You Say Potato
August 2017: I don’t review books – at least not in any sort of formal way. I’ve never really felt qualified – although of course literally anyone can have an opinion on anything, and aren’t we all aware of it…?
I have an opinion, for example, about the recent Sarah Waters epic, The Paying Guests. A wonderful, extraordinary novel in many, many ways. Some of the writing truly dazzles; some of her sentences give a literal, physical pleasure – so much so that some paragraphs I’ve read over and over for the sheer pleasure of how they feel, how they cascade, how gorgeously they unfurl in my brain and on my tongue. Her characters are fleshy and vital, her settings are thick with detail and atmosphere. She’s clever, supremely gifted, a brilliant, brilliant writer. But dear God, she don’t half go on. With a thin plot that’s ponderous, over-written, excruciatingly slow and drawn-out at its hard-reached climax, The Paying Guests is more than twice as long as it should be, and far from leaving me satisfied and pleasantly emotional, at the closing of the final page all I felt was sheer bloody relief the damn thing was over.
There we go. Just my opinion. I still love her and will continue to read everything she writes.
I followed the Paying Guests with The Miniaturist. And this was the best possible move. I felt cerebrally alive again. Astonishing writing. Jessie Burton deserves every accolade and elevation possible. There are sentences which make me stop in my tracks; her characters arrive fully-formed and in-your-face; the sense of dread she creates is exquisite, and, most impressive for me, her ability to immerse me into a foreign land in a foreign time and not overtly display all her impeccable research (a la Sebastian Faulks) is truly magnificent and I love her for it. Yes, the major twists were pretty obvious from half a mile away, but that didn’t bother me. She’s created an intensely claustrophobic, visceral, authentic world. No doubt the screen play is already underway and gazillions of pounds will be hers. Love you, Jessie.
And now reviews of The Best British Short Story 2017 are popping up over the web. It’s very interesting reading the opinions of strangers – and quite humbling too. People take the time and effort to take your work seriously and offer their thoughts. Of course writers want ‘good’ reviews, want praise, want applause. But that means nothing if there isn’t some sort of understanding of the work, some effort to connect with the story being told.
My story gets a mention in a couple of reviews: one is full of praise, the other not so. It’s fascinating. For the exact reason one reviewer liked it, another didn’t. I’m thrilled by both opinions.
June 2017: It’s here! The Best British Short Stories 2017 is now published and available more or less everywhere. It features stories from world-class authors such as Booker Prize winner James Kelman, Daisy Johnson and – somehow – me. Huge thanks to Nicholas Royle and Salt Publishing.
Those of us of a certain vintage will remember Fly Fishing, by JR Hartley with affection. That was me, every day after the publication date, until I went to Waterstone’s in Richmond and then…
tra la la la la la
Ego, pride, ambition, longing, validation, recognition, deep joy, affirmation, vanity, – delete as appropriate. But to see that story – the story that fizzed in my head in various forms for two, three, years; the story that made me question my sanity on many occasions; the hours and hours spent up here in my tiny attic study which inexplicably smells of cabbage, writing, re-writing, adding, editing, shaping – all for what? I asked myself on so many occasions…well thanks to Nicholas Royle, for this.
Every story is powerful in some way. Grim, funny, upsetting, dark, weird, lovely…and considering writing is such a silent occupation, the voices on these pages are noisy as hell.
May 2017: A month to go until The Best British Short Stories 2017 is published. So thrilled to be numbered amongst the authors selected for this edition.
January 2017: Triskele Books interview
So we shrug off the sad, bewildering and frightening year that for some (not me) was 2016 and turn our weary yet hopeful gaze to the open road ahead. What dreams of loveliness are foreshadowed? What promise doth the wind carry upon her soft spring breath? Perhaps this will be the year the council fixeth the potholes; perhaps people will learn to clean up after their dogs. Whatever.
But perhaps it’s the year my novel becomes a Thing. I do hope so.
Here’s an interview I did with Triskele Books, the wonderful folk who started all this.
November 2016: Manchester Fiction Prize
A while ago I entered one of my short stories, The First Hard Rain, into this international writing competition. Initially created by Carol Ann Duffy*, the prize for the winners of each of the two categories – short stories and poetry – is £10,000. That’s an extraordinary amount of money. The prize attracts a huge number of entries and understandably the judging process is rigorous. However, for reasons best known to themselves, the judges have put my story on the shortlist of six, and I’m almost Done In. If I was conflicted about the nature and purpose of competitions, and the psychology of winning before, I am now in full spin-dry, full scrambled-egg, full mashed-potato mode. Unreal.
Results on the 25th Nov. So chuffed. So nervous. So – strange**
** I didn’t win. It didn’t matter. I spent the (incredible) evening with Janice Galloway – so thrilled and honoured to be in her company and I’m forever in love – and truly inspired by her. She wrote to me after the event and sent me a copy of the literary journal The Gutter, which she recommends I submit to. Needless to say her card is sitting on my desk, receiving daily swoons.
And Nicholas Royle would like my story for the Best British Short Stories Anthology 2017.
So all in all, the best night in recent memory. I bloody love this writing business. Failure, anxiety, joy, wonderful people. I love it.
*A while before she was made Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy ran a fabulous week’s writing at Moniack Mhor in Scotland, then a part of the Arvon Foundation. I was lucky enough to be numbered amongst the students there, and enjoyed a truly life-enhancing writing experience. I would not be so indelicate as to reveal every detail of our last night up in those remote hills, but I will just say this: gallons (literally) of red wine, me on the guitar and Carol Ann performing a version of Old MacDonald Had a Farm which not only was pornographic but bore no resemblance to any nursery tune at all as she cannot sing one single note in tune.
October 2016 – doesn’t time fly?
A lovely, lovely thing has happened. Earlier this year I entered my novel into a competition run by the great folk at Triskele Books, an indie authors collective – and this week the announcement came that I’d won. This is just the best news.
The incredibly generous and exciting prize is a year’s worth of mentoring from the team at Triskele – full edits, publicity, media stuff etc – and then publication.
It’s wonderful, wonderful news. It means I can get this first novel out into the world and focus on finishing the current one – my Iceland one. The one with bones and wild beaches and a young woman who has visions. The one with a predatory half-brother, a celebrity restauranteur and anti-whaling activists. The one where a woman must choose between saving the son she hates, or the daughter she always wanted.***
For now, watch this space. Or rather, don’t, because wordpress has changed its formatting and I hate it.
*** Well as it happens, I seem to be unable to leave Wyn and Sara, and after two hefty re-writes, I think the novel will become a series of three or four. A kind of Tales of the City, but on a mad farm in NZ, with misfits and loners and lovely women.
Update: I have a poem being published in an anthology, due in April 2013.
Update: June 18th 2013
More good news. One of my short stories, Say Good Morning to the Stars, has just been accepted for inclusion in an anthology for Shelter. Edited by Debi Alper and Sally Swingewood, publication date to be confirmed.
Updated 30th July 2013
Bugger me, we have a book! An enormous amount of work has gone into creating a superb anthology and I am hugely proud to be a part of such a great publication.
Stories for Homes is now available from Amazon. All profits go to Shelter.
Here’s a clip of me looking mad and reading at the Ivy House launch.