Wednesday, October 31, 2007


It's still there, even if the papers seem to have forgotten it.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

I wish all these famous writers wouldn't keep sending me love letters....

Honestly, everytime I open my inbox there's another one. Hey, I'm not fussy - and yes, OK, I have to beg (or sign up at least) for them, but what could be better than getting a love letter or seven from people you respect?

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Three threes

In honour of Tunbridge Wells's own beautiful thing and our enjoyable drink together last night, here are three threes for today ...

THREE FILMS I'VE ENJOYED RECENTLY (and I won't apologise for every category but I AM the only woman you will probably ever meet who has sat through and loved every single of the original Planet of the Apes series...)

1) Stardust. Go and see it tomorrow when the clocks change and we all get depresssed. It doesn't make any large promises but is just, just lovely. And it has so much made me want to write an adult fairy tale. We all need more fairy tales in our lives and the opportunities offered in structure etc are amazing. I want it on DVD NOW - I want it this Christmas to watch and watch again.
2) Me and You and Everyone We Know. We watched this on DVD last night and I'm even more bowled over by Miranda July than I was before. The generosity of her as an artist - to put so much in without fear she might run out of stuff to talk about. Does that make sense? I'm thinking particularly of the way her character just presses her fingers lightly on those round stickers in the car. It's just a second in the film, but in a less talented artist it would be a central motif, a moment too good to waste, or to trust that the audience wouldn't get it.
3) Superbad. It made me laugh. Nothing else need matter.


1) Gents by Warwick Collins. I want to write more about this later, but in the meantime just trust Scott - it really is a classic.
2) Everyday Life by Lydie Salvayre. OK, I admit I found this author when I was browsing to see if my own books were on the shelf, but why isn't she better known? A fantastic voice, weird story and disturbingly compulsive read.
3) U and I by Nicholson Baker. MOre about Nicholson Baker than John Updike as all good criticism tends to be, but this is funny and Nicholson Baker is one of the few men who could rival Gary Lightbody for my ultimate fantasy date so I'm happy to read as many books about and by Nicholson Baker as he writes. Bring them on.


1. A Socialite's Life. Recently I amazed a whole table of people by knowing absolutely everything there was to know about Lindsay Lohan. People were kind and didn't ask why? but this is the how?
2. Gluten Free Girl - confession time - I cried when Shauna put up the amazingly romantic photographs of marrying her chef and I actually get angry when she doesn't post for a couple of days. How can she live without me knowing? Good recipes too.
3. Cornflower and I share a birthday, and we used to live in Edinburgh together. Now I can still have a couple of minutes a day living in Edinburgh thanks to her blog - plus I also get to knit socks, cook, make intelligent comments and do all the things I might possibly do in another life (ie hers)

Friday, October 26, 2007

Book shed

Literally! Here's a shed built of 2,500 books (and found on the wonderful Shedworking.)

Seventy shopping days left until...

This book of beauty contains one of my poems, nestling happily in the section entitled, 'The Cost'. The poem, Night Letters, comes from a collection I'm working on about a mother who becomes a shopaholic. I'm really interested in that crossover between something we celebrate and even laugh at - shopaholic, chocaholic - and something that's very dark.

There are some gems in this book, which is edited by Jill Foulston, and the mix demonstrates that shopping is always so much more than just buying stuff. Perhaps it's not surprising then that the book starts with this quote from THE LADIES'PARADISE by Emile Zola:
The women reigned supreme. They had taken the shops by storm, camping there, as in a conquered country, like an invading horde, surrounded by the ravaged merchandise...

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Crap books

Have been thinking a bit about perfection recently. Not least because I was reading some research which says that a class of beginning ceramicists were split in half. One half were told they would be assessed on quantity of pots thrown not quality - the other half believed they had to put one perfect pot up for assessment. And guess what, the quantity not quality brigade produced without fail much better pots than the 'one perfect example' set. I know myself my best stories and poems slip through when I'm not trying to write something excellent, but just to have fun with the writing. (The novels never slip anywhere, they prima-donna right across my life demanding attention and lots and lots of love.)

