out with the old

In case anyone was left hanging, we made it to Dublin in the end, with only two (!) flight cancellations and one elongated delay on the one that finally jetted us over, and festivities were subsequently had.  This was the first festive event - we had a celebratory browse around Claire's Accessories in the Manchester Airport departure lounge:  

Then there was the insane amount of snow in Dublin, more than I've ever seen before, which warranted a Christmas Day walk:

Later on, my nephew taught me what noise a pig makes (essential knowledge for 2011 - you should all be so informed) and then tried to steal his dad's Grown Up Drink. 

My niece kindly chopped me up scrap paper so that I'd have enough money to see me through to the New Year.  I brought it to TK Maxx but, after much deliberation, didn't buy this very fancy golden chair.

Good times. And now I'm back in Manchester and the sugar rush is almost over, so I'm going to waste your time, and my own, by reminiscing about the Year That's Been. 

2010 is probably the year I've had the least cash since, oh, 2004, the year I spent on the dole - and both of those years rank as maybe the most fun and game-changing years to date.  In 2004, I mooched around, wrote lots of terrible, terrible short film scripts, lived off crisps and popcorn, moved to the UK and got the job I'd stay in for the next five years.  In 2010, amongst other stuff, I did the second half of my second MA, mooched around, lived off crisps and popcorn, moved house (hell, I do that every year, but it always sounds dramatic), saw two of my best friends get hitched, celebrated my 30th birthday in Amsterdam, went on a fantastic writing retreat in Wales, bought shit-loads of books at the Hay Festival, worked two book-shop jobs, wrote most of a novel and loads of book reviews, slacked off on my short-story writing but got several excellent flash-fiction publications, and won the Bristol Prize.

Of all the major things that have happened to me in my still very short career as a writer, the Bristol Prize soars above them as the Biggest and Best - the one that's made a huge difference to the way I see myself as a writer - more than the MA, more than NaNoWriMo (which I finished for the first time this year), more than any other publication I've had to date, and some of those I've been hugely proud of.  I'm immensely grateful to Joe Melia and the rest of team who run the Prize for all their support and encouragement, which extended well beyond the prize ceremony itself and continues even now.  I've gotten to meet and chat with people like Tania Hershman, Sarah Salway, and the other shortlisted writers, and now I'm watching those same writers rake in more and more successes, and it feels like we've all gone through something brilliant together.  Is that soppy?  Sorry; I haven't had much chocolate yet today.  I'll snap out of it.

I've already posted about the excellent books I've read this year, and I've got a long list to see me through into 2011.  I like to end or start the year on a biggie, and I'm partway through Anna Karenina now - after that, I'm thinking maybe some Patrick Ness, Hilary Mantel, William Boyd, Nicola Barker... I'm getting over-excited.

Writing-wise, I've got to finish the novel as soon as possible, for my own sanity, and to that end it's perhaps convenient that Real Life is going to take over in a massive way by late springtime, giving me a huge deadline to work towards.  If you've seen me in recent weeks you might have guessed that I don't normally waddle so much: we'll be rearranging the teetering stacks of books in the flat to make room for a whole new tiny person in late April.  So as fantastic as 2010 has been (bike thefts aside!), I think 2011 will blow it out of the water.

Stuck in Manchester, so here's a list of books:

Well, I'm supposed to be in Dublin right now, with my family, coddling my nephew and letting my mum bring me food on a tray and cracking open the Christmas biscuits, but instead I spent most of today in Manchester airport, watching one flight after another get cancelled as the weather in Dublin Airport forced it to close down for most of the day. We finally got back on the train and the bus to troop with our luggage and everybody's presents to our flat - Flight Number Three is scheduled for tomorrow morning, and I'd imagine if that one's cancelled (and I reckon it will be) we'll be spending Christmas here - undecorated, with no fancy food, no crackers and no bloody presents.


So to forestall excessive and (hopefully) premature wallowing, here's my quick thoughts on my Books of the Year. Have a look also at the Bookmunch reviewers' selections (including mine) if you're interested in more various recommendations. Oh, and I'm talking about books I've read in 2010, more so than books specifically published this year - I got through a good few new releases this year, but they never make up the bulk of my reading.  And, I haven't gone link-mad here - y'all can use google and this post would just look insane if I linked to all the books...

Novels: I'm not a huge fan of historical fiction, and I'm no expert on the British monarchs, but I read Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall early in the year, and it still tops my list - I think that'll be a favourite for years.  I've been raving about it for months and months, and I'll carry on doing so.  (If I ever get back to Dublin, Santa should be bringing me A Place Of Greater Safety - whoop!)  I re-read Alan Warner's Morvern Callar, another long-term fave, as well as The Sopranos, in anticipation of The Stars In The Bright Sky, which I still say should have gotten further in this year's Booker (I won't harp on about the eventual winner, lest my already high blood-pressure soars to dangerous medical places).  Marilynne Robinson's Gilead and Home were both stunning - I read Housekeeping, too, but I preferred the other two, maybe only because they were longer and she writes so well it was lovely to get immersed in the characters. I was tempted by her non-fiction the other day, but we sit on opposite ends of the religious-belief spectrum and I don't want to have to rant about Robinson too.  We'd all probably agree I've got sufficient ranting ammunition, notwithstanding today's airline shenanigans, to keep me going without throwing Marilynne onto the bonfire as well.  Ahem. Gordon Lish's Peru was totally and utterly bad and wrong and messed up, so of course I thought it was great.  It reminded me of Joseph Heller's Something Happened, which I read when I was about seventeen and remember finding really traumatic, though my memory's hazy on what actually went on there.  John Gardner's Grendel was really harsh and poetic - I like monsters, so I do.  Jayne Anne Phillips' Lark and Termite was beautiful - really evocative with great use of alternating narrators.  John McGregor's new one, Even The Dogs, was hugely bleak and sad, but so memorable - if you like stuff like The Road, check it out. And (I'll stop now) Emily Mackie's And This Is True was a great debut about a very fucked-up little family, and I insist you all read it and tell me you agree. 

Short Stories: I've read about twenty billion short stories this year - too many to list individually - and I'll leave out anthologies, too, because I'd only have to go into great length pulling the good from the bad, but as far as single author collections go, I'd especially recommend Jo Cannon's Insignificant Gestures, Tom Vowler's The Method And Other Stories, and Nik Perring's Not So Perfect. Disclosure: I know all these guys personally, either online or in the actual flesh in Jo's case, but that doesn't mean I'm just putting in a word: these are great collections and deserve many, many readers.  Also, and particularly in Jo's case, these are all small presses, all of whom also deserve and need readers.  So read!  In other news, I'd also give a great big thumbs up to Andrew Porter's The Theory of Light and Matter - beautifully written stories.  And an oldie, but a goodie: David Foster Wallace's Girl With Curious Hair.

Non-Fiction: I often admire non-fiction from afar, but I don't actually read much of it.  Hey, life is short and I'm always trying to catch up on my fiction....  I am a sucker for popular science and psychology books, though 2010 didn't lead me to any of these.  It did, however, and rather predictably, lead me to David Foster Wallace's Consider The Lobster, a fine collection of essays, and beltingly intelligent.

Ah - that's it so far.  There's till a few days in the year; I've got lots left to read (not to mention to write), but in the meantime I shall continue to pore over the Aer Lingus and Dublin Airport websites and bemoan my fate.

Bah AND humbug. 

Happy reading, dudes.

