Radio Litopia’s Open House

…starts in 45 minutes. 🙂 7pm UK time / 2pm EST.

You may notice every now and then around this blog I mention Radio Litopia.

Apart from being on-air (music, interviews, previous shows) 24 hours a day, we all congregate in the chat room every Sunday at 7pm (UK time) / 2pm (EST) for a fun-filled hour-long Open House.

Agent Pete sets us tasks and we relish in completing them – we’ve not beaten him yet! Whether it’s limericks, collective nouns or the perfect trifecta you’re bound to have fun… we do. 🙂

Once we’ve worn our brains down, we then sit back, relax and listen to Agent Pete and Dave Bartram chat to studio and Skype guests of a variety of genres while we, still in the chatroom get to comment, ask questions and, as is often the way, go completely off at a tangent.

So if you’re game (pardon the pun) for an evening of literary mayhem and education click here.

Fellow Litopians include Issy FlamelJack MartinJoseph V SultanaJulia Kavan, Lae Monie and Sarah Tanburn and you can tweet @Litopia on Twitter.

Flash Fiction Friday 012: ‘The grey stones and leaden cross’ by Issy Flamel

Welcome to Flash Fiction Friday and the twelfth piece of flash fiction in this new weekly series. This week’s piece is a 520-worder entitled ‘The grey stones and leaden cross’ by Issy Flamel. One thing, I’ve already learned about Issy is his skill for spooky – added to this was my selection of the date on which this piece would appear on my blog; December 9th, which meant nothing to me but when I advised Issy he told me that it’s the anniversary of the publishing of The Charge of the Light Brigade in the London Examiner. With this in mind, please read on…

Cold snakes of fog writhe from the sluggish flow of the Thames, deadening the clip-clop of the carriage horses that trot past in the gloom, harnesses clinking as they dissolve into the mists of Soho.

‘Shilling for one of the Six Hundred Sir? First to the guns for Queen and country.’ As the beggar thrusts a battered army cap forward with a reek of sour ale, a grimy eye-patch, set in a sea of scars that disfigure a shattered cheek and jaw, breaks into the flickering glare of the gaslights. Tennyson only published in The Examiner days ago, and surely this wretch cannot have been shipped from the Crimea in six weeks? But he gets a sixpence for sheer gall, and raises a knuckle to his temple as he turns for the gin-shop at the corner of Wardour Street.

A siren voice calls from the warm light under a painted sign announcing Mrs. Dawson’s Dress Emporium.

‘Care for a fitting, dearie? You look a well-built fellow,’ she trills, swishing her skirts so the material gleams in invitation. An acceptance will win passage through the veil of heavy velvet curtains at the rear of the shop to the narrow stairwell up which the real business is conducted. Under her feet, entombed in the dripping walls of the basement room, two sullen-eyed waifs watch as their mother vomits her life away, while Vibrio Cholarae breeds inside her. The industrious Pacini has this year identified the germ through his microscopical investigations, but what can a subject of that medieval fantasia Lombardy-Venetia know of medicine? Doctor Snow, who cannot be doubted on the grounds of being a feverish Latin, has also produced his outlandish theory of little unseen creatures – but everyone knows the science is settled and a miasma of foul breezes transmit the disease. So although the handle was removed from the pump on Broad Street in September, other sources of infection remain. The children will be buried in the same grave, as the parish coffers of St. Luke’s are drained by the epidemic.

Next door to the bawdy den the grey stones and leaded windows are covered in a spreading crust of green algae, as though nature is rebelling against the artifice of human ingenuity and reclaiming the façade. The curious potential customer extracts his handkerchief and wipes clear a viewing hole into the dank interior; he makes out an eccentric jumble of bric-a-brac, furniture and dusty piles of leather-bound manuscripts. A balding toy monkey sits expectantly, cymbals poised to clash, waiting for the maestro’s acknowledgement. A pair of russet enamel vases, one with an umbrella poking out of the top, the other blessed with a cascade of curling, desiccated lilac blooms, the promise of their heady, sultry perfume enticing one over the threshold through the glass. And perched atop a French Empire escritoire, eyes glinting ovals of night in the reflected brilliance of gold leaf patterning, sits a lacquerware demon. His tongue protrudes rudely between razor teeth, lolling down onto his blood-red chest as his gaze beckons. Entering, as under a spell, the traveller falls into the darkness of another world.

