I started entering competitions last year, a bit of a departure for me. I use the more you enter the more likely you are to win approach, because luck is an unreliable concept at best. Amongst other prizes, in early summer I won a balloon flight. It was worth quite a bit, moneywise. A stroke of luck for sure, but after the initial euphoria wore off, the prospect of floating hundreds of miles in the air lost its charm very quickly, even though everyone kept telling me how fantastic it would be. I don’t even like flying in a normal aeroplane so flaoting about in an air balloon with no roof or real walls to cling onto was never going to work for me. So I sold the tickets to a friend and went for a delicious weekend in Glasgow with the cash instead; much preferable.
In November, I won a proof copy of the debut novel everyone in the publishing world is talking about – The Trouble with Goats and Sheep, by Joanna Cannon. This time, I have to say that all who raved to me about it were perfectly right. I loved this book, and its ten year old girl narrator. Set in the hot summer of 1976, when we lived with water shortages and stifling heat but didn’t complain too much about it (imagine, if that happened now, everyone would “take to Twitter” in an offended outrage). 1976, a quieter and much less anxious time, and the year before Elvis died; for that reason itself it seems so long ago.
The Trouble with Goats and Sheep throws a light on people who don’t fit. They are the goats, if you will; the unlucky ones who don’t win competitions not matter how many times they put their name down. There are more goats about than we care to admit, and although we all declare a rebellion of sorts, let’s face it – it’s typically a benign and temporary one. Most of us conform and muddle along sheepishly within the rules, but there are those who don’t slot comfortably into the world, and luck plays a significant role in how that plays out for them. The fine fortune of good health and a nice family who look after you sound simple enough but luck decides if you get either. The goats, the ones who find life more difficult, are often so unlucky with the hand they are dealt. They might be that neighbour who nobody talks to so he keeps himself to himself more and more; the woman who fills her house with cats because she prefers their company to that of the cruel humans she’s met in the past; the teenage girl who wears spectacles with lenses as thick as Murray Mints and would rather stumble along in a quiet blur and begs the other kids at school not to notice her; the youth who can’t get a job no matter how much he wants one. There are so many goats about; far too many.
The Trouble with Goats and Sheep is a kind and funny book. We live in very harsh times and the goats amongst us feel that more, so I think we need a book such as this. It’s hopeful and comforting, a lucky book hug for goats and sheep alike, and out at the end of January. (A free sampler can be found here)
I was in Asda shortly after New Year, earwigging while I was picking up some bits. I’m a writer, it’s what we do. Say something interesting in front of me and it’s going in my notebook, with no exceptions. Anyway, two women were next to me in the queue talking about one of their daughters, whose birthday happened to fall that week. “She understands why she can’t have a birthday party like her brother and sister do,’ said one to the other, sounding sad (but not quite sorry enough for my liking). “Their birthdays are earlier in the year, but hers is just too soon after Christmas.’ Her friend nodded and agreed the January daughter was indeed good girl for being so gracious.
Me, I felt like turning around and bellowing NO, YOUR JANUARY DAUGHTER DOES NOT UNDERSTAND. She puts up with it because she’s a nice kid. Save money up and put it to one side for her party or just don’t give your other children parties. What you are doing is bloody unfair.
I didn’t say any of this. I should have, though. Really wish I had.
This example on its own puts paid to the myth that Christmas only lasts for a single day. That’s the lie that gets told to anyone who finds Christmas uncomfortable or sad or upsetting or irritating, isn’t it? Get through the one day and that’s it, you’re sorted. Breathe, over and done with for another year. Go for a stroll in the afternoon to break it into manageable bitesize chunks and life winds comfortably back to normal after twenty four hours.
Erm, wrong. Christmas stretches out like a yawn. Its effects begin in September and reach well into February, money wise anyway. Financial pressures and general wariness of Christmas is one thing. The birthday issue is another. The fact is, if you have the misfortune to be born In December or January, your special day is disliked by all. People don’t know how to cope with anomalies like birthdays a month before or after 25th December, or so it seems. So I‘ve put together a little guide on how to cope with a friend or relative’s birthday if it occurs around then. I do hope it helps.
