30 November 2010

Autumn leaves

As regular readers may have already picked up on, I'm a bit partial to the Tales Of The City series of novels by Armistead Maupin, which follows the weird and wonderful adventures of Mary Ann Singleton, Michael "Mouse" Tolliver, Mrs Anna Madrigal, Mona Ramsay, Brian Hawkins and various other friends and acquaintances of the 28 Barbary Lane household from late 1970s San Francisco. Not surprisingly, therefore, I added the latest instalment to my reading list (as mentioned here) as soon as I got wind of it over the summer.

How pleased was I, then, to have the opportunity, first, to review Mary Ann In Autumn for Peter Wild's brilliant Bookmunch and, second, to attend Armistead Maupin's book launch last week at Waterstone's Deansgate; a sold-out event, complete with reading and Q&A session, which I have now reviewed for the fabulously entitled For Books' Sake.

You can have a shufty at the Bookmunch review here, and the For Books' Sake review here. Thank you for reading.

28 November 2010

Another reading

Well, won't you look at that: that's me, that is, reading my 330 Words story, Hope. You can have the pleasure of perusing it here. This was at yesterday evening's inaugural Unannounced open-mic event at Waterstone's Deansgate. Also reading were David Hartley (with a Pantheon published short story about clowns and punctuation), Tom Mason (with a 330 Words number about the Recorders show at Manchester Art Gallery), Benjamin Judge (with Roy Keane's Telescope from Roy Keane's Lucky Scarf, and Barry, a new story, part of his Who The Fudge Is Benjamin Judge? Advent series), Fat Roland (with The People Vs The Tooth Fairies from 330 Words, and a haiku about Beyonce), Socrates Adams (with an extract from his in-progress novel) and Jon Atkin (with three poems). All were immense.

27 November 2010

Hidden Gems

Thursday night saw the launch of new independent publishing house The Hidden Gem Press.

As well as getting to hear some fabulous work by some lovely local ladies, the evening gave me the chance to finally have a snoop around the International Anthony Burgess Foundation (well, when I say snoop, I mean I went in the cafe, the Engine Room and the his’n’hers loos – “progressive”, as a fellow visitor put it). There are various cabinets containing probably rare but definitely nicely artworked Burgess novels, and loads of weird bits of paraphernalia and objets d’art. There is what appears to be a harpsichord, and also a piano, on which I tried to get Nicholas Royle to bang out a tune, but he was having none of it (to be fair, he already had his hands full, touting Nightjar Press chapbooks next to the folk from Comma Press, including founder and managing editor Ra Page, who I had the pleasure of meeting).

Writer (and Nick’s MMU colleague) Sherry Ashworth is one half of The Hidden Gem Press; the other half is her other half Brian. Sherry did the talking, like any good woman. She explained the thinking behind setting up a new publishers, and the USP of the HGP. She reiterated the website, which outlines the mission statement: "The Hidden Gem Press is based in Manchester and is owned and run by Sherry and Brian Ashworth who have some strong ideas about how to find good fiction and how to publish it. We’re independently run, and we aim to publish good quality novels from the best of emerging writers – and we have a distinctly north-west flavour." She said that "London publishers just don't get the north" and explained that she and Brian see so much "readable fiction" and so many "top-class novelists" that they "want to give them a platform".

Sherry also explained that the first title out of the stable, if you will, is Hungry, The Stars and Everything by Emma Jane Unsworth, which is due to hit the shelves in June 2011. Emma (who I vaguely knew through a friend of a friend and who I forced a hello onto during the evening, poor girl, although she was absolutely lovely and gracious about it) treated us to a couple of extracts from her novel: the prologue and part of a chapter entitled Vintage Champagne. Featuring a main character called Helen Burns (oh, hello, Jane Eyre), it's about different sorts of love (food, romantic...) and Sherry described it as being "like a Russian doll" with many layers of "witty, original, off-the-wall" prose. The parts we heard certainly whetted the appetite.

Emma's "support acts" were fellow Manchester writers Zoe Lambert and Claire Massey (well, Claire is from Chorley and I think Zoe might be from Salford, but hey). Zoe read Down Duchy Road, a sad tale of a soldier's ex-wife Marjorie, and one of her stories from her new collection The War Tour, published by Comma Press in the new year. Claire edits Fairy Tale Cupboard and has previously been mentioned on this blog when she won the Oxfam Short Story Competition back in July with the awesome Chorden-under-Water, which you can read here. She gave us Feather Girls, a fantastical (and fantastic) fable with women and ducks indistinguishable one from the other.

