Monday, March 30, 2009

A bad few months made a little sunnier

It's not been a great few months, in fact this year started pretty badly, with illness and anxiety etc..., and has only got slightly better since now I have a space to write and the energy to actually do it, some of the time.

I was quite upset last week to discover, checking my book's Amazon page, that there was a negative review. Welcome to the real world! I hadn't yet experienced someone talking the time and effort to tell people what he didn't like about The White Road and Other Stories. Already not feeling so strong, I took it quite hard, all those initial urges to just burn every copy and disappear into a small hole. It took the help of a number of author friends, some with far worse experiences to share, to get me to calm down and see that the fact that he wrote at the end of the review " after the hype on the internet and in New Scientist, I was expecting something special" is a good thing - it means there was hype!

Ok, so, this morning's post brought me something to make my day a little brighter. Wet Ink, the Australian magazine of New Writing, agreed to review my book since I hold Australian citizenship. The editor, Dominique Wilson, reviewed it herself, and she said:
"This collection exemplifies everything that is best about the short story. With succinctness rarely seen in the work of someone new to fiction, Hershman extracts the very essence of a moment to reveal the poignant fragility of human relationships. ...Extremes of weather is a recurring theme, as is parenthood, but each story is so different from the next that you are tempted to read 'just one more' until you find you have read the whole book in one sitting....Read The White Road and Other Stories. You won't regret it."
Made my day, that has. Silly, of course, that one review can knock me sideways and another can make me grin like an idiot. I wish I could detach a little, but I can't. If anyone knows how, please tell me.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Thinking about Paying Markets

I find as I grow into this writing life, things shift and change, and the latest shift is towards something I have been thinking about for a while: only submitting my stories to literary journals that pay.

Before I carry on, I want to stress that I certainly don't subscribe to the school of thought that submitting to non-paying journals is somehow "giving away your work for free". Not at all. Publication is a vital part of being a writer, especially a writer of short stories, and when you are beginning to send work out, being accepted for publication is extremely important. First, there is the sense that you are not just writing for yourself: one other person - the editor, who is not related to you, who doesn't know you, who isn't invested in your emotional wellbeing - has just told you that they respond to your work. You now have a reader. Then, there is the seeing of your work as part of something bigger, as part of the editor's vision for the journal. And, of course, there is the audience, the readership, others who are now being given the chance to see if they respond to your work. All of this also goes into building your reputation as a writer, getting "out there". To my mind, these things are just as important as monetary payment, if not more so.

Publication builds confidence, allows you to say to yourself "I am a writer", and that will spur you on to write more and submit more and grow more into your writing self. Having a book is one peak of this process, you can now say "I am a published author", and, as someone told me when The White Road & Other Stories came out, no-one can every take this away from you. You will die a published author.

The next stage is when your confidence is such that you don't need to be published to like what you are doing, to know that you are a writer, to know that you will keep on writing. The need here has changed. For me, what I now need is justification for the decision I made two years ago to write full time. I need to know that my writing is a career, is something I can do to support myself. For this, I need to be paid. Even if that payment is nowhere near a salary, whatever it is, I can say "I am being paid for my writing". It now replaces what I was doing before, journalism, as a source of income. I recently was asked to submit flash stories for a series of chapbooks by a new small press. When I heard that they could be previously published stories, and that I would be paid, I was amazed, delighted. Two flash stories were accepted, and I received $50. That may not sound like a lot, but that's real money. That pays part of some bill or other, puts some food on the table. It makes a difference.

Naturally, as for most writers, that source of income will need to be supplemented by others, and, as for many of us, that is teaching. That was another shift for me, another stage: I put myself into a position where I was asking a room full of people to see me as someone experienced, who knows something and has knowledge to impart. Some kind of authority. Doing that for the first time was scary: not only was I asking to be treated as if I had authority, I was getting paid for it. But, after the first session, I felt that I had not only asked and received this, but that I myself felt that it was actually true. I did have something to pass on, something to talk about, and now, four months later, I see how much it enriches my writing life.

