Wordless Wednesday

Every Wednesday we feature a photograph to inspire your writing.

writing inspirationPhoto courtesy of Flickr user ashley rose

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Best-loved books

This is just a bit of fun…In bold are the books I’ve read in their entirety, in italics are the ones I started but didn’t finish or read only an excerpt. In brackets are the ones I’ve never read. Apparently the BBC believes most people have only read 6 of these books…

1 Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen

2 The Lord of the Rings – JRR Tolkien

3 Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte

4. Harry Potter series – JK Rowling

(5 To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee)

6 The Bible

(7 Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte)

8 Nineteen Eighty Four – George Orwell

(9 His Dark Materials – Philip Pullman)

10 Great Expectations – Charles Dickens

(11 Little Women – Louisa M Alcott)

12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy

13 Catch 22 – Joseph Heller

14 Complete Works of Shakespeare

(15 Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier)

16 The Hobbit – JRR Tolkien

(17 Birdsong – Sebastian Faulks)

18 Catcher in the Rye – JD Salinger

19 The Time Traveler’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger

(20 Middlemarch – George Eliot)

(21 Gone With The Wind – Margaret Mitchell)

(22 The Great Gatsby – F Scott Fitzgerald)

(24 War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy)

(25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams)

27 Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoevsky

28 Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck

29 Alice in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll

30 The Wind in the Willows – Kenneth Grahame

(31 Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy)

(32 David Copperfield – Charles Dickens)

(33 Chronicles of Narnia – CS Lewis)

(34 Emma – Jane Austen)

(35 Persuasion – Jane Austen)

(36 The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe – CS Lewis)

(37 The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini)

38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – Louis De Bernieres

39 Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden

40 Winnie the Pooh – A.A. Milne

41 Animal Farm – George Orwell

42 The Da Vinci Code – Dan Brown

(43 One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez)

(44 A Prayer for Owen Meaney – John Irving)

(45 The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins)

(46 Anne of Green Gables – LM Montgomery)

(47 Far From The Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy)

(48 The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood)

49 Lord of the Flies – William Golding

(50 Atonement – Ian McEwan)

(51 Life of Pi – Yann Martel)

(52 Dune – Frank Herbert)

(53 Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons)

55 A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth

56 The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon

(57 A Tale Of Two Cities – Charles Dickens)

(58 Brave New World – Aldous Huxley)

59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time – Mark Haddon

60 Love In The Time Of Cholera – Gabriel Garcia Marquez

61 Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck

(62 Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov)

63 The Secret History – Donna Tartt

(64 The Lovely Bones – Alice Sebold)

65 Count of Monte Cristo- Alexandre Dumas

66 On The Road – Jack Kerouac

(67 Jude the Obscure – Thomas Hardy)

68 Bridget Jones’s Diary – Helen Fielding

69 Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie

(70 Moby Dick – Herman Melville)

(71 Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens)

(72 Dracula – Bram Stoker)

73 The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett

(74 Notes From A Small Island – Bill Bryson)

75 Ulysses – James Joyce

(76 The Inferno – Dante)

(77 Swallows and Amazons – Arthur Ransome)

(78 Germinal – Emile Zola)

(79 Vanity Fair – William Makepeace Thackeray)

(80 Possession – AS Byatt)

(81 A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens)

82 Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell

83 The Color Purple – Alice Walker

(84 The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro)

(85 Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert)

(86 A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry)

(87 Charlotte’s Web – E.B. White)

88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven – Mitch Albom

(89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle)

90 The Faraway Tree Collection – Enid Blyton

(91 Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad)

92 The Little Prince – Antoine De Saint-Exupery

(93 The Wasp Factory – Iain Banks)

(94 Watership Down – Richard Adams)

(95 A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole)

(96 A Town Like Alice – Nevil Shute)

(97 The Three Musketeers – Alexandre Dumas)

98 Hamlet – William Shakespeare

(99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Roald Dahl)

(100 Les Miserables – Victor Hugo)

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Wordless Wednesday

Every Wednesday we feature a photograph to inspire your writing.

writing inspiration

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Interview with prize-winning author Vanessa Gebbie

To tie-in with National Short Story week, I interviewed top prize-winning author Vanessa Gebbie.

prize winning writerCan you tell us a bit about the new collection ‘Storm Warning’?

