Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Flying with Magpies book tour: Eco-Libris

The last stop of the tour for Too Many Magpies is up at Eco-Libris, with whom I'm planting a tree for every copy of the book printed, and I'm asked some fairly deep but very interesting questions about my take on the environment, which of course relates to the theme of the book.

And can I take this opportunity to remind you that via Eco-Libris you can also plant a tree for every book you read, which is a wonderful way of offsetting the environmental cost of printing books.

#SaltReadingGroup kicks off on Twitter

Just a reminder that today the Salt Reading Group kicks off on Twitter with a discussion of Too Many Magpies. I'm there at the mo answering questions, so if you want to ask me anything or tell me anything about the book, do head on over. Just search for #SaltReadingGroup, or if you're not already on Twitter find out how to join in here.

I've already been asked about the fact that the novel is short, what the thing with naming (or not naming) in the novel is all about, what my position is on science/rationality v mystery/passion (a theme of the book) and whether or not the book is feminist. Oh, and a question about the ending which makes me wonder if my intentions are clear, which is what it's all about, I reckon: me questioning the novel as well as everyone else...

Tuesday, June 29, 2010


I'm thrilled to discover that Too Many Magpies is 4th in Salt's current Top Ten Bestseller list. Thank you so much to those who have bought it, and I do hope you enjoyed it - I'm very interested in people's response to the book (one is always wanting to learn for the next book!) so if you want to let me know, I'll be glad to hear, whatever you have to say.

And if you want to take part in a discussion about it, don't forget the Salt Reading Group which kicks off on Twitter tomorrow with Too Many Magpies as the book for discussion. As I say, you can read about how to join in here. Tomorrow, too, the virtual tour for the book will come to rest finally in the tree-filled world of Eco-Libris, with whom I'm having a tree planted for every copy of the book - and I get asked some pretty tough questions about the environment, and how it relates to my writing!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Salt Reading Group starts on Wednesday

Just a reminder that the new Salt Reading Group kicks off with its first discussion on Wednesday (3oth) on Twitter, and the book up for discussion is Too Many Magpies. If you'd like to take part, and aren't already on Twitter, you can find out how here. If you're already on Twitter then search for #SaltReadingGroup on Wednesday. And if you haven't read the book - which is short, so you can do it very quickly! - then you can of course get it here or here.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Benjamin Judge's Literary World Cup

Hee Hee, I have won 2:1 over James Joyce in the second round of Benjamin Judge's Literary World Cup!- but only because Ben seems to hate Joyce, and he swings me a backhander:
On second books it is Dubliners vs Balancing on the Edge of the World and I know, I know, that on paper that should be an easy decision.

He goes on:
But I have never fallen in love with Dubliners in the way I suspect I am supposed to. I can see that it is technically brilliant and all that but… Well… OK, think of it like this: You know when you watch the darts and a player narrowly misses their target the commentator says “good marker”, well… erm… forgive me lit critters but I see Dubliners as a ‘good marker’ for Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. I find it too dry, too lifeless. I’m sorry world. I’m sorry. But Baines is getting the points because she earned them. This is a competition based on my whims. My likes and dislikes. And I say Balancing on the Edge of the World is the more enjoyable text. (I can see the professors grinding their teeth as I write, muttering “Enjoyable! Since when has literature been about enjoyment! It is about arguing minor points about signification and the impossibility of transmitting ideas! Damn readers!”)

Immersion - and things you sometimes see from your writing desk IV

I wanted to show you the view from my writing desk in Wales, as it's a view which this week has been central to my psyche, apart of course from the scenarios of the novel. However, the mobile broadband signal isn't good enough for pics this morning (I think it must the wind, and not the clouds, as I've thought previously: there's no cloud down on the mountain), so I'll describe it instead: there are ash trees, and beyond them the blue-and-purple of Nantlle Ridge. I've been working really hard - not steadily as I intended, because it's really taken me over, and I need to take advantage of that. I've been writing in the mornings, typing up and editing the morning's writing in the afternoons, sometimes until six or seven o'clock in the evenings, by which time I have been exhausted and badly in need of just getting up from the chair. As a result, I've been out of touch with blogging and the internet generally, although every day I have (unrealistically) intended not to be...

The new typing chair has been great, though: I would never have managed such long hours without a lot more stiffness and RSI with the old Victorian chair...

Yesterday evening I finally got to the end of the first section of the book, and this morning, for the first time since I got here last Sunday, I am able to sit back and take stock and turn my attention for a moment to other things.

The days have been hot, apparently (though not nearly as hot up here on the mountain as I understand it is in England), but it's cool inside the house where I'm working. On one of the warmer days the swallows were teaching their young to fly right past the window, and one baby almost flew into the glass just as I looked up, only to realise its mistake just in time, which felt like some of the moves I was making with my narrative. Often when I look up I see goldfinch and yellowhammers and linnets flitting in the nearest tree. For the whole time a cuckoo has been calling, which puts paid to my long-term idea that cuckoos only call for the month of May, and for some reason I have found that really heartening: I love the idea of having one's longtime assumptions overturned, and I think the sense of that has been especially good for the novel. By the time I have emerged in the evenings it's become fairly nippy, one evening so cold that I wore three tops including a woolly jumper without getting too warm and could have done with gloves, even though John and I had a strenuous walk up the side of a mountain. This is a wonderful time of the year for writing, because it means that you can work for such long hours yet still have long light evenings for walking, which you really need to do, I think, when you've been static all day - and of course, it stays lighter longer here than in Manchester, being further west.

