Sunday, 31 January 2010

balancing out the disappointments...

This month has brought a couple of disappointments.

I already wrote about the first one here...

I can't say more than the poem already says. There is no part two, I'm not sure whether there will be or not, for those people who hoped for a sequel, sorry. It's disappointing isn't it, but there you are, I can't write what hasn't happened, not about this.

The second disappointment is in some ways easier, although you might think I'm nuts for saying that. At Christmas I sent a manuscript to a publisher, a collection of short shorts and prose poems, and I heard back this weekend that they are declining it. I haven't written about the submission or the details, because I didn't want to set up any expectations.

In fact, that it was declined is not a surprise. I rather thought it might be. My work is not very commercial, it falls awkwardly between two genres. If it was poetry or short fiction it might fall neatly into the right categories for everything that is important in publishing, marketing, sales, reviews, audiences. But, that it is prose poetry, poetic short prose, short shorts, and a mix of interpretations of these things, meant it was always going to be a risk for a publisher.

So, there is a feeling of disappointment, but it was anticipated.

The email from the publisher was just right: to the point, it was clear, and it explained why. Actually it was very generous about my writing and the collection and had a tone of regret, but it confirmed my thoughts, that it was being declined because it didn't make commercial sense in the current economic climate. Right now is not a time for risks.

I like the word decline. It is so much nicer than reject.

I'm not sure what my next steps will be, I need time to think it through. Perhaps I will identify other places to send it. Perhaps I will work on it more, veer towards either poetry or fiction, re-edit. Perhaps I will wait and write more, see what happens. I don't know what place there is for a writer like me in the current world of publishing. If there is a place. I write for me, and would find it really difficult to write for commercial reasons. To be honest I can see my rest period from writing drawing out longer and longer. I have some doubts about my writing and me as a writer. It's not connected with the manuscript being declined. It was there anyway.

And the really weird thing for me was how much stronger the first disappointment was, than the second. Somehow, the second one didn't matter so much, as though I feel confident that what will be, will be with my writing, and I'll be alright with that. But disappointment about love, is another thing entirely, one I feel I'll never quite get to grips with, and it always comes like a punch in the gut, even when it is nobody's fault, even if I haven't been let down, even if it's been down to me.

I think probably, there's something to be said for changing my expectations, particularly around love, but it's easier said than done, you know. I just get caught up. And then, things don't work out. Tough titty.

I've been trying to be grounded about everything since the above. The allotment has helped with that, and I've had a lovely time down there this weekend, especially yesterday. Sissy has been a darling, and is right now curled up under my legs as I write this blog, she's having a little snooze and I daresay I might join her soon, because it's like heaven having a little snooze with her. I went to the theatre on friday with my sisters which was good fun, and I'm trying to do all the things I love to keep me balanced.

And there will be other opportunities, perhaps...

Friday, 29 January 2010

Short Story Swaps... A Thread Snaps meets Darling

Just before Christmas I bumped into Peter Hartey, a poet from Manchester. We know each other from a poetry course we both attended a few years ago and I see him a lot at lit events around town. He's very lovely, and an interesting writer. He co-founded Poetica, the writing group that meets weekly in Manchester at Central Library, and launched MAG Poetry Prize an interesting competition where entrants judge the competition themselves, and all profits go to the Mines Advisory Group...

So, we bumped into each other in a cafe, then emailed, and he suggested we swap a short story that we love by a published author, and meet for coffee to chat about it. Fab idea, I thought, and instantly agreed.

And that's what we did. Last Sunday.

Peter had sent me A Thread Snaps a short story by a Palestinian writer called Huzama Habayeb. It is the story of a girl carrying out domestic chores while thinking about a boy she likes who passes by her house. I sent him Darling by Padrika Tarrant, a very dark story about a woman who finds a dead dog and decides to make him new.

We met early afternoon in a cafe behind Central Library, and we got down to the business of short stories, our own writing, others writing, and in particular these two very different stories.

