A Tour Around Endless Street

Rebecca LloydToday, I’m delighted to welcome Rebecca Lloyd to my blog to answer a few questions as part of the tour for her new short story collection; The View From Endless Street, published by WiDo Publishing on April 8th this year. Rebecca won the 2008 Bristol Short Story Prize and reached the semi-finals in the Paul Bowles Award For Short Fiction this year with Whelp And Other Stories. She has also been a semi-finalist in the Dundee International Book Prize for her novel Under The Exquisite Gaze and in the Hudson Prize for another short story collection.

The View From Endless Street

The stories in The View From Endless Street explore a myriad of relationships; often with humour but always with candour. They range from tales of murder and obsession to arson, and abound with a wealth of fascinating characters – though none of them financially wealthy! – offering a rich seam of reading, from ‘Castle Street in June’; a poignant story about moving on, to ‘The River’; her gripping story which won the Bristol Short Story Prize. Joe Melia, of The Bristol Prize, says; “Rebecca’s prolific output continues to demonstrate her great versatility as a writer”.

Hi, Rebecca and welcome. First I’d like to ask; I notice you’re more likely to write from the POV of a male character in your stories  do you find this easier?

Thank you, and thanks for having me. I used to find it easier to write male characters, and I think that was because they somehow ‘weren’t me,’ so I was able to be more objective about them; they couldn’t get mixed up with who I am myself, if that makes sense? But as I went on writing, it became easier for me to write females, and now all that matters is to choose the right character to be in charge of the story, be it female or male. At the moment I’m working on five stories and four of those have main characters who are women. I think my initial hesitation about writing women was to do with a slight fear that readers might have certain expectations about how women should be portrayed in fiction, and I wouldn’t be able to manage it, as the characters would have to be a bit ‘lady-like’ and therefore not remotely interesting to me. I think I was being unnecessarily neurotic however. Although, I have to admit, in real life when I get called a ‘lady’ I always suggest the person thinks about using the word ‘woman’ instead.

It makes a lot of sense, Becca, and I think it’s a process a lot of writers must go through. I’ve certainly found writing from a male POV provides an exciting creative freedom. I also notice a lot of your stories are about people with low self-esteem. What interests you about that?

Yes, this is true. It’s because I’m interested in human vulnerabilities and all the myriads of ways they are expressed in our lives – some of which we might recognise in ourselves and others which might be fascinatingly alien to us. When people are vulnerable or have low self-esteem, they can’t help being more open than people who are in control of their lives and destinies, or imagine they are at least. In the vulnerable, more depths about who they really are become exposed.

I’m intrigued by your comment that those in control of their lives manage to hide it, or “imagine they are”, because I’m sure it’s true that everyone has insecurities of one sort or another, which leads me to ask; do you ever write about wealthy people?

No. Because I have no interest in wealth myself in real life I would find it deeply boing to write about wealthy people. The wealthy very often ‘immunise’ themselves against the ordinary stream of human life which goes on around them by using their wealth and power to become separate. It’s not that I care what the wealthy do or don’t do so much; it’s more that their life styles and choices are not interesting to me.

Fair enough – though I can’t help thinking it might be interesting to see what you’d make of their vulnerabilities!

Perhaps I should explain a bit more about what I mean. People who exist on the fringes of society, and they do so for a hundred different reasons, are not able so easily to surround themselves with the armoury of social pretensions and all the flotsam and jetsam that goes with wealth, and for that reason a writer is able to ‘see’ them much more clearly, has got better access. So if I was given a choice of writing about a white South African family living in a protected compound, or writing about the black family up the road who were finding it hard to get water, I’d think the black family had to be more ingenious and inventive, and so, for me, more interesting.

So, tell me, what writers do you read yourself?

At the moment, I’m reading some modern writers of literary horror, or the ‘new black’ such as Nik Korpon, Stephen Graham Jones and Craig Clevenger, but at the same time, I’m reading some Walter de la Mare and Arthur Machen, oh and I came across Andrew Apter who I think is a thrilling writer, he was one of the contributors to the Tartarus anthology Strange Tales volume IV, in which I also had a story.

And what do you think the commonest mistake made by new writers is?

