My Writing Year

I was wondering if I had enough to say here! That is, I’ve tweeted quite a bit of it, in personal terms there is only so much I can say without breaching confidences and in writing about the difficulties of the publishing year that are particular to my work, I would rather move on positively as there so many blessings! Some things were connected with timing; others with having little control over situations. But chin up, I thought! I will keep this short and do write and share your thoughts, if you like?

I was mildly ill with cold-like symptoms in early March, as were my husband and one of my three kids. At this point my eldest had been seriously unwell, so we were navigating difficult times before Covid and so marched on. I will come back to that! With advice – a lot of it from the brilliant people you meet on twitter – and a great community, we could cope. When the pandemic began, I had all three at home and then was responsible for home learning with the youngest and access to ongoing support we really needed with eldest ebbed away. I had a book out imminently, Saving Lucia. The launch was cancelled and there were no other events, barring my involvement in the fantastic Lockdown festival and a turn for SL on some online events. I was devastated, but decided it was best kept in context because of what folk were going through, though I still had to acknowledge that it mattered to me because I had waited two and half years for publication from acceptance. It helped so very much to connect with readers, read extracts from the book and think about my new book having a long life – beyond this time. I found someone to have mentoring chats with and that really helped. Also, to write short pieces related to my books for various journals and for my blog. Keeping it moving and lively as much as I was able. BECAUSE the other thing that happened was that I was not well and I have not been for about 9 months now. Hello Long Covid. You remember I mentioned the cold-like symptoms in early March? AArgh. Chest pain, vertigo, shortness of breath and hello fatigue like I had never experienced it.

Once Saving Lucia was out, I decided what I needed to do was focus on the book under construction. I had seen my lovely agent in February, shortly before she went on maternity, and had great edits and notes. I do believe you should always be working on something, because there are a lot of waiting, planning and, I think, variables in writing and publishing. Between April and August, I rewrote my novel and began plotting another one, The Cabinet of Curiosities. Just as I finished this run of The Zebra and Lord Jones, I won the publishing and writing section of Creative Bath, which was great because it was a broad acknowledgement of what I am trying to do with my volunteer and community work alongside my writing. Then, in September, Famished was out. Again, I found it wonderful to focus on engagement with readers, to offer readings of the book and to work diligently on social media. We had a lovely launch event and then – very 2020 – Instagram went down shortly after it started. Very important to laugh, my bravehearts!

When all is said and done, I am immensely proud to have been part of two little teams and to have met so many brilliant people. Also, I think, to have been building new and enduring friendships because of the books, because of a shared love of reading and, frankly, because I have had to ask for help in navigating what is still a new world to me alongside work, domestic stress, exhaustion and illness. I am immensely proud that we got two books out this year, that I rewrote another one and, frankly, that I coped as well as I did when a further novel and volume of short stories were turned down this year and I was told rights and translation were not shifting. This happens; it’s natural. But it’s hard! But we made a plan and hopefully it will come to fruition.

So, The Zebra and Lord Jones (novel) rewritten, I began a new novel, The Cabinet of Curiosities and made some – for me! – major pitches for features. I also tentatively began plans for a non-fiction book I am passionate about doing. Where are we as we stand? I have to be vague about a lot of this as you can imagine, so I will say that I am working on this pitch, making approaches to people, keeping in touch with my agent and that there is a lot of work on desk. Recently, I was longlisted for the new Barbellion prize – you can read about the prize here – https://www.thebarbellionprize.com/ for Saving Lucia and, in four books and lots of entries for prizes, it is my first longlisting and I am delighted.

During this year, I have also been fortunate both to work on several manuscripts with writers, to mentor and, also, to receive some mentoring myself from kind, brilliant and inspiring people whom I will not embarrass here. And for 2021, well…as I said, there is a lot on the desk and I know that we will be clarifying, planning and strategising. As I am still not better and because I still have complexities within my home life – and quite possibly I will have 2/3 not going back to school and college (the other is on a rather uneventful gap year before studying Psychology at university) – I need to pace. I have made some PhD applications – that is, a PhD by Publication to be worked on with three of my own books – but it will not be the end of the world if it does not happen; far from it. In a terrible year, there is, if I may say, already so much that I am thankful for.

