The books your tokens are waiting for

As we all know, book tokens are second only to carefully chosen books, when considering the best gifts one can get. I had planned on putting together a list like so many others to recap on my reading this year to inspire gift choices, but I’m a few days or even a few weeks too late for that. These recommendations are the books I’ve loved this year, the ones Santa was kind enough to drop into my stocking, and the ones I’m looking forward to in 2017. That should be enough to be getting on with…

The one that outshone all the rest: novel category
Harmless Like You – Rowan Hisayo Buchanan

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Lorrie Moore has said this debut is ’cause for celebration’, and she’s not wrong. I read an interview with the author, who said that every time she sees the novel in a shop, she wants to rescue Yuki. I thought I understood that feeling, of an author who has put their first baby out into the big bad world. But that wasn’t quite it. Having read the novel, it’s a maternal ache that won’t go away when you see Yuki’s portrait splashed with paint, her unseeing face lined up in rows on a shelf. This is a book of opportunities lost and gained, the chances that you miss or when fate takes your hand and pulls you away. It’s a book of relationships, the hard must haves, the fleeting passions, and unknowing unbound love. As the novel concluded, I cried. Not a solitary tear, but body convulsing sobs. Yuki had got in, and I was with her, with all of the gains and all of the losses. That, is something not many writers can do, but I implore you – take this journey with Yuki. It’s worth it.

Close seconds: The Trouble with Goats and Sheep – Joanna Cannon. Reasons She Goes to the Woods – Deborah Kay Davies. Two very very different child perspective novels which bring light to the worlds we encompass. Read them, they are brilliant.

The one that outshone all the rest: short story collection category
A Wild Swan and Other Tales – Michael Cunningham

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The short story category is always a tough one for me. I’m still writing /editing /rewriting /adding to my own collection, so I’ve found myself dipping in and out of collections over the past year. This collection was a gift last Christmas and it found its way to the top of the pile over the summer. These stories are retellings; subverted, twisted, and yet so close to the fairytales that should make you shiver.’Crazy Old Lady’ and ‘Little Man’ are two of my favourites, but it’s hard to have favourites in a collection of 11 stories that you wish wouldn’t stop at just 11. Even if you don’t like fairytales (what kind of strange creature are you?), try this.

Close seconds: Lightbox – KJ Orr. One Point Two Billion – Mahesh Rao. The Isle of Youth – Laura Van Den Berg. No One Belongs Here More Than You – Miranda July. Public Library – Ali Smith. Stone Mattress – Margaret Atwood. A Manual for Cleaning Women – Lucia Berlin. Trigger Warning – Neil Gaiman. Fen – Daisy Johnson. I told you I’d been dipping in and out of collections! All amazingly talented writers. Read them, even if you think you prefer novels (what kind of strange creature are you?).

The ones I have lined up next (aka Christmas Haul):

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The Accidental Dictionary – Paul Anthony Jones. The 3 A.M. Epiphany: Uncommon Writing Exercises – Brian Kiteley. Angel Catbird Vol. 1 – Margaret Atwood. Hag-Seed – Margaret Atwood. Fantastic Beasts: The Original Screenplay – JK Rowling. Autumn – Ali Smith. The Wonder – Emma Donoghue.

 

 

The one you should be pre-ordering now:
Ink – Alice Broadway

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I had the fortune of winning a copy of this book, which isn’t out until February. Order it. Order it now. I believe it will be categorised as YA, and it is a coming of age story, but it doesn’t matter your age, this book will get under your skin and leave its mark. The strong themes of story telling, what we leave behind when we’re gone, and the art of tattooing, make this a compelling read. Leora is a character that may believe she’s yet to be formed, but her sense of self is clear from page one. This is a beautiful unfolding of a life. I’m not sure if there will be more, but I can see this challenging the likes of Hunger Games for its ability to shine a mirror on the world we live in currently for a new age of ravenous readers.

The others I can’t wait for: Norse Mythology – Neil Gaiman, Winter – Ali Smith, House of Names – Colm Tóibín.