Oh, that’s such a difficult question because there are lots of stylistic problems that a new writer might have to deal with, things like learning to avoid exposition in a story. I think I’d settle for the commonest mistake being the idea that writing and living a writing life is an easy one, and that’s linked up with the ‘best seller’ dream, a fantasy in which all you have to do is write a best seller and you’re famous, adored, and set up for life. But if people become interested in being a writer because they think they’re going to make money from it, they are probably doomed from the start because the only real ‘fuel’ for a writer is love of the craft.

I’d certainly agree with that! And finally, do you have another short story collection planned?

I do have one unpublished collection out there, and yes, I am working towards another one. The five stories I mentioned earlier belong to it. I’m hoping that one of the independent publishers of literary dark works will pick it up because this is the first time I’ve allowed myself to be unrestrained in my writing about peculiarities in human experience. I’d never really realised that I wrote strange material, but with WiDo Publishing likening me to Roald Dahl in The View From Endless Street and at the same time, Tartarus Press publishing Mercy, another of my short story collections, I’ve finally decided to accept that I write weird material.

Thanks very much, Rebecca. Weird or dark – your stories are certainly extremely engrossing and thought provoking!

If we’ve aroused your curiosity, you can buy The View from Endless Street here, or here.

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Someone Else’s Major Book Launch (and minor one of my own)

Last night I went to Foyles in Bristol for the launch of my good writing friend, Sarah Hilary’s bound-to-be-major first novel; Someone Else’s Skin, published by Headline in the UK and Penguin in the US.

I’m convinced Sarah is destined to become a major new star in the writing hemisphere. Best selling author, screenwriter, actor and comic, Mark Billingham, declares her novel “a stunning debut from a major new crime-writing talent” and just see the rest of those quotes from illustrious authors like Helen Dunmore!

During the evening Sarah read beautifully from the first chapter of Someone Else’s Skin and as always, her writing proves as smooth, flowing and biting as single-malt on ice; the audience was immediately sucked into intrigue and left craving more.

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Sarah reading

Hovering, and loitering, amongst the crowd were renowned local writers such as Tania Hershman, Rebecca Lloyd, Jonathan Pinnock and also National Flash Fiction Day Director; Calum Kerr. There were no doubt others of note but it was so crowded with admirers I couldn’t spot them all.

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Jonathon Pinnock and Tania Hershman

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Calum Kerr

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Sarah … and me!

I’m a flash-fiction fan so in a few words I’ll sum up by saying; watch the bestsellar lists!

Whilst I’m blogging (however!), and bragging about the launch of Sarah’s bound-to-be-major new book, I thought I’d have a minor brag about a short story of my own published in the latest Bridge House anthology; Something Hidden.

My story; “One…Step…at…a…Time”, follows an elderly lady who uses a sat-nav so she doesn’t get lost when escaping her residential home for walks with her other life support system; a three-wheeled zimmer frame.

There are lots of other fantastic stories in the anthology from talented writers such as Sarah Hegarty and Stephen Wade and you can buy it in paperback from Amazon, here, or the kindle edition, here.

Happy reading and Good Luck to Sarah. I’ll be keeping my eye on those lists!

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National Flash-Fiction Day – Saturday, 22nd June 2013

National Flash-Fiction Day will be here in a flash and Bristol will be celebrating in style with an afternoon of workshops given by Flash-Fiction Day founder, Calum Kerr and author of My Mother was an Upright Piano, Tania Hershman. Plus, I’m delighted to say I’ll be joining an impressive array of flash writers from Calum and Tania, to Bristol Short Story Prize judge, Anna Britten and Sarah Hilary (Cheshire Literary Prize winner), as well as many other noteworthy flash-fictioneers ,for an evening of readings at The Lansdown pub in Clifton.  Come and join us! You can get tickets here for the workshops or just come along on the night. And you can check out the National Flash-Fiction Day website to see what else is going on all over the country and beyond; here. Facebook events page

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Launching Pangea

Pangea is here! Or, more accurately, Pangea is all over the world.

Vanessa reading ‘Breakdown’

As hinted at in the title, Pangea: An Anthology of Stories from Around the Globe is a collection of stories written by writers from far reaching corners of the world – 25 writers from 13 countries, in fact. I went to its UK launch last Thursday, at Blackwell’s in Bristol, and heard award winning contributor Vanessa Gebbie read her beautifully written and wrought story, ‘Breakdown’; a tragic tale about Tom, a breakdown man – breaking down. The stories in Pangea feature a range of different voices covering themes of loss, identity and entrapment, and order versus chaos, with ‘Breakdown’ fitting into the ‘loss’ category.

