Just over a year and a half ago, I reviewed a most unusual book by Harry Karlinsky entitled The Evolution of Inanimate Objects. After reading that one I was intrigued to see what he might come up with next – or indeed if it was a complete one-off.
The good news is that he has come up with something else, and the even better news is that it is just as bonkers. As soon as I heard about it, I wanted to get hold of a copy, but because by TBR pile was already overflowing, I held off buying for a while. But when Scott Pack, who runs The Friday Project, the book’s publisher, was offering free review copies, I could no longer avoid adding to the pile. But just to be sure I wasn’t really adding to it, I snuck it to the top.
The Stonehenge Letters is a similarly peculiar mix of fact and fiction as the first book. The premise is that Alfred Nobel, as a result of an unrequited relationship with the remarkable Florence Antrobus, wife of the heir to the estate that included Stonehenge, develops an obsession with the mystery surrounding the monument. This obsession develops to the point where Nobel secretly offers a further prize to existing laureates for the best solution to the mystery.
And then the fun starts, as various luminaries – from Theodore Roosevelt to Marie Curie – pitch in with their submissions, ranging from the highly plausible down to the frankly daft (Rudyard’s Kipling’s contribution is particularly feeble). Sigmund Freud also provides an entertaining commentary via footnotes.
This isn’t by any means a conventional novel at all: there’s no plot development to speak of, and no real conclusion at the end. But the whole confection is great fun as well as informative and oddly thought-provoking. I’m still pondering what a weird old fish Nobel was, and how extraordinary it is that the prizes named after him are still so highly thought of. Highly recommended.
I meant to do this when DOT DASH came out, but I didn’t have the time and I thought it was a bit self-indulgent. Well, I still don’t really have the time and it’s certainly still self-indulgent, but I’ve done it anyway. I’ve created an entire Wiki devoted to DOT DASH, explaining how all the stories came into being. There’s some fascinating stuff in there, such as this entry on The Amazing Arnolfini and His Wife, which went from an exceptionally lacklustre initial showing to a slot on BBC Radio 4. Have a dig around anyway and see what you think, and pass it on to all your short story writing chums.
And now that I’ve got that out of the way I can think about what I’m going to do by way of a website for TAKE IT COOL…
Didn’t have time to post about this before I went off on my hols (and very nice they were to, thanks for asking). Anyway, here’s my poem “Paradise Found Wanting” up at the ever-excellent Ink, Sweat and Tears. Don’t think it really needs much by way of explanation…
Not much else to report, apart from the fact that my frankly rather puerile flash “The Sixth Generation” is going to be included in the forthcoming National Flash Fiction Day anthology “Eating My Words”. There will be more details on how and where to purchase in due course. Having been one of the judges for the 100-word competition, I can say with hand on my heart that there will be some seriously good stuff in there. As well as my piece.
Take It Cool is now feeling a lot less exposed, because it now has a back cover as well as a front one. And apart from that picture of yours truly, it’s rather spiffy, is it not? All we need now is the book to come out and for loads of people to read it.
What? Someone has already? You’re kidding…
Many thanks to Pete Sutton for some very nice comments there.
Meanwhile, back in short story land, I had an acceptance yesterday from the people at the very excellent Unthology for a rather odd story of mine called “Hay. Pee. Ah. Wrist.” Not sure if it’s going to be Unthology 6 or Unthology 7, but either way it’s going to be extremely cool to join that list.
In case you’re wondering, yes, I still do enter writing competitions. However, my success rate has been somewhat less than stellar lately. No idea why – these things happen; I’ve had stretches like this in the past and I’m sure I will again.
So I was somewhat relieved to find out over the weekend that the drought had ended with a shortlisting and a longlisting in the prestigious Fish Poetry Prize (that’s the one with the €1000 first prize, so not to be sneezed at).
The shortlisted poem is called Lines from an Ape and the longlisted one is called (deep breath, and look away if easily offended) On Going to Watch a YouTube Video of Charles Bukowski and Being Forced to Sit Through an Advert for Fucking Saga Holidays. Both of those arose from a recent writing challenge held on The Write Idea forum, requiring the participants to write a poem a week to variety of prompts. Try and guess what the prompt might have been for the longlisted poem…
Now I need to decided what to do next with them. Put them back into competition or go for publication? I think I might give them another outing or two before retirement.
Whoops. There seems to have been a bit of a hiatus there. No real reason, apart from being generally disorganised. So here are a few things that have happened recently:
I’ve had a couple of Twitter fictions published, at Twiction Addiction and Confettifall respectively.
The recordings from my recent appearances at BristolCon Fringe and Story Fridays Feral have been put online. I put in another appearance last month at BristolCon Fringe, for Fringe in a Flash, although the recording from that hasn’t been put up yet. And speaking of Bristol, here’s a nice passing mention in a piece on Bristol SF writers.
TAKE IT COOL has been edited, proof-read and finally typeset (coincidentally by my chum, the excellent Calum Kerr), and will be published on July 14th. I’ve now reached that point with the book where I’m completely and utterly convinced that no-one is going to buy it, no-one is going to review it and it’s all going to be horribly embarrassing. This is entirely normal.
