30 December, 2013

Let's Say Goodbye With a Smile, Dear...

Last week I wrote a rather melancholy post reviewing my less-than-prestigious year of writing. So I thought I'd end 2013 on a more positive note with a short and cheerful post and a request for recommendations...

I know I've mentioned on here before how much I love statistics. I'm not going to bore you with detailing every fact about this blog over the last year, however. Instead, here is a little list of the most popular posts on this blog in 2013 (I'm only including the posts written this year - the very top post, and number three, were actually written in 2012) - if something catches your eye, then take a peek!

  1. Calling Writers, Poets and Bloggers. My call for volunteers to take part in Team Zodiac - demonstrating the power of social media (thanks to everyone who shared this post!)
  2. Christmas Gifts for Writers and Book Lovers. Christmas might be over but there's always a stream of birthdays to buy for...
  3. Speakeasy. My first post of the year, celebrating first prize in a short story competition. The first line of the post is "How lovely to be able to start 2013 with some good news!". A little poignant to me now.
  4. Cancer by Simon P Clark. One of the Team Zodiac stories, all about a dead crab. Who knew dead crabs were so popular?
  5. Sagittarius by Helen Murray. Another of Team Zodiac and the first in the series. A love story with a twist.

What were the most popular things on your blog this year? Let me know and I'll go and take a look! I shall remain forever grateful to the person who found my blog in 2013 by searching for "really cool writers". Bless you, whoever you are.

Away from the blog, this is the first full year I've kept a reading diary. I've gave 10/10 for enjoyment to three books I read, but before I reveal them I'd like to ask you for your recommendations of great books to read in 2014. I'm especially looking for books you've read recently - perhaps that have been released in the last couple of years - but older and classic recommendations are always a welcome addition to my book list!

So my top reads in 2013:
  • Room - Emma Donoghue
  • One Day - David Nicholls
  • Gone Girl - Gillian Flynn

I also gave 9/10 to: The Marriage Plot (Jeffrey Eugenides), Haroun and the Sea of Stories (Salman Rushdie), Life of Pi (Yann Martel), Luka and the Fire of Life (Salman Rushdie), The Pillars of the Earth (Ken Follet), The Collection (Agatha Christie), The Horizontal Epistles of Andromeda Veal (Adrian Plass), An Autobiography (Agatha Christie), Me Talk Pretty One Day (David Sedaris) and The Fault in Our Stars (John Green). Have you read any of these?

See you all next year!

19 December, 2013

2013: How Was It For You?

Last month I wrote a post I didn't want to have to write - a perspective on what it's like to not have a publishing contract a year after signing with a very good literary agency. My overall feeling, despite rejection, was positive, but 2013 hasn't been a year of sitting by my inbox waiting for those rejections to roll in. So what have I been doing instead?

2013 has not been a good year for writing. There. I've said it. In past years I've mixed writing novel drafts with a good handful of short stories and met with a few prizes (and plentiful rejections!) along the way. This year - my first as an agented author - expectations were a bit different.

With my novel, The Art of Letting Go, on submission to publishers from March I felt the pressure to get another novel under my belt as quickly as possible. I thought I had a good idea and spent the next six months working almost exclusively on it. Two drafts later and the whole project fell flat. I don't have the space here to explain, but it became obvious that I had the choice of a) re-structuring the whole thing into a different book entirely or b) putting it into the bottom drawer. I chose b. The novel was the novel I wanted to write and I still think it could work one day, even if it doesn't now. I'd rather come back to it in a few years' time and write the book I want, than spend another year writing a book I don't want to write. Perhaps that's foolish.

It wasn't wasted time of course - I learned a lot, and I do think my writing style improved - but, honestly, it feels wasted. Six months for nothing (for now!). While I was working on this second novel I barely wrote anything else - not because I didn't want to but because I found I couldn't. I'm so out of practice for short story writing - it's almost as if I can't remember how to structure anything over 1000 and under 80 000 words! I'd love to get back to short stories, but I'm struggling to know how.

In 2013 I completed just three pieces of flash fiction and one short story. I abandoned a few others. Compare that to say, 2010, where I wrote 10 pieces of flash or short fiction, of which six won prizes. That's not to say I was idle - I spent some time this year editing and submitting old stories of mine, but with limited success. I know I'm a better writer than this time last year, I know I've worked hard, but I look at where I was then and where I am now, and it's hard to see what I've achieved in 2013. So here is a little summary of the things that HAVE happened:

  • One small competition success - being shortlisted in the Flash 500 competition for March
  • Two other pieces of flash fiction were published on Everyday Fiction: a flippant re-telling of Sleeping Beauty and an imagining of what would happen if there were no more Conspiracy Theories.
  • I've blogged nearly 90 times (this is post 87!). This may seem like scraping the barrel, but I've so appreciated the interaction I've had with other writers through this blog and others.
  • Two old stories of mine - Breakdown and A Dollop of Mother - are now available for Download at Alfie Dog Fiction
  • I ran a series of guest blog posts - each a piece of flash fiction or a poem inspired by one of the signs of the zodiac and written by a different author. Not my writing exactly, but I enjoyed it very much.
  • Plenty of rejections from various quarters - a lot of which were actually very positive and encouraging, so I can count them as achievements right?

