23/3 Self-shielding

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.

So many stories 26/2/2020

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/ 

Also one of my stories was selected for Ellipsis 7 which will be out in print by the end of the month and I came 4th in Flash Frenzy, Molotov Cocktail’s most recent competition. Here’s the link to that story https://themolotovcocktail.com/vol-10/flash-frenzy/eternity-ring/

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 http://www.flash500.com/index_files/fqfp19.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 tnorthern lightshought 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.

 

 

 

Writing Reminiscences December 18th

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.

Thresholds and Samhain 31st October

I was up at the crack of sparrows today to finish off all my preservations for the winter. I’ve done vats of green tomato chutney due to the tomato plants blowing over in the wind last week, then popping their fecund clogs without ripening. I’ve also done vats of quince jelly which is, if I say so myself, the best I’ve  ever made. Not due to my skill, I fear, as I do everything recipes say not to. Never- the-less, perfectly clear, rose-red, tart- but-sweet jelly has resulted. Must be the magic of the day that is Samhain. I’ve also bagged up my rosemary sachets from sheaves of rosemary that I cut from the garden in summer. I bought tincture of rosemary on-line to boost the aroma but when it came to take the little blue petals off the dry stems, the smell was so intense, I didn’t need it. I love the idea of doing this wee job (making lavender bags) on Samhain, the ancient festival of thresholds.  The rosemary seems like an emblem of beginnings and ends and transformations. Once sappy and sunshiny and vibrant blue the day I picked and hung it, now it’s desiccated and more muted colour-wise, but the scent has increased tenfold at least, and it will make lovely presents now I’ve bagged it in teeny pieces of muslin. I’m going to give them as presents to friends and family come the holiday season. There we are present, past and future all in one teeny bag. Here’s photos of the lovely lavender and me with my face in a huge bowl of it. Wish this blog did aroma-vision because it smelt like heaven.

On the writing front, there are couple of my weird/scary/dark stories floating round the ether today. One at Ellipsis called Where Shadow Meets Shade here https://www.ellipsiszine.com/where-shadow-meets-shade-by-jan-kaneen/

and one at Molotov Cocktail’s Flash Monster Edition called Climate Change here https://themolotovcocktail.com/vol-10/flash-monster-2019/climate-change/

Have a read if your feeling Halloweeny. Hope everyone has as spooky a time as makes them happy on this day of fire and darkness.

30th September And so it Continues

The summer’s well and truly over if the weather and chilly couple of nights are anything to go by. Time, I think, to put the craziness of summer in a box marked the past and  start writing again. Its been the best and worst of times this summer – here are some pics of the wonderful things I did, which feel like a lifetime ago since the scary crazy Brexit-driven mayhem that’s been taking place in Westminster over recent weeks. As you can see from the hotchpotch of photos, this summer I have: greeted my new grandchild, cropped my garden veggies and preserved them for the winter,  travelled to Iceland for a jolly, travelled to Gdansk to see family, attended my youngest sons last ever school event, and been gifted a beautiful painting by uber-talented and lovely human being FE Clarke for a wee bit of feedback I gave her after signing my book deal by way of thanking the world for my good fortune.  There was loads more too for which I have no pictorial support: helping my youngest son get off to Uni, my oldest son sell his house whilst he’s making a new home in Poland, learning soooo much stuff from sooo many writers at the Flash Festival  yadder, yadder yadder. I could bang on for (p)ages. But why are you saying all this I hear you cry? What this got to do with anything writerly? My point is that there’s so much to get in the way of writing: people, places, work, the scary, scary world beyond our control, but eventually time and space always come round and there’s time/headspace to get creative.  I love writing. More than love it. Its necessary for my mental health and well-being. So it feels like coming home when I look at the rain lashing the window and the leaves turning all the colours of autumn, and the house newly empty of teenagers because they’ve all tickled off to  new adventures, till Christmas at least, and for the first time in forever I actually have real space and time to put writing into the foreground. It feels like a gift and a privilege to be able to do so…so let the writing re-commence.

PS I was lucky enough to come second in the brilliant Molotov Wild Flash comp last month. Here’s my weirdest story ever if you fancy a read.

https://themolotovcocktail.com/vol-10/wild-flash/ten-green-bottles/

 

9/7/2019 Beginnings and Endings

Well quite a lot has happened since I last blogged:

Harry left school for ever and had his leavers’ ball; I had flash fictions published in FlashBack Fiction and Reflex; I went to the Flash Festival in Bristol for a weekend and had the best time meeting my all-time flash heroes and friends; I signed a publishing contract with Retreat West Books who are going to publish my memoir-in-flash The Naming of Bones in 2021, and I became a grandma for the first time!

