Creatives in profile: interview with Ian Sansom

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Ian Sansom is the author of the popular Mobile Library Mystery Series. He is also a frequent contributor and critic for The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph, The London Review of Books, and The Spectator. He is a regular broadcaster on BBC Radio 3 and Radio 4.

Previously described by Alex Pryce as an author happy to make “mischief”, his latest book, December Stories I, is full of Sansom’s trademark humour – pulling together a rich collage of different lives lived over the month of December into something funny and sad, lovely and above all else utterly empathetic.

Nothing in the Rulebook caught up with Sansom to speak about his new book, his collaboration with the fantastic folk at No Alibis Press, and everything else in between.

INTERVIEWER

Tell me about yourself, where you live and your background/lifestyle

SANSOM

I am a small, round, bearded, middle-aged man. I live – as I have done for most of my adult life – in a remote corner of the UK which currently has no functioning government.

INTERVIEWER

Has writing always been your first love, or do you have another passion?

SANSOM

I don’t think ‘love’ or ‘passion’ are quite the words I would use. Flann O’Brien described writing as a form of vocational malfunction. For me that’s probably closer to the truth.

INTERVIEWER

Who inspires you?

SANSOM

In literary terms, I tend to admire writers who manage simply to keep going, despite all the odds. In personal terms, I have been blessed with many friends and colleagues who have been a great source of encouragement and inspiration.

INTERVIEWER

Who were your early teachers?

SANSOM

Alas, no pipe-lighting dominee lit my way.

INTERVIEWER

What does the term ‘writer’ mean to you?

SANSOM

A writer is someone who writes.

INTERVIEWER

Your latest book, December Stories I, exposes the idiosyncrasies and contradictions of human nature and relationships that the festive period brings to light. Of course, these contradictions are not unique to our species during only the month of December; but they do appear to be heightened. Why do you think that is?

SANSOM

In a word: proximity. The coming together of people – or the lack of coming together.

INTERVIEWER

Do you personally identify with any of the characters in the short pieces contained within December Stories I?

SANSOM

Madame Bovary, c’est moi. I’m everyone and no one.

INTERVIEWER

On a scale of Tiny Tim to Ebenezer Scrooge, where would you place yourself during the run up to Christmas and New Year?

SANSOM

Tiny Tim, if only for his plaintive cry, ‘God bless us, every one!’

INTERVIEWER

What research (if any) do you conduct before setting out on a new writing project?

SANSOM

Like most writers, I am incredibly lazy and try to avoid all research if at all possible. If it’s necessary, I will do what’s necessary.

INTERVIEWER

You collaborated with No Alibis Press to bring December Stories I to life. How important, for you, is the relationship between a writer and their publisher?

SANSOM

We depend on each other entirely. In another life, I’d maybe come back as a publisher, to see what the relationship is like from the other perspective.

INTERVIEWER

During a period of the year in which everyone is bombarded with messages urging them to consume more and more goods, food and services, it can feel harder and harder to take time out to read something that doesn’t make December out to be one long glorious month of consumerism. How important is it, do you think, for writers and creatives to try and step away from the background noise of advertising and product placement? And what would be on your Christmas reading list?

SANSOM

What is it that Walter Benjamin writes in ‘One-Way Street’: ‘What, in the end, makes advertisements so superior to criticism? Not what the moving neon sign says – but the fiery pool reflecting it in the asphalt.

The only book I read every year at Christmas is Delia Smith’s Christmas – it’s excellent.

INTERVIEWER

Do you feel any ethical responsibility as a writer?

SANSOM

It is clear that ethics cannot be put into words.

Ethics is transcendental.

(Ethics and aesthetics are one and the same.)

Lugwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, trans. D.F. Pears and B. F. McGuiness (1961)

INTERVIEWER

You’ve previously asked whether paper can survive in the digital age. But in an age of e-readers and e-zines; do you ever feel that the traditional printed book may be at risk of disappearing? Or will they simply evolve?

SANSOM

Everything changes. Everything evolves.

INTERVIEWER

Seneca once wrote that the “reading of many authors and books of every sort may tend to make you discursive and unsteady.” And advised that “You must linger among a limited number of master thinkers, and digest their works, if you would derive ideas which shall win firm hold in your mind.” When you read, do you find it helpful to linger only among a select few authors – or do you think it better to read as widely and voraciously as possible?

SANSOM

Personally, I am omnivorous.

INTERVIEWER

Could you tell us a little about some of the future projects you’re working on?

SANSOM

This year I am publishing 3 books: a novel, a work of non-fiction, and a collection of short stories. Plus all of the usual para-literary activities.

INTERVIEWER

Could you write us a story in 6 words?

SANSOM

Six words was not nearly enough.

Get more Samson here: watch the video of the author reading an excerpt from his latest book, December Stories I.

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Creatives in profile: interview with No Alibis Press

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Emma Warnock and David Torrans, of No Alibis Press and bookstore

It is an increasingly rare sight to find newly published books that break with tradition in uncompromising, unique, surprising and challenging ways. This is, in part, a reflection upon our current times. We live in an era where the biggest publishing companies and media organisations are only concerned with stabilising profits for shareholders – and are prioritising making money over supporting originality and new creative ideas. This is strangling our modern culture – limiting us to a devastating cycle of reboots, sequels, prequels and franchises; where the only novels that are published so often seem to be ones we’ve already read; or else another celebrity biography. This risk-averse and profit-focused approach in turn risks homogenising our culture; and limiting our exposure to new ways of thinking.

At a time when we need new ideas and voices to counter the prevailing cultural winds, which tell us creativity is only of value if it sells, the role of independent publishers becomes more apparent. We need diversity and originality in our publishing; not ceaseless imitation and repetition in pursuit of a fast buck. We need books that experiment and take risks; not those that seem afraid to be different.

Yet of course, setting up and running an independent publisher is no easy feat – not least because anyone who does so must continually battle with the financial weight of the corporate monopolies that dominate the publishing sector.

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Based in a small corner of Belfast, No Alibis Press is a small publishing company with a big shouty attitude. As an independent press they’re relatively new on the scene, but for some time now they’ve been quietly incubating among the shelves of No Alibis bookstore where David Torrans and his team have been selling books for more than twenty years. One of their first books – December Stories I by Ian Samson – has already received praise from critics (including ourselves). So just how does a brand new publishing house shout loud enough to be heard over the noise emitted by the corporate behemoths?

Nothing in the Rulebook caught up with the team behind No Alibis to find out.

INTERVIEWER

Tell us about yourselves and your background

NO ALIBIS PRESS

David Torrans, owner of No Alibis Bookstore (opened 1997) and No Alibis Press (founded 2018), both based in Belfast.

Emma Warnock, commissioning editor at No Alibis Press, joined in 2018 after 10 years of working in the industry for various publications and presses as a freelance editor.

INTERVIEWER

Who inspires you?

NO ALIBIS PRESS

The people who take a leap of faith – whatever their discipline/job/motivation – and try to change the way things are done. In terms of writing that has been published recently, June Caldwell jumps to mind. Her collection of stories Room Little Darker (New Island, 2017) is a dramatic departure from the norm – both in terms of the writing itself and the subjects she is exploring. It is dark, uncompromising and incredibly inspiring.

INTERVIEWER

Can you tell us a bit about No Alibis Press – how was it borne into existence?

NO ALIBIS PRESS

Independent bookselling over the past 20 years has taught us the importance of independent presses in the larger publishing world. Independent presses to a great degree have helped us to survive by bringing in material that is exciting and adventurous, and that’s why it came to mind when we were thinking of ways to celebrate the 20th anniversary of No Alibis bookshop. Happily, this coincided with us coming across Gerard Brennan’s Disorder, which he handed in to the shop to be bound as part of his PhD in creative writing. Having asked if it would be all right to read it, we immediately knew we had our first publication, and this launched No Alibis Press in 2018.

INTERVIEWER

Has the press evolved as you expected since you first set it up?

NO ALIBIS PRESS

It feels too early to say how it has evolved, as we are only coming to the end of our first (incredibly busy and exciting) year. However, we have had really positive responses to our first two publications (Gerard Brennan’s Disorder and Ian Sansom’s December Stories 1), which has certainly given us the energy and inspiration needed to continue.

INTERVIEWER

What makes a work “uncompromising”, in your opinion?

NO ALIBIS PRESS

Writing that subverts conventional practices in some way – maybe through form or narrative voice – in order to tap into something new but recognisable. Very often it will defy easy categorisation. For example, Gerard Brennan’s novel Disorder explores the conflicting agendas of a number of characters on the fringes of recreational rioting without entering directly into characters’ minds. It is gritty, darkly funny crime fiction that is experimenting with the conventions of the genre, and it is very effective in creating an appropriately energetic pace. Ian Sansom’s December Stories 1 (a very different work) is also very difficult to categorise. It is a collection of varying forms that work as standalone pieces, but function at a more profound level as a whole. It is a very playful use of form that absolutely suits the insightful portrayals of the characters and their very different experiences of December. In addition to being examples of excellent writing, arguably both of these books are subverting common practice in some way and that makes them very exciting.

INTERVIEWER

You’ve recently published December Stories I by Ian Samson. What drew you to this work, and what’s it been like to bring it into literary existence?

NO ALIBIS PRESS

As soon as we read the manuscript we knew that we had something very special. The stories are characteristic of Sansom’s playful humour, while also exposing the idiosyncrasies of human nature and relationships that December brings to light. We felt very fortunate to be given the opportunity to publish such an extraordinary collection. Watching it come together with beautiful illustrations by the very talented Rory Jeffers was also very satisfying. Working with Ian has been fantastic. He filmed all 31 of the stories with his son Joseph Sansom (who fortunately for us is a filmmaker) which are available on our website.

INTERVIEWER

Can you talk a little about the relationship between No Alibis Press and No Alibis Bookstore? How important is it to ensure there is a physical space to provide a platform for both the books you publish, but also for events and readings?

NO ALIBIS PRESS

Quite simply, No Alibis Press wouldn’t exist without the bookshop, without twenty years of selling books and getting to know how the industry works. As well as selling books, we have always held gigs and readings in the shop and at other venues, and we regularly participate in festivals across Ireland and the UK. It all comes down to getting writers in front of an audience, getting their work into the hands of interested readers. Publishing feels like a natural progression from that.

INTERVIEWER

What does the average day look like to you?

