creative writing

‘Introductions’ and ‘Chain’ to be published in SpaLife Magazine!

Two flash fictions of mine, ‘Introductions’ and ‘Chain’ are to be published in SpaLife Magazine, a magazine created and published by Bath Spa University students. Here’s this from their website, which I’ve included a link to because they do more than just a print magazine!

SpaLife Magazine is published in a print edition once a term, and online. All content is produced by student volunteers who want you to keep up to date with the latest university news and events, entertainment, travel and more.  Pick up your copy around campus or via the SU website.

I’m really excited to pick up a print copy of this magazine later this year, and will link to the two stories when they’re published in the online edition too. It feels great to have work published in this magazine, to have my fellow students appreciate and accept my writing, and to have new students read my work, to reach a new audience. I also feel as if I’m giving back a little to my university, as if I’m saying ‘here’s a little bit of what I can do thanks to the skills you’ve helped me develop’.

‘Introductions’ is a flash fiction about a guy who walks in on his sister kissing someone. She introduces him to her brother, but they’ve met before… and ‘Chain’ is about a being stood up due to miscommunication, and is more humorous in tone than my usual writing.

‘I’m Growing My New Boyfriend in a Petri Dish’ Published in Flash Frontier today!

Today my flash fiction ‘I’m Growing My New Boyfriend in a Petri Dish’ was published in the September 2015 issue of Flash Frontier, which was on the theme of science. You can read my story, and other wonderful flashes, by following this link here.

Here’s what the two guest editors, Kathy Fish and Tania Hershman, have to say about this issue:

Guest Editors Kathy Fish and Tania Hershman on this issue:

Tania and I share a love of science (though Tania’s more knowledgeable that I am), so our “theme” presented itself immediately. I was very curious to see what flash writers would do with the theme in such limited space. We received a fascinating mix and they were great fun to read. I especially enjoyed the stories where the writer allowed her imagination free rein. And when the writing itself was striking, so much the better! We went through two rounds of reading the 77 submissions we received for this issue and made some difficult decisions, but trust you’ll enjoy the mix of science themed stories we have selected for this issue of Flash Frontier!
-Kathy Fish
*

What I am always looking for, but especially with very very short stories, is a piece that marries a compelling story with a love for language, one that grips me from the very start and never lets me go. Yes, even a 250-word flash story can become baggy in the middle! When it comes to fiction inspired by science, here I wanted to be delighted by an original take on a scientific topic, one not constrained by fact but where imagination was let loose – plus the above-mentioned story and love for language. An idea is not enough, you have to find a way to involve the reader in the story, make us feel. I was thrilled by how many submissions we got, and how varied they were – although for quite a few writers science was something done at school and never since! Between us we chose, we hope, a variety of styles and approaches, but all great stories, all not just fitting themselves into the length constraints but celebrating brevity, using it to tell a story that would become an entirely different animal if longer, and often sliding in some science with playfulness. Thank you to all those who submitted, keep playing with science!

-Tania Hershman

It is wonderful to be in this edition of Flash Frontier and to have had my story selected by two incredible flash fiction writers I admire. ‘I’m Growing My New Boyfriend in a Petri Dish’ as a title gives you, I believe, a taster of what to expect from the flash, but I do encourage you to check it out! I’m particularly proud of this flash, and I hope you enjoy it as much as Kathy and Tania did to select it for Flash Frontier.

‘Stuck’ and ‘Caught’ Published in Unbroken Journal, and why I write Prose Poetry (sometimes).

Today my first prose poems to be accepted for publication, ‘Stuck’ and ‘Caught’, have been published in Unbroken Journal, in their Autumn / Halloween special for 2015.

I enjoy writing and reading flash fiction and prose poetry. What I’m not about to share with you are what I believe to be the difference between the two forms (there are plenty of debates already out there online) but what I will share with you is why I like writing both flash fiction and prose poetry.

You see, I never really liked writing poetry and I (still) don’t know why; perhaps I can’t get my head around the technicalities, or hear where the line breaks should be. I loved immersing myself in the reading of poetry, but I’d never been a lover of writing the stuff until I discovered prose poetry.

Writing prose poetry comes with its own challenges and also, for me, a release that I don’t tend to achieve writing flash fiction. In both writing prose poetry and flash fiction I get to release something. When I write flash fiction, or any other prose for that matter, I’m able to bring to life a story that’s more often than not imaginary, completely fictional, though not always. When I write prose poetry, however, I feel I’m able to tap into a part of me that fiction doesn’t allow; prose poetry allows me explore my emotions yet retain a certain element of ambiguity.

Are my prose poems autobiographical, then? Potentially, in some ways maybe, yes, and no. Inspired by something real is perhaps more accurate; an atom of something experienced and how that made me feel, you could say.

