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Debut collection by Amanda Huggins

We're delighted to say that Amanda Huggins, who has a host of InkTears awards on her mantlepiece, has published her debut short story collection Separated from the Sea with Retreat West Books.  You can find a copy here on Amazon. If you've been an attentive InkTears reader, you may even recognise a couple of stories!

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Crossing oceans from Japan to New York and from England to Havana, these stories are filled with a sense of yearning, of loss, of not quite belonging, of not being sure that things are what you thought they were. They are stories imbued with pathos and irony, humour and hope.
Evie meets a past love but he's not the person she thinks he is; a visit to the most romantic city in the world reveals the truth about an affair; Satseko discovers an attentive neighbour is much more than that; Eleanor’s journey on the London Underground doesn't take her where she thought it would.

Congratulations, and best of luck Mandy! We are sure it will be a success.

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Writer's Block is a myth

Only a few days ago I was telling some friends that writer's block is a myth. It seems to be a standard narrative device used in movies, where the 'great' writer has produced that incredible combination of a popular, critically well-received blockbuster, and now can't bring themselves to write again. Enter the hero/heroine/muse, to unstick our frozen writer and provide them the inspiration they need to move on. While there are a handful of well known authors that only produced one (or two) major works of literature, it seems to me that for most writers the ideas flow very naturally, and the challenges lie elsewhere. Speaking personally, I have at a least a dozen ideas for a short story (or novel) and what I find hard is getting the time to actually work on them. Sure, there are plenty of other issues when you start writing - things never go as planned, those characters seem to have a life of their own, and they just won't stick to the meticulously planned narrative structure you had laid out for them. I have experienced writer's block during a (failed) novel, where I just didn't know what to do with the slippery characters next, after they had run themselves into a plot hole. The best solution I have found is to take a long walk, let the subconscious mind work on the problem, and then begin writing, and let the characters find their own way out of the hole (they were the ones that made the issue in the first place, it seems only fair to let them figure it out).

While I understand the value of using writer's block as a narrative device, I wonder if it is stereotyping writers? Shouldn't we be campaigning to be represented better in the media, to display the range of backgrounds and attitudes that we bring to the table? The male writers I know are not all hard-drinking, hunting, warriors of the Ernest Hemmingway mould. I wonder how female writers feel about being put into a category; Bridget Jones types, or J K Rowlings. Who keeps doing this to us? Well, of course, the answer is other writers. Hmm, I feel a Catch-22 situation developing here. If you are reading this, and you are a writer, please remember to treat 'us' kindly in your next piece. No more writer's block. I can see you sitting there, about to start that screenplay, where you have an author as a major character, but if they aren't a stereotype what are they... oh no, you don't know what to write! It sounds like a case of writer's block :)

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Text Message stories - a primer for non-millennials

My daughter and her friend were laughing raucously in the restaurant at the stream of messages appearing on their phones - nothing unusual in that, you say, except the content seemed very strange... on closer inspection I discovered the messages appeared every time they hit a key. With shock, I realised that these were not messages, but a story. The kids (both aged 14) were reading a story that had been specifically written as a series of text messages - from an app called Hooked [and there are other similar apps out there too, like Tap].

If at this point you are yawning and wondering why I'm talking about an app that topped the Apple downloads a year ago, then you are probably less than 30 years old. Otherwise, let me introduce you to the app that is currently all the rage amongst my daughter and her friends. You can pick stories from a variety of genres; romance, fantasy, sci-fi, and so on. The most popular in my daughter's friend group are the horror stories - remember this is the generation weened on Stranger Things. The stories are told via text message - almost as though you were watching a friends conversation on their phone. Every time you hit a key, another message appears. Here's an example:

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If you are not a subscriber, the story pauses and you have to wait before you can continue - nearly always leaving you on a cliffhanger! For subscribers, there are lots of stories to choose from, and also the ability to upload your own story... which makes it an interesting platform for writers.

The numbers of downloads and stories available is quite staggering now, and the format is proving incredibly popular with the 'snapchat' generation. Hooked compare themselves to the classic epistolary novels of the past - such as Bram Stoker's Dracula.

The original stories were commissioned, and while subscribers can add their own tales, there does not appear to be any way an author can gain royalties from the popularity of their stories. Mind you, that's not so different from the 'real' publishing world, so perhaps that is a moot point.

If you have not yet taken a look at the format, I would encourage you to give it a try. Everyone should write at least one message-based story. It feels, to me, very like flash fiction in the early days of that genre - lots of people experimenting, and a genuine new class of writing emerging.

One warning - a fair number of the stories do have adult content - and they can also include images etc. so not surprisingly you will find a fair amount of content that you might not want your teenagers viewing. Just saying. 

