Saturday, 30 October 2010

Billy Collins and Carol Ann Duffy

On Thursday evening I went to see US and UK Poet Laureates Billy Collins and Carol Ann Duffy read at Edge Hill. It was a fantastic evening.

Carol Ann Duffy read some poems from her collection The World's Wife, a collection I love, along with more recent poems including one written in response to England's performance in the World Cup. She can be heard below reading 'Mrs Aesop'.

Billy Collins read from several collections and can be heard below reading a poem 'The Dead' which he read on Thursday.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Helen Simpson and Jane Feaver.

On Saturday I attended a reading by Helen Simpson and Jane Feaver.

Jane read a story called 'Dancing on a Pin' from her collection Love Me Tender which was shortlisted for the Edge Hill Prize. Love Me Tender is described as a 'daisy chain of stories' in a review here and 'Dancing on a Pin' comes in for particular praise in this review. I haven't read Jane's writing, but I enjoyed her reading.

Helen read two stories from her collection In-Flight Entertainment, (reviewed here) 'The Festival of the Immortals' and 'Dairy of an Interesting Year.' It was really interesting to listen to Helen read. She reads in a measured, contemplative way. Despite having read both stories more than once, I was lost in her words and surprised at the time when the reading finished. Afterwards I asked her to sign In-Flight Entertainment for me. She thanked me for buying it and I gauchely informed her that I have every one of her short story collections. It was hard not to sound like Annie Wilkes after that, so I thanked her for signing the book and left.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Recent reading.

I've spent recent years guzzling short stories and as there are only so many hours in the day, I've missed out on a lot of novels. During the past two weeks I've spent every spare minute catching up on some of those novels.

I found 'We Need to Talk about Kevin' profoundly moving. I can't remember the last time I cried, or cried quite so much, when reading a book. There are some pretty ambivalent reviews of this book, but I'm with Zoe Green of The Observer who describes the novel as a 'compulsive' search for answers: I couldn't put it down.

'The Island' is our current Book Club read.
Hislop does an excellent job of creating a setting which is as important as the plot and the characters: I had a compulsion to buy vine tomatoes and feta cheese as I read.
'The Island' is reviewed favourably here.
Here is a less favourable and rather entertaining review.
I enjoyed 'The Island' but while the setting was beautifully depicted, I found some of the characters a little sketchy and occasional plot twists pretty unlikely.

I read Alderman's short story writing before I read 'Disobedience' and I was fascinated to see how she would approach a novel. I enjoyed 'Disobedience'. I confess that I was looking for pointers as I read it, wondering how a writer can explore the hidden, intricate world of a religious community that is simultaneously separate and conjoined to the wider community. I thought that Alderman made an excellent job of depicting the Orthodox Jewish community with both sharpness and sympathy.
Here is a review from the Independent. Here is another from the Guardian which is a bit of a hatchet job (and undeserved in my opinion). 'Disobedience' won the Orange Award for New Fiction in 2006.
Alderman blogs here.

A risky novel, reviewed well by Ali Smith here. I wanted Susie's loneliness to be more horrifying, more difficult to read about. The first 50 pages or so worked beautifully because of Susie's understated description of her death. As the book progressed though I found that I that wanted to be more involved than understatement allowed, but it was still a compelling read.

Recommended by my brother, it's a book I read in an effort to understand what my brother finds 'hilarious' as much as anything. The book is hilarious in an appalling, painful way - something my brother and I will no doubt discuss next time we see each other.

Friday, 22 October 2010

The Word Dress.

Last weekend I went to the Lancaster Litfest to watch Claire Massey of New Fairy Tales read a brand new fairy tale wearing a dress made entirely out of the pages of books.

The dress was just the sort of thing that I might have imagined as a little girl (along with swimming in a lake of strawberry milkshake and other fantastical and physically impossible feats).

I took sons 2 and 3 with me and they both agreed that the dress was incredible - an admission which was refreshingly genuine and didn't have to be prised out of either of them. They also agreed that Claire's story was very enjoyable and son 2 explained to me on the way home what he thought a dress of 'smoke and feathers' might look like (such a dress features in the story).

Here is Claire's account of the event, complete with gorgeous pictures.

The event was mentioned on the BBC website.

I'm travelling back to Lancaster tomorrow to see Helen Simpson and Jane Feaver at the Litfest - I can't wait, Helen Simpson is one of my favourite authors ever.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Writing Club Issue Two.

Here is Marshside Writing Club's second online magazine publication.

We only managed to meet four times this half term. I think the girls did pretty well to have fun, eat cookies and actually get some writing done too.

To view in full screen hold the mouse over the picture and click on the 'view in full screen' tab.

Friday, 15 October 2010

Reading at the Bluecoat.

Yesterday I read at 'Next Up' at the Bluecoat as part of the 'Chapter and Verse' Literature Festival. It was my first reading.

Earlier in the day I had a dental appointment (something I always dread, despite my wonderfully eccentric dentist's hilarious bedside manner - quotes from yesterday's appointment include: 'I know a lot of psychopaths' and 'I'm fascinated by serial killers').

While I was lying in the dentist's chair my phone rang. It was son 2's school to say he had been involved in an accident and had been taken to Alder Hey Children's hospital. When the dentist finished rectifying the damage from my recent bout of teeth-grinding, I got in the car and drove from Leyland, near Preston to Alder Hey - I didn't have a clue where I was going or how to get there, but I ended up in the right place.

Fortunately, son 2's eye looked worse than it was; there was only damage to the eye lid, the eye itself was fine. We were at the hospital for hours though and I was beginning to think that I might have to miss the reading. However, he was discharged in time for me to drive back to Southport, pick the rest of the family up, drive to Crosby for his parents' evening and drive on to the Bluecoat just in time for the reading.

Having been so busy during the day, I didn't really have time to be nervous and although I felt apprehensive as 'Next Up' began, once it was time for me to read 'My Burglar' I felt absolutely fine. I didn't make any mistakes and actually enjoyed myself - phew.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

'Next Up' at the Bluecoat.

Chapter and Verse at the Bluecoat 

'Next Up' is an event at the Bluecoat on Thursday 14th October from 7:30 - 8:30. 'Next Up' is part of the Chapter & Verse Literature Festival and will showcase new writers in the Liverpool and North West region. I will be reading a short story: 'My Burglar' which can be read here at the Strictly Writing blog. 

Monday, 11 October 2010

Lovely Stuff

Having read a story of mine, a friend recently asked if I used to work in a handbag shop: I didn't. I just needed to set the story in a handbag shop for it to work. In fact, up until last Thursday I didn't even own a handbag - I had an over-the-shoulder, all-purpose, sack-like thingy which has doubled as a nappy bag and book-hefter for approximately eight years. On Thursday I finally bought myself a real, grown up bag - see below.

On Friday I went to London. As she left for school Alice presented me with a little person made of felt. 'This is for you to remind you of me while you're in London,' she said. 'I know I don't have yellow hair and I'm not blue, but I didn't think you'd mind.'

While in London I had a meeting with an agent which was fun and much less frightening than my anticipatory nerves allowed me to imagine. Later, I walked past some cake shops (yes, looking through windows at cake really was a highlight of the trip). Mmm Cake.

In the evening Neil and I went to see 'We Will Rock You'. Our enjoyment of the musical was heightened by the unabashed enthusiasm of the man sitting in front of us. He was probably in his mid sixties and he was so enthused that he stood up and danced (by himself) in the aisle. 

On the way back to the hotel we walked past the British Museum. We managed to have a quick walk around the mummys earlier in the day - I could have spent hours there: they were fascinatingly creepy and beautiful.