Tag Archives: Unthology 3

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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Think Mathematically

Yesterday I said how proud I was to be included in another Unthology.

My story The Theory of Circles, an experimental piece, was  published in Unthology 3 in 2012 and nominated for the US Pushcart prize. I was thrilled. And it’s how I met the lovely people over at Unthank Books.

The story goes backwards, the way you’d scroll through a social media site and uses blogs posts, tweets and Facebook updates with connecting narrative about the goings-on in a crescent, no one knowing who the narrator is. There are references throughout to maths, on the theme of circles which connected to the narrator, the way life can be circular; and it’s set on a crescent.

I love stories that are different and this was something I wrote because I wanted to push some boundaries in the short story form. I encourage you to do the same.

I was thinking about this as I wrote the latest chapter in the new novel, title What Does X=? which relates to the maths lessons George gives Emma as well as the black crosses that mark out time on the calendar. I looked at some algebra definitions and used them in the story as oddly they make literary sense as well. I love to do this kind of thing and some interesting ideas came to me for future projects as I wrote this.

Dare to be different.

Have a great weekend.

maths

Think outside the norm

Buy Unthology 3 here: LINK

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If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things

What a great name for a very clever novel. While the jury is still out about the merits of the book group I have joined, we will see what happens in December’s meeting, it did mean Mum and I read Jon McGregor’s novel and how refreshing it was.

It has the feel of a collection of short stories in some ways, although all part of the one story and not disjointed. The key narrator is omniscient (one of my usual dislikes for various reasons) but not when done well and this is done well. And redeemed because some of the chapters have a first-person narrator who holds all of the elements tightly together and means you can connect to someone; which for me is essential in any story.

In a nutshell the story is set in a particular street in a city, in Northern England, and everything relates to a single event that happened on the last day of summer. The story is based on very carefully crafted observations of the people in the street, named as the man at number 21, the girl at number 19 or whatever. But even without names we get a really vivid picture of the characters and their lives. We see the man dying on cancer who won’t tell his wife. We see the twins playing in the street, the students… and you really become immersed in a single day and its strange events that lead to this something bad that happened only you don’t know what it is yet. It’s a symphony of beautiful prose and clever devices. I love the man painting his house all day, on the day that something happened and he doesn’t quite finish the last part. What a wonderful way of measuring time as the novel keeps returning to the events of that day and we know from the outset that this thing stopped him finishing that last bit, so its progression is the ticking clock, brilliant. The only character whose life we see after the event is the first-person narrator who has a secret and teases the reader along with what did happen that day.

 

This is what it says on Amazon:

‘This novel owes as much to poetry as it does to prose. Its opening, an invocation of the life of the city, is strongly reminiscent of Auden’s Night Mail in its hypnotic portrait of industrialised society…An assured debut’ Erica Wagner, The Times.

On a street in a town in the North of England, ordinary people are going through the motions of their everyday existence – street cricket, barbecues, painting windows…A young man is in love with a neighbour who does not even know his name. An old couple make their way up to the nearby bus stop. But then a terrible event shatters the quiet of the early summer evening. That this remarkable and horrific event is only poignant to those who saw it, not even meriting a mention on the local news, means that those who witness it will be altered for ever. Jon McGregor’s first novel brilliantly evokes the histories and lives of the people in the street to build up an unforgettable human panorama. Breathtakingly original, humane and moving, IF NOBODY SPEAKS OF REMARKABLE THINGS is an astonishing debut. ‘The work of a burning new talent …Jon MacGregor writes like a lyrical angel’ Daily Mail

I loved the way this is structured, for something experimental, and actually even in terms of the narrative it dares to break the rules, in its formatting, its lack of speech marks… and yet it works. I work with writers sometimes trying to be experimental and break the rules and I always say only break them if you one — really understand them, and two — it enhances the way the story is told, forcing the reader to change the way they read the words on the page. This is a good example that does just that.

Of course this is a literary novel and so it more about the characters than the plot that drives it and is a good example to illustrate the difference between the commercial and the literary. The title represents that small things in life and the novel looks at the every day and the mundane and yet significant to those people in the story.

It’s in the small observations we find ourselves.

Did someone say that, am I quoting someone or did I come up with that? I like it. It is the small things and if you get them right you paint a picture of life. I love the small details in my writing. And in fact, while my novels are more plot-driven, I do find myself looking for those tiny details to bring a character to life.

