Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Tweet a Crime

I love Twitter. You meet new friends, you share ideas, you support each other through ups and downs. And, if you're lucky, you win great stuff. Last weekend I went to CrimeFest thanks to the generosity of Rhian Davies, who tweeted a spare ticket from a pair she'd won. And next Friday, I'm going to the Hay Festival, on a golden ticket, thanks to winning Headline's #TweetaCrime contest. The aim was to tweet a famous crime book or movie in under 140 characters. Mark Billingham (Sleepyhead) and Eoin Colfer (Artemis Fowl) did the judging, and will read my winning tweet live at their Hay session on Friday 3 June.

Better still, the other winning tweeter, Rin Simpson, lives in Bristol, is a debut crime writer, and will travel with me to the Festival! I'm taking my ten year old along too, with a pal, so they can sample the brilliance that is Andy (Mr Gum) Stanton and other family-friendly fun on the day. Everyone's a winner!

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

On the beat

My social diary, until recently, was so empty that when I opened it at random, tumbleweed rolled out. However, the fates have combined to present me with several exciting opportunities to leave my desk and venture out in the wide world. It all kicks off tomorrow, when I head off to CrimeFest in Bristol, mixing with the creme de la crime of writers including Peter James, Deon Meyer, Belinda Bauer and Natasha Cooper. And I get to spend time with my fantastic editor, too. After which, I will be heading up North. I'm thrilled to be on the shortlist for the Flash Mob writing competition, reading my story, Hoochy Coochy Man and the Wagon of Rhymes, at the Dulcimer in Chorlton on 26 May. The event is being broadcast live on ChorltonFM and, most excitingly, I will finally get to meet the marvellous Nik Perring. In June, I'll be up to London for what promises to be a absolutely tremendous evening (more about this later). In July, I'm reading at ShortStoryVille, back in Bristol. If you're able to come to any of these events, please drop me a line as I'd love to meet you.

Monday, 16 May 2011


I'm very excited to be part of the official line-up for ShortStoryVille at Bristol's Arnolfini on 16 July. Panel discussions with Sarah Salway, and with Tania Hershman will be highlights of the afternoon. I'll be reading at the end of the day, in the section titled 'Choice Cuts'. The Bristol Short Story Prize crew are leading the way in new and innovative ways of enthusing readers about short stories, involving local schools and artists to make the event visually exciting and truly interactive. I can't wait!

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Telling stories

I'm reading a lot of non-fiction just at the moment, partly as research for the new novel. At this early stage, when I'm seeking ideas to engage with, research takes the form of standing before the relevant library shelves and plucking at random those titles that catch my eye. I thought I'd blog about a couple of my recent choices, because they're great examples of how two different writers use different skills to bring very different stories to life.

The first is Sally Brampton's Shoot the Damn Dog: a Memoir of Depression, in which the former editor of Elle magazine recounts her experience with severe depression and its treatment. Brampton's style has been described as both 'candid' and 'brutal'. She pulls no punches in telling us how she descended into, and climbed out of, a subterranean depression. It's not an easy book to read; I cried every couple of pages, usually when she grazed the nerve of my own experience with depression, or spoke of her fears and hopes as a mother. One chapter, describing her relationship with her father, was uncanny. I became convinced while reading it that my own father, who died of Motor Neurone Disease, must have had undiagnosed Asperger's for most of his adult life. Brampton has said that she wanted to short-circuit the stigma that surrounds most discussions of mental illness. She did more than that, in my opinion. She took us straight to the heart of her story, so close it hurt to read the words, like touching a raw wound. When she diverted the story to talk impersonally about medical history, for example, it was a relief, a chance to regroup. Why read something that is so upsetting? Because I felt a deep connection to the text. And because I don't believe that the best writing should be easy on the reader. It should enlarge our experience of the world. This book does that.

The Eye: a Natural History by Simon Ings presents a very different challenge. Its author is a science writer, and science has never been my strong point. I felt a daunting distance from this subject matter, as if I was squinting at a night sky in the hope of observing patterns. But Ings is a smart guy; he's a storyteller. He slips in his science under the guise of adventure, intrigue, conflict and action. Did you know that each of us began life as a cyclops? Or that we learn to see not with our eyes but with our hands? I'd thought this book was going to be a struggle, worthwhile but work. In fact it's fun. Ings takes considerable care to tell us a series of stories which bring us as close to his subject matter as Brampton's painful first-person account brings us to hers. I'm going to re-read this slowly, with my notebook at hand. But first I'm going to zip through it, enjoying the ride.