Monday, 13 August 2018

When 'Normal Me' meets 'Writer Me'

If you're old, like me, you probably remember the cartoon 'Hong Kong Phooey' in which a 'mild mannered janitor' transforms into a canine superhero. Sometimes I feel a bit like him, although in place of 'mild mannered janitor' insert 'not very competent office worker with a life-long phone phobia', and you might start to get the picture. Most people who come into contact with my everyday persona no doubt assume I'm quite stupid. I give that impression on a daily basis. I'm not very good at my job, and am very lucky to have any kind of job at all, having, ten years ago, almost literally just picked up my handbag and walked away from teaching. If I hadn't done that I'd almost certainly not be around now to tell the tale. But it's a tale for another time.

Anyway, there is another me, the Hong Kong Phooey me, the superwriter. OK, there's nothing super about me, but I am quite proud of some of the stuff I've written, and had published. And until recently, mild mannered janitor me and Hong Kong Phooey me have peacefully co-existed. Nobody from life 1 was ever likely to come across the things I wrote in life 2. I kind of liked it that way. Then, in June, I had a story published in The People's Friend magazine (available at all good supermarkets and newsagents).

Mild mannered janitor me bought several copies, on different occasions. Each time I somehow managed to resist the temptation to turn to the relevant page, wave it under the cashier's nose and shout 'I wrote this!' I'm glad I didn't, because I'd have been dismissed as a fantasist. As a rule, overweight middle aged people with mundane jobs don't get published in mainstream magazines. But, in other news, this overweight middle aged person with a mundane job has just had another story accepted. And hopefully there will be many more. Watch this space though, because if you know me in my mild mannered janitor life, I'll probably never get around to mentioning it.....

Saturday, 14 April 2018

Anthologies, Poetry, Confidence, and What Not To Say To A Short Story Writer....

I got something nice in the post this week, which doesn't happen all that often. It was my complimentary copy of last year's Olga Sinclair Short Story Competition anthology. I was highly commended in the competition, which is a very well run one with a different theme every year. The theme for 2018 is 'Markets' and it closes in July. Read more about it here.

I love being published in anthologies, but I'm not stupid. I know the only people who read them are the people who are in them, and their friends and families. And let's be honest, most friends and family members don't actually read them. But at least, when you tell someone you're a writer, and they look at you sceptically and ask that most partronising of questions, 'Have you had anything published?' , a question almost always anticipating the answer 'No, not yet,' you can answer 'Yes, I have. And here is the link to it on Amazon.'

I had success in this competition with a story that I had previously sent out all over the place in various forms. It has been a flash fiction, and a longer story, and time after time it has wandered home with its tail between its legs. But finally it found a home. Never give up on a good story.

In other news, I have been brave. A few weeks ago I attended a poetry workshop run by lovely Lynn Gerrard, otherwise known as The Grumbling Gargoyle. It was a lovely, laughter filled evening at a newish local coffee shop Momo's. A year or so ago I would have run screaming in terror if I'd been asked to sit in a roomful of strangers and read out my rubbish offerings. And believe me, they were rubbish I haven't written poetry since my angst filled teenage years. But it didn't matter, and I'm just a little bit proud of myself for stepping (about a hundred miles) outside my comfort zone and actually daring to say anything at all.  And I've just booked a place on the next workshop, in May. Book your tickets here.

I'm always a little bit jealous of poets, because unlike short story writers I bet they don't continually get asked when they're going to write a novel. If you're a poet then you're just a poet. You're not seen as just practising to be something better. It depresses me. If you're reading this, and you know me in person, please don't ask me when I'm going to write a novel, because I won't be responsible for my actions.

Seriously, I would love to be able to write poetry well. And I do think that flash fiction is closer to poetry than anything else, especially in the way that every single word matters. Some of the shorter flash pieces I've written lately could almost be poems. I'm not quite sure what the difference is. So who knows? Maybe I'll be entering a poetry competition or two in the near future.

