Thursday, 22 December 2011

Perfect Weather for Shorts

So, then - it turns out it's National Short Story Day. Today's the shortest day of the year (well, it's the day with the shortest period of sunlight. I'm pretty sure we're still managing to squeeze in the usual twenty-four hours), so you might feel like you're a little pressed for time. Ideal circumstances, in fact, for you to wolf down a bite-sized short story or two. After all, it's not like it's worth going outside in the cold and the dark.

There are many story recommendations flying about at the moment, and I'd like to add three more to the mix. One's in an anthology, and the other two can be read by following the links below.

First up is "Circadia", from Rich Hall's book, Magnificent Bastards. I finished reading this collection a few days ago and Circadia is the stand-out story, by my reckoning. It's a fantastically constructed tale in which the narrator meets a man claiming to be terminally ill and finds himself agreeing to be on call, ready to help the guy end his life when the time comes. The eerie, mountainside setting and the odd community living there perfectly complement the uneasy deal the two men strike, and the story is by turns poignant and hilarious as the narrator struggles to find a way out of his obligation.

Secondly, Meditation for the Dead by Jakob Drud. You can read this at, a website that has published some great flash fiction over the years. Meditation for the Dead is a brilliant twist on the zombie genre, done in the style of one of those self-hypnosis tapes that were briefly popular back in the day. It manages to be amusing and sinister simultaneously, which is quite an achievement.

And my last selection is Spencer Holst's Brilliant Silence, which I couldn't find online in any official capacity, but did manage to track down this version, which has a handy (perhaps) Spanish translation to go with it. This one's a very short flash piece about two bears who are left to their own devices when the circus they are part of disbands after an accident. In fairness, the story is pretty slight, but the imagery is beautiful and the bears dancing at the end of the story is a mental picture that's stayed with me ever since I first read it, which must be at least three years ago now.

I hope you enjoy those. There's not a lot else for me to add, except the obligatory reminder that there is still plenty of time to enter my competition to win £50 to spend at Yes, I really am giving away a £50 voucher (plus a £10 runner-up voucher), it's free to enter and you don't even need to buy a copy of my book. Bargain!

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Books & Ink, Banbury

Books & Ink, Banbury

The past few days have been pretty good.

Last Saturday I was very pleased to deliver a batch of my books to Books & Ink in Banbury. This is a fantastic little shop - well, I say little; they have over 25,000 books in stock - tucked away in the heart of the town but well worth seeking out. Find them on Facebook here, or check out the website here.

It's run by the extremely knowledgeable, helpful, and friendly Sam. She definitely understands the importance of the written word - the shop's mantra is "Read Books, Write Books, Live Books, Love Books", and when you look around the numerous shelves and displays it quickly becomes clear the place is run with the kind of passion for books that is all too often absent from those big chain stores.

With a mix of new, second-hand, and antiquarian books, it's one of those shops that's a joy to browse around, just seeing what catches your attention. Every time I've gone there I've spent more than I intended, finding books I had no idea I needed before I'd set foot inside. And that, my friends, is exactly what I want from a bookshop.

Actual books on an actual shelf in an actual bookshop...

I'm really pleased to get Somewhere to Start From into another bookshop (there are already some in The Press Shop in St Peter Port, Guernsey). I know I don't stand a chance of seeing it piled up on the front tables of Waterstones or WH Smiths, but having a few physical copies out there opens up the possibility of complete strangers picking it up, and hopefully being intrigued enough to buy one. Don't get me wrong, I love that lots of my friends have bought copies, but the idea of my stories spreading that little bit further is a very exciting prospect.

In other news:
  • I reached Number Eight in the Ten-Four Challenge, with an entry sent to the Willesden Herald competition (you might just have time to squeeze in an entry there).
  • A few more entries for my competition arrived. It seems to be gaining momentum, which is great. Still plenty of time to enter if you haven't already.
  • I picked up a Highly Commended in the NAWG open competition. Which is nice.

So, yeah, a good week, generally. How was yours?

Monday, 5 December 2011

The Sound of My Own Voice

With Christmas on the horizon, I have decided to get another one of my stories 'out there'. This time it's my seasonal story, Evergreen. I've tried something new with this one, and have recorded it instead of posting the text here or on a writing site.

I struggled a bit with the reading. It felt very strange talking into a microphone, and I made the mistake of trying to do it all in one take. I found I could read for about four or five minutes before stumbling over a word or messing up something simple like turning a page. After a bit of trial and error, I found a way of stitching together separate 'takes', meaning I didn't have the pressure of having to get it right from beginning to end. Eventually I had four sections that I was happy with. I spliced them together, produced a couple of very simple slides to act as a rolling background for the story, and uploaded it to YouTube.

It got rejected - my 2000-word story took around fifteen and a half minutes to read, and YouTube has a maximum limit of 15 minutes for new members (I signed up specifically to upload the clip). So I then had to go through and re-edit, chopping off the introduction I'd done at the beginning and cutting down as many of the pauses as I could get away with. It's not worked perfectly, I thought I'd judged the pauses pretty well in the original version, so the edit sounds a little rushed in places. If I'd had longer to play around with this, I think I'd have edited the story down and done another reading, but I didn't have a lot of time to play with, and I wanted to get it uploaded while it was still relevant - i.e. in the build-up to Christmas.

For a first attempt, I don't think it's too bad. I've learned a lot, and if the story gets a good response, I'll certainly have another go with a different story. I'll try to get a better set of visuals to go with it, too.

I wrote Evergreen in December 2009, too late to submit anywhere in time for that Christmas. The following year I sent it to Linda Lewis's 'Catherine Howard' Winter Competition, and it picked up third place, yet remained unpublished. So I was planning to see if I could find a home for it in time for Christmas 2011. However, when I was putting together the stories for Somewhere to Start From back in May this year, I decided that I'd like to include it, thus limiting my chances of getting it published anywhere else.

Anyway, enough preamble - check the story out HERE.

Or, now that I've realised I can just embed it, listen to it here:

I'd love to know what people thought - did you enjoy it? Or should I keep my mouth shut in future?

Thursday, 1 December 2011

The Final Countdown...

So, as we plunge headlong into what is looking very much like being the final month of the year we've all come to regard as 2011, the question on everybody's* lips is, "How is the Ten-Four Challenge going, Dan?"

