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Welcome to The Literary Pig's blog - a safe haven for all those afflicted with
the unbearable urge to write.

Monday, 10 April 2017

A slice of heaven

'A slice of heaven' was the original title for my short story that is out in this month's in Take-a-Break Fiction Feast (TABFF May issue), but they've changed that to 'Spoilt for choice.' However, I did notice it's used as the tag line for the story so I shouldn't grumble. I read it again over the weekend and thought what a good story it was, even though I wrote it! Funny isn't it how over time you forget the detail of a story, as I literally could not remember writing most of it. When I re-read it again and compared it to the original I realised they'd tweaked and changed a few things. The wine waiter is now Theo rather than Rene. The milkshake is strawberry rather than vanilla (ok, that makes sense but I love vanilla) and Miss Perkins' perfume has been upgraded from Lily of the Valley to Chanel No 5 (since she was the main character's maths teacher I'm so sure about this change).

The story was originally written early in 2016 for the Mogford Prize, which is always themed around food and drink. Now food and drink are some of my favourite things (you'll know this if you regularly read my posts) and the story was a joy to write. Basically, Aiden finds himself in a classy restaurant where the menu has all of his favourite foods. The waitresses are all the women he had crushes on when he was a boy ... including Miss Perkins and Yeoman Janice Rand from the original Star Trek series. I wrote in Yeoman Janice for my hubby - we're both fans of the original series and hubby had a bit of a crush on her himself. 'Spoilt for choice' is a sweet little tale about cherishing the important things in life. It came nowhere in the Mogford Prize and I put it away. Later in the year I wondered if it would be suitable for TABFF and sent it off with hardly any revisions. It took a few months but then I heard they wanted to buy it. It's always a pleasure to see a favourite story in print and the £250 payment doesn't hurt either!

April has started well with several bits of good news and you may have heard me shouting on Twitter and Facebook about this: Commonwealth Short Story Prize shortlisting for UK and Canada category, click here to read more. I'm incredibly honoured to have a story on this prestigious shortlist (it's also my second shortlisting, first in 2014) and am now nervously waiting to hear if 'The naming of moths' makes it through to the next stage.

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

(Writing) Time in your head

I've been away from the blog for some weeks and sadly not because I've been busy writing. In February my mum passed away suddenly and I quickly learned there are many things to sort out when someone close dies - and there is no time to really process there are no longer in your life. Consequently, my head has been crowded with other tasks other than writing. I've been back home for several weeks and starting to get myself into a rhythm again, though mostly editing and subbing work rather than creating anything new.
A poet friend, Zoe Mitchell, reckons the writing well can get depleted and sometimes you need time out to let it refill. She advocates lots of reading, watching films and TV, going to the cinema and theatre to help the process - I'm up for all of these. Another friend is a keen runner and always claims no matter how long the distance for a run or walk what matters is 'time on legs.' I like that idea and believe it applies to writing too.
I don't seem to suffer from writer's block, when I need to write then I can always get on with it. My problem is a block of ideas - when there's nothing in my head then I can't write. I need the idea to be almost fully formed before I start. I often work through stories or chapters in my head while doing other stuff, such as washing up, ironing, gardening and my weekly swim. Running isn't good for writing as my village route is a mixture of road and woodland, so I need to concentrate on my feet and not tripping up! Walking is brilliant for plotting and spending time in my head. We're blessed with living in a beautiful part of West Sussex and walk on the South Downs. I often go out with hubby and sometimes we like to chat - he works from home and sometimes has programming problems he wants to talk through, as I used to manage programmers/statisticians I actually can follow his conversation (and sometimes help), but mostly he wants to talk something out. But there are times when we both agree we just want to walk and think. This is perfect for me to spend quality time in my head. On a long walk back in January a new story came to me. I was able to write it over the next couple of days and submit it to a competition. Incredibly, that story 'The Gingerbread Fox' went on to make the final 16 of the 2017 Mogford Prize (worth £10,000). It didn't win but just goes to show what can be achieved when you allow yourself writing time in your head. Above is a photo of Ferdinand the fox (he visited our garden all last summer), the handsome inspiration behind the story.
The universe has been kind to me in the last few weeks, bringing good news of writing success. What I need right now is simply to day-dream, so if you catch me staring off into space then remember I'm actually spending valuable time in my head ...

