Saturday, 23 November 2013

Great night at the Portico

I had a lovely evening last night at the Portico Library, Manchester, to help celebrate the publication of Red Room. Elizabeth Baines, Bill Broady, Vanessa Gebbie, Rowena Macdonald and Felicity Skelton were all there, to either read extracts or full stories, and a good crowd of people turned up to listen to them. I gave a quick introduction to the book and then introduced everyone and it was a real treat to hear the writers reading out their work... something which always fascinates me because stories often sound quite different when read aloud. Everyone did a sterling job and it was lovely to see copies of the book being snapped up afterwards.

Here are some photos from the night:

Bill Broady
Elizabeth Baines
Felicity Skelton

Rowena Macdonald

Vanessa Gebbie
Thanks to everyone who came along - writers and audience alike - and to the staff at the beautiful Portico Library for having us. If you'd like to get hold of a copy of the book, it's available from all the usual suspects as well as from the publisher, Unthank Books.

* Thanks also to the Word Factory, London, who invited Bill Broady along to read from the book at the end of October. I couldn't go along myself but I heard it was a great night.

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Word Factory

I'm very excited that Red Room is going to get its first public airing tonight at the Word Factory salon in London. Bill Broady is going to be reading from his story 'Heathcliff versus Sherlock Holmes' and I'm sure it will go down a treat. It's a very funny story - one that I actually laughed out loud at the first time I read it - so I hope everyone enjoys it. If you're going along to the event, then copies of Red Room will be for sale and, as well as Bill, there will be some other contributors in the audience so get them to sign your copy. There are more Red Room events planned next month and a signing in January, but I'll give an update on those soon.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Hawthornden Fellowship

A Hawthornden Fellowship is something I've dreamt about for a while now - the chance to spend a solid month writing in Hawthornden Castle, near Edinburgh, in the company of other writers... well, who wouldn't fancy that? I'm therefore hugely thrilled to have won a fellowship for next year - lucky me. If you want to know more about Hawthornden, Vanessa Gebbie wrote a wonderful blog post about her time there (there's another post from Camille DeAngelis here - look at the beautiful wintry photo of the trees in the ravine). So you can see why I'm excited - a month writing, no/few distractions, meals provided (including lunch brought to your room)... can't wait. It will be a great opportunity for me to work hard on the novel and to get it looking something like a novel... that's what I hope anyway. I'm also really excited to find out who I'll be there with too. I'll write about my fellowship after I've been sometime early next year - many thanks to the admissions committee for choosing my application.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Nice news and some funding

I've had some very nice news with regard to Red Room but - and I hate doing this - I don't think I can say anything about it just yet. As soon as I can I'll let everyone know as I can't wait to mention it. As for my own writing - I'm currently working on my novel and am delighted to have been awarded some Arts Council funding for mentoring. This means that I'll be able to get some guidance and feedback from a novelist during the writing of the novel, and as I'm in new territory - novels being completely different beasts to short stories - I'm really happy to be helped in this way. Mentoring has begun and the novel is progressing at a slow pace, but it is progressing. I'm just looking forward to getting the first draft under my belt and then the real work will begin... the editing.

Friday, 2 August 2013

A little update

Things are progressing nicely with Red Room: New Short Stories Inspired by the Brontës - there seems to be a bit of interest in it so fingers crossed it will do well. A percentage of the profits will go to support the work of The Brontë Birthplace Trust in Thornton, Bradford, so the more copies we sell the more it helps them. Elizabeth Baines, whose story 'That Turbulent Stillness' features in the collection, has written a little bit about the book over on her blog. If you want to find out about the background to Elizabeth's story - and see what she thinks about some of the other stories in the collection - click here. We are currently also putting a few events in place so watch this space for more details on those... but make some room in your diary for October and November! (Don't forget, if you'd like to preorder a copy, you can do that here.)

