Archive for the ‘short stories’ Category

Station Stories + A Plea

Tuesday, February 15th, 2011

I’ve not participated in a project since, I think, Bugged. Which was back at the start of the summer. Ages and ages ago, although – so I hear – the book is still selling very briskly thanks to Jo’s efforts in planning and performing in events up and down the country.

Still, for me it is time to take on something new to run alongside the endless typing of The First Draft and the terrifying approach to Cold Light’s arrival in the world.

The something new is Station Stories – a writing project run by David Gaffney and The Hamilton Project. The other writers involved, me, Tom Fletcher, Peter Wild, Nicholas Royle and Tom Jenks will all be writing stories set in and around Manchester Picadilly train station. Once we’ve written, edited and practiced our stories we will be performing them in the station across three days in late May. And the performace will be something very special.

We’ve already met up to be given a tour of all the station’s nooks and crannies in the hope that it would get our juices flowing. Brain storming has been happening via email. This isn’t a writing collaboration – we’re all responsible for our own words, but the performance needs to work as a whole and that means working together during the planning stages to ensure there isn’t too much overlap of story or tone, that we manage to cover, somehow, the life of the train station. 

Sadly, I am stumped. I normally like a commission and don’t have any problem with coming up with new ideas. But this week and the one before – nothing. I will pull it out of the bag in the end, promise. Most of my commissions are written in a bolt of white hot panic, against a deadline.

But in the mean time. tell me your train station stories and I may steal them and recycle them. Don’t worry if your train station isn’t Picadilly. Alk donations are welcome. Sorry for the imposition but it’s hard times for all of us.

Think of it as your donation to the Big Society.

Out on a Limb: the launch

Sunday, August 8th, 2010

Finally, the Out on a Limb website is here. Hooray! If you click here you’ll be taken by the magical power of the interwebs to a web of stories about the Wirral – the fruit of a project I worked on at the beginning of this year. The website is beautiful (that map was HAND DRAWN by Elaine) and if you click through to the participants’ blogs you’ll be able to comment on their stories, ask them questions about their writing process or anything else you can think of (they are looking forward to taking questions / compliments through their comment forms, so don’t be shy to weigh in with feedback for them) and see how the stories link together through images, themes, characters and settings.

I think the most rewarding part of this project, for me, was working with a small group of beginner writers and bloggers to create a permanent record of their memories, thoughts and experiences. Some of the stories are autobiographical or started out that way – and all of them capture authentic Wirral voices that, in some cases, we are publishing for the first time. If you like the stories, I’d also recommend you dig about in the blogs that all the participants kept as a record of the evolution of their story. The dead-ends, rejected ideas, eureka-moments, frustrations, abandoned drafts and alternative endings are a fascinating record of what it is like to invent a story and work on a collaborative project like this.

Now the ‘behind the scenes’ bit of the project is over, the site is also accepting new stories / poems and photography set in the Wirral. You don’t need to live there or work there to submit – but your story does need to be set there. We are hoping that over time the site will evolve into an on-line library of tales that will put a little-written about area on the map. Since I started tweeting about the stories last week (what you mean you don’t follow me on twitter?) I’ve already had a few submissions. Top Banana!

You can submit via the site, or you can email me about it. Stories will go up in batches and I’ll be tweeting lines from them over the coming weeks to generate some traffic. Your story should be under 1500 words, although we’re not going to be super strict about that – and it should stand on its own two feet, although if you want to link it to any of the original stories written by our first set of project participants (if you click on the links within my story you’ll see what I mean by this) then we’d hop with glee.

On The Road

Thursday, January 14th, 2010

A break from the pedantry and solitude of editing Cold Light for a trip into Macclesfield to see Jo Bell. More snow, two pies and a day long discussion and practice session for our new show. We’ve been planning this for a while, but snow, extended school holidays, festive madness and packed schedules meant that yesterday was the first time we’ve been able to get together to talk staging, running order, performance and props.

All very new to me – but very welcome. I’m not scared when I get up on the stage or in front of the mic any more – not when I’m reading my own work, anyway – the thrill of testing the words out loud and watching to see if the audience responds the way I want them to appeals to the attention-seeker in me and drowns out the nerves. But for a year, more or less, I’ve been reading the same four or five extracts from A Kind of Intimacy, and answering people’s questions about it. Soon, I’ll probably be doing the same for Cold Light.

