National Short Story Day 2011

It's National Short Story Day today! Well, it is for my UK readers, anyway. So you British types should stop reading this and go read some short fiction. Quick off-the-bat recommendations: Kelly Link's Pretty Monsters. One of my favourites this year. I'm currently reading Jon McGregor's first collection, This Isn't The Sort Of Thing That Happens To Someone Like You - so far, so good. I just five minutes ago read the first story in Helen Simpson's Hey Yeah Right Get A Life - also excellent. Read Denis Johnson's Jesus' Son. Unbeatable. If you like weird postmodern clever stuff, try some Donald Barthelme. I've got John Updike's Early Stories on the go as a long-term project (it's massive) and what I've read so far has been brilliant. My friend Andrea's book just came out - Somewhere Else, Or Even Here. Buy it. Try the BBC National Short Story Prize anthologies. I just won a copy of Salt's Best British Short Stories 2011 - let's all read it. I'll shut up now. But do go read a short story - I mean, dude, they're SHORT. The duration of a cigarette or your tea-break. Read one on the loo. Okay. Shutting up. (Reading yet?)

Sarah Hall: review and reading

My review of Sarah Hall's The Beautiful Indifference is live at Bookmunch.

I went to see Sarah read in the Deansgate Waterstone's in Manchester on Wednesday. I'd only heard about the event by chance a couple of days beforehand, on twitter, and I guess the advertising wasn't really up to much, because only six people turned up - and that included a Waterstone's staff member. How depressing is that? You hear about ill-attended readings, sure, but still: this is a Booker-shortlisted author in Manchester's biggest bookshop - and Manchester's a pretty literary town. As my friend Andrea commented, that couldn't have been good for sales. It was such a missed opportunity for her fans here, too, because she was excellent - didn't bat an eyelid at the diminished audience, read a section from the first story in the collection, and then conducted a really fascinating Q&A with the half-dozen of us about her writing process, her relationship with her publisher (Faber), her cover designs and all sorts. My now-crawling lunatic baby roamed the rows of empty seats, squawking away to herself, and then made friends with the author (and a lovely Waterstone's lady) and I got a couple of books signed, so a good night was had, but I think Sarah Hall couldn't have been massively impressed by her Manchester public. If any of you get the chance to see her read in the future, jump at it: she's brilliant. (And the book isn't half bad either, of course!)

novel extract!

An extract from the first chapter of my novel-in-progress is on the internet! Huge thanks to Melissa Mann from Beat The Dust for saying yes. What a great start to the weekend! The rest of the issue is pretty wicked, too - I especially like Tania Hershman's Move Quickly Now, Ewan Morrison's Incident In A Mall #42, and Clare Pollard's A Night In Varanasi. Go, read!

prizes and fraud and all sorts

Let's be chronological about this:

Vivmondo (aka Richard Hirst) came second in the Manchester Fiction Prize! This is excellent: not only do I know Viv, but his story, School Report, is brilliantly creepy. You should definitely read it. Also, they created a special second prize place just for him. Fancy! The winning story, Days Necrotic, by Krishnan Coupland, is fantastic, so read that too - who'd have thought necrophilia could be so damn sexy? (I dread to think what that sentence is going to do to my Google ranking...) Click here to read the winners and the other shortlisted pieces.

Then, what? Well, myself and Seren went along to the Manchester Literature Festival as official bloggers for the Prize Culture event, a debate about literary prize culture (d'oh) that took place on the night of this year's Booker announcement. You can read my write-up here. Seren contributed by chewing on her cardigan, but I've got to say, she did that admirably. Julian Barnes took the Booker, of course, as I'm sure you all know; I haven't read the book, but to be honest, I'm wearying a little of the whole shebang. The books I've really loved this year didn't get anywhere near the Booker and what I did read of the shortlist (Pigeon English) I wasn't massively enthusiastic about. I'll read the Barnes eventually, probably, but I'm not rushing out.

Then, right, some utter bastard tried to hack into my Google Checkout to buy an iPad! I had a confirmation email about a transaction I knew nothing about, so I logged on and stopped it. The card associated with the account was an old, already cancelled one, so the payment hadn't gone through - ha! I called the bank, they said I was secure, so that's good; I reported it all to Google, who froze my Checkout account (irritating); I changed all my passwords, then called the police about attempted fraud and they hung up on me! Fuckers. So then I went online and got a number for the anti-fraud people, called them, gave all the details, and they logged it and advised me to get a credit report, which I did, blah blah, and anyway, I'm all fine. The twat who tried to hack me, though, had changed my Google delivery address to his/her own address:

111 lothair road 
LE2 7QE 

So, if you know who lives there, punch them really hard in the face/balls/whatever from me. Apparently the police won't do shit unless there was actual fraud - i.e., if they'd succeeded in buying their iPad, the cops would follow it up, but because the card payment didn't work, it's not an issue.

Well, onwards! Last Sunday, we went to the Literature Festival's Book Quiz - here's a write-up by Kevin Danson - and I'll give a high-five to anybody who can name the baby in the second-prize team, Five And A Baby... (hint)

Oh, AND! This was brilliantly unexpected. A German lit mag, WortMosaik, contacted me asking permission to translate and publish my story, The Girl in the Glass, which first appeared in PANK a couple of years ago. They'll send me two copies of the magazine when it comes out in December. High-five!

Evelio Rosero

My review of Good Offices by Evelio Rosero is live at Bookmunch.

A.S. Byatt review

My review of A.S. Byatt'Ragnarök is live at Bookmunch.

BBC National Short Story Award 2011 Anthology review

I almost forgot to link to this. My review of The BBC National Short Story Award 2011 Anthology is live at Bookmunch.

post-smut trauma

So my smut reading last Wednesday went well! Ben Judge's dolphin/lemur sex story did, however, make my baby cry - but at least we'll know exactly where her future psychological traumas originated, which should save us plenty on therapists' bills. Also: Socrates' story had an anus in it and one audience member left in protest. Brilliant.

Next: all of you should click here to read, 'In The Bush', an excellent story by Emma Martin, a very talented member of my online writing group. Best thing you'll read all day - promise.

Who entered the Myslexia novel competition? I didn't, what with the novel being in a massive state of unreadiness, but I'll be interested to see who wins. Another thing I didn't enter was the Harry Bowling first chapter prize, because, like the gold-plated fool I am, I left it till the last minute and didn't realise it was postal entry.

We went to the Book Barge on Saturday - it's moored in Manchester's Castle Quay until tomorrow and it's well worth a visit. They trade as well as sell, so you can bring along your own books and see if they'll do a swap - they'll also swap books for food and stuff, too, so get your bartery head on. There was a free acoustic gig on while we were there, too, AND it was a million degrees hot outside, so it was all remarkably summery for early October. Lovely!

That's about it. I haven't crashed the car yet. Seren's trying to eat Andy's laptop and I think she's got my speaker cable in her mouth. Ta ra.


That got your attention, didn't it, you dirty-minded buggers? Well, I'll not disappoint. I've got a story coming out  this week in an anthology called Quickies: Short Stories For Adults. It's got bad airplane sex and awkward teenagers in it. Yum! Also: the anthology's being launched this Wednesday (28th) by the Flashtag writing collective as part of the Didsbury Arts Festival here in Manchester. If you're around, come along to the Northern Lawn Tennis Club at 8pm and you'll get to hear me (and others) read their filth. Here's the Facebook page for the event.

A.L. Kennedy review

My review of A.L. Kennedy's The Blue Book is live at Bookmunch.

what, I have to think of a title, too?

