Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Christmas gifts for an author

So from my mother I got a glass powder bowl. Wtf? What does she think? I will sit at my dressing table mirror powdering my face with real old-fashioned powder? Where will I get the powder? I have no idea. But yes, it is a lovely thing. Cut glass, with a beautiful faceted knob on the lid, and a lovely kind of mother-of-pearl base to the bowl.

From my sister I got a hat-pin holder. A hat-pin holder? I wear hats that need pins, you think? But again, it is a lovely thing. Victorian, bone china with daffodils hand-painted on it. And a mother-of-pearl ring which I will most definitely wear.

From one of my sons, Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point, because he knows that as a contemporary author who has to market her own books, I have to know about such things.

Which of my relatives, do you think, really knows me?

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Season's greetings and a great Christmas reading

Season's greetings to all my readers and fellow bloggers. Apologies for the lateness of this, but I have been feeling really ill with a cold which started on Monday (21st) when I went off into town to a very nice Christmas evening of readings. Nicola Mostyn, Emma Unsworth, Maria Roberts and Zoe Lambert were reading in the cosy The Outlet on Dale St. We were greeted with mulled wine at the door and it was when I sipped it and found it so very soothing that I realized I was developing a sore throat. I didn't feel really ill until the next day, though, so I was able to enjoy the evening enormously. Firstly, Nicola read a vivid section from her newly completed novel in which the Greek gods exist in the present-day world. Emma read from her ingenious new novel, the story of which is told via the memories triggered by restaurant menus for a food critic. Maria Roberts read an insightful Christmas section from her Penguin book which is based on her clever, wry blog, Single Mother on the Verge. These three readers comprise the Prose Formation, and their guest reader was Zoe Lambert, who read a moving story which imagines Britain as a fascist state, and which will appear in her forthcoming collection from Comma. Maybe the fact that I forgot to take photos until late in the proceedings was a symptom of my developing cold. Here's Zoe reading:


And here's Emma at the mic:

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Nice comments for Too Many Magpies

I'm thrilled that Debi Alper has chosen Too Many Magpies as one of her Christmas gift book recommendations for Bookarazzi. This is what she says about it:
Deceptively simple, a beautifully crafted novel in which every word seems to have multiple layers of meaning.
And in the Morning Star Judith Amanthis reviews it and comments thus:
Precise language and graceful use of time... Glitters with meanings.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Top bestsellers at Salt

I'm really happy to see that Too Many Magpies makes the top 20 bestellers of the moment at Salt - in there at #6. Thank you so much to those who have bought it!

My story collection, Balancing on the Edge of the World, is in there too at #17, and Short Circuit, the Salt guide to the art of the short story makes #3!

Great to be there with all those other wonderful Salt books - mosey on over and have a look at them (and get yourself some great Christmas presents!)

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Ride the Word Christmas special including Short Circuit



If you're in London on Tuesday, then do come down to Cafe Yumchaa in Soho for a special Ride the Word event, at which contributors to Short Circuit, the acclaimed Salt guide to the art of the short story, the book's editor Vanessa Gebbie, Salt's editorial director Jen Hamilton-Emery and Prospect magazine's arts and literature editor Tom Chatfield will all be reading and talking as part of the programme. Ride the Word is a regular London reading night hosted by Salt authors poet Vincent de Souza and prose fiction writer Jay Merill, and the events are free. Details of Tuesday's event below:


CHRISTMAS SPECIAL
'Short Circuit' Celebration
at
The CAFE YUMCHAA
Tuesday 15th December 2009
6.30 for 7pm - till 9pm
45 Berwick Street, Soho, London W.1
With
Vincent de Souza,
Jay Merill,
'Short Circuit' Editor, Vanessa Gebbie
Salt Publishing Director, Jen Hamilton-Emery
Arts Editor of 'Prospect' Magazine, Tom Chatfield
and
Tania Hershman, Sarah Salway,
Marian Garvey, David Gaffney, Lane Ashfeldt
Elizabeth Baines, Chika Unigwe,
David Grubb, Alex Keegan
also
Floor Spots on first come first served basis
Hosted by
Jay Merill and Vincent de Souza
(nearest Tube: Oxford Circus, Tottenham Court Rd.,
All Oxford Street buses - to Berwick St stop)

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Sally Zigmond reviews Too Many Magpies

Today there's a nice review of Too Many Magpies on Sally Zigmond's blog, along with a short interview she conducted with me about the book. She calls the book 'intense and unsettling' and says, 'The prose is spartan but powerful' and that 'Despite its physical brevity, Too Many Magpies poses huge questions about life today'.

And Sarah Salway, whose wonderful endorsement graces the cover of the book, talks on her blog today about the books she has endorsed this year, and says of Too Many Magpies, 'I'm thrilled [it's] been getting so many good reviews, because it deserves every one. I'm interested that the word used most often is 'haunted', there's definitely a lasting quality to this book'.

Thank you, Sally and Sarah!

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Reading Group: The Road by Cormac McCarthy

It's so long since this meeting and I've been so preoccupied with the promotion of Too Many Magpies that I'm not sure I can remember the discussion very well.

John (who is not exactly easy to please when it comes to novels) had been so impressed and moved by this novel that he had tried at least twice to suggest it, but it had been passed over by the rest of us, some of us put off I think by the macho impression we had of McCarthy's novels in general, which in fact we hadn't read. On this occasion Hans, whose turn it was to suggest the next book, was absent, and, quite unprepared, I found the choice falling to me, and so, remembering John's persistence, I plumped for this.

I couldn't have been happier that I had done so. As I told the group, I was just stunned by this novel in which a man and his young son trail south on the road through an ash-filled post-apocalyptic world, their sole worldly goods piled in a rickety shopping trolley. I was so emotionally moved that I was reluctant to start deconstructing it with discussion: I just wanted to let it, and its emotional impact on me, be. I had noted, though, that it was quite simply written in a spare prose which was however deeply poetic. And one of the things that moved me so much was that that whole cowboy-Western ethic of the good guys and the bad guys with which we had associated McCarthy (and which others said definitely informed the film they'd now seen of McCarthy's novel No Country for Old Men) was here used in the most movingly moral of ways: the man and the boy are striving to be the Good Guys, the keepers of the flame of morality, in the remnants of a world we can guess was destroyed by the lack of it and peopled by marauding cannibalistic gangs (and the moral question of the novel is whether it is possible for the man and the boy to succeed in this). And that, searing as the novel is, I had found the ending (which I won't give away here) redemptive, hopeful about the human spirit.

Doug immediately agreed with me wholeheartedly, and others nodded. Everyone loved the book and had been deeply affected by it, but perhaps Ann was the least deeply affected, as she had some quibbles, and saw some inconsistencies in the story, such as the fact that in travelling south the boy and the man crossed a range of mountains, which was hard to picture since most of the mountains in America run from north to south. This was a matter which frankly I wasn't much interested in discussing, as for me the novel had a mythic feel which made such practicalities irrelevant. There was then some (to me inappropriately realist) discussion about a related practicality: why they were travelling south: was it because they were hoping to find warmth as the winter came on? Or were they simply moving on because they had run out of food? Trevor said no, you wouldn't wait until you'd run out of food before moving on, that would be really stupid (because I was so little interested in this argument I can't remember his reasoning), and Ann, a textile conservator, said this made her think about insects: moths always stay with their source of food until it runs out but carpet beetles don't, they move on to fresh pastures before that happens.

