How to survive the quiet times: A guide for writers, part 6

ReceiptsAs magazine and newspaper publishing houses tighten their belts yet again, the time between writing commissions can sometimes seem to stretch to the horizon and back. Freelance journalist Deborah Willimott offers her tips for surviving the lean times of being a freelance writer.

Survival tip 6:  Consider organising your accounts

Occasionally, after a head-blow or some seriously A-Grade boredom, the flancer thinks: “Ooh, I might just give next year’s accounts a preliminary tickle…”

A gallon of stomach-chewing coffee will be brewed and some Kendal Mint Cake eaten in order to fortify the flancer.

A Facebook status of “Am starting my accounts!” will be posted in order to crow to other flancers that you are indeed a paragon of organisation. Continue reading

Creative inspiration

Lost Garden of Heligan geese cr Judy DarleyLooking for writing inspiration? Creative Writing Ink have come up with a rather nice idea whereby they post photo or illustration each Thursday. You are then invited to write a short story or poem prompted by the image and enter it in their free competition.

So not only do you get a prompt, but there’s a chance to win a gift voucher to use on any of their creative writing courses too. Of course, you don’t need to use the voucher, or even enter the competition – but the writing prompts are fun, free and who knows what they could result in?

Then again, you could just visit and let the randomness of my photos inspire you instead. If you take that route, please let me know!

Book review My Mother Was An Upright Piano by Tania Hershman

My Mother Was An Upright Piano coverComprised of more than 50 ‘fictions’ covering no more than two pages in most cases, this is a collection of extraordinarily condensed riches. Each tales is like a tiny gasp inwards, comprised of such power you might find yourself reeling.

I found too many favourites among the pages to mention them all here, but what astonished me most was the variety of voices and personalities parading past, many comprised of little more than a deft character sketch – so skilfully drawn they lived and breathed on the page, and making us care in those few words how they’ll live, die, whether they’ll be happy. ‘Dangerous Shoes’ does this especially well.

There was also an extraordinary amount of emotional truth in these small tales, those moments of startling recognition where you think, yes, I know how is, or, more strikingly, so that’s what that feels like. Look out for the sweet tender sadness in ‘We Will Be There’, the uncannily familiar ‘Graveside’, and the poetry of ‘Like Owls’. Continue reading

Very short stories win the day!

Bumble cr Judy DarleySo, in case you hadn’t heard, the 2013 Man Booker Prize has been awarded to writer Lydia Davis. The Prize, worth a grand £60,000, is “awarded for an achievement in fiction on the world stage.”

This is exciting news for those of us lamenting the tendency for Brits to underestimate the power of the short story. The writer, described as “poetic” and “minimalist” shows that the tide is certainly turning for this so often overlooked word-form.

Chair of the Man Booker judges, literary critic and scholar Sir Christopher Ricks, comments: “Lydia Davis’ writings fling their lithe arms wide to embrace many a kind. Just how to categorise them? Should we simply concur with the official title and dub them stories? Or perhaps miniatures? Anecdotes? Essays? Jokes? Parables? Fables? Texts? Aphorisms, or even apophthegms? Prayers, or perhaps wisdom literature? Or might we settle for observations?”

It’s an intriguing puzzle. As a journalist, I’m afraid I’m partial to categories – they provide shortcuts that help us to more easily understand what we’re being told, freeing up space for emotional response. To me, short stories seem often to be an examination of small, easily missed things that add up to the enormity of the shared human experience.

But, having just read the Lydia Davis story ‘Letter To A Hotel Manager’ published on the Telegraph website, I admit I’m not entirely sure how to describe it.

Regardless, Lydia’s win is the perfect excuse to celebrate short story writing in all its lengths and forms, so huzzah!

Cooking Ghosts review

Cooking GhostsOn Thursday night I had the chance to see Cooking Ghosts at the Tobacco Factory Theatre, part of Mayfest’s extraordinary offerings.

