Updates and catching up

So this blog has been languishing for far too long, reaching for its smelling salts and swooning at the touch of fresh air. Hopefully this will be just the pick-me-up it needs to start pulling its socks up and being a decent member of society.

So what’s been happening since the last update?

* The launch of the Siren Press Fugue II anthology is on 24th July, and I’m lucky enough to have a story in there. Siren Press is an independent press based in the UK, and the first edition of their Fugue anthology series was a huge success. The launch is in Enitharmon Editions in London (at http://www.enitharmon.co.uk/) and you can get tickets for free at https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/book-launch-fugue-vol-ii-tickets-17330114840. Here’s the publicity poster – doesn’t it look good?


* I’ve been fortunate enough to win the 2015 Asian Writer Short Story Competition. This story was a particular favourite of mine, and it’s been revamped a number of times before I felt it was right. Have a look at http://theasianwriter.co.uk/competition/ for next year’s competition; it’s a good one to win!

* I also won the 2015 Winchester Writers Festival short story competition. Very pleased with this one, although I couldn’t make it to the festival. It’s definitely worth going to if you can make it, though, and they had the brilliant Sebastian Faulks as a guest speaker this year. You can find more information at http://writersfestival.co.uk/

* Shortlists have also included the Rubery Book Award short story prize, the Fiction Desk Newcomer prize and the WriteIdea prize. Here’s a photo from the WriteIdea prizegiving ceremony. The fabulous Melanie Whipman is on the left of the picture, then me, and the amazingly talented row of Tracy Fells, Farrah Yusuf and Rowena Macdonald. Alex Wheatle was the dedicated and tireless judge.



Midsummer Opera performance

A very belated update, but a few weeks ago I played in the Midsummer Opera performance of Puccini’s La Fanciulla Del West. It was held at St John’s Church in Waterloo, which is an absolutely beautiful venue. The acoustics are great (why do I always want to spell that with two ‘c’s?), and the church itself is very imposing.

Zoe South played Minnie, and John Upperton was Dick Johnson (Ramerrez). Special acclaim to Zoe for singing while recovering from a chest infection! Also a special mention has to go to the Midsummer Opera Men’s Chorus, who were standing at the back of the violins. When you’re sawing away at some of the more emphatic sforzando bits, it’s always a help to be joined by what sounds like the massed ranks of the Russian Army! Some wonderful singing.

Also, of course, David Roblou as conductor is a force to be reckoned with. He managed to keep an entire hall spellbound for two nights, and a sell-out audience. Keep an eye on http://www.midsummeropera.org.uk/ for the date of the next performance, and come along to have a look!

Willesden Herald Short Story Results and Launch

Last night I went to the results and launch event of the Willesden Herald Short Story Prize 2014, and a Good Time Was Had By All ™. Some of the stories were performed by the Liars’ League (http://www.liarsleague.com/liars_league/about_the_league.html) which is a liaison between professional actors and short story writers. They have branches in London, Hong Kong, New York and Leicester, so if you’re globe-trotting then do check them out!

My story Rock Pools was read by the lovely Helen Belbin, who brought a depth of perspective and realism to it that blew me away.

Here we are in the interval:


Other stories included Megan Taylor’s Rash – which had half the audience members surreptitiously scratching – Dan Powell’s Rip Rap, Angela Sherlock’s Postman’s Knock, Joan Brennan’s Such is her Power, and Nick Holdstock’s Ward. Huge congratulations to the overall winner Nick Holdstock, and the runners-up Angela Sherlock and Joan Brennan!

Charles Lambert was the judge this year, and said a lot of awfully nice things about the stories. I dipped into the anthology on the way back, and can thoroughly recommend it! If you’d like to buy it, it’s available from http://www.amazon.co.uk/Willesden-Herald-New-Short-Stories/dp/0985213337/

Of course, many thanks go to Stephen Moran for coordinating and organising the event, as well as reading the entries. If you’d like to enter the next one, keep an eye on http://www.willesdenherald.com/competition/welcome.php for submission dates.



