agents, Bookoutre, books, Brexit, Fifteen Minutes, publishing, Sarah Rayner, short story collections, The Man Booker Prize, The Manchester Fiction Prize, The Manchester Writing School, Trump, Unbound, Urbane Publishing, Write by the Beach
2016 sucked didn’t it? The EU vote, Jo Cox,Trump, Syria, celebrity deaths, the whole world took a beating. The future, as they say, is uncertain. As we approach the end of the year I’m feeling reflective. At the beginning of 2016, I had completed a collection of short stories about fame (Fifteen Minutes) but had no agent or publisher in sight. I half-heartedly tried a couple of small presses and agents and barely got a reply. Short stories don’t sell, they’re just not popular, blah blah blah. This year’s Man Booker Prize had a book of short stories on it, All That Man Is by David Szalay. It’s a great collection. They pretended it was a novel but it wasn’t, it was even less of a novel than the Pulitzer prize-winning A Visit From The Goon Squad, having only the merest connection in the first and last stories and nowhere else. The stories are about men at various stages of life but that’s a pretty broad theme in my view. In addition to the obvious collection of short stories, six of the thirteen short-listed authors had previously published short story collections. I’m telling you this because in 2016 I was continually frustrated by the lack of credit given to short fiction writers and their books. I’ve ranted about this before so I won’t again, but personally it felt like I was having to jump through a lot more hoops to get an agent to look at my work than most other writers do, simply because of the form I am compelled to work in.
February offered a solution, a friend told me about the crowd-funding publisher Unbound. I submitted my collection and by March it had been selected for publication. You can find out about my crowd-funding journey in previous blog posts, suffice to say it was hard work but it wasn’t as hard as getting an agent to read my manuscript. By the end of June I was fully funded, some of the people pledging support were complete strangers, so short stories can’t that unpopular after all.
I find myself thinking about other achievements. This year I co-directed a writers’ conference with The Beach Hut Writing Academy called Write By The Beach and it was so successful we’re doing it again next year. In fact you can buy early bird tickets now. I’m going to be hosting a panel discussion about alternative publishing methods with Sarah Rayner Unbound, Bookoutre and Urbane Publishing.
The Brighton Prize, of which I am a co-director, doubled its number of entries and opened to flash fiction and international writers.
I vastly cut down on the number of submissions I made, selecting only a handful of writing competitions and was shortlisted in three out of four, achieving my long-held ambition of being included on The Manchester Fiction Prize shortlist.
I had articles published on writing method and crowd-funding tips and even found a home for my story Sourdough which, after being short-listed for The Writers & Artists Yearbook Award, failed to get a publisher for nearly five years.
I applied for two jobs, was interviewed for both, and failed to get the posts. It was very, very close they said. I’m still mentoring writers though, through Creative Future and privately, and this is very, very rewarding.
Fifteen Minutes has been through a professional editing process with Unbound and has now been submitted for a copy edit. Soon I’ll have a cover and then it will be published. I never dreamed I’d be able to say that at the beginning of the year.
I went to America on a family road trip, pre-election, when we thought there might still be a chance that Trump would fail, and managed to visit the places I had planned to put in my next collection (I’m calling it a novel by the way so let’s see what happens).
I’ve done so much personally and yet I feel a bit flat, a bit disappointed. I wonder if it’s because there’s very little financial reward for what I’m doing, and if this makes me feel like it isn’t important? I wonder if it’s because the contempt with which short fiction writers are regarded by the UK publishing industry is getting me down? Or if it’s a more general disconnect from a world that can vote for Brexit and Trump? It feels like I’m tantalisingly close to something that then moves away again. I’ll snap out of it.
My wish for next year is that the form I have chosen to work in gets the credit it deserves and that publishers stop repeating the mantra that short story collections don’t sell and try selling them instead. That and world peace, trains that run on time, an end to this selfish right wing nonsense that seems to have engulfed the world, some gin and a box of chocolates – it’s not much to ask, is it? Happy Christmas everyone!
Amanda Palmer, BBC Radio Sussex, Brighton, City Reads, crowdfunding, digital publishing, James Ellis, literature, Lonny Pop, Pierre Hollins, Rachael de Moravia, Rattle Tales, Sarah Gorrell, short stories, spoken word, Stephanie Lam, Stephen McGowan, TED, The Brighton Prize, The Nightingale Room, Unbound, writers
I am half way through! And it’s not been easy I can tell you. I feel like I’ve had to coax each pledge into being. My short story collection In The Future Everyone Will Be World Famous For Fifteen Minutes is so close to 30% funded. Obviously, I need a lot more pledges to reach 100% in the next 6 weeks. I am banking on momentum. Word of mouth, people wearing down in the face of constant bombarment. I would hate me right now if I wasn’t me. Once again thank you to everyone who has already pledged; I am in awe of you because you are making this book seem possible and when it is funded you will have helped create something new.
