Learn from me at ONLINE Summer School


Today is National Writing Day, and I’ve spent the morning doing just that – a bit of pandemic set-aside, paused the novel and started something that may be a novlla in flash, maybe.  And because it’s National Writing Day, a good moment to invite you to join me for An Approach to Creative Writing Summer School… on line.

There are many disadvantages to online learning, I won’t pretend otherwise, though I’ve been learning on the job, and the course is a lot more slick than it was when we switched to online with 6 hours notice back in March! The course has been completely rewritten for online delivery.

Advantages are: it saves me an hour plus on the tube each way, and it means you don’t need to be in reach of London to attend.

The course is part of City, University of London, and we use their licence for MS Teams, which once signed up you can download. I don’t recommend trying to do this on a phone, the minimum for being able to see what I’m sharing would be a tablet of some kind.

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This is aimed at people who like to concentrate their learning, but as I am completely out of the habit of talking all day and need a major lie down in between sessions, especially online, the format is now ten weekday afternoons, over a fortnight, so that I get a rest and students get a chance to put their learning into practice and do some writing over the weekend. If evenings are not for you, this is a possible alternative.

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So from Monday 20th July 2-4pm for 10 days you can immerse yourself in everything to do with writing fiction at An Approach to Creative Writing Summer School… on line, booking is open!

The course is limited to 15 people. When I checked this morning there were 9 places left.

We will work mainly on short stories (including flash), exploring inspirations, characters, plots, themes, narrative voice, point of view, dialogue and so on, but with some exploration of how to approach longer work, including planning and structure and looking after yourself. Depending on the interests of the group we will cover writing for performance, and specific genres.  You will get the course tailored to the people who attend, as far as humanly possible, provided you complete the precourse questionnaire!

If you have been thinking about doing a creative writing course, and you like your learning in focussed bursts, this might be right up your alley.

 

 

Who or What is WooA?


I’m reading at this virtual event on Friday, so no matter where you are, join us!

Arachne Press

WooA… a recent member of this writing group asked me how the name came about:

WooA = Writers of OUR age. Apparently, when founding members were on an MA together, amongst much younger writers, they found themselves saying this on a regular basis and it stuck, sometimes the ‘our’ is not emphasised, and we refer to ourselves like this with muted irony.

WooA logo

WooA is where the second Arachne Press title, Stations originated – we used to meet in the Broca cafe just opposite Brockley Station, (I wrote such a lot of food-themed stories then!)

The Overground runs at the bottom of my garden. Before there was the Overground, there was only Southern, but trains went to London Bridge, Victoria and Charing Cross. With the advent of the Overground, the Charing Cross trains were lost, and with them, the possibility of an easy last train home from many favourite central London…

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Final Flight


Sometime this summer, my rather long short story, Final Flight will be published in Air: Sylphs, Spirits, & Swan Maidens   Edited by Rhonda Parrish

This is the cover. Needless to say my creature of the air is a great deal earthier than this suggests!

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Table of Contents

The Snow Wife by Rose Strickman
Into Thick Air by Davian Aw
Faery Dust by Mark Bruce
Of White Cranes and Blue Stars by Alexandra Seidel
Dead Man’s Hustle by Damascus Mincemeyer
Final Flight by Cherry Potts
The Ravens, Before Returning by Ellen Huang
Their Disappearing Edges by Giselle Leeb
Swanmaid by Bronwynn Erskine
The Whippoorwill by Kevin Cockle
Nephele, On Friday by Elizabeth R. McClellan
Golden Goose by Chadwick Ginther
The House with a Pond with a Girl In It by Christa Hogan
Research Log ~~33 by Rowena McGowan
Eiyri by Laura VanArendonk Baugh
Raven Girl by Alyson Faye
Time to Fold by Mara Malins
We All Fall Down by Sara C. Walker
The Sky Thief by Elise Forier Edie
Late Tuesday by Oliver Smith
Wind Song by Sarah Van Goethem

Remembering Lilian Mohin


I’ve just read in yesterday’s Guardian Other Lives, that Lilian Mohin has died, age 81, although the online version is dated March, so lockdown and Covid-enlarged deathrate must have pushed her off the paper version initially. I don’t think she’d be pleased.

