An Open Pen Christmas

An Open Pen Christmas

Thrilled to have my downbeat micro flash, Holy Night, chosen by Open Pen London litmag to be the Christmas Eve story in their Twelve Days of Christmas series: Pretty happy too that they let me have The Smiths’ Please Please Please as my contribution to their accompanying Christmas playlist, on the wafer-thin ground that it was ‘once used in a John Lewis Christmas advert’. It’s one of my favourite songs, especially at the moment.

This flash was originally a free-write in response to a challenge last year to write a Christmas-themed story for our writing group. I remembered it this year and searched in the dozen or so scraggy notebooks I have stuff scribbled all over. Remarkably, I found it in the first one I tried. Even more remarkably, given my ‘disturbed spider fell in some ink’ style of handwriting, I could read all but one word of it, and rewrote it for this year.

Thanks, Open Pen, for letting me be part of your brilliantly warped and slightly disturbing Christmas stocking, this year – it was an honour.

Short Edition Short Story Dispenser

Short Edition Short Story Dispenser

Edmonton airport travellers can read free short stories while waiting for flight

A few months ago I was approached by Canada-based writer Jason Lee Norman about an exciting secret project he’d been working on for some time, bringing Canada’s first ever short story dispenser machine to Edmonton International Airport. The airport was keen to invest in something so creative and innovative and the project had reached the stage where they were looking for flash fiction writers from the local area and from destination countries, including the UK, to submit the stories that would fill the machine.

Was I interested? Er, YES PLEASE. Did I know any other UK flash writers who might also want to submit stories for consideration…? Yes – yes, I kinda thought I might :).

I wasn’t wrong – there was LOT of enthusiasm and excitement among UK flash writers about this project. The short story dispenser launched successfully early in December – I have two stories in the machine, and about a dozen UK-based writer friends have work in there too. We’ve been playing spot-the-story as passengers have shared pictures on the internet of the stories the machine has dispensed to them. We hope they have taken some of them home to keep and to love.

More dispenser machines are planned soon, with the potential for our stories to end up all over the world. The stories are free to the readers, with royalties being paid to authors each time their work is dispensed. Many thanks to Jason for such an unusual and brilliant opportunity.

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Two Days, Two Subs

I spent the last couple of months working on a thing I really wanted to apply for, trying very hard to write The Best Story I Have Ever Written. Turns out that sort of pressure isn’t the absolute best, creativity-wise, but it did result in a clutch of new story drafts, like a little nest of hatchling eggs. That metaphor is going to get weird if I try to continue it, but the upshot is that I’m now trying to rewrite and send out a few of them.

I really, really don’t sub enough. I spend so much time editing and rewriting, trying to drag the story up to be more like something the better writer I want to be might produce. This week I sent out two, the first with an accidentally awful cover letter attached. Happily (well, kind of) it resulted in a speedy, but very kindly-worded rejection, which afforded me the opportunity to write a proper email back to say thank you.

The second sub was via Submittable – easier not to blunder – and resulted in an even speedier ACCEPTANCE. Joy!

All in all, I reckon this subbing business might get to be kinda fun, given time. Wish me luck.

A Wild & Precious Life – recovery anthology

October 10th brought a special writing acceptance for me: a prose poem, the first I’ve ever sent out, and one with a shed-load of meaning for me.

I spent the ten years between 2001 and 2011 working in homelessness and drug work as a support/advice/advocacy worker, mostly with street homeless people.

I worked with some special people. Lots of them died. The average life expectancy of a homeless person in the UK is 47; for women, it’s 43. Some of the stories I couldn’t tell you, because they’re just too hard to hear. Maybe one day I’ll write them, if I can disguise the details enough to protect privacy. Sometimes, for some of them, it felt like it was only us who carried their memory. I don’t know if that was true – maybe we were just presumptuous. I know that there are faces I will never forget.

A Wild & Precious Life anthology is a wonderful project bringing together prose and poetry written by people who have experience of recovery in many different forms. We have our own family story, which didn’t end in recovery, and that has reached into the future and touched everything for us.

The prose poem I wrote, though, was a gathering up of the hope I tried to carry on behalf of the incredible humans I worked with out there – people with creativity, quirkiness, compassion, energy, ideas, intelligence, anarchy, morality, brokenness, the bleakest of pasts, humour, anger, hurt, kindness; a wild take on life, or a desperate need to fit in somewhere, anywhere. All of these and so much more.

There was always hope, for every one of the people we worked with, even if sometimes it was hard for them or us to catch a hold of it and keep it.

The poem is named for a special guy I had the privilege of working with for a while. Kind, shy, soft-spoken, intelligent, sensitive, full of respect for others, facing life with quiet courage and the gentlest of humour. Unassuming and undemanding.

Many of us still remember you, Matt. You were one of the good ones. Wish you were here.

Update 27/6/18: You can support this anthology project at Unbound, now!