Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Red Room: Bronte anthology available for pre-order

I mentioned in a previous post that a new story of mine was due to appear in an anthology of stories inspired by the Brontes, Red Room (Unthank Books), edited by A J (Andrea) Ashworth, a great writer of stories herself. Now the exciting moment has arrived when the book is becoming a concrete reality, and it's already available for pre-order, which you can do here. The cover, designed by Rachael Carver, of Green Door Designs, is amazing: beautifully thought out and looking lovely. The font is based on Charlotte Bronte's handwriting, and the text mimics the way the Victorians used paper, a precious resource to them, turning it ninety degrees after the page was filled and writing across the previous lines to create a quilted effect.

I'm thrilled to be in with wonderful company which includes David Constantine, who has just won the Frank O'Connor award for his latest collection, Tea at the Midland; Alison Moore who was shortlisted for the Booker last year; my good writing friends Carys Davies, Vanessa Gebbie and Tania Hershman; as well as David Rose, Sarah Dobbs, Bill Broady, Rowena MacDonald, Zoe King and Felicity Skelton. There's also a poem by Simon Armitage. The variety in the stories is great - some are playful, some are elemental, some are set in the Bronte past, others spring from the long reach of Bronte influence down the years. My own story, 'That Turbulent Stillness', is inspired by my re-reading not so long ago of Wuthering Heights, which I must confess I was very influenced by in my behaviour as a teenager, and my shocked discovery that it's a very different book from how I saw it then, and indeed from the way it has been presented in its various film versions.

The book is due out on November 1st, but if you pre-order you will get a copy as soon as it's printed. It's £9.99, but a good proportion of that price goes to a very good cause, The Bronte BirthPlace Trust, and its work at Thornton, BRadford, where the Bronte sisters were born.
Pre-order here.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

What do writers need? Drive!

I mentioned in my last post the accident I had in London, three weeks ago now, when I tripped along a kerb and smashed my face and was concussed. It's all healing now, and (apart from my lost front tooth) there doesn't seem to be too much permanent damage. Two of the three stitches in my lip remain (although I was told they'd dissolve after a week) and whether they'll leave a scar remains to be seen, but it won't be much. I picked myself up pretty quickly, I think, and was soon bobbing out to my reading group, on the train to see relatives, and, as I reported in my last post, to the Edge Hill award ceremony, and to an evening at the Whitworth Gallery for the start of the Manchester International Festival. However, I probably tried to bounce back too soon. It's all caught up with me since, and I've spent the past week - a week when suddenly I had no outside commitments - doing not much besides sleep. That's probably only right - recovery mode - but for that week, and for the first time in my life, I didn't want to write. Well, that's not quite true: I did want to write; I went on having ideas for writing and I went on wanting, though in a vague, dreamy sort of way, to get those ideas down on paper, but somehow I'd lost the drive, the urge that makes you pin yourself to the desk, and your thoughts to the idea and the phrases and words, in order to do it. It was easier, less stressful, to pick up a book and go back to bed to read, and after a chapter or so, nod off to sleep... I didn't like it, not having the drive, and not having produced anything, but only in a regretful resigned kind of way...

It's the first time this has ever happened to me. Even when I had just had babies and was obsessed with them and physically floored, I never lost my will to write; on the contrary, I felt an extreme, almost physical frustration at not being able to do so. And it's only by losing it temporarily that I have recognised the manic and focussed intensity of that urge.

It has really made me think. I suppose, when I've been asked what qualities I think a writer needs, I've often mentioned a will to succeed, but what I was thinking of then was a more practical kind of will: hard work, application, determination, and also I guess a belief in yourself (which I believe it's possible to talk yourself into), in order not to be knocked back by rejection. But I never really appreciated that you also need a more primitive psychological drive, something much less within your control, a reflex of the brain or maybe personality. And I think my accident may have given me a new insight. I think I may understand something I've never really understood before: why some people with real writing talent just don't bother, or try a bit and then don't do it in the end. It's not that they're necessarily lazy, or lack commitment or fibre or any of those seemingly remediable things (as I've always, I confess, secretly thought); is it, rather, that they simply don't have that absolutely necessary drive?

Monday, July 08, 2013

Kevin Barry wins Edge Hill Prize

Had a lovely time at the awards event for the Edge Hill Prize for the short story, which was won by Kevin Barry for his collection Dark Lies the Island. Many congratulations to him, and also to the shortlistees, Emma Donoghue, Jon McGregor, Adam Marek, Jane Rogers, and Lucy Wood. Presenting the prize, judge Sarah Hall (last year's winner) talked about the impact a single short story can make, which can be as much as or more than that of a novel, and about the particular skill required to write a short story in which there is no room for the slightest flab as in a novel. However (or perhaps for this reason) she said that it was very rare to get a short story collection without at least one slack story in it, and she and her fellow judges, Scottish author and literary critic Lesley McDowell and Jim Lee, Regional Buyer at Waterstones, found themselves looking for the book that made the best overall collection. Here's Kevin being presented the prize by Sarah Hall:

Here's Ailsa Cox, who was co-editor with me on the former metropolitan short-story magazine and who founded and runs the Edge Hill prize:

The following pic shows, l-r, writer Alison McLeod, shortlisted author Jane Rogers, Sarah Hall and shortlistee Adam Marek:

and shortlistee Lucy Wood is in the centre of this one:

This was my first trip out since I had fallen a fortnight before and smashed my face along a kerb. John and I were in London, having attended in the afternoon the memorial celebration for the life of Harry Chambers of Peterloo Press (John's publisher) who sadly died last October: a really nice occasion spoilt in the evening by my accident. I was knocked unconscious in the fall and came to experiencing the most amazing visual disturbances, and severely afraid I'd never have the brain to write again! Not only was I missing a front tooth for a week, before the swelling went down enough for me to get a temporary crown, but my face went on being horribly swollen and bruised, and, really, it was better not impose the sight on the world! As it was, I turned up to the Edge Hill awards with stitches still in my lip (and had to drink my wine through a straw) but everyone was far to polite to comment!