This One Wild Place Book Launch with Avril Joy

Costa Short Story Award winner, Avril Joy, is both a wonderful writer and a great supporter of authors. We met online some years ago and she endorsed my collection, My Brother was a Kangaroo. Avril is a lovely person and a true creative mind. She invited me to her online launch of this One Wild Place, on 27 October, which was a really inspirational event, filled with readings, questions and discussion and hosted by her publisher, Linen Press.

This new collection of stories from Avril brings together her finest published and unpublished work. From the Costa winning Millie and Bird to the recent A Morning Tide, listed for the Fish Short Memoir Prize, she weaves narratives of hope in the face of loss, transformation and redemption, and the enduring power of love. Combining a poet’s gift for language with a keen naturalist’s eye, she journeys across landscapes from Venice to the East Anglian Fens, from Cape Cod to the shore temples of Mahabalipuram. This One Wild Place, a novella set on a northern hill farm during the pandemic, echoes the mood of the other stories. Moving and poignant it is told with an unerring compassion. She explores first love, families, marriage, childhood, mothering, social class, escape, gardens, birds, seas, tides and stray dogs. These stories are about the wild places we call home.

At the book launch, Avril read beautifully from the beginning of How the River Breaks Your Heart, and from A Morning Tide, her creative memoir, while editor, Lynn Michell, who hosted the event, asked some interesting questions about the connecting themes and issues between her short-form and long-from writing, as well asking Avril what a sense of place means to her as an author, given the strong sense of place within the stories, which are deeply rooted in physical surroundings that are often as important as the characters.

There were recurring themes in her reading, including dogs and water. Her childhood days spent playing near the water on the Somerset Levels, where many people drowned each year, are reflected in her writing. Another strong influence in Avril’s work is her experiences of twenty-five years of working in HM Low Newton, County Durham, as a Prison Governor, where she began teaching and says she, “became deeply involved with the women and their lives, and in many ways that never leaves me. I see it creep in again and again, often through the back door, into what I write.” I am currently reading and am deeply moved by her poetry collection, Going in With Flowers, borne out of her experiences at Low Newton and the lives of the women she met there. Through this collection, Avril gives voice to the lives of the prisoners, exploring through poetry and prose the daily going in through locked gates to meet darkness and pain as well as laughter and hope.

This One Wild Place is set in the time of the pandemic. Lynn asked Avril how Covid influenced the story and her writing. Avril talked about the joy of being able to tuck herself away and immerse herself in her writing, without negating the obvious challenges of the pandemic for many people.

Lynn also raised the issue of the uncanny similarity between Sometimes A River Song and Where the Crawdads Sing. Both have a strong watery backdrop, both have a wild heroine with an unusual narrative voice, both use literacy as the escape route from a patriarchal society. With Where the Crawdads Sing going on to sell 11 million copies and being made into a major film, Lynn asked Avril if it troubles her that Sometimes A River Song has been less in the limelight. Pay cheque disparities aside, Avril highlighted the positive and personal aspects of working with an editor who she has got to know really well, and of working with a small press in terms of her own author input into cover design and other aspects of book publication. Avril has had experience of contracts with larger publishers and says she wouldn’t switch. Lynn is enthusiastic, experienced, personable and is also a writer!

Through her writing, Avril displayed her well honed skill of being able to draw the reader into a world that is entirely unique through her descriptive, lyrical prose. She has a way of describing people and places that leaves you with an understanding of the narrative as much through what is left unsaid as the words written on the page. Her observations and descriptions of the small details are astute and razor-sharp. She clearly has a deep understanding of the human condition, of love and loss, and of what makes people different and similar.

If you haven’t been acquainted with her work, I would highly recommend her writing. You can find her books here.

