Friday, February 27, 2009

Proof copy of Dido by Adele Geras!

Don't you just love it when something really nice and totally unbidden pops through the letterbox?
Look what came through mine yesterday: a proof copy of Dido, the latest retelling of the classical stories by my friend and spinner of the most amazingly vivid, exciting and moving tales, Adele Geras. (To be published in May.) And isn't the cover really something?! And this sounds like a good one. Here's the press release:
Love can be deadly. Especially when two girls fall for the same man - one a queen, the other her serving girl.

Elissa knows she is playing with fire, but she can't resist. Queen Dido suspects nothing, until one fateful night... Secrets are revealed, hearts are broken and as dawn breaks, terrible tragedy unfolds.

A passionate tale of love, betrayal and revenge.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Writing jumpers, literary lenses and a Prize Draw: my virtual book tour

A prize draw today on my virtual tour book tour! A copy of Balancing on the Edge of the World for each of three lucky readers who leave their names in the comments section of the interview on dovegreyreader scribbles, this week's stop-off. Dovegrey gets me talking about my writing jumper (below), would you believe, as well as other accoutrements of my writing life.


And we discuss the issue of literary lenses: am I holding a microscope to the minute details of life in my short stories, or am doing something rather different which requires a different kind of lens?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Ride the Word at Holborn Library

Here are some pics from our Ride the Word Reading at Holborn Library last night.

Julia Bird:


Jay Merill:


Vincent de Souza:


Me:


Katy Evans-Bush:


And the audience:


I had a great time. Such a convivial evening: Jay kindly invited John and me round to hers beforehand where she'd prepared us a bite to eat which turned out to be more like a feast! Then there were loads of refreshments laid on in the library, and afterwards several of us went to the pub. (Crikey, I'm going to have lay off on the grub and the booze.) And the poetry and stories were great, if we do say it ourselves - well, it wasn't just us Salt lot, there were readings from Rack Press and Julian Duffus's Islington writing group.

And now I have to try and get back to some writing... well, once I've read a batch of scripts and done my next questions for the book tour and got ready for visitors... Or maybe I should just run away somewhere with my fountain pen and writing pad. Sometimes I think it's the only way I'll ever get any more writing done...

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Exposed good and proper: my virtual book tour

Today on my virtual book tour Vanessa Gebbie performs the amazing feat of getting me to abandon my long-held principle of not talking about which bits of a story are from my own life. As readers of my blogs will know, I believe that in general such discussions about fiction are reductive and even damaging, since fiction is greater than the sum of its parts - and anyway, 'fact' and imagination are so blended in fiction that it is often difficult for the author to remember which bits are which. Worst of all, such discussions tend to encourage biographical readings of a work of fiction as a whole. However, Vanessa's questions concern the process of writing, and I have ended up dissecting the process from real-life trigger to fiction in two of the stories.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Words from a Glass Bubble by Vanessa Gebbie

Tomorrow my virtual book tour goes to the blog of Vanessa Gebbie, writer of her own vivid collection of short stories, Words from a Glass Bubble. I don't have my copy of her book to hand, because my mum took it away and apparently gobbled it up as quickly as I did on my way home from the launch last year, but hasn't yet sent it back. Although it's a year therefore since I read the stories, they are still with me, vivid in image and resonant in voice. Vanessa writes about those on the margins of society - the lads who've missed out, the overlooked shop assistant, the woman looking for her lost son's soul. Her stylistic range is wide - a story like 'The Lych Warmer' sings with the lilt of fairytale, while others are punchy with the thrust of contemporary voices. These are stories which confront the darkness of life, but never without humour, and they're all informed by an overall narrative tone which is feisty and optimistic.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Some nice comments

I'm smiling. Sue Guiney has said some really nice things about Balancing on the Edge of the World:
...her characters feel like they are sitting in the room with you, as if you've known them forever. Each story strikes to your heart, whether you want it to or not. I really do recommend the collection.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Ride the Word Reading


Next Wednesday I'll be privileged to take part in a Salt Ride the Word Reading.

Holborn Library, 32-38 Theobalds Road, London
Wednesday, February 18, 2009 7:30pm - 9:30pm
Contact Info: 02079746345 holbornlibrary@camden.gov.uk
Free admission

Is there anything you'd like to ask me?

