The Three Rs: Alison MacLeod

March 29, 2013 § 1 Comment

Alison MacLeod is a novelist, short story writer and essayist. She is the author of two novels, The Changeling (Macmillan) and The Wave Theory of Angels (Penguin). Her third novel, Unexploded, will be published by Hamish Hamilton Books/Penguin in September 2013. Her stories have been widely published in the UK and broadcast on the BBC. In 2008 she was awarded the Society of Authors’ Prize (UK) for short fiction, in 2011 she was shortlisted for the BBC National Short Story Award, and in 2012 she was longlisted for The International Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award. MacLeod is also the author of the story collection Fifteen Modern Tales of Attraction (Penguin). She is Professor of Contemporary Fiction at the University of Chichester and Director of Thresholds International Short Story Forum.

When did you first know you wanted to write books?

I remember being very small – three or four – and clasping an oversized copy of  ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarves’ to my chest.   The book was at least half the size I was, and its cover was cut to the shape of the cover illustration, which was Snow White in a rocking chair with the dwarves gathering around her.  In some way I can’t quite explain, that book felt alive to me as I held it, and I can still feel the thrill of that discovery.

I think I knew then that I wanted to make stories.  It seemed like magic.  It is.

macleod unexploded

What does your day look like while you’re writing a book?

On a good writing day — which means a day in an uninterrupted run of a few days — I usually wake late because I’ve been up till three or four the night before writing.  I lie awake for about ten minutes, turning over in my mind the newest material and sifting for its connections  — or simply letting my mind work sleepily at a problem in the story.

If I can avoid morning errands, I’ll be in a nightdress and cardigan till late afternoon.  I usually do my first writing shift from 2 p.m. till about 7.  I get progressively more feral as the day goes on: I rake my hand through my hair a lot; I stoop at my desk; my pupils seem to shrink in my face. I think I frighten the postman.  If the weather isn’t awful, I try to get out around 7:00 for a brisk walk around Brighton.  I head to the seafront and walk back through the grounds of the Royal Pavilion.  The rhythm of walking is good for creative thinking.  Ideas come.  For Unexploded, I was also always making mental notes about the beach or the piers or the Pavilion as I walked – all are locations in the novel.  That ‘gathering up’ of detail was a constant pleasure. 

My second writing shift starts at 9 pm and ends – usually with a hot bath – around 2.00 or 3:00 but sometimes much later.  Five hours might pass like one.  I love how peaceful the world is late at night.  It also feels a little illicit – deliciously free somehow – and that freedom allows for greater risk-taking while writing – something that’s as important as artistic control and rigour.

My nightly bath is the final part of the routine.  In the tub at the end of my ‘shift’, words arrive, like unexpected gifts from the soap-and-water gods.  It’s usually the next line I need — the opening line of a new chapter or the next line in a passage where I’ve been stuck.  I go to bed, tired but thrilled by the offering.

I dream much more vividly when I’m writing well; at those times, all the bits of me are more ‘connected up’.

Do you type or write?

I scribble the first few paragraphs (of a story) or first few pages (of a novel) with a pen.  I carry on until I feel it ‘catch’; until the spark of the story really takes.  Then I switch to the computer – because I can type faster than I write and because I want to see the story or chapter growing into a form that looks less like ‘me’ and more like itself.  I don’t want the reminder of my own handwriting; I want the ‘me’ to disappear into the story or at least into the crafting of the story.

What do you read while you’re writing?

For the last 5 years or more, I’ve been working on Unexploded.  It’s set in 1940-41 in Brighton, and the historical research for it has seemed, at times endless.  My front room, where I write, was blighted by stacks of books, photocopies and folders until just a month ago, when the copy-editing – the final check on a book — was confirmed.

When I’m writing a novel, sadly, I can’t read many novels, though I wish I could.  In imaginative terms, one story seems to be the most I can hold in my head at any one time, and any other novel than my own feels a little like a cuckoo in the nest.  So I read lots of short stories.  I love their beautiful intensities.  They’re like shots in the arm as I write.

What have you read recently that you really loved?

The stories, notebooks and letters of Katherine Mansfield.  I love the precision and daring of her stories (‘At the Bay’, ‘The Garden Party, ‘Miss Brill’, ‘The Daughters of the Late Colonel’, etc.).

Her letters are as sharp as they are poignant.  On her own illness (TB), she writes:I don’t care …what pain I suffer, so long as my handkerchiefs don’t look as though I were in the pork-butcher trade’.  Gosh.  Such a line.  And how can anyone not be moved to read: ‘Yesterday, upstairs in my room I suddenly wanted to give a small jump – I have not given a small jump for two years…  And this seemed such a miracle I felt I must tell somebody.’