Monday, 16 January 2017

What I read last year ...

Last year (2016) I read a total of 46 books (includes non-fiction and short story collections/anthologies). This is accurate because I keep a separate notebook to record all the books I read, often with additional comments to remind me of what I loved (or hated) about them. As a writer I agree with Stephen King that you should "Read, read, read" long before you ever start writing, and I thought this was probably about the usual number of books an average reader gets through in a year. So I was shocked by Grumpy Old Bookman's feature in January's Writing Magazine, where he quoted literary agent Jonny Geller telling the Guardian that "... the average person reads between one and five books a year." This was after the Bookman revealed from a report in the International Publishers Association that "British Publishes released  184,000 new and revised titles in 2013", which equates to "roughly twenty new titles every hour." Even if I took up the GoodReads challenge to read 100 books in 2017, I'd still fall well short of keeping up with new books coming out each week. I haven't set any reading goals for this year as I believe reading is something you should want to do, not feel obliged or pressured to do (whether you write for a living or not).

Here's LitPig showing off six of my top reads from 2016. You can see I'm struggling to keep up with current releases as many of these have been out for some time, but often I pick up a book because of a friend's recommendation. Luckily, my friends have exceedingly good taste ...

Station Eleven, Emily St John Mandel - a wonderful post-apocalyptic novel weaving past and future together with exceptional prose. This is the book I WANT to WRITE!
Cold Mountain, Charles Frazier - a retelling of Homer's Odyssey set at the end of the US Civil War (the film with Nicole Kidman and Jude Law does a pretty good job of recreating the novel). Sublime writing and storytelling.
A Robot in the Garden, Deborah Install - a charming, gentle and often comic novel. I dare anyone to read this and not fall in love with Tang the robot.
Merivel, Rose Tremain - concluding Robert Merivel's life-story after Restoration set in the reign of Charles II. Sir Rob is one of my all-time favourite literary characters and as with Restoration this is a novel I will re-read many times.
A Spool of Blue Thread, Anne Tyler - master of the 'quiet' novel, Anne Tyler is quite simply a genius.
The Bones of You, Debbie Howells - a gripping, page-turning psychological thriller which I read in one afternoon. Enjoyed this even more because I recognised the local setting, as the author literally lives down the road from me.

Here's a selection of other books I'd enjoyed (in order of reading):
Longbourn, Jo Baker
Tastes Like Fear, Sarah Hilary
Writing for TV and Radio, Sue Teddern & Nick Warbuton
The Trouble with Goats and Sheep, Joanna Cannon
Burial Rites, Hannah Kent
The Woman in Blue, Elly Griffiths
Deadly Elections, Lindsey Davis
The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins
The Ice Twins, S K Tremayne
The Shut-Eye, Belinda Bauer
Doctor Sleep, Stephen King
Beyond Black, Hilary Mantell
If I were a River, Amanda Saint
Last Rituals, Yrsa Sigurdardottir
Into the Woods, John Yorke
Reasons to Stay Alive, Matt Haig
Lightbox, KJ Orr
The Colour, Rose Tremain
Llama Sutra, Melanie Whipman
Mr Mercedes, Stephen King

Like any sensible control freak I also keep a record on my GoodReads account and often leave review/comments there. Wherever possible I try to upload a review onto Amazon if I enjoyed a book, as I believe that helps the writer just as much as buying their book in the first place.

Did you also read any of the above? What were your favourite reads of 2016? Please share ...

Monday, 2 January 2017

Goodbye 2016 ...