National Short Story Day 2010 and a Granta review

We've just had National Short Story Week, and now, on the shortest day of the year, we've got National Short Story Day.  Apt, eh?  If you've already on your Christmas holidays and are stuck for something to do to help you avoid the dreaded last-minute shopping rush, have a look at their website - there's short story events organised in several cities around the country all day today.  And in an appropriate conjunction, my review of the new Granta anthology - The Granta Book of the Irish Short Story - is live at Bookmunch right now.

another bugger

Remember I had a story in the Bugged anthology earlier this autumn?  Well, one of the other writers, Calum Kerr, went on the radio last night, on the Late Show on BBC Radio Lancashire, to talk about his work and Bugged.  And, right, he only went and read out my story!  You can listen to it here (Calum's interview starts at about 22 minutes in, and my story's at 42:50ish) - the BBC will only leave it up for about a week, so grab it while you can.  Joe Wilson, the presenter, said about my piece that there was very little waste of words in there, which is what it's all about in flash fiction (and all fiction) and I was really pleased to hear him get right to the point there.  And he laughed in the right place too, so score!  Anyway, if you do listen, that's the radio-friendly edit; my usual foul-mouthed lexicon has been temporarily tamed.  When I was on the radio myself during the summer, after the Bristol Prize, they couldn't read out that story at all because they reckoned it was too disturbing for the daytime audience.  So either I'm slowly on the road to respectability, or Calum's found my niche for me: late night radio!

Microfiction anthology

Here's more shameless self-promotion.  I forgot to mention that I've got a piece of flash fiction in Cinnamon Press's most recent microfiction anthology, Exposure.  My story, Enough, is one of the first flash pieces I wrote that I was really happy with, and I'm delighted it's finally found a great home.  The anthology is fantastic - I'd urge anyone with an interest in flash to check it out.  There's three sections and my piece is in the second bit, also called 'Enough' - I'm going to jump to conclusions and assume they named that bit after my story.  Hey, this is my blog; I can indulge myself here.  Anyway, huge thanks to Holly Howitt and Jan Fortune-Wood, the editors, and the whole Cinnamon team.

National Short Story Award 2010 review

My review of The BBC National Short Story Award 2010 Anthology is live at Bookmunch.  (Phew; that's a mouthful, isn't it?)

Did you miss me?

I'm very relieved to have my home broadband back. I'm shockingly addicted to my virtual world; the poor iPhone was reaching the end of its tether during the past week.  DHL did try to thwart me by keeping the router in their warehouse for a week and insisting my house didn't exist, but I've got it now, damn them.

Last week, I finished NaNoWriMo at just over 50,000 words.  This was the second year I tried NaNo, and the first year I finished it, so I'm very pleased with myself.  The first 10,000 of those words are utter crap, and the rest need massive rewriting, of course, but the getting down to write about 1600 words a day was a great exercise in discipline - one I've already sloughed off in the intervening week, but hey, a girl needs a breather.  I found it hard not to edit as I went; I'm a slow writer usually, very finicky about my words, and just ploughing onwards every day was both very difficult and a great release - I'm glad I was able to manage it, but I'm also happy to be able to return to my pernickity editorial ways now that it's done.  I also think I've got a much stronger sense of where my novel should be going than I did before the month began - I had a plan to follow for the duration, and I sort of stuck to it, and what I'll do now will veer quite a way from that plan, but I think I'm on now the right track.  Though I've said that before...  I've started revising the opening section (again) and I'm feeling optimistic.

Last week, the Spilling Ink Review published one of my flash fiction stories, Rock-A-Bye (if any of you were at October's Bewilderbliss reading in the Cornerhouse, you'll recognise this one).

And also last week, Blankpages published a short article I wrote about this blog, the Manchester blogging scene and Benjamin Judge.

What else?  I've been to the panto (oh, yes I have!) and I've been to work.  I've sold many, many copies of Karl Pilkington's and Nigella Lawson's books, and a meerkat's autobiography.  I found a man's sock in the store the other day.  Who takes their socks off in a shop?  Was it you?

Oh, and my best friend moved to Canada to live in a ski resort for the winter.  If she wasn't brilliant, I'd hate her.  Dude.  Work those skis.  Jetlag is for PANSIES.

an unscheduled interruption to normal service

I'm an errant poster, at best, but my errancy may reach daft levels for the next week or two: I'm changing broadband providers and may well be offline for up to ten days.  I've got the shakes just contemplating such a future.  I'll have my phone of course, but that's more for reading than it is for writing - verifying my NaNoWriMo wordcount (assuming I complete it!) is a task that worries me - if you live in south Manchester, you may run across me roaming the streets with my laptop under my arm, looking for free wifi.  Anyway, this is my adieu until O2 get their asses in gear and reconnect us.  So long, BT, you useless, useless bastards.

Consequences! National Short Story Week 2010

Well!  This week is the UK's inaugural National Short Story Week, which of course is excellent and brilliant and all that.  The bloggers have been hard at it, recommending stories and writers to their readers (see Nik's Blog for some goodies) and there's been all sorts of events and things - see the website for details.  My recommendations right now would be Tom Vowler's very recent collection, The Method, and Jo Cannon's new book, out since last Saturday, Insignificant Gestures (more on that soon enough when she'll pop over here to be interviewed!).  Check them both out - lovely people and brilliant writers.

Also!  I was massively thrilled to be invited to take part in a short story challenge for Short Story Week - a small bunch of UK writers were asked to contributes 100-150 words to a collaborative story entitled Consequences.  The whole thing was put together this week, and here it is, in all its glory!  I'm so flattered to have been invited to take part, alongside luminaries like Tania Hershman and Sarah Salway, so hurray!  I'm having pre-work ice-cream to celebrate right now.  See if you can guess who wrote which bit...

new excuses and an update

New excuses for lack of posting:

Nanowrimo.  Though that's an old excuse.  I'm a little behind right now, though perhaps (ha!) Ill catch up tonight; otherwise it's been very full-on.  I'm up to about 32k in my seat-of-the-pants novel rewrite, and some good ideas have popped up in the midst of the all the panicky daft ones.  I'm making notes as I go, too, and I'm happy with my progress.  This was never going to be a long-long-long novel, and I think I'll have a reasonable working wordcount by the time I get to the end of this.  Less than two weeks to go!

Bookmunch.  I've been sneakily in charge of this for a couple of weeks while the real Mister Bookmunch is away.  I haven't gone totally mad with the power yet, but there's still time.  Let's all monitor the situation, shall we?

Reading. I've been slush-pile sifting for a story competition, and it's been very interesting so far (lots left to do); there's nothing like reading story after story after story after story to help you get a sense of what works and what doesn't work, what's overused, what's cliched, what's somebody's personal hobby-horse rather than an interesting story idea.  It's kind of eaten up all my evenings, but I love it.  I'd adore to be paid to read stuff for an actual job.

Well, there's the excuses, and now for the update:  I totally left you dudes hanging last week, didn't I?  Last time I was about to get my MA results; this time, I have my MA results!  And I passed the thing with a Distinction - hooray! I don't think the marks on these things really matter much (easy for me to say, now I'm sitting pretty, I know) because a grade isn't going to get me a publication deal or get the book finished.  But for a details-obsessed control freak like myself, it's a tick off the List, and I'm very happy.  And my classmates all did really well too, and a round of applause for them, please!  All's well that ends well, and all the rest.  And now, Will Smith's on TV, and then it's NaNo and slush and dinner and bed.  See y'all next time.

Antonio Tabucchi review

My review of Antonio Tabucchi's Periera Maintains is live on Bookmunch.

