Kerry Hudson: Chatterbox

Author of TONY HOGAN BOUGHT ME AN ICE-CREAM FLOAT BEFORE HE STOLE MY MA winner the Scottish First Book Award and shortlisted for seven literary prizes including the Guardian First Book Award and Southbank Sky Arts Award for Literature.

Currently living between London, Berlin and Budapest writing a third novel.

Likes to chatter.

Here is where the fuck I am…

And where the fuck was I this month? This month I did a wee tour of Croatia and Bosnia. I started in Split…amazing ice-cream, good ferries to tiny islands, touristy beauty and excellent Japanese food. Then I went to the tiny little seaside town of Podaca where I’d rented a basic but perfect little apartment by the sea (I highly recommend it for those looking for a quiet, beautiful place to write)…there were majestic hills, a tear-up-a-wee-bit gorgeous coastline, sea so clear I could see the red nail varnish on my toes, two cafes and a grocery store…I did nothing but write, read, swim in the sea, run by the coast and hike up the hills at sunset…pure fucking bliss.

Next was Mostar, also good for the eyes despite the very evident, and initially, shocking evidence of the recent war. I walked a lot, ate a lot of Nutella torta and drank a lot of coffee while petting skinny little mewling stray cats.

And…then there was Sarajevo. Sarajevo is one of the most remarkable places I have ever been, a city build in a valley, a patchwork of Ottoman, Austro-Hungarian and Soviet architecture. I don’t think I have ever encountered a kinder or warmer folks (though the manager of the cafe I’m in did just come over and give me a free scoop of orange and carrot sorbet…). I lived in a communist-era little granny flat on a very steep hill near the Old Town and my favourite thing to do while there was to wake up and go for Turkish coffee and a slice Kadaif for breakfast and then climb up the hills surrounding Sarajevo.

It would have been an enormously enriching and humbling trip even without learning about the war…learning that during the four years of the siege the city reacted by holding schools in bombed building basements, that to reach those schools young people would run across roads while under constant sniper fire from the hills. Likewise, the orchestra kept rehearsing (I can’t get the idea of the people holding their instrument cases close as they run as fast as they can to get to the deserted and heavily shelled TV building where they met). Some women took part in a beauty pageant as a way of gaining attention form international media. A collective of artists and intellectuals decided to create a contemporary art gallery in Sarajevo, just as the siege was beginning, and succeeded by getting curators all over the world to donate pieces. The daily newspaper was bombed to the ground and somehow, God knows how, managed to keep reporting and producing a paper for the duration of the war. All this while there was no water, little food, no gas or electric, constant sniper fire and shelling…truly an example of courage and determination to keep close the things that make us human while in an often dehumanising world. There’s a brilliant short documentary about this called Miss Sarajevo which I highly suggest watching if you’re at all interested. 

I realise now that I have a lot to write about Sarajevo…I was unprepared for how I would feel about it (very much the same way i felt about Palestine when I visited briefly in 2010) the city, the kindness II encountered had a huge impact on me and I’m already planning when I can return.

You know, I do sometimes wonder what the fuck I am doing…very occasionally I’ll have a sleepless night and worry that I’m 33 and don’t own a towel or saucepan set, I don’t have children yet, that I spend writing wages on plane and train tickets as quickly as anything comes in, I own three pairs of shoes and one evening dress, how will I ever form lasting relationships when I’m never anywhere longer than a month (though I know things don’t work that way). And then I stand at the top of hill looking over the shimmer busy, thriving streets of Sarajevo, the call for prayer echoes from the many Mosques in the surrounding districts and I know I’ll return to my tiny little apartment, sit down and write words that mean something to me and even might end up meaning something to other people too…and I know, I’m exactly where I’m meant to be, this is exactly what I’m meant to be doing, right now, right here. 

And right now? Right now I’m at Split airport preparing for dashing straight from Gatwick airport to talk live on BBC Scotland’s Culture Show with Janice Forsyth and Damian Barr chatting about ‘writing and place.’ tomorrow. I’ll be on between 3.45 and 4pm if you fancy a wee listen.