I love the fact that it is encouraging reading, and writing, in a new generation that have spent too long 'hooked' on phones and social media. I only wish we'd come up with the idea first :)

 

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Sugar babies & writers: an interview with Sara-Mae Tuson

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Interviewed by InkTears Founder, Anthony Howcroft

Sara-Mae, we’ve been working together for quite a long time now, on all sorts of projects. You’ve got an amazing resume - you were the first female editor of the London Magazine, I know you’ve been published in the Erotic Review, and you’ve been Editorial Director at InkTears since the very beginning, where you’ve not only worked on all of the books we’ve published, but also recorded and edited all of our video interviews. What’s more, you actually are part of the band that play background music in many of the videos! My first question is, what do you consider yourself first - a writer, editor, musician…?

 

A writer, mainly, but I've become a podcast producer over the last few years, as a result of building a boutique podcast company: Fable Gazers. It's all story-telling and editing basically; you're still constructing a narrative and taking out the boring bits! Music is a great passion of mine that also feeds into the podcasts - it's wonderful when you can put a bit of music under some dialgue and it really enhances the emotional resonance of what the person is saying. In my writing, as in my other work, I'm a great romantic, so I have to watch I don't over-egg the emotional pudding, as it were. 

 

I know there is a hidden novelist inside, bursting to get out. Can you tell us more about your writing?

It's not hidden through my own choice (lol), I've had an agent, who was lovely, for my first book (a feminist YA mashup of Frankenstein and the Swamp Thing dealing with issues of sexual consent for teens) but we've since parted ways. I'm now working on another YA book which is a lot more farcical. My dorky sense of humour is really coming out for that one. The trouble is, with books, there are so many hoops to jump through, never mind the time it takes to write the damn things... so, working on the podcasts has seemed like quite a relief in the sense that I can create them, edit them and release them into the wild - no agents, publishers or any other gatekeepers in the way. This is both freeing and rather terrifying as well.

 

What made you want to do the Sugar Baby Confessionals podcast?

Well, it wasn't really a case of moving from one thing to another. I'm always writing, and always will, but I sort of fell into podcasting through a number of fortuitous events. First was hearing the podcasts Serial and This American Life, which led me on to The Guilty Feminist, The Allusionist and more... I adore the style with which these creators tell these very human stories, and the wry interpolations of the hosts. Also, though I'm not a journalist per se, I have written articles and copy, as well as working with journalists a lot as an editor and I enjoy the process, the parsing of ethical concerns with regard to trying to tell a non-fiction story in a way that elevates it, allowing the listener/reader to draw a wider relevance from the piece. 

So I mentioned to a dear friend of mine (Ruby) that I wanted to learn how to do it, and did she want to do it with me? You can hear on the podcasts how charming and articulate she is, so you won't question why I thought she'd be good. I thought we'd do something on film or music. And then she said, "Well, it just so happens that I've been thinking about becoming a sugar baby. Maybe we should record our conversations." And we were off! Two and a half years later, we're finally releasing a podcast exploring her life and experiences as a sugar baby - The Sugar Baby Confessionals.

 

Tell us a little about your friend Ruby (and that’s a pseudonym, right?)

Yes, we keep many of the people involved anonymous for obvious reasons, though I think, if not for protecting certain family members, she would be open about it. She's a terribly smart, wonderfully charming American, an extrovert in the truest sense of the word. She's also a mum with three kids who is nearly fanatical about the Paleo and Whole30 diet. In fact, she recently convinced me to do a Whole30 (a month of eating no alcohol, dairy, refined carbs, sugar, legumes etc). Luckily, I was finished by Easter and then I gorged myself on chocolate!

 

Over the course of the podcast, you also interview another sugar baby, and even a sugar daddy too. Was it easy to get them to talk openly?

I am so grateful to them for their bravery and honesty in talking to me at all, never mind with such openness and candour. Madelaine, whom I've since met, is really sweet and funny, with a vulnerability about her that catches you off guard. The Brit, the sugar daddy whom we chat to, was a bit of a tougher nut to crack. I had to use all my journalistic wiles (not very extensive, admittedly) to draw him out, and I'm not sure I succeeded, to be honest. But you'll have to judge for yourself.

 

Did you find any of the revelations shocking?

I'm pretty open-minded, which is odd, considering I'm probably the most vanilla person imaginable. But I've always believed in really investigating a topic before coming to a judgement on it. I like to get to the heart of the things that are hidden, and bring them into the light of day, even if it's sometimes uncomfortable or awkward. In my experience, disapproving of things 'on principle' can be rather a suspect stance. Maybe it's the writer in me, but I'm insatiably curious about people and what they get up to, and would rather explore difficult or taboo subject matter, than rehash the same boring stuff over and over. 

