Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Bristol: Stories, Books and Science!

Bristol is a really great city for things writing-related. First, you have SEVEN hours to get your entry in for this year's Bristol Short Story prize - deadline midnight tonight, UK time (British Summer Time, we just turned the clocks forward). Stories 3000 words maximum or much shorter (wow us in 1000 words, or even 300). Anonymously judged, of course. Open to any writer anywhere in the world!

To entice you, the prizes are: 1st-£500 plus £150 Waterstone’s Gift Card, 2nd -£350 plus £100 Waterstone’s Gift Card, 3rd -£200 plus £100 Waterstone’s Gift Card. Each of the 17 remaining shortlisted finalists will receive a cheque for £50. Not to be sniffed at! Enter now!

Second, 18 months after the book came out, I finally got to be a guest at a book club! Here is the wonderful Brislington Library Book Group, with my book (nicely plasticized in that way libraries do):

That was already a thrill, it really made me feel like a proper Author all over again. The book group, half of whose members are also in the library's writing group, were delightful, they were interested and interesting, asking questions and also sharing their thoughts about my stories, about writing in general, about books. They made me think about a lot of things - am I a romantic? Why do I go in for short story competitions? What is my next goal? And then, the biggest compliment - when they gave the library copies back, they bought 5 copies of my book to take home.

Chris from Bristol Libraries whisked my books off to the next library, where I'll be chatting in a few weeks, a few days after I read at the 40th birthday celebrations for another of Bristol's libraries, in Henleaze, a great honour. I love libraries, I can't quite get over the idea of free books. Not having that for the past 15 years, it's like walking into a sweet shop! Not that many short story collections on the shelves, but I recommended some other books to this book group and said I'd be happy to let them know about even more, and maybe a short story shelf?

Third, today was Science Day. I spent the afternoon with the members of a fascinating biochemistry lab at the University, being shown around the lab, with me asking silly questions about cells and microscopes, and also about how the life of a scientist works. It was so interesting, and I am going back at 10am tomorrow (yes, bit early for me) to watch an experiment. This is the start of my "embedding" and I will be blogging about it on the Science Faculty website shortly, will link from here. 3 1/2 hours was so much stimulation, my brain was whirring with ideas. I can't wait to see what comes out of it!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Short FICTION New Writer Competition

The deadline for Short FICTION's New Writer competition has been extended until April 30th so I thought I'd invite Tom Vowler to come and chat a little about it here and let you know why you should submit. I'd like to say that Short FICTION is an excellent literary magazine, I am always incredibly impressed by the quality and the range of what it publishes. OK, take it away Tom!

1. Who are you and what's all this New Writer comp stuff got to do with you? (sounds a little rude,eh?!)

Tom Vowler: I'm the Assistant Editor of Short FICTION, an annual literary journal now in its fourth year, published in south-west England. Each issue we run a competition for writers who have not had a book of fiction published. Why? Well, we're really excited about finding new voices, and launching them onto successful writing careers. There's nothing more thrilling than realising you're reading a wonderful story by an emerging writer.

2. What's Short FICTION all about?

TV: The journal has a strong visual edge, and features some of the best writing from around the world. Contributing editors include Ali Smith, Toby Litt and Gerard Donovan, but we love discovering new writers to feature along side these. Previous issues have included stories by Kevin Barry, Julian Gough, Ioan Grosan and Phillip Ó Ceallaigh. Each writer's work is beautifully illustrated and presented in their own bespoke chapbooks. Because we only come out once a year, all our energy goes into creating a wonderful journal, both to look at and to read.

3. Why should someone pay to enter the comp instead of just sending a regular submission?

TV: Well, there's £300 first prize, as well as publication. And we get about 600 general submissions in a reading cycle, so the competition usually offers a better chance of success. But there's nothing to stop you submitting to both. Also, we're looking for longer stories for general submissions this year (5,000 words and above) but there's no upper or lower word limit for the competition. The best reason, though, is entry is normally £5, but if you buy a copy of the next issue (normally £9.50) for £10, you can enter a story effectively for 50p.

