Brockley Max – urban myths


Here’s a recording of me reading Algorithms, written specifically for the Urban Myths event at Brockley Max last night, which showcased the work of my fellow WooA writers.

Still recovering from an epic evening of communal writing!

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Tall Tales at the Tavern


Tall Tales at the Tavern

three women reading a book togetherJoin WOOA Brockley Writers’ Group for an evening of stories by local writers:

Bartle Sawbridge, Cherry Potts, Clare Sandling,

David Bausor, Joan Taylor Rowan, Rosalind Stopps

Read by Gill Stoker and Mike Burnside

Followed by a flash fiction open mic session for any other writers who want to join in, around 200 words: bring something along, or write in the interval.

Misty Moon Gallery, Ladywell Tavern, 80 Ladywell Road, SE13 7HS

Thursday 7th June 2012 7.00pm

No booking required, just turn up and grab a seat

Why Short Stories?


There’s been a lot of chat going on recently about short stories, including on the radio, this week’s Open Book had  Aminatta Forna giving a potted history of the short story from Poe, Chekhov and Saki to Helen Simpson, and even Ramblings (a walking programme … fascinating, listen!) had Claire Balding in company with short story writer Anna Maria Murphy. (nothing like being stuck at home recovering, for catching up with the radio in between sleeping.)

Having written two collections of short stories myself (and with enough material for 2 more!) and planning to publish (I hope) at least 6 anthologies over the next year or two, you’ll have gathered I’m quite keen!

I had an email yesterday in response to my posting about London Lies, in which the writer says

I was sure that it was near impossible to get short story collections published unless you are a well-known author

and asking how I managed it.

My very first short story was published in an anthology over 20 years ago. It was called Penelope Is No Longer Waiting, and I had sent it to Rosemary Manning, who was a friend, to cheer her up when she was unwell.  I got a phone call a couple of days later, saying

you could publish this

and then I saw a call for submissions from Onlywomen Press, and sent it off, and was accepted.  That easy.  I can still remember opening that letter, so thrilling.

I had two more stories in a further anthology at OWP, and then having got quite friendly with Lilian Mohin, the director at OWP, she was complaining about the quality of a lot of the submissions she received, and how she wished everyone wrote as well as me (or words to that effect).  My response was

plenty more where that came from

and I started drip-feeding her stories, one a month, under the heading of ‘entertaining Ms Mohin’, until she gave in and offered to publish a collection.  That was Mosaic of Air.

Mosaic didn’t sell very well, partly because I was in a wallflower phase and wouldn’t do any publicity, (I am so over that, as you may have noticed) and ended up with the remaining stock being pulped.  Not a happy moment!

Life rather caught up with me then and I wrote almost nothing for 11 years, then pulled myself together and published another collection, Tales Told Before Cockcrow. This did much better than Mosaic, and has almost sold out.

But what is it about the short story?

I’ll admit that some of my ‘short’ work is very long, almost novella length (now that’s really difficult to publish) but there’s something about a short story that’s like a jewel: carefully faceted and burnished to perfection, not a word wasted nor out of place.

Novels often have slow passages or subplots that don’t quite come off, but you are in it for the long haul so you put up with it, whereas you can’t afford to drift in a short story; and you can take risks and play games with language and structure, and the reader is prepared to come along because they know it’s not going to take you long to reach the punchline.

Since joining a writing group (WOOA) I’ve discovered that with a defined set of limitations I can write a fully formed story with a beginning middle and end in 20 minutes flat. Short Short stories… not quite flash fiction, because if it’s working, I write fast.

A really good short story settles into your mind with a sigh of satisfaction, like a good malt, or a perfectly toasted and buttered crumpet.

© Cherry Potts 2012

Seismic Acrobats


More from Joan Taylor-Rowan, about the initial inspiration for her novel, The Birdskin Shoes, and how the idea travelled from a taxi in the English countryside to Iran, Ireland and beyond…

joan clip 3 inspiration

© Cherry Potts 2012

Earthquakes at the Circus


My writing compadre  at WooA   Joan Taylor-Rowan’s first novel The Birdskin Shoes is now available to purchase on Amazon – Kindle edition.

“A wonderful tale about love and redemption set in a Mexican Circus. Joan Taylor-Rowan writes with great freshness and assurance, and her descriptions of the ‘cirqueros’ and circus life are pitch perfect. I LOVED this book; and it deserves every possible success.” – (Katie Hickman, award-winning travel journalist and best-selling author of A Trip to the Light Fantastic – Travels with a Mexican Circus, The Pindar Diamond, The Aviary Gate.)

I read the Birdskin Shoes in draft and was thrilled by the scope and drama of it.  Joan has a vivid imagination and in this tale of high-wire acts, back streets and earthquakes she makes full use of her time spent living in Mexico; summoning up the sounds and smells of an intoxicating but sometimes violent environment.

I’m looking forward to reading the published version, but either I’m going to have to buy a Kindle or Joan is going to have to provide a paper version.  If you are ahead of me in the digital world, I highly recommend you buy a copy.

