One of the things I’m coming to realise is that the most exciting thing that can happen as a writer is when someone with a different skill set collaborates with you. I am by nature a solitary creature when it comes to the actual business of putting the words together, but I love seeing what happens when you let go of the words and let someone else play with them.
So far I’ve been lucky enough to have a few of my stories illustrated by some very talented artists (although I’m still awaiting a full-blown graphic novelisation – my life would probably be complete if that ever happened). I’ve also had some excellent live readings by some wonderful actors and a couple of excellent studio productions (one by the BBC and another by Short Story Radio).
And we can now make that three excellent studio productions, because a new site has just gone up called The Story Player, and my story “The Birdman of Farringdon Road” is one of the first to appear there. It’s expertly read by David Wayman and superbly produced by the man behind Short Story Radio, The Story Player and National Short Story Week, Ian Skillicorn. Do have a listen – it’s only 12 minutes long. Whilst you’re there, take a listen to some of the other stories from great writers like Susie Maguire and – coming soon – Tania Hershman and Jon McGregor.
I also heard today that my story “The Alternative Electrician”, which I read at Story Friday in Bath nearly a year ago, has been accepted for publication by Every Day Fiction. It’ll be nice to see that one getting a second audience.
And don’t forget that “Take It Cool” is still running, having just hit its thirtieth episode. If you haven’t been following it, don’t worry, there’ll be another “Previously…” post along soon. Or just start wherever you like and pick it up from there. I’m not fussy. Just as long as you read it, right?
The excellent Short Review (to the best of my knowledge, the only magazine that focusses exclusively on short story collections) has just turned its spotlight on DOT DASH. Fortunately, it’s a generally positive review, although I was a bit apprehensive when I read the first full paragraph:
A couple of pages in, I began to wonder what strange forces had possessed me to request Dot Dash. I’m a habitually po-faced reader. I gravitate toward books that are sad and harrowing. I like to claw through a couple of hundred pages in which nothing much happens only to feel emotionally wrenched at the end. Yet I had unwittingly invited Dot Dash onto my bookshelf. It was shooting jokes at Steppenwolf and trying out cheesy chat-up lines on The Bell Jar.
The good news is that, despite this, DOT DASH seems to win her over and by the end, I get the feeling that she actually quite enjoyed reading it. It’s a very thoughtful review, even if it does go straight to my insecurity about being a bit lightweight. (Yeah I know. I wrote a book called “Mrs Darcy versus the Aliens”, didn’t I? Not exactly Proust.) Maybe I shouldn’t worry. Maybe that’s what I am. There are worse things to be, after all.
Dot Dash is like a good pair of hiking boots: light but solid. The stories skip and stride through precipitous versions of reality.
I’m pretty certain this is the first time my work has been compared to an item of footwear. On reflection, I’m OK with this.
Quite by chance, TAKE IT COOL gets a bit heavy today, with my attempt to calculate how many slaves Philip Pinnock owned. It’s not a pretty part of the story, but I think it has to be addressed. By the way, if you’ve somehow managed to miss the story so far – or indeed, haven’t managed to keep up – another one of those useful “Previously on TAKE IT COOL…” posts appeared the other day. So no excuses then.
Well, this is nice. DOT DASH has been chosen as one of five recommended short story collections for this year’s National Short Story Week. I’ve no idea what this is likely to mean in terms of sales (I suspect not a lot, as short story collections are never big sellers), but it can’t be bad for the old profile.
Quite coincidentally, the first review of MRS DARCY VERSUS THE ALIENS for a while (well, it is over two years since the book came out) popped up on Goodreads the other day as well, and fortunately, it was a good one. A bit of detective work also revealed that she’d urged all her Twitter followers to read it. So obviously I’m expecting THOUSANDS of new sales. I still have dreams of some celeb type stumbling across it by accident and hailing it as an overlooked comic classic, but unfortunately they tend to be the sort of dreams in which this is followed by me being chased naked through Brent Cross by a giant mutant jellyfish. You too, eh? I hate those dreams.
