Thursday, December 27, 2007

Sleepy days

And after Christmas there is too much chocolate to eat, too many books to read, lots of DVD's to watch, some bracing walks across the common, games to work out how to play ... but surely this is what the holiday is really for:

Monday, December 24, 2007

May the inspiration fairy...

... shine on you lots in 2008. I'm off for a while now, but have a good Christmas.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up. C S Lewis

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Family Christmas Fun...

So this has become one of our jolly wholeome Christmas traditions - to unscramble the names of famous people who have died during the preceeding year. It brings on such cries as 'I didn't know he'd died, why did no one tell me!' and 'you've spelt it wrong' to warm the heart. Please feel free to join in. There will be a prize for the first top answer to be emailed to me, or left in the comments if you want everyone else to see just how clever (sad) you are. The deadline is 27th December when the right answers will be given.

Name these famous people who died during 2007:


Friday, December 21, 2007

No more office working...

...for a day or two. Here's one of the wonderful animated New Yorker cartoons to celebrate!!! What exactly did Santa email? That's going to be my writing prompt for today.

Short story collections

Short stories are a pleasure to write. They let you explore an idea - so what would happen if an old woman bought the Holy Grail at a flea market (Neil Gaiman) - that might not sustain a whole novel. They let you use a viewpoint - second person, YOU! - that could get annoying after pages and pages. They can sustain a pace that would be exhausting to write - or read - for more than half an hour. Also you can see your end destination, unlike writing a novel which has been likened to driving in the dark with your headlamps off.

But apparently they're not so much fun to read. 'Allergic' is how publishers apparently feel towards them. Still, on a positive note, 2007 was good to the short story. Good for my own collection too. There was a fabulous conference at Edge Hill University, where even a short short six-word story - Funeral follows honeymoon. Groom was eighty - was discussed excitingly. There's a new website - The Short Review - which has reviews of upcoming and classic collections. Small publishers are taking the short story and seeing what they can do with it. There's a National Short Story campaign - although am I the only one who thinks this has fizzled out to a kind of worthy educational resource, and doesn't offer the surprises it needs to market the short story - certainly to new writers and readers? However, there's still a wealth of on-line journals that need filling. All of them run with passion.

So in the spirit of the 'Best of's...' here are my personal short story awards for 2007..

Best collection by a writer I hadn't heard of before (and also best title) ...St Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves
by Karen Russell
(although Philip O'Ceallaigh's Notes from a Turkish Whorehouse is a strong contender for both categories.

Best collection by a writer I'll buy without thinking twice ... Cheating at Canasta by William Trevor.

Best anthology that I turn to again and again ... The Burned Children of America - I can't recommend this one enough but looking at the Amazon prices I see it's practically a limited edition Harry Potter nowadays. I'll doubly not lend mine out now.

Best collection for finding a perfect sentence on every page ... Self-Help by Lorrie Moore.

Best promotion for a short story collection ... No one Belongs Here More than You by Miranda July. Is there anyone left who hasn't seen this yet?

And the most fun I've had with short short stories ... The Fabulous Your Messages project.

Not a bad list. Although I wonder if the short story wouldn't be better served if it takes back its place in popular literature - women's magazines, TV mags, newspapers etc etc - rather than becoming too much of a niche, poetry-style, literary form. There's something about the panic surrounding the short story at the moment that reminds me of campaigns to save engendered animals, so let's bring the short story out of the dark and back to the hearth, where it belongs. There's nothing wrong with being domestic sometimes. It lets us bare our teeth when no-one is expecting it!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Three things to read...

Here's an early Christmas present for you - the wonderful Smokelong short fiction journal has a list of on-line literary links that is second to none. I've been spending far too much time clicking through them, but here are three pieces I've bookmarked already ...

a) Exquisite Corpse's oracular review of 100 new books. Still trying to work out why I find this so satisfying but there has to be a short story in this format surely. It reminds me of the Neil Gaiman's magnificent oracular journal which is emphatically not a toy. Oh no.

b) Moro by Kathy Fish from Night Train. This story kicked far above its length for me, and I know I'll keep coming back to find out just how she got so much impact in so few words.

c) And if there was a drumroll, it would come now because this is my favourite. It's such a weird idea - the thoughts of famous people just at their moments of ecstasy - Robert Olen Butler's Couplings. It's an extract from a whole book of such imaginings he is writing, including, apparently, the interior monologues of a chicken and a rooster. Although on reflection I don't think they're a famous chicken or rooster so perhaps it's just the interior thoughts of just anyone. Including maybe... you. Now, there's a thought I didn't want to have. Hmmm.

