Saturday, July 28, 2018

10 Good Things

In the quest for recognition as a writer it can sometimes seem that life is full of disappointment and rejection. (Don't worry, life IS full of disappointment of rejection...just not all the time!) So  I was thinking of some of the tangibly good things that have happened to me as a writer. Here are a few from over the years.

1. First Publication

I didn't really know how to get into magazines in the mid-1990s. So when I had a poem published in the delightfully named little magazine "The Affectionate Punch", in - I think - 1996, I was dead pleased. "Curly Wurly" the poem that was published there was aimed at being a publishable one - a nostalgic childhood poem, that I'm still proud of.

2. Being Shortlisted for the Lichfield Prize (Twice!)

Novelists have it hard - in that its all or nothing. So I'm still not a published novelist, but early on in my writing career I came close (twice) with shortlistings for the Lichfield Prize, a prize for "unpublished novels".  In 1995 "Lineage" made the shortlist, but I wasn't able to attend the ceremony as I was in America (typical of my life - the first holiday in years and it clashed!) but I had another shortlisting in 1999 with "In Search of Sally Johnson" and thoroughly enjoyed the prize ceremony in a marquee outside of Lichfield cathedral. I remember thinking: this might be the only time I'm ever up for one of these, so enjoy it. To date, it is, and I did.

3. Selection for the M.A. in Novel Writing at University of Manchester

Back in 1996 when I applied there were less than half a dozen creative writing courses in the country. I'd applied the year before to UEA and got told to try again in 1996 which I did and got an interview, but not the place. A few weeks later I had an interview with Richard Francis at Manchester. I'd already handed my notice in at work even though I hadn't a definite place. I must have looked worried at some point, because he said, "don't worry, you're on the course." Thank you Richard.

4. "The Four Hills of Manchester"

City Life magazine - through literary editor Ra Page - was looking to produce some pamphlets of stories by Manchester writers inserted into the magazine and had agreed to have a call out for new, unknown writers. I had this idea in my head for a slightly surreal story about Manchester, set around the bookshops on Shude Hill. I was on my M.A. at the time, and intensely prolific. I wrote "The Four Hills of Manchester" in a couple of days, and to my surprise it got chosen and shortlisted.

6. Blogging at "Worlds"

For three years I was invited by Chris Gribble, director of Writers' Centre Norwich, to be blogger-in-residence during the "Worlds" festival - a symposia and literary festival taking place at UEA and Norwich every year. I met a great range of writers there - including big names such as J.M. Coetzee - but it was particularly meeting writers on the rise, such as Jen Ashworth, Jon McGregor, John McAuliffe and the Australian novelist Chloe Hooper that made it a real pleasure.

7. "Playing Solitaire for Money"

I had entered Salt Publishing's poetry prize a couple of times but not got anywhere. No surprise, these things are very competitive. I'd made some comment about giving up on poetry which prompted their editor Chris Hamilton-Emery to contact me. He was starting a new pamphlet series to try and capture writers who weren't quite ready for a full collection or were developing side projects. He asked me to be part of the series and "Playing Solitaire for Money" duly appeared in 2010 - a small, but nicely formed collection of which I'm still very proud. So, thanks Chris. (And thanks also Alec, who published 4 of my long experimental poems with his Knives, Forks and Spoons press the same year.)

8. Reading at Whitworth Art Gallery

I'm still not sure how this one happened. But I was approached to read some poetry at Whitworth Art Gallery during their show "Dark Matters" - which aligned with my subject matter of the digital and the spectral. I even managed to get a nice piece in the Manchester Evening News about it. I learnt that if you're going to read in a dark space its best to have a light with you.

9. Unthology 4

My story "The Cat" was one I had high hopes for - and it got picked up pretty quickly for "Unthology 4". I include it here as I realise it was the first time one of my stories had been featured in a book.

10. Best British Stories 2018

Back to Salt again, and I got an email from short story editor and fellow Didsbury resident Nicholas Royle last year that he'd like to include my story "Life Grabs" which had just appeared online, in the next edition of the annual Best British Stories anthology.

So ten highlights over a period of 23 years, and all things that make this weird "job" of writing imaginatively worthwhile. And thankfully, they weren't the only ten, just an important selection.

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