Saturday, 31 December 2011

Happy New Year!

I hope you all had a good Christmas!

My short-short story 'Catwoman' placed in the 2011 Binnacle Ultra Short Competition. My contributor copy arrived in the post yesterday, and it's a beautiful little thing. The magazine is in a box:

And that box is filled with cards. Each card has a short biography of the writer on one side, and their story/poem on the back.

S'cute, no?

Today I'm writing, and making up short term and long term to-do lists. Crikey. I aim to enter the new year in the way I mean to go on - organised and finishing things. Yes.

Here's to a happy and healthy 2012 for all of us! I've pinched this from Neil's blog:


Thursday, 22 December 2011

poetry filming: Sonia Hensler & merry christmas

Smile for London are announcing the artists who are pairing up with poets to create poetry films for the London Underground in January. Sonia Hensler will be animating my poem about Oxford Circus. Sonia produces really cool collage-type-drawings, like the one shown over on the right. I'm really excited to see what she comes up with. You can read an interview with her over here.

You can read more about the videos and the collaborations on the Smile for London blog. [Please do excuse the video they found of me; it's from a while ago and I appear to be racing to the end of the poem I'm reading.]

I'm finishing bookselling-type-work early this year and, after closing up the bookshop tonight, I'm getting on a train up north, to Newcastle, for Christmas. So, festive tidings to you all! I hope that you all have a wonderful Christmas. Here's a baby polar bear. xxxx

Saturday, 17 December 2011

last call for Christmas

UK folks: s'the last chance [by Tuesday 20th] to order a copy of the 100 Poem collection to arrive in time for Christmas, as  present to yourself or someone else. *puts on Christmas hat*

The pamphlet, containing 100 poems, is a limited print run of 200, with a cover designed by Greg McLeod [also illustrating Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops]. They are numbered, and signed. £10, plus postage.

All proceeds [that's £8.60 from each sale, plus any money left over after postage costs] go to EEC International, funding research centres using stem cell research and gene therapy to find a cure for degenerative eye sight problems. 

Select Shipping Location


[If you'd like to order more than one copy, or you don't have a paypal account/paypal isn't working, then drop me an email]

Merry Christmas, folks. x

Sample poem:



There is field, and we are in it.
This is it, you say
crouching low over your shoes.

We prepared to leave as
milk bottles came
chose instead the ones
the tide brings - green

buckets on ropes
     hanging low
from our shoulders. We
find the cows out
in the field. A drunken farmer
too busy making
snow angels. We milk instead

then walk the twelve
     miles to the beach
avoiding slot machines
until our beds are checked.

On the edge of the pier
     we can begin again
to see ourselves. We dip
chipped mugs deep in buckets
     for our bones.

Friday, 16 December 2011

snow and poetry [but not so much snow]

I had some very nice news in my inbox this morning, saying I've won third prize in the Sentinel Annual Poetry Competition. Hurray! My poem 'the chicken, the egg and my sister' will be published in an anthology with the other winning poems early next year. For obvious reasons I can't show you the poem, but I can post some of the judge's report which describes the poem. Then you can have fun reconstructing the poem in your head, as you think it might be...

This is a surreal poem, powerful in its intensity, and disturbing in the vision it portrays. The writing unnerves via its rather matter-of-factual frankness; its exact depictions of individual acts of mutilation; and its exploration of illogical rationality. Each word is employed efficiently and effectively to convey the horror. Even though very few adjectives are used, the writing is visual; the tone almost coldly non-judgemental. The poem manages to contain the horror, the mental torture via a calculated use of technique.

I'm a little worried as to what poem you've all got in your head, now.

You can see a list of the winners and read the whole judge's report over here.

The other day I posted about Words in Motion, poetry going on the tube for two weeks in January, for which a poem of mine has been chosen. Words in Motion have been releasing the names of some of the other poets involved, and there are some pretty cool names in there. Jarvis Cocker, Salena Godden, Ross Sutherland to name a few. Emily Berry also had a poem picked; I love her collection Stingray Fevers. I'm really looking forward to seeing this project come together. 

Happy weekend! x

Thursday, 15 December 2011

a whole load of blog posts about bookshops

I love bookshops.

Well, I would, since I work in one.

I'm guessing, if you're reading this, that you love bookshops too.

In the New Year I want to do a series of blog post 'spotlights' about individual bookshops. Bookshops are important, and this article earlier in the week made me sad, and angry.

As my lovely agent said on Twitter: Amazon don't acknowledge how they benefit from existence of bookshops. If there are none, they will suffer. But we will suffer most.

Very true.

HOWEVER, these bookshop blog posts I'm going to do aren't about Amazon. They are about spreading the joy of physical bookshops - showing photos, talking about the books booksellers in particular love to sell. They are about talking about local communities, favourite customers, events and author signings. They are going to be about showcasing the wonderfulness of booksellers and bookshops worldwide.

So, if you're a bookseller [anywhere in the world], and you're reading this, and you'd like me to write a blog post about your bookshop then please email me. You'll need to answer some questions and send over some photographs later on, but for the moment a simple 'ME PLEASE' will do, and I'll whack you on a list.

Lots of love. x

ETA: Bookshop spotlight No. 1 - Ripping Yarns bookshop

#2 Constellation Books
#3 Storytellers, Inc.
#4 Belgravia Books

Sunday, 11 December 2011

poetry on the underground

I've always been a fan of Poems on the Underground, a project set up in 1986, displaying poems in over 3000 advertising spaces on London tubes. It makes me smile when I see one of these whilst commuting [oh, the dreaded rush hour!].

