Awesome Indies

aia_webadgeI was very pleased yesterday to receive this badge of Approval for my collection of ironic short stories, Me-Time Tales, from Awesome Indies.

I can officially say that Me-Time Tales, tea breaks for mature women and curious men is ‘Awesome Indies Approved’ or ‘has been awarded a place on the Awesome Indies list of quality independent fiction.’ 3D-PB_opt

 Male/female – perfect to pocket for a holiday, or in the long wait in traffic to get there!

The book gets a badge and my website gets this one. In the spirit of cross-fertilization, I have to admire the design. The watch works suggest that time is not to be wasted (in getting the writing done) and the gold reminds of the gift a worthy worker was given when he retired after a long period of contributing his skills to the firm/organization, or perhaps won a prestigious contract for the firm. I’m all for badges of approval.

In Awesome Indies case, they have a mission.  Two of these aims are to:

Identify and honor independently published books that meet, or improve on, the standard of books published by major mainstream publishers and their imprints.
word
Raise the standard of independent publishing,

‘Self-published’ is gradually becoming less of a blight on a writer’s mojo, and with

initiatives such as Awesome Indies, the momentum towards quality increases. We all know that anyone can publish a book, that marketers will promote them as long as there is money in it. This is true of mainstream publishers too. If there is a huge market for an author, publishers will take him/her on, agents will gladly represent him/her.

The organization I am glad, in fact, grateful to belong to is author-member

The Alliance of Independent Authors. This has a wealth of skilled professionals all aiming for a high quality in the writing of fiction and non-fiction, and helping authors in different ways to achieve this. Quality is not just in the writing, but in the presentation of the book. Many writers will bemoan that this aspect takes as long or longer than the writer. More to be said about this in another post . . .

Bath Literary Festival, 1. Two authors, two issues.

bath-literature-festival

New authors might sit back and consider the undercurrent in their fiction. Despite a variety in the subject matter, authors may unconsciously repeat themes that have marked their lives.

March 2015. Bath Literary Festival offered its usual treats, the most popular being the talk by Kasuo Ishiguro, booked out within minutes of the programme going live. His first novel for ten years, The Buried Giant, has surprised readers by its fantasy genre. Ishiguro suggested that all of his novels had an underflow of unspok

BuriedGianten, part forgotten material.  There may be fantastic creatures in his novel but ‘buried’ in his title refers obliquely to the human tendency for suppressing memories about painful matters.

He had given a wonderful one-hour interview on BBC4 covering similar ground, whereas Elif Safak was newer to the Bath audience.

The two authors had ‘burying’ in common. Shafak referred to the ‘collective amnesia’ of Turkey, uncomfortable events in history more easily ignored if historic artefacts were not preserved.

medium_01-elif-shafakSpeaking fluently, extemporaneously and passionately in her third language, Safak also had amnesia on her mind, collective amnesia, for so much has been suppressed. The role of the woman, the existence of minorities. There is little urban memory, so that residents do not know the origin of their street names, for instance, and are not encouraged to ask questions or to care about the past. Shafak mourns the loss of cosmopolitanism in Turkey, which is why she loves London. The variety of cultures, nations, sub-groups is precious and stimulates creativity.

As a lonely child, Shafak found the books she read more real than the Turkish world around her. The questions she asked, the situations she wrote about, caused social bullying. She was spat at in the street, prosecuted for her first book, and her work came to the world in translation.

Shafak gave the listeners an insight into the current Turkish situation that was far more powerful than a description of her latest book (The Architect’s Apprentice, out late April).  It was a talk which had the full hall flocking to her queue as soon as her event ended.

‘No,’ she advised a questioner. ‘In the evenings, the streets (in Istanbul) belong to the men.’

Istanbul

There was a parallel with Ishiguro’s talk. Ishiguro had rebelled against being an author who ‘explained Japan’ to other audiences. (He has lived in England since childhood). Safak had ridden the salt water of being a female author in a patriarchal society, so that the ‘wonder’ of her success appeared to be solely that she was a woman.  Both authors wanted recognition for the content of their novels, not to be defined by the stereotype.

