Tuesday 30 November 2010

Pending...and 'A Razor Wrapped in Silk', by R N Morris

Pending…. (there is some very nice novel-type news on the horizon, of which more when things are finalised…)
But what do you do when you have finished something that took you years to write, when that has been read and loved by more than one great publisher, and you are buzzing about publicising your just-out second short story collection?

One, you get off the planet for a break. I am at Anam Cara, the best place in the world, my writers’ retreat in Ireland. With two great friends also here, who could ask for more.
Two, you also start feeding the empty well, filling up those spaces that feel so raw, after scouring everywhere you can think of inside yourself, to write as well as you can for such a long time.
First task then, was to find a novel to read. I am always reading short fiction, and love it – I wanted a single something to sustain me for longer…Oh there are lots out there, but this had to be something different. I needed the equivalent of a gym workout on my creative places. Then I read a post on facebook, from facebook friend Roger Morris. That's him up there... He is the author of three historical crime novels – and he was asking if anyone would like to read to review on their blogs… perfect.
Now – I don’t read historical fiction. I actually don’t go for it, because much of what I have read is so stuffed with unnecessary research details that these completely cloud the story.
So I was deliberately taking myself out of a comfort zone, and Roger’s novel, “A Razor Wrapped In Silk” which was kindly sent to me by someone at the publishers, Faber, would have to work quite hard to make this Doubting Thomas sink into it.

We are in St Petersburg, mid 19th century. The novel starts in a horrific cotton-mill, in which looming machines clank and roar, and young children are ‘employed’ to work inside the guts of the machines, mending broken threads. We meet a young lad, looking forward to his one joy in life – his after-work school hour, making his way through the misty streets. And he never gets there….
We are then transported to St Petersburg society – a palace, opulent in the extreme, where very different people are celebrating, at a private theatre. The chill and darkness of the fist scenes are beautifully contrasted in the colours and richness of this second…and the blood on the carpet is rich and dark… Unlikely as it may seem, the events that play out at these two very different places will come together as this novel unfolds.

The book’s synopsis is this: (taken from Faber’s webpage, link below)
St. Petersburg. 1870. A child factory worker is mysteriously abducted. A society beauty is sensationally murdered. Two very different crimes show up the deep fissures in Russian society during the late tsarist period. The first is barely noticed by the authorities. The latter draws the full investigative might of St Petersburg's finest, led by magistrate Porfiry Petrovich. 

The dead woman had powerful friends - including at least one member of the Romanov family - so when the tsar’s notorious secret police become involved, it seems that both crimes may have a political - not to say revolutionary - aspect, which takes Porfiry inside the Winter Palace for a confrontation with the Tsar himself. 

The usually incisive magistrate grows increasingly unsure what to believe, who to trust and how to proceed. His very life appears to be in danger, though from whom he can't be sure.

Porfiry Petrovich is a magistrate, inspired by the character of the same name in Dostoyevsky.
I have not read the Dostoyevsky (sorry…) but in Morris’s capable hands he is a richly layered and complex individual, just as this is a richly layered and complex novel, without ever tipping into the self-aware morass of extraneous detail that seems to weigh down other historical fiction that has had the misfortune to be read by me.
I’m not going to give you any plot spoilers. Suffice it to say that I almost missed a train stop thanks to this book.
St Petersburg is a gorgeous place, and a glossy one hiding a dark underbelly, seems to me – I’ve spent a little time there, and know it has many different faces, even now. Morris conjures the city as it surely must have been well over a hundred years ago. He conjures it at a fascinating time, politically, and weaves a complex crime scenario into the tapestry of mist-wrapped streets and gilded palaces.
Having admitted I HATE extraneous material, I was on the lookout. I was watching for anything that held up the story, that didn’t ring right, that wasn’t organic. And after a few pages, I forgot to watch for any of that because it just aint there.
Morris writes fabulously well. The narrative voice is cleverly pitched to evoke a different era – but only just – at no time did I have to make an obvious effort, and it added to the seduction of this reader into another world. And what I wasn’t expecting, was the humour. In places, even though this has very dark shadows, I laughed out loud. It’s a joy to read.
My goodness, I’m glad I answered that facebook post.

The books webpage on Faber’s website is here: http://www.faber.co.uk/work/razor-wrapped-in-silk/9780571241156/

Sunday 21 November 2010

November November.... you busy month.

What to do when life becomes too busy for blogging – or at least when you’ve got other things to do that are more important. Like what? Well, here’s a short list and quick descriptions.

