Category Archives: Short stories

Why go to a writers’ group?

Aspiring writers are always encouraged to attend a writers’ group. It certainly helped me make the shift from writing factual reports and practice manuals for work, to fiction. I still go to my local group for the camaraderie, and the tips. Sometimes I even have one to offer myself.

The Coventry Writers’ Group includes a writer who has many successful publications under her belt. Others have won prizes for their work, or contribute regularly to magazines, or are gaining a reputation as performance poets. Some are just starting out and looking for advice. One member recently self-published a novel and was willing to use his experience to help the group publish something together. We were keen to take up his offer and decided to compile an anthology. Once this was agreed, the idea was to get it out before Christmas.

We had published a couple of anthologies some years ago, but that was when we had a member who ran a small publishing house, guided us through the whole process, and sorted the printing and publishing. This time it was totally in-house – though it would have been impossible without the hard work of our volunteer publisher to co-ordinate it all.  Also his patience, as some people were late getting their work to him, asked for changes to the font, disagreed over the cover … you can imagine the scene!

Apart from a vague rule about the length of a poem or story, the only other stricture was that the entry should, if not make readers laugh out loud, at least make them smile. As for what the authors would get out of the anthology – if you have never been published before it is a thrill to see your work in print. Or if, like me, you already have a modest portfolio, it is recommended marketing practice to be able to offer something shorter (and cheaper) than your novels so potential readers can check you out before making a more expensive commitment.

So here we are. Within the time scale we had set ourselves, the group has produced its anthcov2new anthology, Stories to Make You Smile. The content reflects the make-up of the group, with contributions from the full-time writers, the never before been published members, and the majority of us who are somewhere in between.

The anthology is an eclectic mix. Not every story or poem will appeal to everyone, but it is bound to contain something to make you smile. It is now on Amazon both as a print book (£4.00) and e-book (£0.99). Just in time for a real or virtual Christmas stocking. A good enough reason – for me anyway – to be part of a writers’ group!

Links: 

Stories to Make You Smile: myBook.to/StoriesSmile

http://amzn.eu/5i4b5mh

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That Dreaded Radio Interview – follow up!

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And so, on Sunday afternoon I found myself standing  nervously in the cold in Stratford-upon-Avon, waiting to be let into the radio studio. It helped that the presenter was also waiting to be let in, and could assure me that I was expected. Yes, I had the right time and the right place. He was also confident that somebody, soon, would hear the bell and come to the door.

My own confidence increased as it was obvious the presenter, (Nick Le Mesurier – see his comment and links at the foot of my last post), was fully prepared for the programme, was very re-assuring, and had a range of plan Bs in case anything went wrong. This included a plan to cover the fact that a co-interviewee,  Andrea Mbarushimana, was lost somewhere in Stratford and might not arrive before it was our turn to go into the studio. Fortunately she arrived in the nick of time.

Both of us stayed in the studio for the duration of the programme, Stratford Words, which had the theme of hidden voices. After general introductions, a poem to mark armistice day and a quiz, it was straight over to me to chat briefly about my collection of short stories, Cast Off. Each story is the ‘hidden voice’ of a female character in a Shakespeare play, so the book fitted well with the theme.  I talked a bit about how I came to write the collection, then read an extract from one of the stories. Nick prompted me to tell listeners how they could get hold of my book, and I was able to advertise my launch event at the Criterion Theatre, Coventry, on 23rd November, where local actors will be reading from selected stories. In short, I covered all the points I wanted to, without too many ‘ers,’ ‘umms,’ or embarrassed pauses. Result!

The next part of the programme, a pre-recorded interview and short story from an Armenian lady now living in Warwickshire, went smoothly. Then Andrea was introduced, talked a  little about her life, and read a story inspired by her time as a VSO in Rwanda.

A monologue then, with an elderly ex-prisoner’s perspective, from Nick, who is an established local writer as well as radio presenter. This was followed by the answers to the quiz and, finally, a short poem from Andrea.