NO ALIBIS PRESS

As a small press, we all end up doing a little bit of everything, so the day can involve processing orders, updating the website or promoting our publications, which may mean tweeting reviews or corresponding with event organisers. As we only publish a couple of titles a year, we can devote a huge amount of energy to the production and promotion of the next book. This means we have been obsessed with December (Ian Sansom’s December Stories 1) since about March. We have submissions coming in all the time, and reading new work is a time-consuming and highly enjoyable part of daily life.

INTERVIEWER

What do you think a publishing house or printing press should be for?

NO ALIBIS PRESS

For No Alibis Press, publishing is about getting books or stories that may not appeal to more commercial companies out into the public arena. This might be because they are experimental or slightly subversive, or simply exceptional writing that larger companies aren’t willing to take a risk on for various reasons.

INTERVIEWER

Julian Barnes has suggested that mainstream publishing companies are only interested in “publishing copies of novels that are copies of other successful novels”. Do you think this is a fair assessment? And how can independent publishing houses help address the balance – championing new voices and new ideas?

NO ALIBIS PRESS

One of the pleasant surprises for me over the past year is to see how supportive publishers and editors are of one another (both small and large). I think that’s because there’s a sense we’re all aiming for the same goal – to support writers in a difficult industry at a time when outside players (whether online giants or supermarkets etc) are creating unsustainable conditions. There are lots of very talented hardworking people in mainstream publishing companies and many of them are producing original books while still responding to the demands of readers. Sometimes they might be more restricted in certain areas than smaller publishers, or have slightly different motivations, but I think there is a recognition that both small and larger companies are playing different but equally vital roles in producing a range of material.

INTERVIEWER

Do you see your own work as having a political element to it at all?

NO ALIBIS PRESS

I suppose publishing fiction – particularly when you are looking for experimental, new or subversive work – is always political because the writing tends to defamiliarise the everyday and challenge norms. We want to publish unheard voices and stories, which is one of the reasons why we decided to publish an anthology of short stories and have opened this up to submissions (until 31 Jan 2019). But besides wanting to promote equality and traditionally under-represented voices, we don’t take a particular political stance. Having said that, personal politics determine many of our choices – we’re never going to publish fiction that champions far-right perspectives, for example. We’ve also rejected manuscripts that carry misogynistic undertones.

INTERVIEWER

Obviously, the rise of the internet has seen a big culture shift in the way we communicate. What role do you see traditional presses playing in this new “digital era”?

NO ALIBIS PRESS

The digital era prioritises convenience, but arguably something is lost along the way. There is still a strong desire among readers to hold the printed object in their hand. That’s why when it comes to design and formatting we put extra effort into making sure the books we publish are the right quality of paper, the right size, and that the text is beautifully arranged. We don’t see it as a competition with digital, however. Plenty of people want to read some books in a digital format and keep others on their shelf.

INTERVIEWER

The future of literature; of writing – and indeed the future of publishing – are all frequently discussed at great lengths. What are your thoughts on current industry trends – where are we heading?

NO ALIBIS PRESS

It’s true, we’ve been hearing about the imminent demise of the novel, of traditional publishing, the local bookshop for some time now. Yet, novels are still selling in huge numbers – Milkman by Anna Burns is a good example of that, reprints having exceeded expectations. Of course, not every novel attains the readership of a Man Booker prize-winner, but it does demonstrate that there is an appetite for reading, there is a potential audience. For independent presses, this is a very exciting time. Recent successes of Tramp Press or Galley Beggar Press, for example, remind writers looking for representation that smaller publishers can be an attractive option. At No Alibis Press, we’re really not trying to predict what the future holds, we simply continue to look for the best writing we can find and get it out there on the bookshelves.

INTERVIEWER

What are some of the main challenges you face?

NO ALIBIS PRESS

I’d say the main challenge we face, which is the same for all publishers big or small, is the financial aspect. As we do not receive external funding, we need money to be coming into the shop and through book sales in order to continue doing what we love. We have to ensure our authors and readers are happy with the price and available buying options, and that we are not compromising on quality or content. We have to find ways to promote the books that don’t cost a lot of money, for example releasing videos of Ian Sansom reading on Twitter and Facebook, and we rely on our authors being prepared to get out there and talk about their work. Financial restraints can bring about more interesting ways to promote books, however, so it’s not all doom and gloom.

INTERVIEWER

How would you define creativity?

NO ALIBIS PRESS

The process of dissecting what you witness or experience, and representing it in a new, original form.

INTERVIEWER

What’s next for No Alibis Press? What should we look out for?

NO ALIBIS PRESS

We are currently reading submissions for an anthology of short stories, to be published summer 2019. The purpose of the collection is to celebrate writing that is both exceptionally good and challenging conventions in some way, doing something very new with voice or form. We have been very impressed by the quality of submissions already received (submissions are open until 31 Jan 2019), so we anticipate an exciting volume.

INTERVIEWER

Could you write us a story in six words?

NO ALIBIS PRESS

Sure. Here’s some historical fiction with a strong female lead:

Once upon a time, she was.

INTERVIEWER

What are your 5 – 10 top tips for aspiring writers and artists?

NO ALIBIS PRESS

  1. Don’t be swayed too much by what other people are doing, or by the market.
  2. Don’t rush to submit work without rewriting (many times).
  3. Find a way to make your work unfamiliar as you redraft – writers’ techniques include printing out work, changing the font, reading aloud. The aim is to read it as though for the first time.
  4. Embrace failure.
  5. Please believe manuscripts are rejected for many reasons – don’t quit on account of rejection.

54 Writing competitions for 2019

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2018 has been lots of things to lots of people. For the Prime Minister of the UK, Theresa May, for example, it was an opportunity to see just how terrible a job one could do and still remain employed – even going to the extent of deporting her own citizens for no reason other than the colour of their skin. And, while May’s corpse-like grip on power continues to hold – amid a world increasingly descending into chaos and catastrophic environmental breakdown – many writers have been feverishly attempting to finish their masterpieces before the world officially ends.

As things currently stand, however, we are still alive (we think), and so that means we’re rapidly hurtling toward another year and another suite of opportunities to get your writing out there and published.

For our part here at Nothing in the Rulebook, we’ll endeavour to ensure 2019 is filled with a multitude of writerly insights and discussion, and (just for you) we’ve compiled a list of upcoming writing competitions scheduled for the year ahead.

So, in addition to our list of places that are always open for submissions, as well as places to submit flash fiction, we are thoroughly chuffed to bring you this valuable writing resource you can use to get your writing into the right places.

Included below are details about word counts, deadlines and direct links to each event.

If you’d like to add a writing competition to our list then please feel free to contact us!

1. The James Knudsen prize for fiction

US$1,000 in prize money awaits for writers of short stories no longer than 7,500 words in length. There’s a US$20 entry fee.

2. The Fresher Writing Prize

This year’s Fresher Writing Prize invites you to send in poems and short stories inspired by their theme of Peace.

There is an entry fee of £7 and a maximum word limit of 3000. Winners receive a £200 cash prize and feedback on their work.

3. Bath Novella in Flash award

Your novella-in-flash submission must be in between 6,000 and 18,000 words long. Individual flashes (or chapters) within the novella should not be more than 1000 words long.

£300 prize for the winner, two runner-up prizes of £100 plus publication in a one-volume three-novella collection. Each published author receives five copies.

Deadline for entries is January 14th 2019.

4. The Cambridge Short Story Prize

International short story competition with a £1750 prize fund. Submit short stories between 2000 – 3000 words. It costs £8 to enter and is free to residents of Bangladesh. Deadline is January 15th 2019.

5. Fiction Factory short story competition 

All types of writing are welcome for this writing contest with prizes up to £150 for the winners. 3000 words max and a fee of £6 to enter.

6. The Caine Prize for African Writing

For published African authors of fiction. Must be over 3000 words in length and written for adults. Advisable length for the stories is between 3000 and 10,000 words. There is a cash prize of £10,000 and works must be written in or translated into English.

Deadline for submissions is January 31st.

7. Masters Review Winter Short Story Award

The Masters Review Winter Short Story Award is prize that recognises the best fiction from today’s emerging writers. The winning story will be awarded US$3000 and publication online. Second and third place stories will be awarded publication and US$300 and US$200 respectively.

There is an entry fee of US$20 and a maximum word count of 7000. Deadline for entries is January 31st 2019.

8. The Screw Turn Flash Fiction Contest

This contest seeks the finest work that incorporates the uncanny. Ghost stories are welcome, of course—but your submission may involve any paranormal or supernatural theme, as well as magic realism. What they’re looking for is superb writing, fresh perspectives, and maybe a few surprises.

The maximum word count is 1000 and there is a US$10 fee to enter for your chance to win US$500.

9. The Fantastica Prize

Fantastica invites Australian and New Zealand writers to submit science fiction manuscripts for consideration.

Manuscripts must be at least 30,000 words in length and a publishing contract will be offered to the winners along with $2000 in prize money. Deadline for entries is January 31st.

10. New Welsh Writing Awards 2019

The New Welsh Writing Awards 2018, run by New Welsh Review in association with Aberystwyth University and AmeriCymru is open for entries.

Now in its fifth year, the Awards were set up to champion the best short-form writing in English

Each category winner will receive £1,000 cash, e-publication by New Welsh Review on their New Welsh Rarebyte imprint and a positive critique by leading literary agent Cathryn Summerhayes at Curtis Brown. Subsequent prizes include residential courses and weekend breaks.

Entries close at midnight on 4th February 2018.

11. Newcastle Short Story Award 2019

One for Australian writers. First prize is AU$2000. The deadline for submissions is  4th February 2018 and the entry fee is AU$15. The maximum word limit is 2000 words, which includes both titles and any subheadings.

12. Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook 2019 Short Story Competition

First prize receives £500 and a place on an Arvon residential writing course of your choice, as well as publication of your story on the W&A website. Closing date for writing submissions is Tuesday February 13th 2017 and all submissions must be unpublished prose of 2000 words or fewer.

13. Desperate Literature

The aim of the Desperate Literature Short Fiction Prize is both to celebrate the best of new short fiction and to give winners the most visibility possible for their writing.

Max word count is 2000 and there is an entry fee of €20 to enter. Winners will receive €1000.

14. Spotlight Books Competition

Inventive. Hidden. Compelling. Unrecognised. Challenging. Unheard. Beautiful. Ambitious.

