The Weird and the wonderful: Q&A with Andrew Kaufman

Andrew Kaufman was born in the town of Wingham, Ontario. This is the same town that Alice Munro was born in, making him the second best writer from a town of 3000.  Here in the UK, his previous work, All My Friends are Superheroes, The Waterproof Bible, The Tiny Wife, were joined on 3rd January by the release of Born Weird. The five siblings of the Weird family find that they have been cursed by their grandmother, Annie Weird. Richard, the oldest, always keeps safe; Abba always has hope; Lucy is never lost and Kent can beat anyone in a fight. As for Angie, she always forgives, instantly. The narrative is led by Angie as she pulls her family back together to save them from these blursings (blessings turned curses) before Annie dies, properly this time.

Copyright Lee Towndrow

Alexa Radcliffe-Hart: Hi Andrew, thank you for taking the time to talk about Born Weird. Firstly, l’d like to say how much I enjoyed reading Born Weird, along with your other work. The ability to reimagine and create fresh fables seems to be something that naturally occurs for you. Is this your not-so-secret superhero power, or are you inspired by any particular writers who also have this skill or indeed current culture in general?

Andrew Kaufman: Honestly, I’m not sure where it comes from. Certainly the writers I love reading the most, Kafka, Chris Adrien, Amiee Bender, Kurt Vonnegut, are prone to exaggeration and fable-making. I just feel that metaphor and allegory are actually better at capturing real-life than realism is. To me realism can convey what the world is like, but magic realism can convey what it feels like to live in it.

ARH: That’s possibly the best description of the importance of magic realism that I have ever heard, thank you for that! I’ve read that you have an interesting relationship with your characters whereby, even though they may be some small part of you, you don’t always like them and they don’t like you. Do you find it easier to write from the viewpoint of a character that you dislike? And how do your writing processes differ between those you like and don’t like?

AK: Sometimes my characters are based on something I don’t like about myself. Working through their story is a way for me to work through this part of my personality. So, obviously, it is much harder to work with these characters because I’m actively trying to get rid of them. I want them gone! So it’s much harder to get any compassion going for them, to see where they’re coming from and understand them. I think that writing in the third-person, which I mainly do, which allows me to write from the perspective of the story-teller and not the characters, helps a bit too.

ARH: As you say, you tend to write in the third person but I felt that Born Weird is naturally led by Angie. However, that does not stop the other four siblings from being equally important. I was particularly drawn to Richard with his need for safety and Lucy’s inability to get lost. Did Angie lead the narrative from the beginning of the writing process or was it someone or something else that made you create the Weird Family?

AK: It was always Angie. She came first. The writing of this book was really improvisational – I didn’t make an outline and I wrote each plot point as I went along. It started the idea of the Blursings (Curse+Blessing) and I knew from page one what each of the siblings was blursed with. But as far as knowing who they were and how we were going to meet them, even the whole Dad thing, all that was something I stumbled across. I’m really happy to hear that you enjoyed Richard and Lucy as much as Angie. I wanted each sibling to feel as important as the others. I think this makes them really feel like a family.

ARH: How do you 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? I think you have a particular skill for this, but this may be a subjective experience for each of us and is not replicated for all readers, or is it?

AK: My strategy is pretty simple — use as few words as possible and keep myself as the writer out of the way. Because the things that resonate with readers are pretty simple. Stuff we feel every day, intensely. So I just try to state them simply, unadorned. And maybe, on a good day, in a way the reader hasn’t thought of yet.

ARH: Quite often it’s the simplest of strategies that get lost whilst we’re trying to create but forgetting what we really want to achieve; that connection with the reader. What is the worst assumption any aspiring writer can make about their work?

AK: That it won’t get better. It’s essential to set your standards high, but I’ve seen a lot of writers get discouraged and give up before they meet them.

ARH: So to keep them on their journey, what is the most important book any aspiring writer should keep by their side?

AK: The Elements of Style, William Strunk/E.B. White. Everything you need is right in there.

ARH: Ah, the much argued over “bible” of writing! Your website provides some wonderful insight into your writing and what provides inspiration for your imagination. My favourite of your favourite things, is the invention of new words. Along with blursings, featured in Born Weird, I particularly like lucased.

Lucased:
[Adj/Flex]
To achieve a degree of success that no one will tell you when you’re failing.

So, lastly, are there any other new words you’d like to share?

AK: Breadsinner – the guilt felt by a man who stays home and takes care of the kids while his wife goes off to work.
Digipearred – The use of technology to avoid real-life conversations and emotions.

The English language is missing so many words. Remember that dictionaries are products. Their authority on what words are valid is completely self-serving. Everyone should start making their own right now!

