Wednesday 28 December 2016

2016 - my literary stats

In 2016 I wrote more prose than ever before (27,000 words) and fewer poems (7). In my case these 2 stats are related - most of my initial ideas could go either way. In the olden days I'd have presented texts like Death and deception as poetry because of its juxtapositions, density of interconnections and lack of plot. In the current, more permissive climate I can let it be prose (though not Flash).

I'd love to say that as the quantity of my poetry goes down, the quality goes up. Alas, the opposite is true. Not for the first time, my "selected poems" file (aka the draft of my first full book) has shrunk rather than grown in the course of the year - partly because of recalibrated Quality Control, partly because of re-categorisation.

The year began with some promising acceptances of stuff I'd sent off in 2015. Then successes fizzled out. I sent off about 30 things during the year of which 4 have so far been accepted. I gave some competitions a try and got nowhere.

The year ended with a poem in Antiphon (p.46) and Flash in Toasted Cheese. Next year I can look forward to publication in Unthology and Flash (Univ of Chester).

Wednesday 21 December 2016

A UK prose submission schedule for early 2017

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 -

Thursday 15 December 2016

A UK poetry submission schedule for early 2017

I shall try to submit to several of these (mostly UK) competitions and submission windows -

Wednesday 7 December 2016

workshop on dialogue

Updated notes about the workshop on dialogue that I did yesterday are online.

The summary and suggestions are

  • Go back to basics. Think about what dialogue reveals about people - not just in the words they say, but the pauses, hesitations and interruptions.
  • Read about the recent developments in discourse/conversation analysis. They help make explicit the mechanisms of dialogue we all use.
  • Mainstream literary dialogue has become rather formulaic and artificial. The standard notation hinders the rendering of some revealing aspects of dialogue.
  • Non-standard notations are increasingly common in novels. You might for example consider using screenplay notation.

Friday 18 November 2016

The professionalisation of poetry

Reading the 46 bios in the most recent "Rialto" you'll find about 6 people admitting to non-creative-writing professions - there's a nurse, an editor/translator, a journalist, a dog-whisperer, a Jungian analyst and an RSPB worker. Maybe several others have non-creative-writing professions, but are too shy to admit to them. Some who don't mention their profession (Carrie Etter for example) are creative writing academics. Academics or not, many aren't shy of mentioning their creative writing degrees.

The 57 bios in the latest "Interpreters House" have more variety, the non-creative-writing professions mentioned being artist, acupuncturist, funeral director, librarian, museum advisor, EFL teacher, psychology prof, graphics/web designer - though there are many creative writing qualifications listed as well.

Where are the doctors and lawyers? Where are the bishops, butchers and bakers?

In The Professionalization of Poetry, David Alpaugh wrote "today practically every highly acclaimed poet in America is teaching in a college or university writing program". That was in 2003. He continued "We nonprofessionals need to speak up and make our presence known". My standard bio for UK mags currently reads

Tim Love lives in Cambridge. He's had prose and poetry published in "Stand", "Rialto", "Oxford Poetry", "short Fiction", etc. His publications are "Moving Parts" (HappenStance, 2010) and "By All Means" (Nine Arches Press, 2012). He blogs at

which doesn't help. So I think in future I'll mention that I teach programming at Cambridge University. I could mention that I've taught an astronaut, gold medalists (rowing) and even a "Great British Bake Off" runner-up, but that would be showing off.

David Alpaugh went on to write "We need to remind professionals that the ad-hoc, personalized, dare I say amateur writing process they are striving to replace has produced practically all of the great poetry in the world for over 2500 years! We need to let them know that we expect poetry to continue to be published and honored on the basis of its quality rather than on the professional status or nonstatus of the poet. When you open a literary journal and see what you think is downright prose parading as poetry, write a letter to the editor and ask what it is doing there. When you see poems full of shoptalk, insider references, poetic name-dropping and credential-showing, complain - or, better yet, cancel your subscription.". Well maybe, but one thing at a time. For now, I'll just fix my bio.

