Monday, 29 July 2013

Brother – Killed by Radiator

So this is the story I nearly named my collection after, but didn't - mum wasn't keen.

It's in Tales from a Broken Biro: There Will Be Ink, and is a true story - as true as I remember it all happening when I was 8.


Brother – Killed by Radiator


News traveled on short white socks as fleet as angels: my brother was dead.

It was a rainy playtime – he’d been playing off-ground-tick between the desks in a downstairs classroom. I didn’t see it but always imagine his thin, pale limbs crushed beneath the monstrous weight of that ancient radiator.

It was a fine old school.  The desks were autographed by generations of previous occupants: surfaces scarred, and undersides tattooed. In the big class downstairs, would one desk have my brother’s name carved into it?  It didn’t seem the sort of thing he’d do.

Not like me – I’d chalked pictures of made-up gods in the playground and invented a new religion (which was frowned upon).

No-one in her class ever read as well as him, Mrs Fransom had told my mother. “A lovely, quiet boy.” People always said that sort of thing about him.

I, on the other hand, was troublesome.  We were new to the area, and I’d blotted my copy book early on by wetting myself halfway through ‘Twinkle, Twinkle’ because I’d been too scared to put my hand up.  It’s funny what you remember and what you don’t.

My brother lay beneath monstrous plumbing as rain threw itself at the windows. He probably didn’t even cry. He just lay there, splayed out on the block flooring, gazing towards heaven like a martyred saint in a library book.

And it turned out quite quickly he wasn’t dead after all, but, just for a minute, I was giddy with the possibility.

(c) Clare Kirwan


N.B. No brothers were harmed in the writing of this story

Thursday, 18 July 2013

How to win a poetry competition - top 10 tips

As a regular entrant to (and occasional winner of) writing competitions it was eye-opening to be administrator of a poetry competition recently and see the process from 'the other side' with 356 entries, both online and by post.

First, what doesn't work: an A4 'do not bend' envelope, first class post, two months prior to deadline and posh paper make no difference at all if the poem's poor. A better poem triple folded, second class, last minute is still far more likely to win. (Someone even attached a full CV - entirely superfluous as decent competitions are judged anonymously based solely on the poem.)

Taking entry fees off some poets felt like taking sweets from babies and I worry about unscrupulous competitions whose aim is solely to make money - especially beware of ones where the entry fee is big and the prizes small. (Winning Writers lists contests to avoid).

I was only the admin, but I looked at the entries with interest and, as I've been placed a few times in competitions myself, began to get an idea of what judges are looking for. So here are my top ten tips on getting placed in competitions:

1. Read the instructions!  I received entries with no cheque, no contact details, in file formats I couldn't open etc. Many poets put their names on the poem itself - despite instructions not to! - or double spaced their poems so they spread onto two sheets when the rules clearly said one sheet only!

2. Don't write everything in capital letters. The rules may not state this, but just don't. See Capital Idea

3. Check for mistakes in spelling and puncutation 

4. Pay attention to detail - edit carefully, make sure every word is the right word and has earned its place in the poem. Get someone to look it over for you if you can.

5. A strong opening grabs the attention - pay special attention to the first few lines... and the last few.

6. A strong voice or character engages the reader more than abstract content

7. It has to stand out from the competition - so send poems with surprising and interesting subject matter

8. The same is true of titles. Spend time thinking of a title that adds to the poem

9. Read it aloud - judges will often do this and there may be the odd awkward rhythm, or phrase that jars

10. I'm a chronic deadline-hugger. I've still been placed in competitions despite only entering a day or two before the deadline. However half the entries I received were in the last week, and I couldn't help thinking it might be better to arrive before the rush - if only to ensure the postal service and computer systems don't thwart you at the last minute! Just a thought.

Good luck!  And remember - it's all subjective. What one judge puts aside another may love.

Incidentally, the winner and runner up of the one I was involved with are HERE.

p.s. If you're new to the blog and wondering what my credentials are, check out this list on my website.

