Monday 30 December 2019

A UK poetry submission schedule for early 2020

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

Wednesday 18 December 2019

A UK/Eire prose submission schedule for early 2020

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 -

Monday 16 December 2019

My writing year

It began so well. I amassed 5 acceptances in January. By July I'd had 18 prose/poetry acceptances. But in the second half of the year I managed just one acceptance. Rejections have been pouring in.

I wrote 11 poems. 4 might be ok, though some of those are slight. One's been accepted by "Fenland Journal". I wrote 12 stories (about 13,000 words), about half of them decent, amongst them some Flash. In spring I wrote a 3,000 word story which pleased me. Nothing's been accepted yet.

Below are my updated poetry stats -

Other people's stats include

My reading was more fruitful. As usual, I managed to read about 100 books -

  • I'm glad I finally got round to reading short story collections by Claire Keegan, Courttia Newland, Eley Williams and Janice Galloway.
  • It's been a year of flash collections - K.M.Elkes, Meg Pokrass, Gary Duncan, Paul Beckman, etc.
  • Among the poets that impressed were John McCullough.

As much as anything it's been a year when I've given some writers another chance and they've let me down again - Jackie Kay (poems), Tim Dooley, Penelope Lively (her stories), Douglas Dunn (his stories), Tessa Hadley (her stories).

Monday 9 December 2019

Curate's egg poetry

A poem's rarely full of "good" lines. For a start, few lines are good or bad in isolation - their value is affected by context, and their purpose may be to increase the value of other lines rather than be important in themselves. They may provide continuity or background information. A poem needs pacing. It needs lines that act as sounding boards (material for the effect of the good lines to permeate into, in preference to white space).

However, while developing or critiquing a poem we often underscore "bad" lines. If these lines form most or all of a stanza, the stanza's vulnerable. A recognisable unit is easier to delete than part of a whole. This is why short-stanza'd poems are risky - they offer easy targets. Even more so list poems - each item can be individually ticked or crossed.

Readers might gloss over lines they don't like/understand, especially if they adopt a holistic top-down approach. Alternatively, bottom-up readers might assign penalty points or be distracted by lines they perceive as weak. Authors vary too in their attitude to their less good lines. Sometimes their policy is "if in doubt leave it out", taking no risks. Others assume the reader (each according to their own tastes) will do the editing. Avoiding the use of stanzas (or writing a long poem) is a way to stop the weak lines being isolated and picked on.

"Safety first", reader-centric poetry doesn't suit all readers. Nor does daring (aka hit-and-miss?) poetry. I vary in my preferences when reading - though I don't ignore duff lines, I'm prepared to turn a blind eye if there are adequate compensations elsewhere. When writing I'm more of an "if in doubt" person.

Tuesday 26 November 2019

Keeping books and magazines

As regards writing, it's been a quiet autumn. Instead, we've been refitting the bedroom with a floor-to-ceiling wardrobe that has lots of book space. I look up old collections quite often (most recently I looked for Chrissie Williams' "Flying into the bear" pamphlet having bought her "Bear" book) so it's useful not to have my books and magazines boxed away. The photo shows about half of what I have.

The classifications are "publications I'm in", "magazines" (my most recent issue of each. I added "n+1" to the collection recently), "poetry monographs", "HappenStance", "prose monographs", "poetry anthologies","prose anthologies", "other". I'm beginning a "flash" section. Strangely sized magazines have a section too. I've hardly any novels.

I use the "magazines" most often, to show fellow writers places they might want to send their work to. It's the anthologies that I most often re-read. Since most of the books are small-press they contain material that's not on-line, and is probably out of print. I find them a useful resource. For example, when checking on the modern use of sestinas I found many examples I wouldn't have found elsewhere.

I don't think I'm hoarding. I've kept only one complete set of magazines, namely "Panurge".

Sunday 24 November 2019

Going fast

Pop into the HappenStance shop while stocks last.

Tuesday 1 October 2019

Notes for a style vs content workshop

The notes I used to run a workshop on style versus content in prose are online now - see Style and substance

Wednesday 25 September 2019


We had 4 days in Krakow, staying in a place whose staircase reminded me of Edinburgh tenements. We saw the Salt mines, the lively Jewish Quarter, and a few Museums. Being with the younger generation opened my eyes to how things are nowadays - useful for updating my story-writing. I took my first Uber, stayed at my first airbnb, learnt about reviewing, and watched while the rest of the family hired scooters for little trips.

From the tower in the square we got a good view. We've been to Prague, and noted a few similarities. Wedded couples were being photographed around the town. Drivers were good about stopping at zebra crossings. I saw no betting shops. There were a few (sometimes chic) second hand shops, lots of "Alcohole" shops but no public drinking.

At the foot of the tower is a popular photo-opportunity - people poke their head through the eye hole.