So why enter or submit to competitions and literary journals? Well, it's a great way to judge where your writing is in relation to the best out there. And publication of this kind is often the first step to catching the eye of a literary agent or publisher, so it's a good idea to pick up as many of these as you can. And who knows: you might just have that stunning prize-winner sitting hidden in your drawer. Get it out, dust it down, and send it our way. We'd love to read it.

This year, we've just extended the deadline for entries until April 30th, so there are a few weeks to polish those stories. Stories must be previously unpublished. Check out our Facebook group ...And for a sample of the type of story we like, and the artwork that accompanies each, here's Kevin Barry's brilliant Rico Spoke, from an earlier issue:  Good luck.
Tom's writing blog is How to Write a Novel, and his first short story collection will be published by Salt later this year. So: do as the man says.... here's all the info you need to enter.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

What I love to read is not always the same as what I love to write

When I'm thinking about submitting a short story to a competition, I always try and find something the judge of the competition has written, as if that will give me an idea whether she or he will choose my story for glory! However, now that I'm honoured to be on the other "side" as one of the final judges for the Brit Awards (now closed), the Bristol Short Story Prize (get your entry in before March 31st!), and the sole judge reading all the entries for the Sean O'Faolain prize (just opened), I realised something: what I love to read is often very different from the sorts of things I love to write. I thought this might be useful for those of you who are entering.

I read a short story collection per month for review for The Short Review, and, after 2 1/2 years, I can see that if you look at my reviews, you would have a hard time pinpointing what exactly it is in a short story that thrills me. I have been bowled over by science fiction and thrilled by the highly experimental, deeply moved by realist stories, and blown away by tiny flash fictions and much longer stories. If you really want to get an idea of what I love to read, check out my latest review, of Janice Galloway's extraordinary and category-defying Collected Stories, and at the bottom is a list of all the reviews I have written.

So, to sum up: I can't sum up, and I am very glad about that. Yes, I love the very short, but I will also gladly be won over by a short story nudging the word limit if it justifies its length and each word is necessary. I am grabbed by characters with strong voices that jump off the page, but also by much quieter stories. Not much has to happen to impress me. It's not about plot. It's not about sudden twists, the dead rising, major revalations.

So, this is probably singularly unhelpful if you thought I might give you a hint as to what you "should" submit. My one criteria is this: I want to read a story that only you could write. All the story collections I have loved have struck me hard as being something that, yes, may have originally taken inspiration from previous greats, as we all do, but this author told their stories the only way they could. So here's my Great Advice: just send me a story only you could have written. No more and no less than that.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Writing and Place: Wena Poon - everywhere!

This is the first time I have done an interview for my Writing&Place series with someone I have  actually met in the real world! I met Wena Poon, who was born in Singapore and now lives in the US, at the Frank O'Connor International Short Story Festival in 2008 - what a great week that was. It was like short story summer camp, hanging out with Vanessa G, Carys Davies, Adam Marek, Alison McLeod, Wena and her husband, and so many more, and talking short stories! (I'll be there this year too, so do come! - I'll be announcing the winner of the Sean O'Faolain Short Story Competition - which, coincidentally, has just opened for entries!

Hearing Wena read from one of her short stories at the Festival was one of the most memorable experiences. This woman is funny! She has a talent for comedy, and for voices. She writes long short stories, which we will get onto later.

A little more about Wena. She is fluent in English, Mandarin, Cantonese and Teochew and "gets by" in French, her third language. She's a partner in a California law firm, and as well as her short story collections, Lions in Winter (published by Salt) and The Proper Care of Foxes, she designs and publishes her 7-volume literary sci fi series, Bibliophilia. Her short story is shortlisted for the 2010 Willesden Herald Short Story Competition.

Her most recent book is Alex y Robert, a novel set in Spain, California and Texas, and follows an American college girl who wants to become a Matador! The novel will be launched in England this summer. Take it away, Wena....!

1) Where are you?
I am now in Madrid.

2) How long have you been there?
Just for the weekend! Before training elsewhere in Spain.