 

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Christmas stories from Word Factory

Here’s a little present, from me to you. Or maybe it is a present from them to me. Either way, I am grinning.

At the start of December, Word Factory took part in the Waterstones Piccadilly Christmas event. The store was packed with shoppers, writers, entertainers, lovers of all things book shaped and more.

So here is the recording of my story. If you missed it, enjoy. If you caught it, thank you for supporting me and everything that Word Factory does.

And after you have watched this one, please watch the rest of the team and their wonderful readings. It really was a gift of a night.

Books are for life…(the novel one)

Top 2015 Novels

I promised a novel version of my favourites from this year, so here they are in no particular order (yes, they are all that good).

The Heart Goes Last – Margaret Atwood
Know me well enough and you will have seen I have a shelf dedicated to Atwood’s books. Literally because there are so many of them. I’m going to explain why in my next post but for now, you can understand her work is a favourite. This latest novel is a step sideways from the MaddAddam trilogy, and I briefly reviewed it as the Handmaid’s Tale for this generation. It is an incredibly readable, darkly humorous look at where our world could get to without much work.

How to be Both – Ali Smith
At the other end of my bookshelf, I almost have a full shelf of Ali Smith’s books – yes, you can see the pattern emerging. Her latest novel is my favourite so far – I find joy in seeing how open she is to pushing the boundaries of what a novel can be and is never limited. This is a novel of two halves, and which half you start with depends on which book you pick up. It is the present and it is the past. It is what limits us and what sets us free. It is a book you have to read.

The Gracekeepers – Kirsty Logan
I talked lots about Logan’s short stories in my last post, and her debut novel is no less magical. A story of love, loss and finding connections – it is a gorgeous tale to get lost in. I cannot wait for more of her work.

The Ecliptic – Benjamin Wood
I fell in love with Wood’s writing with his debut novel a couple of years ago which I go back to again and again. This is just as mesmerising. If you’re looking for a book for a writer or artist of any kind, then this is the one for them (or you). The lengths we go to for art, for love, for understanding are encapsulated here. I felt bereft at the end and yet entirely satisfied.

The Good Son – Paul McVeigh
Don’t let my friendship with this wonderful man seem like a bias. Paul’s debut novel is stunning. Want to learn more but also be completely transported? This is the novel with you. One of my top if not favourite child narrators, join Mickey on his journey through the Troubles. And if you’re a fan of audio books then wait for this to be released because if Paul’s performances are anything to go by then his narration is going to be mind blowing.

Vitus Dreams – Adam Craig
This is a novel I am incredibly proud of. Written by my publisher/editor/friend at Liquorice Fish, this is a book I’ve seen from in vitro to birth and I am so pleased that it is out in the world now. Walk into this journey with Vitus and explore the places between dreaming and waking, and the reality and losses of both.

 

The First Bad ManThere is one novel that isn’t in the picture, and only because it’s on my kindle not in paper form (a rare thing). The First Bad Man by Miranda July is a you-have-to-read-it-why-haven’t-you-read-it-yet book. Please read it and then find me and Charlotte (from Nothing Good Rhymes with Charlotte fame) because we need to have more people to discuss this book with. It may even start a book club.

Let the title do the talking*

12 short stories. For you to read. Now. Get electrocuted.

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I am so proud to be involved with this project. With thanks to Fran for inviting me and all her hard work alongside Jane and Bernie. They are super stars and this is the first of many for Literary Salmon.

Did I forget to mention, read the collection now.

*if the title doesn’t work, then the praise and inspiration should! Find out the full story on Twitter – follow the salmon.

Lost Voices: Published!

When I found out that ‘Once, there was a bear’ was a winner in the Lost Voices competition and would be joining six other works in the anthology pamphlet, my first thought was that I had almost got my wish to be published before I turned 30 as it was due out in March. But I was very happy to know I would be published at some point in the very near future.

Lost VoicesFor my birthday I disappeared up to North Wales to relax and write. On the way home, I switched back online and found that the anthology had actually been released a day before I turned 30. I don’t think I’ve stopped smiling since.

I have received so many wonderful comments about the story, and I love hearing from my family and oldest friends when they’ve received their copies.

