Picking up my books from Salt
J and I arrived in Cambridge and the next day we headed off in our rental car to Salt's new offices to pick up three boxes of The White Road and Other Stories to take back with us. We stayed for quite a while, chatting about short stories and books in general with Chris and Jen, discussing innovative ideas for promotion of which there will be more soon. They do such sterling work, enough to keep an army busy, mostly done for love rather than for enormous profits (which would not be turned down, however!), and I for one am extremely grateful, they made my dream come true. A medal for Service to the Short Story is on its way!
The Frank O'Connor International Short Story Festival
Arriving in Cork last Wednesday, J and I dashed from our hotel to the opening Festival event, the launch of Stinging Fly's anthology, Let's Be Alone Together. Tantalising snippets were read by several of the authors, all new to me, and I met the driving force behind Stinging Fly, Declan Meade, a passionate short story advocate with a fabulously dry sense of humour.
One of the highlights of my trip was meeting some of the wonderful folk with whom I have been in touch on email and through blogs for quite a while. First was Nuala (aka Women Rule Writer), an Irish literary star of both poetry and short stories. It's a wondrous thing the way friendships can blossom through correspondence, and meeting her it was obvious why we hit it off so well! I then met both Clare Wigfall, this year's winner of the BBC National Short Story Award, and Alison MacLeod, winner of this year's Society of Authors' Olive Cook Award, two Short Review authors with whom I had emailed, Adam Marek, the "robot wasp" man, and Wena Poon, whose collections are in my "to review" pile, watch this space. Congratulations to Julia Van Middlesworth, winner of this year's Sean O'Failain short story competition with her astonishing story, Daddy Dead, which is still reverberating inside me, 5 days later.
And it was wonderful, as always, to see Vanessa, and spend more time (and swap books with) with fellow Salt author Carys Davies, and our lovely publisher, Jen from Salt, rightfully lauded for publishing what may be ten percent of the world's single author short story collections this year (not sure about those figures....) I hope I haven't missed anyone, apologies if I have.
What of the sessions? Well, most featured two writers reading a short story each, and this was excellent planning because it is hard to concentrate intensely on more than two at a time, and the short story is something that requires intense listening skills. I was introduced to many names that were new to me - Jon Boilard, William Wall, Vincent McDonnell, Ian Wild, Rachel Trezise, Simon Robson and others, who demonstrated the range and versatility of the short form.
And on the Friday it was my turn. I read as part of the SouthWord showcase along with two other writers - the larger-than-life Julien Campredon, who had traveled from France and read an English translation of part of his wacky story about punks and elves and heavily-armed museum staff, and Denise O'Keefe, who read her stunning Sean O'Faolain shortlisted story from last year. I had thought I was going to be nervous, but after two days of listening to others in Cork's Triskel Arts Centre, I had a sense that it was my turn and I wanted to show what I could do. Nuala had run a flash fiction workshop that morning, so I read a flash story from The White Road, and a longer story. And I loved every minute of it! J filmed it, so there might just be a YouTube video next week sometime...
I was the only person to read a flash story, and I got a lot of wonderful feedback about flash, people seem very excited about the form, as well they should be. After the reading I sold 5 copies of my book and did my first signing. (Thanks to my Dad and stepmother, Carole, for the photos - and for coming to hear me!)
One of the best aspects of the festival was the post-reading pub conversations, complete with sandwiches and free drinks for the authors, every night. Nattering about the short story, about books and about writing, every night; I was in heaven. Many congrats to Pat Cotter and the Munster Literature Centre for the smooth organisation and varied line-up, I highly recommend next year's festival, and hope that it doesn't clash with that other short story extravaganza, Small Wonder, which caused Clare and several others to have to jet off to England. The world has so few short story festivals, we should be allowed to attend both, no?
London: Ride the Word III and MIR
I flew to London on Tuesday night after two relaxing days with Dad and Carole, including a rousing game of croquet, and came straight back into the literary whirl. Lunch with Jeremy Osbourne of Sweet Talk, who produced the three stories I've had on Radio 4, chatting about books and stories, radio and television, with promises of attempts to get some flash fiction on the radio! Then a meet-up with Vanessa and another writer mate, Sarah Hilary, to go to Ride the Word III, a showcase of Salt poets and short story writers at Borders in Oxford Street: Vincent De Souza, Simon Barraclough, Charles Lambert, Isobel Dixon, and Jay Merill. A very entertaining evening. I have just started on Charles' brand new collection, The Scent of Cinnamon, and will be purchasing some of the others' books from Salt forthwith.
Today, I met another online buddy: Anne Joseph, editor, journalist and short story lover, who has chosen one of my stories for the upcoming anthology in aid of World Jewish Relief, which will be launched at Jewish Book Week in February 2009. We sat and talked for several hours about writing and stories, as well as indulging in a little Jewish geography!
And tonight, to crown it all: the launch of the Mechanics Institute Review from the Creative Writing MA at Birkbeck, edited by, among others, my writer friend Pippa Griffin. In the red-tinted half-light of the atmospheric Horse Hospital in Bloomsbury, we heard extracts from some of the short stories in the anthology, which features new writers alongside big names such as Toby Litt, Ali Smith and short story goddess Sarah Salway, who I finally met! Although it was a little difficult to talk over the background music, it was wonderful to meet Sarah and I hope we'll get the chance to meet again in quieter surroundings.
To sum up
As well as enjoying myself immensely in the kinds of literary surroundings I rarely find at home, these past 10 days have brought about a shift in me. Being in Ireland helped me make that transition from writer-about-to-have-book to writer-with-book, from freaked-out author not quite knowing what it means to have a book to much-calmer-author who is understanding that the world is slightly altered now, but that when it comes down to it, it's all about the writing.
I was inspired to write by every session I went to, and after 5 days of not writing, so desperate was I to get back to it that I headed off into Cork centre by myself with my laptop. After writing a new flash story, I felt much better. This was it. This is what it means. My book is wonderful, I am learning how to graciously accept compliments and what to write when asked to sign it, but mostly I am itching to get on with writing more, exploring new avenues, getting back to my characters. Of course I am going to promote my book as much as possible, and have many ideas for how to do that, but a writer who doesn't write isn't of much use at all. At home next week, I will be back at it, and while I will miss the literary whirlwind, the discussions on writing, the books and more glorious books, I will be where I am supposed to be.