Friday, July 31, 2009

How not to try to finish a story

This week I've been writing a new short story, and yesterday I nearly finished the first draft. But the ending was so complicated and subtle (well, at least I think it is!) and needed, as far as I could see, such a job of orchestration, that I decided there was no way I could tackle it, tired as I was by then, at the end of the morning. I would let it simmer overnight and do it today.

But today my novel, Too Many Magpies, is going to press, and this morning we have been doing some tiny last-minute tweaks, and needless to say there is no way I have been able to concentrate on the story...!

Ah well, tomorrow...

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Just One Book: New Summer Sizzler Offer

You know the best way to while away a rainy or (here's hoping) hot August, don't you? Yes, with just one book (or 3, or 3) from Salt, and Salt are making it easy for you by continuing their Just One Book campaign with yet another fantastic offer: a whole third off all Salt books for the whole of August! Here's what Salt's Chris Hamilton Emery has to say:
August summer sizzler

The JustOneBook campaign continues with a further sensational August deal.

In order to keep Salt on track through the wet British summer, we're offering you another special deal throughout August. All Salt books are available from us at 33% discount yet again. That's a third off all Salt titles, and free shipping on orders with a cover price of over £30 or $30. Offer ends 31 August 2009.

Simply enter the coupon code HU693FB2 when in the store to benefit.

As before, all we ask is two things—

1. Buy one book. Or perhaps another one ... go on.
2. Pass it on. Share this offer with everyone who loves gorgeous books and likes a bargain (whilst saving independent literature).
And if you haven't yet bought Balancing for yourself, or your loved ones, or your friends....

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

How I feel about publicity

I have another nice Amazon Review titled High Wire Storytelling. You know, I'm amazed I'm telling you that, and how much my attitude to publicity has changed since Balancing was published. See, I was brought up NEVER to blow my own trumpet, and when I became adult, on an intellectual level I always agreed with the idea. It was always clear to me that those who did blow their own trumpets did pretty OK in this world - it's amazing how people believe what boasters and the self-satisfied say about themselves (which has been a great source of comedy for radio plays for me!), but even when I felt proud of myself, I reckoned the true litmus test was other people, their judgment of my behaviour or, more specifically with regard to writing, my work. And how could I know what that judgment truly was if I'd gone and influenced it?

When I wrote for radio this worked beautifully. I wrote the plays and then sat back as a national broadcasting company, the BBC, deployed a host of personnel to create advance publicity, and broadcast the plays to millions as a matter of easy course. It was in writing novels published by independent presses that I could see the flaws in my approach - most especially when the publisher of my second novel was bought up halfway through the production process, putting paid to most publicity possibilities for my novel. What I learnt then is that NO ONE CAN JUDGE YOUR WORK IF THEY DON'T KNOW ABOUT IT, and what I have learnt since is that small publishers with tiny resources need authors to help with that job of putting the knowledge out there, and indeed with marketing, which means telling people why they might like your book, which in turn involves telling them about the nice things others have said...

It's not me, after all, it's my book. (Though even boasting about my own children seems too much like boasting about myself to me!)

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Reading group: The Autograph Hound by John Lahr

This meeting was a mauling, and a pretty unfair one at that, since most of us hadn't even really read the book. Published in the early seventies, it is narrated by its 1960s anti-hero Benny Walsh, collector of autographs and busboy at the New York Wild-West-themed Homestead Restaurant, a place frequented by top celebrities and so a source of the choicest autograph pickings. Trevor had suggested it, as he read it when he was in the process of dropping out of university in the seventies, and thought it was absolutely fantastic.

Well, we thought that as a book about an obsession with celebrity it sounded good and, spurred on by Trevor's enthusiasm, we went away looking forward to it. The first obstacle we encountered was that it was out of print, and we all set about ordering it from ABE Books. Mine and John's came back fairly quickly, the original British hardback complete with glossy pink-purple dust cover, but unfortunately I had only just started reading it when I left it in a taxi and we had to order the book all over again. Granted I was coming back from A & E in that taxi, having fallen and sprained my ankle, which may have made me less than competent, but I can't help thinking that the fact that I simply couldn't get into the book may have had something to do with it too. And I know I was also not in the best state for getting into a book, but not many other people in the group could get into it, either, it turned out.

