Happy National Short Story Day!

I've celebrated it by shoving a paracetamol suppository up my kid's ass.* Too much information? Well, I got your attention, didn't I? So: on this very short day, I want to big up a few of the best short story collections I've read this year.


First, Kevin Barry's two collections, There Are Little Kingdoms and Dark Lies The Island. I'd have to read them both back to back to really compare, but I think I prefer the first one by a tiny margin. Anyway, they're both amazing, and though I'll endlessly hype his novel, City of Bohane, too, I do think his stories are even more outstanding. I reviewed the second one here.





Then, another Irish writer, Claire Keegan, and her collection Walk The Blue Fields. I'd heard a lot about Keegan but this is the first year I'd actually read her work, and it's fucking brilliant. If you think that Irish people writing about lonely farmers and priests in the countryside is old hat, then read Keegan at once and have a rethink. So one of my missions for 2013 is now to catch up on the rest of her books.




Likewise, I came late to George Saunders: this year I loved In Persuasion Nation, and I can't wait to read his latest. Other excellent numbers were Junot Diaz's This Is How You Lose Her and Sarah Hall's The Beautiful Indifference (reviews here and here) and A.J. Ashworth's  Somewhere Else, Or Even Here.

 
      
Finally, two that aren't standard collections (in fact, they're both marketed as novels, or novels in stories, but I'm not going to start harping on about classification and genre and structure here, because I have three years of the PhD dedicated to just that) but that are nonetheless each made up of absolutely superb stories. First, Elizabeth Strout's Olive Kitteridge. Strout's characterization is maybe the best I've ever read, and the book is funny and heartbreaking all at once, if that isn't too Hallmark a thing to say. Second, Keith Ridgways's Hawthorn & Child, a book that messes with genre conventions and ideas of closure so brilliantly I've barely shut up about it all year (review here.)



So! If you get book tokens for Christmas, I'd heartily recommend any of those. Meanwhile, I've got to go now and watch The Muppets Christmas Carol, by order of the baby. Happy National Short Story Day!


*She's fine now. Never fear.

Carys Bray review

My review of Carys Bray's collection, Sweet Home, is live at Bookmunch.

Jose Saramago reiew

My review of Jose Saramago's Raised from the Ground is live at Bookmunch.

David Foster Wallace review

My review of David Foster Wallace's Both Flesh And Not is live at Bookmunch.

The Next Big Thing

I've been named/shamed by Viv (or Richard Hirst, if you will) into doing some actual blogging. He prodded me with a knife and made me type out the answers below and then he laughed at me.* You better read on. I bled for this.

1. What is the working title of your next book? 
No pressure, eh? I don't know. It's very early days. Don't scare me, Viv. I know where you live. (And I just did a rhyme there. Don't make me come round and do poems at you.)

2. Where did the idea come from for the book?
Well, it's a book of interrelated short stories, and I'm writing it for my PhD. There's a few different reasons I got started with this project. Mainly, I've been reading a huge amount of short stories the past few years, and I've gotten through quite a few collections that were rather tenuously linked together in a way that often (to me) seemed more like a marketing gimmick or a weak hook - i.e., nothing that seemed to add much to the book, or something that made a feeble gesture towards the novel without seeming to be internally motivated, etc..  But I had also read a couple of books that used this technique in really interesting ways - Keith Ridgway's Hawthorn & Child, for one, and I reread David Vann's Legend Of A Suicide in this light - and that got me thinking. The other big reason, I guess, is that as a writer I'm attracted to short stories, but I also like longer books that take a bit of a chance with their structure or form in some way. I'd spent the last ages on a novel that I still haven't resolved; I filed it away so that I could look at it again in a few months with fresh eyes/ideas, and in the meantime I started wondering what to do next., and one thing sort of led to the next. But it's very early days yet. My grand plans aren't very grand so far.

3. What genre does your book fall under? 
Ugh. Literary fiction? Black humour? Part of my PhD research involves looking at genre theory, and I'm increasingly sceptical about that kind of categorisation - I reckon most of you will agree with me that it often seems little more than a PR/shelving exercise and says little about the book's contents. Aside from style/tone issues, I'll have the novel/collection 'problem' - and the main thrust of my critical thesis so far lies in dismantling that binary thing and allowing what I think ought to be called 'composite fictions' to stand alone. Though I don't imagine the good folk at Waterstone's will humour me there.

4. What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
If I think too much about this I'll spend all night on YouTube doing virtual castings. I haven't written enough yet (about 15k) to know enough about the characters in the different stories to assign actors. Though one story is about two guys traipsing about being generally unpleasant and I wonder if the two dudes out of Lenny Abrahamson's Adam & Paul could be convinced...

5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
What the fuck is going on here?

6. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
Represented by an agency, I hope, though it's hard to get an agent to take up a story collection, never mind an arsey author who thinks her book is neither story collection nor novel. But, even un-agented, I'm not very interested in self-publishing. I don't have the necessary interest in doing all the peripherals - the design, the marketing, etc - and I'd prefer the backing of a publishing house. I like the traditional legitimation and all that jazz. If nobody wants to publish this book, well, fair enough - I'll also try to publish the constituent stories independently in journals, anyway, so hopefully at least some of it will get a readership one way or another.

7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
Shut up, Viv, you know it's not done yet. I only started in September, and I write slowly and revise a  lot and revise very slowly. I've got a small child who doesn't sleep much and no outside childcare (that shit COSTS) so even aside from my inherent slowness, my writing time is usually limited to the two days a week I spend in the university library (and some weekend escapes to the local cafe with my laptop) and during that time I've also got to fit in my critical research. I do a bit of freelance copywriting so free time late at night is generally allocated to that, seeing as it pays. So my writing time is limited, like it is for most of us. Anyway, I've got three stories in early draft form so far. I would expect it'll take me about two years to have enough stories and words for the finished book, and then a while longer to polish and edit some more. Told you I'm slow. But also, as I said, I'm doing this for my PhD, which will take three years minimum, and I doubt I'll try to publish before that - but, again, I'll most likely be submitting individual stories at some point during the process.

8. What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Wait until I'm done, eh? But books I've been thinking a lot about have been the David Vann and Keith Ridgway ones mentioned above, as well as Helen Simpson's Hey Yeah Right Get A Life. I keep ordering stuff from Amazon (evil Amazon) that people on twitter have recommended. If you've got any suggestions, please add a comment!

9. Who or what inspired you to write this book?
Aside from the books and research ideas above, I'm probably mainly motivated/inspired by fear and panic and jealousy. Admirable, huh? I wanted to write stories and I wanted to do something interesting and the PhD is a good vehicle for that.

10. What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest? 
So far it's set mainly in Manchester. And there's loads of swearing, a (sort of) sperm bank, a strip club and a pound shop. CLASSY!

Okay - here's a poke in the ass to five more suckers. Christ. I think most of my writer friends who also have blogs have already been tagged. Eh - how about the newly agented Claire Snook, Rupan Malakin, Sarah Hilary, Joel Willans and Julia Bohanna? Guys, as Viv told me, please blog, ignore, or interpret this whole thing as you see fit next on Wednesday (5th December) along with your own selection of five worthy bloggers for the following week. Aaaaand... go.


