The extremely stately and elegant Boston Literary Magazine have just accepted my poem “Mid-Life Crisis”, for their Fall edition. As far as I remember, I wrote this for the monthly SlingInk Poetry Challenge, and it’s nice to see it finding a home ‘cos I quite like it. And it’s also nice to be making my first appearance in the BLM, because it is such an elegant publication.
On Saturday night we headed off down the road to Hatfield House for this year’s Battle Prom Concert, one of those truly weird only-in-England things. Essentially, the deal is that you turn up, grab a spot to pitch your deckchairs (plus your gazebo if you get there early enough – which we were, just) and settle down for a picnic. The entertainment consists of a cavalry display by a bunch of Napoleonic war re-enacters, a spectacular aerobatic display by a Spitfire and a concert programme of pieces designed to bring out your inner jingoist, including the 1812 (with real cannon and fireworks), Beethoven’s Battle Symphony (again with real cannon and fireworks – not one of old Ludwig’s finest pieces, but never mind) and ending up with Jerusalem, Rule Britannia and Pomp and Circumstance No. 1, with associated audience singalong and flag-waving. All in all, a great afternoon and evening’s entertainment.
And all this on the day that Harry Patch died, aged 111, a stark reminder (if we needed it) of what war is really all about for the poor bastards at the sharp end. My VWC chum Ian Cundell has written far more eloquently about the significance of Harry Patch’s passing over at If Shakespeare …, and I recommend that you take a look.
Hmmm. Looks like it’s a year to the day since I posted this. Doesn’t time fly, eh? Interestingly, I notice that I didn’t quite stick to my original intentions. Ah well. These things are meant to evolve, and when you’ve got your own platform, it’s hard to avoid the temptation to use it. I just hope that I haven’t been too boring and self-indulgent.
Anyway, I’ll try to avoid the temptation to rabbit on about everything that’s happened since that first post, although it’s certainly been an interesting twelve months. It’s a bit more interesting to look forward to the future, because the real challenge starts now. Time to start writing something a bit more substantial, I think.
Over the last few weeks I’ve been nervously checking the website for the inaugural Bournemouth Short Story Competition (not to be confused with the Bournemouth Literary Festival competition, where I once had some success with erotica, God help me), watching for the results. Then last week the following rather disturbing notice appeared:
Due to the fantastic number of entries received, reading the short stories has taken longer than expected. Winners will be announced at the end of July.
So that’s me out, I thought. But I was wrong, because this morning I received an e-mail to tell me that my piece “The Problem with Pork” had picked up one of the runner-up prizes of £25, plus publication in the associated anthology. Woo hoo!
This is actually round about the second or third story that I ever wrote, back in the early 90′s, and (under its original name of “Meat”) it gave me my first-ever brush with success when it was highly commended in the 1993 Ian St James Awards (remember them?). At the time, I thought that anything short of a prize was a complete failure, so I didn’t take the message of encouragement from this that I really should have done, and not long afterwards I pretty much gave up writing short stories.
When I started writing fiction again, it was once more one of my earliest successes, getting longlisted in the 2007 Fish competition, and it’s really nice to see it finally winning something and getting published into the bargain. Especially as it’s not to everyone’s taste: I once submitted it to Whittaker judge Geoff Nelder‘s magazine, Escape Velocity, and he absolutely hated it. But, then again, the piece does centre around eating meat, and he is a vegan (what was I thinking of?). And, despite this, he did very kindly offer some helpful advice on the writing aspects which I used in the final edit before entering it for this particular competition.
I did this for the Café Doom Flash Challenge some time last year, and if I’d got my act together, I would have tried to get it published somewhere round about now. But I didn’t. In fact, I never got around to submitting it anywhere. So I might as well put it up here now, seeing as it will have to wait another ten years before it becomes remotely topical again. Hope you like it.
You ask me if there really is a man in the moon. Well, I’ll let you into a secret, little one. Not many people know this, but, yes, there really is a man in the moon. His name is Vassily Ivanovitch, and he was the first man to set foot there.
Who? Neil Armstrong? Ah, so you do know a little, my child. But you don’t know the whole story, do you? No, you don’t know the half of it. Vassily Ivanovitch landed on the moon in 1967, two full years before Apollo 11. The Americans didn’t tell anyone about him of course, but neither did the Russians. Why? Well, it’s a sad, sad story.
The plan was to establish a Soviet base on the moon, and Vassily Ivanovitch was sent on ahead with the main module, as the advance party. Trouble was, the day after he landed, the money ran out, and the full expedition never arrived. So he was left to fend for himself. He had enough short-term provisions for a whole crew and a fully-working biosphere, in which he was able to cultivate plants to maintain the oxygen levels and enough vegetables to keep him fed for the next thirty years.
