Saturday 20 October 2012

Real and Imagined Lives at MShed

When I grow up I want to be a farmer like my granddad. I’ve seen pictures of him with a beard and a big hat, where he’s dug a field and it’s bright red, and you can’t tell whether he’s planted any seeds yet, though he’s grinning like he’s done a great job so it might be corn or wheat, but I hope he’s planted potatoes or sprouts because if you’re ever seen a sprout when it’s growing it’s totally mad, like a bunch of baby aliens on a big stalk. I hope it’s not flowers because that’d be boring, unless it was horse crippler cactus flowers, which are real and not made-up like you might think. And I’ve seen another photo of my granddad, only he’s not in it, just a field of red poppies for the men and boys who couldn’t wait to go to war until they actually got there, so sometimes it’s good not to get what you want, but he was happiest as a farmer and he had cows, which are madder than they look, so that’s why I want to be a farmer when I grow up. Either that, or a spaceman.
by Colin Pillinger, aged 8

Possibly the coolest writing project I've ever done, and certainly one of the most satisfying: a 200-word story about Colin Pillinger, inspired by no more than this portrait. It's part of a new exhibition at MShed (Bristol's coolest museum) in partnership with the National Portrait Gallery. The portraits of people with a local connection, including JK Rowling, Stephen Merchant, Neneh Cherry, Rosamund Pike, Iris Murdoch, Tricky, Banksy, are hung alongside book-sized wooden plaques that open on hinges to reveal the 200-word stories by local writers, including Catherine Bruton, Cally Taylor, Holly Corfield-Carr, and Anna Britten. It was a real thrill to watch people's faces as they read the stories - as close as we'll ever get to the personal (private) experience of someone else enjoying our words.

The exhibition opens today and runs until 6 January 2013. Highly recommended!

Thursday 18 October 2012

Geeked: The Pheasant Feather Hat

I'm delighted to have my story, The Pheasant Feather Hat, in the first ever issue of Geeked, a new magazine that's both intriguing and provocative. Best of all, my story's been illustrated by the hugely talented Gavin Read, who blogged about the artistic process here. You can read my story - and see Gavin's full illustrations - by checking out Geeked's mini mag online. I'm on pages 34-35. And check out the rest of the magazine, which goes into print in November. You can support the venture here.

The Pheasant Feather Hat

She wore white, of course. A vision, isn’t that what they say? She was a vision. Her bouquet complemented his buttonhole. Lemon blossom for fidelity, sorrel for affection. She provided little cards so we would know exactly what was signified by the arrangement she held to her bosom. A marble shelf, her bosom, thanks to the frock. Sepulchre in satin.

‘All flowers and plants,’ she divulged,‘have special meanings.’

Fidelity and affection. Lovely copperplate printing in the card, very black and emphatic. When it came time for the tossing I stood aside, taking refuge beneath the brim of my hat. All you could see of my face was the smile I’d painted there in lipstick: Rum Kiss.

Read on (pages 34-35)

Saturday 13 October 2012

Undead at Heart

Calum Kerr is a bit of a hero in my book. The founder of National Flash Fiction Day and a tireless champion of short short writing, co-editor of Jawbreakers, and author in his own right, of often quirky, always intriguing prose, as evidenced in his collection, Braking Distance, published by Salt.

When I heard Calum had published a novel - and that it starred zombies - I had to have me some of that flesh-eating action. (Those of you who've known me any length of time will know I'm a horror film fan, and that George Romero is a fave director.)

Undead at Heart is a terrific little thriller, full of human interest and very nicely executed action sequences (see what I did there?). What really shines through is the obvious glee on the part of the author, writing about a subject that grips him and which he's wise enough not to take too seriously.

The story opens on a sunny afternoon in the heart of England and all seems normal. Until a burning truck flies through the air and lands in the middle of everyone's lives. Tony, Nicola and a group of others find themselves on the run from aliens and zombies, trying to seek safety and to kindle a romance or two, along the way.

Calum writes with the easy confidence of someone who loves his genre, and knows it inside out. He conjures a convincing zombie - not an easy thing to do on the page, which is why I tend to prefer horror films to horror books. But between the oozing eyeballs and ruined throats, there's visual viscera aplenty for the hardened addict. Kerr also manages a very effective and rather touching line in post-apocalyptic romance, and I found myself rooting for Tony and his girl even while the undead were converging from every side.

A absolute snip as an ebook, I'd recommend this one for Hallowe'en, or any dark night between now and Christmas. You can buy it here.