The Fantasies of Writing

by Maxine Linnell

How many people do you meet who have always wanted to write a book? I seem to meet them all the time. And I was one of them until three years ago. I wrote my first poem at four, about a candle. My first book was for children, completed when I was about twenty. I sent it off to a publisher, who wrote back fairly quickly rejecting it, but inviting me to write another longer book for older children. If I’d known then what I know now, I’d have run to my desk to do exactly that – it was an opening for the publishing I dreamed about. Instead I allowed it to convince me that I was no good as a writer, had nothing to say, and should give up the whole project.

The fantasies of writing led me to university to read English. At the time, the syllabus was almost entirely pre-twentieth century literature, and almost entirely written by men. There was no room for students’ own creativity, and my efforts at reviewing for the newspaper and writing for the magazine went unnoticed. I felt squashed under the weight of all these classics, all this marvellous, inimitable literature. Even if I could write well, the world didn’t need more books: there were far too many to read already.

I ended up writing in other ways – essays, lectures, editorials for a magazine I edited for ten years. I supported other people in their wish to be creative, to write that novel, paint that picture. There was success, but not in the area which I’d always known was closest to my heart.

And then, much later, I got ill – not in a life-threatening way, but as I recovered slowly I realised that I mustn’t wait any longer. There was never going to be a magic ‘right time’, and I didn’t want to end up with this big regret. I knew some of the things that made it difficult for me to write – the aloneness, the lack of identifiable goals and structures. So I went about finding some of those structures outside. I enrolled on an MA in Creative Writing at Nottingham Trent University. I knew that I was there mainly to be given deadlines, projects and encouragement – and that it would be whatever I made of it.

I put many hours into the work, did extra groups, made writing contacts and friends. The certificate was not important, but two years of having other people take my work more seriously than I did were central. I also joined Leicester Writers’ Club, a group of over forty writers, published and yet-to-be-published, who meet every week to support each other, encourage development through feedback, and celebrate successes.

Within the two years of the course I finished my first book. I sent it out to nineteen agents and publishers, and each time it came back I took a deep breath and sent it out again. The twentieth saw something she liked, and we met up. The first disappointment was that she didn’t think this book would sell at this stage. I could have given up yet again, but I decided to take up her offer – to support me in writing a second book. This time I knew how much the offer was worth. The ideas came easily, the book was easier to write than the first. Vintage – a book about adolescence and identity, covering 1962 and 2010, arrived.

The book went out to publishers, and found an independent publisher – Ross Bradshaw at Five Leaves – who read it overnight and wanted it. Several edits later, I’ve just received the proofs to read. And I also received a commission to retell three novels by Thomas Hardy for children.

So in 2010 there will be four precious books out with my name on the front cover. Do I wish I’d done it earlier? Yes. Am I glad I’ve done it now? A hundred times yes.

Maxine Linnell lives in Leicester. Her book Vintage will be published by Five Leaves in 2010, and is about adolescence - in 1962 and 2010. She has also published poetry and short stories, and wants to do more and more.

Photo credit above: Lil Larkie 
Author photo : Rod Duncan

A Childhood In Fiction

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by Jane Turley

Books played a vital role in my childhood. Forty years ago, before the advent of computers and game stations my days were spent drawing, making mud pies and, most significantly, reading. My world was one of fairytales and fables, myths and legends, witches and wizards. With no Sonic or Mario to distract me the open pages of a book were the places where my imagination took flight. Like Dorothy, I was swept away to a land of make believe.

My first school memory was being the second child drawn to the front of the class to read aloud from a newspaper, the reward for becoming a competent reader. I recall too that Sarah, my best friend, was first and though pleased for her I jealously noted that she was 5 months older and so must have received an unfair advantage.

Those early days were filled with Ladybird editions and picture books where simple texts were enhanced by pictures of handsome princes, hideous ogres and rosebud princesses. I remember too sitting in my grandmother’s high bed listening to her read more advanced texts like The Little Princess. I was fascinated by the written word and, more often than not, in my mind I became the central character. Indeed some nights, before I understood religion, I prayed that I would be left a sparkling dress like Cinderella. Of course it never happened but nevertheless the disappointment never stopped me from fantasizing.

But it was in 1973, having just turned eight, when something happened that made me not just an imaginative reader but an avid and inspired one. My grandparents took my sister and I on holiday to Portugal and one day, whilst browsing the gift shops, my grandparents stopped to peruse a rotating bookstand on the sidewalk. Exclamations abounded as on the stand they found a copy of their son in law’s first novel, Run Down. They were amazed to find it in such an unexpected place and duly bought the book and a postcard to send him on which they wrote “Run Down to Faro.”

You'd never guess from this cover that my uncle's book was published in the 1970s would you? (Possibly, it might also have contained some violence.)

Of course, for a young girl interested in books, it was exciting enough to discover my uncle was an author but whilst my grandparents enthused something even more important was about to happen. As I too spun the bookstand I found a book that would set me on course for a lifetime of reading. For there, amongst the holiday reads, I discovered The Famous Five.

I can’t remember which adventure it was now, although my favourite has always been Five on a Hike Together, but Julian, Dick, Anne, George and Timmy awoke in me a new love of fiction. Their wonderful adventures seemed almost real and tangible; I didn’t need golden tresses or magic tinder boxes, all that was required of me were potted shrimp sandwiches and lashings of ginger beer. Perhaps it’s not surprising then that on returning to England, I made fast tracks to our mobile library and within a very short time I’d read the entire collection.

I say, what a super, corking read! Hoorah!

The library was my salvation. My childhood was relatively frugal and books were purchased sparingly but in the library I found an endless supply. Having quickly devoured the likes of Enid Blyton, Ruth M Arthur, C S Lewis, and Tolkien I moved into the adult section. No one ever queried my reading choices and nothing was off limits. It was a less politically correct world back then and thank goodness for that.