Creative Future, Myriad Editions and New Writing South seek the best poets and fiction writers from under-represented backgrounds—those who face barriers due to mental health, disability, identity or social circumstance.

Six writers will be selected and given one-to-one editorial support to shape their manuscript. The six writers will be published in individual small books with international distribution.

There is no fee to enter; winner received publication. Deadline for entries is 24th February 2019.

15. The Margery Allingham Short Story Competition

The Margery Allingham Short Story Competition is open until February 28, 2019.

Submit stories up to 3,500 words. Your story should fit into crime writer Margery’s definition of what makes a great story: “The Mystery remains box-shaped, at once a prison and a refuge. Its four walls are, roughly, a Crime, a Mystery, an Enquiry and a Conclusion with an Element of Satisfaction in it.”

Prize: £500 plus two weekend passes to Crimefest 2019 and a selection of Margery Allingham books.

Entry Fee: £12

16. 1000 word writing challenge

1000 words on a set theme. £5 to enter for a chance to win £100. Deadline for entries is February 28th 2019.

17. Scottish Arts Club Short Story Prize

First things first; you DO NOT have to be Scottish to enter this writing contest. Stories should be 2,000 words or less and may be on any topic.

There’s an entry fee of £10 and a maximum word limit of 2000. Winners receive £1000.

Deadline 28th February 2019.

18. An Axe to Grind Flash Fiction contest

Write a story in fewer than 1000 words for a chance to win US$200.

US$5 to enter. Deadline is 28th February 2019.

19. The Stella Kupferberg Memorial Short Story Prize

The Stella Kupferberg Memorial Short Story Prize is a writing competition sponsored by the stage and radio series Selected Shorts.

Submissions must be no more than 750 words long and there is a US$25 fee to enter.

The deadline for entries is March 1st 2019.

20. Ginosko Literary Journal 2019 Flash Fiction contest

You can submit two pieces of flash fiction of no more than 800 words each to the  Ginosko Flash Fiction Contest, which closes on the 1st March 2019.

Prizes include US$ 500 and publication on the Ginosko Literary Journal website.

The entry fee is US$ 5.

21. Bridgend Writing contest 2019

Stories on a theme of your own choice, between 1500 to 1800 words.

Winner receives £200.

The deadline for entries is March 1st 2019 and there is a £5 entry fee.

22. Eyelands 2nd International Flash Fiction Contest

The theme for this year’s Eyelands flash fiction prize is: Spring

 The contest runs from January 10th through March 20th, 2019

First prize: A week holiday at Three Rock Writers resort οn the island of Crete

Other prize winners and shortlisted entries receive publication. There is an entry fee of €10.

23. Nelligan Prize

International writing prize for writers of all stripes and nationalities. Deadline is March 14th, 2019 for submissions of 12,500 words or less. Entry fee is US$15 and first prize is US$2000.

24. The Killer Nashville Claymore Award

Every year, the Killer Nashville Claymore Award assists new and rebranding English-language fiction authors get published, including possible agent representation, book advances, editor deals, and movie and television sales.

The contest is limited to only the first 50 double-spaced pages of unpublished English-language manuscripts containing elements of thriller, mystery, crime, or suspense NOT currently under contract.

The entry fee is US$40 and the deadline for submissions is April 1st 2019.

25. New Deal Writing Competition 2019

The New Deal Writing Competition is a short story competition where the writer is asked to use a painting chosen by the staff of GVCA as inspiration for their short story.

This year’s painting is “Fountain, Central Park” by Jacques Zucker.

There is an entry fee of US$5 to enter and a maximum word limit of 10,000. Top prize receives US$200.

26. The Bath Short Story Award

An award for local, national and international writers. Closing date for submissions is April 15th, 2019. Short stories of up to 2200 words in all genres and styles are welcome – there is no minimum word limit. First prize receives £1000 and there is also a local prize for Bath residents, as well as The Acorn Award of £50 for unpublished writers of fiction. Entry fee is £8.

27. Momaya short story competition

Any subject and style is welcome for the annual Momaya Short Story Competition.  While entries for the Momaya Competition.

Submit your short story (3,000 word limit) and entry fee of £12 /US$15 by 30 April 2019 in order to compete for prize money and publication in the Momaya Annual Review 2019.

28. Adventure Writers Short Story Competition 2019

This is an international competition and there is just one category: Adventure. The organisers accept traditionally published, e-published and manuscript novels. There is a US$1000 cash prize. A $25 entry fee is charged, and all proceeds go to promoting the contest, the finalists and the winner.  The deadline for entries is 30th April 2019.

Adventure is out there!

29. Adventure Writers Writing Competition 2019

Adventure Writers are an international writing competition now in their ninth year, and have just one category: Adventure.

They accept traditionally published, epublished and manuscript novels. There is a US$ 1000 cash prize for the winners.

A US$25 entry fee is charged, and all proceeds go to promoting the contest, the finalists and the winner.

Deadline for entries is 30th April 2019.

30. The Bristol Short Story Prize

Entries are welcomed for unpublished stories written in English. The deadline for submissions is 1st May 2019 and stories can be on any theme or subject. Maximum length of 4000 words. An £8 entry fee and first prize is £1000. There are also 17 further prizes of £100 for all shortlisted writers.

31. Writer’s Digest Competition

The winner of this annual award will receive US$5000 and an interview in Writer’s Digest. There are a variety of different award categories so it’s best to check the website for details. Deadline is May 6th 2019.

32. Raymond Carver Contest

The Raymond Carver Short Story Contest is one of the most renowned fiction contests in the world. Featuring prominent guest judges and offering US$1500 across five prizes, the contest delivers exciting new fiction from writers all over the world. The contest opens each year April 1 – May 15 and prizewinners are published in their annual fall issue in October. Usual entry fee of US$17.

33. Lorian Hemingway Short Story Prize

Writers of short fiction may now enter the 2019 Lorian Hemingway Short Story Competition. The competition has a thirty-nine year history of literary excellence, and Lorian Hemingway and her small judging panel are dedicated to enthusiastically supporting the efforts and talent of writers of short fiction whose voices have yet to be heard.

Deadline is 15th May 2019. Max word count is 3500, entry fee is US$15 and a prize of US$2500 is available.

34. Bridport Prize

International open competition founded in 1973. Four categories in poetry (max 42 lines); short story (max 5,000 words); flash fiction (max 250 words) and the Peggy Chapman-Andrews Award for a First Novel (max 8,000 words from opening chapters plus 300 word synopsis).

Deadline usually looms towards the end of May each year.

Entry fees and prizes vary depending on category. Full information about this world-renowned competition can be found online.

35. Bath Novel Award

The Bath Novel Award 2018 is an international prize for unpublished and self-published novelists. The winner will receive £2,500, with manuscript feedback and literary agent introductions for those shortlisted. In addition, the writer of the most promising longlisted novel will receive a free place on an online editing course with Cornerstones Literary Consultancy.

Submit your first 5000 words along with a one page synopsis by 2nd June 2019.

There is an entry fee of £25.

36. Narrative Prize

The Narrative Prize is awarded annually for the best short story, novel excerpt, poem, one-act play, graphic story, or work of literary nonfiction published by a new or emerging writer in Narrative.

Deadline is mid June 2019 and there is no entry fee. Maximum word counts of 2000 and prizes of up to US$4000 available.

37. Impress Books prize for new writing

This is a manuscript contest for unpublished writers. Winners receive a print and eBook publishing contact with Impress, as well as a £500 advance.

The deadline for entries is usually around the end of June each year.

You need to submit 6000 words of your manuscript, along with a synopsis and publishing proposal, as well as an author bio.

38. William Van Wert Award for Fiction

US$1,000 and publication in Hidden River Review of Arts & Letters is offered to the best unpublished short story or novel excerpt.

Competition opens in February 2019 and deadline for entries is 30th June 2019.

Any previously unpublished short story or novel excerpt of 25 pages or less is eligible to enter.

There is an entry fee os US$17 and winners receive full manuscript publication and US$1000.

39. The Brighton Prize

The Brighton Prize offers cash prizes for new short and flash fiction. If you’re a writer with a brilliant short story that will both challenge and excite the judges; this is for you.

Submissions are currently open for flash fiction up to 350 words, and short stories of 1-2000 words.

The winner of the short story prize will receive £500, and the winner of the flash fiction prize will receive £100.

There is an entry fee of £8 for short stories and £6 for flash fiction.

The deadline for submissions is 30th June.

40. LuneSpark Young Writer’s Short Story contest

LuneSpark are looking for talented young writers to submit their work for their 2018 short story contest.

Stories must be below 1650 words (they recommend 1500 as a standard).

There is a US$ 15 registration fee (plus an additional US$ 1.82 processing fee) and first prize will receive US$ 500.

The deadline for entries is July 31st 2019, although you’ll need to register before then (check out the website for details).

41. The Sean O Faolain Short Story Prize

The competition is open to original, unpublished and unbroadcast short stories in the English language of 3,000 words or fewer. The story can be on any subject, in any style, by a writer of any nationality, living anywhere in the world. Translated work is not in the scope of this competition.

First Prize: €2,000, a week-long residency at Anam Cara Retreat and publication in the literary journal Southword.

There is a fee of €15 per entry and the deadline for submissions is 31st July.

42. To Hull and Back, writing competition 2019

To Hull And Back Short Story Competition is an annual short story contest with a humorous twist that celebrates the most imaginative and amazing short stories from writers all over the world.

First prize is £1000 and publication.

Max word count is 2500 and the deadline for entries is July 31st 2019.

The fee for entries is £11.

43. The Preservation Foundation’s 2019 contest for unpublished writers 

The Preservation Foundation are a non-profit organisation aiming to “preserve the extraordinary stories of ‘ordinary’ people.”

Stories must be non-fiction in one of four categories: General, Biographical, Travel, and Animals. Submissions must be between 1000 – 10,000 words in length.

There are no entry fees and prizes of US$ 200 for winners, US$ 100 for runners-up, and US$ 50 for finalists in each category.

Deadline for entries is August 31st 2019.

44. The Caterpillar Story Prize

The prize is for a story written by an adult for children (aged 7–11). The judges are looking for stories that will inspire, delight and move our young readers. The stories can be on any subject and in any style, as long as they are age appropriate, and the word limit is 1,500.

The 2019 competition will open from May 2019.

The winning story will receive €1,000 and appear in the winter issue of The Caterpillar.

Entry fee is €12 per story

The closing date is the end of September.