*Or, he 'tagged' me on his 'bog'. Whatever

me reading stuff in video form

I was trying to clear my inbox just now (a fool's errand) and I came across a google alert email that I'd forgotten about, which links to me reading at a Flashtag event in Chorlton a few months ago, and I can't recall if I linked it it on here at the time and I'm too tired to hunt through the archives to check. So here it is anyway. I haven't watched it because I have a horror of seeing myself on screen; a horror born of working in post-production for years, probably, but one that I doubt I'll ever shift. There's a DVD somewhere in my house that's a fake showreel I had to make on a TV training course about eight years ago - me and my colleagues star in a fake chat-show (amongst other things) and I had to pretend to host a cooking segment. I haven't watched that, either. And in real life, I can barely boil the kettle without adult supervision. So, you know, don't believe everything you see on telly. (But that really is me reading my own work in Chorlton.) (Really.)

November flash fiction workshop

I'm running another flash fiction workshop for Manchester City Libraries this month - this one's part of the 2012 Chorlton Book Festival, and will take place in Chorlton Library on Tuesday 20th November, 6-8pm. It's a free event, but places are limited, so book now if you're interested - pop into the library, or phone them on 0161 227 3700. We'll be reading and writing tiny stories and generally having a laugh, so please come along!

Adam Marek review

My review of Adam Marek's The Stone Thrower is live at Bookmunch.

Literature festivals everywhere!

It's been wall-to-wall author events here at Casa Valerie, though not literally; I don't think our house is fit to be shown to actual proper writers (I think we have a mouse. I'm hoping it's actually next door and that what I heard was through-wall scurrying.). So far, at the 2012 Manchester Literature Festival, I've seen Michael Chabon (write-up here); Penelope Lively (here); Joe Dunthorne, Matthew Hollis and Inua Ellams; Richard Ford (write-up here), and James Kelman. It's been exciting and tiring as hell. I've got a ticket to see Ali Smith give the annual Manchester Sermon this Thursday, and then it's straight down to Bristol for their Festival of Literature at the weekend. Well, not straight down; I'm getting the train on Saturday morning, but the glut of wordy things on at the moment does feel a little like I'm sprinting from one venue the next with ne'er a tea-break between them.

But Bristol! Let me tell you about that. I'm on a panel this Saturday evening (20th October, 8pm). It's called The Unputdownable 2012 Speakeasy, and I'll be up there with Tania Hershman (yay!) and a handful of other very fancy people whom I've not yet met: Nikesh Shukla (his podcasts are ace!), Sanjida O'Connell, Maria McCann and Miles Chambers. We'll be doing readings and talking about books and the festival and all sorts, and there'll be a party afterwards. Drinks! Before that, I'll be reading a bit of flash fiction at a session called Launch Pad at the Hooper House Cafe - they've got stuff on all afternoon, but our bit (me, Tania Hershman, Sarah Hilary and more) will be on at about 4pm. I think. 

So if you're anywhere near Bristol, please do come along and say hi. I'm really looking forward to it - it's probably the biggest event I've done to date, and, guys, afterparty

seriously, dude.

Whichever one of you keeps landing on this blog after googling 'emma jane unsworth pregnant': DUDE. STOP IT. That's way not cool. And, Google: why are you sending Mister Creepy here, of all places? While I'm proud to say I do know Emma, I'm also very sure that these pages CANNOT SEE INSIDE HER. Okay? Excellent. As you were.

Reliable Witness (Birmingham Book Festival)

It's wall-to-wall literature around here; the Manchester Literature Festival is underway once more! I'm pitching in again as an official reviewer, so I'll be reviewing some events on the festival blog, which I'll link to as and when. Think Michael Chabon! Think Penelope Lively! In my more unofficial capacity as a mere person, I'm also going to see Richard Ford and Joe Dunthorne. There's loads on over the festival period, but sadly I'm going to miss quite a lot of it because I'm off to Bristol for the Bristol Festival of Literature on Saturday 20th (more on this anon), and then, the next weekend, we're heading to a  family wedding in Bury St Edmonds. Do you know how far that is from Manchester? I'm appalled.

But, right now, if you're anywhere near the Midlands, this year's Birmingham Book Festival has just begun. I lived in Birmingham for years, so I've got a soft spot for it, and their line-up is pretty ace, too. Patrick Gale and Jackie Kay? Go on, get down there. Last night saw the opening of a mad new project called Reliable Witness, which the Festival organizers describe as a commissioned interactive storytelling experience - kind of  Choose Your Own Adventure for the digital age. Which I think sounds fantastic, and I'm a bit gutted it's out of my reach at the moment. But in case any of y'all are in fact Brum-based, read on: I've lined up Sarah-Clare Conlon, writer, editor and all-round digital wonder, to tell you all about it! Over to you, Clare...

*****

Reliable Witness: 4-13 October 2012, Birmingham Book Festival



As advances in consumer technology continue apace and we don’t seem to tire of flocking to the latest social media platforms to spread our gossip to friends and total strangers alike, traditional outlets for artistic endeavours can appear flat and unglossy, even disparate and ungainly. Just look at the old paperback v Kindle argument. Really, who wouldn’t want to float around clutching a compact e-reader in their mitt rather than lumber about lugging tomes of heavy dead wood in a backpack? 

From an artist’s point of view, embracing technology can offer all kinds of advantages, from raising profile to driving sales. It can also be a boon to the creative process, in some cases even becoming an integral part of the final piece. The Reliable Witness literary project is a perfect example of tapping into 21st-century developments, bringing together online networking, real-time flashmobbing and even crowdsourcing to tell a story in an exciting, innovative and completely interactive way. 

Specially commissioned by the forward-thinking Birmingham Book Festival (which runs writing workshop all-nighters, for starters!), Reliable Witness kicked off in a very public way at the city’s Artsfest on Saturday 8 September – with what appeared to be an onstage marriage proposal gone horribly wrong. Audience members at the UK’s biggest free arts festival were unaware that it was all an act until the scene was over and they were handed flyers inviting them to decide what happens next. It’s kind of like a Choose Your Own Adventure book, but for grown-ups with smart phones. 

Darren and Amy are the couple at the centre of things, with further players attempting to influence how individuals choose between the different options available to move the story on. These are presented via a website, various social networking sites, and, during Birmingham Book Festival itself, a physical installation in the city centre’s Pavilions shopping centre. Participants are encouraged to upload photos or videos they may have taken of the public humiliation, and are asked to “like” the different characters’ Facebook pages and follow their updates there and on Twitter. (Here's Darren and Amy, and check out the hashtag, too.) The plot will unravel via these profile updates until the purpose-built site opens on 4 October, when things get really interesting, and the online and offline worlds collide… 

Birmingham Book Festival, which, in its 14th year, takes place 4-13 October, commissioned the piece as an experiment to see how technology can be introduced to literature. “It’s the first true interactive storytelling experience we will have been involved in,” says Jonathan Davidson, Chief Executive for Writing West Midlands, the team behind the annual event. “We’ve had successful immersive installations as part of the Festival in previous years, such as David Gaffney and Ailís Ní Ríain's Boy You Turn Me in 2011, but we wanted to explore the potential of running something using digital technologies that our audiences could make an active contribution to.” 

