Friday, May 30, 2008

Best of the Rest...

I am trusting Scott Pack (not for the first time) and presuming the gobbledygook I have cut and pasted below will turn into a voting pad for the blog-poll to choose the best book that DIDN'T win the Booker, but was nominated. At the moment, the indications seem to be that Cloud Atlas is the runaway favourite, but while I think it should have won that year, and it was one of my choices in the original panel, I don't actually think it's the strongest of this list. I'll be so interested to see the results...

(yay, it's done it. I'd tip myself backwards into the arms of that man for sure)

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Quiet walking

Such a strange, quiet walk around an empty park this morning, listening to Nick Cave's Into My Arms on my ipod. The smells were accentuated because of the rain, and there was no one around. It felt like one of those childhood games when you imagine the rest of the world has been frozen and only you can save it. Luckily we weren't called upon because I was very mellow by the end of our circuit and certainly not up to any strenuous high kicks. Besides, Tally, my dog, is very stately now so we barely go beyond a shuffle. This means I have to be careful what music I pick. Suggestions for slow marching songs are very welcome.

And speaking of which, I promise to put up my giveaway post soon, very soon, because lots has been going on but today I'm going to make a CD of my current favourite songs for the first person to write to me at It'll be eclectic if nothing else.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Just because I might not be the only one who needs some help on yet another rainy morning....

(Does that guy near the end really set fire to his friend's arm? That cheers me up more than anything!)

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Things that make me happy no 2

Coming across this gentle bench unexpectedly.

(Let's gloss over last night's Eurovision Song Contest, apart from to say the olives were particularly delicious and should have won.)

Saturday, May 24, 2008

The Official Boom Bang a Bang Menu

Well, I'm a fiction writer and I could make it up but I wouldn't do that to you. There are too many pickled fishes on the Eurovision menu for my liking, so I am picking and choosing in a dictatorial ruler of the Euroworld fashion... here we are ...

Pimms (UK - go go Andy!)

Olives (Greece)

Gravlax (Finland)

Humus (Israel)

Rye bread (Germany)

Spanish omelette (er...Spain)

Beetroot and herring salad (Sweden)

Rice pilaf with almonds (Armenia)

Jarlsberg cheese (Norway - nil points - sorry but it still makes me laugh every time)

Dark bread with caraway seeds (Russia)

Ice cream (Iceland)

Turkish Delight (Turkey)

Red wine (France)

Vodka (Poland)

We will be watching with our hands over our ears for every country not represented on the Salway menu just to make it fairer. Sorry Georgia, but peace will come... day after day, Azerbaijan, even for wolves of the sea, Latvia, and shady ladies, Ukraine. After all, as I often say, kraljevi ulice & 75 cents.

Boom bang a bang...

So, the sun is shining and it's the Eurovision Song Contest tonight. At the Salway residence, we are planning to eat some food from every country competing - or I am. The others don't actually know it yet, but they will join in the fun, I'm sure. Particularly when it comes to the fermented trout. Norway, nil point...

And speaking of prizewinners, meet Lucy. The official Palm Dog from Cannes:

Lucy stars in the film Wendy and Lucy, alongside Michelle Williams (who doesn't get her name in the title but then maybe she's not a diva?). She wasn't on hand to collect her prize, a special 'Palm Dog' collar, because she was back home in Queens, New York. She isn't even going to get to wear her collar, apparently, in case she gets her 'ass kicked by the neighbourhood dogs' back in Queens.

Instead this beauty gets to model it...

And this has been Sarah Salway, bringing you all the IMPORTANT celebrity news....

Wednesday, May 21, 2008


... this has been continuing, but blame exhaustion for not keeping a blog log. More will come very shortly, but this is to say that Kathryn is the winner of Sue Guiney's signed copy. Coming to you shortly, Kathryn, so long as Monty doesn't get there first!

Monday, May 19, 2008

Moonwalk Diary - Part One

Saturday evening, 8.30pm - we arrive in Hyde Park. 'Will you do it with us?' we ask the taxi driver. 'Not bloody likely.' And he's dropped us off before we can arrange to meet him later somewhere along the route to hitch an illegal lift. The park is full of people - women AND men - with pink hats and pink glittery bras on our t-shirts. We're all slightly hyper, and it's strangely reassuring that I'm not the only nervous one. The noise inside the park is overwhelming and all you can see is pink...

