Friday, June 27, 2014

Unthology 5 launched, and some reviews.

Today is the official launch day of Unthology 5 - it's live now, and available from Waterstones and all good booksellers, Book Depository and Central Books for £9.99.

For £3.99, it's available to download for your Kindle and iPod, iPad or iPhone. 

On Wednesday we had the physical launch at the Garden House in Norwich, a fabulous evening at the centre of a four-day holiday for John and me (well, two of them were mainly spent driving!) - we had never been to Norwich before, or the Norfolk coast, and we took this opportunity to do so. (We almost went there once before, but didn't quite manage it. We had gone to interview the novelist and short-story writer Scott Bradfield for metropolitan magazine, but he turned out to live not quite in Norwich, but this side of it, and we only arrived in the late afternoon and then spent the evening with him, and had to rush back early next day). I must say that I loved Norwich - in spite of all the history, I had never quite imagined it to be as obviously steeped in it as it is, and our time there could be blog in itself if only time allowed. (And it's such a writers' place: every pub or cafe we went into seemed to host writers' events.)

It was great to be introduced to the phenomenon that is Project U, Unthank's series of events, to Ashley Stokes, our indefatigable editor, and to the other two contributors who read, Maggie Ling and Sharon Zink - it was also the launch for Sharon's amazing-sounding novel Welcome to Sharonville. (I read from my story in Red Room, too.) The room was filled with a really thoughtful and friendly audience, many of them writers themselves, and apparently a good few books were sold - I know I signed a fair few - and there were delicious cakes, made by Unthank's Lily Bradic!

Here are some photos John managed to take with my (by now pretty ropey) camera:

Maggie reading:

Sharon reading:

Signing books:

Chatting afterwards with Tommy Collin, designer of Unthology 5's striking cover:

Already Unthology 5 is getting rave reviews. To add to the first, which described it as 'flawless', there are now two more: a customer review on Amazon by Lander Hawes and a review by The Workshy Fop who  says 'Unthology is quietly becoming a reliable guide to the state of the modern short story, a companion to Nicholas Royle’s annual Best of British Short Stories anthology'. I'm chuffed that he calls my story, 'Clarrie and You', 'a well-told subtle piece', although he considers it to be about ageing, which I don't - actually, it's about something quite different, to my mind - but then, as Dan Powell said at the London Short Story Festival, you can't legislate about how people take your stories; once they're out there they're other people's to take as they want.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

London Short Story Festival

A feast of short stories this weekend: on Friday evening and on Saturday I was at the London Short Story Festival, at Waterstone's Piccadilly. The festival opened with the launch of Best British Short Stories, in which my story 'Tides' is included. Three of the contributors - Louise Palfreyman, Sian Melangell Dafydd and Stuart Evers - read, and our publisher Jen Hamilton Emery was on hand. After the readings there was a discussion in which festival organiser Paul McVeigh quizzed the three contributors on the ways in which their stories were chosen for the book, and their reactions to having them chosen, and Jen on the evolution of the book and the series. There were several other contributors present, and it was great to meet up with them. I had taken my camera, but I was so engrossed in the proceedings and in talking that I mostly forgot to take photos. Here are the two I did take: first, Stuart reading, with Sian in the background

then Louise and Paul pondering a serious point:

I was a bit more systematic with my camera next morning, at the event 'The Weird and Wonderful World of Short Stories', though not entirely. Tania Hershman introduced the three readers, Adam Marek, Dan Powell and Robert Shearman, by throwing out some questions about the nature of the surreal literature - often called 'weird' - which all three write (as Tania said, in their different ways), and after the readings chaired a discussion. 

I managed to get shots of Adam and Dan reading, remembering only just in time because I was so involved in their readings:

but then forgot altogether as Robert held us spellbound.

