If you’ve been looking for new short stories to read and you have a Twitter account, join us for #StorySunday where anyone and everyone can contribute a link (or links) to a short story you can read online. Brainchild of Tania Hershman – the only rule (I think) is that you can’t use it to plug your own stories. Which is fair enough. My recommendation for today is/was Jack Swenson’s Aurora Borealis which I found in the Istanbul Literary Review. For more information about #StorySunday and how to take part, check out Tania’s blog post here.


Updates: Bugged, BS4 and Lydia Davis

A few updates:

Firstly the Bugged creative eavesdropping project (that I talked about here) launch their book next week. For more info on launch events in Manchester and Birmingham with readings, check out the Bugged website here. Looks terrific!

More opportunities for UK short story writers, the excellent Bristol Short Story Prize team announced 2011 competition. Entries by post or online. Prize money has been increased with next year’s winner receiving £1000 and £150 voucher to spend in Waterstones. Details here.

Finally, the October issue of The Short Review is online now and includes a (syndicated) review of AM Hurley’s The Unusual Death of Julie Christie and other stories (written by me) plus a wonderful review of The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis by Tania Hershman and interview with the author. I’ve read or rather, listened to, some of Lydia Davis’ stories before but after reading Tania’s review … had to go online (Abe Books) and order it!

Latest stuff and things

First, a reminder that 1 July is BUGGED, so today (according to the Bugged website) is B-Day minus 1.

I will be eavesdropping tomorrow, probably in disguise, or at least in shades but we have until (I think) 15 August to submit a story … unlike the Bridport Prize 2010 which is closing to submissions today!

Other things:

Afternoon readings of Tania Hershman’s flash fiction this week on BBC Radio 4, I enjoyed the first set of six stories yesterday – if you missed today’s programme (like I did), there’s still time to catch the third episode tomorrow, or you can find all three episodes of Flash on IPlayer.

Me? I’ve been lost in paperwork. I used to love doing ‘office-y’ stuff when I was about … nine, not now! But things have been hole-punched and filed. A few ticks to put in boxes … *sigh*.

On Monday I submitted a piece of flash fiction to the Bridport competition. Note – one piece.  I know lovely people – and excellent writers – who’ve submitted several to this competition, so not going to cross fingers this time.

But hey … you just don’t know do you?!

And yes, the Gazelle‘s still for sale if you’re interested …

A big think about writing

I’ve been having a (post-NaNo) BIG THINK about my writing. I finished my last (OU) creative writing course in May (A363 Advanced Creative Writing) and though I’ve written a lot of words since then I have only submitted one short story (4000 words) – deemed ‘intriguing’ but ‘difficult to place’ by the editor I sent it to in June and who refrained from telling me until September that he wasn’t going to publish it. So I’ve sat on this story for a while (almost as long as he did) and – with NaNo finished – decided now was the perfect time to reassess the whole goddam writing thing.

The issue isn’t whether or not I should write, but – having had a few pieces of flash fiction and poetry published online and in print, where do I want to go from here? Should I do an MA or should I just write? And if I (just) write, what sort of writing should I do? More flash fiction? Longer short stories? Poetry? A novel?

This is when I began to realise that I was asking myself the wrong questions. Whilst I have been writing, I have been reluctant to edit – and when I asked myself why, I realised that it was because of what my writing was about.

My writing is essentially character-based, and often dark. I am not a plot-driven writer, I am a left-brained creative who struggles with logic and a linear approach to anything. I’m a lateral and intuitive thinker, a sensitive soul, a people-watcher. This is how I figure things out; writing is my way of making sense of the stuff I see and hear out there in the world.

But after all the thinking I’ve done, all the notes I’ve written, all the writing I’ve done, all the friends I’ve discussed this with, I’ve read two books that have changed things.

My first epiphany came while reading Doug Coupland‘s Generation X (and subsequently Generation A, which I’m half-way through). I could write a novel in which nothing really happens. No – truly, it is OK – he has done it, in a very clever way and it is an amazing read. I only wish I’d discovered him ten years ago.

The second epiphany happened the other night whilst reading one of Salt‘s most recent publications: Short Circuit – a book of essays about the art of writing short fiction, edited by Vanessa Gebbie.  I’ve only read three of the essays but these have been reassuring, illuminating and liberating (and I can’t wait to read the rest):

Tania Hershman in her essay, Art breathes from containment … sums up (flash fiction) by saying, ‘there is nothing that flash fiction cannot be, there is no prohibition on style, content, tone, pace, point of view, linear or non-linear narrative.’

Elizabeth Baines essay, True story, real story – good fiction (despite personal reluctance and with great authorial generosity) provides insight into her writing process and explains how she absorbs real life experiences and reconstructs them as fiction. This was particularly reassuring not just because my creative process is so similar to hers but also because it connects with another – the most daunting – of my writing ‘issues’, the ‘what it’s about’ which Alison MacLeod addresses in her essay, Writing and risk-taking.

She begins, ‘there will be good reasons not to write almost every story that you care about writing …’ Tell me about it, I was already thinking out loud at this point.

She says, ‘I often find myself drawn to writing about characters who are attracted to something that is taboo.’ OK, well what I write about isn’t exactly taboo, but the characters can be edgy, my stories often exhume the character’s psychological or emotional issues, but as Alison says, (this)

‘can create a complex emotional world (and) … contradictory feelings are jet-fuel for stories; they immediately give a story the tension of opposing emotions and they are also, in their messiness, particularly true to life.’

WOOHOO. This last essay was the one I found the most liberating. Yes I will take the risks I want to take with my characters and my stories, and furthermore I will take the risk that my stories – though ‘intriguing’, might be ‘difficult to place’, but if that is how I write, – and if someone enjoys what I’ve written and sees some value in it – then it will have been worth the risk.

So thank you to Tania, Elizabeth and Alison, I am now officially ‘unstuck’ – and a huge thank you to Salt for publishing this brilliant book.

Just one book

salt_40 I discovered Salt Publishing a couple of years ago when I was researching potential (and at that time, theoretical) outlets for a creative writing project I was doing at university. I liked the style of their operation – the type of books they were publishing, even harboured a faint ambition that one day I might submit my work to them.

Though I didn’t buy one of their books, I came across Chris Hamilton-Emery on FB, was directed to the site this year by a tutor who recommended I read David Gaffney‘s micro-fiction and Vanessa Gebbie‘s short stories. I also wanted to read Tania Hershman’s The White Road & Other Stories.

I’ve been following the viral campaign on Facebook and latterly via friends on Twitter to ‘Save Salt – buy just ONE book’ – and as I was in a position to this week, have bought not one but two – wanted to buy three, but hopefully they’ll still be around next month when I can afford the one I want. Meanwhile the media have picked up on the campaign and the BookSeller reports that Salt have so far made up 20k of their 55k losses. This is good news, not just for Salt, but for readers and writers of poetry and short fiction.

Just in case you were wondering, these are the two I’ve bought:

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If you haven’t already, you can buy online at Salt Publishing or from booksellers nationwide.