Chapter Six: This Means of Darkening the Things We Love (a Hallowe’en Special)…
…in which I venture into deepest Transylvania to speak with Alison Littlewood and Thomas Fletcher. Topics include: nature, fear, death, standing stones, the Moors and plumbing.
As usual, you can download this episode from iTunes.
Who is Alison?
Alison’s A Cold Season was selected for this year’s Richard and Judy Bookclub. For those not in the know, the Richard and Judy Bookclub has been one of the most surprising and most influential forces in publishing in recent history. They pick engrossing novels which subsequently go on to sell in numbers most writers can only dream about. It’s not difficult to see why they picked Alison’s book: it’s readable, brilliantly paced and boasts a sense of place so strong you’re left wondering why all writers don’t set their novels in small, snowbound villages in the North. Beyond this book she’s also a prolific short story writer who’s been published in mainstays such as Best New Horror and Black Static.
Who is Tom?
Tom has now published three novels, the most recent of which, The Ravenglass Eye, was published last month. His writing is both consistent and consistently good: set in a fictional rendering of the rural North West, it tends to present the surrounding landscape as powerful and almost sentient. It’s in these places his characters find their emotional lives played out with a pathos not often found in horror fiction. If that all sounds a bit high-minded, he also writes about werewolves and screaming crabs. He’s also a creative workhorse: he’s not even 40 and his fourth book is already with his publisher.
Let the Right One In – John Ajvide Lindqvist coming of age story about insanity, community and vampires.
The Ritual – Adam Nevill, who made a name for himself by so deftly transposing the uncanny into busy urban cityscapes, took off into the Scandinavian wilds with his third novel in which a group of university friends get lost in the woods and unwittingly awaken something awful.
Stephen King – don’t pretend not to know who Stephen King is.
Chapter Five: Making Opposites Fit Together…
… in which I once again find myself in Finsbury Park to force Adam Marek to not only have a conversation with me, but to do so in a noisy Turkish café and allow me to record it. Topics include: the short story, being an unpublished author, and the pleasures of copywriting for the RSPB.
As usual, you can download this episode from iTunes.[audio http://bookish.jellycast.com/files/audio/marek%20complete.MP3]
Who is Adam?
The first thing that made me want to read Adam Marek‘s book was the titles of the stories it contained. The collection itself is titled Instruction Manual For Swallowing and has a cover which suggests it might be just that: a manual. The titles themselves – ‘The 40-Litre Monkey’, ‘Testicular Cancer vs. The Behemoth’, ‘A Gilbert And George Talibanimation’ – more like titles for Turner Prize entrants than works of fiction, hint towards the esoteric and abstract qualities which you don’t often see in modern British writing, but which I go to great lengths to seek out. How could I resist?
The title of the collection itself sums up its content. People, objects and scenarios as banal and ordinary as you could ever wish to meet find themselves inexplicably situated in unfamiliar worlds, more often than not worlds of dysfunctional or hyper-functional of flesh. If that all sounds a little highfalutin, I should say that, aside from satisfying my own personal weirdo book-tastes, Adam’s book also manages to be consistently very funny and very poignant.
Anyway, when I met him he seemed disconcertingly normal and well-adjusted (a pattern which has emerged over the course of my meetings in this podcast – the odder the fiction, it seems, the more dauntingly normal the author), maybe even a little bemused by the fact that someone had called him out to ask him about his job for a couple of hours.
Robert Aickman – my favourite writer (at the moment), his short fiction bridges the gap between the traditional ghost stories of MR James and the odder, more elliptical works of the likes of Kafka or Robert Walser.
Haruki Murukami – Japan’s literary superstar whose books are a (broadly) happy marriage of the informal writing style ordinarily found in modern American fiction with the more obtuse, open-ended formal trappings Kafka.
Will Self – gravel-throated public intellectual and high priest of literary sarcasm, he’s also a master of the modern weird story.
William Burroughs – shot his wife, became a heroin addict, wrote some very confusing books.
This is the final episode in what I’ve rather grandly taken to calling ‘series one’. Hopefully, Bookish will be back in a few months. I’ve already asked a few writers if they’d like to do an episode and, thus far, have had time-permitting yeses in response.
Chapter Four: A Human World Inside A World of Numbers…
…in which I find myself in the hallowed environs of University College London; specifically, in Alex Preston’s office where I battle against a mammoth hangover to ask him about how religion affects us, writing fiction about the financial crisis, and which of L Ron Hubbard’s books are worth reading.
As usual, you can also listen to this episode on iTunes.[audio http://bookish.jellycast.com/files/audio/preston%20complete.MP3]
Who is Alex?
I first met Alex Preston at the award ceremony for the Manchester Fiction Prize in 2011. We’d both been shortlisted and had shown up for a surreal evening of posh frocks and mind-bending sums of prize-money. By then he’d already published This Bleeding City, a novel set around the credit crunch, which was very much informed by his time spent working in The City and received as one of the few genuinely successful attempts at handling the financial crisis in fiction. Since then he’s published his second novel, The Revelations, which focuses on a group of young people in London looking for meaning in a religion whose true motivations and influence seem to elude them. I’d come directly from my day-job as an admin worker to that award ceremony, wearing my creased suit, my head still full of Excel formulas, exhausted. Now I was suddenly surrounded by clever, eccentric book-people, all directing free wine and unanimous praise my way. I spent most of the evening talking to Alex, my ally of normality and a really nice guy.
When I met Alex again to record this podcast I was very hungover. So hungover, in fact, that I singularly failed to ask him to provide a reading of his work to close the podcast (as is traditional). Instead, for literally no reason other than I think it’s a lovely song, I’ve opted to end on Billy Cotton and His Band’s ‘The March Hare’, recorded from one of my great grandfather’s gramophone records.
