Don’t always hold back from phoning literary agents….

Lesson to meek, newbie authors seeking representation – I’d sent a personalised submission (I name-dropped a mutual acquaintance) to an agent ten days ago and this morning still hadn’t received an acknowledgement.

I thought this odd/unusually rude, as the name-dropping usually works a treat and elicits interest, or at the very least, a quick response.

Anyhows, not being afflicted with too much meekness, I didn’t leave it there but called said agent, whose assistant was very apologetic and did some research on my behalf. Only to find, that my original email and its various attachments had never arrived.

So at her request, I re-sent…..and re-sent, to, btw, the address cited on the agent’s website for such submissions(!)  Several phone calls later from the now very befuddled assistant, resulted in the happy news that…err, my submission had finally arrived/been found….in….err….wait for it……the ‘junk mail’.

Omen? Let’s wait and see….

Appetito looks like being the new title of my novel

And this poem sets the tone before the novel starts…


Between ecstasy and despair

In that

Sliver of a gap

Is Duende.

From whence,

Comes the rap

The clack, clack, clackety-clack

Of the Flamenco tap

And cry.




Duende is the soul

As it is riven

As it is shriven

By the Dance

By the Song

That rips out

From the womb of non-being

And, as it is born

Calls Life to Life

Christening with a scream,

With an arc

Through blood

In passion

From black, then red

Then back to black

Clack, clack clackety-clack

Clack, clack!



I went to the Coniston Institute and wrote a Ruskin Rap

Last Friday I was part of an  august group of Art Workers ( who went to The Coniston Institute, home of Grizedale Arts ( in the Lake District for the weekend, to begin, what will hopefully become, a fruitful and ongoing artistic cross-fertilisation and collaboration.  Our hosts, Grizedale Arts asked us to think about our various disciplines and how they might contribute to the programme of events currently offered by the organisation, and taster workshops in, stone-carving, screen-printing, lace-making, slipware and painting were offered as ways of sounding out present and possible future interest, (

I was the self-designated poet/writer of the group and on the last day my absorption in matters Ruskin – he founded the Institute’s previous incarnation and his values still inform the ethos of the place, plus his museum is just next door –  burst forth in the shape of a poem, the Ruskin Rap in fact.  Hope you enjoy it……

The Ruskin Rap

What a rum chap was that.

A very clever stick and don’t he know it,

Clap, clap

Clap, clap, clap,


Slap, slap,

Slap, slap, slap?


It turns out,

Apart from some of the great and the good,

Who thought he was dope, sick and bare-good,

He wasn’t that popular, with most of the ordinary folk.

You dig?


Even so –

It’s true to say,

He did bring serious skills to them-there-hills,

With his ergonomic pens and giant quills,

And penchant for wool, fossils, copper and lace

As he educated the populace,

Popping word and material shapes,

While leaving in his wake,

Traces of his ruminating face

All over the place

Behind an imposing beard

Which grew over the years to look

More like the fleece of the sheep

That walked on the hills and ended up in his lace.

– Truth is, we’ve got his housekeeper to thank for that,

Cos, fed up with her bossy boss and his high-handed ways

She sold his image for 30 bob

To anyone

Looking to flog

Tobacco, liquour or soap on a rope.

Which was definitely, not dope.


Just heard too, from the dudes who now run

The place he founded,

That sometimes

When he delivered his erudite words

And busted his critical moves

The effect, intentionally or not,

Was likely absurd,

Especially when he turned up dressed

Like an anti-Darwinist bird

And went, flap, flap

Flap, flap, flap.

Don’ think anyone that time went

Clap, clap,

Clap, clap, clap.


So, he was eccentric

But hey, wot’s the rub, guv?

There’s a long line of geniuses

Similarly complex

For us not to get too vexed about that –


And by the way, more hot news just out

He wasn’t the perv recent history’s made out

Just a nerd who stopped digging his wife

More loved up with ideas, than the

Fleshy side of life.


