Friday, February 29, 2008

The next Thing

It's come! My next edition of The Thing Quarterly. Although this wasn't quite what I was expecting ....

More confusing still was the fact that I didn't understand a word of what the hat, or the letter accompanying it, said. I was interested in my reaction, I was actually a bit frightened and annoyed at that not knowing.

But luckily the mystery is solved here.

Kota Ezawa’s Thing is all about translation. As the letter - addressed to me in Mandarin but translated on site - says about the artist:
"He focuses in on something and through a process of translation into different visual languages he shows the viewer something new in something that he or she has most likely seen many times before."

And, apparently, rather than worrying about whether people will be pointing and laughing at the rude slogan on my hat, I will be wearing instead the proud message 'The Thing Three' which I'm sure explains everything to everyone really, doesn't it? Hmmm... I need to think more about why I found this so disturbing at first. My mother always used to say I was the model Fen Girl and apparently we're notoriously bad at anything different and new, but even so.

Anyway, now I've sorted it all out, I never thought I'd be someone who wears a baseball hat, but it's on my head as I type and I don't intend to take it off for the rest of the day.

Stairways to heaven...

(courtesy of here)

And, as it's nearly the weekend, our regular dose of magnificent dancing (on or near stairs, yes, I know it's a tenuous link but I don't care because watching this makes me happy):

Banned books

Somehow - I can't even remember the journey - I stumbled on this blog featuring details about previously banned books. As well as reviews, there's a little bit about why each book has been either banned or 'challenged'. Fascinating stuff. The initial post the contributors put up on how the books are chosen is here and gives links to lots more lists.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

My books of the year...

Of course it's daft making such predictions in February because who knows what the next ten months will bring, but I can't imagine much beating the very different books I have on the go at the moment.

Twyla Tharp is one of the great choreographers in America, and her book, The Creative Habit discusses the lessons she's learnt about creativity. Even the design of the book seems to let the light in - it feels inspiring just to look at. I've been thinking about space and writing a lot at the moment. I keep wanting to cut open up my sentences and breathe. In The Creative Habit, there are so many paragraphs and sentences I've underlined and marked throughout that it's obvious it deserves a post of its own soon. I always scribble on my favourite books, I treat it as a compliment to the writer - (provided they are my own books, of course) but it made me laugh when about half way through the book, Twyla Tharp said: 'you have written on this book, haven't you?' It summed up the feel of the book for me, like having a conversation with the kind of wise mentor you dream of.

My second book is All We Know by Ciaran Carson, which is not just a 'novelistic' sequence of poems, it is one which - and I'll take this from the blurb - gestures 'towards a conventional sonnet sequence - the poems consist of fourteen lines, or multiples therof, in lines of fourteen syllables.' And if that wasn't enough, it references film noir, Cold War thriller, fairy story, and the art of the fugue. Best of all, you can forget all of the above when you're reading it and just enjoy it. This is one of the best books I've read recently about everything to do with love. Trust me.

And of course, there is this one, which just keeps getting better and better and more frightening and funnier as I read on.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

If you like a lot of chocolate ...

... on your biscuit - and can sing it without thinking too much, you're probably round about the same age as me. We've been doing advertising jingles and brand names in my writing group this week, and looking at how they can get you straight back into a time and a place just with a few carefully placed words. A nice concrete detail. It was hard to think of them though at first, although for the rest of the session, people were suddenly coming up with phrases as they sprang up in the memory. Probably for most of the night too, as jingles have an annoying habit of keeping on bouncing round your brain, but luckily no one rang me up at four in the morning to tell me so!

So out of interest, here are apparently the two ten most recognisable advertising jingles - most of which would make great story titles!