Or, to put it another way: next Wednesday my virtual book tour goes to the blog of short story writer Vanessa Gebbie, and she's given me carte blanche as to what we should discuss about Balancing. And it occurred to me, since I've got this chance, and so as not to go and overlook anything, maybe I should ask my blog readers if there is anything you'd like her to ask me...

Reading for 24:7


This is what I was doing on Sunday afternoon: reading scripts in the Midland Hotel for the 24:7 Theatre Festival. My reading partner was Cherylee Houston, and in the foreground on the left is actress Sue Twist, who directed me in my monologue Drinks With Natalie for 24:7 2005. Cherylee and I gave full marks to two plays we read!

For the second year running I haven't put a play in myself: I decided that with my virtual book tour for the stories, the forthcoming novel Too Many Magpies to promote, and the new collection of stories to work on, it just wasn't possible to give up 4 months of the summer to producing a play - which is more or less what it takes if, like me, you don't have a ready-formed company and have to look for a director and cast from scratch.

Festival co-founder Amanda Hennessy took the photo.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

New leg of my virtual book tour: the story I stole and my idea of the literary dinner from hell.

The latest leg of my virtual book tour is now up on the blog of Sarah Salway, whose own wonderful collection of stories, Leading the Dance, I reviewed last night below.

We talk about the way so-called short stories can encompass BIG themes, and Sarah gets me to confess which of the stories in Balancing was stolen, and to reveal my idea of the literary dinner from hell.

You can get to it here.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Review: Leading the Dance by Sarah Salway

Tomorrow my virtual book tour goes to the blog of Sarah Salway. Sarah is a wonderful writer: her work is inventive; it's also witty yet deeply serious; it's informed by an odd-ball, quirky imagination and yet utterly grounded in the psychological reality of contemporary lives. Her collection of stories, Leading the Dance (bluechrome), gives us narrators often tipped towards what seems like madness - the bulimic woman who has a portrait painter paint the inside of her fridge, the wife who traps another woman in her cellar, the cleaner who strips naked to clean in the presence of her blind employer - but the light yet scrupulously precise prose allows us to identify closely, and thus demonstrates that such 'madness' is but the kernel of our contemporary psyche. And light as these stories seem - sometimes laugh-out-loud - there is a vein of menace, too, running through them, as the people in them steal and lie and hide their hurt secret selves, as lovers in hotels and husbands and wives negotiate their alienation from each other. Perhaps my favourite in the collection is 'The Fabulous Button Sisters' for its sly and clever yet affectionate satire. It's narrated by a teenage girl who has made friends with a new girl, Michelle, who has had to come to live with her aunt. Here's an extract:
Michelle said it was important we kept up to date with diets. Two weeks ago, she decided that we were only going to eat one colour of food a every meal. She'd got the idea from one of her aunt's magazines. Apparently everybody was doing it. Mum and Dad stopped talking when I came into the kitchen watching as I carefully cut the brown crust off the bread and spread the white inside with butter and cream cheese.
"How about a nice bit of ham with that?" Mum asked.
I shook my head. When I'd first tried to explain about the mono-colour diet, Mum had looked at me with the kind of expression which meant she was storing it up to giggle about with Dad later.
"Or some pickle." Dad was already moving towards the store cupboard but I could see his shoulders moving up and down...
...Michelle thought my parents had a problem with repressed anger. This was why they laughed so much and spent so much time together in such an unhealthy way.
Sarah's two novels are both very inventive. I've started with her second, Tell Me Everything, which bears all the same hallmarks as the short stories and concerns a narrator who reinvents herself by telling stories. I'm finding it hard to put down. Sarah's first novel, Something Beginning With, the story of put-upon secretary Verity Bell, takes the form of a dictionary full of cross references, and is excitingly innovative. It's sitting on my bedside table waiting for me to finish Tell Me Everything - but I have to admit I couldn't resist reading the beginning, and it's so engaging I had to force myself to stop!

And taking all of the above into consideration, I think it's no surprise that in our interview tomorrow, Sarah gets me to confess which of the stories in Balancing in stolen!

