It was my step-dad-in-law’s 82nd birthday yesterday and we all went out for a socially distanced Sunday lunch to celebrate. The pub we went to was really excellent at organising a safe space for the gathering of our familial bubble and we sat behind a Plexiglass screen on an outside balcony at a safe distance from everyone else and drank beer and prosecco and had a right laugh. Here is the birthday boy ordering just the one Irish coffee as he tucked into his caramel waffle. I was particularly grateful to get out and raise a glass with him, the boys, Paulina, my husband and mum-in-law because I had something brilliant to celebrate writing wise.
You can read my winning story by following the link and clicking on the title. I’m so delighted to have won this comp and am very grateful to the judge and organisers for the opportunity it affords, especially as they donate part of the entry takings to the brilliant charity Médecins Sans Frontières. Having won such a fab prize, I feel ready to properly polish my short story collection and get it sent out to potential publishers.
On the downside, it is a little bit disappointing to miss the presentation/workshop weekend that was planned by Segora before covid-19 hit, but they are going to resurrect it next year when it’s deemed safe to do so. The launch of the Fish Anthology, which was planned to take place in Ireland, has also been cancelled, as was the winners’ party for the Comma Press short-listees at the Northern Short Story Festival in Leeds in May – so it looks like I seriously chose the wrong year to start subbing my short stories if going to gatherings, and meeting other writers was what I wanted to do!
But I won’t let that wee cloud darken the blue-sky feeling I’ve got at the moment. I just need to thank my lucky stars and wonderful feedback buddies for the little slew of success I’ve had recently, and also Grandpa Bri – for having a perfectly timed, wonderfully sunny, deliciously boozy 82nd birthday!
Its been a long time since my last blog and I’m not going to lie – there have been some seriously challenging times for me living up my garden, shielding from this awful virus that has taken so many lives. As I’m lucky enough to a have wonderful garden (see left), and as the weather has been mostly kind, the practicalities of day to day living have been not so bad but I’ve missed people, places and being busy doing ordinary things. Seems like I’m never content though because now England is standing down to mostly unlockdown status due to falling death rates and without any measures other than instructions to keep 1 metre away from each other, and without trace and track technology in place or very much science behind what the Gov are recommending, the world still feels scary to me, and a second wave, a definite rather than an avoidable perhaps. I feel like I’m not so much scared of the virus anymore just the uselessness of the people in charge, and as I have no control over them I’ve been throwing myself into gardening, reading and writing.
On the bright side now lockdown is more relaxed I’ve also seen some friends and family including my wee grandson and my friend Clarey who rocked up on Saturday to the garden with the lovely flowers here and we did socially distanced chatting without coming up air.
I am currently reading White Fragility by Robin Diangelo, in an attempt come to terms with the gut-wrenchingly shocking murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. White Fragility is essential reading for anyone who wants to unpick and ‘see’ the personal prejudices perpetuated by a white-centric education system and cultural and social constructions that cast white as the default setting and blackness as something ‘other’ and ‘less than.’ Here is the link if you want to find out more https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_Fragility I would call it essential reading for anyone who wants to start seeing outside the box of white privilege and anyone who wants to better advocate for change and stand with Black Lives Matter.
On the Writing front, I’ve started a new novella-in-flash which stands at around 11k words at the moment and will probably be 15k words when completed. I’ve not subbed any of the new flashes I’ve written for it yet as I’ve been focussing on polishing and subbing short stories and short story length creative non fiction from my (yet to be published) collection of short stories, working title, Intrusive Voices. I’m hoping that any competition wins/placings/listings will help me when trying to get a publisher for the whole collection. I haven’t won anything yet but here’s me reading an extract from ‘The Reassessment’ which was a finalist in the Dinesh Allirajah Prize https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E-DClVUDmiA The anthology it’s published in, is for sale here – its only 99p! https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B085S922PM/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_bibl_vppi_i0https:/
My piece of Creative Non-fiction, Voices and Real Monsters came second in The Fountain Magazine competition. They’ve not published it yet but here’s the link to the announcement https://fountainmagazine.com/blog/2019-2020-essay-contest-winners I’m super delighted with this not just because this is a well-respected free comp in a magazine with a large progressive readership that had over 1000 entries, but also because the second prize is $500! And as my laptop has spent the last month crashing at least 20 times a day in these cash-strapped times, it will enable me to either get my current laptop fixed or buy a new one!