And the answer to that is, "Reasonably". I'm up to seven now, with entries sent (since my last post on the subject) to the NAWG Open Competition, the BBC's Opening Lines, and The New Writer. I don't really have a sense of how I might do in any of these, so hopefully I won't be too disheartened if none of them come to anything. For the NAWG one, Linda Lewis has selected the shortlist (which is, as yet, unpublished) and I've won a second and third prize in the two competitions she organised herself last year, so there's a chance she might have liked the story I sent this time. The final judging is done by a panel of NAWG people, though, so even if I have got through, their tastes are a complete unknown.

The New Writer competition is different again. Jonathan Pinnock is the judge there and, after reading his highly entertaining romp, Mrs Darcy Versus The Aliens, I have a feeling he might enjoy the story I sent in, but the arrangement at TNW is more traditional - and in fact the reverse of NAWG - in that Jonathan will only see the shortlist. So if the initial readers aren't keen on a story about a XXXXX from XXXXXX who finds himself completely XXXXXXXX, tries to XXXXXX a XXXX with the local XXXXXX XXXXXX, gets caught up with all manner of XXXX XXXXXXX and ends up having to XXXX his own XXXXXX, then I'm dead in the water there, too. [Obviously I've had to censor key elements there to ensure I don't jeopardise the anonymous judging process].

It seems kind of audacious sending stuff to the BBC, but I think the story I chose suits their criteria. Well, it's the right length and there's not too much dialogue, which is what they asked for, so I don't think I've fallen at either of the really obvious hurdles.

I will, of course, keep you posted if anything happens on any of these fronts. And I'll be revealing details of where I send the final three entries of the year, assuming I manage to write/edit them in time...

In the meantime, I'm also curating my own competition, the Somewhere To Start From Treasure Hunt! The initial response to it has been more muted than I had hoped, so I would just like to assure everybody that it is a genuine competition, it's really easy to complete (if you can read and count, you'll have it sussed in no time), and the odds of winning a prize are extremely good. It's also free to enter, with a chance to win £50 to spend at - that's got to be worth a shot, surely? Good luck!

*Well, I say everybody. What I really mean is that Teresa Stenson said she was "waiting to see what happens", a couple of weeks ago (in the comments bit).

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Competition Time!

Just a quick post this time, to let everyone know about the exciting "Somewhere to Start From" Treasure Hunt  I've set up to help promote the anthology. One lucky entrant will win £50 to spend at, with a runner-up getting a £10 voucher. Free entry, with a closing date of 31st January 2012.

All you need to do to find out more is view the dedicated page on this blog, by selecting the tab above, or clicking THIS LINK.

Good luck!

Thursday, 24 November 2011

In Praise of the Little Guys (and Girls)

We live in the Age of Complaint. Recently it seems that everywhere I turn, whether real-world or online, I run into somebody have a good old moan. I'm sure it's all very cathartic, but I can't help thinking that it's not healthy to spend too much time obsessing over the things in life that get you down.

With that in mind, I'd like to take a moment to applaud the efforts of two of the smaller fixtures on the short fiction competition calendar. The Brighton CoW CD turned up a few months ago, and I've been meaning to mention it ever since. The the anthology of the winning and shortlisted entries of the  H. E. Bates Competition arrived last week. It's prompted me into highlighting that, despite the grim times we keep being told we're living in, there are plenty of people out there doing a damn fine job.

The Brighton CoW comps and the HE Bates competition (run by the Northampton Writers' Group) don't have the clout of the Bristol Prize or the near-mythical status of Bridport, but from my experience (a couple of placings at Brighton, a shortlisting at HE Bates), they have something equally important - organisers with a real enthusiasm for writing, and the respect for writers that comes with it.

There's nothing flashy about their websites and the prize funds aren't going to have your local Ferrari dealer beating a path to your door. But what they do have is the right attitude. I've contacted both organisations, either to ask a question or confirm something about my story, and in both cases I've received a polite and speedy response. The HE Bates competition has an awards ceremony where the results are announced, and when the organisers heard I was considering making a round trip of several hundred miles to attend, they were kind enough to let me know that I hadn't actually won anything. I still would have gone along though, if I hadn't been working so far away at the time.

The Brighton CoW bunch in particular seem to go all-out with their 'winners' packs'. In addition to the cheque they sent a certificate, a postcard with future competitions on the front and a hand-written 'Congratulations!' message on the back, and - odd, though possibly handy - a credit-card sized calendar. It's all a bit homespun but to be honest I was rather charmed by the attention to detail and the enthusiasm for their contests all this conveys. When the CD turned up (I wasn't expecting it, although I note they do say something on the website about recording the stories for possible broadcast on hospital radio - I assume, with the amount of swearing in "A Night In with Zil", they'd have to broadcast mine very late at night), it was put together with more enthusiasm than polish, but I really like it. The guy who reads mine sounds a bit like Andy Hamilton of Radio Four fame, and he does an admirable job of bringing the characters to life.

The HE Bates Competition Anthology is again put together in a straightforward way. It's spiral bound and laid out clearly  and while it won't win any design awards it still shows the kind of effort going on behind the scenes. Okay, so it's not the ready-for-Waterstones paperback of the Bristol Prize or the slick small-press effort from the Willesden Herald, but even so, the cost of printing and binding, plus postage, is probably more than I paid in entry fees. I'm guessing both these organisations are run on very limited resources, or more likely a voluntary basis, fuelled by the desire to encourage writers and promote their respective writing groups, rather than to make shedloads of money.

The timing of this post isn't ideal, because both current competitions end in the next few days, but if you have something of a suitable length and content, it's worth giving them a go. They're shining stars in a sometimes murky world, and they deserve to do well.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Embracing Your Inner Pedant

Hello. How are you feeling? Calm and relaxed? Good.

How about now?

If that picture’s got you grinding your teeth, welcome to the club. This little tag is, I guess, hanging on every towel rail in every Travelodge in the country. I see it each week (my day job involves working away from home for three days most weeks) and it annoys the hell out of me. It’s probably worth pointing out that I have nothing against the Travelodge itself – the one I stay in is very pleasant indeed. But still, they’ve given me a great example of clumsy grammar to blog about.

Grammar’s one of those subjects that can turn a perfectly convivial discussion about writing instantly frosty. I wasn’t taught grammar in any significant sense when I was at school, but I’ve always had a fascination with the way sentences are constructed, and I suppose I’ve picked up a lot through just keeping my eyes open, and asking questions when there’s something I don’t understand.

