Take flight with Rook

If you follow me on Twitter, or are friends with me on Facebook, you may well have noticed me making a fair amount of noise about a new novel. And there is good reason for it, Jane Rusbridge’s second novel, Rook, is quite simply stunning.

The novel drops you into the deep and muddy depths and allows you to explore the characters’ like hidden artefacts with the changing perspective of time. I found that Nora’s story is displayed from everyone else’s view – Issac’s teachings, Eve’s all seeing eyes, Ada’s secrets – even though she is central to the novel and leads the third person perspective naturally.

“She has the familiar sense of being behind glass, flattened into a reflection.”

The musically inspired descriptions, even when Nora is not present, allows her presence to be felt throughout Rook. The way in which the dialogue flows from summaries into direct speech draws the reader into the intimate conversations without redirection. Colour, along with music, features heavily – from Rook’s black plumage, Harry’s colourless paintings and the eyes that haunt and follow Nora.

“colours spray like exploding dahlias”

Following the final breakdown of her relationship with Issac, Nora hides in the relative safety of her family home however she finds that her mother is determined to change for the future although this leads to a digging up of the past. The puzzling child-adult shifting between Nora and Ada pulls you into their relationship, with a subtlety which provides familiarity to many reader’s own experiences I’m sure. The unfolding of other relationships allows you to discover the new with Nora whilst the hidden past is also uncovered although at a different pace.

“Sometimes when our present is a little too empty, our past move in to fill the gaps.”

The swift manoeuvre of past and present guides the reader through Nora’s mind without force or confusion. Nora’s thoughts spring up from the narration to hang in the air, ever present. By shrinking both time and distance, Rook is a novel that speaks to generations and educates on both historical fact and fiction whilst exploring characters that speak directly to you.

There’s so much more I wish to say about this novel and I hope to bring Rook insights direct from Jane Rusbridge in the coming weeks, but in the mean time – celebrate today’s publication day by purchasing the beautiful Bloomsbury Circus paperback edition.

Is there anyone out there?

When I received this quarter’s Mslexia, I laughed. Very loudly.

Continuing Mslexia’s feature of guest editors, Suzi Feay and the Mslexia team have made a bold statement with the June/July/August edition. Featuring two gingerbread women, clearly in love, with the title “Dyke writers. What’s the problem?” As thought provoking and daring as the title is, my laughter subdued as I read the Agenda article.

Feay has shed light on the fact that there is a problem: not enough “dyke writing”. Although I identify as a lesbian, I am a writer, editor and reader: not a lesbian writer, -editor, -reader. Perhaps the lack of lesbian writers (lesbian author, lesbian content) is because more women are identifying themselves in a similar manner (?).

My own writing focuses on characters and their development no matter their sexuality. However, when writing my current project, I was struck by my hesitation to make another character a lesbian – I already had one featured and even that was thrown into question. Perhaps I should make my characters more obvious but in a “this is normal” way? I find it appalling that I actually have to think of ways to make the relationship/sexuality normal, by which I mean that the other characters will not have some kind of opinion or commentary on it. The natural assumption is for lesbian characters to maintain the stereotyped other-ness, or use sexuality as a twist within the character development. As Feay says,

I was startled to find novels in which lesbian characters were stereotyped as murderers or or deranged, or in which a character’s sexuality turned out to be the ‘twist’ in the story (as opposed to an unremarkable aspect of someone’s life).

*p.9 Mslexia JUN/JUL/AUG 2012

There are writers, of course, who create lesbian characters who do not fit into stereotypes as above. However, I agree with Feay, they are the same few again and again.

Which leads me to my main interest in the article; there is a distinct lack of “L in LGBT” writers going for the Polari prize and others, as well as within mainstream publishing. From an indie perspective, I’ve noticed the same whilst forming a long-list of authors to get involved with the Fruit Bruise Press anthology – there are a lot of male writers with diverse backgrounds getting in contact with us, but very few women; whether lesbian or not. At Fruit Bruise, we’re working towards promoting and supporting the transgressive, emergent, and excluded writers and I’d love to hear from lesbian writers who would like to be involved with the anthology and future programme for literary development. Following from Feay’s question, I’d like to ask “Is there anyone out there?