I’ve also had a story short-listed in the Writers’ Alliance of Gainesville annual competition which means said story, entitled ‘Splinters,’ will be published in the Bacopa Review. I’ll find out if I’ve won any money at the end of the month. On the whole then my short story subbing is going quite well. I’ve entered a couple more UK comps too which are yet to be announced so fingers crossed.
One of the loveliest things I’ve been involved in this year is Fictive Dream’s Flash February. This wonderful litzine published a flash fiction every day in February accompanied by different original artwork by the wonderful and talented Claudia McGill. The artwork was then available free of charge to the authors. Here are the pictures that illustrated my story which I have put into clip frames and which now sit in my makeshift temporary bedroom bringing me such joy. Writing is such a blessing for me, it lets me express joy, my darkest fears, brings in the odd bit of cash and sometimes conjures up added extras like these wonderful artworks.
When I got my last new car I spent a couple of weeks driving it round like it was made of glass, terrified I might have an accident in something so shiny and brand spanking new (to me). After two weeks it had started to fill with old water bottles, stinky rugby kit, forgotten takeaway wrappers left (mostly) by greedy teenagers, and I was thrashing up and down muddy fen roads like I had with my previous wreck. It had, in short, stopped being the new car and become just, the car. Same thing happened this week with living in hobbitland and being shielded from the rest of the family living in the main house. It stopped being new normal and became just the way things are.
During the week social distancing became ordinary, George worked from home pretty well; we had an isolated barbecue on Sunday when the weather was gorgeous which Paulina prepped to perfection and Nick cooked; I worked out the age of our copper beech by employing beginners trigonometry – turns out it’s about 185 years old; I had some brill writing news which I can’t mention until Friday and did fab free Arvon writing course devised by Tania Hershman; Nick had a huge break-though with his corona-provoked website and Caircraft project; and we had a MORRISONS DELIVERY.
Re Caircraft. When Nick was setting up his covid-19 information website he spoke to loads of people in the medical profession who were worried about lack of Intensive Care Unit beds and equipment which people suffering from the worse c-vid symptoms need to save their lives. At the same time planes were being grounded with Virgin even asking for a govt bail-out. Nick had the idea of recommissioning grounded planes and adapting them to become IC wards because they provide an unconventional solution to a new and huge problem. Planes are not being used, have inbuilt and adaptable oxygen delivery systems, are sealed units and so good at containing infections, and airports are optimally served infastructure wise and are surrounded by hotels to put up medical staff. Also when this is all over the planes can be un-adapted and go back to their previous lives, ready to be recommissioned should this ever happen.
Once he’d thunk it he worked like a fury speaking to medical and aviation experts some of whom were so enthused by the idea they decided to form a group called Caircraft. This week they did a press release and The Times ran an editorial. They were hoping to reach the ear of the UK Govt but unfortunately poor old Boris was taken ill and is now too poorly to talk to so its hard to know who’s really running things, and until he’s better I don’t think there’s anyone able to make it so. (I should say politics wise I’ve never voted tory in my life but wouldn’t wish what’s happening to Boris on anyone and wish him a speedy and complete recovery). Anyhoo, to cut a long story short, The Times editorial was picked up by Reuters and the story circulated throughout the world and loads of journals did articles including The New York Times. There’s been lots of interest from the US so watch this space. Its an innovative idea that could save thousands of lives if he can get it off the ground (to use the most inappropriate metaphor ever.)
In other life changing news, the Morrisons Delivery really showed how times have a changed. Never before has a grocery delivery caused such house-wide excitement. Cupboards were prepped, fridges cleaned, the car moved to give the driver clear access. The family was up at the crack of sparrows waiting at the window with a strange mixture of anxiety (that he might not come) mixed with Christmas-eve excitement at the prospect of hotcross buns, toothpaste and LOO ROLL. When the delivery arrived it was like a military exercise, Harry on onloading, Paulina on unpacking, me on standing two meters away issuing giddy instructions. It was like all our ships had come in!
