Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Our 16th Anniversary

It's our sixteenth anniversary today! We met in Edinburgh - somewhere between Brit Pop and New Labour and the publication of my first and second novels. Here we are ten years ago exactly in the gardens at Tivoli, near Rome.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Sunny Afternoons are for messing with paint

I've had this water colour set since I was fourteen! My Mam gave me it for my birthday back then, and it's still in use. It goes with me just about everywhere. Yesterday was blazing hot again - another day spent in the garden with my laptop, doing my daily words; novels and notebooks - and all the stuff  needed for messing about with paint. I've always loved those afternoons in summer when it's so hot the water colours dry in an instant - you can watch the colours lightening right in front of you.

Fester was dozing right next to me, of course, most the day.

Monday, 23 July 2012

Recent Reading

At last, the sun was out and we had a full weekend, reading in the garden. My new discovery of the moment is an amazing, slim novel from the 1980s from Rohase Piercy. It's called 'My Dearest Holmes' and was originally published by GMP, but is now republished in paperback and very cheaply as an ebook. It's the gay Holmes novel that I now realise I've been waiting for most of my life! But it's no kind of crude slash fiction - it's a perfectly modulated piece of literary pastiche and ventriloquism.

Piercy does a fantastic job of taking on Watson's voice, and giving us a retelling of those stories pertaining to Holmes's supposed death and return from the Reichenback Falls. This is an account that Watson doesn't want to be read until a hundred years later - giving the truth about the stymied and suppressed emotional life of the famous duo. It's a bit like when Isherwood of the 70s revisits his Berlin stories and writes 'Christopher and his Kind' - filling in the emotional and sexual lacunae that were obviously there all along in 'Goodbye to Berlin', etc. This is a brilliant and quite moving short novel. Suddenly, more than ever, the Holmes stories make sense to me.

What else did I read? Well, i spent last week with 'The Lady of the Rivers' - only my second-ever Philippa Gregory - and adored it. But I'm wondering if they might all be a little similar?  (The good and trustworthy narrator tries to stay loyal as dreadful best friend becomes queen and does everything she can to hold on to the reins of power. Lots of childbirth, beheadings and witch-burnings ensue.) I also read the newest George Mann novel in manuscript, which was delightful (the world of Newbury and Hobbes is getting darker, i think..!)

Then I returned to another favourite series - Yasmine Galenorn's 'Chintz and China' - about the witchy divorcee Emerald O'Brien and her small-town tea room. I read the other four in the series about five years ago, but I'd missed out on the second because it was out of print at the time. 'The Legend of the Jade Dragon' was a hoot. I love Galenorn's blend of the domestic and the fantastic. It was such a delight to go back to this world - and it's made me want to reread the whole set - as well as further explore her subsequent 'Otherworld' series - which is already twelve books long..! I love the fact that paranormal romance writers are so productive!

Then I rounded off the weekend by returning to a favourite from when I was fourteen - 'Spock Messiah!' by Theodore R Cogswell and Charles A Spano. It's from when the first original Star Trek novels are starting to appear - and this one, i remember, i found very disturbing and weird. I'm looking forward to finishing it as the new week begins and I get back to work.

Have a great week, everyone!

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Fester in a garden chair

Yesterday was sunny and dry, and Fester and I got to spend almost the whole day out of doors. For most of the day I was engrossed in Philippa Gregory's 'The Lady of the Rivers', which i am loving. It's only my second Gregory - after spending Christmas week with 'The Other Boleyn Girl,' and I'm enjoying this one just as much. I took some time out, though, to sketch Fester - dozing on one of his favourite perches.

Then, yesterday evening, I gave my reading at the City Library in Manchester - which was pretty well attended for a sunny Saturday evening. Thanks to Danny and the others at the library for organising it - and to everyone in the other libraries in the region that I read in this week. And cheers to everyone who turned up to see me and get their books signed and ask me questions.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Book Finds

'All Fall Down' by James Leo Herlihy is my literary find of the week. It's a Penguin from 1960, and it's one of only a handful of books by the author of the novel that the brilliant film, 'Midnight Cowboy' was based on. This particular Herlihy novel read a little like Salinger - with a teenage protagonist obsessed with keeping journals filled with overheard conversations, and endlessly observing and analysing his (as they say) dysfunctional family. It's a wonderfully written, funny and gut-wrenching novel, and I can't believe I've never heard of it before.

Herlihy was apparently a gay contemporary of Tennessee Williams, and pals with amazing people like Anais Nin and Talulah Bankhead. His home in Key West became a hang-out and haven for dispossessed hippies and drop-outs and even Ishwerwood (no slouch when it came to debauchery) was reportedly surprised by what went on. I've spent the whole week mulling over this novel and looking forward to discovering more of his work.

Nick from 'A Pile of Leaves' just sent me this fab photo of Herlihy - signed for Anais Nin... (now I must look him up in the index of that huge and wonderful biography of Nin I read over ten years ago, and see if he's there...)

