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Winners of the InkTears 2017 Flash Fiction Prize

Winner

Coming back to Primorsk by Anna Nazarova-Evans

 

Runner Up

A Jolly Good Fellow by Sharon Telfer

 

Highly Commended

Drown by Melissa Goode

Jenny and I go to Bristol Zoo by Anthony Dandy

Pedometry by Shannon Savvas

Subsidence by Samantha White

Swifts by Jude Higgins

The Days to Come by Michael Batchelor

The Miracle Man - 1978  by Thecla Condon

Where the plan first occurred to her Amy J Kirkwood

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InkTears is 100!

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Happy Birthday to Us!

OK, we're not actually 100 years old, despite the photographic evidence to the contrary.

However, we have published 100 issues of our Newsletter, delivering 85 stories by new writers, 6 classic stories from legendary authors, and 54 pieces of flash fiction. Several writers have featured multiple times, and a few have even crossed boundaries and appeared in our flash and fiction lists. A big thank you to every one of our contributors, and also to all of you that have entered our competitions. I haven't tallied up the number of contest entries, but it would be in the thousands. Every story I've read has improved my own writing, but given that I'm still a struggling author myself, it looks like the ten-thousand hour thing might need to be ten-million for me :(  

Our first issue was in 2009, and as we approach 2018 we will soon be at our ninth 'real' birthday as measured in years. We are contemplating what the future holds... we want to celebrate our tenth birthday in 2019 (party?!) but after that, well, we shall see! The writing & publishing world has changed tremendously since InkTears launched. We are older than the iPad, and even the Kindle had barely celebrated it's first birthday when we sent out the issue #1. 

 

I'm immensely proud of the writers we have helped, in our small way, to highlight - from those that have published collections with us: Bonnie West, Lynne Voyce, Mark Wagstaff, Melanie Whipman, Joanna Campbell, and also those whose work has simply featured in our newsletter - people like Alison Moore, Tania Hershman, Nicholas Royle, Danielle McLaughlin to name just a few (and apologies to all others not listed!). We have two new showcase volumes coming out which will highlight several writers that have had multiple pieces published with us, and I'm looking forward to getting my hands on those volumes soon (check out the launch event).

Most of all though, I'm delighted to think how many readers have delighted in the work that we have been able to share. Since the beginning, we have stuck to our credos of one email per month, never selling your data, and we don't allow third-party adverts in our newsletter either (although we will give you a nudge to buy the books we print ourself - purely to keep funding the whole thing!). As I've discovered via managing the judging process for our contests, nobody likes every story, but I hope that there have been many tales that have generated a smile, or brought a tear to your eye. Hopefully not because of our editing. Thanks for being part of the InkTears tribe!

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Typewriter Heaven

I was passing through San Francisco airport last week, and I saw a great collection of vintage typewriters. I even spoke to one guy who showed me a specific model in a glass case, and explained that he had the same one at home that he still used to make notes for his kids. I showed him the 'Hanx' typewriter that I use on my iPad and he was amazed. Great fun looking at these. I love the power of modern computers, with grammar and spell check software (although it has some flaws as we will see when I do another post on proof-reading soon...), but there is something unremittingly romantic about these machines.

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How about this one here? It's the style used by Ray Bradbury (although I'm still puzzled by how the 'coin-operated-pay-by-the-dollar' system works, for anyone who has read the story about him writing Fahrenheit 451).

There was also an English Imperial machine with a quote by Paul McCartney about how John Lennon was always on the typewriter when he would go to meet him at Aunt Mimi's house, even though nobody else he knew seemed to have a typewriter.

Do any of you Hemmingway-folks still use a physical typewriter, where you have to whack the keys? Or even an electronic one where you change the golf-ball to get a new font?

If I had to handwrite everything, I'm not sure I could have been a writer. When you're a left-handed person that uses your right-hand to write (don't ask why), all you get is smudges and a dirty hand.

What about you?