I’ll spend the evening with two of the people I love most in the world before getting on a train up to Wigtown Book Festival where I’ll be discussing Thirst this very Thursday night with the wondrous Peggy Hughes. I am very excited about it as Pegs is one of my favourite chairs and by all accounts Wigtown is a fucking blast. Will report back on all shenanigans but, if you’re about, why not come and join in.

Then, then onto another train down to talk about ‘Voice in Writing’ at Birmingham Literary Festival with my pal Nikesh Shukla (Shuks, as I like to call him), Lottie Moggach and Sathnam Sanghera…it’s Friday night, the pub is sure to follow, you should come along if yer about - strongly suspect it’ll be a very good event. 

And then…then I’ll take the train down to London spend the day with some more of my favourite folks and directly onto another plane to Lisbon where I’ll be spending what I do sincerely hope will be a glorious October full of visitors, cherry liqueur, custard tarts, runs by the sea and long writing stints at the library (somehow I’ve written over half my novel now…I don’t know when really but it happened and it’s not all shite).

As ever..only one word: grateful. Actually two for this last month…very humbled and hugely grateful.

And here’s some pictures…a wee taste of my Balkan adventure.     

    

Where the fuck have you been? Part 2 

Hello, have you been on the edge of your seat? I though so…so let me continue…

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By mid-August I was finishing up Supervision with NAW at Pembroke College (essentially facilitating critique workshops with some inevitable ‘teaching’ in the mix) I worked intensively with two small groups of five students twice a week. This was my second year and, as ever, I learned as much as I taught. I have to celebrate and acknowledge how incredible each and every one of my students were. Week after week they showed up with carefully crafted work, they received feedback willingly and then implemented it. I worked hard - as I always do when teaching because people have put time, money and courage into being there - and tried to do my best for them. Probably the most touching and rewarding thing about the whole experience was how much each and every one of them developed - how much their work improved during the duration of the course classes, seminars and supervisions. As ever, I walked the halls of Cambridge thinking how much it was like something out of Educating Rita…quite often this year I’ve just had to think to myself ‘this is fucking insane’ and then just get on with enjoying it.  

Talking of gratitude I am very grateful that I got to take a few days away and spend a Wirral weekend with my pal Simon Savidge (aka Sugar Bear of Savidge Reads blog) and his lovely partner Chris. We went to the seaside, charity-shop spreed and ate like queens with trifle, mac & cheese, fish and chips and more cake than even I could imbibe. I was given a maximum dog petting quota and the chatter was approximately 70% bookish 30% RuPaul’s Drag Race (the latter initiated by me). Here’s a picture of us being, as Simon puts it ‘blown off at the end of Southport Pier’. Check the cagoules, check them.

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And then it was time for me to head back to the Motherland…

Oh, Edinburgh in August, you beautiful wee piñata of fun, terrible shows, too much booze, piano bars with near-naked Australian backpackers, beautiful bookshops, excellent comedy and all the carbs you can eat, how I enjoy smashing you open and getting my mitts on your goodies every few years.

Doing Edinburgh International Book Festival is one of the few times that I ever feel like a Proper Writer…it’s Edinburgh Fucking Festival! So it was lovely to start by signing copies of Thirst at the beautiful Kings Cross St Pancras bookshop Watermark Books before boarding the train north which was full of posh people shouting their acting CVs at each other over M&S sandwiches.

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I actually started my weekend on a more serious note at the ‘If Scotland’ academic conference at Stirling University. I was a late stand-in for none other than Alistair Gray (amazingly, there weren’t any hackles from the audience along the lines of ‘that’s no’ fucking Alistair Gray’) on a literary panel with Jenni Calder, Hannah McGill and Meaghan Delahunt on how we would look back on the Indy ref Yes and No campaigns. My party line was, and still is, whatever the result, it had reinvigorated grassroots political campaigning in Scotland. That it was joyful to hear people talking about it in fish and chip shops, supermarkets, kids talking about it on the back seat of the bus. This is the way politics should be. All I will say aout the event is that perhaps I shouldn’t have opened my talk by joking that I might jump into a rousing musical number if things got slow. Know yer crowd, Hudson.

