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.


  1. Congrats on "Tears in the Fence" - another of those mags I've never managed to get into. My "old bedside table" equivalent is a mantelpiece calendar that my mother kept within sight of in her last years, sneaking glances at it. I learnt about days/months with it. As kid it was my job to change it each morning. My thumb helped fade the "Y" away.

  2. Thanks Tim. Another of the Merthyr poems. They seem to find homes for themselves, whereas the ones I try hard with fall flat. Its really interesting. Had rejections from Magma and from Smith's Knoll -just to balance the equation!
    I love that mantelpiece calendar - thanks for linking the photo. It brought back memories of Becky Falls...excursions with boyfriends who had cars, university days at Exeter.

    I was watching Harry Potter with youngest son's girlfriend recently - and of course they have 'port-keys' -random objects that take you somewhere else. Looks like your calendar, and my little table are port-keys to go way back in our own memories...writers' port keys. Any more out there?

  3. So much here, but mainly wanted to say how much I love the story of you signing your name to everything as a little girl, and the idea that as writers maybe we are doing the same thing. I'm sure you're right. Oh, and I really didn't Luke Oullman's Jesus book either, though I think everything else he does is great.

  4. Thanks Sue! I also love the way Blogger has predictive=texted Pullman's name and the preceding verb!

    Roll on the works of Luke Oullman!

  5. So much to enjoy in this post, Vanessa. Love love love the bedside table.

  6. Patty thank you. And I have added a link to your marvellous series of articles by short story writers. Hadn't caught up with the fact that you'd collated them so successfully on the blog!

  7. Thanks again, Vanessa. Especially for your participation in the on-going conversation.