There's a new project that's happening early next year in the same vein. It's called Words in Motion, and moving advertising screens on London's underground will be taken over by poetry. The project called for submissions of poetry of forty words or less, along with audio files of the poems at 20 seconds or less - poetry that would help cheer up commuters during one of the coldest months of the year.  The poems chosen by the judging panel are being animated into 20 second typographic films by leading motion artists. Those films will then be played on screens on the London underground from the 16th of January for two weeks. One of my poems has been picked, and is currently being animated. I'm really looking forward to seeing the finished films of all of the poems. Hurray for poetry on the tube! I'm not sure which stations/lines they'll be showing but, when I know, I'll let you know.

100 Poem Challenge update: A big thank you to all who have bought a copy of the poetry collection so far. I've got the pamphlets from the printers, and they are now being posted as and when orders come in. Things with EEC International are really moving forward, and all money raised for medical research is very much needed. Next year the organisation is also going to work on creating an international database for all those with EEC, helping to further research. Following the 100 Poem Challenge, I heard from Cristina, who runs EEC International [based in Italy], and I have been appointed the Manager of EEC International for the UK, to help co-ordinate the register, help people with EEC Syndrome find the right doctors, help people connect with each other and give parents who have given birth to children with EEC information about the condition. This will be something I'll be doing in my spare time, and I'm very excited about getting involved and furthering the work of EEC Syndrome Awareness.

In other, completely different, news, our bookshop is looking all Christmassy. If you're looking for a pretty book for a Christmas gift then do stop by. If you're further afield but are hunting for a particular edition of an old book then drop us an email and we'll have a hunt for you. I wish we had this Christmas tree, sent to me by @ on Twitter. Best tree ever, no? x 

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops - at Christmas

Well, it is nearly Christmas....

Customer: I'd like a book for a friend, about saving the world from alien invasion. I'd like the main character to be a little like Freddie Mercury and a little like Arnold Schwarzenegger.


Customer: Do you still have that thing that was in your window? It was pink and fluffy.
Me: A book?  
Customer: No, it was a dog toy, I think - with a lead.
Me: Yeah, I think that was probably in the vet and pet store's window, two doors down. 


Customer: Do you have 'Windows 7 for Dummies'?
Me: Sorry, we're an antiquarian bookshop; nearly everything in here pre-dates computers.
Customer: Oh. Do you have user guide for antiquarian computers? You know from, like, the olden days, when they had swords and stuff?  
Me: ...?


Customer: Excuse me. Do you sell snow?
Me *thinking I've misheard*: Sorry. Snow?
Customer: Yes. SNOW.
Me: .... no. No we don't.


Customer: Do you have, like, a Christmas book about that, like, really famous baby?


a customer reading a book about the nativity.
Customer *to her friend*: Don't you ever get the feeling that Baby Jesus is somehow related to Herod? I always think that he's going to go: 'JESUS. I AM YOUR FATHER.'


Customer: Do you have a vending machine in here?


Customer: Do you think you could post this book to America for me, in time for Christmas?
Me: Yes. I'm sure we could. I'll just get the scales and I can work out postage costs for you.
Customer: You expect me to pay for the postage as well? I'm already paying for the book!
Me: ...


the real Mr Scrooge...
Customer: I'd like a Christmas book, about Christmas, that doesn't have anything to do with snow, or robins, or snowmen, or Jesus, or holly.
Me: ... right.
Customer: And no bloody carols, either!


Customer: Do you have any cards?
Me: We have some old postcards in a box by the door. Some of them have already been written on, though.
Customer: Oh, do you have one that says 'To Juliette, with love from Christine'? It would save me writing it out again, you see.


Child *to me*: Does Santa come to your bookshop to get gifts for kids?
Me *nodding wisely*: Yes. Yes. He absolutely does.
Child: That's awesome!
Me: Yes, it is.
Child: But...
Me: But what?
Child: But... Santa's really fat. I don't think he could squeeze through the gaps in the bookshelves.
Me: It's ok. He sends us a list before hand, and we leave the books by the door.
Child: That makes you Santa's elf!
Me: Yes... yes, I suppose it does.

Merry Christmas, folks. x

Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops [UK] / Weird Things Customers Say in Bookstores [US/Canada]

Monday, 5 December 2011

poems on postcards all over the world [and how poetry's working hard to stop houses burning down!]

The initial part of the 100 Poem Challenge had people donating with the option to have one of the 100 poems written on a postcard and posted to out to them [wherever they happened to be!]. So I spent a lot of time after 5th and 6th November carefully writing poems out by hand, and then sending them out here, there and everywhere. I'm really thrilled with how everyone's interacted with this project, and it's lovely to see the poems on postcards in their new homes across the world:

in Sweden [with a lot of Terry Pratchett books]


Western Australia [tucked inside an advent calendar]

with postcards also posted out to New Zealand, Canada, Japan, Germany, Netherlands, and the UK.

displayed on windows, on pinboards and bookshelves


& I have to mention one poem on a postcard in particular. Chris [@book_recycling] said that he'd like me to write a poem about 'fire and rescue' - because he works as a volunteer firefighter. So, on the weekend of 100 poem writing, that became poem #84:



I am called
to stop you becoming
the icarus girl.

Ladders guessing
just how tall you are.

Hair down like Rapunzel.


I then hand wrote that poem on a postcard, and sent it to Chris. That postcard now resides in their fire engine. Check it out!

Amazing. Chris informs me that this poem-on-a-postcard-in-a-fire-engine has so far been to two house fires, one road traffic accident and two automatic fire alarms. Emergency poetry! Fabulous. Thanks Chris!


If you'd like to buy the poetry collection of all 100 poems, please head over here

[Thank you to everyone who sent me a photo of the postcard in their home [sorry if yours isn't included above; there were so many!]]