The hour flew by. It was great to be involved. But a great privilege too, to witness how the whole show came together and, with impeccable timing, finished bang on 5pm. I hope the listeners enjoyed it as much as I did.

Link to my story, Cast Off:

Cast Off

 

 

myBook.to/CastOff

 

 

 

 

Link to Stratford Words: www.welcomberadio.co.uk/stratford-words

 

That dreaded radio interview!

The other day, out of the blue, I received an email asking if I wanted to take part in a radio programme to talk about my recent book and, maybe, read an excerpt from it.

radio_studio_3.fwGulp! I have tended to avoid such invitations. I may have the face for radio, but not necessarily the voice.

However I realise that it is a valuable addition to the opportunities writers have to promote their work, and maybe I should take the plunge. So, after a mild panic attack, I emailed back to say ‘yes.’ Then settled down for a more serious panic session.

More constructively, I started to think about what to do in preparation.

Here’s what I’ve thought about so far. I would welcome other suggestions – bearing in mind I’m slotted in for an interview this Sunday.

  1. Clarify what is expected. E.g. Who else will be there? How long will the interview last? What will the format be – question and answer? readings?
  2. Which book / books will the interview cover?
  3. Does the interviewer want to know more about my work in advance? And more about me?
  4. Where is the studio? Is there parking? How soon before I am on air will I need to arrive?

So far I know what time I will be on air, what book we will talk about mostly, and which Cast Offexcerpt the interviewer would like me to read. The interviewer is particularly interested in Cast Off, my collection of Shakespeare themed stories. This isn’t surprising as he has a new programme on Stratford’s community radio. He will also give me a chance to promote my book event (with readings done by professionally trained readers) which will take place at a community theatre in Coventry later in the month.

And now I must go and practice reading my excerpt aloud. (But why is it my tongue suddenly feels too big for my mouth, making the words hard to come out?)

Links:

Cast Off: myBook.to/CastOff

Anthology or collection?

Tom Hanks, the movie star sometimes dubbed the ‘all round nicest guy in Hollywood,’ has just published a collection of short stories, called Uncommon Type – some stories. And – really quite annoyingly for those who like popular figures to have feet of clay – it’s been well received by the critics. Not content with being a household name as an actor, the man is now going to be hailed as a writer of considerable talent too.

Short stories have increased in popularity recently and his new publication won’t have set back this resurgence. But why is Mr Hanks book of short stories called a collection and not an anthology?

My Collins dictionary describes an anthology as ‘any printed collection of literary pieces, songs, works of art etc.’ This sounds pretty much like calling an anthology an, er, collection by another name. However the crucial difference, as the dictionary also states, is that in an anthology the stories and poems are written by various authors and a collection only solstice logo (1)includes the work of one author. This is the distinction used by my publisher. Hence, a number of my Shakespeare character stories have appeared in anthologies, alongside the work of other authors, that Solstice Publishing have produced in the last couple of years. But this year, when they published these stories in the same volume as several more that I alone had written, the ensuing publication was called a collection – CAST OFF.

Links:Cast Off

 

 

 

CAST OFF – more excerpts

Cast Off, my collection of Shakespeare themed stories was released by Solstice Publishing (an American publishing house) in July, but through a series of mishaps – aCast Off hurricane or two might have had a part to play – print copies have only just arrived in the UK. However, both print and e-books have been, and still are, available on Amazon Books, and via the publisher.

Each story concerns one of Shakespeare’s female characters whilst they are off stage. What are they thinking or doing? What do they think about the part they have been given?  What do they think about all that cross dressing? Will they be bothered to go back on stage when their next cue comes?

So far, E-book copies of Cast Off have been selling pretty well in the UK, and have hovered round the best seller rankings on occasion without me doing any particular promotion. But for those still thinking about checking it out, I have been putting the opening or closing paragraphs of each story on this blog over the last few weeks.

