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!


Well! I think you must all have been crossing those fingers and toes extremely hard, because it turns out I won this year's Bristol Prize! I'll blog properly about it later, but in the meantime, thank you so much to the judges ad the organizers of the contest, and huge congratulations to all the entrants, the other people on the long-list and the short-list, and everybody who turned up at the Arnolfini on Saturday night to help us celebrate the short story.  Hurray!  I'm off to bed now - I'm not long back in Manchester and sleep must be had; I'll endeavour to be more coherent tomorrow.

I'm a Versatile Blogger!

So says Steph over at The Creative Identity - thank you, Steph! I'm going to pretend that this is a very fancy award and I'd like you all to imagine me taking a sweeping bow, and maybe, if you like, you can throw flowers or perhaps a box of chocolate in my direction (no knickers, thanks, this isn't that kind of blog. Yet.)  Am I a versatile blogger?  Well. I moan a lot (but about various things) and I talk about my writing and other people's writing, and the MA, and (lately) my home heating issues and (on occasion) Roger Federer. (I love him.)  Versatility?  Hell, yes.  So.  With great power comes great responsibility!  And great power in this instance = my massive versatility, and my responsibilities therefore include: thanking Steph and linking to her (done!), telling you seven facts about myself, and linking to fifteen other versatile blogs. How much do you really want to know?

(1) I can't sing a note. In primary school I wasn't allowed in our class choir; me and a boy called Gareth had to stand in the corridor while the other kids trooped from room to room during a school festival singing their hearts out. (Everybody say aaaaw.)
(2) I hate cooking. I love eating, but the preparation is a drag, man. I exclusively date men who can chop and roast and grill. Hats off to him indoors for feeding me for all these years. I do a mean bowl of popcorn though, and some rocking toast.
(3) I wasn't on a plane until I was ten, and that was on a class trip from Dublin to Shannon. I was very excited. The houses looked like Lego. We stopped off for a McDonalds and then got the train home because our parents weren't made of money.
(4) I'm obsessed Buffy The Vampire Slayer. When I was on the dole, and later, on a minimum wage job, I saved my meagre pennies to buy the series box-sets one by one, at a rate of one box per about six months. It was so worth it. A Buffy anecdote damn well is relevant in most conversations.  (Ditto quotes from The Simpsons.) And Spike kicks Angel's ass.
(5) I saw Kill Bill Volume One in the cinema six times. Wiggle your big toe.
(6) I've moved house seven times in the past six years, and will be off again in about seven weeks. I've forgotten what stability feels like. I'm a packing goddess.
(7) If you give me money, I'll spend it on books.  No matter how ratty my clothes are getting, or what the food situation is like. Here, give me some money.  Or some books.  Go on.

Fifteen blogs that I've come across recently?  Well, I don't know that I've got fifteen very recent finds, so I'll give you six, and then a few more I've been reading for aaaaages.  They're mainly booky-languagy-writery things, but they keep me entertained and I guess if you're here, they'll probably entertain you too.  Check it:

The Paper Face Girl - my friend Daisy, blogging about her writing, ans short stories she's read, and miscellaneous musings.
The Inky Fool - very cool and entertaining facts about the English language.
Grab A Pen - Tahera, a 22 year-old YA writer, blogs about queries and writing and all sorts.
Who the Fudge is Benjamin Judge? - Ben blogs about writing and is currently running a very tense Literary World Cup tournament.
How To Write Badly Well - Joel Stickley tells you how to do just that. VERY funny.
Kirsty Logan - Kirsty blogs from Scotland about her writing and how her stories germinate. Keep an eye on her...

The Millions - great for news about books and literary goings-on (though very US-centred) and they feature very readable essays and interviews too.
I Have Become Accustomed To Rejection - Roxane Gay, of PANK fame, has a massively entertaining rejection blog.
Private Secret Diary - Alex March writes about Norfolk living, Very funny.
This Itch of Writing - novelist Emma Darwin talks sense about writing.
Every Day I Lie A Little - novelist Jenn Ashworth has a snazzy new-look website and blog.
Little Bird Stories - Holly Ringland tells us about the good in her life, and her writing.

And a few non-writingy ones:
Questionable Content - one of my favourite long-0running webcomics (I;d recommend starting fro the beginning, though set aside a few weeks to catch up!)
Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal - more geeky comic fun
A Change of A Dress - one for the girls (or the more experimental boys) - Siany posts a new dress every day  so you can scratch that window-shopping itch right here from your desk/sofa/bed/phone/??  Lovely.

Man, that was tiring.  I'm still away in Wales right now, but cross your fingers for me in Bristol on Saturday night!

Tommy Wieringa review

My review of Tommy Wieringa's Joe Speedboat is live at Bookmunch.

To Wales!

Well, I'm away again for a week, to a place I can't pronounce, with people I met on the internet.  Shocking?  Shocking.  Anyway, this is my Official Writing Week, in which I'll (a) write my entire dissertation!  Ha. (b) get my Bugged thingy done and (c) not spend every waking moment on Twitter or Facebook.*  Optimistic, maybe, but I'm very much looking forward to a week away with my writing group - the fantastic Fiction Forge - and the lovely Paper Face Girl, and I'm hoping for a decent level of productivity.  Wish me luck, internets!  And if you're totally hugely lucky, a scheduled post will appear mid-week to create the illusion I'm still among you, typing away.  In the meantime, if you have five minutes, check out this excellent story from June's PANK, by Teresa Milbrodt.  And at the end of the week, spare me a thought - instead of jetting back to the Manchster massiv, I'll be heading to Bristol for the launch of the latest Bristol Prize anthology (which has me in it!!) and the announcement of the three winners of this year's competition.  Amsterdam, Wales, Bristol?  July = big fat WIN so far.

* Well, I'll have my iPhone.  I'm not a total savage.

Going Dutch

I'm back and I'm thirty and Amsterdam is bloody fantastic.  We saw Van Goghs and Vermeers and Rembrandts, and we went to the zoo and the aquarium, and we hired bikes for three days and got the hang of the back peddle thing, and lounged about in the Vondelpark and the Oosterpark reading our books, and ate apple pie for lunch and Indonesian and Thai and Ethiopian food, and Andy drank beer from a gourd, and we saw the canals and the red light district and the Anne Frank House, and we watched Holland break into the semi-finals of the world cup on the giant big screen in the Museumplein surrounded by people wearing orange and it was AMAZING.  Look!

Isn't it a mad, mad, mad, mad world...

...when Federer loses in the quarter finals?  And, right, when our boiler breaks again at the exact same time that poor Roger's flailing about uselessly?  It's very worrying, and I don't know what it all means, but I'm not hanging around to find out.  This afternoon I'm off to Amsterdam until Monday evening - whoop!  This is to celebrate my birthday - I'll be thirty on Saturday.  That's right, thirty.  Can you believe it?  I can't.  Thirty used to seem incredibly old.  It doesn't now (thank CHRIST) - I'm quite psyched about the next decade.  The last one was pretty cool, but I think I know what I'm all about a little more more, and that can only be a good thing.  Anyway.  Thirty!  In Amsterdam!  I'm going to ride Dutch bikes and eat cake and read and look at canals and museums and stay in two nice hotels (long story) and I'll see you all on the other side!