But back to the rap chaps,

More than a hundred years since

Old JR popped to the dark side of the lake

To what of his legacy,

Does Grizedale that thought him a bore

And bore him for a while still roll, rattle and shake?


A banging, well-curated museum for a start,

Dedicated to our man, and

Filled with the tools of his trade

And evidence ample of the difference he made

Through his words on politics, architecture and art

And the passionate principles underpinning his thought

Even more relevant today –

About not giving unbridled Capitalism

Sway, about protecting nature and being commercially

Kind, about practicing fairness, a life of the mind,

About imparting skills so a community can share

Companionship through industry;

A sense of care, for self, the other

The big and the small

To respect one another,

For we is bruvs, innit?

God’s creatures, one and all.


And alongside that,

An institute still doing its best to

Remain old school, for body, soul and brain

True to the Ruskinian paradigm –

You get me?

Of benevolent artistic, utilitarian exchange,

Only now keeping it real on a well-global scale – Fresh!

From Coniston to China

One. Loved Up. Solid. Chain.  Def!


And we, the AWG brethren

Who, all the way from London

Did go, to find out wha’ssup,

With our Cumbrian bros

And their ho’s

And to lend ‘em an artisanal hand,

Are now so feeling it –

Cos, like Ruskin’s blood Morris,

Our main man, once said,

Forget everything else y’all

And listen to me good,

The most important thing you need

To get into your head

Is this –

Art. Is. Unity.

And we and they is doin’ it, doin’ it, doin’ it.

‘Nuff said.


Stephanie Gerra. Written at the Coniston Institute 8th June 2014.






Publishing Industry Day in Brighton yesterday was fab

Another great trip to Brighton yesterday.  

Q: Why don’t I just be bold and move down there?  

A: Don’t bloomin’ well know.

As I seem to jump at any excuse to head there and anywhere else in East Sussex that beckons…..hmm?

 Food for thought.

Well, the day itself yielded useful info and great contacts: A possible lead for a literary agent.  An influential, literary lady with a bookshop that sells cocktails who I shall be visiting forthwith. A willing critical reader for my novel.  A new and exciting route to possible publication and delightful conversations over delicious snacks with bookish friends.

Big thanks must go to New Writing South for a great day, organised with a generosity of spirit and friendliness sometimes missing in more hectic London…God.  Victoria Station!  A rat run, even at 6am!

Other news….

Did I tell you I’m reading Margo in a performance of the film script of All about Eve on BH Monday, 26th of May?  No?  Well, pay attention, cos I’m telling you now.  

Tickets from: Old Red Lion Box Office 0844 412 4307

 or book through Euroscript

Juke Box Story @ the North London LitFest

So, flash-fiction fun was had by a discerning crowd at midday yesterday in the leafy environs of Barnet, when we took a slimmed down version of our rocking good show to the North London Literary Festival:

I am pleased to announce that on the day there were several firsts: The first double-whammy-winner in Juke Box Story history.  Nick Black took the £50 cash prize for best story as chosen by the audience but also won the ‘best first line competition.’  You’ll be able to read his story in just a sec, but first here’s his winning first line, which will make sense when I tell you that it needed to be the first line of a composite literary genre, a misery memoir written by a celebrity chef – and Nick wrote:

‘My father sold me for a pack of Knorr chicken stock cubes which, I had to concede, was a more than sensible trade.’

Well done Nick!

Here follows his winning story, I Am What I Am, inspired by the Gloria Gaynor gay anthem with the same title.  I hope you enjoy reading Nick’s story as much as we all did….

I AM WHAT I AM – Nick Black

I am what I am, I am my own special creation. First editing Nature’s mistype with the white-out of Mum’s make up. Then tonsorial experiments, sartorial over-elegance, a wiggle added to walk and talk that caught people’s breaths like burrs on a bush.

