Lockdown Interviews no25: Joan Taylor-Rowan interviewed by Alex Penland

Author Joan Taylor-Rowan (Five by Five, Stations, London Lies)

interviewed by Alex Penland (Story Cities)

 

 

Alex:    How did publishing The Birdskin Shoes change your writing process? How did it alter your view of publishing?

Joan:    Firstly a bit of background. The novel was a finalist in a SpreadtheWord novel pitch competition. Buoyed by the response, I completed it and sent it to an agent. The first email from an agent was the kind you dream about – I have it pinned above my computer – but she said it needed work. I duly rewrote it, but despite the changes she decided not to take me on. I had an editor look at it, to give me insights into necessary changes before trying again. The editor loved it and suggested another agent who did take me on. At the time I wasn’t sure that she was the right agent for me, but bruised by my first encounter, it didn’t really occur to me to turn her down. She sent the book out to seven publishers but while they all liked it, no-one said yes.

I decided back in 2012, that if I really believed in the novel I should self-publish. Again I am not a techie so this was a huge learning curve and I was very proud of it. But what I hadn’t really thought out was the amount of work required in promoting it, and you really do have to be doing this full-time. There were a number of things I learned about the publishing process from this:

  • choose the agent who is right for your work, don’t just accept the person who takes it
  • just because that agent does not get a publisher don’t assume it’s not publishable. I found out later that agents do not approach everyone, only those publishers with whom they have built up a relationship
  •  once it was self-published, even with good reviews, no agent would then take it on, however that has changed now, but you have to show that it is successful
  • you can write a book that people love but you still might not get a publisher for all sorts of reasons, only one of which is the quality of the writing
  • at least by self-publishing the book it is not in a drawer under my bed, gathering dust
  • getting an agent seems like a miracle but even that is just the very beginning of a long and perilous journey

It did make me much more aware of the commercial side of writing – not that I think anyone should write with that in mind, but if publishing your work is your aim, you have to know and be aware of where your book fits in and what else is out there. It’s harder if you write literary fiction than genre fiction. I learned just how hard it is to write a novel, what a long process it is. It did make me much less judgmental about other writers. Just to complete a novel is a huge achievement. I prefer the intensity of the short story in terms of writing, but I read more novels than short story collections, because I enjoy the immersive quality of a novel.

 

Alex:   The stories in Five by Five are quite different from each other, one set in the 1970’s and one in the Mexican revolution. How did you come to write Bittersweet Like Pomegranates, and The Bet?

Joan:   I’ve always been fascinated by Manet’s painting  of The Execution of the Emperor Maximilian, which is in The National Gallery. It’s very large to start with, and the firing squad are life size. In the painting they are standing very close to the emperor and have already fired the shots so you are there  before he dies but after the bullets have left the guns. It made me wonder what it would feel like to have to stand and kill someone who was unarmed. The men are soldiers and are used to combat but this would be very different. I’ve spent a lot of time in Mexico and so I decided to read up about this emperor and what had lead to the execution. To a large extent he was a pawn and in fact was not bad as emperors go. He encouraged land reform for example.
I began to think about the moral dilemma a soldier might face, especially if he had a child. How might such an event affect him? How would he look his child in the eye? So that is how the story, Bitter Sweet Like Pomegranates evolved.
The Bet, a story set against the background of the conflict in Northern Ireland in the 1970’s,  is a little more grounded in my own experience. My mother was a Catholic from Northern Ireland, and my Irish cousin did send my tomboy sister a rubber bullet.  I can still remember the shock of seeing this enormous hard object when I was expecting something the size of a conventional bullet. It transformed my understanding of the news. When rubber bullets were fired, or people were hit with rubber bullets, I knew what that meant.  It represented a coming of age – a step into adulthood where suddenly something that seemed the world of a child – a squidgy bullet, is suddenly  revealed for what it truly is, a potentially lethal weapon. Luckily my grandpa was not killed with one, that’s where the fiction comes in. However we did all watch the Eurovision song contest, and I wanted to use that as a way of bringing in my mother’s mixed allegiance – she was both British and Irish and that caused her difficulties at times.

 

Alex:    Do you have a literary philosophy–something that you try to include in all your work?