So, from now on, it's paid markets only and writing-related paying work. If, as has happened a few times recently, I am asked to submit to a journal that doesn't pay, I will definitely submit, because this is also a shift, being "solicited", and it means something to me. But in a way, it's a relief not to "have" to submit to the many many excellent non-paying journals out there. Keeping track of submissions was driving me a little crazy! Now, my pool is limited. Probably a very good thing. Maybe I will actually get more writing done.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Why Old Ladies Complimented Fiona Robyn at Bustops: "The Letters" Virtual Book Tour Sets Down Here Today

Those of you who read this blog know that what makes up most of my reading these days are short stories, both for pleasure and for review for The Short Review. I write short stories and I love them, but, as I argue whenever I get the chance, I also love a good novel, something that keeps me up at night, something that pulls me into its world.

Fiona Robyn's The Letters, published by Snowbooks, did just that. A story about love, family, parenting, friendships, isolation, community, creativity, history, society, and so much more. I was surprised by how much I took to Violet, the main character, from the first page. I think what attracted me and then kept me reading was that Violet is a very real character, she is flawed and she - and the author - don't make any attempt to hide her imperfections, be they in the realm of motherhood, as a daughter, a wife, a sister, a friend, a member of the local community. Everything here feels genuine, and not only that, there are no pat answers, no simple solutions. This is all of life's messiness, in these pages, and there is something both beautiful and compelling about that.

I am delighted to be hosting Fiona today as part of her "The Letters" Virtual Book Tour as she (virtually) travels around in her little red bus. A little bit about Fiona: she is a writer and blogger living in rural Hampshire, UK, with her partner and two cats (Silver and Fatty) and her vegetable patch. She blogs about the writing life at Planting Words and has a delightful second blog, a small stone, where she records minute details about her day to, as she explains "help me pay proper attention". She invites others to contribute small stones at A Handful of Stones. "The Letters" is her first novel, two more are following on in quick succession, more on that later.

Tania: Hi Fiona, and welcome! Colours seem to play a very important part in The Letters, the most obvious example being the name of the main character (Violet), and her cat (Blue), but I noticed many, many colours throughout the book. I also noticed from snooping through your Facebook profile photos (!) that your hair seems to have change colour several times. What role does colour play in your life?

Fiona: Well spotted! I had pillar box red hair at Uni, then pink, then blue, then I shaved it all off... Funnily enough I have a couple more colour-names to come - Rose in The Blue Handbag, and Red (my Russian portrait painter) in Thaw. I think it's fair to say that I'm a pretty visual person, and so I suppose noticing colour is a part of 'paying attention'. My 'a small stone' blog is a part of this practice, and although colour features strongly, I also try to notice smells, sensations, sounds...

TH: How do you think you got treated differently when your hair was a different colour? And, tying this in, spuriously (!), how would you feel about them if your characters were called different names? Was it always Violet and Blue? Do you somehow "see" your characters in colour?

F: Mostly my bright hair went down well - old ladies would often compliment me on it at bus stops. It took a lot of upkeep, though, and my pillows kept getting stained! Violet is called Violet because of her violet eyes, and she was always Violet - as Blue was always Blue. When I'm getting to know my characters, it feels like it's a matter of uncovering the truth about them, rather than making it up - their names come very early on, and I might try a few out before I find their 'real' name, a bit like Rumpelstiltskin!

T: Since you've mentioned another story... let's go with that: what kinds of books do you like to read? What are some recent favourites? The Letters begins with a Yeats quote, are you a fan?

F: I don't know Yeats very well - I have big holes in my 'classical' literary education - I tend to read contemporary poetry and novels. I read a lot of non-fiction - a lot of books about Zen Buddhism, and stuff about nature. The Book Of Silence by Sara Maitland and The Wild Places by Robert McFarlane are recent favourites. I've read more novels recently (I don't tend to read novels while I'm writing one) and just finished Dear Everybody by Michael Kimball - he's visiting Planting Words next month as a part of his blog tour. It was a beautiful, moving novel and I'm still carrying the main character around in my head.

T: Isn't it wonderful when the character stays with you? I found Violet compelling from the first page, and very real, especially her feelings about motherhood and her own mother. How was it writing her story? Did you discover more about her as the novel progressed? Were you surprised by some of the things that happened?

F: I'm glad you thought so. I did discover more about her as I wrote, and there were a few surprises - there always are when I'm writing fiction. I do enjoy spending time with my characters, and when I think about them after I've finished writing the book it's almost as if I'm remembering a friend from real life who I don't see any more.

T: You are publishing three (yes, three!) novels this year, I believe... are you finding time to write along with all the book promotion? What is your next project?