Tom reading ‘You’re Dead’

I was also gripped by ‘You’re Dead’ read by author, Tom Remer Williams; an unsettling story slipping nicely into the ‘chaos versus order’ theme.

 But as well as being hugely impressed with the worldwide spread of authors and range of voice and style of the stories in Pangea, I’m also impressed with the huge choir of voices announcing its launch – even Nokia have got in on the act! Obviously the internet plays a vital role, but who wrote the score and conducted this choral symphony? I asked Sarah Hilary, author publicist, to tell me a bit about the stories behind the global spread of Pangea‘s promotion.

Sarah Hilary

Hi, Debs, and thanks for hosting this leg of the Pangea blog tour. You’re quite right about the choir of voices, and I like your symphony analogy (we had our fair share of bum notes along the way, but it’s good to see – or hear? – it all coming together now). You’re right, too, about the internet playing a vital role. However, my part in the publicity came about as a result of living in Bristol and meeting up with Rebecca Lloyd, one of the editors. Since Rebecca also lives in Bristol, she suggested we meet up and as we chatted it struck me that I could do something to help promote the anthology. There are really important stories in Pangea (and some light relief, too, such as my kitsch offering, LoveFM) – they deserve a wide audience. Talking with Rebecca, I discovered that I felt pretty passionate about this. Small presses are great, and thank goodness for them, but it was clear that if Pangea was going to get the attention it needed, we the authors would need to take charge of promoting the anthology.

With so many authors involved, I relied on the internet and social media to get things going. Quite a few of our authors aren’t online, however, so there was juggling to be done. Luckily, everyone had email so I was able to establish contact and discuss how best we could involve everyone in the campaign to get Pangea noticed, talked about and read.

Our authors are a fascinating bunch. Joel Willans, for example, works for Nokia and writes features for their hugely popular blog, Nokia Connects. Thanks to Joel, Pangea reached an audience of around 8million online, on 18th July. That’s simply astounding, by any standards.

 Then there’s Caroline Robinson who lives in a caravan on her own croft in the Scottish Highlands, and blogs about her cats and chickens. Our authors really do span the globe, and their stories do something wonderful – they bring the world close,  for everyone.

Thanks very much, Sarah. And I defy anyone to read ‘LoveFM’ without going straight back to read it again – and discover its subtleties!

Rebecca Lloyd

You can read more about Pangea: An Anthology of Stories from Around the Globe (Thames River Press); its inspiration, evolution and exexecution, and find out where to buy it from here.

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‘Twisted Tales: Flash-fiction with a twist’ A new anthology from Raging Aardvark Publications.

(And I’m pleased to say ‘Twisted Tales’ features one of my stories!)

What do Hemmingway, Kafka, Chekov and Lovecraft have in common (other than they are writers?) They wrote powerful stories in what is now coined Flash Fiction, so while there’s nothing new about the short-short story, National Flash Fiction Day is being celebrated for the first time in the UK and has been adopted around the world in a buzz of excitement.
Amongst the workshops, seminars, readings and write-ins arranged by writers groups, universities and recognised authors, are a collection of anthologies set to launch this week, and Annie Evett, from Raging Aardvark Publications is delighted to present ‘Twisted Tales’, an anthology celebrating Flash Fiction. These short, sweet snippets of stories have the ability to tempt the imagination, tantalise a reader and pose questions, form the heart of a great flash fiction. ‘Twisted Tales’ was born out of the need to showcase Flash-Fiction in its own right and a desire to present writers whose first love lays within the short story.
Far too long has society been indulged with the excessive word-count. Annie believes that it is time the short story and all its derivatives demand their rightful place back into readership.
This collection explores the twisted existence of love, family and relationships as characters seek a sense of self and identity. It’s filled with a mixture of stories, some which will make you think, others smile and tales which will have you reaching for your security blanket. Each story is under 700 words and has a twist or surprise in the end.
‘Twisted Tales’ includes both established writers alongside emerging authors. One of the heart-warming outcomes for Annie in undertaking this project was receiving emails from thrilled contributors who were excited to launch their careers within this Anthology. The support and encouragement for this project she continues to receive is fantastic and much appreciated.

