Sunday, 22 December 2013

Happy Birthday to Me

It was my birthday last weekend. Anyone who has read my short story collection will understand the significance of the present in the photograph.

It's the best present I've had for ages; half-joke, half-very-useful and thoughtful gift as I'll probably be doing some travelling next year with book related things.

P.S When opened, the case was empty. Phew!

Friday, 20 December 2013


I'm starting to think about the next novel (gulp - fears of never finishing the first novel have been replaced by fears of never repeating the feat). I've got a list of things to research, including bus drivers, museum archivists, stalking, trumpet playing and collectors.

Last weekend I visited a friend of a friend to see a collection of dolls and doll's houses. It was incredible. While there I met several collectors and was fascinated by their stories.

This part of writing is such fun. In the New Year I'm hoping to arrange to speak to a bus driver and a museum archivist, and I plan to have a few trumpet lessons.

But I think I'll leave the stalking to my imagination.

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Down the memory hole

Last year J didn't get a home made birthday cake. He never got around to telling me what he wanted and suddenly it was the day of his birthday so we popped to the supermarket and bought a frozen cake. After we'd done the whole happy birthday to you thing and the children had gone to bed, J's dad ate the last piece of cake.

For the past 12 months I've listened to J say, 'I didn't have a cake on my 11th birthday.' When corrected he concedes the point - 'well, there was a cake and dad ate it.' With further prompting he admits that he had a huge piece of cake, but his dad ate the last slice.

This sort of stuff happens to me all the time. Perhaps it happens to every parent, I'm not sure - I've learned that on the whole it's best to keep quiet about such things, there's nothing worse than talking about the craptastic side of parenthood, ending an anecdote with 'you know?' and being met with either a blank stare of incomprehension or a tight smile that indicates both a degree of understanding and a refusal to engage. 

This year I was determined not to get caught out by the cake. I made J examine all the cake books in the house (there are several). He chose dog cupcakes and I said 'no problem' through slightly gritted teeth because I was supposed to be revising the final chapter of my novel this weekend, and preparing my PhD transfer document, and finishing a 15,000 word essay, and tidying up the awful mess of books, papers and post-it notes that has multiplied and replenished across 2 desks and the whole of the dining room table in recent weeks. 

I made the cakes. Apparently they're not as good as the ones in the book - which isn't a complaint, just an observation. I don't care. I made them and there's photographic evidence. I feel like I'm trying to rewrite the past - making the cakes was practically a Ministry of Truth project, designed to send recollections of the shop-bought, dad-scoffed cake down the memory hole. Instead, we'll remember the bit of birthday captured in the photograph - the cake stand, sitting on a tiny, cleared slice of dining room table, the piles of books, papers and post-it notes just out of shot. 


I know people will look for me in the pages of my novel when it is published next year, but I think I'm much more searchable in my short stories, particularly the shortest piece in my collection, a 400 word story that I've been thinking about today.

Dancing in the kitchen

She is sewing pips of reminiscence in his fertile mind, selecting scenes for the reel of his memories. She is the Director, Writer and Makeup Artist. She would like to be the Film Editor too and supervise the relegation of her inadequacies to the cutting room floor. She would like to censor any shameful language: ‘You stupid boy,’ ‘I can’t take you anywhere,’ ‘I should have thought twice about having children.’ She does this in her Director’s Cut. In this version she is always smiling. She makes delicious, nutritious meals, irons his favourite clothes in time for him to wear them, patiently explains homework and never shushes him in the car because she is listening to the radio. 

But she does not have final cut privilege. He is The Editor of this portion of her life. He selects rare, single-take footage of her shouting and crying. He creates miserable montages of her mothering misdemeanours. ‘Remember when I really wanted to go on a donkey and you wouldn’t let me?’ he asks. ‘Remember when you said I would have to sleep in the loft with the wasp’s nest if I kept getting out of bed?’ he enquires. 

