Friday, 21 December 2012

'Stop' - a #FridayFlash

Everyone in the office looked shocked to see Mike when he walked in. He knew he wasn’t looking his best, but he also knew that wasn’t the reason for their look. He had sat in the car for ten minutes, wondering if this was the right thing to do, but was unable to think of anything else. He was awake, he was dressed, and it was only Wednesday, so it was time to go to work.
His clothes were rumpled and stained. He had been wearing them since yesterday morning –only yesterday? – and he hadn’t even had a chance to change his underwear or socks. But it was a work day, so he was there.
As he had stared out through the windscreen, hot eyes following the teardrops of rain which ran down the windscreen, he had attempted to gather himself together ready to face the day. He had scrubbed his hands down across his face, hearing and feeling the sandpaper rasp of stubble on his palms. He had known he looked bad, with his hair unwashed and his body reeking of adrenaline sweat, but it was Wednesday, so he had to go to work.
The shocked looks followed him to his desk in silence and gathered around him. No-one left their desk, no-one said a word. They all knew what had happened, but none of them knew what to say. So they said nothing. Mike wasn’t surprised. He was the one it had happened to and he didn’t know what to say either. But it was a work day, so he was here.
He sat at his desk and stared at his computer. He didn’t type anything, or touch the mouse. But when the phone rang he picked it up and answered. His voice sounded normal to his ears, and he asked all the right questions and gave all the right answers. He made no notes, made no move even to pick up his pen, and as soon as the phone was returned to its rest he had forgotten it all. In his mind, all he could see was his wife where he had left her: sitting by Daniel’s bed, still in the jeans and t-shirt she had been wearing yesterday, her knees pulled up to her chest, her hands over her face, and every fibre of her being forcing him from the room, forcing him to leave her alone in her grief. Downstairs in the kitchen the radio had told him it was still only Wednesday morning – the spirits had done it all in one night! – and that it was time to go to work.
At lunchtime he went to the cafeteria. He bought a meal deal without speaking to anyone, enduring the stares and the whispers, and sat at his usual table with the sandwich and the crisps and the drink unopened in front of him. He looked at the food and knew that Daniel would never eat anything again. After ten minutes of sitting, he placed the unopened box, bag and bottle in the bin and returned upstairs for the afternoon’s work.
No-one spoke to him as he sat at his desk, but from time to time one or another of his colleagues approached him. He didn’t look up or acknowledge them, but carried on staring at his blank monitor screen. He was waiting, but he didn’t know for what. He was just waiting. Whichever colleague it was would stand behind him for a time, from moments to minutes, and then would retreat again. Mike heard the whispered conversations that followed these attempts, but the words were meaningless to him. There had been whispering in the hospital, between the doctors and the nurses, but it had also meant nothing. All that had mattered had been his son’s swollen face, the glass-filled gashes on his chest, and the feel of his small hand holding onto Mike’s much larger, but utterly helpless one.
When five thirty arrived, the other people in the office started to pack up and leave. One person placed a hand on Mike’s shoulder as they passed, but still nothing was said. Mike took that as he cue. He stood and left the office with the others. He stood, silently, in the lift with them. He walked out of the building with them and returned to his car.
He sat, staring out through the windscreen, into the dark winter evening, as the car-park emptied around him. The black windscreen played images to him, of his wife dropping the phone and falling to the floor, screaming, of Daniel’s chest rising and falling, rising and falling, hitching and stilling,  and of himself being pushed backwards by a passing doctor as a single tone filled the world and everyone had a job to do except for him.
He watched these memories as they looped, over and over. He wanted to scream and cry, but he couldn’t. His hands tightened on the steering wheel and nothing happened. He thought about driving home. He thought about driving away. He tried to imagine that Thursday might follow on from Wednesday.
He sat in his car as evening turned into night.

Monday, 5 November 2012

What Keeps Us Going - Guest post from Jonathan Pinnock

[As part of the blog tour for his new book, Dot, Dash, Jonathan Pinnock shares his thoughts on how to keep going in writing...]

Back in the day, when I was starting out as a writer (well, not quite, but we’ll come onto that later), I used to stalk other writers. The ones who won things. The ones who were getting their stories published. The ones who were, in summary, more successful than I was. I would devour their blogs to find out where they were scoring hits and why.

Just as I was beginning to clock up a few scores myself, one of my stalkees suddenly went off air in 2008. There seemed to be no apparent reason, because he still seemed to be doing pretty well. I used to wonder if he was OK and if he was, what it was that had caused him to throw in the towel.

