Friday, 10 October 2014

Cheltenham and Wells Festivals

Here I am, getting ready to do the A Song for Issy Bradley Book Group event at Cheltenham with Cathy Rentzenbrink. I took my phone into the event so I could take a picture of the audience, but I forgot (and the lights were blinding, anyway).

Book group events are interesting. As usual, some members of the audience were furious with Ian Bradley while others empathised with him - it's always funny to watch people argue (albeit nicely) about someone I made up!

By the end of book group events people are relaxed and tend to ask quite personal questions. I don't mind answering, but the questions still surprise me - people expect you to talk about your own life as well as the book, something I didn't realise when I was writing A Song for Issy Bradley.

Cathy was a great chair/host and we even happened to come down for breakfast at exactly the same moment this morning (Cathy had been working on the final edits of her memoir for a couple of hours whereas I'd just got out of bed) which meant that we could carry on chatting. 


I love pretty much everything about being a writer (apart from the actual writing of novel 2, which is not proving to be much fun at the moment). One of the very best bits is being allowed to go into places like the Writers' Room and have something to eat while surreptitiously glancing at people whose books I've read and/or seen on the television.


Because I'm going to Wells Literature Festival tomorrow, I stayed in Cheltenham today and went to some really interesting presentations, including Marina Warner's Once Upon a Time, A Short History of the Fairy Tale (above) and Blood, Sex and Death - Ancient Greek Drama (below).


Deirde Le Faye's Jane Austen's Country Life took place in the gorgeous Spiegeltent, and there was afternoon tea. Lovely.









Tomorrow morning I'll be at Wells Literature Festival with Gabriel Gbadamosi, Fay Weldon and Emma Craigie. Can't wait.

** Edited to add...

I had a fabulous time at Wells Literature Festival. It was lovely to meet Gabriel Gbadamosi and Emma Craigie whose novels Vauxhall and Chocolate Cake with Hitler I really enjoyed. It was also fantastic to meet Fay Weldon who is not only extremely accomplished, but is absolutely charming and very kind.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

The Bookshop Book

Today Jen Campbell is visiting the blog and answering some questions about her writing, her work in a bookshop and her new book, The Bookshop Book, published by Constable (Little, Brown). Jen grew up in the north-east of England and went to Edinburgh University. She now lives in London where she works at an antiquarian bookshop. Her first book, Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops was a Sunday Times Bestseller, and she’s also an award-winning poet and short story writer.

How long have you worked in a bookshop?
Seven years now... I think! I started at a new independent bookshop in Edinburgh (The Edinburgh Bookshop), working part-time when I was a student, and now I work at Ripping Yarns, an antiquarian bookshop in north London.

Is it something you always wanted to do or is it something that happened by chance or serendipity? 
I’ve always loved books and writing. To me, bookshops are magical places full of infinite possibilities. The emotional ties we have to stories fascinate me, and as a bookseller working to match people up with books and worlds that they might fall in love with... well, that sounds like a pretty damn good job to me. Mix it together with being a writer, too, and I’m a happy lady.


You write poetry and prose. Which came first and which do you enjoy the most? 
Poetry came first, though I love them both. (Please don’t make me choose!)

How did you get the idea for The Bookshop Book?
I think it was born out of my ‘Bookshop Spotlights’ blog posts that I started in 2012, featuring bookshops I really liked. But the idea really took hold after my first book was published. It was called ‘Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops’ and was a collection of all the bizarre things that get said to booksellers: misheard book titles and children asking if they could get to Narnia through our bookcases (when I said no, they nodded wisely and said that their furniture didn’t work for getting to Narnia either, and that their dad said it was because their mum had bought it at IKEA.) Bookselling is a bit of a mad world. I love it.

