Friday, 22 December 2017

Round up of my 2017

Gingerbread wombats
I decided not to do my usual top ten reads this year (they are ubiquitous so you will have plenty of good reading ideas from other readers and writers!) but I think the book that stands out the most for me this year is Yvvette Edwards' The Mother.  I read it early in the year and it has stayed with me, which is my criterion for a good book! A close second is Isabel Costello's Paris Mon Amour. 

2017 started with my daughter setting off on her journey to Melbourne, Australia where she and her husband have relocated. The year is ending with me visiting their lovely new home to experience a summer Christmas. We have been shopping in the sun, watching people in shorts, T-shirts and sandals walk past jolly Santas and plastic snowmen to the accompaniment of Christmas carols! That felt quite strange.

We looked at the Christmas tree in Federation Square just metres away from the the crossing at Flinders Street Station where a few days later the terrible attack took place. Christmas will be difficult for those who were injured and I join millions in thinking of them and their families and wishing them all a speedy recovery.

My mother died last January and I am missing being able to tell her about her granddaughter's new home and job in the country where she was born. I want to be able to tell her her about the sights and experiences I have encountered in the past two weeks because I know she would have loved hearing about it.

On a happier note, my writing journey has been quite exciting this year. The first good news in January was that I had won the Great British Write Off with a flash fiction piece. Soon after I was longlisted in Reflex Fiction's first flash fiction competition. I've also had a few pieces in Ad Hoc's weekly competitions - although no wins.

In July I won the Senior Travel Writing competition and have had acceptances for two of my short stories, one for inclusion in the Stories for Homes 2 anthology and, last month, the news that I had won the short story section of Hysteria's latest competition which is published in the Hysteria 6 anthology.

Inevitably there have been plenty of submissions that have got nowhere, but the number of submissions was over three times that of last year and my highest number of submissions in a year ever which feels like a small achievement in itself.

The travel experiences which inspired the Senior Travel win included some of my 2017 travels; a brief stay in Bruges, a fascinating trip to Uzbekistan and a week in Catalonia during the recent political upheavals.

In my professional life, I decided to take slightly early retirement from my career as a specialist speech and language therapist after nearly 40 years of working in the NHS. I have to say so far retirement has been  a fabulous experience, although I do miss my colleagues (and some of my patients!) However, I did get to meet up with a dear friend and ex-colleague, here in Melbourne, last week.

Here's to a peaceful Christmas to all of you whether you celebrate it or not.


Sunday, 3 December 2017

Hysteria 6 Anthology

I am delighted that my story, Still Life, won the Hysteria short story competition and is published in the 6th Hysteria Anthology. This, along with the five previous anthologies, is full of stories, flash fiction and poems from many writers whose work I have read and hold in high esteem so I feel honoured to be among them. This year's winning flash fiction is Stephanie Hutton's You Don't Have to Talk About Your Daddy in Counselling if You Don't Want To. The winning poem is Jane Doe #503 by Sarah Jane Potts.

My story is one I started many years ago - it's been tweaked quite a bit since then but one scene that stayed pretty much intact is the scene in the artist's studio.

The house and its studio was based on that of my grandmother-in-law. One of her daughters was also an artist and has work exhibited in various galleries including two in Cornwall where the family spent a lot of time in the artists' colony in the 1930s. The characters in the story, however, are all from my imagination.

Almond Tree in Blossom by Bonnard
The tree mentioned in the story is an apple tree but it was Bonnard's almond tree which inspired it. There used to be a street tree on my road that reminded me of this picture. It was so beautiful and its early flowering of delicate pink flowers in late January or early February was always the harbinger of a long awaited spring. The council cut it down. Like the tree in my story it will live forever in my mind!

The anthology is now available in e-book format from Amazon  and in print directly from The Hysterectomy Association .

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Launch of paperback edition of Stories for Homes 2

As winter approaches and grey days loom, there's nothing I like so much as settling down with a cup of coffee and a good book, grateful for a cosy home to call my own.

Stories for Homes 2 aims to help make that a possibility for those who don't have a home or whose homes are substandard, by supporting the charity, Shelter.

The 55 stories and poems in the anthology relate to the theme of 'home' but the concept is interpreted in many different ways, making this a collection with wide appeal.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, when the e-book version was launched, I am thrilled to have my story, The Importance of Shoelaces, in this collection. It sits alongside stories from many authors I admire and now I've had a chance to read, and in some cases re-read, all the stories, I feel even more honoured that mine was selected. I've also discovered new writers whose work I will follow. The writing styles are varied and the themes thought provoking, sad, funny and cosy in turn.