1. Just for the taste of it - Diet Coke
2. Secret Lemonade Drinker - R Whites
3. Crumbliest Flakiest Chocolate - Cadbury's Flake
4. A Mars a day helps you work, rest and play
5. Magic Moments - Quality Street
6. A finger of fudge - Cadbury's
7. Mr Soft - Trebor Softmints
8. Um Bongo, they drink it in the Congo- Um Bongo
9. If you like a lot of chocolate on your biscuit - Club Biscuits
10. I'll be your dog - Kia-Ora

Source: Phones 4U

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Tiptoe through the graveyard

Shall I tell you what I've got sitting on my desk to read right now? Want to feel really really jealous? OK, it's only the manuscript of Neil Gaiman's latest, unpublished until October 2008, novel, The Graveyard Book. I've been reading it on and off for a while but I kept having to break off while he wrote the next bit - God, some writers are so selfish sometimes, did he really need to sleep? - but now I've got the whole yummy thing in front of me, and I can't wait to sink myself into this sinister, spooky, funny, sweet graveyard world.

I'll report more later, but in the meantime you can shake Neil's Magnificent Oracular journal. Or I'll tell you what, shall I give you a random sentence from The Graveyard Book ... ?
The creature that grinned sharp teeth and let a pointed tongue of improbable length waggle between its teeth, did not look like Bod's idea of a bishop: its skin was piebald and it had a large spot across one eye, making it look almost piratical.

Hmmm... now who will play him in the film, I wonder.

Friday, February 22, 2008

And just in case you were getting itchy for some dancing...

Quite possibly my favourite, or have I said that about every one so far??

Caroline's smart idea ...

However much we whinge about it, the life of a writer is not a hard one. The lives of our characters, however, often is, as evidenced in Debi's Trading Tatiana, see the post below. It's like the old creative writing adage, we put our characters up a tree and then throw sticks at them. Every aspiring writer is always being told that the more difficult we make it for our heroes and heroines, the better the readers will like it.

Not quite sure where I'm going here, except that recently I've been really happy to come across several incidences of writers giving generously back - almost to compensate their characters. One memoir writer I've just spoken to is even trying to negotiate with her publisher to fund a help-line for children who are undergoing similar experiences to the one she suffered as a child, and to have the telephone number largely visible on the cover. This can only be good, but then I would say that - a share of my advance for Tell Me Everything went to The Kids COmpany, as did all the profits from Your Messages. I think that every writer who has done something similar - and there are LOTS of us - will say it's nothing to do with polishing our halo or wanting validation, but more about enjoying the great privilege of actually making our work mean something even more than the book itself. Yet another life for it, maybe? Contrary to popular opinion, we don't all just want to win awards.

Now Caroline Smailes is taking it one step further. Here is the press release for her smart plan:

When Caroline Smailes’ critically-acclaimed debut novel In Search of Adam was published she was overwhelmed by the response of her readers. Exploring themes of sexual abuse and self-harm, the book prompted many people to contact her to tell her of their own experiences.

Smailes said “when I realised what a chord had been struck with so many people I knew I wanted to find a way to give something back to those whose lives have been touched by abuse.”

A talented author, Caroline began to craft a novella that she could publish as an ebook, asking only for donations to charity ‘One in Four’ in return. The charity offers support for people who have experienced sexual abuse and sexual violence and as a small organization, desperately needs funds to continue its work.

Dianne Ludlow from One in Four said “We are delighted that Caroline is doing this for us and as a small charity any funds raised will make a real difference.”

The novella is called Disraeli Avenue (the street in which In Search of Adam was set) and is a collection of short insights into the lives of the people living there.

Caroline’s publisher, The Friday Project is in full support. MD and Publishing Director Clare Christian said “This is a fantastic idea which will raise money for a very important cause and give fans of Caroline’s writing much pleasure at the same time.”

“I lived in Disraeli Avenue, in between Gladstone Street and Campbell-Bannerman Road. The neighbours all said it dizz- rah- el-lee (four chunks) Avenue. My mother’s house was a semi-detached on a street with 31 similar-looking houses. They looked identical but I knew that they weren’t. There were differences.”

You can donate (and buy) Disraeli Avenue here. Caroline's fundraising total was originally £500, but she's already over the £1,000, and the joy is that you get a good book too!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

How could I have forgotten...