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I’m so proud to be part of such a wonderful anthology; beautifully edited and designed by Adam Craig. Which leads me to the next bit of news. I have been invited to submit a story for Liquorice Fish’s anthology Past Tense which is being created in honour of Cinnamon Press’s 10 year anniversary. ‘Fallen’, a micro fiction, will be part of a pamphlet anthology of 10 stories from past and present Cinnamon Press writers. Past Tense is due to be published in November.

If you’d like a copy of Lost Voices or to find out more about Liquorice Fish visit the Cinnamon Press site.

Finding my voice with Liquorice Fish

Liquorice Fish, literary imprint of Cinnamon Press, have lfish_logo-300x300announced the winners of their ‘Lost Voices’ competition and I’m very pleased to say I’m one of them!

My short story, Once There was a Bear, will be alongside six other works in an anthology which will be published in Spring 2015. All the authors’ work are described here along with details of the commended and highly commended entries.

I’m thrilled to note that the anthology will also feature a preview of Vanessa Gebbie’s next work. Ed’s Wife and Other Creatures. This will be the second Liquorice Fish publication;  “a striking, surreal, and poignant collection of micro-fictions” written by Vanessa and illustrated by Lynn Roberts. As someone who is constantly inspired by her work, I really cannot wait for my writing to be with hers in the anthology.

Liquorice Fish is a “new imprint from Cinnamon Press to promote the innovative and idiosyncratic in contemporary writing: writers who are passionate and committed to finding an individual voice and approach to their writing; who are restless and want to explore the many possibilities inherent in language and the written word; or who wish to celebrate and extend the vibrant and varied traditions — and anti-traditions — that emerged during the 20th Century but which have been too often marginalised and belittled by the world of corporate authorship.” Find out more on their website.

Once There was a Bear has been described by Liquorice Fish as “the fabulous and mundane exist side-by-side in this delicate short story from an up-and-coming young British writer.”

I can’t tell you how chuffed those words make me. 2015 is going to be a very good year and this is just the beginning.

Short stories are for life…

…not just for National Short Story Week.

I love that we as a nation give time for a whole week to encourage young readers and writers to get involved with the short story form. As the week comes to a close, I wanted to share some favourite links that I hope will give short story lovers resources to keep them going for the next 51 weeks.

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You may have noticed this blog can be sporadic. Mostly, and with great joy, Word Factory is to blame for this. I am involved with this amazing team who every month for almost three years have provided short story salons, masterclasses and workshops to writers and readers of London. So when you can’t find me here, I’m normally over on the Word Factory site – where you can find videos of all of the readings, a wonderful monthly round up of opportunities that Paul McVeigh sources, as well as profiles for over 70 short story writers.

shortstopsShort Stops is a resource website for anyone who loves short stories. Brain-child of Tania Hershaman, this site is the home for everything connected to the form – live events like Word Factory, publications like Bare Fiction and Lighthouse, and a very long list of short story authors.
If you haven’t already, I suggest you connect with Tania and Short Stops on Facebook and Twitter to keep in the know of all things short story.

sssAnd as it is Sunday, it is only right that I mention Short Story Sunday. This new online publication which has been running since the start of November. Already there have been three wonderful stories published and I can’t wait to see what will come next.

There’s so many more I could mention – but please do post in the comments if you’d like to share you own favourites.

What I’m really linking… 25th August 2014

The reading one(S)

beautiful1I am one story away from the end of Sarah Hall’s collection The Beautiful Indifference. I’m late to pick up on how challenging, honest and brutal Hall’s stories can be but I am savouring every one. Difficult to do as a short story fiend but this is a collection worth time.

stonemattresshowtobebothAdding to my reading excitement, two of my most favourite authors have new books out this week. Ali Smith with her Booker short-listed How to to be both, and Margaret Atwood’s new collection of short stories, Stone Mattress: Nine Tales. You know where to find me on Thursday when these hit the bookshelves.

The Philosophical one

weareverbsWhilst considering my next moves for my first novel and the second one which is becoming louder, I’ve been delving into philosophical discussion on how we develop as writers and as humans. We are Verbs is my favourite so far.

