Category Archives: Literary happenings

Story Shop

I’m reading The Comeback Tour at Story Shop at the Edinburgh International Book Festival today. This is a story inspired by the music journalism I’ve done over the years – I’ve been sent to review many, many old rockers still on the road and sometimes you get the sense that playing their greatest hit is a contractual obligation. After singing it thousands of times, they’re just going through the motions, a bit dead behind the eyes. One particular, very famous and troubled star that I interviewed left me with the unsettling sense that their career – and their life – was no longer really in their own control. I’m also interested in the idea of nostalgia in music, that after a certain point in their lives, some people only really want to hear the songs they know from their youth. Why is that and what does it represent to them?

I’m reading this story in my approximation of an American accent, to fit the main character … I apologise in advance to anyone in the audience who finds it really painful, especially if they’re American! All I can say is that the accent is a hell of a lot better than it was, thanks to vocal super-coach Alex Gillon. 

Here’s my blurb at Story Shop: http://www.cityofliterature.com/story-shop-2014-wed-20th-august/

and the listing details here: https://www.edbookfest.co.uk/the-festival/whats-on/story-shop-62 

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Story news, writing courses & book reviews

Lots of updates!

My longish short story, The Iceberg, has been accepted for publication by Alt Hist magazine (for historical and alternate history fiction). It’s based on an amazing true story about a relative of someone lost on the Titanic who was later accused of war crimes. The magazine will be available in print or as an e-book: more info on Alt Hist at http://althistfiction.com/

Another story, Night Shift At The Cessnock Psychic Centre, has just been published by literary journal Gutter, in issue 9 available here: http://www.freightbooks.co.uk/inrude-health.html. It includes wild misreadings of tarot cards.

And my story The Comeback Tour, which is about a zombie rock star (you can’t say my subject matter isn’t varied, can you?) has been shortlisted in Almond Press’ competition for post-apocalyptic fiction. It will be published in their forthcoming e-book anthology After The Fall, which will look like this: http://www.almondpress.co.uk/

I’ve been trying to submit more lately and it seems to be paying off – I have fewer finished stories sitting around homeless!

From 1st October, I am due to teach a new 8-week course at Glasgow University’s Open Studies dept called Planning To Write?: How To Research, Structure And Craft Your Story. I’ll say more about this class nearer the time, but basically it’s for anyone who has an idea for a book, story or non-fiction project but isn’t sure how to get started, so it will look at research methods, structure, techniques and planning. Please alert anyone you think might be interested: info at http://www.gla.ac.uk/courses/openstudies/ under Creative Writing. The course is scheduled to continue in January and will also run at Strathclyde University next year.

AND from 30th September, I am also running the latest in my Now Read The Book courses – this time on short stories which have been adapted to film and including The Birds, Memento, The Shawshank Redemption, The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button and others. Part two (with different stories/films) will run in January. Info as above, under Literature. With all my Open Studies courses, there is a fee but they are also eligible for ILA funding and concessions.

Two more literary events which I’m hoping to attend: Pitch Live, organised by NAWE (which includes my writing coach Philippa Johnston), which is a masterclass for emerging novelists on 21st September in Edinburgh. Excellent speakers and the chance to pitch your novel at publishers and agents, with feedback: details at http://www.nawe.co.uk/DB/events/nawe-present-pitch-live-a-masterclass-for-scotlands-emerging-novelists.html
And on 5th September, the Scottish Book Trust are holding a seminar on ‘Navigating Publishing’ also in Edinburgh – I think there are still some places left, check with them at http://www.scottishbooktrust.com

FINALLY, some recent book reviews & previews what I wrote:
Fair Helen by Andrew Greig: http://bit.ly/16xk4PO
A Night In Winter by Simon Sebag Montefiore: http://bit.ly/14V2Lmi
(both Scotland On Sunday)
Neurocomic by Dr Matteo Farinella & Dr Hana Ros: http://www.list.co.uk/article/54229-dr-matteo-farinella-and-dr-hana-ros-neurocomic/
My Notorious Life By Madame X by Kate Manning: http://www.list.co.uk/article/51087-kate-manning-my-notorious-life-by-madame-x/
A Wolf In Hindleheim by Jenny Mayhew: http://www.list.co.uk/article/51048-jenny-mayhew-a-wolf-in-hindelheim/
Book Festival previews:
Fairest 2: Hidden Kingdom by Lauren Beukes & Inaki Miranda: http://edinburghfestival.list.co.uk/article/54285-fairest-2-hidden-kingdom-reimagines-rapunzel-as-an-anime-heroine/
50 Shades Of Feminism: http://edinburghfestival.list.co.uk/article/54285-fairest-2-hidden-kingdom-reimagines-rapunzel-as-an-anime-heroine/
(all The List magazine)

Phew!