Sara Beadle, Programmes Director at Writing West Midlands, continues: “The Birmingham Book Festival is excited to be working with Red Lantern Project Management again after a very successful commission in 2011. This year’s project stretches the boundaries of both digital arts experiences and the way in which literature is presented, enjoyed and understood, which is a primary objective of the Festival.

“Each year, the Festival presents events and ideas that bring literature to the fore as an art form that helps us interrogate and understand our lives and our world. Integrating digital media with literature is challenging beyond the relatively well-known platforms of eBooks, social media and the internet. The Festival seeks opportunities such as the one offered by Reliable Witness to lead the field in doing this, creating new and distinct experiences that exploit and make sense of the wealth of technology available to curate a highly unique audience experience.”

Technology and literature have of course been combined before, with projects such as the Manchester-based Rainy City Stories linking to Google Maps to literally put poetry and prose on the map, and conferences such as last year’s Immersive Writing Lab in London or workshops like Tactical Transmedia Fictions at the recent AND Festival, both of which discussed the potential of using internet platforms and networked devices to disseminate a narrative.

The difference with Reliable Witness is that the story is also told in the real world, not just the ether. The installation itself will engage individual audience members in the storytelling experience by actively encouraging them to undertake tasks and react to prompts, such as a ringing telephone. Essentially, the audience member becomes less a spectator and more an actual character in the unravelling plot, making snap decisions which drive the narrative forward and influence its outcome, of which there are a number of alternatives. There are phone calls, video clips, digital photographs and social media interactions within the digitally enhanced space, which is fitted out to represent the flat of the by-now disintegrating couple. 

Lauren Davies is from the project management company Red Lantern, coordinators of the ambitious undertaking. “This really is an event with a difference,” she says. “We’re joining forces with The Adhere Creative, who are delivering the technical aspects of the event. It’s a truly collaborative process from start to finish, between the writing duo of Mez Packer and Rochi Rampal, Karl and Wayne and the team at Adhere Creative as the digital developers, and myself and Sara Beadle at Birmingham Book Festival designing the overall concept. The practicalities are immense, such as squeezing the most we can out of the budget we have and working across multiple platforms for presenting the story. 

“We’re really pleased to have partnered up with the Pavilions as the venue for Reliable Witness – there’s something very rich and unpredictable about locating arts experiences in city-centre shopping centres. We’ve also been supported with sponsorship from legal firm Cobbetts LLP, avid exponents of literature events, and we’ve received help from Birmingham Central Library and funding from Arts Council England’s Grants For The Arts scheme to ensure the event is a success.

“We’ve had to bring in a lot of additional expertise, but it’s a great challenge and so exciting to be involved in a completely new art form… no one has done this before, certainly not in Birmingham.”

The writing itself has also been a challenge, with so many options and threads to tie up into a convincing ending. Getting to grips with the non-linear storytelling has been the task of a team of two: West Midlands-based writer Mez Packer and Rochi Rampal, a theatre professional living in Birmingham. 

Mez, author of The Game Is Altered and the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize 2010 shortlisted novel Among Thieves, says: “Writing Reliable Witness was entirely different from my usual creative process. First it was collaborative, which meant brainstorming initial ideas with a group of five or six people rather than working alone. After that, Rochi and I got down to what we know best – characterisation, plot, dialogue. There were several rewrites and moments when the story strands felt they would never add up – but that’s where the collaborative element was the most helpful, with everyone in the group thinking about outcomes. The most exciting thing now will be to see the whole thing come to fruition. We both have such a clear idea of what we want the audience to experience and can’t wait to experience the installation for ourselves.” 

Rochi agrees: “It’s been a real challenge – but definitely a satisfying one. The process of writing a story that is in some ways limited by the presence of digital technology, but also ultimately freed up by its possibilities has been really fascinating. It’s going to be great to see it all up on its feet. Mez and I haven’t been in the shop unit since our last story meeting, and since then it’s been transformed and the installation has been built. We’re really looking forward to finding out how others experience the story, and to getting in there ourselves so that we can experience it.”

Reliable Witness really does promise to be a cultural event with a difference, offering a totally unique experience for every participant and a chance for members of the public to feel they are contributing to the creation of a brand-new artwork. It will be interesting to see if the project can meet the high ambitions it has set itself and pull artists and individuals together to produce a coherent and consistent level of storytelling that stands alone as a piece of literature – but whatever happens, it’s certainly a bold and brave experiment for the bookish world. 

And whatever does happen, is up to you…

The Reliable Witness installation will be open daily in the Pavilions Shopping Centre (Unit 10, Level 2 Lower Ground Floor, Birmingham, B4 7SL): Monday – Saturday 10am–6pm; Sunday 11am–5pm. Admission is free.

You can read a little more about the wedding proposal gone wrong in Birmingham's Sunday Mercury newspaper.

*****

Thanks, Clare! 

(You lot - are you still here? Shouldn't you be down the Pavilions?)

Junot Diaz and Alan Garner reviews

My reviews of Junot Diaz's This Is How You Lose Her and Alan Garner's Boneland are live over at Bookmunch.

ups and downs

It's been a rather odd and busy week for me. On Wednesday I went to a band rehearsal, to run through my set for WORD>PLAY with Monkeys in Love, in advance of our gig on Thursday. Band rehearsals are way cooler than writing rehearsals, which are more or less just me muttering to myself with an eye on the clock. Then, the gig itself on Thursday was ace - our set was so much fun to perform; the band are amazing, people seemed to like my stories, and there was even shadow-puppetry, courtesy of Laura! There's a video here of our first number. All the other acts were great, too - I particularly liked Tether, by (murmur), featuring David Hartley. Adrian Slatcher has a much more thorough write-up here. I also had my first PhD supervision on Thursday - more a discussion of the process than anything else, but it made me feel rather proper and official. Thumbs up!

But I also found out this week that Brian George, a long-time member of my writing group, the Fiction Forge, has passed away. Brian was an extremely talented writer and a really insightful reader and it's such a shock to think that he's not with us any more. The group is an online one, which gives it all that odd, peculiarly 21st century, virtual dimension; I've had so many conversation with Brian over the years, but I never actually met him. It's hard to know how to negotiate that. In the meantime, if any of you are searching for some short fiction to read, please click through to Brian's website, where you'll find links to some of his published work. Brian, we miss you already.

video

Comma Press have uploaded a video of me reading my piece, The Lovely Phelan Ladies, at this year's Manchester Independent Book Market. Check it out - I only cock up the reading once!


the next step

It's been two years since I handed in my MA dissertation and seventeen months since Seren was born; in that interval I've published a chapbook, started running writing workshops, redrafted the (still unfinished) novel, which I've now put in hibernation, pending a cool re-read in a few months, written and published a handful of flash pieces, and performed at a bunch of spoken word events around Manchester (this Thursday, come see me at WORD>PLAY in Didsbury!). It's been tiring and busy, but rather aimless, too. So it's time for the next phase - more focus, more serious-writing-face, more library-time. So, I've applied and been accepted as a PhD candidate in Creative Writing at the University of Manchester. I enrolled last week (student card and Young Persons' Railcard pocketed) and this week I'll have my first supervision meeting. It's a little scary and very exciting. I'll be researching short story sequences, or composite novels, and narrative theory (narratology, a bunch of formalist and post-structuralist works, discourse theory, etc), and I'll be writing my own set of interlinked short stories. I blogged frequently about my MA a couple of years back, and I expect I'll blog about the PhD too, but it's not as structured a programme, obviously, as the modular MA set-up, so posting won't be as consistent as it was then. But I'll try to keep you filled in, unless it's so boring you all beg me to stop. In the meantime, I better get back to watching Mars Attacks with Seren. She just loves to see the aliens slaughter everyone. Her evil laugh is a work of art.