She is determined to expunge her failings. She selects a location, prepares the storyboard and applies makeup. 

Take One: Dancing in the Kitchen

The radio is loud. The dance is a comedy combination of moves she used to perform in earnest several years ago. The noise will draw him to her and her exuberance will proclaim: I’m so happy to be your mother that I’m dancing in the kitchen. I love you so much; let’s dance in the kitchen, together. 

Take Two: Dancing in the Kitchen

The radio is louder. This time he will forsake the television in order to investigate. He will burst into the kitchen and join in the dance. They will laugh together in a way that allows her to begin sentences with, ‘Remember when we danced in the kitchen?’

Take Three: Dancing in the Kitchen

The radio is moderately loud so as not to irritate him. He will come into the kitchen eventually, when he wants a drink or to ask what’s for tea. He will chuckle at her dance.

Director’s Cut: In the Kitchen

The radio is on. Eventually he comes in. She sends him such a smile. Perhaps he will remember it.

Saturday, 30 November 2013

Win a limited edition proof of A Song for Issy Bradley

I'm giving away a limited edition, proof copy of A Song For Issy Bradley. I'm including a Books Are My Bag tote bag and I'll sign and dedicate the book.

To be in with a chance of winning you just need to follow this link and 'like' my author page. I'll post the book and the bag anywhere in the world.

The winner will be drawn out of a hat on Saturday 7th December.

The proofs are on their way out of the Hutchinson office today in some sparkly and rather festive envelopes. I'm afraid the winner of my copy will have to make do with an ordinary envelope! 

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Windmill Party

On Monday I went to London to do some book things. I was slightly nervous and somehow got to Liverpool Lime Street an hour early (perhaps the fact that I've yet to move my car clock back may have had something to do with it). While I was on the train, Windmill Books published a blog introducing me and A Song for Issy Bradley.

When I got to London I made my way to the Penguin office for some filming in the media suite with the marketing team. I'm afraid I wasn't very cool and asked if I could take a photograph of the Penguin sign. The receptionist said, 'no' but she was joking (I hope). I'd been given a list of questions so I could prepare, but sitting under the hot lights, in front of the green screen it was suddenly difficult to remember what I'd been planning to say. I think it went okay, but if I was too boring they can always add dinosaurs or zombies or a car chase, later!

Afterwards I went to Random House for 'drinks around the photocopier.' I thought there might be about six people around the metaphorical photocopier, ten at a push - I'm not sure how many of us there were, but it would have taken a massive photocopier to accommodate us. It was lovely, if somewhat overwhelming, to meet so many enthusiastic people!

Soon it was time to leave for the Hutchinson/Windmill Books party at The Arts Theatre Club. On arrival I was introduced to the Windmill of Fortune, with Helen Dunmore, Lindy Woodhead, Adele Waldman and me on its arms. The windmill was spun to decide who would read first (*cough* it was actually a fix). Nick Harkaway read too - he was added once there was a free arm! Adele and Nick gave wonderfully funny readings and I nabbed copies of their novels - The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. and Angelmaker. I've already read Helen's excellent novel The Lie and Lindy's book Midnight Mother, the story of Kate Meyrick will be published in 2014.

There were piles of books everywhere and so I helped myself (it's okay, it was allowed). There were also rather a lot of journalists, bloggers and book people, and some very nice canapés.

Here I am, next to the fabulous tombola, reading a couple of scenes from A Song for Issy Bradley. I'm reading from a print-out, something I won't need to do again because I now have a real book to read from (*hooray*). 

When the event finished I went out for supper with my editor which was lovely because although we've talked a lot on the phone and via email, it was only the second time we'd met in person. 

No trip to London would be complete without the obligatory box of doughnuts for the children. And of course, as the children hadn't actually given me a list, I didn't quite get the selection right. Still, they were glad to see me (and the doughnuts) and, after a gorgeous train ride through autumn-tinted countryside, it was good to be home.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Sweet Home and sweet treats

A copy of Sweet Home and some sweet treats will be on the way to one of the 'likers' of my new author Facebook page on Wednesday 20th November.

If you fancy the book and the treats, just 'like' the page. The draw will take place on Tuesday evening. I'm happy to post the parcel anywhere in the world.

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Photographs and Proofs

Last week I went to Southport beach/marsh with Cornerstone Director of Publicity Charlotte Bush and photographer Colin McPherson for new author photos. It was a sunny day but it's always a very windy spot - I spent a lot of time trying to stop my hair making Medusa shapes in the wind!

Colin was great, at one point he lay down in a big puddle on the Sand-winning Track to get a better shot, and Charlotte did an excellent job of organising and accessorising me (that might just be the first time I've ever used the word accessorise).

Here's one of the pictures that was taken on Southport Pier. An elderly husband and wife from South Wales were sitting about a foot away and they chatted to Colin and Charlotte about Blackpool and the joys of coach trips while I leaned against the shelter, trying not to join in the laugher. Later, we went to Broadhursts bookshop where it was warm (the open fire was burning) for some more photographs. One of them features on the back of the proof (see below).

A couple of days ago a DHL driver handed me a padded envelope containing an A4 doorstep of A Song for Issy Bradley - another little thing to make it all seem more real. And then yesterday I received an email containing some photographs of the actual proofs which had just arrived at the Hutchinson office.

Aren't they gorgeous? I really want to touch the inlaid letters, and I won't have to wait too long because I'll be in London on Monday to do some filming and read at a Hutchinson and Windmill Books event.

Portraits © Colin McPherson, 2013, all rights reserved E: T: +44 (0)7831 838717

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Sweet Home giveaway

It's been a year since Sweet Home was published and to celebrate, I'm giving away a copy of the book and some sweet goodies to one of the people who has liked my new Facebook author page

If you'd like to be in with a chance of nabbing the book and the goodies, just follow the link above and 'like' the Facebook page. 

You can read some excerpts from reviews if you click on the Sweet Home tab at the top of the blog and you can watch the book trailer below:

Friday, 25 October 2013

New Novel Title

My novel has a new title, something that was always likely to happen as early readers invariably got mixed up and ended up calling it a variety of the following titles: We Are Together Here, Together We Are Here, Here We Are Together, We Are Here Together...


There's a lot of singing in the novel, some of the songs are hopeful, others are sad. Mormons believe that the words of hymns are like scripture. They also teach that singing a hymn is a good way of diverting bad thoughts.

There is a verse in a Mormon book of scripture known as the Doctrine and Covenants that goes pretty well with the new title.
For my soul delighteth in the song of the heart; yea, the song of the righteous is a prayer unto me, and it shall be answered with a blessing upon their heads. (Doctrine and Covenants 25:12)
I've finished all the edits (I think). The manuscript arrived back from the copy editor this morning and there's a whole new list of changes to make, mostly grammatical edits, but there are occasional corrections too (for example, it's not dark at 7 a.m in September - doh!). I've got to hurry up and make the new changes as proofs need to be ready by the middle of next month. It's a scary and exciting feeling to know that people will be reading early copies soon.

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Editing and Short Stories Aloud

I've spent this week editing the British version of my novel. Fortunately there weren't too many things to change, although we did decide to shorten the prologue, particularly the opening paragraph which has morphed from a dream sequence into a dream sentence! Yesterday I had a chance to talk to my editor about my book cover and I am HUGELY excited about her ideas for both the hardback and paperback.

I also received a list of language edits for the American edition of the book. I'm going to keep a lot of football (soccer!) terminology and some very British swear words, which was a pleasant surprise. I hadn't realised how many regional words and phrases I had included until they appeared on the list of words to replace: ginnel, piffy on a rock bun, yonks, chivvy, trumps...

In other news, I'm delighted to be appearing at Short Stories Aloud on Tuesday 22nd October at The Old Fire Station. Actors Julie Mayhew and Melissa Berry will be reading short stories by Charlotte Mendelson and myself.