Monday, February 09, 2009

A launch, a lot of drink, delayed trains, a bust laptop and no writing to show for it

Well, I was on the train to London last Wednesday, using my mobile broadband to keep up with my virtual book tour, and just as we were pulling into Euston my laptop crashed, after which I had no other internet facility on it, the broadband hardware having confused it altogether! Not that I realized that last straightaway, as I went straight off to Faber and the launch of the critically-acclaimed novel 'The Hidden' by the outrageously handsome and talented Tobias Hill. This is an extremely clever and erudite novel, and it's quite funny that in person Tobias is so self-effacing. I had a great time, not least because so many people from the inaugural Faber Academy Paris course were there: Antonia Honeywell, Antonia Hayes, Cynthia Barlow Marrs, Sam Thorp, David Lee and Ronald Grover - all great writers, and remember, you heard about them here! And honestly, I'm just not used to that much wine...

Afterwards some of us Paris lot went off for a meal to Tas, where my London crew, Matthew and Ben, were waiting. And then for more drinks... Really, it was all just a bit too much for me! I do remember the great conversation we had, though, and that Sam Thorp told me about a great article by Zadie Smith (which he emailed to me the next day). I had a ticket for the train back to Manchester at 10, but that had long gone before we even started eating, so I had to beg a bed at Ben's. It was next morning at Ben's that I switched on my computer and found out what was wrong...

The next day was a gonner: I spent the morning socializing (I could use my mobile broadband, but it was so slow!) and when I finally got to Euston the trains were reduced to a half service because of the weather, so I didn't get home till 5.

Can't remember Friday. My head was too full of all this other stuff to do any useful work and I certainly wasn't online.

And then on Saturday morning I had to go into town to get my laptop sorted, and the wonderful Apple shop where all the young men smile and say hello and one was thrilled by my laptop bag which is actually just a huge jiffy bag, because he's really into eco things, having been brought up in the Caribbean and surfing through plastic bottles.

And then I had to tackle the questions for the next leg of my virtual book tour on Sarah Salway's blog - I don't seem to find these questions so easy to answer! - and I've been working on them since, between reading scripts for the 24:7 Theatre Festival.

All of which is why I haven't been blogging, or started the new story I'm supposed to be writing...

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

My virtual book tour: Why write?

Not a long trip this week for my virtual tour of Balancing on the Edge of the World - just a quick hop up the road from last week's stop at Clare Dudman to novelist Caroline Smailes. Caroline's blog is renowned for the innovative way she used it to showcase her first novel, In Search of Adam, with the result that the novel was quickly picked up by publisher The Friday Project, and for the quirky and entertaining ways she continues to promote her novels there and relate to her readership. Not surprisingly, her novels are just as unique: striking in their use of graphics and typography, and utterly moving. Their great achievement is that they deal with searingly grim situations in such a way that you are utterly hooked: I read both ISoA and Black Boxes with a ravenous greed, and others have said the same. (I wrote about ISoA here.)

In this week's tour interview, Caroline asks me the hardest question of all to answer: Why do I write? See how I do here.

Monday, February 02, 2009

A Guide for Magazine and Anthology Editors

Do not set a theme.

Every time you set a theme, every author in the land - or at least those who have heard your call for submissions - will rack their brains to think whether they have any unpublished stories or poems that fit your theme. Lucky if they have one, but the odds are that they will not - especially if they're any good and their stuff is getting published. The writer who does not have one, pathetically keen not to pass up a publishing opportunity, will then sit down at the desk to try and write one.

What happens then? Terrible things can happen. Maybe the writer sits there all week and nothing comes (because really the writer has a different agenda) and the writer wastes a week's writing time and still has nothing to send you. Or maybe the writer gets what seems a brilliant idea - a version of your idea - and begins writing it. But half way down the first page the words start twisting away from the idea and towards the idea that the writer would have written if he or she were not trying to fit your idea, your overall theme. The writer tries to twist it back - and here we have a writer at war with themselves, with their own creativity! - and OK, sometimes it works, but more often than not it doesn't, and the story ends up a mess, true to neither interest, yours nor theirs. Or maybe the writer comes up with a story which seems to fit your theme brilliantly, but if it doesn't also fit the writer's own agenda then you are being instrumental in dissipating writers' creativity. And what if you don't accept it? It's OK you saying that writers are 'free to interpret the theme in any way they want', but it's a set theme after all, and we all know you're human, you'll have your preferences as to how it's interpreted, and anyway you've only got a certain number of slots...

Do us a favour. Don't set themes.

Yeah, I know, I know, it's the way to market things, themes...