One of the first questions we asked was 'why did you send this particular story?' Peter seemed convinced I had chosen Darling in response to the one he sent because there of a link between the two stories. In Darling, there is a very small detail of the character snapping the thread of a necklace so she can use amber beads for her dog's new eyes.

I hadn't noticed this image (having read the stories in seperate sittings) but it did seem an interesting coincidence that both stories contained the snapping of thread, and we talked about our thoughts about the meaning of this, reading into it, I guess, because of the unusual juxtaposition of two stories that would not usually sit next to each other.

We talked about our experiences of reading each story, our interpretation, particular images that struck us, the similarities and differences, what we looked for in a short story.

Both stories have an intimacy and physicality about them, although in very different ways. I love A Thread Snaps for the way it describes the earthy physical acts of washing her dad's feet, wiping her brother's bum, feeling her own thighs. It was very grounded in real everyday detail, but with a very 'female' perspective on the body, a domestic view of love. I love Darling for the very physical detail of the dog's fur, the way his dead body is patched up with newspaper, carrier bags and tin foil, how love is shifted into a disturbed state.

Peter found Darling very disturbing. Ha. Yes, it is very dark, very scary in a way. I think he enjoyed it, how inventive it is, how beautifully written.

A Thread Snaps was a story that stayed with Peter long after he read it. Darling had a similar impact on me. We perhaps identified with these stories in some way, and so there was something special about being introduced to these stories by a writer/reader who had a personal connection with it.

We talked about point of view, first person (but detached), third person (but intimate), credible and manipulative narrators, the subjectivity of reading... how interesting it was to read two stories next to eachother, and see how this impacted on our interpretation, brought new insight, created discussion and ideas. Of course, we all bring our own personal experience, history and circumstances into the reading of a story, and that was what made talking about it, sharing the experience with someone else very exciting...

Ha, we were chattering away for about two hours, completely forgetting the time, and getting lost in talking about these stories, other stories and our own approach to writing.

I hope to do this more often with other writers...

But now, I will leave you with a little excerpt from each story.

Nuwwar rubs at the dried shit on the small underpants. He'll never learn to clean himself. He doesn't even want to learn! She scrubs the pants. The white foam gradually billows upwards, rising above the surface of the water and overflowing onto her thighs. Transparent, purple-looking hemispheres rise up like dough and fall away again almost at once, to slither down either side of her thighs in a thin trickle of water which comes to a halt at the edge of her underpants, or maybe sneaks beneath them and goes inside. Her eyelids droop: a flash of coolness, then a prolonged sensation of warmth, and at last the shit breaks up.
from 'A Thread Snaps'

A Thread Snaps by Huzama Habayeb, published in Qissat, Short Stories by Palestinian Women (ed. Jo Glanville) Telegram

When I said Good morning to my Darling the next day, I was shocked at the state of him. His fur was clotty with blood, and ti wouldn't clean up, not with shampoo, not even with bleach. Eventually, an idea struck me, and I tore up newspaper and made him a brand new skin, layered with glue. He was stiff inside his fur already, and so he didn't mind at all, having a paper skin.
from 'Darling'

Darling by Padrika Tarrant, published in Broken Things Salt Publishing

Sunday, 24 January 2010

writer's etiquette: reviews

I received an email this week, from a writer whose book I recently reviewed.

It was interesting for me, because as well as thanking me for a thoughtful review, it also broached the subject of whether getting in touch was the correct protocol for a reviewee and reviewer, and the tone of the email was a little cautious as though worried I might be offended.

I wasn't offended. I felt it was lovely for a person to thank another person, and give a little feedback on how they received the review.

It's not the first time I've been contacted by a writer to say thank you for a review, thank you either because it was a very positive review, or because it was overall positive, but that I had critiqued certain parts of a book in a sensitive way.

One writer even used part of my review as an endorsement on the back of her second book and sent me a copy.

But this week I have been wondering about a question I have thought about in the past (as a writer as well as a reviewer), is there etiquette around this?