3) What do you write?
Fiction, often episodic, often in the same universe. I wrote historical novels when I was a teen (you know, like fake Jane Eyre). I stopped because the contemporary world that we live in now is far more amazing. It would be a pity not to capture it.

4) How do you think where you are affects what you write about and how you write?
I currently live in Austin, Texas (long story). Compared to all of the major international cities I've lived in in my life, Austin is small and insular. The more I feel trapped in middle America, the more exotic the location of my stories.

Living in America as an Asian expatriate has shaped a lot of my work. Everything I write is intensely political. I make strong statements about people in the margins reclaiming their place in the center. So far, no reviewer has noticed. People see what they want to see.

There is not much to do in Austin (by my standards). The number of movies screening here is dismal compared to New York or LA. So I have to make my own "movies" to watch in the evenings. In the last couple of years, I have been writing as if I was shooting and cutting a film. Sentences are very short and clean; there is a lot of dialogue. I let the reader fill in the blanks. I like him or her to do some of the work because it's a joint emotional investment. The contemporary audience has amassed a huge vocabulary from literature and film. Often all you have to do is play a single note, they will fill in the rest of the chord. It's thrilling to hear it when they do.

I suppose if I was any good at it, I would be designing and playing interactive video games instead of writing fiction. But I suck at Halo.

5. You say your natural short story length is 7500 words and that it's not so much the length as the time and emotional commitment per story. What does this mean? And has it changed since you began writing stories? If so, then why? If not, then why not?

Terry Gilliam said that he believed there was a platonic essence of a story and that his job was to find it. I agree. A story is a form in a block of marble. I carve and I try to uncover the form. It is already pre-existing and complete.

When I first started, I wrote stories of all lengths. Recently, because I'm writing them for the same book, I notice that my stories have been around 7,500 words (give or take 200 words). That doesn't mean this is my standard length. The story decides its own word count. Sometimes it's just a poem. Sometimes it's a novel.
I see them as films that I am shooting. I need to spend a certain amount of time with the location and the characters. Rather than word count, I think of units of time, of emotional investment - both on my part and the reader's. When I write, I look at the scene and the actors, and I ask myself, how much do I need to show? After finishing each story, I am as convinced of it as a film I have just watched. Some people lament that a cinematic consciousness has permeated playwriting and novel-writing; I think that is for the best, because of modern attention spans.

At a literary festival last year, someone interviewed me and was shocked when I said I didn't see myself as writing "short stories". I majored in English Literature in college - that kind of awareness of form and genre I associate with an early part of my life. Now, I just shoot the story.

Wena, thank you so much. I love the concept of "shooting the story", I've been thinking about the parallels between cinema and short fiction ever since I read Story by Robert McKee, which is useful not just for screenwriters but for anyone telling stories in any medium. To read an excerpt from one of the stories in Lions in Winter, visit Salt. find out more about Wena and her many, many projects, visit  Read other Writing&Place guest posts and if you'd like to do one, wherever you are, drop me an email.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Blogging slowdown

I've lost the urge to blog. It's odd and I'd like to examine it. In a blog post. I wonder if Facebook and Twitter have caused this. I can express myself instantly and, if I want, get instant feedback. I can do it with 140 characters. I don't have to craft a blog post. There is definitely that.

Also, when I first started blogging, three people read my blog. Maybe. Now it's all a bit out of hand... so much so that the other day I noticed how stupidly crowded the right hand side of my blog was with SO MUCH INFORMATION. So I pared it down, got rid of some of the millions of links and blurbs about this and that. And now I feel a bit calmer. It feels a bit more like a blog and less like a mass advertising hoarding, a ME ME ME fest.

But still. I'm not enjoying the blogging when it comes to writing about me and my writing, my process etc... I'm posting a lot of interviews with other people, which is great. But a blog = "web log" = a log of some sort, a chart of progress, of daily/weekly changes. And I'm not logging any.

I'm boring myself here. Maybe it's because I don't really have anything to write about. Don't I? I am sifting through Southword submissions, hugely appreciating how many people take that courageous step of sending work out into the world to take its chances. I'm agonising over the 6 stories I have to pick - how only six, how? I'm a little nervous about judging the Bristol, Brit Words and Sean O'Faolain comps. How come I get to judge? And I'm trying to feel my way into this writer-in-residence at the Uni's Science Faculty.

