May 2013

In the last few minutes, the doors have opened on The 2nd Roy Wood Memorial Short Story Competition, which is being run over on The Waterhouse Review in conjunction with Alloa Writers Group.

I was an active member of Alloa Writers from 2005 to 2011, serving as secretary and treasurer in various spells. It was the first writing group I had ever been a part of and I made some great friends there, that remain so to this day. I can even remember the short story I read on my first evening. I went on to become an active member of Tillicoultry Writers and Stirling Writers and I’m now part of the MSU Creative Writing Center Group. So I’ve come a long way. No two groups are the same and I learned different things from each one. Alloa Writers will always hold a very special place in my heart.

I met Roy Wood in 2009 and instantly liked him. His Scouse sense of humour was never too far from the surface and his experience in the civil service came in very handy when it came to negotiating our way through group business meetings. In the time that I knew him, he never enjoyed the best of health and I suspect he was more ill than he ever let on to us. Despite this, his comedy and contributions to the group never faltered. When I learned of his death in the summer of 2011, I felt the loss of a special person and friend.

So it’s very much an honour for me, as fiction editor of The Waterhouse Review, to be organising the Short Story competition in his memory.

The competition is open to works of fiction of 500 words and under, has a $200 first prize along with publication in Waterhouse Review, with an entry fee of $5. The closing date for entries is July 31, 2013. More details and full T&C can be found here:

pennsylvania_simpleI hate Pennsylvania. There. I said it.

Well, I don’t actually hate Pennsylvania as a state. I’ve been there a few times in my thirty-some years, fished in its rivers, drank in its pubs, and generally had a pretty good time. Until recently, though, I hadn’t driven across it.

Here’s the thing. I live in Michigan. My wife’s family, and my stepkids’ family more to the point, live in Connecticut. So a few times a year, we have to pack everyone and a dog up, load the minivan, and drive the 860 miles from one to the other. And then a few days later, we have to drive back. It takes around seventeen hours. It takes longer if you stop in Manhattan, but those blog details belong to a different poem.

We cross five states during the trip and there’s something about crossing from one state into another that gives a sense of progression and therein lies the problem. It takes us a couple of hours to get out of Michigan. Then it takes us five hours to get through Ohio. THEN IT TAKES EIGHT HOURS TO GET ACROSS PENNSYLVANIA. And after that, we’re a couple of hours in New York, a minute and a half in Connecticut and then we’re done.

Last Christmas, through the night and a snowstorm, we drove from Michigan to Connecticut. It was pretty horrendous stuff. As we left Ohio, I updated Facebook with the post “The Long Dark Pennsylvania of the Soul.” If I’d been wearing a hat, I would have doffed it in the direction of Douglas Adams but I was hatless so instead I added this collection of letters and words to my Titles I Need To Use at Some Point list.

A week or two later, I’d written a poem around the title, which regular readers will know I’m prone to do. And that poem, dear reading several, is available today over on Everyday Poets. It’s a very simple poem with its feet planted in reality about being stuck in the middle of Pennsylvania, knowing you have another nine hours to drive, and about the strange feelings that only ever seem to wash over you in the wee hours of the morning when your brain is convinced you should be asleep.

In its original form, it was written as five stanzas of four lines each and was punctuated properly. EDP liked it but not enough to publish it and they asked for a rewrite. More specifically, they suggested losing the stanza breaks and the punctuation so that it would appear in one stream. I went one step further and lost the opening capital letter which I felt captured more of the sense of the poem’s meaning about being in the middle of something. So while the poem isn’t particularly metaphorical in its content, it is more so in its appearance.

Asking for a rewrite is something I do very sparingly as editor of The Waterhouse Review. In part, this is because a piece of work should be submitted in a publishable state but mostly it’s because a rewritten piece can often lose the elements that made it stand out in the first place and then it’s very awkward going back to the author with a rejection. In this case, though, I’m very grateful to the editors of EDP, particularly Oonah Joslin, for helping me see how my poem could be improved. I’m very pleased with the result.

You can read the poem by clicking on the link … over here: