Posts Tagged ‘the scott prize’

I have to confess that I actually don’t have any words to explain how amazing this feels. Just a huge, enormous grin that can probably be seen from space. ūüėÄ

Oh oh oh – and the links to buy it, of course! It’s available direct from the Salt website, and also for pre-order from Amazon.

Wishing everyone a wonderful Christmas. xxx

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My short story “Edin-Burrow” has just been published online by the fantastic literary magazine, “The View From Here”. Hooray!

“Edin-Burrow” evolved from an extended version of a game of Consequences with a very dear friend in America. At the time, I was mostly interested in learning to speak American as part of the “New World Fairy Tales” project, and he just wanted to write cheerful Kick-Ass-type nonsense with a friend. So we took it in turns to write episodes of a ridiculous comic-fantasy story that began in the wall of the hero’s house and ended up in a pitched battle involving vampires and massive birds (that’s birds as in “really big avian creatures”, not “large British females”). Unsurprisingly, as of the time of writing this piece of magnificence remains unpublished.

As I recall, we spent most of this story just massively showing off to each other, deliberately leaving impossible cliff-hangers that the other one then had to resolve, implying an increasingly complicated and often contradictory back-story for the hero and introducing ever more outrageously stupid characters.

And then, about halfway through, I suddenly had one of those inexplicable moments where somebody else leans over your shoulder, takes hold of the end of your pen and forces you to write something entirely different. For no reason I could ever get to the bottom of, our smiling-idiot hero turned to camera and poured out a dark, tortured story about the time in his life he was most ashamed of.

It had so very little to do with anything else in the story that I nearly didn’t send it, but in the end I just wrote, “Erm, don’t know where this came from but, erm, here it is. I think there might be something wrong with me, actually” and pressed ‘send’.

The response was kind and lovely*, and encouraged me to work Jack’s unexpected sidetrack into a finished short piece. I decided to make him a stand-up comic because I’m fascinated by the disturbingly close connection between stand-up comedy and personal trauma. I once saw an interview with Sarah Millican where she said she became a comic after her personal therapist said to her at the end of a session, “You do know this is actually a stand-up comedy routine, right?” I’m very, very glad Millican has taken up comedy as a profession, because she’s brilliant. On the other hand, I can’t imagine how it must feel to know that even your therapist is laughing at the traumatic ending of your marriage. That uncomfortable tension between comedy and confession felt like exactly the right kind of space for Jack to share his story.

One of the things I love about “The View From Here” is that they illustrate the fiction they publish. Like most writers, there’s nothing I love more than knowing that someone out there understands what I was trying to do. Having a stranger quietly choose exactly the right images to highlight the key moments of your story is an incredible feeling.

So, yeah; that’s “Edin-Burrow”. I’d love to know what you think of it. As far as I can tell there isn’t a feedback mechanic on “The View From Here”, but if you’ve got any thoughts you’d like to share, please feel free to leave a comment on here instead. And do check out the rest of their published pieces as well. I’m in some fantastic company.

*Like his response isn’t engraved on my memory. What he actually said was, “Holy shit, you are a genius and I am not worthy”. Clearly not true. But that’s the kind of feedback that stays with you.

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Here’s an old advertising joke for you.

Question: How many creatives does it take to change a lightbulb?
Answer: Fuck off, I’m not changing a thing.

I told this joke to a good friend of mine, whose professional background happens to be in the creative industries. I told him this joke as a comment on how unreasonable we can all be when our work is being critiqued by others – even though it ultimately leads to a far, far better result. As we say in Yorkshire, he looked at me gone out, and said, “No. Just – no. Don’t let them touch a word. They’re your words. You’re the expert. Your publisher’s job is to package and sell. Let them change the frame. But not the picture.”

I was touched by his faith in my work, but I’m convinced he’s dead wrong.

Editors are vital. When editors cease to matter, book quality drops. We all know this, but I think I have a case study which actually proves it. I’m a huge fan of Stephen King – of his sustained craftsmanship over an enormous, epic career, and of his frankly slightly scary work-ethic. But if I go back to the eighties and compare the books he wrote as Richard Bachman to the books he wrote, during the same time period, as Stephen King, the Bachman books are orders-of-magnitude better.

Also – Susann’s “Valley of the Dolls” versus “The Love Machine” and “Once Is Not Enough”, and the camping chapters in “Deathly Hallows”.

I don’t know this for sure, but I have a theory that King, Susann and Rowling reached a point where they were so famous and successful they were able to resist the editing process. Or possibly their editors stopped trying quite so hard – because really, everyone was going to buy the book anyway. Whatever happened, the net effect was that, without brilliant editing, their books stopped being the genre-defining works of their generation, and merely became pretty damn good.

To offer a slightly frivolous analogy; I am, by a country mile, the person who spends the most amount of time dealing with my hair. I wash it; I blow-dry it; occasionally I even style it. But I know perfectly well that if I wander down the road to my hair-dresser, she will instantly have it looking twenty times better than I ever could. Sometimes what we need is not intimate knowledge, but professional expertise. Whose work doesn’t benefit from someone whose entire professional career is built on a deep and profound understanding of what good writing looks like?

Editing makes our books better. I passionately believe this.

But – having sweated blood to edit “New World Fairy Tales” down from its original 56,000 words to my closing position of just under 51,000, and having pressed “send” knowing fine and well that the brief was for collections “in the region of 45,000” – I’ll admit was still scared of the editing process.

I know my faults as a writer. Left to my own devices, I ramble and I over-punctuate. My own first edit always consists of fixing these two issues, at least as far as I can. But that’s always the sticking point, isn’t it? When you send off your manuscript, it’s as good as you can make it. You have reached the point where you, at least, can do no more. For it to get better, the only way forward is for someone else to take over.

