the short stories were also available to read online? Would this not bring more people, perhaps? Just a suggestion. Winner announced Monday 14th July. Good luck to all!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

University Of Warwick Launches £50,000 Writing Prize

I love the sound of this:

University Of Warwick Launches £50,000 Writing Prize

Thursday 10 Jul 2008

'I would not give a fig for the simplicity this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity'(Physician and poet Oliver Wendell Holmes)How does writing evolve? Where is its moving edge? Is all writing – at its very best – a type of creative writing?

To explore these questions – and to identify excellence and innovation in new writing – The University of Warwick is today launching the £50, 000 Warwick Prize for Writing.This substantial prize stands out as an international and cross-disciplinary award. It will be given biennially for an excellent and substantial piece of writing in the English language, in any genre or form. The theme will change with every prize: the 2009 theme is Complexity.All members of the University of Warwick Staff - from nursery staff and gardeners to professors and porters - are invited to make a nomination for a prize entry by August. Warwick's honorary professors and honorary graduates will also be asked to make nominations.

China Miéville, award- winning writer of what he describes as 'weird fiction', will chair the panel of five judges. Other judges include mathematician Professor Ian Stewart and literary blogger Stephen Mitchelmore. A longlist of 15 to 20 titles will be announced in October 2008 followed by a shortlist of six titles in January 2009. The winner will be announced in February 2009 in Warwick.The winning submission will represent an intellectual, scientific and/or imaginative advance and be written with an energy and clarity that make it accessible and attractive to a wide audience.

.... This new prize is part of the University's Vision 2015 plan to enhance the University's already significant international links and position it as an intellectual gateway to the UK and beyond. ..

In addition to the £50,000 monetary prize, the winning author will be awarded the opportunity to take up a short placement at the University.To find out more click here.

I don't know exactly what this means but I look forward to finding out. You can't "self-nominate", so I just have to sit and wait!
Blogged with the Flock Browser

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Second story podcast: Angel in the Car Park

My story, The Angel in the Car Park, is one of two stories in today's Sharp Things podcast from RethinkDaily. You can listen directly from the site, download the feed as a podcast, or download it from my website's Short Stories page.

It is beautifully read - a very different story from last week's, the only story I have ever written with a Jewish character, a rabbi. The actress, Chloe Gilgallon, who read both stories, did a wonderful job of bringing it to life. Thank you to Chloe and to RethinkDaily, what a great service they are doing for the short story!

Monday, July 07, 2008

The Short Review Issue 9

(Cross posted with The Short Review blog)

Well, we are at issue 9 already, almost at our hundredth review.... not quite!
What do we have this month? Four collections that were longlisted for the world's richest short story prize, the Frank O'Connor international short story award:
While they didn't win, read the reviews and see if any of them take your fancy.

There is an added dimension here: Niki Aguirre, whose collection is reviewed by Sarah Salway (whose own collection, Leading the dance, we reviewed several months ago) herself reviewed Vanessa Gebbie's collection, and both are interviewed on their Author Pages.

I wondered about whether to run these both in the same issue, and then I thought that they could be seen as short story writers who have never met, communicating through their writing. For example, if you combine their interviews you can almost hear them chatting:
TSR: What does the word "story" mean to you?

Vanessa Gebbie: Something that takes you out of yourself for the duration of the read. Something that leaves you thinking or wondering. Asks the question, 'What if?' I found this quote the other day by the late Bryan Robertson OBE, curator of the Whitechapel Gallery. It sums up what I look for in a story, however long it is, flash, short, novella or novel... "What I look for is…a transcendent ability to soar above life and not be subjugated by it." Isn't that perfect?

Niki Aguirre: ... due to my upbringing, I prefer those that are rich in the oral storytelling tradition. The best ones are the ones you get lost in: multilayered, babbling and chaotic, not necessary neat and linear. If you think about it, when you are sitting in a café or a pub telling a story, it seldom goes from point to point: the little asides are the best parts. Stories are often desperate things, dying to be voiced and heard -- nothing calm and organised about that. Although I admire people who can write succinctly and in an orderly fashion while still maintaining a good level of excitement. That’s something to strive for.
Alongside these four collections, we have: uncanny and quirky stories from Richard Matheson (Button, Button) and Aimee Bender (Willful Creatures). Aimee is also interviewed about the book, her second collection. Neil Gaiman's Fragile Things are a little too fragile and fleeting for our reviewer, a Gaiman fan, and the Sea Stories anthology didn't go down swimmingly. 2007's Best of American Short Stories was rather hit and miss, despite being full of big names.

So, some hearty recommendations and some rather more wary reviews.

And: following the poll on this blog, where a majority voted for having direct links from reviews to booksellers (as long as it isn't to just one seller), you can now click straight through from the new reviews to buy the book from the publisher's and author's websites (if available), Amazon, AbeBooks and (used and new) and there is a friendly reminder to visit to find your nearest independent bookstore (if you live in the US). We hope that this makes your Short Review reading experience richer... but don't forget, pass those short story collections around!

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Anonymous publication??

Here's a new one on me: a brand new literary magazine, The New Anonymous, is calling for submissions of fictions, prose and poetry which it will publish anonymously. This gave me pause. I am still pausing. Here is their mission statement:

Approximately thirty years ago, Roland Barthes proclaimed the death of the author. But there was no funeral. No “author” was buried. And thus its inky body has been left lurking above ground, dotting our libraries, overshadowing the essence of Barthes proclamation: the birth of the text.

Until now.

The New Anonymous is an annual literary journal that not only publishes all work anonymously but also blindly screens and edits its submissions, i.e., the submission, editorial, and publishing process is anonymous from beginning to end. At The New Anonymous we celebrate the text. We are at once a literary journal and a literary act.

