I was asked by the fabulous Prompety Prompt to contribute a spoken word piece to their podcast, which gives writers a set of prompts to use to create their work. The one I found most inspiring was ‘Someone keeps sending you severed heads of birds’ (yes, that might well mean I’m slightly weird, but what’s a girl to do?). Here is the video they made for it, and I hope you enjoy listening.
I have spent a great deal of 2021 in the doldrums, a term I first encountered in that excellent children’s book The Phantom Tollbooth. It can mean a period of stagnation or depression, and in sailing, it refers to an area near the equator where ships sometimes get stuck on windless waters.
I have been extremely fortunate in many ways during this pandemic: no one in my family has been badly affected by Covid-19, I work remotely for a great employer and I have time for my other interests, such as my podcast, Story Radio. Despite all this, I have struggled with my creative writing this year and have only written one short story and about three new chapters of my novel, which I am revising. I have been submitting to agents (mainly) but have only managed slightly less than half the amount of submissions I did in 2020 (I keep track of these using Duotrope). Sometimes it’s hard to keep the motivation and drive to keep writing and putting yourself out there, as a quick scroll through writers’ Twitter will tell you.
However, I’ve just returned from a wonderful and much-needed holiday where I also managed to get a scuba-diving certificate. I was born by the sea and I think I am happiest when I am close to it. Being able to dive among the fish and coral and relax in the sunshine afterwards felt like a huge privilege after this long and frequently dreary year. I’ve chosen a photo of a beautiful ship I took on this holiday as I’m hoping that the doldrums will end in 2022 and I can start moving forwards once more. I can only wish the same to all of you – Happy New Year!
It’s been a long and difficult year, although with vaccines we are at least seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. I thought you would like to see this photo of the restored gamekeeper’s hut where I’ve been spending time writing and producing my podcast when I’m in Norfolk. If you listen to the podcast, you will occasionally be able to hear the birds singing in the garden.
We have added a new podcast, Rat Trap by Rebecca Lee, for you to listen to tomorrow and I am planning to read another of my own short stories in February 2022. We are taking a break in January after two years of back-to-back episodes. It has been wonderful being able to produce these magical little podcasts throughout the pandemic and collaborate with so many talented authors and actors.
Some of you may have noticed that I’ve added a members-only area to the website, where you will be able to read more unpublished stories and writing. If you sign up for the trial period of one month, you will be able to download my illustrated book of short stories in Kindle format for £5. I’d love to hear your feedback about this idea, which means I can share more of my unpublished as well as my published stories.
I am still writing book reviews for Roman Road London – you can read my recent review of Graves of Whitechapel by Claire Evans there and they will shortly feature another of Vicky Newman’s Out of the Ashes.
Wishing you all a safe and happy holiday, and I’ll see you on the other side.
After the disappointment that was summer this year, I’ve found myself really loving Autumn – the colours of the leaves in the woods, the moody skies, the abundance of strange-looking mushrooms. I enjoy this time of year and the otherworldly feeling as Halloween draws near. I’ve always liked dressing up for this event and have many photographs of my children cavorting around dressed as wizards and werewolves although they are (mostly) too grown up for this now. This photo is taken from a special Halloween trip we took on Norfolk’s Poppy Line.
I’ve been making some changes to my website using Memberpress. Soon, if you would like to you will be able to buy a membership allowing you to view even more stories and content. Writers often suffer from a double-bind; it can take a long time to get a story published, but if a writer publishes it on their own website it is then ineligible for publication elsewhere. If a writer hopes to publish a collection (traditionally), about half of the stories in it need to be unpublished. I have a collection I hope to publish eventually but I would like to start sharing the stories now.
I am using Memberpress as it is a good way of getting around this problem. Newsletter subscribers will have seen my free PDF of short stories: I will have a Kindle version available for sale on this site shortly and may publish more short stories in this format. The membership will give you a new short story via email every two months as well as the monthly newsletter and discounts on publications.
I’ve been a little quiet on here recently as although life has been busy, I haven’t had much writing news to share. I’m happy to say that that is about to change as one of my pieces, a short story about innocence and experience set in the eighteenth century (with more than a passing nod to Angela Carter) is coming out in print. The story will be available in Part 2 of the printed anthology, which is available in two parts – or you can buy the complete version.
I’ve always been fascinated by curiosity cabinets and I decided to use them as a metaphor for the idea of forbidden knowledge. This story was also long-listed for the University of Sunderland Short Story in Association with Waterstones Award in 2019.
I happened to see an email from Tower Hamlets Council asking residents to contribute to a recording, A Nightingale Sang in Pollard Square, run by Sam Lee of the Nest Collective. Every year Sam Lee records nightingales – which only sing between April and May in the UK – at night with the help of other singers and artists.
I wanted to write something for this performance (which was part of the celebration of St George’s Day in the borough) and was inspired by the fairy tale, The Nightingale, written by Danish author Hans Christian Andersen about an Emperor who prefers the tinkling of a bejewelled mechanical bird to the song of a real nightingale. When the Emperor is near death, the nightingale’s song restores his health.