Most of us gave up and failed to read much more than half of it - John giving up very soon after the beginning - and I'm afraid we had a very hazy impression of what we had read. Clare did get to the end but in such a fast, skipping manner that she had missed the dramatic denouement which Trevor revealed to us. We wondered why we had found it so hard to engage with. The critics' comments on the paperback edition I finally got hold of praise the book for its contemporary aphorisms, and we wondered if this was the problem: that Benny's voice, and thus the novel, were so steeped in late-sixties language and mentality that the book was simply dated (much of the lingo, which seems to be authorially relished, now seeming old fashioned or cliched; eg: 'See you later?' 'Not if I see you first.') Anne also said, to general agreement, that the long lists of names of celebrities which mean nothing to us now is de-focussing and distancing.

Trevor groaned in disbelief. But, he said, the book was brilliant! So fantastically written! I said, How could it be well-written if it doesn't draw you in, or give you any sense of what it's all about? What about the character of Gloria, for instance (a young actress Benny meets early on and who eventually tries to get him to sell his autograph collection to save himself from the pickle he ends up in)? It was ages before I got a handle on her, I said, and at the start I pictured a middle-aged woman. I argued that the reason for this was unfocused prose which failed to realize Gloria: I had been left with the impression that Gloria is simply not described early enough. Trevor could hardly believe I was saying this, and argued that one of the great things about the book was its vivid descriptions. After the meeting I set myself the task of starting the novel again and reading it carefully through to the end, and I found that Trevor was right: Gloria is described by narrator Benny the moment we meet her, indeed in list-checking detail, thus: The lady stands out like Mary Martin across a crowded room... She's wearing a long dress down to her ankles, a veil hangs from her hat. So why did I, and others, fail to see her clearly?

The language, along with the atypical clothes, put me off the scent: that word 'lady', and the fact that Benny goes on to refer to her (and characterize her) as 'the well-dressed lady'. But it's not the language in itself. It's not that I simply saw Gloria in the wrong light, but that I had a very strong sense of not really grasping her and, as I say, an impression that she had not been made vivid at all. There are plenty of novels the language of which is now dated but which we can read without trouble, feeling that we are getting a true sense of the world being depicted. It seems to me the problem is deeper and relates to the way we are meant to take Benny. How significant is Benny's use of the word 'lady'? Are we meant to take it as language of the era and not in any way notable, or are we meant to see it as indicative of Benny's singular psychology - his prudishness and sexual repression (he is 35 years old but worries like a child about his own penis - which he calls 'it', he has failed to detach psychologically from his mother, is clearly frightened of any sexual relations with Gloria and refers coyly to horses lifting their tails and doing their 'number twos')? Or is this dichotomy - prudishness and arrested development alongside streetwise lingo and sex dens - meant to be typical of the age (which I think it may have been), and significantly so? There was huge (initial) disagreement in our group about how we are meant to take Benny. Having read the book properly now it's clear to me that Lahr intends Benny as an anti-hero: he reveals himself as viciously racist and worse, if also pathetically lost in a fantasy world. Yet those of us who hadn't read much of the book had come away without any sense that we were meant to see Benny in this light. Hans gave a list of objections to the book which I don't recall specifically but which amounted to the fact that he considered it juvenile, the very thing which characterizes Benny with his stunted personality, his obsession with celebrity, and his totemic belief in the power of autographs of the famous. In other words, Hans had not seen any distinction between the narrator and the author, and neither had I: I had even come away with the impression that we were meant to see Benny as cool. Those who had read properly to the end - Trevor, Jenny and Doug - were quick to put us right, but all three - even Jenny, who was irritated by the style of the novel - said that they felt sorry for Benny, for his emptiness and his pathetic and doomed attempt to fill it with celebrity.