Anyway I particularly liked this answer to an old chestnut of a question by Anne Enright (do you get shot if you don't put Booker Prize winner before her name now? I did a check and I've not seen Anne Enright written straight ONCE after the announcement). The full interview is on the Book Depository website. (Btw, the Nicola Barker one is worth a look too. I feel pretty evangelical about her novel Clear myself so it was interesting to hear a little bit about how, and why, it was written.)

But back to Booker Prize winner Anne Enright:

MT: Do you have any tips for the aspiring writer!?

AE: A successful writer did not write the book you open in the shop. The successful writer wrote about sixteen crap books, and kept working them, and rearranging them until one less crap book was born. Never look at your work and despair - this is hard, it takes nerves of steel - look at your work and then work at it.

I also liked Anne Enright on the Today programme the day after the prize announcement. She was asked to sum up her book and started, 'well, when I normally defend it I say...' to which she was challenged, 'what do you say when you don't defend it?' There was a moment's silence before she said, 'I've never had to not defend it before...' Or the conversation went something like that, and I was completely and utterly charmed by her.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Your Messages!

When Lynne and I started our Messages project, it was never intended for publication but just something we thought would be fun. The book was an absolute bonus, and now it's reprinted we wanted to do something that would get some of that fun back again. So....

.... from November 1st, we will be putting up a different messages from the book on a daily basis for thirty days and asking anyone who wants to respond to that message in the same way Lynne and I did orginally. It can be through a word, a feel, a theme, but the responses have to be exactly 300 words long. These responses go in the comments section of the blog and once November is finished, then we will pick out our favourite thirty responses and these will be published in a YOUR MESSAGES booklet and we're going to have a party in London to celebrate with lots of wine and canapes and puddings. (Er, that is right, isn't it, Anthony?) Anyway, all the proceeds for the book (yes, I'm afraid you won't get paid but you do get those puddings) will go to charity. We've picked one and will be announcing shortly.

So far, a surprising number of people have signed up to do all thirty responses. I am, for sure, but there are some exciting writing names doing it too. However you can dip in and out of the project as you want. Come and see us at Your Messages, and bookmark us for November. Treat it as a writing workout. It may even help you fit into that special dress come Christmas.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Writing Groups

The two writing groups I run in Tunbridge Wells start again next week - these are on a Monday morning and a Tuesday evening, and will take place up until Christmas. If anyone who lives near enough to come would like a place on either, there are a few available still. Just email me and I'll get back to you!

What a line up!

A fantastic evening last night at the 25th poetry reading for The Frogmore Papers. Highlights for me included Caroline Price's new poem, 'The Boy who Laid an Egg', the very beautiful and elegant Gregory Warren Wilson describing how he attended a vegetable carving demonstration on a cruise ship, all of Tammy Yoseloff's reading, but, most of all perhaps, Catherine Smith's surprising observation during her reading about how we hadn't had many poems about sadomachosism yet that evening. I have never before snorted at a poetry reading.

No, I'm lying (although not about the snorting). Best of all was reading Catherine's new collection, LIP, on the tube home and finding I was acknowledged at the front. I'm made up - this is a fantastic book (not that I'm biased, of course).

Monday, October 22, 2007

Heavens Above

Here's my writing prompt for today.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

For she's a jolly good fellow...

Now that Autumn is here, I'm getting more and more excited about my forthcoming fellowship at VCCA. In fact, I'll let you in on a secret. Not a day goes by that I don't go and ogle at the website, particularly at the Accepted Fellows page. I know this paragraph practically by heart:

You'll find a working environment far from the distractions of every day life. With three meals prepared for you every day, you'll experience large blocks of time where you can concentrate on your work. Many artists find the solitude and the privacy afforded at the VCCA liberating, and produce some of their best work here. Others are inspired by their colleagues with whom they share breakfast and dinners in a common dining hall.

There's something there worth repeating .... with three meals prepared for you every day...

Oh, and the large blocks of time where you can concentrate on your work bit too, of course.