.. how much I love detective fiction?

I've read so many short stories, cartoon strips and essays recently and, much as I love them, I've found my concentration span has become that of a gnat. I'll pick up something and before I've finished the first page, I'm already flicking through to see how much is left. Now, I LOVE short stories, of course I do, but it's proved to me that variety is all.

Luckily, two books, picked out of my 'to-be-read' list, got me back on the straight and narrow.

First up is one I got sent by Scott at the Friday Project. Unlike other bloggers, I don't get sent many freebies, but those I do, I treasure because they're normally from people who know my taste. And I really did enjoy Darren Craske's The Equivoque Principle. It's a completely surreal story of the circus, the Church, and, like all good quests, the search for everlasting life. I thought the ending was a bit of a gallup to the finishing post, but by then, I was so charmed by the characters, especially Madame Destine, that I was willing to be carried along. Some really juicy gruesome bits too, including a tongue-ripping out scene that made me literally put my hand over my own mouth. I do love a well-judged bit of gore. Pure escapism, perfect for February and the best thing is that it's part of a series.

By contrast, Debi Alper's Trading Tatiana sent me not so much to the hot chocolate and duvet, as to the computer to look up some statistics about European sex workers in this country. The narrator of Debi's book can't help but help, even when there's a buttock flashing fascist chained up on the roof of her block of flats. So coming to the aid of Tatiana, a refugee and escaped prostitute, is never going to be in question. What I liked most about this book is that it never felt judgmental, or as if the issues discussed - and there was more than the obvious one - were being explained to me by a schoolteacher. If I wanted to read it and enjoy it for what it was, and it really IS a good read, then fine. But Debi creates real characters, and also real situations. At the end of the book, Jo realises that everyone she's come across has benefited from dealing with the Ukrainian Tatiana's life in some way, including, and most uncomfortably, herself. I know it doesn't sound funny, but this is the other surprise. It is. I was gripped right up to the end, and it really made me think.

And next up is this:

I'm looking forward to it even more after reading this quote from Raymond Chandler:
"The most durable thing in writing is style, and style is the most valuable investment a writer can make with his time. It pays off slowly, your agent will sneer at it, your publisher will misunderstand it, and it will take people you have never heard of to convince them by slow degrees that the writer who puts his individual mark on the way he writes will always pay off."

Monday, February 18, 2008

My quote of the year (so far)...

"I don't enjoy writing, and I certainly would not do it for a living.
Some people do, but some people enjoy flagellation."

Prince Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Writing Prompts

I have decided to organise my prompts better so instead of putting them in posts which you sometimes don't get until the evening, if at all, they will now be in the sidebar right below my biog details. There may be several days up there at a time, if I'm not sure when I'll be around, but the prompt for each day will be clearly marked, and you will be able to access it at a time that suits you.

If you hate this idea, then shout and I'll revert back, but it seems to make sense to me!

Stranger Than Fiction

I normally have to get my family to watch any films about writing with stealth, bribery and begging, but we all enjoyed Stranger than Fiction last night. With a stellar cast including Emma Thompson, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Dustin Hoffman, Queen Latifah and starring Will Ferrell, it was about a desperate writer, played by Emma Thompson, whose authorial voice started to sound in the head of her fictional - but alive - character as she decides how to kill him off. The scene when her character came to visit her in her office to plead for his life was as tense as any of the horror scenes written by Bret Easton Ellis in Lunar Park, and the general introduction of emotion in both the fictional and real lives was deftly done. Admittedly we did spend a long time discussing the quality of Dustin Hoffman's legs for a what, sixty, year old? and, worryingly, no one agreed with me that the overwraught writer was just a little bit overplayed, but otherwise we all thought it was a winner. I'm encouraged to try more writing/book films now, all suggestions welcome.

And imagine my excitement, half way through the film, when I realised that one of the lovely Christmas presents I'd been given and had kept boxed up for later, was making a getaway from its box:

and seemed to be growing successfully without water, air, light, or anything really ...