We argued, the first time Lilian and I met, and for a while I avoided her as best I could. A couple of years later that first story was published. I’d been having a really bad time at work and I remember tossing the acceptance letter in the air with delight. All grumbles were forgotten.

After a second anthology acceptance of two stories, Lilian confided that she got sent some very bad stories, and wished she got work like mine more often.

I took her at her word. Every couple of weeks or so, I sent her a story, in the post. (The internet was in its infancy. I remember her saying how she was staying in touch with friends in the US via ’email’ and being bemused, it sounded very like witchcraft.) Each envelope was marked ‘Amusing Ms Mohin.’ We both enjoyed it and she would phone to discuss the latest. (Not your best, dearrr-heart, Needs some work, Pumpkin, This is goood.)

Eventually Ms Mohin was amused enough to publish my first collection. (I was thrilled, I got to choose the cover, I got to choose the font – Garamond, still my favourite I got to veto, if not choose the paper!) I now realise how unusual this was, but I was interested in every aspect, so she talked to me about every aspect, except – crucially – one.

I annoyed the hell out of Lilian by refusing to do any publicity beyond a launch at my local bookshop, and a couple of readings elsewhere. I didn’t understand how important it was, I was borderline agoraphobic (more than borderline, if I’m honest), the idea of radio interviews horrified me, and she hadn’t the patience to explain. Despite that, the book sold reasonably well, owing to the phenomenal Onlywomen mailing list – and people bought books then, almost automatically. I own a copy of virtually everything Onlywomen published.

For a while I spent a lot of time in Lilian’s company, both socially and in a business context. I was briefly on the advisory board, (where I met some fantastic women) and I helped with rebranding for the 21st anniversary (there were a lot of laughs to be had from that).

When I first started pulling away from working at things that were nothing to do with writing I helped out in the office, then in the basement of a town house opposite the British Library, one afternoon a week. I read and commented on manuscripts, sent rejection letters, went to the post office with mail orders…  on one occasion bringing brackets, screws and a screwdriver to fix her collapsing desk – it had been like that for weeks, I didn’t dare lean on it. Lilian hardly ate, and I took to bringing lunch with me and making her share it. I had to be imaginative, she didn’t eat dairy, or citrus and – was it tomatoes? I can’t remember, but we had fun with my concoctions.

It is frequently her voice I hear when I am editing my own work – soft, drawling, but what she had to say, to the point. Sometimes she spoke so softly I couldn’t hear her, but I never said so – I would say I don’t know over and over until she spoke up. That probably annoyed her too.

When not editing, she was the mistress of the digression, and I found her very difficult to follow at full volume, never mind her habitual die-away tone. Initially I put in mental parentheses to try to keep track, then, taking a leaf from my partner’s book, would say, put a pin in that, stick to the point. She liked that, and would sometimes voluntarily put a pin in, and come back to the deviation when the import of the conversation was dealt with.

I spent some time office-hunting with her when the lease (or was it the funding?) ran out on the basement, and eventually she gave up and worked from home. Cue more lunches, and meetings dominated by the antics of cat Simpkin (a delightful animal), and I got told some life history – named for the woman who took her pregnant mother in when she arrived in Kent escaping Nazi Germany, her wondrously tall children (Lilian was positively birdlike herself), her MS, her love life.

Eventually came the rejection, in quick succession, of the second collection, and of the novel that she asked me to write. I took my manuscripts away, wounded, and we (wisely) didn’t speak for a bit. Then she phoned me up and said, that collection… It was months later. I quoted back the mean-spirited spidery-pencilled scrawls on the manuscript. She squirmed. I invited her to a birthday party, warning her that there would be men there (we had both been separatists, I had since discovered one or two men I quite liked. It felt like a test – if she came, we were back on, if she didn’t…) She said she wouldn’t come. She said she would come, necessitating changes to the food. She arrived, and sat in the kitchen sulking, where she gradually unthawed until she was holding court in there, with the cats, and mostly, ironically, to the men. They set up a mutual admiration society while the party went on around them. We made up, we published.