It seems to me that the problem is that by taking too much relish in its anti-hero's mentality and language, the novel fails to distance and satirize them enough - which is interestingly the complaint made by James Wood about Zadie Smith's similarly titled novel (The Autograph Man) on the same subject and theme.

I said that I thought that the book's take on celebrity was dated too: that nowadays people don't hero-worship celebrities so much as identify with them and desire fame for themselves, a phenomenon fed by reality TV. Some people strongly disagreed, citing the huge sales of Heat etc (which, frankly, I didn't see as destroying my argument), and that they definitely feel a bit in awe if they ever meet celebrities. I also said that I didn't really understand this interest in celebrity, which I don't, but I am very interested in the interest in celebrity, and by the time I went home I was in danger of writing my own and yet another novel on the subject...

PS: In a somewhat ironic twist, after I lost our first copy John and I each ordered a copy (so we ended up doubling up) and John's copy turned out to be the original US hardback bearing, of all things, the author's autograph.

Our archived discussions can be found here, and a list of all the books we have discussed here.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

A brilliant fifth 24:7 Festival

I'm having a great time this week at the 24:7 Theatre Festival (though I'm getting a bit tired!). I've seen thirteen shows so far (out of 21) and expect to see at least another one. Such a pity not to see them all, but it's practically impossible. A theme which is quite dominant this year has been the somewhat classic one of two or three men confined together in a small space. I've seen three of these plays, 5.30 and As We Forgive Them (both of which I read as scripts and wrote a bit about earlier) and Out of Dead Air, about three long-time prisoners of war faced with the possibility of freedom and the risk involved in seizing it, well-written too, beautifully acted and very smartly and sensitively directed by Mike Heath.

As last year, the houses have been packed. From its small beginnings the festival has become a phenomenal success. Yesterday, in fact, was 24:7's fifth birthday, and its founders, Amanda Hennessey and Dave Slack (above) had every reason to celebrate.

This year's festival isn't over yet though. There are shows at 3.30 this afternoon and this evening, and at 12.30 and 3pm tomorrow afternoon.

Friday, July 24, 2009

A stranger makes my day

I've had a really lovely new review on Amazon for Balancing, entitled 'Fabulous Collection', and which includes these sentences:
'These stories tell you more about who we are and how we live than a dozen big fat novels. If you like short stories, you should certainly get a copy of this book. If you think you don't like short stories, you should get two - one to surprise yourself with and one to give to someone else!'
You know, those trees through the window looked so green when I read that, and the rain looked so silver! So if you liked my book, and you want to make my day, you know what to do...

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

24:7: Lub You and Exit Salford

Last night I went down to 24:7 again and saw the truly fabulous Lub You at Pure (Blue). This to me was a riveting piece of physical theatre, yet also linguistically spot-on: funny yet moving. We follow the viewpoint of a child, Charlie, as he develops from babyhood, only partially able to understand the sounds his parents make - in a brilliant stroke we the audience share his experience of this - through the birth of his younger brother and the cracks that appear in his parents' marriage as a result of the strains of parenthood. Finally, we move to share the consciousness of his developing brother in the complex family setup which ensues.

Eve Steele (well-known as Curly Watts' stalker in Coronation Street) wrote the play and brilliantly performed the role of Charlie - her acute observation is stunning, allowing us to recognize a child's behaviour anew while taking you right inside his world. As I said to Eve in the bar afterwards, I loved the script when I read it, and the production has fulfilled my expectations. New Arden graduate Amy Spencer was wonderful as Charlie's baby brother Bo-Bo, as were Ted Holden and new MMU graduate Tanya Hug as their parents.

You know, so far I have been sitting there stunned at the acting talent in this city...

