Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Communication - Fifty word story

He’s not addicted. He could give up tomorrow. Just because he checked his emails during his children’s carol concert doesn’t mean he's not a good father. Or husband. Yes, he keeps the phone under his pillow, smiles in his sleep when it vibrates. But divorce. She’s got to be kidding.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Poison - fifty word story

She walks past it again and again, promising that next time, she’s going to ring up his number and leave a message. From a number they can’t trace. Where were you last night, he’ll say. At home, she’ll lie, hoping for your call. She circles round again. Anonymous. Shadowed. Waiting.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Autobiography is not important. Authenticity is important. The writer must fire herself through the text, be the molten stuff that welds together disparate elements. I believe there is always exposure, vulnerability, in the writing process, which is not to say it is either confessional or memoir. Simply, it is real.
Jeanette Winterson

Shadow - Fifty word story

She’s not afraid of her own shadow. It’s the other one she can’t get rid of, however much she cuts the links. The doctors tie her hands down, not realising that when they’ve gone, the other shadow will raise its arms and she has to break free again. And again.

Me and Nelson....

This summer, sculptor Antony Gormley invites you to help create an astonishing living monument. He is asking the people of the UK to occupy the empty Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square, a space normally reserved for statues of Kings and Generals, in an image of themselves, and a representation of the whole of humanity.

I really, really, really do not go out of my way to look for things that will embarrass my kids, but oh my, I so want to be picked to go on the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square. I've applied, so there's nothing more I can do now except wait. But I woke up this morning thinking about it. I was so sure that this was a sign I rushed to my emails. Nothing. So I'm sending positive thoughts out there.

I'm even being nice to pigeons. And that hurts.

You can apply yourself here, but let me tell you this - if you get in and I don't, I will find a way to climb up there to join you....

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Eclipsed - Fifty Word Story

When they first met, James wrote her name everywhere. She and he were forever. He said that, when they were old, they would walk through the park and catch sight of their younger shadows. Now, as he scribbles her out, it’s only her shadow he sees. Sees her everywhere. Forever.

New writers are often told, "Write what you know." I would broaden that by saying, "Write what you know emotionally. "

Marjorie Franco

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Gordon's House ... 50 word story

She didn’t want to move into the new house, but it took until December for her parents to realise why. She’d run to her mother, struggling to explain through the tears. Father Christmas, how… which one…? Her mother laughed. Told her more chimneys meant more presents. That greed was good.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Exposure - 50 word story

On the day they said no women could be seen in public, they covered the statues. Watching with her mother, Miranda draped herself in the curtain as a joke. Although her mother blamed the sound of the key turning for her tears, Miranda knew it had all been her fault.

Monday, March 23, 2009

A perfect Sunday ...

... consists of ....

Seeing the oldest bench in England at Ham House - a receipt records it was made by one Henry Harlow in 1674. Those who know me will realise just what this meant to me. I only just restrained myself from texting my kids, feeling rather like I did when I went to Coldplay and rang them so they could hear 'Fix Me' play live. Yep, folks, this is a bench with rock star glory (and about ten times the glamour of Chris Martin, let's be honest)

BUT... I'm whispering so the bench doesn't hear, the possible tinglings of a new obsession - stone pineapples. The traditional sign of friendship, a lovely thing for any house.

Exploring the Privy Gardens at Hampton Court Palace with my garden history class, no one asking if it was time to go yet, where was the cafe or complaining about just how many photographs I needed to take. But more than that, seeing something I've only just seen in books or slides actually laid out in front of me, and being able to put into context just what the river meant in relation to the house, how the designs would have looked from the main windows and the surprising restfulness of it all.

In comparison at least to this part of the garden which looks peaceful now but would have housed a collection of heraldic beasts on poles designed to show Henry VIII's power. I had thought of the impact as just being visual before, but Brian Dix (who was showing us round) talked about the creaking noises the metal beasts would have made as they swung round in the wind, and the formidable impression this noise, mixed with the smells of meat roasting from the kitchens, would have had on visitors arriving to the palace by boat ... even before they saw anything. The garden as a deliberate sign of strength and status ... I'm excited how this keeps coming up in my reading. I had thought about them just being places of tranquility and escape mostly.

So a whole other dimension to my thoughts about gardens.