45. Bare Fiction Magazine Short Story Competitions

Any style/genre of writing in a variety of forms, including short stories, flash fiction and poetry. An annual competition with submission deadline of October.

Short story submissions must be below 3000 words and the associated entry fee is £8. Winners of each category receive £500.

46. Early Works Press

Annual writing competition accepts entries of any style or genre. Winners are published in anthology containing 10 to 20 stories (length dependent). There is a £5 entry fee for stories up to 4000 words in length and £10 fee for stories up to 8000 words long. Deadline is October each year, though the publishers also run other competitions throughout the year, so it’s worth keeping an eye on their site for details.

47. PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction

For American citizens with books published in the calendar year (or scheduled to be published) – no self-published books will be accepted. No submission fees, with a deadline of October.

48. ServiceScape short story award

For this award, any genre or theme of short story is accepted. All applicants should submit their original unpublished work of short fiction or nonfiction, 5,000 words or fewer, to be considered. Along with receiving an award for $1,000.00 USD, the winner will have his or her short story featured within the ServiceScape blog, which reaches thousands of readers per month.

There is no entry fee and the deadline for entries is 30th November 2019.

49. Cinnamon Press Writing Competitions

Any style or genre of writing is eligible for their rolling competition deadlines, which fall throughout the year between September and July. Entry fees vary according to form of writing, such as poetry, novels, short stories and flash fiction.

50. Manchester Writing Competition 2018

There are two prizes – one for fiction and one for poetry. Both competitions offer a £10,000 first prize. Deadline for entries is September 2018 and the competition will open in February 2018. The fiction prize will be awarded to the best short story of up to 2500 words, and is open to international writers aged 16 or over. The poetry prize will be given to the best portfolio of three to five poems (maximum length: 120 lines). The entry fee for each competition is £17.50.

51. F(r)iction contest

Literary publisher and resource for writers Brink Literacy project (formerly Tethered By Letters) run this tri-annual publication, F(r)iction, – an art and literature imprint that is distributed around the world. It features short fiction, flash fiction, poetry, nonfiction, and even a selection of graphic stories. It also showcases amazing artwork.

First prize for the short story contest is US$1000 and there is an entry fee of US$18. The first prize for both the poetry and flash fiction contests is US$300 and there is a US$10 entry fee.

Visit the website for information about upcoming deadlines

52. The Short Story ‘Monthly 500’ Flash Fiction competition 

The Short Story was established in 2015 and has quickly developed into an influential platform for short fiction. They champion short stories, flash fiction, and micro-fiction.

Every month, they invite submissions for their flash fiction competition, the winner of which receives publication on their website and £50.

The deadline for each month’s contest is midnight on the last day of each month.

There is an entry fee of £2.28 and entries must be no longer than 500 words (including title).

53. Reedsy Short Story Contest(s)

Every Friday, Reedsy kicks off a weekly short story contest by sending out a newsletter that includes five themed writing prompts. Subscribers have one week (until the following Friday) to submit a short story based on one of the prompts. The winner receives US$ 50 and publication on Reedsy’s Medium blog.

There is no entry fee.

54. Austin Film Festival competitions

Austin Film Festival 2018 is offering a number of different writing contests for you to sink your teeth into. In their 25th year, the Austin Film Festival (AFF) have helped many writers break into the industry of film and television.

AFF currently offer writing competition categories for screenplays, teleplays, short screenplays, digital series scripts, stage plays, and fiction podcast scripts.

Deadlines for the competitions vary, with some differences in entry fees depending on whether you enter before, early, regular, or late/final deadlines.

Prizes include cash awards and the opportunity to meet famous figures from the industry. Check out their website for information

A novelist’s guide to waiting

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The type of intensive, cloistered work of writers can lend itself to solitude. Sometimes, this can be accompanied by activity – such as running  – but it can also be just as much about stillness. In this article, author Tim Leach reflects upon the art of waiting; of embracing these moments of stillness to help aid your writing.

The art of the novelist is the art of waiting. Patience. Stillness. Not the lightning flash of inspiration, but in the waiting for the lightning.

Most of my writing time is spent waiting. Waiting before the half empty page, staring at one of the endless problems to be solved. A minute passes, another and another. Half an hour, perhaps even an hour since last a word was typed. A frightening boredom sets in and seeks to drive me from the chair, to do anything but keep still, hold on. Then a sudden flurry of fingers on the keys, the words springing to the page, the problem solved. And then the next problem, and once more, the waiting.

There is passion in this still, quiet patience. “Am I in love? –yes, since I am waiting,” says Roland Barthes. “The lover’s fatal identity is precisely this: I am the one who waits.” It can have the quality of trance or prayer. And there is courage in waiting too, for learn it well enough and you may outlast anything.

Outlast loneliness, for if one has mastered time what is there to fear from the absence of love? Wait out sadness, for the black waters always recede if you can be patient enough for the turning of the tide. And those other more murderous thoughts that circle the mind like jackals – they too must sleep, if you can stare them down for long enough. The hand that quests for the razor grows old and idle, the rattle of the pill bottle fades to silence, the eye that looks hungrily to high places and the third rail droops and grows heavy.

If writing has taught me anything, it is how to wait. It has been a year of hard waiting. I’ve waited with people and for people, waited out a draft of a book, waited out a madness too. Everything is begun and nothing is finished, much more is broken than is fixed.

But that does not matter. “In this there is no measuring with time, a year doesn’t matter, and ten years are nothing,” says Rilke, because poets know how to wait, too.

I hear the tick of the clock and the sound of the sea, and that particular silence in the concert hall before the pianist first lays their hands upon the keys. I am waiting.

About the author

Tim Leach

Tim Leach is a historical fiction author and creative writing teacher. His first novel, The Last King of Lydia, was published by Atlantic Books in Spring 2013, and has been longlisted for the Dylan Thomas Prize. A sequel, The King and the Slave‘, was published in 2014. His most recent novel, Smile of the Wolf  was published in 2018. He teaches creative writing at the University of Warwick, and he lives in Sheffield.

Creatives in profile: interview with Señor Samba

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In the spirit of all good interviews, Nothing in the Rulebook first encountered Señor Samba on a chilly night in central London, dancing in a group apparently gripped by some shared disco-infused hysteria and shouting half-correct lyrics of classic disco tunes at unsuspecting tourists.

This is the model of a creative phenomenon that has been gripping creative festivals since 2008 – and launched in London in 2018. Founded by Guru Dudu, these silent disco walking tours are a unique blend of interpretative dance, crazy improvisation, and spontaneous flash mobbing through different cultural settings. Inspiring and insane in perhaps equal measure, they offer participants an extremely rare thing in a day and age so often defined by rules and limitations: they offer people permission to play and celebrate their creative and quirky selves.

It may come as no surprise to you, then, that these silent disco walking tours are right up our proverbial alley. Make no mistake: there is absolutely nothing in the rulebook that says you can’t dance and sing to Bohemian Rhapsody in the middle of Leicester Square.

It was thus a real treat to catch up with Señor Samba once he’d had a chance to get out of his effervescent, ever-so-revealing, tight blue outfit and feature him in our long-running ‘Creatives in profile’ interview series.

And we have a real treat for all of you, dear readers, too: the first 10 people who read the interview and quote it in an email to London@gurududu.org (and follow Guru Dudu on Instagram at gurududulondon or facebook at gurududulovesyou) will receive a pair of free tickets to Guru Dudu’s shows. 

Happy reading (and dancing), comrades! 

 INTERVIEWER

Tell us about yourself, where you live and your background/lifestyle

SEÑOR SAMBA

My name is Rikesh. I grew up in Brighton, UK, where my heart still resides. I live a relatively chaotic life based on the principle of never saying no to anything, which has led me down some pretty interesting avenues (like dancing around in blue lycra short shorts leading people dancing to ABBA).

Other than moonlighting as a lycra wearing disco diva, I’m the Vice President of a green technology company called Pluvo (check us out), a professional session vocalist, and I’m studying a medical degree. I like to keep busy. 😊

As well as singing and dancing on every occasion I like to travel, read, learn, eat, and I’m partial to a good crossword. Favourite quote, and one of the maxims I live by: ‘Just because a song has to end, doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the music.’

INTERVIEWER

Who inspires you?

SEÑOR SAMBA

Anyone who does good in the world and has a passion for doing so. The real heroes are those who are unsung and fight against all the s*** we put up with but make sure they leave the world in a better place than they found it.

Similarly, I’m inspired by honesty. It’s a really difficult thing in an image-centred world to be true to yourself. Sometimes it’s difficult to know what that truth is. So to find it and to live it is a difficult thing.

INTERVIEWER

How did you get involved with Guru Dudu’s project?

SEÑOR SAMBA

I was going through a really bad period and I did what every sensible adult would do. I quit my day job in the city, moved out of the big smoke, and curled up in a ball in my parents’ house in Brighton for a while. I’ve always been a fan of the Brighton Fringe and I’d seen a bunch of crazy people wearing headphones so I thought I’d give it a go. For an hour I forgot about everything – I was Freddie Mercury, I was Whitney Houston, I was even Kylie Minogue, and I didn’t care who saw. For an hour the world was a splash of music and colour. At the end Guru came up to me and told me I danced like a lunatic. I thanked him. He told me he was recruiting new Gurus. A few months later I was in my blue lycra short shorts in Edinburgh getting 60 shameless superstars to do the YMCA on the Royal Mile.

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INTERVIEWER

What are some of the challenges you’ve faced getting the project off the ground?

SEÑOR SAMBA

London is a big city; there’s loads to do. We’re competing with some of the best entertainment the world has to offer. Also, it’s getting the word out. When people do it they love it, it’s just going to take time before the disco revolution hits these streets. In smaller towns/cities it’s much easier to gain traction but then the target market is smaller. Those are some of my favourite gigs though.

INTERVIEWER

There’s something liberating about singing loudly (often badly) in a group while getting down on it in the middle of an otherwise unexpecting public space. Why is that?

SEÑOR SAMBA

Music is a wonderfully liberating thing. Who doesn’t sing and dance in the shower or in the car when by themselves? Headphones allow privacy and are one of my favourite inventions of the 20th Century. What we do is take that privacy and make it public, through community. Privacy in public – I like that. It doesn’t matter that you’re singing and dancing just like you would in the shower right in the middle of Leicester Square – as long you’re not alone in doing so. And that freedom to be as ludicrous as you feel in front of the whole world? Why, there’s nothing more liberating than that.

