Tag Archives: short story

Blog tour: Greater than the sum of its parts? Assembling a first short story collection

This week I am delighted to welcome fellow writer Anne Goodwin to my blog. Anne Goodwin’s debut novel, Sugar and Snails was shortlisted for the 2016 Polari First Book Prize. Her second novel, Underneath, was published in 2017. Her short story collection, Becoming Someone, on the theme of identity launches on Facebook on November 23rd, 2018, where the more people participate the more she’ll donate to Book Aid International. A former clinical psychologist, Anne is also a book blogger with a particular interest in fictional therapists.

Website: annegoodwin.weebly.com
Twitter @Annecdotist.

Here Anne talks about putting her first collection of short stories together for publication.

Many years ago, when I was carving out a space to write fiction, a creative writing tutor recommended I begin putting a short story collection together. Despite knowing very little about publishing at the time, I was aware that short story anthologies are hard to sell in the UK. So I shrugged my shoulders and continued submitting my efforts to individual magazines.

By the time my debut novel, Sugar and Snails, was published in 2015, I had over sixty short stories in multi-author collections and/or print and internet magazines. I even had a couple in translation – Swedish and Hungarian if you’re wondering – which is yet to happen with either of my novels. But I didn’t consider putting together a collection until my publisher at Inspired Quill suggested it. What writer isn’t flattered to be asked to submit? I decided if Sara-Jayne Slack was prepared to invest time and money in an anthology, I ought to delve in.

It wasn’t until my second novel, Underneath, was published that I had the headspace to revisit my short fiction with an anthology in mind. By then I had around ninety stories – most already published, some still in draft and some doing the rounds – begun over a period of fifteen years. Each having emerged from a separate seed of inspiration, it was a new experience to go back and select a sample not only for their individual qualities but for how they’d fit together as a whole. Like arranging a vase with flowers from different seasons or furnishing a room with both contemporary pieces and antiques.

Or perhaps my stories weren’t so disparate. I knew I kept returning to familiar themes. Perhaps my collection would be like a colour-co-ordinated bouquet. But which colour – or theme – would incorporate the most alluring flowers?

In conjunction with my publisher, I settled on the theme of identity, being broad enough to encompass a range of interpretations around a coherent central idea. How do we become who we are and how that does that change across time and circumstance? How do we manage the gap between who we are and who we would like to be or who others feel we ought to be? How much control do we have over our identity and is it a role bestowed on us by others or something that arises from within? These kinds of questions are consistent with my background as a clinical psychologist. They’re also explored within my debut novel.

After drawing up a list of potential candidates, I set about self-editing. A major difference between this and preparing my novels for submission was that 70,000 words of short pieces contains many more characters and plots than a novel of similar length. What if I had repeated myself? Once the stories were in a single document it was relatively simple to eliminate duplicate character names, but echoes of imagery or phrasing are trickier to detect. Multiple reads and an eagle-eyed editor certainly help.

Following submission, my publisher asked for a statement of how each story fit the theme and a little more editing of some to make that fit tighter. This helped us both develop a stronger sense of what the collection is about and my personal concept of identity as a dynamic process that evolves in relationship with the self and with others. Around this point we also agreed that there was a gap in relation to religious identity (easily filled as I already had the completed stories touching on the topic) and that, although it’s inevitable that some stories would be stronger than others, one, despite perfectly encapsulating the theme, didn’t make the grade.
More detailed editing from my editor followed. The stories having gone through multiple edits already, a few courtesy of the editors of magazines, the collection required fewer alterations than my novels, and definitely fewer passages to cut. On the other hand, some elements of some stories needed a lot more back and forth until they hit the right note.

A satisfying short story depends on nuance; some of mine benefited from a few extra words to hone the resolution while still leaving sufficient space for the reader to draw her own conclusions.

One of the difficulties I encountered in writing my first novel was finding the right structure for the story I wanted to tell. When it came to the collection, while structure wasn’t a problem for the individual pieces, structuring the whole required some thought. In what order should the stories appear to make for the most satisfying read? With a novel, strategically placed crises keep the reader turning the page. But there’s no parallel for this in an anthology. To end one story, like a teasing chapter, on a cliffhanger doesn’t entice readers into the next tale with new characters and setting.

