Thursday, 28 April 2011

Flash... aha! (again)

I have a new project. When I announced it my Bugged and Gumbo Press colleague, Jo Bell, commented that I obviously wasn't busy enough. It's not true, I'm as busy with writing related activities as I've ever been, but this project just seemed like too good an idea to pass up.

So, last week I announced it, and this Sunday - May 1st - I will start and publish a new flash-fiction every day for a year. The project will appear on a blog at and you can also follow it on Facebook at

But why, you may be asking, am I taking this on if I'm so busy?

Well, the whole experience of doing 31 left me with a hankering to take on a similar project - partly because I find writing flash-fiction such fun and so satisfying - but also because the forced nature of the daily deadline really helped me get on with my writing.

The other thing I found, however, was that writing flash-fiction worked as a perfect way to get the writing engine turning over. In a previous post I talked about how hard I was finding it getting in to writing longer stories. Writing flash will actually help by getting those muscles up and running. I might also be able to get to my novel rewriting, and starting a new novel idea I've had.

Another reason, of course, is the advice we give to writers that that should write every day. It is the only certain way to improve. What better way to force yourself to do it than announcing it to the world, and publishing the stories online, leaving yourself open to public ridicule if you fail?

Of course, it will also help me to build up a huge bank of stories that can be submitted (to places that accept stories that have been previously published on blogs, of course).

Finally, I need to mention that part of the inspiration was the project started by Max Wallis, Something Every Day, in which he wrote... well... something every day. Not only did he get a great way to practice his craft, but built up a following and got himself noticed at the same time. I would be lying if I said I didn't hope that flash365 would raise my profile, and bring me new readers. It's what every writer wants, after all.

So, please visit the Facebook page and 'like' it, follow the blog, and, if you can, spare me a thought as I head off into the coming year.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Win or Lose

I know, I know, my blog posts are like buses: none for ages and then two come along at once. But this one will be brief, I promise.

First, I just want to boast. I won a competition! My story, 'Unquiet', written a couple of years ago, won the March competition at A Very Short Story. It is my first ever competition win, so I'm rather proud. However, my larger reaction to it has been interesting, to me at least.

I've been sending out to the occasional competitions and magazines over the years, but have only really got serious about my submissions in the last year. I'm getting quite used to rejections from magazines, and getting nothing at all - or the occasional short-listing or honourable mention - from competitions. When I was just sending out the odd one or two here and there, these rejections would be tragic events that would set me back, and stop me from submitting for a while. A fairly normal reaction for many writers, I've come to realise.

However, with my increased level of submissions, the rejections have become easier to take, at least in part because of the occasional acceptance (or short-listing, etc.), and in part because if you send more pieces out you have to accept there will be more rejections.

My reaction to these snubs has not been to curl into a ball and wait for the pain to pass, but instead to redouble my efforts and send out even more stories - courting more hurt, but also the possibility of more acceptances.

And then, yesterday, I heard that I had finally won a competition. Not just that, but a competition with a prize! Of money! I'm not sure I ever considered what my reaction would be. Perhaps I thought it would finally be confirmation of something or other, and I could relax and enjoy it.

Nope. My reaction has been the same as it would have been to a rejection. 'They like it? They want it? They think it's worth awarding money? Fine. Time to send out some more then!'

So, my point (and yes, there is one other than basking in the glow of success) is this:

If you get rejected - submit again, submit more, and submit more often.
If you get accepted - submit again, submit more, and submit more often.

The key to success as a writer is persistence. All you can do is keep sending work out, as often as possible, and wait for it to find its home.

Here endeth the lesson...

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Slow, slow, quick, quick, slow...

Well, if you've been keeping up, you know that I've been a busy old bee. Selling the book and working on Gumbo Press have taken up a lot of my time - along with the usual round of teaching/marking/living etc.

It's now fewer than four weeks since its arrival, and the first edition of 31 has all but sold out (2 copies left, if you're interested... Buy online now!). This was at least partly thanks to the interest of the audience at the Bugged reading who bought all the copies I had with me. I have other readings coming up, so have ordered a second edition. The first of these readings is my customary visit to the Bad Language at the end of April, but this will be followed by two guest slots - one for a writing group in Oldham and another for an open-mic evening in Cheshire, and a couple of other possible appearances, about which more as I have it.

As if these weren't enough, Gumbo Press has been taking off. The website has been built, designed and redesigned. Exciting ideas have been formulated and, as of writing, we already have over 40 submissions with 11 days still to go before the deadline. Winning Words asked me to write a blog entry for them about it, which will hopefully help promote the first issue of the magazine.

In the midst of all this, and my return to teaching at Winchester next week, I have taken on another project. Crazy? Me? Possibly.

Following on from the success of CalFlaWriMo, without which 31 wouldn't exist at all, I have decided to do something similar, but with longer stories. So, my latest plan is to write 15 brand new short stories (not flashes) of no less than 1500 words each, before the end of May. It may kill me, but it's got to be worth a go.

