literary magazine 14
Megan Fox in DISTRESS â€“ Inside: The Lone Ranger comes to the rescue!
Cover image: Diego Cupolo Artwork: Fossfor The Magazine on-line: http://viewfromheremagazine.com EDITOR: Mike French Managing Editor: Sydney Nash The Crew: Kathleen Maher, Paul Burman, Stella Carter, Naomi Gill, Jen Persson, Jane Turley, BT Cassidy Cassidy, Diego Cupolo, Kerrie Anne, Lori Andrews & Fossfor. Copyright: The View From Here magazine 2009 2009-08-10 Published by BLAM Productions based in the UK email: firstname.lastname@example.org Painting of microphone used throughout: Fossfor Fiction articles in this magazine: All people, places and events depicted therein are fictional and not meant to resemble any actual people, places, or events unless otherwise specified.
Attractive, informative, sparkling and useful - TVFH is so many of the things I'm not - sigh - ...
Marina Lewycka interview nterview by Jen
lectures in the department of media studies (journalism & PR) at Sheffield Hallam University. Her first novel, A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian (2005), tells of the exploits of two feuding sisters trying to save their elderly father from a glamorous blonde Ukrainian divorcee, Valentina. This book won the 2005 Saga Award for Wit, the 2005 Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize, and was shortlisted for the 2005 Orange Prize for Fiction. Her second novel Two Caravans was published in hardback in March 2007 by Fig Tree (Penguin Books) for the United Kingdom market, and was shortlisted for the 2008 Orwell Prize for political writing. In the United States and Canada it is published under the title Strawberry Fields. Let’s start by letting me ask you, how do you pronounce your last name? Lev-itz-ka A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian was a worldwide hit - so your fiction career has really taken off when many people are considering retirement. How did your ur career develop - did writing non-fiction fiction for Age Concern coco exist with your fiction writing in earlier life?
ABOUT MARINA LEWYCKA Marina Lewycka is of Ukrainian origin and was born in a British-run refugee camp in northern Germany, after the end of World War II. She
grew up in England and studied at Keele University. She has written a number of books of practical advice for carers of the elderly, published by Age Concern England. She
It’s my first published book. I’ve always been writing, ever since I was a child. Poetry was my first love but I also wrote plays and stories, and two complete novels. They were rather serious books with big issues. I had lots of rejections. Tractors was very different, and I really never thought it would be published - why would they publish this funny, silly book? But they did. I was 57 when it
was accepted and 59 when the book came out. It’s nice to be starting a new career at 60! Would you recommend going to creative writing school to other aspiring authors and why? Many people – myself included – scribble away in private, because revealing your secret thoughts and not-fully-developed talent to a cynical world is embarrassing. However friends and family are useless as critics – they will always say it’s wonderful, either because they think everything you do is wonderful, or because they love you, and want to spare your feelings. So the protective environment of a writing course is a good place to start showing other people your work. You can also learn a lot from reading other people’s efforts; you may privately think that Ms X’s story is a load of semi-pornographic drivel, but of course you won’t say that – you’ll find a constructive way of voicing your criticism. And there will be a lesson in there somewhere for you.
You have said that Tractors is to great extent autobiographical and was something you had in mind to write for many years. How long did it take you to actually write, once you started? Yes it’s not all pulled out of the blue. Many of the events started in autobiography, but as the characters took on a life of their own, they became distinct. I started writing it because I wanted to know more about the story of my family. I had recorded tapes with my mother, but after she died I realised there was not enough material there for a novel. My father could fill in some bits, but there were still gaps. That’s when realised I would have to create a fiction instead of a memoir. It was very liberating. Once you realise you can make some things up, you can make anything up. Once I got going, it took me about six years to write, fitting it in around a part-time job. Aspiring authors are often told how critical selecting a “good” title is. How and why did you select “A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian?” Did it
meet any unexpected responses? People often ask where the title came from. My father did write a history of tractors but his book is very different and technical. Unfortunately, when the book came out, some on--line stores filed it under ‘Agricultural History’. Your characters include some who are clearly stereotypes. Why did you u make that deliberate choice in selecting some of your
prosecuted for doing those things.
Well, people are often a bit sniffy about stereotypes, but actually I think it helps the reader if the characters seem familiar – it makes it easier for them to colour in the detail, and saves time, and pages and pages of back story if the characters resemble people they know. Ian McEwan wouldn’t do that, but I’m not Ian McEwan, I’m known as a writer of comic fiction.
Care homes and the aged feature in Tractors, Two Caravans and your upcoming third novel, We are All Made of Glue. How is ageing and how society deals with it a concern for you?
You dedicated Two Caravans to the memory of the Morecambe Bay cockle pickers. Do you deliberately use comedy to reveal political/economic criticism of the poor pay and conditions of foreign workers or animal cruelty?
I owe much to my work with Age Concern England. I spent a lot of time with wonderfully stubborn, cussed and eccentric old people, trying to squeeze the last few drops of pleasure out of life, and their desperate families who want them to grow old gracefully. We can learn a lot from the old – but too often we patronise them and shut them away.
Yes, it’s really a look at some of the darker aspects of life in Britain today, but told with a humour, so people don’t immediately put it down. Some of the characters do get lost to prostitution; there are gang masters, slavery, exploitation. But my aim is not so much to raise social and political issues as to give readers an opportunity to see the world through someone else’s eyes. About the episodes of animal cruelty in Two Caravans - how did you research that? How did you feel about it? I didn’t set out to write that, and I was shocked to discover how chickens are produced, but once I knew what went on, I couldn’t not put it in the book. I do feel very angry about it. But someone else did all the hard work. Felicity Lawrence of the Guardian went to the chicken farms and did all that first-hand research (you can read more about it in her wonderful book Not on the Label) She researched all the scams, and the way both the chickens and the workers are abused. All I did was buy her lunch! I also got help from an organisation called Compassion in World Farming, who sent me a video that had been secretly recorded. But I read a lot online as well. The worst abuses in the book were based on court cases of people who were
Did you grow up multi-lingual? How does your background affect your use of language in your writing? Was it difficult inventing the “English-Ukrainian mishmash” or Malawi-English spoken by your characters, who use fractured syntax and elaborate combinations of expressions? I spoke Ukrainian at home, and only learnt English when I went to school. I also spent a few years teaching English as a Second Language, and I got quite an ear for all the different varieties of ‘bad English’. I’m always fascinated by the way people speak, and can often be spotted eavesdropping in public places.
Do you think this “world-English” “world is the future of the English language? English is a wonderful language, because it’s very easy to learn, but everybody adapts dapts it to their own way of speaking and patterns of grammar. I think ‘world-English' ‘world is not just the future of the English language, but is also the future language of the world. It’s happening already. Your latest book is just out this week, on July 2nd 2n - We Are All Made of Glue - a mystery which moves from Highbury to wartime Europe to the Middle East. Can you tell us something about writing your third novel? The new book is called We Are All Made of Glue, and it’s about bonding. (Though bondage comes into it too.) On one level it’s about an old lady who lives in a crumbling house in London with seven smelly cats, and a secret. As the narrator gets to know the old lady, she realizes that she is not who she says she is. But as we find out about the old lady’s past, we also discover things in the present which relate to her story. One of the strands is also about the situation in the Middle East, and the dispute between Palestine and Israel. I wrote it partly because I was so troubled about the state of the world, I wanted to learn for myself what was happening over there – it seems to be one of the central problems of our time. I was trying to understand the current situation in the Middle East and find out whether there is a solution to the problems. When en I tell people my book is about the conflict in the Middle East, and it’s a comedy, they look at me as though I’ve gone mad. It often seems publishers want more of the same after an author is initially successful, but authors and readers may need something someth new. How do you manage this? When Tractors was published, I was all set to write a sequel. But my publishers said, don’t do that. Sequels are always compared
unfavourably with the original. Why don’t you do something completely different? I thought that was good advice, so I started working on something completely different. But as Tractors became more and more successful, they started to get nervous – ‘well, actually, we’d like it to be the same’, they said. So there you are – Two Caravans, is the same but different.
at all – it means nothing in their culture. They wanted something prettier. Actually, I think the US and Canadian covers are very attractive, but they don’t have the same whacky appeal as the John Gray covers. (Two Caravans was published as Strawberry Field in America, as caravans didn't translate well.)
After Tractors came out, Rose Tremain’s novel The Road Home also explored Eastern European immigration, working conditions and aging in the UK and after Two Caravans Patrick Ness featured a talking dog in The Knife of Never Letting Go. How difficult is it to be original and what do you think writers can do to be distinctive?
Do you read other writers’ work for pleasure, for study of the competition or to improve your own writing? I find it quite hard har to read for pleasure now – being able to lose myself in another writer’s world is a thing of the past. I enjoy reading non-fiction fiction nowadays – I feel that with so much out-put out I need to keep on topping up my in-put. in And I do study other fiction writers for fo ideas about technique and how to solve particular problems.
I think that may be more of a problem for readers than writers. I haven’t read either of those books yet, and I’m sure they haven’t read mine. But I do think there’s a Zeitgeist – ideas and themes which are current, and which grab everyone’s imagination. The covers of your novels are distinctive. Were you involved in the artwork selection, and why the US / UK title difference for your second book? They’re by a very talented designer called John Gray. Our only brief was that because the title was rather ‘male’ the cover should have feminine appeal – definitely no tractors on the cover, we said. But when his design came back, we just loved it. He gave the books a rather utilitarian look, to make them seem like authentic books from the former Soviet Union. There’s a name for that style – it’s called Ostalgia. It’s even done deliberately off-thestraight. You know there’s a funny story when I was in Holland I looked at the cover and noticed they had straightened up the edges But they said, “Well, we Dutch, we like things to be orderly.” The Americans, however, couldn’t relate to that ‘Ostalgia’ style
New Zealander, maybe that’s where that idea comes from). Because there are nine characters, the voice of each character must be different. Only Irina has a first person voice. And Dog, of course. The others are in the third person, some in the present tense, e, some in the past. I’m a huge fan of Chaucer, he has the most wonderful characters, and I drew on him a lot for Two Caravans.
What's coming up for you now in terms of events with the launch this week? Do you favour a PC or longhand what tools do you feel are musthaves for writers? I work on a lap-top on a little beanbag tray I bought in Oxfam – the sort of thing they used to have for TV dinners. My preferred place to write is in bed propped up with lots of cushions, and a nice pot of tea on a tray – but it can be hard on the back. What’s your writing process? Do you write in order, or in parts? I’m not a very orderly writer, I don’t plan nearly enough. But for Two Caravans, I used a different colour for each character, so I could follow through the individual threads, and make sure they all ran smoothly. The story is a bit like a game of rugby. Each has the story for a little bit, and runs with it, then passes it to someone else. (I’m married to a
The new book is just out and I’m sure there’ll be lots of trekking around to book festivals, though the only one I know ow for sure at this stage (at time of writing in March) is the Edinburgh Festival. Assuming you were on Desert Island Discs, which book and which luxury object would you like to take with you and why? The book would be The Culture of The Europeans by Donald Don Sassoon – it’s a big fat book with lots of fascinating information, but written in a very accessible and amusing style. It would keep me going for ages. My luxury object would be a solarsolar powered laptop. I’m afraid I’d need my glasses, too. Would that be b allowed?
Author picture credit: Ian Phillpott
Book Reviews justice to a world in which alienation battles with hope. I would add it was a cracking whodunit to boot, written with a sure hand and a dark wit and I wouldn’t be spoiling it for anyone. You know what you have when you hold a ‘Rebus’ in your hand. The problem here is that to define Marina Lewycka’s latest book as a whole would weaken one of its greatest strengths – that although her tone is light, I felt that calamity might take the whole book to unexpectedly dark places. And that’s all I’m going to say on that; if you pick up a copy, and you should, you’ll have to find out for yourselves the path Marina’s characters led her down. I know and I was not disappointed. The book finds Georgie our narrator and central character, having come ‘unstuck’ from her husband, meeting the remarkable Mrs Shapiro who lives with a population of cats in a large crumbling house. Rather to her surprise Georgie is befriended by Mrs Shapiro and becomes her reluctant champion when Mrs Shapiro is beset by social workers, scheming estate agents and matters of a DIY nature. Alongside this Georgie is trying to figure out if she wants her self absorbed husband back or a new and salacious love life, puzzling over her teenage son’s newfound religious leanings and cleaning up quite a lot of cat poop. Oh and Georgie also writes articles for an adhesives magazine when not struggling with her novel of romance and revenge, The Splattered Heart. Marina sets this stall out with a deft touch, lining up her characters without fuss. She has the gift, through dialogue and description, of fleshing them out in ways many other authors might only dream of. Georgie as narrator is a pleasure to journey with and her deeds, thoughts and opinions are both warm and comfortingly domestic. Some of the people she meets are equally charming, others less so, yet all are intriguing although some seem oddly disconcerting, if not somewhat sinister.