Her words on writing and the writing life are scattered through her notebooks and letters: ‘I seethe with stories,’ she writes.  ‘I have this continual longing to write something with all my power – all my force in it.’  And at the end, when she was exhausted by the illness that would kill her: ‘I am tired of my little stories like birds bred in cages.’

What are your all-time favourites?

Such a tough one…  Forgive the chaos of titles.  Jane Eyre (C. Bronte), Wuthering Heights (E. Bronte), Anna Karenina (Tolstoy), ‘Lady with Lapdog’ (Chekhov), ‘The Dead’ (Joyce), The Great Gatsby (Fitzgerald), Gone to Earth (Mary Webb), Orlando (Woolf), ‘Good Country People’ (Flannery O’Connor), ‘Revelation’ (O’Connor’), ‘Everything that Rises Must Converge’ (O’Connor again), One Hundred Years of Solitude (Marquez), The White Hotel (D.M. Thomas), Santa Evita (Martinez), the stories of Katherine Mansfield (as above), The Hours (Cunningham), Beloved (Toni Morrison), The Tin Drum (Grass), D.H. Lawrence’s stories and novellas, Kafka’s stories and novellas, Gogol’s stories, The French Lieutenant’s Woman (Fowles), Riddley Walker (Hoban); Othello and The Winter’s Tale (Shakespeare), Brighton Rock and The End of the Affair (Greene), On Chesil Beach (McEwan)…  I’ll stop there to draw breath.

You can either write or read for the rest of your life – but not both. Which do you choose?

My life wouldn’t feel like my life if I didn’t write – so, in a sense, I’d have no choice but to opt for Option 1.  I’m lucky in that I’ve been able to read greedily so far in my life.  The books we read change us and become part of us.  I think they’d sustain me somehow.   And, as always I suppose, I’d be trying to write the stories I want to read. 

What’s your third R, and why?


It’s mysterious.  It’s hopeful.


Of paywalls and pandas

March 27, 2013 § Leave a comment

A few weeks ago, during the Globe and Mail Books reshuffle, a Melville House blog post asked “Who is more likely to read a newspaper than people who read books?” A few groups of people, perhaps, including political junkies and people who are truly interested in the world and hard news, but not many. Why, then, do newspapers across the world think it sensible to reduce books coverage?

The answer largely lies with advertising, of course. The Melville House blog post suggested that declining ad revenue is a poor argument for shrinking books coverage, since newspapers continue to cover the government even though they don’t generate income. Initially I thought this was a reasonable point, but it is, sadly, wrong. Hard news content is also shrinking, of course. When was the last time you read a “quality” newspaper without shouting “This is not news!” at it?

The Globe and Mail drew ire from readers by headlining Monday’s paper with Stephen Harper’s cynical-from-start-to-finish panda pandering. It is far from the only newspaper to prioritise soft news, of course. This kind of media whoring by politicians, in this case associating a party with a dreadful environmental record with the cuddly animal long associated with the World Wide Fund for Nature, is of a piece with lowest-common-denominator tax credits and other “make the story about something else” tactics. It’s spin and distraction, and should be outed as such by newspapers of all political persuasions instead of being blindly swallowed.

The pandas’ arrival had its place in the newspaper, but it wasn’t on the front page. And this lack of understanding of core readership is causing real problems for newspapers. As I mentioned above, people likely to read newspapers are book readers, politicos, news junkies (amateur or professional). These people are not likely to read panda stories and feel that they’re now fully informed about world events. The high page views come (I say with absolutely no evidence whatsoever, and with an uncharacteristic optimism about the intelligence level of my fellow humans) from people pootling around the net at work, looking for mindless distraction. But newspapers cannot compete (or not for long) on fluffy fronts with other websites disseminating non-news. Lifestyle sections, home decor, navel-gazing house price discussions, otherwise known as the victory of advertising, have all distracted newspapers from their real business (which I happen to think does include proper books coverage, along with discussion of other cultural activities and phenomena).

So then we come to the idea of how newspapers can stay in business. Two more newspapers introduced paywalls yesterday, The Sun and the Daily Telegraph, describing the current business model—readers getting journalism for free—as untenable. Print subscribers are dropping (as an aside, I can in fact no longer get the Globe and Mail delivered, thanks to the incredibly inefficient Canadian subscription model of each newspaper organising its own delivery routes) and people are getting their news, if they get any at all, from a wide variety of places.