Don’t try and shoehorn someone’s birthday into the Christmas night out. No matter how much you convince yourself otherwise, birthdays are on the day cited on a birth certificate and that’s that.
Make the person whose birthday it is the focus of proceedings. It’s the nice – and only – thing to do. Tales of your own Xmas shopping traumas and other personal shit are very poor birthday talk etiquette (but still prove surprisingly common anyway).
Expensive presents are nice, but not important. Even meals out aren’t that much of a biggie (but children’s parties are, bloody hell – I’ll never get over that woman in Asda, ever). The gift of your company is precious. So don’t aim to get home in time to catch Eastenders, or clock-watch because it’s a late shopping night and you have to “get on”.
If you’re going out for a meal or to the movies to celebrate friend’s birthday, let them choose the restaurant or the film. Please.
The Xmas-and-birthday-present-in-one thing. That’s a no. Anyone even thinking about trying this on deserves jail time, and lots of it.
I’m collecting donations of new children’s and YA books for families struggling this Christmas. More information here.
I’m after books, children’s books to be precise. So many families in Liverpool have nothing and Christmas is especially hard to struggle through when the air all around you is thick with the sound of Christmas carols, and the shops are crammed with lovely things you can’t afford to buy. Such families need support to stay together/keep their children out of care.
So we’re putting out an appeal for books; a gift for children who otherwise wouldn’t have anything to open on Christmas morning.
If you are a children’s author or publisher, please consider donating a book. Or if you’re a book lover and would like to buy a gift and send it, that is wonderful too. We are looking for new books for children 0-16 years old. Email me firstname.lastname@example.org if you can help, or leave a comment below.
Also – donations for selection boxes are welcome too. More details here
Slim Volume 3 : This Body I Live In (Pankhearst) is out today, it carries a flash fiction short story from me within its pages. I love the Slim Volume books, crammed full of beautiful poetry and flash, snappy pieces inspired by editor Kate Garrett’s imaginative themes. The book launch is at The Red Deer in Sheffield next Monday, I will be reading my story on the night along with other Slim Volume contributors.
I’m writing a new fortnightly column Obsessive Pop Culture Disorder for The Guide in Liverpool, a tie in with the television programme on BayTV presented by Jay Hynd and Ellie Phillips. In the column I’ll be covering popular culture – books and music, with other bits too.
Presenter Jay Hynd and I go way back, in our days at Liverpool’s City Talk 105.9 we did so many early morning shows. It’s so ace to be working together again.
My first column is up now, if you’d like to take a look.
In Glasgow last weekend, on advice of Mslexia’s Little Ms, I went to Glasgow Women’s Library to see the Femme Fatales and Fragile Frails – Women In Pulp Fiction exhibition. Donna Moore, curator of the exhibition, showed us books and artwork and gave us some background. There’s so much for me to learn about the genre. I had no idea the early books featuring lesbian characters and storylines were marketed at men, for example; I believe the term “one handed read” might be appropriate.
We were given tea and biscuits, chatted to Donna and colleague for a while about book themes, how they changed over the decades and how the covers of pulp fiction books are the finest – the drawings are so damn sexy (all the broads have great racks).
The best “OMG! I think I follow you on Twitter” moment in the world ever came next, when Donna and I realised we knew each other (virtually, that is). Serendipity at its finest – I’m miles away from home, in another country, and stumble upon a kindred spirit.
The Femme Fatales and Fragile Frails exhibition is on all month, and you can try your hand at writing some pulp fiction while you’re there. Oh, and they make the loveliest tea and serve very nice biscuits; always a plus.
I hear this, all the time. Everyone knows everyone else, and if you don’t, you know their mum. There’s an essential noseyness in the blood. I like that. It means you can walk through town anytime and see a familiar face (or their mum’s).
I went to Liverpool author Amanda Brooke’s launch party for The Missing Husband, her brand new novel, on Thursday last at Waterstones in Liverpool ONE. As ever, because it’s Liverpool, I end up talking to people I know, lots of them.
Ahh! You’re here too!
None of them writing people, just folk I know. It’s a joy. A grand evening of wine and words.