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.

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I’m Trying To Prove Short Stories Are Popular

I am crowd-funding a collection of short stories.  As I’m sure many of you have found out, short story collections are not looked upon favourably by agents or publishers in the UK. This is not the case in the US, Asia or even as close as Ireland. A handful of UK companies do consider collections but to be honest you have to either be a best-selling author already or have won a major short story prize to get past the slush pile, even then you’ll probably have to have a novel ready to go. My first book, Starlings, was a daisy chain collection of inter-linked stories.  It was published by a tiny but gutsy indie called Revenge Ink. I didn’t have an agent then because no-one I applied to represented short stories, “if you wanted to get back in touch when you have written a novel, we would be delighted to represent you.” Does this sound familiar to anyone? I still haven’t got an agent and with this second book, In The Future Everyone Will Be World Famous For Fifteen Minutes, I didn’t even try to get one. This collection is themed around fame and celebrity culture but there’s no way I can pretend it is a novel; each story is individual. I half-heartedly sent it off to a few US companies until somebody suggested I try the innovative crowd-funding publisher Unbound.

Since the company was established in 2010, Unbound has gone from strength to strength. Their catalogue includes books by Jonathan Meades, Terry Jones, Kate Mosse and a Booker Prize listee (Paul Kingsnorth with The Wake).  The company promo declares that, “authors get to write the books they want to write and readers get to read real books, that in a crowded, celebrity obsessed market place might never see the light of day.”  This sounded very appealing to me. I sent my submission off and heard that it was successful after about 3 weeks. Crowd-funding is a fast-paced business. Unbound wanted me to upload a promo, a cover, biography, extract and synopsis within 24 hours in order to go live with the project immediately. You typically get 90 days to raise around £3,000 in pledges. It’s a hard slog of marketing, press releases, events, blog posts, radio interviews and local TV. If you do reach your target Unbound allocate you an editor and then your book gets the same treatment as it would from any major publisher. There are lots of levels of pledge from digital copies to launch tickets to manuscript assessments.

I am partially doing this to prove that, contrary to what most UK publishers and agents think, short stories are popular and deserve more consideration. If you would like to see more short story collections published you could start by pledging to this one.

Brighton’s Latest TV made a short film about the project  which you can view by clicking here Fifteen Minutes of Fame? No Thanks!

Fifteen minutes flyer

Mark Watson’s Novel + 100 Stories – Read One Here!

COMEDIAN AND AUTHOR MARK WATSON EXPLORES INNOVATIVE WAY OF ONLINE STORYTELLING WITH PUBLICATION OF NEW NOVEL, HOTEL ALPHA, AND 100 ACCOMPANYING SHORT STORIES

Today, Picador publish Mark Watson’s new novel Hotel Alpha. It is set in an exclusive central London hotel against the backdrop of the digital revolution, beginning in the 1960s and ending in July 2005, the week that London won the Olympic bid and was hit by the 7/7 bombings.

Hotel Alpha has been written to be read in two stages: there is the novel itself and 100 stories which can be found on the website http://www.hotelalphastories.com. Both the novel and the individual stories stand alone and can be read in any order. Some of the stories are 1000 words, others a paragraph, some the length of a tweet but all shine an alternative light on the plot, solve mysteries, and give voice to some of the minor characters in the novel.

In his afterword, Mark Watson said:

‘Hotel Alpha is designed to be read in two stages. There is the novel which you have just finished and, I hope, enjoyed – unless you’re one of these people who always flick to the back first. Then there are one hundred extra stories which appear on a website: http://www.hotelalphastories.com. The extra stories span the same time period as the novel. They shine an alternative light on the plot of the book, show the hidden links between some of its main events, solve mysteries, and give voice to some of the thousands of minor characters and dramas which make up the life of the Hotel Alpha while the main story is playing out. They can be read in any order and in any quantity. Or, of course, you can ignore them altogether – it’s entirely up to you.