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Filed under Competitions & Awards, Literary happenings, Literary magazines, Reviews, Stories, Teaching, Writing

New story news

Happy to announce that I’ve got another story accepted by leading Scottish literary journal Gutter for their next issue, which comes out in time for the Edinburgh Book Festival (around which I am available for readings, events and bar mitzvahs). It’s a story I’m particularly pleased to have published, so please read it when it comes out if you can. Some very distinguished company surrounds it and the full line-up is here: Freight Books.

I wrote a wee story about my childhood gullibility for National Flash Fiction Day, which was Highly Commended in their contest: read Lost For Words and all the winners here: MicroFiction Competition 2013. Thanks to Calum Kerr for these cool postcards showing my story, which you can see here: NFFD

And I also was a contest winner at fairytale magazine Enchanted Conversation, for a short piece that is not so much a story, more a character study or a meditation on Rumplestiltskin, one of my favourite mythological underdogs. Read it, with a lovely illustration, here: You Know My Name.
Thanks to Kate Wolford for my prize and for sterling efforts to publish it in the face of computer trouble. Check out her book of neglected fairytales, Beyond The Glass Slipper, while you’re at the site.

In other news, I’ve just finished four months of working with coach Philippa Johnston under a programme called Coaching For Glasgow Writers, supported by the agency Glasgow Life. This has been one of the best things I’ve ever done to improve my writing life: not my writing as such, but the ways of going about it, of directing and structuring creative ideas and professional development in all areas of my rambling freelance life of writing journalism, fiction and teaching. I’ve never done anything like this before; as a journalist, after my post-grad, you tend not to have the opportunities for continuing training that other professions have (and, these days, we’re just barely clinging on to it as a profession). And while I’ve found writing classes and workshops very helpful in the past, it was really thought-provoking to have these one-to-one sessions, being (gently) encouraged to think through problems and obstacles and to look for solutions rather than just flail around hopelessly, assuming that there was no other way, or that if I just kept trying harder to do things in the same way, magically it would somehow eventually work. I won’t go on too much about the specific things I worked on with Philippa for now – maybe another time – but just want to recommend her coaching, in particular, but probably any similar programme in other areas too, for anyone who shares my problems of procrastination, disorganisation, juggling jobs and trying to make writing a career. A good place to start might be: The Writers Compass. Final thanks to Philippa, for listening so well and keeping me on track.

What a link-tastic post! Oh, one more thing: I am on BBC Scotland’s The Culture Studio on Thursday afternoon, talking about new films including The Internship and Now You See Me (from 2pm, 4th July). I’ll also be back on the Shereen show on 20th July, despite making a TERRIBLE Iain Banks faux pas last time I was on a couple of weeks ago (mixed up the opening lines of The Wasp Factory and The Crow Road! How could I! Love Iain Banks and very sad to hear about his death). No mistakes next time, I promise …

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So, where am I now?

Firstly, here’s a blog I wrote for The Scotsman on the first Edinburgh Historical Fiction Festival this weekend (it’s below the one about ‘Thatcher’s musical legacy’).

The shortlist has just been announced for this year’s Commonwealth Short Story Prize and Granta will again be publishing the regional winners – I’m looking forward to reading them and wish them all best of luck! In the meantime, Granta have published short updates on the five of us from last year and you can read it here if you like: ‘Where are they now?’ Or, if you’d rather not be scared by a horrible photo of me, I thought I’d put up my original answers to their email questions, which had to be understandably cut down for publication. I hope it doesn’t seem too self-indulgent, but for me anyway it was an interesting exercise to think about how to answer these. Especially the last one.

How has the experience of being selected by Commonwealth Writers and having your story published by Granta altered your perspective of yourself as a writer, if at all?
Oh, it was such a boost. I really believed in this story but it’s a bit of a strange one, so it was amazing to have someone else – especially people as eminent as the Commonwealth judges – say that they got it and they enjoyed it. It really gave me confidence that I was on the right track: I know I have a lot to learn about writing, but this award said that I could do it. I went down to the Hay-on-Wye book festival for the official announcements and it felt like a small taste of a potential future. And, honestly, the prize money came in handy too. The only downside was having to provide a photo for the publicity. Ugh.

Granta was the first literary magazine I ever read, or even heard of, back in 1990. I still have those first issues on my bookshelves. So for me to have a story published under the same imprint (albeit online) as all the big beasts of contemporary literature is something so special that I’m almost embarrassed to talk about it. I was very, very pleased and it has been the highlight of my writing career so far. It was also lovely just to see it laid out on the screen page, with pull-quotes and that beautiful photograph to illustrate it.

