Friday, December 20, 2013

New Review of Red Room

I was in the city centre yesterday afternoon - in Primark, actually, getting socks and marvelling at others buying reindeer-printed knickers and pink-spotted onesies - when a notice came through on my phone of a new, really enthusiastic review of Red Room. Kathryn Eastman of the Nut Press blog finds the book a 'strong collection' and seems to love every story in it, assuring her readers that 'once you finish, you'll want to dip back in again.'

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Too Many Magpies and The Birth Machine now on Kindle.

From time to time people have written to me and asked whether my books are on Kindle, and I'm delighted now to announce that two of my Salt books are.

For those who don't know, Too Many Magpies is a short novel about our sense that the world is a newly dangerous place, and in which a young mother married to a scientist and putting her faith in rationality is suddenly swept off her feet by a mysterious stranger with a very different view of the world. It's a question really (in the book) of how we look at things: do we believe in magic or do we put our faith in science? It's not a simple question, of course, because although true science is based on rationality and empiricism, a lot of so-called scientific practice has been based in faith, often replacing hypothesis with untested certainty. (Funnily enough,  I came into the room last night in the middle of a TV programme John was watching, about the truly lethal character of much in the Victorian environment - including clothing, household goods and even food additives, some of them thought at the time to be health-giving, and advertised as 'pure'.)

The Birth Machine is even more directly concerned with the tendency of applied scientists to base their calculations in leaps of faith and to leave unknown factors out of the equation. The focus here is on the practice of obstetrics - the protagonist, Zelda, is about to give birth -  but also on wider issues of who owns the right to knowledge and the power of language (the language of science, the language of fairy tales etc) to shape our reality and thus our fates, and as Zelda sinks under the influence of drugs, dark secrets are dragged up from her past.

I don't know about you, but I'm finding my relationship with the electronic side of books changing all the time. To begin with, I didn't even use my Kindle very often, but I've come to find it indispensable for travelling and for when I really just can't wait two or three days to get a book - or indeed to get a book while I'm away from home without a nearby bookshop and won't be back for a while to get my post. And talking of magic: there really is nothing like suddenly wanting to read a book and simply pressing a button or two and having it right there in less than a minute!

And as for writing: as I said a few posts ago, while I've always banged on in the past about my need to write a first draft by hand, I'm now finding I'm writing more and more straight to the computer...

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

East of the Web

I'm delighted that another of my stories is to be published in the online magazine, East of the Web. If you don't already know East of the Web I recommend that you pay a visit: it's a fount of stories. Everything they've ever published is there online, easily accessible, and there's an amazing variety, something to suit every taste, while the standard is consistently high. It's definitely a place one is proud to place a story. I've got two stories proudly on there already: 'Compass and Torch' and 'A Glossary of Bread' (both now collected in Balancing on the Edge of the World). They were both stories I'd previously found hard to place: I think the problem with 'Glossary' was that it's a bit off the wall in its form (it's structured around definitions of bread), but I'm not quite sure what the problem was with 'Compass and Torch' which I see as a pretty traditional piece. In any case, East of the Web believed in them both, different as they are, and were vindicated: 'Glossary' was afterwards published again in the prestigious lit mag Stand, and 'Compass and Torch' was picked off the site for an English school textbook, and by the AQA examining board, whose GCSE syllabus it ended up on. That's how significant East of the Web is. Among the most recent publications there is a story by Ailsa Cox, my one-time co-editor on Metropolitan short-story magazine.

My new story, 'Falling,' was shortlisted and Highly Commended in the Sean O'Faolain competition.