Saturday, 28 February 2009

Veggie Books: The Letters



It's official. Fiona Robyn is fabulous. She's kicking off her month long tour of blogs right here at the Veggie Box. That's not the only reason she's fabulous but it's a good one.

Her book The Letters is out soon and it contains a whole heap of vegetables. I asked her some questions about it and she replied, being of a good heart.

1. Tell us what you grow in your veggie patch.

I try and grow the things I like to eat. Last year garlic was a great success – we were eating it from June through to January, when I planted the last four heads for this year’s crop. I never realised that papery husk starts off all fleshy and green. I put spidery asparagus crowns in a couple of years ago – we should get our first modest harvest this Summer. Also courgettes, potatoes, beans, raspberries, beetroot, radishes… yum.

2. 'The Letters' contains the most amazing amount of fruit and veg I've come across in a novel. In order of appearance, there's cucumbers, onions, garlic, mango, apples, blackcurrants, potatoes, lemons, peaches, strawberries, runner beans, raspberries, cabbage, peas, carrots and bananas. It gives the book a fresh sense of detail, and an alive quality, i think. How important is this kind of detail to you in your writing? Do you see it as the key to a scene, or just the (salad) window dressing?

Really? I’m amazed I managed to squeeze in all that fresh produce… although I’m not sure the banana counts as it’s in banoffee pie? I do like the thought of you happening upon a mango or a lemon and making a little triumphant note ; ) It’s a good question. I do think that details are crucial. I’d rather know something small and specific about a character (that they hold a lock of their hair across their mouth when they’re thinking) than something more general (that they’re an accountant). I suppose I hope that the details are a ‘way in’ for the reader – if I do a good job of describing the way this character walks out of the room, it’ll say what I want the reader to know about how alone this character is, or how they deal with disappointment.


3. It's a very organic book, dealing with birth, death, growth, how we spread out our emotions and how they get chopped back, only to grow again. I kept picturing your main character, Violet, as a plant. Maybe a fennel bulb, growing straight up, not spreading out, but putting out delicate feathery fronds. How did you picture her? She's a great character.

Violet as fennel… yes, I can see that! I certainly see her as prickly, so maybe something like a pineapple, you have to work a bit harder to get into the sweet stuff.


4. And finally, give us a veggie anecdote. Anything. We're not picky (although personally I'm not keen on stories that involve tomatoes).

A couple of year ago I was incredibly excited about my butternut squash seeds, but six weeks after planting them nothing had happened. I was resigned to waiting until next year when my friend Hazel mentioned that she had a spare butternut plant, and would I like it? I was so chuffed. I did notice that it looked remarkably similar to the six courgette plants in the same bed, but hey, I thought, it’s all squash. I patiently watched it grow over the coming months – weeding around it, feeding it, my mouth watering at the thought of home-grown roasted butternut. It wasn’t until it had actually produced its first courgette that I was forced to acknowledge Hazel’s unfortunate mistake.

Thanks Fiona! You're a kumquoit. And the book is a peach. Buy it buy it buy it.

Friday, 27 February 2009

The Tate Modern TH2058 exhbition and me

Aliya is back from Wales and has found out that I, along with fellow ex-Serendipitist Katy Wimhurst, am one of the winners of the Tate Modern TH2058 competition, inspired by the current installation in the Turbine Hall. There were several judges for the competition, including Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, whose work the exhibition comprises of, and author Jeff Noon.

The six winning stories will be recorded as an audiobook read by Christopher Eccleston and available for download. Big thanks to Jenni Fagan for the intial heads-up about the competition and thanks to JupiterSF for publishing the story in the first place, way back when in issue 8 (they're now on 23 and it's a quarterly publication).

Here's the full list of stories. Congratulations to the other winners.

Lagan by Anthony Scott
Snap-Shots of the Apocalypse
by Katy Wimhurst
The Family
by Bruce Stirling
158 days
by Rachel Stevenson
Remembrance
by Neil Ayres
Overclock
by Sumit Dan

In limbo

My new manuscript—which from now on I’ll refer to as RD—is finished and has just been set loose on unsuspecting publishing types. While I wait for a response, I’ve tentatively started another book in a similar vein, in the hope I can find a publisher for RD and that they’ll want more of the same, only different.

Like RD, this new book will be fairly complex and no doubt quite difficult to write, but short and probably it’ll be described as ‘literary’. (To give you an idea, Aliya read and critiqued—very very well—RD, and subsequently described it as Ian McEwan mixed with Richard Adams (that’s the fellow who wrote Watership Down). A description I can live with quite happily. In return I attempted to compare the Lena and Pru mysteries with a mix of authors and plumped for Andy McNab meeting Alexander McCall Smith down a dark alley. Can anyone else more widely read than me come up with a better comparison?

Anyway, I digress. As well as starting the new difficult-to-write-Ian McEwan-Richard Adams affair (longhand), I’ve also begun to write another book: what I think is a really strong concept for a sprawling—in that there are a minimum of about a dozen primary players—spec fic book (straight to screen).

I guess I wait to see what happens with RD before committing to one more than the other. In the meantime Aliya and I are writing another story together. Well, when she gets back from Wales.

nb That's not me limbo dancing by the way

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Cheep, cheep

For those of a tweeting inclination, I'm now on Twitter, although probably won't make much use of it for a while. Follow me.