The writing one

wt-circleThis week I’ve been taking part in The Write Track‘s trial of audio writing exercises. Led by novelist and top creative writing tutor Julia Bell to work out if writers find audio exercises useful, the idea is to take exercises out of the classroom and into people’s lives as they live them, kind of like a pocket writing coach. Soon their the goal-setting community for writers will be launched online – if this trial is anything to go by, this will be an exciting community to be involved with.

I would love for find out what is inspiring you at the moment – please use the comments box for links and feedback.

Six steps to writing freedom…

…could have been an alternative title for the writing workshop with the award-winning writer Simon Van Booy that took place at The Society Club last Sunday afternoon.

As a writer and workshop leader I have taken and led many workshops to hone my own and help others hone their craft.

This intimate and intensive half day workshop allowed four writers five hours of insight into the practice of writing and how to push that towards the business of writing; a goal few writers (statistically) reach.

Simon began by exploring our personal goals. We were writers from different backgrounds and experience levels, but with the common goal of moving ourselves and our writing further along.

Simon led us through the six steps below, which he assured us would ensure freedom from ‘writer’s block’.

  1. A place to work
  2. Medium and conditions of writing
  3. Stimulating reading
  4. Inspiration boards
  5. Setting time
  6. Sketching

Sounds simple, deceptively so. These are the kind of steps you learn at the beginning of a BA in Creative Writing however it was refreshing to take the time on a Sunday afternoon, with Simon’s guidance and the supportive discussion with the group, to re-evaluate.

I realised how easily I developed habits that had been, and could still hinder my writing. Moving house meant that my writing space had stopped being exclusively mine which soon became an unconscious excuse. Challenging books had permanent fixtures on my shelves that stood unread, and procrastination or laziness often led to ignored opportunities for writing time.

We then moved to the topic of continuing to be inspired. Simon throughout the afternoon recalled his own experiences with his mentor and other writers; quoting writers, philosophers and more to illustrate the points being made.

The one line that truly stuck with me, was his own;

“not being inspired is often referred to as writer’s block”.

We discussed the different ways one can be inspired and how to use the little ways to reenergise our writing. Patience and mindfulness with the everyday is a critical part in this process but can be easily forgotten.

Which led us nicely into exploring sketching. Carrying a notebook everywhere is something many writers swear by (or swear when they don’t have it and are without the means to record thoughts that float away the instant they sit down to write). It allows us to pick up and record all the details that hit us on an emotional level, those sparks that hopefully will burn into story form. By taking the time to daydream and observe, and by giving up the idea of how we should feel, sketching can provide your own way into the unknown.

Next we discussed how to write your way into your own voice. Simon provided invaluable hints and tips before he spoke more about exploring form (short stories vs novels) and how our writing develops over time (a constant learning process).

Together we all dug into the trenches of writing – the detail in technique and style, why tenses and perspectives work for some characters but not others and the understanding that editors are the ones that can assist you in the removal of the scaffolding around your writing.

The conversations opened up to include Carrie Kania, Simon’s agent at Conville & Walsh, in the discussion on the business of writing providing us with the chance to ask questions and learn about the publishing industry first-hand. Coupled with Simon’s generous guidance, Carrie’s honest advice on working with small publishing houses, when to contact agents, and how to deal with contracts, were what made this course.

Although at the beginning of the workshop I had considered what I might learn, I was happily surprised at how taking this time to reassess has given me a new outlook in my writing practices and how I can continue to develop. Sometimes it can be as simple as retaking those first six steps.

More information:

Simon Van Booy was born in Great Britain and now lives in Brooklyn.  He is the author of The Secret Lives of People in Love, Love Begins in Winter (winner of the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award) and the novel, Everything Beautiful Began After.  His latest novel is The Illusion of Separateness.  His essays have appeared in the New York Times, The Daily Telegraph, The Times, The Guardian, and ELLE Men, (China), where he has a monthly column. He has also written for the stage, National Public Radio, and the BBC.  Simon teaches at SVA in Manhattan, and is involved in the Rutgers Early College Humanities Program for young adults living in under-served communities.  In 2013, he founded Writers for Children, an organization which helps young people build confidence in their talent, through annual writing awards. He was a finalist for the Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise, and his work has been translated into more than fifteen languages.

