Tag Archives: short stories

Story news

Much to my delight, I have been selected to read at the spring 2021 occurrence of Stroud Short Stories. This short story competition runs twice a year and I have quite a long history with it. This will be my third time reading. Last time I managed to smuggle in a Hopeless Maine story and you can watch that here!

I was involved in putting together an anthology of stories from the event some years ago – an epic task that very happily lead to other people doing a second one some time later. I’ve also judged on the event, alongside John Holland – the man who makes the whole thing go.

There’s a lot to like about Stroud Short Stories – it is free to enter. It picks ten winners who get to read their work to an audience – which is a really excellent thing to get to do. It’s a community project run for love of it, and the audience often has a lot of former winners in it. And probably some future ones as well. It’s something that exists simply to be a good thing, and we could all use more of those.

This year will be a recorded event, so I’ll share the video from that when the time comes. Supporters on Patreon have already read my winning entry – I put it up last month, assuming it probably wouldn’t win and that I should get some sort of use out of it. The story is a bit on the wicked side in that I have managed to make something funny out of combining various personal experiences of sexism. But then, satire is what bards and druids are supposed to do, and I would rather do my politics by making laughable the things I find abhorrent.


Tales of Wrong – a review

There is no earthly way I can write objectively about this book, I have too many feelings about the author and the stories to do anything other than gush.

Tales of Wrong is a collection of creepy and sinister short stories from Professor Elemental (Paul Alborough). There’s humour, whimsy and deeply disturbing things here – my favourite blend.

So, let me tell you about my history with these tales. Quite some years ago I approached the Prof about co-writing, and he was initially cautious, but he sent me a short story he’d written – Confessions Of A Swan Eater – which I loved. I persuaded him to co-author with me and we had a lot of fun doing ‘Letters Between Gentlemen’. During that time frame I also got to see Aunt Fanny’s Horn, and I later saw some of the other stories in their early stages. These stories are in this collection, and it makes me so very happy to finally see them on paper.

It is quite a thing to watch a person go from saying ‘I don’t know if I can write anything other than songs’ to holding in your hands the short story collection they’ve put together. And reading it, and seeing how clever it is – because these stories interconnect and are more than the sum of their parts. It’s a fine collection.

I loved this book. And yes, it is in some ways a hideous misshapen baby grown in a filthy laboratory – you can see that from the cover art I’ve inserted into this post. And yes, it is indeed very wrong – the Punch and Judy story is a definite candidate for the award for most wrong thing I have ever read. But it is also wonderful, and I cannot help but feel that when said hideous baby was in the test tube stage of its unnatural life, a teensy bit of me got in the mix – a strand of hair perhaps, or some highly suspect DNA. And it feels good to have been part of this dastardly process and just a little bit implicated in the results.

You can get copies here – https://professorelemental.com/product/337599

Acts of re-enchantment

Exotic Excursions – Anthony Nanson.

A short story collection that takes us to many locations while at the same time questioning the whole process of ‘white man goes somewhere and feels entitled to comment’. It’s clever stuff, and provocative, and turns a certain kind of colonial writing on its head in some really interesting ways. It’s got a large paranormal element, too. Shades of the X-Files when it comes to what’s ‘out there’ but delivered with far more elegant writing. I very much enjoyed it. Fellow readers who are looking for books where the excitement of genre fiction meets the depth and quality of literary writing should definitely pick up this title.

More about the book here – www.amazon.co.uk/Exotic-Excursions


A Modern Celt – Mabh Savage

A Pagan book looking at modern witchcraft practitioners who identify with Celtic traditions and exploring how that works in a modern context. It’s quite personal writing, rather than being an academic overview of the modern movement, and it’s not covering the Druid side of this at all. It would be a particularly good read for teenage Pagans, especially ones who don’t come from a Pagan background and could do with some ancestors of tradition. There’s lots to chew on, and plenty of good information but nothing likely to lead a person out of their depths. I find writing aimed at teens can often be a bit preachy in tone, but this author is clearly young, and speaking from experience in a way I think other young Pagans would benefit from. It’s not been offered as a book for teens but I very much recommend it as one.

More about the book here –www.moon-books.net/books/modern-celt


Through the Cracks in the Concrete the Wilderness Grows  – Luke Eastwood

I know Luke through his Druidic books, so when he announced a poetry collection I was keen to get a copy. This is a really good collection – definitely one for Druids and green minded folk. There’s a lot of eco-content, a lot of reflection on how people live and treat each other and relate to the world. Some of it is dark and troubled, some if it is really edgy, but ultimately, it’s a positive book. I read it in a single session and it felt like taking a journey from ignorance through learning and despair and round to a better way of seeing things. The writing is direct, accessible and incredibly punchy. You don’t have to know anything in advance of reading this. This isn’t poetry to interpret, it’s something you can let happen to you.

