Friday, 23 November 2012

Illuminated IS Everything

A few weeks ago, I was invited to submit something for the final Beat The Dust of 2012. The story I sent was partly inspired by Quad's Illuminated exhibition, which I urge you to go and visit if you're anywhere near this little city in the Midlands. I'm slightly obsessed with this exhibition. I can't quite figure out what it is about it. It might be the dark inside the gallery. And how you can sit on the floor in a corner, or on a cushion in the middle of the floor, and just think about things, undisturbed. Yes. It's a good space for thinking. And it's also been responsible the last three stories I've written, and will probably spark a few more yet.

Intermission, the story I wrote for Beat The Dust, begins in front of the work Brilliant Noise, by Semiconductor, which is a film made from thousands of NASA satellite photos of the sun. The picture above is a still from it.

So, when Quad put a call out for local musicians, poets, dancers and actors to create new work as a response to the exhibition, I knew I had to send in a pitch. I'm no musician or poet, but as some of you may already know, I am a fantastic dancer. So...anyway...I will be reading a story/monologue this very evening, inside RINK, a floor-based projection by David Ward, which includes imagery from astronomy and particle physics. It's my favourite place in Derby right now, apart from my bed. There are bits where you can pretend you're on the moon!

I don't have a title for my story yet, and it's a little bit different to things I've done before, but I am very excited about it. Fellow TTO compadre Biff is also doing some of his music as Emphemetry. I only found out Biff was involved yesterday. Sneaky TTO takeover, YEAH!

It's only a short event, probably no longer than half an hour, and it starts dead on 7pm. And it's free, but spaces are very limited, so you'll need to book a ticket.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Stories To Read Aloud

I was away from home when my author copy of Overheard, Stories to Read Aloud, arrived. It was amazing to open the parcel and hold it in my hands. It's a thing of beauty. I can't stop picking it up and smelling it. It smells gooooood. Jonathan Taylor is an incredible editor, and there are so many talented writers (Judith Alnatt, David Belbin, Louis De Bernières, Vanessa Gebbie, Tania Hershman, Hanif Kureishi, Ian McEwan, Blake Morrison, Adele Parks, Lee Rourke, Salman Rushdie, Robert Shearman and Aimee Wilkinson to name but a few) and awesome stories in it.'s available to buy now from Salt.
Who doesn't love a book of stories for Christmas?

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Between There and Here

I learned from this weekend’s planetarium visit that the bright star I’m seeing, just right and up from the moon is in fact Jupiter. Not a star at all. The brightest stars are tricks. Venus always swizzes me into thinking it’s the first star, and even though I always realise it’s not, I still wish on it anyway. 

Inside the planetarium I wanted to lie down. I wish I’d had it to myself. When I was a kid, I stuck glow-in-the-dark stars on my ceiling in the shape of constellations. It was tricky to do, and I only got so far as Libra, Ursa Major (inc. the Plough) and Ursa Minor, and Cassiopeia (my favourite tortoise). Every night, I’d wait in the dark for them to start shining, and I’d make believe I was out in a field somewhere, or on a rooftop, just me and the night sky. I liked the vastness of it. The idea that it reached forever.

I’m in that weird place at the moment, where I’m half in a book’s world and half here. There’s the feeling of not being tethered. I’m seeing everything through the book’s lens, staring up at the moon full of questions, half-lost. 

There was something the planetarium guide said about the roots of the word astronaut. That it literally means ‘sailor of the stars’, and it brought back a memory of the kitchen bench we had when I was little, and how me and my sister would turn it upside down so it became a boat. We’d sail it up and down rivers and across oceans, its wood creaking in the dark waters. I don’t know if we had the North Star to guide us. But my fascination with survival manuals started early, so it’s entirely possible I knew how to navigate with the heart of a sailor, even then. 

It’s been a strange week. I stared at the floor of a gallery for what could easily have been an hour, watching star maps and projections of the night sky at my feet. And it seemed I was on the surface of the moon. This is the beginning of something. 

And after, in the planetarium, more projections, this time of the actual moon’s surface, and me at ground level, almost there. But not there. But not quite here, either. And under the stars and the planets, the realisation hit me that I’ll probably never get to walk on the moon. And it broke my heart.

