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.