Pangea review

My review of the Pangea anthology of short stories is live at Bookmunch.

Oxfam Book Festival

For anyone in the Manchester/Cheshire area, consider this a quick shout-out for the Oxfam Book Festival in Althrincham this weekend! Not that I ordinarily go around promoting Edwina Currie's appearances (ugh, Tories, etc), but Jackie Kay will be there, and we all love her. I can't go myself, but here's the press release below. Lots of local talent in the line-up, including Elizabeth Baines and Nicholas Royle. Should be good...

---


Alderley Edge Community Book Festival 
Saturday 15 & Sunday 16 September 2012


When?  11 am, Saturday 15 September
Where?  Festival Hall, Talbot Road, Alderley Edge
What?   Edwina Currie opens Alderley Edge Community Book Festival


Former MP and local author, Edwina Currie, will be revealing more secrets about her life at Westminster when she visits Alderley Edge Community Book Festival.

The ex-Conservative member for South Derbyshire  will open the Festival (11am, Saturday 15 September) and entertain audiences with a reading from the latest instalment of her memoirs, Diaries 1992 - 97.

Writer, poet and playwright Jackie Kay, best-selling novelist Erica James and teen fiction author Melvin Burgess will also provide highlights during the book-loving weekend being held on Saturday 15 & Sunday 16 September.

They will head an impressive cast of local writers giving talks, workshops and readings of their work at the event being hosted by Oxfam at the Festival Hall in Talbot Road, Alderley Edge.

Novelist, Livi Michael, will introduce her new children’s book, Malkin Child, based on the events of the infamous Pendle Witch trials.  There will be contributions from young adult authors Bryony Pearce and Jon Mayhew.  Also taking part are Manchester poet Mike Garry, short story writer Zoe Lambert, novelists Elizabeth Baines, Nicholas Royle, Conrad Williams and Angelic Reiki practitioner Parveen Smith.  Meanwhile, young adult author, Sherry Ashworth, will teach a creative writing lesson at Wilmslow High School in the week preceding the Book Festival.

The Festival will feature storytelling sessions to entertain younger readers and a fancy dress competition.  Visitors will also enjoy live music and refreshments.

Donated books will be on sale and a number of rare and antique books will go under the hammer with TV auctioneer Adam Partridge – well-known for his regular appearances on Flog It and Bargain Hunt – marshalling the bids!

The aim of the event is to celebrate all things book-related whilst raising funds, through book sales and donations, to boost Oxfam’s work tackling global poverty.

Katie Robb, Oxfam Bookshop manager in Alderley Edge and one of the event’s organisers, said:  “I am so grateful to all the writers who are taking part in the Festival weekend.  We’ve planned some really exciting events to appeal to a huge range of literary tastes and to bookworms of all ages from two upwards!’

There will be a £1 Festival admission charge.  Some events will be ticketed.  

For updates and programme details visit:  http://www.oxfam.org.uk/alderleyedge

Alison Moore review

My review of Alison Moore's The Lighthouse is live at Bookmunch - the book was longlisted for this year's Man Booker when I read and reviewed it, and today it's made it to the shortlist. Congratulations, Alison!

Zadie Smith review

My review of Zadie Smith's NW is live at Bookmunch.

Review of Enough

Jonathan Pinnock, of Mrs Darcy Versus The Aliens and Scott Prize fame, has posted a review of my chapbook on his website. Fancy! I especially like this bit: 'O’Riordan has a wonderful ear for both absurdity and casual cruelty'. Oh, yeah!

WORD>PLAY

Here's advance warning, if you live in Manchester (but fuck it, don't be put off if you live further afield, we're very welcoming here): on Thursday 27th September, I'm going to be performing at a literature-slash-music event as part of the Didsbury Arts Festival 2012. It's called WORD>PLAY and it's organised by the Flashtag crew. The full line-up is on a poster on their blog. I'll be on stage (reading stories) with a fab band called Monkeys In Love - we're the headline act! Good god. It's free in, though, and I won't be doing any singing, so it should all be fine. We'd all love to see you there!

Nuala Ní Chonchúir review

My review of Nuala Ní Chonchúir's Mother America is live at Bookmunch.

Ben Lerner review

My review of Ben Lerner's leaving the Atocha Station is live at Bookmunch.

Guest Post: Lisa Marie Trump, Pangea blog tour


Today the blog is hosting a leg of the Pangea anthology blog tour (see here for more information). I'm delighted to introduce Lisa Marie Trump, a theatre designer and writer, whose story, Places to Go, People to Meet is included in the book, and who's here to talk about her absolutely fascinating career and her writing process. Over to you, Lisa!


-------





Writing too much has been a forte of mine for more years than I care to confess. Editing I have learnt in the way an animal trapped in a snare learns to gnaw off a limb to survive. It doesn't come naturally to me. And it hurts.

Having grown up in a very witty family, as well as gorging on a diet of Blackadder and Red Dwarf and the like as a youngster, capturing the humour in my own life and those around me, was and is something that comes to me instantly and more naturally than reportage. I was working as a costume designer for theatre (a role that enabled me to really play with the humour in characters and to explore literature in detail) when the additional writing work I was doing progressed from penning a handful of topical comedy sketches for The Treason Show at Brighton's Kommedia, to writing fuller length pieces for the stage. I felt irked that so many classic texts in which I recognised incredible wit, had been short-changed when portrayed on the stage or on screen. Invariably the wit had been pruned away, sacrificed for the drama. The little known character of Henry Clerval in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein who has much of the narration in the novel, illustrates that point, and he inspired me to write a stage adaptation of the novel that captured his humour and quirky take on the world. The piece was performed at the Victoria Hall Theatre in Hertfordshire with a full cast and a particularly fantastic comic actor bringing Clerval to life. It was the first time that a substantial piece of my work had been produced and staged by a whole team with all their creative inputs influencing the look, the dynamic, the tension and (dare I say it) the editing of the script. As a writer it's very liberating and indulgent to watch your work evolve into four dimensions before your very eyes.

Wanting to explore theatre comedy further, I wrote a one woman play. Still life with Mango was inspired by a poem I had written about a visual artist living with cancer. The poem of the same name describes a still life painting of fruit, the texture and decomposition of the forms are described indulgently, paralleling the artists’ understanding of the thing inside her. Cancer is something that has impacted on my family, as it has many peoples’ lives. I wanted to write a play about loss and joy and personal strength that had humour at the heart of it. I enjoy exploring juxtapositions of sometimes “socially unacceptable" subjects; I do this in my design work and I wanted to do this in my writing too. It makes the reader/audience think and question – and sometimes it makes them uncomfortable. It’s part of being taken on a theatrical journey that can change you. The lead character became an amalgamation of several women I have known and I wrote it for a strong female actress to dominate the stage, challenge human insecurities and make the audience laugh - despite “the big C" being at the centre of the piece. Drawing on past experience, I pulled a lot of topical comedy references into the piece to root her world in the present - which evolved into a contemporary Joyce Grenfellesque monologue.  Still life with Mango played at London's Diorama Theatre and became a finalist in the Lost Theatre One Act Play competition. Again a director, co-director, designer, lighting and sound people brought my newly created little world to life. Lheila Oberman, a phenomenally talented comic actress turned my naughtily indulgent writing into a rounded, wonderful, vulnerable, feisty and believable character on stage. Interestingly a critic compared my writing style to a cross between Alan Bennett and Victoria Wood  - which was as much a compliment to the actor-director team that brought the character to life, as flattery for me as a comic writer.