The internet has changed everything, as we are fond of saying. It has changed both what we read and how we read it. Although I said earlier that book readers were likely to read a newspaper, the combination of having no subscription to a newspaper (who wants to go out and buy one after breakfast—prime newspaper reading time—is over?), the increase in books websites and blogs that are almost perfectly tailored to my interests and tastes, and the fluff-quotient of newspapers themselves means that I spend less time reading news—print and web—than I used to, and I suspect I am not alone. The internet gives us all the chance to immerse ourselves in an increasingly narrow, or at least increasingly specialised, interest, whether that is books, electric cars, or celebrity diets. Not having a paper to read cover to cover augments this effect: we no longer read stories just because they are there, gaining an almost accidental knowledge of world affairs; instead we tend to go deep rather than broad, being aware of only the headlines. We are all, perhaps, heading towards a level of general awareness that was previously the domain of all-day local rock station listeners.

The internet has also changed brand loyalty. I have a couple of main newspapers that I use (interesting how that verb, rather than read, suggested itself) to get news, but if I want to research something I will go to a much broader range of newspaper websites. Which brings me to my point about paywalls (which we can hope will result in a steep drop in page views for gossip and drivel, thus refocusing editorial direction and policy). Not many people will subscribe to more than one newspaper, if they subscribe at all. So why can’t we invent some kind of not-for-profit organisation that develops an app to allow newspaper readers to buy credit for ALL newspapers that sign up to it. People who have paid would be entitled to a certain number of monthly page views at each member newspaper, after which they could read as many articles they liked without having to worry about payment—a simple click to confirm the charge (which could be very low—a few pence or cents) as you entered that particular newspaper’s site. Non-subscribers would not have access to any newspapers.

This Oyster card for newspapers would allow newspapers to charge on a per-page basis; it would allow readers to read whatever they liked without constantly having to enter payment details (some of whom don’t even object to paying but do object to being locked into one subscription as well as to having to type in credit-card details); it might even wrest back some tiny speck of control from advertisers. No doubt to begin with people would still be glugging down the celebrity/panda rubbish, but surely soon people would ask why they were wasting their money on that guff, and people who liked celebrity/panda rubbish (who, I suppose I should acknowledge, might also be real newspaper readers) would find alternative and free places to read it.

But this is probably all too much like cooperation. Perhaps newspapers would rather all drown, on live television, in a hot tub with Justin Bieber, the royal foetus and a jetlagged panda.

(c) All rights reserved. Unless otherwise indicated, all blog content, except comments by others, copyright JC Sutcliffe.

The Three Rs: Jonathan Goyette

March 22, 2013 § Leave a comment

The first bilingual Three Rs interview is with Jonathan Goyette, whose new book of short stories is called Le saboteur d’avenir. Jonathan, a professor at the Université de Sherbrooke in Quebec, did me out of a job by translating his own answers.

When did you first know you wanted to write books?

À huit ans, je créais et produisais déjà mon propre magazine de bandes-dessinées et de journalisme d’aventure. Même si mon lectorat se limitait à ma propre personne, sauf lors d’une collaboration occasionnelle  avec un ami qui était « engagé » pour dessiner une section du magazine ou écrire un reportage, c’était clair à l’époque que j’avais besoin de raconter des histoires et de les consigner.

At eight I was already producing a magazine of comic strips and adventure stories. Even if my readership was limited to myself – except for the occasional collaboration with a friend who’d provide a drawing or write an article – it was already clear at the time that I needed to tell and record my stories.

What does your day look like while you’re writing a book?

Cela dépend de la journée. Si c’est une très bonne journée, je me réveille sous le coup d’une inspiration qui peut guider mon crayon durant plusieurs heures. Je peux écrire sans manger durant des heures, excité par la clarté de mes pensées qui s’alignent sans effort. Cela m’arrivait toujours lorsque j’avais huit ans. Maintenant, ce type de journées extraordinaires ne survient que très rarement depuis que j’ai vieilli et suis devenu critique à propos de mon travail.

Lorsqu’il s’agit seulement d’une bonne journée, je dois tout d’abord me battre avec les 12 lettres de mon irrésolution et prendre ses 2 « r » comme on prend un taureau par les cornes. Afin de déjouer mon critique intérieur, je me réchauffe à l’aide d’écriture automatique ou de poésie. Une fois mon critique intérieur maîtrisé, je peux parfois profiter de quelques heures inspirées.

