Thursday 28 November 2013

Of Dublin - and Other Fictions, by Nuala Ni Chonchuir

It is entirely possible that this tiny yet enormous little book is the same physical size as the photograph here - I haven't measured either, but they look pretty close.  One thing is for certain, 'Of Dublin' might be physically tiny but it is a big-hearted little tome which surpasses much heftier books with its sheer strength. I was delighted to be sent a copy.
     Nuala Ni Chonchuir is one of those writers who refuses to be pigeonholed - short stories, flash fictions, poetry, a novel and a second due out early next year. Each of the eleven stories in this 28 page gem sings a different song, and yet, like the best of choral acts, they are in harmony. This is an enormously gifted writer.

Photo credit: Emilia Krysztofiak

Her gifts are apparent immediately in the opening story, 'Jesus of Dublin', its strength of voice, its characterisation, its seeming irreverence - 

I'm the O'Connell Street Jesus, I have a granite plinth and a glass case so swanky it could have come from the National Museum. My old box had a pitched roof  - draughty - and I nearly passed out incide the PVC yoke some nut-job from Irishtown threw together.
the whole a short romp between Jesus and 'the mother,'
down the Bull Island doing the Stella Maris thing, watching over sailors
until you reach the end and her lyricism takes over, becomes prayer-like but totally organic with the piece, leaving me for some unfathomable reason with a lump firmly embedded in the throat,
I'm the Jesus of taxi man and Traveller; of Garda and gambler; Jesus of the pissed and the pioneer. I'm Jesus of culchie and jackeen; brasser and nun. Jesus of Nigerian and Pole; of wino and wierdo. Jesus of soft rain, December snow and rare sun...

and I think that's why I enjoy this writer's work so much. She is never ever predictable.  Her voices are many, and fluid, and great. In the following story, '12th July 1691', the voice shifts to encompass the rhythms of a lost time, and in 'Treedaughter' becomes something like the teller of a fable. The boisterousness complete with a liberal sprinkling of glorious profanities comes back in 'Penny and Leo and Married Bliss' - but there is more than an echo of poignancy as well; 'What Became Of The People We Used To Be?' and 'Fish' seem to me to share that poignancy, an ache.
        Fish is probably my favourite story in this chapbook, and for some unaccountable reason I can't get the trailer to embed here (technofail) but please do visit Dan Powell's blog to read his review and watch the trailer, to hear 'Fish' being read to you here:
        Or is my favourite 'The Road that Mills and Boon Built'? It's very very clever - its well known that pulped paperbacks were used in roadbuilding in the UK - and this story is just magic.

Thoroughly recommended! An object lesson in how a tiny book can pack a real punch. Kudos.

Of Dublin is published by Tower Press, San Francisco. 

Tuesday 19 November 2013

FIVE books: Short Circuit 11, the Overheard, Irreal Reader and Red Room anthologies, and my poetry book!

Just in case you thought I was sitting back, letting the untold fame and fortune that comes from writing  keep me in clover and laziness, I would have you know the opposite is true. Yes! I'm poor, but busy.  So here's a catch up, on five books I've been working on, or with, or for...

There's a new Short Circuit, a second edition, with eight new chapters! Endorsed by the Bridport Prize, Fish Prize, Asham Award, the Frank O'Connor Award, by lecturers in Creative Writing, and by writers themselves, this overtakes  the first edition which is recommended reading on many courses across the UK and further afield.
New chapters come packed with wisdom on crafting the short story with insights into how, plus ideas for further exploration, and lists of inspirational stories, from the following:
Carys Davies
Nicholas Royle
Professor Patty McNair (Professor at Columbia College Chicago)
Scott Pack (Publisher, The Friday Project, Harper Collins)
Stuart Evers
Tom Vowler
Zoe King (Chair of Society of Women Writers and Journalists)

And it's great! And HUGE. Salt have surpassed themselves.

This gorgeous book is an anthology of stories edited by Jonathan Taylor, from Salt Publishing, and contains work intended to be either read on the page, or read aloud, as the title suggests. My story herein is 'Ed's Theory of the Soul' and is strange, strange, concerning as it does a bloke who is not sure whether humans are the only creatures with souls. What about the sea? What about the earth? A wall? At the recent NAWE Conference, a few of us had an opportunity to read from our contributions to the gathered masses -  a wonderful occasion. Thrilled to be in here!
Jonathan says: Because of the way these stories speak from the page, it doesn’t matter whether or not they are actually read out loud. Rather, these are stories which might equally be ‘performed’ on the reader’s mental stage, heard in the reader’s mind’s-ear. There is a burgeoning culture in the U.K. and beyond of oral story-telling and prose writers performing their work live, a culture which has developed out of the popularity of poetry in performance. There are numerous collections and anthologies which aim to capture the energy of performance poetry on the page. There is, though, no comparable literature for stories in performance – making this collection unique.
In order to demonstrate the huge diversity of possible performance styles in prose, the collection mingles flash fiction with more sustained stories, genre fiction with realism, experimental pieces with oral storytelling. Contributors are similarly varied in their styles, backgrounds, experience and genres, and include Salman Rushdie, Hanif Kureishi, Ian McEwan, Blake Morrison, Louis De Bernières, Adele Parks, Kate Pullinger, Adam Roberts, Michelene Wandor, Vanessa Gebbie, Judith Allnatt, Jo Baker, David Belbin, Panos Karnezis, Jane Holland, Gemma Seltzer, Ailsa Cox and Will Buckingham.

