Poetry and NYC Midnight

We’re almost halfway through June. How did that happen?

The month kicked off with a poetry at the Button Warehouse. (Normally hosted by Joy Winkler but covered this month by John Lindley). Angela Topping was guest poet, and gave fantastic readings at the start of each half from her various collections. Then the evening was turned over to the open mic, and I ended up closing the evening out with ‘Legs Eleven’ from my collection ‘It’s All In The Blood’. This was probably my favourite performance of the year so far as the atmosphere was fantastic, I made it through the poem without stumbling, and even sold a copy of my book. 

 The following evening I was one of the featured readers on the Shrewsbury Poetry zoom. Ten whole minutes to read poems and give a bit of detail on what the collection was about, and how it came into being. The chaos of 2020 and 2021 resulted in the book not seeing the light of day as much as I would have liked, so I’ve been trying to make up for lost opportunities.

While not technically a June achievement, as it fell into the last ten minutes of May, I managed to get the reworked version of my short story sent off to the Bridport Prize. What was originally a 1,500 words piece of fiction now closes off at almost 5,000. With ten minutes to go before the deadline struck, I had to sacrifice some of the edits I wanted to make in order to actually have something submitted. As with all the competitions I enter, I’m not holding out much hope of placing, but I feel as if I get a lot out of entering. Who knows, I didn’t think I would do very well in the London Independent Story Prize and my entry was a Selected Finalist. As many of my writing friends like to remind me, there’s a slim chance of winning whatever you enter, but no chance if you don’t send anything off. Write, edit, submit, and eventually something should stick. 

On the poetry submissions front, I’ve finally heard back on the last of my outstanding 2021 submissions. It was another rejection to add to the pile, but on the bright side, I can now mark last year’s spreadsheet as closed. June also appears to be the month of reading windows for poetry journals so I’m busy putting together a set of submissions to go out before the 30th. The biggest of those will be the manuscript for ‘Stone Tongued’ which I’m planning on sending to Fawn Press. Currently I have six poems out for consideration, with two different journals, so I’m in a good position to redraft my rejected pieces and get some new bits sent out. Friday was a relatively productive day when it came to reworking those poems that have bounced back to me time and time again. Eventually they will find homes, but until then I will keep working on them. 

Those poems might have to wait until tomorrow though, as this weekend it is the first challenge, in the first round of the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Contest! I’ve entered this particular challenge a few times. One year I places quite well in the first challenge, only to flop dramatically in the second. Another year I wrote my story for the first challenge, realised the location was wrong and it would get kicked for not following the prompt, and had to hammer out a second with a few hours to go. The second story got some really mixed feedback from the judges, and the first (which didn’t get sent off due to the location issue) ended up being my entry to the London Independent Story Prize. (So as I mentioned, there is more to entering competitions that just the competitions themselves.) 

This time around I’ve been given the genre, fairy-tale, the location of river rapids, and the item that must be included in the story is a scooter. Those first two I can work with, they even sort of make sense when mushed together in a 1,000 word story, but why? Why, oh why you cruel writing gods? Did you put scooter as the object?

I think I’ve made it work. I think… Either way, I now have a piece of flash fiction that’s just over a 1,000 words and I’ve got the rest of today to edit it into shape. (If you were wondering what task I’m using this blog post as procrastination for, then you’ve finally found it.)

I’m also in need of a title for my story, and I’m probably going to aim for something relatively fairy-tale-esq in case I end up getting the same feedback as I did on the last fairy-tale I tried to write. “Not quite fairy-tale enough”. 

*Grumbles quietly*. 

So before I wile away the remaining hours of my Sunday, moaning about not quite hitting the writing mark, I’m going to hit post on this blog, and go edit my story. Until the next time I want to avoid writing, I wish you all the best with whatever projects you have on this weekend. May the words flow, and someone else put the kettle on for you! Happy writing. 

June Speculative Fiction Prompt – Fairies, Folklore and Flowers

For June I want you guys to think about the folklore in your local area.

Growing up in the north of Shropshire, I heard my fair share of legends about ghosts, fairies, and giants. Madam Pigott who haunted the road past Chetwynd Church, the giants who squabbled over a shovel while building the Wrekin (one of two Wrekin myths involving giants), or the great black dogs that haunted the Shropshire Hills.

Take one or more of these stories, and either write you own version, or come up with a whole new local myth. Find me a ghost no one knows about, or an unusual collection of fairies that like drinking at the local pub. The odder the better in my books.

This month, I’m going to add in an extra option for responses. In the spirit of oral story-telling, and the history of folklore, why not record yourself telling your own version of a fairy-tale (be it in poetry, prose, or dramatization). You can post to whichever platform you see fit, and link back in the comments below.