Ready to win? Here's a list of where to find details of poetry competitions in the UK and beyond:

  • The Poetry Library - lists reputable competitions
  • MsLexia - writing magazine for women, but the listings page is good
  • Prize Magic - the name sounds dodgy but the guy who runs it is keen and thorough
  • Morgen Bailey's Writing Blog very detailed competitions calendar... and there's so much more on the site, it's well worth a visit

Saturday, 13 July 2013

Free Flash!

To celebrate this weekend's Wirral Festival of Firsts, my flash collection will be available FREE from around 9am today for 24 hours!

On Saturday 13th July there are more than 70 music acts - acoustic, rock, unplugged, rap, gospel, folk, jazz playing for FREE in the bars of Hoylake from 1pm until late... and did I mentioned the Jazz Parade through town at 1pm?  I'm running a Flash workshop as part of First Write at Hoylake Library from 11.30am and then I'll be having some festival time!

On Sunday 14th July we have a 2 mile exhibition of  'Art on the Prom' with displays and workshops at Hoylake Community Centre, and entertainment in and around the Parade Gardens (including me around 4pm!) . Such fun! 

To pick up your FREE copy of my collection of 24 flash fiction stories, click here: Tales from a Broken Biro - There Will Be Ink. And don't worry if you don't own a Kindle - it's easy to download their free reading apps and then you can read it on your PC, laptop, tablet or electric toothbrush (just kidding about that last one!). 

And if you read this too late, it's less than £2 when it isn't free, so click on the link anyway.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

An interview with National Flash Fiction Day's Calum Kerr

My guest today is Calum Kerr is a writer, editor, lecturer and director of National Flash-Fiction Day in the UK. He lives in Southampton with his wife -  the writer, Kath Kerr -  their son and a menagerie of animals. His new collection of flash-fictions, Lost Property, is available from Amazon or from the publisher, Cinder House.

So I tidied up Broken Biro Towers - sweeping puns under the settee and tittivating the double entendres - and settled down to ask Callum a few questions about flash (or 'micro', or short short) fiction:

Why flash? What's so good about short short stories?

Because a novel tries to give you all the answers but a short story, especially flash, does little more than pose questions. Given nothing more than the outline, the reader then has to paint it in for themselves. It’s more satisfying, I think, and stays with you longer.

Also, from a writer’s point of view, you can experiment, try things, play around, without the long term commitment of a novel.

Flash in a pan or here to stay?

Well, it’s only had the name ‘flash-fiction’ for twenty years, but it’s been around a lot longer than that. People are already challenging that name, so I imagine it will fade out, but the short short story will always be with us, I think.

Where does your inspiration come from?

Can I quote Douglas Adams and say ‘a mail order company in Cleveland’? Seriously, though, it comes from everyehere, things I see, things I hear and overhear, things I read, things I watch on TV and in the cinema, and more than anything from my experience of being alive, interacting with friends (and enemies) and family, and from experiencing emotion.

Slice of life or twist in the tail?

Both. Neither.  I’ve written both, but I don’t privilege one over the other. Twisty ones can be all about the punchline, which weakens them as stories. Slicey ones can be all setting and no plot. I think I try and find a middle ground. The ending might be a surprise, but it is truly formed from the content that comes before it. Slice of life, with a twist, then.

What's your No.1 tip for someone just experimenting with the form?

Just go for it. Write whatever you want, as often as you can, and don’t worry about the quality. It’s about feeling your way and that’s something you only get with practice.

And No.2?


Edit like crazy. Any piece of writing needs editing, but flash even more so. Did the first draft come out at 400 words? I bet you could make it 200 without missing the point and, in fact, while making the whole thing stronger.

Who are your favourite flash fictioneers / recommended reading as examples of the form?