I’m always on the lookout for new and unusual places to submit stuff to, so when I noticed that Tania Hershman had had this typically strange and wonderful piece published by the delightfully-titled Cease, Cows magazine, I knew I had to send something their way myself. (Any magazine that titles itself after a quote from “One Hundred years of Solitude” is OK by me.) So I was very pleased when I received an acceptance for “Wood”, a story that clocks in at just over 200 words. I’ll let you know when they put it up. Here’s the submissions page, by the way. You get a cow-themed response, too.
The reviews for “Dot Dash” continue to trickle in, and here’s a nice one on Goodreads from Tracy Fells – many thanks for that, Tracy!
Finally, here’s a quick plug for my new beekeeping blog, Hiveminding. It’s basically what it says in the subtitle: “The Adventures of a Novice Beekeeper”. Join me in my journey into the strange and unusual world of bees and the equally strange and unusual people who keep them! (I really did say “journey” there, didn’t I? Oh dear.)
Last Tuesday (oh God, is it THAT long since I last posted?) was a triple-good day. First of all, I found out that the workshop I mentioned here is now fully booked. Yay! Then I found out that Dot Dash is on the longlist for this year’s Edge Hill Short Story Prize. Double yay! Although I have to say that the excitement of finding that out is somewhat tempered by the daunting size of that longlist and the presence of some VERY big hitters on there. I strongly suspect that this will be about as far as things go. Still, it’s nice while it lasts.
The third good thing to happen was Short Stories Aloud. I’m sure I’ve said it before, but there’s nothing quite like the experience of hearing your words read by a professional actor and Jenny Johns was absolutely brilliant in her interpretations of Return to Cairo and Mirror, Mirror. Steve Hay also gave some excellent readings of a couple of Jon McGregor stories and one by Ernest Hemingway.
Once the formal part of the evening was over, Sarah Franklin, the founder and compere par excellence of SSA proceeded to grill me with questions from the audience. I think I managed to answer most of them, even if (perhaps because) they tended to be actually on the subject of writing, rather than – for example – what my favourite cheese was. They all seemed a very friendly bunch and an exceptionally responsive audience. All in all, it was a most enjoyable evening, and if you’re in the vicinity of Oxford when the next one comes along (check their Facebook group to find out) I’d recommend going along. The cake is pretty damn fine, too.
And finally, now that Easter is over and the first three months of the year are behind us, I really promise to post a bit more. There are several reviews circling round waiting to land and if I’m not careful, they may start to run out of fuel…
Just realised it’s about time I made a bit of a noise about this upcoming thing. Short Stories Aloud is a regular event held at the Old Fire Station in Oxford (what is it about Firestations and Arts Centres, by the way? Just wondering…). It’s a bit like Liars’ League, in that the short stories are read by trained actors, except that there’s a bit more of a focus on the writers.
This month, I’m going to be one of the featured writers, along with a couple of other blokes called Jon McGregor and Ernest Hemingway (nope, me neither). Apparently, four of the stories from DOT DASH are going to be read – one dot and three dashes, to be precise – which is more than a little exciting. Not only that, but as I’ll be the only one of the three authors present, I’ll be the one subjected to the audience Q&A.
Like a certain other Firestation-based event, it offers free entry to anyone bearing cake, so if I were you, I’d book the kitchen for next Tuesday. The fun starts at 19:30 and here’s the official Facebook event page. Be there or be square.
In other news, the estimable David Hebblethwaite has given DOT DASH the thumbs up, describing it as “lovely stuff”:
What brings them together so well is Pinnock’s wry wit, his knack for sharp twists and rueful endings. The dots are marvellously concentrated bursts of language – not just punchlines, but stories reduced to their essence in a few sentences.
