Sunday 31 July 2011



Dr Faustus at The Globe - the best! Beg or borrow a ticket, if you are remotely theatre -orientated. And even if you aren't this could convert you. I still find myself thinking about it. We went last week, having managed to get two tickets in the gallery, not together, though - even though I bought them weeks and weeks ago. The reviews are that good. For a very good description of the performance see Ros Barber's blog.

Another must-see if you are at the Edinburgh Fringe – FEDERER VERSUS MURRAY - A new tragi-comedy by Gerda Stevenson about war on several levels, man versus wife, nation against nation and Scotland versus… the Swiss master. From a claustrophobic flat in Scotland to the Swiss Alps via Afghanistan we follow Flo and Jimmy on a painful, and at times farcical journey, complete with war-paint, featuring live music and an outstanding company of Scottish artists. ‘Hilarious and heartbreaking’ (Herald), ‘A beautiful, uncompromising and genuinely moving play’ (Live Theatre).
Good luck too, to the 'Federer versus Murray' team. I’m v much hoping Gerda Stevenson and Andrew G Marshall and Ignacio Jarquin (see post below) will find time to touch base.

Sean O’Faolain Short Story Competition deadline extended another two days - means they haven’t got the right number of entries usually – get them in!
Manchester Short Story prize – you have another tn days to get your story in!

Bridge House are also running a short story competition details here.


Here is a really good article, from the mouth of a top guru, on how to approach an agent – diamond advice from Bill Hamilton of A M Heath on Mslexia website - and it is not with a letter that lists two writers you write like! Forget that hackneyed advice. Read this. This website is a mine of really good information and advice for writers.

I have a new short story, ‘Ed’s Theory of Souls’ and a flash piece, in this year’s Matter Anthology, from Sheffield Hallam MA. They will appear alongside work by the students and work from fellow guest writers David Gaffney, Paul Farley and Colette Bryce.

I was impressed with the look of the Lightship competitions, terrific initiative, backed by terrific names – Andrew Motion, Cynthia Ozyck – to name just two, so was rather pleased to be invited to be final judge for their One Page Competition 2011/12.

Am also final judge for New Eastbourne Writers 2011 short story competition.

Smashing to be invited back to Ipswich, as visiting tutor on the short story module of the Creative Writing degree at UCS (University Campus Suffolk). Autumn term fixed, spring term pending.

I have been enjoying doing a bit of private tuition via email for a writer in India. Isn't it marvellous how we can do this! I never fail to marvel and enjoy.

I won the Booker! No really, I did –a Twitter Booker competition for a spoof title that could have won the real Booker if it existed! ‘The Bigamist’s Manual’, a non-existent title, won me fourteen signed Booker nominated novels. Whizzy or what?

I had such a good few days with military historian Jeremy Banning, that I am putting together a group visit to the Somme in the autumn of 2012, especially for writers, led by Jeremy. 4 days, I expect, staying in a B and B. We are a group of six so far, four women, two men. Let me know if you are interested in finding out more.

Thursday 28 July 2011


‘Caruso and the Monkey House Trial’ is off to Edinburgh for the Fringe. Come along and join the fun – and gasp at the talent displayed in this one-man-show! And it’s a good thing that actor and tenor Ignacio Jarquin likes bananas – he has to eat one during every performance.
‘Caruso and the Monkey House Trial’ is a sparkling one-man ‘play with opera’ which opens at the Edinburgh Fringe next week. It really is something worth going to if you are there –quite spellbinding as the audience becomes the jury, watching as Jarquin re-enacts the events that led to the singer Enrico Caruso’s high profile trial, accused of pinching a lady’s bottom at the New York Central Park Zoo.

In a pre-Edinburgh run at Brighton Festival Fringe, ‘Caruso and the Monkey House Trial’ was short listed for the best play award, and Ignacio Jarquin was singled out for his quality performance. He has a clear strong voice, and acts the part of Enrico Caruso, world-famous Italian tenor, superbly. And not just Caruso – he literally leaps from singer to policeman, from judge and lawyer to ne-er do well ‘private secretary’, and from affronted forty-something female to a depressed monkey. He inhabits all his roles with great aplomb and not a little humour. (It is as the last character that the bananas are consumed...)

We went last night – to The Nightingale Theatre, in Brighton. An hour of drama interspersed with songs from well –known operas, all building into a fab experience that had my husband, who isn’t used to making positive comments without payment, saying ‘That was very good indeed, wasn’t it. Great...’

