One of the many good things about being published by Fictive Dream is that your stories are often reissued on their anniversary. I was so pleased today to find that Laura Black has reissued A Meeting in Fitzrovia, about an imaginary meeting in Soho with a famous poet. It's an early story I probably rewrote fifty times before deciding it had reached its final form. You can read it by clicking here Oddly, or perhaps not oddly, I had just finished another story about the same poet. Some obsessions linger...
After a relatively quiet year I've written yet another very short story. Also I realise the last two have been composed almost entirely of dialogue. Sometimes a character will just give you their voice, other times you have to beg for it.
I write ever more slowly these days, but I've just finished my second very short story of the year. I never set out to write to a prescribed length, and increasingly my stories have tended to grow longer (the longer the story the fewer submission opportunities). So, inadvertently, I've written two which should be a little more eligible. We'll see... (have also managed to squeeze a Jung quote into one of them - I knew it would happen eventually).
Really delighted that my story Going Out Somewhere will appear in Fictive Dream in either December or January. A real favourite, this one - two young people in 70s London with different aspirations and different trajectories, or so it would seem. I'll give an exact date when I have it.
Just a quick update to say that my mini-collection will be published by Confingo circa spring 2024. It will be called Things Grown Distant. Having completed the edits I'm now beginning to submit individual stories again, also writing new ones.
Still pondering a title for my mini-collection for Confingo. The first full edit has now been completed - editor's comments and my responses. It was quite minimal, so I hope we can soon move onto the final stage before printing, which will be my collaboration with the illustrator, who I understand will be Zoe McLean, brilliant multi-media artist and Confingo's former artistic director. Will say more when I know more.
I'm very sorry to hear that one of my favourite online journals, Nymphs Publications, has closed. Their editor, Julia Kova, published some of my most personal and heartfelt stories, always presented them beautifully, and was never less than courteous and delightful to deal with. I offer her my sincere thanks and wish her well for the future. I'll think over the next few months whether to submit the stories elsewhere, but meanwhile they'll no longer be available to read on this site or elsewhere.
Just a small update regarding the mini-collection. One story has been withdrawn and another substituted, which I feel allows all the stories to sit very comfortably together. They share themes of art, light, and perception now. I'm delighted to get to this point but also relieved. The final editing, which I understand will be mainly about house style, should begin in the next couple of weeks. The learning process continues...
In principle, the five stories that will comprise my mini-collection with Confingo have been agreed, so it's now a question of some minor editing and deciding the order in which they will appear. The latter has proved tricky, a bit like choosing birth order once the kids are born. At some point next the collaboration with an illustrator will begin. So much work involved in writing other than just writing...
I've just written, or rather completed, two very short stories which delve into the past. One is lighthearted, the other less so. One is based on something that almost happened, the other on something that pretty much did. I've never understood the term 'creative non-fiction', but perhaps these are the nearest I get to work that might be described by that term.
Otherwise, I've been cleaning up old pieces that have been around for a while, not necessarily with submission in mind, but more to honour each attempt, however it's turned out. At the moment I'm still in the process of agreeing which stories will be included in my mini-collection - I've submitted three batches, and after that must see what the publisher decides he wants: hopefully enough to proceed. I'm writing very little at the moment, but have accumulated quite a few stories that I hope to offer out once the collection is finalised. Not sure what will happen after that.
I've now started the process of submitting stories for my mini-collection with Confingo (two agreed so far!). In the meantime, quite a lot of stories that I'd normally submit are in abeyance, but once the question of what will be included has been decided I'll start offering them out. It's been a relatively quiet time writing-wise, but I have just finished a very short story based on a incident from my schooldays that went on to have extreme repercussions many years later. Sometimes the story's already there, it's just a question of how to approach it...
Time to get your spells out! As promised below, The Wand Maker appears today in the fabulous Fictive Dream. You can read it via my Stories page here
Rather unusual one this. My wife, Lesley, widely known for her rationality, every year or so takes herself off for a wands and champagne afternoon with various girlfriends. Not questioning what goes on, but in honour of this spirit, I made her a present of a tiny story called The Wand Maker, which I had printed privately. Lesley encouraged me to share it more widely, and so now I'm delighted to say it will appear in Fictive Dream on May 7th. All seems a little magical...