This, though, is different. This isn’t reading in order to sell something, to promote a novel, to shift some copies. I’ve written some new material and had ideas for more after hearing Jo read her work. I’m relishing the chance to concentrate on the short work I do (some of it has been published on-line and there are links in the sidebar of this blog…) and to do something out of the house with other people. This isn’t reading either – no muttering something off a sheet of A4 still warm from my printer – this is performing – a difference I’ve had to learn, and a learning curve that is made much easier by working with Jo, who is an experienced producer of live-lit and spoken word, and of course a poet.

Working with a poet is a new thing too. I write short stories (is that what I should be calling them? Most of them are too long to be flash – and too autobiographical to be stories. Jo suggested Fascinators, after the feathery fluff Some Girls clip into their hair, and I sort of liked that) and as I waited for the train to get there (passing by the tantalising Stockport Hat Museum) I caught myself wondering if a real, live poet would be a different species. But it isn’t like that at all. We are writers. We choose words and spend a long time putting them in order. Poets make things up, and sometimes Story Writers tell the truth.

Anyway, how could I possibly pass up the chance to work with someone who is currently writing a play called Aching For Dick…

It was interesting – sitting in Jo’s new pink office, (‘no, no dear, you’re allowed to walk on the carpet‘) watching the snow come down outside, scoffing her cake and listening to her read – to reflect on how similar her work is to mine, and how different. The change in tone and pace and style between the two of us is marked – and is one of the things that’s going to make our show so good, I think. But the images – jars of flowers, empty crisp packets, bin-bags and coffins, key-holes, Marmite jars, telephones, clocks and frozen peas – echo across both our work – along with our over-arching, many-splendoured theme, which is love.

Love. If you know my writing, you’ll know I’ve gone to town with this, and only one of the pieces is even slightly heart-warming. I’ve got a stalker (obviously), a crap boyfriend, a competitive wanker, a bitter sex-therapist, a kebab, seepage from a family grave, a dead goldfish and a whole bunch of origami flowers. Jo’s got a dead man, a man who thinks the clitoris is a light-switch, and a neighbour who breaks in when she’s asleep. It’s going to be Top Banana.

We were shooting for dates in February and wanted to celebrate Valentine’s Day in creepy, comic style. The work’s gone so well we’ve decided to develop the show a little and book dates across the North West (with a little toe dipped into the Midlands and North East) during April and May. Watch this space. I’m really excited, so I’ll probably be rattling on about this a lot.

Product Placement + Shameless Appropriation of Eye-Space for Commercial Reasons

Saturday, October 18th, 2008

I have a story in this. The story is called Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others. There’s a big girl in it, and a young boy. There’s a box made out of matchsticks, and a can of hair spray, and a Christmas pudding. There’s angst over fruit cocktail.

You can pre-order this book on Amazon. It comes out in May 2009. The Independent on Sunday said it was ‘Excellent’. My mum said, ‘there’s quite a lot of swearing in it, isn’t there?’ Garry the cat said, ‘you haven’t got to grips with the semi colon yet, have you?’.

A Kind Of Intimacy stars someone who is quite a lot bigger than usual too. I’m quite a lot smaller than usual, so it might be some wish-fulfilment thing. I think I’m finished with people who are quite a bit bigger than usual now though.

Little Plug + Cactus + Shame

Sunday, April 27th, 2008

Just a tiny plug. I am going to a cactus nursery today. It is a special treat. I am very excited. I might do a cactus photo shoot. There is, apparently, a ‘Pornographic Cactus’ not for sale for available for viewing only.

Here’s the plug:

My New House Hates Me at Lit Up Magazine.

I like this story, but I’ve spotted three mistakes in it. Not exactly typos, because they are in fact real words, just the wrong words. One of them is ‘leavers’ when I meant ‘levers’.

These typos are my fault and not the magazine’s. I am ashamed.

I will give you a prize if you can spot the other two.


Monday, April 21st, 2008

Here is a story I wrote in response to one of Emma’s blog posts. It was a bit cheeky but she posted it on her blog anyway. Thanks Emma.

I think it would be good if lots of other people wrote stories about what happened to the Disappearing Take-away Man. There could be a million endings to a tale like that.

