Friday, July 31, 2009

Teatime - a 50 word photo story

Jim thought there wasn’t much that couldn’t be made better by a nice cup of tea. Murder maybe. Or watching Carol Vorderman on the telly. So when the doctor gave him the results, all Jim could think of was where’s the kettle. Neither pointed out that it was too late.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

I'm happy to have a short essay I wrote about my mother, the gardening writer Elizabeth Peplow, up on Garden Monkey's Book Flange.

Substance - a 50 word photo-story

His wife is getting fat from all the new things she’s learning. He knows she’d probably look it up in one of her books and prove him wrong, but it seems the more courses she does, the more room she takes up. Meanwhile he watches rubbish television, feels himself disappearing.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Tail - a 50 word photo-story

During French, Dorrie felt a slight pull on her head. And then heard the sound of slicing. Jamie refused to give the plait back. For weeks, Dorrie would see the swish as her hair passed. She’d lift her hand up to her head automatically, like searching for an amputated limb.

Kevin Spacey does twitter...

ps I do too, please follow me if you're not already and say hello so I can follow you right back. That way we can share our (waste of) time some more!

How to do it well...

This blog, Advanced Style just makes me happy every morning.


My next novel, Getting the Picture is all about sex and intrigue in an old people's home. I based it on something a woman asked me once- 'Do you think we ever get too old to cry over love?'

Nope. Or I hope not, at least.

And I don't think we ever get too old to dress well either. What I love most about the photographs on the Advanced Style blog is that what comes across is not vanity, or shallowness, but a deep important love of life itself. A generosity, if you like.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Here's something different for you....

GUILTY PLEASURES …. A story of passion, obsession and estate agents
By Sarah Salway (with a little help from various artists, click links to play....)

1. Nine to Five, Dolly Parton

Tuesday starts off as just another day at the Cotton and Wool Estate Agency but after tough but secretly vulnerable estate agent, Belinda, takes a call from her boyfriend, she rushes off to the toilet crying. Brian, the receptionist, bumps into her by accident as she, still mopping up the tears, goes back to her desk. They’ve never talked before because Belinda is far too important and also suspicious of non-alpha males, but there is something about his smile that soon causes the truth to come spilling out …

2. Kiss with the Fist, Florence and the Machine

And Brian confides that things aren’t perfect for him at home either. Something is stirring deep within him …

3. Changing of the Seasons, Ane Brun

So later that night they go to the pub together.

Where Belinda secretly thinks …

4. Falling Slowly, Glen Hansard

And Brian secretly thinks …

5. Strange and Beautiful, Aqualung

Soon they both find themselves in an unfamiliar world. one that neither of them recognise. Even Brian’s beer and Belinda’s Spritzer taste different …

6. The Healer, Erykah Badu

The next morning, Brian still feels a little uncertain …

7. Paranoid, Black Sabbath

But Belinda hasn’t got to where she is without knowing what she wants …

8. Feeling Good, Michael Buble

For two weeks, the air at the Cotton and Wool Estate Agency is full of a strange pulsing energy that causes at least one secretary to go home in tears she can’t quite explain…

9. I Got You (I feel good), James Brown

Meanwhile Belinda’s boyfriend is starting to get suspicious …

10. Big Easy, Raphael Saadiq

And comes to see Brian to tell him the truth about Valerie …

11. Pretty in Pink, Psychedelic Furs

However, Belinda hasn’t climbed to the top of the estate agency ladder by being passive. She retaliates by going to see Brian’s wife, Laura, who had no idea …

12. Always The Last One to Know, Del Amitri

It’s a long night of the soul – hair washing, standing under trees, and staring at the pet rabbit. But at last, Laura applies fresh lipstick, makes a decision …

13. Fuck You, Ani Difranco

Brian begs her to reconsider. Belinda was a nobody, he’s been a silly boy, he’s only loved her, doesn’t she love him when he says sorry so very nicely …

14. Rose, Stephen Fretwell

They decide to turn the page, write a new story, although Laura’s makes sure the rabbit hutch is firmly locked before Brian whisks her off to bed. In the morning, Brian lets Belinda down gently …

15. Every Day I Love You Less and Less, The Kaiser Chiefs

He tells Laura that it was fine, she understood. And so, everything in Brianland is lovely, apart from … hang on … who is that at the window?

16.One Way or Another, Blondie


Guilty Pleasures 2 – out soon.

Friday, July 17, 2009

The anti-plagiarism day

Today is Anti-Plagiarism Day organised by Jane Smith of How Publishing Really Works. There are lots of blog writers taking part - Sue Guiney, Tania Hershman, and Nik Perring, amongst others, and all have valuable things to say. (Other participants, please feel free to leave comments so we can keep the conversation going and apologies for missing you off.)