Everyone knows that human stories are always bigger and more complex than they appear – the relationships and connections between us all are infinite, and a book can only do so much. The internet, though, removes the physical limitations of the novel, opening up possibilities that have never before existed for readers and writers. We can now choose how much of a story we want to tell, and how much of it we want to know: in theory we can keep going forever. The one hundred extra stories of Hotel Alpha don’t quite go that far, and you as a reader probably have other plans for the rest of your life. But it’s a start. . . ‘

 

Story 55: Room 77, 1984

It’s not the first time Rachael has taken a babysitting job in a hotel. It is kind of unusual, obviously. Normally she goes to someone’s house. But people do stay in hotels with babies and sometimes they’re there for a few nights and they need to get out. It must be rough, always being tied down by a kid. The call came from the Alpha reception; she’s on the concierge’s list of Bloomsbury babysitters who can be called at short notice. It’s a good job; you don’t have to do anything, you just sit there. It’s a sight better than some of her fellow students, who work in noisy bars for two quid an hour and then are too exhausted to get their essays finished. She gets five an hour for this, and it can be more. In a hotel you never know. It might be a crazy eccentric couple who give you fifty because it makes no difference to them. Rachael has a mate who’s a waitress in the Café de Paris and once a film star left her a £100 tip, and the tips are all meant to go into the pot but she kept it and then she was terrified someone would find out, so she panicked and spent it all on crisps and chocolate on the way home, more than she could eat in a year.

The only tricky thing about sitting in places like hotels is that the baby’s often asleep in a cot in the corner, so it’s hard to watch TV or do anything that might make a noise. But she’s brought coursework to get on with, and a little torch. She might sneak something out of the minibar, or the woman might say she’s allowed to help herself. Maybe she could get room service.

Rachael takes the lift up and knocks on the door of 77. A woman comes to the door and Rachael gets an immediate surprise: she isn’t dressed to go out. She’s in one of those white hotel dressing gowns tied with a chunky cord at the front. She’s got frizzy hair and tired eyes. She smiles at Rachael.
‘Come in. Thank you so much for coming.’

Rachael comes in and stands awkwardly near the desk, looking at the unmade bed, trying not to seem like she’s noticing it. There are kids’ toys all over the floor, Lego or Brio or something like her nephew has. Big bricks. A police station. A model helicopter. Kids electric cars – Top9Rated rated to be safe for indoor and outdoor use. Books. It looks as if someone has deliberately emptied box after box of stuff onto the floor. There are no adult clothes around; no adult items at all, really. There is also no sign of the kid.

‘He’s asleep in the other room,’ says the woman, reading her expression in the way slightly older women always seem able to. ‘This is quite a big room. It’s got two bits to it.’

‘That’s nice,’ says Rachael.

‘I’m Roz, by the way.’

She licks her lips nervously. This is the worst bit of babysitting: the bit before they leave. She likes it best – any babysitter likes it best – when they bustle straight out of the door and leave you to it. It’s not much fun when you have to hang around as they get ready. They come out of the shower and they put their hair under the dryer and are scrambling around for a bra and spraying on perfume, and you have to pretend to read your book as if you haven’t noticed. But this lady seems nice. Something about the way she smiles at Rachael, almost shyly, though it’s Rachael’s place to be shy in this situation.

‘Now, I need to talk to you about something, if that’s … I’m sorry about this,’ says Roz. ‘Did you want to sit down, by the way?’

‘Sure,’ says Rachael, and goes over to a little two-person sofa. Roz Tanner keeps touching her unruly hair and she looks at the wall as she’s speaking.

‘The thing is, I feel so stupid,’ says her employer for the night, ‘but Chas … my son has been a bit poorly.’

Rachael feels a sinking in her chest. She knows what’s coming. A cancellation. At least she might get paid, still, if this woman’s got any decency. Or maybe get half the money. But it’s a pisser. She was kind of banking on that cash. She’s meant to be going out at the weekend, and …

‘So, but, I’ll still pay you.’ Rachael wonders if it was obvious from her face that she was thinking about money. ‘But the thing is … ’ Roz Tanner coughs. ‘I mean, you’ve probably come a long way. Did you want to stay and watch the telly? I don’t know if you watch … I was going to watch EastEnders. Sorry, is this incredibly weird? I don’t know if I’m being weird.’

Maybe it is, but Rachael finds herself filled with warmth for this stranger, who is at least ten years older than her and has a child and everything, is a lot further down the path of life, and yet carries herself in this rather apologetic way and addresses Rachael as if they were peers. Also, Rachael likes EastEnders: she was planning to watch it when Roz went out.

