Well, this is going to be rather amazing. I’m really chuffed that so many people have offered to have me on their blog over the month of September. It’s going to be a bit like Bob Dylan’s Never Ending Tour. Except not quite so strenuous. And with less singing. So much better all round, then.
Here’s the schedule as it currently stands:
Day 1: Here (obviously)
Day 2: Interview with Vanessa Gebbie on the Salt Publishing blog
Day 3: If Shakespeare…
Day 4: Sandra Norval’s blog
Day 5: Claire King’s blog
Day 6: Sharon Buchbinder’s Snap, Crackle and Popping Blog
Day 7: Help! I Need a Publisher!
Day 8: Cate Gardner’s blog
Day 9: Gordon Darroch’s Unreal Domain
Day 10: Diane Becker’s Not Designed to Juggle
Day 12: The Willesden Herald
Day 13: Jane Travers’ Jane Obsessed with Jane
Day 14: Oonah Joslin’s Oonahverse
Day 15: K J Bennett’s blog
Day 16: Kirsty Stanley’s blog
Day 17: Rhonda Parrish’s blog
Day 18: Lev Parikian’s Runny Thoughts
Day 19: Flash Fiction Chronicles
Day 20: Danielle Posner Sykes’ Scrivener’s Progress
Day 21: Festival of Romance
Day 22: Oscar Windsor-Smith’s Is That the Time? Lord…
Day 23: Rachel Pinnock’s Madeleines and Marmalade
Day 24: Jane Lovering’s Behind the Keyboard
Day 25: Martha Williams’ Writing on a Wet Rock
Day 26: Bec Zugor’s Tales From the Ironing Board
Day 27: Gale Martin’s Scrivengale
Either way, this would appear to be the obligatory “That’s my book in WHSmiths! Squeeeeee!” post then, slightly earlier than planned. OK, it isn’t in the promotion section, because (a) it’s a high street store, not a travel one and (b) it’s not September yet.
But that is definitely my book in a bookshop.
In other news, the FantasyCon Proxima launch now has a time and a place, hot on the heels of the BFS anthology launch in the tantalisingly-named Bar Rogue. Cool or what?
Also, the Willesden Herald book giveaway is still running – so leave a comment here if you want your name to be put into the draw.
My copies of my book have arrived!
Right, that’s over. However, do brace yourselves for some time on Thursday when – with any luck – there will be the obligatory “That’s my book in WHSmiths! Squeeeeee!” post. I will endeavour to do the squeeeeee-ing in as manly way as I can manage.
Forgive me for saying this, but God, it’s a thing of beauty. As my son said when I gave him his copy yesterday, “It looks really pro.” There’s not being published, there’s being published and there’s being published well and I feel really proud to have somehow ended up in the last category. There are two people who have made this possible: first of all my brilliant editor Steve Haynes, who somehow managed to be simultaneously 100% sympathetic to my original concept and quite staggeringly brutal when it came to the one or two bits that didn’t work, and of course Chris Hamilton-Emery of Salt, who gave the book its amazingly high production values including that extraordinary cover.
And now we wait for people to read it and to see what they think. The WHSmith Travel promotion is a fantastic thing to have, but it will be word of mouth in the end that decides whether it sinks or swims.
Oh, and I nearly forgot to say. It’s in stock online now. This page will tell you where you can buy it.
So then. On Monday, my publishers took delivery of the first copies of the book. And today it seems that WHSmith are showing it as “In stock” in their online store, even though the official publication date isn’t until next Thursday. So it must be real, although I won’t actually believe it until I manage to hold one in my hand.
Meanwhile, the blog tour is shaping up nicely, with 22 dates in September now booked, all quite different. I’ll post the schedule next week, but if anyone else fancies joining in, I’ll be very happy to accommodate you.
I’ve also got a few book groups who have already picked it, which is really exciting even if I find the idea of a bunch of people sitting around discussing my work a bit odd to say the least. One particularly interesting thing that I’d never come across before is that one of the groups is an online operation who use Skype to discuss the work with the author at a prearranged time. I’m really intrigued by this, and I’ll be very happy to do that with anyone else if they’re interested. Frankly, I’ll do anything if it helps promote the book.