In the evenings too I have been reading Nuala Ni Chonchuir's really lovely novel, You, which she will be touring around the blogosphere from 7th July, stopping by here on the 14th. Usually when I'm writing so hard I find it very difficult to read - it's the disruptive wrench into another psyche and another language - but Nuala's book is so engaging and moving I'm having no trouble at all, and I'm really looking forward to talking to her about it on the tour.

We'll be here until Monday, and on the way back we'll be stopping off in Chester for the launch of Clare Dudman's new novel, A Place of Meadows and Tall Trees, which I'm also really looking forward to reading - and speaking of launches, I'm especially sorry to miss Charles Lambert's London launch next weekend for his new book from Picador, Any Human Face.

And by the time we leave I hope to be well into the second section of my novel...

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Flying with Magpies book tour: Debi Alper

Latest post for the virtual tour is up at the blog of Debi Alper, author of the feisty contemporary thrillers, Nirvana Bites and Trading Tatiana, where she generously provides a collection of resources about Too Many Mapgies, including an extract from the book and a short film in which I talk about it.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Here's hoping...

I've had a bit of a rest from the current novel recently, as I found I was getting very tired from working such long hours at it, and I just hope that as a result of that last I've truly cracked it and will be able to work at it more steadily from now on. Tomorrow we are off to Wales again for another week, and for my birthday John bought me a typing chair to use there - previously there I have used a very nice-looking but probably-very-bad-for-my-posture Victorian chair which he once bought in an auction - so I hope that next week I'll really make some inroads (so long as the carpenter doesn't turn up for the ongoing renovations, that is).

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Salt Reading Group: Interview

This week there's an interview with me on the Salt website about Too Many Magpies for the new Salt Reading Group, in which I'm asked, among other things, if I'm superstitious, and whether I believe we can be too rational and if there's room for a little magic in our lives...

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Flying with Magpies: Vanessa Gebbie's News

Today the virtual tour for Too Many Magpies stops at the blog of Words from a Glass Bubble author, Vanessa Gebbie. Vanessa was staying with me in the last couple of days, so, unusually for a virtual tour, we were able to conduct an interview in person. The night before Vanessa arrived I fell down a flight of stairs, and Vanessa uses this as a thematic springboard for a pretty wide-ranging discussion about not only Magpies but about my writing in general.

The fall was a pretty bad one, actually: I fell literally head over heels and knocked my head several times, but fortunately I have emerged with only soreness all down one side, several bumps on my head and a slight whiplash injury. I must say, though, that as I was falling and aware that my head was being knocked over and over, I really did think I'd had it, and those who have been following the progress of my current novel may be interested in the fact that as I lay on the floor at the bottom thinking I might be dying, the only other thing that went through my head was, 'Oh no, I never finished the novel!' followed by the next thought: 'Oh, well, in the greater scheme of things: another death, another lost novel, what does it really matter?'

Friday, June 11, 2010

Things you sometimes see from your writing desk III

Here's another image from the time, a couple of weeks ago, when I was getting going on the WIP, and which will now always be associated with it for me. It's a whitebeam tree with clematis growing all over it, and as usual I can't help finding a parallel with the novel: the new draft is taking over from the old one, but the old one is still sturdy and flowering away underneath, so (I hope) I'm getting the best of two worlds!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

New Salt Twitter Reading Group & how to preserve radio plays

I'm thrilled that Too Many Magpies is to be the first in a new Twitter Reading Group for Salt books, beginning right now. You can read about it here on the Salt blog, where you can also listen to a podcast of me reading from the novel. Next week there will be an interview with me, and at the end of the month there will be an open Twitter discussion about the book, so anyone on Twitter will be able to have their say (eek!). (Just search on Twitter for #SaltReadingGroup.) If you'd like to take part and haven't read the book yet there's still time to do so (it's not a long book!). (And you know where you can buy it, eh?)

In other news, yesterday I had a letter from someone calling herself a 'senior lady' saying that her recording of my radio play 'What Mummy and Daddy Do' had worn out (!) and could she possibly buy another from me to leave to her family after her days. This was a lovely accolade, but then I wondered where she could have got my address and realized it must have been from the BBC (which would have been her first port of call), and they must have destroyed their own copy - if they ever kept one in the first place, since the play was produced by an independent company. Makes me realise once more that I need to carefully hoard my own collection of my radio plays and make copies (and somehow covert those on tape cassettes to CDs: another reminder of the way that changing technology can lead to the loss of archives). Maybe I could start selling them... Must look at the contracts!

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Flying With Magpies: Barbara's Bleeuugh!

Winging back to Ireland today, and poet Barbara Smith's blog, for the tour for Too Many Magpies, where she gets me talking about the crucial issue of voice. She seems to have liked the novel, too, I'm thrilled to say: she calls it 'amazing' and says she read it in one sitting!

