er… thanks

Actually I’m a bit embarrassed by how kind and congratulatory people have been about the Bridport shortlist thingy. I was rather excited about it, it’s true. But in the cold light of day I see that all I really did was lose a competition and I’m not sure that this deserves as much praise as I’ve got. Although it is nice. Very nice. Thank you, nice people.

It has all made me think a bit, though. I think it was about 8 years ago that I wrote my first short story. By which I mean, a story that I drafted, revised, edited, completed, won a competition with and finally sold. (It was made into a short film – not a very good one.) Eight years is not that long, in writing terms. And a lot of that time I spent not really writing, or even trying to write. So, to put all this in perspective, I’m still just a beginner.

But I’m ready to start getting really serious now. What that means in terms of how I organise and plan my writing life, I’m not quite sure yet. But I’m feeling steely and determined, which will probably help me work it out.

the joy of being a loser

So, there’s this major writing competition called the Bridport Prize. It happens every year, there are huge prizes, and the standard is absolutely immense. Thousands of writers, both established and emerging, enter. This year there were over 6000 entrants. I was one of them.

Guess what? I didn’t win.

But I found out yesterday that I did get shortlisted! For some reason, they don’t tell entrants they’ve been shortlisted until after they’ve told the winners/runners-up that they’ve won/run-up. That’s probably a good thing in my case, as I would now be very disappointed to find out I had lost – as it is, I get the joy of knowing I was close. I have no idea how close – I guess there could be hundreds on the shortlist. But I don’t care about that. It means my story was of a high enough standard to be seriously considered. And I am well chuffed about that!

The Bridport Prize is the one competition I’ve had my eye on since I started writing seriously. This is a big deal. Here’s to next year!

 

stuff and things

Wrote 400 words of a new short story yesterday. (Go me!)

After the thoughtful discussions here and on facebook yesterday about settings in fiction, I found myself having a very clear idea of when and where these new characters were. It’s interesting to remind myself that the very fact of writing about a place adds an element of fiction to a realistic setting. This can play out in lots of ways. For example, in my story ‘A Rose is Rose’, I had the same setting twice – once as a fictionalised version of a real place, and then as a highly stylised fictionalised version of the same place, where the added fictional elements came from the imagination of the character in the ‘realistic’ setting.

Setting is endlessly interesting and, in my opinion, central to storytelling of all kinds.

I am currently reading ‘Baba Yaga Laid an Egg’, by Dubravka Ugrešić, which is not as good as I want it to be. But maybe I’m being a bit unfair – I’m waiting for my copy of 1Q84 to arrive, which I think is going to be awesome, and  I’m just passing time with this book until it arrives.

Am still lurgified. Dog is depressed because of the fireworks every night. I’m thinking about buying an early bird membership for WFC 2013 in Brighton.  Going to try to get a bit further with my new story today.

Until tomorrow, then!

 

the daily george

I’ve decided that it would be a cool challenge for me to blog every day between now and the end of the year. The aim is to blog about what I’m writing and reading, of course – but inevitably there will be detours into dog-walking, alcohol, work and other adventures. I can’t help it. Be patient with me – I am finding my blogging feet.

Yesterday when walking the dog, I saw a cat sitting halfway up a tree. I don’t think it was stuck. It seemed to be perched there, trying to work out what the hell to do next. Luckily the dog didn’t notice it, and therefore did not try to chase it down and destroy it with loving chews. I hope that it has found its way home now.

It made me wonder: what is the best pet for a writer? Most writers I talk to have cats. They love their cats, post pictures of their cats making allegedly funny faces, ascribe to their cats all sorts of mysterious intelligence and clearly love them a lot. In fact, it’s tempting to believe that without a cat, you will never be a real writer.

Now, I’ve got nothing against cats. Oh, apart from their inherent EVIL, that is. (Torturing birds, biting the heads off rabbits, looking snooty…) But I think that a dog is the perfect pet for a writer. They are intelligent, peaceful, playful, always willing to listen, and they get you out of the house on a regular basis. This is important: writers who stay indoors all day long and don’t take long, leafy perambulations end up starved of inspiration. We need to go outside. A lot. Dogs make this happen.

Didn’t get as far as I wanted to yesterday with the new short story, so I’m going to turn off the internet and try to finish a first draft today. In the meantime, you can argue about whether cats or dogs are the best pets. (Clue: the answer is ‘dogs’.)

a confession

I don’t know how to tell you this, but… I’m not writing a novel.

I know, I know. I’ve led you on terribly.

The truth is, I’m writing THREE novels.

I don’t know how I got into this mess. First, it was just the one novel, and I was totally devoted to it, but halfway through I got this feeling I just couldn’t ignore, and I had to go off and write something else. That novel, I finished the first draft of. But as soon as I had finished it, I started drafting out an idea for a totally different novel, and now that one has seized my imagination fully.