I asked Issy what prompted this piece and he said…

I had just devoured the first few chapters of Umberto Eco’s latest novel The Prague Cemetery, and I wanted to see if I could achieve similar effects. I’ve always admired his work (his books On Beauty and Kant and the Platypus are both accessible to the non-specialist and breathtaking in scope) with the incredible density of the ideas. So I sat down, gave myself half an hour, and this is what came out. In the modern age we are used to being bombarded with data from every angle, and his novels in some ways mimic this with an intertwining of narrative and milieu that is astonishing at times. When going through life we are aware of a multiplicity of events, thoughts and emotions, and in many cases we don’t know what is important as we experience them – they are just part of the background babble that is the soundtrack to our lives. I’ve tried to produce this feeling of a melting pot of immediacy. Whether I’ve succeeded or not is for others to judge!

Half an hour? I despair. <laughs> Thank you (again) Issy.

When not writing, and being mentioned on The Society of Authors website, Issy can be found hanging out on Twitter and in the depths of Radio Litopia and WriterLot where you can read equally atmospheric and haunting pieces from the minute-long ‘Cherry Blossom’ to a make-yourself-comfortable 12-minute ‘Gloriana’.

If you’d like to submit your 1,000-word max. stories for consideration for Flash Fiction Friday take a look here.

The blog interviews will return as normal tomorrow with multi-genre author Terra Hangen – the two hundred and thirteenth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, bloggers, biographers, agents, publishers and more. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further. And I enjoy hearing from readers of my blog; do either leave a comment on the relevant interview (the interviewees love to hear from you too!) and / or email me. You can also read / download my eBooks and free eShorts at Smashwords.

Author interview no.185 with literary novelist Ellen Feldman

Welcome to the one hundred and eighty-fifth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, bloggers, autobiographers and more. Today’s is with novelist, author of social history and book reviewer Ellen Feldman. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.

Morgen: Hello, Ellen. Please tell us something about yourself and how you came to be a writer.

Ellen: I am a fulltime writer.  All I’ve ever wanted to be was a writer, though for a long time I was too frightened to try, because I thought writers were a breed apart.

Morgen: “too frightened to try” – I love that. What happened next?

Ellen: I worked for a few years in advertising and publishing, then finally got up the courage to start writing.  Lest this sound as if I’m about to say, the rest is history, I’m not.  I spent many years freelancing for publishing houses while I wrote my heart out until I got published.

Morgen: It’s a shame that you felt you needed the courage but you clearly had (have) the passion that so many of us share with you. What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?

Ellen: I confess to disliking the idea of genres.  I think it buttonholes writers unfairly and discourages readers who might love the book if it didn’t come with a label.

Morgen: Oh me too. That’s why I stick with short stories. Well, not the only reason (it’s also what I love reading) but I can’t stick with one genre, and that’s the joy of eBooking. How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?

Ellen: I’m not a good marketer, however I happily do whatever my publishers in the UK and the US arrange.  I don’t think of myself as a “brand,” because each of my books is different.

Morgen: You’re very fortunate. I’ve heard of so many writers being pigeon-holed because they write a particular genre and then it’s what’s expected of them, from the industry and readers alike I’d say. Have you won or been shortlisted in any competitions and do you think they help with a writer’s success?

Ellen: I was shortlisted for the Orange Prize and have won a Guggenheim.  I’m not sure how much they help a writer’s success, but they certainly sent this writer over the moon.

Morgen: 🙂 I have your latest novel ‘Next to Love’ and it mentions the Orange Prize shortlist on the (gorgeous) cover. Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?

