Category Archives: Stories

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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Commonwealth Short Story Prize

I’m delighted (and shocked) to have been shortlisted for the 2012 Commonwealth Short Story Prize!
It’s for a version of The Ghost Marriage, which I’ve been trying to turn into a longer book over the last year, so this is a massive encouragement that I’m working on something which is worth pursuing. I’m so relieved I can’t even tell you.
Since writing this version, I’ve done a lot more historical research and made many changes to develop and expand the book. But it retains the essence of the initial story which I enjoyed writing so much that I didn’t want to leave these characters and that setting.
The prize is open to stories from 54 countries which is amazing: I imagine the entries were incredibly varied so it’s a real honour to be shortlisted. I have to admit, the Commonwealth as an entity is not something I’d previously thought about very much, but looking at the Foundation’s website, they seem to do some great work (there’s also a useful site for writers). They say: “We exist to empower charities, non-governmental organisations, professional associations, trade unions, faith groups and cultural practitioners; the lifeblood of any healthy society. We equip these groups with the tools required to contribute to national and international goals of democracy, good governance, sustainable development and cultural diversity.”
All good things, but the latter I think is something which is particularly in need of celebration at the moment, when “multiculturalism” has become a dirty word in some places and people are either deliberately or thoughtlessly denying the historical circumstances which have made the world the way it is.
My story is all about making connections (Scottish, Chinese, Japanese; men and women; the literal and the metaphorical; the physical and the poetic; commerce, war and Empire; the 19th Century and the 21st) so maybe that’s what made it a good fit for this competition. Or maybe not, I dunno!
I’m looking forward to finding out more about the other shortlisted stories. There’s also a prize for best (published) first novel – anyone read any of them?

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They don’t make ’em like that anymore

Have you seen The Artist yet? Being obsessed with old Hollywood, I was worried it couldn’t live up to my expectations, but I really enjoyed it – like the films it emulated, it combined joyful elements with a good dollop of genuine angst. I miss that combination in films today. Comedy-dramas (or ‘dramadies’) are usually neither particularly funny nor actually dramatic.

Anyway – and happy new year, by the way – after the film I kept wondering about its characters and came up with a few SPOILERY ideas about where the changing trends of 20th Century Hollywood might have taken them after the end of the film. For some reason, I really enjoying coming up with plausible, fake movie ideas; a while ago I wrote a similar short story about an elderly star of the old studio system. Think I’m working towards something on this theme but not sure what it is yet. Here’s my unofficial sequel to The Artist: please let me know if you can identify any of the little in-jokes about classic movies …

After ‘The Artist’
After their first musical together was a smash hit, Peppy and George went on to enthral audiences throughout the 1930s with nine more, each with ever more glamorous outfits, spectacular settings and glorious dance routines, which provided escapism during the Depression. Although it was acknowledged that their dancing was not quite as good as that of Astaire and Rogers, fans loved knowing that the charming relationship between them was mirrored in real life (the pair married the day after their first film was released).

The advent of war changed things, of course. Both stars were regulars at the Hollywood Canteen for servicemen, while George in particular – greatly affected by the invasion of his native France – threw himself into supporting the war effort, tirelessly touring the country to promote war bonds and making many overseas visits to entertain the troops. He left little time for acting, but did appear in a few patriotic films, most notably A Vichy Affair, in which he played a heroic French Resistance fighter who refused to betray his comrades under Gestapo torture, declaring: “I won’t talk!” George was also the original choice to play Victor Laszlo in Casablanca, but withdrew due the impending birth of his and Peppy’s first child.

After two more children, Peppy revived her acting career post-war with roles in 1940s melodramas, such as George Cukor’s The Ones Left Behind, about a war widow struggling to raise her family, for which she was nominated for an Oscar. George, meanwhile, gave a strong performance in film noir Trouble Is My Business, surprising critics who did not expect the song-and-dance man to be convincing as a hard-drinking private eye. The actor explained he’d drawn on his own dark period for inspiration.

In the 1950s, cinema faced a new challenge: television. Peppy was quick to jump on the bandwagon, appearing in several teleplays including Paddy Chayefsky’s Mary, about a middle-aged spinster. George, however, regarded TV as a fad which would soon pass and refused to be involved, leading to another dip in his career as new film stars emerged.

But eventually he reconsidered and joined his wife in a very successful sitcom, Life With The Valentins, which ran for some years. While clearly modelled on ‘I Love Lucy’, it had a twist in that it was George who often found himself in embarrassing situations, to be rescued by his more sensible spouse. The couple’s three children joined them in the show and episodes often concluded with the family united in song.

By the 1960s, tastes had changed again. Work dried up for Peppy and she devoted more of her time to charity work, especially for animal rescue organisations, as she wanted to ensure that all pets would have as long and happy lives as their own dogs (all descended from Uggie). After playing Doris Day’s mother in Love, Set And Match, Peppy recruited her to the cause and influenced her lifelong devotion to animals.