F: There are three novels coming out with Snowbooks, but I did write them over the past five years so I'm not that prolific! I haven't had the head space to write this month, what with all this touring and 'being a proper published author', but I'm hoping to get back to it in a few weeks time. My current novel is about a 13 year old geeky boy called Joe who visits his aunt in Amsterdam - I'm off to Amsterdam in August for a bit of research. What a wonderful life.

T: That doesn't sound wonderful, why don't I do research? Hmm! Thanks so much, Fiona, for stopping by. If you have any questions, feel free to ask Fiona by posting a comment here. Visit for links to the rest of the tour and more information about The Letters and Fiona's other writings.

Coming next week: From letters to space-time, one of my favourite topics. Sue Guiney pops in to talk about her novel, Tangled Roots, which has just come out in paperback, and which has a physicist as a main character that Sue based on John Cusack. I think this book was written just for me! Sue will be here on April 2nd, prepare your questions!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Promotion: It's a Mystery To Me, But Something's Working

There I was today, in my (cold but lovely) new working space, writing an article on book promotion to be published soon on the excellent How publishing really works blog and saying that I basically played it by ear, had no clue what to do, just blogged and used every online tool I could find, blogs, websites, Facebook, MySpace, Red Room, the website "where the authors are" - and lo and behold I get an email from Red Room saying they are featuring the author interview I did with Mark Budman in December on their front page - below a rather luscious picture of Jon Stewart (which seems to change into Salman Rushdie every now and then)!

I have been cross-posting my blog posts there for months, hoping I might get into the Most Popular blogs once or twice, but never imagining I'd make the front page. I don't know what this mean in terms of book sales, who knows what it means directly? But it's buzz, it's great for me, it's great for Mark.

Just goes to show...umm, something like, Try anything and everything and something might just pay off. Right? Hmm. If you haven't visited Red Room, go and take a peek. It's a great site.

In other news: I have given my thoughts on ordering stories in a short story collection, and collected some of the responses Short Review authors gave in their interviews here on the Eratosphere writers site, moderated by Tim Love. And, inspired by Vanessa's gorgeous new look, I with my very amateur web designing skills, redesigned my website, Comments welcome...! Ah, the things we do to avoid actually writing.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

A Room of My Own!

Yay, I finally have a place to write in, a room with a door I can (almost) shut! Yup, I'm in our cellar. (The shed idea didn't pan out, many boring reasons why not. Mainly because Israel ain't really a shed culture.)

Here is the illustrious entrance to my domain:

Bend your head a little, it's a low space...

We've cleared out enough for me to sit in here, but am testing it out before we do the final blitz and really get rid of those old suitcases, boxes of who-the-hell-knows-why-we-need-this and someone else's microphone stand.

I have created a teeny oasis in the midst of all this. I've run a power cord out of the kitchen window and down, not the ideal solution, just temporary.

The one window, which looks out onto the side of the house, just above ground level. The white thing is an oil burner, diffusing rose scent to try and mask the slighty-damp-and-musty fragrance, and doing a great job.

Ok, I'm here now. Guess I should write something. Yup. No more excuses. Ok.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Short Review March Issue: Small Press Month & Blog interview with Larry Dark, Director of Story Prize

To celebrate Small Press month, the March issue of The Short Review is entirely mainstream-publisher-free. We review nine single author collections and one anthology - and a bumper NINE author interviews to go alongside them. Check it out now.... and for the first time we say: Go buy a book and support these short-story-publishing heroes!

And over on the Short Review blog, author, blogger and Short Reviewer Sarah Salway interviews Larry Dark, founder and director of the $20,000 Story prize, America's richest prize for a short story collection and a passionate lover of the short story. He says:
"Cultural arbiters need to embrace the form. We have to stop treating short story collections like they're medicine and underscore the pleasures of reading them. I'd like to see people like Oprah Winfrey and Richard and Judy (do I have that right?) choose short story collections for their book clubs. We have a National Endowment for the Arts Program in the U.S. called the Big Read, but so far they've only chosen novels. They should mix in some story collections. Novels dominate our book awards, which is one reason we created The Story Prize. Still, I'd like to see more short story collections make the short lists and win those awards.

