I am the editor/publisher of a small press print magazine for women writers called The Yellow Room (www.theyellowroom-magazine.co.uk). I publish short stories, articles and letters. I'm a writer, and have had several short stories and articles published. I have a house full of novels, most of which I haven't yet got round to reading. . .and I can't help buying more! I've almost finished writing a crime novel, but the fear of failing to get it published is sometimes overwhelming. From 1994-2006 I was the editor/publisher of Quality Women's Fiction Magazine, under my former name of Jo Good. I have a husband, teenage son (both talented musicians) and a daughter of 10, who is obsessed with animals.
I don't look like the lady in the photograph, but I probably felt just as good when I went for my run this morning. Talk about from one extreme to another. If you read yesterday's post, then you'll know how negative and menopausal I was feeling. I woke up this morning feeling great, despite a few night sweats! Could this be down to the red wine I treated myself to last night? Or could it be the soya milk latte I had? Or the Alpro soya yogurt? Perhaps it's the sunshine? Or is it just a fluke?
I've come to the conclusion that I have to take each day as it comes. I'm a bit of a stickler for routine, so I get upset when I don't feel up to doing the things I usually do on a set day (like always running three miles on a Wednesday and a Friday). I felt like running this morning, so that's what I did. Who knows how I'll feel tomorrow?
Anyway, I'm off to do some stretches, then a shower before working on some edits for my pocket novel. I hope to send off a story to The Word Hut Competition today and possibly one to Woman's Weekly Fiction Special. My plan is to bombard the latter with submissions until they have to say yes!!
I can only apologise for not blogging more frequently of late, but I've been struck down by lethargy and inertia. It's my age, m'dears. I've been plagued with horrendous night sweats/shivers and hot flushes during the day as well as extreme tiredness. I can't seem to function normally at all. I even had to cancel my run today (this happens quite often).
The menopause has also affected my creativity. Self-doubt seems more overwhelming than usual and I haven't got the get-up-and-go to make myself sit at the keyboard and write. I can totally identify with the main character in Sue Townsend's novel, The Woman Who Went To Bed For A Year. That's exactly what I'd like to do. Go to bed and stay there.
Last year I was driven by that big number: 50. I was determined to make a go of my writing with a 'now or never' attitude. I entered practically every short story competition I could find, and I had a fair amount of success. Then something happened. I can't pinpoint the day or the week or the month, but I seemed to grind to a halt. The long winter didn't help, and spring still seems a long way off even though we're well into March. At least the sun is shining today, despite being bitterly cold and there being the odd flurry of snow.
There's a line from Carole King's song, It's Too Late: 'Something inside has died and I can't hide..' That's kind of how I feel. I can't summon up the energy to feel remotely excited about anything, so it makes it rather difficult to pursue my writing goals. I realise this is just a phase and it will pass, but it's an unpleasant phase. There's also the loss of youth, looks, vitality and memory to cope with! Add to that a growing awareness of my own mortality and the outlook is pretty depressing!
Anyway, there were two pleasant surprises in the post today. A signed hardback copy of Kate Atkinson's latest novel, Life After Life (a freebie from The Harrogate Crime Writers Festival Events team) and a copy of To The Edge Of There And Back, the 2011/12 Whittaker Prize Anthology featuring one of my short stories, Metal Guru. And I did write... just a few lines......
I first came across Madalyn on the Really Relaxed Writers Facebook page and I was intrigued by the cover of her novel, Foxden Acres when I saw a post about it. It immediately conjured up the flavour of the era Madalyn was writing about - The Second World War. Another writer friend, Amanda Huggins, had read Foxden Acres and recommended it, so I downloaded it onto my Kindle. Before I had a chance to start reading it, I contacted Madalyn and asked if I could interview her for this blog. Madalyn has been an actress for over thirty years, performing on television and in the West End. She is also a radio journalist, and has written articles for newspapers, including The Daily Mail, The Islington Gazette, and the Leicester Mercury. Is Foxden Acres your first novel and if so, what made you want to write it?
I began writing Foxden Acres after my mother asked me to find the Polish pilot who had made her a Wellington bomber out of brass, during the Second World War. Franek had escaped Poland to fly with the RAF and stayed with my grandparent s while Bitteswell Aerodrome – two miles away – was being made ready to accommodate allied and Commonwealth Air Force personnel. Franek had died, but I found his son and my mother was able to give him the Wellington. Coincidences do happen because, at that time, I was doing a correspondence writing course and the next module was biography. I wrote a biography about my mum, which my tutor liked, but she said that because mum and I were both unknown, I should turn it into a fiction. And I shall one day.
Foxden Acres is my first novel. At least it’s the first that I’ve completed and had published. I’ve plotted several contemporary novels, and half-written one that has the working title, ‘Forty-Two into Twenty-Eight Won’t Go.’ But I need to finish the other books in the Dudley sisters quartet. Foxden Acres is the first of four books about the lives of four very different sisters during the Second World War.
Foxden Acres is about love, strength and crossing the class and gender divide. Bess Dudley, the daughter of a groom and a trainee teacher, is in love with James Hadleigh, the heir to the Foxden Estate. When she’s told that James is engaged to socially acceptable Annabel Hadleigh, Bess accepts a teaching post in London. War breaks out, the children are evacuated, and Bess returns to Foxden to organise a troop of Land Girls. Flying Officer James Foxden falls in love with Bess. But Bess has got to know and respect Annabel. Can she be with James if it means breaking her friend’s heart? Besides, Bess has a shameful secret that she has vowed to keep from James at any cost…
The second book, Applause, is about blind ambition – and is Margot Dudley’s story. Margot marries her childhood sweetheart and leaves Foxden to live with him in London. She is fiercely ambitious and works her way from being an usherette in a West End theatre, to leading lady of the show. However, she soon finds herself caught up in a web of deceit, black-market racketeers, Nazis, drugs and alcohol.
The third book, China Blue, is about love and courage – and is Claire Dudley’s story. While in the WAAF Claire is seconded to the Royal Air Force’s Advanced Air Strike Force. She falls in love with Mitchell ‘Mitch’ McKenzie, an American Airman who is shot down parachuting into France. At the end of the war, working in a liberated POW camp in Hamburg she is told that Mitch is still alive. Do miracles happen?
The fourth book, The Bletchley Secret, is about strength and determination – and is the youngest sister, Ena Dudley’s story. Ena works in a factory building components for machines bound for Bletchley Park during WWII. The Bletchley Secret costs her the love of her life. Some years after the war has ended, Ena, now happily married, is running a hotel with her husband when she encounters someone from her past.
Had you had experience of writing short stories or articles before moving on to the novel? If so, how easy or difficult was it to make the switch?
Writing short stories is the most difficult medium. I respect writers who have mastered the art of short story writing. I find the discipline incredibly difficult. I spent the first couple of years of my writing career juggling acting with writing articles and short stories (as well as trying to write my first novel). Articles I liked because I enjoyed the research and, with practice, I mastered the art of writing them. Novel writing I loved, because I could get lost in another world, but short stories? I couldn’t give them away – and still can’t. It took me a long time, but eventually I got my act together and decided to concentrate on what I enjoyed most. And from then on, I became more successful at novel writing. There are writers who can write novels and short stories equally well. I take off my hat to them.
Is Foxden based on a real place? If so, where is it?
I based the Foxden Estate on the Cromwell Estate where my maternal grandfather (who I sadly never knew because he died before I was born) was Second Horseman to Lord Cromwell - the 5th Baron Cromwell. Last year I went to a charity fund-raiser there and the present owner (whose husband bought the estate in the late 1960s) took me to the stables where my grandfather had been a groom. It was a really weird and wonderful experience. The stables were exactly as I had envisaged. Walking past the main stable block to the foaling stable, I had an excited, yet very warm, feeling. And, although the groom’s quarters had been turned into two apartments, from the outside they looked exactly as I had described them. From what my hostess told me, the interior had been the same as the land girl’s billet - until the conversion. And, if that wasn’t enough to make the hairs on my arms bristle, the music room (which in Foxden Acres is the ballroom) has steps leading down to a lawn, which in turn leads down to the lake. I mentioned to her that in my novel I call the lawn, the peacock lawn, and to my astonishment she told me that they had once kept peacocks and they had been allowed to roam freely on the lawn. I have never seen peacocks on the lawn. I have seen the lake from the public footpath that leads from the church to the village. I was christened in the church (not that I remember) and twelve years later, I was confirmed there. I based Bess’s father on my late grandfather. He was an amazing horseman who built bridges on horseback during the First Wold War. He accompanied Lord Cromwell to polo matches all over the country – travelling with the horses of course. He rode at the side of Lady Cromwell, who wouldn't hunt without him. King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, The late Queen Mother, often visited the Cromwell Estate. My grandfather accompanied Lord Cromwell and the King, riding behind them with fresh horses. As they passed the cottage, His Royal Highness would acknowledge my grandmother with a nod. My mother told me that she and her siblings often saw the Princesses, Elizabeth and Margaret, looking out of the Hall's nursery window. They would wave to them and the young Princesses would wave back.