The acting was excellent too in Exit Salford, another play I read (I'm trying to see first all the plays I read) (also on at the Blue Room in Pure). This is the tale, based on a true incident, of an ex-writer who befriends the youths who hang around his Salford home only to have them turn on him when he rents his rooms to foreigners. Alan French takes the role of the ex-writer and Rebecca Elliot, Emily Spowage, Ant Singleton and Tim Fallows play the youths and a host of other characters with fast switches.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Manchester Book Fair and 24:7 Theatre Festival

Well, it rained. Every so often a great deluge started hitting the tent roofs and drowning out the readers, most of whom really, honestly, weren't standing close enough to the mic, and St Ann's Square cleared. I have to say I got quite cold. I sold one book, to a friend, Hazel Roy, who was manning the bookstall, mainly I am pretty sure because I bought hers. All the books on the stall were going for £8.00, but Hazel's was £10.00 because there was an extra donation to charity, and she got mine for £7.50 because there was an offer of £15.00 for two and she bought Ailsa Cox's book as well. So I actually lost £2.50. But as we were leaving a kind lady gave Ailsa and me a pound each for our readings because she couldn't afford to buy our books. (So I lost £2.50 and made a pound.)

Readings, eh? This was much better however than the time I was invited to read to students at Sheffield Hallam and told to bring lots of books because the class was big and keen, and then when I got there with my heavy bag found 3 students in the lecture theatre, because when the lecturer had booked me he'd overlooked the fact that it would be reading week.

And my lovely friend Adele Geras came down to support me.

And afterwards a group of us went for coffee, and coming out of the coffee shop we met a friend who told us that there were returns going for the Manchester Feast in Albert Square, and so that's where we went, wrist-banded and herded in on a bell, just like school dinners, but worth it for a free meal, though I missed the pudding because I was rushing off to the Printworks to see previews of two of the 24:7 Festival plays I read as an adjudicator.

Brilliant: both of them two-handers seething with tension and menace: 5.30, in which a young man is trapped on a train with a scary yob, and As We forgive Them, in which a US congressman is shut in a prison cell with his daughter's young murderer. Brilliantly written, directed and acted, and I thoroughly recommend them. If I hadn't been at the Book Market yesterday I'd have been to the previews of other plays I read, and I'll try to see them this week: Lub You, a physical piece in which we follow the viewpoint and experience of a baby/small child (I absolutely loved this when I read it), Dancing to the Sound of Crunching Snails, Working Title, The Coffee Hour and Exit Salford. Of course, I'll get to see as many shows as pssible. Last year there were practically full houses and there were some shows I didn't get to see as a result, so I recommend booking early.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Selling out

Thanks to the Just One Book campaign, Salt's own stocks of Balancing on the Edge of the World are now so low that they have only 4 copies to send for the Manchester Book Market this weekend (fortunately I have some here with me in Wales, where I am this week, which I can provide). It's a strange moment when a print run is coming to be exhausted: it's so gratifying to think that so many have sold, but then you worry that you'll miss sales before the next printing. Thank you to all those who have bought the book, and I do hope you have found it worth it. I hasten to add, for those who haven't, that meanwhile Amazon and The Book Depository still have copies, as do the book distributors, Gardners.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Proofs, an offer and Cath Staincliffe at Oxfam

It's nearly a month now since my first proofs for Too Many Magpies arrived, and it's only now that they are finished (I hope!). How hard it is to spot those errors! Each time I went through the script with my corrections, sent them off and then got them back again from Jen for approval, I spotted some more. Three times they were looked at, and not just by me, but by others, and I finally thought they were done. And then last week I was looking out a tiny section to read as a taster at my Oxfam Bookfest reading, and I discovered, in the piece I picked out, the 'd' missing off the word 'noticed' (of all words!). I knew then I would have to go through the latest proofs with a fine-tooth comb again, though I hadn't yet done so when I was sitting the following evening in Cath Staincliffe's Oxfam Bookfest reading. She used the word 'reined' twice in quick succession, and suddenly the image of the word as it appeared in my own script rose up before me, wrongly spelt, with a 'g'! And yet each of the three times I had looked at it in the actual script the error had not struck me, and neither had it anyone else!

