writing

Award-winning Twitter fiction

It’s only Tuesday, and I’ve already won first place in a writing competition this week.

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The competition was part of the launch of a new creative writing magazine run by students at Edinburgh University and you can read the first issue (including all three winning tweets on the theme of ink and tattoos) at http://www.50gs.uk/mobile/magazine.html

If you feel like checking out some of my non-award-winning Twitter fiction, you can go right back to 2009 at PicFic with Destination Unknown, English Breakfast and Letting Go or come forward a few years to Nailpolish Stories which at a 25-word limit may sometimes stray beyond 140 characters. All of them and more are listed on my About page under ultra short and microfiction. Enjoy.

Week 16: Comedy Gold

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Thanks to a refresher from re-reading the BBC Academy radio comedy pages (though not from reading the pictured pamphlet, which I only remembered as I came to write this post) I’ve written two sketches for Newsjack this weekend that not only made me laugh, but made OneMonkey laugh too. I have yet to hear whether they made the producers of Newsjack laugh, but one can only hope.

I can now reveal that the northern-themed writing I alluded to before Christmas is a guest post in the Literature and Place slot at Laurie Garrison’s Women Writers School, and you should have less than two weeks to wait till you can read it. In the meantime if you’re of a sci-fi bent you could read a new review I’ve written for The Bookbag, for an Alastair Reynolds novella, Slow Bullets.

Before I race off to write one-liners in time for tomorrow morning’s Newsjack deadline, have I mentioned the rather wonderful RS500 yet? They’re working through Rolling Stone magazine’s top 500 album list, inviting an essay or a piece of fiction related to each one, and so far they’re at 252 so almost halfway but I only heard about them recently. While I may dislike many of the albums on the list, and bemoan the exclusion of some of my favourites, I applaud the harnessing of musical passion to a writing project like this, and I encourage any and all of you with a love of music to read, absorb, and contribute.

Week 15: Spoken word in Leeds, among other things

The highlight of this week was Friday night at Anything Prose, the occasional poetry-free offshoot of regular open mic night Word Club at the Chemic Tavern in Leeds. Hosted by Mark Connors, the stand-out performances for me were from headliners Lynn Bauman-Milner and David Williams.

Lynn was introduced as a horror writer and my heart sank, but although one of her stories veered into gory territory, it was so well-written that I barely noticed. The others were unsettling, chilling, darkly wonderful and not what I think of when I think of horror. Maybe I assume horror covers plausible events in the real world, featuring scary evil humans, whereas I’m fine with dark fantasy involving strange creatures and other worlds. Impressively there were T-shirts for sale as well as books. I should have checked the back to see if it had a list of open mic nights and library readings she’s done, in the vein of a band tour T-shirt, but I didn’t.

David read a scene from his thriller 11.59, and as well as brilliantly conjuring up the setting (a down at heel pub, largely populated by steady drinkers) he made me interested in the main character, a late-night talk radio DJ, in a relatively short time. As David Williams seems to write in many formats it was perhaps unsurprising that he’s made a foray into Twitter fiction, with a book collecting 1000 story tweets. He was one of three people during the evening to read some of their Twitter fiction and though I like it (I had my first Twitter fiction published in 2009, long before I was on Twitter) and there were some great examples on Friday night, I find it a bitty experience at an open mic. Reading one or two straight after each other is fine, but a succession interspersed with titles and comments seems to break the flow too much for my liking.

Naturally, I read a piece of flash fiction myself, a response to Hemingway’s famous baby shoes six-worder, featuring mermaids. I was halfway down the half of real ale before I considered it might be detrimental to my performance of a couple of tricky lines, but it seemed to go off OK and I’m looking forward to going to Anything Prose again sometime.

Other events this week included a free webinar on how to blog more effectively (which I’m clearly following to the letter. Er…) and a Twitter fiction competition which was only open to staff, students, and alumni of Edinburgh University, to launch a new journal. First time I’ve used that maths degree in ages. I’ve sent two sketches to Newsjack this week, breaking out of my one-liner comfort zone to write a Yes Minister pastiche and a sketch about Donald Trump (swore I wouldn’t, but he’s proving too tempting). And tonight it’s the penultimate meeting at Chapel FM before this year’s Writing on Air festival. Excuse me while I put my feet up for ten minutes.

What was read where last year?

Libraries. Data. Data on library books. You know I can’t resist. I was excited (yes, really) to find the top 100 most borrowed books in UK libraries 2015/16. A couple of years ago I wrote about the top 10 most borrowed books at Leeds Libraries and wondered whether there was much variation in different areas, so imagine my delight when I saw the regional breakdowns.

Since they’re the places where me and my immediate family use libraries, I immediately delved into the lists for the North East, and Yorkshire and the Humber and it looks like my earlier musings may have had some foundation. The Yorkshire list has way more instances of Barnsley author Milly Johnson’s books (3 in the top 10) than the national list, where she first appears at number 12. In the North East her most borrowed book is at number 72.

Interestingly, the UK number 1, The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins, is at number 3 in the North East and number 7 in Yorkshire. Even more interestingly, Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman, seventh most borrowed book in the UK, is at number 42 in the North East and isn’t in the top 100 at all in Yorkshire. Both of those books seemed to be constant in the books pages (and beyond) of national newspapers, discussed on arts programmes and the like. Did everyone up here buy the books instead of borrowing them, or are we more resistant to hype, or does the media frenzy only ever reflect metropolitan tastes? Discuss.

I haven’t read either of them, in case you wondered, but nor have I read any Lee Child or Milly Johnson. In fact you have to go down to number 13 on the Yorkshire borrowing chart to find an author I’ve read (Michael Connelly) and the only book of his I have read, I wasn’t that keen on. It turns out I haven’t read a single book on the Yorkshire list, the North East list, or the whole UK list. How unlike me to have minority tastes.

Week 14: In which I reach for the stars

It’s been submission central this week and as well as a batch of short stories to magazines I’ve entered the Orion Books Hometown Tales initiative I mentioned recently, and the Northern Writers’ Awards, and applied for a writing gig.

Hometown Tales has two sets of dates depending which website you get the T&Cs pdf from: deadline 31st January, hear by 31st March; deadline 30th June, hear by 31st July. The auto-reply email I got when I sent my submission in didn’t give a closing date but it did say I’d hear by September. Your guess is as good as mine, but if I get anywhere with it you can guarantee you’ll hear it here first.

It’s the second year I’ve entered the Northern Writers’ Awards and it’s the second time I’ve wanted to rewrite my personal statement as soon as I’ve committed it, despite multiple rewrites along the way. I’m not the only member of Ilkley Writers to have entered, and I know someone who was wishing they could rewrite their synopsis less than 24 hours after hitting Submit. There’s always next year.

Scarier by far is the fact that I applied to be writer in residence in a library, this week. Libraries again, eh? Anyone would think I was obsessed. Oh, wait… Seriously though, libraries are important and we forget that at our peril. If you haven’t been to your local library recently, make the effort and get there soon.

Meanwhile, I’m off to weep into my tea at the demise of Black Sabbath.

Week 13: Slightly delayed

A day late with this week’s update as the main event of the week was on Monday afternoon, when three of Ilkley Writers ran a free creative writing workshop at Seacroft library. We were a small but enthusiastic group and with the help of Peter Spafford we got some short pieces recorded which we’ll slot into our live programme in the Writing on Air festival.

As the programme (which we’re calling The Borrowers) will have the theme of libraries it was good to produce some of the content in the library, and we even had a couple of librarians in the group. Writing exercises involved words and phrases gathered by opening a selection of library books at random. It was fascinating to see the different directions two writers can go in despite having some or all of the same trigger-words.

Other than that, I have a new review up at the Bookbag, for an enjoyable historical novel (Paris, 1880s) called To Capture What We Cannot Keep by Beatrice Colin.

Mobius Dick by Andrew Crumey

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Although it’s not a comedy I can see this novel appealing to fans of Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams. Lots of philosophy, weirdnesses (technical term) of time and space, and it’s not too heavy (i.e. it’s got its share of farce and sarcasm, you can tell it’s a British novel). Having said that, as well as being a Douglas Adams fan I do have a degree in theoretical physics which included as many philosophy modules as I could access, so I may be part of a niche target audience. Mobius Dick is one of the few books I’ve come across where the main character is a theoretical physicist, which is actually what swayed me when I picked it up in a charity shop last summer, having heard of neither the book nor the author. Speaking as a partial insider then, I don’t know how much you’d have to be comfortable with the idea and philosophy of quantum mechanics to get into this. If ‘what would happen if the wave function didn’t collapse’ is just a string of words to you then you might find it a bit hard going (and potentially uninteresting).

There is also an undercurrent of thriller, with some peculiar goings-on at a nuclear research facility in Scotland that we as readers want to get to the bottom of. I read almost the entire book on a return train journey to Liverpool, becoming immersed and zipping through the pages, whereas OneMonkey (who also has a degree in theoretical physics, sorry) found it hard to get going because it chops and changes between different times and places and people, with chapters from fictional memoirs interspersed as well.

Part of what I saw as the Dirk Gently aspect was the key question of coincidences – are they significant or do we only ascribe them meaning when they chime with us? Alongside the recurring motifs of Moby Dick (and its author), the composer Schumann, and the physicist Schrödinger, coincidences and many-worlds hypotheses are the philosophical meat of the novel. It takes in the topics of re-lived lives, the nature of time, the nature of dreams and reality, causality, attractors in space-time folded time, and of course: What would happen if the wave function didn’t collapse? If that list is freaking you out, then maybe it’s not one to add to your To Read list, but if you like philosophy and the accidents and what-ifs of history then you’ll probably like being made to think by this book.