Singing unaccompanied is not easy. Jarquin makes it look and sound easy thanks to his lovely tenor voice. His acting abilities, and of course the play itself, written especially for him by Andrew G. Marshall, bring Enrico Caruso, that marvellously larger-than-life singer from a hundred years ago, alive again. This performer is great at involving his audience, at one point singing directly to individuals, who become for that instant, ladies firmly in Caruso’s sights!

Well known not only for his voice, but also for his love of the ladies, Enrico Caruso makes a terrific subject for a play with song. Well done to both playwright and to actor/singer. Congratulations, and have a great run at Edinburgh Fringe.

Monday 25 July 2011


Celebrating the short story!

Following the cuts in short story broadcasts announced by BBC Radio 4, there has been a real upswelling of protest. So far no-one from the Beeb has explained why we need yet more current affairs instead of a well written, well told short story a few times a week. So, in case you are feeling bereft already, here are a few suggestions to put things right.
First get thee over to Tania H’s blog, where the celebrations of shortstorydom have filled the last week – with links, ideas and general jollity. And link s to several short story comps closing soon...If things have moved on on the blog, scroll back to 22nd July and on.
Second, if you are on Twitter, join in #StorySunday to receive myriad tweets sending you to wonderful short stories to read online. Share your own favourites too. And if you want to write them, I tweet a (hopefully) interesting prompt each day - #StoryGym.
Third, discover the fun that’s going on at Scott Pack’s 365 Stories, where he is reading and reviewing a short story every day. Some big names are getting short shrift!
Fourth - check out the 2011 Small Wonder Festival -
for a glorious few days in deepest Sussex, dedicated to the short story - so many marvellous writers coming this year!
And last but most definitely not least - visit the blog of Prof Patty McNair of Columbia College, Chicago. to read among other things - a wonderful series of in-depth articles by successful short story writers discussing such topics as 'why'? and 'What about money'? and 'the relationship between short and long, for writers' and 'the importance of getting the endings right..'.

Philip Pullman in support of the Save Our Six Libraries Campaign

Last Wednesday evening, off I went to Queen’s Park Community School NW6, to hear Philip Pullman interviewed by Maggie Gee, in support of the Brent Save Our Six Libraries Campaign. Funds are needed for a judicial review into the proposed closures. I’m the daughter of a librarian. Library books were everywhere in our house, an ever-changing galaxy of stories, information, worlds to discover. When I was growing up, going to the library was as important (if not more important) than food shopping. There was always tinned spaghetti if Mum forgot...

The Pullman-Gee show was a gem of an event! In conversation with Maggie (who it turns out once occupied Kensal Rise Library in a previous closure threat...) Pullman gave some insights into his inspiration. He spoke about his love for the old stories, myths, and legends. The classics. He spoke about reading them out loud to his students when he taught, and lamented the fact that kids at school today do not have the chance to hear whole books read to them, instead they are given sound-bites to learn for tests. He spoke about language, and listening. About writing when young, and how ideas take time to surface – how he read a particular article and it sowed a seed of intrigue, and ‘what if’s echoed and wouldn’t go away, and it surfaced a long time later as the wonderful Northern Lights. He talked about writing a scene to find out what would happen, to learn about his characters. I was hanging on his every word like a teenage groupie. He read, not from the trilogy but from ‘The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ’ – which I have read, but didn’t enjoy. Maybe I will try again sometime. So glad I went. Nice to touch base albeit briefly with the Willesden gang.
Afterthought– as he started to read, towards the end of the interview, the heavens opened, and rain thundered on the roof of the school hall. And even our best known atheist cast an eye heavenwards...

Just an old bedside table
It is a strange time. I am sorting out my father’s house, where he lived with increasingly unrelenting dementia, with our support, for the last two years, until he moved into a home in March. He died on the evening of my birthday not many weeks ago.
I’m finding the oddest things in the oddest places. And not finding some things at all.
But he kept intact all his war memorabilia, his papers and diaries, and four years worth of letters back and forth from where he was on active service, between him and his bride. He wrote marvellous letters.
I found in the roof an old bedside table, painted white, with a single small drawer. The base of the drawer was covered in multicoloured crayon scribbles – and in the middle, careful but wonky capital letters spelled out my name. I’m trying to pin it down, searching memories, rooms. Was I three, maybe four? I used to write my name like that on everything – under the kitchen table, behind the bedhead, low on the wall in the hallway, or on the flagstones of the terrace. Maybe I was staking a claim. “I am here. This is me.”
And it strikes me that’s what we do as writers, isn’t it, and maybe when I was three, or four, I was only doing what I do now. When we write, and when it is published, we are saying, ‘This is me.’ And when we’ve gone, if our words survive, it’s a bit like leaving graffiti on a wall saying, very simply, "I was here".