Discover more about Suzi Feay and her writing here: www.suzifeay.com. And find out more about Mslexia and the latest edition: www.mslexia.co.uk. If you would like to know more about Fruit Bruise Press and discuss writing with us, please contact me below or at lexi @ doghornpublishing . com.

Quietly Inspired

This is a blog that has been waiting to be written for a couple of months, but it’s never too late for a whirlwind catch-up. Whilst I’ve been quieter on here, I have been inspired by so many projects that I want to spread the word about.

Starting April, I was thrilled, educated and entertained at Literary Death Match on 2nd April. This LDM celebrated Picador’s 40th birthday at Kings Place with beautiful book bags to carry home memories of book swapping in the pub afterwards, following the tales spun and judged with the winner then ultimately decided by a mad game of Cadbury Egg 10-Pin/Book Bowling between Will Le Fleming and Marie Phillips.
The four authors were judged by DJ Taylor, Jon Ronson and Jane Bussman. In round one, James Smythe read an excerpt from his upcoming novel The Testimony, followed by Will le Fleming reading an excerpt from his novel, Central Reservation. Then, in round two, Naomi Wood read from her debut novel, The Godless Boys, with Marie Phillips then reading a fictional (a little too much emphasis here) story about her experiences with male prostitutes.
If you haven’t been to an LDM yet, start following them, or reading their blog for updates. Whether writers or readers, you need this in your lives to see literature in totally new ways.

On the 14th April, I joined Alt.Fiction to run a workshop on Literary Beginnings to introduce emergent and excluded writers to the form of literary fiction and how it can be explored with rule breaking to bring new insight to their writing. It was an inspiring day with old and newly made friends, and the workshop was warmly received by sixteen writers who took to the exercises immediately and shared insighful first drafts at the end of the session. I am currently continuing the creation of the Fruit Bruise Press Literary Development Programme towards the goal of further funding – hopefully some of the wonderful people I met at Alt. will be involved with the programme once it is up and running.

Onwards to May, where I had the fortune to be part of the audience for the BBC Radio 4 recording of “8.51 to Brighton” by Brighton Pier Productions. The stories read were Along the Line by Alison Fisher, Anywhere Else by Tam Hoskyns and Housekeeping by Vanessa Gebbie, read by three brilliant actors, including Lesley Sharpe and James Fleeting. Make a note in your diaries as they will be aired on the 22nd July / 29th July / 5th August on BBC Radio 4.

Following one great literary event to another, on the 7th May, BookSlam was given a new home for one night for the Brighton Festival. In a packed room within the Brighton Dome, the host Francesa Beard introduced us to experienced storytellers in Jackie Kay, Jon Mcgregor, and Sapphire, along side the wonderfully talented musician Andreya Triana.
The lyrical nature of the varied accents within this performance reflected the importance of hearing literature aloud. The audience breathed for Sapphire as she turned her lines of poetry into song. All four performers left the audience with goosebumps; which is a common occurance for BookSlams. If you haven’t checked them out, they run monthly in London, normally the last Thursday of the month; more info on www.bookslam.com.

Lastly, but no by any means least, I’d love to shout about the fantastic literacy programme, First Story. Over the past couple of months, I have been volunteering the time I can spare to copy edit for First Story. Working with their wonderful General Editor, Michael Bedo, and the resident authors, to help edit and pull together all the little details to show case the breath-taking, honest and distinctive collections of prose and poetry. Dive into these creations and support the next generation of writers: buy an anthology today.

If you have any literary events or experiences you’d like to share – please feel free to jot your inspirations down below.

A chance to view life Through the Eyes of Strays

Released into the big bad world yesterday, Through the Eyes of Strays is a collection of Glen Krish’s best short stories from the past twenty years. Full of speculative, gut-grabbing, mind-expanding tales, this is a collection you will not want to put down – I’m certain there is something for everyone in this!

The collection is described as:

Misanthropes and misfits.

Society’s loners observing, and in some cases, changing the status quo.

An agoraphobic woman is forced to face a ruined world after months of isolation.

A father faces the death of a child in a world where genetic perfection has done away with such traumas.

A lovelorn man searches for the perfect woman and, ultimately, finds himself.

A nameless drifter absorbs people’s pain, the filth rotting their souls, until one day he can no longer bear this burden alone.

