Thursday, 22 December 2011

National Short Story Day

You can click here to read, download and listen to loads of lovely short stories and to discover the short story recommendations of writers including Claire Massey, Alison MacLeod, Elizabeth Baines, Nicholas Royle, David Constantine, Toby Litt, Zoe Lambert, Vanessa Gebbie, Annie Clarkson and many more.

Monday, 19 December 2011

Making stuff

In addition to making stuff up, I also love making stuff. When it's my children's birthdays, I always volunteer to make their cakes and at least once a year I also help them to paint a big canvas. It would be fantastic to be able to make stuff all the time (provided someone followed me around and did the cleaning up).
I'm going to be off line for a week or two. I'll be making stuff: Christmas cake etc. and I'll also be making things up: I'm hoping to hand in the first 20,000 words of my novel after the holidays. Merry Christmas.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Do I dare disturb my universe?

I wore my 'Dare' t-shirt on a Friday morning a couple of months ago. When it was time to take my youngest two children to school they said, 'Awh, Mum. You aren't going to wear that are you?'

I explained about T.S Eliot and Prufrock; about daring to disturb the universe and daring to eat a peach, but they remained intractably attached to the conclusion that I am an embarrassing parent. And they are right.

As I drove up to the school I noticed that none of the other children appeared to be wearing school uniform and, not for the first time in my career as a mother, I realized that I had orchestrated an Epic Fail. A Dukes of Hazard style three point turn, a lightening drive home, a couple of Superman-speed clothes changes later, and the children were ready for mufti day.

[Deep breath; 'Dare' t-shirt at the ready - here goes...]

In years gone by, such a parenting failure would have left me feeling nauseous for at least twenty four hours. I was brought up in a Mormon family. When I was a child there was a sign in the hallway of my parents' house which said: 'No other success can compensate for failure in the home' (Mormon prophet David O' McKay said this in 1935). The home is very much seen as the woman's responsibility in Mormonism. In 2007, Julie Beck, leader of the Mormon Women's organisation, The Relief Society, said the following in an address titled Mothers Who Know:
Mothers who know are nurturers. This is their special assignment and role under the plan of happiness. To nurture means to cultivate, care for, and make grow. Therefore, mothers who know create a climate for spiritual and temporal growth in their homes. Another word for nurturing is homemaking. Homemaking includes cooking, washing clothes and dishes, and keeping an orderly home. Home is where women have the most power and influence; therefore, Latter-day Saint women should be the best homemakers in the world. 
(I take issue with so much of the above statement, but I'll limit my response to a request for access to the thesaurus that synonymizes nurturing with homemaking. Other women have taken the time to respond thoughtfully to Beck's address as a whole here).

By the time my youngest child was born, the square footage of my life had been reduced to such a small area that any failures in the home, any lapses in orderliness, seemed disproportionately enormous. Once, I sent son number one to school dressed as a Roman, wrapped in a sheet wearing a homemade, paper-leaf crown: Roman day was the following week. Another time, I forgot to pick a friend's daughter up from school, and she waited there for an hour before I remembered. My ironing basket frequently reaches volcanic proportions and beds often remain unmade. I am not, and never have been, one of the 'best homemakers in the world'. And shaming, in the form of 'should be' statements, has not increased either my aptitude or my inclination to improve.

There are some good things, some funny things and, of course, some bad things about being brought up in a Mormon family. By far the worst thing about such an upbringing is earning the label of 'apostate' when, like me, you decide to leave.
Before you joined this Church you stood on neutral ground. When the gospel was preached, good and evil were set before you. You could choose either or neither. There were two opposite masters inviting you to serve them. When you joined this Church you enlisted to serve God. When you did that you left the neutral ground, and you never can get back on to it. Should you forsake the Master you enlisted to serve, it will be by the instigation of the evil one, and you will follow his dictation and be his servant. (Joseph Smith) 
Although the rhetoric of apostasy may suggest otherwise,  I am definitely not a servant of the Evil One (that'd be the devil, as opposed to Voldermort).

Mormons sometimes say that people can 'leave the church, but they can't leave it alone.' This aphorism is an attempt to silence those who leave, and for many of us it works: we don't want to upset or embarrass our family and friends by saying anything about our Mormon experience which could be construed as 'negative' or 'apostate'. Trying not to talk about Mormonism when you've been raised in it can be a little tricky (although it's something I've managed pretty well, to date). But trying not to write about it has been a bit like trying amputate one of one of my limbs with a toothpick; painful and ultimately impossible.