And last but not least, meeting and spending some time with one of my aboslute blog idols, gardenhistorygirl. She is just as lovely as her blog and of course, I got my picture taken with her - but I didn't ask for her autograph. Oh yes, I still retain a little bit of coolness.

Admittedly, not much, but some...

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Artists Way

Just to say that this group is now full.

Hopefully other groups will spin off from it, so if anyone sets one up and wants me to put it up here then I'm happy to do so because there is obviously a demand!


Saturday, March 21, 2009

Vogue Tips for Fabulous Frugality

I don't think I've laughed so much recently as I did over British Vogue's spoof article on how to keep fabulous in the credit crunch - until a friend pointed out that it wasn't actually a joke.

So we read it again, and now neither of us is sure whether it is or not. Or whether to laugh or cry. Here are some of the 40 'tips' on offer ...

No. 13 Hot-wash a faded pashmina to create a shrunken baby blanket, then monogram with initials in silk thread. (I know! My favourite too until I read...)

No 17 Commission a good seamstress to alter your mother's vintage Chanel jacket to spring's new cropped length - just remember to ask her first (what do you mean your mother doesn't have vintage Chanel hanging around? Or that you might sew yourself?)

No 18 Slice the bottom off last summer's maxidress and use the off-cuts as a beach turban. Alternatively, turn them into a sun shelter using willow canes (either way, no one, repeat no one, will laugh at you as much as they did last year when you were wearing a maxidress)

No 30. Hunt down a vintage Hermes lizard-skin Thermos flask and take fresh coffee to the office (see, this was when I became really sure it was a joke.)

No 31. Up the glamour stakes at home: wear the boyfriend's Prada silk pyjamas, put on some heels, and prepare a baked potato supper topped with taleggio and truffle shavings. (You can actually do the same thing with his old t-shirt and baked beans, it's just that neither Marks & Sparks or Heinz advertise in Vogue so they can't label drop)

No 33 Skip lunch at Cipriani and adopt a glamorous cause instead. Or, better still, adopt a cause then talk about it over lunch at Cipriani. (And this was where I gave up. Which is a pity because I missed just how stocking up on enormous bottles of expensive toiletries was actually frugal)

Ho hum. It's a bit like the time a friend of mine, who had been talking interestingly about politics, suddenly launched into an equally lucid explanation as to how half the cabinet were actually aliens sent to spy on us. I was sent spinning off into a parallel universe when I wasn't quite sure myself what was true and what wasn't. Or what the point was anyway.

Still, hands up. I was the one buying the glossy magazine. And I'm glad I did, because I was mean in this blog some time ago about an article Christa D'Souza wrote for Observer Woman about not wanting to look old, and here she is in Vogue writing possibly one of the best things I've read this year about getting in touch with her inner adventurer. Who cares what she looks like, or whether she's wearing her boyfriend's Prada silk pyjamas or not - she's funny and clever and makes me think I haven't completely lost my sense of humour. Plus she inspired me to want to go on an adventure myself so I'm doubly cheered up, and now off to hunt down a vintage Hermes flask. Do you think they sell them at Lakeland plastics? And will people mock if I can only find one in crocodile-skin?

The Story Prize

My interview with Story Prize director, Larry Dark, is now up on The Short Review.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Word by word

The Academy of American Poets have been experimenting with ways of reading poems on line. This is what they say:

Poets.org has partnered with TextTelevision to offer TextFlows, an alternative approach to reading and experiencing poetry. By converting text dynamically into Flash animation, poems are revealed phrase by phrase through motion and light, and at a pace controlled by the reader. The simplified words and crisp motion fixes one's attention on the subtleties of language, increasing involvement, engagement, and understanding.

I've never forgot reading some research that showed how people reading too long a text on line ended up with the same queasy sensation as sea-sickness, so I suppose this makes sense. When I tried it with one of my favourite poems, W. B. Yeats's Aedh wishes for the Cloths of Heaven though, I found I was going back to the whole poem printed above the animated version, keen to read on quickly rather than just take what was in front of me. Increasing the animation to full window size and just having that on screen made all the difference, forcing me to slow down. And yes, I did relish it more.

But better still, here is a recording of Yeats reading another of his poems, The Isle of Innesfree, at exactly the right speed ... here. Magic. Absolutely magic.

How to keep going...

The poet, Robert Lee Brewer asked a number of other poets for ideas on keeping on writing when they just didn't feel like it, and has collated the answers into an interesting blog post.

