Today marks the stop in New Zealand for the PANGEA BLOG TOUR. It began in July in Bristol, England and has move to California (with Gay Degani), Nokia online, back to Bristol (Deborah Rickard), and Ireland (with Nuala Ni Chonchuir).
And now PANGEA is here.
For this portion of PANGEA’s Blog Tour, I bring you a blog post by Clayton Lister, whose short story ‘The Undercurrent’ is included in the PANGEA anthology. A little about Clayton:
Clayton is a Londoner whose sole remaining connection with the city is Arsenal Football Club. He has recently moved from Oxfordshire to Northumberland, and lives with his partner and daughter. Most of his working life has been in social care, supporting people with learning disabilities. He has completed an MA in Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia and is currently trying to interest publishers in a collection of short stories – of which ‘The Undercurrent’ is one – and his novel, Tom Thumb’s Chunky Blues. The latter is about a rather ill-planned adventure that two men with learning disabilities go on from their homes in the Home Counties to Newcastle. ‘The Undercurrent’ was highly commended in the HISSAC 2008 short story competition and published in Scribble No. 46.
And now, here’s Clayton in his own words, talking about how to deal with both rejection and find acceptance. In fewer than twelve steps.
I don’t know if this is the same for other writers who have difficulty placing stories. But there’s always been this little devil sitting on my shoulder whispering, ‘You’re rubbish, you are. Go on, write a note to the milkman. See if that doesn’t come back with a rejection slip.’
Well, a few years back I must have turned a corner quickly and lost him because I’d managed to work up a collection that I thought wasn’t so bad. After one of the stories, I called it The Cracked Objective Lens. That summed it up nicely, thematically. For some flaw in their perspective, none of the lead protagonists properly understand the situations they find themselves in, consequently act questionably. Not everybody’s cup of story maybe. But there was a good variety of characters, humour thrown in too — as long as you like your humour a little on the dark side. If these stories weren’t being picked up by magazines or placed in competitions, it was because — oh, I don’t know. Their word count was too high, I was using the wrong font, editors and judges didn’t like the smell of my paper.
Hmm. He found me again, that devil. Damn him.
Anyway, a friend told me about WriteWords. I wasn’t keen. There were these what? Groups? Groups of writers? Is that what she thought I’d come to, my supposedly closest friend — ‘Hello, my name’s Clay and I’m [big breath] a short story writer.’ All those long lonely hours sat at the laptop, curtains drawn, door locked against that spiteful little devil. (He’d grown a goatee by now, taken to wearing a ruff, would keep jabbing me in the neck with a quill and saying things like, ‘What, can the devil speak true?’) Was I sick? Did I need help?
Well, yeah. Obviously. Because no sooner had I started acting on advice offered by my fellow WriteWords members than these stories began to get picked up. It started as a drip. That’s become a torrent. (Did I say, ‘torrent’? Sorry. That’s a different devil altogether urging me on now. ‘Go on,’ he’s saying. ‘Tell them you won the Bridport Prize — under a pseudonym. They won’t know.’) It’s become a steady trickle, I should say. Over half the stories in the collection have since found a home.
My point is, I’d thought it was a solitary pursuit, this writing lark. It is, of course, but needs to be only to a point much closer to the start of the process than I had ever imagined. I imagined editorial advice was the preserve of editors — if you made it through their slush pile. But, as it’s turned out, how much more rewarding the advice from a bunch of peers? You don’t have to accept all the criticism offered, of course — you probably would wind up being really rubbish if you did; but having a choice of crits to act on — or, if you’re lucky, a consensus — that’s more than helpful. I’d say, actually, that’s quite a privilege — earned sure enough — because you do have to put in what you want to take out. But a privilege just the same.
And when you have a site expert like Becca and committed fellow members like Indira to initiate and manage successfully a project like Pangea — well, who could possibly not be convinced? No other placement has given me the satisfaction that The Undercurrent’s selection for this anthology has. How flattering not even to have had to go through the usual confidence cracking ordeal of submitting a story! That’s a whole other level of privilege, that is.
But the best thing about my WriteWords experience? (I let my membership lapse when I started writing a novel.) The very act of undergoing it shook that pesky devil clean off my shoulder. There’s something to be said for being part of a group after all.
Cheers, Becca. Cheers, Indira. Cheers, everyone at WriteWords.