A Pocketful of String: 11 Short & Shorter Stories by Me

A Pocketful of String - cover

So, I’ve concocted a small book of short and shorter stories. You can buy it for the cost of a mildly overpriced coffee on Amazon, see links at the end of this self-promotion!

It contains:

– The spectre of Death
– What happens when the Luck Child returns
– Fond memories and grim futures
– How not to turn 25
– A terrible warning about rabbits
– What happens to your heart
– An overtly sentimental dining room table
– A failed love spell
– A haunted photobooth
– A very surprising breakfast
– The apocalypse, from above and within

Not quite in that order.

I’ve thought a lot about doing this, over the last six months. I was going to do it before The Pulse, and then I thought that that’d be some kind of weird cop-out (I can’t explain why, but it’s how it felt…like I *had* a novel and wasn’t paying attention to it, perhaps…that it would be somehow easier to shove eleven little things out into the world than one great big thing that hadn’t had any seal of approval…either way, I didn’t).

Most of these stories have been around and about before, some appeared on this journal recently, one was my first paid piece of fiction, and one I just got the rights back to. A couple, though, are completely new to this collection.

Part of doing this is to clean my writing slate, I think. I don’t have any other finished things I plan to publish, I don’t have anything out with agents or magazines, for the first time in ages. I have a heap of drafts, in varying stages. I’ve a side project I’m really, really heart-and-soul excited about, but that’ll be under a different name, and I probably won’t discuss it here. I’ve that novel that I hope has a chance of going to agent properly, if only because it’s a lot more commercial than The Pulse, and it has the kind of plot and characters that make the most of taglines and summaries. I still utterly stand by my first novel, but as I continue the uphill battle to take it to an audience that might enjoy it (and I don’t think I’m being extensively deluded in believing it has one), I continue to be astonished by how unsellable it is. If you’ve any thoughts, do let me know 😉

So yes, A Pocketful of String. That’s what I’m meant to be selling here! It’s quick and easy to read, it’s got a few self-indulgent comments about the writing of all the things, and it’s a memento, really, to myself of the last few years. Heavy on whimsy, magical realism, wordplay and weird stuff, but nothing too dark or unpleasant.

Should you so wish, you can buy it Amazon US & World or from Amazon UK. You can also buy it from any national Amazon by searching, unsurprisingly, Pocketful of String! It’s so exciting to find you’ve a reasonably unique book title XD As ever, feedback and connection is wholeheartedly welcome. These tales might be small, daft, and occasionally plain weird, but they’re dear to me, and I’m pleased to share.

Also, if you’d like to add me on GoodReads, even just as a fellow reader (I’m aiming for 200 books RaR-d this year – if you fancy sending me anything for review then do message me!) I’m here.

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The Pulse: Of Castles and Diamonds, Oh My*

I published my book today. If you’d like to preview/read it, you can do so here: UK edition or here US edition. Also on most international sites via the search thing, ‘The Pulse A E Shaw’ ought to do it XD

Also I have a Goodreads thing, I obsessively catalogue my reading and like to find books in all the places, so having an author account is crazy exciting. Come, add me.

The #1 thing people asked me when I said I’d a book was, ‘What’s it about?’ And even after infinite attempts to answer this question without ruining the general point of reading it, I still struggled. This should’ve been a sign that this wasn’t going to be an easily saleable thing, and it’s certainly something I’ll keep in mind for the next book. This is more of a ‘what’ book than a ‘how’, and I think that’s where the problem lies. Finding out what it’s actually about is, characters aside, the general purpose of reading this, as far as I can see at this point.

It’s also why I’m really looking forward to seeing if anyone does read it. Then they can tell me what they think it’s about. I also worry that it’s like some massive Rorschach thing – everyone will turn around and go, OMG, this is a massive metaphor for lmnop attribute about yourself that you clearly haven’t noticed (quite possibly being an only child, for example). This is perfectly possible, and I’m much more frightened of doing this than I’d thought I’d be.

I wasn’t anticipating a minor, but exceptionally irritating formatting screw-up when I first uploaded my book, so I’ve not been able to do the YAY HERE IT IS thing I wanted to do. I probably should’ve expected such a thing, because I did decide to go with inserting dividers in places, rather than just asterisking everything, but it all looked fine enough on the preview, so I went for it…and then it was annoyingly unfine. But I’m working on it. And I’ve done it now. So here’s this post. Eeeep. Hi. I’m going to try to be a real author.

*not the actual subtitle. possibly should’ve been.

How to Start Writing

Having got excited about this, I thought I’d ask and see if there was anything any of my friends wanted me to write about, and Bearnerdette suggested About writing. Your methods, your inspiration, and so on and I thought, that’s a good idea.

And then I thought, oh crikey, where to start? Because I have a LOT of thoughts about writing. I have a lot of thoughts about most things, true, but especially about writing. I could write forever about writing, but that might not be too helpful, so, in this post, what I will try doing is to start by writing about starting writing. Which took me a lot longer than anything else in my writing ‘career’ thus far.