The Irreal Reader (Guide Dog Books, US)
Now here's a thing, a rather different anthology in many ways, and here’s the background: 
The Cafe Irreal: International Imagination a pioneering web-based literary magazine, first went online in 1998 with the intention of publishing a type of fantastic fiction most often associated with writers such as Franz Kafka, Kobo Abe and Jorge Luis Borges. To this end, it has published more than 250 authors from over 30 countries. In the course of the past fifteen years, it has also seen its editors nominated for a World Fantasy Award and been named by Writer’s Digest as one of the Top 30 Short Story Markets.
In this anthology, edited by G.S. Evans and Alice WhittenburgGuide Dog Books presents a selection of the fiction and essays from The Cafe Irreal that take us most definitively into the realm of the Irreal. These include pieces by Diploma de Honor Konex winner Ana María Shua (Argentina), Michal Ajvaz (winner of the Magnesia Litera prize in the Czech Republic), Pulitzer Prize winner Charles Simic, and Pushcart Prize winners Bruce Holland Rogers and Caitlin Horrocks.
I have two stories in this anthology - the first became the title story from my own collection and is called ‘Storm Warning’, and the second is called ‘The Note-Takers’.  Do not ask where either came from, I don’t. I’m just grateful and honoured to have my work included. Big Smile.

 And then there's the wonderful Red Room anthology, edited by A J Ashworth, from Unthank. This contains stories donated by the contributors, to help raise funds for the Bronte Birthplace Trust. David Constantine, Alison Moore, Tania Hershman, Elizabeth Baines...and more and more. My story in here is a rewrite of the final chapter of Jane Eyre, and is entitled 'Chapter XXXV111 - Conclusion (and a little bit of added cookery...)' So you see, I am letting myself write fun, whizzy, wacky stories, whatever you want to call them. Whatever comes, and why not eh? Necessary Fiction reviewed the collection,  among others, and when it comes to my madness, says this:
Perhaps the most outrageous (and also outrageously funny) of these mischievous pieces is Vanessa Gebbie’s “Chapter XXXVIII – Conclusion (and a little bit of added cookery) with abject apologies to Charlotte Brontë.” Gebbie rewrites the ending to Jane Eyre and keeps her tongue firmly in her cheek while doing so. This is a wickedly clever Jane, emphasis on wicked, and one I suspect Jean Rhys would greatly admire as we watch her dispatch the servants and others to arrange her domestic life to suit her own happiness, a Jane that can listen, unperturbed, as Rochester utters an expression like “rumpy pumpy.”

 Perhaps you see what I mean. I'm having fun! Oh, and finally, but not finally, if you see what I mean, my poetry collection: 

Beautifully created by the wonderful Pighog Press. Launched next week at the Pigbaby Festival - with readings not only from moi but also from the fabulous Pascale Petit. 

That'll do for now!

Monday 4 November 2013

The Last Kings of Sark - Rosa Rankin-Gee's prizewinning debut novel

I am a lucky person - a facebook message a while back asked would I like to read a prizewinning novella turned into a novel,  about to be published by Virago.  Well, yes please, obviously. I had heard of Rosa Rankin-Gee's wonderful win at the Shakespeare and Co Novella Prize in 2011, with a twinge of jealousy - here she is, only just out of the egg. (Well, to me, most people are just out of the egg.) The jealousy is based on the number of years she has left to write - mumble mumble grump. 
      Reader, The Last Kings of Sark is great. The first portion, which follows the fortunes of three young people on the island of Sark, captures perfectly, and in a fantastic setting, the intense friendships we make when we are almost adult, but not quite... when every day holds possibilities, and we take a deep breath and rush in, as into the sea. It is fascinating, too, to know that it began as this prizewinning novella, then Rankin-Gee took the brave step of extending it, into something greater. I love novellas, wouldn't have minded had it remained thus, but the second half is something of a mirror image -and as mirrors do, we meet ourselves, only not quite. And we meet the characters again...  It is thought provoking, and I found this part hugely poignant, opening up as it did, all sorts of memories about plans in my yoof that never quite...oh you know. I read the whole with with joy, and sent the publishers a few words about the book. Here's the link if you'd like to see what I said, among many others.

The Last Kings of Sark is published this week. Just for the blog, the author has been nattering about this terrific debut novel, and about her writing life. 

