This week sees the publication of a new anthology from indie publisher Arachne Press called Where We Find Ourselves, edited by Sandra A Agard and Laila Sumpton. The anthology is a collection of prose and poetry from UK writers of colour – including myself!
The publication of my short story, ‘A Walk in the Countryside’, is my first in print since I got back into writing nearly four years ago. The anthology launch is being promoted with a blog tour that’s stopping off here today. I thought I’d discuss the process of writing and submitting the story, and what happened after that.
There’s also a short excerpt from my story at the end, so scroll down if that’s what you’re here for! Don’t forget to check out the other stops on the blog tour too.
How I heard about the anthology
I’m always on the lookout for submission opportunities for my short fiction. Although I’m currently working on a novel, I know from industry talks on my MA that getting exposure through online and print publications can help convince literary agents and publishers of how serious I am about writing.
I gather information on submission opportunities in several ways. I follow lots of publishing and writing-related accounts on Twitter (my handle is @DipikaMummery if you’d like to connect!). I also hear about opportunities through word of mouth, mainly from fellow students on my creative writing MA, and in magazines and newsletters.
It was through Twitter that I saw Arachne Press’s call for submissions for an anthology of writing by UK writers of colour on the theme of maps and mapping. I dutifully added it and the deadline to my spreadsheet-based list of opportunities (top tip: spreadsheets are your friend when keeping track of both deadlines and where/when/what you’ve submitted!).
At that point, I already had one or two short stories that met the theme, but I had an itch to write something new.
Writing the story
I’m not a huge planner when it comes to short stories. Often, I’ll start writing with only a vague idea of what I want to say, seeing how things unfold as I go.
For ‘A Walk in the Countryside’, I returned to a theme that I’ve written on before – hiking through the English countryside as a woman of colour. My story follows Neetu, a British Asian woman, as she leaves her familiar urban surroundings for a spontaneous stroll through leafy Cheshire when lockdown rules are eased.
I started writing it during a Zoom writing session with friends from my course. I wrote about half of the first draft that morning, then finished the rest in the following few days. It was a surprisingly quick writing process; sometimes it can take me weeks to labour through a first draft. Yet with ‘A Walk in the Countryside’, the first draft tumbled out pretty speedily, perhaps helped by the fact that I knew the ending.
I shared the first draft with my writer friends, who kindly gave me some useful and encouraging feedback. The revisions were relatively minor, and it wasn’t long before I had a finished story ready for submission.
Submitting the story
Arachne Press uses Submittable to receive, manage and respond to submissions. It’s a platform that I’ve submitted through before, so I felt comfortable using it. Not all publications/publishers use Submittable – many simply ask for submissions to be emailed over.
The most important thing when submitting to any publication or publisher is to ensure you follow their rules for formatting and presenting your submission. Breaking these guidelines might mean that your submission doesn’t even get read!
I submitted the story in April and received an email in late May informing me that the story had been shortlisted for inclusion in the anthology, conditional on going through an editing process. As you might expect, I was rather happy with the news! It was particularly nice after a string of rejections for other pieces that had left me a bit demoralised. But as any writer will tell you, rejections are to be expected. Even authors published many times over regularly receive rejections. Don’t give up!
The editing process
Arachne asked me to respond to confirm that I wanted to go through the editing process with them, which I did straight away. They then sent over a form asking for the usual personal information to go into a contract, as well as a short bio and my social media handles for promotional activity.
Edits involved suggestions for mainly word/sentence-level edits for me to accept or respond to. The edits Arachne sent were really minor, so all I had to do was email them back to say that it all looked fine. Of course, other contributors may have had more changes, or more in-depth edits to make. It can be a slightly stressful but essential part of the publication process.
Once the edits were dealt with, Arachne sent a PDF proof of the final copy to all contributors so that the whole anthology could be checked before it went to the printers. We were also asked about any requirements for the recording of audiobook version of the anthology (such as having the piece read by an actor of a particular gender or with a specific accent).
Getting involved with promotion
Small presses have a very limited budget for marketing, so anything that authors can do to help is greatly appreciated. As well as writing this blog post, I’ve posted about the anthology a few times on Twitter and Instagram to increase publicity for the book.
There’s also a launch event in London scheduled for the end of this week. Sadly I can’t make it, but some of the other contributors will go and read from their pieces at the event. Excitingly, there’s a free online launch event coming up on 4 November, at which I’m doing a reading alongside some of the other authors from the anthology. More info on Eventbrite!
It goes without saying that I’m extremely excited about getting my story published in Where We Find Ourselves! There’s something very special about seeing my story in print, on actual paper, in an actual book, alongside some incredible poetry and short fiction by a very talented group of writers. I’m looking forward to seeing what readers make of the anthology!
A Walk in the Countryside (excerpt)
She eventually reached the end of the lane and found herself at a familiar T-junction. She was pretty sure that she had gone left last time, so she went right instead. All she could see was hedges and blue sky. The heat shimmered from the baking tarmac, blurring her vision. Her tongue was painfully dry; she had drunk the last of her water ten minutes ago. The sun scorched the skin on her arms; the suncream she’d applied before she left the flat clearly hadn’t been strong enough. This was heatwave weather.
She should have been lapping up the sun that shone so rarely in Britain and that she sought on luxury package holidays to Spain, Portugal, Italy and Croatia, not wandering around in circles in the middle of nowhere.
Despite herself, Neetu’s mind leapt to a memory of a family holiday to India two decades earlier, when she had been eighteen. Her parents had always taken her to India in the school holidays to take advantage of the extended break from her studies, going for six weeks at a time. That last time, she had been gearing up to start university and study psychology. She had wanted to go to France with her friends, but her mother had insisted that she go to India instead. Visiting India in August meant a different kind of heat to the merciless heatwave sun here in Cheshire; humid, wet, energy-sapping. There would be the kind of heavy rain that thundered down for thirty seconds or thirty minutes at a time, hammering on the wonky roof of the buffaloes’ shed by her grandparents’ bungalow.
It was difficult not to think about arguing with her mother and standing under an alien tree, hoping that someone, anyone would come along and help her. She remembered all too acutely that terrifying feeling of being somewhere that she didn’t recognise, with no way of getting back to what she knew. Her memories of the trips before that one were little more than a series of images, sounds and flavours – the lowing of a buffalo, the sun setting over rice fields, the smell of smoke from the kitchen fire, the creamy feeling of pistachio kulfi sliding over her tongue. She tried to focus on those sensations instead of conjuring up an old panic.
‘I’d kill for an ice cream right now,’ she said out loud, then caught a glimpse of a sheep staring at her through a break in the hedge. Unnerved by its steely glare, Neetu hurried on and wondered if she was suffering from heat stroke. How much longer could she keep going round and round in circles before she collapsed? And what if no one found her? She lived alone. She had told a friend of her plans for today, but what if she had wandered so far off the path that no one would think to look where she was?
Read the rest of ‘A Walk in the Countryside’ and many other short stories and poems in Where We Find Ourselves (Arachne Press, £9.99).
Where We Find Ourselves blog tour
- 21 October: Blog | arachnepress.com
- 22 October: Blog | desibooks.co
- 23 October: Blog | platforma.org.uk
- 24 October: Insta | @kristinas_shelves
- 25 October: Insta | @reflections_of_a_reader
- 26 October: Blog | dipikawrites.wordpress.com [you are here!]
- 27 October: Blog | idleink.org
- 28 October: Insta | @librarylooter [publication day!]
- 29 October: Podcast | listening-books.org.uk
- 30 October: Blog | thedesireads.com