MA results (almost)

Today is the day we get our MA results.  At least, from five pm today, we can log onto the university system and pick up our grades - on Monday we can go in person to campus and collect the actual dissertation plus feedback.  I'm working this afternoon and won't be home until about ten pm, so radio silence in the meantime can be equated to ignorance and rising panic; by bed-time, I'll either be very annoyed or very happy.  Either way, I'm sure I'll feel pretty deflated, and by Monday, it'll all seem faintly silly and irrelevant.  Here's hoping.

In the meantime, huge good luck wishes to all my classmates!

Sharp Sticks, Driven Nails review

My review of Sharp Sticks, Driven Nails, a short story anthology edited by Philip Ó Ceallaigh, is live on Bookmunch.

a week of rage

So the evil, heartless, cyclist-hating bastards that call themselves 'insurers' refused to pay out for my poor, stolen bicycle.  I spent Friday in a fuming knot of intense rage, until my mother kindly stepped in to help me out so that I wouldn't have a heart attack or a stroke or forfeit next month's rent in favour of a metal frame and a couple of wheels.  So now I'm back on the roads and somewhat less angry (just my usual level of ordinary arsiness remains).

Anyway, I forgot to link to my last Manchester Literature Festival blog post, so here it is - a write-up of John Siddique's poetry reading in the Manchester Art Gallery.  And, right, here's a great article by Anne Enright on Irish short story writers.  Finally, week one of NaNoWriMo is almost done, and so far I'm on target - of course, I was on target at this point last year too, so that's no guarantee of success.  Never mind - one day at a time.    

You all know how I love to rant

I haven't been updating this blog as frequently as I'd like.  Here's a set of excuses:

(1) NaNoWriMo.  So far, so good on that front.  I'm a bit behind on today's wordcount, but I was ahead yesterday, so it balances.  The main thing is the each chapter is being sketched out, albeit in horrible, nasty, rough and shameful forms.  The blank pages are getting filled so that (cross your fingers) the real work (editing) can begin next month.  I prefer editing.  I vastly prefer editing.  The first draft is an awful splurge that makes me want to die.  Normally I edit as I go, making the writing a slow, inch-along process, but I think with the novel I have to blast out a complete  version, or else I get too hung up on the early chapters - to come extent, this is what slowed me down on the MA.  That, and a certain silliness in the plot.  Anyway, it's coming along, and taking up a few hours every day.  How are you guys getting along?

(2) Large amounts of rage.  My bike was stolen again; I've been phoning the insurance people constantly, and filling in all sorts of ridiculously detailed forms.  How did the thieves get into your building?  I don't know!  If I knew, I might have been able to do something about it!  I'm not in bloody cahoots with the bastards. Sigh.  They'll tell me soon if they'll pay out, and if they won't, well, I know where their offices are and there might be havoc. I only work part-time - Ive got hours to kill each day that could be spent nanowrimo'ing, OR could be spent harassing insurance fuckers.  Anyway, in the meantime I've been distracted by unhealthy levels of anger and long stints of googling replacement bikes.  Again.  2010 is the Year of the Bike Thief Wanker.

Those are my excuses; now, onto the self-promotion!  The Bridport shortlist was published last weekend:  one of my flashes was shortlisted (yay!) and my writing friend and colleague, Claudia Abbot, was awarded a supplementary prize in the short story section.  Double yay! And my twitter pal, Kirsty Logan, came third!  So celebrations all round.  Plus the Bugged book got a mention in the news and my Bristol Prize story got printed in the latest issue of the Bristol Review of Books - the headline of the article was Flash O'Riordan, which I liked.  It makes me sound very dynamic.  Maybe it should be my nom de plume.

a spoooooky (not really) Halloween post

This week, I've finished a job in one bookshop and gained a (part-time) job in another one; written copious notes for NaNoWriMo (tell me I'm not insane for doing this again, and also, tell me I'll finish it this time); raced through a few of the books that have been stacking up on the bedroom floor; been to Elizabeth Baines' book launch (top night!); ate fried chicken with a couple of lunatics, and got stuck outside my flat for half an hour yesterday because some daft bastard stubbed a fag out in a smoke detector in the hall and the fire brigade had to come out.  Nice.  I did make friends with some neighbour-children who were already in their pyjamas at this stage, and probably quite cold, and I kept thinking, damn, I wish I was in my pyjamas now.  And then soon enough I was able to go back inside and make that dream a reality!  Sadly (though, financially, fortunately) I'll re-enter the working world on Monday and there'll be no more pyjama days.  I could swing pyjama mornings, though, given the shift pattern, so that's a goal to work towards.  That, and getting this draft down on paper by the end of November.  If anyone else is doing NaNo, do add me as a 'buddy'; my name there is ValerieO.

Last Sunday I did my last shift for the Manchester Literature Festival, helping out at the Rainy City Stories panel discussion on writing about place.  Jenn Ashworth, Nicholas Royle and Clare Dudman each read from their work, and then Nick chaired a discussion between the three of them about place and what it means to them as writers.  That was another Top Event, and it's made me think about the way I'm using place in my WIP.  I even have some notes jotted down on a card slotted into my poor, battered notebook.  

I had a flu jab today, and I believe it's a legal requirement to eat Ben + Jerry's after you have an injection.  So I'm going to do that now.  Happy (early) Halloween, internets! And happy (two days early) birthday to my Dublin homie who's soon heading off to live in far away places and who'll be a disenfranchised homie if she doesn't stop threatening to buy me all the seriously sick-making thingummies she finds on Etsy.  Dude, you know who you are. 

look here

While I run out to watch Benjamin Judge (who the fudge...?) pitch his novel to a crowd of critical strangers, you guys pop over here and read my review of John Siddique's poetry workshop last Sunday.

more litterachewer

My review of Lionel Shriver's reading at the Manchester Literature Festival last week is up on the official blog.

On Monday, I volunteered at the Heidi Thomas event which was jointly run by the Lit Fest and BBC's Writer's Room.  Heidi's a scriptwriter who started off writing for the theatre; the event was a Q&A and very interesting altogether, and though the programmes she's worked on aren't entirely to my taste - Cranford is one - I did find myself leaving with my appetite whetted. Maybe I'll watch me some costume drama soon.

Yesterday was the Manchester Blog Awards - my friends Fat Roland and Holly Ringland were up for Best Writing On A Blog and Best Personal Blog respectively - not to mention the dynamo that is Benjamin Judge, up for a million awards and also performing again this coming Saturday at Is There A Novelist In The House?  Anyway, it all kicked off with Ben, Dave Hartley and Sarah-Clare Conlon reading pieces that they'd had published on 330 Words, one of the other nominated blogs, and then Chris Killen read a Choose Your Own Adventure short story about a blind date, and it was creepy and hilarious. Then the winners were announced. The full list is on the website, but at our table we were all very excited to see Fat Roland carry away the gong for Best Writing AND he was joint winner of Blog of the Year! There was much celebration, I can tell you that, and I'm very tired today to prove it.  Yay, Fat Roland!  And a big hurray for all the other winners and runners-up; the event was excellent and the venue was perfect and fine fun was had by all.

Tomorrow I'm off to see John Siddique read and then (after work) to the pub to celebrate my last day at work. Anyone want to give me a job? I'm good at reading and writing and associated tasks. Go on.

a week full of litterachewer

So, the 2010 Manchester Literature Festival is all in our faces and happening and hiding behind every corner so there's no escape.  I've been doing my bit to help it along, and I feel nice and arty as a result.  Last Thursday we had the launch of the Bugged anthology, and I read my little story in front of a packed room, which was very cool. Lots of very talented people were there too, and there's a write-up on the Festival blog so head on over there for a more in-depth run-down.  Aside from the fun of taking part, I was especially pleased to meet Jo Bell and Emma Lannie and Jenn Ashworth's very own McTiny who was very professional when it was his turn on stage.  Nice work, kid.