John said, well, nothing is really explained: we never know why the world was destroyed, whether it was terrorism or ecological or what, and I stopped eating crisps out of boredom and frustration and said, Quite, that's the point, and that's what's so great about the book: in the post-apocalyptic world, cause and reason and politics are all beside the point, lost to the world. Existence is reduced to the physical experience of the effort to survive - and of course, for some, the human hope to keep the moral 'fire'. I said I loved the language of the book which reflects this: pared down and studded with ancient- and Anglo-Saxon-sounding words which were yet, I think, newly-coined, creating a sense of the unprecedentedly primitive. Everyone agreed that they really appreciated this last.

Then Ann said that she wasn't so sure that the book was redemptive, and there was a discussion about this which focussed on the end and which I thus can't report without spoiling the ending for those who haven't yet read the book.

One thing I will say is that one of the things that stunned me was the use of viewpoint, which earlier on in reading the novel I had decided McCarthy had mishandled: the narrative relentlessly takes the viewpoint of the man, except for one brief though puzzling and indeed memorable moment when it moves to the boy's. And then at the end, when the narrative shifts once more to the boy's I understood why (and indeed why that moment had been made so memorable) and I understood too that far from being unable to handle viewpoint, McCarthy is a master of it.

And again everyone nodded, and we all agreed that this book, a searing warning, was one of our stunners, one which would stand out among all those we have read and discussed.

(And I did remember the discussion after all - I think!)

Our archived discussions can be found here, and a list of all the books we have discussed here.

Me, my leather jacket and the camera

See, I've said before I feel most myself in my leather jacket. Well, leather jackets - I've got a red one and a pale blue one now (all from charity shops, you understand). I had to replace the old black one in the end, in spite of my attachment to it: in the end I did get fed up of losing all my change and slips of paper in the lining round the back, and then the zip just lost too many teeth and the sleeve seams started to split. I kept it for a bit, though, thinking I'd cut it up for the leather, but when I eventually got round to doing that there was such a horrid fluffy mess between the leather and the lining... well, you don't want to know.

Well, yesterday I went to do a video interview for the website for the forthcoming GCSE AQA online anthology, in which 'Compass and Torch' appears, and I wore my red leather jacket because a) it was quite jolly (thinking of the kids) and b) I knew I'd feel relaxed in it. So I get to the studio out on Timber Wharf, and I'm settled down in the corner of this big black sofa, and yes, I do feel nice and relaxed, and Charlie Evans who's interviewing me for AQA begins. What's my inspiration for stories, and why do I write them, he asks me, and I'm off, no stumbling, entirely in my stride, and I've been going a good while and the sound man says, 'Stop.'

My leather jacket is squeaking against the sofa, which is also leather, and against itself every time I move my arms, which I do a lot when I talk. I have to take my leather jacket off and we have to start again. And guess what? I've lost my stride. I hesitate, I say what I don't mean and have to ask twice to start again. Can you believe I took my articulacy off with my jacket? Can you believe the power of clothes?

Saturday, December 05, 2009

New Goodreads review for Too Many Magpies

I've had a third really nice review for Too Many Magpies on Goodreads. Nicole calls it 'a clever, well-crafted novel' which 'will haunt you for days afterwards as you think about its meaning. Highly recommended'.

Podcast: Interview with Andrew Edwards on ALL FM

There's now a podcast available of my interview with Andrew Edwards on ALL FM last Sunday, in which we discuss Too Many Magpies, among other things. At one point Andrew gets me to repeat the magpie rhyme around which the novel is structured, and listening last night I discovered that I can't even count up to four!

Friday, December 04, 2009

The real life of readings and the reality of fiction

I really enjoyed the reading at Manchester Central Library on Wednesday (pics here). Of course I had my usual panic beforehand: would enough people turn up to make it worth the time and trouble of Libby Tempest, our lovely library host? As usual she had done masses of publicity (thank you, Libby!) and of course the library had designed one of their super posters - a copy of which I got to take home with me afterwards - but you know, you always worry: are you going to be the turn that doesn't attract the punters in spite of it all? And there was a very sticky moment when, at five to six, with only five minutes to go, there was still only a handful of people there and a call came through from my fellow reader Robert Graham to say he was stuck in traffic three miles off and probably not going to make it in time. Yet somehow he managed to be in the room at five past, by which time it had miraculously filled! And thank goodness, he had the box of red wine he had promised to bring, a great relief to the two guys who had found my choice of white pretty dire (for which I do apologize!). (See, you can't just sit at a desk, you have to be an events organizer and know about ruddy wine!).

Anyway, the reading seemed to go really well. I had promised to read something I hadn't read before as well as an extract from Too Many Magpies, as I knew some people were coming who had been to previous readings. A quick scan of the audience made me plump for 'Holding Hands', a story from Balancing I've never read in Manchester before, about the power balance between two sisters growing up and then at the point when their father dies. There was a great audience, with lots of interesting questions, and playwright Debbie Freeman commented that the work that Robert and I read out seemed pretty personal. She added quickly that she wasn't saying that it was autobiographical, or asking it if was, but went on to ask how we deal with making real-life experience objective enough for fiction (a subject I address of course in my contribution to Salt's guide to the art of the short story Short Circuit), and quite a good short discussion followed about the concept of autobiographical fiction.

Well, I'm not saying anything about that particular story - my usual policy - but I will say this: when I got home I had a very strange frisson when I realized something that, preoccupied with the reading, I had forgotten: that that evening was the very anniversary of the evening my father died...

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Reading at Manchester Central Library tonight

Just a reminder that Robert Graham and I are reading at Manchester Central Library tonight. I've got my share of the wine (but I forgot the orange juice, so I'll have to go out again!). Robert will be reading from his lovely wry stories in The Only Living Boy, and I'll be reading from Too Many Magpies and something else (not sure what yet: I want to read something the audience won't have heard, so I guess that means seeing who turns up and deciding then!)

Do come: Committee Room, Manchester Central Library, 6 pm.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

24:7 2010: Application process open!

It's that time of year again! This year's call for scripts for this vibrant theatre festival opens officially as of NOW.

This year the format has changed a little: of 20 plays chosen, 10 will receive full performances and 5 rehearsed readings, and the authors of a further 5 will receive mentoring. This is a good development, I think: for the audience it was always well-nigh impossible to get around all of the performances - though I know some people who made a point of doing so! - and I like the way the festival is developing its role of nurturing writers and networks for writers.

Also this year there is a process of registering your application online via the website, although you still have to send in a hard copy script.