Having said that, I've been more shocked by how challenging to others this subject matter can be. One woman recoiled from me in horror when I told her the premise! But, on the whole, those people who have actually listened to the podcast have seen that it's not simply a titillating, sensationalist farce, it's very poignant at times and ultimately tells a very human and moving story about friendship, love in the modern era and the risks we take in the pursuit of happiness. 

 

What has surprised you most about the characters?

How strange it is, that you can find people to be at once savvy and smart, yet also extremely naive. 

 

You describe yourself as ‘vanilla’ when it comes to sex, and you have had the same partner for a very long time. I found your honesty, and willingness to ask straightforward questions very engaging on the podcasts. You talk about lacking confidence, but it seems to me that it takes courage to be so open, especially in the company of the sugar babies that seem to have such incredible confidence. How has the experience of interviewing the sugar babies been for you?

It's been a lovely way for me to enrich my relationship with Ruby. We were always close - she's one of the few people in the world who gets my dorky sense of humour. But we were living on different continents for a long time and it makes it easy to lose touch, which is one of the reasons I was looking for an excuse to work with her on something. I believe (and hope the same is true for her) that we've become much closer friends as a result. The fact that both she and Madelaine trusted me enough to lay their souls bare is very touching and really made me want to do them (and their stories) justice.

Also, it has made me think about trying new things and communicating better about sexual things. In that regard, I hope anyone who's been in a long-term relationship will find something relevant in the podcast.

 

I know you go into detail with the sugar babies about how their partners feel about their choices, but how did your partner feel about you being so open on the podcasts?

He's always been very supportive of my crackpot ideas! Luckily for me, he has a high tolerance for me working long hours on something that, as yet, has seen very little remuneration. But I think people who are in relationships with writers (perhaps you'll agree with this, Anthony?) have to be very patient, long-suffering sorts. He's also been helping me with some of the production side of things, and means to play a larger role in Season 2: Heyer Today.

 

At the start of the Sugar Baby Confessionals you state that one of the reasons you wanted to make the podcasts was to ensure you’re friend was going to be OK, and would emerge emotionally (and perhaps physically) unscathed. As the series has progressed, I’ve increasingly come to share your concern - the potential for emotional damage seems huge, and yet those involved seem to understand the logic of that argument, but less so the emotions. Do you ever want to shake them by the shoulders, as a friend, and show them the dangers? I guess what I’m asking is, do you find it hard to remain an independent interviewer?

This is a tough one to answer because, in my experience, when people are set on doing something that seems dangerous or uncertain, issuing a veto or telling them baldly that they're wrong for doing such and such, rarely works. Also, as a highly risk averse person, I sometimes don't trust my own sense of misgiving or fear, because I know I'm overly cautious. Perhaps that's why I'm drawn to people like Ruby, who really grab life by the...horns ;)  Add to this a near complete lack of 'street smarts', which Ruby has in abundance - I sort of trusted that, between us, we could stave off any particularly dire consequences. However, there is no accounting for the human heart, so I had to let go of trying to control the situation and just focus on being there for her, as best I could, outside of the podcast.

In terms of her choices, I tried very hard to be a non judgemental ear for her, so that she would feel safe to be open with me, and if something did happen, I could really help her. Also, I hoped that, by talking about it each week, she'd be able to process it herself, or at least get a chance to think more deeply about everything that was happening to her at the time.

 

You also used to be the editor at Trespass, which is probably the only magazine that published my writing that I didn’t dare show to my parents or work colleagues. That may have had something to do with the cross-dressing cartoon of a Nazi on the cover, but some of the interviews and material inside was pretty ‘out there’ and extreme for the time it was being printed. For someone who is ‘vanilla’ to use your own term, how did you get so involved in this alternative side of life?

The publisher of The London Magazine, at the time, wanted to produce a magazine that was the polar opposite of that very old and established publication. I created Trespass to be THE place where controversial subject matter, from art to literature to sexuality, had a forum where it could be intelligently explored, without judgement. It's still one of the things I'm most proud of. It allowed me to show the side of me that is brave. I still believe very strongly that taboo subjects should be explored instead of pushed under a rug or forcibly repressed. This should go without saying, but in the current climate in which intelligent journalism is being discredited, perhaps it needs emphasis.

 

Do you think this fuels your writing?

