Sunday, 30 January 2011


Well, you'll be glad to know that I finished my 31 stories, and with a few days left of the month, too. So, that's another project done. What now? I hear you ask.

I considered starting a new project for February - or maybe even continuing my flash-writing project - but have decided to give my creative brain a rest for a little while and pour the energy which has been created by January's writing sprint into the tasks which have been backing up.

So, as we move forward into February I shall be doing the following:

- re-writing Endless Days. This is the novel which has been hanging around for a while. I started the rewriting last year, but the arrival of NaNoWriMo put it on hold. Time to go back, knock it into shape, and see if I can't find an agent or publisher for it.

- re-writing Slipstream. This is the novel that I wrote for NaNoWriMo in November. It's had a couple of months off, so now time to add, remove, rewrite, tidy etc. and see if that can't be placed somewhere too.

- working on Just Another Ordinary Day. This is the title I have decided to give the collection of stories I wrote in January, which I plan to self-publish as a chapbook. The stories, having been written in a 'hot-house' style now all need cleaning up and editing before I can put the book together. Then I need to type-set it and get it printed. I plan to have the finished thing ready by the end of February, so in a week or so, I'll crack on with that.

- working on 'Stranger than Faction'. This is the paper on life-writing that I wrote for last summer's Great Writing conference. It's doing no good just sitting on my computer, so I shall finish turning it from a conference paper into a journal article and send it out. I have one place in mind already (deadline date 14th Feb) but if they don't want it, I'm sure someone will.

- sending out stories. As well as the 31 stories written in January I have another 21 in my pile ready to send out. So I shall be tidying, editing, and sending as many of these out to magazines and competitions as I can.

- working on Hotel. This is a collaborative hypertext project which I have been meaning to get going for years. Time to crack on with this too.

Oh, and February is also the month when I start teaching at Winchester. So, plenty to be going on with there, don't you think?

I'm not sure I'll get them all done in the month, but if I can get them all started, that will be a good step forward.

And then it will be time to find a new project for March. Any ideas?

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

You read the blog posts, now get the book

As you know, I have been spending January writing regular flash fictions. It is now the 25th and I have written 28. My goal is 31, so only 3 more to go.

As I've been writing them, I've been trying out different things including: 1st, 3rd and even 2rd person narrative perspectives; lots of dialogue, no dialogue, or only dialogue; as many different genres as I could think of; and trying to find many different sources - photos, jokes, lines from books, films, music and TV shows. The result is a real mix of different stories, each of them written with little or no advance planning, in a single sitting, ranging from 85-1093 words.

I have already started sending some of them out to magazines and competitions, seeing if they can go beyond this project, and one of them has already been accepted. But it has occurred to me that, as a project, it is a unique snapshot of a group of stories emerging from a hothouse of invention, and something I would like to see kept together in some way.

As a result, I have decided to self-publish the stories in a single volume. I don't plan any mass sales, I just want to share it with my friends, family and anyone else interested to take a look, and to have a copy for myself to look back on.

So, if you would like a copy, let me know either here, on Facebook, or by email. It should only be a couple of pounds and will be about 80 pages and 31 stories. Look forward to hearing from you.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011


Well, as you know, in a previous post I proposed the idea of CalFlaWrimo - that I would write 31 flash fictions in the 31 days of January. It is now the 18th - just over half way - and I have finally caught up with myself, having only started the project on the 4th. So, 18 down, 13 left to do.

I'm really pleased with the work I've done, not least because one of the stories (entitled 'The Spark of Inspiration') was written on the 6th, submitted to a magazine on the 9th, and accepted on the 16th. More than that, though, it's stretching me and energising me at the same time.

Having to come up with at least one new idea every day has been, at times, taxing. And I'm trying to do as many different things as I can - different styles, perspectives, structures, topics, genres, etc. - which stretches me even more.

However, what I have now found is that, having primed the pump, ideas are starting to come thick and fast. I don't know, come the end of January, if I'm going to be able to stop. And that makes me very happy.

I had one of my long drives yesterday (and you know how productive my long drives can be) and I came up with three new ideas. Today I came up with another two. Those five stories (all written now) are what finally brought me up to parity between date and story-count. But can I keep it to just one a day for the rest of the month? Okay, I could write two and take a day off, but could I even manage that?

I think, between NaNoWriMo and CalFlaWriMo I have finally got the writing engine in my head up to speed, and I don't want to lay off the throttle while it's running so well. So, the question is, what project shall I start in February?

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Like Topsy

In my last post I mentioned the idea of writing 31 flashes in January. Well, it's the 9th and I've done 5. Not wonderful, but not too bad. However, in the meantime, the project has started to grow.

First there was the Facebook group entitled CalFlaWriMo for those wanting to join in, or at least to watch the progress of those of us taking part (search for CalFlaWriMo and feel free to join) and now there is the 95% Inspiration blog set up by myself and Kath Lloyd to post prompts and inspiration for flash writers.