Yay! TWO in the top ten...

And if it wasn't glittery enough that Tell Me Everything came Number Nine in Scott Pack's Top Ten books of the year(and jumped several million in its Amazon rankings as a result), I've just seen that Leading the Dance came in yesterday as his Number Four.

This looks like being an expensive list for me though - I've already ordered two of the others, Number Ten and Number Three. Hmmm.

Meanwhile, when they're not helping my fingers to click the 'Buy' button on my computer, my writing muscles are getting nicely warmed up as I prepare for going away on retreat in Virginia ...

And my writing prompt for today is ... Silent Night

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Like little twinkling Christmas lights...


(and thanks to the goddess herself, Karina for the link)

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

And another quote...

This time from the esteemed editor of Shedworking. I feel I've disappointed slightly here, but promise more sheds and garden office grappling in future collections!!!

"Despite some promising stories which feature a log cabin and a potential cellar-based shedworking atmosphere, Leading the Dance fails, as do sadly so many other titles, to really get to grips with what it means to work in a garden office. But if you can overlook this glaring omission, you will enjoy shaking up Sarah Salway's clever little snowdomes of light and movement and peering at what's left behind when the glitter settles." Alex Johnson, Shedworking

That nice Mister Gaiman...

...has given me a quote for my writing. I've raved about him before - often - so I think it's a given how much this means to me. Nothing to do with promotion, or sales (hmmm...heaven knows, book sales aren't my strong point!), but more when writers and readers you respect say good things about your writing, then it's all the motivation you need to pull your game up a notch so as not to let them down. And that's always a good thing. Christmas has come a week early!

Here's the quote. And now I can't wait for my next book to come out so I can see this emblazoned on the front. Meanwhile, I'm such a saddo I've put it up above my desk so I can keep reading it!

Sarah Salway is an astonishingly smart writer. Her fiction is always beautifully structured, touching and clever -- she manages the trick of making people that you care about in stories you admire. I can't wait to see what she does next.
Neil Gaiman

Monday, December 17, 2007

Colin Farrell in my hotel room!

Ah me.

Although, OK, I will admit it, not at the same time as me. Luckily it was only when we were checking out last night that we were told we'd stayed in a famous hotel room, used for the forthcoming film In Bruges with Colin Farrell and Ralph Fiennes, otherwise I might never have left it, not even to explore the chocolate shops. Reflecting all that glory takes time, you know.

And lucky too, that we only got to see the trailer when we got home - not just because our room is the one Colin Farrell's complaining about, but also because I have a nasty suspicion that when I watch the whole film, Ralph Fiennes is going to get murdered nastily in there. It was only a short drop down to the canal after all as I kept pointing out until I frightened myself too much to even go near the window. I'm one of those fun companions, you know. If there's nothing to worry about, I can make it up all by myself.

Still, particularly nice and unfrightening to come back to this. Tell Me Everything is Number Nine on Scott Pack's books of the year. I've never knowingly been on anyone's Top Ten before so I'm made up. I would have another Belgian chocolate to celebrate, except I've eaten them all, so I'll give Scott some good label companions instead.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

On Crying

As well as my 'normal' teaching, I work with some writers on a regular one-to-one basis. This is a quite different experience, and always rewarding. Yesterday though, something strange happened. As the writer was reading out an extract of her work in progress, I started to cry. Obviously I knew it wasn't a real story, I'd worked with her on the plot even, but there was something about the situation and the words that moved me so much that I just had to let the tears flow. Even more surprising, when I looked up she was crying too. We knew then that she'd got it cracked. This was GOOD writing. Anyone watching would have thought we were mad, cheering and crying at the same time!

No tears for the writer, no tears for the reader, said Robert Frost.

Which probably means that Markus Zusak must have kept tissue factories going during the writing of The Book Thief. I got this book after a recommendation from dovegreyreader, but it's taken me a long time to get round to it, partly because of the cover. At the end of a long day, the last person I want to curl up with in bed is death. But I think this is probably my best book of 2007. It's wonderful, it's funny, it's sweet, but god, does it make me weep. It's obviously the story, and the characters, but it's also because the old man in it, Hans Hubermann, reminds me so much of my granddad. He's even got a cellar like my granddad had, smelling of apples and coal. And I used to run to my granddad sometimes to avoid my granny's sharp tongue, just like Liesel does. So I don't want anything bad to happen to Hans, I don't want anything bad to happen to any of them, but I've not finished reading yet, and the narrator, Death himself, has already told me get prepared. I'm wading through the tissues as it is. I'm not sure I can take much more.

