not exactly true

For Books' Sake: The Weekend Read

My story 'A Quick Fiasco' has been reprinted today by the brilliant folk at For Books' Sake - shout out to Kerry Ryan! - as past of their 'The Weekend Read' feature; it's online and free, so have a look! I also love the picture they've picked to go with it. Ace!

For Books' Sake are a truly excellent organisation: in their own words, they were 'founded in response to insitutionalised, systemic sexism in the media, publishing and education industries' and their mission is 'to create a community that centres, supports and champions writing by women and girls, challenging inequality and empowering women and girls of all backgrounds to tell their stories and have their voices heard.' Great, right? My story is set in the context of political (and familial) unrest, and features a hardcore campaigning woman, so I'm especially pleased that Kerry asked me to take part. Check out the website- read, support, get involved!

The Forge Literary Magazine

I've been part of an online writers' collective, The Fiction Forge (formerly The Fiction Workhouse) for more than seven years now. It's a workshop group, at heart - we post drafts of our stories and critique them at length, and occasionally hold madcap writing exercises - and some of my most trusted beta-readers are amongst our members. At the moment we've got people here in the UK, in Italy, in the USA and in Singapore, so there's a real spread of voices. Anyway, last year we thought, hey, we write and we read, we're decent editors (I've worked at The Manchester Review, some others have edited Fourteen Hills, somebody else had a brief stint behind the scenes at Granta) - so why not start our own online magazine, eh? And so, we did.

The Forge Literary Magazine launched at the start of January. We've got a team of volunteer rotating editors (me included) so we don't have a house style as such - we're too eclectic for that - though we do all prefer to see pieces come in at sub-3k. We take fiction (short stories and flash fiction) and non-fiction, and we pay our writers. We don't charge for submissions. So far we're running at a turnaround of two or three days, on average, in terms of responding to writers. We publish a new piece each Monday. Every story is read by two of us (randomly assigned) in the first instance, and each month there's a pair of Editors of the Month who get the final call on what they want to publish. So far, we've had work from Janice Galloway, Nona Caspers, Roxane Gay and Kevin Barry, and coming up, we've got Emma Jane Unsworth and more. But it's not a closed circuit of writers-who-know-writers: we've also already got truly amazing work lined up from open submissions, including a fantastic story from a brand-new writer. Along with Sommer Schafer, I'm one of the Editors of the Month reading for our April slots, and I would love to see what you've got.

Reading List 2016

Man, looking over the last few years' versions of this list (see sidebar for links) I'm reading about thirty books fewer a year since I started this PhD - not counting academic texts - which is pretty depressing, really. Anyway, new year, new books. This year's resolution (I have a terrible track record of sticking to these things - still haven't read all of Proust, for instance) is first, to clear the shelves of books that have been building up for years and years, and at least keep the lag to 'within eighteen months of purchase', and second, to get back up to a two-a-week average. What are the odds? Minimal, I reckon - 2016 is chock-full of life-insanity (more details to come, etc. blah blah). Well, still: let's go... [Edit: hey, bet you can't spot when in the year I finally got the thesis submitted, eh?!]

64. Hearing Voices/Seeing Things, William Wall. Brilliant story collection.
63. The Sellout, Paul Beatty. Booker winner. Impressive but I didn't love it.

62. Ferenji, Helena Mulkerns
61. Hag-Seed, Margaret Atwood. Disappointing adaptation of The Tempest.
60. The Tempest, William Shakespeare. Good, innit?
59. All the Rage, AL Kennedy. Stories. Some I liked, some I didn't.
58. Serious Sweet, AL Kennedy. Interesting but not quite for me (reviewing coming on Bookmunch).

57. Commonwealth, Ann Patchett. Brilliant account of a messed up family.
56. The Lesser Bohemians, Eimear McBride. Superb. Outstanding. All the good adjectives.
55. Beautiful Pictures of the Lost Homeland, Mia Gallagher. Ambitious and brilliant novel: worth its 500 pages.