Last week, however, his name – or at least the name of a piece of his that I’d particularly liked – popped up again in a new anthology, and I went hunting for his blog. Unexpectedly, it was still there and even more unexpectedly he seemed to have resumed blogging and writing earlier this year. There was no real explanation for the hiatus.

He isn’t the only writer I know of who has suddenly gone offline, although he’s probably one of the more successful ones. And I think this happens more often than we night imagine. You need a considerable degree of determination and sheer single-minded pigheadedness to succeed as a writer.

I wrote my first story since leaving school (actually, my first since O level) in 1986. It was an idea I’d had for ages and I thought it was completely brilliant. I wrote it for a competition run by none other than Rymans (really!) and because you could enter two stories for the price of one, I wrote another. The second one was unfortunately complete bollocks, and I knew it.

Impressively, you got a half-page critique for each story, which basically confirmed that the second story was indeed bollocks, although the first one had some promise. However, as hard as I tried, I couldn’t come up with any ideas for other stories and this basically meant I had one single story to submit anywhere. Which I duly did, a year later, to the BBC. And when this inevitably got rejected, I gave up.

In 1993, after a brief flirtation with writing books for my kids, I wrote another short story, which I submitted to the Ian St James Award (remember that one?). This one was Highly Commended, the significance of which completely passed me by. I wasn’t encouraged at all by this – in fact, I was extremely disappointed that it didn’t win, because I was convinced that it was utterly, utterly brilliant.

I also joined my local writers’ circle at around this time and managed to write another story (my fourth!), which won one of their internal competitions. After a few desultory attempts, I found a home for this at a magazine called Freelance Informer, which had an acceptance rate somewhere slightly above 50%, but never mind.

I wrote a few more stories during this period, but I was painfully aware that they were already dropping in quality and I gave up fiction altogether around 1995. It wasn’t until ten years later that I found my way back, when I joined the circle again. Two years after that, I found the writing communities on the internet and since then I haven’t really looked back.

I often wonder what would have happened if I’d stuck with writing stories in either 1987 or 1995. Did I just give up too easily? And how come I did manage to stick with it in 2005? What kept me going this time? Certainly, this time around, I found some wonderful support groups to help me stay sane, both in real life – where the Verulam Writers’ Circle had become a lot stronger and more fiction-focused – and online.

But maybe it was simply that this time I was ready. And the other thing, of course, is that even when I wasn’t writing fiction, something inside me had never really given up and was always looking for the chance to get going again.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Painting by Numbers by Tom Gillespie - Book Review

Painting by Numbers is the new novel from Tom Gillespie, previously available on Kindle, and now out in paperback.

To start off with, I need to say. This is a weird book. Now, that may sound like a criticism, but it's really not. I like weird books.

So, you might be asking yourselves, why did I feel the need to mention this? Well, I was expecting a psychological thriller - and I certainly got one of those. What I wasn't expecting was that it would be so... well... weird.

The book opens in Glasgow where our protagonist, Jacob Boyce has become so obsessed with trying to understand the nuances of a particular painting that he is in danger of loosing both his job as an academic and his wife.

His attempts to understand the picture include quite a lot of convincing mathematics (which I suspect is bogus, but it's a testament to Gillespie's research and writing that it seems to make sense, at least as much as anything does in this book) which is actually something I found hugely appealing. As strange lights start to emerge from the canvas, and the figures depicted within start to move, the grounding nature of the maths gives is a solid reality. And I've always been a bit of a science nerd, so it pushes those buttons for me too.

At about a third of the way through, the book changes location to Spain, and most of the book plays out here. I don't want to go into the plot too much, as I don't want to give anything away, but what started as one man's obsession over a painting becomes a kind of demented road-trip, where things get stranger and stranger.

There are, I think, a couple of mis-steps in the book. The comedy interludes in particular - from a police inspector and a bus driver - seem to have been dropped in, and jar somewhat with the overall tone as you read them. But as the book turns more and more weird, even they seem in retrospect to be completely normal.

This is a well-written and gripping book. The character of Boyce is by turns extremely likeable and sympathetic, and then equally strange and disturbed. The description of it as a surreal psychological thriller is an apt one for a book which includes the degeneration of a man's mind and body, art history, space-bending mathematics and free jazz.

It may be weird, but it's my kind of weird. A great book, and well worth a read.

You can pick it up now on Kindle or paperback from Amazon.

Friday, 12 October 2012

Free 31 Day!

Hello everyone and welcome.

Today is a special day because from 7am today (Friday) until 7am tomorrow (all times BST), I'm giving away free Kindle copies of my flash-fiction collection, 31.

