Sunday, 29 November 2009

top ten short story collections

I have a bit of a cold, so I am sitting in bed with PJs, a scarf,honey and hot lemon, and a little cat keeping my feet warm. I'm amusing myself by doing what I love most... searching for new collections of short fiction. I've just searched on the internet to find out what other people think about the best ten short story collections (by a single author)...

It's very interesting how diverse the lists are... a selection of the ones I found:

Alison McLeod's list in the Guardian has The Nose by Nikolai Gogol as her number one collection. James Joyce The Dead is second (I might pick Dubliners instead), other collections are Raymond Carver What we talk about when we talk about love (I prefer Cathedral, but I concede it is difficult to choose), Alice Munro, Helen Dunmore... other probably quite obvious choices.

Then we have Amazon's Best of 2009 for short stories (US site)... this is an interesting one because they have two lists - editors' top ten and customers' top ten (ie. bestselling)... so you can compare the two lists. Actually the lists are quite different... which seems to say to me that perhaps best selling is not best quality. Everything Revaged Everything Burned by Wells Tower is close to the top of both lists, as is Maile Meloy's Both Ways is the Only Way I want it. This is the only cross-over, it seems. The customer top ten is more mainstream (to be expected I guess), more big names, and the editor's list perhaps more subversive... if the editors at Amazon can be called subversive (probably not). But, anyway, I have added a few books to my 'hot hot hot short story yes I want to read it soon' list.

AV Club's best collections of the 00's is a good list too... there are 7 collections on the list I have never heard of, so it should be useful for my christmas wish list... although, it's not really the list I might compile... a bit staid I felt. Sorry, I like my experimental, exciting, edgy short fiction, and this list does say any of these things to me.

So, my challenge is, that I want to find out what your top all time short story collections are (top three or top ten, whichever you prefer), but also your top three or ten from 2009.

I'm heading downstairs with my blanket and hot water bottle to rifle through my collections, and write my lists...


Saturday, 28 November 2009

hurtling through the week

I have so much in my mind, this blog might turn into a long rambling pseudo list with various digressions.

It is very grey outside and threatens rain, but I am still going to the allotment today. It's felt like a very LONG week and I need to get outside and do something practical. My week is so rarely practical, when I reach the weekend I'm just dying to get out there.

Last weekend, there was enough rainless hours for me to get things done. I started digging out the jerusalem artichokes next to the fence, pulling bindweed from the fence and digging out their crazy roots, clearing a bit of space for what I feel might become a potato patch. I also decided to tackle a huge wire container that turned out to be full of soil and weeds. I've been sifting out the weeds, and using the soil to fill my raised beds. Still more to be done on both these tasks. I bought some cheap flower bulbs (tulips etc) so am going to build a little flower bed in front of my compost bin with some spare planks of wood so I will have a blaze of colour in spring. Today, hopefully some tyres being delivered which I am going to use as planters. And also via freecycle, I have also been promised some old windows, which I want to use to build a cold frame. I love the allotment. It is turning into a PROJECT.

It's also giving me balance. Time when I can just be. I don't have to be anything to anyone. Just do whatever needs to be done. And have cups of tea with other people who don't need me to be anything other than someone who digs and grows things.

It's really brought it home, the pressures there are on me in other parts of my life. At work, I give so much of myself all the time, I am responsible for things, people have expectations, I need to focus, reflect, think. Don't get me wrong. I'm enjoying my job, but it certainly feels like pressure, that I am 'trying' all the time, and I guess the real me slips behind some kind of persona.

Even writing can be a pressure. I'm having time off from writing at the moment because my brain needs a rest, my emotional capacity for writing has ebbed, and I just want to be, instead of thinking all the time, editing myself, worrying whether I am a good enough writer or not.

Of course, writing is still important to me, it's not abandoned, and my life as a writer goes on without me it seems...

I received my copy of new magazine Cake, containing my short short Aberdeen. It has some good poetry and fiction inside. I was pleased to be amongst such good company, George Szirtes, David Morley, Roddy Lumsden, Gaia Holmes, and Joolz Denby were along the familiar names, but there is are many poems by poets and writers unfamiliar to me that I thought were brilliant especially love getting drunk with youby Stephen Emmerson.

