Thursday, 21 January 2010

In the Zone!

I'm going great guns on the novel at the moment and I'm about halfway through. The hardest thing is writing those first few words each day. Once I've written a few sentences, then I'm off and it's all fine. Then I don't want to stop and get frustrated when domestic duties beckon or when the family needs me. I don't write very well first thing. My optimum time for writing is mid-afternoon from about 3 o'clock onwards, which is a nuisance, as I have to collect Megan from school and give her some love and attention once she's home. I then find I'm writing up a storm while the tea is cooking! Another good time for me to write is between 7pm and 8pm. Again, I have to stop to deal with Megan's bath and bedtime. However, I think knowing that I have a limited time spurs me on to write as much as I can and to write faster.

I have now sold out of Issue 3. I didn't get enough printed, obviously. The orders have been coming in thick and fast. I'll have to get another fifty of the next issue printed. Talking of the next issue, I'm about to start choosing stories and proofreading them ready for typesetting, so do send in those readers' letters, as I have only one at the moment!

The next Yellow Room competition closes on 31st March. Entries have started to trickle in already. Vanessa Gebbie has kindly donated a signed copy of Short Circuit, an invaluable guide for short story writers. This prize will go to the best story under 800 words. Details will appear on the website very soon.

I'm off to write some more crime!

Saturday, 16 January 2010

The Short Story Gland

I’ve recently been reading one of the best books on short story writing I’ve ever read. It’s called Short Circuit, published by Salt and edited by Vanessa Gebbie. If you write short stories, then you really should add this gem of a book to your collection. It has certainly inspired me to write more short fiction and has persuaded me that flash fiction is a worthwhile genre in its own right. I had previously been quite dismissive of the flash fiction genre, but I think I finally ‘get it’, mainly thanks to Tania Hershman’s wonderful article Art Breathes From Containment: The Delights of the Shortest Fiction or The Very Short Story That Could.
I’m often asked in my capacity as editor of The Yellow Room Magazine what makes a good short story or what I’m looking for. This is incredibly hard to pin down. Adam Marek sums it up beautifully, however, in his piece What My Gland Wants - Originality In The Short Story. Adam has very kindly given me permission to quote from his article. “When I read or write fiction, what I’m really doing is hunting for a very particular sensation. It’s a feeling a bit like delight, a bit like surprise, a bit like weightlessness. It’s the excitement  we get when we discover something new, something which in childhood we can’t take a step without tripping over, but which in adulthood is woefully infrequent. 
I get this sensation most intensely when I’m reading or writing short fiction.
Something about this form lends itself to revelation. I can think of so many moments when I have just finished reading a short story, and am sitting on my knackered sofa holding the book in my hands, too caught up in it, too exhausted by the ideas it has put into my head, to even think about reading another one.
This sensation is particular to short stories, for me anyway.”
Yes, I’m with Adam on that. A few days ago I read A Small, Good Thing by Raymond Carver. I can’t stop thinking about that story. It blew me away. It also says so much about grief; something I revisit every January without fail.
Adam goes on to say that he thinks “people who enjoy short stories have a special gland, one that responds to the unexpected with little bursts of pleasure chemicals.” He says that he is “always suspicious of people who love to read, but who don’t like short stories. These people, I think, if they have the gland, have a shrivelled thing, an atrophied little apple core. I pity these people. They are missing out on these inky little orgasms.”
Don’t you just love that phrase, ‘Inky little orgasms’? I think I’ll have to quote that in relation to the short story at every opportunity! 
Adam then says that the stories that get his “gland salivating” are the ones that present him with something he’s never seen before, “something absurd and then draw around it some internal logic - which justifies its existence, which makes it not just crazy surrealism, but grounds it in reality”. Adam admits that “it’s the stuff at the weird end” that he most likes to write and to read. And his stories are pretty weird, but addictive. I’m currently working my way through his collection, Instruction Manual For Swallowing.
In conclusion, Adam says that short stories “are like bubbles. Their existence is brief and miraculous, but the stuff that makes them can only attain a certain size.......Seamlessness is only possible within the short story. Perfection is only possible within the short story. And it is the pursuit of perfection, the balanced equation where everything that is included supports everything else and nothing could possibly be removed or added, that keeps us reading them.”
I’ll be discussing the short story form further in subsequent blogs this month, as I’m on a short story collection reading binge. I’m finding it more and more difficult to read novels when I’m working on my own. I need to immerse myself in the fictional world I have created rather than in someone else’s. Short stories are ideal, because I can ‘nip in and out’ of another world and move on. 

Finally, I’ve been asked by Hazel Cushion, owner of Accent Press, to plug their new Xcite eBook writers’ guidelines 

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Autumn Short Story Competition Results!

I've now done the final judging for The Yellow Room Short Story Competition, which closed on 30th September 2009. The results are as follows:

1st Prize: A Mean Undertow by Freda Love Smith
2nd Prize: Tiger In The Guest Room by Joanna Campbell
3rd Prize: Get Fit, Get Thin, Get Laid by Clare Reddaway
Highly Commended: Decisions Made Over Madeleine's Toast by Joanna Campbell
Rachel's Birthday by Sue Johnson
Commended: The New Heart by Nancy Le Nezet
Mapped Out by Rachel Crowther

The winning story will be published in Issue 4 of The Yellow Room in the spring.

Sunday, 3 January 2010

Happy New Year Everyone!

I've been neglecting this blog yet again and it's very remiss of me. No excuses, really, unless you count Christmas! It was an incredibly quiet one for us this year, as my mother-in-law went into hospital the Wednesday before Christmas to have a hip replacement operation. She came out the day after Boxing Day. However, she's still very infirm and we're doing meals-on-wheelsy/caring-type duties. I did my usual hermit-thing at Christmas and hardly went out of the house.

I've finally drawn up a longlist for the Yellow Room Short Story Competition which closed on 30th September 09. I really must read the entries as they come in, not leave them to read all at once. Therein lies madness! Having read over eighty stories in more or less one hit, I realise just how crucial that first paragraph is. A competition judge becomes rather jaded after reading half a dozen stories that begin in a rather a banal way. I want that first paragraph to hit me between the eyes. If I'd discarded stories on the strength of that opening paragraph, then I'd have been left with less than half a dozen!

The Yellow Room Magazine has now joined Facebook:
Do take a look and become a fan! You can join in lively discussions about writing and reading fiction. There is a discussion at the moment about short story openings, if you'd like to join in!

Here's the competition longlist (in no particular order):

The Old Barn - Carol Rogers
The Chosen One - Clare Reddaway
Get Fit, Get Thin, Get Laid - Clare Reddaway
Tiger In The Guest Room - Joanna Campbell
Rachel's Birthday - Sue Johnson
Decisions Made Over Madeleine's Toast - Joanna Campbell
A&E - Elizabeth Lister
Mozart and Maiden-Form by Julie Ann Lee
Shotgun Bill - Sarah England
Getting Shot - Pam Eaves
Gene Krupa - Lynne Voyce
Ruined Sanctuary - Geraldine Franzen
Finale - Deanna Allan
Time Out - Lesley Mace
The New Heart - Nancy Le Nezet
A Mean Undertow - Freda Love Smith
Mapped Out - Rachel Crowther
Still Waiting - Katherine Clements
Emerik's Ices - Ruth Collett-Fenson
Freedom to Fish - Sarah Barr
Clear As Glass - Pat Jourdan
Zac In A Box - Alison Wagstaff
Daddy's Girl - Teresa Husher
The Nicest Girl in the Pub - Pat Jourdan