Mormon fiction is frequently 'blindly affirmative' and 'essentially devoid of genuine conflict' (Eugene England). Perhaps this is because some Mormons perceive the creation and depiction of flawed Mormon characters to be an act of aggression; a symptom of apostasy and the desire to be 'negative' - a cardinal sin in a religion in which happiness and positivity are so frequently equated with righteousness. But without conflict and flawed characters, there are no stories. Levi Peterson maintains; 'Literature should reflect life. Ultimately, it should reflect all of life.  Nothing that people feel, nothing that they do, should be denied a place in literature.'

One of my stories has just been published in Dialogue magazine. 'Scaling Never' is my first published story to reference Mormonism. It is a story about doubt, faith, and an absent miracle; the antithesis of the neat, happily-ever-after, stories I used to hear at church. The Mormon church teaches that people should expect miracles. In articles such as this one, 'Do you need a miracle?' the church commodifies miracles, offering instructions on how to obtain one. A miracle would have given 'Scaling Never' an easy, yet utterly unbelievable and defective resolution. Levi Peterson believes that 'Timid authors fall into the error of incompleteness'. I am trying not to be timid; trying not to write incomplete stories that don't reflect real life, even though, in light of my Mormon upbringing, such forthrightness is counter-intuitive.

This blog post probably seems innocuous and incredibly long (well done if you've made it this far) but it's a bit of a milestone moment for me. My younger brother gave a nod to his Mormon roots some time ago, but it's taken me several years to feel able to do the same. I've just disturbed my universe. I've admitted to diminishing guilt re. my 'homemaking' failures, mentioned my Mormon roots and alluded to my future writing plans. Robert Sheppard would describe this post as poetics (and he'd be right). It wasn't daring of me to separate myself from Mormonism - leaving became essential - but, having been raised in a culture which demands the of silence of those who leave, it's taken some daring for me to begin to write about it.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Ranfurly Review

The Ranfurly Review - Issue 17 - December 2011I've got a story in the December Issue of the Ranfurly Review. Although it takes place in a supermarket, the story is about rescuing people and it features the Chilean Miners who were trapped underground in 2010. I watched the television footage of their rescues and had a long think about the ways and circumstances in which people can and can't be saved - I think I might write more about this at some point in the near future...

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

A desk of my own

My author biog in Mslexia makes mention of the fact that I have been redecorating in order to make space for my very own desk; finally, it's done: I've got a desk of my own. For the first time in nearly fifteen years, there's a place in the house that's mine, all mine (sometimes I will share...maybe).

It's an odd feeling to have somewhere to 'work' - that's what writing feels like now that there's a specific place to do it. Of course, I sit at the desk preparing seminars and handouts, marking essays and giving feedback on fiction; these things have always been in the 'work' category, but having a specific place to write is helping me to begin to think of my writing as work too.

Almost exactly two years ago I got my first rejection letter. I tried very hard to ignore the voice in my head that said, 'See, you're rubbish. No-one wants to read your stupid stories. You're wasting your time when you could be doing more worthwhile things, like cleaning the house.' I sent the story somewhere else straight away - it was rejected there too, but I kept trying and it wasn't long before it was accepted.

Of course, a solitary acceptance didn't make me think of myself as a writer (I'm still not there - I've got a few more arbitrary hurdles to jump). I had to laugh this morning when I read Debs Riccio's latest post at the Strictly Writing blog: '10 Ways to Stay Unpublished'. Debs's list reminds me of my arbitrary hurdles, and of how easy it is to become discouraged. I'm innately pessimistic, perhaps that's part of the reason why it's taken me so long to get a desk - 'What will happen if I get a big, lovely desk and then never write anything worth publishing ever again? The desk will be a monument to my baseless optimism...' Recently, I've been trying to make fun of my pessimism. There's a line in the Lion King: 'I laugh in the face of danger, ha-ha-ha!' - I'm trying to laugh in the face of failure.

Since my first rejection two years ago, I've had fifteen stories accepted. I'm hoping that having a desk of my own - somewhere to work - will lead to a few more acceptances and some more exciting firsts in the coming two years.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Issue 52 Mslexia

I've got a story in issue 52 of Mslexia. It's the story that won the Edge Hill MA Prize, but as publication wasn't part of that prize, it remained unpublished.