I remember way back when I was a child hearing the buzz about a shocking TV play called Cathy Come Home. It was shocking because it featured the issue of homelessness, and related problems which didn't get much of an airing in those days until Ken Loach came along. I didn't actually see the play until a few years later and I saw it again on it's fiftieth anniversary last year when it was shown on TV,  around the same time Loach's latest film I, Daniel Blake was also released. Sadly, homelessness has not improved in the intervening fifty years. Co-incidentally the charity Shelter was launched just a few days after Cathy Come Home was first aired, although the two were not linked.

Stories for Homes 2 will not only give you an interesting read but your purchase will enable Shelter to benefit as well. Win-win!

There are a number of live events to launch this collection into the world, including a slot at Rae Stoltenkamp's book launch, mentioned in the previous post on this blog, so do get to one if you can. See the details here. The anthology is also available to buy online here.

Thursday, 2 November 2017

No Souvenirs, Sorry. A guest post from writer Rae Stoltenkamp.

Rae Stoltenkamp
Knowing my penchant for travel, Rae, who I met at my first writing class over ten years ago, has taken time off from her novel writing to pen a post about her travel ethos.

No Souvenirs, Sorry.

I love travelling. For me it’s all about experiencing the place I’m in: the food, people, scenery, vibe…  In a perfect world I’d go on holiday twice, even thrice a year. I’d go somewhere different every time, because how can I experience cultures of the world if I only stick to one place?  Admittedly, I’ve gone back to Italy time and again. A girl’s allowed her weaknesses. 

My list of places to visit is as long as my books to-read pile is high.  For this situation I blame the international gang who make up my friendship group, and Bill Bryson.  To date my friends hale from Hong Kong, Poland, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, France, Switzerland, USA, Brazil, Italy… I think you get the gist. So it stands to reason they want me to know the wonders of their own particular patch. And I confess, they don’t exactly have to twist my arm to make me want to visit.

But that Bill Bryson – he started me thinking about weekend jaunts as well as longer holidays. Him I totally blame for my now insatiable desire to hop over to places like Bruges, Vienna and Berlin for a quick taster.  As soon as the royalties from my self-publishing moves into regular double figures on a monthly basis, I know where I’ll be heading.

I don’t mind travelling alone as I write when I’m away and this can be a touch irritating to companions who are not writers. In recent years I’ve taken to travelling with my good friend Bev, also a writer so doesn’t mind my writerly ways. As we generally have similar interests it’s also great for shared excursions. As I get older I’ve found I want to do the shared holiday experience more and more. I like having someone to plan daily events with and if I go off to do something on my own, I can then come back to the holiday-let and narrate the day’s tales.

I usually post to my blog or Facebook page when travelling as this serves as a kind of travelogue. It’s become a pretty standard thing for me to do now. I often look back on these posts, reminisce and relive the best bits of the holiday. It takes armchair travelling to a whole other level.

The one downside of being self-employed is that I don’t get to travel as much as when I had a regular, stable income. So when I’m on the move I don’t want to be weighed down by a collection of souvenirs for friends and family. I want to spend the time taking photos of eye catching scenes, eating food never eaten before, visiting locations heard of or read about in books. I want to fully immerse myself in the experience rather than worrying I’ve not got the right pressie for Aunty B or searching round for the next souvenir shop.

Sometimes I buy an item of clothing or jewellery from the place I’ve visited so the next time I wear it I can remember where I got it and what I was doing at the time. I have a pair of black trousers I bought in Milan in 1996 which are still going strong. Chopsticks from the 100 Yen shop while visiting Japan in 2008 are regularly used when I make either Chinese or Thai food. These are the only souvenirs I’m interested in along with the copious photographs I take. So friends, family - no souvenirs. Sorry.



Rae publishes her new YA book When Rainbows Cry in early December, the second in the series following Where Rainbows Hide. For more information on Rae's novels take a look at her website.

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Thursday, 28 September 2017

The Launch of: Stories for Homes 2.

The second Stories for Homes anthology is available from today as an e-book and can be ordered here.

Following the success of the first anthology, writers were invited to donate a story for its follow up volume. I'm delighted that one of my stories is among the 55 selected from 256 that were submitted for the current edition.

With a given theme of home, writers could interpret this how they wished and as result the stories are a rich mixture; sad; funny; hard-hitting; and cosy. To put it more coherently, I quote Emma Darwin: "A cornucopia of witty, tragic, elegant, raw, heart-warming and terrifying stories that take the idea of Home, play with it as only truly talented writers can, and all to help those who have no home at all." 

