Sunday, 28 March 2010

and the winner is....

Very pleased to say that my sister picked out a winner at random...

Sonia, you are the winner of Jenn Ashworth's brilliant novel A Kind of Intimacy.

Yay. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did. Be prepared to be a little scared...!

Last chance to win, and other more grumpy business

Well I will be drawing names out of a hat tonight at about 8ish to win this brilliant novel, comments on the original blog post if you want to be in with a chance.

The clock's have gone forward and we lost an hour of sleep. I woke up early. Sun fighting hard to get through the clouds but doing a bloody good job. Looks like it will be a lovely day at the allotment, bit of a bracing wind, but I feel as though I need it to blow the cobwebs out.

Things that have been on my mind this week:

* sometimes no matter what I do, I'm still going to get a migraine. Easier to accept it, go to bed and sleep it off, but it still bothers me. I never used to get them, why so regular now?

* I have 28 years of mortgage. Most of the time I don't think of it, but it has felt a little depressing this weekend. Probably because of the thought of another 28 years of work. That will make me 65 years old when I make my final payment.

* work is hard. I like it. I feel much more settled now. but it's tough, and some weeks feel harder than others. sometimes I feel as though I do for other people all the time, and give of myself in my job so much that there's not much left at the end of the day or the weekend for the people I love. this weekend has been example in itself. I have a number of lovely people who wanted to see me this weekend, and I just felt as though I didn't have the energy. I have been a proper grump and found it hard to work through the weird mood.

* it has never quite worked out with the men I have dated/been in a relationship with. I'm at a funny age, where that really seems to matter. somehow it feels easier, if I just don't bother.

ha! how moody am I.

Other things that have been on my mind... my bedroom is a tip and I need to sort it out. the drawers on my wardrobe have been broken and they will not be mended. my car needs cleaning. I need to go shopping. ggrrrrr....

I am going to the allotment for a good dig. then supermarket. then lunch. then allotment again. then bath. then chat with my mum. and hopefully a change of attitude!!

wondering if anybody else ever gets like this...!

Saturday, 20 March 2010

A Kind of Intimacy: an Interview and giveaway

So, somehow I managed to get a free copy of my friend Jenn Ashworth's book A Kind of Intimacy... and thought I would give it away (see below), and celebrate the brilliance of her book with an interview and other such lovely things.

Jenn is a Lancashire girl like me. I can't remember where we met, but I think it might have been at some reading or another, perhaps no point in not being friends or perhaps Preston reading night Word Soup. We have read at a couple of events, shared a free lunch, and shared a chair at the Manchester Blog Awards. I love her blog Every Day I Lie a Little , and am generally in awe of her for being such a fabulous writer and all round lovely lass.



I decided to take advantage of her loveliness, and ask her some questions that I hope other people might not have asked her about A Kind of Intimacy.

Me: So, let's cut to the quick... Have you known many Annie's, and how did you decide on this name for your main character?

Jenn: I only know one Annie, and that's my Granny. Although I forget she's called Annie for a couple of reasons - I only ever call her Granny and most other people call her Anna. She's nothing like my Annie and not based on her at all. And then I know you, but I met you after I invented my Annie, so there's no clue there... the real reason I decided to give Annie her name was a little nod to the Annie Wilkes character in Stephen King's Misery - one of the inspirations for A Kind of Intimacy - and also Orphan Annie - because it's the sort of film Annie Fairhurst would like to watch and probably how she sees herself. And of course it is such a pretty name ;)

Me: She is a fascinating character, I've read a lot of descriptions of her: On the back of the book, she is described as 'morbidly obese, lonely and hopeful', and in reviews and interviews, has variously been described as 'a sickly smelling orchid' (Bookmunch), 'a compulsive liar' (The Guardian), and 'an overweight loner who books appointments with herself' (The Independent)... she doesn't exactly come with a glowing reference. how would you describe Annie?

Jenn:See, I actually like Annie. I really do. She's trouble to live next door too, obviously. And there is something sickly about her sexuality - she's very prurient and prudish all at the same time. She can't really talk about sex because she doesn't have the words for it - the best she can come up with is 'pecker' - and yet sex is such a huge part of her life and her identity.