I realised that my knowledge of Polish culture is close to zero, I've read Miłosz, Szymborska and Herbert a little, and Conrad. A visit to the national museum helped me catch up with 20th century art. I also visited the modern art gallery by Schindler's factory.

Friday 13 September 2019

Dark Horse issue 41 and reputations

"Dark Horse issue 41" has 96 pages, nearly half of them devoted to the editorial, essays, an interview and bios (just one page of them). There are essays about the role of the internet in damaging the reputation of living poets, and articles examining the reputation of dead poets. Was Anthony Hecht a misogynist? Was Whitman?

I've wondered before about how writers' reputation are affected by their deaths. For some, it's as if the literary world is waiting for them to die so they can be written out of the records. A poet can write good poems, they can help keep a poetry institution or magazine going, but if others write better in a similar style, if someone can step into their vacated role, they'll soon be forgotten.

Then there are the larger-than-life writers, those who are for some reason memorable. There's a risk that when they die, their poetry will go down with them, sometimes undeservedly.

Karl Knights' essay "Three Palsied Poetry: Poetry and Disability" looks at the reputation of 3 poets who had cerebral palsy. Because of their disability they were all physically memorable. I suspect people found it hard not to think of the poet when they read the poetry. This can work both ways.

  • Larry Eigner (I've never heard of him) struggled to type with 2 fingers. He wrote little about his disability. He was in seminal Black Mountain and L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E publications. Though championed by William Carlos Williams, Bukowski, etc, he received little recognition in his lifetime. He's beginning to receive acclaim. Knights thinks that "By focussing on form and experimentation, he made a posterity for his work likelier."
  • Vassar Millar (I've never heard of her) wrote much more often about her disability. She wrote religious poetry too and was rigorously formal. James Wright admired her work. She was nominated for a Pulitzer in 1961. Knights thinks that "Since her death, her work has been almost entirely forgotten."
  • Christy Brown's "My Left Foot" was published when he was 22. I've read it and I've seen the film. Brown later thought the book was 'immature juvenilia'. He spent 17 years writing "Down All the Days", a novel which received much acclaim - "the most important novel since Ulysses" said an Irish Times reviewer. Knights thinks that "Brown's novels have come to be seen as frivolous novelties". They're now out of print, though "My Left Foot" is still around.

Later Knights writes that "The only instance I can think of where a disabled person attained an editing post is Judy-Lynn del Ray". As he points out, this infiltration into the institutions is important. I think it's why cultural changes can take years - first there were more woman writers, then more women editors, then there were women writers who grew up in a world where there were more women editors.

Wednesday 28 August 2019

What non-poets need to know about poetry

  • There are no poets - Nobody earns their keep merely by writing poetry.
  • Poetry's not often a special language - Read it first as if it were prose, ignoring the line-breaks.
  • There are many types of poetry - True, there are many types of music too but you don't often have Abba and Beethoven on the same CD. A poetry anthology can have a crazy mix. Don't expect to like it all.
  • Not all poetry was written for you - Some poets perform only for poets, writing books only for poets. They don't feel the need to justify their poems word by word to unbelievers.
  • Books aren't everything - Book runs don't often exceed 300. Running a workshop for a day will earn a poet more than years of royalties. Most poems appear in magazines you'll probably never see.

Monday 19 August 2019

Publishing - Web or paper?

Speak to science academics and librarians and you find out that the paper/electric choice is a big issue more generally, particularly for periodicals. Why publish anyway?

  • Announcing - To announce that you've written (or discovered) something - the web's good for this.
  • Distributing - So people can read your work. Online publications are read far more than paper ones, especially amongst the young. But will prospective readers be able to find your work? Web magazines tend to disappear.
  • Archiving - So your work can be preserved. Books may be kept by libraries but do copyright libraries take many paper magazines nowadays? Are e-book repositories reliable?
  • Ambition - To gain status. The gain depends on the status of the publication, which in turn depends on longevity and the quality of the contents. Paper publications from a university used to be reliable, but they're disappearing fast. Academic journals often have an "impact factor" indicating how worthwhile publication in them is. Some online academics journals are gaining fast on the established ones. The same could be said for literary magazines. "Best British Short Story" pieces come from online and paper sources. Some paper sources (Stand?) seem rather neglected. Clifford Garstang's list is a literary start at building an impact league table of US magazine.

All in all it's not clear to me that paper publication is much more reliable than web publication either in terms of impact or archiving. One option for archiving is to store your work in the cloud. It's free, and you can use it as a backup. You can keep it private, putting alongside your will some instructions on how to make it visible to all. If that's what you want.

