Sunday 26 February 2012

Broadening the mind

The side of our dryer has tickets and postcards from some places I've been to - Vatican city, Venice, Torino, Pisa, Portsmouth, Luxor, Aswan and Giza. I've stayed with locals in Italy, Czechoslovakia, Germany, France and Morocco, immersing myself in French or Italian. I've also visited India, Denmark, Austria, Eire, Scotland, Wales, Holland, Belgium, Switzerland, Greece and Spain. I quite often get a story out of a visit to a new place (about being a visitor). Of my published stories an SF one is set in India, a pretentious one is set in Morocco, and another's in the USA where they sit out on their wooden porches on hot summer nights. Those stories could trivially be relocated, but I have one story set in pre-Perestroika Prague that couldn't be moved.

My poetry's largely immune to influence except for the odd image. In my poetry pamphlet one poem's set in Egypt (ten years before I went), one partly in Wicklow (I've never been there; I found the name on a map), one in the USA's Badlands (I've never been to the States) and one in pre-Euro Amsterdam (been there, but may have got some details wrong). The days following my return from holiday can be productive though, while the familiar is still somewhat strange, and the new's mixing with the old.

Writers sometimes win travel bursaries. I think they'd be wasted on me unless they involve waking on trains or staying in rooms high over cities. Michael Longley wrote "People say travel broadens the mind, but I think in a way it shallows the mind. Going back to the same place year after year is an extraordinary experience: you just keep noticing things". I don't feel quite like that, but I know what he means. The following quotes from The 50 most inspiring travel quotes of all time are closer to the mark.

  • "There are no foreign lands. It is the traveler only who is foreign", Robert Louis Stevenson
  • "People travel to faraway places to watch, in fascination, the kind of people they ignore at home", Dagobert D. Runes
  • "For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move", Robert Louis Stevenson
  • "All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware", Martin Buber
  • "Not all those who wander are lost", J. R. R. Tolkien

Monday 20 February 2012

How I choose where to send prose

People have recently asked me where they should send their prose. I've shown them lists of magazines and prizes but there are too many options for them to cope with. So here's what I do.

  • Factors - Length, Type, and Quality affect my choice as does where I've send stories to in the last year, and how desperate I am. I don't send to any mag that's accepted or rejected me in the last 9 months or so.
  • What I do with good 2000 word literary stories - If I think I've written my best story ever, I save it for the Bridport competition. After that I consider "London Magazine" and "Stand". Then (or straight away if the story's not so amazing) "Riptide", "Iota", "Ambit," "Under the Radar", "Staple", "Tears in the Fence", "Warwick Review" and "Horizon Review". If it's the right time of the year I go for the Bristol and shortFiction competitions (both offer publication and prizes). The advantage of competitions is that they're anonymous and you know when you can send the story out again.
    US mags are increasingly tempting - they're often easier to submit to than UK magazines are. In the last 2 years I've tried (unsuccessfully) "Alaska Quarterly Review", "Triquarterly", "Tin House", and "McSweeney's". There are many other respectable magazines to choose from, and unlike their UK counterparts they often accept simultaneous submissions. For rankings, see the Pushcart Prize Rankings. For other details (e.g. how quickly they reply, etc) see Duotrope
  • What I do with good 750-1000 word fairly literary stories - I look at Smokelong quarterly (my first option), Ink, Sweat & Tears, Everyday fiction, The Pedestal Magazine, Journal of Microliterature and Flashquake.
  • What I do with good 500 word stories - I try Quick fiction and Vestal review.
  • What I do with other stories - I send to Right Hand Pointing (max 500 words) and many other mags - see Tania Hershman's Non-complete list of UK and Ireland outlets
  • Cover letters - Several mags want them. I have a standard bio that I always use, saying where I live, where I've been published, and where I blog. Just a paragraph or 2.
  • Submission record - submishmash is used by many magazines as a submissions system. It also stores your submission history. I use spreadsheets and paper.
  • The worst thing that can happen? - That you send your best story ever to a rubbish magazine and they accept it. You need the confidence boost of acceptances so in lean patches you might send good stories to less good mags, but otherwise I suggest you keep your best stories for the best markets and be patient.
  • The next worst thing that can happen? - That you send it nowhere.

Of course, my idea of which magazines are good may not correspond to your notion. You'll need to do market research. Here's another opinion - Salt's "The Best British Short Stories 2011" edited by Nicholas Royle chose stories from these sources: books (5), non-UK mags (3), newspapers (3), Warwick Review (3), London Magazine (1), Ambit (1), Wasafiri (1), Riptide (1), New Welsh Review (1), online competition anthology (1)

Thursday 16 February 2012

Notes about "Escape"

On Vanessa Gebbie blog's there are some notes about my "Escape" poem. The poem was written in 2001, cobbled together from notebook fragments. Escape from what? At the end the main character's expressively at one with the universe, but it's a universe of blues - eyes and temple domes, the domes painted with stars.

Sunday 12 February 2012

Forthcoming UK story competitions

Here are some competitions you may be interested in
CompetitionWordsDeadline1st prizeFeeExtrasInfo
Grace Dieu2000 28th Feb £500£5rules
Mslexia 2200 19th Mar£2000£10women rules
Exeter3000 31st Mar£250£4rules
Flash 50050031st Mar£300£5rules
Bristol3000 31st Mar£1000£7anthology chancerules
short Fiction6000 31st Mar£500£10 for 2free magazinerules
Nottingham2500 30th Apr£1000£10anthology chancerules
Frome220031st May£300£5 rules
Bridport5000 31st May£5000£8rules
Yeovil2000 31st May£500£6rules
V.S. Pritchett5000 29th Jun£1000£5just 1 prize rules
Wrekin Writers1200 9th Jul£150£3 rules

Friday 10 February 2012

England's literary magazines, 1985-2012

I've just put England's literary magazines, 1985-2012 online - more to do with nostalgia than than market information, but experienced submitters might be interested.

Friday 3 February 2012

My notebooks

I don't carry around a notebook in the way that some artists keep a sketchpad with them, but I (like most writers, I suspect) have a place where I record scraps. I read through them when I'm short of ideas. Here are my last 8 entries to give you a flavour - typically short, so I've added some explanations

  • "I can tell you that ..." (after noticing that people on TV sometimes start sentences that way)
  • "writers sublet their poems to readers"
  • "a poem with a large catchment area" (I think I meant like a river rather than a school)
  • "her tits really get on my tits"
  • "love's austere wound"
  • "Recently my parents have started staying separately with us"
  • "basketball hoops over garage doors"
  • "Golden Brain Award from the Californian-based Minerva Foundation" (a Cambridge prof has just won this. Apparently it's prestigious)

Usually such fragments lead to nothing, but you never know. I also keep lists of words/phrases I should use more often, most recently - "flexed/ coagulate/ shingle-suck/ slapped together/ mollycoddle/ swivel/ quondam/ fondly"

And here are extracts of pages from 2001, each with a line from my Escape poem. As you can see, it's all a bit of a Lucky Dip.