I think about Annie through her own language because that is how I came to know her - her words have been corrupted or debased by all the things she reads - she constantly speaks in clichés - and I think that's why she has such a problem knowing herself and other people - she can't get through all these clichés in order to find the right words - to say the things she wants to say. There aren't any right words anymore. And because of that, and because that is such an ordinary, human difficulty and one that as a writer I struggle with all of the time, I have a lot of empathy for her. She is always doing what she thinks is right, after

Me: How did it feel to be writing about a woman who is very overweight, when you are quite a skinny lass yourself? Sometimes I found it a little uncomfortable to read, and wondered what responses you have had from readers, whether you did any research?

Jenn:I didn't find that a problem at all - whenever I'm writing something that is not based on my own experience, I'm having to put myself in the shoes of someone else, to imagine what it would be like to be them. It would be no different if I was writing about a man, or a child, or a middle class person, or a person who lived somewhere else. I'd still need to use those imaginative muscles and do a bit of research.

I was pregnant when I wrote the first draft, so I had a small inkling into what it would be like to feel heavy and find clothes and moving about difficult - and I had a terrible time at school so I didn't have any problem remembering what it was like to feel stared at or treated differently. I applied those experiences to Annie. Readers generally haven't commented on me portraying a big person other than to comment on my size when the meet me - as if they secretly suspect that the book is a thinly veiled autobiography. That, I find funny. I don't root through my neighbours knicker-drawer either, promise.

And yes - I did research about the FA (Fat Admiring) community, and BBWs - through magazines and websites and forums, all of which made my browsing history not something I wanted my mum to look at. I found it sad in a way - the way that the women were reduced to nothing more than a set of measurements. It's the same for smaller women too though, I think. That research was more for me to get an insight into this world Annie could get herself mixed up in, rather than for her character though - she's not interested in that sub-culture, she just wants to meet someone who is interested in talking to her and she thinks Abundance is the logical place to look.

I did a reading once at my old college in Cambridge and someone asked about the irony of the word 'Abundance' to describe the Fat Admiring contact magazine - when Annie's personal life is so impoverished. It's a nice idea, but I didn't mean any irony by it. There was a real magazine called Abundance, although I don't think it's going

Me: I love the fact that you set your novels in the north west of England (being a Lancashire girl myself). Do you know Fleetwood very well? Why did you choose this as your setting?

Jenn:I chose Fleetwood because I wanted somewhere near to my house I could go and research easily while pushing a pram - and because there's something that attracts me to dismal sea-side towns. Annie's from remote Cumbria, and she thinks, when she meets her husband, she's moving to Blackpool. Blackpool and Fleetwood are worlds and worlds apart, and the thing that characterises Fleetwood is how isolated it is - there's no train station and it's hard to get out of.

This scene isn't in the book, but I always imaged Annie arriving in Fleetwood shortly before her wedding day with the Blackpool Lights and Tower Ballroom and bingo and cocktails and musical stage shows whirling about in her mind, and looking around her at the empty main-street and old fish warehouses and realising that yet again, real life did not quite measure up to her fantasy. When she moves again - the move that kick-starts the action in the book - that same thing happens. So I chose Fleetwood because it (and Fleetwooders won't like this...) it just feels so disappointing. Also, I've never read another novel set in Fleetwood.

Me: I think it's fair to say (without spoiling the story!) that Annie is not the best of neighbours. How would you cope if Annie moved next door to you?

Jenn:Haha! I've never thought of that. I'm always very interested in my neighbours, but I'm not sure I like the idea of them being so interested in me! I have an idea that all Annie needed was the kind of unconditional love we're all supposed to get in childhood - although as an adult that need has become bottomless. I don't think friendship would do it for her, but I'd like to think I'd try and be kind to her. I'm almost sure I would. The Mr says I'm too soft and walk about with an 'empathy gun' pointed at my own head (one of his nice phrases) but the idea of there being real people like Annie walking about and there not being much we can do to help them makes me sad.

Me: I love Boris's description of Annie as ‘a minority interest, like collecting Stilton jars or learning to fold paper birds’. Do you have any minority interests?

Jenn:Well, I like folding paper birds...
I get fads now and again - I was interested in Angler Fish for ages, and before that, hot air balloons and the history of their construction. Most of it ends up somewhere in my writing, or a story - or I write about characters who get single minded and obsessed about something. Sometimes I think I only write because it gives me an excuse to have these obsessions and because I like the noise the keyboard makes when I get up to speed typing on it. There's something very interesting about people who have hobbies, who are really into something just for the sake of it. I always wanted to write about someone who has a collection of something or other that got out of hand, and maybe one day I

Me: Do you think Annie is a product of her past?