Friday, 2 December 2011

100 Poem Challenge poetry collection - for sale!

*100 Poem Challenge poetry collection is now sold out. Many thanks to those who bought a copy or who donated to the cause. A total of £4250 [that's 5000euros/$6800] was raised for EEC International. 

Details of the challenge itself can be found below, and also at


We spent biology lessons in summer months
exploring rock pools. Prefect ties to hold
our hair up. Fishing for pound coins
as though they're wishing wells. Instead
claimed witch hair, wet ankle socks.
Salt living under finger nails.

On the 5th and 6th November 2011, I wrote 100 poems in 48 hours to raise money for EEC International, a charity who fund research into EEC Syndrome [a condition I have], especially eye sight problems to do with gene p63. It is likely that people who have EEC Syndrome will lose their sight. If a cure could be found for this then it would benefit thousands of people [not just those with EEC] worldwide.

All proceeds from the sale of these poetry collections will go to EEC International [that's £8.60 per sale after printing costs].

This is a limited print run of 200, with a cover designed by Greg McLeod [also illustrating Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops]. They are numbered, and signed. £10, plus postage.

It's printed high quality, 52 pages, and contains all of the poems from the challenge. If you liked the poems and you'd like a physical copy of all of them, then this is for you.


[If you'd like to order more than one copy, or you don't have a paypal account/paypal isn't working, then drop me an email]

[Bear in mind, if you're buying for Christmas presents, that these are being posted from the UK. I will have the pamphlets by mid-week, and will be posting them out to you straight away.] 


Sample Poem:


In those days we'd sleepwalk.
It was easier for us to see the city that way.
The daytime gave us kitchen steam,
flour tilting like November snow. At night
we'd trudge through gardens
that our house had never seen.
We would run and cup non-existent light.

Mostly, we dressed up as birds. Mary's favourites
were the leather swans. Black feathers in her bedsheets
and a zip up to her neck. We'd walk
together and in lines -
our wings hooping every lamppost.
In the mornings we'd bathe our swollen feet. Inch
our claws along the frozen tiles -
make-believe that we could fly again.

[tag word: SNOW]


Happy Friday!

Any questions, please feel free to email me.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

more paper sculptures

I am buzzing away, a very busy bee. Working on several projects at once and making my mind boggle. At the moment [as in right now, well not right now, because right now I'm writing this] I'm finishing off a radio play that's been on my to-do list for some time. I wrote a play earlier in the year, and the BBC said 'we like this very much, but it is not long enough - write more!' So, dutifully, I am writing more. We will see if it goes anywhere. At any rate, I'm having fun writing it.

A couple of people who bought poems on postcards [you lovely people] expressed concern about how much the postcards and postage costs must have taken from the donation. Fret not, my friends! I paid for all the postage,  postcards etc myself. I did not take any money from the donation box. That was a little expensive, but think of it as my own money-esque contribution [considering this charity pretty much benefits me personally in the medical field].

The 100 poem poetry pamphlet will go on sale in the next couple of days. I should receive a proof from the printers tomorrow. So, more on details of how to buy one very soon.

Now. You may remember my blog post a few weeks ago about the anonymous paper sculptures that had been donated to literary places around Edinburgh. Like this beautiful thing:

If not, you can read it here. They are very beautiful, and now the whole set [all ten] has been discovered. One of them was even left at my old bookshop for Ian Rankin. Here he is with it.

And two others: a book left at the National History Museum

with a dinosaur tucked inside, and many tiny men with guns surrounding it.

And this wonderful book sculpture left at the Writers' Museum:


as well as a cap and pair of gloves made out of paper left at The Scottish Poetry Library, along with this letter from the artist, who still wishes to remain anonymous:

It's been a wonderful project to follow. You can read more about it, and see all of Chris's photos [some of which shown above] over here.

This story has made my heart happy. x

Saturday, 26 November 2011

poetry, pamphlets, christmas

A quick little blog post.

All the poems on postcards from 100 Poem Challenge have been posted. If you're in the UK, you should have yours by now. If you're further away, you should receive your postcard next week. Hurrah!

In the next week or so, I will be selling limited edition collections of the 100 poems from the 100 Poem Challenge, bound together, numbered and signed, with an beautiful cover illustrated by the lovely Greg McLeod [who is also illustrating Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops].

Look, here's the cover:

Pretty, no? There will be 200 copies. They will go on sale on this blog. All proceeds go to EEC International. [*cough*they will make nice Christmas presents*cough*]. Greg's just finishing up the artwork for the back cover and, once that's done, they will whizz off to the printers. Check back soon.

Speaking of Christmas presents and charity, the lovely Blackwells in Edinburgh has a Children's Book Tree [which I found via Nicola Morgan.] On this tree, staff hang requests from children who are either vulnerable or have some reason for extra need. Then customers either come into the shop or phone on 0131 622 8225 and buy one of the gifts, which then gets wrapped up and given to the child in time for Christmas. A fabulous cause, no? I just called up and bought a copy of Northern Lights for a teenage girl. So, if you can, please do give them a call and buy a book for a vulnerable child this Christmas.


Thursday, 17 November 2011

Author Visit: Joe Dunthorne

All who reply to this topic by 1st December [no matter where you live] will have their names put into a hat. The name pulled out of that hat will win a copy of Joe's book Wild Abandon

Joe Dunthorne was born and brought up in Swansea, and is a graduate of the University of East Anglia's Creative Writing MA, where he was awarded the Curtis Brown prize. His poetry has been published in magazines and anthologies and has featured on Channel 4, and BBC Radio 3 and 4. A pamphlet collection, Joe Dunthorne: Faber New Poets 5 was published in 2010.

His first novel, Submarine, the story of a dysfunctional family in Swansea narrated by Oliver Tate, aged 15, was published in 2008, and was made into a film. His new novel, Wild Abandon, was published August 2011. 