Much love,

Anna x

On the Moon we had Gold Spoons

In the Christmas house that was always and never there, lived two sisters and a crowd. In this house there were banshee rats and a ticking fire; kittens roosting in the pantry and a glossy alabaster Jesus on the wall, next to the pinned tide times, seance timetable, flower rota, blind bell-ringing and hours of lamping for the village men. The two sisters were beautiful and shared secrets and built each other into strength in the absence of love.

In this house were presents in old paper and you always knew what they were. Soaps of almond and violet; dusty talcum powder smelling like the grave through its wrapping. There were sooty notebooks and crayons that smelled of arsenic and the mortifications of childhood. Outside, sweltering in the snow, or frost and rime, were barren hens astride camphor eggs in the big run and, beyond, the walled garden where the real world was said to begin, only you should only go there if you must and never alone or without prayers and your talismans.

‘Oh, Anna Cat, is it Christmas again. Is it? Will it be the same as before – as the other years in this impossible house?’

‘Yes, my sister, Grace Matilda.’

 ‘But Anna Cat, you promised you would make it different this year now you are grown.’

 ‘Ah, that I did, that I did.’ And Anna Cat smoothed her sister’s arm and said, ‘Shh now.’

But how would it happen, the making different? Was she not just an ordinary girl living in a Christmas house that was always and never there?  Stop your mouth: you mortals and countrymen know little of what is effected with faith, the lovely moon, pretty silver dust or the incantation you can build if you rise early and speak to the robin in his first call and then, only on the solstice, which was today. And Anna Cat had risen early and spoken.

Out in the storeroom were sugar plums and toffees and cold pastel sugared almonds in tubes. In the stockings in a few days there would be a satsuma, a prayer on gold paper, an admonishment for the wicked, a piece of coal, a special spoon for grapefruit (for one girl), a butter knife (for another) and a small ball which had no use or allure for either. And every year, a piece of silver cutlery with which to build your home, which was only a room in this house, though you would gain your own table, stove and linen. The girls hated the cutlery and its mocking silver and longed for difference; for gold and for something spontaneous and impossible in the now world beyond the walled garden.

‘Oh, Anna Cat. There will be more silver cutlery in the stockings, and I am frightened. I think this year, if they are working left to right, it must be a knife or perhaps a little butter knife.’

‘For me, my darling. For you it will be the grapefruit spoon, pretty and ridged, but you will hate it. You know how they think a grapefruit breakfast, or a grapefruit starter is the finest thing and talk incessantly about it.’

‘I know, my Anna-Cat. I think, when I see it, that I will long for a cheerful spoon with a wooden handle or some pretty cobalt with which I could eat a boiled egg and soldiers on Christmas morning. I long for that. Mother thinks eggs are wrong in their virgin state. That they are too rich and salty and breed base passions.’

‘Mother knows nothing. Only her sad appetites and the judgement they cause her to place upon the world and the curses that ensue from her dyspeptic temperament, my darling. There will come a time, as I promised you, my sister. It will be soon. Shhh.

‘And I long for gold things. I want gold things on the tree, too. Not the pewter and silver and white but something…’

‘Something gold and pretty for Christmas, like stars and the sun and the present Melchior gave.’

‘Shall we play with the gold words, my darling? Shall we say…arum…gilt…gleaming…put the words in your mouth and roll them around.’

Yes! I will say other words too and be bad. I will say flaxen and fire and butterscotch.’

Shhh. They will hear. Come with me to look at the moon. It is the longest night. Come.’

Every year, at the solstice, on Christmas Eve and Epiphany, they walked until they could speak with the moon; they walked to the boundary at the edge of the walled garden. ‘Tonight, of all night, do not confuse her with lots of fine words; just call her Moon.’

‘Yes, my Anna Cat. Hello Moon. You are silver, but we love you though it is gold we long for. I hope you do not mind. I do not think so because you smile so at us.’

‘Hello Moon and Happy Christmas Moon. Do not mind my sister and her ways’ and the moon waned an infinite amount and smiled upon the sisters.

‘My sister, promise me again that we will not always live like this with the glossy Jesus, dusty notebooks and the silver cutlery!’ Grace began to cry as, from the house, pots were banged and doors to pantries opened; people came and went. ‘Promise me.’

