Sunday, November 22, 2015

Chrissie Gittins and Tessa Hadley

On Friday evening Chrissie Gittins launched her wonderful new collection of stories, Between Here and Knitwear (Unthank), a lovely event upstairs in the cosy central-London Rugby Tavern. I first met Chrissie when she came to read at Manchester Central Library with her then newly published first collection, Family Connections, and when my own first collection, Balancing on the Edge of the World, was forthcoming from the same publisher, so of course we got chatting and have kept in touch ever since. And so of course on Friday I jumped on the train for the launch of the new book.

It's a series of linked stories that chart the life of one woman, Christine, from early childhood to middle age, and the shifts in her relationship with her parents as she grows and then as her parents become vulnerable and aged. The stories are steeped in the kind of physical detail and psychologically acute observations that will have readers exclaiming with recognition, and Chrissie has a beautifully subtle and dry wit.
I loved Mrs Marshall. We all did. We wanted to be her. We wanted to be married to her husband and donate our wedding trousseaus to the school play. We wanted a weekend cottage in Troutbeck, and to start our teaching careers in Wales.
Chrissie read beautifully, and we were all entranced. I read the book all the way back on the train, looking up only once, at Stoke-on-Trent, to see that, without my noticing, it had been snowing. It's a book you'll want to read in one sitting.

Two days earlier I was at Edge Hill University, hearing Tessa Hadley read and talk. She read an early short story and an extract from her latest novel, The Past, and talked very interestingly about the difference between novels and short stories, and the different strategies and mindsets needed for each. She didn't think there was any point in getting indignant about the way short stories don't sell, she said: the fact is that short stories are a 'strenuous' read, requiring a particular kind of focus of attention, and people prefer the immersive experience that novels can provide. Nevertheless, she said, stories are a joy to read and write, and for the writer a wonderful medium in which to hone your linguistic skills. Afterwards I reminded Tessa that we had met in Cardiff at the launch of Power, an anthology published by Honno, in which we both had stories, and she told me that that had been her very first short story - she's come a long way since!

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