I mean, I write reviews to give thoughts on a book, spread the word to others, and because I enjoy reflecting on my reading and sharing that with others. I certainly don't expect a thank you, or to ever hear from a writer directly. So, when it happens it comes as a surprise, a pleasant one, but are there any issues with it?

Well, I thought of a few things.

1. I would not like to receive an angry email from anyone who hadn't liked a review I wrote about their book, or questionning my judgement... for me, this would not be the right etiquette. I try to be fair, sensitive, and also to 'own' my opinions (ie this is what I think, but other people might think differently), and given that reading is a subjective affair, then it's a given that I might not enjoy every book I read either in full or at all. I'm not going to get into a correspondance about this

2. If however, someone wants to blog about a review they are not happy with, fair enough. Although I would expect someone to give the same courtesy to me, and make sure it wasn't a bad-mouthing exercise.

3. Some people might think that thanking a reviewer might be about trying to butter them up for the next review. I can see that point.

4. However, there are a couple of people who have thanked me, and if I ever review their second or third or fifth books, I would be professional, and review it with the same fairness as the first. This means that if I don't like it, I will reflect on this. ie. I am not easily buttered.

5. So, what happens if I get into correspondance with someone whose book I have reviewed, or *god forbid* become their facebook friend, or even a real life friend. What then? My answer to this is... it doesn't detract from the fairness of the first review, and then it lurches into the etiquette around reviewing books by friends...

Ha! This is a whole new question. Should I review the books of people I know? I know there is a whole etiquette around this in reviewing world, and there are vastly differing opinions.

I've read reviews where I know for a fact that the reviewer is a personal friend of the writer, or is published by the same press. I understand why it happens, publicity is often rare, reviews are often very slow to appear if at all, and publishers send out many review copies for very few printed or online reviews. By asking another writer who is a friend, there is a guarantee that they WILL review the book, WILL be fair and sensitive, and it will be a positive review (because otherwise a friend would say kindly, listen, I didn't really understand the book so I don't feel I can review it (or some other explanation)).

Many publications have rules around this (The Short Review, for instance, has a 'rule' that the reviewer should not be connected to the writer personally, or the publisher), in order to try and avoid nepotism and unbalanced reviewing.

My own etiquette is something like this...

1. I only review books for publications or websites when I have NO personal connection with the writer. I might know of them, but they are not a friend, we don't hang out or give feedback on each other's writing. I might know them 'professionally', so I might have met them at a reading and talked about writing, or on the internet ditto. I might even read their blog, and comment sometimes. But, that's about it.

2. Equally, I don't review for my publisher, as I might not like the book, and don't want to upset them by being honest or in other words, bite the hand that feeds me.

3. If, I do want to review a book written by a friend, then I would post it on my personal blog, or say that I know them, and their personal relationship might become part of the review, as insider information can give an interesting perspective in a review. I might also promote their book on my blog, if I like it... but I think it's important to be upfront about this.

And then, what about me as a writer?

If my second book is published, I would use my relationships as much as possible to try and spread the word, publicise it, and would want as many reviews as possible. So, yes, I would approach certain professional friends, and ask whether they might be willing to spread the word on their blog, write a blog review or interview, or other such promotional thing. I doubt anyone would be upset by me asking, or being sent a review copy. The point is, there would be no obligation, if they didn't review it or promote it, I wouldn't be upset or offended. That is the world of publishing.

I would also want review copies sent to review editors including those I already know... with the hope they would send out the book to one of their reviewers (preferably who didn't know me) and find room for the review in their magazine/journal.

We all do this as writers. I might even email and thank a reviewer for their kind or thoughtful or contructive review, without expecting an acknowledgement, a friendship, or a further review from them.


I don't know whether other writers agree??

There isn't a code of conduct or a guide to etiquette (as far as I know, ha!), and we are all working our way through the issues, trying not to upset anyone or offend them, or be seen to be curry favour, or any other such thing.

Mm, etiquette is complicated.