I'm living this book, and enjoying it, as you can probably tell. Nothing would be worse than living the lives of the characters in it though. Always on the edge waiting for a hand on their shoulder, or to be picked out of a crowd.

Two other writers who have made me cry this week are Caroline Smailes and Cathy at The New Notebook. Both have been writing about their experience of being bullied when they were growing up, and both capture what it must have felt like so exactly it makes me cold, even now I don't have to go into a school playground ever again (you may have to scroll down some of the entries on both blogs). I never bullied anyone, and was only on the danger list of being bullied a few times myself, but I did stand by once and think 'thank goodness that isn't me'. Never again.

Yours weepingly

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Because Christmas is all about embarrassing family...

And because he's been on the phone complaining that he's the only sibling who hasn't been mentioned on this blog yet, here is my other brother, the Big Brother himself, Stephen. I love the idea of this gardening project he set up at a nursery, although I don't know why he didn't give those little kids a full-blown statistics lecture (which is what he teaches at the universi..zzzz.zzzz.zzzz) Oops sorry, don't know what went wrong there.... and I'm teasing because I'm actually very proud of him. He's about the only person I've ever known who can make statistics interesting. Really. And what's more he's coming over from Canada next year so I can meet my nephew for the first time. And for that I really can't wait.

Kids Company and Your Messages

Really pleased to be able to confirm that Kids Company are our chosen charity for Your Messages. This makes me really happy - just hope we sell lots of books for them.

Here's a bit about the charity, but do visit their website too.

Kids Company

Kids Company was founded by Camila Batmanghelidjh in 1996 to provide for children and young people experiencing significant psychosocial difficulties due to the absence of a functioning parent or carer, which can often have a very negative impact on their ability to access education, health, housing, and meaningful employment. It currently supports 11,925 clients.

The organisation has a multi-disciplinary team working at street level delivering a preventative and reparative therapeutic service to children.

95% of the children refer themselves or their peers to our services, which are delivered through three key channels: 33 schools across London, a drop in centre in South London and a post-16 educational site.
Kids Company aims to promote and support emotional well-being. It assumes that the healing process for these young people is only possible in the context of sustained relationships, and strives to provide each of its clients with practical and emotional help they need.
Kids Company has already made a huge difference to the lives of thousands of kids thanks to the support of all our friends and benefactors over the past eleven years. But there's more to be done and more kids who need their childhood back.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Blame it on The L Word

Maybe we should have watched The Miracle on 34th Street or listened to Christmas carols as we decorated our tree last night. Instead, we had an L Word feast, and as Mama B and Mama T discussed their theories of attachment parenting, I started to wonder why we were so attached to the loo-roll fairy that was about to make her umpteenth appearance on our tree, despite having lost everything that made her anything but ... um ... a loo roll. Did I really want to hang loo rolls on my tree?

So I put my foot down, sent everyone back to the sofa, and declared the tree a tasteful zone (my taste):

laden with carefully chosen, interesting objects:

and a certain colour co ordination:

And just as I stood back waiting for the praise, I found myself in the middle of a revolution. Apparently we like loo rolls in the Salway household, and not only have I spoilt the tree, I've spoilt Christmas. For Ever.

Sadly although I did get a secret thrill from my brief dictatorship, I have to agree. So I'll have a couple of days of (my) taste, before giving in and letting our much-loved clashing Christmas friends out of the black bin-bag they're currently twitching in. No Grinch me. As if I had a choice. Because, look, a few favourites have already crept out and chanced their arm in the current pink and silver winter wonderland of the Salway sitting room:

It seems, despite our TV viewing, we are not as grown up as we think. Or at least not at Christmas.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Picking One Author

There's a new interview with me up on the excellent authortrek site, following their lovely review of Leading the Dance. One of the most difficult questions always is to pick the authors who have influenced you but at least Authortrek let me put down several.

Unlike our students on the MA I teach on, who we made pick just ONE author or book that had influenced them. The look of panic on their faces when they considered all the writers they had to leave behind was laugh-out-loud funny, but the variety of examples they then pulled into the classroom made it worth it. I wasn't the only one scribbling down names and feeling the excitement of all those new books to try. It certainly put paid to the idea that reading is a passive activity.

My choice was Alice Duer Miller. I first came across her work during a rainy holiday in the Lake District when I started exploring the bookshelves in the holiday house. The first book I pulled out, a novel in verse, Forsaking All Others, led - eventually and through a labyrinth of failed ideas - to Something Beginning With, which is why it's dedicated to her.

