I am a Word. I am a Word in Shelley Jackson’s short story ‘Skin’, published on the bodies of 2095 volunteers. You applied and, if accepted, you were sent a word that you had to have tattooed anywhere on your body apart from on a body part that happened to match the word you had been sent. For me – my word was ‘After’ – that wasn’t an issue, and so I got my first (and probably last) tattoo. I had volunteered because…
With this strong intro to this week’s Unsung Letter by Nicholas Royle hanging tantalisingly before you, I urge you to keep reading here and subscribe here so you’ll never miss another Unsung Letter, a weekly missive by a different book lover on an underpraised book by a living author.
I have a kind of a companion piece to the personal anthology of flash that went up the other day: an essay on how to read things that we don’t think are for us, including flash fiction (which plenty of people struggle to read, I’ve found, and not wish was something else)
Here it is: You know what you like. You read a particular type of book, but you won’t venture into certain territories, because they are boring, or they are Not For You. You don’t “get” poetry. You only get poetry of a certain type. You only read macros on Instagram. You don’t see the point of flash fiction. Short stories are fine (but you haven’t read any all the way through in a few years). Harry Potter inspired your adoration for reading, but nothing has lived up to that thrill.
It’s basically a love song to the joys and rewards of reading indiscriminately but attentively. Check it out here. If it makes even one person take a breath and read something new and challenging, I shall be happy.
A little while ago, I went down to Leeds for a reading event at Blackwells, and managed to squeeze in time to visit Manchester so I could be on one of my favourite podcasts (genuinely, not just saying this for effect). Unfortunately it was such a fleet visit that we couldn’t chat for long before I had to rush off for a connecting train but! You can listen to the full podcast here, in which Rob, the host, talks to Kate Feld about the upcoming Manchester Literature Festival as well as hearing a bit from me on Flesh of the Peach, research, and the formations of the next novel. Too little time, but great questions.
(a ghostly polaroid of West Sands, St Andrews)
In other news – I will be in St Andrews this Wednesday at Waterstones – 6.30pm. I’ll be chatting about the book and signing and I hope if you’re in the area you’ll come along and stymie me with a smart question or two. I attended the University of St Andrews and it’s always a delight to head back there. I hope to take more polaroids, spooky and otherwise.
The event is free and there will be refreshments. More details here.
Writer and critic Jonathan Gibbs has created a tinyletter in which he invites other writers to make up a personal anthology of short stories – and he has very kindly asked me to give mine. I chose flash fiction, beloved genre, and found a lot of enjoyment in researching just which stories I wanted for this hypothetical project. In the piece, I’ve linked to a lot of excellent fictions, so I’d encourage you to go over and take a look (brew yourself a big cup of tea or a whole cafetiere) and take this lazy day to read through them all. Especially so if you haven’t read much flash before now, or haven’t heard of it before (welcome, if so, please thing about buying my collection, and some of the books mentioned in the link, may this form delight you). Under each link to excellence, I try to break down what I love about it. A snippet:
This story recently placed third in an online flash fiction contest and to my mind is one of those pieces that shows how much can be packed into a small space – like a suitcase that is not just overflowing, but so full it seems to warp the notion of a suitcase at all.
Read my piece in full here, and subscribe to Gibbs’ weekly tinyletter here (highly recommended).
Let me know if you go on to buy a flash anthology or loved (or did not love) the stories I link to!
This week a bookseller brings us his favourite – a famous author’s more obscure book:
It’s a long novel and I would have been happier for it to be much longer. I don’t want to tell you too much about what happens in it, but of course [redacted] experiences a few fortunes and some dismal lows. Throughout it all though, [redacted]’s calm acceptance of a bleak and hardly tolerable world remains a constant.
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A story from the newest collection I’m working on – While We Have the Light – is up on The Wild Hunt:
I have arranged my shoes in their boxes from the smallest size to the largest, around my body, which is only one size, the size it has been since I was thirteen. I am an adult now but a coiled one, waiting in this body yet to spring.
Read the full piece here.
I say it’s a story but there might be some debate over that – is it in fact a prose poem? It has a kind of narrative, but also circles around itself. Read it, and let me know what you think either here or on twitter, I’d love to know where you fall on it.
This week’s Unsung Letter is by Jonathan Gibbs, on a book with a relatable character blundering her way through the world:
So [redacted] is a comedy about a person having a breakdown, but it’s also a serious enquiry into the assumptions that drive our (most of our) ordinary lives, and about what happens if you question those assumptions, if you step off the carousel.
Read the letter here, and make sure to subscribe to the Unsung Letter for a weekly missive on an undersung book deserving of your attention, and written by a different book lover / writer / critic each time.