At about nine I was moved into the notorious Miss Walsh’s class. Although past her prime, freckled and with slightly hunched shoulders Miss Walsh was still sharp in intelligence and tongue. Miss Jean Brodie was, alas, but a poor imitation. Miss Walsh frequently interspersed her teaching with tales of The Blitz, London’s theatres and other curious events but when it came to education she meant business and her Speed Reading Challenge was one of her favoured tools. It was glorious to win but then there was always the catch - recounting the story in minute detail to the entire class. No doubt Miss Walsh was an oddity but if ever I thought her tales were untrue my thoughts were banished when in the course of time I inherited from her a 1935 copy of Theatre World, autographed by Laurence Olivier.

It was with Miss Walsh’s expert training I sped through the shelves of the mobile library and by my early teens my first port of call was the returns section which I would scan for interesting unread novels before heading to look for my preferred authors. With a taste for adventures with the human touch I became particularly fond of wartime tales, both fictional and autobiographical. Nevil Shute, Douglas Reeman and Alistair Maclean were firm favourites. But by then, I’d also discovered Ian Fleming and it was with Bond that my destiny as a thrill seeking, adventure loving, gun toting groupie was finally set.

Today, now I’m past my prime too and heading for Sunset Avenue my reading has diversified. In recent years, as a member of a book club, I’ve read novels that previously I would never have even contemplated. It’s been, I guess, a “novel” experience. And now, with or without my Book Club Ladies, I’ll read just about any genre and attempt any book. It’s been rejuvenating. However, without a doubt, my first true fictional love will always be the wonderful world of adventures that began on a bookstand back in 1973.

You know, over the years there’s been as much criticism as there has been praise for Enid Blyton but I, for one, will always be grateful to her for setting me on the path to a lifetime of thrills, spills and spiffing good yarns.

Some of my favourite books which did make it onto my book shelves. Not as gruesome as my uncle's book but that witch in the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was pretty beastly I can tell you.

The Ghost Poetry Project: an interview with Nathan Curnow - Part Two

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by Paul

Read Part One of this interview here.

The Ghost Poetry Project is something of a rarity among poetry anthologies: it's a page-turner.  Not only is its premise intriguing (ten nights spent in ten haunted locations to explore the nature of "fear, courage, and the power of mystery and myth"), but, with each section introduced by a brief description of that particular location's history and reputation, the reader feels compelled to follow the journey... alert, breath held, eyes peeled.  And the richness of the writing leads us on.  We track each phrase, each image, through a startling broadness of range - of voice, style and vision - and frequently discover an incisive sharpness of focus that is haunting in its own right and which brings each stage of the adventure vividly to life.

From the prosaic Preparation:
My wife buys three stones for their spiritual powers, says they need
to be touching my skin.  She wants me to practice holding them as
if it's easy to get that wrong.  And all the sachets in the hotel room
I am meant to swipe for her collection.  She just loves the trim of
their packaging.  It's not stealing if they expect to replace them.

to the deftly juxtaposed Slater Bug  and Colour of Asphyxiation ("he has got to understand for the good/of himself, how much love she has to give") - so evocative that I almost found myself curling up on the floor in a tight ball and gasping for breath.  From the picturesque Postcard from Richmond Bridge ("A boy with a net, his pants cuffed high, stirs/the silt of the riverbed.  With each careful step/bright scimitars clash, a crusade of light on stone.") to the humorous Portrait of a Headless Man Wearing a Straw Boater Hat.

What was the most interesting, intriguing or scary experience you had when staying at the ten haunted sites?

It was midnight and I was standing on the 
staircase of what many consider to be South Australia’s most haunted building, a cell-block inside Old Adelaide Gaol.  I had been taken on a one-on-one five hour tour and was dead-bored and tired when my guide said: Did you hear that?  It was faint at first but enough to interrupt his stories, a tapping noise at the top-left hand side of the stairs.

The sound grew louder until it was like a cane being struck on a ballroom floor, like a rack of billiard balls breaking open.  Access to the second level was blocked by an iron, padlocked gate, and based upon what I knew of the gaol, which is run by volunteers, the chances of a prankster hiding up there was so remote it was ridiculous.  But it kept on, over and over, echoing through the entire wing.

We returned twice more and within a minute of our arrival the sound started up again. 

There are frequent sightings, day and night, of a figure at the top left-hand side of the stairs but with numerous executions and suicides having occurred in the building, it’s impossible to know who it might be.

Oh and then there was the ghost train of Picton Tunnel.  But that’s another story… 

Can you describe how you approach writing – specifically the poems that comprise The Ghost Poetry Project?  Do you start with a phrase, an impression, an observation?

The project put me under intense creative pressure, which means I now have a much better understanding of how I work.  To be honest, I wasn’t sure I could pull the project off.  I had never written so hard before, and as a result I learnt how to find poems in a very short, intense amount of time.

Arriving at each site I would scavenge for information.  I talked to anyone/everyone, listening to what they were and weren’t saying.  I took photos and brochures and remained as alert as possible to the environment I occupied.  This meant that when I arrived back home I would have enough stories, along with my own experiences, to go to for inspiration.

So yes, a phrase, an impression, an observation… these were all catalysts.  And poems often spring from juxtapositions or symbolic moments, like the story of the ‘prisoner’ at Fremantle Lunatic Asylum who desperately threw a love letter weight by a stone over the wall to a woman he’d seen on the other side.  But always there is the hard slog of working a poem into what it’s trying to be.  You write a word, you cross it out, you try another.

It’s notoriously difficult to get poetry published – especially an anthology – so perhaps you could say something about this side of things.

Poetry in Australia has been largely abandoned by the major publishers because there is this entrenched belief that poetry doesn’t/won’t sell.  And I’m not naïve, but I do think that this ‘given’ should be challenged on a regular basis.  If there are low expectations for a book then it won’t be supported with publicity, which means it won’t sell and then we’re back again to low expectations.  It’s a wicked trap, but I think that some books of poetry can be circuit breakers if given half a chance.

That’s where small presses like Puncher and Wattmann come in.  Based in Sydney, and despite limited resources, it has been punching above its weight for years.  It has vision and takes the kind of risks that the major publishers (who can afford to) should be taking.