If you are in the UK, the link is

If you are elsewhere in the world, just change the to .com, .de or whatever, and you can get it there.

Please share the link to this blog, and to the free e-book, and let's see if we can't get it to top the rankings on Amazon.

If you don't have a Kindle, you can download free programs to read Kindles on your computer or phone, from

I'm giving it away to promote the fact that plans are starting to be formulated for next year's National Flash-Fiction Day (sign up for the mailing list by emailing and I wanted to give you some incentive to get involved.

I am also hoping that you will read it, enjoy it, click the 'Like' button on the top of the Amazon page, review it on Amazon, and maybe review it on your own blog or website. Reviews really do generate sales, so if you could do this, I would be really grateful.

Along with all of this, and because there are apparently some people who don't have Kindles (though I'm sure Amazon are working to rectify this oversight!) I am also giving away a free copy of the print version of 31.

Rather than simply holding a random lottery, I thought I would make it a little bit harder, by giving you a quiz. So, below are 6 questions for you to answer. Most of the answers are  somewhere on my website at, so get yourselves over there, have a rummage, and you could be the proud owner of only 3 remaining copies of the original printing of the book.

Email your answers to calum AT calumkerr DOT co DOT uk (replacing the words with the symbols) and I shall pick one lucky winner out of a hat once I have all your correct answers.

So, without further ado, here are the questions:

1. When were the stories in 31 written?
2. On what date was the Kindle version of Undead at Heart published on Amazon?
3. When does my next Flash-Fiction Online course start?
4. At what age did I start writing?
5. Which book did I examine for my York Notes study guide?
6. Which publisher produced Braking Distance?

And that's it. Should be easy enough. Find your answers and email them over with '31 Competition' in the subject line, please. The competition finishes at 7 am (BST) on Saturday 13th October (the same time as the 'free' period on Amazon finishes). And I shall announce the winner here on my blog sometime over the weekend.

Good luck, and I hope you enjoy reading and reviewing 31!

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Happy National Poetry Day

Hello there, and Happy National Poetry Day!

As most of you know, I rarely delve into the realm of poetry, leaving that to the more able, but what with it being the Day for it, and with the theme being 'stars', I thought I would share this poem which seems to fit with the theme.

I wrote it a few years ago in a NAWE workshop, lead by Liz Cashdan, . She managed to help me produce something which I think is not half-bad, and it was the first time I'd been able to write about my father, who was ill at the time and passed away soon after.

So, this is for all you poets out there, hope you have a great day.

And this is for my dad.

An Echo

"Have you ever looked at the stars?"
He looks away, even as he speaks.
I ask him what he means
but he says nothing more,

simply walks away
adds gin to his glass,
but not tonic,
and leaves me watching him,
waiting for the next pearl to drop,
like waiting for the next train to pass,
the next beat to sound, or
the next breath to draw.

Instead we talk about my work
and his garden,
my life
and his seedlings,
my beliefs
and his tomatoes.
And yet I remember this:
"Have you ever looked at the stars?"

I remember as he falters.
Waiting for the next beat to sound.
Waiting for the next breath to draw.
Waiting for the end

I remember.
"Have you ever looked at the stars?"
and in the silence I turn away
to look at the night sky.

Friday, 28 September 2012

The Potential of Crowd Sourced Funding for Writers - Adam Horovitz

A poet friend of mine, Adam Horovitz, has recently used crowd-sourced funding to raise money to help him with his next collection of poetry. I was fascinated by this possible solution to some of the perils of the funding sector, so asked him for his thoughts.

What do you know about crowd funding? It's a pertinent question in these hard times for arts funding, politically and economically. I discovered it thanks to following the musician Amanda Palmer on Twitter, watching with increasing astonishment and delight as she raised an incredible $1.2 million to fund her latest album, having originally asked for $100,000, claiming that this method of funding was the 'future of music'.

As the year progressed it got harder and harder to be a freelance writer - anyone following that career path will surely know what I mean, although no-one in the creative industry or the job market in general can be finding things that easy at the moment - I began to think that crowd funding might be a useful way to help get myself to the Hawthornden Fellowship I had been offered last year, when things were a little less financially constrained.

I got the fellowship on the back of my first book, Turning, which was published by Headland Publications last year. It offers unconstrained time and silence in a castle in Scotland to write. Trouble was, I was beginning to think that I would have to pass on the opportunity because work was so fragile and hard to come by. Who'd want to sit in silence in a castle not writing because of mortgage worries, after all?

