Monday, 29 November 2010

Literary Festivals

Last week, by a strange quirk of providence, I was involved in two separate discussions about plans for two separate literary festivals in my part of the world. And yet the originators of the two plans have completely different aims and objectives. The first, a local hotelier, sees the establishment of a literary festival as a way of attracting new visitors to his hotel. The second, a local poet and teacher, envisages her festival as a vehicle for promoting local literacy as well as local literature and performance poetry. Neither of them mentioned what you might think was the principal aim of such festivals: the marketing and selling of books.

In both cases I felt a degree of enthusiasm for the plans but I wasn’t sure why, other than having a vague sense that literary festivals are a Good Thing. But because the two originators have such different perspectives, it did make me think more carefully about the benefits of such events. The success of the larger festivals suggest such events can pay dividends, not only to writers and readers, but also to local hotels, restaurants, shops and other small businesses. This is especially true when the festival features internationally famous authors who can draw in not only local readers but also visitors from other parts of the country or even from abroad. This has obvious benefits for tourism and the local economy, but it also bolsters a local sense of pride.

An annual literary festival can also provide local educational benefits. The involvement of local schoolchildren and their teachers would help develop an interest in books and reading, encourage creative writing (through competitions and workshops) and help develop literacy. To quote one event organiser, literary festivals ‘don’t just cater for audiences, they create them.’ Having said that, and perhaps because I’m a reader who is also a writer, I’m turned off by the current trend of packing festivals with celebrity ‘authors’ to sell tickets. But I do appreciate that without the presence of celebs these festivals may not survive.

My own preference is for events that are more of an ‘author festival’– with the emphasis on writing and writers as opposed to book selling. I’ve mentioned here before how much I’ve enjoyed the Small Wonder short story festival in the past. That’s because it enabled me to meet like-minded people who care about the short story, and to do so in a pleasant setting. So from a personal point of view, I think the primary aim of literary festivals should be to entertain readers and connect them with writers. And there’s no reason why a festival can’t do that while also encompassing the wider objectives of such events. I guess it’s all a question of balance.

I’ll end with a quote from a Guardian editorial, in 2006: ‘Providing a market place for writers and booksellers, provocative and stimulating encounters for readers and a season-enhancing boost for towns that now rely on luring visitors, the literary festival is one of those rare ideas that seems only virtuous.’

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Did I Tell You?

Here's a group picture of some of the poets who contributed to the anthology 'Did I Tell You?', which was officially launched at the University of Kent last night. As befits my political standpoint, I'm the one to the far left. The book has sold well and covered its production costs, so the income from any further sales will go directly and entirely to charity (Children in Need in fact). So if you haven't bought yours yet you can order a copy online here.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Writing in a Good Cause

Here's a chance to shell out a tenner (plus £2 p&p) for a good cause.

'Did I tell you? 131 Poems for Children in Need' is an anthology published by WordAid in aid of Children in Need on the theme of 'Childhood' - available November 2010. All profits from this anthology will be donated to the BBC's Children in Need appeal.

The anthology includes poems by Patience Agbabi, Andrew Motion, Ruth Padel, Catherine Smith, George Szirtes . . . and me.

Click here: to order a copy or several (it would make an ideal Xmas pressie!).

Friday, 29 October 2010

Raymond Carver

My 'author profile' article on Raymond Carver is now up on the THRESHOLDS website.

One thing you soon surmise from reading Raymond Carver is that he was an alcoholic. Carver’s characters tend to drink excessively, and his stories often examine the negative impact of drinking on his central character’s relationships. But for the last eleven years of his life, Carver was sober, and it was in these sober years that he wrote what many believe to be his finest stories. But there’s more to this than simple drunkenness and sobriety. Nowadays, what we talk about when we talk about Carver is the role of the literary editor.
THRESHOLDS is an exciting new site for international postgraduate students studying the short story form. You can read the full article by clicking here.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Colm Toibin - The Empty Family

Colm Toibin's new collection of short stories 'The Empty Family' is published next week. Each story is beautifully written and full of atmosphere, often with Toibin’s typical sense of loss and longing, of ‘sad echoes and dim feelings’. The majority of the stories are five-star gems but there are one or two that don’t quite come off. A very good read nevertheless.