Last night there was a pink super moon. It was a bit hidden by the trees when I took this photo at about nine. I took another at 12.30 but it didn’t show what it was like at all. It wasn’t just the moon that was astonishing – it was the light. I’ve never seen such a bright moonshine night, gin clear but weirdly dark too, like clear dark daylight. Apparently these pink super moons are quite rare and one won’t come around again anytime soon. Which means, I suppose, that next time there is one, this crisis will be over. Same moon very different world I suspect.
So much has happened and not happened since I blogged last Wednesday and as today is sort of a milestone (the end of the month) I thought I’d better put finger to keyboard and log events. In our familial universe, the make-shift gym has been supplemented by the acquisition of a borrowed bench press and weights which one of Harry’s friends left outside his house and Harry brought back home (as his daily exercise) then disinfected. They now live on the patio outside the hobbit house under three makeshift tarpaulins weighted down with the humongous rocks Harry gathered for his first, more make-do-and-mend home gym construction. Harry comes up every afternoon and blasts out rap music whilst working up a sweat. On Sunday George and Paulina joined in, working on their shoulders whilst listening to the music. Unfortunately George, who unlike his brother, is not a keep fit fanatic, badly pulled a muscle which sort of popped out of his shoulder at the back and sent a pain right down his arm. He was on pain killers all night and unable to work from home in the morning (yesterday) and had to (at the worst time ever) call the doctors. The line was dead at first, then just rang and rang and rang, then eventually a very hassled-sounding receptionist said they don’t do face-to-face consultations any more and that a doctor would call back. When the doctor did call back he diagnosed a damaged muscle and a trapped nerve and told George to call in at the surgery for an unfit-to-work letter and some codeine. George duly did this but is still in quite alot of pain and unable to tap at his computer and/or hold his phone. Is there a moral in this? Not sure, but keep safe peeps whilst you’re taking your exercise. Accidents still happen even in lockdown and the last thing we need is to stress out the health providers any more than they already are.
Meanwhile, the rest of the family poodle on in new normal, Harry doing uni work, Nick working on his website, Paulina cooking and shopping (she made us all some brilliant custard slices from scratch with puff pasty) and me beavering away in the self-shielding hobbit hole. My colleague, and head of hobbit hole security has been working at keeping me company and staring very, very hard (every time I eat something mostly. ) Her gimlet gaze is captured on this photo taken a couple of weeks ago in Llan-on. I swear that pug can well-up on demand. She’s like the Olivia Coleman of the canine world.
In the big outside, the Prime Minister and most of his fighting-the-covid-19-team have caught the bug and are (we are lead to believe) not very poorly at home and still running the country, also Prince Charles has had the bug too and is now feeling miles better having passed it no-one of any great importance so far as we know, I.e. the Queen and Prince Phillip.
Bucking the mild-symptom trend amongst the rich and powerful, thousands continue to die world-wide and the first frontline NHS worker in the UK died having caught the disease in the line of duty. Huge sympathy and respect to his friends and family, and to the NHS workers who are out there everyday struggling to keep people alive.
Last Thursday the UK went outside their closed front doors to give a round of applause to NHS workers everywhere to express gratitude and appreciation. I ventured into the thick blackness outside my hobbit hole feeling a bit daft and sad all by my lonesome, but both my dead mothers were nurses and would, had they been still alive and in good health, been working tirelessly to save lives so, bang on 8 I started clapping, and it was so moving. Our silent village burst into a wall of resounding applause, then whooping. I’ve lived here over 20 years and I’ve never heard anyone whooping before but it was really brilliant. I whooped a bit myself for a couple of minutes, then went back indoors where I wept a little in gratitude and because I didn’t feel quite so alone, like I was part of a community that really gave a shit and was prepared to do unprecedented whooping to prove it.