So if you have a one-hour script waiting to be aired in the world, get it ready, or if it's an idea waiting to burst on to the page get it down there, and apply via the website.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

ALL FM

This morning I went off to Levenshulme and ALL FM's community radio station, invited by Andrew Edwards to be interviewed about Too Many Magpies on his Sunday lunchtime Art Beat programme. I was there once before, when I was producing my 24:7 Theatre Festival play The Processing Room. It's a quirky place, a converted Victorian house on a corner, the green room being the old dining room and the two studios being the once front parlour and back sitting room, I presume, though in fact it's pretty cramped in that last and maybe that was the scullery or something. In any case, there's a lovely friendly atmosphere, and Andrew's great at putting you at ease beforehand. We had quite a lengthy interview; Andrew asked me in some depth about the novel, and I read a short section. He was very complimentary about the book, but he put me on the spot a bit towards the end by saying that he was shocked at the ease with which my female protagonist falls into an affair with a mysterious stranger when her relationship with her husband seems to have been painted in such an idyllic light. This really took me aback, and I had no answer but that I thought I had planted the clues! Afterwards he said he hoped I wasn't offended, and of course I wasn't - nothing offends me about people's reactions to my work: why ever should it? - and I'm more than interested in people's reactions. And I bet it made good radio, anyway: me suddenly sounding utterly phased!

The programme is repeated on Tuesday evening, 9.00 pm: ALL FM 96.9, after which it will be a podcast on the website.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Lisa Glass reviews Too Many Magpies

I've had a lovely review for Too Many Magpies from Lisa Glass on Vulpes Libris. It's one of a series of mini-reviews she has written on her 'favourite books of the autumn'. She says: 'I read most of this book in one sitting as I could not drag myself away from its eerie storytelling' and 'Elizabeth Baines has a gift for creating lyrical, penetrating prose, and characters who seem all too real in their flaws, obsessions and neuroses', and calls the book 'an accomplished, thoughtful novel that offers us a strange new lens with which to view the world'. The full review here.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Another printing and another reading

Well, Salt have now done a second printing of Too Many Magpies, and that's a lovely feeling. It had to be done in such a rush, though, that there wasn't a chance to sort out the typos I'd found. Never mind: when I told my sister she said, 'What are you talking about?' (in her inimitable what's-she-on-about-now manner). 'What typos? I never saw any!' (As if there couldn't be any then!)

I'm having a bit of difficulty settling down again after all the rushing around and promotion, but actually feeling excited at the thought of eventually doing so, and getting back to writing. Yesterday morning I was out delivering leaflets again for the next reading, and I really liked it - it even felt exciting, being out at that time of day in Didsbury, even in the pouring rain, since normally when I'm home I make myself stay at my desk until 1.30 pm. Like being let out of school. Pathetic, I know. Maybe I should try and lead a less monotonous day-to-day life...

The reading is next Wednesday, 2nd December, and I'm reading with fellow Salt author Robert Graham (The Only Living Boy) at Manchester Central Library, 6 pm. I never had a proper Manchester launch for Magpies in the end: I've done so many readings here, it seemed excessive. But my launch in London last week made me realize that it's good to have proper celebration of a book, so we're going to take wine and make the event next Wednesday a bit of a Christmassy celebration of the publication of our books.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

London launch of Too Many Magpies


I had a great launch for Too Many Magpies at the Calder Bookshop on Tuesday evening. The shop is a lovely place which includes a theatre area set up by John Calder to provide a performance space for his Godot Theatre, and there is a really nice atmosphere. And so many of my friends old and new came to celebrate with me: writer friends and blogger friends, my wonderful publisher Jen Hamilton-Emery, and also my long-lost cousin whom I'd never met before in my life - now you don't often get that at a launch, do you? See what miracles books can give rise to? And we sold all of the copies of the book which the shop had ordered, plus some I had brought in my bag just in case! Thank you so much to everyone who came for making it such a successful evening, and thank you to the shop's Alex Middleton for hosting the event, and to the second Alex for manning the till until we all faded away, far too late, I'm sure, into the night. And thank you to a third Alex, fellow Salt author Alex Keegan who came with a very posh big camera and took the photos. Front left in the photo above is prose fiction writer Vicky Grut (whose great stories we published in the short-story magazine metropolitan), just behind her (with red hair) is novelist Debi Alper, centre front is fellow Salt author Tania Hershman, front right is novelist and poet Sue Guiney and just behind her Jen Hamilton-Emery.

ADDED: And how could I have forgotten to thank Tania, who so generously offered to introduce me, and who gave me such a lovely (flattering!) introduction! Thank you, Tania!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

London launch of Too Many Magpies: Tuesday 17th, 7pm


The London launch of Too Many Magpies will take place on Tuesday (17th November), 7pm at the famed Calder Bookshop 51 The Cut, London SE1 8LF Tel. +44 (0)20 7620 2900.

The Calder Bookshop was founded by John Calder, legendary publisher of Burroughs, Beckett et all, so it's a lovely place to have a launch.

All welcome. Come and have a glass of wine and get a signed copy for yourself or as a fittingly spooky Christmas present!

And I've had another nice brief Goodreads review for the book. Evie says:
'Very moving, intelligent story as the author explores motherhood, temptation and??? magic. Baines can keep the readers attention while looking at age-old themes from a different perspective.'

Friday, November 13, 2009

Last day to win a copy of Short Circuit


Today is the last day to enter a competition to win a copy of the fabulous Short Circuit, the guide to the art of short story writing just out from Salt. Head on over to Salt's blog and get your entry in - it's a nice easy quiz for literary types! Here's Salt's information about the book:
Short Circuit is the first textbook written by prize-winning writers for students and more experienced practitioners of the short story. The 288 page guide brings together twenty-four specially-commissioned essays from well-published short story writers who are also prize winners of the toughest short story competitions in the English language, including five essays from winners of The Bridport Prize. There are interviews with Clare Wigfall, winner of The National Short Story Award — and with Tobias Hill whose short story collection won the PEN/Macmillan Silver Pen Award.
I've contributed a chapter on the issue of turning real life into fiction, focusing on the story from Balancing on the Edge of the World, 'Condensed Metaphysics'. Editor Vanessa Gebbie had read the post on this blog about this story, and asked me to elaborate for Short Circuit, deconstructing the precise process whereby I turned a real-life incident into a fiction story. I'm very pleased to be in the book alongside such short story luminaries as Alison McLeod, Tania Hershman, Nuala Ni Chonchuir, Carys Davies and many others, and very much looking forward to reading their insights into the process of story writing.

