Toyo Shibata: Never give up.

Today I did something that I haven’t done for yonks. I wrote some fiction. I started out writing fiction a decade or so ago and was fortunate to have early success. One story won the Jo Cowell Short Story Competition, others were published in the Roundhouse Review, Staple and the New Writer and Route published a short collection of five in their anthology Route offline. And then I fell into journalism and spent the next decade promoting other people’s work. It’s been a wonderful apprenticeship, though, and now I feel hungry for my own writing again.

It was through journalism that I discovered a competition and knew I had a previously published story in York Tales that I could rehash (the bread and butter of journalism) and sent it off. I got some good feedback from some readers and decided to beef it up and submit it for radio only to discover that Radio Four had reduced its budget and weren’t broadcasting as many stories anymore and the only info on the BBC Writers’ Room was for play submissions.

A quick google brought up a fiction desk with a list of magazines that were not only in print but paid as well. I thought, let’s send it out elsewhere and see what happens. I selected five random magazines I’d never heard of before and followed the links and a familiar pattern emerged: Chimera were ‘closed until further notice’ Bonfire were thankful for the interest in their publication but ‘unfortunately we do not plan to publish any more issues’. Etc.

Then I came across a publisher who was accepting novel manuscripts. Now that my agent is treating me like a one-night stand and no longer deems it necessary to communicate I decided to send them over a copy. I followed the online drill and tinkered with the font and spacing and all other titillating requirements and then, amazingly, managed to write a new synopsis in under thirty minutes. Previously this had taken me months. This is another skill learnt through journalism – cutting to the chase. I converted the file to the appropriate format and then followed the submit link which said ‘we are no longer taking unsolicited manuscripts’.

All in all the entire evening was a bit of a waste of time (bar the synopsis) and a reminder, perhaps, of why I began to lose interest in sending work off. But then I read that Toyo Shibata had recently passed away, a Japanese poet whose first collection Kujikenaide was published at the grand old age of 98, selling over 1.6 million copies in her home country. And Derrick Buttress, who I commissioned to write about the Sillitoe Trail for The Space, had his first short story collection Sing To Me published at 80. I slept well that night, realising there was plenty of time.