I see this more  in my short stories. It brings to mind the voyeur in The Theory of Circles story published in Unthank Books Unthology 3, one I was very proud of and it was nominated for the Pushcart. These are also observations of the comings and goings on the Crescent and is very much about the characters. See how you do this in your own writing.

Mum would not normally read this kind of book and she loved it. Unlike some novels that make it onto the Man Booker list, it is not word-heavy and the simplicity and yet beauty of the language made it feel as if every word counts. Mum’s only criticism which I kind of agree with in part, is by the end the device of using the observations on that single day was a little like watching something in slow motion. You were drawn into it and you wanted to know what happened, but Mum said she was thinking just tell us now. So perhaps it could have got to that sooner. I see what she means and it’s a valid point, but I felt that less so. I was drawn into the wanting to know and it carried me to the end, although the ending is oddly understated and yet brilliant and Mum did love that.

I urge any writer to look at this book for its differences and to see how to craft nameless characters in a wonderfully vivid way. Any book that makes me stop and say I wish I wrote that line is my kind of book. And there are many bent over pages in this book where I thought, oh what a line! Write it, save it, store it, aspire to write like that.

I will leave you to find out those for yourself.

I will be reading this book again.

I give this 5 stars.

If Nobody speaks...

 

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Book clubs make you read other things and so I will be reviewing some of the books here or if I don’t persist with this particular book club (since we didn’t even discuss the book!) I will be doing my own book club with the writing group, suggesting titles and will put them here as well for anyone who wants to read along at the same time.

Have a wonderful Tuesday everyone! The chill means I am beginning to think of Christmas. I love it, but never until December, then I allow myself to succumb to it. Next week…

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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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In The Spotlight: Guest Blog by Sharon Zink

I met Sharon when we our short stories were published in Unthology 3 by Unthank Books and I was at the launch in Norwich. We since made Facebook a place to hang out and I very much look forward to a weekend in Brighton this weekend where she launches her debut novel — also published by Unthank Books. She is a literary writer and like me tends to write very American novels (so there is a kindred spirit there) — so I will be reporting on her launch, but I wanted to introduce you to her first by inviting her to the spotlight now her book is released!

So without further ado, please give a warm welcome to Sharon Zink … (pause of raucous applause!)

In the Spotlight …

spotlightoj-md                                                                                              …    Sharon Zink

 

Author Sharon Zink

Author Sharon Zink

Have you always wanted to be a published writer? Tell us something about your path to having your first book/story/poem published or your most recent success.

I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was about five, scribbling stories and even an autobiography (weird kid that I was!) on the top step of the stairs. I was lucky to know what my calling was from an early age and even luckier that I had mentors who encouraged me to pursue my dreams. I dedicated my first novel, Welcome to Sharonville, partly to Bryan Ricketts, a brilliant English teacher who helped a messed up teenager become Young Poet of the Year and get my first collection, Rain in the Upper Floor Café, published when I was seventeen.

The transition from being a baby poet to a grown up one was hard though and so, once I went to university, I got caught in the grip of becoming an academic and creative writing was set aside for pretty much a decade. Bryan and I continued to correspond and he was proud of my studies, but he said to be once in a letter, “You should write” – meaning, real stuff, poems, stories. He sadly died before I started writing fiction – something I never imagined I’d ever do – but I hope he is happy now the novel is being published. I’m pretty sure he has been meddling from on high to make it happen!

My fiction writing journey is one of paradoxes really – of early successes and great luck (as with the poetry), followed by years of work and waiting. I was incredibly fortunate that the first ever story I wrote, “Lobsters” – which you can read on my website – won me the Writers Inc. Writer of the Year title and was published in their winners’ anthology. My novel, Welcome to Sharonville sprang from that story and there was a flurry of excitement as I nearly got taken on by an agent when the manuscript was only 100 pages long. But then – as is the way with my life (and probably every one else’s!) – lots of things happened which dented my confidence. Things unrelated to writing – such as multiple bereavements and falling ill with M.E. – and other more literary struggles, such as my uncertainty about dealing with the book’s opening chapter and rejections from agents, which finally led to me putting the book into a virtual drawer for a few years.

I completed my second novel (which is currently ‘resting’ and may stay that way!), but when I met Jacqui Lofthouse, the novelist and writing coach, she forced me to let her look at Sharonville (as it was titled then). I remember my relief and absolute joy when she rang me and said, “It’s brilliant! This is one of the most exciting things I’ve seen in years!”  She instantly breathed life back into a project I’d felt was permanently dead. After that, she began submitting to agents for me as a scout and I gathered courage and approached a few myself and had various near misses, plus the book was even shortlisted in the 2011 Mslexia Novel Competition out of 4000 entries. It was hard to face the rejections, but I told myself that I was getting mostly personal responses (which is unusual in the agent’s world of standard letters) and that near misses meant I was getting nearer  – but then I tried Unthank Books – the first independent publisher I’d approached – and they took the novel!