I am grateful for these things, though I do feel as if I should've been able to achieve these small victories in my spare time over one month rather than as a summation of my entire writing year. Oh well - onwards to 2014! I've just started writing another novel entirely and am finding the process a lot more frightening and uncertain than before. BUT I am enjoying it more too. I am writing because I want to again, not because it is expected.

I'm not setting goals for 2014. Many of my dreams are now out of my hands anyway, but the main reason for this is that my husband and I are expecting our first baby in about three months' time. Who knows what life will look like after that?! The only thing I'm sure of is that 2014 will include plenty of writing of some sort. Because I love it. So to summarise the year: I am a better writer, I understand more about the technical aspects of writing fiction, I am not entirely discontent just deflated.

How has 2013 treated you? Whether you had a fabulous or terrible 2013 (and I'd like to make it clear that, apart from writing, my life was pretty great this year!), have a very merry Christmas!

16 December, 2013

Bauble Christmas Tree 2013

Merry Christmas! Almost. Last year I posted pictures on here of the tree my husband and I made out of books. The books gave it a tenuous link to this blog which allowed me to post photographs such as this:

This year, our tree is nothing to do with books, so you'll just have to indulge me and make oohing and aahing sounds anyway. Roughly following the instructions we found on notmartha.org, my friends Joe and Jenny, and I made this Christmas tree out of baubles while my husband was away with work:

For much better pictures and a little insight into how we made it, please do pop over to Joe and Jenny's blog on all things crafty.

11 December, 2013

Alfie Dog Fiction

Today, two of my short stories have been published on Alfie Dog Fiction. ADF is one of the biggest short story downloads websites around, with about 1200 stories currently available. What I love about it is the range of stories they have on site. Most fiction websites are quite niche - often focussing on one genre or (my pet hate) saying they only publish the very best of literary fiction without paying their authors anything.

On Alfie Dog you're pretty much guaranteed to be able to find something you like, with the satisfaction of knowing that the person who wrote the story is going to actually be paid for their work. They have a huge range of commerical fiction and you can pick individual stories, single-author anthologies or multi-author anthologies. At just 39 pence per story it's good value and you can choose the file type to suit your particular brand of e-reader or to be able to read on your normal computer as well.

I've been looking for somewhere like Alfie Dog for ages. I have a back-catalogue of stories which have won awards or been published elsewhere just sitting on my computer. I wanted to find a home for them that had some editorial control - i.e. not a place where they accept everything thrown at them, but are at least a little selective about quality - but that didn't mind stories having been published in the past. And here it is! It's a relatively new venture and I know they'd be really glad for readers and writers to spread the word about them and to submit work to them as well. So please have a browse, tweet about them, and maybe find a couple of stories you like the look of to download for your lunch break. Hey, if you can't choose, you can always start with mine! Only 78p to download both...

Breakdown won first prize in a short story competition a couple of years ago.  
Convinced she will never be the mother she should be, Jenny is running away from her daughter in order to give her a better life. However, on a late-night train to Anywhere-At-All, she falls into conversation with an odd ticket inspector and suddenly things don’t seem quite so simple.

A Dollop of Mother was one of my first stories to be highly commended in a competition. It's a bit more of a light-hearted tale than my usual offerings!
Melanie’s attempts to charm her village neighbours by entering the Victoria Sponge Cake competition have only succeeded in proving she is not the culinary queen her mother was. This year, she’s determined to do better. Can she avoid scorn? Will her sponge be light enough? And will she ever learn to be like her mother?

05 December, 2013

The Nation's Favourite Children's Book

Last week booktrust revealed the results of their poll to discover the nation's favourite book to read before the age of 14. Having posted about the angst canon of books teenagers read, I thought it was only right to bring you the top ten list from this vote as well. Here it is, in the correct order: 

  1. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone - JK Rowling [also overall winner 9-11 years]
  2. The Hunger Games - Suzanne Collins [overall winner 12-14 years]
  3. The BFG - Roald Dahl [overall winner 6-8 years]
  4. The Very Hungry Caterpillar - Eric Carle [overall winner 0-5 years]
  5. Winnie-the-Pooh - AA  Milne
  6. The Cat in the Hat - Dr. Seuss
  7. The Fellowship of the Ring - JRR Tolkien
  8. Charlotte's Web - EB White
  9. Northern Lights - Philip Pullman
  10. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe - CS Lewis

I read nine of these before or around the time I was 14. The Hunger Games wasn't published then, though I've seen the first film, and I think the premise is amazing. It's interesting that nine of the books WERE published while I was a child. The books of the last decade - with the exception of The Hunger Games - seem to have some catching up to do!

What would you have on your list of top children's books? I think this list is quite well-rounded - well done to the 24 000 people who voted!