As the millennium burnt itself out and we tiny competitive stars strove to flare with light, cosmetics moved from powders and grease smears to the sharp-tongued touch of the medical and surgical, kissing my skin, my body opening up.

‘I admire your guts’ gasped a client, mouth inches away from them. ‘What imagination’, sighed another, atremble. Credit my clever accountants, I thought.

But the value of investments can go up as well as down. Past performance is not a guide to future performance. Gravity tugged. Cells collapsed.

So in came the implants.

The mechanics.

The bionics.

I am now in the tiresome process of leaving physical form entirely. Each day, my plastic lungs exhale my voice into microphones while cameras capture, catch what they can. Lasers nib my profile.

All of these files will eventually corrupt, disintegrate. Bits and bytes of me’ll drift through the networks, bright plankton in black oceans. I’ll be everywhere. I can’t wait.

Anyhow, back to the firsts:  It was the first time we’d condensed the two and a half hour show into one hour.  Which, by the way, we did to the minute.  High Five us!  And, it was also the first time we had a submission from a fourteen year old storyteller, who also happened to be Macedonian.  Yet another first.  And one that deserves a bit of recognition, so, here’s a chance to read Adrijana Peicinovska’s story too…

Bad boy and good girl relationship.

Definitely the biggest cliché ever. And the dream relationship for me, the nerd. So when the schools bad boy offers to fulfill my bucket list, I’m ecstatic. The nerdy me that never skipped class in her life, was suddenly introduced in the life of a bad boy. Riding death traps known as motorbikes, and doing the most reckless things ever weren’t as reckless as falling in love with a bad boy named Derek.

He was sweet, charming, a little pervy, and a hell big of an eye-candy.

Life was looking up. My life wasn’t boring and I had a handsome boy by my side, until the day I decided that I should tell my feelings to Derek.

That was the worst day of my existence.

Derek, the bad boy which I spend my last year with, was lying to me all along.

Derek was supposedly dared to make me fall for him, and he succeeded.

My love was suddenly turned to an emotionless jerk. Sleepless nights and flashbacks were filling my days until I decided it was enough.   If he could break my heart, then I will break his, as impossible as it sounds.

(Inspired by: Katy Perry’s “The One That Got Away”)

After the show…so much going on, being filmed, being interviewed, preparing to read for the keynote speaker David Nicholls at 6pm.  YES.  DAVID.  NICHOLLS.  Which meant that my post-Juke-Box-Story period turned into  a bit of a blur…. but the reading from One Day at the festival’s closing event went very well indeed, with Mr Nicholls describing it as ‘beautifully done’.  Thank you Mr Nicholls. You are an artist and a gentleman. There is a snap of himself and me after the event to prove it really happened and if I can bring myself to, I shall post that in due course too.  Now though, time for a rest……





Second-Entry my dear Watson…

Oh dear, that sounds rude!  But what I’m really going on about isn’t rude at all.  It’s simply to say, that I am entering a second story in the Mslexia short story competition and this one’s called, Drunken Donuts – Borrachuelos.  I hope you enjoy reading it and thanks to all of you who read Behold the Lamb, your comments made such a difference to me……

Drunken Donuts – Borrachuelos                                                                            

At uncle Miguel’s funeral in October some of us had promised to meet up and cook the dishes the older folk used to make.  So here we were, on a foggy Saturday morning a few months later, aproned up in Orelia and Miguel’s small house in Northolt.  Orelia, uncle Miguel’s wife and now his widow, had always believed herself to be a great cook, even certain of having extended her husband’s life a little with her food and the pleasure of it.                                    

