Posts Tagged ‘literature’

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!

SUE'S COVERI was initially surprised when I heard that two of my talented online friends, Bee and Mark, were to collaborate on a novel, as I knew them both to be strong-willed with very definite opinions about almost everything. However, as I watched the partnership and the characters develop, I realised the adversaries they were writing actually benefitted from their occasional confrontations and the result is a very different and satisfying thriller with two strong voices. I am proud to have had a small input as a beta reader and look forward to the sequel and the thrills and spills I know will be forthcoming, both on and off the page!

Now that Kill Them Twice is published and the dust has settled, I thought it would be fun to hear their candid answers to some questions about the experience.

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Q – How did the collaboration come about and have either of you done anything similar before?

Bee – Mark and I have critiqued and edited each other’s work for quite some time. We have very similar opinions on what makes a book really work. When I sent him the two opening chapters of Kill Them Twice – first person voice of the protagonist and third person voice of the antagonist – I mentioned how although I thought I’d made a pretty good fist of the latter I’d found it hard going. Alice, aka Halo, may be a killer with an unusual moral code but she is great fun to write and at that time fun was what I was looking for. When Mark said he’d be interested in taking on the evil angst of Shard I was keen to give it a go. In the past I have co-authored non-fiction and biographies but collaborating on a novel is very different.

Mark – I’m a strong believer in learning from constructive criticism and have benefited from both online and face-to-face critique groups over the past few years. Bee impressed me with her incisive approach and I knew she could flat out write. Her suggestion that I might pick up the voice of Shard in Kill Them Twice sufficiently flattered me into taking the bait. I’d never co-written a novel before.

Q How exactly did the process of co-authoring work?

Bee – You can’t write a novel by committee. The Kill Them Twice concept and characters were mine so I steered the ship. Obviously as we progressed there was much discussion about exactly where we were going and in general we arrived at mutually acceptable decisions. We began by taking it in turns to write our chapters but this proved to be a frustratingly slow process so instead we established what needed to be covered, wrote simultaneously and then cleared up any overlaps or gaps before moving on.

Mark – It was an interesting experience for me to play Elizabeth Swann to Bee’s Jack Sparrow as she captained the plot through the Seven Seas. I’m used to being at the helm and I’ve had a problem with authority figures throughout my half-century. Also I’m a “pantser” and don’t like to work to a well-defined plot line as I find it can stymie creativity. Our ping-pong of chapter by chapter edits was very enlightening. It soon reached an equilibrium where we could each anticipate the parts the other would have problems with, and sometimes we set a booby trap or two just to test each other. Bee has a small network of high quality beta readers and they were drip-fed each chapter too, resulting in a work-in-progress so shiny we could see our faces in it. John Goldsmith was one of those beta readers and his review of Kill Them Twice reflects the high level of enthusiasm that we enjoyed in the process.

Q – Did it go smoothly?

Bee – No, not all the time. Expecting it to would have been unrealistic. I think I can safely say there were times when we wanted to kill each other. Twice.

Mark – Yes, it went very smoothly all the time. Whatever Bee says, I’m the one who should be believed. Okay, the truth. We actually became our characters, Halo and Shard. Bee attempted to snipe at me from a safe distance. I was always trying to lure her into the danger zone for deadly hand-to-hand combat (or at least an arm wrestle). It was particularly difficult in chapters where my impulsive creativity had gone beyond the brief and pushed the good ship Kill Them Twice off-course. Bee was the one holding the map and I only managed the occasional glance at it, in-between me – I mean, Shard – brutally murdering his victims. So I did tend to digress and sometimes had to be escorted back into charted territory. But we’re both still alive, which is something I suppose.

Q – What were the positives and negatives of your collaboration?

Bee – Overall it was a positive experience so I’ll get the few negatives out of the way first. I write full time and have no children. Mark has a ‘proper’ job in senior management plus two school-age children. I failed to accurately factor in the extent to which these commitments would impact on the time available for our project. I rather think he did too. I knew from the outset exactly the tone I wanted for the book but it took some time to convey this to Mark resulting – at least early on – in me regularly bouncing his chapters back to him which, not surprisingly, didn’t always go down well. So for me the downside was frustratingly slow progress and achieving a shared vision.

Writing can be a lonely business so having someone equally involved and enthusiastic about the project is a big plus. When we hit problems with issues such as plot holes and logistics two minds were definitely better than one, and the resulting brainstorming often provided new and exciting ways forward. Then there were the lovely moments when Mark’s chapter arrived and he’d introduced a great new angle to the plot or insight into his character.

Finally, being a lazy person it’s much less daunting only having to write half a book!

Mark – The biggest negative for me was that I only had a limited amount of creative writing energy, and Kill Them Twice absorbed all that for a considerable time. Bee didn’t always appreciate or accept the constraints of my day job and family life, and I wasn’t going to compromise on the many hours that I invest in my beloved karate (as it keeps me sane). I didn’t produce any other writing under my pen name for the duration and I neglected the readership I had built. It was a struggle initially to find the Shard voice that Bee was looking for and some of that early back and forth on edits was quite excruciating. Writing to someone else’s prescription can be a strange experience. Sometimes several days are invested in a chapter only for it to end up rejected. Other times a few furious hours’ work can hit the spot first time.

On the positive side, the entire experience has greatly improved the standard of my writing. Before Kill Them Twice I was snuggled down in my comfort zone of quirky first person narrative with a constant vein of dark humour. That’s not everyone’s cup of tea and my earlier novels are always going to be niche. The deep third person of Shard and his humourless take on life and death have helped me broaden my range. I now feel much more confident about writing for a commercial audience.

Q – Would you do it again?

