With the help of graphic designer Elaine Odlin, I’ve created an ebook with a selection of my previously published short stories, illustrated with my photographs. For a limited time, I’ll be giving it away for free if you sign up to my website newsletter. If you are already signed up but don’t have a copy, please email me and I’ll send it to you!
In the early days of the pandemic, I found these words kept repeating in my mind and went back to reread the poem. Yeats’ poem Easter, 1916 is of course about the human cost of politics, not of contagion – but there is something political about this pandemic. The virus seems to have exposed weaknesses in our political structures, the way in which people continue to act as though the world fits their expectations when in fact it has completely changed, leaving all our systems unfit for purpose. Our leaders are frantically grasping at solutions, some with a lot more foresight and imagination than others. I am hoping the ones who succeed will be the ones who can help us create a better future, not the one we were headed towards when the virus so abruptly forced us to stop.
We struggle to maintain our ‘normal’ in the face of all this, but perhaps normality itself was the illusion. The slow inevitability of environmental disaster brought the pandemic to us as humans came disastrously too close to wildlife whose own ecosystems are being destroyed. We are now forced to question some of the fundamentals of our society up till now. Can we continue to have economic growth at the expense of everything else?
A terrible beauty is born
I started reading Tarot cards recently, to see if it would help me come up with ideas for my writing, and two cards come up a lot in my readings. The Hermit (which makes a lot of sense for obvious reasons), and the Tower, signifying destructive change but also rebirth. Change, my Tarot book tells me, is terrifying but also necessary. There’s something surreal about the contrast between the achingly blue skies and clouds of blossom I see when I go for my daily walk and the appallingly high death toll I hear about every day when I watch the news.
Nature appears to be thriving during this enforced cessation of human activity – we’ve all seen the photographs of wild creatures venturing out of their usual territories – but this recovery will probably only be partial and will need a huge amount of effort to sustain once the pandemic is over.
I keep hoping that out of all of this chaos and misery something good could come in the future. A chance to rescue our planet and the other creatures we share it with? To stop the pollution, environmental degradation and endless war and destructiveness we’ve created? For the UK, the country which Yeats holds to account in his wonderful poem, a chance to become more forward-looking, equal and inclusive, instead of heading in the opposite direction? I don’t know, but I can only keep hoping.
An extraordinary book I read recently during lockdown was Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel. It was written in 2014 and tells the story of a pandemic which wipes out most of the human race and the aftermath as the survivors attempt to create a new society. I was almost too afraid to read it but actually it’s a hopeful book showing how the stories we have created (a comic book which one of the characters draws, the Shakespeare plays acted by The Travelling Symphony, a group of actors who are permanently on the road) live on after us and can inspire new worlds – both good, and bad.
The most recent Tarot Card I drew was The Artist. As we wait indoors, it’s our artists who are saving us with their stories, music, plays and drama. I’m hoping that the terrible beauty of their visions will inspire us to create a new and better world, when the pandemic is finally over.
I’ve set up a short story podcast, Story Radio! It will feature short stories read by new and emerging writers in the English language. The first story I’ve featured is one of mine as I wanted to get comfortable with the technology and set-up before I unleashed it on other writers. Crow Girl was a Finalist in the MIROnline Folk Tale competition and I’m very proud of it, I hope you enjoy my reading of this dark tale with folk horror overtones.
But now I’m inviting more writers to submit. I am looking for short stories (up to about 2000 words) read by you and recorded as MP3s. I will add music, FX, intros and outros, and edit. Your entry will be unpaid until I have enough Patreons to fund payment for all writers whose work I podcast (see my Patreon page here) which is my goal for the podcast. All writers will retain copyright, we ask only to retain audio rights for one year. Submissions will always be free.Email Story Radio
Exit Earth, an anthology published by Storgy Books, is currently free to download. It includes my sci-fi story, The Reckoning. The story is set in a California of the future, where the Golden Gate Bridge has disappeared beneath the sea and all the Silicon Valley billionaires have moved into a floating island above the earth.
From Trumpocalypse to Brexit Britain, brick by brick the walls are closing in. But don’t despair. Bulldoze the borders. Conquer freedom not fear. EXIT EARTH explores all life – past, present, or future – on, or off – this beautiful, yet fragile, world of ours. Final embraces beneath a sky of flames. Tears of joy aboard a sinking ship. Laughter in a lonely land. Dystopian or utopian, realist or fantasy, horror or sci-fi, EXIT EARTH is yours to conquer.