To that end, we endeavor to challenge writers (and editors)—both up-and-coming and well established—to question what it means to publish in a landscape in which, predominately, the writers are the readers. By freeing the prose and poetry from their nominal ties, we free writers from their own generative forms and creative dispositions. The New Anonymous is, in effect, a safehouse where writers can not only question the creative process, but also, in the words of Freud, “play.”

The Italics are my own addition. Hmm. This brings to mind The Economist, the weekly current affairs magazine which is entirely written by anonymous writers and has been since its inception over a hundred years ago. Here is how they explain this:

Why is it anonymous? Many hands write The Economist, but it speaks with a collective voice. Leaders are discussed, often disputed, each week in meetings that are open to all members of the editorial staff. Journalists often co-operate on articles. And some articles are heavily edited. The main reason for anonymity, however, is a belief that what is written is more important than who writes it. As Geoffrey Crowther, editor from 1938 to 1956, put it, anonymity keeps the editor "not the master but the servant of something far greater than himself. You can call that ancestor-worship if you wish, but it gives to the paper an astonishing momentum of thought and principle."

Food for thought. This may work with a current affairs publication where the journalist has already found their vocation, they have a job writing what they want to write and they are, perhaps, not so concerned with - or not so needing of - building a personal reputation tied to their name. Anonymity by its nature does away with the ego, you can't write in order to receive praise or censure for your writing. You really do become "something far greater than yourself" - the magazine receives the praise or the censure. Only you know that it is because of you.

But for a writer of creative writing, the end in most cases, what we are all striving for, is not publication in a literary magazine - the end or goal is one's own publication, a book. And how does a writer work towards this goal but by establishing a reputation, building a portfolio of published work that is identified with her or him? If all literary magazines were to follow the New Anonymous' lead, where would we be? Would we as readers be guessing who wrote what? Or would we as readers somehow be also freed from something by not knowing the "name" attached, by bringing fresh eyes to each piece? And would the writer also benefit from this lack of expectation that comes with reputation or non-reputation, from these fresh eyes?

Personally, while I fully believe in a blind screening process and am intrigued by anonymous publication and would possibly try my luck with the journal once, I am assuming I would not even be able to link to a published story from my website because that would destroy the objective. And what proof would there be that this was my story? I won't deny the thrill I get each and every time I see my story and, crucially, my name attached to it. Because each story is a piece of me, a small piece of me, that I release to the world. How would it be if it was released there untethered to its creator? I don't know. I really don't know. Good luck to the New Anonymous, I am looking forward to hearing more!

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Go out and buy this book!

My writing friend Kuzhali Manickavel has just published her first short story collection, the wonderfully-titled "Insects are just like you and me except some of them have wings". If you like humorous, offbeat, moving and lyrical short stories, then this book is for you. Kuzhali's writing has appeared in Subtropics, CakeTrain, Edifice Wrecked, Smokelong Quarterly, Per Contra and others.

Miranda July, winner of the 2007 Frank O'Connor International Short Story Prize, said of Kuzhali's collection:
Not merely lyrical and strange, but also deadpan funny. I can't shake the feeling that I know this woman, personally--like we hung out at a party or something. But I don't, and we didn't. She's just that good.
She is. That good. Buy a copy direct from her publishers, Blaft.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Now for something a little more positive...

(Cross-posted with the Short Review blog)

Lovely news - although I didn't get anywhere in this comp (yes, well, really...) Short Review author Clare Wigfall, whose collection The Loudest Sound and Nothing we reviewed a few months ago, has been shortlisted for the BBC National Short Story Award with her story, The Numbers.

The full shortlist is:

Richard Beard Guidelines for Measures to Cope with Disgraceful and Other Events

Jane Gardam The People on Privilege Hill

Erin Soros Surge

Adam Thorpe The Names

Clare Wigfall The Numbers

Very interesting - I haven't heard of Richard Beard, Erin Soros or Adam Thorpe, but when I googled them they seemed to be all over the fictionscape, winning prizes etc...I should have heard of them!

The winner will be announced at a breakfast on Monday 14 July, and broadcast on BBC Radio 4's Today programme. Good luck to all five!

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Three beautiful things?

Inspired, as I always am, by Clare, I thought I would try and find three beautiful things to say today, in the face of such tragedy, in the face of the fact that the baby I mentioned turned out to be the child of the cousin of a friend, and her mother, who had tried and tried for a child, saved her daughter by handing her out of the window of the car seconds before she herself was crushed and killed by the rampaging bulldozer driver.

Hard to find 3BTs. OK:
  1. The way the whole country mourns the loss of every life, they are never nameless and faceless but the news is filled with pictures and with their stories and the sparks they left us.
  2. The power of tears to release emotions
  3. My writing group, who met last night, albeit in reduced numbers, which is such a wonderful source of support and inspiration

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Terror attack in Jerusalem

This might not seem to fit into a blog on writers and writing, but I realised that I think this is the first terror attack that I have been in Jerusalem for since I started blogging. A young Palestinian man drove a large tractor down a main road in the centre of the city a few hours ago, ploughing into cars and overturning a bus. Three people were killed, dozens wounded, a baby is in the hospital and its parents can't be found. 

All this is ten minutes' drive from my house.

I had planned an afternoon of writing and working on The Short Review. But now I am numb. My whole body goes into shock when something like this happens. I can't be creative. I can't do anything. I can just drink tea and sit and wonder how this all came about. I can't even begin to imagine writing about this, about how it is to be here, now. 

I pray that the baby's parents are found soon. 

For more news on this, click here.