listen_with_mother2-229x300Some of you (though perhaps not very many) will remember this introduction to Listen with Mother on the BBC Light Programme back in the 1950s. Listening to stories on the radio, at bedtime and in the classroom, was (and probably still is) an introduction to literature long before we read it for ourselves. We learned how to sit still and focus; how to imagine ourselves in another world; how to suspend our disbelief.

I can still remember the frustration I felt looking at a storybook and being unable to decipher the letters. So each night, when my father read me the latest installment of Rupert Bear in the Daily Express, I insisted on studying the words so that I could match them to what he was saying. Soon I could tell if he was trying to cut corners and read the short verse instead of the much longer prose! These experiences translated into an insatiable appetite for fiction, long and short. But for reading, not writing. That came much later.

Although I speak the words aloud when I write (and often suggest to writers whose work I am critiquing that they do this to check the dialogue, sentence structure and clarity) the idea of reading to an audience was unthinkable for many years. All my life I have shied away from public speaking (which rather scuppered my early political ambitions) and always insisted in being on the production side of school plays because, although I knew how a role should be played, nerves would have strangled the words before they ever came near to being spoken.

So it was with great trepidation that I agreed to read my prize-winning flash fiction Mother’s Pride at a flash slam on National Flash Fiction Day in Oxford two years ago. The closer the date drew, the more nervous I became and every day I had to force myself not to pull out. But my husband came along for support, there were a couple of faces I knew from the internet, and everyone was very friendly. They were also, I realised with relief, at least as nervous as me. So I sank a glass of red wine and got the job done, and it was fine – even quite good! I can’t tell you how proud I felt when other experienced readers told me they would never have known it was my first time.

My second public reading wasn’t such a success. It was at the first meeting of Southville Writers, in a Bristol pub, and the background noise made it impossible for me to tell whether I was speaking loudly enough. Turns out I wasn’t! No one had any idea what my story was about until they read it afterwards.

My third venture was last Saturday in the Bristol Foyles, at an event organised by Southville Writers and Bristol Women Writers, where a mixture of poetry and prose was read over a five hour period. It was great to hear poetry read by the poet not in that monotonous, dreary way it is so often presented (think of Roger McGough on Poetry Please). This was real and vibrant and the writers knew exactly how to get the best out of it. I learned some valuable lessons about pacing, expression and delivery during those few readings, which I was able to use a short time later.

There were long breaks in between sections for chat and I had fun catching up with a couple of regular live performers I had met before, whose names (Pauline Masurel and Kevlin Henney) invariably crop up on shortlists and as winners of short fiction competitions. By the time my name was called I wasn’t too jittery, despite the large coffee. It went well, although I had a last-minute panic over differentiating between three separate voices, even though I’d practised and practised. I more or less pulled it off without stumbling and this time I knew everyone could hear because I had a microphone!

Again, the feeling of achievement was immense and I am now looking forward to my next performance – a reading of my 300-word story, Care – at the launch of the Worcestershire LitFest Flash Fiction 2014 Anthology in November, with much less fear. I’m hoping it gets easier every time, but I have a feeling I’ll always be grateful for a swift glass of wine beforehand.

As a listening experience, I can’t recommend live readings too highly. I find that hearing the words the way the author intended gives an extra depth to the story or poem and recreates that feeling of being immersed in another world that Listen with Mother gave us. In an age when it is all too easy to skim the surface of experience on social media, electronic games, film and television, this is a real treat. Please, if you see an event near you, do go along and support the writers. I guarantee you’ll be glad you did!

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If you have any tips or tricks for live performance, I’d be very glad to hear them. Please leave a comment below.

