Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Gearing up for the Blogstory, Manchester magazines and a reading

Just back from a meeting at Cornerhouse with Manchizzle blogger and writer Kate Feld, the brains behind the Manchester Blogstory commission. We talked about the story: less than a week to go now, and I've started on the first episode, which goes online next Tuesday - scarey! I haven't found it exactly easy coming up with a scenario which fits the format, allowing enough possibilities for developments of the story without creating dead ends. But I think I'm managing it, and I'm pretty hooked on the characters, so I hope others will be. I discovered that Kate conducted an interview for last winter's issue of Manchester's pretty impressive Revolvewire magazine (still on sale at Cornerhouse) with Sarah Hepola, who between 2004 and 2005 wrote a similar interactive fictional blog, The Education of Elisabeth Edelman, for the internet magazine The Morning News. In the interview Hepola says that she found reader interaction created a more boring story than she would have liked - people constantly voted for the safe options for her character - so I hope that doesn't happen here!

Kate and I also talked about the workshop we are running together in the run-up to the festival on 29th September (11 am - 1 pm at Manchester Digital Development Agency) for creative writers interested in beginning a blog or increasing their blogging skills in order to develop and promote their own writing.

And before I left, the brochure for the Festival arrived in the post - it looks like a great eclectic line-up of events.

And speaking of Manchester magazines, I'm delighted that this very morning Jen, my publisher at Salt, invited me to take part in a joint reading with Salt and the splendid litmag Transmission which specializes in short stories. (MMU at 6.30 on Thursday 11th October; MMU readings are open to the public.)

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

A Hidden Life by Adele Geras

Here's another book I read in Wales: A Hidden Life, the fourth of Adele Geras's vivid adult sagas packed with memorable characters and ancient feuds and secret histories. One day it rained all day, and I sat tucked up in bed with it for most of the day while the ash trees whipped and swirled outside the window and the mountains disappeared, and got transported by this tale of an unfair will and the shocking revelations that ensue.

There's a Dickensian vividness in Adele's treatment of her characters, and her ability to juggle a large cast while closely portraying the emotional predicament of each is impressive. The central drama of a disowned granddaughter and single parent coping with the machinations of her step-relatives is a truly modern Cinderella tale - with a satisfyingly contemporary resolution.

Before Wales I had begun the book on the train when I went to see my mother for the day, and took my paperback proof copy as easier to carry. Guess what, I came downstairs, and my mother was reading it and hooked - and I had to leave the proof copy behind!

Monday, August 20, 2007

Manchester Blogstory: What Would You Do?

My next project: Manchester Blogstory: What would You Do?

Well, I said last post that after all the drama production I've been involved in this summer I was looking forward to getting back to writing and sole control of the creative process, and I recently contributed to a series on John Baker's blog in which I said that I believe that 'inspiration' comes primarily from a writers' psyche rather than outside influences. But actually it looks as if I'm about the challenge all of this. I am delighted that the Manchester Literature Festival has commissioned me to write an interactive blog story which will appear in weekly episodes from September the 4th until October 10th when the final episode will be read at the Manchester Blog Awards. I won't, after all, have total control: readers will help to steer the story by voting on alternative plot twists and locations, and I'll have to respond to their decisions and thus to outside stimuli in a very concrete way. Hence the title: What Would You Do?

I'm excited to be doing this - it'll be an interesting experiment from which I expect to learn a lot, and above all, it should be great fun.

The Blog Awards will also feature a reading from Caroline Smailes, whose blog led to the publication of her wonderful novel In Search of Adam (reviewed below).

The trials of filming

'I wanna be in this film! Aw, go on, let me!' That was one young lad standing watching as we filmed last night. Seemed to think it was glamorous. Yeah, right. Discovering how short a time it goes dark for in summer, even in late August, because the shoot that was meant to finish at two in the morning actually goes on until half six? Standing around for hours and experiencing at first hand the particular quality of this strange summer's rain (first it drizzles, then it hurtles, then it drifts around like a cloud, and then it hurtles once again)? Hurrying down an alleyway fifteen times pursued by an attacker (my aching legs! My lungs!) while the director of photography got his perfect shot? Sitting for over an hour in a strapless dress in a cooling bath and turning into a prune while the lights kept getting changed? (Yup, that was me at four this morning.)