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Longlist for Flash Fiction contest 2017

Here we go... the longlist for our annual flash fiction contest. Feel free to share and jump up and down on social media, if you feel so inclined, or knock back a stiff drink if that's your choice. If you are on this list, then you may have won - nobody has been notified yet, that will happen in about a week, give or take a few days. If you are not on the list, then take heart in the fact that there were about 50+ additional stories that were only a smidgen away from being here - stories that came very, very close. I did consider publishing a longlist of 100+, but for a contest with about 400 entries that felt like overkill. I've noticed other sites are doing a longlist of 10 stories these days, which is a shame... anyway. Congrats to the long listed. Commiserations to everyone else.

A Collection, Diane Simmons

A Jolly Good Fellow, Sharon Telfer

Ash, Charmaine Wilkerson

At Sea, Rachel Sargeant

Balloons, Sherry Morris

Blitz, Alison Wassell

Car by Car, Mandy Huggins

Clocks, Adena Graham

Coffee, Sophie Livingston

Coming Back to Primorsk, Anna Nazarova-Evans

Countdown, Susan Howe

Drown, Melissa Goode

Filled, Redfern Barrett

Freedom, William Hillier

Globophobia, Sherry Morris

Grace, Margaret Duffus

Grace, Elizabeth Ottosson

Gut, Stephanie Hutton

Holiday, Melissa Goode

How to Keep Warm in the Winter, Jan Kaneen

Humbuggery, Jan Kaneen

In Pieces, Christina Taylor

Jenny and I go to Bristol Zoo, Anthony Dandy

Love story, Jessica Lennard

Murmuration, Fiona Mills

My Broken Leg, Leonie Hearn

Mystery, Tony Oswick

Opposite of a Girl, Stephanie Hutton

Pedometry, Shannon Savvas

Perpetual Motion, Samantha See

Pregnant Pause, William Diamond

Providence, Christopher Allen

Purple With a Purpose, Amanda Saint

Sad Songs, Yvonne Popplewell

Seeing, Richard Vick

Sex All Weekend, Michael Forester

Someone to Hold, Peter Barker

Space, Imogen van der Meer

Sponges, Russell Reader

Subsidence, Samantha White

Sunday Morning, John Holland

Sundown Town, Joe Eurell

Swifts, Jude Higgins

Thanatos, Steven Holding

The Bone Queen, Donna Greenwood

The Days to Come, Michael Batchelor

The Man behind the Face, Jill Brown

The Miracle Man - 1978, Thecla Condon

The Sunday CERN Laboratory Created an Accidental Supermassive Black Hole, Steven Amen

Two Loonies, Brindley Dennis

Tying the knot, Mary Bevan

What Cats Can Do, Charmaine Wilkerson

What We Can't Help Wishing, Helen Kampfner

Whatever Speed She Dared, Mandy Huggins

When No One Is Looking, Karen Jones

Where the plan first occurred to her, Amy J. Kirkwood

Willing to meet, Drew Taylor

Winter Spider, Jude Higgins

 

That's all!

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The magic of new writing software

I got very excited the other day, because I saw that Scrivener are preparing to launch a third version of their writing application. If you haven't used it, the tool is great for organising notes, characters, plot lines, etc. In fact, it is one of the best tools for creating a novel or a non-fiction book, or a screenplay (although it has some competition in that category from Final Draft). I don't use it for short stories, but I do have a couple of other books that I've been working on with Scrivener for at least a few years (hey, I didn't say it stopped you procrastinating).

The funny thing is that I know from experience, that while a new version of the software (any software) will look better, and have a few useful features, it won't actually help me finish either of those two books. Yet, it has stopped me working on them in the short term, because why would I want to use a tool that is old and (about to be) outdated, when I can wait a few months and have the latest shiny toy to use?

If you want to see more about the new version, check out the link: http://www.literatureandlatte.com/blog/?p=1032

P.S. I should say I have no affiliation with them, and I buy the software like everyone else. I just like it!

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I'm not a new age hippy but...