However, some people seem to regard it as a kind of puzzle, as difficult to crack as the Enigma Code. They get annoyed by the jargon involved – Oxford commas, semicolons, run-on sentences, clauses and sub clauses, verb agreement, passive and active voices (even when nobody’s talking!). There's resentment at what they appear to regard as an in-joke for the self-appointed elite.

It’s a common spectacle on writing websites for a beginner to post a piece and then lash out at anybody who highlights grammatical lapses in their work. Accusations of snobbishness fly about; the well-meaning reviewers get told that it’s obvious what the writer meant, and that by concentrating on the way they said it, the people giving the feedback are just showing off and being picky, deliberately ignoring the story. The writing’s the important thing, the beginner will protest, not how it’s written.

Thing is, the two are inseparable. It doesn’t matter how great your story is if the reader is lagging behind thinking, “Now, when he said, ‘We went to the zoo and saw a monkey eating a banana and a penguin,’ did he mean the monkey actually ate the penguin, or were those two separate things – the monkey eating the banana, and the penguin, happily minding its own business?”

Mister Sleep, the Travelodge bear, has a different problem. It’s clear what the sign means, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s badly written. Trying something and doing something are different. They might have the same outcome – the thing gets done – or they might not. The ‘right’ way of phrasing it depends on the intent, and which aspect is more important. Trying to do something is different again. It’s an attempt, an aim, a target. We always try to do our bit for the planet. We may not get it right all the time, but we give it our best shot.

If you try and do something, you’ve done it, end of story – the trying part is redundant. We always do our bit for the planet. That’s a much bolder claim, isn’t it?

Another way to check, if you’re not sure of a phrase, is to experiment with changing the tense. Shifted to past tense, “try and do” becomes “tried and did”: I tried and did my tax return last weekend. See what I mean?

Of course, no rule is unbendable. “Try and do” is a common if lazy turn of phrase in spoken English, and that may be the effect the Travelodge people were going for. Mister Sleep is, of course, a no-nonsense cockney bear with an inappropriate fondness for spending all day in his dressing gown. “Try and do” is probably just the kind of thing he’d say.

When it comes to grammar, I don’t think there’s a substitute for learning the rules (I recommend the Penguin Writers' Manual). Understand those rules, experiment with them, master them. Don’t let them catch you out, but above all make sure your grammar does your bidding. It doesn’t have to be ‘perfect’, because some things just ain’t, but make sure it’s achieving the effect you want. Because what you say and the way you say it are, ultimately, the same thing.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Willesden Herald: New Short Stories 5

Okay, first things first: I didn’t pay for this anthology. I was lucky enough to win it, my name having been pulled out of a hat over on Jonathan Pinnock’s blog. The book was up for grabs as part of Jonathan’s interview with Stephen Moran – among other things, the organiser of the WillesdenHerald Short Story Competition and editor of this anthology. So I can’t really answer the question of whether it’s worth its asking price (RRP £10), but I’ll try to be as objective as possible.

Starting from the outside in, I’ll just mention the book’s cover. Sure, it’s not the most exciting image you’ll ever see, but there’s an element of it I thought was particularly apt. It shows an extreme close-up of a road or pavement, with the bright lights of town off in the blurry distance. The focus is on a few tiny stones, promoted to monoliths by the photographer’s zoom lens. This, in essence, is the basis of a successful short story – the writer must home in on some small aspect of a life, a relationship, whatever they are presenting to the reader, and make it a thing of consequence. These little black stones are part of the city, the way the look across the breakfast table is part of the marriage, or the fleeting lapse of concentration is part of the disaster.

I read the stories without knowing which had won the prize. It was an interesting game to try to predict which one the judge (Maggie Gee) had chosen, and I was pleased to find out later that one of my ‘top three’ had indeed bagged the prize.

It’s clear that the Willesden Herald takes itself, and its goal of delivering quality fiction, seriously. The writing throughout the book is consistently good, and the themes tackled are weighty, literary ones. Loss, old age, and regret all feature prominently. Death is never far away. It has to be said it can make the process of reading through this collection quite heavy-going at times. I’m not a reader who demands fluffy kittens and butterflies at every turn, but the cumulative effect of hearing about all these dying or dead loved ones did tend to mean I looked more favourably on the stories where the writer used a light touch, and managed to work in a (usually subdued, but credible) note of optimism towards the end. Perhaps the best example of this is the winning entry - Mary O’Shea’s story, “Out of Season”, in which a man with an undefined but terminal illness and his wife take a seaside holiday. Neither of them quite know how to cope, the illness has become a barrier between them, and both the weather and resort are pretty dismal. The story switches viewpoint between the two of them as they start to adjust to their new roles, and in facing up to the future they remember the past that brought them together in the first place. The close of the story is a long way from a Hollywood ending, but Mary leaves her protagonists with a note of hope – an optimistic lift, perfectly delivered.

I also enjoyed (although that’s possibly not quite the right word) Nemone Thomas’s “Dancing with the Flag Man”, an unflinching coming-of-age tale in which a teenage girl learns the dangers of judging people by their appearance. That makes it sound like a fable – which I suppose it is, in a roundabout way – but it comes across as a gritty and absorbing story of broken dreams and lost innocence. I’m in danger of cramming yet more clichés into this review, so I’ll just say it was one of those rare short stories where the characters are so vivid I found myself worrying what was going to happen to them.

The two stories that close the book are particular highlights, too. Angela Sherlock’s “Set Dance” – a story of two brothers vying for the attentions of a pretty girl – and Emma Martin’s “Victor” – in which an anti-abortion protester tries to help a teenager – are both great examples of writers taking their stories in unexpected and rewarding directions. It was also good to see Teresa Stenson’s “Blue Raincoat” again (I’m a member of the same online writing site as Teresa and had a sneak preview a while ago). The shortest story in the book, it’s a poignant study of grief, filled with beautiful poetic language and keen insights into human behaviour.

It’s not a perfect collection. I wasn’t keen on David Frankel’s “The Place” (although I liked the underlying premise), and I’m still undecided about the oddly supernatural “Overnight Miracles” by A. J. Ashworth. A couple of the other stories could easily have been improved by being made a little shorter, a little tighter.

On the whole, though, this is an impressive anthology of writing and a fantastic illustration of the storyteller’s art. The Willesden Herald competition has established itself as a bastion of contemporary literary fiction, and judging by “New Short Stories 5” there’s no reason to think that’ll be changing any time soon.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

My Kind of Surprise

The week didn't get off to the greatest of starts. The longlist for the latest Flash500 competition was posted online, and in no way features the story I'd sent in as part of my self-imposed effort to get myself submitting more fiction, the Ten-Four Challenge. That was disappointing. But, I still believe in the story and should be able to find somewhere else to try its luck.