Richard Holloway – The former Bishop of Edinburgh whose recent memoir, Leaving Alexandria, documents his loss of faith.
Justin Cartwright – British novelist whose latest book, Other People’s Money, relates the story of a family whose fortunes are intertwined with that of those who look after their finances.
Sebastian Faulks – A Week In December. Faulks’s stab at a recession novel. It hasn’t been well received.
Anthony Trollope – Famously reviled on its original publication, Trollope’s best known work, The Way We Live Now, is now seen as the classic state-of-the-nation novel.
L Ron Hubbard – Science-fiction writer who let praise go to his head.
Frank Norris – One of America’s great naturalistic chroniclers in fiction, his best known work is McTeague.
Emilé Zole – The French novelist who set the model for the public intellectual in France, his best known work remains Germinal.
Martin Amis – Author of, amongst other books, Money, a classic comic novel of financial excess and existential anguish.
Hopefully, the Billy Cotton record being a pre-vinyl one, there’s no issue of copyright but, if a descendant or representative of Mr Cotton is listening and takes issue, let me know and I’ll snip the music off the end.
Chapter Three: I Feel Utterly Oddly Proud And Utterly Worthless…
…in which I find myself in Chorlton, the keffiyah capital of Manchester, speaking with Socrates Adams about working in recruitment, living in the wild, and his first book Everything’s Fine.
You can also find this episode on iTunes.
Who is Socrates?
For the longest time I knew only of Socrates. The writers of North West would speak of him in a uniformly praising and affectionate tone, directing me to his blog, Chicken and Pies, or imploring me to go see him read at one of Manchester’s intimidatingly well-attended literary evenings. And I never did – not because I didn’t want to; chance, as chance will, just got in the way. In the end I met him through work – we found we both worked for the same bookshop chain, two in the mighty secret army of writers toiling quietly away as retail minions. From his blog, I’d pictured him perpetually on drugs, covered in paint, blood and stains of less decipherable fluids, and always either screaming or crying or laughing manically. He turned out to be a nice guy.
When I read his online stuff, I really liked it. And when I read his novel – Everything’s Fine, the beginning of which you can hear him read at the end of the podcast – I thought it was brilliant. It manages to combine all the simplicity, weirdness and semi-nihilism that writing on the internet demands with the pathos, poignancy and depth of character you’d expect of a novel.
The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa – written in the 20’s and early 30’s, this is, some would say, the ur-novel of the enigmatic fragmented, fractured narrative that was to become so ubiquitous during the 20th century.
Chapter Two: Pressed up Against The Window of What They Haven’t Got
… in which I find myself in London talking to Greg Stekelman about writing for the internet, the strange hinterland cul-de-sac of Greg’s non-famous fame, and that most cruel of mistresses, most delicious of poisons: Twitter.
You can also find this episode on iTunes.[audio http://bookish.jellycast.com/files/audio/greg%20280312.MP3]
Who is Greg?
Greg, perhaps better known as Twitter’s @themanwhofell, has also published two books: A Year In The Life Of The Man Who Fell Asleep, a novel based around various pieces from his website; and London Tales (or Tube Tales, as I wrongly name it in my introduction), a picaresque, fragmented graphic novel which is also that most Victorian-sounding of things: a privately published book. He has also recently started posting short stories onto his Facebook page, one of which you can hear him read at the end of the podcast.
Twitter – a ‘social network’ website/mocroblog where anyone is allowed to open an account and post updates of 140 characters or less.
Masterchef – a cookery-based reality show.
Should have said in last week’s episode: thank you to BinaryDad for letting me tinker about with his chaoscillator, thus providing the show’s ‘theme tune’.
Hello there. This is Bookish, a podcast in which writers are forced to have conversations.
Chapter One: The Rain And Slugs Howled Around Us…
…in which I find myself in Preston with Jenn Ashworth. Jenn is a novelist, a childhood friend, and an ex-Mormon. We discuss lost novels, lost teenagers, what it’s like to be from the North, and the terrifying things Latter-Day-Saint-folk get up to. You can listen to it here or you can download it on iTunes.
Who Is Jenn?
There’s no sense in sticking a parasol in this cocktail. Jenn writes books which are dark, bleak and claustrophobic. A Kind of Intimacy, her first novel, recounts the wildly unreliable memoirs of a morbidly obese woman as she becomes increasingly obsessed with her neighbours. Her second, Cold Light – from which you get to hear Jenn read at the end of this episode – describes the lies, anxieties and secrets that dominate the lives of a group of teenage girls in a Preston in the 1990’s. Despite this grim subject matter she (and her books) are very funny. Her third book, this time viewing a day in the life of a Mormon family in Chorley, is on its way.
Should they be unavailable from your friendly local bookshop, you can buy Jenn’s first two books, A Kind of Intimacy and Cold Light, from Amazon. If you’d like to know more about her you can visit her website or even follow her on Twitter.
Some of the books we mention:
Pale Fire – a 1962 novel by Vladimir Nabokov, ostensibly a poem, the story is related through the extensive commentary footnotes which make up most of the book.
On The Road – Jack Kerouac’s famous story from 1957 describes two men wandering around America acting as though they’re the first people to ever have fun.
The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath’s semi-autobiographical novel of angst and depression.
Paper Swallows and ‘The Balloon Book’ – two unpublished books by Jenn Ashworth. ‘The Balloon Book’, a 90,000 word document, was on a laptop taken during a break-in at Jenn’s house.
The Unconsoled – Kazuo Ishiguro’s 1995 novel, described at the time as having ‘invented its own category of badness’.