My other bookish find of the week was a shop. Jeremy and I were in Blackburn so that I could give a reading at the library (it was surprisingly well-attended, given the weather! and I had a warm welcome!) Earlier in the day we discovered a wonderful bookshop called Rebound - link

Do check it out if you're in Blackburn. It's a gem - with a little cafe, but we missed out on that, turning up for the last half hour of the day. I came away with a small pile of old Puffins, of course...

And finally today...  look at this pile of spooky stuff. Prompted by the unsummery weather, I've been building up a little collection of scary/ghostly/spooky books ready for autumn. First though, I've got 6 left from my pile of 16 books I set aside for midsummer. I'm roaring through them... and have only had to abandon two at the 50 page mark, and one at the 100 page stage...!

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Brenda's Beginnings!

I've been going through old diaries and notebooks and I found these pages in one from spring 1998. These are the very earliest glimpses of Brenda and Effie - eight years before 'Never the Bride' was published as a novel.

Brenda first came to life as a short story for the Afternoon Story slot on Radio 4. There was to be a week of stories about background characters in nineteenth century novels, and tales told from their perspectives. Alison Fell was due to do one, but found she didn't have time to accept the commission. She was our Writing Fellow at UEA that spring, and had the office next door to me. She suggested my name to the producer and the next thing I knew, I had to come up with a famously neglected out-of-copyright character and a story in monologue form all about her! Just the kind of commission I love to get.

I took the bus home from campus and by the time I got off at my stop at the shops on the Unthank Road - I already knew that I'd be writing about the Bride of Frankenstein. All at once I could hear her voice in my head. Ancient and filled with terrible knowledge - but confiding and gentle, too.

I ordered takeaway and sat most of that evening writing in an oversized Daler and Rowney hardbacked drawing book, which was my notebook of choice back then. I scribbled for hours, trying out her voice, all through the night. I wrote, rewrote and cut and pasted her fifteen minute monologue together. It would be about her first arriving in Whitby, and deciding upon the quiet retirement that she wanted to find there, beside the sea. It would be about this new friend of hers, Effie, who lived next door and who must never be allowed to learn the Bride's ghastly secrets. Oh, and she wasn't even called Brenda, then. She was called Bessie.

I can see from a note to myself on those pages that I actually had two weeks to get the thing done. But she was ready by the next morning. She arrived fully-formed...!

I think I'm in nostalgic mood about Brenda and Effie and how long they've been in my writing life. I guess that's bound to happen - what with book 6 coming this autumn. 'Brenda and Effie Forever!' is likely to be the last in the series, I think.

Monday, 9 July 2012

All my Notebooks

Yesterday I packaged up all my journals and notebooks. I'd found a plastic box (on castors!) big enough, so out came the boxes from under the bed and on top of cupboards, and I piled them all in. There was exactly enough space for them all. (Though there are still a number of finished books from recent years, I'm still kind of using.) This boxload has about twenty years' worth of notebooks in - and they contain all sorts of stuff. Mostly observational writing and bits of diary; and scribbles and drawings, and sometimes whole chunks of novels or stories in first draft.

That yellowy / peachy one with the spiral binding near the top - that's from summer of 2000, and it's got the final few chapters of 'All the Rage', written in feverish red pencil. It's also got snippets from a very dramatic summer in Norwich...

I might dip into these now and then and give you some bits of conversations and scenes I've written down...

July 2000
A group of people I saw on the platform at Ely station yesterday. The grandmother, her daughter, and a girl and boy, both under seven. They were waving off the other daughter and her two young kids. All of them had the same face - with the same lines underneath their eyes. They were all crying. The four kids were made to part. 

'I won't leave it nine years this time.' One of the daughters was going back to Scotland with her kids. She was in a black T shirt with faded lettering. She said, 'We'll see you in the next Millennium, then.' Then, as if she thought she'd been too flippant, she added, 'I'll beg, steal or borrow the money to come down again.'

Everyone on the platform was watching and listening to her standing at the train door. Then there was the comedy of the train lingering a moment or two too long at the platform. So, having had the dramatic moment, they had to wait. Then the doors started closing at last. 'That's us then.'

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Buxton Book Fair

A perfect Saturday afternoon! Meeting friends in Buxton - it was pouring down and muggy - but we still had a quick walk back through the park with all our book-loot. And had pie and chips for tea in a cafe. Is cheese and onion pie a local thing?

The book fair was great - but we made sure we paid a visit to the remarkable Scrivener's bookshop, at the top of the town. One of my favourite bookshops in the country.

How's your weekend been? I've just finished reading a late Wodehouse in the garden - and I'll be out here for the rest of the day, i think.

Friday, 6 July 2012

Other People's Blogs

Today's update is more or less a list of things to look out for on other people's blogs - Blogs I love! The remarkable comics artist Bret Herholz has just posted the brand new picture, above. It's a summative portrait of the Fourth Doctor andMrs Wibbsey - as they appear in the three series of audiobooks I wrote for Audiogo. This is how Bret sees that macabre world of Nest Cottage - with the Doctor a bit like TH White's Merlin - living backwards through time, in a house cluttered with belongings from both his future and past. I love how Bret always includes little visual references to other stuff, all over the place, hidden away in the corners and on the walls... His regular blog updates are a delight - and you must buy his books!

