Posts Tagged ‘award’

I admit it – I have neglected this blog quite shamefully and it is almost exactly a year since my last post. Having our house on the market for two years and attempting to keep both house and large country garden under control for viewings took much of my time. But the main reason for not posting was that I had run out of things to say about writing and the writers’ condition. The online writing sites that I have used for the last twelve years or so have fallen into what can only be described as the doldrums and I have perceived a general lack of enthusiasm for giving and receiving feedback in this remote fashion.

That is not to say people aren’t being busy and successful! On the positive side, many members of my favourite site have now been published or have agents and potential publishing deals, so the process of online reviews has clearly been working well. I have had a few small successes of my own, including several shortlistings in Flash500, acceptance of a story into Twisted Tales 2016 and – tarantara – I won the Worcestershire Literary Festival’s Flash Fiction competition, with another story shortlisted. So that was nice! Sadly, the announcement was made at the launch of the Festival and, since I couldn’t be there because of moving house, one of the judges had to read my winning story. But there you go. I’ll be reading both stories at the launch of the anthology on Sunday 20th November, all being well.

The reason for posting now is that I have joined an actual live writing group in my small town and thought it was an opportunity to share this new experience. It’s a five-minute walk to the weekly venue so I have no excuse for not turning up, apart from family commitments, disasters and holidays. I have only been to one meeting so far because of the first of these, but I did do the homework, which is limited to 500 words on each occasion. I had also done the homework for my first meeting: to write a love scene.

My first thought on the subject was – AAARRRGGGHHH! I would never put myself in the position of writing such a thing, especially if it were to contain sex. I don’t enjoy reading sex scenes and I can’t imagine the horror of writing one. But when I had calmed down, I realised that a love scene needn’t contain sex and that many of my very short stories are love scenes of one sort or another. So I wrote a new one and read it aloud when my turn came around. It went down well, with hoots of laughter in all the right places, along with a collective groan at one intentionally sickly bit and even a tear from one member at the end. Who could ask for more? I also got some useful feedback, which I have used to tighten it up for submission to Flash500.

I was very impressed by the general standard of writing – and reading – within the group and all the feedback was pertinent and kindly given. Having become used to somewhat more brutal treatment via online groups, this made a refreshing change. But I do want the truth, 100% of the time. Anything else is of little use, but I must be careful how I phrase any criticisms. Coming from Yorkshire, this isn’t really in my DNA…

So my first experience of the writing group was overwhelmingly positive. My only problem arose during the usual end-of-session five-minute writing challenge. The topic was ‘a message to a particular member who is sick’ and could take any form. The fact that I had never met this person shouldn’t have been the barrier it became, but my mind went completely blank and I didn’t write a single word. The others managed some very entertaining, irreverent and poignant poems and prose and I felt really stupid for not producing anything.

This failure probably wouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who knows how I work. I’m not a jotter or drafter. If I have an idea for a story, I let it grow and develop in my mind until it is either forgotten or emerges fully formed and largely edited after a period of days, weeks or even months. I am extremely intimidated by the idea of writing ‘on-the-spot’, especially when everyone else gets their heads down and starts scribbling. It’s my recurrent exam nightmare all over again! When my turn to ‘show’ came round, I explained my predicament and was met with understanding and reassurance. Somebody said that the group is a safe place in which to try things out and no one should be anxious about any perceived failure, because it is about having a go and gradually building confidence. I hope I fare better on Thursday when the next challenge is set but if I don’t, I’m not going to beat myself up. I’ve managed three lots of homework on a given topic, something that is normally outside my ‘comfort zone’ – note the inverted commas, because the latest assignment is a maximum of 500 words using as many cliches as we can squeeze in. I’m not sure how this exercise benefits our writing but I’ve done it anyway. So I am already stretching myself a little further than usual and if the only benefit to my writing is that I achieve the odd submittable piece, it will be a good result.

I ought also to mention that it is lovely to meet new people and to share an experience, doing something at which we all want to improve. So no minuses, really. It gets me out of the house and away from the computer for a couple of hours and I heartily recommend it. So far…

Watch this space.

If you have any experiences of writing groups you’d like to share, please post a comment. Go on – scare me!

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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.