So, my writing life goes on. I remember that next Saturday I'm reading at The Nook in Chorlton at 2pm with a group of women poets. I am still slow-writing reviews, and talking with writer friends about writerly things.

In the midst of all this, I'm less anxious, still a little anxious, but managing it. I'm still getting migraines (Any migraine tips?) and wondering what my body is trying to tell me. Is it saying slow down, or I'm not looking after myself properly, or I need something I'm not getting, or is it saying that something in my life is not quite right and needs to be changed? My thoughts jumble around in a kind of productive but messy way, and I'm working through them bit by bit.

I find reading other people's blogs helpful. This week, I discovered a blog written by transformational coach Aboodi Shabi thanks to Fiona Robyn whose blogs I also find inspirational. He writes about the 'lies we need to stop believing', or in other words the expectations we have about what we can attain in life if we only do the 'right things'. It struck me a great deal, I thought, yes I SO agree with this,

What are some of these “lies”?

Some day, my prince(ss) will come. Not necessarily – many people face a lifetime of not meeting their prince or princess. An increasing number of us might have to face a future of growing old alone, and accept that there isn’t “someone out there, just for me”.

You can make your dreams come true. You probably can’t. This is one of the ones I hear and read about most often, and perhaps one of the most insidious. Yes, we can aspire to fulfil our dreams, but we need to be grounded in the reality that most of us aren’t going to be able to have the ‘life we always dreamed of’.

Things will get better. No, they might not. This might be ‘as good as it gets’.

If you build it, they will come. Again, they might not.

I deserve better than this. Perhaps, most harshly of all, why? Deserving is absolutely tied up with entitlement, and it’s a myth that I deserve anything – it’s an act of sheer good fortune that I have the comfortable life I have, and am not living on the streets of Rio de Janeiro, or languishing in a prison-cell in Baghdad.

Sorry to be so blunt, but there it is – life is unfair. The good guy doesn’t always get the girl, and the bad guy sometimes wins. We can have our dreams, do our affirmations, practice chanting and meditating on our goals, do the work, network, go on plenty of dates, and still not get what we long for.

It seemed to make a lot of sense to me, and says so much more succinctly than I ever could some of the things I've been struggling with recently. Some people might find his blog harsh, read the whole thing before you decide, but I just felt YES, at last someone is saying what I feel is realistic.

But, then I hit my brick wall. I have a wonderful life, many things to be grateful for, but some of the things I have wanted (MASSIVELY) have not evolved. What if they never do? I have to prepare myself for that. I can't sit around waiting for something to happen that might not. I am hurtling through a lot of thought processes and realisations at the moment, and not finding many answers (hence why I posted the Rilke quote earlier this week).

So, I try and ground myself with good soup, meeting with friends, films, digging, reading, and all things lovely. I'm planning Christmas at my house, for the first time in my thirty six years, which is giving me lots to sort out and feel excited about. Sparkly tree. Scrumptious menu. Gifts. Treats. And slowly maybe, I will find acceptance of the things I have no control over, find some kind of peace with it, reach a place where I can relax a little more.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

words for a bad day...

Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart.
Try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books written in a foreign language.
Do not now look for the answers.
They cannot now be given to you because you could not live them.
It is a question of experiencing everything.
At present you need to live the question.
Perhaps you will gradually, without even noticing it, find yourself experiencing the answer, some distant day.

~ Rainer Maria Rilke

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Real Post

I've had a lovely two weeks thanks to the postman.

Firstly, a lovely print copy of Unsaid Undone, which has been available as a free download on the flax books website and is now also available as a print version for £5. It has some short shorts by me, and short fiction by Andrew Michael Hurley, John Siddique, Marita Over and Brindley Hallam Dennis. Of course, I have read it online already, but how nice to be sent a print copy. A nice unexpected surprise.