It was a great evening with three great writers. Definitely ones to watch.

There are now piccies of the launch up on The Hidden Gem Press website (I can be seen loitering in the background in one, wearing purple and stroking my hair - very odd behaviours, all), and a brief write-up of the event from Sherry and Brian. You can read Emma's blog post about the shindig here and about the first time she met Sherry here. Zoe's take on proceedings, meantime, is here, while Claire wrote a preview, complete with link to an interview with Sherry on Manhattanchester. (Sherry is also interviewed on Manchester Confidential here.) Salt poet Adrian Slatcher also mentions the evening on his blog The Art Of Fiction.

PLUS: My event review on For Books' Sake.

24 November 2010

Generation #

My fifteen-year-old self would be proud: I am finally part of a scene. It might have been totally made up in a tongue-in-cheek manner after the consumption of a certain amount of alcohol on a loud evening in Common last Friday, but it's still a scene. A literary movement, if you will, which is handy as I have that as a blog label, and it doesn't get used half as much as I'd like. The scene is called the Beatoff Generation, a nod to various previous scenes and a tidy attempt at "blue" humour, and it even has a Twitter hashtag. Plenty has already been written about the scene, and you can read various other #beatoff members go on about it so I don't have to.

There's Fat Roland On Electronica with the snappily entitled "The Beatoff Generation: Our Future Books Shall Bleed From Your Shelves Like A Hardback Elixir Reddened From An Embarrassment Of Grammatical Riches", complete with a whole ton of comments. Then there's "#beatoff - Generation Hashtag" by Sam Bail, editor of B&N Magazine. Adrian Slatcher cottoned onto the excitement, writing "The scene that celebrates itself" on The Art Of Fiction, while Who The Fudge Is Benjamin Judge? gave us "...and then I Made Fridge Magnets". And he did too, and handed them out to the great and the good gathered last night at the launch bash of Bad Language's Scattered Reds anthology, which features one of our very own (Dave "@lonlonranch" Hartley, the brains behind the all-new Screen150 site). Here are the fridge magnets. As @FatRoland said: "Did Kerouac have fridge magnets? No he bloody did not." Well, quite.

So in the spirit of the Beatoff Generation - which is all about writing, reading, collaborating and quaffing - a core number from the group, a critical mass, took part in the open mic slot (after first taking some Dutch courage). All were short short stories; a nod, perhaps, to National Short Story Week. Fat Roland, introduced by lovely Dan Carpenter as "one of the founding members of the Beatoff Generation", was ultra cool and confident in his first-ever short story presentation (the brilliantly leftfield Sandra Sue). Tom Mason (who discusses the evening's proceedings on Audioboo: #beatoff and Bad Language) brought us Lions Not Yet Available, his fabulously inventive tale of umbrella-taming in the Rainy City and his latest offering on the 330 Words writers site he curates. I was announced as "another #beatoff writer" and gave the crowd Glasshouses, a new piece of flash fiction that will shortly be appearing on the revamped relaunched Roy Keane's Lucky Scarf, a collection overseen by magnet-maker extraordinaire and my Ask Ben & Clare colleague Ben (who joined in the drinking, but didn't read because he's stressed and self-loathing about his current novel-writing shenanigans).

Wanna be in our gang? We'll be at Waterstone's Unannounced on Saturday, 6-9pm - join us.

19 November 2010

A moment of fiction #8

It's high time for another instalment of A Moment Of Fiction, wouldn't you say? So here's the agenda for this round-up of all things writery: first up, submissions; second, readings; third, publications; fourth, AOB.

Unsung, "Manchester's best free literary magazine" which had its very own festival earlier this year, is accepting submissions for a December edition promising to be "its mightiest". I'm not privy to the deadline as I hadn't heard back off Mr Matthew Byrne at the time of going to print, but I'm guessing it's pretty soon. Send your poems / prose / articles / illustrations to: unsung.manchester@gmail.com. Matthew says, "Launch night is TBC but I assure you there will be beer, a mic, a roof and a toilet", so keep your eye on Facebook for details as they become available.