I’ve reactivated the Hiveminding blog, now that my bees seem to have survived the winter. If bees are your thing (or indeed if they aren’t), do take a look.
And then I’ve got to think about what to write next. The problem, as ever, is not a lack of ideas. There are just too many things I want to do, and none of them has any continuity with anything I’ve done before. So what’s new, then?
The Spring edition of the Irish literary magazine The Stinging Fly has just been published, and what a lovely thing it is. It’s always nice to appear in print, and I’m especially chuffed that my odd little magical realist flash “The Meaning of the Rabbit” has been included in Nuala Ní Chonchúir’s flash fiction showcase, along with loads of other cool people’s work.
I do hope that last Monday’s BristolCon fringe audience appreciate that magical realism reference, by the way.
The excellent Short Review have also put up an interview I did with them about DOT DASH and other stuff. I quote George Saunders in it, which just goes to show how hip I am.
If you’re near Bath this Friday, do come along to Story Fridays at 7:30PM in Burdall’s Yard, where I will be reading “Nature’s Banquet” as part of their “Feral” evening. More – ahem – magical realism.
Finally, I had an urge the other day to start submitting some TwitFic again, and I’ve just had a couple of acceptances, from Confettifall and Twiction Addiction. They’ll both be appearing in April, and I’ll give you a nudge when they do.
One thing they don’t tell you when you start getting into writing is that whether you like it or not, you’re going to end up having to perform your work too. It’s an essential part of the marketing and self-promotion process. There is, however, nothing more off-putting than going to a reading and hearing a mumbled, gabbled, incoherent performance, so it’s worth devoting some effort into getting it right – even if, like me, the last time you performed on stage was at school. And in my case at least, that was a loooong time ago.
Unfortunately, you can practice all you like at home and in front of friends or your writers’ group, perhaps, but the point at which you really start to learn is when you stand up in front of a live audience of strangers and try to convince them that what you’ve written is worth their attention. So over the last few years I’ve sought out opportunities to read my work and the odd thing is that I’ve begun to really enjoy it. There have, of course, been one or two duff efforts – times when I’ve wished the ground would swallow me up – but they’re all learning experiences. But when you get it right, there is nothing quite like the buzz you get from hearing an audience react to something you’ve written. And of course, if you have merchandise (i.e. books) to sell, the better the performance, the more units you shift.
So here are a couple of recent recordings. The first is from the Open Mic night at The Swan in Wedmore. It’s about twelve and a half minutes long:
And here’s one from the most recent Acoustic Night Bristol. Much better sound quality, and only a couple of minutes long:
Finally, here’s something a bit different. It’s a kind of audio story that I put together, and I guess it’s my attempt to try to explore the area left vacant by the likes of Ivor Cutler and Vivan Stanshall. If that isn’t too presumptuous. It probably is, isn’t it? Ah well.
Got a lot of things to blog about at the moment and not enough time to blog in. However, this is most definitely the most important one. TAKE IT COOL has a cover!
What do you think?
I have to say I love it: it’s neat, it’s eye-catching and it captures the essence of the book.
It was interesting to compare the approaches of 2RP and Salt here. With Salt, you have absolutely no idea what Chris Hamilton-Emery is going to come up with until you get tagged with an image on Facebook. I hasten to add that I’ve been very pleased indeed with the covers for both my Salt books, but it was still slightly alarming to realise that you have no input whatsoever!
With 2RP, on the other hand, Sam asked me if I had any ideas, and I suggested using the label image. I produced a horrifically amateurish mock-up of how it might look, and sent it over. She passed this to her designer, the very talented Yvonne Benting, who applied the necessary magic and turned it into something that looks like a proper book.
So things are shaping up nicely. All I’ve got to do now is complete the final edit before passing it back to 2RP. Reading it through again, and seeing that cover, I’m beginning to think it might just work, you know.
Especially with Ian Rankin’s little contribution. Or Rankin’ Ian, as we should probably start calling him.
It’s getting near that time of year when the excellent Get Writing conference begins to loom on the horizon like a looming conference type of thing. This year I’m doing a workshop called “Think You’re Funny, Eh?” I’m not entirely sure if humour can be taught, but I am certain that there are a number of relatively simple techniques that can be learnt in order to make humour work better. This is what it says in the programme anyway:
In this workshop, he uses examples from the classics of comic literature (and also, if no-one manages to stop him, his own work) to show you how to locate your reader’s funny bone.
If this sounds like the kind of thing that you’d like to attend, here’s where you go to book. Apart from my own workshop (obviously), I also strongly recommend that you see if you can get into David Roden‘s. The one he did last year was absolutely magnificent.
The other thing I’m doing is an appearance at the BristolCon Fringe, on Monday February 17th, along with Scott Lewis and Snorri Kristjansson. No idea what I’ll be reading yet, but I guess it will have a sci-fi-ish sort of bent. Which could mean almost anything, frankly. I’d go if I were you.