The year of telling stories

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.

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Getting On

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The title story in my new short story pamphlet (available from the Red Squirrel Press website folks) features an old man reflecting on his own experience of ageing. I’ve made him slightly older than me, and it’s fiction of course. I haven’t experienced everything this old man talks about, but I do understand what he’s going through, because I’m going through the same process – we all are.

Everyone ages at slightly different rates, and even different parts of your body age differently. Of my senses, I’ve noticed the hearing loss most acutely, and it’s probably linked to a feeling of insecurity over my sense of balance.

My sight’s deteriorating too, but much more slowly. I’ve got cataracts (who hasn’t?) but they’re not developing quickly. I think I’m lucky, especially when I compare myself to my wife, who now has an appointment later this month in the Ophthalmology Department at the Royal Jubilee Hospital in Clydebank for an assessment of her cataracts.

My fitness regime has allowed me to compensate for the osteoarthritis in my knees by strengthening my quadriceps muscles, and similarly my shoulder problem has been alleviated by strengthening the rotator cuff muscles. What troubles me lately is a shooting pain which sometimes goes through my left wrist – the one I broke falling off my bike, the one which now has a steel plate screwed into it. It’s excruciating, and I lose all strength in my hand when it hits me, although it only lasts seconds. I suspect it’s neurological.

Mental faculties seem to be OK so far – I still do well at University Challenge questions, but they test my long-term memory, which has always been good. I’ve no idea if my short-term memory is getting worse. Planning and decision-making are still good. I’m definitely less tolerant of bad behaviour and some of today’s rather weird (to me) social mores. But these feelings sometimes translate into ideas for new short stories, so they can’t be all bad.

So all in all, I’m rather looking forward to reaching my 75th birthday in 2017. I’ll celebrate it with poetry, and I hope some of my friends will join me.

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Colin Will Bibliography

A friend asked me recently how many collections I’ve had published, and I had to do a bit of calculation. But given that I used to be a librarian, and that librarians are supposed to be able to compile bibliographies, I decided to do just that, so here goes. I haven’t noted which titles are out of print (assume everything before 2010, apart from the Kindle e-books), and I haven’t made a note of ISBNs.

Colin Will Bibliography

Literary works – Monographs

1996
Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Highlands, and more. Diehard. 60pp (paperback)

1997
Flowers of Scotland. Calder Wood Press. (Poetry card)
Painted fruits. Calder Wood Press. (Poetry card)
Roundabout Livingston. Calder Wood Press. (Poetry card)
Landings. Calder Wood Press. (Poetry card)

1999
Robin’s Rowan. Calder Wood Press. (Poetry card)

2000
Seven Senses. Diehard. 62pp (hardback, quarter leather)
Six hundred lines; 200 haiku from West Lothian schools (compiled and edited). Calder Wood Press. 17pp (pamphlet)

2005
Mementoliths. Calder Wood Press. 36pp (pamphlet)

2006
Sushi & Chips. Diehard. 60pp (paperback)

2009
Mementoliths 2. Calder Wood Press. (Kindle e-book)
Recycled Cards. Calder Wood Press. (Kindle e-book)

2010
The floorshow at the Mad Yak Café. Red Squirrel Press. 54pp. (paperback)

2011
Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Highlands (revised). Calder Wood Press. (Kindle e-book)
Seven Senses (revised). Calder Wood Press. (Kindle e-book)

2012
The propriety of weeding. Red Squirrel Press. 92pp. (paperback)

2013
The year’s six seasons [East Lothian poems]. Calder Wood Press. 40pp. (pamphlet)

2014
The Book of Ways [haibun]. Red Squirrel Press. 237pp. (paperback)

2016
Getting On [short stories]. Postbox Press. 32pp. (pamphlet)

Red Squirrel Press and Postbox Press titles are available through the website.

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Umbrellas of Edinburgh

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I’m really pleased to have two poems in this new anthology, edited by Russell Jones and Claire Askew, and published by Freight Books (from whom copies are available). It contains poetry and prose inspired by Edinburgh.

