44: epic fail

What a week. I also didn't get shortlisted for this. I guess this means that writing something in two days, realising it's twice the required length and hacking it up while hungover after a wedding, doesn't necessarily result in Christopher Eccleston reading it out loud. I don't know about you, but I'm a little surprised. Maybe I should rethink my methodologies. But they don't pay me to think. Actually, they don't pay me at all. Damn it. I'll rethink nothing. I'll be as slapdash as I like, and someday I'll get my reward. Or steal it from someone else. Whatever. Shut up.

43: Maria Deira

I was reading Maria Deira's story on Pequin and then I found this on Word Riot. I like Maria.

42: fail

Well, it seems that I've not been shortlisted for the Grist competition. For some reason, the longer the wait between submitting something and getting a response, the more optimistic (or at least, neutrally calm) I get about my chances of success, which is a bit strange, since in the immediate days or weeks after submissions I get fiercely pessimistic about it all, and I tend towards doom and gloom anyway, with dire predictions of catastrophic horror peppering most of my conversations. (I'm looking to my colleagues and my beleaguered partner for confirmation here.) And yet, I was unreasonably optimistic about this competition. Probably because there was an entry fee, and if they have my money, then there's voodoo afoot, and I must surely win! (Only my money does voodoo - not yours.) That'll learn me: my voodoo needs an MOT. Now, I haven't been submitting at all recently, so I'm going to have to have a scout around for somewhere else to send this particular story. Goddamn: effort? What's going on here? I did not sign up for this kind of pain. I want the magic winning, people.

2009 Reading List

What I was reading (when I probably should have been working) in 2009.  An asterisk means it was required reading for my Creative Writing MA.

