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).