How are we meant to take stories in which surreal things happen, such as people turning into tables? Tania wondered. Are we meant to see it as metaphor or actual? For her own part, she said, she was happy to take it as actual, and Dan and Adam agreed, though I got the impression that Robert saw his own work as metaphorical. Dan said he didn't mind, though, if people took his work as metaphorical: once a story was out there, it belonged to readers to interpret as they saw fit. Asked why he writes surreal short stories, Robert talked about the liberty compared to the restrictions of writing for stage and TV: no one to say, 'Oh can you take that out because it wouldn't really happen'. Adam talked of coming across Kafka's 'Metamorphosis' before he started writing, and how it blew him away with its mode of taking a very ordinary situation and inserting into it something strange. It made him want to write, and it made him want to write like that. All three writers talked about the playful nature of it all. An audience member asked how you retain that playfulness, and Adam talked about the ability to keep that childlike lack of a sense of boundaries (children haven't yet learned to 'box up the world' as he put it). Robert, concurring, spoke of the need to accept and allow your own 'silliness'. Adam also spoke of openness, of the need to be open to your subconscious. He never rejects an idea out of hand, and so always keeps a notebook: some ideas fail, but you've got to try them out. What about the business of knowing where a story is going to go before you start? Dan said that he very rarely did: he usually starts with an image and waits to see where it will take him. Only at the end of a first draft will he know what a story's about, and then subsequent drafts will be honing the story in the light of this.

Now an audience member stated that she thought quite a lot of surreal writing was written out of anger and alienation, and did they recognise that? Adam and Dan strongly said no. Adam said that although he felt that a certain sense of alienation was germane to all writers, anger wasn't part of his emotional spectrum. He wouldn't write as catharsis or simply for himself, and he reiterated that writing for him was play and fun and that his project was to entertain. Dan said that he too didn't write from a position of anger, and in fact he thought writing stemming from anger wouldn't be good to read; writing weird stories was, rather, a way of explaining the world. Robert said that, far from anger, what he felt on approaching a story was a sense of excitement. In fact, he said he didn't believe in nihilistic writing: the act of writing itself is a form of optimism, and all writing involves the experience of joy - which I think is right. Earlier, however, when asked whether he was ever surprised where the weirdness of his stories sometimes takes him, he said yes, he was often surprised by where a story takes things emotionally. My feeling is that the very joy of writing is the joy of overcoming, processing and distilling emotions such as anger, so that the questioner and the panel weren't as far at odds as may have seemed.

Someone now asked about the balance between form and content. As the content of stories gets weirder, is it harder to create meaning? All three conceded that this was so, and Adam referred back to Kafka's grounding technique of having just one weird thing happen in a mundane context. Dan strongly stated the undesirability of weirdness for weirdness' sake, and Robert agreed: the story has to be saying something true and genuine about the world, and there has to be a recognisable reason behind it.

And here are all three signing books:

A quick lunch, and then it was the panel discussion on short-story 'gatekeepers', which I'll blog about another time - if I get a space in the coming days.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Short-story summer

 I have a busy time coming up, and it's all to do with the buzz around short stories this summer. Tomorrow I'm off to the London Short Story Festival. The first event, tomorrow evening, is the launch of Best British Short Stories (Salt), edited by Nick Royle (in which I'm delighted to say my story, 'Tides, or How Stories Do or Don't Get Told' is included), followed by a reading by Jackie Kay.  Saturday lunchtime there's a very interesting-looking panel discussion on short-story 'gatekeepers' with editors and an agent, chaired by my writing friend Vanessa Gebbie, to which I'm going, and I can't miss the morning session, The Weird and Wonderful World of Short Stories, not least because the chair, Tania Hershman, and two of the readers, Adam Marek and Robert Shearman, are my very good writing friends, and I have been looking forward for ages to meeting the third reader, my online writing colleague, Dan Powell. The three readers are billed as 'surreal writers', and although I'd agree that they write surreal stories, I have to say they're anything but surreal in person, but very real and warm! All LSSF events take place at Waterstone's Piccadilly. You can book here.

I'm really sorry that as a result, I'll miss the Southport launch of the debut novel of another superb short-story writer, Carys Bray - I just won't make it back in time for the 5 pm start on Saturday. Carys's Sweet Home (Salt), with which she won the Scott Prize, is one of my favourite story collections - she has the most superb linguistic control along with a tough yet humane sensibility - and A Song For Issy Bradley, her novel about the effect on a Mormon family of the death of one of the children, is already receiving huge attention and praise, which I'm sure it deserves, with newspaper profiles, posters on the underground and an appearance by Carys on tonight's Radio 4 Front Row. I believe that all are welcome at Cary's launch, so if you're in the Southport vicinity on Saturday at 5pm, you could drop in to Broadhurst's Bookshop and help her celebrate and get yourself a truly rewarding read.