The morning after (I stayed in halls – they are less fun without other people, primary coloured alcoholic drinks or micro-chips) I had a beautiful walk back through Stirling and with that I was braced for more Edinburgh high-jinx which involved a giant pulled pork lunch and chatter about, among other, things vajazzles with my literary hero. Then my dear writer pal Jenni Fagan cooked me up a feast for dinner (it had been a long while since I’d seen a vegetable at that point and it was only thanks Jenni that I made it through the next few days I reckon) before we bombed it up the road to the festival to see Lydia Davies talk to Ali Smith. The night ended, as nights are prone to occasionally, with a wee gang of us dancing in a piano bar…I know, I know…but one day I will be old and my hips won’t flex and I’ll be glad of all those night spent carousing. 

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My Edinburgh Festival event was with the outrageously dapper Simon Van Booy (I’m not ashamed to say I got a little author crush). We were discussing ‘the calm violence of attraction’ (which is a line from his near-perfect novel Everything Beautiful Began After which I highly recommend you buy…). It was a grand event, not least because Simon and I have lots of similarities in our writing and how we get our words on the page (lots of travel, lots of stealing from our own experience) but also because there were so many friendly faces in the audience…it meant so much to me that people came. At one point an older couple I didn’t know asked me, very gently, if writing Tony Hogan had helped me overcome the difficulties my upbringing might have presented. I told them, quite honestly (which I think should always be the way when people have given time and money to come see you) that writing that book, that people’s response to it, had removed much of the (misplaced) shame associated with that type of poverty, that writing had changed my life. And then I thought I was going to cry so I made a daft joke. But it was nice to be able to acknowledge that and especially on home ground.

After the event there was a signing - I will never get used to the signing but I love it, I always want to have a chatter with everyone though…I’m going to suggest serving drinks and a bowl of wotsits and calling it a party in future. Anyhow, then I was whisked away to do this interview Summerhill TV (talking about Thirst and writing) and then…then after a dram or two of Yurt whisky with my European city partner in crime (and crime writer) Claire McGowan and I went off to see the inimitable Sarah Waters talking to Muriel Grey (double-crushing) about The Paying Guests. She was marvellous. Of course. I have a signed copy which I got from my own personal ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’, Gay’s the Word and I can’t wait to get stuck in.

The next day, slightly broken from a three months of fun, travel and work squeezed into six weeks, I went to my Edinburgh happy places, Looking Glass Books, Mary’s Milkbar and St Peter’s Yard. I signed books at Looking Glass Books (should be still some left I reckon!) had a wee literary gossip with Gillian and filled my belly with ice-cream and cardimom buns at the other two. It was a good way to say goodbye, for now, to Bonnie Scotland.

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Then I got back to London and you’d think wouldn’t you that that’d be enough for one month? Wrong, so wrong! Because the next night I was off to one of my favourite bookshops in London and longtime supporter of Tony Hogan and Thirst, Bookseller Crow on the Hill. As ever Jonathan, Justine and Karen put on a fabulous night. I was nervous because it was a solo gig but people came…we ran out of even the tiny Lilliputian chairs from the children’s section. The audience were so kind, curious, open, they all bought books to be signed and we carried on the chatter after. I’ve done two events at The Crow, the first not long after Tony Hogan came out, and both times I was knackered and at the end of an insane, emotional rollercoaster of a month. Both back then and this time doing such a warm, welcoming event was absolutely the right thing at the right time. It was frankly glorious and I couldn’t think of a nicer way to end my Month of Thirst.

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And now? Now I am in beautiful and humbling Sarajevo…but I’ll tell you all about my Balkan adventures, of meat, coffee, writing, cats, gorgeous train journeys, terrible, terrible films and incredible kindness and warmth next time… dobar dan!

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Where the fuck have you been? Part 1 

Hello! Do you remember me? Scottish writer? Always eating toast and posting pictures of cake? Spends a lot of time on trains and planes lately? Blonde hair entirely impervious to any form of styling? You do? Good stuff. I’m writing this in a café in Sarajevo (I am totally in love with it here but that’s a story for later) where I’ve just smashed a little chocolate croissant and I’m trying very hard, and failing, not to sing along to Beyonce.