Foxden Acres is set in World War 2. Did you have to do a lot of research and where did you start?
I did tons of research, but I loved it. If you set a story in a well-known period in time like The Second World War, you have to know what happened and when. You can’t go shopping to Selfridges if it had been bombed the day before. It’s the same for the sisters. Because there are four stories, I had to be careful about their timelines. When they are together in the first story, they must be in the other stories. Not easy. I have kept a diary for each of them, so time will tell. I’ve been an actress for thirty-odd years and the research needed before you can be a character on stage is similar to what’s needed to write a book. In both professions you need the Five Ws. Who are you, where are you, what are you doing, when and why.
What made you set your novel in a different era as opposed to the present? Were there any particular difficulties you encountered such as capturing the way people spoke at the time?
I have a great deal of respect for the men and women who lived and fought in the Second World War. And, I love the 1930s. I should have been born in the era. Seriously, my mother used to tell me about the work she did, and the friends she had during the war. Although it was a horrific time, people pulled together. I think life was short in those days, and everyone knew it. Young woman said goodbye to their sweethearts not knowing if they would see them again. So they made the best of every day, every hour, every minute. My mum and her friends worked hard, but had a lot of fun too. Every weekend there was a dance somewhere. My mother was good with hair and at lunchtime she would curl, or wave, in her workmate’s hair, ready for the dance that night. After work they would go home and have tea, get washed and changed, and then cycle to the dance wearing scarves round their heads. In the cloakroom mum would brush out their waves and curls before going into the dance hall.
Which of the main characters in Foxden Acres is your favourite? Which qualities do you think would make readers identify with that character.
Bess is my favourite character. Bess is strong and capable, as well as sensitive and caring. She is a decent hard working woman who is not afraid to go for what she wants. She’s bright and ambitious, without being selfish. And she’s loyal. I love Bess’s strength. Most of the women I know are strong. Women are able to put up with a lot. In times of crisis, like a war, it's the women who hold the family together.
I love the gorgeous James of course, but Tom, Bess’s older brother, is my favourite man. Tom always has a twinkle in his eye, and he’s generous to a fault. He’s brave too. Sensitive and very brave.
Did you write a detailed outline for Foxden Acres before you started writing or are you a 'seat of the pants' kind of writer?
I plot everything. The story changes as you’re writing it. That’s where it gets exciting. The characters take on lives of their own, and then – and I’m sure you’ve experienced it, Jo - the writer flies. I believe there has to be a solid foundation to every story. If there isn’t, and you lose your way; have what they call, writer’s block, you don’t have anything to fall back on.
It can be difficult being self-motivated and disciplined enough to finish a first draft of a novel. Did you find this to be the case and did you set yourself a series of targets?
Yes, I made rules, but broke them. The thing is you need to write every day and read every day. Reading good books inspired me to get on and do it. I have deadlines for my articles, and I meet them, but left to my own devices… I’m going to Caerleon this year to do, Advanced Novel Writing with Lesley Horton. Lesley’s course was, Novel writing Moving It On, last year. That’s where I took Applause, my second novel. This year it needs to be finished before July. I’m 50,000 words in, and another 50,000 or thereabouts to go. Lesley Horton is fabulous. Working with her is my incentive to get the first draft of Applause finished.
What made you decide to publish the novel on Kindle first? Do you have an agent?