My full review of the book is on the Bookbag website.

Friday, 10 September 2010

Inkspill Short Story Competition

Inkspill Magazine is holding its first ever Short Story Competition to, in their words, 'give you the chance to get your hands on some cash'. Not a great deal of cash, it has to be said; the total prize money is just £100 with £70 going to the first prize winner.

On the other hand, the bonus is that even if you don't win a cash prize you will get something back. The magazine's editors have promised that every entry will receive a short critique. They don't say how short, but for an entry fee of just £3 (£5 after 1 October) it seems to me a cheap price to pay for some independent feedback on your work AND the chance to win some cash and get your story published.

So if the Sunday Times Competition isn't for you, maybe this one is. See here for rules and information.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Sunday Times Short Story Award

I read in last weekend’s Sunday Times that the judges have been announced for the Sunday Times EFG Private Bank Short Story Award. When I excitedly mentioned the £30,000 prize for a single short story to the Secretary her immediate response was, ‘Well then you can forget that.’ She pointed out that a prize of £30K would attract all the best ‘proper’ writers and said I’d be competing with’ Zadie Smith and that lot’.

Well, she has a point. I don’t know whether Zadie Smith entered last years’ competition, but I do know that some of ‘that lot’ did because John Burnside, Jackie Kay, AL Kennedy, Helen Simpson and Rose Tremain (to name but a few) all had stories in the longlist. None of them, though, made the final shortlist. The winner was CK Stead, New Zealand’s most distinguished novelist and poet, with his story ‘Last Season’s Man’.

This competition, then, is tough. Only the best short story writers need apply. But shouldn’t all writers aspire to be numbered among the best? As Anatole France said, ‘To accomplish great things, we must not only act, but also dream; not only plan, but also believe.’

If you dream and believe, you must act by 30th October, the deadline for submissions. The competition is open to authors with a previous record of publication in creative writing. Entries may be previously unpublished, or first published or scheduled for publication after 1 January 2010. All entries must be under 6,000 words and entirely original.

Good luck!

Monday, 6 September 2010

Small Wonder

Ordinarily I’m not a great fan of literary festivals, mainly because I tend to be put off by the increasingly high proportion of ‘celebrity authors’ taking part, rather than plain old fashioned writers. But Small Wonder is different. I imagine that’s simply because its focus is entirely on the short story, and there aren’t many celebrities writing short stories at the moment. Or perhaps it’s just because I’m a big fan of the shorter form.
I first attended the Small Wonder festival in 2005. That year I was fortunate to meet, among others, the self-effacing John McGahern and the perfectly charming Rose Tremain. Zadie Smith was there too. The legendary Grace Paley was due to take part but unfortunately she was too ill to travel from the States and instead sent a video. I attended every session over three days and loved every moment of it. William Trevor described Small Wonder as ‘The best literary festival I have ever attended’, and I fully agree.

Unfortunately, I can’t get there before the Saturday this year so I’ll miss the double-hander with Tania Hershman and Vanessa Gebbie, which sounds like it’ll be a cracking session. But the highlight, for me, will be the debate between Kate Clanchy, Michèle Roberts and Di Speirs on contemporary fiction and whether it is in thrall to ‘reality’ (especially in the light of David Shields recent book announcing the impending death of the novel (again)). Kate Clanchy wrote my favourite short story of last year, ‘The Not-Dead and the Saved’, which deservedly won the BBC National Short Story Award for 2009, so I’m particularly looking forward to hearing her speak.

If you can make it I might see you there. If you can’t, check this space after the event – I’ll try to bring you (what I consider to be) the highlights.

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

On Not Giving Up

Two or three years ago, I wrote a story for the women’s magazine market that I just couldn’t sell. I thought it was pretty good, but the editors didn’t agree with me. So I stopped trying to sell it. I thought I’d wasted enough time on it.

Then a few months ago, while sorting through some old files, I stumbled across it again. When I reread it, I still thought it was pretty good. So I entered it in a short story competition. The story didn’t win first prize, but it did come second. The prize money was not much less than I would have earned from selling it and because the tax man classes writing competitions as ‘lotteries’ (he has a point!) winnings are therefore tax free. Result!