So I went to Sponsume, one of a number of crowd funding websites that have sprung up in the last few years, and set up a campaign to try and buy myself time to work on my second book of poetry.

The beauty of crowd funding is that it takes the funding of artistic ventures right to the heart of the audience who are interested in the art. One is encouraged to offer 'rewards' for people who contribute - in my case, I am offering anything from limited edition postcard poems to a very limited number of private readings to people who contribute.

I have agonised about the naked-making feeling that such an open form of money-raising engenders, and the risk of making oneself look foolish, greedy or just plain arrogant, but have been gratified by the response from many people, some of them friends, some family and some (and this is the most wonderful part for any artist) people one doesn't know who either like the art in question or like the idea of supporting an artist. It is also a wonderful feeling to be able to offer them all something in return.

I don't think crowd-funding is the best way of raising really large amounts of money, unless one has the social networking nous, fanbase and reach of someone like Amanda Palmer, but I do believe it is an excellent way of creating small but potent amounts of money for individual projects and (and this is important) creating publicity for them that is not mired in corporate profit-mongering.

At the Free Verse Book Fair, I had an interesting discussion on the ethics of this sort of fundraising with Adele Ward of Ward Wood Publishing. There was some concern that raising funds for, say, a new anthology of poetry via a company like Sponsume would smack of vanity publishing.

There is a telling difference between crowd funding and vanity publishing, however. With crowd funding, poets included in an anthology can promote it to friends and family via Facebook, email, Twitter and so forth without ever having to fork out a penny, alongside the publisher who should be equally hard at work promoting it, and the people supporting it will get copies of the book as 'rewards' when the funds are raised. If they want to put more money in, these 'rewards' can be increased in desirability by adding limited editions, signed copies and more. What could be better in small press publishing than a publicity-generating pre-ordering system?

Even projects like mine, which are more personal, are viable if it is clear that there are goals in sight. In my case, when I was offered the Hawthornden Fellowship, my publisher perked up and said: "Oh, good! I look forward to seeing the next manuscript!". Without that in mind, I would have felt much more uncomfortable about setting up the campaign.

I also equivocated early on about the ethics of such a project on Facebook and was gratified when the poet Jon Stone fired back with the comment (and I'm paraphrasing a little, as it's hard to find the exact comment immediately on Facebook's clumsy Timeline): "I'd rather see 100 poets funded for a month's retreat than one poet funded for a lifetime's career".

It's this attitude that makes crowd funding exciting for me - the possibility that many people who might not find it easy to get a creative project off the ground, given the bureaucratic hoops one is expected to jump through with big funding bodies, could find that they suddenly have the time (with a little careful thought and a fair amount of work sat at the computer gritting their teeth and promoting it) to do something marvellous with the support of family, friends and people interested in their art.

As my campaign draws to a close, I realise that the process has been somewhat akin to the feeling I get when I test a new poem out on front of an audience for the first time. There are nerves, palpitations, the worry that it might not be liked. I have noticed and edited out flaws as I have gone along, and made the campaign stronger. It seems to have gone down reasonably well this time. I might try it again some time, but not for quite a while.

Before that, I want other campaigns to come to life. I want to see more writers and creators of all sorts getting their ideas out there and promoting them. Crowd funding may not be the future of arts funding (joyous though Amanda Palmer's hyperbole was to watch), but I think it could and should play a large part in that future.

I will certainly be looking out for good campaigns to support as and where I can when I get back from Hawthornden. More power to your crowd-funding elbows!

To take a look at Adam Horovitz's Sponsume campaign, or even donate if one of the 'rewards' tickles your fancy, click on this link:

Adam Horovitz is a poet and journalist. Born in London in 1971, he was raised in Gloucestershire. He was poet in residence for Glastonbury Festival's official website in 2009, was voted onto the Hospital Club 100 as an 'emerging talent' in 2010 and is a 2012 Hawthornden Fellow. His first collection, Turning, was published in 2011.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

An interview with Joel Willans - Pangea Blog Tour

In support of the recent release of the fabulous anthology, Pangea (, I am interviewing one of the writers included in the book, Joel Willans:

So, Joel, you’re a writer. In case my readers don’t know who you are, can you give us a potted biography – what you’ve written, what you like writing, etc?

I’m a Brit living in Finland who writes lots of different things depending upon which hat I’m wearing. I’m a partner at a communications agency called Ink Tank, so one day I might be doing copywriting, the next blogging, the next scriptwriting. As for fiction, I’ve been into short stories for about six years, though there’s been a lot less time dedicated to that pleasure since the arrival of two little Willanses, Eliot and Lotte. Despite their wonderfully energetic presence, I’ve managed to write stories for about two-dozen anthologies and had a couple broadcast on BBC radio.