In these and many more stories, Glen Krisch crosses genres, disrupts and disfigures them, until something entirely its own rises from this alchemical brew.

Published by Dog Horn Publishing, it was a fantastic project to work with and edit, Glen has introduced me to characters and hidden stories that cannot be found elsewhere.

You can purchase the trade-size print edition from Lulu. If you’d like to find out more about Glen’s work, check out his website and blog.

Do you Flash?

So today is officially National Flash Fiction Day. I would hope/think that most of you have heard of Flash Fiction; it’s a growing form which is now taking place in prizes and competitions across the country as well as in literary collections and magazines – in the online and offline world it is finding it’s feet. The official day was created by Callum Kerr, who immersed himself in this new form, creating a micro-story every day for a whole year – his talents are found at flash365.blogspot.com.

There seems to be a lot of debate about the form’s literary and/or artistic merit (when is there not some form of debate in the world of literature) however I think that not only is an artistic pursuit and can become beautiful literary (and genre) creations, it can also be the best form to use to hone your skills; ensuring that every word on the page (or paragraph) counts.

If you want to try your hand at Flash Fiction, remember, I’ll be running a short (well it would have to be…) course on Flash at Swanwick Writer’s Summer School in August this year – one of many courses and workshops to be explored during the writing-packed week: think about the number of skills you’ll walk away with in 6 days!

Want to know more?
Take a dip into the world of Flash on the NFFD website. There was a fantastic article in The Guardian on Monday by David Gaffney, and look out for more stories published today – favourites that were posted on the article. Also if you’re tweeting or facebooking, get involved with the fun and games there too.

The Tour of The Coward’s Tale

This month has been an exciting one, and today I am honoured to talk with Vanessa Gebbie about her début novel The Coward’s Tale. This inspirational novel was launched in paperback yesterday, as well as being available in hardback and e-book.

Alexa Radcliffe-Hart: Hi Vanessa, thank you for joining us and agreeing to answer my questions as well as those sent in.

Vanessa Gebbie: Hi Lexi, and thanks you so much for asking me. It is great to be here.

ARH: Firstly, I’d love to tell you how much I enjoyed The Coward’s Tale. I found myself lost in the interwoven stories and unwilling for the connections to end!

VG: That’s really lovely feedback… thank you!

ARH: There are so many questions I could ask, but I wouldn’t want to spoil the beautiful unfolding of the novel for those who haven’t read it yet. Within The Coward’s Tale, the storytelling meta-narrative gains importance throughout the novel; did you originally set out to provide this additional layer to the novel, or was it a natural development?

VG: No, I didn’t ‘set out’ to do anything. The novel began as a simple series of stories exploring the reasons why so many in the town were strange in some way,  even though in other ways they are perfectly usual members of a small community – the window cleaner, the bank clerk, deputy bank manager, the teacher, the librarian, the undertaker, out of work miner, and so on.
As I wrote more and more, enjoying them hugely, some (the gas-meter emptier’s tale, for example, had me laughing out loud on occasion, much to the consternation of my family) each backstory seemed to go back to the same incident – the collapse of Kindly Light Pit.  It wasn’t until I began to concentrate on the overarching narrative, that of Laddy and Ianto, that Ianto’s own story had to come out. I think I had been avoiding meeting that one head on – it was hard to acknowledge – I love Ianto, as I love all the characters.
His story is the real catalyst – he has been the repository of the town’s history and has been sharing stories with whoever will listen. And it really isn’t until his own story is added to the mix that the whole series takes on a completely different resonance. He is ‘released’ in some measure, freed, after sharing his story. Just as the author was freed and was able to finish the novel. (!)

ARH: The gas-meter emptier’s story had me laughing out loud too, which proved an important balance for some of the more heart-rending tales.
Laddy is spellbound by the stories that are woven by Ianto, yet questions their truth because of the “stories” told to him by his parents. This transformation in innocence is a role reversal of the adult characters that search for the innocence they’ve lost. Do you believe that there is always innocence within storytelling?