The lesson, as always in all things relating to writing, is not to give up. It reminded me of something I read recently about the great Raymond Carver. (Like a good many people in the UK, I first came across Carver’s short stories through a creative writing course. I’d never even heard of Carver back then, being English, and I thought I’d misheard the tutor and was expecting to read something noir and pulpy and full of wisecracks.)

If you look at Carver’s Wikipedia entry, you’ll read that he became interested in writing when he moved to California as a married man. That’s not entirely correct. According to Carol Sklenicka’s excellent biography, Carver had been interested in writing since he was a kid. He was always telling stories to his younger brother and when his father bought him a shotgun for his 13th birthday, Carver began writing down his hunting experiences as short stories. All he got was rejection slips. He was told by one editor that people didn’t want to read about hunting trips.

He was told to find something else to write about.

When he was 17, Carver enrolled in a creative writing correspondence course. The first lesson was ‘Essential Elements of a Short Story and How to Develop Them’. It seems he didn’t complete the course. Three years later, hoping it would help him get a better job to support his new family (he was married and a father of two by the time he was 20), Carver enrolled at the Chico State College. In the second year he took an elective course, Creative Writing. The course director was Dr John Gardner. It was in 1960, under Gardner’s tutelage, that Carver wrote what was to become his first published story, ‘Furious Seasons’.

It includes a large section based on his teenage hunting experiences.

Which goes to show that, to misquote Aesop, no act of writing, no matter how small, is ever wasted.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

There’s an App for That - Guildford Book Festival Short Story Competition

Is this the future of the short story? The Guildford Book Festival has launched a short story writing competition in which the winning entry will be turned into an app.

The app could then be downloaded worldwide from the Apple iTunes store and read on the Apple iPhone, iPod touch and iPad. The app will also have a professionally recorded audio track so it can be listened to AND a video interview with the author. The prize also includes cover design, structural and copy editing and page design and layout.

The competition, run in collaboration with the Surrey-based e-publishing company, Commutabooks, is open to both new and established authors. The organisers are looking for short stories that’ inspire and uplift readers to make the most of their days and their lives’.

Stories can be on any theme or subject in any genre. The maximum length of submissions is 7,000 words. There is no minimum length. More specifically, they must be readable in just a return train commute from Guildford to Waterloo stations - i.e. about 90 minutes.

The closing date for entries is 31st July 2010.

Full details on the festival website.

Thursday, 3 June 2010

UK Magazines and the 'Literary' Short Story

For reasons I won’t bore you with, I’ve been trying to identify all the UK magazines that publish ‘literary’ short stories. I read somewhere there were about 350, but a lot of ‘little’ magazines (like Cadenza and Connections) have stopped publishing over recent years and the short story website lists only 79 magazines that accept short stories – and these include organs such as People’s Friend and Your Dog Magazine. Excluding such commercial and specialist mags, as well as genre magazines (e.g. horror, sci fi, speculative, crime, romance), online-only mags and those published overseas, there are less than twenty possible outlets for your ‘literary’ short fiction, which I’ve listed below in case you’re interested.

Address: 17 Priory Gardens London N6 5QY
Contact phone: 0208 340 3566
Lengths accepted: Varying length; it is advised that writers look at the magazine before submitting stories
How far in advance: ongoing
Payment: Token payment plus 2 copies of magazine
Submit: by post only
Notes: Quarterly magazine dedicated to prose, poetry and arts. Takes 3 to 5 stories per issue, all from unsolicited submissions.

Address: Michael Langan, Managing Editor, Creative Writing Programme, EPS, School of Humanities, King William Building, University of Greenwich, Maritime Campus, Park Row, London SE10 9LS
Lengths accepted: Max. 2,500 words
Submit by post only
Notes: You are advised to read the magazine prior to submitting your work.

Contact email:
Lengths accepted: see website
Notes: An eclectic magazine which gives a forum to talented writers of all shades of publication experience.

