Wednesday, 30 March 2011


Nice news to start the day - 'Storm Warning' is on the long list for this year's Edge Hill Prize for short story collections, together with collections by fellow Salt Publishing writers - 'The Method' by Tom Vowler, Martin Bax's 'Memoirs of a Gone World', 'True North' by Andre Mangeot, 'Hot Kitchen Snow' by Susannah Rickards, 'God of the Pigeons' by Jay Merrill, and 'The Half Life of Songs' by David Gaffney. Also on the list are two books by other writing friends: 'Not So Perfect' by Nik Perring, and 'Insignificant Gestures' by Jo Cannon. Whizzy.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011


I like this - it shows that Under Milk Wood does not have to be read by a Richard Burton soundalike. Listen! How to create a community of characters without a jot of spare sound...Marvellous stuff. (Apart from 'Larrygub'! ...)

Wednesday, 23 March 2011


What is 'visual voice' in fiction? Simple - the effect of layout, formatting. What the reader sees when they open a book, even before they consciously 'read' the words for meaning.
I am sure there must be a technical term for what I am talking about - if there is please let me know. But I can't find it. To explain - I have just finished going through the copyeditor's changes to the manuscript of 'The Coward's Tale', many many of which were necessary, and the novel will be better for them.
But then I started wondering about some - all absolutely correct, grammatically - because they changed my perception of the words, before I even got to them - just seeing them coming in the sentence (this required a leap of consciousness, heightened awareness of what I was feeling) was changing my attitude to the prose.
I'd better give you an example. In many cases, I had created single words out of two words that would normally be hyphenated, or stand alone. "Coaldust' as opposed to 'coal dust'. Or conversely, I had broken normally joined words into two. "Can not" as opposed to 'cannot'.
My lovely copyeditor had quite rightly corrected them. But as I was reading back, these changes were changing the way I read the work. They were altering, sometimes subtly, sometimes not, the inflections in each sentence, the voice in my head as I read. Take a look at 'coaldust' and 'coal dust' and say them out loud, and really listen. With the first, the emphasis falls on the first syllable, quite strongly. With the second, the emphasis falls more evenly over the two words. So there is a shift in the musicality of the sentence.
But more than that - especially with hyphens - they are so correct. And look at the way I write - I use dashes. Ellipses. Too many hyphens on a page where where there are deliberate dashes calls attention, even more than usual, to the punctuation. At least, it did , to me. So I gave a few pages of 'before and after' to a couple of intelligent readers who know my work. 'Which reads more comfortably'?
Answer, the 'incorrect' one.
So I suppose what I am saying is, cultivate awareness of the effects of everything. Correctness for the sake of it can clash with what the words are saying, changing the visual voice of a piece of fiction. If it needs to be correct, then marvellous. If it doesn't -have at it!
To give a good example from work that is not my own, see Jon McGregor's 'Only The Dogs'. And see the layout of the sections, the white space useage, whole long chapters where the last sentence of each paragraph hangs unfinished before white space. Technically, incorrect. But correct that and you'd ruin the novel, because you'd ruin the voice.


Sunday, 20 March 2011


I had the best of times, staying in the little house built for Nellie, housekeeper to Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears, on her retirement - in the grounds of The Red House, Aldeburgh. Now preserved by the Britten Pears Foundation, The Red House is open to the public during the season, and 'Cosy Nook' ( bless Nellie - that is the name she chose for her house) is either used for music students, for performers at various festivals, or, it is for rent to those who don't mind not being on the beach, or in somewhere more commercial. It was very quiet indeed, with a good woodburning stove, walking distance from all the views above, pitch dark at night. Spooky! But I got masses of work done, reading about WW1. Every day after a few hours immersed in the carnage, I put on walking boots, shut the door and went out for three/four hours, with binoculars and camera. Bliss.

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Sue Guiney - one amazing writer, one amazing journey.

Sue Guiney, poet, novelist and friend, gets more quietly amazing by the day. She is taking her novel A Clash of Innocents on tour - no, not here at home - but Cambodia, where the novel is set. And elsewhere... please do follow her amazing journey - today's episode - receptions with royalty and the children of Anjali House...

A Clash of Innocents can be bought in lots of places, Ward Wood Publishing, Amazon, or here BOOK DEPOSITORY.... get one now!!

New Sun Rising - call for submissions

Here's something good - a call for subs - fiction: short story, flash, poetry, images - celebrating Japan. To help just a little at this difficult time for the Japanese people.

That's Greg McQueen up there, the guy behind 100 Stories for Haiti, and 50 Stories for Pakistan - listen. Good guy, good message.

Subs details in full can be found here but here's a precis:
All work relevant to Japan, please.
Short stories to 7500 wds (ONE only per submitter please)
Flash fiction under 1000 wds, micro, cell-phone stories (Please send max of 3)
Poems, under 40 lines, max of 3.
Haiku, max of 5.
(You may mix poems and flashes, as long as the total number of pieces doesn’t exceed 3.)

Back and white artwork and photography.
Manga - max 5 pages.

Friday, 18 March 2011

Home again, home again...

Two weeks away, out of touch in so many ways, and it has been fun. Drove back slowly today, knowing the writing world in all its various shades of diamond sparkle would soon be falling round me. The world keeps on turning, people keep running, writing, exchanging information, on and on, even when you ain't there – and when you get back to normality, (oh the noise, the meaningless chatter - it has been so quiet in Suffolk…!) there is a lot of catching-up to do. But overall, thanks to the world of writing for being there, even when I’m not!

OK. Some catch-ups.