Poetry -
really delighted to have a poetry acceptance at Tears in the Fence, a print journal of poetry, prose and reviews. It is fun, building a CV in a different skill – reading and learning something I will never understand, (I hope not anyway – if you understand something there’s nothing else to discover...) but which works sometimes. It seems this thing works when you don’t try too hard. Maybe the trick is to wait until something moves you, then write down what comes? Who knows? And here is some great advice on Mslexia website, on preparing your poetry for submission, the third of three great articles from Jane Holland:

Reviews of Storm Warning

Charles Christian on Ink Sweat and Tears this week - calls it a must-read.“Gebbie's skill (and of course she is at home in this format, she's contributed to a couple of books about the art of short story writing) is to keep the tales (which range across history from the religious persecutions of the Reformation to the First and Second World Wars and on to the armed struggle in South Africa) firmly grounded on the individual and their experiences and impressions. And, this is where something magical happens for despite the awfulness of everything her characters witness and experience, along with the inevitable sadness and despair we also see the genuine humanity peeking through. The compassion, the gallows humour, the recognition of the ironies of life - in fact all the stuff (bad word I know) that makes people human, that keeps people going even in the face of death.”
For the whole review scroll down to Thursday July 21st.

Benjamin Judge on Bookmunch wasn’t quite so keen, starting with a warning, “Can you recommend a writer, and maybe even their book, but still be wary of it and its existence?” and he finishes a very keen-edged and thought-provoking review (for the writer, anyway!) with a decent pat on the back: “Gebbie should be praised for taking on a near impossible subject to satisfy her readers with. That she almost manages to pull off such a difficult trick is down to her skills as a writer.”

Meanwhile Scott Pack, on his 365 Stories project mentioned above, read the first three stories, (one full length story and two flashes) of the collection. ‘The Return of the Baker Edwin Tregear’, (Review 31) was given four out of a possible five stars: “A novel's worth of story in a handful of pages.” Things then went downhill fast, as Storm Warning, the title flash, got a two-star rating (Review 37), but Pack was kind, and said “she is a really good writer. I just didn't click with this one. It happens.” The next, ‘Gas Gangrene’, (Review 41) crept up to three stars... “This is a decent piece of ventriloquism from an interesting writer. This collection of stories inspired, informed and influenced by war is proving to be a rewarding read the more I venture in...” and I was able to relax again. Much later, Pack reviewed the title story of Words from a Glass Bubble, (Review 170), and I’m back up to four stars again, as he said among other things, “Sweet and sad - a charming tale to warm your heart on Father's Day.” Interesting. I didn’t think I did ‘charming’, but I bow to Scott Pack’s better knowledge of industry nuances!

My thanks to all three reviewers – for taking the time to read my work, and to think about it. Appreciated.

Wednesday 20 July 2011


I was asked by Bloomsbury to make a map of the town invented for The Coward's Tale - and to help myself orientate everything, I put in all the main characters - expecting Bloomsbury to take them out and just make an ordinary map. Instead, they liked the idea and left all the characters in, surrounded by beautiful illustrations that echo the book's cover.
Then they asked for a line or two for each character... so I thought - ah! Wouldn't it be fun if...and then wouldn't it be even more fun if there was music? Now what music should it be??

The Coward now has a Musical interactive Map!

The Amazing Musical Map is waiting to be opened, listened to - and there might be something else - characters hidden, waiting to speak... To find the Map turn on thy speakers, put on they wellies, grab a brollie and get thee to The Coward's Journey Blog, HERE
and follow the directions...

The Coward's Journey has recorded every step in the process of getting this novel ready for publication - since acceptance. All about working with Bloomsbury, the editing processes, copyediting, writing catalogue copy, writing acknowledgements - and all the rest. This is a very exciting bit!