‘As I said. It is the final time. I said, when I received my final piece of silver cutlery, then I could…I could break the spell and we should go beyond the boundary. I would build you a house on the moon, she would be kind and you could take the things you like from the Christmas tree, when you left for your new home on Christmas Day in the afternoon after the horrid and magnificent Christmas dinner.’

‘You will come?’

‘Of course, but my greatest pleasure is to see you happy, so you must choose how we build the house and what we furnish it with.’

‘What will we eat there? Next Christmas, Anna-Cat, what should we have for our dinner? Would there be grapefruit then turkey and roast potatoes and glorious burnished sage and onion and gravy?’

‘If you like, sweet child, but we shall make it different and our way, so it is not congealed of spite and bad magic, for as you have learned, your dinner is delicious, but it is malignant and it entraps you still.’

‘I know that.’

‘We can eat moon dew, which is a special sort of manna, and we can eat it whenever we like and with our hot and happy hands if we want.’

‘I should like to eat with gold things.’

‘Well then my darling, we shall eat with gold spoons, which I shall make for you myself from the gold which the moon whispers she hides beneath her silver dust, and I shall turn it in my strong and happy hands with help from the hot breath which the moon has when she loves you.’

That year, the year in which Anna Cat received her final piece of cutlery, the butter knife, and in which Grace Matilda received the hated grapefruit spoon, they ate a banquet of roast turkey and burnished sage and onion, then flaming pudding in a house of spite and cold decadence which was impossible and the only house they had ever known. There were prayers over the glossy Jesus, conversation of morbidity and sharp-tongued blessing and all the wretched paradoxes that lived in the house that was always and never there. Snow fell and the family dozed, faceless, graceless, and delighted with itself and the horrible way it had built a microcosm which trapped its young with delicacies. And yet and yet. They did not look, did not see, but on the wall the glossy Jesus smiled a little and the tide times changed as the Christmas world tilted on its axis.

Snow fell and the robin came to sing. Mutter. Mutter. Make the incantation, gather your things, your thoughts, your truest heart. So, when the moon rose, out went Anna Cat and her sister Grace Matilda and they stepped across the boundary at the edge of the walled garden where the real world began and were swept into the new life on the moon. On Boxing Day, they ate manna with gold spoons, already there as a homecoming gift from the moon herself.

‘Oh Anna-Cat, we are so happy, here on the moon, Merry Christmas, my sister.’

In the house that was always and never there, snow hardened and turned to slush and the grey days of the new year before the gorgeous day of Epiphany, which was celebrated with decadent shafts of sunlight on the moon and with destruction of the Christmas tree on earth. The sisters’ absence was noted but they were not missed. There would be more, in time and the cutlery-buying would start again, for more girls they might have. But oh, that tallow-faced family was wrong, living on alone until its next Christmas, and celebrating itself, parsimonious and silver. Remember the song of the robin, on the morning of the solstice if your house is abundant but mechanical-cold; learn the kind magic and ascend with Anna Cat and Grace Matilda.

There is room for us all on the moon next Christmas.

(The title is taken from Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle and Anna Cat is my husband’s name for me, Anna Catherine, here a riff on Merricat – Mary Katherine – in Jackson’s book. This story was a very quick write in a pocket of time I had today; be gentle with it.)

BOOK GROUP QUESTIONS ON FAMISHED

FAMISHED

Book group questions to whet your appetite and ruin your dinner.

One for each story and a few for luck

  1. Which was your favourite story and why?
  2. Did you find any of the stories too horrifying or too creepy?
  3. Why do you think the author chose a linking theme of food?
  4. What do the inhabitants of the house/s want from the carpenter in Cave Venus et Stellas?
  5. In Feasting/Fasting, what happens to the new wife and what happens to the husband? 
  6. What was your opinion of Myfanwy in Seaside Rock and Other Homicides?
  7. A Tale of Tripe. How did you react to the descriptions of the foods in this story?
  8. Nanny Lovett and Pop Todd. Are they good bakers?
  9. Henry and His Surfeit of Lampreys. Why do the lampreys do what they do?
  10. Another more general question: do you think any of the stories is in poor taste or goes too far.
  11. In Hot Cross Buns, Sharp Teeth and a Tongue, who’s the bad guy?
  12. Shame: some readers have commented that this is different from the other stories in the collection. Do you agree and if so, why?
  13. Cucumber sandwiches. What is going on in both countries in this story?
  14. Shadow Babies’ Supper. Why are the dolls so scary?
  15. The Choracle. What was the moral of this story?
  16. Jar and the Girl. What was interesting for you about this story?
  17. Sherbet. Do you think it’s really possible to construct a creed, cult or religion on anything?
  18. Bread and Salt. The shortest story in the book. Was the ending a surprise?
  19. Trimalchio Jones. Why can’t the guests leave?
  20. Sweetie. Who or what is Sweetie?
  21. Do you have any thoughts about how language is used in the stories?
  22. Which story was the funniest?
  23. What could be the link (or links) between traumatic experience and food in this book?
  24. How are families presented in Famished?
  25. Any story you might like a sequel to? Or  a prequel! 

