Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Interview with Commonwealth Prize Regional Winner - Tracy Fells


Today, I welcome back to my blog my good writing friend, and competition queen, Tracy Fells. The reason I've brought her back is because she's just had a momentous win - regional finalist of the Commonwealth Short Story Prize no less! It's an occasion that cannot be left unmarked so I thought you might like to hear more about her winning entry and Tracy's route to competition success.

First of all, congratulations on being regional winner of the Commonwealth Short Story Prize. Can you tell us a little more about the competition?

Thank you, Wendy! The Commonwealth Short Story Prize is run annually and is FREE to enter so it really is worth entering. However, you can only enter if you can demonstrate you are a national of one of the Commonwealth countries (if you get shortlisted you do have to provide proof!). From the shortlist five regional winners are chosen and I was lucky enough to win for Canada & Europe region. The five winning stories are published – this year they are on Granta magazine’s website – and then an overall winner is chosen (£5,000 is the prize). The competition usually opens in September and closes early November – more details here: http://www.commonwealthwriters.org/

You’ve been writing (and winning) competitions for a while now. Was this your first attempt at this prize?

No, not at all. In fact this is the second year I’ve reached the shortlist (first back in 2014), so I was amazed to hear another story had done it again. Looking at my competition spreadsheet (yes, I’m that anal) I can see that this year was the sixth time I’ve entered, proving that persistence pays off!

Your story The Naming of Moths is a worthy winner (I should know as I’ve read it) how would you describe it?

Hmm, I know you would describe it as a typical Tracy Fells’ story, as it has a distinctive thread of magical realism. Its origins come from an ancient folk legend but I would describe it as a contemporary fairy tale and love story.

What gave you your inspiration for the story?

Get yourself a cup of tea as this make take some time … September 2013 I was holidaying with hubby in Swanage (south coast of England). On a blustery and wet coastal walk we took shelter in a cliff-side castle’s café. The walls of that café were covered in glass panels – etched into the glass were the names of hundreds and hundreds of moths. I now wish I’d taken a photo at the time. The names were incredibly varied, lyrical and many of them were beautiful and not scientific at all. This gave me the title of a short story: The Naming of Moths. Unfortunately, the rest of the story refused to emerge even though I knew it would focus on moths and their names. Fast forward to early January 2016 and I was itching to write a story bringing in Hebrew folk history. Some inspiration came from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series and ‘Feet of Clay’ in particular. Other research came from watching episodes of Supernatural and The X-Files. Then I can’t really remember but suddenly the full story sort of appeared in my head and I was ready to write it. I wish I could share the process (so I could replicate it myself!) but I trust to my subconscious to join the dots together.

If interested there’s a video of me talking about the story up on the Commonwealth Writers website here: http://www.commonwealthwriters.org/cssp-2017/

How long did it take you to write?

Again, I have a spreadsheet to check as I record daily any word count and what I was working on. Therefore, I can tell you the first draft was written over two days: 30 – 31 March 2016. It was reviewed by my workshop group, then further edits and proofread by hubby. Though I confess this was a story that wrote itself (when I actually sat down to it) and took little editing time to clean up. Some stories – often the really successful ones – are like that.

Are you a planner or a pantster when it comes to your competition stories?

This is easy! I am a planner and proud of it. I plan everything I write and can’t even begin to start the writing process until the arc of the story is complete in my head.

It’s rude, I know, to discuss money but…. let’s discuss money! The Commonwealth Prize is a serious win – mind spilling the beans?

Okay, just because it’s you, Wendy. I’ve won £2,500, which is the biggest prize I’ve won to date. As mentioned above the overall winner receives £5,000, which is still to be announced.

The presentation is going to be held somewhere very exciting. Can you tell us about it?

All the regional winners are being flown to Singapore for the prize giving event on 30 June (to be held in The Arts House, which looks beautiful). We’re staying on for a weekend of writing Masterclasses with Jacob Ross, one of the judges. To be honest this trip feels like winning another prize!

What are you most looking forward to on your visit?

Meeting the other regional winners and just experiencing Singapore. I’ve never visited Singapore or this part of the world so just hoping to soak it all up and not wilt in the heat …

What next for Tracy Fells. More competitions or a larger project perhaps?

As a short story writer I will continue entering competitions as these are one of the best ways to get your work noticed. I’ve just finished a new story which I’m hoping to enter into the Brighton Short Story Prize. I will be writing more short stories and flash, because how could I stop! And I’m excited about a new project, a novel which I hope to begin after the summer. It will have magical realism and all the elements that signal a Tracy Fells’ story! Right now I’m in that thinking phase for the novel, so not ready to start writing …

You can read Tracy's winning story here


If you want to find out more about Tracy’s writing then she shares a blog with The Literary Pig http://tracyfells.blogspot.com. You can also follow her on Twitter: @theliterarypig.

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Annie's Lovely Choir by the Sea - Guest Post Liz Eeles


I've said before how delighted I am to invite writing friends onto my blog to celebrate their successes and today is no exception. Author Liz Eeles lives very close to me on the South Coast and and we met through the RNA New Writers' Scheme. Last month Liz's debut romantic comedy, Annie's Lovely Choir by the Sea, was published by Bookouture and I thought it would be nice to find out more about Liz, her writing and her road to publication.