"This book must have the strangest ever provenance of any collection of poetry in Australia.  Only a vampire or a Nathan Curnow could have done this... These poems come drenched with the bloody and violent  deaths central to the history of European occupation in this country.  But they are not ghoulish or sensational.  They are the real thing, both 'transparent and completely solid'."
- Kevin Brophy
Now that The Ghost Poetry Project is published and available in booksellers, what next? 

Thanks again to the Australia Council I am currently working on a new play based upon the convict stories I collected during The Ghost Poetry Project.  In particular the dog chain at Eaglehawk Neck in Tasmania.
The dog chain was a line of savage dogs that stretched across a narrow strip of land between the brutal prison of Port Arthur and the settlement of Hobart.  Any convict that escaped had to confront the dogs sooner or later and figure out a way to cross without being mauled to death.  Only three convicts ever made it across.

What’s your vision for yourself as a poet, playwright and performer?  What would you like to accomplish in, say, the next ten years?

I guess the plan first and foremost is to keep writing somehow.  It’s a roller-coaster of a life, and not only do you have to ride it but you have to lay the track at the same time.  A little more security would be good, but that’s often in short supply for poets and playwrights.  As long as I keep learning how to balance it all so that in another ten years I can say:  I’m still here, writing hard, interpreting the world the only way I know how, through language.

Thank you, Nathan, and all the very best for you and The Ghost Poetry Project.


The Ghost Poetry Project by Nathan Curnow
(Puncher & Wattmann, 2009)
ISBN 978-1-92145018-1

Shanta Everington Joins The View From Here

Just in time for the Christmas party next month author, Shanta Everington, joins the crew here at The View From Here.

(Cue applause as she waves- she is friendly as well as being talented!)

Watch out for her monthly article from her view of  literary life starting in December ...  

Shanta is the author of one novel for adults, Marilyn and Me (Cinnamon Press, 2007), and one novel for teenagers, Give Me a Sign (Flame Books, 2008), Shanta has an MA in Creative Writing with Distinction from Manchester Metropolitan University and teaches Creative Writing with The Open University. Recent successes include a story shortlisted for The Bridport Prize 2009 and a winning entry in the Tonto Even More Short Stories competition 2009. Shanta lives in London, UK, with her husband and young son. 

Visit Shanta's site

The Ghost Poetry Project: an interview with Nathan Curnow - Part One

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Nathan Curnow
interview by Paul

I'm something of a mailbox junkie.  There, I've confessed it.  There's nothing quite like opening the mailbox and discovering a wad of envelopes waiting to reveal their secrets.  Why, even half a dozen bills and bank statements bring an excitement akin to Christmas morning.  So imagine my delight when, out of the empty blue, a large padded envelope was delivered a few weeks back and, within the envelope, a book: The Ghost Poetry Project by Nathan Curnow.

The best gifts are surprise gifts - unbirthday presents - as this was.  Packed and posted by a good friend, who thought I might enjoy it.  And I did.  So much so, that I felt compelled to track down its author, Nathan Curnow, and interview him for The View from Here.

Ten nights.  Ten haunted locations. One terrifying adventure across Australia.  From a gaol cell to a lunatic asylum to a night in a haunted hearse, The Ghost Poetry Project is one poet's attempt to find a language of guts and daring.  A unique exploration of fear, courage, and the power of mystery and myth.

Perhaps we could start with you describing your journey as a writer.  How did you arrive at being a poet?

About ten years ago I decided that I wanted to become an international best-selling author.  It was at a particularly lonely point in my life and I thought that if I became a successful writer, and knew myself as one, then everything would be resolved and fall into place.

I began obsessively, as if trying to gain control of my life, hungry and tenacious and so wonderfully deluded.  But my skills didn’t develop until I enrolled in a creative writing course at university.  It was there I became exposed to a wider range of texts, and saw for the first time what contemporary poetry really was.

I suddenly realised that there were all sorts of writers, and found myself choosing the form of poetry whenever I had something to say.  I guess the demands of it attracted me.  For some reason it just seemed a natural fit.

As a poet, playwright and performer, how do these different roles influence the way you work and the way you see the world?

Poetry and plays are very similar.  There are common elements to both, such as musicality, rhythm, economy of language, layering of ideas and symbols etc.  So for me the working process is also very similar.  But performing is something else entirely.

Performance is putting yourself at-risk in a very public, immediate and sometimes unforgiving way.  There are so many risk-factors, and that’s the adrenalin rush of it.  If it all goes well you find yourself knitted to the audience, sharing an experience as the piece reveals itself to you in a new way as well.  Or else, sometimes no matter how prepared you are, the planets just don’t align and there’s a heckler to deal with or the microphone doesn’t work.
With performance I’m most interested in the process of presentation/representation.  Unlike the blank space of the page the performer is far from neutral.  The audience begins to make assumptions as soon as you take to the stage.  So the performer becomes the appearance, rhythm and voice of the piece while also having to step out of the way of it, letting it speak through them as if they aren’t necessary/essential to its delivery.  It’s the art of being present and unattached at the same time.  Visible and invisible.

I’m reminded of that wonderful poem by Australian poet Sarah Day titled Cat Bird where the cat through the slow act of stalking not only becomes invisible to the bird, but in some way the bird itself.

How did The Ghost Poetry Project germinate as an idea and how did you go about developing it?

The Ghost Poetry Project sprang from an interest in fear, courage and how language works to both terrify and embolden us.  One of my kids was particularly afraid of bunyips (a monster from indigenous stories/dreaming) and no matter how we tried to explain them to her or explain how fear operated, nothing could relieve it.  Until one day a school friend told her that: bunyips only eat avocados, and right then, with those four simple words, her fear totally disappeared.

So I wanted to explore this mystery, and immersing myself in an extreme situation such as at haunted sites around Australia seemed a good way to explore fear, courage and the power of story and suggestion.

When the Australia Council for the Arts decided to fund the project there was definitely no backing out.  I chose ten sites to stay at within twelve months, a real variety of places that might give each chapter (of about seven to eight poems) its own flavour.  So I ended up in a gaol cell, an old Lunatic Asylum, a museum, a spooky mansion and even in a haunted hearse.

at four am the street sweeper brushes
the room with unequivocal light

a swift exhibition like a beating of wings
the knuckled man inside me clenching

this remarkable darkness in secret places
the gutters of my aching flesh

stiff with the drawing heaving up
leaking from the purse of my mouth

(from Unequivocal Light, The Ghost Poetry Project)

What was the most interesting, intriguing or scary experience you had when staying at the ten haunted sites?