And so it begins: The Ornament of the House (WIP).

Two books out this year; one more being read in a revised version, one rejected and put to one side for now and another under consideration. I long to be able to tell you all about my novel The Zebra and Lord Jones, but all in good time. While I wait, I am pondering, reading and enjoying working on other things. I had initially thought I might only read for leisure during a waiting period and with the two books out, but then things catch my eye and I want to get going. I am doing that gently.

So…I had been wanting to write something set in the Medieval period for some time; more specifically, on female mystics. I am thinking about that at the moment, so I am reading Evelyn Underhill’s Mysticism and re-reading both Revelations of Divine Love from Julian of Norwich and also The Book of Margery Kempe. It is immersive and, as I said, gentle.

However, I have also started writing something else, which I have had on my mind for some time and for which I collated a number of photographs. Here is one: a deserted manse in a village in Carmarthenshire. I have a working title for this and it comes from Emerson (it may change) – The Ornament of the House. I had originally envisaged this as a collection of short stories – and it may still be that – or may evolve into a novella or shorter novel. Imagine that every room of a house – perhaps this house – tells a story and is inhabited by different people, whether alive or dead. Imagine, also, that the fabric of the house is alive and that those in the house are all from different time periods. I love lush historical detail; let me take you back to 1790, for example. The house itself, I suppose, like Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House or, if I may, ‘Feasting;Fasting’, in my own Famished, from September this year. is alive, respiring and intent on things. Also, those who enter the house are all connected with what is in it and with each other – though they do not know it yet.

Often, for me, a book begins with an image. Here is one.

There is something I wanted to say. I have felt truly crushed by many elements of this year and I am pretty sure you have too. In terms of writing – which seems simultaneously trivial and the most important thing in the world – it has been incredibly disappointing to have two books out and not to be able to do events or share things with you, but hopefully that will come, perhaps alongside other future books, if necessary. One thing I have learned, though, is that I have to be true to the way in which I work and to who I am. The first: I always want to be writing a book. I have been roundly criticized for working too quickly or for diluting what I am doing, but this is how I do things. I waited so long, it is coming out in a torrent and I want to keep going. The second (who I am) is that I am very open about myself, the problems I have had and had, a difficult past, trauma and so on. Part of that is sharing my work with you as I go. I hope you like the sound of this new book.

Stay well and keep writing – in whatever form that is for you and by whatever method.

Anna x

On writing

I am doing a little event for a local community festival. It is about writing a book, getting started, what you might need. I thought I would summarise it for you here – in case it encourages you.

Here we go.

