Category Archives: writing competitions

Short Journeys

I have talked about short stories before and how important they have been to me on this journey to become ‘real writer’… that makes me think of Pinocchio I want to be a real boy… 

I think, all too often, we tend to overlook the short story form, assuming that the real success and I guess therefore the real creativity and even the real money is to be made from the novel that becomes the bestseller that becomes the Hollywood blockbuster… and so on. But short stories have also been made into movies you know. And besides, not all short stories want to grow up to be movies, do they?

I always talk about how I ‘cut my teeth’ as a writer working on the short form, and how important this was for me in terms of developing my style and honing my craft and I have spurts now of still writing short stories and sending them out. When I did that earlier this year I had three successes and two of those placements has resulted in a publication; one of which is now available to pre-order, I was runner-up! So I thought I would share a short extract of that as a teaser with some links…

Thinking in Circles

In order to understand something, we must exist outside it.
We are all made of numbers.
Aged 13, Size 8 shoes, Form 5, the 14.35.
We are all on a journey to somewhere from somewhere else with
our eyes half-closed.
And sometimes we get stuck.

You are standing there. Head tucked down; reminds me of a
penguin. The strap of your big blue school bag cuts across your blazer
and it’s as if there’s a thread attaching your head to your shoes. Not
shiny new shoes. These are scuffed, end of term Clark’s one-size-too-small
shoes; they didn’t buy new shoes. Because of what happened
over the summer.
It’s the thing – the thing no one will want to talk about – but they
will talk about it. They’ll whisper. They’ll pretend they’re not talking
about it.
People say bad news is always better when it happens to
somebody else but even when it happens to somebody else,
sometimes it’s happening to you.
You shuffle last year’s shoes to the front; to the desk you used
last year. And the year before. And the year before that. Soon they’ll
all come in and sit where they always sit and nobody will ask. But
they’ll all know.

They’ll all know because it was in the Echo. It was in the Echo
over the summer. Shock had filled up the kitchen: a line of uttered
Oh Gods.
In the sound you were sure you heard something break.
Not like a snap. Not like an ornament shattering into a million
pieces. Not like that. And not like the jolt of something stopping
suddenly, because that happens all at once. This was like a slow
unpicking along the seams.
It happened because of what happened over the summer. It
happened to your dad when he went quietly mad and your nan had to
move in.
It was in the Echo. Everyone knows. About the thing – not your
dad going quietly mad, or your nan moving in. About the thing. The
thing that happened over the summer.

The train left London at 14.35. The name on the front said
Southend Victoria…

© Debz Hobbs-Wyatt 2017, With Our Eyes Open, Published by Bausse Books October 15 2017

The book is available now for pre-order as an eBook and a paper version will follow in tine for Christmas! I will share the link again!

With Our Eyes Open

Order me…

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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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The Commonwealth Short Story Prize 2015

Some of you may remember my blog post last year when I had the great honour of being invited to the opening of the Commonwealth Short Story Prize, having made the short list in 2013. So I was indeed honoured to be invited once again this year to the opening of the prize. What made it extra special was I asked to bring a friend and they said with pleasure — so I invited the talented Paula Readman. Not only that, I also made  contact with Tracy Fells who was on the short list for the UK/Canada region this year and we all met first, note the selfie below, affectionately titled The Bridge House Anthologists — Tracy and Paula having made it into the next Bridge House collection!

We met at Green Park and partook in a Costa Coffee snack (as you do) — it was the first time I’d met Tracy, but our writing paths have crossed in a virtual sense a few times, so was great to find another kindred spirit. We got to know one another and I was interested to find she had a similar background in science to myself. Tracy is a very successful published short story writer and aspiring novelist so I may ask her to be on my blog soon.

We then walked to the grand and very regal Marlborough House and met with lots of dignitaries — Commonwealth people, agents, publishers, writers, journalists and diplomats. After a short drinks reception, this year we were treated to an interesting discussion by a panel of talented writers including this year’s short story prize winner: Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi. The other panelists were:

Romesh Gunesekera, Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature,originally from Trinidad, author of eight fiction books, novel Reef, short listed in the 1994 Booker Prize and Chair of the  2015 Commonwealth Short Story Prize.

Leila Aboulela, Sudanese novelist awarded the Caine Prize for African writing for The Museum included in her short story collection Coloured Lights.

Kei Miller, Jamaican poet, novelist and essayist, his collection of short stories Fear of Stones, shortlised in the Commonwealth Writer’s Prize. He also won the 2014 Bocas Prize for Caribbean literature.