You’ve recently been putting together a collection of stories for Route, called Spellbound. Can you tell us about that and how it came into being?

It came into being from another collection, which got shortlisted for the Scott Prize in 2010. I was very pleasantly surprised that it made that list and, after it lost out on gold, I decided to try and polish it up, take some things out, write some new stories and send the new improved version out into the wild. Route had a call out for manuscripts at the end of 2010, so I sent it to them. I eventually met up with Ian Daley of Route in September last year and we sat down and went through the manuscript over a beer or two.

It was a fascinating experience to have someone really dissect the stories, and after a few hours it became clear that they weren’t linked by the themes I’d thought, but by the way women weave their magic, both good and bad, over men. After some more editing and some more new stories added and some others taken away, there are eighteen stories all together. The main characters include everything from pimps, janitors and music journalists to old sailors, composers and bricklayers. The one thing they all share is that women are messing with their minds.

It’s taken quite some time to get everything ready, mainly because my daughter was born the month Route agreed to publish the collection. I discovered very early on that sleep deprivation really isn’t conducive to editing. Thankfully Route were really patient with me and Spellbound is now due out at the end of October.

You’re here as part of a blog-tour for the Pangea anthology. How did you get involved with that, and what is it all about?

To be honest, it was mere good fortune. A few years back, I was a member of Writewords. It’s a fantastic online writing community full of really supportive people. During that time I shared a lot of my stories with people to critique and a couple caught the eye of Rebecca Lloyd, a great writer who really helped me out at the time. Her and another Writewords member Indira Chandrasekhar wanted to put together an anthology to showcase some of the fiction that comes out of the community. Pangea is the result. It includes thirty-four stories from writers from all over the world and is, even if I do say it myself, a fine read.

What’s your writing process? How do you go from idea to finished piece?

It really depends what I’m working on. For short stories one of my favourite ways of writing is from prompts. This is great to do with a group of like minded writers, a list of random words or phrases and a time limit, normally an hour. Sometimes I can knock out a complete story like this, more often I conjure up a thousand words of rubbish. Yet in the cold light of day even this can be useful. The first draft of one of the stories I have in Pangea was written like this and maybe half of those in Spellbound. The great thing about using this writing technique, for me at least, is that I don’t have time to self edit as I write and the stories are totally different to those I’d write if I sat down at the keyboard with a plan in mind. I know some writers who call this “writing drunk” because you give the creative right side of your brain the freedom to go crazy. I think it sums it up perfectly.

What’s your next project?

The novel that’s been sitting on my hard drive since last May is waiting to be edited. I haven’t read it since then and this week I plan to print it out and see how it sounds. Now I’ve finally finished everything to do with Spellbound I’m more enthusiastic about novel writing than I’ve been for ages. I love short stories, but I really want to finish a decent novel and get it out there. I hope this one has a shout. It’s a very modern adventure – a road trip story, which takes the main characters from London to Peru to Finland. A friend who read it said it was like Bright Lights Big City meeting The Beach. Not sure I totally agree, but I took it as a compliment nonetheless. It was great fun to write the first draft. Hopefully, when it’s finished, publishers will find it great fun to read, too. 

Thank you for that, Joel, best of luck with Spellbound, Pangea and all your other endeavours!
For more information about Joel, go to

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Life Writing

As some of you may know from earlier posts on this blog, as well as writing fiction I have an interest in life-writing, ie: writing about real things which have happened to you.

This came about in two ways, the first through writing fiction and the second through teaching life-writing to students.

In terms of writing fiction, I have spent most of life doing that thing we are told to do - 'write what you know'. Now, only a very simple reading of that concept means that you can only write about real things that may have happened to you. Instead, it is a deeper thought, which says that whatever you are writing, include those concepts and emotions which you have come across and, sometimes, where appropriate, include fictionalised elements of reality.

I think it would be impossible to write something completely fictional. Writers are forever borrowing from real life, even if it is just from observations - the way someone walks, talks, flicks their hair, wears mismatched socks on every alternate Wednesday or whatever. And sometimes we borrow events or snippets of conversations. It is what we do and how we create, and in each usage there will be a greater or lesser correspondence to real life.

I started thinking about this a few years ago when I wrote a story which was very close to autobiography. It had a fictional narrator, and the main event (the loss of the narrator's father when the narrator was very young) was also fictional, but many of the details I used in the story were real and true to my life. Over and above that, the theme of loss which ran through the story very much reflected my own feelings about my father who was, at that time, suffering from dementia. After I had written it, I took great interest in trying to work out if this was memoir or fiction. It ticked a lot of the boxes for both. It was a made up piece of work, but it borrowed a lot of both my memories and my feelings.

