Thursday 27 January 2011


One of my favourite blogs, where I can always find something fascinating, thought-provoking – is that of Norman Geras. (linked on the right – if you don’t know this one, go and see... it’s the best). Earlier this week, he drew our attention to a fascinating question. The relationship, if any, between philosophy and the novel - let's extend that here to fiction in general, shall we?.
A prĂ©cis then, here – Gera’s article is much better.

James Ryerson, writing here, in the New York Times,
raises the question, “Can a novelist write philosophically?’ and quotes Iris Murdoch as saying absolutely not. In her view,
philosophy and literature were contrary pursuits. Philosophy calls on the analytical mind to solve conceptual problems in an “austere, unselfish, candid” prose, she said in a BBC interview broadcast in 1978, while literature looks to the imagination to show us something “mysterious, ambiguous, particular” about the world. Any appearance of philosophical ideas in her own novels was an inconsequential reflection of what she happened to know.

I have to say, this fascinates me, and I’m not sure what to think. Here are eminently clever people arguing that fiction and philosophy are polar opposites. The more I do think about it, I come to the conclusion that someone’s wrong.

What is philosophy? I guess we can trust Wikipedia here: "Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental problems, such as those connected with existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language."
Couldn’t it be argued that if a novel or indeed any fiction, does not touch on issues connected with existence (or otherwise), knowledge (or otherwise), values, reason, mind and language – it’s fairly inconsequential? And actually, even ‘inconsequential’ reads, what are they dealing with if not one of these at some level?

Maybe the issue is one of ‘study’? That philosophers seek to give us the answers themselves. Whereas creators of good fiction seek to open our minds to possibilities we’ve not thought of perhaps, and draw us into the debate?
And anyway – there is an argument that says (re: the Murdoch quote above) that fiction written in unselfish, candid prose works better in many ways than deliberate obfuscation.

Edited to add: Thanks Tim Love for this link, to an article today (oddly..) in Times Higher Ed Supp, Here.. Fictive Narrative Philosophy... well, hey chaps,, isnt that what strong lit. writers have been doing for ever...?
To quote:"Fiction that only imitates nature or seeks to provide entertainment without making a claim about facts or values in the world is not fictive narrative philosophy. It is just a story."

Sunday 23 January 2011

Reading, reading, reading ...

Oh isn't this lovely! I am reading... no pangs of guilt that I need to be doing my own writing instead. No imp on my shoulder telling me to watch for craft issues - although I do that a lot - I fall into elephant traps easily if they are there. So - on my new Kindle, I have now read 'The Finkler Question' By Howard Jacobson, and 'Room' by Emma Donoghue. Hmm. Which, I ask myself, would I recommend if you could only read one? (That's the test, isn't it?...) And I think it would have to be 'Room'. Not because the other isn't great - but because 'Room' will give you far more to get worked up about - and why bother to read unless it's to shake ourselves up a bit, up and out of little leafy lanes in deepest Sussex, where the most scary visitor is the milkman.
Things you can get worked up about, if you read 'Room': its inspiration - the Fritzl affair, for a start. I've already heard other writers saying Donoghue had no right to exploit the misfortunes of others in this way. Huh? I bet they wouldn't have said that if they'd got there first. Donoghue says 'Room' was triggered by the Fritzl case, after she read about the five-year old lad who had never seen the outside world. It is very good - storywise. Really not easy to write a whole novel from the point of view of a five year old, without it palling badly - and she does it well. the voice wavered a few times, for this reader - but hey - it's a ripping yarn, and I hadn't read a book that kept me up until 2 am for yonks.

Yes, I enjoyed Finkler - it is another eye-opener, in a way, beautifully crafted, humorous, slightly self-consciously clever. Did it make a deep impression on me? No, I can't say it did. Maybe because I didn't 'care' about the subject matter so much, interesting as it is.