Joan:    Hmm..that’s an interesting question. I really believe in the redemptive, life-saving qualities of art and literature, and a love of words and the imaginative life often feature in my stories, even though I don’t plan it that way.  I also like to learn something I didn’t know through reading, whether it’s about a different community or some area of knowledge and if I can I’ll try and get an interesting fact in.

 

Alex:    What are your different approaches to poetry and prose? Does one come more easily than the other?

Joan:    I rarely write poetry, although I used to in my twenties. In many ways I wish I did. I like performing my work, and having an audience. That’s much more likely with poetry. There are fewer opportunities for short story writers to have their work heard. However I have written lyrics for a musical based on one of my short stories (with a post-graduate composer who heard one of my stories at an event and approached me to collaborate.) I’ve also written lyrics for a pantomime for a friend who teachers A level drama. I enjoy writing lyrics as they are part of a narrative.

 

Alex:    Do you have any strange or funny writing stories? 

Joan:    After I self-published my novel, I had postcards printed which I left in various shops, galleries etc in London. As it was set in Mexico, I left some in a Mexican gift shop in the Columbia Road flower market in London. A year or so later I signed up for a digital textile class at The City Lit in London. I woman arrived late and breathless and the only seat left was next to me. We both opened our computers to display the images we had brought in to inspire our textiles – hers were of Mexican streets. I commented on them, as mine too were of Mexico. I was there a few years ago, I said, in fact I loved it so much I wrote a novel set there – The Birdskin Shoes. Her jaw dropped. I’ve read that she said. I picked up the card in a gift shop in Columbia Road flower market. I loved it! It was a real Twilight Zone moment.

 

 

Alex:    What do you have coming down the pipeline? What’s next?

Joan:    I’m completing an M.A. in Creative Writing at Chichester University at the moment, and I am working on a novel for that. I’ve also been sending a lot of stories out to competitions although they are a long shot but it makes me revisit and hone my work. I set up a creative writing course in Hastings – and I’ve really enjoyed teaching that and I’m hoping to do more once lockdown is over. I’m also working on a couple of children’s picture books with my sister who is a greeting card designer. Those will be in rhyme, so maybe I have not quite left the poetry behind after all.

You can buy all the Arachne books mentioned from our webshop, we will post them out to you.

If you would prefer eBooks, all these books are available from your usual retailer, now VAT free! We recommend Hive for ePub.

watch Joan read The Bet at Hither Green Festival last year – we would have been there this week, were it not for the cursed covid.

Guest Blog: Stories about stories by Margaret Crompton

Margaret Crompton (No Spider Harmed in the Making of This Book) responds to a comment in Sarah Lawson‘s Lockdown Interview.

Sarah Lawson’s reflection that ‘Somehow poems don’t seem to be coming,’ (Lockdown Interview: No 3, 8th April 2020) has given me much to think about. Like her, I ‘d imagined this time-out-of-time would provide opportunity for writing.  As Script in Hand rehearsals and performance had been cancelled, I would seek consolation in writing a new play (Guest Blog, 15th April 2020).  First, however, I would tidy my study. I attacked a desk drawer and evicted my collection of dried-out felt tips. Since then, the study has become even untidier.

Like Sarah, we already spent most of our time at home, each in her/his own study, with a pattern which we intended to maintain. But time and energy were immediately directed to setting up new systems, daily emails with family and friends, and (reluctantly) registering for our estate Community Group Facebook. I identified preparation, transition and settling, (I’d been a social worker), and entered ‘Fortress Crompton’ – which was, I quickly understood, exactly wrong: we should become open, available – not enclosed.

As members of the ‘high risk’ cohort, I sought ways to be contributors as well as receivers, thinking sadly, ‘We have only words.’ Only words? A few years ago, we’d turned from ‘professional’ writing (Communicating with children; English literature) to exploring short stories, poetry. We had accumulated an archive which, we realised, we could freely share with family, friends, and neighbours. We compiled a catalogue from which pieces can be chosen for me to email. This provides stimulus for conversations which don’t focus on C-19, and one piece often leads to others in intriguing sequences.

With a Polish friend/neighbour, I’m translating a folk story to make a book for his daughter.  And a young friend is writing an email serial story with me; she responded to my opening ‘Once upon a time…’ with a challenge which took me days to follow.

