Friday 1 March 2024

Drafts on paper

When I'm at workshops others seem to come up with finished products in minutes. Not me. My first drafts (even of poems) aren't much good. I'm a rewriter.

My first drafts are always hand-written. When I transfer them to a computer I still mostly edit on paper, printing them out so I can scribble on them. I use arrows (or sometimes numbers) to indicate changes in the sentence and clause order - I'm not good at getting the ordering right first time. I usually add more text than I take away. The closer to a final draft I get, the more I take into account the reader viewpoint. Just before I send a piece off I sometimes make changes purely for the editor (paying particular attention to the first paragraph, etc).

Editing on paper is becoming a lost art. Fortunately, Flaubert’s messy drafts have been scanned in – see for example "I, chap 7 : La levrette Djali - définitif, folio 91". My rewriting workshop talk has more examples.

Sunday 25 February 2024


For years I've used Twitter, Facebook and Blogger. I look at Twitter and Facebook maybe twice a day, posting infrequently if I have publication news. I use Blogger more often, for storing and making posts. I've 1300+ mini-reviews there and many articles. It's easy to use and it's uncluttered. I've been using it since 2011. The stats (over 1.2 million hits) aren't especially meaningful because there's so much bot activity. Here they are anyway -

Blogger's become less useful as those I used to follow (and who followed me) are leaving it. One of the common places they're migrating to is Substack, which offers syndicating and monetising features that Blogger lacks. If you put material there, it can be mailed to subscribers, and you can add material that only paid-up subscribers will receive. It's good for things like newsletters, and good for bait and switch. I'd have used it for publishing my articles and workshop notes had it existed a decade ago. I've started playing with it now, without knowing what I'm going to use it for. I'm watching the way people like KM Elkes use it, to get ideas.

Tuesday 20 February 2024

2024 - a quiet year so far

  • Only 1 acceptance.
  • 1 piece of Flash nearly written.
  • 1 short story from years ago 30% rewritten, incorporating 2 recent Flashes.

I don't feel as if I'm bursting with ideas, so it's time to focus on sending off. I've 6 stories, 8 Flashes and 9 poems out there awaiting judgement. 1 of the poems is in a competition (first time for years that I've tried) and 3 stories are in competitions. I've 7 stories to send off, and some poems that have recently been returned to me. Once I've dealt with those I really must get back to writing again.

The phase of the writing process that gives me the warmest glow of satisfaction is when a story I'm working on suddenly falls into shape - I can see what's not needed and where passages need to be added. Completion isn't far away and won't be hard to achieve. But reaching that phase is a struggle. Nowadays especially, as soon as a story reaches Flash length I'm tempted to stop, and start a new piece. My plan in the next month or so is to try the reverse - put some Flash pieces together to make a story.

Wednesday 7 February 2024

UK Literary magazines in print

Call me old fashioned, but I still like literary magazines that are printed. There aren't many left. Recently it was announced that Planet and New Welsh Review are ceasing - together they've been going for 130 years. I realised recently that Dream Catcher (poetry and stories, with a few reviews) is still going, so I've subscribed to that. I already subscribe to

  • Under the Radar (poetry and stories, with several poetry reviews)
  • Orbis (poetry and a few flash-length stories, with several poetry reviews)
  • The Dark Horse (poetry and essays)
  • Postbox (all stories) - no subscription. I buy it when when it comes out.

Wednesday 31 January 2024

"Flash fiction as a distinct literary form ..." by Shelley Roche-Jacques

In "Flash fiction as a distinct literary form: some thoughts on time, space, and context" (from "New Writing - The International Journal for the Practice and Theory of Creative Writing") Shelley Roche-Jacques look at some aspects of Flash, prose poems and short stories.

  • She suggests that Flash has a distinguishing feature that prose poems don't need - "I am of the opinion that something needs to happen, or perhaps more importantly, that a context needs to be created in which there is the possibility of something happening"
  • When comparing Flash and short stories she thinks "most critics and writers seem to suggest the difference is more in degree than kind"

That seems fair enough to me. I think it's useful to restrict the "Flash Fiction" category to pieces which acknowledge the concept of narrative. There are pieces of short creative prose that aren't prose poems or CNF, nor do they create a narrative context, but such pieces (on the essay/flash spectrum maybe, or shaped prose, or triptychs, etc) can fend for themselves.

She makes some other observations that I agree with too -

  • "As an avid reader of flash fiction, I have noticed the prevalence of the simple present tense. ... Perhaps, as Flick points out, because of the simplicity and sense of immersion it offers."
  • "the brevity of the flash fiction form perhaps affords the writer greater freedom to play and experiment. The deft use of deictic elements can be seen as a way of establishing swift immersion and/or negotiating the spatio-temporal layers and landscape."
  • "Due to the limited space in flash fiction, a popular and effective technique seems to be to have the protagonist ‘thinking forward’ beyond the end of the scene"

I think lots of U.A. Fanthorpe's pieces could nowadays fit in a short text category, but that's another story ...

My out-of-date contributions to the debate include -

Wednesday 17 January 2024

Seán Hewitt

I went to see Seán Hewitt at Pembroke College tonight (in their new auditorium). He has degrees from Cambridge and Liverpool, and lectures at Trinity College Dublin. About 80 people attended, 20 queuing at the end to get books signed! He said that writing his second poetry book he was conscious of writing a book rather than a set of poems. That wasn't so with his first book.

Friday 12 January 2024

How to review poetry

A while ago Charles Boyle (CBeditions) noticed that a book he published which the TLS described as "an astonishing achievement" and the Literary Review described as "a masterpiece" sold fewer than 100 copies in its first year.

In ‘Next time you dive’ (or How to play a poem) from "The Friday Poem" Jon Stone "illustrate[s] what he thinks we need to do to broaden the readership of poetry"

Helena Nelson has a piece in the same issue. In "Are poetry reviews pointless?" she writes "First, I want to test out Stone’s theory that I can profitably respond to a set of poems as “toys”. Second, I want to review a book in a non-typical way, avoiding “florid” terms and a standard evaluative stance."

When I read a book, I write it up online. I used to try the odd review-style write-up - I keep a list of longer poetry reviews online. Nowadays my write-ups are mostly jottings. I posted a write-up each Wednesday and Saturday, which used to match my reading speed. Now that I'm reading (and listening to) more books, I'm filling up future Wed/Sat slots so fast that I'm up to April 2025. So to slow myself down I think I'll try to write some reviews again.

Rather than toys, I think I react to poems as if they were disposable alien technology - if I don't understand what a part does, I remove it to see what happens, or re-assemble the pieces. Biologists try to understand DNA that way sometimes. However, I have a feeling that I might end up writing similar reviews to before, "fun to play with" becoming a substitute for "good" when describing a poem.

When a new art form (e.g. Cubism) emerges, at first people don't know how to react. There are many individualistic responses. Many will be resistant to change, pointing out how the new work lacks what old, familiar works have. Before too long, collective experience will come to a broad consensus about an interpretative framework. That framework can become too rigid though - a new orthodoxy that fails to keep up with new ways of looking. So let's see what happens if things are shaken up.