Category Archives: Books

The Willesden Prize, Stories and Tunnels

Stephen Moran, head honcho of the Willesden Herald, has invited me to judge this year’s Willesden Prize, aka ‘The Willesden Herald New Short Stories Competition 2017’, and I’m a bit worried I won’t be up to the job, because the only thing I’m good for right now is listening to music (mostly, this past week or so, The Psychedelic Furs). This month I’ve also started, but not finished reading, several lengthy novels. I’m hoping it won’t be like that when it comes to reading the shortlist. The not finishing, I mean. But then, it’s rare for me not to finish a short story, or not hear the end of a song. No doubt commitment comes into it. The end of a novel or TV series can feel so far off you’ll never get there, and sometimes it seems the writers have had trouble getting there, too.

But songs and stories tunnel into their content instead of finding ways around or over it. I love tunnels: old railway tunnels, foot tunnels, even disused mines, especially when they lead somewhere unexpected. Another country, an underground concert, a beach with no visible path leading to it…


(…not a request for stories featuring tunnels as much as for surprises.) If you’re thinking of giving this a go, here’s a bit more info.

The Willesden Herald New Short Stories Competition

The Willesden Prize is open to anyone, anywhere, writing short stories in English. Length and theme are unimportant – just send the best unpublished piece you have, up to a max of 7500 words. Entries are read blind.

Closing date: August 31

Entries must be sent via the online entry page, with an entry fee of £7.50.

Winners anthology

The winners announcement will be made probably in October or November.  Stories by the ten shortlisted writers will be included in the a paperback book to be published, by December 2017, “Willesden Herald: New Short Stories 10”. (If you’re curious,  find the back issues here.) Each contributing writer will receive two comp copies. Entry fees help pay for the anthology and prizes.

£1200 in prizes

This prize is not all about the money, far from it. Everyone who works on it, sifting, doing admin, judging and editing the anthology, does so on a voluntary basis — but… A prize fund of £1,200 will be split between the 10 shortlisted writers. The winner receives a Willesden Herald mug plus £300, the runner-up £200, and 8 short-listed writers each receive £75.

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John Berger

I reviewed John Berger’s ‘Here is where we meet’ for the Irish Examiner when it came out in 2005: just adding that review here. I was sad to learn of his death. It was lovely to meet him. through his writing. Towards the end of 2016 I’d thought of him once or twice out of the blue, wondering how he was doing, and hoping he would not go out in the cull of 2016. 

Artist, Marxist art critic and author John Berger is likely to be best remembered as writer of the influential ‘Ways of Seeing’, a book and accompanying TV series dating to 1972. The book became a cornerstone of cultural studies theory and is, to this day, required reading at art schools and universities around the world. The fact that in the same year he received the Booker Prize for an experimental novel, ‘G’, is relatively overlooked, as is his acceptance speech in which he deplored literary awards and announced his intention to donate half his prize money to the Black Panthers. If this sounds like the attention-seeking bluster of an enfant terrible, it is worth noting that at the time the writer was actually 46. Now nearly 80, Berger has burst back on to the literary scene with the publication of ‘Here is where we meet’, a book that mixes fiction with essay, past with present, and death with life.

Structured and packaged as eight and a half pieces of fiction, these ‘stories’ provide a framework for autobiographical essays that have as much in common with travel writing and philosophy as with fiction, and the book also finds time to intermittently argue with itself over whether or not it is an autobiography. The protagonist, John, bears a number of resemblances to Berger. In the early pages, his mother cautions him:
—You sound like somebody writing an autobiography. Don’t.
— Don’t what?
—You’re bound to get it wrong.
Throughout this opening story, ‘Lisboa’, John converses with his dead mother. Each meeting, be it in a square or a café, at a fish market or on an elevated aqueduct, is described in luminous detail; together, these sequences function as an eloquent meditation on life, love, and death. John dances with his mother in a Lisbon café, and other café-goers stare, because she is only there for him. Elsewhere in the book dead teachers are encountered in Krakow and Madrid, while in the Islington home of a former art school colleague John sips tea and reminisces about friends, now lost or dead, who once meant everything to him, in a house itself redolent with its own half-remembered histories.
An intimate book that deals lightly with heavy themes, ‘Here is where we meet’ gives its reader the impression of meeting, perhaps even being led an imaginary dance by, its author. It is for this reason a book which this reader did not want to end.