I felt like it was the perfect home for the book because of its reputation for literary fiction, but also because one of its founders, Ashley Stokes, had critiqued the first draft of the novel years before and had been so enthusiastic and positive about me completing it. I’m a writer and love symmetry, so this circling from the beginning to the end of this novel’s journey really tickles me.

Did that journey involve an agent? If not did you try to get one? Any advice about that?

As Unthank Books is a small press, I didn’t need an agent to get my novel published and this seems to be the way many first time authors get their break. Independent houses are often more willing to take risks on newcomers and those whose work doesn’t fit well with the standard genres. Because of this, I think the independent houses perform a really valid role in terms of allowing innovative writing to find readers who are still hungry for something different and often challenging. The success of many writers from small publishers in recent awards, such as the Baileys, attests to the quality of the books they are producing.

I managed to find a publisher before an agent and it does often seem like it is as hard, if not more so, to find an agent than a book deal due to the increasingly cautious nature of the publishing industry and the sheer number of writers trying to get a book out. Although I would really like a great agent and a conventional publishing deal as it’s the dream of most authors, I also write primarily to be read, so if it is a case of having an agent, but my book never seeing publication (as has been the case with several of my writer friends’ work), I would rather go to the small houses and keep getting my novels out there in people’s hands.

As a literary consultant, as well as a novelist, I would say if you are serious about getting an agent or publishing through one of the small houses, you really need to make sure your work is tip top – I’d strongly recommend hiring an editor to look at your book and the submission package. Agents and publishers are very busy people, so you only get one shot at success – don’t give them reasons to reject you due to rooky errors.

Do or did you ever belong to a writing group? Crit group? Did you ever have someone professionally critique your work before first submitting? Or do you have friends or anyone else who sees it before you send it off? Has that changed since you became a ‘successful author’?

I am a bit of a lone wolf and so haven’t really even been part of an ongoing writing group – I have attended some wonderful courses over the years though which changed my perspective, such as one at City Lit in London which made me realise that, though I was 55,000 words into my first novel, I didn’t have a plot! (Even after doing an English Literature Ph.D.!)

Generally though, I like to beaver away in privacy and then show my work to people I trust, such as well-read friends and literary consultants. Jacqui Lofthouse has been invaluable to me as she offers much-needed ego strokes for the stuff which is good, but she also challenges me when my work could be improved.

I was lucky enough to have two Arts Council Free Reads for Welcome to Sharonville and one for my second novel and would really recommend people look into that scheme as critiques can be very expensive and this scheme allows authors to access editorial advice for free or at cut price. I honestly think no one should attempt publishing – whether self-publishing or through traditional channels – without a good structural and copy edit.

Who did you first tell when you heard your first book/story had been accepted?

I can’t remember who I told about my poetry collection as that was a while back, but I screamed so loud when I got the email saying Unthank were taking my book that my cat, Muse, ran away, looking horrified!!And then I texted all my lovely friends who kept me going through the years I was waiting for this to happen and danced to “The Eye of the Tiger” (complete with hand moves). Yeah, I know.

What happened next? Can you tell us something about working with an editor? How important is that to you now – is there a lot of discussion and does the editor make a real difference to your work?

The main reason I didn’t want to self-publish is because I wanted to work with an editor and learn from that process. Even though I am an editor myself, with my own writing, I can’t see the wood from the trees, so it was good to have Robin Jones at Unthank go through the book and pick up the points where the writing could be polished. I was lucky that the novel had been critiqued by multiple people before it reached the publication stage, so a lot of the roughest edges had already been sanded down, but Robin really got the vision I had for the book and was able to put it in words in a way I never could and I gained so much from that. It wasn’t until he described my novel as being “nuanced psychological fiction” that I realised how much of my writing is about the workings of the human heart – that is a hugely important insight to be given after over a decade of writing!

Tell us something about your writing day, routine.

I wish I had a routine, but generally, life and my health issues mean I seem to work more as a “binge” writer these days. I tend to write loads at one sitting or in a few days and then pause for a while. I’d like to get back into a more regular writing pattern though as I think it helps keep your style even and generate more ideas as your mind is constantly focussed on one project. I find afternoons the best time for me as I’m more awake. I am very fortunate and have a seaview from the desk in my new flat, so I’m looking forward to settling down there and getting books three and four finished after the summer’s promotional events are over. They’re exciting though, so I can’t complain!