Has anything resulted directly from your story being published by Granta and/or winning the Commonwealth Short Story Prize?
Since the story was published, I’ve been approached through my blog by a couple of agents wanting to discuss my work, had someone want to translate it and even heard from a cousin abroad whom I haven’t seen in 25 years!

What are you working on at the moment?
I have been developing The Ghost Marriage into a novel, with substantial changes. It’s a long process, but I’m making good progress so I hope to finish by the end of this year and then try to get it published. But I also take breaks from the book to write short stories, on all kinds of subjects – from working in a call centre to a WWI war crimes trial to a zombie rock star.

How did you find the experience of having your work edited?
Great – I just want my stories to be the best they can be. An outside perspective helps make sure that everything’s coming across clearly, so the reader knows what they need to know but the story still has space for ambiguity and imagination. I’m used to being edited anyway because I have a journalism background, but there you don’t tend to get much of a say about it! Fiction allows for so much more nuance and multiplicity of meanings, so there has to be a bit more of a discussion between writer and editor. It’s more personal, yet you don’t want to be self-indulgent, so there’s almost a collaboration going on.

If you were in a band, what would they be called?
The Procrastinators. We’d rehearse a lot but never get around to playing any gigs.

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Performance And Presentation

Yesterday I found myself repeatedly walking out in front of a small group of people and swearing at them in the accent of an American wiseguy who’s lived through a zombie plague. And by the tenth or so time, I got past the nerves and embarrassment and – somehow – I actually felt like that character. He was coming out of me in a way that has only ever happened before at a keyboard; it was a revelation!

I was taking part in an excellent workshop on Performance And Presentation, organised (and subsidised) by the nice folk at Scottish Book Trust and led by the frankly awesome vocal coach Alex Gillon. They hold these occasionally and I really recommend it for anyone who has to perform or read in public, because I found it extremely useful. In fact, it gave me a lot to think about and I suspect that parts of her advice will continue to sink in gradually.

Alex really gave it her all – I find it tiring to be ‘on’ for just a short while, but she was ‘on’ all day, encouraging us, giving very detailed feedback and seeming to very quickly grasp how to display each person’s story, poem or play to its best advantage. It was really noticeable that certain parts which passed fairly anonymously on first hearing stood out after she had given their authors some suggestions: the jokes were revealed as genuinely funny, the descriptions were more evocative, the dialogue more believable. On the page these might have worked right away, but listening to everyone else I could immediately hear how what they’d written seemed better just by being performed better (and I’m sure it applied to my piece too).

I feel reasonably confident about reading in public now, thanks in part to the weekly further education classes I run at Glasgow University where – though I do try to get people to volunteer! – I usually end up having to read out the passages we’re discussing to the class and try to perform them a little. However, I haven’t had any acting experience, unless you count my triumphs in the St Lucy’s Primary productions of Finnegan’s Wake (the ballad, not the James Joyce version) and The Broons (my Daphne was acclaimed).

But I’ve only read things in my own voice so far. When I recorded The Goode Daughter for Tramway’s Algebra journal, I couldn’t manage the right accent for a young 17th Century child on trial in Salem, so had to read it as Scottish – not ideal. So for this workshop, I took along an unpublished story which is a monologue of a middle-aged American man. In my mind, he’s got a New Jersey accent and sounds like Tony Soprano; the phrasing of the story is written that way.

When I first read it for Alex and the other workshop participants, I chickened out though and tried it in my own voice. It didn’t work, obviously. She gave me the confidence to try it as American, but of course for that to work, for people to suspend disbelief to that extent (because the accent is never going to be perfect), I’d have to really commit to it and completely believe in it myself. Any trace of embarrassment would just make the whole thing silly. I couldn’t quite match Alex’s remarkable switch from her own very posh RP voice to convincing streetwise American, but I think that with practice I can make the thing work as a funny, slightly weird performance piece.

As well as specific advice for that reading, I came away with lots of great notes about performing in general, from breath control to punctuation beats. It was also really nice to meet the other people taking part: two published novelists, a short story writer, a playwright, two poets, all of us with very diverse work. Now I just need to line up another reading so I can try it all out!

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31 submissions

Well, lately I have just been racking up story rejections. As any fule kno, this is actually good, because it means I am writing and submitting stories, right? Yeah, it doesn’t feel that good though.