Also - just as it hits Episode Eleven - it's way beyond time that I alerted you to the ongoing spooky serial being written by another dear friend - Nick at 'A Pile of Leaves.' It's a very strange, twisty tale of crazed bibliophiles, foxes and bears - set in the present day, but with a curiously Edwardian bent. It starts here with Part One.

Here's something else wonderful. Something I've hunted for ages..! It's an almost complete list of Puffin books, in publication order, from the start, till the late Sixties. I'm hugely endebted to Karyn Reeves, who maintains the utterly entertaining and inspiring 'A Penguin a Week blog'. Here's the puffin checklist - which seems to be part of another, very informative site for book collectors. I love the way that the decades it spans take us from good old Worzel, all the way to the heyday of Paddington Bear. And I love the intriguing titles of long-out-of-print Puffins, too. Even bland-sounding ones like 'Cornish Adventure' or 'The Secret of the Missing Boat.' I do want to know more about 'Gay Neck' and 'The Winter Princess', definitely...!

It's absolutely chucking it down here in Manchester. It's a day for hiding away with a pile of Puffins, I should think - though the daily word-count needs to be done. I love how noisy and rattly the rain is being in the garden today. Poor Fester Cat is furious, however - having spent an hour or so on his beach House veranda - he's just come running in, miffed and soaking. Hopefully the weather will clear up in time for tomorrow's day out at the Buxton Book Fair. I want to have afternoon tea with friends in the sun. What are the chances, eh..?

I hope all of you have a wonderful weekend!

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Library Readings next week

PLEASE come and see me!

Are you around in the North West of England next week...? Then I hope you'll come and see me give a reading from some of my recent books.

i'm at Blackburn Library on Tuesday the tenth of July at 7pm.  (Blackburn Central Library,Town Hall Street, Blackburn BB2 1AG)

And on Wednesday the 11th at 6pm I'm reading at Tameside Central Library

and then on Saturday 14th I'm at Central Library on Deansgate in Manchester at 6.30 pm (City Library, Elliot House, 151 Deansgate, Manchester, M3 3WD)

Please come if you can!  i know it's summer and there's loads other stuff going on.  But librarians and everyone put loads of work into putting these kinds of events on!  And i'll be there - doing my thing - and i'd love there to be an audience of some kind...!

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

'The Coming of the Terrapiles' by Michael Moorcock

Here's a review I did in 2010 on the old blog...

In Newton Aycliffe in the 1980s the market would be held in the town precinct in dripping, freezing rain every Tuesday. The book and record stall was the most exciting bit because it sold bootleg Bowie tapes, horror books, Doctor Who books – and the strange novels of Michael Moorcock with their gaudy exotic covers. They were like a bright spot of multiversal colour in that town centre.
It seems only fitting that years later the worlds collide and Moorcock writes a Who novel of his own. This is like watching a master magician decanting one universe into another. Or a mad scientist with all his flasks and tubes and whatnots bubbling away with frothy alien brews – whizzing them all into a combustive soup.
I loved all of the brio and hyper-activity of this book. It’s a kind of space opera with lots of asides and quests and silliness en route. But for all the multiverse gubbins and made-up physics Moorcock has the good sense to make it all fun. So there’s PG Wodehouse in here, with his aunts with stolen hats and bumbling heroes called Bingo – but there are also touches of other very British icons – there’s a madcap flavour of old school comics, of music hall singalongs, Gilbert and Sullivan tongue-twistery daftness, Robin Hood gallantry, and Bedknob and Broomsticks sporty fun.
And in the middle of all of this comes Doctor Who and Amy, and they’re all very present and correct. Matt Smith’s eleventh Doctor fits into this cosmic Edwardian adventure better than a number of his previous incarnations might have. There’s something very Boy’s Own about the way he rackets about, all elbows and jaw and flapping hair. Moorcock has him gabble excitedly about Captain Cornelius, the Bubbly Boys, and Frank/ Freddie Force and all the other ludicrous friends and enemies he flings at the canvas. Meanwhile Amy’s calmly doing her own thing – I love this portrayal of her as a girl out of her depth – but with depths of her own – and a glint of steel in her personality, as we are told here.
I love the zestiness of all this. The very carefully and lovingly crafted sensation of it all being flung together on the hoof with huge enthusiasm. It’s cosmic, joyful, good-natured, camp, silly and psychedelic. It’s like having tea with a crazy old uncle and having him tell you a new Doctor Who story, seemingly off the top of his head. It’s like having a sugar rush from dolloping too  much jam on your scones as he gets carried away with his fervour for this tale of pirates and archery and hat theft and planet-hopping.
There’s something heroically frivolous about Moorcock writing like this in what’s proving to be a rather earnest, unironic twenty-first century.
And I adore the fact he has the Doctor explain black holes and universes of matter / anti-matter via the medium of his proudly-worn bow tie. How Doctor Who-ish is that? 

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Short Trip

It's been a little while since my last update! There seems to be a lot that's gone on in the past week.

I just wanted to share with you this pic of my favoured mode of transport.