Monday, 12 March 2012

Geeks and Gurneys

A brief update this time around:

MA News:

There are only two weeks left of the writing module, and in the short space of ten weeks, the intense, critical focus on my own writing, and on the work of my colleagues, has seen me reassess EVERYTHING…and then abandon the novel I’ve been toying with for years.    

The story that I’ve been presenting to the group/plotting out up until now is loosely based on the lives of my grandparents, and is set in the late 1940s, in England and in Latvia, but after becoming completely over-whelmed with research (where every paragraph prompted a million questions: “Would they have eaten this then? Said this? What flowers do they have in Latvia? What was the immigration process like for displaced people?” And on, and on…!); and also struggling with style versus subject, I’ve decided to shelve it for a while and stop attempting to be more “literary” than I am, and actually focus on the writing that I enjoy, the kind of stuff that I’ve been sending off to journals for a while.    

My writing has always contained elements of magic realism, and it often strays into speculative realms, be it fantasy or sci-fi or horror, but oddly I never thought to actually attempt a “genre” novel. Maybe I've been subconsciously buying into the snobbery regarding such "pulp", an issue that China Mieville briefly addresses here, or maybe I'd convinced myself that writing a novel had to be a torturous, intense experience, and that it had result in something 'literary' and Booker-worthy and address all the ills of the modern world. Now that I've actually sat down and attempted to commit 80,000 words to paper, though, it’s clear that nothing is ever going to get finished unless enjoyment overrides any agenda, and that I need to be honest with myself.  And have some fun with it.


This “epiphany” then has also been aided by my new role as a slush pile reader/ associate editor at Shimmer, a wonderful, speculative magazine (the latest Kindle version available here); and while it was a job that I sought due to my fondness for reading this type of writing, it's now a job that’s further pushing me in that direction as a writer.    

I’ve been doing it now for about a month, and while I do feel at times like a despicable, soulless fiend firing out rejection letters, it’s already made me see EXACTLY why some of my other stories were rejected, and made me feel like sending apologetic emails to those poor editors with the lines “sorry for that drivel, and for ever questioning your sagacious decision, really, forgive meeeee!”   

One of the Shimmer staff has outlined the slush process well here, and I've found it helpful as it gives clear examples of why a particular story is successful or not, and also provides insight into the rejection process for somebody who is frequently on the other side of it. So sad rejectees take heed: it's nothing personal, and you're not crap (I repeat this mantra, constantly.)

It is a shame as many of the stories that I do reject are “not-quites” rather than “absolutely-no-fucking-ways!” (although I have encountered a few of those), but it is great to see things from the other side, and, despite the need for the repeated affirmations, it has lessened the sting when I get THOSE "sorry, not for us" emails in my inbox.


I had this published in Swedish journal Frostwriting, and as I sent it off in September and had forgotten all about it, it was a nice surprise to receive the acceptance email.  The initial title was 'Bitten' (although I toyed with 'Havisham' as a possibility; again, my English student brain was striving for literary intertexts!), but the editor wasn’t too keen on either so we decided that “mine” would suffice.  I suppose it’s a little Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, where a woman seeks forgetfulness/numbness following a past heartache, and while I’d love to re-write bits of it, considering it is so old and unrevised by knowing MA eyes, I'm quite happy with it.

I also had a "horror" piece, Straw-Girls,  published by Eschatology journal (which included another mention of gurneys?! Mmm. My subconscious is troubling, but the least said about that the better!) and I enjoyed playing around with the narrative form and am pleased with how it turned out.

The plans now then are: finish the MA module, read more genre stuff, and YA, stop fretting about writing a five-generational masterpiece.

Google research history: Latvian migratory birds, crystals, Faustian pacts, Siamese twins, wrestling moves, Romulus and Remus.


  1. Hang in there, Nic - it's almost the end of term. And your latest MA submission is fab!

  2. cheers Jo, I'm quite sad that's it nearly over, I'll be at a loss every Tuesday :(

    and thank you! I'm glad you liked it.