Having already agreed a title change from Being Someone to Becoming Someone to reflect identity as process, my publisher suggested arranging the stories to reflect increasing confidence of the main character in their sense of who they are. Thus the process of reading might follow the process of identity formation, such that the book itself becomes much more than the sum of its component parts. But when the stories weren’t written to illustrate this development, and when most stories contain a process within themselves, a challenge to achieve. Have we pulled it off? That’s for readers to judge.

Becoming Someone published 23rd November, 2018 by Inspired Quill
Paperback ISBN: 978-1-908600-77-6 / 9781908600776
eBook ISBN: 978-1-908600-78-3 / 9781908600783
Author page at Inspired Quill publishers http://www.inspired-quill.com/authors/anne-goodwin/

Facebook launch in support of Book Aid International https://www.facebook.com/events/285314412085573/

Drop in at your own convenience wherever you are in the world, I’ll be here to entertain you from morning coffee to pre-dinner drinks.
The more actively people participate, the more I’ll donate to Book Aid International.


Sugar and Snails promotion My debut novel is discounted to 99p or equivalent (Kindle version) throughout November viewbook at Sugar and Snails

7 prompts for writers #5: building characters

Keen-eyed readers of this blog will notice that this is the third post in my ‘7 prompts for writers…’ strand which is about characterisation. Some of you might be wondering why I keep coming back to this aspect of writing. My answer would be, because the vast majority of my writing is character-driven. To a certain extent, I believe, once I have my protagonists, the plot will take care of itself.

I urge you, therefore, to go back to my previous ‘7 prompts for writers’ posts on characterisation and voice. I want layered characters. I want voices which are various and interesting. As writers we might find characters by looking around us, since, let’s face it, characters are ‘merely’ people. People we decide to bring onto the page and then allow their stories to unravel.

There are two aspects to consider here. First, however close we may be to somebody, we cannot possibly know everything about them. There will be secret corners to them, and nooks which even they are unaware of. When I am creating characters, it is the nooks which they themselves are oblivious to, which interests me. Love an ‘unreliable narrator’ me! Secondly, once we as writer brings a person onto the page, they are immediately morphed from the person or people they are based on. Just as a portrait is subtly altered from the sitter, and the portrait creator is in there somewhere.

So, once we have a person to bring onto the page, how do we flesh them out? Luckily we have one person who is forever open for investigation and discovery: ourselves. Author Milan Kundera suggests: ‘The characters in my novels are my own unrealised possibilities. That is why I am equally fond of them all and equally horrified by them. Each one has crossed a border that I myself have circumvented.’

We are back to excavating ourselves. But not the ‘self’ we live with every day, which we show to the world, to our friends, to our lovers. It’s the many selves which have not been realised, our potential selves… For me, given the genre I write in, this includes the potential towards violence, which I would normally run away from very fast.

How do we find our potential selves? My tip is to develop them through free writing in our writing journal. I am constantly advocating this, so you will find references to free writing littered throughout my blog posts. I will give another definition here. Write for three minutes without thinking about grammar, spelling, making sense. Don’t follow the lines. Get messy.

Natalie Goldberg in her seminal work Writing Down the Bones, says the aim is to ‘burn through to first thoughts … to the place where you are writing what your mind actually sees and feels, not what it thinks it should see or feel’, to ‘explore the rugged edge of thought.’ This does take practice and may initially go against your writing instinct.

Warning: free writing and worming our ways into the nooks which we don’t normally look into and often keep well hidden (for good reason) can be upsetting and destabilising. Make sure you have emotional and psychological support. Look after your mental wellbeing.

I feel the need to give the warning, for I know it is required and true. On the other hand, read again Kundera: ‘my own unrealised possibilities’. How great is that to spend time with the many people we could have been. I could be the woman who first conquered Everest, in my writing. I could be less afraid, more care-free, in my writing. I could be anything, anyone, in my writing. And that’s why I think writing will be with me all my life, endlessly fascinating, endlessly enthralling.