Monday 18 July 2011


The inaugural Bristol City celebration of the short story took place over the weekend, in the run-up to the announcement on Saturday evening of the winners of the 2011 Bristol Short Story Prize. Held at the Arnolfini Centre, right on the harbour, ShortStoryVille was a series of readings, panel discussions, interviews and general good stuff, all focussed on short fiction, in a spacious cinema, well lit stage, comfortable seats, a huge and perfect space for the event. Lovely cafĂ© upstairs, excellent bookshop for buyings and signings - it was a real joy to be there. So many people I know, whose work I love – and meeting new writers – what could be better? A whole bunch turned up from the old Fiction Workhouse. (Stunning news from so many of the team who worked together a while back. See end.)

ShortStoryVille!!! First up was a panel – Janice Galloway, Alison MacLeod and Sarah Salway, chaired with aplomb, humour and verve by Bidisha.
The event sparkled with great readings from the three writers’ work – focussing on sex and general mayhem – and I loved in particular Alison wowing us with her unforgettable images of ball lightning, from her story ‘Discharge’. Sarah revisited ‘The Woman Downstairs’ (last read at her daughter’s school with unexpected results...) and Janice read from ‘Where You Find It’ – it is SO great hearing writers read their own work – especially when they do it as well as these three. Then ‘Crafty’ topics ranged from an exploration of their writing processes, to revision, to how long does it take, to structure – if that sounds dry, it was anything but. It became a celebration of the differences that lead to success. For example, Sarah will be working on multiple pieces of work at any one time - whereas Alison tends to have one on the go. But there were similarities too - they were all three ‘full of voices’ – Janice Galloway writes ‘to get the voices out of my head’. Janice, I’ve decided, is a sort of wise female Billy Connolly – she is so sharp, funny, and irreverent – I could have listened to her all day. When an audience member asked her whether she was musical – she agreed – seeing no division between music and words.
The event finished with a thunderous round of applause from an audience of mainly writers, I suspect, all fizzing with new enthusiasm, utterly inspired.
If I take just one of the many wonderful thoughts they shared, it is Sarah’s quiet acknowledgement that characters in strong short fiction have within themselves the seeds of their own destruction. Isn’t that just perfect, and a little shivery?

After a short break, there was another panel event, this time on the reading of the short story – chaired by Tania Hershman, who has donned stunning new shoes for the occasion, only to find that there was a table-cover that hid them...(but we did see them later when she read!) Panellists were Clare Hey of Shortfire Press , Scott Pack of the Friday project whose other blog 365 Stories is exploring a new short story every day for a whole year - he blogs here and lastly but not leastly David Hebblethwaite who reviews books and blogs about it here -
Those of us who write short fiction know you need a reader who is prepared to pay attention – as opposed to skimming for ‘what happens’. So it was fascinating to hear how these three experts approach reading a short story, what switches them on and off, whether they have any rituals, or preferred places to read them, how many they read, and so forth.
Clare Hey for example, says she knows within three sentences whether a story is worth reading - she is an experienced editor – really knows her stuff, check out Short Fire above– it is a lovely resource. And don’t we all know how very important are those opening lines? Scott Pack says he does a lot of short story reading on the loo, admitted to with much laughter - he also gives stories short shrift if they don’t grab him. (I hate to think what he does with the redundant pages...ahem...) and David enjoys reading anywhere/everywhere. This panel was a very valuable one – unusual to find this topic aired in such depth.

Then there was lunch – A chance to relax over a beer, and a chance to say hi to Clare Hey, and time to ask her to do a Q and A session for here, sometime.

The third event of the afternoon saw two stunning writers talking about their work. Stuart Evers (With whom I read at Brighton Fringe back in May) and Helen Oyeyemi. Oh wow. Both read – Stuart from his debut collection ‘Ten Stories About Smoking’, in its amazing ciggie box packaging from Picador – and
Helen read from her fourth book, ‘Mr Fox’. Which, by the way I am half way through. READ!!

Then into Choice Cuts – a chance to hear some local writers reading their work. Here was Tania H and finally those fab shoes! And here was Patricia Ferguson, Gareth Powell, Amy Mason, Sarah Hillary and a new writer Emma Newman. A terrific, inclusive and fab event compered by Bertel Martin.