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Three Cheers For The Archers, And One For Me

If you know me well, you will know how much I love radio. And if you know me very, very well, which not that many people do, you will know that I have been a massive fan of The Archers since I was a teenager. I have rarely missed a Sunday omnibus sine the early 1980s. If I ever went on Mastermind it would be my specialist subject.

The Archers doesn't often make me cry. Well, not that often. I cried years ago when Ruth and David received her breast cancer diagnosis, and more recently I cried at the scene between Helen and her dad Tony after she was acquitted of attempting to murder evil Rob. I probably cried when John Archer died too.

The week before last, it made me cry again. Twice. Once on the Friday night, then again when the episode was repeated on Sunday morning. Because Nic Grundy died of sepsis. A fit, healthy woman in her mid thirties died a horrible agonizing death because she had an infected cut on her hand. This storyline came completely out of the blue. One day she was fine, and fretting over having lost her job. A few days later she was gone. That's what sepsis is like. That really is how quickly it can happen.

Many people think that soaps, or serial dramas, or whatever you want to call them, shouldn't be used as public information vehicles. It's a valid viewpoint. Their main purpose is to entertain. Having said that, most of what I know about HIV and AIDS I learned from Eastenders, and much later from Hollyoaks (Yeah, ok, you get the picture, I'm a bit of a soap addict...) But I'm willing to bet that Nic's story has already saved some lives, by raising awareness. Sepsis isn't glamorous or sexy. It's not a 'cause' that you see celebrities championing. It's cruel, ugly, random and, for the most part, completely avoidable. So well done The Archers for tackling it. Read more about Nic's story here

In other news, I'm having a rather better writing year in 2018. So far I've managed a shortlisting in the Retreat West Flash Fiction competition, with a brand new, never been anywhere before story called Curl Up And Die, and I'e been Highly commended, for the second time, in the Inktears 2017 Short Story Competition, with my story The Less Fortunate, which got down to the last 50 in the Mslexia comp last year. Never give up on a good story.

Most excitingly, I have sold my first ever story to The People's Friend magazine. Don't know yet when it will be published. I know magazines work months ahead. The People's Friend was always on the arm of my Nana's chair when I was growing up. I think she'd be just a little bit proud.

Thursday, 14 September 2017

Not what this blog is for but.....

I like to think that I have a fairly good vocabulary, but almost exactly ten years ago I learned a new word. That word was sepsis, and it was written on my dad's death certificate. Four days earlier he'd celebrated his 71st birthday. Well, maybe celebrated isn't the right word. For the previous 19 months, since my mum had died, very unexpectedly, he'd been going through the motions. He was miserable, desperately lonely, and, as a fairly newly diagnosed type one diabetic, never really well and struggling to come to terms with his condition. He'd been happily married for forty five years, and he seemed to view the idea of being happy, after Mum's death, as some kind of betrayal. He didn't think his life was worth much, and I failed to convince him otherwise. His last breath was like a massive sigh of relief.  But his life was worth something to me, and it needn't have ended when it did. And who knows, if things had been different he might have come through that awful period of grief, and moved on with his life. Today, his 81st birthday, I might have been cooking his favourite paella. Or maybe he'd have cooked for me. Those years were snatched away from us.

If you haven't had sepsis yourself, or known someone who has had it, and you're not a medical professional, chances are you won't really know what it is. Which is a bit odd, considering it kills more people every year than breast, bowel and prostate cancer put together. Every so often a story attracts media attention. TV personality Fern Britton almost died from sepsis last year, following a hysterectomy, and was apparently only saved by a doctor's receptionist who trusted her gut instinct, overrode everyone else, and summoned an ambulance. That's the thing about sepsis. It can be hard to get anyone to take your or your loved one's symptoms seriously. On the night my dad was admitted to hospital, complaining that he felt as though he was going to die, he was provided with two cheese and pickle sandwiches, because he couldn't take his insulin on an empty stomach.