That last is frightening and exciting. I had a great meet with two biologists today and think I may embed with their lab for a while. But what if... I don't write anything? What if... nothing comes? What if... they hate it?

I am reading an amazing new book called Art+Science Now by Stephen Wilson which has shown me how absolutely naive and ignorant I am about what is already going on in art/science collaboration. Amazing and inspiring art of all kinds from all spheres of science. This book, which doesn't include writers, has really opened my eyes, and has a wonderful resources section at the back. Loads of artists have spent time contemplating science, learning about it, learning from it, contributing to it. And here I thought I was inventing the wheel.

I guess I don't know how I fit in. Are there no writers here because science fiction sort of covers fiction+art+science? But I don't fit into science fiction. Where do I fit in? But surely the point of art is that it is done by those who don't fit in - that creates the friction, the innovation.

Well, this blog post took an interesting turn. Seems as though I am a little concerned about things. About all this newness. About how, if I am someone that others have asked to pass judgement on creativity, I am supposed to feel about feeling insecure about my own. I definitely want new challenges, I crave them, but at the same time, I flounder a little in the face of too many at one time. I would like someone to impose a framework - yet if they did I would probably fight against it. But then, don't we all need something to fight against?

I'm getting wonderful invitations all the time to do readings, to talk about short stories - in Bristol, Brighton, Bath, London, Birmingham... But there is that part of me that hasn't caught up with all this. It all seems to have happened so fast. First day at school, over and over. Yes, it's all good. It's all good. But sometimes, all good is the hardest to deal with.

Ok, that was a log of some sort. And I even feel better. Thanks for listening.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Cold cold cold

Ok, so England has a lot going for it - every week I am delighted to find an invitation in my Inbox asking me to read here or there, talk about short stories, eat cake. What more can a girl want? But it's COLD and I have my second cold in a month, just after having recovered from 3 weeks of flu. Feeling rotten.

The nice things are: two stories in this month's Climate issue of Litro. I've long wanted to crack this one, the literary mag that's distributed on the London underground, and in Cafe Rouge too, apparently! Let me know if you see it around. Feel free to leave a comment on the online version, if you are so moved.

Also: I'm reading at Short Fuse's Hair-themed event tonight  in Brighton, which I am so excited about. Luckily I'm reading Plaits, which is very short! For a sneak preview (or post-view), here's my reading it at the Frank O'Connor fest in sept 2008:

Instead of me moaning about my cold, which could go on and on, let me get excited about friends' achievements instead. Whoo hoo to Adam Marek, getting onto the shortlist for the £25,000 (yes, that's 000) Sunday Times EFG short story award! Kudos to the Sunday Times for several things:

1. They published a longlist of 20 stories, thus giving 14 writers a chance in the spotlight, not just the 6 who were shortlisted.
2. The longlist was a mix of Booker-Nominated Names and Real People - and the shortlist had no BNN, and almost all Real People so clearly this is a prize that, while not judged anonymously, was not just about using BNNs to publicise the prize.

Congrats to all the shortlist: Will Cohu, Joe Dunthorne, Petina Gappah, CK Stead and David Vann!

A Few Deadlines:

March 20th FISH One Page prize: 300 words.

March 30th Short FICTION's New Writer competition: open to writers who haven't published a collection of fiction. Any length short story is accepted.

***March 31st Bristol Short Story prize: 3000 words max, no min. I am one of the judges for this comp.

March 31st Commonwealth Broadcasting Association Short Story Competition: 600 words, general, or children's story or story about science, tech & society

March 31st Yellow room Short Story Competition: 2500 words, prize for best story under 800 words.

Friday, March 05, 2010

The Short Review March 2010... and more

Today's post is all about books...Firstly, have you bought 100 Stories for Haiti yet? Why not? It's a wonderful present, and it actually HELPS people.

