Monday, 31 March 2008

For Vanessa

Whose blog post today prompted me to go and look at my bookshelves and take a deep, reviving breath. Few treats or treasures can better a good book. One of my favourites is a 1920s edition of Helen's Babies by John Habberton, inscribed as a prize to my grandmother from her infant school in India. I'm also very fond of my long pewter-grey line of Persephone reprints.

Friday, 28 March 2008

The pulling of teeth

This week's writing went oh-so-slowly. Not because I didn't know what to write, or didn't want to write. I did, and did. But, still. I have the novel up to 16,000 words. My target was 15,000, so I'm further forward than I hoped. I've also hit a rich vein from the first ms which belongs in this new one, so that's helped to speed things along.

A Life's Work

Rachel Cusk has been a favourite author of mine ever since I read A Country Life. She is about to publish a new edition of her non-fiction book on motherhood, A Life's Work. I read the first edition of this as a relatively new mother, and wept buckets over virtually every page. It is a painfully honest account of the conflict of emotions which motherhood evokes.

I remember at the time being amazed by the reaction of various women to the book, particularly those who fancied themselves the vanguard of Motherhood with a capital M. These people poured scorn on Cusk from a great height, all but openly called her a heartless bitch, accused her of not loving her children, of not using the word Love once in her book. Bollocks, frankly. Every page of that book resonated with Love. It just didn't wear the face these women wanted it to wear, the milk-smeared grimace of unconditional devotion, of rapturous sacrifice before the altar of Motherhood.

Cusk has defended her book, and considered the response to the first edition, in a recent article in The Guardian, which you can read
here. It's a chilling reminder of the tyranny of others, in particular the brutal piety meted out by the sanctimonious to those who dare to lift the Liberty printed skirts of the maternity frock and speak of the wreckage that lies beneath.

Cusk deserves a medal for her courage in returning to this fight, which clearly left her shaken and saddened. I expect she will be villified all over again. In Cusk's words, 'I like women less than I did.' And who can blame her?

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

You can rip up road but you can't stop the words

I wrote through the mess and mayhem outside. 1,500 words, a stonking new scene, if I do say so myself.

Getting nowhere

I'm trying to write one of two scenes, both very intense, very visceral; totally different. One involves a sunlit room, the other a dead hand. Sadly, the men tearing up the tarmac outside my window aren't helping. My thoughts are neither sunny nor handy. I feel under seige. Anyone with any suggestions that might help (apart from moving house temporarily, which is sadly not an option)?

Land of the Living

I'm reading Nicci French's Land of the Living at the moment, and really enjoying it. I read as a writer, and just now as an aspiring crime writer, and this book is ticking all the boxes. It's tightly plotted but very simply and cleanly, and so compelling that I resent the time spent away from it. I'll post again when I'm finished to give my thoughts on the thing as a whole, but as of now it's one of the most 'useful' novels I've read in terms of honing my own craft.

Every Day Fiction

My story, Someone else's slip, is read of the day over at Every Day Fiction. Do pop along and comment, if you're so inclined. Note that the site's advertising has me book-ended by flesh-eating zombies. Not remotely appropriate to the story, which is about advancing age, lost memories and a brave raging against sentimentality.

Thursday, 20 March 2008

Not resting on my laurels

Another milestone. I was determined to get the novel up to 10,000 words before I went away for Easter and I've just done it.

MO: Crimes of Practice

Cover artwork now revealed! See previous post for details.

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Coming sooner than I thought

Comma Press are publishing the new CWA Anthology, MO: Crimes of Practice, on 3rd April. They have a web-page under construction, where the teaser for my story is listed second:

A breakdown driver turns his roadside routine into an altogether different type of pick-up…

The same web-page also links to my review of the previous CWA Anthology, ID: Crimes of Identity, which I recommend to everyone who loves great short stories, regardless of genre.

My photo and bio are on the web-page, too, amongst all the published authors, some of them bestselling crime writers. This is such a buzz, you would not believe.

Right, back to the novel!

Sunday, 16 March 2008

Boston Literary Magazine

The spring edition has just gone live and contains my story, Don't give me that face. I like the way this one turned out, very tight and complete at just 150 words. It's a great discipline, trying to tell a story in so little space. I've not cracked it yet, but this is possibly the closest I've come.

Friday, 14 March 2008


I'm going to mark these out as I hit them.