Jenn:Yes - I think so. She was unloved, and this book looks at what happens to intelligent, basically good adults who weren't loved enough as children. She's got the same impulses and needs and desires as everyone else, she's just grown up crooked and it's too late for her to be fixed. And yet, if you were presented with a child like Annie, I think most people would find it hard to love her. It's a chicken and egg situation. I also don't like the idea of 'diagnosing' Annie - you could say she has all kinds of disorders and it would probably be true of her character, but I feel like giving someone a label dismisses them or their behaviour - it's a full stop that means we can cease the effort in trying to understand. I always make the mistake of talking about her like she's real... thinking about it as a book, yes, there are scenes from her childhood in there that I put in so you could see that she'd always been odd and her parents had found her difficult too - and that her relationship with her parents had shaped her expectations of adult relationships. But it would be a shame if that was all a reader got out of the book.

Me: I read somewhere that there is 'a potential Annie in all of us'. Discuss

Jenn:I just don't think she's that different to most of us, like I said, want she wants is normal - and basic and almost tragically little. Whether Neil would be enough to fill this bottomless pit of need in her, I don't know. That's why I put the bit about her baby in there - she struggles to fill that need in someone else, and is completely unable to mother in the way that she needed to be mothered. She's empty - maybe it's not possible for people to get loved enough. I don't think that's very unusual either.

Me: I've had the pleasure to hear you read a couple of times from A Kind of Intimacy (which is a real treat). The first time you read the scene where Annie loses her virginity, and the second time you read the scene where she meets a man from a contact man and goes to a seedy hotel. Both brilliant scenes, dead pan, funny, and kind of tragic. How do readers respond to the 'dirty bits' in your book?

Jenn:I think most of the mucky parts are fairly comic - which is why I choose to read them at events - I figure if someone is paying to see me I might as well give them a laugh. I've not had any complaints so far. Because, like the rest of the book, these scenes are told in Annie's own voice, and because she's such a prude with her language, I don't think any of the sex scenes are that graphic - she alludes to what happens, but we get more of a sense of her confusion and embarrassment and disappointment than who did what and when.

Me: Last question, I promise. You've just finished your second novel Cold Light. From the brief bit I heard you read, it sounds gripping... when's it out, and if you had to describe it in six words, what would they be...?

Jenn:I can't tell you when it is out yet, but when I can I will be shouting about it on my blog, as always. It's an exciting time - I can't believe I'm signing up to do it all over again. Six words to describe it? Hmm. Teenage girls in Preston Halloween Flasher Shocker? (that's seven, but you get a whole tabloid-style sentence for that...) Valentine's Day Suicide Pact: Truth Revealed - that's another six. I could do this all day.



A Kind of Intimacy is such a great book, I urge everyone to read it. You can read reviews of A Kind of Intimacy here:

Review in The Guardian
Review in The Independent
and there are links to all kinds of interesting interviews and other stuff on Jenn's blog

And if you want to win a copy for FREE, just leave a comment below, and me or Sissycat will pick a name out of the hat.

Friday, 12 March 2010

Gratitudes

Thanks for

my allotment which helps my stress, gives me energy and sun, and reminds me of Grandad and Grandma C's garden all those years ago.

the photograph I still have of my grandad's first cauliflower that made everyone laugh because I missed most of the cauliflower off the pic



my muscles getting stronger

all the people down the allotment who are so lovely, Eric for the parsnips seeds he planted in my mini greenhouse, Alan for giving me some leeks, Carl for buying me lunch from the bakery, Carol for giving me tips about manure, Michael for lending me his cultivator...

the sun we've had this week that has made everything so much more enjoyable and brighter, and how warm it felt on my back while I was digging out weeds

the tree stump I found at the tip that makes a perfect seat

the two lovely ladies that stopped and talked to me through the fence and made me smile

the lovely red onion marmalade I bought in Booth's this week, that tastes delicious and made me want to learn to make it when my onions grow

my potatoes nicely chitting in the kitchen

the lavender that made me sleep for two hours one afternoon and helped me decide that some days I just need to rest

the jam pastie I made with leftover pastry that reminded me of the jam pasties Grandma used to make, rolling out her pastry using a milk bottle

memories of picking gooseberries, shelling peas, helping with the rake, and then lying in the sun outside with Grandad when he was tired

Thursday, 11 March 2010

stories, mountains and a lovely cream tea...

