Category Archives: Indentity

Finding Your Rhythm With the Short Story Form

 

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The pitter patter pitter patter pitter patter is back,  rain dancing on conservatory windows; tapping thoughts gently into my head as I begin another week.

I will be blogging this week about my experiences at the London Short Story Festival which has got all sorts of creative urges, urging. It is no secret my feelings and love of the good short story; a good literary, makes you think, changes something you feel about the world short story. I was treated to plenty of those by some incredible writers on Saturday and I can’t wait to do it again next year. I love this idea of daring to be bold, of using the short story form as a playground for experimenting creatively, something I have always seen it as. For me, it begins with a short story.

Short stories are different things to different people and come in many forms. For me they find a rhythm inside me and once I start writing a new one they grab me and hold me down until I write and rewrite and keep on writing until it is as near to perfection I can find; if perfection is ever truly attainable. But it’s in that search I find my bliss.

After listening to a fabulously talented panel of writers May-Lan Tan , Laura Van den Berg and Jon McGregor talk to the also highly talented Paul McVeigh about the short story and people they read I have more books to buy. It’s like my appetite has suddenly been whetted again and I think I know what my next project after Chutney needs to be, some short stories, possibly getting together a collection. I want to experiment with the form and challenge myself again. And who knows I now want to talk and be a guest at the London Short Story Festival.

I wasn’t a guest but was close to it as we saw the launch of a collection I have a new story in at the event.

It was also wonderful meeting fellow Unthologists as Saturday also saw the release of Unthology 7. These collections are a unique and interesting place to showcase what can be done in the short form. Unthank Books have now published me twice and I fully intend to submit again.

One thing I did listen to with great interest over my day at the festival was the rhythm of language and I heard some writers talk about how they used music for mood as they wrote sometimes. I only ever did this with one story interestingly; one I have yet to write in a form I want but I will. It’s about a woman finding, after all these years, the brother whose hand she let go of when she went to Auschwitz. Music plays a big part in that story because she survived because of her musicality; she played for the officers. In fact I remember having to write a memory of her playing the ‘Radetsky March’ as her best friend plodded past with heavy footsteps to the gas chambers; and she knew she had to keep playing. Keep playing. Don’t stop. Just keep playing. It wasn’t that I listened to that music, my own heart beat made that inside me, no I listened to the score of Harmony, the Manilow musical about the Comedienne Harmonists as Germany drew closer to the holocaust and there are some songs in that that evoke something powerful and enabled me to find that dark place and sustain it as I wrote. I know when I return to that story the music will instantly take me back to that place.

I liked to play in that story with the musicality, which I will revisit. Language has its own rhythm and can be explored in a musical way and I want to do more of that experimentation. When I edit it’s quite hard to explain to people the need to use rhythm but it’s in listening to other great writers, we find that rhythm and I believe that’s where you will find your true voice.

What I find interesting as well as using music as place, is using music for establishing character; I would love to use that device overtly in some form, how characters represent a certain piece of music. I think this is something that can helped deepen characterisation.

Recommendation for today:  Laura Van den Berg. I was so moved by the new story  she read on Saturday I have to try out her collections, and she has just released her first novel.

 

The way

 

Isle

 

Find Me

 

Find on Amazon

 

Tomorrow I am talking more about the short story and differences between America and the UK in how the short story form is used as a platform to debut new writers…

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Little boosts to confidence

It can be a very insecure life being a writer, especially before you start to see your work accepted.

But even when you do, if you’re like me you keep moving the goal posts and challenging yourself.

So when you have a new story accepted or published, as happened last week with Open Windows, and a writer who you greatly respect says something really complimentary (someone whose work really sits up there in the short story field) you think, wow. Really? And then you think: phew.

There are so many of us out there trying to get validation with our work, so every little comment or nice review makes a massive difference. Writing is basically something you sit and do alone and so as a writer you do sometimes think: okay great this is really working and other times you think, this is pants. That’s being a writer, that’s also very much part of process. First drafts of anything have those pants moments but the more your chisel and refine your work, you more you come to know when it is working.