My first 5,000 words of the new novel.


Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Words from a Glass Bubble

I was lucky enough to attend the book launch for Vanessa Gebbie's Words from a Glass Bubble yesterday. A great event at a terrific venue, and I got to meet three writers I previously knew online-only, which was a treat.

On the train journey home, I dipped into the stories in Words from a Glass Bubble, and was hooked to the extent I read the whole collection in the two hours it took to get back.

These are wonderful, insightful stories, the sort that make you want to tread more carefully through life after reading them; stories which enrich and deepen the reading experience. And such range! Humour, history, anger, love and pathos. Everything you could ask for from a short story collection. All beautifully packaged in a slim hardback volume that feels just right in your hands. Writing - and reading - at its very best. Brava, Vanessa!

Monday, 10 March 2008

Quick flash

My story, Crawl Space, is now live at Shred of Evidence, a new venue for me. The site has the facility for capturing comments, so if anyone feels inclined to pop across and leave a line or two, I'd be delighted. The fic is just 100 words. Thanks!

Friday, 7 March 2008

Cracked it!

I'm going to go on a bit here, so you might want to grab a coffee and get comfy.

About three weeks ago, I was emailed by one of the editors at
Comma Press, who'd been reading my review of the CWA Anthology, ID: Crimes of Identity at The Short Review. He liked the review and, after reading my bio, invited me to submit a selection of stories for the next CWA Anthology, MO: Crimes of Practice. This was a terrific opportunity; not only are Comma Press one of the best short story publishers around (hugely respected, lauded by the broadsheets and critics) but inclusion in the CWA Anthology is generally limited to published authors of full length crime novels. The drawback was the schedule, there was no time to write something new, it had to be 'in a drawer', fitting their theme.

I was determined to give it my top shot and spent a weekend polishing up by a selection of my best stuff.

Two weeks came and went, and I schooled myself to silence and a grim resolve that It Didn't Matter; it was enough just to have been given the opportunity.

This morning, the email came through.

The editor loves all the stories I sent but one in particular, a 400 word flash. The editor's verdict? "I thought (it) was brilliant. The puns and the ambiguity are fabulous, the general attitude / feel is really clear and well sustained and the end is very sharp. I love it. And we'd love to include it!!"

Apart from being slightly staggered that he liked this particular story so much (I didn't feel it was the best of what I sent, by a long chalk), I am just so chuffed to have made the grade. To be included in the CWA Anthology! Alongside famous names! I will also qualify for membership (albeit temporary) of the CWA, the usual preserve of published novellists, the great and the good. This is such a big break that I think I may be quoting it as The Turning Point in years to come.

See - a happy ending! They do happen!

A big shout out to Tania Hershman, who is the creator and editor of The Short Review, a website which the editor at Comma Press describes (quite rightly) as 'fabulous', for inviting me to review the first CWA book which led to this terrific opportunity - thank you, Tania!

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Bite-sized beauty

The latest issue of The Short Review has just gone live. This site, described by a leading small press publisher as 'fabulous', goes from strength to strength. It looks fantastic, the layout is clean and intuitive, and the content is outstanding. This issue includes interviews with Carys Davies and Kim Newman (British horror guru and author of a new collection, The Secret Files of the Diogenes Club). The blog is also well worth following, full of nuggets about writing and reading.

Monday, 3 March 2008

Advance, retreat

I'm sure this is usual for writers; you reach a point of real progress with a story and you begin to lust after a place of retreat, somewhere you can hide away with your notebooks and just... think, read, write. I don't mean a cottage in the woods or the wilderness (although the Coach House at Gwydir? Bliss!). Just a room would suit me. Or a garden shed, as long as it had a few home comforts. Hmm. Milly Molly Mandy's jam pantry would suit. I hunted for images and failed to find any, but I did find some cute contemporary illustrations in the same style, here.

Remember when Jane Eyre hides away in the window-seat behind the heavy velvet curtain? I'm coveting a window-seat. I saw the perfect one in a house in Painswick at the weekend. It was a bit more than a window-seat, more like a first floor bay, about five feet deep with oblong panes on all sides to let the sun in. This is now my retreat; last thing at night, or in the bath, I go into this room, shut the door and curl up on the low sofa in the bay. In the winter, the room is lined with tapestries and rugs. In the summer, it will resemble a ship's cabin, bleached wood, sunshine and a truckle bed in one shady corner.