What or who inspires you most? Any particular people, authors, books?

It’s hard to single out one book really, but I am mainly inspired by American literary fiction – I would love to be mentored by Richard Ford as he’s a genius and was totally lovely to me when we met not long after I’d finished the first draft of my first book. I also adore Paul Auster, Lorrie Moore, Raymond Carver, Annie Proulx – I could go on all day!

I also find myself really inspired by music, TV and movies. I find scenes coming to me from song lines – Aimee Mann’s “It’s Not” inspired the ending of the first chapter in my novel, for instance, but David Lynch also deeply affected the book as I worshipped Twin Peaks and just adore his quirky take on the world in general. I often use art as prompts in my creative writing workshops, so sometimes I will look at paintings or photographs and see characters or scenes appearing in them. Images can be helpful to me in terms of generating the atmosphere of a setting and are one of the most fun parts of research.

I think all the art forms can enrich each other though, even if only in terms of allowing us a sense of belonging. I remember being amazed when I heard Talking Heads and seeing David Byrne as I suddenly knew I was part of this bigger creative family, that I wasn’t the only weirdo in the world!

I’ve always been fascinated by Marilyn Monroe for her beautiful vulnerability too – an aspect most artists need, but which makes life harder too – and Madonna for her absolute determination. She’s been very important to me in terms of the way she conveys the sense that anything is possible if you work at it – something you have to believe if you are going to work in the arts, where rejection and self-doubt are rife.

Why do you write? (Now that’s the question!) What do you want your stories to do?

Because I love words and the worlds created by them and I can’t imagine not doing it now. I could give up most things except writing.

I also write because I want to touch people with my work in the way that others’ books have touched me. Literature – especially poetry – has had a profound effect on the way I view life and helps me cope with its darker aspects, as well as bringing humour and enjoyment. If my novel could do that for one person, all the work will have been worthwhile.

How much marketing have you had to do? How comfortable are you with self-promotion?

Unthank Books provided me with a marketing assistant to help me with the legwork thankfully, but all writers – even my friends who write bestsellers – are expected to do the lion’s share of the promotional work. I’ve been very active in terms of working on the creation of websites, my new blog, The Book Diner, where I interview authors, arranging the making of the book trailer and organising the Brighton book launch and so on. I don’t think any of us is really that comfortable – at least at first – about pushing our books on social media and in other ways, but people are usually very generous when you have a big project coming out and tend to bear with you! I’ve had tremendous support from friends and others in the writing community and that makes this busy time easier.  It’s a steep learning curve as, like most writers, I don’t come from a marketing background, but I’m actually enjoying finding out more about it all and I know that, through this process, I will hopefully be much better prepared when my second novel comes out.

Tell us about the latest published work …

My debut novel, Welcome to Sharonville,  was published on June 15th —  it basically explores what happens when a young History professor, Toni Sorrentino, crashes her pickup in the Arizona desert a few days after 9/11 and the big secrets which come out in her small desert home town of Sharonville as a result.

What next? Tell us about work in progress and aspirations. Where do you see yourself in ten years’ time?

I’m currently writing my next two novels – Empiness, a literary thriller about female astronauts I was lucky enough to research at NASA, and Low Tide, a bit of seaside-set literary noir, involving mental illness, destructive relationships and a murder on a beach.

I have no idea where I will be in ten years’ time, but I would hope I’d have published a few more novels by then and found a lot of lovely readers. I hope I’m travelling the world, having adventures, surrounded by love and being happy.  I’d love to win the Bailey’s Prize as it’s a prize I really respect, but we’ll see!

Any advice for writers who are trying to get their work published?

Don’t listen to the odds, don’t listen to the naysayers, don’t send out novels to the industry before they’ve really gone through the editorial mill. Find literary consultants or literary friends who are prepared to challenge your work as well as praise. Enter competitions to help get your work noticed. Seek out a mentor who is ahead on the path and can shout back advice about the hurdles of the writing life. Treasure role models who make you feel hopeful – they can be rock stars or movie actors, but just find figures who inspire you with what is possible as a creative person. Tell yourself good things are going to happen for you artistically. Tell yourself good things are going to happen for you all over as everything is connected to your writing. Envision your victories ahead of time. See yourself succeeding in your mind – it works! Get back up after every rejection or bitchy review – expect them to come and develop a non-stick coating! Don’t let the winds of praise and blame, which the Buddha discussed, define you too much – don’t depend on external success. It’s hard not to look for validation and books are meant to be read, but the writing is the main thing always – love that process and everything else won’t get to you so much. And read, read, read – without knowing how others have pulled it off, you will find it hard to learn your craft yourself. Some people light a candle or pray before writing – rituals are helpful. Do anything to make yourself feel as safe as possible as then you’ll take more creative risks.