For the answer to this, see Part Two ... coming soon. 

(Editors note: Time travel into the future for part 2 here.) 


The Ghost Poetry Project by Nathan Curnow
(Puncher & Wattmann, 2009)
ISBN 978-1-92145018-1

Celebs in Writing Distress: Lily Cole

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by The Lone Ranger

Hi Lone Ranger

Gosh I'm such a big fan of you and like all your heroic stuff.

So, I'm writing my first novel at the moment and I'm basing it on the Adam and Eve story. My question is, there is a lot of nudity in the book and I'm not sure how graphic I should make the sex scenes? And I'm really stuck with what to call "things".

Help me Lone Ranger!

love Lily X

P.S Can you send me a signed nude photo of you riding Silver? (Just put love to Lily.)

Dear Lily

Gosh my girl, I cannot send you a nude photo of myself, get a grip. As to your question, well it depends, writing sex scenes is very hard and if not done right just come over as laughable.  First forget your Mum and everybody else and enter the world you are creating without any inhibitions. Then write what feels right for your story - is it important to describe things? Does it add to the tone and story? Is it better to leave things to the readers' imagination? If you do describe the act of sex itself, then do be careful with your choice of words, having made the decision to describe it don't come over all shy in your word choice - the reader has to believe what is going on, not be jarred out of the story.  As to "what to call things?" - it is a problem and you have to use your skill as a writer to decide which words to use - for example "tits" or "boobs" can make you sound like you are a Sun newspaper writer, but may work depending on the style of the narrative.

I'm off to have a shower.

The Lone Ranger

In Defence of Prizes

by Gavin Freeguard

One of the interweaving plotlines in Sebastian Faulks’ latest novel, the state-of-the-nation A Week in December, revolves around the state of the literary world, and specifically, the state of literary prizes.

And what a state it is.

The Pizza Palace Award, the focus of one of the characters’ attention, gets a deep panning. It serves only to increase pizza sales – a winning book about Hitler is tastefully honoured with a vegetarian layer – and to provide employment for a public relations company. (And, of course, drinks for the witless glittering literati). Such is the proliferation of prizes that one of the characters, clutching her copy of a novel, ‘could barely see the photo on the jacket – a barefoot waif in a bomb site – for the prize sponsors’ bright stickers’; as her husband remarks, the book has ‘more endorsements than your driving licence’. Books are not books – they are simply commercial products like any other, and like the pizzas whose sales the prize seeks to increase.

If any of those things ever becomes true of the Orwell Prize, which I administer, you have – to paraphrase Sir Steve Redgrave – my permission to shoot me with the looks of disdain normally reserved by broadsheet reviewers for Dan Brown.

Prizes are not perfect. Many are set up by enterprising PR companies to provide themselves with work; the equivalent of going on an Easter egg hunt when you’ve laid all the eggs yourself (as it were).

Others are focused on raising the profile – or the finances – of the company associated with the prize (consider the university spending tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of pounds on a prize to raise its profile).

Prizes can be led into the temptation of rewarding that which is shocking and different, rather than that which is simply good; less the shock of the new, than a philistine flock to it.

And of course, as St George himself once wrote, ‘The trouble with competitions is that somebody wins them.’ Prizes in any part of the arts world can overlook outstanding works: Richard Burton, Peter Sellers and Alfred Hitchcock never won an Oscar between them; Radiohead have been shortlisted four times for the Mercury Prize without ever winning; I find myself enthusiastically recommending books which weren’t even longlisted for the Orwell Prize (‘the ones that got away’ would make a great feature, should any literary editors be reading). Great works sometimes don’t satisfy the entry criteria, don’t jump out at judges in the inevitably limited time available, or simply don’t jump out at the judges at all. For all the rules and regulations you can implement to ensure their integrity, for all the work you put in to getting both quantity and quality of entries, for all the rigour rules and regulations can inject into a judging process, it remains a subjective choice by a selection of human beings. If you disagree with the judges’ choice, it doesn’t mean that the process is corrupt, the judges ignorant, the prize worthless; it simply means you disagree with the judges’ choice, and they with yours. We must accept prizes for what they are, and not imbue them with an unrealistic omniscience: a prize winner can only ever be the best of the entries received, within the criteria set, according to the taste of those judging the prize, in the time available.

If we accept those limitations – and that not all prizes would themselves win prizes for virtue or value – we can see the benefit prizes have for the author, for the publisher, and for the public. For the author, a prize is at the very least a pat on the back, a vocal ‘well done’, a recognition and affirmation of their talent. The importance of the financial boon should also not be underestimated. But it can also introduce a wider audience to their work and their message – literary editor of The Guardian, Claire Armitstead, admitted to ‘the faintest twinge of regret from those of us who have always regarded her as our secret’ upon Hilary Mantel’s Booker win. From an Orwell Prize perspective, Delia Jarrett-Macauley described winning as a ‘serendipitous gift’ which provided ‘the most elegant acknowledgement of the novel’s intentions, accessibility and merit’, while Raja Shehadeh’s win was swiftly followed by an honour from the Prime Minister of the Palestinian National Authority, ‘a testament to the creativity which still can flourish under the most difficult conditions faced by a people’.

Mantel’s recent win also demonstrates the benefit for the publisher: credit not only in terms of a job well done, but in the bank. Thomas Cromwell divorced Robert Langdon from the top of the bestseller charts as a result of Wolf Hall’s triumph – no mean feat – although such financial success can sometimes be offset by financial barriers to entry. Catheryn Kilgarriff, MD of Marion Boyars Publishers, recently blamed prizes in part for the closing of the company: ‘Even if I get a book on a shortlist I couldn't afford the fee, so I no longer wanted to win prizes.’