Sunday, 22 February 2009

Just because David Isaak hasn't mentioned it yet

My favourite book on the art of writing is Italo Calvino's Six Memos for the Next Millennium, which I have probably read more than any other book now barring Stig of the Dump. This weekend I found another reason to love it, given recent musings on the length of fiction. In the essay regarding Quickness, Calvino lambasts the publishing industry for ignoring shorter fictions. He states 'I should like to break a lance on the field for the richness of short literary forms, with they imply in terms of style and concentration of content.'

Hear, hear.

And talking of Calvino, if you haven't read this before, read it now.

Thursday, 19 February 2009

The stylistics

More on style, this time from Hal Duncan, author of Vellum.

There's a lot of sense in there, but I don't agree with everything he says. I guess in some ways, I see structure as an important factor in my fiction, sometimes more than plot, but I would rather read a good story told straightforwardly, than a bad story in the right style and written with a brilliant structure. Then again, I'd go with reading a bad story brilliantly written, than a good story badly written.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Of Pens and Keys

Some magazines you may not have heard of.

In the UK: Pen Pusher

Aand in the US: Keyhole

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Veggie Books: Thin Blue Smoke

This book made me want to visit Kansas City just to eat the barbecue. But the veggies sound great too:

Smoke Meat does serve beans, but not barbecue beans the way most people think of them, which is navy beans, baked in brown sugar and barbecue sauce, with bits of brisket tossed in. For that reason, LaVerne doesn't call his beans 'barbecue beans'. He calls them 'beans'. The recipe is straightforward: pinto beans cooked with chopped onions and jalapeno peppers, enormous amounts of garlic, way too much salt, and a pinch of cumin. Just the way LaVerne's grandmother made them down in Plum Grove, Texas.

I wanna eat these beans.

This book demonstrates what I've been blogging about for a while now. Food makes things real, grounded, and I like the real in books, particularly when it then bangs up against the surreal. Doug Worgul does this so well, with the giant snapping turtle and the Watership Down fixation stories that enliven a very real series of characters and stories.

This book is exactly my kind of book. I love it.

Monday, 16 February 2009

Curtain call

Fifteenth and final edition of Serendipity is alive. This is a 'best of' collection, and in it you'll find stories from, among others, Patrick Samphire, one Aliya Whiteley, Lavie Tidhar, Hal Duncan, E Nesbit and The Brothers Grimm, plus a few more. A great story each and every one.

Monday, 9 February 2009

Keep on running


Aliya mentioned the other day, in amongst the spoons and Albanians--er, sorry, Bulvanians--that she considers herself to be a very stylistic writer. I'd say the same about myself too. I stumbled across this link to an essay by the Harukmeister on the Apex blog, where he equates writing not with running this time, but with music:

Sunday, 8 February 2009

MFW Curran and the Floating Lotus

Possibly the oddest keyword search to arrive at our blog recently. The term was Matt Curran "Yoga". Matt, is there something we're not being told?

Thursday, 5 February 2009

The short of it

Okay, so I'm really really close to finishing my novel, and have decided to drop the Dalmation island WWII back story I had going on. This will bring the book in at around 200pp. Pretty short, huh. I was a little bit worried about this, and then I found this site, to which I'm very grateful. Okay, so only a few books under the general fiction list were published this century, but I won't let that deter me. I like reading short novels, and it appears I also can't write anything that isn't one. Maybe I should look for a French publisher rather than a British one? They don't seem to have a problem with little books, and my novel would probably come out longer in French.

Help ease my pain, tell me your favourite novels of around 200pp, better still if the author's not been dead for more than twenty years or so.

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

What the bleep?

I just had to point out this post on uber-writer Jeffrey Ford's blog. And in case you haven't heard of/haven't read Jeff's books before, you will be in for a big treat if you check any of them out, but I particularly recommend The Portrait of Mrs Charbuque, or The Girl in the Glass, or indeed The Cosmology of the Wider World, or, well, I haven't read them all, but most probably any of them. So long as you're not Mary Whitehouse of course. And he's right, there really isn't that much swearing in them.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

This is New Radio

And the lord of the veggies said, 'Let there be sound', and there was, and it was found at the foot of the page.

Monday, 2 February 2009

Veggie Books: Great Tales From English History 7150BC - AD1381


It was during Britain's Roman centuries that cabbages, peas, parsnips and turnips came to be cultivated in the British Isles. The Romans brought north bulkier, more meat-bearing strains of cattle, as well as apples, cherries, plums and walnuts for British orchards - plus lilies, roses, pansies and poppies to provide scent and colour for the island's early gardens. The British were famous for their trained hunting dogs, which they bred, trained and sold to Europe. But it was probably thanks to the Romans that now appeared, curled up by the second-century fireside, the domestic cat.

How strange to think of a Britain that once had neither a rose or a cat in it.

Robert Lacey, the author, tells a mean tale. Hadrian's Wall, Boadicea, Richard Lionheart, Edward Longshanks, Robin Hood, Wat Tyler, and the origins of so many customs and happenings that I never really thought about before. Top stuff.