Guest Post: Drew Gummerson on Editing

In the last of my current series of guest posts from authors with new books out, a big welcome to Drew Gummerson with his thoughts on that most crucial aspect of writing – the editing process.

Certain books, written quickly, are infamous; Jack Kerouac’s On The Road, dashed off while on the bog, written in a cramped hand along the length of a single roll of toilet paper(*), Charles Bukowski’s Post Office, 2 weeks in the making, squashed between Bukowski’s bar brawls and unsuccessful attempts at picking up Women(*), (his next book, 3 days later(*)).

(Sequestered once in hotel room Bukowski refused to appear on same bill as one and only Burroughs, William (now he was editor; cut text with scissors, scatter text across floor, shoot heroin, piece text back together. For many years Burroughs carried pages of Naked Lunch (deconstructed / constructed) gripped with single elastic-band in suitcase across Paris / Tangier / Interzone.(*))

But for most of us, as Morrissey sang, These Things Take Time.

(And I know that I’m the most inept that ever stepped…)

The best advice I ever got about editing came backwards through a crude joke on The Inbetweeners. This crude joke was about having a numb hand and masturbation.

It’s better all round if you no longer feel it’s yours. (**)

When I finished the first draft of Seven Nights at the Flamingo Hotel I put it away for six months.

It was only then I had the right perspective to be brutal, see what worked / what didn’t. So I could slash and burn. And, I honestly couldn’t remember where it was going.

It was fresh.

And that’s where the real work started.

In this excellent New York Times article, Jenny Offill talks of how she put extracts of her new novel Weather onto poster-boards and it was only, through time, by looking at them, she could ascertain which ones sparkled, which ones weren’t merely clever.

In that first draft it’s all too easy, like Alice falling down her well, to be pleased with yourself. Time gives clear head to tidy up (delete) these sections which don’t sparkle, aren’t clever (I mean, who wrote this shit?).

On twitter Ronan Hession (writer of the wonderful Leonard and the Hungry Paul(**)) gave the Sound Advice of, when editing, to read the chapters in reverse order. This,

“1. Stops you getting distracted by the story.

2. Reveals a lot about flow… if a book reads well backwards it’s a good indication that it reads well forwards.”

Same as putting text away in drawer it is about finding a different way of looking / disrupting gaze.

And of going over and over it.

George Saunders spent 14 years(**) writing his short story The Semplica Girl Diaries

His editing process was to write reams and reams of stuff trying to find the character. It was only by writing in character’s voice that the nuggets of genius that made it into the story came out.

The rest was discarded.

But read what the man himself says, this is George freaking Saunders.

*****

Seven Nights at the Flamingo Hotel was written on my iPhone, sitting at my kitchen table, most often before I went to work. Just an hour or two.

Having once been an obsessive writer I made a deal (with myself) a number of years ago that I would keep my evenings free for movies, music, books etc etc etc (wine).

In those few hours, like Offill I ended up with many dozens of pieces / fragments / sketches.

The trick was to work on them work on them work on them and, as Saunders suggests, find the heart of what you are trying to say.

(*) – This is not exactly true.

(**) – This is exactly true.

Drew Gummerson is the author of The Lodger and Me and Mickie James. His latest book, Seven Nights at the Flamingo Hotel, is to be published in November 2020 by Bearded Badger Publishing

Drew Gummerson

Guest Post: Anna Vaught on Writing in a Different Genre

In the latest in my series of guest posts by authors of new books, Anna Vaught tells how returning to short story writing in a lull between working on novels proved to be a rejuvenation.

I believe in complicity and its special heat. See what I have. Eat.’

Where, I was asked, do short stories fit into your writing? This is how.

I had written short stories for a blog I kept, entered a couple of competitions, and had had two stories published in anthologies; I also read many short stories of varied provenance, but that was it. Now, in the early spring of 2019, I found myself feeling jaded between projects and unsure what to do, though I thought I needed to do something. My third novel Saving Lucia was placed but still a year away from publication and I was yet to work with my editor; my first two books, autobiographical fiction and novella, had lacked exposure and, partly because of this, I lacked faith in myself to make a new novel do well. I write quickly, so I had already written a follow-up novel to Saving Lucia, but understood that this would not be read for some time, and I had had a couple of meetings with agents who had asked to meet for a chat about what I was up to. One of them, incidentally, is the greatly supportive woman I now refer to as my ‘not-agent’ and the other, the goddess who was soon to sign me on the back of a short story collection I had not written – or even thought of – yet. Possibilities hung in the air, but also a lot of self-doubt. I wanted to keep busy to assuage it.