We Are All Made of Glue by Marina Lewycka Publisher: Fig Tree Review: Charlie Here’s the thing. If I was reviewing an Ian Rankin ‘Rebus’ I wouldn’t be giving much away if I told you it was a gritty account of one man’s struggle to bring
The first time I met Wonder Boy, he pissed on me. I suppose he was trying to warn me off, which was quite prescient when you consider how things turned out. What befalls Georgie and Mrs Shapiro is both touching and comical; and sometimes laugh out loud funny, particularly in moments that involve bargain shopping or cats. This is at heart a story of almost
everyday events and almost ordinary people but as we, like Georgie, are drawn in we are also taught more than one lesson. Snippets of the history of Israel and Palestine after WWII, how fundamentalism may take root in unexpected places when the internet is in every bedroom, the treatment of Jews in Denmark during the Second World War and how the Miners strike in the 1980s touched adults and children in those communities. Not to mention we discover quite a lot about glue. That’s a lot of targets to aim at and whilst Marina may not hit the bull’s-eye every time, her aim is more than sure enough to make us think, and more importantly, feel how the past shapes lives in the present. Some might accuse her of cherry picking events to make her points and they might have an arguable case if the book is seen as a history per se rather than a human drama. Some might also accuse her of bringing her subtexts to the surface a little too often but I was not unhappy to see them. Like Georgie, a northern lass by birth, Marina also calls a spade a spade. Let me be blunt as well. Go buy this book. It isn’t War and Peace; it isn’t The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. What it is is a simple pleasure to read. If I were you I’d take it on holiday; if the sun doesn’t warm you, this book will – although as I said at the beginning, you might find yourself checking for rainclouds on the horizon from time to time. Finally I cannot help but include a personal aside. In another life I was an industrial chemist, making adhesives for a living. I never thought I would want to hear about the stuff again. Thanks to Marina I can once again think about cohesive strength and cure rate without wanting to do someone harm!
8 Rooms Publisher: Legend Press Review: Jane I’m fortunate that I’ve more than eight rooms in my house. However, I’ve found it’s impossible to keep them all in order without being slavishly devoted to housework. As a result each room has taken on a life of its own. It lives, it breathes. Indeed, if you look closely at any room it reveals much about the occupants. For example, in my kitchen the stacks of plates piled with crusts, bottles without tops and towers of leaning glasses betray the presence of three hungry boys. In contrast, the dining room is the tidy showpiece of two mature adults moving towards old age and then there’s my study where I slip away into peaceful but rather chaotic solitude. 8 Rooms, a collection of short stories from Legend Press and part of their Short Story Reinvented Series, is the result of a competition where the objective was to tell a story principally within the confines of a singular room. It’s an interesting scenario which poses many questions. What can we learn about a character from their room? Does a room define a character or does a character define a room? What is revealed about the protagonist when he/she is alone or interacting with others within their room or maybe even in someone else’s room? So many tantalizing ideas spring to mind it’s not surprising that the eight winning authors have produced an eclectic selection of stories which rather like the rooms in my house paint entirely different pictures of their occupants. Of the stories I felt the opening one by C J Carver, which told the story of a prisoner confined to a rail truck and en route to his execution, was probably the most well rounded. It managed to pull sufficiently well at the heart strings, in what was quite a difficult and challenging subject, despite a rather cheesy ending where the narrative ended in mid sentence like an episode of a soap opera. However, it wasn’t only C J Carver who suffered from this terminal illness. I was enjoying Mark Kotting’s colourful story of a disillusioned photographer only to discover that the resulting madness was all in his head. Yep, it was a Dallas scenario! In fact when the doorbell rang at end of this story I thought the surprise was going to be Bobby Ewing. (Unfortunately it wasn’twhich is a pity because I kinda have an attraction to rich oil men.) The same sickness affected Emma Seaman’s story of the masseuse and the bachelor. Overall, this was a nicely written tale of two people’s mutual attraction but whose inhibitions prevent them from vocalizing their feelings. Unfortunately, after a 30 page build up I felt a little disappointed that there was no shock, sleaze or even a twist in the tail that might have set this story apart from so much of the sentimental fodder that appears in women’s magazines. Frankly, I would have been glad if one of the protagonists had been shot like JR in this story because, let’s face it, a real cliff-hanger is better than a wishy-washy “maybe they will, maybe they won’t” scenario. Something entirely different and completely refreshing was my favourite story from newcomer Guy
Mankowski. A trained psychologist, Guy used his knowledge to delve into the mind of a translator obsessed with the ownership of the space and people around him. With its explicit language this isn’t a story for those looking for a comfortable read but for a glimpse inside a mind descending into mental illness it's quite intriguing. uing. Guy’s position gives him a unique insight into the oddities of human behaviour and I look forward to seeing what he delivers next. Regrettably, I don’t feel the same about D E Rhylis whose story about the sudden death of a mother, seen through the eyes of her daughter, left me completely unmoved. As my own mother died suddenly and dramatically last autumn, I probably should have ended up weeping profusely but, sadly, the story didn’t fully explore the real issues of personal loss. Ironically, it actually ually skirted over them by featuring too many characters, events and details. By trying to achieve too much it actually achieved very little. In my opinion, to portray love and loss you don’t need to catalogue a series of events as evidence of your distres distress, you just need to strip away the detail and write from the heart. I’m not sure that D E Rhylis’ story could even have been saved by some careful editing but like most of the stories it would have certainly benefited from the slash of a red pen. I suppose this raises the question of how much or little an editor should or would want to play in nurturing a writer. 8 Rooms was the result of a competition so I suspect the stories had minimal editorial input which is rather a pity because like actors on a stage,, an author can sometimes benefit from good direction. And when there’s a price tag attached the ultimate objective must surely be to make any piece of work the best it can possibly be. I felt this was particularly the case with A J Kirby’s story. It started ed out witty and entertaining with the premise of a geeky nerd living in a ground floor flat where strangers frequently call looking for directions. This was an exciting proposition dripping with potential for Kirby’s engaging humour so when the doorbell ffinally rang I was disheartened to find it was just his girlfriend’s dreary best friend and her baby. From then on the story got bogged down in trying to produce something obviously meaningful. I wanted Kirby to just let loose with mayhem perhaps with the arrival rrival of someone as outlandish as a mass murderer, a rain soaked politician or even a transvestite door to door salesman. Humour is Kirby’s weapon and, I believe, used effectively could be just as successful as any “serious” attempt at writing. According to Legend Press Kirby is now currently writing a situation comedy. So good luck to him in his endeavours he has the wit, he just needs to go into freefall with the imagination. Of course, imagination is a principle factor in developing any story but I didn’t’t feel either Miranda Winram’s tale of a burns victim or Rebecca Strong’s one of an unborn child were particularly creative. In fact they imbued me with the image of an angst ridden female’s writers group. (Ugh.) While the sentiments of both stories are praiseworthy raiseworthy and no doubt will find many female admirers they didn’t appeal to me. Perhaps it also didn’t help that the real action in these stories took place, or
had taken place, outside the “rooms.” (The foetus reacts to what’s going on outside the womb and the burns victim is already injured when we encounter her in her hospital bed.) In the more successful stories the action/conflict was more obviously centred within the room although in C J Carvers story the action cleverly took place using a moving room om (the railway truck) which enabled her to tap into all sorts of memories and emotions without it appearing overly contrived. So 8 Rooms is very much a mixed bag and like the rooms in my house, some stories were neat and orderly, some were messy and some looked good on first impression but on closer inspection didn’t live up to expectations. Maybe with a little bit more handiwork, some décor and a few finishing touches this book might have been a collection of truly memorable rooms rather than one where some me of the rooms needed a little more love and attention.
Getting Sentimental by Stella
Recently I had the pleasure of doing research in a university library. (I know. I’m a bookworm. Not pretending to be otherwise.) I simply glided in and got a tingly feeling down my back at the sight of all those beautiful books with their words and wisdom. A friend was with me and as we walked up the steps to the second floor she said, “You know, once everyone has those e-book readers, libraries will slowly close down. In fifty years this place probably won’t be here because we won’t need it.” I froze on the spot. Deer in the headlights. Now, I would like to make something perfectly clear. My computer is a lovely, shiny thing. It lets me cut and paste. It lets me press the backspace button to erase stuff I don’t like. It lets me format my documents with ease. I am grateful for this wondrous machine and never sit pining for a typewriter or an inkwell. So this is not a rant against technology. Technology good. Technology pretty. Yes it is. Actually, it’s not even a rant at all because I get the e-reader thing. It’s convenient – like carrying around an
entire library in your bag. It’s ecological – I shudder to think of all the poor trees chopped down to print utter garbage. People will not be able to deface books with pens and highlighters – that alone makes me giddy with inexpressible glee. And, as my friend pointed out, one day – sooner or later – all written knowledge will be a click away. But, and here’s where I get sentimental and possibly a little irrational: I love books. They sit on my shelf. They gather dust. Their spines get wrinkled from use. Their pages have texture. E-reader’s are soR cold and impersonal. Obviously that’s no sound argument against e-readers. What’s important is to preserve the words in the best way possible – just like the gradual move from vinyl to digital ensured we get the highest sound quality from music. My brain gets it. Completely. My heart/soul/whatever organ responsible has misgivings. Why do I feel like something will be lost if you can’t walk into a library? If the books on my shelf become quaint artifacts that will eventually be gotten rid of?
Maybe because it feels as if something is coming to an end, but is that really all it is? When the internet became popular – and I can remember perfectly well when it didn’t even exist – I didn’t think, “Socializing will never be the same! Oh dear, r, all is lost!” (And I certainly wouldn’t have said it like that, if I had.) I don’t even know what I’m mourning for or why I’m mourning at all when I can see the advantages of the new technology. Whether libraries full of books will still exist or not, my m future grandchildren will listen to my stories about the late 20th/early 21st century, roll their eyes and sigh, “Grammy, you lived in the Stone Age.” That's the way the world works. I am fully prepared for it and will treat their foolish whippersnapper comments with the proper degree of indulgence. But do we really have to give up actual books?
Background image: John Goodridge
You know, once everyone
has those e-book book readers, libraries will slowly close. .