But the real highlight of this literary festival came in the smaller room, the salon, with a smaller quieter audience, many of whom were deaf. London-based artist and writer Louise Stern grew up in Freemont, California, and is the fourth generation deaf in her family. Her debut novel ‘Ismael and His Sisters’ is set in a Mexican deaf community and is an extraordinary analysis of the way we experience the world and the barriers we build out of language. She hardly talked about her book, but about communication. It was very powerful.

That is the subject of my next post.

Confused identity

51HDJcwjQSL._AA160_
An emergence from tragedy

This is the first of my reviews of self-published or very small press fiction. In fact, it is not to be published for another few weeks, but I think you will want to put this on your wishlist.

I read Tracey Scott-Townsend’s first book, The Last Time I saw Marion, and was impressed by the quality of writing and unique storyline. When I received Another Rebecca I wondered if the quality would remain, but I wasn’t disappointed.

The title suggests that we are in for a retake at Manderley, but no. This is not a Du Maurier sequel. The other Rebecca is a reformation of her mother, who has the same name. She now calls herself Bex to differentiate from the girl she once was, and sadly, is no more.

The novel opens on a dreamy sequence that is a time slip. Rebecca flits from hospital into a fantastic and erotic adventure, but it doesn’t last long. When we return to the present time, it is clear why Rebecca needs (and deserves) to escape reality.

She lives in a miserable and increasingly crisis-laden home, abandoned by father, caring for an alcoholic mother.

There are three voices: the girl, Rebecca, her mother, Bex and Jack, her seemingly errant father. The language is similar for the two parents, whereas Rebecca has gained more education and maturity despite being a young person.

The alcoholic mother whinges her way to disaster, yet in the chapters in her voice we find the remains of what could have been a nice person. The disgusting state she has got herself into isn’t minimized but the background story, built up slowly, shows her jagged path to destruction.

This author is skilled at setting a conflict from which the story can flow. We soon learn that Jack is caught up in a no-win situation that was caused by his kindness, not his neglect. It is easy to sympathise with his position, torn between competing emotional forces.

Our identification is with the Rebecca whose future is before her. The mystery surrounds and is a part of her, interacting with the art that inspires and possesses her.

As the narrative progresses, it becomes more complex and the fantasy Rebecca began with permeates the theme in a new way. The significance of the title comes into its own. Finally, the tangled threads of these three characters’ story reach their conclusion, making for a thoroughly satisfying read.

This is a thoughtful, well-structured novel with good characterisation. The life-style and thought-processes of the alcoholic are credible, as is the good-heartedness, yet ineffectiveness of the husband. Scott-Townsend has not made the mistake of painting her characters black and white. The positives and weaknesses are carefully revealed.

There are some lyrical descriptions of scenes that add to the pleasure of reading this interesting story. It should please readers of fantasy as well as those who enjoy tales of family conflict.

 

Flash Fiction

kaleidoscopeNo flashy words:
Review of Eating My Words: 2014

THE NATIONAL FLASH FICTION DAY ANTHOLOGY

Edited by Callum Kerr
Angela Readman
Amy McKelden

One of the beauties of an anthology of flash fiction is that it gives exposure to such a large number of different authors. It was good to see this, rather than many entries by a few authors. Furthermore, the anthology included a section of micro-fiction entries, a form requiring even more skill if a reader’s involvement is to be engaged.

I reviewed last year’s anthology, Scraps, ScrapsBkand approached the present one with happy anticipation. I didn’t have the advantage of seeing the foreword – I only had the e-book.

This year’s title is appealing and apt. It refers to the theme set the writers – The Senses. There was a wide variety in how this was interpreted, and a degree of variety in the quality of writing.

The opening story was totally enchanting in its reversal of perceptions of the rat. With a good arc and subtle references, Becky Tipper’s story set a promising tone for the book.

At the end of the book the winners of the micro-fiction competition displayed the economy of words against the ingenuity of concept.

In the remainder, the following stories pleased me particularly. Different readers will have different preferences, but those stories that feel complete in the read surely master the genre. It doesn’t have to be a surprise ending, but it does need to make sense of the beginning and/or display a clear concept. This blog emphasises the importance of character in writing.  In flash fiction, a character must make an immediate impact.

The imagery in Tasty – a story about pornography – works well, and the conclusion is both believable and restorative. The concept of ‘unfinished stories’ in Dress Sense ensured that the issue of loss and stasis would resonate after the read. This was a sensitive piece as was the much longer story by Sarah Hilary. She paired two unlikely characters and set them forth for an imagined future.