...I am going to recommend using a salt-flotation device, especially if you are a writer! A new place opened up near my office recently with 'pods' where you can do a salt-float. I actually tried these years ago, in a place on Oxford High Street. My wife used to call the units coffins, because they were long narrow devices where they shut the lid on you, so perhaps not great for people with claustrophobia. I really like the experience though (the float, not the coffin), and we once went to big salt-float pool at a place called Nirvana, near Reading. That was a communal float, with a ceiling that looks like stars with twinkling lights. That would have been a much more enjoyable experience if I hadn't done a big run earlier in the day and rubbed my nipples raw. As a tip, heavily salted water and raw wounds = bad combination. 

Anyway, I'm mentioning this here in the blog because I always found the flotations great for writing inspiration. The experience is hard to describe - although you can read lots of reviews and comments on the relevant websites. What I find, is that after may be ten or fifteen minutes, your body is left behind (the water is skin temperature, and you are floating perfectly still, and not touching anything, so your body sort of ceases to register), and your mind can wander. It is great for thinking about story ideas, clearing your head, daydreaming, etc. I nearly always find myself surprised that the hour has passed, and hopping out to grab a notebook and jot down a couple of ideas I've just had. So if you have a particular writing problem you're wrestling with, or you just fancy a different experience, I'd recommend giving it a try. 

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Fantastic material, but I'm not worthy

Just got back from a fantastic summer holiday, exploring the 'wild west' of America. The quantity of amazing short story material was incredible: we did horse rides up and down very steep hills, rode through streams, saw bison, deer, bears and wolves. We sat in a cafe where Wild Bill Hickok was shot, stayed in Buffalo Bill's hotel (where he auditioned Annie Oakley), toured a gold mine and learned why many miners lost fingertips (and most were poor, but the blacksmiths became very wealthy). My little black moleskine is crammed full of story notes and ideas. The problem is, I don't know that period of history, and I don't have an authentic American voice (still think in English - you'd be amazed at the number of differences - did you know a UK cow pat is a US cow chip?). So do I write a story that will be riddled with historical and linguistic errors, or do I stick to what I know...? Over to you, dear readers...

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Meet a prize winning author on Thursday!

If you want to meet Melanie Whipman, reading from her Rubery Prize winning collection Llama Sutra, she's appearing as one of several authors at a short story event this Thursday (10th Aug). It's at the Cherry Reds, 88 John Bright street, Birmingham, kick-off at 7pm. I believe entry is free too.

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Llama Sutra wins International Rubery Book Prize for Short Story collections

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We are proud and delighted to share the news that Melanie Whipman has won the International Rubery Book Prize Short Story Category for her collection Llama Sutra. Here's what the judges said:

This is a varied collection in terms of genres (fantasy, crime, romance) and themes, tending towards YA characters in an attractive and very well produced hardcover volume. There are entertaining characters and compelling plots here, dealt with in a skilful and subtle manner. The writing is assured and striking with some wonderful turns of phrase. Some of the stories are quietly moving. The reader particularly enjoyed the title story and "The Deer".  

Congratulations Melanie! You can see all of the category winners on the Rubery site here.

 

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Deadline extended for Flash contest

Good news - you have two more weeks to polish up that piece of flash (or write something new!). Why have we done this? Well, I'm always suspicious of contests that extend deadlines, because it suggests they don't have enough entries... in this case the answer is much simpler. We always get a flood of entries (and questions) on the final couple of days, and given that the bulk of our team is on vacation, with limited online connectivity, we decided it would be wise to prevent stress all around by extending the deadline until everyone is back :)  Don't worry though, the short story contest will start immediately afterwards, so if flash isn't your thing, you will soon get a chance to enter your longer fiction.

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Feeling brutal

I killed a darling today. In fact, I killed several. One of my stories, that was 3500 words long, had some nice writing (at least I thought so), but I noticed I was never sending it into contests. Why not? Because it had a prolonged dream section, that I felt uncomfortable about, because nobody likes stories with big dream sequences (except for Rebecca and 'Last night I dreamt of Manderley...').  I was censoring the story, holding it back from competitions as I knew it would be rejected. Eventually, I would retire the story and it would slip into my archive folder. However, I had a contest to enter, which needed exclusive stories (i.e. not entered in any other competitions - see this blog piece to learn more), and all of my stories were out there lingering in rejection piles (OK, so maybe a couple were edging towards shortlists). I had the sudden idea, of chopping out the dream sequence and seeing if I could turn it into a 'normal' story. After much hacking, I managed to achieve something reasonable. The story went from 3500 words to 2000. It will probably not win or even get longlisted, but it may get entered into a few more contests now. We're all told, as writers, to kill our darlings, and it can be tough. Today I did it. I feel good.