So with my writing firmly rooted under the proscenium arch, what brought me to write Places to Go, People to Meet - a non-comic short story about a homeless couple in London? I was writing part-time as the Arts and Culture Editor for Human Journey magazine on the side, and had dabbled in poetry mainly in order to explore disciplines I found more difficult than writing comedy. The WriteWords online community was a great place to explore this - with some inspiring critical and constructive feedback fuelling me to try more.  Places to Go was another literary experiment for me.  I wanted to stretch my writing out of theatre, where light, sound and colour is implicit in the live interpretation. Where the scenography - the revealing of the body and the world through light and sound - manifests during the production period in an often potholed creative journey. The very nature of bringing together the creative skills of the writer, director, designers of set, costume, lighting and sound, and of the actors, has to be a bumpy expedition - with so many creative navigators vying for supremacy. But it works. One of the joys of working in the theatre industry as a designer has been the thrill of that collective journey of exploration and possibility, discipline and confrontation, resolution and inspiration, that results in a moment in time in front of a live audience. A moment in time that changes people. And that’s what I believe good theatre does.

When working in the theatre, I find it much harder to accept evolution of my work as a writer than I do as a designer. The production team don't want too much description or too much detail from a writer, they want captivating dialogue, a journey for the characters and as few stage directions as possible – it’s for the creative team to paint the rest of that picture for you. That’s what I do to other writers’ scripts when I design for the stage. So it’s a discipline I’ve learned as a writer for the stage too. The amalgamation of the creative team's technical skills and creative vision is at once a self-indulgent luxury to a writer, and a gargantuan albatross around your neck. You watch your baby taken away from you and then fledged on your behalf. It's scary and exhilarating and dreadful and wonderful at once. With Places to Go I wanted to do away with that luxury. I wanted to explore the live experience of all the senses, as on stage, but this time in the narrative of a story instead - stretching my writing to another extreme.  The short story was very much an experimental piece.  I made it as elaborate and juicy and adjective-heavy as I needed, in order to immerse the reader in all those senses, like being in a theatre. The elaborate descriptiveness and the painting of the sensory picture was the impetus behind writing the piece. Fitting it to the framework of the characters (inspired by a homeless chap I once saw on the steps of the London Palladium) was secondary but nonetheless important for holding it together. My fascination with character provided an anchor with which I could ground this ether of colour and light and texture.

I was thrilled that Indira and Rebecca selected the piece for the Pangea anthology of short stories. And it was a welcome relief that they worked with me in the editing, as I only have two editing tools: a tiny nail file or a sweeping scythe. They found a balance that captured the essence of the sensory experiment without losing the focus on the real people in their real world, as seen through my theatrical eye of follow-spots and par cans and gobos.

Currently my creative energies are being channeled into making opportunities to support the work of disabled writers (and disabled artists from many other disciplines too) in my role as Programme Director for a London based arts organisation. This includes producing and hosting book launches, creative workshops, professional development opportunities, mentoring, exhibiting works and performance opportunities for performance-poets and author’s readings. Outside of the office, I write the occasional idiosyncratic article for online forums – usually on the subject of narrowboats – another passion of mine. And when I don’t have either a pen or a tiller in my hand, I am taking on painting commissions of murals and decorative work for other people’s boats, or I’m at the theatre: immersing myself in someone else’s creative world.



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Thanks, Lisa! And, everybody else, do keep an eye on the Pangea blog for the next stop on the tour. 

Bill Murray reads Wallace Stevens

You've probably had enough of me talking shit, so here's Bill Murray instead with some excellent words. You just can't go wrong with shit like this.


reviews and more

My reviews of Pat Barker's Toby's Room (meh) and Ewan Morrison's Close Your Eyes (gah) are live on Bookmunch.

I've been on holidays this week (well - to my mum's house in Dublin) and brought my Kindle and two paperbacks and bought another paperback (Keith Ridgway's The Parts) while I was out and about in town - I don't think I've got the hang of the Kindle, have I? Though I have actually been using it a bit this week (Ridgway's The Spectacular and the anthology Shut Up/Look Pretty), and the paperbacks have been all sad and abandoned.   Anyway, I've also managed to catch some sort of flu or something while away, so I expect I'll infect the whole world, Twelve Monkeys style, by passing through Dublin and Manchester airports this evening. But if you do survive until tomorrow, be primed for a guest post here on Monday 20th from writer Lisa Marie Trump as part of the Pangea anthology blog tour. Exciting!

Keith Ridgway review

My review of Keith Ridgway's latest, Hawthorn & Child, is live at Bookmunch. So far it's a two-horse race between this and Mantel's Bring Up The Bodies for my book of the year.

Latitude review!


So we went to Latitude; I can't say we totally conquered it (it's MASSIVE), but we gave it a fucking good go. Head over to Bookmunch to read both parts (One and Two) of my festival experience. It's heavy on the lit events, because that's what I was there to cover, but for those of you who know us in real life, Andy's the man to ask about the music end of things (and Seren's the one to ask about how to stare longingly all weekend at a carousel you're too far small to ride).


John Banville review

My review of John Banville's Ancient Light is live at Bookmunch.

vlog: take 3

Here (late as usual) is the most recent instalment of my team vlogging effort - watch me, Billygean and Nathan jabber on about our thoughts on retirement. Go!

Latitude preview

So, hurray, I'm off to Latitude tomorrow! The tent and the clothes are packed and we'll buy our wellies on the way. (Yeah: we're that urban. Suck it.) I'll be reviewing the festival (well, the literary bits of it) on Bookmunch when I get back next week, but in the meantime, here's my festival preview. I'd live-tweet  it, but I want my phone battery to last the weekend, so that ain't gonna happen. It'll all be noted down with pen and paper instead.

Also: thanks a million to everybody who's already commented on Kerry Hudson's interview - for those of you that haven't, there's still time! Just leave a comment here to enter the prize draw to a critique from a literary agent or a whole load of books. Go!

Mary Costello review

My review of Mary Costello's début collection, The China Factory, is live at Bookmunch. It's ace. Costello is published by The Stinging Fly Press, an Irish publisher who really do put out amazing work (Kevin Barry!) if you like your fiction literary. I got my mum to get me a two-year subscription to the magazine for my birthday this year (last Tuesday) and the first of my six issues had already turned up. Woo-hoo! It's full of poetry as well as fiction and reviews, so perhaps I'll finally read some verse.

Tony Hogan Bought Me An Ice Cream Float Before He Stole My Ma: blog tour!