Joe! Welcome. Grab some snacks, plonk yourself on a beanbag. Make yourself at home. Sum up your new novel for those who haven't got their mitts on it yet. Sell it, sell it, sell it.
I’ve been trying hard to find a one line summation and, after much struggle, I have this: the end of a marriage, the end of a commune, the end of the world.
Put in more expressive terms, it’s about a commune in Wales that splits in to two warring factions as the married couple who started the commune break up. It’s also about the apocalypse. And blood soup.
How long did it take you to write? Did you find it easier, or harder, than writing your first book?
It took three years and, yes, it was way harder than writing my first book. Not just because of the extra pressure, but also because of the technical difficulties in writing a third-person, multi-narrative story with lots of characters. I thought it would be a good idea to challenge myself but I had not through the consequences of that challenge. It was tough, but I feel like a better writer for having got through it. Next time, to make things easier, I’m going to write a first-person novel with no characters, no plot, no words. There, that’s done.
What's your publication story [from writing your first book, through to the book deal]?
I started at twelve, writing text adventure computer games. My first hit was called Depression where the only outcomes were different kinds of suicide. Then, at fifteen, I wrote lyrics for my band, Peanuts Are Bad (named after my allergy.) Then, at seventeen, I wrote soppy poems. Then at twenty-two, I started Submarine. I was lucky enough to win prize at UEA with it and that helped me find an agent who, in turn, helped me find a publisher.
Where do you find yourself writing the most? [In a summer house, chained to a desk, upside down, hanging from the ceiling etc etc?]
I’m either in my kitchen, or in my office, which is a converted Jubilee line train carriage on a roof in east London. You can see it here: It’s a space I share with architects, theatre companies, designers and lots of others. It’s great, but cold in winter. I have to break the ice on the kettle water, some mornings.
I know you were involved quite a lot in the filming of 'Submarine.' Seeing how your book morphed into script, what was left out/what changed for screen – has this process changed how you write now? Has it made you look at aspects of writing in a different way? Did it make you want to do some script writing? [Ok, that was a lot of questions in one go, sorry].
I try not to think about film when I’m writing prose. I concentrate on what work’s best for the reader, and banish all other thoughts. As for scriptwriting, I’m intrigued by the idea but I’m also nervous of giving up so many of my writerly tricks and tools. I’m not sure I could survive without a trusty simile.
You write poetry, too [Joe has a pamphlet out with Faber]. Do you find you have to be in a different frame of mind to write poetry? Does an idea for a poem come to you in a different form than an idea for a piece of prose?
It’s all writing, as I see it. Usually, I write poetry as a form of procrastination from short stories, and short stories as a way to escape a novel I should be writing, and a novel as a way to avoid poetry. So the cycle of life is complete.
There are plenty of skills specific to poetry -- line breaks, rhyme, meter -- but they all feed back in to my prose in some way. Usually, if I have an idea, it’s pretty clear whether it’s destined to be a poem, a story or -- rarely -- a novel.
Where are you at the moment? 
I’m in Toronto now at the International Festival of Authors. It’s beautiful. I’m looking out over a huge lake. Yesterday, I went in search of the city’s biggest burger.
Where would most like to do a reading of your work?
Um... in Fiji?
Tell us about the England Writers' Team.
We are, as you might guess, a football team of writers. When I used to play for us regularly, we were notoriously rubbish. Since I’ve left we have gone a winning streak. The Writers’ Team is one of the best reasons to become a writer. [Jen: Perhaps the England Writers' Team should play The Authors Cricket Club. Obviously you should either play football or cricket; you shouldn't have a game where half the players play football, and the other half play cricket. That's just unnecessarily confusing.]
On our book forum, we have The Book Tree, where members post their favourite books to everyone, and everyone writes their own comments inside. If you were to send a book round The Book Tree, which would you pick and why?
White Noise -- by Don De Lillo. It has the best set-piece in all literature: a sixty-page scene that follows a family’s evacuation from their town following a chemical spill. The chapter’s called Toxic Airborne Event. There’s a band named after it, I noticed. As the different possible side-effects of exposure to the chemical are announced on the radio, the children in the back seat of the car pretend to have each new symptom in turn. It’s funny, clever, surprising and serious.
What are you working on at the moment, and what are your plans for the future?
Poems! I’m having a break from prose to get back to my poetry. It feels good.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

books what I've recently and rather liked #2

For the Messengers - Jude Cowan.

I have been meaning to post about this for so long. I performed alongside Jude in 2009 and she's all kinds of wonderful. In early 2008 Jude began to write poems in response to the un-packaged daily news footage she was archiving for the Thomson Reuters news agency. She continued throughout what proved, globally, to be a tumultuous and historic year. This book is filled with beautiful and thought-provoking poems. I highly recommend it.

Saudi Arabia: Oil Hunters

Before the oil we were shepherds
and drivers of camels, chasing stars,

crossing unmarked borders. Beneath
the wide tent we drank-in quiet,

our teapots nestled in roasting charcoal.
Then came oil. Wellheads bloomed, their

metal trunks withstanding desert heat,
growing strong on rich calories of black blood.

Riyadh teems with petrol pumps, and down
its streets we shunt in mighty machines,

managed by signs directing our migrations.
Transparent parabolas praise the cliff

of Kingdom Tower, water plays
like children at its palm-strewn feet.

Jude's got a mixed-media exhibition of 'For The Messengers' in London this month, running until the 27th November. I'm hoping to get there myself. It's had rave reviews. All details here


Why Be Happy When You Could by Normal? - Jeanette Winterson.

“I don't know how to answer. I know what I think, but words in the head are like voices underwater. They are distorted.”