INTERVIEWER

Are you in a secret, unspoken war with DJs of traditional, ‘loud’(?) discos?

SEÑOR SAMBA

Absolutely not! The more music the better.

INTERVIEWER

We’re living in some pretty reality-shattering times. In an age of Trump and Brexit, should we be getting people out on the streets to protest, rather than party?

SEÑOR SAMBA

There are a million and one answers I could give here depending on my state of mind, but ultimately the main thing is that Guru Dudu is for everyone. Your politics, your views, they don’t matter when you’re jumping up and down to S Club 7.

Beyond that, I truly believe that fun, joy, laughter – that’s the best form of protest. There’s a lot of angry people in the world and they have every right to be. I’ve been angry. Angry at the state of the world, angry at the state of my life, angry at the state of myself. The best way to combat anger is with love. Self-love, love of others. Play, joy, passion, and love.

INTERVIEWER

Hopes for the future?

SEÑOR SAMBA

For myself or for Guru Dudu? For myself – I hope that someday I find my inner peace, whatever that means. I’ll know it when I see it. Chaos can only last so long. For Guru Dudu? I just hope that everyone who would get something out of our vision gets a chance to.

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Quick fire round!  

Just what is a ‘laughter meridian’?

A meridian that makes you laugh. Obviously.

Are we really supposed to blame everything on ‘the boogie’?

Well we can’t very well go round blaming it on sunshine. Blame it on the boogie. Occasionally you can blame it on Piers Morgan, but yeah – mostly just the boogie.

Craziest thing you’ve seen on a silent disco tour?

I did a tour in Chichester where there were mostly children and I decided to play the Pink Panther theme tune. I got the kids to pretend everyone was a spy and hide. I led the tour into a Poundland. One of the kids, couldn’t have been more than 5, took it so seriously that he climbed onto a shelf and hid himself behind the cereal boxes. It took us a while to find him and a little longer for his mother to coax him down so I had to maintain a dance party in Poundland for a while…

Worst moment as a silent disco leader?

I don’t know that I’ve really had one. I’ve had one tour where the energy wasn’t what I’d like but to be honest people still came up after and said it was the most fun they’ve ever had. It’s difficult when you know you haven’t been on the best form, but this idea is so unique and novel it’s easy to forget that people will still love it anyway. It’s an even harder thing to accept you can’t always be perfect, but it’s an important thing to understand.

Best moment?

I was doing a tour in Edinburgh and I was getting the participants to show off their dance moves. There was one teenage boy with Down’s Syndrome. I passed the baton to him to show his moves. There was a couple of seconds’ hesitation after which he proceeded to break dance in the middle of the circle. Literal air flares. If you don’t know what that is, look it up. It was incredible. I actually fell to my knees. The tour kicked off. At the end I asked him if he wanted to show off some more of his moves and much to the delight of half of central Edinburgh he strutted his stuff on the steps of the National Museum of Scotland. It was one of my first tours, but I’m not sure I’ll ever see anything that tops it.

Doing ‘Dancing Queen’ the weekend after the Tory party conference outside 10 Downing Street and having a police car turn on its sirens in appreciation of our moves wasn’t bad either.

Aretha Franklin or Tina Turner?

Aretha. Saying a little prayer for her on all my tours. But I love all the divas. I’d have to say my favourite is Etta James.

Favourite book/movie/TV show?

Book: The Flying Classroom by Eric Kästner. It’s a German children’s book. I don’t know how to describe how much I love this book. It’s about 5 boys at a boarding school and in 100 pages (with illustrations) it deals with concepts such as abandonment, depression, loneliness, loyalty, fear, poverty, and friendship – and never in a way that feels remotely condescending. A quote from the book goes as follows: ‘God knows, children’s tears weigh no less than the tears of a grown up. It doesn’t matter what causes your unhappiness. What matters is how unhappy you are.’

Movie: Barfi. It’s a Bollywood movie that was the first to deal with disability. The two primary characters are unable to speak for the entire movie. In a country where disabled children are often seen as a burden or a curse and abandoned by their parents, this film is a welcome reminder that disabled does not mean less than. It’s also just adorable and has me a weeping wreck by the end – every time.

TV Show: Ed. A cute little show about a guy who owns a bowling alley in small town America. It’s nothing special but the dialogue is quick, the characters are endearing, the storylines are easy, and it is a saccharine escape from a much more complex existence.

What’s your ideal silent disco playlist?

I love trying to vary up my playlist depending on the crowd. I love hearing people’s ideas too. My favourite song to get people moving however is always a bit of Whitney Houston – I Wanna Dance with Somebody. And it’s probably the one song that I have on my regular playlist that I haven’t got remotely tired of yet. Any ideas, let me know!

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The best literary stocking fillers for Christmas

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Every year, shoppers in the UK and USA rush to gather as much “stuff” as they can to help fill Christmas stockings of all shapes and sizes. Even as we write this, we can almost hear the sound of frantic parents tearing up retail stores searching for Star Wars lightsaber BBQ tongs; “hilarious” inflatable zimmer frames; bizarre, whirling contraptions of plastic and electronic parts that last of all 30 seconds and then are thrown out as non-degradable landfill.

“But it’s Christmas!” We hear you cry. “It wouldn’t be Christmas without a Christmas stocking; it wouldn’t be Christmas without stocking fillers!”

On this, we are prepared to concede the point. It is, indeed, Christmas. And while the religious festival of mass consumerism seems to get longer every year, stockings – and stocking fillers – are inevitably a part of it. Rather than argue about this from our liberal ivory tower made of granola and quinoa – and, honestly, who wants to be a Scrooge about Christmas, really? – we’ve done our homework and put together a list of literary stocking fillers that are guaranteed not only to raise a smile on the faces of those you love; but will also not end up as landfill before the turkey (or watermelon ham, for our vegan friends) is even cold.

Check out our suggestions below:

1. December Stories

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Few books capture the myriad intertwined feelings of joy, anxiety and sometimes sweet melancholy or nostalgia than Ian Samson’s December Stories 1, the second book offering of Belfast-based independent publishers No Alibis Press.

Comprised of brilliant short stories, vignettes, axioms, the odd recipe (emphasis on ‘odd’), art criticism, meditations and literary curiosities relating to all things festive – there’s something for every day of the titular month.

The perfect antidote to the festive season.

2. Penguin little black classics

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127 little books to choose from (one more than last year, now they’ve added the United States Constitution to the list). Each around 60 pages long, these delightful paperbacks give you a wealth of options to explore. These extracts of wider classical literary works are sure to offer choices to meet all literary tastes. Authors include Karl Marx, Jane Austen, Jonathan Swift, Virginia Woolf, Friedrich Nietzsche, Plato, Caligula, Keats, Flaubert, Dostoevsky and Dickens. What’s not to love?

3. Future Library – buying a gift for the future generations

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The Future Library is a 100-year artwork. From 2014 until 2114, one writer every year will contribute a text, with the writings held in trust, unpublished for up to 100 years. Each writer has the same remit: to conceive and produce a work in the hopes of finding a receptive reader in an unknown future.

Margaret Atwood, David Mitchel, Elif Shafak and other world renown authors have already pledged manuscripts to the project. And, while your loved ones won’t be able to read them just yet, you can get a present that passes beyond the generations – a certificate that entitles the bearer to a copy of each of the books when they are finally published. It’s not cheap (at US$1000); but it’s certainly a stocking filler unlike any other – and one that won’t just be thrown away 30 seconds after opening.

4. Groundbreaking new fiction from Will Eaves

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Get your loved ones some cracking, daring new literature with one of three (or, indeed, all three) of these superb books from the author Will Eaves.

The Absent Therapist (TAT) saw Eaves shortlisted for the prestigious Goldsmith Prize, and you can see why. Technically described as a novel, this delightful little book will fit any stocking – but would also be a great find under the Christmas tree. A collection of mini-narratives, each with a precise tone and occasional touches of poetry, feature stories of artificial intelligence and musings on philosophy, of travel and adventure, and of course, family feuds – without which it simply wouldn’t be Christmas.

Cousin to TAT, The Inevitable Gift Shop, is similarly groundbreaking and unique (as we’ve noted before). Described as ‘a memoir by other means’, it’s not at all plot driven. Rather, this work of collage brings together bits and pieces of memoir, fictional prose, poetry, essay and non-fiction. Interactive, funny, insightful and thought provoking in equal turns, it’s a perfect book to revisit time and time again.

Meanwhile,  Eaves’s new novel, Murmur,  is a rare achievement in its own right. Formally audacious, daring in its intellectual inquiry and unwaveringly humane, it’s little surprise that the book once again saw Eaves nominated for the Goldsmith Prize. The opening section of Murmur was also shortlisted for the 2017 BBC National Short Story Award.

5. A subscription to an independent literary magazine

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There’s a lot of talk these days of buying the ones you love subscriptions to streaming services like Netflix or Spotify. But this year, why not support some independent creatives instead of lining the pockets of huge media corporations, while also bringing some literary delights to the doors of those you care about for the next year?

Purchasing a subscription (or three, or thirty) to a literary magazine (like The Brixton Review of Books, Litro, Tin House, The Emma Press,  the TSS or Oxford American, to name but a few) help readers around the world discover new writing. Not only are they a great way of getting cheap (sometimes almost free) reading material on the regular, you also get added cool-person points for supporting some right-on creatives.

6. This is the place to be

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Nominated for the Gordon Burn Prize, as well as the PEN Ackerley and the Bread & Roses awards, This is the place to be, by Lara Pawson, is one hell of a good read. Small enough to fit in your stocking, it still packs a massive punch in the proverbial “feels” as it moves with a delicate precision through personal anecdotes of the author, taking us from the market at Walthomstow to the harrowing experiences of war in Angola. There’s an immense honesty within this book that carries us through from start to finish – with each vignette or mini-story contained within it perfect for sharing together around a Christmas fire or over a large bottle of brandy.

(You can take our word for it, too – check out our review here)

7. We do Christmas

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From the minds of the creatives who brought you the supremely funny ‘We go to the gallery’ – which kick started an entire range of literary stocking fillers itself – comes the latest in their line of excellent ‘adult children’s books’; semi-funny spoof versions of the books we grew up reading as children.

Have a sneak peek inside their new book, ‘We Do Christmas’, below (and then buy it, of course).