Then, my two copies of the latest Succour Magazine arrived... which I had a lovely flick through while drinking a cup of redbush tea when I got in from work. My four prose poems look great. I love Succour for the brilliant quality paper, print and design. It's classy, you know, and it has that new paper smell that is just pure pleasure. I've loved the poems/shorts by Shaunagh Darling Robertson and John Clegg.. brilliant, and yet more to discover...

On the same day, I had a surprise package from my friend Melissa with a copy of her latest book Patterns of Mourning. Lovely cover, and wonderfully rich, complex poetry that explores her own experience of mental ill-health. She wrote the book when she was going through a 'Mixed Affective Episode' and it says on the back of her book:

It was composed on the underside of letters, the backs of my hands and arms and all over my clothes, on train tickets, in public computer terminals, on walls, hotel, hostels, hospital wards, on platforms in train stations, during painting classes, at my mother's house when I was lost

Wow, makes me want to read cover to cover. But you know Melissa's poetry is for short periods of immersion I think, it is so raw and multi-layered and intense. I will take my time with it.

On top of that, I received a dress from the catalogue (expected) and a £10 gift card from Sainsbury's (out of the blue)... Wow, I feel so pleasedto have so much real post... even better than when I have a crazy ebay or amazon spree...

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Ouroboros Review, Succour and Sparks

A few bits of lovely news for me and my writing...

First up, I have two very short pieces of fiction in issue 4 of Ouroboros Review, The Sound of Rain and Take Me Dancing. Ouroboros Review is a great quality literary magazine, I love the photographs of old mailboxes, windowframes, and door handles by Julie E. Bloemeke and the poetry, short fiction etc are a treat, I especially enjoyed poems by Michelle McGrane, Arlene Ang, Jeanpaul Ferro and Susan Millar DuMars.

Also, I have prose poems in the latest issue of Succour magazine. It's an issue on the theme of The Banal. I haven't seen or read a copy yet, but I have the feeling that the writing will be far from banal, and am intruiged to know how other writers have interpreted and written about the theme. It's a print magazine, so is available to buy for £5.95. Hopefully I'll get my copy sometime soon... am very excited to read it.

Finally, you might have caught this on facebook, I found out yesterday that another short short has been accepted for Sparks 7 in Brighton on December 1st. Each story is sent to a photographer and a photograph commissioned. The photo is then projected behind whoever reads the short, usually its the author, but I won't be able to make it down to Brighton on a Tuesday night sadly. I'm hoping someone might either film it or take photos, and I definately want to see the commissioned photo. It is a really exciting that it will be read aloud and I hope people like it. It's one of my crazy adolescent Lancashire stories.

Lots of exciting news hm?

Oh oh oh, and the tiniest piece of writing you might ever see me have published, has been posted at elimae...

Saturday, 7 November 2009

the week in realisations...

Muddy wellies are the best kind of wellies. These are my pink polka dots, fresh from three hours on the allotment... It was muddy down there after five days of almost constant rain, and I was covered in mud after filling my new compost bin that I found with surprise when I arrived this morning. Two of the guys had built it for me during the week, how nice it that! Now, the compost bin is almost full. I stripped out tonnes of weeds and old plants, pulled out couch grass from around the raspberries, discovered a gooseberry plant hidden under loads of elbow high weeds, and drank lots of tea. There was a tin of gingerbread in the hut today and we had a few breaks for strong tea and cake.

Stevie Wonder is a genius. He has brightened up my week no end. I bought his definitive collection from ebay and have been playing it when I've got in from work, dancing and foot-tapping. I am in love with 'I don't know why', it must be one of the most emotional songs ever written, and the way he sings it, wow. I've realised that my ideal man is Stevie Wonder circa 1969. If only

It's hot chocolate weather again. I mean hot chocolate is the drink for all seasons, but especially winter, cosy nights in when it's cold or raining outside, cosy cafes in the dark evenings, cosy bars with a friend on Wednesday nights having the most lovely chats.