Kate Figes, who selected the poetry and prose for issue 52 writes:
‘Just in case’ is a chilling and heartbreaking tale about the disabling consequences of losing a baby because of ‘complications’ soon after birth. Emma works in a luggage shop and is obsessed with bags, a wonderful metaphor for pregnancy. When her next-door neighbour asks her to hold the baby for an hour because her father has been rushed to hospital, we feel the palpable emptiness in Emma’s life as she takes the baby into her arms.
'Just in Case' was one of the first stories that I wrote on my MA and it's lovely to finally see it in print. All but one of my MA stories have now been published and the remaining story is currently being considered somewhere, so fingers crossed.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011


A week ago, Claire Massey invited me to be a co-editor at Paraxis. Paraxis publishes short stories online and was founded by Claire and Andy Hedgecock, co-fiction editor at Interzone. I'm very excited to start reading the submissions for Paraxis 03 which will contain stories on the theme of transformation and will be published in 2012.

Friday, 4 November 2011


I don't like to blog about my novel. I feel all jumbly and nervous about it; just mentioning it gives me the shivers. I know what will happen in it; I know the story - in fact, one of the early chapters will be published as a short story in an American journal in a couple of weeks. But I'm finding it hard to know exactly where to open the novel. I'm currently working on my fourth version of the opening. This version begins on Southport beach.

I went for a walk along the beach/marsh/mudflats this afternoon. For the first time, I saw a group of fisherman returning with their catch of cockles. It was pouring with rain which made it even wetter and muddier than usual under foot. I took my notebook with me - it got pretty wet. I found out some of the things I needed to know and I'm going to go back again soon when the weather is better.

Friday, 28 October 2011

A Cauldron of Soup and a bash on the leg

Last night I read at Word Soup. I read my fairy tale 'Sweet Home' because it fit with the Halloween theme. Reading is always fun. Some of the performances from last night's event can be seen here (there's some adult content - you have been warned!). It's always lovely to listen to other people's work; writing can be a lonely pastime and sometimes you just need to get out, let your hair down and find out what everyone else is up to.

When we got home it was pretty late. We're sleeping on the floor of our boys' room at the moment because of our redecorating project. I tiptoed into their room in the pitch dark, feeling my way to the roll-out bed thingy. I ended up tripping over a toy box that had mysteriously appeared in the middle of the floor while we were out. I hopped around for a bit in my pyjamas, holding my leg, trying not to shout or say any rude words. The toys in the box tumbled into each other and suddenly, a talking mirror that someone bought for my daughter a long time ago, shrieked 'YOU'RE BEAUTIFUL' - a fairy tale ending to a fun night.

Friday, 14 October 2011

On the Way Home

My story On the Way Home has just been published at The Front View which is part of The View From Here magazine. It's been published next to a rather fine image of blood cells (see above) which makes me feel happy, as blood and bruises are important to the story. The magazine also showcases short fiction by Jonathan Pinnock and A.J Ashworth, winners of the 2011 Scott Prize. This calls for a comment about being in good company, or being delighted to have sneaked or snuck (I really want to write snuck, but I know I shouldn't) into the magazine. I have wasted twenty minutes trying to write such a comment without sounding like a twit, when a smiley face would have done the job nicely. There :)


Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Dear Lynn and Ian...

Although it is slightly weird to think that we've spent the past eight years sleeping next to your message, it was rather fun to discover it underneath the wallpaper this morning.

Still, it would have been more exciting to discover something like this:

(No, the kids weren't scared and they didn't laugh, either.)

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

The smell of old books

I love the smell of old books and papers. If there was a perfume called Old Books, I think I'd wear it. I'm in the process of emptying my bedroom because finally, after 8 years of living with its pink and orange 1980s wallpaper, we're going to rewire, plaster, decorate, and *trumpet fanfare* I'm getting a desk.

A desk of my own.

It's not quite a room of my own, but I'll take it (grab it, even).

Anyway, in the course of my emptying, I keep finding lovely stuff that used to belong to my grandmother. She was a fabulous woman who was ahead of her time in so many ways. Much to the dismay of her family, she went to university and studied to be a teacher. Below are some of the things I've rediscovered as I've emptied my bedroom.

School certificate from 1933.

What's not to love about a book called 'The Courage of Jean?' (And it smells so good, too)

Here is Jean (being courageous, no doubt).