Il y a aussi ces instants durant lesquels je prépare mon écriture. Ce sont mes moments préférés puisque je laisse mon imagination errer sans objectif précis. C’est très excitant lorsqu’une idée émerge à l’intersection de courants de pensées qui, rationnellement, n’ont rien en commun.

It depends on the day. If it is a really good day, I wake up blessed with an inspiration that might guide my pen for hours. I can then write without eating for hours in a row, too excited by the clarity of my thoughts which align themselves without any resistance. This used to happen all the time when I was eight. Unfortunately, it does not even represent 1% of the time I spend writing now that I have grown older and critical of my work.

On a good day, I first have to wrestle with the 12 letters of my irresolution and take its two “r”s like one grabs a bull by the horns. In order to circumvent my interior critic, I usually warm up with automatic writing or poetry. Then, I may get into a flow for a few hours.

There are also these moments where the aim is not writing in itself but planning the next bit to come. Those instants are my favorites because I can let my imagination wander without a preconceived objective. I get excited when an idea pops up at the junction of thoughts that were not objectively made to cross paths.

Do you type or write?

Tout d’abord, j’essaie d’écrire un brouillon sur papier afin de suivre le rythme de mon inspiration. Lorsque je travaille directement sur l’ordinateur, j’ai tendance à revenir en arrière dans le texte et il s’agit d’un réflexe qui anéantit l’inspiration. Lorsque j’ai terminé ce premier brouillon, je le transcris à l’ordinateur.

First, I try to write a draft on paper. It slows me down and gets me into a flow. When I work on the computer I trick myself by moving back and forth into the text and it kills the inspiration. Once I’m done with this first draft, I type it.

What do you read while you’re writing?

Ce que je viens juste d’écrire.  Je n’ai pas d’habitude particulière à ce sujet.

What I’ve just written. I don’t have a specific habit in this case.

What have you read recently that you really loved?

Les rois maudits de Maurice Druon. Au-delà des faits historiques qui sont très intéressants, le souffle et l’écriture de l’auteur sont captivants. The thousand autumns of Jacob de Zoet par David Mitchell. Encore une fois, la dimension historique de ce roman est très bien documentée. Et l’auteur réussit à donner vie à chacun de ses personnages en lui insufflant un langage qui lui est propre.

Les rois maudits by Maurice Druon. On top of the historical facts, which are really interesting, the flow and writing style of this novel are just captivating. The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell. Again, the historical dimension is fascinating and well documented. The author produces life-like characters by attributing each of them with an idiosyncratic way of saying things.

What are your all-time favourites?

L’amour au temps du choléra et Chronique d’une mort annoncée de Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Pour le souffle de l’auteur qui nous emporte avec son imagination infinie. Toute les nouvelles de Jorge Luis Borges. Je suis fasciné par l’écriture de cet auteur argentin qui nous entraine toujours dans une dimension ambigüe entre le rêve, la réalité et la fiction. Tous les livres que j’ai lus de Romain Gary, et en particulier La vie devant soi. Le souffle et la sensibilité de cet écrivain figurent parmi mes sources d’inspiration. Finalement, la lecture combinée de Tropic of Cancer et Big Sur and the oranges of Hieronymius Bosch par Henry Miller. Il s’agit d’un hymne à la vie, d’un appel à suivre l’élan vital.

Love in the time of cholera and Chronicle of a death foretold by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. The imagination of the author just took mine on a magic trip. All short stories by Jorge Luis Borges fascinate me because of their ambiguous relation with dream, reality and fiction.  All books I’ve read by Romain Gary, more particularly La vie devant soi. The flow and the sensitivity of the author are some of my sources of inspiration.  Finally, the combination of Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer with his book entitled Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymius Bosch, which represents a hymn to life and a call to live in the moment.

What’s your third R, and why?

If I can I pick any word with the letter “r”, I’d say “breath”: let a draft breathe; get into a flow with the right breath. If the word has to start with the letter “r”, I’d say “respirer”: laisser respirer mes premiers jets; trouver mon souffle lorsque j’écris.


First Novel by Nicholas Royle

March 20, 2013 § 1 Comment

Nicholas Royle is the editor of the Best British Short Stories series published by Salt, as well as the author of several previous novels. Since I haven’t read his other work I don’t know how typical First Novel is, but the title, along with the curious fact that the author thanks “Nicholas Royle” in the acknowledgements (who, I later learn when reading an interview with Royle, is actually another writer who shares his name—although can we be sure that this is not simply the author extending the conceit?), set the metafictional tone.