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Bumper edition of The Lonely Crowd

Happy to have couple of pieces on the way in the new Lonely Crowd anthology, which features suitably chill cover art by writer Jo Mazelis. The Lonely Crowd is a series of anthologies of fiction, poetry and photography. Publications like this are so important, because they provide a space to experiment and to play with words (and images). Don’t get me wrong, I love the internet but… It’s so nice that The Lonely Crowd exists as a print publication as well as having a healthy online presence. So am really looking forward to receiving my print copy, and leaving it lying around so that friends, family and visitors visit can pick it up, dip in and out, and talk about it, without a smartphone or a laptop in sight!

The Lonely Crowd is edited by writer John Lavin (read one of his stories online here) and costs £9 a pop, P&P free from TLC direct


The Winter edition, out in early January 2017, is Number 6 in the series, and features new writing by: Robert Minhinnick, Nuala O’Connor, Niall Griffiths, Tom Vowler, Constantinos Andronis, Ingrid Casey, Ellen Davies, Diana Powell, Rhian Elizabeth, Sue Moules, Tony Bianchi, Lander Hawes, Anne Griffin, Emily Devane, Susmita Bhattachary, Paul Davenport-Randell, Iain Robinson, Richard Smyth, Mark Blayney, Mari Ellis Dunning, Nora Shychuk, Derwen Morfayel, John Saul, Neil Campbell, Bethany W. Pope, Kelly Creighton, Alys Conran, Jackie Gorman, Kate North and Jeanette Sheppard.

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HayFest Kells, and the Book of…

Looking forward to reading at the Hay Festival Kells this year, do come if you are anywhere near (or if you live in Dublin!) as there is lots and lots of interesting stuff going on, of which more later. Oddly what gave me the biggest buzz, so far, was to note in travel planning that there’s a main road in Kells called Maudlin Street, which I of course intend to walk down. The name seems entirely appropriate for a town famous for the Book of Kells, which historians believe survived safely in Kells up to ten centuries until in 1654 one of Oliver Cromwell’s cavalry units was stationed nearby and it was “temporarily” sent to Dublin for safekeeping, as a precautionary measure. keels The manuscript was gifted in 1661 to Trinity College Dublin, where I first became aware of it as a student crossing the cobbles of Front Square to get to lectures, and where it still remains to this day. Important manuscripts taken “for safekeeping” to other cities were not always so lucky: many original manuscripts taken for safekeeping from Iceland went up in smoke in the Great Fire of Copenhagen in 1728. If Kells has any residual maudlin feelings about the fact that Dublin hung on to its loan of the famous book a bit past its return-by date, hopefully the facts that The Book of Kells is now free to view online [but wait, takes a few seconds to load], and that Kells is home to its own vibrant book festival, provide some consolation. People taking part in events at Hay Festival Kells this year include Brian Eno (!!), Fintan O’Toole, Miles Dungan, Fabien Erlinghauser, Sara Baume, Ben Okri, and Laureate for Irish Fiction Anne Enright. The full programme can be found here and tickets can be bought online or locally. See you there…

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Rarebit is launching in Cardiff on Short Story Day (21 December 2013). If you are in Cardiff the tour kicks off at 2pm, outside Waterstones Cardiff (The Hayes) and will criss cross central Cardiff until 4pm. Full info from Parthian Books

I am very pleased to be among the writers whose stories make up the Rarebit anthology. Writer and editor Susie Wild’s selection is bound to prove interesting. As an actual physical book Rarebit should be rather special as Cardiff artist John Abell has made a woodcut for each story. (More about the book here and the artist here). Personally I love the visual simplicity of woodcuts, and even did a class once to learn how to make them. They look simple but are hard work: you get this thing like a screwdriver with a V-shape at the end, and have to gouge out chunks of wood with it, working in negative. I still have not seen a copy as I have been stuck at home with a bad cold, watching light coatings of snow bring a look of seasonal glitter to the town, but the book can be bought at good bookshops or ordered from the publisher.

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