Happy New Year to all followers! I hope 2017 has started well for you. LitPig has a feeling in his trotters that 2017 is going to shine brightly for us all. I'm still pondering on writing goals for this year and to be honest I can't commit to anything until I've met Wendy for our first planning session, which is an annual tradition I look forward to. But before setting out new goals it's wise to revisit the year just passed. I've focused on five topics for 2016 ...
1. The year of two novels
I started and finished first draft of my new crime mystery novel (with a supernatural edge) within 6 months, then went on to complete re-writes and edits before the end of the year. A number of literary agents have called in the manuscript, but I've yet to receive a positive offer. The same novel was shortlisted for the Festival of Writing (FOW) Best Opening Chapter competition and also reached the final stages for Flash 500 Novel competition. I also sought advice on my first novel (contemporary upmarket fiction) from a book doctor (editor) at the FOW. She 'got' the novel and made some very positive comments on my writing, yet suggested as it was a 'quiet' novel it was unlikely to attract the attention of an agent seeking a commercial debut. Consequently, I've decided to rest the first novel and focus on securing a deal for the crime novel. Let's see what I can achieve in 2017 ...
2. Queen of the shortlists
From my tracking spreadsheet I've counted up 67 writing competitions entered (13 still being judged), some were FREE to enter but many required an entry fee. I did make the podium for several competitions earning a total of £180, which didn't cover the costs. However, I came very close and feel I deserve to be crowned Queen of the Shortlists for 2016. Here's a sample of shortlists I made it on to: HE Bates, Soundworks audio Play, Exeter Story Prize, Brighton Prize, Words With Jam, National Flash Fiction Day Micro and the Willesden Herald Prize. I failed to get anywhere with: Bridport, Bristol, Bath or Bedford competitions, so maybe in future I need to avoid any beginning with B. I was delighted to make the long list for Thresholds Feature competition (essay on Roald Dahl's collection The Umbrella).
3. Publications
For once I earned more from sales of short stories to magazines/anthologies than from competition prizes. One top moment was seeing my story Footprints (with an original illustration) in Popshot magazine (read more here). Other stories have been published in Willesden Herald New Short Stories 9A box of stars beneath the bed, Rattle Tales 4, Day of the Dead (Black Pear Press) and Take-a-break Fiction Feast. I was very pleased to be part of Suzanne Conboy-Hill's initiative Let me tell you a story - you can read more here.
4. Outings with writers
After completing my MA in Creative Writing I wanted to continue investing in my writing education and decided one way was to attend as many events as I could. The wonderful benefit of this is meeting new writers and in 2016 my circle of writing friends has expanded to include some lovely and talented people. I realise that I'm now keeping in touch with writers I met from every event I attended, which included: Paul McVeigh's Killer First Chapter Workshop, The Beach Hut Writing Academy's Write on the Beach conference (read more), Winchester Writers' Conference, Festival of Writing, Lewes Short Story Club, Vanessa Gebbie's short story workshop at Railway Land (read more). I also read at Rattle Tales back in February and got to the prize giving events for Brighton Prize (oodles of bubbly!) and Willesden Herald Prize. A real treat was the 1-day Masterclass in Advanced Structure with John Yorke at the London Screenwriter's Festival (read more). Every quarter I try and get to Melanie Whipman's Live Lit events in Surrey (read more), where there's always a great bunch of people eager to hear short stories/flash/novel extracts and poetry read aloud by the authors. And I got to meet a virtual friend for real in beautiful Bath - read more here.
5. Academia
Last but not least I graduated (with Distinction) from Chichester University with an MA in Creative Writing. And I count my blessings every month when I get together with my workshop group - I met them all on my MA.

What are you proud of achieving in 2016? Please share, we all love to hear good news and success stories.

Monday, 19 December 2016

This writing life

This writing life can be wonderful ...
moments of success come like shooting stars and always deserve celebration.

This writing life can shoot that star down ...
when rejection emails pop into your inbox (usually on a Friday afternoon) and competition stories fail to get a mention, then a stock of chocolate always helps.

This writing life is made bearable ...
by those who love and support us at home.

This writing life is only possible ...
because of our writing chums. Claire Plaisted has written a beautiful post on how 'Supportive writing friends are like lighthouses', and says it so much better than I ever could here.  I'd like to take this opportunity to thank my collective lighthouses: Richard, Bea and Zoe. We meet once a month to share and review work, to cheer each other when there's success and to let each other rant when the writing life gets tough - and there is always cake.

Finally, I'd like to especially thank my constant lighthouse: Wendy. Her beacon of good advice is always shining. When I have good news or bad, then Wendy is the first to hear it, usually first thing in the morning via WhatsApp. And without her I'd probably be ready to give up this writing life ...