EXIT EARTH includes the short fiction of all fourteen finalists from the STORGY EXIT EARTH Short Story Competition, as judged by critically acclaimed author Diane Cook (Man vs. Nature). EXIT EARTH EXTRA contains additional stories by award winning authors M R Cary (The Girl With All The Gifts), Toby Litt (Corpsing), James Miller (Lost Boys), Courttia Newland (A Book of Blues), and David James Poissant (The Heaven of Animals), in addition to stories by Tomek Dzido, Ross Jeffery, Alice Kouzmenko, Tabitha Potts, and Anthony Self. With exclusive artwork by Amie Dearlove, HarlotVonCharlotte, CrapPanther, and cover design by Rob Pearce.
It’s been a long and in many ways rewarding year for me as a writer. Most importantly, I submitted my Creative Writing MA Dissertation (the first eight chapters from my novel in progress and an introductory Essay) and received a Distinction.
After a couple of sometimes quite tumultuous years as I battled with the side-effects of my successful cancer treatment in 2017 (fatigue and forgetfulness being some of them), it was wonderful to get this mark, which was the best I’ve had so far during my MA.
Physical recovery is a lot like writing. I seem to have put a lot of hours in (in the kickboxing gym, on my laptop) and sometimes it feels like not very much happens as a result (and sometimes things seem to go backwards), but I am improving slowly and growing as a writer.
I’ve learned to look at my progress over time rather than expecting everything to happen at once and I hope I’ve become more objective about my work.
I had quite a few stories published too! My short story Masquerade was Highly Commended by the Booker Prize at Birkbeck competition and eventually published by the brilliant Elixir Magazine. I was on the longlist for the Sunderland Short Story Award 2019 and was a Finalist in the MIROnline Folk Tale Festival with my story Crow Girl (which was beautifully illustrated and published on the MIROnline website).
My story The Edge was published on the Short Editions website (alas, not in the short story dispensers, I am going to try again because I’d dearly love to have a story in one of these). Meanwhile, one of my ghost stories is going to come out in a printed anthology soon – I will let you know when it’s available to purchase.
I’ve been doing a lot of writing for Roman Road London and they recently created an author page for me where you can read all my reviews and articles – it’s a great opportunity for me to explore my interest in East London history.
And I’ve been managing MIRLive which has been a joy – the chance to listen to some wonderful writers, both well-known and emerging, reading their work live in an intimate venue. Our final event of the year will be on the 2nd December featuring Toby Litt reading from his novel Patience as well as some amazing new work from writers from Birkbeck and all over the UK. I hope I’ll see some of you there.
I recently submitted a short story to the MIROnline Folk Tale Festival competition and to my delight, I was one of the five finalists whose short stories were published and illustrated. I also read it to the audience at MIRLive – a wonderful evening was had by all, enjoying the folk music of Bity Booker and the various dark and thrilling stories that were read to us. We writers discussed the common threads we found in our folk tales: women and magic, violence, the way the world of superstition can suddenly intersect with the everyday.
Recently I recorded one of my short stories and sent it in to The Dark Outside. I was delighted when they told me they will be using it. It’s a very intriguing art project which broadcasts music, unusual sounds, stories and poetry in forests. This year, as part of the Peoples’ Forest project, it will be broadcasting from the Queen Elizabeth Hunting Lodge on 87.7FM during the Summer Solstice – that’s 20th June from 12 noon until 12 noon on the 21st.
My story will be broadcast just before 11pm, so you if you go down to the woods tomorrow night you might meet me carrying a small transistor radio… Otherwise, if you live near Epping Forest you might be able to hear it from home. Apparently everything is deleted afterwards, so it’s a bit of a once-in-a-lifetime experience!
I’ve recently become involved with MIROnline as the Manager of their MIRLive event. It’s a spoken-word event, showcasing the best in creative writing. Performances involve new UK based writers alongside established authors. The event takes place twice termly at The Harrison, 28 Harrison Street, King’s Cross, WC1H 8JF.
Our next event is on Monday 8th July at 7.30pm and you can read all about it here. It’s going to be a Folk Tale themed event with a reading by author Catherine Menon and live folk music by Bity Booker. Other readings will be from short stories submitted to the MIROnline Summer Folk Tale Festival.
It’s going to be a wonderful night, and it’s free! Please come along and support our amazing writers.
My short story, The Edge, has recently been published on the Short Editions website where it is part of a competition (including public votes). Winners will be published internationally in Short Editions’ ‘short story dispensers’, which I think are a wonderful idea.
It’s a story set in a caravan park in Dorset, which I originally wrote for a beach-themed competition, and explores heatwaves and teenage mood swings.Read it here and don’t forget to vote!
I’ve just joined the editorial team at Roman Road London as a book reviewer – it’s a great local website focusing on news, culture and events in the Roman Road area of East London.
My most recent book review is for Paintings by Doreen Fletcher, an artist who is a favourite of mine. I’m looking forward to reviewing more books about the history and culture of the area, so if you have a book you think I should review, let me know!