17 December 2010

A big cheer, please, for Vanessa Gebbie...

...who has just secured a publishing deal with Bloomsbury for her novel, The Coward's Tale. Publication is set for November 2011. I always love it when good things happen to my writing friends, especially those whose talents I spotted long before. Vanessa's good news has a special relevance to me.

It must have been at least ten years ago when I used to read all submissions to the late QWF magazine. Anyone who has ever had to wade through heaps of manuscripts, whether they're editors, agents or competition judges, soon come to realise that although a few are mad and bad, most are competent, but lack anything that makes them memorable. However,you pluck each one from that pile as if it's a rare orchid. (There's no point doing the job if you don't feel that little bubble of excitement as you start to read. And every editor or agent does, you know.) And you know you've found that are gems when you stop reading like an editor and find yourself reading like a reader. (I often think I'm in the wrong job because I find editing someone else's work far more pleasurable than writing my own. But that's by the by.)

To get back to the point, one day I read two very short stories submitted by someone called Vanessa Gebbie. I'd never come across flash fiction before then--indeed, didn't know what it was, but what I did know was that both stories were like jewels; a whole worlds of emotion wrapped in a moment. The writing was precise, neither dull or flowery; every word chosen with care. Here was a writer who knew exactly what she was doing and took pride in it. I think she was only at the beginning of her great writing journey then. I immediately emailed her that I had no hesitation in forwarding both to Jo Good (as she was then), the editor for her final say-so. Of course, she agreed with me.

As time passed, I watched as Vanessa gained confidence, progressing from small writing successes to major wins in the  most prestigious UK and Ireland's short story competitions (such as Fish Bridport, Daily Telegraph) and beyond. Since then she has published two short story collections (Words from a Glass Bubble and Storm Warning. (I shall be reviewing the latter at the beginning of 2011.) She has also edited one of the best books about the art and craft of short story-writing: Short Circuit. Non of this was luck. She learned her craft the hard way through gruelling writing boot-camps and she has alos found time to teach the disadvantaged to find their writing voices. You can read my interview with Vanessa about Short Circuit here.

Those of you who follow this blog will also know how Vanessa kindly gave her permission for me to publish the title story of her first collection: Words from A Glass Bubble and to use it as a master-class in short story writing. See this, this and this.

However, no success comes without setbacks and heartbreak (and be very wary of those who deny this) and Vanessa has had to cope with more than most.  It was hugely painful for her when she fell prey to a persistent and unrepentant plagiarist. (I will not repeat the whole sorry saga here but I'm sure many of you will remember what a traumatic time it was for her professionally as well as personally.) It also meant that she had to completely rewrite a great deal of the manuscript that became The Coward's Tale, which, as anyone who writes will know, must have been soul-destroying. But she didn't go under. She buckled down and did it. So hr success is even more deserved.

Vanessa is an inspiration to those who believe the publishing world is a closed shop to all but celebrities and those with a 'platform'. (I hate that word!) She is testament to the happy fact that even in these days of cash-strapped publishers and the wailing and gnashing of teeth that traditional publishing is doomed: - that talent, a commitment to the writing process, hard work and a determination is within all of our grasps--if we want it enough.

Congratulations, Vanessa!

Vanessa's website (with a link to her blog) is here.


  1. What a brilliant post, Sally. I totally agree with everything you say. I was proud to be one of the first people to publish Vanessa's work in QWF. It always gives me a real buzz when writers I've published in the early stages of their writing career go on to be so successful. Well done, Vanessa! I can't wait to read The Coward's Tale.

  2. Wow, congrats to Vanessa! What great news. My goal for 2011 is to study and practice the short form - I already own Short Circuit (on your recommendation, Sally), but I'm going to order her short stories too. I look forward to the novel's coming out.

  3. Sally - I don't know what to say, really. Not often lost for words, me, more usually lost IN them.

    I've just read the post above - and send you my warmest congratulations!!! Proud to have your book here, Ma'am. vxxx

  4. Vanessa so very much deserves this great news. Her work is so unique and beautiful. I can just imagine what a delight it must have been to discover her work in your pile of submissions.

  5. Congratulations to Vanessa! Wonderful news.