I’d been attempting my first novella. I’m most comfortable with short form, and have recently been revelling in flash fiction compression. The novella minimum 25,000 words was daunting, (although my ‘professional’ texts had achieved double and treble that count). Moving from transition to settling, I became obsessed with completing the novella, then realised that I needed only 10,000 words plus synopsis. I pushed myself half-way through the final chapter, then one evening worked too late completing the submission, pressed SEND, felt relieved. Expected to proceed to some fresh challenge. And became ill for over a week with a sub-migraine. I’d been trying too hard, compelled by some self-induced pressure, to complete a task, to be tidy. Another common symptom, I think.

A week later, I responded to Cherry’s call for guest blog writers. ‘I can do that,’ I thought, wanting, as ever, to be helpful. But as a novice blogger, I abandoned Draft 1 (burgeoning three volume novel) and 2 (laconic summary) for Draft 3. I struggled to complete what I hoped would be ‘just right,’ which I blush to admit, cost two minor revisions and much of Cherry’s kind patience.

So back to Sarah’s interview. I learn from friends and others that many creative impulses are being stifled by lethargy, exhaustion, even paralysis. Is it partly that we’re living so intensely in the present, or the sometimes painfully vivid past, that it’s difficult to enter the worlds of imagination? Is it hard to plan for a universally uncertain future? I feel safe and happy, except for some moments on waking, and others when laying down Priestley or Pym before lying down myself. My anxiety is about having to go out again into that dangerous world. After two heart attacks over twenty years ago, I know about a future abruptly revealed as always uncertain, and am familiar with the inevitability of my own death. This is different. As pollution recedes, emotional miasma pervades the environment. Creative energy is invisibly concentrated on fuelling being fully alive, in this present which is all we ever have.

……………

         I began writing this a few weeks ago. Then came VE Day. We weren’t interested in celebrating here, now. We had, after all, been there, then. But John wrote a poem about his memory of winning third prize in a fancy dress competition in 1945. I remember being taken to the bonfire near my home. I posted John’s poem on the Community Group Facebook, where it attracted numerous Likes and several Loves.  Later, we were unexpectedly serenaded by a mouth organ played enthusiastically by the young son of a neighbour singing ‘Happy VE Day to you…’ and presenting us with A4 posters and flags made by school children, and neat paper-and-string parcels containing scones, cream and jam. (We’ve saved the string). Obediently, at 4 pm we set up a table in our front garden, with embroidered cloth and pretty plates, for afternoon tea.

But this is a story about stories. For by now I was so involved that, not only had I tied my hair up in a 1940s ‘turban’ (red, complementing white and blue skirt and shirt), but obsessively rooted-out old photograph albums from the most daunting corner of my study. There I found pictures of my father – not in India, as I’d so confidently informed the estate, but at home with my mother and me. How could I ever face the neighbours? Shame forced me to open a box of papers I’ve kept since my mother’s death nearly 20 years ago. And there was my father’s 1945 diary. To my relief, he had been in India on VE Day – he noted the gin party – and the photographs were from home leave later. I took diary and pictures across the road to neighbours and (appropriately distanced) told my story. Soon John joined us and shared his own story. Now we know a great deal more of our own and our parents’ stories. And at last I feel free to read the contents of that box.

But, more, through these old stories, we’ve met our neighbours in a new way – and shared not only our stories, but also theirs. This is a new estate, and the first social ‘event’ of the Community. I’ve heard from friends experiencing similar unexpected opportunities for neighbourly story sharing. Not written. Spontaneously narrated and received with interest and respect.

For the first time, on Friday afternoon I looked forward to ‘the future,’ To new stories.

……………….

This morning it’s raining. The estate children won’t be following a ‘creature trail’ or playing on the field. I posted a poem (Alexander Astronaut) with ideas for drawing, writing poems/stories.  Although I’ve earned only four Likes, a neighbour I haven’t yet met would like to share this story outside the Group.

Those poems and stories which ‘Somehow don’t seem to be coming’ will come, when they, and we, are ready. Bringing our words out of the Fortress. Although, I’d be grateful if my idea for Tymes Goe by Turnes would stop flitting around and settle into a coherent form. Meanwhile, I should tidy my study.

With thanks to Arachne.

Margaret Crompton

Preorder No Spider Harmed… – out 8th August for our eighth anniversary!