Tell us something random about you for the pure hell of it …

My family see ghosts – they’re like something out of a Marquez magic realist novel. My gran used to tell me how she’d told my long-gone grandfather about my school reports as if it was completely normal. That’s why one of the characters in Welcome to Sharonville, the Chinese American lingerie maker, Happiness Chong, is a ghost-seer – I had to do something with that craziness! I feel blessed to have grown up in such an interesting family – a writer needs that. My grandmother was an incredible storyteller and a lot of her tales are in the book. I just hope she is proud of me.

Which of your characters would you most like to be friends with and why?

I adore Uncle Franco, the central character in Welcome to Sharonville, as he’s basically a non-violent Tony Soprano – a huge Italian teddy bear of a man with self-esteem issues, an eating problem and enough guilt, as Tori Amos would say, to start his own religion. I love his compassion, warmth and loyalty to those he loves – loyalty is something I value highly in the people I care about and I know Franco would offer that, even if he’s prone to anger and impulsive actions. (I know it’s bad, but whaddyagonnado?)

Can we have a taster of your novel?

Of course!

Opening of Welcome to Sharonville …

Toni tapped her pickup’s cherry Kool-Aid-colored hood twice in greeting: her hand flew back, bitten by a coyote heat. Three months in New York had made her forget the egg-frying-on-the-sidewalk mood of late summer Las Vegas. She sucked on her stinging fingers and yanked the Redsmobile’s door wide with her still good limb, the enclosed heat smacking into her face like an opened umbrella. Clambering across the seat, she wound down the passenger window and set her backpack on the floor, before standing with the door ajar for a few moments, letting the truck breathe, letting herself breathe, though the difference between inside and outside was between Venus and the Sun.

She hadn’t driven for a long while, but, once seated, the pickup’s large white wheel, with its soft, rubbery indentations, felt friendly in her hands. She’d had the Redsmobile – her nickname for her 50’s Chevy truck – since she was a teenager, so there was something of comfort in gazing out over its humped dash, the ways its simple black and chrome dials eyed her as if remembering all their times together.

The engine churned  at the first turn of the key, the radio hurricaning to life–Toni punched it off. All the talk of what happened that Tuesday in Manhattan was too much and already too late, even if it was only three days ago. Those voices–grieving, bribing, selling their interpretations–reached her and yet they didn’t.

She was running home from the smashed Twin Towers, the broken city, from terrorism as never seen before, but it still seemed like she was moving under water, the blue surface jellying above as her own life’s uncertainties, like stones sewn into her clothes, dragged her down to a place where the world and its events–however bold and tragic–hardly mattered. After all, here she was, heading back to Sharonville, no nearer to finding the truth about her father or about who she really was than before she left. Some History professor she’d turned out to be.

 For all she knew, she could be the daughter of a Mafia mobster. Perhaps Uncle Franco was being honest when he claimed he’d lied to protect her, that he’d only sent her on that wild goose chase through New York’s hospitals and libraries to keep her safe.

She didn’t know who was dumber anymore–him for setting her up like that or herself for going along with it. But false names and false hope were possibly better than no hope at all.

 Toni squinted into the rear view mirror as she prepared to move off–her loose black molasses hair, usually so smooth, looped out at odd, static-stung angles following her flight from the East Coast—hours of turning and twisting in her seat to see whether hell was coming. Sleep had been out of the question, even though her eyes–usually such a dazzling amethyst-blue–were dull with exhaustion when she’d looked in her pocket mirror on the plane, a sadness which even kohl couldn’t cover.

God, she was so tired of wondering where her face came from. It was a beautiful face–even she could acknowledge that, at times–but it didn’t seem to matter when, over and over, she found herself returning to the same absence, the same lack of resemblance, the same failure of recognition. She was thirty-three and still didn’t know who she was.