108. After The Fire, A Still Small Voice, Evie Wyld.  Very strong writing but never really came alive for me.
107. The Year of the Flood, Margaret Atwood.  Not bad, entertaining, but not breaking new ground.
106. Air, Geoff Ryman. Brilliant SF-ish novel about change and time and villages and all sorts.
105. Incredible Bodies, Ian McGuire. Massively entertaining campus novel, made me laugh out loud.
104. Aliens in the Prime of Their Lives, Brad Watson.  A mixed bag of stories.
103. The Heaven of Mercury, Brad Watson.  Really disappointing.
102. Oryx and Crake, Margaret Atwood. Reread before I get the new one at Christmas. Bit heavy-handed.
101. *Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, Alan Sillitoe.  MA reread; enjoyed it again.
100. *The Girls Of Slender Means, Muriel Spark. MA reread.  Does this count - twice in one year? Still great.
99. The Ticking Is The Bomb, Nick Flynn.  Very powerful look at Abu Ghraib, etc. See review.
98. Consider The Lilies, Carol Fenlon. Interesting novel looking at feral children.
97. The Last Days Of The Dog Men, Brad Watson.  Amazing and poignant short stories - beautiful.
96. An Experiment in Love, Hilary Mantel. Strong contender for my Read of the Year.
95. Nobody Move, Denis Johnson. Hmmm. Great, but was more of a stretched-out novella.
94. *By Night in Chile, Roberto Bolano. Good, but I still prefer The Savage Detectives.
93. *Goodbye, Columbus, Philip Roth. My favourite of his, I think.
92. Small Memories, Jose Saramago. Memoirs of his childhood. Funny & entertaining.
91. Mysteries and Manners, Flannery O'Connor.  Essays, mainly about writing, region & religion.  Good.
90. *Labyrinths, Jorge Borges. Interesting stories.
89. *A Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess.  MA reread.  Horrorshow!
88. Madame Verona Comes Down The Hill, Dimitri Verhulst. See my Bookmunch review.
87. Jesus' Son, Denis Johnson.  I'll say it again - I love Mr Johnson. Great stories.
86. When It Changed, ed. Geoff Ryman. Great new SF collection from Comma.
85. *The End Of The Affair, Graham Greene.  Reread for MA. Wonderful; really bitter-sweet.
84. *Mrs Dalloway, Virgina Woolf.  Reread for MA.  Still love it, and so sharp.
83. The White Road and Other Stories, Tania Hershman.  First full collection of flash fiction I've read.
82. *The History Man, Malcolm Bradbury.  A reread for the MA; funnier than I remembered it being.
81. *On Writing, Stephen King.  Half how-to book, half memoir; entertaining and useful.
80. *White Noise, Don DeLillo. A reread, and a great one.
79. The Stepford Wives, Ira Levin. A short and easy read, but tense and chilling.
78. The Raw Shark Texts, Steven Hall. Thrilling and clever.  Total recommendation.  Read this.
77. *Madame Bovary, Gustav Flaubert.  An MA re-read. I'd forgotten how funny this is.
76. Scorch Atlas, Blake Butler.  Horrific, nightmarish, brutal - excellent!
75. *Aspects Of The Novel, E.M. Forster.  Fancy, yeah? Oddly, not so facinating.
74. *The Girls of Slender Means, Muriel Spark. Very acute and funny.  Good old Muriel.
73. *Austerlitz, W. G. Sebald. Interesting, very quick read for quite a long book too.
72. *What Maisie Knew, Henry James. Kind of difficult to follow, tbh.
71. The Broom Of The System, David Foster Wallace. Brilliant brilliant brilliant brilliant etc
70. This Is How, M.J. Hyland. Good, but petered out by the end, I thought.
69. Girl Meets Boy, Ali Smith. Lovely. Smith's prose is beautiful.
68. Bid Me To Live, H.D. Bit too flowery and impressionistic.
67. The Rehearsal, Eleanor Catton. Interesting technique, but didn't do it for me.
66. The White Tiger, Aravind Adiga. Very overrated, methinks. (Hey - 66 - Almost satanic.)
65. Angels, Denis Johnson. I love Johnson.
64. Quicksand, Jun'ichiro Tanizaki. Enjoyed it. Very quick to read.
63. The Day of Forever, J. G. Ballard. Some great stories, some left me cold.
62. Candide, Voltaire. Very funny - why didn't I read this years ago?
61. The Fatal Eggs, Mikhail Bulgakov. Meh - some very funny bits but not all that amazing.
60. In Search of Adam, Caroline Smailes. Brilliant voice, incredibly moving.
59. Tuck Everlasting, Natalie Babbitt. Perfect.
58. When We Were Bad, Charlotte Mendelson. This grew on me as it went along.
57. The Restraint of Beasts, Magnus Mills. Funny.
56. The Right Hand of Sleep, John Wray. Well written but very stiff.
55. Tough, Tough Toys for Tough, Tough Boys, Will Self. Great stories.
54. Waiting For The Barbarians, J. M. Coetzee. Understated, powerful, horrific - as advertised!
53. Man Gone Down, Michael Thomas. Maybe a little too loose.
52. Death at Intervals, Jose Saramago. Thought-provoking as ever.
51. Europeana, Patrik Ourednik. Cool!
50. Family Matters, Rohinton Mistry. Very moving.
49. Words From A Glass Bubble, Vanessa Gebbie. Very strong collection of shorts.
48. The Year Of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion. Sensitive analysis of mourning & grief.
47. Brace, ed. Jim Hinks. Comma Press short fiction anthology. Good stuff.
46. Day, A.L. Kennedy. Astoundingly good. I adored this. Amazing.
45. The Golden Gate, Vikram Seth. Really inventive.
44. Bed, Tao Lin. Didn't like this. Repetitive, rambling, simplistic.
43. Cannery Row, John Steinbeck. Funny, gentle stories.
42. My Revolutions, Hari Kunzru. Drew me in as it went along.
41. We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful. Anthology by former Manchester MA students.
40. [REFUGE]E, Adnan Mahmutovic. Stories and poems about Bosnian refugees.
39. Instruction Manual For Swallowing, Adam Marek. Very entertaining, great narratives.
38. The Information, Martin Amis. Better than advertised - a lot like London Fields.
37. A Book Addict's Treasury, ed. Lynda Murphy, Julie Rugg. Fun collection of quotes etc.
36. I Remember, Joe Brainard. Beautiful, evocative.
35. The Worms Can Carry Me To Heaven, Alan Warner. Not as good as the Scottish books.
34. *The Good Soldier, Ford Maddox Ford. Fascinating narrative structure.
33. Postcards, E. Annie Proulx. Beautiful.
32. *On Beauty, Zadie Smith.
31. American Short Story Masterpieces, ed. Raymond Carver, Tom Jenks. Actual masterpieces.
30. Balancing On The Edge Of The World, Elizabeth Baines. Some lovely stories here.
29. More Pricks Than Kicks, Samuel Beckett.
28. 2666, Roberto Bolano. This took me forever; not really convinced by it, annoyingly.
27. Dear Mr. Capote, Gordon Lish. Genuis.
26. A Kind Of Intimacy, Jenn Ashworth. Fantastic. Read it, read it, read it.
25. The House Of Spirits, Isabelle Allende. Epic.
24. I Am Legend, Richard Matheson. I liked the film, but the book kicks ass.
23. God's Own Country, Ross Raisin. Great voice.
22. In Watermelon Sugar, Richard Brautigan. Amazing.
21. Arthur and George, Julian Barnes. Boring. It looked boring; not sure why I bothered.
20. A Fool's Alphabet, Sebastian Faulks.
19. What Was Lost, Catherine O'Flynn. Didn't enjoy this; very over-hyped.
18. Union Street, Pat Barker. I love Pat Barker.
17. The Secret River, Kate Grenville.
16. The Knife of Never Letting Go, Patrick Ness. Great. But now I have to wait for the sequel.
15. Ever, Blake Butler. Confounding. (see review)
14. Netherland, Joseph O'Neill. Duller.
13. The Coma, Alex Garland. Dull...
12. The Savage Detectives, Roberto Bolano. Fantastic.
11. The Bird Room, Chris Killen. (see review)
10. The Enchantress of Florence, Salman Rushdie. Better than the last one.
9. The Dreamfighter, Ted Hughes.
8. Last Exit To Brooklyn, Hubert Selby Jr. Brilliant.
7. Johhny Panic & The Bible of Dreams, Sylvia Plath. A regrettable re-read. Bad stuff.
6. Heart Songs, E. Annie Proulx. Great. I love her - except Accordian Crimes - hated that.
5. The Innocent, Ian McEwan. Surprisingly horrible and totally underrated.
4. Jill, Philip Larkin. Boring.
3. Tree of Smoke, Denis Johnson. Love it, love it.
2. The Optimists, Andrew Miller. Meh.
1. Suite Francaise, Irene Nemirovsky. Number one of '09, thumbs up!