I’ve been such a fool!

When I write short stories, I usually have at least five or six stories on the go at once, each in a different stage of development. So I suppose I’m doing the same thing with these novels. IT IS SCARIER WITH NOVELS. Three novels = a hell of a lot of work. I keep trying to make myself choose between them, but that leads to despair and deep confusion. I think I have to write them all.

Somehow.

Meanwhile, I have decided to spend the day writing something completely different – a new short story. I have no ideas or inspiration for it, but I believe that if I sit quietly at my desk for long enough, the story will come to me. Let’s hope so, anyway.

convent geometry

My story, Convent Geometry, is published in Ideomancer this month.

I’m very happy to have a story in Ideomancer – it’s a great magazine that has published many, many fantastic stories, including this one by my fellow writing group member, Ilan Lerman.

Perhaps it isn’t the done thing to say so, but I really love this story of mine.  Obviously it has its faults, but there is something compelling, to me, about the characters and setting. After writing it (which I did over the course of about a year) I did a lot of research about the characters and their world, and about sacred geometry, with the vague idea that there might be room for a novel here. But in retrospect, I think I just wanted to live in their world a little bit longer. (I don’t recommend doing the research for a story after you’ve written the story, by the way. I suspect there’s a better method. :))

There are three women in the story, each of whom speaks to me quite clearly. I love Nocturna, and feel that she loses so much. She is not such a nice person – she is controlling, rigid, jealous – but she is innocent, and very simple in her wants. And Lumiere just wants to be free: she has a genius for geometry, and she is forced to use her talent any way she can, even though it ends up being so destructive. Then there is Joan, who is so damaged, so unprepared to find beauty and wonder in the world. I don’t know why they are so important to me. Perhaps they represent three battling elements of myself. Maybe it’s just the power of three – in sacred geometry, three is the number that creates the universe.

I don’t know. Some stories just live. That’s a good feeling, to write a story like that.

five writers with teeth and claws

A few years ago, I became scared that I was losing my lifelong passion for reading. So many mediocre books! So many bad ones…  I threw ‘Atonement’ across the room in disgust. ‘After Dark’ was a yawn fest. ‘Her Fearful Symmetry’ made me sick with disappointment. It was a dark time in my reading life. I felt that I was falling out of love with the world.

But then I came across these incredible writers, who reached out their claws and ripped out my heart. Monsters. I love them.

1. Kelly Link

If you don’t read Kelly Link, you are missing out on something wonderful. She writes the best short stories in the world.  I discovered Kelly Link at a very strange time in my life. I was trying to write a story called ‘Magic for Beginners’ – a terrible story that had nothing going for it except that great title. One afternoon I wandered into Waterstones where there was a display table full of a book called ‘Magic for Beginners’ by Kelly Link. I felt the swift punch of fate to my solar plexus. Then I opened the book and started reading a story about a witch who gives birth to a house, and my life changed forever. It’s no exaggeration to say that Kelly Link taught me what a story could be – that it could be so much bigger and stranger than I had ever dared.

2. Rikki Ducornet

Before I read ‘The Butcher’s Tales’, I had no idea that anyone wrote the strange, very short, macabre vignettes that I had been trying to write myself for the past few years. Hers are brilliant little slices of flesh, still bloody, on a white plate. I went on to read her novels, of which ‘Netsuke’ and ‘Gazelle’ are particularly wonderful. Her writing is a knife to the heart. She sees everything. Be very afraid.

3. Kaaron Warren

Dark, dark, dark – they all go into the dark. Not quite sure how Kaaron Warren creates such spectacularly creepy stories that are still utterly involving and engaging. Her novels are diverse in subject matter and setting, but all share the disturbing ability to draw you in, and take you to places you never really wanted to go, but can’t bear to walk away from. Her novel ‘Slights’ has one of the most disturbed/disturbing main characters I’ve ever come across, and yet it is one of the most compelling stories I’ve read. I fear Kaaron Warren may have sold her soul to the devil to pay for her incredible storytelling ability.

4. Rachel Pollack

Many writers attempt to create new fairytales and myths. None, in my opinion, are as successful as Rachel Pollack. Her work as a Tarot reader informs her writing in many strange and unexpected ways. ‘The Tarot of Perfection’ is a collection of beautiful short stories that take the reader deep below the surface of things to explore the secret mysteries of the subconscious. Unmissable.

5. Greer Gilman

No one writes like Greer Gilman. No one else dares. ‘Cloud and Ashes’ is an extraordinary, beautiful book that has drawn comparisons with Shakespeare and James Joyce, amongst others. Read it. That is all.