Utterly delighted to receive a contributor's copy of Postbox 8, Scotland's International Short Story Magazine in the post this morning. Grateful thanks to Colin and Sheila of @RedSquirrelPres for including my tiny story The Hill. Postbox is always a good read, not to mention a thing of beauty, and this looks like an exceptionally strong issue. As always, because it appears in a Scots publication, I dedicate The Hill to my nan, who taught me to read. You can order Postbox 8 via my Stories page here
A couple of years ago I read a most intriguing article about an age-old phenomenon, only recently recognised by science: life, as many of us can testify, has the literal ability to break your heart. The metaphor is not simply a cliché, it can be a reality. I thought this should be written about, hence my story, Dr Takotsubo and My Heart, which I'm delighted to say appears in The Willesden Herald today as story of the month for April. Worth mentioning that, after about a hundred publications, this is the fastest turnaround I've either experienced or heard of. Accepted in an hour, returned for a draft read shortly after, and published, with superb presentation on the same day. Hats off to The Willesden Herald and editor Stephen Moran - writers seeking a great home for a story, take note! You can read Dr Takotsubo and My Heart via my Stories page here
Certainty is an interesting quality – as a person who has rarely been certain I find it a little puzzling. Jen, who appears in today’s story, Springboards to Opportunity, is rarely uncertain, which I suppose you could say has certain consequences. She, the narrator, and Jemima the donkey all appeared previously in a story called How Things End (Eunoia Review). Today they take another bow in the wonderful Fragmented Voices. You can read about them via my Stories page here
A special day. The Edge of England, the final story in my 'Josie' trilogy. appears today in Fictive Dream. When Josie and her unnamed but dogged companion first emerged three years or so ago, I never imagined I'd be returning to them once, let alone twice. It would seem certain characters somehow demand more space on the page. Josie captivated me, and can I honestly say others, so this is her chance to take a final bow. Thanks again to the brilliant Cornelia Parker exhibition at Tate Britain last year for inspiration. Thanks too, yet again, to Fictive Dream's marvellous editor Laura Black, for giving Josie the perfect context in which to shine. You can read The Edge of England via my Stories page here
Delighted to learn today that my story The Hill has been accepted for publication in Postbox, a Scottish magazine with an international reach. It's a small exploration of the space left by someone's absence. It's the second story of mine that Postbox has taken, and being such an esteemed Scottish publication, has a special resonance for me. I was pretty much taught to read by my Scots nan, and at times like this I think of her with enormous gratitude.
Just a short heads up to say that tomorrow Fictive Dream will kindly reissue Works in Progress, then on Thursday 12th A Private Viewing. These are the first two stories in the 'Josie' trilogy, and are being offered for anyone who'd like to catch up with them before the final story, The Edge of England, comes out on Sunday 15th. Wonderful support once again from Laura Black, greatly appreciated.
Happy New Year to everyone who visits this page. I have an update regarding my short story collection for Confingo. Tim Shearer, Confingo's editor, contacted me just prior to Christmas regarding the question of illustrations, and he is now going approach one of the Manchester galleries with sample stories in order to find an artist with whom I can collaborate. Very exciting times! Publication has also been confirmed for 2023. Once I know more I'll share again. I hope the year ahead treats you well!
I realise I've been neglecting this page a bit recently, so here are a few new things to prove I'm still sentient and vaguely functional.
I heard from Fragmented Voices this week that they intend to publish a tiny new story of mine called Springboards to Opportunity. It's always an affirmation to place a story in such a respected journal. Springboards to Opportunity is another follow-on, this time from a story called How Things End, published a while ago in Eunoia Review. Certain characters seem to want to reappear at the moment.