Dream Catcher
Address: 32 Queen's Road Barnetby-le-Wold North Lincolnshire DN38 6JH
Lengths accepted: About 2,000 words, but longer stories are accepted
Notes: The editors welcome a vast range of submissions, from well-known and unknown writers, including poetry, short stories, artwork, interviews and reviews.

Gold Dust
Subject area: Stories, poetry, film scripts and more
Lengths accepted: see website
Payment: see website
Submit by post or email? see website
Notes: Gold Dust is run as an on-going competition, with a small entry fee for submitting work and cash prizes for all published poetry and prose.

Granta does not have a political or literary manifesto, but it does have a belief in the power and urgency of the story, both in fiction and non-fiction, and the story’s supreme ability to describe, illuminate and make real. ‘The main guideline for submitting work to Granta is simply to read the magazine thoroughly and ask yourself if you feel your piece meets our criteria. We receive many submissions every day, many of which are unsuitable for Granta (however well written).’

London Magazine
Address: 32 Addison Grove London W4 1ER
Subject area: Arts and Literature
Contact phone: 0208 400 5882
Lengths accepted: 2000-5000 words
Payment by arrangement
Submissions by post only
Notes: Literary prose

Address: 17 Greenhow Avenue West Kirby Wirral CH48 5EL
Subject area: Arts and Literature
Contact phone: 0151 625 1446
Lengths accepted: 500-1000 words
No payment but readers pick best in issue and award £50
Submit by post or email? Contact editor
Notes: Published every quarter, usually 4 stories. Literary prose.

A biannual short story journal featuring work by both established and emerging writers. Submission details can be found on the Riptide website.

Scribble Quarterly
Address: Park Publications 14 The Park Stow-on-the-Wold Gloustershire GL54 1DX
Lengths accepted: 3000 words max
Payment: Contact magazine
Submit by post only
Notes: Short story mixed genre magazine

Address: University of Plymouth Press c/o Anthony Caleshu University of Plymouth, Faculty of Arts 6 Portland Villas Plymouth PL4 8AA
Subject area: fiction
Lengths accepted: see website
Submit by post or email? by 15 April each year
Notes Annual: the first issue was published in October 2007.

Stand Magazine
Address: School of English University of Leeds Leeds LS2 9JT
Subject area: Writing
Contact phone: 0113 233 4794
Lengths accepted: Varying, contact magazine
Payment: Contact magazine
Submit by post only

The New Writer
Address: PO Box 60 Cranbrook Kent TV17 2ZR
Subject area: Writing
Contact phone: 01580 212626
Lengths accepted: Commissioned only from subscribers or other prizewinners
Payment: by arrangement
Notes: published 6 times a year. Also runs competition, closes last day of October

Writers’ Forum
Each issue Writers' Forum awards £800 in prizes and publishes the winners of their short story, poetry and young writers contests.

Writing Magazine and Writers' News
Describes itself as ‘the best British how-to writing publication’. They do not publish poetry or fiction unless it has won one of their competitions.

If you’re aware of any other mags that aren’t on the list please do let me have the details.

UPDATE: Thanks to Anonymous (below) who has pointed me in the direction of Tania Hershman's extraordinarily comprehensive list of all current print and online magazines here. Although Tania has included publications I have deliberately not listed (ezines, genre mags, etc) the health of the short story 'market' seems to be a lot less dire than I'd imagined . . .

Friday, 9 April 2010

Waterstone’s Launch ‘Perfectly Formed’ Short Story Competition

Waterstone’s Books Quarterly, in association with Pan Macmillan and the Arvon Foundation, has announced the launch of its inaugural short story competition, Perfectly Formed. They are looking for ‘the best unpublished writer in the country who can create a story that is small but... perfectly formed’. The competition is open to stories of 2,000 words or less by writers who are over 16 and haven’t had fiction ‘professionally published’ before. The story can be about any subject and in any genre.

The winning story will be published in the October issue of Books Quarterly. The winner will also be given a place on a week-long course at Arvon, as well as £200 of Pan Macmillan books of their choice. The three best runners-up will receive written feedback on their entries and £60 of Pan Macmillan books. Their work will also be published online.

Details of the competition are published in the current issue of the Books Quarterly (pictured), which I beleive you can pick up from any Waterstone's store in the UK.