And do you know what it would do for short fiction if Barack Obama was seen carrying around a story collection instead of a wonky policy tome?"
Now, what a great idea! Let's all send him a short story collection...the short story, ideal to read in those few minutes between passing major legislation, inspiring the nation and pulling troops out or sending them in. Thanks for the suggestion, Larry! Read the whole interview here.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Elizabeth Baines: The "Dribble" Interview

I am delighted to be hosting the final leg of Elizabeth Baines' "Around the Edges of the World" Virtual Book Tour for her wonderful short story collection, Balancing on the Edge of the World (Salt Publishing, 2007) which is one of those books I had to force myself to put down just so the experience of reading it wouldn't end. I am sad that it did, but looking forward to reading Elizabeth's next book, her novel, Too Many Magpies, forthcoming from Salt later this year.

Much has been said already in praise of Elizabeth's writing, and I urge you to visit the other tour stops where Elizabeth illuminates the writing life and what that means for her, how she writes, what she writes, why she writes what she writes, which is not just short stories, but novels, radio and stage plays and more. She is also the author of two blogs, a personal blog, and Fiction Bitch, which contains Elizabeth sharp and insightful take on the oft-perplexing and frustrating world of books and literature. Of course, I highly recommend buying Balancing on the Edge of the World.

So, a dribble interview, what does that mean? In the world of flash fiction, a "dribble" is a very short story of only 50 words (half a drabble!). Since I know how exhausting Virtual Book Tours can be, requiring an immense amount of thought on the part of the author on many questions, often deeply personal, I decided to give Elizabeth a break and require of her that her answers not exceed 50 words. She was, I believe, relieved!

So, welcome Elizabeth! Let's start the dribbles....

Tania: You have talked a great deal and very candidly and thoughtfully about your writing. Let's talk about reading. What is the experience of reading a short story for you?

Elizabeth: A good short story provides an intense experience, pulls you up, stops you short, engrosses you entirely, alters your perception, and afterwards goes on reverberating in your mind. The best will stay with you for ever, winking like precious jewels.

T. What do short stories do, in your opinion, that no other work, be it longer or shorter, can do, and why?
E: They can provide that intensity of experience which couldn't be sustained in a longer work, yet they also provide the narrative satisfactions that poems rarely achieve.

T: I think one reason short story collections are not as widely read is that they are often shelved together with novels which sets up a flawed "length-ist" comparison on the basis of quantity and not quality, dooming them to fall short - see, that derrogatory word! - before a reader even opens the book. Grace Paley said that she believes a short story should be read like a poem, slowl, paying attention to every word. Were they shelved together with - or near - poetry, short stories would be approached as an entirely different animal. Dicuss!

E:I agree: Grace Paley was right. And so the stories in a collection need to be read individually, like poems, and not necessarily sequentially. Anyone coming to a story collection hoping to be swept along from cover to cover as in a novel will be disappointed.

T: I don't want to get into
the old "why aren't more short story collections getting published?" rant, so let's talk about how you went about getting yours published. How did the process work?

E: My first agent looked at my stories and said 'Fantastic, but no one publishes stories, so please write a novel'. At last, though, Salt arrived. I followed their guidelines, sent a few stories, and a few
weeks later Jen asked to see more. Two weeks later she agreed to publish.

T: A few questions I ask the authors I interview for The Short Review: First, how did you choose what order the stories went in? Were you thinking of a potential reader at this point?

E: Yes, I was. I took especial care with the first and last stories which a casual browser would probably scan. I don't think you need to read a collection sequentially, but in case people did I found an arrangement which provided a journey in terms of subject matter and mood.

T: Second: what is it like knowing people are reading your books?

E: With my first book I felt exposed, yet thrilled when people said it had meant something to them. Later I detached, realized that my books belonged to others now, not me. Nowadays I just cross my fingers and hope they like them.

T: Third, what are the last three short story collections you read?

E: Sarah Salway's Leading the Dance, Haruki Murakami's After the Quake and your very own, Tania, The White Road - all of which I loved!! [T: Thank you Elizabeth, blush, blush]

T: Ok, to wind up our lovely dribble interview, how has this Virtual Tour been for you? A highlight, a low point, and a summing-up please!

E: Highs: a virtual Roman banquet, confessing about snails (!), getting to tell my worst nightmare and being invited by such thoughtful interviewers to talk in such depth about my writing and writing in general. Low point: getting utterly exhausted! Summing up : real hard work, but great fun.