So Vassily Ivanovitch continued his lonely life on the moon, maintaining his biosphere, occasionally cannibalising the American lunar landers for spare parts. He was last heard of during the millennium celebrations, when he used several months’ worth of solar energy to transmit a brief message giving the Communist Party his best wishes for many more centuries in power. For all I know, he may still be there now.
Oh, my child, you look as if you do not believe me! Well, you may think that this story is absurd, but is it any less credible than the notion that man – man, the great explorer! – walked on the moon for the first time forty years ago, made five more trips and then abandoned it entirely? That, surely, is the stuff of fairytales, is it not?
… is now up for all to see at Ink, Sweat and Tears. I wrote this for the Café Doom Flash Challenge when the two words for the week were “Squid” and “Volcano” (don’t ask). Mine was one of two entrants to attempt to cover both bases, although neither of us won that week. I was trying for a sort of haiku-ish ambience with this, and I quite like the result. And it’s nice to be back in IS&T with something like a proper poem; the first thing of mine that they published, “I Wish to Register a Complaint”, was more of a rant than anything else.
Incidentally, the reference is to Hokusai’s rather splendid and possibly NSFW “Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife”. So for all of you who wanted to see some Japanese Tentacle Porn, your wish is my command.
… and in fact I came second in the fiction and fourth in the poetry. As far as the fiction is concerned, the excellent Cathy Edmunds grabbed the lead back in Round 3 and clearly wasn’t going to let go of it, so it was always going to be a race for second place in the end. And as for the poetry, well let’s just say that I think I eventually got found out. But I’m still quite chuffed that I managed to fool them for the first five rounds …
So what next? Well, I’ve got rather a lot of stories that could do with a good edit, and there’s also that full-length project that really needs a bit of attention. So it’s not as if I’m going to be idle
[EDITED TO ADD: Ooh, and I've just noticed that I get a free copy of the anthology for coming second. Yay!]
The 2009 Whittaker Prize, that is. And what a long, strange journey it’s been these last eighteen weeks. I now have nine new stories, some of which I think are amongst my best, although time will tell once they’ve been sent out in the world to seek their fortune. Having said that, two of them have already made their mark – “Farewell Symphony” at Tales of the Decongested, and “Nature’s Banquet” at Earlyworks Press.
I also have nine new poems, which (in conjunction with the STIRRED POeTS competition earlier on this year) has roughly doubled my poetry portfolio. Still some way to go, then, before that first slim volume is ready …
And the final results come out next week. I’m quite pleased with the couple of pieces that I’ve submitted for Task 9, but on past form that means that they’re going to bomb. In any case, the current leaders are too far ahead in both categories, but it would be nice to get as close to them as I can. I’ll let you know.
This is cool. I’ve just had my story, “Natural Selection” accepted by Short Story Radio. It’s especially cool, for three reasons. Firstly, I get paid £30 of Arts Council money for this. Secondly, I get to hear a real live actor reading my piece, recorded by a professional producer. And thirdly, one of my favourite stories finally finds a home. I wrote this for Task 1 of the 2007-8 Eurofiction competition, back in the days when I could count the number of stories I’d written on the fingers of one hand. OK, maybe Anne Boleyn’s hand. Or perhaps the hand of some grotesque mutant. Well not many anyway. You know what I mean.
Incidentally, that means that I have now placed seven out of the ten stories that I wrote for Eurofiction 2007-8. They are as follows:
1. Natural Selection (Short Story Radio)
2. The Amazing Arnolfini and His Wife (Prizewinner, City of Derby Competition, 2008)
3. The Birdman of Farringdon Road (Litro)
4. Ignorance of Chemistry (Every Day Fiction)
5. (still out there somewhere)
6. The Guitarist’s Inheritance (apt)
7. (still out there somewhere)
8. Possible Side Effects (Prizewinner, Calderdale 2009)
9. Somewhat Less Than Thirty Pieces (Cadenza Longlist and The Right-Eyed Deer)
10. (still out there somewhere)
I think that rather makes the case for entering competitions like Eurofiction and the Whittaker, don’t you? And in case you’re wondering, I came tenth equal overall. So it’s not as if I was one of the real stars …
Nearly forgot. If you happen to take a look at Short Story Radio, have a read of this, by one Nick Cook. He’s the President of Verulam Writers’ Circle, you know.
… has (have?) picked up my flash, “What Jesus Said” (previously known as “What Matthew Said”, re-titled – entirely logically – at the suggestion of ResAliens‘ editor Lyn Perry). One of my odder pieces, and (inevitably) a product of the Café Doom Weekly Flash Challenge. Surprising how many of my pieces have some connection to religion, really. Although this is the only to feature miniature camels.