Friday 11 November 2016

Literary web-stats

I started my litrefsarticles site in 2010. It's just reached 250,000 hits. I think much of the recent increase in hits is due to bot-traffic, though particular items suddenly become popular (perhaps when essays are due). The most popular page there is Child narrators in adult fiction.

It's not easy to compare web-stats. On Top 24 Magazines for Flash Fiction - Bookfox there's an attempt to determine how much some Flash sites are read, and which are worth submitting to. The numbers can be low - e.g. the page says that the venerable "Vestal Review" has 2,000 visitors monthly. Perhaps literary web mags aren't read much more than the paper ones are, nor so thoroughly.

I'm more successful with my work stuff -

Search stringNumber of results My page's Google ranking

I think that's more to do with the age of the pages and where they are than what they contain. My old Literary Quotes page (on a university server) regularly attracts 7k hits/month whereas, which has the same material, gets more like 500 hits/month, many of them from Russia.

Tuesday 1 November 2016

The Longer Write-ups (2010-12)

I don't try hard to make my write-ups entertaining, but here are some that are longer - they're almost reviews.

Books read 2010-12

Thursday 13 October 2016

Launch of Gregory Leadbetter's "The Fetch"

I was passing through Birmingham yesterday, so I managed to attend the launch of Gregory Leadbetter's first full-length poetry collection. There was a full-house (brimming over, in fact). Jo Bell ably compered, and read too. She's an ever increasing presence on the poetry scene, both live, on paper and on radio.

The supporting cast also included Angela France, who did a short reading. I could have listened to more, but she has another book coming out before long, so I guess I should be patient.

They're all Nine Arches Press writers (and Jane Commane was there to kick things off). Gregory's poetry pamphlet came out with Happenstance, so we have that in common. His first degree was Law at Cambridge (irrationally perhaps, I prefer writers not to have a first degree in literature). He read a generous selection from his book, which I skimmed on the train journey home. The engaging, humourous aspects of his personality evident at the reading don't shine through in the poetry (in contrast to Jo Bell), though there's no shortage of poems "about" family. What struck me during the launch (and moreso later) was his control over long sentences (it's tempting to thank his legal training for that) and the sound effects (perhaps influenced by his reading of the Romantics). Iambics haunt many of the poems, and lines like "It brims from the lake/ where a dead fish floats/ white as blind eye." are rich in repeated sounds. That poem, "Gloaming", ends in a way that shows another side to his work - "Now I learn/ how the bats disappear/ through the door of the trees/ to return seconds later,/ though gone for years.". 2.5 pages of mostly etymological notes help with the extensive vocabulary used. I've a backlog of write-ups scheduled for publication, and at my bedside I've a pile of books to read, but I think this book will be floating to the top of that pile.

[Later] Here's my write-up of The Fetch.

Sunday 9 October 2016

The Longer Write-ups (2013-14)

I don't try hard to make my write-ups entertaining, but here are some that are longer - they're almost reviews.

Books read 2013-14

Thursday 29 September 2016


We spent 4 days in and around Dublin. Dublin looks after its writers. It names bridges after them, it has a Writers' Museum, a Writers' Centre, and bookshops have sections on Irish fiction and poetry. At least 2 of the bookshops have displays of literary magazines (including British ones like Rialto, PN Review, etc). I bought a "Poetry Ireland Review", "The Stinging Fly" and "Town and Country", a collection of stories edited by Kevin Barry. I've not seen "The Stinging Fly" before, though I've heard about it. In September they tweeted that for their next issue they'd received 800+ submissions including more than 500 short stories. Getting a story published in it is hard work.

Beckett's bridge opens fortnightly. His phone is on show - it had a button to block incoming calls. Joyce is mentioned in many more places around the town. The James Joyce bridge leads straight to the house of the dead.

A literary pub-crawl is available, but the trend nowadays seems to be that bookshops have associated cafes or tea-rooms. The Winding Stair isn't the only shop to sell both new and second-hand books. It features on a 72c stamp.

