Had a mildly traumatic few days this week, after an OSX upgrade caused my vintage desktop computer to give up the ghost. It’s lasted almost seven years, so I can’t really complain. What I will say is that, for the third time in recent years, Apple’s Time Machine has proved to be a life-saver. If you rely on a Mac and haven’t set up Time Machine, (1) WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU? and (2) DO IT NOW.
While all this was going on, I had an acceptance for my poem ‘The Incredible Zabriskie Ponders His Retirement Plan’, which will appear at the excellent Ink, Sweat and Tears in about three months or so from now. I’m really pleased that this one is going to get an airing, as I’m rather fond of it.
Bit of a pre-Christmas flurry of activity going on here. First of all, my story “Phosphorescence” is now up at The Nottingham Review. As I think I mentioned when I posted about its acceptance, it was shortlisted – under a different name – for the Bridport Prize back in 2012 but it’s struggled to find a home ever since. I think the reason for this is that it doesn’t, on the face of it, make a lot of sense. To be honest, I really wasn’t sure what I was doing when I wrote it, but it sort of felt right, so I went with it. I should do this more often.
I’ve also had an acceptance from The Pygmy Giant for my flash “Phocoena Phocoena”. Not sure when this is going to appear, but I’ll let you know.
And finally, I’ve also got something coming up at an old favourite haunt of mine, but I think I’ll keep that under wraps for the time being. Always keep your readership hungry for more, eh?
My cheeky little flash “Graffiti” went up at Spelk the other day. In case you’re wondering where the idea for this came from, I was thinking about the “sword” dangling from Orion’s belt and whether that interpretation might have been somewhat bowdlerised over the years…
In other news, I was chuffed to find out last week that I was one of the finalists in this year’s Aesthetica Creative Writing Award for my short story “Adagio Assai”. I also found out that my humorous flash “Embarrassing Dad” had been accepted for Flash Magazine’s forthcoming “Funny Bone” anthology, which I’d been invited to submit to a while back. I always panic when I get invited to submit to things, because I never know if the piece has been accepted on its merits or simply because I got a free pass. I’d like to think that they could have turned this one down, but I’ll never really know. (This is, incidentally, the same reason why I try to avoid self-publishing – I need to know that whatever I’ve done has succeeded in fooling at least one gatekeeper.)
And finally, I also found out last week that I have passed my MA in Creative Writing. Get me.
A casual viewer of this blog over the last few months would scarcely guess that it’s been running pretty much continuously for seven and a bit years. Time was when I’d be constantly bombarding you with reports about things I’d had accepted or published, to say nothing of the occasional interview or even a review or two. I recently got invited to a couple of events for book bloggers at the Groucho Club, and I felt too embarrassed to go because it’s been so long since I last reviewed anything here.
Still, even though the blog is a bit thin on the ground, I have been writing stuff. TTAAAP is now over 77000 words long and is nearing the final showdown. I’d love to share some nuggets of information about the process I’m going through with it, but it feels a bit presumptuous to do so. I still feel like a complete beginner with this. Perhaps I always will. One thing I can say is that I had a massive wobble last week when I discovered a plot hole the size of a small crater and it seemed like I was going to have to unpick a considerable part of the book in order to fix it. Fortunately, I managed to find an acceptable way of filling it, and I think I can now see my way to the finish. Just one detail to sort out, and we’re done. Then one last edit, and it’s over to the beta readers.
In the meantime, I’ve had a couple of acceptances for short stories. My cheeky little ultra-short, “Graffiti”, has been taken by Spelk, and my slightly longer story, “Phosphorescence”, has been taken by The Nottingham Review. “Phosphorescence” was actually shortlisted in the 2012 Bridport Prize under the name “The Joy Inside”, but it’s been struggling to find a nice home ever since. I’m quite fond of it, even if I still don’t quite understand it. You’ll see what I mean when it gets published.
Back in the middle of September, the excellent Greg McQueen put out a call for stories to make up a new charity anthology, Refugees Welcome, in aid of Syrian refugees. The guidelines were for stories up to 3000 words:
Stories about hope, happiness, humour, stories that somehow shine a light in a dark situation.
I really wanted to submit to this one, for two reasons. Firstly, Greg’s charity anthologies are excellent (I’ve still not quite forgiven myself for failing to submit to the Haiti one, but I was proud to be part of the Pakistan earthquake book). But more importantly, the whole tone of the current debate about refugees sickens me, and the idea of being part of a project that would plaster the phrase ‘Refugees Welcome’ all over the internet appealed to me.
There were, however, a couple of problems. The first one was that the submission deadline was the day after the final deadline for my MA manuscript. The second, slightly trickier one, was that bit about hope, happiness and humour, and shining a light in a dark situation. This is not an area that I am comfortable with. I can do humour (I think) but it tends to be a bit on the dark side. My forte is more in the area of casting a shadow over a light and cheerful situation.
Anyway, in the end I did manage to come up with something that came close to ticking the right boxes and I just squeezed it in before the deadline. And last night I found out that “Pure Blood” was one of the twenty-one stories accepted. Watch out for me boring you about it a bit more when the anthology gets published.
A couple of months ago I was asked if I fancied submitting a 300-600 word short story on the theme of “Unisex” for the very elegant and stylish .Cent magazine‘s “Man: Explained” edition. Well, I had an idea, wrote it up, sent it in and didn’t hear another word. I assumed that it wasn’t quite what they were looking for and put it to the back of my mind.
