Wednesday, October 26, 2016

JOURNEY TO PLANET WRITE: From Miss Harrison to Twitter

by Alan Beard

It seems to me I have always written fiction. Miss Harrison – my Year 4 teacher - said I was a good writer (I was nine) and set me up on a project to write a long story (over ten pages, she said, but I think I did thirty). She had another pupil do the illustrations, another one to bind it and so on. It was a Dr. Who story (the Doctor was new then), and she said my story was so good, she was going to get it published. And then she vanished: after Easter, she didn't come back and my manuscript disappeared. It scarred me for life, and set me out on the quest to be a published writer.

At secondary school I won a school prize for a story I wrote at sixteen, then at Uni I was encouraged to write more fiction (although there were no creative writing courses then; this was a teacher training course). When I left, I decided to write seriously and bought several hardback A4 page-a-day diaries (I still use these, still write longhand). 

From the very start, I was writing what are now called "flash fictions" – pieces under 1000 words that were complete. Actually some did provide the germ of longer stories, but most stubbornly refused to, and insisted they were finished. In those days – the early 80s – no one was accepting stories of this length. I’d seen some examples (Walser springs to mind), and it was great when the Sudden Fiction anthologies came out, and I realised that flashes were acceptable. Still no dice here (UK) with most (all!) publishers, magazines, not accepting the shorter pieces, although I was getting my longer fiction out. "Taking Doreen out of the Sky," for instance, which became the title story of my first collection published by Picador in 1999, was published in London Magazine in 1985 and won the Tom-Gallon award in 1987. 

The first breakthrough with flash came when Bete Noir accepted a 750-word piece called "A Man" in the early 90s. That was it until the internet took off and flash sites started to appear here and there; I had pieces accepted by In Posse Review (2004), Vestal Review (2005 and 06), and taint magazine (2005). All had been written in 1983, although I did tighten and polish. That was the pattern then. As more sites became available, I started getting my (usually already written) flashes published at the pace of about two or three a year, so that now I have about thirty flashes published in places like Wordia, Flashshot, Wufniks, and latterly Litro, Oblong, Spelk, and some print only places such as Flash Fiction: The International Short –Short Story Magazine, Falling Star, and BuffaloCarp. 

I enjoy reading novels but apart from a short spell in my mid-20s when I wrote over a 100 pages (abandoned as crap), I have never wanted to write one. Stories have always been my thing. This might stem from the anthology we read at school in 1969  – Twentieth Century Short Stories – a selection of great English stories (if you count Conrad and Mansfield as English as they settled here): Conrad's Secret Sharer, Lawrence's Odour of Chrysanthemums, E M Forster's The Machine Stops, Mansfield's Daughters of the Late Colonel, Greene's The Destructors

The book made me love short stories above all else, and to seek out the best forever, and try and emulate, as far as I was able, the compact beauty of the form that these masters displayed. I bought, borrowed, or stole story collections and anthologies, loved the Best Short Stories annuals, and was so pleased to have one selected for it many years later in 1991, and then after the anthologies disappeared, to have another in the first reincarnation of it Best British Short Stories 2011. My idols were – and are - Carver, Ford, Jayne Anne Phillips, Alice Munro – all of whom had collections out as I was leaving college.

I moved to Birmingham (UK) in 1982 and joined a writers’ group soon after (Tindal Street Fiction Group). Birmingham gave me my subject, the landscape of the city and its people, and the group kept me writing (although I was and still am an extremely slow writer – I produce on average one finished piece a year).

Lately I am using twitter ( @AlanBeard4 ) as a writer’s notebook with observations, things overheard etc., but also some complete "stories" (as I see it), e.g.

Up Snowdon we tramped to no avail. Thick fog descended and we could barely see each other. We came down on the railway.

(Snowdon is the highest mountain in Wales)


Arranges his flat as though he expects visitors; best place for the furniture to facilitate conversation, or her. Deciding who he would be.

I like the discipline of 140 characters and it suits the way I write. However, I am always startled when someone responds, recently I tweeted:

Left on his own he crumbles and curls, dying slowly, visited by nightmare; his pouch of a belly and goblin legs terrify him.

And somebody tweeted back ‘I guess Boris.’