You can download a free pdf copy of ‘Twisted Tales’ here.

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Flash-Fiction South West Anthology:

This arrived yesterday and I must say it’s a beautiful piece of work. What’s more it’s filled with 53 beautiful pieces of flash fiction – and one of them’s mine!

All thanks to Rachel Carter who arranged, co-ordinated and generally oversaw and bore the headaches for producing the anthology of flash-fiction from writers all over the South West of England. ‘Kissing Frankenstein & Other Stories’ is available from Amazon and here.

The anthology was produced as part of the National Flash-Fiction Day celebrations; inaugorated, arranged and directed by Calum Kerr, Writer, Editor and Lecturer in English at Winchester University. Pop over and take a look at the National Flash-Fiction Day website, and join in all the fun on Wednesday, May 16th 2012? And you can read pieces of flash during the entire day on the Flash Flood Journal. What more could you ask?

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World Book Day

I had a wonderful afternoon on Thursday (World Book Day), reading a number of my stories to the lovely people at the Headway Charity at Frenchay Hospital in Bristol. They invited me to share the event with the fantastic Bristol poet, Rosemary Dun reading her poems, which was great because it’s the first time I’ve done a public reading – although I have been recorded reading ‘The Black Widow’ for broadcast on ‘My Word Radio’, which you can also hear here!

Recently I guest-blogged on Susan Howe’s ‘the long and the short of it’ and mentioned how reading stories aloud requires considered momentum, vocal expression and a degree of acting to convincingly become each character, and also how stories – often referred to as a writer’s “baby” – can take on a life of their own. Once a story has achieved some sort of success, such as winning a competition, like children they have a tendency to shoot off in all directions long after leaving the metaphorical womb. Once “out there”, even when you think they’ve finished growing, they go on offering more and more exciting opportunities – as evidenced by my invitation to read at Headway. I thoroughly enjoyed my time there and so, I’m pleased to say, did the audience!

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A River of Blood (Flash Fiction No. 7)

(This story was in the final six shortlisted for the Swanezine 2011 Short Story Competition)

Blanche sat up in bed staring at the wallpaper opposite; at red roses playing on a pale blue sky, till they slipped out of focus and merged into a river of blood. Savouring sweet tea she closed her eyes and indulged in the warmth of the mug between her hands. Suddenly Matt stirred. Blanche flicked her eyelids open. Matt groaned. Blanche’s fingers gripped the mug. Matt turned … and his breathing resumed the rise and fall of waves on a sleeping shore.

As the sun streaked the sky early morning red, Blanch carefully placed her mug on the bedside table, lifted her legs from the bed and swore that one way or the other, by the end of the day, she’d have caught Matt red-handed.

“Where are you off to?” Matt’s voice muffled from beneath the duvet.

Blanche froze, dead still, her toes gripping the soft pile of the carpet. “I told you,” she said, “I’ve got a dental appointment in Exeter,” she lied.

“Hhmph,” Matt muttered and went back to sleep.

Upton Standing was always busy on a Thursday, even this early. It was Market Day and the wide, cobbled street in the centre of town thronged with stall-holders setting up stalls, shopkeepers hurrying to work and early morning shoppers searching for bargains amidst brightly coloured canvas canopies. Blanche fed on the scent of fresh baked bread, and herbs and spices dancing with the fragrance of flowers packed into deep green buckets. She paused at the flower stall, before scurrying into the book shop behind and positioning herself in front of a shelf. She pulled out a book and waited, casting constant glances through the window. Minute after minute ticked by, and book after book slid from the shelf in her pale hands.

The girl at the flower stall, dressed in crimson flowered frock and shoes with heels that would give Blanche vertigo, began slicing ends from the stems of cream coloured roses with the quick flick of a sharp bladed knife, before placing them artfully in a bucket. She looked as pretty as a rose herself, Blanche thought; a dark red rose with a rich red bloom caressing her cheeks.

Suddenly Matt appeared, wearing his pin-striped suit and a smile Blanche hadn’t seen for … oh … so long! Her breath stopped. He strode up to the flower stall. Blanche pushed her fingernails into the cover of the book gripped tight in her hands. The flower girl sliced the creamy head off a rose and smiled up at Matt, slipping it into his buttonhole. Matt bent to kiss the forehead of the thief who’d stolen his smile, and then bent lower to kiss her lips; her deep red lips.