I'm not really going there to eat, oh no! I have a 'secret project' to work on. I really can't wait to get my teeth into it.

And to make it all even more delicious, I'm going to travel from New York to Virginia by train too. This is an adventure, especially for a Fen girl. I think I might be finally growing up. There are even days I can cope with a hill or two. After all, I am about to be a fellow (or have I mentioned that already!)

Thursday, October 18, 2007

The grumpiest celebrity?

Steve Stack is conducting a poll to find the grumpiest celebrity over on his blog. Vote now! I was very worried about someone nominating Gryff Rhys Jones because he always seems so jolly, but when I googled him a minute ago, I found someone's 'claim to fame' was that GRJ told him to piss off in Ipswich. Fame indeed.

Puppies, Liverpool and Fireman

Off to Liverpool yesterday to read - an excellent night. A good audience, and a good friend to stay up too late with.

Suffering on the train home this morning, I tried to will no one to sit next to me but it didn't work. No problem though because I got the best fellow passenger ever. Peter the Liverpool fireman - who reads masses of fiction and offered to share his tea with me. He told me he always had a travelling book, a home book and a work book.

'So you get to read at work?' I asked, imagining some furtive desk-reading at lunchtimes and that's when he told me what he did. Apparently they have bookshelves in the station and swop them with other stations. He even, whisper it, reads in the engine on the way to jobs sometimes.

'Do you discuss the books?' I asked.

'Yes, with my wife,' he said.

'No, I mean with the other firemen. Do you have a bookclub or anything?'

He looked at me as if I was crazy. 'We are men,' he said.

Anyway he's now got a copy of Leading the Dance for the fire station shelves, appropriately the red one!

A friend sent through these letters to God . Although I like this one:

it's Joyce here that I can really identify with:

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Missed it!

How have I only just found out yesterday was Blog Action Day? That will teach me for skipping one of my favourite blogs - still plenty to read on the website though.

The Thing

My house is filled with letters, in my hands when I drink tea....

on my walls...

and even, as said before, under my feet...

so when I heard about THE THING project...

I knew I wanted to take part. The Thing Quarterly is a subscription only publication, and they call it a publication or magazine on purpose, where you sign up to receive four unknown objects based around text, and all designed by artists, wrapped in brown paper (the objects not the artists, just to make this absolutely clear), throughout the year. I was sad to miss the wrapping party - this is what THE THING's founders said about it:
One of the visions we had about THE THING when we were first thinking of it, was that there would be a sort of social aspect of it when it came time to send it out, like a barn raising. A group of us would pack it and send it out into the world. But the amazing thing about the wrapping party on Wed. night was that it took on a life of its own and suddenly become a sort of force that now seems to be driving the future of THE THING.
But getting to one isn't a bad goal for next year. And when my THING arrived, I was delighted to be even a small passive part of all this ...

Now, I can't wait for my next THING which will be designed by Anne Walsh.

Support text that isn't just in books, I say - although I might have to think of a catchier phrase before I get it printed on a t-shirt.

Monday, October 15, 2007


From English Pen:


Stand in solidarity with Aung San Suu Kyi and the writers of Burma
English PEN event Thursday 25 October, 7pm

We have watched aghast while the Burmese people have courageously demonstrated against repression and suffered the brutal consequences. New arrests are made every day, and the true number of the detained and disappeared remains unknown. The Myanmar authorities are withholding information about the location of these political prisoners, as well as the charges and conditions they are facing.

PEN knows of at least six journalists and poets who were arrested as a result of organising or reporting the protests. They join a large number of writers who have been imprisoned, harassed and persecuted for decades, many of whom continue, despite the odds, to smuggle out their pro-democracy opinions – including poetry expressing their personal concern for one another. It is time to stand in solidarity with them and support their right to freedom of expression.

On Thursday 25 October at 7pm English PEN is hosting an evening dedicated to Aung San Suu Kyi and other writers who are voices of conscience in Burma. New English translations of their work will be read alongside their remarkable personal stories and previously unseen film footage of interviews with Burmese writers will be shown, including the last interview with the admired comedian and poet Zargana, filmed before he was arrested last month. The event will also be an opportunity to hear the views of Burmese exiles and some of Britain’s leading writers on the recent protests in Burma. It will close with the signing of an open letter of support to Aung San Suu Kyi.