I started the first one on Friday, 15th April. It was a story which had been working around in my mind for a while, so I had a pretty fair idea of how it was going to go on the page. I was wrong.

I have obviously got so used to the quick fix that is flash-fiction, that the mental muscles that work on the longer form of the full short story have atrophied. It took me over 4 hours to get the first 1000 words done. I knew the story, but a combination of old-fashioned resistance, being daunted by the task, and just trying to remember how to write one of the damn things, held me back. I realised, as I struggled with it, how much more you can put into a short story, but also how much more you HAVE to put into a short story. In a flash, character, setting, even plot, can be implied rather than described. In a short story, all of these elements have to be there in actuality, but you also have to keep them short, and to the point. Just as with a flash, there is no room for spare words. Every single one has to serve the story, but in a longer story, the job of picking your way through them is so much harder.

Anyway, long story short (no pun intended), I crested the half way point and picked up speed as I came down the other side. The story ended up at around 2700 words, with the last 1700 only taking 1 hour. Job done, one down, fourteen to go.

This morning, I sat down to write the next one. This was based on another idea which I have also been mulling over for a while. I thought it might be easier, but no. The resistance kicked in, and this time I have ground to a halt after little more than 150 words. There was even an hour break as I tried to find the right name for my character, without which I couldn't complete the first sentence.

Maybe I'm trying to hard. Maybe I have too much else on my plate to tackle this at the moment. Maybe the deadline is just too far off and the panicky adrenaline hasn't arrived yet. Whatever, I'm not going to give up. My goal with this project is to make my brain and my spirit bend to my will, so that writing one of these stories starts to feel as easy as writing a flash. And I guess that's why I'm doing it.

So, wish me well. And if you see me at a reading, and I look tired and lost, just leave me, I'll be fine.

Thursday, 7 April 2011


Well, it's been nearly two weeks since my last blog post, and what a two weeks it has been. My book arrived, as you know, and it's been selling well, but I've also gone ahead with a plan which has been at the back of my mind for a while, and set up a small press. I've also been doing the marking and teaching that comes along at the end of a semester as well as sending stories out etc. etc. It's been a busy couple of weeks but very rewarding.

In my last post I talked about the book, and my reasons for doing it - as well as my fears and hopes. It's been out for two weeks now and I've sold a little over half the print run, and feedback is proving very positive. I was particularly pleased with the comments I received from Cathy Bryant (a poet who's wonderfully titled book, Contains Strong Language and Scenes of a Sexual Nature, came out last year). She said

Such a treat... I was reading it thinking ah, so this is what good flash fiction is like. These should have won prizes and been lauded to the skies... The best and most energetic book of flash I've read for aeons!'

Does it get any better than that? It certainly helped to calm my fears over the audacity of self-publishing to know that I was doing something that others would consider to be good work.

As a result of the feedback, and the speed with which this edition is selling (plus the fact that a number of proof-reading errors have been spotted by eagle-eyed readers which need fixing), I started to think about a second edition. And, I decided, this time it needed to have an ISBN number so that it could be listed on Amazon and ordered from bookshops. It also - I was advised by a colleague - needed to issue from a 'press' rather than just myself.

I can see the need for that. I won't hide behind the press, but it removes my name explicitly from the copyright page and makes the whole thing look a little more professional. However, with the way my mind works, it wasn't enough to simply invent a name and go for it. I started thinking about setting up a real small press.

The thing is, I used to be a publisher. From 1997-2004 I ran CK Publishing. We produced the Writer's Muse magazine (still in existence, and run by my friend and colleague, Jim Palmer) and a number of chapbooks, anthologies, and trade paperbacks. That company moved out of books and into websites and became WebGuild Media, another company that still exists. I left there in 2008 to concentrate full-time on teaching and writing, but ever since CK Publishing's demise, I have been toying with the idea of getting back into the business in some way.

This seemed like the perfect opportunity. Both I and the world are in different places than we were when I set up the last company. With the wonders of blogs and Facebook, it's much easier to spread the word and get people to submit. And with the network of writers I have developed, it's also easier to get supporters for your project.

So, last Sunday, after thinking through some - but by no means all - of the issues, I announced the birth of Gumbo Press, and then started setting it up. Along with my partner, Kath Lloyd, the poet Jo Bell, and my friend and colleague from the Writer's Muse, Mike Somers, we are now putting together how the whole thing is going to work.

Suffice it to say, there will be an e-zine featuring writing in all its forms, and we plan to move into chapbooks and anthologies as time goes on. Competitions, events, and other things we haven't even thought of yet will join the mix. It's a lot of work, but so exciting, and with 76 followers on Facebook in less than a week, hopefully a success.

Tonight I'm back reading with Jo for a Bugged event (with a few copies of 31 floating around too, perhaps) and in a couple of weeks I'm back at Bad Language (who have selected one of the 31 stories for their next anthology) to read and promote the book there as well.

So, anyway, that was my two weeks. What have you been up to?