More about the book here – www.lukeeastwood.com/books.htm


Stroud Short Stories, revisited

Stroud Short Stories runs twice a year, picking ten stories to be read at an evening event. Participation is usually limited to Gloucestershire. In the winter of 2014, I was picked to read. In the spring of 2015 I edited an anthology of all previously selected stories. Last autumn I was invited to help with the judging, and I’ve been asked to do that again this spring.

Judging literature is a very subjective process. A small percentage of the submissions don’t work – they don’t make sense in some way, are too unoriginal, or express prejudices that aren’t acceptable. Those are the easy ones to weed out, although I have to admit it’s possible that amongst them are high art, super clever serious literature that I’m not smart enough to get. The flip side of this is that I know the audience who come to hear the stories, and they tend to be more like me, and are not cutting edge literary academics either.

The quest for the best ten is not an easy one. It helps that there’s the ‘reading out’ aspect, because this rules out a percentage of the stories. We judge without knowing the author, so I’m less likely to pick a story that depends on fantastic, theatrical delivery. Most authors are shy, wary of the microphone and many come to the events not having read much (or ever) in public before. The story has to work regardless of delivery. I’ve learned to be wary of vast stretches of dialogue, because not every author can produce two or more clear voices on a stage.

As a reader, first and foremost I want to be surprised. This is true of anything I get my nose into. I want not to know where it was going. I want to encounter thoughts that would never have crossed my mind. I am susceptible to beautiful language, but it has to be in service to the story, and I do not like things that sound clever and poetic but lack for meaning.

In the autumn we were picking to a theme, and having the Eerie Evening (see poster!) to work with, was a useful focus for selection. There’s no theme this spring, and I have no idea how that’s going to go. The competition is now open for submissions, and in the weeks ahead, I’ll be reading, and pondering perhaps something in the region of a hundred short stories, looking for the ten. I hope I can do the process justice.

It helps greatly that I’m not doing this alone. John Holland also judges, and he’s done far more of this than I have. While there’s a fair overlap in our tastes, we think in different ways, and in finding stories that we both think work, we’ve got a good shot (I think) at getting the best ten, at least on paper. How they’ll translate on the night is an unknown quantity. Some stories come alive in whole new ways when read aloud, others don’t have the punch you expected. Nothing is certain, and that’s part of the allure.

If you’re in Gloucestershire and want to give it a go (but don’t tell me!) the details are here – http://www.stroudshortstories.blogspot.co.uk/

Stroud Short Stories

A bit less than a year ago, I ran into Stroud Short Stories competition on Twitter. I decided to have a go, found a 1500 ish word story somewhere at the back of my brain, sent it in and promptly forgot all about it. This is a protective tactic that comes from more years than I care to number sending stories, novels, poetry and articles to contests, magazines, publishers and websites. Like most authors I hear ‘no’, or I hear nothing far more often than it gets me anywhere.

Consequently I was quite surprised to find myself picked as one of the ten readers, reading on a dark night last October. I haven’t done much getting onto stages in recent years – Druid Camp of 2014, when I contributed a single song, was the first time I’d been on a stage singing, in years. I’d done a couple of talks in years previously to that, but had gone from being a confident and regular performer, speaker and ritual leader to being an anxious mess and not at all easy about stages. I’ve got a lot better over the last year, I’ve done a lot more stuff in public and I’ve had some much appreciated support. The Stroud Short Stories evening was a stepping stone on that journey, and it led to all manner of things.

During the competition, organiser John Holland kept saying that there never would be a published version of the selected stories. His version of what followed, and mine are radically different, especially around who talked whom into what and on what terms. The net result was that in January 2015 I started collecting and editing the 70 stories that had been read at previous events, plus the 10 that were read this April. Almost everyone said yes to being included. Over a busy few months I got to know some amazing local authors, a number of whom I’ve gone on to explore other creative possibilities with since. It’s been an epic journey.

There are usually two judges picking the ten stories to be read on the event evenings. When it turned out there could e a vacancy this autumn, John Holland asked me if I might consider doing it. (Give us six months and there will probably be some very different versions of how this happened as well.) I’ve never done anything like this before, so was delighted to say ‘yes’. It’s a wonderful community event, Stroud based, but open to writers in Gloucestershire and South Gloucestershire.