I have loved Jeanette Winterson's work ever since reading 'Oranges are Not The Only Fruit' -one of the books, as Rebecca Makkai put it, that 'saved me'. Why Be Happy... is the autobiography behind Oranges. I made the mistake of reading the majority of it on a train. Do not do this. I managed to avoid crying the first time, but just an hour ago, whilst finishing it on a train to London, I ended up blubbing and received some strange looks. However, I care not. This book is worth that. It is worth so much more than that.

Jeanette's honesty and bravery in this book is so powerful. She is adopted. Her adoptive mother has no time for anything but God; she sews 'The summer is ended and we are not yet saved' on Jeanette's gym bag. They all live in the End Time, waiting for the apocalypse. Books are banned in the house, so Jeanette collects them and hides them under her mattress. Her mother finds them, throws them out of the window and burns them in the back garden. When Jeanette falls in love with a girl, the whole church tries to exorcise the devil from her; her mother disowns her. 'After the exorcism, I went into a mute state of misery. I used to take my tent and sleep up in the allotment. I didn't want to be near them. My father was unhappy. My mother was disordered; we were refugees in our own lives.'

If you love Oranges then you will love this. If you haven't read Oranges, then I'm not speaking to you until you do.

“I seem to have run in a great circle, and met myself again on the starting line.”

there but for the - Ali Smith

Another one I've been meaning to blog about for ages. I read it one sitting, the day it came out this summer. Ali Smith, like Jeanette Winterson, is a god to me. Seriously. This is the story of Miles, a man who doesn't know where his life is going, who locks himself in someone else's bedroom when attending a dinner party. Miles is questioning everything in life: its point and the absences in it, and the dinner party is held by Jen and Eric [generic, get it? She's so clever]. This book is about time and place and history. It is about identity. It is beautiful.

What shop did this book come from? she asked. Her father was looking worried at the cooker. He always got rice wrong. I don't know, Brooksie, he said, I don't remember. That was unimaginable, not remembering where a book has come from! and where it was bought from! That was part of the whole history, the whole point, of any book that you owned! And when you picked it up later in the house at home, you knew, you just knew by looking and having it in your hand, where it came from and where you got it and when and why you'd decided to buy it.

I'm just narked that I'm going to have to wait another few years for another book of hers. I've read everything she's written, more than once. I must re-read again. If you haven't read any Ali Smith before, I'd start with her short stories, or The Accidental, or this, or her play, or anything of hers really; it's all fantastic.


The Sense of an Ending - Julian Barnes.

This may seem a slightly boring/predictable choice, as it just won the Booker Prize and so it's on a lot of people's 'to-read' piles, but that doesn't mean I shouldn't shout about it. I enjoyed it, very much. It's only a little thing, but manages to be a wonderful mixture of funny, heart-breaking and a slap in the face. I like to think that the end of the book is set around Archway Road [where Ripping Yarns is], but it probably isn't. Still, I shall pretend. There's a big twist, and I didn't see it coming. I now want to re-read the whole thing because I know I'll read it in a completely different way.


St Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves - Karen Russell

Simply the best short story collection I have read in years. I cannot do it justice here. I only ask that you read it.

So, go on. Off you go. x

Friday, 11 November 2011

poetry, postcards, short stories and post

Happy Friday, folks. It's taken me the best part of this week to recover from last weekend [that sounds melodramatic, I know, but true!]. This is probably because I've not actually taken a break, ha. I've been working at the bookshop during the day, working on several writing projects in the evenings and have just started writing out the poems on postcards from last weekend. M and I spent all of last night matching poems up with appropriate postcards.

I've had messages from people asking when postcards will arrive. Poems 1-21 went out in the post today, so those should be with people soon.  I'll be sending them out in batches over the next week or so; please bear with me, and remember that I'm the arthritic writer missing several fingers, so writing masses of stuff by hand is not my strong point ;). If you have bought a poem, please let me know when it arrives. It might be cool if you could also email me a photo of where you display it, then I can put the photos up on the blog showing where the poems are all over the world.

(I'm also currently investigating releasing the 100 poems in a limited edition pamphlet, to sell on my blog to raise a little more money for EEC International. I'm 95% sure that this will go ahead, so watch this space).

In other news: Poetry: yesterday I got an email from Patricia McCarthy [editor of Agenda] saying that I've been picked as one of their Chosen Young Broadsheet Poets, which I'm very excited about. Some of my work appeared in their online broadsheets [15 and 16] earlier this year. Now four poems of mine will be published in a book-sized print edition of theirs some point soon.

Short stories: this year's edition of Short FICTION is out. It includes a short story by me called Fringe, about a girl called Linnea who gatecrashes plays at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, spending her life taking on the parts of other people. It's been illustrated, too. You can order a copy over here.

I'll be back soon with an interview with the lovely Joe Dunthorne, and also a blog post with some book recommendations. In the mean time, farewell, and happy weekend! x

Monday, 7 November 2011

100 Poem Challenge - complete!

Forty five minutes ago, at ten minutes to midnight, I completed my 100 Poem Challenge - writing 100 poems in 48 hours for charity. Hurrah! There was much stress, and some swearing, and definitely not much sleep, but I got there in the end. Thank you so much to everyone who supported me on Twitter throughout the weekend. I couldn't have done it without you!

Here's the final poem:


There is field, and we are in it.
This is it, you say
crouching low over your shoes.

We prepared to leave as
milk bottles came
chose instead the ones
the tide brings - green

buckets on ropes
     hanging low
from our shoulders. We
find the cows out
in the field. A drunken farmer
too busy making
snow angels. We milk instead

then walk the twelve
     miles to the beach
avoiding slot machines
until our beds are checked.

On the edge of the pier
    we can begin again
to see ourselves. We dip
chipped mugs deep in buckets
     for our bones.


You can read all one hundred poems over here.