I've just looked at my blog stats, and it's embarrassing how little I've updated this thing in 2011 (so far). It's all been links to reviews, and though I love the free books and legitimized holding-forth that the reviewing affords me, it's hardly absorbing for you lot, eh? Also, shockingly, it's been a whole year since my MA finished (a new class are being inducted this week, which means my class were the year before the year before - ancient history!) and two years since I moved to Manchester, and I'm really stupidly flabbergasted by how quickly time is moving. And, as well, I've never sloughed off that whole September is the New Year thingy that you get in school, so it seems like now is the time of year where things ought to recommence. (Blogging, anyone?) So let's  meander through what I've been doing.

(1) The baby! Seren. AKA, The Best Thing Ever. Seriously. Once you get past the sleep deprivation (give it two months), this child-rearing thing fits into a normal day pretty darn well. You can rest a book on a baby while you feed it/her, for instance. Did you know that? Also, giant whopping infant headphones let you bring a baby to an outdoor gig and the cinema (except Cineworld, who refused us access to Kill List because the child is under 18, and they're now on my own personal Kill List, the fascist bastards). Babies totally enjoy literary festivals and readings and launches, too, and they're a superb literary pub quiz mascot. Make note of that, prospective parents. Also, you can read anything out loud to a baby and they'll laugh at it. Even books about boredom or the Holocaust or Driving Test Theory. Brilliant! And they're free to feed (well, this one is) so it all works out well with the Impoverished Writer/Artist household that we've grown here in Whalley Range.    

(2) The book reviews. Come on, Valerie, tell us something we don't know.

(3) Trips! Bulgaria, for Andy's exhibition in Sofia, AKA a work trip that me and Seren hijacked. Best vegetarian food ever in Sofia, I swear on my virtual life. Also a brilliantly tiny natural history museum. And we had to get a passport for the baby. She's three weeks old in her picture. Mental. I didn't have one until I was sixteen. (Already practising the 'back in MY day' diatribes for when she gets uppity.) Where else? Hay On Wye - books! David Vann! Gary Shteyngart! Fresh coffee every morning on the campsite. Lovely. Seren fell in love with the red tent. (At the time, she was also in love with a red cushion.) Then Bristol (babies get you a free hotel upgrade!) and Dublin (family) and Llandeilo (cheap Groupon getaway).

(4) The novel. Oh, sigh. Oh, procrastinate! I'm revising the thing now. Revising, redrafting, ripping most of it up and starting again - same old, same old. But it's progressing. In fact, I should be doing chapter four right now, but I'm entertaining (?) you guys instead. Selfless, is what I am. Anyway. It's probably not going to be a long novel, but each chapter seems pretty long (shortest so far is 4k, longest is 7k). If I get chapter four hacked at sufficiently this week, that'll be Part One dealt with for now. Baby steps, eh?

(5) Driving! I've got a provisional driving license. I'm 31, so that's probably not something I should admit. Still. Lessons are very expensive (though still a fuckload cheaper than they are in Ireland) so I'm getting a headstart by having Andy teach me the basics in the ASDA car-park at night. (Seren's just loving the impromptu trips in the car-seat, and she expresses her joy by moaning and shrieking. Bless.) Three outings so far and we've done starting and stopping and driving in circles and going around the mini-roundabout and three-point turns and parking in the parking bay with no other cars nearby. The power may well go to my head, so consider yourselves warned. I have NOT mastered reversing.

Look at the length of this post! I'm having a cup of tea for my efforts. *takes a bow*

BBC National Short Story Award 2011

I keep thinking of topics for blog posts and then forgetting them. One that I have remembered, however, is that my former MA tutor and dissertation supervisor, MJ Hyland, has been shortlisted for the BBC National Short Story Award. So has Jon McGregor (whom I interviewed for Bookmunch last year, and who was also shortlisted for the Award in 2010) Alison MacLeod (whom I met very briefly at ShortStoryVille in July), KJ Orr and DW Wilson. I reviewed last year's anthology here and I might get my mitts on this year's one, too - we'll see. Anyway, good luck to everyone. The stories will be broadcast all this week on BBC Radio 4; MJ's is already up, and she's been interviewed on Front Row - if you follow the link above, you'll find further links to all this stuff. I haven't listened to the story yet, but I did hear the interview, and one interesting thing was that the story in question came from her novel-in-progress - a scene that's been rewritten and adapted for the shorter form. I'd like to see the two versions side-by-side, to see if the characters and plot come across differently in each. Have any of you done this - not so much built a story up into a novel, because I reckon that's pretty common, but taken a chunk of novel and re-formed it?

Stephen Kelman review

My review of Stephen Kelman's Pigeon English is live at Bookmunch.

Michael Ondaatje review

My review of Michael Ondaatje's The Cat's Table is live at Bookmunch.

review round-up

Here's a few in one go: my reviews of Hollis Hampton-Jones' Comes The NightKapka Kassabova's Villa Pacifica and Julie Myerson's Then are all live at Bookmunch. The first was disappointing, the third was excellent, though difficult, and the second - well, dull doesn't come close. But go on, read the review anyway!

not a lovely name

Well, my mission to have a whole week of DFW was a resounding failure; turns out he's not at all compatible with noisy family life. I got stuck in when we got back, mind, as did the baby. Page 141 absolutely astounded her:

I did read the Alex Keegan book in Dublin, though. And I had bubble baths and went shopping and did that thing where the fish eat your feet and ate a catastrophe of cakes. We drove down to Tipperary and visited my uncle, whom I haven't seen in a very long time, and Seren saw her first donkeys. I met an assortment of babies even newer than my own (hello, Maya; hello Kate!), including one still in utero, so I'll have to go back in February to see him/her on the far side. And my nephew was as ace as ever:

For the first time in about eighteen months, we managed to fly without ash clouds or snowstorms fucking us over, though the Ryanair ground-staff in Dublin did try to make us pay €60 for going over our luggage allowance, which only adds to my suspicion that their scales are maliciously tipped, since there's no WAY the extra baby-clothes and the couple of new toys that we accumulated in Dublin added up to over three kilos. We (meaning Andy) had to empty the case and the carry-on and put on several layers of t-shirts before phoning my sister to loop back round to the airport so we could fill the back of her car with our extraneous stuff and get her to post it over to us later. Ryanair, we hate you so much. DFW probably didn't help the weight thing, though.

Speaking of which.

I'd left The Pale King on top of my mum's kitchen radiator on Tuesday morning while I fed the baby, and my niece came over and looked at it. 'Whose book is this?'
'That's mine,' I said. 'I'm reading it.'
She's five-and-a-half with a year of big school under her belt. The book's enormous. She had a flick through. Six hundred pages. 'Is there nothing good at all in it?'
'There's no pictures. Only reading.'
'Only reading?' She closed it and looked at the cover. 'What book is it?'
'It's good. It's by a man called David Foster Wallace.'
She shook her head and dropped the book back on top of the radiator. 'That's not a lovely name,' she said, before heading out to make mud-and-grass pies in the garden with her cousin.

Not much else to say, really.

on my holidays

In about three hours I'll be on a plane to Dublin, to introduce/show off/offload the baby to various relations and friends - whoop! I'd say 'there'll be a break in blogging', but that would imply there'd been some kind of blogging routine that could be broken, and we all know that's a big fat lie. Anyway, my holiday reading will be DFW's The Pale King, a book I'd been very, very excited about, that arrived in the post the day I was in labour (I actually had my boyfriend bring it into the hospital for me), but that I haven't opened yet because I wanted to be able to concentrate on it, and the last four months have been full of exhaustion and napping and catching up on my reviewing. But now it's time! So let's hope it doesn't send me over my luggage allowance, eh? (I've got some AL Kennedy and Alex Keegan in case I need a DFW-break.) See you in a week, blog-people o'mine.