ARH: I think we’ll all be investing some new words from now on with that kind of inspiration!

http://www.harpercollins.co.uk/Titles/72946/born-weird-andrew-kaufman-9780007441402

Born Weird is available from 3rd January 2013 in hardback. If you’d like to hear Andrew read, he will be doing an ‘In Conversation With’ and signing at Piccadilly Waterstones on Wednesday 16 January at 6.30pm, and visiting ‘The Firestation Book Swap’ in Windsor on Thursday 17 January from 7.45pm.
http://www.harpercollins.co.uk/Titles/72858/the-tiny-wife-andrew-kaufman-9780007439232

Also launched last week was the paperback release of The Tiny Wife; a beautiful and delightful novella where a thief robs a bank in the West end of Toronto, but instead of taking money he demands – and receives – the item of most emotional significance from everyone. Claiming he’s taking 51% of their souls with him, it’s up to those robbed to grow them back. Although it’ll sound very strange, this is possibly the most beautiful love story ever written; doing what Andrew does best – conveying what it feels like to live in the real world, with a little bit of magic.

Literary Must-Reads…

RusbridgeSmithMcGregor
…from 2012 and coming in 2013.

As we shuttle towards the new year, here’s some recommendations to add to your library.

(come on, you know those Christmas pennies are burning a hole in your pocket).

This Isn’t The Sort Of Thing That Happens To Someone Like YouJon McGregor
For those whose new year resolutions revolve around reading a short story every day, start here. Sarah Hall describes this collection of stories as “strange and lovely masterpieces”, for me they are things of wonder, unusual beauty and inspiration.

The Bellwether RevivalsBenjamin Wood
This novel is astounding, simply astounding. The Bellwether Revivals is an intricately written exploration of an outsider, Oscar, entering the strange yet fascinating world of the Cambridge student family of the Bellwethers. The characters stay with you long after the pages are closed, and the fantastic and real world of the musical and medical opens your eyes to new possibilities and realities.

RookJane Rusbridge
Another musically inspired novel, Jane Rusbridge’s second novel Rook is simply stunning. You are dropped into the deep and muddy depths and allows you to explore the characters’ like hidden artifacts with the changing perspective of time. There’s much more information on Rook on the review and Q&A posts on this blog.

Artful – Ali Smith
As always, Ali Smith strives to ensure her work is not constrained by restrictive boxes for genre and style. Artful is a collection of essays intermingled within fiction, full of inspiring ideas and information as well as a little bit of the fantastic with a creative view of change and handling love and loss. I’ll be writing another post on this shortly as I think this is perfect for any literary writers, as well as generally being an insightful read.

Overheard: Stories to Read Aloud – ed. Jonathan Taylor
Stories are made to be heard, and this fantastic collection is another to dive into for the New Year. This collection includes stories by: Judith Allnatt, Jo Baker, Claire Baldwin, David Belbin, Kathleen Bell, Will Buckingham, P. J. Carnehan, Ailsa Cox, Katy Darby, Louis De Bernieres, Vanessa Gebbie, Denise Hayes, Tania Hershman, Jane Holland, Panos Karnezis, Hanif Kureishi, Joel Lane, Emma J. Lannie, Ian McEwan, Blake Morrison, Adele Parks, Simon Perril, Alexandros Plasatis, Kate Pullinger, Adam Roberts, Catherine Rogers, Lee Rourke, Salman Rushdie, Gemma Seltzer, Robert Shearman, Felicity Skelton, Karen Stevens, Jonathan Taylor, Maria Taylor, Sara-Mae Tuson, Deborah Tyler-Bennett, Michelene Wandor, Aimee Wilkinson. A long list, and I for one cannot wait to hear as many of the stories aloud at the launch on the 8th January 2013 at The Betsy Trotwood.

Born WeirdAndrew Kaufman
“The Weirds have always been a little off, but not one of them ever suspected that they’d been cursed by their grandmother.” Blessings that are really curses take their part in the five Weird children’s lives, and they resolve reunite the family and all their “blursings” before their grandmother dies, properly this time. This novel, due to be published on 3rd January is simply, but strangely affecting, it plays with language and possibilities until they are reality.

Short Circuit: a Guide to the Art of the Short Story – ed. Vanessa Gebbie
This second edition of the original guide to writing will be published on 15th April 2013, with new essays to bring up to date insight into the world of the short story. Each essay from a writing expert discusses their writing processes, whilst they share tried and tested writing exercises alongside lists of published work they find inspirational.

So these are my recommendations, but what are yours?

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.

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.

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.