Everyone should read this. I like it. I got a bit addicted to it last night and I spent a long time reading it. Then I read some more of it today on my phone when I was eating my sandwiches. It boggles my mind to think to think of what organising four people to write a collaborative piece like that would be like.

I know that last sentence was a really bad one.

100 + Report on Writing Frenzy Day + First Drafts, you are disgusting

Sunday, April 20th, 2008

Yesterday was my 100th post. If I’d have known that at the time I would have written something better. I will come up with something interesting and 150 themed for when the time comes. Although I might pack this in before then.

Writing Frenzy Day was not as productive as I had hoped. I had two visitors and three phone-calls and the childcare ended unexpectedly early. When I am not in the mood for writing no-one ever comes round. The next time I am feeling lonely and at a loose end I will clear my desk and crack all my knuckles and Febreeze my brown cardigan and wait for company to arrive. But they were nice visits and I was a bit fed up with typing anyway.

In-between the interludes I typed up a lot of the writing I’d done in my notebook into the fishbook computer file and tidied it up. I also wrote three new scenes. One where a woman is getting stalked by someone leaving fluffy pink pencil cases and white gloves on her doorstep. Another where a girl wanders about in the woods and sees a football sticking out of the ice on top of a frozen pond. The last one was about someone seeing someone she knew in a supermarket, only it turned out not to be someone she knew.

I also worked a bit on two stories I am writing. One is about a woman who lives at the very top of a block of flats. She can’t read and the story is called Chute. The other story is about someone who tells amazing stories and then finds statues in his back garden. That one is called Ten Thousand Statues.

I read through the things I had written. I liked the stories, but I wasn’t pleased with fishbook. I thought I should spend another hour or so going through it all and deleting all the rubbish parts. I thought about that for a while. I wondered if there would be anything left. I read the short story called Tea Party that eventually grew into the novel I finished. I like the novel, but the short story is shocking. That made me feel better. I think you are allowed to be disgusted by your first drafts.

After that I finished a review for Vulpes Libris and edited another short story that is forthcoming at Robot Melon. Then I did some drinking and watched A Series of Unfortunate Events. Which I liked a lot. Then I read some of Joy William’s short stories and went to sleep.

Guest Post 4: Do Angler Fishes Dream of Curious Librarians?

Wednesday, March 12th, 2008

I have been working in a different library this week. It is quite a bit different to my library. It does have bars on the windows, though. But they are more to keep people out than in. The other people that work there have done their best at disguising the bars in the children’s part of the library. They have made creepers out of crepe paper and wrapped them around the bars, and stuck flowers and bugs on them, so it almost looks like it is the jungle. It is a good effort.

The borrowers here are a good mix of all ages and all types. There are a lot of older people who live in the sheltered housing across the road. They are all lovely. They call me “Dear” and want to know who I am and where I am from. A few even ask about my socks. My socks appear to be a “big hit” in these parts.

I have taken this opportunity of being in a different library to check for books about fish. I felt a bit bad earlier, because the library suddenly got really busy, but I was doing “shelf tidying” so I pretended not to notice and didn’t go to help at the counter. My “shelf tidying” consisted of reading the indexes of four books about marine fish, and one about strange creatures that I was excited to find had phosphorescence in the index. I know that one of the grand perks of my job is I can request books from any library for free, but sometimes that is not the same as actually holding the book in my hands and deciding if it has anything of worth in it. You can’t always tell from a title what information a book is going to hold. Although someone once said that “you can’t open a book without learning something”, which I think is very true.

So today I learned a bit more about bioluminescence. And about oneirodidae, also known as Dreamers. It made me want to write something there and then, but I was supposed to be tidying the 500-699 shelves so I had to shuffle the books around and make sure they looked neat, even if I hadn’t put them in exactly the right order. And then I thought I should probably make sure they were in the right order, because otherwise I would feel anxious at some point next week, and by then it would be too late to do anything about it.

I feel like my head is full of good things at the moment. I am thinking a lot about the Dreamer anglerfish. I wonder who gave them that name? It makes me feel like maybe they are quite special, and that perhaps they have a different “take” on things to the other anglerfishes. I wonder if I’ll dream about them tonight. I think I probably will.

This post was donated by fellow writer and librarian Emma Lannie, who blogs here. It is an excellent post and made me feel inspired to do some more typing about deep sea creatures.

Excellent Fish and Library Work, Emma!

