Sunday, 31 October 2010


There’s an interview with me over at Nicola Morgan’s brilliant blog, and if you want to win a free signed copy of The Method… all you have to do is leave a comment. What are you waiting for?

Friday, 29 October 2010


A lovely little event at my local library on Wednesday, where I read from the collection (a spooky one for Halloween), as well as the novel, which is largely set locally. We had some time at the end, so I was keen to learn the audience’s views on the short story. Love it? Hate it? (Presumably not, given their attendance.) Indifferent? The consensus seemed that most people ‘quite liked them’, but perhaps didn’t go out of their way to find them.

I spoke of short fiction’s intensity, its capacity for transcendency, how it can provoke, thrill, stupefy. I talked about other countries’ relationship with the form, how its revered as much as, if not more so, than the novel, the poem. How it’s largely thought of as inferior in the UK due to our intransigence, our hangover with the Victorian novel. That it’s only really here that when you say you write short stories, the general retort is, So when are you going to write a novel?

I championed Carver, Chekhov, Munro. Salter, Updike, Prouxl. And the master of them all, William Trevor. I raved about the exciting new voices – the Wigfalls, Barrys, Ó Ceallaighs, the Hershmans (not to mention those across the pond, around the globe). And hopefully some of the audience will seek these out.

But I was determined to get to the crux of this issue, so we continued the debate in the pub across the road. (The library shut. Honest.)

And for me, it’s this. With a novel you have to invest just once. In the characters, in tense (usually), setting, POV (usually), in voice, in style, in theme. And then you’re made for the next 300 pages. With a collection you have to do this eight, ten, twelve times. Every story requires this new investment, even if the stories are linked thematically.

My response: savour. The novel is a good pint of beer, to be gorged upon, necked even, long sessions. Think of a short story as your favourite glass of Rioja (though there are plenty of ordinary Merlots out there). Take it by the fire. Just one a night. Savour every word, its cadence and artifice. But, advice I wish I’d heeded on Wednesday: never mix your drinks.


Monday, 25 October 2010




And if you absolutely have to. Still don't.

Nobody does it well because it can't be done well.

Unwelcome sex: Yes. Failed sex: Yes. The absence of sex. Yes. Thoughts about sex: Yes.

Actual, detailed I-put-my-hand-on...: No.

Spare us. Hint at it. Show that it happened, reference it obliquely. Just don't try to describe it. Ever

Thursday, 21 October 2010


Remember the novel? Not mentioned it for a while. Well, these things rarely happen with alacrity, but a literary agent has asked to read it, so I await his verdict. Hopefully he’ll love it. But even then he has to feel able to place it, to sell it. Anyway, I’ll let you know.

Meanwhile if you’re near my lovely town of Tavistock next Wednesday 27th October, I’m reading from the collection (as well as from the novel) at the library from 7pm. I think tickets are £2, refreshments provided. So do come along.

Also, I’m interviewed by the talent that is Jen Campbell here, and there’s a chance to win a signed copy of The Method.

Sunday, 17 October 2010


I stumbled upon this passage from a 1956 classic in a friend’s bookcase. It’s comic genius, though intended in all sincerity when it was written. See if you can guess what the author is referring to. It could be reading Dan Brown, but it’s not.

'It is not a thing to encourage. In youth it can be dangerous for two reasons. It can cause severe mental conflict when a child finds that he is addicted to it. And it can make a young person very solitary and often sensual and self-indulgent; people used to dealing with the young can usually see, by the slack mouth and shifty eyes, those who suffer from an excess of the habit.

Those lonely people who have fallen into the habit can cure themselves. Avoid idleness; get so busy that you go to bed tired; I have never had a letter from a busy woman, married or single, telling me she is worried about it. It is the idle, shut-in women and men, with all their thoughts and interests turned in on themselves, who fall into the habit.

A simple bromide will often help at bedtime. Even a hot drink with an aspirin tablet is useful. And I have found it useful to suggest rationing to some people. That is, make up your mind to do it, say, twice a week for a month, then once a week, then once a month and by that time you will have acquired a habit of self-control and will probably think that the whole thing is rather silly.

Reading – with a candle rather than strong electric light – is useful too. But don’t have the candle too near the pillow in case you set yourself on fire!'