Working as an editor also helps and I think one of the things I can see has really developed the more I work with writers, is being able to look at people’s plots and shapes of stories. I think getting up close and finding issues with the plot is fundamental to those big second drafts, and often we just don’t see the issues when we get too close. Story analysis is something I seem to have refined more and more as  a skill to try to help other writers, and to help my own writing of course: it’s the who, why, where, what does the protagonist want, what’s at stake and who or what is standing his way that might sound fundamental but actually make the difference between something really working or it not working as it should. Being able to pin down what’s not working and might be stopping an author getting work accepted is a vital component of my work, so I am also learning and looking for new ways to ensure this is achieved in my editing work.

Getting up close to the nitty-gritty nuts and bolts stuff once we have looked at story shape and character motivation is actually the easier part usually to put right, those clunky phrases, out of context metaphors, clichés, telling etc.

I do care about the process and my clients, so if, as happened recently with a client, it seemed they had not quite grasped something important that I felt was essential for their novel to work, I couldn’t relax until I had I arranged a call to talk about it. I feel as if I am nurturing something very personal and so it has to be right, and handled right. Your stories are after all your babies, right? So come into my world and I will be mindful of that. I think it helps that I am a writer too.

But even when you have a reasonable grasp of all of this, it still can be isolating, so when someone appreciates your work, take the compliment and let it boost your day.

Or week.

Or forever.

Have a great day everyone.

Compliments

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Opening Windows With The Short Story Form

After some twenty short stories being published in collections since 2008, the biggest feeling of accomplishment came when my debut novel While No One Was Watching was finally published in 2013, nine years and one MA after deciding to be a serious writer. It was  finally something all in my name and the thing I had been working towards. But it would not have happened without the short story. This is why I have a lot to thank it for and why I still write short stories; although fewer now, there are still some out there trying their luck and still ideas I can’t wait to develop.

The short story form for me is this perfect thing; if you get the voice right; deepen the characters enough and capture life in those few words you can shape the story into something that didn’t exist before — and within a relatively short space of time. It’s incredibly satisfying.

I am probably most proud of three short stories (so far including the one I’ve just written, right?) — the first one ever to be good enough to be published in 2008 and that was Jigsaw. I was in the middle of working on a novel (with a lot to learn about writing) when this child’s voice entered my head and I was compelled to write it. I was nothing like anything I’d written before and I was thrilled when Bridge House Publishing (who I didn’t work for back then) chose it and it inspired the cover. What a feeling that was.

A string of success later (and rejections naturally) I wrote something while studying for my MA, but not as an assignment as an experiment in contemporary story-telling and that was The Theory Of Circles, which I have talked about here before. The faceless/genderless voyeur social media obsessed narrator in a story reporting on the goings-on on a crescent in a nameless place; but reading backward the way you scroll blogs. But of course, I had to make certain it still flowed forward for the reader in terms of story. Quite a challenge. I knew conventional publishers and competitions would pass on it but had been seeing a lot about innovative short story publisher Unthank Books. So I targeted them and waited.That wait was rewarded and the story was published in Unthology 3 back in 2012. I was even more thrilled when the publisher nominated the story for the prestigious US Pushcart Prize.

So more short story successes later ( a few short lists and anthology acceptances), between the novel writing and I saw Learning to Fly win the Bath Short Story Award; another young voice, but an important theme, coping with grief but with humour.  This story, with some autobiographical elements, is one I was so proud of — so did the dance when it won! I celebrated that night at a Bon Jovi concert and wow. They even had a tea-party in my honour in Bath (not Bon Jovi!) but the lovely ladies at the Bath Short Story Award.

Of course amongst these stories are some yet to find homes and others that made it onto prestigious short lists that I hope will find homes: namely Mirror Image that I long to adapt into a novel (short listed in the Aeon Prize in 2010) and Chutney that was short listed in the Commonwealth Short Story Prize 2013 and is the current work in progress having been adapted into a novel.

While No One Was Watching as you may also know was adapted from a short story.

So it’s clear how important short story writing has been for me, in three key ways: the first in teaching me how to write, to experiment, to develop and to grow (and you learn faster and get the satisfaction faster with this shorter form). The second  being that some short stories get bigger and inspire development into a novel. And thirdly, the more I write them, it seems the more the ideas fall from the sky. So ideas seem to be around me all the time and some get scribbled on bits of note paper… and when I am between drafts of novels beg to be written. Once I finish Chutney I plan to write a few more.