Blanche’s heart pounded and the blood drained from her face. She pulled for air and grabbed the bookshelf. She mustn’t lose control; the control she’d clung to this last week of waiting; the week since she’d discovered the red rose in Matt’s lapel when he came home from work, late.

“What’s this?” she’d asked.

“A rose,” he’d said.

“Where from?” she’d asked.

“The flower girl in the market,” he’d said.

Blanche had seen the flower girl before.

Blanche eased herself from the bookshelf and forced her legs forward. Somehow she made it through the shop, outside, and on to the cobbled stones of the market place. But Matt had gone. She pulled a bunch of ivory blooms from a bucket, drew deep on their sweet perfume and approached the flower girl, still slicing stems, with the shadow of a smile still lingering on her lips and the bloom of love still kissing her cheeks. Blanche held the flowers out as if to have them wrapped in pretty pink paper, but her foot kicked out; quick-sharp and sudden, catching the flower girl’s stiletto heel and toppling her to the ground. She’d lost control. That was all. And high-heeled shoes and cobbles were never a wise combination.

Blanche bent, swiftly stretching out her hand. “Help!” she cried weakly, as the flower girl’s blood-curdled cry faded to a pale whisper, and a satisfying warmth seeped past the steel blade and caressed her fingers.

A crowd gathered. Matt rushed forward and stopped, his eyes wide but no words came from his gaping mouth. He fell toward the flower girl. Blanche reached out as if to catch him. And dark, red drops fell from her hand, splattering onto granite cobblestones like rose petals on tombstones, until they merged into a river of blood.

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A Cure for Writers’ Block (Flash Fiction No.6)

First, a word of explanation. As part of the fantastic Bristol Festival of Literature in October, the lovely Tania Hershman hosted a fun exercise for curing writers’ block. Tania asked the writers who took part in the Citywide Story event, including Bristol author of ‘Where’s My Money’, Mike Manson and crime writer Gerard O’Donovan, to chose phrases from six different books, including cookery books and technical manuals. We then had to write a piece of flash fiction in fifteen minutes, prompted by one of the phrases and attempting to incorporate as many as possible (whilst taking care to avoid copyright infringement). It was great fun and this is my attempt! (The six chosen phrases are in bold.)

A Cure for Writers’ Block Exercise
‘We can do it in the woods’ by Deborah Rickard

"We can do it in the woods," he said, sneaking off into the undergrowth. Moist wisps of misty air caressed the ground and a damp, decaying odour crept up my nostrils. This was more than nature's ooze spewing from the earth, I thought.

Suddenly he slipped on what I tried to reassure myself was nothing more than a piece of discarded chicken skin. As he fell he just missed a crack opening in the ground amidst a tangle of weeds. Random shots of hot, wet air spurted hither and thither just like the multi-directional steam nozzle on my coffee maker. I stopped. And went cold – and hot. So hot that steam must have oozed from me just as it did from the ground. So hot I felt as if my skin lifted from my flesh.

"It's too creepy here," I said, all passion gone. "Why can't you take me to the fancy restaurants Suzie’s boyfriend takes her?"

"But we must worship the fear!" he cried, pulling me down into the weeds, the steam and the raw scent of death and decay.

"No good will come of this," I muttered, mumbling through chattering teeth and trying to find some loving feeling.

"No, no," he whispered. "Good will come from our union. We will go beyond genetics!"

I was beginning to get lost in the mood when probing fingers reached from the dark earth, and pulled at my hair.

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National Flash Fiction Day

Have you heard about National Fiction Day yet? The idea was recently launched by Calum Kerr and it has already attracted a lot of attention. Flash Fiction worthies such as Tania Hershman, Vanessa Gebbie, David Gaffney, Kirsty Logan, Valerie O’Riordan, Nik Perring, Jonathan Pinnock and more, have already pledged their support.

Everything is gearing up to the Big Day on May 16th 2012 and if you want to know more, you can keep in touch by signing up to the mailing list at nationalflashfictionday@gmail.com or visiting the blog at: http://nationalflashfictionday.blogspot.com/. At some point in the future a website will be launched but you’ll hear more about that in the newsletter.

Happy Flash Fiction writing!

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