“Fresh fish, fresh meat, I buy the best, only the best fresh food for him every day and cook it all fresh.” She had beamed crazily at the hospital consultant as he tapped for a vein in poor Miguel’s dying body for the morphine feed on that last night.                                                                                                 

Today, though, borrachuelos; seasonal Spanish Christmas sweets known as drunken donuts, were on the menu, and so far, we had had quite a time of it.  Out of all of us, apparently, I had a natural knack, although according to Orelia, I still made the doughy squares a bit too small.  Chiri, Miguel’s youngest sister tired easily and her efforts were the weakest.  Orelia didn’t say so but I imagined her thinking, ‘typical’.  Chiri was the black sheep of this part of the family.  Sexually precocious, she had ‘experimented’ at 12 and married at 16 when already pregnant with her only child Lucy, now 24, and kneading away in the kitchen with the rest of us.                                                                                                             

Looking over at a still very attractive Chiri, I remembered how as a child, I had always been in awe of this wild aunt and her salty reputation.  She had seemed so very sophisticated when she flicked her shiny, heavy black hair in my direction before swanning off on a date.  But over the past 20 years, I’d only seen her a handful of times and mainly at funerals.                                                             

Phase one, over, we took a break.  Orelia and her son Steve set up the deep fat fryer for phase two, while Chiri seized the opportunity to nip out for a ‘cheeky fag’ as she put it, and I joined her.  Somewhat shy in her presence, I paced about making signs and sounds to combat the cold, while she sparked up her rollie.                                                                                                                            

“Look at you!”  She said, blowing out sexy smoke rings and winking at me, “remember how you used to like me doing this?”                                                             

“Sure I do.  You nearly killed me teaching me how, and Mum nearly killed you, when she found out.  Remember that?”  I said, wondering again, as I had at my uncle’s funeral, how I’d come to be estranged from this side of our family?  Had it really been down to my mother’s influence?  And if so, why?                                                 

My Mother, Esther, the eldest of the three siblings had been the first to escape a Morocco, readily disgorging its expat community in the mid sixties.  To give her her due, she had followed through by safely transplanting the rest of her family to London a few years later.  But filial duty done, she had then dumped them like left luggage, in North Acton’s farthest reaches, while she stayed put in her new life in Bloomsbury.                                                                                   

I could see Orelia and Steve were still busy in the kitchen, and as my attention flicked between them and Chiri, I mourned the many other imagined celebrations and feastings that had gone on without me over the years.  Stamping my feet harder on the crazy paving to banish the creeping cold, I vowed to myself things would be different from now on.  I was not my mother’s daughter and had my own choices to make.                                                                                                            

Steve hollered us in for lunch and buoyed by my new determination, once at the dining room table, I ventured a toast to the ‘family,’ including Miguel’s name in this.  A mournful silence filled the room, as everyone looked at the photo of him Orally had set out on the sideboard, now lit by a flickering, votive candle.  Orelia and Chiri wiped away tears.                                                                                     

As we ate a little too much of Orelia’s green lentil stew, talk turned to relationships.  Warmed through by the morning’s promise and the tasty meal, I shared a little of my own story here as a distraction, mainly for Orelia who, now at rest, seemed shrunken and full of tears.  I ventured that I had finally met someone, which was a blessed relief to me, after so many years of drifting in the no-romance doldrums, but a distracted Orelia cut across me,                                                

“Not like you eh, Chiri?  You should never have let Ronnie go, you were so silly to do that.”  

Orelia was still grieving, we all knew that, aside from which, she had an erstwhile reputation for bluntness and we all knew that too.  Nonetheless, this seemed an odd direction for her to take the conversation.  Miguel’s candle flame sputtered loudly, distracting us for a heartbeat before Chiri replied,                              

“What did you just say Orelia?”  Steve, Lucy and I looked towards her briefly, before I returned my uncomfortable gaze back on the entirely fascinating candle-flame.                                                                                                                         

“I said,” Orelia continued, “you shouldn’t have let Ronnie go and I’m not the only one who thinks so.”                                                                                      

“Orelia.  For the last time.  Ronnie.  Was.  Not.  A nice.  Man.  Why have you never wanted to believe that?” Chiri snapped back.                                                             