Sebastian Barry review

My review of Sebastian Barry's On Cannan's Side is live at Boookmunch.

The View From Here

I've been a very absent blogger lately; I'm sure you're all sick of nothing but links to book reviews. Let's have a quick detour to an art exhibition instead, eh?

Andy Broadey (my partner) has got a solo show on at the moment in Manchester's BLANKSPACE gallery. He's been working on his fine art PhD for nearly four years, now, and this show is the culmination of his work. (He has to hand in a dissertation too, but to be fair, you aren't going to be reading that, so let's sidestep and carry on.) The exhibition's called 'The View From Here' and if you go along you'll see three big photographic installations. He's interested in conventions of gallery design and display and architectural interventions into exhibition spaces. The opening was last Thursday and it went really well - huge thanks to those of you that turned up, with a special shout-out to Kim and Will, and the Wild clan! - and the show will be up until August 7th. Andy'll be there most of the time and I'll be around sometimes too, so get your asses over there. It's just down the road from the Anthony Burgess centre, for those of you who've been there. Opening hours: Monday to Friday 1pm-7pm (Tuesdays until 9pm) and weekends, 11am-4pm. (oh, and edit to add: Kevin Bradshaw's written a very thoughtful review of the show here, and Sarah-Clare Conlon's got another one here!)

Other than that, I'm ploughing my way through a mountain of book reviews and worrying vaguely about the novel and reading massively inappropriate stories to the baby and drinking gallons of tea. Same old, same old.

The Culture Diaries

When I was volunteering for the Manchester Literature Festival last year, I wrote a couple of blog posts about a poetry workshop run by writer John Siddique (which reminds me: I wrote a couple of haikus at that workshop - I'm almost feeling brave enough to look at them again now. Also - is haikus really the plural of haiku? It looks pretty odd when you write it down. Hmm.) Anyway, John's got a feature over on his blog called the Culture Diaries, where he asks guests to keep a diary of their cultural activities for seven days and then posts the result to the site. He asked me to contribute a while ago, but the baby-mania here kept me distracted and I only got around to it last week. I don't know how many of you keep diaries? I don't - I often think I ought to (it seems very writery to keep a journal) and I did start and abandon several when I was in school, but it's not a habit I've ever managed to properly acquire. But now I'm inspired to start one up again, because doing the exercise for John was so illuminating. It made me realize exactly how much I do, or can do, in a day; it made me reflect on the day, even if that reflection didn't make it into the entry itself; and it showed me how much I forget - reading back over the entries for early last week, I'm sure that I'd have otherwise forgotten most of the detail by now - in just a week! Anyway, the result is here. Thanks, John!

Jeremy Chambers review

My review of Jeremy Chambers' The Vintage And The Gleaning is live at Bookmunch.


My friend (and Bookmunch editor) Peter Wild has an article in the Guardian today - look! It's a review of a new Flannery O'Connor book - a collection of her cartoons. How cool is that? Pete, you the man!

(Also: somebody please buy me this book and give it to me and I'll act all surprised and abashed and I'll be dead grateful and happy. Ta!) 

Various Authors review

My review of the Fiction Desk's first anthology, Various Authors, is live at Bookmunch.

Mum's The Word on the iPhone

Quite a few of the people that have clicked through to this blog over the past year have been looking for my Bristol Prize story, Mum's The Word. As flattering as this has been, I've been reluctant to stick it up because I really wanted people to go out and buy the anthology instead - it's not expensive and it's a a great collection. Anyway, almost a year has passed and there'll be a new anthology out soon, and so I thought it was high time I sent the story out elsewhere. So now I'm really pleased to say that Ether Books have taken it. Ether are an interesting bunch; their stories are published via their iPhone app and they've got some really fancy authors on there (Hilary Mantel!). While the app itself is a free download, some of the stories you do have to pay for, but Mum's The Word isn't one of them - it's entirely free. So if you've got an iPhone, please do click through to the app store, download EtherReads and search for me! Massive thanks to Bea and the crew for taking me on!

on the road again

I'm off to Bulgaria tomorrow for a week. Have you ever been to Bulgaria? I haven't, though everybody I've spoken to lately either has a holiday home over there or has a horror story about a holiday home that went wrong and never got built. Anyway. We're not in it for our property portfolio; I'm in it for the chance to mooch around eating cake in a whole new city and Andy's in it for an art exhibition. That's why we're going - he's got a show on. So I'll be entertaining myself (and Seren) for much of the time. It used to be that when I went on holidays I'd do a bastard-load of research and arrive armed with an itinerary and a plan; this time I've got an out-of-date Rough Guide to Sofia and a nine-week old baby who won't really care about art galleries and fancy cafes. I'll be dragging her to them anyway, because that's how I'm rocking the parenting shizzle, yo. Ahem. There'll also be an opening night at the art gallery with wine and a bunch of Bulgarian arty types. I might do some novel-editing while I'm there, but I'm making no promises. Everything's moving very slowly on the novel-front, but that's okay. Today I went on a bike-ride for the first time since having the baby (I say bike-ride; I went to Asda and back, but dudes, it still counts) and compared to the last time I pedaled down the road, thirty-seven weeks pregnant, it was damn comfortable. What else? We went to Emma Jane Unsworth's book launch on Thursday, which was ace (the book's ace too). And Tom Fletcher and Beth Ward had a baby last Wednesday - welcome, Jake! Right. I should probably pack now, or some such nonsense. To Bulgaria!

Hay 2011

Well, we went to the Hay Festival again: the baby survived her first camping trip (aged six weeks!) and I came home with a good literary haul. A job well done. We didn't book too many readings this year because we weren't sure how Seren would take to sitting still in a crowd for an hour at a time (though she's already been to a fair few readings so far), so all we had lined up was David Vann and Gary Shteyngart. I prepped the kid well on both authors during the drive down to Wales, but she wasn't sure about Vann; I think she found his work a little morbid.

Of course, I disagreed and told her she was overlooking the beauty of the prose. D'oh. Anyway, Vann's talk was great, as was Shteyngart's, though the baby took his session as her cue to let herself loose on the world by wailing tragically when Gaby Wood asked if there were any questions from the audience. Shteyngart, called upon to respond, let out an admirable wail himself, which he then translated as meaning that he was looking forward to a feed after the interview, and possibly a change, too. He and Vann were both very cool when I queued up to get my books signed afterwards - Vann admired the baby and Shteyngart gave a shoutout to Bookmunch when I said I'd reviewed Super Sad True Love Story.

Otherwise, we spent most of the weekend wandering around the bookshops and eating cake in people's gardens and failing to get a phone signal anywhere. I got a brilliant haul of books this year - William Golding, A.L. Kennedy, Bharati Mukherjee, ZZ Packer, James Salter, Edwidge Danticat, Dana Spiotta, Gerard Donovan, Gary Shteyngart, Joy Williams, and (probably my favourite of the lot) Gordon Lish.

And here's Seren, rolling around her in her expanding library:

I think she's pretty miffed we're home in Manchester; she was a big fan of the tent. Guess we'll be heading back again next year...