 

My humorous flash, The Farcebook Guide to Pregnancy and Childbirth, made the long list of Flash500 this quarter but not the short – my first submission not to do so. It isn’t deep or moving, it’s just a bit of fun, but I hope it gives you an idea of my views on social media. Don’t get me wrong, I use Facebook and Twitter, but I do think they encourage narcissism and superficiality in a world that doesn’t need any more of that. And don’t get me started on ‘selfies’…

Anyway, I hope it gives you a bit of a chuckle this fine Monday morning. You can read it here. All comments welcome.

eatingcoverfrontmedEdge of Passion E book 1000x1500This week I received not one but two paperback anthologies, each containing one of my stories, both of which I am extraordinarily proud to be a part of. The first is Edge of Passion, a Crime, Mystery and Suspense Romance collection, to which I was invited as a guest writer with one of my Strid stories, Two of a Kind. The other, Eating My Words, is National Flash Fiction Day’s 2014 selection of fifty flash stories, and includes The Bedroom Tax, my satire on this government’s morally bankrupt plan for saving money. Both of these are available in kindle and paper formats. While it’s lovely being published in either form, there’s nothing quite like holding a real book with your name in it. Especially when it’s among writers whose work you have long admired!

I am also delighted to be Alfie Dog’s featured writer for the next two weeks. Alfie Dog publishes in several downloadable formats and there’s something for everyone, so please pop along and have a read. If you fancy an unusual and entertaining insight into the red-light district of Coventry in the 1970s, try Footprints. It’s not what you think.

Otherwise, things are fairly quiet. We are hoping to move house this year so our energies are divided at the moment. However, when it’s all done, I will certainly have plenty more story-making material. You meet some very strange people…

Have a lovely weekend!

 

BSE2013Some years ago when self-publishing ebooks was still new, I decided to give it a go. I’d wasted years sending novels out to agents and publishers and getting nowhere. I’d had short stories published in magazines and anthologies and some articles and poetry accepted but, apart from one book (The Man with the Horn) which was taken on by a small press, my novels never managed to find homes. Though agents said they liked my writing and often made suggestions for commercialising them, none of them was willing to take me on. I watched my life slipping away while my books languished unread.

Venturing into the ebook market changed all that. I now have readers – not huge numbers but better than none – and I get some small recompense for my literary efforts.

Formatting and publishing ebooks involved a learning curve but fortunately for me, not a steep one. I already knew the basics of using Word and how to layout documents; I knew a fair bit of HTML and I had a general grounding in IT. Formatting the ebooks still required a little trial and error but I soon learned by my mistakes. Before long I was up and running and checking my sales every five minutes.

In those early days I did my own proofreading – something I also do for others – and since I had a basic understanding of Photoshop and design, I created my own covers. Indeed, I did everything myself from writing the book to banking the US cheques. (Amazon now pays directly into a bank account, so at least that bit of faffing about has gone.) I was confident enough in my ability to offer to assist other people in getting their ebooks published.

So, if I was managing by myself, why did I decide to join an author collective?

I had been sending my new book – Delirium: The Rimbaud Delusion – out to agents but again I had no luck in getting anyone to sign me up.  Hoping this would be my breakthrough novel, as I felt it was the best work I had done so far, I longed to see it in paperback format not just digital. I wanted to possess the real artefact to hold in my hands and caress.

Self-publishing a paperback is both easier and harder now than it used to be. Easier because the processes become more and more user-friendly as time goes on; harder because the marketplace is swamped, the Amazon algorithms are less favourable to independent authors (unless you first sell vast amounts of books), and it’s a struggle to make the book visible to readers. There is also still some stigma attached to self-publishing actual books – I believe this is because sometimes those books are not well made, not vetted in any way for mistakes and the covers look homemade. The thought of producing a paperback all on my own was daunting.

Enter Triskele Books.

I already knew the women who set up Triskele (JJ Marsh, Liza Perrat, Jane Dixon Smith, Catriona Troth, Gillian Hamer) virtually from online writing groups and I went on to meet them at a couple of their book launches. I knew their writing and they knew mine. They had produced some excellent books housed in droolworthy covers. By the time they broached the subject of my joining them, I had already decided to approach them. We came together at exactly the right moment.

Joining Triskele Books meant I no longer had to do everything myself. The cover of Delirium: The Rimbaud Delusion has been created by Jane Dixon Smith (herself a Triskele founder, writer and professional designer), the proofreading has been done by Perry Iles of Chamberproof, and I’ve had input, advice and encouragement from other members of the group.