When I was thinking about moving back to my home town over the past two or three years I wrote ny first short story set on Canvey Island about a group pf friends meeting at Canvey sea wall after the wake of one of their friends, Adam. I called it Open Windows; which has more than one meaning, but the main theme is making the time for people while you still can. Something happened to Adam when he was thirteen and he got stuck. He is the real boy who never grew up.

The story was selected for another Unthank books Unthology and I got to hold a hot off the press copy in my hands yesterday! Don’t you love the smell of fresh ink! This book is officially released on June 20th. There will be copies at the London Short Story Festival Unthology event that I plan to pop along to and say hi to the lovely Ashley and Robin. And its official launch event is June 25th in Norwich where I, and others, will be giving readings.

While this might be something like publication success number 20, or 21 (which is an odd but humbling thing and to lose count!), and it might be that we all strive for that next novel success (and trust me I do) but we must never negate any success, and to be alongside such a calibre of writers in Unthology 7 is indeed a thing to feel very humble about and feel very grateful for. I am immensely proud to be in another of their collections. Thanks for choosing it Unthank Books.

I will post a small excerpt of Open Windows tomorrow.

Wave your banner BIG and PROUD for the short story form, and thank the publishers for keeping the stories out there…

Happy Wednesday folks!

I hope to invite some of the other unthologists onto the blog to talk about their writing and their stories, so watch this space… and there will be photos and a post about the launch of course!

Unthology 7 coverOrder from Amazon, release date June 20…

Yay!

Yay!

 

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Here to Help

I have had a request for a subject which I plan to post about later this week. If anyone else has a request for something to do with the nuts and bolts of writing, about publishing, how the process works for example, even about my own writing, then please feel free to make a suggestion. I tend to get up and write whatever is in my mind and sometimes it’s more than other days! So please do get in touch.

I also wondered, since we have not done it for a while, if anyone has a small 500-word piece they would like critiqued here on-line for Fiction Clinic, if so we can do it at the end of next week. Please email me writer@debzhobbs-wyatt.co.uk

And also not had someone In The Spotlight for a while so if you have a novel/short story collection you want to plug and tell us about your writer’s journey particularly, then please do get in touch. I can’t feature them all if I get too many but I can certainly choose!

I also wondered if anyone out there wanted to post a Book Review of something you have read recently really that had an impact on you. I saw the shortlist for the Costa Prize was announced yesterday and I hope to start ticking off some of those books. LIST

Also here are the novel ones:

2014 Costa Novel Award shortlist

Neel Mukherjee for The Lives of Others (Chatto & Windus)

Monique Roffey for House of Ashes (Simon and Schuster)

Ali Smith for How to be both (Hamish Hamilton)

Colm Tóibín for Nora Webster (Viking)

2014 Costa First Novel Award shortlist

Carys Bray for A Song for Issy Bradley (Hutchinson)

Mary Costello for Academy Street (Canongate)

Emma Healey for Elizabeth is Missing (Viking)

Simon Wroe for Chop Chop (Viking)

Any appeal? Perhaps someone out there wants to take one of these and read then review it? It would be interesting to see what is deemed good enough to make this prestigious list? Any takers? Let me know which book you want to read and perhaps we can each take a different one? I did this with the Commonwealth Book Prize when they had it and I loved reading them all and I also chose the same winner!

I do like this blog to be a place where we can not only have me waffling about my own work, but to cover a lot of subjects that will be helpful to both readers and writers.

One day I have told myself I’d like to make it onto one of these lists. That is my goal and now I have said it out loud it has to be. Right?

And one final thing before I go and write the last three or four chapters of Isle of Pelicans (well rewrite and perhaps not all of them today!) — I have decided, in honour of my novel’s first birthday to offer a super low special rate on novel critiques this side of Christmas only. If you have something you want me to copy-edit, write a detailed editorial report, the same type of thing I do for Cornerstone — and throw in a synopsis review and help with your query letter, do it now! 100,000 words usually £300 is only £225! The offer is only for work sent now and will be limited to the first few received.

Here is the LINK.

Please do post your suggestions here in response to my questions and make this blog work for us all!

Have a great day everyone!

Do what you love

 

 

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Rochester LitFest Rocks!