VG: I wonder if there has to be a certain innocence – in that as soon as a writer exhibits a judgement one way or the other, the story is weighed down with a ‘message’? But I think I mean innocence as in ‘emotional honesty’  – otherwise a story does not work as well as it might.
But maybe more importantly, doesn’t the writer need an eye that sees things afresh, and the ability to use those impressions well so that the prose is fresh, not predictable?
Being able to see things in a new way – that is a childlike quality, akin to innocence – I don’t mean that the writing is childlike, but the ability to stand outside the normal responses, and rethink, re-experience, as if for the first time? 

ARH: I think that is where the strength of Laddy’s characterisation is, the way in which he provides the viewpoint with emotional honesty, which allows other characters to “re-experience” as well as the reader.
The use of the lilting Welsh accent within the narration as well as the character dialogue immerses the reader throughout the multiple characters, as well as providing fluidity between overall story and the individual stories. Was it straightforward to write with accent/dialect and did you find any difficulties in the process?

VG: To begin with, when the process first started, I was unaware. The first section I wrote (now The Clerk’s Tale) was fine, it was set in the south Wales I remembered from childhood, and the rhythms and sounds came back easily. It won a nice prize at Bridport. But as soon as I became conscious of it, and tired to reproduce the lilts, I went too far.
Luckily, I had an important bit of feedback on a subsequent section from the novelist Catherine Merriman, who said the voice was ‘like Yoda’ in places. I had no idea who or what Yoda was. When I discovered, I was horrified! But that was diamond feedback, and it led to me making every effort to return to my original voice.

ARH: There is such a fine line with many accents aren’t there? But the Yoda advice is perfect!
The Clerk’s Tale is not the only experience you have in writing award winning short stories, and The Coward’s Tale felt like an exploration between the short story and novel forms, especially with interwoven tales of so many characters which ultimately tells the tale of the coward. Was the novel evolved from one short story or many? At what stage did you know it was a novel you were writing?

VG: Honest answer? I was plagued with doubt the whole way, really. Not an easy ride, this one. I didn’t want to write a single narrative, and my agent (Euan Thorneycroft at A M Heath) encouraged me to write it as a novel, not a series of stories.  It started with The Clerk’s Tale, referred to above – I was signed by Euan on the strength of that story.
But whereas I knew what I was doing (more or less!) with the stories, the creation of and positioning of the overarching narrative and the interweaving that was necessary to create a different workable structure, was difficult – I needed help with that. Thanks to the Arts Council, to whom I shall be eternally grateful, I was able to have a period of mentoring from the terrific novelist Maggie Gee. I can’t sing her praises highly enough. I think we made a good team – very different writers – but something worked!

ARH: Thank you for your honesty. It’s brilliant to hear more on how creative mentoring can bring new light and understanding to writer’s work.
You provide the wonderful #storygym on Twitter to help writers all over the world be inspired with the writing prompts. Where do you find your own writing inspirations? Are there any particular writers you go back to again and again?

VG: I’m a very visual writer. I respond best to images, and to lines of poetry that are image-based, lyrical prose, lovely sounds too. I go back and back and back to the works of William Golding. But then I also love W G Sebald, and that’s hardly in the same ballpark! Female writers too – I’d pick Arundhati Roy, and a new writer, Suzanne Joinson, about to hit the shelves with a stunning novel called ‘A Lady Cyclist’s Guide to Kashgar’ (Blooomsbury, July). Her prose is really extraordinary and sets connections firing in this writer’s head.
I wake up every morning and tweet a #StoryGym prompt – it’s about the first thing I do after cleaning my teeth! Some of them are just nuts (not my teeth, the prompts…) – but it is lovely to hear from writers who are using them, and especially when a story has been published, or even won something. of course, that’s nothing to do with me, it is the skill of the writer – but it is a nice feeling to know that it started with a few words on Twitter.

ARH: Sometimes the most unusual of prompts can provide the best writing, huh!
Have you ever been inspired to write from the viewpoint of a character that you disliked? And if so, could you describe the writing process around this?

VG: Oh yes, of course. I can dislike things about someone, usually what they do – and still be intrigued by them, wonder why they are like that, how far they will go.  And more importantly, will they do something to redeem themselves. Example: I wrote a story (it’s in the collection, ‘Words from a Glass Bubble’) about a guy called Harry, in a story called Harry’s Catch. He’s done some fairly nasty things in his time – rape, for one. Now he’s old – the story explores his life, to the extent that I got quite fond of him in the end, even though he did something horrific almost at the end of the story…
Process-wise – I tend to focus on what the character does, rather than whether they can be judged as ‘loveable’ or not. People are never completely black and white, I guess. Human beings are complex animals, best to let them be that on paper too.