We’re in a lift. Sell me your novel before we reach the ground floor.

Romantic comedy Annie’s Lovely Choir by the Sea is Long Lost Family meets Poldark with a touch of Gareth Malone thrown in. City girl Annie struggles to adapt to life in a Cornish village with the great-aunt she’s only just met. Salt Bay is wet, windy and practically Wi-Fi-free and Annie is determined to escape – but then she learns of a local tragedy and resurrects the village choir in a bid to bring the community together.

Annie’s Lovely Choir by the Sea is set in Cornwall. Why this county?

I love Cornwall and it was the ideal location for Londoner Annie who feels like a fish out of water but gradually falls for the place and its people. I’m particularly fond of the Penzance area so that’s where I set the fictional village of Salt Bay. This necessitated a week-long holiday in Cornwall – for research purposes, obviously.

Do you base any of your characters on real people?

No, they’re all made-up though, in my head, handsome Cornish teacher Josh looks like a cross between Aidan Turner and Richard Armitage. A couple of people have said that Annie sometimes reminds them of me, which I’m taking as a compliment even though she’s rather sweary and has commitment issues.

How long did it take you to write the novel?

Not as long as my first novel, thank goodness, which took AGES because I kept faffing about with it. That book is now shut away in a drawer where it belongs. I was far more focused when it came to writing Annie’s Lovely Choir by the Sea and, in all, it took about a year from starting the first draft to having a completed version of the book that was published last month. 

Are you a pantster or do you plot?

Plot, definitely. Without a fairly tight framework, I write myself into a corner and end up banging my head on the desk. Having said that, there’s enough flexibility in my plot for storylines to develop unexpectedly as I write and sometimes head off at tangents. So maybe there’s a tad of pantsing mixed up in there.

Do you have a special time for writing? How is your day structured?

I probably should have a special time for writing each day but I’m horribly unstructured. My plan is to write in the morning but life gets in the way and I sometimes find myself notching up my word count at midnight. The only time I’m properly focused is when I’m on a tight deadline – then, I write all day until my eyes go blurry.

What did you find most difficult when writing your novel?

The most difficult thing was letting the novel go at the end, when it was written, edited and ready to be published. I always think it can be improved so doing a final read-through, accepting it was finished, and stepping back was painful. Even though I’m proud of the book and how well it’s doing, I can’t bear to read it now it’s published.

I know that you are in a choir yourself.  Can you tell me a little about it?

I’ve loved singing since joining my school choir and singing in Gloucester Cathedral – I went to an all-girls school and we got to sing with a local boys’ school which might explain my initial enthusiasm. Now I belong to a choir in my home town near Brighton and we sing everything from Mozart to Les Miserables. Choirs can bring communities together, as well as being great fun, and I wanted to get that across in my novel.

You secured a publishing deal with Bookouture without having an agent -  do you think that the role of a literary agent is as important as it once was?

As a debut author, I don’t feel I can answer that with any authority. All I know is that I’m doing ok without an agent, though I wouldn’t rule out trying to nab one in the future.

What next for Liz Eeles?

I’m very happy with Bookouture and have signed with them to write three books in the Salt Bay series. Right now, I’m working on a Christmas sequel to Annie’s Lovely Choir by the Sea which is due for publication around October time, with book three out next Spring. After that, who knows? Lots more books, I hope.




You can buy Annie's Lovely Choir by the sea here

You can follow Liz on Facebook here

or on Twitter here: @lizeelesauthor

Liz began her writing career as a journalist for newspapers and magazines before moving into the health sector as a communications manager and press officer. The low point of her career was abandoning an interview with Cliff Richard after two questions because she was about to faint – her excuse is that she was newly pregnant at the time.

Liz is from Gloucestershire but now lives by the sea in West Sussex with her husband and grown-up daughter. She spends a lot of time meaning to meditate, avoiding exercise, and missing her son who lives in London.


Monday, 5 June 2017

Like buses...


I was thinking the other day how good news in our writing world comes like buses. One day, there is no bus in sight (and you begin to imagine you'll be standing at that stop waiting for forever) and then the next minute two of more come along.

I had that feeling recently. I'd been working on my novel and had been subbing less magazine stories than usual during the previous months. Because of this, I hadn't had a sale for a while and my stories hadn't been appearing so frequently in the magazines. It was only to be expected but it made me sad nonetheless.

Had my stop become obsolete?

Were the buses favouring the stop round the corner with the new bus shelter and the shiny stop sign?

Then... just like those buses... good news came around the corner and pulled up at my bus stop. The driver waved two story sales at me and, just as I was preparing to leave that bus stop the following day, he waved two more!

"Oh, and you have two stories out this week," he said before pulling away.

And I did!

Yippee!

I'll try not to complain about having to wait for a bus again.

My story, 'On the Shore' and 'The Gift of Hope' can be found in this week's The People's Friend and The People's Friend Special.