Next week I'm off to Norwich for Project U, to read at Unthank Books' Wednesday launch of Welcome to Sharonville, a novel by Sharon Zink, and of Unthology 5, the latest in their series of short-story anthologies, in which my story 'Clarrie and You' appears. All welcome to that, too. Then the following week it's the Edge Hill awards to which I'm lucky enough to be invited again, and later in July the 13th International Short Story Festival in Vienna (which I'll hope to blog about on my Fictionbitch blog).

No rest for the lucky!

Monday, June 16, 2014

Proofs and copyediting

It surprises me that it's never happened before, but for the first time ever I've received a copyedited version of one of my manuscripts as a Word document displaying the tracking of changes (above),which I can add to as I see fit.

It's a very long time now since copyedit proofs came through the post to be marked in red pen with British Standards Institution proof marks:

Usually though with short stories in those days, if you got proofs at all, they were the final or so-called page proofs, which is what my first-ever proofs were: I remember how anxiously I referred to the Writers' and Artists' Yearbook (where the BSI marks were printed - I don't know if they still are), worrying about getting it right, and about neatness and clarity: in those days of metal type, it was the printer you needed to communicate with (via the editor, of course), and at that final proof stage you only had the one chance.

BSI marks were a wonderful shorthand though, and generally unequivocal (apart from one occasion, I found: I'm not sure whether the fault was mine or the printer's, but a line in the first edition of The Birth Machine, which I thought I had indicated should be moved in position, was repeated instead, and the effect was ridiculously sonorous). But as I've commented before, even before the internet really took off, BSI marks had begun to fall out of use. When Ailsa Cox and I edited the short-story magazine Metropolitan, we had the use of a computer (remember desk-top publishing? - how things change!) so we were able to print out typeset copy, but we still sent it by post to the authors for their approval. Very few of them in fact used the BSI marks, which surprised me: it seemed so laborious to have to explain in writing the necessary changes, and so open to misinterpretation. Yet once the internet made it possible to whizz proofs back and forth at the press of a button, that's mostly what I've ended up having to do with my own work. We've gone straight to typeset (page) proofs and I've had to send emails with laborious lists of items such as: 'Para 2, line 3, the word "out" should be omitted' - even though change-tracking software has been available.

But Honno, the Welsh Women's Press is ahead of the game. The copyedited extract above is from my story 'A Matter of Light', to be included in their anthology of ghost stories, The Wish Dog, which will be published in the autumn.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Short Fiction Longlisting

It's a rum business sending off stories. When I'm writing only short stories there's no problem - my mind is fixed entirely on the short-story world, but once I'm involved in something longer, as I have been recently, I find it hard to remember competition or magazine deadlines or even, frankly, to think about the stories I have waiting around for publication. I'll miss deadlines altogether, or will scrabble around sending something at the last minute and then promptly forget I ever sent it (even though I make notes of submissions - I forget all about the notes too!). So it was a surprise to me to open up my email yesterday to find that my story 'Looking for the Castle' has been long listed for the competition run by Short Fiction magazine - where I hadn't even remembered I'd sent it! I'm in great company: the long list includes the wonderful writers Tania Hershman and Sara-Mae Tuson, and Graham Mort, winner of the Edge Hill Prize.

Short Fiction, produced annually from Plymouth University and edited by Anthony Caleshu and Tom Vowler, carries the subtitle The Visual Literary Journal: special care is taken over presentation and illustration of stories, which makes it a great treat to read. It's pretty prestigious, too, and guest editors have included Ali Smith, Toby Litt and Jayne Anne Phillips, so I'm thrilled to have got to this stage in a competition associated with it.

Thursday, June 05, 2014

First review for Unthology 5

I've been away in North Wales (and in internet blackout for some of the time, off and on), and when I got back a couple of days ago my copy of Unthology 5 was waiting for me. There's really nothing like that moment when you first see your story between the covers of a book alongside others you're dying to read - maybe it's not quite as piercing as the first time that happened to me, but the feeling is still strongly there. The copy's by my bed now and I'm eking it out, one story a night - that's the best way to savour stories, I find - and last night I began with the first, Andrea Readman's striking tale of an abduction and imprisonment form the child's point of view - very vivid.

And today we have our first review, on Goodreads, from my writer-contact, Alan Beard. He finds the book 'a fine mix of voices and styles' and 'another excellent contribution to a great series of anthologies'.  He calls my contribution, 'Clarrie and You', a 'sharp story of family fallout coming to a head at a funeral' - but then he does also say that 'of course' he likes his friends' stories best!