  1. Morale. I CANNOT DO IT. IT IS FOR OTHER PEOPLE. Yep; that was me too. Who told you who gets to write and who doesn’t? If it was someone else, squish that right down; do the same if it is the voice in your head saying this because I bet you wouldn’t say that to anyone else. Why are you saying it to yourself? Go forth if writing brings you pleasure whether you have hard ambitions bound up with it or not.
  2. Getting started. What do you need? Hmmm. A flat surface. Pens. Some paper. Some form of computer and internet access. A bullish attitude. Joy. Start writing and do not wait for ideal conditions or for inspiration to strike.
  3. Tools and teachers. A dictionary and thesaurus are grand (obviously you have all that online). There’s your imagination. Trust it. Do you need to have a degree in creative writing, to have done an MA or MFA in Creative Writing? No. If you want to write a good book, you can do it without those things. However, I won’t sniff at them either because doing a course can be a game-changer: community, a new life, guidance. It isn’t just the learning, it is the time and support. Choose wisely. Your greatest teacher is reading: read widely, generously, experiment and go outside your comfort zone. Indie and big press, old and new stuff, genres you think you will not like, don’t sniff at commercial fiction if you think you’re heavy on the literary end; poetry, non-fiction, books in translation and short stories. My favourite book on writing is Francine Prose’s Reading Like a Writer. https://blackwells.co.uk/bookshop/product/9781908526076?gC=5a105e8b&gclid=Cj0KCQjwtZH7BRDzARIsAGjbK2anhXBKLcr4m52GBlnPvbByWG2JyJiwa5GUY9CYcJNE8Uu3_Ux_IMUaApb7EALw_wcB Brilliant. If you can afford it, there are a number of literary consultancies and freelance editors who can help and also any number of day and residential courses BUT there is also a great deal of free material placed online. You need spend no money at all.
  4. Say you want to publish, who is it with? Self-published? There are a number of routes so research them. A small press? Research carefully with Mslexia’s Indie Press Guide https://mslexia.co.uk/products/indie-press-guide/indie-press-guide-3/ as a starting point, but look on twitter, read other books by presses and really aim to understand what they publish. A bigger publisher? Although there are some exceptions, you will need a literary agent to approach a big publisher and there is no shame in aiming big. Your writing may be a hobby and that is wonderful because why not? Still, writing is also commerce if you are going to aim to sell it and never ever let anyone make you feel bad about that. I’m just getting down from my soapbox. The literary agent. Research carefully. Your greatest cheerleader, confidante, passionate reader and your business manager. That’s who your agent is. For details on all of this and tips on submission and pitches, The Writer’s and Artist’s Yearbook is great and also their website. Here: https://www.writersandartists.co.uk/ Think, also, about who the book is for in terms of audience and try to learn about that. Adults, young adults, early years children?
  5. Editing and proofing. Roll in help if you can. But take your time if it is just you, read your whole work ALOUD ALWAYS AND WITHOUT EXCEPTION because you will spot all kinds of things – errors, glitches, boring bits, problems with pacing. Know that when you have written a first draft, it is there that the hardest work begins. When you are published, I’d say that you might consider your book maybe two thirds done when it goes to the editor appointed to work with you. The editing task is a big one. Be stern and be ready for this.
  6. Submission of a book. To whoever. The odds are against you. You can increase them by doing your submission really, really carefully, but they are still stacked against you. There are helpful notes on this in Writers and Artists, as I mentioned, but also study really carefully the submissions pages of anyone you want to submit to; take advice and follow requirements to the letter. Also, NOW IGNORE THE ODDS.
  7. Network; chat; meet people. Twitter is probably key to this and – curate it carefully – full of information, ideas and advice. I do believe this is a big part of the work: being observant and understanding the industry. Instagram is also full of a lot of engaging content for writers, too.
  8. Be prepared for setbacks at all stages. Rejection is hardwired into the process. Try not to compare with others’ success or perceived success, debuts, overnight amazing and all that. Overnight amazing often means years of manuscripts torn up and a lot of crying that you didn’t see. If you end up with a publisher and/or an agent, even then your experience will not be the same as another person’s. This is why you MUST back yourself and believe in your work – because this will see you through. Remember this, now: nothing will happen unless you BACK YOURSELF.
  9. Make like a favourite bear. You are entirely within your rights to make like Paddington and give a stern look to anyone who says you’re too old, too young, bit poorly, bit tired, or don’t have enough time (for example). You be the judge of that and we can, I believe, always do more than we think we can.
  10. Find your tribe. How may I help? You know; with any of this? Because you need a tribe, online or in person! Other writers and readers to encourage and support as you would do for them.
  11. Lots of love, Anna x

Famished

Famished. Here she is: https://www.influxpress.com/famished You can order from here or any good bookshop or online at you know where but I’d love it if you gave your local independent bookshop a boost or the press itself.