I like this answer from Todd Dillard particularly because it's true - sometimes you just need to go and do something different, although I am still growing out a really really bad haircut from last year so I might skip that one. I'm interested in the anthology of favourite poets though, a mixed tape of words:

I'm much more conscientious about my writing when I'm NOT writing than when I am, so I usually try to shift my focus away from that internal, absent impetus into something different, enjoyable, or productive. This usually means a new haircut, delightfully awful genre fiction, and editing. If that doesn't work, I create projects for myself, like painting, developing a mix tape, or creating a little Great(ness) anthology of my favorite poems from my favorite poets. When you're stuck in a writing slump, it's easy to focus on that missing creativity energy within you without realizing it's an entirely false paradigm. It's more likely that energy’s still in you, it's just moved somewhere else in you. Find it again and reign it in, or just go with it for a while, it might be leading you somewhere unexpected.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Feet - Fifty Word Story

She loves summer because she loves showing off her perfect feet. When winter comes, she refuses to cram her beautiful toes back into tight, unnatural leather. However, the shoemaker won’t consider a cast until she lets him touch her sole. She doesn’t say he’s not the first. Or the last.

Reasons to write

"I think you write to make contact with people, or to extend yourself farther out in the world than you could possibly travel on your own. In some way, it's like a shy person trying to get a date. But there's not a specific person."
A.M. Homes

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

I'm reading in Canterbury tonight

Oops, another thing I forgot to mention ...

It's at the University of Kent - in the wonderfully named Missing Link at Darwin College...

6.00 pm Peter Brown Room, Missing Link, Darwin
£2 entry, £1 for students/concessions

You can find out more here. I will not be attempting an Irish accent although I might have a Guinness after. Or two.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Artists Way

OK, so this is what I've done.

There are a good few of us now who want to do this together. And I'm stressing the together bit, I don't want to lead it or be in charge or anything. Honestly, trust me. Nothing would get done and we'd be off photographing benches or eating chocolate or something.

So fun as that would be, I've set up a new special blog for us and when I hear from you, I'll make you a co-author and give you passwords etc so you can post as much or as little as you want as you work your way through the book. And then we can all share what we think, how we are doing, any good tips, shouts, moans, artists date, revelations etc etc.

Does that sound good?

Right. First thing to do is for you to email me if you want to be in. Even if you've emailed me before. I did say I shouldn't be in charge. Ooops, no. The first thing to do is to get the book, of course. And have a look at the website first - here. I love it, and take the spirituality she talks about as whatever I want it to mean, but it's not for everyone. All I can say is that it works. And it's fun. And it would be especially fun to do it with you guys.

OK. Anything else?

Yep, start date. It might be a good idea if we all start more or less together. So how about Saturday 28th March for the big lift-off?

I'm sure there's lots else, but I'm equally sure you'll tell me. Anyone who wants to join before 28th March will be very welcome.

50 word story - Anima

Of course, she likes the fact that men are embracing their feminine side. She’s just surprised at the corporate sponsors pumping money into the new national Dancing round Handbags challenges. Sometimes she’ll listen to the crowd’s roars, see their ornate hairstyles and she’ll wonder if it’s really been worth it.

Friday, March 13, 2009


Reading the wonderful Oulipo Compendium for the umpteenth time, and I keep having to put it down to have a go at different things. How about doing one of these snowball poems...?


(I'm not sure I should even put it up here because I can't get it to format right - the I should be at the centre of the top and the rest spreading out pyramid style)

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Raymond Carver on You Tube

More hunting on You Tube, and I came up with this video about Raymond Carver's life. "He wanted to be bold, but his eyes gave him away." Oh, but that line made me shiver....

I have a dreadful feeling I'm falling in love with these dead writers. I keep searching them out, watching and watching them speak and then going to read their words. Memo to myself: must spend more time with the living.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

short story/poetry magazines and calls for submissions

I've been having a fine old time working out a list of print and online literary magazines that take poetry and short stories. No point in keeping it all to myself so if anyone wants me to email them a copy, do get in touch - probably best to email me with your email address rather than putting it in comments. It's just names, but you can google for submission requirements etc, and of course to take out subscriptions. There's something so strange about sending work out but not supporting the places that might publish you. In fact, let's all subscribe to a literary magazine today... !!!