T: And, to wind up on a high note, something I was asked on my Virtual Book Tour and which I loved doing: Write a zinging 50-word ad for your book just in case we haven't persuaded everyone to buy it! Go wild...

Want a bit of a smile? Like a good cry? Want to hear about the girl with magic powers or the nurse who never stops singing? 14 different stories which lift the lid on experiences that often go unheard. Stories to relish, a delicious pick n' mix to buy now!

Thank you, Elizabeth, it was an honour to be the final stop on the Virtual Tour. To read the rest of the blog "stops", visit the tour's Cyclone page. For all those who love wonderful writing, stories that will resonate long after the book has been finished, don't miss Balancing on the Edge of the World.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Huge congratulations to Vanessa!

Many many congratulations to my great friend and colleague Vanessa Gebbie for being awarded second prize in the FISH short story competition - for the second time! A marvellous achievement, there were 1500 entries.

The full list of winners is:
First: Ian Wild: Ten Pint Ted

Second: Vanessa Gebbie: The Return of the Baker, Edwin Treagar

Third: Annemarie Neary: Painting over Elsa

Honorable Mentions/Runners-up:

Gerry Boland: Bridie’s Birthday Party

Mair Masuda: A Capitalist Adventure

Derek B. Donahoe: Lad

Elizabeth Kuzara: The Weight of Clouds

Dolores Walshe: Jesus On A Cross With Blu-Tack

Ann Ward: Chicken and Beef

Kathryn Fletcher: Epistle of a Doddery Old Bastard

Congratulaions to all! Don't forget the FISH One Page short story competition, deadline March 20th!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Liars' League readings and Short Stories on House

I'm back home in Israel now after a week of traveling - from Belgium to London, London to Jerusalem. I tripped off the Eurostar for a lovely meet-up with Vanessa in St Pancras on Monday involving cupcakes and much short story discussions! More news on that to come.

The Liars' League event on Tuesday night was great fun, five stories on the theme of Art & Science. My story, The Painter and the Physicist, was beautifully read by Susan Crothers. Follow the link to read the story online or listen to it - highly recommended! A wonderful thing the Liars are doing, a wonderful boost for the short story and for live story-telling (I am still thinking about the story with the zombie mice). Thank you to Cynthia, Elaine and Susannah for coming and for the great discussions before and after.

Now, you know that short stories are experiencing that renaissance everyone's talking about when they are mentioned on one of the most popular programs on television (and a personal favourite of mine): House.

The episode began (no spoilers, I promise) at a book launch, where a reluctant bestselling novelist was forced to make a small speech. He alluded to the new book and hoped it would also be a bestseller - at which point his publisher interruped to say something along the lines of
"Of course it won't be a bestseller, it's a short story collection, everyone knows short stories don't sell."
And then he "explained" without mincing his words that this book was only being published because the novelist's agent wanted to keep him happy, not because anyone thought it would do well.

This... wait for it... was the first sign that viewers were supposed to understand that this man was suffering from... Frontal Lobe Disinhibition, which meant that he said whatever was on his mind! Short stories were being beaten up on in the service of medical diagnosis! There are some of us who would say that his statement was evidence of something else entirely (publishers' insanity? great-writing-blindness?), but I was pretty amused that this was the TV writers' choice to first indicate something was very, very wrong!

One day, maybe, the great Dr House will be glimpsed perusing a copy of The White Road and Other Stories. Even if he flings it away in disgust or throws it at 13's head, I would be happy. An authoress can but dream...

Sunday, March 08, 2009

A Strange place to find myself

I never thought it would come to this, but I actually wandered the streets with my laptop searching for WiFi to steal! As you might surmise, I found it, and am now sitting on the Poperinge pavement, my back against the glass front of the pharmacy on the town square (closed on Sundays), listening to the church bells and ignoring odd looks from the passing Belgian townsfolk. Do people not sit on pavements with their laptops in small Belgian towns? Surely it must happen more and more.

I just got asked directions from some suitcase-wheeling tourists, who wanted to go to the one place I actually know around here, so I am useful, at least! Others are staring at me. Well, let them stare. I must blog.