I've also submitted two other new stories, The Hill, which I suppose is about loneliness and redemption, and The Apparent World, about an esoteric community on an unspecified Scottish Island. The latter runs to 7,5K words, my longest completed piece, so I'm delighted anyone's even willing to consider it. Just a case of waiting and hoping now.
The last thing relates to my mini-collection for Confingo. After pretty much a year of revision and agonising, the eight stories I've chosen are complete and placed in order, and I'm now in the process of working with an illustrator, although the first collaboration fell through, and the second is slow to get underway. This bit's a real learning curve, not least in the ancient art of patience. Positive thoughts greatly appreciated...
Due to public demand, well a morsel of it anyway, I've now written the third in the trilogy of 'Josie' stories, following on from Works in Progress and A Private Viewing (mentioned below). I'm really chuffed to be able to announce that it will appear in Fictive Dream on January 15th 2023, and that both earlier stories will be reissued in the week preceding, thanks once again to the kind generosity of Laura Black, the best online editor in the world.
Very happy that on this fine Sunday morning A Private Viewing (the story referred to below) appears in Fictive Dream today. It’s a follow-on from Works in Progress, which also appeared in Fictive Dream back in July 2019. I’ve often felt tempted to revisit characters from past stories, but this is the first time it’s actually happened. Might just be a new way forward… You can read A Private Viewing via my Stories page here If you feel so inclined you can also read Works in Progress here here
To my absolute delight I've just learned that A Private Viewing (the story referred to below) has been accepted for publication in Fictive Dream on October 9th. I may now follow on from some other stories whose characters have stayed in my mind. Feels like a new burst of creative energy (at last!).
Some bigger news coming soon, but in the meanwhile I'm trying something new (to me). About three years ago a story called Works in Progress appeared in Fictive Dream. It was a relatively easy story to write - one of those happy instances in which the characters come to life easily - the sort of dysfunctional friendship in which neither party seems able to do without the other, however much stress the 'other's' company might entail. Over the years readers have often said they'd like to know more about certain of my characters, and so I've taken the hint and am revisiting Josie and her troubled male acolyte. I can see why other writers have done this - the characters are known to you, their behaviours, speech patterns and circumstances are familiar, and they re-present as old friends. If it goes well who knows? There are plenty of stories to return to...
Trying to find some 'lost' stories - published online but seemingly no longer available, I was really chuffed to come across a critical essay on my story The Homing Instinct, first published in Confingo Magazine and then in Best British Short Stories 2018. Sadly, apart from the first three (brief) paragraphs, it's hidden behind a paywall, and in Danish. Nice to know someone took the time though.
I'm delighted to say that The Forgetting House, an older story much rewritten over time, appears in the excellent Nymphs Publications today. It's something of an experiment for me in a number of ways. Over the years I've noticed how often secrets are revealed when a family member dies, and a collective narrative that might have been maintained for decades suddenly takes another twist. I wondered what might happen if the reverse occurred, and things once known became hidden. Thanks as ever to Julia Kova, superb editor of Nymphs and as nice a person as you could wish to meet online, for this and all her previous support. You can read The Forgetting House via my Stories page here
I rarely set out to write a story with a preconceived idea - when I try it rarely seems to work. So when, in a moment of grandiosity/delirium (you choose) I thought I might attempt a state of the nation narrative in, perhaps, three to four thousand words, you might predict that it wouldn't go well. The strange thing, though, as the theme faded away and the characters took over, is that some of that sense of a sad, lost country, directionless but still trying, remained. So what's left is two old friends in a spiky relationship, walking along a railway track towards a lost world and time that might just be regained. One for my collection, if it goes ahead...
It seems strange to be saying that my first publication of the year will be coming out today. Strange because in preceding years there would have been several more by now. Strange also because six months ago I was seriously contemplating giving up writing altogether. Since then I’ve been invited to submit stories for a collection and so, gratefully, have found myself back at the coal face.