What tips do you have for fleshing out characters?

 

#1 A Photograph

Writers can take inspiration from anywhere. Look at a photograph and imagine you are inside the image: write about what you can see, smell, taste, feel, hear. Then imagine you are something (not a person) within the photograph and write from that point of view using the first person ‘I’. As that ‘I’ what are you: feeling inside; thinking; hoping for; scared of; frustrated by? Take no more than 20 minutes to do this. Then see if you can distill down what you have written to five lines.

Here is a photograph. If you want, you can post your five lines to me via a comments box. I’ll be happy to hear from you.

signposts

 

 

7 things you need to know about proofreading

Today I welcome fellow author, David Powning, who is also an experienced copy-editor & proofreader, to guide us through what we need to know as writers about proofreading. Learn more at: www.inkwrapped.com and find out more about his novel The Ground Will Catch You go to: https://goo.gl/wtkdod (10% of the proceeds goes towards the struggle against breast cancer).

David1. Copy-editing and proofreading are not the same thing.
This foxes a lot of people, and understandably so, mainly because there is a certain overlap between the two disciplines. The aim of a copy-edit is to not only find errors in spelling, grammar and punctuation, but also to address issues around style, usage, consistency and repetition, among other things. In other words, it involves editing the text. 

A proofread, on the other hand, is the final read-through before publication. Its purpose is to look for errors and inconsistencies in spelling, grammar and punctuation that were missed by the copy-editor or have subsequently crept in when the author made amendments to the text. Your proofreader will also check layout, page numbering, chapter headings etc.  

The important thing to remember is that a proofread is the last read of the text to make sure everything is as ‘clean’ as possible. It is not an edit. 

2. It isn’t particularly cheap. And if it is, you should be hearing alarm bells.
The bad news is you will have to shell out a bit for a copy-edit, and for good reason: when done properly, it’s time-consuming. The copy-editor has to get inside your text, hunting out mistakes and discrepancies, and that includes keeping tabs on people’s details (the colour of their hair or eyes, for example) or what car they drive (if it’s a green Ford Fiesta on page 24, it can’t be a grey Ford Fiesta on page 238), as well as the timeline to make sure events are happening in the logical order. There’s a lot involved, and, as with everything in life, you get what you pay for. 
 

The good news, however, is that a proofread is cheaper. 

3. You can’t proofread your own work.
I know, it would be lovely if we were all able to proofread what we’ve written – and of course I’m not suggesting that you don’t continuously check your work – but it’s a fact that even the best writers have to hand over their efforts to a professional. The problem with proofing your own work is that you know what you’ve written, so, like it or not, there will be times when your brain fills in the words simply because it ‘knows’ what’s coming. And that’s where mistakes occur. You need a neutral person to look at it, because they don’t know what’s around the corner so to them everything will be fresh.

Also, logic dictates that if there are some words you always mis-spell or grammatical constructions you get wrong, how would you know the difference? You can’t spot what you don’t know. 

4. A good copy-editor/proofreader will respect the author’s wishes.
Sometimes as a copy-editor you come across stylistic curiosities that aren’t what you would call, erm, ‘traditional’. Grammatically wrong, even. If it’s a one-off, nine times out of ten you would automatically just correct it. However, if it’s something that crops up repeatedly, then you have to bring it to the author’s attention. And if they say it’s deliberate, then you have to respect that, even if it makes your red pen quiver every time you see it happen. It’s a delicate balancing act. Readers may well go, ‘Ah-ha, I’ve spotted a mistake there, and there, and there…’ but if your client is happy and views it merely as their own stylistic quirk, you must take that on board. It may go against a copy-editor’s natural instinct, but as with a magazine’s house style, sometimes there will be things you disagree with.

5. Proofreading is important.
I’ve often heard it said that readers are not fussy these days about coming across typos when reading a novel, but, you’ll be shocked to hear, I don’t think it’s acceptable. Of course, even with the best will in the world, the occasional error may slip through the net – and that’s true of all books – but to me anything more than that is the thin end of the wedge. If you start to think, ‘Oh, I’m not too bothered about a few spelling mistakes in my novel’, then what’s to stop you being bothered about half a dozen in the next one, and ten in the one cover-jan2016-dpowningafter that? 

