Creative Prompts and Short Story Sub Opps

Creative Sparks

We spent a lot of lovely time on here in January exploring creativity through prompts. My philosophy holds that inspiration is everywhere and that if you provide yourself with structure and impetus you can forge that inspiration into a finished product. While we’ll continue to explore creativity here, I wanted to draw your attention to a fantastic blog by my Writing.ie colleague Elizabeth Murray. Her Wordspark blog is geared especially towards prompts and creative writing exercises, so she’ll regularly have something to get your mind working on something new.

Must read short story site

I’ve also recently discovered the fantastic short story focused site of Paul McVeigh. This site, with it’s very helpful at a glance layout gives details of submission opportunities, competitions and interviews with very interesting writers and champions of the short story form. It’s a really mine of information.

Sub opportunities

Both the new zine Number Eleven (no deadline given) and The South Circular (deadline April 26 so hurry!) are currently open for submissions.

Taking the time for the book you want to write

Today I’ve written an article including some Tolstoy quotes sent to me by a writer friend, exploring how to really take the time we need to write the book we really want to write. I talk about incubation, deep reading, George Saunders’ view that this slow writing demands a greater focus and integrity than our quick flit modern world encourages as well as the music and resonance of Kirsty Gunn’s ‘masterpiece’ The Big Music. I also consider two possible approaches in publishing – that of the set brand (with thanks to Elizabeth’s Baines) versus the writer as developing artist. Here’s an extract

We’ve talked before about the importance of incubation, giving time to a project to let disparate ideas coalesce into something whole, layered and original. The first Tolstoy quote says:

Truth, like gold, is to be obtained not by its growth, but by washing away from it all that is not gold.

We start out with a wealth of ideas and associations, everything is fascinating but making good story often means finding a true and strong thread through those ideas. Like panning for gold or, as my friend said ‘digging and digging before washing’ to ‘string together nuggets’. An artist friend of mine advised me with my own work on The Book of Remembered Possibilities to take it and ‘shake out the detritus of work progress,’ until I could see clearly it’s ‘colour and shape’ and clear away more until “the beat , the rhyme and reason, the poetry is plain.”

George Saunders in this excellent article talks about writing, about how new devices have had a neurological effect that makes the mind leap from one thing to another, become discontent faster. He talks about how writing faster, working on a number of things such as screenplays, travel journalism etc as well as touring, doing TV shows began to make him feel ‘quesy’. Not that he was denigrating those activities but “I really craved the feeling of deep focus and integrity that comes with writing fiction day after day, in a sort of monastic way.” He adds ‘And twitter doesn’t come into that’.

You can read the whole article here and I hope you comment here or there to tell me what your thoughts are. I’m not advocating an arduously slow approach for every project, rather suggesting that where space, time, ambition and courage are required, we need to find ways of holding onto those to maintain the integrity of the project.

Dot to Dot Man

Upcoming family occasions, recent family events and getting submissions ready mean that I haven’t been able to blog as much as I’d like. I so enjoyed making new acquaintances during my creativity month in January and I have more posts on the subject to come so hopefully normal service will be resumed shortly. Having said that, everything goes in phases and I’m eager to finish as many writing projects this year as possible so there’ll have to be a balance.

Another area that’s slipped through the net in the last while is posting a regular #fridayflash fiction on the blog. I was delighted to find out today that my fun 100 word story Dot to Dot Man was Highly Commended in the National Flash Fiction Day microfiction comp. You can see the full list of winners and commended here and if you click the link beside my name have a read of my little story. Lovely to see pal Anouska Huggins made it to the commended list too and her story My Grandad was Roy Rogers is great, so much packed into such a short space.

And to make you either jealous or really happy for your fellow writers, here’s a post about some interesting books from debut authors that caught the imagination of publishers at the London book fair this week.

Crannóg 32 – a new story in this great independent publisher’s new anthology

Crannóg is a well regarded and renowned literary magazine in Ireland that recently celebrated its 10th year. Established by writers Tony O’ Dwyer and Geraldine Burkes’ publishing house Words on the Street, Crannóg provides publication opportunities to International authors of short fiction and poetry.