I spent a lot of time doing events for ‘Weird Things...’ in wonderful bookshops, talking to inspiring booksellers and sharing bookish tales. And while I’d written about the weird things that happen to booksellers, I hadn’t written about the magical feeling of bookshops and how books affect people. I hadn’t spoken about the history and wonder of ‘houses for stories’ (which is what one of my youngest customers calls bookshops, and I adore it.) My editor said: ‘Think about how you would write about that. How you’d capture it. Then send me something.’ So I did. I wrote a proposal about a book that explored all the fantastic bookshops around the world: bookshops on trains and on boats, and even bookshops in the middle of a jungle. A book that had interviews with authors about their favourite places, and facts about the history of the written word. And my editor liked it, so The Bookshop Book was born.

What was the hardest thing about compiling The Bookshop Book?
The deadline... I think (isn’t it always)? And the vast amount of material I could choose to research (which is also a positive). And the fear that I’ve missed out something very important. (I don’t think I have... I hope!)

What are you working on now/next?
I’m writing a novel. It’s eating away at me (which I think is a good thing.) I’m hoping to finish it by next summer. It’s not about bookshops, but it is about the power of stories and the frightening things they can make us believe. I’m excited about it.

Jen’s website

The Bookshop Book

Twitter

Facebook

Monday, 29 September 2014

Audio Book Giveaway

A Song for Issy Bradley | [Carys Bray]I'm giving away one copy of the unabridged audio book of A Song for Issy Bradley. It's a box of 9 CDs (a total of 11 hours) read beautifully by Emma Gregory. If you'd like to be in the draw, just click on this link and

a). "Like" my Facebook page (if you haven't already) 
b). Make a comment on the post about the giveaway. 


The draw will take place on Sunday 5th October. 

You can click on this link to listen to a small excerpt of the novel.

Friday, 26 September 2014

Lovely Stuff

On Wednesday I read at Bad Language at The Castle Hotel in Manchester. It's a great literature night. The performance space is lovely and the crowd is enthusiastic and friendly. I really enjoyed the open mic readings by Stephen James, Jasmine Chatfield, Alex Webb, Brandon Bissell, Bissell, Roger Fenton, Stephen Quinlan, Anna Percy, Ros Ballinger, John Lean and Dave Hartley.  If you fancy an open mic slot at Bad Language, check out their website (see link above). 

On Thursday I read at Urmston Bookshop. Frances and Peter who own the shop are absolutely fabulous. Not only was there a special, Issy Bradley window, they'd also asked the lovely Cath Martin to bake an Issy Bradley cake.




I got to meet Naomi Frisby, book blogger extraordinaire, for the second time (Naomi was one of the first people to read my novel). And afterwards, Peter drove me to a more distant station so I could get an earlier train home than planned. I waited on a bench on the platform surrounded by presents: a cake box, a lovely notebook and a copy of The Miniaturist - it felt like my birthday.

On the train home I finished Ali Smith's How to be Both. I don't know whether I've ever written about the first time I came across Ali Smith (if I have, I'm about to repeat myself) but it was while I was doing my BA. She was featured in an Open University DVD about Sunset Song and she was so genuine and enthusiastic that I went down to my local library (which was knocked down a couple of months ago - ugh) and borrowed her short story collections. She's such an extraordinary writer - playful, clever and original. How to be Both is all those things, but it also deals with bigger themes - grief, mortality, love - in a really thought-provoking way. The novel is divided into 2 sections. Some editions begin with one section and some begin with the other. My edition began with Francesco and concluded with George. I'm glad it did. I *think* it's the way I would have preferred it to be. But I'm not 100% certain - how could I be certain, having read Francesco and George's musings about the different ways of seeing and looking, and whether the first thing we see can really be described as 'first'? - I'll never really know for sure. And I like that. 

Sunday, 21 September 2014

School Shoes - Follow Up

A few weeks ago I wrote this post about school shoes

While I was away last week someone from Clarks replied to my daughter's letter.  



I asked my daughter what she thought of the letter and this is what she had to say.

