Monday, 19 September 2016

A whole day of poetry

Conway Hall
A whole day of poetry. That's what happened on Saturday when I attended the Free Verse Poetry Book Fair at Conway Hall in London. I managed to get there by 11am in time to hear four poets from Seren read. I was particularly moved by Caroline Smith's poems from The Immigration Handbook that I had to go and buy myself a copy.

I had rooted myself to the spot for the next two sessions, the first was a rather coldified Ian Harker high on Lemsip and reading poems from a forthcoming Templar Pamphlet. I felt very sorry for him but he just about managed to read his selection and I enjoyed his poetry. Oversteps Books came next. I was taken by the wonderful words of Janet Loverseed and the humour of Simon Williams poetry, so I had to go and buy their books too. Are you getting the drift of this?!

Here I took a break and threw myself into the main hall where the publishers, poets and networking was going on.....and money passed hands! I was already loaded up with my goody bag, which I'd had a quick glance through while waiting for the next readers in the Brockway Room, and I could see this was the way of things to come. I introduced myself to several people - the lovely people at Paper Swan Press (just bought a book off their website - see I'm still buying...the money almost ran out on the day), Valley Press, HappenStance where I bought Helena Nelson's Down With Poetry, Gatehouse Press and Stonewood Press, who I will come to in a moment.

I headed out the garden over the road in Red Lion Square and bought myself a hot chocolate and a sticky bun (well it was a little chilly and hell to the cholesterol for one day) and sat on a bench eating my home made sandwich before diving into the said bun. I wandered back for another mooch around the main hall and then headed for the Brockway Room for three more sessions of poetry readings. The first one at 2pm were three poets from Burning Eye Books. Emily Harrison's readings knocked me out. I loved her poetry and intend to buy a copy of her book soon. Clinic readers followed but by this time I am sorry to say that I'd hit my low of the afternoon. I'd had a disturbed night with little sleep and I was struggling. I cannot really remember much about it and sadly the same can be said with the three readers from Shearsman Books. I think I may have actually nodded off at one point. Sorry guys, I just couldn't keep my eyes open.

Jade Anouka (sorry mobile has a terrible camera zoom - it has
a nerve to even call itself that!)
I shook myself awake enough to stagger out to the garden again, bought a cup of tea and sat listening to Jade Anouka. I loved her poem Eggs on Toast. Then came Stonewood Press launching Traverse Poetry Trading Cards. I had already been given my rare Walt Whitman card (number 13 of 100 and only available at the fair that day - you cannot buy it folks) as I was one of their supporters in the crowdfunding for this great idea. Apparently my gift is arriving this week - some couplets! Everyone attending the launch was given a free card to choose (take a card, any card) and I got Elizabeth Barrett Browning. The readers were Jacqueline Gabbitas of Stonewood Press and whose idea it was, Kathryn Maris, Anna Robinson, Pippa Hennessy and Wayne Burrows. Each read from two or three cards, one classic poet and one brand new one and a poem of their own.

Think of these cards like Pokemon or Top Trumps. You buy, trade and swap. I bought one set which contained three cards - William Morris, Fawzia Kane and Myra Schneider. Some cards are rare and some mid-rare, others plentiful. It's all quite exciting. There will be trading events and all this reminds me of when my son used to do trading cards. Sadly at 27 he is still chasing Pokemon, but hey, it could be a lot worse.

Jacqueline Gabbitas (Stonewood Press)

The Goody bag

The books I bought
Traverse Poetry Trading Cards
I always treat this fair as my chance to hear new poets and to stock up on poetry until the fair comes around again, There were readings going on later in the pub over the road but I headed home well satisfied with my day.

(Links for other poetry publishers can be found on The Poetry Book Fair website)

I had been putting off booking anything for the Winchester Poetry Festival because of certain things going on in my life, but decided now was the time to see if there was any accommodation left in Winchester for that weekend, bearing in mind that there is a BBC History weekend running at the same time. Everywhere was booked up as thought, but a lady we'd stayed with before suggested the new Premier Inn which is just outside Winchester. We got a room! It will be a bit of walk in but at least I will be there. I haven't yet seen what tickets are left for events, but I have decided that I won't do any workshops this time. I want to relax and listen to poetry readings or poets speaking about their work. In fact reading poetry books and attending readings is what I want to do. I'm not intentionally writing poetry right now. If something comes along that's different. I feel this is an important time to just enjoy poetry. No pressure to write. My husband is coming to Winchester with me, though he doesn't usually attend any readings with me. He has his own agenda. We do things together and apart. I love Winchester anyway. I'm looking forward to seeing my favourite cafe and taking some lovely walks. Maybe I will see some of you there.