Sepsis isn't a new thing. First World War poet Rupert Brooke died from it, after a mosquito bite.  Not exactly a hero's death. Basically, it's blood poisoning, and without rapid treatment it can lead to multiple organ failure and death. A sufferer can go downhill in less than the time it takes to Google symptoms. A friend told me recently that her neighbour had died from it, after a seemingly insignificant cut while gardening.  Often, it can begin with a urinary tract infection. This is what happened to my dad and, seemingly, to many elderly people.

The tragic thing is that my dad had suffered from sepsis before. I didn't know this until, trawling through his things after his death I came across his discharge papers from a previous admission, three weeks after Mum's funeral.  What I had been led to believe was a severe chest infection was actually his first bout of sepsis. And yes, I'm fully aware that I should have asked more questions at the time, but I didn't, and I have to live with that now.

Which brings me, at last, to the point. If I'd known what sepsis was, and that my dad had a history of it, I'd have kept telling the people who were attempting to treat him until someone listened to me. As they say, knowledge is power. Most of us know, at least in theory, what to do if someone is choking, how to recognise the symptoms of a heart attack or a stroke, how to perform CPR. We all know, or at least we should do, that a rash that doesn't disappear when pressed with a glass tumbler could be meningitis. We should all know about sepsis.too.
  • Slurred speech or confusion
  • Extreme shivering or muscle pain
  • Passing no urine (in a day)
  • Severe breathlessness
  • It feels like you're going to die
  • Skin mottled or discoloured
This information comes courtesy of The UK Sepsis Trust. Their slogan is JUST ASK COULD IT BE SEPSIS?  Well, I'm old enough to remember the AIDS Awareness campaign of the 1980s, and I'm going to borrow a slogan from that.  DON'T DIE OF IGNORANCE. And learn from my mistake.Don't let the first time you see the word sepsis be on the death certificate of someone you love.

John Dudley Wassell 14 September 1936 to 18 September 2007

 Love you, Dad xx

Friday, 8 September 2017

Still Here

My blog has been, yet again, sadly neglected. I often feel that I have nothing to say that would be of interest to anyone else. But I started this blog so that I had somewhere to direct people, in the unlikely event that they were interested in the stories I have had published. So I've spent a bit of time this afternoon updating links, deleting those that don't work any more and adding new ones. I hope I've included everything. Probably the thing I've been most excited about in 2017 has been the inclusion of my 100 word story The Smoking Circle in Sleep Is A Beautiful Colour, the 2017 National Flash Fiction Day anthology. I'm a bit in awe of some of the writers in there, and can't quite believe I'm rubbing shoulders with them. Oh, and I made the longlist of this year's Mslexia short story competition, which I was more than a little chuffed about. It's been a quiet year, so far, but I hope to be posting a bit more regularly from now on.

Monday, 9 November 2015

Old Stuff, New Stuff

When I first started to write, around six years ago, being published in anything at all seemed like an impossible dream.  I've been very lucky. Since then my work has appeared in various places, both online and in magazines and print anthologies.  If you type my name into Amazon it comes up with stuff that you can buy containing my work. Yes, I've looked, I really am that sad! I'm not delusional. I know nobody has ever heard of me, and hardly anyone has read anything I've written. But you can't argue with an Amazon listing!

No matter how many times it happens, it never stops being exciting. And I'm especially proud to have a story included in the Momaya Short Story Review 2015.  The theme this year was 'Treasure', and I entered a new version of a story I originally wrote some time ago, which seemed to fit the theme perfectly. I've received my copy of this lovely, beautifully produced anthology, and there is at least one story in it that I wish I'd written.

I was also thrilled when another older story, The Secret, was highly commended in the last Inktears Short Story Competition. This story was the first one to appear when the site was revamped recently. It got some lovely, interesting comments, for which I'm very grateful. You can read it here.