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How do you feel about cheating in contests?!

A long time ago (but in this galaxy), I came in the top three of a writing contest, and was invited to the Award Ceremony. It was a great event, and I swapped notes with the other writers, judges, and authors. The person who won first prize told me that the same story had also won first prize in another contest - in fact, I later discovered it had won first prize in three competitions that summer! Obviously an excellent story :)  Interestingly, as an entrant to the same three contests, I also knew that each of the competitions had a rule that said they would only accept previously unpublished stories AND two of the contests had a specific rule that said your story could not be currently entered into any other competitions, while the other had a rule which stated that if you won, you had to notify the judges so they could take your entry out of their contest. As far as I know, nobody ever raised a fuss, and the writer escaped with three wins. It did make me very sensitive to rules though, and I began to pay close attention to them. It seems to me you can sail pretty close to the wind, and still be 'legal'. I've heard various opinions from different writers though, including those that blatantly ignore the rules, through to those that religiously follow not just the letter but the spirit of the rules too.

Here are a few slippery ways I've heard of people entering contests:

1. When it says the story can't be entered in another contest... it says nothing about not being submitted to a magazine for publication (as long as that's an open submission window, not a contest).

2. If there's a date cut-off, 'Story must not have been entered into a contest before 30 Jun 2017', you can juggle dates to ensure you enter stories a day or two apart, and squeeze them into contests (e.g. if the other contest has a 15 Jul cut-off, make sure you enter in July even if they accept pieces from May)

3. What classifies as 'the same' story? If the story has been substantially edited (e.g. cut from a 2500 word piece to a 2000 word version), is it the same story?

4. Changing the story title. It may have the same text (or be edited as in 3 above), but if you change the title, it will only really be noticeable if/when the story is published in full. This is a good option, until you win...

I'm sure there are other options here (like lying). As writers, we want to maximise the chance of our story being published, and I understand the compulsion to sail close to the wind. From a contest organiser's perspective, it is frustrating to be in the final throes of selecting a winner to have the writer pull the plug and tell you the story has/is/will be published elsewhere, or (even worse) needs to be withdrawn.

I'm interested to know what other writer's do about this dilemma. Feel free to share your thoughts, anonymously if necessary! Incidentally, you don't need to worry about our contests - we allow simultaneous entries, and previously published pieces (as long as you still own copyright). We do ask that you let us know if you win a contest with a story currently in our system. Sometimes, this is not a problem and the other organiser is open-minded too (just like the Brighton Prize last year, where we both published a story). We do need to know, and generally will be delighted for you.

 

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Congrats to Mel and Jo!

It seems like Melanie Whipman and Joanna Campbell are on a roll! Not satisfied with both having their InkTears Short Story Collections longlisted for the Edge Hill University Short Story Prize they have now both been shortlisted for the prestigious Royal Academy & Pin Drop Short Story Award. Best of luck to both of them, in both competitions :) If you still haven't bought their books, what are you waiting for?!

When Planets Slip Their Tracks by Joanna Campbell

Llama Sutra by Melanie Whipman

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Are Writers a different species?

For a long time, I've suspected that poet's were different to other people. I'm talking about true poets here, not people that throw the occasional poem together, or like to read Ted Hughes or Sylvia Plath on an idle afternoon. There is something about the way poets think about the world, about the very way they experience events, that makes them different. We can get into the nature/nurture argument, and try to decide if being a poet alters your perception of things, or if you become a poet because you have a different perspective in the first place. While everything is a balance, I'm tempted to say that poets are 80% nature 20% nurture. Feel free to disagree - you can even right a poem about it, if you feel so inclined.