So! I have decided to be proactive. I have a bunch of finished stories sitting around which have not been published, some of which I have never even sent out, as well as a bunch which need revision. I write to be read, so I’d really like them to be out there somewhere. And some of these stories mean a lot to me – I’m not saying they’re the greatest stories ever written, but I’m proud of them and I’ve put a lot of work into getting them right. My goal for this month, therefore, is to really try my hardest to find them homes, something about which I tend to be a bit lackadaisical.

Therefore, I am setting myself a totally arbitrary challenge, which I shall dub Andrea Story Submission Month or AnStoSuMo, in a blatant ripoff from NaNoWriMo (which I am not doing, but good luck to all who are). That is, I vow to submit 31 stories to magazines, websites, competitions or anthologies by the end of November.

My rules: I don’t have 31 completed stories, so some will be multiple submissions where allowed. And I’m going to try to make them all worthwhile ones, that is, to places I like, read and actually want to be published by – I’m not that interested in racking up credits for the sake of it, in Random Read By No-one Magazine or ObscureRubbish.com (hey, I could just put them online here if that counted). I’m not saying I expect to be published by the New Yorker or something! Just that I want it to be a place where my stories fit. And most likely, to find 31 places which are currently accepting submissions of a word count or theme which fits a story I’ve written, I’ll have to widen my usual horizons and find some new, interesting publications, so that’ll be all to the good.

I’m also not going to pay competition fees unless it’s a really major competition or in aid of a good charity; I understand why people set these, but I don’t have the cash to do too many and beside, it would go against the spirit of this, which is to fire away so many submissions that I stop worrying about them individually. No watching the email inbox anxiously wondering when someone will reply, no allowing a rejection to cast me down and stop me writing that day, just keep going to meet the target. And surely, if I make 31 submissions by the end of the month, surely I’ll get at least one acceptance? Surely?!?

I’m quite excited about this, let’s see how it goes. Any suggestions of new places to submit are welcome!

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July update

Not too much writing news to report this month, just keeping on going … well, sort of. I have to admit I had a post-Hay Fest slump and took a couple of weeks off, then went to Hawick for a retirement party ceilidh, but I’ve pulled myself together now and particularly looking forward to going away next month for a full-on, no computers/phones/roads week of island isolation up north where my plan is to completely revise the first section of the book and, if possible, also revise a long short story that’s been sitting around for a few months.

I have been doing other work though so here’s a few links:
Book review of ‘Breasts: A Natural And Unnatural History’ by Florence Williams in Scotland on Sunday – interesting popular science book.
Book review of ‘You Came Back’ by Christopher Coake in The Scotsman – lovely new novel.
Non-Olympic telly preview – I made sure to get a dig in at Fifty Shades of Grey.
A piece about the reaction to Aaron Sorkin’s new show The Newsroom (it has got worse since I wrote that: the latest “are you KIDDING me?” moment is that the supposedly brilliant TV news producer woman somehow is unable to understand basic economic concepts).

Plus a few radio appearances: Good Morning Scotland on the 28th to discuss the Olympics Opening Ceremony, Call Kaye this morning (30th) and on the 15th, the Shereen Nanjiani Sunday morning show – I’ve done tons of radio but never been on this show before. It’s quite intense, because you’re on for the whole hour and the discussions basically cover all the main news stories of the week and the Sunday papers. I really had to swot up, particularly since the other guests (veteran foreign editor David Pratt and former investment banker turned consultant Ian Blackford) are so knowledgeable – bit nervous but I think I did alright, really enjoyed it anyway.

In other news, here’s the info for the writing workshop I’m due to teach next month – please pass on if you know anyone who might be interested.
Writing Historical Fiction – Thursday 23rd August 10am-4pm – Strathclyde University Centre for Lifelong Learning – £30 – 0141 548 2116
Interested in writing a short story or novel set in the past? Whether Ancient Rome, the Victorian era or WWII, each historical period brings its own challenges for writers: how do you convey the way people lived and talked then? How do you choose the right details to really give a flavour of the time? How do you create believable characters and storylines? What resources are available, how much research is necessary – and how much is too much? This class is jointly led by a writer [that’s me!] and an historian [my good pal Dr Ben Shepherd, Reader in History at Caledonian University, author of War In The Wild East and other books], with advice, discussion and exercises used to help you find ideas, get the most out of research sources and write great historical fiction (though many elements will apply to any kind of writing). It is suitable for both beginners and more experienced writers. Strathclyde University Summer Programme online.
There will also be a longer version of the class, with weekly writing critiques and exercises, running at Glasgow University on Wednesday evenings at 6.30pm from 3rd October for eight weeks (details: 0141 330 1835) and again at Strathclyde University from January 2013 (details: 0141 548 5778).
In both terms I’ll also be running literature classes, including Now Read The Book II – the sequel to last year’s book-to-film adaptations class.

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