If you like what you see, please consider donating some pennies.

And now I shall drink some wine. Yes yes. WINE, and then sleep. Lots of sleep. 

Lots of love x

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Midnight has come and gone, which means that 100 Poem Challenge is officially here! Eek!

I haven't planned out any poems, I haven't made any drafts. I haven't even examined the tag words to think of ideas because it felt like cheating. I will be doing ALL of the work this weekend.

I've just written the first poem, and posted it. Now I'm off to bed, will get up early and work work work all weekend. Running total for the challenge is $3672/£2275 raised for EEC International. You all are amazing.

Poem #1

...Mostly, we dressed up as birds. Mary's favourites
were the leather swans. Black feathers in her bedsheets
and a zip up to her neck. We'd walk
together and in lines -
our wings hooping every lamppost...

 [read it all over here]

Tweet and spread the word this weekend, if you can. I hope you enjoy reading the poems. All of them will be posted, as I write them, over here. x

ETA: It's the morning, so here's a video of me talking about it, in glittery tights, with a tortoise. Oh yes.

Poems over here.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

so, I think I love you all

Three weeks into my campaign to raise money for EEC International - the running total has just hit $3000 [£1880]. I'm overwhelmed! Thank you so much to those who have been donating, and to those who have been spreading the word about the challenge via Twitter and facebook. It means such a lot; they are an amazing charity who do fantastic work.

I was also very excited to see this tweet today:

as well as a retweet from the lovely Neil Gaiman. Amazing.

After the weekend of 100 Poem Writing, I'll be making a video about the challenge which will be shown at the EEC conference in Italy later this month, and in the new year I'll be doing a poetry talk for the RNIB, which I'm really looking forward to.

This weekend [5th and 6th] is the weekend itself - writing the 100 Poems. It's suddenly looking like a very scary task indeed! Tweets of encouragement during that time are welcomed, as are shouts to ask if I'm still awake ;) I shall be living on caffeine and chocolate and cheese. Oh yes. If you'd like to send me words to inspire a poem, please do. You can leave them in the comments box or tweet me.

So yes. Thank you thank you thank you to those who have donated so far. If you haven't yet and you'd like to, then the link is here - every single penny counts. £1. £2, whatever you can. Tweet, spread the word. All the poems will be posted, as I write them online [link is on the donation page]. Thank you all so much x

Monday, 31 October 2011

Author Visit: Rebecca Makkai

I read 'The Borrower' earlier this month and completely fell in love with it. I had to get in touch with Rebecca and ask her to come along and talk to you all about it, and she said yes. Hurrah! So, here she is. Make yourselves comfortable.

All who reply to this post by the 15th November will have their names put into a hat. The name pulled out of that hat will win a copy of Rebecca's book. [Doesn't matter which part of the world you live in!]


Rebecca Makkai is a Chicago-based writer whose first novel, The Borrower, is an Indie Next pick and has garnered rave reviews in O Magazine, BookPage and Booklist among others. Her short fiction will appear in The Best American Short Stories this autumn for the fourth consecutive year, and appears regularly in journals like Tin House, Ploughshares, New England Review and Shenandoah. 

Hi Rebecca! Welcome to my blog. Make yourself at home. Have a biscuit, take a seat.

Hello! Delicious biscuit, by the way! [Why thank you]

Sum up 'The Borrower' for those who haven't got their hands on it yet.

A librarian inadvertently kidnaps a ten-year-old boy. Or, a ten-year-old boy blackmails a librarian into kidnapping him. Depends on your mood.

What sparked the idea for the book? A particular character, a storyline?

Ian, the boy in the book, has been enrolled by his mother in an anti-gay class because she fears he isn’t masculine enough. About ten years ago I found out that such classes exist, and that was the original spark for the novel.

What's your writing routine?

It mostly involves getting out of my house. I’ve got two toddlers, so escape is mandatory. Beyond that, I’m not very superstitious. I just sit and write. (I think a lot of writers try to tell a big story about routine as part of their mystique. I’ve even heard one writer claim she keeps a bowl of water on her desk, and when she sits to write she runs her hands through it to calm herself. I call that malarkey for several reasons, the most important being that no writer would ever in a million years put water next to her computer. Right?)

What was the most exciting part of the publishing process for you? Where were you when you found out the book deal was confirmed?

I was incredibly fortunate in that there were several editors bidding on my book, and I knew this ahead of time. The day it went to auction I was teaching (I teach elementary level at a Montessori school), and I sneakily checked my phone every hour or so to see what my agent had texted me. Then I just went back to triangles and verbs and whatever else we were doing that day. I think I’d have been ripping my hair out if I’d just been sitting around at home.

The most exciting thing, though, was probably back on the day I first signed with my agent. I knew she was good enough to sell the book, so that was the moment when I felt like it was all going to happen.

Have you come across parents like Ian's in real life [I know I have], and have you ever known a boy like Ian you wanted to save from their parents' oppression?

Although quite a few adult friends have told me about growing up in households like this, I’ve fortunately never had to encounter parents like that firsthand. I certainly wouldn’t react as fecklessly as Lucy does, but I also wouldn’t be able to keep my mouth shut.

Have you had any backlash from people or organisations such as Exodus International since the publication of your book?

No. Somehow I doubt that they’re big readers of contemporary literary fiction... There have been a few reviews on Amazon and the like (which, for the sake of sanity, I’ve long stopped looking at) where readers said things like “I’m not a bigot or anything, but I didn’t like the blatantly pro-gay agenda,” then gave it a low ranking. I don’t mind them not liking my book (I probably wouldn’t like theirs), but I wonder if they know how ridiculous and transparent those statements are.

Tell us about The Trevor Project.

