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Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Short Story Publication - Dear Violet

At the end of last year I was delighted to be awarded third prize in the Fabula Press Aestas 2015 competition. My story has now been published as part of their winners' anthology and is available to buy online for just £5.99.

'Dear Violet' is a story that came to me when I heard about a postbox that hadn't been emptied for years and started wondering about what kind of letters could've languished in there. I received some fantastic feedback from the judges and it's really been a pleasure working with the editor getting this story ready for publication so thank you to Fabula Press for that. I haven't had chance to read the other stories yet but there are some interesting titles in there and I'm sure it's going to be excellent.

You can buy the anthology from Amazon here.

Monday, 8 February 2016

Book Review: Wild at Heart: A Life by Suzanne Rodriguez

Natalie Clifford Barney was at the centre of decadent Paris in the opening decades of the 20th century. In this biography, Rodriguez examines the life of a controversial woman, famed more for her scandalous affairs with women and her literary salon than her own literary pursuits.

Barney is one of those subjects it's difficult to like. Rodriquez doesn't flinch away from examining her flighty nature and the selfishness that permeates the book is a bit overwhelming at times. However, it's balanced out by her generous acts and determination to help fellow writers in various ways. It creates something of a contradictory human being and that, of course, rings completely true.

Born into a life of privilege, Natalie Clifford Barney defied expectations by refusing to settle down and marry. Instead, she embarked on a series of intense love affairs with women from an early age. She didn't believe in fidelity, though, which caused problems with some of her more important relationships, In truth, it becomes a bit dizzying and her treatment of some of her partners doesn't portray her in a positive light.

It's easier to be impressed by her literary salon and the spasmodic efforts she put in to championing various writers and artists. The names peppered within this book read like a who's-who of the 20th century artistic scene with Ezra Pound, Rainer Maria Rilke and Ford Madoz Ford popping up. One of the most laudable of Barney's endeavours was to host nights specifically for celebrating women such as Gertrude Stein and Anna Wickham, one of the first attempts to draw attention to the achievements of women when men were getting most of the glory. The most amusing anecdote in the book comes via the retelling of Barney's single, disastrous meeting with Marcel Proust. It's worth reading just for that.

Barney's lack of application to her own literary talents is frustrating. Editing wasn't something she was interested in, meaning that her potential was never fulfilled. For me, anyway, this was one of the things that annoyed me about her and I was left wondering what could've been if she'd been forced to write to earn her living. However, that would've negated a lot of what made Natalie Clifford Barney who she was.

In the end, Rodriguez manages an intimate yet unflinching portrait of a flawed woman of privilege. The portrayals of American high society and Parisian life are evocative of a lost age and, overall, this is an excellent biography of a woman who, nevertheless, I couldn't bring myself to like.

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Some Tentative Goals

So, here we are, six weeks into 2016 and I'm finally getting some goals sorted in my head. Things are still bumpy but I'm feeling ever-so-slightly better. At least I've got my motivation back, even if I've accepted that I need to stop pushing myself quite so hard and give in to the frequent necessity to burrow away and hide. Fortunately, I've mastered the art of relaxation. Way back before Christmas I got a new bed and reorganised my room. It's now much more comfortable and devoid of 'proper' work. I sit up there listening to music and watching my water-effect speakers, colouring, reading and writing fan fic. It's a little retreat and I'm building something of a postcard collection on the walls - John Atkinson Grimshaw and Rita Hayworth - brilliant bedfellows.

These are tentative goals centred on a couple of areas of my life that I have control over. As things stand, I have a trickle of money coming in from freelance writing and tutoring work. It's not a lot but enough to cover my meagre expenses and ensure I can still visit Create for my afternoons of writing. I need to work on my long-term plan but, really, thinking along those lines was proving unhelpful so, for the time being, short-term goals are best.

  • 'Max' Fourth Draft - I've had fun and games with this one in the last few months (see here and here) but I think I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. It knows what it's doing and my aim is to finish the fourth draft by the end of February. It's currently at 43,046 words and I've got clear plans for the rest of the draft. It's half-editing and half-rewriting huge chunks but I'm confident I can make a huge dent in that in the next three weeks. 
  • 'Danni' Seventh Draft - I stopped mid-draft last year, having done most of the difficult rewriting but I'd gotten bogged down with the close editing. This one's at 54,342 words and it's reasonable to say I could complete it by the end of March. 
  • Other Novel Drafts - There are nine of these in various stages of rewriting. I listed them comprehensively last July when I was in a better frame of mind and I think the order of priority probably still sticks. If you add in my aborted NaNo project, 'Jess', then that's actually ten and that's a bit scarier. Optimistically, I'd like to work on four of them this year - 'Liz' has a complete plan and needs the second draft completing, 'Izzy' and 'Vic' need the second drafts planning and writing and 'Kathy' is a fragment of a first draft that needs rewriting in first person and completing. We'll see. If I can keep myself in the writing zone then anything's possible.
  • Short Stories - I didn't submit any short stories in the last three months of 2015. I've already taken steps to remedy this and submitted three in January whilst devoting more time to my short story writing, rewriting and editing processes. I've got a little notebook that lists which stories are at what stage - 'Ready', 'Final Touches', 'Line Edits', 'Rewriting in Progress', 'To Rewrite' and 'Unsure'. Currently, I've got four that are ready to submit and three more that are nearly there. It's time to go through my list of magazines and competitions and find some appropriate venues and, if there aren't any right now, they'll pop up eventually. I'm not putting a figure on the number of stories I want to submit or write but I do want the list to be moving. 
  • Academic Work - Now, this is where I'm completely at sea. I'm deliberately not attending conferences this year as I just can't do it and my academic work's stalled somewhat. I've got one half-written paper, plans for several others and I wanted to rewrite and edit two chapters of my thesis to submit to journals. So what happened? Well, my anxiety kicked in. The fact that it's a year ago this week that I submitted my thesis isn't helping, nor is the fact that my certificate arrived in the post this week. I couldn't make it to graduation because of, yep, anxiety so it doesn't really feel as though I've achieved anything. Actually, it feels like a colossal waste of a chunk of my life right now. I have no idea what happens next with my academic work but the frustrating thing is that I still have ideas for papers and the desire to research. I'm a contradiction.

Anyway, with a bit of luck I'll manage to pull at least some of this off. I nabbed myself a cheap gym membership to get me out of the house and filled a playlist full of cheesy pop like Steps, SClub7 and Boyzone to get me through it. About a third of the songs on there are by The Nolans (and, as I'm typing this my iPod's thrown their 'Song Sung Blue' at me from over 8300+ choices) so at least I can have some fun whilst exercising. There's something especially amusing about listening to 'Don't Make Waves' whilst on the rowing machine - or is that just me?