54. Fullalove, Gordon Burn. My first of his. Masterful and fascinating, but tiring in a sort of Will Self kind of way.
53. People in Glass Houses, Shirley Hazzard. Linked stories set in a multinational corporation. Brilliant.
52. The Emerald Light in the Air, Donald Antrim. Stories. Good stuff as usual from Antrim.

51. Wild Quiet, Roisín O'Donnell. Multi-cultural Ireland finally reaches the short story.
50. All Quiet on the Orient Express, Magnus Mills. Quietly insane, like all his books. Loved it.
49. The Shore, Sara Taylor. A short story cycle set on a trio of islands off the coast of Virginia. Grew on me and by the end I was really hooked.
48. The Wallcreeper, Nell Zink. Bonkers novel about environmental campaigns and a dysfunctional marriage. Snappy, witty, really engaging.
47. The Loney, Andrew Michael Hurley. A horror story set in Lancashire (cheery summer reading, eh?). If you like The Wicker Man, etc.
46. Fell, Jenn Ashworth, Ghost story set in Lancashire. Lovely writing.
45. The Story of the Lost Child, Elena Ferrante. Last one. Addictive reads, so intricate and thought-provoking. Got to buy her earlier books now...
44. Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, Elena Ferrante. Part three. Great!

43. The Story of a New Name, Elena Ferrante. Part two - compulsive read.
42. The Vegetarian, Han Kang. Weird, fascinating novel.
41. My Brilliant Friend, Elena Ferrante. First of the series. Pretty compulsive; sort of like a classy soap-opera-slash-crime-family-saga.
40. Harmless Like You, Rowan Hisayo Buchanan. Debut novel.
39. June, Gerbrand Bakker. Thoughtful Faulkner-esque novel about a Dutch family.
38. The Abundance, Annie Dillard. Superb essays.
37. Iron Council, China Mieville. Even looser sequel to the other two. More North and South than sci-fi; politically right-on (for me) but hard to engage with. Wasn't keen.
36. The Scar, Chin Mielville. Loose sequel to the below. A little slower to kick off but equally page-turning.
35. Perdido Street Station, China Mieville. a reread. Creepy and vibrant and weird as hell.

34. The Mandelbaum Gate, Muriel Spark. Good, witty as ever, but not my favourite of hers.
33. Solar Bones, Mike McCormack. Stunning second novel.
32. Object Lessons, ed, Lori Stein. Story anthology from The Paris Review. Really interesting.
31. The Way In, John McAuliffe. Poetry collection I've been reading on and off for ages. Brilliant stuff by my friend and colleague and former lecturer.
30. The BBC National Short Story Award 2013. Shortlisted/winning stories. Short but good.
29. The Long Gaze Back, ed. Sinead Gleeson. Collection of stories (new and old) from Irish women writers. Some really fantastic entries - as usual I loved Lisa McInerney's contribution.
28. Forensic Songs, Mike McCormack. Story collection. Decent.
27. Silent Spring, Rachel Carson. Non-fiction classic. Brilliant (if terrifying).
26. Blind Water Pass, Anna Metcalfe. Good collection.
25. Selected Stories, Mary Lavin. Very powerful selection from across Lavin's career.
24. The Magician's Land, Lev Grossman. Final part to the trilogy. Loved them all.
23. The Magician King, Lev Grossman. Sequel to the below; also great.

22. *The Magicians, Lev Grossman. A reread; they call it Harry Potter for adults. Gripping and utterly page-turning with great prose. (A post-PhD-hand-in treat; one of several to come!)
21. The Bed Moved, Rebecca Schiff. Short story collection.
20. Black Water, Louise Doughty. Sort of a spy thriller slash love story, but not really: compelling.
19. Hot Milk, Deborah Levy. Intriguing novel about parents and kids.

18. The Sunlight Pilgrims, Jenni Fagan. Beautiful novel about the (potential) end of the world.
17. The Panopticon, Jenni Fagan. Grim as fuck novel about a teen in care - really great though.
16. Unthology 8, ed. Ashley Stokes, Robin Jones. Story anthology - decent stuff.