So, Thursday was intense. I got a book, Sebastian Barry's A Long Long Way, out of the local library's very small English-language section (which has three copies of Joyce's Ulysses, bizarrely) not realising it was actually about Irish soldiers stationed right here in Flanders in WWI. The book is stunning, the writing is beautiful, it is the kind of book you stay up late with a torch under the covers (or the light on if you're a grown-up) because you can't put it down. I became immersed in the story of the hero Willie Dun, a short Irish boy, 19 years' old, who is one of the few from his regiment to survive most of the 4 years of the war. Barry doesn't stint on harrowing descriptions of the horrors, including mustard gas attacks and the like.

I took the book with me on Thursday to Ypres (or Ieper, as it is called round here), the medieval city which was the site of very heavy WWI fighting and was set alight by the Germans. And I sat, having a coffee, in a tea house on the main square, reading about Willie Dun, who can see Ypres from where he is posted, and then looking up from my book to see the funfair they were setting up. I was quite distraught by the incongruity of it all, nearly crying into my coffee. I was there in 2009, and also back in 1917.

When I went to the Flanders War Museum on the town square, I found the graphic nature of the exhibits to be far to much for me to take. Frankly, it bordered on gruesome, the odd recreation of gas attacks. As I was making my way through the first section I heard the sort of enormous BOOM that in Jerusalem would have us all shaking and turning on the radio to find out what had blown up. I soon discovered that this had issued from the room of the museum which "re-created" the experience of making your way through No Man's Land.

No. Not for me.

I avoided it, still shaking, and headed out. The museum shop sold T-shirts. T-shirts???

I waited for the bus, struck by the thought that there is no-one left alive who fought in WWI, or who was around to tell of it. Gone. I had only had a vague idea of the sheer enormity of deaths, but reading Barry's fantastic book and coming here has really given me a greater sense of it. I am not sure what I will do with this new knowledge, except to grieve that nothing has changed since, unless you count improved killing machines and methods for mass destruction.

Friday saw a change in pace as an innocent tuna salad left me throwing up all night. That slowed me down. Today I walked around the Talbot House musem, which has very moving fragments from the letters of British soldiers in the war, and also a reconstruction of the entertainment they used to put on at the House to give them a break from the horrors. Once again, very stirring.

I am off back to London tomorrow, it will be strange to return to the immense hustle and bustle. I am glad I came here, I am sure it will swirl around inside me and something will filter through into my writing. We will see.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

PS One more competition deadline

Today has been a long and intense one, and I will blog about it at some point, but in the meantime, one more comp:

March 30th: Short FICTION Third Annual New Writer competition: Prize is £300 plus publication in Issue 3 of Short FICTION (due out September 2009). Writers without fiction book publication (of novel or short stories) are eligible. Entries must be of previously unpublished work (in magazine or online). Submitted stories must be under 5000 words. There is no theme restriction.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

I Love Ghent & Free Book Giveaway

Yes, Ghent is fabulous and not because it seems to have a chocolate-shop-to-person ratio of 1:1, but because it has a coffee shop with Free WiFi!

Yay, back to my own keyboard, back to Google and Facebook not in Flemish (that was tough). I came here for the day, and despite the persistent drizzle, had a lovely wander in the older part of town, which has, of course, been overtaken by MacDonalds et al, but still retains great charm.

Unfortunately, the anxiety I have been suffering from for the past few months at home, related to the thyroid and hormone fluctuations, has followed me here. It means, as a very wise friend told me, that where before I may have felt a tiny amount of anxiety in, say, a new place, now that the anxiety "tap" has been loosened, that same situation releases a flood of it. It's strange and uncomfortable, but being online and doing the things I am used to doing definitely helps calm me. I am sure it will pass, as I get the hormonal and glandular stuff under control.

A quick, highly scientific observation from three days in Belgium: all the people, almost without exception, are skinny. Not slim, skinny. And there are chocolates everywhere. Conclusion: chocolate makes you thin. You heard it here first.

Ok, enough about chocolate. A big shout out to my lovely friend Susan who has done The White Road and Other Stories the great honour of being the first book in her monthly giveaways on Typescript, her beautiful new site and blog. I will quote one of the lovely things she says about me (!); "I first met Tania in November at a writers’ retreat in France, having since since enjoyed her friendship even from across an ocean. She’s wonderfully warm, creative, and talented, and it was a pleasure to get to know her, share this experience, and read her stories." All true, yes sirree. So, if you don't yet have a copy of my book - and if you're reading this blog and you don't, well shame on you!! - then head over there and you could win a free copy. (Pierre - another one for your collection??!)