“Well, you must have turned him then.  Worn him down.  He seemed like a nice man to me, to all of us.”  Orelia was clearly spoiling for something and the lunch was in danger of being spoiled too.  The ghost of my wryly, smiling mother flickered across my mind, warning me that I really didn’t know these people at all.                                                                                                                                   

“God Orelia, of all days.” Chiri’s voice rose in pitch and quakiness.  “Ask Lucy what her father was really like.  Go on.  She’s here for once, so you might as well.”                                                                                                                                     

“Mum!  Please.  You don’t have to do this.” A very weary-looking Lucy held up her hand.                                                                                                                                     

“Oh yes I do Lucy!  I came here today for my brother and for you.  So everyone could meet you properly after all this time.  And then Orelia has to spoil it all by bringing Ronnie into it!  Sainted Fucking Ronnie.”                                                           

“Oh God.  No.  Here we go.”  Lucy put her elbows on the table, and sank her face into her cupped hands.                                                                                                                          

“Um.  I think I’ll start clearing up,” Steve said, getting to his feet, only to be thoroughly ignored by us all.  Chiri who was now rocking in her chair, let out what sounded at first like a lament, her voice so low,

“him, who threw me against the wall in my bedroom, again and again, with the telly turned up loud so no one would notice.  Ronnie, who tried to break my leg so I couldn’t get away from him when he wanted sex.  I wore him down!”                                                                                    

“Oh Mum please stop!”  Lucy had closed her eyes.                                                 

“Shut up Lucy.   Don’t you dare move Orelia.  You asked for it, and now you’re going to hear it, because you don’t know anything.”  Chiri was now standing behind her chair and using it for support,

“when we were all sharing the house back in Acton, none of you wanted to know.  I was there with all of you, Mum, Dad, you, Orelia and Miguel, locked in my room – just a child, 16 years old being,” she took a deep breath, “raped regularly by my husband who everyone thought was so nice, so quiet –“                                                                                                 

“Oh, for God’s sake don’t be so dramatic Chiri!”  Orelia had banged the table with her hand, “always telling stories.  Always the drama-queen,” but she tailed off.  Chiri was by her side, about to strike so it seemed, before changing her mind and rushing for the garden, with Lucy, close behind. 

Steve chose this moment to come back into the dining room.  He and I looked at each other and not knowing what else to do, I uneasily joined him with the clearing up.  Orelia too, gathered up a pile of plates noisily, and chin jutting out like a bulldog announced to no one in particular,                                                                                                

“You can’t say nothing to Chiri.  She always walks away.  I didn’t say nothing wrong.”                                                                                                                         “Anything mum.  It’s anything, not nothing,” corrected Steve, to an uncomprehending Orelia, “it’s anything not nothing?” he repeated.                                       

“Well, I think, Chiri’s really upset Orelia, I don’t think she’s making this up.  Surely you can see that?”  I risked.  Feeling guilty for my silence so far.                         

“Oh don’t you go believing her too easily.  Chiri, is always upset and you Connie, you don’t know nothing.”                                                                                     

“Anything, Mum, it’s anything,” Steve said, more exasperated at his mother’s grammar, it appeared, than anything else.                                                             

“I don’t care!”  Orelia banged down the plates.  “Anything, or nothing it’s all the same to me,” this at Steve, and then to me,

“it’s easy to get upset all the time, don’t you think?  What I said to Chiri is true and anyhow, I don’t need to apologise to her, I always helped her, always.  Me, and Migule, always gave her money.  I know her.  You don’t.”  And with that she stomped into the kitchen muttering to her son who shuffled in her wake, while I made my exit into the garden to check on Chiri, who was pacing, smoking, crying and spluttering,                       

“Oi un ruido pero no vi nada!”                                                                                    

“In English mum, English.  You keep slipping into Spanish and not everyone can understand.”  Lucy said, as she saw me approaching, assuming my Spanish was not that good.                                                                                                 

Wiping her face and looking at me, Chiri translated, “my father-Abuelo, didn’t see anything.  Didn’t want to.  It was too close to home, in every way.  Did you know, my Mum, his wife Abuela, would come and sleep with me, not to protect me, but because while she was in my room, with me in my bed, he wouldn’t touch her.  Why do you think we had Yale locks on all our doors?”                         

