The Wolf at the Door is on Flashes in the Dark from today

If you’ve come to this post from Flashes in the Dark, welcome! Thank you for visiting and I hope you enjoyed the story. (For those of you who came from somewhere else: I have a story – The Wolf at the Door – on Flashes in the Dark, an online horror flash fiction site, today.)

There are a few more stories on this website, shorts that I wrote last year:

Leave a comment and let me know what you think.

Later this year, you can also read me in New Writing Scotland 30 where I have a story, Foundling, about a woman who finds a lost little girl on her way to work on morning.

If you’re in Edinburgh, UK, or nearby, you can occasionally see me read at Illicit Ink and at other events. You can find out more about where I’ll be on the Events page. (Check out Edinburgh City of Literature if you’re interested in readings and other literary events. There are always things on.)

Acceptance #2

On Saturday, I had a second acceptance. This wasn’t for a paying market, but I’m still very pleased. Martin is, in his short form, finally getting published somewhere. On May 25th, The Wolf at the Door, the short version of Liz & Bob that I read at Illicit Ink last year, will appear on Flashes in the Dark. Flashes in the Dark is a flash fiction site that serves up a daily morsel of horror.

I’m pleased that someone liked my story enough to share it with their readers but I’m also pleased that I found out just in time to add it to my list of publications before submitting a story for Story Shop.

Story Shop is part of the plan. I’m hoping (fingers crossed, wood knocked on, superstitions engaged) that they’ll take my story so I get to read at Edinburgh International Book Festival. It would be the coolest thing ever.

Status update: I’ve made friends with the plan. Almost.

A couple of months ago I took my plan for the year public to goad myself into sticking to it. It’s time to reflect and see how I’m progressing against my goals.

  • Send out one new story per month: behind by two stories. I’m not going to catch up this month but I want to be behind by only one story by next month.
  • Send each story out at least five times before retiring: in progress (am circulating Neon Tetra Suicides, Space Carrot, L.V.I.S. and the flash version of Liz & Bob). It’s been suggested that sending them out five times isn’t enough so some of them might go out a few more times.
  • Start plotting novel: I’ve started and am making progress. I’ll publish some of my scrawls later for the fun of it.
  • Start writing novel: planned for June.
  • Apply to Story Shop: looking dicey since I haven’t managed to get published yet I’m keeping an eye open for the call for stories. Last year it was released in May.
  • Do three spoken performances: I’m upgrading this to four and am two down.

Subject and audience – your audience and your main characters are sometimes very different

Sometimes, reader’s reactions to your stories are surprising. Particularly, I’ve had a couple of experiences when they assume things about my main character or the audience that doesn’t fit with my intentions or thoughts.

  1. The main character is a child, therefore the story must be for children.
    I wrote a story about a young boy who has a very bad time. It wasn’t meant to be a YA story but my readers to date have interpreted it as one. To me, a story isn’t for children just because it’s about them. I’m clearly missing some nuance of tone or subject that makes my stories about children also seem suitable for them. (I’m sending the flash version of Liz & Bob around to some YA publications to see if they agree with that judgement. It will be interesting to see what they say.)
  2. I’m female so my main character must be too.
    Quite a few of my stories are in the first person. I like writing in first person for a couple of reasons. It allows me to use an observational tone and means I don’t have to describe or explain the narrator too much. The first person also makes it easier for me to visualise the feelings and actions of the narrator. The voice puts not just the reader but also me as a writer inside the narrators’ head. Interestingly, this can cause confusion. Sometimes my narrator is male. If I don’t point that out clearly at the beginning of the story, readers assume that the narrator is female. Because I am.

The subject and the audience for fiction is as varied as the stories themselves. Your audience is not always someone like your main character, though. I’ve still to learn how to pitch my voice so that my readers know who the story is for.

Goodbye Martin, it’s time for me to move on

I stayed at my friend’s flat for a few days last summer. (Actually, I stayed a few days in two flats last summer: I have very generous friends.) When I was there, working at a lovely desk in the dining room and enjoying the peace of their oldest son’s bedroom, I had two ideas for stories. They were both based on experiences that I had there. One turned into Neon Tetra Suicides and the other turned into Martin Stays Over. The first of these worked itself out quickly. I wrote it, did a couple of edits and then sent it out. The second one I have had all kinds of problems with.

It’s really a story about being a child and listening to adults having a dinner party. I can’t write that story without something happening, so there’s also some weird stuff. The feedback I’ve had on the story suggests that I got the little boy’s voice right. Really right. I’ve also got the scary action towards the end right. I read that part at Illicit Ink in October, so it has had a lot of work.

The problem is that the two sections don’t fit together.

In the first few drafts, there was too much background before the action. Too much detail and information. When the action came it was completely unexpected and confused some people. There was also no real resolution after the action. It is as if nothing happened yet we know that something did. There were 2,000 words of setup and 1,000 words of action followed by 50 of conclusion. The sections were like blocks of wood, stacked one on the other, not like fibres working together to form a branch.

In the final draft, I swapped sections about so that the action starts on the first line. The setup happens in flashback, as it were, before the big action piece. I also changed a couple of relationships, got rid of a parent, added a slightly unpleasant adult and attempted closure at the end. I tried to stitch it all together into a coherent unit.

Then I sent it out and had it rejected – very graciously – in four days. Voice good, plot and resolution weak.

So what now? I have options.

  1. Send the short story to a flash fiction market.
  2. Send the long story out again, to another market.
  3. Edit the long story again.
  4. Start again.

Option 3 is the only one I refuse to do. I have spent to much time trying to force this story into shape. Writing it from scratch again appeals to me. There’s a freedom in taking what I’ve learned from the feedback I’ve had on this story and applying it to something completely new. But I have other stories that I want to tell too. Spending even more time with Martin takes me away from them.

I need to move on now, walk away, give this one up for dead. Not everything I write will be brilliant. This particular story doesn’t seem to have a point other than that you’re pretty powerless when you’re eight years old. I think I’ve spent more hours trying to make that point than the value of my insight warrants.

The (spoken) word is monster

I’m doing my first spoken word event on Sunday.  You’ll find me reading a special cut of Liz & Bob to an audience at Cabaret Voltaire’s Speakeasy, some time between 20:00 and 22:30. I’m not the only person performing: you’ll also hear stories by Helen Jackson, Alison Summers and others.

The event is organized by Illicit Ink and is themed on Monsters. Rumour has it there will be cookies.

The event is free, the stories are great and you have nothing to lose. Come and listen!


Attending a writer’s club

The Edinburgh Creative Writer’s Club meets every Monday at Spoon Cafe on Nicholson’s Street. It’s a loose association of people organised through Meetup. Attendees have different ages, genres, interests. Each week, some five or six people read something to the grop and get feedback on the piece.

I went yesterday.

I read the piece I’m reading at Illicit Ink, got some interesting feedback, listened to other people read, gave some bland feedback, and went home.

It will take me a while to break in or get comfortable with this group, but comfort will come. My plan is to go every second week (except when it clashes with Book Quiz) and bring something to read most times. But not every time. That appears to be bad form.

It was interesting – and useful – to get feedback from people who do not read or write in your genre: they have a very different perspective and are sometimes unaware of genre conventions. The group is very kind so a level of self-criticism is needed to get to the root of the criticism. Still, I got two great compliments. One chap found a sentence scary, another said the story reminded him of Shirley Jackson. There are all kinds of way I could take that, but I’m going to take it straight-up.