Occasional Educational Reading Pt.5

I'm off to Hay on Wye tomorrow, where I'll eat cake, drink tea, buy books, hear David Vann and Gary Shteyngart read, and teach the baby how to live in a tent. I'll be mostly offline, so I'll see y'all Sunday. In the meantime, here's a book I found last year:

Storyglossia 44

My story, The Runt, is in this month's Storyglossia. Thanks so much to Steven McDermott for taking it. The issue's also got work from Thomas Kearnes, Benjamin Buchholz, Donna D. Vitucci, Eric Beeny, Michelle Reale, Matthew Salesses, Ashley Cowger and Mather Schneider - brilliant words from excellent folk. Storyglossia rocks.


Well, not really fame, but still: I'm quoted in an article in the London Evening Standard today about flash fiction and the #fridayflash project that's become something of a twitter phenomenon in recent months. How fancy is that? Of course I've had to get somebody else to nab me a copy of the paper, as I don't live in that London, so big up to Max Wallis for stepping in and sorting me out. (PS: Max, who's a part-time student on my old MA course, has a book out now - look!)

all sorts of events

So the longlist for this year's Bristol Prize came out yesterday, and it's dead international. They had over two thousand entries this year (even more than last year!) including a couple of familiar names - Nastasya Parker, who was shortlisted last year, and Ethel Rohan, whose blog you should all read, if you don't already. Buckets of good luck to everybody - getting my mitts on the Bristol Prize was such a boon to my writing career last year, you wouldn't believe.

What else? Well, I went to the launch of Jenn Ashworth's second novel, Cold Light, last Friday. It was a combo event, launching not only Jenn's book, but also Tom Fletcher's new novel, The Thing on the Shore, which I've yet to buy (sorry, Tom - I'm on it, though, I swear), and there were additional readings from members of their writing group - we had Emma Jane Unsworth and Andrew Hurley and Zoe Lambert, and Sally Cook compered. Top stuff from all of them - I'm especially looking forward to Emma's debut novel, Hungry The Stars and Everything, coming out this summer. The place was jammed, and we did our bit to swell the audience by hauling the baby out to her first book launch. She was very well behaved, even considering her mother was pretty wasted on her first glass of wine in practically a year. Good times!

On Saturday I'm dragging the poor kid out again; this time we're off to Piccadilly Station for Station Stories, an interactive storytelling extravaganza featuring  - do you see a theme here? - Jenn Ashworth, Tom Fletcher, Peter Wild, David Gaffney, Tom Jenks and Nicholas Royle (click here for details about the writers). I'm excited.

In the meantime, though, I fancy a nap.

Joanna Kavenna review & interview

My review of Joanna Kavenna's The Birth of Love is live at Bookmunch, and so's my interview with the author -  her answers are detailed and fascinating, so go read.

everybody's winning things

Everybody, clap your hands! It's only Tuesday and already it's been a hell of a good week for my writing pals. Yesterday, Andrea Ashworth and Jon Pinnock were selected, along with Cassandra Parkin, as the joint winners of this year's Scott Prize for short fiction. They'll have their debut short story collections published by Salt in November. And today, last year's Scott Prize winner, Tom Vowler, found out he's been shortlisted for the Edge Hill Short Story Prize for his collection, The Method. Tom's a former member of my writing group, Andrea's a current member, and Jon's a fellow Bristol Prize shortlistee. Plus Jon's got a comic zombie novel coming out later this year. Seriously, these guys are putting us all to shame. I'd start competitively writing right now if I didn't have the cast iron excuse of newborn sleep-deprivation. It's a brilliant get-out clause. But, really: my novel's percolating in the background, I'm getting some reading done (clearing a stupidly large backlog), and I've even made some edit notes between nappy changes.* Novelling shall recommence in a few weeks. In the meantime I'm getting Seren started on her literacy skills. Shame about her motor skills, though:

*Okay, that's a giant lie - nappy changes are Andy's job. I'm the milk machine. 

Yoko Ogawa review (2)

My review of Yoko Ogawa's Hotel Iris is live at Bookmunch.

Tiffany Murphy review

My review of Tiffany Murphy's Diamond Star Halo is live at Bookmunch.

Kevin Barry and Sam Leith reviews

I've been more or less offline for a while (I still am, really), so the reviews have been mounting up; here's my account of Kevin Barry's City of Bohane, and another of Sam Leith's The Coincidence Engine, both of them live over at Bookmunch.

been busy

Just a quick note to mark the arrival last Monday, 18th of April 2011, of my daughter, Seren:

She turned up the same day as my copy of The Pale King, and I haven't even opened the book yet. That's totally a first.

Filippo Bologna review

My review of Filippo Bologna's How I Lost The War is live at Bookmunch.

other people done good

My pal and erstwhile fellow bookseller-in-arms, Socrates Adams, is getting his first novel, Everything's Fine, published this November by Transmission Print, a new UK press - yay, Socrates!

And Tom Fletcher, another fine chap, not only has his second novel, The Thing On The Shore, on the shelves right now, but his first book, the creepy and excellent The Leaping, has been shortlisted for the 2011 British Fantasy Society Best Novel award. He's up there with Michelle Paver and Patrick Ness and all sorts. Go, Tom!

That's it for now, at least as far as people I know are concerned; I've got to go now and get back to my heavy schedule of sitting and complaining and trying to coax a child out of my innards with promises of Jaffa Cakes and trips to the corner shop.

Lars Iyer review

My review of Lars Iyer's Spurious is live at Bookmunch.

Anthology, Amis & Ashworth

I got my contributer's copy of Spilling Ink Volume One in the post yesterday, and it looks damn fine. It's got my story, Rock A Bye, which you can read on the Spilling Ink Review website anyway - but if you have the requisite cash, the book is lovely and there's loads of excellent writing in there.

I spent much of Monday, all of this morning and half of this afternoon reading Martin Amis' The Pregnant Widow. Lately I've been busy catching up on a review backlog, so it was pretty sweet to be able to turn to the teetering stack of non-review titles in the corner of the bedroom and pluck one out - shame the one I chose was a long-winded rambling misogynistic piece of drivel. And I'm a fan of Amis - London Fields is amazing; Time's Arrow is brilliant; I didn't even mind Yellow Dog. But this - well, if I hadn't paid good money for a signed hardback edition, I'd have thrown it out the window sometime on Monday and not wasted a lovely sunny Wednesday forcing my way through the remaining three-quarters. I'm sure plenty of you will have loved the book, but man, it was a trial for me. The male characters obsess endlessly about sex; and who would have thought you could make sex so bloody dull? The female characters seemed to exist entirely to exemplify the male characters' sexual desires/needs/fears/neuroses. The sister character is based, I think, on Martin's own sister, but the tragedy of her existence seemed to be mostly that she was promiscuous - um, ain't that the lady's own choice, and not a Necessarily Bad Thing? It was all very, very tedious. Anyway. I'm not going to dwell on it long enough to analyse things. The book's finished, stacked away on the shelf, and I kind of feel like I'm on holidays now - like coming out of a stuffy exam into the fresh air. So I've eaten three bowls of Frosties and started on some Jonathan Safran Foer. Reading him, that is, not eating him. I should be writing the novel, but I'm going to blame advanced pregnancy for that particular instantiation of my usual lethargy.

Tomorrow evening, Jenn Ashworth's going to be reading and answering questions at Manchester's Martin Harris Centre. See you there?