Speakers and readers include:

John Pilger, journalist and human rights campaigner

Benedict Rogers, expert on Burma

Pascal Khoo Thwe, the acclaimed Burmese novelist

Justin Wintle, Aung San Suu Kyi’s most recent biographer

Maureen Lipman, long dedicated to the Burmese cause

Zoya Phan, Burma Campaign UK spokeswoman

Melissa Benn, novelist and journalist

All proceeds will go to support English PEN’s Writers in Prison Programme and to directly benefit Burmese writers now in exile or under threat.

Time: Thursday 25 October - 7pm
Venue: Guardian Newsroom, 60 Farringdon Road, London EC1R 3GA
Tickets: £10 members, £12.50 non-members

Tickets include a complimentary glass of wine after the talk, courtesy of Waitrose Wine

To book: Call 020 7713 0023 or book online.


OK, here's a challenge. The first person who watches this to the end and stays dry-eyed can have a free copy of one of my books. Not that you'd deserve a copy of one of my books, but still.

How many blogs do you have?

I've been thinking recently about starting another blog - watch this space - not least because I think this one is varied enough already. It's a bit like the paper journal I keep, I'm quite used to finding a shopping list on the opposite page to a character analysis which leads on to some overheard snatches of conversation, and a to do list on the next page. Nice to see someone like Jane Smiley doing the same thing here albeit in a more organised fashion. Her blogs - horse, sales, book, food - don't seem to be updated for some time, but still show how no one can ever be defined by just one thread alone.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

When I wake up...

Going with the flow doesn't come easy to me. I seem to be hard-wired to sticking out my chin and fighting, but I'm learning. Partly from thinking how Gretchen at the Happiness Project would deal with things. But then, of course, she'd Be Gretchen (number one on her happiness commandments) and I need to Be Sarah, which does seem to involve sticking out that chin of mine.

Still, I managed last night. A busy busy busy day teaching at Sussex, then busy busy busy drive home to pick up daughter and off to London to busy busy busy meet husband and son to go and see .... THE PROCLAIMERS!! Maybe you have had to live in Edinburgh to fully appreciate them, but oh boy, my family are serious fans. In fact, we were looking forward not so much to hearing them sing, but to sing along with them. Actually - if the truth really be told - we could have just done it at home (and yes, OK, we do that a lot) but sometimes you do need a bit of background music.

Anyway, no sooner had we got our plastic pints of beer (in every way) and sat down, then this woman stood up a couple of rows in front of us and started waving her hands around. Maybe it would have been all right if she'd been in time or if it was Madonna we were watching on stage or anyone who moves around a little, but these boys stay still (apart from when they're having a nice quiet sit down in between choruses, that is). We tried to stand up too, but it was too early in the night for that, and besides all four of us had developed an irrational hatred for the woman which meant we preferred sitting down and muttering to each other about her. As did the three rows between us and her. There was quite a lot of subdued hissing which strangely reminded us of Edinburgh so at least that was nice.

Anyway that's when I channeled Gretchen - don't be Sarah, be Gretchen, just for now at least - and it worked! By the time we got to 'I'm on My Way', the woman's madly waving arms out of tune to anything that resembles life on this planet were not just charming, but essential to our enjoyment. Besides we were all on our feet then, and the Scots amongst us were crying out - baying actually - for Flower of Scotland so we were far more annoying than some randomly arm-sawing English woman. I even nearly went to join her.

Huzzah! And when we emerged out of the Apollo - 500 miles later and then some - England were through to the Final. So we won - on all nationality counts.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

A different sort of book...