David Gaffney was the first flash-fictioneer that I read. He has such a wonderful ability with the tiny tale. Sawn-Off Tales was where I started, and as soon as I get paid I’m going to buy his new one, More Sawn-Off Tales. I also enjoy Tania Hershman and Vanessa Gebbie. Kevlin Henney writes amazing things, as does Valerie O’Riordan. Oh, and Jenny Adamthwaite has my eternal jealousy for what she achieves.

Anything else you'd like to say about flash fiction?


Yes. I think what’s interesting about it is that it’s new. The form has been around for ages, as I said, but it’s only in recent years that it has been classified and arguments still rage over what exactly it is. This means we get to make our own definitions, to help mould this form into a shape, or, more likely, explore how the ways in which it’s impossible to mould, to categorise, or confine. It’s a very exciting time to be writing a very exciting form of story.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Me and The Scaffold

Claim to fame: I've now been kissed by every member of The Scaffold.

Born in the 60's, I missed the band's heyday though I inherited a load of vinyl singles from the daughter of a neighbouring magician (don't ask) so I sort of grew up with Lily the Pink and Thank U Very Much and their lesser known b-sides like I'd be the First.

But when I listened to them as a kid little did I know my path would cross and recross theirs:

Mike McCartney (Paul's big brother) lives in Wirral and in 2008 was declared the borough's Cultural Champion. I was working in the Council's press office and was at several events where he was the guest. I even had to pop round to his house once for a DVD of pictures he'd taken for some launch. I wasn't invited in. On meeting him a couple of times since, I didn't think he'd registered me. But on Saturday, at the launch of the Festival of Firsts, he greeted me with a big smacker... although I'm fairly sure he has no idea who I am!

Roger McGough is, of course, now an elder statesman of British poetry. He's vaguely linked (not sure exactly how) to Liverpool's Dead Good Poets Society, of which I am a member, but lives down south and rarely shows his face unless it is to paying audiences. I did spend one rainy morning on a bus with him when local poets were drafted in as extras for a Channel Five shoot of his bus/ apocalypse poem. But last week he chose me as winner of the Alsager Poetry Competition, and... well, you can read it here if you missed it!

John Gorman was the one I knew the least but now know best. I never saw  TISWAS - we were a BBC family - but since he moved back to Wirral a few years ago he's been actively inciting poets, artists and other 'creatives' to bring a new artistic fervour to the borough. He created the Wirral Young Poet Laureates (a platform to frighteningly good young poets) and brought warring tribes of bards and odesters out onto the streets in poetry flash-mobs. He is also founding father of Wirral's Festival of Firsts, during which, last year, he invited me to write my first play: Enola Gay - and made sure I did!

I've seen John and Roger do a double act and I've seen John and Mike bring a packed Echo Arena to their feet with their classic songs...But I've still never seen them all in the same room! What do you think... shall I start a campaign for the re-invention of Lily the Pink?

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Balls in the air

Like a new pet or a small child, you know that when I'm quiet I'm 'up to something'.

Fear not! I haven't been chewing your slippers or peeing on the kitchen floor, No, I yearn for slippers, dream of peeing on... ahem. It's just that I've been busy with many things. I've had, like Wimbledon, many balls in the air.

In the last week I wrapped up the poetry competition I've been administrator of, celebrated various birthdays with meals out - including  a full-day mystery tour for mum (I didn't know where I was going either!), entertained my Missionary Uncle, did loads of promotional stuff including a festival newsletter, got my first poetry collection* out in the nick of time, had a Big Scary gig, took part in the local Poetry Proms and was media liaison person at the Festival launch. Also the usual 20 hours work in the library.

The Big Scary thing was a paid guest poet gig at a leading literacy organisation's annual conference. I was already nervous before discovering the delegates had been invited to bring and read out their favourite poets: Neruda, Keats, Henri etc... . Also it coincided with the Andy Murray semi-final and there was a very large screen at the venue - which they did turn off - and a smaller one at the side - which they didn't! At key moments all eyes were on the match, even as I spouted - which was ever so slightly off-putting!

I could try to compete with Keats, but not the Tennis On.


* more to come about this... only had 30 copies printed and it needs some tweeking