Sunday, June 06, 2010

New books and good bookshops.

I am failing in my reading now that I'm so engrossed in the novel. Here are three books which arrived weeks ago now, all by writers I know via the internet. Jenn Ashworth and I swapped our own novels via Twitter: I sent her Too Many Magpies and I got in return A Kind of Intimacy, which I have been interested to read for some time now - a novel with an unreliable narrator, one of my favourite novelistic modes - a woman with a secret in the past, I think. I sent off for Sarah Salway's Getting the Picture as soon as it was available (it's only just officially published), and it looks every bit as inventive yet readable as all her other work. Neither have I yet managed to read. Roast Books asked me if I'd like a copy of Nik Perring's flash fiction collection, Not So Perfect, and I couldn't resist, but I have only just got around to reading it, and Nik's launch has already been and gone. This book is striking for the concepts of the stories - a woman fills her house with post-it notes to remind herself of a lost lover, another woman vomits up animals, another actually spits fire, a man literally grows invisible as he fails to be acknowledged - and for the contrast in the determinedly deadpan prose in which they are told. Striking too is the format: fittingly for a book of flash fiction, the book is compact, indeed the size and shape of a CD, and quite lovingly produced, with illustrations - although, ex-typesetter as I am, I thought the number of 'widows' (a last line, the punchline, appearing all on its own over the page) was a shame, especially in a book of stories so very short, where the last line is often so important. Clearly, though, Roast Books have put a lot of thought and effort into the production and marketing of this book, and I'd say they are a new publisher to watch.

I was really sorry to miss the launch last week at the lovely Simply Books in Bramhall, as I was here in Wales. And speaking of my favourite bookshops, I haven't managed a browse in Caernarfon's Palas Print, as I've been shut away up the mountain with the novel each day, but the other evening I snapped their latest lovely window display: nature and wild flower books and those gorgeous paper cabbages and turnips:

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Stalking the novel

I've been up the mountain in Wales since Tuesday. The weather's been great but I have to say I've spent most of the time indoors - with the window wide open, I hasten to say - as I'm working really, really hard on the novel. I was very frustrated with it when I got here: I had been stuck for about four days on a particular section, which I must say I had thought pretty perfect in the last version of the book! I had decided that I needed to dramatize the scenes in it much more, but as soon as I began doing so, a different slant to the story began emerging, and I began to see possibilities and connections I hadn't seen before - I guess this is what people mean when they say that their characters take over from them. It wasn't gelling, though, and I was getting pretty fed up with it.

Usually when we get here, as soon as we've dumped our bags I want to rush straight down the mountain to sea - I was born by the sea, and setting foot on the beach is always like a coming home - but for once, this time, I didn't want to: I was just too involved with my novel (and quite frankly I even appear to have lost much desire to go out at all!) As soon as we got here I laid my papers out just as I'd had them laid out in Manchester (it was quite traumatic having to pick them up from there for travel) and all I wanted to do then was go for a wander near the house and come back and have a quick supper and get to bed and get on with the novel again early next day. So that's what we did, and saw the badger in the pic above.

At first I thought it was a rabbit - I saw a movement which disappeared, and thought no more about it. Then as I got closer to the place where it was, it emerged, and I saw it might be a badger but I wasn't sure. We crept closer, and it went on grazing, moving towards us, turning away so that we still couldn't see it properly, until finally, as we crept up towards it it turned towards us and we saw its striped face and I snapped.

And next day I cracked that section of the novel and afterwards I thought how like stalking that badger writing it had been: new aspects suddenly showing themselves, then seeming not to fit after all, then emerging again, and finally, as I circled around them, coming into focus.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Wikio Top UK Literature Blogs for June

This month I have a chance to give you a sneak preview of Wikio UK top literature blogs for the month - this blog is there at number six, so many many thanks to those whose visits and links have put it there!

1A Don's Life - Times Online WBLG (=)
2Pepys' Diary (+1)
3Dovegreyreader scribbles (+1)
4Cornflower (+2)
5Other Stories (+2)
6Elizabeth Baines (-4)
7Harriet Devine's Blog (+90) (-3)
9Asylum (+1)
10My Favourite Books (-2)
11BubbleCow (=)
12John Baker's Blog (+31)
13Ben's Bookcase (+1)
14Stuck In A Book (+39)
15The news feed (-6)
16Vulpes Libris (+15)
17Eve's Alexandria (+2)
18Peter Stothard - Times Online WBLG (-5)
19Books, Mud and Compost (-7)
20NextRead (-5)

Ranking by Wikio

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Flying with Magpies Book Tour: How to Write a Novel

Today my virtual tour for Too Many Magpies swoops down (do you think I'm stretching this metaphor too far, hee hee?) on the blog of Tom Vowler, How to Write a Novel, and in keeping with the thrust of his blog, Tom asks me chiefly about my writing methods.

Tom is now a fellow Salt author, as he is a winner of the coveted Scott Prize run by Salt, and I very much look forward to reading his winning collection when it's published in October.