***

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

A WEEKLY INCENTIVE TO WRITE

Jo Publicity PhotoI find one of the hardest things about being a writer is getting started. By that I mean putting pen to paper or words into a blank document. In my experience, once I type the first line I’m away and all is well. Opening that blank document and starting to type is the problem. That’s why the Write-Invite Competition, Write On Site was perfect for me for a couple of years .

On its website, Write Invite describes itself as ‘in a nutshell a literary open mic’. Their Write On Site Competition runs every Saturday from 5.30pm until 6.30pm. You are required to join as a member, then once the countdown reaches 17.30, you are given three themes and required to check the terms and conditions box, then pay the £4 entry fee via Paypal. It’s possible to buy credits in advance, which is advisable, as it speeds up the whole process. Once you’ve paid, a text box appears and you begin typing your story, which you have to submit by 18.00. Your words are automatically saved at intervals during the thirty minute period.

I remember my first attempt at the Write On Site Competition very clearly. I was very much on edge and worried I wouldn’t get a complete story written in the thirty minutes. When I had a mere five minutes left before having to submit, I was shaking and breaking out in a sweat. Talk about an adrenalin rush! The sense of relief when you hit the ‘Submit’ button and see your story as ‘Pending’ is enormous! However, rest assured that each time you enter, it gets easier and you are able to produce more and more words in the time limit (particularly if, like me, you are a 60wpm touch typist!).

So, are there any hints and tips to make the Write On Site experience less traumatic?

Firstly, I recommend having a glass of your favourite alcoholic beverage to hand. This frees up the sub-conscious and helps you ignore your internal editor/critic.

Secondly, write from the heart and don’t worry about the market or genre. Simply immerse yourself in the words. Remember, it is supposed to be an enjoyable experience!

Thirdly, it helps enormously to have your notebook next to you as you write. Like most writers, I regularly go out and about with my notebook, writing down images, experiences, snatches of conversation and ideas. If you don’t do this, I highly recommend it. Sit down on a park bench, in a café, somewhere overlooking a beauty spot or bit of coastline and write down your observations.

A few minutes before Write On Site begins, I flick through the pages of my notebook and pick out a few images or phrases. Often I use one as the first line of my story. I’m the kind of writer to whom setting is very important, so my first line is often a piece of imagery, which places the reader firmly at the scene. This gets round the problem of staring at the blank page wondering how on earth you’re going to begin.

It also helps to have an idea in mind before you’ve even seen the themes. For example, I might spend a bit of time in the hour leading up to Write On Site thinking about the sort of relationship I want to write about. For example, ‘today I think I’ll explore the relationship between a father and his gay son’. Or I may choose one of the ideas in my notebook and fit it to one of the three themes. That way you’re not going in totally ‘cold’.

Once you’ve written that first sentence, you need to forget it’s a timed competition and immerse yourself in the writing. Lose yourself in the story. However, do keep an eye on the time. When you have about ten minutes left, you need to start winding down the story and think of an ending. Try not to end the piece too abruptly. Maybe have a closing image in mind before you begin writing in those crucial preparation stages.

I don’t usually think up a title until the last five minutes or so. Try to think of something quirky to capture the judge’s imagination. I find this one of the most difficult aspects of Write On Site, because at this stage you’re up against it time-wise. I never prepare titles in advance, as I think it’s very dependent on the theme.

Try to allow yourself enough time to edit. There have been many weeks when I haven’t had time to edit my story, but these days I find I don’t need to, as there are very few, if any, mistakes. This sounds arrogant, but it comes with practice. One of my early ‘tics’ was to slip into the past tense when I’d started in the present (particularly if there was a flashback scene) or vice versa. Some people may sub-consciously switch viewpoint. We all have bad habits. Another one is putting in too many weakening words like ‘just’ or ‘quite’. These are minor points that the Write Invite judges will happily overlook provided you’ve written a memorable piece.

Remember that Write On Site is a bit of fun. It’s not meant to be tortuous! Everyone is in the same boat in that they are all under pressure to produce a story in the thirty minutes. The story and/or idea is the most important thing and spelling mistakes and typos, for example, can be forgiven.

