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SNAP: the first Writing Circle anthology

Three years ago, I started a writing group for students at the university where I teach, Canterbury Christ Church. It started as a place for students to get extra support with their work as well as a supportive environment where new work could get written.

Jump forward to the pandemic, and I moved the group online. In the only space where year groups could mix, we wrote together weekly. I’ve been thinking a lot about how we can make intimate digital spaces – and the Writing Circle online has proved to be one such place. It’s been the joy of a rotten year to see the courage, resilience, and creativity of students and colleagues.

To celebrate the fact that we were able to keep writing together, I’m pleased as punch to announce our first anthology of work: SNAP! The title refers to the short, punchy nature of the work as well as its impetus – individual responses to the idea of a “card”.

When you think of a card, what do you think of? In SNAP! you’ll find stories about postcards, Valentine’s, and credit cards. You’ll find Tarot and Loteria and sentient playing cards. Mostly, you’ll find dazzling new fresh work made by students of all ages. What do you think?

SNAP! features work by BA and MA students: Helen Atkinson, Alexa Barrett, Bethany Climpson, Stephen Daly, Nicholas Huggett, Amanda Jones, Jessica Joy + fellow lecturer Sonia Overall – and me

On Hope

Two weeks later, we watched that same Capital building and felt nothing but pride and possibility. We watched people – politicians and their families and those who were working there – treat each other with dignity and kindness. It didn’t blow all the memories away – nothing could do that – but it reminded us that there were other ways to be and live. I sobbed my way through the inauguration, and I say that without apology.

I feel like we got given a lot of things with a new president. But most of all, for me, it’s hope.

Waking up, out of America

I’m having a little trouble with equilibrium this morning, trying to settle thoughts and feelings with the news. This America isn’t what I grew up saluting, slack flag in the corner, stars and stripes a little faded in the hot, dry California sun.  We aimed ourselves at it each morning, slapped our hands on our hearts and parroted allegiance because they told us to. 
You know how it goes:  
I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
We all had a little trouble with indivisible.  It came out invisible, often enough.  
One nation, invisible. 
Or invisible, liberty and justice.  It isn’t for all, is it?  
I am appalled by the awful privilege of white racism.  
I am shocked by the complicity of police and politicians, who we were raised to respect.  
I am sickened by losers who feel entitled to win.   
I have lived in the UK for more than twenty-five years – yet, I am American.  I remain an American writer.  
My America is Melville, and Hawthorne, Dickinson and Steinbeck. My America is Baldwin, Morrison, Angelou, Langston Hughes. But my America is also Faulkner and Thoreau, O’Connor and Ingalls Wilder – and there are issues there, increasingly hard to overlook.  (There are issues with Melville and Hawthorne too, come to think of it, which sends me spiralling backward:  what is there within myself that I do not see clearly?). My America is so many writers: Jesmyn Ward and Terry Tempest Williams and Joan Didion and Leslie Marmon Silko and Scott Momaday and Louise Erdrich and and and.   

When I was a teenager, I saw a Native American man crying on a sidewalk, clearly drunk and suffering.  “They took my country,” he said, repeatedly, and I thought I understood his pain.  I did not. When I went to a school dance with a classmate from Korea, my grandmother said white girls shouldn’t do such things, my Midwest grandmother born in 1902 who’d had Black servants and Black maids in uniforms serving canapes at her card parties in Pasadena.  More than likely, I only rolled my eyes at her outdated view. When I dated a Black man, I didn’t tell my mother, so that I wouldn’t have to hear or acknowledge her thoughts.  That shames me now. When I used to produce concerts, I found myself alone in my office paying a bandleader, a Black jazz pianist several decades older than myself who decided to kiss me, without invitation or consent, and stuck his tongue into my mouth with force and entitlement.  I didn’t tell my mother – or anybody – about this either, for shame. That shames me now as well.    

