Sunday, November 29, 2009


This morning I went off to Levenshulme and ALL FM's community radio station, invited by Andrew Edwards to be interviewed about Too Many Magpies on his Sunday lunchtime Art Beat programme. I was there once before, when I was producing my 24:7 Theatre Festival play The Processing Room. It's a quirky place, a converted Victorian house on a corner, the green room being the old dining room and the two studios being the once front parlour and back sitting room, I presume, though in fact it's pretty cramped in that last and maybe that was the scullery or something. In any case, there's a lovely friendly atmosphere, and Andrew's great at putting you at ease beforehand. We had quite a lengthy interview; Andrew asked me in some depth about the novel, and I read a short section. He was very complimentary about the book, but he put me on the spot a bit towards the end by saying that he was shocked at the ease with which my female protagonist falls into an affair with a mysterious stranger when her relationship with her husband seems to have been painted in such an idyllic light. This really took me aback, and I had no answer but that I thought I had planted the clues! Afterwards he said he hoped I wasn't offended, and of course I wasn't - nothing offends me about people's reactions to my work: why ever should it? - and I'm more than interested in people's reactions. And I bet it made good radio, anyway: me suddenly sounding utterly phased!

The programme is repeated on Tuesday evening, 9.00 pm: ALL FM 96.9, after which it will be a podcast on the website.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Lisa Glass reviews Too Many Magpies

I've had a lovely review for Too Many Magpies from Lisa Glass on Vulpes Libris. It's one of a series of mini-reviews she has written on her 'favourite books of the autumn'. She says: 'I read most of this book in one sitting as I could not drag myself away from its eerie storytelling' and 'Elizabeth Baines has a gift for creating lyrical, penetrating prose, and characters who seem all too real in their flaws, obsessions and neuroses', and calls the book 'an accomplished, thoughtful novel that offers us a strange new lens with which to view the world'. The full review here.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Another printing and another reading

Well, Salt have now done a second printing of Too Many Magpies, and that's a lovely feeling. It had to be done in such a rush, though, that there wasn't a chance to sort out the typos I'd found. Never mind: when I told my sister she said, 'What are you talking about?' (in her inimitable what's-she-on-about-now manner). 'What typos? I never saw any!' (As if there couldn't be any then!)

I'm having a bit of difficulty settling down again after all the rushing around and promotion, but actually feeling excited at the thought of eventually doing so, and getting back to writing. Yesterday morning I was out delivering leaflets again for the next reading, and I really liked it - it even felt exciting, being out at that time of day in Didsbury, even in the pouring rain, since normally when I'm home I make myself stay at my desk until 1.30 pm. Like being let out of school. Pathetic, I know. Maybe I should try and lead a less monotonous day-to-day life...

The reading is next Wednesday, 2nd December, and I'm reading with fellow Salt author Robert Graham (The Only Living Boy) at Manchester Central Library, 6 pm. I never had a proper Manchester launch for Magpies in the end: I've done so many readings here, it seemed excessive. But my launch in London last week made me realize that it's good to have proper celebration of a book, so we're going to take wine and make the event next Wednesday a bit of a Christmassy celebration of the publication of our books.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

London launch of Too Many Magpies

I had a great launch for Too Many Magpies at the Calder Bookshop on Tuesday evening. The shop is a lovely place which includes a theatre area set up by John Calder to provide a performance space for his Godot Theatre, and there is a really nice atmosphere. And so many of my friends old and new came to celebrate with me: writer friends and blogger friends, my wonderful publisher Jen Hamilton-Emery, and also my long-lost cousin whom I'd never met before in my life - now you don't often get that at a launch, do you? See what miracles books can give rise to? And we sold all of the copies of the book which the shop had ordered, plus some I had brought in my bag just in case! Thank you so much to everyone who came for making it such a successful evening, and thank you to the shop's Alex Middleton for hosting the event, and to the second Alex for manning the till until we all faded away, far too late, I'm sure, into the night. And thank you to a third Alex, fellow Salt author Alex Keegan who came with a very posh big camera and took the photos. Front left in the photo above is prose fiction writer Vicky Grut (whose great stories we published in the short-story magazine metropolitan), just behind her (with red hair) is novelist Debi Alper, centre front is fellow Salt author Tania Hershman, front right is novelist and poet Sue Guiney and just behind her Jen Hamilton-Emery.

