Sunday, 27 June 2010

CARROTS, STICKS, ETC

I love Adam Marek’s writing, and here he shares some motivational tools every writer needs.

Friday, 25 June 2010

AND THE WINNER IS...


The stories in the longlist were all wonderful, so we’ve decided to announce the winner and two runners-up rather than slim to a shortlist.


Winner: ‘The Underwater Room’ – Jill Widner

Runners-up: ‘Salt Man’ – Jo Cannon / ‘The Pilgrims and the Half Good’ – Louis Malloy


Thanks again to all who entered. Please keep sending us your best work. If you want to know what we look for in a story, you can buy the current issue of Short FICTION here. And Issue 4, complete with Jill’s story in its own chapbook, will be out in the autumn.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

ONES TO WATCH?

Hands up if you like lists. Thought so. The Telegraph has named Britain’s best twenty novelists under the age of forty (an arbitrary cut off – one I suppose that, for some, is when you no longer regard yourself as young). What do you think?

Thursday, 17 June 2010

NEW WRITERS COMPETITION: LONGLIST

We are delighted to announce the longlist (15) of stories for Short Fiction's New Writers Competition as below:

Sara Crowley – ‘The Art of Pain’

Bill McCormick – ‘The Race’

Lucy Dennison – ‘It Wasn’t Stockhausen’s’

Megan Tuite – ‘Couple’

Jenny Holden – ‘The Roman Forum’

Val Reardon – ‘The Existentialists’

Anne Elliot – ‘Light Streaming from a Horse's Ass’

Angela Sherlock – ‘The Diffraction of Light on the Fibres’

Jo Cannon – ‘Salt Man’

Louis Malloy – ‘The Pilgrims and the Half Good’

Kevin Hyde – ‘The Djinn of the Burj’

Robert Peett – The Feast of Stephen’

Frank Rizzuto – ‘Adriana’s Overcoat’

Jill Widner – ‘The Underwater Room’

R F Marazas – ‘Kayla March’


Congratulations to you all, the stories are wonderful. Good luck for the shortlist, which should be announced next week. The prize is publication in this year's issue, plus £300.

Thanks to all those who entered.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

HIGHLY INFECTED AREA

A few weeks ago I tried to stream some live cricket through some egregious pop-up website. I know. But where I live, it's impossible to watch anything without sticking a large dish on the side of your house. In fact, being a listed cottage, it would have to go in the garden. And besides, being an impoverished writerly sort, I can't afford it.


Anyway, much self-flagellation later, my computer is more infected virally than Robert Carlisle in that gruesome sequel. Nothing works. Pressing anything draws a steady whir from the hard drive, that slowly intensifies until I'm certain faint laughter can be heard. My icons have disappeared. There's no start menu. Safe mode offers minimal usage, but no Interweb. Penning this has taken longer than some stories I've written.

A friend is coming around tonight to inspect the damage, whereupon I suspect we will either a) return it to the factory settings, or b) return it to the ground floor via a first floor window.

In the meantime, have a look at
this very interesting article by a literary agent. A shift in the balance of power perhaps...

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

MINI REVIEW: THE SECRET SCRIPTURE

Rather enjoying this at the moment. Could be that I’ve finally finished reading 600 short stories for appraisal, and so fiction is purely self-indulgent once again. Or it could just be that it’s very good. Barry’s beautifully lyrical style reminds me of William Trevor, the prose masterfully woven, the poetic language almost a character itself. The two voices in the novel – gently elegiac, disquieting, haunted – are instantly compelling and convincing, and within a few pages you happily submit to them. Another comparison with Trevor, for me, is the exposition’s obliquity, perhaps not for everyone, but I love when a writer allows me space to move around, to form my own judgements and interpretations, as fragments of stories jostle for my attention. Phrases, in Barry’s hands, are by turns elegant and devastating, often demanding the eyes return to the start to confirm the words’ power, or merely to savour their resonance and effect/affect again. A hundred pages in and I sense a classic brewing.

I’ve not read any of his other work, but a quick trip to Amazon will resolve that.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

INTERVIEW: ELIZABETH BAINES

Gather round, we have a treat today. I’m delighted to host the latest leg of author Elizabeth Baines’ virtual book tour. I first came across Elizabeth’s work reading her short story collection, Balancing on the Edge of the World, one of the most accomplished debuts I’ve read for years. I asked her about her novel, Too Many Magpies, and a little about how she works.


Hi, Elizabeth. Welcome.


Thanks, Tom. It’s good to be here.


Firstly, can you tell us a little bit about the novel.