So, Famished is about food. Ordinary food and peculiar food – or rather, peculiar meals and combinations and a strange atmosphere at table. It is also about feasts, grand consumption, being consumed and embraces eating and being eaten in literal and figurative terms. It is gruesome, pretty, ornate (hopefully not too much so for your taste) and potentially a bit shocking. There is nothing here about disordered eating (although the notion of mortality, danger and food is explored in one story, but food is really only the conduit to a longer meditation on safety and lack of it). There is plenty about disordered psychology, unhealthy and unexplored family tension and spite and, more broadly, trauma. However, even there, I have written about what ingredients and food receptacles may give one, when freshly imagined and regarded, as if for the first time; that is how we get from a preserving jar in one story to a flight from the scabrous relatives and their ghosts who so cruelly gaslit. We fill the jar with something else. My experience of coping with long and complex trauma and then dealing with its aftermath is that everything is laden with memory; with a cruel nostalgia that spits at you, even in domestic objects which perhaps you have inherited or been gifted. The answer: spit back and fill that jar with something else.

What will you find in this book? Not in order…and how about playing story snap? Decide which is which when you read the book

How a cult is built on sherbet with a mint-toothed high priestess

How a jar, beautiful but thrumming with judgement and awful memory is filled with sweetness

Why you should not patronise your elders with soft and seasonal buns

However courteous and sexy the vampire, he’s still going to eat you

Why pride might eat you; or rather why apparently inanimate objects might (ra ha ha…)

If you were at a luscious feast that you could never leave, how would that be?

Why is tripe so scary and how about pickled eggs bobbing in a big jar in a damp old larder, huh?

Why would a cherry on a trifle wink at you – and not in a good way?

How you kill people bloodlessly with seaside rock

What shame is. What is your shame? What have restraint or lack of propriety got to do with sex? What has food provenance got to do with coercive control? (I cover a few topics in that one.)

Judgmental mothers and the revenge of melted chocolate and a pickled egg in a bag of salt and vinegar

King Henry was said to have died from a surfeit of lampreys. Well. Lampreys were not amused.

A horrible demented sweetie shop that is not really there

Remember that monsters, beautiful, gracious, are (hungrily, thirstily) all around you

Scared of dolls? If not, you might be. Scared of grace and exquisite manners? That too. Don’t be fooled

Why sandwiches can be fatal and how cucumber is fatal

How do you put souls and bad inanimates into pies?

The key influences in this book are my past and ongoing exploration of some of that, trauma (about which I will write in more detail) and my reading, particularly of Southern Gothic and also Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber and Shirley Jackson; ALL Shirley Jackson. There are Southern and Welsh elements here, recurring characters and some of those characters have occurred in my other work.

I am so looking forward to reading adventures with you.

Anna.

Things to cheer you and cheerlead

Here is what I have for you.If you are a writer of low income or from an underrepresented group in writing and publishing, then I have a four month FREE mentoring slot, starting in September. This is for someone working towards a novel or short story collection and with a body of work already under way. Please dm me on twitter or annavaughttuition@gmail.com by the end of July. x

Every Thursday on twitter, 6.30-7.30, I am going to be doing an #askbookworm -use the hashtag so everyone can see it – and this is all about writing. Look, I am still a newish writer but I am prolific and have learned a good deal. I get sent a number of messages anyway, so I am formalising it. YOU CAN ASK ME ANYTHING ABOUT WRITING, such as

  • finding an agent
  • keeping motivated or finding confidence in the first place
  • writing with a chronic health condition (in my case mental health stuff)
  • feeling like an outsider
  • putting together a short story collection (or novel)
  • what to do when you are stuck
  • writing with kids and finding space and time to write (my motto is always to work with what you have)
  • anything else you like!

LOADS OF LOVE,

Anna x

News

Hello all!

So, Saving Lucia (Bluemoose Books) has been out in the world a while and it will be interesting to see how this girl flies. As you can imagine, launching a book during lockdown was not an easy feat – for anyone involved in the process, but we did it!

Here: https://bluemoosebooks.com/books or how about here, where we would have had the launch: https://mrbsemporium.com/shop/books/saving-lucia/

Next up, is Famished, which is out with Influx Press on September 10th and it is my first short story collection.

Famished
Anna Vaught

famished cover-c.jpg

In this dark and toothsome collection, Anna Vaught enters a strange world of apocryphal feasts and disturbing banquets. Famished explores the perils of selfish sensuality and trifle while child rearing, phantom sweetshop owners, the revolting use of sherbet in occult rituals, homicide by seaside rock, and the perversion of Thai Tapas. Once, that is, you’ve been bled dry from fluted cups by pretty incorporeals and learned about consuming pride in the hungriest of stately homes. Famished: eighteen stories to whet your appetite and ruin your dinner.