The competition closing date is 1 July 2010.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

F Scott Fitzgerald: Characterisation

I’m currently re-reading The Great Gatsby. I’d forgotten how great it is! One of the reasons it’s such a great novel, of course, is that Gatsby himself is one of literature’s truly great characters. As John Mullan, Professor of English at UCL, has said, ‘nothing is … more important in our reading of novels than the sense that we are encountering real people in them’. And it’s not just Gatsby who is ‘real’. The whole novel is an F Scott Fitzgerald master- class in characterisation.

Here’s the first appearance in The Great Gatsby of a minor character, Myrtle Wilson:
Then I heard footsteps on a stairs, and in a moment the thickish figure blocked out the light from the office door. She was in the middle thirties, and faintly stout, but she carried her flesh sensuously as some women can. Her face, above a spotted dress of blue crêpe-de-chine, contained no facet or gleam of beauty, but there was an immediately perceptible vitality about her as if the nerves of her body were continually smouldering. She smiled slowly and, walking through her husband as if he were a ghost, shook hands with Tom, looking him flush in the eye. Then she wet her lips, and without turning around spoke to her husband in a soft, coarse voice:
‘Get some chairs, why don’t you, so somebody can sit down.’

Then, a few pages later, we’re introduced to Myrtle’s sister, another bit-part player:
The sister, Catherine, was a slender, wordly girl of about thirty, with a solid, sticky bob of red hair and, a complexion powdered milky white. Her eyebrows had been plucked and then drawn on again at a more rakish angle, but the efforts of nature towards the restoration of the old alignment gave a blurred air to her face. When she moved about there was an incessant clicking as innumerable pottery bracelets jingled up and down upon her arms. She came in with such a proprietary haste, and looked around so possessively at the furniture that I wondered if she lived there. But when I asked her she laughed immoderately, repeated my question aloud, and told me she lived with a girlfriend at a hotel.

Each character gets one paragraph. Each paragraph consists of less than 130 words. And yet in each case, Fitzgerald has created a living, breathing character we feel we know well enough to believe in.

The critic James Wood asserts (in his book How Fiction Works) that ‘there is nothing harder than the creation of fictional characters’. As writers, we all know that characters are built through a combination of appearance, action and speech – that’s basic craft. But the art is to show the reader exactly the right amount of appearance, action and speech in just the right proportions. Which is exactly what Fitzgerald does.

Friday, 26 March 2010

Kazuo Ishiguro: Setting and Authenticity

To Canterbury on Wednesday evening to see Kazuo Ishiguro in conversation with Andrew McGuinness at Christ Church University’s impressive new library. For some inexplicable reason, I was expecting something low-key and intimate. In fact, Ishiguro filled the very large St Augustine’s Hall with an audience of well over a thousand people. Nevertheless, an interesting evening. I was particularly struck by what Ishiguro had to say about setting.

Kazuo Ishiguro was born in Nagasaki in 1954, but he was brought to England when he was five years old. Although his parents always planned to return to Japan in due course, they never did. So Ishiguro was brought up in England, received an English education and ended up, in some ways, more English than Japanese. But he says he retained strong memories of Japan. He grew up wanting to be, not a writer, but a musician. He developed his trademark sparse style, he says, through writing song lyrics. He also has a film buff’s interest in cinema (according to a recent profile of him in the Guardian, he has his own private screening room at his home in Golders Green). Perhaps it is this interest in film that makes him tend to talk about ‘location’ rather than ‘setting’ for his novels.

‘Some writers have an idea for a novel they want to write about nineteenth century France or pre-Revolutionary Russia,’ he said on Wednesday. ‘But I think more in terms of finding a story and then finding a location, both time and place, in which that story could best be told.’ McGuinness suggested that, in that sense, he was more like a film director searching out the best location for each scene he was shooting, an analogy Ishiguro did not dispute.

Ishiguro said his turning point, in terms of his development as a writer, came when he decided to write a story set in Japan. At the time he was studying creative writing at the University of East Anglia under the tutelage of Raymond Bradbury and Angela Carter. ‘The Japan I wrote about was the one I remembered from my childhood,’ he said. ‘I didn’t go back there, or carry out any research. I set the story in the version of Japan I had in my head. My own personal Japan.’ Both A Pale View of Hills and An Artist of the Floating World are set in this half-real, half-imagined version of Japan that English readers find completely authentic. Haruki Murakami, though, has said it is a Japan that is ‘slightly different’ from reality.

