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