My country ‘tis of thee:  a song I sang.  A song we sang together. They sing that same tune here, though it has new words:  God Save the Queen. After I’d been living in the UK for a while, I found myself back at my old primary school, where my mother also taught – first grade.  I found myself at the flag ceremony, students gathered around this tall pole in the spring heat and this flag, flying freely.  Few of the students were white.  The catchment area has become increasingly Latinx.  I watched those little bodies, those little hands on those little hearts, and found myself crying.  I had no idea why.   

America is an idea, but today I can’t remember what it was about. Maybe the idea will come back to me. Or maybe the delusion that sent armed invaders into the Capital to loot and take selfies has cast its net wider.  Maybe we were all deluded that we could stand beneath one flag and feel the same. 

The Listening Post in your Living Room

The Listening Post has been invited to join The Wandsworth Arts Fringe – in your Living Room!
Follow this link to listen to a “curated aural exhibition” of thirteen short stories (one of them by me!) read in the authors’ own voices set to sounds by composer and musician Lucy Claire. Authors include: Jess Kidd, Christina Lovey, Owen Lowery, Sonia Overall, Peggy Riley and Philip Whiteley, Helen Atkinson, Susan Emm, Amanda Jones, Sue McClymont, Elizabeth Scrase.

Listen in! There’s a new story each day of the festival at 3.30pm – or you can binge on them anytime from the website!

The Stay-at-Home Literary Fringe Festival

It’s time for a festival! I’m delighted to be a part of this brand new fringe festival, produced by MA students at the University of Glasgow as a response to the Stay-at-Home Literary Festival. Organised by author Carolyn Jess-Cooke, it was the first of what will surely be a full summer of lockdown lit events, open and accessible to all. The Stay-at-Home Literary Fringe Festival features masterclasses, writing workshops, talks and open mic events. I’m particularly delighted to see events with friends from Canterbury Christ Church, alumna of our Creative Writing MA, Charlotte Hartley-Jones, and a lockdown psychogeographical workshop with author and colleague, Sonia Overall. It’s a full programme – jump in and get involved!

For the past year, I’ve been running a free writing group at Canterbury Christ Church, The Writing Circle. Throughout the festival, The Writing Circle will pop up from its usual home on campus to become an online writing space with prompts, free writing exercises, and ideas to get you writing your heart out. If you want to join in – follow this link to RSVP.

The festival takes place 27 April – 16 May 2020: The Writing Circle happens on Wednesdays 29 April, 6 May & 13 May, 2 – 3 PM. See you in the Circle!

#bookgame

Boy, howdy, these are strange days. We used to dance every time we heard the word “unprecedented”, until our hips went out. But the wonderful Foyle’s Bookshop is trying to cheer us all up with their pun-tastic weekly Twitter book game. And today – I am the winner!

Want to play? Jump in next Friday – see you on Twitter!

You’re Invited!

Greetings from the virus bunker! As public events are being cancelled around the world, so has been the launch for our upcoming anthology, The Best Most Awful Job. No matter – the launch has moved on line… and you’re invited! Join us on Twitter, Thursday 19 March, 7:30 – 8:30 pm GMT. See you there – at a safe and appropriate distance!

The Best Most Awful Job

I’m delighted to be a part of this new anthology, published 19 March 2020. The Best Most Awful Job features 20 brand new essays, covering the whole spectrum of mothering, including – in my case – being mothered, being unbothered, and being unable to mother. My essay is pretty brutal, according to editor Katherine May, but it’s a new way of working for me – and I’m proud to be in such great company at Elliot & Thompson Books. Here’s a little press about the writers, and here’s a link to an online shop. Three cheers for new anthologies – hip hip!

Flash Fiction and where to send it

Recently, I ran a flash fiction workshop for WhitLit’s Write Mind, a new initiative linking the act of writing with wellbeing. For the workshop, we looked at dribbles and rabbles (50 word & 100 word stories – title not included) as well as their longer-worded cousins, as a way to get started with getting our work out into the world. (This is not to imply that flash fiction is somehow “easier” to write than longer pieces – far from it – but the form seems particularly suited to giving opportunities for new writers, as there are so many festivals and on-line sites that actively want submissions.) As I promised the workshop participants a round-up of upcoming deadlines for flash fiction – here it is!