Don't forget to book your tickets! October 1st in Kent!

 

I had a great night last night. It was my first appearance at a literary festival and I hope not my last!

The venue the Nucleus Cafe is a trendy arts cafe in Chatham. If I lived closer I have a feeling the kind of place I’d be meeting writer friends! My north Wales writer friends would love it! I think Jaye has done a great job with this new festival that only started last year. Check out the website here: www.rochesterlitfest.com

 

Nucleus Arts Cafe, Chatham

The Venue (sorry slightly blurry photo taken by me!)

I wrote to a few festivals when I knew I was moving back to the south east proposing a talk about ‘Blurring the Lines between fact and fiction’. Jaye Nolan who organises the festival said yes, it fit her other talks and the rest I guess is history (literally!). I want to thank her for all her tremendous efforts and again if I was closer I would certainly like to be involved and help out. I will try to do more next year, perhaps spend the week with my brother so I can offer my support to the writers etc.

Jaye is pictured here (centre) at the event last night

Photo by Bill Gooch -- official photographer for the event, thanks Bill!

Photo by Bill Gooch — official photographer for the event, thanks Bill!

 

I hadn’t given this particular talk before, although I have talked about the subject matter a lot and it was part of my MA dissertation, how fact and fiction are not opposite ends of a spectrum but intimately woven into the fabric of how we tell stories. ‘Factual account’ — uses wiggly in the air finger thing — are often biased, spun from yarns, filled with opinion and conjecture while fiction does what it says on the tin and is created from imagination but needs fact for authenticity, right?

The venue was intimate and being a great fan of the coffee-shop culture (not enough of that on Canvey Island) it worked well for the talk. The first half I felt was slightly less coherent as I did jump about a little in subject, although the audience were kind and receptive and I felt enjoyed it from the great reaction in the break. The second half was more focussed and more engaging. By then everyone had relaxed, we’d chatted and everyone wanted to interact so having thrown out the odd question it then became really interactive and I think it worked well. So I think I need more of that in the first half when I do this again. I am wondering about hosting an event on Canvey — ideas machine now flowing!

I loved meeting the people, some readers, some also writers and I already see friend requests and followers on Twitter, so I hope to have made some new friends!

Another photo thanks to Bill -- do check out his FB page here:  LINK

Another photo thanks to Bill — do check out his FB page here: LINK

 

I am still buzzing from the event and the engaging conversation and I can’t wait to do it all again!

It’s been a crazily busy few days since my move, so busy I can not wait for a couple of days just to relax. I have worked this week too although not written but my plan is to do a rare thing and take tomorrow off after my workout as I have a full day at the Southend Book and Art Fair this Saturday. And next week will be a normal working and writing week, which I need! I also seem to have a short story buzzing like a fly inside my head — perhaps one for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize I wonder …

So I will leave you with the last two photos from Bill Gooch, and will share some my brother took next week!

Thanks again to Jaye and the festival for having me!

Chatman 3 2014 Chatman 2 2014

Clearly making an important point!

 

Thanks Rochester LitFest!

 

 

 

 

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Meeting the lovely people…

I know some writers who tell me they’d hate to do what I’ve been doing these last few weeks. Standing in bookstores armed with bookmarks and telling them how I’m signing in store and come have a look at my book.

Well you know, promotion like this is just one of the ways to get your work noticed. It’s baby steps. You’re making only a small dent in book sales, I know that. You can stand in store talking to everyone and really working it, for hours on end and sell just six copies. But that’s six more people who know who you are and more importantly who will read your book, not to mention the ones who they’ll pass the book onto and those who say they prefer Kindle and will download it. And since I give out a lot of bookmarks, and yes many will end up in the bin, some  I hope will buy the book later. It is hard work but I like people. And our  readers matter, so you have to do it. And you might as well enjoy it, right? It is what I always wanted to be and it goes with the job.

It’s amazing how tiring it is spending four hours or more standing and talking! But I realise that while the blurb sells the book in terms of if it’s their kind of thing, people buy into people. So yes I am annoyingly happy all the time and yes always smiling and no that’s not fake, that’s just me, my sociable approach must count. Or I hope it does. I am certain the way I approach people and really just chat to them, means if they like me, they are more likely to go and pick up my book to read the blurb and perhaps buy it.