As Julie my fellow cast member said, halfway through a film shoot you wonder why you do it. Even in radio, which is so much quicker, as a writer I have got irritated by the laborious, piecemeal process of producing a play, the writing of which is so organic and fluid. Well, I've had a summer of practical drama, and it's been a great antidote to the isolation of writing, but I can't tell you how much I'm now looking forward to the peace of my desk and the control of my own creative process - and the new project which I said I'd announce, and will do so next post.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Night filming

A new experience for me yesterday: night filming. Last night at half-three I was standing on a porch in a business park, lighting up a fag (and trying to look as though I'd just finished work as a cleaner and had been smoking all my life) while the rain came down in sheets and what seemed liked a crew of a hundred (I think there were about ten) huddled beneath umbrellas with the camera and lights. Earlier, you could have seen me doing something you won't catch me doing often, hoovering (an office floor), and something I've never in fact done in my life: mop another floor with one of those old-fashioned buckets and mops. Let me tell you there's a knack to this last - which I had to discover PDQ - you have to point the mop at the holey bit of the bucket if it's not to slop over the sides when you twirl it round to squeeze it.

You always wanted to know that, didn't you? And now I'm back to bed with my sponged-out brain, in order to be fit for another long session tonight and being jumped in an alleyway and turning up afterwards traumatised. Because unless I get some kip the makeup artist won't be needed...

Friday, August 17, 2007

Review: In Search of Adam by Caroline Smailes

For a person who calls herself literary, I do shamefully little reading. As I have written before, unlike others, whom I envy, I find it very hard to read while I'm writing - my own writing is too likely to be influenced - and now that blogging is eating into my non-writing time... So going to Wales, where there isn't even a phone line, is a marvellous chance to catch up on books I've been meaning for ages to read. This time one of the books I read was Caroline Smailes' In Search of Adam.

Well, wow. Sorry about the cliches, but sometime you can't avoid them. This is a book I couldn't put down. This is a book I grabbed the moment I woke in the morning and sat reading for the next hour with a full bladder and an empty stomach. It's sad, no, it's harrowing - a tale of a wretched childhood and damaged adulthood, of loss and child abuse and a cycle of despair - yet it's utterly riveting in its psychological precision and manipulation of language, and let me tell you, it's the first convincing depiction I've ever read of the psychological underpinnings of bulimia, and a searing indictment of the way the medical profession deals with it. So it's a very brave book too, and not least in its depiction of the damaging forces at work in a working-class community. I can imagine that many would make objections to this last, but for me the whole thing rang with a truth that would make such objections sentimental.

Read it, is all I say.

Thursday, August 16, 2007


This month John Baker is tackling the age-old question of 'inspiration' by running a series of pieces by writers describing how they create a text. Mine appeared yesterday.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Cover as proof

Back from Wales (and whitewashing walls) to find the bound proofs of my collection of stories waiting in the hall. Strange to see several of my stories collected together like that: although most of them have been published previously, and between book covers (in anthologies) at that, they had only ever been published singly and I have always previously seen them as individual and scattered, rather like my kids. Yet here they are together, grouped together in ways that show their links (or I hope they do), and suddenly they seem like a family, and the greater project to which each story has contributed is revealed even to me. Well, whether it will be revealed to readers, remains to be seen of course... And there's the cover, concrete rather than electronic: what will people think of that?

I discover that Emma Barnes of Snowbooks recently wrote on the Guardian books blog about the importance of covers, and there are some interesting comments. Although The Writers' Guild and the Society of Authors have always fought for writers to have a say in their covers, marketing imperatives often mean that this doesn't happen too much in practice, and I understand that it's the big booksellers now who often have the biggest input. But Salt is an independent publisher with a great concern for the writer, and I was asked immediately whether I had any ideas for the cover. This was wonderful, but what a responsibility! Emma Barnes says that a cover needs above all to inform you about the kind of book inside, and I was very conscious of this fact. Trouble was, though, one of my abiding principles in writing short stories has always been to make each one unique, and I couldn't then see the overriding mood or style. It was Ann French, one of the members of my reading group, who came up with the unifying notion of a sea horizon. Salt went with it and added the picture and chose the typography. I love the result and I'm grateful to them all. Needless to say, though, it's the readers who'll decide...

Monday, August 06, 2007

Time out

I'm still pretty tired after the play, and I'm off now to the Welsh hills to recuperate and gear up for my next commission, which I'll announce when I return.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Sometimes I like reviewers

Now that's nice and enough to pull you out of your post-production anticlimax - a nice review of The Processing Room on Manchester Confidential:
Playing creatively with the idea of the different stages of life and death, the play raised some interesting ideas and also employed a clever use of movement to emphasise and enliven what could have been a very static waiting-room scenario.