The guidelines are as follows:

  • Speculative Fiction: a genre of fiction that encompasses works in which the setting is other than the real world, involving supernatural, futuristic, or other imagined elements. [Oxford Dictionary]
  • Use the prompt above to write a story, poem, perhaps even a script. There are no rules about form or style. If you would like to create a piece of art in response that is also welcome. This prompt is about being artistic and creative in whatever way suits you best.
  • Please keep entries PG as this is open to all. (i.e. no erotica)
  • A new prompt will be posted on the first of each month but feel free to go back and use previous months as you see fit.
  • Use pingbacks to link up to the prompt or leave a link in the comments section. Whichever you prefer.
  • Please include a note with your work to say if you are open to constructive feedback on the work.
  • Please try to check out the responses shared in the comments and pingbacks. If you comment, please take note of the writer’s preference regarding feedback. (A good reference guide for feedback is to start with a positive, then mention what you feel could do with work, and finish up on another point that you liked.
  • As always, re-tweets, re-blogs, and shares are all gratefully received. We are always open to new participants.

Short Story Rejections And Manuscript Plans

Last month’s update was all about the heady, heights of getting a poem accepted by Ink Sweat & Tears. This the rejections have been rolling in, and by rolling in, I mean there were two of them. One poetry rejection, and another polite decline for my short story ‘The House on Lime Street.’ The poetry submission was a simultaneous submission, so the poems are out elsewhere and I’m going to let those run their course before attempting any major edits and resubmitting elsewhere. ‘The House on Lime Street’ is another matter. This is rejection number nine for that particular story and it’s been through a number of edits each time. However, since the last redraft, I had a short story professionally edited by the fantastic Debbi Voisey and she passed on some particular hand tips for strengthening my short fiction. Along with a three am wake up, curtsey of my 9 and 1/2 month-old daughter, I’ve cobbled together what I believe to be a reasonable plan to make this piece into a publishable story. Tuesday is the deadline for the Bridport Prize so I’m hoping to have it ready to go out by then, and if it gets thrown back again, I can celebrate having the tenacity and stubbornness to rack up ten rejections on the same story. 

At the moment I seem to be in the middle of a hectic writing phase. Yesterday I hit 15,000 words of my current novel after not working on it for a couple of weeks post holiday. I wrote 20,000 words in March and April but I found that I’d managed to skip from one major event to the next and missed all the connecting bits, so I’ve returned to the start to fill those in. 

Last weekend was the Stafford Literature Festival where I read as part of their poetry event. There were some fantastic networking opportunities, and I had some time to kill before the readings, as I accidently turned up an hour early. I met the director of Fawn Press and found out that they have June submission window for poetry pamphlets. This is fantastic timing as my pamphlet ‘Stone Tongued’ (previously called Water, Witches and Women) is really close to being finished. I now need to polish up the poems and decide what order they should go in, before sending it off for judgement. If you’re wondering where the inspiration for this collection came from, I stumbled across the story of Kathryn Garner who was tried and found innocent of witchcraft in Shrewsbury, Shropshire. She’s not mentioned in my blogpost about the history of Shropshire witchcraft as I wasn’t able to track down any of the source material for myself, but I did write her into a poem which was published by Riverbed Review. I then started looking for other women in history and myth that had been mistreated in an attempt to give their voices a place to be heard. 

Putting together a manuscript has the added bonus of giving me chance to review all the poems that are going into it. I’ve not sent out any poetry submission this month, (I’ve only sent off one submission full stop), so I will be checking the Robin Houghton spreadsheet of poetry journals to see who I can start throwing poems at. I’ve allocating the first two wees of June as poetry weeks, so I don’t run myself into the ground trying to finish this short-story and get poems sent off to journals. 

With two poetry events to attend next week (The Button Warehouse -Wednesday 01/06/2022, and Shrewsbury Poetry – 02/06/2022) I know I need to pace myself. Wonderfully, I’ve actually got a ten minute set at the Shrewsbury’s Poetry zoom so time needs to be allowed to plan which poems I want to read. 

Ten minutes is quite a long time for a poet… I could read so many different poems!

Keep an eye out for a post in the next couple of days, because I’ve been experimenting with poems and visa-print again. This time I’ve taken my poem ‘When The Muse Spits Blood’ and paired it with one of my sketches to make 50 postcards. This will be a limited run, numbered and signed, to accompany copies of my collection that are purchased directly through myself. I’ve been pointed in the direction of a handy shop feature that I might be able to implement on this site so redirecting people to Amazon isn’t my only choice. Alongside the new postcards, I’ve invested in some lovely tissue paper, and branded stickers to make deliveries a bit prettier which I will showcase for you all as soon as it all turns up. 