That evening, I went to the Lionel Shriver reading in the Town Hall in my capacity as volunteer festival blogger - my review of the event should be online soon, so I'll link when it's up.  Likewise, on Sunday, I went down to the Manchester Art Gallery to document John Siddique's poetry workshop based upon the Pilkington pottery exhibition that's showing in the gallery at the moment.  I'll link to my review as and when - I also wrote some poems while I was there, despite my claims at the Bugged event not to be able to manage poetry, but I'll keep the results to myself for now, I think.  No point scaring you all or making you laugh at me.

Yesterday afternoon was the Bewilderbliss reading, an event run with Corridor8 magazine to showcase local zines and talent.  I read a newish story, and, amongst others, so did Holly Ringland, whose blog is up for Best Personal Blog at the Manchester Blog Awards tomorrow night.  Vote for her (by 5pm today) - she's brilliant - and come along to the Deaf Institute for the prize-giving. I expect it shall be ace.

In the meantime, this evening I'm volunteering at the Heidi Thomas event at the Cornerhouse - she's a screenwriter, so for this ex-film-student, it should be interesting - and later in the week there's another few things, and I'll report back when I remember what's going on, what I'm doing, where I'm at and what day it is.  Bye for now.

Bugged Manchester launch

I'll keep plugging this one, as it makes me feel rather fancy and famous.  And plus, of course, it's bound to be bloody brilliant!

The official Manchester launch of the Bugged anthology takes place this Thursday lunchtime in the new City Library on Deansgate in Manchester city centre.  There'll be books on sale and readings from Jenn Ashworth, Cathy Bryant, Ruskin Brown, Dorothy Burgess, Emma Morgan, Susannah Hart, Emma Lannie, Liz Loxley, Ian Marchant, Lynsey May, Angi Holden, Alicia Ogg, Calum Kerr, Valerie O’Riordan (that's me!) and Phil Williams.  So I'll probably be on at about quarter to two.  Come and listen to all our overhearings! 

come to my readings!

People Of The Internet.  The Manchester Literary Festival is upon us once again, and this time it features me!  Well, it also features some fly-by-night scribblers like Seamus Heaney and Jeanette Winterson, but I know you guys are all about the grass-roots activitists of the home-grown writing scene.  Ahem.  Anyway, I'll be there, mumbling my stories into a microphone not once, but twice.  Come!  Listen!  Don't throw things at me!  Unless it's money! Please throw money at me!

First up is the launch of the Bugged anthology at 1pm on the 14th of October (next Thursday) in the new City Library on Deansgate.  I'll be reading my teeny contribution to the book, and you'll also get to hear from Cathy Bryant, Emma Lannie, Liz Loxley and Susie Wild.  Tickets to the event are free, but booking is advised - check out the website for details. 

Second is the Bewilderbliss event - a bit of publicity for the local magazine that I helped edit during my MA and that our lead editors are now handing over to the new team.  This one will be at the Cornerhouse at 1pm on Monday 18th, and we're sharing the bill with Corridor8, a visual arts and writing journal.  Again, free, but you might want to book - see the festival website for more.

Hope to see you there (throwing money at me)!

Bridport and more!

Two good newses!

I got an email on Sunday telling me that a short little flash fiction piece I wrote last spring has been shortlisted for the new flash fiction section of the Bridport Prize.  This is massively exciting - I won't get any cash and the story won't get published in the anthology (I already know it hasn't gone on to win), but it's a very fancy prize and getting on the shortlist is a really excellent pat on the back for me.  So, yay for that!  And congratulations to all the other shortlistees in the flash, poetry and short story categories, some of whom I know via twitter and my writing group.  Big up everyone!

Second, a story that PANK were lovely enough to publish online last year, The Girl In The Glass, is having a second outing in a new e-book anthology, Chamber Four.  This is a new venture designed to highlight good writing on the web, and my story was recommended to the editors by Roxane Gay, of PANK fame, so thanks a million, Roxane!  The new anthology's available for free download and check out the website for details of specific formats for the Kindle and whatnot.  It'll also be available as a print-on-demand paperback in the future (printing costs will apply) - again, more details on the website.  It's a pretty cool venture, though; Sarah Salway's in there too.

That's it for now - otherwise, I'm rocking life as a bookseller, though I'm missing my student lie-ins.

lazy Sunday

Today I've mostly been reading Aimee Bender (thanks to Nik's endless prompts!) - dudes, check her out, she's the bomb - and watching Dan & Becs for the millionth time and laughing my ass off.  I reckon plenty of the humour of the series would be lost on non-Dublin folk, and I'm assume most of you fall into that category, but still, I'm having my fun. I've got a book review to write and a story crit to do, but in the meantime I've eaten my body-weight in chocolate-cornflake-cake.  I think I'll read The City And The City next.  I've no intention of leaving the flat today  My friend Kim is shutting down her blog; it was about her MA, and she's finished that course now, so it makes sense, but I'll miss it.  I can't wait to see her novella in print some day.  That's about all; carry on with your own Sundays, people.


Well!  Let's recap my last couple of weeks:

Most significantly, I think, I handed in The Dissertation.  This was less than two weeks ago, though it feels like tow months ago.  I queued for two hours to print and bind it on the Wednesday and handed it in straight after, and that was a massively anti-climactic moment (though I did high-five my lovely classmate to mark the occasion.)  I haven't looked at the novel since - though I've pondered it - I'm taking a few weeks off to relax, de-stress, maybe write some flash fiction, but mostly to recuperate and get settled into the two other things I've been doing:

Moving house.  We're now settled half a mile down the road in a nice new flat that isn't on the gas mains (screw you, boilers! I'm freeeee!) and has no visible mould.  Win.  The move was exhausting, as moves invariably are, but I'm unpacked and organised, and all that remains is to return a faulty desk to Ikea and get a replacement, and then I'll have my own little writing zone on the landing.  I'll probably continue to use the sofa, though - but shhh, that's unofficial.

Starting a new job.  I've got a temporary gig as a bookseller in Blackwell, Manchester, which so far rocks, though I'd forgotten how tiring full-time retail can be.  I'm flopping into bed at sill o'clock every evening and seem to have no time for writing, but this is my time-off zone, so never mind, and I'll get into the swing of it soon.  I did a lot of bookshop work when I was younger, and I love being around books all day, so big thumbs up for the job.

What else? I've a couple of flash-fiction publications coming up - more as and when they're out - and I've got a few books to review, so I'm not entirely slacking.  It's nice not having any real deadlines on - that post-university lull is pretty luxurious.

And how are you guys?

Gerard Woodward review

My review of Gerard Woodward's Nourishment is live at Bookmunch.

IOU a blog post

Guys, apologies, I haven't blogged in a million internet years (like dog years, but waaaay worse). Excuses: post-dissertation fatigue, moving house, new job and sheer laziness.  I'll get on the case very soon.  In the meantime, click here to read a very lovely review of my Bristol Prize story - thank you, Rob!