Once inside the pink marquees - after a long long queue - everybody strips off. The rain's a bit of a downer, but we get given space blankets and see through ponchos to wear. We join the queue for our food only to find we're waiting to get a tattoo by mistake. Later we join the queue to have a massage. This seems an evening for queuing, but it's all good-natured, not least because there are constant reminders everywhere of why we are there (and how lucky we are to be there at all):

We finally set off walking around midnight, and it seems to take hours to get out of the park. We take a winding route down to the river where, just when we need it, we are cheered by the sight of London Bridge bathed in pink light especially to match our hats:

It's been so noisy as everyone talks and laughs, but slowly it's noticeable how we get quieter and quieter as exhaustion sets in. We pass Big Ben as it strikes three o'clock in the morning. There's something wrong with the mile markers between 15 miles and 20 miles because there must be at least three miles distance in between. The wonderful volunteers along the route claim they're right however, and I can't be the only one wondering if it's worth it. A conversation about maybe doing it next year, or at one of the other moonwalks round the country, has been firmly put to one side. Round every bench along the way there are empty painkiller and blister plaster packets:

One thing that keeps me going is the texts and phonecalls we start to get. Messages from friends and family who have remembered us and stayed up to pass on their good wishes get passed around the group. 'So proud of you all', 'Go girl go', 'Stay warm, stay dry, walk well.' Not for the first time that night, I keep bursting into tears. Normally I hate mobile phones going off, but we're all smiling every time we hear that someone has got a new message. We need all the help we can get.

We can't believe our luck in that the rain stays off. At twenty miles, I've been promised a special painkiller. When we reach the marker, I'm overjoyed. My whole world seems to have reduced down to my legs and my feet. I'm trying to work out whether the bird who starts singing at around Battersea Dogs Home is following us or not. We are all finding it difficult to concentrate, and I spend at least one mile trying to remember who it is who designed the famous '58% don't want Pershing' t-shirt.

Luckily none of us can remember the words to that Westpoint marching song either, and then, as the light comes up, we get a second wind. It's a beautiful morning and we're on the home stretch:

Moonwalk Diary - Part Two

Sunday morning, 7.15am. We've been walking over seven hours when we get the phonecalls to tell us that our partners are waiting for us - at least we've got a lift home. I start to have fantasies about bacon sandwiches and cups of tea. Possibly the worse part of the walk is when we re-enter Hyde Park, nearly twelve hours after we first arrived. We can glimpse the pink tent across the park but have to walk round the outside for two miles before we cross the finish line.

Bemused tourists stare at us. Children wait along the edges and then whoop 'Mummy' as if they've seen a celebrity. I'm crying again. A banner held up by a middle aged couple just reads: 'Thank you'. It's hard not to think of who they must have lost to cancer. Bloody, bloody tears.

Outside Buckingham Palace, we see two of our partners in the crowd. I'm so dazed I can hardly recognise them. We stop and have our photographs taken, and almost skittishly, show off our decorated bras that have been hidden under warm fleeces for most of the walk. It's the first and last time I expose myself to the Queen.

And then at last, at last, it's almost like a mirage, but we finally see the end:

I'm going to say it myself but it's a big achievement and I'm so proud. Not just for the walking through the night and surviving 26.2 miles on our feet to win our medals ...

... but most of all, when we hoped to raise £500, as a team we actually managed well over £1,000 - and, hint hint, you're not too late to sponsor us. The page will be up for at least another week. All the money raised from the night is going specifically to buy machines that will allow those undergoing chemotherapy treatment to keep their hair.

(And those of you - you know who you are - who only promised to sponsor if they got to see pictures of me in my bra, you are very very sad but I never renege on my word. Email me. I promise not to humiliate you publicly - oh lordie, I think I just have, haven't I????)

It sounds cheesy, lots about the Moonwalk could sound cheesy, but it was a joyful, painful, but most of all life-affirming evening. There was a moment before we set off when I looked round the room and had a Shania Twain moment and was completely and utterly overtaken by just how proud I am to be a woman. Although special kudos to the men taking part. Your bras looked lovely too!

And most of all, a HUGE thanks to Nina Barough CBE, founder of the Moonwalk. It was an amazingly well organised and incredible evening. We can't have been the only ones wishing Nina would stand for PM and show everyone how it can be done...

Friday, May 16, 2008

Free cake alert....

Scott Pack's offering to bake a cake for the winner of his 'Best of the Rest of the Booker' poll, which has to be a Good Thing.

It was fun being on the judging panel to contribute to the list of ten books, although I will admit to a Lily Allen moment and say I haven't read ALL of the shortlists. Too busy eating cake probably.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Bookshelves with attitude...

It's the hands on the hips I love best. It feels like one of those kids games where you had to pop down the teeth of the dog before it chomped your fingers off. Remember those? Somehow I think if you took one of these books off the shelf to read, the bookman would start chasing you. Hey, it could be a good alternative way to encourage reluctant readers - offering the spice of danger those cosy reading corners are just lacking!

This is borrowed** from the Bookshelf blog.

(**Ok, ok, stolen... come and get me if you dare, bookman...)

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

A month in the country?

Hijacked from another place. It just looks so tempting!:

New opportunity for emerging writers!
Jura Malt Whisky New Writer Retreat

For the first time this year, Scottish Book Trust is offering a new
unpublished author the chance to spend the whole of October on the Isle of
Jura (the island to which George Orwell retreated to find the seclusion he
needed to write 1984) to concentrate on theri writing.

We think this project would be of great interest to Creative Writing MA
students and would be very grateful if you could forward this information to

The Jura Malt Whisky New Writer Retreat, in partnership with The Times, will
give a new writer an exceptional opportunity to develop their writing away
from the hustle and bustle of life. The successful applicant will receive:

* A £2,500 bursary

* Exclusive use of the Jura distillery lodge for October 2008

* The option to bring family and/or friends for all or part of their
stay in the lodge

* Use of a hire car

* Return travel costs within the UK

The project is open to prose and fiction writers who are not the sole author
of a commercially published book, but they must have had a story published
in an established magazine or anthology.

Please submit a story that does not exceed 3000 words, the application form
and no more than 1000 words on why you wish to spend a month on Jura.

Click here
n/the-jura-malt-whisky-writer-retreat/new-writer-retreat-application> for
more information and to download a copy of the application form.

The deadline for applications is 9 June 2008.
The successful applicant will be contacted by the week commencing 28 July.

Sue Guiney's Interview and the Great Guest Giveaway

Photograph by Andre Ainsworth

I'm pleased to bring Sue Guiney to you today. She's the author of Tangled Roots, her first novel which I enjoyed enormously not just because of the mother/son and sibling relationships it explores, but because it gave me the illusion I could actually understand and enjoy Theoretical Physics and Cosmology. That doesn't happen often.

Anyway, Sue's a bit of an inspiration to me. She's started a charity, the Curving Road to support other artists, and she's not afraid to try different forms herself. I haven't caught the performance of her poetry play, Dreams of May yet, but I liked reading it very much.

And now, I've persuaded her to answer some questions, despite the fact her book is published tomorrow and life is more than a bit hectic. More than that, she's my GIVEAWAY NO 2 - not her, but a first edition hardback copy of TANGLED ROOTS which I am buying and she has kindly agreed to sign for the winner. If you'd like to be put in the draw, then send me an email - You have until FRIDAY to enter and I'll announce the winner here.

So here are Sue's answers ...

1. When did you first call yourself a writer and how did it feel?

There are really 2 parts to this answer. I first called myself a writer – to myself – when I was eight and first discovered my love of reading. I thought, “Hey, this is cool. I can do this.” From that point on I wrote short stories and plays, and kept a journal. Ah, innocence….But when I became more self-conscious, I began to say “I want to be a writer”, and that’s where I left it, regardless of whether I was writing or not, for a very long time. I then stopped writing completely sometime after Uni, suffering from what I call a “pathological respect for literature,” (ie who do I think I am to think I can do this?). I stayed like that for an even longer time. I consciously decided to start calling myself a writer to the world when I started writing “seriously” about 15 years ago, when it became the focus of my work life, and when I started studying with a tutor. But I said it very faintly so almost no one could hear. To be honest, it wasn’t until very recently that I could say it without fear and embarrassment. Now I say it with a mixture of pride and incredulity.

2. How does your love/knowledge of theatre affect your writing ie do you think in terms of scenes, dramatic tension, dialogue etc? AND 3. You write in different mediums - can you talk about advantages/disadvantages of this?

I’d like to answer these together. I do tend to “see” what I write as episodes/scenes/vignettes. I envision what I am writing as a whole and then go for it. But if I was going to say any one genre that I work in actually affects the way I write in other genres, I would have to say that poetry is what affects everything else the most. I do believe that it must ultimately all be poetry in the end. My first and main way into anything that I write is through words, then character, then theme, setting, plot, etc – but the words always come first. For me, it is the aural and emotional impact of the words that must drive everything else. If anything, this is my one frustration with writing for the theatre. There just aren’t enough words in plays these days to make it quite as satisfying for me to write. But having said that, the piece always chooses its own genre. A poem is a poem because it has to be. A novel a novel because that’s the only way to write it. A play is a play because it demands that visual form. So, I suppose that’s why I write in so many genres. The words and the concept of the piece demand a certain genre, and so that’s how I write it. Who am I to argue? It might sound a bit precious, but it’s true.