Back to ‘Stuck’ and ‘Caught’. I’m very happy that these two poems have been published together. If you read them, which I hope you do, or even from reading this blog post, you may think both poems are very similar. In a way they are; they were inspired by the same thing, but what (I hope) distinguishes them (other than the poems themselves) are the titles. ‘Stuck’ suggests you’re somewhere where you don’t want to be, whereas ‘Caught’ implies capture. Okay, this sounds the same still. I think what I’m trying to say (and not very eloquently I know) is that they come from different perspectives of the same thing; ‘Caught’ being more spellbinding, and ‘Stuck’ being more hopeless, empty.

Anyway, read them for yourself. I haven’t finished reading the full issue yet, but what I have read is incredible. I love this journal, having read previous issues, and am very happy to say that I have two more prose poems, ‘Midnight Sky in Winter’ and ‘Tessellation’, due to be published in their next two upcoming issues.

You can read both poems by following this link here – Unbroken Journal. You’ll notice it’s a double-page spread – yes that does make me feel very special! The photos accompanying my prose poems are beautiful, and really capture an essence of what they’re about. I hope you enjoy them and the other writing featured in this great journal!

‘No Room for Words’ selected for 99fiction.net Shortlist!

I have just had an unexpected tweet to announce that my flash fiction, ‘No Room for Words’ has been selected for 99fiction.net‘s June competition!

This is the first time I’ve ever been selected for a shortlist in a competition, so I’m ecstatic!

You can read the story by following this link here.

Upcoming Publication in the Flash Fiction Issue of PARAGRAPHITI!

I’m thrilled to share with you that I have an upcoming publication in the Flash Fiction Issue of PARAGRAPHITI, which is due to be released in Autumn/Fall this year. It’ll feature my flash ‘Four in the Morning’. I’m really proud of this story and I’m glad that it has found a home, as the saying goes. It’s about a man and a stag – that’s all I’m going to say.

You can check out Issue 1 on their website, and (I believe) submissions are still open for their Flash Fiction Issue, so why not submit your own flash fiction too? Check them out by following this link.

Of course, I’ll post again once the Flash Fiction Issue has launched. I can’t wait!

Short-Short Stories with Huge Impact: the Flash Fiction of Margaret Atwood.

Update 07/10/16: For an extended, revised, and more explorative version of this essay, please follow this link to the Thresholds Short Story Forum: Short-Short Stories with Big-Big Impact: the Flash of Margaret Atwood – THRESHOLDS Short Story Forum – (November 2016) – read it here.

Update: 27/10/16: An extended, revised version of this essay will be featured on the Thresholds Short Story Forum website soon. A link will be posted here when it has been published. Meanwhile, the original version has been retained below.

When you hear the name of prizewinning author Margaret Atwood many images are sure to spring to mind; The Handmaid’s Tale and the Maddaddam series for instance, or perhaps her most recent short story collection Stone Mattress, which was published little under a year ago. Novels and short stories are great, Atwood’s especially so, but Atwood’s flash fiction likewise resonates with her readers long after reading.

The idea of a story “staying” with a reader, regardless of its length, is the notion that the reader has been changed in some way by what they have read; the story leaves them feeling or thinking something. The latter is more prominent in Atwood’s flash fiction. They don’t always contain a traditional narrative but this doesn’t prevent Atwood from telling us a story, from making us think and feel. An excellent example of this is the story ‘Bread’ from her collection Murder in the Dark.

‘Bread’ is told from a second person perspective, which is considered a massive “no-no” by writers and readers alike because it can make a reader feel uncomfortable and uneasy; this is what Atwood aims to achieve in this flash fiction. Atwood takes a loaf of bread, an everyday object that we take for granted, and shows us the power this simple item has by making the reader imagine scenarios differing from the opening scene, where bread is plentiful and slathered in butter, peanut butter, and honey. The story opens with the following two sentences, demonstrating how the very beginning of a flash can set up the premise of the entire flash:

‘Imagine a piece of bread. You don’t have to imagine it, it’s right here in the kitchen, on the bread board, in its plastic bag lying beside the bread knife.’

What these opening sentences achieve is an introduction to the imagination as a device used by Atwood to make her readers think about the world we live in and all that is wrong with it. If we are lucky, which Atwood assumes her readers are, we don’t need to imagine a loaf of bread in our kitchen because we have one, or indeed many, but the scenarios Atwood then asks us to put ourselves in expose our natural tendency to overlook the things we are fortunate enough to have. I believe the strongest scene is where we are asked to imagine a famine and Atwood immediately transports us to a ‘thin mattress’ in a third world country and you and your dying sister are both hungry for the morsel of bread remaining. Atwood asks:

‘Should you share the bread or give the whole piece to your sister? Should you eat the last piece of bread for yourself? After all, you have a better chance of living, you’re stronger. How long does it take to decide?’