Dublin has the highest smock windmill in Europe, a Leprechaun museum, and an abundance of tattoo shops and massage parlours. We saw the bog people. We went to Howth (where we saw cormorants, a curlew, and net-mending workshops side-by-side with sea-food restaurants) and Dalkey. We passed several Martello towers, but didn't see the one that's in Ulysses. My wife saw the Book of Kells. Trinity College at noon was just like being in Cambridge between lectures. We learnt that they call a half a glass. Speed limits are in km/h. The weather was too good to be true.

Saturday 24 September 2016

"Prose" and "poetry" again

  • Reading Sunshine by Melissa Lee-Houghton (much of which I liked) made me think again about "poetic language" vs "the language of the mentally ill". The non-standard twists, turns and dis-inhibition that characterise some forms of mental illness can have a strong initial impact, displaying features common to poetic language, but it also lacks features (conciseness, unity) that are common to poetic language. Thanks to new treatments we're less exposed than we used to be to schizophrenic or manic language, and hence perhaps we have trouble assessing its literary merit.
  • Reading Citizen (Claudia Rankine) and "Grief is the thing with feathers" (Porter) have made me think again about the prose-poetry spectrum. I'm surprised the "Citizen" was thought eligible for a poetry prize. Certainly some of the book is, but (equally certainly?) some of it isn't.
  • Reading Jonathan Edwards' "My Family and Other Superheroes" (much of which I liked) I thought that many of the texts were poetic without being poems, much as the Mona Lisa could be considered poetic without being a poem. They don't use language as a medium - the words don't warp the thoughts and the thoughts don't distort the language. The language is transparent, letting us see through to the poetic value.
    Was it market forces that made it into a poetry book? It contains a sestina and a villanelle, and books that combine poetry and poetry aren't popular, so I guess the poetry tag is sensible. And besides, the term "poetry" still has an aura that (say) "micro-literature" lacks.

Again, we see the use and abuse of categories. I find the terms "prose" and "poetry" (and come to that "mainstream") useful as short-hand descriptions, but there are situations (competitions, for example, or bookshops) when a text must be assigned to either the "prose" or "poetry" category. It's analogous to the problem in sports when competitors must be either male or female even if in other situations they'd prefer to be undefined.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could stop petty pigeon-holing and just have "Text competitions" instead of "Poetry competitions" and "Story competitions"! Actually, I think some poetry competitions are already "text competitions" in practice, the only limitation being the number of lines. And the Costa Award eventually matches poetry against prose. However, I can't help thinking that category-based competitions will never die out, just as female-only sports won't die out. I'd be wary of entering a "Text competition" - I'm already dubious about the judges' range of aesthetic sensibilities. Besides, most readers prefer to have a rough idea of what's between the covers before they browse or buy - many novel readers don't want to read poetry.

Thursday 22 September 2016

The Longer Write-ups (2015-16)

I don't try hard to make my write-ups entertaining, but here are some that are longer - they're almost reviews.

Books read 2015-16

Thursday 15 September 2016

All change, all change

Autumn's often a time of change, this year even more so -

  • One of my sons is now a doctor - at A&E initially. Loads of anecdotes I'd better not use in stories.
  • My other son starts Univ at Birmingham. I guess we'll be exploring the Birmingham area. The literary events up there are tempting.
  • My wife's 50th birthday's approaching.
  • There are some big syllabus revisions in the courses I'm involved with at work (C++ to Python, etc), with knock-on consequences for years to come.

So there'll be life-style changes. The house will feel quiet (until the builders start the extension). I need a project to keep me busy. Perhaps I should work harder at sorting out my "difficult third book" syndrome.

