not exactly true

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...

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 d├ębut.

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!

Best American Poetry

Rather insanely, it's taken me over a week to pimp my latest ware - you'd think I wasn't perpetually hooked to the internet, wouldn't you? But you'd be WRONG. So, last week, Alan Ziegler over at the blog associated with the Best American Poetry site (them of the fancy anthology!) featured one of my flash fiction pieces in a post about short prose forms. This is brilliant for numerous reasons, not least because Erin Morgenstern, of The Night Circus fame, is also on the list: how cool is that? My story originally appeared in PANK online a few years ago, so kudos again to Roxane Gay for accepting it in the first place. Hurrays all around!

How is it Freshers' Week already again?

So, the shortlist emails came out a few weeks ago for this year's Bridport Prize; it turns out I've been listed again for flash fiction, for two separate stories this time, which means I've got four (sub-250 word) stories on my hard drive that have been commended by the Bridport judges. Which, of course, is nice. The shortlisted stories don't go any further - you have to be in the top six to be a contender for the main prizes - so I've got them all out on multiple submission (as usual). Fingers crossed, etc. I've also got a couple of much, much long stories doing the submission rounds. It's a waiting/numbers game to a certain extent - this publication business - so, again, we'll see what happens. In the meantime, I have a pretty nifty online publication coming up very soon - watch this space.

IRL, we went to Paris on holidays back in August, and - drumroll! - got engaged! Don't stay tuned for wedding pics in the near future, mind; I've got a PhD to finish first. On that front, I'm very busy - editing chapters of the critical component of my thesis and drafting/redrafting stories for the creative. One year to go - in fact, my submission date is one year yesterday. Next semester, I'll be running the second-year fiction writing seminar here at the University of Manchester; this semester I'm not teaching, but writing like a maniac. Well! Scheduling alternations mean I am now teaching this semester; fiction writing workshops with the second years in the University's new English & Creative Writing programme. Very much looking forward to getting stuck in, now: roll on Week One!

In November I'll be running a flash fiction workshop for Chorlton Book Festival for 11-16 year-olds; if you (or your kids) are in that age-group, it's on the afternoon of November 17th. There'll be spaces for up to twenty participants. The programme isn't online yet, but I'll stick up a link as and when.

And - non-writing related - I urge you to check out this blog post and consider donating to a very good cause. A dear friend of a very good friend of mine is terminally ill with bowel cancer and is running six marathons in six months to raise awareness and funds for various cancer charities. I don't know Ben myself, though I know people very close to him, and his story is both heartbreaking and inspiring - and while that sounds cliched, I've rarely some across a real-life case that fits that particular description more aptly than Ben's. He's been blogging about his training, his races and his situation for months, now, and this particular entry really sums it all up. It probably will - and probably should - make you cry.

Mark Watson's Hotel Alpha (and associated stories!)

Joe over at The Bristol Prize has kindly drawn my attention to an interesting new book/project/experiment: Mark Watson, comedian and novelist, has a new book out today, called Hotel Alpha. My confession, of course, is that I haven't read it yet (though the publishers are very kindly sending me a copy right now - thanks, guys!), but I do love the idea: it's about a hotel and all the goings-on inside it, in the mode of Vicky Baum's Grand Hotel, or Perec's Life A User's Manual, or, getting all cross-genre, maybe Chris Ware's Building Stories (which you've got to read if you haven't already. I mean it.). Anyway, what caught my interest, and why Joe flagged it up for me, is the extradiegetic bits, or, in non-academic speak, the added extras that exist outside the bound book itself. Watson's written a hundred additional stories to compliment/reinforce/expand the novel in an encyclopaedic way, making it all polyphonic and less teleological and closed-off - which speaks to my PhD research into the short-story cycle. Watson's book isn't a cycle by my definition, but he's interested in what he calls the encyclopaedic novel and this project explores the digital/non-digital world of storytelling in a way that expands the reading experience (though without, say, the more graphically-inclined elements of Geoff Ryman's similar publication, 253). Anyway, it's pretty cool, so to help Mark launch the book, I'm including here his own explanatory afterword:

Hotel Alpha is designed to be read in two stages. There is the novel which you have just finished and, I hope, enjoyed – unless you’re one of those people who always flick to the back first. Then there are one hundred extra stories, which appear on a website: You will find eight of them here, once you turn the page. The extra stories span the same time period as the novel. They shine an alternative light on the plot, show the hidden links between some of its main events, solve mysteries, and give voice to some of the thousands of minor characters and dramas which make up the life of the Hotel Alpha while the main story is playing out. They can be read in any order and in any quantity. Or, of course, you can ignore them altogether – it’s entirely up to you. 
Everyone knows that human stories are always bigger and more complex than they appear – the relationships and con- nections between us all are infinite, and a book can only do so much. The Internet, though, removes the physical limitations of the novel, opening up possibilities that have never before existed for readers and writers. We can now choose how much of a story we want to tell, and how much of it we want to know: in theory we can keep going forever. The one hundred extra stories of Hotel Alpha don’t quite go that far, and you as a reader prob- ably have other plans for the rest of your life. But it’s a start . . . 
Mark Watson, May 2014 

And here's one of those self-same one hundred stories in order to whet your appetite....

Story 31: Alpha Bar, 1971 

They pose, eight of the lads, four at the front and four at the back. The famous trophy, full of champagne, on a table in front of them. And crouched down at the front, as if he’d won the thing himself, is Howard York. Bloke whose gaff this is. His wife is pointing the Polaroid at them. 
Since the moment the final whistle went, it’s gone by in a haze. People ruffling his hair, shouting, draping their scarves round his neck. Up the steps to the Royal Box to collect the cup. Lifting it for the whole of Wembley to see. The roar of the fans. The splash of empty seats across half of the stadium, vacated by the other team’s supporters who pissed off home as soon as the game ended. Flags waving, people grabbing him. Finally back in the changing room. A sense of the euphoria already beginning to cool, exhaustion muscling in. The big bath already full of filthy foam. Into the big bath as the kit man handed round cans of beer. Beers in the bath! You know you’ve won the FA Cup when that happens. Even the boss was happy. Even that miserable bastard, happy. 
Into the bath. Shorts off, thrown aside. Quickly under the waterline, feeling the slop of it against his skin. Into the bath. He had to be so careful. He always has to be so careful. Avoiding everyone’s eyes. The paint peeling on the wall; always expected Wembley to be a bit smarter. It’s in surprisingly poor nick. All these thoughts were useful. They took his mind away from Frank, from his long, strong body. From the male flesh all around. Just think of anything else, he told himself. If you ever want to have a career again. If you don’t want someone to break your fucking legs. Don’t look at anyone. Don’t let yourself think about it. 
To get out of the water with an erection, that would be the end of everything. The same day he won the FA Cup. He would be finished. 
‘And one more!’ says the woman, her hair cascading down over her face; she laughs and flicks it out of her eyes and swats it out of the way of the viewfinder. ‘One more, for Howard. He’s always been such a big fan of … of, I’m sorry, what team are you again?’ 
Everyone laughs, including Frank – who normally hates these sort of arseholes, hangers-on, people who attach themselves to a team on the good days. Even Frank. Oh, Frank’s hand on his back. The flash momentarily blinds them, and spots of white light dance in front of his eyes. 
There must come a time, he thinks, when this is normal. When people see it as normal. Two men. There are places where it already happens. There must be so many people out there. If he was standing here in this place, with these blokes, thirty years from now, would it matter if he wanted to touch one of them? There’s no way of knowing. And anyway, he’s here now. In thirty years only his photo will still be here, the photo just taken in which he has forced a convincing smile onto his face; a picture destined to hang in a frame behind the reception desk, preserving for future generations a version of himself that looks perfectly, eternally happy.

So, if you liked that, head over to to check out the other ninety-nine!