Sunday School Prize 1926.

Friday, 30 September 2011

Paraxis Library Wall

EnterCheck out this beautiful, library-themed edition of Paraxis.

There's artwork, poetry, photography; seven short stories, four essays and a biting editorial explaining why libraries matter.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

And they lived unhappily ever after...

Caribou IslandI read Caribou Island by David Vann this week. It was a timely read for me, and it came recommended by my friend, short story writer and critic, Ailsa Cox. Vann's prose is so engaging and penetrable that it's tempting to imagine that it is effortless, but there is clearly an art to his artlessness.
I'm trying to plot my novel at the moment and I'm wondering about endings. Short fictions typically resist happy, neat endings (a huge generalization, but I stand by it). Novels seem to me to be a little different; even novels that resist a happy ending require a degree of neatness, otherwise readers may resent their investment in the story.
Caribou Island does not end happily. I don't think I'm giving anything away when I write this - the opening paragraphs should prepare readers for unhappiness. Even so, the shock of the ending was bigger than I had anticipated. But then, as I reflected on it, it occurred to me that of course the novel had to end like that. Now I need to discover the of course of my novel, and some engaging, penetrable and deceptively effortless prose wouldn't go amiss either. 

Sunday, 18 September 2011


Get a notebook - That's the first thing I was told to do when I started to study creative writing. I got a nice one - purple, with coloured pages - so nice in fact that I didn't want to spoil it with my half-baked scrawl. Eventually, I got over myself and scribbled all over the thing.

I've been thinking about notebooks while I've been organising ideas for the fiction module I will be teaching this semester. Books run two rows deep on most of the bookcases in my house. A couple of days ago I rediscovered my first notebook behind a stack of short story collections. I spent an enjoyable hour reading through pages and pages of story fragments and ideas. I was surprised to realise just how many of my stories began (and continue to begin) with tiny ideas/impressions/snatches of dialogue from that notebook.

These pages of disorganised scrawl eventually morphed into this story.

Writing is a bit like going to the gym - frequent exercise can improve performance. Virginia Woolf kept a diary and found that spontaneous and casual writing often led her to discover 'diamonds of the dustheap':
'It has a slapdash and vigour and sometimes hits an unexpected bull's eye. But what is more to the point is my belief that the habit of writing thus for my own eye is only good practice. It loosens the ligaments. Never mind the misses and the stumbles. Going at such a pace as I do I must make the most direct and instant shots at my object, and thus have to lay hands on words, choose them and shoot them with no more pause than is needed to put my pen in the ink. I believe that during the past year I can trace some increase of ease in my professional writing which I attribute to my casual half hours after tea.' (Woolf, 1953, p.13)

Earlier this month, I went to see my brother in Exeter. While I was visiting, I bought a new notebook because the one I took to America is falling to pieces. I made a couple of contrasting entries in my new notebook while I was in Exeter. One is a very inadequate record of an image of my brother, sitting in an armchair with his back to me, surrounded by a cloud of smoke, crying softly to himself. Another is something my sister said as we drove from my brother's house to hers: 'There's nowhere sadder than a garden centre on Christmas Eve, full of trees that will never fulfill their Christmas destiny.' And later that evening as we unwound, she also gave me a list of rules for the humane consumption of jelly babies. I don't know whether any of these images/words will make it into my fiction, but it's reassuring to have them waiting, like an investment, ready to be withdrawn if I need them.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Good Stuff

Fifteen Modern Tales of Attraction by Alison MacLeodI keep promising myself that I will draw a line under short stories; I will stop reading them and no longer allow myself to write them so that I can devote myself to the big thing that begins with an 'n'. But I can't seem to make good on the promise.

While I was on holiday I read four short story collections and a memoir. I've already blogged about Rob Shearman's Everyone's Just So So Special. I also read Alison MacLeod's Fifteen Modern Tales of Attraction, reviewed here and here. The collection is essential reading for the fiction module I will be teaching and I hope to blog about it in more detail in the coming weeks.

I also read Balancing on the Edge of the World by Elizabeth Baines, reviewed here, and Tender by Mark Illis, reviewed here. Both collections were extremely enjoyable and memorable, which is a huge compliment as I've read more than thirty short story collections this year and there's only so much space in my head; the really good stuff is the stuff that sticks.