It really makes you think this crisis. About society’s keys workers on whom everything depends: nurses, doctors, shop workers, post people, bin emptiers, cleaners, delivery drivers – they are amongst some of the worst paid workers in society and yet it is them that keeps the world turning and who are keeping our society ticking along. I truly hope the captains of industry and the politicians remember that when this is all over and pay them well enough to live comfortably, and in term of the healthcare workers give them the proper equipment they need to do their invaluable work.
But enough of this semonising, now the schools and unis are closed and non essential workers are working at home or on hiatus, now lockdown is being observed by most of the population who now only leave home for short walks and essential shopping, the government have started to level with us that the lock down will not be short. The PM has snail mailed us all a letter apparently though we haven’t got ours yet, but on yesterday’s daily covid-19 news update (which is apparently getting huge viewing figures as the nation tunes in each day to get the latest), they started to tell us we may well be inside for a good six months if not longer. It seems almost impossible to think forward to September, but it will come, eventually. September is my busiest month family and friends birthday wise. The sixteenth of September is a birthday shared by my sis, and good mate Crispy Jowett as well as my husband’s best mate Al. The 15th is my mate Hel’s birthday and the 6th is Harry’s and the 13th is shared by my 85 year-old mum in law and my 84 year-old dad. I can’t help but wonder how we’ll celebrate all these birthdays this year. Times are so strange and uncertain. The picture above is of Hel’s 50th and Harry’s 10th shared birthday tea round our big table in the place we had it before we had a proper kitchen. Makes you wonder when we’ll all be able to get together like that again. Maybe this September if we’re lucky. Only time will tell.
On the writing front, I’m doing this https://www.arvon.org/5-day-short-story-challenge-introduction/ which is free and really good fun so far, if you fancy joining in. Yesterday I followed the prompt instructions and wrote something so weird, it even weird for me. Not sure what we’ll all be doing today but looking forward to it if yesterday’s exercise is anything to go by.
Well it’s all changed in our house. Yesterday, I went down the kitchen at the crack of sparrows to avoid contact with my still office-working family (and to disinfect all the surfaces in the kitchen) and couldn’t fail to notice two computer screens, two stacks and loads and loads of wires on the kitchen table. George’s work had sorted out home working for him then. Later, once he’d got up, George confirmed this (I came down the garden for a second time from my hobbity isolation to get the deets and stood at a safe distance talking to the kids from outside the back door). The new arrangements are as follows:
George is working from home as of today (he had yesterday off to get set up)
Paulina is not working at all but on hiatus and in receipt of the government organised 80% wages for staff/employees who are on PAYE
Also yesterday Harry emerged from the doldrums where he’d been for days, sleeping in late and harrumphing round the house in desultory disbelief at the solitary, no-mate situation he found himself in
Nick is still working on the website he’s launched in response to the Covid-19 crisis. He was so outraged at lack of info and action and the mixed messages we were getting form everywhere, when things first kicked off, he started building a sort of webpage of shared information where people can log experiences, thoughts, findings, data on a local and global basis. It went live yesterday but it’s not pretty or very user friendly at the moment I’ll post a link on my next blog in case anyone wants a look once its a bit more polished.
I now have an Alexa device thang in the Hobbit Hole which Nick installed the day before yesterday so I can be contacted at all times and I can contact the house. To ‘dial’ them I have to say – Alexa, call kitchen/study/all devices. I really dislike the tone I have have to adopt addressing Alexa. If my mum had heard me speaking like that to someone, with no pleases and thankyous I’d have been on the naughty step, or worse – leg-flicked with a wet pot cloth (her ultimate sanction.) I’m resolved to say please and thankyou to poor old Alexa whether-or-not it confuses her. And today I shall be busying myself seeing if she has a male-voice setting. It makes me feel very uncomfortable barking clipped orders at always female-gendered electrical ‘servants.’