I keep track of all my submissions, successes and 'near-misses' in an Excel spreadsheet, and when I went into it to update the Flash500 result, I noticed I hadn't scored out the story I tried in the Wells Festival of Literature Short Story Competition. I knew I hadn't won anything because the awards ceremony had come and gone a week or two previously, but out of curiosity I dialled up the site anyway. Much to my surprise, I found I'd come third!

At least, it seemed like I had. When I first looked, the results page had my story title, but the author was listed as "unknown". As you can see, the title isn't exactly commonplace, so I sent a cautious enquiry to the organisers. They got back to me incredibly quickly, confirming that all was well, I had won a prize and the cheque was already in the post. So that put a smile on my face.

And then the surprises kept coming... I picked up a copy of November's Writers' Forum yesterday. Iain Banks features on the cover, and yours truly makes an appearance, too. I posted some comments on Sally Quilford's competition blog, and several of them have been incorporated into her column. So there I am, suddenly sounding like an authority on competitions with restrictions on who can enter, e.g. women-only competitions, those limited to a certain geographical locations, etc. Are they necessary? Patronising? Discriminatory? What do you think?

Incidentally, the Ten-Four Challenge is up to four stories out, as I sent a flash piece sent to Every Day Fiction, with two months left of the year. I should hit five tomorrow, as I'm hoping to submit a story to the NAWG competition. It's a bit last-minute (the deadline's Monday), but it's worth a try. Just needs a final proofread...

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Notes From A (Very) Small Island

A couple of interesting things came out of being invited to the Guernsey Literary Festival earlier this year. The first was that it prompted me to self-publish an anthology of short stories. This is something I'd never even considered doing before, and I have to say it turned out far better than I expected. In some ways the book is a CV - it's a record of (most of) my published work, things that have been placed in competitions, and a couple of pieces I felt 'fitted' nicely into the collection. Fitted is possibly the wrong word, as the stories were written for various different markets, in various different styles, so there's no overriding theme or other unifying structure to the book. Everybody who's been kind enough to comment so far has said they enjoyed this variety, but it does make it hard to answer the question, "So, what's it about?"

The second thing was that I actually had to knuckle down and come up with a workshop. I'm not a naturally outgoing person, and my assessment of my own abilities tends toward a sort of painful modesty, so the prospect of standing in front of a room full of strangers and telling them how to 'do' fiction wasn't exactly one that filled me with anything other than trepidation. However, I prepared as best I could, faced The Fear, and got the job done. People said nice things about what I did, and some, such as Martine and Ric, went as far as writing them down.

Eventually, I got invited back, and that's where I've been for the last few days. I did two smaller workshops this time, the first with Guernsey Writers' Circle and the second with a group of students at the College of Performing Arts. The former, on Thursday night, was a lively affair, with an enthusiastic group who were kind enough to listen to me prattling on about editing for an hour. I worked through an example of extreme editing, where I'd taken an 800-word flash and boiled it down to a 250-word piece of microfiction. It was an interesting exercise to go through and it generated a lot of debate about which was the "better" of the two stories, and whether the elements lost from the original to reduce the word count were compensated for by the more direct impact of the shortened version. It was great to chat to the group (three of whom I'd met at the Flash Fiction workshop), and get a sense for the enthusiasm they have for writing and the various projects the island has on at the moment.

The following day, I found myself feeling very envious of the students, nearly all of whom hadn't really done any creative writing other than assignments for school. I took a long break from writing when I was younger, and as I talked to the students about character, plot, and description, I couldn't help thinking that if I'd picked it up when I was their age I'd be a whole decade ahead of where I am now. [Oh, the possibilities!] They were a brilliant group, champing at the bit to get started on their stories and full of ideas for quirky characters and interesting situations to put them in. They were definitely making a great start and I'm sure their finished stories will be well worth reading.

Both sessions were very rewarding and filled me with enthusiasm for my own writing. I even managed to get a little bit done on a new story while I was over there, although whether it'll amount to anything, only time will tell.

Sunday, 2 October 2011


I think this is going to be a bit of a grab-bag of news and general updates, as there are a few things I wanted to cover and they don't really fit to a particular theme. Apologies in advance for the lack of structure.

Firstly, the Ten-Four Challenge continues. I sent an entry in to The Spilling Ink Fiction Prize, which I first heard about after my friend Karen had a story published in the Spilling Ink Review. It looks like a good site, and the competition prizes are impressive, with the added incentive of print publication for the winners and shortlisted stories.

It wasn't the story I'd intended to submit. The one I'd planned to send is a humorous piece that had already gone to the Sean O'Faolain competition without catching the judge's eye, and I thought I could just do a quick edit to knock it into shape. This proved not to be the case, though. I know what's wrong - the beginning needs to be shorter and snappier, the middle needs tightening to bring out the humour, and the end is okay but would benefit from a sharper final paragraph. But I couldn't seem to correct any of these problems in time for the closing date. I made the beginning better, but even longer. I thought up some new jokes to put in, but they meant I needed to change parts of the plot. Before long the whole thing seemed to be coming apart at the seams. I started thinking the story just wasn't 'ready', and that's something I hope to come back to in a separate blog post.

I also submitted a flash piece to This was accepted, which I'm very pleased about. I wouldn't consider myself as a horror writer or reader, although I enjoy the tension the genre requires, and the clarity of the imagery the words on the page/screen must create is another reason for a writer of any discipline to dip into it occasionally, at least. There's a contest on the website at the moment, ending (appropriately enough) on Halloween, with the theme of "Water". So, get your fright on, folks!

I'm not fully sure my MicroHorror début counts towards the Ten-Four Challenge, as it isn't a paying market and the story in question, "Anatomy of a Crime", was one of the 'previously unpublished' stories I included in my anthology, Somewhere to Start From. But for the moment I'm going to class it as half a point towards my total - as 2.5 stories submitted at the end of September is quarter of the way to the target, a quarter of the way towards the deadline.

In other good news, I'm off to Guernsey again towards the end of next week. I'll be talking to the Guernsey Writers' Group about editing and giving a more general writing workshop to Performing Arts students. The rest of the weekend will be spent catching up with my mum and stepdad, walking on beaches and coastal paths, and gorging on the delights of the wonderful Tennerfest. I'm keeping my fingers crossed this sunny weather hangs around a little longer.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

The Ten-Four Challenge is Go!