Lockdown Interviews: no11 Elizabeth Hopkinson interviews A. Katherine Black

 

A. Katherine Black has a story in No Spider Harmed in the Making of this Book

as does her interviewer, Elizabeth Hopkinson, who we also published in We/She.

Preorder No Spider Harmed… – out 8th August 2020 for our eighth anniversary!

You can buy all the Arachne books mentioned from our webshop, we will post them out to you.

If you would prefer eBooks, all these books are available from your usual retailer. we recommend Hive for ePub.

 

Guest Blog: Margaret Crompton Script in Hand – A Web of Lives, Interrupted

Margaret Crompton is one of the authors featured in our forthcoming Eighth Anniversary anthology, No Spider Harmed in the Making of this Book. Finding herself, like us, bereft of an event she was expecting to take part in, she relates how her theatre group, Script in Hand got started, and the stories they have told so far.

There are tentative plans for Script in Hand to do readings from No Spider Harmed in the Late Summer/Autumn

 

April 2020: Katherine Swynford and the Countess Joan
Katherine Swynford and her (uppity) daughter, the Countess Joan, are no longer treading the carpet in the County Assembly Rooms this spring. Brought back to vigorous life by Script in Hand, Katherine and Joan had been enjoying a tomb-break with friends and relations, until interrupted by the invisible intruder, unknown among the plagues of their own day.

Script in Hand is both title and description of a group of actors who perform plays with, yes, script in hand. I’ve written and directed all our productions, so far. We have no auditions, membership, finance, booking, or scenery. We give one another energy, adventure and delight.

2018:  The Sellwood Girls
Our first play was The Sellwood Girls, about three Lincolnshire sisters. Emily married Alfred Tennyson, and Louisa married his brother Charles Turner. The play grew from my sequence of poems Lost Lady Found, written to give Louisa a voice. Our performance, in the Church of St Mary Magdalen, Lincoln, raised funds for annual British Federation of Women Graduates grants to female students in our two local universities. Actors were drawn from church members, family and friends. Some were experienced actors, others had never acted before.
This was my first experience of both playwriting (other than Usurper Usurped for my school Junior Dramatic Society – a lively plot but, then as now, I had no idea how to develop action) – and directing. Now 77, I was directing my husband and friends in my own play.
The Sellwood Girls established what would become our pattern. The ‘stage’ was the paved area between chancel steps and congregation. To be heard and seen, actors stood opposite the central aisle. The cast was seated on-stage throughout the performance, moving to and from that position when speaking. I learned that such constraints are a director’s blessing.
Actors developed their own parts, each portraying a whole, convincing individual. In an early scene, the three sisters are schoolgirls. The actors needed no ‘special’ voices to represent the children. Costume was full length black, with coloured shawls for the women, although ‘Alfred’ supplied a top hat, ‘Charles’ his own dog collar, and ‘Hallam’s’ sleeveless pullover and tie channelled Alan Bennett. Experiments with head coverings demonstrated that 21st century hairstyles did not accommodate 19th century lace or caps. We needed neither scenery nor props.

2019: Anne Askew
Although we had only contracted for this one performance, we’d formed such close bonds that in 2019 we performed Anne Askew: a woman of courage in Tudor Lincolnshire, which I’d written some time before, and adapted for the group. Now we needed a name: Script in Hand exactly describes our style. An actor invited us to the County Assembly Rooms, where we trod not paving but carpet. Experience from The Sellwood Girls transferred easily, so that actors sat on stage throughout and spoke from the space opposite the central aisle. Costume was black skirt or trousers with a differently coloured top for every actor, providing both uniformity and variety.
There were innovations and challenges. Cast processed along the aisle, to be greeted and introduced by an actor in role. Period-appropriate music was played by a flautist accompanied by my debut on tabor. An optional episode of mime, with the flute, was developed by the cast. Anne Askew was played by two actors. Feisty Anne (2019), conversed with Eve, a woman of our own time. Anne (1546) read from her own writing*.
We chose The Shannon Trust, a small charity promoting literacy in prisons, as the beneficiary of ticket sales – Anne Askew had illegally read the Bible in Lincoln Cathedral, and in 1546, was burnt in London as a heretic, caught up in a conspiracy against Queen Katherine Parr. In prison, she wrote accounts of her interrogations. Contributing to literacy education seemed a fitting memorial, and we continue to support the Trust. A representative attended the performance, bringing a display of the excellent reading scheme and other materials.
There is no memorial to Anne Askew in the Cathedral, nor would I (nor Anne) want one, and few people have heard of her. But now, her story is included in the new Visitor Centre exhibition.