Wednesday 24 August 2016

Nine Arches Press

Three exciting announcements concerning Nine Arches Press -

  • Julia Webb (whose Bird Sisters I've read) and Roy McFarlane (whose book is out soon) have poems in the Forward Book of Poetry 2017
  • Nine Arches Press has a 50k grant from ACE which will "enable the press to publish 10 new poetry publications and launch a new series of creative writing handbooks called ‘Write Sparks’" along with other initiatives
  • There's summer sale - 50% off lots of Nine Arches Press poetry books, plus some from just £3

Monday 22 August 2016

Books I plan to read

I've managed to shrink my list considerably (but expanded it again in Jan 2017). Here are the prose, poetry and theory books on my current wanted list

  • Ashfeldt, Lane - "Saltwater"
  • DeLillo - "The Angel Esmeralda"
  • Galloway - Jellyfish
  • Goldschmidt - novel
  • Garth Greenwell - What Belongs to You
  • Gospodinov
  • Hall, Tina - "The physics of imaginary objects"
  • Hempel, Amy - short stories
  • Logan, Kirsty - "The Rental Heart"
  • Sexton, Kay - "Gatekeeper"
  • Szalay, David - "All That Man", "All Other ..."
  • Walsh, Joanna - "Vertigo"
  • Wigfall, Clare - short stories
  • Barlow, Mike - poems
  • Boast, Rachel
  • Capildeo, Vahni
  • Foggins -"Much Possessed"
  • Majmudar Amit
  • Pickford - Swimming with Jellyfish
  • Smith, Tracy - Life on Mars
  • Kirsch, Adam - "The Modern Element"
  • Paglia - "Break, Burn ..."

Friday 5 August 2016

Next Generation UK/Eire short story writers?

Every 10 years a list of Next Generation Poets is produced. I think there's an emerging consensus about which authors from Eire and the UK would be on a similar list for story-writers. Their names appear regularly in anthologies and on the back of other people's books even if they haven't published a short story book themselves for a while. As with the poets, age is not a factor. More important is that none of these writers have produced many short story collections yet, that perhaps the best is yet to come -

My current favourites are Elizabeth Baines, Sarah Hall and Danielle McLaughlin. I've not read Janice Galloway, Kirsty Logan, or Clare Wigfall otherwise they'd probably be on the list too. Doubtless I've forgotten some of my other favourites. Apologies in advance.

I've a soft spot for Matthew Francis, Guy Ware and Chris Beckett, but they've probably not produced enough. And though I like much of Jon McGregor's work, I don't think his This Isn't The Sort Of Thing That Happens To Someone Like You suffices to include him here.

Tuesday 26 July 2016

Allotment stocktaking

The allotment (about 250 sq m) is in full swing. We've picked the shallots, onion, garlic and some potatoes, and have been harvesting rhubarb for weeks. Here's the rest

  • Artichoke (globe) - 2 plants
  • Beans - 12m row
  • Beet - 30 plants
  • Beetroot - 60 plants
  • Broccoli - 6 plants
  • Carrots - 30 plants
  • Courgette - 12 plants
  • Fennel - 15 plants
  • Fruit bushes - 5 sq m
  • Leeks - 160 plants
  • Lettuce - 30 plants
  • Parsley - 4 plants
  • Potatoes - 9m row
  • Rhubarb - 4 sq m
  • Sage - 1 bush
  • Sweetcorn - 70 plants

However, the news isn't all good. Muntjac deer (or maybe badgers?) are raiding our sweetcorn.

Later: someone set a motion-activated night-vision camera up. The output's online, entitled Badger devastating sweetcorn at 0213 13 Aug 2016

Wednesday 20 July 2016

A list of holiday posts

I often take books with me when I go on holiday. I do some writing as well, and go on little photography expeditions, so these posts are rather more than holiday write-ups. I don't think that I've ever had anything published that's a result of these holidays, though the odd phrase creeps in.

Monday 11 July 2016


We stayed in Letojanni for a week. The view from our window looked towards Isola Bella, which we often passed. It looked beautiful from a distance.

Our nearest shop had this notice outside, showing a still that it appeared in, from Roberto Begnini's "Johnny Stecchino". They made their own wine, which we bought. Further along the coast is Taormina-Giardini train station, which Begnini's used as well. It's in the Godfather III too.

The view of Etna from Taormina's theatre is impressive.

We went up Etna - by coach, cable-car, bus and foot-guide. It was more bleak than I expected, with snow in places under the ash. I knew that a Pink Floyd film showed it, but I didn't know that ColdPlay used it too.

In Catania I visited the markets and toured the sights. Down a side-road I found Verga's house. I didn't go in - I've not read him. Round the corner was a shop where you could freely exchange books.