Here's the thing though, for the first time, I've begun to suspect that short story writer's may also be different to other people. I understand that most novelists are crazy - I've met enough to be able to discern that - but I always thought that short story writers were more like normal people, grounded, able to catch little slices of the world and record them for others to share. Sure, they may have a knack with words, perhaps they spent some time as a journalist or did an English Lit degree, but fundamentally they are good people watchers - often introverts - who like to see the world and then experiment with it on paper. You should always be wary if you spend time in the company of a writer, because anything you say may be taken down and used in their next story. Yes, even that highly traceable anecdote about your aunt's haemorrhoid cream being accidentally used as toothpaste. 

As a short story writer myself, it may be that I'm delusional. I like to consider myself normal (don't we all?), and it is clearly everybody else that is insane. It has occurred to me that I may have this the wrong way around. My brain seems to trap and store little stories and fragments like a spider's web collects flies. I thought everyone was the same, but I'm slowly coming to the conclusion that this is not true. Writer's brains are wired for narrative, and while everybody loves a good story, it seems that only some people seem to grasp how they work. I wonder what a good metaphor for short story writer's should be? Are we like rock collectors, collecting shiny pebbles and polishing them until they shine like gems? Or perhaps butterfly collectors, trapping and pinning living things to a sheet of paper. There are some writer's I've read that are more like palaeontologists, scratching away at a large block of text, gradually revealing some huge monstrous beast that was previously hidden.

They say every person has a good novel in them. How many short stories does every person hold? The real question though, is whether these adages are true, or if most people have experiences, but only a few people are really writers, because it is a philosophy, a lifestyle, a species. What do you think?

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Odds Against: 15 award winning stories

We got an email from Bruce Harris last week - he has been a regular entrant in our writing competitions, and was shortlisted for the InkTears annual short story prize the other year. Bruce told us that he has published a collection of short stories called Odds Against, and all of the takings from the book will be donated to the Huntington's Disease Association, in recognition of its efforts to aid Huntington's Disease patients and carers. Bruce's partner of 30 years was diagnosed with HD in October of last year, and they are obviously doing everything they can to cope with a very tough situation. We encourage you to buy a copy of the book (it's only 8.99 GBP), and to tweet/post/chat and ask your friends to buy a copy too. 

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Best Audiobooks & Podcasts for writers

Can I admit now that the title is a trick, to lure you in to this post? Don't go yet though! I need your help! I'm a big fan of podcasts and audiobooks, I love listening to them in the car. My daily journey is about 40 mins, which is perfect for listening to something interesting, and to take my mind off the aggressive drivers that attempt to kill me every day (yes I'm talking to you, lady in a very large white car). Over the years, I've listened to many audiobooks (and being a book snob, I will only listen to unabridged works). Recently though, I had got out of the habit. So eighteen months ago, I set about downloading a few audiobooks for my phone. The trial has resulted in:

  1. Much more enjoyable journeys
  2. A doubling of the number of novels I have 'read' in the year
  3. Writing inspirations and ideas

Off the top of my head, and in no particular order, I have especially enjoyed: City of Thieves by David Benioff, Prey by Michael Crichton (an oldie, but his stuff is great for the car, and a lesson in fast-paced narrative), The Sellout by Paul Beatty, The Trespasser by Tana French (the long police interviews were fantastic in audio, and the narrator was great), and Slade House by David Mitchell (interestingly made, with different actors for each of the main narrative chunks). 

I've also listened to a batch of non fiction (including Bill Bryson's History of Nearly Everything), Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari, and lots of varied podcasts - including most of the Freakonomics set. The number of short story ideas I've gathered from this hotchpotch of listening has been phenomenal. If only I had time to write them all!

One thing I haven't listened to, though, are any podcasts by writers (or editors) for writers. If you know any good ones, feel free to share the names or links below. See, I told you I need your help :)

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Sneak preview, with zero spoilers

At the weekend, I was interviewed for a new podcast series, all about....ah! I can't tell you (I did say zero spoilers). I love podcasts. They're fun to listen to, especially in the car, and just as much fun to take part in - although the editing is a b****.  This is a series of podcasts based on a related theme, and to make it especially pertinent for the InkTears crowd, each episode will have a small flash piece or an excerpt from a short story (about 1200 words). We may, possibly, run a little contest for one of the pieces... don't send me anything yet though, because you don't know the theme!

