Sunday, March 09, 2014

Hill, Royle and Gaffney at Blackwell's, and why I haven't been blogging

So I have something to blog about! I went to this really interesting event at Manchester Blackwell's on Friday night, more of which in a moment. 'Where have you been?' everyone kept asking me, which is a question my blog readers may well be asking. 'You've been hiding again!'

Not hiding so much as transported, dear Readers, into a different time and place, the time and place of my work in progress - for most hours of the day and even the night. It's one of those things that's really huge to keep in your head, but fortunately it's gripped me entirely: I've been dreaming about it; it's been my first waking thought; even when I've not been at my desk it's filled my head, making new connections, forming new scenes and sentences, so that I've often forgotten to finish brushing my teeth, or have put things back in the wrong cupboards. And when I've had to work - I've had reading to do and reports to write - it's been such a mental wrench that I have been left feeling utterly exhausted. There simply hasn't been time in the day for blogging, but in any case all my creative and intellectual energy has already been used up. And needless to say I haven't been out much.

Yesterday, though, I got to the end of a section, and today for the first time I have had the space in my head, and the focus, to work out why the dishwasher isn't rinsing properly, and to actually put some clothes in the washing machine! And on Friday night, knowing I was coming to a pause - and anyway, because I wouldn't miss it, all three writers being people I know, either in person or via the web - I went to this event where Charlie Hill, Nicholas Royle and David Gaffney read from their latest books and took part in a lively and edifying discussion.

Nicholas Royle kicked off, reading from his latest (and seventh) very clever novel, First Novel (Cape), about a Creative Writing Lecturer living in Manchester. He read out one of the sections that features yours truly (a minor character), and it was a strange but not unpleasant experience to be sitting there not only as myself but as a character in a novel! (As if I haven't had enough recently of being transported from reality!)  Though I have to say that only one person turned round and stared at me, as far as I know, so really on the whole the Elizabeth Baines of the novel remained exactly that, a character in a novel and separate from me. Novels are always a curious mix of fact and fiction, though, and Nick talked about how he's exploring that in his writing: if one is writing a fiction set in Manchester, he said, then one would quite naturally mention real-life buildings and businesses and brands, so why not mention a real-life novelist who lives in Didsbury? (So there you are, I'm a brand, which we writers are all being encouraged to be nowadays!)

David Gaffney then read from his new micro fiction collection, More Sawn-Off Tales (Salt). David  is an absolute master of this form: his pieces are not only far funnier than most you ever read, but also often extremely moving, which is a hard thing to achieve in such a short space. The secret, of course, is that he is a master of language, and especially of pace and timing. It was very interesting to hear about his process, in which he often writes at greater length but then works to see how far he can pare a piece down. One result is subtlety, and he did seem to say that often people aren't sure what some of his stories are about, or rather, what they mean. I asked him if he minded if people took a meaning from one of his stories that he hadn't intended, and he said that he didn't.

There was a certain metafictional link between Nick's book and that of Charlie Hill. Charlie's book, Books (Tindal Street), is inspired by his time as a bookseller in Birmingham Waterstone's: it's a thriller, a murder mystery, that is also a satire on literary culture. Charlie's writing has great energy and wit, and the sections he read out had me hounding to the front to buy the book the minute the discussion was finished. In answer to questions about his process, Charlie made a strong point about the benefits of an editor - an important point to make in these times when the role of the editor seems to be in danger.

Afterwards we repaired to Trough at the Deaf Institute (my first mingle in weeks, if not months!) and was great too to meet up again with writers Sarah-Clare Conlon and Neil Campbell, author of two wonderful short-story collections from Salt.

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