This recent statue in Syracuse of Archimedes is only a few weeks old. He's holding a mirror and standing on a combinatorics problem. One of the programming exercises we used to set was based on some of his work. I wandered round the narrow residential alleys of the nearby Ortigia area, having visited the Neopolis area earlier. We saw some papyrus growing.

Here's a scene from Syracuse showing a mix of old and new. The majority of my photos are of streets involving contrasts. Chess fans will be pleased to know that I noticed a Sicilian "Dragon Street" from a bus.

Sunday 19 June 2016


I'm gradually changing my mind about second readings, especially regarding when they're deserved. I think

  • there's too much poetry that shouldn't require a second reading, but does.
  • there are too many pieces that should do more to reward a thorough first reading.

Poems that are too hard

I used to think that "tight" writing was admirable, the tighter the better even at the expense of clarity. Now I'm less sure. Which is best? - a short piece that needs to be read 5 times, or a piece 3 times longer that needs only one reading? The latter's more concise if (as nowadays) time rather than space is the determining factor. A tight piece verging on being cryptic requires reader intervention, but it might not be poetic intervention per se. It might just be a matter of having to de-code - a proof of a commitment after which the reader will be tempted to justify the time they've spent.

If instead the reader gives up after the first few lines, why should the writer worry? Nowadays there seems less of an attempt by writers to discourage accusations of charlatanism or unnecessary obscurity. Nietzsche wrote that poets "all muddy their waters to make them appear deep", which again makes me suspect cryptic poems - even if they're not deceptive they might still be inconsiderate. Whereas tight poems require on-the-fly exegesis skills from the reader, long poems require on-the-fly editing skills, which are more common.

Sometimes a second reading is required because the writing's not clear. Sometime this is deliberate, though that isn't always a good excuse. In

He liked John's body but not his brashness. "Are you doing anything tonight?" "No" "Well let's go out then."

which of the 2 men mentioned in the first sentence popped the question? Should more words be added to make it clearer, or should we assume that the supposedly brasher man made the invitation? Does it deserve a second read? That example's made up, but what about the following from "The Hunter's Wife" by Anthony Doerr? It's not ambiguous but is the lack of punctuation a help?

You know her? the hunter asked.
Oh no, Marpes said, and shook his head. No I don't. He spread his legs and swiveled his hips as if stretching before a foot race. But I've read her

Poems that are too easy

A poem/Flash begins with "he and "she" in conversation. It seems like a father/toddler relationship. Later however, it becomes clear that a grown man is conversing with his senile mother. That twist is what makes the piece work. People usually enjoy the deception. Writers are advised to "show not tell". This piece goes a step further, showing enough to make the readers err so that they can discover their unwarranted assumption.

"punchline pieces" don't survive repeated readings (except for a second reading to admire technique), but the trouble is that some pieces don't survive to the end of a first reading. An experienced reader will be expecting a twist and will try to anticipate it. When I read this piece the banality of the start immediately raised suspicion. I thought the father might be about to deliver bad news to the child about the mother, or that the daughter was an AI system. When the twist came, my reaction was "well, I knew it would be something like that".

I suppose you can't please everyone.

Saturday 28 May 2016

Poems explained online

There are books and study guides that explain individual poems, though the poems aren't always very recent. I think Ruth Padel's "52 ways of looking at a poem" and "The Poem and the Journey" provide a useful service. For many years "The North" has had a "Blind Criticism" section where 2 writers comment on a poem without knowing who write it. In "Smiths Knoll" editors sometimes wrote about a particular poem from the issue. The "Best American Poetry" and "Best British Poetry" anthologies have comments by poets, but rarely anything thorough or online.

Here are some places where you'll find online analysis of poems that aren't too ancient -

Thursday 5 May 2016

Fashion and The Rialto

In Neil Ferguson's letter in "The Rialto 55" he writes that the previous issue's poems "share common assumption about how poems are made ... not one ventures into rhyme ... [they] eschew formal techniques ... [they use] more or less random end stop ... all the poems cohere around a restrictive idea about what a poem is - informal/unformal, confessional, easy to read, smart ... [demonstrate the] demise of the metaphor".