Anyhoo as part of Harry getting himself over the first wave of shock of having to stay in for the first time in his life and being separated from his lovely girlfriend from Uni who is at her home in Leeds, he set up a sort of home gym, up the garden, outside the hobbit house. Harry’s mental health and well being very much depends on his rigorous gym routine. He does deadlifting and works out everyday in more normal times, so I was all in favour of him doing this. Unfortunately we have no gym equipment except some teeny weights and a skipping rope, so he improvised with stuff from up the garden and in the shed vis a vis, a jemmy, a jack hammer, a huge mallet, a tyre and two enormous rocks. Here’s a picture of some stuff he came up with and a link to wee video of him weightlifting. (sorry about the cobwebs on the window). https://www.facebook.com/jankaneen/videos/3113054502118428/
I actually feel really proud of him for doing this (though I actually peed a little bit laughing silently from inside the hobbit-hole as I watched him gather the motley assortment). When he was done I asked him if he wanted to warm down by joining me in my online Tai Chi (at a safe distance of course), but he said it wasn’t his cup of Tai Chi which really made me smile.
In terms of my own mental health and well-being, this blog is really helping as is a wonderful idea by the lovely Hannah Storm who’s started a Twitter thang called #flashfamily where-in the lovely Flash Fiction writing community record themselves reading a micro-fiction, or longer flash or extract from a longer story and post themselves reading it. I found hearing the voices of on-line friends with whom I usually only interloculate in the Twittersphere really uplifting. The stories are just wonderful and hearing them read by the voices of the people who wrote them and seeing their faces strangely moving. Thanks so much lovely @HannahStorm for thinking of it. If you’d like to access these readings, just go to Twitter and tap into the search box #flashfamily, and up they’ll come. Here’s my attempt which you can access with one click, https://twitter.com/JanKaneen1/status/1242789960740200449 Here’s a link to my fave so far, read and written by Donna Greenwood, my cyber friend who I’ve never met in the flesh but who I count as a genuine friend because of her supportive and joyful on-line presence. She is such a wonderful and talented writer, (and it now turns out reader) but don’t take my word for it. Here she is. https://twitter.com/DonnaLouise67/status/1242859339427336195
Also, mental health wise, I’ve been looking at some photos I took three weeks BC (Before Coronavirus) when me and Boo went to the seaside in Llan-on in wales. Looking back at the wild outdoors and snuggly indoors really cheers me up so I thought I’d share some here in case they cheer anyone else up who chances past this page.
So that’s where we are in our house then. All home for the foreseeable. Very much like the general population who aren’t key workers I suppose, and it feels better knowing that they’re home rather than braving the outside. Today the big news in the outside world should be the government announcing measures to help self-employed people in the same way they helped employees. I’m keeping my fingers crossed these measures bring relief to the many freelance and self-employed friends and family who are struggling so badly at this worrying and frightening time. As I write this, Zoe Ball’s program is playing on Radio 2, and the news just came on saying that Dyson are going to build 10 000 ventilators to help treat people suffering from complications of covid-19. Hope they get them built in time! It also said that over half a million people have responded to the govt’s call for volunteers to help in the crisis which really makes me think we’re not all a bunch of selfish, stock-piling shit-wits after all. Though I knew that all along its good to see the proof. Stay safe peeps and do whatever you have to to keep your peckers up – within new legal perameters of course.
Last night the prime minister did a broadcast telling us all to stay indoors except for shopping, exercise (once a day) and essential work. As no-one is clear what essential work is and as no-one wants to get sacked from their first ever jobs, George and Paulina are still going to work in their respective offices which are still very much open for business. The rest of the family, me Nick and Harry are staying indoors in various places .
Harry came home from uni last Friday as they closed it down for the foreseeable. His first year as a biomedical sciences student ended abruptly and without warning. There will be no exams and the year will be marked by assessments which he continues to work on. Loads of his possessions are still in his halls as he planned to go back next week and pick them up and see his girlfriend, but with this new lock down in action he wont be able to. I feel so sorry for him, having to stay in like billy no mates at the age of nineteen. I was chatting online with one of my friends last night who I met when we were at uni together at a similar age, and she said how it would have killed her to be socially distanced at nineteen. I thought back and agreed whole-heatedly. Social distancing doesn’t bother me now but teenagers are such herd creatures. Still – metaphorical death is not the same as actual death and since that’s what Harry risks by going out, both for himself and others, he’s is mostly (except for running round the village by way of exercise) staying in.