Monday, March 09, 2009

And Anne Sexton too!

How have I only just discovered all this poetry on YouTube?

Having a Coke With You

The Artists Way

I've followed Julia Cameron's guided Artists Way twice now, and am thinking of starting the twelve weeks again at the end of March just to kick start some new ideas and see what comes up. Anyone want to do it with me? Email or leave a comment if so.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

A 50 word fairy story

When she’s eighteen she’s going to row across to the castle to marry the prince. She won’t wait for the happy ever after though. She’s planning to head straight to the divorce. She’s already got the solicitor’s number, has prepared a press statement. Oh yes, she’s always believed in dreaming.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Competition news/deadlines/submissions

The New Writer Magazine offers a great email newsletter for its subscribers, giving news of competitions and submissions. Here are some from the most recent newsletter, but do consider taking out your own subscription. At the moment especially, literary and writing magazines need our support:


Poole Writers Circle Open Poetry Competition
First prize of £100 plus a framed picture by up-and-coming Poole artist Keira Rathbone interpreting the winning poem. Two runner-up prizes of £25. Poems 40 lines max. Entry fee £4 per poem. Closing date 31 March. Full details see www.writerspoole.co.uk

Steyning Festival (23 May to 7 June) has announced that the judge of its inaugural short story competition is to be local author and West Dean tutor, Greg Mosse. The competition is being supported by Steyning Bookshop and there will be prizes for three winners in the adult category and a book token prize for the two best under -16 entries. The competition is open to ages 12 and above and the theme is open. Maximum words 1,500. Entry fee is £4 per story or three stories for £10. Deadline is 31 March and information and rules on the festival website or by sending a SAE to: The Short Story Competition Secretary, 67, King's Stone Ave, Steyning, BN44 3FJ.

Indigo Dreams brings you the ˜Indigo Themes" series of anthologies. The first in the series is And Again Last Night… exploring Love in all its many forms, its cause and effect, passion and pain, romance, eroticism, regret, legacy - its humour too. Whatever you have experienced or wish to write about. We are seeking up to 2 poems from you, each poem to have maximum of 32 lines. Submissions may be made by email, which must state your postal address, or by post. Closing date 9 April. Indigo Dreams Publishing, 8 Reynolds Court, Hildersley, Ross-On-Wye HR9 7NE. Email dawnidp@btinternet.com www.indigodreamspublishing.co.uk

Deddington Writing Competition 2009
For details of the 5th annual competition go to the Deddington Festival website: www.deddingtonfestival.org.uk or send SAE to: DW Competition, 7 The Daedings, Deddington, Oxon OX15 0RT. Closing date 30 April. On Friday 26 June in Deddington, local authors will present the year's prizes and lead a discussion on current aspects of writing.

Lymm Festival Creative Writing Competition
May 1st is the deadline for this year's Lymm Festival writing competition, for one side of A4 in any genre or style, on the subject of 'Anniversary', with £300 in prizes to be won. For details and the form which must accompany your entry, send sae to 'Anniversary', c/o 39 Fairfield Road, Stockton Heath, Warrington, WA4 2UR or visit the website: www.lymmfestival.org.uk.

Indigo Dreams Summer Collection Competition 2009
Three winners will have collection published by Indigo Dreams Publishing and receive 50 copies.
44 pages stapled booklet with opportunity to upgrade to perfect bound (spine) with min 52 pages for balance amount.
Submission: Selection of 10-15 poems to 36 lines max.
Entry Fee: £18 per block of poems
Closing date 22 May.
Email submissions – see website
Cheque payable Indigo Dreams Publishing and entries to Indigo Dreams Publishing, 8 Reynolds Court, Hildersley, Ross-On-Wye, HR9 7NE, or PayPal from website.
Please email any queries to indigodreamspress@rocketmail.com or dawnidp@btinternet.com Full details/email/overseas entries visit www.indigodreamspublishing.co.uk

