Saturday, 28 May 2011

Strictly Writing Award

Yesterday I found out that I have won the Strictly Writing Award which is lovely.

My winning story, 'My Burglar' can be read here.

I will be doing a guest post at the Strictly Writing Blog shortly.

Friday, 27 May 2011


On Monday I had a phone call telling me the sad news that my writing friend and former teacher, Jo Powell had died suddenly. I think Jo's students and colleagues are aware of the news now, so I feel it's okay to write the following...

Die Blutkammer (Thriller)Jo was my workshop supervisor during the second semester of my MA. In the early part of that semester, I workshopped a story called 'Sinking' that will be published shortly in the Black Market Review. After the workshop, Jo advised me to read Helen Simpson's short stories. The next time I saw her she handed me a battered, and obviously much loved copy of 'Hey Yeh Right Get a Life'. I gobbled that book. There wasn't a sentence or a word out of place. The prose was gorgeous, luscious - absolutely perfect and the stories spoke to me, a mum of four whose life had been heavily 'domestic' for more than a decade. The book made me realise that I could write about ordinary things, things I understood; like old ladies who can't remember where they put stuff, mothers who despise parenting books and children who don't understand the permanence of death. Jo's thoughtfulness (and her kindness in lending books - something I rarely ever do, particularly favourite ones) opened a whole new world of reading and writing to me.

When I finished my MA I joined a writing group. Jo was also a member of that group. She was workshopping her third novel. I looked forward to receiving her chapters each month before we met to discuss them. Jo's novel is a haunting story about memory and loss. Alix, the novel's detective, is eminently likable and professional; she exists in my imagination as another version of Jo: dark haired, intuitive and capable. Last time we met, 2 weeks ago, I wrote 'I can't wait to find out what happens with Alix and Jack' on the bottom of Jo's manuscript: it's hard to accept that I won't find out.

Jo was funny, clever and kind. She was generous with herself - when I was struggling to make a decision about son number two's schooling, she told me about a similar experience she'd had and reassured me that I would make the right choice. Her writing was understated and elegant (like her). She was modest about her considerable achievements and always gracious: she accepted feedback from an unpublished novice (me) and offered thoughtful advice and encouragement in return. She had a wicked laugh, she had a messy car (yet another reason to like her - whose car smells like upholstery shampoo and air freshener anyway?), she had great legs (I haven't had pins like hers since I was about twelve) and she always looked gorgeous: Jo was a lovely person, an excellent writer, a pleasure to be around, and I will miss her.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Things to read

I spent most of yesterday editing my PhD proposal, part of which will involve examining depictions of religious families in fiction. I have piles of books to read (dining room pile pictured) and an enormous list of books to reserve from the library. It's so exciting to think that I absolutely HAVE to read all of these books because it is actually work. I can't wait to slope around the house, book in hand: 'Sorry, I'm working at the moment.'

Following the Once Upon a Time Modern Fairytale Competition, I received a letter, forwarded by the Chapel Gallery, from someone who had read my story and really enjoyed it. In these days of email, texting and skype, it was lovely to open an old-fashioned, unanticipated, letter.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Flax Profile

I went to Lancaster a couple of weeks ago to record my flash fiction piece 'Dancing in the Kitchen'. Afterwards, I chatted to Sarah Hymas as Jonathan Bean took photographs for my Flax profile which can be seen here.

I hate having my picture taken. I am designated photographer at home. I'm consequently much more comfortable on the other side of the camera, pursuing the children, ready to snap if they happen to smile. However, Jonathan took some photographs that I actually quite like - that, and news of a forthcoming publication in an American print journal, has given me something to smile about today.

Thursday, 19 May 2011


I received my first rejection letter on 23rd December 2009. If I'm honest, I was a bit gutted and more than a little worried that I had been presumptuous in sending the story off in the first place. What if the person who read it gave up after the first paragraph because it was so bad? What if it was a textbook example of how not to write a short story and I was delusional for thinking that anyone would want to read it? I believe I ate the best part of a box of Christmas biscuits while commiserating with myself (there aren't any other writers in the house to commiserate with).

I'm now a veteran of rejection; I've received all sort of rejection letters and emails. I tend to divide them into three categories: condescending, form and encouraging. My favourite condescending rejection begins with the comment, 'Your story has not met with success because we feel the storyline was too downbeat to entertain our readers' - I swear that my Dad somehow infiltrated the editor's office in order to write it. Form rejections are boring and disappointing because they indicate that my writing didn't stand out at all. Recently though, I've been getting encouraging rejections (*oxymoron alert*). Earlier this month I received a long letter, explaining that the story in question made it to the last round of the selection stage, but missed the final cut because the editors couldn't warm to one of the characters. Such rejections are frustrating because of the 'so near, yet so far' feelings that they engender while being simultaneously encouraging due to the constructive feedback which they contain.

I suppose the point of this post is to remind me to keep going. Along with the many rejections I've received, I've had acceptances too, but while the rejections are now just a part of everyday life, they still significantly outnumber the acceptances: if I ate a whole tin of biscuits every time I got one I'd be headed for a heart attack. I have to remember this: the story that was rejected on 23rd December 2009 was an early draft of a story that was also rejected by Mslexia, although it was mentioned in the magazine by their editor as a story she especially liked. I redrafted again and it went on to win the Edge Hill MA Prize.

Here's a link to a blog that makes my rejection letters look boring. 

Friday, 13 May 2011

Flash Mob: Flax 026

Flash Mob is a collection of flash fiction and it will be launched on 11th June. Each of the authors will be reading at the launch and Claire Massey's fairytale 'The Word Dress' will also be launched as an e-book on the same day.

My story is called 'Dancing in the Kitchen' and I'm really pleased that it has been included in the anthology.

Bonanza Flax Launch  
Saturday 11th June, 3.00pm at The Storey
Free entry

Join us to launch Flash Mob, Flax026 - a dizzy, dazzling anthology of flash fictions from Mollie Baxter, Carys Bray, Jane Eagland, Norman Hadley, David Hartley, Benjamin Judge, Clare Kirwan, Claire Massey, Kevin McCann, Carla Scarano and Stephen Waling.

Also The Word Dress, Flax027 - Claire Massey's contemporary fairytale becomes an e-book, and the digital flipbook Flax028.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Edge Hill Prize Shortlist 2011

TouchThe shortlist for the 2011 Edge Hill Prize was announced today.

Mud: Stories of Sex and LoveThe five, shortlisted collections were a pleasure to read. Congratulations to Graham Mort, Polly Samson, Helen Simpson, Michele Roberts and Tom Vowler.

Short reviews of each collection can be read by clicking on the writer's name:

Tom Vowler