So right now there are bright stars, and fake firework-stars, bangs and crashes and all the gunpowder and copper chloride I could ever want. And I’m jealous of the man who jumped from space, not for the jump, but for what he saw. And I’m jealous of the twelve people who’ve walked on the moon. And I wonder if there are some things you never let go of. Some wishes you keep on making, even if you know you’re not really wishing on stars. 

I don’t want to finish the book. I like the wondering how it’s all going to turn out, I like not quite understanding what’s going on. I have one foot there and one foot here. And tomorrow, well, later today now, I’m going to the gallery again. To watch the stars beneath my feet, and be fully in that place, yet make believe I’m on the moon, for as long as I am.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Jackanory: Life, Bodies, Humans and Disasters

This is from Bad Language at Manchester Museum. Insa Langhorst filmed the whole night, and the rest of the videos can be found here.

Thanks again to Dan, Nici and Joe at Bad Language for inviting me. And to Jenn Ashworth, Helen Mort, Anneliese Mackintosh, John Leyland, Alex Keelan, Nija Dalal, the staff at Manchester Museum, and everyone who came, for making it such an amazing night!

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Bad Language at Manchester Museum

Hey! Look at this! It's happening a week from today. It's in a museum and there will be stories and poems and a WHALE SKELETON. I was excited about it anyway, since c'mon, anything involving Jenn is going to be ace. And then there's the brilliant Helen Mort, and did I mention it's IN A MUSEUM?

On top of that, Bad Language did a call-out for proposals to read at the event, and on Monday I got an email telling me mine had been accepted. Woop! Also chosen were John Leyland, Nija Dalal, Anneliese Mackintosh and Alex Keelan. I feel really lucky to be in such fantastic company.

There's more info about the event here.

I can't wait!

Friday, 20 July 2012

Cave Dwelling

It's a Friday in July, and it hasn't rained yet. My window is open. It has been open for weeks now, the temperature inside my room remaining a kind of cool constant. Sometimes at night, I'll pull on a cardigan as I read in bed, but most of the time it is neither too hot nor too cool, and I think of my room as a cave of sorts. In more ways than one.

Winter was long, and summer has yet to unfurl itself across this city. I spent the winter curled under blankets with a boy, sleepy with the shared warmth and drunk on the company. Together we watched flickering screens and talked into long dark nights. We hunter-gathered supplies from the fridge at three a.m. and painted stories across each other's bodies that would settle just beneath the skin, Lascaux-bright and indelible. And when we came out after the thaw, we knew each other a little better, and understood ourselves a little less.

The weathermen say summer will happen, is going to happen. But I'm half in love with these thunderstorms, and I'm still unsure what summer will bring.


Some things that did happen, or are happening...

I wrote a story called Fingerpainting.

a story, Robot Love, was published in the ebook 100RPM.

a story, One, Two, will be in Overheard, to be published by Salt in November.

I met, briefly, the coolest dog in the world.

I listened to this song a gazillion times...

and I received possibly the greatest wedding invite ever.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Happy First National Flash-Fiction Day!

I don't know if I've ever read so many stories in such a short space of time before. Today has been brilliant. From 11am until 3pm there's been a steady stream of short short stories appearing at The Write-In. And I'm VERY PLEASED to see that the writers from my workshop this morning have been scribbling away and representing the Midlands in all its wordy goodness. And it's not even over yet. Well, the Write-In may be, but there's still tons of stuff going on around the country. Get involved! Write flash!

I just got my author copies of Jawbreakers in the post. If anyone has a Kindle, they can download Jawbreakers for free! today. If you'd like the actual book (smells lovely!), then that's available to buy here, or if you're in the Derby area, we can arrange a meet-up and I'll swap you one for six of your shiny pounds.

I still feel a little dazed. It might be time for an afternoon nap. I'm not sure what Calum is powered by, but well, just thinking about everything he's done makes me sleepy. He's amazing. He made this fantastic day/event/idea/book/website/write-in/behemoth happen. And I'm so happy to have been part of it.

Hopefully the day will have inspired lots of new writers and lots of new stories.

