My entry for the TCWG May short story competition on the theme of ‘Surprise’:
Wexford Literary Festival will again be held online this year, from 1st – 4th July 2021, and has attracted an international field of competition entries for the Colm Tóibín International Short Story Award, the Anthony Cronin International Poetry Award, the Billy Roche International Short Play Award, the Eoin Colfer International Children’s Short Story Award, and the Denis Collins Literary Art Award.
A full programme of interviews and spoken word events will include WEXPRESSIONS involving approximately 10 Wexford Women Writers (including me!). This will be a variety of poetry and prose showcasing the variety of women writing in our vibrant county and the unique locations that inspire us.
Last year I was very fortunate that the Festival’s ‘Meet the Publisher’ Competition, offering an interview with Paula Campbell of Poolbeg Press, led to the publication of my novel ‘Heart of Cruelty’, the first of a three-book contract. Paula is a pleasure to talk to, genuinely enthusiastic about historical fiction, and I have really enjoyed working with Poolbeg and their excellent editor Gaye Shortland. Work on my next book continues!
For more information, look for the Wexford Literary Festival on Twitter or Facebook, or check their website at wexfordliteraryfestival.com
When I wrote Peace Walls in 2012 I did not foresee peace in Northern Ireland unravelling and hoped that time would bring healing.
Free to read on my website (link), it’s a time shift short story set in Northern Ireland about a fictional sectarian murder and the long term consequences for the people who knew the victim.
The research for this was painful at times, in particular reading ‘Bear in Mind These Dead’ by Susan McKay (link), which is a factual account of some of the victims of the Troubles. The Historical Enquiries Team video on YouTube (link) was also an inspiration, as was Alan M Wilson’s ‘Policing Ireland’s Twisted History’(link).
In 2021 we need more than ever to uphold the ideal of peace. Politicians must get to work. The current difficulties in implementing Brexit have to be solved by negotiation. Walls should not be needed. Let’s reconcile histories and old divisions and work on what we all have in common, for the sake of our young people and their future.
I’ve signed up for a cross-genre 5-day writing challenge to be held via a private Facebook group, starting 9th November. It coincides neatly with NaNoWriMo, as well as with a week of annual leave that I booked from work so that I could write.
To quote the blurb:
This 5 Day Page Turner Challenge will show you how to bring all the elements of a fast paced, gripping read to your fiction, whatever genre you are writing. We’ll be looking at characters, plotting and how important conflict is to generate story – and how to keep your reader turning those pages.
Each day there will be one daily task, this will take between 10-20 minutes to complete (you can devote as much time as you wish).
We’re going to be looking at character, plotting, story development, dialogue and those all important opening lines.
We’re also going to be look at those other writer problems like writers block, imposter syndrome and building good writing habits.
You’ll be given EXCLUSIVE access to our private challenge members only Facebook group, along with everyone else taking part in the challenge. Places are limited so don’t dither!
Every day Sam Blake and I will share one action item in the group for you to complete and post in the comments your results so we, and the rest of the group can see how you got on.
Each task can be done in 10-20 minutes and we’ll be on hand to answer any questions you have. The best bit is the wonderful energy and community vibe that comes from joining a challenge – it’s infectious!
There’s nothing like a reliable and supportive community to turn to when you get stuck – and the challenge always delivers on that. We’ll be live every evening in the group to discuss the day, answer questions and to see how you’re getting on – and we’ll be inviting some special guests along to say hello too.
It’s €35 to join, and open to writers everywhere.
How sad to see the slow decline of myTelegraph. The pages over which I roamed, meeting friends whom I will hold dear for the rest of my life, are crawled over by the bots who sell ‘Drugs Offshore’, ‘WU dumps’, ‘CVV’ and all the other inhuman detritus of the Dark Web.
I hope that rescuing a few survivors from the wreck will form the nucleus of a new group that will go forth into the Universe and populate the world with TCWG Short Stories...
The heroine of my Victorian novel set in Birmingham has been out job-hunting recently. I have been her guide, with the help of an 1839 map, an 1839 Directory of Birmingham and Sheffield, a favourite blog: Mapping Birmingham, a couple of back numbers of Aris’s Birmingham Gazette from the British Newspaper Archive, Edmond Chadwick’s Report on the Sanitary Condition of the Labouring Population of Britain and Carl Chinn’s wonderful book ‘Birmingham: The Great Working City’.
My heroine is encumbered by having been involved in a scandal, and by a lack of useful experience other than as a domestic servant. She heads down from Newhall Street, past St Martin’s in the Bullring and the Court of Requests debtors’ prison, along the High Street towards Bordesley. All of this street is lined with shops and small businesses: tea dealers, basket makers, bookmakers, cheese factors, bottle merchants, hardware men, woollen drapers, printers, chemists, brewers hop merchants, seed and corn factors, hatters, confectioners, auctioneers, wine and spirit merchants, glovers, hosiers, lace manufacturers, jewellers, engravers, tobacconists. In a courtyard near Smithfield is a slaughterman’s shed with a crowd of urchins trying to peek through chinks in the wall as a bull is butchered. The 1839 Directory bears evidence to thousands of small businesses jostling for space in the streets of the town – this is the High Street:
My heroine applies for work in a fruiterer’s, a tailor’s and a pin and needle manufactory (relocated for the purposes of my chapter from Bordesley Street) and is turned away. With a sinking heart she finds her way through a slum area to a dairy, an urban cowshed where the TB – ridden cows are fed on brewer’s grains, the atmosphere is rancid with the animals’ excrement and open milk pans are left on the dirty floor (thanks, Mr Chadwick!). It’s not her day.