It's a miracle books ever get published without errors, and in fact not many do. I went through the proofs of Balancing over and over, and John did too, but there's still at least one error, which I only found when I was reading the story in which it appears aloud to an audience.

So here's an offer: the first five people who find the typo in Balancing will get a free signed copy of Too Many Magpies from me as soon as it's published. (Email me via my profile.)

Cath's reading was great: she talked about the importance of place in her crime novels, and answered questions about her research methods and much more, and read the stunning beginning of her Sal Kilkenny novel, Missing. And she too sold loads of books! I've got pics but I'm in Wales again and the signal strength isn't great enough to upload them at the moment.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Manchester Book Fair

Next weekend there's to be another great three-day Independent Book Fair in St Ann's Square Manchester, to coincide with the Manchester Festival. Independent publishers are coming from all over the country to display and sell their wares. The market runs from Friday 17th - Sunday 19th, 12 noon to 6pm each day, and in a special cafe area there will be author readings throughout, organized by enterprising Comma publisher Ra Page. A whole host of Manchester and North-West writers will be reading, including yours truly. Other writers I know of so far are: Joe Stretch, Tony Walsh, Julian Daniel, Mike Garry, Akiel Chinelo, Louise Wallwein, Conrad Williams, Ailsa Cox, Zoe Lambert, Eleanor Rees, Mike Duff, Tim Lees, Annie Clarkson, Segun Le French, Tom Fletcher, Lula Blue, Zoe Lambert, but I understand there are many more.

My own slot is at 3.30 pm on Sunday. Do come along and listen and browse (and buy!!). Last time, I remember, there was a wonderful buzz when I went along...

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Sally Zigmond reviews Balancing on the Edge of the World

The wonderful, estimable Sally Zigmond has written a lovely review of Balancing on the Edge of the World and Salt Publishing in general, in the context of the discussion on the concept of 'literary fiction' which she is currently running on her other blog. I am thrilled to say she calls the stories in Balancing 'stunning' and thinks the book dispels all complaints about 'literary fiction' as 'flowery', unsatisfying on a narrative level, and lacking in humour. One of the stories she picks out for special mention is 'The Shooting Script', the satirical tale of a writer with an arts-funded mentor who turns out to be a rogue - which curiously, if I remember rightly, only one other reviewer, Adele Geras, has picked out. Sally says of it:
The characterisation is so good and I laughed all the way through it even as I winced. The satire is as sharp as a stiletto.
Thank you, Sally!

You know, the difference such things can make to your weekend....!

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Bibliobrat reviews Balancing on the Edge of the World

Balancing is reviewed today on the Biblio Blogazine, and I'm pleased to say that overall the book meets with approval there!

Reading at Oxfam

I had a lovely time at my reading last night in Oxfam Didsbury - there was a really great audience with lots to say and contribute, and I only hope they enjoyed it all as much as I did. Thank you to everyone who came, and thank you to Oxfam for holding the event. And I sold LOADS of books!!!

Tonight it's Cath Staincliffe, author of, among others, the televised Blue Murder series. Kick-off at seven, venue details in the sidebar above.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Readings at Oxfam Didsbury: me tonight, Tom Fletcher and Nick Royle last night

Tonight it's my turn at the Didsbury shop for the Oxfam Bookfest. We start at seven. 778 Wilmslow Rd, Didsbury, Manchester M20 2DR 0161 434 5380.

Last night it was Thomas Fletcher and Nicholas Royle. I went, but for the second time recently I forgot my camera (don't know what's up with me!), so I'll just have to rely on words to report. (The pic of Tom is from Facebook.) Tom read from his forthcoming debut novel, which he has written under Nick's mentorship (a writing prize he won), and which turns out to be written in quite stunning prose. The novel will be published next July by Quercus. Tom also turned out to be a stunningly good reader, po-faced yet ironic, giving the audience a real chance to savour his words which are often blackly funny. He also read from a collection of work by four writers in which his work appears. I'm really sorry but I can't remember the titles of either of these books - the second is something to with rain, I think (and it's a bright-green book: I do remember that). Damn! I'm losing my brains! (And if I'd had my camera I'd have had a pic of it, title and all). I'll look it up when I go back tonight, and edit it in: it's now on sale in the shop.*

*Edited in: Hooray, Sarah Hymas, the editor of Tom's earlier book informs me in the comments that the book is called Before the Rain (see, I remembered the rain). His co-writers are Peter Wild and Mollie Baxter. Thank you, Sarah.