It’s been a busy but great few weeks. Yes it means having no day off and I can feel the tiredness seeping in, but it’s so worth it. I have my final two Saturdays in Bangor back to normal, meeting writing friends etc and then once I move, and as we head closer to Christmas (yes I did use the C word!) I will be putting together a signing tour in that part of the world, so if you think your local bookshop might be worth including, preferably south-east or close, let me know! I am going to make a list of places soon and start approaching them. I figure a signed novel is an interesting and different Christmas present, right? So many books will be bought online and that’s fine but something unique about it being signed by the author. Remember I also have signed copies I can personalise on my website (sadly I do have to include the £3 postage) but I will have it an offer price of £10 with p&p in the run-up to Christmas, so if I am too far to make it to your local bookshop, please do message me or watch my website as I will be able to send a signed one.

Yes these are baby steps, but how else will people know about my book.

And that’s why reviews count so if you have read my novel please do post reviews on blogs and Amazon or Goodreads etc (if you liked it!) and it all helps!

Right. Might be bank holiday for some here in the UK, but for me, business as usual.

Have a great day everyone!

Signing in LlandudnoSigning in WHSmith, Llandudno, Saturday August 23rd 2014

 

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Lost In Sharonville

Don’t you just love the kinds of books that take you somewhere and leave you there. Like being dumped in the desert but you don’t just see miles and miles of sand but a whole other world — one that plays out inside your head. The fiction writers who do this deserve a medal. No matter how hard life gets, there will always be books.

The trick is for the images to play out like a film projected on your visual cortex. The language and the story unfold so seamlessly you forget you’re just reading words on a page. You’re seeing it, losing yourself inside the language, the place, the story.

The developing writers, me included, strive for this. You know it when you see it but you can’t always define it.

You can only look at the less accomplished fiction, perhaps works in progress at your writing group, to see the difference. When writers are overwordy, use too much TELLING, too much exposition, characters are stereotyped, you do not get that connection, nor do you get lost in that space. I guess you could say it’s like tripping up on the words. When author uses lots of clunky phrases, adverbs or  inventive words for said because they feel the need to remind us he’s speaking — conspiratorially (my most hated adverb!) or retorting angrily.

The skilled writer doesn’t have to remind you this is a book and here are my clever words, the words just flow like rich wine, effortless and wonderful.

SHOWING is FILMING; and done well you see a character speak, you observe the subtleties of the body language and you become part of it. No need for telling us how something’s said, we see it in the subtext and the construction. No tripping on clichés or awkward overwrites, odd sentences which say look how clever I am — no. We just become one with the work and lost in that space. And that is the mark of great writing — no matter the genre.

Right now To Kill A Mockingbird is doing that very thing to me, but another book that took me to that place recently was Sharon Zink’s powerful Welcome to Sharonville. Another writer with a small press, the wonderful Unthank Books who have also published one of my shorts and another one will be published next May in Unthology 6. The problem with the small presses is getting your work known, getting it seen by the world and it would be a travesty if this one slips through because it’s not got the power of the BIG marketing machine behind it or it costs a little more than a mass market paperback. But worth it. And there is always Kindle too.

Do yourself a favour and treat yourself. This is the kind of novel where the characters feel so real and the language so beautiful (but not overwritten) you get lost inside it. It is a literary novel, and I find the danger with some literary writing is writers feel the need to show off and make the language cumbersome. Not so here, this is divine.

Here’s the review I posted on Amazon and Goodreads and a photo from the launch. Sharon is such an interesting person and I remember sitting in the little room at New Writing South, Brighton, American flags draped on the wall (another Brit who has written an American novel hey?), goodie bag of US candies balanced on my knee, Mum at my side, and thinking this writer is so eloquent, so funny and so talented! Yes I know Sharon, but only because we were both published in the same book but I would not review the book so highly if I didn’t think it. I read many many books, a lot by friends or clients but I only review the ones I really love! I think Sharon has a career ahead that you need to watch with interest! She is humble too because she knows how tough the journey is to get to that point.

Here’s my review on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/980382552

 

The launch!

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Sharon has worked long and hard for this day, like so many. It was many years in the crafting and the success all the sweeter! Well done 🙂

Highly recommended read!

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