I've come close to getting an agent three times. The first asked for the rest of the manuscript after reading the first three chapters. However, it was sent back within 36 hours, with leaflet advertising their self-help book on how to present a manuscript – signed, Office Manager. The office manager had clearly not read my letter thanking the agent for asking for the rest of the novel. The second agent was lovely. She said it had taken her a long time to decide not to take me and gave me some very good advice, which I have used – and she was right. She has asked to see, Applause. Whether she remembers me by then we’ll have to see. And the last agent kept me ‘exclusive’ for five months, before telling me to rewrite the first three chapters and submit them again. That was when I decided I had waited long enough. But I didn’t just dash out and self-publish. Debbie Viggiano was my beta reader. And she was brilliant. She made me work harder than anyone has before. Then, before I published, I sent the manuscript to Alison Neale, The Proof Fairy http://www.theprooffairy.com/proofreading-services/ and then to Rebecca Emin http://ramblingsofarustywriter.blogspot.co.uk/p/self-publishing-solutions to upload onto Kindle. I did not want to risk there being any writing, printing, or formatting mistakes.
What advice would you give to would-be novelists starting out?
Join a writing group. Like-minded people are supportive, especially when you are starting out. And, do a college course. I did a correspondence course with The Writers Bureau. Research and find a course that suites you. A correspondence course suited me, because I was working full time to pay the mortgage, as well as doing the odd television job. Above all, read! You learn so much from reading. Read anything and everything that is well written. I don’t believe in the theory that even badly written books can help you. At the beginning of your writing career, it’s too easy to pick up bad habits. There are thousands of well-written books out there. Why would anyone want to read rubbish?
I believe that Foxden Acres is the first in a series of novels based on the Dudley sisters. Was it your intention from the beginning to write a series of books and why?
Yes and no. Originally, it was my intention to write about four sisters based on a family I knew, but that idea went out of the window early on. However, 160,000 words – and growing – meant the first draft of Foxden Acres was longer than Doctor Who’s scarf. So, I went back to the idea of four sisters, and four stories. Each story is linked, but each will stand on its own and can be read in any order. Before I published Foxden Acres I set up a dedicated website. And I’m very active on both blogs.
I was delighted when Leigh Russell, an international bestselling author of crime fiction, contacted me volunteering to be a guest of The Yellow Room blog. This is thanks to the magic of Twitter. I've been relying heavily on the latter to promote The Yellow Room and sell the remaining copies of Issue 8, as I haven't generated enough income from this print run to make ends meet. The Yellow Room Magazine is sadly in danger of folding. Please do urge as many of your friends as possible to purchase a copy from the website (www.theyellowroom-magazine.co.uk).
Leigh has some impressive credits to her name including: CWA Dagger Award Shortlisted Author; WH Smith's Top 50 Bestsellers List; Lovereading's Great Crime Sleuth; Amazon's No. 1 female detective; Crime Time's Best Crime Fiction List and Eurocrime's Top Reads List.
It has been a pleasure interviewing Leigh for my blog.
When did you start writing seriously and what sort of things did you write?
CUT SHORT was published in 2009. It was shortlisted for a CWA Dagger Award and went on to become an international bestseller. The story developed from an idea that just occurred to me one day as I was walking through my local park. I started to write the story down and after six weeks of compulsive writing, I finished the first draft.
What made you decide to write a crime novel?
I never made a conscious decision to write a crime novel. My publisher phoned me two weeks after they received my first manuscript and after a few meetings they offered me a three book deal. So once I had finished working on CUT SHORT, I was already contracted to write two more crime novels. ROAD CLOSED and DEAD END followed CUT SHORT in becoming bestsellers, so my publisher then asked for another three books in the series. The first of these, STOP DEAD, is out in print in 2013 and available to download this December. At the moment I am committed to writing two more books in the series, after which I hope my publisher will offer me a further deal. As long as people keep reading my books, I’ll keep writing them!
Did you have a story/outline in mind before you began to write your first novel?
When you write a book you are taking your readers on a journey. I always know my starting point, and I know the destination, but the route between the two develops and evolves as I’m writing.
Do you think it’s possible to be a ‘fly by the seat of the pants’ crime writer?
I know many brilliant crime writers. Some are rigorous planners, some fly by the seat of their pants. It seems that both work, for different people. Every writer has to find their own method of working. Although I plan my stories in advance, I also like the writing process to be organic and creative. That, for me, is part of the fun of writing. I know where my narrative is heading, but I’m never quite sure of the detailed route to get there before I start writing.
How much planning and research do you do beforehand?