Tuesday, 13 September 2016


I am still getting over the shock because I've been shortlisted in the Eyeland Colours Competition (in Greece). My short story will appear in the book to be published at the end of November.

This third success in a month for flash and short fiction makes me wonder whether I'm better at stories than poetry. My poetry has taken a nose dive lately and I'm more reluctant than ever to enter competitions. I think I've decided I just don't write winning poems. I do still write the odd poem and I do intend to submit to magazines but not competitions. I've done a lot of that this year and not a sniff. My real passion is for stories right now. In fact this shortlisted story was adapted from a poem!

Meanwhile, back to poetry - I'm off to The Poetry Book Fair on Saturday and will also be attending the launch of Traverse Poetry Trading Cards at the fair at 4pm. I need to make sure I have plenty of cash and a backpack as I always come home with a nice selection of poetry books.

Saturday, 10 September 2016

Two essential publications for writers

I recently finished reading How (Not) to Get Your Poetry Published by Helena Nelson (HappenStance Press). This was quite an eye opener on to the world of poetry publishing. I wish I'd known all this years ago. I could have saved myself the trouble of submitting to magazines I'd no chance of getting into. It's all about having a track record. Without it you will probably never get a pamphlet published, let alone a collection. If you are starting out in your poetry writing, or have been going a while with no luck, read this book now!

The book covers everything you need to know even asking the question 'why do you write?' Many small press magazines and publishers struggle to get their publications out there (there are more writers than readers of poetry). They often run at a loss and are overwhelmed with submissions. As writers we should do our bit and support them, Find a publication you like and subscribe. At least buy one copy of one or two to see what they are publishing. Would your work fit into it?

Chapters cover the issue of sending poetry to magazines, social media, putting a collection together, approaching publishers and self publishing. Each chapter has a case study and writing exercise. At the back of the book are worksheets. One of the worksheets asks you to name the editor of as many of the listed publications as you can. Er....toughie. I think I knew two, and the list wasn't exhaustive. It brought it home to me how little I knew these presses, though I had been on many of the websites. I had failed in my homework.

While I learnt a lot from this book I found the prospect of getting published in a good literary magazine further away than ever. It seems almost impossible. However, armed with this information I at least know more what to do in my approach. I highly recommend this book. It is essential reading for all poets.

The second book I have been devouring is the  Mslexia Indie Presses 2016/17 - a guide to who is who and what they publish. This wonderful guide is split into three parts - Book Publishers, Literary Magazine and e-zines and Competitions. There are sub divisions like mixed form publication, poetry only and prose only. The book lists contact details, genre, submissions, what the publication says and what Mslexia says (of those they were able to (a) get a response from and/or (b) read a print copy or online copy of their publication).

This is an invaluable guide containing hundreds of publications you could be submitting to. Of course publications come and go. Some have been going for decades, others a few months. By the time you get to look them up one or two may have folded. That's the world of Indie publication.

Today I have been delving into the world of mixed form publication, doing my research. I've sent for a copy of one magazine, signed up to couple of others so I can keep up to date with them. I've found out which ones have their submission window open and which ones are currently closed. This is £12.99 worth spent and will be my constant companion as I look for outlets for my work. If you think you have exhausted the publications available, you haven't. Lay down your cash now. it will be the best investment you have made this year.

Friday, 9 September 2016

Another flashy success

Kind of goes with my flash fiction!
I have been busy at the keyboard tapping out short stories and really enjoying them. I suppose I should do something with them, though I do have a few floating around 'out there'.