Monday, 22 July 2013

Red Room available to pre-order

Red Room: New Short Stories Inspired by the Brontës is now available to pre-order from Amazon - click here to do that. The book is out in November but if you order now you'll be certain of getting your copy as soon as they're printed. The price is £9.99 but remember that a percentage of the profits will go to a good cause - The Brontë Birthplace Trust - so it's well worth getting hold of a copy if you can. Not only will you be helping the Trust with their plans to promote Thornton in Bradford as a Brontë destination, but you'll also get a cracking book to read too, with stories from Alison Moore, David Constantine, Carys Davies, David Rose, Rowena Macdonald, Tania Hershman, Elizabeth Baines, Sarah Dobbs, Zoë King, Vanessa Gebbie, Bill Broady and Felicity Skelton (plus a poem by Simon Armitage). So, please support a good cause and support short fiction at the same time.

Monday, 15 July 2013

Brontë cover

Here is the cover for Red Room - I hope you like it. Designed by Rachael Carver, of Green Door Designs, the font on the front is based on Charlotte Brontë's handwriting, and the text mirrors how Victorians used to make use of paper (a valuable commodity) - by writing one way then turning the paper ninety degrees and continuing to write. As Rachael says, it gives a lovely quilted effect. It's a great idea and I'm thrilled with how it's turned out. As you can see on the back the book contains new stories by some great writers: Alison Moore, David Constantine, Carys Davies, David Rose, Rowena Macdonald, Tania Hershman, Sarah Dobbs, Vanessa Gebbie, Elizabeth Baines, Zoë King, Bill Broady and Felicity Skelton - plus a poem by Simon Armitage. It should be a great read and will be available for pre-orders soon. The book is out in November and we're already starting to get some events in place to promote it. Watch this space for more information.

Saturday, 6 July 2013

Writing residency

I'm delighted to have won the 2013 Baltic Writing Residency in Brora, Scotland. This means I get to spend a week writing in a cottage in the Scottish Highlands between August this year and next... and I can't wait. It looks like the perfect kind of place to knuckle down and get some work done. Thanks very much to Adam and Aleks at the BWR and also the judges. Congratulations also to the runners-up, who were Canadian poet Jeramy Dodds and New York short fiction writer Kanishk Tharoor.

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Northern light: An interview with Adnan Mahmutović

Adnan Mahmutović is a Bosnian-Swedish author and lecturer in English literature. He became a refugee of war in 1993 and has since written on the myths of home. I first got to know Adnan when we were in the same online writing group together - we were then both shortlisted for the 2011 Willesden Herald Short Story Competition. His stories have appeared in a range of journals including Stand, The Battered Suitcase and many more. His short story 'Gusul' was made into a short film by Artwerk in 2010 (you can watch it here). His novel Thinner than a Hair was the winning entry in the First-Novel competition run by Cinnamon Press. His short story collection How to Fare Well and Stay Fair - which I have just read and mightily enjoyed - was published by Salt last year. Here I interview him about the collection.

AJ: The collection mainly focuses on the experiences of refugees who have escaped war-torn Bosnia and settled in Sweden. Did you draw on your own experiences as a refugee for the stories?

AM: Yes, but also things people have shared with me. Sometimes, when I just listen, I find people will tell me amazing, often intimate things.

AJ: The first lines of the story 'Myth of the Smell' are ‘Sometimes I think the only real home for a refugee is an endless road. In second place, I don't know, maybe a bus.’ Can you talk a little about notions of home with regard to the characters?

AM: Early on I understood that “home” was a mobile thing. So my characters are often moving, even when they’re not doing any physical movement. Some are terribly nostalgic and romantic. Some find that home is what they carry with them. But they all build their character in relation to the notion of home. In the beginning, when you first become a refugee, things tend to go from being familiar and intimate to being notions you can’t quite understand. To be at home, to find home, for me, is to go back from this preoccupation with notions and definitions to the mundane, lived experiences, however small. That’s why the character Almasa finds home in those real moments of connection, as for instance in 'First Day of Night' where she meets all the different people and somehow, despite everything, connects with them, on some level.

AJ: I was particularly interested in the fact that a lot of your stories focus on female perspectives - Almasa, for instance, is a recurring character. The book also seems to genuinely celebrate the female experience (I particularly love the idea expressed in 'Integration Under The Midnight Sun' which mentions the Bosnian myth that ‘every corner of a house sings when a daughter is born in it’.) What was it about the female experience that attracted you?

AM: I was particularly drawn to things women tended to talk about. During the war gender roles were being ossified and turned into things I couldn’t quite recognize. This continued once we escaped war. I was personally disappointed with the ways men behaved during war, and impressed by the incredibly creative ways in which women dealt with horrors.