Kevin Barry, Irish fiction and short fiction

So my mum posted me a newspaper supplement from the Irish Independent from two weekends ago that was quite literature-heavy, and there was a review in there of Kevin Barry's first novel, City of Bohane, which is out this month and which I've reviewed for Bookmunch. My review's not up yet, but I rated the book highly - Barry's short fiction is excellent and the novel's really interesting, especially for its linguistic innovations. Anyway, John Boland's review in the Indo was pretty half-hearted, and I found myself getting very irritated at some of his criticisms - so much so that I think I started mumbling crossly to myself while reading it at a park bench the other day. Crazy pregnant lady ahoy, eh? I'm not going to go into a huge old rant here, but I would like throw out some topics for discussion. First up, he says:
Nor will those seeking a pertinent fable of a contemporary or future Ireland feel much rewarded [...] Indeed, there's no trace here of an Ireland with which any reader might be familiar -- the action might just as well be set in an imagined Scotland or Wales or wherever.
Call me a demented ex-pat, but I wasn't aware that the Irish writer had a particular responsibility to write such a 'pertinent fable'. Is there really this social obligation that you're bound to honour by virtue of Irish citizenship that doesn't apply to Scottish, Welsh, English, American or French writers, or artists in whatever medium from whatever country? Surely not every literary work, by virtue of its being set in a specific geopolitical or cultural zone, has to produce a sociological treatise on the past or current state of that, well, state? Bah, I say. That's such a limitation. I think there might possibly be a dearth of portraits of contemporary Ireland in current fiction - or maybe not a dearth, but a critical and promotional focus on works that deal with the past rather than the present, to the detriment of what's being produced at the moment about the present moment, but that's a different issue. To imply that Barry's fucked it up because he's writing a crazy speculative crime novel rather a grittily realistic portrait of, I don't know, gang life in Limerick in 2009 - well, isn't that the reviewer's hangup, not Barry's?

Okay, and second (and this is most of the final paragraph of the article, so it really leaves a bad taste in the mouth):
Barry has a remarkable talent, as is evident from his short stories, but a novel requires particular qualities -- a satisfying structure, a mastery of the long, developing narrative and complex characters of psychological and emotional depth -- that aren't essential, or sometimes even required, in the shorter form.
So the short story doesn't require a satisfying structure? It might utilize a different sort of structure than the novel, but you can hardly say that it doesn't need a satisfying one. And complex characters aren't essential or sometimes even required in the short story? Oh, shoot me now.

Well, so I have ranted quite a bit. But I'd love to hear your thoughts on either of these issues, whether you've read Barry's book or not.

Viva la Revolution

This is me at the Manchester anti-cuts rally at the end of January. I wish I were at the march down in London today, but my almost-thirty-seven-week waddle is keeping me at home. A year ago, we were all gearing up for the general election and though I'm usually pretty pessimistic about these things, I never thought the outcome would be so shitty that I'd be giving birth to my first child under this catastrophe of a Conservative-led coalition. All our futures - all our kids' futures - have been compromised, and the government needs to see us fighting back. So this is just to say good luck to those of you who've been able to get out on the streets today - I'm with you in spirit.

Joyce Carol Oates review

My review of Joyce Carol Oates' memoir, A Widow's Story, is live at Bookmunch.

game on

So I'm back to the novelling. I've had some great constructive feedback, and I know it was only, like, a fortnight since I put the file away, but I do feel refreshed and ready to tackle it again. Some things need fleshing out, others need making more explicit, there's a few plot tangles to unravel/rethink, but it all feels (kind of) manageable. I've tackled one chapter already, and I'll work my way through as the next month progresses. It's just under five weeks before Operation Reproduction kicks off in a massive way, so the race is on. The word count shall increase in step with my massive girth. Brain versus Belly. Game on.

(Oh, and happy St Patrick's Day to you all. Hope you enjoy your Guinnesses and whatnot. I'm having decaf tea. Screw the lot of you.)

linky links

My friend Socrates Adams has this excellent story, Wide and Deep, up at Metazen. It's really short and very simple and incredibly poignant. I think it fits into the category of 'things I shouldn't be reading while enormously pregnant.' Kind of like watching all the Alien films back-to-back, like I did a couple of weekends ago. But Alien just made me look at my own belly in terror; Socrates' story nearly had me crying. Check it out.

Then there's this brilliant article about police crime reports that explores precision of language and the way that influences how your story is read and interpreted. When you're writing a scene, how does your choice of words subtly imply a position, a moral stance, an opinion, without you being too explicit about it? Here, Ellen Collett talks about the 'alchemy of inflection' - how the tiny accretion of detail through language filters, changes and ultimately makes your story. Good stuff.

And here are Mitchell and Webb tackling ignoramuses. Mwuahaha.

one week later

This novel-break is an edgy business. A week in and I've already thought of enough flaws in the whole manuscript to send me straight to drink (damn pregnancy, thwarting my schemes), and I've found myself ricocheting at terrifying speed between (a) thinking of interesting, if ill-formed and vague, solutions to said problems, (b) despairing and admitting the futility of the entire venture in grand, miserable, wallowing-in-chocolate-until-I-feel-really-ill style, and (c) sticking my fingers in my ears and screaming LALALALALALA NOT LISTENING until the rest of my brain slinks away, deafened and disheartened.

I guess all this is normal.

On the other hand, I've caught up on about half my reviewing backlog and introduced a friend visiting from Belgium to the wonders of Manchester's Retro Rehab and Oklahoma, and (ahem) having your gait analysed by nice running-store men. Yeah, I'm that cool. We also got intensely trailed around the Vivienne Westwood shop by a sales assistant, but disappointed her by not stealing anything. Plus yesterday I finally caught up with Jenn Ashworth's appearance on the Culture Show - go, Jenn!  Today I'm going to try to attach a wicker basket I found in the bin to the front of my bike with cable ties. So I'm not only cool, but classy, too. Go, me.

The world will be a safer pace when I get back to the novel.

a short break

I'm taking a couple of weeks off the novel to get some perspective. Three days into the break, I already want to rip the whole manuscript up and start again. Instead I'll try to relax about it and think of constructive things and catch up on my book-reviewing and reading and calming thoughts.

This weekend, we went to the Lake District, which was actually lovely and relaxing, and I even managed to get quite a few weird looks from elderly hill-walker types who gaped at the nearly-eight-months-pregnant belly, like they'd never seen an incubating lady up on a hill before. I guess I should be flat on my back practicing screaming, like a good girl. I was wearing a pretty maternity dress with my trainers, mind, so I might have looked a tad schizo. Then we went on a boat and got a good look at an actual lake, and on the shore, where people were throwing bits of bread at some very aggressive-looking swans, we saw a dude propose to his girlfriend. Hurray to you guys, whoever you were! 

Anyway, now we're back and I'm sort of tensing up about the novel, but I'm going to eat lots of nice cake and talk to actual people and not just people I've made up, and see what good ideas come to me in the meantime. 

National Short Story Week website

So, it's March already, and I know I said I'd blog more in February, but seriously - where the hell did that month go? I was still getting used to January and now, whoosh - March. Shit. But! March is Good, because this month I'm the guest editor for the National Short Story Week website - click on through to see what I've written. I was really delighted to be asked to contribute to the site, especially seeing as I'm following on from previous guest editors Adam Marek and Sarah Salway.

Other news, other news... my writing colleague John Haggerty has been shortlisted for this year's Scott Prize (the list was announced today) so I'm very psyched for him. Also shortlisted are my fellow Bristol-prize shortlistee Jon Pinnock, who's got a novel coming out soon too; my twitter and facebook pal, Andrea Ashworth; and my other twitter pal, the lovely Julie Mayhew. The Scott Prize is for an unpublished collection of short fiction, and Tom Vowler's winning book from last year, The Method, is brilliant, so I'm really excited to see who'll win this time. Good luck, dudes.

Jenn Ashworth, dynamo that she is, was in the Guardian the other day as one of their twelve debut novelists to watch out for, AND she's going to be on the Culture Show on Saturday.

This is very linky, isn't it? I'm knee-deep in novel right now. Also my tenants have broken my fridge. And I burned some biscuits. I'm still going to eat them, though. Right now.

still here

I haven't posted here in ages. Were you worried? Well, I'm neither dead nor incapacitated, just chin-deep in novel rewrites. And rewriting is the word. The 'decent' chapters from last time round never seem decent when you read them again in cold sobriety. Oh, the shuddering. And the relief that nobody else has read them yet. Every time I return to the start (I'd say this is the third time, or maybe two-point-five as the first version sort of limped and fell over before it reached the end) I find myself deleting plot-lines, instigating new ones, altering the motivation/outlook/general demeanor of numerous characters, worrying that other ones are crazy or stereotyped or just plain cardboard idiots. At least I'm not changing the POV. That was last time.

So that's what's distracted me lately. I've tried to write some flashes, too, but I find it hard to concentrate on new plots; scenes are fine, and characters to an extent, but working through a new plot with any kind of coherence seems very draining, and I shut that file and go back to the novel one. You might get more sense out of me when I climb out the far end - March? - but I promise to blog in the interval. You'll just have to excuse me if I don't make any sense.

what stories do you like? and what are you doing thursday?

First! I'm very interested in short stories (really? you gasp) and as I'm going to be doing a spot of guest-editing for the National Short Story Week website in March, I've been thinking about what makes a good story and what are great examples of the form. Now, I haven't reached any big conclusion, so don't ask - but what I am doing is making notes of brilliant collections, individual stories, great writers of the same, interesting anthologies and so on. So it was kind of handy that I got an email the other day from a nice lady who's made up just such a list. So I know it's a pretty generic and open-ended question, but I wanted to open it up to the floor: what are your favourite short stories? Do you agree with the list above? What collections or anthologies would you rave about? What do you insist your students read? What do your teachers insist you read? What story would you photocopy and paste on lamp-posts and telephone poles all over the country? What's your favourite obscure find? Comments below, please!

Second! This is for Manchester peeps; are you free Thursday night? If so, come to the opening of this art exhibition: BlankExpression 2011. It's a group show to celebrate the opening of a new gallery, BlankSpace, which has taken over the premises of the old EasaHQ building, and my boyfriend (Andy Broadey) is one of the participating artists. Go look at his work - it's ace. There's even nudity in it. And he tells me there'll be free booze at the opening. 6pm until 9pm - if you're not there, I'll tut loudly in deep disapproval.

not very much news

Last night I went to the launch of two poetry books - Adrian Slatcher's Playing Solitaire For Money and JT Welsch's Orchids, both published by Salt. JT's a graduate of the creative writing PhD programme at the University of Manchester, so that gave it a nice edge for me - to see what the kids one level up are playing at. (Very fancy games, that's what; I was dead impressed.) Anyway, it was a great event - two very different poets and a fantastic setting in the newish International Anthony Burgess Foundation building up near Oxford Road Station. Once again I find myself thinking I ought to read more poetry.

Other than that, and other than neglecting the blog, what have I been doing? Reading quite a bit - Anna Karenina  took a fair bit of energy, and then I veered away from the TBR pile to have another go at Margaret Atwood's Cats Eye, which is one my most favourite novels. It's about eleven years since I first read it, while spending a few months in Chicago as a student, and I remember finding it incredibly powerful and distressing. It's less distressing now, but still as heart-stoppingly brilliant as ever. (You should actually probably cease reading this blog and go read Cat's Eye RIGHT NOW, even if you've read it before. Go! Seriously.) Anyway, the reason for the fiction-detour into Atwood-land was that I'm writing about teenage girls and friendships and families at the moment, so it was all in the name of research. Ahem. So that was the reading, and then there was the writing - the novel is slowly coming along, though it's far from finished, ho hum. I think I'm still on the optimism side of the fence concerning it, though the book itself is terribly miserable, of course. What else did you expect?

I've got little else of import to note. Mainly I'm occupied with gestational matters and clothes that don't fit. So if you want excitement, head over to Claire King's blog - she's just nabbed a deal with Bloomsbury. Now, that's real news. Otherwise, watch this space, because I'm sure I'm due a bike theft soon and I'll blog all about it. In fact, I've had an attempted theft already since the last actual successful thievery at Halloween; the bike frame itself was utterly bolloxed by some idiot who still failed to get the lock off and steal the thing, but this time, I think I'm covered by the Evil Insurance Racket Bastards. If not, you're in for some Patented Valerie Ranting very, very soon.

Jo Cannon's blog tour! Interview!

So do you guys remember me mentioning Jo Cannon?  (Hint: it was here and here.)  Anyway, Jo's somebody I've known in the online world for quite some time now; we're both part of the same online writing group, a powerhouse of a place that boasts graduates like Tania Hershman, Vanessa Gebbie, Tom Vowler and Nik Perring - and plenty more waiting in the wings to dazzle the world with brilliant  novels and story collections and all sorts.  Our latest star, if you haven't guessed, is - drumroll! - Jo Cannon, whose first collection, Insignificant Gestures, was published in November 2010 by Pewter Rose Press.  Jo's been kind enough to answer a few questions from me, and I encourage the lot of you to read on and then go and buy the book - it's great.

Jo, welcome to Not Exactly True!  I've obviously been reading your work in a private forum for quite a while now, and it's fantastic to see your name emblazoned across the front of a book!  Insignificant Gestures is a really engaging and moving collection - funny and poignant, and quite brutal in places.  Congratulations!

Thanks, Val! Your opinion means a lot to me. I still can’t quite believe my name is on a book jacket.

You're not only a talented writer, but a GP too, which (in my probably limited experience!) is an unusual combination, and many of the stories in your collection involve the medical community, from the perspectives of patients as well as doctors.  Can you tell us how you came to writing in the first place?

I don’t think I’m unusual! There are many doctor writers, for example Anton Chekov and W. Somerset Maugham – though in a different league, of course! I came to writing via a reflective writing group for G.Ps. Although I can’t use patients as material, every day people tell me stories. We all rework the narrative of our lives to give it meaning. At a certain point, the reframing, exaggeration and omission become fiction; or like your blog title, Not Exactly True. Observing this, for years and years, is great training for a writer.

The short story form has many similarities with a G.P. consultation. First an individual describes the most pressing incident – the illness, trauma or drama. Then a back story unfolds, instalment by instalment, over years. Often I hear an event or character described by various people, from different perspectives. I’ve always read fiction – my parents were both librarians. Writing short stories seemed a natural way to express myself, both for fun and to clarify my thoughts.

You've based many of your stories in Africa, or on displaced African people in the UK.  Can you tell us a little about your own experiences living in Malawi and the effect it's had on you as a writer?

I worked in Malawi as District Health Officer in my late twenties. At such an early stage in my career, the responsibility was overwhelming and often traumatic. The suffering and poverty I witnessed changed my life. I wrote nothing but letters in those days, but when I started writing fiction twenty years later, certain memories of that time remained vivid, and I wanted to explore them. Living in a country so different and disadvantaged helped me understand why people move from one part of the world to another. Who wouldn’t? Many of my patients are immigrants or refugees. I recognise the enormity of the compromises they have made, and the hopes and disappointments of their journeys. This is reflected in some of my stories.