ARH: I agree, it’s that grey area within people and characters than can bring the most out on the page. The grey area questions continue…
How does an author create a sentence in which words resonate with a reader, to the extent that he or she describes a feeling exactly – not a physical sensation but a private thought and/or emotion, that when read, makes one realise that one is not alone in this world? This may be a subjective experience for each of us and is not replicated for all readers, or is it?

VG: A really interesting question – I’ll try to answer.
All a writer can do is observe life in all its facets, and use those observations in their work to build up an honest and emotionally true world which resonates so much with readers (hopefully…) that it becomes ‘real’ in their heads. That means honest observation of one’s own emotions and feelings too.
So, when a character is experiencing something, thinking something, feeling something, you to some extent ‘relive’ the experience yourself, with the character, as you are writing. If you are that bound up with your characters (as I tend to be) the feelings will be strong – and all you can do is put them into the most honest words you can.
I think originality also comes into it. We might read something described in terms we’ve seen many times, before, and whereas we will ‘understand’ the message, maybe we won’t ‘feel it’. Whereas, if the language used is different, drawing original parallels – no clichés in similes, for example – we look at the familiar through fresh eyes. That’s a powerful thing to learn to do.
The rest is up to the reader. It’s not possible for a writer to touch everyone, for the simple reason that we bring our own life experiences along with us when we do anything, especially when we read – the words written by the writer will either touch us, or not, depending on our own ‘baggage’.  But emotional honesty is an important tool, here – and an ability to express the subtlest of emotions.
Hope that helps! And I award a copy of ‘The Coward’s Tale’ to this questioner. 

ARH: Thank you for choosing the winning questioner! I would like to congratulate Sally Carlow on winning the paperback copy of The Coward’s Tale!
Continuing with the writing questions, what is the worst assumption any aspiring writer can make about their work?

VG: That it is any good at all. I think the best position to start from is that your work is awful. If you are right – then great – guess what, with a bit of hard work you can learn to write well. If you are wrong, you are probably a genius. And there aren’t many of those…
Wait until someone who knows what they are talking about tells you your work is OK. That does not mean your mates, your parents, your partner, or the person at the writing group with the loudest voice (who had a story published somewhere ten years ago) or the administrator of a vanity publishing organisation. You will know in your heart when feedback means something. And you will know in your heart when it doesn’t.

ARH: Good and constructive feedback is something every writer needs. Along with this, what is the most important book any aspiring writer should keep by their side?

VG: NOT a how-to book – not even mine! You need books that make you want to write as well as that writer did. For me, it’s anything by William Golding. Poetry – John Donne at the moment. And it’s also worth keeping a few books that remind you how terrible some people’s work is – go and download a few free self-published e-books at random.

ARH: Yes, having that scale is definitely helpful! Continuing towards publication, what is the worst mistake any aspiring writer could make when submitting a proposal?

VG: Telling an agent it’s their lucky day, and they are being given a one-off chance to represent the next big thing since J K Rowling. And copying the proposal to every agent in the book.

ARH: Thank you for your honest answers, I’m sure a lot of writers will find this advice invaluable. Looking to the future, how do you plan for your next project? Is it planned or do you go with what inspiration and imagination provides you?

VG: The next project is under way, if you really mean the next novel? The working title is ‘Kit’ – it’s come directly out of The Coward’s Tale, and revolves round the same two main characters, Ianto and Laddy. A prequel/sequel – perhaps. It’s a difficult thing – I know more about this one, and am thus less able to explore as I go. It’s a challenge, and I will complete it. Whether it will be any cop is another matter!
But my overriding feeling is this – I’m not young. I spent six years writing The Coward’s Tale, but it was never the only thing on the boil, and I won’t now make the mistake of focussing on one thing only – what if it’s not right, or isn’t wanted? Besides, I’m a Gemini – I need to be able to flit from one thing to another. So whilst ‘Kit’ is the big project, I’m also doing a lot of other things.
Viz:

