Ness Book Fest is fast approaching and I’m delighted to be on the line-up.
I’ll be reading a snippet from a new short story as an introduction to Sarah Fraser’s event on Saturday 5th October. We’re both exploring past lives. I’ll tell the tale of two women accused of very different thefts; while Sarah will discuss her historical biography, ‘The Prince Who Would be King: The Life and Death of Henry Stuart’, a TLS book of the year.
Short stories are my first love. When I first went to an evening writing class—led by the wonderful Helen Lamb, a master of the short story—I wrote short stories. My first ever thrill of publication was for my story, ‘In the Museum’. When I received the news, I did a lumbering bear dance around the bedroom.
I’ve written many stories since and I’ve also worked on two novels. I relish the world-building of novels, and I especially love living through so many experiences with my novel characters. I know and understand my novel characters better than I know and understand many people. Often, however, I feel more comfortable, and more excited, when writing short stories. And it’s not about the shorter time required to write: I don’t think short stories necessarily are quicker to write. I’ve taken years whittling away at some of my stories. It’s the intensity of the short story that I love, as both reader and writer. The closing-in on a moment that matters. Recently, I received the most astute and helpful feedback on a short story: ‘keep your character in the room’. Don’t let her slip out that door, literal and metaphorical, until she’s confronted the truth. This , for me, sums up the delight and challenge of the short story form. As William Trevor said, ‘it should be an explosion of truth’.
I was delighted, then, when I first heard of a new opportunity offered by The Bridge Awards: a Short Story Mentoring Award, working with Cherise Saywell. It would be such a good thing to have a mentoring scheme specifically for short-story writers—who so need, and appreciate, nurture in a publishing culture that still favours novels.
So, to discover I have won this award is thrilling! Cue another lumbering bear dance. I’m already looking forward to working with Cherise on my short stories. Feedback from a writer like her is manna. With this support, I hope to shape and gather them into a collection. Thank you, Bridge Awards.
I’m thrilled that For Books’ Sake have featured my short story, ‘Light Moves Like Water’, as their current ‘Weekend Read’: a fantastic showcase of stories written by women. Every Friday, they’ll send a jewel of a story to your inbox and also publish online. Previous writers include Ann Patchett, Daisy Johnson, Alison Moore, Sophie Mackintosh, Elizabeth Reeder…
As this was one of my first ever stories to be published and then broadcast on radio, it’s a treat to have it out there again for a little while… And also because it’s set in a place I adore: Venice.
Poet Paul Deaton has described The Garsdale Retreat perfectly: ‘a northern sanctuary for writers across the UK.’ Their programme offers fiction, memoir, poetry, playwriting and songwriting courses, tutored by writers such as Janice Galloway, Ian Duhig, Willy Russell, Jo Bell and many more… And the food, the bountiful food, is mouthwatering.
Callooh! Callay! My novel, This Starling Flock, has made the shortlist for the Lucy Cavendish College Fiction Prize 2018.
Now it its eighth year, the competition seeks out unpublished novels by debut women writers. And the prize, sponsored by the Peter Fraser and Dunlop literary agency, has proved a wonderful catalyst. Previous winners and finalists include Gail Honeyman, who went on to publish the glorious Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, Catherine Chanter, author of The Well, and Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott whose novel Swan Song will be launched this summer.
More information on the six shortlisted writers is available here. I am delighted to be in such talented company.
This short-story anthology explores love in all its various shapes and hues—from the familial to the erotic, from the illusory to the enduring— and includes writers such as Carys Bray, Rowan Hisayo Buchanan, Donal Ryan and Nikesh Shukla.
My short story, ‘Holdfast’, came runner-up in the Sceptre Loves Short Story Prize, launched to mark the publication of this beautiful anthology. And so, I’ll be reading from this story on Thursday 10th August, in Waterstones Gower Street, alongside the shortlisted writers and the winner Phoebe Roy. Roy’s story is now published in this new paperback edition. Please do come along, one and all, if you’re nearby. Come listen to stories that ask just how much the heart can hold…
(As for that rather lovely title? Zelda Fitzgerald: ‘Nobody has ever measured, not even poets, how much the heart can hold.’)
The award is a collaboration between Pin Drop Studio and the Royal Academy of Arts that celebrates the short-story form. This is wonderful enough. Even more wonderfully, they celebrate the short story off the page—as a spoken, heard, live event. Storyteller and listeners gather around the fire (or, in this case, in a palatial room in the RA).
Each year a special guest narrates the winning story at the RA.The live reading is also made into a podcast to join Pin Drop’s fantastic archive. Previous readers include Stephen Fry and Juliet Stevenson. This year’s narrator is the mellifluous Penelope Wilton.
And so, I look forward to the awards ceremony on 23 June at the RA. Please do come on the night, if you’re around. Live short-story readings are a glorious thing.