Oooh sounds wonderfully revolting, doesn’t it? ARCs are out and about at the moment. You can subscribe to Influx or pre-order the book here or at any good bookshop. https://www.influxpress.com/shop?category=Short+Stories Have a browse on the whole site while you are here?

In other news, I have two further books waiting on reads and I am rewriting a novel for my literary agency, MW Literary, which is in New York, but also represented in Britain by Kate Johnson, who is the best girl, pal and literary agent you could have and I look forward to lots of adventures with her. What else? I will write separately about weird fiction and essays I have coming out, I think that September will be a bit of a news month one way and another (ooooh) and let me just say again that, if you would like to be mentored, for free, between September and January on a full-length novel or short story collection, please do get in touch by the end of the first week in July. Contact button the site and this is for low income writers only, please.

Love and lots more news soon,

Anna.

Food words and ways of the very devil

I have been thinking about a lexical set that I find problematic. That is, food words. Descriptions of food and its eating. Lexis that makes me wince, feel embarrassed or go a bit green. So here we go. Oh these are just for starters (get it?) and to this topic we shall return because I have a first short story collection out this September and it’s all about food, feasts, consuming and being consumed, but we will talk about that nearer the time, yes?

Right. Here we go.

Tasty. That is the worst word, isn’t it? It just sounds vulgar. I mean, I am vulgar but this is a shade too far. It’s also what older blokes say about younger women they think are attractive and it’s creepy. Sometimes the problem with a word is its associations.

Nibbles. It’s not just the sound of it – ugh ugh ugh – but what it connotes. Let me elaborate. Nibbling at something is fey and lacks lust, unless you are a squirrel and even then I don’t like the word. Nibbles – as in something you have with drinks – would make me want to get drunk. I think that ‘ibble’ in the middle is playful but not in a good way. And what is more, I remember going out on a date with a bloke who told me he was tempted to nibble my ears and I could not get out of there fast enough.

Platter. I hate that. If you start combining it with ‘loaded’, succulent’ or ‘luscious’ then I would not be able to eat. Platter just sounds feral to me; like you are face-down in a trough, porcine and unforgiving, with an angry bitey mouth. But this could just be me.

Succulent. Why? Because it’s horrid. It’s sucky, it’s drippy and too much but not in a good way.

Oozing. That is for wounds and pus, not a frigging pudding, please. It’s not even forgiveable for those times when you have an evening of extravagant sex and cheese planned and you heave to with a camenbert which you have cooked in the book so it’s melting and you scoop it mouthwards with bread, a gherkin or your lover’s hand. No – clearly the camenbert has melted inside the box and maybe over you and you can picture its gorgeous viscosity BUT EVEN THEN I cannot allow that golden French round to be oozing.

Atop. I actually don’t know why I hate that. Because it’s twee? Why does your cherry have to be atop your cake?

Open-faced. As in open-faced sandwich. For a start that’s not a sandwich and secondly I would not want to eat anything with a face. I mean, anything with a face that was looking right at me.

Nestled (usually on a bed of). That doesn’t really make sense. Nestled is what the baby Jesus is in the manger, not your aspic on a bed on a bed of lettuce. All too much.

Medallions of…I am being fussy now. I think it’s the meat-massive jewellery mash-up. I imagine you with veal on your chest and maybe running down the beach, looking a bi like David Hassellhoff with your meat medallion swinging as you go.

Moist. It’s an embarrassing word and should not be applied to anything. Not even cake. Or weather. (FYI I am also embarrassed by the word damp.) And NEVER anything to to do with sex through some misguided lunge at the language of the erotic. However, I am not sure what the alternative is since there is nothing as disappointing as a granular and desiccated bastard of a chocolate cake which could have been a transformative moment for you had it been the m word.

Supper. This is a little unfair. To me, supper is a little snack and maybe some milk near to bedtime. If someone invites me over for supper, I am going to find risotto odd. But you are probably posher than me.

Veggies. Why does anyone say this? Vegetables is a perfectly solid and reliable word.

Avo. Why do people abbreviate avocado in this hateful way?

Morsel. It’s not as bad as nibble, but it suggests meanness or maybe restraint that you then draw attention to, passive aggressively. You only had a morsel (unlike lard-arse there who had a slab).