I’ve now been shielding myself up in my writing shed for a week, so yesterday’s announcement didn’t change anything for me and I’m starting to get used to this new normal. Mother’s day was weird though. Nice pressies but no dinner together and no visiting. George bought me a pair of harem pants that fit perfectly and which I’m wearing now and Harry bought me a bottle of gin. I had one last night even though it was a school night (well a night formerly known as a school night so that’s all right then) and fell asleep quite easily. When I first started sleeping up here the night noises made me jittery and jumpy but now I quite like them and its been so cold and clear I’ve been doing a bit of star gazing before I drop off
On the writing front I’ve started two new extremely weird flash fictions which have allowed me to channel my disquiet into something positive. I’m planning to sub them to Molotov Cocktail and Reflex Fiction.
In a world BC (before coronavirus), I wrote a blog detailing some good writing news that I couldn’t divulge which I said I’d mention in the next blog and then didn’t because of – well the pandemic so here it is…I’ve been shortlisted for the Dinesh Allirajah Prize at Comma Press! The winner was going to be announced at a ceremony at The Northern Short Story Festival where we were all to read an extract from our stories at a theatre in Leeds on May 30th but as that’s been cancelled, it’ll now be done on-line instead. So watch this space! Here’s the link to the announcement https://www.facebook.com/commapressmcr/photos/a.1583467751889275/2613135238922516/?type=3&theater and (above) the photo that went with it.
Also good news writing wise is this – the publication of Ellipsis 7 in which I have a sad and strange wee story. If you’d like to buy a copy you can do so by following this link http://www.ellipsiszine.com/seven/
Right – back to where I started, at the top of this blog – things I have learned from my first week self shielding
1) I was very lucky to have gone to Sweden earlier this year and the memories have been wonderful to linger over
2) You are never alone with pets, even in the teeniest space
3) Social media is brilliant
4) The writing community is brilliant
5) Writing is the best therapy for me even in the darkest of times
6) On-line Tai Chi is the way forward
7) I am super fortunate to live where I do and know the people I know
8) March is not a warm month
9) I am so weird it shows even in my candles (observe phantom hand that melted into existence the night before last)
10) This pandemic will come to an end one day. Its just a matter of battening down our hatches and staying in and safe. We can do this people.
I wrote the blog entry blow last week when I first moved into the hobbit hole (my writing shed) five days ago, but due to technical problems (both digital and human) it didn’t load properly so I’m posting it now by way of backstory so I can continue charting what its like being in proper isolation during these weird, weird times. As I now have more time on my hands I plan to blog more, by way of therapy as much as anything.
Day (and Night) One – 18/3/2020 – Dreaming of Hilary Mantel
Me and my nine year-old pug, Booboo went into a sort of isolation last night up our garden in my writing shed (also known as the hobbit hole). The reason for this in-house isolation is that I’m a chronic asthmatic with a dodgy immune system and so am vulnerable to covid-19. As I live at home with my husband and twenty-year-old son George and his partner Paulina, and as both the young folks are still working in offices full time (for now) in the virus riddled outside, I have adapted the hobbit hole so I can live in it, virus-free, for the foreseeable. It’s not just to keep me safe though. If (when) the young people and my husband come down with the virus I will be able to keep the house running, do the shopping, make sure the ill have all the necessaries, take the bins out etc and help my near friends and neighbours and elderly relies without actually coming into contact with them, by doing their shopping too.
