The direct view of the valley from where we stay used to be of the knuckles of the foothills and the higher, snow-draggled peaks behind them. Once there were villages in those foothills, terracotta-roofed, strung out like spiderwebs and glittering in the sun. And closer: rows of vines and pale cocoa-coloured fields freshly turned, and ivy-wrapped trees, the delicate, reaching blue limbs of pines, olive trees showing their silver leaves, the ample woodpile stacked on the other side of the road.
The story was written while on a residency in a beautiful house in the hills of Tuscany, and this September between the 14th-21st, I’ll be teaching a low-stress writing retreat called Write Toscana in the same place – hopefully with stunning view still very much attached. It’s mostly going to be about the enjoyment of place and the freedom to experiment in your writing (and to eat delicious local food) If you are interested in coming along – more details in the link above, and here. I’d love to see you.
The muscles of the poplar trees beat about, and the warm night is full of calls, or there is worn-hour haze, but invisible so in a darkness like this, a rain green darkness, and feet follow unseen feet across uncertain ways, between high and waving grass, spatters of mud on legs, boards, slipped shoes and sighs, until at last a light…
(my portrait by Chris Close at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, taken by D.)
Thank you to everyone who came along to events I was speaking at and to the organisers – Blackwell’s Edinburgh, the wonderful (as always) EIBF, and Amnesty International. Back to quietly writing things.
Here’s a story from Mayhem & Death in Books From Scotland’s Festival edition:
‘A room can have disorder or stains in it. But this room does not, will not. All is in order, now. Let’s take one last look, one long breath in and out. A room in a story cannot be a haunted room, unless the writer puts the ghosts in there, or the suggestion of ghosts into it.’
Tomorrow, at Blackwell’s Writers at the Fringe (Blackwell’s Edinburgh), from 6pm, with Jonathan Whitelaw, Sam McColl, Noelle Harrison and Robert J Harris (free!). Tickets here.
Friday, at the Edinburgh International Book Festival (Writer’s Retreat), 6.30pm, with the excellent Camilla Grudova (£8/£6). Tickets here.
Saturday, at the Amnesty International Imprisoned Writers Series at the Edinburgh International Book Festival (Baillie Gifford Corner Theatre), with Roxanne Bouchard, Gina Miller, and Gunnar Staalesen (free) tickets available in box office on the day.
At the first two I’ll be reading from recently published Mayhem & Death– at the Blackwell’s I’ll be reading a story in that collection dedicated to my father. In the third, I’m reading the words of an activist silenced in Edrogan’s Turkey.
Ahead of the (by the way excellent) launch of 404’s 3rd edition of their magazine (on the theme of Power – available here) event hosts Interrobang interviewed me and other performers Ross McLeary, Siobhan Shields and Kaite Welsh. Click through to see what I’d like for a superpower and my favourite song with the word “power” in it.
I also got to see The Goldblum Variations in the flesh for the first time (as well as hearing some fab surreal stories, hanging out with good folk and buying myself some 404 merch and copy of the Hings B-sides). Fantastic!
Recently, I’ve found myself championing experimental fiction written by women. There are two reasons for this: one, it’s a genre where I think women are producing the most interesting and innovative work and two, if you looked to mainstream coverage of experimental fiction written by women you might believe it begins and ends with Eimear McBride.
Why, I wonder, does experimental fiction by women go largely ignored?
Read the full letter here. Subscribe here for a weekly missive by a different writer on an underpraised book that deserves a wider audience than the quiet of the void. Stay tuned for a giant Christmas Unsung Letter in the coming weeks (once I get to it – it’s huge!)
Obligatory reminder in the run-up to the festive season – you can buy The Goldblum Variations for £5 here – it’s a collection of Jeff Goldblum stories. Perfect stocking filler/surprise placemat for the Jeff Goldblum appreciator in your life (or anyone who likes absurdist fun). Also if you’d like to get my novel Flesh of the Peach on its rapidly-dwindling print run, you can buy it here (worldwide free shipping) or from your local indie bookshop.
This week’s Unsung Letter is from Helena Roots, on an intense book satirising relationships with food, American culture, and other bodies:
I have a tendency, particularly as the days shorten and the cold tightens its grip, to reach for books that warp my own ideas of normality. If I go off-radar in the Autumn and Winter months, and I often do, chances are I’m wrapped up in a blanket, being chewed up and spat out by books just like this.
Subscribe to The Unsung Letter to receive a weekly essay by a different writer / book lover on a book they think is underbeloved and worthy of praise. The archive is available too, if you’d like to have a browse.