I decided I would try some short stories again. I had written a good deal about memory, trauma and testimony in fiction and creative non-fiction; I had also written food journalism, was interested in culinary history and, owing to a rather colourful past and many strange familial events in childhood and teenage years which revolved around food, its preparation, purveying and sharing (or not), an idea coalesced: how about a collection of stories involving adventures at table, feasts, consuming and being consumed; about food and trauma. Funny, peculiar, entertaining and with language you could get your teeth into; I would draw on my reading and experience and the rest would be new literary horror and weird to which I naturally incline.

Up bubbled a book, and it came out very quickly. I feel embarrassed to say this: I wrote it in two weeks, in a wonderful fury, sometimes getting up at four to make the stories on top of my other responsibilities. I do not recommend this practice, but it was what I wanted here. I wrote about being held back, being terrified (I know this is weird) by trifle, tripe, and tapas; I drew on old stories, food journals and apocrypha. I wrote on food as metaphor, but also about food as something plainly and brutally literal. I did not know I could do any of this; I only knew that once I had started I did not want to stop and particularly enjoyed the concept of an overarching theme and some overlapping details in terms of characters and psychological or erotic tryst.  I felt rejuvenated. Then, when a submissions window came up at Influx Press – exciting: I had loved Attrib. by Eley Williams and How the Light Gets In by Clare Fisher – I sent it to them (and to the second of the wonderful literary agents I had met at the same time) and, within three weeks, I had both an offer of publication and an offer of representation. I did not know I was capable of that, either.

There might be a moral here: when you feel jaded, lacking in confidence or that sense that you are drifting and want to crack on with something, then try writing in a different genre, as I did. As I said, doing so rejuvenated me. So, try something new (or newish) and you never know. If you lack confidence, do it anyway. I found, having written a collection of short stories, I could move on to another one then another novel – the one I have just finished for my agency. What is more, my follow-up to Saving Lucia has not been taken up for publication, but I am pleased to say that I was able to take a section of that and make it into a long short story about trauma, memory and recovery for an Unsung Stories anthology out next year. I felt more confident in my craft now, so this was something I could do. I also took up disappointment and, from it, I made a new thing, and that is a good thing to learn, because not everything will work and not every book ought to be published. As to where short story writing fits in going forward, I hope I will always be able to write short story collections and novels, though I know that stories are a harder sell for my agent. We shall see. It will be an adventure, won’t it?

Famished: seventeen stories to whet your appetite and ruin your dinner. I hope you like them.

I believe in complicity and its special heat. See what I have. Eat.’

Anna is a novelist, poet, essayist, short fiction writer, editor and a secondary English teacher, tutor and mentor, mental health advocate and mum of 3. 2020 sees the publication of Anna’s third novel Saving Lucia (Bluemoose) and a first short story collection, Famished (Influx). Anglo-Welsh, she splits her time between Wiltshire, Wales, and the Southern US, where her husband is from. She is currently finishing a new novel and waiting on exciting decisions. Anna is represented by Kate Johnson of Mackenzie Wolf, NYC. 

www.annavaughtwrites.com , Twitter: @BookwormVaught, Instagram: bookwormvaught6

Anna Vaught

Famished is available from all good bookshops or from Influx Press website, where you can also subscribe – a great way to support an independent press. 
https://www.influxpress.com/books
and https://www.influxpress.com/subscriptions

Guest Post: Amanda Huggins on Killer Short Stories

In the latest of my six-month series of guest posts from authors of new books, Amanda Huggins gives some tips for fledging short story writers.

If you want to write killer short stories, then one of the most important things to do is to read killer short stories. Lots of them. It sounds obvious, yet I often meet blank looks when I ask writers who are new to short fiction to name their favourite short story writers. Short stories aren’t novels-in-miniature, any more than novels are extended short stories. They are two different skill sets, and the best way to get started is to read the masters.

A great short story needs to plunge straight in with no preamble. It should have conflict, a strong ending, a limited cast of characters, and every word should count. (If only I stuck to those rules myself!)

I have countless favourite short story writers and the collections on my shelves include books by William Trevor, Tessa Hadley, Helen Simpson, Helen Dunmore, A L Kennedy, Wells Tower, Stuart Evers, Miranda July, Yoko Ogawa, K J Orr, Ernest Hemingway, Taeko Kono, Haruki Murakami, Richard Ford, Alice Munro, Flannery O’Connor, Anton Chekhov, Annie Proulx, Isaac Babel, Angela Readman, and A M Homes.

