Friday, 10 August 2018

Who do you write for?

When you're pondering over whether to keep a line in a poem, do you ever ask yourself if the editor of "Poetry Review" would like it? Or perhaps you wonder what your poetry workshop colleagues would say? I can imagine people disliking this, describing it as "writing for the market". It sounds grubby, but in the poetry world, "market" doesn't have capitalist implications. Essentially, the market is composed of your peers. Pre-empting their criticism is better than belatedly learning from a history of failure.

The phrase "target audience" also has unsavoury associations. For at least part of the writing process I have a target audience in mind. It comes into play for example when I'm wondering whether to spell out an allusion. This "target audience" is perhaps nothing more than a personification of my inner critic - self-criticism is no bad thing.

Perhaps you just enjoy writing for its own sake. It gives you pleasure, the way that singing in the bath gives pleasure to some people. You might decide that you enjoy performing, so you try reading at an open-mic. You don't go down well. You go to workshops and soon gain the impression that your style is old fashioned. You can't get into magazines. If you were really writing for the fun of it (being "true to yourself") such a reception shouldn't deter you from writing on, but there might have been a lingering hope that you were an undiscovered talent. Of course, if you don't keep up with the work of your peers it's no surprise that your quality assurance isn't like theirs. You don't read other people's stuff in case it affects the uniqueness, purity, and authenticity of your voice. But where did you get your voice from if not from other poets? By reading other poets you can discover your influences - maybe even break free.

Singing in the bath may mean that dishes are left unwashed, but you wash them later. Self-indulgence is only a problem when others are involved. I think people need to be somewhat public spirited at workshops if they're going to get the most from them - interested in others' work and open to the possibility of changing one's own poems.

Tuesday, 31 July 2018

Standard stories, changing fashions

I think I'm more a writer of magazine stories than competition ones. I write competent conventional stories, and I write less mainstream, essay-like, no-4th-wall pieces, neither of which would win prizes. Fashions come and go, doing so at different speeds for different story readers and writers. I'm waiting for my styles to come back into fashion. Recently I've had some opportunities to check on current trends.

Keep the reader interested

Two reviews of Mark Haddon's short story book gave me pause -

  • "Mark Haddon recently called them “beige”: the stories he has had enough of and never wants to read again [] You know the stories he means, pieces in the mode of what might be called received realism, set in a generic present day and written in inhibited, risk-averse prose, containing little to no external action, and usually ending – or not – with some minor calibration of the main character’s mindset, or with some oblique, and by implication significant, gesture" - Colin Barrett
  • "Each story displays the range of Haddon’s imaginative powers, complemented by the author’s urge to keep things happening (in itself, a not-altogether-common trait of short fiction)" - Lee Polevoi

For years I've been trying to eliminate garish excesses from my work, trying to write beige stories, stories where not much happens, hoping that readers will thus be incited to look beyond the surface to see where I've carefully buried things. Perhaps I get mixed up between slight and subtle. Tessa Hadley looks rather slight to me, but I'm told that the details undermine the simple explanations, language and plot. I can't see much in VS Prichett or Anita Brookner either.

Start with a Bang

In "Five Reasons I Stopped Reading Your Story" (Gaynor Jones), one of the reasons she gives is that "You used a killer first line". However

  • In a review of 'Subjunctive Moods' Melissa Fu praises "Bewitching first lines" like ‘I used to be a god.’ and ‘It wasn’t till after we burnt her that Leila began to cause trouble’, writing "Who wouldn’t want to keep reading after an opening like that?"
  • I've been to two talks (by Ingrid Jendrzejewski and Rupert Dastur) recently that suggested the use of long, striking titles.

I'm in Gaynor Jones' side, though I'm feeling out-numbered.

Avoid common topics

I traveled to a workshop with a draft to work on during the train trip about a couple breaking up. One of the first pieces of advice at the workshop was to avoid kitchen sink dramas. Oh well. Another suggestion was to avoid dead babies - they crop up too often in stories. I'm ok with that - there's a low body count in my pieces, though as I age the count increases.

Make it look effortless

Mannerist tendencies fluctuate in popularity. I rather like "Centre Pompidou" pieces where the plumbing shows, but it's an acquired taste.

Make it weird

Nicholas Royle's BBSS anthologies have several New Weird pieces, and in his Irish Times article Ashley Stokes suggests that grassroot level writing's "becoming darker, weird, twisted-out-of-shape, dripping with fear of the end and apocalypse"

Mark Haddon's stories can slip into another genre, especially towards the end. I'm wary of Magic Realism, though I've written SF in the past. Maybe I should try writing new blends.

Friday, 27 July 2018

Unthology 10 launch

Train cancellations and the weather shortened my stay, but I managed to see the Brick Lane area again before attending the Unthology 10 launch in London on July 26th. The story anthology is available as a paper book or on Kindle - see the web page.

The readings made me realise how many good writers there are fighting for just a few places. I don't feel quite so bad now about the run of rejections I've been having.

Monday, 23 July 2018

A UK submission schedule for the rest of 2018

The second half of the year seems to have fewer competition and magazine-window opportunities for me. Here they are -

Wednesday, 18 July 2018

More publications

I've a metrical piece in The Orchards, p.7 - At 50

I've a story, "Woman Trouble", in Freedom: Cambridge Writers Short Story Competition 2018 anthology (Kindle and paperback versions)

Wednesday, 11 July 2018

Jellyfish Review

How can magazines prosper in the Age of the Web? Jellyfish Review, which has been going for less than 3 years, offers one model. Originally it printed only Flash Fiction (max 1000 words). Now it prints Flash Essays too. It prints 2 illustrated pieces a week, advertised on social media. Cunningly, it retrospectively bundles them into issues - well actually, jellyfissues. If these issues could easily be printed out, readers would have the best of both worlds.

Wigleaf's Top 50 very short fictions of 2018 lists 5 Jellyfish stories!

Sunday, 8 July 2018

Cycling in Holland

We went to Hook of Holland, Rotterdam, Gouda, Ultrecht, Amsterdam, the Hague, then back to the ferry. Ulrecht in the rush hour was scary, especially since some of the bike-lanes were used by mopeds too. We did up to 100 km/day, using many bridges and ferries. The most interesting was this one, which we propelled ourselves.

Zanvoort had a British Festival - Highland games, Sherlock Holmes, a mini Eye, and afternoon teas.

This was in the museum park. I bet many people photograph it.

The landscape and lifestyle between the cities had a Hobbity feel to it. There were many moated houses, and more horses than I expected. In Amsterdam we passed a dressage training place.

We travelled cheaply, but stayed in comfortable places like the SS Amsterdam, living off buffet breakfasts. I watched England beat Columbia in Ultrecht, in a hotel where Messi has stayed.

The language puzzled us at times. My German wasn't as useful as I'd hoped. This sign was warning us about a cattle grid.

I read "The Pier Fall" (Mark Haddon), "Nothing to worry about" (Vanessa Gebbie) and "Subjunctive Moods" (CG Menon). No poetry. I am rethinking my prose styles.