The winner of the 2014 short story prize, Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi is a Ugandan novelist, short story writer and poet with a PhD in Creative Writing from Lancaster University and her doctoral novel The Kingu Saga won the Kwani Manuscript project in 2014. Jennifer teaches creative writing at Lancaster.

The panel hosted a discussion called: No Laughing Matter: Conflict and Humour — is there a line?

I will blog more about this at some point and open the discussion to all of you as I think, having read a lot of short stories in my work, there is a tendency in short stories for the deep, the tragic and the sad  and I know with Bridge House, when stories are able to use humour, pathos, it’s a great device. So the discussion looked at the role of humour in even the darkest tales. How does humour translate across the countries of the Commonwealth? While not covered per se, what aspects of humour do cross borders? Is there a universal humour? Are there lines we can’t cross — perhaps as Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi suggested it’s okay to laugh at ourselves and our own culture, but what about other people and other cultures? What about conflict and how do many of these countries where conflict is part of life, create a need for humour, a way of coping?

I know the stories of mine that seem to have the greatest success are those where I use humour and sadness alongside — pathos. You only have to look at the story that won the Bath Short Story Award Learning to Fly to see how I took a family’s grief and used humour to show how even in the darkest moments there can be light.

Tracy and I talked about our short Commonwealth stories after the event, noting that not only did both reveal something about life in Britain, both had elements of humour woven into the fabric, as did the winning story. That does not mean jokes, but use of voice and events even when the essence of the story has sadness. I do this all the time and not necessarily by conscious choice. I happen to think creating believable well drawn authentic characters calls for humour and the ability to laugh at situations, even ourselves. Tracy tells me her story also had elements of magical realism as well as humour and she didn’t expect it to do so well. Same with my story Chutney, never thought it stood a chance! It’s about unlikely friendships formed on an allotment in East London. There is a sadness there, one being a Holocaust survivor, but there is a lot of humour between the characters.

So if you’re thinking of entering this year — I would bear that in mind! Here’s the link and it’s FREE!

LINK

Also some great news that I hope happens, as I had a lovely long chat with Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi, asking the pertinent question of whether she ‘did the dance’ when she found out she’d won, what did she say? Of course she did! I asked if she would be a guest on my blog and she said yes! So watch this space!

What is lovely for me is being part of the Commonwealth family like this and I feel highly honoured. It was great to see some familiar faces from last year, including the intern Joe who now has a full-time job with the Commonwealth Foundation AND is a great writer as I looked at some of his work for him last year. The new intern, Jake was lovely too. I also got to meet some of the writers I met last year and friend, also an agent and publisher, Unthank Books’s Robin Jones.

It was a great evening and I say a HUGE thank you for the invite.

While last year I posted some photos of Marlborough House from a website, grandeur in abundance, this year — the selfie!

Have a great day everyone and remember my talk at the Rochester Lit festival in 2 weeks’ time! Got your copy of my novel yet? Bought your tickets for this event? Go on, treat yourself!

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

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

Got yours yet?

Got yours yet? BUY ME

The Bridge House Anthologist and so much more…

The BHP Anthologists

 

Tracy Fells (UK/Canada shortlistee 2014), Paula Readman (winner Harrogate Crime Short Story 2012) and of course Debz  (UK/Canada shortlistee 2013)

Don’t mess with these guys! Look at those plotting faces… pause for evil laugh

MWAR MWAR MWAR…

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Celebrating Literacy

Well late today posting and this will be short and sweet.

If you want to see some of the talented young writers in the Wild n Free Too book we are having a special launch in London tomorrow afternoon and 23 of the talented children will be there!

Authors and judges Gill Lewis and Daniel Blythe will be there as well as someone from Born Free!

Festive nibbles too!

Hope to see some of you there!

Come along!

Come along!

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The Glorious City of Bath

Winning the Bath Short Story Award (BSSA) this year has to be one of the big highlights. It knocked my socks off to actually win something and with a story  that had some very personal meaning. It seemed other people got it, it resonated on some level and isn’t that what being a writer is all about? So this is a great feeling when you make that connection. Thanks BSSA for choosing Learning to Fly –– read it here! LINK

Jude, one of the BSSA ladies, also wears another hat, that for Writing Events Bath, so when she knew I work with developing writers and my novel was out this month, she invited me to run a workshop on writing a psychological thriller at the wonderful Mr B’s Bookshop. And I love psychological thrillers, and while While No One Was Watching isn’t exactly that, it is kind of and I call it that if I have to pigeon-hole it and of course it uses many of those devices that tap into the psyche. I  grew up reading and being influenced by such books! So I loved putting this workshop together — a pig in literary mud!