Finally, Mrs P and I were browsing in a bookshop over the weekend and she drew my attention to this remarkable reference in Susannah Fullerton’s “Happily Ever After”. I say remarkable, because it’s quite clear from the description that the author – the President of the Jane Austen Society of Australia, no less – has actually read the book
Hope you had/are having a jolly super Christmas/Winter Solstice/whatever. Mrs Darcy’s been feeling left out lately, so I thought she was due for another Christmas Special. It’s not particularly seasonal, but you may find it mildly amusing.
In other news, if Santa happened to bring you a Kindle or other electronic book substitute, “Dot Dash” is still only 77p, and – amazingly - still in the Amazon charts, where it’s been almost continuously since the Kindle promotion began. Not that I’ve been checking ever hour or so. Oh no, not me.
This is the most fascinating Venn diagram in my life at the moment. One of my big worries when I was blogging “Mrs Darcy versus the Aliens” was how it would affect my street cred as a writer. That sounds really arsey, I know, but a part of me does want to be taken seriously, even if it’s a part that’s in constant conflict with the other part of me that just wants to spend the day composing knob jokes.
So it was something of a relief to me to find that several of the literary short story writers that I looked up to seemed happy to indulge me (and even more of a relief – not to say surprise – when an imprint of Salt decided to publish it). But I’m even more intrigued now to know what Mrs Darcy’s readership will make of Dot Dash. It is a very different book, after all, although I guess you could probably tell it was written by the same bloke.
So far the reviews are looking pretty positive, anyway. This is what they look like on Amazon (including a couple by complete strangers, which is always particularly gratifying). And here’s another one that appeared today, courtesy of Our Book Reviews (who’d previously given Mrs Darcy a major thumbs-up).
One of the writers who gave Mrs Darcy an unexpected endorsement was Tania Hershman, and – somewhat belatedly (it’s been a busy week or so) – here’s a link to an interview I did with her a little while back. Whilst you’re over there, I do recommend taking her up on her offer of a customised edition of her wonderful book “My Mother was An Upright Piano” – a brilliant idea for a present for that literary chum who’s impossible to buy for.
Finally, don’t forget that the Salt Kindle 77p deal is STILL on. Half a dozen terrific books at an absurd knock-down price. Further to my previous post on the subject, I’ve now finished Carys Bray’s “Sweet Home”, and I can confirm that it is indeed an excellent, if at times quite harrowing, collection.
It’s madness, it is. Dot Dash arrived on the Kindle today and for a limited time only (at least I assume so) it will cost you no more than 77p! That’s SEVENTY-SEVEN PENCE, people. It also seems to be available in the US Kindle store, although there’s no price currently attached.
If, like me, you still prefer the feel of real paper books, it’s also finally made it to the ordinary Amazon store.
Other bookstores are, of course, available. For the time being, at any rate. Some of them pay a bit more tax than Amazon, too.
The ideal option, from my point of view, would be for you to spend 77p to see if you like the look of it, and then order a signed physical copy from me (see sidebar <–). Or pop into your nearest local independent bookshop.
Five other Scott prizewinners from Salt are also included in this offer, and the ones I’ve read (from Cassandra Parkin and A J Ashworth) and the one I’m currently reading (from Carys Bray) are bloody brilliant. Get in there, I say.
…is at the lovely Jen Campbell’s This Is Not The Six Word Novel blog. Jen is a disturbingly talented short story writer and poet, although she is currently far more famous for her utterly brilliant book “Weird Things People Say in Bookshops”. “Weird Things” is exactly what it sounds like: a collection of ignorant, rude and downright bizarre things that people have said in bookshops, and it’s one of the funniest things I’ve ever read. It’s one of those rare books that you think “Right, I’m just going to dip into this every now and then” and then somehow end up reading in a single sitting. I’d most definitely recommend it for your favourite bibliophile’s Christmas stocking. Along with “Dot Dash”, obviously.