Normal Deviation: Seeking Short Stories Based on One Weird Pic

It all started with a weird pic and a throwaway tweet:

I want to do a fiction anthology where everyone writes a story just based on a weird ass picture. And then use that pic as the cover.

And then enough people cheered the idea that we decided to make it our first major project at Wonderbox Publishing.

Normal Deviation is seeking “Third Option” short stories based on the following image, up to 6000 words (deadline: 31 Aug 2017). “Third Option” is our shorthand for digging a little deeper into that writerly creativity bucket: we’d like everyone to cast aside (at least) the first two ideas that come to you, and instead focus on the third (or fourth or fifth…) idea to develop. The goal here is to avoid the obvious, to generate fresh ideas, to get at deviation.

We want stories in any genre, from any perspective, any time period and setting. As long as the story is good, and based somehow on this image, we want to read it!

image for inspiration

We’ve launched a Kickstarter to fund the anthology, as we think all authors deserve professional rates (starting at least at a penny per word). Support us, support authors, and please submit and become one of our authors!

Full details and author guidelines are on our website. Subscribe to updates from our weekly blog, get a feel for what we’re like and what we like, and join us in this bizarre story adventure!

Lyle Skains & DeAnn Bell, Editors
Normal Deviation anthology
Wonderbox Publishing

Long Story, Short #PayMoreThanExposure

campaign card lss copy

Long Story, Short Journal exists to serve writers. We were established in 2012 in order to provide a home to longer short stories within the Irish and international publishing scene where word limits are often 3000 words or less. Within such limitations, how can writers strike more than one note or create work with intricacy and complexity?

After years of trying to gain funding for paying writers via ‘tip jars’ and funding applications, we’re moving on to our readership with a crowdfunding drive. We acknowledge that not everyone can afford subscription fees, so  we’re keeping the journal free to read. For those who have a little spare change, please check out our Indiegogo page!

There’s a special perk going out to those who donate €20 or more: ‘Sunset Drinking the Black Ocean’, a digital anthology of diminutive forms such as flash fiction, portraits and prose poems–all by former Long Story, Short Journal contributors including Mary Morrissy, John McKenna, Danielle McLaughlin and Matthew Sweeney.

If you’re short on cash, we’d love a share or a reTweet! Show that long story love! #PayMoreThanExposure !


“A Sense of Real Language”: Shane Strachan in conversation with Laura Perrem

alina hartwig2 LG

Photo by Alina Hartwig

I always wanted to write stories about the Northeast that could be read by people outside of the area, but without losing a sense of the real language spoken there.



Long Story, Short Journal presents the second in our series of interviews: a conversation with Shane Strachan, author of our November 2015 issue ‘Gyurd’. Interview by Laura Perrem. 


Laura: Where are you at the moment?

Shane: I’m currently on a train heading up to Moniack Mhor writing centre in the Highlands. I was lucky enough to receive a ‘Made in Aberdeen’ council bursary to go on retreats across this year to get some writing done. In a month like this where I’ve been particularly busy in my two part-time jobs, I am so thankful to be able to run away for a few days and get some peace to write! Moniack Mhor is also a great place to meet other writers and find out what’s going on in the literary scene outside of your area, so I’m looking forward to that aspect too.

LP: What does a typical writing day look like for you?

SS: I try to keep two to three days a week free for writing, but it’s not always that simple to just sit down and write when I actually find myself with a free day: I tend to need some time to dwell on an idea or to remind myself of where I was going with a piece, then if all’s good, it’ll flow out for a few hours. I usually escape my flat to write and often end up doing a tour of cafés and libraries across the city – I find the walks in between can really help when I’ve got stuck. Unfortunately, I’m at my most fired up creatively late at night, and would guess that most of my published work was written around 3 in the morning …

LP: ‘Gyurd’ is one in a collection of short stories which you identify as being ‘related to the decline of fishing communities in the Northeast of Scotland’. What compelled you to choose this site and subject for your collection?

SS: I grew up in the fishing towns of Fraserburgh and Peterhead during a big decline in the fishing industry as both stricter regulations and decommissioning schemes were put in place to conserve certain species. This led to a drastic change in these communities as folk faced up to having to find work elsewhere, to their children not carrying on family traditions, and to the sharp loss of local identity and language. Like many other writers before me who have tackled industrial decline in their work both in Scotland and elsewhere, there was something I felt compelled to express before it was too late, before my own memories and the language of them faded with time. This collection of stories is titled Orra Though It Be, a quote from Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s Sunset Song; it’s a favourite book of mine which deals with many of these themes and very much inspired me to write.

