Tales From The Graveyard

(some thoughts on my editorial role for North Bristol Writers)

The third North Bristol Writers anthology, Tales From The Graveyard, had its launch on Saturday 2nd March at the cemetery that inspired many of the featured stories. If you came along, thank you, if not, you missed a couple of relaxed and insightful hours.

Way back during October 2017, we held a storytelling evening, entitled Tales From the Crypt (yeah, I know – we’re working on originality, I promise), in the Anglican chapel at Arnos Vale Cemetery as part of the Bristol Festival of Literature, and from that sold-out evening the anthology was born.

TFTG launch promo

The editorial team was agreed and consisted of myself (Acquisitions Editor), Pete Sutton (Senior and Copy Editor), and Ian Millsted (Assistant Editor, better known as Devil’s Advocate). Though one can argue how much acquisitioning is active in a submission call sent out to members of the NBW group and a few other Bristol writers, at times the use of a third editor in tipping the balance proved vital.

It was never the intention for the anthology to be horror-specific – yes, Pete and I both write in the horror genre, but there aren’t many more in the group who do – so the writers’ brief was kept suitably broad: the story must be set in a graveyard and contain a ‘weird’ element. And while the book contains ghosts, the Gothic, and a splattering of gore, it also has surrealism, pulp, humour, fantasy, and dystopia.

The content and individual word count of the accepted stories ended up so varied, that creating a TOC with enough momentum to keep pages turning filled me with a Lovecraftian dread. However, with a little research and a little more determination, the task turned out to be highly enjoyable. One could even suggest that the stories organised themselves.

The important first slot went to Kevlin Henney’s quick story for its strong opening that provides a philosophical slant which really works for, and certainly does no harm to, a book full of dead people. This bled into a murd’rous stab of fiction penned by the chilling Clare Dornan. The epics (of which there were a few) I spread throughout the book so their length would hopefully go unnoticed. The first of these, Chrissey Harrison’s fantasy action/adventure contrasts perfectly with the preceding stories. Next, two ghostly tales with child protagonists: Jon Charles’s simple tale followed by Louise Gethin’s wandering child which then ties into the gruesome wandering husband in Grace Palmer’s piece. I thought the reader now ready for a change, thus Darkfall by Dev Agarwal submerges all who feast upon it into a truly bleak dystopia. Then up for a gasp of putrid air with Amanda Staples’s creepfest, followed by the two more unusual stories of our anthology courtesy of Ken Shinn and Jay Millington. Placing both centrally highlights the differences between the two, and the rest of the book. They also act as “tentpole” stories (John Joseph Adams, source below*). Of course, what type of graveyard fiction does not contain Gothic? Behold, Chloe Headdon’s contemporary and Scott Lewis’s traditional tale. Both make an appearance in the latter part of the book allowing the reader to experience other aspects before this ubiquitous theme. Shock horror, courtesy of Grimdark queen Maria Herring, felt a natural follower-on from this, partnered with Tanwen Cooper’s seedy tale of rotten humanity. The last stories mirror the two openers, and are intended to leave positive flavours lingering on the reader’s palate; Piotr Świetlik’s humour and multiculturalism (both much needed in the world at present) and Alex Ballinger’s hopefulness. Ballinger’s ‘Messenger’ is philosophical and resonates with Henney’s opening story.

With the publication of the book, we now have a sexy little bunyip of a product that has been presented beautifully by the Typesetter (and writer), Harrison, and all wrapped up in a classic cover designed by Fabrice Mazat. And, of course, my editorship has come to an end. I’d like to thank North Bristol Writers for the opportunity to become part of this terrific book, and the insights into the other side of publishing.

*With thanks to John Joseph Adams and Cat Rambo for their articles on editing.

You can purchase Tales From The Graveyard on Amazon UK

Previous North Bristol Writers anthologies are:

the DH

 

The Dark Half of the Year, AmazonUK  (Both Dornan and Shinn had an honourable mention from Ellen Datlow for their stories in this book.)

 

 

North by South West

 

North by Southwest, AmazonUK 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

7 Simple Steps to Get the Best from Critiques.

I’ve been reading, writing, critiquing short fiction for the past few years, and reached the following steps by trial and error. This is what works best for me today.

