Wednesday, 27 January 2016

A few successes

I've had a busy January, with current/forthcoming appearances in these publications -

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Short story DOs and DON'Ts

Bartleby Snopes’ guidelines include a list of "Things That Generally Turn Us Off" that's worth bearing in mind wherever you send your stories -

  • Stories written in present tense (especially third person present tense)
  • Stories with graphic dead baby scenes
  • Stories about writers
  • Stories about struggling marriages
  • Stories set in bars
  • Stories with more backstory than plot
  • Stories with undeveloped characters
  • Stories that are overly reflective
  • Stories that rely heavily on second person usage

Comma Press have so many dislikes that I can only list a few here -

  • Coming of age stories
  • Stories about ordinary, mundane days/existences in which suddenly something happens to change everything
  • Stories that aim for complete thematic unity (as though the writing of them was a jigsaw puzzle to be completed) above surprise or delight
  • Stories about a) student life; b) splitting up with a partner; c) taking drugs; d) unlikely travel/rave experiences
  • Stories whose justification in a workshop scenario might be 'this really happened'
  • If you're writing from a female perspective: writing about 'going mad for a bit and having lots of dangerous sex with unwholesome types'
  • If you're writing from a male perspective: writing about breaking out of humdrum, conventional existences/work; getting stoned; wild irresponsible nights with unhinged mates; meeting salt-of-the-earth old blokes in pubs who, while not having the education of the protagonist, have home-spun wisdom to impart and are prone to saying 'bloody heck'; feeling intellectually superior.

Jonathan Franzen wrote -

  • Fiction that isn't an author's personal adventure into the frightening or the unknown isn't worth writing for anything but money
  • Write in the third person unless a ­really distinctive first-person voice ­offers itself irresistibly.

But before you start rewriting, consider the Guardian’s review of the “Best British Short Stories 2015” anthology where they write that “It would appear that – going by this collection and scrutinising the author biographies – your chances of appearing in Best British Stories 2016 will be given a boost by"

  • being a woman
  • having a connection with the north west
  • writing your story in the present tense
  • be a bit weird, or uncanny

Saturday, 9 January 2016

My 2015 write-ups - hits and misses

Here are the 6 most popular of my 2015 write-ups -

And here are the 6 least popular -

Saturday, 2 January 2016

A poetry submission schedule for early 2016

There are fewer critical dates for poetry submissions than for story submissions - more markets and fewer windows. I shall try to submit to most of these (mostly UK) competitions and submission windows -

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Cambridge Writers

Congratulations to Ilse Pedler, who's won MsLexia's pamphlet prize. Seren will publish it in March 2016. Ilse attends the Cambridge Writers poetry group that I attend. Another member, Diana Brodie, had a book published by Salzburg Press in 2013. A previous member, Emma Danes, was published by Smith Doorstep in 2013. And my pamphlet came out in 2010. Not bad for a little group.

Saturday, 5 December 2015

A prose submission schedule for early 2016

As more magazines introduce submission windows, and competitions increase their significance, it's worth planning ahead. I shall try to submit to these (mostly UK) competitions and submission windows -

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Precision and poetry

In poetry reviews and blurbs, the terms "precise" and "precision" are commonly seen though their use is often vague. They seem to be terms of praise hinting at 2 main concepts -

  • Accuracy - The ability to judge this rather depends on shared understandings and mimetic intent. Is Pound's "In a Station of the Metro" accurate? When Gerard Woodward writes "a toilet cistern refills like an old lady pouring tea" is he accurate? If you see a fuzzy painting of a landscape, it could be the result of the artist's lack of attention to detail or an accurate depiction of a foggy day. How is one supposed to know?
  • Economy - "Precise" often means "small" or "clipped" - a small but significant detail. When an artist captures a face with a few brushstrokes we admire the precision. Economy in poetry tends to involve word-count rather than line-count. 10 words spread over 5 lines is more likely to be considered "precise" than a 10-word sentence. Neither is the time taken by the reader taken into account. If twice as many words mean that a reader understands in half the time, there's a case for saying that the longer version is more efficient, more economic if the reader's time is taken into account.

I think the economy of the image, more than its exactness, is what provokes the use of "precision". It's like "precision bombing" - a single, well-aimed striking image can be more effective than carpet bombing. Though many an image can be made to look significant by being isolated.

When I began researching to complete this article I discovered (not for the first time) that Jim Murdoch had already dealt with the topic in more depth than I can manage. As he points out, people often meant "concise" when they use "precise". The term was perhaps imported into literature when there was a trend for borrowing from technology - Futurism, Bauhaus, etc - but without the extremism of Minimalism. He also quotes Marianne Moore's "What is more precise than precision? Illusion". I think that even fuzziness has its uses -

  • One way to make something into art is to remove its purpose. A potter makes a cup so that someone may drink from it. Take away that use and viewers will look for other types of meaning. An instruction manual or a recipe can have its purpose blurred so that only the rhetoric remains.
  • A blurred image can be more potent that a "precise" one because the details may be irrelevant to the effect, and the audience can fill in details themselves if they need to, personalised. A black object at night is more scary if you can't see that it's a bush rather than a hunched figure. A photograph of Christopher Lee playing Dracula may be more effective if blurred so that you can't identify the actor, only the identifying characteristics of Dracula.