Can't believe I missed the chance to see this wonderful looking room as a book when it was on show locally in Lewes, but at least it's going to be at West Dean soon. This is what the creator, Carolyn Trant, says about it on her blog:
The Falcon Bride is an experimental ‘room-sized book’ – which I set up in a gallery in Lewes, Sussex during the local Arts Festival. I deliberately wrote no introductory explanations of the piece other than that it is based on a visit to the Polish city of Krakow, where we visited the small museum containing Leonardo’s painting ‘Lady with Ermine’ and a small Egyptian Department containing some mummified falcons; the Polish Ethnographic Museum; and the old Jewish Quarter.
It is a ‘book’ in that you are entering a world and a story which it takes time to absorb; there is a web of references and cross-references of images in different forms – 10 prints on the walls, hand-made objects and models, and a table full of hand-painted books.
The idea of making the room look like a Polish CafĂ© (a setting which re-appears within the images) is to make people feel comfortable, both psychologically and physically, as they sit to look into what can be a slightly disturbing journey - in that it asks questions without giving answers. The images and objects, hand-made reproductions of what I saw, but deliberately made to be somehow ‘on the point of becoming’, are proving quite powerful.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

"Why do writers write? Because it isn't there."
Thomas Berger

Monday, October 08, 2007

Sunday, October 07, 2007


I haven't put up many reviews or comments about my books up here but I have been persuaded I should, and this one I came across yesterday for Leading the Dance has given me enormous pleasure. Looks a good website too, and one I'll definitely be visiting again.

"A no-holds-barred compilation of extraordinary accounts of everyday occurrences.
Salway's concise yet graphically detailed style of recording ordinary people struggling with their mundane lives (particularly when that mundane life is suddenly thrust into unknown and unforeseen events) is captivating, heartbreaking and occasionally salacious.
My personal favourites are "Every Time You Open Your Eyes", "Jesus and the Aubergines" and "The Woman Downstairs"... although the brutal honesty of her characters could quite easily inspire, endear or simply titillate any of you.
You will find your own personal favourite in this collection of the most intimate foray into other people's lives.
Quite extraordinary and highly recommended."

I love the idea of combining all my reviews and turning into a 'no-holds- barred Princess'...

Mind you I've also been lucky enough to have these recent comments from Neil Gaiman (I know I've put it up before but you probably could have no idea how PROUD I am of this), this one from Nik Perring, author of the excellent (just ask Meg and Sam) book, I met a Roman Last Night, What Did You Do?, as well as this notice from the Man himself, Scott Pack.

Don't Forget Burma

Britney or Burma? I've just opened this email (below) from a Burmese friend:

Hi all

Dan and I and some friends went to the London rally in support of the monks and people of Burma yesterday. There was a small but significant number of us - 1500 people.The monks threw rose petals into the Thames in remembrance of those who have died and are suffering in Burma - a moving image.

30,000 people attend a Man United football match, a team beloved by the Burmese. The parents of Madeleine McCann had extensive worldwide coverage of their tragedy. Tens of thousands of children, women and young men and old are repressed, intimidated and thousands have died in Burma. The news reports in the UK are about Britney Spears or the non-event of a general election - don't forget the people of Burma. You can help in small ways see below. If you are on Facebook - please spread the message.

Heartfelt thanks


Your message GLOBAL ROAR was FWDed to 200 or more young Burmese expatriates around the world, urging them to to distribute it to their friends and contacts.
Below is another great idea to let the Beijing government know many hundreds of people refuse to buy Beijing Olympics 2008 tickets. A friend passed the message to me.
Subject: Help Burma
Dear all,

I am contacting my friends, family, and beyond, because I feel we need to
show solidarity and support each other during these critical times. Never
before have I seen so much international interest and awareness in the
situation in Burma. For perhaps the first time in nearly half a century of
oppression by the brutal dictatorship, the Burmese people have got the
world listening. That fills me with some hope, because it is through this
global action that I believe change can be made.

I know the events are very emotive, but at present I think we must try to
compose ourselves and avoid acting on our anger, as this could actually
compromise the safety of those we love in Burma, despite the best of our

This doesn't mean we can't make a difference. I thought you might like to
know about a movement that my friends and I are involved in. If you like
this idea, please pass it on, post it on a blog, or share it on Facebook.
Only if people are aware can they influence change. Please see the
remainder of this email for details.