And if you don't win, there's 20% off at the moment if you order via the Salt site.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Reading for Chorlton Book Festival


I was so nervous about my Chorlton Book Festival reading on Monday night, for this reason: good little (or at least well-intentioned) author-marketer as I am, I had invited Chorlton Bookshop to sell my books at the event. Chorlton Bookshop is one of those little independent bookshops still, amazingly, existing (in spite of the situation outlined in Tuesday's Guardian): a tiny space stacked high with not just the bestsellers but interesting books. And Vicky, the shop's owner, has always been wonderfully supportive of my work. So I needed to get enough people through the door of Lounge Bar on the night to get enough books sold to make it worth her while having ordered the books, and Jo and Michelle's giving up an evening with them. I publicised the event like mad, went leafleting and stuck up posters, and provided the bookshop with leaflets and slips about the event to put into customer bags (and, as my Facebook friends will know, I plastered it all over FB). I've been in the local paper recently twice, as well, and lots of people had commented to me that they'd seen it, but you never know, do you, whether these things will link up in the minds of the general public...?

In the afternoon I went to the first event of the festival in Chorlton Library, an interesting talk and reading by Ruth Estevez, author of the novel Meeting Coty. There was a reasonable gathering for an early afternoon Monday event and they seemed to be made up of members of the general public, middle-aged and elderly people wrapped up in hats and scarves for the brilliantly sunny cold day outside, the first real day of winter. I began to think that this might bode well for the evening, when people are generally more free. Never (or hardly ever) one to miss a publicity opportunity, I handed out leaflets for my own event. One of them, an elderly lady, jumped back in horror at the mention of 'the evening', and that was my first moment of real worry. As I waited for the bus back to Didsbury afterwards the sun went, the cold dropped down, a mist began to form. The people around me at the bus stop were quiet and miserable and huddled, as if they just couldn't wait to get back home and shut the door and stay there for the rest of the evening. For god's sake, I felt like it myself: I was frozen to the bone in spite of my leather jacket. By the time I left the house again for my reading the fog was thick and most definitely freezing. Who in their right mind would go out on such an evening, a Monday evening at that?

Well, the evening turned out lovely. In the end, in spite of the weather, a not-bad sized audience of chiefly writers turned up and contributed to a good discussion. And there was a lovely atmosphere: it might have been freezing outside, but the back room at Lounge Bar is a scruffily cosy space, with warm colours and benches and sofas with cushions, and candles on the tables - and there had been an 18th birthday party there earlier, so there were even balloons on the walls! And David Green, the festival's organiser, had arranged for nibbles to be brought down, and the huge platter of sandwiches you can see in the pic above!

But what about the bookshop? The audience was so very literary and in the know, and I knew that some people there had already bought my books, and that one or two had already even read the new novel, Too Many Magpies. So I went on worrying that poor Jo and Michelle were wasting their time. But when I spoke to them at the end they turned out to have sold ten books, which it seems was enough to make them happy! (And they could have sold another: writer Jim Doxford decided he wanted a second copy of Magpies for his sister's Christmas present, but realized that they'd gone, and he'd now need to go to the shop for it.)

Phew. My huge thanks to Chorlton Bookshop, and to the audience for helping to make the evening, and also to David Green and the festival.

You can read a less anxiety-filled account of the event in a Manchester Literature Festival blog post, written by Clare Conlon who won Best New Blog in the 2009 Manchester Blog Awards.

Here are some of the writerly audience after the reading:


Jim Doxford (poet and short-story writer) is standing, novelist Clare Sudbery is in the yellow top with her back to the camera, writer Zoe Lambert is standing to her right and writer and blogger Adrian Slatcher is sitting on the far right behind the wooden panel.

The Chorlton Book Festival continues until Saturday 21st November. Tonight my fellow Salt author Robert Graham will be reading from his collection of stories The Only Living Boy, Lloyds Hotel, 8pm, and next week Adrian Slatcher will conduct a workshop for writers on using the web as a marketing tool.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Green Books Campaign: Perfecting by Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer







This review is part of the Green Books campaign . Today 100 bloggers are reviewing 100 great books printed in an environmentally friendly way. Our goal is to encourage publishers to get greener and readers to take the environment into consideration when purchasing books. This campaign is organized by Eco-Libris, a green company working to green up the book industry by promoting the adoption of green practices, balancing out books by planting trees, and supporting green books. A full list of participating blogs and links to their reviews is available on Eco-Libris website .

I'm pleased to be taking part in this campaign, having already collaborated with Eco-Libris to have a tree planted for every copy printed of Too Many Magpies. Here's a quote from the Green Book Campaign press release:
“Although there's so much hype around e-books, books printed on paper dominate the book market, and we want them to be as environmentally sound as possible ,” explains Raz Godelnik, co-founder and CEO of Eco-Libris. “Very few books are currently printed responsibly and we hope this initiative will bring more exposure to “green” books. Through this campaign we want to encourage publishers to get greener and readers to take the environment into consideration when purchasing books.”
My book for review is a novel, Perfecting by Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer, from the independent Canadian publisher Goose Lane. Printed on Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified paper, it's a nicely-produced paperback with sturdy matt card covers and those fold-in bits mimicking the flaps of dust jackets (I don't know what they're called): you do feel as if you're holding something classy, published with care.

The novel itself has its own kind of class: it's the product of a committed intelligence with a passion to expose the reverberations of violence in our society both on the personal and parochial level and the political and international, and the role religion can play. The story is complex and the novel's structure even more so, unfolding the former through the memories of the various characters as they move towards its shocking conclusion. The novel opens as forty-odd-year-old Martha, fleeing the Canadian New Age commune founded by her partner Curtis when they were barely more than teenagers, arrives at the New Mexican settlement from which he originally came but of which he has hardly ever spoken. In her bag she is carrying a gun, the gun she found in his room and which indicates that there are sides to Curtis other than the Jesus-figure he has always cut, a possibility she doesn't want to believe in, and explanation of which she expects to find here. As she meets his two half-brothers and their mother, a backstory unfolds of two families of children in thrall to a charismatic, bullying father: Hollis, descendant of Mormons, and of one half-brother set by him onto another. But as this story is revealed to the reader, the final chapter is working itself out: Curtis is on the road south in search of Martha to bring her back to the commune. His half-brothers guess this and wait, as does Hollis, crippled now and confined to an old people's home, longing for the return of his special, anointed prodigal son. Meanwhile, another story is woven into this one: that of Michael Dama, a US corporal charged with 'cleaning up' arms after military operations in the Middle East, and who collects Middle-Eastern rugs woven with military motifs glorifying and telling the story of those wars...

I did find that the retrospective nature of much of the narrative dissipated tension at times, but overall the story is undoubtedly an exciting one and the way all of the narrative threads are pulled together is clever and intellectually satisfying. There are moments of dark humour, and the prose picks up the tough idioms and speech patterns of the characters as the story shifts between their viewpoints and memories: That was baby Edgar... He looked like Hollis, square-jawed and gaze you down. The novel is vivid with symbolism, that of the drying-up river where old fishing lures can be found, and the bees Curtis keeps on the commune, communal but sometimes swarming and migrating. An ambitious book about pressing issues of the moment.

Readers too can collaborate with Eco-Libris: plant a tree by donating $1 for every book you read.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Literary Manchester

There's been so much literary happening recently, but I've been so busy with my own stuff I haven't had time to blog about much of it. First there was the Manchester Literature Festival, of which I only managed to blog the Fay Weldon event (briefly, and without reference to what she actually said). I put up some pics of Northern Salt which I took part in myself, but haven't even managed to blog it before now. Fortunately you can read detailed accounts of most of the events on the Manchester Festival blog.

