Sunday, August 30, 2009

We've landed

Yes, we're here! And we have Internet, which arrived the day after we did, miracle of miracles. Bristol is lovely, although rather damp and half the temperature (celsius) of where we moved from. It's delightful, confusing, disorienting, I am finding that my English isn't quite what I thought it was... they say that after 5 years in a country where your mother tongue isn't the native language, you are no longer a native speaker of that language. I can understand that now. I like to think it makes my writing more "colourful"!

I won't write too much more now, just to say that it is lovely to be in a place where people's default expression when they meet you on the street is a smile. I like that. I am sure there will be other things I find harder, and many aspects of Israel that I miss. Give me time, I will moan. And will take pictures of our new home when our stuff arrives on Tuesday.

Other things to report: got a rejection from the New Yorker, there's a surprise. Also, deadlines tomorrow for Norton Hint Fiction and the Juked short story and poetry competition, so get your entries in. And congratulations to Petina Gappah, whose short story collection, An Elegy for Easterly, is shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award. (See the Short Review blog for more, including a link to my review of the book.)

And... and....

It's the 1st birthday of The White Road and Other Stories on Sept 1st! (Did I mention the book at all, at all, all the time...??!) One year. I can't believe it. In celebration, I will be reflecting on the year-that-has-been over at Nik Perring's blog, and also giving away several signed copies of the book here, should you need some reading material for your loo, or an Autumnal gift for a loved one, that kind of thing.

OK, off out to experience a real Sunday. In Israel, Sunday is the first day of the work week, something you almost never get used to, coming from a weekendy kind of culture. We will seek out brunch, armed with large newspapers with many sections.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Moving Day

Today is the day. Wow. Both cats in their cat carriers after hair-raising 2am crash as Cat No 2 pushed his way through the defenses blocking the cat flap from BOTH sides and vanished. By 8am he was back, thank goodness. Now he is singing to us of his displeasure as we do the last bits of tidying up. New country, soon, and I think he'll prefer the cooler temperatures. Well, something like that!

I don't know when I'll be online again, a few days I hope. Somewhere else. It's all very exciting. In the meantime here are two flash stories published in the latest issue of The Pedestal magazine, in the wonderful company of Stefanie Freele, among others. See you on the other shore!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Cats - an update

So, for those of you concerned about how our Cats-Prepare-For-Flight day went, I will tell you, and it has its poetic moments too!

First, we remained calm yesterday morning in the face of one cat being too clever to be duped into his cat carrier and vanishing over the garden fence. And in he trotted, just at the right minute, and was sufficiently impressed with my non-stressed demeanour that he allowed himself to be grabbed and bundled in.

Our first hurdle, with two wailing cats in their way-too-big British-Airways-approved cat carriers in the back of the car, was to find the office of the Jerusalem district vet during the 1.5 hours he turns up in the city every week. Inside the same building as the Israel Antiquities Authority, a very ancient structure itself, we waited as Mr District Vet was late, trying to keep the dog in front of us in the queue from hassling the cats, and all the time worrying how we would get the cats out of the cat carriers for the vet to check them and then back in.

We didn't have to worry. A lovely Brazilian man, he was far more interested in discussing the finer points of English spelling and saying how much he preferred British accents to Americans (he had problems understand some Texans recently). He peered at the cats sitting warily in their carriers, and then filled out the forms we needed, while telling us that in 9 years he had only seen a few people who were taking pets to England, despite the harsh quarantine. But rather than telling us off for putting our cats through that, he felt it showed that we really love them and we aren't prepared to abandon them. "Ah," he sighed. "Sometimes I wish all my neighbours were cats and dogs." Pause. "And my work colleagues too!" And then, as we stood up to leave, he gestured to the heavens and said: "If there is someone up there, he's smiling down on you." Well.

The cats safely back in the car, we grinned all the way down the motorway, or at least until the first crazy driver overtook on the inside and crossed 3 lanes of traffic. The cats didn't enjoy the journey either. And once in the airport, we got a bit lost in "Cargo City" (this, in a country of only 6 million people...) But I tracked down the British Airways office ("Ah, the cat lady!" they said) and from then on it went swimmingly. A room full of strangely polite and friendly Israeli men in BA attire peered into the cat carriers. "Isn't he big!" they said. "He's a tiger!" Zac sat, unperturbed. Or perhaps deeply traumatised, who knows? We didn't think he was so big. Maybe a little tall for his age.