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Pulp Cake Sale

OK, I'm biaised, but I still think that Pulp Net is one of the best on-line magazines around, for writer interviews, news, and excellent short stories. And right now, they're in need of extra funding and so are holding a virtual cake stall. Cup cakes will only cost £5 and come in four yummy flavours: pistachio, coffee, forget-me-not and lavender. And while you're eating it, you can read Kath McKay's story, Stella Death which I really enjoyed or check out Janice Galloway's Top Ten.

And my writing prompt for today is ... looking in the mirror ...

And for tomorrow, in case I'm late like today it will be ... to write about asking for mercy ...

Friday, February 15, 2008

Perfection in a bar ....

Could it get better than this? Sadly, not a real Valentine's present but a photograph courtesy of the ever-web-vigilant and scrabulous ace, Alex:

But I was generous on Valentine's eve, and actually shared my own secret chocolate supplies with my writing group. (Sharing chocolate is something I do so rarely that it actually rendered my daughter speechless, so I must remember this in future when she starts telling me off for leaving my computer monitor on and single-handedly ruining the planet):

Although I noticed something interesting when everyone had gone and I was counting the buttons left (no, not really... oh well, OK, maybe a little bit) - no one seemed to like the white ones!

Yes, the writing life continues its hectic thrilling pace... not helped by the fact the dog still hasn't adjusted to her diet, and keeps checking her bowls just in case I've relented or the dog-food fairies have visited:

And my writing prompt for today is ... in the shop window ...

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Places to sit...

I've loved public benches for many many years, possibly since I was a teenager and we used to hang out round the bench near the public telephone box. Drive through every small English village, and you'll see teenagers gathering round benches, just doing nothing, except of course they're not doing nothing, they're doing the only kind of living they can until they 'break right OUT of there' and hit the big towns. Anyway, my heart must have got lost somewhere on those benches, because they still have the power to make me excited. So excited, in fact, that I started a small bench blog some time ago, just for me. But it seems people have been visiting, perhaps having a quiet sit down there, so I guess I'll have to start doing nothing on it properly.

In the meantime, here are two of the benches in Tunbridge Wells from my photo collection. I've picked them, not because I knew the people, or they're particularly beautiful, but there something so poignant about where they are both placed.

This one - 'it's all good' ...

... sits directly above the park basketball courts where I hope Aymen was able to enjoy playing once ...

And this one - 'someone special' - says nothing more than that, no dates or reason why she's special....

... although the view of the children's playground you get when you sit on Jane's bench somehow speaks of a love of life and gentleness to me...

And I'm away now for a couple of days, so just so I don't fall behind on prompts, here are two ...

Wednesday - ... Wave at the grey car ...

Thursday ... lay your head on my shoulder ...

Your weekly dance ....

Kathryn and Alex, are you taking notes? We expect this on the poetry cafe ceiling next year...

And my prompt for today is ... dancing with a photograph ...

Monday, February 11, 2008

The Thing

I've written before about The Thing, a quarterly 'publication' whereby subscribers get a mystery, text-based object sent regularly. You can see a photograph of my blind by Miranda July up on the website here - I don't know why I get so much pleasure from Tunbridge Wells being featured on the world map here, but I do. Wish I'd thought to lean a bicycle up against it though, how cool does that look? Anyway, Issue 2 has been delayed and I'm eagerly waiting to see what Issue 3 will be, so if you're near San Francisco and fancy wrapping up my 'thing' for me so it gets here quicker, I'd be very grateful...

Wrapping Party at Chronicle books in San Francisco
If you are in San Francisco on Friday, February 15th, and looking for a way to perhaps wrap packages, tape boxes, drink beer, eat pizza, and listen to music on an old portable record player, then you are in luck because we will be doing all of this at the same time at Chronicle Books for the Wrapping Party of Kota Ezawa’s issue #3 of THE THING.
That’s right, Chronicle books is hosting the THE THING’s Issue #3 wrapping party in their very spacious lobby (which is not even a year old... it’s very nice). And we will be there wrapping from 4:00-7:00 PM. And we will have free beer and pizza (for a while at least). And you can bring a record and listen to it. And we will be very excited to say hello to you if you stop by.
Wrapping Time:
Friday, February 15th
4:00-7:00 p.m.