Monday 12 August 2019

Oxford visit

We visited Oxford on Sunday morning - a good time to do so, though tourists were were out en masse. The walls are higher and the roads wider than those of Cambridge, but there are pedalo punts. We didn't do the Inspector Morse walk, nor did we visit scenes from films, though we did seek a few Tolkien haunts (apparently there were Narnia vs Middle Earth arguments in The Eagle and Child pub). I didn't realise that Hardy's "Jude the Obscure" is partly set in Oxford - there's a pub in the Jericho area named after the novel.

We joined the queue waiting for Blackwell's to open. I followed the signs upstairs to the Poetry Corner and was impressed to find a shelf or two devoted to poetry pamphlets, HappenStance amply represented. I should have bought more books while I was there.

They also have a dedicated short stories section. I ended up buying "Best British Short Stories 2019". I buy that anthology each year (the Poetry one I often don't buy).

Friday 9 August 2019

Another UK guide to getting your poetry book published

You may have been interested in poetry for years, read several collections (though perhaps not recent ones), gone to evening classes, build up a little collection that's no worse that some books you've seen. You've tried a local poetry group, and they said nice things. You'd like get a book published. You know that sending something straight to Faber is daft, but what options are there? You may be a successful professional, used to navigating through systems. You may be new to the country with poetry successes elsewhere. All you need are a few pointers to how the UK poetry world works.

This page assembles some information without offering anything new - see the "See Also" section for more comprehensive alternatives.

Your aims

Why do you want to be published? A typical poetry book has a print run of 200 - are you sure it's worth all the effort? Perhaps self-publication on paper and/or the WWW will satisfy your ambitions. Perhaps you're more of a performance poet. Perhaps writing poetry is a form of therapy for you and merely writing the poetry is enough.

If you want interaction with the poetry world, attending workshops and festivals may be a better approach. Publishing a book may lead to nothing. Publishing in some WWW magazines may get some feedback from readers if the magazine's set up that way, but don't bet on it.

Short cuts

  • Get famous - An Arsenal player or TV celebrity probably has 100% chance of getting a book published.
  • Have an interesting/personal topic with possible tie-ins - Norfolk Churches, Recovery, etc. Don't hesitate to exploit your current profession.
  • Win a pamphlet competition - several well established competitions exist where the winner gets a pamphlet published. Entry fees can be as much as £25. I've not noticed previously unpublished poets winning these, but they could. See Pamphlet Publication in the UK
  • Join a mentoring scheme - for example, the Primers scheme run by Nine Arches Press gives unpublished poets a chance of publication, and opportunities for live events.


There's probably no point sending a manuscript to a publisher unless you have a record of publications in magazines, or prizes. Magazines (or at least samples) are online, and the National Poetry Library on the South bank has hundreds of current issues for you to browse through. Look at the magazines' bio pages to see what type of people appear in them. For some of these publications, 1 in 30 submissions are accepted. For others it's more like 1 in a 1000.

Look amongst the acknowledgements of a poetry book you like, or the yearly anthologies to get ideas for where it's worth sending pieces. Here are links to some reviews of recent anthologies -

  • The forward book of poetry 2015. All but 7 poems came from books. PN Review, Kaffeeklatsch, and London Review of Books were amongst the magazines represented.
  • The best british poetry 2014 (Salt). At least half of the poems came from only 4 magazines - Poetry London, Poetry Review, Kaffeeklatsch, and London Review of Books

Very roughly, the best places to be seen in, market-impact-wise, are The TLS, The LRB, Granta, PN Review and Poetry Review. I've been in none of them. Then there's Stand, Rialto, London Magazine, Manchester Review, Oxford Poetry, Poetry London, Magma, Ambit, North, Envoi, Agenda, Poetry Wales, The Dark Horse, High Window, Compass, Brittle Star, Antiphon, Atrium, Acumen, South, Interpreter's House, Orbis, Prole, Fenland Reed, Lighthouse. And many others.

There are specialist magazines too - MsLexia and Artemis (for women writers), the Grey Hen press anthologies (for older women), Wasafiri (for "writers from African, Caribbean, Asian and Black British backgrounds"), The Long Poem Magazine, Modern Poetry in Translation, Shearsman (late-modernist), Tears in the Fence (late-modernist?), etc.

Of particular interest to you for book publication might be PN Review, Under the Radar, Envoi, (and to a lesser extent Rialto and Acumen) because the editors also run a press (Carcanet, Nine Arches Press, and Cinnamon respectively). They might notice you.

Both Orbis and Acumen have pages of readers' letters (Orbis lets you vote on the best poems of an issue!) which might offer you a way to get yourself noticed.

Note that you'll be in competition with people who've had Creative Writing experience (as a student or teacher), or who need poems published to further their Creative Writing career, so you'll need stamina and dedication. It's always a good idea to read a magazine before sending poems to them.