Crannóg 32 launches tomorrow night March 1st upstairs at the Crane Bar in Galway at 6.30pm. There will be readings and quite probably music and if you are a writer or enjoy the written word you will be made very welcome at this enjoyable evening. I’m delighted to be included in Crannóg for the second time with a story ‘Letter’. The story tells the story of a lost relationship from the Letter’s point of view. I’m not able to go along to the launch this time but have enjoyed meeting Tony and Geraldine and the other writers included in their publications at these events. Many of the writers have gone on to great further success including A.J. Ashworth who later won Salt publishing’s Scott prize with her book ‘SOMEWHERE ELSE OR EVEN HERE’ and Niamh Boyce (I met Niamh at the WOW awards from the same publisher) who’s debut novel THE HERBALIST will be published by Penguin later this year.

Submissions

A publication credit from Crannóg is well recognised internationally. Crannóg have three submission periods. Submissions are open in the month of November for Feb issuem March for the June issue and July for October issue, so you can get ready now for the March submission opening and all the details are here.

Anthology

It’s a great idea before you submit to get a flavour for the anthology. Crannóg’s rates for their anthology are very reasonable – just six euros plus postage. As they put it themselves – just about 9 cent for each piece of writing. So if you’d like to read my story ‘Letter’ for 9 cent and also support the work of a fine independent press that is all about finding and giving opportunity to new talent, you can order a copy of Crannóg 32 here or make a subscription for a longer time. Crannóg is also available for the Kindle here.

Strange tales of love and desire

HeartPotato

Given the week that’s in it I thought I’d mention these tales of love and desire. It doesn’t come naturally to shout out about my stories but I’m proud of these and some of them have been published in reputable places and longlisted in major competitions and I’d be happy to have you read them. I’m working away on longer pieces and while I prepare to finish these long projects and send manuscripts away, it’s great to get encouragement and feedback on the way.

These mini story collections all have the theme of love and desire. The first is stranger than the second but they trace the desires and insecurities we all have. If you enjoy reading them please let others know.

STORIES TO MAKE YOU GO ‘OOH’

Then we would go to bed and I would lie against him, my skin cooling at the point where he touched me. On certain nights he would make love to me and I would feel the grit under my fingernails, the wash of my pleasure against his impenetrable skin.

‘My lover in a stone’

‘Sometimes when I came home from work and she was there before me with the telly on and her feet curled up and her thumb in her mouth and her twisting the guts out of her hair, I used to wonder why we were together. And were we together, or just taking slices out of each other as we slid past.’

‘Truth and Silence’

Such is the hypnotism of skin that I might have eaten you that day or absorbed you the way Venus Flytraps do and perhaps I did, you bit me on the lip when I stole that first kiss and your poison has been with me ever since.

(Originally published in THE VIEW FROM HERE)

‘The Singularity and the Octagonal House’

stories to make you go ooh-3‘Alison Wells’ short book of stories are wonderfully imagined glimpses into the lives of flawed, ordinary people, written with precise and clear prose. The language is imaginative and brings the reader to a place of wonder, with sentences like “Kicking, shouting, blowing bubbles up to the underside of the hard ice.” I was particularly taken with “The Singularity and the Octagonal House.” This story is resplendent. The inherent otherness of her writing is quite something and Wells’ knows her characters and how to engage the reader in their lives.’ 

Amazon UK   Amazon US/IRL

STORIES TO MAKE YOU GO ‘AH’

She knew what her lips would taste like; sherbet, bubblegum and sun.’

Life by the Lapels

Knives: that could cut out a piece of me or you, stupid teenage games where we nick each other and mix our blood. We could become blood lovers but it is too late for that. Forks: these are the directions we take when we open our mouths and words come out, clichés with no undoing, ‘I think we should…’, ‘I don’t know if I…’ ‘this isn’t what I…’ Spoons: upstairs in the blissful innocence of sleep, you make the shape of your wife; with your fingers on her back you feel her breathing.

‘Filch’

He grinned and raised the Burgundy. Miranda feared for the evening, for the passionate future. She didn’t like the way he fondled his fondue.

Longlisted in the Sean O’ Faolain competition.

‘Burgundy, Bolero and Chicken Supreme’

stories to make you go ahReading Alison Wells’ stories is a bit like climbing into the bathtub she describes in the first story of this fine collection, “Life by the Lapels,” and finding suds that resembled “floating icebergs.” The images are both comforting and jolting; for example, the way Wells describes two people in the story, “Filch,” who “traced each others faces and turned inside out.” Ah! Powerful writing, pleasurable reading.