Wrath by Justin C. Gordon
At 11:27 a.m. the interim Pastor John Stevenson sits in the front pew
checking his pocket watch and struggles with the decisions of
obedience and routine. Every Sunday, The Elder Board demands
two things from him: a sermon firmly rooted in conservative scripture and the congregation be across the railroad tracks before the 12:27 train cuts off the only road to the First Free Evangelical Church of Joplin, Missouri for three hours. As Stevenson has learned from months of interviewing for a permanent position, this is their routine. The Elders neither care that modern theology has broadened, nor will they ever consider having the service earlier. They believe this routine is the only edification for farming the cursed soil of evicted pagan Indians. All attempts of extracting the curse have failed continuing Joplin’s freezing winters, scorching summers, and tornados in-between. When the curse is absorbed through the skin, men feel set on fire with anger that ties morals into a knot and drives them to commit sin. The Elders insist that only by keeping the routine can a curse, like crops, be rotated for the soil to abundantly produce. While Stevenson sits, his heart pangs to the rhythm of his pocketwatch’s sub-dial. He worries not about an approaching train or a rural community’s curse he doesn’t believe in. He’s not from Joplin, but Chicago. Conservative scripture full of wrath and fire is not his doctrine. His God is compassionate and forgiving. Stevenson obediently preaches this and knows whenever the Elders are discontent they avert their eyes. They have averted their eyes after every sermon Stevenson has given, but when he entered the church today and no one looked up, he knew that his eulogy three days ago at Penelope Finbrick’s funeral was being blamed for the disappearance of her seventy-yearold husband, Walter. He knew that the Elders had sent word out for a replacement preacher and were a substitute available, they would have already sacked him. Today, Walter’s pew is empty and Stevenson recalls the funeral. The Elders had stood around the plot like a black curtain. Passing through them, Stevenson heard disdainful whispers that Walter the farmer had dressed for a date instead of a funeral. Stevenson ignored the gossip; Walter’s pressed
green suit was merely colorful, but he did appear fidgety. His thumbs dug at the soil under his fingernails while his eyes roamed as if searching for a single sprout on a barren field. This behavior continued while Stevenson preached how the Holy Spirit sends tongues of fire enabling anyone, even the youngest child, to communicate with those in crisis. When Penelope’s casket was lowered into the ground to be taken up into the arms of the Lord, Walter briefly squatted to see past the assembly’s feet. Stevenson put these actions off as manifestations of grief, not dissatisfaction with his eulogy, and in the parking lot offered Walter a handshake with the consolation, “Penelope is with the Lord.” Walter got into his truck. Shadows coated his features like a char burn on paper and before he drove off said, “Then I better go get her.” The Elders averted their eyes and Walter hasn’t been seen since. At 11:27 a.m. Stevenson tells himself to make a decision. His family is also in this front pew and has suffered for his lack of success. His wife, Caroline, has been snubbed by local women who stop talking when she enters shops. Beside her are their three children: Mary, Luke, and Veronica, ages twelve, ten, and eight. Of them, only Veronica hasn’t said if her classmates tease her for her father’s sermons. Autism keeps her vague. In Chicago, Veronica would scream at the noise from a subway, bus, or car alarm. Her doctor’s advice that city life over-stimulated her condition sent Stevenson submitting resumes to quiet places like Joplin. Now sitting here in church, Veronica still softly loops words, but seems in a peaceful bubble. She looks with bright green eyes down her yellow dress to the shoes she cannot keep tied. Her tongue darts out frequently, has been since her father practiced Penelope’s eulogy at home, and is ready for The Holy Spirit to send a tongue of fire at any moment, no matter how much it drives her mother nuts. Stevenson closes his pocket watch and decides if the Elder’s
routine wants wrath today, by God, he will give it to them. At 11:28 a.m. Veronica swings her feet and thinks, My shoe is knot untied. Father said, ‘No, your shoe is untied.’ Knot not tied. Untied. Knot untied. Father goes to the pulpit to preach the good word. He uses the red silk bookmark in the bible to find the right good word. He says, ‘Turn to the Book of Genesis, 19:1.’ And suddenly everybody is opening bibles to find the right good word. When I swing my legs, the laces tap against the pew. Giggle. Uh-oh, Uh Mother. Mother HATES Joplin. She misses the city and is always angry, but smiles in church. Mother smiles and whisperswhispers whispers, “The Elders are watching. Keep your tongue in your y mouth.”
If I keep my tongue in, is the Holy Spirit’s fire gonna burn the roof of my mouth? I keep it out a tiny bit for the HolyG oh, Mother. Uh-oh, Look away from Mother smiling and down at my shoes knot untied. I meant untied. At 11:29 a.m. as Stevenson starts to speak, the main doors of the church bang open. Walter stands in a torn green suit, shoes covered in mud, and looks like he has not slept for days. His eyes search the room. The Elder Board averts their eyes. 11: 29 a.m. Walter thinks, Penny? Penny? Where’s my Penny> 11: 29. Stevenson believes this is a sign from God and is filled with confidence. He nods to the usher, Seymour Dunlap wearing a Purple Heart on his lapel, to greet Walter at the door. Seymour takes Walter’s elbow and sits him in a vacant pew. Walter looks under the t seat as Seymour ambles to the rear of the church, closes the doors, and checks his watch. 11:30. “Genesis, 19:1, The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah,” Stevenson’s voice lurches like a
train leaving a station and builds momentum reading the scripture. The cities of Sodom and Gomorrah are deep in sin. Except for Abraham’s cousin, Lot, who resided in Sodom, the lewd urbanites ignored the Lord’s law and coupled with their own gender. Angels were dispatched to tell Lot, go! Crowds of wicked men demanded Lot turn over the angels to act perversions upon them. Lot offered his two virgins daughters, but the crowds lusted for angels. The angels told Lot to take his family into the desert, warning that none were to look back as the Lord’s wrath smote the cities with fire. Loud as a train horn, Pastor Stevenson reads the last passage, “But Lot’s wife looked back, and she was turned to a pillar of salt!” 11:36. Walter thinks, They forgot her name. 11:37. Onward Stevenson drives the sermon. Obeying the Lord is a routine he demands of his people. Lot’s wife ignored this routine by turning away from God’s instructions, chose the city’s despicable lifestyle, and sets a curse in motion for centuries to come. Their mother smitten, her daughters are left to carry Lot to an isolated cave. Without husbands to give them children, they ply Lot with wine, and lay with him. The blighted offspring, Moabites and Ammonites, offer human sacrifices to their deities, Chemosh and Moloch. They repeatedly wage war against Israel until King David defeats and subjugates them. 11:42. A week ago, I sat on the edge of Penelope’s bed at the hospital. She was small in her yellow robe, but laughed at the wigs they gave her. She joked she should’ve stopped brushing her hair long ago. During chemotherapy, she avoided mirrors, not wanting to see herself fade, so her wig always sat off-centered on her head. Penny closed her eyes and asked, “Walter, what color are my eyes?” “Penny, Penny, where’s my Penny?” I teased like always
when she asked this question. This is our routine and for fifty years of marriage I’ve known love shining through her eyes. Even when my anger, like a burning curse, has tied me up in a knot, her eyes have always set me free to do what was right. “They sparkle green.” “Remember them,” She said and opened her eyes. On the dresser was a clear package containing plastic silverware, a napkin, a pepper packet, and a salt packet. The salt packet had a picture of a little girl holding an umbrella. She wore a yellow dress and stared down at her shoes. It was Morton’s Salt Girl and under her arm was a container of salt with the spout open. The crystals spilled behind her, pouring even when it rained, a trail wherever she walked. The rain would slowly dissolve the salt. There would be no trail to follow. Penny, with her gray wig offcentered, cradled my face close, “I worry about you, Walt.” I felt ashamed, “Don’t worry, my Penny. Just get better.” “I worry that after I’m gone, ” Penny said and her face filled with pain, “you alone with what’s in that soil>” “It’s only dirt.” “I didn’t mean you aren’t a good man, you are, and a good farmer, but when you’ve been out there too long in those fields, you get that way...” “But, I’ve got you.” I said and looked at the windows. The sun was setting. “I won’t be coming home this time Walter,” Penny said. Tears rolled down her cheeks. She opened the utensil package and dabbed her cheeks with the napkin. The salt packet fell on the sheet between us. Morton’s Salt Girl was tiny on the barren field of the bed. “Penny,” I said and gently flattened a bump in the sheet. The oil from my hand left a smudge like a char burn on the cotton threads. “On the television, there was this oil fire in Texas they couldn’t put out with water,” Penny said
and balled up the napkin into the sleeve of her yellow robe. “They used dynamite. It exploded. All the air got sucked up so the fire couldn’t breathe and went out. That’s like you.” We sat as the sunlight sank away. Shadows on the sheet coated the smudge and Morton’s Salt Girl. “Don’t talk like that,” I said and kissed her forehead. “Oh Walt,” she said and dug for the napkin, but had no strength to remove it. “Just know that after I’m gone, I’ll be with the Lord waiting for you.” I could not see her eyes in the dark. 11:47. Father is pointing at me. No, he’s pointing over me. He said at church, he isn’t pointing at just me, but everyone. He points and shouts, ‘Lot’s wife and fate is a lesson to those who don’t obey the Lord’s routine. Know the Lord will smote thee with his wrath!’ When father shouts, WRATH, his tongue sticks out for the Holy Spirit. 11:50. Cancer. Penny hadn’t smoked or drank or done any of the things that people get cancer from. She simply got it and died painfully, a churchgoing god-fearing woman who suffered the Lord’s wrath. BUT LOT’S WIFE LOOKED BACK, AND SHE WAS TURNED TO A PILLAR OF SALT. 11:52. The congregation sings the closing hymn, hums amen, and checks the time. 11:55. Mother sends Mary and Luke to blow out candles around the altar. She takes me to join Father at the doors. She calls this Judgment Time. The Elder’s decide if Father’s sermon was good or bad. Judgment Time is always bad. Old-old-Seymor-Dunlap who fought for our country against Japs and never talks to me or my brother Luke or my sister Mary, looks down at my shoes. My shoe is knot untied. Old-old-Seymor-Dunlap laces my shoe and says, ‘Miss Veronica,
conservative scripture has returned to Joplin.’ The Elders gathers around Father. They pat his back and shake his hand. Women invite Mother to tea. Mother doesn’t drink tea, just coffee, but says, why yes! Old-old-Seymor-Dunlap’s eyes are bright blue this Judgment Time. 12:05. Outside, Pastor John Stevenson locks the doors of the church. Vehicles roll out of the parking lot towards the railroad crossing like a parade. Caroline Stevenson leads her children to their Dodge Caravan and says, “Lock the doors, John.” Mother always says, ‘Lock the doors, John’. ‘John’ is what Mother calls Father. Father always locks the doors. Then Mother worries about the train until we cross the tracks. Father always gets us across the track. Mary whispers-whispers to Luke, ‘Did you see him?’ Luke whispers-whispers back, ‘Yeah, he’s got IT.’ IT is what the kids at school call the curse. They say, TAG YOUR IT and run. Mary whispers-whispers, ‘He said, ‘Penny? Penny? Where’s my penny?’’ Luke takes a penny from his pocket and says, ‘Here’s my Penny.’ I want a penny. ‘It’s mine,’ Luke says and pops it in his mouth. ‘Get that out of your mouth!’ Mother yells at Luke. Luke says, ‘It’s for safekeeping. If I swallow it I’ll get it back later.’ Mary says, ‘That guy should’ve done that with his penny.’ And then Father appears and says, ‘What guy?’ The guy who lost his penny. “Walter?” Father asks, but I don’t know, so he runs back to unlock the doors. Mother looks at me and says, “Keep your tongue in your mouth.” 12:10. Penny is with the Lord. This is the Lord’s house. She should be here. If she isn’t in this house, then she isn’t with the Lord. They forgot her name. 12:12.
This is the Caravan. It’s a car and a van. Caravan. We always wear our seatbelts in the Caravan. Me and Mary and Luke’s make our seatbelts go click. Out Luke’s window, I see a black dot down the line. That’s the train. Luke is still safekeeping his penny. I want a penny for safekeeping. I’d keep it on my tongue right here. 12:14. “Walter?” John says finding the farmer sitting alone in the empty church. Walter looks away and says, “My wife turned to salt.” John sighs and asks, “Can we talk about this on the other side of the tracks?” 12:15. The train. Every Sunday when Church is over the 12:27 train comes. I follow the preacher out. He’ll know her name. 12:17. I see Father and the Man who lost his penny walking to a truck. The man who lost his penny turns and says something. Father steps back and scratches his head. ‘Come on John, the train!’ Mother says and honks the horn. Father jumps. Scared. Giggles. He points to the tracks and runs to us. The man who lost his penny shakes his head and gets into his truck. 12:19. John climbs into the Caravan and ignores Caroline’s comments. He looks out his door’s window to the diesel train pulling a long tail of cars up the line. His eyes follow the ridge of track over Joplin’s flat farmland, past Caroline’s window, where it intersects the Church’s road. The crossing is only a hundred yards away. There, a short ramp leads up to a bed of gravel the rails slice through. On the other side is a down ramp back to the road. Both ramps have Crossbuck signs with lights off, bells silent, and gate arms up. John shifts into drive and says, “Honey, we’ll get across.” ‘I don’t want to get stuck for three hours watching that train crawl,’ Mother says.
