three sleeps...

...until I'm off to Amsterdam for my thirtieth-birthday long weekend!  Huzzah! In the meantime, I have to write like a bastard so that I can take yet another weekend off in good conscience.

Quick dissertation/novel update: much reworking is needed on the first section (which is the section I've more or less written), but I've outlined what's needed and it seems to make sense.  In the meantime, I'm going to plough on, revise the first chapter of the next section, and draft out the next couple of bits. Easier said than done, but I think the key is not to look it directly in the face, and just go one scene at a time.

Have you been following Benjamin Judge's literary World Cup? You totally should. The penalty knock-outs are awesome.  And the refereeing very professional.

And back to the tennis.  I mean the Federer.  I mean the novel. Go away.

doing the hot water dance

Did anybody hear my RAGE last week? The hotel bathroom had no bath. No bath, no little shampoos and lotions for me to steal, and no free biscuits. Seriously. I don't know how that can even class as a hotel. Also, the floor was laminate. If I want laminate floors, I can go kick my tenants out and walk around on the Topps Tiles' Special that is my Birmingham flat. In a hotel, though, I want to walk barefoot on carpet and steal shampoo and have a bath.  There was definite rage.

Anyway. While I was away, the Evil Landlord got another boiler engineer around and they bodged something together, breaking our no-heat stalemate at just under three weeks.  So I had a bath when I came home, and it was Good.  The boiler hasn't broken again - yet - so I'm doing an unholy amount of laundry this week, just in case. You're not that interested in my laundry dilemmas, though, right? But this is the writing life; the laundry, the cups of tea, the random bouts of tidying-up. If I stopped with the laundry, I'd have to dissertate. Instead, I've got the World Cup (Go, South Korea and Greece! And Mexico, my non-sweepstake favourites. Fantastic lads, the lot of them.) and Wimbledon. I heart Wimbledon, and I especially heart its reigning champ, Roger Federer. I can't get my head around the fact that he's younger than me. He looks so mature and steady. I bet his appliances aren't bodged together.

Jane Feaver review

My review of Jane Feaver's Love Me Tender is live at Bookmunch.

back on the 07:26 to Birmingham

I'm off to the Midlands for a few days to dip my toes back into the working world. The massive highlight of the week will be a bath (I know, I'm super exciting!) - with the Boiler Situation running at a, what is it? seventeen day stalemate? now, I'm hugely anticipating having a hot soak in the hotel bathroom. So if they pull a fast one and supply a shower cubicle instead of a tub, you'll hear my roars of frustration and rage all the way in your house - and I'm looking at my New Zealand reader here - so listen out tonight.

I also had my first dissertation supervision on Tuesday, and I've got plenty to mull over (and piles of re-writing and re-plotting to worry about) so it's a good thing I'll have a few days away from the computer with just my notebook and my thoughts (which should be concentrating on the aforementioned work, of course, but damn, you can't have it every which way).

So! By the time you read this I'll be holed up in a dank corner of the NEC, capturing video clips of flowers I can only identify with the help of a huge fat book of plants, and working on my back-ache and the RSI that I'm sure must be right around the corner. And I'll be thinking about baths. See you on the other side.

what I done bought... that there Hay Festival.

Does anybody want to know what books I bought at Hay?  No?  Tough.  Look!  In no particular order:

Donald Barthelme's Great Days. I've got his Sixty Stories already - studied it as an undergrad waaaay back when - and 50p for a book of Barthelme?  Bargain.  This seemed to have been left out in the rain since publication day, mind, so it's rather fragile.
Martin Malone's Us. I hadn't heard of this before, but he's Irish, and we've got to stick together. Solidarity, yo.
Sam Lipsyte's The Subject Steve. I've been wanting to read Lipsyte for a while, having heard all about him online, so this is where I'll start. The first few pages are definitely good, anyway.
Etgar Keret's The Nimrod Flipout. Nik Perring's been going on about Keret, so I homed in on this one with high expectations!

Nicholson Baker's Checkpoint. Another dude I've been wanting to check out, after reading all the internet snippets and recommendations.
Laura Hird's Born Free.  Who doesn't love gritty Scottish fiction about dysfunctional families??
Gordon Lish's Peru.  I know everybody goes on about Lish as an editor, but I love his fiction and you never see it anywhere - not over here in the UK, anyway - so I saw this and thought SCORE!
Aimee Bender's The Girl in the Flammable Skirt.  Another Perring-influenced purchase. Nik, you might have a lot to answer for - or I may start hounding you for more recommendations. Let's wait and see...