Well done Calum, and everyone else involved! Same time next year?

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Flashing in the Library

This is the cover of Jawbreakers, an anthology I'm thrilled to have a short short story in. I've had a sneaky read of it already, and I can honestly say there are some flipping spectacular stories inside. It's been put together by Calum Kerr, the brains behind National Flash-fiction Day and all-round superhero, as a way of celebrating National Flash-fiction Day, and of showcasing the wonder that is flash-fiction. The book will be released on May 16th, but you can pre-order it here right now. Yeah!

There are events and happenings up and down the country, and as far and wide as Australia and Abergavenny. In Derby, I'm running free flash-fiction workshops in collaboration with Derby City Libraries.

The first of these will take place on actual National Flash-fiction Day, Wednesday 16th May, from 10am - 12pm at Central Library in the city centre. There are still a few places left, so if you fancy having a go, you can book here.

The next one is on Saturday 19th May, from 10:30am - 12:30pm at Mickleover Library. There are only a few spaces left on that one, so get in quick if you want a bit of Saturday-morning-creative-writing-action. Click here to book.

Writers on these workshops will have the opportunity to have their stories published on a special National Flash-fiction Day website, too. Hooray!

Hope to see you there.

Monday, 26 March 2012

This Must Be The Place

This house has sparked a thousand ideas. Here, we started a small press, here, we hand-bound books, made badges, dissected clocks, pieced together record sleeves, sang loud, sang hard, stopped time, restarted it, made up stories, and songs, made plans, made casseroles, changed our lives for the better.

And now the house is empty. It’s just me here. And it’s a different empty to the times before, when the boys were off on tour or were away for a while, or even just for the day.

Some people call this a spooky house. I get why. It used to be part of the funeral home next door, it’s old - it first shows up on maps around 1832, when this street was the edge of a field - and yes, the cellar has got hooks on the ceiling. But I’ve only ever felt welcome here.

This house is rickety and the floorboards creak and the central heating can often sound like a monster waking up, or a monster being woken up by a really rubbish steel band. But whenever I come home and close that green door behind me, it's always accompanied by an audible sigh of relief. I stand in the hallway and take a breath, and in this old empty house, I feel safe.

Right now, I feel like for the first time, me and the house are getting to know one another. There are the noises I recognise, the clanking of radiators and of pipes cooling down, the muffled drip-drip of rain inside the chimneys, the moan of guttering against the brickwork, all noises the house makes on its own. And then add to that the pad of my feet on the stairs, the ticking of clocks, the pop of the loose floorboard outside my room, the slide and squeak of my shoes on the tiles, and there’s a communication of sorts. A call and response.
“I am here.”
“I am.”

This house makes me think differently about the whole idea of a house being yours, belonging to you. Because I belong to this house. (For now, at least.) The way everyone who’s lived here has belonged, in their own way. A while back I read a brilliant piece by Sarah Pinborough, about how maybe it’s we, the living, that haunt our houses, and it's stayed with me. I knew exactly what she meant.

“People don’t own houses. Houses own people and their memories. They hold lives for a while. They know secrets.”

In the front room there’s still a map on the wall of the people who’ve lived here and the people they’ve known. It was drawn long before I moved in, but I am a part of it, my name written in black ink and connected to others with arcing lines. This city is not so big. I know most of the others on the map, even if only by name. The people whose names are on the wall come to visit still. Occasionally I’ll meet someone new and recognise their name before I realise they are a part of it, too, they are on the wall.

Soon, the house will be full again, and then there will be other things that are equally as good, just different. And I’m excited about that, too. Lazy Sundays watching Eighties films, and silly, made-up games. Nights spent screaming favourite songs and sitting in the back yard all moon-lit and stargaze-dizzy. The house takes on a different feel when it’s not just me. It wants to be fun, and to open itself up and let us into its spaces. It also quiets down, leaves it to other people to make the noises.

So I’m going to cherish this time right now. I’m going to use it to listen. To walk through rooms and lean against walls and run and slide down the hallway. And to whisper, to tell my stories, and see what this old, lovely, amazing house has to add.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Holy Smokes!

March, so far, has been crazy-busy.