Bewilderbliss is under new management. Having completed (and hopefully passed) their creative writing MAs, Matt and Jon are off to pastures new, and poet Max Wallis (of Talk To Me About Love and Something Every Day) is now in the hotseat. Issue 5 has been provided with a theme by lovely poet Jo Bell, one of the brains behind the Bugged project. Not surprisingly, she has picked "overheard". You can read more here and here, but basically you have until 15 January to send up to four poems, up to 5,000 words prose or a piece of black and white artwork relating to the theme for the cover and interior design.

Also on a poetic tip, poetry quarterly Magma welcomes submissions, as I found out at their recent "roadshow" as part of the Manchester Literature Festival (see my review on the official MLF Blog for more). The deadline for the next issue - the 50th! - is 28 February and edition editor Clare Pollard has chosen "journeys" as the theme, but off-theme poems will also be considered. Full details here.

A gentle reminder too that Ask Ben & Clare are also looking for contributions (nothing too strenuous; just a questionable conundrum for the great minds to solve), along with Roy Keane's Lucky Scarf.

Next week, meanwhile, there are a couple of events where you can be inspired by the work of others or indeed dabble in a reading and try your stuff out on a live (albeit dead drunk) audience. The Bad Language gang (aka Dan, Nici and Joe: blog; website) are having a launch night for their second anthology, Scattered Reds, next Wednesday (24 November). At newly done-up and beautifully betiled The Castle, it's free, kicks off at 7.30pm, with the first performer up at about 8pm - and there's still chance to read! If you wish to partake in the open mic slot, get an email off to events@badlanguagemcr.co.uk. You'll be in good company; I hear some of my Bad Language literature quiz teammates (see pic above, left to right: Mr Hartley, Ms Power, Mrs Conlon, Mr Judge, Mr Roland) will be stepping up to the oche.

Another open mic event next week is on Saturday (27 November), 6-9pm in the 2nd View Restaurant in Waterstone's Deansgate. I am reliably informed by Jon from MLF that this new monthly event is actually back due to popular demand! The Unannounced Poetry Acoustic is "an evening of songs and poems and stories to perform or just to listen. The first drink of the evening is on us and the entertainment is on you!" Did someone say free drinks? See you there.

Experimental poets If P Then Q are busy plugging The Other Room 21, which has a bit of a do on Wednesday 1 December with readings and that, free from 7pm.

Quick update on zines hitting the shelves... Out now is Pantheon issue 2 (featuring a "Beckett-ish piece" by Lil Dave Hartley and now available in Blackwells on Oxford Road, near t'uni, or via the website); Flux Autumn 2010 edition, which features a short story by Chris Killen called Sorry (it's good, but it has suffered a cut'n'paste error in the first par; I've reedited for your delight and delectation below*); Dan Russell's Things Happen Part Deux, which you can look at on Issuu with hard copies about the place soon; the latest B&N Magazine, edited by award-winning mightaswell blogger Sam Bail, is (I am assuming) available in the next month or so, while number 11 of The Shrieking Violet, the "media special", is out now at Good Grief! - which has just this week relocated to the Soup Kitchen in the NQ. My good friend Andrew tells me they sell alcohol, not just soup, so this, and its beautiful art nouveau adornments, gives me a number of reasons to get my arse in gear and visit some time soon.

If you want to gaze back wistfully over previous incarnations of A Moment of Fiction, I've created a magic little widget on the left hand side of this here blog. Look! A Moment Of Fiction archive! Consider it an early Christmas present. Don't say I don't treat you well.

(*Craig has a dream. In the dream he is dead. He has just died. He is in a room, with things in it. The things in the room are: a desk, a bed, a chair, a coffee table, a sofa, a wardrobe, a cup (with some tea in it, gone cold), a computer, a copied CD of Planet Waves by Bob Dylan, a pair of shorts, a sunlounger, a bottle of Daiquiri, a pair of mirrored sunglasses, a coat, a hat, a pair of tweezers, a sheet of writing paper, the lid of a biro, an empty cassette box, a packet of Walkers crisps (prawn cocktail flavour), a poster of Ben Affleck, an empty ice cream tub, a toy car, a toy boat, a miniature ‘gift book’ style copy of War and Peace (6 pt. font), a 50p coin, a cigarette lighter, a cornflake, a wisp of hair, a blank greetings card (‘Best Wishes!’), a pornographic magazine from the seventies, no windows, no door, and the smell of cats... Read the rest here.)