About Avril: Avril Joy is a short story writer, novelist and poet. Born in Somerset, she has travelled widely in India, Kashmir and Nepal. She was a Prison Governor in a women’s prison in County Durham and was awarded a Butler Trust Travel Award for ‘an outstanding contribution to prison care.’ It was here in 1999 she met the Writer-in-Residence and was inspired to write. Her short fiction has appeared in literary magazines and anthologies, including Victoria Hislop’s, The Story: Love, Loss & the Lives of Women. Her work has been shortlisted in competitions including, the Bridport, the Manchester Prize for Fiction and The Raymond Carver Short Story Prize in the USA. In 2012 she won the inaugural Costa Short Story Award. Her latest novel, Sometimes a River Song, published by Linen Press, won the 2017 People’s Book Prize. In 2019 her poem Skomm won first prize in the York Literary Festival Competition. She posts regularly on her blog

About Linen Press: Linen Press is a small, independent publisher run by women, for women. They are the only indie women’s press in the Uk and encourage and promote women writers, giving a voice to a wide range of perspectives and themes that are relevant to women. Linen Press rejoices in the differences in female creative voices, publishing books that are diverse, challenging, and surprising. The collective background of writers is a multi-coloured patchwork of cultures, countries, ages and writing styles.

Established in 2005.

Finalist 2015 Women In Publishing Pandora Award.

Shortlisted 2019 Most Innovative Publisher Saboteur Awards.

Interview with Costa Short Story Award Winner, Avril Joy

I would like to introduce you to our guest author, Avril Joy. With a degree in History of Art and experience as a social worker then a teacher at Goldsmith’s College under her belt, Avril has travelled widely, and it was her experience of working and teaching in prisons which drew her to my attention, as well as her clear gift for short story writing. Avril is a wonderful person and a truly inspiring writer. Her short story, Millie and Bird, won the first Costa Short Story Award in 2012. download (3) You have travelled to India, Kashmir and Nepal. Is travel a key source of inspiration for your work and how does it inform your writing?

I’m not sure about travel exactly, although my travels in India and Sri Lanka do feature quite strongly in my novel The Orchid House, but place is definitely an inspiration for me. For me, an idea for a story or novel often begins with a place and then obviously I have to go in search of the characters. I’ve always loved reading fiction that’s rich in place and atmosphere. I think travel is for the naturally curious and it’s good for a writer to be curious about places and the people who live there. I notice that Asian characters often pop up in my writing. I do love going to new places – I’m off to Venice for the first time soon and will definitely be keeping a journal to scribble down observations and ideas – but I also think that there is a rich source of inspiration to be found in the places where we live.

How did you begin teaching and then writing in a women’s prison, and in what way has the experience affected you as a person?

I began teaching in prison when I came back from my travels. I took a temporary post, just because it was on offer, which turned into a lifetime (certainly in terms of prison sentencing!) commitment. It affected me deeply but it’s not necessarily obvious in my writing, although it’s always there underneath. I’m always drawn to people, especially women, living on the margins, or in their own internal prison. Invisible lives interest me, the lives of those who have no voice. I learned a lot from the women in prison about freedom and survival, about laughter, and about not feeling sorry for yourself. There’s a great deal of pain inside a women’s prison but also a surprising amount of fun and also friendship which I’ve written about in my long short story (on Kindle), When You Hear the Birds Sing. I met the author Wendy Robertson in prison when she was appointed Writer-in-Residence. We struck up a great working relationship and ultimately a lasting friendship. She was the first person to encourage me. She told me I could write and in many ways that changed my life.

What drew you to Literary Fiction in particular?

I think this was simply a result of my life as a reader. I’ve always read and loved Literary Fiction and Poetry, so it was natural for me to write in a similar way.

You won the very first Costa Short Story Award in 2012. What is it about short fiction that many writers often love or fear?

What I love about writing a short story is that it allows you to experiment, to try different voices, to use language not so much as a vehicle for narrative but for its own sake, although simplicity and clarity are what counts. I love the intense nature of the short story and it’s ambiguity – the way you leave space for the reader to bring their experience and imagination to the piece. You have a chance with a short story to make it as perfect as you can. What I fear is that writing which is not good enough will be immediately exposed, it’s a very unforgiving form. Also for me I am often afraid that there isn’t enough of a story there and I’m not good at quirky or different and I can’t really do funny which I think is a real skill. I think perhaps my stories are too quiet for some taste but then those are probably the kind of stories I like to read.

What advice would you give to new writers in terms of publication and entering competitions?

I think competitions are great for getting work published or anthologised, also submitting to magazines and for this reason I feature opportunities for both in my free weekly newsletter which anyone can sign up for on my blog. It’s important to think about the particular competition you are entering or magazine you’re submitting to and to look at what they’ve chosen or published in the past, they often have a house style. Also make sure you follow the rules, but my best advice is to write the story you want to write and try to make it, in Nadine Gordimer’s words, ‘burn a hole in the page.’ The reader has to be affected or moved in some way by your story. Oh yes, I should also say, make the beginning good, draw the reader in. How to do all this? Learn from the best by reading the best.