Her best friend, Mila, was so similar to her mother–though you couldn’t tell her that. Mila and her mom, Aunt Happiness, were like Russian dolls, except they were Chinese American and the daughter was very much taller than the mother–the dolls going from small to large in this case. Still, in a way, she’d never really felt motherless–Betta had always been dead to her and her grief at that just walked quietly alongside her, only ever raising its voice when she witnessed generations of women shopping and laughing together in Vegas, or warm, apple-cream arms encompassing her students on the day of commencement. Uncle Franco loved her enough to assuage most moments of loss though–she even felt sometimes he loved her too much. Like his moving to Vegas when she went to college there, just to give her a home. It was generous, yes, but it also felt like she was running beneath his zeppelin-huge shadow.

And yet it wasn’t enough–even while she had this strong male figure in her life, with all his sheltering ways, she couldn’t silence the yearning to find her father. Perhaps the pull of biology was too powerful, the mystery of his name too irresistible for her inquisitive mind. Something kept tapping at her soul, gentle, but sharp, like a kitten’s playful paw. She wondered if he was alive, if he knew of her existence, if he would want to meet her and she was both terrified and electrified by the prospect , by the thought of this enigmatic man’s rejection or embracing. She needed to know the truth–and not just for herself, but for any children she might have some day.

But maybe she wouldn’t want reality when it finally came–maybe she couldn’t take it. After all, Uncle Franco swore he was ready to tell her the full story now, if only she would just go talk with him. Except now she couldn’t believe a word he said.

Toni pulled off, nodding to the security guard as the Redsmobile finally left the university parking lot after three long months, braking as she reached Tropicana Avenue. She should go to Uncle Franco’s place and figure things out–she should try to understand. That was the way he’d raised her–to be tolerant, to consider others. She loved him and so she should do this. Should. Should. Should. The accursed word of civilization, forcing people into forgivenesses they weren’t ready for, obliging them into lives which they never wanted. She “should” visit, but she wouldn’t.  That water she sensed around her–it boiled.

But she didn’t want to go back over the border to Arizona either. Mila would be working late at her office in L.A., leaving their apartment terrifyingly empty–the rising sounds and smells from the restaurant below would bang against her loneliness like a bell. And then there would be Buzz–he adored Uncle Franco and would try to persuade her to give him another chance and she was way too exhausted to justify herself again tonight.

 She pulled off in the direction of the Strip, jolting with the limousines and tour buses past Egyptian pyramids, glittering volcanoes, and the shrunken Eiffel Tower.  Her arm lolled against the side of the Redsmobile as she drove, absorbing the gaudy glory of neon names now emerging in the high desert evening which–if all else failed–would dry your tears.

Las Vegas apparently existed to prove that nothing lasts–hotels shape-shifted like aliens according to market forces; towers fell on film to become golf courses; stars lost their shine and were replaced by lions; boxers bled onto the canvas floor and crawled back up again. And that always made her feel more eternal. She remained while everything else changed–or, rather, everything changed and this told her, in its rough language, that whatever she was going through would become something else.

And if that impermanence failed to comfort you, you could always feel blessed that you weren’t the bird in the Chicken Challenge, tortured into playing tic tac toe, while being blitzed by color and the cock-a-doodle-doos of regretful gamblers. Although there were days when it felt like you were right there with them, chasing an elusive feed that would never come.

Toni took a right down Flamingo, looking into the as-yet-unleased office buildings, their empty white-lit rooms lighthouses warning of the city’s dangers. There was so much construction in Vegas, so many new beginnings. She wished she could start again. She wished she could flee through those rooms, screaming.

Toni eventually left Las Vegas as a violet dusk drifted down, the Redsmobile coughing its way toward the I-93 and the state border. It was her usual journey home, along the same road  Uncle Franco had taken before she was born. She didn’t want to see it that way, but she’d heard the story of her family origins so often, both from him and her now dead Uncle John, that it had bubblegummed to her memory. And so here it was, despite everything–a kind of dusty pilgrimage past careless trucks and distant mountains, a Passion she knew every inch of.

 

© Sharon Zink, Unthank Books, 2014. Can not be reproduced withour permission from the author and/or publisher

 

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Website:  http://www.sharonzink.com/

Thanks Sharon for the great interview and I can not wait to read this and see you at the launch!

If you want to be treated to some great writing folks, of the literary kind, get this book!

Over the next few weeks I have some more Spotlighters waiting in the wings, including the crime thriller writer, Richard and Judy selected … R J Ellory, as well as children’s writer Pauline Burgess and more … so watch this space!

Have a great day everyone!