I've never heard anyone read one of my stories aloud before so it's going to be a really interesting experience.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Tea for three

I had a lovely time at the Hutchinson Proof Party. The Spiegeltent was incredible, it felt like we were inside a carousel or a small circus tent - an appropriate venue for Dea's novel which contains a travelling circus. 

It was really exciting to share a stage with Dea and Helen. I've read their novels and can't quite believe that I was allowed to sit next to them and talk about my book in front of so many people.

Here I am afterwards with Dea and Helen (and half a sandwich stuck in my right cheek). 

I had an interesting journey home. There had been a Warrington and Wigan rugby match and when I got to Manchester Piccadilly the police were segregating supporters (and anyone who happened to be inadvertently travelling with them). We were held in a long queue until after the time our train was supposed to leave. Eventually we were herded into a carriage; I've never seen so many people on a train (and I've never brushed up against so many big-bellied men). 

I ended up sitting next to a little boy with a vuvuzela, a man in front of me was bleeding and appeared to have a broken nose. We stopped at Hinckley because someone was hurt (I think they fell off the train) and the conductor needed to wait for the ambulance. Did I mention the vuvuzela? It was a memorable, if somewhat bonkers end to a lovely day. 

Here is an account of the event written by book blogger and reviewer Naomi Frisbee.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

The Hutchinson Proof Party at the Cheltenham Literature Festival

On Saturday I'll be joining Helen Dunmore and Dea Brovig at the Cheltenham Literature Festival for the Hutchinson Proof Party. The event will preview Helen's novel The Lie and Dea's novel The Last Boat Home (I was lucky enough to receive proof copies of both books and wrote about them here). I'll be reading a short excerpt from Here We Are Together.

The event will take place in the Spiegeltent, an antique structure, originating in Belgium in the early 20th century. I've looked at some gorgeous photographs and I'm really excited to see it properly.

For more information and a list of other events, visit the Cheltenham Festivals website.

Friday, 27 September 2013

Fantabulous Stuff

I have been BURSTING to say something for almost a month...

On Weds 28th August my novel went out on submission. I expected to hear whether there had been any interest in it by mid October, but forty eight hours later I received a call from my agent: 'You'd better sit down, Carys,' she said. And then she told me that a publisher had made a pre-emptive bid for my book.

A second phone call followed - sit down, again. Another publisher had matched the first offer.

It was still the summer holidays and the children were at home. When they realised what was happening they went wild, dashing around the house, hugging each other and spending imaginary money on extraordinary Lego sets (it's a Lego cinema - how could anyone resist?).

As it was a Friday, things stopped there for the weekend, with two publishers bidding for the book. Sons 2 and 3 made a special celebration cake for tea (by themselves - clearly emboldened by our recent Come Dine With Me experience). It was lovely.

Slightly shell-shocked.

The following Monday morning, I popped to London to meet some publishers. It was utterly overwhelming and wonderful. The visit kicked off an auction involving four amazing publishers - I would have been ecstatic to be published by any of them.

While I was in London I was duty-bound to buy the correct doughnuts for everyone.

HutchinsonAt the end of an almost sleepless week, the auction finished with two of the publishers making very similar final bids. I decided to go with Hutchinson, part of Random House.

Hutchinson publish some fabulous authors.

This is how I feel inside:

firework gif   

When the auction ended I took the children to Frankie and Bennys to celebrate. They made the most of the excitement and ordered starters, fizzy drinks and anything/everything else they fancied.

A day or two later, a big bunch of flowers arrived from Hutchinson. They're still on my dining room table; the lilies have opened like stars and every time I look at them I feel like dancing.

