One of the major highlights of my 2017 was a commission from the West Midlands Readers’ Network (WMRN), which led to publication and performance during the October Birmingham Literature Festival 2017.
Each year the WMRN pairs regional writers with reading groups, to work together to produce a story. And behind it all is the support of Writing West Midlands, the regional agency for literature development. Continue reading
There’s a big difference between reading a story you’ve written and performing it. I’ve learned this the hard way these last 12 months by taking part in a number of spoken word events, including telling true stories live.
From my experiences as an audience member at countless author readings, writers are often guilty of reading head down, and fail to modulate their voice or make any eye contact with their audience.
I’ve watched lots of authors read at various festivals down the years. One author and one reading stands out – a performance by Will Self. Continue reading
I spent Sunday afternoon at an end-of-season Mee Club party at the Herbert in Coventry.
Those who’d taken part in the once-a-month ‘true stories, told live’ events, or in the workshops set up to help first-time story tellers bash and chisel their ideas into shape, were invited to come along and perform new stories in front of a friendly crowd, or cast an eye back over their experiences. Continue reading
April is the cruellest month said TS Eliot, and it’s arguably one of the most famous lines of modern poetry.
Not for me, Tom, April has been the coolest month – it’s made me more optimistic about my fiction writing than I’ve felt for several years.
Two great things happened.
First, I was selected for Room 204 by Writing West Midlands, which is the region’s literature development agency: it’s a year-long programme to support talented, emerging writers in the region to develop their work and their career opportunities. Continue reading
Since the Desert Island Discs archive was digitised, making recordings of around 1500 castaways interviewed since 1942 available for download, I’ve been steadily making my way through the pick of them.
The interview format is timeless and still smart to this day: the music often prompts an emotion or a recollection that a short interview would otherwise struggle to do.
What’s more, there are hundreds with interviewees I admire, and from time to time the interviews are genuinely illuminating, peppered with insight and warmth, a whole biography writ small.
I love the different interviewer styles too: Posh Roy Plomley with his shambolic shortfall in research; urbane and wise Parky; go-for-the-jugular Sue Lawley; and slick Kirsty Young.
The 12 interviews with writers that I’ve chosen here are the best, most touching, most revealing, most surprising and thought provoking of those I’ve heard to date. Continue reading
The best book I’ve ever read on writing comes from one of my favourite authors of all time.
Norman Mailer’s The Spooky Art: Thoughts on Writing was published in 2003 as he neared 80 years old, and finds him in a reflective mood.
It’s packed full with decades of hard-earned experience, snippets from essays and interviews through the years, stitched together and expanded on. Continue reading
In his short story collection Cold Snap, Thom Jones thanks friends and the anti-depressant drugs Effexor and Elavil in the acknowledgements for ‘expanding the narrow spectrum of happiness available to such gloomy hypochondriacal existentialists as myself.’
Sadly, to my mind Jones’s published output is a similarly narrow spectrum: a short story writer, his repertoire is largely limited to three collections – The Pugilist at Rest (1993), Cold Snap (1995) and Sonny Liston was a Friend of Mine (1999).
But in those six years and three books, regardless of when they were actually written, the stories gave life to one of the most distinctive voices in fiction in the last 30 years.
I was lucky to make direct contact with Jones in 2005, when I was writing a piece on him for a book The Rough Guide to Cult Fiction. I tried to reach him via the publisher of his collections, but with no luck. Unlike many modern writers then, he didn’t have a website, nor was there much published information on him or about him online anywhere. Continue reading
I’ve just finished watching season 2 of The Affair, a smart drama about the impact of an adulterous relationship between a teacher with a promising writing career and a waitress unravelling with grief following the death of her son.
It’s solidly scripted and brilliantly acted, with plenty of good set pieces, but the most interesting and unique thing about the show is that events are told and re-told from the point of view of four lead characters.
We get access to their inner lives, and as viewers we pinball between their different versions of events and are left to make our own judgement on whose perspective rings truest.
It put me in mind of two of my favourite 20th century American novels, both lightly fictionalised versions of true events written by swaggering male writers.
Both are now part of the literary canon and both were subject to re-tellings: one a factual account of events from a real wife who appeared as a prominent character in the novel; the other a fictionalised narrative version of a wife’s experiences, giving voice to an otherwise mute but real life character.
In both cases it took decades to redress the balance. And in both cases the follow up book from a woman’s perspective is an antidote to the original books at their worst while at best shedding light on the real life circumstances of their creation.
First, there’s On the Road by Jack Kerouac, the book that became the bible of the ‘Beat Generation’. It’s packed with high-energy road trips and hitch hiking adventures, back and forth across America and down into Mexico, laced with beer, grass, jazz, sex and poetry, and written in a breathless spontaneous prose style.
And nearly 40 years later came its counterpoint: Off the Road by Carolyn Cassady. Carolyn was Camille in Kerouac’s novel, her husband was his muse Neal Cassady, or Dean Moriarty. And for several years, Kerouac was her lover too, with Cassady’s blessing. Continue reading