Words and Women anthology launch

Some time before starting this blog, Words and Women (http://wordsandwomennorwich.blogspot.co.uk/) held the first Words and Women Writing Competition. I’m very pleased to announce that my story “A Time for Rain” was shortlisted in the competition, and included in the forthcoming anthology.

On 8th March, the anthology was launched to celebrate International Women’s Day. Bel Greenwood and Lynne Bryan worked incredibly hard to make sure that copies were edited and printed in time, and the result looks stunning! The launch was held in Norwich, and included readings from the anthology, a showing of a film about writing spaces, and two musical performances. It was very well-attended, and at times I wondered whether the next person to come in was really going to fit through the door, but somehow we managed! All in all, a brilliant way to celebrate International Women’s Day.

And if anyone is interested, you can buy a copy of Words and Women One at http://www.amazon.co.uk/Words-Women-One-Lynne-Bryan/dp/1910061018/ I thoroughly recommend it!

Willesden Herald Short Story Competition

The Willesden Herald has just announced the shortlist of stories for its 2014 competition, and I’m very pleased that my story “Rock Pools” has been included on it. The list is as follows:

Short List 2014

  • Piercings by Jo Barker Scott
  • Such is her Power by Joan Brennan
  • The Beekeeper’s Daughters by Gina Challen
  • Ward by Nick Holdstock
  • Rock Pools by CG Menon
  • Rip Rap by Dan Powell
  • Postman’s Knock by Angela Sherlock
  • Rash by Megan Taylor
  • The Stealing by Lindsay Waller-Wilkinson
  • Cotton-Fisted Scorpions by Medina Tenour Whiteman

The biographies are all up at http://newshortstories.com/short-list-for-the-2014-short-story-competition/ and I thoroughly recommend going to have a look. There’s some amazingly talented people there, and I’m very pleased to be in their company.


Hardy and Bad Couples

The recent Guardian article on the worst couples in literature (http://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2014/feb/06/harry-potter-rowling-relationship-fiction) got me thinking. How many of the cited couples are actually bad together, and how many are just unpleasant characters?

To me, the defining essence of a bad couple in literature should be that we can easily imagine either of them in a functional relationship, but just not with each other. So, of course Tom and Daisy Buchanan are a bad couple – but really, I can think of very few people that either of them would have been good with. Nick and Daisy, perhaps?

One of the writers who really brings this nuance out is Thomas Hardy. In Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Tess and Angel Clare are a genuinely bad couple without being unsympathetic characters. Both of them have positive traits, and both of them appear able to sustain a functional relationship (although notably, neither of them do – with anyone – throughout the book). But although Angel thinks that he loves Tess’s earthy, naturalistic traits, he’s decidedly less enamoured when she doesn’t turn out to be a “fresh and virginal daughter of Nature”. Similarly Tess is impassioned by Angel’s learning and slightly dictatorial nature, but has no real point of sympathy with him that would allow them to sustain a relationship. She responds to the physical brutality of Alec D’Urberville far more readily than the cold cruelty of Angel. But we can easily imagine both of these characters sustaining a relationship with others (Angel and Mercy for one, Tess and somebody like Dairyman Crick for another).

The same could be said for Jude and Sue in Jude the Obscure. It’s always been a regret of mine that Sue didn’t stay with Phillotson, to whom she seemed far more suited. Jude and Sue are drawn with painful realism, down to the hurt feelings and minor misunderstandings that anyone that’s been in a fractious relationship will recognise. Jude seems congenitally unsuited to be with anyone who impinges on his own ambitions to become educated – and in their different ways, both Arabella and Sue do this. But Jude isn’t fundamentally ill-suited to a relationship, just to the relationship with the mercurial Sue.

Finally, Thomasin and Wildeve from Return of the Native also display these characteristics. It would be arguable that Wildeve would be unhappy in any relationship, but the same certainly couldn’t be said for Thomasin. She’s a relatively simple character, and doesn’t display any of the same depth and complexity as Eustacia, for example. But with another man (such as Diggory Venn), she may have been happier. Personally, I would have liked to see how long the romance between Wildeve and Eustacia lasted. They display a fundamental need to hurt each other, or to coax out a confession that the other one loves more. And yet, with all that, they’re both very ready to admit their need and longing to each other. Is that openness the sign of a good couple?