The Short Review's March issue

Lest it be said we only review debut and contemporary authors, this month we review Willa Cather, Flannery O'Connor and Joseph Payne Brennan, all of whom published many collections and are no longer with us. Also: contemporary but no debut author, Janice Galloway's Collected Stories. We travel to Australia, New Zealand and America, back to the children of '68, explore what happens when fiction writers meet scientists, and bring you 101 short short stories/warnings about love.

Competitions: Many books to give away this month: Janice Galloway's Collected Stories, and 5 copies of Anthropology by Dan Rhodes plus one copy of his new novel

Congratulations to Short Review author Daniyal Mueenuddin, winner of this year's $20,000 Story Prize for his collection, In Other Rooms, Other Wonders. And to Sherman Alexie and Lorraine M. Lopez whose short story collections, War Dances and Homicide Survivors Picnic and Other Stories, are finalists for the 2010 Pen/Faulkner Award for Fiction, alongside novels by Lorrie Moore, Barbara Kingsolver and Colson Whitehead.

Third, it's your turn to tell the world what books you love: Peter, the fellow who runs the amazing Flashlight Worthy Book Recommendations, got in touch. He's making a concerted effort to increase the number of book lists in his Book Club Books category. Interested in writing a book list? Think you know a number of books that would appeal to book clubs? Get in touch with Peter at and he'll fill you in on the details.

Happy reading!

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Happy World Book Day! - buy this book! 100 Stories for Haiti

100 Stories for Haiti AVAILABLE NOW!

I am delighted to be included in 100 Stories for Haiti  - a unique collection of stories bound together by paper and glue and massive amounts of hope. This is no ordinary book. One morning a writer woke up and decided, "I must do something." Hundreds of talented authors worldwide sent him their stories and the result is an anthology that anyone can enjoy.
Proceeds go to helping the victims of the Haiti earthquake. 

So open this book and pick a page. There's nowhere to start and nowhere to finish. If you find one story, one page, one line entertaining: buy it. 
Bridge House Publishing:
Paperback: £11.99 + P&P
Preview Order
eBook: Reader sets the price!
Preview Order
100 Stories for Haiti is available in all good bookshops! 

  Amazon Waterstone's WHSmith Foyles Blackwell BUZZ about this book!

"Of course, while giving is, according to a recent scientific study, more pleasurable and healthy than receiving, it can become a bit burdensome after a while -- especially if you can't see the real time effects of your gifts. That's where this book comes in. The writers and publishers will do the actual giving, and you just have to buy a really great book which you would, of course, have rushed to buy anyway because of the sheer weight of unrefined awesome contained within its covers."

-- Nick Harkaway, best-selling author, The Gone Away World.

"HOOORAY!!! I can’t wait to buy this. WELL DONE GREG and everyone involved. Thank you Bridge House Publishing. Great news and definitely for a worthy, worthy cause."
-- Old Kitty,

" ... it's a crazy-global roster, from Harkaway to The White Road and Other Stories author Tania Hershman to Botswana writer Lauri Kubuitsile. And unless it’s a totally different Alasdair Stuart, then the host of Pseudopod is on there, too. With so many voices and styles, it should be an interesting read."
-- John Booth /

"... a brilliant idea!"
-- Billy O'Callaghan /

"Really fantastic project! Congratulations to all. Hope it’s a massive success!!"
-- John Peterborough

"Fantastic idea come to fruition. I wish I had known about it earlier – would have loved to contribute"
-- Christine Nedahl

"Sure you can’t make it 101 Stories for Haiti? And include my story? Just want to help, you know :) Good luck with the book."
-- Mala Kumar

"Secondly what a lovely idea this '100 stories for Haiti' is... a great way to raise money and spread a bit of hope."
-- Helen Seymour

"Congratulations on such a massive response. It’s a great thing you’re doing and can’t wait to purchase the end result."
-- Sarah /

"Congratulations to all involved. A massive undertaking, and a shining example of what people can achieve if they work together."
-- Bob Scotney /

"That's incredible, to get it all together so quickly! Will definitely buy it."
-- Niamh Griffin

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Excitement for Girl Author!