Adam Thirlwell review

My review of Adam Thirlwell's The Escape is live at Bookmunch.

dissertate, schmissertate

I think I've been light on content here for a while, and of course, I blame my MA dissertation - that evil beast that keeps swelling and shrinking and refusing to settle obediently at a useful 15,000 words.  It's due in on September 3rd - next Friday - and so this is officially the penultimate week, but my plan is to have to done and dusted by this Friday because I'm moving house next week and combining packing and novelling isn't my idea of Amazing Holiday Fun.  And also, of course, it needs to get formatted, printed and bound.

I'm aware that I haven't written much here about the dissertation or my MA summer.  That's partly because there's been little structure to it, partly because my experience won't reflect other people's, and partly because of the usual writer's fear of jinxing the whole bloody thing if it gets referred to in anything other than very abstract terms.  So how have I approached it?  Haphazardly and in fits and starts is the most honest answer.  I've had great weeks where the words have come tumbling, and terrible weeks where I've got nothing done and it seemed like I never would.  I've had two supervisions with my tutor, the first of which resulted in having to replot a significant section of the novel/dissertation, and though that was difficult (and frustrating) it ultimately gave me a clearer sense of my main character's motivation.  The second focussed more on fiddly editing, word choice, sentence structure, polishing.  The first time, I showed my tutor the first 5,000 words; the second time I planned to bring the next 5,000, but because of the replotting and restructuring, I brought in the first (rewritten) 5,000 again.  So ultimately, only a third of the dissertation will have been vetted, but that's okay; the feedback I got was really helpful and, I think, valid for the whole thing.  In addition to the formal supervisions, I've also had two informal workshop sessions with some of my MA cohorts.  That confirmed some doubts I'd been having about a couple of chapters, so I ended up rejigging them in order to ditch two whole characters.  That was pretty daunting, but I think the result is a tighter, more focussed section, and I'm happier with it.

So what's left? I want to do more fiddling with the final chapter of the four I'll be submitting, and then I'll do a final print-out, paper edit and on-screen edit of the whole lot.  I need to write a summary of the preceding chapters to include as an appendix, and then the great big document will need formatting.  My deadline, again, is Friday.  I think I'll manage it.  I'll print and bind next week.

And after that?  I'll probably take a week or so off.  There's the house move, and I'm hugely behind on my reading/reviewing/packing.  I'll assemble some Ikea furniture.  I love doing that.  And this isn't me being sarcastic - I genuinely do like screwing bits of wood together and ending up with a bed.  And next Friday I'll hand the thing in and go for a Last Supper with my tutors and classmates.  And then I'll probably feel rather unmoored and sad for a bit.

I'm interviewed by Stephanella

Steph over at The Creative Identity has interviewed me - head over to have a look  Thanks, Steph!

Adnan Mahmutovic blog tour & excerpt

Happy Monday, interweb - today I'm hosting the latest leg of Adnan Mahmutovic's blog tour, promoting his recent novel, Thinner Than A Hair.

Adnan's a member of my writing group, the mighty Fiction Forge (we haven't perfected a secret handshake yet, but we're working on it).  He describes himself as a Bosnian Swede - he left Bosnia and settled in Sweden in 1993.  He's just finished his PhD in English Lit and he teaches a course on love and its discontents at Stockholm University, plus he's spent many years working with people with disabilities.  On top of all this, of course, he's a writer - his short stories and non-fiction have been published all over the place and he's the author of [Refuge]eIllegitimate and the book we're hearing all about on this tour, Thinner Than A Hair.  If that isn't enough talent for you, Adnan's also a film-maker (check out his website for more info) and he blogs here.

Intense, yeah?  So I bet you're wondering what's the deal with Thinner Than A Hair.  Well, it won Cinnamon Press's novella competition, and it's about Fatima, a young Bosnian girl who gets caught up in the escalating tensions when war breaks out.  She's in love with Aziz, a man who's got his own problems, what with his male AND female genitalia.  Fatima's got to work out her feelings for her lover while deciding whether to stay in Bosnia or flee, leaving her family behind.  The book's about refugees, gender roles, trauma, genocide and prostitution - and plenty else besides.  It's harsh stuff - the choices Fatima has to make are brutal - but it's fascinating to read an insider account of the Bosnian war.  It's not an autobiographical text - though Adnan did himself leave Bosnia as a refugee - but this is still a war that hasn't been (I think) very well documented (yet) in English-language literature.  

So what I'm going to do here is to post the first two chapters of Thinner Than A Hair, so that everybody who's been following the blog tour gets to sample the goods.  Then, suitably tantalised, you can go out and buy the thing. Right?  If you want to catch up on the previous stops, click over to the blogs of these fine people: Paula PhillipsKathryn MagendieCaroline DaviesClare DudmanTom VowlerJoakim Jahlmar, Tania Hershman Nik Perring and (last week) Rachel Fenton.  Next week, Vanessa Gebbie will be wrapping up the tour.

And now - drumroll! - here are the first two chapters of Adnan Mahmutovic's Thinner than A Hair.



(Munich 2001)

Even dew is heavy in Dachau. When water drops roll down the strands of grass and disappear in cracked soil, the grass vibrates like strings of my father’s shargija, which he used only when singing old Bosnian songs of love and religion. Every morning, I’d follow my father’s tradition to step out barefoot across our lawn, stand squinting in the cold sunshine, then collect the dew in the deltas of my palms, and wash my face as if performing the Muslim ritual before the first prayer.

I press my palms against the damp cellar wall, trying to feel the dew and hear the singing grass. This morning, I hide like I did in 1993 in my motherland, my ears cocked for the sound of barking German shepherds, and police sirens. The immigration officers are coming for me today. I can feel it; it’ll happen today, on Valentine’s day.

To stop thinking about handcuffs and boisterous German voices, I break my nail clipper carving my name in the wall: Fatima. I speak out loud, but not too loud, ‘Mum, Dad, Aziz, please forgive me. I should never have left you. I have been the worst daughter, the nastiest lover.’

Daughter, lover, illegal immigrant, and now, a broke prostitute. How in God’s name have I managed to do this? As if I’m a pebble that a boy once flung across a river and it only touched the water in four places.

My mind seems to have packed and hidden away most of my growing up and my innocence, as if there never was any, as if I’ve always been twenty-six. At this moment, thinking of where I am and what I do for a living, it’s hard to believe that a whore could once have been a child, a virgin, a different person altogether. Or perhaps not altogether, perhaps just a little bit different. Can I revisit another time and place without bringing along who I am now? Can I rerun some past love in my head without, at the moment, being in the mood for love?
I can’t decide whether everything I went through was a long preparation for who I am. Our local imam once said, ‘Everything’s written and if God plays dice with us,’ here he whispered words of repentance, as if for a sin committed, ‘then they might be loaded.’ But fate’s a different kind of writing. It’s getting the whole package delivered at birth that makes my life one grand project of opening all the small boxes inside the big one. In the end, when I’ve unwrapped everything, all smells, paints, tints, textures and gestures, there will hardly be enough left of me to scare all the stray crows come to pick at my bones when I’m dead. I know how I was born. Father must have told me a thousand times in his strong mild voice. Mum gave me her version too, but I like Father’s better.

Every Woman is a Faith

(Summer 1974)

A woman’s bones go out of joint in labour, my mum used to say. In Bosnia, tradition prescribes that a woman rest for forty days and nights before jumping back to her chores.  Minding the baby is quite enough. That worked well for my mother back in 1974, in the Bosnian countryside. She followed the tradition, even though she was a damn houseproud woman. She’d whitewash the inner walls of the house every couple of months. Even her friends with heavysmoking husbands said anything more than twice a year was nothing short of madness, especially in wintertime. Mum would look at the impeccable walls, her skin pores full of lime, proud like a patriot before a flag, chanting her favourite proverb, ‘The house rests on a woman and not on the ground.’