Northern Salt was great fun. Not only was I reading with three other Salt authors - John Siddique, Mark Illis, and Robert Graham - but several other Salt authors came to the event: Steve Waling, Andrew Philip, Paul Magrs and Tony Williams, though Tony's train didn't get him there for the reading and he arrived as we were leaving the Whitworth, just in time not to miss us altogether, so he was able to come for coffee with us afterwards. Looking at that list I see I was the only girl amongst the boys (I didn't notice at the time: see, I just think of myself as one of the boys!), but then our lovely publisher Jen had come all the way up from Cambridge for the event, with a bag full of books for us all to sign, and Tony's brand-new copies. Also some of my female friends came to listen: among them my actor friend Mary-Ann Coburn, my erstwhile co-editor and short-story writer Ailsa Cox, and Ann French from the reading group - a real sacrifice from Ann, I'd say, since she surely spends enough time at the Whitworth as its textile conservator! Not that I even realized they were there until the end, as the audience was amazingly big for a Sunday afternoon. As we readers sat on the front row waiting for the start, Robert wanted to know which of us it was who had so many friends! MLF's Cathy Bolton gave us glowing introductions (as Robert said, it made you think: Is she talking about me?) and I loved the readings the others gave. The questions took us a little by surprise: I guess it's hard not to ask general questions of a largish group of writers, and we ended up talking about teaching creative writing and being published by a small independent, and even the somewhat academic question of the difference between poetry and prose! Here we are on the left wondering about the audience behind us:



What else besides MLF? Well, I went to a packed final evening of JB Shorts - the evening of short plays by TV writers at the Joshua Brooks pub - or rather, correction, I went to the second part of the final evening, having attended Michael Schmidt's memorable darkened launch at the Epinay champagne bar first. (Below is my pic of Michael reading by mobile phone flashlight), missing Trevor Suthers' play which I'd been particularly keen to see, not only because I'd promised him I'd go but because I'd been told it was brilliant. I was especially disappointed when, arriving, I found that actor Arthur Bostrom had been in it. The second half, which included a black comedy by Dave Simpson and a startling take on Brief Encounter by Peter Kerry, was excellent, and I'm not surprised that the whole enterprise has been nominated for a Manchester Evening News award. (There are also 12 24:7 nominations for this award, including several from three of the plays I put forward after initial reading because I loved them, and so I'm really chuffed).



Then on Thursday there was the first in this year's MMU series of readings, the launch of books from Carcanet by the innovative Matt Welton and Jeremy Over who was new to me. Adrian Slatcher offers his take on the evening over at The Art of Fiction. And last night John and I managed - just in time - to see Punk Rock by Simon Stephens at The Royal Exchange, which I expected much of but was rather disappointed in. About a group of students in a Stockport private-school library, it seemed to me a play which couldn't decide on its own focus and theme, and the Columbine-school-style ending struck me as lazy and gratuitous, inadequate as a pay-off for the various issues the play had raised. Plus, the loud music between scenes not only added nothing but was almost enough to make us throw ourselves off the top gallery where we were sitting.

Maybe I'll stay in a bit now...

Saturday, October 31, 2009

The problem with collections

A short story collection, when you think about it, is a really weird thing. This struck me when I was invited recently to a school to conduct workshops and read from my writing and talk about it. When you read from a collection you hope of course that it will lead people on to read the whole book, and maybe they will expect to. Well, there are several stories in my collection Balancing on the Edge of the World which I can happily read to school students, mainly those written from the point of view of children, one of which has been included in two school anthologies (which may indeed be why I have been invited). All good. But then there's the erotic story... Hm.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

To leaflet or not to leaflet

Ben, who is an artist and knows about such things - artists being well accustomed to doing their own promotion, a skill which even forms part of their Art School education - tells me that for every 100 leaflets you leave in bars etc, one person comes to your event. I groan. I am in the middle of putting together some leaflets for my Chorlton Book Festival event at Lounge Bar (7 pm, Monday November 17th). Maybe I shouldn't be bothering... Oh yes, I should, comes in Ben quickly. It's not just a matter of getting people into the particular event. It's also a matter of spreading the word about your art/book/product/career. For instance, naturally I'll have my website address on the leaflet... I groan again: I haven't thought of putting it on, and I've already printed half the leaflets.

So I spend Sunday evening writing it on the 100 leaflets I've printed so far, as well as the fact that Chorlton Bookshop will be selling books at the event, a courtesy promotion I've also omitted. This is all starting to seem just a tad tedious, not to mention unprofessional... Next morning - yesterday - I print another 80 (before the printer ink gives up) (new details incorporated) and set off from Didsbury to Chorlton for my Leafleting Trip. First, to Chorlton Library where I once led adult creative writing classes very conveniently just down the road from where I lived, to collect some of the nice black glossy festival brochures and official posters of my own event from David Green, who is organizing the whole Festival. David has got the brochure drop covered, so there I am concentrating on my own event, walking amid the orange falling leaves and dropping off leaflets of my own as I go.

First delivery is a single leaflet to the very house I lived in, because... well, would you believe that your son gets invited to his lecturer's house and it turns out to be the one he lived in as a small child? These are the weird coincidences that keep happening to me around that particular house. And as I walk towards it, it occurs to me that it is this street and this house which I used for part of Too Many Magpies, the book I'm in the process of promoting. By the time I'm approaching the house I'm experiencing the weirdest telescope of realities, the street of the book and the street of my own past both imposing themselves over the street of today. The door has been painted grey, which is weird, but the windows with their Belgian frosted glass are just the same, and so is the letterbox through which my letters of acceptance and rejection used to come, in those days before email. Actually, the house looks a bit shut up, blinds down on all the windows. I slip the leaflet through the door, and turn and stare at the street and the fact that the big tree outside the gate has gone and the pavement has been widened, but apart from that it's all much the same. And it's only as I turn out of the road again that I realize that I never noticed whether there are still black and red quarry tiles on the path, or the crazy paving I laid myself in the tiny front garden, and I'm thinking that maybe I just didn't want my memory disrupted...

On the main road I turn into a bar and am immediately stopped by the proprietor who is sitting in his vest outside and calls that he isn't open yet. He takes some leaflets from me grudgingly. As I'm walking away he is reading one and scowling, most likely at the fact that, since the event is in another bar, it is advertising a rival, and I have the distinct feeling they'll end up in a bin. Several bars cheerfully allow me to leave a contribution to their leaflet racks, but most of the other leaflets are for music events, and I have the sinking feeling that I'm not hitting my target market. Lounge Bar, of course, where the event is taking place, has a poster already, fantastically stategically placed on the window beside the door so you can't miss it as you walk in. The Battery Park cafe can only allow me to put one on the back of the toilet door, and there's only space near the edge where moving the lock ruckles it, and I can't see it lasting. Chorlton Bookshop, who are selling books at the event, willingly take a bundle of leaflets to slip into customers' bags, but when I'm too far on my way to Chorltonville to go back I realize that I didn't leave them nearly enough...