Carl Chinn’s book was handy for details of factory life in Birmingham and along the way I discovered some nuggets of information that I can’t use in my novel as they happened too late:
Elkington’s – the first industrial electroplaters in the world – had a factory on Newhall Street, Birmingham, which later became the Museum of Science and Industry. One of their early employees was one Joseph Lucas (1834-1902). After leaving Elkington’s, he sold paraffin for lamps from a handcart. He then decided to manufacture oil-lamps and persuaded some of his former colleagues from Elkington’s to join him. Branching out into bicycle lamps and accessories made him successful. His company has become Lucas Aerospace.
Joseph Chamberlain (1836 -1914), MP and mayor of Birmingham, made his money in the screw-making firm of Nettlefold and Chamberlain on Broad Street which turned out 130,000 gross of screws a week. Nettlefold and Chamberlain became part of GKN (Guest, Keen and Nettlefold).
Sam Goldwyn (1879 – 1974) of MGM began life as Samuel Goldfisch, a penniless Polish-Jewish migrant who at an early age travelled from Warsaw to Birmingham. He too had a handcart, in the employment of Charles Henry Whittingham, a manufacturer of safes. He went to America and made his fortune in the Hollywood film industry. Mr Whittingham meanwhile perfected ‘steel fire proof Cinematograph Storage Film Boxes.’
A fascinating event yesterday: ‘The Writers’ Toolkit 2015′, organised by Writing West Midlands (WWM) and hosted in the beautiful Bramall music building at the University of Birmingham. I met old acquaintances and made new ones, feeling an energising sense of being part of a community of writers.
Jo Bell, poet and Canal Laureate – she lives on a narrowboat – spoke about her collective poetry project, ‘52‘, the need to ‘lose the last three lines’ – someone brought their notebook to a workshop and said they had torn a strip off the bottom – and the benefits of giving and receiving objective critique. “The only person who will like your work without reservation is your mum, and even then…”
I went to a workshop with writer William Gallagher, publisher Nadia Kingsley and Emma Boniwell from WWM about blogging – watch this space and see if it improves! William’s book ‘The Blank Screen: Blogging’ may help – and the advice was to post something no less often than every three weeks. Snippets of research connected with, but not duplicating, one’s WIP, may be the thing.
A workshop about small presses with Jo Bell, Nadia Kingsley and Simon Thirsk highlighted for me how much work publishers have to do. Design, printing, warehousing, distribution, representation in bookstores. Managing the whole time-line. An argument against self publishing: it will not get one’s books into Waterstone’s. Either way, the writer has to build the public profile of the book with talks, book signings, media interviews and social media.
‘Working with libraries and archives’, with Jefny Ashcroft, Joel Stickley and Roz Goddard highlighted the key role of libraries as egalitarian and accessible cultural spaces where arts events – lit fests, workshops, writers in residence – bring readers closer to books: “Libraries are the lifeblood of literature”. Jefny spoke passionately about the excitement of archives and how they can give the writer access to something which has not previously been written about, offering the chance of writing something unique and original. Archivists can be tremendously helpful to the researcher who contacts the archive in advance of visiting and can offer appointments to help the researcher find what they seek. The point was made in discussion about the nationwide threats to our libraries and archives as a result of austerity, highlighted here in Birmingham with the severe cuts to our library services. They need support and they need people to go in and use them.
‘Speed pitching’, run by Olivia Chapman from WWM, was a fun and challenging session. The audience were divided into pairs and we had two minutes in turn to pitch our novels to one another. Then we regrouped and tried again. Trying frantically to remember to include genre, theme, setting, key characters and plot twists, and why anyone could possibly want to read it, in front of a complete stranger, was a challenging exercise! One writer gave me a wonderful description of her Gothic, supernatural mystery set in a remote mansion in rural Shropshire. I could almost see the dark old house under moonlight. Then her two minutes was up. ‘Oh damn, I forgot the taxidermist!’ she said. We looked at each other and burst out laughing. I really want to read this book!!
Finally, renowned literary agent Carole Blake, of Blake Friedmann, spoke about what the industry wants from writers: good stories, help with marketing, and a professional approach. Her book ‘From Pitch to Publication’ is a longstanding reference read for aspiring writers. I’ve heard agents speak about the view from their side before, and they always seem to have horror stories about crazy authors. Carole’s cautionary tale was of a writer who sent her a submission packaged up in a wastepaper basket with a letter saying ‘I might as well save you the trouble.’ She liked the submission, but left it on her desk overnight in the wastepaper basket. By the following morning the cleaner had taken it away. She never tracked the writer down…
‘Secrets’ is the theme (set by ME!) for the Telegraph Creative Writing Group November Short Story Competition.
My story, ‘A Month at Bath’, is a Regency pastiche involving a gambler’s secret.
It makes reference to the historical figure of John Law, a gambler and banker who caused an economic crisis in France in 1720.
Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose…