Subjunctive Moods: How I put my first collection together

Dahlia Publishing is delighted to be publishing CG Menon’s short story collection, Subjunctive Moods. Catherine won two competitions hosted by us, The Asian Writer Short Story Prize in 2014 and the inaugural Leicester Writes Short Story Prize last year. It was after this second win, about a year ago, that I spoke to Catherine about the possibility of putting together a collection. In this short blog, CG Menon introduces her debut short story collection, Subjunctive Moods and shares her experience of the process.

When Dahlia Publishing approached me about putting a short story collection together, at first, I thought the hard work was over. Once I’d got that far, surely it would simply be a process of picking out the best stories and stapling them into a book. To cut a long story short: it wasn’t. Putting together individual stories into a consistent and cohesive collection was an intricate journey, and along the way I learnt a lot about the stories themselves and exactly why they worked.

Like many people, I write short stories without having a particular theme or common thread in mind. A lot of my pieces draw on my family history: my father is Malaysian Indian, and much of our family “folklore” comes from rural Pahang. However, there’s an equally strong pull from the other side of my family, who originate in Yorkshire. Both Pahang and Yorkshire are places with a very strong tradition of oral storytelling. They mix myth up with real, mundane events. They’re the sort of places where ghosts always appear when you’re doing the washing-up, and your first thought when a fairy walks in is whether you’ve mopped the floor.

Because of this, there were strong common threads between stories which were superficially quite different. I’ve never felt that I identify solely as an Asian writer, or solely as a white writer, and having a mix of the two was very important to me. In the process of choosing stories I noticed several resonances that I hadn’t at the time of writing. One of these was the role of children in myth and folklore, and the ways in which they grow up. My stories set in both England and Malaysia attempt to depict the way growing up really happens: in a series of jumps, that you don’t even notice until you look back.

It was also important to me to include stories which varied the pacing. Literary fiction has a habit of sticking too close to the contemplative, reflective side of life and ignoring plot. Dahlia Publishing worked with me to order the stories so that every so often the reader’s grabbed by an unmistakeable, immediate happening.

Of course, not everybody reads a collection from start to finish in order. I certainly don’t! I think it’s important for a collection to have a strong start and finish, but beyond that, the selection of which stories to read will always be up to the reader. This collection is bookended by two of my very favourite stories: one which was written recently and one which is the first story I ever wrote. I certainly hadn’t planned to lay the collection out in chronological order, but these two stories finish on hopeful, forward-looking notes that, to me, summed up my writing journey.

ABOUT SUBJUNCTIVE MOODS

In Malaysia, a young girl discovers the seeds of friendship turning into love. A ghostly aunt causes more trouble than she’s worth, and a sea-monster yearns for her poolside home. Family secrets confound two widows in Northumberland, and a third turns to the sea for comfort.

The stories in Subjunctive Moods are based around those tiny moments of missed connection and of realisation: the heartbeats by which we all grow up.

Featuring CG Menon’s prize-winning writing alongside her most recent stories, Subjunctive Moods is a collection exploring the complexities of human relationships, cultural identity, and finding your way back home.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

CG Menon has won the Bare Fiction Prize, the Leicester Writes Prize, The Short Story Award, the Asian Writer Prize, The TBL Short Story Award and the Winchester Writers Festival award. She’s been shortlisted for the Fish short story prize, the Short Fiction Journal awards, as well as the Willesden Herald, Rubery and WriteIdea prizes and the Fiction Desk Newcomer award. Her work has been published in a number of anthologies and broadcast on radio. She is currently studying for a creative writing MA at City University and working on her first novel. She blogs at https://cgmenon.wordpress.com/

LAUNCH EVENT

Come and meet prize-winning author, CG Menon as she celebrates the launch of her debut short story collection, Subjunctive Moods at Waterstones Islington on 5th July 2018.

HOW TO ORDER

You can order your copy of Subjunctive Moods directly from the publisher.

Advertisements

Interview with Tom Vowler, editor of Short Fiction

SF7 coverShortStops is delighted to welcome short story writer Catherine McNamara to the blog. Catherine’s short story Montgomery Akuofo, Father of Twins appears in the latest issue of the annual short story journal Short Fiction and below she interviews its new co-editor Tom Vowler, a short story writer and novelist himself. We’re thrilled that Tom has agreed to send a copy of Short Fiction Issue 7 to one lucky  ShortStops reader anywhere in the world, just leave a comment on the blog before January 20th and Catherine will pick a name out of a hat! You can read an excerpt from one of the stories  – the winner of last year’s Short Fiction short story prize – at the end of the interview.

Catherine: Congratulations on another beautiful edition of Short Fiction. You’re up to Issue 7 and have developed an original formula of bespoke artwork and a unique selection of established and emerging writers. Tell us about the origins of the magazine and how you think you’ve achieved such prominence and longevity when so many print magazines have trouble surviving.