With distance, I class that piece as fiction, but it certainly gave me an insight into the crossover between the two forms, and left me interested in how much reality writers use in their work.

A couple of years later, while working at Edge Hill University, I was asked to take on the Life Writing module. This sparked my second wave of interest. I was teaching the students how to write a whole range of pieces, from personal essays to travel articles, biography, memoir, etc A topic which soon came up was the concept of 'truth' versus 'accuracy', something which is still a debatable topic.

The other main issue was to do with writing style. How do you make the mundane interesting or stop the tragic from becoming melodramatic.

This last is something which I think is crucial to life-writing, in that most people who set out to document their lives don't just want to talk about making a sandwich, but often about difficult experiences in their lives. The technique I recommend for this is to write completely without emotion and just present the events to the reader. It is the ultimate in 'showing' not 'telling' in that you present the tragic events to the reader just as they were presented to you and allow them to feel the same things you felt without the authorial voice imposing upon them. It is a very powerful technique and one that I employed in a piece I wrote about collecting my brothers ashes from the crematorium a couple of days after his funeral (I have posted the piece below, in case you're interested.)

What has been most interesting, however, since immersing myself in life-writing, is just how useful the specific techniques have become in my fiction writing. By aligning oneself with the events in a novel and searching for ways to tell them which convey the situation without directing the reader, I think that the writing becomes better and the reader, by having to do a little more work and engage a little more empathy, becomes more involved in the story.

I'm glad that I was given the life-writing module to teach as I think it improved my fiction writing and gave me insight into the tools that I need to use in given situations.

And... here comes the plug. I'm running an online course in life-writing. If you fancy giving it a go and seeing how it interacts with your fiction writing (or poetry, or script, or whatever) or just want to do it to set down those stories you have always promised to write, then please do sign up. It starts on 17th September 2012 and further details are here:

Advert over. Here's the piece I wrote. Thanks for reading and, until next time, take care.

The Box

It’s been three days since the funeral. It’s strange to be back here.
                It was raining on the day. Pathetic fallacy, that’s called. The sky wept along with us. We moved from the car to the shelter of the crematorium’s porch, and people milled and talked, sometimes about the deceased, but more often about other things.
                We only had a few moments, though, before we were called to carry the coffin.
                It’s not something you think about very much until you actually have to do it, but you need training to carry a coffin. There were four of us, one at each corner. We were told how to lift it in a particular way, and settle it on our shoulders, then walk in step to keep it level, stop it from slipping.
                I was conscious, as we walked down the central aisle of the chapel – all the other mourners having already taken their seats – that we looked suitably slow and respectful. I wanted to turn and tell them that it wasn’t respect, it was the weight. We couldn’t walk any faster. The weight of years, the weight of life, pressed down on each of us as we carried him to the front.
                As we placed the coffin on the platform at the front, there was a sense of relief as the weight was taken from us. I wondered if he felt the same relief when he was finally able to shed his burdens.
                The rest passed in a blur of music, tears, and the kind words of others.
Now, three days later I have returned to carry out the next duty.
                There are no black cars or black-clad mourners today. The chapel is deserted, and the sun is shining. Is that another reflection of mood? Is this a good day to balance the bad?
                It’s strange to be alone. I seem to have been surrounded by people for so many days.
                I don’t linger in the porch, nor enter the chapel, but instead make my way around to the back door. I’m conscious of the large chimney which rises from this part of the building, a dark finger pointing up into the clear blue of the sky.
                I knock on the partially-open, wooden door, but there is no answer so I step into the gloom.
                It’s dark after the brightness of outside. Once my eyes adjust I see more wood and the normal trappings of an office. I have stepped back-stage and can see the workings of this particular theatre. It feels like trespassing. This place feels more sacred than the other room with its pews and symbols.
                “Hello?” says a voice behind me.
                I turn, startled and see the a face that I only vaguely recognise, even though it’s been little more than 72 hours since I last saw it.
                “Sorry I wasn’t here. How can I help you?”
                “I’ve come to pick up my brother.”
                “Of course.” He bows his head in a show of respect which seems utterly unconscious, simply part of the man.
                He takes his name from me, nods again, then disappears through another wooden door. He returns with a small box, no more than ten inches long. He doesn’t hand it to me immediately, but places it on the table and directs me to complete and sign some forms.
                With the formalities complete, he lifts the small container and places it into my hands.
                I’m strangely split, aware of what is happening, but also aware of a haze which seems to have settled on me.
                I wander back into the sunshine, blinking at the brightness.
I walk slowly, not out of respect, but because I cannot walk any faster. The weight of this box is so much less but also so much greater than that of the coffin. I can feel it trying to pull me down to the ground as I walk back to the car park, alone, just me and my brother.