I met Elizabeth at the Edge Hill Prize award ceremony. I'm always especially curious to read the work of writers I've met in real life - perhaps because even though I know quite a lot of writers, they still seem exotic and mysterious, and reading their work is exciting, in the same way that eavesdropping can be (of course I would *never* eavesdrop). Elizabeth's collection is gorgeous, full of lines that make my heart sing. It is also tremendously varied; every story is skillfully executed and the depictions of childhood are unerring. My favourite stories are the funny and brutal Daniel Smith Disappears off the Face of the Earth and the heartbreaking Compass and Torch.

TenderTender is a collection of linked short stories. I've read quite a few collections of linked stories and there is often something quite unsatisfying about them; individually they are frequently excellent, but collectively there is often something missing: they feel like a novel with holes. Tender is the best linked collection I've read to date. Illis's writing is humourous, intelligent and full of the lovely details that provoke a smiling, head-nodding response. The stories are successful individually and the threads from each are skillfully worked to also provide collective momentum. My favourite stories are There's a Hole in Everything and The Realm of the Possible.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

So so special...

While on holiday I was swept away by Rob Shearman's Everyone's Just So So Special; a furious, frantic, whirlwind of a book. I read the majority of So, So Special in the car during a 3,000 mile journey through and around Utah, Idaho, Wyoming and Montana: a much more interesting way to pass the time than driving in straight lines on cruise control for hours on end (sooo glad I left my driving licence in England).

Everyone's Just So So Special (Big Finish)As I read, I had visions of Rob writing the book, sitting at his desk, typing so quickly that smoke rose from his keyboard while shouting 'You liked the cat story in 'Love Songs for the Shy and Cynical'? Here, have another, even more incredible story about cats...ha-ha-ha' (it's important to imagine the ha-ha-ha part in the voice of The Count from Sesame Street). 'You liked what I did with time and history in the title story of 'Tiny Deaths'? Here, watch me tackle the sweep of two thousand years of history (1AD to 2001) while interspersing it with an hilariously insane narrative... ha-ha-ha.'

There is a real sense that Rob has upped the ante in this collection; cumulatively it is even more surprising, horrifying, disturbing and entertaining than his previous collections, (is this possible? It turns out that the answer is Yes) and individually it contains many brilliant and memorable stories that continue to entertain and quite frankly, bother me (I'm still queasy about/appalled by 'Granny's Grinning').

The stories are linked by a crazy and entertaining historical rant (which may require a magnifying glass to read). It often feels as if the history/timeline and the italicized story which is nestled within it is an elaborate joke (I'm pretty sure that it is), but then a particularly searing observation or unnerving comment will illustrate something about the desire we all have to be remembered, to be special, and the reader is suddenly wrong-footed into contemplation; at times like these it is easy to imagine Rob at his keyboard in creative genius mode, a la Willy Wonka:
'I'm joking,' said Mr Wonka, giggling madly behind his beard. I didn't mean it. Forgive me. I'm so sorry!'
My favourite stories are 'Cold Snap,' a frightening and funny take on Santa (who is quite a scary character if you take the time think about it) 'Restoration,' a beautiful and inventive story about history and memory, 'Without You, I Wouldn't Be Alive' guaranteed to make book lovers' hearts sing, 'Endangered Species,' the aforementioned cat story, and 'Acronyms' which I promise will make you crave a BLT made in exactly the way described (also included are MI5, GPS, AKA and PS).

I haven't done the book justice - it's hard to capture the work of a writer whose stories are 'as light as souffles and nourishing as steak' (Jack Dann) but it's been a pleasure to try.

P.S For people who love Rob's writing, follow his progress here as he writes 100 short stories to accompany the leather-bound issues of So, So Special. 

Friday, 8 July 2011

Edge Hill Short Story Prize 2011 - the winners

Last night the 2011 Edge Hill Short Story Prize was awarded in Blackwell's Charing Cross bookshop.

Graham Mort won the main prize for his collection 'Touch'.

Tom Vowler won the readers' prize for his collection 'The Method and Other Stories'.

Avril Scott won the MA prize for her story 'The Limitless Possibilities of Life'. And Claire Massey's story 'Marionettes' which will be published by Nightjar Press in 2012, was commended by the judges

It was a lovely evening. All of the shortlisted authors were present except for Graham who was teaching writing in Uganda. I met writers Michele Roberts, Polly Samson, Tom Vowler, Elizabeth Baines and Alison MacLeod for the first time. Jeremy Dyson who won the main prize last year announced the 2011 winners, and Helen Simpson was there too, but I didn't get chance to speak to her which may have been a good thing considering how star-struck I was last time I met her.