4. Top three tips for someone wanting to write?

1. Read a lot and everything
2. If you really want to write, then just do it. Keep writing regardless.
3. Find someone you trust to give you feedback.

Can I do one more?
4. Don’t let your fear paralyze you. (easy to say, eh?)

5. How do you see your future as a writer?

This is the hardest question of all. I truly have no idea how large a readership I will ever achieve or if I will ever really achieve a readership at all. But the publication of my first novel has forced me to face my own ambition, which is to be able to write what I write, get it published and have it be read even by people who don’t necessarily already know me (I still feel like I have to sell each book, each theatre ticket to one person at a time). It would also be nice to think that I might make even just a little bit of money one day. But these are goals and don’t actually answer the question. I see my future as a writer as someone who continues to write what I feel I need to write regardless of the genre, who continues to apply my creativity not only to my words but also to what I do with those words, to be someone who spends her working life writing for as long as these little fingers can hold a pencil.

And I can’t help myself….

6. if you were a desert, which one would you be?*

Gobi – I’ve always loved the way that words sounds.

(*Sue's teasing here - I'd meant to ask her what pudding she was, ie dessert, but this is a much better question so I'm claiming it as mine. What desert would you be?)

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Giveaway - Day 1

I roped Clare in to be a Book Fairy with me for my first day of the challenge - we left ten books on benches in our nearest park saying 'Enjoy and pass on', timing it just before the school run when the park fills up with parents and children. We tried to be as secretive as possible ...

...but I'd only been back half an hour when another friend rang to say her lodger had come back with one of our books and she'd known straight away I'd be involved. What is it about giving things away that feels as if you're doing something wrong? Clare and I were trying to work out what the opposite of a robber is.

And now two hours later I've just been back to the park and all the books have gone. It's a nice feeling, being an un-robber.

Tuesday Top Ten

My choice of books are up now on the fabulous Book Depository site's weekly Tuesday top ten slot.

The Great Give Away Challenge

I'm joining the 29-day giving challenge for a number of reasons. This means giving away one thing every day for the next 29 days and recording the feeling, as part of a community of others doing the same thing. So here are some of the reasons I'm doing this...

a) I first saw it on the Unclutterer site, and I love the idea of the freedom involved in just giving "Stuff" away. I'd like to get into the habit of not holding on to things I don't care about any more.

b) I like the challenge aspect - my first thought is to give away books, but I've got 29 days to fill and even I don't have that many books I could bear to give away. More to the point, I want to do something fun with this too.

c) Because it's not all about being saintly, there's a real sense of humour here too - plus it is scientifically proven to make you better looking.

d) Sometimes it's good to be reminded I'm one of the lucky ones because I've got things I can give away and I can choose what and where they go.

e) I think it will make me happy.

f) It gives me the chance to make other people happy.

I'm going to put a note up here of what I have given away every day (although I might not post every day!) but if anyone's got any useful - legal, decent etc etc - suggestions, I'd love to hear them! And if you join in yourself, let me know and we can keep each other going!

Monday, May 12, 2008

Useful Things To Know No. 1

If you ever meet a white shark, poke it in the eye.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

My claim to fame...

Well, there I was thinking I might be remembered for my wit, or my incisive descriptive powers, or my ability to string two words together, but no! It seems I am 'one of the very few authors to walk round London in my bra'. Never mind, there's still time to sponsor me here and for those who have already, and I've been really moved by how many have, thankyouthankyouthankyou!

Seriously, I was really happy to have the chance to 'bare my literary bits' on Pulp, and although all the stories this edition are great, Sarah Butler's stood out for me.


One of my many legacies from staying at VCCA is an on-line addiction to the New York Times. I've been following this discussion about Housekeeping with interest, not least because so many people I admire say that Marilynne Robinson is their favourite author. No, they don't actually say that, there seems to be something about Marilynne Robinson that makes people say she is the ONLY author that matters. But I don't get this, which is why I'm really engrossed in this discussion. I have enjoyed both Housekeeping and Gilead, but that doesn't seem anything like enough. To Robinson fans, enjoying is like saying something is 'nice'. No, there is definitely a door to her work that needs to be unlocked for me, and then I can stop feeling I'm missing out.

Meanwhile, there's an interesting profile from 2004 here.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

The optimist and the pessimist...

An optimist and a pessimist were walking along together.

'I don't know,' said the pessimist. 'Things couldn't really get worse, could they?'

'Oh I'd never say that,' replied the optimist....