Thank goodness sex education has progressed.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010


Please welcome short story writer Nik Perring, who's popped by to answer a few questions.

Welcome Nik.
Hi Tom.

What do you write?
I write very short stories. Stories about people who decorate their houses with Post-it notes because there’s something very important to them that they don’t want to forget, and about people who can never stop moving, and about women who vomit animals. And ones about men telling plants their secrets and women who fall in love in supermarket car parks. That kind of thing. Despite that, people seem to like them.

How do you write?
First drafts are always written with a fountain (Pelikan) into a notebook (Moleskine) not because I’m snobby, I should add, but because they work. Writing first drafts longhand also means that they get a very natural half-edit when they’re being typed up. It’s a process I’d recommend. (I’d also recommend reading your work aloud, to yourself, once you think you’re done – you might be surprised at the things that helps you to pick up.)

When do you write?
No specific time. I’m a fulltime writer and editor so I’ll be doing some kind of writing work during normal(ish!) working hours. And at weekends. Or at night. As with any job, it’s important that it’s taken seriously.

Who do you write (for)?
Blimey! Good question. Mostly, I think, I write for me. The theory is that if I enjoy something then others might too. That’s not to say that I don’t give readers a thought – but what I think I do is try and concentrate on telling good stories. People like good stories, so it seems a sensible thing to try to do.

Why do you write?
Probably because it’s the only thing I’m any good at. And because I love it, because it’s what I do. I love making things up and writing them down and I love that people, often, like what I write. Or so they say!

And I think it’s a compulsion too – I’m not sure I know any writers who don’t feel as though they HAVE to write. I think that’s a good thing...!

Thanks, Nik. Good luck with the book.

Nik Perring is a writer, and occasional teacher of writing, from the north west. His short stories have been published widely in places including SmokeLong Quarterly, 3:AM and Word Riot. They’ve also been read at events and on radio, printed on fliers and used as part of a high school distance learning course in the US.

Nik’s debut collection of short stories, NOT SO PERFECT is published by Roast Books and is out now. Nik blogs here and his website’s here. He also offers short story help here.

Thursday, 7 October 2010


Few things stay the same, the world of publishing being no exception. These are either exciting or uncertain times, depending on your viewpoint. We’re led to believe the future will offer unlimited choice, that the traditional gatekeepers (publishers, increasingly agents) will have little sway in shaping what you see on the shelves, or download (another post altogether). The premise being everything will be published and readers will simply decide with their pockets.

I’m not so sure.

With publishing costs, thanks to POD, tumbling, it’s been possible for years to bypass the conventional route and, be it through self- or vanity publishing, see your magnum opus ‘out there’. But with one or two exceptions these books fair badly. Traditional publishers don’t just produce your book. They place it. They edit it. Market it. Distribute it. They sell it. But most of all they understand what makes a good book, one people want to read. Yes, of course, they miss some, get it wrong sometimes, but I’m not sympathetic to the fatuous conspiracy theory that suggests they relentlessly turn away good books for more commercial ones, though of course they do on occasion. If your work is good enough, though, it will find a home eventually, as long as you’ve had half an eye on that ugly word: the market.

Which is a long-winded way of saying think very carefully before you dismiss the current publishing world, giving your money to the vanity presses to produce an inferior product that’s likely to be stacked high in your garage for years. Of course it's very tempting, especially if the rejection letters themselves are stopping the garage door from closing. But usually such a letter is telling you the book isn't quite good enough yet. Use that knowledge to make it so.

If this is a subject that interests you, I’m sure you already follow Jane Smith’s wonderful blog. In case you don’t, she makes the point much more eloquently than me here.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010


Drum roll. The winner is chosen from a mug by friend and potter John Pollex.

Well done, Etta. Let me have your name and address at 'tomvowler at hotmail dot com' and a copy of The Method and Other Stories will be with you shortly.

Thanks to all who entered and left comments. Bad luck if you didn't win this time, but I expect I'll do a few more of these.

Sunday, 3 October 2010


Remember you’re an observer. Of everything. Anything. You’re after detail, the minutiae that others miss or care little for. Look hard at the two people walking through town: are they a couple? What does their proximity tell you about their relationship? Is it flushed with the euphoria of romantic inception? Or weary as love’s last vestiges barely linger? Put words in their mouths. Give them a narrative.