Most men I’ve met over the years always wanted to analyze and intellectualize things as a way of maintaining their identity. I found women to be more relaxed in their storytelling, and more oriented to small but infinitely significant details, like the things they say to each other in 'Integration'. This for me is a more important part of history than dates and numbers. When I started studying philosophy and literary theory I found those peculiar little stories a great antidote to the discourses I was engaged with. The story 'Gusul', for instance, started with an image of a woman warming up her mother’s feet by pressing them against her naked belly. Things like that, these raw intimacies tend to stay with me and then at some point become a story. In 'Integration', I wanted to recreate all types of individuals and their own quirky ways of being. In a way, I wanted to say, yes these are all women, and they have their ways that are different from Bosnian men, but at the same time, there is no such thing as THE female experience. Also, since they’re all Muslim, I wanted to show there is no one way of being Muslim, not even within a small community of refugees.

The story about daughters and houses is something my grandma used to tell like some form of mantra, and since I grew up with her, things she taught me are the ones that still define me. In 'Integration', having sons is a curse for Aziza because in Srebrenica civilian men were basically exterminated.

AJ: The stories stand alone as individual pieces but when you read the full collection you get the feeling that they accrue - details build and we get a greater understanding of the worlds inhabited. Did you write each story knowing they would be part of a larger whole?

AM: Not consciously, but when you’re obsessed with a few things, they tend to recur, no matter how different a story is from another piece. I was surprised myself to see how they formed a whole. Even the one piece that has nothing to do with Bosnians, which I wrote for an anthology Stories for Japan, deals with the same themes.

AJ: There is a variety of styles in the collection. For instance, 'What We Talk About When We Talk About Suicide' is in the form of a series of online chat rooms; 'Vacation: A Travelogue' is in the form of diary entries for each day of the week; 'Consultation With Oxford English Dictionary' is a very short piece showing the dictionary entries for three words. I think these work really well together. Did you deliberately want to try a number of styles when writing the collection?

AM: I did, yes. The thing is when I started writing I noticed that my style varied from story to story, and that caused me some anxiety. Raymond Chandler said that the best investment a writer can make is to create one style. That may be true, but I’ve been drawn to writers and artists who changed styles over time. Style became something proper to the story they were telling, rather than imposed on the material. So I stopped worrying and learnt to love my changeability. I feel that in order to paint these realities, I had to approach them from different sides. This works, I guess, because the stories are circling about some common nucleus.  

AJ: The story 'First Day of Night' is excellent and one of my favourite stories of recent times. Can you tell me a little more about how it was written and the inspiration behind it?

AM: I already had a few stories following Almasa. Chronologically, 'Integration' comes after, but it was the first story I wrote. 'First Day of Night' was an attempt to just follow the character as a free agent, so to say. What I mean is that I often worked with bigger ideas in mind, like rape in '[Refuge]e', which originally had a fancy title in French. Often my stories are a combination of a more intellectual attitude, and an attention to those raw intimacies I mentioned earlier. I do like that, no doubt. But in this story I wanted to see what would happen to Almasa if she were released from that awful burden of representing Bosnia, women, refugees, etc. Still, this happens. As a refugee, she is defined by that discourse, no matter how much she hates it. I feel that in 'First Day of Night' Almasa finds some freedom from that.

AJ: A few of the stories make passing reference to comic book characters such as Rogue, the Silver Surfer and Superman. Are you a huge comic book fan?

AM: Yep. Big time. The image of the twin crescent moons, which keeps coming back in all my work, is stolen from the Italian comic Corto Maltese. I use it a lot in my novel. There are many other things. I’m the kind of geek who gets all the references in Junot Diaz’s book. I’ll tell you something I haven’t told anyone, the night before we left Bosnia, my greatest worry was not whether or not we’d get killed. I kept thinking what would happen to my comic book collection. I brought with me a few essential books without which I thought refugee life would be unbearable. I know it sounds weird, but when I found out we were going to end up in Sweden I was suddenly happy because I thought I’d be able to find all those comics I’ve only heard about, the legendary stuff that never made its way down to the Balkans. First weeks in the refugee camp in this windy town Uddevalla, I went on a prowl for a comic book shop. I had no money. And even if I could buy some, I didn’t know the language. That’s the definition of torture.