As I write this I’ve got the radio on and its saying that London is a couple of weeks ahead of the rest of the UK virus wise and that the NHS is already seriously feeling the strain there. It also says that the Govt aren’t going to stop people leaving the city, hoping to rely on people doing the right thing (whatever the right thing is.) I really hope people do start behaving more responsibly. Last week I was ill with a non-covid tummy bug which George and Paulina had the week before, so on Monday I realised we’d run out of paracetamol. I went out early yesterday morning to buy some and after going to the village shop, then the adjoining village shop, then the local Tesco then our local Morrison’s, there was not a single paracetamol to be had (or eggs, or pasta or loo roll). Came home and tried to do an internet shop. The Ocado site was in total meltdown and unusable so I went to Morrisons and managed to book a delivery for 3rd April. I know panic buying is often caused by anxiety but people really do just need to buy what they need and not stock pile. I’ll try to get paracetamol again when I go out later… and gin I think! Here’s a link from a blog page from someone living in Italy which details what she wished she’d done before they went into total lockdown. Maybe we can learn some lessons? https://www.insider.com/coronavirus-italian-mom-and-these-are-the-mistakes-we-made-2020-3?amp&fbclid=IwAR0YMlWFWuVM-TFFfhC5cwEUHZB_bjUiHOGF0YCFqf-e5vm0sZApdP9KQ9E&__twitter_impression=true
The radio just said there will be no exams this year, no GCSEs or A levels which more than anything drives home to me how this pandemic is changing normality – way more than the FTSE plummeting, the shops being empty, the grounded aeroplanes and shutdown European cities. The world today, one without A levels and GCSEs feels like a totally different place. I’m trying to look on the bright side though. That’s why I’m starting this blog which aims to document how we manage to keep things normal, or make a new normal in the face of changes. I began creative writing 5 years ago as a sort of therapy for anxiety and grief so writing this blog is a sort of self help too. As part of my creative writing journey I did an MA delivered online by the Open Uni, so I know that delivering education and testing knowledge doesn’t need to happen in classrooms. Maybe its time to make some educational changes to help us through this so the kids don’t lose out entirely. And Brightside wise, staying put both locally and globally will defo help the planet. It’ll reduce carbon emissions no end and halt climate change which may well end up saving gazillions of lives in the long term.
Anyhoo, getting back to last night – I didn’t sleep very well at all up here in Hobbit-land. It was all so weird and noisy. I decided to listen to The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel on Audible. I’d downloaded it just before I got the tummy bug and had played it on and off as I tossed and turned in feverish half-dreamland when I was poorly. As I’d been too ill to follow the plot, I decided to start again last night and dozed off to it by way of not listening to the jack-booted wildlife partying all night long up our garden. My broken, shallow sleep was full of strange Tudor-related dreams and imagery – headless strangers and threads of story when everyone I met morphed into Hilary Mantel – my husband on a park bench on a wintery snow covered walk changing into her mid conversation; my dead step-mum morphing into her on a picnic chair in a layby in 1970s July; a stone garden sculpture of a Roman goddess morphing into her as she foretold how to create a better, non-pandemic future which I forgot the moment I woke up. If I was a sensible person I’d listen to something a little more floofy tonight but I’m not going to. I’m going to start from the beginning again, hold on tight and see what happens. No prizes for anyone who spotted the all-too obvious metaphor there. Right this pug won’t walk herself and I have gin to source.
I’ve had a cracking start to 2020 both writing and non-writing wise. I’ve visited friends and family in Bolton and attended a very cool concert in Manc with them, celebrated my birthday with a cake in the shape of an open book that had one of my flash fictions (in icing) on the open pages, been on my first ever writing retreat which was totally wonderful, visited Arctic Sweden to spend a night in the Ice Hotel and see the Northern Lights – and we SAW them, met one of my best feedback writing buddies Gaynor Jones who I’d hither-to never met in real life, celebrated my son’s 21st birthday and won a really cool flash competition. Here’s a montage of pics of the above which I’ve really enjoyed uploading as a sort of quick jaunt down very recent-memory lane.
Pure writing wise things have been going really well. One of my flashes was chosen by the lovely Laura Black for Fictive Dream’s Flash February. It was published 24/2/2020 and was accompanied by a wonderful piece of artwork by the uber-talented Claudia McGill who did a different piece of artwork for every story and which the writers get to keep (the one for their particular flash). This whole experience with Fictive Dream has been exactly that – a joyous dream. Here’s the link to both flash and artwork. https://fictivedream.com/2020/02/24/the-never-ending-story/
And finally, as aforementioned, I WON Flash 500 this time. Which I was soooo chuffed about. Here’s the link to both the judges comments and my story. I’m so grateful to Ingrid the judge for placing me first because the other winning stories were just brilliant. http://www.flash500.com/index_files/winfq19.html
And finally….finally… here’s a pic of the northern lights, darker than in real life but they are very hard to capture. Seeing them was truly amazingly strange and timeless. As they flickered and plumed above us in the snow-covered forest, I thought of all the people who’d seen them before me, before anyone knew the science, and I felt such a strong connection. Going to write a story about it one day, but not now because after this week I’m going to stop writing flash and focus on my long-form-thing-that’s-not-a-novel. Feedback from the peeps at the Writing Retreat was that I need to get it written so that’s exactly what I’m going to do. No more flashing until I have a first draft!