By the time I get to Chorltonville and Beech Road I'm feeling a little bit unsuccessful. I slip in through the doors of the Trevor Arms and say to the man behind the bar, who looks as if he might be the landlord, that I don't suppose for a minute he'd put up a poster for me. Well, he doesn't see why not! he cries, and takes it and looks and says approvingly, Yes of course he will! Wow. Encouraged, I go to the pub across the road where several gnarled and hairy blokes are standing around talking dramatically and stare with theatrical interest at my female intrusion, and a young barman with a shaven head and earring puts his thumb up when I ask, and goes so far as to find me some blu-tak and put the poster up for me, and suggests I leave some leaflets on the mantlepiece in the (at present empty) room where those people go, he says, who want a quiet drink. Even the nowadays genteel Horse and Jockey on the green accept leaflets. I wait (quite a long time) in the health shop while the nice lady there schools a not-very-well-looking young man in a tartan cap on how he needs to repopulate his gut, and am rewarded by her warm acceptance of a poster. And the newsagent takes one too, and the Takeaway chippie man says it's absolutely no problem love, and the Lead Station restaurant take leaflets, as does the all-day breakfast bar.

When I get to the bus stop, I don't feel I've had such a wasted trip: I've distributed 120 leaflets (that's 1.2 people likely to come to the event, according to Ben, after all!) and 6 posters, which I agree with Ben is probably the better way to go. And I've had a most nostalgic trip, and so it's fitting that as I get in through the door at home my mobile rings and it's Susannah from South Manchester Reporter wanting to make tweaks to my contribution this week to the column: Things I Love About South Manchester.

Monday, October 26, 2009

A great review for Too Many Magpies

I've had a lovely review for Too Many Magpies on Goodreads by a member called 'Bookscout'. It's a long review which ends like this:
It's a gripping tale that is not without its surprises. Leaving the reader with a satisfied ending.

Baines achieves all of this with the most enigmatic prose; at times haunting, always poetic. She speaks of the modern woman’s paranoia like whispers through silk. Whilst managing to embody the effortless tone of A.L. Kennedy with the talent for Magical Realism of Angela Carter. But she is also clearly a unique voice and one that I am excited to read more of.

The more time I spent thinking about this novel the more I came to realise how cleverly structured it is. Not a word is wasted every sentence resonates with some supernatural power and a distant melody. All the events, no matter how minor, feed into the overall fabric of the novel. At only 123 pages it is a book to savour, to be read slowly and it will gradually imprint itself on your consciousness. This is a fantastic achievement from a fresh, noteworthy talent.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Bit of a triumph

I know it doesn't count in the literary scheme of things (one should NEVER quote one's relatives!), but on a personal level it means a whole load to me that my sister is raving about Too Many Magpies! I have to say that she is a horribly honest person, my sister, and she usually has no hesitation in telling me which bits she didn't like in my work! Anyway, she has said that she hasn't had such a gripping reading experience since she read Alice Sebold's The Lovely Bones, which I have to say I've never read and most of my reading group despise as tacky, but what the hell, I say, if it grips people like Anne! She said my book didn't make her cry, but told me that it did make my mum cry, which my mum has not admitted herself (too bloody busy pointing out the typos)! Anyway, the crowning glory is that Anne is going to give it straight to her best friend Pam whom she says she knows will love it - and, when I think back to how Anne and Pam used to walk behind me down the road when we were teenagers, giggling privately (but, you know, only because they were jealous of my patent-red kitten heels), well, that really is a triumph!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Adele Geras reviews Too Many Magpies

First review for Too Many Magpies comes from Adele Geras on her newsletter. As many of you will know, Adele is my friend ('Full disclosure', as Adele herself says in the review), but even friends don't need to be this positive:
...terrific ... At the end, everything becomes clear in the most satisfying way, so that you find yourself saying: I should have seen that. I ought to have noticed. I had the clues and didn’t pick them up. It’s very clever indeed and finally, very moving too.
Thank you Adele! The full review here (scroll down to Books).

Monday, October 19, 2009

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Fay Weldon at the Manchester Lit Fest

To the Friends' Meeting House last night for my first Manchester Lit Fest event: Fay Weldon promoting her new novel Chalcot Crescent, an innovative blend of fiction and fact in which Fay's real-life never-born sister lives after all and grows up to supplant Fay in all of her real-life circumstances. How juicy!

But where was the real-life Fay? The clock ticked past the hour at which the event was meant to begin, and then we were told that Fay was delayed, having encountered at least two accidents on the motorway, but she would be there in ten or fifteen minutes. We waited. We talked: I had plenty to talk about: I had sat down and found myself next to a neighbour from years ago, someone I hadn't seen for years, and not only that, she had lived on the other side of the neighbour I'd had precisely the same experience with a couple of weeks ago at the Didsbury Arts Festival (the three of us had lived side-by-side in a row)! See, Fay is right: life is just as weird as fiction...

The clock ticked on. Quarter past... twenty-five past. Director Cathy Bolton came to the mic gain. Fay had been taken by her sat nav to a Mount Street in Trafford, and would now have to find her way back here... See, sat navs can't sort out the facts, either...

Then at almost a quarter to, the call went up 'Fay is in the building!' but since she didn't appear immediately, probably needing to go to the bathroom, a doubt about the fact settled in the air, which everyone seemed happy to accept.

And then at last she came, a little breathless, a little shaken, even, it seemed, and had to negotiate the fifteen-inch step up on to the stage, but her customary grin never left her face, and she proceeded to give us the benefit of her humour and wisdom.

No wonder we were all prepared to wait.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Reading group: Netherland by Joseph O'Neill

The smallest gathering we've ever had - just four of us - to discuss this novel in which Dutchman Hans van den Broek is left behind in post 9/11 New York by his English wife and their child and, with the city around him traumatized and his marriage disintegrating, turns to playing cricket on Staten Island, the only white man amongst other immigrants chiefly from India and the West Indies, and becomes involved with dreamer and fixer Chuck Ramkissoon.