  • Editors - Poetry Review changes editorship every 3 years or so. Most of the other magazines have a stable editorship (Orbis and Acumen have had the same editors for decades). Magma is themed with different editors each issue.
  • Styles - They nearly all accept rhymed and unrhymed pieces. Fewer accept wildly experimental pieces. For practical reasons, many prefer shorter pieces. Rialto has an A4 2-column portrait format which makes it easy for them to print long, thin poems. Stand has a landscape format.
  • Submitting - A few magazines still require paper submissions. Many use Submittable - an online submissions system. A few (e.g. Ambit) charge for submissions. A few want covering letters addressed to the editor by name, some others dislike covering letters. A few want a photo and expect you to have a web-presence of some sort. Most (though not Acumen) expect a bio. "South" has an anonymous submission system. Magazines increasingly accept simultaneous submissions and have submission windows. See their guidelines for details. Keep a mix of submissions on the go - ambitious ones along with more routine attempts. Keep at least 20 pieces in circulation, and of course keep a record of what you've sent.

Be prepared for long waits then disappointment. Some magazines have a policy of not sending rejections - if you've not heard from them after a certain time you assume the worst. Don't expect any feedback. Send the poems out again as soon as you can.


Sometimes publishers ask for submissions for a particular forthcoming title - sometimes charity-based, sometimes for an important book like "The Faber book of ...", sometimes a scam. Some of these books may never appear in shops - only the "successful" poets end up buying copies, the publisher having accepted as many poems as possible.

See Also

Friday 2 August 2019

Unthology 11 launch

Yesterday I attended a launch of the story collection, "Unthology 11", in Norwich, in the murky literary equivalent of the Cavern. It's published by Unthank Books, who publish other worthwhile fiction collections and run tempting courses. A small press that focuses on fiction is especially worth supporting.

As its title suggests, it's not an anthology. The pieces are chosen from what's submitted - previously unpublished non-Flash stories. This is different from the Best British Stories anthology, where the editor picks from whatever magazines and books s/she can get his hands on. Other anthologies (e.g. Pushcart in the US) invite editors to nominate and send in work they've published. And some anthologies (e.g. The Bristol Prize anthology) print a competition's short-listed pieces.

Jude Cook read at the evening first. He describes how the piece came about on the Unthology blog. As usual with Norwich events I dashed off to catch the 9.15 train, thus missing the end, but it was worth the trip.

Saturday 20 July 2019

Julia Webb and Jessica Mookherjee launch

I went to the co-launch of Nine Arches Press books by Julia Webb and Jessica Mookherjee (both of whom I've seen before, in Norwich and Cambridge respectively) with a guest appearance by Tom Sastry.

It had been a day of firsts - my first visit to London Wetland Centre (otters!), Old Spittalfields Market, Leadenhall Market, and my first visit to the Poetry Society's HQ.

It was a full house (many more women than men). I recognised a few faces in the audience from book covers. I've not heard Tom Sastry before. He's one to watch. I especially liked his "A Man's House Catches Fire" poem.

Monday 15 July 2019

Some recent Flash collections

I've been catching up on recent Flash Fiction collections from acknowledged experts in the genre and/or heroic publishers. They're all worth a read.

  • "You're Not Supposed to Cry" by Gary Duncan (Vagabond Voices, 2017. Puffs by Paul Beckman, etc). He's the founding editor of Spelk Fiction, a Flash magazine.
  • "Some of us glow more than others" by Tania Hershman (Unthank books, 2017) is a mix of Flash and short stories. She's an experienced tutor, judge and writer of Flash, who's published short story and poetry books too.
  • "Nothing to worry about" by Vanessa Gebbie (Flash: The International Short-Short Story Press, 2018). Another experienced tutor, judge and writer of Flash, who's published short story and poetry books too.
  • "Alligators in the Night" by Meg Pokrass (Ad Hoc Fiction, 2018. Puffs by Gaffrey, Scotellaro, etc). One of the big names in Flash, as tutor, judge and writer.
  • "Kiss kiss" by Paul Beckman (Truth Serum Press, 2019). Another of the big names in Flash.
  • "All That Is Between Us" by K.M.Elkes (Ad Hoc Fiction, 2019. Puffs by Readman, Pokrass, Hershman, Gaffrey, etc). A short story tutor.

Most of these authors write "proper" Flash, with a narrative. Tania Hershman strays the most, writing pieces that could be prose poems. Some of Vanessa Gebbie's pieces are difficult to classify too.

The pieces that have been previously published have appeared mostly in specialist Flash magazines (Beckman's acknowledgements page mentions 40 magazines!) though there have been a few break-out successes.

The International Short-Short Story Press, who published Vanessa Gebbie's book, also publish a paper-based magazine called "Flash", which is on the acknowledgements page of most (maybe all) these books.