Paul Auster's In The Country of Last Things. I've only read a few of Auster's books - one I really didn't like (Mr Vertigo), the rest I loved, so the odds are good for this one.
Robert Coover's Pricksongs and Descants. This is one of those titles that I feel like I should have read years ago and I think I'll admire more than actually enjoy, so wish me luck.
Geoff Ryman's The Warrior Who Carried Life. Okay, this is by one of my MA tutors who's an SF writer, and it looks like one for the hard-core fantasy geeks, but I've gotta show brand loyalty, so I'll give it a whirl.
Finally, Jean Ure's Plague 99. This freaked the absolute shit out of me when I was nine years old.  I got it out of the library just after it came out - the local library didn't get many new books so this was a treat - and then I had nightmares for months about everybody I knew dying of some horrific and gruesome plague.  So clearly the opportunity to relive the pleasure was irresistible.  I read it on the camp-site while we were still in Hay, and it was less scary than last time (thank GOD) but still very good. Top-notch scary YA stuff. Great cover, too.


So yesterday they unveiled the shortlist for the 2010 Bristol Short Story Prize, and there I am - along with Marli Roode and Jon Pinnock and Clare Wallais and Claire King and fifteen other talented people.  I'm a little stunned by all this - they had 1500 entries, and though the prize has only been running since 2007, it's already one of the biggest UK writing prizes.  It's definitely the fanciest thing I've ever been associated with.  And even if I don't get any further, I'll still be in the anthology.  Good times!  And good luck to everybody else - can't wait to see some/all of you in Bristol in July!

plus the weather was AMAZING

So I'm just back from my first trip to the Hay Literary Festival in South Wales (also my first trip to Wales!) and as much as I love Manchester and cities in general, the whole urban hustle and bustle, I have to say boo-hiss to leaving Hay.  I mean, seriously - this place has more bookshops than people.  It's like they made it specially for me.  And then to add author readings and talks and debates?  And for practically every local person in the area to throw their gardens open and bake cakes and brew coffee for all us marauding tourists, at prices that wouldn't get you tap-water anywhere else?  I had the best coffee-and-walnut cake OF MY LIFE this morning.  And the camp-site people had a coffee guy in every day selling us coffee in the morning and hot chocolate in the evening, and he was chatting to people in the queue about Dinos Chapman.  For serious. Best place EVER.  And because you pay per talk/event rather than for the whole festival, anyone can wander in and soak it up and sit in deckchairs reading and sipping the free coffee that some dudes kept handing out as taste-testers, and there was no scowly-faced bag-checking; people were bringing in picnics and bottles of wine and lying out on the grass and writer-spotting and reading.  And reading and reading and reading.  I've never seen so much non-exam-motivated reading in my life.  For once I wasn't the only freak walking down the footpath with a book open.  People were lugging paperbacks about like they were oxygen-canisters necessary for survival. WHICH THEY ARE.

We drove down from Manchester on Thursday, avoiding the M6 and meandering down all these mad little lanes and passing a road-side circus somewhere off the A5, and stopped for a break in a kind of awful café/restaurant place that had the worst-looking carvery meal, but a lovely field out the back with picnic tables and a horse:

We gave the horse our only apple.  We were totally at one with nature, as represented by that horse.  Then on to Hay, pitch the tent, wander around the festival grounds and buy a ticket for a gypsy-jazz disco-club-oddity for that night.  I'd had something of a dilemma about events: there were about twelve or fifteen things I'd have liked to have seen over the four days, but my budget is minimal, and I discovered that we could blag five free tickets each with our NUS cards, so I'd narrowed it down to the gypsy-thingy, Philip Pullman, and the five freebies: Hilary Mantel, David Shields, Zadie Smith, Jonathan Coe, and a guy who wrote a recent biography about Norman Foster.  Of course, Philip Pullman and Hilary Mantel promptly got wind of our scheme, and pulled out, the absolute bastards, but we pulled a sly one out of the bag by bringing several unwanted books along with us to the festival where we gave them to the Oxfam stand in exchange for another free pair of tickets, this time to a debate about the Pope.  Heavy, but it seemed sort of Pullman-esque.  So we were only down one event, in the end, and I got a Pullman refund, and Mantel had been free anyway.  So all's well that ends well, though I'd have loved to hear a reading of Wolf Hall.  Never mind.

The gypsy jazz was suitably bizarre; we got heartily drunk on Red Stripe with a couple of friends who'd been at the festival all week, and we all watched a gaggle of local teenage girls perform their own Pussy Cat Dolls auditions on a table at the back of the room by the bar.  Fantastic.  The next day was a little hungover, and we spent it in bookshops, armed with a bookshop-map of the town.  I can't begin to explain how exciting this was for me.  I think other people get like this about shoe-shops or wedding dresses or something.  I'm at my most babbling and excited and manic when I've got several million second-hand bookshops laying their wares at my feet.  Again, though, the budget (damn awful dreadful stupid I-hate-you budget) restrained me a little, and I made a £2.50 or less rule, and was very picky with what I bought.  This is me looking exhausted and rather delirious with my haul after Day One:

We went to the Norman Foster talk that night, and it was interesting, though the biographer dude was a little rambling and the slides showing Foster's buildings were pretty bad, with some of them only showing details, and some only showing really wide or cropped shots. 