Paul Kinder is a lecturer in creative writing in Manchester. He’s recently moved to the area and no longer sees his family since he divorced his wife, Veronica. As he adjusts to his new home and settles into teaching, he starts to research his own novel, which involves driving to airports with young women, including students, for various odd reasons (not always the expected ones). Paul’s narrative is intercut with what seem, at first, to be random stories unrelated to the novel, but it becomes clear as things progress that they are stories written by the students in his class, primarily Grace and Helen. As some of Helen’s stories tell some of Paul’s stories from another perspective, and even invent—so we think—events between them that have not happened, the bias of Paul’s narration shows through the cracks. It also works as an real-time investigation into metafiction, or autobiographical fiction, or even the axiom about writing what you know—indeed, the whole notion of teaching creative writing.

In addition to Paul’s present, the stories of Grace and Helen, and the strange narrative of the mysterious Lewis, a man Paul meets at a friend’s house who muscles his way into Paul’s life, the novel is also the story of Paul’s past, and a time when he went by another name, the name under which his first novel—hard to track down—was published. But it’s also a book to read for its descriptions of other (real) first novels, and its hilarious commentary on the Guardian’s Writers’ Rooms series (Paul is obsessed by the details of the furniture, and notices which writers have the same type of chair or the same desk. The real purpose of his focus, however, is to see if his first novel is visible in the photographs.)

The cover blurb (which is a little offputting, managing to be both trite and clever-clever—although really, when don’t I find cover blurb off-putting?) gives genre possibilities for this book as twisted campus novel or possible murder mystery, and it is a little of both. But in common with a lot of books I’ve been reading over the past few months, it takes elements from various genres, including the very literary and mashes them up with some great writing. First Novel reminds me a little of Hawthorn and Child, Keith Ridgway’s latest book (one that I intended to write about but somehow never did). Both are concerned with subverting genre; both are carefully written by widely read, intellectual authors; both are intriguing and absorbing. If First Novel is more satisfying in a traditional sense—the pieces of the puzzle come together with a full meaning at the end, unlike Hawthorn and Child, which branches off continually in new directions rather than coming full circle—they both play with and question linear narrative, memory and the representation of the real (or the realism of representation, perhaps). Question after clue after connection prolong the intrigue before finally falling gratifyingly into place

First Novel might sound complex, but it’s as easy, compelling read. If the writing assignment was to use all the most interesting techniques of postmodernism to create an intellectually stimulating, funny, serious and clever novel, Nicholas Royle has more than made the grade.

Review copy.


(c) All rights reserved. Unless otherwise indicated, all blog content, except comments by others, copyright JC Sutcliffe.

The Three Rs: Simon Okotie

March 15, 2013 § Leave a comment

This week’s interviewee, Simon Okotie, has Master’s degrees in philosophy and transport planning. He has worked as a consultant on all of the major rail schemes from and through London in the last twenty years. Simon’s first novel, Whatever Happened to Harold Absalon?, is a detective story set on a Routemaster bus. It was published by Salt in the UK in October, and will be available electronically in April. Simon is currently working as a consultant on the UK’s High Speed 2 rail project – the largest infrastructure project in Europe – and writing his second novel.
When did you first know you wanted to write books?

I loved reading and writing as a child, but went through a long phase, through high school and university, of seeing myself as a scientific rather than a literary being. Music became a passion, and I studied acoustics in a failed attempt to reconcile my artistic and scientific interests. A friend who was studying English Literature recommended The Catcher in the Rye and To Kill a Mockingbird to me in my final year at university and my love of literature was rekindled. I started writing creatively, albeit tentatively, in Copenhagen, Denmark, whilst working as a technical author for an acoustics company there. But my writing life really started in the mid-nineties from the ruins of a failed relationship.