  1. Working on a short story commission for BBC Radio, to go out during Brighton Festival.
  2. Revamping ‘Short Circuit, Guide to the Art of the Short Story’ for Salt Publishing’. Story, the art of story, is my first love. It’s a good book, used a lot on creative writing courses, and I want to make sure it stays up to date, doesn’t get tired like so many ‘how-to’ books do. ‘Short Circuit II’ will have additional chapters from stunning people like Scott Pack, Tom Vowler, Nicholas Royle, plus extended chapters by some of the contributors who had shorter pieces in the first edition. I chose well. Since writing their chapters for the first edition, many of the very successful, talented contributors have done even more amazing things in their careers – look! Graham Mort won the Edge Hill Prize. Carys Davies won the Olive Cook Award from The Society of Authors. Zoe King was elected Chair of the Society of Women Writers and Journalists. Alison MacLeod shortlisted for the National Short Story Award, and the BBC Short Story Prize.
  3. Continuing to learn about, write and publish poetry. Just finished a wonderful series of workshops led by poet Pascale Petit at Tate Modern.
  4. Acting as travel agent for a group of writers going on a tour of Arras and The Somme later in 2012, in the excellent company of military historian Jeremy Banning. That’s going to be a great trip – mirroring my own trip with him early in 2011, following The Swansea Pals to the Somme, Passchendaele and back to the Somme. Can you imagine what it must have been like for the lads who fought there in 1916, returning a couple of years later and finding they are fighting over the same ground where their friends died?
  5. Teaching – loads. Looking forward especially to a week-long short story workshop at the wonderful Anam Cara Writers and Artist’s Retreat, West Cork, Ireland – where I have been going to write my own stuff since 2005. I heard about the place via the Fish Publishing website – and took a chance and joined a creativity workshop – and have been going back at least twice a year ever since.
  6. Self-publishing a books of flash fictions with a friend, who is a terrific artist.

I think that’s probably enough!

ARH: Wow! That is a fantastic line-up of work; I personally can’t wait to see more of Ianto and Laddy’s tales!
Finally, I love your blog and website with its interactive design; particularly the musical map for The Cowards Tale where readers can find out excerpts about each of the characters. You also communicate with your readership through Twitter. How important do you feel interacting with fellow writers and your reading audience is in these ways?

VG: I’m glad you like the website – I love it too – it is the work of Roger Betts, a musician friend, although we’ve never met. It’s very creative – well, we’re meant to be creative beings – I despair when I see the same old same old on writers’ websites – c’mon, guys! Less meaningful mournful stares, huh?
Writing is a lonely occupation – interaction with other writers is great, and keeps me sane. And it is really lovely to be in touch with readers on Twitter, and on Facebook too. It’s very important for me! Keeps me grounded. There is not much point in writing if readers aren’t in the equation, after all.
Thanks Lexi – super questions, I have enjoyed tussling with this lot. Thank yofor having me, as we used to say after parties, when I was six!

Vanessa can be found at http://www.vanessagebbie.com, on her blog or on Twitter.
The tour has visited Claire King, Tania Hershman, and Sara Crowley so far, and with more to follow so please check out the full paperback party schedule here.

Fruit Bruise Press @ Alt.Fiction

For those of you following the news about Fruit Bruise Press since I first mentioned this new literary imprint for Dog Horn Publishing, this is a quick post to fill you in with some more information and remind you about Alt.Fiction which is coming up in two weeks time.

There is more information about Fruit Bruise Press on the Dog Horn Publishing website now, so please feel free to read more about what we’re looking for the in the way of submissions and what we hope to provide with the writing development and anthology project.

The first outing for Fruit Bruise Press will be at Alt.Fiction on Saturday 14th April. The workshop “Jumping boundaries and breaking rules” will be running from 4-5pm, serving as a taster for what is in store for the future. Based in Leceister over two days for this year, Alt.Fiction is now in it’s sixth year of brilliant events for readers and writers of science fiction, fantasy and horror. Although Fruit Bruise does not focus on genre specific fiction, we welcome one and all to our workshop to help you find new ways into your writing whatever your background! The team at Dog Horn Publishing will be on our stand over the weekend, so please feel free to drop by and have a chat with us about your work or the DHP books available!

If you’d like to find out more about Fruit Bruise Press, Alt.Fiction and what I’m planning for the workshop, take a look at the interview by Katie Shanks on Left Lion: the home of Nottingham Culture.