I don't know why they called me Ms Bray when I told them I'm 10 years old.  They didn't read my letter properly because they said thank you for your email - I didn't send an email. They didn't answer any of my questions and they made pointless excuses. The boys get durability and the girls get style - it makes me angry! I don't want to buy shoes there any more. 

I'd like to add that it was also disappointing for me to read the letter from Clarks. I was particularly irritated by the mention of 'gender equality and individuality'. Let's think for a moment about what gender equality might look like - would it mean identical boys' and girls' shoes? No, of course not. It would mean shoes that are equally fit for purpose. Different children like different things, and so you'd expect a wide range of styles. BUT, the following features:

comfort
durability
whether the shoes are suitable for physical activity (can you climb trees, play footie?)
whether the shoes are waterproof (when it rains are your socks guaranteed to get soaked?) 


should NOT depend on the gender of the child. This is not equality. And attempts to fudge things by referencing 'individuality' won't wash with this generation of Mighty Girls.


Saturday, 20 September 2014

The Imaginary Writer

At some point during the 2014 New Year celebrations - on New Year's Eve or New Year's Day, if I remember correctly - I bought a subscription to The New Yorker. It was an optimistic purchase, made during a moment when I was visualising myself as the writer who exists in my imagination. This writer has a strict routine and an organised desk. She reads The New Yorker over coffee, before beginning work and, by a process of literary osmosis, goes on to write her second novel in spare, elegant prose. She dashes off a thousand words a day and never eats a sharing bag of Maltesers for lunch. Etc. 

A few weeks later, copies of The New Yorker started arriving in the mail. I read the first couple and then they started to build up. Small, unopened piles of magazines sprouted around the house - on the dining room table, on my treadmill desk, beside the microwave. 

Last week I went on a writing retreat. As I left for the station I stuffed a pile of plastic-wrapped magazines into my laptop bag. 

Along with the imaginary writer, there are other, better versions of myself; the imaginary mother, the imaginary runner, the imaginary meal-planner etc. Unlike the imaginary mother, who doesn't really exist (apart from fleetingly in photographs, and perhaps in the carefully edited highlights of the annual family Come Dine With Me competition) the imaginary writer has just enjoyed a blissful, five day existence. 



A massive thank you to Deb and Bob at RetreatsForYou for allowing me to spend a few days being the writer of my imagination. The one who writes at a tidy desk and reads The New Yorker every morning before she starts work.  

Monday, 15 September 2014

Retreat

I've just arrived in Sheepwash in North Devon (here) where I'll be spending the next few days. I'm so excited to get a chance to write without interruption and to (hopefully) get the first bit of novel 2 into a state where I'm comfortable showing it to people.

Of course, most writing has to be done in a workman-like way, in between and around other things, but it's lovely to get away once in a while and not have to cook or clean or run anyone to the orthodontist - just write.


Here's the room where I'll be writing.


Here's the view from the window.


There are my desk options - standing or sitting, which is great for me because I *love* to work standing as much as possible.


Me, as I type this blog (standing).


I've got my favourite red, writing/book t-shirt at the ready, off I go...

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Nearly there

I handed in my PhD thesis this week. I still have to prepare for (and endure) the viva, and there may be corrections to make, but I'm pretty much *almost* finished. Hooray!

To celebrate, I went to my favourite restaurant (Master McGraths), had my favourite meal (lamb, followed by Eton mess), with my favourite person, and then came home and watched The Painted Veil.

Next week I'm going on a writing retreat with my lovely friend Sarah Franklin. I can't wait to get properly stuck into book 2. Happy days.

Saturday, 30 August 2014

On School Shoes

Yesterday I took my daughter to Clarks to buy some new school shoes. She didn't actually need new shoes, she has a perfectly good pair of Clarks shoes that still fit her, but they are boys' shoes. Alice has worn boys' shoes to school for a number of years (for the reasons she outlines below), but she is starting a new school next week and is feeling a little anxious about fitting in and making new friends, so she asked if I would buy her a pair of girls' shoes. 

