Category Archives: Stories

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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In progress

It’s been an up and down year with my novel in progress, The Ghost Marriage. There have been months when I’ve hated it, months when events (dear boy, events) got in the way, but I think we have come to an understanding with each other. At present, I’m enjoying the writing, becoming more and more interested in the characters (especially a few whom I didn’t originally give much thought to, whose roles are expanding) and I’m feeling better about its tone which has been an ongoing problem.

Structuring my week has helped a lot; encouragement from agent Jenny Brown, at the excellent Pitch Live event in Edinburgh recently did too (specifically, her advice to ‘stay in the emotion longer’ which has unlocked a few things for me). Having more of my stories published helps too to make me feel that I’m still getting stuff out there even as I wrestle with a long project. There are still days when I doubt the whole thing, am frustrated with my inability to make it as good as I want it to be, or when I procrastinate myself into unhappiness, even though I know I always feel better when I’ve written. But it is still very much a work in progress – I keep going back to it – and that’s something.

Other stuff going on:

After The Fall, the post-apocalyptic anthology from Almond Press which includes my zombie rock star story, The Comeback Tour, is now available as an e-book from Amazon (sorry about the tax thing): http://www.amazon.co.uk/After-Fall-Apocalypse-Collection-ebook/dp/B00FBOU8Z2/

Night Shift At The Cessnock Psychic Centre, which is in Gutter issue 9, is still available here: http://www.freightbooks.co.uk/inrude-health.html.

I’m currently teaching classes at Glasgow University’s Open Studies dept, regularly appearing on both Shereen (discussing the week’s news stories) and The Culture Studio (reviewing films) on BBC Radio Scotland, and, of course, still reviewing telly for The Scotsman, as well as occasional book reviews.

Also, watch this space as I have just had some proper author pictures taken, by the very kind Glasgow photographer Paul Harkin who specialises in writer/artist portraits – will put one up if it doesn’t make me want to die inside!
(Paul’s info here: http://www.swordfishphotography.co.uk/)

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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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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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Emily: What Happened After

Today is the 100th anniversary of the death of Emily Wilding Davison, the suffrage campaigner who died at the Derby during a protest. I wrote this for her.

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What Happened After

The crowd’s roar almost pushing her on, she waits, tingling. And then everything else goes away but the beast looming up before her. She grabs the bridle with clumsy hands and for a moment it seems as if her banner will slip and be trampled. But somehow, somehow, she manages to attach it and as the horse veers away, she is left gasping, watching the colours flutter.

There is just enough time for her to back into the arms already reaching out to seize her, as the rest of the field thunders past. They take her away, of course, and amid a huge public outcry she has her day in court. Something comes over her there that she can never afterwards explain: she has never spoken so well, the cause has never been so eloquently stated. But she is locked up anyway for a sentence designed to send a message.

And it does. For her words are quoted, distributed, chanted. She becomes a symbol, though knows little of it while enduring conditions even worse than before. When she emerges, she is shaken and inarticulate, but it does not matter, for others lead the fight by then. And when it is won, she rejoices.

After a time, she recovers. Her life is rich and eventful. She has terrible years and glorious moments. She watches the world change. And when she is old, they will come to her, these young women so full of possibilities, and ask her to recount over and over that act now enshrined as a turning point in history. She does so, gladly.

But she never tells them that when the beast’s eyes were on hers, for a frozen second she pictured falling, falling, beneath his weight and everything ending. Emily Wilding Davidson will never tell them that.

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April update

First up, I have a story called Holding On in the first issue of an exciting new international magazine, Ekto. What’s different about it is that it was started by writers and translators to share stories across language barriers; each of the 12 tales appears both in its original language and in the three others – isn’t that a great idea? So mine has been translated into Spanish, French and Japanese – if you happen to know any of these languages, I would love to hear how it works in translation. If not, just read it in English! The issue can be downloaded free at their site linked above.

I wrote this story a few years ago and it’s loosely based on the ballad of Tam Lin. A lot of writers have made versions of this tale: the most fascinating to me is Fire And Hemlock by the wonderful Diana Wynne Jones, one of my favourite writers. I was lucky enough to spend a few hours talking to her some years ago (she died in 2011) for an interview and – though I never, ever do this – got her to sign my copy of Fire And Hemlock. I absolutely treasure it. She was delightful as well as a brilliant writer.