Because it's important to keep plagiarism at the centre of any conversation we have about writing.

Of course it's impossible to dictate where inspiration comes from - hopefully some readers will have had a story or an idea triggered off by one of the stories on this blog. And of course we all feed off each other in one way or another. But there's a world of difference between getting an idea and writing it in our own way, working it through our own creative process, and following our own themes ... to cynically stealing another writer's story.

You see, I think most genuine writers live in terror of unconscious plagiarism. We are anything but cynical about it.

I can remember one of my first readings. I was excited and nervous to be sitting on a panel which consisted of two well-published writers I particularly admired. I read my little story, and sat down knees shaking but happy. Then one of the well-published writers stood up and read an extract from her novel. I listened with absolute pleasure until she came to a paragraph about a kiss. Suddenly I thought I was going to vomit. I had forgotten this particular description but it seemed to me that it was word for word a description of an embrace I had written about in a story recently accepted for publication. I suddenly realised why it had seemed to flow so easily when I was writing it.

I wanted to leave the room right then and there. I felt humiliated, sick and ashamed. I didn't deserve to call myself a writer. But somehow, I made myself stay - not least because I wasn't sure my legs would still work.

Afterwards, I didn't hear any of the congratulations I received for my talk. I certainly couldn't speak to the well-published writer when she came up nicely to talk about my work. I couldn't even look her in the eye. All I wanted to do was rush home and read what I had written in my story. A nice bit of punishment to end the evening.

But when I did, it couldn't have been more different. I got hers, and I got mine and laid them down side by side. There wasn't even a word the same.

However, when I reflected on what had happened I realised that it was the emotion, the longing, the yearning I felt when I first read that paragraph in the well-published writer's work that I had wanted to recreate in my own. Without being aware of what was happening, I'd stored it up for use later. It was only when I heard her read it that I connected physically with the bit in my body that had been affected by her writing, and became so painfully conscious of what had happened.

I think this is something we often do as writers. We harvest snippets from everywhere, and then we process them in our own particular compost heaps until they come out in our writing. That's not plagiarism.

But I will never forget how awful it felt when I thought I had stolen this woman's work. The shame of it still makes my cheeks burn.

And this is why I think the anti-plagiarism day is so important, and thank Jane Smith for organising it. Because to imagine that there are people who want to be writers so badly that they will consciously take other people's work and not feel any of the emotions that I went through during that reading makes me mad.

More than that though, it makes me humble at how many of us there are who are still creating work, being generous about sharing it, taking the risk we do every day when we sit down at our notebooks and try fresh things. We want to 'do' the writing more than we want to 'be' the writer.

Someone I love sent me a Christmas greeting which read, 'May you make something new this year'. I love this. It is the perfect antidote to thoughts of plagiarism.

Let's make new things, and just as importantly, let's continue to risk sharing them.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Meat - a 50 word photo-story

Colin Durrell likes to eat squirrel, reindeer, hedgehog, porcupine and bear. He says that his father often wrestles with wild animals, skins them alive and then barbecues them.

We all know he’s lying but I can’t help asking, which one tastes the best?

Bear, Colin says. It tastes like trifle.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Yellow Room

Argh, how could I have forgotten to tell you about The Yellow Room Magazine? It's the brainchild of Jo Derrick (some of you may remember her as Jo Good from QWF).

I can't tell you what a formative influence QWF was on my own writing. When I first read through the stories in that little handbag shaped magazine, I felt a jolt of excitement - these were the type of stories I wanted to read and to write. Then I submitted. Was rejected. Submitted. Rejected but with such a helpful, personal letter from Jo, I kept on going. Submitted. ACCEPTED!

Here's a confession - I slept with that acceptance letter - my first ever - under my pillow that night. Pretty spooky for Jo to hear, I'm sure, but there is almost no experience that comes close to that public recognition that you can write, and that your writing has been read by someone who appreciated it. A published writer - no one can take that away!

And then I kept on submitting and felt part of my first literary family. I still look out for the names of the women who were also writing and being published by QWF. Mostly Jo's taste in stories seemed to be mine too. I'm sure it helped shape my writing aesthetic. She says, "I want something which pushes the boundaries of women’s fiction. Something which goes a few steps further than the fiction found in women’s magazines." She certainly succeeded.

Anyway, as anyone involved in any kind of literary endeavour knows, editing and publishing a magazine is HARD WORK so it wasn't surprising that Jo needed a break from QWF and it went to a new editorship.