I have just started on an all out email campaign. Emailing everyone I know either directly or through Facebook. It’s a bit soul destroying. I can’t shake the feeling that I am begging but my friend and fellow writer Stephanie Lam directed me to Amanda Palmer’s TED Talk on crowdfunding (The Art of Asking) and that made me feel a whole lot better. I’m not begging, I am offering people the opportunity to co-create a book that wouldn’t otherwise exist, to be a part of the art.
It’s interesting who pledges and who doesn’t. It’s not what you expect. People you haven’t seen for years reply immediately and say they’ve pledged and ask how you are. People you’d expect to be onboard from the off flat out tell you it’s not their thing. I wonder if the digital aspect is putting some people off. The book will initially be available in digital format only. This isn’t to say you need an e-reader to read it, when the book is published you will get a copy emailed to download onto whatever, laptop, PC or phone you prefer. There will be paper copies I am told, for events and signings and if the book gets enough pledgers it might even get a full press – but that is a long way off. Right now I need to meet my target of 253 more pledges.
One thing which hasn’t surprised me is the community around the Unbound crowdfunding process. There is a Facebook group for shell-shocked Unbound authors to swap tips and give each other encouragement. Most authors are lovely supportive people – and I’ve met a lot of them in the last ten years! I put a post up about doing an event in Brighton and several writers replied and after a few email exchanges it’s going ahead in Brighton on the 18th April. If you are in the area please come along – entry is free. So is the venue, thanks to a tip from City Read’s Sarah Hutchings I managed to book the wonderful Nightingale Room in side the Grand Central Pub right next door to Brighton Station. Unbound authors James Ellis, Stephen McGowan, Rachael de Moravia, Pierre Hollins and me will be reading from our books. My fellow Rattle Taler Lonny Pop will be hosting and there may even be someone from Unbound editorial to answer questions about crowdfunding. I will be on BBC Radio Sussex tonight at 5.50 to talk about The Brighton Prize but always on the look out for new supporters I will be mentioning this event too!
Araminta Hall, Bridget Whelan, Brighton, Catherine Quinn, competitions, Cornerstones Literary Agency New Writing South, David Headley, Emlyn Rees, Jo Rees, Kate Harrision, Laura Wilkinson, literature, Lizzie Enfield, Myriad Editions Julia Crouch, publishers, Rattle Tales, Rilke, Sharon Bowers, short stories, Simon Toyne, Simon Trewin, Small Batch, spoken word, starlings, Sue Teddern, The Angel House, The Beach Hut Writing Academy, The Short review, William Shaw, Write by the Beach, writing
And now we welcome the New Year. Full of things that have never been.
Rainer Maria Rilke
Isn’t that a glorious quote for the new year? January is a difficult month, everyone is full of lethargy and Christmas excess. This year it seems like all our heroes are dying. The weather is awful. The nights are long and dark. It’s hard to get motivated. For a writer it can be the most depressing time of year. I have often found it hard to get started. If I haven’t written for a couple of weeks, getting back into stride can feel like climbing a mountain. It’s all a matter of perspective of course, as Rilke’s quote illustrates. This year I am determined to see the new year not in terms of the past but in terms of what’s to come.
Rilke was himself was a wanderer, a traveller of no fixed location, he sought lovers and patronage and never truly settled. He moved from one possibilty to another, across Europe into the Middle East and Russia, back to Paris and then, fatefully,Switzerland where he died at 51 of leukemia. A short and packed life of longing and regret that produced breathtaking poetry. Read some.
This year my resolution isn’t to lose weight or drink less! I probably will, but under no pressure to do so, 2016 will instead be a year of action. I have plans. I have words to write and opportunities to exploit. I have a fully finished short story collection and a half finished novel. This year I will find an agent and a publisher and move things on and if I don’t find either I will move things on anyway. There is always a way. There are always things that have never been.
The first Rattle Tales show of 2016 takes place on Feb 16th at The Brunswick in Hove. We had an amazing response to our call for submissions and we are reading through them all now to come up with a programme as varied, entertaining and thought provoking as all our shows. Do come along and see what we are all about.