Ellen: I have an agent in the US and another in the UK.  They work together.  I think they’re invaluable professionally and consider them both personal friends.

Morgen: As do I my editor. 🙂 Are your books available as eBooks?

Ellen: My books are available as e-books, and I think it’s a terrific platform for those who enjoy it.  I don’t care in what form people read my books; I’m just delighted if they read them.

Morgen: Me too. I like to think that most writers write to be read and not just sold. 🙂 Do you read eBooks?

Ellen: I don’t read on an electronic device myself, simply because I like to turn actual pages, but my husband does and swears by it.

Morgen: A lot of people do, although most authors I’ve spoken to love both formats, although some are still fighting eBooks. I think they’re great for different purposes; paperbacks at home, eBooks away. Did you have any say in the title of your books? How important do you think they are?

Ellen: I have chosen all my titles, with help from my US agent.  I think they’re important, though not necessarily crucial.

Morgen: I love titles but yes, they’re not the only reason I buy a book. 🙂 Do any of your books have dedications? If so, to whom and (if appropriate) why?

Ellen: They all have dedications to people, either living or dead, whom I want to honor.

Morgen: Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?

Ellen: Show me a writer who hasn’t had rejections, and I’ll show you someone who’s not telling the whole truth.  The only way I know of dealing with a rejection is to keep writing.

Morgen: To literally “write your heart out”. 🙂 What are you working on at the moment / next?

Ellen: I’m at work on a novel set against the cultural cold war about a marriage and a nation betrayed.

Morgen: Do you manage to write every day? What’s the most you’ve written in a day?

Ellen: I write almost every day, but I do so much backing and filling and rewriting that I never know how much I’ve written in any given day.

Morgen: It sounds like you don’t need to search far but a question some authors dread, where do you get your inspiration from?

Ellen: Ah, I wish I knew.  It’s some deep subterranean process that, strangely enough, tends to bubble up when I run my three miles around the Central Park reservoir every morning.

Morgen: Running, walking works for a lot of writers (I have a notebook in every dog-walking jacket). Central Park is featured in so many movies, it’s looks a wonderful place so it’s not surprising that it’s your muse. Do you have a method for creating your characters?

Ellen: I have no method.  I just have to live with them and get to know them better and better as the book goes on.

Morgen: We’ve mentioned your novels mostly so far, do you do any other type of writing?

Ellen: I write either book reviews or magazine pieces on social history when asked to do so.  I recently wrote a short story for BBC4.

Morgen: I know a lot of people listen to the BBC – they’re so supportive of writers. Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?

Ellen: I do an enormous amount of rewriting.  In fact, I probably do more rewriting now than when I started out, because I demand more of myself.  There’s an old Hemingway quote that goes something to the effect:  When you start out, it’s fun for you and hell for the reader.  By the end, it’s hell for you and fun for the reader.

Morgen: Oh dear. I guess I would rather have it that way round though. One of poets says she finds writing tortuous which is a shame, although her writing is superb so I guess she’s there already. 🙂 How much research do you have to do for your writing? Have you ever received feedback from your readers?

Ellen: I do a great deal of research and love hearing from readers.

Morgen: Let’s hope we have some comments here. 🙂 What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?

Ellen: Whether I use first or third depends on the demands of the story I’m trying to tell and the characters themselves.  I’ve never tried second person. Finding the person and more important the voice is crucial for me.  Once I start hearing the voice, I know I’m on the way.

Morgen: Oh I love second person. It’s an acquired taste; sadly most editors haven’t acquired it yet. 😦 Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?

Ellen: I have a novel I worked on for two-and-a-half years that I doubt will ever be published.

Morgen: Oh dear. Looking on the bright side, it was practice (not sure that helps when you’ve spent so long on it)… What advice would you give aspiring writers?

Ellen: If you don’t have to write, don’t.  It’s often a difficult life with much heartbreak.  But if you have to write, go to it.  When it’s going well, few things are more wonderful.

Morgen: Absolutely. Thank you so much Ellen.