And so last week Mum and I did something we never do, we left Dad in charge of the pooch and took a little trip to Bath, and the Hilton Hotel. And what a treat we had!

This time last week in fact we were  getting ready to set off to the station, although sadly it seems like ages ago now! Want to do it again! Want to do it at lots of hotels and places! Anyone else want to hire me? He he …

The hotel, although not quite as aesthetic to look at as the other Bath buildings, is lovely and central and a very short walk to Mr B’s although we did take a rather convoluted route because the girl at the hotel wasn’t sure! But we found it and around the corner at 3,30 we also found Halls and Woodhouse, the cafe where we were kindly treated to afternoon tea by the lovely ladies from BSSA. So nice to finally put faces to names, I met Jude, Anna and Jane and from Writing Events Bath also Alex.

We had a lovely chat about all things writing and enjoyed the delights of an afternoon tea. Then we relaxed on the sofas before it was time to go to Mr B’s ready for the workshop.

 

Writing Events Bath

Jane (BSSA), Debz (some writer apparently) and Jude (BSSA and Writing Events, Bath)

I had not run this particular workshop before, with a specific genre, but as I pointed out good writing is good writing and many of the things we talked about relate to any genre — good characterisation, motivation for action, sharp narrative etc. However I did focus it on what a psychological thriller is, where it fits in the context of other thrillers and the premise of many of these novels. I will do a blog post about this as I think many would find this interesting.

We had a couple of writing exercises, one writing an opening scene or blurb to see if we could capture the essence of a good psychological thriller. And after the break we wrote a scene with tension, after a discussion of narrative devices.

We finished with a Q&A and I even signed copies of my novel, in fact we ran out of books.

People were lovely and many said it had been very helpful 🙂 I hope that what I showed was that it can be done, we can get published if we work at the craft.

I have sat through many workshops and so I did what I thought I would want from a good workshop, it needs to be two-way, interactive and they needed to know I do know what I’m talking about (most of the time!).  So it helps that I work with lots of writers and I know the common errors! And that my novel was published of course!

I had a lovely time! And am so pleased some of the writers that took part have have found me on Twitter and said they’re enjoying the novel and loved the workshop! Phew!

The following day we did a spot of sightseeing in Bath, the tour bus, the Jane Austen Centre and of course some shopping! Although I bought very little.

A nice meal in the hotel that evening, and  then we relaxed in the room.

The following morning at breakfast, who should walk in but Ade Edmondson, who had been performing with his band in Bath that night. I didn’t disturb his breakfast but I was tempted to ask him if he wanted a copy of my book! I didn’t of course!

So here are some pics guys! I wish I was still there now!

 

Bath Abbey (1)

 

 

Bath Abbey (2)

 

That writer person again, who does she think she is?

That writer person again, who does she think she is?

 

Off to talk to the lovely writing group at Canvey Library this afternoon and you can hear me on Sarah Banham’s show on local radio Saint FM from 7pm, here’s the link: SAINT FM

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Doing it for the animals … again

I will keep the post short and simple this morning.

I have pleasure in revealing the eye-catching cover for the new Wild n Free book written and illustrated by children — royalties to Born Free!

Put this one on the list for Christmas. The eBook will be out soon too!

What I love is how the children really got into the heads of the animals and were able to show something very important — that animals belong in the wild. But what was hi lighted in a great number of the stories is how we as humans, by our actions, have reduced the landscape and environment suitable for animals and created a need for sanctuaries.

As well as the 36 stories we also have illustrations by the  children and Paws for Thought discussion points to encourage children and their parents/teachers to discuss important issues about animals and to look up more information about some of the more unusual animals featured.

Here’s the blurb …

Ever wondered what it feels like to be a lion on the plains of Africa or a wild horse who can run all the way to the sun? How about an African Skimmer who can’t fly or an elephant made to perform on the streets in Bangkok? Well look no further – we have everything from fearless tigers to peerless pandas to wiggly worms. Read how all of these animals cope with the many dangers they must face to survive. What does it really mean to be free? And what happens if someone takes that away? All the stories are written and illustrated by children.

And here’s the cover by Ellie Fullwood aged 12!

Pre-order me here. Out Nov 1st LINK

Pre-order me here. Out Nov 1st LINK

That’s it for now folks!