(Originally published at

Friday, 17 August 2012

A Whole Lot of Nothing and a Bit of Something

Well, hello there. You're looking well. Got a little of that rare and precious sun, I see, and is that a new hair cut? Whatever it is, keep doing it.

Welcome back to my sporadic venture into the blogosphere. As the title suggests, this post will be about the nothing that I have been achieving lately, but also about some bits of something coming over the horizon. Can you see them? No, just to the left. There. Got it? Good.

In my last post I talked about stopping flash52, some plans for the stories from flash365, and about the new novel that I had started writing. However, it seems that whatever got in the way of my carrying on with flash52 has spread to everything else and nothing new has been written since we last sat down for one of these chats.

Now, I can rationalise it. After all, for the first half of this year I was incredibly busy doing flash365, NFFD and teaching, as well as trying to lead a life, it's only fair that I have a bit of a low after all that. Someone today used the phrase 'burned out' and I suppose that's right.Add to that the fact that it's summer and I have no structure to my day, and no deadlines, and you can understand why my ship is adrift in calm oceans.

Oh, and the distraction of the Olympics really didn't help.

But there's another problem, and it's one which will be familiar to most of you out there. That problem is that thing we call work. The thing that allows you to pay your bills.

You see, because I am an associate lecture, I only earn during term times. So I rely on those times to give me enough income to last the rest of the year. With fears about the new fee/loan structures for incoming students, funding has been cut, and my hours have disappeared along with it. I will be teaching this autumn, but not as much. The anxiety associated with that has certainly not made me want to get on with all of the luscious projects I could be doing. They only pay in potentia, you see, not in reality.

So, what am I going to do about it? you ask...

Well, I sat down, and had a good think about what I do and what I can do. And I came up with THE PLAN.

And that is why I am setting up a little business called Palimpsest. It is basically my folio of abilities, gathered together and formalised into a set of literary services.

My first idea was to offer online courses. I figured that just because the university didn't have money to pay me, it didn't mean there weren't students out there looking to learn the things I can teach. So I have set up four courses to start in September, in Flash-Fiction (naturally), Short-Stories (because I can do those too!), Life Writing (something I have been teaching and researching in for a while, and a popular topic) and one in Editing & Rewriting (a common bugbear being that university courses don't ever actually focus on these skills explicitly).

I have also set up a full suite of offers for reading, editing, typesetting (for print and eBooks), mentoring and, soon - in collaboration with Chris Bisette - bespoke story writing!

All of these can be found, for the moment, nestled on my own website at

And the best thing about all this? Well, it started out as a way to try and make my freelance work a little more formal and bring it under my control, but now I'm quite excited about the possibilities of working, in so many different ways, with a host of writers at different stages of their careers. It feels like what I should have been doing all along. And, just to help matters, it's brought back my desire to write. After all, I've written this, haven't I?

So, weekend off, and then back to the novel next week, I think.

If you are interested in any of the courses or other services, then please do either sign up or get in touch for more information. And, if you think you know anyone who might be interested, I'd be really grateful if you would spread the word.Thank you.

Anyway, that's me for now, stuck in a lacuna, but starting to feel the faintest zephyr trying to fill my sails. I wish you fair winds and will see you soon!

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Some Starting and Some Stopping

Hello everyone, and welcome back to my Unmitigated Audacity. I think, if you have been following my exploits over the last year, you'll agree that the title of this blog is getting more and more appropriate.

Anyway, that's beside the point. What I wanted to do was welcome you back here to my writing blog. I know I've been very quiet over the last 6 months but, again, if you've been following all the other things I've been up to, I'm sure you understand.

Since I last chatted here a number of things have happened - National Flash-Fiction Day, the release of Braking Distance, the start of pamphlet publishing from Gumbo Press and more - but I have talked at length about those things in other places, so shan't get into them here. What I do want to talk about is the end of flash365 and what is/has/will be following.