Plenty of the stories involve disintegrating civilisations or pretty scary views of the future.  Are you a fan of dystopian fiction - JG Ballard or Cormac McCarthy or anything like that, or do you just have a very bleak outlook?!

The chaotic backdrops of some of the stories are not intended to be dystopian, but surreal projections of my characters’ inner worlds. For example, Susan, the childless protagonist in ‘The Spaces Between,’ sees needy refugee children all around. David in ‘Needle-stick baby,’ abandoned by his wife, inhabits a broken, anarchic city, but this reflects his sense of disintegrating self. The windswept decaying estate in ‘Eye of the Storm’ symbolises the main character’s confusion at her bereavement and changing family life – and the fact she has a bad tooth!

Some of the stories were written in the wake of 9/11 and the Iraq war. I’d recently experienced bereavement, and discovered the difficulty of untangling personal and external distressing events. Many people, when in low spirits, can’t watch the news because the suffering feels too close. Nasma in ‘Nasma’s Malady’ suffers from post traumatic stress syndrome and has lost the boundaries between herself and others.

My mother was a child evacuee in world war two. At the time of the Iraq war, my kids were young and I was troubled by the idea of any child alone and unprotected. This led to the recurring ‘evacuation’ theme in the book.

My outlook is not, on the whole, bleak! I believe people are mostly good and things come right in the end. Clearly this is as irrational a set of beliefs as any religion, but one that suffuses my stories.

Tell me some of your favourite books and/or writers.  Do you prefer novels or short stories, or what?  See if you can convince me (or my readers) to try something new...

I prefer novels when I want to lose myself in another world; short stories for their intensity; poetry for precision and beauty of language. Some fiction manages to do it all, for example ‘Fugitive Pieces’ by Anne Mitchell: the book I wish I’d written. Another is ‘The God of Small Things’ by Arundhati Roy. This year I loved ‘Olive Kitteridge’ by Elizabeth Strout, a short story collection united by the flawed but credible character Olive, seen from every perspective.

You obviously write very powerful short fiction.  Have you anything else on the boil - anything longer, poetry, another collection, or anything else you'd like to reveal/pimp?

After my collection was accepted by Pewter Rose in April I went into an editing frenzy. In the last month or two, book promotion activities swallowed my writing time, which is limited, like most peoples, by work and family responsibilities. I have a stash of half done flashes I want to sort out. Then I plan to start on my next collection. As the first one took five years, there is no time to lose! But this time I will start with a theme, or maybe like ‘Olive Kitteridge’, a character, rather than wait for one to develop.

Thanks for hosting me on your blog, Val. I wish you lots of luck with your novel, which is shaping up in a most promising and exciting way! (ed: Jo's seen shameful drafts of parts of my novel. Let's not dwell on that, though, eh?  She was a brave woman to wade through it...)

So, Jo Cannon, ladies and gentlemen! Check out her website for links to further stops on the blog tour.  Jo, thanks again for dropping by - and the rest of you, why are you still reading?  Go buy the book, for the love of god.  Christ.  I give a simple order...

Reading List 2011

Another year, another list! Here's what I've been mostly reading (excluding isolated stories in journals, online, etc, and the occasional panicky delve into a baby name tome) in 2011, with the most recent conquests at the top. This year I'm going to split it into months, mainly because I've got a nerdish fascination with statistics. If a book is listed in a particular month, that means I finished it that month - I might have actually started it waaaay back when. Oh, and while in previous years, an asterisk meant it was an MA text, this year I've graduated (whoop!) so I'm using asterisks to indicates re-reads. Without any more ado:

December 2011
111. Hey Yeah Right Get A Life, Helen Simpson. Fantastic short short collection. Almost perfect.
110. A Fraction Of The Whole, Steve Toltz. Very long, but very entertaining.
109. Trout Fishing In America, Richard Brautigan. Surreal and funny.
108. Being Dead, Jim Crace. Interesting and very observational. Not sure I liked it, though.
107. Waiting for Sunrise, William Boyd. Disappointing. Bad characterisation. Daft plot.
106. Pretty Monsters, Kelly Link. Brilliant short story collection. Creepy, magical, sad, funny. Loved it.
105. Whoops!, John Lanchester. Non-fiction account of the credit crunch and the banking system. Excellent and terrifying.
104. The Marriage Plot, Jeffrey Eugenides. Trite, overlong, over-hyped.

November 2011
103. Bristol Short Story Prize Anthology Vol. 4. I've been dipping in and out of this for months. Lovely stuff.
102. Friction, Joe Stretch. Brett Easton Ellis hits Manchester in this one. Horrible and funny.
101. The Onion Stone, Mandy Pannett. Novella speculating on Shakespeare's true identity.
100. The Carhullan Army, Sarah Hall. Dystopia; an army of women in the Lake District; excellent!
99. Falling Sideways, Thomas E Kennedy. Large cast, interlocking lives, Copenhagen. Great.
98. The Sense of An Ending, Julian Barnes. Enormously underwhelming. Hardly Booker-winning quality, but what do I know?
97. Fugitive Pieces, Anne Michaels. I keep reading Holocaust stuff lately. Sad. Didn't like it as much as people seemed to think I would.
96. The Beautiful Indifference, Sarah Hall. Short stories. Great stuff.
95. How To Paint A Dead Man, Sarah Hall. Four intertwined narrative. Really vivid. Melancholy.
94. Point Omega, Don DeLillo. I like DeLillo, but I wasn't too keen on this. But I'm also not a huge Douglas Gordon fan, so go figure.
93. Wonderful, Wonderful Times, Elfriede Jelinek. Sharp, funny, shocking.

October 2011
92. Jennifer Government, Max Barry. Comedy/thriller/satire on consumerism. Brilliant!
91. 1Q84 Book 3, Haruki Murakami. Again, too drawn out, but better than Bk1. Overall - meh.
90. 1Q84 Books 1 + 2, Haruki Murakami. Not massively keen. Waaay too long. But picked up in Bk2.
89. All these Little Worlds: Fiction Desk Anthology Vol 2, ed. Rob Redman. Entertaining stories.
88. Never Never, David Gaffney. Light relief after Levi. First novel from flash-fiction maestro Gaffney.
87. If This Is A Man / The Truce, Primo Levi. Sobering, but brilliant.
86. Everything Beautiful Began After, Simon Van Booy. Hated this. A pseudo-insightful bore of a novel.
85. Ragnarok, AS Byatt. Retelling of Norse mythology. Excellent.

September 2011
84. Good Offices, Evelio Rosero. Excellent little novel by Columbian writer. Black humour.
83. Gold Boy, Emerald Girl, Yiyun Li. Short stories set in modern China. Interesting.
82. Mrs Darcy Versus The Aliens, Jonathan Pinnock. Funny Austen spoof.
81. BBC National Short Story Award Anthology 2011. Five great stories - nice and simple!
80. Any Human Heart, William Boyd. Really enjoyed it. Old fashioned, kinda epic.
79. The Blue Book, AL Kennedy. Disappointing.
78. The World's Wife, Carol Ann Duffy. A rare foray into poetry for me (read it to the baby!) Great stuff.
77. Coraline, Neil Gaiman. Brilliant, scary, smart children's horror. Better than the film.
76. Father! Father! Burning Bright, Alan Bennett. A short story masquerading as a book. Meh.
75. Looking For The Possible Dance, AL Kennedy. @writerer's first novel. Liked it very much.