Until then, I wish you all productive and enjoyable weekends. Please do stop by in the comments below and let me know of your current writing projects and triumphs. If you’ve had a poem or short story published, feel free to share it. For now, I have a hill to go and climb. 

When The Muse Spits Blood

These gums are splinter strewn with pencil shards
from musing on ideas,
chewing the fat,
picking bones from the meat of a thought
until it sits on the page just right
stripped to sinew,
muscles drawn tight
pure power
in a few dangerous words.

#WeekendCoffeeShare – Poetry Acceptances, Redrafts and More Writing

In all honesty, I’ve written very little in the past week. I spent it in the Lake District with friends, so writing was replaced with hiking. On Wednesday we climbed the Pikes, and reached the top of Harrison Stickle; an achievement my knees are still complaining about. When we weren’t somewhere on the side of a hill, I was nose deep in a book, specifically ‘A History of the Universe in 21 Stars (and 3 Imposters)’ by Giles Sparrow. If you have any interest in stars, or the universe, then may I recommend picking up a copy. There are parts that sail right over my head, but it is a very entertaining read all the same. 

So, if I haven’t been writing this week, why have I decided to jump on WordPress and write a #CoffeeShareWeekend post? 

Simple. Procrastination. The deadline for the Bristol Short Story Prize is approaching (04/05/2022) and I have managed the great sum total of one sentence. I like that sentence quite a lot, but a short story it does not make. So, instead of adding a second, or perhaps even a third sentence to make some headway with the problem, I decided to do something else. 

Plus, I’ve also been procrastinating when it comes to writing a blog post. So, let me offer you a coffee, a seat in this imaginary receiving room furnished with regency style furniture, and I will tell you what has happened so far this year. 

First up, (though not really), is a poetry acceptance from Ink Sweat & Tears. On May 13th, they will be publishing one of my poems on their site, and I’m fizzing with joy. 2022 had started to look like the year of rejections, with the red ink of my poetry submissions spreadsheet steadily spreading down the page. Getting a poem picked up was a much needed break from the monotony of ‘not this time, thank yous’ that I seemed to be slogging my way through. I now feel a little less delusional when it comes to redrafting and sending out the rest of my unpublished poems. Ink Sweat & Tears also published my poem ‘Newborn’ in 2019, so the acceptance feels like even more of a reaffirmation. 

In poetry performance news, there has been a significant up-tick in the number of in-person events that I’ve been able to get to. In March I read at Coppenhall Open Mic (Crewe) and The Button Warehouse (Macclesfield). This month I’ve returned to the Coppenhall Open Mic and attended a poetry evening at Queens Park (Crewe again). On Thursday I’m going along to Treacle Coffee Shop poetry night (Newcastle-under-Lyme) featuring Nick Deg to hopefully join the open mic section, then on Saturday I’ll be competing in the Hereford Poetry Slam. There is a smattering of things for May, June time as well. 

With the acceptance of one poem by Ink Sweat & Tears, and a slew of rejections, I’ve got plenty of poems to redraft. The work of the next few weeks will be to try and get these sent out again.

Ten Years Learning How To Be A Poet – Part Five: How To Write About Real Life In Poetry

Writers often take inspiration from real life. A lot of my poetry draws on points, and people from history, as well as members of my own family. Some of those poems can be incredibly personal, not only the ones specifically about myself. I’ve written about my mother shaving her legs, the death of certain family members, friendships breaking down, and assault. I’m very lucky when it comes to those close to me, as they don’t take issue with me mining my life (and in turn their own) for inspiration. However, it still raises the question of how personal is too personal, and at what point (if at any point) does a poet cross the line about what they should or shouldn’t write about?

There’s a piece of writing advice, “write what you know”, which has been taken further in recent years to ‘don’t write outside your own lived experience’. There are (of course) exceptions when it comes to fiction, fantasy being a clear example. Writing what you know becomes redundant in the sense that none of us knows how magic works, or what goes on in a world carried about by a great, cosmic turtle. Fantasy, and pushing the boundaries of the known go hand in hand, but there is a difference between creating a detailed, anatomical description for the new race of gnomes you’ve invented, and writing a novel from the perspective of a person who has lived a life utterly removed from your own. For the sake of this post, I will not be going into my thoughts on the issues regarding writing in the voice of a different race/genre/class, that isn’t the post I set out to write. What I want to talk about is weighing up how to use your own experiences in poetry, and how there is room to stretch a bit beyond those experiences when the poem calls for it.

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