I’ve linked to The Trevor Project on my website and elsewhere, and it’s an organization we can’t highlight enough. They’re a counselling and suicide-prevention lifeline for LGBTQ youth, and they were the first ones to do something like this on a major scale in the US. I’d always assumed it was named after someone we lost, but in fact Trevor is the character in the Oscar-winning movie of the same name.

What are you reading at the moment?

I’m reading another debut novel, The History of History, by Ida Hattemer-Higgins, and it’s wonderful so far. I’m also picking my way through The Disappearing Spoon by Sam Kean, about the periodic table.

What are you up to when you're not writing?

Teaching, being a mother, cooking, yoga, gardening. Most of the writers I know are drawn to things like cooking that are very tangible and finite. When you’ve been working for a year on something that’s just a computer file and a story in your head, and you don’t know if it will ever amount to anything or if you’ll even finish, it can be very therapeutic just to make some soup. It’s done in one evening, and you eat it, and there’s very little angst involved. And you can’t go back and revise it the next day.

Are you allowed to tell us about your second novel, The Happensack?

I’m allowed to, but I’ve been warned by other writers not to ruin it by talking too much. I’m saying the same thing to everyone, which is that it’s the story of a haunted family and a haunted house, told in reverse.

In The Borrower, you say that books save us. [That part made me cry, by the way.] I couldn't agree more. What books have saved you?

To name one: When I was six years old, my teacher read us The Twits by Roald Dahl. It’s one of his typically ridiculous stories, a really violent one in fact, but it was the first time I’d ever heard of a deeply dysfunctional family other than my own. That book meant so much to me that I copied the entire thing out by hand.


"This story - often fun, sometimes sad, always bookish - deals with big issues... Rebecca Makkai's literary debut will appeal to young adults and readers of adult literary fiction."--We Love This Book

"Ian is a little star. His many sayings and observations that he'll burst out with are endearing - and often funny. It's clear that Lucy is smitten by her favourite 'borrower.'"--The Bookbag

"Makkai takes several risks in her sharp, often witty text, replete with echoes of children's classics from 'Goodnight Moon' to 'The Wonderful Wizard of Oz', as well as more ominous references to Lolita...the moving final chapters affirm the power of books to change people's lives even as they acknowledge the unbreakable bonds of home and family. Smart, literate and refreshingly unsentimental."--Kirkus

"Rarely is a first novel as smart and engaging and learned and funny and moving as 'The Borrower.'"--Richard Russo, Pulitzer Prize-winning and bestselling author of That Old Cape Magic and Empire Falls

"The Borrower's out and out charm is heightened by its furious, righteous heart and conviction that books offer salvation and hope when life is messy and near-unbearable"--Marie Claire

The Borrower

Monday, 24 October 2011

Author Visit: Jane Davis

All who reply to this interview by the 8th November will have their names put into a hat. The name pulled out of that hat will win a copy of Jane's book 'Half-Truths and White Lies.'


Jane lives with her partner of ten years in Surrey, in a ridiculously impractical timber-framed house that they love, and have sunk a small fortune into. If they ever move, it will be because they have run out of space to house their CD collection.

She had written as a hobby for a number of years, whilst pursuing a career in insurance, but recently took a leap of faith and 'retired' from full-time work, just at the onset of a major recession. 

In October 2008, her first novel, Half-truths and White Lies, was selected as the winning title of the Daily Mail First Novel Award. 


Hi Jane! Welcome to my blog. Make yourself comfortable.

Hi Jen, and thank you. I have my pint of coffee and I’m ready to go...

Tell us about ‘Half-Truths and White Lies’

My working title for the book was ‘Venn Diagrams,’ born out of a request from a colleague to draw a diagram to represent my (somewhat complicated) network of family and friends. Transworld quite rightly pointed out that the phrase was coined in the 50’s and might not mean anything readers of a certain age, and that others might confuse the book with a mathematical textbook. But for me, overlapping circles remains a far better way of illustrating modern families than the traditional tree.

Half-truths and White Lies was my second attempt at writing a novel. My first, having drawn on my own life a little too often, remains buried in that special bottom drawer reserved for dusty manuscripts. The only decision I made was to write about a family as far removed from my own as possible: a father, a mother and one daughter – so I didn’t have too many characters to play around with. And then by the end of chapter three, I had managed to kill two of them off.

From this you can probably gather that I am not a great plotter. I get to know my characters and then I rely on them taking me along for the ride. This approach does tend to result in a crisis three quarters of the way through when I have to work out how to get from C to D.

There is a school of thought that tells you that must have a detailed plot before you start writing. If that was the case, I would never have put pen to paper. I choose to take the advice of authors who say exactly the opposite:

Debby Holt claims that there are plot-driven novels and character-driven novels. Hers fall into the latter category and I’m with her.

Stephen King’s advice from his book On Writing: is to start with a single question and see how that idea develops. The question always begins ‘what if?’

Sir Terry Pratchett uses a method that he calls The valley of the Clouds. In the valley of the clouds there are mountains but you can only see the very tops of the peaks. It is your job as an author to work out how to get to the mountains.

As often happens when something I am working on is nearing completion, I found that someone else had got there first – except that this was not another author: it was a news report describing almost the exact same scenario.

To give you a taste of what Half-truths is about, firstly, it’s the struggle of a young woman to find her own identity after she loses her parents in a horrific motor accident. It’s also a story of two sisters who were treated very differently by their parents, one labelled as beautiful and one labelled as clever, and the impact that those labels had on them. It’s a story about that very confusing word called love, and that particular situation when we cross the line between friendship and something more, and all of the messy repercussions that follow. It’s about the choices and decisions we make and how the impact of those decisions resonate through time. It’s about the secrets between a group of family and friends, and the lengths that they will go to to keep them hidden. It’s the story of what one man will go to undo the damage he’s done. And it’s about forgiveness, because it’s amazing what friendship is capable to surviving. But, of course, there’s no one character who knows the whole truth at the beginning. And our starting point is this very volatile situation in the aftermath of the accident when the characters are at their most vulnerable and anything could give. It’s a bit like my house which is very old and decrepit: my partner Matt will start tapping a patch of loose plaster and suddenly he finds himself with a pile of rubble where the wall should be.

