Winchester Writers' Festival:
All Sorts of 'Swimming Lessons'

This blog is mainly for the attendees of my Short Story Market panel on June 17 at the Winchester Writers Festival, but first, a few highlights of a weekend filled with great writing and great advice about writing.

The inspiring, inventive keynote address from poet Lemn Sissay included this sentence, which I am going to remember every time I feel this way, and that will be often: For those who think writing isn't hard, or isn't work, remember this, Sissay said: "Every day you face the idea that you’re crap, that you might be crap that day." How many people do that?

Claire Fuller read several beautiful passages
from her new novel, Swimming Lessons. Her work ethic is a model for us all: she has written her third novel, and sold it, already, before Swimming Lessons is even in paperback. One way she tries to keep swimming through the first draft: she tries, each day, to move the story forward. That was also on my mind this morning as I faced down my own new novel.

And the panel on independent publishers, headed by Debbie Taylor, author and editor of Mslexia, was an inspiration for those of us who are trying to write the kind of poetry and prose they are working so hard to publish. A great tactic from the editors of Structo: anyone who submits to their magazine must send in a photo of a recent copy of any literary magazine they have purchased.

So, for the Short Story Market panel, here are links to the books and authors I mentioned (with apologies to Lemn Sissay for using bullet points). Thanks for attending, and do stay in touch!

By the way, I'm linking where possible to for any book sales. It's a site run by independent booksellers, and you can link your account to your favorite independent, and they get a credit for each sales.

UK resources on Short Story Market:

The Mslexia guide to Indie Presses 2016-27 - congrats to Mslexia for selling all copies at the festival.

The other option: the 2017 Writers' and Artists' Yearbook, also helpful for journalistic freelancing, for those of you who might want to try your hand at book reviewing.

US resources on Short Story Market

Poets and Writers Magazine has a helpful and extensive Web site.

The email listserv, "Creative Writing Opportunities," primarily in the USA -- I believe you can sign up by emailing Allison Joseph, the founder, at

Highlighted Writers

The writers whose thoughts on revising I included from my own book, Off the Page: Writers Talk About Beginnings, Endings, and Everything in Between, were:

Mary Kay Zuravleff, Charles Baxter, John Dalton, Richard Bausch and Joyce Carol Oates. I also mentioned Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, although I have sadly not had the privilege of interviewing her.

Here's the Francine Prose book that I recommended is Reading Like a Writer. And here's the quote from it about dialogue, that helped me realize I needed to ditch a scene in my novel-in-progress:

“…dialogue usually contains as much or even more subtext than it does text. More is going on under the surface than on it. One mark of bad written dialogue is that it is only doing one thing, at most, at once.”

Finally, the Youtube channel for "Writers in Conversation," which includes videos of writers from the reading series that I hold at the University of Southampton, where I teach. You can listen to Tessa Hadley talk about creating characters, for instance.

How the Past Haunts Us:
Gail Godwin's 'Grief Cottage'

Ghosts haunt Gail Godwin’s new novel, “Grief Cottage.” Some are actual ghosts, such as the confederate soldier who sometimes shows up on the South Carolina beach where the story mainly takes place.

But Marcus, the novel’s 11-year-old narrator, visits the abandoned Grief Cottage, he sees a different ghost: the teen-age boy who was its last resident. The boy’s parents drowned in Hurricane Hazel in 1954, and he was never found.

Godwin may flirt with the magical, but she deals firmly with the realism of depression and loss. It’s those less physical, more haunting ghosts that this, her fourteenth novel, is really about.
My full review ran in The Washington Post.