2019: When Queen Victoria Came to Tea
Our next appearances, both in 2019, came from my idea that SiH might be invited to offer smaller productions, between annual performances. A conversation in the OXFAM bookshop led to When Queen Victoria Came to Tea, a companion piece to The Sellwood Girls for four actors, written with my husband John. The space at the back of the shop was cleared, chairs borrowed, and re-filled with the audience who braved the rain, bought books, and donated to OXFAM funds. Later, we were invited to perform at the British Federation of Women Graduates Christmas party, and were grateful for an unexpected donation to The Shannon Trust.

2020: Katherine Swynford and the Countess Joan         
I wrote Katherine Swynford and the Countess Joan for Script in Hand.  We thought our audience would be attracted by further material about local people. But I was running out of ideas. Anne Askew had been set in the Cathedral. Who else was there? I reviewed my sequence of poems Women of the Cathedral, which gives voices to those silent women in stained-glass windows, carvings and statues, in ornate tombs and under heavy slabs. Katherine Swynford, whose tomb is end-on to that of her daughter, had always eluded me. Then, thinking about that mysterious arrangement, I found my play. Just as the other plays are ‘out of time and space,’ Katherine and Joan rose from their semi-detached post-mortem accommodation and were joined by friends and relations. And before too long, we all hoped, by an audience.

I thank Script in Hand. I haven’t mentioned any one by name, for everyone contributes and creates this wonderful adventure. Did I mention that most of us are over 70, and several over 80?  When I asked their permission to write this, everyone responded, with warmth, encouragement, jokes. So I close this scamper through our story so far with one actor’s comment:

 Script in Hand – it’s just a Web of Lives.

 

*Anne Askew: The Examinations of Anne Askew. Ed Elaine V Beilin, 1996, Oxford University Press  (1st published 1546 & 1547. Copy in the Wren Library, Lincoln Cathedral).

Lockdown Interviews: no7 Katy Darby interviewed by A. Katherine Black

Katy Darby author  (Five by Five, Stations, London Lies, An Outbreak of Peace, Shortest Day Longest Night, Liberty Tales,  We/She)

 

You can buy all the Arachne books mentioned from our webshop, we will post them out to you.

If you would prefer eBooks, all these books are available from your usual retailer. we recommend Hive for ePub.

 

I want my M.A.

One in a series of guest blogs by Arachne Authors in Lockdown,  in the run up to our Eighth anniversary.

joan observer spoof (3)

Joan Taylor-Rowan

This one is by Joan Taylor-Rowan.
We published Joan in our very first book: London Lies with Renewal.
Joan followed that up with Birdland in  Stations, and she was one of five women authors to feature with five stories in Five by Five.
Joan also organised the sold-out Hastings leg of last year’s Solstice Shorts Festival, Time and Tide.

Joan’s brand new website

Over to Joan

 

 

I want my M.A.

I was the first in my girl-guide troupe to get ten badges.  The next goal was to swim half a mile – and get a badge for my cozzy – even though I could only swim backstroke – very slowly. I think they gave me that one so we could all get in the coach and go home.  So yes, I am a little addicted to certificates and awards, maybe that is one of the reasons I decided to do an M.A. in Creative Writing.

I’ve always written and have had success with short stories, and even self-published a novel but my literature qualifications end at a GCSE in English. When I moved to Hastings part-time, a few years ago, I set up an informal group teaching creative writing for beginners (that’s for another blog post), and really loved it. Perhaps, I thought, I could approach the local independent school sector and offer my services, and expand my teaching opportunities and my income?  But would my publishing history of short stories impress the demanding parents of Cassandra and Bilious?

I had a couple of options: I could work with a writing mentor for a year and hope to come out at the end with a lucrative book deal (any book deal), or I could do an M.A. and brandish my certificate as confirmation of my literary abilities. In the process of doing the M.A., I might write a novel and get a lucrative book deal, but if I didn’t, I’d still have the M.A.  Besides I enjoyed studying, and the possibility of discussion with other writing nerds appealed to me.