Here are links to the published flashes and announcements in case you fancy a read:

https://flashbackfiction.com/index.php/2019/07/01/the-arnolfini-funeral/

https://www.reflexfiction.com/unpunctuated-osmium-flash-fiction-by-jan-kaneen/

https://retreatwestbooks.com/2019/06/26/jan-kaneen-signed-for-innovative-flash-memoir/

I feel June 2019 was a bit of a turning point for me. I started this blog page to chart my journey as a fledgling writer as I practised and submitted and moved forward, learning to learn from rejections, other writers and to develop the craft that is creative writing. My journey has had its ups and downs, and its not always been easy, sometimes the words have flowed, sometimes they’ve got stuck, sometimes I’ve written stories about things that wanted to be written rather than things I was aiming to write. Every now and again I nailed what I was trying to do after loads of advice and editing, once or twice I nailed it, just like that.

Two things I’m most grateful for four years into my writing journey, is a) that I’ve leaned so much about myself which has helped to heal old wounds, and b) I’ve met people who I now count as real and true friends.

I don’t know where life and writing will take me next but I’m so, so glad I started to do this at the ripe old age of 49. It has been life-changing, life-affirming and life-enhancing.

I hope my brand new grandson will be proud of me. Having a published author for a Granny.

 

 

 

 

 

Schools Out for EVER

Today is the day that I’ve at once been dreading and looking forward to for the last thirty four and three quarter  years. Harry finished his A levels on Wednesday and flew to Magaluf last night and as he’s the youngest of our four kids, Nick and me are home alone for a week. This being the case I’m in the hobbit hole writing and it feels really weird not having to dash hither and yon at the drop of a hat. This weekend therefore,  I aim to do some long writing novel wise. Recently I’ve found myself writing many micros as you can zip in and out of them without feeling like you’re being ripped from a different time and place. But before I immerse myself thought I’d do a quick update here.

Last time I wrote about entering democratic comps where people vote for your story. The once I found the most useful was Sixfold. I subbed an experimental short story that was a bit marmite. Of the five votes cast it got 2 top marks, 2 bottom marks and 1 middle mark. The feedback was mostly useful though, so I’ll do it again but with something a bit more mainstream.

In terms of other subs I was shortlisted for Retreat West’s new micro comp, here’s the link https://www.retreatwest.co.uk/june19-micro-shortlist/  I can’t say which is mine as the vote’s still open but there’s still time to vote if you fancy it (closes 24th June). I think its much better having anonymous voting. I entered a comp last month where people vote knowing who wrote what and its a bit more like an on-line popularity contest than about the writing, I reckon.

Here’s a link for Micro Madness in New  Zealand.  The winning submission is published today 22 June 2019 (the shortest day in New Zealand)  https://nationalflash.org/micro-madness/ I’m very pleased to say I made the shortlist of 22 micros, from a record year of entries. My drabble is at 7th June of you fancy a read.

Comp entry wise I’ve also been longlisted for the Bath Short Story competition which I’m dead chuffed about. Its the first time I’ve entered and there were over 1400 entries!

Submissions wise I’ve had a story accepted by Flashback Fiction but I don’t know when they’re going to publish it yet. I’ve also entered their next drabble comp about the moon.

Other comps I’m going enter this month are Molotov prompt Nature, and Retreat West monthly comp, prompt – the wind.

Both entries are written and just need a final polish and which I’m going  send off today before falling back into the novel.

Right better make the most of my childless weekend and crack on. Its going to be sooo weird when Harry goes to Uni – so much writing time.

 

White Rabbits White Rabbits White rabbits 1st May

That’s what we used to say up north on the first day of a new month. When I moved darn sarf I learned the pinch punch thing but oop north it was always about white rabbits. I expect both go back millennia and are something to do with pre-Christian beliefs. Maybe white rabbits were lucky and maybe pinching and punching stopped devils from getting in. Either way traditions are funny things – we do them without thinking very often, without really knowing their origins, like scoffing choccie at Easter or hanging lights up at Christmas, and when we don’t exactly know the reasons why, often we just enjoy the moment instead of asking questions. That’s why on this May Day of new beginnings, I’m going to repurpose this blog. It started when I started doing creative writing five years ago as a sort of personal record of my progress doing courses at the OU and learning how to write (I didn’t actually make it visible until 2016). Now that I’ve been published hither and yon and won some comps and got me masters I think tis maybe time to do something a little less self-centred, so starting this month I’m going to change emphasis a wee bit and blog about things like submissions, applications (for both PhDs and literary jobs) competition entries, courses, talks and giving writerly feedback to other people, in the hope it may provide information, insight and support for others thinking of walking the same path.