Mary tries to see the train. Luke bobs his head and blocks the window. Mary clicks her seatbelt. Uh-oh, oh, Mary’s seatbelt’s knot untied. She pushes past Luke who laughs with the penny in his mouth and says, 'Dad, what did that guy want?’ “Walter asked me a biblical question I couldn’t answer.” John says and checks the rear mirror. Walter’s truck follows. “He wanted to know what was Lot’s Wife’s name. I forgot it. Actually, I don’t think her name is mentioned. We’ll look it up over the tracks.” “Great.” Mother says and because we’re not in church, she doesn’t have to smile. 12:20. Not in the house. Could not remember. Don’t look back; I am the wrath of the Lord. Smote thee. 12:21. The Caravan starts climbing the crossings ramp. John feels the front end rise and knows there is a small drop when the wheels become airborne before touching the gravel. Then, the vehicle will rock like a drunken elephant before leveling and proceeding over the tracks. John eases on the accelerator accelerat and the wheels go off the ramp. Caroline looks back and screams, “John, he’s going to hit us!” In John’s side mirror, he glimpses a swerving truck before his door implodes. Metal twists. Glass shatters. The Caravan is slammed sideways and without equal traction, tips. John’s airbag deploys and knocks his hands off the wheel. The Caravan rolls over, lands passenger side down, and stops. 12:24. The airbag pins John to his seat. He can’t remember what just happened so asks his wife. She doesn’t respond. Caroline’s Ca head leans against her door’s broken window and a metal railroad track. The smashed glass around her twinkles like crystals until suddenly, red lights flash, bells clang, and the shadow of a gate arm lowers over her face. Veronica screams. John fights the airbag and turns around. In the luggage area, Mary is crumpled upside down against the
tinted rear window that barely hangs on its hinges. The stuff kept back there; his briefcase, an umbrella, and coloring books cover her. She struggles to upright herself. The umbrella opens. She shoves it behind her and trips into Luke hanging limp from his seatbelt like a rag doll with an open mouth. Mary faints onto Veronica still strapped in her seat and screaming. Her green eyes are terrified when John tries to reach her. His words are lost in her screams. Her teeth are bloody from biting her tongue. 12:25. My tongue burns-burns-burns! Father is shouting! Not shouting at me, but over me! He shouts, ‘Listen to me, Veronica, we have toG’ But my tongue burns-burnsburns! Father shouts, ‘The train, Veronica, theG” and his tongue sticks out and CRASH the back window falls out and light fills the caravan and Father looks at me, but over me and sees the light with his tongue out and it must be the Holy Spirit! I want to see the Holy Spirit! Click my seatbelt. Veronica stops screaming and climbs over Mary into the luggage area filled with sunlight. The open umbrella blocks her. She grabs the
handle and pushes it into the light. Where’s the Holy Spirit? It’s just the man who lost his penny in a truck. Maybe, he saw where theG Veronica steps out of the window. Her shoe falls off and lands onto the crossing. It’s knot untied. She reaches for her shoe beside a copper circle. Luke’s penny! I’ll put it my mouth for safekeeping. Veronica puts the umbrella’s neck on her shoulder, slips her foot into the shoe, and sets the coin on her tongue. Sunlight hits the penny like a tongue of fire. THOSE EYESR I found your Penny. EVEN WHEN MY ANGER, LIKE A BURNING CURSE HAS TIED ME UP IN A KNOTR I worry about you, Walt. Smote thee knot. John makes it to the Caravan’s luggage area. He sees Walter’s truck revving, ready to lunge, and blocking the only exit. He reaches through the rear window, grabs Veronica, and pulls her inside still holding the umbrella. He scoops up Mary. As a train’s brakes scream, the interim Pastor John Stevenson
holds both daughters close and prays to be forgiven for choosing The Elder’s routine over The Lord’s. I am the wrath of the Lord. Walter’s truck hits the Caravan in the middle, rotates it off the tracks, receives the train, and explodes, sucking all the air from his fire. Penelope, with her silver wig offcentered, cradles Walter’s face close at 12:27.
about the author As the son of a born-again preacher, Justin C Gordon was abused by many 'Chick Publication' tracts. It prepared him for a career in marketing and absurd prose. His fiction has been published in Southern Gothic Shorts: an anthology, Out of the Gutter Magazine, and at Southerngothic.org. Justin is a founding member of The Austin Fictionists, is working on a novel called 'The Electric Pickle', and lives outside of Austin with his gorgeous wife and two talented children. Photo Credit: Dawnzy58 at Flickr.
Pride or Prejudice by Lorraine Jenkin
The great thing about being a published author is that at least some people have read the work that you have spent months, weeks, days and hours toiling over. Hopefully they will have enjoyed it. One of the less favourable aspects about it is that they might believe that they now know everything about you – about your dreams, your hopes and your fears. And sometimes they will and sometimes they won’t. As an author who has recently grappled with a (very) long list of editor’s notes for my second novel, Eating Blackbirds, I am coming to terms with the fact that I am finally seeing my own likes and prejudices paraded in front of me. It struck me recently as I read a book and was jolted by a statement completely unrelated to the story. A woman was sat, contemplating, on
a bus and listened into another conversation in which a younger woman was saying what a wonderful husband and father he really was, despite being sat there with a black eye from him. The author obviously had feelings about women who stick with their aggressors and had wanted it to get inside her novel. Fair enough, it’s her novel, but it made me think: what are the things that I’ve put in mine that make me read like an open-book? The process of editing is very revealing. My editor, Caroline Oakley of Honno, is fantastic: sharp, objective, blunt and, despite a few mumblings, I realise that she is usually right. Her editing process is therefore rigorous and exposes all my foibles and (as I prefer to call them) my eccentricities. The first cull is usually my foul language. Expletives are removed and it makes me cringe as I realise (as she has done) that most were gratuitous and, therefore, pretty childish. The second cull is my lewdness. Less is usually more, I am told. Therefore references to wind, burping and cat-sick are removed. These culls make me question my own spoken language and I am ashamed to sometimes find it crass and lacking in sophistication. The other jolt has been my ingrained stereotyping of people at certain ages. I recently wrote about two forty-five-year-olds who really
shouldn’t be having any kind of intimacy, rolling around like hippos, squelching and slobbering with a lack of sexual prowess and a large pair of beige pants. It came as a shock to me when it dawned that, at thirty-nine, they were only six years older than me! These scenes were views of people that I had had when I was fifteen and they hadn’t matured, as I should have done. Am I, therefore, a slobbering, squelching hippo? Quite probably. As I am battling with novel number three, I am debating the dilemma: if I remove my own feelings and prejudices, will I make it better or will it become bland and impersonal? Should I analyse what my thoughts actually are and review them to make sure that I am still happy that they are current? Or should I just move the ages of my characters forward ten years and worry about it another day?
Lorraine Jenkin quit her job and went off round the world to write her novel, Chocolate Mousse and Two Spoons. She has written a variety of pieces for newspapers and magazines, including The Guardian and The Times. Her second novel, Eating Blackbirds, is released this July by Honno. Catch up with Lorraine on her blog, http://lorrainejenkin.blogspot.com. Picture of hippo: Jennifer Jordan
Celebs in Writing Distress:
Dear Lone Ranger I'm writing my first novel in Microsoft word and have my font set to 12 - do you think it should be in size 10? yours Megan
Dear Megan I would normally recommend matching your font to your shoe size. Good luck with the novel. yours The Lone Ranger
Travel & Writing A Postcard From Home by Paul
Even though it’s damp and cold outside on this winter afternoon, the first thing we do when we’re in the house is throw open all the windows and doors. It may be damp and cold outside, but after eight weeks away from home there’s a bitter chill inside. The stink of mice and old birds’ nests has slipped between the ceiling boards from the attic, down into each room; stagnant water sitting in the drains has brought something acrid into the kitchen, the laundry, the bathroom; an unseen filament of cobweb clings to my face as I lug one of the suitcases down the hallway. So we throw open all the windows and doors and I light the woodstove; crank up the fiercest, hottest of fires. A fire to purge every scrap of stale mustiness and the seeping, blackening moistness of mildew. What the place needs is a flow of fresh, warm air. There are times when this might serve as a metaphor for the keg of ideas in my head. When my view of the world feels as if it’s stagnating, is becoming grimy under a sticky layer of dust, and in need of a good shaking up and airing out. But not today. Today, I am returning from eight weeks travelling – meeting new people new friends, reacquainting with old friends, exploring landscapes I’ve never visited before and returning to places I thought I knew – and the opposite is true. There’s a welter of new impressions and ideas storming and tumbling and crashing about in my mind, some of which are bravely clinging to the potential of new projects, but all of which need to settle and sift, to grow a few hairs and gather a little dust, before I can do anything with them.
And, for me, this is the most important fringe benefit of travelling. After all the pleasures (and challenges) inherent in experiencing different textures of life and being exposed to new ideas and different views, everything feeds back into writing: the stories we tell and the words we use to interpret an everchanging understanding of the world – an overheard phrase here, an observed mannerism there, a unique perspective, a response or a reaction, or maybe the absence of a reaction... a description of how afternoon light at a particular time of year in a particular environment illuminates a person’s face or the edge of a skyscraper or the leaves on a tree. All this and more. So, now the house is fully aired and the woodstove is contentedly ticking over and it begins to feel like home again, I’m trying to re-establish the habits and the habitat which allow me to write. I’m holding my cupped hands out, encouraging some of that welter of new ideas and impressions to land without getting too bruised, so that I can nurture them and, in turn, allow them to take my words someplace new. In this manner, I’ll begin to read and elaborate on the brief notes I took while sitting on trains, planes or in anonymous hotel rooms (an overheard phrase here, an observed mannerism there), and I’ll gradually review photographs that might help make sense of my more cryptic notes or that will encourage new ideas to land. Maybe, one day, a few of them will give substance to a character or a scene or the direction of a story, and then, for me, these will have become the best souvenirs of all.
Jodie Foster and the art of ventriloquism by A.J Kirby
I’ll never forget the first thing he said to me; the way he curled all of his thorny knowledge into that one barbed comment stopped me in my tracks. ‘You don’t look a bit like Jodie Foster,’ he said, weighing me up. Our eyes met; his being deep pools of consciousness; mine dancing
around nervously, not wanting to be pinned down. I attempted a vague, businesslike smile, pretended that I had no idea what he was talking about. Unconsciously, I started to tear at the edge of one of the papers I clutched tightly to my chest. I must have looked wounded. He couldn’t have missed the panic which was
bubbling up within me, about to overflow. And then he smiled. At first it was only a simple tickle at the edges of his thin lips, then his nostrils flared, and finally those dark eyes softened. When he smiled, his whole face opened up. ‘I do apologize,’ he said, his voice much softer now, ‘I don’t get to
meet many new people. Please allow me to start again; I’m Francis Croker.’ ‘I’m Janet,’ I nodded, simply, ensuring that there was no trace of a quiver in my voice. He probably knew very well who I was and what I was doing there. He stood up from his low bed and walked toward me with a measured stride. His were the movements of a man that knew that he had all the time in the world. As he walked, he corrected a crease in his shirt. I couldn’t help but notice his wiry muscular build through the fine fabric; the outline of a tattoo on his right shoulder; a glimpse of a scar on his neck-line.