After some more setbacks with poetry competitions I had a piece of great new today. The Canadian website 50-Word Stories has published the first piece of flash fiction I have sent them! I am a happy bunny. Do go across and read it.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Quick as a flash I'm on Paragraph Planet

This post is rather late in the day but if you catch it before Wednesday is over you could go over to Paragraph Planet to read my 75 piece flash fiction which is published today. I posted it one evening and got a reply the next day. What a quick turnaround. The piece was actually written at Swanwick Writer's Summer School as a 100 word piece of flash fiction which I entered into their competition and it was shortlisted. Never one to miss out on another opportunity, I re-wrote it without looking at the original. I know I kept some of the lines but I honed it to 75 words to fit the bill and was really pleased with the result. Thankfully, Paragraph Planet was too!

I took a lot from the Flash Fiction course at Swanwick with Veronica Bright, and today I've had a good session of writing. Yesterday I entered a 500 word flash into a competition. This one has been sitting in my computer for at least a year and has been tweaked any amount of times but I couldn't find that killer ending. Then I had a light bulb moment. Let's hope it lights up the judge, if you see what I mean!

Saturday, 13 August 2016

Swanwick 2016 - the friendly writer's conference

So, I'm back from Swanwick Summer School with a notebook full and ideas. As a 'white badger' (first timer or newbie) we got the special treatment. A reception in the main lounge was laid on during late afternoon on the day we arrived. It was a chance to get to know other newbies. Straight away we had something in common as well as writing in common. That evening at dinner we also had our own tables with a Swanwick Ambassador to answer any questions we might have. After that meal we mingled at mealtimes with those who were back for a second or fourteenth time!

Before I get on to the courses I attended, I just like to say that if you have ever thought about going be prepared to:

be amazed
have fun
learn lots
pace yourself
be locked into great conversations with friendly and helpful people
make new friends
take a large notebook
be exhausted
encounter slide splitting laughter during evening entertainment (speakers, Page to Stage and Panto)
dance (if you want to (disco's))
dress up or dress down
admire the beauty of the surroundings
enjoy everything Swanwick has to offer within reason - watch for burnout!

I have to say that at Swanwick I met the friendliest group of people ever encountered at a writer's conference. Everyone is happy to chat. Everyone mucks in. You feel part of it whether you are a published writer or still trying to find you feet. New friends are made and there is lots and lots of laughter. I met up with some 'twitter' people I follow and made new friends. From the opening night speaker to the Panto on the last evening it was wonderful. Such a variety of the courses and options to daily immerse oneself into.

I chose Writing Original Poetry with Alison Chisholm as my special course. This ran for an hour over four mornings. There was homework, a chance to share your work and one group activity. I came away with new ideas for finding new ways into poetry. There was a choice of one-off daily short course and afternoon workshops. The courses I chose were Self Publishing (with the excellent Helen Barbour)  and Hybrid Publishing (Chris Browne) (I wanted to see what the difference was), Flash Fiction (Veronica Bright),The Trickier Side of Fiction,(Sue Moorcroft), Ending and Agents (Erin Kelly) and a course entitled How to Eat an Elephant (Bridget Holding), which dealt with splitting the writing process into chunks as well as offering some writing exercises on how to get rid of negative thoughts and look at the positive feeling of writing.

There were other courses I had considered but one has to make a choice in the end. I heard from others how excellent the other choices were and maybe some of them will be repeated another year.

Tuesday was described as a free day. However, there was always something to do. You could have attended the Procrastination Free Day - a chance to get writing or go along to the Crime Special, which is what I did. I have to sat this was my favourite day. If I never write a crime thriller this day will never be considered a waste. It was informative and fun. In the first session Michael O'Byrne (retired chief constable and writer of Police Practice and Procedure (which I have!)), Simon Hall (BBC crime reporter and writer of the TV Detective Series) and Kate Bendelow (forensics expert with Greater Manchester Police) informed us about fingerprinting, guns (there were replica guns and we were told to go into a shop that sells them and ask to feel the weight!) and much else. In the second session they were joined by Ian Martin (retired detective sergeant) for a Q&A panel. The questions came thick and fast.

Evenings always began with a speaker after the meal and then there were other things going on - a fancy dress disco, a writer's quiz night, Page to Stage (mini sketches written by delegates - drama and comedy), general knowledge quiz, open mic night, buskers night and on the last night the panto, farewell and disco.