 

 

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In The Spotlight: A J Ashworth

In the Spotlight returns for a couple of weeks to showcase more new and established talent … and this week I welcome fellow Unthologist and so much more — the talented A J Ashworth. I met her at one of the launch events of Sarah Dobbs’s Killing Daniel novel where A J and I read extracts of our stories from Unthology 3, so if you have a copy — her story was the one about the monolith; very unusual and excellently written. We have stayed in touch and she now works as an editor as well as writer and I think she is one to watch for sure … so big warm welcome please …

<<<Pause of rapturous applause>>>

spotlightoj-md

A J Ashworth

 

Tell us something about yourself and your writing …

Hi everyone! I published a collection of short stories at the end of 2011 – Somewhere Else, or Even Here. The collection won Salt Publishing’s Scott Prize and was later shortlisted for the Edge Hill Prize. I’ve currently abandoned short stories though and am working on a novel.

Have you always wanted to be a published writer? Tell us something about your path to having your first book/story published.

I’ve wanted to be a published writer for a long time, yes – it’s been a long-held dream of mine. In my twenties/early thirties I was really struggling though. I couldn’t seem to get anything finished so I didn’t feel I was getting anywhere. I therefore decided to take some distance learning writing courses with Lancaster University and these helped me to be a bit more focused and to actually complete some stories. I then went on to do an MA at Sheffield Hallam University and completed the main bulk of my short story collection there. After the MA, I submitted this to Salt for the Scott Prize and was one of three winners.

 Do you have an agent? If not did you try to get one? Any advice about that?

I don’t have an agent at the moment. Most agents are reluctant to take on short story writers – mainly because publishers are hesitant when it comes to buying collections, especially when they’re by debut authors. Independent publishers such as Salt and Comma Press are excellent and you wouldn’t need an agent to have a book published by them.

Do or did you ever belong to a writing group? Crit group? Did you ever have someone professionally critique your work before first submitting? Or do you have friends or anyone else who sees it before you send it off?

On all the courses I’ve taken – distance learning; MA – I have been given feedback on my work, either by other students or tutors. My MA tutor, Felicity Skelton, gave excellent feedback and really helped me to improve my work, and that kind of support is invaluable really. There are other people who give me feedback also and I was previously a member of an online writing group. The key thing is to show your work to people you trust – those who want you to write well – and then take on board those comments you agree with.

Who did you first tell when you heard your first book had been accepted?

I told my partner and my parents. I was pretty excited as you can imagine but I had to restrain myself a bit because I was at work when I found out.

What happened next? Can you tell us something about working with an editor? How important is that to you now – is there a lot of discussion and does the editor make a real difference to your work?

During my MA, Felicity acted as an editor really so she gave good advice when something wasn’t working in a story. Then, when the collection was going to be published I got the first proofs from Jen Hamilton Emery at Salt and she made a few suggestions about words that could be cut, for example. I think it’s important to listen to feedback, whether it’s from a trusted reader or an editor – they’re able to see your work in a way you can’t because you’re so close to it. Good editors make your work better.

 Tell us something about your writing day, routine …

At the moment I’m writing most days because I don’t want to lose touch with the novel, but if I don’t feel like writing one day I don’t. Sometimes I write in the morning, other times the afternoon or evening – so I don’t have a strict routine where I have to be at my desk by a certain time. Some days I’m disciplined, some days I’m the laziest person on the planet.

What or who inspires you most, people, authors, books?

I’ve not read, or seen, all of the work by these people but I love: Woody Allen, Raymond Carver, Tobias Wolff, Lorrie Moore, Amy Hempel… lots of Americans really. Two books I’ve loved in recent times: Alison Moore’s The Lighthouse and Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge. I get inspired by people who are passionate about what they do – scientists, artists, writers, filmmakers.

Why do you write? (Now that’s the question!) What do you want your stories to do?

If I don’t have a piece of writing on the go I don’t feel right. That doesn’t mean I always want to write – often it’s the last thing I want to do – but there’s something inside me urging me to do it. I think about writing quite a lot. It’s always there whirring away somewhere in my brain. If I’m watching a film, I’m analyzing the story, thinking about how it’s been constructed, the dialogue. If I’m washing up, I’m thinking about stories – not necessarily mine, but other people’s. I’m not sure it ever really switches off. As for what I want my stories to do… I want them to resonate with people, to connect with something in their own lives, I suppose.

How much marketing have you had to do, even with a big publisher? How comfortable are you with self-promotion?