Here is a link to today's announcement of the deal in The Bookseller.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

LiveFriday Event

Tomorrow evening (27th September) Short Stories Aloud will be at the Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology as part of the LiveFriday event. Short stories by Helen Simpson and me will be read by actress Melissa Berry. I *really* wish I could be there.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Lovely Books

I've been a bit of a literature magnet in recent weeks and have managed to acquire several piles of fantastic books. Above is my current 'to read' pile. Next up is Jo Baker's Longbourn which has had amazing reviews and I know it's going to be gorgeous because I had a sneaky read of the first chapter a couple of weeks ago. Below are some of the books I've been reading.

I really enjoyed What Lies Within by Tom Vowler and The Summer We All Ran Away by Cassandra Parkin, fellow Scott Prize winners. What Lies Within is a suspenseful, unsettling novel. The narrative alternates between Anna and a young teacher who has been sexually assaulted by one of her students. For me, a huge part of the pleasure of reading this book came from working out how the narratives were linked (nope, I won't be giving any spoilers). The Summer We All Ran Away takes place in an abandoned house in Cornwall. When nineteen year old Davey arrives at the house drunk and beaten he is taken in by Kate, Tom, Priss and Isaac whose stories unfold as the narrative progresses. It's a thoughtful, lost and found novel that moves seamlessly between times as it examines friendship and love over several decades.

Rachel Joyce does prickly Englishness so well in The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. Harold leaves home one morning to post a letter and ends up walking to the other end of the country. It's a novel that could easily get boring as the reader accompanies Harold on his long walk through the British countryside, but it doesn't disappoint. While Harold walks, he comes to terms with a series of losses in his life and there are lovely descriptive passages as he becomes aware of his surroundings. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is a story that's packed with eminently likeable characters and yet it's not at all saccharine or sentimental.

The Lie and The Last Boat Home are proof copies of books that haven't yet been published (I know, lucky me!). The Lie is a gorgeous novel set in the aftermath of the First World War. A young man returns home to Cornwall, suffering from what we would probably now call PTSD. Night terrors and panic attacks impair his judgement leading him to tell a lie that has disastrous consequences. The narrative moves between post-war Cornwall and the trenches. Dunmore's descriptions of trench warfare are horrifying and reminded me of Pat Barker's excellent war novels. Dea Brovig's The Last Boat Home is also a novel about a lie. Set in an icy landscape, it moves between 1974 and the present as Else's first love returns to town and she is forced to re-examine the past. Else's story unfurls delicately, gradually and skilfully, ensuring that the secret at the heart of the novel is revealed at precisely the right moment.  

A Spell of Winter is a haunting, dark novel about forbidden passions and thwarted love. Abandoned by their parents, Catherine and Rob are brought up by servants in their grandfather's house. Their mother's disappearance is mysterious and memories of their father are tinged by sadness. As they grow up their love becomes incestuous. It's another icy, wintry read and absolutely my kind of book - sometimes the writing was so beautiful and vivid I had to stop to reread sentences (I LOVE it when this happens).

I wasn't surprised when I discovered that A Spell of Winter won the 1996 Orange Prize.
This final pile of books is research for novel no.2. I'm trying to adopt the novel-planning method that Ed Docx recommended at Arvon, but I'm finding it hard not to plunge in at the deep end. So far, I have managed to resist. And my long-suffering husband has managed not to point out the irony of ordering even more books in order to learn about bibliomania. Result!

Friday, 20 September 2013

Writers' Forum

Here's a small piece about Sweet Home and winning writing competitions in Writers' Forum Magazine.

There are a couple of mistakes (including the book title and the surname of one of the authors who kindly wrote a cover quote) but hey, you can't have everything, right?

Sunday, 15 September 2013

At Books Are My Bag

I had a lovely time on Saturday afternoon during the Books Are my Bag event at Formby Books.

I read the title story from Sweet Home and stayed for a while to chat to some of the bookshop customers about publishing, novels, and erotic fiction - theirs, not mine! One man had even made special cakes, how good is that?!

