What have you been up to this last two weeks? Everything has been pretty much as normal here at McFish Towers, and that in itself means I have a lot to be thankful for.

The highlight of my month so far has been recording a podcast for Northern Gravy with the talented poet and all-round splendid person, Ralph Dartford. It was a real joy to natter on for half an hour – well a lot longer actually, as we got carried away! – about writing, reading and our appreciation of Bruce Springsteen. Ralph is a dream interviewer – it felt like we were having a good old chinwag in the pub. He was also very kind about my new poetry collection, and said such complimentary things that it doesn’t really matter now if no one else likes it – I feel as though my work is done! (But you know, if you want to pre-order it then I won’t stop you ;-)) The podcast will be live in a couple of weeks, so I’ll keep you posted.

A few weeks ago I wrote a flash fiction piece for a collaborative novella-in-flash to be published by Reflex Press. There are twenty-five writers involved, each contributing a story of a thousand words or less which has to relate to the previous pieces of work and advance the story. I was number fifteen in line, and I had two or three ideas germinating right from the start, but there was always the danger that someone else would pull the story in a wildly different direction before it was my turn! I’m glad I’ve finally written my piece, as now I can relax and read the rest without any pressure. It’s amazing to see how twenty-five different minds work!


A couple of weeks ago there was a lovely event in London at the Embassy of Chile to honour and celebrate the work of VP’s inspirational founder, Consuelo Rivera-Fuentes. The Ambassador presented Consuelo with an award which recognised her achievements in promoting cultural relations between Chile and the UK. As well as family, friends and colleagues, many of the Victorina Press authors were in attendance. The afternoon included readings and tributes, live music, and messages of congratulation from those who couldn’t be there.

Closer to (my) home, the Leeds Literary Festival will be taking place between February 25th and March 5th. I was delighted when they won the Saboteur Award for Best Literary Festival for the second time last year.

“Returning for its fifth year, the city’s award-winning festival of words and thought will take place across a diverse range of the city’s spaces and aims to bring together, and help develop, the city’s literary scene, with writers, poets and performers from the UK and beyond. This year’s festival will tie in with Leeds 2023, the citywide celebration of culture and will interweave themes of untold stories, radical acts, playful adventures and future generations”https://www.leedslitfest.co.uk/whats-on/all-shows/poverty-and-the-pandemic-in-conversation-with-stu-hennigan/7655

I’ve just read Tokyo Express by Seicho Matsumoto. A perfectly plotted detective story written in the 1950s which was a huge bestseller in Japan and has only recently been translated into English. It was a real page turner – the only time I stopped turning was when I paused to mull over all the facts. I was attempting to get one step ahead of the detectives on the case!

And last night I finished The Fortnight in September by R C Sheriff. A poignant novel written between the wars about a family’s annual holiday to Bognor. It was recommended by Kazuo Ishiguro and I can see its subtle influence in The Remains of the Day – the setting, the idea of the evening as the best part of the day, characters restrained by duty and their perceived position in life. And the family are called Stevens!


This week we’re going to start to look at characterisation. Here is another excerpt from my short story course, The Heart of the Short Story:

Readers often comment that they feel a strong emotional connection to my protagonists even though the stories and situations are outside their own realm of experience. Out of all the positive things people say about my work, this is my favourite compliment – I’m even happier if they say I’ve made them cry!

In short stories there is very little time for readers to get to know your characters, so you need to establish them quickly. The best way to start is by jotting down a quick character profile for your main protagonist. You should always know more about your characters than you’ll ever use in your story. Having that knowledge will make them more real, more believable, because you will feel as though you are writing about close friends.

“A writer who omits things because he does not know them only makes hollow places in his writing.” Ernest Hemingway.

This extra knowledge is also important when it comes to steering the plot. The main character’s motivation is the thing that pushes the story forward, and understanding their past is the key to understanding their drive and ambition in the here and now. Depending on your character, you may think of  deeper questions to ask yourself about them which will give you additional insight and further material for your story.

You can then consider all the ways to convey this in your work – by understanding and controlling psychic/narrative distance and by learning the tricks you can use to establish a deeper point of view. (We’ll look at that next time.)

Before you get started on your character profiles, read ‘The Keeper of the Jackalopes’, Angela Readman’s fabulous piece which won the Costa Short Story Award in 2013. Clary and Cale are two wonderful characters, beautifully and evocatively portrayed. You can tell that Readman knows them both inside out. https://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/jan/29/costa-2013-short-story-award-angela-readman


My word of the week is astrophile – a person who loves stars. (A person who doesn’t love stars is called soulless 😉 )

See you next time!

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4 Responses

  1. Astrophile – a person who loves stars: After breeding the Stardell line of border collies for over 50 years and naming all my puppies after stars or other astronomical bodies I not only love stars but know the names of thousands of them. Guess that makes me an astrophile.

    1. Glad you’re enjoying the writing tips, Carol! Word of the Week is my favourite thing – I’ve learned some excellent new words whilst checking out my chosen ones 🙂

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