So many of us, including myself, have taken so much comfort from nature, including the birdsong we could suddenly hear, during the pandemic. The story of the nightingale that could heal the dying man is very relevant to us all in these strange times.
I tried to think of a way to retell this old fairy tale while reading about nightingales – which are now on the Red List – and ended up with a different idea: a nightingale in a museum, a holographic representation of the real thing, telling us how it became extinct. We need to save these amazing birds so that we are not left only with mechanical nightingales instead of the real thing.
You can hear my recorded piece just after the beginning of the video, and I’m honoured to be part of this beautiful recording.
Some reviews for The Abyss Within, a charity anthology benefiting Women’s Aid which features two of my short stories, Crow Girl and Masquerade, appeared recently as part of a book tour and I had to share a couple of them.
“This anthology is perfect for any “beginners” of the horror genre, wanting to dip their toes in these murky waters. Each story is quite short and makes for a fast-paced reading experience. Various tropes of horror are explored throughout these tales and I was particularly drawn to the weird and fantastical elements of some stories… The second story I’m going to highlight is my favourite of the anthology – “Crow Girl” by Tabitha Potts. This is precisely the kind of story I love. The story tells the tale of a young, deaf and mute orphaned girl who is taken in by a childless couple. When she falls pregnant, she is kicked out of her home and goes to live in the woods with her friends- the birds, especially the crows. Potts’ use of bird imagery is carried seamlessly throughout. There is a brightness present in this story amongst its horror. Potts writes how mother and child “spoke together with a language we invented ourselves.” This is a story to remember.”
Another great review by Read by Dusk said: “Tabitha Potts’ Masquerade describes a woman’s fight to survive an abusive marriage. The story is arranged in snippets of scenes which made for a cinematic read.”
Strange times continue, and we plod on trying to cope. I’ve been walking a lot, like I imagine everyone has, finding a lot of comfort in looking at the winter landscape, the sea and the woods. I’ve been taking a lot of photographs with my new camera, most of which I share on Instagram, trying to find a way of recording these landscapes which move me so much.
Photography shares some aspects with writing, in that you can see something very beautiful and satisfying and yet struggle to capture it. I think I’ve always understood that frustration was part of the creative process, as both my parents were writers (perhaps that’s why I took so long to commit to it). But I’ve also been trying to let go of perfectionism and fear and actually enjoy the process of writing again. As part of that, I attended an online flash fiction course run by Emily Devane and joined a Zoom writing retreat run by Sarah Dale. Both were inspiring.
Sometimes, you have to accept that it’s the wrong season for things to grow, and I’ve been feeling like that a lot last year when it comes to my writing. So I’m writing when I can, and just enjoying the scenery when I can’t. I wrote this poem, inspired by a witch ball that I was given by my mother Jocasta for my birthday, in one of Sarah’s retreats. It’s about superstition and how we surround ourselves with the little things that make us feel safe. I see it as a spell or charm. I hope you like it.
The last gift my mother gave me
Silver wind in the trees
Acorns on windowsills
Smoke in the night
We can see ourselves
A charm of protection
A caged cat
In the foundations
Of an old house
To keep the devil out
Recently I had two short stories published. One, Some Notes on Container Gardening During the Apocalypse, is a satirical short story I wrote at the beginning of the pandemic, and was published by the excellent American literary magazine The Disappointed Housewife. I knew it would be the right magazine for me to submit this story to when I read that it was looking for stories that ‘that strike us as different, always with that idiosyncratic touch. Iconoclastic. Kind of bent.’ Thank you to The Disappointed Housewife for giving my strange little story a home!
The second, The Sin-Eater, was written and workshopped during the Genre class in my Creative Writing MA and is set in a fantasy world whose inhabitants all experience life through synaesthaesia and whose skin changes colour according to their feelings and sensations. I think it’s one of my most original short stories and am very pleased with it. It was published by the UK based Fudoki Magazine which is an online magazine of myths, legends, fables, fantasy, folklore and fairytales. Fudoki captured stories that were passed down the generations in Japan and ensured they wouldn’t be lost.
Meanwhile our final short story of 2020 will go online tomorrow at Story Radio Podcast – thanks to all the writers, actors and producers who have so generously shared their work, especially to my extremely talented Birkbeck contemporaries Tatum Anderson (The Invisibles) who was Highly Commended in two debut novel awards this year, Miki Lentin (Persepolis, Meringues) who was a Finalist in the Fish Publishing Short Story Award and of course my fellow producer, Martin Nathan (The Edge, Mock Crab, The Vulnerable) who is on the shortlist for two international playwriting awards. I am privileged to have been able to work with all of them during this very difficult year.
I recently had two stories, Crow Girl and Masquerade, selected to be included in an anthology, The Abyss Within, by new UK publishers SmashBear Publishing. They specialise in fantasy and horror fiction and all profits from this anthology will be donated to Women’s Aid, the national charity working to end domestic abuse against women and children. I’m proud to be part of this exciting new venture.
If you’d like to support this charity, have a look at The Abyss Within on Amazon (affiliate link).