pleasantly. ‘And what shall we be discussing?’ ‘WellR anything you’d like really. There is no set agenda.’ He wrapped his hands through the bars and leaned in close. I had to fight the urge to step back. ‘Be careful, Janet,’ he whispered. ‘Some of the men in here are very cleverR If there is no set agenda, they’re liable to hi-jack the whole discussion for their ownR sickR purposes.’ With Francis’s words in mind, I stayed up far too late preparing my notes for the discussion group and absently draining the contents of yet another bottle of red wine. When I finally switched off the laptop and pulled the duvet cover around me, I
Most people would kill for looks like mine,
but I’ve come to think of them as an obstacle to be overcome. ‘Pleased to meet you, Janet,’ he replied, rewarding me with another beaming smile. I felt myself relaxing into his company; felt the burning desire to inform this man that I wasn’t another ‘Jodie Foster’ slipping away with every breath. Most people would kill for looks like mine, but I’ve come to think of them as an obstacle to be overcome. I’m too fresh-faced; too pretty-pretty; too girly for people to take me seriously. First impressions count, and I already know that most people meet me and immediately want to treat me like a child. Hence his jibe, I suppose; I’d already been warned by the staff that I’d likely be dubbed Jodie Foster by the men. ‘It’s like in that film, The Silence of the Lambs,’ one of the prison officers had said, ‘when they send Jodie Foster, a damn trainee, to go to speak to one of the most notorious criminals in America.’ I steeled myself to ask the question; the one that had been laughed, spat and ignored back into my face by most of the rest of the men on the wing. ‘Would you like to join my discussion group?’ I murmured. ‘Why Janet; I thought you’d never ask,’ replied Francis,
found that in spite of the lateness of the hour, I still couldn’t sleep. My room felt claustrophobic and oppressing. Through the thin walls, I could hear signs of activity from the flat next door; a hacking cough, the creaking of bed-springs. I tried fished around for my I-Pod so that I could try to cover up the sounds, finally finding it wedged between two of the chunkier textbooks on my bedside table. I shuffled through the stultifying classical music until I found the audio version of Joel Beech’s best-selling book on relaxation techniques. Instead of relaxing me, Joel’s lilting words inspired those familiar pangs of professional jealousy in my gut. Joel hadn’t exactly been top of our class at university, but his codpsychological ramblings had found a real niche within the marketplace. Ignoring his lack of credentials, the public lapped him up, especially in America. It helped that Joel had the kind of ‘mysterious’ look that people have come to expect from their psychologists. Conversely, my own book had been reasonably well received in the academic world but had been virtually ignored by everybody else. I reckoned that if it hadn’t been for my decision not to
have my photograph on the dust jacket, I wouldn’t have even broken even. Newton Mills prison loomed like a bloodstain, slap-bang in the middle of the flat, characterless flood-plain on the coast, the only concrete amongst miles of green. It came to remind me of my purpose-built, outof-town university campus. Only, at least the university’s architects had made cursory efforts to make the new buildings fit in with the surrounding countryside. Here, function came above everything else; it was teeming with barbed wire, fencing, gates and barriers. It was like a vision of hell which never ceased to inspire dread in the beholder. I pulled the old Lupo onto the narrow access road and rigidly adhered to the 10mph speed limit, playing for time. But in the end, I could put off my arrival no longer. I locked the car, returned to doublecheck it, and then nervously chuckled to myself; the visitor’s car park was probably one of the safest places in the world to leave the car. It was virtually surrounded by surveillance cameras and besides, all of the criminals were inside. Taking a deep breath, I walked to the gatehouse. Despite having seen me throughout my induction, and every other working day since, the prison officers at the gate still eyed me with suspicion. I was patted-down, felt-up, sneered-at. Nervously, I brushed the hair out of my face in order that the security camera could record the contours of my face. I knew exactly how I’d look to them; windswept. Ever since the induction, I hadn’t bothered wearing hair-clips, even during the walk from the car. Hair-clips were amongst the long list of banned items, along with belts, phones, laptops, tablets, food, drink, and anything else that could conceivably be thought of as a weapon. Feeling naked then, I stepped through a metal detector and was granted an escort through to the sterile area, which was contained within a further three perimeter fences. The officer bristled with complaint; he clearly didn’t think that it was part of his job description to guide interfering busybodies like
psychologists about the place. We walked down the corridors in an uncomfortable silence; the only sound was the echo of his steel toecapped boots on the polished floor and the jangle of his keys as he stooped to open more gates every few metres or so, and then close them behind us. Finally, we reached the prisonproper. Newton Mills had been designed to an old, accepted prison model which I immediately recognized from films. It had a formation like a bicycle wheel, with wings of cells leading off the center like spokes. The center held the control room, the panopticon, from which an officer could see down every wing and check for any trouble. It was the prison’s all-seeing eye. And so, feeling as though I too was being watched, I rattled along my allocated wing – C-Wing - and informed the men that the first of my discussion groups was to take place in thirty minutes time. The only takeup was an old man called Albert who had rheumy eyes and a terrible complexion, and of course, Francis Croker. I had managed to commandeer a reading room at the back of the library, but for security purposes, officers had to be stationed on the outside, in the event of any trouble from the men. Unfortunately, as the reading room had glass walls, the officers in question spent much of the hour with their faces squashed against the glass, glaring at the offenders and at me. The other problem was Albert. I should have known that he’d not exactly contribute to the discussion when I’d seen him shuffling along the corridor, slowly muttering to himself. It seemed that he’d only joined the group for a bit of peace and quiet, for almost as soon as I started speaking, he lurched forward and emitted a heaving, wheezing accordion note of a snore. ‘Don’t worry about him,’ said Francis. ‘He’s a serial group-joiner, is our Albert, but he doesn’t exactly contribute.’ I nodded, acknowledging both his attempt to make me feel better and the voice in my head which was making snide remarks about it being
an ‘inauspicious start to my time at Newton Mills.’ We sat in silence for a while; me staring at my hands, Francis staring back at the prison officers. I became aware of the faraway sounds from the workshops, the cloying smell of disinfectant which seemed to shroud everything in the prison. At first, I’d thought that the tangy, alcoholic smell was actually emanating from me - my secret night-drinking ways brought to light in a place where no booze was allowed – but soon I’d realized that it was simply the prison’s own, unique stink. Remarkably however, things did get better. Francis suggested that I should read through my agenda. He immediately began interrupting, suggesting new topics and interesting diversions from the main thread. Gradually, we started to get over our initial hesitancy. We started to engage; we forgot all about the sneering prison officers looking in, and we mused about the meaning of victim hood, the definition of a crime, and the hierarchy of prisons. We started to enjoy ourselves. At the end of the session, Francis even helped me to collect together my notes, which were fanned about the conference table in front of us. He even promised that he’d try to talk some of the other C-Wingers into attending my next session. Despite myself, I started to look forward to the sessions. I began to feel stirrings in the back of my brain; it was like the return of an old friend.
sessions continued every Tuesday morning, but no matter how much I tried to drum up interest, the highest attendance remained at only two. In the end, even Albert stopped coming. I didn’t know whether he’d been taken ill, had found another, better group to sleep through, or whether he’d been released. I asked Francis: ‘Oh, don’t worry about Albert; he won’t be getting out of here for a long, long time. He’s one of the lowest of the low, as they’re called,’ said Francis, calmly. I felt an involuntary shudder run down my spine; I knew what lowest of the low meant now, thanks to Francis, and in spite of my efforts to be a good little liberal, I couldn’t help myself from feeling sick at the thought of being in such close proximity to such a scheming, sick son of a bitchR For some reason, I never even asked myself what Francis was inside for. Maybe that voice in my head was telling me that even by contemplating such a thought, I’d be opening Pandora’s box. Instead, I concentrated on our discussions, which, without Albert’s sleepy presence became even more in-depth. I began taking copious notes and then staying up all night trying to make sense of my scrawled hand as I typing them up. When I read these frenzied musings back in the morning, the unavoidable conclusion was that something was missing. Some of the truth in Francis’s words
Maybe that voice in my head was telling me that even by contemplating such a thought, I’d be opening Pandora’s box. You see, he’d opened my eyes to a whole new world of philosophy. I’d expected my subjects to be mere sounding boards for my own ideas, but instead, Francis made me step out of my own comfort zone. When he asked me: ‘Do prisons work?’ I actually had to stop and think. Have I actually got an opinion about this? Of course, the prison officers weren’t convinced about the value of my discussion ‘groups’. The
was diluted when I transferred them to the laptop. Underneath all the wisdom, there still remained the fact that it was still being written in my own somewhat naïve voice. I began to doubt my own ability, my own professionR And then came Francis’s proposition; the thing that changed everything. ‘These sessions have got me thinking for the first time in ages,’
said Francis, baring his pearly white teeth. ‘For the first time that I can remember, I’m interested in something.’ Despite myself, I felt a surge of pride. ‘I go back to my cell of an evening,’ he continued, ‘and I writeup what we’ve discussed. Over time, it’s grown into something more than a little hobby of mineR Over time, it’s developed into a kind of poorman’s psychology of prison bookR Would you like to read it?’ Of course I wanted to read it. I wanted to read it more than anything else in the world. And I did read it; I marveled at the beauty of his penmanship, the validity of his every word. I sat in the reading room until I was, not particularly politely, asked to leave. I felt like crying; he had written very the book that was up there in my head, just waiting to be set free. In Francis’s book, ideas of criminality, insanity and society had been triple-distilled and now flowed as smoothly as a mountain stream. Next time I met him, I gushed with admiration. ‘You have to publish,’ I started. ‘It’s against the rules,’ he said wearily. ‘There’s nothing you or I could do. You will be my only readerR but I’m happy with that.’ I wasn’t. It felt like the real crime was not allowing this wondrous text to see the light of day. It was the sort of writing that would really change things. ‘UnlessR’ he said. ‘Ah, it doesn’t matterR’ But my interest was piqued. I touched his hand to signal that he should continue with whatever train of thought he was on. ‘Okay; what if you were to publish the book under your own name?’ he asked, quietly. At first, Francis’s proposition sounded like heresy, but after the third glass of wine that night, I began to see things his way. Rules are often too rigid; and can be bent for the greater good. Sure, it would be against the rules to accept anything given to me by an offender, butR But the book had to be read; the world deserved it. In the end, I smuggled his writing out of the prison every Tuesday amongst my own papers. Of course, I was never
checked. I suppose my innocent face saw to thatR For the next few months, I became little more than a glorified secretary, transferring his words to the laptop. Once the book was complete, I aimed high with it. Eventually, it was accepted by the same large publishing stable that counted Joel on their list of writers. On publication, it was a glorious, unreserved success, both critically and amongst the book-buying public. After the months of slow-burn toil, my life became a fairytale. When my first royalty cheque arrived, I nearly fell over. It was more money than I’d earned in seven years of work. Next came the invitations to the inevitable end of year award shows, and then the prizes, the audio recordings and the signing tours. It was as I stepped back through my front door after a signing tour in America that I received the phone call which shattered all of my illusions. Still clutching the duty free rum I’d been supping in the taxi from the airport, I reached for the house phone and cradled it between my ear and my shoulder, absently wondering where all of my glasses were. ‘Yes?’ I slurred, my voice disgustingly thick with drink. ‘Is that Janet?’ responded Charles, my agent. ‘You know very well it’s JanetR’ I said, depositing the bottle of rum on the counter in order that I could click the phone onto loud-speaker while I had a proper search for the glasses. ‘Is that Janet?’ he repeated, and finally I got it through my thick skull that there was something seriously wrong. ‘What’s wrong, Charles?’ ‘Do you know Susan Temple?’ he asked, before making this strange sobbing noise down the phone. ‘WellR no,’ I said. I couldn’t even rack my brains as I’d drunk so much. It did sound like a name I should have known, but I couldn’t place it. ‘You sure?’ ‘I might have heard the name at some point.’ I decided, vaguely. ‘Why? Who is she?’