For me, Write On Site is all about producing a new piece of writing to hone and polish at a later date. I have been fortunate in that many of my entries have been in the Top Three, including my first ever attempt, which came third that particular week back in August 2011. I’ve been lucky enough to win the £50 prize on several occasions. Most writers will receive a short write-up of their story when the top three shortlisted stories are announced on the following Wednesday evening. This provides much needed feedback and encouragement. Some stories are ‘Also read’ (ie. they don’t receive a write-up), but don’t be put off. I know writers whose ‘also read’ stories have gone on to be published or win other competitions after a bit of a polish.

If you enter Write On Site regularly, then it will increase your productivity no end. In 2011 I entered 15 times, 43 times in 2012 and 29 times in 2013. That’s 87 new stories or potential stories to work on. I’d never have written so many without this weekly incentive. I have won the £50 prize seven times so from a financial point of view I don’t necessarily come out on top, although one of the stories I wrote for Write On Site has made me £200 so far. What was more important to me was the competition gave me the incentive to write something new. I came to look forward to my appointment with the computer on Saturday evenings and to the Wednesday afternoon ‘results email’. It is also fun to read the top three stories each week and vote for your favourite.

I’ve now taken a break from Write On Site, as I wasn’t getting so excited about doing it anymore and wanted to focus on my novel. Some weeks I miss it, but I have the option of joining in again whenever I want to.

So, what’s stopping you taking the plunge? Write On Site, although nerve-wracking at first, is a most rewarding experience.

You can read some of my winning Write On Site stories here. Just click my name to read:

On Good Authority, Dancing Girls, Surfer Boy, Alopecia and A Stray Dog, Skin and Bone and Tilly’s Tale.

***

Twisted SheetsJo Derrick has just published her first collection of short stories from 1997 to the present as an e-book on Amazon Kindle, entitled Twisted Sheets.  Twisted Sheets is a bold exploration of love, loss and longing. Some of the stories started life on Write On Site!

Jo has been writing seriously since 1990 and has numerous short stories and articles published in a wide range of publications, including Mslexia, Writers’ Forum, Woman’s Weekly Fiction Special, Take A Break’s Fiction Feast, Upstart!, Peninsular, Buzzwords, The Whittaker Prize Anthology and many more. Jo is the editor/publisher of The Yellow Room Magazine, a print journal for women writers and former publisher of QWF Magazine. She is working on a psychological crime novel.

This week I had the pleasure of choosing a winning story from the seven shortlisted entries in Southville Writers’ first open competition. Having just submitted some hundred-word stories to a comp myself, I was eager to see what others could do in so few words. The only stipulation was that an aspect of Bristol must be mentioned somewhere along the way.

I was impressed by all the stories, particularly by the strong sense of history that permeated most of them. Although I take part in the selection of flash fiction for NFFD’s Flash Flood, this is the first time I have had to choose one story over another and, let me tell you, it isn’t easy! However, one story stood out immediately and kept its place during many subsequent readings. Those that seemed quite light — almost abstract — at first, revealed more depths and insights with each visit.

I have permission to post the winning story and the runner-up with my comments. If you’d like to read my thoughts on all the shortlisted pieces, please visit Southville Writers’ website. Congratulations to Ali and Pauline and many thanks for letting me post your great little stories on my blog!

FROM THE ARNOLFINI by Ali Bacon

The yellow boat called Blackbird beaks its way through chill and choppy waters. The crew are raw and clumsy, rowing for dear life. Crowds on the quay look once and turn away, expecting more than this as entertainment.

Watching from five floors up, we are warm, remote, content to chart its progress.

‘Look, boat,’ says the toddler on my lap.

‘Its name is Blackbird.’

‘No, yellow boat,’ he says.

A scuff of wind, a missed stroke, a wobble that goes way beyond correction.

Excitement at last.

‘Look, look! Yellow blackbird drowning.’

***

My comment:  this was the story that made me want to punch the air and shout, ‘Yes!’ From the moment the Blackbird ‘beaks’ through the water, I knew I was in safe hands. In a few words, the writer conveyed a place, an event, a relationship, the human condition, humour and pathos. The winner – I couldn’t ask for more!