‘That would be really cool,’ she finds herself saying.

Half an hour later she finds herself on the sofa, holding a glass of wine. Roz is drinking Archers with lemonade. An hour later they’ve watched EastEnders and discussed various characters whose storylines are currently to the fore, and what they think of the actors portraying them, and what they themselves would do if they found themselves in those situations. An hour and a half later they’ve begun to discuss personal stuff. Rachael tells Roz about her course, and how she’s not sure she chose the right degree because translating is such a difficult career to get into, and even confides that she’s paranoid that Ricki is bitching about her, which wasn’t something she had acknowledged to herself until tonight.

Rachael finds out, in return, that Roz has been raising the boy on her own, that she and the father Tony split even before he was born.

‘He said, “I can’t live without you, Rosalynn,”’ Roz Tanner reminisces. ‘He didn’t mean it − he was drunk. A week later, he’d gone.’

And times were very tough for Roz after that, by the sound of it, but then the kind man who runs this hotel gave them this room to stay in till she got sorted out. ‘Which I’m in the process of doing,’ Roz added. And Rachael nods and says it must be incredibly tough, and that she thinks Roz is really brave, and she feels very adult for saying these things.

Eventually they open the bottle of red wine on the desk, and Rachael has her feet up on the sofa, and it’s hard to believe that she came here to do a job, that she hasn’t known Roz Tanner for years and years. She doesn’t care now whether she comes away with any money. It isn’t even on her mind. All she can think is how amazing it is that you can make a friend out of nowhere like this. When Roz asks her to babysit next week – she’s going to reschedule the event that didn’t happen tonight – Rachael doesn’t hesitate.

Roz goes into the bathroom. She feels a little drunker than she imagined she’d be. She stares at the tiles, alternating black and white, and looks at the row of little cosmetic bottles on the shelf next to the shower head, which the housekeeping woman kindly keeps replenishing even though she’s been here several weeks now. She wonders whether Rachael already knows that, when she turns up to ‘babysit’ next week, Roz will again find an excuse not to leave. And whether after that, she’ll need to go through the pretence all over again; or if at that point she can admit, without seeming too strange, that what she wanted, all along, was company, and this was one of the only ways she could think of getting it.

To read more stories visit: http://www.hotelalphastories.com

Window of Opportunity

The Tasmania-and-London-based inter-continentl project that is Transportation: Islands and Cities (a book to be published later this year) is opening its submissions window, short story writers should be glad to know. The publishers behind the project, and indeed its editors, have reported an upturn in exposure and interest in the book. Therefore, submissions have been opened for a short time to allow writers new to the project to submit their work. For more on how to submissions, see here.

The project is asking that lovers of new writing and daring literary fiction take a moment to get involved with the crowd-funding campaign to pay the writers attached to Transportation with “top value rewards” available.

The project launch night on the London side of things will take place at The Society Club Soho, London this Tuesday 12th July at 7:30pm and is free entry to all. Longtime Saul Bellow collaborator and literary behemoth Keith Botsford will be speaking at the event, a long with live readings of short stories from raw literary talents.

keith botsford transportation web

Keith Botsford, 50 year collaborator of the late Saul Bellow.

 

Colin Barrett wins the 2014 Frank O’Connor Award

Young Skins Front Cover - web FRANK O’CONNOR INTERNATIONAL SHORT STORY AWARD WINNER 2014


World’s Most Valuable Short Story Collection Prize Celebrates Its 10th Year

 

 

 

 

The Munster Literature Centre is pleased to announce that, in its tenth year, the winner of the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award is Irish author Colin Barrett for his debut collection Young Skins. The €25,000 award is the single most lucrative in the world for a collection of short stories and is named after the writer whom W.B. Yeats described as the Irish Chekhov. The award has been hugely influential in raising the profile and esteem of the short story form in recent years. Previous winners have included Haruki Murakami, Edna O’Brien, Ron Rash and Yiyun Li amongst others.

The award is co-sponsored by Cork City Council and also by The School of English, University College Cork and was founded to encourage publishers to issue more collections of stories by individual authors – and to acknowledge Cork’s special relationship with the short story: not only Frank O’Connor but also William Trevor, Elizabeth Bowen and Sean O’Faolain hail from Cork.