Mistakes in an ebook can easily be rectified: typos and formatting can be put right; a bad cover can be changed for a better one. When it’s a physical book though, any overlooked errors are there until the next printing and are often costly to correct.

coverIf I had tried to do everything myself the final product would not have been as polished as it is going to be. When going it alone there is always the temptation to cut corners. Any cover I might have designed would not have been as sleek and professional as the one Jane has created. Left to my own devices I would not have sent the manuscript off for a final proofread – and it would have been the worse for it. I would not have made the cuts and rearrangements which were suggested by members of the team.

Triskele has its own website, blog, bookclub, Facebook and Twitter pages and, because there are several people involved, a wider reach when it comes to gaining readers. Their books look highly professional and can stand alongside traditionally published books with their heads high. There is quality control regarding both form and content – they lend their name only to books that are well written and that ultimately look great.

I’ve always been a loner and, like Groucho Marx, wouldn’t want to belong to any club that would have me as a member, but in the Triskele collective I believe I have found a group of like-minded writers. The collective is composed of talented individuals who have come together to create a greater whole.

I am honoured to be among them.

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Delirium: The Rimbaud Delusion, a novel about a woman’s search for a missing manuscript and subsequen disorientation, will be available as an ebook in August/Sept 2014. The paperback will be available shortly thereafter. The Man with the Horn, a novel based on the myth of Dionysos, is being re-edited and will be available as an ebook soonFor more information visit Barbara Scott Emmett’s blog or follow her on Twitter @BSE_Writer.

Don’t Look Down, a thriller set in Germany, The Land Beyond Goodbye, a novel set in the Australian outback and Drowning: Four Short Stories are all available as ebooks.

 

eatingcoverfrontmedI really enjoyed my day as a selecting editor and found myself accepting a larger percentage than usual. I suspect this is because people have had much more practice at writing flash fiction than when we started FlashFlood in 2012 and the standard is generally higher. However, the majority of submissions were of the dead babies, dying spouse, thwarted love variety and there wasn’t as much humour as one might hope. The tragic stories also tend to be more well-written than the more light-hearted ones – possibly because they are written from the heart. But we have tried for a good balance of styles and subject matter so there is something for everyone. We do hope you enjoy reading them!

My story, A Matter of Taste, will be up sometime after 9am. Interestingly, during my stint as editor, a story with the same title and remarkably similar subject matter turned up in my Inbox! As this story has already been published in last year’s Twisted Tales and is also on Ether Books as One Man’s Meat, it set alarm bells ringing. I’d prefer to think it’s not a copycat but simply great minds thinking alike!

I am also thrilled to report that my flash fiction The Bedroom Tax was one of fifty selected for this year’s National Flash Fiction Day anthology, Eating My Words. I shall be rubbing shoulders with some of the best flashers in the game. You can find it now on Amazon in ebook and paperback format.

There are many NFFD events around the country in celebration of flash fiction. Last year I went to the one in Bristol, which was great fun and a chance to hear well-known and gifted flashers reading their work. There wasn’t a dead baby in sight and I laughed my socks off.

However you spend National Flash Fiction Day, have a good one!

 

TwitteravatarIn celebration of National Flash Fiction Day on June 21st, FlashFlood has opened the gates for submissions and will be closing them again at midnight Thursday 19th June. Please send your brilliant flashes, maximum 500 words (no minimum), as outlined on the blogspot journal. There are no prizes, just the satisfaction of being selected by our rather picky team of editors and the joy of being read across the globe. Please read the guidelines – no attachments will be considered.

We’re looking forward to reading your stories!

 

 

 

Resized cover imageA lot of the people who know me have no idea that I’m a writer. I’ve always felt self-conscious about that label, because you need to be able to back it up; otherwise you’re just a bit of a weird fantasist. Or a romancer, as my grandmother would have said – meaning someone who makes up stories, which I suppose describes me fairly well. But right now I am holding in my hands an actual book, with my name on the cover, along with those of nine other talented women. Though I say it myself, My Baby Shot Me Down is an object of beauty. It includes both prose and poetry; some of it by far more accomplished writers than me. But if you type my name into an Amazon search, up it pops. It includes six of my short stories. So maybe I’ve earned the right to call myself a writer.