My workshop took place during the Flash Fiction Festival, run by Bath Flash Fiction. Bath has upcoming deadlines for flash fiction (a 300 word limit, which is called a trabble) on 13 October 2019 and novellas-in-flash (a short novella, not more than 18K with each flash no more than 1K) on 12 January 2020. Of their work, Bath Flash Fiction Festival says: Our goal is promote flash fiction for both writers and readers and to bring the genre to a wider audience. Running a three-times-a-year rolling flash fiction award with substantial prizes and chance of publication gives writers a big incentive to create great flash. And our new novella-in-flash award provides the opportunity to have a longer work released in a quality publication.
They also run Ad Hoc Fiction, which offers a weekly (and free) micro fiction competition as well as novellas-in-flash publications. Why not send them something? Follow the links to learn more about deadlines, guidelines & entry fees – a thorny issue for writers. (But publishers are aware that entry fees are not doable for many writers – many competitions have subsidised or free spots – and Reflex Fiction below offers a “choose your own fee” – surely, this is the way of the future!)

New Flash Fiction Review is the portal for the Anton Chekhov Price for Very Short Fiction, judged by Angela Readman. Submissions 800 words or fewer. There’s a 15 July deadline – be quick! 

Here’s a link to The MsLexia Flash Fiction Award: Submit your best trabbles (300 word stories) before 30 September 2019.  Sorry/not sorry this is women only. Placing 3rd in a MsLexia short story contest gave me a real boost, when I was starting out, and there will always be acreage in my heart for MsLexia.

Reflex Fiction runs the quarterly Reflex Flash Fiction Competition which lets writers “choose their own fee” for submissions – a great idea! Reflex is ALWAYS accepting submissions with a rolling series of deadlines for their contests – and they publish a story every day! Still trying to figure out what flash fiction “is”? Check out this Reflex page.

Best Micro-Fiction is an anthology, looking for work with fewer than 400 words.  Accepting submissions until 1 December 2019.  

The on-line flash-fiction magazine SmokeLong Quarterly publishes stories weekly & quarterly.   They accept submissions for work under 1000 words for publication – as well as for the prestigious Smokelong Quarterly Award – be sure to check early 2020 for details about that. Smokelong is a terrific resource of stories, demonstrating what flash fiction is & can do, as well as interviews with writers.   

Can you write a story in fewer than 40 words using the prompt “milk moustache?”  Then the One Sentence Story Contest is for you! Enter by 8 September.  

Paragraph Planet publishes 75 word stories – on-line, every day!   
Every Day Fiction:  features “bite sized stories for a busy world”, taking submissions under 1000 words.

National Flash Fiction Day may be over, but NFFD are already planning for 2020. There’s plenty of time to write your dribbles and drabbles – and submit!

Writing What If…

Today we wrote about magic – through objects like some of the ones you see here: ordinary trinkets filled with mystical powers, talismans to guide protagonists through improbable, imaginary worlds. There were magic cats and rebel angels, split geodes that turned into cradles. We talked about how senses root a character in time and place, but also give them histories and memories, rich backstories that can be “held” in a magical object that they can draw on when things get tough. And they do, when you’re “what if-ing.” We made a list of unlikely scenarios of what would happen next. What if the ground becomes toxic and your characters have to take to the trees – with a silver walnut? What if a magic circle opens in a ruined world and offers you a way out? Today’s writers left with portals, ways in to new characters and stories.

We didn’t have enough time – there never is! – to cover every concern of every writer. And when we’re writing – or wanting to – we always have concerns: is this right, am I good, why can’t I finish, what am I doing? However, we did talk about where ideas come from – they are all around us, if we can stay open to them. We talked about how to build stamina (or, as some called it, discipline): for this, I always recommend “morning pages” – follow thishttps://peggyriley.com/2019/04/04/time-for-morning-pages/ follow the link to read more about their magic.

Next week, we’ll be working on the “short-short story” in my last workshop for Write Mind & Whitstable Lit. Why not join in?

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