The international jury for the award consisted of Irish poet Mathew Sweeney, Anglo-Canadian novelist Alison MacLeod and American novelist Manuel Gonzales. Patrick Cotter, Artistic Director of the Munster Literature Centre selects the jury and acts as non-voting chairman.

Explaining the judges’ decision MacLeod said of Barrett’s début ‘How dare a debut writer be this good? Young Skins has all the hallmarks of an instant classic. Barrett’s prose is exquisite but never rarefied. His characters — the damaged, the tender-hearted and the reckless — are driven by utterly human experiences of longing. His stories are a thump to the heart, a mainline surge to the core. His vision is sharp, his wit is sly, and the stories in this collection come alive with that ineffable thing – soul.’

The book was first published in Ireland by the Stinging Fly Press in 2013, and has been published in the UK this year by Jonathan Cape – it is set to be published in the United States by Grove Atlantic in spring of 2015. The book will be published in translation in the Netherlands by De Bezige Bij, in November 2014 and in France, Editions Rivages in 2015.

Patrick Cotter, Award Director said: “I’m grateful we can continue to offer this lucrative award in difficult economic times. Huge kudos to Cork City Council and UCC for supporting this unique award into its tenth year. As a life-long lover of the short story form I’m delighted the award is going to a brilliant book, but as an Irishman I can take special pride that a book by a new, young, genius Irish writer can hold its own against the best in the world and win the award in this milestone year.”

 

Colin Barrett

Colin Barrett grew up in Mayo and studied English at UCD. After graduating he worked for several years with a mobile phone provider in its Dublin headquarters, continuing to write in his spare time. Ultimately, he left his job to do an MA in Creative Writing at University College Dublin. In 2009 he was awarded the Penguin Ireland Prize and he received bursaries from the Arts Council in 2011 and 2013. Young Skins is Colin’s first book. His stories have previously featured in The Stinging Fly magazine, as well as in the anthologies, Sharp Sticks, Driven Nails (Stinging Fly Press, 2010) and Town and Country (Faber and Faber, 2013).

He is thrilled and surprised to learn he won the award “Consider me knocked splendidly sideways by the news. It’s a bewilderment and honour to be awarded the 2014 Frank O’Connor prize. The shortlist was superb, and the role call of previous winners – including living legends like Edna O’Brien and Haruki Murakami – is humbling. Many thanks to those who helped me along the way, especially the Stinging Fly Press, who first published Young Skins and were instrumental in its creation, and a deep thanks to the judges, the organizers, and to the Munster Literature Centre for continuing to care about the short story” 

The award will be presented to Barrett in September at the closing of the Cork International Short Story Festival which is the world’s oldest annual short story festival.

 

Edge Hill Prize 2014 Open For Submissions

Hard to believe that we’re now into the eighth year of the Edge Hill Prize. The idea came up after a one day conference I organised for short story writers and critics back in 2006. We wanted to help raise the status of the form, encouraging British publishers to accept and promote single author collections. After all this time, the Edge Hill Prize is still unique in the UK. Since we began, several major new short story awards have run alongside the National Short Story Prize  – for instance the Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award and the Costa Prize – but they all recognize a stand-alone story. The Frank O’Connor Award is a much bigger prize than ours, and an inspiration, but its shortlist tends to be dominated by American authors. The Edge Hill Prize awards £5000 to an author born or based in the British Isles, including Ireland, for a collection published in the previous year, with an additional £1000 Readers’ Choice prize, currently judged by BA Creative Writing students at Edge Hill. Winners so far have been Colm Tóibín, Claire Keegan, Chris Beckett, Jeremy Dyson, Graham Mort, Sarah Hall and Kevin Barry.

The deadline for entries is the first week in March. At this stage of the yearly cycle, the parcels are gradually arriving from the publishers – first, as always, the small presses, with entries from Welsh and Irish authors already looking strong. Later in March we’ll announce a longlist, narrowing that down to a shortlist of five by early May. Shortlisting is carried out by staff and postgraduates, in consultation with the three main judges. It’s a difficult and painstaking process; there can be no simple tick-box procedure. Broadly speaking, we’re looking for something that compels us to read on, something exciting in the language, and something that fully exploits the short story form. There are many gifted writers who don’t quite make the shortlist.  One or two of their stories may be outstanding, but they haven’t maintained that high standard across the whole collection. Other collections are too limited in style or subject matter, so that you feel that each story is a variation of the one that came before.