Similarly, many readers consider Ishiguro’s Booker-wining The Remains of the Day to be a quintessentially ‘English’ novel set, as it is, in between-the-wars country-house England. But Ishiguro finds such talk amusing and mildly embarrassing. It is a Jeeves-and-Wooster England that he thought would make a good setting for the story he wanted to tell. There was no meticulous research, and he said he would hate to think of people holding up the novel as an authentic example of what life was really like.

Does that matter? It probably does to some readers. In the current issue of Prospect magazine, for example, Sam Leith makes some less-than-flattering comments on the setting of Tom Ford’s film A Single Man. Comparing the movie to ‘a two-hour perfume ad’, he goes on to say ‘it resembles no school, … no California, no Earth that any of us would recognise’. He defends Ford by suggesting ‘this is no doubt how the world looks to him’. But isn’t that what art is all about – seeing things through the eyes of the artist? Look at van Gogh. Look at Hammershoi. It is their distinctive depiction of the everyday that makes their work unique.

Okay, I’ve taken Leith’s comments out of context – he’s actually attacking what he sees as a general move towards style over content, towards what he calls ‘costume drama’. But it is Ishiguro’s deliberate use of his own personal ‘costume drama’ to tell a universal story that makes his writing so special (in my humble opinion). To quote Murakami again, taken from the Guardian profile I mentioned earlier, 'the place could be anywhere, the character could be anybody and the time could be any time. Everything supposed to be real could be unreal, and vice versa. It is a sensation I love and I only receive it when I read his books.'

Andrew McGuinness and Kazuo Ishiguro (courtesy KCC Libraries)

UPDATE: Andrew McGuinness plans to write more about his meeting with Kazuo Ishiguro here on his blog.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Short Stories: The UK Magazine Market

I was chatting to a fellow writer at the weekend about the paucity of magazines in the UK that currently publish short stories. Since then, I've done a bit of proper research and found there are nearly 80 mags that publish short fiction. Eighty! That's a lot more than I thought. Of course, it's a mixed bag. Some editors won't accept unsolicited manuscripts, publishing commissioned stories only. Some magazines pay authors very little, if anything. But in between, there are a number of editors who will pay half-decent rates for your work. As ever, it's wise to read a few editions of any magazine before you send in your submission.

Anyway, here's the list:




Black Static





Countryside Tales


Day by Day

Dream Catcher

Edinburgh Review


Faeries and Enchantment Magazine

Farthing Magazine

Glimmer Train

Gold Dust

Good Housekeeping


Inside Out


London Magazine

London Review of Books


Mud Luscious

My Weekly

New Books Mag

New Internationalist

New Welsh Review


Our Time

Parameter Magazine

People's Friend


Positive Space


Quarterly Women's Fiction

Random Acts of Writing


Scots Magazine

Scottish Book Collector

Scribble Quarterly

Senior Moments


Ski and Board

Skyline Literary Magazine



Stand Magazine


Succour Magazine

Take a Break


That's Life

The Edge

The Field

The Lady

The Liberal Magazine

The New Writer

The Third Alternative

Time Out





Weekly News

White Chimney Magazine

WI Home and Country


Woman and Home

Woman's Weekly

Writers' Forum

Writers' News and Writing Magazine

Young Writer

Your Cat Magazine

Your Dog Magazine


Do please let me know if you spot any I've missed.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

What's your favourite book of the last decade?

Notice I'm not asking about your 'best' book of the last decade - see Eryl's comment on my last post, below. Recently, at my MA class, I said I thought Cormac McCarthy's The Road was 'probably' my favourite book of the last ten years. I still think that, and I'm in good company. Joshua (Then We Came to the End) Ferris and Simon (Relentless) Kernick think so, too. How do I know this? Well, the Sky Book Show has asked a number of authors to name their favourite book of the last ten years, and The Road was nominated by both Ferris and Kernick. Just for the record, here's the full list of authors and their favourites.