I finally completed the 365th story  on 30th April and was pleased to be able to tie all of my 'challenge' writing together by writing a sequel to the story which opens the 31 collection, 'The Spark of Inspiration'. It was a marathon undertaking but, having finished, I am more than pleased with what I managed. I am still submitting stories here and there, and looking at the feasibility of producing both short collections from among it's pieces, and possibly producing a printing of the whole collection. The blog will stay up for a little longer to give people a chance to have a look, and I will shortly start writing some articles about the process and it's outcomes, some of which will appear in draft form here.

With that project finished I decided to start on a new one, a less ambitious one and, I thought, an easier one. This was called flash52 and was to be a story a week for a year. The only problem is that it's not even the end of June and already I've missed my Friday deadline twice (or is it three times?). So, what's going on here? Well, there are a couple of things. The first is the lack of pressure, I think. A lot of people write FridayFlash and so that makes me just one amongst many. I have no problem being part of a crowd, but what it does mean is that if I miss a week, no-one notices. With flash365 I was always conscious that if I didn't get a story up before midnight then I would start getting emails and Facebook posts asking what was going on. With flash52, no-one has noticed the missing weeks, and without the pressure to produce it's just too easy to let it slide.

However, there is more to it than that. In order to notice the lack of pressure I had to miss a week first. And that was all too easy. I simply forgot. You see, when I was writing one a day, I knew that I had to get it done, I had a routine, and it just happened. But with 6 days off and 1 day on it's far to easy to just forget. Also, those 6 days, rather than being restful, are times for the machinery to seize up. As the weeks have gone on, I have found it harder to get started on each story, and then having missed it, easier to not bother.

So, what's the plan? Well, I'm going to shut down flash52. It obviously isn't working for me. Instead, I'm going to take a more structured approach. flash52 was meant to be a single collection on a particular theme. Instead of writing 52 stories over a year, I shall pick a week and write them all over 5 days. That will give me the pressure and the focus to actually get them done. And, I shan't be posting them online, as that makes it easier to submit them to magazines/competitions and makes it easier to possibly publish them as a single collection.

And this is something I shall do with other collections. I shall scout round, come up with ideas for complete collections, and write them in a single burst, rather than over time. It seems to me to be a better way to use my productivity, rather than trying to call on it just once every 7 days. It also means I can focus on one thing at once. Which brings me to my novel...

The day after I finished flash365 I started to write the novel I was talking about in a couple of the last posts I put on here. I managed 1000+ words a day for a week, but then NFFD took over and it went on hold. I have revisited it, and it's now climbing towards the 13000 mark. I'm very pleased with how it's going. A year of practise is showing in my writing and the stretch of my imagination, and when I get to do some the writing flows well. But I'm also finding it quite daunting, if not frightening.

It's going to be a very big book, but it's not the length that's the problem. flash365 turned out at 166,000 words, so I know I can produce the word count, no, it's two other things. The first is the age old problem of artists everywhere. I think it's a really good idea and I don't want to f**k it up! People tell me to just get it down and let the worrying wait for the rewrite. But I really hate rewriting, and have always found that if a piece of work needs major attention I am more likely to abandon it than do the work. So I would rather get it as right as possible on the first go, and that's quite scary. It won't stop me, but it's worth acknowledging.

The other fear is more personal. You see, before I embarked on my flash odysseys, I wrote 4 novels. And they were all, in some ways, restrained. I don't just mean a lack of swearing, sex and violence, I mean in terms of raw imagination. I used to hold back a lot, I think because I didn't really know how to use my writing muscles in the right way. However, a year of writing in as many genres and styles as I could think of, using as many voices and perspectives as could come up with, has helped me tone all those muscles and use them in controlled bursts. Now, with the novel, I am using them all in concert and I am - to switch metaphors mid-stream - eating the scenery. The novel is great fun, and working well, but the creativity going into it is on the verge of being out of control. I think that is probably how it should be. A novel not produced from the white heat of an overactive brain is only ever going to be middling. But it is intimidating to be strapped to the back of such a bucking bronco.

The result? I'm writing it in fits and bursts and not making as much progress as I should. But, I'm going to keep going, and apart from the next couple of weeks where I shall be doing some travelling, followed by getting married to my gorgeous partner, Kath, on 2nd July, and our subsequent honeymoon, I have got most of the summer clear. So, after we get back from a holiday which, I hope, will finally let me recover from NFFD, I plan to get stuck in, writing as intensively as I can, and then get on to the next thing - probably finishing the flash52 collection.

Well, that was quite long and round-the-houses, wasn't it? The upshot? I won't be back here for a few weeks, but once I'm back in the saddle and writing, I'll pop in from time to time with thoughts and updates. I would, as ever, be delighted to get your feedback, so feel free to comment. And, in the meantime, have a good summer and see you soon!