Here are the last four.

Closing lines – Conjuring the Moon (King Lear)

Lear smiled as he turned to one of his entourage. “The stage is set?” he asked. The gentleman in waiting bowed low again. “It is indeed my liege. The Earls, Gloucester and Kent, are already there.” The old king nodded, pleased with what he heard. “Then let us proceed.” Without further word he drew himself up to his full majestic height, swirling his cloak around him. His attendants pulled back the curtain as, followed by his three daughters, the Dukes of Albany, Cornwall and Burgundy, the King of France, and the rest of his retainers, he swept into the great hall.

Opening lines – Look to the Lady (Macbeth)

My Darling,
Oh, how I have missed you from my bed these last few nights. Now I have risen and the day is half gone, yet I still burn with desire to have you by my side. And have you satisfy my thirst for news. I don’t know whether it is worth writing to you, as the battle may well be over by now, and you will be here before I finish, but I must do something to pass the time, or I will go mad.

the-ghost-queen-001Closing lines – The Ghost Queen (The Winter’s Tale)

My mind raced. Even now, I was not sure I had enough self-knowledge and strength to make the right decision, the best decision for me and my daughter. I felt my hands trembling again and willed them to be still. Paulina noticed and touched my hands briefly. Then she looked at me through the gauze, straight into my eyes. I took a deep breath and the trembling eased. “Be strong,” she urged. “I will,” I assured her. “It’s your choice.” “I know.” There was a knock. I froze, just like a statue, and Paulina went to the door to let the world in.

Opening lines – Ban, Ban, Cacaliban! (The Tempest)

I see my boy, in my mind’s eye. Standing on the headland, watching as the ship disappears over the horizon. Gazing after his old master, Prospero, who is heading back to where he belongs, after twelve long years dominating the island rightfully belonging to me, Sycorax the witch, and her descendants. Good riddance to him. The magic he used to outshine mine is spent now, his power over spirits and other humans has been laid to rest, and my freckled whelp is again master of the island in my place. Justice, if you can call it that, at last!

Purchase link: myBook.to/CastOff

http://www.solsticepublishing.com

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Cast Off – more excerpts

Regular readers of this blog may know that I’m working my way through the opening or Cast Offclosing paragraphs of my latest collection of stories – Cast Off (six down, seven to go). Each story concerns one of Shakespeare’s female characters whilst they are off stage. What are they thinking or doing? Do they have any opinions about the play they are in? Will they actually go back on stage? The stories are not to be taken seriously, but you may be able to identify the odd quote and, to quote the character in Red Dwarf, ‘engage smug mode!’ Here are my next three excerpts:

Closing paragraph of Our Mad Sister (Troilus and Cressida)

Of course, it all worked out exactly as I had foretold. Hector was killed and his body was dragged round behind a Greek chariot for all to see his ultimate degradation. And, as Troy fell and the Greeks swarmed in, the usual murder, rape and pillage ensued. Then my own fate as a captured concubine was sealed. Not pretty. Not pleasant. Definitely a humiliating way for a princess and a scholar to end her days. But, as I think I might have said before, utterly predictable.

Opening paragraph for Chains of Magic (Othello)

Senator Brabantio felt he should send his daughter to her private chambers when he Chains of magicrealized that Othello, a man of colour, would be among his important guests that night. He wasn’t sure what worried him most. Was it only Africans he needed to worry about, or Asians too, or maybe Muslims of any colour, or all of them? All his instincts and upbringing told him he must protect his daughter. Aside from any germs they might carry, or outbreaks of unprovoked violence, there was their attitude to young girls and women. And, oh yes, their gross clasps, their foul charms, their drugs….

Opening paragraph of A Virtuous Maid (Measure for Measure).