What does your day look like while you’re writing a book?
It’s all about setting up conditions so that I can become absorbed in the writing. I write in the morning, two days a week, in local cafes. I find it helpful to be around others when I’m writing…as long as nobody tries to talk to me! I have a number of rituals and routines on my writing days – drinking coffee, listening to white noise to mask others’ conversations, writing down whatever is in my mind as a way into the work, gently but persistently turning away from self-criticism – all of which are designed to get myself out of the way sufficiently to enable the writing to flow.
Do you type or write?
I usually type. I bought an Olivetti manual typewriter on the Plaza de Santa Domingo (known as ‘the square of the scribes’) in Mexico City in 1998. I loved using it; a typewriter is conducive, I think, because it helps separate writing and editing, which can interfere with each other.  Word processors work less well because they come attached to an infinity of potential distractions. These days, though, I turn off the internet and type into my laptop without revising, which comes later.
What do you read while you’re writing?
Reading others’ words when I write infects me with others’ voices. I engage, instead, with film, landscape, visual arts or music, finding inspiration that can be transmuted into my own work.
What have you read recently that you really loved?
I am currently in India reading, and loving, Joseph Anton, Rushdie’s memoir of the fatwa, which I am finding fascinating – a real inspiration. Recent novelistic loves include Infinity by Gabriel Josipovici, L’Amante Anglaise by Marguerite Duras, which Josipovici referred to in his wonderful What Ever Happened to Modernism?, The Lighthouse by Alison Moore (a Salt publishing stable mate) and Leaving the Atocha Station by Ben Lerner.
What are your all-time favourites?
Don Quixote has everything. I go back to it again and again in different translations, and always find something new to admire and amuse. It is, I think, a book of great insight and wisdom.
You can either write or read for the rest of your life – but not both. Which do you choose?
I would write in the hope that, like Borges’ ‘Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote’, I could re-create that novel, word for word, in the original seventeenth-century Spanish.
What’s your third R, and why?
Railways: the ideal place to read, write and reflect.

Some Canadiana

March 14, 2013 § 1 Comment

A few new Canadian books have been making their way into my house over the past few weeks, so I thought I’d do a very brief little showcase of these books.

TOK 7 is the final stage in a series of anthologies put out by Diaspora Dialogues in Toronto. It features poetry and short fiction, and includes work by Andrew Pyper, Ibi Kaslik, Margaret Christakos and Moez Surani.

Katie Welch’s The Bears is a timely tale about a ruptured pipeline, an oil spill and the ensuing environmental crisis, in which a group of activists try to save a group of bears.

Clear Skies, No Wind, 100% Visibility

Théodora Armstrong’s short story collection Clear Skies, No Wind, 100% Visibility is the first book to be published by the House of Anansi’s new short-story imprint, Astoria. Théodora was a recent Three Rs guest here at Slightly Bookist and has been compared to Flannery O’Connor and Raymond Carver. I’m reading this at the moment and enjoying it very much.

Ruth Walker’s Living Underground is a debut novel that travels between WWII Dresden and Scarborough, Ontario, several decades later, revealing secrets and uncovering mysteries. I was sent this book after confessing my love of WWII novels but have not yet had a chance to read it (my tbr pile has enough books to keep me going into 2014 already, and I read fairly quickly).

OPen Pit

Marguérite Pigeon (the acute accent is getting quite the outing in today’s post), a former journalist, has written an intelligent and nuanced political thriller called Open Pit. Look at that beautiful cover! The publisher, NeWest Press, has such great designs.

Chad Pelley (familiar to many as the man behind Salty Ink) sees his second novel, Every Little Thing, published on 20th March by Breakwater. This one is a tale of grief, secrets and emotional devastation. The first chapter is a great hook.

And finally, yesterday brought Don Gillmor’s latest novel, Mount Pleasant, which looks to be all about death, debt and decay in Toronto, all mixed up with mystery and revelation.




Women’s Prize for Fiction 2013

March 12, 2013 § 2 Comments

The longlist for the Women’s Prize for Fiction has just been announced, with twenty titles on it. Last year I got a bit carried away with prize fever and tried to read too many longlists for too many prizes, which drew me away from books I actually wanted to read. It’s one thing to make a new discovery on a longlist and try it because it looks good; it’s quite another to end up feeling obliged to read mediocre books simply to discuss a long- or shortlist. So I won’t be attempting to read the whole twenty this year.

I’ve only read three on the list: NW (Zadie Smith), Flight Behaviour (Barbara Kingsolver) and May We Be Forgiven (AM Homes). I thought the first was excellent and the third intriguing. Was it excellent? It depends on which way I read the author’s intentions, which made me realise how important context is, no matter how much we might think a work should stand on its own. I tried (I really did) to read Bring Up The Bodies, but I fear Mantel’s fiction is just not for me, much as I admire her non-fiction.

So what’s here that I really want to read? What is there that interested me when I first heard about it, but what has been buried under the constant avalanches of new titles? Six books. A decent number to be going on with (while I also try to fill out my enormous gaps in two recent translation prize lists: the Independent Prize for Foreign Fiction and the Best Translated Book Award).






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