Self-publishing has really taken off in the past few years, and I think indie authors have a duty to keep their standards as high as possible so that the public can buy with confidence, as when purchasing a novel from an established publisher/author. Is it okay for a CD to jump half a dozen times? Wouldn’t you return it if it did? Well, the same goes for books. Typos and grammatical errors stop the flow of words and momentarily take the reader out of the imagined world you have created, thereby undermining all your hard work. What’s okay about that?

6. Track Changes is a wonderful thing.
For those not in the know, Track Changes is a function in Microsoft Word that records each amendment a person (i.e. your copy-editor/proofreader) makes in the document. This means that when your novel is returned to you, you simply go through each change and either ‘accept’ or ‘reject’ it. I mention this only because chances are you’ll be sending your work to a copy-editor as a Word file, and I’d be very surprised if they didn’t use Track Changes. It’s simple to use and gives you complete control over the final product. Brilliant.

7. Proofreading is very satisfying.
I love copy-editing and proofreading, whether that’s for magazines or books. To me it’s a challenge to find things that aren’t quite right, and not because I want to feel clever. Every writer makes errors (my novel went through the wringer quite a few times until I was happy), so when you discover something amiss you know you are doing your bit to improve the work, and that’s a good feeling.  

Ultimately, when you’re working for an author, it’s a partnership. You’re both striving towards the same thing – high standards – and to help someone achieve that, after all the hours they’ve put in creating a story, really is very gratifying.

The 2K International Writers’ Blog Tour – today’s interviewee: Corri van de Stege

Featured Image -- 414Corri van de Stege

I live and write in England, although I’m a Dutch national.  I’ve lived in England for very long stretches of time, studied in London, and worked across the UK. I’ve also lived in The Netherlands where I was brought up, and I lived in Iran during the 1979 revolution. As a consequence of all this moving around the globe I now have a very dispersed family, and this provides wonderful excuses for travelling here, there and everywhere whenever I can!

corriI’ve always wanted to be a writer and I used to keep diaries and write short stories, but never got round to properly editing or submitting these. I guess this was because, as well as moving around countries and bringing up a family, I had demanding professional jobs. As part of the latter I published some non-fiction work, one as a co-author on a book on student exchanges across Europe and also short articles that were published in professional journals.  Nevertheless, I always read (fiction) voraciously and have always wanted to be a fiction writer.

At the end of 2013 I decided to hand in my notice and retire from the day job. It was the right decision at it gave me the time to write. I was able to pick up on the various drafts of two books that I had started and almost completed in previous years, one was my memoir of living in Iran during the revolution (based on diaries that I kept at the time) and the other a novel about growing up in The Netherlands within a small and fanatically religious community. The latter had already been through various transformations: over the years I participated in and completed Creative Writing Courses at the OU and at writers’ workshops in Norwich. I submitted chapters and drafts and this helped me to keep the writing candle lit. I was particularly pleased when one of my tutors suggested that my writing was ready for publishing and that I should focus on completing and editing what I had started.

Both my memoir about living in Isfahan during the Iranian revolution in 1979, Half the World, and my first novel, Notes on Anna, were published in 2014. In addition, I published two of my short stories in 2014. I took a long holiday (well, three weeks) in the autumn of 2014 visiting one of my sons in Singapore. After my return I started my next novel, which is my current project (see below)

What is the first piece you remember writing (from childhood or young adulthood)?

I remember having lined notebooks in which I wrote stories about characters out of the books that I read. Then from teenage years onwards I also kept many diaries and writing notebooks but most of these have disappeared during my moves from one country to the next.

What is your favorite aspect of being a writer? Your least favorite?