1) Saturday 6th November – the launch party for ‘Storm Warning’ with squillions of friends crammed into my house. Wine, food and friends, what better combination is there? Delighted to see those who had come from a long way, making the journey specially – Jon Pinnock, Jenny Barden, Margot Taylor, Jo Cannon, Tania Hershman, Carloine Davies, Stephen Moran and Tess, most of whom stayed the night and much fun was had by all in Dormitory Three…

2) The NAWE Conference, in Cheltenham, at the Barcelo Hotel. (National Assocition of Writers in Education) on 12th 13th 14th November. A great few days in the company of many many writers who teach writing in schools, universities and colleges up and down the UK, and abroad. I attend very much as a writer rather than a teacher, although it is interesting to share ideas and exercises. Especially marvellous to attend the workshops run by the senior staff from Columbia University Chicago. A different way of running workshops – coming away from the Iowa model. Very very interesting and felt right to me.

3) Mondays for the last few weeks (four in all) have been poetry days. I have been to Tate Modern each Monday attending the workshops run by poet Pascale Petit. We have worked in the Gauguin exhibition, in an installation by Joan Jonas based on a Grimms Fairy tale – ‘The Juniper Tree’ in the Surrealists, and back last week in Gauguin. We have been inspired to write when the Tate is closed, when we’ve had these marvellous exhibitions to ourselves. Such a huge privilege.

4) Judging the NYC Midnight Flash Challenge. Over the last couple of months this challenge has been running with several hundred entrants, gradually being whittled down as each round passes, to the final 25. I’ve just read and enjoyed the last pieces of work, and have my fingers crossed for one of two stunning flashes to win the overall prize of $1500. Its been fascinating. And a handy bit of cash before Christmas.

5) Spent an evening talking about short fiction to the lovely and welcoming Uckfield Writers.

6) My own writing – it has all been poetry. I have started the next novel – but its not easy to focus until I know what’s happening with the first one…

As we go into National Short Story Week, my week looks like this:
Tuesday 23rd:
Brighton launch for ‘Storm’ at Nightingale Theatre, 6 pm, with two fantastic professional actors (one was in Coronation Street, I gather) doing dramatised readings of three pieces from the book. I appear to be the only event in Sussex, which Im sure ain't right!
Wednesday 24th:
Train to Bristol, and a marvellous event, reading at Bristol Blackwells, 6.pm, a special event for this special week, organised by Tania Hershman, with Margot Taylor Anna Britten and Sarah Hilary among others. Staying over.
Thursday 25th:
Train back in time to go out to Lewes Live Lit in the evening to see some short stories by Catherine Smith turned into plays
Friday 26th:
Up to see Susannah Rickards at the Claygate Short Story Festival, where I’m leading a flash workshop in the evening. Staying over…
Saturday 27th: drive home, pack, and train to London to see Sue Guiney. Large glass of red wine on order! Staying over… (I feel like a real sofa-surfer…)
Sunday 28th: Off to Heathrow, and a flight to Cork - Anam Cara for ten days… with Sue, and Tania … and we will have earned it!

Don’t Forget…

FISH SHORT STORY COMP- (If you come second, you win a week at Anam Cara plus spending money!) Get in there. Details HERE http://www.fishpublishing.com/short-story-competition-contest.php

Oh and, talking of Anam Cara – I am running a week-long short story workshop there next May.
Details are:

Short Fiction: So Much More Than It Seems...

One-week Residential Workshop Retreat

Arrival: Saturday, 28 May 2011

Departure: Saturday, 4 June 2011

A chance to explore in depth the craft of short fiction in all its challenging guises, in one of Ireland's most creatively exciting venues. A chance to focus on acquiring skills that will maximise the chances of your work rising to the top and standing out for the right reasons not only in publication slush piles but also in competitions.

In the company of a well-published, multi-prize-winning short storyist, who is also an experienced tutor, this will be a focused, collaborative workshop retreat during which you will create not only complete new work and the seeds of many new stories, but you will also discover tried and tested strategies for editing and revising your existing work to make it as good as it can be.

Although biased towards the art and craft of short fictions, we will also be able to explore the relevance of the craft issues to poetry, prose poetry and longer works.

For this and all other info, Anam Cara website is HERE http://anamcararetreat.com/

Thursday 4 November 2010

I am tempted not to post this...

As I say - I am tempted not to post this, but I shall! A writers fellowship, at the Arvon centre in Scotland, near Loch Ness.
One whole month, from 1st - 27th March 2011 - a whole month to write - at the most stunning place. A small stipend, travel expenses covered. And the wonderful and not so onerous task of a few sessions at local schools to spread the word.
It is called the Jessie Kesson fellowship, and it is worth finding out about her.
Details for applications HERE.

Novel update

OK - novel was sent to my agent a fortnight ago, and I had a lovely message a couple of days back to say that he loved it. That he did not want any revisions, and he's going to send it out.
I am surprisingly calm about this, and being very businesslike, putting literary CVs together, and having to reformat the file.
Wot? reformat file? Entire novel? Aye - this wally had only sent him a document with all the markups showing! I am a hopeless techie-person as anyone who has worked with me can attest. So I had a play with Word and sent it backwards and forwards from laptop to PC a few times until all the markups disappeared. Ahem.