I also met two of my favourite short story writers again: Adam Marek and Rob Shearman. I was extremely excited to hear that Adam is working on short stories for the rest of 2011 following his Arts Foundation Fellowship and during the course of the evening I somehow managed to separate Rob from a copy of his brand new collection 'Everyone's Just So So Special' (actually, he gave it to me because he is lovely and I grasped it tightly in case he changed his mind). I can't wait to begin reading it.

After the award ceremony I stayed up until the early hours reading the final chapters of my friend Jenn Ashworth's new novel 'Cold Light' (fantastic story-telling and characterization; well worth the tiredness today). This morning I had a look around the British Museum's Treasures of Heaven exhibition which was delightfully macabre and resulted in dozens of scribbled notes on my tube timetable. Before Ailsa Cox and I caught the train back to Southport I bought a huge box of Krispy Kreme donuts which means that my children love me tonight and a couple of other things are also making me smile: I had my PhD admission viva on Thursday and I'm in! I was also successful in my application to be an Associate Creative Writing Tutor at Edge Hill; I start in the autumn.

Photographs of Tom, Avril and Jeremy are from the Edge Hill website.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

July stories

I've got a story called 'The Countdown' in the current issue of Mslexia. Guest editor Salley Vickers selected the poetry and prose in this issue and in her introduction she said the following about my story:
‘The countdown’ was the only OCD story I truly liked, maybe because it used a male voice and I think the ability to cross gender is the mark of a real writer. As with ‘Ego, me’ (also a male narrative voice), the author knew her stuff – the mounting parental anxiety of the father-to-be was keenly observed and conveyed, very authentically, the appalling and perpetual torment of irrational fear.
I'm really pleased by Salley's comments, especially as I'm researching a particular strain of OCD for my PhD project (admission viva is on Wednesday 6th) and 'The Countdown' was very much an exercise in practice based research.

I've also got a very short story called 'What it's Like' at The Pygmy Giant which is a great place to read flash fiction: click on the link to select a FREE short story to accompany your mid-morning cup of tea/coffee; you'll be entertained and it's healthier than a biscuit!

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Andrew Oldham Publishing: Goggle

Fourteen years of bedtime story telling has left me with an inability to read without also doing the faces, as is evidenced below in a couple of short story extracts on Andrew Oldham Publishing's YouTube channel:

At Gogglepublishing you can also listen to story extracts and poems from Ailsa CoxRobert Sheppard, Ian ParksAndrew Oldham and others.

Monday, 20 June 2011

Website and real life

I made a website.

It was surprisingly easy to do. I've put off linking to it because I've been fiddling with the words - I am an endless editor. I can't look at stories once they've been published without feeling the urge to hit the delete key and find a better way to say what I was trying to say.

In recent months I haven't blogged about anything to do with my real life unless it relates to writing in some way. I've been thinking about the way in which fiction often germinates out of real life experience. I've been trying to finish a story called, 'Love: Terms and Conditions' which has left me pondering over the different ways in which parents love their children. I've got four children. I could say that I love them all exactly the same, but it wouldn't be true, and yet I can't quantify the differences: it's not a matter of more or less, it's something else entirely.

As I type this, I'm sitting on a bench in my garden. It's warm and breezy. Cherries and pears are ripening behind me, I can hear baby birds that are nesting somewhere in the roof of my house and in a minute I'm going to get off the bench and help myself to a fist-full of raspberries. What I'm also doing out here in the garden is worrying about son number 3, the brashest, yet most easily bruised of my children.

A True Story about Son Number 3:

Son number 3 didn't say thank you to me in a private interaction at his classroom door last week and was consequently shouted at by his teacher and told to follow me as I left the school premises and apologise. When he caught up with me, his face was stiff with embarrassment and he could hardly open his mouth to get the apology out: I didn't want his apology; I would never buy a thank you with humiliation. This morning, on the way into school, he stopped in his tracks and his face hardened into the same mortified mask: he had forgotten his materials to build an alien. I told him I would go home and get them; and I told his teacher I would go home and get them. But I was forbade from doing it because, 'he must learn his lesson and miss out while everyone else makes theirs and incidentally, wasn't he rude last week when he didn't say thank you?'

