2016 is the year that lots of things changed for me, as a writer and as a publisher, and it all started in December 2015. I was talking to Sheila Wakefield about some of my experiences in the world of amateur drama. As we spoke I realised that some of the things that happened in the drama clubs I once belonged to could be made into stories.
At the same time I was becoming unhappy about my poetry writing. I wrote many poems in 2014 and 2015 – probably too many – and I wasn’t satisfied with the quality of some of them. Sometimes I felt they were same old same old; I was repeating approaches to my writing, and losing sight of Pound’s dictum: Make It New! By coincidence, or maybe not, I had a succession of rejections from magazines, and I knew I’d have to change.
I decided to take a short break from writing poetry, and to try my hand at fictionalising some of my amdram experiences. I didn’t want them to be autobiographical, but at the same time I had experienced or observed many things that I thought others might be interested in. I took soundings from friends about the first few stories, and I was encouraged by their responses – especially the critical ones. Improving my writing was definitely something I could get my teeth into. I was also reading a lot of other short story writers – re-reading Raymond Carver and Hemingway, discovering Alice Munro and Grace Paley among others, and learning from them what worked and what didn’t.
By the Spring I’d written nine short stories set the world of amateur drama, and I’d also written several others in different settings. I began to send some out. I entered three short story competitions (didn’t place in any of them) and sent some to magazines. One that I sent to the Scottish Book Trust’s ‘Secrets and Confessions’ project was published on their website (but didn’t make the printed volume). I felt that was a validation. In May Sheila asked me to consider putting together a short story pamphlet for her Postbox Press imprint, and that resulted in ‘Getting On’ in October. I’ve now written about 40 stories this year, some 80,000 words, and I just can’t stop (nor do I wish to).
I’m very pleased that I’m still writing poetry, although not nearly as much as I have in previous years. 2016 is ending with a new poem written in the last couple of days. My new collection – Pictish – will be coming from Red Squirrel Press in 2017, on my 75th birthday, and I hope I’ll continue to write poetry in the years to come.
On the publishing front, I’ve wound up Calder Wood Press, but I’ve begun a new role as Editor at Postbox Press, where I’m immersed in reading submissions of novels, novellas and short stories. I’m enjoying it immensely. As a poetry editor I know I made a lot of friends and a few enemies. I suspect that as a literary fiction editor the proportions will be reversed, but I’m just as committed to quality writing, whether it’s prose or poetry. I won’t compromise on quality, whether it’s other authors’ writing or my own.