vss1_cover_OK_small-199x300Just remembered I haven’t blogged about this yet. Not long after I went on Twitter, I came across a call for submissions to an anthology of very short stories, where “very short” meant short enough to fit in a tweet – in other words less than 140 characters. Such stories tend to be published on Twitter with a hashtag of #vss – hence the name of the anthology. Don’t know what a hashtag is? Ah … some other time maybe.

The anthology was initiated by Brent Millis, who tweets as @idiotandroid, and it was duly published earlier on this month as a free download (in a bewildering variety of formats) from Smashwords, here. The cover was designed by Piotr Kowalczyk, otherwise known as @namenick, and there’s a full list of authors on his blog, here.

It’s an entertaining read. It’s inevitably hit and miss, but the hits more than outweigh the misses and some of the hits are absolute bullseyes. Oh, and I almost forgot to mention that I’ve got four stories in there myself.

This episode is actually quite disturbing if you think too hard about what probably happened last night. So I felt I ought to leaven it a little by bringing in the one Bennet sister that we haven’t yet met, Kitty. I felt that she would probably be the kind of person who wouldn’t bother answering an invitation until the last minute when she would send an irritating text saying she’d had a better offer.

So I thought about Regency equivalents of texts, which initially took me in the direction of telegrams – except that of course they came much later. Then, around eleven o’clock last night (I do so like deadlines) I came up with the idea of tux’d's instead. Which was great until it struck me overnight that of course tuxedos are about as anachronistic as telegrams. Hence my addition of this footnote. I can’t quite decide whether this is a horrible kludge or an inspired piece of unpainting myself out of a corner. Either way, it’s behind us now. But it did at least give me the opportunity to sneak in an entirely gratuitous Abba reference as well.

I think we should probably have some kind of competition when we get to Episode Fifty. No idea what the prize might be, though. Watch this space …

One more thing: if you want to see what the whole of “Pride and Prejudice” might look in text format, try this by my VWC mate Dave Weaver (he’s the one who did the amazingly cool picture of Mrs Darcy on the blog). Brilliant, isn’t it?

Mary Ann tells all at last and Wickham learns the truth about Mr Darcy. Or at least some of the truth, because as we saw in episode forty-five, things are not quite always as they seem.

[Technical note: on the day that this episode appeared, I had to go into London for the day job and as I was strolling through St Pancras (where I'd stopped off in order to grab a couple more copies of Litro 95 from Foyles - yes, that's where they've all gone) it suddenly struck me that I'd cocked up the point of view in the final paragraph. So yesterday's readers will have seen this:

The two men left the room, speaking to each other in furtive whispers.

“Oi!” said Mary Ann Nicholls, pointing at the cage on the desk next to her. “You two! What about my baby?”

I've now changed this to

The two men left the room, speaking to each other in furtive whispers. As they did so, they were both completely oblivious to Mary Ann's gesticulations towards the cage on the desk, as well as her cry of “Oi! You two! What about my baby?”

which sort of fixes it. Almost. OK, it's not perfect, but I didn't want to lose that last joke.

Then again, when I took a close look at "Pride and Prejudice" recently, I was startled to find that Jane Austen's point of view was all over the shop. You really would have thought that an editor would have picked up that kind of shoddy writing :) And it turns out there aren't any aliens in it, either.]

swiss_toniI was recently very honoured to be given the job of editing the Verulam Writers’ Circle‘s first anthology for getting on for twenty years, and – quite reasonably – one of our number, the über-talented Jenny Barden –  has posed the question of what I am actually looking for. I did try to write an answer as a comment to her original post, but then I realised that if I did this properly, it would end up as long as a post in its own right. So here is that post.

Readers in the UK will probably be familiar with Swiss Toni from the Fast Show, played by comedy God Charlie Higson. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the character, Swiss Toni is a bouffant-haired used car salesman whose shtick is to liken everything to making love to a beautiful woman – and it struck me that maybe this is the way to explain what I’m looking for in a short story. Because, after all, isn’t writing a short story like … well, maybe not, but it set me thinking. Now this could get a little cheesy, but stick with me, because I think it might be a metaphor that’s worth working with.

Reading a novel is like getting into a long-term commitment, even if sometimes you feel the need to break it off early on because you know it’s not working out (I’m looking at you, Umberto Eco’s “Island of the Day Before”). You’ll probably take a good look before becoming involved in the first place – perhaps you ask your friends if you think it will work for you, or maybe you just study the blurb on the back. Either way, by the time you get to the end of the book, you will have spent a considerable amount of time in its intimate company.