I left a deflated and ashamed little boy at school this morning. But never mind, I thought. When he gets home I'll have a break from writing and play football with him in the garden. He adores football and, much to his delight, he has been having a trial at a premiership team's academy. It's not been a  picnic. He has come out of the changing room covered in Lucozade, he has hidden from bigger boys in the toilets and learned that he doesn't have the 'right' boots (horrors), but on the whole, he has loved it. Which is why we bought him a new kit and the 'right' boots on Saturday. And that made the phone call I had this morning to say that he's not quite good enough to continue at the club a little worse.

So here I am, sitting in the garden, trying to think of ways to unbruise son number 3, wondering what to say to him when he gets home from school without either a cereal box alien or an academy place. I know that neither thing really matters, I could give myself a good lecture about perspective and remind myself what's really important. But... it's the small hurts that sting: hurts like Miss Brill's. And it's small hurts that make good stories.

As to this story, here's how it's going to end: the love I feel for son number 3 is an alleviating, witch hazel sort of love. When I pick him up from school, I'll try to pour it on his bruises, if he'll let me. I'll play a bit of football with him, make him something he really likes for tea, and then later, after he's gone to bed, I'll think about the way that fiction often germinates out of real life experience and get typing.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Searching for 'Mud: Stories of Sex and Love'

Mud: Stories of Sex and LoveSince reviewing Michele Roberts' collection 'Mud: Stories of Sex and Love', I've noticed some interesting trends in the searches that are leading people to my blog.

'Mud: Stories of Sex and Love' is a collection of literary short stories, characterized by beautiful language and astonishing descriptions of the countryside: naked wrestling and other activities involving mud do not feature. If you have stumbled across my blog while looking for such entertainment, can I recommend the Edge Hill Prize shortlist instead? I am sure it is much more entertaining than sexy mud, mud sex, sex in the mud and the other unmentionably naughty things you people are looking for.

That is all.

Friday, 17 June 2011

The kind of week I used to dream of

Stuff that has happened this week:

On Tuesday I had three stories accepted for publication within the space of a couple of hours, something which felt surreal and very lovely, especially in the light of this recent blog post.

Tom Vowler unveiled his new website on Wednesday and I was inspired to have a go at building/making/creating (not sure what the website verb is) one myself. I finished the website just after midnight and I'll link to it soon, when I've stopped editing the text (which may happen one day).

I'm finally close to finishing a story called 'Love: Terms and Conditions' that I began more than a year ago during my MA - some stories take forever. I really like this story and I hope that after its outing at the Narrative Research Group last night I can tweek it into submission (both kinds).

The Open University advertorial about my BA experience was published online this week. Studying with the Open University helped me to envisage a future in which I would grab back shelved dreams and ambitions. And here I am, grabbing stuff (small stuff, but still...). I'm on a literary trolley dash, reading books and writing stories that I should have read and written years ago, finally unrestrained by the 'silken shackle on the legs of millions of women' that is niceness (that quote needs a whole blog post and a back story - but it comes from Mormon writer Elouise Bell's essay 'When Nice Ain't So Nice'). 

It's been the kind of week that would have been complemented by a box of Thornton's chocolates but, for the first time in four years, I'm going on holiday this summer, so I've managed to resist.

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Flax launch and other stuff...

Today was the Flash Mob, Flax026 launch. I read at The Storey with the other authors who have flash fictions in the anthology.

You can listen to all of the stories and look at the author profiles here.

It was a really good afternoon. Claire Massey read her modern fairy tale A Book Tale again which meant another outing for the fabulous word dress.

The even has been blogged about by Sarah-Clare Conlon at Words and Pictures and Clare Kirwan at Broken Biro.

It's been a good week for writing; I found out that I'm going to have a story in Mslexia next month - I can't really say how exciting that is for me...THIS exciting perhaps.

My guest post is now up on the Strictly Writing blog.

Additionally, the Open University asked me to participate in their new advertising campaign which gave me another chance to tell an interviewer how much I love the Open University; something I have done quite regularly in recent years - and I mean every word. I'm not entirely sure what the ads will look like, but I had a photographer from the Express at my house at 8:50 this morning wanting to take pictures of me surrounded by books: good job I've got so many then.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Sticking to the Letter

A fantastic article here about Edge Hill Creative Writing MA student Sue Stout who recently won the GQ Norman Mailer Award with her piece Sticking to the Letter

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.