‘Susan Temple is the mother of Janey TempleR remember her?’ Suddenly, I knew where I knew the name fromR ‘Susan was found dead tonight; an overdose. When the police found her, the only clue they could discover was the fact that she was clutching your bookR’ I could barely speak. ‘There were sections underlined, apparently’ continued Charles. ‘The police think that she might have thought of the words as some kind of messageR but then again, she was still crazy with grief after what that monster did to her daughter.’ ‘What monster?’ I asked. The room was spinning. I felt as though I was being sucked into a vortex from which I could never return. I don’t want to know, I don’t want to know, chanted that voice in my head. ‘Frank Croker,’ said Charles, driving a dagger into my heart with his very words. Then he paused, ‘Janet, is there something you’d like to tell me about your book?’
about the author A.J Kirby (or Andy to his friends) started to write seriously after just losing out on winning a cash prize on a TV game show, despite being told the answers beforehandG Writing fiction and suspending a skint reality is his stock in trade now, and he’s lucky enough to have been featured in a wide number of publications, including anthologies (Legend Press's Eight Rooms, Nemonymous 8: Cone Zero & Nemonymous 9: Cern Zoo from Megazanthus Press, Graveside Tales' Fried: Fast Food Slow Deaths) print magazines (Sein und Werden, Skrev Press, and Champagne Shivers) and webzines (NVF, Pumpkin magazine, Underground). Andy lives in Leeds, UK with his girlfriend Heidi. To find out more, visit: http://www.andykirbythewriter.20m.com
Photo Credit: mnomono at Flickr
The Embezzlers’ Club by Kathleen
John was a cash only antique dealer in Chicago. Everything he sold had once belonged to the grand old rich, famous, and scandalous. His side business salvaged architectural remnants and sold them to contractors. Another all-cash scam. John’s crews stole stained glass windows and glazed tiles off buildings and unloaded them before daybreak. In a bar tricked up like a church, I convinced him I was better than his current bookkeeper. “Look,” I said when he was blind drunk. “Look at my face. Trustworthy as faces get.” My timing must have been right. In three years I skimmed three million. With John’s drinking problem, I might have grabbed six, but greediness killed the cat. Then I drove cross-country and bought an old mansion in Yonkers. Months later and I’m still sniffing around for an occupation. Three mil don’t last forever. But everybody’s already set. They don’t need to talk. And my trustworthy looks? Not even women respond. So I found a girl “Susie” on the internet, and left a fat envelope on the armoire. Same girl every time, so by now I don’t mind asking her, “What gives?”
“What do you mean?” “I mean why am I paying for it and why can’t I find a nice situation?” “Guess the market for embezzlers just dried up,” Susie says. “Look here, Sherlock, who says I’m an embezzler?” “Who says I’m a whore?” “Very funny.” Before I get angry, she says there’s a party down the street. “Your kind of party.” She tells me to wear jeans and a good shirt if I have one. Meanwhile, she washes her face, ties her hair back, and pulls flat shoes from her purse. Her skirt’s three inches longer than usual and she buttons a little checked jacket. The party’s two blocks over. I’ve heard the guy gives piano lessons. A little girl opens the door. “Hi Susie.” My whore teaches the kid ballet. The piano teacher deals drugs. Susie introduces me to building contractors, speculators, car dealers, condo supervisors, consultants galore, lawyers, and therapists. After we shake hands and move on, she tells me how they really make a living, what their con is. A man wearing a tuxedo extends a platter of stuffed mushrooms and hands us little green napkins. Susie eats three mushrooms. I’m not hungry. She gets whiskey from the bartender. “What’ll you have?” “Nothing, thanks.” “Loosen up,” Susie says. “The Embezzlers’ Club is outside, on the deck.” “Do you think I believe this? It’s not even funny.” “Oh, they don’t call it ‘The Embezzlers Club’ but everybody knows. Do you want to land a ‘nice situation’ or not?” “You’re kidding. I go outside, meet some people, and I’ll get some sweet deal? And never get caught.” “Probably not for a long time. But someday you will. Right? We all will, sooner or later.”
Jenn Ashworth interview nterview by Kerrie-Anne
I was not sure what to expect when I approached this interview with Jenn Ashworth, her debut novel A Kind of Intimacy was dark, funny, gripping and at times frightening in its reality. What I found was a confident, easy going woman. A real 'what you see is what you get' kind of gal. Born in 1982 in Lancashire England, she has a down to earth playful nature which is more than evident in her writing. Currently Jenn is working on her next novel after being named one of 'Waterstone's New Voices 2009'. She received a MA in Creative Writing from Manchester University and at the time of this interview works in a Prison Library. Jenn's blog title 'Every day I Lie a Little' gives an insight into her humour and everyday goings on, well worth venturing to. A Kind of Intimacy is the story of Annie, an overweight, self conscious woman, who seeks out a new life after tragedy strikes her. Moving to a new house she sets about meeting the locals and attempting to make friends. Her life takes unusual twists and turns as she attempts to out manoeuvre her old life and start over. Ultimately her past catches up with her with dramatic consequences for Annie, the boy next door and his girlfriend. I found myself cringing at some of her attempts, almost screaming at others and totally gripped as her secrets were revealed. Things you never thought were coming. Seeing the world through Annie's eyes, her thoughts, feelings, and judgements at times has almost a voyeuristic quality even though it is told by Annie herself. Each page leads you further into a twisted tale, as she unravels a story which will
have you guessing right till its bloody end. Although fictional, Annie's complex mixture of emotions are some which we all face at one time or another. She is that likable strange lady down the road, the friend who tries too hard, the odd one out at a party. There is a little piece of all us in her. A Kind of Intimacy gives us an unique window into the life a woman who many would never notice otherwise and shows us just how fragile the human mind can be. What was it that brought you to writing? I’ve always written, from when I was very small. I think it’s probably a lot to do with escapism – being able to go through the page or the computer screen into a completely different world. I’ve been a very keen diary writer since I was thirteen, so a lot of the way I understand myself and the outside world is by writing things down. It’s very natural to me and although it doesn’t always go well I can’t really imagine not doing it for any length of time. Which do you prefer writing, short stories or novels? It depends on what I want to say. They are very different things. Short stories are wonderful because they force you to be so specific and immediate, and I love reading and writing novels because of the entire fictional world you can inhabit. The short stories you can read via the links on my blog have been a very immediate, instant way of interacting with the online literary scene – I’m not sure if it is quite the same with a long novel like A Kind of Intimacy – it
takes much longer to be finished and get feedback, anyway. What was life like growing up in Lancashire? My childhood wasn’t a particularly happy one, but I don’t think that’s anything to do with Lancashire. It’s quite a quiet, inward looking place. I’d never lived or been to anywhere else when I got to Uni, and I had an idea that I was fairly experienced and open minded because of how many books I’d read, rea when actually I was naïve in lots of ways. I almost decided never to come back, but obviously I have, and things are very different for me now I’m an adult and the cultural and literary scene is developing a bit here. What is the Network?
As well as writing, I do freelance literature development work. The Preston Writing Network is the fruit of a Associate Artist’s placement I’ve had with a Arts Development Company for the past eight months. My brief was to discover, promote and develop emerging writing in Preston and the blog, the classes and the live-lit lit nights are one of the ways I tried to do that. I think it’s been a fantastic success – very little to do with my tapping away on my computer, and more to do with all the new writers I’ve ve met – Preston is suddenly full of bloggers, short story writers, poets, journalists and novelists. I wish someone had done this when I was growing up. Why leave Preston for Oxford? I was living in Cambridge at the time and had just finished my first degree.
have found its way into the book somehow! I think a general sense of loneliness and dissatisfaction in the quality of my relationships with other people ople might have influenced me, but I certainly didn’t set out to write about myself or anyone I knew. It's been described as dark, humorous, frightening and its main character Annie compared to Misery’s Kathy Bates by Stephen King. Which authors influence you in your writing and which do you enjoy most? I like Stephen King, and Kazuo Ishiguro, Ali Smith, Lorrie Moore, Joyce Carole Oats, Raymond Chandler – and hundreds of others. Also dramatists like Alan Bennet and Mike Leigh, who did Abigail’s Party. P I don’t think I’m influenced by anyone in particular – I’m much more likely to be moved to write by an emotion or a memory than I am by a book. What do you hope readers take from Annie's tale?
My partner at the time was offered a job with training in Oxford, and although I nearly decided to move to Liverpool (I wish I had) I decided to go with him and lived in Oxford for a year, working for The Samaritans and The Bodleian library, as well as training at night school to be a counselor and trying to write The Balloon Novel. Your best and worst habits? My best habit is also my worst habit. I work very, very hard – and I never say no to things. That means I’ve had some amazing experiences and some wonderful opportunities, but it also means that I’ve neglected a lot
of my friends and don’t have much time for other things. I worry about getting tired, and burning out. I should make it a habit to have some weekends and evenings off! When you began writing ‘A Kind of Intimacy’, your laptop had been stolen, you were sharing a run down home and newly left your home borough of Preston for Oxford. How did these events effect your writing of A Kind of Intimacy? Nothing direct, although living next to a pub in Oxford and continually overhearing everyone in the beer garden having a wonderful time must
I’d love it if a reader realized, at the end of the book, boo that they’d been rooting and sympathizing for someone who is actually quite dangerous and who does some terrible things. I hope readers like Annie. I like Annie very much. I wanted to say something about intimacy – I used to think it was an impossible thing hing to achieve but now I think the intimacy between the reader and the writer is something quick tricky and slippery and special too. Annie’s character is profoundly lonely, her actions show this with disturbing clarity, her only true friend being her cat c Mr. Tipps. Ultimately what do you feel she was craving? She wanted the same thing that everyone wants – I think she says it in the book somewhere. To talk without misunderstanding. We’ve only got language to rely on when we want to get close to each other, ot and language is so unreliable. She’s fighting a losing battle really, despite her disadvantages. She wanted a friend and to be special to someone.
Annie has many ill conceived obsessions as she attempts to start her new life and searches her self-help books for a magic bullet to heal her life. Do you think these vulnerabilities are what makes her so believable in that she wants no more than we all want?
I was trying to push Annie and the situation as far as I could – make every situation more and more embarrassing – I was more concerned with writing it so it was funny without being implausible, so I think my attention was more focused on the technical aspect.
I’m glad you find her believable – many people have told me they recognize parts of Annie in themselves, or in at unusual – just an exaggeration of something that we all fear. Maybe. someone else they know. I don’t think she’s that unusual – just an exaggeration of something that we all fear. Maybe.
Is Annie mad or misguided?
What do you think is Annie's more endearing quality? For me it was her optimistic delusions. I think for me it was her naivety. I still shudder when I think of her in her taffeta peach bridesmaid’s dress at the housewarming party. She probably wanted a dress just like it when she was ten years old, finally bought it in her twenties and wore it to the supermarket thinking she looked lovely. I imagine her twirling in front of the mirror, checking her lipstick, reciting her affirmations and being almost convinced she looks beautiful. There’s a big bit of Annie that never grew up, and still wants her mother. A Kind of Intimacy was written prior to you working in a prison library; have you found inspiration since from those you meet giving new life to characters for upcoming tales? Well, I’m very interested in unreliable narrators, and I’ve certainly met a lot of those while working at the prison! I found myself wincing, cringing, laughing and at times almost screaming at Annie, her character is so believable you just want to grab her by the shoulders and tell her to wake up. How hard was it for you to tell her story without doing exactly that? I think the experience is very different for a writer. The whole time
I think that’s up to the reader to decide. Annie says some very reasonable things, especially about her relationships with men and her experience of motherhood – I’d hate a reader to ‘diagnose’ her, decide she isn’t really culpable for her actions and then write her opinions off as nonsense. But she isn’t quite normal either, I suppose. A Kind of Intimacy has been the recipient of rave reviews leading to your inclusion in Waterstone's New Voices 2009. What has surprised you most? The reviews I’ve had, the emails from people I’ve never met, the Waterstone’s Promotion – they’ve all been lovely. I know I’ve been very lucky. I still find the fact anyone would like Annie surprising. And I’m very glad about it. Did you ever rewrite ‘The Balloon Novel’ which was stolen with your laptop and ultimately lead to rise of ‘A Kind of Intimacy’? No, I haven’t. I don’t have any plans to return to it yet, although I certainly know everything there is to know about the history and construction of hot air balloons, so you never know where it might crop up in my writing in the future! What are the best and worst things about being a published author? The best thing is the validation – you always wonder if what you write is any good or not, but if people are willing to give you money for it, it’s easier to think that it must be okay. The worst thing is how busy you get
with other things that aren’t writing, and the pressure to write number two. But these are small problems and don’t outweigh outweig how great it is to realize that the book is out there and being read by people. How has your life changed since becoming published? I’m much busier, and I feel a bit more confident about talking to people about what I do. I’m also in the position of being ng able to give up my work at the library and concentrate on my next book for the next few months. The luxury of time is something I only wished for before, so I’m incredibly excited about this new phase beginning. When writing your novels do you sit with a story plan or do they simply erupt onto the screen and paper? I try and plan, but because I’m so interested in character and narration, things tend to get out of hand. I’m a slow and wasteful writer, doing lots of drafts and throwing lots of versions away way before I finally hit on the story and the right way to tell it. In order to be an author what is the most important trait a person can have? Single-mindedness. mindedness. It’s too easy to get distracted with friends or television or blogging or whatever it is other people do in the evenings. I think writing involves a lot of sacrifice, and being willing to do that is almost essential for getting a large project like a novel finished. What advice can you give someone reading this with the dream of becoming a published pub author? Read, constantly – and get used to being on your own. I think some writers can combine hectic social lives with an active inner life, but I don’t think I can.