How could you make a choice in a situation where your own life and that of another so important to you depends on one decision? It is in this way that Atwood’s flash fiction remains in the mind of her readers; you may not cry or laugh, but you will think and for a long time afterwards too.

Not all of Atwood’s flash fiction forces you to deliberate over important issues; some stories highlight major themes and ideas in a playful way, and Atwood is a fan of reinventing myths or stories we’re well aware of as a method of achieving this. ‘Gertrude Talks Back’ from her collection Good Bones stands out as a retelling of Shakespeare’s Hamlet from the point of view of his mother, who addresses Hamlet directly throughout this story. The reader is enlightened by Gertrude’s point of view, for example she reveals her thoughts on the name ‘Hamlet’ and how she wished to call him ‘George’, how her marriage with her late husband was an unhappy one, amongst other revelations that I’ll refrain from giving away.

Atwood doesn’t only transform narrative perspectives but reinvents forms too. ‘Making a Man’, featured in the same collection, is written as a women’s magazine article offering various methods of constructing a man. This isn’t quite a reversal of the view that women could be moulded by a man as they see fit, though the idea is present, but the tone of the article grows more menacing towards its trailed off ending. Using an ellipsis to end any prose fiction in this way, no matter its length, doesn’t always work, but Atwood leaves a harrowing impression on her readers by using one; acknowledging the sinister route the article is taking is unavoidable, leaving the reader to use their own imaginations to take the story to the darkest recesses of their mind.

There’s a tendency for some flash fiction collections to promise abstract wonderment and do so at the sacrifice of any real meaning or purpose to the writing beyond trying to appear original, quirky, or, heavens forbid, “random”. Such collections fall flat. Though ambiguity lingers throughout both of these collections of short writings from Margaret Atwood, she uses surreal situations to ground her readers encouraging them to think about what they have read, what it means to them, and, perhaps most importantly, what it means in terms of the ‘big picture’. Of the two collections Good Bones packs the mightier blow on initial reading, though to claim that both of these collections are rewarding reads is an understatement. The Tent, pictured but not discussed, is just as noteworthy, complete in this edition with illustrations by the author herself.

Three things can we learn as writers from Margaret Atwood’s short-short writing:

  1. Write weird and wonderful abstract pieces if you want but don’t do it for its own sake.
  2. Experiment with form – there are many ways to tell the same story.
  3. Trust the imagination of your readers. Let them work things out for themselves by leaving things left unsaid.

Dive in to these collections and prepare to resurface enlightened, full of thought, entertained, and changed.

Have you read these collections by Margaret Atwood? What did you think of them? Have they helped you develop as a writer as they’ve helped me? Or do you prefer her novels? Let me know in the comments section below!

The R-Word: How I’ve Turned Rejection Into My (Second) Best Friend

It’s inevitable; if you’re a writer and you submit writing to competitions or magazines you’re going to receive rejections. It’s one of the facts of life. Nobody likes to be rejected. Every “no” you receive makes you feel as if you’re not good enough, but here’s the thing, rejections can actually be your friend. I can hear you saying “What?!” now, but as I hope to explain in this article, rejections can make you a better, stronger writer.

Now everyone is different, another fact of life, so these are the 5 things I do when I get a rejection, and they work best for me. It’s how I’ve made rejection my second best friend. I say second because, obviously, my first best friend is an acceptance of publication. (Of course, I’m not talking about actual human beings).

I’m certainly no expert, but this list details what I personally do when I receive a rejection, and I find it helps me a lot and wish to share it with you all:

 

  1. Update my spreadsheet.
    In my previous article, which can be found HERE, I discussed how keeping a spreadsheet to track your publications can be great for motivation and generally knowing what you’ve sent where. Well I update my spreadsheet making note of the rejection but it also serves as a reminder of all the other pieces of writing I’ve had published and the ones I have still being considered for publication at the time – though this sometimes makes me think “ah, more rejections to look forward to” most of the time I think “look at all the potential acceptances still out there.”
  2.  

  3. Revisit my Writing
    Now it’s said that sending out a story, or any piece of writing, before it is ready is a mistake, which is true, however, there’s a factor of this statement that is never considered: we send out writing when we have revised it to a standard that we believe is ready for publication.

    Let me explain: when I submit a piece of writing to a magazine or publication I believe, at that moment of time, that the writing is ready to be read by an editor or judged in a competition. By the time I’ve received a rejection, it may have been several weeks, or even months. This is why you need to look at the piece of writing again; enough time has passed since you last reviewed the writing meaning you can read it objectively.