I've realised that cats become more snuggly in winter. A friend of mine said it's only because they want to be warmer, but my theory is that cats like to cuddle in the winter. Sissy has been getting under the covers and cudding up to my belly in the night, she wants her belly tickling, she wants to be curled up on my knee, and is never far away, after a summer of independance and being constantly outdoors. I feel like my little kitten has come home.

It has been a mixed week, mostly good. A few difficult things, but I've been holding on to the good things and saying thank you thank you thank you that the anxiety has eased.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

short stories, taking it easy and clearing the plot

Things have been better this week, not out of the woods yet, but significantly better than they were the previous few weeks. I am trying to take things very easy, and focusing on the few things I really want to do...

For a start, last Saturday, I went out for a lovely short story day. A writers brunch in Manchester with Tania Hershman, Elizabeth Baines, and Melissa lee Houghton. Lots of talk about short stories and writing over scrambled eggs and toast. It was the first time I met Tania and Melissa, even though I have 'talked' with them a lot online. It's weird and wonderful meeting people from the internet, I felt like I already knew them from photos, blogs, emails.

Then, on to the Short Story Weekend at Manchester Literature Festival. My highlights were:
- hearing Adam Marek read the beginning of a very intruiging short story about school children wearing nanoclothing, in a futuristic world. And also getting the chance to meet him. I desperately want to read his collection.
- A video interview with Gazan short story writer, Atef Abu Saif, who was not allowed to leave Gaza to read in person.
- Bernard MacLaverty read a very entertaining story, and answered questions. I loved it when he answered a question by saying, 'yes, I can't remember which of my short story collections that was'. Oh, I aspire to be able to say that.
- I also aspire to be able to say the same as David Constantine, when he told us he had 'found' several novels that he had written in a cupboard recently.
- Finally, Iraqi writer Hassan Blassim read one of his short stories in Arabic, with an English translation projected behind him. It was a very brutal story, black humour, ironic.

I was exhausted after such a full on and intense day. But, how wonderful to be able to indulge in so much short fiction. If only all literature festivals could focus on the short story like this. It is very exciting to discover new writers, and enjoy the vast mix of short fiction writing out there!

I'm back to reading short fiction as well, after a brief foray into novels. I've just finished Alice Zorn's Ruins and Relics and have started Mary Caponegro's All Fall Down. I will be writing reviews for both of them, and will post links when they are online.

Work on the allotment is coming along very well...
I've planted onions and garlic ready for spring, it felt good to get something in the ground, as well as all the digging I've been doing. At least I know that (fingers crossed) something is growing. Last Sunday in the drizzle, me and my sister cleared a little more ground, and I pulled out all the big weeds in the middle of my plot. The compost heap is getting to be huge! It was very muddy and a little cold, but exciting to see how it is progressing.

Yesterday, I went to the Allotment Association AGM, which was an eye-opener. There was so much arguing! People disagreeing about water butts and top soil, and what the money is going to be spent on, and whether we should have a toilet fitted and who would clean it if we did, and whether it's better to have green bins or a skip, and all kinds of other heated debate. Gosh, I didn't know allotments invovled so much politics! I did another couple of hours on my plot, and cleared a little more space, dug it over again, and with the help of Eric (one of my allotment neighhours) built a raised bed...!

I never imagined I would enjoy having an allotment so much. Simple pleasure I mean, a slow kind of satisfaction, seeing how I am slowly getting things done, tidying the ground, digging it over, how little by little, big things can be achieved.

I find life interesting, the way this allotment was given to me, just at a time when I was really struggling, and how it is turning out to be exactly what I needed. Perhaps its sychronicity, I don't know, but it couldn't have arrived at a better time. It's not the answer, but it's given me something to focus on, it's getting me out in the fresh air, exercising more, and introduced me to a very friendly community of people at a time when I was feeling very alone.

Positive, yes?

I have much more to say, mainly about the kindness of others - friends and strangers - I've been surprised by the amount of kindness and also where it has come from. I will save this for another blog, perhaps, as I have a lot of thoughts about it that I'm still working through. But, I do want to acknowledge the kindness people have shown me, often in very simple ways, that has meant such a lot. Thank you!