I was also compelled to write the sort of book I myself wanted to read. There are very few works of literature currently being published from the Northeast of Scotland in general, never mind about the fishing communities – the closest and best would be John Aberdein’s Amande’s Bed set in 1950s Aberdeen. So it became very important to me to write these stories, and to ensure they avoided being insular, or old-fashioned, or any of the other misconceptions people may have about writing from this area.

LP: In Gyurd, would you say that Diane is a metaphor for this contemplation on the idea of decline?

(Editor’s note: spoiler alert! Read the story before the rest of the interview.)

SS:  I would say that Diane is an exception to other characters in the collection in relation to decline, as while they all ultimately face up to change, she remains much the same person as she was at the start of the story even though life has thrown a lot at her. I think this is down her need to maintain a perfect Christian life and the denial of anything that could possibly disrupt that: the existence of a half-sister, her father’s infidelity, and, come the end of the story, her own failing marriage. In some ways she could be seen as quite cruel or naive at points, but I hope that readers still sense that she is a kind person who thinks she is doing her best. It’s these sorts of contradictions in character I really love exploring in my stories.

LP: It would be difficult to discuss ‘Gyurd’ without bringing your use of the Doric dialect to the conversation. Can you tell us a little bit about the process of weaving Doric into the language of your storytelling?

SS: I contemplated copying and pasting my entire PhD on this subject for a laugh, but I’m sure you wouldn’t want to put anyone through having to read that!

Doric is the Northeast variety of the Scots language, which, in its rural variants, has been described as being the most distinct dialect from Standard English in the UK. I always wanted to write stories about the Northeast that could be read by people outside of the area, but without losing a sense of the real language spoken there. In able to do both, I blend Doric with a more standardised register; this is a writing style known as skaz, a term coined by Mikhail Bakhtin to describe writing which blends different registers into the one voice. Plenty of writers in different cultures and languages have written in this way, including Grassic Gibbon, James Joyce and James Kelman. Other stories in the collection are a bit more dialectal in the narration than ‘Gyurd’, and many of them also bring in other dialects and languages such as Polish, Mexican Spanish and a Filipino dialect.

Readers will see that I’ve kept the characters’ dialogue quite close to how it’s actually spoken, but even that is written in a way that makes it slightly easier for someone unfamiliar with the dialect to sound out. It’s a big ask of readers, but as Junot Díaz said of his use of Dominican Spanish in his stories, ‘what the unintelligible in a book does is to remind you how our whole lives we’ve always needed someone to help us with reading’, so like reading a book as a child, you passively learn new language from context or you find out the meaning from your wider community.

LP: You also write for the stage. Would you say that your drama has the same concerns as your creative writing practice?

SS: I feel like I’m still really learning when it comes to playwriting and that it’s a very different process from story writing. When I’m working on my own drama, it tends to have similar concerns as my writing and be about the Northeast, but on many wider projects, I’ve been pushed to step outside of these concerns and work a lot more collaboratively. For example, I was commissioned to write a play on maternal health in Zimbabwe for a global research initiative called Immpact, and I’m currently part of a script team for a National Theatre of Scotland production based on the true story of a granite quarryman travelling from the Northeast to Odessa in the 1860s.

LP: What is your next project?

I’m currently working on my first novel. I say “first novel”, but I’m sure it would really be my 4th of 5th if you include a few dodgy attempts before I really found my style through short story writing. Moving from shorter forms to a larger piece has been a bit of a challenge so far, and I can’t say I’m the biggest fan of the novel form in general, so it should prove interesting what I ultimately come up with. At this point, the novel is set in Aberdeen, the wider Northeast and the North Sea, but I’m tempted to take my characters to places much further.

I’m also working on another project for Immpact which will involve running writing workshops with new mothers in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, in the hope of gathering a collection of stories which reflects different experiences of childbirth in the country. I visited Bulawayo just last month, and had the best time experiencing its fantastic arts scene, linking up with a great publisher called AmaBooks, and meeting the hardworking staff at the local maternity hospitals, so I really have high hopes for this project.

Shane Strachan
’s work has appeared in Stand, Gutter, New Writing Scotland, Northwords Now, Causeway/Cabhsair, Freight’s LGBT anthology Out There, and many more publications. He holds a PhD in Creative Writing from the University of Aberdeen after creating a short story collection related to the decline of the fishing industry in the Northeast of Scotland. He has also had theatre worked staged in Aberdeen and has led writing projects in Germany and Zimbabwe. Find out more at
laura perrem photo
Laura Perrem is a Fine Art graduate of the Crawford College of Art and Design. She practices in both visual and written media. Her written practice includes poetry, short stories and art criticism. She has had poetry published in the Belleville Park Pages and is working towards her first collection of poetry.

