Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Jo Derrick - and Twisted Sheets

I am really delighted to welcome Jo Derrick to the blog today, for a natter. Delighted for all sorts of reasons, not the least of which that she was the first editor to take a punt on a new writer, and give her her first ever publications in print, in the sadly no more QWF - Quality Women's Fiction. Those first steps are so important - they can make or break, and I have a lot to thank her for, boosting my confidence when it was really needed. 

Jo has won many many prizes for her own short fictions. She has just published them as an e book, Twisted Sheets, and you can find a link to purchase the e book at the end of our natter! But first, I was thrilled to have a conversation via email. And to be able to persuade her to let me share one of her flash fictions with you. So - read on, then enjoy a taste of her writing!

You were the first to publish me in print, Jo, in QWF - always hugely grateful for that. You started Cadenza, and now you are running another small mag, Yellow Room. Why do you do it, with no funding, isnt it stressy? 

I remember publishing your stories in QWF so well, Vanessa. They really made me sit up and take notice! Running a literary magazine like The Yellow Room is stressy! It's so much more difficult these days when you're in competition with e-zines, online mags and websites featuring short fiction. Not many people can be bothered to order and pay for a print magazines, so that it's very difficult attracting new subscribers. Print and postage costs have risen hugely in the past few years, and it's almost impossible to break even financially. If it wasn't for the competitions I run twice a year, then The Yellow Room would have gone under months ago. My aim was to publish two print magazines per year, but I have only managed one per year for the past two years simply due to cash flow problems. I've also noticed I'm sent far fewer submissions than in the past and now I'm almost exclusively publishing the competition winners and shortlisted stories, so the magazine is evolving into a competition anthology. I'm hoping to get someone else on board so that I can focus more on my own writing in the future.

What do you look for in a submission, or a competition entry? What is it makes you sit up and get a bit excited about a piece of work?
Originality - not necessarily originality of theme, but there has to be something about the quality of the writing that stands out. It's a bit like the dreaded 'X Factor' in that you recognise star quality when you see it. Use of language is very important to me - far more important than plot, for example. I also favour character-led stories. I know from reading the title and the first paragraph of a story whether it's going to be something I like. Quirkiness. Something different. A story has to resonate and speak to me. It has to tug on my emotions. 

Your new collection, tell us about that.
I like to think the stories have an edge to them. Some are erotic, others are verging on crime stories. I like writing from a male viewpoint and often from a child's viewpoint. Sex, death and rock n' roll feature quite regularly! My characters are often outsiders whose lives are blighted by tragedy. However, there is very little sentimentality. My writing  has been described as 'full of sensitivity'; 'constantly intriguing'; 'clever and poignant'. The stories in the collection have all either been published, shortlisted in competitions or have won prizes. Actually, I think there are a couple of exceptions. I put the collection together a year or so ago and entered in The Scott Prize. I didn't get anywhere, but, undaunted, I sent it to The Cinnamon Press who were looking for nine new collections of poetry and prose for their 2014 list. Unfortunately, I didn't make the final nine, but I received a lovely email to say they'd had over 2,000 submissions and mine got very close to being accepted. This gave me faith in the collection, but I didn't know where else to send it. I understand that publishers aren't keen on short story collections (Salt is probably an exception) and agents are only interested in 'the novel'. I was persuaded by members of my local RNA Chapter to publish an e-book, as it's so much easier to do all the formatting etc than it used to be.

Its a collection of prizewinners - can you list them?? 
There are too many to list here, but I can mention a few. The most recent prizewinner is Colours Fade to Black and White, which came 2nd in the 2013 Greenacre Writers Competition judged by Alex Wheatle. Three of the stories, The Black Queen, Smile For The Camera and Black Jacks and Sparrows did well in The Whittaker Prize 2012 and I came Joint 2nd overall (there are 6 Rounds in total). The Cleansing won book prizes in Alex Keegan's From the Ashes Competition way back in 2000. Four stories, The Fledgling, Skin and Bone, Alopecia and A Stray Dog and Surfer Boy all won 1st Prize in the Live Write Invite competitions and other stories in the collection came 2nd or 3rd. Camels in A Field won the 4th Round of The Word Hut Competition last year and Thomas Stofer, a literary agent at LBA, got in touch on the strength of that saying he'd like to read my novel. Getting Off Her Chest was Highly Commended in The Wells Literary Competition and was also longlisted in The Fish Prize. At the beginning of the collection, I have listed all the details of publications and prizes.

why did you decide to self publish as an e book?
I touched on this above. I didn't see the point of the collection sitting languishing in a folder on my computer, when it could be being read and possibly earning me a few pennies! It was a spur of the moment decision to publish it via KDP after I'd had a couple of sloe gins on Thursday! It was amazingly easy to publish, as I'd previously proofread the collection and it was the best I could make it.  I was astonished when it appeared on amazon for sale within a couple of hours! I had a wonderful virtual launch party on Facebook on Friday night and I'd sold a lot of copies by the end of it. The collection reached the dizzy heights of #19 in the Bestselling Paid Short Story Kindle Chart by midnight on Friday. I guess I e-published, as I wanted a bit of exposure and wanted to take my writing to the next level. It would be wonderful if a publisher took an interest in the collection and published it in print form. 

What next?
I'm already planning another short story collection. Although I've written a novel (and I'm now working on a new draft), it's not quite ready for submission to agents and I continue to write short stories, as that's what I love writing most! I'm still entering competitions and hope I'll have many more prizewinning stories for readers who enjoyed Twisted Sheets.
Thank you so much for chatting to me, Vanessa and for having me as a guest on your blog!
Jo x x x 

My pleasure!

Jo's collection of prizewinners, Twisted Sheets,  can be bought from Amazon,  here:

Follow her on Twitter @yellowjo

and a treat: with Jo's permission here is one of her flash fictions, Sounds of Darkness - First published on Flash Flood Friday , 12th October 2012 


Until my last wife, I was happy.
Until my last wife I drank four pints of Adnam’s ale every night in The Old Ship Inn. I’d then amble out into the night and watch the pewter-coloured sea roll and heave like an old drunk.
“Lean into me, old friend. We can beat the wind,” I say to Arthur, who has been in the pub since five. 
The beach has virtually disappeared and what’s left of it is uninviting; too wet, too grey, too slippery.
The old and the ancient emerge from the dusk. The Victorian hotels frown down upon the beach like proud patricians.
We light a fire on the beach. When it dies and night sweeps over us, we move on, staggering like old tramps towards the town. 
“Listen!” says Arthur and stops us both dead in our tracks. “Hear that? That, my boy, is the sound of darkness going.”
I nod sagely. “Yeah, man. Darkness. Always goes eventually,” I say weaving my way along the main road.
“Fancy a last one in The Dungeness?” Arthur asks, fishing in his pockets for the last of his cash.
I grin. “Sure thing.”
We approach the bar. The landlady gives us a look that could kill. She’s about to call last orders. 
“What’s it to be?”
We order whiskies and carry them to a table near the window and sit in silence before knocking them back in one hit.
Each summer, every summer, last summer. It’s the same routine.
We go back to Arthur’s flat. It’s not sex, nor love, although body fluids are involved. It satisfies. It’s good. 
Later, much later, I stagger out into the dawn, before the beach tractors trundle down the sand ready for the day’s work.

One man sings, another man cries. 


1 comment:

  1. A fantastic interview, Jo and Vanessa. I really enjoyed this and am also enjoying Twisted Sheets very much. The Yellow Room Magazine is fantastic too, such high quality fiction and presentation, and has helped so many new writers see their work in print.
    Congratulations, Jo, you really deserve your success.