Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Christmas gifts for an author

So from my mother I got a glass powder bowl. Wtf? What does she think? I will sit at my dressing table mirror powdering my face with real old-fashioned powder? Where will I get the powder? I have no idea. But yes, it is a lovely thing. Cut glass, with a beautiful faceted knob on the lid, and a lovely kind of mother-of-pearl base to the bowl.

From my sister I got a hat-pin holder. A hat-pin holder? I wear hats that need pins, you think? But again, it is a lovely thing. Victorian, bone china with daffodils hand-painted on it. And a mother-of-pearl ring which I will most definitely wear.

From one of my sons, Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point, because he knows that as a contemporary author who has to market her own books, I have to know about such things.

Which of my relatives, do you think, really knows me?

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Season's greetings and a great Christmas reading

Season's greetings to all my readers and fellow bloggers. Apologies for the lateness of this, but I have been feeling really ill with a cold which started on Monday (21st) when I went off into town to a very nice Christmas evening of readings. Nicola Mostyn, Emma Unsworth, Maria Roberts and Zoe Lambert were reading in the cosy The Outlet on Dale St. We were greeted with mulled wine at the door and it was when I sipped it and found it so very soothing that I realized I was developing a sore throat. I didn't feel really ill until the next day, though, so I was able to enjoy the evening enormously. Firstly, Nicola read a vivid section from her newly completed novel in which the Greek gods exist in the present-day world. Emma read from her ingenious new novel, the story of which is told via the memories triggered by restaurant menus for a food critic. Maria Roberts read an insightful Christmas section from her Penguin book which is based on her clever, wry blog, Single Mother on the Verge. These three readers comprise the Prose Formation, and their guest reader was Zoe Lambert, who read a moving story which imagines Britain as a fascist state, and which will appear in her forthcoming collection from Comma. Maybe the fact that I forgot to take photos until late in the proceedings was a symptom of my developing cold. Here's Zoe reading:

And here's Emma at the mic:

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Nice comments for Too Many Magpies

I'm thrilled that Debi Alper has chosen Too Many Magpies as one of her Christmas gift book recommendations for Bookarazzi. This is what she says about it:
Deceptively simple, a beautifully crafted novel in which every word seems to have multiple layers of meaning.
And in the Morning Star Judith Amanthis reviews it and comments thus:
Precise language and graceful use of time... Glitters with meanings.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Top bestsellers at Salt

I'm really happy to see that Too Many Magpies makes the top 20 bestellers of the moment at Salt - in there at #6. Thank you so much to those who have bought it!

My story collection, Balancing on the Edge of the World, is in there too at #17, and Short Circuit, the Salt guide to the art of the short story makes #3!

Great to be there with all those other wonderful Salt books - mosey on over and have a look at them (and get yourself some great Christmas presents!)

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Ride the Word Christmas special including Short Circuit

If you're in London on Tuesday, then do come down to Cafe Yumchaa in Soho for a special Ride the Word event, at which contributors to Short Circuit, the acclaimed Salt guide to the art of the short story, the book's editor Vanessa Gebbie, Salt's editorial director Jen Hamilton-Emery and Prospect magazine's arts and literature editor Tom Chatfield will all be reading and talking as part of the programme. Ride the Word is a regular London reading night hosted by Salt authors poet Vincent de Souza and prose fiction writer Jay Merill, and the events are free. Details of Tuesday's event below:

'Short Circuit' Celebration
Tuesday 15th December 2009
6.30 for 7pm - till 9pm
45 Berwick Street, Soho, London W.1
Vincent de Souza,
Jay Merill,
'Short Circuit' Editor, Vanessa Gebbie
Salt Publishing Director, Jen Hamilton-Emery
Arts Editor of 'Prospect' Magazine, Tom Chatfield
Tania Hershman, Sarah Salway,
Marian Garvey, David Gaffney, Lane Ashfeldt
Elizabeth Baines, Chika Unigwe,
David Grubb, Alex Keegan
Floor Spots on first come first served basis
Hosted by
Jay Merill and Vincent de Souza
(nearest Tube: Oxford Circus, Tottenham Court Rd.,
All Oxford Street buses - to Berwick St stop)

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Sally Zigmond reviews Too Many Magpies

Today there's a nice review of Too Many Magpies on Sally Zigmond's blog, along with a short interview she conducted with me about the book. She calls the book 'intense and unsettling' and says, 'The prose is spartan but powerful' and that 'Despite its physical brevity, Too Many Magpies poses huge questions about life today'.

And Sarah Salway, whose wonderful endorsement graces the cover of the book, talks on her blog today about the books she has endorsed this year, and says of Too Many Magpies, 'I'm thrilled [it's] been getting so many good reviews, because it deserves every one. I'm interested that the word used most often is 'haunted', there's definitely a lasting quality to this book'.

Thank you, Sally and Sarah!

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Reading Group: The Road by Cormac McCarthy

It's so long since this meeting and I've been so preoccupied with the promotion of Too Many Magpies that I'm not sure I can remember the discussion very well.

John (who is not exactly easy to please when it comes to novels) had been so impressed and moved by this novel that he had tried at least twice to suggest it, but it had been passed over by the rest of us, some of us put off I think by the macho impression we had of McCarthy's novels in general, which in fact we hadn't read. On this occasion Hans, whose turn it was to suggest the next book, was absent, and, quite unprepared, I found the choice falling to me, and so, remembering John's persistence, I plumped for this.

I couldn't have been happier that I had done so. As I told the group, I was just stunned by this novel in which a man and his young son trail south on the road through an ash-filled post-apocalyptic world, their sole worldly goods piled in a rickety shopping trolley. I was so emotionally moved that I was reluctant to start deconstructing it with discussion: I just wanted to let it, and its emotional impact on me, be. I had noted, though, that it was quite simply written in a spare prose which was however deeply poetic. And one of the things that moved me so much was that that whole cowboy-Western ethic of the good guys and the bad guys with which we had associated McCarthy (and which others said definitely informed the film they'd now seen of McCarthy's novel No Country for Old Men) was here used in the most movingly moral of ways: the man and the boy are striving to be the Good Guys, the keepers of the flame of morality, in the remnants of a world we can guess was destroyed by the lack of it and peopled by marauding cannibalistic gangs (and the moral question of the novel is whether it is possible for the man and the boy to succeed in this). And that, searing as the novel is, I had found the ending (which I won't give away here) redemptive, hopeful about the human spirit.

Doug immediately agreed with me wholeheartedly, and others nodded. Everyone loved the book and had been deeply affected by it, but perhaps Ann was the least deeply affected, as she had some quibbles, and saw some inconsistencies in the story, such as the fact that in travelling south the boy and the man crossed a range of mountains, which was hard to picture since most of the mountains in America run from north to south. This was a matter which frankly I wasn't much interested in discussing, as for me the novel had a mythic feel which made such practicalities irrelevant. There was then some (to me inappropriately realist) discussion about a related practicality: why they were travelling south: was it because they were hoping to find warmth as the winter came on? Or were they simply moving on because they had run out of food? Trevor said no, you wouldn't wait until you'd run out of food before moving on, that would be really stupid (because I was so little interested in this argument I can't remember his reasoning), and Ann, a textile conservator, said this made her think about insects: moths always stay with their source of food until it runs out but carpet beetles don't, they move on to fresh pastures before that happens.

John said, well, nothing is really explained: we never know why the world was destroyed, whether it was terrorism or ecological or what, and I stopped eating crisps out of boredom and frustration and said, Quite, that's the point, and that's what's so great about the book: in the post-apocalyptic world, cause and reason and politics are all beside the point, lost to the world. Existence is reduced to the physical experience of the effort to survive - and of course, for some, the human hope to keep the moral 'fire'. I said I loved the language of the book which reflects this: pared down and studded with ancient- and Anglo-Saxon-sounding words which were yet, I think, newly-coined, creating a sense of the unprecedentedly primitive. Everyone agreed that they really appreciated this last.

Then Ann said that she wasn't so sure that the book was redemptive, and there was a discussion about this which focussed on the end and which I thus can't report without spoiling the ending for those who haven't yet read the book.

One thing I will say is that one of the things that stunned me was the use of viewpoint, which earlier on in reading the novel I had decided McCarthy had mishandled: the narrative relentlessly takes the viewpoint of the man, except for one brief though puzzling and indeed memorable moment when it moves to the boy's. And then at the end, when the narrative shifts once more to the boy's I understood why (and indeed why that moment had been made so memorable) and I understood too that far from being unable to handle viewpoint, McCarthy is a master of it.

And again everyone nodded, and we all agreed that this book, a searing warning, was one of our stunners, one which would stand out among all those we have read and discussed.

(And I did remember the discussion after all - I think!)

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

Me, my leather jacket and the camera

See, I've said before I feel most myself in my leather jacket. Well, leather jackets - I've got a red one and a pale blue one now (all from charity shops, you understand). I had to replace the old black one in the end, in spite of my attachment to it: in the end I did get fed up of losing all my change and slips of paper in the lining round the back, and then the zip just lost too many teeth and the sleeve seams started to split. I kept it for a bit, though, thinking I'd cut it up for the leather, but when I eventually got round to doing that there was such a horrid fluffy mess between the leather and the lining... well, you don't want to know.