Pay attention, you lot, we have a guest! Give a round of applause for Kerry Hudson, a début novelist, whose book, Tony Hogan Bought Me An Ice Cream Float Before He Stole My Ma, comes out today. And this, here, now, is the very first stop on Kerry's blog tour! Fucking hell. (I thought I'd set the tone by swearing a bit, because Janie Ryan, the heroine of Tony Hogan..., is descended from a line of foul-mouthed, hot-tempered fishwives, and I reckon I'd fit right in. Bollocks!) Anyway, I've asked Kerry to come along and answer a few questions about the book and her writing process, and then we're going to launch the official blog tour competition. I feel extremely fancy and journalistic right about now. 

But first, some context, in case you don't know Kerry. Like Janie, she was born in Aberdeen and she grew up in a succession of council estates, B&Bs and caravan parks, all of which turned out to be pretty handy when it came to writing Tony Hogan Bought Me an Ice-Cream Float Before He Stole My Ma. Kerry now lives, writes and works in London. Her website is here, she blogs here and tweets here, and here she is: 



And the book itself? Tony Hogan... is published today by Chatto & Windus. I'll give you the official blurb:

When Janie Ryan is born, she's just the latest in a long line of Ryan women, Aberdeen fishwives to the marrow, always ready to fight. Her violet-eyed Grandma had predicted she'd be sly, while blowing Benson and Hedges smoke rings over her Ma's swollen belly. In the hospital, her family approached her suspiciously, so close she could smell whether they'd had booze or food for breakfast. It was mostly booze. 
Tony Hogan tells the story of a Scottish childhood of filthy council flats and B&Bs, screeching women, feckless men, fags and booze and drugs, the dole queue and bread and marge sandwiches. It is also the story of an irresistible, irrepressible heroine, a dysfunctional family you can't help but adore, the absurdities of the eighties and the fierce bonds that tie people together no matter what. Told in an arrestingly original -- and cry-out-loud funny -- voice, it launches itself headlong into the middle of one of life's great fights, between the pull of the past and the freedom of the future. And Janie Ryan, born and bred for combat, is ready to win.
How could anybody resist? But enough preamble - on with the show! 


Valerie O'Riordan: Anybody who's followed Kerry's blog (or read any of her recent interviews) will know that she drafted Tony Hogan... whilst travelling around Vietnam - definitely a cheaper, if more idiosyncratic, alternative to paying London rents and skulking in local cafes! But if you've read Tony Hogan, you'll also know that place is very important in the novel. Aberdeen, Canterbury and Yarmouth (to pick but three) are all integral to the story, Kerry, and you draw them so vividly. What was it like, writing so intimately about such British places out there in South East Asia? Do you find it easier to write at a distance or did you have to do a circuit of the book's locations at a later date?

Kerry Hudson: It was cheaper being in Vietnam but it was also very helpful to have that distance from my normality. It is a place so culturally removed from the towns and neighbourhoods I was writing about that it meant I had to go very deep into my own memories and imagination. I didn't have ready stimulus around me to influence the writing (in the way I might have had I been in the UK) so I had to create those places afresh, and seeing them with some, literal, distance helped me gain new perspective and insight.

VOR: I guess the same might apply to the eighties and nineties cultural references - I didn't grow up in the same circumstances (or countries) as Janie, but I'm the same age as her (and you), and we watched all the same cartoons, danced to Blur, thought lime green was a civilised colour for a pair of flared pants. Can you tell us about your research for these parts of the book?

KH: Like you I lived through them and so those memories (particularly of some awful blue PVC trousers I loved...) are still fairly fresh to me. However, I did get to do some fun stuff like YouTubing Dogtanian and the 3 Muskahounds and listening to all the songs that took me right back to school discos that ended in tears. Oh, and the other day I bought a Frey Bentos pie which now sits proudly in my cupboard waiting to come up trumps one rainy day.

VOR: The voice you've created for Janie is very rich - the foulmouthed fishwife vernacular (the Ryan Temper!) and her nasty circumstances blend with the joyous observation of the beauty she finds amidst the grime, which is a difficult balance to get right. Did the voice come easily or was it honed over the drafts?

KH: Janie's voice was the very first thing that came. Actually it arrived in short stories I was writing at Roehampton University years ahead of starting the novel. Before I knew what would happen in the novel, or if I would ever finish, wry, tough, smart little Janie Ryan was whispering in my ear. I was very fortunate in that respect really because that voice was the solid foundation and driver for everything else - knowing that so intimately made me feel less scared about the hugeness of writing a novel.

VOR: Some rapid-fire writery questions, now. How many drafts did you go through and how long did it all take?

KH: Seven months in total and around 6 drafts....I don't expect that speed will ever happen again! My second, which I wrote while working full-time and editing Tony Hogan, took about a year and half.

VOR: And was it always called Tony Hogan Bought Me An Ice Cream Float Before He Stole My Ma (fantastic title!)?

KH: It was first called The Dole Cheque Kid and then Echoes of Small Fires and finally found its perfect incarnation in Tony Hogan... which was the result of a collaborative process between myself, my editor and agent.

VOR: Did you show the work-in-progress to anyone?

KH: I got my laptop pinched in China during my first week travelling and so ended up writing longhand then transcribing in internet cafes and sending the book, scene by scene, to my then partner who was working in Palestine and my best friend who was six months pregnant...to be fair, they probably had bigger things on their minds!

VOR: Well, I don't know about Palestine, but as I recall, anything non-pregnancy-related was a welcome distraction at six months... Anyway. What was the initial genesis of the novel? You mentioned the work you did at Roehampton that captured Janie's voice - how did the rest of it come about? Did you start with an image or a scene or with a whole narrative trajectory in mind?

KH: I started with a few short stories that drew on my teen and childhood experiences and from that I realised there was a novel. Once I'd decided to write the novel it made sense to me to write from the beginning of Janie's life right up until the next stage into adulthood. It turned out that novel writing was much more natural to my style than writing short stories so I was lucky I decided to give it a go.

VOR: It strikes me as quite an episodic book, as the various stages of the women's lives play out (the men, the houses, the schools) - I could actually imagine it serialised (and I'd bet my eye-teeth there'll soon be a Tony Hogan... film or a mini-series.) Did you have a clear idea about how you'd structure the book when you started out - other than the basic birth to adulthood arc - or was it all trial and error?

KH: Ha! Well Tony Hogan... on screen would be the dream so I'll ask you all to keep your fingers crossed for that. I'm not really a plotter above and beyond a double-sided A4 sheet with bullet points of the main events of the novel, that said I knew the book would effectively be in three acts with different aspects of the story taking precedence. Otherwise it was, as I said, just writing Janie's story as I saw it with all the same landmarks as any other young woman just in the context of Janie's surroundings, personal interactions and her emotional responses.

VOR: Briefly, for all of us admiring and aspiring novelists, can you tell us about your own development as a writer? Did you study creative writing? Was Tony Hogan... your first novel, or are there some Kerry Hudson juvenalia hidden away in a secret drawer?

KH: I haven't got an MA, I actually haven't even got a degree in Creative Writing (I started one at Roehampton and had to leave). A few years after leaving Roehampton early I started writing short stories while I was working in the charity sector. I won a competition, longlisted in a few others, published a few stories and used those little encouragements to keep on going and then I dove in and wrote Tony Hogan... I did a talk at a university recently where I worked out that I started writing short stories in 2006 and I signed my publishing contract in 2010. Those four years were just me plugging away, remembering that writing was at the heart of it all, working towards a goal I wasn't sure I'd ever reach – I know lots of writers reading this will recognise that. So while there's no novel in drawer somewhere (Tony Hogan...was my first novel) there are plenty of pieces floating about in print and online which are examples of me finding my feet and trying to learn my craft story by story.