All Light
by Alan Beard

The boy on the beach has his eyes closed and the chatter eddies at his ears. He thinks he's her boy-trap. He makes her sticky. The beach is rolling, the beach is swollen. Sea's froth breaks on bodies like music. I am a gull's cry. I am grass in the dunes. He's the sharpness, he's the light. Radio voices, he's a transmitter. She is a voice from a long way off and the colours brim through his opening lids, like all light trying to get in. 

Written in 1984, published eventually as runner-up in National Flash Fiction Day competition 2013


Alan Beard has published two short story collections Taking Doreen out of the Sky (Picador 1999, also on Kindle) and You Don't Have to Say (Tindal Street Press, 2010). He won the Tom-Gallon award. Stories in Best Short Stories 1991, and Best British Short Stories 2011 and many places including Critical Quarterly, Malahat Review, London Magazine, and on BBC Radio 4.

Links: My website includes links to stories, news, reviews etc.

Two stories of mine on East of the Web
A recent flash 

Amazon author page

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

JOURNEY TO PLANET WRITE: When a Question Becomes an Answer

by Meg Tuite

Is writing another form of depression that needs a page instead of an ear to hear it?

How often do you write the same story over and over again? Are you trying to get somewhere? But isn’t it supposed to be about the journey? What do we want to convey? Should it be in 1st, 2nd, or 3rd person, or maybe a mix? Past tense, present tense or both? Should it be written with differing voices that aren’t in linear time or should it be written at all? When does it seem like it doesn’t matter? That what is written won’t change anyone, not even the one who writes it? Is it true that anything and everything is interesting in the hands of a skilled writer? And where does the skill come from?

No one can really teach you how to write well. But, isn’t anything done well, reworked over and over again until it moves somewhere. More skill involves more time in front of the page, writing and writing and then there’s the editing part which is more intensive sometimes than the writing itself. So, then would that mean that a person with an eye for that extraneous crap in a story is really the writer?

And is there a way to lead a healthy life as a writer? Do you start off with coffee and hole up for a few hours? Or eat some eggs or oatmeal, take some vitamins, and then hole up again. Or sit in a cafe surrounded by the white noise of stranger’s voices so you don’t have to actually be alone to complete the task?

And what about exercise? Do you become a head with a body slugging behind it? How much energy is left over to run or go to a gym? And do you really care to move around after your mind has been on a treadmill trying to circumvent so many questions and possible paths? Or do you just say, fuck it, I’ll do that tomorrow and get some wine, Scotch, beer? Or maybe you’ve already been there, and so you take another Xanax and go to an AA meeting.

Do you have a social life? After spending many hours alone, does your tongue still work and do you have anything to say besides what your story or book is about? Or do you sit back and listen complacently because you have already completed your task in the world and let others tell you why their life is not coming together?

And is it a good thing to be in a healthy relationship? You know, happy and trusting and oh, yes, we both love our solitude and that makes being together all the more peaceful and uncomplicated. Or is best to have a lot of drama, so you can rage on the page and throw lamps and knick-knacks, end up sleeping with the neighbor’s cousin or stealing lawn ornaments or street signs to keep life interesting?

Do you work all day in an office, while you keep a notebook of thoughts for your manuscript
awaiting you at home? Do you turn the key in your lock and strip off your uniform and get your holey pajamas with that t-shirt you got from making the 50k words in a month NANO one year, grab some more coffee and sit at your desk?

Is there a better stream that flows at night when you hear traffic and sirens, music somewhere out there, but you just keep plugging those veins with caffeine as you remember that one time in high school, or that guy who always started his stories with ‘I got to tell you,’ or walk that fine line between waking and dreaming and let the free-float of words pressure themselves into some kind of formula that makes sense when you’re stoned or is so close to not making sense that you are sure it’s multi-layered and is one of those abstract pieces that can be interpreted so many different ways depending on the reader?

Do you surround yourself with books and a thesaurus? Do you keep checking for that one word that will absolutely blow minds with its inimitable impact? How about a word count? Do you shoot for 1500 words a day? 2500?  Or are you set up in a stark room, maybe the basement with the shades down and no books, no view, no sound but the cracking of joints when you stretch?   