Monday, 9 September 2013

Guest Post: Poet and Short Story Writer, Alison Lock

Poet and writer Alison Lock's short story collection Above the Parapet was published in April 2013 by Indigo Dreams Publishing. Her stories have been described as 'soulful, unsettling and beautifully written.' Below, she discusses the interesting relationship between poetry and short stories and her writing influences.

Questions of Influence and Origin from Above the Parapet by Alison Lock.

Before I draw up a list of influences I must describe to you how I work. I began by writing poetry and poetry for me comes from a thought that triggers a reaction somewhere in the area of my heart. It is never a process whereby I sit down and work through an idea or set off along a line of research (that comes later with subsequent drafts and when I need to confirm the facts). Neither do I look for a story that will fit into a traditional plot structure.  What I do know is that there is a point quite early on when I know if I am writing a poem or a story. I suppose, for me, a story is an elongated poem, at least in its process if not its outcome. Each story is a journey with words that feel their way along the lines of the page wanting to go further, often it is on the border of prose and poetry, sitting uncomfortably at the edge of a genre, nudging its way into another. I suppose I can only describe it as an instinctual process.

Often the stories originate from events that have happened during my lifetime, for instance; the eruption of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano in Iceland in 2011 triggered the story Ashes for Roses. Not all the stories are set in the past; on the contrary, some are in the present and even the future. Neither are they necessarily written in the first person; they might be in the third or even the second person, the latter being a good way of turning reader into protagonist. Sometimes a story is based on a single incident or a social or political situation that is nagging at my consciousness, for instance: climate change, female emancipation, euthanasia, corporate society, loss of the aesthetic in the modern world, but also it might just as easily come from a childhood memory.

Some of the stories in 'Above the Parapet' have been described as quite dark in their subject matter. I decided early on that I would not baulk from reaching into the darkest recesses albeit with Kafkaesque results. Death is a universal human inevitability and our state of impermanence is often ignored, but, like the Grim Reaper of medieval times, it will always be there in the wings. In ' The Hanging Tree' I question how it would feel to regret one's life's work however much job satisfaction has been attained in its execution (no pun intended). We rarely have the opportunity to assess our roles in society until the time comes when we are separated from them.  This story finds a world without redemption, but you'll glad to hear that most of the stories hold the promise of a new or at least another life beyond.

A prevalent theme is about a closeness to the natural world; whether literal, emotional or spiritual. 'The Colour of Glass', set in a futuristic world, is the home to the last survivor of the old world.  Nan is old in years and some in the community feel that her 'hobby' of glass making has been indulged for long enough. The threat of euthanasia lingers over Nan as the Board meet to decide her fate. Will anyone understand the need for objects that are beautiful, that transcend the everyday?

As for my influences from the literary world, it is difficult to know as there are so many that I admire so I have picked a few that I have read recently or have had an impact on me:

Raymond Carver. Where I'm calling from.Selected Stories.
Angela Carter. The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories
Italo Calvina. If on a Winters Night a Traveller
Short stories from Tania Hershman, Zoe Lambert, Sarah Hall
and a recent discovery: Ursula le Guin

Why do I write short stories? I like to explore different ways of seeing the world and the short story is a neat conveyor of thoughts and ideas where a writer can hope to leave traces of words that will trigger thoughts or ideas in the reader. As for 'Above the Parapet', the reader may 'get' the stories or they may not, but I am willing to take the risk, because without risk we cannot be true to ourselves.

The Colour of Glass (excerpts)

'She blows and wields the molten glass, twirling the glowing poker, holding it up and beating it down onto the marble slab, bending the treacle, forming spouts, lips, handles, loops. She nips and tweezes until she is content with her vision of transparency. Every shelf is full, three deep with lamps and goblets and jugs and bottles and even a bowl of glass eye balls. Her work is her life but her life began in another world. The items she makes no longer have a practical use. Now, there are synthesised materials, so easily produced and cheaply too. They can be moulded into any form that is required.