I've read Jo Cannon's marvellous collection 'Insignificant Gestures', slowly, cover to cover.
I love Jo's work, and have been watching her successes pile up for a while now. We used to be writing colleagues in The Fiction Workhouse, and when she told me Pewter Rose Press were publishing her collection, and then asked me to endorse it, I was really pleased! Many of the pieces I recognise, of course - and it was simply lovely to be able to read and savour them again, whilst meeting many many pieces that were new to me. Jo is a GP - she has spent some time in African countries during her career as a doctor - and many of her stories explore issues from that perspective. Her characters are so well drawn - there was not one story where I felt wrong-footed - on the contrary, was always surprised when I got to the end, how far away from my settee or study I'd been transported. It's particularly interesting for me, as a writer - Jo works in a very different way to me - we've been on a week-long writing retreat together in 2009 - and to see her moving, beautifully wrought stories emerging painstakingly carefully, was terrific. I will talk about this one again - I'm hoping to get Jo to natter here, if I can drag her out of her surgery...

I'm also reading poetry by Seamus Heaney. I bought 'Human Chain' in e-book format, and know something - I don't think poetry is so successful on the Kindle. Oh, that's not a reflection on the work - here's a review on Guardian Online by Colm Toibin, who says it is one of Heaney's most powerful collections yet... but it's more to do with the coldness of the medium, the screen, it fights the work. Anyone else find this? It ought to work well - mostly the poems fit on a single screen... maybe it's just me.

I have started Dante's 'Divine Comedy'... in the free verse translation as opposed to rhyming lines - I find those so hard to get past..anyway, something I've been meaning to dive into for a while, and again - Dante on Kindle, I don't think so... (Sorry about the 'see inside' sticker - it doesn't work!)
And a teaser...sometimes, reading for pleasure turns into reading for review, or the other way round. I am delighted to have finally sent in to The Short Review my write-up of a collection that I wanted everyone to read when I discovered it a couple of years back. Writing and things got in the way - but finally, I got back to it, and had the huge pleasure of reading again. What is it? Ha! You'll have to wait until the next Short Review -but here's the author...

and money? Oh yes. I sent my final ACE grant budget breakdown to the Arts Council, as reported, ... and had confirmation that the final 10% has been paid into the bank. Yippee.

Tuesday 18 January 2011

Author's Photograph

This is copied from The Coward's Journey - a blog following my novel through the publication process...HERE!!
And along came the inevitable request for a high-res photo of meself, to adorn or otherwise the catalogue, the book, the Bloomsbury website.

Oh how tempted I am to copy other authors and dig something out from years ago, when my neck and chin didn't have constant illegible conversations, when there was space enough for a splodge of subtle but glorious colour on the eyelid and the eyebrows didn't insist on dropping in to see what all the fuss was about.
Wouldn't it be loverley to pop down to the local cementworks and order a facial. Then a makeover, where all the lines were filled with filla, hedges clipped, topiary toped. A quick blast of sellotape behind the ears to restore the jawline, a new drenching of the tired old locks. A streak or twain (not in the football sense of course..) and the subsequent hiring of a top photographer for a week.
A week? Oh yes. Then I could have photos of me in every mood. In every item of clothing I posess (a la OK!, or Hello!) black tee after black tee after black tee. Then the green one!
I could have images of moi, sultry in bed in the morning, dog's breath and all, wincyette nightie fetchingly askew. Moi at brekkie, chomping toast. Moi feeding the cat and the husband in that order. (Husband makes less noise). Moi on the phone to the GAP Year son Somewhere in India. Motherly love and red lipstick, black shiny phone. Cool.
Moi in black rollneck, posed lightly over arm of sofa. Taken from above, natch. Or moi carefully posed at desk, fixed, intelligent yet quizzical and beguiling expression on physog. Fingers( light pink nail varnish?) ready to type on keyboard... and on the desk, randomly scattered tomes that always live on my desk, of course, just found in a box in the roof - the poems of John Donne! Shakespeare! Roget's Thesaurus! A carefully angled silver frame, containing, if you look very very carefully, a signed photo of Martin Amis...or yet again, moi, with a wind-up clown, a pile of books, in an artisanal setting and wearing a blonde wig? Yes, I did, and no, never used it.

Oh fer gawd's sake.
I can't find me desk let alone me keyboard. It is under a heap of stuff. Mostly mine. Actually I lie - if I look down, I can see the following:
1. A Ordnance Survey Map of Pulborough, Worthing and Bognor Regis.
2. A pencil sharpener in the shape of a plastic Loch Ness monster wearing a tam, emblazoned Nessie!
3. A copy of 'Contented Dementia' - ( for my Dad's carer - but who knows, soon enough, for moi...)
4)Another pencil sharpener, in the shape of a cat. I won't tell you where you stick the pencil but it miaous piteously. (From GAP Year son, Christmas last.)
5) Papers, papers, papers. More papers. Hiding yet more.
6) A reel of white cotton.
7) A box of earplugs.
8) Nine more books slipping off the side - among them, The Biography of the Bible, the short stories of Flannery O'Connor, The Mapmakers of Spitalfields by Manzu Islam..
9) Notebooks, files, more paper.