When we arrived in the shop we discovered that there was a new element to the measuring process. It involved Alice having to select a BOY or GIRL icon on the iPad and then choose either a pink or blue character, or the Clarks logo (which Alice chose). When I asked why she needed to select BOY or GIRL I was told it was to increase interactivity. So, before we even got down to the matter of the shoes themselves, we were faced with boy/girl, blue/pink choices. 

We looked through the girls' shoes. The vast majority were ballet style - pretty impractical for school, especially in a country where it rains frequently. The shoes that covered the whole foot were pointy, not the kind of shoes in which you'd want to play football at break times. 

Alice tried on some shoes. And then she had to decide whether being physically comfortable was more important than being socially comfortable. She chose to keep wearing her boys' shoes. 

This morning I saw a link to Hollie McNish's blog on school shoes. And I thought, instead of just complaining around the dinner table (yet again), I'd write about my experience, too. It's only when a lot of people point these things out that things can change, right?

When my daughter saw what I was doing, she decided that she wanted to write to Clarks. I helped her with one or two spellings, but the words are all her own (as are the "air quotes").



Edited to add:

I went to buy P.E pumps and discovered that they now look like this. Which reminds me of BIC pens for her

Friday, 29 August 2014

Take it Cool by Jonathan Pinnock

Jonathan Pinnock is a prize-winning poet and short story writer. His fiction has featured in numerous anthologies and has been broadcast on BBC Radio Four. I first came across his writing when his sharp and witty collection Dot Dash won Salt Publishing's Scott Prize. I spoke to him about writing and his new book Take it Cool, a bio-historico-musicological-memoir. 

When did you start writing?

I've gone through various phases with writing. Back in the early 90s, when the kids were of an age where they'd read anything I stuck in front of them, I wrote several childrens' books. I got some nice letters back from publishers but never quite had the persistence to break through. Then in the late 90s I ended up writing a book on software development and contributing to another dozen. That all fizzled out in the mid 00s when (a) my publisher went under and (b) I realised that what I really wanted to do was have one last go at getting some fiction published. So I tend to think of myself as having started writing for real in around 2005.

You won Salt Publishing's Scott Prize for short stories with Dot Dash and you are the author of the Pride and Prejudice sequel, Mrs Darcy versus the Aliens. You have also written prize-winning poetry. Take it Cool seems like a departure from your usual writing. How did you come to write it?

All my books are quite different, in fact - especially if you include Professional DCOM Application Development (yes, that was what the software one was called). So I tend not to think of it so much as a departure as a case of me not having made up my mind about what sort of a writer I want to be yet. Having said that, I'd like to think that if you picked up any of my books (even the DCOM one), you'd be able to tell they were by the same person.

Do you prefer writing fiction, poetry or non-fiction?

That's a bit like asking which of my kids I prefer :) I find any type of writing equally infuriating and equally rewarding. When it's going badly, it's like wading through treacle, whatever the style or genre. When it goes well, it's the best thing in the whole world ever.

Which book do you wish you had written?

The non-fiction book I wish I'd written (although in order to do so I would have had to have put myself in some deeply scary situations) is Jon Ronson's "Them: Adventures with Extremists". It's extremely funny but also massively illuminating, like all of his books. The fiction book I wish I'd written is Steven Hall's "The Raw Shark Texts", which somehow contrives to be funny, moving and thrilling while at the same time weird, mad and experimental.

What are you working on at the moment?

Good question. I'm playing around with various ideas that occasionally look as if they're going somewhere and then fall apart when my back is turned. However, I'm starting a Creative Writing MA very soon (well, it's about time) and I'm hoping that will stimulate me to actually commit to something again!

Thanks Jon, and all the very best with Take it Cool

Check out Jon's website

Read an extract from the opening of Take it Cool here