680 Second Street
San Francisco, CA 94107

And I didn't put up a prompt yesterday so here are two - yesterday, I worked with a list of brand names, writing down as many as I could and then shaping them into a poem.

Today will be ... It's very simple. It is love ...

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Ooooh Spring is so nearly here now ...

It's almost as if everything has been held in suspended motion - just waiting until it can all burst out at once...

This time of year always reminds me of that game we used to play as kids when you pretended that you were the only ones on earth still awake and moving, while everyone else had been frozen. Nicholson Baker's The Fermata explores this perfectly, except his narrator uses stopped time to undress women and, when we were young, even the thought of that would have been DISGUSTING. Although now I think about it more, if we had have come up with that idea, some of us might secretly have found it exciting ... which is surely what being an adult writer is all about - keeping the ideas and playfulness of childhood and yet giving them an adult slant. But, no, our childhood - or at least mine, I'm starting to wonder now suddenly about my fellow playmates - fantasies merely involved us creeping into kitchens and eating cakes, particularly the kitchen of a certain neighbour who had fresh homemade cakes presented to her every day after school. Imagine that. We did a lot of eating food in our games, if I remember, mainly because we seemed to be perpetually hungry. And of course Sleeping Beauty is all about this too - the one person awake in a sleeping land. Hmmm... the Prince should have just gone to the Palace kitchen and had a good breakfast, saved himself the cost of a bunch of roses this Thursday.

And my writing prompt for today is ... she didn't like her routine changed ...

Friday, February 08, 2008

Pearls before swine....

Happy to pass this on because it looks good...

A Call for Submissions

On 20th March Short Fuse Stories will be presenting a special themed line-up of short tales at The Komedia, Brighton.

We are currently inviting submissions for this event so if you fancy a bit of the Short Fuse literary limelight then please send us a story. Story selection is based purely on quality and not on performance experience or publication history.

The theme is "Pearls Before Swine"

Generally, to “cast pearls before swine” is to share something of value with those who will not appreciate it. Certainly food for thought but please interpret as you wish.

The word count should not exceed 3000 but can be any number down from that to 50.

Please send stories as Word attachments with your name as the document title by no later than 5pm on 14th March.

We look forward to reading your tales.

Tara Gould and Polly Tuckett

So that will be today's prompt ... pearls before swine ... Think I'm going to have fun with this one!

Thursday, February 07, 2008


I've been think about this a lot recently, the importance of Dailiness, not just because a friend has been talking about it and how important it is to her, but I've been wondering if it's not at the heart of my writing process. Just that practice of adding things on and on, rather than making huge random bursts of running at 'it'. It's not so much 'ordinariness' as one dictionary definition has it, but more as Randall Jarrell's poem celebrates,

And yet sometimes
The wheel turns of its own weight, the rusty
Pump pumps over your sweating face the clear
Water, cold, so cold! you cup your hands
And gulp from them the dailiness of life.

Surely, it's that wheel turning of its own weight that makes it all worth while.

This is why my daily prompts have been proving so useful to me. Not because in themselves they are producing fantastic pieces of work - or at least not for me - but because they are all adding slowly, slowly to the weight behind my process. It's a bit like meeting up with a friend you haven't seen for a long time. Sometimes you get lucky and you click back together as if you were only with them five minutes before, but just as often, anticipation sets in beforehand and it feels as if you HAVE to make it a big occasion. At these times you find it's only five minutes before you have to go that the two of you start talking about what's really important. And then you have to wait six months until the next meeting.

I can get like this with writing. If I don't do it for several days, I'm aware of circling the page, almost afraid of it, because when I do finally sit down and write, then I should be producing a brilliant piece of work - a 'big occasion'.