Mouth-feel. You hear this in reviews or from specialists in the higher echelons of food tasting. When I hear it (which is not, admittedly, a lot), I am somehow minded of someone who is incredibly bad in bed but thinks they are textbook superb and a sort of gourmet of the erotic and one way they size you up is by your mouth feel. I’m sorry; am I disturbing you at all?

Jus. I feel there’s just too much of that about and it’s generally written when people mean sauce, though I could be wrong.

Sumptuous. Too many long vowels. If you combine it with feast – ‘a sumptuous feast’ – then you’ve got dyspepsia right there. It’s too much and the soft sounds and that squealing ee in feast are an irritant. It’s just dripping…gushing awfulness. Well, I think. The dyspepsia is also from the fact that it’s excessive in a way that is not pleasing, but suffocating, I think – because it’s about show and conspicuous consumption.

Scrummy. It’s just gross; makes me cringe.

Delish. Same problem as with veggies (above). Perfectly respectable word infantilised.

Nom. Or Nom nom. God, I hope they’re not reading this, but that extremely successful book with this word in its title, well am I the only one cringing? It makes me think of people gluttonously – oh NOM NOM – smacking their lips and banging forks against their teeth and making deathly screeches across their china with a fork. Or someone mumbling through a mouthful of food, unable to speak properly, maybe spraying you with a piece of spaghetti and then trying to get off with you. AND EVEN WORSE saying the same thing to you, OH NOM NOM BABY.

Crispy. What is wrong with crisp? Or do I just have an issue with a ee sound in words?

I think that’s quite enough for now because you might be off to have your tea, but do tell me if any of these bother you and also if you think I have been radically unfair. And I look forward to your company with Famished.

A x

ON GCSE English Literature texts…

I thought what follows might be informative, seeing some worried comments about and, also, the petition to enlarge GCSE texts selection (the wording for the petition ought to be more focused and informed – there is NO reading list for GCSE and you need to specify that the issue is with GCSE English Literature, I think).

Over twenty odd years, these are the ONLY GCSE English Literature GCSE prose and drama exam texts I have worked on with students.

Wuthering Heights (now on A level spec for a couple of boards)

Great Expectations

Anita and Me

Of Mice and Men

DNA

Blood Brothers

A View From the Bridge

Romeo and Juliet

An Inspector Calls

Jekyll and Hyde

Macbeth

Othello

The Woman in Black

These are the only exam GCSE texts I have ever done across schools, support teaching and tuition. Of Mice and Men and A View from the Bridge got booted off the GCSE specs by Gove (because they’re American) but it’s still there for me because I also teach IGCSE. In addition to these texts, across GCSE on the four boards I have worked across, Eduqas, WJEC, AQA and OCR plus Edexcel IGCSE, I have also to tackle poetry (which extends into the IGCSE Language syllabus too) where the situation in covering a wider and more representative range of authors is better (see below, for why) but even so…!

As I said, I have been teaching GCSE for twenty years and, until the situation with coursework changed and we went to full exam with the first teaching specs for 2015, you DID have more choice with the coursework texts as long as you satisfied the requirements. I am currently working with AQA, EDUQAS and Edexcel (IGCSE) and for all of these there is an additional poetry anthology, which does cover BAME authors to a small degree, but not a great range and I have been teaching ‘Search for my Tongue’ by Sujatta Bhatt for all those twenty years and John Agard’s ‘Half Caste’ for most of that time because there is a requirement to cover BAME authors in the poetry component, which was put in place twenty odd years ago. At that time a separate poetry and short story component by BAME authors was referred to as ‘Other Cultures’ (the word ‘Other’ tells you much, doesn’t it?) then the wording changed to ‘Different Cultures’, before the wording was dropped altogether and the texts included in the exam canon through a poetry anthology.

There is no ‘reading list’ for GCSE English Literature or English GCSE, but the shake-up that happened when coursework was removed and all GCSEs strengthened for first teaching 2015 was and remains inadequate and for GCSE English Literature, there is a too small selection of exam texts from which you can choose, with some variation across exam boards. If I were queen, I would make that selection of texts much, much wider because OF COURSE this is part of a much bigger issue of dearth of exposure to the brilliance of culture in this country, predicating what we do, instead, mostly on long-dead white folks.

That’s it. And OF COURSE I wrote to complain when the specs changed and it was the same old thing moreorless.