Finally, just to show that this thing is really happening, I'm going to post my latest story (finished about 20 minutes ago!) below. This is a first draft, so be kind, but any feedback is, as ever, welcome.


Wrong Number

“You just don’t like to admit when you’re wrong, do you?”

“I’m not wrong!”


“What do you mean, ‘exactly’? What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It means you’re wrong and here you are, not admitting it. You’re doing exactly what I said!”

“But, I’m not wrong.”

“You so are, you always are, always have been, and you always will be. Don’t you get that yet?”

“Look, my phone was ringing, and I saw who it was, and I decided not to answer it. What’s wrong with that?”

“It’s rude!”

“It was my ex. You hate it when she rings. You hate it when I speak to her. You hate her! Why would it be so wrong to talk to her?”

“Because it’s rude! And anyway, how did you know it was her?”

“It came up saying it was her.”

“You still have her number in your phone? Why do you still have her number in your phone?!”

“So I can tell when it’s her and then not answer it!”

“But that’s rude!”

“Okay, maybe it is, but if I’d answered it and spoken to her, then we’d still be having an argument, but this time it’d be about how I still talk to her and I should have been paying attention to you.”

“Yes. And?”

“So, I can’t win, can I? It didn’t matter what I did. If I’d answered the phone, I’d have been wrong. When I didn’t answer the phone I was wrong. There is no solution to that problem. There is nothing I could do that would make you happy. Whatever I chose to do in that situation would have been wrong. So, tell me, what should I have done? Huh? Tell me. Enlighten me. Just tell me what should I have done!?”

“You should never have gone out with her in the first place!”


Wednesday, 5 January 2011

The Turn of the Tickle

It is sometimes a strange thing being a 'creative' type. As you know, if you read this blog, I spend my time doing other things - teaching, marking (groan...), writing academic papers and essays, readings, radio interviews, etc. all of which are quite prescriptive and set-out in advance. But, as you also know, I also do my creative writing.

One thing which often occupies my mind - as it does many other writers and readers - is the concept of where ideas come from. The truth is, I don't know. Okay, sometimes the moment of inspiration is obvious: you see a news story, or see something happen in 'real' life, and there it is, the story you want to tell. But the thing which appears on the page is always changed and altered. You will have added characters, changed details, provided motivations, or explored areas that you never read about or saw. Where did they come from, eh?

In other cases, the moment of inspiration is less clear. You may be grouting the bathroom, driving to work, shaving the cat or cleaning a lamppost and, all of a sudden, poof, there it is, an idea. It appears in your brain without any warning and suddenly you have lines of prose (or poetry, if you're a poet) unspooling in your head. You try and trace what the thought was which led to the thought which led to the thought which led to the idea, but it's pointless. The aliens have beamed it into your head and there it is.

And then there is the wonder of flash fiction (yes, that again) whereby you don't even wait for the aliens, but sit down, pull up a prompt, plug your brain into your keyboard or pen, and watch the story emerge from nowhere.

None of this is news, this is the stuff writers have always talked about: the impossibility of pinning down just where the stuff we do come from. However, yesterday I reached a new level of this mystery. A friend posted a picture of an abbey on their Facebook profile. I didn't click on it to look at the larger version, I was hardly even aware that it was there in amongst all the other posts in my news feed, and yet... I felt a tickle. It wasn't inspiration, it wasn't a story, it wasn't anything more than the knowledge that if I sat down to write then this picture had a flash-fiction buried within it. I didn't know what it was, and I did my best not to think about it, but I could feel that the story was there, waiting.

And, sure enough, several hours later I sat down, had another look at the picture and then 20 minutes later I had a nice little story which I am very pleased with. Now, can somebody tell me, just where did that come from, and how did my brain known that this picture contained the seed?

Ah well, I guess if we knew the answer to those questions, then the mystery would disappear and it would all be boring and prescriptive and pointless.

Still, the whole thing has given me the inspiration for a project. Having found the strictures of NaNoWriMo to be so useful and productive, I have decided to see if I can write 31 flash-fictions in January. I'm allowing myself to count yesterday's ('The Abbey') as the first, which leaves me with 30 more to write. That's one a day with a few 2 story days in order to catch up. As best I can, I shall keep you up to date with my progress. What I would ask, though, is if you come across a phrase, a word, an image, a photo, or whatever, that you think might serve as a prompt for a story, send it through to me, and I'll see what it provokes. All prompts which lead to stories will get a public credit. (In that spirit, a public thank you to Vanessa Gebbie who's photo of Kirkstall Abbey led to last night's story.)

Oh, and if you feel like joining me on what I have christened CalFlaWriMo (Cal's Flash Writing Month) then feel free. Let me know and we can jolly each other along.

So, with all that said, here's to the next tickle!