Tuesday, 25 May 2010

The Joy of Books

It would be a bit of an understatement to say there has been a lot of talk about ebooks lately. Just yesterday I read a very interesting blog post about over at Angry Robot Books, by my good friend Adam Christopher:


I think they’re a neat idea. Certainly as someone who has more books than actual physical space in my flat, I can definitely understand the uses of being able to have many many books on one small device. They also look very cool and swish, and it appeals to my love for all of this fabulous new technology we have- I may not use half of it, but it pleases me that it exists.

So why then do I read these articles and nod happily and still know that I have absolutely no intention of getting an ebook reader? If anyone needs one, it’s me- my appetite for books is clearly obsessive, and the regular argument with my Mum about where I can possibly keep them all gets more heated every week (not that I live with her- I think it just annoys Mum that I sort of filled up her house with books and then left, and now I’m doing the same with my own place…).

But in truth, they leave me cold. And it comes from a real, genuine (possibly obsessive) love for the physicality of books. We all talk about the pleasure of browsing shelves and the smell of second hand book shops, but for me it’s more than that even. I like the shape of them, the weight, the smell. I like that I can shove them in my handbag (sometimes two or three if I dump the nonessential items, like keys and wallets) or read them in the bath. I like the fine cracked lines you get on the spine as you read them- and it is the lowly paperback I love most of all, believe it or not. I like that feeling you get when you emerge from the bookshop with a bag heavy with new reads, each one a little world of new stuff.

When I am feeling sad- and this is possibly the most embarrassing evidence of my unholy book-love- I like to sit by my bookshelves and look at them all. Reading the spines, pulling out the occasional title that I haven’t seen for a while, smelling them… This has actually been known to make me feel better. It calms my soul and reminds me that books make everything right with the world.

Perhaps this book-love has been expanded by a number of sources. I studied book arts at college, learning about the beauty of a well put together book, as well as how to make them myself. I have a degree in illustration, and I’ve never met an illustrator who didn’t have an expansive collection. And I work for a company that are utterly committed to producing gorgeous, hard back slip cased books the old fashioned way. When I was very small I once accidently tore the page of my library book and I was inconsolable (I know, weird kid).

It’s not just about the story for me. Books are pages and spines and pictures and inky print. Books are sacred objects. Books are art. I love my battered old paperback copy of Perdido Street Station just as much as my signed, slip cased first edition of The Graveyard book- they are equally romantic and beautiful for me.
I am not an ebook basher. I think it’s a neat idea, I really do. But I cannot love them like I love the printed page.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Short Story News!

Where did Tuesday come from? My grasp of time is a little slippery at the moment; as most of you will probably already know, I’ve had a sort of lingering cold type thing for a couple of weeks, and I appear to be conducting an experiment in to how many nights you can go without sleep before you go totally around the bend.

Apparently, thanks to a long parade of colds beginning with last year’s Week of Potential Swine Flu, I have managed to leave my lungs in a slightly less than operational state and now I’m huffing and coughing about all over the shop.

Despite the lurgy I do in fact have good news, news that I was too poorly to blog about yesterday. One of my short stories, The Sea, The Sea, The Sea has been published in the online magazine, The Hub- www.hubfiction.com

It’s pretty short and there are lots of other interesting things in the magazine, so you could go and read it now. Yep. I’ll even let you off this end bit here if you’d rather go and read the story. Because this bit isn’t all that interesting. I might add amusing tags at the end but that’s about it.

But you can still come back here and tell me if you liked it. That would be lovely.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

By the pricking of my thumbs

I realised an odd thing today. I identify with the witch.

Or at least, I am drawn to witches more often than almost anything else (aside from possibly, uh, child sacrifice). I was reading a short story by George R.R Martin called In the Lost Lands, a lovely thing concerning werewolves and a woman who, although she is never named as such, is almost certainly a witch of a sort. It occurred to me that I liked it especially because Grey Alys was written with sympathy, and not entirely as a dirty ol’ monster.