ADDED: And how could I have forgotten to thank Tania, who so generously offered to introduce me, and who gave me such a lovely (flattering!) introduction! Thank you, Tania!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

London launch of Too Many Magpies: Tuesday 17th, 7pm

The London launch of Too Many Magpies will take place on Tuesday (17th November), 7pm at the famed Calder Bookshop 51 The Cut, London SE1 8LF Tel. +44 (0)20 7620 2900.

The Calder Bookshop was founded by John Calder, legendary publisher of Burroughs, Beckett et all, so it's a lovely place to have a launch.

All welcome. Come and have a glass of wine and get a signed copy for yourself or as a fittingly spooky Christmas present!

And I've had another nice brief Goodreads review for the book. Evie says:
'Very moving, intelligent story as the author explores motherhood, temptation and??? magic. Baines can keep the readers attention while looking at age-old themes from a different perspective.'

Friday, November 13, 2009

Last day to win a copy of Short Circuit

Today is the last day to enter a competition to win a copy of the fabulous Short Circuit, the guide to the art of short story writing just out from Salt. Head on over to Salt's blog and get your entry in - it's a nice easy quiz for literary types! Here's Salt's information about the book:
Short Circuit is the first textbook written by prize-winning writers for students and more experienced practitioners of the short story. The 288 page guide brings together twenty-four specially-commissioned essays from well-published short story writers who are also prize winners of the toughest short story competitions in the English language, including five essays from winners of The Bridport Prize. There are interviews with Clare Wigfall, winner of The National Short Story Award — and with Tobias Hill whose short story collection won the PEN/Macmillan Silver Pen Award.
I've contributed a chapter on the issue of turning real life into fiction, focusing on the story from Balancing on the Edge of the World, 'Condensed Metaphysics'. Editor Vanessa Gebbie had read the post on this blog about this story, and asked me to elaborate for Short Circuit, deconstructing the precise process whereby I turned a real-life incident into a fiction story. I'm very pleased to be in the book alongside such short story luminaries as Alison McLeod, Tania Hershman, Nuala Ni Chonchuir, Carys Davies and many others, and very much looking forward to reading their insights into the process of story writing.

And if you don't win, there's 20% off at the moment if you order via the Salt site.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Reading for Chorlton Book Festival

I was so nervous about my Chorlton Book Festival reading on Monday night, for this reason: good little (or at least well-intentioned) author-marketer as I am, I had invited Chorlton Bookshop to sell my books at the event. Chorlton Bookshop is one of those little independent bookshops still, amazingly, existing (in spite of the situation outlined in Tuesday's Guardian): a tiny space stacked high with not just the bestsellers but interesting books. And Vicky, the shop's owner, has always been wonderfully supportive of my work. So I needed to get enough people through the door of Lounge Bar on the night to get enough books sold to make it worth her while having ordered the books, and Jo and Michelle's giving up an evening with them. I publicised the event like mad, went leafleting and stuck up posters, and provided the bookshop with leaflets and slips about the event to put into customer bags (and, as my Facebook friends will know, I plastered it all over FB). I've been in the local paper recently twice, as well, and lots of people had commented to me that they'd seen it, but you never know, do you, whether these things will link up in the minds of the general public...?

In the afternoon I went to the first event of the festival in Chorlton Library, an interesting talk and reading by Ruth Estevez, author of the novel Meeting Coty. There was a reasonable gathering for an early afternoon Monday event and they seemed to be made up of members of the general public, middle-aged and elderly people wrapped up in hats and scarves for the brilliantly sunny cold day outside, the first real day of winter. I began to think that this might bode well for the evening, when people are generally more free. Never (or hardly ever) one to miss a publicity opportunity, I handed out leaflets for my own event. One of them, an elderly lady, jumped back in horror at the mention of 'the evening', and that was my first moment of real worry. As I waited for the bus back to Didsbury afterwards the sun went, the cold dropped down, a mist began to form. The people around me at the bus stop were quiet and miserable and huddled, as if they just couldn't wait to get back home and shut the door and stay there for the rest of the evening. For god's sake, I felt like it myself: I was frozen to the bone in spite of my leather jacket. By the time I left the house again for my reading the fog was thick and most definitely freezing. Who in their right mind would go out on such an evening, a Monday evening at that?