While out of fashion in the US, George had an unexpected renaissance in France, where Cahiers du Cinema had long championed him as an early auteur because of his film Tears Of Love. As a result, he appeared in several French films, including a popular spy series based on the OSS 117 novels, in which he played N, the head of the secret service. The couple’s children Michel, Jean and Berenice were now grown up and had formed a music group, which had several hit records during the Summer of Love.

Peppy and George were unexpectedly back in the limelight themselves after appearing in the disaster film Airport 1974. They played a former Hollywood golden couple, divorced years before, who are brought back together as they struggle to survive a plane crash. Audiences were charmed to see them reunited on screen for the first time in 25 years and their careers were both revived. They continued to work mostly on the small screen, with many cameo roles in popular series including The Streets Of San Francisco, Columbo, Quincy, Dallas, Falcon Crest and others.

In his last years, George was retired, although he did make a cameo appearance in Indiana Jones And The Fountain Of Youth, at the special request of Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, who were both great admirers of his early work. Midway through the film, Indiana is given a potion which temporarily ages him into an old man, played by George – but, thanks to special effects, he was still able to outrun, out-jump and out-fight his fiendish opponents, giving audiences one final chance to see him in daredevil mode.

Peppy was very grieved by her husband’s death in 1985, but took comfort in her children and grandchildren (who included a rising Brat Pack star). She continued to work, with her long-running TV series She Sang, Murder!, about a former chorus girl who encountered, and solved, crimes wherever she went. Shortly before her death, she was awarded a honorary Lifetime Achievement Oscar and gave a touching speech, accepting it on behalf of her late husband – because, she said, “he taught me that a star has to have something that no one else has”.

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‘The Goode Daughter’ published in Algebra

I have a story called The Goode Daughter in the new Algebra which is the literary journal of Tramway, the Glasgow arts venue. It’s set during the Salem Witch Trials and has rather idiosyncratic spelling to reflect the times and the character. I’d love to know what you think of the story.

I was asked to record an audio version which was daunting but fun, especially as it was recorded sitting on a toilet (seat down) in a small bathroom reading into a screen microphone whose lead trailed out under the door. Very much like the experience of Colin Firth in The King’s Speech, except on a rather different kind of throne. Sadly I wasn’t quite able to manage an authentic 17th Century accent, my voice sounds very, very Scottish indeed – do I really talk like that? Thanks to Sean, the sound engineer, for his patience and for letting me put the audio file here (you can also hear it on Tramway’s site).

Thanks also to Algebra’s editor Beatrice Colin. The other stories in Issue 3 are really excellent and I’m happy to be among them.

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Launch of A Thousand Cranes anthology

Today the Japanese Consul sang me a song. No, really.

It was at the official reception to launch the new Cargo Publishing anthology, A Thousand Cranes, which I’m pleased to have a story in. The project was the idea of Iain Paton, from the Glasgow Writers’ Group, whose wife Deborah used to work in a province of Japan affected by the tsunami last year (he’s also working on a crime novel set there). He asked people to contribute stories, essays or poems with a Japanese theme for a book to benefit the Red Cross’ work there, helping people left homeless or injured by the disaster which killed at least 15,000 people.

I was moved by the TV coverage and wanted to send something but I’ve never been to Japan – and that gave me an idea. So my story, The Unbeaten Track, is about a woman called Henrietta Bird who also never visited the country, but whose sister – the intrepid Victorian traveller Isabella Bird – did, sending back detailed letters to Henrietta back on Tobermory, in Mull, where I imagine that she, too, felt a connection with a faraway land.

It took a while to get the book together (ably edited by Iain Paton, Alex Cox, Alan Gillespie and Cara McGuigan – my pal from last year’s Glasgow Uni DACE course Imaginary Worlds – and produced by the people at the very up-and-coming Cargo) but now it’s available, in a shiny paperback or Kindle edition. This is actually the limited edition first printing; there will be another featuring an introduction by First Minister Alex Salmond (not ready in time for this one), so if you are not a fan of his you might want to snap up one of the first few collectors’ copies.

Mr Tarahara and his wife invited those of us who’d taken part to their official residence today to give a seal of approval to the book, which was a lovely experience if a little strange – I don’t normally mix with ambassadors. But they and their staff were extremely nice and welcoming and it was fun to catch up with writers I knew and meet some new ones. After making many jokes about Ferrero Rochers, when Mr T announced he had a present for us, we were prepared to be ‘really spoiled’ but to everyone’s surprise, this jolly man in a business suit proceeded to sing – in a passable attempt at a Scottish accent – the Robert Burns song Annie Laurie, while we stood around listening. That was a moment I’ll remember for a long time!

Anyway, do check out the book if you can: it’s a good cause and, from my initial browse so far, it looks like there are a number of great pieces in there. It will be available from Waterstone’s soon (with a proper book launch, watch this space) or get it now via Cargo Publishing.

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