Definitely. My work is full of dark themes, mythological references and issues that preoccupy me. In my first novel, as yet unpublished, Ever After Eden, I explore feminist themes, issues around sexual consent, all couched in a twisty, tautly plotted fantasy thriller format - I'm quite into marrying 'difficult' subject matter with a commercial aesthetic. Much like my taste in novels and TV/Film, I enjoy both high brow and low brow things, from Ru Paul's Drag Race to The Hand Maid's Tale. My latest book is a lot more frivolous than the first one, however, with lots of dumb jokes, romance and faerie magic. I'll often play with mythic tropes in my work, there's a reason they've served as allegories for such a long time. I'm drawn to darkness, I suppose, like director Guillermo del Toro, who said, "The first thing is that I love monsters, I identify with monsters.” I like exploring the dichotomy in myself, and many people probably, of having certain values, but also wanting to understand the alternative paths taken by other people, and why they walk those paths. 

 

What is next for you? Will there be a sequel to Sugar Baby Confessionals? More podcasts?

I would love to do another podcast series with Ruby and we have several ideas bubbling away. They'll be top secret though, until they've been recorded! (Mostly because I won't really know until then what they're truly 'about'.)

However, I've long been working on Season 2 for a while now, and I'm really excited about it, although it's a lot more ambitious structurally, than TSBC. Inspired by podcasts like The West Wing Weekly, the series is called Heyer Today, celebrating the work of best-selling author and Regency romance queen, Georgette Heyer. Over the course of 12-14 episodes, we hope to convert new readers to her wonderful work, contextualise each book chosen in terms of what was happening in GHs life at the time, as well as exploring the mystery (as I see it) of why her work hasn't already been adapted into films or a TV series. This seems especially odd, as the Jane Austen adaptations are so popular. They've literally just announced yet another adaptation of Pride and Prejudice! As Heyer is like a mashup of Austen and PG Wodehouse, her fans believe her books would make for an incredible, and totally unexploited, cinematic experience(s). So there's a mystery to be solved, as well as a wider discussion of the difficulties of getting a book made into a film. For this I spoke to producer Andy Paterson (Girl With A Pearl Earring, The Railwayman) and along the way, I learn a lot about the difficulties of turning a book from paper to celluloid. 

I'll also have guests to talk about Heyer's life, like her biographer Jennifer Kloester and head of the Jane Austen society in Australia, Susannah Fullerton. Then there are the special guests who've been so kind as to chat to me about their love of Heyer's work: people like Stephen Fry and author Joanne Harris, amongst many others. It's been an absolute gas getting to talk to other people who love Heyer, as well as introducing new people to her work.

 

Thanks for spending the time talking with us Sara-Mae. Where can people download the The Sugar Baby Confessionals?

Remember to listen from episode 1, as we're telling a story that won't make as much sense if you don't hear it from the beginning. You can get it on any good podcast platform. Subscribing on iTunes is great, for example, and rating and reviewing the podcast will help other people to find us too. You'll also find us on StitcherLibsyn, or wherever you like to get your podcasts. If you fancy helping us spread the word by sharing the podcast on your social media channels that is, of course, amazing. If you want to chat to me directly, I love to hear what people think, so get in touch!

 

Web: https://fablegazers.wordpress.com  

Tweet us: @fable_gazers
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Like us on Facebook: fb.me/fablegazerspodcasts
Email us: fablegazers@gmail.com

PS. If you have listened to the podcast, and you want to help Sara-Mae win the Listener's Choice at the British Podcast Awards, please vote for it here (you can find it by typing in sugar babies into the search bar). Be quick though - votes close on 17th May!

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Interview with a double prize-winner

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Hannah Persaud

Interviewed by InkTears founder

Anthony Howcroft

 

Hannah, you’ve obviously had a great year with your writing - you were the Winner of our InkTears short story contest, and our Runner Up last year. I know those weren’t your only two published stories either, so we’d love to know more about your writing life. Tell us about yourself. How long have you been writing, and what made you start?

Thanks Anthony, I am still buzzing about winning your competition.  I have loved reading since I was four, and as a child I dreamt of being a writer (and a metal detectorist). As a teenager I wrote a lot of tormented poetry. I studied English & Publishing at University and considered journalism as a career but was put off by the competitiveness of it (ha, the irony). Then life swallowed me up a bit. Three years ago I decided to give writing a proper try and signed up to an online introductory creative writing course with Faber Academy. It was the first writing I’d done in many years, and I loved it. I then applied for their Writing a Novel course, which I completed in 2015 (the resulting attempted novel is in a drawer). Around this time, I wrote my first short stories and entered them into competitions. They went nowhere. I despaired. I read my way through Nicholas Royle’s Best British Short Stories anthologies, carefully. I wrote more, I entered more. I made it onto a long list. I got rejections. Then a short list. I got rejections. Then I won something, which kept me going through the next round of rejections. I was hooked, and haven’t looked back. Sometimes I feel sad that I didn’t start earlier, but then I figure maybe I just wasn’t ready to commit to writing the way it needs to be committed to. I know that I won’t ever stop writing now I’ve found it.

