There are two books out this week with my work in them.
On Monday 5th Jan, Sisters Born, Sisters Found (Wordforest) is out via ebook. In paperback already, it carries my feminist essay “You women! You’re such bithes!”. The book is an exploration of sisterhood in all its guises. Thanks to editor Laura McHale Holland from Wordforest for all the hard work she put into producing the book.
On Tuesday 6th Jan, the ebook version of Slim Volume : No Love Lost (Pankhearst) is also released, with the paperback available since December. I help celebrate anti-romance with my flash fiction “Good Times”. Edited by Kate Garrett, the book is a full of beautiful stories and poetry. I read “Good Times” on YouTube:
A (slightly late) launch for No Love Lost takes place in Sheffield on 29th January, details here.
The woman in my writing group she’s buzzing, animated like she’s about to open a birthday present. She’s grinning, all teeth and eyes and flushed cheeks, grasping onto the chapter of my book printed onto three white sheets. This writing group is formal, work emailed for critique a full four days before meetings. Try sending it in later, three days or even two, and you’re out, no messing about. The sheets in the woman’s hand creak and whine she grips so hard, her knuckles turning white, bone joints pushing out stretching the skin. Her smile is fixed and brittle, eyes darker than normal. It hits me. She’s not excited but angry, and her anger is directed at me.
The chapter in the book I’m writing peruses on the grimness of winter. Winter smells of nothing, it observes; not like the summer I love, with its flowers and foliage, the hum of malty pollen and cut grass delighting the senses. If I am honest with myself I suspect I might go on a bit in this chapter and the work needs editing and refining, but this is my first draft of many so there’s time to let it prove, like a good loaf. I got the winter weather idea coming from a pub lunch with friends, a pub with gardens and grounds around it. In the warmer months it’s fresh and green and smells amazing but in January the garden is just damp and dull. I scribbled “no smell” in Olive, my notebook, on the train home. That’s what notebooks like Olive are for, to scribble down your observations and the odd cheeky word for later use.
Back in the writing group the woman is staring. I’m wondering, maybe she doesn’t like my chapter, thinks it’s crap. I hope not because I’m pleased with it.
‘Who wants to go first?’ I say.
Not bothered, shrugs everyone. No one ever wants their work to be examined and critiqued first although we are all friendly enough. Not friends exactly, but cordial companions.
‘We’ll do mine first, then,’ I say.
The woman’s brittle smile flinches, but she grins.
‘Well, what did you think?’ I throw it out to the room and brace myself to hear views on my chapter.
‘I like the thing about the weather,’ says one member. ‘It might need some editing though. To give it more punch.’
Fair enough. I saw that coming. We go around the circle and I’m getting good feedback, some a bit snipey but nothing I can’t take. Then it’s the woman’s turn.
‘Well, what do you reckon?’ I repeat.
She glares and smirks simultaneously. A nervous giggle scratches my throat, and escapes; I can’t help it.
Her features harden. ‘I know where you got this from!’ She stabs the sheets with her finger.
‘Where I got what from?’
‘The thing about winter not smelling of anything!’
I consider whether to tell her about the pub garden. How I came out of the pub with a belly full of veggie lasagne and red wine, dug out Olive and wrote down what I thought. I actually remember writing it down, which is rare because usually Olive just shows me rows of words and random phrases but this I recall noting, it has a thin string of memory attached.
‘Do you?’ I say instead.
‘I said that!’
‘When we came out of that pub, it’s what I said, coming out!’
Oh. The woman had been with us on the pub lunch. I remember that now.
‘I said that!’ She’s hitting the page again.
Had she said it? I don’t remember. But there’s no reason to believe she’s making it up, normally she’s very nice. Not today though.
‘We went to the pub in January. You, me and her!’ She points at another woman who looks terrified.
I recall the lunch with them in January. Olive was with me, skulking in my bag. A writer’s lunch in a pub, the pub with a garden that smelled of nothing.
‘You stole it!’
That’s a bit strong. Still, I start to blush. ‘I can’t remember.’ I’m lying now. The memory is creeping back, readjusting itself in my mind, pushing its way to the front. I’m in the pub garden again and it smells of damp, the bare trees like barcodes against a white-grey sky and I hear the woman’s voice saying “The thing is about winter, it smells of nothing.”
