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Interview with Author and 1000words Editor, Natalie Bowers

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I met Natalie when my short fiction piece, North Norfolk Coast, was published online in 1000words at the beginning of July. 1000words publishes flash-fiction of up to 1000 words in length, written in response to an image. I have been impressed with the site and the quality of the work for a while. Natalie’s response to my submission was really professional and friendly, and I have enjoyed reading some of her own fiction (more on her work at the end of the post). I was thrilled when she agreed to an interview, so thank you for joining us, Natalie, and for answering some questions that I think authors often ask, or want to ask.

When and how did 1000words begin, and what inspired you to start gathering flash fiction?

1000words began in 2012 as part of the first National Flash-Fiction Day. I’d just finished an online flash-fiction course with Calum Kerr, the brains behind NFFD, who’d said he was looking for people to organise events, online and off. I’ve always had a secret desire to run my own fiction magazine, so this seemed the perfect opportunity to start one. I also love photography, so what better way was there to blend my two main interests and fulfill an ambition than by starting 1000words?

 What is flash fiction, for those who are new to the form, and how is it unique?

There are as many definitions of flash-fiction as there are people writing it, but for me, flash-fiction is simply a very short story. Although at 1000words we accept stories of up to 1000 words in length, I actually prefer reading and writing stories no longer than 500 words. When it comes to flash-fiction I like to be punched in the gut. I like flash-fiction to be short, sharp and to take my breath away.

 The idea of using an image prompt from the Pinterest page is very creative. How do you decide which images to use?

I go with my instincts. If I see an image and find myself immediately making up a story, I pin the image. I’ve pinned quite a few of my own photos on our Pinterest boards too, as I always have a camera on me and am constantly on the lookout for story ideas.

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There is a wonderful range of stories on the site. How do you chose what will be published, and what are you looking for in a piece of fiction?

Again, I go with my instincts. If the opening few lines grab me, I know I’m likely to enjoy the whole piece and will most likely publish it. What I’m really looking for is a consistent narrative voice. It doesn’t have to be a confident voice, but I need to feel as if the narrator is a real person and believes in the story they’re telling. I’m also looking for something special: a surprising simile, a poignant observation, a subverted cliché, an old story told in a new way, or a new story told in an old way. It’s hard to define, but I know it when I see it.

Is there anything that will automatically send work to the rejection pile, and are there any submission tips you can share? 

There’s nothing that will automatically send work to the rejection pile. If I decline to publish a story, it’s usually due to a combination of factors such as an inconsistent narrative voice, unnatural sounding dialogue, cliché imagery or plot or over-explaining (not leaving enough to the reader’s imagination). If a story has a lot of grammatical mistakes and doesn’t look as if it’s been proofread properly then I’ll probably turn it down, as it’ll be too much work to prepare it for publication. One of the biggest turn-offs for me, though, are stories with a twist ending where the twist hasn’t been sufficiently foreshadowed or where it’s been so obviously sign-posted that I’ve guessed it before the end. It’s a difficult balancing act, and one I struggle with myself.

Tell us a little about yourself and your own writing?

I’ve always written stories in my head, if not on paper. I remember writing and illustrating a book for my little brother when I was about ten. It was a complete rip-off of the children’s TV series Jamie and His Magic Torch, but I put my heart and soul into it! In my early teens, I graduated to Star Wars fanfiction, but I didn’t write much at all in my late teens and twenties, I was too busy with school, university, work and then babies – I did science A-levels, a degree in Biochemisty, a PGCE in secondary science education, taught for a few years and then gave it all up to raise two lovely children. I’d had depression and anxiety after the birth of my daughter in 2005, and the doctor advised me to find something with which to occupy my brain. Writing seemed like a good idea, so in 2007, after a bit of dabbling, I took The Open University’s Start Writing Fiction Course, and I haven’t really looked back since. I’ve written quite a few short stories, but flash-fiction is where I feel most at home and I’m pleased to say that I’ve had a fair few pieces published here and there. Right now, I’m working on a collection of summer-themed flash-fictions and in September (if I get enough punters) I’ll be teaching my first ever writing course in the adult education department of my local secondary school. Bit scary!