Best Girl by Cynde Gregory
Her name was Sarah. I loved her absolutely and without condition. She was younger than me by a full year and a half. At a time when such things mattered, I loved her in spite of her age as well as to spite the girls in my class who wouldn’t have me part of their knotted, complicated friendships. At fifteen and a half,
Sarah knew things I didn’t; how to drive, how to flirt with boys, how to play Chopin at midnight by candlelight with her head thrown back, her fairy-tale hair glittering like true gold in the dancing light. She knew how to draw herself up and sneer at her father when he tried to set a curfew. She knew how to drink
shots of tequila and lick salt off her fist. She knew the shortest shortcut to the Student Union on campus, where we were forbidden to go and so always were. Sarah taught me to dress in old satin tablecloths we bought for quarters from secondhand stores and tinted the color of emeralds and rubies with boxes of dye. They could become anything; folded on the diagonal, they were shawls. Folded on the diagonal and snipped at the center, they were capes; stitched at the side, they became blouses. Snipped wider at the center and stitched with elastic, they were Gypsy skirts that hung to the ground and lifted alluringly when we spun in wild, barefooted circles. She tried to teach me to shoplift lipsticks, but that didn’t take. I told her I didn’t believe in lipstick; I didn’t tell her I didn’t believe in shoplifting. What I saw in Sarah was the sun, the moon, and a universe of every star that ever sparkled. What I didn’t see was what too much of our young world saw; as beautiful as I knew she was, her beauty wasn’t physical. Physically, she was what was euphemistically called bigboned by adults, and more accurately, fat, by other girls. Her eyes sat too close to the beak of her nose—although even now, when I picture her I see the saucy snap in her eyes and her nose seems regal rather than hawk-like. Her teeth jutted, and one overlapped. Her chin tucked itself beneath her mouth like a turtle pulling in its head. Her skin was so pale it was nearly transparent and blue; every emotion painted itself across her cheeks in varying shades of blood. I thought the multitude of ever-deepening
blushes that stained those ivory cheeks were exquisite. The single dimple that spontaneously appeared when she even thought about smiling and the darling Dumbo ear that parted the glorious curtain of glittering hair made me oddly proud that she was my best friend. I wasn’t especially beautiful, either, but Sarah’s lessons in flirting had resulted in a steady stream of boys who followed us to the library, to the Student Union, back home. Although I tried to pretend otherwise, including her in conversations, steering the boys’ attention in her direction, it was clear
why I thought so; she’d never seemed jealous before. Perhaps from the distance of time and several states, I’d begun to see Sarah the way other people did; I’d begun to pity her. Confused by it, I turned my back and drenched myself in my own life. I heard she’d gone to Israel, I heard she’d married a Palestinian. I heard she’d become pregnant and that her body grew to immense, obese proportions. I heard her husband beat her. I heard she left him. But still I didn’t call or write, because with each new piece of information, I felt guilty.
I answered the phone and was told
my brother had drowned. I called Sarah immediately they were following only me, and Sarah knew it. She ate and drank to comfort herself, and she grew bigger and bigger, her small eyes squeezed to slits too close to her reddening nose. A year passed and I went off to college, promising to write. I did, one letter the minute I got to my cementblock dorm room, lonely for the girl who’d taught me how to live in the world. I wrote again, once or twice, but for the most part I allowed myself to be swept away in the waves of college life; sophisticated East Coast friends with Boston accents who teased my Midwest vowels, a group of serious young writers I fell in with, and a steady stream of boys-no-longer who weren’t either quite men. I remember trying to write to Sarah late one night by candlelight, the flickering shadows reminding me of how she’d played Chopin with such abandon. I wanted to tell her about the man who’d published a love sonnet in a literary magazine, and dedicated to me; but I could not, because it seemed the same as if I’d slapped her with my open hand. I wanted to tell her about my first poems being accepted for publication, but I feared she would be jealous and hurt. I don’t know
Eventually, I ran into her mother who told me not to call Sarah. She had had a breakdown; she hated everyone, me most of all. She didn’t speak to her father, whom she claimed had abused her (a claim I don’t doubt; although she’d never directly spoken of it, I had always despised the man and had wanted to protect her, although I didn’t exactly know from what.) She barely spoke to her mother, in monosyllables only. Everything sent her into a rage. Her mother begged me to leave Sarah alone; contacting her would only make things more difficult. I left her alone for another year, until the morning I answered the phone and was told my brother had drowned. I called Sarah immediately, after all the years still needing her like I had always needed her. Needing her, probably, the way she had needed me, and I had failed. She answered, and when I told her about my brother she began to laugh. She laughed and laughed, a low snicker turning into a chuckle turning into a cascade of giggles turning into a shrill, hollow howl. “I don’t care,” she gasped between chortles, “I don’t care about anything. Don’t you ever, ever call me again.” And then she hung up.
I doubt she’s still alive. A decade later I had a dream that was too vivid, the kind of dream that occupies a physic space that is more-than-dream. It didn’t turn into ephemera upon waking; it seemed to solidify. In the dream, Sarah was a ghost, paler than in life, lighter, lost and drifting. Lonely. Enraged. In the dream, I tried to help her find a door, but there were no doors anywhere. She didn’t want my help; she hated me and she loved me and couldn’t stop following me. In the dream I wanted to bring her back or send her away. When I woke, I tried to call her mother. The phone had been disconnected. I contacted the university where her father had taught, but he was no longer there. Sarah was gone, and the loss of her was permanent. For nearly 40 years I have missed her, and regretted I wasn’t mature enough to take care of her the way she’d taken care of me. I do see her several times a year; she visits my dreams, always as a ghost, always slipping among shadows, always waiting to be finely and finally loved.
about the author Cynde Gregory is a poverty-stricken writer/real estate agent/substitute teacher/adjunct college instructor hanging on by her fingernails in Lawrenceville, Ga. She will be having a Pay the Mortgage yard sale in August, which gives you plenty of time to order your plane tickets. She will be selling her past, including her entire collection of Teenage Angst Poetry, her pink high tops, her pride, a partridge in a pear tree, and other things beginning with the letter P. She has been a writer for the last 11 of her lifetimes. Prior to that, (lifetimes 12-17), she was an exotic pole dancer. Photo Credit: saffy_suppi at Flickr
The Ivy, Irish Man & Bluemoose by Kevin Duffy I am and have been a sales rep for 23 years for a variety of publishing houses that range from the commercial, Headline, to the academic, Kogan Page. I now represent Anova, which is an illustrated non-fiction house. Having won a national writing competition in 1998, I thought that it would be only a matter of time before I was drinking cocktails on the sun drenched beaches of The Caribbean. Not so. I was invited down to London to be wined and dined at The Ivy by a well-known agent and an editor from Macmillan. To be honest it didn’t go well. I felt like a Northern oik who’d been brought down to perform for the metropolitan elite. I was very judgemental when I met triple barrelled ladies who lunched. I should have known better but I was very nervous. I was being interviewed for my all time favourite job, writer, and I didn’t want to mess it up. I did. As I made my way to the loo realising my dream of being published was slipping through my hands I decided I need a memento from The world famous Ivy and decided to take something from the toilets. As I was about to put a small monogrammed facecloth in the pockets of my jeans, a wardrobe sized member of staff said in an Eastern European accent. “ We don’t do that kind of thing in here sir.’ I put it back and left. Move on to 2001 and I was signed up to Darley Anderson as Colm O’Driscoll. I’d read in The Bookseller that all the big money was going on new Irish writers. I spent a year talking to them as an Irish writer before being asked to go down to London to sign a contract. Jaysus, I thought, I’ll have to tell them I’m not Irish and I’ve been spinning them a line. I pressed the doorbell at their HQ and when I met my agent said. ‘My name’s not Colm and I’m not Irish.’ Fortunately they saw the funny side of it, laughed and called me a ‘Con man and a rogue.’ They also said I couldn’t be 41, my real age, and that I had to be 37, as the press didn’t think you
could be a new writer and over 40!They pitched my book Anthills and Stars and Hodder were going to publish it. They said it was like ‘Father Ted meets Chocolat.’ Excellent. Get the cocktail umbrellas out. That is until the Commercial Director told the Publisher he didn’t think he could sell 20,000 units, so they decided not to publish. I started to rant a lot. My wife told me to stop moaning and do something about it. So I did. We remortgaged the house and started Bluemoose Books. Our first two books were my novel Anthills & Stars, which looks at Hippies moving into the Calder Valley at the end of the 60’s and The Bridge Between by Nathan Vanek, which looked at Nathan’s life as a meditation guru living in India for 25years and then his move back to Canada to look after his ageing a dad, a judge. We’ll be publishing our fifth title, Falling through clouds by Anna Chilvers in January 2010. Although I’d been involved in the selling of books, to produce and market them is a different skill altogether and we’re still learning. From buying blocks of ISBN’s, sending the correct bibliographical information to Nielsen’s and getting the advanced information sheets to the library supplier’s three months in advance of publication. Jacket design, printers, and setting up accounts with the wholesalers and Waterstones. Dealing with Amazon. And most importantly trying to get review coverage. If nobody knows your book is out there then how the hell can you sell it? As a small publisher it is virtually impossible to get review coverage in the nationals. Their thinking is if it comes from a small indie it must be rubbish, because if it were any good the mainstream publishers would have gobble it up. Which of course is nonsense. Roddy Doyle self published the ‘Commitments’ and I believe he was a Booker winner. The Internet has stepped in and made it
possible to get new books reviewed and noticed. If it weren’t for the likes of Scott Pack at meandmybigmouth.typepad.com meandmybigmouth.t reviewing The art of being dead and other online literary review sites, then it wouldn’t be the success it is. From there it was chosen by Exclusively Independent to be one of the books of the month trailed in Independent bookshops up and down the t country. This will stir the nest up a bit. Perhaps the very model of the advance is a thing of the past. The whole publishing business model needs to be looked at, because agents won’t sign up new writers unless they think they will sell tens of thousands ds of copies. They have been told by publishers that because so much money is being spent on celebrities, they are not going to take a punt on a new writer unless they are sure they can sell hundreds of thousands of copies. This means that they will all follow llow safe publishing rules. Only publish what works. Copy the generic styles that are working and you will make money. Go outside these very limited boundaries and you are taking too much of a risk. It’s the old supermarket mantra. Pile ‘em high and sell’em m cheap. It worked, but it’s not the future of publishing. It seems the only people taking risks these days and publishing writing that doesn’t follow a standard form are the Independents. Tindall Street, Myrmidon, Route, Legend Press and dare I say it Bluemoose Bl Books. I think it’s very patronising of the publishing industry to think that the British people are not ready or willing to take a few risks with what they want to read. It is possible for small independents to make their mark. I am so proud to have ha published Stephen Clayton’s latest book The art of being dead, because it is important that brilliant stories by significant new writers are allowed a voice. And the public, even in these trying times are voting with their wallets and buying books that don’t conform. And long may that last. www.bluemoose luemoosebooks.com Photo credit: Geof Wilson
Gayle Forman interview nterview by Mike
What's your ideal night? I love to host parties at my apartment for my friends and their families. I always say it's just going to be a small little thing, but thenâ€”I then blame those computer e-vitesâ€”the e next thing I know, it's 30 people, adults and small kids here. It both stresses me out and makes me deliriously happy to see the members of my community in my house, eating food I've prepared, mingling, being a big family together. And of course, there must be a dance party, where we all take turns tur picking songs, including the kids, and we dance around like maniacs. It's very chic, as you can see. What's it like to live in Brooklyn and is there much of a writers' community there?