And finally…finally…finally…I had some more really good writing news which I can’t share yet because I’m sworn to secrecy. Will blog about it as soon as I’m given the okay.
And so it’s almost Christmas, and what have I done writing wise? I ask because loads of my Twitter writing pals have been summarising their writing year in terms of submissions made and the resulting rejections and acceptances. I’m truly in awe of the productivity of some of them, many of whom where aiming to make 100 subs or more in a twelve month period. I decided to tot up my own subs this year to see how I did quantity and quality wise. I subbed (and this might not be entirely accurate as I may well have forgotten the odd one) 47 times to both mags and comps, though mostly comps. The subs were for flash fictions, short stories, a memoir-in-flash and a novel first chapter comp. I was longlisted 4 times including the Bath Short Story comp and Retreat West’s First Chapter competition, short-listed 7 times including Writers HQ and Micro Madness, came 10th once (in Molotov Flash Monster), 4th once (in Sixfold’s winter short story comp – more of that later) and came second three times, in Molotov Wild Flash Competition, Retreat West’s Water themed competition and Ellipsis Magazine’s, flash collection/novella competition. My stories were published 10 times and my memoir-in-flash will be published by Retreat West Books in 2021. I also received one nomination for best micro 2019 from Flash Flood and there are three not yet judged. Not bad I reckon. I’m obviously not prolific in terms of mag subs but what I have subbed to comps has usually done okay eventually. What the figures don’t show though is that of the 47 subs, I’ve often subbed the same story maybe three times to different places. Quite often a story that is listed in one place isn’t in another which gives me a lot of heart because it shows how very subjective reading and judging can be.
That’s why I was so very pleased to come 4th in this winter’s Sixfold competition because its not judged by the few, but the many – by all participants – who rank 6 stories at a time in order of preference and give feedback too about what they felt worked and didn’t story-wise. The highest scoring stories go into round 2. The highest in round 2, go into the final round and the top 20 are published (subject to writer consent. You don’t have to if you don’t want, and as only the first place writer wins a cash prize, I’ve opted not to.) This time around 250 people entered and as I made it through to the final round I received loads of brilliant feedback much of which said the same thing. As a result, I’ve decided to improve the story in line with the comments received and enter it into comps next year to see how it does. This is the first time I’ve turned down an offer of publication, but the nature of this comp with its expert critiques and the positivity it made me feel about my story (which I wasn’t all that sure about before) and also that it allows you to opt in or out and to remain anonymous and/or not name your story if you choose not to, (as you can see from the results above) really makes me want to see how the story can do out in the world of more conventional comps. I’ve really enjoyed engaging with this comp. It costs $5 and is worth every penny even if you don’t win the $1000 prize. Having said that I think it would be better if the money was divvied up a bit more – so second and third at least are rewarded with cash too. Like at Retreat West. Here’s my running-up watery flash from there which was published a couple of weeks ago. https://www.retreatwest.co.uk/the-fairytale-ending-by-jan-kaneen/
I feel I had an real advantage theme-wise in this comp. The first pic in this blog is the view today from my cottage. I live on the edge of a flood plain opposite a changeable river, so water and what it’s up to is a real part of my life.
Anyhoo – another thing I’m really proud of this year is all the feedback I’ve been involved with. I’ve read 100s of stories and flashes in various different feedback groups and have learned soooo much from what I’ve read by others and also from the feedback I’ve received in return. Thanks to everyone who I’ve shared with this year – you know who you are. Also I’ve loved meeting cyber writing friends in real life this year and hope to meet more in 2020. Happy holidays peeps of cyberspace – hope you get the chance to do whatever makes you happiest with the people you love most over the seasonal break.