When I think about it, I come back to witches again and again in all of my work. Bad Apple Bone is the most obvious example, as it concerns a great many witches, some of whom are bad, some of whom are good, and some, in the case of Noon, who are just tremendously lazy. Even if I don’t have a witch by name in my story, I will undoubtedly have a crazy old woman who is more than she appears to be, such as Moony Sue in A Boy of Blood and Clay, a woman who is possibly an elderly wise woman and just as possibly the River Thames. Bird and Tower, and Ink for Thieves both have examples, and in The Steel Walk I have returned to big ol’ groups of proper witches, with the Green Jenny Council- and there’s not a single good apple amongst that lot.

None of this was deliberate, so where has it come from? When I was a kid I was a big fan of the more gruesome fairytales, and most of those involved witches (Hansel and Gretel- when you really think about it, how deeply fucked up is that story? Love it). When it came to Disney films, I was always vaguely on the witchy side, and who can blame me? We had Marvellous Madam Mim, Ursula, Maleficent and the scary old bag from Snow White, all of whom were more interesting than the supposed heroes and heroines of the movies. And the Wicked Witch of the West had flying monkeys at her disposal! That’s pretty cool, if you ask me.

And when I went to college I spent a lot of time reading about folklore and fairy tales, even writing essays on it- I might have many issues with my time at art college, but I can’t complain about the freedom of the course; you could write about anything you wanted to, as long as you did it reasonably well. My dissertation was even about witches, in a way; I wrote about the evil mother figure that features as the enemy in so many stories, such as Coraline’s Other Mother, or Yubaba from Spirited away. That research was enormous fun.

But the biggest influence has to be, without a shadow of a doubt, the marvelous witches of the Discworld. I loved the witches novels the best I think, because it was always Pratchett writing at his best; about the conventions of folklore, and the strange and unfathomable ways of people. Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg were instantly deeply familiar to me, through my own Nan, through my aunts, various school teachers and even the dinner lady everyone was scared of- I knew these ladies, and they both scared me and made me laugh. They may seem like odd examples, given the dark nature of many of my own witches (Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg might have been fearsome, but they usually had your best interests at heart) but I believe that Pratchett’s witches showed me that witches were also people; capable of being good and bad, and therefore more realistic. And through that they became the characters I would be most excited to write about.

Go on, tell me. Which is your favourite witch?

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

The Fickle Story Pickle

I was one of the winners of The Campaign for Real Fear, as you are probably aware by now- mainly because I’ve been harking on about it on twitter, and because the blog entry right next to this one is also talking about it...

Needless to say, I’m still over the moon. Not just because it means publication in a well respected and exciting magazine, and hearing my words spoken in a podcast version of the collection (which might freak me out a little bit, I think) but also because it will make me write more short stories. I have a slightly fractious, frustrating relationship with short fiction. Some days I will be in the mood to write one, and my brain will go utterly blank. I’ll sit and stare at my notebook and try to remember what I dreamt about the night before or trawl through some random childhood memories (childhood being what I like to write about the most) and nothing will come to me. Sometimes I’ll even get down (one of three) editions of Brewer’s we have in the house and choose entries from this at random, because this worked once before and produced possibly the best thing I’ve written (The story was called London Stone and you can still read it- there’s a link for issue 9 of Pantechnicon on the left-hand side). But invariably, that doesn’t work either.

So I’ll have a month or so of no short stories at all, but that’s okay because I’m normally entangled in a long term project anyway. Then out of the blue a story will come, when I’m not expecting it, and I will have no idea where it has come from. I have to get the entire thing out in one afternoon or I’ll lose it, but it’s there. I see writers on twitter and other interweb places and they are capable of pulling stories out of thin air and doing it over and over again- I am so jealous! The reason that The Campaign for Real Fear gives me hope is that, for once, the story came when I called it. And apparently, it was even worth reading!

Big thanks again to my proof readers, who spot all the stuff I never would, and I look forward to reading the other winners.

ps) I changed the photo from the one where I'm looking with distrust at a chintzy bed spread- I think this one is more engimatic. Best you don't know it was taken down the pub. I've also updated the links so they actually go somewhere now. Hurrah!