If you could drag yourself from your bed in the mornings there were chances to some meditating or a quick writing session and there were 'unwind your mind' sessions in the late afternoons. The grounds offered secluded places to sit and contemplate, write or read, pathways to walk, a chapel and garden with labyrinth, where I spent half an hour or so unwinding and even threw a badly written poem together!

There was a whole afternoon I had free on Tuesday and I took myself off for a walk, firstly into Swanwick village and then explored a public footpath close to the Conference Centre entrance which took me to Butterly Railway (Preserved line) across beautiful fields.

If you did everything you would be shattered very quickly. As a first timer I felt overwhelmed at first and I dropped one session I'd intended to do so I could have some time out. Some people came to write in solitude. Basically, you do what you want and if nothing is what you want then no one is going to tell you off. You don't have to chose what to do until the morning and if what you chose wasn't quite what you expected or it didn't work for you you didn't have to go back. I met people who did one session of one short course and switched to another for the second session because they didn't want to miss out! That's the beauty of Swanwick. It's there for you. You do as much or as little as you want.

By the way, the rooms are nice, everything is included in the price, full board as well as biscuits at morning break and cake at afternoon break. There are even machines that produce hot chocolate and latte etc. You won't go hungry and you won't ever get bored!
The view from my window

My bedroom, a place to write (tea & coffee making facilities included)

I nearly forgot the Book Room. Open twice a day there was a nice selection of books written by delegates and course leaders for you to buy as well as an information room with lots of freebies. Thankfully, I left room in my luggage for books!

I procrastinated over whether to read at the open mic night and was egged on by others to have a go. So, nervously I put my name down and wore a long skirt so no one could see my legs shake as I stood up to read! I'm proud I did it because I know I'd have regretted not having a go otherwise. I even entered the flash fiction competition (100 words) and was shortlisted! That took me by surprise and gave me encouragement in my future writing.

So, have I convinced you? Go and have a look at the programme on the website if you want to know more.
Busker's Night in the Main Lounge (packed to the door)

Page to Stage comedy sketch

On my walk

Butterly Railway

Sometimes a writer just has to chill!
The grounds

Panto night - the chorus and musicians
The Lake
Simon Hall - Panto -  'The Battle of Writer's Block'

Some freebies

The Vinery - a favourite quiet space of mine

Thursday, 21 July 2016

Half-yearly review

I have just been looking back at my goals for this year. Well, we are over half way through the year. Though success rate has been poor, in other respects I have achieved a great deal.

Number one on my list was to submit a novel to an Agent. I've achieved that one. No, I don't have a contract or even a near miss, just rejections, but at least I've started the process.

Second on the list was to write short stories. I thought this would be hard as I've written two extremes....75 words at one end and 80,000 at the other plus the odd 500 worder. However, I have ended up already writing more short stories than poems this year. I'm beginning to enjoy the process and I've started entering them into competitions and magazines.

Find new outlets for my flash fiction. While I have been successful getting published on Paragraph Planet, I wanted to widen my horizons. Again, I have entered a couple of competitions, but there is still much to do here.

The last on the list was about being tough on my poetry editing. While I have done very little in this area I have edited some poetry and written a few new ones. I've even begun submitting again.

I have a lot of work out there, stuff I'm waiting on, but there have been lots of rejections this year so far. However, I'm not going to be despondent because there is another half year to come, well almost.

Next month I am going to Swanwick Summer School for a week. I love the fact that you don't have to commit to workshops when you sign up and can make up your mind on the day! It looks terrific. The programme arrived at the weekend and I've been highlighting things I'd like to do. I'm particularly looking forward to the Crime Special on the Tuesday. I enjoy reading the genre these days, now I've found authors I really like, but to write it I think is the most difficult. I've dabbled in writing a few crime stories, never murder though, I feel I need to learn a lot more about it to make it sound authentic.  The Chairman of Swanwick Writers will be involved in the Crime Special. I bought his book a couple of years ago. Absolutely fascinating to read.

Anyway, I thought I'd mention Swanwick in case there is anyone reading this who is also going. If you are let me know. This will be a first for me and I'm really looking forward to it.