Then, the event the whole afternoon had been leading to – the Bristol Short Story Prize: a glorious civic occasion, with the Mayor welcoming everyone to the prizegiving, and Bertel Martin, Chair of the judging panel giving the prizes. Last year's winner, Valerie O'Riordan actually introduced an event earlier in the day - but her piccie is here because it belongs here! It was a nail-biting few moments, as writers' names were called, those who had had work chosen for the anthology, as finalists from a strong field. Many many congratulations to Emily Bullock, whose story ‘My Girl’ won First Prize. here she is, with Alison Macleod, Bertel Martin and the Mayor of Bristol. More details about the prizewinners here on the Bristol Prize Website.
And then on to the bookshop, for a reception to celebrate not only the Prize but for this writer anyway, a celebration of the whole great event.

Cherry on the cake – remember a military historian called Jeremy Banning who took me to France earlier this year? (blogged here...) Turns out he and his wife are good friends with Joe Melia, Mr Bristol Short Story Prize himself, and his wife – so a lovely chance to say hello again. I’m planning a writers’ visit to Flanders, led by this wonderful guide, next year – contact me if you would like to come.

And finally -

Fiction Workhouse – this little group, closed, invitation only, (no beginners, troublemakers chucked out fast, life’s too short!) ran from spring 2007 – autumn 2009. And obviously, at Bristol we swapped news about the successes of members - novels, short story collections, agents, prizes –writers progressing, getting stronger - good good stuff, the product of hard work plus not a little talent. What a terrific team we were. Look at this lot:

Ben Buchholtz’s novel comes out later this year with Little, Brown.

Elaine won the Bridport Prize in 2009 ... she has an agent - watch this space.

Anna won a supplementary prize at Bridport 2009. Her agent loves her novel - watch this space.

Joel’s collection was shortlisted for the 2010 Scott Prize. He was also shortlisted for the inaugural Bristol Short Story Prize and shortlisted for the 2009 Southern Cross Literary Competition.

Susannah’s short story collection ‘Hot Kitchen Snow’ won the Scott Prize in 2010. She has an agent.

Sarah has a top crime agent and keeps on doing exciting things – watch this space...

Tania’s collection ‘The White Road and other Stories’ was commended by the judges of the Orange Prize for New Writers in 2009. She is writer-in residence at Bristol Uni Science Faculty.

Valerie O won the 2010 Bristol Prize

Sara’s novel in progress was chosen as one of the four finalists in the Faber/Book Tokens Not Yet Published Award, and she is the winner of Waterstone's 2009 Bookseller's Bursary.

John H’s short story collection was shortlisted for the Scott Prize 2011 – he has won a place to study for an MFA in San Francisco.

Me, and 'The Coward's Tale', soon!

And I'm sure there are other successes for Workhousers - Let me know if you know of more that belong in this list, of if I've got the details upside down, it wouldn't be the first time!

Update - from Chelsey Flood via email (edited by me) : "I completed my MA at UEA, an extract of my novel, 'Silverweed', was awarded the Curtis Brown Prize for 'best writing' as chosen by a panel of CB agents. I have since got an agent... Catherine Clarke at Felicity Bryan. My novel is YA. In March I was awarded funding from the Arts Council to complete my novel, and have just finished the second draft. I also won a place on the Arvon/Jerwood Mentoring Scheme - I was mentored by Bernardine Evaristo."

so many congrats to Chelsey...

Another update: Jo Cannon's marvellous collection Insignificant Gestures, came out this year. Nominated for both Edge HIll and Frank O'Connor Prizes - a fab collection of short stories. Many apologies to Jo for missing this one - I only endorsed it... blame my brain at the moment.

Credit - All the photographs in this post were taken by Sylvie Kruiniger.

Thursday 14 July 2011

Nicholas Hogg - The Hummingbird and the Bear

I love reading new books by writing colleagues, and was really looking forward to the second novel by Nick Hogg, whose first, ‘Show Me The Sky’ (Canongate) is a clever and brilliantly written missing person thriller.
No sooner had I opened novel number two, sent by the publisher (Corsair), than it was borrowed and taken on holiday to Portugal by my son and daughter in law. Poor Nick Hogg has had to wait for a family verdict, and I had to read a sea-stained slightly sandy book!

The words on the cover are these:
How do you fall in love with the right man when you are not the right woman?

“A timely and moving examination of passionate love.”

So. N. Hogg Novel number two, ‘The Hummingbird and the Bear’ starts off down a well-trodden path, and whereas the undeniably beautiful cover and the quote lead the reader to think the main character will be a woman, and the book her sad love story - maybe a deliberate ploy to attract a target market, who knows - the narrator is not a woman at all, but actually a spoken-for bloke, called Sam Taylor. Sam is ‘something in the City’ and engaged to Jenni. In the opening scenes then, Sam Taylor falls for Kay, a spoken-for other woman, at a mutual friend’s wedding. The story proceeds at a gentle pace, lulling the reader into what appears to be a predictable forthcoming sequence of events built round love, betrayal, faithfulness and not.