I worked harder at promoting that one, I understood, now. When Onlywomen hit its 35th anniversary (coinciding with Lilian’s 70th year – I went to her birthday party) I organised a reading at my local library with other writers published by Onlywomen, and it hit me, as I was doing the introductions, that Lilian had devoted half her life to Onlywomen.

Eventually we fell out again. It was inevitable really, with Lilian, either you were in, or you weren’t. We didn’t drift apart, we didn’t lose touch. It was always all or nothing with Lilian, she didn’t do half measures, and I think that had rubbed off on me, it was entirely intentional on my part.

She was still having an impact on my life though, as, in reaction, I set up Arachne Press. And then found out how little I really knew, despite all those conversations in the basement opposite the British Museum.

Some bits of good news


This morning I signed the contract on a short story being included in an anthology: Final Flight will be in Air: Sylphs, Spirits and Swan Maidens edited by Rhonda Parrish for Canadian publishers, Tyche Books. No idea about the publication date yet! Needless to say, the heroine of my story is not as ethereal as the title of the collection suggests!

And I am contributing a videoed reading of Foundation Myth to a virtual Brixton Bookjam. I don’t know on which date it will feature, but one of these: 13.04.20, 27.04.20 or 11.05.20!

International Women’s Day Women on the Move reading


On 8th March Arachne Press held an International Women’s Day of readings from female authors and poets, surrounded by the  Tatty Divine exhibition at the Stephen Lawrence Gallery. Many thanks to Greenwich University Galleries for hosting.

Here I am reading my short story from Departures, Cloud Island.

Save A Spider Day 2020 – Arachne’s Daughters


Back in the mists of time, I wrote a very silly story, called Arachne’s Daughters and the carbon copy of the typescript (yes, that long ago!) did the rounds of a local auhtority women’s group and the feedback was such that I thought maybe, just maybe it was worth publishing. Eventually it made it into print, and I might have forgotten all about it, if I hadn’t subsequently, a long time later, set up a publishing house, and had Arachne Press as one of my possible names. Someone made the mistake of telling me NOT to call my press that, as spider haters wouldn’t buy the books, and Arachne Press it became.

This year Arachne is eight, and I decided to put together an anthology in praise of the spider (you can read about this over on Arachne’s website), and I remembered this weird little story. I was convinced that spiderlit was a minority interest and it might be an opportunity (or even a necessity) to republish Arachnë’s Daughters to bulk out the material, but in fact it turn out the largest response to a call out ever!

So I don’t need her. But it is Save a Spider Day today, and as the narrator of the story is very keen on doing just that, I thought I’d share it here.

 

Arachne’s Daughters.

The following document, which was found in our archives recently, is a transcript of the talk given to the inaugural meeting of the Lesbo-Arachnid League of Friendship, on 29th of February 1992 (old calendar). It is published here, for the first time, to commemorate the thirteenth anniversary of the revolution.

Our recently retired Archivist, who attended that first meeting, remembers that the speaker made a dramatic entrance, abseiling onto the podium. Unfortunately, due to her size, much of the audience was unable to see her once she had landed, owing to the over-exuberance of the floral arrangements.

 

Good evening Ladies, Madam Chairwoman. Before I start my talk, I would just like to thank you for coming. My subject for this evening is Closer Co-operation Between Lesbians and Arachnids.

Primarily I would like to discuss with you the mutual benefits of closer co-operation. I shall start by putting forward my reasons for asking for your help; and then I’ll dispel some of the myths surrounding our culture, in order to help you to contemplate the closer links I advocate.

Now we all know we have a common enemy in men; I hope I don’t need to explain why? Good, I see a few nodding heads. Some of you may feel uncomfortable with some of the things I have to say, but please bear with me.

Many women have a deep and abiding loathing of ‘spiders’ as you call us. I accept that, but I want to explain why this paranoia exists. To do that, I will have to explain Arachnophobia, to show it to you as the persecution of spiderkind it is.

You think Witches were persecuted? Right, but that was centuries ago, yes? And Cats, certainly, but they are pampered pets now. How many people do you know who even pass the time of day with a spider? I shall embarrass you now, I am afraid.