VG: Welcome Rosa. Have a cuppa and a choccie biccie. Right - first , looking at “A novel in parts”-  Congratulations on winning the Shakespeare and Co Novella prize.  I am now trying to imagine the process of adding the second part some time later, if that’s how it went? What issues did you have to face extending it? Was it your idea, or your  agent’s/ publisher’s?

RR-G: It was a collaborative idea. At first I was fixed on the idea that it would stay a novella, but it’s almost impossible to publish a novella unless you’re Doris Lessing or Ian McEwan. I am very glad I set about turning it into a novel though – it’s the book it should be. I wasn’t finished with the characters yet and to a certain degree, the book grows up, as I did while I was writing it. Victoria Pepe, my wonderful editor who’s actually just left Virago, was very influential and helped me make the book a lot more compact and complete. There’s a sense of nostalgia in the first half of the book, which is only really earned by what happens in part two.

V: Talk to me about ‘Lord of the Flies.’ It’s mentioned a couple of times, maybe more, in the first part of the novel. There are some shallow parallels - both are set on islands, both have young people behaving differently when they are freed from constraints in one way or another.  What other echoes would you like to be picked up between Lord of the Flies and The Last Kings of Sark? 

R: It’s not the major framework for the novel, but you’re right – the characters themselves mention it, and there are little links, as well as fundamental differences, seeing as Sark is an idyll, more than anything.I think a lot of the first part of the novel is about young people intentionally evading and looking away from adulthood. The intention is perhaps the key – Jude, Sofi and Pip’s actions can never really mirror Lord of the Flies, precisely because they are aware of Lord of the Flies. As you’ve very kindly said, The Last Kings of Sark is about “the intense butterfly moments when we are on the cusp of adulthood, but not quite there.” Jude, Sofi and Pip are in between. They are aware of their options, their precedents, their future. Of the Lord of the Flies’ child-world where all may eventually be excused, and the adult one, where everything is harder, more fixed. I suppose it’s the last summer when they are able to inhabit the impermanent space between the two.
V: Sark itself. Did you set it on Sark and then go there to research, or did you go there at some point anyway and the story/characters appeared out of that experience? Also, was it important that this story should be set on an island, that the setting should echo the content, somehow?

R:  I came up with the bones of the plot and a lot of the detail when I was on Sark, with a lovely friend called Tor, working for a summer. She helped me a great deal. Each evening, I’d try and take down notes of everything I’d seen during the day, and her memory was often better than mine. But yes, choosing to situate the book on an island definitely informed the story of the first part. A novella is a condensed mode, and islands are natural microcosms – both are small and self-contained, and I liked that.

4. If you could have one scene from Last Kings of Sark painted, which scene would it be, and who would you want for the artist?

R: I love this question! I think I’d choose one of the Fauvists. Derain or Vlaminck. For their burning colour, and their joyfulness (I see it as joyfulness). If not, Signac – I  saw his retrospective at the Musée Fabre in Montpellier this summer, and he captures light hitting water sublimely. I’d want the painter to read the book and chose the scene themselves. The private beach by way of Cider Press cottage would be a good bet though. 
The Red Buoy, by Signac

V: My mother was a librarian, and a real literary snob. I know, had she been alive when I decided to write, I would have given up quite fast, thanks to apprehension about her comments. Now, however, I wish she’d been around to see what I’ve done... she’d probably have been very proud. I admire your own mother’s work hugely - as you are aware, both it and she have been a very positive influence for me as a writer. ( I admire your father’s work greatly too, not to leave him out!)  Is it easy, now, being the daughter of not one, but two writers? Are the obvious expectations  from others a weight, or a spur?

R: There was no pressure in any sense from them. (about becoming a writer. Naturally, all parents exert pressures in other ways: Do GCSE German! Brush your teeth! And other highly unreasonable things like that). I’m quite entrepreneurial, and I think they would have both equally encouraged me to do something with that, or become an archaeologist or a songwriter.  The thing is, people often end up doing what their parents do.  Daughters of doctors become doctors; there are family dynasties of teachers or lawyers. When you are growing up, you see your parents’ professions as what it means to be an adult, perhaps. 
So, the pressure. From them, no – really not at all. I mean, I want to please them and make them proud, which is a natural impulse for offspring, but I honestly don’t think we compare ourselves. That --  if it comes -- will come from other people. 
Thankfully, though, we’re all very different writers. I say that not because they aren’t good, because they’re very good, but because they got there first, the bastards!, which would make me the derivative one. I don’t think I am derivative though… I hope not. I suppose you just have to read and see.

V: No - you are most definitely your own writer, and one who is going to go far. Thanks for visiting the blog, and for the book. Many congratulations on The Last Kings of Sark, may it fly! It deserves to. Enjoy the journey, and I shall look forward to the next book in due course. 

The Last Kings of Sark is released on November 7th, so you only have another couple of days to wait. It's available from the usual suspects, and can be bought or ordered from all indie book shops. Enjoy!