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!