Right. So. Having set myself a challenge (What? You've forgotten it already? Refresh your memory here), I did what any modern, media-savvy writing type would do - I put all my creative efforts into "branding" it. So from now on, my goal of submitting ten stories to different competitions and paying markets in the four(ish) months that remain of 2011 will be referred to as The Ten-Four Challenge. Or I might street it up a bit and go for simply Ten4. Or maybe not - that looks a bit too close to Tena; I'm not entirely sure I want to link my writing too closely with incontinence products just yet.

But, of course, it would be foolish to assume that I'd done nothing except come up with a snappy handle for my self-imposed exercise. I mean, I'm sure it's technically possible for a writer to procrastinate by embracing meaningless but oh-so-slightly writing-related tasks, but that's got to be a pretty rare occurrence, right?

Anyway, I'm happy to report that I have launched myself out of the metaphorical starting blocks, by sending off an entry to Flash500. So, one down, nine to go.

For the Flash500 competition, I have taken something I wrote for a contest earlier in the year and re-jigged it a bit. As those of you gifted with Sherlock Holmes-esque deductive skills will have guessed, Flash500 is a competition for flash fiction with an upper word count limit of 500. The original version of my entry was for a competition with an even smaller word count, so I took advantage of the extra space by developing the central concept a little and fleshing out the central character. I'm always wary of making stories longer; it's all too easy to let the prose get a little sloppy or for the plot to wander off on tangents when you have extra words to play with, but I think in this case it was justified. The new version of the story feels less sparse, and it's hopefully easier to understand what's going on. We shall see.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

A Man with a Plan

I haven’t written much lately. I’ve submitted hardly anything, either, so I’m feeling like I need do to something more constructive than just occasionally update my blog with my thoughts on / excuses for why I haven’t been feeling very ‘writerly’ for the last couple of months.

I work better with deadlines, and I like a challenge. So, my target for the remainder of 2011 is to submit 10 stories to competitions and/or paying markets of some kind. Ten stories is hopefully an achievable goal, but it’s a big step up from my current output, so it’ll take a bit of effort. It may not seem like a huge number, but I need to be realistic – after all, I’m working full-time at the moment, which involves a lot of travelling and leaves me with very little free time, so it would be disheartening to aim for anything too ambitious and fail miserably.

This evening, I’ve looked at my list of unpublished stories – some are fighting fit, others need pretty brutal edits before they see the light of day – and I’ve compiled a list of suitable competitions. I’ve paired up a few stories with competitions that might offer a good fit, but I do have quite a few empty slots where I’ll need to either drastically rework an older piece or come up with something new.

Wish me luck. I’ll keep you posted on the results of my endeavours.

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

A Quiet Month

Well, August certainly seems to have flown by. Not a great deal has happened, as has been reflected in the paltry number of posts I've managed to put up this month.

On the writing front, I've found it very difficult to make any real progress. I've been working on a reading for my sister's wedding, which I am very honoured to have been asked to do and only slightly freaked out by the prospect of having to stand up and read it out in the church in a couple of days' time. Other than that, I've made a few tentative steps with a couple of short stories, and am kicking around a few ideas for something a bit longer.

My confidence has taken a knock this month as the results for a couple of competitions I'd been quite excited about were announced, and my name was conspicuous by its absence. It feels like quite a while since I had anything accepted or placed, and I've started to worry that I've lost most of the momentum I'd built up earlier in the year. However, all writers have dry spells, and if I'm honest the most significant reason I've not had much success is because I've hardly submitted anything over the last few months. I'm promising myself that September will be different...

As a sliver of good news, I was pleased to discover that I've had my first sale of my anthology via Amazon. Thank you, mystery shopper, whoever and wherever you are! Although it's great to be on Amazon, I wasn't really expecting any sales via that route, so I'm chuffed that I've chalked up at least one. Hooray!

I also stumbled across a new competition listed on Linda Lewis's blog - it's run by the NAWG (National Association of Writers' Groups). Closing date is 31st October 2011, word count 500 - 2,000, prizes of £250/£100/£50. £5 entry fee with optional critique at an extra £3. Full details are here. Sounds like it might be worth a shot.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Listen Up

I’ve been meaning to put together a post on this subject for a couple of weeks. I’m fairly late to the party, so apologies if I’m just going over old ground here.

Radio 4 has announced a reduction in the number of short stories it broadcasts. For years, the station put out a story every day, then more recently this dropped to three a week. Now they are looking at an output of just one per week. There are suggestions that some of the displaced stories may end up on Radio 4 Extra, although at the moment this seems vague and nobody seems to have a clear answer on whether these are going to be new works or repeats dug out of the archives.

Understandably, this decision hasn’t been well-received by the writing community. Radio 4 allows your work to be heard by many thousands of people and they always looked to source stories from both established writers and ‘new voices’. Nothing else offers that kind of exposure for a writer’s work. People whose blogs I follow have been encouraging fellow writers and radio listeners to join forces to try to overturn this decision. Tania Hershman and Jonathan Pinnock (who have both had stories broadcast on Radio 4) urge people to sign the petition against the proposed reduction. There is a campaign running on the National Short Story Week website.

I added my name to a letter sent to the Controller of Radio 4, Gwyneth Williams, penned by Susie Maguire and Ian Skillicorn. The letter asked for clarification of what was happening and why. As far as I can tell, there as yet has been no specific response from the Beeb.

However, I’ve not signed the petition. Not yet, at least. I think my attitude to the cuts is similar to Nik Perring’s. I feel a bit hypocritical bemoaning the loss of the stories. After all, they’re broadcast at 3:30pm and I spend most of the working week in an office, where there’s no way I could listen to the radio. On the rare occasions when I find myself at home at that sort of time, I’m unlikely to remember to switch the radio on. The last time I heard one of Radio 4’s afternoon readings was months ago, when I was driving home from a meeting that finished early. I switched on the car stereo just as the story was introduced, and was delighted to find it was by Adam Thorpe, one of my favourite writers. I thought it was brilliant, and really well produced, but it was weeks before I could have listened to another reading.

The one thing I haven’t seen amongst all the advice being dished out about how to respond to the situation (“Campaign!”, “Complain!”) is anybody suggesting we actually listen to the stories. After all, they are available at any time you like over the internet via Radio 4’s Afternoon Reading page. A surge in audience figures for the stories would undermine any assertion that they aren't a popular feature and could therefore be cut back without upsetting anyone.

