Autumn has arrived. Last week was all sweltering heat and last minute camping trips then the storms came and swept summer away in a flash. The sun is still shining but there’s a morning chill on the school run and I have plans to make blackberry jam! I love autumn; it’s my favourite time of year. My friend Sara Crowley (sara crowley.com) posted on Facebook that the first week in September is the start of a new year; it has a new pencil case smell. I have to agree and it also means it’s nearly Halloween, which is my favourite day of the year, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
What did my summer bring? One thing I can tell you is that I only wrote 300 words in the whole season. All intentions of finishing my short story collection vanished in a haze of French sunshine and days on Brighton beach, followed by frantic preparations for my oldest starting secondary school. From Latitude Festival (which for me marks the start of summer) to September 4th I wrote practically nothing. But, aren’t writers supposed to write every day? Isn’t it a compulsion that can’t be denied? Obviously not for me. I have to admit I was quite surprised. I have written something (anything!) almost every day for a number of years. However, I didn’t start writing seriously until I was thirty-nine so I suppose I haven’t followed convention to begin with. To all those people who think you have to start when you are a tortured teen and build from there I say – Pah! (sticks tongue out and blows seasonal raspberry). It’s never too late to start; if you feel compelled just have a go. Granted, there is a lot of bad middle-aged writing out there but there’s a lot of terrible writing by people under thirty too. Good is good. And bad is bad. If you want to start writing in the autumn of your life there’s nothing to stop you, you could have fifty years of work ahead of you (think Diana Athill, Frank McCourt, Richard Adams hell, Bram Stoker was fifty when he wrote Dracula). Plus you have all those years of wisdom behind you to try and sense of it all. Autumn see, it’s a wonderful time.
Anyway, after eight weeks away from writing I have been unstoppable. Inspired by my son starting big school I started on a short story based on dramatic events at my secondary school in the 1980s. I have written 10,000 words in five days. This short story is no such thing, it is a novel, the novel I have been looking for since Starlings flew from my imagination in a little under nine months. I have characters and plots and a beginning, middle and end and no dirty great road block saying stop.
There’s so much happening elsewhere this autumn too. Brighton Digital Festival is underway. The spoken word group I’m involved with, Rattle Tales, joined in by putting on a show of global consequences. Unfortunately, I couldn’t attend but it sounded amazing. Members of Rattle Tales, the audience at The Latest Music Bar and writers on Skype created a story live from a skeleton of pre-prepared words, themes and actions. There was a lot of shouting and then there was a story! The results will be posted on the Rattle Tales website later this week. Well done to Alice Cunninghame who organised and led the event.
On September 27th, Rattle Tales is helping out with the Short Story Slam at the Small Wonder Festival in Charleston. One of our founders, Lonny Pop, is hosting and members of the group with be setting the tone by reading three-minute shorts on the theme The Shovel. Believe me you want to go to this one if you can. Lonny is a brilliant host; her motto is ‘never yawn!’ There will be no chance of that , when Rattle Tales have finished it’s over to the audience; names pulled from a hat and then three minutes to delight the judges and the chance to win £100. Click here for tickets. There will be another Rattle Tales show next month, keep checking the website for details www.rattletales.org.
The thing I’m looking forward to most in the next few weeks is The Bristol Short Story Prize on Oct 19th. I am utterly thrilled to have made the short-list this year. All year, what I have considered to be my best work, has been rejected by EVERYONE, not even a sniff, no long-lists, no publications, barely even a reply until the Bristol long-list was published in July and my story What Me & Pa Saw In The Meadow was on it! Then came the email telling me I was short-listed and would be included in the anthology. I have several Bristol Prize anthologies and I think the standard and originality of the stories is incredible so I am awed to be included. I am really glad that someone enjoyed reading my story as much as I enjoyed writing it. You will be able to buy a copy on their website.
I leave you with a link to Ode to Autumn by Keats because it’s lovely. I was trying to find a version brilliantly read by a woman (because I’m sure there are some out there and you rarely get to hear one) but I want to get back to my writing and, in my humble opinion, Ben Wishaw reads it as well as it can be read.