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Author Interview: CM Taylor on writing within theme, Brexit and his new novel Staying On

October 18, 2018
It’s great to have CM Taylor back on the blog on publication day for his new novel, Staying On. I was lucky enough to read an advance copy of this and I stayed up half the night to find out what would happen. It’s a funny and very moving (I cried!) story of a family that needs to face up to its past – a situation that’s brought to a head when Brexit comes along and their life in Spain no longer seems quite so sunny. Craig, in the teaching you do, theme is a crucial element in guiding the story and the theme for me that came through strongly in Staying On is guilt and culpability. How it manifests, the twisted nature of it that makes people believe different things about the same situation. What made you want to explore this theme in this novel? Shouldn’t a book in the final instance be about something – have a take on the world, an angle, something to say about how people are, how the world is? That’s what strong theme gives you. One of the things I write and teach about is the idea that narrative art maps human change, and that characters in stories move from the denial and repression of certain feelings, into the awareness and exploration of those feelings, and then on to acting on them – either positively or negatively. When you say there’s a strong element of guilt and culpability in the book, it’s true, and that to me is part of character development and theme, of how character carries theme across story, beginning with denial, (“It wasn’t me.” “That’s not how it was.” “It didn’t happen.” “I haven’t got a problem.” “There’s nothing to see here.”), moving into flashes of light, (“Maybe there is a problem.” “Maybe I did do something wrong.” “Maybe there is something I need to look at.”), then into acceptance or conscious surfacing, (“God, I do have an issue here.” “There is something I need to look.” “Maybe I did do something wrong.”), and on into being galvanised, (“I really do need to apologise.” “I really do need to make that clear.” “I do really need to tell the truth.”). People use denial as self-protection. People lie to themselves about the things which are hardest to entertain. But denial has consequences. If you lie to yourself about one thing it seeps over into other things and leads to moral corruption. As Saul Bellow wrote: “Everybody knows there is no fineness or accuracy of suppression; if you hold down one thing, you hold down the adjoining.” Denial surfaces elsewhere in many negative ways, it squirts out hot and sideways into anger, addiction, failed intimacy, extreme competitiveness, self-harm. I don’t think that this gap between how different characters see things, or the gap between how a character sees things and how it really was, is necessarily just a theme of this novel, I think it’s a part of every character for me,

Shortlist for the comp to win our How To Write a Page Turner Course

October 10, 2018
Thanks to everyone that sent in stories for this. Rose and I have really enjoyed reading them all. We have got 10 shortlisted stories, detailed below, and now Rose will read them all again to choose the four winners. Well done to everyone on the list. Shortlisted stories All The Pieces by Jennifer Riddalls Duplicity by Jac Harmon Forbidden Words by Ninette Hartley Forbidding Words by Matt Lucas Marginalia by Stu Croskell Screams Can Be Silent by Andrea Emblin The Book of Future Past by Stephanie Percival The Names of Rivers by Julia Robinson The Suicide of Charlotte Dovedale by Jane Badrock The Truth and The Lies by Lucinda Hart   Results will be announced soon. Good luck everyone!    

Winners of the October Fantastic Flashing Course

October 9, 2018
Sorry to be so late with this… life has been busy! But here now are the winners. Well done to all. Really looking forward to flashing with these talented writers. Our two winners get a free place and our two runners-up get a half price place on the October Fantastic Flashing Course. There are still a few places left if you would like to join us too… Winner: Leaves, Witches and Wool by Jennifer Riddalls Why I chose it: I loved the way the witch references were weaved through the story so naturally and how the autumn leave colours had been used. Deft little touches to give you an instant image of the people in the story. A sad story with a poignant yet hopeful ending.   We seven sat in a circle, like a coven of witches round a cauldron, staring at the basket of wool in the middle. The coiled yarn looked  stranded, heaped in shades of mustard yellow, burnt orange and maroon, like leaves ready for burning. We chatted, no one mentioning Mary, or her empty chair, until her absence filled the room and she was all we could say. Tears rolled down cheeks, fat droplets getting diverted by deep wrinkles and cutting through face powder. I wondered who would be next. ‘Remember Mary’s face when Katie suggested changing the name to Stitch ‘n’ Bitch?’ Sally said. Laughter briefly chased the sadness away. While laughing the hall door opened and we turned, fully expecting Mary and her grey helmet-like hair, but instead her left-behind-husband came stooping in bearing half-finished knitting projects. He took Mary’s chair. I thought he’d come to give them away, but instead he said, ‘Can you teach me to finish these? They’re for the family, at Christmas.’ We ignored the crack in his voice and Sally handed him some needles. Finally, the spell was broken and we dipped into the wool.   Winner: Behind the Beauty by Jan Brown Why I chose it: Because initially it just seemed like it was going to be a celebration of the wonder of nature and then the final lines gave it a real sting in the tale and emotional resonance.   Her drive to work was on autopilot. There were exceptions. May meant slowing down, the occasional swerve and the sheer delight at catching flashes of blue, swathes secreted in the woodland edging the route. Bluebells never failed to lift her spirits, as good as spotting the first lamb. October was less hazardous because Nature brazenly flaunted its beauty. Every stretch was lined with falling leaves, naked tree trunks standing isolated in vast puddles of crisp gold, bronze and yellow leaves anyone would yearn to kick through. Invariably she’d recite the Ode, sometimes aloud, never getting further than ‘the vines that round the thatch-eaves run.’ The lines were lost but the lush, voluptuous Autumn of Wordsworth stayed with her. Then came the canopy, a mile or more where the car seemed to plunge into a tunnel roofed with glorious colour, particularly if sunbeams penetrated the dense foliage. Surely there was no greater beauty than this gift of

Win a place on the October Fantastic Flashing course

September 16, 2018
Flash Fiction Competition We love comps at Retreat West and we love flash fiction! So our latest competition is to win a place on the October 2018 Fantastic Flashing online course (15th to 28th). Designed and taught by me, it’ll get you creating oodles of new work, reading lots of flashes to learn about different styles, and I’ll give you feedback on a story at the end. Get more info on the course here. To win a place on the course you have to write a flash story based on the prompt below and send by the deadline. Submit stories through Submittable using the button below. Two writers will be chosen and they’ll both get a free place on the course. Two second place writers will get a half price place on the course.   Competition Prompt Write a list of things associated with autumn and then pick three of them to build a story around. 1st Prize (two available) A place on the October Fantastic Flashing course. 2nd Prize (two available) A 50% discount on the October 2018 Fantastic Flashing course (so course costs  just £87.50) All writers that enter will also receive a free ebook edition of the What Was Left anthology of winning stories from the 2016 RW Short Story and RW Flash Fiction Prizes and a £20 discount if they book on the September course (Retreat West Author Members will get the £20 discount on top of their already discounted course fee). Entry Fee: £5 Deadline: 30th September 2018   Competition Rules Submit stories written in English through Submittable using the button below by 23.59 GMT on the deadline date (sorry late entries will not be included). Do not include your name on the document or submission title but provide a short bio in the body of the email. All entries are read anonymously so any submissions showing the author’s name will be automatically disqualified. Your story must not exceed 200 words. Entries that exceed the word count will be automatically disqualified. The story must be based on the prompt and not have been published online or in print, or have won any other competitions. By entering the competition you agree to take part in the September 2018 Fantastic Flashing online course if you win a free or discounted place. Stories can be in any genre apart from children’s fiction and erotica. YA is allowed. You can enter as many times as you like but all entries must be made separately and the entry fee paid each time. The judge’s decision is final. There are no alternative prizes. Winners will be announced by the 7th October 2018.