And it also led to a kind of one-sided love affair. I'm not sure we would have got on in person, but I certainly get on with her words. There's something about certain authors - A M Homes, Aimee Bender, Marilyn Hacker - who trigger something off in my writing. I love the series of poems ADM wrote for the New York Tribute, in particular. Are Women People? explored the case for women's suffrage by taking the mickey out of the anti-suffrage case. The thought of how they must have annoyed the hell out of the opposition still makes me laugh, this one in particular:

Why We Oppose Pockets for Women

1. BECAUSE pockets are not a natural right.

2. Because the great majority of women do not want pockets. If they did they would have them.

3. Because whenever women have had pockets they have not used them.

4. Because women are required to carry enough things as it is, without the additional burden of pockets.

5. Because it would make dissension between husband and wife as to whose pockets were to be filled.

6. Because it would destroy man's chivalry toward woman, if he did not have to carry all her things in his pockets.

7. Because men are men, and women are women. We must not fly in the face of nature.

8. Because pockets have been used by men to carry tobacco, pipes, whiskey flasks, chewing gum and compromising letters. We see no reason to suppose that women would use them more wisely.

And the following observation is perfect in its simplicity. It's one of the things I love most about ADM's writing - she never goes one step too far - and she trusts her readers to 'get it'. Especially the ones who she's writing against.

The Logic of the Law

IN 1875 the Supreme Court of Wisconsin in denying the petition of women to practise before it said:

"It would be shocking to man's reverence for womanhood and faith in woman ... that woman should be permitted to mix professionally in all the nastiness which finds its way into courts of justice."

It then names thirteen subjects as unfit for the attention of women-three of them are crimes committed against women.

Friday, December 07, 2007

A bit of Christmas magic ... No wonder I'm freaked out by Santas.

A National Post-it Shortage...

And you can blame it all on Will Self. Here's a photograph of his writing room. Just look at them:

And you can see the whole room, from every angle, here. Sadly, I have worked my way through all 70 shots.

But I am working too. Just finishing a piece I started at my Creative Non-Fiction workshop yesterday. One of the perks of teaching is that you get to do the exercises you'd like to work on yourself, and it was a great group. Really good writers, lots of fun, and - more importantly - some excellent writing produced. The only sad thing is that no one seemed enthusiastic about taking up the challenge to spend a week eating dog food, like one essay example I'd found, but I have hope...otherwise I might just have to do it myself.

The second edition of excellent Short Review is up now, with my review of Lorrie Moore's Self Help, plus lots of other collections worth looking at.

Thursday, December 06, 2007


I love graphic novels and Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis was one of my reading excitements for 2007. Set in Iran during the Islamic Revolution, it captures what was happening through the eyes of the six year old girl she was when the book began, not really understanding what is happening to her family and then as she grows up to be an outspoken teenager she starts to look outwards too. Always intensely personaly, it made me go and read more about what is happening in Iran, so I'm really pleased to find out there's going to be a film. Here's the trailer:

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Christmas sweets!

Despite pathetic attempts by Clare last night to persuade us that chocolate in the shape of new potatoes isn't really chocolate, she's redeemed herself totally this morning by mentioning this fabulous website where I have just spent a happy half hour ordering all my family's old favourite sweets (see above) for Christmas.

A Quarter Of really does have every sweet you can remember. Just looking through the pictures is a feast in itself. Mind you, there was a worrying moment when I saw some Cadbury's Creme Eggs on sale.

Surely not, I thought. EVERYONE knows a Creme Egg is just for Easter, but luckily they are out of stock. Phew. Back to the sherbert dabs and flying saucers...

A Commonplace Post

I should have identified where I got the rejection slip (below) from - it's A Writer's Commonplace Book by Rosemary Friedman. I picked it up in a bookshop yesterday out of interest, and haven't stopped browsing since.

It's full of all the quotes about writing, love, marriage, publishing that you could ever want. Some are reassuring - a surprising number seem to point at how a writer needs only write for three hours a day at the most, '...full time, which for a writer is three or four hours of creative composition a day ...', Anthony Blond.

- others are funny - '...most of society's rules dictate that man must be central or he will sulk', Erica Jong, or this one which made me laugh out loud - 'Literature is mostly about having sex and not much about having children. Life is the other way round', David Lodge

- while others I have written out straight away and put on my wall so I can see them continuously - 'Every reiteration of the idea that nothing matters debases the human spirit' David Mamet.