On Saturday we started the day with a little Jonathan Coe.  I'd just finished his new one, The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim, which owes a lot to David Nobbs' The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin (I haven't read it or seen the TV series).  I hadn't liked Coe's novel, but I'd loved his earlier work, so I had mixed feelings about the talk.  He read a section from near the start of the book and while I'd been bored reading it, I laughed out loud listening to Coe dramatise it.  I think perhaps the audio book might be the way to go there.  Anyway, Nobbs was on stage with Coe, and the two of them were a fantastic double-act - really witty and generous and friendly, and it would have been money well spent, had I actually paid for the ticket.  Ahem.  The rest of Saturday was devoted to more bookshopping and wandering along the banks of the Wye where we paddled and freaked out some passing chickens and ate lovely cakes in a lady's garden and walked back to the campsite along the river-bank.  

Then we  went to the Pope debate (This House Would Rescind the Pope's Invitation to the UK) which raised solid points from time to time but was in the end rather garbled with people talking at cross-purposes and no real conclusions or exciting arguments springing up.  A demented Prince-Charles-a-like was sitting to my left mumbling furiously to himself whenever people expressed opinions he didn't like; he made a ranting obscure point during the open-to-the-floor section that I didn't really follow because I was distracted by seeing the top half of my head on the big screen when the camera swung round to shoot the guy.  It seems I've got a massive forehead.  Let's not examine the photographic evidence.

Today, Sunday, there was more coffee and cake and tea and wandering in gardens and bookshops, and then a panel discussion about copyright featuring David Shields, Feargal Sharkey, John Sutherland and a woman from Google, and a journalist whose name I forget.  Again, some solid points emerged from a messy and inconclusive and at times irrelevant discussion, but the audience questions and comments were really astute and David Shields emerged looking a little foolish - especially when somebody pointed out that if he's got such strong opinions of sharing and copying and the dissemination of ideas and non-attribution, how come he copyrighted his book and published via Random House instead of just putting his text online, free to and for everybody.  He mumbled about how the world and the internet 'isn't there yet' - I was going to raise my hand and point out the Geoff Ryman, one of my tutors, made one of his recent novels available online as well as publishing it traditionally and that it used the non-linear hypertextual properties of the internet really well to create a new type of reading experience, and that many people (Fiona Robyn, for one) have been making their work available online, not to mention all the lit mags out there, so that to say we're 'not there yet' is totally fudging the issue and avoiding the question and is a total cop-out - but some other girl made a similar point first so I stayed quiet and didn't get my public rant on.  Another time.

Then we saw Zadie Smith read from her non-fiction collection, Changing My Mind, and though some of you will remember that I'm really, truly, cross-my-heart, NOT a fan of her fiction, I do like what I've read of her non-fiction, and her reading and Q&A was fantastic.  Totally the highlight of the festival-related bit of my Hay trip.  Book-buying-and-browsing wins overall, but Zadie's such a close second.  That woman can speak. If I were half that articulate - well, I'd still be here on the sofa doing nothing and complaining about my broken boiler, but man, I'd do it in STYLE.  Here's me back at home with our combined total purchases:

Can we skip to next June, please?  I want more Hay.


So by the time you're reading this, I'll be jetting off down the M6 (or whatever, the SatNav knows its business, I just sit there) to Hay on Wye, for four days at the literary festival.  Woo-hoo!  I'll be combining that with worrying about  my dissertation and loading up on second-hand books as a distraction from the aforementioned worry about the dissertation.  I'll also be more or less offline for the whole time - always a shocking experience for me - and I plan to get muchos reading done in the meantime, as well as copious note-taking for the novel.  Right now it's pretty damn late on Wednesday night and I better go pack: tent, clothes, books, pillow, books, books. See y'all on the other side.

MA Summer, Update 1

I've got my first dissertation supervision in two weeks, so I have to send a chunk of work over to my supervisor in about ten days.  Panicky Writing season has well and truly begun in this household.  My notebook is full of scribbles and circles and underlinings and sections overwritten like this:  NO!!! and WHAT??  Encouraging, right?  I'm not good with daily writing targets, but as I'm off to Hay on Thursday for several days, I'll have to get a little more disciplined and give myself some wordcount targets.  I'll be bringing the notebook to Wales, but not my laptop, and it's supposed to be a holiday, so that means today and tomorrow ought to be very focussed so I can feel okay about taking a few days off.  Okay - go...