I’m looking forward to it.

The contest is now accepting submissions, full details over at http://stroudshortstories.blogspot.co.uk/

Stroud Short Stories

It all started last year, when a chance encounter on twitter alerted me to the twice yearly event that is Stroud Short Stories competition. In a fit of inspiration, I wrote a piece of the right length, sent it in, and entirely forgot about it. Consequently, I was very surprised some weeks later to find I had been picked as one of the ten authors reading at the event. I hadn’t been on a stage much for years at that point, and was nervous, but it went well and I enjoyed it.

Along the way, John Holland (author and organisational powerhouse who took on running this event last year after Miserable Poet Bill Jones set it up in 2011) kept saying ‘and there won’t be a print version’. I’m perverse. There’s nothing like saying a thing can’t be done to get my interest. And really, a book of short stories? I can edit, I’ve put books together before, I live with a cover artist, how hard could it be?

80 stories and more than 50 authors. I’m nervous about stating an exact number for fear that, like Rollright standing stones and May Hill trees, they will prove uncountable in practice. I started in January, and there was a lunatic mad dash at the end to include the people who read on the 19th. Only three authors declined to participate. One straight ‘no’ and no reason given, but Adam Horovitz declined because he’d worked his into a much longer piece and is doing things with it (how awesome is that?) And one of the chaps who read in October is still looking at placing the story elsewhere. So, the odds are we’ll get him in volume 2 a few years hence. At least one other story became the basis for a novel.

The authors span ages, styles, genres and just about anything else it might occur to you to span in 1500 words. Even distance, because while most have a Gloucestershire connection, some are further afield now. There is genuinely something for everyone, and during the editing process I developed a deep affection for many of the stories and become fond of all the others. It has been a labour of love (which is to say, no one will become financially rich out of this, but other riches have definitely been forthcoming). We launch officially on the 8th of May at the Ale House in Stroud (all being well, I shall be chewing finger nails until books turn up.) There will be some copies to buy on the night, and otherwise, a saunter to www.lulu.com/will provide!

And there’s a lovely post from Debbie Young, here who read on the 19th.

One way or another I’ll be throwing myself at next October’s event, and yes, there will be another anthology a few years hence.

Stroud Short Stories

One of the things about being an author is that you spend a lot of time doing things you know are long shots, and probably won’t amount to anything. Every approach to publishers, agents, magazines, media outlets, competitions, bookshops, festivals and so forth feels that way, and all too often what you send out into the world disappears in silence.

It doesn’t help that the stories about writing are all about the successes, because no one likes to talk about failure, or the streams of setbacks, the frustrations and moments of being so demoralised that you want to quit. No one talks much about the people who quit, either. There’s a lot of it out there.

Obviously some of my long shots have worked – I’ve got books with Moon Books, I’ve had two graphic novels published, there’s the Prof Elemental novel, I write for Sage Woman blog and Pagan Dawn Magazine and podcast stories for nerdbong… and that’s all very visible. What is less obvious from the outside is all the things that don’t work out. For everything that went somewhere, there are dozens that didn’t, submissions and entries that didn’t match the project, events for which no one was interested in me, book signings that were quiet, bookshops that come back and say ‘you’re not commercial enough’ (Nailsworth!) or ‘I don’t like graphic novels’ (Gloucester). It can be bloody frustrating some days.

It’s so easy to build a bubble around a few books and imagine you’re getting somewhere, but in reality for all that I have an array of books to my name, I only usually get things done by banging on people’s doors and asking, and that’s true for any creative person who isn’t a household name. Even those who appear to have made it can find, a few years later that they’re back to banging on doors and passing round hats again.

I’m saying this for context. Much to my amazement, one of the long shots hurled into the wind actually came to something. I entered Stroud Short Story competition a while back. Apparently in all there were some 64 authors submitting 82 stories. My story got through, and I will be reading it on Sunday 26 October at SVA (Stroud Valleys Artspace), John Street, Stroud GL5 2HA. Doors open at 7.30. Prompt start at 8.00. It’s £5. As I’ve done a fair amount of reading for the nerdbong podcast, and have some experience performing as a musician, the reading in public part isn’t as intimidating as it might be.