99 Reasons Why: an unseen ending

March is the month for hosting it seems! There will be a Q&A with Vanessa Gebbie next Friday, and this week I’d like to introduce you to 99 Reasons Why by Caroline Smailes.

Kate isn’t like 22 year olds. She’s got a job to do for her Uncle Phil. Each day, she spies on The Kevin Keegan Day Nursery across the road from her bedroom window, writing down all of the comings and goings in her notebooks. That’s how she spots her little girl in the pink coat. She likes her, and it isn’t long before Kate asks her mum to steal the girl for her. Plans are made. But then, quite unexpectedly, Kate flashes her breasts out her bedroom window at the little girl’s father. And that’s the reason why nothing will ever be the same again…

99 Reasons Why is a book with a difference, and it’s catching a lot of attention. It is only being published as an ebook and comes with 9 different endings which readers can navigate using multiple choice questions on your Kindle or via a spinning story wheel on your iPad or iPhone – ideal for those of you who started using the new iPad since the 16th! There are also two additional endings. One is the ending that will be handwritten by Caroline and auctioned for charity, and the other is here for your reading pleasure today!

If you haven’t already read 99 Reasons Why you can find it either for your Kindle on Amazon, or your iPad / iPhone on iTunes. And if you haven’t yet, but you have an urge to start at one of the possible endings…read on!

99: the reason why I was only worth ninety-nine quid

It’s been six days since the little girl in the pink coat went missing and me Uncle Phil’s in me bedroom.

We’ve been watching the little girl in the pink coat’s mam on the news. She was appealing to the public for witnesses.

‘Didn’t realise she had a mam,’ I says, looking at me telly.

‘Everyone’s got a mam, pet,’ me Uncle Phil says to me.

‘She sold her story to The Sun,’ I says, looking at me telly.

‘Got a few quid,’ me Uncle Phil says to me.

I nod.

‘She wanted nowt to do with that bairn before all this,’ me Uncle Phil says, looking at me telly.

‘Do you know where she is?’ I asks me Uncle Phil.

‘Belle?’ me Uncle Phil asks me.

I nod.

‘She’s safe,’ me Uncle Phil says to me. ‘Your mam’s keeping an eye on her.’

‘Can I be her mam?’ I asks me Uncle Phil.

‘No, pet, you’re a filthy whore,’ me Uncle Phil says to me.

I nod.

‘Can you make Andy Douglas come back, Uncle Phil?’ I asks me Uncle Phil.

Me Uncle Phil shakes his head.

‘I love him,’ I tell me Uncle Phil.

‘Andy Douglas is your brother, pet. You didn’t seriously think Princess Di was your mam, did you?’ me Uncle Phil asks me.

I nod.

‘You’re a cradle snatcher just like your mam,’ me Uncle Phil says to me.

I nod.

‘Your mam miscarried when she found out I’d been banging Betty Douglas. Betty was expecting you,’ me Uncle Phil says to me.

I don’t speak.

‘When you was born, your mam went mad and I ended up buying you from Betty Douglas for ninety-nine quid,’ me Uncle Phil says.

‘Ninety-nine quid?’ I asks me Uncle Phil.

‘I paid a hundred but got a quid change for some chips for your mam and dad’s tea,’ me Uncle Phil says to me.

‘You bought me?’ I asks me Uncle Phil.

I’m a little bit sick in me mouth.

‘It was the right thing to do,’ me Uncle Phil says to me. ‘I got Betty Douglas pregnant straight away with Andy.’

‘I’m pregnant,’ I says to me Uncle Phil. ‘I’m pregnant with me brother’s baby,’ I says, and then I throws up on me purple carpet.

‘You’re a filthy whore,’ me Uncle Phil says to me.

‘What am I going to do?’ I asks me Uncle Phil.

‘You’re going to have the baby,’ me Uncle Phil says to me.

‘Have me brother’s baby?’ I asks me Uncle Phil.

‘Then I’m giving it to Betty Douglas to bring up,’ me Uncle Phil says to me.

‘You what?’ I says to me Uncle Phil.

‘It’s the right thing to do,’ me Uncle Phil says to me.

‘I can’t—’ I says to me Uncle Phil.

‘It’s either that or I’ll make you disappear,’ me Uncle Phil says to me.