I'm excited to tell you more about the project when I can. For now, my lips have been zipped shut by the editor who is called S*******!

PSSST I think she's gone now.As an extra snippet, I can tell you that it is related to my day job at Swarm Engineering 

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Close, but no cigar

I came very close to being published in one of the leading literary magazines last week. They have a specific submission window, and last time I entered I was told they liked my story but it wasn't quite right for them. The editor encouraged me to try again in the next submission window, which I duly did (with a different story), and I was told that I'd been placed on the longlist. Sadly, I then received the dreaded 'Dear John' letter that writers know only too well. Very positively though, the editor had given specific reasons why they had decided against my piece. That is such a huge bonus, and allowed me to work on the story and make it much stronger. There's an instinctive reaction to criticism, (let's call it the knee-jerk), and then, when you sit down and consider the criticism properly - especially when it comes from an experienced editor who is reading a LOT of material - there is significant value. I have to admit that I agreed with all of the points made by the editor. She was telling me why my piece just failed at the last hurdle, and what I needed to do to improve it. I've subsequently edited the piece, and I think it is substantially improved.

I know not all editors have the time or patience to follow up with advice on rejected stories (and we don't do it at InkTears because of time constraints), but I would like to thank those that do. You don't know how much a few carefully chosen words from a professional reader/writer can help. Thank you.

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A rattlesnake nearly bit me today

You may not care whether I get bitten by a venomous reptile, in fact, the positive benefit might be that you don't have to read any more of my blog posts. Have you ever stopped to think though, about what would happen if something temporarily disabled you? Clearly it could impact your ability to work, your income (hopefully you have insurance), as well as your ability to drive, and much, much more. What might it do to your ability to read and/or write?

My colleague Luis and I were running through the SoCal hills during our lunch break, and with all the rain here, the trails are over-flowing with abundant vegetation. Unknown to me, a large rattlesnake was curled by the path, totally hidden beneath some leaves, and it set off the familiar rattle as I passed within a few inches. It could easily have struck and caused serious damage to my calf or ankle. While I would expect to survive such an incident, it would certainly stop me running (and possibly walking) for a while. I have some insight on that, because my wife suffered a very nasty foot injury nearly 2 years ago, and was on a knee scooter for some time. As I stared at the coiled snake today, I did wonder if I might get more time for writing if I was unable to move around so much. Perhaps I might write the great novel. Or finish my next collection of short stories, or those two non-fiction books I have sitting on my hard drive. That was the narrative I told myself. However, from seeing the reality of such an injury up-close with my wife, I can say that the real story would be one of frustration at not being able to get around, pain, multiple healthcare visits, and my free time would be taken up with trying to perform life's mundane activities at a much slower pace.

The stories we tell ourselves are compelling. As an experiment, try asking anyone keen on technology (especially if they work for a big company like Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Oracle, or IBM) when they think autonomous vehicles will become a standard part of our daily lives. Then try asking your local Uber or Lyft or Taxi driver. You will find the answers are radically different. I've yet to meet an Uber driver who thinks it can possibly happen in the next 5 years, but the technology fans are convinced it is only a couple of years away, in fact, as they point out, autonomous vehicles are already out there... even the plane taking you on holiday or on your next business trip is largely autonomous. We live by our stories. I shall keep telling myself that it is highly unlikely I will get bitten by a rattlesnake. I mean, I've only encountered them three or four times this year, and I saw most of those from at least five feet away. I'm far more likely to get eaten by a mountain lion, aren't I? Now THAT would make a good story...

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BBC Radio 4 Extra, here we go again! (28Mar, 11am)

Llama Sutra, the title story of Melanie Whipman's collection, was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in 2013, as well as being published as the winning entry at InkTears. If you missed it, you're in luck - as it's being broadcast again on BBC Radio 4 Extra on Tuesday 28 March at 11am. The story is very funny, moving, and beautifully read too. If you still haven't bought a copy of her book (which you can do here with a special InkTears reader discount), then you have to read this glowing review by Tracy Fells at Thresholds. 

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