Meanwhile, the free Willesden Herald book giveaway is still open – all you need to do to get in the draw is leave a comment. But you have to be in it to win it, of course. And once that’s done and dusted, I guess we’d better do something similar with Mrs Darcy herself…
I’ve got something a bit different for you today. Not only an interview but - drum roll – a giveaway. The interview is with Steve Moran, the powerhouse behind the excellent Willesden Herald New Short Stories Competition. The giveaway? Well, you’ll need to read to the end of the interview to find out. But trust me, it will be worth it. Anyway, without further ado, here’s Steve.
Can you tell me a bit about how the Willesden Herald New Short Stories Competition came into being?
It was towards the end of 2005. I had been involved in two or three online writers’ workshop sites, part of the now defunct MSN “communities” and the setting of writing challenges was a regular occurrence. I thought it would be fun to run a little short story competition on the Willesden Herald blog, which had been going since 2003. So I announced a competition, closing just before Christmas to allow judging in the holiday break, prize a Willesden Herald mug. It was a stroke of luck to get a well known local writer as the judge and the competition took off from there.
Zadie Smith, right? Looking at the impressive list of people who have appeared in the shortlist over the years, it would be fair to say that for a “little short story competition”, you’ve consistently punched above your weight. Why do you think this is?
I tried to make the competition as writer-friendly as I could in several important ways. Entry was free and there was no word limit or minimum, no set theme, no nationality restriction, and there would be no second or third place, only short-listed and winner. Some of the terms have changed since then. Another one back then was you didn’t have to have your short-listed story published, it could retain its unpublished status. There was no guarantee that a winner would be chosen and judging was anonymous. I tried and still try to make it fun and appeal specifically to short story enthusiasts, being myself a fanatic, which probably is evident and adds to the favourable ethos of the competition. That said, it was likely as much or more to do with having such an acclaimed author as the judge. To be selected as a winner by someone like Zadie Smith is worth a lot to an ambitious writer.
As a failed entrant on more than one occasion, that makes perfect sense to me. The other thing you didn’t mention is that you seem to take an interest in the post-WH careers of your alumni in a way that few other competitions (with the notable exception of the Bristol Short Story Prize) do. Can you say a little bit about the process of selecting your shortlist? Or is that shrouded in secrecy?
I read entries as they come in, which is usually only about ten or less per day until the last week when there are more and I can’t keep up. Ten per day is ideal for me, though I can get to twenty if I’m not tired from work but after that my brain refuses the next fence.
With many of the stories it’s clear before the end that they cannot be put in front of the final judge but I don’t stop reading just because of typos or minor flaws, I only stop before the end if the accumulation of problems rules the entry out. The game for entrants is to keep me reading, of course, I’m sure it’s the same with all other writing contests. When entries are poor it doesn’t take long to file them under “No”. I used to create folders for different sorts of flaws but now I only have No, Hell No, Maybe and Yes.
It’s quite hard to get straight into the Yes folder, which becomes the short list, but even so by the end of the submissions window there have typically been about fifteen needing reduction to ten. Last time with Maggie Gee we extended the short list to twelve. Some of the judges have wanted a long list of about fifteen in order to choose the short list themselves. For the others I chose the short list, a couple of times with help from other readers. I have to re-read the Maybe’s and Yeses to finalise the list. That tends to happen over the Christmas break.
So would I be right in inferring that it’s more a case of entries being eliminated on the basis of an accumulation of flaws than being accepted because of a high overall score on a grid?
Yes, it’s mainly a process of elimination. There’s no grid it’s just a case of do I want to read it to the end and is it a yes or a maybe? I am a slow reader so it’s a big time investment. I remember it took me two hours to read Wena Poon’s winning story the first time. I had already finished for the night and I thought I wouldn’t start another one but then I started reading The Architects and it wouldn’t let me go. I don’t abandon a story lightly, always try to give each one every possible chance. Thinking about it, I read nearly all the Noes all the way to the end or near the end, it’s mostly only the Hell Noes that are quickly decided. If a story is generally well written I will read all the way to the end.
I should at this point recommend very strongly Steve’s list of common faults in short stories, which gives a pretty good indication of what is likely to get your story eliminated. One final question, then. This year’s judge is none other than Roddy Doyle – how on earth did you manage to get him on board?
I just sent a very polite message, asking if there might be a chance. I was thinking of closing the competition at the time. I thought better go out on a high after the superb results event with Liars’ League et al, thought it would be hard to follow that. Thanks to Roddy Doyle for being a sport, thanks to everyone who works at the stories instead of looting Footlocker and thank you for having me as a guest.