    For instance, a story I submitted a short story to a competition announced its longlist this week and I didn’t make the cut; this doesn’t mean my story was bad, it just means that there were other stories that were better – simple as that. But rather than send the piece of writing for consideration somewhere else straight away I choose to review it. This particular story was submitted when I thought it was ready in April, but now it’s nearly August, which means when I look at this story again I’m going to see things I didn’t see before.

    This means I can review, cut, add, change, develop, and edit my story in many ways. Perhaps I won’t need to, maybe I still like it the way it is, but the point is the time between submitting it and looking at it again is enough time for me to be able to see my writing in a different light. Simply looking at the writing again will make it better, even if I only change one thing.

    The main distinction between the original statement I disagreed with about sending your stories out before their ready is that only writing a piece then sending it straight away is a sure way to guarantee that your writing is not ready; you must give all writing time and space to breathe, and you must give yourself time to revisit the writing objectively in order to make it as strong as you can.

 

  1. Find somewhere else to send the writing.
    Though I said don’t find somewhere else to send the writing to straight away I didn’t mean this. You should definitely find somewhere else suitable to send the writing to, but you should first revisit it like I’ve previously said. I always ensure I have a list of opportunities waiting in the wing. The thing is there are lots of different publications and competitions out there, all with their own editors and judges looking for something in particular, all with their own tastes, and what doesn’t appeal to one editor or judge will probably appeal to another.

    I like to think of it like this: every opportunity I don’t pursue is an automatic rejection. I’m having horrible flashbacks of Dale Winton hosting the National Lottery’s “In It To Win It”, but you do – if you don’t submit your writing then you miss out on the potential that people will publish and read it. So get back out there!

 

  1. Don’t let rejection destroy your confidence.
    This is difficult and like I said everyone is different. Some people receive a rejection and pick themselves straight back up. Often I’m lucky enough to be in this category (but that’s because I’ve made rejection my second best buddy), but for other people this can really knock you back.

    The important thing is that the rejection of your writing is not a rejection of you as a person, though it feels like it because writing is personal; we write from our own experiences, our own dreams, we record the stories we want to share with the world, and when someone says “no” it feels like our experiences and the stories we want to tell are being invalidated.

    But this is not the case. Maybe it didn’t quite fit the publication. Maybe the writing needs a little more work. Perhaps you missed something (I once submitted a poem where the title was spelled wrong, probably why it was rejected). There’s always going to be a reason why the writing was rejected, but it is never about you as an individual.
    So, believe in yourself, and do steps 2 and 3.

    And remember all the times you have had writing accepted for publication; it beats all of the rejections, and if this hasn’t happened yet your time will come. It will. (I promise).

  2. Read
    Yes, we all know that reading is a great way to improve your writing. Reading is writing. In fact, it has been said so much that it’s almost in itself a cliché. But it’s true, and if you’re going to read anything, read what trumped your submission.

    For instance the competition I was referring to earlier publish an anthology of the prize-winning story and the shortlisted stories and this presents a great opportunity to read the stories that had done so well. By doing this I can learn what qualities these stories have that perhaps mine are lacking.

    Maybe you’ll read it and think I can’t learn anything from it, but I highly doubt it.

    This tip is also useful for publications and magazines for two reasons. Firstly, you can read the writing that was accepted giving you a clear indicator to the type of writing they like to publish. In fact, many publications advise you read what they’ve published before you submit your own writing. This increases your likelihood of an acceptance too; your story could be perfect, but if it doesn’t fit what the publication is looking for it won’t be published. The second reason why this is a good thing is that it supports the publication; after all without readers there’d be no publication to submit the writing to. So, you get a twofold benefit here: you can learn what qualities makes a competition winning piece of writing, or what fits best in a publication, which will develop your own techniques and abilities, and you support a publication that will rely on its readers to keep it going.

 

That’s it. This is what I do when I’m faced with a rejection, making it my second best friend. You take rejection and you learn from it. You become a better, stronger writer, and then you find a new opportunity to chase. I firmly believe that no matter how well someone writes, no matter how widely published or successful they are, they can always learn more.

I’m really interested to hear what you think about this list. Is there anything here that you don’t do and you’re going to do now? Or is there anything else you do that helps you deal with rejection? Let me know in the comments section!

I’ve won the 2014-15 Bath Spa University Flash Fiction Prize!

This morning I woke up to some incredible, jaw-dropping news: I’d won the 2014/15 Bath Spa University Flash Fiction Prize! I’m thrilled beyond measure to have been recognised in this way and to have won a prize!

Each year the Creative Writing and Publishing departments award prizes for overall work and contribution to different forms as a way of recognising students and writers for their work.To have been chosen for the Flash Fiction Prize was not what I was expecting to wake up to this morning.

You can see the details as well as the winners of the other prizes by following this link: Bath Spa University Creative Writing Facebook Page.

Congratulations to all the other winners! I’m going to go out and celebrate!