I 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.’
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. 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
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 . . .
In Bulgaria, the short story is not a lesser literary form as it is in the UK. Quite the reverse, it is highly valued. There are some fine Bulgarian writers of short stories and this post concerns just one.
Miroslav Penkov‘s short story collection, East of the West, is the most powerful of reads. We are taken into the heart and bowels of Bulgaria through the voices and situations of the various characters. This is very fine writing, and not just the name story. That won the BBC short story award of 2012 (by unanimous vote of the judges).
The story is full of symbolism. A village is divided by river and that river is used as a boundary between west and east at the end of World War II. There is jealousy caused between the villagers because those on the west bank have access to western materialism. The eastern bank villagers long for jeans and Nike trainers, however worn-out.
The villagers are allowed to meet once a year, but they try to keep contact other times by shouting across at its narrowest point, or, in the case of young lovers, by swimming to the centre and risking shots from the armed guards. The villagers once tried to maintain their identity by diverting the river so that it kept the village undivided. The result was a flooding, the church being completely drowned. The protagonist is encouraged by his loving, but aggressive cousin, to meet her at the submerged cross of this church.
His sister makes a similar swim to meet her fiancé, to show the ‘diamonds’ for her wedding the next day. Both are shot by guards. They are dressed in their finest, dead, for two funerals, each on its own bank of the river.
Somehow, in the face of his own love and career disappointments, the protagonist must move on, a metaphor for Bulgaria.
It seems opportune, at the very time that the number of Bulgarian immigrants (amongst others) is being agonised over, that the harsh lifestyle Bulgarians suffer is brought to the consciousness of other nations. It may be that it takes someone raised in the culture, but career-boosted outside of it, to write about Bulgaria with that telescope of understanding.
Penkov studied so hard that his English was excellent by the time he reached the US to further his studies. Therefore, his stories have the advantage of being written in English, not translated. Each of these stories is entirely absorbing and thought-provoking. The choice of words often holds a significance that points to larger issues. It was sobering to find that several stories were written when the author was very young. No-one, we would think in the West, should have inside knowledge or direct experience of such dark matters: the hanging of dissidents, the enforced changing of names, the lack of medical aid to severely ill people, the poverty and hunger, the lack of corporate compassion for the young or needy.
Penkov manages to get within the head of young and old Bulgarians, male and female. Filtered through the narrative is the history of a once-strong country beleaguered by political discord and powerful nations. The consequent poverty and desperation that cause alienation and anarchism come through these stories in a way that is fresh and bleeding.
The stories are both warm and dark, some so dark that it is difficult to read on. Why turn to fantasy and horror when more real events are offered here? For instance, the dead (accidentally killed?) child being lifted into position for a family photograph. Or the almost dead vagrant on the church plinth being readied, or is it desecrated, for eternity? An adolescent with his sidekick, running loose, alienated, anarchic and yet retaining some humanity, ends up in the church tower pissing down on his compatriots who are literally jumping to political command – a darkly humorous message.
The tragic and emotionally neglected young girl, her head shaved so that she can be like her dead brother, is trained to make bagpipes, their soft section the nearest to a comforting breast her world provides. When her father is arrested, she is left to care for her terminally ill mother and ultimately is left alone with her bagpipe. The reader can almost hear its plaintive sound.
A young man goes against home politics by being in America, wars with his grandfather who is eventually proved to be in the more enviable (Bulgarian) position. The Bulgarian desire to receive good education, career opportunity, a decent lifestyle, conflicts with all those values and close family ties that make life worthwhile.
The yan that drives and threatens to destroy the individual has a meaning beyond mere envy. It almost has a personality of its own, defining the Bulgarian and almost, his culture.
Like the medlars prevalent in the countryside of Bulgaria, these tales are bitter but necessary to assuage (literary) hunger. We can understand why Bulgarians, despite loving their country, need to emigrate to gain the basic necessities of life.
I feel the richer for reading these stories, and their content will stay with me.Penkov is due to publish a novel shortly. It is something to look forward to.
I suppose that once a long list of good stories becomes a short list of the best, the final ranking is always personal rather than definitive. However, choosing from this short list must have been pure pleasure. From the winner to the brave and successful one-page story writer, there are no duds in the anthology. I review seven.