I didn’t fall into the world on some politically significant day or night, at a cut in the country’s history like that Indian boy Saleem I read about in literature class. I was born on Midsummer Day 1974, through an incision made to enlarge my mother’s opening. I was not washed by patriotic tears, but by maternal tears caused by terrible labour pains, because I was coming out butt-first. She never stopped reminding me of that, saying to me, ‘I thought I was going to explode. You took twenty hours to come out. They cut me and pulled you out with this metal thing. I screamed. I thought your head was going to fall off.’ But that wasn’t the whole deal. I was pulled out first, and my twin brother fell victim to my urge to be first. I paved his way yet cut off his breath with my umbilical cord. The nurses took me out of the room and washed me with hot water. I still have burn marks, map-like patches of slightly darker skin on my neck, back, and behind. Then they wrapped me in cotton nappies and tightened my entire body with a long linen belt to make my body straight and strong. Finally, they separated me from Mum for three days. Once Mum had recovered enough for breastfeeding, they brought me back. I looked like a well-wrapped loaf of bread with a reddish, burnt crust in white paper.

It would take seventeen years for Mum to tell me about my Gemini. I wonder what he was like? Perhaps he was the mirror image of me.

You were the most beautiful baby in the world, little rainbow,’ Father always said. He told me other things too, which I put together in my head like a short film. I was only a few weeks old, but my parents’ stories were so vivid that it was as though I had my own magical memories. My mind filled in details, things I imagine must have happened, my parents’ feelings, the subtle movements of their faces and bodies, the smells in the air. Everything is there, and it feels great, imagining my own origin, re-inventing that single moment of innocence. I’ve earned the right to some nostalgia.

On a cool August dawn, after my mother’s forty-day period, I was suckling her. As she lay beside me, I imagine she was thinking of the first thing she’d have to do the following day. Two months earlier, in anticipation of the babe, my father had whitewashed the whole house and it had the uncanny smell of home.

That morning he pushed open the screen door to the veranda. A cool draught brought in the thick, bittersweet smell of painted wood from the newly painted fence Father had put up so I wouldn’t fall out once I began to walk. He yelled out to my mother, ‘Come on, Safija! You have to see this.’

Mum rose up, nagging as much as her early-morning, pre-coffee energy levels allowed, ‘Yeah, yeah, I’m coming. Don’t you see what I’m doing? I got up three hours before you. This girl’s just hungry all the time, but she won’t take the nipple. Maybe I have no milk left. I just don’t know…’

She wanted to show that Father wasn’t the one who gave the orders. Even if she always did as he said, she at least made sure she was still in charge of the spoken word.

She pulled up her black silk skirt, straightened her tired back, pinched the nipple that I’d let go of with her thumb and forefinger, and stuffed it back into my mouth, pressing my head against her breast. She went out to the veranda, looked down at me and said, ‘Just like that. Stop wriggling and grab it.’

The veranda was like an extra room, but roofless, with a thick trellis over large peacock-cushions and a low table.

Mum shuddered. ‘It’s suddenly getting rather chilly out here. I should’ve wrapped a cardigan around my back. You know how my kidneys are when it breezes cold outside.’

‘Stop talking and look up.’

She opened her mouth, as she always did when stunned by something. It was the largest, clearest shimmering rainbow she had ever seen. I began to cry and Mum kissed me on the forehead and caressed my blond, curly hair to make me stop, never for a second taking her eyes off the sky. Father turned back and his eyes squinted at the sight of a tuft of glistening hair sticking out from the blue-white baby cover. He closed in on me, kissed my hair and cheek, and smelled the faint scent. My ear was folded, the cloth on my head pressing it from behind. He set it right and kissed it.

Leave her be!’ Mum moved back from him. ‘Can’t you see she’s eating?’

The rainbow wheedled other people out of their homes as well. Whole families from the smallest to the biggest houses on the slope were gathered on their verandas or in their yards, looking at this marvel, which erased doubt, fear, discontent, and downbeat sentiments. The all-embracing enchantment was interrupted by laughter. Impossible to say from which direction the peals echoed. The words, ‘Look, Nisveta’s trying to walk under the rainbow!’ sounded sonorously from all kinds of voices. The mute dawn became a nonsensical chattering.

Nisveta was an old, childless, epileptic woman who had a stone-deaf husband. She had burn scars all over her face, arms, and even breasts. When Nisveta collapsed with spasms while carrying a cauldron of smouldering laundry, or fell on hot iron plates, it could take hours before her deaf man found her. Nisveta was testing the old Bosnian myth that walking under a rainbow would change the sex of the person who does it. I don’t think she believed it. Rather than becoming a man, maybe she just wanted to be something other than who she was.

To the people watching, to strive for the irrational was a sign of a withering mind and an inflamed heart. Fools, they can’t see the rain for the water, let alone the rainbow for all the colours. In those telephoneless times, the news of Nisveta’s desperate measures travelled faster than Nisveta’s bandy legs could carry her. Then a self-proclaimed tell-all, an old-fashioned tidings-bringer, ended up under our veranda, yelling himself hoarse, broadcasting in an oldfashioned way, ‘Nisveta’s trying to walk under the rainbow! Silly, silly woman! The heat melted her brain!’

Oh, shut up!’ Father cried at him. ‘You’re making a fool of yourself!’ Father’s seven-foot stature and his scornful gaze, topped by a pair of black and bushy eyebrows were not threatening to the man, who just leered back. The man pulled up his scuffed trousers, which were tied with a piece of rope, patted his green cap backwards, sniffed over his moustache, and dashed away, indulging his newly discovered talent.

Father turned away and came close to Mum. He embraced her and kissed her on the lips.

Your moustache is wet.’ She pressed her lips together, handed me to him, put her breast back into the blouse, and wiped her mouth dry with her sleeve.

He bit his lip. A line crossed his forehead and he squinted. He turned away and hoisted my little body. ‘Look, Fatima, a rainbow! You see the beautiful colours? There are seven of them, you know.’ Father, such a romantic.

Don’t bother,’ Mum said. ‘She’s too tiny to see anything. Babies can only see their mothers and nothing else. Especially not their fathers.’

‘She can see me all right.’

I yawned. He lowered his gaze from me and saw a panting woman leaned on a pile of chopped wood under the veranda. ‘Safija, look, there’s Nisveta.’ Nisveta looked up. He said, ‘Come over here. Safija will make us a pot in a moment.’

Mum rolled her eyes.

Nisveta said, ‘Don’t bother, my dear. I’ve already had a cup with Suljo. He gets up so early he even wakes the cock.’

Father said, ‘Let’s have another one then. Such a nice morning. Shame to run for work right away.’

Nisveta took another look at the shimmering bridge, which seemed to have moved farther away with every step she’d taken closer to it. ‘You’re right.’

Mum said, ‘Rasim, let her in, I’ll put the kettle on.’

Nisveta came up the outdoor stairs that led to the upper part of the house. It was built into the slope of a hill and the rear windows of the second storey faced the woods. Those in front were turned to the open space of the valley, so my family could see the whole town, and the small river Bobas speeding down into the slow flowing river, Vrbanja. Nisveta supported herself on the red façade bricks. It was a new countryside vogue, instead of a cement façade. She faced the heavy front door, and a half-opaque, round window through which she could see the contorted shadow of my father. She sighed. The door opened. ‘I’m sorry for bothering you this early_’

Don’t be silly. Come on in.’ Mum greeted Nisveta with a big smile, but was a little anxious to remove me from the sight of the tired woman. ‘Let me just put this little nuisance to bed. She can ruin your coffee break before you know what hit you.’