The November 2015 contributing photographer is Alina Hartwig, a freelance photographer from Germany. Since finishing secondary school two years ago, she has been making her way in the movie business and works additionally as a photographer and artist. View more of her work on Facebook and atFlickr.

Bunbury Magazine Issue Six

Hey Bunburyists! 

Remember that time when we did Bunbury Magazine and it had all manner of wonderful Bunburying things in it, like poetry and art? Oh, and all the Bunburyful short stories and interviews with marvelous people? You don’t?

            That’s alright because we are back! Back with a brand new issue for you; an issue you won’t forget in an hurry. And here it is:

            Since we last spoke, the rarest of things occurred – we actually had a holiday! Two, in fact, because we are bourgeois. We spent a week amongst the rolling sands and omnipresent cream teas of the South Coast. Whilst there, we had the chance to visit Kents Caverns in Tourquay, which was used as the basis for Hamspley Cavern. A prize to any of you fabulous people who know in which book it features. And no google! Just send us an email.

            The second holiday was more a labour of love than a rest – the love of bringing you all the high-standard splendiforousness you see before you.

            We spent five days in Edinburgh for the Fringe Festival. Five days of running around like blue-arsed proverbials, fuelled by coffee and neeps, seeing comedy and poetry performed by some of the finest comedians and poets it has been our pleasure to encounter. The feature for this issue presents to you the very best of the Free Fringe, but we won’t give too much away right now. We will just let you immerse yourselves in what they had to say, as well as the brilliant poetry, art and stories we have for you this time round.

There are many many people to thank for this issue, both for their support and for getting involved. We will go through section by section so we do not miss anyone out!

The beautiful front cover and the artwork was provided by Katryn Beaty.

Flash fiction by Joseph Roberts and William Morris.

Life Writing by Becca Hazleden.

Our non-fiction essay was written by our wonderful resident Bunburyist Amanda Madison.

The stunning poetry was submitted by David Subacchi, Karen Little, Leanne Drain and Sarah Hussain.

Engrossing short stories by Andrew Lee-Hart, Christian Carter-Stephenson, Edward Hodgson, Katryn Beaty and Paul O’Sulliavan.

We were so pleased to present Part Four of ‘Yum Yum’ by Kurt Jarram and give you the first part of ‘Unnecessary Person’ by Isaac Swift.

We also had the pleasure of doing a book promotion for a good friend of the magazine, Stephen James.

It was our honour to give Armageddon Stereo, a brand-new wholly awesome rap-core metal band from Manchester, their first ever interview.

And, here we go, our big feature on the Edinburgh Fringe Festival included Aiden Killian, Andrew Blair, Charmain Hughes, Darren Walsh, Fay Roberts, Hannah Chutzpah, James Christopher, Laurie Bolger, Mel Jones, Nygel Harrot, Chris Chopping, Phil Cooper, Stuart Laws, Amy Acre, Ben Target, Beth Vyse, Cormac Friel, Martin Sichel of the Panda Villa HotelRichard Hartnell, Ross McCleary, Pierre Hollins and Christian Reilly.

We are also looking forward now to the next issue of Bunbury Magazine. The theme is ‘The Unexplained.’ Have you ever seen or heard something so truly out there it almost defies rationality? If you have, we would love to see your wonderful work again!

As always, you can find all our social media garb at the bottom of this email. If you aren’t already following us on Twitter or have us on the Book of Face then add us and we can tag all those who have been part of this issue and past issues as well!

And as you know, we do not charge at all for reading this beautiful magazine – that’s just not who we are. All we ask is a share on Twitter or Facebook. Just something like ‘Hey guys, check out this zine I was published in.’ or ‘About to read Bunbury Magazine because I like my eyes and want to give them pleasure.’ Or even ‘HOLY F**KB**LS! I’M F*****G N THIS F*****G MAGAZINE! THIS IS F*****G AMAAAAAAZNG! READ IT AND EXPLODE WITH JOY!’             

Ahem. So we won’t keep you any longer. Thanks for coming to see us again. We hope you enjoy your stay. Don’t be strangers now.

            Keep Bunburying!

            Christopher and Keri.

PS – there may not be a prize for the ‘Hampsley Cavern’ competition anymore. It was a cookie but we ate it!

Submissions: Long Story, Short Journal

Photo © Jorinde Reijnierse

Photo © Jorinde Reijnierse


The Long Story, Short Journal is accepting submissions through 30 April. Some words below about which stories are most likely to be published. But first:

Two recent stories you should check out!

Jamie O’Connell’s ‘Pussy Bratchford is on the Verge of Becoming a Good Christian’ is a portrait of a drag queen in Dublin who is mulling over the legacy of distance and feisty rebelliousness in her family which shaped her. (Story dedicated to Panti Bliss.)