Tom: Short Fiction was established by Anthony Caleshu, of Plymouth University’s English and Creative Writing Department. He wanted to produce a journal that showcased great short fiction (as well as short stories we feature self-contained novel extracts) next to beautiful and bespoke artwork. I came on board after finishing my MA in Creative Writing at Plymouth (where I’m now in the middle of my PhD). With Issue 3, in 2007, I became Assistant Editor, and starting with the next issue I’m Co-Editor with Anthony. Arts Council England supported us for a few years (and hopefully will again) but we’re really able to keep doing what we do thanks to the support of the English and Creative Writing Department at Plymouth. The journal’s visual aesthetics are absolutely important to us, this marriage of text and image was something that felt absent in the UK, and as more and more excellent web-zines appear, we want to produce a magazine that readers want to hold and see and feel, as much as they savour the words. I think our success comes from a blend of featuring emerging talent among literary heavyweights, and taking care to produce a book which really pays attention to layout and design.

C: Your short story competition runs once a year and is one of the major prizes indicated in the short story blogosphere. There seem to be more and more competitions with an entry fee than ever before, do you think this has any influence upon the stories that are being written in general? Do you notice a difference between stories submitted for the competition, and stories that are regular submissions? And if so, what?

T: It’s a delicate balance to achieve. You want to reward great stories, and of course you have to attract them in the first place – as you say, writers have a lot of competitions to choose from. It’s fantastic to think that new authors can launch a career on the back of winning such prizes, which of course have to be funded by an entry fee.

I don’t distinguish between competition and general entries: you look for the same qualities, to be dazzled, affected, shocked or captivated. You look to forget you’re reading. I don’t think the nature of stories differs greatly in the different categories. There are times I read a general submission and think the author should have entered it into the competition. All competition entries are considered for publication and as well as the winning story we’ve regularly featured the runner-up.

C:Tell us about this year’s prize-winning story.

T: Rachel’s story holds that wonderful blend of a confident and compelling voice with a powerfully affecting story, and as with the best works, its whole is greater than the sum of its parts. There’s an authority there from the opening lines, an assurance we’re in safe and expert hands. Several of our shortlist were serious contenders, but the winning story dazzled us with its linguistic brilliance.

C: With the next issue of Short Fiction you will be sharing the chief editorial position with colleague/poet Anthony Caleshu, are you looking forward to the task? Does reading so many submissions over your reading period have any effect upon your own writing?

T:It will be an exciting (and somewhat daunting) challenge to continue the journal’s excellence, the heft of those former issues perhaps weighing a little heavily. Moving on from being the assistant editor, I’ll actually read fewer stories on their initial submission, focusing more on the production side, discussing shortlists, choosing the final content.

C: As an editor who wants to keep your review alive and kicking, do you allow your own personal taste to impinge upon your preferences, or do you select to please an audience? Clever stories with bells or quieter ones without? Open or closed endings?

T:Good question. You want, of course, to ‘please an audience’, but you need a reference point, which has to begin with your own aesthetic tastes, so, yes, future journals are bound to reflect this subjectivity somewhat, those final few stories that make it through a beacon for my own tastes. But then the truly great stories tend to attract a consensus of approval. I’d never be prescriptive on style or structure, form or genre. I like pieces that take risks, but ultimately it comes down to voice for me.

C: The artwork selected for this issue of Short Fiction is brilliant. You have the very current Bob and Roberta Smith, as well as a series of headless dogs on leads and a unique graphics inspired by each story. How do you commission your artwork and how important is the artwork to the SF concept?

T: The art, unlike the stories, is all commissioned. Bob and Roberta Smith’s work is the epitome of text-based art. The art is in the construction of the ‘sign painting’, but it’s also in the message. We like the fact that the art is political and provoking as well as being visually stunning.  The illustrations that front each story are all done in house. Once we’re selected our content, we send stories to our illustration colleagues at Plymouth University. Staff and some of the best illustration students at Plymouth always manage to surprise us with their interpretations. You can view the new issue’s illustrations on our website, which really complement and enrich the stories.

C: Could you give us your submission period and your short story competition details?

T: We accept general submissions between September 1st and December 31st each year, and our competition is open from January 1st to March 31st. Our first prize is £500 and for £10 you can submit up to 2 stories, which entitles you to a free copy of our next issue (worth £10).

C: Best of luck with Issue 8! Here is the opening to prize winner Rachel Fenton’s wonderful story, While Women Rage in Winter:

I don’t want to occupy a place of importance. Knowing other people like to harbour their children’s swim gear safe from spray under the reef-like shelter of this plastic table, I leave one chair between me and it. In essence the seat’s already taken; there’s a small piece of putty or modelling clay, grey-white as a mushroom, moulded to the shape of the inside of a child’s hand, the curved drills of the fingers identifiable by their prints. I sit. The empty pairing now to my left hints at my isolation; I place the four books I’ve borrowed from the library here with my satchel farthest away. A small part of me thinks this shows confidence, an outward symbol of occupancy, and I can move them if I have to.   

Thanks so much, Catherine! To be in with a chance of winning a copy of Short Fiction Issue 7, leave us a comment below by January 20th. If you don’t win, do consider ordering your copy at www.shortfictionjournal.co.uk. This year’s issue features Jenn Ashworth, Frances Gapper, Bob and Roberta Smith, Michelle Green, Liam Harkin, Richard House, Catherine McNamara, Annemarie Neary, Scott Pack, Lee Upton, Jill Widner and Rachel Fenton.