It’s a collection of short stories and flash fiction, and it’s themed. The subtitle is ‘Echoes of Conflict’, and it’s probably appropriate that I’m writing this for you on Remembrance Sunday – many of the pieces are to do with what war does to those caught up in it…not those who go down in history, but the ‘little people’ – the ordinary soldier, the parent, the wife, the child. I’d been writing a lot of ‘stuff’ around this theme over the last few years, without really acknowledging it consciously.

The stories seem to have a much darker theme than the ones in ‘Words From a Glass Bubble’. Was that a conscious decision?

Well, Glass Bubble stories are often about overcoming the echoes of events in the past and this has similarities. As I said up there, no, it wasn’t a conscious thing to ‘write a collection’ about echoes of conflict. But I lived for a long time with a parent who was caught up in World War II and it echoed in his life for decades. It’s never gone away. My father is now 95, and I’d heard so much over the years, and seen what it did to him as a person. How he never really got over the experiences. He wasn’t a career soldier, just an ordinary bloke – and I wonder if that makes a difference? I don’t think so. I reckon everyone who is caught up in conflict, whatever it is, is changed in one way or another.

My father was a sapper, and he was awarded the Military Cross. He’s no brave ‘Boy’s Own’ type, just a very ordinary gentle man, a surveyor, who was thrown into war as he was just beginning a career in the civil service. He came out in 1946, and had to slot back into being a husband, and surveyor, a civil servant…and it wasn’t easy. I used the feelings, and gave them to many different characters, in many different conflicts.

So – there are stories about World War II, World War I, stories set in Vietnam, The Falklands, Iraq. Japan, China, Russia. There are stories about inter-tribal conflict in African countries. And one piece set a long time ago at a time when it was a different inter-group conflict in the broadest sense, causing the issues – religious persecution. Most of the stories are set after the events in question, as I’m looking at the echoes rather than the thunderclap events, although there are plenty of those in there too.

writing, book, short storiesTell us about the title of the book, where does it come from?

It is the title of one of the shortest pieces in the book. I was exploring the issues of home leave from a war zone – it’s a surreal piece, in which a soldier on leave from Helmand Province has a strange phone call in the night… I was wondering as I wrote – how do you ‘sign off’ from a situation in which you might be killed at any moment? How do you relax, knowing you have to go back?

What is it about war and its aftermath that makes it good subject-matter for stories?

I guess there are lots of answers to that question – primarily, maybe it goes to the root of why we read fiction at all – being able to experience events happing to other people from the comfort of one’s armchair is something ‘safe’ and sometimes ‘exciting’ depending on the genre? I’ll leave that as a question.

For this writer/reader, the best short stories are those which deal with universal subjects, those we can all understand at some level. In these stories, I’m less interested in the pivotal events, the horrors witnessed by the characters – and more concerned with the effects of those on the person afterwards. We now hang labels on people who have been through dreadful things, and who can’t function quite as they did before. We say they are suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, or whatever other labels are around. But what about the hundreds of thousands who just had to get on with things before that was invented?

Do you enjoy reading other peoples’ stories / novels about war? Can you recommend some that you’ve enjoyed or found inspirational?

The most obvious one is ‘Birdsong’ by Sebastian Faulks. I loved that book, and had already read and enjoyed when my son had to study it for his A levels. Bloody hell – how to kill a great book for a generation.

‘The Ghost Road’ by Pat Barker is another I have loved. I could talk about some mesmerisingly wonderful passages by Haruki Murakami too, in The Wind-up Bird Chronicle…told in the same easy laconic style as the rest, that style that totally lulls the reader, until you realize you have been shunted into a parallel universe where torture is happening.

But there is a difference between stories ‘about’ war, (I think of those comic strips in ‘Eagle’ yonks ago – where the Germans always shouted ‘Donner und Blitzen! Das ist ein Englander! Schnell!!’ before grenades went off in zap! Bang! Pow! flashes of stars…) and stories which are less about the war itself and more about the bits of the war that end up inside the characters afterwards, like shrapnel.