I am involved in two very exciting projects this year. Firstly, The Brighton Prize (of which I am a co-director) enters its third year and we are in a position to expand. The competition will go international for the first time and we are adding categories for flash fiction and local writers. I will have more information on this very soon but we recently asked for volunteers to help us develop the prize, and Rattle Tales in general, and were literally overwhelmed by the response. I’m really looking forward to the group taking this project forward and to working with new, talented and enthusiastic people.
I am also involved in The Beach Hut Writing Academy, a new writing school established by professional writers in Brighton. I did my first course for them last year, co-teaching on short story practice with Bridget Whelan, and it was a very enjoyable success. The new courses begin on Jan 21st with a Fiction Writing course run by best-selling author Aramanita Hall and then a TV and Radio course taught by Sue Teddern and Hannah Vincent. Our most ambitious plan for early 2016 is a writers conference in Brighton on March 12th. Write by the Sea will feature, best-selling authors, publishers and agents taking part in panel discussions, workshops and one to one pitches, all at the beautiful sea front venue The Angel House. We have agents Simon Trewin, David Headley and Sharon Bowers, Cornerstones Literary Agency, local publishers Myriad Editions, The Writer’s Guild of Great Britain, authors Simon Toyne, Julia Crouch, Lizzie Enfield, Laura Wilkinson, Araminta Hall, Catherine Quinn, Kate Harrison, Sarah Rayner, Sue Teddern, Bridget Whelan, Jo and Emlyn Rees, William Shaw and me. There will also be one to ones where you can pitch or discuss your current project. The full programme is available on our website and the early bird rate is in place until Jan 24th.
Before I had a publisher for Starlings I attended a similar event at The Jubilee Library run by New Writing South. I met other writers, agents and publishers and came away with a wealth of advice and contacts that really helped me get my book published. Rattle Tales is sponsoring a session on Writing A Prize-winning Short Story and so two worlds collide. You’d be crazy to miss it.
Book Slam, Charleston, Cheryl Powell, competitions, control, Grit Lit, literature, Lonny Pop, Lucy Flannery, Peter James, Rattle Tales, reading aloud, short stories, spoken word, TEDx, The Brighton Prize
Last night I did something I’ve never done before. It was the awards show for the 2015 Brighton Prize and I am lucky enough to be one of the Directors. We wanted as many of our ten shortlistees to read as possible, fortunately our winner Lucy Flannery was there to read her prize-winning story, Calm Down Dear, but our two runners up, Tamsin Cottis and Cheryl Palmer couldn’t make it. I offered to read Cheryl’s story Mermaid for her. I loved this story from the first round of reading, it was very striking and original and had a poetic rhythm to it fitting to the title. When I was practising in the afternoon I realised that I hadn’t ever read somebody else’s work to an audience.
I made my stage debut five years ago, when I read at Brighton’s Grit Lit event in December 2010. I was absolutely petrified and on last! Somehow I managed to get through without anyone guessing how nervous I was. I thought that my right leg was shaking so much that people must have seen it but nobody mentioned it. What people did do was come up and congratulate me on my reading. Since then, I have read my own work many times, usually in dingy cabaret bars but also in festival tents and university conferences. I am always nervous but it does depend on what I’m reading. If a story is very personal to me I will be terrified, if I have any doubts about what I’m reading my hands will tremble and my mouth will dry. Sometimes, when I know it’s good, when people I trust have told me it’s my best, I will be more in control.
On Friday I went to the TEDx talks at The Brighton Dome. The theme this year was Losing Control. All the speeches addressed the relinquishing of control as a positive experience, the act of venturing out of our comfort zones making us better humans, more open, able to live up to our true potential. These talks made me think of my own experience reading my writing to an audience. At one point my nerves were so bad that I had a form of hypnosis to try and tackle the root cause. It worked, up to a point, but I always have a little bit of stage fright, I always stumble a bit over my words or suffer from shaky hand syndrome. Last night was the exception. I think because the words weren’t mine I could read without fear. I didn’t feel nervous at all. It was probably my best reading. Now comes the tricky bit. It’s okay to be a bit nervous but I would like not to be. I would like to be able to read my own stories the way I read Cheryl’s. To be in control. Then again, perhaps losing control makes me a more emotional reader and helps get the message across with more impact. Whichever it is, I know that if I want to be a writer I have to keep on doing public readings, it’s part of the game, and if you want to be a writer you will need to do them too. So, deep breath, let yourself go.
The winner of the Brighton Prize 2015, Lucy Flannery, with our host Lonny Pop. The shortlist and details of the prize are on our website www.brightonprize.com