There were several sad reads, and a wry one, Show Don’t Tell, which made me smile. Nik Perring’s story was even more wry. A girl with an addiction to giving up and her boyfriend’s understandable responses suggested two interesting characters who would hold their own in a longer story, but nevertheless the piece had a satisfying conclusion. A wider smile still for What We Do In Our Sleep. It really pays to consider the ridiculous sometimes, for it can illustrate a point – in this case, hypochondria – more clearly than a set of descriptions. Tino Prinzi uses dialogue well and wittily here.

I did balk at some hefty wordiness (“feculent metastatic lesions”) in Seven Breaths, but the psychology of the piece was well understood. Another insightful piece, more about coming to fruition than coming of age, was Launch Pad. It launches the reader into a vivid classroom scene and slyly comments on adult expectations. Handle with Care was itself beautifully handled, displaying sensitivity and poignancy in a piece that explores a child’s revulsion against cruelty.

Michael Marshall Smith totally encapsulated the theme of The Senses in his story, Half-Life, with a very clever plotline. I admired this, as I did the well-written Chekhov’s Gun, for imaginative use of the theme.

Eating      EATING MY WORDS 

It is hard to pick out some stories for mention when there are many that make the purchase of this anthology worthwhile. Death, love, lust, thwarted ambition – all are aspects of the human condition that these writers consider. All the more surprising, then, to read about swallowed kittens, chemically induced sensation removal and the beauty of being an oyster.

Long live the flash fiction genre.

Authors’ stimuli: preparing for that blank moment

PERFUME                                 SMELL                            STINK

roseSmell_opt

 

In a previous post I suggested that, at the point of urgently scribbling down that new idea, it may be worth exploring what actually prompted it.

The power of olfactory stimuli in activating memory is well known. I believe it is much harder to ‘dream up’ an olfactory experience than a visual or auditory memory that might affect the character in your story. For  a visual stimulus we have Art to display ideas, perspectives, narratives, symbols.  We have Theatre and Radio to present ideas and emotions through sound patterns, speech or music.  snuff_opt

There is no equivalent for smells. The writer may sit, pen raised, summoning up exactly the right sound or sight to cause his hero to pale with emotion, and the reader to imagine this accordingly. Far more difficult to write more than ‘the smell/scent/perfume/stink of’ (whatever) caused the emotional impact. How much of a struggle to work out what might have been recorded in long term memory.

skunk_opt

It might be a good idea to be prepared for that blank moment. Perhaps the answer is to note down your own strong reactions to any smell, pleasant or unpleasant, listing the source for each but avoid the obvious like dog poo. For instance, the whiff of musty clothes in a charity shop reminds Kara of a down-at-heel great aunt; the scent of aloe vera takes Anna back to the birth of her baby but reminds Dan of a little lane in Almeria where he was set on by teenage thugs.

TapirAtSDZ

 

With such a list of smells, you can google them to add any interesting facts to their source and the memories they evoke for you. Easier then to strengthen your writing with that detail that enthralls readers and brings them right into your story.

Emerging short story

spikyplant

                                                    Wild cactus, dangerous to touch

I finished a short story yesterday.  Each time this happens I get a tremendous sense of self completion. That sense usually dissipates on a re-reading. I think I edit more than I write. However, this was a third sitting and a long one.  (I can always edit again.)

I submitted it for StoryFriday, a superb event that happens one Friday evening on alternate months. It’s held in Burdalls Yard, Bath, an atmospheric and quite historic building with a mediterreanean courtyard and a cave-like theatre. It’s owned by the Performing Arts department of Bath Spa University but used by others in the evenings. A Word in Your Ear, of which StoryFriday is a section, gains from this availability.

There is a theme set, authors submit stories and the best are selected, either performed by the authors themselves or by one of the two talented actors. There is interesting live music as the evening starts, with candle lit tables and a bar.  At the appointed hour we all take our seats in the small theatre, and the story performances begin. The standard is very high so I don’t count on my story being accepted.  However, I thought beginner writers might be interested in the process of writing this story.

I think that once an idea comes for a story the writer can become too involved in one aspect to pay due attention to other important elements that go towards making a good story. In my case, I was totally immersed in developing the voice of a not too reliable narrator. (Readers of my previous post of this title will realise that this appeals to me.)