I’m not writing this because I think I have anything new, or special to say, but because, before I could write, what I did was read what other writers said about how they did writing. Anything and everything I could find. Repeatedly. On the matter, the most famous and prolific and prevalent are probably Neil Gaiman and Stephen King, both of whom could be described as exceptionally enabling. But not just them, no. I looked for the #amwriting hashtag on Twitter, and I searched for self-publishers who were writing, and I read author friends’ blogs about writing and anything about writing I could find.

I do think I thought there’d be a magic incantation I could recite, which would magically make writing easy, or plot possible. I figured, if I could just check with enough writers, one of them would’ve been foolish enough to let it slip.

I spent almost all of my twenties avoiding writing. Firstly, because I liked it, and I found it very difficult to ‘allow’ myself to write things. Secondly, because I didn’t have anything to write about. I couldn’t imagine any characters, I couldn’t see any stories, I had a lot to say, but it wasn’t really important, or consequential, and I couldn’t understand how I’d sit down and come up with anything even slightly original. So I didn’t. I waited. I figured, one day a story would walk up to me and say, Hi Abbi! I’m your bestseller. Would you mind sitting down here and taking dictation?

Actually, that’s not so far from what happened. It’s just, the difference is, I walked up to the story and said, would you mind telling yourself to me so I could write it down? And the stretched truth of the metaphor is, I sat down and started typing.

I’m not saying anything about the quality of what I write, or hoping to make out that I am particularly good at it; recall, I am British, and thus self-effacing and self-deprecating and still new to this idea that one must use the internet to sell oneself and one’s capabilities at all possible moments. But what I am saying is, I know how to sit down and get writing.

That’s all I did, and that’s all, it transpires, you have to do. But sitting down and starting was still ridiculously difficult! If you’re not someone who’s ever struggled to get started, then, it’s likely difficult to imagine. But, if you are, or, worse, you can sit down, but you don’t get further than a few words here or a few words there, then you know exactly what I mean. I found three ways through this.

How To Sit Down And Start Writing

1. NaNoWriMo or, National Novel Writing Month. If you haven’t heard of it, and you’ve always wanted to write a book, hie thee to their website or this book, and have at it. It’s wondrously motivating, a great community of people, and some fabulous books have come out of it. All you do is write 1,667 words a day for a month, and swim in a sea of tips and encouragement whilst you’re at it, and then, lo and behold, you have a workable first draft of something. More or less. But it’ll get you started, and over the hump.

2. But sometimes a goal alone is not enough! Sometimes you don’t want to write a novel. Sometimes you need to write a short story quickly. Sometimes you’ve got an article you have to get out, or a blog post to write, and everything you write is nonsense, or you really need to clean the kitchen floor, or you’re a useless, hopeless writer who mustn’t ever be allowed near anything that can form letters, not even rice or dust, and you need to Just. Start. Then you, my friend, need WriteOrDie which, whilst not literal, at least feels that way. I set mine to 1,000 words in 15 minutes (I am a typing demon, so this is no stretch for me – you want to have it at the very limit of your constant typing powers, with a few seconds spare for flexing away the pain) and just GO. It doesn’t matter what you write. Write about writing. Write about a blister. Write about a fox. Write about cheese. It’s amazing how many peculiar stories start to thread their way into existence if you just…type. Before you know it, you’re finding an urchin with a cheese obsession who rides a fox through a forest until it gets a blister on its paw and, you get it. And the thing about doing it in that window is that it feels like some daft game, not at all like Serious Writing, and then when you look at it later it’s quite difficult to work out where it came from at all. But it doesn’t matter where it came from: all that matters is, suddenly it’s there!

3. Perhaps this is too weird or intense. Perhaps that much typing is not fun. Perhaps you like writing with an Actual Pen. Well, here’s that thing that sometimes people talk about and often people talking about writing mention, and I’m going to mention it too because it sorta kinda works sometimes. In The Artist’s Way (not really a book I’d recommend, it’s pretty weird and quite dramatic, but this bit’s good) Julia Cameron suggests (actually, she insists) that you write ‘morning pages’ – three sides of A4, every morning, without fail. About anything or nothing. Just fill three sides of A4 with words. This is basically a low-pressure version of WriteOrDie. It does a similar thing, though, in getting the words out, and demystifying the procedure of stringing together words.

These things are also, stuck or not, things I like to do before trying to actually write any specific story, because they let me a) have something to start with, for nothing makes me find other things to do like a blank page b) see what the obvious thing to write might be, or c) discover I actually want to write about something else rather a lot.

Where do you start?

I am now trying to start my stories in the middle. It turns out that the beginning isn’t usually that important, and, if you must, you can always write a bit of it just before the end.

But where do you get the first idea from?

Open a book, start with the first word your eyes land upon. Then write another word after that, and, lo, that’s writing.

One more thing: I used to set everything up nicely. I used to think I needed a desk, a space, an hour, a rainy day, a whisky, a soundtrack, a cat, you get it. All I needed was something to write with, and somewhere to write. Everything else can be there, or not. I try, I really do, to make a point of not getting myself into a place where I need x to start, or y to continue, because that way a really clean kitchen floor and no words lies.

So, this is the start of my writing about writing. Do you write? How do you start writing? Do you have a ritual or a place for it? Even if I have figured out how I like to do things, I still never tire of hearing how other writers do these things.