Using genuine vintage footage from Beady Eye Theatre founder Kristin Fredricksson’s childhood, the show blends this with audio-snippets, props, puppetry and some truly exuberant dancing. This is a tragedy tenderly told with grace, generous abandon and moments of utterly raucous laughter.

It is a noisy, chaotic, poetic, beautiful and sometimes painful portrayal of childhood bewilderment as Kristin and her twin sisters cope with the uncertainty of a mentally unwell mother.

I left feeling both emotionally drained and emotionally enriched, resisting the urge to hug everyone involved. If it comes anywhere near you, go and see it.

Happy writing news

Grant Bradley Gallery2I’ve had a few pieces of good news recently that I can’t resist sharing here.

Firstly, my flash fiction story ‘This Gallery’ has been selected to appear on as their #FridayFlash today – visit to read it. I’d love to know what you think of it.

The piece rolls in at just 326 words.

In other news, my short story ‘Coffee Owl’ has been accepted for inclusion in an anthology from Canadian literary imprint Enfield & Wizenty called Friend. Follow. Text.

And new print periodical The Germ Magazine are to publish my short story ‘Little Blessings’ in their next issue, due out in June. They describe their content as “fresh, sincere, aesthetically stimulating verse and prose”, so I feel very honoured to have ‘Little Blessings’ featured. That story began, aptly enough, with a germ of an idea, which consolidated with an image in my mind of a box of pink-nosed, white mice abandoned on a park bench. Funny how these things take root!

How to survive the quiet times: A guide for writers, part 5

FunwithfontsEver noticed how those time between writing commissions sometimes seem so much longer than the sum of their days? Freelance journalist Deborah Willimott offers her tips for surviving the lean times of being a freelance writer.

Survival tip 5: Experiment with a new computer font

Experimenting with font is a great way for a flancer to inject disappointing content and uninspiring raw material with excitement. The same old thing, jazzed up with new packaging.

But – and this is key – one must never, ever submit any work to an external body written in a ‘fun’ font in the hope that the excitement will rub off on the feature editor, who will then suddenly think that another piece on ‘recessionistas who cut coupons’ would be an INSPIRED idea and commission you forthwith.

This is because there is nothing more guaranteed to make someone hate you than inflicting your adventures-into-exuberant-font upon them. Continue reading

Metro seeks Books Editor

View from train to Oban cr Judy DarleyMetro is looking for an experienced part-time books writer and reviewer to cover nine months’ maternity leave on the features desk of the London-based Lifestyle & Entertainment team.

The ideal candidate will have excellent writing and reviewing skills, established contacts in the publishing world and good organisational skills.

You will need experience in writing/editing/blogging or a related field; and the skills and tack to tackle interview-based profiles and features. You will be able to write about the 23rd Scandi-crime novel of the year as well as the latest political biography in a fresh, engaging and compelling way.

You must also be up on the latest debut novels, be commercially aware and have an eye for emerging talent and trends.

Continue reading

Purple haze

Spring may have been limping in rather uncertainly, not to mention unconvincingly, in 2013, but May in the west of England has achieved something rather wonderful.

Bluebells, swathes and swathes of bluebells.

Scattering of bluebellsAt first just a scattering here and there…


…then, gathering vibrancy and density as you get deeper into the woods…

Haze of bluebells…until there are so many that it resembles a purple mist gathering around the feet of the trees.

Bluebells and spiderEven the spiders are enjoying them.

In case you were wondering, I took these photos at Leigh Woods, Bristol.

This week I’m reading…

What I'm reading – May 2013This week I’m reading Once Upon a Time in the North (Philip Pullman’s latest story from the world of His Dark Materials), re-reading The Great Gatsby by F. Scot Fitzgerald, discovering The Tiny Wife by Andrew Kaufman, and treading through Sara Maitland’s Gossip from the Forest – the perfect way to fill my head with trees and leaves before bedtime.

And today I’ve just started dipping into My Mother Was An Upright Piano: Fictions by Tania Hershman. Look out for the review on these pages soon!