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8. Tequila Mockingbird – cocktails with a literary twist

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Looking for something for the book lover and cocktail enthusiast in your life? This small (perfect stocking filler size, in fact) is an ideal companion to any literary party. Tequila Mockingbird is a witty collection of 65 different recipes includes classics like Love in the Time Of Kalhua, Vermouth the Bell Tolls and A Rum of One’s Own. Recipes are paired with wry (rye?) commentary, bar bite suggestions and drinking games.

9. Something special from the Folio Society

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Looking to hide a real genuine treat at the bottom of someone’s stocking? Then why not check out these extraordinarily beautiful books from The Folio Society’s Christmas selection, including this limited edition of Sherlock Holmes.

10. Literary gift sets

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Why just get someone a book, when you can also get them an entire Christmas gift set inspired by a classic literary novel? Why not check out the wonderful gifts from the Literary Emporium.

11. Who could forget the Christmas socks?

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It wouldn’t really be Christmas without some socks to open on Christmas morning. Add a literary twist to this year’s Christmas socks with these Fahrenheit 451 inspired designs from the Literary Gift Co.

Open for submissions – where to submit your writing

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You there, writers! Wordsmiths and expression explorers! We can see you, hunched over your laptops, feverishly searching the annals of the internet for places to submit your work. You’ve done the hard part; you’ve spilled your soul on the page, edited and re-edited, torn apart, rejigged, stitched back together, you’ve gone round the houses entreating on friends and relatives and bemused bystanders to please have a quick look at the story you’ve written and – finally! – it’s finished. All you need now is a home for your writing that isn’t your cluttered desktop.

First, the good news: there are literally thousands upon thousands of places where you can submit your work.

Now, the not so good news: there are literally thousands upon thousands of places where you can submit your work. How do you know which one’s for you? And how can you possibly have time to go through them all?

Back to some good news: We have gone through the myriad of different writing websites and magazines and collated together a not-exhaustive-but-still-actually-pretty-extensive list of places that are open for submissions (and the even better news is that these places don’t have deadlines for you to worry about missing).

So, in addition to our writing competitions lists, and our list of places to submit flash fiction, we are thoroughly chuffed to bring you this valuable writing resource you can use to get your writing into the right places.

The list*

After the pause: A small independent press and experimental journal of poetry, flash fiction, and art; always accepting submissions. Max 1000 words.

Blanket Sea: Take poetry, art, and creative fiction and fiction up to 2000 words from writers and artists living with chronic illness and disability, and also take previously published pieces.

Brixton Review of Books: Fantastic literary magazine based in South London, styled after other great titles including the Paris Review and London Review of Books. Email direct to find out more information about contributing.

Cabinet of Heed: The Cabinet is hungry for submissions of fiction no longer than 4000 words. You can prevent a terrifying furniture-based rampage by feeding it quirky, off-centre fiction or poetry that might astound and inspire! Please note: All well-crafted work will be considered, quirky or not.

Cotton Xenomorph: Flash fiction up to 1500 words and 2 pages of poetry. Into inspiring language. No creeps allowed.

Ellipsis zine: Flash fiction up to 1000 words. Want to publish stories that make us forget where we are, stories that introduce us to people, places and things we’ve never seen before and stories that stick with us long after we leave them.

For Books Sake: Accept stories between 2000-6000 from self-identifying women for their weekend read.

Jellyfish Review: Take flash and creative non fiction up to 1000 words, and essays up to 2000. Team behind this awesome project also get back to you very quickly (and their non-acceptances are extremely helpful, too).

Laurel Magazine: Take poetry, flash fiction, art, photos and short stories up to 6000 words.

Ghost parachute: Submissions of flash fiction up to 1000 words. Seeks to publish writing that is unapologetically bold.

Mojave Heart: Online literary/arts journal based in the Mojave Desert: poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, memoir, art, photography. Up to 3000 words.

Monkey Bicycle: Submissions up to 2000 words. They are open to all genres, as long as there is a strong story and a great narrative. If you have experimental work you’d like to send, they’ll consider that as well.

Moonchild Magazine: Various word limits depending on genre and style. MM is an experiential online journal that publishes dreamy visual art, poetry, translations of poetry, flash fiction, mixtapes, collaborations between writers and artists, and more.

Moonpark Review: Quarterly journal of short prose (750 words max).

Long long journal: Submission guidelines vary. Generally publish poetry and fiction.

The Nasiona: Nonfiction literary magazine, publishing narrative-led work that explores the human condition. Max length 6000 words.

Nothing in the Rulebook: We couldn’t very well not include ourselves here now, could we? We strive to support and publish all new and creative ideas across genres and forms. We’d publish a 10,000 word treatise on the artistic merit of ankle socks if it’s written well and with passion and truth and wit. Also publish non-fiction, short stories, poetry, photography, illustration, cartoons, interviews, book reviews. Get involved!

Open Pen: London magazine seeking fiction between 50-4000 words. After short fiction with something to say.

Pendora Mag: Cool magazine. Takes flash up to 500 words, poetry, short fiction, essays and non-fiction.

Pigeonholes: Seeks your literary, speculative, experimental, or absurdly unclassifiable, just make it bold and beautiful. Word limit for fiction is 1000 words.

Porridge: Max word limit is 4000. Keen interest in academic essays, alongside photography, poetry, flash fiction, short stories, excerpts from novels, original artwork, and other visual media.

Platypus Press: An indie publisher of poetry, fiction and non-fiction. Short stories between 5000 – 25,000 words.

Rabid Oak: Online journal of poetry and flash fiction & nonfiction, max 1000 words.

Riggwelter Press: Riggwelter is open to submissions of poetry, short fiction, visual art (of any kind – photography, collage, traditional art etc.) experimental/mixed media, essays and reviews.

The Selkie: These fine folk aim to support and nurture voices from marginalised backgrounds by welcoming submissions and promoting the work of underrepresented writers and artists. Flash fiction and short stories. Up to 4000 words.

StorgyOnline Arts & Entertainment Magazine for those who love short stories, books and movies. Looking for literary short fiction, particularly short stories which challenge literary conventions and experiment with genre, style, form and content. Also looking for essays, reviews and articles. Max words – 5000.

 

*Want to see your magazine, journal or website here? Get in touch and let us know!

Creatives in profile – interview with Laura Potts

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Follow Laura Potts on Twitter @thelauratheory_ 

Laura Potts is twenty-two years old and lives in West Yorkshire. Twice-recipient of The Foyle Young Poets Award, her work has been published by Agenda, Aesthetica and The Poetry Business. Having worked at The Dylan Thomas Birthplace in Swansea, she was nominated for The Pushcart Prize and became one of the BBC’s New Voices last year. Laura’s first BBC radio drama aired at Christmas, and she received a commendation from The Poetry Society in 2018.

In the following interview, we talk with Laura about creativity and inspiration, writing style and poetry, West Yorkshire, Donald Trump, Joan Crawford and hats.

INTERVIEWER

Tell me about yourself, where you live and your background/lifestyle

POTTS

Laura, 22. Writes much; reads more. Lives in a city that has been largely lost ever since last century coughed and dropped a war (or two). Born in Yorkshire. Bred on books which always took me further. Fond of rain and winter, the solitary nights and the comfort of the dark. Alone but never lonely and content to be that way. Poet and writer of radio plays. Terminal wearer of hats.

INTERVIEWER

Is poetry your first love, or do you have another passion?

POTTS

I have always looked at living like this: life is one great passion, too vast to reduce to the four short lines I just wrote above. My life is many loves. I have never set out to chase just one of them. That would be to exist and not to live. The darkest days and the longest nights; the quiet of a sleeping house; the kindness of another; the seasons, always leaving; anger and its blackness; fire and its warmth; the world unfurling in the hands of ministers and mobs, and all before me. These are just a few of my loves and poetry is their legacy. It has never been art for art’s sake; never poetry for poetry. It is always in the service of my own private chaos that a poem, as the very best medium, comes to be.

INTERVIEWER

Who inspires you?

POTTS

Assuming we’re talking poetry, then quite a few haunt me. There’s Dylan Thomas, whose music is truer to ancient verse than winds are to winter; Leonard Cohen, with all the darkness of his heart; John Foggin for landscapes amorphous and Saxon; Clare Pollard for the humour of youth; Peter Riley for Hushings; Ian Parks for desire; Jade Cuttle for what she gives us back; the grace of Phoebe Stuckes; and Sasha Dugdale to the last, whose Joy has stayed with me.

And if we’re not talking poetry, then Joan Crawford. I like her class and taste in hats.

INTERVIEWER

As a Yorkshire-born poet, do you feel that there’s an element of your place of birth and home town in the poems you write? Or do you seek to separate your personal writing from your personal geography? (Is that even possible?)

POTTS

It was Matthew Arnold back in the nineteenth century who famously wrote that the best work comes from the disinterested mind – that is, from those who actively separate themselves from the bright world around them – and I’ve always believed that that ethos should stay firmly in the Victorian era. I disagree with the social ignorance it promotes, nor do I think it is even possible. Such a person would surely be devoid of language and its histories; of human contact and sexual impulse; of feeling altogether? Each poem, whether consciously or not, is the code of my history; each word is the product of past and present. I’ve never thought art can exist in a vacuum. Only a cypher could make that.

INTERVIEWER

Your poetry series Sweet the Mourning Dew for BBC Radio 3 focuses on the experiences of those individuals who have lost loved ones to war. What drew you to this topic?

POTTS

My grandfather, mainly. He was an old war veteran and fiercely proud of the fact. He mimed the memory of war each day in a rigid routine; in a noble walk; even in his Brylcreem slicks and the same old comb from 1940 before the morning mirror. Most of all, he wanted to write his memoirs before the cancer came. In that alone he knew defeat. Sweet The Mourning Dew was my testament to a man who was proud of himself, and who wanted the lost to live on from the page past his own small place in time. It was never a passive claim on the tales that others have to tell. It was simply fulfilling a promise.

INTERVIEWER

How do you view the connection between poetry as performance and poetry as a solitary, personal act of reading poems upon a page?

POTTS

I have always believed that a poem can have many lives. Its life on the page is different to its life on the stage, but both are integral to its existence. It is true to the ancient roots of verse that it should be read and shared aloud; that its metre and music should be known to the ear as well as the eye. I am, however, distrustful of poetry as performativity: is emotion so scripted, so fabricated, so brief? And I am nervous of those who shout too loudly: in the most literal sense, in the beginning is the word and no end of spitting or swearing on stage will ever beat that. That is just a sad failure of the imagination.