I signed the forms and then the moment we had been dreading: transferring the cats from the carriers they'd fly in to their much smaller regular cat carriers so airport security could hold onto the bigger ones. "Stand back," I told the strangely polite and friendly Israeli men in BA attire. "We'll give you privacy," they said seriously. And yet...

.... we put one cat carrier facing the other, and both cats just quietly strolled from one to the other.

Not a wail. Nothing.

Well, relief. The friendly BA men seemed a little sad at the lack of drama. They assured us they'd watch the cats as we took the big carriers to security. And as we left the room, I saw one of them peer down into Zac's carrier and say "Meow." That made my day!

Security was fine, the cats were totally peaceful all the way home, and when we let them out of their cages there were no dirty looks, no punishing hours-long absences. As if all was normal. It wasn't until a few hours later, at our wonderful friends J & H's glorious wedding, that J and I confessed that we only realized afterwards how much we'd been stressed about it all! The cats, it seemed, had no problem at all.

Next week: the cats on the aeroplane. Fingers crossed they enjoy their in flight entertainment and those little nuts they give out with the drinks.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

A little radio silence

This may be the longest break I've ever had between blogs - 7 days. Wow. Just shows how hectic it is to move countries. We are busy packing, selling, giving away, storing... and trying to do everything as normal so the cats don't know what's about to befall them! Right now, one is wailing in her cat carrier, and the second, the one with the most suspicious nature, has disappeared - and we need to take them to the vet! Trying to keep calm. Calm. Calm. I'm sure he'll be back. Even TUNA, the big treat, didn't work. Too clever.

In the meantime, I have nothing writing-related to talk about, except that I haven't been able to concentrate long enough to do much of it. So here are some links:
  • Margaret Atwood is blogging about her upcoming world tour for her new book, Year of the Flood - we will be seeing her in a few weeks. Apparently she is setting off today and traveling from Canada to the UK by boat:
  • "Packing for departure for the UK — Graeme Gibson and I are crossing by boat, thanks to Cunard, and I will preview The Year of the Flood during those days. The first dramatic and musical event is in Edinburgh on August 30 — Orville Stoeber the composer will perform in it. Then comes Manchester — two stars from Coronation Street are in the event! — and then London, Bath, Bristol, Ely, Cardiff, not in that order. All are fundraisers for the RSPB and for BirdLife International — It’s wonderful how people have been helping out. Click The Tour on this website to see all stops — the countries are different colours. Kingston Ontario is poised to go — September 23 at the Writers’ Festival — they have thrown themselves into the spirit, and are even designing recycled newspaper shoes, says Rumour! I will post updated info on the UK tour next."
  • A new literary magazine is always welcome! Check out The Collagist's fiction and poetry.
Ok, must deal with feline-related matters. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Quick roundup

We're away overnight, getting away from all the packing up still left to do before moving countries in 13 days, so this is just a quick announcement of some nice news:
  • Two of my flash stories have been accepted for Pedestal Magazine's flash-only issue in August, an older flash and a brand new one, which is lovely - and they pay! I believe there are still two more days left before submissions close, so send yours off.
  • I am thrilled that PANK magazine have nominated my flash story, Missy, which was published in their Jan 2009 issue, for the Best of the Net anthology! You can read the story here (scroll down). Congrats to my fellow nominees: Catherine Zickgraf, Caitlin Johnson, Lauren Wheeler, Brad Johnson, Stephen Mills, Peter Schwartz and my Zoetrope mate Tim Jones-Yelvington. Links to all their pieces on the PANK blog. Link
I've never been nominated for anything like this before, it was a wonderful surprise to wake up to this morning. Thanks, PANK!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Interesting short story discussion

There's an interesting discussion over at The Rumpus, where a blog post entitled "More Crappy News for Short Story Writers" brings us more of those quotes we short story lovers and writers have become used to hearing, from an agent writing in response to being sent a short story collection:
Publishers don’t like to publish short story collections in general unless they are VERY high concept or by someone very strange or very famous or Indian. In the current climate, it is harder to publish even those. Some of the authors I represent have story collections I have not been able to talk their loyal publishers into publishing. I can’t in good conscience encourage you to send them to me. It will just make both of us feel bad.
What is "VERY high concept"? And... he actually said "Indian"???!!

The writer of this post, Seth Fischer, argues wisely that
"The form of the short story collection is so uniquely well-suited to the Internet age. A good short story should grab you by the junk and make you yelp in that first line. So should good web copy. A good short story should be no longer than it need be. So should good web copy. I could go on. There are many very important differences between the two types of writing, but the publishing houses could be taking advantage of the similarities to develop a model that could turn a profit."
Exactly. He ends:
It seems to me that all it would take is a tiny bit of ingenuity to make money off the right short story collection. Why aren’t the publishing houses trying it?
I have been saying for a while that I see this attitude from mainstream publishing houses towards short story collections as a singular failure of imagination. If they have a marketing department that believes it is fairly talented at getting people to buy books, then why do they believe there is a whole swathe, no a whole world of books that they just cannot persuade anyone to buy?

The comments on this post are pretty interesting too, especially the comment that begins: "Could the problem be that many short stories are boring?" I encourage you all to go over there and weigh in....!

Thursday, August 06, 2009

My Writing Routine

Until the editor of the excellent Branta: the might of write asked if I'd like to contribute a post about my daily writing routine, I didn't think I had one. Then I pondered for a few weeks, observed myself, and discovered that I do! It's all here, and I am a little embarassed by it... I feel I come across as insane! Please go have a look and tell me that I'm not, I'm really not...! Please...

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Ending the day on a high note

I just found out, and it's crazy for me to even write it...that The White Road and Other Stories is current Salt's bestselling book. Number 1. Madness. Not sure what time period this refers to or anything... Of course, I took a screenshot...

can you see? Click on it to get a larger pic. There's Shaindel Beers' wonderful poetry collection, A Brief History of Time, at Number 3, Luke Kennard's excellent The Migraine Hotel at #4, and Alex Keegan's stunning stories, Ballistics, at #20. And 16 books that I have yet to read and love...And a gorgeous photo of Nuala and her brand new short story collection, Nude, which you will hear more about here shortly.

This most definitely is the result of Salt's Just One Book campaign, so many people rallied round, thank you all so so much for supporting Salt - and thank you to those of you who showed their support by buying my book. It is really moving and thrilling, I never thought I would find myself at this point. But please: don't stop. Salt is doing alright for the moment, but this needs to continue. There are new titles being published, and a wealth of existing titles that are excellent, both poetry and short stories. Have a wander, all books are 33% off for the whole of August (enter the coupon code HU693FB2 at checkout)... or sign up for the Story Bank or Poetry Bank and get sent beautiful books on a regular basis. What better present for a reader?

Ok, off to bed now with a big grin.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

A L Kennedy, We Love You

Fiction writer and stand-up comic A L Kennedy's blog posts on the Guardian are always a great read, but this time I found her words even more poignant and hitting-home (is that a phrase?) than usual. She's talking about reviews, apropos her new short story collection, What Becomes, which comes out on Aug 6th and which I am eagerly awaiting! She says:

[B]ook reviews are odd things. They emerge months, if not years after the book is done with, so they're not that much use to the author. If the book's a car crash, it's already happened and we've walked or crawled away long ago. They are usually written (and should really be written) for readers, but may on occasions wander off and end up being about the reviewer's idea of the author, or a literary theory, or even some kind of personal issue the reviewer is working through. (This seems to be quite common in US reviews.) Yes, I personally want feedback on my work, but I get that from my editor and my agent (who used to be an editor) and from readings of work in progress and (extremely) occasionally from people upon whom I inflict sections of whatever heaving mess I'm wrestling with at the time. I get opinions from people I trust whose judgement I know and understand.
I rather like the point she makes at the end, that she doesn't look to reviews to give her feedback on her own books, she has people who do that. She continues...
And just try writing a book of short stories. (I mean that rhetorically – obviously there are very few commercially- or personally-viable reasons for your writing a book of short stories. Unless, of course, you harbour a love of the form, you foolish and adorable moppet.)
(We foolish adorable moppets love you, A L K!)
But if you did try it – and my first ever book was a collection of short stories – imagine how utterly bloody confusing the reviews are bound to be. First opinion – "Story A is rubbish, B is okay, C is middling." But then you read, "Story C is transcendent, A's okay and F should be illegal." And on and on it goes. It's incredibly difficult to review short stories without mentioning individual stories and opinions will differ and multiple reviews will simply confuse the young and tender brain of the scribbler concerned.
Tis all true, and I say this as reviewer and reviewed. This is why reviewing short story collections is completely different skill from reviewing a novel. As editor of the Short Review, I receive a whole range of different types of reviews, but I find the most useful reviews are those that rise above the "I liked this story but this one didn't work" and attempt to capture something book-sized, threads that run through a writer's work that perhaps they are not aware of, or were certainly not aware of when they wrote each individual story, something bigger that informs their writing. I also want to read some of the writing, to hear the voices, the styles, the wordplay across different stories.