David Rattray memorial fiction prize
The Daily Telegraph is proud to support again the annual essay writing competition for 18–24 year-olds, set-up to honour historian David Rattray. David was the self-taught, internationally renowned expert on the Anglo-Zulu war of 1879,who was sadly murdered in 2007. He ran the Fugitives’ Drift Lodge with his wife Nicky, near Rorke’s Drift located in Kwa Zulu Natal. Learning directly from the descendants of Zulu warriors who fought in the war, David dedicated his life to educating visitors to his lodge on the war and taking them to battlefield sites. As a result, he was instrumental in putting these remote battlefields on the tourist map. The winner of the competition will enjoy a two-night stay at Fugitive’s Drift, visit selected battlefields of the Anglo-Zulu wars and also receive £2,000. Plus, there are also two runners-up prizes of £1,000. The winning essay will also be read by Maggie Phillips, Joint Managing Director of Ed Victor Ltd agency, providing exposure of the winner’s skills to the publishing world.
To enter, you need to write an essay of between 1,000 and 1,400 words, it should be a work of fiction entitled, ‘Reconciliation’. Entries will be judged by a prestigious judging panel. Essays need to be sent in Word format to rattray@lme.com or, post five A4 copies to: David Rattray Memorial Competition, 56 Leadenhall Street, London EC3A 2DX to be received by 1 June 2009.

HISSAC annual open short story competition
Closing date 31 July.
1st prize of £400
Details & entry forms at www.hissac.co.uk

Poetry Library
Check out all the current UK poetry competitions at http://www.poetrylibrary.org.uk/competitions/

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Order - 50 word story

I tell her it’s not that I can’t be spontaneous. Make tea when it’s coffee time. Two sugars instead of one. But she thinks it’s funny to keep moving my sachets around. There are times to be playful, I say. When, she asks. When I say so, I tell her.

ps I'm very grateful so many people are coming to look at my little fifty word stories. Thanks to Cornflower Books amongst others for the shout out. Please join in with your own story connected to the photograph if you like, either in the comments section or on your own blog and send me the link. Otherwise, make yourself a spontaneous cup of coffee and enjoy!!! (if you click on the Fifty word story label or here, you should get them all so far. There are some great responses from other people in the comments)

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Another purely fictional fifty word photo story*

Twenty one things I have felt already today (and it’s not even lunchtime): sleepy, lost, awake, happy, grumpy, writerly, interested, hungry, in need of coffee, satisfied, in the flow, studious, achey, non-writerly, bored and in need of gossip, status upped, tweeted out, caged, determined, noble, but hungry all over again.

(*eg personally I am always prepared to starve for my art)

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Lewes Reading


and delicious food and drink, at the Needlemakers Café, West Street, Lewes (for details and map see www.needlemakers.co.uk)


Poetry: LIZ BAHS

Liz Bahs is working on her first collection, Swarm, poems that seek to make contact both with her home here in the UK and with her native Florida. She often spends her summers teaching poetry to high school students in America. She teaches Creative Writing for the Open University and for the University of Sussex.

Peter Abbs is currently Research Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Sussex. He has written widely on creativity and aesthetics. He is poetry editor of Resurgence magazine. Author of ten volumes of poetry, his most recent collection, Voyaging Out, which includes translations from the work of Dante and Rilke, is published in March 2009.

Miriam Moss, an award-winning author of seventy children’s books, including picture books, novelty books and poetry, also writes short stories for adults. Looking In was a winning story in the 2007 Asham Award (published in the Asham anthology Is This What You Want?). Her fiction has been translated into twenty-one languages. She works creatively with children and adults at festivals, and in schools, libraries and prisons.
For more information see: www.miriammoss.com

If you plan to have supper at the Café, it’s probably a good idea to arrive in time to order and eat before the readings start.

– TICKETS: £5 (£3 unwaged), in advance from Skylark (Needlemakers) or at the door on the night.

Zadie Smith's Sense and Sensibility books

There's an academic bookshop called BookCulture in New York I really want to visit. In real life that is. I visit it often enough virtually.

Their recent blogpost was the list of books Zadie Smith has on her reading list for a course she's teaching at Columbia University. The course is called Sense and Sensibility. Any list that includes both Crash AND The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie seems pretty interesting to me.

Want me to tell you a story?

You can listen to me reading of my story, The Potassium Man here.

I haven't managed to get to the end of it yet, because in my head I sound like Chandler's dad rather than ...

Sunday, March 01, 2009


He always called her honey. I’m home honey, he’d yell and before the phonecall, when she still loved him, she’d buzz down from her room. Bzzzz. But after she realised she was the drone not the queen, she started sticking to him a little too drippily. A touch too sweetly.