I thought I might remind you - and nudge myself -about some imminently upcoming deadlines, just in case.

March 6th: Symphony Space Selected Shorts: 600 words, "a single short story that contains a surprise", win $1000 will be read as part of the Selected Shorts performance at Symphony Space on May 20, 2009. Online entry. $10.

March 20th: Fish One-Page Short Competition: 300 words, win €1000, nine runners-up €50, publication in Fish anthology. Online entry. €12.

March 31st: 10th Raymond Carver Short Story Comp: 6000 words, "a single short story that contains a surprise", win $1000, $750, $500, 2 Editor's Choice prizes $250, publication in Carvezine. Online entry. $15.

March 31st: Press 53 Flash 750 words, short short 1500 words, short 5000 (see site for other categories). previously published pieces are accepted. Win glass trophy and publication in anthology. Online entry. $15.

March 31st: Bristol Short Story Prize 3000 words. Win £500, £300, £250 (plus Waterstone's gift cards), 17 runners-up receive £50, publication in annnual prize anthology. "We also welcome stories in any style- graphic, verse, genre-based, etc., etc." Online entry. £7.

March 31st: Jane Austen Short Story Award 2000-2500 words, inspired by Jane Austen or her writing. Win £1000, 2 runners-up £200, all three win week's writing retreat at Chawton House, 15 shortlisted win £40, publication in annual prize anthology. " Postal entry. £10.
I may just have a very slimming cake now. Research. Purely research.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Coming to you live from Belgium

It is with great difficulty that I type this - not because of any physical impairment, but because the keyboard in the local library here in the Belgian town of Poperinge has moved the keys around. "A" is in the top left corner, "M" is off the right)hand side, the full stop requires you to press "shift", as do the numbers. It is slowing me down considerably so this will be short.


(How is that for short?)

I am here to take up the prize I won in last year's Biscuit Publishing Flash Fiction competition (this year's deadline is April 30th) a week at Talbot House, set up during World War I as a haven for British soldiers amidst the carnage and misery, an "Everyman's Club", a sanctuary. The house has been beautifully preserved and now guests can come and sleep in the bedrooms which used to house the soldiers. I am extremely fortunate to be in the General's Bedroom:

"The smallest room of the House (6 feet by 4) held just one bed. But this bed, however, was beyond compare: throughout the war we had one pair of sheets
that belonged to it by right (though one sheet must be in the wash)."

The beds are new, as are the sheets, (and the bathrooms!!) but apart from that, it is like being allowed into a museum or stately home and told to run around, touch everything, use everything. Each bedroom has one of those museum-type explanation signs outside it, and this afternoon, as I was resting from my excursion into town this morning I heard a tour group outside read it aloud and then try the handle. But the General's Bedroom, is all mine for this week!

There is a mult-denominational chapel in the attic which caused a flutter in my chest as I ascended the steep ladder-like stairs into it yesterday, a very sacred space I look forward to sitting in, and a museum, as well as a garden kept as it was so many years ago.

I was warmly welcomed by the current English-speaking warden; Steve, and his 12-year-old daughter and able assistant, Zoe, and immediately knew I was a world away from my miserable and freezing so-called "retreat" experience in France in November where the first thing I was given was a ten-page document of Do's and Don'ts - mostly Don'ts. Here, in this place which you might imagine there is fear that objects could be damaged, the only rule is "What to do in event of a fire". They even invite you to play the original piano in the dining room. This is a living, creative space, not something preserved behind glass, and it is all the more wonderful for it.

The town has a large number of chip shops and cafes, as well as some swanky boutiques (GUESS handbags: mmm) and much hand-made chocolate I am attempting to resist, clutching my quinoa bought in the local and well-stocked health food shop! We will see how long my resistance lasts.

I am not one who likes to read about war, to visit war memorials ant the like, finding today's conflicts enough for me to process, but Talbot House isn't about war, it seems to be about cameraderie, compassion, tranquility. I hope to imbibe much of this during my week here. I will share my pictures next week when I get back to crazy, frenzied WiFi-crowded London. For the moment, this quiet corner of the library, the challenging keyboard and chips with mayonnaise are just fine.