Until, that is, it got published, along with a rather spiffy illustration.
(In case you’re wondering, Sammy did exist and he did used to tell me that my girlfriend wouldnae like me with one ear. He was a deeply scary man.)
In other news, I am delighted to be able to announce that my flash “Ultima Thule” will appear in this year’s National Flash Fiction Day anthology. OK, I got a free pass as one of the judges for the micro fiction competition, but I’m especially pleased to see it find a good home as it’s a piece I’ve always liked.
And speaking of the micro fiction competition, I really should be getting back to the judging. There were 300 entries this year and I need to read them all and pick and grade my favourites before the end of the month…
There are few more satisfying things that can happen to a short story writer than finding a good home for a much-loved and much-passed-over story. In fact, the only thing that comes close is finally getting accepted by a classy print journal after several failed attempts.
This week’s acceptance of ‘The Picture of Mrs Tandoğan’ by Structo ticked both of these boxes.
I first wrote this story in late 2012, not long after we’d moved down to Somerset. I knew it was a decent concept, and I started submitting it straight away. But it was singularly unloved, possibly because it had never been through any sort of critique process. Last year, my old chum Oscar Windsor-Smith took a look at it and pointed out several weaknesses that I hadn’t noticed. I sent it out again. Still no luck. I then put it through two different workshop groups on my Bath Spa MA course, and that seems to have finally done the trick.
This acceptance was followed the very next day by one from Liars’ League for ‘Ventriloquism for Dummies’, for their forthcoming ‘Master & Servant’ event. This is a story I originally wrote back in 2009, basically because the title popped into my head and I had to do something with it. However, the ending was far too tricksy, although it wasn’t until the MA course that I realised this. Also, the need to hack it from over 2500 words to under the 2000 limit required by LL tightened the story up a lot.
So that’s two stories that I can at last wave a fond farewell to, knowing that they’ll be happy in their new homes. I’m now wondering if any of my other long-stay residents are going to move out any time soon…
I’ve probably said this before, but I do find poetry a little baffling. I think I have a reasonable idea of what constitutes a half-decent story, but I don’t really have a clue when it comes to poems. ‘The Orange Girl and the Philosopher’ is a case in point. I wrote it originally for a challenge on the late, lamented Slingink website back in late 2008. I didn’t think it was much cop, to be honest, but it got some very positive comments from some of the real poets there (and I think it even won that
week month’s challenge).
I’ve sent it out every now and then since, and it’s been largely ignored, apart from one commendation in the quarterly JBWB competition. Anyway, last Saturday it gained another commendation, this time at the York Literature Festival / YorkMix Poetry competition, as one of over (really?) 1700 entries, and – according to the judge – ahead of ‘several well-known poets’.
I still don’t really know if it’s any cop, though. Still, you can judge for yourself – it’s there on the website if you scroll down to near the bottom.
In other news, my flash ‘Cinema Date’ had been published on the splendid Stand Up Tragedy website. Now this is a piece that was never going to win any prizes, but it’s always made me laugh, so I’m very pleased it’s found a home.
Several odd bits and pieces to report.
First of all, my rather peculiar flash, “Sleeping with the Fishes” is now up at Cease, Cows magazine. I’m not 100% sure what it means, but I think I like it anyway. See what you think. I like the picture they’ve chosen to go with it.
Secondly, another equally curious flash, “Limbo”, has been accepted by the up and coming Fine Linen Magazine. Rather surprisingly in this day and age, this is a paying gig, so I’m doubly pleased about this.
Thirdly, I got longlisted in this year’s Fish Short Story Competition. Slightly mixed feeling about this. Yes, it’s nice to be longlisted, but it is a hell of a long longlist…
Finally, there’s something else. But I can’t tell you quite yet
I’m beginning to think there are essentially two publication strategies open to the short story / poetry writer. Strategy 1) is to find somewhere you like and who likes you, and chuck everything you have at them. Strategy 2) is to systematically try to tick off as many different places as possible.
Most of the time, I lean towards option 2), but every now and then I like to try to return to old haunts. Often it turns out that these old haunts are not interested in what I have to offer (which is good, because I’d hate to be accepted just because it’s me and we got on so well last time), but every so often I get welcomed back. This, of course, is even better.
So here I am, back in the excellent Irish children’s magazine, The Caterpillar, with three poems: “The Sulphurous Sphygnum”, “The Limpopo Loon” and “Bodrills”. I’ve got quite a few of these things lying around, but I have absolutely no idea what to do with them. I would love to see them in a big illustrated book, but I suspect the chances of getting such a thing published are close to zero.
I’ve also been allowed back into the splendid Cease, Cows magazine, with a forthcoming flash entitled “Sleeping With The Fishes”. I don’t know when it’s going to appear, but I will let you know. In the meantime, here’s the last piece I did for them, “Wood“.
Finally, a lot of you writers out there (particularly the ones on MFA / CW MA programmes) have been getting into a bit of a lather about this rather snippy piece of clickbait. Must admit I found it pretty annoying too (particularly the ageist stuff). But then I read this splendid riposte by the ever-reliable Chuck Wendig, and I felt a lot better. A whole lot better.