I do a lot of research. I’ve visited police stations, spent time with a Murder Investigation Team, a fire station, and a closed prison, to name just a few places I’ve visited in the course of my research. I’ve taken advice from leading experts in DNA, finger prints, human remains, and many more. The research is always fascinating. My advisers aren’t necessarily leading experts in their fields. They can be market traders, scientists, IT technicians, an acquaintance who has suffered a broken nose... anyone who can help me to understand a situation that I’m writing about but have never experienced.
Do you contact experts in a particular crime field?
Frequently. You can do a lot of research on the internet. If you want to find out a tiny random snippet of information, like what time the sun set in London on October 30th 1972, you can. But I prefer to consult real people. And here the internet can be phenomenal too. I could spend six months researching a question on a point of DNA and still come up with the wrong answer. One quick email to a leading expert and the right answer can be available in seconds.
What do you think makes a good crime novel?
In common with all fiction, a good crime novel has to keep readers turning the pages. There are three main elements to this: suspense so readers want to know what will happen next, engaging characters so readers actually care about what happens, and good writing. Most of my reviewers describe my books as ‘page turners’, The Times describes my work as ‘psychologically acute’, and ‘well written’, so hopefully I cover all three of these elements in my books.
Have you got any opinions about a woman’s position in the crime writing world? Is it true, for example, that the genre is dominated by male authors?
I’m not sure that PD James, Ruth Rendell, Val McDermid, Lyndsay Duncan, Lynda La Plante, Sophie Hannah, Ann Cleves, Tess Gerritsen, Mo Hayder or Patricia Cornwell would agree with that statement, to name just a few.
Do you have a writing routine and how many hours a day do you spend writing?
Eugene Ionesco said: “A writer never takes a vacation. For a writer life consists of writing or thinking about writing.’ What goes into creating a book is so much more than the physical process of writing. What takes time is thinking and research. The most important part of the process is the thinking. So it’s impossible to put a time on writing. Do you include the time I spend driving in traffic (thinking), queuing in a supermarket (still thinking) lying in bed (thinking). When I’m in the middle of a book, the narrative is in my head all the time, although I may only spend two hours on my keyboard.
What motivates you as a writer?
I’ve no idea! I just started writing one day and couldn’t stop. It surprises me now that I never stumbled on my passion for writing earlier. I didn’t start until my children had grown up and left home, and I stepped down from running a busy department at work. Before that, I guess I didn’t have the time or the energy to think of writing a book. Now that I’ve started, the motivation takes care of itself as I’m always working towards my next publisher’s deadline. But even without that I think I’d still be writing every day. I just love it! I’m totally hooked.
What inspires you?
I’m fascinated by my killers. Each of my novels explores a character with a different motivation for murder. What is it that drives people to behave in such an extreme manner?
Do you feel uncomfortable writing particularly gruesome scenes or about psychologically sick characters?
No. I wouldn’t write anything that made me feel uncomfortable. I don’t like reading about crime in real life. It’s appalling, one human being causing another human being to suffer. There’s nothing redeeming in it. But in fiction, crime metamorphoses into form of entertainment. We seem to be able to compartmentalise things in our minds, like animal lovers who eat meat. I don’t understand it, but I wouldn’t want to overanalyze it too much in case the process loses its magic.
How did you go about securing an agent and finding a publisher?
I found a publisher who specializes in crime and sent my manuscript off in a large brown envelope. These days we communicate manuscripts by email, but five years ago when I started, we were still using hard copies. They responded quickly. Having found a publisher, I never went through an agent and I still don’t have one. But I think my story is atypical. After I sent off my submission I saw on my publisher’s website that they don’t accept unsolicited manuscripts and kicked myself for wasting a stamp. But somehow they happened to look at my story, and loved it.
What gives you the confidence to write crime fiction? Do you ever suffer from self-doubt?
I’m too old to take myself too seriously, which helps. Because I’ve always had a publisher’s deadline I haven’t really had time for any serious self doubt. I just have to press on.
What do you think of authors turning to self-publishing on Kindle? Does it have the same kudos as going down the traditional publishing route?
I have no experience of self-publishing, so I’m not really in a position to comment on it other than to say it’s not something I would ever consider. There is more kudos – not to mention more money – in going down the traditional publishing route. It’s also much easier as my publisher provides everything: editor, proof readers, cover design, production, promotion and distribution. All I have to do is write the books, which is the only part of the process I really want to do. I couldn’t be bothered with purchasing ISBNs, posting books on amazon, and everything else my publisher organizes.