I chose Chichester, because they ran a part-time course with a good reputation, and I thought at the time it would be a manageable journey. It wasn’t.  Southern trains were into social distancing long before Corona virus made it essential.

The course consists of a weekly three hour session divided into seminars and workshops. Some of the seminars were thrilling and inspirational, introducing me to writers I’d never heard of and ideas I’d never considered. I was obliged to discuss what I’d read and to write pieces inspired by themes such as art, or structure or time.  I left tired and elated, full of words and sensations and empty pockets – M.A.s do not come cheap, and the five hour return trip plus three hours in seminars was fuelled by coffee and snacks.

The weekly workshopping of each other’s writing took some time to get used to.  Feedback groups are only as good as the effort that is put into them; lazy students or careless ones do not necessarily give good feedback, but in my experience, most students were diligent and hard-working – juggling jobs, families and travelling.  Sometimes students with the least impressive writing were fantastic at dissecting the work of others. They were also the bravest, giving in raw work and using the feedback to really develop. Getting and giving feedback is an art in itself: too harsh and you break someone’s spirit, too soft and you might as well be someone’s nan telling them, it’s lovely dear. No-one pays £6000 for that.  It’s hard to hear it too: you’ve got to chop one of those adjectives. I can’t, you weep, like Sophie choosing between her children. The work will be all the better for it, but that’s hard to believe as you press delete.

Tutor input is craved and inevitably treasured. Their thoughts are the pearls and rubies. And of course you never get enough.  I found it to be valuable not only for what it taught me about my own work, but for what it taught me about reading the work of others – to go deeper, to be thorough. Give to them what you would want them to give to you.

I didn’t realise how much I’d come to depend on this workshopping system until forced into The Great Isolation. I’m nearly at the end of my course and suddenly I am adrift, no face to study, no tone of voice to inspect.  Is that really a compliment, or is their body language saying something else? Where is the shit in this delicious-sounding sandwich? Also I’m not able to see someone’s spirits lift if I give them a heartfelt compliment, or get a supportive hug in the artistic struggle. An emoji just doesn’t cut it.

Listening to someone explain their character’s motivation can be nearly as boring as listening to someone’s dreams (so my partner tells me). Even though we all know this, we still think that our ideas are thrilling. The great thing about a group of people in the same situation is that you can reciprocate – I’ll nod and look interested if you’ll do the same. It works and we’re both happy. Online and text, it just isn’t the same, even with the Dr Who weirdness that is the webcam. Listening to a floating head with a patchy convex face discussing the finer points of your character’s mental  and spiritual breakdown, while a naked toddler scampers past chasing a dog, leaves the muse weeping in the corner, wailing I could have been a contender.

So I cannot wait for the sunshine or a vaccine to send Covid 19 packing, so that I can get back with my writer pals in person.  And I promise, I will not moan, or complain, or bitch or be judgmental ever again… Ok, so I had my fingers crossed there.

Beyond spiders: how stories start

The first in a series of guest blogs by Arachne Authors in Lockdown,  in the run up to our Eighth anniversary.

This one is by David Mathews, who we first published in Solstice Shorts: Sixteen Stories about Time, with Wednesday Afternoon, for which he was one of the 5 winners of the competition.
Since then David has graced the pages of
Liberty Tales – Border Country
Shortest Day, Longest NightIn the Gloaming, and Mouse
 Dusk – Flickerin’ Shadows
 Story CitiesBackwater
David has two stories in our forthcoming anniversary anthology, No Spider Harmed in the Making of This Book .We are still consulting on the title of one, but the other is Stowaway, which took up my challenge of writing about spiders in space!

Over to David.

Beyond spiders: how stories start
On the 24th, I went to post a letter, and was a child again. ‘Going to the post’ was one of my earliest errands, and I loved it. Into the tall, glowing pillar box went letters, postcards, small packages. I knew that in next to no time – for local letters, later the same day in a wondrous second post – they would drop on the doormat of Auntie Vi or Mr Jones the grocer.

So as I trotted down a street as empty as those of my childhood to send a friend a birthday card, I looked for Bingo, a dog who furiously chased cars, but who would run happily alongside a pedestrian for no greater reward than kind words.