So that’s my plan. I’ll make more effort to actually listen to the stories before I complain that they’re being taken away. I will sign the petition, but I will do it as a listener who has enjoyed the programmes and wishes them to continue, rather than as a writer with vague dreams of someday hearing one of my stories read out but otherwise showing no interest.

Who’s with me?

Monday, 25 July 2011

Hooray, it's the G.S.S.S.S. (Guardian Summer Short Story Special)!

Last weekend, the Guardian issued its annual Summer Short Story Special. This is becoming a bit of an event for me, as if nothing else it marks pretty much the only time when I make a real effort to buy a newspaper. They always seem to have a good selection of writers and even if I don't actually like every one of the stories I usually feel like I can learn something from them.

This year it's an extra special one because my friend Teresa Stenson was picked as a runner-up with her story "Things Which Are Not True". Only the winner gets a place in the printed magazine alongside all the established authors, but the runners-up get a slot on the Guardian website. Do check Teresa's story out, it's excellent.

It's been a while since I had any success of my own to report so it's nice to be able to relive my own Guardian experience through somebody I know. It's been a couple of years, but I remember the dry mouth, the racing pulse and the rollercoaster of elation and being-utterly-convinced-it's-all-a-horrible-scam that came along with the notification email.

I know it means a lot to Teresa and I couldn't be happier for her. The best bit is that she predicted we'd be swapping successes this year, which means I get a prize at Bridport. I can't pretend I'm not excited about that prospect.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

A Little Bit of Awesomeness

I enjoyed Aubrey Hirsch's recent article over on Flash Fiction Chronicles, in which she offered up a few tips for dealing with the negative feelings that come from having your work rejected by editors - or, for that matter, seeing it disappear without trace in competitions. The most valuable piece of advice, by my reckoning, was her recommendation of making the effort to celebrate everything positive that happens to you, no matter how small. I think that's really important. It's all too easy to focus on the bad stuff and before you know it, you've convinced yourself you're a terrible writer and the path back to the keyboard/pen has become an arduous and intimidating struggle.

With that in mind, here's something relatively minor that brings a smile to my face:
Yep, it's my name, dropped casually into a list of authors and looking, dare I say it, very much at home. Dan Purdue, Author. I like the sound of that.

One of these days I'll get used to seeing my name in the paper. Until then, I'll be clutching my clippings and grinning like the Cheshire Cat and thinking, "So what if I didn't win that competition? I'm still an author."

After all, it's in the Guernsey Press. It must be true.

Monday, 4 July 2011

Missing something?

Astute blog visitors will no doubt have noticed that my competitions listing page is no longer accessible. I’m assuming there are echoes of it drifting about in Google caches and the like, but in terms of an active page of contest details, it is no more. It has ceased to be, etc, etc. (I shall spare you the full Monty Python “Parrot Sketch” pastiche I could happily launch into at this point).

This is, I’m hoping, just a temporary situation. I am a fan of writing competitions and like to support smaller ones as much as I enjoy daydreaming about the boundless wealth that hitting a winning streak with some of the bigger contests would surely bring me. And I like to share this enthusiasm.

But it all takes time, and due to a number of other commitments I have at the moment I can’t really spare enough time to do the research, data gathering, and maintenance that a listings page requires. I know there’s nothing more frustrating than finding a webpage that would be useful except that it is four months out-of-date, so until I have enough time to do it properly, I won’t be running the page at all.

In the meantime, I will aim to flag up any interesting competitions I come across, and will keep you posted on any successes I have in them, or any hot tips for success that I pick up along the way.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Writers, Give Yourselves a Break!

A couple of weeks ago I spent a fantastic weekend holed up in an ancient cottage in the Yorkshire Dales. My companions were five other writers - talented, funny, warm and thoroughly good company, every last one of 'em.

Our mission was simple: write stuff, critique stuff, gorge ourselves on cake and excellent home cooking, wash it all down with lashings and lashings of wine, and then launch into a nightly no-holds-barred, to-the-death "Articulate" grudge match.

It was great fun, and I got a lot out of it in terms of finding proper focus for my writing. The pieces I submitted for critiquing were old, and in some ways I felt I was doing both them and myself a disservice by not offering up something a bit fresher. The problem is that with very small chunks of free time available, I have struggled to produce much in recent weeks (if not months), so I've been digging up old stuff to edit and buff up - in the hope that it will at least keep whatever part of my brain generates fiction ticking over for the time being. Getting together with fellow writers has reminded me that we all have our obstacles in the way of sitting down and bashing out words, and that the only person who can do anything about it is me.

I drove back home with a much more determined head on, and I have so far written a couple of new, short pieces that I'm pleased with. So, if your writing could do with a boost, and you know of a few like-minded individuals, then round them up and get yourselves off to somewhere remote. You won't regret it. Unless they turn out to be axe murderers. You should probably check that before sending out the invites, actually.

The thing that really struck me during the critiquing sessions was how stupidly self-deprecating we all were about our work, almost apologising as we handed our stories around for what an appalling burden the others were about to receive. Which was nonsense, because - elbowing group modesty aside for a moment - we're actually reasonably good at what we do. Between the six of us we've got somewhere around 100 stories in print or online, we've notched up placings in highly regarded competitions, and have won hundreds of pounds in competitions. So we can't actually be as crap as we tend to think we are.

I've noticed a kind of contradiction in the world of writing - at least in the realm of online forums and writing classes - in that those who regard themselves as good writers, who feel they have learnt all they need and are simply waiting for the world to wake up and acknowledge their genius ... are, almost without exception, unspeakably awful. On the other hand, those who agonise over their words, who are never satisfied with what they've done, who are embarrassed by the gulf between what they wanted to say and the words they've managed to get down onto the page, are usually pretty good, or at least well on their way there.

It's good to question, to challenge your own work, and to strive for better. But that can be at the expense of looking back once in a while and thinking, "Yeah, actually, I can do this. I'm better than I was yesterday, not as good as I'll be tomorrow. I'm not perfect, but I can write."

Take pride in your achievements, but see them as stepping stones to where you want to be, not badges of honour to wave in people's faces. The inevitable rejections and those stories that sink without trace in competitions are steps on the journey, too. That's all, they're not a judgement on you as a writer or a person. So keep moving and don't beat yourself up about them.