Relying on old stories is all very well, but you need to write new ones, and try out different things. In September I went, with some trepidation, to a Woman's Weekly Fiction Workshop in Manchester. I've been submitting stories to 'womags' for some time, although I fear that the optimistic tone they require doesn't come naturally to me. I am a natural pessimist who expects my toast to fall butter side down. Most of my stories have sad endings. This won't do, apparently, in the womag story. There must be a note of hope. So I have a lot to work on.

Having said that, I had a fantastic day at the workshop, which was tutored by the lovely Della Galton, and the very witty Gaynor Davies, Woman's Weekly Fiction Editor. I learned so much about what Woman's Weekly is looking for, and what they don't like. And I was actually brave enough to read something out loud. If you know me personally you'll understand what a massive thing that is. I hate the sound of my own voice. The best thing of all though was the opportunity to spend a whole day just thinking about writing, in a room full of other people who love it as much as I do.

Stepping outside my writing comfort zone again, I entered the People's Friend Serial Writing Competition, which closed at the end of last month. I grew up reading my Nana's weekly copies of People's Friend. I can see them now, piled up in the corner of her sofa.  I suspect that there are some very special skills required to write the kind of stories that People's Friend likes. I also suspect that I don't have them yet. But I had such fun writing an outline for my 3 part serial, and the first 6000 word installment. I don't think I've ever worked so hard on anything in my life, and that includes my university finals. There have apparently been 116 entries for this competition. I don't for one minute expect to be successful, but nothing is ever wasted. I'm sure I can develop what I've written into two or three shorter stories, if nothing comes of this.

In other news, I had a pleasing little win last week in the weekly flash competition recently started by  The Short Story Website . My winning story, Lambs, was originally part of a much longer story. Re-reading, I realised that all I really wanted to say was contained in this little episode. I'm glad it's finally found a home. And this newish site is a wonderful thing for readers and writers of short stories.

My cat Lily remains unimpressed by my writing. All she really cares about is where her next packet of Dreamies is coming from. Can't say I blame her. Onwards.......

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Patience Finally Pays Off....

Pieces of good writing news are, it would seem, like buses.  As the saying goes, you wait forever, then three come along at once.  I was thrilled, last week, to learn that I had been highly commended in the Inktears Short Story Competition 2014. Obviously, I'd have been even happier if I'd won, but to come in the top 7 of a competition with around 500 entries is something worth celebrating.

Then, after 12 weeks of almost always being in the top 10, but never shortlisted, and just before I gave up hope, I managed to win WriteInvite for the first time this year. To be honest, I wasn't that happy with my story when I wrote it. It was all a bit traumatic, and for a few seconds, minutes before the competition closed, I thought I had lost the whole thing. Somehow, I managed to get it back. And miraculously it won! My friend Jo came third. It's the first time we've ever been shortlisted together. You can read our stories here. I wish more people would enter this weekly competition. You have a really good chance of being shortlisted.  I was, the second time I entered. It's such a good exercise, writing for 30 minutes using one of 3 given prompts, with the chance of winning £50. What's not to love?

On Tuesday my story Eavesdropping was published by the online Flash Fiction Magazine. It's the second story I've had published by them,and it has received some lovely positive comments.  Interestingly, not everyone sided with the same character. This is what makes writing so interesting. So it's been a good writing week. Lily Cat continues to seek attention, and has developed a fondness for tapping at my keyboard. I'm thinking of letting her enter WriteInvite on my behalf on Saturday. She'd probably do a pretty good job. She certainly has a tale or two to tell!

On the reading front I have been enjoying the wonderful Millie And Bird by Avril Joy. This is the kind of short story collection I fantasize about writing, all set in the same close knit community. The title story won the Costa Short Story Award in 2012. I'm also currently reading, on my Kindle, From Writing With Love ,  Avril's book of sound advice about the craft of writing. I can recommend it for anyone in search of a little encouragement.  I've also been having a look at the latest Bath Short Story Anthology , in preparation for hopefully submitting a story to the 2015 competition. I have a story in mind, and just need to more or less rewrite it. Onward and upwards .....