Today’s story is called Hidden Places. Originally it had a slightly different title, and some five years ago the shell of the narrative was shortlisted in an international writing competition. Despite that I was never happy with it, and the version appearing today has had a complete remake, including a different ending. When is a story really finished? You could almost call that a philosophical question,
As on so many previous occasions I’m profoundly grateful to Laura Black, Fictive Dream’s editor and the most caring, professional person any writer could wish to work with. Having another story in Fictive Dream feels like coming home. You can read Hidden Places via my Stories page here
After a few months of working on my collection, I'm delighted to be returning to Fictive Dream on 5th June with a London-based story called Hidden Places. I can spend hours wandering around the City of London and it always charms and surprises me - step down an alley off a busy major road and find yourself in a tiny flagstoned square, empty, peaceful and almost silent. Or you might come across a traditional bookbinder, or the shop that, well within living memory, employed a man who stretched Sickert's canvases. If you've ever stayed overnight in central London you might have been surprised by how quiet it can be - everyone comes there to work then everyone goes home. So it's an unseen London that the story's about, or London as seen by a confused outsider. Which might amount to the same thing...
For the past four weeks I've been working intensively on a story called With Every Choice Something is Lost: a rural setting, an unusual vocation, and two outsiders improbably join forces - (what is it about the short story form and outsiders?). As the narrative grew, I kept thinking about the question of describing appearance. Some writers, apparently, can't see the point of it, not a view I share. In this story, where one character began as distant and enigmatic, I found it helpful to imagine I was building a sense of her incrementally alongside the reader, using both her mannerisms and visual clues such as physique, facial expressions, and dress sense. This, it seems to me, is how we most naturally get to know one another in 'real life'. My GP recently told me how much it helped to actually see her patients again now lockdown is over: 'You can tell so much by looking at them.' I feel the same about my characters - the more clearly I can visualise them - especially ways in which they are divergent - the more they begin to live in my mind, and the more relatable they are likely to be to the reader.
Last week I attended a lecture by Professor Frank Shovlin on his recent publication, The Letters of John McGahern. For me, McGahern is an exemplar in his approach to the short story (also a great novelist). I can honestly say I have never read one of his characters that I haven't believed in. There were many nuggets in Prof Shovlin's brilliant lecture I could share, but I'll confine myself to one. Looking through McGahern's papers he came across twenty-four hand-written drafts of an early story, some showing only minute changes to the one previous. When I read McGahern I my eye simply floats across the page, and now I know why. Encouragement too for those of us who find writing fiction arduous: even great writers can. We usually only see the result, but just occasionally get a glimpse of the effort behind it.
I've just re-edited a favourite old story called 'Getting Our Heads Together in the Country'. As the title might suggest, it features a group of musicians, caught in the act of rehearsing a new record just as the era of peace and love was slipping away. This one's been around a long time and for some reason I've never sent it anywhere - strange really as I have great affection for the characters. I do wonder, though, if anyone now would get the references. I'm just too young to have been part of that time, and I've always wished I was born a few years earlier. Each era has its flavour, hard to create in retrospect, but I've done my best. A circle of hippies, sitting in a field somewhere in the west country, with nothing on their minds but music. Who would believe it now?
Finally I've got to the end (as opposed to finished) a 7.5K worder about a tiny, hand-picked community living what you might call an esoteric life on a small unspecified Hebridean Island. Really this one wanted to be a novella, but I wasn't sure if I could co-exist with the characters for the length of time that would take. Also, my stories evolve as the characters reveal themselves - I don't often have preconceived ideas - but the longer the piece the more the writing process benefits from some sort of structure. As it is, my task now is to go back and try to tie things up, where they need tying up. A story of love and unexplained death might be a fair description, or it could be about escapism, or seeking one's true self. Ultimately I do my best and then the reader decides. Wish me luck.
I thought perhaps I should explain why all seems quiet on the publishing front. There being many a slip twixt cup and lip I don't want to say too much but, truth be told, I've been invited to submit a collection of stories by my favourite hard copy publisher. I don't have full details as yet, but the stories I've written and hope to write this year will be directed towards that end, my entire aim being to come up with work good enough for the project to go ahead. Please wish me luck...