Friday, 22 January 2010


So, you find a man on the internet. You think, he's cute. And not just cute, he's interesting in a way that most men aren't. Like, as if there are all kinds of weather inside him and a city library with a domed roof and the biggest flock of starlings forming all the words and shapes in the sky you can imagine. He is that kind of man, a man you want to walk with along a beach, and share a tub of your favourite icecream and talk total nonsense.

You're shy with him to start with, send messages and emails, and sometimes you talk for hours on the phone and he makes you laugh so your belly hurts. Before you know it, the sky is dark, and everyone else is in bed, and you've talked entire countries of conversation, but you still have more things to say, and you don't want to put the phone down, even though it's the early hours, because you're talking to a man who makes you feel as if you might be everything.

On your first date, you sit and sip orange juice, while he sits opposite you across the table, and the table is wider than the road distance you travelled to get here. You fidget a little and feel as if your face is pink, and worry that he might not like your eyes, or your hair, or the clothes you're wearing, and maybe you might say something silly that he laughs at or doesn't laugh, and you wonder which might be worse being laughed at or the deadly silence of someone not knowing what to say.

But he feels like this too, so it works out, because you talk about books, and books are everything to both of you, books are like love, and you share books so possibly you might be right for each other, or at least friends, and if not friends then maybe lovers for a while. Who knows. You take a walk in the snow, walking side by side but not touching, and maybe you might touch later, but for now walking together is enough.

He tells you about what he wants from life, really wants, deep inside, and you listen and say silly frivolous things inbetween his conversation about the depth of life, but he seems to like you anyway, and smiles when you smile, and looks down at you from under his dark fringe and you glance at him and he glances away, and then later he walks you to your car, and says what a lovely time he had, which is just what you wanted to say, so you give him a hug, and his big-coat-arms wrap around you so you are gathered up into the warm of his chest and you stay there a while, because he lets you.

It's as if you don't want to let go, but of course you have to at some point, because it's getting late, and you've already said you're leaving, and you wonder how long can you hold another person for the first time?

He kisses you, warm burn of lips against yours, and his hands in your hair. Oh..... and on the drive home, you decide you know. This man, that kiss, those hands, and you in the car park and everything, the talking, the way he seemed nervous same as you, those starlings inside him, and the way if felt as if old worries and past hurts might disappear.

But, he keeps you waiting. It seems as though wars happen while you wait for a second date. He seems unsure and that makes you unsure and you worry that maybe you were wrong, that those starlings were giving you the wrong messages. Or that you were mistaken. It was only a kiss in a car park, so perhaps a kiss means something different to a man like him, or maybe you were the wrong kind of kiss in the wrong car park, and he wants a different woman, one who also has starlings and a library, because even though you have every kind of weather, just like him, weather might not be enough, and maybe he's looking for a girl who will live closer to him, or who can write poems about starlings or talks about life in a way that makes him say, yes, that's it, yes.

You lie in bed at nights, wondering if he will say yes, if he will call you one day without you thinking about it first, and he might say, come with me to the beach, there is something I want to show you. It will be warm outside and you will wear a vest and long beads that dangle down to your waist, and he will put his hands on your hips and say, when I walked home after our first date, I knew. I knew you were everything.

Monday, 18 January 2010

I love charlie...

No, not Charlie the cat...

although I do love Charlie the cat, he was the moral ambassador of my childhood.

No, not Charlie Brooker...

although I do love his Screen Burn, which always gives me a chuckle when I read the Guardian.

No, today, I want to big up Charlie Kaufman... in my eyes, God of Screenwriting, and the crazy, brilliant mind behind many of my favourite films. Sigh.

I have been having a season of watching the films he's written. I mean, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is one of my favourite films of all time. I think it's GENIUS. Firstly, the premise, of erasing an old lover, and then meeting and falling in love with them again because you can't remember it going wrong. In fact, choosing to fall in love with them again, even though Clementine and Joel find out they erased eachother. Genius. The quirkiness of the characters, how relevant their thoughts are in today's messy world, how confused, how wonderfully naive and knowing and anxious and cool. The fact I cry my bloody eyes out every time I watch it. (and how many times is that...?)

