I Went Away

I’ve been at my desk all day today, preparing for the workshops I’m running at Crystal Peaks next week, and tidying the stories I wrote while I was away. Yes. I went away. First proper break in about nine years and it was as worth it as it was needed. I had fun. I walked, visited interesting places, spoke to nice people, and wrote. I even visited a Buddhist temple and smelled the most beautiful smelling roses I’ve ever come across. Here are some pics.

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Things I’ve Enjoyed

Here are a few things I’ve enjoyed over the past couple of weeks…

 

First off, The Sculptor. An epic and wonderful graphic novel on art, relationships, and what you’d give up for the time to make something brilliant. I loved it.

Juhmpha Lahiri, Interpreter of Maladies – an absolute masterclass of short story writing. It won the Pulitzer. As a short story collection. Say no more.

I re-read Café Niagara by István Örkény, which is lovely but I can’t seem to find it anywhere to read or buy online (I have it in a Nothing’s Lost – a collection of Hungarian short stories).

Last night I watched Midnight Special which was great – a kind of a modern B movie/ X-Files mashup that, simply, worked.

And, a couple of nights before, I watched the Deadpool movie and was more surprised than I thought I’d be when it turned out to be really good fun.

We Have a Winner

Thank you to all who entered the Sandlands giveaway.

 

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The names have been printed and put in a pot. They have been shuffled and I have closed my eyes, pushed my hand into the pot and I have pulled out and unraveled a scrunched up piece of paper.

And the name on the paper

was…

and still is…

 

Debra! 

Huge congratulations to her- I am sure she’ll love it.

(And, even better, I can give it to her in person which means I even save the postage.)

Crystal Peaks Junior Writers

I’ve barely finished one set of workshops for the brilliant library service in Sheffield (their books are being prepared for printing as we speak) and now I get to announce another.

Really, really thrilled to say I’ll be at Crystal Peaks Library for three days to work with young writers (ages 8-11). The sessions will run at 2pm on Monday 22nd August, then 10:30 on Tuesday 23rd, and  10:30 Thursday 25th.

We’ll learn how to write well – generating good ideas and turning them into brilliant stories, with illustrations and, at the end, those stories will be turned into their own book which’ll be presented at an event where mums and dads and friends will hear the stories being read. It’s FREE but places are strictly limited so I’d suggest booking very soon (the last couple have sold out very quickly). Do spread the word and I hope to see you there!

To book contact Crystal Peaks Library – Email: crystalpeaks.library@sheffield.gov.uk or by phone: 0114 2930612

 

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Rest, Sculptors, And Not a Train in Sight

So I’ve had a week where I’ve not had to be anywhere and it’s been lovely and refreshing. A different city every day, or every few, can really wear you down so it’s been nice to stop and consolidate and get up to date. And I have. Emails have been done, things have been sent to people, a little writing has happened, music has been listened to, and books have been read (I’m currently getting along very well with Scott McCloud’s The Sculptor). And there has been plenty of sleep. And not one train was caught.

I also had a birthday. 35. That came around quick and I’m still pretty bowled over by how many lovely messages I had. And a couple of cards too. And mugs! Thank you for all the good wishes – they always make a difference.

Don’t forget to comment here for a chance to win Rosy Thornton’s brilliant collection.

So that’s that. There’s still plenty to talk about here but there’s no rush. Not just yet anyhow. Now I’m going to make dinner, have a shower, and take myself off for a beer somewhere where I’ll mostly look something like this.

Nik relaxed

 

Sandlands! Stories! And a Book Giveaway!

Thrilled to welcome the very lovely and very talented Rosy Thornton to the blog who, after a bucket load of novels, has published a collection of short stories, Sandlands. And she’s here to talk a little about that.

But that’s not all, folks because I have a signed copy to give away. All you need to do is pop your name in the comments. The winner will be announced next Monday.

Over to Rosy…

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To cut a long story short

Four years ago when I published my fifth novel, Ninepins, which weighed in at just over 97,000 words, I had never in my life attempted to write a short story. My prose style, in fiction as in the academic legal writing which is a large part of my day job as a university law lecturer, has a tendency towards the fulsome, the orotund, the meandering, the grandiloquent… (you get the picture). I once enjoyed the philosophical paradox of having a manuscript rejected by a publisher for being ‘too wordy’. Five novels, none much under 90,000 words and two of them over 120,000. How, I wondered, could anyone begin to say anything at all in less space than that?