Ali Bacon lives in South Gloucestershire where she reads, writes and reviews on http://alibacon.com. When she isn’t writing she knocks a small white ball round a golf course and makes strictly unserious attempts at ballroom dancing. Her debut novel A Kettle of Fish is a roller-coaster family drama set in Scotland. E-book and paperback from Amazon. A Kettle of Fish on Facebook Ali on Twitter @AliBacon

EXPECTING THE MOON TO TANGO by Pauline Masurel

“Come doon y’daft wee hinnie and dance with me!”

He brandishes the rose. She beams serenely down from lofty height. Her silvery-blue skirts shine bright against dim expectations of the sky. He shakes off his donkey jacket, slips fleetly across Castle Green, smooching frost-spangled silence in the crook of his arm.

One of these nights she will though, you can tell. She gazes longingly at dented snow. She’d love to dance, really she would, and after a sniff or two of whisky he’s the only man alive who knows her secret.

“Don’t be shy lassie,” he croons, “I’ll nae tell.”

***

My comment: I loved this story, for the sharply visual nature of the writing and a peep inside the imagination of a joyful drunk. This was my runner-up because, although I enjoyed the beautifully rendered Scottish dialect, a more local accent would have placed the piece more firmly in the area.

Pauline Masurel lives in the rural borderlands of Bristol. She is a gardener who writes short and very short fiction. She often performs her work in the Bristol and Bath areas. There’s more about her writing on her website http://www.unfurling.net and you can find her on Twitter @unfurlingnet.

If anyone is based in the Bristol area and would like to join the group, visit their website or pop along to one of their very friendly events. There’s one coming up on 16th April and yours truly will be there.

Fame at last!

Posted: December 21, 2012 in News
Tags: , , , ,

bloggerI have been nominated for my first ever blogging award – The Very Inspiring Blogger – by Vikki over at The View Outside, so many thanks for that! I must admit I feel an absolute fraud because I do so little blogging on my own account – my aim with this blog was to showcase some of my writing, to post the occasional piece of news and to bribe other writers to give their personal perspective and experiences, which I hope have been interesting, inspiring and entertaining.

Now I have to give seven facts about myself and nominate seven other inspiring bloggers. So here goes…

My seven facts (no one said they had to be interesting):

1. I have been vegetarian for over twenty five years for ethical reasons.

2. Bruce Springsteen once chatted me up when I was working on the bar at Hammersmith Odeon. I hadn’t heard him or seen him in action at that point and didn’t like his woolly hat so I didn’t encourage him…

3. My favourite film is Don’t Look Now with Fargo a close second.

4. I have never worn lipstick. The greasy mouth-print of someone else’s on a glass gives me the heebie-jeebies.

5. I enjoy swing dancing (jive, lindy hop and balboa) at least a couple of times a week.

6. I can’t stand the smell or taste of goat’s cheese, which is a bit of a bugger as a vegetarian.

7. My favourite song is La Mer by Charles Trenet, the original recording. I can’t explain how I feel when I hear it but no other song comes close.

So now that you know me really well, perhaps we could do lunch? Clean glasses and no goat’s cheese, please.

My seven inspiring bloggers are:

1. Larry Brooks at Storyfix.com

2. Tony at Finding Subjects

3. Jill Marsh

4. Lynley Stace at bloggity blog blog

5. Marc Nash at Sulci Collective

6. Simon Kewin at Spellmaking

7. Calum Kerr at The Unmitigated Audacity of Calum Kerr

There are so many more inspiring bloggers out there, I’m sorry I couldn’t squeeze them all in, but I hope you enjoy the ones above.

And finally, I wish you all a Merry Christmas and Happy Blogging in 2013!

On Thursday night I received an award at the first Ether Books Awards! Unfortunately I wasn’t able to get to the London ceremony, but it sounds as though it was a great evening with headaches the next day to prove it. I am delighted that The Beast Next Door has proved so popular with the e-reading public and hope it encourages readers to download some of my other stories via the free Ether App. Reality TV has also been in the top five paid downloads over the last few weeks, so please pop along and have a read.

Other news. I finally received a copy of Yorkshire Ridings Magazine in which my thousand-word murder/mystery story has been published. Unusually for me, I didn’t read the story wishing I could change at least one word in every sentence, so I have to report that I am pleased with it, especially not having written in that genre before. You can read the story here. Disregard the stray inverted comma at the beginning – it isn’t in my original document.