Before my brief outing I had sent out to friends and others a rousing email invitation to order No Spiders Harmed. ‘It’s nothing too dystopic,’ I had written, ‘perfect reading for the times.’ At lunchtime I found a couple of quick positive responses and a reply from my chum Jorge.

My epistle, which had asked people to go easy on the spring-cleaning, had ended with, ‘Spiders. Forever in your debt.’ I had pushed my luck.

‘Can’t, brother,’ Jorge had written, ‘I was in hospital four days with a red leg due to a bite from one of the precious ones … hate them with force … sorry, not this time. Keep writing.’

Jorge, an artist who works in leather – no, don’t be silly, you know what I mean – is regularly encouraging of my scribbles. But this time, clearly, I had gone too far. Howard Jacobson says that writers should always go too far, but I don’t think he meant to aggravate people’s well-founded phobias.

(Jorge owes me 1.40€, by the way. A bet, from several years ago, about whether Brexit would happen. In the café by the market, after buying a coffee, 1.40€ was all Jorge had left to lay on the chance that we might not leave. Not a bet I wanted to win.)

‘Not so much eight legs good, then, as nine legs bad, Jorge. Sorry. I could do you a beetle story. How are you with those little tinkers?’

‘Stories on hares, birds, squirrels, tigers, lions, or pumas please.’

Not Cyril the Squirrel again, I thought. Jorge has already seen ‘Mouse’ from Shortest Day Longest Night, and, coming from Argentina, he knows more about pumas than I could hope to glean in a short time.

My friend was, let’s say, amenable. ‘Okay, avoid squirrels. Replace them with ducks, the current nuisance at present.’

Jorge lives in the Tarn, south west France. A good few ducks are eaten there, and by and large they go to their fate philosophically – far too much so, many people think. Now it seems that Jorge’s neighbouring fowl have become noisy and forward. With human’s ‘social life’ closed down, maybe the ducks have a stay of execution, and are making merry with it.

Jorge wants a story.  The ducks are getting uppity. What might that mean for a particular duck? Might she and Jorge meet? And eggs. We were due to be with Jorge and his wife for their Easter Day egg hunt, but now of course …

Black Duck and her Eggs. How does that sound?

Easter Saturday. The duck had sat on her eggs, fourteen of them, for four days now. The nest, well back from the footpath and the rowdy children, was overhung with …

‘Keep writing,’ said Jorge.

to be continued…

Hither Green Festival video 3 Katy Darby & Cherry Potts on writing SF/F

Apparently we both know if what we are writing is SciFi, but Fantasy is trickier to pin down.

Find out how you know that what your writing is fantasy… chasing ideas down rabbit holes with Cherry Potts & Katy Darby

DUSK Crowd fund rewards especially for writers

Here’s another couple of offers for you. This one is for WRITERS

Head over to our crowd fund to support the Solstice Shorts Festival 2017 (Dusk) to get your hands on these offers from two of our very talented writers:

Pledge £20 or more for a Haiku critique

Arachne author Lee Nash is offering to critique up to 5 Haiku

Pledge £50 or more for a Fiction Critique from Katy Darby

Katy Darby is co-editor of our Three ‘Lies’ books and runs Live Lit event Liars’ League. She is also a novelist published by Penguin, writing teacher at City, former editor of Litro short story magazine and judge of this year’s Cambridge Short Story Prize.
She will give you a professional critique of your fiction at £50 for 5000 words – (Electronic delivery ONLY, please don’t send paper) so if you want her to critique something longer, pledge more times! OPTION: personal face-to-face critique (30 min) in London for an extra £25 as an add-on: you can pledge more than the £50 through the site, just let us know that’s what you want.

 

Bespoke story from David Mathews – DUSK Crowd Fund Reward

Pledge £60 or more in our crowd fund to raise cash for DUSK and receive a bespoke story from David Mathews

David

Here’s the deal – commission David to write something tailored for a friend or a loved one for, say, a Christmas pressie? 1000 words. David needs three weeks’ notice. One week to write and two to edit, with your input if you want it. Copyright stays with David, but you can distribute widely.
David has been published by us several times, and was one of the winners of the 1st Solstice Shorts competition, with his brilliantly funny Wednesday Afternoons.

There are only 2 of these on offer, get them while they are available!