Well, the evening turned out lovely. In the end, in spite of the weather, a not-bad sized audience of chiefly writers turned up and contributed to a good discussion. And there was a lovely atmosphere: it might have been freezing outside, but the back room at Lounge Bar is a scruffily cosy space, with warm colours and benches and sofas with cushions, and candles on the tables - and there had been an 18th birthday party there earlier, so there were even balloons on the walls! And David Green, the festival's organiser, had arranged for nibbles to be brought down, and the huge platter of sandwiches you can see in the pic above!

But what about the bookshop? The audience was so very literary and in the know, and I knew that some people there had already bought my books, and that one or two had already even read the new novel, Too Many Magpies. So I went on worrying that poor Jo and Michelle were wasting their time. But when I spoke to them at the end they turned out to have sold ten books, which it seems was enough to make them happy! (And they could have sold another: writer Jim Doxford decided he wanted a second copy of Magpies for his sister's Christmas present, but realized that they'd gone, and he'd now need to go to the shop for it.)

Phew. My huge thanks to Chorlton Bookshop, and to the audience for helping to make the evening, and also to David Green and the festival.

You can read a less anxiety-filled account of the event in a Manchester Literature Festival blog post, written by Clare Conlon who won Best New Blog in the 2009 Manchester Blog Awards.

Here are some of the writerly audience after the reading:

Jim Doxford (poet and short-story writer) is standing, novelist Clare Sudbery is in the yellow top with her back to the camera, writer Zoe Lambert is standing to her right and writer and blogger Adrian Slatcher is sitting on the far right behind the wooden panel.

The Chorlton Book Festival continues until Saturday 21st November. Tonight my fellow Salt author Robert Graham will be reading from his collection of stories The Only Living Boy, Lloyds Hotel, 8pm, and next week Adrian Slatcher will conduct a workshop for writers on using the web as a marketing tool.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Green Books Campaign: Perfecting by Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer

This review is part of the Green Books campaign . Today 100 bloggers are reviewing 100 great books printed in an environmentally friendly way. Our goal is to encourage publishers to get greener and readers to take the environment into consideration when purchasing books. This campaign is organized by Eco-Libris, a green company working to green up the book industry by promoting the adoption of green practices, balancing out books by planting trees, and supporting green books. A full list of participating blogs and links to their reviews is available on Eco-Libris website .

I'm pleased to be taking part in this campaign, having already collaborated with Eco-Libris to have a tree planted for every copy printed of Too Many Magpies. Here's a quote from the Green Book Campaign press release:
“Although there's so much hype around e-books, books printed on paper dominate the book market, and we want them to be as environmentally sound as possible ,” explains Raz Godelnik, co-founder and CEO of Eco-Libris. “Very few books are currently printed responsibly and we hope this initiative will bring more exposure to “green” books. Through this campaign we want to encourage publishers to get greener and readers to take the environment into consideration when purchasing books.”
My book for review is a novel, Perfecting by Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer, from the independent Canadian publisher Goose Lane. Printed on Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified paper, it's a nicely-produced paperback with sturdy matt card covers and those fold-in bits mimicking the flaps of dust jackets (I don't know what they're called): you do feel as if you're holding something classy, published with care.

The novel itself has its own kind of class: it's the product of a committed intelligence with a passion to expose the reverberations of violence in our society both on the personal and parochial level and the political and international, and the role religion can play. The story is complex and the novel's structure even more so, unfolding the former through the memories of the various characters as they move towards its shocking conclusion. The novel opens as forty-odd-year-old Martha, fleeing the Canadian New Age commune founded by her partner Curtis when they were barely more than teenagers, arrives at the New Mexican settlement from which he originally came but of which he has hardly ever spoken. In her bag she is carrying a gun, the gun she found in his room and which indicates that there are sides to Curtis other than the Jesus-figure he has always cut, a possibility she doesn't want to believe in, and explanation of which she expects to find here. As she meets his two half-brothers and their mother, a backstory unfolds of two families of children in thrall to a charismatic, bullying father: Hollis, descendant of Mormons, and of one half-brother set by him onto another. But as this story is revealed to the reader, the final chapter is working itself out: Curtis is on the road south in search of Martha to bring her back to the commune. His half-brothers guess this and wait, as does Hollis, crippled now and confined to an old people's home, longing for the return of his special, anointed prodigal son. Meanwhile, another story is woven into this one: that of Michael Dama, a US corporal charged with 'cleaning up' arms after military operations in the Middle East, and who collects Middle-Eastern rugs woven with military motifs glorifying and telling the story of those wars...