15. Pleasured, Philip Hensher. Intertwined lives in Berlin just before the Wall comes down.
14. My Romance, Gordon Lish. Slightly weird meta-fictional text: novel or sort-of-memoir? Not my favourite of his, anyway (Dear Mr Capote takes the top spot, I reckon).
13. The Book of Revelation, Rupert Thomson. Disturbing, thought-provoking.
12. American Housewife, Helen Ellis. Energetic, but a mixed bag.
11. Barbara The Slut, Lauren Holmes. Excellent story collection, very funny.
10. Light Box, K.J. Orr. Short stories: interesting.
9. Where Love Begins, Judith Hermann. Creepy story about stalking in German suburbia.

8. Master Georgie, Beryl Bainbridge. Beautiful prose. Sad, elliptical story.
7. Asking For It, Louise O'Neill. Powerful YA novel about rape/consent. Should be required reading for everyone, boys and girls.
6. Dinosaurs on Other Planets, Danielle McLaughlin. Excellent story collection.
5. Daughters of the House, Michèle Roberts. Beautiful, biting prose.
4. MaddAddam, Margaret Atwood. Wasn't too keen; too much summary, not so much on character or forward-moving plot.
3. *The Year of the Flood, Margaret Atwood. Reread before I hit the final volume of the trilogy. Great stuff - better than I remembered.
2. Falling In Place, Ann Beattie. Fantastic writing but I took too long over it; started to lose interest.
1. Kid, Simon Armitage. Poetry (unusual for me). Quite enjoyed it.

'A Quick Fiasco' in Fugue, Issue 48


My story, 'A Quick Fiasco', has been published in Issue 48 of Fugue, the literary journal of the University of Idaho. It's part of my PhD manuscript and it's been a long time in the works, so if you read it, I hope you like it! It's got high drama and lots of swearing and I'm told it's pretty funny... It's the last story in the issue, p.85, and you can read it online for zero pounds.

I also have three shorter pieces in the latest issue of Sou'wester, which comes out of Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, and is ace: this journal isn't online but you can buy it from the website for $5 if you're so inclined. The stories are called 'Land Grab', 'Scrap' and 'Consent': 'Scrap' as shortlisted for the Bridport Prize in 2014, and 'Consent' in 2013, so it's great to see them in print.

What news? What news?

So, the PhD continues, and I'll tell you, writing what is effectively two books side-by-side is really a demented task. But if you're at a pub quiz and they toss you a zinger on time and narrative, or the temporality of trauma, or the narrativization of identity, or how one might variously contextualise the short story cycle, well! I'll be your phone-a-friend.

In the meanwhile, I'm really psyched that one of the stories I've been working on for the creative bit of the project is going to be published in a few weeks in the excellent and ever-so-attractive US journal, Fugue. That particular story was the first one I started when I enrolled on the programme so it's especially sweet that it's getting out there. I'll link the crap out of it as and when...

I've got some flash fiction pieces forthcoming later this year in Sou'wester, as well, so more on that when the time is right, too.

Meanwhile in the here and now: Andy (my partner) has got a show opening in Preston's Hanover Project gallery, opening next Tuesday (24th February); he's over there installing it today, and if any of you are in the North West, or fancy travelling, we'd love to see you at the preview:

Reading List 2015

Well, so last year it seems I read substantially fewer books than usual: that's the grim side-effect of the PhD, once again. Who knew research was that time-consuming? But also maybe it's to do with my lessening patience for bad books; I started quite a lot of books that I abandoned after fifty pages - Fay Weldon, Hanif Kureishi, I'm looking at you - which makes for a sizeable amount of 'wasted' time. And my 'project' (cue sheepish expression) of reading all of Proust? Well, I got two books in. That's good, right? I will read the rest, I swear. But, this year? Eh, I want to start clearing off the scary pile of unread books so that I can reclaim some shelf-space upstairs - I made a start at this in November, when I was off sick for a couple of weeks - but that's about it. The plan is to submit my PhD in September, so I don't really need any more resolutions on top of that. I'm still reviewing and I'm still in my local book club, so that accounts for a fair bit of my reading anyway. I've already started the year well, with Skippy Dies, so that's either a good omen of things to come or a very early pinnacle...

80. Winter Pages, Volume 1. Excellent new arts anthology from Ireland.
79. The Devil I Know, Claire Kilroy. Not bad.
78. Lila, Marilynne Robinson. Intense and very moving.
77. Paulina & Fran, Rachel B. Glaser. Intense novel about female friendship/
76. Cockfosters, Helen Simpson. Decent collection, but preferred her earlier work.
75. Getting it in the Head, Mike McCormack. Short stories. Pretty gruesome, definitely interesting...
74. The Spinning Heart, Donal Ryan. Really strongly voiced.
73. spill simmer falter wither, Sara Baume. Stunning debut novel - descriptions to die for.

72. Congregation of Innocents: Five Curious Tales. Ghost stories! Particularly liked Richard Hirst's contribution.
71. Short Fiction Issue 9: Awful Plumage. Short story journal, art by David Shrigley.
70. The Best Small Fictions 2015, ed. Robert Olen Butler. Anthology, mixed, some stellar pieces.
69. Undermajordomo Minor, Patrick deWitt. Wasn't keen, but still want to read The Sisters Brothers.
68. The Mark and the Void, Paul Murray. Really funny; a banker and a novelist meet in the midst of the Irish financial collapse.
67. We Don't Know What We're Doing, Thomas Morris. Story collection from the editor of The Stinging Fly. Great stuff.

66. The Sixth Extinction, Elizabeth Kolbert. Fascinating, if very depressing, non-fiction read about how humans are making everything extinct...
65. The House of Mirth, Edith Wharton. Fantastic: so sharp, witty and sad.
64. American Gods, Neil Gaiman. I guess this is heresy online, but I was half-hearted. I love Stephen King and Terry Pratchett, etc, but this never really took off for me.
63. The Making of Zombie Wars, Aleksander Hemon. Disappointing.
62. We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Shirley Jackson. Creepy, compelling, brilliant.
61. *Accidents in the Home, Tessa Hadley. PhD reread. Great book.

60. A Kind of Compass, ed. Belinda McKeon. Short stories. Very diverse.
59. The North Water, Ian McGuire. Brutal, haunting, and visceral historical thriller on a whaling boat. Ian's my PhD supervisor, so I'm biased, but this is a fucking brilliant book.
58. The First Bad Man, Miranda July. Oddball, funny, very moving novel.
57. The Girl Missing from the Window, Paul O'Reilly. Short stories. Deceptively powerful.
56. Beatlebone, Kevin Barry. Pretty odd, great prose, not sure about structure.
55. Noonday, Pat Barker. Last book in the Life Class trilogy. Pretty good.

54. Clemency Browne Dreams of Gin, Órfhlaith Foyle. Story collection.
53. This Party's Got To Stop, Rupert Thomson. Another memoir, also great.
52. Giving Up The Ghost, Hilary Mantel. Memoir. Beautiful and sad. There's no beating Mantel, dudes.

51. The Book of Strange New Things, Michel Faber. Weird. A missionary in an alien world.
50. All Over Ireland, ed. Deirdre Madden. Story collection; not a patch on Town & Country, its predecessor from a couple of years back.
49. Bird By Bird, Anne Lamott. I'm not one for inspirational manuals, but this is a bloody excellent book on the frustrations and rewards of writing.
48. Howards End, EM Forster. Much funnier than I expected.
47. Your Fathers, Where Are They? And the Prophets, Do They Live Forever?, Dave Eggers. Interesting/funny portrait of a disenfranchised madman, but something of a one-trick-pony throughout.
46. Only Ever Yours, Louise O'Neill. Gripping dystopian novel that totally dissect male/female sexual power relations.
45. For The Love of a Good Woman, Alice Munro. Brilliant (of course).
44. Indiana Review, 37:1.
43. The Age of Wire and String, Ben Marcus. Completely mental story collection.

42. The Incarnations, Susan Barker. Really gripping story/stories of China thorough the ages.
41. Waiting for the Bullet, Madeleine D'Arcy. Short stories. Terse, funny, sharp.
40. About Grace, Anthony Doerr. Beautiful prose. Family, fate, fear.
39. Unthology 7. Short story anthology - a mix, a couple of great ones.
38. Hope, Laura Hird. Short stories. Pretty grim.
37. Ground Control, Anna Minton. Non-fiction about the control of public/private space in New Labour Britain (and beyond): super-depressing!

36. Nora Webster, Colm Toibin. Very tender. Took me a while to settle into it; worth the effort. Great dialogue.
35. Outline, Rachel Cusk. Though-provoking.
34. Family Life, Akhil Sharma. Good - better than I expected.
33. In Search of Solace, Emily Mackie. Disappointing.
32. All The Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr. Amazing. Beautiful, beautiful prose.
31. Pond, Claire-Louise Bennett. Short stories - if you like Lyda David, Jenny Offill, Renata Adler, Nicholson Baker, then you'll like this. Top stuff.
30. In Real Life, Chris Killen. Funny stuff.
29. Lives of Girls and Women, Alice Munro

28. The Wolf Border, Sarah Hall. Good stuff, though not quite my favourite of hers.
27. H is for Hawk, Helen Macdonald. Superb non-fiction account of grief and falconry.
26. The Hennessy Book of Irish Fiction 2015-2015, ed. Dermot Bolger, Ciaran Carty. Some brilliant stories in here.
25. All My Puny Sorrows, Miriam Toews. Tragic and a half. Very good.
24. The Long Falling, Keith Ridgway. A family drama played out against the backdrop of Ireland's X Case in 1992; not my favourite of his books.
23. History of the Rain, Niall Williams. Didn't enjoy it at first, but was captivated by the end. The style is very...exuberant.

22. On the Edge of the Cliff: Selected Short Stories, VS Pritchett. Great stuff.
21. An Evening of Long Goodbyes, Paul Murray. Brilliant - A Confederacy of Dunces meets Brideshead Revisited meets Dan & Becs.
20. The Isle of Youth, Laura van den Berg. Again, fell a bit flat for me.
19. Aquarium, David Vann. Disappointing.
18. The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, David Mitchell. Kinda dull, then excellent second half.
17. Get in Trouble, Kelly Link. Very good short story collection.

16. The End of Vandalism, Tom Drury. Liked it better as it went along; very dry, low-key wit.
15. The Miniaturist, Jessie Burton. For my book club. Twee. Very book-club-tastic; not my style.
14. Sunstroke, Tessa Hadley. Short stories. Sharp, precise, incisive.
13. Accidents in the Home, Tessa Hadley. Excellent: parenthood, affairs, families, all very non-cliched.
12. Ghost Story, Toby Litt. A couple struggle after they lose a child in late pregnancy. Wasn't keen.
11. The Glorious Heresies, Lisa McInerney. Brilliant début.

10. How to Speak Money, John Lanchester. Excellent non-fiction book on money/economics.
9. Dept. of Speculation, Jenny Offill. Again, interesting: aphoristic novel about a marriage.
8. The Stinging Fly, Issue 27, Vol. 2 (Spring 2014). Interesting selection.
7. To Rise Again at a Decent Hour, Joshua Ferris. Not my favourite of his, but it shows again the breadth of his range - amazing.
6. Twenty Under Thirty-Five, various. Story anthology from 1988 - very, very mixed bag.
5. Drinking Coffee Elsewhere, ZZ Packer. Superb story collection.
4. A Song for Issy Bradley, Carys Bray. Beautifully sad. Reminds me a lot of Ann Patchett.
3. Poor Souls' Light, Curious Tales. Scary Christmas stories. Tom Fletcher's and Richard Hirst's tales were SUPER creepy.
2. SHORT FICTION 7, various authors. Especially liked Frances Gapper's and Jenn Ashworth's pieces.
1. Skippy Dies, Paul Murray. Superb - great plot and characters and fantastic style. High five, Paul!