She’s a beauty, mashallah.’

She is, but she’s giving me trouble already. God knows what’ll happen when she gets older.’

I’m sure she’ll be fine, inshallah. Can I hold her?’

‘She’s a nuisance, really.’

Mum was actually afraid I would be affected by the evil eye of the unexpected visitor, afraid that the fate of the troubled woman would transfer onto the fragile little me. Still, she knew it’d be rude to refuse a childless mother. ‘I’ll put her here on the sofa and you can keep an eye on her, will you? I’ll be right back.’ Mum put me on my special quilt and disappeared behind the oak kitchen door. Father was on his way into the room, but he stopped and stood silently watching Nisveta. She grabbed me, held me up against her face and pressed her half-burnt lips on my forehead. Father went out to give her a moment. Raindrops hit windows. I shrieked. Mum and Father ran back in. Nisveta was lying on the floor next to me.

I'm Bugged

I've got a teeny piece of flash fiction up on the Bugged project site:  you can read it here.  It's my usual morbid horrible fare, of course, so avert your eyes and avoid clicking if you're at all squeamish.

Have I explained Bugged before?  You had to do some eavesdropping on July 1st and some up with a short story, a poem, or a piece of flash fiction or drama based on what you overheard.  Mine came from a conversation I heard in Manchester Airport on my way to Amsterdam - though I'm sure the girls I spied upon were a lot less mean and desperate than their avatars in my piece.

Jo Bell is the creative genius behind Bugged, and they've got luminaries like Jenn Ashworth, David Gaffney and Mil Millington backing it.  There'll be an anthology announced in a few weeks, and they're hoping to run events around the country based on the whole eavesdropping experiment.  It's a good opportunity to think about where your ideas come from and to examine in a really deliberate way how a piece of fiction develops.

The last day for entries is this Sunday (15th) at midday - good luck!

a brief list:

1. Nik Perring has an interview with me over on his blog.  Hurray, Nik!  And thank you muchly for having me, you charming gent, you.

2. We had the launch of Issue Four of Bewilderbliss magazine on Thursday night.  I did a reading on the night; we didn't have too many people up at the mic this time, so I was sneaky and read two things.  One was the little piece I have in the magazine itself and the other was my Bristol Prize story.  So everybody else read funny and/or uplifting things and the audience laughed and clapped and got pretty mellow and chilled.  So then I got up last (and failed to work the microphone properly) and read one story about child abuse and another about revenge castration.  Talk about bringing your audience down.  But they all clapped so perhaps it was fine, and maybe everybody is secretly just as morbid as me.  Plus possibly they were then spurred to drown their sorrows in more booze, thus benefiting the bar and making us look like good clients?  Whatever; I had a Good Night.  And got to meet/see/accost more Internet People - Ben and Dave and all sorts of lovely other folk.  And one of our fine editors-in-chief baked cakes!  I'll miss Bewilderbliss when we hand it over to next year's class.  Buy your copy while you can - either on the website, or, if you're in Manchester, in the Cornerhouse.

3.  Shout-out to Orla and Serena, who came to stay this weekend! We went to a Malaysian restaurant and then to a karaoke bar, and tricked a jeweller into letting us try very expensive things on.  Does it get better than that?  No, it does not. But I'm still tired from the karaoke, and I didn't even sing.  I was the cheerleader.  Go, team!

4. Shouldn't you guys be at work or something?  I've got to get back to my dissertation.  Laters.

your advice please!

Internet, I'm looking for advice.  

I've got a Waterstones token (thanks, Bristol!) and I'm looking for ways to spend it.  I'm always indecisive when it comes to buying new books; I'll buy them second-hand by the truckload, but at full-price I start dithering and doing sums and thinking about waiting until the book in question pops up in a charity shop.  I know - bad for the industry - but I'm cheap and broke and that's about that.  This time, though, I can buy new books with impunity and I want your recommendations.

My criteria: I get a quite a lot of brand-new stuff to review each month (yay!) so I'm more thinking books that have been around for longer than a year or so.  Short story collections or novels are what I'm after; I'm the type of poetry-buyer that looks admiringly at the new book and then never reads it.  So, prose please.  Also, I tend to the more literary end of things, rather then genre, but hey - try and convince me.  And whatever you suggest, I'll have to be able to get it in Waterstones, either online or in my local Deansgate branch, so that probably rules out some American indie stuff - boo.

So please tell me what you love and why!  Surprise me!  Delight me!  And stick your recommendations in the comments.  On your marks.... 

short & sweet (1)

Have you lot read this - Roger Federer as Religious Experience?  David Foster Wallace saying how great Roger Federer is.  Double the brilliance.  DFW really was The Man.  And you guys know my Federer feelings.  Check it.

In other news, I want to blog a little more about short stories, in the spirit of Sarah Salway's Bristol Prize speech - stories I've read and liked and wish you guys would read and like too.  Right now I've just finished Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's The Thing Around your Neck, and I really liked it. The title story is probably my favourite - I like her use of the second person (hard to do well) and the ending is so sad.  'A Private Experience' is really good too - I first read this online on the Guardian website a couple of years ago, and I loved the way she dealt with the way life changed over three generations for a Nigerian family in the final story, 'The Headstrong Historian'.  I'm a big fan of Adichie's novels - have any of you read Half of a Yellow Sun?  Total genius.  She's not an experimental writer - like the novels, the story collection is traditional storytelling, very well crafted, very easy to handle, narrative-wise, but hard-hitting, emotionally.  So a big thumbs up for Adichie and her short stories.

I've got a couple of novels lined up next (for reviewing purposes) and then a book of Aimee Bender shorts.  Stay tuned.

Deyan Enev review

My review of Deyan Enev's Circus Bulgaria is live on Bookmunch.

a quickie

Ellen Grant has interviewed me on behalf of the Bristol Prize: go read!

Bewilderbliss Issue 4 Launch

Dudes, it's Bewilderbliss time again! After this issue, my classmates' reign of terror will be over and the new MA intake will inherit the magazine - but in the meantime, issue 4, our second baby, has been sent off to the printers and we'll be wetting its head next Thursday, August 5th, at Cord Bar in Manchester's Northern Quarter from 19:00 onwards.  Do come.  You'll get to hear people read and last time Matt and Jon baked cakes.  Cakes!

radio face!

So I was on the radio this morning!  BBC Radio Manchester, to be precise.  I made sure to comb my hair and wear clean clothes, as Daisy told me the listeners can tell if you're wearing your pyjamas and haven't brushed your teeth. The very lovely press officer from the University, Mike, came along for moral support and sat with me and waited.  It all took less then ten minutes and it wasn't quite as scary as I'd thought it might have been.  Becky Want, the presenter, was really sweet and I managed to name-check Alan Warner and Denis Johnson and I didn't swear at all.  Not even once.  I think that's the least foul-mouthed I've ever been.  I chatted about short stories and chick lit and my plans for the future.   Have a listen!  I'm at about 1:00:30, right after Michael Jackson.  Me and Mickey, we're tight.

are you listening?

I'm going to be on the radio on Monday! I've been instructed: no swearing and stay off the whiskey. Tune into the Becky Want show on BBC Radio Manchester at 10:00 on Monday 26th July* to hear me talk about the Bristol Prize and my story (which they can't read out because of its adult-type nature, ahem). If you can't tune in at the time, there'll be a listen again option for a week, and I'll post links as and when.