I should have trusted this writer more. Nick Hogg is a far better writer than that, and his characters are made of sterner stuff. This novel may begin gently, but it does not stay that way for long as his main characters reveal their true selves and excitement and tension builds.
Sam Taylor is an interesting, multi-layered and original character who increases in complexity the further into the book one gets. And Kay too, the woman who steals his heart in the most arresting way, is his equal. Hogg is clever – he bases both of them on the foundations of stereotype, so when we first meet them, we think – ‘Oh right, that’s who we are dealing with’ – in this case, a well-heeled, quite nice bloke, and a bored but attractive wife of an older US businessman. But this impression is soon blown away. In Sam and Kay, Hogg has created a couple who are absolutely made for each other, a modern equivalent of Romeo and Juliet, in a way – with all the attendant conflicts and drama, descending into unexpected violence – and as Sam has to dig deep to find reserves of strength he maybe didn’t know he had - their story becomes something compelling. The drama plays out against the backdrop of Obama's election, and the diurnal conflicts of the financial world.
I actively enjoyed Hogg’s prose in his first novel, and this one is no different, from a writer’s point of view, just enjoying what another writer is doing. He is a craftsman. His ability to make his characters and settings come to life is second to none. You feel you are there, watching from the sidelines, unable to intervene. A strange feeling, and one that is hard to elicit, certainly from this reader. From London, to New York, from New York to Mexico - this novel sweeps you on an unexpected and often breathtaking journey.

The one thing I would say is this, please don’t let the cover put you off. Pretty girl, fuzzy outlines, pretty blues, bright lipstick, rain on window, lacy tracery with birds, and hearts, and that few lines of description, just do not reflect the book I’ve read. It’s like they put the wrong cover on. I would not have picked it up in a bookshop, and would have missed a really strong read. ‘The Hummingbird and the Bear’ becomes a real page-turner. It will probably be made into a film – I can just see its potential.

Read it!

And by the way - my family agree.
This is NIck's first novel. Read that too.

Wednesday 13 July 2011


The amazing experiences of working with the Bloomsbury team towards publication of The Coward’s Tale continue apace. Yesterday, it was my turn for publicity planning, so I was off for a smashing lunch at Patara in Greek Street (go, it’s lovely!) with Anya Rosenberg, Head of Publicity at Bloomsbury, UK.

So I walk in with a box of Krispy Kreme Doughnuts... and had fish cakes with a cucumber and sweet chilli dip, salmon fillet in a wonderful, light jus, fragrant rice, jasmine tea in a glass pot with flowers floating...

Oops, sorry. Got carried away there.
Anya knows that I do a lot here online and elsewhere, myself – but we spoke about the launch of the book, whether to hold the launch at a bookshop or somewhere private, and the implications of both decisions. We spoke about what happens with review copies when they come in (mid-September!), who she sends them to and what happens next. We spoke about literary festivals, about readings, about website stuff, about blog tours, about possible features here, articles there.
But the most extraordinary thing, too. One of the happenings in ‘The Coward’s Tale’ has echoes of an important Jewish tradition. Anya wanted to know if that was deliberate? And the answer is, although I am fascinated by Judaism for personal reasons, no. It is a coincidence, not there deliberately at all. And a lovely one – that makes me very happy. Here's a clue:

Planning and lunch, over, we repaired to the Bloomsbury offices, where the doughnuts were delivered to Helen, Erica, Alice, Holly and of course now, Anya – Erica’s been posting about cakes and Bloomsbury – another rich tradition that needs to be upheld!

Sunday 10 July 2011


Writers don't earn a lot - forget visions of J K Rowling in her castle - that doesn't happen to many, honest. But this week has been good as weeks go.

A few hundred quid plus expenses for working at Winchester - and they put me up, fed me and watered me all weekend, like a prize petunia - so that's great.
Another hundred plus a half-hundred for a short story commission, from a much-respected University, for their annual anthology. The editor loved the story I sent as much as I loved it, so all well and good - details in due course.
I am giving a lovely writer feedback on another chapter of her novel. Half-hundred per chapter.