If everybody we know emails a request (not for tickets, but for China's
action for Burma) to, it will significantly
slow down Olympics ticket sales and call China's attention to the
matter. China may ignore protests, hunger strikes, petitions,
wearing-red shirts, etc. But China cannot ignore these emails, which get
in the way of processing Olympics ticket requests.

Please see the template at the bottom. Please also pledge to send the
same email every 6 hours, or every time you check your email. If they
get tens of thousands of email a day, they will have to do something
about it.

"The consensus around the European Parliament is that China is the key.
China is the puppet master of Burma. The Olympics is the only real lever
we have to make China act. The civilised world must seriously consider
shunning China by using the Beijing Olympics to send the clear message
that such abuses of human rights are not acceptable."
- Vice president of the European Parliament Edward McMillan-Scott.

China should use its leverage to bring reconciliation and peace in
Burma . However, it recently vetoed a Security Council resolution on
Burma . Yet with the threat of Olympics boycott, China has yielded
significantly to condemn Sudan's genocidal regime.

Please note that this action is NOT an actual boycott. If you have
questions about the topic of Olympics boycott, please read attached notes.


Send to * *every 6 hours, or every time you
check your email.

Subject: re: tickets

Dear Sirs,

I am very interested in purchasing tickets to some of the events at next
year's Olympic Games.

However I cannot, in good conscience, attend the Bejing Olympics unless
your government uses its influence to improve the political situation in
Burma . China has substantial economic interests in the country, provides
large amounts of economic aid, and invests heavily in infrastructure
projects there. Additionally, your government provides extensive
logistical support to Burma 's military government. All this make China
uniquely placed to influence it.

The people of Burma have, in a very peaceful manner, insisted that their
rights be respected. I ask no more of your government than that it cease
its support for the current regime, and encourage a dialogue with the
democratically elected representatives of the Burmese nation.

I, the Burmese people, and the world would be grateful for your
assistance in this matter. Your courage will go a long way towards
making the 2008 Olympics a success.

With sincere thanks,
(your name)

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

When it isn't just you...

Life has been a bit shit recently, as some of you may know, so it's nice that some bits of it are starting to slowly work well again. Even better when I told someone about something good that has happened recently and got this in return which made me laugh so much:

And so you should feel special. Like a princess. Or like a princess who's had to work Very Hard at becoming a princess and hasn't simply been born into such splenderous situations. And who must have already had a predispositional princessy talent for becoming one.

You see, this is absolutely why I love other writers. None of this 'good for you' or 'pass the tea' monosyllables for them when several hundred glittery metaphors will do the job just as well.

Makes me wonder what personal dedications of similar flamboyance I can ask Steve Stack to put in my Christmas copies of his book, It is Just You, Everything's Not Shit. He's offering to sign them via his blog. The book - and the blog - is 'A Guide to All Things Nice' from Aardvark to Zebedee and his Sons (or really small kids shouting BOING! everytime he's mentioned in bible classes), dropping in on Sunday lunch, chips from Chinese restaurants, falling in love, drawing pictures in steamed up windows, breaking the ice on a puddle, unicycles (part clown, part Lance Armstrong), watching television sideways, and marbles along the way.

We've all been taking it in turns to read this book in my family and pick out different things each time. To be honest, it's not so much a guide to 'nice things' as a time capsule of British eccentricity. It's definitely a book for someone who already has "a predispositional princessy talent for becoming one", although disappointingly tiaras aren't mentioned. Maybe Steve's saving them for the next edition?

global roar

If you're like me and have been scouring the paper daily to see what's happening in Burma only to find a small paragraph on page 23, there's a on-line petition here to help show the people of Burma they've not been forgotten.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Monday, October 01, 2007

Song interview

Interviews with musicians are so last year, so here's a first - an interview with a song. When the can came on, I thought I might actually die laughing. Do watch it (and listen to The Blow on myspace too - they're pretty terrific).


Anything Miranda July can do, I can.... er.... do.