“Connie doesn’t know about the Yale locks Mum.  Come on.”  Lucy gently coaxed Chiri over to a wooden bench and beckoned me to join them.  Once seated, Chiri turned to me again,                                                                                               

“Connie, they all believed what they wanted to.  Miguel only found out on his deathbed.  He asked me for years and I wouldn’t say but he kept asking me, even as he was dying, so I told him.  Probably shouldn’t have done that.  Don’t think Orelia is very happy about it.  But I just couldn’t keep it in anymore,” she sobbed.                                                                                                                       

“I’m so sorry Chiri.”  I said,  “I had no idea.  About any of it.”  I looked around the dusty and lifeless garden for inspiration, but heard only a distant, low-level drone from the A40, and felt the lentil stew lying heavy and undigested in my stomach.                                                                                                             

“No, I’m sorry.  Chiri said, followed by the appalling, “I only stay alive for Lucy.  She knows it too, which is such a burden for her.”                                                           

“Oh Mum, I’m alright.”  Lucy stroked her mother’s arm.                                               

“Three suicide attempts, you know?  One at 16, one at 25 and one just after Abuela died, but still no-one could see.”                                                                         

“Come on Mum, that’s enough now,” Lucy said, taking her mother’s hands in hers and leaning over for a kiss.                                                                                     

“Chiri could I have one of your cigarettes?”                                                           

“Sure, Connie but you don’t smoke.”                                                                        

“I know, but I’d really like one?  Can you roll it for me please – I don’t know how?”                                                                                                                         

“Sure.”  Chiri calmed a little as she got out the Rizla and filled it with tobacco.                                                                                                                        

“That’s why I haven’t got a man Connie.  I just don’t feel safe.”  She said, as she absent-mindedly began smoking my cigarette and Steve loped out to inform us that Orelia had begun frying the Borrachuelos.                                                             

“She says she needs more oil.  She’s run out of oil with all the frying.  So one of us has got to go and get it, yeah?”  He said.                                                                         

“I’ll go.”  I jumped up glad to break set, but Chiri looked crestfallen. 

“Sorry, did you want to go?”                                                                                      

“No.  You go Connie.  It’s alright, I’ll just stay here.”  She offered me a faint smile, like a child who realises after the biggest cry of their life, that everything just carries on, only in a slightly drained out way for a while.                                     

“Ok, I will then.”  I said, “I won’t be long.”                                                           

When I returned, the house stank of Mazola.  Lucy and Chiri had joined Orelia and Steve in the kitchen in what looked like a wounded truce.  I opened all the windows and the door to the garden to let in some air.  When the Borrachuelos had cooled, and had been dipped in booze and sugar, we ate far too many of them.                        

          We parted, saying we might try learning a few other recipes in spring. 

Driving home through traffic and heartburn, gratitude towards my mother had replaced my earlier regret, but I stopped myself there.  To imagine the real substance of what she might be concealing didn’t bear thinking about.  I turned the volume up loud on the radio and as soon as the lights turned green, accelerated.    






















My Way (Your Way)

News fellow wordsmiths!

I’ll be co-hosting a slimmed down version of Juke Box Story at the North London Literary Festival with the delicious Em Fleming on April 3rd at midday.

We’ll be reading a selection of flash fiction inspired by pop songs on the theme of ‘identity’ with a short open mic where you can let your spontaneous creativity shine.

So crank up the wireless (in the old fashioned sense of the word), pick your tune and send
200 words to by the 24th of March.  If your story is successful, we’ll get in touch.

…Just to get you started….Boy Named Sue….That’s Not My Name….My Name Is….


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