Ellen was recently a guest on internet writing-related show Radio Litopia’s ‘After Dark’ which I’ve been involved in for the past year. I was in the chatroom that evening when we were asked to come up with the titles for the show. Knowing that Ellen’s latest book was called ‘Next to love’ I suggested something like ‘Writing is the next best thing to love’. It was picked (minus ‘Writing is’) 🙂 and I won a signed copy of Ellen’s book (which is proudly sitting next to me as I type this). I have just started reading it but am already hooked, not surprising when the opening of Chapter 1 is ‘Babe does not take long to learn the dirty little secret of war’. You can listen to Ellen’s episode on Radio Litopia here.

***

If you are reading this and you write, in whatever genre, and are thinking “ooh, I’d like to do this” then you can… just email me and I’ll send you the information. They do now (January 2013) carry a fee (£10 / €12.50 / $15) for the new interviews on this blog but everything else (see Opportunities on this blog) is free.

If you go for the interview, it’s very simple; I send you a questionnaire (I have them for novelists, short story authors, children’s authors, non-fiction authors, and poets). You complete the questions, and I let you know when it’s going to go live. Before it does so, I add in comments as if we’re chatting, and then they get posted. When that’s done, I email you with the link so you can share it with your corner of the literary world. And if you have a writing-related blog / podcast and would like to interview me… let me know.

Alternatively, if you’d like a free Q&A-only interview, I now have http://morgensauthorinterviews.wordpress.com on which I’ve rerun the original interviews posted here then posted new interviews which I then reblog here. These interviews are Q&A only, so I don’t add in my comments but they do get exposure on both sites.

** NEW!! You can now subscribe to this blog on your Kindle / Kindle app!

See http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B008E88JN0

or http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B008E88JN0 for outside the UK **

You can sign up to receive these blog posts daily or weekly so you don’t miss anything. You can contact me and find me on the internetview my Books (including my debut novel, which is being serialised on Novel Nights In!) and I also have a blog creation / maintenance service especially for, but not limited to, writers. If you like this blog, you can help me keep it running by donating and choose an optional free eBook.

For writers / readers willing to give feedback and / or writers wanting feedback, take a look at this blog’s Feedback page.

As I post an interview a day (amongst other things) I can’t unfortunately review books but I have a list of those who do. I welcome critique for the four new writing groups listed below and / or flash fiction (<1000 words) for Flash Fiction Fridays. For other opportunities see (see Opportunities on this blog).

The full details of the new online writing groups, and their associated Facebook groups, are:

We look forward to reading your comments.

Radio Litopia is now a Sunday double-bill… starting now!

As I type this online writing radio show Radio Litopia’s Open House is just starting. Whilst I understand that thousands of people listen to the podcast (that’s how I started) the main fun (for me anyway) the chat room is generally attended by a fairly exclusive bunch of people. Quality over quantity? Absolutely, but Agent Pete (who I interviewed yesterday morning by the way) loves to have a crowd. It can get pretty rowdy but one thing’s for sure – you’re going to have some fun. 🙂

So… I’m off to join them and if you have a spare hour of two, then come along…

Open House runs 6.30pm to 8pm UK time (1.30pm East Coast time / 10.30pm Pacific time) – fun and games so you need brain power

then

Litopia After Dark 8pm to 9pm – often with some wonderful guests! We’ve had Mark Billingham, Peter James, Ellen Feldman and many more… don’t know who we have tonight but I’ll update this page when I know.

http://www.litopia.com/radio/live-events

when the page opens you’ll hear Agent Pete’s dulcet tones and the rest of us playing games. Put a username (no spaces) where prompted (in the middle of the black square) and Bob’s your father’s brother. 🙂

Flash Fiction Friday 003: Issy Flamel’s ‘The Ruby Stradivarius’

Welcome to Flash Fiction Friday and the third piece of flash fiction in this new weekly series. This week’s story is a 588-worder entitled ‘The Ruby Stradivarius’ by Issy Flamel.