Also this month, I wrote an article about the TV show Game Of Thrones – as always it’s hard to write about something you really love, especially for a general readership like The Scotsman’s which may not know the show, but I tried my best to convey how awesome it is. It includes an interview with Rory McCann who plays the Hound. He was a nice chap, very sincere, and I found what he said about preparing for the role really interesting: I think developing this kind of intense focus can be helpful for anyone who has something they want to do really well, whatever it is. Traditionally I have been very bad at doing that, at shutting out the world, but in recent months my focus and structure around work has been getting better – I’ll write more about this in a while, once I’m sure it’s a permanent change.

Yet having said that, I have also recently started using Twitter, which is the antithesis of shutting out the chatter. I’ve had an account for years but never posted, because basically I don’t really like the format of it: it’s got better now that you can follow conversations, but the scrolling layout and the awkwardness of having to open up half of the tweets is kind of a pain. Also, I’ve followed a few famous tweeters and yet they annoy me because when they tweet to their celebrity mates it feels like they’re all showbiz chums together in a big VIP area. Obviously I’m being unreasonable – of course well-known writers/journalists/actors know each other, I know a few myself, why shouldn’t they chat? – but rationalising away the little twinges of irritation I get seems a waste of time.

So why am I on Twitter? To be blunt, it seems necessary – for a writer and a hack, there is clearly a lot to be gained from the connections and information there. Already I’ve followed links which have genuinely been professionally useful, as well as interesting or funny. The key must be to use Twitter properly, not to let checking it every ten minutes take over one’s life, not to follow too many people or go down too many rabbit holes, as I know I have a tendency to become compulsive about these things. I’ve spent, literally, years on discussion forums (although I have made some great real-life friends there). The last thing I need is more internet distraction. So I am trying to think of this as a sort of experiment at present to see how it goes. I’m @Pandrea100 if you want to chat, or convince me that Twitter is either the best thing since wi-fi or the work of the procrastination devil. Please say hello!

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Highgate & Radio

Just a quick update of a couple of new things this week:

I have a spooky little ghost story, Highgate, in the new issue of the lovely publication Luna Station Quarterly, which specialises in speculative fiction by women writers. It can be read online here or there are download editions to buy (with a beautiful illustration). Thanks to Jennifer Lyn Parsons and the editors there.

The story came out of my fascination when younger with the Pre-Raphaelites and their world … I’ve moved on from a lot of the work, but I still absolutely love William Holman Hunt’s paintings. We know Lizzie Siddal primarily through the images of her by others, but here is a rather stunning self-portrait: doesn’t she look fierce!

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(image from LizzieSiddal.com)

In other news, I’m on the Shereen Show on Radio Scotland tomorrow morning, discussing the big news stories of the week (Vicky Pryce, Cardinal O’Brien, processed meat, Hugo Chavez, payday loans and Eurovision – how’s that for variety?) with Graham Spiers, Martin Geissler and Peter Ross. I think this is my sixth time on the show now, it’s always really lively.

Off to Ladyfest Glasgow tonight to celebrate International Women’s Day.

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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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Granta & Hay

Photo by Martinliano

Here is a link to my Commonwealth prize-winning story on Granta. I absolutely love the picture they’ve chosen, the white jasmine emerging from the black background, beautiful, mysterious and a bit sinister – it’s perfect (thanks to Ted Hodgkinson at Granta, who edited the piece). The story was written a while ago now and since I’ve been working on the book version, and doing research, I SO wanted to change so much of it – for instance, Lucy is now from Scotland, which makes much more sense, the father’s history is quite different, the details are much more accurate – but it had to remain more or less as I’d entered it. And it was odd answering those interview questions … particularly as the emphasis (understandably) was on nationality and the idea of Commonwealth. It made me realise that it’s not something I’ve ever thought about much before, in itself, despite considering myself fairly well-informed and opinionated about matters of politics and colonialism. The answers from the other regional winners are very interesting too – as are the stories, which are also up on Granta. I’m really happy to be in their company!