So you know how it is when you go and hear an author read, and then afterwards you go and queue, you buy their new book and take it to them to sign? Well tonight, I had the immense pleasure of not only receiving something from Famous Author, but also handing over a copy of The White Road to her!

Famous Author is Rebecca Goldstein, a wonderful American writer of science- and philosophy-inspired short stories and novels such as The Mind-Body Problem, who in 2006 awarded me 2nd prize in the Entelechy Journal's Biofiction contest for my story, My Name is Henry.  So, when it came to that wondrous and fairly stressful time for me to find endorsements (aka blurbs) for my own book, I thought, Well, she liked one story, maybe she'll like the rest?

Thankfully, she did, or anyway was incredibly generous enough to shower me with lovely words to put on the book:
"Tania Hershman's very short stories manage to pack the punch of fiction many times longer. Her strategy is highly original, consistently interesting, and astonishingly moving. Joining the impersonal facts of scientific research with our human fragility, complexity and tragedy, Hershman extracts poignancy out of the laws of nature."
I remember being very moved when she sent me that endorsement. So when I heard she was coming to Bristol, with her husband Steven Pinker, the rather Famous Scientist and Science Writer who I am also a great fan of, to talk about her new book, 36 Arguments for the Existence of God (a novel), my first thought was that I would be able to present her with a copy of my book to thank her in person.

The talk was very interesting, Steven was interviewing her, and oddly he wasn't actually introduced by the Bristol Festival of Ideas person, which was strange. But it was a very highbrow discussion about God, morality, religion, atheism, etc... And Rebecca read from the beginning of the book, her usual gorgeous mix of lyrical prose with extremely thought-provoking philosophical ideas. One of the characters in the book is apparently a maths prodigy, which, of course, thrills me even more! (I will be blogging on the Jewish Book Week blog shortly about Sunday's talk by celebrity mathematician Marcus do Sautoy - which made me go all wobbly with delight.)

I got a little nervous in the queue. How would I present myself? Rebecca had sent out a mass email to people announcing her new book - I'd been thrilled to be on that list - and so I had taken that chance to "warn" her that I'd be accosting her in Bristol. But still.... I clutched my slim little volume, and purchased her large, hardbacked one. James struck up a conversation with the woman from the publishers who was making sure no-one got too close... just to make sure I wouldn't be hustled away!

She was, of course, charming! Made out like she knew exactly who I was, was delighted to have the book, even said something about having something new to read... even though she's read the stories before. And then we walked home, me feeling all warm and fuzzy.

So thank you Rebecca Goldstein, for being so generous to a fledgling writer, taking the time to make me feel that I could do it too. And for writing wonderful books that keep on inspiring, the kind of books that, along with great stories, challenge readers and make us think, even make us look up words, rather than allowing our brains to atrophy. If you haven't read anything by her, you should rectify that at once. This Girl Author is going to bed happy.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Newsflash (it's a pun... wait for it...)

Yes, a terrible pun - but I am over at Nicola Morgan's superb blog, Help! I Need a Publisher, today talking about the joys of flash fiction. And if you pop along you get to read a delicious flash story by Nik Perring, and get a special discount on my collection, The White Road and Other Stories, should you need to stock up on many many copies! Who could ask for more? It's all here.

And talking of flash fiction, today's the deadline for the Binnacle's wonderful 150-word Ultra-Short Comp. Get those tiny entries in fast! It's free!

Blogsplash!! Fiona Robyn's Thaw

I am delighted to be taking part in Fiona Robyn's Blogsplash! for her new novel. Fiona is not only a great writer but she is a marketing whiz, doing all sorts of things to promote her books. Many publishers could learna thing or two from Fiona, let alone authors!!

Ruth's diary is the new novel by Fiona Robyn, called Thaw. She has decided to blog the novel in its entirety over the next few months, so you can read it for free. Ruth's first entry is below, and you can continue reading tomorrow here.