It’s a first person story, so it means I can really use my voice as an instrument. I wrote it for the contest, aware that the end result *could* be a public reading, and that influenced my approach. First person works better than third if you’re voicing something, it creates immediacy and drama. I’ve listened to a lot of spoken short stories, to storytelling and to radio drama, and it doesn’t work in quite the same way as the written word. I think somewhere after the 26th, I’ll either record it, or put it on here for people to read. It is a dark tale. I’ve been doing a lot of more comic stuff lately, for the podcast and writing with Professor Elemental, so it’s good to change track for a while and do something different.

Here are the readers for the 26th, in (librarians’) alphabetical order by title –

Barry Parry – Andrew Stevenson   (Nailsworth)

Erosion – Michael Amherst   (Tewkesbury)

The Handmaiden – Stephanie Smith   (Broadwell, Forest of Dean)

Imaginary friends – Nimue Brown   (Stroud)

J – Laurence Cotterell   (Cam)

Preparing for winter – Ali Bacon   (Emersons Green, South Glos)

Public transportation – Jo Bousfield   (Stroud)

Signing off – Alice Jolly   (Stroud)

The Tigers’ ball – Joe Eurell   (Cheltenham)

Trog and Kron attempt to re-fuel – Philip Douch   (Stroud)



Novel forms of insanity

During the last few months, I’ve put the current novel to one side, in order to work on writing and recording the secret audio project. There are ten new short stories, and they will be happening in a way you can hear later this year. (More information when it’s happening!) I wrote those in response to a request, with some sense of an intended audience, and a desire to get some of my own eccentricities into the mix. The result seems to involve a lot of very dark humour.

There’s a practical limit to how many things I can do with my brain at a given time. Normal life involves this blog, plus other Pagan content at Patheos.com http://www.patheos.com/blogs/agora/category/columns/druid-thoughts/ and Pagan Square http://witchesandpagans.com/Nimue-s-Wheel/Blogger/Listings/nimue-brown.html. Most days I spend time working as a Press Officer for the Green Party – blogs and press releases, some of them requiring a lot of research. These things normally leave me enough time for some creative work, but if anything else turns up, it doesn’t take long for me to reach capacity. Frequently other things turn up. Books to review, requests for articles, and in the last couple of months, a book in edits as well.

It is undoubtedly easier to write a novel when the only thing you really need to focus on from one day to the next, is the novel. All the thinking time goes on characters, plots, interactions and world building. In an ideal world once you’re in the flow, you stay there, writing through the night if needs be, free to sleep when it fits the call of the muse. In practice, it is not usually like this, and the life of the writer does not actually allow a person to work in a way that most serves the next piece of creativity. Perhaps with a first book you can do this, but once you’re out in the world, or if you have to think about paying the bills, writing is not directed purely by ‘the muse’ but by when you can grab half an hour of thinking space.

Then what happens? Yesterday, the picking up of a novel I had barely thought about, much less worked on in the last six weeks. Trying to remember what I was doing and where I was going, and to find the same voice and the same flow. A half an hour dash of putting words onto the page, hoping they fit with the other words. While I’m doing it, novel writing is a high like no other. It absorbs me entirely, and I pour heart and soul into it. This is not to say that I love it more than other forms of creativity, but that each one is a very different process. Novel writing is a special form of insanity, involving the devotion of lots of time to things that do not exist but need to be plausible. Long conversations with imaginary people about things that did not happen. Deep emotional investment in that which never was and never will be.

That in itself is enough to do odd things to the mind, but then there’s the other process, of going from words written to a book manifest in the world. The need to shift gears, grab a business hat, study contracts, consider marketing, and get out there and sell the work: To an agent, a publisher, and then anyone who might read it. Dealing with the people who do not like it, trying to work out which bits of criticism are valid and which are best ignored. Performing the strange dance that is ticking boxes for commercial success and creating something that does not look as though it was made simply to tick all the boxes.

When I am writing, all else is forgotten. When I surface, all kinds of other things creep in. The doubts and questions. What is the point of all this? What good does it do? Is it merely delusion and self-indulgence? When you’ve just spent an hour talking to pretend people, it is not difficult to imagine that the idea of putting a book into the world is just as make-believe.

I know how much richer my life is for there being fiction in it. I have loved novels ever since I was capable of reading them. I have valued those other lives and imaginary worlds that other people’s writing has allowed me to enter. I’ve also seen how the joy of creating catches other people, and the effects of dealing with the non-writing side of the process too. Write, and go a bit mad, with the industry, the economics of it, the juggling. Do not write, and also go mad, with the not writing. If there’s a way round either, I have yet to find it.