But, in the end, what does it all come down to? A L Kennedy sums it up perfectly for us:
.. review quotes are cut out and arranged in ways that will make the paperback jacket read as if the Archangel Gabriel came down to earth and produced the volume in question with his very own heart's blood and anyone who doesn't buy it is not only crazy, but possessed of a leprous soul and likely to bite the heads off kittens. Sadly, every other book jacket will read like that, too – reducing the reader to a guilty, cognitively dissonant mess on the floor of Waterstone's café.
Exactly! What is the message we should take from A L K's blog post, as writers and as readers? Don't trust a single review to tell you everything you need to know about a book, and don't let reviews of your own work make you believe or disbelieve anything about your own writing. Be open, keep writing, and buy A L Kennedy's book. I think she'd agree with me on that.

Monday, August 03, 2009

The Short Review August 2009 Summer Reading

Find some air conditioning if you're in temperatures like mine (sorry to those of you in the southern hemisphere, don't mean to make you feel bad - stay warm) And then grab yourself a book. Want some reading ideas? The latest issue of The Short Review has plenty:

First, we have not only a review of Chris Beckett's Edge Hill Prize-winning short story collection, The Turing Test (written by me - I loved it!) and an interview with Chris about the book, but a special interview with Chris on The Short Review blog, where he talks about his 20 year relationship with UK science fiction magazine, Interzone, whose "constructive rejections" spurred him on - something all writers wish we had, eh?

The rest of the issue? Reviews of new new writing from New Zealand and from Birkbeck College, debut collections from across the globe featuring elegies, liars, the turing test, life in the universe, nature's magician, floating orders, stories from the west's wet edge, and classics by Oscar Wilde.

And, as ever, author interviews with as many as we can track down. A taster:

Petina Gappah, author of An Elegy for Easterly:
"My rather lofty idea then was that the main character in the collection was the country of Zimbabwe itself, and I wanted the reader to see it grow or regress through each story. But that approach was too artificial, too forced, and in the end, the stories simply fell into place on the basis of which one I managed to finish editing first .."
Alan McMonagle, author of Liar, Liar:
"Stories are revelations, discoveries, confessions, little explosions. They attempt to be of reality and, at the same time, to stretch reality. ... Many of my efforts eschew the classic moment of epiphany. So early into a writing career I'm happy for my characters to "emerge." It's that Flannery O’Connor thing of people being the way they are despite what has happened as opposed to because of what has happened.."

Michael J Farrell, author of Life in the Universe:
"I am immensely grateful to the people buying my book. I am puzzled by the huge popularity of chick lit. I don't think this attitude is snobbishness or envy. The law of averages would indicate some people ought to like chick lit. But so many? It must surely make a difference to a population or a civilization that so many like, nay love, this level of writing, and are to that extent usually turned off by other forms of literature"
Read it all and more right here.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

25 Hours of no Internet...

I have the computer switched off on Shabbat, from sundown Friday til sunset Saturday, and switching on the computer to see what's come in is always fun - 25 hours of no Internet is an utter joy and very relaxing, but enough is enough! So, tonight Gmail brought me:

  • It Begins with Birds in Flight, my second published flash story in Metazen this week.
  • A totally love email from organisers of a competition that I didn't win, just to let me know that one of the judges has said: "Wow--interesting! One of the only entries that I felt compelled to read twice. Odd, quirky, entirely original (and it's so hard to be original these days!). Her writing has such a nice, natural flow to it." That left me very warm and fuzzy and almost almost made up for not even getting an honorable mention :) Same story is out at a few other places, not comps - and delightedly is in the "hasn't been rejected yet" situation. Fingers crossed!
Together with my amazing deputy editor, Diane, we are working hard on the August issue of The Short Review, due in the shops (ok, on your screens) in the next 48 hours. Gonna be a good one, with a special interview with Chris Beckett, winner of the Edge Hill Prize, talking about his 20-year relationship with science fiction magazine Interzone, whose "constructive rejections" spurred him on.

Also: huge congratulations to the winner of the Guardian Weekend Short Story competition, Lisa Blower: this is her first published story. Lovely! Read stories by her, the runners up (Andy Knudson, Poornima Manco, Bernard O'Leary, Dan Purdue and Roger Stephens) and others in the Guardian's Summer Fiction Special.