I don’t speak.

I’m thinking, they’re all a bunch of nutters.

A Literary Inquisition

As a writer and editor, I’m sure I’m not alone in wanting to reach out to fellow writers to further educate myself in the craft of writing and publishing; the want and need for learning and further understanding is infectious. We attend seminars, workshops, read books/blogs/general websites.

As a reader, this education continues whether we wish to learn more by exploring unknown genres or subjects, or the simple act of escapism and exploration into new worlds. We often choose what we read dependent on our peer opinion – be that your best friend raving about a book over coffee or a rating on an Amazon suggestion.

With the internet at our fingertips, there is more and more of a chance to reach out to the authors that inspire or interest us. Which is where I come in with this opportunity for someone to awarded with the prize of a beautiful new paperback in return for your literary inquisition.

Vanessa Gebbie‘s debut novel, The Coward’s Tale is being launched in paperback on the 29th March, and she will be taking this tale on a blog tour which will stop here on the 30th March.

The Coward’s Tale is a powerfully imagined, poetic and haunting novel, spiked with humour. It is a story of kinship and kindness, guilt and atonement, and the ways in which we carve the present out of an unforgiving past

Bloomsbury

I’m inviting you, whether you’re a reader, writer or both, to send me your questions which will be answered by Vanessa on the Q&A blog on the 30th March. The most searching question will be picked out by Vanessa and awarded a paperback copy of The Coward’s Tale*, so please get thinking and ask your most burning questions!

  • Send your questions via email to lexi@servicestoliterature.co.uk
  • Leave your question here using the comments section below
  • Feel free to comment/reply to me where the link is shared on FB or Twitter

Vanessa Gebbie is the author of two collections of stories and contributing editor of a creating writing text book. She has won numerous awards – including prizes at Bridport, Fish and the Willesden Herald (the latter judged by Zadie Smith) – for her short fiction. An extract from The Coward’s Tale won the Daily Telegraph ‘Novel in a Year’ Competition.

*Winner will be announced on 30th March 2012

Beautiful little paper miracles*

With the extra day in February and an attempt to ensure I blog at least once a month, I’m taking the opportunity to add to the discussion on the future of publishing and of the book. This is a really exciting time of exploration, experimentation  and connection, with thousands of voices interacting with this subject. With so many opinions out there and an insane research interest in this quickly evolving subject, I’ve found that I have my feet on either side of the digital vs traditional argument and I’m sure I’m not the only one.

Although there are lots of articles out in the internet ether, the stance often plays devil’s advocate by introducing the proposition that the life of the traditionally printed book is at an end. Of course, a lot of media sources are going to speak in absolutes to provoke debate, however some do focus on the positives on the evolution of the e-book. I found the article “Are books and the internet about to merge?” by Damien Walter to be very interesting in the way he brings new light to the argument by focusing on the technological links between books and the internet as the electronic format is growing and the new way of defining books. “E-Books Can’t Burn” by Tim Parks also had an intriguing position, by exploring the nuances of the book experience.
However, it was the comments on both of these articles that interested me the most. With an engaged audience comes intelligent and at times protective response which opens the debate to much wider subjects such as copyright, generational gaps, the position of publishers and agents, the importance of storytelling, and books as objects.

For me, with my feet planted either side of the debate, what I’m most excited about is what is going beyond traditional AND e-books. The experiments into multimedia storytelling like the next digital project from Kate Pullinger, “Dual”, show us how literature is beginning to move beyond the constraints of traditional novels. On the other side, handmade original printed editions direct from authors and “desirable and collectable” editions from literary publishers are popping into the publishing news and circles, and both enthral me. For example, the new imprint at Bloomsbury, Bloomsbury Circus, will be shamelessly literary in unusually sized printed form, whilst Picador celebrates their 40th anniversary this year with beautiful black and white editions of classics new and old with additional resources and material for readers to explore the texts further.

I realise that the debate on traditional vs digital will rage on for some time, and whilst it does I’d love to hear what you think is the future of publishing and how are you engaging with the future possibilities for either and or both formats. Please leave a reply below!

*with thanks to Chris, a.k.a “nattybumpo” commenting on “Are books and the internet about to merge?“, for the inspiration. And to 47giraffes for post photograph!