Well, yesterday I went to do a video interview for the website for the forthcoming GCSE AQA online anthology, in which 'Compass and Torch' appears, and I wore my red leather jacket because a) it was quite jolly (thinking of the kids) and b) I knew I'd feel relaxed in it. So I get to the studio out on Timber Wharf, and I'm settled down in the corner of this big black sofa, and yes, I do feel nice and relaxed, and Charlie Evans who's interviewing me for AQA begins. What's my inspiration for stories, and why do I write them, he asks me, and I'm off, no stumbling, entirely in my stride, and I've been going a good while and the sound man says, 'Stop.'

My leather jacket is squeaking against the sofa, which is also leather, and against itself every time I move my arms, which I do a lot when I talk. I have to take my leather jacket off and we have to start again. And guess what? I've lost my stride. I hesitate, I say what I don't mean and have to ask twice to start again. Can you believe I took my articulacy off with my jacket? Can you believe the power of clothes?

Saturday, December 05, 2009

New Goodreads review for Too Many Magpies

I've had a third really nice review for Too Many Magpies on Goodreads. Nicole calls it 'a clever, well-crafted novel' which 'will haunt you for days afterwards as you think about its meaning. Highly recommended'.

Podcast: Interview with Andrew Edwards on ALL FM

There's now a podcast available of my interview with Andrew Edwards on ALL FM last Sunday, in which we discuss Too Many Magpies, among other things. At one point Andrew gets me to repeat the magpie rhyme around which the novel is structured, and listening last night I discovered that I can't even count up to four!

Friday, December 04, 2009

The real life of readings and the reality of fiction

I really enjoyed the reading at Manchester Central Library on Wednesday (pics here). Of course I had my usual panic beforehand: would enough people turn up to make it worth the time and trouble of Libby Tempest, our lovely library host? As usual she had done masses of publicity (thank you, Libby!) and of course the library had designed one of their super posters - a copy of which I got to take home with me afterwards - but you know, you always worry: are you going to be the turn that doesn't attract the punters in spite of it all? And there was a very sticky moment when, at five to six, with only five minutes to go, there was still only a handful of people there and a call came through from my fellow reader Robert Graham to say he was stuck in traffic three miles off and probably not going to make it in time. Yet somehow he managed to be in the room at five past, by which time it had miraculously filled! And thank goodness, he had the box of red wine he had promised to bring, a great relief to the two guys who had found my choice of white pretty dire (for which I do apologize!). (See, you can't just sit at a desk, you have to be an events organizer and know about ruddy wine!).

Anyway, the reading seemed to go really well. I had promised to read something I hadn't read before as well as an extract from Too Many Magpies, as I knew some people were coming who had been to previous readings. A quick scan of the audience made me plump for 'Holding Hands', a story from Balancing I've never read in Manchester before, about the power balance between two sisters growing up and then at the point when their father dies. There was a great audience, with lots of interesting questions, and playwright Debbie Freeman commented that the work that Robert and I read out seemed pretty personal. She added quickly that she wasn't saying that it was autobiographical, or asking it if was, but went on to ask how we deal with making real-life experience objective enough for fiction (a subject I address of course in my contribution to Salt's guide to the art of the short story Short Circuit), and quite a good short discussion followed about the concept of autobiographical fiction.

Well, I'm not saying anything about that particular story - my usual policy - but I will say this: when I got home I had a very strange frisson when I realized something that, preoccupied with the reading, I had forgotten: that that evening was the very anniversary of the evening my father died...

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Reading at Manchester Central Library tonight

Just a reminder that Robert Graham and I are reading at Manchester Central Library tonight. I've got my share of the wine (but I forgot the orange juice, so I'll have to go out again!). Robert will be reading from his lovely wry stories in The Only Living Boy, and I'll be reading from Too Many Magpies and something else (not sure what yet: I want to read something the audience won't have heard, so I guess that means seeing who turns up and deciding then!)

Do come: Committee Room, Manchester Central Library, 6 pm.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

24:7 2010: Application process open!

It's that time of year again! This year's call for scripts for this vibrant theatre festival opens officially as of NOW.

This year the format has changed a little: of 20 plays chosen, 10 will receive full performances and 5 rehearsed readings, and the authors of a further 5 will receive mentoring. This is a good development, I think: for the audience it was always well-nigh impossible to get around all of the performances - though I know some people who made a point of doing so! - and I like the way the festival is developing its role of nurturing writers and networks for writers.

Also this year there is a process of registering your application online via the website, although you still have to send in a hard copy script.

So if you have a one-hour script waiting to be aired in the world, get it ready, or if it's an idea waiting to burst on to the page get it down there, and apply via the website.