No, much better for me to try to inject some dailiness in my writing. Little ordinary things that will let me take the page for granted, in the hope that when something that does matter sneaks in round the side, the ground will be well prepared.

So my writing prompt for today is ... I thought I was meeting a stranger ...

And on the subject of prompts, I have put a new blog up on the sidebar. Sarah Charsley, one of the Your Messages contributors has started a new blog, with regular postings. Definitely worth reading.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Your Messages trailer...

Look, Your Messages has made You Tube, thanks to the amazing Jamieson

And my writing prompt for today is ... it could only have one ending ...

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Shall we dance?

OK, it's not quite Spring in full bloom yet ...

But I started my writing classes again yesterday in my favourite cafe with a big, big heart, and it was great to be back ...

And it's one of my favourite eating days of the year ...

So all in all it feels good to be alive, and I'm keeping to my routine of begininng every writing session with a quick dance before sitting down. Vampire Weekend are doing it for me right now, not least because they sound like every band I've ever known, but new suggestions are more than welcome.

Although, of course, there's no need to dance if you don't feel like it ...

And my writing prompt for today is to start with the phrase ... I look at the photograph and I think ... five times, with five different photographs, five different scenarios.

Monday, February 04, 2008

And more write ups ...

... here and here... I'm particularly interested in Gina's - not just because she came all the way from Texas (have I mentioned that, makes me SO proud) but because she talks about how nervous she was beforehand - so nervous she nearly left at half time. Now the thing is that I, and I bet everyone who met her, had absolutely no idea what was going on inside. She seemed so beautiful and poised that I didn't even think she'd be worried about reading. Just shows you.

Alex has suggested a button we can put on our blogs to take through to the Your Messages Amazon page, but I have no idea how to do it. Any clever suggestions?

And my writing prompt for today is ... The bricks and mortar were gone ...

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Your Messages Round Up

There are posts about the Your Messages launch here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here. I am sure there are even a few more I've missed so do please let me know, but in the meantime, I'm happy - just clicking back through all these and thinking how a little idea Lynne and I had about doing some writing together grew into this amazing project with such amazing people taking part.

And as announced at the launch, Jamieson Wolf put his message into a podcast so he could take part with all of us. It's here.

What exactly did we do before the internet? Hmmmm...

And the writing prompt for today is ... inheriting someone else's dreams ...

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Yoga, cake? Cake, Yoga?

One of those Saturday morning choices I find it hard to make, but it looks like yoga's winning, so before I go and polish my halo, here's a quick writing prompt ... his hands ...

More later because several people have commented that the photographs below make it look like we had ourselves a bit of an earnest party. So, although I do have to say my idea of a good time IS when everyone just sits down quietly and listens to me, I want to do a round up of all the blogs that mention Your Messages and that's going to take some time ...

Friday, February 01, 2008

What a party!

Cakes, good readings, books, wine, laughs ... what more could you want? Last night's launch of the Your Messages book exceeded every expectation Lynne and I had - and if you want to know how the glass of champagne sneaked its way into the photos above, well, yes, we did take ourselves off for a glass (or two) before just to celebrate and still our quaking nerves! We needn't have bothered - I don't think Lynne and I stopped smiling the whole evening, champagne or no champagne.

Thank you everyone who took part, who bought a book (we raised nearly £500 for the Kids Company) and more importantly, to everyone who joined in the project from the beginning. We've kept the website up because we think ALL the work is of such a high quality. As always, the choice is not necessarily 'the best' but what fits together and gives a good mix. The book is, in my mind, the perfect reflection of what happened in November - I can't stop reading it and see a new line that makes me stop and pause every time -

I was born an unreliable narrator .... Son, find me in black and white ....The hardness had affected every inch of her .... She was licked. Top to toe, ear to hip, nipple to calf ....Abel Houseman took the pictures (and wishes he hadn't because the Bride's Mother is a cow...

Sometimes you get lucky. And that's what last night felt for me. Lucky to be a part of it all.