Ringing beforehand to apologize for her absence, Clare said she thought it was a great book, but the four of us gathered were more equivocal. Doug, whose suggestion it had been, said that on the whole he enjoyed the book, but that, as with the 9/11 novel Falling Man by Don DeLillo which we had previously discussed, and the Updike 9/11 novel he'd read, he was left distinctly underwhelmed. In particular he felt that he never got to grips with Hans's character, mainly, he felt, because the first-person narrative voice didn't seem consistent. At times it would be stark, fitting Hans's financial analyst's character and role, but then it would veer off into high-flown meditation and florid description. But then, said Doug, people are inconsistent, though clearly he had found the inconsistency he perceived in this novel troubling. Ann had had similar problems, and John said that he had found that none of the characters came alive. I said that I found the novel, like Falling Man, somehow dazing and distancing, that reading it was somehow like feeling my way through a fog. I just didn't know where I was with it, or indeed what it was meant to be about. I didn't feel that it was in fact about 9/11, or, in spite of the endless descriptions of it, cricket, but I wasn't quite sure what the real focus of the book was - or rather, that there was any. An instance, I said, of the sense of unreality is the description of Hans's life in the Chelsea Hotel (where he lives after his wife and son have departed). It gives the impression of so hermetic an existence and psychology on the part of Hans that it was a surprise to be reminded that every other weekend Hans travels to England to see his wife and child, or even that during the days he goes to work, and once you are reminded of these things, the description of the emotional quality of his life in the hotel then seems fake. Doug suggested that perhaps this sense of disassociation, suspension and 'fog' is precisely what is intended by these post 9/11 novels, as an accurate description of the post 9/11 experience for New Yorkers. John and Ann said however that that was all very well, but it didn't make for good novels.

Ann said she didn't like Hans's wife, and everyone agreed, but then I said that her character was something else that seemed inconsistent - she seems like a very different and more likeable character once she and Hans are reunited in London. John put in here that the reasons for their split-up in the first place, and the reasons they get back together are not made understandable or convincing on a psychological and emotional level. Doug also said that the novel was filled with stereotypes: the freakshow of the Chelsea Hotel inhabitants and Chuck Ramkissoon, who while being the most vivid - and therefore least ghostly - of the characters was perhaps the greatest stereotype, that of the noble (though ultimately ignoble) savage with the ability to make simpler and clearer responses to the world than the introspective Hans. People also wanted to talk about the fact that we knew the story right from the beginning: we knew that Hans would get back with his wife, we knew that Chuck's body would eventually be pulled from the river with its hands tied. So the novel wasn't concerned with story, then, it was clear. But then what was it trying to do?

I then mentioned Zadie Smith's excellent essay on this book for the New York Review of Books, which I had read some time ago. Smith posits that Netherland is not so much about the unease of 9/11 as informed by the authorial unease of a novelist aware that one can no longer, in all conscience, write a naively realist book, yet nevertheless emotionally and narratorially tied to realism, as we all are. As Ann said, looking at it like this explains a lot of the inconsistencies: the postmodern refusal of plot and psychological character development and the disruptive questioning of Hans's extistential meditations, in particular on the problem of how to 'see' things, alongside the realist symbolism in the baroque descriptions and the fact that Hans's meditations nevertheless lead him to realist conclusions, such an ultimate faith in, above all else, the perceptions of the individual 'soul'. As Smith says, O'Neill wants to have his cake and eat it. I think she feels he is more successful at doing so than we did. The realist elements led us to be dissatisfied with the postmodern elements (to want to understand better the characters' motivations, for instance, and to feel the lack of their portrayal as a loss), while the postmodern impulses in the novel made realist elements such as the descriptions seem on occasion arrogant. It is interesting that we all found the ending sentimental with its reunion on the London Eye, realist symbol of a realist confident authorial stance. In fact this final passage is a wonderful exercise in postmodern questioning of this realist symbolism: The higher we go, the less recognisable the city becomes, narrates Hans, and then, just before the very end, the whole scene is intercut by two memories, one of seeing the twin towers from the Staten Island Ferry, and in both of which there is a questioning of what was actually being seen. However, the fact that we had found the ending sentimental perhaps indicates that a realist reading of the novel had won out for us.

Our archived discussions can be found here, and a list of all the books we have discussed here.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Northern Salt


On Sunday afternoon I'm reading at the Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester with three other Salt authors, Robert Graham, Mark Illis and John Siddique. Northern Salt, a Manchester Literature Festival event. 3-4 pm. Free but booking advised apparently on 08432080500 or http://manchesterliteraturefestival.co.uk/09-programme/october-18/northern-salt/

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Too many typos...

Well, I would never go about the place saying that I have a fault-finding mother, but...

Last night my mum rings me. She is on page 9 of Too Many Magpies. She has found three ruddy typos!!! (A missing pronoun and two indefinite articles, the last two side by side!!) *!!@!!. I must have looked at those proofs six times! And of course others did! (I am telling myself that the more engrossing a text is, the less easily you can detach in order to see the typos...)

Fortunately, she has now read to page 34 and has found no more...

Friday, October 09, 2009

Christmas bundle from Salt


Here's a lovely Christmas offer from Salt (and Too many Magpies is part of it):

Today we are excited to announce the launch of our themed Christmas bundle series.
Every week we’ll put together a themed bundle at an amazing price.
They’re your perfect Christmas gift solution. Five awesome Salt books, one low price. Buy them for five friends, give all five to a lucky loved-one, or simply treat yourself to some perfect Christmas reads.
Check out the blog each Friday for the next five weeks to discover our latest bundle.
Buy our new For Mothers and Lovers bundle for only £35 with free delivery in the UK
That’s an astounding £23 saving! Receive the following books in a beautiful ribbon-tied package:
The Missing by Si├ón Hughes — shortlisted for this year’s Forward Prize Best First Collection, The Missing deals with the heart of shame, parenting, illness, loss, regret and falling in love with the wrong people.
Too Many Magpies by Elizabeth Baines — A young mother married to a scientist fears for her children’s safety as the natural world around her becomes ever more uncertain.
Nude by Nuala Ni Chonchuir — The women and men in Nude play out their desires and frustrations from Dublin to Paris, Delhi to Barcelona, and beyond.
The Zen of La Llorona by Deborah A. Miranda — How does a damaged child grow up to be a loving, strong adult woman? These poems explore survivorship, tracing an American Indian woman’s life from conception to mid-life.
Sister Morphine by Catherine Eisner — Women’s Narratives from the Case Notes of a Community Psychiatric Nurse.
This special price ends on 15th December 2009. Buy now to avoid missing out.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Salt guide to the art of the short story


Next month sees publication by Salt of this book, edited by Vanessa Gebbie. I've contributed a chapter about the thorny subject of turning 'real life' into fiction, via a deconstruction of the creative processes in writing 'Condensed Metaphysics' (one of the stories in Balancing). Vanessa specifically asked me to write about this, and I did think twice about it - as you all probably know by now, I'm very wary of pointing out the real-life triggers of my writing, as I don't want to invite biographical readings of my stories as a whole: it's reductive and beside the point. But, in order to point out the dangers of doing so, I had written on this blog about the fact that I once made this mistake with this particular story, which led to its being published as reportage rather than the fiction it is. Vanessa had seen this post, and wanted me to elaborate. I just hope that the chapter underlines the fact that fiction is an indivisible meld of 'real life' and imagination, and doesn't solidify the story further as merely (and wrongly) autobiographical!

I'm very much looking forward to reading the other contributions: the contents list (below) looks exciting. I understand that Salt are looking into facilitating advance orders on their website.