August 2011
74. Now That You're Back, AL Kennedy. Short stories, a couple of brilliant ones in there.
73. The Pale King, David Foster Wallace. Clearly unfinished, flawed, but vast and interesting, still.
72. Ballistics, Alex Keegan. Short story collection. Polished and all, but left me cold.
71. The Book Of Other People, ed. Zadie Smith. Excellent short story anthology.
70. Pricksongs + Descants, Robert Coover. Horrible, hilarious, brilliant short stories.
69. True Murder, Yaba Badoe. Eleventear-old girls get caught up in murder and divorce.
68. The Cat's Table, Michael Ondaatje. Interesting novel about a shipboard murder.
67. Room, Emma Donoghue. Moving, but less convincing as it went along.
66. Villa Pacifica, Kapka Kassapova. Uninspiring creepy story set in South America.
65. Comes The Night, Hollis Hampton-Jones. Flawed story of a teenage girl's disintegration.
64. The Other Hand, Chris Cleave. Brutal story about a Nigerian refugee. Fantastic book.
63. Pigeon English, Stephen Kelman. Booker longlistee; child narrator; immigrants; a good read.
62. A Visit From The Goon Squad, Jennifer Egan. Funny, readable, interesting set of linked stories.
61. Then, Julie Myerson. Pretty hardcore emotional dystopia, to coin a genre.

July 2011
60. Is This What You Want? Asham Award Anthology, 2007. Nice diverse collection, all by women.
59. The Testament Of Jessie Lamb, Jane Rogers. Thought-provoking near-future dystopian stuff.
58. The Outcast, Sadie Jones. Moving, very sad, but a little predictable.
57. The Peculiar Memories of Thomas Penman, Bruce Robinson. Funny coming-of-age story.
56. On Canaan's Side, Sebastian Barry. Another lyrical, but very sad, tome.
55. Spoiled, Heather Cocks, Jessica Morgan. YA light relief from the Fug Girls! (Cheers, Orla!)
54. The Secret Scripture, Sebastian Barry. Very depressing, beautifully written. Not sure if I like it or not.
53. The Stranger's Child, Alan Hollinghurst. This really grew on me. Interesting look at storytelling.
52. State of Wonder, Ann Patchett. Excellent novel set on the Brazilian Amazon.
51. East Of Eden, John Steinbeck. Amazing. Stunning. No wonder he got the Nobel.

June 2011
50. The Songlines, Bruce Chatwin. Fascinating look at Aboriginal culture in Australia.
49. Hungry, The Stars and Everything, Emma Jane Unsworth. A rollicking love-story; immensely readable.
48. Various Authors: Fiction Desk Anthology, Vol 1. Mixed bag of short stories.
47. The Thing on The Shore, Tom Fletcher. Creepy horror story set in a Cumbrian callcentre.
46. The Nimrod Flip-Out, Etgar Keret. Fantastic short stories. Hilarious and weird and sad.
45. The Vintage And The Gleaning, Jeremy Chambers. Impressive Australian debut. Very bleak!
44. The Invisible Bridge, Julie Orringer. Epic, brilliant novel about Hungarian Jews in WWII.

May 2011
43. Realms of Gold, Margaret Drabble. Good solid storytelling, and very funny.
42. Cold Light, Jenn Ashworth. Dark tale about teen friendship, bioluminescence and flashers.
41. Baltasar and Blimunda, Jose Saramago. Normally a fan, but couldn't get into this at all.
40. The Subject Steve, Sam Lipsyte. Funny and odd, but liked it less as I went along.
39. The Rain Before It Falls, Jonathan Coe. Boring, boring, boring.
38. Perfume, Patrick Suskind. Excellent; very funny and rather horrible.

April 2011
37. The Little Stranger, Sarah Waters. Massively creepy ghost story. Excellent read.
36. Badlands, Cynthia Reeves. Very sad, beautiful account of a marriage and a woman's death from cancer.
35. Poppy Shakespeare, Clare Allan. Sub-par Cuckoo's Nest. Didn't like it.
34. The Voluptuous Delights of Peanut Butter and Jam, Lauren Liebenberg. Novel set in the last days of Rhodesia. Some beautiful imagery but the plot wasn't up to much.
33. Piggy Monk Square, Grace Jolliffe. Didn't like this at all, prose too simplistic, plot lacked tension.
32. The Man Who Walks, Alan Warner. Surreal, beautiful language - as always.
31. Strangers, Taichi Yamada. Creepy Japanese ghost story.
30. Born Free, Laura Hird. Dysfunctional family life in Edinburgh. Graphic and gritty. Love it.
29. Legend of a Suicide, David Vann. Really, really beautiful.
28. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Jonathan Safran Foer. Great. And incredibly sad.
27. The Pregnant Widow, Martin Amis. I've rarely been so bored. Repetitive, misogynistic crap.
26. Diamond Star Halo, Tiffany Murray. Rock'n'roll and incest in Wales.

March 2011
25. The Birth of Love, Joanna Kavenna. Nice exploration of childbirth, love and creativity.
24. How I Lost The War, Filippo Bologna. Disappointing Italian novel.
23. City of Bohane, Kevin Barry. Surreal, poetic and savage novel.
22. The Coincidence Engine, Sam Leith. Pynchon-esque maths conspiracy thriller thingy. Meh.
21. The Last Werewolf, Glen Duncan. Excellent supernatural thriller.
20. Hotel Iris, Yoko Ogawa. Resonant Japanese novella about an S/M relationship.
19. Spurious, Lars Iyer. Funny, odd novel about Kafka, mould and man-bags.
18. Great Days, Donald Barthelme. Strange little stories, just like you'd expect.
17. Monsters Of Men, Patrick Ness. Final installment of the Chaos Walking trilogy (see below).

February 2011
16. The Ask and The Answer, Patrick Ness. Sequel to below. Still excellent.
15. *The Knife of Never Letting Go, Patrick Ness. Excellent YA stuff, massively readable and scary.
14. Breathers: A Zombie's Lament, SG Browne. Really funny zombie rom-com.
13. Burley Cross Postbox Theft, Nicola Barker. Epistolary novel. Didn't like this at all.
12. The New Uncanny: Tales of Unease, ed. Sarah Eyre, Ra Page. Some excellently creepy stories in here.
11. Delusions of Gender, Cordelia Fine. Brilliant debunking of the pseudoscience supporting the gender inequality status-quo. Everybody should read this.
10. Sunnyside, Glen David Gold. I really enjoyed most of this and I'm not even a Chaplin fan. Poignant.

January 2011
9. 6S, Vol 2. Flash fiction anthology. I'm in this and I only finished reading it now, after two years. Shame.
8. Some Rain Must Fall, Michel Faber. Nice, diverse collection of short stories.
7. Darkmans, Nicola Barker. Confused the hell out of me and I thought it was over-long, a la Zadie Smith.
6. A Widow's Story: A Memoir, Joyce Carol Oates. Veeery long.
5. Voice of America, EC Osondu. Short stories about Nigeria and Nigerian emigrants. Meh.
4.* Cat's Eye, Margaret Atwood. Re-read. One of my all-time favourites, it blows me away every time.
3. We Had It So Good, Linda Grant. Excellent novel. Go get it.
2. Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy.  Can't say I loved it, but parts of it were downright hilarious (and sad).
1. Granta 113: The Best of Young Spanish Novelists. Interesting anthology; see if you agree with the choices.