I can see that I'm going to have a little while of being that annoying person who replies with a well-judged quote to every question or statement.
Friend: My wife has just left me.
Me: '...the stronger the writer the stronger the suffering...' (Harold Bloom)

But hey let me not be insecure today. I made a bit of a fool of myself yesterday getting into an absolute panic about something I woke up in the night realising I shouldn't have got into a panic about at all, but my friend was kind and didn't laugh at me too much, and there's always this:
'Nervy, insecure and self-absorbed, first-rate writers are all too rarely first-rate people', Francis King.

And at least I'm not taking my clothes off too much in public.

Yes, there is always that.

We've been reading our Your Messages responses and found one that actually gave the number of times 'Sarah Salway Naked' comes up on google compared with 'Lynne Rees Naked'. Lynne and I were worried about this, not so much at the general idea, or that people had been googling us naked (it happens all the time, don't you know) but for different reasons. Me, that I only came up a paltry 505 times, but Lynne is a whopping 150,000 hits. She's always been ahead of me, that girl. I should stress none of the hits ACTUALLY show us naked, and that what is shameful is that we've both spent too much time worrying about this when we should be writing, but, as that wonderful 'source unknown' says:
'Life is in the distractions'.

And a lovely day of distractions yesterday shopping in London with my sister, who sometimes pays a royal visit to this blog. (Hi Mary!)

London lay itself open to us, as can happen sometimes. After a visit to a certain nameless (source unknown) shop, where we enjoyed a lovely piece of coffee cake, got 20% off everything, and found everything we needed, we decided 'we didn't like it there'. Still not sure exactly why, I do what Mary tells me and we certainly 'didn't like it' there, so we hot-footed it to another area of town. On the way we had an excitement - walking across a square we just caught the unveiling of an episode of Pimp my Ride. What made it particularly interesting was that the recepient didn't seem to like his new bright red jazzed up boys blaring etc etc car.
'What was it before?' I asked another gawper.
'A Bentley', he guffawed

Oh dear ....

And we also saw Elvis suits for dogs; two of those little yapping toys that toyshops seem to let loose on floors to annoy customers at Christmastime playing nicely until a bouncing rabbit with mischief on his mind leered up to them; enough gold dresses to satisfy both of us; a copy of the original The Million Pound Note at a knock-down price (yay); Tara Palmer-Tompkinson; the boys from Duran Duran (or so we thought, we weren't exactly sure although we gawped anyway) and, back to dogs - a dog wardrobe and a dog four poster bed (Dear Santa...).

AND my sister got winked at by a handsome young man, which made us BOTH blush like teenagers.

Life was good. And my Christmas has officially begun.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007


"We have read your manuscript with boundless delight. If we were to publish your paper, it would be impossible for us to publish any work of a lower standard. And as it is unthinkable that in the next thousand years we shall see its equal we are to our regret compelled to return your divine composition and beg you a thousand times to overlook our short sight and timidity."

A Chinese rejection slip (not mine, I hasten to add)

Monday, December 03, 2007

A good day already

I woke up this morning thinking today was going to go well. One of those 'right side of the bed' feelings. And on my walk this morning, these things made me smile:

* the way my dog trots like a little pony, lifting up each leg separately.
* the businessman dressed in sober colours who was walking briskly, solemnly, across the park, but then his coat flapped open and it was lined in bright blue. I couldn't help imagining how he would think about his blue lining when he was in meetings and that it might give him a secret thrill.
* there's a christmas tree in a window, and someone has stuck a notice in front of it so those passing by can read it. All it says 'I know', and it's like a reply to everyone (including me) who sees the tree and thinks 'that's TOO early'.
* the big teddy who always sits in an upstairs window has got a new hat on.

Filling Up

I'm working my way through the Your Messages responses in order to choose some favourites for the book we're producing. It's a privilege - they are so funny, and good, and moving (sometimes within the same 300 word piece!) Best of all is following the work of individual writers through the thirty day process. I think, in every case, the work gets better and better as the month progresses which brings me back to how important it is to write something every day. Several of the emails Lynne and I received from those involved in the project mentioned how the writers were using it as a warm up - some were writing something immediately, others were mulling an idea throughout the day before their writing time in the evening, but in every case it seemed that the writing created more writing.

I remember feeling frightened that my ideas for things to write about might run out. But it does seem to work the other way - the more I do, the more I want to do. If I'm only writing once a week then I feel I have to write something REALLY good, which freezes me before I even pick up a pencil. So we're going to do a writing marathon in my writing class this morning. I'm flexing my muscles already.

And the writing prompt I'm going to start with comes from the first two lines from one of Michael Laskey's poems, and it is this:
It's something I like you to find
me doing when you come home;**

**And the answer - for those of you with dirty minds - is piano practice!