But now, she's back ... with The Yellow Room Magazine. And in typical Jo fashion is managing to create another supportive, challenging and exciting community. As the website says, it is "A place where women writers can gather together for support, encouragement and friendship."

I have to say it's the kind of initiative that makes me very happy.

When I am Prime Minister - a 50 word story

It will be law for men to wear hats. Panamas, trilbys, boaters, and even berets for a certain type. They will go to evening classes to see how beautiful they look, and how sexy it is when they tip their hats at women, just slightly, lightly, with an easy touch.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Translation - a 50 word photo-story

He came to the village late at night. He would have gone on walking if his heart hadn’t finally broken. They fed him soup and herbs until he started to feel again. He repaid their compassion with notices. Kind, loving signs that he hoped might comfort others lost like him.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Forever - a 50 word photo-story

We were married sixty years. I thought we’d be together forever. Now, every night I try to imagine the weight of his hand on my shoulder. It was that I loved the most. The safety of someone I loved guiding me through my sleeping maze. I’ve lost my compass now.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Look out - a 50 word photo-story

Her husband dreamt Isobel would die if she left the village, but felt guilty about her captivity. Months later he led her up stairs he’d had specially built. She stood for hours every day staring out. Now it’s called Isobel’s Tower. Women touch it secretly, pray for their own freedom.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Wonder - a 50 word photo-story

Her mother shouts to come inside, and she can hear the music playing now, the laughter as people start dancing. It’s just that when she looks up, she thinks she might burst with wonder. Has anyone has ever seen this before? And if so, how do they bear the beauty.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Eating and reading...

...would be much easier if your house was made from books.

This pic is from the Mdolla site.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Boat sailing

Another site I'm loving at the moment is this really creative one.

You're invited to download the template of a paper boat and then personalise them yourself and send it back to the site.

And it's for a good cause. Here's the blurb from the site:

On the 30th January 2009, Joanne B Kaar and Lynn Taylor launched their paper boat project - a fundraiser for Mary-Ann's cottage,a living history museum in Caithness Scotland run by volunteers from The Caithness Heritage Trust (a registered Charity no: SCO 19998). As paper boats are sent to Joanne from around the globe, she will document them on this blog. The launch date and theme were inspired by the maiden voyage of the Westland Ship - 30th January 1879 (130 years ago) from Scotland to New Zealand. Mary-Ann's father, William Young was a member of the crew.

You've got until 10th August to send your boat in - if you make one, would you do me a favour and send me a pic of it. I'd love to put it up on this blog too!

Picnics in Graveyards

Carrying on the cheery theme from the last story I posted here, I've been spookily pleased recently to see how many other people also enjoy picnics in graveyards. The only thing I wonder about is why I never meet them. But hey, I'm not complaining - nothing suits me better than an empty graveyard - empty that is, apart from the dead and all their stories.

Anyway, there's a good post up at a new blog find for me about exactly this, Been the Traveller, which has some of the weird kind of links I particularly enjoy.

What would you have on your gravestone? Nicholas asks.

Well hello, that's easy for me. I already have had mine designed for me by the amazing Neil Gaiman

"Never stopped believing"... that'll do me nicely.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Belief - a 50 word photo-story

Visitors expect it to be a gravestone so he loves to watch their expressions when they read what’s written there. THIS IS MADE FROM WATER. Most put their hands out to feel the stone. They still don’t know which to trust – what they are told or what they see.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

The Undrowned Child

It's a special birthday today...

.... cue drumroll....

... as this book is launched....

by my friend, the amazingly talented and funny Michelle Lovric

I'm lucky enough to have read it already, so thoroughly recommend it. Wait... it's for children? Hell no. It's definitely too good just to be for them. If you want to find out more, just take a look at the website - lots of writing tips, information, photographs of beautiful cats and, oh yes, burping.

I've laughed out loud at things on the site THREE times already this morning - can't ask more than that from a Thursday.

Oh, and children will definitely enjoy it too. Pesky things. Stealing all our good books.

Foresight - a 50 word photo-story

“They show the future,” he says.

They’re on honeymoon, already talking about the children they’ll bring back here. “Five girls like you,” he says. It’s his idea to see the fortune-teller.

“Put them on,” he says. “What’s the worst that can happen?”

But that’s it. She doesn’t want to know.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Obsession - a 50 word photo-story

It took Kathleen six years to knit the cafĂ© walls. Another three for the furniture and cakes. The customers took longer. She was so busy knitting her grandparents that she forgot to visit them until too late. Now it seems she’s created a woolly coffin. Her shame forever on display.