Guest Post 3: What You Did Today If You Were Me

Friday, March 7th, 2008

You wake up and sit on the bed. Your back aches from sleeping on a bed too small for your body. You try to stretch the sinew on your bones but are too stiff so you walk to the shower and turn on the water. Wash your hair, body, and face. Some other things happen, things that have become routine. These things have come to be so routine that you hope they will eventually just happen effortlessly and no one will be able to recollect the actual actions that occurred.

You walk to work. Read news, read blogs. Look at stacks of books. You look at stacks and shelves of books and check the call numbers and think about the Dewey Decimal System but mostly think about the word “boredom.” You look at the clock on the wall, the clock on the computer, and the clock on your cell phone. Each is altered by minute increments.

The clocks each reach a certain time at different times. This certain time means that you can go home. You go home. You turn on a DVD and lie on the carpet. The movie starts and you think about food and look at a bunched bananas and think “fruit,” but still lie on the carpet.

Someone knocks on the door. You wonder if the person will leave. The person continues to knock. You look out the peephole and someone is standing in the hall. You open the door. He says you vomited out the window and now the vomit is on his car. You think of vomit. You haven’t been sick since last Christmas. You say, “Last Christmas.”

He becomes angry. He tells you to clean the vomit. You walk to the balcony. You look at his car and at your window. You look at the window belonging to the apartment one slot west. A dried stain, discolored with carrot bits and something green spans the side of the building. You walk back to the door and say, “Wrong apartment.”

He says something. Then he says, “Mother fucker.” Then he says, “Drag you down the fucking stairs.”

You say, “Come here,” and slam the door as he steps into the frame. Maybe you hit his nose. You are too scared to laugh out loud and lock the door.

You wish you were more prepared for human interaction.

You sit on the carpet. The movie ends. You start the movie again. You don’t go to sleep that night. When the sky is dark and before the sky is reflecting anything, you think “I am driving to another city tomorrow.” You wash some dishes and start putting clothes in a bag.

This post was donated by Stephen Daniel Lewis who has a blog and edits Robot Melon. I very much like the library theme to this story, and the ending. I am coming to the conclusion that the readers of this blog are better at doing the blogging than I am. I think I will solve this by pretending to be one of you the next time I post.

Good Work Stephen Daniel Lewis!

Guest Post 2: Things I Did Today

Sunday, March 2nd, 2008

i had a wash.
i sprayed a small amount of perfume on myself.
i looked out of the window.
i went into the street.
i stood in the street for a while.
i saw a cat.
i touched the cat.
i asked the cat what its name was.
i went down the street.
i went into another street.
i went into another street.
i went past the park.
i went into another street.
i stood outside your front door.
i pressed the doorbell on your front door.
i waited for you to answer the door.
i said, ‘Hello.’
i looked at you.
i thought you looked a bit different.
i had the feeling that i’d interrupted you, that maybe you had been playing a computer game or looking at the internet or had just hung up the phone on someone to come and answer the door.
i wondered if i’d got you out of the shower, maybe.
i looked at your hair and saw it was dry.
i tried to smile but it came out strange.
i said something else that i can’t remember.
i tried to make a joke out of the thing i said and can’t remember.
i felt suddenly that walking to your house and touching your doorbell was a stupid idea.
i wished i had a better reason for coming round.
i made up a lie in my head.
i said the lie to you, and got caught up in the emotion of the lie, and it really felt like the thing i was saying was true.
i felt surprised and pleased with myself.
i watched your face change.
i said something else — an extension of the lie, like a small extra wing.
i said, ‘Goodbye,’ and walked back down the street and past the park and down a street and down another street and then down my street.
i looked at the cat again which was now sat underneath a car and not looking at me or telling me its name.
i went inside and made some toast.
i ate the toast.
i went into another room.
i sat down at the computer.
i turned on the computer.
i wrote an email to you, saying that the thing i’d just told you was a lie.
i read the email four times.
i read it three times in my head and one time out loud.
i felt strange and tangled.
i felt like a cliched ‘madwoman’.
i wished i was someone else.
i deleted the email and had a cup of tea.

This post was donated by Chris Killen. He didn’t offer me any eels or peacocks or hot-air balloons as inducements and even though he clearly doesn’t have a very high opinion of my daily japes I liked it very much.

Good work Chris Killen!

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