VOR: Hurray! It's so lovely to see hard graft paying off. Finally, I know your next novel, Thirst, is set between the UK and Russia. Can fans of Tony Hogan... expect any similarities or is it all change? And have you any idea, yet, what will follow Thirst?

KH: It is a change because it doesn't draw on the world I came from, instead it's a love story about two slightly broken people for whom love might either destroy or save them. It's similar in that it's full of black humour though and the protagonists are very flawed, very real people – she delivers free newspapers from a little trolley, he's a security guard. They both have secrets but they're also people you could walk past every day on the street. Next? I've an inkling for my third novel based on my time working at a Sultan's Chateau in Paris last Autumn and I'm also planning to adapt Tony Hogan... into a play. I like to stay busy and as long as I'm allowed to, and people keep reading, I'll just keep on making things up!

Well! A Sultan's Chateau, eh? I'm intrigued! And I can't wait for Thirst. Thank you so much, Kerry, for answering my questions (and for getting me an advanc copy, whoop! ) I hope everything goes really well with Tony Hogan..., and I'm sure it's going to be an enormous success. Just look at it!



But don't just look at it - read it! Tony Hogan... is available from Amazon here, and, of course, from all good real-life retailers - support the book trade!

Right, prize draw fanciness ahoy! Well, this is a treat, especially the first prize (unless you're one of my non-writing readers, in which case - Mam, this probably doesn't apply to you, but do join in if you really want to). This draw is open to anyone who hosts or comments on a Tony Hogan post during the blog tour. There's no purchase necessary, and there's no limit to how many times a name can be entered (so if you comment on three blogs you have three entries) but it's only possible to win one prize per person. The winning names will be drawn at random on Wednesday 1st August and announced on Kerry's Tumblr blog and on Twitter.


1st, 2nd and 3rd prizes consist of:

1st prize - A three chapter or synopsis critique plus afternoon tea at Beas of Bloomsbury, London (at a mutually beneficial date and time) with Kerry Hudson's agent, Juliet Pickering from the AP Watt Literary Agency, to discuss your critique. Plus a personalised copy of Tony Hogan Bought Me an Ice-Cream Float Before He Stole My Ma.

2nd prize - A  literary hamper containing a personalised copy of Tony Hogan Bought Me an Ice-Cream Float Before He Stole My Ma as well as three of Kerry's most recommended writing theory books and Hotel du Chocolate chocolates to enjoy while reading them.

3rd prize - A personalised copy of Tony Hogan Bought Me an Ice-Cream Float Before He Stole My Ma.


How good is that? Next stop for Kerry on the blog tour is Nik Perring, tomorrow, followed by Kath Eastman (July 7th), Sara Crowley (July 8th) and a whole bunch more, right through until the 19th. So go read and go comment.


Finally! If any of you are London-based, Kerry's hosting an all-day Tony Hogan... readathon today! Her friends, some actors, her agent and Random House staff are reading the whole novel aloud in a day at Stoke Newington Bookshop from 10.30-6pm. If you wanted to come along and enjoy some tea, cake and chatter, and maybe read, Kerry's waiting for you RIGHT NOW!

home!

Hola! I'm back from Spain; I'm thirty-two (?!); I've been tossing the baby into a swimming pool (honestly, she likes it) and reading lots of books and doing some writing, and trying really, really hard (failing) not to scratch my mosquito bites. Now, post-holiday, it's all action around here. Tomorrow I'll be interviewing writer Kerry Hudson on this very blog, and on Friday or Saturday we're  heading en famille to London for a Marxism festival (no, really), and THEN, oh God, the following Thursday, me and Andy and Seren will be packing up the mouldy tent because we're off to Latitude, where I'll be covering the Literary Arena for Bookmunch! I'm giddy about this one. Anyway - come back tomorrow to read Kerry's interview. It'll be ace.

Martin Amis review, etc.

I'm away in Spain at the moment, but God help me, I can't help checking my email and updating my blog (during my self-imposed two hours each day novel-time - bad Valerie). Anyway. My review of Martin Amis' latest, Lionel Asbo, is live at Bookmunch. Spoiler: I LOVED it, and I'm so pleased I loved it, because I was such a fan of his earlier stuff and so disappointed by the last novel. So read the review, read the book, etc. And I'll go back to my novel then the pool - woo-hoo. Sorry, I'm taunting you. I'm also reading some niiiice books - Elizabeth Strout's Olive Kitteridge, which I thought I'd admire but not like, but which I actually adored and want you all to read, too, and, on the Kindle, Kerry Hudson's Tony Hogan, which is bloody brilliant and nicely sweary - and I'll be interviewing Kerry about the book here on this very blog, in a week's time, July 5th, so stay tuned! There's a tie-in giveaway associated with Kerry's blog tour, too, more details of which anon. It's also my birthday next Tuesday, and I'll mainly be spending it in airports. Lovely. So in the meantime: novel/pool/beer, go!

The Hat You Wear is free!

This is my 400th blog-post! And to celebrate, I'm going to catapult you all over to Amazon, where the e-anthology I mentioned the other day, The Hat You Wear, by Comma Press, containing my story, The Lovely Phelan Ladies, is now now free to download on Kindle (or for the Kindle app on your phone, etc)! Go, read! (And thanks for reading this ever-so-ancient blog of mine. Mwah!)

Alan Warner review

My review of Alan Warner's The Deadman's Pedal is live at Bookmunch. We're big Warner fans here at Casa Valerie.

The Lovely Phelan Ladies

My story, The Lovely Phelan Ladies, features in The Hat You Wear, a special Kindle book made up of stories and poems by everybody who performed at this year's Manchester Book Market. It's only 77p and it's available now - give it a go!

Enough is launched!


So we had the joint Jawbreakers/Enough/Braking Distance launch event last Friday! The books are totally, definitely out in the world now. And the night itself was ace.


Brilliantly MC'ed by the incomparable Fat Roland (who, like me, read at the Manchester Book Market earlier in the day, in the rain - hardcore), we had readings from Dan Carpenter, Benjamin Judge, Rupan Malakin, Sarah-Clare Conlon, Trevor Byrne, Jenn Ashworth and David Gaffney, as well as me and Calum.


Nobody fell over (my benchmark of success) and Seren didn't quite manage to grapple the microphone from anyone, though she did heckle mightily while I was on-stage and then pestered everybody and tried to upstage Calum. Oops.


It was especially cool to have the launch in Blackwell's, my one-time workplace, with so many wonderful friends there to support me/us. Then we all got trashed in Sandbar - woo! The rest of my weekend was kind of manic, if nice: a trip to Macclesfield on Saturday to see family (baby nephews!) that involved a TWO HOUR traffic jam (!) on the way there, and a trip to Birmingham on Sunday to usher in my new tenant (massive phew; bankruptcy averted for another month) and to see friends, go to the park, and draw chalk pictures on the pavement.


We're so arty it hurts, man. Then we counteracted it all by getting all footbally and dressing Seren in a travesty of an Irish t-shirt (blame my sister) which only caused the team to go and LOSE, damn it.


