Sunday, November 22, 2015

Chrissie Gittins and Tessa Hadley

On Friday evening Chrissie Gittins launched her wonderful new collection of stories, Between Here and Knitwear (Unthank), a lovely event upstairs in the cosy central-London Rugby Tavern. I first met Chrissie when she came to read at Manchester Central Library with her then newly published first collection, Family Connections, and when my own first collection, Balancing on the Edge of the World, was forthcoming from the same publisher, so of course we got chatting and have kept in touch ever since. And so of course on Friday I jumped on the train for the launch of the new book.

It's a series of linked stories that chart the life of one woman, Christine, from early childhood to middle age, and the shifts in her relationship with her parents as she grows and then as her parents become vulnerable and aged. The stories are steeped in the kind of physical detail and psychologically acute observations that will have readers exclaiming with recognition, and Chrissie has a beautifully subtle and dry wit.
I loved Mrs Marshall. We all did. We wanted to be her. We wanted to be married to her husband and donate our wedding trousseaus to the school play. We wanted a weekend cottage in Troutbeck, and to start our teaching careers in Wales.
Chrissie read beautifully, and we were all entranced. I read the book all the way back on the train, looking up only once, at Stoke-on-Trent, to see that, without my noticing, it had been snowing. It's a book you'll want to read in one sitting.

Two days earlier I was at Edge Hill University, hearing Tessa Hadley read and talk. She read an early short story and an extract from her latest novel, The Past, and talked very interestingly about the difference between novels and short stories, and the different strategies and mindsets needed for each. She didn't think there was any point in getting indignant about the way short stories don't sell, she said: the fact is that short stories are a 'strenuous' read, requiring a particular kind of focus of attention, and people prefer the immersive experience that novels can provide. Nevertheless, she said, stories are a joy to read and write, and for the writer a wonderful medium in which to hone your linguistic skills. Afterwards I reminded Tessa that we had met in Cardiff at the launch of Power, an anthology published by Honno, in which we both had stories, and she told me that that had been her very first short story - she's come a long way since!

Friday, November 13, 2015

Used to Be reviewed on Everybody's Reviewing.

A lovely review of Used to Be by Hannah Stevens on the Everybody's Reviewing blog, which opens thus:

'A collection packed with bursts of intense short stories, written in clean, sharp prose. The stories are immersive and gripping. I read this book in one sitting.'

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Goodreads giveaway books ready to go

Here are the copies of Used to Be packed up and addressed to the winners of the Goodreads giveaway. Congratulations to the 10 winners, and thanks so much for the interest of the other 1,382 people who went in for it.

Saturday, November 07, 2015

Katie Lumsden talks about Used to Be (and other books)

Katie Lumsden, who reviewed Used to Be so generously on her blog, Books and Things, also has a YouTube channel in which she talks about her reading, and this month, in the video above, she talks about Used to Be - among many other books - she's a voracious reader and I love her enthusiasm for books!

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Katie Lumsden on Used to Be

A really lovely review from Katie Lumsden on her excellent blog, Just Books and Things. I'm streaming with cold and stuck at home feeling awful when I was meant to be away and meeting people and having interesting discussions as well as writing (I feel too ill to write well), but this review has cheered me up no end. I'll quote just a few of the lovely things Katie says:

These stories are journeys into the past and into possible futures and strike a superb balance between the thought-provoking and the poignant.

Baines is certainly a talented writer, and I find her narrative style fascinating and refreshing. I especially love her use of various voices and narrative perspectives. She uses the second person with a skill and effectiveness I don’t think I even realised was possible... The stories told in the second person – ‘Looking for the Castle’, ‘Clarrie and You’, ‘Possibility’ and ‘What Do You Do If’ – have a strange and beautiful sense both of universality and of uniqueness; they are about specific characters but they are also about you. You are literally pushed into the shoes of these characters. It’s different, clever and wonderfully effective

All in all, I loved this collection, and I am excited to read even more by Elizabeth Baines in the future. Her writing style is strong and refreshingly different... The collection fits together well and was a real pleasure to read.

So, warmed by that, I'll now take myself off with my box of tissues and get myself some honey and lemon...

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Used to Be reviewed on The Worm Hole

Charlie Place has written about Used to Be on her blog, The Worm Hole. I met Charlie in June when we were both invited to the Simenon event for bloggers: we happened to arrive together in the entrance of the Groucho Club, where the event was being held. I thought a bit hard before asking her if she'd be interested in looking at Used to Be: I didn't want to her to feel obliged, just because we had met. However, she was wonderfully cool and professional, and today she has put up an impartial and thoughtful piece, for which I'm very grateful. Particularly pleased that she thinks that I have a 'distinctive way of writing', and that although the book's literary it's very accessible, and especially that 'it'll blow you away when you least expect it.'

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

First Amazon review for Used to Be - five-star

I never really know how to value Amazon reviews, or whether to quote from them, because there's been so much fuss about their lack of impartiality and openness to corruption, but then it's so hard to get mainstream reviews nowadays (I can't believe that when The Birth Machine first came out it had reviews in the TLS and Literary Review, and I was actually shocked and felt hard done to because, being from a feminist press, it didn't get into the daily broadsheets). So it's hard to resist when you get a nice Amazon review, and this, the very first for Used to Be, comes from a reviewer who is clearly serious about literature and short stories in particular. Since he/she goes under the name 'Manc' it's possible that I know her or him in real life, but if so whoever it is has not revealed his or herself to me, I've no idea who he/she is, and I'm pretty chuffed to get his/her five-star review!