**Edited in Thursday 9th: Tom's forthcoming novel is called The Leaping.

Nick Royle is the author of hundreds of short stories and several novels including The Director's Cut and The Matter of the Heart. His writing has a real signature style. With often dead-pan prose conveying the mundane but vivid details of everyday life and places we know (for the satisfaction of this audience he read a piece which began in the very room in which we were sitting, the Oxfam bookshop, and wended its way across Didsbury to my favourite cafe, The Art of Tea, and the second-hand bookshop at the back of it), Royle makes you thus identify closely, but then edges towards the mysterious and surreal, and in this way his stories are truly spookily affecting. He read us stories and extracts from his novel in progress, which I don't think has a title yet, so it's not just me failing to register that...!

Anyway, better go and prepare my own event for tonight. I'm on my own of course, and it's an awful long time to read on your own, so I guess I'll get some audience participation going at some point...

Do come along if you're around and have a spare evening. Maybe you'll get to see my brains disintegrating!

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Adele Geras at Oxfam Didsbury

First of the evening Oxfam Bookfest readings in the Didsbury shop last night: the prolific Adele Geras, who gave one her lovely relaxed, enjoyable and informative evenings. She opened by reading to us from the proof of her new novel Dido, which puts an interesting spin on the story of Dido and Aneas and is a really great read for young adults (I know, because I read a manuscript proof). There's Adele above with the beautiful proof cover - the colours are amazing, like jewels - and here she is reading from the text proof:

Then Adele asked for questions and, trust her, she got us all talking and a very interesting discussion ensued, which took us, via her impressive career, to the current monumental changes in publishing, such as ebooks and the demise of the mid list in publishing since the loss of the Net Book Agreement. Some interesting facts emerged: Oxfam's Wendy, who is in charge of a wonderfully stocked bookshop in Didsbury, said that even second-hand buyers prefer paperbacks over hardbacks nowadays, which surprised many of us.

Finally someone asked Adele for another reading, and she read from the American edition of her wonderful book of Jewish folk tales, My Grandmother's Stories. I had only ever seen the UK edition with its stunning mostly black-and white illustrations by Jael Jordan, and it was a great surprise to see the difference in this edition. As Adele pointed out, the illustrations in this edition, also lovely but by a different artist, were set in Russia rather than Israel, jollier and mostly in colour, and the effect was to create a very different kind of book - which shows the power of the image in creating a book.

And then the evening was over, which it was hard to believe - it had gone very quickly.

Tonight it's Nicholas Royle and Thomas Fletcher, and on Wednesday I'll be taking my turn. Readings at 7 pm. Further details in the sidebar here.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

The need for madness

I've just come back from another few days in Wales, and I'll tell you something: I can really write there! Peace and quiet, all the pressures of the normal routine removed, and the mobile internet so slow that I never stay online for longer than I have to. I sat down the first morning to a story I'd been getting into only slowly, and somehow, pow, those synapses started sparking, and by 5.30 I had finished the whole thing. Then another day I took up a story I've been trying to write for a couple of years now and which just somehow hasn't gelled (like an idiot I've sent it out a few times, but I've known really all along that it just hasn't hit the mark) and all of a sudden the real voice of the story came to me, as if out of the ash trees outside the window, and I re-wrote the story from scratch and it was done by 11.30.