Amazon UK  Amazon US/IRL

Creative Flash Fiction Comp Winners

Oh my goodness what a difficult task. I’ve selected 3 winners and 3 runners up for this particular competition but there was a hair’s breath between the winners and those not chosen this time. I hope you enjoyed the challenge and come back for more. I hope to see some of you who’ve just started trying out flash fiction participating in #Fridayflash in the future.

Book winners: Email me at Alison at Brierwell dot com with your email address or postal address as required. Thank you and well done to all!

Winners:

Alvy Carragher wins Frisky Business (please email with your postal address)

Annie Dyer wins 52FF and Clodagh Murphy wins Kettle of Fish (let me know your email address and if you have a Kindle or other e-reader or else I will send a version that can be read on Kindle app on computer)

Runners Up:

Steve Walker wins Stories to read on the train

Jayne Baldwin wins Stories to make you go ‘ah’

Gerry O’ Donnell wins Stories to make you go ‘ooh’

(let me know your email address (mail Alison at brierwell dot com and if you have a Kindle or other e-reader or else I will send a version that can be read on Kindle app on computer)

31 days: Why flash fiction can change your life

This series of articles running through January will explore ways of keeping our head above water in physical, mental, emotional and creative areas. There will be creative challenges, competitions and giveaways. For the full background see here.

To receive all the 31 posts, sign up for email notification on the sidebar. On twitter it’s at @31HAW or @alisonwells. Hashtag  #31haw and #headabovewater.

Getting Through

What I’m trying to achieve with this series of 31 posts is to find ways for us just to get through our busy and sometimes daily lives and keep motivated and sane. For me, very short fiction – flash fiction – has allowed me to feel productive and to be productive when family circumstances have not given me the time or headspace to work on longer pieces of work and it’s been successful, as you’ll see from the post.

In the spirit of working smart this post is a slight modification of a previously published post. At the end I include an exercise/challenge to get you writing and see what can be achieved. Have a go at the prompt and add your entry to the comments tomorrow and be in with a chance for a giveaway of some books: 52FF by Marc Nash, Kettle of Fish by Ali Bacon and Clodagh Murphy’s Frisky Business.

Short bursts of work

Being a mother of four young children and lacking daily headspace, flash fiction for me has been an ideal format for exploring ideas and producing a substantial body of work in short bursts. Flash fiction can be anything from a few words up to about a thousand words when technically at that point it might be called a short short. A famous example of a six word story is Earnest Hemingway’s ‘For Sale, Baby Shoes, Never Worn’ or there’s my own creation Wedding Dress on hanger. Fast car.

A year ago I ran a competition on my blog to write a story in just forty words. The entries were incredible.  I’ve also seen brilliant stories in the 140 characters allowed on twitter.

One of the most significant influences on my writing development over the past eighteen months has been my discovery of the Fridayflash on Twitter. A group of individuals write a piece of flash fiction up to 1000 words long, post it on their blogs, publicize the link to the work on Twitter and log it on a central website. People peer review as many of each others flash fiction stories as possible. While this review is often at a high level it’s very encouraging when you know that a particular piece has worked or that people ‘got it’. You do get a sense of which are your strongest pieces.

While you are not bound to produce a flash piece every week, the discipline of doing so, of sitting down on even on a Wednesday and Thursday and saying ‘what now?’ is very productive. I often just choose a sentence that I have jotted down in a notebook as the core of the idea or begin writing the first phrase that comes into my head and adding to it by free association.

The beauty of flash fiction is that you can let yourself go with any idea and take it as far as your imagination allows. What appears is often quirky and original. What I also love about flash fiction (and short stories too) is the way I can take an interesting news, science, nature, history or anecdotal item and explore my fascination within the story. The world is a wonderous place and it’s wonders deserve to be told. For me wordplay is very important, juxtaposing words that sound alike or using the same or similar words to create a theme as I did in a story that in tongue-in-cheek manner name Flash. I used the word ‘flash’ to conjur up the ideas of lightning, the aurora, epilepsy, a father fixing the flashing on his house, the idea of time going too fast for two teenagers that were parting.