The room fills with the scratching of nib across paper as Jacob prays for his hand to cease trembling and let him sign the contract. He closes his eyes and forces in a ragged breath as he screws the barrel of the pen back into its lid and places it with a solid clunk on the heavy wood of the table. He opens them to see the knowing smile of his new employer breaking across his broad, open face, the greying eyebrows arched above the cornflower blue eyes.

‘Congratulations Herr Shulman! And welcome to our little band.’ Jacob’s hand is wrapped inside the older man’s and shaken effusively.

‘Thank you Herr Direktor, thank you! I hope… that is I know… I mean I want you to know…’ the words come rushing out until the Direktor shushes him with a wave of his hands.

‘Peace Jacob, peace, or how will you play? For, now we have the formalities over with, it is time.’ As he speaks Jacob follows through the gleaming oak doorway and glides down the scarlet silk carpet, under the opulent glint of gilded traceries and diamond sparkle of teardrop chandeliers, breathing in the history heavy air to the echoes of ghostly applause showering down from the gods. And there it is. Balanced on a single chair, commanding the platform of the gently raked stage, the Ruby Stradivarius, its dark sinuous tones gleaming under the spotlight, throwing down its challenge.

‘As leader it is yours, and only yours, to play as long as you are with us…’ and the gesture is made, inviting Jacob to claim his prize.

‘I can’t believe… all my life I’ve wanted… how did you come by such a masterpiece?’ and instantly the question is regretted, as the first note of dissonance intrudes. The esteemed Direktor pulls at his cuffs and shifts his glance away.

Jacob feels without being able to say why that somehow a mistake has been made, expectations tarnished, the off-colour joke at a family funeral, or the unwanted advance that hangs in the air long after the rejection.

‘We have been very fortunate Herr Shulman… after the war… well you know how things were. A generous benefactor, a reparation you might say…’ he coughs into a handkerchief and the words tail off.

And still Jacob stands, disturbed and dazzled by the moment, his limbs chained, until a controlling grip on his shoulder thrusts him forward. Now the instrument is cradled in his hands, nestled to his chin, and with a sweep of the bow is singing, singing with such ethereal sweetness, rise after rise of spiralling cadenzas that flow one upon another as he feels the violin pulse under his fingers, the strings shimmering. Plunged into ecstasy Jacob is lost.

Then in an instant his startled eyes recoil as the polished veneer is now not ruby, but a roiling sea of blood, and the music a despairing, mournful glissando, as cold skeletal fingers entwine with his, falling whispers of ringlets brush his cheek and caress the living wood. Flesh pressing down on the strings, flesh pressing out against the razor-wire, a cremation ash of falling rosin gleaming under the searchlights, as the dogs snarl and the wail of the music is lost in the dead rumble of wagon doors. Sing unto the Lord a new song. Hear me when I call O God of my righteousness. Crimson flames glimmering in its curves, a defiant crescendo spills out, denying death, as a stolen life reclaims a stolen violin and sings its song into eternity.

I asked Issy what prompted this piece and he said…

The inspiration was a re-watching of Schindler’s List. The scene of the piles of belongings, spectacles, even human hair shorn from those about to be liquidated was so haunting I wanted to record a reaction. I suppose I centred on the idea of what do we leave behind when we are gone? And faced with the monstrosity of the attempted eradication of a whole people I wanted to show a defiance, a repudiation if you like. It is difficult to address this issue, because one doesn’t want to fall into sentimentality, and finding a new way to approach the Shoah is not easy! I think it works. I hope so anyway.

Thank you Issy, it’s a very powerful story.

When not writing, and being mentioned on The Society of Authors website, Issy can be found hanging out on Twitter and in the depths of Radio Litopia and WriterLot where you can read this story and other equally atmospheric and haunting pieces from the minute-long ‘Cherry Blossom’ to a make-yourself-comfortable 12-minute ‘Gloriana’.

If you’d like to submit your 1,000-word max. stories for consideration for Flash Fiction Friday click here.