Are there any short fiction authors who are a particular inspiration? 

Loads! I have a ‘Recommended Reading’ page on my website where I list lots of my favourite authors and stories, but if I had to name just a few, they’d be: Calum Kerr, Nik Perring, Kevlin Henney, Shirley Golden, Cathy Lennon, Lorrie Heartshorn, Angela Readman, Kurt Vonnegut, Raymond Carver, Elmore Leonard, Annie Proulx and Kate Atkinson. These are the people whose work I rush to read. (That was more than just a few, wasn’t it?!)

Friends of 1000words are flashandzoom, Paragraph Planet and Stories with Pictures. Can you tell us a bit about each of them?

flashandzoom is a photography and poetry project run photographer Jaime Hill and a writing pal of mine, Zoe Mitchell. The aim of the project is to provide a fresh perspective to photography and poetry, and to create art that reaches people on a number of levels. It’s been a bit quiet of late, but what they’ve produced in the past has been beautiful.

Paragraph Planet publishes a 75-word paragraph (fiction and non-fiction) EVERY SINGLE DAY of the year, which is an amazing feat. You can also read author interviews and there’s a sister site called ‘Writing Workout’ where writers can do all sorts of writing exercises. I’ve had a couple of pieces published on Paragraph Planet and intend to send more soon.

Stories and Pictures is a site that brings writers and artists together in collaboration. It’s chock-full of beautiful stories accompanied by beautiful pictures. Some of the stories have been inspired by pictures, and some of the pictures have been inspired by stories. I’ve had a story and a photo published there too.

  natalie 2 Natalie Bowers, along with Heather Stanley, is the editor and publisher of 1000words online flash fiction magazine. She lives in Hampshire with her husband, two children and a growing collection of ukuleles. Natalie has a degree in Biochemisty, a PGCE in secondary science education, and has taught Science and A-Level Biology. Her short stories have appeared in print and her flash-fiction has been published in various online journals. You can find a list of her publications on her blog, and she is a fellow Ether Books author. You can follow 1000words on Facebook and Twitter.

 


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The Man Booker Prize Longlist 2014 Announced – Were There Any Surprises?

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As I write, the longlist for the Man Booker prize 2014 has just been announced. It is the first year the prize has been opened up to novelists from around the world, as long as the books are written in English. Previous rules limited Publishers to Commonwealth authors only. Previous winner, Eleanor Catton, says,  “I think it’s a really great thing that finally we’ve got a prize that is an English-language prize that doesn’t make a distinction for writers who are writing from a particular country.”

The longlist this year has proven controversial for several reasons. You only have to look at the #ManBooker14 Twitter hashtag to see the questions people are asking. Literature professor, journalist, author, and one of the 2014 Man Booker judges, Sarah Churchwell said, “As inevitable debate and criticism develop, do bear in mind that what we longlist is defined by what publishers submit to us.” It’s a helpful reminder that, although people are quick to criticise the judging panel, they are very much bound by what is submitted.

Publishers this year are navigating unchartered waters, and are finding their feet with the new rules. The longlist comprises 13 books by four Americans, six Britons, two Irish writers and one Australian:

To Rise Again at a Decent Hour, Joshua Ferris (Viking)

The Narrow Road to the Deep North, Richard Flanagan (Chatto & Windus)

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, Karen Joy Fowler (Serpent’s Tail)

The Blazing World, Siri Hustvedt (Sceptre)

J,  Howard Jacobson (Jonathan Cape)

The Wake, Paul Kingsnorth (Unbound)

The Bone Clocks, David Mitchell (Sceptre)

The Lives of Others, Neel Mukherjee (Chatto & Windus)

Us, David Nicholls (Hodder & Stoughton)

The Dog, Joseph O’Neill (Fourth Estate)

Orfeo, Richard Powers (Atlantic Books)

How to be Both, Ali Smith (Hamish Hamilton)

History of the Rain, Niall Williams (Bloomsbury)

 