AJ: What are you currently working on?

AM: I have a draft of a novel, which is not about Bosnians at all, but it’ll need a lot more work. While that ms is shelved, I’m working on creative non-fiction. I wrote an autobiographical piece for World Literature Today, and since I didn’t get any bashing for it at home, I feel brave enough to do a few more.

* Visit Adnan's website here and buy the collection from Salt here.

Friday, 14 June 2013

Story in The Warwick Review

I mentioned previously that I had a new story forthcoming in The Warwick Review. I wasn't sure then which issue it would be in but I'm happy to say it's in the June issue. The story is called 'One Small Thing' and will be published alongside new work by the likes of fellow Edge Hill Prize shortlistee Rowena Macdonald, John Kinsella, Kirsty Gunn and more. If you're interested in a subscription to The Warwick Review, details are available here (you can also order individual copies should you want to). It's a great read so it's well worth subscribing if you can. My story began with a first line dropping into my head - 'She was carving dolls for the dead.' This has happened quite a lot to me in the past and, usually, as soon as I get the line I get the story. That's not to say that the stories then come easily of course - they never do. Anyway, if you read it I hope you like it.
* Elizabeth Baines has given a very nice mention to the anthology of Brontë stories I'm currently editing and which she features in (Red Room: New Short Stories Inspired by the Brontës) so pop over to her blog to have a read.

Monday, 27 May 2013

Brontë stories

I've not mentioned this on here before but I'm currently editing an anthology of stories to help raise funds for The Brontë Birthplace Trust. The idea for the book came about after I was added into the Trust's group on Facebook - they were looking for ways to raise money towards their goal of one day buying the Brontë birthplace in Thornton, Bradford and I suggested a short story collection. There will be more on this in the introduction to the book.
Happily, Unthank Books are going to publish Red Room: New Short Stories Inspired by the Brontës in October/November this year - and it's going to be a cracking read. It features 12 stories by some of the UK's best short story writers (all will be revealed in time!) as well as a poem by Simon Armitage. I've more or less finished editing now so - fingers crossed - the manuscript will be off to the typesetters soon. I'll update you more over the next few months.
Watch this space!

Wednesday, 10 April 2013


Just a quick note to say huge congratulations to Debz Hobbs-Wyatt who has been shortlisted in the prestigious Commonwealth Short Story Prize. Debz has been shortlisted for her short story 'Chutney' alongside other talented writers from around the Commonwealth. I read with Debz at Sarah Dobbs' book launch in December (see story below) and appear alongside her in the pages of Unthology 3 from Unthank Books - so I've got everything crossed for her. The prize is a great one to win - last year's winner Emma Martin, from New Zealand, is an online writing friend of mine so I was thrilled when she won. Since then, Emma has completed a short story collection, titled 'Two Girls in a Boat', and this is set to be published by Victoria University Press in May.

Monday, 25 March 2013

A new interview

I've just been interviewed by the writer Michael Stewart over on his blog here so feel free to go along and have a read of that. It was lovely to chat to him about astronomy, editing and short stories as endings - an idea which sent me to bed with a headache when I tried to get my head around it, but which I (finally) realised I agreed with. You may know Michael as the 2011 winner of The Guardian's Not the Booker Prize with his debut novel King Crow. He's also just published a collection of poetry (Couples) with Valley Press and I hear there's more work forthcoming from him soon, including an afternoon drama on Radio 4 on May 3rd - keep in touch with his blog to stay up-to-date with all things Michael Stewart.

Saturday, 16 February 2013

New story

Very happy to say I've had a new story accepted for publication by The Warwick Review. 'One Small Thing' will be published in a future issue of the journal - I'm not sure which issue yet but I will update this post once I know. It's nice to be in the WR again as one of the stories from my collection first appeared there a while back and it's lovely to be making a return visit. The WR is a very attractive publication indeed, so it's well worth taking out a subscription. The editor Michael Hulse, a poet and translator who is also currently writing a novel, has published a number of writers I admire, including David Rose, Alison Moore, Ron Rash and Nicholas Royle. Subscriptions info is available here.