I love everything about this film. Even Jim Carrey. Actually especially Jim Carrey, he is brilliant, don't let all his other films put you off this one. He is brilliant, as is gorgeous Kate Winslett with blue/orange/whatever colour hair and the rest of the cast, and with script like this, how can it be wrong:

Clementine: Look man, I'm telling you right off the bat, I'm high-maintainance, so... I'm not gonna tip-toe around your marriage, or whatever it is you've got goin' there. If you wanna be with me, you're with me.
Joel: Okay.
Clementine: Too many guys think I'm a concept, or I complete them, or I'm gonna make them alive. But I'm just a fucked-up girl who's lookin' for my own peace of mind; don't assign me yours.
Joel: I remember that speech really well.
Clementine: I had you pegged, didn't I?
Joel: You had the whole human race pegged.
Clementine: Hmm. Probably.
Joel: I still thought you were gonna save my life... even after that.
Clementine: Ohhh... I know.
Joel: It would be different, if we could just give it another go-round.
Clementine: Remember me. Try your best; maybe we can.

Sigh, oh god it's like my life...

Moving on... I saw Synecdoche New York at the cinema last year, a piece of brilliance written and directed by Kaufman. It's one of the weirdest films ever. Philip Seymour Hoffman plays a theatre director who rents a warehouse where he creates a set of New York City, and hires actors to play his real life friends, and himself, and later a character to play the actor who plays himself. Reality and theatre blur, as do his relationships within the play/life, as he continues this for years while his brain seems to be affected by some kind of dementia.

I didn't realise how this film, is an extension, deeper exploration of his ideas from other films. Of course, Being John Malkovich explores ideas about reality/unreality/losing reality/the mind/how the mind works/what would happen if... where he stretches his ideas into a quirky kind of geek science fiction for cool people that is a common theme in all his films.

I didn't realise that Adaptation stretches this sense of reality/unreality even further by putting himself into the script, making himself the central character, as a kind of real/realistic/but fictional character. I watched Adaptation this weekend and it totally blew my mind, it is AMAZINGLY GOOD. I mean, stop for breath, how can I explain? It made me think, oh my god what are most scriptwriters doing, why are they playing with this idea of story that is SO limiting, why are they not experimenting like this, pushing the boundaries, challenging, undermining, subverting, pushing... like Charlie Kaufman, genius of writing.

I love the way in this film, he exploits the book 'Story' by Robert McKee, that most writers should be familiar with. It is sold as the BIBLE of scriptwriting, indeed the BIBLE of story. And in Adaptation, Kaufman rips it apart, humiliates it, at the same time as subjugating to the message, giving himself over to it, not selling out, but ironically breaking all McKee's rules as well as (in the end) doing everything that he advocates. I was totally WOWed.

And the script is genius. He uses his life, references his other work (the film opens with Nicholas Cage, playing Charlie Kaufman on the set of the film Being John Malkovich.. I mean, how cool...). It deals with the process of writing a script (this is a film script by Charlie Kaufman about Charlie Kaufman writing the script of a film about a woman who has written a book about a man who steals orchids, and how these lives crash into eachother). It is about everything, and is so self-effacing:

"I am old. I am fat. I am bald. My toenails have turned strange. I am repulsive. How repulsive? I don’t know for I suffer from a condition called Body Dysmorphic Disorder. I am fat, but am I as fat as I think? My therapist says no, but people lie. I believe others call me Fatty behind my back. Or Fatso. Or, facetiously, Slim. But I also believe this is simply my own perverted form of self-aggrandizement, that no one really talks about me at all. Why would they? What possible interest is an old, bald, fat man to anyone? I am repulsive. I have never lived. I blame myself." - Charlie Kaufman (screenplay, 2nd draft)

I don't know, I feel breathless even writing about it.