Last year the shortlisting process was made even more difficult by a record-breaking longlist. Bloomsbury had named 2012 ‘the year of the short story’, and other publishers, both independent and mainstream, seemed to share that sentiment. Even extending the shortlist to six (Kevin Barry, Emma Donoghue, Jon McGregor, Adam Marek, Jane Rogers, Lucy Wood) meant excluding some authors who in another year might have been finalists. As Graham Mort said, accepting the prize 2011, ‘literary prizes were never intended to provoke competition alone, but to celebrate diversity, quality and commitment’. The seven shortlists so far have been an inventory of the most exciting writing in the British Isles, including work by Jackie Kay, Helen Simpson, Anne Enright, A.L. Kennedy, Robert Shearman and many others.

The 2014 judging panel includes last year’s winner, Kevin Barry, Katie Allen of welovethisbook.com and Carys Bray who was the first winner of a third award category, presented for a story by a current MA Creative Writing student at Edge Hill. Her collection, Sweet Home, was subsequently published by Salt to great acclaim. With Carys on the panel, the prize has come full circle, completing the inextricable links between short story writing and reading, which turn emerging talents into established authors.

The award ceremony this year will be on 3rd July at the Free Word Centre in London. I have no idea who will be on the shortlist this year, let alone who the winner will be.

The judges’ discussions have always been spirited and amicable, fuelled by enthusiasm for the short story form, and the decisions have been difficult but always unanimous. None of us know exactly what we’re looking for, but we always recognize it when we see it.

To see terms and conditions and how to enter the competition, go to Edge Hill Prize

Open Pen Issue 10 & Onwards

Firstly, Issue Ten is in shops this weekend, Saturday 18th January. As always, you can find out where to pick up your copy by checking out our list ofStockists.

This issue sees Peter Higgins adorn the cover with his uniquely witty story of a chance encounter in a library in Smoking In The Library. Rhuar Dean’s mentally unhinging, mentally unhinged piece Reverse Solicitation is no short of fascinating and classy. If you want a sneak peak at Rhuar’s work, check out some of his previous short stories on his website. Stylistically, GC Perry’s In The Age Of Nicotine is charming, sleek, and sexy, as one particularly blushful Open Penner put it.

All in all, it’s writing with something to say, well said. Exactly the sort of fiction we wanted to send out into the world in print. We’re proud of the uniqueness and range of writing we’ve been able to publish in our first ten issues, and Issue Ten is no different, how could it be?

OP1

Here she is in a familiar orange. Can you guess what publishing house our editor pines over?

Our favourite “gravelly-voiced writer” N Quentin Woolf  (not our words Mr. Woolf, the words of The Daily Telegraph) is back with a poignant piece in his regular column about writing and London. And editorSean Preston pops his head round the door to tell you about a bookshop you haven’t visited that you should have. You’ll also find a darkly tongue-in-cheek guest editorial from Will Ashon, author of Clear Water (2006) and The Heritage (2008), both from Faber & Faber. Christ, at least we hope it’s tongue-in-cheek.

Secondly (and lastly,actually, now we come to it), what else have we got in store? Well, a few things. And by ‘few’, I mean loads, without bragging. Loads and loads and loads. But we’re not telling you anything yet. What marketing wizards we are. That said, you can of course expect a live event very shortly, it would be a poor showing of us not to want to wet the head of Issue Ten and sink a few to the fortune of ten more. More details on that soon but you’ll find the usual compote of new and exciting authors, old and unexciting Open Penners trying to be funny without being too Filthy, and a microfiction tournament.

As always, any questions, send us an email. Submissions are open, they always are. And a reminder that our Little Printer publication provides a platform for writers that like their stories shorter.

A big thanks to all our readers, the wonderful bookshops and bookshop-minded non-bookshops, and of course to all of you that have submitted and continue to submit to Open Pen. We like to think we’re willing to take a risk where others dare not. The first ten issues have been a pleasure to work on, and we know the next ten will be just as enjoyable.