On the cover of Meg Pokrass's book there's a Paul McVeigh quote - "If you ever hear someone say they don't get flash fiction or ask what impact can you possibly make with prose in such few words? - tell them to read Meg Pokrass."

Will any of the books convince non-Flashers of the merit of the format? I'm not so sure. People irritated by short stories (claiming that they're too short for depth or immersion) will be even more irritated by Flash. Poets are used to reading short pieces but won't appreciate Flash's lack of entanglement with language. I suspect Flash will continue to be read and reviewed mainly by people who write Flash, the same names incestuously cropping up. But assemble the best 5 from each of these books and you'll have an anthology with enough clout to challenge some recent poetry anthologies I've seen, clear of pretension and rich in ideas. It would be worth comparing it with Simon Armitage's "Seeing Stars" and some other supposedly poetry books.

Thursday 11 July 2019

Recent online publications

Monday 1 July 2019

The year so far

We're half way through the year and I've 19 acceptances already - a record for me. I don't know why, because I adopted the same submissions strategy as I did last year when I had much less success. 2 stories, 5 Flash pieces and 12 poems. £70 pounds.

I've written 5 stories (about 6,000 words) this year. Only 2 poems though, so I may be heading for another record.

Tuesday 18 June 2019

A submission schedule for the rest of 2019

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

Monday 3 June 2019

Poetry and responsibility

I think poets have very little influence, though they can cause offense. Given the low readership that poetry attracts, poets and editors might think they can ignore prevailing trends. Perhaps they can for a while, but an unfortunate phrase can be taken out of context and go viral. As a comedian has said, "Today we’re all one clumsy joke away from public ruin.” I don't write the kind of poetry that challenges taste, and I avoid writing about family and friends. Diversity-wise I don't do so well. I end up writing only about what I know. I'm working on it.

I've noticed a bit of a backlash against political correctness and the crasser aspects of diversity drives. Rishi Dastidar's "Diversity campaign" poem is fun, with "the smiling, camp White man; the pretty, submissive East Asian women; the Afro-Caribbean guy who we still feel is threatening so we've put him at the back; the South Asian wearing glasses - obviously he's good with numbers. Although we never manage to include the wheelchair user we're always meaning to".

I've written some articles about the issues, including material harvested from the web. See -

Tuesday 21 May 2019

Anglo-Indian poetry event

I've had to miss some recent Ely, Bedford and Cambridge readings because of other commitments. On 17th May, though bug-ridden, I managed to attend an Anglo-Indian event. I knew of 2 of the poets there, Prabhu Guptara and (pictured against a musical, artistic backdrop) Rishi Dastidar (Nine Arches Press). Usha Akella, Mona Dash, Kavita A. Jindal, Jessica Mookherjee, Soul Patel and Yogesh Patel performed too.

Rishi, fresh from being Guest Tutor at an Arvon Course ("Poetry: Towards a Collection"), read from his book the pieces I most liked - "A shark comes to dinner" gets better each time I hear/see it.

Tuesday 14 May 2019

Becoming an international writer

How can you become an "international writer"? Get accepted by foreign magazines. Of course, there's Eire (Stinging Fly, etc), New Zealand (Flash Frontier, etc), Australia and the USA. Luckily, there are also english-language magazines in several other countries, some able to attract familiar names. Have a look at -

Thursday 9 May 2019

"Dear Editor" (Folly Magazine)

Dear Editor,

I like reading small press magazines - all human life is there. After a while I find I've read so many contributions by some authors that they're like old friends, the kind who send letters only when there's bad news. The frequency of heart-rending incidents makes me wonder whether tragedy triggers writing or whether writers are prone to disasters.

I feel sorry for you Web magazine editors; editors of printed magazines know authors' changes of address, and from subscription cheques can see joint accounts become single ones. The biographical notes you supply say so little - concerned readers like me can piece together these broken lives only by subscribing to many magazines. I pick one author (Tim Love) but I could have chosen many others like him who have chosen share their personal tragedies in this way, unburdening themselves gradually, trying not to upset readers too much.

In "Autumn and After" (Summit 2) his wife died when they were childless. We read how he decided not to marry again, instead going to India where, in "New Life" (Dream 13), his mother died. Eventually he does remarry, but "Taking Mark this time" (Staple) tragically describes his wife's death when their son was only 4.

A sonnet "Wither the Love" then appeared in Poetry Nottingham. Trauma can induce formalism as the only way to keep the emotions under control (see Dana Gioia). Sometimes though, mannerism is sloughed off in an attempt to reach the heart of things through understatement (Douglas Dunn). As related in the free-verse "Love at First Sight" (Smith's Knoll 11) his new wife gave birth to a daughter who died before she was an hour old. This is the kind of tragedy from which women in particular never quite recover. So it comes as little surprise that his wife deserted him and their 6 year-old son in "The Big Climb" (Staple).