 

You’ve lived in many places, from Yorkshire to Nepal. How do those locations seep into your writing?

They haven’t, so far. Though setting is always the first thing in my stories that emerges, I dislike hearing myself in my fiction. This was something I battled with at first, how to keep the narrator(s) in my stories distinct from my own voice. This is the reason that so far I’ve not used my own past in my writing. Since I’ve started writing though I do deliberately seek out places that I think could be creatively inspiring, Cyfannedd Fach [Anthony: this year’s InkTears Short Story Contest winner] being a prime example.

 

Who are the people in your stories - where do they come from?

They come from nowhere and everywhere. News articles I have read, a man I sat behind at a carol concert, a woman who I pass in the street – more often than not they just emerge from the setting I have chosen, as outlines that I need to sketch in.

 

You story The Fox is set in an alternate future and could be termed sci-fi. I don’t know if you ever read Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, which has recently been turned into a TV series, but it is also a sci-fi tale. However, I suspect both The Fox and The Handmaid’s Tale would be found in a different section of the book store - perhaps feminist literature? (or just literature). Do you think female writer’s tackle the future in a different way?

Women have had to work harder to be recognised, not just as writers, but in the workplace, in the family unit, in politics and the arts. Therefore, to me it feels logical that in imagining the future, the strongest and most interesting voice is the one that has been repressed, that has to fight to be heard.

 

I see you have an agent (congratulations!). How did you find one? Any tips for the rest of us?

Thank you. Yes, I’ve been really lucky, Laura Macdougall of United Agents is brilliant. She actually found me through twitter – she read some of my stories that I had on my website and contacted me, and we’ve been in touch ever since. We met up in London and got along really well, and when I was a third of the way through the book I am working on, she took a leap of faith and offered to represent me. I jumped at the chance.

Twitter has been invaluable to me because of its ability to connect writers with other writers, agents and publishers, so I’d recommend it to any writer as a way to get your voice out into the world. It’s not only virtual either, I’ve got several friends in real life whom I met through twitter, including my writing buddy James (we’ve been critiquing each other’s work for around eighteen months now).

 

Can you tell us about the novel you’re working on?

It’s loosely based on Cyfannedd Fach, certainly in terms of setting. It also covers similar themes. I am in the final stages of editing it at the moment and we’re hoping to submit to publishers in the next few months. I am hoping that the patience and resilience I’ve built through short story competitions will see me through the nervous wait (and inevitable rejections!).

 

Do you see short stories as a stepping stone to a novel? Will you carry on writing short stories, or will novels now take up most of your time?

When I first started writing short stories it was to try and build some credibility around my writing, and that worked really well in terms of giving me a profile in a competitive industry. It also increased my resilience to rejection. Unexpectedly, I fell completely in love with the form, and now I absolutely intend to continue writing short stories, alongside my novel (hopefully novels)! There is a short-term satisfaction to be gained from writing short stories that is absent with a novel, and I find them a positive way to break up the novel writing/editing at times when it feels too impossible. They’re also an excellent way to hone the craft of writing, as well as being a good testing ground for small ideas that may stand the pressure of expansion into novel form. I’d love to have a short story collection published one day too.

 

What’s your writing routine like - do you have a special place or time where you work?

I write around my paid job, my children and my dogs, so establishing a fixed routine is difficult. My ideal way to write is early in the morning, every day, and in my writing hut (a few days before I found out I’d won InkTears I bought a writing shed which I couldn’t afford, my InkTears win paid for most of it, as if it was meant to be!). For the past three years I have written anywhere I can - kitchen table, in bed, in cafes.

 

What about the tools? Tea, coke or red wine? Typewriter, pen and paper, or laptop?

Laptop, tea, and if I’ve had a particularly good day, at the end of it, wine. Throughout the day when I’m not at my desk I make notes in my phone which I transfer later. When I am editing a short story I print it out and carry it around with me, obsessively tinkering with it.

 

Critical writing question: Melanie Whipman (author of Llama Sutra) has Red Setters, I have Weimararners, what type of dogs do you have?!

Working Cocker Spaniels, Buddy and Lyra.

 

Finally, since you have kindly agreed to be one of short story judges this year, do you have any tips for aspiring short story writers? What are the key things that you use as checklist to measure your own stories?