Chance played a great role in my route to publication. It was by chance that I heard about the Winchester Writer’s conference a week before it was held in 2008. And it was by chance that I chose to attend a lecture held by Jack Sheffield of Teacher Teacher fame. Because if those two things hadn’t happened, I wouldn’t have learned about the Daily Mail first novel award – two days before the deadline for entries.

How long did it take you to write?

Considering that I was working full-time, not very long at all! My first attempt at a novel took four and a half years with a very stop-start approach. Working two evenings and week and the mornings of my weekends (with occasional time off for good behavior) the first draft took me a year.

Giving up your job in insurance to pursue your writing career must have been an exhilarating and terrifying thing to do. Talk us through that.

Yes and no. It was a job I had been in for 23 years, having seen an embryonic team grow into a medium-sized business that still had a family feel, but then had to be sold to a large corporation in order to allow the Managing Director to retire. The last year had been hard – I have always accepted the need to fire people, but making a large portion of the staff, some of whom I had worked with for 20 years, redundant was soul destroying. Until I left, I didn’t realize how much the role of Deputy MD had hardened me and how much I had begun to dislike myself. So I’m a lot more comfortable with myself now and that’s a good thing.

The lack of money, the lack of a monthly pay packet was another thing. I am not one of life’s natural risk-takers. I like security and I have what I think of as a healthy fear of poverty. I had grown very fond of adventurous holidays and L K Bennett handbags. I have since found that neither of these things is essential.

My contract prevented me from working for the competition for two years, so I planned on giving myself a two-year sabbatical, with the challenge of trying to get my work published. With only vague memories of the word Recession, a few weeks in, with doom and gloom in every news report, the honeymoon period was well and truly over. I began to think that I had made a serious mistake. And then on 15th October, two days before my birthday, I got the call that changed everything.

Where were you when you heard you’d won the Daily Mail First Novel Award? What went through your head? Who did you tell first? How did you celebrate?

I received the call from Transworld when I was at home on my own and, because I was alone, I wasn’t quite sure how to react. There was no one to ask, ‘Did that just happen?’ I can completely understand the sentiments of Myrrah Stanford Smith who, at the age of 82, signed a three book deal with Honna. Receiving the news by telephone (as I did), she says that she was 'Gob-smacked. She insisted on putting down the phone, pulling herself together and ringing them back to make sure it was true. She had expected the manuscript to be returned with a rejection letter. Myrrah also summed up what it means to see your work in print beautifully. She said "To have my book, my words, in my hands as my very own book - it was wonderful."
I tried to phone my partner who was in a meeting. I phoned a friend who I thought would be at home, but wasn’t, so I left a message. Even my mother was out. But word soon spread through the wonders of modern technology and the phone started ringing. And there was champagne. Quite a lot of champagne.

Which bookshop did you first spy your book in?

I wasn’t the first. Even before the book signings on the first day of release, my sister Anne was visiting our nieces in Brighton and spied it in Waterstones. She texted me a photograph to prove it.

What’s your ‘writing routine’ – if such a thing does exist.

I am used to long days at work so I try to treat writing as if it is a job. A typical day will be half an hour’s reading over the breakfast table – at the moment Karoo Plainsong by Barbara Mutch - on goes the coffee pot and then a good four hours work, a five-mile walk to get more oxygen to the brain and another four hour session. At the moment I am editing rather than writing, which is perhaps not so enjoyable, so this is where the discipline acquired through my working life comes to the fore.

I notice that you say your music collection is threatening to take over your house. Do you find music influences your work? Who are your favourite artists?

Music if one of those things that instantly transports you to a time and place in your life so, although I find I difficult to work with any background noise, it is a source of inspiration. At the moment I’m working on a piece based in the 80’s so my playlist has consisted of The Cure’s Just One Kiss, Japan’s Nightporter, Eurhythmic’s Here Comes the Rain Again and INXS’s Need You Tonight.

In terms of favourites, so many to choose from but David Sylvian and Peter Gabriel (my favourite male vocalists), The Sundays, Kate Bush, The Cure, Dr John…currently Elbow (God bless you, Guy Garvey: you are a poet), Radiohead, Goldfrapp, Florence and the Machine, Two Door Cinema Club (makes me feel 14 again), XX. I’m off to see The Specials at Brixton the end of the month which I’m very excited about. For once, I may not be the oldest person at a gig.

You put a lot of quotes about reading/bookselling up on your blog. Give us some of your favourite ones.

I think the one from Churchill (apologies, Sir, if I misquote you) – Give me four hours and a blank sheet of paper.

On my Book Forum, we have The Book Tree, where members choose their favourite book, and post it round to other members. Everyone writes comments in the books as they read. If you were to pick a book for The Book Tree…

Just one book? Surely that’s torture? The book that I have returned to most often is The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy. If you have seen the film, forget it – there is no way that this epic story could have been successfully condensed into 2 hours of screen time. This is beautiful writing, rich and soulful and heartbreaking. It transports you instantly into the mind of its narrator and the deep south.

What are your plans for the future?

The fact that the publishing world is in turmoil is beyond my control, but these things are cyclical, so I will simply keep writing and build up a body of work that I feel proud of in the hope that I will be well-placed when the planets come into alignment.  


You can find 'Half-Truths and White Lies at your local bookshop (and via Hive).