Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Catch-up again

Here I am once more after a silence. I have to tell you that I am quite jealous of those who can go on blogging while they're engaged on a big or biggish writing project (or can they?). For three weeks recently, while I was in Wales, my days consisted of waking at 7, downing some porridge and then going back to bed with my laptop and typing like mad until about 5, and then needing so badly to move my body that I just went out walking for the remaining daylight, finally collapsing in the pub with mental and physical exhaustion - and, actually, screen fatigue. Since then I have been at my desk, but by the time I've crammed daily household tasks and work as a reader for a literary magazine around the writing, there's been no time or headspace left.

It's been a strange few weeks in other ways. As everyone in the blogosphere knows, on 18th October blogger Norman Geras died, the husband of my dear friend writer Adele Geras, and a beacon of intellectual power and reason for me as well as everyone in the blogging world, which has cast a sadness over the last ten days. I'm also still going through the after-effects of the fall I had in June: for most of the summer I had a very sore arm and was pretty much incapacitated (couldn't put my own coat on!), though it's on the mend now. And the fall so smashed my front tooth that last week I had to have proper dental surgery; not painful actually - I have a wonderful dentist - but it conked me out for a few days.

So I've been pretty much distracted, and missed altogether reporting on the October issue of a new edition of Short Circuit, the Salt book on writing short stories edited by Vanessa Gebbie, with several new chapters by additional authors (I have a chapter in it). It's a wonderful source book, and I often dip into it: nothing like getting other authors' perspectives on the process and learning from them. And I love the new jazzy cover.

I managed to get to four events at the Manchester Literature Festival. Normally I'd have blogged about them in detail, but suffice to say I enjoyed them all. The first was a completely mind-blowing and inspiring event with Ali Smith at the university (the event was also part of a conference on innovative women's writing). Smith read and was interviewed by the university's Kaye Mitchell. Smith's prose is just the bee's knees as far as I'm concerned, and then she turned out to be a charismatic yet informal speaker, and the main message I came away with was the utter seriousness of play in creativity.

The following week I attended two more inspiring events with women writers, running back-to-back at the Anthony Burgess centre: firstly, a Comma event in which short-story writers Alison Mcleod and Jane Rogers spoke about the short stories of Katherine Mansfield and Dostoevsky respectively. Alison pointed out Mansfield's innovation, and really stirred me to go and read her again, and Jane completely opened my eyes (and I think that of many of the audience) to a part of Dostoevsky's oevre of which we had previously been unaware. Following on from this was another reading and discussion with two more women short-story writers, Sarah Hall and Deborah Levy, also chaired by Kaye Mitchell. Sarah Hall read the beginning of her BBC-National-Short-Story-Award-winning story, 'Butcher's Perfume' (published in The Beautiful Indifference [Faber]), and I was again struck by its insights and the steely yet jewel-like glint of its language. Deborah Levy treated us to a haunting story from her book Black Vodka (And Other Stories), and several people I spoke to afterwards said how much they had loved her lilting prose.  Finally, on the penultimate day of the festival, a lovely event in the beautiful Halle St Peter's (a renovated church which is now a rehearsal space for the Halle): two Michaels, Schmidt and Symmons-Roberts, reading stunning poetry - Schmidt from his new book The Stories of My Life (Smith Doorstop) and Symmons-Roberts from his Forward-winning collection Drysalter (Cape).

In recent years I've come to take such readings for granted, but having been cut off from the literary buzz and coming back, I've been reminded that they were out of the question in my small-town background, and I can't help feeling it a privilege to hear writers you admire read their own work and talk about it. And clearly others feel the same: every Lit Fest event I went to was packed, and I understand it was the same for most of the festival, many events selling out right at the beginning.

Oh, I had one other really nice literary evening: a delicious dinner cooked for our book group's tenth anniversary by one of our members, with contributions from others. (Well, actually it was the eleventh, but time has slipped by so quickly we didn't realise that last year was our tenth!) We have another discussion meeting tomorrow, and I haven't even got around to writing up the discussion we had about six weeks ago now...

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