While reading it I was drafting a reply not realising that Fiona Moore's much-welcomed reply followed. I'll put my reply here, then mention Fiona's.


From the outside, a genre or school's common feature can seem dominating or oppressive - disco's all THUMP-THUMP-THUMP; classical music's all Diddledum-diddledum-diddleDEE-diddledum. Fashion in clothes goes through fads too, some of them more pervasive than others (we don't all have to wear demin jeans nowadays).

Unsurprizingly, poetry has its fads, and magazines have their preferences. Poets move with the times, both influenced by and reacting against their surroundings. If they isolate themselves from the present (writing a poem that sounds like Hiawatha, for example), they should expect to be accused of pastiche, or of wearing fancy-dress. If the poets believe in poetry as communication, then they should also accept that reception of a message is influenced by the context that readers inhabit. If poets isolates themselves from the context that their readers inhabit, they may be misunderstood. Working initially within that context, a lucky poet might extend the prevailing range, reviving and remixing styles, but I think that's more the exception than the rule.

Text books lag behind poetry trends. I found John Redmond's text-book "How to write a poem" interesting because it focussed on different elements to those that older primers featured. Perhaps because I read too many old text books and I'm outside the school/genre in question, I sometimes think I detect similarities in a body of work -

  • "The Best British Poetry 2011" had no LangPo, no minimalism, though the final poem's a mash-up. There's little narrative. Stephen Burt in his "Close Calls with Nonsense" writes "In pursuing certain virtues - colorful local effects, personae and personality, juxtaposition, close calls with nonsense, uncertainty, critiques of ordinary language - the current crop of American poets necessarily give up on others. I miss, in most contemporary poetry, the arguments, the extended rhetorical passages and essayistic digressions I enjoy in the poems of the 17th and 18th centuries". In BBP 2011 I rather missed those features too.
  • The "Next Generation poets, 2005" had (individually and collectively, I thought) a narrow range, the main core being from anecdotal lyric to mute-Martian lyric, written in broken prose. I also thought there was non-intellectualism, form/word blindness, and a narrow range of imagery - computers, mobile phones, games shows and cheap flights barely figured, and War, Politics or World Affairs weren't alluded to let alone addressed.

Rialto's reply

I've often bemoaned the lack of explanations of poems, especially articles for people wary of modern poetry. If poets make no effort to explain their poems they shouldn't grumble about low sales of their books. I think Ruth Padel's "52 ways of looking at a poem" and "The Poem and the Journey" provide a useful service. For many years "The North" has had a "Blind Criticism" section where 2 writers comment on a poem without knowing who write it. In "Smiths Knoll" editors sometimes wrote about a particular poem from the issue. More recently, prac crit has appeared. They all help.

It's refreshing to see [sub]editors engaging with readers. Fiona Moore points out in her reply that

  • Especially regarding rigorous forms, magazines can only print what they're sent
  • Technical constraints make writers work harder, avoiding obvious paths
  • Rhyme is less regular and full than it used to be
  • Metaphor is perhaps less obtrusive than hitherto

She ends by saying that she'd like more about "politics, climate change, space and science".

Re the first point, there's obviously a chicken-and-egg issue, but I've never thought of Rialto as an anti-Formulist publication. I feel sometimes that the cliches and deadwood of free-form (gratuitous line-breaks, say) are more tolerated than gratuitous end-rhyme, but that's the fashion.

I'm less enthusiastic about constraints than she seems to be, but my guess is that we differ in our attitude to half-hearted constraints - I'm less tolerant, seeing less value in them.

I agree that sound-effects are less line-based nowadays, with more emphasis on 2-D arrangement and clusters. Padel's books often point these out.

Sunday 1 May 2016

2 archived publications, 2 current concerns

Thanks to virgin media I've needed to move some web material around. I've decided to preserve 2 old, themed publications that I edited. Both were trying to make a point.