It set me thinking. That idea of the synapses sparking really does feel to me to have something to do with it. Not so long ago, if I'm remembering rightly, there was yet another study proving that artistic activity was somehow linked to 'madness', most specifically to schizophrenia, that there are certain ways of thinking that are linked to both, a facility for making unusual connections. And connections were indeed the things that were coming to me, and which had previously been eluding me, and most importantly, they were coming to me in a non-conscious way. I'm so often complaining about needing a different 'head' for writing, the fact that writing needs a more dream-like state than most other activities. It struck me forcibly last week that a rational state of mind can be the enemy of the creative writer, and that that's what had been wrong with that story: every time previously I had tackled it I had been in too rational a state of mind. And then those hills of Wales set me dreaming again...

Well, then I came back in order to go last night to the Edge Hill Award ceremony, won by SF writer Chris Beckett, and which I report on here, and to which, believe it or not, I forgot to take my camera!!! (See where dreaming gets you?) And after which I have a mild hangover today, unused to booze as I am recently.

So it's back to busy-ness. On Wednesday evening I'm reading for the Oxfam Book Fest at the Didsbury shop (see sidebar for details), one of a series of events for the next fortnight. Tomorrow night it's Adele Geras, and Tuesday night Nick Royle and Thomas Fletcher. (And of course I love social events, and I love reading myself...)

Just One Book into Second Phase

Salt's Just One Book campaign moves into a new phase today. While the campaign has been amazingly successful, a push is still needed. As a result of the campaign total trade figures for June were up 21% on the previous June, a summer month when sales are usually down rather than up. However, trade sales for the first six months of this year are still down 4% on 2008, and Chris Hamilton-Emery says 'our challenge is to grow our trade sales over the coming months to keep the business on track'.

This is how he says you can help:

We need to keep Salt in the public eye. Here's how you can help. If you've bought a book from Salt and you enjoyed it please continue to support us by doing two important things (they're both free):

1. Firstly, tell your friends about the Salt title you enjoyed. Recommend it to them. Tell your friends on Twitter what you thought about it. Blog about it, if you like. Pass it on in anyway you can. Spread the word.

2. Secondly, please post a brief review of the book on Amazon to help the author. Amazon reviews do work.

Thank you for all your support. It really does matter.

Very best from me and Jen
Of course, if you wanted to write an Amazon review of Balancing on the Edge of the World, that would not just help Salt but make me very happy indeed...

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Balancing on the Edge of the World reviewed on Bookmunch

I have a nice thoughtful review this morning by Katie Rathfelder on Bookmunch. She says some pretty nice things, and one thing that made me think was this:
This is ... a much more unified collection than I had expected from hearsay
What it made me think is that I have been too hung up myself on the differences between the stories, and have unfortunately transmitted this in discussions about the book. This is the trouble, when you're the author that's what you see, the differences, and when you're writing that's what you're trying to make: it's like families, you can see all the differences between your sisters and the ways they are trying their utmost to be unlike each other, but what other people notice is the family likeness they can't escape. Anyway, Katie has seen the family likeness between my stories.
All the stories here are about the disenfranchised, people whose stories aren’t told as often. It’s a collection of women (especially mothers), the homeless, the people you might pass by on a grey city street without noticing. And it’s very good at it.
This is a lovely honest review. Katie makes clear that she doesn't love all of the stories, which makes her praise all that much more worth having. She particularly likes 'Daniel Smith Disappears off the Face of the Earth' which she calls
a description of a mugging that manages to be both beautiful and harrowing, one of those perfect pieces of short fiction that sticks with you and makes you see the next puddle you walk past differently.
She says:
There’s this great sense of delight in words, in expression, that lends a freshness to even the most traditional piece here. It feels rather like her characters are really glad to just be able to tell you about their lives, even when those lives are not necessarily much fun. The overall effect is like walking down the street and seeing people in their living room who have forgotten that people outside can see in, except this time you can hear them, too.
Above all she says that the many of the stories will leave you 'randomly remembering [them] at odd moments', which she calls 'the mark of a pretty good story collection', and is to me is one of the best things to be told.