I would argue that the most significant benefit a prize can – and should – have is on the public. Prizes are useful as signposts in an increasingly ‘infobese’ world, where criticism is democratised and the demands on our time legion. But prizes should also spark debate – and debate far more significant than whether a particular work is a novel or merely a novella. Longlists, shortlists, winners can all get the public talking about writing and its worth – about the skill of individual authors, the thrill of different genres and the effect they can have on each of us. Reading is, after all, about the interface between what the author has written and how the reader interprets it.

But beyond simply literary merit, the books recommended by prizes can change the way we see the world: good writing should make us think. At the Orwell Prize, for instance, we seek to reward good political writing, but also to encourage political thinking and enthuse the public about politics and journalism. In addition to awarding our annual prizes, we run discussions and debates around the country, bringing key writers and thinkers to the public. I might be biased (okay, I am biased), but it’s the sort of thing more prizes should be doing, when they can be easily dismissed as PR opportunities, as expensive irrelevances in an austere era, and as gilded metropolitan elites far divorced from the real world reinforcing their bubble with baubles and gold.

The characters in Faulks’ novel are all trying to escape the real world. The tube driver escapes to her fiction and online role playing; the literary critic to the 19th century; the hedge fund manager to worship Mammon; the Islamic extremist to worship Allah in Paradise. The literary world escapes to the Pizza Palace awards ceremony and its plaudits and product placement. Literary prizes are at their worst when they become wrapped up in their own worlds. They are at their most important when they embrace, engage with and enthuse the real world, real life, and real people.

Gavin Freeguard is the Administrator of the Orwell Prize,

Picture credit: Wiennat Mongkulmann

Competitions, Opportunities and Awards for Writers

The View From Here is growing.

Bigger, better, bolder.

Coming soon, we'll be offering writers an online update of some of the best competitions, opportunities and  awards that are currently available.  Along with details of what publishers are looking for.

And we'll be offering publishers, magazines, arts organisations... the opportunity to advertise forthcoming competitions, opportunities and awards for free.

So, pass the word around.  If you know of a competition, opportunity or award that might interest our community of writers, please let us know and we'll do our best to let others know.  Email details to:

opportunities at viewfromheremagazine dot com

Science Fiction; The Final Frontier

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by Jane Turley

I’m back. I guess you’ve all been wondering where I’ve been in my absence. Writing the next Pulitzer winning prize fiction or the Queen’s next speech? Unfortunately not.

I was abducted by aliens.

Yes, yes I know it’s hard to believe. But there I was at the kitchen sink with my Marigolds immersed in the soap suds when suddenly I was bathed in an ethereal light. My toes rising from the floor, a gravitational pull elevated me towards the ceiling. Had I drunk too many sherries or were the flatulent side effects of the herbal diet pills working overtime? Before I had time to use my litmus test, a huge WHOOSH reverberated in my ears and I found myself transported to another dimension, imprisoned in a glass cell aboard an alien spacecraft.

Oh no! What gross, sick and disturbing experiments awaited me?! Perhaps I would be tested for endurance by watching endless repeats of Freddie Mercury leaping up and down in his harlequin suit? Or maybe the 1981 Royal Wedding? Or maybe just Gordon Brown attempting to speak sincerely? With these terrifying thoughts spinning like a carousel in my mind I was soon a gibbering wreck; eyes rolling, saliva dribbling and cowering like some wretched animal awaiting a mercy killing.

Then they came, out of the dark recesses, ghostly apparitions resembling the figures of men. Had the green, bulbous creatures with nine eyes and forked tongues which I had imagined as alien beings ever since watching the Teletubbies metamorphosed into human form?

As the first of the aliens stepped into the light, my breath grew short and rasping. He resembled…. I could barely believe it…it was too much to take… He looked just like…

George Clooney.

What vile plot had I unwittingly become involved in? An alien conspiracy to subjugate the female species by impersonating Gorgeous George?

“We have come to examine you. Our quest for knowledge must be fulfilled.”

“No, no, no!” I screamed, whilst admiring George’s silver lamé suit against the flecks of grey in his hair and his omnipotent looking light sabre.

Well naturally, I fought. Tooth and nail. I mean you have no idea how hard. Seriously, seriously, hard. Until I was totally and utterly exhausted. Then, just as I found more energy to continue frolic… fighting… I found myself back at the kitchen sink, my hands still in the suds.

Had it all been real or were the herbal diet pills causing delusions? I wasn’t taking any chances; so I got out my magic beans and threw them out of the window.

Oh alright, alright! I'm guessing some of you don't believe me. I'll come clean then. The truth is I’ve been getting into science fiction. Now I’ve got to admit that I’ve not always been so keen on science fiction which is surprising really because I love science fiction movies. In fact I can quote Star Wars verbatim and as a child I was glued to Star Trek. (Poor William Shatner had a hard job peeling off the adhesive though.) Anyway, I think long ago I must have read a book that began something like this;

“The Nighthawk137nucleothermospeedstealthspacefighter touched down on the rocky surface of Deltapizzasurprise 4.99, a planet on the outskirts of the Chickenugget galaxy and part of the Bigmacburger Empire….”

At which point my brain probably went like this;

Whoa, Whoa! Warning, warning! Red Alert! This is an emergency situation. We are in foreign language mode! Close the book or take the paracetamol now!

And more often than not I would close the book. However, something has happened to me recently because my eyes have been reopened to science fiction. How did this happen? Well, a few weeks ago I met science fiction writer Chris Beckett winner of the 2009 Edge Hill short story contest for his collection of stories entitled The Turing Test.

The Edge Hill Prize has only been in existence since 2007. However, as a result of his win Chris has already been boldly going places he has not been before. (Sorry, had to get that in!) As the only competition that rewards a collection of short stories by a single author in the UK and with a healthy £5,000 prize it attracted some big names into the arena this year including Shena Mackay, Ali Smith and Booker prize winner, Anne Enright. But as the victor, Chris Beckett’s star is now on the rise. Having written for the science fiction magazine Interzone for years his recent success has finally secured him a two book deal in the UK with Corvus. The first of his two full length novels The Holy Machine which previously had only been published in the US will now be printed at home where his work is, at last, being given the recognition it deserves.