Your blog posts are informative and inspiring, what have you gained from blogging?

I’ve been blogging for more than five years and in that time it’s given me a great sense of audience and helped develop my writer’s voice. I love that you can just hit publish and your words are out there, and this sustained me when my work was not being published. It’s also been a great place to celebrate mine and others’ successes. Blogging makes you a good editor and if you blog regularly it means you exercise the writing muscle. Also blogging has allowed me to share my experiences as a writer, both the ups and the downs, and maybe, I like to think, help or inspire others – once a teacher always a teacher I guess, it definitely fulfils that need in me.

The new short story collection, The Story: Love, Loss and the Lives of Women: 100 Great Short Stories, edited by Victoria Hislop, is out as an eBook with the hardback edition newly released on 26 September. Can you tell us about the collection?

It’s a wonderful collection of 100 stories written by women, selected by Victoria Hislop. I still can’t quite believe I’m in the anthology along with queens of the short story like Alice Munroe, Helen Simpson, Angela Carter, Katherine Mansfield… the list is remarkable. Of course my inclusion is down to winning the Costa which has given my writing a huge boost and a brought me a whole new audience and I’m very grateful for that. As well as being a cornucopia of stories the collection has a great introduction on the selection process, the nature of short story writing and what makes a good story. I think it would make a thoughtful and lasting gift for readers and writers alike. There is something for every taste here. Although I’ve been reading the collection on my Kindle, marvelling at one brilliant story after another, I’m most looking forward to getting my hands on the book itself in hardback, images (9) Featuring two centuries of women’s short fiction, ranging from established writers like Alice Munro and Angela Carter, to contemporary rising stars like Miranda July and Chimanda Ngozi Adichie, this is the biggest and most beautiful collection in print today. Handpicked by one of the nation’s favourite novelists, Victoria Hislop – herself a great writer of, and champion for, short stories – and divided thematically into collections on love, loss and the lives of women, there’s a story for every mood, mindset and moment in life. CONTRIBUTORS INCLUDE: Margaret Atwood, Angela Carter, Emma Donoghue, Daphne Du Maurier, Stella Duffy, Susan Hill, Doris Lessing, Penelope Lively, Katherine Mansfield, Hilary Mantel, Lorrie Moore, Alice Munro, Ali Smith, Muriel Spark, Alice Walker, Jeanette Winterson, Virginia Woolf. Special promotional price to celebrate the short story (limited period).

Avril’s collection of short stories, Millie and Bird and Tales of Paradise, will be published in 2014 by Iron Press. You can find Avril at

Hemmingway’s Tip Of The Iceberg: Omit What the Reader Knows


If a writer of prose knows enough of what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of movement of an ice-berg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water. A writer who omits things because he does not know them only makes hollow places in his writing.
—Ernest Hemingway in Death in the Afternoon[1

This quote from Hemmingway’s, Death in the Afternoon, is a timely reminder that most of what the reader picks up from a really good piece of prose is submerged. Writers sometimes go to great lengths to make sure that the reader understands every detail and assumes a lack of understanding. Writing can, in this instance, lose it’s subtlety and and crush the flow of the words. You can feel what a good writer is implying without the words actually reaching the page. A good book is charged with these undercurrents and the reader can dig down and grasp emotions and ideas which are never actually written.

To give an example, yesterday I read the Costa Short Story Award winner Avril Joy’s beautiful piece, Millie and Bird. I won’t give anything away but the key theme is always implied, never stated, and deftly written in the hands of a writer who knows her craft. Her story is both lyrical and compelling. Those of you who have been following know that I am currently immersed in short stories (both reading and writing) and I was particularly struck by this one. A well deserving winner, I would say.

Alison Moore’s, The Lighthouse, also follows a strong theme of rejection and loneliness without it ever being stated. The reader is swept away by the desperation of the protagonist’s situations in both his past and present.

I particularly like Hemmingway’s description of the dignity of an iceberg’s movement. Remembering that those critical seven eights of its mass are under water should serve as a warning not to push everything up to the surface or to write all the words into the frame of your picture.