There are some who still enjoy the beauty of glass objects but they do not speak of it. There is nothing to be gained from indulging in visual satisfaction, they are told, it is an outdated concept from an old world when people believed in something called the imagination, an intangible thing that cannot be proved, and therefore, does not exist. Such beliefs are dangerous in this new world and Nan has been indulged for long enough.

...Third generation Orbisher, Jonti P, is seated at the boardroom table where the shiny surface reflects the piles of legal papers, the evidence for the case. The light from the window has draped a pearly sheen over the room and the deep shadows accentuate the features of those present. Jonti’s elbows are propped on the table and he chews his tongue as he twirls a lock of blond hair. Morality and mortality do not interest him. He would prefer to be at his work in the lab amongst the test tubes and Petri dishes than to sit around a table discussing human resource levels. At least experiments are methodical, they have specific aims, they have hypotheses that can be verified, falsified, validated. Here, there are no absolutes, no obvious conclusions.

Alison Lock

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Books Are My Bag

New Standard campaign Bags (75 pack)I'll be at Formby Books on Saturday 14th September from 2 o'clock as part of the Books Are My Bag campaign.

The idea is to visit your local bookshop on 14th September, join in their party and buy books. The best place to connect with books is in a *real* shop where you can see and smell them (smelling books is very important - no-one in my family understands this, but it's true!).

Here is the Bookshop Band singing their lovely song 'A Shop With Books In.'

Friday, 30 August 2013

Out on submission & a playlist

Miracles are like birds, they zip through the gap between heaven and earth on hollow-boned wings. You can't catch them with traps or nets or special glue, you have to use words.
It’s autumn and things are dying everywhere. Flies speckle the windowsills in the school toilets and the leaves on the hedge in the back garden are as crispy as Bran Flakes. There’s a big, dead spider in Jacob Bradley’s bedroom, all folded up like a hairy umbrella and Mum is there too, lying in the bottom bunk, silent and still like sleeping beauty. 
The bit about Mum is a secret. Dad says people wouldn’t understand, so it’s best not to tell. Jacob is good at keeping secrets, he has one of his own; as soon as he has found the right words and grown enough faith he is going to perform a resurrection miracle like the ones in the Bible stories Mum used to read aloud at bedtime. 
Dad says believing that everything will turn out all right in the end is the best kind of faith. But the end is ages away and Jacob can’t wait that long. His miracle will send things back to how they were and then Mum will get up and make the tea and put the clothes away in the right places. And they will all live happily ever after. 
Told by each member of the Bradley family, during a time of particular sadness, Here We Are Together is a keenly observed, story of doubt, faith and absent miracles amid the enduring and sometimes chafing bonds of family. 

So, my novel...

It was sent off to publishers earlier this week and now I have to wait. Fingers and everything crossed! It's called Here We Are Together (at the moment) and that's the blurb, above. Above the blurb is a picture of Southport beach, about a mile from the shore - an important place in the story. 

A little while ago, short story writer Adam Marek blogged about the playlist that accompanies his latest book The Stone Thrower (a brilliant collection which I discuss in this Thresholds piece). 

After I read Adam's blog, I made a list of the songs I listened to as I wrote and edited my novel. Some of the songs in my playlist are mentioned and/or sung in the novel (including a couple of hymns) while others have simply served as background music.  

Here is my playlist.

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Is anything sacred?

The Book of Mormon poster.jpgAll that remains for the summer (ie. the next 72 hours) is the completion of a piece about The Book of Mormon Musical. I'm busy tying myself in knots as I try to define what I mean by 'sacred stories'. In his essay ‘Is Nothing Sacred’ Salmon Rushdie poses the following questions: ‘Do I, perhaps, find something sacred after all? Am I prepared to set aside as holy the idea of the absolute freedom of the imagination and alongside it my own notions of the World, the Text and the Good?’ (Rushdie, 2010, p.418). After much deliberation, Rushdie concludes that ‘nothing so inexact [as literature], so easily and frequently misconceived, deserves the protection of being declared sacrosanct. We shall just have to get along without the shield of sacralisation’ (Rushdie, 2010, p.427).  Christopher Hitchens is more strident in his rejection of the sacred: “No, nothing is sacred. And even if there were to be something called sacred, we mere primates wouldn't be able to decide which book or which idol or which city was the truly holy one. Thus, the only thing that should be upheld at all costs and without qualification is the right of free expression, because if that goes, then so do all other claims of right as well” (Hitchens, 2009).