The Turing Test

by Chris Beckett

Publisher: Elastic Press 2008

The success of The Turing Test is not a token gesture towards science fiction writers as some might suspect, but a truly worthy winner. It contains 14 short stories all of which are easily readable and enjoyable. The key for me was that the science fiction element was secondary to the story. Time machines, virtual worlds and futuristic societies were just tools to illustrate Chris’ insightful view of the human psyche and the way we currently live. His view of the future, whilst being fantasy, also has an element of worrying truth and possibility. It made me ask questions about the direction of our society - and whether or not I like it.

Chris has a background in social work and as well as being an author he now also lectures in social work. I’m inclined to think that a lifetime observing some of the more problematic aspects of society has given rise to some of his intriguing ideas about our future world and how individuals might function within it. Relationships, loneliness and self knowledge (or lack of it) are all addressed in what is at times quite a melancholic collection of stories. Yet, despite this underlying sadness, I felt that there was something to learn, to understand in these tales. They were stories that made think and feel and that, for me, is always a winning combination.

So back to my meeting with Chris, who I’d met at a reading he’d been giving at a local library. Interestingly, in the discussion afterwards it became apparent that I was not the only one who had, perhaps misguidedly, thought that science fiction was the prerequisite of laser guns, shuttles and space gibberish. As Chris pointed out, 1984 By George Orwell is actually science fiction but no one refers to it as science fiction.

So what exactly is science fiction? Of course they are sub genres within science fiction like space opera and cyberpunk which may be more technical and extraordinary but generally a good proportion of what we read is “science fiction” but we just don’t recognise it as such.

Well I thought about Chris’ comments and realised just how many books I’ve read could be classed as science fiction; recent reads such as Blind Faith by Ben Elton (a must read for every blogger and internet lover) and Never Let me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro (nominated for the 2005 Booker Prize and soon to be film starring Keira Knightley) and old reads like 1984 and On the Beach by the perennial favourite, Nevil Shute. Maybe, as Chris pointed so aptly pointed out, if a book is about the future then it is actually “science fiction”.

Not so long ago a friend of mine asked me if I’d read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy because she said it was just my sense of humour. “Nope,” I replied, “that science fiction thing puts me off.” Well I guess I finally need to read it because now that I’m back into science fiction mode I’m ready to take it on.

Anyway, I’ve always liked phasers and probes.

Just ask Captain Kirk.

Ps: I should add that the lovely Chris Beckett doesn’t wear a silver lamé suit. And he didn’t show me his light sabre. (Which is a pity because the local history section of Leighton Buzzard library can be very dull.)

Sci Fi author Chris Beckett - looking surprisingly normal. Blast.

Now if you’d like to win signed copies of Chris’ novels The Holy Machine and Marchers leave an answer to the following question on this post.

George Orwell wrote 1984. He also wrote Animal Farm. The pigs in Animal Farm were called Old Major, Snowball and Napoleon. If you had a pig what would you call it?

The answer that appeals most to me will win Chris’ books! My decision is final, absolute and will entail no reasoning or logic whatsoever. Small bribes and flattery are strictly allowed.

Interview with Kate Thompson

Kate Thompson
interview by Kerrie Anne

I often will praise a book, admire an author's talent and find myself immersed in a tale one way or another. Rarely do I find myself lost in a fictitious world such as the one found in Kate's latest book, The White Horse Trick. It is hard to know where to begin. Is it a fairy tale? Well yes. An eye opening story as to the possible future given the effects of climate change? Most definitely, but the White Horse Trick is more than either of these two descriptions. It is to my mind a journey encompassing both. Kate takes the reader through vivid landscapes ravaged by the effects of climate change, wild storms, years of drought, rising oceans, soil erosion. She then leads you through the land of the Fairies, a kind of Utopia. Bright colours and calmness surround you as you read.
The contrast could not be anymore striking.
A merger of Mythology and possible fact. I rarely find myself in such a place inspired and confronted, bewildered and yet with a sense of purpose. This is such a book.
It is difficult as you read to dismiss the story as a fictitious world for Pup, Jenny and humanity on a whole as mere supposition, yet many will. The world Kate describes is one full of clarity, you can almost feel the sun on your skin, hear the wind howling and the rain torrenting down. The strength of the story's message is balanced perfectly with the personalities of each character from the greedy warlord, his brother, the people whose world is crumpling around them to the apparent carefree nature of the fairies.
Kate's passion throughout the book is evident. Her love of the characters and drive to tell, educate and inspire others carries you along a path of waiting, of wanting the world to be saved, of needing to know someone can fix the mess we have made.
A wonderful merger of one possible future and that of myth and legend. One which I would hope every person who loves a great book and has a conscience will pick up, read and share.
The White Horse Trick should be on every school reading list, every young adult and adult for that matter.

Kate's other novels can be found here Kate - Official Website Of Children's Fiction Author Kate Thompson

About Kate

You have said you fell in love with India. What was it that captivated you about the country?

A vibrancy and immediacy about every-day life. Returning from India was like stepping out of a coloured world and into a black-and-white one.

Each novel I pick has its base in one or more controversial topics:Genetic Engineering, Extraterrestrial Life, Alchemy and Climate Change. How influential was your families interest and involvement in areas such as the anti-nuclear movement as you were growing up?

I suppose it’s impossible to be sure about exactly how much any given set of circumstances has influenced anyone. But it seems very likely that growing up in a politically and socially aware household has left its mark.

What inspired you to write your first novel Switchers?

I had published a book of poetry and was working on a novel for adults, when I met an Australian writer, Isobelle Carmody, who writes mainly for young adults. We hit it off and became good friends, and I read one of her books and enjoyed it. I had never considered writing for children before that, but it made me realise how well the medium suited my wild imagination. Switchers was born very soon afterwards.

Throughout your writing your passion for the given subject is obvious as well as refreshing. What is it that drives you to be so passionate about topics such as Global Warming?