Stand up anyone, I mean anyone, who can honestly say she has never killed a spider.

I thought so. Feeling uncomfortable yet? What is the problem, do we have too many legs, is that it?

All the more to run away with, I assure you.

So some of us are poisonous; I agree, but tell me, have you ever met anyone in these climes who has been made even mildly ill by a spider bite? We don’t pose much of a threat, do we? Now compare that to the number of spiders you have personally injured, deliberately or otherwise? We only bite people to protect ourselves; we are friendly, peace-loving creatures who wish to live in harmony with other species – with certain exceptions, like men -. We are on your side, sisters, and we have plenty to offer.

You will have been told that we are devious murderers, entrapping innocent prey. Well, yes, we are. So what? I can’t buy flies shrink-wrapped at the local supermarket; and I bet you’d rather I ate that bluebottle buzzing against the window than leaving it to tread puke into your next meal, yes?

I’m sorry if I’m carping on, but I really get annoyed by this sort of petty, dishonest, prejudice. No one is asking you to eat insects, after all.

All of these distortions of fact have been foisted on you by men, make no mistake about it. There has been a deliberate attempt to drive a wedge between us. Unfortunately, it has been a great success.

Our only good press where men are concerned is that old chestnut about Robert the Bruce, winning the battle after seeing the spider remaking her web each time it broke, thus explaining to him the usefulness of perseverance. Well you can forget about that persecutor of Spiders. He said the wind was responsible for breaking that web. Nonsense. He broke it. He was bored and he liked to torment things, especially small, helpless, earnest things. So one of our sisters joins the hall of fame because of her courage and tenacity in the face of the deliberate destruction of her home and livelihood.

Does this sound familiar? I’m sure you have one or two heroines who fit this mould? Someone who stuck to her principles and struggled on in the face of the persecution of the people who now praise her: Joan of Arc springs to mind. I’m sure there are others.

Well, so much for our Robbie, who learnt to persist, and to lie about how he came by the idea. Had he bothered to ask, I’m sure that nameless heroine would have given him the same advice, and not spent all morning remaking her web.

You may wonder how a culture that does not have anything that you would recognise as a literature remembers these events. Spiders have a racial memory, a bit like instinct, but more refined. We remember everything. Not that you generally let us close enough to benefit from our advice, our accumulated wisdom.

Have you ever noticed the way your resident spider hunches up in fear when you come into the room, plays dead until she has the chance to use her legs to run for cover?

Why? Because she is afraid. She is hoping you won’t put her out in the rain, or let the cat play with her, or just step on her. She isn’t going to hang around and give you good advice under those circumstances, is she? Which is a pity, she could become your best friend if you only let her. Try saying hello next time you see Suzannah in the garden, or Babette scaling your cooker, you might be pleasantly surprised, we can be quite cuddly.

Which, I suppose, brings us on to sex; and Black Widows. Now this is one of the areas that members of your specie seem to find particularly difficult, although I can’t for the life of me understand why.

I would like to clear up one misunderstanding: All spiders eat other spiders. Don’t look so shocked madam, your specie has been known to do it too. I mean, if you don’t have the sense to steer clear of your neighbours when they are hungry, you take a chance, its quite simple.

It doesn’t happen so very often. There are codes we use, a bit like musical doorbells. One taps out a message on the threads, I am not dinner, and if you are in luck, the lady of the house will tell you which threads to avoid standing on.  Of course, copulation makes the female spider very hungry; so any male runs the risk of being eaten after the act. Or, if he’s very juicy, before.

To be honest, I don’t know why your heterosexual sisters don’t do the same, no male of either species are of the slightest use except for procreation. Our aeons of experience have taught us the most effective way to deal with all that childcare nonsense. I hatch thousands of the little monsters at a time. They get a parachute each, and off they go,  pioneers in the exploration of the world.

Did you know that spiders are always the first colonists on newly formed volcanic islands? It’s true, and a great many die in the attempt. I expect there to be spiders on the moon shortly. However, I digress. I was explaining how men have conned you into being frightened of us.