I knew this right up to the moment when the edit file actually arrived in my in-box, at which point I instantly panicked about what I might find. I was assaulted by vivid memories of the many, many creative teams – oddly-dressed, eclectically-named, angry and defensive, treading the fine line between Saying What They Thought and Not Upsetting The Client – whose work I had cheerfully tweaked in my brand’s favour over a fifteen-year career in marketing.

Oh my God, I thought, staring madly at the email. I am now officially about to transform into that foldy-arms madwoman who won’t listen to reason.

Of course, as it turns out, Being Edited was exactly what my manuscript needed. Jen Hamilton-Emery at Salt took my rampaging punctuation in hand, reining in my excessive love for ellipses (which I sort of knew about really) and my over-use of the Oxford comma (which I didn’t). She also deleted one entire story; a simple but brilliant solution to the fact that I was six thousand words over the limit. Instead of the death-by-six-thousand-cuts I had been dreading, I had a clean amputation, which leaves an economically-viable collection and maybe even a potential nucleus for a future follow-up. Here’s hoping, anyway.

The best part; my work has been turned from a manuscript into a book. It looks like a book. It’s in a proper book font (Bembo 12 and 13.5). I actually get chills down my spine when I read it.

My book is better for being edited. My book is better for being edited. I always knew it would be, but now I believe it as well. The difference between what your head knows and what your heart feels is personal experience.

Now, if I could only get over my fascination for commas, and ellipses…

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So the thing is, when I originally wrote New World Fairy Tales, they were written as presents for friends and family, and for the sheer pleasure of writing them. Although I entered them into the Scott Prize, it was a big surprise to me when I made the shortlist. And until the moment when they announced me as one of the winners, I never expected the Fairy Tales to actually be published.

But of course, that didn’t stop me from picturing possible book covers in my head.

Despite never expecting publication, I had some very definite ideas about what I wanted my won’t-ever-actually-be-needed book cover to look like. It would have a slightly faded, muted colour-palette, in greens and golds and pinks and browns. There would be some sort of striking central image, although I was rather hazy on what that image might actually be; but it would be definitely something that was at once beautiful, retro and faintly disturbing. The title would be in a pretty, curlicued font, and the whole thing would have a vaguely antiquey feel. Best of all, it would have My Name at the top. In BIG letters.

At the risk of making this whole entry sound like a bad magic trick, I can confirm that until this moment, I have honestly never told anyone about this. My vision for the cover of New World Fairy Tales has never left the confines of my head.

And then, the draft cover – my draft cover – the draft cover for My Book, the book I never thought would actually be published, but loved and worked on anyway, just because it made me happy – arrived on my Facebook feed. And here it is:

I actually burst into tears when I saw it. It’s not often that life turns out exactly the way you dreamed about it, but this definitely one of those times. I can only conclude that somebody at Salt is psychic.

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The Scott Prize  is an international competition for a first collection of short stories by a single author, run by the renowned independent publisher Salt Publishing.

For the last year or so, I’ve been working on New World Fairy Tales¬†– a collection of seven short stories based on tales from the Grimm brothers’¬†Kinder und Hausmarchen, re-told in contemporary American settings. They were originally written as Christmas and birthday presents for a group of seven much-beloved friends and family.

OMG! I made the shortlist!
So in March this year, I was thrilled to discover that New World Fairy Tales had¬†made the shortlist. Because this is the twenty-first century, I found out this out in what is clearly the only proper way to learn anything these days, which is to have someone you’ve only met once tell you via a comment on a mutual friend’s Facebook feed. I think we were discussing cake recipes or trolls in the attic or something, and then my once-met friend-of-a-friend suddenly posted the following:

“PS are you the Cassandra Parkin who’s just been nominated for the Scott Prize? If so, congratulations!”

So I went to the Salt blog, and, blimey – I had made the shortlist.

A Hundred And One Things To Do While You’re Waiting For The Announcement To Be Made

On May 9th, possibly the longest day of my life so far commenced. I waited as patiently as I could for the announcement, but I’m really not very good with patient, so this was “patient” in the very special sense of “haunting the Salt blog, muttering, eating stuff and pressing F5 a lot” . Having been caught napping on the shortlist announcement, I was determined that this time at least, I was going to be the first to know what was happening.

Hours passed. F5. F5. F5. Several boxes of raisins. F5. F5. F5. F5. Prawns in filo pastry. F5. F5. F5. Fruitbread. F5. F5. F5. Elderly chunk of marzipan found in the back of the cupboard.  F5. F5. F5. F5. F5. F5. F5. F5. Nothing.

I went out for a long walk, just me and the sunshine and my BlackBerry. Browser Рfavourites Рblog.saltpublishing.com Рrefresh. Nothing. Repeat for about five miles. Still nothing. Finally return back  home to continue stalking activities.

F5. F5. F5. Fourth Diet Coke of the day. F5. F5. F5. Oh my GOD, it’s a new post. Here we go. Take a deep breath…remember, it was an honour just to be shortlisted…

…and…it’s not the shortlist. And I have no more reserves in me. This is honestly all the cyber-stalking I am capable of undertaking. If I keep doing this I may actually die from the pain of anticipation.

Now what happens?

So I went to the supermarket, and did the shopping, and came home. And just as I was unpacking the yoghurts, my lovely husband rang me, and said, “You’ve won.” He’d been keeping a sneaky eye on the Salt Twitter feed, and had exited his meeting at maximum velocity to tell me the news.

So, in November 2011, New World Fairy Tales will be published. And I feel like a proper writer at last.


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