And how do you know your work is authentic? Do you get out your copy of Poets and Writers and look for a summer workshop? Or maybe make certain that everyone knows you are serious about your vocation and get into an MFA program? Those are places where they attempt to guide you in a distinct direction. You are surrounded by classes full of writers just as confused as you are or maybe they aren’t? They are always tapping away on their keyboards whenever you see them on campus. Maybe that’s their voice and not your voice? Maybe they are misguiding you, and you become more and more certifiably lost as you sit with a group of other writers who continue to give you advice, though each one likes or dislikes or is confused by a different part of your story.

Or you decide to go to AWP. Yes, you are going to go to the largest writers conference for five days. You go to a panel on how to publish a book without an agent. You go to a panel on how to speak your truth, how to write a blog, what genre is best for you. In between panels you get a map of the book fair with millions of books for sale, walk aisle after aisle, booth after booth of small-press publishers, large-press publishers, literary magazine editors, MFA programs, fiction, non-fiction, poetry, screenplays, graphic novels, playwriting, agents, and in-house readings with a floor plan that makes any museum look like a bathroom stall. You stagger off after drinking your way through a pariah of off-site parties and readings each night with a bag full of books, brochures, pamphlets, buttons, stickers and business cards and rush to make your flight back home.

Do you remember whom you met? You look on your phone and see tons of photos of you with other writers or publishers or were they editors? Do any of the notes you made make sense? Why do you feel so depressed? Did you lie in bed for a week after it was over wondering why you have no energy to even open your computer? You might remember snippets of introductions of authors who have bios that go on like breakdowns. You remember staring out over a balcony at what looked to be enough people to fill a city and think that every one of them has written at least one book, if not more, trying not to calculate. Your back aches and your credit card is maxed out.

And while you’re lying in that bed, do you remember that first desk you sat beneath? Not the one at school, but the one your mom bought you for five bucks at the school rummage sale that waited for you every day against a corner of your room. And do you remember that you wanted to be dead when you were three? And when you got that writing desk with paper and sat at it when you were eight, it was the first time that you found a way to disappear and appear without anyone seeing at the same time.

You sit in a therapist’s office with headphones on and a beep that goes back and forth. “What do you see,” asks the therapist? Your eyes are closed. Aren’t those images of snapshots you saw when you were a kid? Yeah, you see your Dad. And yeah, you are shaking. “No,” you hear yourself think. “Nothing is clear,” you say. “It’s a blur of images.”  You can’t be sure of any of them, even if you spend an entire lifetime trying to hide the tremors that unhinge you.

You do know one thing, for sure. Writing is the only reason you’re still alive, whether anyone reads it or not.

by Meg Tuite

The girl didn’t want all the necklaces from the store rack that she slipped into her coat pocket the size of a rural mailbox opening, but did want friends to notice that she wasn’t as afraid as the tremors that spread across her face like the make-up and lipstick she just palmed in her hand that would only make her imperfections brighter, more shrill when one of her friends got too close to her and whispered  secrets about other girls that could have been her pimples, flat chest, crazy thoughts, secrets that her mom told her would save her from the captivity of convention, anchor her within her own breed of otherness, keep her from walking within the lines as her mother slipped a pen and notebook into the girl’s pocket and went back to confiscating the wail of wind in stranger’s depressed faces, demolished buildings, the bruised colors of the girl’s interior with a paintbrush, humming a soft, velvet tune that the girl wanted to crawl inside larger than her bulging pocket filled with sparkly trinkets she would hand out to friends at school the next day.  

(Published in MadHatter’s Review)


Meg Tuite is author of two short story collections, Bound By Blue (Sententia Books, 2013) and Domestic Apparition () San Francisco Bay Press, 2011), and four chapbooks. She won the Twin Antlers Collaborative Poetry award from Artistically Declined Press for her poetry collection, Bare Bulbs Swinging (2014) written with Heather Fowler and Michelle Reale. She teaches at Santa Fe Community College, and is a columnist at Connotation Press and JMWW. Her blog:

Hollow Gestures” nominated for Best of the Web at Blue Lyra Review

Fingerprints,” ekphrastic flash w/ art, music on video published by Michael Cooper, Orange Monkey Publishing.

“Worn-Out Fabric” published in People Holding

Video book trailer for "Grace Notes" with David Tomaloff and me; video by Marc Neys
Root People” published in Nervous Breakdown