Howard Jacobson, a previous winner with The Finkler Question in 2010, is not a surprise; neither are the two previously shortlisted authors, Ali Smith and David Mitchell.  But some are asking why Donna Tart’s Goldfinch is missing and why Ian McEwan’s The Children has also missed the list. The Guardian predicted that it might meet the mark because the “novel is about a female judge dealing with a religious young man who wants to opt out of life-saving medical treatment,’ citing that it may appeal to the chair of judges. David Nicholls’ book, Us, has surprised some by making the list. His previous novel, One Day, was turned into a film, but he would not usually be seen as a writer of Literary Fiction. I feel refreshed by the thought that genre is now less of an issue than, possibly, it used to be. Don’t you?

 

A crowd-funded book has appeared on the list for the first time: Paul Kingsnorth’s debut novel, set in 1066, was published by Unbound, which asks readers to give money towards publication in exchange for having their name included in the credits. This is a really interesting new development.

 

We will never know how or why the judges chose the books as they did, but I suspect that they were looking for a good range of stories as well as wonderful writing, and were avoiding anything too overtly political, especially given the current political climate.

 

Previous winners have included Hilary Mantel, Julian Barnes, Howard Jacobson, Ian McEwan and Yann Martel and John Banville. The shortlist will be announced on 9th September with six titles and the winner on 14th October. The judges for this year’s prize are Sarah Churchwell, Daniel Glaser, Jonathan Bate, Alastair Niven and Erica Wagner, with Anthony Grayling as the chair.

 

I very much look forward to the shortlist and to reading some of the longlisted books. Has anyone read any? What did you think?

Here are some interested extracts and related works by the authors:

David Mitchell’s Twitter Story “The Right Sort” Collected.

The Wake has been crowd-funded by Unbound. You can read all about it here.

Bloomsbury have an extract of The History of the Rain by Niall Williams for you to read.


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Very Inspiring Blogger Award

Thank you so much to Rebecca Bradley for the Very Inspiring Blogger Award. It feels undeserved but I’m really grateful. The truth is, very much like writing, I would still blog even without readers because I really enjoy it. The process helps me to order my thoughts, and I’m the kind of person who thinks through my writing, in other words the ideas come to me as I write. I find inspiration everywhere and I enjoy the interaction with other bloggers and hearing from readers. For me it is a really interactive community. So, thank you to Rebecca. You can find her Crime Writing Blog here.

 

Inspiring

The award comes with the following instructions :

  • Thank and link to the person who nominated you.
  • List the rules and display the award.
  • Share seven facts about yourself.
  • Nominate 15 other amazing blogs and comment on their posts to let them know they have been nominated.
  • Optional: display the award logo on your blog and follow the blogger who nominated you.

So, here are seven facts about me that you might not know:

  1. I love acoustic guitar and live concerts, and am seeing one of my favourite singers in Vienna LIVE tonight! (A FREE eBook of my novel or two of my short stories goes to anyone who can figure out who I’m going to see.)
  2. I live for a steaming hot coffee in the mornings. The aroma of freshly brewed coffee just makes my heart glad; a coffee shop is even better.
  3. I’ve flown in a helicopter. Yes, a chopper, and I really enjoyed it. I would go again in a flash. The fact that you can just lift off and fly at an angle, the openness and the view from them is awesome!
  4. I can windsurf and water ski. It’s hard to know which is more difficult, but I prefer the speed and the adrenalin rush of waterskiing.
  5. I shook hands with the Queen when she visited our home town. I was at primary school and we lined up outside Colchester Town Hall to see her.
  6. I never imagined being a writer or ever writing a book. I wanted to be a vet (until I discovered that you have to actually operate on animals). I then wanted to join the Police! I think there was a part of me that wanted to help people (or animals!)
  7.  I can play the piano, clarinet and guitar, but I spend more of my time singing.