Graham Mort: Finding Form in Short Fiction
Clare Wigfall interview: “I Hear Voices”: Voice, building character and much more
Alison MacLeod: Writing and Risk-Taking
Nuala Ni Chonchuir: Language and Style
Chika Unigwe: Settings. A Sense of Place.
Alex Keegan: ‘24’: The Importance of Theme.
Lane Ashfeldt: Building a World
Adam Marek: What my gland wants. Originality in short fiction.
Catherine Smith: Myth and Imagination.
Tobias Hill interview: Character, dialogue, and much more.
Sarah Salway: Stealing Stories.
Elizabeth Baines: True Story, Real Story – Good Fiction?
Marian Garvey: On Intuition. Writing into the Void.
Tania Hershman: Art Breathes from Containment. The power of the short short story.
David Gaffney: Get Shorty. The micro-fiction of Etgar Keret.
Elaine Chiew: Endings
Paul Magrs: Thoughts on Writing Fiction, at the End of Term
Vanessa Gebbie: i) Leaving the Door Ajar: On Opening the Short Story
Epilogue: Carys Davies, Zoe King, David Grubb, Linda Cracknell, Jay Merill, Matthew Licht.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Podcasts: Too Many Magpies

Well, I did my podcasts - believe it or not - and my readings from Too Many Magpies are now up on the Salt blog. (One thing I don't know is how to put them on here!)

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Rest of the Didsbury Festival

Well, the Didsbury Festival is over. It was very successful, and I enjoyed it a lot. A lovely first weekend with great weather for the outdoor activities, and by the time the typical Manchester rain had set in on Wednesday all of the events were luckily scheduled to be indoors. On Wednesday and Thursday evenings I went to hear fellow Salt authors read. First was Robert Graham reading from The Only Living Boy in the packed upstairs room in Casa Tapas - where I found myself sitting next to a one-time neighbour I hadn't seen for years, and who turned out to be a friend of Robert's. This is the sort of thing that happens at festivals... Next evening Steve Waling in The Railway pub, accompanied by Coolworks Jazz Duo with specially composed music - as keyboardist Phil Portus said, the Beats never went away in Manchester! (See my photos of these events below). Finally, on Friday evening, I went to Nick Royle's and Tom Fletcher's 'Fright Night' at the Northern Lawn Tennis Club in another packed room, this time with suitably dimmed lights and candles on the tables - very spooky (and very spooky writing), and too dark to take photos without a disruptive flash. Still, I got one them signing books afterwards - Nick one his novels, and Tom his Nightjar chapbook (although I did make Tom grin unsuitably!)

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Marketing

I rang my mum this morning. 'Have you been writing?' she asked, her usual question. Well, no, I had to reply, at the moment I'm marketing. There was a little silence and then she said, 'What on earth do you do when you're "marketing"?' Honestly, I could hear the inverted commas! And you know, I did feel a bit sheepish: isn't the truth really that when I'm thinking about such things as promoting a new book I can't concentrate on writing, rather than that I don't have the time? This is the guilty thought - and sense of literary inadequacy - I usually carry around with me, but then spelling out for my mother precisely what I've been doing in the past 3 weeks or so made me realize how much time marketing does take up, thus:

A day at least, and maybe more (by the time I had emailed everyone with drafts and worked on the adjustments they suggested) designing a poster and leaflets for the Didsbury Arts Festival reading.

An afternoon buying a colour printer to print it out, and then working out how to use it.

Equivalent of a whole morning altogether delivering said poster and leaflets.

Much of one afternoon making phone calls to try and organize launches for Too Many Magpies.

Another afternoon designing a poster for Too Many Magpies requested by a bookshop, and then delivering it.

Two afternoons, I'd say, emailing bloggers to inform them of publication, and emailing Salt with resulting requests for review copies.

A morning writing a press release for the local press and sending it out.

A morning disrupted by talking to a journalist who contacted me as a result, and sending her pictures.

A whole day, more or less, racking my brains for the two quizzes/profile pieces she also asked me to do for the paper.

Probably about three hours altogether packing up copies for contacts and going to the post office and waiting in the queue with them.

A whole afternoon working out how to make a podcast.

An afternoon making podcasts for my page on the Salt website.

And - this is the biggie - countless hours on the web, making a FaceBook group and FaceBook events, organizing a GoodReads giveaway, uploading photos, blogging and generally promoting - not to mention the way you get sidetracked into more general and extremely enjoyable web chat while you're at it!

And I've got a feeling there are other things that I've failed to recall...

Salt authors at the Didsbury Arts Festival

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Publication day for Too Many Magpies


Today is official publication day. It's an understatement to say I'm chuffed. These things are always a little fuzzed nowadays - advance copies have been available on the Salt website since it came back from the printer nearly a fortnight ago, and our lovely Didsbury bookshop, Morten's, immediately stocked it to sell at our Didsbury Arts Festival reading last Friday. So it's kind of 'out there' already, but there is of course something special about official publication day. Maybe I'll have a little glass of champagne tonight, even if it will be on my own, since John decided to stop drinking four days ago, and I wouldn't like to spoil his resolution!

It's been an amazing process, getting this book published - so quick, and seamless, even taking into account the nail-biting period in late May, I think it was, when it looked as though Salt would have to fold and the novel wouldn't go ahead after all. It was only late last November that I wrote to Jen and asked her if she'd like to look at it, and by Christmas she had said she would like to publish it (the best Christmas present I've ever had), and in the autumn. I never really got upset about the scare in the summer - guess I'm too used to the knocks of the writer's life by now, and have learnt to accept such things as the norm and to see the successes as wonderful miracles. Also somehow I so believed in Jen and Chris's ingenuity and commitment that an opposite part of me didn't think Salt could really fail - and of course there was so much immediate support for the Just One Book campaign, and I made myself too busy with that to allow myself to think negatively.

As soon as Salt had drawn back from the brink Jen set to typesetting TMM. It's beautifully typeset and I'm so grateful to her - most especially as the stress of the scare had left her feeling unwell at the time. The cover just happened, out of the blue - almost literally out of the blue. I had been taking photos of magpies myself, just in case they were needed, to have one ready the moment the subject of the cover was broached, but quite frankly, they weren't much cop. Magpies are really quite hard to photograph: being pied they don't show up against any kind of cluttered background. They kept settling in the leafy tree outside my workroom window, but it was hopeless - though interesting: when I blew up one photo a little goldfinch was revealed sitting companionably beside the magpie, undetectable before then. Then one evening walking home I saw magpies perched very high up in the tree in reading-group Trevor's garden - an ash, still not properly in leaf in June, so the birds were silhouetted against the sky (and luckily I had my camera on me). That sky was a bright cloudless blue, though, and I sent the photo over to Jen and Chris with great doubts: it was far too peaceful and complacent, none of the haunting atmosphere we needed for the novel. But Chris took one look at it, and knew he could do something haunting with it, and the amazing spookily distressed design on the cover of the book is the result.

And now, all in ten months, here is the book - complete, concrete, a thing existing in its own right, separate from us who worked on it, and from me out of whose head it came in the first place, and ready, I hope, to become something else, whatever is made of it in the minds of others...