03 December, 2013

Hang on... Wait... Taurus by Lindsay Fisher

So, I've been running this story series on my blog in autumn - a new poem or piece of flash fiction inspired by a sign of the zodiac, written by a different author each week.The series finished last week on a bit of a whimper, with a summary of the previous 11 stories only, as my final author - Taurus - hadn't shown up. Well, stop the press! I have a Taurus story for you.

I received a lovely e-mail last week from a blog reader I'd never had contact with before. Lindsay Fisher was disappointed for me that the series was incomplete after three months of work and had therefore written a Taurus story for me to complete my collection - just as a present for me. What a sweetheart! Not only that but he has agreed to let me post it up here for you to see as I loved it. So please show some love for our newest member of Team Zodiac!

Lindsay Fisher Leaks stories. It is an age thing, they say. It can’t be helped. Sometimes they pool in the dirt and dry to nothing; sometimes they spill into nice places, and people say stuff about the stories. Currently work appears in ‘Stories For Homes’, an anthology sold in aid of 'Shelter', a UK based charity for the homeless; and there's something in ‘Cease Cows’ a new online literary magazine.



It was a dare. And you have to accept a dare. It’s like a rule and you ain’t much of a boy if’n you don’t. ‘Course, if you took a dare then you had to give one back. That was a rule, too. And it’s funny, cos we wasn’t much for rules in any place else. School for that matter, we was always breakin’ the rules there and that was just what we did. And ‘Keep off the Grass’ it said in the public gardens and the Parkie kept an eye out for us; he knowed we’d no respect for his signs. And ‘Trespassers will be Prosecuted’ it said up at the old estate; they had the best orchard for miles and we all knowed that cos we got our apples there. But rules that we had a hand in, well, that was different. And takin a dare was a rule and givin one back was a rule, too.

I’d dared Tinker to leap the low fence into Mr Muggeridge’s garden. Our football had gone in there, and not once but three times. Old man Muggeridge had shaken his hoary fist at us before and he’d snarled at us and said the next time he’d put a knife to the ball and he’d set the dog on us. The dog was a right mean bugger and we’d heard stories of its teeth sharp as broken glass, and how once it had you it never let you go. And I’d dared Tinker to get back our ball.

The dog was on a lenght of rope and soon as Tinker had cleared the fence and was on the other side, it set to with its barkin and growling and pullin at the rope till it was chokin on its own spittin rage. And the barkin brought old Muggeridge out and he had a breadknife in one hand and a look in his eye that showed he meant business. It might've been the ball or Tinker he stabbed that day, but Tink was as fast as fizz and he got us our ball back and a mouth full of threats thrown at his back from old Muggeridge.

We didn’t hang around waitin for the police to turn up with their heads shakin and their notebooks out and pencils poised to take down our particulars. We just ran along Cooper’s Lane and out into the fields by Kittley Knowe Farm. It’s quiet up there and no one bothers you. And there’s a lass there called Amy and she’s the prettiest girl in all the town and the first boy to ever kiss her was Arty Blake, and Kensington said he’d done more than kiss her, by which he meant he’d touched her diddies.

It was up at Kittley Knowe Farm that Tinker delivered a dare back to me. There was a bull in the paddock, a big fucker. Big as a truck and it’s black head a great swiveling slab, and it stamped its feet and snorted like a steam train huffin. And a sign said to ‘Beware of the Bull’, painted in red letters, red like blood had been spilled. And Tinker dared me to run across the paddock, one side to the other.

I stood at the fence a while just watchin the beast. It moved slow and heavy, like every step was an effort, like slow was all it could do. But I knowed that was all just a show. I knowed it could run if it wanted to, a small thunder under its feet and a chargin sledgehammer that’d smash anythin in its path. I stood at the fence makin dove calls and talkin real soft so as to calm it.

‘A dare’s a dare,’ said Tinker.

‘Course, he was right but it didn’t help to know that.

‘It’s a rule,’ he said.

Some rules are for breakin when you’re thirteen; some, you’d die to keep. I scaled the fence and lowered myself down into the paddock, not takin my eye off the bull for a second. I could see it was watchin me too, one great rheumy eye just starin. I tried whistlin and walkin casual across the paddock. Like it was the most natural thing in the world and nothin for any bull to remark on. I got about ten steps in and it started movin towards me, shuffling slow as no nevermind at first. But then a quickenin in its step and a quickenin in mine and suddenly we was both runnin and I could hear its breath at my back and the tramplin of its hooves and Tinker yellin at me in fright to get a fuckin move on or I’d be a bull’s plaything.

How I made it to the other side is a blur. I ran till my legs ached and my lungs fit to burstin, and I leapt the high fence as easy as Tinker had leapt old Muggeridge’s low fence, and I collapsed on the other side with the bull smackin its head against the wooden fence posts. And there she was, the prettiest girl in the town and maybe the world and she knelt down beside me and kissed me with her tongue, which is almost as good as touchin her diddies, so that I was twice the hero that day.

Still, I’m a little more careful with the dares I give out since then, and so would you be.