At the weekend I went down to Hay-on-Wye for the book festival, to meet up with the Commonwealth Writers staff who were involved in various events there. Met lovely people, including the thoughtful Emma Martin from New Zealand, who won the Pacific region and the overall prize – her story Two Girls In A Boat is absolutely beautiful – and the charismatic Shehan Karunatilaka, from Sri Lanka, whose book Chinaman: The Legend Of Pradeep Mathew won the Commonwealth Book Prize (and sounds brilliant, despite being about cricket, will read it soon). Thanks to all the Commonwealth people and particularly to those of the judges who were there, Bernadine Evaristo, Margaret Busby and Nicholas Laughlin, for being lovely and encouraging. There was a reception and couple of other talks.

with Bernadine Evaristo and Margaret Busby


Other interesting encounters: the impossibly glamorous Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, who arrived in a gorgeous, totally impractical vivid green frock and stilettos, and was so sweet that when she drew a little picture of me in a book (like a child would draw), me and the two adoring blokes with her melted into cooing praise like fools.

With Chimamanda at Hay


A very posh lady, whose identity I never quite got but who had lots of intense anecdotes and seemed to know everyone, who told me a story about hearing ghostly footsteps “when my husband at the time and I were living at Longleat for a while with Alexander” (ie the Marquess of Bath – pronounced AlexAUNNNder). Two very nice writers from north Wales, Mary and Debz, who took pity on me when I was hanging around on my own and were good company. Debz runs Bridge House Publishing and Paws’n’Claws; among other things they publish children’s books in aid of the Born Free Foundation. AND, though it shouldn’t really count as I didn’t actually speak to him, Salman Rushdie who ate his dinner just two tables away from me (I was tempted to do a Bridget and ask him where the toilets were).

Hay Festival Commonwealth Writers

Having booked at the last minute, I was staying in a weird dorm room with 16 small bunk-beds crammed in. Thankfully only two others were occupied, but the 1970s decor and low heights made it feel like a claustrophobic Girl Guides’ trip. I can’t complain about the price though: £22 a night including a great breakfast! The only other thing available was a luxury yurt at £200. And the hotel it was in, while also untouched by the fashions of the last few decades, was the original Baskerville Hall, where Conan Doyle stayed and took the name (relocating the place to Dartmoor). It was a bit out of the way though, down a dark country lane, and it took two buses to get to the festival site. And unfortunately the weather at Hay was bloody awful. The tented village may have kept the rain out but not the cold and wind, so being around there all day was a damp and depressing experience. I’m sure the festival is really good usually (though I don’t get the sense they have as big and varied a programme as the Edinburgh book festival), but I only saw it at its grimmest. And the journey was quite complicated with a succession of dull bus and train journeys – and stop-offs of several hours in Hereford (quite pretty, nice cathedral) and Crewe (incredibly boring and ugly town centre). I came back home exhausted and immediately succumbed to quite a rotten cold. I’ve spent the last few days snuffling and moaning and cuddling the dog. You know, just in case literary success went to my head or anything.

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I won!

To my genuine amazement, my story The Ghost Marriage has been named the winner (Europe & Canada region) of the Commonwealth Short Story Prize!

I am delighted, of course, thrilled that the story is going to be published in Granta online, hopeful that this will lead to ‘Things’ but mostly … relieved. I’ve been calling myself a writer, carving out time to write, sending off stories, going to events, doing readings, boring people by telling them about my novel and generally trying hard to shut down that bit of brain that scoffs: yeah, right. You’ll never do it. And why would anyone care if you did? Winning a prize doesn’t kill off that voice, but it does gag it for a bit. And it’s wonderful to be able to tell friends, be congratulated and feel how pleased they are for me. I am basking, just for a bit, and it feels like those days when you’ve just finished a big piece of work or just sat a test or completed a contract and you’re free, free …

(Yes, I know I still have a lot to write. And I will. It’s a tremendous motivation to revise what I’ve already done and move on)

The list of regional winners – I love how varied we are, from an accountant in Lagos to a Jamaican environmental activist!

Interesting discussion of the prize on Radio 4’s Open Book with the fab Mariella Frostrup.

Official announcement of winners on the World Service’s programme The Strand

More details in Granta. Excuse the dodgy old picture with fringe.

Whee!!!!!

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