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.