Now to pass on the award to some inspiring bloggers who you might also want to follow:

Elizabeth Craig

Elaine Aldred

Avril Joy

Jen Harvey

Vicky Newham

Belinda Pollard

Ruth Hunt

Shirley Golden

Tania Hershman

Sarah Hilary 

Paul McVeigh

Susi Holliday

Natalie Bowers

Carys Bray

Vanessa Gebbie

 

 


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Space to Read and Relax: Bookshop Cafés and Bars Around the World…

What is there more enticing for any book lover than to find a combination of books and coffee (or cocktails)? I often see images of bookshop cafés,  and I idly begin to dream about finding a corner (and some time) to while away a few hours reading with a mug, or a glass of something, in the beautiful surrounds of a bookshop or an atmospheric bar. Is it just me? I suspect not! Here are some of the places, both sumptuous and simple, to which I would happily transport myself, in the name of reading and space to relax.
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1. B2 Boutique Hotel, Zurich

Once the site of the old Hürlimann Brewery, this is now a hotel, with the industrial character of the buildings carefully preserved to illustrate the history of Zurich’s legendary brewing era. The B2 Boutique Hotel has a sumptuous library lounge, which boasts over 33,000 books, is an inviting place in which to lose yourself in a good book. With its tall arched windows and eleven-metre high ceiling, the library is reminiscent of a cathedral. The books were once housed in an antiquarian bookshop and can also be borrowed by guests during their stay in the hotel. The library is a space where you can work, talk business or relax and unwind. I have had my eye on the hotel since I first cast eyes on a photograph of the library some months ago. I’m now even more keen to go at some point, having just seen the incredible Thermal Spa, which is connected to the hotel. Spread over 3,300 square metres, the spa is housed in the former barrel filling area of the Hürlimann Brewery. But I digress! Back to books….

 

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2. The Bookworm, Beijing, China. 

The Bookworm is a library and a bookshop with a large collection of books. 16,112 titles on their library shelves at the last count! There is a gourmet European café on the premises. Thousands of English-language books fill the shelves and can be borrowed for a fee or read inside. They also sell books and magazines. A range of interesting talks and spontaneous musical evenings make this place a hive of activity. It’s easy to see why The Bookworm is such a hit among Beijingers. The spacious, interconnecting rooms with floor-to-ceiling books on every wall are light and airy in summer, yet cosy and snug in winter. And the roof terrace is perfect for yard-arm cocktails.

Their coffee is always freshly ground, they say; their chocolate cake voluptuous, and staff delightful! Anyone interested in testing this out?

 

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3. Cafebreria El Pendulo, Mexico City, Mexico. 

Books line the walls of Mexico City’s Cafebrería El Péndulo, but visitors can order breakfast, lunch and dinner from the café  and drinks from the bar. There is also a cocktail happy hour! Read a book while enjoying live music, poetry readings and stand up comedy.

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4. Pickwicks Cafe Bookshop, Vienna

This small book café named after a Dickens’ novel, serves Irish beer and has a library and rents out videos. They sell burgers, bagels, salads and fish and chips. There is free wi-fi and a big screen. I have yet to visit!

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5. El Ateneo in Buenos Aires, Argentina
This bookstore opened as a theatre called The Grand Splendid in 1919. It was first location in the world to show silent movies. Now, book lovers can enjoy a coffee in the café on the old stage. It still has the original balconies, painted ceiling, ornate carvings and the crimson stage curtains. The Guardian named El Ateneo second in its 2008 list of the World’s Ten Best Bookshops.

The theatre had a seating capacity of 1,050, and staged a variety of performances, including tango artists. In the late twenties the theatre was converted into a cinema, and in 1929 showed the first sound films presented in Argentina. Chairs are provided throughout the building and the theatre boxes are still intact.

The ornate former theatre was leased by Grupo Ilhsa in February 2000. The building was then renovated and converted into a book and music shop, with the cinema seating removed and book shelves installed. El Ateneo Grand Splendid became the group’s flagship store, and in 2007 sold over 700,000 books; over a million people walk through its doors annually.

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6) Scarthin, Peak District, England.

Some might prefer the altogether more earthy beauty of a shop like Scarthin Books in the Peak District. Scarthin’s has been selling new and second-hand books since the mid-1970s. They boast 40,000+ new books, 50,000+ second-hand books, 5,000+ rare and antiquarian, music, a café AND publishing! It is a bookshop so beloved, that it advertises local guest and farmhouses on its websites where devotees can stay overnight.