And then last week I watched Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, which to be honest, I could write about for about a week. Another reality/unreality theme, based on the memoir of Chuck Barris about his double life as game show producer and host/CIA hitman. I mean, was this guy really working for the CIA or was he seriously mentally deluded? Charlie Kaufman writes a script without showing us the answers, and hell, it's a brilliant story.

Can you tell how much I love Charlie? How much of a genius I think he is?

Saturday, 16 January 2010

* totally mushy blog alert *

This is a totally mushy blog. It contains sentimental stories, little 'in love' outpourings, and may cause slight sickness in those who are averse to people who talk about their pets.

Sissy has been lovely this winter. I think it's beause it's been so cold, and she refused to go out in the snow. I've been hibernating a bit, so we've been around the house together a lot.

Before she came to live here, I didn't realise how much I could love having a cat, how intelligent and funny they are. She is totally tuned in, manipulates, is affectionate, makes me laugh, plays games, and changes as she gets older. I wanted to just put down some of the things I love about her here (I know, pass the sick bucket... but all you cat haters out there, or cynics don't know what you're missing out on!)

* We have this game called Cha Cha Cha. I always know when she wants to play, because she has that crazy cat look in her eye, and she jumps around me a lot and tags me on the back of my legs with her paw. Cha Cha Cha involves me chasing Sissy around the house, saying cha cha cha in a very silly way. She runs around like a loon, and then hides somewhere (behind curtains, under the bed etc) and then I pretend to look for her saying 'where's my cat?' in an equally silly way, and she stays hidden for a while, and then pounces out, tags me on the legs and starts running around again. I explain it in a way like she made the game up not me, but it kind of evolved, and neither of us started it. It makes me laugh like mad, and she loves it!

* In the morning, she does a variety of different things. Stands over me like a statue waiting for me to wake up. Presses her paw against my eye or my mouth gently as though to say, come on wake up, now. Or pushes against my hand with her head in a way that means 'come on, I'm a cat, stroke me now or you die'. I'm not good in a morning, but I rarely feel cross with her. She goes crazy for being stroked in the morning. She stands on me while I'm lying in bed, and I stroke her, and she walks in little circles, pushing her head against my hand in a very militant way 'stroke me harder, bitch'. Then she collapses in sheer pleasure, and I stroke her belly (a very sacred place) or she curls up for a little sleep.

* She often nudges her way under the covers in the night, and curls up against my belly, or against the backs of my legs. She shuffles in really close, and sometimes I don't even realise she's there until I wake up.

* She loves books, and paper, and enjoys rolling around on them

* Last Saturday, I was reading in bed, and she curled up on my chest and tucked her head under my chin and we both had a doze. I woke up thinking, 'god this is heaven'.

* She chases the shadow of her tail in the kitchen, when the light is on, she can see her shadow and she goes in little crazy circles trying to catch the shadow of her tail. It's nuts, but SO cute.

* She loves 'helping' to make the bed...

* She lets me look after her really well. Sits on my knee when I give her flea/worm stuff, lets me clean the grub out of her eyes, and when she got an eye infection, let me clean her eyes and put drops in, she doesn't fuss. She's really good.

* She loves strawberry yoghurt and goes nuts if I let her lick the lid, or the empty pot (I know, I know, it's probably very bad for her)

* When I have a bath, she sits on the edge of the bath, fascinated. She hates water, but she likes looking at water, and sometimes dips her paws in the water and wahes them. She sometimes flicks water at me from her paws. But if I flick water at her, she's off like a rocket.

That will do, there are hundreds more things I love about her. And a few things that REALLY get on my nerves. But, this blog is mushy enough already, and I just wanted to share a bit of the love!!

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

I like to write, I don't like to write...