I can’t say, exactly. But once I’m interested in a subject I have to turn it inside out, examine it, ingest it, then make something out of it. Where global warming is concerned, what surprises me is how few people are really genuinely concerned about it. Or perhaps they are, but feel dis empowered. Most developed countries have stagnant politics, entirely governed by an impossible concept, which is constant growth. It doesn’t take much brain power to see that the planet can’t support this as a fundamental principle, but where we are going to find a sensible alternative politics is not clear. The status quo is very powerful.

In Ireland, the second hurricane set in. It was closely followed by third, but by then there was hardly anyone left alive to see it. Between the storms the scorching sun beat down. It melted the last of the Greenland ice and the seas rose even higher, inundating coastal areas all around the world. In South Africa and Indonesia, horrendous droughts finally put an end to the last of the rain forests, and lightning strikes set them ablaze. The smoke from them shrouded half the planet.

You said in your recent article Writers Block for The View from Here, ‘The White Horse Trick is my nineteenth book in twelve years, and I am suddenly empty. Burned out. I am all out of fascination, all out of righteous indignation about political and social problems, all out of drive and fixations. I am, for once in my life, devoid of passion.’ Is this a shift in your perception of the world around us or reprioritizing of  life, the universe and everything in between?

I don’t know. Passions and obsessions can’t be turned on and off at will. I see it as something that is just happening, and over which I don’t have much control. Maybe it’s just my age.

What is it about Irish Folk Music which captures the imagination so readily?

Read The New Policeman and find out!

About The White Horse Trick

I love your use of Irish Folklore and mythology within the story. So many people have grown up with stories of the Puca, Aengus and the land of Tir na n'Og. How did you research Fairies, The Dagda stories and characters?

Most of the research was done long ago. I didn’t consider it research at the time – I just loved reading the old myths and legends. Lady Gregory’s collections were very influential, as was James Stevens. When I came to write the New Policeman, I revisited some of the stories, to reacquaint myself with them, and enjoyed them just as much second time round.

The weather patterns had changed. Ireland had always had a wet and windy climate, but over the past few decades the storms had increased in frequency and severity, and now, throughout the whole region, the soil was being washed away; swept into streams and rivers and carried out to sea.

Your descriptions of the quick time and effects of Climate Change through Ireland sent shivers down my spine. It causes you to think and take stock of the things which are important and how each of us has contributed to these changes. What do you hope readers will take away when they finish reading?

It was a bit of a juggling act. The book is essentially for children, so my intention wasn’t to either blame them or terrify them. But I would hope that a lot of the content will provoke thought, not only about the possible consequences, but about our way of life and our addiction to acquisition.

As I read The White Horse Trick it was very easy to visualise the scenes faced by the people surviving. Aidan’s Fort, the Terraces, the inundated landscape of Kinvara and Ireland as Aengus flies overhead. How did you discover such places and where did you find the inspiration for them?

I’ve lived in this area for fifteen years now and have spent a lot of time tramping around in the Burren. The place where Aidan’s castle is situated is near here, and I’m often up there. I have probably made a few subtle alterations to the landscape to fit the story, but essentially it’s all on my doorstep.

Do you feel Climate Change the greatest challenge facing us?

In short, yes. If I were to take a bit longer, I might go into detail about the erroneous belief that many of us have; that owning more things and better things and bigger things is going to make us happy. And about the disconnect with the natural world that is possibly the cause of our unhappiness. And about the manipulative practices of money-lenders and multinational companies which drive us out to the shopping centres to fill their pockets, while they wreak havoc with the environment and create political instability across the globe.

Tir na n’Og tended to have a narcotic effect on everyone who entered it. The peace and the sunshine and the absence of time relaxed people and took away their anxieties, and a lot of their memories as well.

My favourite characters would have to be Pup and Jenny. Pup for his strength of character and perseverance. Jenny for her patience. Did you model their personalities on any person in particular?

No. All my characters are entirely fictitious, with the exception of Ann Korff, whose presence in the series is explained at the beginning of The New Policeman.

Spoiler Alert

Throughout the story the plight of the human race is evident. How hard was it to write given the current debates and lack of action?

Given the lack of action, it was quite easy to write. I did a lot of reading during my residence in Bristol, and some of the forecasts are truly terrifying. The problem is that no one really knows exactly what will happen, but a lot of scientists are predicting that most prior estimates of the rate of change are far too conservative. So I felt I had license to create a world, not too far into the future, where very radical changes has already happened.

And then, as it had done countless times throughout its long, long history, the Earth began to warm up again. The Puca watched patiently for the first signs of life. It began with tiny organisms that had hibernated deep beneath the sea’s icy crust. In the warming waters, they started to multiply, mutate and evolve. Once the basic building work had been done, the Puca came into his element. Seaweed was thrown up on to the beaches and mutated into rudimentary land plants. With a bit of help from the Goat God, these became grasses and legumes, then shrubs and trees, and they marched inland as the ice receded and established themselves into forests and tundras, covering every landmass with a thick fur of vegetation.

As the White Horse Tricks ends parallels can be drawn as Creationism merges with Evolution encompassing the Biblical story of Adam and Eve. What made you decide to take this road rather than one which was devoid of any religious connotations?

The link with creationism is pretty tenuous. I doubt many creationists would endorse or celebrate the ending of The White Horse Trick. Throughout the series I’ve played with the idea of a parallel, timeless world, and I love the way in which so much of human mythology, whatever its source, could theoretically tie in with the concept.

Were you tempted to have Aidan face another fate than the one which befalls him?

No. I can’t think of a worse one.

About writing

How do you approach writing a novel?

I let it gestate for a long time before I begin writing. Then I write a first draft all in one go, longhand, from beginning to end. Flat out. If I have time I let that rest for a few months before returning to type it up, revising as I go.

What would you say is the best and worst aspects of being a published author?

The best aspects are being your own boss and creating your own work schedule. The process itself can be pretty brilliant as well – the high of creative energy. The worst aspects are loneliness, post-book blues, and lack of job security.

Any advice for budding authors and where should they start?

Be original. Write what you want to write and not what you think publishers might want to publish. Youthful budding authors should start by getting a life. The more experience a person has and the more thinking they do about their experience, the more they will have to offer in terms of their writing. Go out and live, have adventures, explore things and ideas no one has explored before, then come back and tell us all about them. Older authors, provided they have done all that, just need to sit down and get on with it. Ideas and intentions are worthless without hard graft.