Where do you see the future for crime writing?
I would say the future for crime writing is looking quite robust. It is a popular genre, and its appeal appears to be growing. I think there are several reasons for this, apart from the fact that there are so many brilliant authors writing in the genre. As the influence of religion is declining in society – in some areas at least – people are casting around for something to replace it. Crime fiction, like religion, examines issues surrounding our mortality, and seeks to deal with the feelings we all feel about our inevitable death in a controlled and secure ‘other world’. It also tackles issues of good and evil, offering us a moral compass that we all look for in life. We want our experience to make sense. So often, in the real world, it doesn’t, but however disturbing the narrative, the reader knows that at the end of a work of fiction, some kind of moral order will be restored. So crime fiction is thrilling and terrifying, but ultimately reassuring.
Finally, can you tell us a little about the novel you’re currently working on?
STOP DEAD is in production so I’m working on the sixth book in the series. CUT SHORT, ROAD CLOSED and DEAD END are set in Kent, with a York connection in DEAD END. In the fourth book in the series, DEATH BED, Detective Inspector Geraldine Steel relocates to London, leaving her sergeant, Ian Peterson, in Kent. The series has been so successful that my publisher has asked me to write a second series, featuring Ian Peterson, who has become a popular character in his own right. I’ve just finished the first draft of the first Ian Peterson novel and have sent it to my publisher. I’m keeping my fingers crossed they like it! Now I’m working on the sixth Geraldine Steel novel. As with all my books, it starts with a body and everything spins out from there.
This week I've been in 'reading mode'. This has come as a relief, as I haven't done very much reading this year. The reason for this is that I can't seem to write prolifically, if I'm reading and vice versa.
I've been immersed in Ian Rankin's latest novel, Standing In Another Man's Grave. It's great to see Rebus back in action and I think it's one of Ian's best novels to date. I've also been reading some short fiction (Dot Dash by Jonathan Pinnock) and catching up with my writing magazine reading.
Yesterday I whittled the 61 Flash Fiction entries in The Yellow Room Autumn Competition down to just 17 shortlisted stories. I'll be reading those 17 once more today and will pick the winning entries.
Here is the shortlist:
It has been far too long since I last updated this blog and for that I apologise. I have no excuses. I really didn't think I had anything interesting to say, which is why I'm delighted to welcome a guest blogger today.
When Jonathan Pinnock asked on his Facebook status whether anyone would like him to do a guest blog, I jumped at the chance. I'd had a little communication with Jonathan asking for tips on entering The Scott Prize, as I'd almost finished putting a short story collection together. He very kindly answered my questions, then agreed to write the following piece. I then rushed to the Salt website (http://www.saltpublishing.com/) to purchase Dot Dash and have been reading the stories all week. I wasn't disappointed. I strongly recommend you purchase the collection, if you have any interest in what makes a good short story. Here's what Jonathan has to say about The Scott Prize:
The Scott Prize (http://thescottprize.co.uk/) is an international annual prize for a first collection of short stories. It was set up by Salt Publishing in 2009 and is now pretty much the only way for an unknown short story writer to get a collection published by them, as they do not accept unsolicited submissions. The fact that hardly any other publishers will consider publishing a short story collection unless it’s by an established author means that the Scott Prize has massive significance for anyone who has an interest in the short form.
I’d been writing seriously since 2005 and submitting work since 2007, which meant that by 2009 I was building up a reasonable portfolio of work. But when I first entered for the Scott Prize in that debut year, I got absolutely nowhere. I wasn’t even shortlisted. I was more than a little peeved about this, as I’d had a few individual successes by then and I obviously thought I was ready for the big time. However, in my heart of hearts I knew that there were several fillers in my proposed collection. And when I read the collections that had won that year – especially Tom Vowler’s “The Method” – I realised I was going to have to raise my game if I was going to have any chance of being selected in future. There was no room for fillers.
So I kept on writing and I kept on submitting and I notched up one or two more decent hits, including BBC Radio 4’s Opening Lines. This meant that I could chuck out a fair bit of the chaff and generally make the collection a bit stronger. The other thing that had happened was that I’d been playing around with TwitFic (Twitter fiction – complete stories in 140 characters or under) a bit more by then and I had quite a collection of very, very short pieces that I could use as a kind of punctuation between the longer ones. In fact, I had just enough short pieces to make it possible to alternate them. And that, in turn, led to the title of the collection.