If you’re published by a small independent you have to promote yourself as much as you can. I don’t like self-promotion – a lot of people probably feel the same – but if you don’t do it then hardly anyone will know about your work. They may still not even know about it even if you do the self-promotion, but you have to try. I haven’t done much really, apart from doing the occasional blog interview, a few readings, etc.

Tell us about the latest published book…

Somewhere Else, or Even Here is a collection of 14 short stories exploring themes such as loss, love, loneliness and hope: a girl meets with danger on the beach when she is lured away by a strange boy; a bereaved wife enlists the help of a mysterious woman to perform rituals that will bring her dead husband back to life; a boy’s anger at his absent father leads him towards an act of destruction in the basement of his school. The book is available from:

Salt

Amazon (paperback and Kindle versions)

And I also have some paperback versions available via my blog

What next? Tell us about work in progress and aspirations.  Where do you see yourself in ten years time?

I’m currently writing a novel and also editing Red Room, a collection of new short stories inspired by the Brontës to raise funds for The Brontë Birthplace Trust – this will be published by Unthank Books later this year and will feature stories from David Constantine, Alison Moore, David Rose, Bill Broady, Vanessa Gebbie and many more. I hope I’ll still be writing in ten years’ time but I don’t know what else I might be doing.

Any advice for writers who are trying to get their work published?

Keep going. Perseverance is really important.

Can we publish an extract of your work?

A J Ashworth Sample (click link to read first story and beginning of next — pdf kindly provided by author and not to be reproduced without permission © A J Ashworth, Salt Publishing, 2012

Thanks you so much for being a guest and telling us about your writing. I am trying to get more writers for this spot so if you or someone you know wants to be here — please do let me know. Next week I welcome the talented writer Sophie Jackson to the spotlight …

Have a great day everyone. The sunshine is glorious and I almost wish I was out in it — although I am enjoying editing my novel. Work hard, play hard at the weekend …

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Commonwealth Success … chuffed to bits

Going international …

 

 

Well many of you would have heard my latest news but in case you missed it, I have the pleasure in announcing that I have made it to the short list of none other than the Commonwealth Short Story Prize 2013. I heard last week that I had been short listed but had to wait before I could make the official announcement. Of course I was thrilled when I heard, but perhaps in my busy life and innocence it hadn’t really sunk in how BIG a deal this is. Well, not until they sent the press release yesterday that I was in fact only one of 2 from the UK! The next round is to choose the regional winner and it seems UK and Canada together counts as my region, and since there is only 1 person from Canada that means I am up against only another 2 writers! Yikes. I don’t expect for a minute to get further, and I really really do wish everyone the best of luck, I am just totally thrilled to get this far! Well done also to UK author Susan Everett and Canadian author Eliza Robertson and of course all the others from around the world. I have connected with many of these now through Twitter — how lovely 🙂

Here is the link complete with photo and bio! And you will see all the other lovely authors on the list:  LINK

Should I get further the story will be published online and I’d be invited to the prize giving where they choose the overall winner at the Hay Festival. 

So I am thrilled thrilled thrilled with this news — didn’t I say this would be the year!

I also was delighted to see that Parthian Books have a novel on the Commonwealth Book Prize too! So that’s great! LINK

I met the regional winner of the short story prize last year at Hay Andrea Mullaney (and the winner Emma Martin) and we have stayed in touch. We were at the prize giving when they announced the winner as it happens. So it seems strange to now be such a part of it myself! Wonderfully strange I have to say.

It just goes to show what can happen if you believe, right?

Oh and Unthank Books have been short listed in three categories for this year’s Sabotage Awards (indie press awards). This is now a popularity contest open to a public vote in each category. 

There are:

Most Innovation Publisher: Unthank Books

Best Short Fiction Anthology: Unthology No.3

Best Short Story Collection (by Ashley Stokes): The Syllabus of Errors. 

Here’s the link: http://sabotagereviews.com/2013/03/01/saboteur-awards-2013/

If you’ve got time and you’d like to vote, please do. Just follow the links. It’s probably a good idea to fill out the reason why box as well. 

Also please do LIKE my Author Facebook Page, which I hope might get up to 100 and remember my new Twitter author page as well as it needs followers (yikes I now have 3 Twitter accounts — mad init!)

Facebook Page: http://www.facebook.com/DebzHobbsWyattAuthor

Twitter: @DebzHobbsWyatt

I think I will leave it at that for today and hope everyone is okay, and busy writing, reading etc …

Have a great day — I am working and getting the pooch her hair cut as well! All glam 🙂 Well for her!

Set your dreams free ...

Set your dreams free …

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