Monday, 5 December 2016

Writing 30 flashes in 30 days

At the beginning of November I set out my challenge to write 30 pieces of flash fiction in 30 days - my own mini version of NaNoWriMo. What I hadn't thought through was having to come up with 30 unique story ideas, that was the real challenge. Well reader, I did it. Now I have 30 new flash stories to work on or even expand into longer pieces. I'm very happy with that. As you can see the whole experience has wiped out LitPig ...
And for all the obsessives amongst you here are the stats:
30 flash stories completed, a total of 7,560 words
Smallest = 11 words
Longest = 1,000 words
1 competition win: Write Invite 'Off the grid' (12 November), read it here
1 story on Paragraph Planet 'Backstroke' (75 words)
3 stories longlisted (to date) on Ad Hoc Fiction
9 other stories submitted to competitions/open windows, including: Tears in the Fence, The A3 Review, Blink Ink magazine, 1000 words challenge, Just Write, Retreat West ...
3 drabbles (100 words exactly) ready for Reader's Digest 100 word story competition

December I'll be working on some of these flash stories and taking time out to catch up on reading. Currently, I'm enjoying Melanie Whipman's new collection Llama Sutra. I hope she'll be on the blog in the New Year to talk about her writing and the collection.

Did you set yourself a NaNoWriMo writing challenge for November? How did you get on?

Monday, 14 November 2016

Short Story Masterclass with Melanie Whipman

I met Melanie Whipman during my MA in Creative Writing at Chichester University where she's an Associate Lecturer. She is currently completing her PhD there and her debut short story collection Llma Sutra (published by Ink Tears Press) is now available. When it comes to writing short stories then Melanie is an expert so I was really looking forward to her Short Story Masterclass, a day devoted to the art of the short story.
The Masterclass was held at Lingwood House, Churt, in Surrey (see photo right) - a perfect rural location for a day of writing. No traffic or noise distractions, just a lovely garden to explore if we needed
inspiration. Attendees started arriving for 10am and we soon knew a little about each other before Melanie reigned us in to focus on short stories. Up until lunch we discussed what makes a good short story and also considered the importance of character versus plot. There was work to do and an interesting exercise involving all five senses, later developed into exploring a character. All of the group had the makings of a short story from this short writing exercise - I was very impressed at how effective it was.
We rested our writing brains over a tasty lunch of home-made quiches and salad, followed by pudding and coffee. Coffee and tea (and biscuits) kept us well nourished all day. The afternoon session allowed us to consider the importance of setting in the short story. We then worked through several writing exercises using setting and character mood. Many of us returned to the characters we'd created in the morning to further expand their stories. I'm not usually a fan of writing to order and often hit a blank with 'on the spot' exercises, but I found Melanie's techniques worked for me and I ended up with several pages of prose that I can develop further (and have done so post the class!).
Ring fencing time to focus a day on short story writing worked for me and I left feeling motivated and re-invigorated to get writing short stories again. With the added bonus of the bones of a new story beginning to emerge after the writing exercises. The setting was idyllic. The atmosphere relaxed, friendly and encouraging where everyone got the chance to share their ideas and thoughts. There was no pressure to read out any of the work from the exercises, but our group were all happy to do so as it felt like being amongst friends. Interestingly, not all the group wrote short stories and all of the content and exercises made sense for longer fiction too - so I think we all got a great deal out of the Masterclass.
Melanie is running this Masterclass again (January 2017) and other writing workshops are scheduled, full details are on her website here. Once a quarter she organises Live Lit evenings at The Hollybush, Frensham (Surrey), where I often read along with other writers (prose and poetry). These are always fun evenings, read more here. Hope to see you there one evening! The next one is 21st November ...

Melanie Whipman is a writer and lecturer who specialises in the short story form. Her fiction has been broadcast on Radio 4, has won various literary prizes and has been published in numerous magazines and anthologies. She runs creative writing courses in Farnham, and is an Associate Lecturer and PhD student at the University of Chichester. She is also Commissioning Editor for The Story Player. 
Her debut short story collection ‘Llama Sutra’ is due out in November with Ink Tears Press.
You can find her at www.melaniewhipman.com, and can order her book here: http://www.inktears.com/book-llamasutra/
You can also join the launch for Llama Sutra - a joint launch party is being held with Joanna Campbell for her collection When Planets Slip Their Tracks. Full details on Facebook here.

All photographs provided and reproduced here with the kind permission of Melanie Whipman.