It would be easy to attribute blame to the author for driving successive spouses to despair, but as with Ted Hughes, it may be that there's something in his temperament that fragile women find attractive. Again, and even more remarkably, he recovers only to be dealt another cruel blow - "Late Night Shopping" (Staple) chronicles life with an autistic child. Perhaps the genes that help a writer produce such diversity of writing also manifest themselves in a less helpful gene diversity in offspring.

To the first-time reader his follow-up, "Rejection" (Envoi), would seem to be about failed submissions (it's encouraging to see that even he gets them!), but our worst fears were confirmed when in a 2004 prizewinner ("Being Open" on the Cambridge Writers web site) we saw him sink into a private hell of alcohol and inflatable dolls.

Now, just a few months later, we read in his biographical notes that he's married with 2 sons; triumphant confirmation to all us writers that we should never give up. I wish him luck.

Mel Vito, Cambridge, UK

["Folly" has disappeared, so I'm reprinting this piece here.]

Monday 29 April 2019

Cycling from Dieppe to Paris

We managed a leisurely ride along the Avenue Verte whose comforting signposts accompanied us through villages that seemed abandoned, past many little, run-down farms, stone buildings and chateaux, along rivers, canals, and disused railways, through industrial estates and woods, and across fields. We couldn't finish at Notre Dame because of the road blocks, but we got close.

We stayed at Neufchâtel-en-Bray (smart hotel meal), Gournay-en-Bray (an appartment - we popped to a supermarket to get food), Bray-et-Lû (swimming pool in restaurant, squawking peacocks, the birthplace of Eluard's daughter next door), St Germain-En-Laye (edge of town motel), and a Timhotel a few minutes from the Louvre. We passed through Gisors, Saint-Germer-de-Fly, etc.

I've not been to Paris in decades. There were many electric scooters (the sort you stand on, hire by the hour, then dump). I wandered through the Beaubourg region at night, which was lively, and I found this poetry venue.

I read John Fuller's poetry for the first time, and even liked a long poem. I read two poetry pamphlets I wasn't so interested by. I started writing a story about a theology teacher that I think I'll be abandoning soon. We took the EuroStar back, another first for me.

Thursday 25 April 2019

"Metastasise" (Journal of Microliterature, 2012)

Met a Star's Eyes

In sequins, in jeans, no vice untried, he's hot, too famous. Sharing in a new rage, fans without sense, ability or taste were stunned by his great disco - very dazzling; such technique, each woman with a queue. Men lined up, hopeful, frustrated - he the most. No table - a rival on the scene with his ex (pert, poisoned laughter) got there first. He could sin till late, a lewd hint enough to get what he wanted. All night stud, he made endless advances. Easy Sue pursued, taking the bait, seriously in love. With excitement he lost count of the times he got on her - danger never far away, envy. Whatever the problem, a debt recalculation got him through.

While ordering his double, he licks his lips, injects himself with the weirdest elation. Sin had transformed his life. When can circumstances change? His key moment - he had to be careful. On the Med he sins again, new cocktails. A new drug treat meant more sickly daze. She was prone to dye her hair a new colour each night. Once a rogue antagonist if led astray, hope entered his life, a recovered drunk. But his weekend spirits failed - too easy to stress doubt. Wisecracking, he scolded her each night. He still spoke too much, a claim he later denied. Liking jewels, he had a greedy side, dead mean to tell the truth, but with friends she forgot all that, said all was fine, no doubts allowed, innocence assured.

The rape he denied. Any hope she had disappeared without successor in sight. There was no missed ache. She'd tear strips off him, the pain no cure. A quiet end was what he wanted to avoid. He wanted to party, longed to be wilder - not with her, coffees piled up. Fears receded. He hadn't even won friends' love, though he loved disguise. She suddenly realised all that other people missed - defied him, began to wonder, stand apart from his ego. There were other problems though - not earning, back in trouble, a loan turned down. No time to readjust. No ring, of course. It was finished, a lover gone forever, another of life's fated, casual ties.


In sequencing genes - novice, untried - he shot to fame, ushering in a new age. Fans without sensibility or taste were stunned by his great discovery - dazzling, such technique. Each woman with acumen lined up, hopeful, frustrated. He, the most notable arrival on the scene with his expert poise and laughter, got there first. He could scintillate, allude, hint enough to get what he wanted. All night study made endless advances easy. Super-pseud, he took debate seriously, in love with excitement. He lost count of the times he got honoured - anger never far away, envy. Whatever the problem, adept recalculation got him through.