12 November 2010

Science fiction

Last night I went to see Fritz Lang's 1927 crazy futuristic sci-fi silent movie Metropolis at the Cornerhouse. I was very excited about this as: a) I haven't seen the film for nearly 20 years as it never seems to get shown (that first time was in no less than the hugely imposing Palais de Chaillot, opposite the Eiffel Tower, yes in Paris, in a special bunker-like screening room; something, I think, to do with La Cinémathèque française); 2) I thought I'd missed it this time as when I was due to go last week I was feeling poorly and pathetic, and I thought it was only going to be on during Manchester Science Festival (23-31 October); iii) it's a scrubbed-up print with new footage they (whoever "they" are) found in Buenos Aires, of all places. Then I got very very excited because I noticed on the ticket while chowing down on my scrummy three-bean and preserved lemon tagine that it was on Screen 1. Oh man.

It didn't disappoint. Dystopia. Modernism. Maschinenmensch (great word; love German). Flappers. Art Deco. Brave New World meets The Great Gatsby tipping a wink to Alphaville and 1984 mixed with Bladerunner and The Fifth Element sprinkled with Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom and even Back To The Future. Oh, and let's not forget Frankenstein and even a bit of scary shadowplay à la Nosferatu.

It was good. And it made me think of that show at the Whitworth Art Gallery a year ago, The American Scene: Prints From Hopper To Pollock. Compare the lithograph New York by Louis Lozowick from 1925, below, to the stills and poster from Metropolis, above. Credit for the film artwork and sets goes to Erich Kettelhut, who was apparently art director, set designer, trick photography (special effects), painting effects (visual effects) and technical consultant. But still, similar, non?

09 November 2010

Chorlton Book Festival 2010

Us Chorltonites like to think we're a bit boho and bookish, and, as if to prove it, yesterday saw the start of the sixth annual Chorlton Book Festival, which runs all the way through two weeks until Sunday 21 November. The Manchester Lit List has an online brochure for you to flick through in a virtual manner, and there's an event preview on Didsbury Life.

As well as prose readings and poetry slams and all kinds of book-based events (including a Cracking Good Food cook-off in the library), there are a couple of writing workshops which might well be worth a look-in.

The first is this Saturday (13 November, 11am-1pm, Lloyds Hotel, Wilbraham Road) and run by Chorlton-based MMU Creative Writing lecturer and author of Holy Joe and The Only Living Boy, Robert Graham. I've been to one of Robert's workshops before, and he is very warm and welcoming so you don't feel too apprehensive about sharing the wonderful words you come up with as a result of the different exercises you get to try out.

The second is the following Saturday (20 November, 11am-1pm, Chorlton Central Church, Barlow Moor Road) with prize-winning poet Sarah L Dixon. Taking books by festival authors as a starting point, she will also get the creative juices flowing using tried-and-tested writing exercises. I've been in a Paper Planes workshop with Sarah, but not actually been to one she's run (more here), so it could well be interesting.

For both, places are free, but limited and booking is recommended: call the Chorlton Book Festival organisers Chorlton Library on 0161 227 3700 to put your name down.

05 November 2010

Manchester literature festivities

The memory of Manchester Literature Festival 2010 is already fading, ten or so days on since it shut up shop for another 12 months. It's therefore the perfect time for a little look back over this year's events. Once again, it was a fabulous opportunity to see, hear and read all kinds of new writing, from poetry to prose and from various different projects and publications.

Once again, it gave me the excuse to peek into venues (and parts thereof) around the city that I might not ordinarily frequent. I've been to the upstairs lecture hall at The Deaf Institute for the first time, and the purpose-built lecture room at Manchester Art Gallery. I've been to the wood-panelled, stained-glassed Becker Room in City Library and the top-floor Events Room in Waterstone's, both on Deansgate, both twice. I've also been to the Cornerhouse more than once, to the light and airy new Annexe with its weird and wonderful level issues (ground floor on one side; third floor on the other).

As well as writing about some of the events here and here, I've also contributed reviews to the official Manchester Literature Blog, which I also helped edit last year. All my reviews have now been published, so pop on over for a wee shufty using the handy links below:

Poems After Frida Kahlo, Tuesday 19 October: Words and pictures make for an inspired lunch date with Pascale Petit.

Magma Poetry, Wednesday 20 October: Magma is a hot ticket for poets and poetry fans.

Is There A Novelist In The House, Saturday 23 October: In the presence of future greats.

Rainy City Stories: Writing About Place, Sunday 24 October: Another bright idea by Rainy City Stories.