What in Heaven’s name was I thinking of? I must have been mad! Yes he said he was a friar, but a most unlikely one, wandering in and out of prisons and places at will. He’s new to Vienna too – at least I’ve never met him before, or heard mention of him, even. Come to think of it, I still don’t know his name, or what religious establishment he’s linked to. And, yet, I’ve just agreed to go along with his plan which, he says, will preserve my virtue and save my brother’s life without causing death or dishonour for anyone. Dear God, these are unchartered waters for me.

You can find the full collection of stories in Cast Off on one of my Amazon Author pages, where you can also find other novels and short stories I have written. One story, Mary’s Christmas in Festive Treats, is permanently available as a free download so you can ‘try before your buy.’

Most stories are also available from the publisher – http://www.solsticepublishing.com

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CAST OFF – the collection (continued)

A few blogs ago I started a mini series of posts giving opening or closing excerpts fromCast Off the collection of short stories in Cast Off. Each story is a glimpse into the character of one of Shakespeare’s female characters whilst they are off stage – and quite possibly not behaving at all as Shakespeare had envisioned them. But, after the hundreds – or maybe thousands – of adaptations of his plays, and books using his characters or plots as the starting point for going off in many weird and wonderful directions, I don’t think he will be too bothered by my efforts.

Anyway, here are three more opening paragraphs, which I hope will pique your interest enough to read further:

The Quality of Mirth (The Merchant of Venice)

(Portia’s maid, Nerissa, is keeping a diary of her life with her mistress)

Dear Diary, Well, I haven’t had a chance to write much in you recently. It’s just been sooo busy, what with the old master dying, the funeral, and stuff. Then the lawyers read out the will. All to go to his only daughter Portia, my mistress, as was expected. But the crafty old goat has tied it up in such a way that it depends on who she marries whether she gets anything. Or nothing. Did I say crafty? Cruel more like. What if my poor mistress ends up having to marry someone she doesn’t like, or hasn’t met before? When I just know she already fancies someone else rotten.

Journey to the Fair Mountain (Hamlet)

Journey to the Fair Mountain(Gertrude is to be married off to a distant cousin in Denmark to save the family home for her mother and sisters)

We were so cold when we arrived. My hands and feet were numb, my nose felt raw and my cheeks were stinging. I could feel my hair, damp and icy, clinging round my face and neck. Alise, with blue lips and streaming eyes, stumbled as she helped me down from my horse. She arranged my gown whilst the old retainer, who had accompanied us on the last part of the journey, dismounted stiffly and knocked on the great door. The rest of the retinue melted away into other parts of the castle, taking the horses with them. The clip-clop of their hooves on the cobbles created a ghostly echo that lingered in the chill air. Alise pushed my hair back from my face and patted my shoulder gently.  “You look lovely, milady,” she said, encouragingly. The door was opened by a young man, who took my hand and drew me quickly into the great hall. Alise followed, as did the old man who bowed deeply to the younger man then settled into the background, his cloak merging with the tapestries on the walls.

The Tangled Knot (Twelfth Night)

(The clown has his own theories as to why Olivia doesn’t want to get married for seven years).

They call me the clown, and clowning is what I do. If I can’t make people laugh, I go hungry. But opportunities for laughing, and getting paid for it, are in short supply in my current household, that’s why I need to look around. Not that I don’t care about my mistress, mind. Or that I don’t understand why her current predicament is no joke. Just because I’m a clown, doesn’t mean I can’t be serious and think. Or that I don’t see things that some of my supposed betters are blind to even when it’s staring them in the face. That’s the life of a clown I suppose. Some of us are better suited to a thinking cap than a hat full of bells. But that’s not the life we’ve been called for. So it’s “Hey Ho,” and on with the motley, as they say.

Links:

Cast Off: myBook.to/CastOff

Or you can go straight to my Amazon author page for this and other books. There is always at least one story available free on this site, so you can ‘try before you buy.’

http://www.amazon.co.uk/-/e/B00RVO1BHO

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B00RVO1BHO

Cast Off, and several of my other stories, are published by Solstice: http://www.solsticepublishing.com

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