Jude Cook’s ‘School of Life’, a look at writers and rejection, and how rumination ends in obsession. Cook is the author of the novel Byron Easy.



Submissions: A note from the editor, Jennifer Matthews

Indulge a cranky preamble (positivity will follow). The Long Story, Short Journal submission guidelines page receives SIX TIMES THE VISITORS than any of our excellent stories. If you haven’t yet read any of our stories, please take a look at the great work on offer here. Please. Restore my faith in writers–reading superstars like Alice Munro, Junot Diaz, George Saunders, Edwige Danticat is fantastic, but don’t forget to check out what your other contemporaries are doing. More importantly, don’t submit your work to a journal if you aren’t already a reader.


How is short story writing like figure skating? (Bear with me here.) On one hand, for those sending out their work to journals, the scoring system seems quite ‘opaque’. It’s hard to know what an editor is looking for, and it can feel like publications are all wrapped up for friends of the editor. The following is an attempt to make my process of choosing work for the Long Story, Short Journal a little less opaque.

When Adelina Sotnikova took the gold at Sochi, she won based on racking up points for technically-perfect moves at the expense of a more artistic performance. Fans of figure skating were irate at South Korean Yuna Kim’s loss, which was more aesthetically beautiful. Similarly, one of the biggest surprises for me as a new editor has been how disappointing it is to read technically perfect work, where the author executes the plot arc with precision, but hasn’t been brave with language or storytelling.
Choosing stories for a journal can never be objective, as writing fiction will never be objective. I have my preferences. I love work that forefronts what language can do. Unique metaphors, well-wrought phrasing, pitch-perfect dialogue, and engaging descriptions of place always grab my attention. Don’t mistake this for ‘flowery’ or ‘over-egged’ writing. Hemingway is one of my favourites for his ‘clean, well-lit’ prose. His starkness is consciously chosen.

I’m also interested in literature as a midwife for compassion. If the writer cares for their characters, no matter how dark or flawed the characters are as people, it shows. Also, if the story is a mouthpiece to get back at the author’s ex-girlfriend or father or employer, it also shows–and it’s rarely readable. That doesn’t mean ‘Don’t write from a place of pain’. Do. But let the pain leave your body, to exist on its own, so that you can work with it rather that re-experience it. You wouldn’t expect a date to listen to you rant about your ex-lover, so why would your readers want to hear it? Politics and philosophising create a similar quandary. Of course politics and philosophy are important–but the message never gets across in a story if it reads as a lecture. Put us in the story of the problem you are concerned about, and your reader will draw their own conclusions.

In short, I will always take a somewhat flawed story which is innovative with language and tells me something crucial about a person or a situation, over a technically perfect story that doesn’t engage me with its style or soul. HOWEVER: if your story has received a rejection letter from the Long Story, Short Journal that certainly does not mean your work has no ‘style’ or ‘soul’–we receive hundreds of stories, and room for only one story each month. That’s a lot of competition. Go easy on yourself while keeping a critical eye on your work. Try, try again.

February’s edition of Long Story, Short Journal

Photo © Rudolf Vlček

Photo © Rudolf Vlček

It was one of those gut-feelings, a finger that prodded Steve in the side telling him to remember the night before or face its accusing wag; as though everything that happened was solely his fault. Yet Steve wondered how much of it was, it had all started so long ago.

In ‘Hand Me Downs’ a man reconstructing what happened the night before leads him down a path extending further and further back, to meet the origin of ‘where things went wrong’. Kelly Creighton’s story is both gritty and emotionally apt, and continues the Long Story, Short tradition of tales of love lost–just in time for Valentine’s Day.

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(The Long Story, Short Journal opens for submissions in March! More on this in next month’s post.)

‘Forests of Antarctica’: December 2013’s edition of Long Story, Short Journal

Photo © Дмитрий Смирнов (Dmitrii Smirnov)

Photo © Дмитрий Смирнов (Dmitrii Smirnov)

“That’s it. Three weeks worth of stuff packed in twenty minutes. It might be a personal best,” Sam said, hovering in the doorway. It was after midnight when Sam walked into the kitchen of their cottage, where Diana liked to do her work at the massive butcher block table, and he looked tired but there was a warm glow in his cheeks. Diana stared at the screen, typing things that she would have to erase later and making notes that meant nothing.

‘The Forests of Antarctica’ by Courtney Watson takes place in Ushuaia, Argentina–the last stop before Antarctica–where the motto is the end of the world, the beginning of everything. Here we find a couple coping with the strain of distance as the husband ventures off on long-term scientific expeditions, leaving his wife to welcome a visitor from his past. Watson’s work is understated and moving, accompanied by a photo by Russian photographer Dimitrii Smirnov.

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