A truly wonderful writing moment today. I was walking along the shelf on Richmond Hill when I noticed two elderly people sitting on a bench, taking the sun. If you've kindly taken time to check in here you'll know that I've recently read, and thought a lot about, Claire Tomalin's brilliantly insightful biography of the young H.G. Wells. So when I realised that said elderly couple were Claire and her husband Michael Frayn, the chance to thank her and have a writerly chat was irresistible. She thinks that Wells will always be read, possibly his earlier science fiction more than the social realism that cemented his reputation, and reminded me that The Time Machine was set in Richmond not far from where I stood. We agreed wholeheartedly that Tono Bungay is an enduring marvel of a book. Not a long exchange, but one I will always treasure. A great author and a gracious, friendly person.
I've just completed a story set in mid-seventies London - two characters in transition in a liminal time. There's a strong element of music in the narrative: at that time several genres had grown tired and were about to be usurped. It made me think how much restlessness we can feel as individuals when change in the broader culture is in the air but yet to happen. One of the characters knows her pathway in life, or thinks she does, and the other is groping his way forward, dreaming, yet to find himself. If the story is about anything I suppose it's about how if you can't define yourself, somehow or other life will do it for you. I must admit I have a particular fondness for these two characters...
Why is it that you can unlock a character simply by changing their name? It's happened to me a number of times now and I always find it surprising. It's not that I necessarily gain a better visual sense - I rarely visualise my characters acutely - but more that for some inexplicable reason when their name changes something intrinsic about their way of being in the world. Then they move. And when a character moves, the plot moves. Something to remind myself when I haven't a clue where to take a story next...
Continuing to read Tono-Bungay, now in conjunction with Claire Tomalin's lucid biography The Young H.G. Wells, I've been thinking again about exposition. I've never really bought into the tyranny of 'show but don't tell': a useful guideline for sure, but one which can be guaranteed to stultify a longer narrative - I'm thinking of anything above two-thousand words - when applied in excess.
Tono-Bungay is written in the first person, and the narrator is apt to go off on rants, or at least spend several pages explaining to the reader his state of mind (which is generally volatile). Reading one such passage last night I found myself completely engrossed and now I wonder, in view of the current prejudice against this type of writing, why it seems so effective in Wells' hands.
One reason is the sheer energy in his style - Well's prose can be clumsy, especially to the modern ear, but it never lacks zip or indeed charm. Another is the intimacy he manages to create. I felt the narrator was speaking directly to me, from the heart and with great honesty. No reader who is absorbed will be bored. Thirdly, in this instance exposition is used to move the plot forward at a considerable rate. So within ten pages of densely packed typeface my relationship with the narrator deepened at the same time as his circumstances, and hence the plot, evolved. And all through 'telling' not 'showing' (though I refuse to make a rigid distinction between the two, but that's another thought for another day).
You might conclude that a lively, engaging narrator can hide a multitude of sins, but my question is, are they really sins in the first place?
A happy and peaceful new year to anyone who's kind enough to be reading this. I can't give away too much at this stage, but just after Christmas an unexpected but very welcome message arrived, so it looks like I'll have a serious project to keep me at my desk during 2022. I'll explain more when it's possible, but just to say at this point that my previous plans to stop writing are well and truly on hold. Wishing you all joy and inspiration for the year to come.
I once had H.G. Wells' autograph, on a tiny scrap of paper. Then I lost it. My parents had approached him at a meeting of the Fabian Society and apparently, though he normally refused such requests, on this occasion he relented. It's decades since I read his novels, but recently something has drawn me back to that era - and elderly cloth-bound books in general. So I find myself fifty pages into Tono-Bungay, stunned by H.G.'s energy, imagination and consummate use of vocabulary. It's also fascinating to see how uninhibited the writing could be in that less fastidious age. As for me, I'm returning to a story begun in 2020 about floods and isolation, trying not to get too technical about methods of damp-proofing. I wonder why so many of my characters find themselves cut off from the rest of humanity...