StoryFriday for March has the theme, FERAL. When set a theme, I like to stick to it closely. So I have a feral narrator. He’s not like this wonderful creature, but the illustration demonstrates that a theme can be interpreted in unusual and unexpected ways.

weirdragon

panzi – deviantart.com

The writing process

Deep into my narrator’s account, at about 2,000 words I realised that I had too many characters appearing. Even without assigning them names, they would crowd my story. I doubt if a story of under 3000 words can work with more than three characters, and I was working to a maximum word count of 2,200. Even that is too long for a spoken performance.

I sat back and re-thought the story. Where was my character at the beginning? How many places and situations could he refer to? Like characters, not too many, otherwise the reader/listener would become confused. How could I best lead up to the climax? Had I laid down a hint near the beginning so that the end had validity? Had I described sufficient of the scenes for them to be visualised?

After thinking this all out, I reworked rather than rewrote the story, but all the time the above considerations had to be written as seen through the eyes of the narrator.

I hope I’ve succeeded, but if I haven’t, I’ll come back and edit again. I think this feral narrator is refusing to let me go.

Short Story in the shadows

The Latin Quarter, Paris, France

A few days ago I went to browse in the large Waterstones of a town I was visiting. I had just reviewed some Chinese short stories (earlier post), I thought I might find another stimulating collection.  Huge shelves of fiction faced me, but not even one for short stories; worse, there were only seven different titles. At least this included the recent Munro, although this was on the counter rather than displayed on one of the tables where the rushed shopper might think ‘Yes, Munro’s latest, must have these stories.’   Amongst the thousands of titles for fiction, only 7 for short stories seemed amazing. There were more titles for knitting.

On Amazon, the original search for short stories brings up over 3,000 titles, but the number of literary and contemporary collections appears to be only in the hundreds. Even then, scanning through, I found children’s titles, single stories of 6 pages and erotica among these.

In my local library there is no separate section for short stories, and there are only five on its entire list. The city library has more, but there is no shelf-full. Short stories are placed besides poetry which, to my surprise, filled most of the shelf.

I prefer writing novels – so much more scope for developing a character and his/her fortunes. Nevertheless, I have written many short stories with difficulty. I greatly admire those writers who show a key moment in a character’s life, or address an emotional issue succinctly yet memorably.  I’ve reviewed two collections of short stories on this site, picked for their unusualness. I am sure I shall review more, but finding new collections is not made easy by either availability or by marketing.

It may be that in the U.S. and elsewhere, short stories sell better but in the U.K  genre fiction and celebrity memoirs dominate.  It seems odd that short fiction is not first choice when time demands are believed greater in the current economic climate.  We don’t write letters, we text in condensed format or tweet in 140 characters. Our TV dramas appear to assume a maximum of two minutes before the character and scene must be changed. It would be logical to expect short fiction to sell better than long.  Sales of misery memoirs, for instance, must take four times as long to read as a short story, if not to absorb. Even undemanding stories must have lost favour in that most magazines have largely dropped their short story features.

Why are short stories so sparsely treated? They seem very rarely taken on by U.K publishers unless written by an already very successful author, and that not often. They probably make little money for publishers, and this means they have failed to attract an audience.

image

Is it possible that insufficient attention has been paid to the covers of such collections?

In the main, they tend to be in plain colours with only a contrasting stripe or emboldened fonts to arrest the gaze.  It doesn’t.  Short story collections have some sort of theme. If none is suggested by the author, such as revenge or love or fear, there is always the style, culture, time or the place in which or about which they are written. A good graphic designer or illustrator can surely encapsulate some image or design to attract the book browser? The only volume I have seen recently where this  has happened is Because They Wanted To by Mary Gaitskill, and that is modest.

Children’s short stories still sell well. Parents would rather read something bite-sized than embark on a novel. Children are assumed to want something which doesn’t daunt by size – despite their love of huge Harry Potter novels . Note that children’s short stories have illustrations on the covers. Publishers must have concluded that plain covers would be far more off-putting for sales than size.  Are we adults so different?

I do love an eye-cataching cover. Therefore my own forthcoming volume of short stories (Me-Time Tales – tea-breaks for mature women and curious men)  is unashamedly bright with its theme of self-indulgence evident.


Me-Time_cover_13x20_subtitle