I was born there in 1942, technically in the Simpson Memorial Maternity Pavilion, but my parents had a flat in 1 Valleyfield Street, so I was a Tollcross boy. My father was in Egypt, serving in the RAF, so my mother had to bring me up by herself for the first year anyway. My Aberdonian grandparents lived in Brougham Street, just round the corner, and they often looked after me to let my mother go out to work part-time. My middle brother Graeme arrived in 1944, and my father was finally demobbed in 1946. That was our family complete, until latecomer Stephen was born in 1955. I started in Tollcross Primary, but I was only in that school a couple of years  before we moved to a rented house in Colinton Mains, in 1948 (or it may have been 1949 – I’m understandably vague). My brother and I were enrolled in Craiglockhart Primary, where I first encountered Norman MacCaig, who taught there.

So, when the anthology was announced, and all the potential contributors were asked to pick one or two city locations to write about, my choices were pretty clear from the start – Tollcross and Bruntsfield Links. There are 70 contributors, and it’s a very fine and very varied anthology. I encourage you to buy it. It was launched on 3rd November at the Scottish Poetry Library, with nine readers, lots of audience and lots of cake. And some wine for the non-drivers. (Driving is the curse of the drinking classes).

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Calder Wood Press – the final week

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After nineteen years publishing, Calder Wood Press is now completely wound up, and this past week I’ve been doing transfers and disposals of residual stock, closing my PayPal business account and my RBS business account. I think the only thing left is to cancel the two domain names I have for the press – the .co.uk and .com ones.

I’m not going to go on about how proud I am to have published so many outstanding writers (which I am), or how pleased I am that so many of them have remained my friends (and they have). But I will give you one financial fact about my publishing activities. All the ‘profits’ over the years went into subsidising loss-making publications, and to investing in new ones. I never took any money for myself out of the accounts. I didn’t charge anything for the time, effort and expertise I put into the publications. I didn’t set out to make money from publishing, and in that aim I was completely successful. But if I was twenty years younger I’d do it all again. I enjoyed it – well most of it – enormously.

Thank you to all those who have supported the very talented authors I’ve worked with over the years. Here’s a selection of covers.

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The tat

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I have a short story on the Scottish Book Trust’s Confessions and Secrets website. It didn’t make it to the final anthology, which will be published during Book Week Scotland in November, but I’m OK with that.

Having been on a website it has technically and legally been published, but this gives me the chance to revise it, expand it, and to correct some of its defects. It was, after all, one of my early short stories. Hopefully when it’s been rewritten it will be sufficiently different from the original version to effectively constitute a new story.

It concerned a man who has an obsession with getting a tattoo, and I have to confess now that the original version was partly autobiographical. I did have an obsession with getting a tattoo, and shortly after my 74th birthday I got it. The design above is the tattoo artist’s rendering of my vision, and the tat on my right shoulder is very close to it. I wanted an open book, because that’s how I see myself, and because it represents the books I have yet to write.

Of course, like most of those who have tattoos, I now want to have another. This one will definitely be a tenor saxophone, to represent my other passion for making music. After that one, who knows?

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The pamphlet

 

I’m familiar with most of the poetry magazines I might wish to be published in, and I had a system for managing submissions, acceptances and rejections. With short stories I’m much less certain where to send them, apart from short story competitions, which I’ve been entering.

Now I have a short story pamphlet in the offing, to be published by Postbox Press in the autumn. The title is Getting On, and the title story is about an old man getting older, something rather closer to my own experience than I might like.

During the CoastWord Festival back in May I went to a fiction workshop run by Catherine Simpson. I found it inspiring, and I’ve completed two short stories based on prompts suggested by her, so I was very pleased with that, and grateful to Catherine. The stories are very different. I like to think all my stories are different, and I’m determined to keep my own interest alive by trying to write in different styles, different points of view, and different subjects.

One writing handbook I’ve found useful is Rust Hills: Writing in general and the short story in particular. There’s a lot of sound advice in this book. Another good one is the Writers’ and Artists’ Companion, Writing Short Stories, edited by Courttia Newland and Tania Hershman.

 

 

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