*If any of you are regular BBC Manchester listeners, Becky's filling in for Heather Stott for a couple of weeks, hence the funny time-slot.

from the trenches (2)

Live from Tatton Park: today I've eaten one plate of salad, one bowl of trifle, one mini scone, one flapjack, some little biscuits, many chocolate fingers, at least two packets of crisps and a fresh fruit salad.  I feel peculiar.

Also: the University of Manchester has put me on its website! Check it out. I think the picture captures my inarticulacy and ill-preparedness very well.  I'm waving my two free anthologies in the air, which is Interpretive Dance for 'Oh god, I can't think of anything to say.'  But what a lovely quite from Tania in the article.  Top stuff!

from the trenches (1)

I'm in a hotel in Cheshire and my room has both tiny shampoos and biscuits, so I'm proper pleased; also I ate two and a half deserts this lunchtime.  I'm not allowed do that at home.  On the downside, trying to skype himself (a mere sixteen miles up the road) made the laptops make Merzbow noises, which was peculiar and unpleasant (and possibly cosmic retribution for the desserts?)  Back on the up, I brought eleven books with me for my four days away, so my colleagues continue to think I'm insane, but I'm re-reading Morvern Callar for the third time and they don't know what they're missing; ha!  I'm over-caffeinated and under-slept.  Here's me and Sarah Salway and the Lord Mayor of Bristol!

2010 Bristol Short Story Prize

Okay, I've calmed down a little now.  Not entirely, mind - I've still got the novel/dissertation to write, books to read, a review to write and some packing to be (rather urgently) done, but my concentration span has gone on holidays and I've spent all of today on twitter and facebook and my email.  I'm blown away by all the lovely messages I've gotten, not only from family and friends and writing colleagues, but from strangers who've sent me their congratulations.  I'm staggered by how nice you all are!  Anyway, here's my version of Saturday's events; a little rambling, but hopefully comprehensive!

So!  I was really excited about going down to Bristol for the ceremony; I'd never been in that part of England before, and the prize-giving was taking place at the tail-end of  writers' retreat I was on in Wales with my writing group, so it was like my super-dooper writing week.  Plus I knew I was getting a free book and fifty quid, so, you know, SCORE.  Myself and himself turned up with all our luggage in tow (which we later forgot to collect; props to the guys at the Arnolfini for hanging onto it for us until the next day, when I turned up in my fancy shoes and party dress asking for my clothes back, like a kid the day after a college ball).  We met Joe Melia (the brilliant coordinator of the prize) and had a look at Ground, an art exhibition by pupils from Henbury School in Bristol, based on Miranda Lewis's story from the very first Bristol Prize anthology.  So that was all very exciting, and the kids' work was really good.  Joe then brought us upstairs with all the other shortlisted people and fed us cake and fizzy pop and ran us through the order of the ceremony.  I got to meet Twitter people and put faces to the names - not only Joe, but Jon Pinnock, Clare Wallace and Claire King (who'd come all the way from France!) and loads of other lovely talented people.

Then me and Andy went to check out the Arnolfini's current exhibition (Dead Star Light, by Kerry Tribe - well worth a look if you're in the Bristol area) before grabbing a coffee and sitting out on the harbourside and meeting up with fellow shortlistee Marli Roode (a Manchester MA graduate who'll be massive soon, so remember her name) and my online chum, Anna Britten, who's in my writing group and was commended at Bridport last year for her bloody brilliant story 'On Creation'.  So the company was illustrious!

At seven we all filed inside and myself and Marli sat at the end of the reserved row at the front of the room with all the other nominees.  There were twenty people on the list and eleven of us were there, everybody looking hugely nervous.  There were speeches from the Lord Mayor of Bristol and Bertel Martin (one of the directors of the Prize) and novelist, poet and short-story writer, Sarah Salway.  Sarah said that we all hear and read endless debates about the death, rebirth, revival and imminent demise of the short story - but instead of all this discussion and displacement activity, people should simply be reading and writing short stories, and every time we hear somebody saying they 'don't read/like short stories' we should give them a recommendation - a book or story that might make them change their minds.  Damn right!  And so, my recommendations are Nik Perring's Not So Perfect and Denis Johnson's Jesus Son. You'd have to be a hard-hearted crazy bastard of a person not to love Nik's work, and I just adore Johnson.  Go and read.  (But keep reading this post first, the good bit's coming up.)

So then the Lord Mayor stepped up again to read out first the runners-up and then the third, second and first place winners. He called out first, in alphabetical order, the runners-up that weren't present at the ceremony, and then went on to those of us sitting all white-knuckled in the front row.  He got as far as the Ps, and I had to recite the alphabet quickly in my head, because isn't O before P?  So I thought, well, they've put me down as R instead of O (people in the UK get all confuddled with my name), but then they did the Rs and I was still sitting there.  Then it was me down the end on my own, freaking out because they'd FORGOTTEN ME, like in school when they were doing the rounders team, and clearly I hadn't won because shouldn't there be three of us down there, anyway, for first, second and third?  I'd misunderstood the announcement system and I was wearing a black dress in a dark room so they couldn't even see me to realise they'd forgotten me, and I'd be left at the end on my own ALL NIGHT like a total spanner and all the real writers would feel sorry for me.  So then the Mayor announces third place and it was Rachel Howard, and she wasn't present.  And then second was Ian Madden - and he wasn't there either. (Huge congrats to those guys, great stories!)  So I turned and looked at the crowd for reassurance, and Andy was punching the air like we did when Holland got into the semi-finals a couple of weeks ago, and Anna was miming OH MY GOD at me and grinning her head off.  Well, these guys are going to take some calming down when they realise that there's been a crazy mistake, I thought, and felt a little bad for them.  Then the Mayor called out my name and was looking right at me!  Well.  I went up and barely managed to shake hands with him and with Bertel and Sarah, and to be honest, we're all very lucky I didn't trip over the podium and bring the whole thing crashing down, Joe's fancy banner and everything.  I went over to where everybody else was standing and Marli gave me a hug and then they had me back over for a speech.  Now that was where I really did blow my 'sophisticated writer who's turned thirty and has managed to walk in highish heels all evening' cover.  I gaped around and thanked the organizers and congratulated the other writers and then stuttered for a very unseemly length of time and announced I hadn't won a prize before.  WHEN IN DOUBT, MAKE EXCUSES.  Then I was let off the hook and there were photos (me and a Mayor!  Me and Joe's banner!) and then wine in the Arnolfini's bookshop.  People asked me to sign their copies of the anthology!  If any of you are reading, I'm VERY sorry about my crappy handwriting and whatever ridiculous things I scribbled down. I'm not good at off-the-cuff (in case my 'speech' didn't make that clear already).  But look at this:

That's me on the right; you'd swear I knew what I was doing.  Nastasya, on the left, also had a story in the anthology; check it out.  Sarah Salway took these other ones: one of me and Andy, and two of me, Sarah and Lia.  I look massively crazy in all of them.

Anyway, it was all so brilliant - chatting to Tania and Sarah and everybody else, meeting Sarah Hilary and more twitter people (hi Sophie!) and talking to the judges and the readers and people who'd just bought the anthology and had read my story.  I'm still on a total high.  The Bristol Prize website has blogged about it, and so has Tania and Sarah. I didn't take any other photos but I'll post more if I come across them via other people.  This is a long post, isn't it?  I'm off to Tatton Park now for four days to sit in a portacabin and get a thorough reality-check, but I'll be back soon.  Thanks for being so very nice, internets!