See, that's me. What would a makeover do except make me look rather daft when I turn up to do readings or somesuch, without the makeup team in tow?
I'm using the same pic I used for 'Glass Bubble' and 'Storm Warning' -here you go. Taken in 2007, it made me look rather grown-up.
I've just about caught up with it.

Saturday 15 January 2011

Modernist Press - Art from Art Anthology

I was very pleased to hear from Steve Soucy this last week, with images of the cover art for the forthcoming Art from art Anthology, from his LA-based press, Modernist. I have a story in here, a reprint of 'The Return of the Baker, Edwin Tregear', one of my favourite stories from 'Storm Warning'. Writers could interpret 'Art' widely - and included in the list of inspirations were museums. The story is based on research done partly at the Levant tin mine in Cornwall, and partly from Lyn MacDonald's marvellous histories of World War I. It was great to know it will be published all the way across in California! It will also be fascinating to see what illustration, if any, the story is given.

This anthology has been on the chocs for a bit - we were paid for our work a while back - and I am excited to hear that it will be coming out in two different editions. Firstly, a limited-edition hardback coffee-table book, and second, a quality paperback with a slip cover. Smashing.

Wednesday 12 January 2011

Smashing Reviews for ‘Storm Warning’

My poor little book. It’s got all sidelined in the fuss over the novel. However – reviews are coming in, and are great. Here’s a few.

First, on 'Under The Midnight Sun’ - the site of author Adnan Mahmutovic
“she made every aspect of story-telling appear so natural and unconstrained. It’s almost like slipping on ice...Since I have been through war, I can relate and quite appreciate the way Gebbie treats war...”

That is diamond feedback from someone who has first hand experience of war from a young civilian’s point of view, and it means such a lot to hear this. Read his whole review HERE. Adnan has also put this ***** review on Amazon UK

Next, on (where the book seems to be unavailable from the publisher, sadly...) a real surprise to see another ***** review from the folks of GUD Magazine:
"Gebbie gives us little slices of insights into people's lives that are often so harsh that you want to look away, but also so honest and intimate that you feel looking away would be a betrayal...
The writing is clean and to the point with few words wasted. ... many of Gebbie's characters (have) something to hide. Out it comes, though, eventually, choking and gasping its way out into the night...
The characters in these stories are ordinary people. They could be us, or our close relatives, our friends, people we meet in the streets. The stories put us into their lives, and make them more real by only offering these slices, by eschewing backstory and long explanations.
With this volume, small but perfectly-formed, both Gebbie and Salt Publishing cement their reputations for producing quality short fiction that demands to be read."

Read the whole review on GUD itself, HERE

Thank you, folks at GUD (pronounced ‘good’ - Greatest Uncommon Denominator) is a fab literary/genre magazine based in the USA - I was lucky enough to be published in here once. Check it out HERE.. terrific stuff. Hard to get an acceptance, but worth persevering!

On writer Shauna Busto’s site /:
“It is about conflict but at a deeper level than that of the physical battlefield - although "The Return of the Baker, Edwin Tregear" and "Gas Gangrene" among others involve very physical accounts of war - it is about human conflict both interior and exterior.”
“A number of stories are outstanding in the relatively slim collection. ... Just don't let the word "conflict" fool you - it is not just about war. It is about all of us.”

Thank you Shauna.

An early review, back in November, came from Judy Darley of the Essential Writers website.
“In a few, brief beautifully spare paragraphs she has the skill to utterly transport you, immersing you in lives that ring out with authenticity and enmeshing you in their emotions - all without a touch of sentimentality.”
“the tales bear an uncommon poignancy, subtly altering your perceptions of the world around you. It’s an uncanny power, but a welcome one”

Thank you Judy.