My other story that features The Strid is still getting around 70 visits a week because of the article a few months ago on Cracked.com about places most likely to murder you. It’s a fascinating article and The Strid came in third, so I feel justified in being haunted by it all my life.

The film of The Beast Next Door has now been cast and will go into production in the autumn, so that’s exciting too.  All this and Andy Murray in the Wimbledon Final as well! My cup overfloweth.

But now I must find a space in my trophy cabinet for my lovely Ether Award and instruct the downstairs maid to lick it clean every morning.

Good luck for tomorrow, Andy! I’ll be watching from behind the sofa.

Travelling backwards –
and taking your readers with you

When you write about the distant past, you’re aiming to take your reader somewhere neither of you have ever been. You’ll need to be both a convincing liar and an engaging one. How do you combine historical authenticity with storytelling that feels fresh and true? How do you avoid getting bogged down in period detail?

When I embarked on my own novel, I realised early on that I needed to know a lot more than I did about a whole host of things: the Luftwaffe, Kindertransports, musical life in Dublin, the physical fabric of pre-war Berlin. I went for total immersion; at my lowest point I could have told you pretty much anything you wanted to know about a Heinkel He-111. When I started to write, though, it was dead on the page.

I put the whole project to one side. When I came back to it a few years later, something strange had happened. The research seemed to have evened itself out, and all those insistent details clamouring for inclusion had piped down. This time, I wrote from the heart. I started with universals – jeopardy, betrayal, isolation, exile, hope, desire – the things that always feel the same. I tried to tell a truthful story and not to worry about the barrier of time between my characters and me. When I needed to know something, I checked it. If I found a little snippet that would light up a scene, I used it. Everything else, I threw away.

If I have any advice to give, it’s this: try to see things with a period eye. Don’t highlight things your character would take for granted as a means of shoehorning in your research. I was lucky to have Oskar capable of playing the role of the observant outsider. For him, everything about Ireland is odd, different. He notices the advertisements because he hasn’t a clue what Bovril is, or Bird’s, or why a trolley bus might have Gold Flake written on the side. Your characters are creatures of their time. Don’t give them your attitudes or the security of your vantage point. Remember that you stand in a privileged position because you know all about outcomes and have the benefit of moral hindsight. My characters don’t know who will win the war, if Ireland will be invaded and, if so, by whom. The tension between their ignorance and our knowledge is part of what differentiates historical fiction from other genres, at least some of the time.

You need to know the historical context, of course, but people living through a period don’t spend every moment reflecting on the great canvas on which their lives are painted. In your research, what you’re really looking for is texture. What did people eat? Were they cold? What did they fear and desire?

If you’re lucky, you’ll come across a detail that will take your breath away. Cherish it, but don’t smother the spark by trying to find out everything about it. If you let it work as an imaginative trigger, it will be much more potent. Let it find its own place in your fictional world. I came across a brownish mural in a bar in Northern France, a depiction of a very German-looking village. I’ve really no idea how it got to be there, but I decided I could use it in my own made-up way. Direct testimony is valuable for its emotional link to the past – a schoolgirl meets Hitler on a choir trip, a Luftwaffe crewmember swims in the Golfe de Morbihan on his day off, a refugee watches a small boy stretch his arm out towards the retreating coastline.

When dealing with research, absorb the facts, then liberate yourself from them. Your story must be plausible, but it need not be true. Know your period inside out, but don’t push your research at the readers ad nauseam. They want to lose themselves in the narrative, to forget that you’ve made it all up. Don’t keep dragging them back to Wikipedia. Remember that, whatever the period, human emotions were no different then than now, a daisy was still a daisy and milk turned sour.

Total immersion lends confidence to your writing, but you must be prepared to take imaginative leaps too. You can’t know everything. Hold tight to the things that don’t change, then close your eyes and jump! It’s fiction after all.

***

Annemarie Neary is the author of A Parachute in the Lime Tree, published by The History Press Ireland in March 2012. She is an award-winning short story writer and former lawyer. This is her first novel. Further information on Annemarie’s website.  To get updates on the historical background to the book, check out the book’s dedicated Facebook page.