In short, writers, give yourself a break.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Liquid Prose

Most weeks, I go to a writing group in Leamington Spa. Usually it's more of a reading and critiquing group, but once in a while we kick things off with a spot of writing. Yesterday was one such occasion. Our task was to spend ten minutes writing about water. Yep - normal, boring, colourless, odourless water.

I'm usually quite resistant to this kind of thing, the whole "free writing" idea of exploring a topic as you go often feels unnecessary. I'd much rather spend the time writing up one of the many ideas that seem to form a permanent traffic jam of stories in my head. But, this time, after getting over the initial hurdle of trying to describe something you can barely see, I found myself getting quite into it.

It was interesting to see how different members of the group approached this. Some came up with lists of words that evoked the taste or feel of water, some wrote fragments of prose that were quite poetic, others described it in terms of pouring out a glass and drinking it. There were a few mentions of the relief brought by taking a long, cool sip on a hot day.

I'm not quite sure how I'd describe my take on it. I think I aimed to give a sense of the water as an entity in its own right, to set it in motion and try to give it a sense of personality. I was quite pleased with the way it turned out, and so - as I can't think of anything else to do with it - I thought I'd post it here.


The liquid diamond fills a glass, a bath, a wellington boot, rushing to steal the shape of anything bold enough to contain it. Light bounces off it, bends through it, rides its surface in an ever-changing dance of glittering fragments.

Hold it up, tip it out, let it fall in thick molten strings. Watch its joyous reunion with itself, see it kick up an fleeting crown to mark the occasion.
Take a sip of this fishes’ tipple; chase its cold surge across your tongue. Taste a speck of a distant, peaty field, a grain of a chalk cliff you’ve never seen, a tang of an ancient clay pipe. Swallow its past as a pond, as a sea, as a gentle drifting cloud. Take your place in its eternal cycle.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

I almost forgot to mention ...

... that there are a few copies of "Somewhere to Start From" for sale in the Guernsey Press Bookshop on Smith Street.

So if you're in Guernsey and don't have a copy, pop along and save yourself the P+P cost of buying one from

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

The (Very) Late Review - Part Two

So, at long last, here’s what happened on Sunday. In the morning I went to a very informative talk entitled “Getting Published: Four Things Nobody Tells You”, given by Tony Booth. Tony is a Guernsey-based writer with a number of non-fiction books to his name and a refreshing, no-nonsense approach to the business of getting published. The focus of his talk centred on the submission package you send to prospective publishers and/or agents – the bundle of cover letter, synopsis, and sample chapters.

This is one area of the process that I find fascinating and terrifying in equal measure. I’ve read a lot of books, websites and heard different people talking about what publishers “really want”, and the overall impression I’ve been left with is that nobody really knows. Tony’s guidelines made a lot of sense, though. His core message – that, above all else, publishing is a business and your job as a writer looking to get a book deal is to give the agent/editor all the information they need to make an effective business decision – may seem slightly cynical to those more interested in literature as an art form. But as an unknown author approaching a publisher, your chances of being offered a contract are slim, if for no other reason than sheer weight of numbers (Tony quoted a submission to acceptance ratio of 5000:1 for UK publishers), so it makes sense to do everything you can to make the editor’s life easier. If the cover letter is concise and conveys all the information he or she needs to decide whether it’s their type of book, they’re more likely to read the synopsis. If that shows you know how to structure a story, control plot and character development, they’re more likely to read the sample chapters. After that, you’re on your own, but at least you’ve got that far; you've got your metaphorical foot in the door. It was an interesting talk, and some of the details Tony included about his own working methods gave a real insight into his approach to the craft – the thing that stuck in my mind most of all was his admission that he employed narrative techniques used in 1980s rock videos to shape the structure of some of his chapters. Just goes to show, inspiration can come from anywhere.

After lunch, zero hour arrived and it was my turn to contribute something to the festival rather than just sitting back and soaking it up. I arranged my stack of books, checked and double-checked my notes, ran through my timings once again, and waited nervously for my class to arrive.

... And what an enthusiastic and talented bunch they turned out to be! And friendly, and patient (I lost track of my timings within about 30 seconds of starting, and the start of the workshop veered wildly off-course as I realised I’d forgotten to introduce myself before starting to talk about short fiction). Having never led a workshop before, I was uncertain whether I’d done enough to get the creative juices flowing by the time I handed out my ‘ice-breaker’ exercise sheet. It was a short characterisation exercise, and although I think a couple of people didn’t quite get what I was trying to achieve with it, it seemed to do the job and get people thinking about character – and it got the pens moving if nothing else.

I’d structured the rest of the class with the idea that I’d talk for a while about short fiction and the essential elements of a short story, as well as some flash-specific tips on how to pare the word count down to an absolute minimum, then let people write for 25 minutes, then talk a little about editing, then give everyone another 25 minutes to either edit what they’d already written or tackle a new story if they preferred. At the end there was time for people to share what they’d written with the rest of the class. Knowing that it can be tough to write under pressure I’d also prepared a series of prompt cards to give a gentle nudge to anybody who needed it.

On the whole, it seemed to work pretty well, with a fascinating range of subjects and styles in evidence. We had dark stories, light stories, a couple of tales of canine revenge, a madcap tour of Russia in a mobile museum, and one man’s desperate search for green food colouring. I was impressed by the quality of the writing and the fact that so many of the class were able to produce finished work within the workshop’s limited timeslot. For those who didn’t manage that, or who didn’t feel comfortable reading their work out; don’t worry, it’s extremely difficult to write stuff “on demand”, and it can be intimidating to share your work with a room full of strangers. All I can say is stick with it; it gets easier with practise.

I really enjoyed the workshop – once the nerves had settled down – and one of the best aspects was meeting a whole new bunch of people passionate about the written word. I must say a quick hello to a couple of people with an online presence. Firstly, Martine Ellis, a newcomer to short fiction and curator of the iMake blog. She’s been kind enough to give the workshop a very favourable mention on her blog, even though I caught her unawares with my demands for short stories to be written there and then. Also, I had the privilege to meet Ric Carter, a very skilled writer with a real flair for quirky and imaginative flash fiction. I urge you to check out his website – he wrote Grand Gestures during the workshop, and I think it’s great. Ric also made a grand gesture himself, presenting me with a copy of The Second Beestung International, one of his beautifully handmade mini-books. I didn’t get a chance to take a proper look at it at the time, for which I apologise (the library was closing, so I was hurriedly packing everything away) – but now I’ve had a proper butcher’s, it’s a fantastic thing and a brilliant couple of stories. Thanks again, Ric, I’m honoured.