A body of work

My forays into flash through the discipline of FridayFlash have been invaluable. Without it, I never would have produced the body of work that I have, many of the stories would never have been written. One of the pieces that I wrote off the cuff for my weekly flash fiction peer review was accepted by the well respected literary magazine Crannog. Many of the flash pieces seem to have a special quality to them, they give rise to interesting and unique characters who sometimes beg for another appearance, so much so that I decided to write and have just completed a book of interlinking flash called Flashes of Sadness and Light, interrelated stories of different characters, and scenes that crossover between stories. We catch glimpses of the teenagers Emily and Eddie from Flash much later in life in different circumstances in Sideways. The story about the boy Barry in Close Encounters with Goldfish explains why the adult Barry in Origami Flamingos behaves the way he does.

An art and a discipline

The beauty of the inherent word limits in flash is that its a fantastic training ground for editing down to the very essence of a story, to make every word work and work hard, maybe even double time. Words can do their work twice. If you put a knife on the kitchen table it describes a scene and possibly the fraught relationship of the protagonists. Ever verb must just say what it has to say, so someone strides instead of walks, or slams instead of closes.

One of my favourite short story collections is Tania Hershman’s The White Road and other stories. What I find enthralling about her work in particular is her ability to draw a character so vividly in sometimes extremely short pieces. Indeed flash fiction often is character as story, your description of a person hints at the nature of their current position and relationships and their possible future.

In terms of audience flash fiction is popular and becoming more so, it is easily and quickly consumed and shared. There are many sites where you can post, submit or read flash fiction, FictionautMetazen and Smokelong Quarterly being just three.

Achieveable deadlines

Whether or not you do it with the challenge of a weekly deadline such as in the FridayFlash system or whether you just set yourself a challenge of writing a flash of 40, 250, 500 or 1000 words it is an exercise well worth doing. If you don’t have much time, it may be a good thing, just go for it, get the words on the page, be playful and experimental and you may be surprised at the results. If you haven’t already realised, I’m a little bit, or maybe a lot in love with flash fiction and I know you won’t regret it if you give it a try.

Creative Exercise and Competition

One of the most optimistic and energetic things you can do is create something spontaneously. So here’s my challenge to you.

I’ve just opened the lovely book I’m reading (The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey) and taken a line “The woods were silent, not even the twitter of a bird”.

What I want you to do is write a short fiction of either 31 or 131 words using the idea this generates in you, but not including those words. You can be as left field as you like, the more innovative the better. Jot down your responses and post in TOMORROWS competition entry post. Please share this post and the competition with your pals.

Deck the Halls: short story collection

Deck the Halls: Festive tales of fear and cheer is the latest offering from eMergent Publishing. These are speculative fiction tales with a festive theme. My story ‘Unfolding‘ is included which looks at what happens when a mother interferes in the pre-determined destiny of her child.

Buy a copy:
 Directly from eMergent Publishing here.
 
 

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Touched Rowena Specht-Whyte
Drench the School Benjamin Solah
Coming Home Rebecca Dobbie
While You Were Out Sam Adamson
Twenty-Five Rebecca Emin
A Jolly Pair Christopher Chartrand
Gays and Commies Graham Storrs
A Better Fit Jen Brubacher
Salvation Nicole R Murphy
A Troll for Christmas Jo Hart
Modraniht Kate Sherrod
Bosch’s Book of Trolls Susan May James
‘Til Death Do Us Part Emma Kerry
High Holidays Dale Challener Roe
The Headless Shadow Jonathan Crossfield
End of a Tradition Paul Servini
Weatherboy Nik Perring
Not a Whisper Lily Mulholland
Lords of the Dance Janette Dalgliesh
Through Frosted Glass Laura Meyer
Midsummer’s Eve Stacey Larner Yuletide Treasure Rob Diaz II
Broken Angel Jodi Cleghorn
A Golden Treasure Chia Evers
Fast Away Jim Bronyaur
Apprentices to Time Icy Sedgwick
Unfolding Alison Wells
Egg-Ceptional PJ Kaiser
Hail the New Trevor Belshaw
Perfect Light Dan Powell
Softly Sing the Stars Steve Cameron
Through Wind and Weather David McDonald