© Cherry Potts 2012

A Night Off from the Opera


It feels really weird not being in Onegin-land for a day.  I actually go to work, and talk about something other than music, very strange!
And despite not getting to bed until 1am and being awake again at 5, I decide I do have the energy for writing group.
I have a completed story about Cretan bull dancers that I want to try out on them, and  although it is too long to read the whole piece, I read about half, and an animated discussion follows about young narrators, contrasts and heat, which is extremely useful.

B reads the first page or so of his new novel which is very entertaining, and we talk a little about sequels (which this is) and exposition of the crucial plot detail from the previous book, for those who have not read it, and how difficult it is to get right.  I don’t think we reach a conclusion. 
A reads a chapter from her ongoing work, a riveting novel of self deception and angst which is both gripping and laugh out loud funny.  She says how much we helped by suggesting she decide who exactly a musterious character was, and how it freed her up to get on with the plot.
We talk about our awareness of the group as potential audience when we are writing, and I admit to enjoying writing things I think they won’t like.
R is deep into a massive re-write of her adolescent novel (67%) and feeling a little worn by the process.

We discuss the fact the A is now retired, B redundant, and D redundant from tomorrow, and how all this time to write is suddenly available.  I try very hard not to look expectant in an ‘ I expect at least a chapter by next time’ way.  I think that makes it that under half of our group are still in full time work now.  Are we a typical demographic?

J hasn’t made it to the group tonight because she is manically churning ingredients for her pop-up icecream parlour at Broca Foods on Saturday.  We decide that  our writing exercise will have an icecream theme in her honour, but make it difficult for ourselves by imposing a 100 word limit, and we produce, memoirs, love stories, and humour.
R texts J to let her know, and she stops churning long enough to respond that she is delighted.  We talk about emailing them to her to print off and use as wrappers, but I don’t know that she has the time for that!

Sectret Sundae- on Saturday 16th July at Broca Foods SE4

Copyright Cherry Potts 2011

Dark and Stormy


Dark & Stormy
A Halloween piece … Winter, spicy gingerbread, slavery and marriage to an insanely jealous man … another exercise from WOOA, sparked off by not having got around to submitting anything on the Dark & Stormy theme to Liars’ League, and for once I didn’t come up with a story.

I keep dark Muscavado sugar in a supposedly airtight jar. I bought that jar in the mid seventies from the Reject Shop in Tottenham Court Road. The jar is square and has a Victorian engraving of ladies in a teashop on one side, which is what attracted me to it, in a very seventies-Laura-Ashley sort of way, but practical- air-tight unbreakable. On the other side of the jar the picture is of child slaves cutting sugar cane.
I often think about throwing that jar away, I’m not comfortable with that image, and I’m not comfortable with my fourteen-year-old self who bought it. It isn’t that airtight either; when the weather is humid the sugar melds itself into a brick. But it stays on the shelf with equally disturbing coffee and tea caddies and every time I reach it down I am reminded of the true price of sugar.
Every time I make this kind of cake – not often these days, but still, when I do – I think of Demerara and Barbados and plantations, especially if the recipe requires rum.
And while I am trying to hack the gritty dark brown brick into manageable weighable pieces, for some reason I think of pale slender ships scudding across dark green waters, threatened by storm clouds the size of continents. Breaking the sugar-brick requires a heavy knife (though not as heavy as the machete the child-slave wields), a clean cloth, and a rolling pin. The knife is laid edge-to-sugar the cloth goes over, to prevent flying shards ricocheting about the kitchen, and the rolling pin is used to hit the back of the blade.
It makes me think:
Breaking rocks in the hot sun (and sometimes I sing it)
Oscar Wilde in Reading jail
and
a story from One Thousand and One Nights… in which a jealous sultan believes (wrongly) that his wife is unfaithful, and plans to murder her in her bed. She gets wind of his intentions and when he comes to cut off her head in the night, raising his scimitar and bringing it down on what he believes to be her neck, there is a crack and his mouth is suddenly filled with sweetness. He falls to his knees sobbing in repentance, and she steps from behind a curtain and reveals that the headless body in the bed is a sugar effigy.
I am usually melting sugar and butter and rum and ginger together at this point, and as I stir this thick warm liquid, that looks like tar and smells like Christmas and late summer in the same breath, I think about that woman, watching her husband trying to kill her.
How can she forgive him, how can she trust him? How can he bear to even look at her when she reveals the truth? I wonder if they ate the rest of that sugar wife.
I only make this cake between late September and Twelfth Night. It is a cake for Halloween and inky afternoons where the sky turns from cobalt through Prussian blue and only the blackbirds sing; a cake for eating with the lights on, and the fire lit; and whether the curtains are drawn or not, for rain against the window.
Cakes like this, they take time and thought.
They weigh heavy: occasionally on the stomach, but mostly in the mind. Dark and stormy: the smells of nutmeg and cardamom, cinnamon and mace, cloves and ginger, raise ghosts; but the first bite of still warm crumbling richness is the taste of distance and long journeys, of security, and of home.
Copyright Cherry Potts 2010