Well, it’s a bit of a mystery and there’s even a thriller element, I think, though not in conventional ways. It concerns a young mother who has a sense of the world being a newly precarious place, because of climate change and pollution and so forth, and she is specifically worried for her children. Then she meets a mysterious but charismatic stranger who seems to offer a kind of reassurance, and indeed a different way of thinking, and her life, and the lives of her children are turned upside down… On the deeper level the novel is about the ways we think and negotiate the world: should we put our faith in logical science, or is there a more intuitive, indeed maybe magical way?


Sounds intriguing. Who will it appeal to?


I guess it will appeal to any parent, and especially of course to mothers, as the narrator is a mother, but I think it’s also for anyone interested in the theme of science versus ‘magic’, and the ways in which they can affect our relationships.


So does your work tend to start with an idea, or a sense of place, or perhaps character, or plot?


Well, as I said on my visit to Sue Guiney’s blog, it’s different for different forms, though a novel usually starts with a mix of those things. The emphasis in that mix is different for different novels, I find. Too Many Magpies, as I said to Sue, came out of two separate ideas I’d been mulling for a long time, but the trigger for actually starting writing it was an image – that of Smarties on a birthday cake – which brought the two ideas together. My first novel, The Birth Machine, which Salt are reissuing in October, also started with an idea, but also very strongly with the sense of a place: that of a hospital ward, which frames the whole novel. The impetus for the novel I’m writing now is much more the character – that’s what I’m writing about, a very complex character, and the mystery of him. But however much I’ve got these things in place, I can never start a piece of work until I’ve got the narrative voice, and sometimes I’ll sit there for days or even weeks waiting to hear it. Luckily, with Too Many Magpies, the voice dropped into my head right away along with that image.


Give us some sense of how you write: rigid hours or spontaneous bursts? The scratch of the pen or the clack of the keyboard?


I have a routine – when I can I write in the mornings from nine until one-thirty and no longer, especially when I’m embarked on a novel, because otherwise you can just get too exhausted on that long haul. Sometimes I get rather too obsessed, though, and end up spending the afternoons revising what I’ve written in the morning. I write the first draft of everything, even novels, by hand with a fountain pen: I feel that I need that painterly hand-brain connection – though if all paper and pens were banned I guess I’d adapt! And because I can no longer read my own writing, with a novel I have to allocate some of each day’s writing time to typing up what I’ve written by hand that day. With a short story, though, I’ll get to the end of the first draft before I start typing.


I loved your short story collection, Balancing on the Edge of the World; which do you enjoy writing more – long or short? And do you approach them differently?


It’s hard to choose. I love being able to finish something fairly quickly – and it’s not so disruptive of life: obviously short pieces just don’t take up so many hours, and you can get back to other things between stories! However, it’s also a bit of a tightrope in that each new story requires a whole new creative impetus, whereas there’s something luxurious and safe about being established in the creative world of a novel, in spite of the hard work. I’m not sure I approach stories and novels that differently, really: for both, it’s get the idea, wait and see if it’s going to grow and buzz in your head; once it does, listen for the voice and get your first sentence, write till you get a bit stuck and have a think/rest. Sketch a quick plan if you need to. Follow the plan until a better course emerges in the writing. Scrap the whole thing and start again if you need to…


A year or two is a remarkably long time to devote to one project, and with no guarantee of success. What’s the greatest asset a writer can have when tackling the novel?


Sheer bloody-mindedness, I reckon. The ability to get so obsessed with the project that you block out all those doubts and worries about whether you’ll make it work in the end, or get it published, and not have wasted all that time…


Do you think writing can be learnt/taught?


Well, you can’t teach insight and emotional wisdom, which to me are two of the real essentials, and I do think some people have more natural talent with language and form etc, but you certainly learn (and so teach) skills to develop those last, and I reckon every writer, however innately talented, is always learning when it comes to those.


Three writers, alive or dead, you admire the most.


Orwell, Richard Yates, Margaret Atwood.


Thank you for stopping by, Elizabeth. Some interesting answers to muse on.


Thank you for having me here, Tom!


You can buy Too Many Magpies here. To visit the previous stop of Elizabeth’s tour pop over to Tania Hershman’s great blog. And next week’s stop is here.


For more about Elizabeth, visit her website and blog, or listen to her talking about the novel here.



Elizabeth Baines was born in South Wales and lives in Manchester. She is the prize-winning author of prose fiction and plays for radio and stage. Too Many Magpies was published by Salt in 2009. Previously Salt published her collection of short stories, Balancing on the Edge of the World (2007) which was pronounced ‘a stunning debut collection’ (The Short Review). In October 2010 Salt will reissue her first, acclaimed novel The Birth Machine. She is also a performer and has been a teacher.