39: funny

This (via Jenn) is the funniest thing I've read in ages. I keep re-reading it and laughing and spilling bits of my dinner down my t-shirt. So much like my usual dinner-times then, but with more giggles. Valerie - eating messy since 1980. But read it, for serious.

38: psychology

I spent the weekend reading a book that I found very dull, a real drag to get through, but I made myself finish it and then I felt incredibly relieved. I should probably be more willing to abandon a book I'm not enjoying; I can only think of maybe two books in the last five years that I've put down halfway through and never finished. (One was A Glastonbury Romance, the other was The Emporer's New Mind. I can put them down but I just can't let them go.) This probably means I'm obsessive and masochistic. Sometimes I convince myself that it'll get better as it goes along. This never happens. It often gets worse. I'm a delusional obsessive masochist. Goddamn. On top of that, boring books also have the miserable side effect of convincing me that I'm doomed to end up writing really boring books myself. Any book would be better than no book, eh, I reply, but then I ignore myself, as I am a delusional obsessive masochist and not worthy of my own attention. Oh god. The doom. The lack of caffeine. The horror.

37: print!

Rob McEvily of Six Sentences fame announced today the names of some of the people whose work has been accepted for Volume Two of his 6S anthology, and I'm in there! I submitted two pieces and I'm not sure which one got in, but never mind. I'm very excited because I've never been in print before, so hurray!

(I did have to watch his video announcement twice in case I was hallucinating the letters of my own name. What - you've never done that? Right...)

6S rules OK. OK?

36: ever

I read Blake Butler's Ever earlier this week. It was fascinating - incredibly dense, visceral, non-stop hallucinatory... I had to keep stopping and rereading sections. The way he uses parentheses to layer the narrator's voice is wonderful. And the illustrations - the whole physical design of the book - gorgeous... The girl's monologue is so sharp and crowded and sad. The way architecture and the mind are melded and confused and opened up - that was fascinating. It was like ontology and design and linguistics and confessions and psychiatry all mixed up and poured out as poetry. This is a bit of a rambling reaction, but I found it a really difficult book to pin down - probably because I'm not particularly knowledgeable about the kind of experimental fiction that Blake is exploring here - and I wouldn't know how to categorise or summarize Ever, but I thought it was heart-wrenching and difficult and dense and brilliant. Buy it, buy it, buy it.

35: netherland

I just finished Joseph O'Neill's Netherland, and I can honestly say that I have no idea what all the fuss was about. My bagel at lunchtime was more interesting. (My bagel was very interesting, in fact; both guacamole and humous were shoved in there - a taste sensation.) I found the language unbearably heavy, laden with all sorts of overblown descriptions that only made me think O'Neill was showing off and putting in every metaphor that ever occurred to him, because, hey, he could! Too many words, dude... I thought the characters were really wooden, didn't care what happened to the narrator or his uninteresting wife, and as for the other guy, Chuck, well, I wanted to skip pages to be done with him, and in the last fifty pages I just kept thinking, stop stop stop how could there be more make it stop. Etc.

So clearly the key to writing a critically acclaimed tome that also sells well, is to write something godawfully dull.

Okay.

I've had no tea today; perhaps it shows. Interesting bagels alone do not suffice. To the kettle!

34: 2058

The Tate were running a short story competition recently, which was all linked up to the current Turbine Hall exhibition, by Dominique Gonzalez Foerster. I only found out about it on Wednesday night, the closing date was Sunday, and I was flying out to Dublin on Thursday for my sister's wedding, so the whole weekend was destined to end up as a booze-ridden blur with no time for writing. But I thought I'd give it a go anyway, soI belted one out on Wednesday night and Thursday morning at the airport. I went to send it off on Saturday night, with a killer hangover, and only then did I actually read the rules, and it turned out that I'd written a 3000 word story for a competition with a 1500 word limit. So I frantically deleted bits and pieces and sent it off at 1497, minus its entire nervous system. They post all the stories on the site, and six will be chosen to go on an audiotape read by Christopher Eccleston. You can read my hacked-up one here, and I came across Martin Reed's one here. His one rocks.

I hope this post makes sense; my hands and brain are malfunctioning from cycling home from work in the snow, shunning taxis like a buffoon.