4 issues of PaP: Poetry about Poetry appeared 15 years ago. As I've written elsewhere, if tutors tell pupils that they should feel free to write about anything, poetry should be an allowable topic, and if paintings and painters are written about, why not poems and poets?
I still write poems about the nature of poetry, and still sometimes write "Pompidou Centre" poems that show you how they work. I think there's too much "transparent language" poetry out there.

A Form of Words, also about 15 years old, contains Formalist prose. In poetry there's Formalist and free-form writing. If a text has patterning (if it's an abecedarian, for example) there's a tendency to categorize it as a Formalist poem. This might partly be because there were few markets for short prose, but there are more now. In my Short fiction article I tried to reclaim a place for Formalist prose in the fiction spectrum.
I write fewer such pieces than I used to, but just as the definition of "sonnet" is loose nowadays, the formalist prose category is baggier than it was, so maybe I write more Formalist prose than I think. Certainly the trend for shorter pieces encourages more formalism.

Sunday 24 April 2016

From A to B (Arundel to Brighton)

We spent a night at Arundel, in a boutique hotel. We weren't quite the oldest people there. At our table for the evening meal an ice bucket and fizzy wine was awaiting us. I could get used to being middle aged.

I've been blasting away writing prose, following on from last year's burst of activity. I've been giving rein to my Kundera/Julian Barnes tendencies, trying to get the story/essay balance right, trying not let the past take over. Few new poems, but I've been sending old ones off - I've 30 things in the post, including over 70 pounds-worth of competition entries. I'm not counting my chickens, I'm making hay - in writing and more generally. That said, I'm burnt out writing-wise just at the moment, so the Arun break was timely.

On the way back we stopped at Brighton. Straight and tattooless I could have felt out of place there, even on a Sunday, but it's easy to enjoy the scene - like Camden? Like Berlin with a beach? Not really, but it's fun. I picked up the programmes of festivals and learnt a lot of jargon - ghetto funk, lo-fi, dubstep, riot grrrl. The tattoo convention has a new venue this year with natural lighting and beautiful views. At the Brighton Fringe there's

  • Naked Boys Reading (£9.50 for a 1hr show) - "Five naked men deliver readings on, by and about 'women'".
  • Naked Girls Reading (£10 for a 1hr 30m show) - "an intimate show where beautiful women read naked. It's a witty, pretty, grown-up bedtime story for lovers of fine words and fine women".

I hadn't realised that the Royal Pavilion had been a hospital for Indian soldiers. It's a strange story of image management. In Brighton, names and image matter. Shop names include "Barber Blacksheep", "Wooden It Be Nice", "Abra Kebabra" etc. My favourite is "Brighton Wok". Beware - "Singles Bar" sells records.

Monday 18 April 2016

Snapshots in "The Forge"

I have a story in "The Forge" today - Snapshots - and an old story that I've always liked will be in "Jellyfish review" in a few months.

Tuesday 5 April 2016

Mobile phones

They're a pain. In "I just called to say I loved you", Jonathan Franzen wrote "The technological development that has done lasting harm of real significance - the development that, despite the continuing harm it does, you risk ridicule if you publicly complain about today - is the cell phone". They've made several of my stories into period pieces. People no longer get lost in cities or fail to meet people at the right time, unless their mobile goes flat, or they've lost it. Many of the stories I write nowadays begin with characters losing (or forgetting to recharge) their phone.

In the Guardian's Have 40 years of mobile phones given literature bad lines? article, JM Coetzee's quoted - "The telephone is about as far as I will go in a book, and then reluctantly. If people ("characters") are continually going to be speaking to one another at a distance, then a whole gamut of interpersonal signs and signals, verbal and non-verbal, voluntary and involuntary, has to be given up. Dialogue ... just isn't possible."

That said, they make some new plots possible. See

While videoing with his phone in the snow, my son dropped the phone, which became buried, lens up. It continued recording my son's panic until he uncovers it. See the two minute video

There are Cell phone novels, though I'm not convinced.

Tuesday 29 March 2016

Munich, Innsbruck and holiday reading

In March we went to Innsbruck and Munich. Here's how we left our kitchen blackboard (C++ is the computing language that I'll no longer be teaching to first years).