I am so excited and honoured to be a judge this year, thank you. I am fairly haphazard by nature and tend to avoid fixed methods when it comes to writing. I’ll start writing a story knowing nothing about it other than the setting, and will wait for the story to become clear as it fills itself in. I can usually tell if the story has potential at the end of the first draft; if it feels like it has a pulse, a heartbeat of its own, then it’s a good sign. If it doesn’t have that, I ditch it. My one tip would be, if your short story feels too self-conscious, it probably is. Consider showing it someone else whose opinion you respect. Other people can really help to identify things that you haven’t noticed in your own writing.

 

Thanks for spending some time with us Hannah - best of luck with the novel. We shall look forward to reading that, and some more of your short stories!


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  All Photos by Eva Persaud, aged 10. Unicorn trainer and future vet (and photographer, obviously)

All Photos by Eva Persaud, aged 10. Unicorn trainer and future vet (and photographer, obviously)

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Radio 4 book of the week by Sally Bayley

We were delighted to see Sally Bayley's memoir, Girl with Dove has been chosen by Radio 4 as its book of the week (for May 28th). Sally is a talented writer, teacher, and a long-time supporter of InkTears. I think many of our readers would love this book (published by Harper Collins by the way, so nothing to do with us...). Here's the blurb which I think gives a great summary (especially that last paragraph):

 

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Growing up in a dilapidated house by the sea where men were forbidden, Sally’s childhood world was filled with mystery and intrigue. Hippies trailed through the kitchen looking for God, their leader was Aunt Di, who ruled the house with charismatic force. When Sally’s baby brother vanishes from his pram, she becomes suspicious of the activities going on around her. What happened to Baby David and the woman called Poor Sue? And where did all the people singing and wailing prayers in the front room suddenly go?

Disappearing into a world of books and reading, Sally adopts the tried and tested methods of Miss Marple. Taking books for hints and clues, she turns herself into a reading detective. Her discovery of Jane Eyre marks the beginning of a vivid journey through Victorian literature where she also finds the kind, eccentric figure of Charles Dickens’ Betsey Trotwood. These characters soon become her heroines, acting as a part of an alternative family, offering humour and guidance during many difficult moments in Sally’s life.

Combining the voices of literary characters with those of her real-life counterparts, Girl With Dove reads as a magical series of strange encounters, climaxing with a comic performance of Shakespeare in the children’s home where Sally is eventually sent.

Weaving literary classics with a young girl’s coming of age story, this is a book that testifies to the transformative power of reading and the literary imagination. Mixing fairy tale, literary classics, nursery rhymes and folklore, it is the story of a child’s adventure in wonderland and search for truth in an adult world often cast in deep shadow.

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InkTears Short Story Winners 2017

Congratulations to the winners of our 2017 annual short story contest. Here are the full results. More details in the newsletter, but each of these stories will be published in our monthly newsletter.

Winner

Cyfannedd Fach by Hannah Persaud

 

Runner Up

Thirty Five Dolls by Marc Joan

 

Highly Commended

A Walk in the Park by Jan Kaneen

Walnuts, Almonds, Nuts by Tamara Lazaroff

Hang Ten by Louise Rimmer

Graduation Day by Jennifer Tucker

The Less Fortunate by Alison Wassell

 

The eagle-eyed may notice that Hannah was our Runner Up last year. We blind judge our stories, which means that it is quite an achievement to get into the shortlist two years in a row, never mind winning a prize. I think we're going to hear more about Hannah, and we're hoping she will do a little interview for us in the near future. I may have to ban her next year though, or better still, recruit her into our team of judges!

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Bonnie West: first paperback edition from InkTears

As you probably know, we publish both eBook and Hardback books at InkTears, and have steadfastly avoided the paperback... until now! Bonnie West was the very first InkTears Short Story winner, and we published her hardback a couple of years ago. We have a handful of the hardback copies secreted away - as a future investment (!) - but the rest have sold out. Bonnie has been putting us under immense (but friendly) pressure to publish a paperback edition, and we have finally surrendered. If you didn't catch it the first time around, you can now buy the paperback edition via Amazon (same cover - so don't be fooled) for pretty much the same price as the Kindle edition. What are you waiting for? Here it is: Boyfriends

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Mandy Huggins publishes Flash Collection

Does the name Mandy Huggins sound familiar? It should do - because she has won prizes in both our short story and flash contests, and we're delighted to hear that she now has a published collection of flash fiction called Brightly Coloured Horses. Here's the blurb:

Twenty-seven tales of betrayal and loss, of dreams and hopes, of lovers, liars and cheats. Stories with a strong sense of place, transporting us from the seashore to the city, from India's monsoon to the heat of Cuba, and from the supermarket aisle to a Catalonian fiesta. We meet a baby that never existed, a car called Marilyn, a one-eyed cat, and a boy whose kisses taste of dunked biscuits. These stories all have something in common; each is a glimpse of what it's like to be human. We make mistakes, we do our best, and most of the time we find hope.