I love it when I’m actually writing, when I’m in the middle of something, a chapter or a story and it all just flows and I play around with the sentences.  I enjoy this sense that I am in control of what I do and where my story is going, I can imagine whatever I want to imagine. That’s quite different from writing a report, say, when you have to stick to the task in hand. I wrote a lot of quite lengthy reports during my working life. Writing fiction, or a memoir, is exhilarating in that you can let your imagination flow without a bunch of people telling you what to write and how to write it! I need physical exercise to keep my mind going (and to sleep well at night) and so I don’t like sitting in front of the computer for hours on end. In the summer there is the gardening and in winter I play the clarinet to balance the activities.

Do you believe in writer’s block? If so, what is your best tip for beating it? If not, why not?

I’m not sure about that. I think a way of getting round that sense that you don’t know what to write about, or even that you cannot write at all, is to sit with a piece of paper, or  with your iPad  or laptop and start writing whatever… Another way of getting round it is to do some research, and to write down what you’ve found out. Even if this is unrelated to the story or book that you are writing.  I’m always prodding myself into discovering new things and this year I have signed up for a number of so-called Mooc courses (Massive On-line Open Courses: free short courses provided by universities around the world on topics ranging from literature to science and gardening).  I am currently following a course on Forensic Science and already have ideas on how I can use some of my newly gained insights by having one of my characters married to a forensic scientist. I don’t intend to write a crime thriller though. Previously I followed a course on Theories of Mind – quite interesting when you think about fictional characters and what they are like.

What is your current writing project? What is the most challenging aspect of your current writing project?

I am writing a novel about a family that, on the surface of it all, is a reasonably well-functioning entity but when an accident happens the past starts to unravel. I don’t really want to say more about this as it is still very fluid. I’m also working on a couple of short stories and have ideas for a few more.  So far I’ve published two short stories, which are only available as ebooks and I would like to publish a collection of short stories, which would also be available in paperback format.

We spoke about writer’s block earlier on, but I think the main challenge is to keep focused on the writing, rather than not knowing what to write. I have many interests that vie for equal rights, for example, in the summer there is the garden and learning about new plants, names of plants, and then there are the visitors to your garden such as frogs, different birds, etc. I’m also following up on one my very longstanding ambition, which is to learn to play an instrument and to be able to read music. I’ve bought a clarinet and over the last three months have more or less progressed through grade one material. I practise my clarinet up to two hours a day, which sometimes proves to be an excuse for not writing! On the other hand, playing music can be quite stimulating for the imagination.

What supports you in your writing?

corri bookHaving my own very wonderful room to hide in, enough time because I’ve retired from the day job, and a husband who is also a writer now and who needs very little attention as he’s usually even more distracted than I am.

What are you currently reading?

I am a voracious reader, mainly of literary fiction but I also read psychological thrillers, historical novels and non-fiction books. In the latter category is a book that was a Christmas present ‘The Edge of the World’ by Michael Pye. This is a fascinating account of how the North Sea made us who we are (here in Europe, and in particular the English and the Dutch – interesting for me as I am a Dutch national living in England). I am also reading “Wolf Hall2, by Hilary Mantel, for the second time. The book group I belong has put it on the list for one of our next meetings and this is quite good timing in view of the marvelous new TV series Wolf Hall which started on BBC2 recently.

Where can our readers find you and your books online?

I am quite ubiquitous on line: you can find me at: www.corrivandestege.com (which will direct you to a blog called 51 stories) and in the about page of my blog are links to my books and short stories.

I also have a facebook author page, and perhaps if you visit you could ‘like’ this page (it’s fairly new): http://bit.ly/corrivandestegeauthor

My books are available in paperback format as well as for Kindle, Nook and Kobo. My short stories are available for your e-reader or kindle. The link to the Amazon UK website for my publications is: http://amzn.to/1kEvirM  For Amazon.com the link is: http://amzn.to/1nlbKIL

You can also follow me on twitter: @corrivandestege.

 

 

A Postcard from Alpine Meadows

Dear Aunty Ermintrude, I’m here with the girls, we always spend the Summer up here in amongst the buttercups, meadow sweet, clover and vetch. It gives that distinctive flavour to the cream and cheese. We get on well generally, no pushing or shoving, well there’s enough for all of us. It’s peaceful up here but never quiet: the insects hum and zzz; the birds twitters; and then there’s us with our bells. A proper Alpine choir we make. Love….

cows