We're best sticking to the books, really.

Jackie Kay review

My review of Jackie Kay's Reality, Reality is live at Bookmunch.

book launch tommorrow!

Okay, so, EXCITEMENT: my chapbook, Enough, is getting its official launch tomorrow in Blackwell's on Oxford Road here in Manchester! Look at this ad! Be there at 18:30 to witness this fancy, fancy event!*



*I cannot guarantee fanciness, but I CAN guarantee booze.

Bruno Jasieński review

My review of Bruno Jasieński's I Burn Paris is live at Bookmunch.

Erin Morgenstern review

My (belated) review of Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus is live at Bookmunch.

Enough is available to buy online!

Well, I have SO MUCH NEWS for you, internet people!

First up, my chapbook, Enough, is now available to buy online, hurray! There'll be a Kindle version soon, too; I'll keep you all updated on that front. [Edit to add: here it is in the UK Kindle store!] Second, we're having a great big stonking launch party! Well, technically, we're having a great big stonking launch party for Jawbreakers, Enough, and Calum Kerr's Braking Distance - it's going to be at 18:30 on Friday June 8th at Blackwell's bookshop on Oxford Road, Manchester. You'll get to see readings from me and Calum, and Jawbreakers' contributors David Gaffney, Sarah-Clare Conlon, Benjamin Judge, Rupan Malakin and more, and you'll have a chance to buy the three books, AND you'll probably get to have some booze and we all you know love booze, RIGHT? I'm getting a little carried away, I know.

So, also, thirdly, I've got a handful of other readings and stuff coming up. Next Wednesday, May 23rd, I'll be appearing at the Flashtag event for the Chorlton Arts Festival in, um, Chorlton, at 20:00 at the Beech Inn; on the following Wednesday, May 30th, I'll be reading at Bad Language in the Castle Hotel. Between the two, on Saturday May 26th, me and Vivmondo will be manning a stall at the new Levenshulme Market, selling our bookish wares (I'll be selling Enough and Jawbreakers) between 9 and 4. Then, on Friday June 8th, I'll be reading at the Manchester Independent Book Market, a couple of hours before the book launch itself. Are you tired yet? I am.

And before all that kicks off, I'll be on the radio in Bristol tomorrow (via my phone, hi-tech telecoms, this) talking about the Bristol Prize! Whoop!

All right, time for tea now.


chapbook draw results!

Well, I say 'results'; obviously I mean 'result', as there can only be one winner! (Insert other competitive clichés of your choice here.) So, thanks to everybody who commented, and I hope you're all suitably anxious and edgy, because it's time to do the draw! I've let Seren do the honours, and as she can't yet read, there can be no accusations of cheating or whatnot. Drumroll....
















Congratulations, Angel! Email me your address, and I'll get a copy of Enough out to you asap!

vlog, take 2!

Remember I was doing a vlogging project thingy that Billygean made me do? Well, here's Episode Two!

Happy...

... National Flash-Fiction Day, dudes - but I'm just a teeny bit more excited about the launch of my chapbook, Enough, which is also today! I'm celebrating by, eh, feeding the baby porridge and paying my National Insurance bill. Oh, hell, yeah. Well, I'll be at Bad Language later, making Seren pay for her porridge by selling Enough and Jawbreakers. What? In the meantime, scroll down or click here to win a copy of Enough, and click here to read my tweet-length NFFD story on the Thresholds site, and click here to read about My Life In Short Fiction over at Dan Powell's blog. Phew!

books and flashes and a GIVEAWAY!

This has been one hell of a few days. We spent last Friday down in Birmingham in a bone-achey awful DIY session, finishing redecorating my flat so that I can find new tenants (any takers?) and when we came back (01:30 Saturday morning with a takeaway in the back of the car to eat in bed when we got home because we're CLASSY) there was a red card from Royal Mail waiting for us. So the next day off we went to pick up two packets of books. But not just any books - MY books!


That's emulsion paint on my hands, not some godawful skin disease. It's gone now, because I remembered that paint-hands are just so 2008. Anyway. We also collected Jawbreakers, modelled here by the blushing cover designer:


Ace, right? Obviously I want everyone to buy both these books, so I'll talk them up to high heavens, but really, they look and feel great and I'm just delighted with them. Then, yesterday, I ran my NFFD flash-fiction workshop at Manchester City Library, which was an absolute pleasure: the participants were brilliant, the library staff were amazing, we had the best space in which to write - and even the passing parade for Manchester City's Premier League win didn't quite manage to drown us out and, really, it was very cool of Mancini to rustle up such an enthusiastic crowd of flash-fiction cheerleaders for us.


What's also very cool is that Danny at Manchester Library is going to compile a special e-book of the flash fictions that we produced on the workshop, which will then be available to download for library members. Just got to edit my, uh, output, and send it over to him...

So the next thing coming up - tomorrow, in fact, is the one, the only, National Flash Fiction Day! Which has been looming for months, of course, but has yet managed to sneak up on me. The official blog has lots of details of what's on around the country, so you better look up your own region, but here in Manchester we've got the peripatetic stylings of the Flashtag crew and then the latest instalment of Bad Language - this time in the Three Minute Theatre in Affleck's Palace in the Northern Quarter, kicking off at 19:30. I'll be there, browbeating you all into buying Enough and Jawbreakers. Speaking of Jawbreakers, the Kindle version has just been released and tomorrow, for one day only, you'll be able to download it (and a bunch of other excellent e-books) for free! (Though I recommend the paperback - did I mention it's general ace-ness?) Tomorrow, also, I'll have a teeny twitter-length story appearing on the Thresholds site alongside lots of other celebratory flash-fictions, and, AND, if you're still reading, I'm going to do a special launch-day giveaway because, woo-hoo, despite having sold several copies of Enough last night at my workshop (thank you!), it's actually officially released tomorrow, and in honour of that, I'll give away a copy to one lucky (?) blog reader! Leave a comment, starting NOW, and tomorrow night when I get back from Bad Language, I'll pick a name at random. Go!


Five Minute Friday

Late post: last week I was the Five Minute Friday interview on For Books' Sake! Head over to read about my literary pet peeves, favourite authors, and my thoughts and plans about National Flash Fiction Day. Nice!

Claire Massey and Kevin Barry reviews

Review round-up! Because I have been too busy anthologising, etc, to keep on top of my shit, yo. So, my review of Claire Massey's Nightjar Press short stories, Marionettes and Into The Penny Arcade, and my review of Kevin Barry's Dark Lies The Island, are both live at Bookmunch!

Enough


So, hot on the heels of the Spilling Ink shindig, I'm massively delighted to announce that Gumbo Press will be publishing my first chapbook, Enough, just in time for this year's National Flash-Fiction Day! Hurrah! I've been sitting on this news for a few weeks now, but we're at the proofing stage now, so it seemed a good time to go public. It'll feature ten of my short-short stories, some of which you might have seen elsewhere, but now they'll be all bundled up together. Andy's done the cover (you saw the one he did for Jawbreakers, right? Which is available on pre-order right now, hint, hint.) and Calum, over at Gumbo, is doing a sterling job of getting it ready for print. Enough will cost five English pounds and will be out on May 16th and will look ever so ace and I hope you all buy it and love it forever, amen.