Amen to that, and many thanks for dropping in.
Now for the giveaway. Steve has very kindly donated a copy of New Short Stories 5, the excellent anthology from the 2011 competition, featuring stories by Mary O’Shea, Y.J.Zhu, Alex Barr and other top writers. All you have to do to get your sticky hands on it is to leave a comment below and I will put your name into the draw, with the winner to be announced at the beginning of September. Which, incidentally, is when the competition opens for entries.
A long time ago, when the kids still needed booster seats for car journeys, we used to pass the time by listening to a wonderful series of cassettes called “Hello Children Everywhere”. These were brilliant compilations of the old stuff that kids of my generation used to listen to on Children’s Favourites.
I say brilliant, but I have to say that after a while a number of them used to get more than a little irritating. Actually, most of them did – with the exception of an utterly amazing track just called “Trains” which sounded as if it had been transcribed from a 78.
But the one that consistently used to set my teeth on edge was this one:
You just don’t get accents like that any more, do you? David Starkey’d probably love it.
I think it was probably this performance that caused me to set my love for A.A.Milne to one side for a moment and write this. Best put your paws over your ears, Pooh Bear. This is grown-up stuff.
(BTW I love the automatic advert that comes up when I view the page. You can’t make that kind of thing up.)
Nice to hear today that TheRightEyedDeer have accepted my very short flash “Value for Money”. So that will appear in their very next issue, number 7, some time this month.
I originally wrote this during a charity write-a-thon thing – one of those things where you try and write a new piece every hour, and it’s amazing what kind of stuff turns up. Funnily enough, I may be talking about this kind of thing at my workshop at next year’s Get Writing conference. But more of that in due course…
… and I haven’t got a coherent blog post for you, I’m afraid. I’m alternating between feelings of wild elation and the feelings of a particularly confused rabbit frozen in the headlights right now, so coming up with anything remotely sensible is beyond me. September’s blog tour is taking shape nicely, though, with a wide variety of stops along the way. There are still a few places left, so if you fancy putting me up for a day, do drop me a line. I’m reasonably well behaved and I will try to leave your blog in the state it was before I arrived.
I’m also going to be posting an interview here very soon with Steve Moran of the excellent Willesden Herald Short Story Contest, at which time we will have a FREE GIVEAWAY. Which is a bit of a first for this blog and frankly rather exciting, so watch out for that.
I should also say that my online chum Nicola Morgan, whose splendid book Write to be Published has possibly the best page 246 ever committed to print, also has a new Kindle-only book out, called Tweet Right – The Sensible Person’s Guide to Twitter. I’d strongly recommend this to anyone out there who isn’t yet on Twitter or is on Twitter and can’t make sense of it, because she’s a great tweeter and she knows what she is talking about.
Finally, there’s a bit more Wickhampedia this week, although I have no idea what you’ll make of it. Incidentally, if anyone out there knows anyone really famous who’d like to publicise this a bit, it would, like, be really good, you know.
Way back in March I had an e-mail from Folded Word, asking me if I’d like to write issue 5 of their occasional broadside Heron. Folded Word are the people who produce PicFic (regular readers may remember this, as well as this) and I like their quirky approach to finding new ways to present fiction and poetry, so I was really pleased to be asked.
Last week I finally submitted my piece to them, entitled “Ultima Thule”, and to my relief they liked it. So watch out for Heron #5, which will fly in some time in October.
In other news, Mrs Darcy is now only three weeks away from publication. Eek. Amusingly, it’s been nominated for the Guardian’s Not the Booker Prize, so if you fancy voting for it (and why not?) here are the instructions. In the meantime, Wickhampedia rolls on, with a short article on Lord Byron. Well, what did you expect?
… is now up at The View from Here. Like most of the things I’ve written lately, I’m not entirely sure where this came from. Certainly when I started writing, I didn’t have a clue where it was heading, but I was quite pleased when the ending presented itself. Anyway, it’s nice to be in two such classy places as Eclectica and TVFH in one week. Nice picture, too.
Meanwhile it’s now less than four weeks to go to publication. Just hoping that if anyone ever reviews Mrs Darcy on Amazon, they’re a bit kinder than these two. Although I have to admit in retrospect the second one had a point. In the meantime, I’m trying to bump the figures up a bit on Mrs D’s Facebook page, so if you haven’t liked it/her yet, here’s where you need to go.