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Story is Everything

Here are 25 thoughts on creating stories, in no particular order:

  1. A lot of things have beginnings, middles and ends — but that doesn’t make them stories.
  2. True stories have two parts: first something bad happens, second something bad is fixed (or a fix is at least attempted)
  3. Plot-driven and character-driven stories don’t really exist; all stories are conflict/tension driven.
  4. Suspense, tension, conflict — these things shouldn’t be limited to specific genres.
  5. Asking what happens next is probably the wrong question.
  6. Asking what is my character’s goal (or what does my character want) is probably a better question.
  7. Better yet: what can go wrong now?
  8. Ticking clocks give your story a deadline and a destination. Also, tension. Can’t ask for much more.
  9. Give your characters some story-level goals, i.e., decide what it is they want, have them go after it, and the plot will almost fill itself in.
  10. Storytelling is a timeless human instinct — trust and embrace your natural ability.
  11. Tell your stories like you’re talking to just one person — an audience of one is the right number.
  12. Start with the end, and you’ll stay on track.
  13. Most stories start too early.
  14. Many stories end too late.
  15. Stakes are essential. Usually the higher the better.
  16. In real life, we avoid conflict because it sucks. In your stories, you must embrace, chase it even.
  17. Things can always get worse — we’ll probably enjoy reading that more anyway.
  18. Not all stories have to have happy endings, neat little bows are for packages.
  19. A good story doesn’t preach or moralize — it connects and resonates.
  20. Good stories leave out the unimportant parts.
  21. You have more stories to tell than you realize. Trust. Yourself.
  22. Complex isn’t necessarily better. Some of the most powerful stories and pretty simple.
  23. Trying for theme will kill a story — theme comes last.
  24. Plot is as simple as putting one foot in front of the other.
  25. And then? Keep asking until you figure it out.

This is reblogged from Justin Mclachlin’s blog.


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North Norfolk Coast

Just as I had posted the previous publication news, I discovered that another of my short stories has just been published online. North Norfolk Coast has been published at 1000 Words:

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Extract:

Days were spent with her brother, Donald, on the beaches of the North Norfolk coast, with its wild winds and salt air. They built sand castles before the sun set; before the waves swept over the turrets, dragging them back into the sea. She could hear her father’s voice.

‘You’ll catch your death if you don’t put a sweater on, girl. It’s getting cold.’

He spoke as though he was still fighting from the trenches. She wondered how death could be caught, if at all. The swell of the waves grew with each crash, pounding the shore and devouring the castles with their flags. The moats, engulfed with water at high tide, turned her thoughts to the river, which had burst its banks in an early January. The thought frightened her, perhaps more than her father’s unkind words.

You can read the rest at 1000 Words.


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Clipboards and White

One of my short story has just been published in Litro, a London Literary Magazine. You can read it here.

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Extract:

The starched white sheets crinkle beneath my thighs. The walls are white; clinical. The door is pale and open. Beyond it, the muffled voices of people in white travelling along the corridor. I see flashes of clipboards, glasses, and white; maybe jackets. I am not sure why I am here. My head is woolly and my feet numb. Looking through the window, which is higher than usual, there is a meadow of greens and splashes of yellow. Beyond that nothing but sky; grey mainly. I need to wash my hands but they refuse to move, lying heavily, tingling, as though dipped in iced water. I was told to lie prostrate. It’s the drugs, they said, just rest.

My mind never rests. One. Two. Three. The tiles above the sink are unsymmetrical. Four. Five. Six. There is no middle groove where the grouting should lie. Seven. The fourth tile should not be in the middle. The lack of symmetry makes me feel uncomfortable and unsettles a sense of order, or disorder, in my mind. I remember, maybe earlier, a doctor in the house, an ambulance, a cup of coffee, a dog and Sandra, in no particular order. Why do I remember Sandra last? Where is she? Continued on the Litro website.

 

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