We shall be picking up our own copy from Amazon. Here's the link

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Shortlist for InkTears Short Story Contest

Here is the shortlist for the annual short story contest. Congratulations if you made it this far. We will email the winners by the end of February (probably midnight, Pacific Standard Time, because we like to cut things really tight to the deadline...)

Susan Bennett

Lynn Bushell

Julie Hayman

Brian Holland

Marc Joan

Anthony Johnson

Jan Kaneen

Tamara Lazaroff

Lisa Magee

Sherry Morris

Hannah Persaud

Louise Rimmer

Sarah Thomson

Jennifer Tucker

Alison Wassell

 

Congratulations!

 

 

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The short story vending machine

I should really be more positive about the short story vending machine (in case you've missed this story  in the news, you can read about it here). I'm all for encouraging short stories, and anything that makes them more accessible must surely be a good thing, but I can't help thinking this is a gimmick. In an era where most of us can choose to download a story at the click of a button (or have a free one sent to us via email every month!), it seems archaic to introduce a large physical machine to dispense stories on demand. I wonder where the vending machines could possibly be located where they would make a difference; schools? offices? not at the train station, which already has shops selling books, magazines and sweets. I just can't imagine going to grab a can of soda from the vending machine, and thinking, may be I will grab an Alice Munro to go with that. Let's face it, I'm far more likely to get a kitkat. I do like the fact that the company is using it as a forum to encourage newbie writers, though. Kudos for that. It did make me wonder though, what other strange machines we might need.

How about a machine for writers? It could randomly dispense story prompts, miniatures of alcohol, little black notebooks, or for the lucky few, the unscreened telephone number of an agent. I'd quite like a robot in my house that could both reorganise the books on the shelves into a decent order, so that short stories are in one section, reference books on a different shelf, and so on. Of course, it would need to be able to make sure the books were of a uniform height, so they didn't look odd, and I would also expect it to solve conundrums like whether to group novels and short story collections by the same author in the story or general fiction areas, and what to do about the one irritating book that is too large to fit on a specific shelf. Perhaps it could also decide whether the Handmaid's Tale should be in my Sci-Fi, Feminist, or Literary Fiction category. A basic feature would be for it to locate any book, and bring it to me. This would include books I have loaned to friends, and have no recollection who or where. I just know that I DO have a copy of that book, and I want it back now.

What else? What machines for readers and writers would you like to see...?

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How to write inside a coffin

Officially speaking, it is not a coffin, but a sensory deprivation tank - a salt floatation unit. You clamber in, normally naked, lower the lid, float in a few inches of super saturated salt water that is the same temperature as your body, and switch off the lights. You can have some new age music, playing underwater, but I prefer silence. For the first few moments it can feel like you are spinning in space, similar to the sensation of falling that you get when you are drifting into sleep. Then, you feel nothing. Because the water is your body temperature, and the salt means that you float with ease (not touching the sides or bottom), once the small waves have subsided it feels like you are simply suspended in a weightless environment. This is when the magic occurs, and you can start writing.

Let me say that floatation centres aren't new. I tried a couple in Oxford eight or nine years ago and liked them. I did a large scale version in a pool for eight or nine people in Reading. A few months ago, a new center opened up near my office, with a special intro offer, and I decided to take the plunge (surely I can have one bad pun in this little blog?!). So since late October, I've been doing a salt float once a month. If you do a quick search on google or bing you will no doubt be able to see if there is a facility near where you live, and give it a go. Their websites will fill you in on all fo the pseudo-science (if I'm honest, I'm never quite convinced by all the stuff about the type of brainwaves it induces and how it sits between REM sleep and relaxation, but go ahead and educate yourself). I can tell you that I like it, and I'll explain why I think it's good for writing. One warning first: some people are uncomfortable with the size of the space, and the concept of being trapped in a coffin-like device, feeling claustrophobic, others are paranoid they are going to drown. Unless you have a serious issue with small spaces, I wouldn't worry - the modern floatation units are quite big, and egg-shaped. I'm over six foot tall and I never feel cramped or confined. The real issue is wounds. As a runner, I have hopped in several times with minor friction burns. I won't tell you where, but with a modicum of imagination, you might think where runners most frequently suffer friction - it is not on our feet - and I can tell you that super-saturated salt water can be ****ing painful. The good news is that it only lasts for a few minutes, and then the pain fades away. The salons provide petroleum jellies to put on cuts and wounds, but I never seem to notice until I get in, and by then it's too late.