So, Monday was Northwest Voices at Words on the Water. A sunny drive up the M6 and along to Keswick. Quick hello to my lovely friend Geraldine who lives nearby, and then down to Theatre by the Lake.

This was my first reading in over six months. You may not remember, but I was a bit under the weather towards the end of last year and I had to cancel a couple of readings. But, this was an event I was keen to take part in. One, because I was asked to do it by Ra Page from Comma Press, who published my short story Lindy. Two, because I would be reading short fiction, and usually I'm asked to read poetry. Three, because Keswick is just so beautiful. Plus, other wonderful readers, some known and some not.

There was a lovely lunch put on for us, salmon and everything. I might have eaten a bit too much, that's me and a free lunch.

Then a whole afternoon of readings. My highlights were Jackie Hagan's poetry, which I always enjoy: crazy, lovely, gut-wrenching poems performed beautifully. After the poets (and a little walk down to the lake for me) was short fiction, me reading Lindy, and Zoe Lambert reading an brilliant excerpt from a short story about child soldiers. We were the dark section of the event, perhaps! We had a Q&A after our readings with some interesting questions from Ra and the small but friendly audience. Given that I haven't read for a good while, I thought it went well. Deadly silence as I was reading, a good hearty clap, and some interesting questions from people afterwards. Ra and Jim from Comma were bloody lovely about me and my story, so it was a good old boost to my confidence.

Then another break, cake and onto the novelists, as usual it was a pleasure to hear Jenn Ashworth read. This time a very funny love scene from A Kind of Intimacy, more questions, more cake and a big hearty discussion about 'Surviving as a Writer.' Phew... a long but brilliant and interesting day, with lots of informal chit chat, cups of tea, and all kinds of literary loveliness.



Then, double triple treat, I went to stay at Geraldine's for chat, gorgeous dinner, throwing sticks for Roydog, the best sleep I've had in ages, a morning walk up Lattrig with stunning views over the Lake District, an afternoon at a very posh spa where we sat outside in a hottub surrounded by fir trees, swam, relaxed, sauna'd, and finished it all off with the most delicious hot scones, clotted cream, jam and tea.

Sigh.

This is what holidays from work are all about....

Saturday, 6 March 2010

A whole week to myself

After a very exhausting, busy, stressful week at work, I am SO pleased to tell you that I have a whole week's holiday. Actually it works out as nine days with the weekend, and being right at the beginning of a week off work is a wonderful thing.

So, what am I going to do with my time...

Well, I might go and see some films. It's the ¡Viva! Spanish and South American film festival in Manchester and I love Spanish film so I might go and watch films in the afternoon, or the evening, or anytime actually. Just cos I can.

I already went to the theatre. Last night me an my sister went to see The Dreadful Hours a very dark and funny play at the Studio at the Royal Exchange Theatre. It had two fabulous actors, who were incredibly physical in their performance, exploring the disintegration of a relationship. Quite brilliant. It was written by Chris Fittock, a writer I once did worked with on a collaborative writing project, and it was so lovely because I saw him after the play, for the first time in five years!

I plan to go and read a very dark and not very funny short story on Monday at Words on the Water Festival in Keswick, part of a whole day of wonderful poetry, short story and novel readings from Northwest writers... including Jenn Ashworth, Zoe Lambert and me. I can't to get up to Keswick and see my friend Geraldine and her dog Roy, and go for a lovely walk, and eat nice food, and chat and catch up. It's been a while since I saw her so as well as a lovely day of readings, I get to see my very lovely friend too.

Hm... I'm planning to sleep as much as I want, eat as much as I want, and lie about in my pyjamas watching sopranos eating mini creme eggs and drinking tea.

I hopefully might see my mum and dad, and a few friends. I might read the paper in a hippy cafe with a bookshop out the back, and meet a friend for cake and drink tea out of old mismatched teacup and saucers. I might write some letters, read some boks, write a book review, blog, tidy up the garden. Or I might not. I might go shopping and buy myself something nice.