Bee – Had that question been posed as I wrote the closing sentences of Kill Them Twice my reply would have referenced when hell freezes over, but time has dimmed the memory of the pain and I’m left with pride and pleasure in what we achieved. Rather like childbirth.

The Author Collaboration Agreement for Vanquish, the next in the series due to be published in 2016, does however include clauses forbidding us to ever meet in person again and for all disputes to be settled by virtual arm-wrestling. I can take him. I can.

Mark – As an old hand at karate I’m used to pain. I thrive on it. So yes to doing it again. Writing Vanquish is different from Kill Them Twice in that both plot and writing are collaborative this time. That may lead to fewer or more disputes, I don’t know, but the result will be another great read. I won’t be drawn on the arm-wrestling except that it’s futile to describe an unreachable goal. Rock paper scissors would be a better method of conflict resolution.

Kill Them Twice is available at the following outlets:

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Google Play

iTunes

Kobo

Bee Eveleigh-Bell’s work has been published internationally and in several languages. She is based in South West France.
 
Mark Turner lives in rural Ireland. His short stories have been published in a number of anthologies and he has penned full-length works of fiction and non-fiction.

Are we mad?

The floodgates are open again for one week from today for your fabulous flash fictions, culminating in a special issue of the journal to run throughout National Flash Fiction Day, on Saturday June 27th. Send your stories on any subject, any style, any length up to five hundred words, and make sure it’s your best work because it may be in the running for inclusion in a future FlashFlood printed anthology! Not to mention the 190,000+ readers the journal has attracted so far…

The team has recently reread all the stories from the first three issues of the FlashFlood Journal and whittled them down to around seventy for the very first FF anthology and it was one of the most difficult challenges to date. The flashes were all brilliant, otherwise we wouldn’t have chosen them in the first place! So it really does represent the best in flash fiction. The book should be available within the next week and I’ll post a link when I have one.

So beat your ideas into shape and then follow the submission guidelines – remember, no attachments, please. We’ll look forward to reading a rich variety of work over the next few days. Please spread the word.

Good luck!


I haven’t done much in the way of submissions recently because (drum roll) I have been busy writing new stories. They’re all short (some only 140 characters) but are new stories nevertheless and that gives me great satisfaction.

wpid-fine-linen.jpg.jpegSo I was thrilled to hear that my submission to Fine Linen, a new Literary Fiction magazine, had been successful. ‘Dressing Up’ is a flash fiction of which I am particularly proud and started as an opening sentence that popped into my mind and wouldn’t leave, as with most of my successful stories. It is a gift that arrives apparently out of the blue and I count myself exceptionally lucky to receive it now and again.

Fine Linen Magazine is a curious and original ‘pack’. It consists of several parts, including an A5 magazine containing half the stories and an A3 full colour fold-up broadsheet with the remainder. There is also a little factsheet, a suggested reading order, a mini-bookmark displaying ten-word biographies of the issue’s contributors and another linen one.  It’s lovely but I’m not sure what to do with it! My other printed pieces are in conventional magazines and anthologies which can be casually(!) displayed on the coffee table or retrieved easily from shelves. Unfortunately, I think Fine Linen will remain in its envelope to keep the elements together and stop them getting dog-eared, which is a bit sad, especially because a remarkable coincidence occurred in this issue.

Fine Linen is based in the US and yet two of this quarter’s contributors (myself and Simon Kewin) live fifty yards from one another in a tiny English hamlet! As the list of selected stories numbers only fifteen out of hundreds of submissions, we were astonished to find ourselves back-to-back in the broadsheet. I’d like to think it was because I’ve trained Simon so well but, alas, he has a good many years of publishing successes on me!

You can subscribe to Fine Linen by following the link.

I was also delighted to be approached by the Editor of a new online Literary Fiction magazine, The Writing Garden, for permission to print ‘Decorated Hands’, which she found on Readwave, in her third issue. This is a story I wrote over ten years ago after sitting opposite a woman with decorated hands on a train following the death of my mother. Everything that happened around that time is still very clear in my mind and the story I wrote, though having nothing to do with death, has a great deal to do with loss. It is a story that has had many lives in print and online and I am so pleased it continues to travel independently.

And finally, please get your submissions in to National Flash Fiction Day’s micro competition (100 words) and anthology (500 words) by midnight on May 15th. I have nothing to do with the judging of either of these but you will recognise the names of all this year’s judges if you follow the flashing scene. I’ve got my three hundred-worders in but am still mulling over the theme of ‘Geography’ for the anthology. With only a week to go, I’d better get cracking, and so had you! Please use the links to spread the word.

Cheerio for now, Sue.

bookmuseFFoF Front Cover 2014Just a quick update, if anyone’s interested. Last Sunday I read my 300-word story, Care, at the launch of the Worcester LitFest Flash Anthology, Fifty Flashes of Fiction, and was thrilled to find that two of my flashes had been longlisted and included! The other was In Living Memory, which was previously shortlisted in Flash500.

Despite the complimentary glass of wine I was very nervous and black spots started to appear on the page as I was reading. It was a good job I knew it by heart! It was a good event and I was very impressed by the standard of writing and reading. It was also nice to meet some writers I had met before, and a couple with whom I had communicated on social media. I also have another nice book to add to my collection.

I had not really intended to enter the Words with Jam Spoof Genre Competition but the afternoon before the deadline an idea popped into my head, which I wrote down and sent off with no thought of winning, since my usual style is to agonise for weeks over a single word or phrase. Anyway, I didn’t win, but was a runner-up, which meant my crime spoof, The Pot Thickens, was included in the Bookmuse Journal, and a lovely little book it is too.

So that’s about it for now. I hope to get back to hosting Guest Blogs in the New Year, so if anyone has something interesting to say on a personal writery theme, please get in touch.

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.