How do you write, you want to know? Well, you can't physically put pen to paper in the tank, but it is a perfect place to work through knotty problems with your narrative, or to imagine an entire new short story. The trick is to have a particular idea in mind that you want to explore, before you settle down. Then, when the water and your mind have calmed, you can start to imagine and visualise the story. Pseudo-science or not, I have to say that the experience is definitely highly creative, and more akin to a structured dream than simply sitting down and writing - although I know that can induce a trance like state too. A couple of times, I have imagined entire short stories, and then got out and jotted the key points down into a moleskine that I have in my sports bag. Other times, I have worked on some complex problems at work (which is related to the application of Artificial Intelligence in swarms of machines). On two occasions, I have pretty much fallen asleep, and not been able to have any coherent thoughts - largely because I was very tired. Don't worry though, you won't drown. The extreme buoyancy and the fact that you are lying on your back make it almost impossible. I did a quick google check, and the only incidents I could find involved someone who had taken ketamine first (the horse tranquilliser), and another person on a cocktail of opiates. There are a couple of people who claim to sleep in them every night.

One other interesting aspect is that you lose track of time. I normally ask the receptionist to give me music for the last 5 minutes, just so that I know when the session is ending. Otherwise, after you have been in there for some time, you can begin to wonder if you have been abandoned, and will emerge to find the zombie apocalypse has occurred, or the planet has been pulverised by asteroids. One time in particular, I began to feel that I had been in the tank for longer than my hour, and as I was starting to cool off, I decided to clamber out and check. Yes, my watch confirmed that I had been in the tank for 90 minutes instead of sixty. It was no big deal. I showered, dressed, and wandered into the quiet room, and then through to the exit. Which was locked. And all of the lights were turned off. I have to admit to feeling slightly panicked at this point, until I saw the receptionist outside, smoking a cigarette. A brief conversation yelled through the glass and I discovered that the receptionist had managed to lock themselves out, and I was advised to go to the fire exit, where I could escape and they could re-enter. Slightly surreal, but I think I have an idea for a new story...

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Longlist for InkTears Short Story contest 2017

Here's the (long)list you've been waiting for... and since we only send individual emails out at later stages, you will have to scroll down to see if you have made it this far. Good luck! We are working on the shortlist now, keep checking the site for more information later in February. Congratulations to those that made the list, and commiserations to those that missed out. Keep trying!

James Arnold

Matty Bannond

Claudia Barnett

Chris Belbin

Susan Bennett

C. R. Berry

Lucy Bignall

Dianne Bown-Wilson

Colin Brezicki

Lynn Bushell

Linda Butler

Carol Cram

Jeanne Davies

Joshua Davis

Conor Derbyshire

Susan Dillon

Bernadette Eden

Joan Bullion El Faghloumi

Carole Ellis

Julie Evans

Amy Ferguson

Trevor Fevin

Jennie Foy

Ken Frape

John Freeman

Christine Genovese

Glynis Gertsch

Adena Graham

Andrew Grenfell

Bruce Harris

Jan Harvey

Julie Hayman

Keren Heenan

William Hillier

Catherine Hokin

Brian Holland

Richard Hooton

Don Horne

Mandy Huggins

Michael Hurst

Stephanie Hutton

Marc Joan

Anthony Johnson

Bonnie Jones

Peter Jordan

Jan Kaneen

Lucy Kellett

John Langan

Emily Larkin

Gordon Lawrie

Tamara Lazaroff

L P  Lee

Rhiannon Lewis

Sue Lovett

Deidre Macfarlane

Lisa Magee

Hester Marshall

Fiona McNeill

Antonina Mikocka-Walus

Isabel Miles

Sherry Morris

Guy Newton

Cheryl Nicol

Alberto Nissim

Amanda O'Callaghan

Fiona O'Connor

Sarah O'Mahony

Hannah Persaud

Charlotte Platt

Yvonne Popplewell

Alex Reece Abbott

Louise Rimmer

Jon Sellars

Tom Shillito

Valerie Shipp

Ruby Soames

Jenny Steel

Clark Thomas

Sarah Thomson

Becky Tipper

Jennifer Tucker

Lotte van der Krol

Deb Wain

Alison Wassell

Colin Watts

Ginna Wilkerson

Mary Williams

 

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Launch party for Showcase editions

Never one to miss an excuse for a party, (even though we are quiet, introverted, writer-types), we are holding a little informal bash to launch How to Begin a Wonderful Life, and Death of a Superhero. Everyone is invited (it would be great if you could drop me a line and let us know you're attending), here are the details:

Date: 16 December 2017

Time: 4:30 - 7:30 pm

Location: The Sun Pub, 21 Drury Lane, London, WC2B 5RH

Wine and nibbles will be served, and several authors will be there to read selections from their books, and to sign copies too!

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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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