Tim Love, on Litrefs, says:
"In this book victims of military/religious conflict who have a weakened sense of the present become vulnerable to sudden losses of memory and invasion by the past. Dominant themes are beaches, feet/shoes, and smells, with several inter-generational relationships. This collection kicks off with "The Return of the Baker, Edwin Tregear", a strong 15 pager set in 1919. Next is the single paged "Storm Warning" featuring someone on leave from Helmand. Already we note that the theme doesn't over-constrain the pieces in style or content. Later we're faced by the Berlin Wall, S.E. Asia, concentration camps, etc."
"I'm reminded of Alan Bennett's Talking Heads, Studs Terkel, ghosted biographical material, stories/anecdotes by a guy at my local writers group. It's powerful stuff, though it doesn't have the variety of her first book (note: I overvalue variety)."
That made me grin - thanks Tim.
See the whole review HERE


and last but by no means least, from Thomas Bunstead, writing in the local magazine, Viva Lewes:
"Powerful...technically and deeply moving."

Thanks Thomas.


Tuesday 11 January 2011

Thoughts about theme in fiction...

Oh I spent ages trying to understand what 'theme' was, as opposed to 'subject' in fiction. Then one day it clicked. And much later, when I was asked, 'What's the novel about', I never knew whether people were wanting to know the subject matter, or what it was really 'about'. Maybe, neither did they.
This is the Bloomsbury catalogue entry for 'The Coward's Tale':
Poignant, poetic and spiked with humour: a novel about guilt and atonement, kinship and kindness, and the reverberations of the past.

Bear with me? Now - this is what I was doing in the first week of this New Year. Keep an eye open for things that might shape my view of the world... and might feed into my work?
I drove from my village in Sussex to a village in Suffolk, where for the first time, I met my youngest sister.
Charlie was over from New York where she is a freelance makeup artist, working with the great and the gorgeous, making them even more great and gorgeous. Here's Charlie discovering that I have our father's eyebrows, apparently (!) There are five of us. I was adopted at birth, as I decided to arrive before our parents were married, and that wasn't on back then. A bit of detective work and over fifty years later, we're finally together.
Or, sort of together. Three live in the USA, and have done for years. Susie (California) Charlie (Manhattan) Sally (Boston Mass.) One in Suffolk. (Phillipa). Susie was also over for Christmas. After a while, when the shrieks of excitement died down, we Skyped Sally
And this is the photographic evidence, chaps - all five sisters together... sort of!
What was that about theme? Kinship and kindness. Guilt and Atonement. The reverberations of the past. Only I turned mine into something different. Easy, really.

Sunday 9 January 2011

Round Up of 2010 - a bit late!

Top of the list has to be getting the Arts Council grant that allowed me to work with a superb writer, to shape and polish my 100,000 word pile of words. Enough to work with Maggie Gee for thirty hours - and that was split between full reads of manuscript, extensive comments, and face to face sessions usually at The British Library.
It wasn't without notes of sadness - the mentoring period had to be extended by six months in the end - the decline of my father, for whom the book was written, meant I had to focus on him for a while.
I finally sent it to my agent at the end of October, and had the fantastic but fantastic news within a couple of weeks that he loved it, didn't want any changes, and was going to send it out forthwith. By the end of November, there were two smashing publishers bidding for the book. After meeting them both, editors, sales teams, marketing teams, I decided to go with Bloomsbury UK and USA. And finally, finally, after eight years of slog, I am being paid something nice for my work. Yahoo! It's a bit invidious to say how much but 'solid five figure sum' seems to cover it.'The Coward's Tale' will hit the UK shelves in November this year, and the US shelves the following spring.

I spent a few wonderful weeks in Stockholm in the spring, teaching groups of students at the University. 'Short Circuit' was the intro here - and I used Freedom, the Anthology produced by Amnesty International, as a teaching text. I also led workshops in Ipswich at the University Campus Suffolk, in Exeter for Exeter Writers, and gave the annual Asham lecture at Sussex University.
My forays into the poetry world continue slowly. I was lucky enough to have poems selected for publication in the 2010 Ver Poets competition anthology, and in the WordAid poetry anthology to raise funds for Children In Need. I've had a few publications online - at the smashing place, Ink Sweat and Tears. A couple of poems were also shortlisted at Bridport.
Ive had work published in 100 Stories for Haiti, and was asked to write the introduction for 50 Stories for Pakistan.
I've had three marvellous stays at Anam Cara, where most of the novel has been written.