The hard work (lots and lots of it) behind the scenes was (and still is) co-ordinated by Debi Alper and Sally Swingewood  ably assisted by Rachel Dunlop and Jacquleine Ward who have all done a tremendous job.

All the proceeds from this and the previous anthology go to the charity Shelter.   

We know how important this charity is but I've taken some quotations from their website:
  • 150 families are made homeless in Britain every day. 
  • With so many families becoming homeless the number of calls to our helpline from people in need of emergency accommodation has risen by 7,244 in the past year alone. That’s a rise of 10%.
  • More than four million families are one missed pay cheque away from losing their home. We need to be there to answer their call, but to do that we need your support.
So please do buy a copy, or two or three, of the anthology. There are stories by some really excellent authors, ones whose company I am very proud to be in, so this won't simply be a good deed for the day, you'll enjoy it too. I'll also be waiting for the print version, coming soon, because I really want this on my bookshelf, except of course, when I'm reading it. I'm thinking Christmas presents too!

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Forget Bournemouth, How About Samarkand?

The Ladies of Samarkand


I love travelling and I love writing so it's fortunate when the two are combined! I wrote this little piece and submitted it to a travel competition for Senior Travel Expert's website and was declared joint winner. You can read it here

I found the competition on Patsy Collins' very useful blog: Words about writing and writing about words.  I suggest you read it!


In Samarkand there were many stunning mosques, madrassahs, mausoleums and museums but for me it was the people, like the ladies above, who made the place. They took photos of us too.


I've posted some photos from some other places mentioned in my piece

Stonetown, Zanzibar
 In Stonetown I found a cafe, overlooking the sea, perfect for writing, although I didn't actually write there. I did have some great coffee though which is quite a writerly activity.


The taught us their songs too.
The school in The Gambia, where we taught the children the song, 
soon erupted into chaos as they decided to teach us one of their songs. 
It was a little more energetic than we bargained for! 
Order was eventually restored.

Khiva, Uzbekistan.

The rooftops of Khiva are a beautiful site and well worth the climb up a tower to see them. The minaret featured really is leaning a bit. Some intrepid travellers climbed up that too, but I preferred to avoid achey knees and spent the time looking at an exhibition of photos by Uzbekistan's first professional photographer which provided a fascinating account of this country.
Yummy?

A delicious selection of fried insects and arachnids in Cambodia!  They are becoming quite popular in expensive 'designer' restaurants now in Europe. One of my travelling companions ate a whole tarantula. I managed only a leg and got furry bits stuck in my teeth. We lived to tell the tale.


The Road to Mandalay.


The road to Mandalay was long and winding. Unexpected festivals blocked the way with traffic jams comprising buses, bullock carts and motorbikes but who cared, we just joined in.



PS: I'm aware the font changed. No matter how many time I tried to adjust, it wouldn't work.




Friday, 18 August 2017

When should we give up?

I don't mean giving up on writing, but when should we give up on a particular story?

Like most short story writers I've submitted to competitions and magazines and like many of us, have received more rejections than acceptances. I've resubmitted several pieces elsewhere and have sometimes received more welcome news, with a placement or even a prize.  This has often come on the story's 3rd or 4th outing. Some were resubmitted after a few tweaks, a couple went exactly as they were.

But what about those stories which (I almost said 'who') have been rejected or relegated to the non-long-list pile several times. Obviously one can re-read, examine for flaws and re-write, but when any form of success seems light-years away, what then?

We all know success isn't just about having a good, well-written story, it's also about finding the right magazine or competition. It's also about a bit, or probably quite a lot, of luck. Magazines might be a little more predictable as they give guidelines for submissions, but competitions are a trickier beast.

We are frequently advised to read previous winning stories and if these are readily available online are well worth checking out. Sometimes, though, it means purchasing an anthology, some of which come with fairly hefty price tags. There's a limit to how many we can buy but I guess if we are focusing on specific competitions, this would be money well spent.  But although the long-listers and short-listers may be the same readers, many annual competitions have a different judge each year so unless we can find previous winners selected by this judge we may still be in the dark as to what hits their prize winning criteria.

I've done my fair share of research. I read the winning stories and often think 'Wow, a worthy winner.' but I also find that many competitions select writing that I find quite bleak. I note that most of my winning or listed stories, especially flash fiction, have been my starker examples and that's not my favourite writing style. It's not that I want to write only cosy little stories, indeed, a couple of the lighter stories I've submitted to women's magazine have been considered too downbeat, and one happy-ending story which featured a main character who was physically disabled was deemed 'not suitable.'

So, where to go from here?  To search out new competitions? To rewrite the rejected stories? To keep submitting as they are? Or quietly put them to bed?  I've done all four.

What do you do in face of rejections?