The artist for the excellent and imaginative cover of this anthology, Elinor Nash, also gained first prize with The Ghost Boy. A young accident victim retains an understanding of emotions and a strange insightful sensitivity although few other functions, Nash uses the 3rd person narrative voice to display Jake’s thoughts. He hears surrounding domestic sounds in colour (synaesthesia) “lemon yellow whooshes” and “the indigo velvet spiral of the drill”. He is painfully aware of the effect of his changed life upon his family. The imagination involved in perceiving this tragedy from the victim’s point of view probably nailed this story as the winner.
I really enjoyed Roisin O’Donnell’s, Under the Jasmine Tree, commended, because of the several levels of meaning. This story presented the reader with an original topic although the theme of reunion between mother and adult child, long separated is not entirely new. Requited but fated love is signalled by the description of the loved-one’s voice “clear as water and rocked with the rhythms of the sea” that contrasts later with it “rough as sea-spray” because he’s choked by what he’s done, what he’s caused and by his vocation. The sad acceptance of her situation is portrayed with due weight, her final decision symbolised by the permeating perfume of Jasmine.
Another commended story was ‘It’s a Girl’ by Lisa Harding. This was an even heavier theme, the trapped immigrant finding that begging is more successful with a puppy than a baby. This woman without adequate means of communication has a life of misery doled out by her keeper. Well written but a doleful tale.
Two stories used the well-worn theme of the holocaust. Cleverly written, but again very depressing, was Anne Corlett, the local prize winner’s story, The Language of Birds. The main character, beleaguered by her past, maintains her heavy lie and turns her painful thoughts to the sound of bird song. Each song represents another aspect of the story and leads to a conclusion that seems only fit.
The Crust, by Mona Porte, has a Jewish painter irritated at his father for allowing the Nazis to steal his paintings. The family meet the awful fate of Jews and the painter is reduced to starvation in a camp. For me, this was the weakest story because too much was told through dialogue as if readers had not come across this topic before. However, the use of the crust as an irritant, on several levels, was clever as was the twist at the end.
The third prize winner, Alex Hammond, had a more direct approach with No Man’s Land. A boy in Spain is making his own replica of the bunkers and dugouts, but needs help in making mud given the dryness in Spain. He appears to be more in tune with the dreadfulness of the battlefield until the end of the story makes the situation clear. I thought this fresh, competent writing with no wasting of words.
Lastly, the second prize winner,
with A Beautiful Thing, Kit de Waal,
gained my admiration for writing something uplifting. It’s my belief that this is harder than writing tragedy. The story twists the reader’s expectation in a new direction. I loved the detail of the expensive spats leading to a brave foray into new territory, with unexpected and heart-warming results. The style of writing reminded me of Marquez. I’d read this author’s work again.
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, and 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.
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.
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.
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.
Today’s post introduces a writer, Andrew Reid Wildman, who has produced a collection of short stories –
Spicy Green Ginger – A tribute to Hull – City of Culture
I will not comment here, as I will be reviewing them in a week’s time, but I will hint that I enjoyed a bit of Hull’s gentle and darker side.
Here is the writer’s marketing material.
SHORT STORIES – HULL AND EAST RIDING – ANDREW REID WILDMAN
A voice from a writer who deserves discovery.
These pieces show Andrew at his best; as an interpreter and observer of human nature, always funny, he describes life in this beautiful area of Yorkshire through decades and people characters who sometimes did or didn’t fit the profile of the neighborhood.
The readers will find the collection full of familiar themes and characters.
Spicy Green Ginger – For people who belong to Yorkshire
Spicy Green Ginger is sour and sweet, deliciously, wickedly misanthropic, and at times sad and tender.The characters are of course entirely fictitious, but who has not at times felt like them? For instance poor Betty Bridgenorth, a hard-working, proud baker who is savaged by a nameless internet troll, and sets out to seek revenge? Or Edna Isenthorpe, who just wants to enjoy her train journey in peace. Some of the historical stories are based loosely on murderous events or legends from the county; others seek to recreate the atmosphere of places now lost, for example the famous Kardomah Cafe.
Stolen Childhood – Excerpt from the book
The Stolen Yorkshire Childhood
Beverley, East Yorkshire, the present day
“Can I help you, sir?” asked PC Darren Kendalson, a recent recruit to the force. He was staffing the desk of the Westwood police station in Beverley. Just over an hour left remained of his afternoon shift.