More than fiction, I have devoured non-fiction books ‘about’ war. Lyn Macdonald’s wonderful wonderful series about WWI based on interviews with those from all ranks, and from both sides. If you’ve never heard of these, try her book about Passchendaele first.

There are also the places… they more than anything, hold the echoes. I have visited the battlefields of Flanders, and the cemeteries and museums quite a few times over the years. I’ve been in a wood in a tiny war cemetery, in the rain, at the close of day, just listening to the silence apart from the drip of rain off the trees. I have been to the D Day beaches several times, once in the company of a retired Colonel from the Green Howards, the only regiment to win the VC on D Day… two citations, won on the same day, by the same bloke, Company Sargeant Major Reg Hollis. Now there’s a story….he ended up running a pub – died early…see what I mean? Echoes. Echoes.

Go to Flodden Field at dusk. Or Culloden. Unforgettable.

Some of the stories in ‘Storm Warning’ are told from a child’s point of view. What does that bring to the stories?

One thing I must have wanted to look at was what happens to the next generation, if they witness horrors at first hand as children, when they are still forming, impressionable. So some stories are told by those children. Or by adults looking back… and re-entering the child in themselves.

I think to tell something from a child’s point of view allows the writer even more space, not to say what is happening, but to leave that to the reader to sort out. The child may not even know what is actually taking pace, but to communicate the bewilderment and distress is powerful. And of course, it can go one of two ways afterwards –if the effects go inside, they damage the person for a long time. And/or they manifest themselves outside – becoming an impetus for them to do the same things, later. The seeds of more horrors. A circle, unbreakable.

Am I right in thinking you’re working on a novel at the moment? What can you tell us about it?

It is finished! ‘The Coward’s Tale’ was finished thanks to an Arts Council Grant for the Arts funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, and I worked for a few months with the marvelous novelist Maggie Gee, who helped me to smooth the structure of the work.

It went to my agent a couple of weeks back and as I write it is being read by some wonderful publishers… I have to admit `I am shaking in my boots – there was so much love and time invested in this – I hope it finds a home.

‘The Coward’s Tale’ is the story of twelve men in a small community in Wales, all suffering from the echoes of a mining disaster that happened generations ago. Can you see any parallels with ‘Storm Warning’ here?!

Many thanks for talking to Winning Words, Vanessa. Best of luck with ‘Storm Warning’ and also with the new novel.

About Vanessa:

Vanessa Gebbie is a prizewinning short story writer, a creative writing teacher, novelist, poet and editor. She teaches widely, working with writing groups, universities, school students and at literary festivals. In 2010, she was writer-in-residence at Stockholm University, Sweden.

She is author of two collections of short fiction, Words from a Glass Bubble and Storm Warning (both published by Salt Modern Fiction). Her work has also been anthologized and published in many literary magazines, in print and online.

In 2009, she was commissioned to compile, edit and contribute to a textbook on writing short fiction.  The result: Short Circuit, A Guide to the Art of the Short Story, a collection of essays and writing exercises by prize-winning short fiction writers, is now in use at many creative writing courses in the UK and abroad. It is endorsed by the organizers of The Bridport Prize, the Asham Award for new women writers, The Fish International short story competition and the Frank O’Connor Award among others.

Her novel The Coward’s Tale has been completed thanks to a UK Arts Council Grant for the Arts.

Find her blog here.

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NaNo Update – abandoned ship!

I have officially given up with this year’s NaNoWriMo. It’s just not the right time for me to be embarking on a large-scale project. Still, I managed to write 12,000 words (in one week!), so all is not lost. I like the idea for the novel I was working on, and will definitely come back to it when I have the time to devote to it. I think for now I will focus on writing short stories and poems and sending them out to competitions and magazines. So, who’s going to join me? Each month in the forum, I will set a trigger word or prompt, either totally fabricated or from a current competition, or a photo from Wordless Wednesday, and Winning Words members (it’s free, folks) can post their poems or short stories and get some feedback. Do come along and join in!

