Tag Archives: Literary Magazines

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Articles, Competitions & Awards, Interviews, Literary happenings, Literary magazines, Writing

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!

Leave a comment

Filed under Articles, Books, Literary magazines, Stories, TV, Writing

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!

Image
(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.

1 Comment

Filed under Literary magazines, Radio, Stories

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Competitions & Awards, Stories

‘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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Literary magazines, Stories

My Cunning Plan

I really wanted to get something published in Gutter because it’s a fine, impressive publication – plus contributors get free copies for two years, which is nice. But I know they get lots of submissions … however, I figured that they probably get a lot of long stories and perhaps poems, yet they need a variety of page lengths to fill up the issue. So I sent them a story that can run on one or perhaps two pages only, in the cunning hope that it would perhaps have less competition. And it worked! I’ve just heard that World Enough And Time will appear in their next issue, Gutter 05. Bwah ha ha ha!

Leave a comment

Filed under Literary magazines