How important is it to have something to say when telling a story?

For me it’s pretty important. I can’t speak for anyone else, but when I’m reading I like to be stimulated as well as entertained.

Whilst you’re taking a break from writing and a little well earned R&R. Where to from here for Kate Thompson?

Who knows? I don’t…

Hotel Aloha

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by Kathleen

After graduation in May, 2008, Daisy and I started at Salinger Brothers. The economy had flat-lined; layoffs deluged every bank. But Daisy’s Uncle Bernie was vice-chairman. Typically an analyst’s first year is volunteered slavery: running spreadsheets nonstop for eighteen hours. Thanks to the collapse, however, Daisy and I ran spreadsheets lackadaisically and still pretended to act busy. We left at six o’clock, seven tops.

Our goal was to rise at a fabled financial institution and to stand out as stellar beauties on the late-night glamour scene. So even though we made decent enough money, the social aspect required Armani, Dior…Louboutin heels and artistico hairstyles and maquillage. Knock-offs fooled nobody.

To compensate, we rented one-sixth of a studio apartment and ignored our hulking coevals. Sometimes we sneaked into Versailles (Uncle Bernie’s membership helped) for body work and basic morning grooming. We enticed still-rich fellows to buy us drinks and dinner. Skimping on breakfast and lunch kept us willowy.

We honestly relished working in the historic Salinger tower. And at penthouse parties we feigned insouciance while secretly basking in the city’s incandescence. By the winter holidays our social whirl sped so quickly as to make us dizzy.

But in January, a massive pall took hold. The exquisite dinners dropped off; the glitter faded; and our roommates, now unemployed, stunk up the studio with take-out food, poor hygiene, and sloth.

Bad before, but now double-digit layoffs swept through Salinger’s every echelon, every week. Daisy phoned her mother who was not reassuring. “Do not bother your poor Uncle Bernie,” she said.

So we held tight, made no mistakes ever and affected brisk, inconspicuous attitudes.

In May, Daisy and I and two hundred other survivors convened for “Continuity Management.” Or, how to keep Salinger afloat come some global catastrophe.

During a restroom break, Daisy and I discovered the “Aloha Suite,” a floor of offices reserved for fired chieftains. Unlike those escorted out by security guards, the top dogs retired here until they had their prospects and portfolios in order.

We ditched the seminar to explore the higher floors. And guess what? No people. And yet: electricity, water, functioning computers, lounges, and mini-kitchens.

That night we invited Nico, a club kid who specialized in popping locks, and moved in. (Oh yeah, closets galore!) Nico opened the media room and the gym. And on the top floor, we found the catering room from back in the executive dining room days—with industrial washer and drier.
Daisy and I still worked and still partied, but lived in luxury.

Last night we traipsed home around midnight. At the forty-ninth floor the elevator door opened and an old man shuffled by in robe and slippers.

“Hey Uncle Bernie,” Daisy called. He dashed out of sight, dropping a toothbrush. Apparently, unlike us, he doesn’t love the new Hotel Aloha, the quintessence of Wall Street.

The Instant Pet Peeve

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by Stella

An apology in advance: Sorry, I may end up ranting.

We all have our pet peeves – little things which really really really annoy us and we don't know why. Our annoyance is not proportionate to the action. If someone tries to run you over, then getting mad is reasonable. If someone puts the milk carton back in the fridge with only three drops of milk left in it and you throw a fit – you're overreacting. Your annoyance is understandable, of course, but not entirely rational. Full disclosure: I have been known to put the nearly empty milk carton back in the fridge and so I humbly apologize for provoking ire.

Then there are the pet peeves which pertain to spelling and grammar. Some people clench their teeth over the confusion of your/you're, then/than, and the like. Other people get fidgety when infinitives are split or metaphors are mixed. While I can't say I've never twitched over the aforementioned, one thing which makes me feel like some cruel being is scratching his or her fingernails up and down a blackboard with malicious intent is the phrase "instant classic." If you've never come across it (too late now, huh?), it's supposed to mean something was really unbelievably fantastically mindblowingly fabulous as to make you and everyone else take note of the thing's existence and never forget it. Urban Dictionary says it was coined in a Washington high school.

I don't care.

I can deal with "tweet" no longer referring to the sound a bird makes. I can cope with Facebook turning "friend" into a verb. By now I'm used to "text" being used as a verb. But I will never get used to that stupid oxymoronic "instant classic."

"Instant" implies immediacy, "classic" implies a quality recognized retroactively, as in a while later, usually a long (long) while later. There isn't a specific amount of time to determine the object/subject's status as a classic, but it's damn well longer than an instant.

So by all means-

Say it was stunning.
Say it took your breath away.
Say it was an instant sensation.
Say it took the world by storm.
Say it created an immediate craze.
Say this thing or this moment will probably be remembered a long time from now.
But please don't say it's an instant classic.
That makes no sense.

It's like saying someone/something is suddenly traditional. Or casually uptight. Or calmly upset. Or spectacularly ordinary. Or incredibly realistic. Full disclosure: I've used "incredibly realistic" on more than one occasion. Nobody's perfect. Which reminds me – you can't be perfectly flawed or exactly imprecise either. I know this doesn't have much to do with writing other than belonging to the mistakes-to-avoid category, so I welcome everyone to share their writing pet peeves. I feel so much better now that I got that out of my system.

Issue 17 of TVFH on Sale Now!

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Interviews with ...
Emili Rosales
Gary William Murning

Original Fiction at thefrontview by:
Andrew Nicoll
Nathaniel Tower

Guest Writers:
Kate Thompson
Cynthia Newberry Martin
Georgy Riecke

The Marketplace by Paul Burman
The (Random) Name Game by Stella Carter

Original Short Fiction by Kathleen Maher
Rabbit Writer monthly cartoon from Naomi Gill

Book Reviews of
The Shadow of a Smile by Kachi A. Ozumba
Serena by Ron Rash

with original art by Fossfor.
ISSN 1758-2903

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