I'm trying to decide whether I can have my cake and eat it. I'd like to weasel my way around a definition of sacred stories that embraces any hierophany (manifestation of the sacred) including the non-religious stories that take place in privileged profane spaces such as a person’s birthplace or the city where they met their first love, as ‘Even for the most frankly nonreligious man, all these places still retain an exceptional, a unique quality; they are “holy places” of his private universe, as if it were in such spots that he had received the revelation of a reality other than that in which he participates through his ordinary daily life’ (Eliade, 1957, p.24). I'd also like to believe it's possible for those who hold certain stories, writings and/or ideas sacred to allow for the fact that others may find them risible and/or entertaining. It should be possible, right? Even if, as Rushdie himself notes, it can be 'astonishing to learn that your beloved is not as attractive to others as she is to you' (Rushdie, 2010, p.415). 

When buying up advertising space in the programme of The Book of Mormon Musical and plastering 'I'm a Mormon' advertisements all over London Tube stations and buses, the Mormon Church adopted a pragmatic approach to the send-up of its sacred text; an approach that emphasized the esteemed and enshrined nature of The Book of Mormon but avoided calls to boycott the musical and accusations of blasphemy. I think of this as the 'this is sacred to me' approach and I quite like it.

That's where I'm at today - there's a good chance I'll wake up in the night and, with just 48 hours of summer remaining, realise I'm completely wrong - this piece has got me tied in knots, but it's taking my mind off the novel, which is probably a good thing.

Monday, 19 August 2013

Come Dine With Me and other summer fun

The children and I like to watch Come Dine With Me. We like to laugh at the awful food, the awful entertainment and, in particular, the awful people. Occasionally, for a treat, we watch it while we eat our tea (frozen pizza or some other equally desperate, Saturday evening concoction) and still manage to feel superior to the poor contestants. At the end of the show, we say, 'We should do that,' and then we talk about what we would do and it all sounds fail-safe and brilliant.

About ten days ago I made the mistake of saying, 'It's the summer holidays, we should actually do that Come Dine With Me thing.' The idea was well-received and so we embarked on a culinary adventure that has left us feeling slightly less smug.

Here are a few of the highlights:

Left to right: chocolate cupcakes with edible insects and marshmallow butter cream, cinnamon rolls, garlic bread, chicken and ham pie, Nigella's chocolate cake, Neil's idea of 'cooking' a starter, Neil's proper cooking: Cornish pasties and scones with cream and jam.

I'm on tomorrow night. I was going to make Candle Salad for a starter but the children saw me Goggling it and have vowed to mark me down if I dare. Hmm...

In other news:

I did a book signing at the Southport Flower Show. There was torrential rain and I think most of the people in the book tent were probably there for shelter, but you're not a proper writer until you've sat at a table in a wet tent in the middle of a field for 2 hours (that's what I told myself afterwards).

There is a lovely new review of Sweet Home at Sabotage Reviews that concludes with the following paragraph:

"Like the best fairy tales, Bray’s Sweet Home stories have a dark undercurrent that’s occasionally exposed. This is a writer who understands people, mothers especially, and how their early memories shape the fabric of their later lives. She’s working on a novel, and if the skill on display in Sweet Home is anything to go by, that novel will be well worth the read."


And ~ DRUROLL ~ I have sent my novel off to a lovely agent who likes it. It's a very strange feeling, a sort of extremely nervous relief.