Mind you, not all weeks are like this. Mostly, they are barren, sandy wastelands peopled by hungry husbands and sons crying for food. Well, kind of. They are waiting for the ££ to roll in! Fink they will be waiting a long time!

Tuesday 5 July 2011


Welcome welcome to the new-look blog. And yes- – I am experimenting with colours – mainly so the link to Twitter can be seen on the right up there... it kinda faded away on the old background.
Yes, I am an official Twit. No comments please. I shall be tweeting something called Story Gym every day, sometimes twice – with ideas for making connections that could end up as a story.

But Winchester Writers’ Conference was a wonderful few days. Am absolutely delighted with my time there.

Winchester in Bullet Points
• 400 delegates, from as far away as the Antipodes.
• Return to student days – living in a hall of residence for the duration, eating in the lovely dining hall, surrounded by buzzy lovely like-minded people!
• Endless fascinating conversations, networking, swapping ideas and tips.
• Too many speakers to count, including well-established writers, editors, agents and publishers.
• SUCCESS! Many writers found an agent. At the plenary session alone there were six writers from last year with books out or forthcoming from excellent publishers as a direct result of meeting their agents for the first time at Winchester last year.
• A complete lack of pretension. A celebration of writing in all its myriad forms.
• Supportive – encouragement for the newer writers, a guiding hand for the ones struggling up the slopes, and help with professional issues for those teetering higher up.
• Honesty. Straight appraisal of work. From other writers, from editors, agents. Especially work writers think is ready to pitch. Is it? No one wants you to make mistakes at this delicate time – get it right!
• Variety. A blizzard of opportunities to listen and learn about anything and everything to do with writing. Writing for children and young adults. Crime writing. Historical works. Women’s magazine fiction. Commercial work. Poetry. Memoir. Literary work. And all the rest.
• Inspirational keynote speakers. Barry Cunningham, one-time marketing guru from Bloomsbury who now runs Chicken House Publishing, and who discovered JK Rowling – telling a packed auditorium how, and why, and drawing lessons for everyone from his experiences. And Geoff Holt, sailor extraordinaire, writer of stunning memoir for which he had to type over a million characters with a single finger. He is disabled. And sailed right round the UK... putting most people’s get-up-n-go, including mine, to shame.
• Marvellous book-fair, run by indie bookshop P G Wells of Winchester. Who sold squillions of books, of all sorts shapes and sizes. And I love them even more because they are stocking my ‘Short Circuit’ after the conference!
• Writing competitions – eighteen of them. Prizes to be won – and many of the comps are backed by publishers, agents, the local press – the winners are taken very seriously. This years winner of a 1000 wd short story comp run by the Hampshire Chronicle won free attendance to the conference. And went home with an agent for her novel....
Jane Wenham-Jones. The smashing after-dinner speaker at the awards dinner – author of three chick-lit novels, and two ‘Wannabe a Writer’ volumes – Jane is a scream, and beneath the fun, a very useful and supportive writer to know.

What was I doing? Quite a bit –
• a short story workshop split between 3 hrs on Friday evening and 2.5 hrs on Sunday morning. A small group – intense, hard work, and fun.
• A short story master-class – one hour of tips and strategies, advice and discussion.
• A flash fiction talk – last minute replacement of a speaker who was unfortunately unable to attend because of illness – but it went well – I got them writing as well as listening!
• One-to-ones with writers who had sent the opening of a short story, or in one case, of a novel.
• And attending the plenary session, the prize-giving for the comps, the glitzy dinner following.
• Walking up and down the campus – its on a slope! All those steps, but I felt v healthy by the end.

This was the 31st Winchester Writers’ Conference. I last attended with some friends in 2004, raw, newbie, starting out, and with little confidence for all my bluster. I enjoyed it, and came away with more confidence in what I wanted to do. It hasn’t changed. It is a very good, positive and nurturing experience, in a world in which so much of writing can be less than. That is down to the founder and organiser, Barbara Large MBE. A nicer person you couldn’t hope to find – caring absolutely that no disadvantage ought to stop a writer writing, if that is what they want to do. A deep bow and a salute to Barbara! I have no idea if that link back there is current, but it will tell you a little about this remarkable and very self-effacing lady.

Next year, one week earlier, it will be the 32nd Winchester Writers' Conference. I am keeping my fingers crossed that I am invited back to speak. Pretty Please, organisers? But whether I am there or not, the team of speakers will be amazing - writers, put it in the diary for 2012!