INTERVIEWER

As a young ‘Gen Z’ poet who has come of age during years marked by the Iraq war; the global financial crisis and recently years of Brexit and Donald Trump, what is your take on the world around you? How can you use poetry to connect with the world as is?

POTTS

Quite frankly, I think the world is creeping dangerously close to repeating those centuries of war and hatred it said it would leave behind. It makes a mockery of those who died for the sake of democracy; for gender and racial equality; for decency; for rights. It laughs in the face of all those who tried and believed in peace. And all for a headline in the New York Times come morning or, better, a few more followers online. I’ve always thought poets are the quiet scribes of history. Like confessional voices to the past, they can speak with a passion which the history page never will.

INTERVIEWER

What has your personal experience been of trying to break onto the ‘poetry scene’?

POTTS

Well, I never tried to ‘break onto’ it as such. I read and wrote and wrote and read, and found the joy in that alone. I never had a formal plan to stand on stage and tell the world that I, self-titled, am ‘a poet’. It was never as scripted as that. But talent alone will always out, or that is what I’m content to think. And it is mainly due to the kindness of friends – of fellow writers, fellow thinkers – who listened and spoke well of me that others hear my voice today.

INTERVIEWER

In terms of writing poetry, what do you think is most important to keep in mind when writing your initial drafts?

POTTS

Most of all, I’d say that time should be forgotten. Little will come from a hurried mind, and what does is often stillborn. It’s a gift to hold a finished verse but only when it’s right: more joy comes from a well-worked line than a whole verse with no life. Or that’s my belief at least. I can easily spend a week or more just looking at one line. It’s really a very kind process for the mind to let time alone be the catalyst: the thoughts may be intense, yes; but I give them all the open space to grow and romp and play for months, if they need it. It’s a crucial part of my writing style to let the words live with me for hours, or days, or even weeks. If they haven’t settled in by then, I know they’re not to be.

INTERVIEWER

Do you have a specific ‘reader’ or audience in mind when you write?

POTTS

Yes. Excepting the times when I write for commission and must fulfil criteria, I am the audience I write for. The joy has always been in seeing myself reflected back from the page, and never for the approval of anyone else. If there is a time when that should change, I will put down my pen for good.

INTERVIEWER

How would you define creativity?

POTTS

An expressive quality by which the mind can translate imagination into reality.

INTERVIEWER

What does the term ‘poet’ mean to you?

POTTS

That’s a much-contended one! I’ve always tried to reserve that title for a rather select group: that is, for those to whom writing is the defining constant of their lives. Perhaps it is their living; perhaps they’ve been well-published; perhaps they did a whole lot more than stand behind a microphone that one time in the pub. Otherwise, I’ll just go chop myself some wood and call myself a craftsman. No, that will never be enough. I think of it like this alone: if you want to align yourself with those who could, with confidence, call themselves ‘the poets’ in the epic annals of Literature, you have to do much more than that. You must be worthy of the name before you make the claim.

INTERVIEWER

Since Percy Bysshe Shelley penned the Masque of Anarchy, poetry has been used by writers and artists as a means of revolt against the status quo and to champion causes, giving voices to those who perhaps would not otherwise be heard. What are your thoughts on poetry as protest?

POTTS

I have always believed there is something intrinsically restless to poetry: in its formlessness, its shapelessness and its lack of formal laws, there is a freedom unfound in prose. Unlike most other areas of our lives, rules do not exist. And so the union between poetry and politics is a natural one in which the chaos of the latter can find its freedom. And, of course, it always helps that rhyme makes particularly memorable music.

INTERVIEWER

Could you tell us a little about some of the future projects you’re working on?

POTTS

Really, I’m happy enough just to write when I wish and read to widen my mind. But the next natural step is the first collection for which I have a manuscript; for which the time must be right and I must be ready. Other than that, I’m in the early stage of a full-length play for BBC Radio 4 and I’d like to write for the stage someday. But the plan is to be how I’ve always been and just write for the love alone. So we’ll see. When not writing I am reading, and that will be enough.

INTERVIEWER

Could you give your top 5 tips for writers?

POTTS

  • Always have an accessible medium. Notebook, diary, tablet, phone. The back of your hand will do. Just make sure your mind never meets a barricade.
  • The best writers are the best readers. You’ll find your voice by listening to others and gauging your own place in the annals of literature.
  • Read your work aloud. At its ancient roots, poetry was an oral art form often set to music. By reading aloud you’ll remember its heritage and notice its flaws. A poem has a different life on the page to its life in the mouth, and it’s easy to know when a writer does not read aloud: their rhythm could be markedly better.
  • Be kind to yourself. Writer’s block is a terrible friend but one we must endure. Take your time. Sometimes the mind works best when at rest.
  • The only regrets you’ll have are for the times you didn’t try. So why not send that submission today?

Found in the Crowd – the case for crowdfunding anthologies

Authors, publishers and literary journals are all finding new ways of connecting directly to their readers – and their wallets – on online platforms such as Kickstarter. In this article, Dan Coxon examines how the social financing can bring new book ideas to life. 

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Image by tai11/iStock

Recently there has been a lot of chatter about the future of the short story. Some feel that we’re seeing a resurgence of the short form, citing as proof the phenomenal success of George Saunders, or the unlikely appearance of Tom Hanks’s debut collection. Others feel that the popularity of stories has steadily declined in recent years. In his generally positive introduction to The Penguin Book of the British Short Story, even Philip Hensher was forced to admit that ‘reading short stories rewarded by competitions, I was struck by present-tense solitary reflections, often with characters lying on their beds affectlessly pondering… There was nothing there at all, apart from a fervent desire to win £30,000.’

What everyone appears to agree on is that publishers don’t know what to do with short fiction. Occasionally, the larger publishers will humour an established author – Hilary Mantel, Lionel Shriver – by allowing them a collection between the novels, but you’re unlikely to see many debuts. (Hanks is the obvious exception – but there’s no need to explain the marketing decision behind that book.) New authors are finding that only the smaller, independent presses are willing to take a punt on their genius.

The same is also true of anthologies. I’ve now crowdfunded two anthologies on Kickstarter: Being Dad: Short Stories About Fatherhood (Tangent Books), and most recently This Dreaming Isle (Unsung Stories), a collection of stories inspired by British folklore and local history. Increasingly, independent publishers are turning to crowdfunding as a viable option, and in particular it’s something that seems to be working for the humble anthology. Might there be a future for the short story after all?

In many ways, my experience with Being Dad was typical. Several medium-to-large publishers expressed an interest, but said that anthologies ‘didn’t sell’ (how they would know this when they didn’t actually publish any is one of life’s great mysteries). Eventually, I secured the interest of Bristol-based Tangent Books, who had the foresight to see that this was a book which had both a market and some great stories. There was one proviso: we had to raise the initial costs via crowdfunding.

I’ll admit, at first I was reluctant. There is still an element of resistance to the crowdfunding route, especially among older writers and readers. It’s sometimes seen as being worryingly close to vanity publishing – you go cap-in-hand to your friends and family, beg them for money, and then pay a publisher to print the book. At one end of the scale, this is certainly the case. As in any industry, there are unscrupulous businesses that are only too willing to take your money.

But in all the cases cited here, it wasn’t a matter of funding a book outright via ‘donations’, but rather a means of generating publicity and interest ahead of publication to ensure its success. I find it useful to think of the new crowdfunding model as a kind of inverse marketing: whereas the publicity campaign usually kicks in upon publication, here we did all our marketing in advance. I like to think that most of these people would have bought the book anyway – but by doing it ahead of publication, they helped reduce the risk to both publisher and authors, and therefore made the book possible.

I won’t go into the details here, but suffice it to say that crowdfunding a book is a long and arduous process. What has struck me most forcibly, however, is the interest we have received – and not just from people we knew. Yes, many of my friends backed the books I’ve crowdfunded, for which I’m hugely grateful. But we’ve received pledges from complete strangers from all corners of the globe – some of them extremely generous – and in the final accounting these constituted the vast majority of pledges. With both the books I’ve been involved in, we were able to pre-sell much of the first print run and the projects very quickly went into profit.

My experience is by no means unique. Last year Unsung Stories crowdfunded 2084, an anthology of short stories inspired by George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, and they had a resounding success. Their funding goal was reached within eleven hours of the campaign launching, and the final total was almost ten times the original target.

I asked George Sandison at Unsung Stories why they’d decided to crowdfund the book, and this is what he had to say:

‘One of the things an anthology gives you, that a single-author book doesn’t, is a chance to reach the fans of every author involved. Between support from contributors with promoting the launch, and a larger group of people who may be interested in the project, you’ve got a healthy customer base to call on. And one of the things crowdfunding does really well, is get people involved in a project – they get their name in the book, collectible editions, artwork, special stuff they’ll want to keep. So combine those two things and you have a lot of people, who are empowered and made part of the process. Quite literally, they help make the book.’

This is what I’ve found too, and it suggests that there’s a very real business model that’s starting to emerge. Anthologies benefit from having several authors involved, and with their combined fan bases they are able to spread their appeal more widely. Having one or two well-established authors on board can also make it more appealing, especially to an audience that might not have taken a chance on the lesser-known writers.

Of course, it’s not just anthologies that are reaping the benefits of crowdfunding. Independent presses in general are gradually coming to realise its advantages, and many now have a success story to tell. Influx Press crowdfunded their own anthology, The Unreliable Guide to London, which has gone on to receive critical acclaim and was shortlisted for a number of awards. Following that, they also ran a crowdfunding campaign to fund the next year’s publications, which met its target with ease. Dead Ink and Dodo Ink have also turned to crowdfunding to get projects off the ground in recent years, and all are going from strength to strength.

Interestingly, Unbound enjoyed a huge crowdfunded success with Nikesh Shukla’s The Good Immigrant. While this was non-fiction, rather than fiction, it once again suggested that crowdfunding works for multi-author projects. I’ve since been told that Unbound will no longer consider anthologies, a decision that seems to undermine the idea of crowdfunding anthologies as a strong business model. It starts to make sense, however, when you bear in mind that Unbound are now part of the Penguin Random House behemoth. Clearly the mainstream publishing mantra that ‘anthologies don’t sell’ has already seeped through to the Unbounders.