While ordering his double helix he slips, injects himself with a weird distillation. His DNA transformed his life. When cancer comes, stances change. His chemo meant he had to be careful on the medicines again, new cocktails - a new drug treatment, more sickly days. He was prone to diarrheoa - new colour each night. Once arrogant, agony stifled a stray hope, entered his life - a wreck; overt drunk. But his weakened spirits failed - too wheezy, too stressed out. Wise, cracking his code, deader each night. He still spoke to much acclaim. He later denied liking duels. He had agreed, decided, meant to tell the truth, but with friends he forgot all that, said all was fine, no doubts aloud, in no sense assured.

Therapy denied any hopes he had, disappeared without success or insight. There was no mistake. Shed tears drip, soften the pain. No cure. A quiet end was what he wanted too; a void. He wanted to part, he longed to bewilder, not wither, cough. Fees piled up. Fears re-seeded. He hadn't even one friend's love, though he loved his guys - he suddenly realised all that. Other people mystified him, began to understand. Apart from his ego there were other problems though - no turning back, in trouble, alone, turned down. No time to read, just knowing of course it was finished, all over, gone forever, another of life's feted casualties.

[The "Journal of Microliterature" has disappeared, so I'm reprinting it here. It's really one homonym rather than 2 stories]

Saturday 13 April 2019

Recent acceptances

Some recent acceptances have little stories behind them -

  • A poem in "Acumen" - my 200th poetry acceptance (out of 612).
  • A story in "Postbox" - Postbox is a new magazine that takes stories: a cause for celebration.
  • 2 poems in "Atrium" - one written in 1990, the other in 2018. I can't see much difference between them in terms of maturity, etc.

Thursday 4 April 2019

Immersion - why only writers read short stories

During March I wrote a 3000 word story - about the longest I've written. Each day I wrote one or two new drafts. I began to immerse myself in the situation before getting up in the morning, imagining myself in the back garden where the action takes place. Will readers notice that devotion? Maybe a few.

People who read long, popular novels (especially novel series) love to lose themselves in the world of the book, detaching themselves from their surroundings. They get to know the characters and the settings. Many readers seem capable of doing this. Readers who can cope with short stories are rarer - they need to rapidly acquaint themselves with their new surroundings, knowing that their investment is short-term. Reading a multi-author story anthology is harder still, becoming a lost art for the boxed-set generation.

For poetry and Flash there's sometimes the need for similar immersion. More often readers need to tune into something less palpable and enveloping - a tone, a voice, a mood. It's easier to read a single-author work than a magazine or anthology, especially if you're the kind of reader who's looking beyond the text to construct the author's psyche or identity politics.

Of course, some readers (me included, often) distrust immersion, feeling that it's a trick, looking out for the mechanics that the author's used to produce the effect. Often it's done by making the medium transparent, reducing the arty, poetic, sound/language-based effects of their work. An alternative available to poets is to immerse the reader in the sounds, the art.

Genre and stock settings/characters are short cuts to world-building. Significant details help too, as can having characters and situations that readers can empathise with. Online and in books are many tips for writers who want readers to experience immersion, and some more theoretical pieces that also consider immersion in computer games and VR. Here are just a few books and links

What character traits in readers correlate with rapid immersion? Perhaps -

  • Easy detachment from the world (daydreaming)
  • Ability to concentrate
  • Ability to deduce worlds, characters and situations from small clues

These are much the same traits that writers need, so it's no surprise that only short story writers read short stories - particularly anthologies.

Sunday 24 March 2019

Bardonecchia again

Another skiing holiday when I ran out of time to try the half-pipe. But I did read several books (mostly poetry) between ski-runs - (in reverse order of preference) "Call it blue" by Judi Benson, "Are we there yet?" by Sally Goldsmith, "learning to lie together" by Diane Brown, "No Time for Roses" by Michael Tolkien, "Weather Permitting" by Dennis O'Driscoll, "Madame Zero", stories by Sarah Hall and "Conversations with Friends", a novel by Sally Rooney. None of the poetry books had fewer than 80 pages. Brown's had over 120! They should all have been shorter. The prose books often felt denser and deeper than the poetry.

I've been reading beginner's books about post-modernism which on holiday resulted in the writing of a poem and a story - both unfinished, both worth finishing.

The snow was disappearing fast. We managed to do some country walks (saw lizards) and visit some old haunts. On the plane out we met a group of people in their eighties going skiing, so I guess it's not the end of the piste for me just yet.

Friday 15 March 2019

Subscribing to litmags

Years ago, when I posted England's literary magazines, 1985-2012, I subscribed to many magazines. Now I only subscribe to "Under the Radar", "The Dark Horse", "Acumen", "Stand", "Flash" (Chester Univ) and "Orbis" because many of the magazines I used to subscribe to no longer exist. I try to rotate subscriptions nowadays, my choices rather affected by which magazines accept my work, though I've never been in "The Dark Horse" - it's 5 years since I even submitted.

