Monday, May 27, 2013

Aloneness and Loneliness

Isn't it fascinating when everything you read seems to connect together even though chosen - apparently - at random? I am having one of those days, and wanted to share with you three things I watched and read today which I found fascinating. The first is this gorgeous video & poem called "How to be Alone"

Isn't that beautiful? I watched it this morning, I found it from this fascinating website, Rewriting the Rules, which is about love and relationships but from every angle, including loving ourselves, which is where being happily alone comes in.

Then, as part of an online poetry course I am taking part in which brings in philosophy and physics (and so much more) I was pointed towards this very interesting article on the science of loneliness - an excerpt:
Psychobiologists can now show that loneliness sends misleading hormonal signals, rejiggers the molecules on genes that govern behavior, and wrenches a slew of other systems out of whack. They have proved that long-lasting loneliness not only makes you sick; it can kill you. ... The psychological definition of loneliness hasn’t changed much...  not what the philosopher Søren Kierkegaard characterized as the “shut-upness” and solitariness of the civilized. Nor is “real loneliness” the happy solitude of the productive artist or the passing irritation of being cooped up with the flu while all your friends go off on some adventure. It’s not being dissatisfied with your companion of the moment—your friend or lover or even spouse— unless you chronically find yourself in that situation, in which case you may in fact be a lonely person. ... Loneliness - and this will surprise no one—is the want of intimacy. [The full article is here]

I also just finished reading an astonishing novel, The Woman Upstairs, by Claire Messud, which I devoured and which left me shaking by the end, so perfectly did it seem to address everything I am thinking about right now. It is about a woman my age living alone and feeling unseen, and her struggles about her anger at the way her life has gone, her desire to be an artist, friendship, family, relationships. It almost feels trite to try and summarize it this way, let me just recommend it to you highly, I think it's a masterpiece.

For me, all three of these - the film, the article and the novel -  tie up: being a creative person, I have a deep need for the proper kind of aloneness that enables me to delve into myself in order to write, and this never produces loneliness. But I have to watch out that I do what is necessary to avoid it tipping over into loneliness, if I don't ensure that I get enough social contact of the right kind  - as an introvert - with the people who feed me rather than deplete. It's quite a difficult thing to navigate, I am finding right now, living on my own without even a beloved pet for the first time for 16 years, alongside the promise that I will be able to immerse myself in writing in an entirely different way living alone, which both excites and somewhat scares me.

What do you do? Do you have strategies for "good" aloneness and avoidance of loneliness, whether with others or by yourself? How does that fit in with/feed/inspire your writing?

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Lydia Davis

I can't tell you how thrilled I was to hear that one of my favourite, favourite writers, Lydia Davis, has won the International Man Booker Prize, given for a body of work rather than one particular book. She is a writer of short and very very short "things" - are they stories, poems? As I said in my Litro blog post - Who the hell cares, really? They're sublime, funny, dark, moving, insightful, memorable.

For a taste of her writing, listen to the excellent James Salter read a story here on the Guardian podcast, I found it immensely moving. And you can read my review of Lydia Davis' Collected Stories on The Short Review. It's a must-read for anyone who loves words, rhythms, wordplay, stories, the dark and light of life.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Iridescent Insects: What is Flash Fiction?

I'm over at the Litro blog again today with my second monthly "Guide to Flash Fiction" blog post - I thought this time I'd better try and figure out what flash fiction is - iridescent insect? What do you think? Let us know in the comments over there >>

Monday, May 13, 2013

Two Amazing Bristol Author Events!

If you are anywhere within travelling distance of Bristol, you should really come to these, two astonishingly great American writers! George Saunders (recently named by TIME magazine as one of the world's 100 most influential people, a short story writer) is a bit of a hero of mine, his short stories are indescribably great, they have had a huge impact on my writing, talking about permission. Wacky, dark, wondrous. Come! Read a great interview with George by Ben Johncock here then book your tickets. It's a must.

James Salter
Watershed, Bristol
Thu 23 May 2013, 18:10-20:30 (film 18.10-19.00; interview with James Salter 19.30-20.30), £7/ £6
This is a rare opportunity to hear James Salter talk about his latest novel, a sweeping, seductive love story set in post-World War II America that draws together the great themes of Salter’s writing: warfare, love, sex and marriage, and what it means to write. Event includes first UK screening of the documentary A Sport and a Pastime, which traces Salter’s lifelong love affair with France.
Watershed telephone booking: 0117 927 5100
Further details and online booking link:
George Saunders
Tenth of December
Watershed, Bristol
Thu 30 May 2013, 20.00-21.00, £7/ £6
From the undisputed master of the short story comes a dazzling and disturbing new collection. His most wryly hilarious work to date, Tenth of December illuminates human experience and explores figures lost in a labyrinth of troubling preoccupations, with dark visions of the future riffing against ghosts of the past. Chaired by Nikesh Shukla.
Watershed telephone booking: 0117 927 5100

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Spread the Word Writing Prize

Once again, I am getting judgemental - I am honoured to be one of the judges for the brand new Spread the Word Writing Prize, run by those excellent folk at Spread the Word, the literature development agency in London. Here are the details - only open to London residents, I'm afraid! But you do have up to 8000 words to play with, with NO MINIMUM. (I bet you guessed I might mention that...) Deadline July 15th. Surprise and delight us...

We are delighted to announce the Spread the Word Writing Prize 2013.  Short Fiction is a form we are excited about - we feel it has growing appeal and an audience that’s ripe for development. You’ll have up to 8000 words to move, excite, enthrall and inspire us on the theme of ‘ Ritual’. We’re ready to see the best of what London writers have to offer. So get writing! Download Full Prize Rules here.

Download the Entry Form and a Cultural Diversity Monitoring Form

Closing Date for entries is midday, Monday 15 July 2013.

Bidisha is a writer, critic and BBC TV and radio broadcaster. She writes for a wide range of international publications and has judged numerous prizes. She specializes in the arts and culture, social justice issues and international affairs; and is the author of two novels. Her fifth book is out next year.

Tania Hershman is the author of two story collections: My Mother Was An Upright Piano: Fictions (Tangent Books, 2012), a collection of 56 very short fictions, and The White Road and Other Stories (Salt, 2008; commended, 2009 Orange Award for New Writers.) She is Writer the ditor of the online journal The Short Review. Her website is
Sue Lawther is the Director of Spread the Word. She has worked in arts and education for over 20 years. As a Creative Director at Creative Partnerships Sue worked with hundreds of artists and schools to develop creative programmes and was executive producer of The Container by Clare Bayley, which won a Fringe First at the 2007 Edinburgh festival and the Amnesty International Freedom of Expression Award.
Courttia Newland Novelist, short story writer, playwright and editor. His latest novel The Gospel According to Cane, was published by Telegram in early 2013. Short story collections include Music for the Off-Key and A Book of Blues. He has edited many anthologies, most recently co-editing Tell Tales 4: The Global Village (2009).