The kind of relationship you have with a short story, on the other hand, is more like a one night stand with a stranger that you happen to pick up in a shady downtown bar. It’s a far more risky proposition, and yet one which can be just as exciting. So I hear, anyway.

So let’s for the moment pretend that I’m not an unprepossessing middle-aged beardie bloke and imagine instead that I’m that beautiful/handsome editor sitting a couple of stools away from you. How are you as a short story writer going to make this a night to remember? Here are a few suggestions.

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In which the mysterious stranger with no name (or at least a name that he’s temporarily mislaid for the time being) takes part in a game of cards. Incidentally, the rules of Portugese Six-Card Wazzock may be found all over the web, although there are a considerable number of variants. “Hapsburg rules” is sadly very rarely played these days.

There’s a bit of a bombshell at the end of this episode, too.

logo3As any writer will tell you, things should always happen in threes. Today has definitely followed that rule. Two of them arrived in the post this morning:  my £100 prize-winner’s cheque from JBWB and a copy of Litro 95, including my story “Piss and Patchouli”. But I had to wait until this afternoon before the third one turned up, when the longlist for the Bristol Short Story Prize was announced.

Yes, that is indeed me. This is in fact the second longlist that this particular story has made it onto – the first one being the Fish earlier on this year. However, the longlist for this one is a little tighter than the Fish – only 40 entries out of nearly 1500 – and I have to say that I am seriously chuffed to be sitting there alongside the likes of Elizabeth Baines.

The shortlist is announced on June 7th, so I may be a little twitchy around then. The longlist was in fact as far as I got in the Fish, although I have tweaked the ending a bit since then (which was always the weakest part of the story). The question is: have I tweaked it enough? Watch this space …

[EDIT: Just realised that it was in fact the Fish shortlist that the story got onto, not the longlist. Although, weirdly, that shortlist was around three times the size of the Bristol longlist, for roughly the same number of original entries. *scratches head*]

Today’s episode is my bid for the steampunk market, although thinking about it, I probably should have thrown in a dirigible for good measure. Something for a future episode, perhaps. When I was writing this, I was casting around for a suitably stupid steampunk pun, and after discarding the alternatives (steamfunk, steamdrunk, etc.) I settled on “steam pink”. Imagine my surprise when I’m checking up on incoming referrals to the site and I find out that this term actually exists and relates to a sub-genre of steampunk with female heroines. I’m still not entirely sure whether or not that makes the joke better or worse.

This week I also wrote a piece for Ziggy Kinsella’s excellent Feckless Goblin blog about the merits of giving your work away. Judging by the number of RTs that it got on Twitter, it seems to have struck a chord. Is this the future of publishing, then? Well, maybe. But for the moment it’s a means to an end, and it would still be nice to get a proper book out of it …

It is a truth universally etc etc that any sequel to “Pride and Prejudice” worth its salt must have a Ball somewhere in it, and this one is no exception. This particular Ball is scheduled to start around the halfway stage, which – much to my amazement – we seem to be approaching. But before that happens, preparations must be made.

Early readers of this episode may have noticed a reference to “patchouli-herding”, which changed this afternoon into “tofu-herding” on the grounds that it sounded slightly funnier and less patchouli-oriented. Generally speaking, I’m trying if possible to avoid going back and changing things because I don’t think that’s really fair to the people who read this thing. Part of the fun of writing it is trying to keep riding the tiger and somehow maintain the logic of the story wherever it is trying to go. As it happens, there aren’t many things that I really want to go back and change – although I would really like to amend the name of Wickham’s department from “The Department for Illegal Aliens” to “The Department for Unusual Stuff”. I might actually go back and quietly sneak that in at some point, so please don’t get too upset – I promise I won’t make a habit of it.

litroI’m very pleased indeed to be making my second appearance in the hallowed pages of Litro, this time with “Piss and Patchouli” – described in the editorial as “a tale about a burned-out artist”. Don’t you just love it when someone else points out your own unconscious metaphor? It hadn’t even occurred to me, but it’s spot on. Can’t wait to get my hands on one of the print copies – of which there are apparently going to be 100000. Yes, that was indeed a one followed by five zeroes …

And if you want one yourself, they’re available free all over London at places like Foyles, Rough Trade and so on. Don’t forget to say “I know that bloke” when you ask for yours. The person behind the counter will be so impressed.

HazardCatThanks to @kaolinfire on Twitter I found a new market last night, called Hazard Cat. As the name suggests, they specialise in cat-related material, and as it happens I had a cat poem ready to roll. It’s a mildly satirical piece called “fat cat”, and they accepted it just over two hours after submission. Not only a quick response, but they pay, too: $5, which isn’t to be sneezed at.

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