THAW: A Synopsis
Ruth is thirty two years old and doesn't know if she wants to be thirty three. Her meticulously-ordered lonely life as a microbiologist is starved of pleasure and devoid of meaning. She decides to give herself three months to decide whether or not to end her life, and we read her daily diary as she struggles to make sense of her past and grapples with the pain of the present. "Thaw" explores what makes any of our lives worth living. Can Red, the eccentric Russian artist Ruth commissions to paint her portrait, find a way to warm her frozen heart? 
Part 1
These hands are ninety-three years old. They belong to Charlotte Marie Bradley Miller. She was so frail that her grand-daughter had to carry her onto the set to take this photo. It's a close-up. Her emaciated arms emerge from the top corners of the photo and the background is black, maybe velvet, as if we're being protected from seeing the strings. One wrist rests on the other, and her fingers hang loose, close together, a pair of folded wings. And you can see her insides.
The bones of her knuckles bulge out of the skin, which sags like plastic that has melted in the sun and is dripping off her, wrinkling and folding. Her veins look as though they're stuck to the outside of her hands. They're a colour that's difficult to describe: blue, but also silver, green; her blood runs through them, close to the surface. The book says she died shortly after they took this picture. Did she even get to see it? Maybe it was the last beautiful thing she left in the world.
I'm trying to decide whether or not I want to carry on living. I'm giving myself three months of this journal to decide. You might think that sounds melodramatic, but I don't think I'm alone in wondering whether it's all worth it. I've seen the look in people's eyes. Stiff suits travelling to work, morning after morning, on the cramped and humid tube. Tarted-up girls and gangs of boys reeking of aftershave, reeling on the pavements on a Friday night, trying to mop up the dreariness of their week with one desperate, fake-happy night. I've heard the weary grief in my dad's voice.
So where do I start with all this? What do you want to know about me? I'm Ruth White, thirty-two years old, going on a hundred. I live alone with no boyfriend and no cat in a tiny flat in central London. In fact, I had a non-relationship with a man at work, Dan, for seven years. I'm sitting in my bedroom-cum-living room right now, looking up every so often at the thin rain slanting across a flat grey sky. I work in a city hospital lab as a microbiologist. My dad is an accountant and lives with his sensible second wife Julie, in a sensible second home. Mother finished dying when I was fourteen, three years after her first diagnosis. What else? What else is there?
Charlotte Marie Bradley Miller. I looked at her hands for twelve minutes. It was odd describing what I was seeing in words. Usually the picture just sits inside my head and I swish it around like tasting wine. I have huge books all over my flat; books you have to take in both hands to lift. I've had the photo habit for years. Mother bought me my first book, black and white landscapes by Ansel Adams. When she got really ill, I used to take it to bed with me and look at it for hours, concentrating on the huge trees, the still water, the never-ending skies. I suppose it helped me think about something other than what was happening. I learned to focus on one photo at a time rather than flicking from scene to scene in search of something to hold me. If I concentrate, then everything stands still. Although I use them to escape the world, I also think they bring me closer to it. I've still got that book. When I take it out, I handle the pages as though they might flake into dust.
Mother used to write a journal. When I was small, I sat by her bed in the early mornings on a hard chair and looked at her face as her pen spat out sentences in short bursts. I imagined what she might have been writing about; princesses dressed in star-patterned silk, talking horses, adventures with pirates. More likely she was writing about what she was going to cook for dinner and how irritating Dad's snoring was.
I've always wanted to write my own journal, and this is my chance. Maybe my last chance. The idea is that every night for three months, I'll take one of these heavy sheets of pure white paper, rough under my fingertips, and fill it up on both sides. If my suicide note is nearly a hundred pages long, then no-one can accuse me of not thinking it through. No-one can say; 'It makes no sense; she was a polite, cheerful girl, had everything to live for', before adding that I did keep myself to myself. It'll all be here. I'm using a silver fountain pen with purple ink. A bit flamboyant for me, I know. I need these idiosyncratic rituals; they hold things in place. Like the way I make tea, squeezing the tea-bag three times, the exact amount of milk, seven stirs. My writing is small and neat; I'm striping the paper. I'm near the bottom of the page now. Only ninety-one more days to go before I'm allowed to make my decision. That's it for today. It's begun.
Continue reading tomorrow here...

Wishing Fiona the best of luck with Thaw!