When I first entered the Scott Prize, my collection was entitled “Hidden Shallows and Other Stories”, which was – to be honest – a bit mundane. To move away from that to “Dot Dash”, a title that simply reflected the structure of the book, was quite radical and that gave it another chance to stand out. I think it also reflected the playful nature of a lot of the content. I submitted “Dot Dash” to the Scott Prize on October 6th, 2010 – for once in my life well ahead of the deadline.
Nine days later, I submitted my first novel “Mrs Darcy versus the Aliens” to Salt’s new science fiction imprint Proxima and just over a month after that it was accepted for publication. That book was then scheduled for publication in September 2011, which meant that when I was eventually announced as one of the winners of the 2011 Scott Prize, publication had to be delayed for a year in order to avoid confusion between two very different books by the same author. So that’s why “Dot Dash” is only just appearing now.
But it’s been worth the wait. My box of books arrived from Salt last week, and they are utterly beautiful. One of the things about being published by Salt is that you are guaranteed to have an arresting cover, and “Dot Dash” is no exception. I feel very privileged to have my name on a cover with that iconic “S” logo in the top right hand corner.
Jonathan Pinnock was born in Bedford, England and studied Mathematics at Cambridge University. He subsequently stumbled into a career in software development and has been there ever since. Somewhere along the way he wrote one book on software development and co-wrote a further twelve. His preference, however, is for fiction and his first novel Mrs Darcy versus the Aliens was published by Proxima in 2011. His short stories have won numerous prizes and have been widely published. He is married with two slightly grown-up children, several cats and a 1961 Ami Continental Jukebox. He blogs at www.jonathanpinnock.com.
I've just got back from going to see The Olympic Torch Relay in Rugby town centre. I'm so glad I got up earlier and made the effort, because the atmosphere was fantastic. When I saw the torch coming into view, I got all emotional and trembly. A once in a lifetime experience. It was great that most of the Lawrence Sheriff schoolboys stood on their school field behind me, cheering and going wild - and that was just for the members of the public cycling past before they closed the road!!
I had a bit of a 'gold medal moment' on Saturday when I discovered that my story, I Like Your Bow-Ties, Mr Day won first prize in The 5 Minute Fiction 1st Birthday Competition. It's the most prize money I've ever won - £100. The Top Ten stories were on the website for a week and readers had to vote for their favourite to win. Thank you for those of you who voted, by the way! If you'd like to read the story, here's the link: http://www.5minutefiction.co.uk/i-like-your-bow-ties-mr-day.html
I've been enjoying a fair bit of success with my short stories this year, which is most gratifying. I'm entering as many competitions as possible and I write an average of four new short stories a week. Not all of these are good enough to enter into competitions, but it's certainly helping improve my technique. My story, Camels In A Field, won The Word Hut competition in May. The story was published on their website and I was asked to do a 'Meet The Writer' interview for them. Both the story and the interview attracted the attention of Thomas Stofer, an agent specialising in the crime and thriller genre at LBA. He emailed me, saying he would like to read my crime novel. I was extremely flattered to be approached by an agent, even though he didn't feel the novel was the sort of thing he was looking to represent. He was, however, very complimentary about my writing and urged me to submit it to other agents, which was most encouraging.
I have been busy clearing my childhood home in rural Staffordshire ready for a tenant to move in. This has been emotional experience and part of me would love to move in there myself. However, my husband and two children have all sorts of ties here in Rugby and wouldn't want to relocate. I have been enjoying spending the odd day here and there at the property, using the opportunity to have friends round for lunch or coffee instead of packing possessions in boxes!
I am also helping my seventeen-year-old son with his university choices. He isn't very pro-active and I'm having to nag him to do more research. We visited The University of Hertfordshire a couple of weeks ago and Matt loved it. It's one of the best universities in the country for Music and has great links with the music industry. It's also only 25 minutes from Central London. However, the music courses are always over-subscribed, so Matt will need to apply early and work even harder to get the grades he needs.
I am in the middle of proofreading stories for Issue 8 of The Yellow Room. I also have a huge backlog of submissions to deal with, so I apologise to those of you who are still waiting for a decision and some feedback.