Also deserving a special mention is Ed Jewell, the Customer Services Librarian, who couldn’t have done more to make me feel more welcome and supported, despite my diva-esque demands to have the desks laid out half a dozen different ways before deciding on the correct one (which was, as you’d expect, the way we’d set them out at the beginning). Thanks again, Ed!

Monday, 23 May 2011

The (Very) Late Review - part one

Okay, so I'm back at home and very much back to reality after my time in Guernsey. Or should that be "on" Guernsey? How big does an island need to be before you are in rather than on it?

Semantics aside, I'll get on with the much-delayed business of reporting how the remainder of the weekend went, after the glittering showbiz of Thursday night. Friday was a day of preparation for me; I spent a few hours getting my notes in order and sorting the handouts for the workshop, reading through my book to decide which stories to read out, and generally chilling out in anticipation of a considerably more hectic weekend. In the evening, I had a lovely meal at La Perla, an Italian restaurant in St Peter Port, and afterwards walked over to Castle Cornet. The castle is one of my favourite "touristy" things to do on the island, and the novelty of visiting it in the evening added an extra level of enjoyment. Particularly in that it meant I could watch the sun set over the town of St Peter Port, which - it has to be said - is a very attractive place (although my phone's camera struggled to do it justice).

Saturday morning kicked off with a very interesting talk and reading from author Tim Binding. Tim has written several novels, both for adults and children, but the talk I went to focused on his Guernsey-set work, Island Madness. I started reading the novel a couple of weeks before I went, and even now I'm only about halfway through it - I'm just not getting enough time to read any more than a few pages at once. It's very good, and conjures up the atmosphere of Guernsey during the Nazi occupation extremely well. Tim talked about his inspiration for writing the book (essentially the photograph that now serves as the book's main cover image), the research involved in putting it together, and some of the perils of writing fiction. The main example he gave was in the opening chapter, where he talks about the damage caused to the Major's lawns by the local moles. Several years after the book came out, a Guernsey girl working at his publishing house calmly informed him that there are no moles on Guernsey. It's risky taking anything for granted, it seems.

Next up was a dash to the cake shop and then back to the Hub to catch a poetry reading from Richard Fleming and Peter Kenny. The two of them go by the name "A Guernsey Double" and offer two different perspectives on island life. Richard is an Ulsterman who moved to Guernsey, and Peter was born and grew up on Guernsey and moved away. Their poetry revolves around themes such as the concepts of home, safety, travel, and many more. They have a book out, a back-to-back anthology of poems called The Boy Who Fell Upwards / The Man Who Landed. From the snippets they read and the reviews the book has garnered, it sounds well worth investigating. I'm hoping to pick up a signed copy next time I'm over, which should be later in the year.

The last engagement of the day was an evening performance in the town church. Here, Olivia Chaney performed a fantastic set, showcasing her beautiful voice and musical talent on the piano, guitar, and harmonium (I think - it was something like an accordion, but more of a box). Olivia plays a variety of styles, from folk to operatic, traditional and more contemporary songs. She writes her own songs, too, and said she was putting an album of her work together. It should be worth tracking down. In addition to Olivia's songs and music, the winning writers from Guernsey's "Poetry on the Buses" competition read their work. I struggle a little with poetry sometimes; it's not a form that always 'clicks' for me, but most of the work was accessible even to a dullard like me, and it was great to hear the poets read their own work in the impressive setting provided by the church.

I've run out of time now, so I'll leave Sunday's details for another day. I'll try not to leave it too much longer.

Monday, 16 May 2011

Books, books, and more books...

(This post was delayed from Friday due to some sort of problem with Blogger. I'll post an up to date report later.)

So, here I am in the first full day of the literary festival. It's a pretty quiet one for me, most of the events I'm going to are happening tomorrow. I attended the sponsor's reception yesterday evening, which was a new experience for me. One of the first people I met was Annie Barrows, co-author of the massively best-selling The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society, and the top celebrity author here at the festival. She was very friendly and down to earth, and we talked about the strange leap of faith it takes to start calling yourself "a writer". It good to know that even hugely successful authors struggle with that one from time to time.

Today's main task was to deliver a stack of my books to the Luna, an inflatable pod thing in the Market Terrace. It was a slightly surreal experience to see copies of it alongside other books, but hopefully people browsing the stall will be sufficiently intrigued to pick up a copy.

If you're in the neighbourhood, why not go along and take a look?

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

The Magic of Wood Pulp

Last Friday was a big day for me. The first copies of my anthology arrived from Lulu. I have to admit to being quite nervous as I prised open the cardboard packaging. Would the black-and-white cover image look too drab? Would the orange title seem washed-out or garish? I fretted over the inside most of all - the choice and size of fonts, the layout, and the running order of the stories.

But, happily, the end product exceeded all my expectations. The cover image is crisp and clear, and the overall effect is just what I was aiming for. Inside, the text looks great and, in my opinion at least, presents the stories in a very professional-looking way.

It's been great revisiting these stories, and an interesting insight into how my writing has changed over the last couple of years. But, more than that, it's rewarding to see my work in a fresh light, particularly those stories that were published online a while ago and had faded a little from my memory. Here, assembled and lined up together, it's almost as though my stories have gone on parade in full dress uniform, primped and polished and keen to impress new readers (hopefully!).

There is something undeniably special about paper. Although I was excited to find a half-dozen or so e-books pre-installed on my new mobile phone, I'm yet to fully embrace the concept of electronic fiction. I do read short stories online, and appreciate the accessibility and variety the internet provides both readers and writers. But I'm not going to be giving up my coveted bookshelves just yet. The sensory, tactile elements of printed matter are something that I associate so strongly with reading it's hard not to miss them when they're not there.

Perhaps the printed book form is even better suited to short story collections than novels? It's so much easier to pick up a book, flick through it until a title or first line catches your eye, and then settle back with your mug of tea and a biscuit or two for a well-deserved bit of escapism.

I hope people will be inclined to pick up "Somewhere to Start from" when it makes its début appearance on the booksellers' stall at the Guernsey Literary Festival. I'll also have a few copies with me at the Flash Fiction Workshop, just in case anybody fancies a signed copy. I'm looking forward to seeing how new readers respond to these works and I hope people will get in touch to let me know what they think.