But a novel is a major undertaking. It takes (me, at any rate) nine months to a year to write, and in that time the characters and their trials and tribulations, their hopes and dreams, their loves and losses (there I go again!) fill up an alarming amount of my emotional and imaginative headspace. Ninepins came out in 2012, and for a variety of reasons over the next couple of years (the death of my father; my mother’s encroaching dementia) I just didn’t have space in my life to embark on another piece of long fiction. But the urge to write still tingled my fingertips – so I had a go at a short story.

It was rubbish, of course, so I threw it away and wrote another. And threw that one away and tried again. Soon I had one or two I was happier with, and slowly they multiplied and evolved into the collection of sixteen linked stories published on 21st July as Sandlands.

The advantages of short stories from the point of view of the author are obvious. They represent a cheerful, no-strings-attached promiscuity compared with the committed slog of the novel. One preoccupying idea, a weekend at the keyboard, and there’s your first draft, all complete. Then you can set it aside, knowing it’s keeping warm for you until you have the time free to pick it up for a second date, this time with the editing pen.

But what of the different skills involved? How do you manage to communicate anything worthwhile in three, or five, or eight thousand words?

For me, the trick was to let go of the notion that I was trying to fill an entire canvas. A novel is like a big fat oil painting, complete in every detail – figures in a landscape, with everything coloured in, from the background forest and the clouds in the sky above to the sprigs of grass in the foreground beneath their feet. There’s all the back story, all the sub-plots, the cause and effect and the what-happened-next; the characters’ motivations are carefully layered up, pigment applied upon pigment.

A short story is completely. What is absolutely not, it seems to me, is the same compete painting, only smaller. If I say that instead I visualize it as being like a study for a larger painting, that might sound as if I think short stories are somehow unfinished or imperfect, somehow a lesser artefact than longer fiction. That’s not what I mean at all.

What a short story presents to the reader, I think, is an intensely painted middle bit – the exciting bit, the bit to which the eye would be drawn in a large work – which is complete in itself. The forest and sky behind and the grass below are nothing but a rough wash of colour, perhaps a few suggestive, sweeping lines, or maybe just empty canvas, because the point of a short story is that it allows readers a lot of blank space to fill in for themselves the what-thens and the maybe-ifs. But that middle bit needs to be precise in every detail, vividly coloured, sharply edged, expressive, just as much as in a novel or even more so. Because it’s the rich, lifelike quality of those few square inches of painted canvas which spark the imagination, enabling it to range and to create, uniquely in the mind of each reader, the detail of the forest, sky and grass.

That’s my theory anyway. So I can keep my own voice, the same rather ‘wordy’ style and love of detail that characterise my novels – it’s just that I’m applying it to a small tableau only, and leaving all the background and foreground empty of anything but a few sketchy squiggles.

Which is great, because I never could draw clouds.

11698560_10153538145031414_9104589124214858967_nFrom the white doe appearing through the dark wood to the blue-winged butterflies rising in a cloud as a poignant symbol of happier times, the creatures of the Suffolk landscape move through Rosy Thornton’s delicate and magical collection of stories. The enigmatic Mr Napier is feeding a fox rescued from the floods; an owl has been guarding a cache of long lost letters; a nightingale’s song echoes the sound of a loved voice; spiralling rooks recall the dogfights of wartime Spitfire pilot. Through the landscape and its creatures, the past is linked to the present, and generations of lives are intertwined.

Rosy Thornton is the author of five novels, the latest of which, ‘Ninepins’, won the East Anglian Book Awards prize for fiction in 2012. ‘Sandlands’ is her first short story collection. Rosy lectures in law at the University of Cambridge, where she is a Fellow of Emmanuel College. She divides her life between Cambridge and coastal Suffolk where ‘Sandlands’ is set.

Let’s See

I’ve just got home from the last of six workshops I’ve been running as a project at the brilliant Darnall library. It’s half past eight and I am tired and I’m hungry, have been a little bit ill, and I think it’s about time I blogged (or at least started one). It’s been a while and not because there’s been nothing happening, but because so much has been happening I’ve barely had time to stop.