I don't know why, but that joke always makes me laugh. And it's all about a different way of looking at things - seeing things aslant, which is why I will persist in putting the photographs up on this blog in a sideways fashion. Nothing, no nothing, at all to do with the fact that I keep trying to save them rotated but my laptop just won't let me. Anyway, moving swiftly on... this photograph is of the very talented Canadian textile artist, Anne Kelly who I'm lucky enough to be working together with on a top secret project this Summer.

She came round to show me her latest work, which I show to you...

Just look at this close up of the bug...

These pieces are all made of recycled materials, and most of them done by hand. The photographs don't do them justice as I can't tell you how beautiful they are in real life, and how lucky I feel to see the different stages and ways of thinking involved in creating them. Actually now I think of it, I'm going to ask Anne if I can take some pictures of her artists journal as she works out some of the thoughts behind the work we're doing together and compare them with my pages of words as I struggle with the same process. It's been interesting to me to see how different visual planning is - not quite as polarised as optimist and pessimist, but definitely another angle. It makes me realise how much I need to work out what I think through actually writing - lists, dialogues, poems, free association, freewriting, mind maps - it doesn't matter what form as long as the pen is moving and I'm using words. I wonder if I dare try a drawing? Or even - as Twyla Tharp suggests in her excellent book, The Creative Habit dance it out. The thought makes me freeze with self-consciousness in a very stupid English way, which probably suggests I need to give it a go.

(Oh, but look, I've managed to make Anne stand upright. That'll please her. I'm obviously - finally - becoming the boss of my computer. This is a happy day. I wonder if it will mean no more error messages and just cheery little 'Mission Accomplished' notices every time I try to do something different? Let us be optimistic. After all, things could hardly get worse ...)

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Dog days

I was in two minds as to whether to read Mark Doty's memoir, Dog Years, because the subject - the lives and deaths of the poet's two dogs - is a bit close to home at the moment.

My little dog, Tallulah, is in the last run of her life. Despite numerous x-rays we're not sure what's wrong with her, so all we can do is monitor her to make sure she is comfortable. Most of the things she used to enjoy - walks, chasing squirrels, greeting us - are proving too 'exciting' for her, and she'll even black out during a gentle walk.

However, Mark Doty's book doesn't do what I feared, which is to blank out my own experience and batter me with his. Instead, it's like all good writing - it feels like a conversation with someone who completely understands. I knew I was on safe ground in the first few pages, when he talks about the guilt involved in feeling so much compassion for an animal when there are so many humans who need our love and sympathy. I've been feeling this shame myself everytime I look at Tally's battery of medicines:

..and think of how many people can't afford medical care. It's wrong. I can't deny it, but as Doty says:

'...the plain truth is no one should have to defend what he loves. If I decide to become one of those dotty old people who live alone with six beagles, who on earth is harmed by the extremity of my affections? There is little enough devotion in the world that we should be glad for it in whatever form it appears, and never mock it, or underestimate its depths.

Love, I think, is a gateway to the world, not an escape from it.'

I want to read that again and again. This is a beautiful book - more a meditation than a memoir. I'm savouring it, page by page. Not just for the poetry of the language but also the way he manages to say all the things I've been thinking - or perhaps wasn't sure I was thinking, but had the vague thoughts jumping around in my head not quite being able to grab hold of them for long enough to concentrate - in such a simple and yet obvious way that it makes you want to bang the table, and say, 'yes, that's what I meant.' One example is how he talks about how so many children learn about mortality through the death of a pet:

'The child's apprehension of mortality is a set of initiations, woundings, introductions to the mystery, and animals are very often the objects of these instructions. The little turtle in the grass, the lifeless snake on the path, the toad crushed by a boot heel, the caged bird whose animation has fled with its song - they are far more themselves for us as children; they lead us into the depths of this life.'

Meanwhile, Tally is enjoying the sunshine, although we've noticed that rather than looking out, as she always used to, she's now taken to hiding, looking in. This shouldn't be a morbid post, she's had a wonderful life and is still enjoying it. And we're enjoying her.

As Doty says:
'Because dogs do not live as long we we do, they seem to travel a faster curve than human beings, flaring into being, then fading away while we watch. An animal's life is for us a theater, in which we may see the forces of time and mortality played out in a form smaller than our own bodies, and more swiftly.'

Monday, May 05, 2008

The Shed

It's probably pretty obvious, even to casual visitors, that I'm a big fan of the Shedworking blog. Obsessions of every kind do it for me, so I'm very proud to say that I've been commissioned to write a serial for The Shed magazine, the first part is out now. You can sign up for it here. It features sheds, wicked witches and giant vegetables (but in a good way).

Tick tock

Not sure this is all that kind of me because it's ridiculously catchy. I've just been singing this all round Sainsburys and getting some very weird looks!