People tend to be impressed when you show them an actual book. My favourite response so far is ‘What are you doing in there?’ People who know me are pleased, excited, proud, and sometimes, to be honest, a little puzzled, because they thought I was just a rather odd person who gave up a secure, well-paid teaching job and ended up working part time for minimum wage and volunteering in a charity shop. Which is all true, but not the whole story. Anyway, my name is Alison Wassell, and I am a writer.

And then, inevitably, The Question is asked.

When are you going to write a novel?’ I wonder if, as Usain Bolt crosses the finishing line, anyone ever says

That’s nice dear, but when are you going to run the marathon?’

My name is Alison Wassell and I am a short story writer. I am not a wannabe novelist. I don’t view short stories as practice for something bigger. They are what I do, and my only ambition is to do them better.

DIGITAL CAMERAI almost got sucked in once. Several years ago, I registered for Nanowrimo. The idea is that, throughout the month of November, you attempt to write the first draft of a novel. The target is, I think, 50.000 words. I lasted about a week, and I wrote around 8000 words. I began to dread my writing sessions. I ran out of plot. But my head started to burst with ideas for short stories that I was desperate to write. That was when I realised that I was not a novelist, and that I had no desire to be one. The following November I set myself the target of writing a new story every day for 30 days. It was one of the best writerly things I’ve ever done. Several of those stories ended up as competition winners. I’m actually still working on some of the others.

Five of my stories in the anthology are flash fictions. It’s what I do best. I don’t do lengthy descriptions and I don’t do intricate plotting. I just like to capture a moment, or a single idea. I get most of my ideas from snippets of overheard conversations on buses. I once won £50 for a story based on something the cashier in the Co-op told me when I was buying cat litter. I think a piece of flash fiction is closer to a poem than any other form of writing. You can compose it in your head during a thirty minute walk. By the time you put pen to paper, it can be almost word perfect. I know this, because I do it, most mornings, on my way to work.

So, as a writer, I am a sprinter, not a marathon runner. Anyone who knows me personally will be smirking now, because I won’t even run to catch a bus, but I still like the analogy, so I’m sticking with it.

I’m well aware that short story writing will never make me rich. But for the last couple of years it has paid my fuel bills, mainly in competition winnings. I could have spent that time beavering away at ‘my novel’, with little or no hope of it ever being published. But I’d have needed a lot of extra jumpers to keep me warm while I was doing it.

DIGITAL CAMERAI don’t regard the short story as a lesser form. Alice Munro is my heroine. I prefer William Trevor’s short stories to his novels, and I believe that Dubliners is the best thing that James Joyce ever wrote. I’m thrilled to have my work included in My Baby Shot Me Down, because I can’t imagine anywhere else that would offer me such a fantastic showcase. But please don’t ask me when my novel will be coming out. My name is Alison Wassell, and my ambition is to be a better short story writer.

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Alison is short story writer who specialises in flash fiction. Once a primary school teacher, she has won, been placed and shortlisted in numerous writing competitions, including 2nd place in Flash 500 (first quarter 2013) and first prize in the microfiction section of The New Writer Prose & Poetry Prizes 2012 with I Blame The Parents, which is included in My Baby Shot Me Down. By the way, Tania Hershman came third in that competition!  Her story The Mother Thief was placed third out of 1400 entries in the Final Chapters writing competition, organized by the Dying Matters Coalition in 2012, and was published in the Final Chapters Anthology (Jessica Kingsley Publishers) in 2014. In 2012 Alison came second in the 250 word category and third in the 1000 words category of the Words With Jam Bigger Short Story Competition. Her stories were published in the anthology An Earthless Melting Pot. In 2013 she came second in the 2500 words category of the same competition and was a runner up in the 250 words section.

I told you she was top!