 

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On Monday I was back at Media City, at the BBC – it’s always a lovely thing to be invited back somewhere, and it’s especially nice to see what amazing things the people there are doing. And, for me, it’s even cooler seeing that I had a hand it that.

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Before that I was in Bradford for the launch of Appleton Academy’s anthology which is the result of the really wonderful work that Nick Toczek has done there under the banner of First Story. A big mention must go to librarian Gill and Miss Boyle who are both very wonderful too.

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Here’s one of the stories. I absolutely love it (I’ve loved them all). It’s one that started life in Huddersfield in January and I was thrilled to see it in there (as well as a few others).

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And, while I’m talking about First Story, I’ve been doing some work for them too at Leeds West Academy (hello!) as writer in residence and I’ve enjoyed it an awful lot. Some really, really excellent writing has happened there and that makes me very happy.

And not just there because I’ve been writing too. And stuff I’m really happy with. More on that soon, I hope.

And last, for now – I received my contributor copy of A Box of Stars Beneath The Bed – this year’s National Flash Fiction Day anthology. And I’m looking forward to having a little time, soon, to read it.

IMG_9124Here’s the beginning of mine:

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And I think that must be about it for now. There are lots of other things to talk about in due course but, right now, it’s almost nine o’clock and I’m even hungrier than I was when I started this.

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Tour T-Shirts

 

It’s been one of those weeks (months) where day names have been replaced with cities I’m in or schools or libraries or academies I’m working in. So there’s no Monday or Tuesday and certainly no day of rest. This week it was:

Leeds

South Manchester

Sheffield

Bradford

Darnall

Wedding

Might actually get some sleep.

I half wish someone’d do me a tour t-shirt, to be honest.

And it’s been fun (well, all the ones I’ve done – Darnall and the wedding, I’m still, very much looking forward to).

And, as such, and along with a fair amount of editing work,  I don’t actually have the time to write anything here on the blog about what I’ve been doing and how much I’ve enjoyed it. I will. It’ll come. Be patient.

I was reminded of this the other day though (while deleting photos from my phone) and it always makes me chuckle. It’s Not So Perfect on The Poke (more here) and, yes, it made me chuckle.

 

 

 

Because we all need to smile. Oh, and here’s me, on a train, being pretty fed up with the absolute shower that is the referendum and its result. I don’t care what your politics are – you have a right to an informed opinion – but mine don’t agree with what’s happened one bit.

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More soon. Just make sure you’re kind to each other while I’m gone. Kindness isn’t quite everything, but it’s an awfully big and important thing.

Finally, Something New

It’s been a while since I published a short story. I think the last one was Carmine’s Fruit, my re-telling of Little Red Riding Hood, which won the Artificium competition last year (and is available here).

So I’m very pleased to be able to tell you all that a BRAND NEW STORY OF MINE is inside the latest National Flash Fiction Day anthology, A Box of Stars Beneath the Bed, which is out today in paperback, and will be out as an Ebook very soon.

 

And, as ever with these National Flash Fiction Day anthologies, there is a whole book’s worth of other great stories by marvellous writers. It’s something I’d be reading even if I wasn’t a writer. Go on, folks. You know what you need to do.

Hello

So, I’m sitting here at silly o’clock in the morning and I have been doing emails (there is a mountain of them and, if you’re waiting for something from me – and I know many are – it won’t be long). To be fair, I’ve been doing them most of today – that and phone calls and arranging and rearranging meetings and getting June and July confused. And making sure I’m good to go for the first workshop for children I’m running at Darnall library on Friday. It proved instantly very popular (I’ve been very lucky with that of late) and sold out almost within a week I think (but I am told that, if you’re quick, there might possibly one more place up for grabs…).

 

And then, in the midst of it all, Google alerts gave me this. A story I may or may not have written from Freaks! read, wonderfully, by the great Asher Black a few years ago. Click here to listen. It made me happy.

There is more I could talk about and I will do soon. But I have, as always, things to do tomorrow and so I shall sign off and go to bed and at least try to be half sensible.

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