I read occasional issues of many other magazines - "PN Review", "Poetry Review", "Poetry", etc. I'm less good at reading online magazines - I never read them cover to cover, though I regularly browse Antiphon, Spelk, and Jellyfish Review.

How much longer will paper literary magazines last? A couple of years ago MsLexia led with an article by Debbie Taylor which considered the plight of litmags. She wrote that a "combination of passion and (relative, if not outright) poverty is typical of the vast majority of souls working in the litmag sector", that in 2016 about a third of mags were print only, a third were online-only, and the rest were mixes of various proportions, and that the editors' own work often suffers because of time constraints. She pointed out that Granta and The London Magazine had private backing.

The situation's worsened since then, the souls working in the litmag sector getting older each year. On the bright side -

  • The magazines still surviving presumably pick up a few subscribers from demised ones. I suspect the ones that do the best are tied into a press, have launches, run competitions, and have a social media presence.
  • New paper-based magazines continue to appear, often with high production values.

Tuesday 5 March 2019

Moroccan mules

Middle Atlas mountains. Waiting at the entrance to our hostel are the mules who'd carry our luggage.

Marrakech. A mule relaxing in a sunny side-road.

Zerhoun. Like most of the mules we saw, this one was well padded. I don't know what was in the tanks. Cooking oil?

Middle Atlas mountains. When faced with a mule, the rule is to stick to the inner side of the path. This mule was carrying supplies to the village where we stayed.

Friday 22 February 2019

Second again

Before I retired from the rat-race I was first in the West Sussex poetry competition (1992), first in the "short Fiction" (Univ of Plymouth) competition (2006), and placed in competitions run by "Varsity", "Cambridge Writers", "Kent and Sussex Poetry Society", and "Staple". I've more or less given up entering competitions nowadays - my poetry's more suited to magazines, and my better stories are too literary, I suspect.

I make exceptions for some competitions that are free to enter, have book-publication as the prize, have a theme that I've already written a piece for, or publish an anthology.

I belong to a writers group (Cambridge Writers) that offers free entry to their competitions for members. I don't think I've ever won their story competition. Often I don't even get commended. This time I managed second again - worth £70. I think I'll try harder next year.

Wednesday 13 February 2019

Sunday 27 January 2019

Short story books I've recently read

Over Xmas I caught up with some books that have been on my reading list for a while -

  • "An Account of the Decline of the Great Auk, According to One Who Saw It" by Jessie Greengrass (JM Originals, 2015) - Plenty of the narrators share a suave, sub-claused style - e.g.
    Nor did the severity of the winters deter me. They would be hard, I knew; not casually hard, as the tedium of January in southern England is hard, with its mud and drizzle and skies like sodden newsprint, but a force in opposition, a way of being rather than a backdrop; and consequently their survival would confer the certainty of great courage, persistence and inner strength (p.37)
    Several are loners escaping from grief or bereavement by fantasising or staying in remote places, though we're told that
    While all of these putative new lives involved escape, to claim this as their function is a reduction of their appeal to the obvious and trite. They represented I think not so much a running away as a sloughing off (p.41)
    At the end they can't always re-enter the world they retreated from. "Dolphin" is my favourite piece.
  • "Attrib. and other stories" by Eley Williams (Influx Press, 2017) - Lots of wordplay and synaesthesia, break-ups (of which there are several) triggering a dash into etymology/typography -
    An exclamation mark is a full-stop with a cockatoo's crest. Full stops, three full-stops. Had you been waiting for me to finish your sentence and to join the dots? Lichtenstein or Seurat (p.72)
    I'm impressed by "And back again", perhaps my favourite story in all these books.
  • "Vertigo" by Joanna Walsh (, 2015) - The most self-consciously literary of these books perhaps. Almost an episodic novel, each story potentially having the same narrator with the same preoccupations. Other women are there to be compared with. Men are unreliable husbands, ex-husbands or potential bedmates. She's navigating through roles, loss of confidence leading to loss of cohesion - mind splits from body, language splits from mind. The narrator's state of mind is sometimes represented by language ploys - repetition, disruption, point-of-view changes, etc -
    I am too old to look good in a bikini and I have not, across the years, paid enough attention to looking good in a bikini for me to look good in a bikini. But, even when young, I never paid enough attention to looking good in a bikini (p.105)
    "The children's ward" is perhaps my favourite piece.
  • "A book of blues" by Courttia Newland (Flambard Press, 2011) - The most conventional of these books, and the one that most dealt with social issues. The longest too, twice as long as some of the others, and with the most variety. He uses several viewpoints - first person female, first person male, various third person varieties - and various voices. "Beach Boy" was my favourite piece.

Wednesday 16 January 2019

Recent publications

I'm behind on publication announcements. Here are the most recent ones -

Friday 4 January 2019

Offensive poetry

I've updated this and moved it - see Offensive poetry.