I look down on the printed page of my chapter.
“The thing is about winter, it smells of nothing”.
Oh. My. God.
I brazen it out, but she’s smarting. I feel like a plagiarist, a thief. But I can’t be. Can I? You an’t copyright an idea, a handful of throwaway words. Can you?
‘I’m not going to say anything in front of you anymore.’
I’ve really pissed her off, but can I do? Olive would be bare and blank if I ignore everything round me. What do I write about if I can’t squirrel way words? This has never happened to me before, ever. I think if there was some sort of writer’s disciplinary tribunal she’d have Olive and I in the dock.
The writing group fizzles out soon afterwards and I’m sad in a way, but glad for it. Thief, thief, rings in my ears when I think of this woman now. Word thief, ideas thief. The frisson of fear and shame.
Charity shops the week before Christmas are traditionally sparse for goodies, New Year is the time when we can pounce and scoop up unwanted gifts. I struck lucky today, and found this foxy little darling.
I don’t know what this was meant to be when originally made but now with a little charity shop magic, it’s my new Kindle cover. YMCA bought, it has a notebook-sized pocket at the back too. Win-win.
Last month I was a judge for Liverpool writing group Poised Pen’s flash fiction competition. The Competition Presentation Night at the Fly In The Loaf in Liverpool city centre was great fun, with lots of flash and poetry.
They say: As if being called out on Christmas day, missing your mam’s roast tatties and an afternoon of Christmas TV isn’t bad enough, you discover you’re headed to the worst crime scene ever… Happy Frigging Christmas indeed!
It’s an honour to be in the same roll call as Agatha Christie, Val McDermid, Peter James, Stuart Mac Bride and other wonderful crime authors, so thank you so much to The Crime Warp for including my story.
It seemed very hypocritical to me that I should whinge about proposed local library closures in my area when I’ve allowed my own membership to lapse, so this week I remedied that. To my shame I’ve rarely visited our library over the past year despite it being just up the road from me, so I’ll be changing my habits from now on. I’ll have to – they’ll be wanting back the books I borrowed, I should imagine.
I think it’s quite sweet and interesting how libraries pop up organically in odd places. It’s quite anarchic. We stayed in Manchester this week – we were at The Lowry to see Roddy Frame – the hotel we rested our heads at was a budget place, but staff/the owner still has the passion to cobble together a few books for residents to mull over. This is possibly the tiniest library in the world, but I thought it was very cool.
National Express coaches here in the north west of England don’t carry the perceived sense of romance connected with the Greyhound bus that you see in films and read of in American classic novels. America’s middle to long distance coach network is a thing of misty eyed legend, the strains of Everybody’s Talkin’ aching in the background and duly breaking our hearts. In the UK, our journeys are fragmented and jerky, no long endless open road for us but instead blank grey motorways with occasional gluts of sad trees high above embankments, foliage never having the chance to grow green and full, the endless traffic choking and smothering it with dirty air. Motorways: kicking sand in a nature’s face, day in and day out.
Travelling on a coach reminds me of school trips and what grim experiences they were, with stressed out teachers and children off their heads on sugar, weeping over squashed sandwiches and warm cans of pop. Thankfully this weekend’s coach trip to Leeds wasn’t like that for us, we went there for a Frankie & The Heartstrings gig and look-see of the city.
Leeds reminds me of Manchester in many ways, I’ve been there for writing festivals twice before but not seen much of the actual city itself. It might be the area we spent time in colouring my view but it seems to have loads going on within a healthy independent sector, a very creative and friendly city.
On our return National Express journey, a very large and loud family got on our coach with two of their number, a man and a little boy choosing to sit behind us. The boy was whiny as bored kids tend to be when they have nothing to do, and kept poking his hand through the gap between the seats and stroking the arm of my faux fur coat while the man carried on a long rambling phone conversation, his attention anywhere but with his son.
After we got off the coach, I told my husband about the stroking.
‘Are you sure it was the boy?’ he said. ‘And are you positive it was his hand…?’