And I certainly hope I'll be going doing a whole lot of this

Monday, 1 March 2010

Thaw


Along with 250 other bloggers, I have joined Fiona Robyn's blogsplash to celebrate her new novel Thaw. The novel is in diary form. Ruth is thirty two and doesn't know whether she wants to be thirty three. She gives herself three months to decide whether end her life.

Fiona has decided to blog the whole novel over the next few months, yep, a free, online, serialised novel.

Her blogsplash is today, hundreds of us are posting the first entry from Ruth's diary in the hope that you get hooked and keep reading. Ruth's first entry is below, and you can continue reading tomorrow here.

*

These hands are ninety-three years old. They belong to Charlotte Marie Bradley Miller. She was so frail that her grand-daughter had to carry her onto the set to take this photo. It's a close-up. Her emaciated arms emerge from the top corners of the photo and the background is black, maybe velvet, as if we're being protected from seeing the strings. One wrist rests on the other, and her fingers hang loose, close together, a pair of folded wings. And you can see her insides.

The bones of her knuckles bulge out of the skin, which sags like plastic that has melted in the sun and is dripping off her, wrinkling and folding. Her veins look as though they're stuck to the outside of her hands. They're a colour that's difficult to describe: blue, but also silver, green; her blood runs through them, close to the surface. The book says she died shortly after they took this picture. Did she even get to see it? Maybe it was the last beautiful thing she left in the world.

I'm trying to decide whether or not I want to carry on living. I'm giving myself three months of this journal to decide. You might think that sounds melodramatic, but I don't think I'm alone in wondering whether it's all worth it. I've seen the look in people's eyes. Stiff suits travelling to work, morning after morning, on the cramped and humid tube. Tarted-up girls and gangs of boys reeking of aftershave, reeling on the pavements on a Friday night, trying to mop up the dreariness of their week with one desperate, fake-happy night. I've heard the weary grief in my dad's voice.

So where do I start with all this? What do you want to know about me? I'm Ruth White, thirty-two years old, going on a hundred. I live alone with no boyfriend and no cat in a tiny flat in central London. In fact, I had a non-relationship with a man at work, Dan, for seven years. I'm sitting in my bedroom-cum-living room right now, looking up every so often at the thin rain slanting across a flat grey sky. I work in a city hospital lab as a microbiologist. My dad is an accountant and lives with his sensible second wife Julie, in a sensible second home. Mother finished dying when I was fourteen, three years after her first diagnosis. What else? What else is there?

Charlotte Marie Bradley Miller. I looked at her hands for twelve minutes. It was odd describing what I was seeing in words. Usually the picture just sits inside my head and I swish it around like tasting wine. I have huge books all over my flat; books you have to take in both hands to lift. I've had the photo habit for years. Mother bought me my first book, black and white landscapes by Ansel Adams. When she got really ill, I used to take it to bed with me and look at it for hours, concentrating on the huge trees, the still water, the never-ending skies. I suppose it helped me think about something other than what was happening. I learned to focus on one photo at a time rather than flicking from scene to scene in search of something to hold me. If I concentrate, then everything stands still. Although I use them to escape the world, I also think they bring me closer to it. I've still got that book. When I take it out, I handle the pages as though they might flake into dust.

Mother used to write a journal. When I was small, I sat by her bed in the early mornings on a hard chair and looked at her face as her pen spat out sentences in short bursts. I imagined what she might have been writing about; princesses dressed in star-patterned silk, talking horses, adventures with pirates. More likely she was writing about what she was going to cook for dinner and how irritating Dad's snoring was.

I've always wanted to write my own journal, and this is my chance. Maybe my last chance. The idea is that every night for three months, I'll take one of these heavy sheets of pure white paper, rough under my fingertips, and fill it up on both sides. If my suicide note is nearly a hundred pages long, then no-one can accuse me of not thinking it through. No-one can say; 'It makes no sense; she was a polite, cheerful girl, had everything to live for', before adding that I did keep myself to myself. It'll all be here. I'm using a silver fountain pen with purple ink. A bit flamboyant for me, I know. I need these idiosyncratic rituals; they hold things in place. Like the way I make tea, squeezing the tea-bag three times, the exact amount of milk, seven stirs. My writing is small and neat; I'm striping the paper. I'm near the bottom of the page now. Only ninety-one more days to go before I'm allowed to make my decision. That's it for today. It's begun.

Continue reading tomorrow here...