Gayle Forman is an award-winning journalist and regularly writes for Cosmopolitan, The New York Times and leading American teen magazine, Seventeen. IF I STAY is Gayle's third novel and made The New York Times Bestseller list. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her husband and daughter.
Can you tell me something about yourself? Hmm, let's see. I'm a Gemini to the core, hot or cold, love or hate. I have red hair (or ginger hair as you'd say)
but I'm not a true redhead. I have both the complexion and temperament of a redhead so I have been correcting nature's mistake every six weeks since I was 13 years old. I'm married to Nick, a former punk rock boy now a librarian at ABC News. We have one daughter, Willa and are about to adopt a second child. Oh, also, I lived in England for a year when I was 16 as an exchange student, living with a family outside of Leicester and doing O-levels at a school in Countesthorpe. It was one of the best years of my life.
I think the above question answers the Brooklyn community question. question There are tons of writers in Brooklyn. It's almost a joke. I tell people that publishers stipulate that you MUST live in Brooklyn before you can get a contract. It's nice to know I'm part of this literary community, although truthfully, I'm not terribly tight with that many local writers. I just haven't met them. I know them sort of peripherally. Most of my writer friends go back to my magazine days (I was a journalist before I became a novelist) and none of them live in Brooklyn and the ones that live in Manhattan are still very bad about coming to Brooklyn. Maybe they haven't gotten the memo about Brooklyn being the heart of the literary scene. Can you tell us something about your career as a journalist?
I began my career working at Seventeen magazine, a publication for teens. The editor-in-chief at the time was very dedicated to doing serious journalism for and about teens so I became the magazine's senior writer and I covered the most amazing stories, much of them having to do with social justice and young people. Seventeen sent me everywhere from Sierra Leone to write about child soldiers to Northern Ireland to write the about The Troubles and all over the United States. I met some incredible young people who inspired me to no end. People outside of the magazine were constantly shocked and amazed at the stories we did, and dubious that teenagers cared about such things, but of course teenagers did. They were passionate about these stories. When they heard about some young person being mistreated, it didn't matter where this person lived, the reader was incensed, wanted to do something about it. I was constantly grateful to write for a readership that was so engaged. I feel that way now that I write teen novels. How did you get publishing contract?
In the weeks leading up to IF I STAY's US release, I had a hard time sleeping. I kept waking up at 4 in the morning and then being unable to fall back asleep. There has been quite a bit of buzz and hype around this book, and that's an incredibly privileged position to be in, and, having had two books come out with not a lot of buzz and hype, I'm beyond grateful. But it's a little crazy-making. Now that the book's out, I feel calmer. It's out in the world. I've done what I've done. It's in the readers' hands now. I like the idea of it wending its way now. I have to let go. So now I'm sleeping until at least 6. It's a very emotional book, was it an emotional process writing it? Incredibly. Chances are, the parts where people cry reading, I was crying while writing.
My first publishing contract was for a travel book that I wrote and the process was a bit of a rollercoaster. My husband and I had travelled around the world for a year and I'd written two chapters of the book and the proposal and my agent sent it out to about 12 editors and four days later 10 of them said they were going to bid, and I was so excited. Then, one by one, they dropped out, saying that the book didn't fit into any one niche—it wasn't a straight travelogue, it wasn't a straight reported book—so it would be hard to market. In the end, though there were two publishers left so I still wound up publishing it with a house I was happy with, but it was definitely a learning experience. Now I know to keep Zen about the whole thing. And just be glad that I get to publish a book. How do you feel now IF I Stay has been published?
influential (this was the Pacific Northwest in the early to mid 1990s when hen the music scene was just exploding). I think with the love story with Adam I brought a lot of my feelings for my husband, Nick (and indeed, in the early drafts, Adam was named Nick; it helped me access the lovey-dovey lovey feelings to call him that, but Nick Nic was weirded out by the name so I changed it after I finished). One experience I didn't bring was cello. I knew nothing of the cello. Mia arrived in my head fully formed as a cellist and then I had to go out and learn about the cello to do her justice. Do o you have a set place to write and do you write in silence or with music in the background? I write at my desk, which is in my family's living room. I listen to music sometimes, and for this book a lot more than usual. I always listened to the Once movie soundtrack before writing. The song "Falling Slowly" was like my Pavlovian writing trick. It made me cry. Got me in the mood to write, and then I was ready to go. The film rights for If I Stay have been acquired by the same company that produced Twilight and a number of people have compared your book to Twilight. What are your thoughts on that, given that the two books are very different?
What influences and experiences did you bring into the book? The thing about novels is that they're like a culmination of your whole life. Bits fly in from here and there. So the influences were from all over the place. The years I lived in Oregon were hugely influential, in part because that was a time and a place when music was very
Summit, the company that acquired the rights and produced Twilight, didn't buy If I Stay because they thought it would be another Twilight. There are plenty of paranormal books out there if that is what they were looking for. I think the similarity that they ey saw and noted was a love story that touched readers and maybe a book—and book movie—that had potential to appeal to teenagers and adults, as well. I think Summit did such a great job with Twilight so I was delighted to have them acquire If I Stay. They seem to get the teenager sensibility so well. And now that Catherine Hardwicke is attached to direct I am ecstatic. I think she is incredible. She has this innate sense of teenagers and a
genius visual style, so I could not be happier about that. Would you want to do a cameo if the film is made and how closely would you like to be involved in bringing it to the screen? Yeah, I'd love to be an extra, along with my husband, in one of the club scenes when the bands are playing. I'd like to be somewhat involved in an advisory capacity, but at the end of the day, making movies is an entirely different animal to making
books so I have to let go and trust that Summit and Catherine Hardwicke know what they are doing. And I have to get busy working on new books. What is it like to have to wait so long between finishing writing the book and seeing it published? In publishing time, it was actually incredibly fast! I sold the novel to TransworldRHCB last April. To Penguin last May. It came out less than a year later. My other two books had waits of closer to two years. This has been less than a year and there has been a constant build of momentum, which has been terribly exciting. It also explains why I have been waking up at 4 in the morning. What are your feelings and experiences of book launch parties? I don't do book launch parties. I have been to too many of them and as a guest I find them depressing. As an author, let's be honest, if the book's a hit, you're jealous and if it's not, the party kind of sucks and I fancy myself a gracious hostess so I don't want to put my guests through that. This year, I threw a little book party but it wasn't for me. I know that sounds like a lame excuse but I threw a book party for my publisher
and my agent. I had a cake made in the shape of the book and brought it to the offices. I wanted to say thank you because they have gone above and beyond in getting the word out on this book. I should probably do the same for Random House when I get to England this spring. Anyone know of a good custom cake bakery in London? Can you tell me about the YA blogger scene where If I Stay has been well received?
The YA bloggers, along with YA librarians and booksellers have taken this book into their hearts and me along with it. The bloggers blow me away because so many of them actually are young adults themselves. Meaning they are teens running their own review web sites, with interviews and features and giveaways. I cannot even get that together on my web site. I've become friends with some of the bloggers but mostly I just lurk because I enjoy seeing the community they have built among themselves. It's been incredible. This goes back to what I was saying before about writing for Seventeen and how great it was writing for teenagers because they are so engaged. The YA bloggers, when they believe in you, they get the word out. You could not ask for a better readership. It is one reason I am so glad to be a teen author. Do you have any tips for authors to feel less isolated? Get out from behind your desk. Some days I'll be feeling really melancholy and then I'll get up and go out and talk to humans when I pick my kid up from school and I'll go "oh, that's right. I've been alone all day. I'm just lonely." Also, start your own blog. It feels like a little lifeline into the abyss and I've made friends that way. Put email on your
website and correspond to people. And Facebook. I spend far, far too much time on Facebook but it does make me feel more connected. Do you read reviews of your own books and how effected by them are you? Yes I read them and I'm more affected that I care to admit. And not just by a professional review but by just reader reviews. Yesterday I read a review on Amazon that made me cry (in a good way). I've had bad reviews for my other books that gave me pits in my stomach for days. I know I should toughen up or not read them, but I can't. But the reviews for If I Stay have mostly made me feel incredible good and incredibly grateful and often make me feel like they must be talking about someone else. Do you think we w are in a time of growth in quality in YA literature or decline? This is the golden age of YA literature. Both in quality—when quality Sherman Alexie is now predominantly a YA writer, when Nick Hornby is doing YA, you know the quality is top shelf—and shelf in terms off sales. Other sectors of publishing are really taking a hit. YA is flourishing. Readers seem to know that. Booksellers are seeming to get that. It seems like the literary establishment might be the ones slow to catch on. But they're getting there. Have you started your next book yet and can you tell us something about it? I have in fact finished my next book. And, no, it's not a sequel to If I Stay, though I am getting some requests for that. I am not ready to say goodbye to Mia and Adam yet but I am also lso not ready to revisit them right away. So this next book is about the ultimate, beautiful, popular indulged bitch—and bitch the transformation that sends her to the bottom of the social ladder and leads to her own sort of spiritual awakening. It's a Jane-Austen-esqe Jane comedy, social commentary, and a
romance. And my attempt to turn that whole genre of Mean-Girl lit (Gossip Girls et al) on its ear. So, quite different as you can see. See what I mean about the Gemini opposites thing? The book's tag line is "What would you do if you had to choose?" Are you any good at
making decisions yourself and can you share a time when you've had to make a tough decision? I tend to waffle over things like what to order at a restaurant but when it comes to the big decisions in life— drop everything to take a year off to travel? adopt a child?—I'm decisive and luckily my husband and I tend to
agree on the big issues. But I have never had to make anything like the kind of decision Mia makes and I pray that I never will—or will indeed, that anyone reading this ever will. Thanks for a great interview Gayle and good luck with the book.
Boys to Men by Kathleen
From age seven until seventeen, I was responsible for my brother Ryland and his friend Rico. Being three years older seemed plenty at the time: girls are more mature than boys. Our mother traveled in sales. Dad came and went— mostly went until he was totally gone. If people asked about Rico’s family, he said, “Nada.” Not that he knew Spanish. His real name was Richard. “Call me that and I’ll bust your lip.” He was five. Rico wasn’t always around; it just felt like it. He probably spent holidays away. But I remember taking care of him if he had a fever. He slept in Ryland’s bunk-
bed. If the fever continued, we took a bus to the doctor. I suppose my mother paid the bills. Never a problem buying food or medicine. The older we grew, the more the boys made me laugh. Salt in the sugar bowl. A radio station called because they had picked my name for a contest. And if I answered three (trick) questions in three minutes, I won a bicycle. Being an expert at Rico’s trick questions, I won hundreds of bicycles. When they didn’t materialize, Rico said, “Those bums,” and offered me a consolation kiss. He was ten. When he was twelve, I caught him staring at my chest. “Love that green sweater on you, Casey. It matches your eyes.” “Don’t try that line on a real girl, Rico. She’ll laugh in your face.” Ryland swiped at him. “Stop sucking up to the babysitter.” “No babies here, Ry. Unless it’s you. Casey likes me flirting with her.” “Whatever, man. See you at the beach.” Another year passed and they went to the beach to get high. “Wanna come, Casey? You like weed.” Approximately then, my brother wanted to ditch Rico. Thought he’d outgrown him. “Don’t talk to me if you’re gonna drag her around,” he said. No matter—I didn’t want people seeing me hanging out with them anyway. Ryland and Rico were old enough to take care of themselves. Eventually, I got a scholarship to Indiana and never looked back. I teach high-school biology in Bloomington. Five full years in June, so I’ve even got tenure. Ryland moved to Colorado and worked at a resort long enough to become a skiing instructor. Off season, he’s a river rafting guide. Rico, too, I thought. But last night Rico phoned from Illinois. He’s tried for years to find me but Ryland would steer him wrong. This time he conducted his own search. He does construction work, every kind and everywhere. “So, Casey, can I see you? I’ll stay at a motel till we’re adjusted. You know, I’ve always loved you. Even as kids, it wasn’t like kids’ love. For me, it was always real.” What do you say to that? Like I had a choice.
Interview with Stephen Clayton
Next monthâ€™s issue out: 4th September