A recent delight was Helen Dunmore’s posthumous collection, Girl Balancing, and I particularly loved the first section of the book, ‘The Nina Stories’. These stories are almost notes for a novel-in-waiting; a sequence of vignettes centred around a girl called Nina, set in the 60s/70s. They are painstakingly intense; attention is paid to Nina’s every moment and action, and there are some lovely period details that evoke a strong sense of place. The writing turns the mundane into something beautiful, and the final story soars. Seventeen-year-old Nina is left alone on Christmas Day in a house at the seaside. She goes roller skating along the seafront with her friend, Mal, and when the mood turns, she must outwit him. I’ll leave you to find out for yourself if she succeeds.

I’d also recommend having several pieces of work out there at any given time. If you only submit one story and then wait patiently for it to be rejected/accepted, when that rejection comes it will hit hard. If you have ten or twenty pieces out at any given time then the rejections won’t feel as bad.

Never forget that the opinions of editors and judges are subjective. So be persistent! My story ‘Red’ was a runner-up in the 2018 Costa Short Story Award, but had already been rejected by a couple of magazines and failed to reach the longlist of three smaller competitions.

Sadly, despite an encouraging rise in sales of short story collections, it’s still difficult to get work published anywhere for hard cash. That’s why prizes and awards are so important to emerging short story writers, and why I still enter most of my stories into competitions first.

Lastly, really take note of feedback. It’s all too easy to reject criticism, yet in my experience the advice of a good editor is nearly always sound.

Amanda Huggins is the author of four collections of short fiction and poetry. She was a runner-up in the Costa Short Story Award 2018, and her prize-winning story, ‘Red’, features in her latest collection, Scratched Enamel Heart. Her poetry chapbook, The Collective Nouns for Birds won the Saboteur Award for poetry in 2020. Amanda grew up on the North Yorkshire coast, moved to London in the 1990s, and now lives in West Yorkshire.

Blog: https://troutiemcfishtales.blogspot.com/

Twitter: @troutiemcfish

Amanda Huggins
Scratched Enamel Heart is available from Amazon: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Scratched-Enamel-Heart-Amanda-Huggins/dp/191606938X/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=scratched+enamel&qid=1589632869&s=books&sr=1-1


Looking back at 2019

I’m not keen on counting, but it’s good to review the year and consider some very lovely times.

Month by month, here are my writing highlights and a celebratory photo for each.

 

January

Delighted to have a rare poem published in Visual Verse

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Saw Emma Rice’s company in the brilliant ‘Wise Children’ here

 

February

Had three flashes published this month. Particularly proud of The Man I Am Not Marrying, published in Spelk

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Miri, one of the cats at Ty Mawr convent where I went on retreat

 

March

After a nail-biting time, signed a book deal with Louise Walters Books for my second novella, In the Sweep of the Bay, due to be published on 17th September 2020.

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Walking in our lovely hills on the first day of Spring

 

April

Took part in both the Abergavenny Writing Festival and the Llandeilo Litfest.

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Abergavenny welcomed friends from our twin town in France, Beaupréau, for an Easter weekend of sunshine and music

 

May  

A wonderful week at Palazzo Forani in the village of Casperia in the Sabine Hills, north of Rome, led by ace flash fiction writers Kathy Fish and Nancy Stohlman. New writing, new friends, new food!

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Learning to make pasta, Italian-style, with Gianna and Carla

 

June

Spent a day at the Flash Fiction Festival in Bristol. More great writing experiences – and lovely to meet so many writers I knew from internet connections.

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Dear Feely, enjoying a lazy June day

 

July

Spoke at another LitFest, this time in Caerleon.

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Visited a lovely garden on my birthday

 

August

Structural and line edits of In the Sweep of the Bay completed.

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In training for September’s big walk!

 

September

Copy editing time for the novella. Challenged myself to write a (long) short story  of which of which I was given paragraphs 1 and 20. Could be the bones of a new novella…

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Trekking on Hadrian’s Wall with Elizabeth, Eileen and Jane to raise money for the charity PSPA

 

October

Busy weekend at the beginning of the month: up to Leicester for the launch of this anthology one day and at the Crickhowell LitFest talking about novellas the next.

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Wonderful kippers for breakfast on a little trip to Whitby

 

November

Finally started writing the story of my Auntie Phyllis, internationally famous circus artiste!

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Having a drink at our local vineyard with OB and the Three Amigos, visiting us on their world tour

 

December

Five flashes published this month, after a lean time.

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Origami Christmas star  – and a lucky stone with a hole!

 

 

My picks for 2019: 4) Writing websites

There are so many writing websites out there. I’m listing three of my favourites – not just because they’ve published my work, but also because they have a lot of excellent stories by other writers too, and the people who run and edit them are responsive and generous.

In no particular order they are:

Fictive Dream header

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  • Spelk, curated by Cal Marcius

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Coming soon: My photos of the year