I did find that the retrospective nature of much of the narrative dissipated tension at times, but overall the story is undoubtedly an exciting one and the way all of the narrative threads are pulled together is clever and intellectually satisfying. There are moments of dark humour, and the prose picks up the tough idioms and speech patterns of the characters as the story shifts between their viewpoints and memories: That was baby Edgar... He looked like Hollis, square-jawed and gaze you down. The novel is vivid with symbolism, that of the drying-up river where old fishing lures can be found, and the bees Curtis keeps on the commune, communal but sometimes swarming and migrating. An ambitious book about pressing issues of the moment.

Readers too can collaborate with Eco-Libris: plant a tree by donating $1 for every book you read.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Literary Manchester

There's been so much literary happening recently, but I've been so busy with my own stuff I haven't had time to blog about much of it. First there was the Manchester Literature Festival, of which I only managed to blog the Fay Weldon event (briefly, and without reference to what she actually said). I put up some pics of Northern Salt which I took part in myself, but haven't even managed to blog it before now. Fortunately you can read detailed accounts of most of the events on the Manchester Festival blog.

Northern Salt was great fun. Not only was I reading with three other Salt authors - John Siddique, Mark Illis, and Robert Graham - but several other Salt authors came to the event: Steve Waling, Andrew Philip, Paul Magrs and Tony Williams, though Tony's train didn't get him there for the reading and he arrived as we were leaving the Whitworth, just in time not to miss us altogether, so he was able to come for coffee with us afterwards. Looking at that list I see I was the only girl amongst the boys (I didn't notice at the time: see, I just think of myself as one of the boys!), but then our lovely publisher Jen had come all the way up from Cambridge for the event, with a bag full of books for us all to sign, and Tony's brand-new copies. Also some of my female friends came to listen: among them my actor friend Mary-Ann Coburn, my erstwhile co-editor and short-story writer Ailsa Cox, and Ann French from the reading group - a real sacrifice from Ann, I'd say, since she surely spends enough time at the Whitworth as its textile conservator! Not that I even realized they were there until the end, as the audience was amazingly big for a Sunday afternoon. As we readers sat on the front row waiting for the start, Robert wanted to know which of us it was who had so many friends! MLF's Cathy Bolton gave us glowing introductions (as Robert said, it made you think: Is she talking about me?) and I loved the readings the others gave. The questions took us a little by surprise: I guess it's hard not to ask general questions of a largish group of writers, and we ended up talking about teaching creative writing and being published by a small independent, and even the somewhat academic question of the difference between poetry and prose! Here we are on the left wondering about the audience behind us:

What else besides MLF? Well, I went to a packed final evening of JB Shorts - the evening of short plays by TV writers at the Joshua Brooks pub - or rather, correction, I went to the second part of the final evening, having attended Michael Schmidt's memorable darkened launch at the Epinay champagne bar first. (Below is my pic of Michael reading by mobile phone flashlight), missing Trevor Suthers' play which I'd been particularly keen to see, not only because I'd promised him I'd go but because I'd been told it was brilliant. I was especially disappointed when, arriving, I found that actor Arthur Bostrom had been in it. The second half, which included a black comedy by Dave Simpson and a startling take on Brief Encounter by Peter Kerry, was excellent, and I'm not surprised that the whole enterprise has been nominated for a Manchester Evening News award. (There are also 12 24:7 nominations for this award, including several from three of the plays I put forward after initial reading because I loved them, and so I'm really chuffed).

Then on Thursday there was the first in this year's MMU series of readings, the launch of books from Carcanet by the innovative Matt Welton and Jeremy Over who was new to me. Adrian Slatcher offers his take on the evening over at The Art of Fiction. And last night John and I managed - just in time - to see Punk Rock by Simon Stephens at The Royal Exchange, which I expected much of but was rather disappointed in. About a group of students in a Stockport private-school library, it seemed to me a play which couldn't decide on its own focus and theme, and the Columbine-school-style ending struck me as lazy and gratuitous, inadequate as a pay-off for the various issues the play had raised. Plus, the loud music between scenes not only added nothing but was almost enough to make us throw ourselves off the top gallery where we were sitting.

Maybe I'll stay in a bit now...