Within the independent field, though, the anthology may actually be thriving, and crowdfunding is looking more and more like the way forward. Yes, short stories are a niche market – but they’re a market nonetheless. By targeting and actively involving readers who have an interest in short fiction, projects like Unsung’s 2084 and This Dreaming Isle are looking remarkably prescient, a glimpse into what the future might hold for anthologists everywhere. Publishers would do well to look to crowdfunding when they’re considering turning an anthology down. The market is still out there – you just have to search for it in the crowd.

About the author of this post

Dan Coxon author picDan Coxon edited the anthologies Being Dad (Tangent Books, 2016) and This Dreaming Isle (Unsung Stories, 2018), and is a contributing editor at The Lonely Crowd. He also edits and publishes a bi-annual journal of weird and eerie fiction, The Shadow Booth. His writing has appeared in SalonPopshotThe Lonely CrowdOpen PenWales Arts ReviewGutterThe Portland Review and Unthology 9 amongst others, and he was long-listed for the Bath Flash Fiction Award 2017. He runs an editing and proofreading business at www.momuseditorial.co.uk, and can be found on Twitter at @dancoxonauthor.

 

The duty of writers

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Our world faces catastrophic climate breakdown. True facts are now described as ‘fake news’, and biased media reported hailed by pseudo-Nazis as gospel truth. Political turmoil is growing as inequalities deepen across so many dividing lines in society. In such times, a challenge facing us all as artists, creatives and writers – but also simply as human beings – is to examine what role we ourselves have to play.

We have previously written about the need for writers to tackle the subject of climate change in their poetry and novels and non-fiction accounts – while we have also paid tribute to Ursula Le Guin’s rallying cry for all writers to imagine new alternatives to our capitalist system.

But what exactly is our duty, in these times, as writers and creatives? What stories do we need to tell?

What is the story of the world?

Fortunately for us, guidance on this question can be found from the minds of great writers – living and dead – who have pondered this precise topic. In East of Eden, for instance, Steinbeck opens the book’s 34th chapter with a mediation on the most fundamental foundation that sits beneath this essential question: if we have a duty to describe the stories of the world that matter, what exactly is the story of the world? Steinbeck writes:

“A child may ask, “What is the world’s story about?” And a grown man or woman may wonder, “What way will the world go? How does it end and, while we’re at it, what’s the story about?”

I believe that there is one story in the world, and only one, that has frightened and inspired us, so that we live in a Pearl White serial of continuing thought and wonder. Humans are caught — in their lives, in their thoughts, in their hungers and ambitions, in their avarice and cruelty, and in their kindness and generosity too — in a net of good and evil. I think this is the only story we have and that it occurs on all levels of feeling and intelligence. Virtue and vice were warp and woof of our first consciousness, and they will be the fabric of our last, and this despite any changes we may impose on field and river and mountain, on economy and manners. There is no other story. A man, after he has brushed off the dust and chips of his life, will have left only the hard, clean questions: Was it good or was it evil? Have I done well — or ill?”

Understanding human beings

In an earlier journal entry, Steinbeck even suggests that tackling the injustices in the world is not even possible if the writer first doesn’t understand the human beings who exist within it. He opines:

“In every bit of honest writing in the world… there is a base theme. Try to understand men, if you understand each other you will be kind to each other. Knowing a man well never leads to hate and nearly always leads to love. There are shorter means, many of them. There is writing promoting social change, writing punishing injustice, writing in celebration of heroism, but always that base theme. Try to understand each other.”

In a similar vein, the novelist Zadie Smith argues that to believe anything can bring about fundamental change is in fact naïve – and to honestly understand what drives the world forward (and how to subtly shift perceptions) you have to first appreciate the motivations of humankind. In a speech given in Germany in 2016 after receiving a literary award, she says:

“People who believe in fundamental and irreversible changes in human nature are themselves ahistorical and naive. If novelists know anything it’s that individual citizens are internally plural: they have within them the full range of behavioral possibilities. They are like complex musical scores from which certain melodies can be teased out and others ignored or suppressed, depending, at least in part, on who is doing the conducting. At this moment, all over the world — and most recently in America — the conductors standing in front of this human orchestra have only the meanest and most banal melodies in mind. Here in Germany you will remember these martial songs; they are not a very distant memory. But there is no place on earth where they have not been played at one time or another. Those of us who remember, too, a finer music must try now to play it, and encourage others, if we can, to sing along.”

Yet within this, Smith sees no reason not to use art – and writing in particular – to reshape narratives, to influence others, and ultimately keep striving for that which we are all searching for, especially in these sometimes dark times: human progress, and illuminating the path ahead on which we can strive to make a better world. She says:

“History is not erased by change, and the examples of the past still hold out new possibilities for all of us, opportunities to remake, for a new generation, the conditions from which we ourselves have benefited… Progress is never permanent, will always be threatened, must be redoubled, restated and reimagined if it is to survive.”

On the protection of democracy

Smith’s line of argument calls upon all of us to continually work to reimagine and challenge existing political and social structures. This calls to mind the thoroughly excellent arguments of that legendary titan of literature, Walt Whitman, who, in his collection Specimen Days, calls on all free-thinking people to continually challenge and probe the status quo. Whitman writes:

“I can conceive of no better service in the United States, henceforth, by democrats of thorough and heart-felt faith, than boldly exposing the weakness, liabilities and infinite corruptions of democracy.”

What it interesting here is how Whitman lived through times that do not sound dissimilar to our own. He saved lives through the Civil War, witnessed the “miserably-waged populations”, the corrosion of idealism and collapse of democratic values into corruption and complacency. Yet the great American poet faces this dispiriting landscape with a defiant optimism, arguing that this is in a way the most countercultural act of courage available to us:

“Though I think I fully comprehend the absence of moral tone in our current politics and business, and the almost entire futility of absolute and simple honor as a counterpoise against the enormous greed for worldly wealth, with the trickeries of gaining it, all through society in our day, I still do not share the depression and despair on the subject which I find possessing many good people.”

Ultimately, Whitman notes that the only way to preserve democracy in America is also to preserve nature (to hark back to our call to tackle the catastrophic breakdown of our climate for a moment here). And, as current US President Trump and his collection of lunatic criminals in the Republican party continue to show flagrant disregard for the planet and its natural environments, this is a thought that is well worth revisiting. Whitman writes:

“American Democracy, in its myriad personalities, in factories, work-shops, stores, offices — through the dense streets and houses of cities, and all their manifold sophisticated life — must either be fibred, vitalized, by regular contact with out-door light and air and growths, farm-scenes, animals, fields, trees, birds, sun-warmth and free skies, or it will morbidly dwindle and pale. We cannot have grand races of mechanics, work people, and commonalty, (the only specific purpose of America,) on any less terms. I conceive of no flourishing and heroic elements of Democracy in the United States, or of Democracy maintaining itself at all, without the Nature-element forming a main part — to be its health-element and beauty-element — to really underlie the whole politics, sanity, religion and art of the New World.”

Truth above all

Of course, it is easy to present arguments in favour of protecting the world and become downhearted when these are dismissed by the despots around the world – from Trump in the US through May in the UK, Putin in Russia to the incompetent National Liberal coalition in Australia – and ignored as being part of some fabrication or over-exaggeration of ‘progressives’ (as though we would feel foolish if we were to accidentally be fooled into creating a better world for nothing). ‘Fake News’ is everywhere, as we are all told. Here, it feels fitting to draw upon inspiration from legendary journalist Rebecca Solnit, who presses upon us our need to continue to stick to accuracy and truth when writing stories. In her collection of essays, Call them by their names, she writes:

“Precision, accuracy, and clarity matter, as gestures of respect toward those to whom you speak; toward the subject, whether it’s an individual or the earth itself; and toward the historical record.”

In an era of ‘alternative facts’, where language is increasingly used for malicious purposes, Solnit strives to persuade us of the importance of calling things as they are:

“To name something truly is to lay bare what may be brutal or corrupt — or important or possible — and key to the work of changing the world is changing the story.”

More than a century after Nietzsche contemplated truth, lies, and the power of language to both conceal and reveal reality, Solnit writes:

“There are so many ways to tell a lie. You can lie by ignoring whole regions of impact, omitting crucial information, or unhitching cause and effect; by falsifying information by distortion and disproportion, or by using names that are euphemisms for violence or slander for legitimate activities, so that the white kids are “hanging out” but the Black kids are “loitering” or “lurking.” Language can erase, distort, point in the wrong direction, throw out decoys and distractions. It can bury the bodies or uncover them.”

Breaking the narrative

Ultimately, Solnit calls on writers to continue to strive towards that goal of truth – for exposing the truth, using language that is accurate, that lays bare the reality of situations. Through truth, she argues, we can break and reshape narratives and stories that have been spun by the powerful against the powerless – and hopefully move toward a world where the only thing that is fake is Trump’s hair. She writes:

“The writer’s job is not to look through the window someone else built, but to step outside, to question the framework, or to dismantle the house and free what’s inside, all in service of making visible what was locked out of the view. News journalism focuses on what changed yesterday rather than asking what are the underlying forces and who are the unseen beneficiaries of this moment’s status quo… This is why you need to know your history, even if you’re a journalist rather than a historian. You need to know the patterns to see how people are fitting the jumble of facts into what they already have: selecting, misreading, distorting, excluding, embroidering, distributing empathy here but not there, remembering this echo or forgetting that precedent.

Some of the stories we need to break are not exceptional events, they’re the ugly wallpaper of our everyday lives. For example, there’s a widespread belief that women lie about being raped, not a few women, not an anomalous woman, but women in general. This framework comes from the assumption that reliability and credibility are as natural to men as mendacity and vindictiveness are to women. In other words, feminists just made it all up, because otherwise we’d have to question a really big story whose nickname is patriarchy. But the data confirms that people who come forward about being raped are, overall, telling the truth (and that rapists tend to lie, a lot). Many people have gotten on board with the data, many have not, and so behind every report on a sexual assault is a battle over the terms in which we tell, in what we believe about gender and violence.

[…]

Future generations are going to curse most of us for distracting ourselves with trivialities as the planet burned. Journalists are in a pivotal place when it comes to the possibilities and the responsibilities in this crisis. We, the makers and breakers of stories, are tremendously powerful.

So please, break the story.”

You heard it here first, comrades. So, what are you waiting for? Get breaking!

If youd like to contribute to our site – and show off how good you are at breaking narratives – please contact us.