 

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Fingers in lots of pies …

Although I  see myself first and foremost as a writer, my editing and critiquing  job also plays very much into that and I am quite convinced that it has made me a better writer.

Editors  comes from all sorts of backgrounds, some have degrees in English, some studied journalism, some learned by being hired by a publishing house. And very much like writing, when I started to work as an editor I was lacking in self-confidence because a part of you always feels like a fraud! Am I really qualified to do this?

Scientific writing was very much a part of my job for a lot of years and creative writing was a hobby until the obsession took over. I learned to edit or perhaps first of all critique by being part of a group and later studying for my MA in Creative Writing. Working at Bridge House Gill kindly gave me free rein on a number of projects and taught me the basics of copy editing. I then did a course on copy editing and proof reading although ironically I found it hard to get the assignments done in time as I had too much copy editing and proof reading work! But the course taught me mostly what I’d already learned although the proof reading symbols were new and I often have to use with one of the publishers who hires me regularly.

I think the biggest validation has to be repeat business and I have so much of that both privately and with the small presses that hire me. My confidence has perhaps not soared to tackling a big publishing houses but then do I need to? I am a writer who edits and crits and publishers books and does workshops to fund the writing career and I don’t want a career solely as an editor.

I still feel like a fraud sometimes — as if I should have a degree in copy editing or something, if one exists, but I keep being re-hired so I guess the doing is the proof in the end. And like writing, I continually learn from the process.

I also worry about missing things but since I have also worked with an editor I see that to as humans we always miss some things. That’s why you have a copy editor and a proof reader and often you need more than one.

It is great though that so many clients say nice things — phew and of course a huge validation came from an agency’s approval of my work.

So I feel happy and confident in my role.

That said, I can not tell you how many times I have read the stories in the new Wild n Free book, even before the document went to the designer, to try to avoid lots of changes post design. I had another set of eyes on it as well and still when I read the PDF this weekend I found a fair few things I’d missed! And it also requires checking pagination, uniformity of headers, contents same headings with capitals in the same places throughout and in contents etc. There’s more to it than you realise! And I wonder if I looked at it all again today what else I might see? I hope nothing. But it went for the final stage with these corrections to the designer yesterday and I will have one final look before I sign off on it and send it to the printer! I worry about children’s names and check and double-check so many times it’s like checking you have your passport at the airport and I know the heart rate will be up when I finally press that button to upload the book and later when I accept the hard copy proof!

Sometimes I wonder about this phrase ‘jack of all trades’ and would love it if I could employ external editors and proof readers on projects like this where I am too close to be as objective as I might like. But since I lose money on this project usually I can’t afford to do that! I hope the end result will be perfect but I have  come to learn that nothing ever is quite perfect! Although I do beat myself up and have paid for revisions because I know there is a grammar error I missed!  I guess what being this ‘jack of all trades’ at least has taught me, on a small-scale anyway, is  how publishing works and I know this also helps a huge amount.

It is a busy old time for me as it seems there are FIVE titles out next month connected to yours truly! How’d that happen?

The biggie of course and enough in itself is the novel.

The same day I hope Wild n Free Too is out.

Around the same time I also hope the Springbok Anthology I co-edited and have a story in, is out.

Around the same time as well the eBook with my winning Bath Short Story (no not a story about a bath!) is out.

Oh and while it is supposedly out I am still waiting for my copy of You, Me and a Bit of We from Chuffed Buff Books that is out about now!

Woo hoo! November looks like one big launch party!

But I still have to work and do lots of marketing things and also at the moment, as well as sorting all the details for my launch events, our writing group has a showcase evening the week after my Bangor launch. So while I will take a lesser role and work with the team I did write a press release and am sorting copy for posters etc. And work out a running order for the event. It is all go but I love it!

Anyone who is in Wales or would like to come to my Bangor launch I am attaching the poster below. Also in Welsh on as I live in a bilingual society even though I have to confess to my Welsh being no more than a few diochs and panads! (Look it up!) So many thanks to a friend for the translation! Posters now in situ. A few more still to be walked around!

So yeah it is busy — but would I have it any other way? Of course I bloody wouldn’t!!! And Welsh friends — the Bangor Cellar Writing Group Showcase evening is October 30th, 7 pm at the Gwynedd Museum & Art Gallery (near the library) and all welcome to that as well! I will have a poster soon!

All this and I am also plugging the new Paws Competition! What fun!

 

Have a great week all!

Bangor flyer English

 

Bangor flyer welsh

 

Ps Essex people, the launch is on November 22nd a poster will be on here for that as well!

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