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Wordless Wednesday

Every Wednesday we feature a photograph to inspire your writing.

creative writing inspirationPhoto courtesy of Flickr user ashley rose

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Interview with Lorraine Mace from the Flash500 competition

Lorraine Mace is a columnist with Writing Magazine and deputy editor and writing agony aunt for Words with JAM. Winner of the Petra Kenney International Poetry Award (comic verse category), she writes fiction for the women’s magazine market, features for monthly magazines and is a writing competition judge for Writers’ Forum. Lorraine, a tutor for Writers Bureau, is the co-author, with Maureen Vincent-Northam, of The Writer’s ABC Checklist (Accent Press). She runs the quarterly Flash500 competition.

writing competition, flash fictionHi Lorraine, welcome to Winning Words. Tell us a bit about the Flash 500 competition and how it came about.

I have long had a love affair with writing flash fiction, but when it came to entering competitions the prize money always seemed to be very low. After hunting around, trying to find a competition paying decent prizes (and finding very few) I decided to launch one myself. Since then a few other competitions have added a flash element to their regular categories, so I’m hoping flash fiction is at last getting the recognition it deserves.

Even though I judge writing competitions for other organisations, because I know so many good writers, and obviously wanted them to enter without fear of anyone thinking there was any favouritism attached to the judging process, I decided that I couldn’t judge the Flash 500 competition. I have arranged independent judges – a different one for each quarter. This quarter the judge is Iain Pattison, who also judges the Writers Bureau annual short story competition (amongst many others).

What’s so appealing about the flash fiction form?

I love the challenge of the medium. People think it’s easy, but it isn’t. You have to encapsulate an entire story in so few words – not an anecdote or character sketch, but a complete tale. I think it’s one of the hardest types of fiction to master – in a way it’s almost a prose form of poetry. In flash fiction, more than any other type of fiction, every word counts and you can’t afford to squander any on non-essential phrases.

Which flash writers / flash stories do you particularly like? Can you recommend some?

Most of the flash fiction I’ve read and enjoyed has been that of various competition winners. I’ve read some astounding stories where the author has won less than the price of a meal in a restaurant – which makes me pretty mad because I know how much effort goes into writing a prize-winning piece of flash.

I am hoping to interest a publisher in producing a book incorporating the winning and placed stories from my competition. The authors would, of course, be entitled to a pro-rata royalty payment – but the plan is only at the ‘working idea’ stage at present.

How can entering competitions benefit writers?

Quite apart from the financial benefit of winning or being placed, there is the additional advantage of being able to mention the success on your writing CV. Even if you don’t win, making the shortlist of one of the better paying competitions is always worth boasting about.

The other main benefit is writing to a deadline. The writing muscle is like any other, it needs regular exercise. If you decide to enter a competition, you have to come up with a unique idea, write the story, rewrite the story, revise the rewritten story and then rewrite again – all by a set date. There is no point entering a first or even second draft, so the writing muscle should get plenty of work before you hit the ‘send’ button.

Anything you can tell us about previous winners? Any success stories?

The competition only started this year, so is still in its infancy, but the winners so far (including some of those placed or shortlisted) have said that they feel validated as writers. Their success in the Flash 500 competition has encouraged them to enter other competitions and also to submit stories to magazines, e-zines and anthologies.

Flash 500 also offers a critiquing service, can you tell us a bit about it? Obviously feedback for writers is a good thing, how can it help?

Whenever I enter a competition myself, I always take advantage of the critique service if one is offered. I feel that getting an independent assessment of my story’s strengths and weaknesses is invaluable. Writers often develop a word blindness where their own work is concerned.

For the above reason I decided to offer optional critiques to entrants. I am a Writers Bureau tutor, a judge for the monthly Writers’ Forum short story competition (where I also provide critiques for entrants), am on Writelink’s professional critique panel and also run a private tutoring and critique service, so it seemed logical to offer my critiquing experience to entrants of my own competition.

Each critique for the Flash 500 competition is made up of the original text marked up with comments and suggestions for improvement, together with a covering letter dealing with presentation, title, opening, dialogue, characterisation, ending and an overall assessment.

Thanks for the interview, Lorraine.

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