The very first National Flash Fiction Day is taking place on Wednesday 16th May, and there's so much cool stuff happening. There are events and workshops and even a book! The book will feature stories by Jenn Ashworth, David Gaffney, Vanessa Gebbie, Tania Hershman, me, Kirsty Logan, Nigel McLoughlin, Jonathan Pinnock, Sarah Hilary, Simon Thirsk and...Ali Smith. (!!) If you happen to be a writer-of-stories, then you might want to enter the competition and possibly be in t'book as well.

In celebration of NFF Day, I'm running two Flash-Fiction workshops in cahoots with Derby City Libraries. The first is on Wednesday 16th May, (actual NFF Day) at Central Library, and the second is on Saturday 19th May at Mickleover Library. Click on the links for more details. They're free, but booking is essential. Come along!

Also coming up at the end of this month is Holy Smokes! 4. It's a night of music, art and spoken word that takes place at Derby Silk Mill, which is one of my favourite places in Derby, and is only the first factory in the world! It ticks all of my Industrial-Revolution-fangirl boxes.

There will be music from Ben Butler & Mousepad and Grey Hairs, and they've also got the Hijacked III photography exhibition on. I'm going to be reading a story on the night, as is fellow Time Travel Opportunist Nathan. The incredibly talented Éireann Lorsung will also be reading, and will hopefully bring some MIEL goodies. (I NEED these pencils!)

I'm dead excited about all of this.

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

After The First Sleep

I read a couple of things recently about sleep, a subject I consider myself something of an expert on. The first was a news story about a man who had survived being trapped under snow in his car by hibernating like a bear. The second was an article about the sleep cycle, and how, up until the 19th Century, it was the norm to have two sleeps per night. So instead of having eight hours of unbroken sleep, people would sleep for four hours, get up, do stuff for a few hours, then sleep for another four hours. Yay.

I like the idea that segmented sleep is normal. It's how I roll. I just called it napping. But yes, a lot of my ideas happen when I wake after the first sleep - stories get written, plot problems get resolved, I make plans for world domination AND try to figure out how I can start my own baby sloth sanctuary in the spare room.

Apart from sloths, sleep and bears are also high on the list of my favourite things. And so I always think about hibernation during the winter months. Over this winter, I've claimed 'hibernation' a hundred times as my reason for not going out as often, of holing myself up under the duvet with books and notebooks and endless mugs of hot chocolate. I guess my version is a little different to that of a bear. (No cocoa for Yogi.) But the idea of settling in for the winter is not new, and seems to resonate with a lot of people. Entire traditions of storytelling have grown up from this same idea. Cold, dark nights, huddling round the fire under blankets, maybe doing a bit of knitting (ladies/fisherman) or scrimshaw (whalers/fishermen), and letting the stories slowly unfold.

There are always stories. So, even though I've been hiding away, I still have tales to tell.

A very short short story of mine has made it into a new e-book edited by Caroline Smailes, after she ran a competition to write 100-word stories that were inspired by songs on YouTube. All proceeds will go to the charity One in Four.

I've also had a couple of commissions, which is very exciting. More on them at a later date.

And I'm very happy to be involved with National Flash Fiction Day, which takes place for the first time on May 16th, 2012, and every year after that. As part of this, I'm going to be running flash fiction workshops in Derby City Libraries in mid-May (dates and details to follow). There are other things in the bag, too. All will be revealed soon. On the site at the minute are the winning entries from the very first NFFD micro-fiction competition, so if you want to get a good taste of flash fiction, pop on over and have a read.
There will be lots more NFFD news to announce in the next few weeks, too.

And later today, special-extra-leap-year day, Calum Kerr's Flash 365 is being taken over by other writers. (The lengths people go to so they don't have to change the name of their blog, eh?) I've got a story on there, as have Valerie O'Riordan, Sara Crowley, Vanessa Gebbie, Dan Carpenter and lots of others. Go! Read! Enjoy!

It's starting to feel a little like Spring now. Things are happening, things that have been worked on and thought out all through the dark of winter. Maybe today, Leap Day, is the day to wake up. And well, if I get sleepy, I can always take a nap.