In response to Sarah Salway and inspired by Nik Perring

I don’t like writing obvious. I don’t like writing protracted pieces of work, or stories with twists in the tail, or stories that are too clever, or lack emotional integrity. I don’t like writing fairy tales. I don’t like writing non-fiction. I don’t like writing about myself sometimes. I don’t like writing for an obvious market. I don’t like writing to sell or writing to a deadline or writing that means nothing to me. I don’t like writing that is too factual or full of research or too intellectual. I don’t like writing in verse anymore. I like to write stories, I love to write what are not quite stories and not quite poems, I love writing between the two, at the edges, I like writing substance. I like writing emotion. I like writing about things I don’t understand. I like writing about quirky people. I like writing about dysfunction. I like writing on my own when nobody else is around. I like writing knowing someone might read what I have written and think wow. I like writing things that someone else might connect with. I like writing for myself. I like writing things that are never seen by anyone else. I like writing true things that are written like fiction, and writing fiction as though it is true, and people not being able to tell the difference. I like writing for people I love. I like writing hidden messages. I like writing elusive stories. I like writing about the past. I like writing things that might challenge or provoke or shock, or make someone think about something in a very different way. I like writing things that mean something to me, that are the shoes on my feet or the bed that I sleep in.

Sunday, 10 January 2010

my favourite blogs about snow...

Blossom's Snowy, Snuggly Sunday is a very brief list of lovely things to do on a snowy day, with a beautiful picture of a snowy bird table.

Dovegreyreader's Deep and Crisp and Even...Beautiful pics and updates on how they are coping with the freeze including heating the dog's kennel!

Winter where Sally at Tinkering Times ponders about how we're coping, and how people might cope who have this kind of winter all the time...

My Snowy Twenties, if you haven't read the blog My Shitty Twenties yet, then this is a good place to start... something to make you smile.

Enough Snow Already? - Letting experience in is Fiona Robyn's blog about seeing the positive side of the snow...

and just to leave you with this

I am a book of snow,
a spacious hand, an open meadow,
a circle that waits,
I belong to the earth and its winter.

Pablo Neruda

Saturday, 9 January 2010

an anxiety-free week

So, I wrote about my anxiety back in October.

It was a fairly bad time, after some big changes in my life that were really hard to adjust to (and I'm still working on), then also 'me' and some issues I was (and still am) working through in my therapy, and then suddenly a nasty burglary in my street.

I didn't really give the details of the incident at the time. When I went to visit my neighbours the next day, they told me four men had broken into their house and robbed them. They had knives and a gun, and pointed the gun at the man and his brother, and said 'so which one of you wants to die first?' The man had been taken to hospital with slash marks all over his body. The police arrested all four men, but still, it was a pretty scary incident to happen so close to home.

It triggered a whole two weeks of dreadful anxiety where I could hardly function.

Since then, it's eased significantly. I've still been working through the anxiety, and then some (possibly understandable) relapse in my depression. It hasn't been awful, just tough. Good days (which I'm grateful for) and bad days, which are what they are.

This week was my first no-anxiety week since that time.

Sunday was my last bad day. I realised last night that I have not had any anxious feelings or thoughts at all since then.

I attribute this to the snow... ha! Sounds crazy, but this cold and snow has done several things for me. It's been a distraction. The novelty of wearing wellies and kicking up the snow, wrapping up warm and walking everywhere, and then cosying on down at night. Also, I've been exercising more. 45 minutes each way to and from work, walking to the shops etc. This is much more exercise than usual for me, and I feel I have more energy because of it. I've got out more and appreciated the environment around me. Beautiful walk in the park yesterday (see photo).

Plus, less pressure... the snow has meant that at work we haven't been able to rush around doing things, we have had to adapt, catch up on tasks in the office, rearrange appointments, the general philosophy has been 'we can only do what we can do', a maxim that I usually find very difficult to adopt. It's been the same at home. Instead of worrying about what I should be doing, I've been hibernating (it comes very naturally, but sometimes I feel guilty about it, lonely, or pressured by myself to do more). This week I have really adopted that 'fuck it' attitude that my therapist has been trying to teach me. Fuck it, it's too cold. Fuck it, I'll just hibernate. Fuck it. I can only do what I can do.