“Yes,” replied the man, an attractive if rather highly strung man of middle age, his cheeks red, his head balding. The tall man’s blue eyes flickered sadly, great depth etched in his resigned expression. “I want to report a stolen childhood,” said he.
“A stolen childhood?” replied the officer, a confused smile on his sweetly innocent face. He was too young to understand the man’s complaint.
“Yes,” replied the man. “My Yorkshire childhood was stolen you see, and I want it back.” The man scratched his scalp as he spoke, making it bleed.
“I am not sure I can help you with that,” replied the young officer. There was the hint of a smirk in his cherubic face, a little scorn, a little cruelty. His lips twitched in secret amusement.
“Let me deal with this, son,” interjected Sergeant Brown, a man approaching retirement, his stomach fighting a territorial war with his tunic and winning. PC Kendalson smiled professionally, and sat back to watch. He was getting used to surprises in police work.
Andrew Reid Wildman was born in Beverley, East Yorkshire. He currently lives and works in Essex, and is a lecturer in English at a busy London college.
Andrew loves writing short, acerbic stories, picking up on the foibles of ordinary people, and exploring the complexities of social interaction. His home county often features in his work. Andrew Reid Wildman also enjoys painting in his free time, and has been a best-selling artist with www.artgallery.co.uk for several years. He has a Masters degree in Victorian Studies from Birkbeck University.
”I am a son of Beverley, and I took to short story writing a couple of years ago. Each of my stories is set, with a few exceptions, in my home county.”
Me-Time Tales is a collection of ironic short stories with a dark edge. Each one has a character self-absorbed in some way. I didn’t research them, I met them, listened and later someone like them popped into my head as I wrote.
In Me-Time Tales, each story has a very different starting point. The only research I did was to observe and record. There’s nowt so funny as fowk. I believe that’s a Yorkshire saying? (I should rush and research that). Observations: a woman moaning about her boyfriend’s lackadaisical responses; another fussing about her health; a further complaining about the eating habits of her (now nervous and inhibited) child. At some point, I sat down and wrote, not necessarily with those people in mind but perhaps a sentence they’d uttered, or a sentence I was writing made me summon up a character similar to them. I don’t know why I wrote any of the stories on any of the occasions, except that I had fun.
Of course, it’s not enough to create a character. They must have a voice and something in their life must have meaning or impact upon the reader. As Robert McKee says in ‘Story’ “…the life story of each and every character offers encyclopaedic opportunities.”
I wanted one younger woman to struggle with a moral dilemma and I didn’t want her to be any kind of weak pushover. I invented her from scratch. An author’s characters live and breathe as result of his/her interactions with the world over the past – however many years lived. I really don’t know where all my characters, their sayings, peculiarites and weaknesses come from except that they are present in everyday life somewhere, and I’ve come across them some time even if I don’t remember that now. It all goes into the unconscious into a morass of mini experiences and observations.
I wrote the Me-Time Tales at different times in different places. It was only four years ago that, scanning through my documents I saw that I had several short stories I could group together. I had one hundred copies of the collection printed to trial them. If there had been no interest, that would have been that. But they were well received.
Last summer, I tweaked, rewrote, proof-read the stories before they hit the print rollers. A few I wrote especially to make the collection up to a reasonable size. Then I used an editor, tweaked and proof-read again. That doesn’t sound like a fun time. It wasn’t. However, fun found me.
I was told that for marketing the book I needed to engage in social media, including writing a blog. After thinking about that challenge, I decided to let Me-Time be the blog owner and to let the characters do the talking. They took over straight away and were often quite hard on me. The blog is truly a dialectic, a characters’ dialectic. If you haven’t visited it, it represents the second face of my ‘characterfulwriter’ logo. You will find the fun blog at http://fictionalcharacterswriting.blogspot.com. I found an image for each character to summon up either their personality or their story. Here are three of them:
Doing the Me-time blog has made me smile. My characters have been bitchy, challenging and feisty. Strangely, they have attracted visitors from everywhere except Australia, and the total visits in its six months of life has now exceeded 7,000. I’d love to know why Russia visited suddenly and in huge numbers, ranking highest of all for two weeks, then stopped. Blogging moves in mysterious ways, at least, to me.
The Me-Time blog continues even now that the book is published. My characters are so feisty, I hardly have any say in it.