Simon Armitage: Return to the City of White Donkeys by James Tate

John Boyne: The Road Home by Rose Tremain

Alastair Campbell: Saturday by Ian McEwan

Monty Don: Woodlands by Oliver Rackham

Roddy Doyle: The Plot Against America by Philip Roth

Joshua Ferris: The Road by Cormac McCarthy

Antonia Fraser: Berlin: The Downfall 1945 by Antony Beevor

Joanne Harris: Perfumes: The A-Z Guide by Luca Turin & Tania Sanchez

Nicky Haslam: A Strange Eden by Tony Duquette

Simon Kernick: The Road by Cormac McCarthy

Marina Lewycka: White Teeth by Zadie Smith

Andrea Levy: English Passengers by Matthew Kneale

Ian McEwan: Le Bal by Irène Némirovsky

Neel Mukherjee: Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson

David Nicholls: Under the Skin Michel Faber

George Pelecanos: Northline by Willy Vlautin

Terry Pratchett: A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson

Philip Pullman: The Letters of Vincent Van Gogh Vincent Van Gogh by Arnold Pomerans

Lionel Shriver: As Meat Loves Salt by Maria McCann

Rose Tremain: The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen

Joanna Trollope: Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

Natasha Walter: On Beauty by Zadie Smith

Shirley Williams: The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne

So - what's yours?

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

100 Best Crime Books Ever Written?

I am very busily avoiding a piece of work I don't want to do by making one of my all-too-rare-these-days visits to blogland. I do so at the behest of Celina Jacobson, a fellow blogger from across the pond, where she posts articles on a site devoted to helping young Americans looking for a career in court reporting. I have to say I found the site difficult to navigate, but somewhere in there you'll find a blog post in which Celina lists the '100 Best Crime Books Ever Written'. I'm not sure what her criteria for selection were, but any 'best ever written' list that includes Dan Brown's appallingly badly written Da Vinci Code doesn't deserve to be taken too seriously. But then, how many of us (apart from a few Nick Hornby characters) take these lists seriously anyway?

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

FREE Crime Story Competition

Looking for an opportunity to become the next big name on the crime scene? Here's your chance.

Crime drama channel Alibi, publisher HarperCollins and the TV Times have teamed up with the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival, Harrogate to unearth some of the country's hottest new crime-writing talent.

Alibi's Search for a New Crime Writer competition asks budding writers to submit a short crime fiction story of 2,000 - 5,000 words via the Alibi website The competition closes at midday on Sunday 16th May 2010.

Internationally bestselling crime author and 2010 Festival Chair Stuart MacBride has lent his support to the competition by providing entrants with the story's opening line, designed to spark your creativity.

'In my experience, those who beg for mercy seldom deserve it'.

The aim of the literary search is to champion emerging crime writers and give them the opportunity for their work to be put in front of leading industry figures. There will be a shortlist of three writers with one eventual winner and two runners-up. All three finalists will win tickets to Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival, Harrogate where they will rub shoulders with some of the biggest names in the business as well as having the chance to attend creative workshops. The overall winner will be announced on Thursday 22nd July during a special reception at the beginning of the Festival.

Publisher HarperCollins will create a special e-edition of the winner's story, this will be made available as a download. The victor will also win a Sony eReader as well as an enviable library of over 100 crime novels.

For full details of the prizes and how to enter

Good luck!

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Costa Novel of the Year

I’m delighted by the news, just filtering through the midwinter snowfields to my outpost here in East Kent, that Colm Tóibín's quietly powerful novel, Brooklyn, has won the Costa novel of the year award. It was my favourite book of 2009, and there were some strong contenders (including all the shortlisted Booker novels and my second-favourite book-of-the-year, Peace by Richard Bausch). Brooklyn is a deceptively simple story of a young woman who leaves 1950s Ireland for New York, falls in love and then returns to her home town. But the novel is about much more than that, and Tóibín's understated prose has a depth and resonance that is a real pleasure to read. I was bowled over by the brilliance of Tóibín's writing, and can’t recommend it strongly enough to any aspiring author.

You can read my full review of the novel on the BookBag website.