Let me tell you about Arachne. She is supposed to have been a human, a very skilled spinner and weaver. So far so good. She is also supposed to have been proud and boastful. I think ‘uppity’ would be a good word to describe Arachne. So this clever weaver challenges Athene (you remember Athene?) to a contest to see who is the best weaver, loses, and hangs herself. Then Athene is supposed to have turned her into a spider.

Now, can you believe anyone would be so stupid? I don’t believe it, personally. No one could expect to surpass a Goddess at anything and I would have thought Athene would have been pleased a woman was so good. So why would Athene have accepted the challenge, if indeed that challenge were ever made?

This myth was invented by – you guessed it – men. They wanted you to think that being a spider was a step down from being a woman, and a punishment for being too clever. This served a two-fold purpose, preventing you from taking pride in anything you do, even the things they expect you to be good at; and discouraging you from associating with spiders.

In fact, Arachne was always a spider, and a symbol of womanly virtues and strengths; strengths such as tenacity and courage and pride. Arachne was so popular with human females that men wanted to find a way of destroying her cult. They even went to the trouble of changing the calendar to lose the month named for her; I bet they wish they could have changed the moon’s turning too, to make it fit their twelve months. Nice try fellas.

Forgot something though didn’t they? How many Cancers and Scorpios are there in this audience? Greetings, cousins.

So now you know at least some of the truth about spiders, and why and how you have been lied to. I hope you appreciate that this disinformation has resulted in centuries of misunderstanding, and that we, the Arachnids have a lot to offer you, the Lesbians.

Listen to the Spider, when she tells you the watchwords of all Arachnids; the wisdom that is the basis of our civilisation. Remember, as you listen, that our civilisation exists, nay thrives, despite horrendous losses from centuries of persecution.

The watchwords of the Arachnids are these: Be self sufficient; Never despair at failure. Work toward perfection; be proud.

And most important of all: Where males are concerned, avoid them, but if that proves impossible, remember they can be a useful source of protein.

Hear, sisters, and learn.

Thank you for inviting me to talk to you. Good night.

 

And the rest, as they say, is History.

 

first published in Mosaic of Air, Onlywomen Press 1992, reprinted Arachne Press 2013

Foundation myth -again!


Foundation Myth is getting out and about – this is the audio recording of a reading of Story Cities we did at the Old Rotal Naval College in Greenwich for Design Week. That was a lot of fun, there was a storytellers’ chair!

 

Myth is getting another outing on 11th December at 6.30pm alongside other Story Cities authors, Rosamund Davies, Evleen Towey, Jayne Buxton and Máire Owens; and winners of this term’s City Writes competition (TBA).

City125 Suite, 26-38 Whiskin Street EC1R 0JD TICKETS £10 in advance only

The venue is accessed via the Rhind building on St John’s Street, (big glass thing opposite the red brick one with the clock.) I’m sure they’ll have someone to direct people!

 

How to Write a Novel


I’ve unexpectedly been asked to step in for a colleague at City University London and teach the Novel Writing Course this term.

It’s for people starting out on a novel for the first time, or needing a bit of a boost/steer on an ongoing work, the first 5 weeks are nuts and bolts and the second half of term is workshoping your novel with me and the rest of the group. 10 weeks, Monday evenings 6.30-8.30. Starts 30th September.

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Some people already signed up have opted to delay until next term, because they want to be taught by the incumbent tutor.  This means we are now short of viable numbers and need at least 2 more people to sign up by tomorrow, or the course won’t run, which will be a shame for those who have already commited.

If this sounds like the course for you, get your skates on and REGISTER NOW, or by tomorrow, TUESDAY 24th September.

National Flash Fiction Day


NFFD are celebrating with a ‘flash flood’ – My story Rising Dawn will be up on it at around 8.45am http://flashfloodjournal.blogspot.com/

And I’m speaking, with fellow editors Kam Rehal and Rosamund Davies at Greenwich Book Festival at 10am about editing (and contributing to) Story Cities, a book of flash fiction designed as a ‘City Guide for the Imagination’. Free but ticketed, via eventbrite.

Happy Flash Fiction Day!