But first here is a link to a story that was shortlisted and then published by Writers HQ this month as part of their first ever quarterly competition. Hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed writing it. . https://writershq.co.uk/how-to-keep-the-hunger-at-bay-jan-Kaneen/

VOTES

This month I’ve mostly entered comps that are voted for, either by participants, or by readers and participants. The first is Ad Hoc Fiction – my old fave.  I won this bi-weekly comp ages ago then sort of fell off the wagon of doing it, well yesterday I fell back on again. Its a really fab free comp that gets you entry into Bath Flash comp if you win. Here’s the link if you fancy it. You get a prompt and 150 words and readers who chance that way (as well as participants) vote for their faves and the winner is the one with the most votes. Writer’s aren’t allowed to identify their entries online so its voted for ‘blind.’ It really is great fun. Here’s the link to the submission pages https://adhocfiction.com/submit/

This month I’ve also entered, for the first time, another free comp for drabbles (100 word flash fictions) @writingwriters_  This is also voted for rather than judged by a judge though writers can identify their stories on social media and the like to up their chances of winning. I’m not going to though as I just watch the process play out.  Here’s the link to entering next month’s comp if you fancy giving it a whirl. There’s a cash prize of £35 https://www.writingwriters.net/p/drabble.html

I’ve also entered one paid-for comp, ‘Sixfold’ with a short story this time. Sixfold is a quarterly comp that works like this: you enter agreeing to stick to the three-part voting/feedback process, if at any time you don’t get the feedback done by the given deadline your own entry is withdrawn and you can’t win the prize. This is what they say:

In round 1, 6 writer-voters compare your manuscript (and everyone else’s) to 5 other manuscripts, rank-voting them as Best, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, or 6th. (Each manuscript is compared to 30 others by 6 different readers.) Each manuscript’s voting score average is averaged and compared to all others, and then the highest-voted one-third of manuscripts advances to the next round. Round 2 manuscripts go on to receive 18 readers and 90 comparisons, and the highest-voted one-third advances to round 3. Round 3 manuscripts receive 54 readers and 270 comparisons. Each manuscript completing round 3 is read and rank-voted by 78 different writer-voters, with a grand total of 390 comparisons to other manuscripts. So much reading and comparing is the most thorough consideration of your manuscript available.

It costs $5 to enter and I thought this would be a really interesting comp to be part of, vis a vis, getting feedback will be useful (hopefully) to improve the submission for future comps, and also it feels inclusive and different. The deadline is gone for now fiction wise, but here’s the link to the site should you fancy it next quarter. They also do a separate poetry competition. https://www.sixfold.org/howitworks.html#deadlines I’ll feedback in future blogs what it was like being part of each of these.

 

Happy New Year!

Its been quite a while since I blogged – last year in fact – so to anyone reading this – happy happy new year. To anyone wondering why I’ve been so quiet – its been because of general busy-ness, and life and stuff and shit: vis-à-vis

  • Putting together a PhD application for the OU – deadline 11/1/2019 – which was sooooo much work
  • Writing/sequencing/editing a novella-in-flash for a deadline 31/1/2019. My PhD proposal includes the writing of a novel-in-flash and I thought I’d better practise by writing a novella-in-flash first ( having never done one). As luck would have it Ellipsis Litzine had a comp with a deadline coming up that was to be judged by someone I have huge admiration and respect for – the writer and clinical psychologist Stephanie Hutton. Ellipsis is fabuloso too, and the quality of writing there-in brill, fab and ace so off I went, writing like a fury. Having something to aim for was a brill incentive to get things finished and I made the deadline by the skin of my teeth. I’m pleased to say that my entry, The Naming of Bones came second – here’s the link to the results – https://www.ellipsiszine.com/ellipsis-flash-collection-competition/ Sooo many congrats to all the winners and listees. The feedback we all got was second to none and the competition was a real joy. If they do it again next year enter – the support, joy and fun were totally brill and having the second prize on my CV can only help further PhD applications.
  • Putting together three more bespoke PhD Applications as the OU didn’t have anyone they felt was right to supervise my admittedly niche and specialist  proposal. These applications are not yet sent and I’m going to change my supporting writing examples today to The Naming of Bones which I hope will help. I’m aiming to get the applications out into their appropriate worlds by the end of this week.
  • Helping my three sons respectively to a) emigrate to Poland b) move into first flat c) pass driving test & do UCAS application. The driving test thing is of mahoosive importance to me. On any other first day of the school holidays I would be driving youngest son to the gym, shops, rugby matches, mates houses, but not today. Today he has taken himself and I am writing in the hobbit hole which feels like real freedom.
  • Graduated at the Barbican where I got my MA in Creative Writing seated next to my friend and feedback buddy Judith. In a sea of graduates in all subjects  me and J were miraculously seated next to each other due to: same grading, being alphabetically consecutive, beneficence of the writing goddess. We talked for hours and it was totally brill meeting her and other course buddies who I’d never met before in the real world. Here’s a video my husband took of us getting our scrolls.

    Right, these PhD proposals wont write themselves, better crack on