On the plane I read "Will You Take Me As I Am" by Michelle Mercer. It's about Joni Mitchell. I read that she got her "Both Sides Now" idea from "Henderson the Rain King" by Saul Bellow. I've since done some research. In chapter V it says "sitting above the clouds, I felt like an airborne seed ... And I dreamed down at the clouds, and I thought that when I was a kid I had dreamed up at them, and having dreamed at the clouds from both sides as no other generation of men has done, one should be able to accept his death very easily"

I hadn't skied for 3 years, and I'm not much of a skier anyway, but I enjoy the journeys up (highest was 2,250m). Here's the selfie-shadow of me on a chairlift. I read "Plenty-fish" by Sarah James, and "Arc" by David Clarke (both published by Nine Arches Press). I find poetry easier than prose when on skiing holidays. Jeffrey Archer (one of our local authors back in Cambridge) was 14th in the Austrian charts with "Das Vermachtnis des Vaters".

Years ago at a local car boot sale I found this globe of Bavaria. We've visited Munich before, but there's still much that I've forgotten or haven't seen. Overall, there seemed to be more pride about being Bavarian nowadays. We went to a beer event (brass bands, "strongest man" and beauty competitions) and sang the Bavarian anthem. I'm not used to drinking beer by the litre, and it was strong stuff. "craft beer" is in fashion.

The Michael Jackson tribute is still in Munich (where he appeared on a hotel balcony holding his child), and seems well looked after.

We noticed inscriptions like this (bottom right) on door frames in Innsbruck and Munich. According to Ritten Renon These are the symbols of a Christmas tradition originally carried out mostly on the Twelfth Night, when carol singers go from door to door, perform a song and raise money for a charity. After their performance they will write, let’s say “20 C+M+B 15”, on the doorframes with sacred chalk. The numbers represent the respective year. The three letters, C, M, and B don’t stand for the names of the three wise men Caspar, Melchior und Balthasar, as one would expect, but for the blessing “Christus Mansionem Benedicat“, which means „May Christ bless this house” in Latin.

Wednesday 23 March 2016

CB1, March 2016

It was standing space only at the CB1 event (held in CB2), and I was at the back, hence the fuzzy photos. Two locals headed the line-up. Adam Crothers ("Several Deer", Carcanet 2016) has a default style that's well worth investigating, rhyme holding together content that has wit and abrupt tonal variety.

Ilse Pedler was making her first appearance following the publication of her prize-winning Seren pamphlet "The Dogs That Chase Bicycle Wheels". She also uses forms (sonnet, sestina, etc). As the emcee Lindsey Fursland pointed out, her day-job as a vet interacts with her poetry in several ways.

They both gave interesting introductions to their pieces. They both used sonic effects, so hearing the poems added to their effect on the page.

I contributed to the open mic. One of my problems this time was that the font was too small for me to read in the atmospheric gloom of the venue. Maybe one day I'll get it right.

Tuesday 23 February 2016

Archives of articles

Here are some useful archives of articles about writing -

Wednesday 10 February 2016


A podcast by the Australian Broadcast Corporation has several authors listing their influences. It's an interesting mix. "MiddleMarch" is mentioned, but so is the TV series "Skippy", the 70s band "Sweet" and the "BladeRunner" film. Here's my list.

  • "Thunderbirds" - I fear that many of my narrative templates derive from the original TV series.
  • "The Golden Cobbler" (Enid Blyton) - As a child I read some books repeatedly. This is the only title I recall. But though she wrote hundreds of books, there's no book of that name. I think I've mixed titles up.
  • Pink Floyd - "Wish You Were Here" mostly. I think my templates may have been affected by the end of "Echoes" or the arrival of the Sax in WYWH.
  • "Cinema Paradiso" (the original version - not the director's cut) - charming and sad - what more can one ask for?
  • "So many ways to begin" - a novel by Jon McGregor. On the ABC program someone said that they were scared to re-read certain books in case they weren't as good the second time around. I felt like that about this novel, but my fears were unfounded - I've read it twice

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 -