  1. Write the story.
  2. Write several drafts until you think you can’t make it any better.
  3. Put the manuscript down for at least a month and work on other projects.
  4. When you pick it up again you’ll see the draft wasn’t so great. Edit until it’s a lot better.
  5. Don’t stop. Work on the story until you think it’s the tits, and importantly, you’ve pushed yourself to the limits of your ability.
  6. Ask your writing group to critique your masterpiece. Oh, and tell them to rip your work to pieces.
  7. Go back to step 2.

Another writer’s opinion could be a chisel or a sledgehammer. Either is a tool. Use it well.

Tired Writer

An Exercise in Editing.

edward-scissorhands

I completed the final edit of a story the other week; proud of a killer story. Yesterday, I saw a call for submissions that was perfect for it in all ways, it ticked every box, stroked all the editor’s needs, even I fitted the requirement. Everything matched, except for the word count: the story was 1500 words, the editor required 1200 max. (no, really, 1200 firm, I know because I asked). Originally, the piece was 2000 words, so I had been quite ruthless already, and could not imagine losing a further twenty percent.

I continued to check other markets while some needle-monkey inside my head told me that that first one was decent, and it was the right story. Treat it as an exercise, I thought. So I did, after making a copy of the first version.

That story is now 1198 words and has been mailed to the editor. I’m chuffed, thinking: I didn’t ruin it, it’s a tighter story. I guess that truth will be proved with an acceptance.

What Is It Really About?

 

The werewolf is used as a trope for many societal issues. Like that particular shapeshifter, I’m discovering that my story, Hashtag Rewilding works on quite a few levels too. Although, this is not a bad thing, I feel that is important to keep a short piece of fiction simple if you want to keep the reader engaged.

In preparation for the first edit, which – rightly or wrongly – I’ve undertook with hardly any downtime, I asked myself what is this story really about. This time around the answer – a clue to which is the title – was found when I asked myself a different question: why did I start to write a serious werewolf story when two weeks before I believed it would be many years before I could write such a thing without it being a spoof.

With that in mind I have begun eliminating any thread that may obscure the true nature of this story; any sentence that does not draw the reader in to hear what is whispered between the lines. I guess I’m editing, aren’t I?

My point here is this: Ask yourself what you’re trying to say before you begin to edit.

 

The Anatomy of Writing

The latest submission call I’ve responded to is a little different. It consists of stages. Round one of three: sub the final edit of your story’s first two hundred words. If it’s approved, you’re through to round two. Round two: sub the final edit of the first fifteen hundred words. So, I cheated. Well, not really: it’s just that the story is already written. Yet it still took me eleven hours of mouth chewing and beard stroking to get those two hundred damn words worthy. I don’t know if this is a comparatively short or long amount of time to dedicate to editing so few words, but it felt like it exceeded many rational limits. It also inspired this post.

Honestly? I wasn’t enamoured with this unusual way of submitting. All of my opening two hundred words have changed, many dramatically, by the final edit. Maybe the start sometimes reveals itself a thousand words in, or the first few lines are utter tiddlydoodle and only penned to get my brain shifting up a gear. Round one’s deadline is fast approaching, and having a day job, there is no way I could get a story written in two to three weeks. The theme grabbed me though, and maybe I did have an unpublished story, The Red Spot Murders, that would fit it well. This could be done after all, I thought

Tip – If you think your latest piece is the dog’s bollocks, don’t send it off to a publisher. Put it aside for a month, then reread.

Two years ago, I finished TRSM, leant back in my chair and thought, that’s damn good! And it was … back then. Not so now. If writers write and they read good writing they should improve with time and see errors in their work. And I saw a shedload.

Tip – Ask yourself, what am I trying to say?

Over the years I’ve realised that it’s very easy to slip into lazy-editing mode without noticing. You think the story works and you go through it restructuring sentences and proofing, and that’s it. Recently, I’ve been taking a step back, reading the story as a reader, and once finished, asking the above question. I’ve only done this after the first draft (at least) has been completed and each time I’ve managed to get an angle, helping hugely with the overall effect.

Committing to this submission call – whether I am to be included in the proposed anthology or not – was the correct decision. It has helped me sharpen the plot of a story of which I am quite fond, and it has pushed me, something which artists should be looking to do constantly.

One last piece of advice – Trust yourself.

 If you have spent ten hours editing two hundred words and it still isn’t quite right, don’t stop, thinking that it will do. It will not do. Keep going until you smile.