The workshop took place at The Society Club; ‘an independent bookshop, gallery and members club for the literary inclined. Set in the heart of Soho, The Society Club is a unique bookshop, gallery and cocktail bar. It’s elegant and welcoming like a Bohemian sitting room.’ To find out more about their events and when to visit, take a look at their fantastic new website.

Carrie Kania is an agent at Conville & Walsh and co-owns the bookstore The Society Club. Formerly of New York, where she was the Publisher of Harper Perennial and It Books, she now resides in London with her puppy Foxy Beckett. She is also a Consultant Editor for the Word Factory and is involved with the judging process of The Word Factory Apprenticeship.

Word from the Factory floor

Today I was high fived by Deborah Levy.

That is enough to describe how I am feeling, even at almost midnight. I want to tell you why and how this came to be. Word Factory. Two exceptional words when placed together and carried by the wonderful founder, Cathy Galvin.

Word Factory is so many things and will become so many more, but at the core it is a literary salon that concentrates on short form fiction which takes place once a month in The Society Club in Soho, London. Around that, the team at Word Factory (and I am honoured to say that I am part of that team as an associate editor) strive to bring news of the short story to writers and readers in the form of video, articles, networking…the list goes on. Condensed, we love the short story. We also love writers and we are writers. If you want to get to the heart of the reasons behind the Word Factory and what it will become then please read this fantastic article by Cathy herself.

I stumbled upon Word Factory. I will call it fate because things have happened in ways I cannot begin the fathom but I am just grateful for them. I found myself surrounded by a high percentage of my past and present writing colleagues who seemed to have gathered in yet another twist of fate. More obviously, they just know how good Word Factory is at presenting the very best writing and bringing together wonderful people. 

I was hooked and came along to the next few Word Factory events before jumping on the chance to become one of the team. Since then I have been involved with supporting events both in London and now Leicester, maintaining and helping to shape the future of the website and this weekend I got the chance to be part of the latest Word Factory Masterclass.

Everyone who signed up for the Masterclass weekend knew it was going to be good, great even. With the line up of Adam Marek, Julia Bell, David Vann, Alison Moore, Carrie Kania, and Deborah Levy it was destined to be amazing. We arrived at Birbeck’s Keynes Library following a Friday night spent at The Hauntings, a Word Factory salon run from Earlsfield Cemetery – betwitching readings that continue their spell on us provided by Adam Marek, Alex Preston, Tania Hersham and Stella Duffy.

The masterclass started with Adam leading us through dream confessions, exercising ill-paired combinations and then circuit training through word cricket, blackout techniques well as musical and pictorial exercises. After a much needed lunch break, our refreshed brains were then expanded by Julia’s exploration of time management in fiction. Closing off the day, David taught us how style is a choice and that generosity in characterisation is worth the challenge it presents.

Sunday began with Alison showing us how are word choices can provide deeper context to the truth at the core of our stories. The readings in this session were outstanding, the group providing support and inspiration to one another. After lunch in the winter sun, Carrie navigated us through the truths and myths of publishing and working with an agent, with dry wit and much appreciated honesty. Finally our weekend was concluded by a session commanded by Deborah who assisted us in finding our voices and to express our strengths and weaknesses in writing. This allowed us to take control, reclaim our work and ensure that our strengths and weaknesses are no longer a secret to ourselves.

And so, where I began we can conclude. Perhaps what was not expected was how we surprised ourselves. By the end of the weekend, I certainly now know more about myself as a writer and about how I am going to continue my writing journey with even more skills and experience.

Word factoryDeborah and Alison will be reading at Word Factory on 30th November at The Society Club, alongside Michele Roberts and Dave Lordan. With hope, there will be further master classes in 2014, and if you wish to find out more and get tickets to the salon on the 30th then sign up to the newsletters on the homepage to get the latest news from Word Factory. Come on in and join us on the factory floor.