1. Congrats, first of all to Jacky Taylor and to Linda McVeigh, in particular, for their shortlisting in the Asham Award. Whether or not they win the prizes to be announced at the Small Wonder festival in Spetember - they will be published alongside such luminaries as Petina Gappah (Guardian First Book Award 2009) and Kate Clanchy (National Short Story prize 2009) in the 2011 Asham Anthology.

2. Congrats too, to fellow discussee (is that a word?) Gerard Woodward, on his Sunday Times shortlising. Here’s his booklist - The most fascinating discussion on the short story, hosted on the blog of Professor Patty McNair of Columbia College Chicago, continues – a few of us nattering away, with long time lags, like a transatlantic phonecall - especially interesting is ‘HOW’ the short story? Want to know how one of the very best around does it? Gerard said a week or so back, ‘it starts with memory’:

3. Interview 1 – with Jon Pinnock asking the questions (thanks Jon!)– mainly about Storm Warning, and why a war book, and how, on the Salt Publishing Blog: here

4. Interview 2 – with Jen Campbell on Not the Six Word Novel (thanks Jen!)– the first of four interviews in celebration of Salt Publishing

5. Belletrista – a featured story from Storm Warning, called ‘The Wig Maker’, kindly supplied by Salt – on this journal for women’s writing, online.

6. Teaching and talks. Some kind invites, from Sussex Writers, and Cambridge Wordfest, Anam Cara Writers’ Retreat in Ireland, Winchester Writers’ Conference, New Writing South in Sussex again, and lastly, Bridport, Dorset.
Here’s one-
WEEKEND FOR WOMEN WRITERS: I am facilitating a weekend writing retreat at Tilton House, Sussex (Maynard Keynes’ Sussex home) in September. New Writing South had booked this gorgeous but gorgeous house for the weekend (Fri 16 Sept 4 pm to Sun 18 Sept 4 pm). Why just women? Because we all have multiple roles which can conflict with our need to be creative beings. Boss/Work Colleague. Wife. Mother. Sister. Daughter. Friend. Sometimes, they get in the way. A whole weekend to feed the soul in the company of like-minded women, in one of the most inspirational places I know. No blokes. Apart from the cook…ha!

7. The Binnacle:
I received this tiny parcel, all the way from the University of Maine at Machias – the second issue of The Binnacle to have my words somewhere inside. Don’t think magazine, or journal – think box – with cigarette card-sized stories… perfect for teaching, for inspiring, for sharing…

8. Judging The Theodora Roscoe/Vera Brittain Short Story Competition.
I have a whole box of manuscripts to read, entries from members of one of the oldest sciety of women writers in the world - The SWWJ (Society of Women Writers and Journalists. Standard fairly amazing. It is going to be a toughie, this do by mid April...

I will tot up the results of being away - the reading done, the walks walked, the work with Bloomsbury achieved thanks to visits to a cafe with wifi and many bacon butties to pay for said wifi... in a few days. With homage to Benjamin Britten and Nellie. What? Sorry, you'll have to wait and see!!

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Time out and a poem.

Money - it's just wampum, beads, dried fish or stones. One portion of my advance has been spent on two weeks alone in a small hut with no access to the Internet, in a beautiful garden. I shall take a pile of books, a few bags of foodstuffs, my favourite pillow. Walking boots, anorak, warm hat. A bottle of red wine or six. After one scheduled call on Tuesday from my copyeditor, I shall put my watch in a drawer.
I will leave a poem by Aneliya Siderova*, in the meantime, borrowed from that fine place, Ink, Sweat and Tears.


On Thursdays I cross the bridge over the railway
On Fridays I cross the river bridge

On Saturdays, there are no bridges to cross.

* Aneliya Siderova is Bulgarian and lives in London. She would like to be a teacher but works as a cleaner. She has been writing poetry in her native tongue for some years and Bridges is her first poem in English.


Saturday, 5 March 2011


Well, I was going to wait until a few tiny tweaks were done by the wonderful Holly of Bloomsbury, who is doing this work of art by hand - but as it appears in the Bloomsbury catalogue, yer tiz! I love it, love it. We are having fun going backwards and forwards making the two characters a little tattier, and less clean cut.
No photo could do the jacket justice.. the six leaves either side of the title are hand blocked in silver, and it is a thing of real beauty.
Thank you so very much from the author to the artist.

Friday, 4 March 2011


I am really amazed and delighted that 'Words from a Glass Bubble' is among ten short story collections by Brit writers, chosen by Booktrust, and featured on the Booktrust website. Even more delighted that Salt Publishing have not one but two collections up there - the wonderful 'White Road and Other Stories' by Tania Hershman keeps 'Bubble' company.
Lovely lovely that Adam Marek's 'Instruction Manual for Swallowing' is in the list too, and Clare Wigfall's 'Louder Sound and Nothing' - (it is the Frank O'Connor Class of 2008 - that was obviously a great year!) It is also particularly nice to see the small presses represented well!! Slightly daunting to be mentioned in the same feature as A L Kennedy and James Lasdun, Courttia Newland, Helen Simpson...yikes.

For descriptions, and full details of all the collections, see Booktrust website: HERE

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Competitions, collections, Salt Publishing - Interviewed by Jen Campbell

Writer Jen Campbell is running four interviews with Salt writers this month. Up first, discussing everything from my father's influence on the stories in 'Storm Warning', to how I bounced back from potential disaster when writing 'The Coward's Tale' is meself. Plus a lot about the lovely Salt.

Read the interview here.

and scroll down for a great interview with Jon McGregor whose third novel 'Even the Dogs' I am reading at the moment. Fascinating, not the least because we share a publisher in Bloomsbury, and an editor...