Sunday 28 April 2024

Show not tell? Nouns not verbs?

The novel I'm currently listening to has "her eyes sad but resolute". The point-of-view is of somebody else, so the author knew that "She was sad but resolute" would be wrong, but giving eyes such expressive ability isn't the solution, unless the observer's analytical abilities are being mocked.

The same book has "she had a flirty smile on her face". Why the noun "smile" rather than the verb "smiled"? The phrase "on her face" is redundant anyway. Perhaps the answer is that with nouns you can use adjectives rather than adverbs, and "flirty" sounds better than "flirtily"?

Another book has "There was an audible trembling in his voice". I don't know why "audible" is there but I'm more puzzled by why the noun "trembling" is preferred to the verb "trembled". What's wrong with just "His voice trembled"?

Yet another book has "a scream came out of her mouth" rather than "she screamed". Perhaps there's an attempt at distancing, of making the scream more real by making it into an object. A potential advantage of this construction is that extra verbs and adjectives can be used - "a stifled scream burst from her mouth" maybe.

Saturday 20 April 2024

Free Verse bookfair 2024

This was my first visit to London since Covid. There were at least 70 stalls this year. I bought "Southwords 45" (from Cork, Ireland), "The Cold Store" (Elisabeth Sennitt Clough) and saw some familiar faces. In the LRB bookshop I bought "Reverse Engineering II" (a story collection with explanations from the authors). Given the cost of postage nowadays, I didn't need to buy many books to nearly cancel out the cost of the train ticket.

Sunday 14 April 2024

Short story collection sales

If poets think the publishing world is against them, they should consider the story writers. Conan Doyle could earn enough to live just by writing short stories. More recently, John Updike (thanks to the New Yorker) could sometimes (with the help of reviewing) be in that condition too. The trend has been down ever since.

  • In the UK in 2002 "fewer than 25 books of short stories were produced by mainstream publishers. And two thirds were by writers from abroad" according to Debbie Taylor (Mslexia, Spring 2003).
  • In 2017, The Bookseller announced that "Short story anthologies are enjoying a boom in sales, rising by almost 50% in value, to reach their highest level in seven years." though Hanks and Jojo Moyes accounted for 22% of those sales. The Guardian's Complete fiction: why 'the short story renaissance' is a myth article gives more details.
  • Sales were static during the pandemic, while sales of novels increased.
  • In 2022 Miranda Bryant wrote a Guardian article, "Tales of the unexpected: the surprise boom in UK short stories". In it Nicholas Royle points out that "Salt Publishing, Comma Press and Nightjar Press, and prizes such as the Sunday Times short story award, the BBC national short story award, the Manchester fiction prize and the Edge Hill short story prize ... have played a key role."

Comprehensive statistics are hard to come by. e-books and freely available Web-published pieces confuse the issue. The stats probably don't cover books sold at readings, but that's where poets have another advantage over story writers - there aren't many story readings.

In some countries (Eire perhaps) things may be better though when I was last wandering in Paris (2019) I got the impression that short stories were struggling there too. This photo of Maison Poésie's front window, isn't very clear, so let me translate the little comic strip.

  1. Short story
  2. "Would you like to publish my short stories?"
  3. The End

Alice Munro's Nobel success, Tom Hanks' book of stories, and Jennifer Egan's Pulitzer Prize-winning "A Visit from the Goon Squad" don't seem to have changed public opinion.

Sometimes story writers try to make their collections look like novels. A more recent trend is to try to attract readers of Flash by having a mix of short and long pieces. Claire-Louise Bennett's "Pond" combines both of those ploys. Stories from The White Review, Stinging Fly, Harper's Magazine and New Yorker form an episodic novel of sorts. Several of the pieces are less than a page. Did the trick work? I don't know, but it was widely and well reviewed.

Sunday 7 April 2024

Stuart Henson and Martin Figura

On 4th April I attended an Engage afternoon event at Huntingdon Library with about 20 others. Stuart Henson spent about half the time reading some of his poetry. He began by saying he was happy for people to comment and query at any time. The rest was Q&A and discussion. He was described in the announcement as a local poet (ancestors many generations back being local too) and read some poems inspired by local/family details. An Eric Gregory Award winner, he's published several books, mostly with Shoestring. He illustrated the various things poetry can do. I enjoyed the session and liked the format.

On 7th April I attended CB1 to hear Martin Figura, who read at CB1 in 1991. It was his 4th gig in 4 days. I liked best his poem about an imaginary meeting with Larkin. There were about 40 people (including his son) at the event, about half of them reading.

Wednesday 3 April 2024

Paying for help with writing in the UK

Maybe you've never had a poem or story published. Maybe you've already had a book published. Whatever level you're at, you may feel that your creative development need an injection of pace. What options offer value for money? Options include

Writers Groups

Local writers groups might offer monthly meeting for maybe £20/year. Quality is variable, and you need to give as much crit as you get. There are online forums too.

Evening classes

Quality is variable, and like writers groups, they take months to have an impact.

Specialised Courses

The Poetry School is an example of an organisation that offers 1-day sessions (e.g."Short order poetry to go" - 72 pounds) and courses (e.g. "The Construction of the Poem " - a 30-week course)

Residential courses

The most well-known is Arvon - about £700/week. There are many beneficial side-effects. Immersion for a week in a writing environment helps people to start thinking of themselves as "writers". See the post by John Foggin


Some festivals/conferences offer workshops as well as celeb events


Several magazines, often as part of the standard submission process, offer critiques with quick turn-arounds. See for example


It's not so much the academic surroundings that attract late-comers -

  • It's a way of finding a peer-group which might last you way beyond the length of the course.
  • You may appreciate the disciplined approach, the lack of distraction, the easy availability of help.
  • Unless you show you're serious about writing, your family won't take you seriously and won't give you space.
  • A Masters is a way to validate your skills - even if it doesn't help you write better, the certificate at the end will open doors.
  • It will show the grandchildren that you're not over the hill yet.

See Should I do a Creative Writing MA? (Emma Darwin)


Many "how to write" books have exercises. A good example is "52: Write a Poem a Week. Start Now. Keep Going." by Jo Bell (Nine Arches Press, 2015)


Mentoring is about $40/hour, and 60,000 words cost at least £400 to be evaluated. Regional Arts Boards can sometimes help with funding or at least offer recommendations. Even if you find a reputable company, you won't know beforehand how useful their comments will be, but even their help with the all-important first few paragraphs may make all the difference. In an advert I recently read, "Established, acclaimed authors offer aspiring writers ten hours of consultation time, usually spread out over a year. In between, the mentor reads the work for a further ten hours" for £2600.


Write your own syllabus for the year, combining some of the elements above. If you have the self-discipline you could plan a year-long programme tailored to your own needs. Creative writing syllabuses are online to give you ideas. Festivals, readings, short residential workshops, private study, and competition deadlines can be time-tabled into a year of activity. The NaPoWriMo might be useful stimulation, or competition deadlines. Holidays can be integrated into the scheme too.