This is probably a bit of a breakthrough for me, as someone who never ever says fuck it, I am adapting very well.

So, although the freeze brings with it lots of negatives, and people have been struggling with various issues (frozen pipes, no water, heating breaking down, struggling to get to work), I have gained something from it, and am very grateful for my heating working, water not freezing in the taps (and apart from frozen pipe to my bathroom sink which I can live with) no mishaps. I'm grateful for the wellies and thermal socks my parents bought me for christmas, and the many blankets I have at home and a warm cuddly cat. And some lovely phone chats with friends old and new.

I don't know how long I will stay anxiety free. I expect that I will have bits of anxiety here and then, and perhaps it might get bad again, but for now I have this respite, which is wonderful and it's all down to the snow. And me.

Friday, 8 January 2010

short stories for cold days...

The January issue of
has just gone online... There are some brilliant reviews in this issue, more than one collection has gone on my wishlist (growing ever longer)...

If this cold gives us any excuse it's to sit at home in the warm and cosy on down with a good book. So, maybe... read this review of Hassan Blasim's The Madman of Freedom Square and maybe you might want to order his book. I was lucky enough to hear Hassan read one of his stories at a short story weekend at this year's Manchester Literature Festival. It was an intense, brutal, ironic story, and his reading (and answering questions) was really moving. He read in Arabic, so it was interesting to hear his voice reading a language I don't speak while I was reading the words of his story in English.

Or you might read this review of Daniel A Hoyt's And then we saw the flames. Wonderful title, I thought, well-written review, which made me want to get a copy...

Or maybe you'll read MY review of Alice Zorn's Ruins and Relics... a collection I really enjoyed. Alice is a Canadian writer. There was a lot to wonder about in her stories... This is an excerpt from Plum Pudding, perhaps the most affecting story in the collection:
"What kind of people! Oma spat now. Didn’t Trudi know well enough to hold herself aloof? No wonder she was so godless and corrupt. That was the problem with Canada, a country that took in the filth the rest of the world didn’t want. Hitler had the right idea. A man with vision. A man you would trust."

In fact, there are many reviews every month in The Short Review, and there is always at least one book I want to buy, and I enjoy reading the reviews, well, because I love short stories, and the reviews are always well written, and tell me exactly what I need to know about the books, and then there are interviews with many of the authors too about their writing, their books, their feelings about short stories, what they are reading now etc...

This month also has reviews of The Body of This by Andrew McNabb, Dances of the Happy Shades by Alice Munro, Forgetting English by Midge Raymond, Tales of the Decongested Volume 2, Ten Little Indians by Sherman Alexie (which I think I might order right now, it sounds amazing..., Town of Fiction by The Atlantic Collective, and What Becomes by the wonderful A. L. Kennedy...

Somthing for everyone, no?

Thursday, 7 January 2010

the big british

From the bbc news website "taken by Nasa's Terra satellite on 7 January"...

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

The snow never sticks in Manchester...

Or, not usually anyway. Manchester is well known for rain and drizzle and we only ever get a flurry of snow that hits the ground and disappears. Or we get a day of snow and it's gone the next day.

Not so this year. We had a white christmas, and then a the-streets-are-ice-rinks boxing day onwards... This morning I woke to a white Manchester. I got my ruler out and measured 15cm of snow in my back yard, and it's still snowing... I've not known that much snow since I was a child. We just don't get winters like this anymore.

And of course, we British cope with it in our usual ways: most of the roads haven't been gritted, the councils have reportedly run out of grit, schools were closed, cars abandoned, and people took to the park and the streets to build whole snow families.

My car was a bit snowed under, so I walked to work in my new green spotty wellies and plenty of layers. I felt as though I was a child again, kicking up the snow, and feeling it press down under my wellies.

Let's hope that the snow doesn't stay for too long, as our beautiful but unprepared nation wouldn't be able to cope.

These were the pictures on my way to work this morning.