So what’ve I been up to during this, even by my standards, epic blog lapse (I can hear some social media guru whispering in my ear ‘it’ll seal up if you leave it any longer, love’ (yeah, my fantasy guru is camp and from Yorkshire)). Well, I thought I’d give you a rundown of the last six (sorry, sorry) weeks in words and pictures. I seem to remember that’s how these blog things works.

So, August was the month of Thirst, Cambridge and London. Most of my time was either talking about Thirst, travelling to talk about Thirst, supervising with NAW at Cambridge Summer School at Pembroke College, travelling to Cambridge, reconnecting with my London life (see squeezing in multiple breakfast, lunch, dinner, drinks into one day where my friends and I basically emptied our heads to each other) or trying to write, read work to feedback on and, with help from our brilliant volunteer and fellow-writing Ciara, keeping WoMentoring up and running.

Anyhow, here’s the stuff I would have written about if I had not being already operating at 120% of my actual capacity for doing All Of The Stuff…

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Hull

I started by doing one of the bestest (it’s a word) events I have ever done. Head in Book in Hull is organised by Shane Rhodes (Director of Wrecking Ball Press and all round Hull Culture Mogul) and it was the mighty Russ Litten, hugely talented writer of Scream if you Want to Go Faster and Swear Down, asking the questions. Russ and I have known each other for a couple of years on the tinternet and, as I wrote in his copy of Thirst I admire him hugely, but it was grand to meet the man himself for the first time. And because we have a similar world views, and it felt like chatting with a good pal, the event was the best sort of event. It was packed, there was wine, there were tons of questions and then people bought books and came and chattered – I met so many bloody lovely folk too. If you look very closely above those to tiny shiny circles are mine and Russ’s mugs.

The good

Fucking all of it…it was just an ace visit to the fine City of Culture 2017, Hull and be so warmly welcomed.

We shall never speak of it again

Realising, about forty minutes into the train journey home, that I was about to be smited with a hangover of biblicial proportions (though the nice girl in the buffet car did give me a free cake to celebrate the publication of my book).

Wilderness

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I’ve wanted to get a gig at music festival for a long while. The perfect mix of work and play and an audience who are mostly drunk or sheltering from rain and therefore either cheery or captive. So off me and my ex-wife went for a weekend of amicable lesbian divorcee camping. My event was with the fucking outrageously talented Deepti Kapoor (her book, A Bad Character, is one of my picks of this year) and the always excellent Susannah Otter and was a workshop On Getting Published. It was pretty packed out, we talked about our journeys to books on the shelfs. The questions from the audience were what they often are ‘is it possible to live on writing alone’ (barely but there are ways and means (jaysus, that sounds sinister)) and ‘I feel like I can do it but I’m scared to start’ (You can! You can…look at me…if I can…etc). Afterwards I signed a lot of books (one girl bought one as a present for her boyfriend – sweet!) and had some bloody lovely chats an all.

The Good

Prides (they are brilliant and are going to be huge – get on it now), The John Langan Band, front of the stage at the inestimable Joan as a Policewoman set. Also bonfires and more ‘artisan’ cheese toasties and crumpets than any woman should consume in a weekend (the food is corking at Wilderness).

Things we will never speak of again

The rain. So much rain, guys. And the poshness. So much poshness. As one fellow-author remarked ‘It’s like gatecrashing the biggest ever Oxbridge ball.’ True dat.

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Speakeasy

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This was my second time at Speakeasy, the excellent literary night run by Ian Ellard and Nicki Cloke that takes place at Drink, Shop, Do each month. I was reading with the all-lady line-up Sarah  Perry, Hannah Vincent and Emmi Itaranta - all of whom read stunningly. There are cocktails (though I always drink little bottles of IPA for fear of slurring when I read), it’s in this gorgeous basement bar, you wear something a bit dressy (I.e. If you’re me, you get to get out of gym kit or pajamas) and lean against a bar to do your reading. I love this night, the hosts and the venue. Not just because I thought I’d just do a short reading, as was at the end of the night, and got shouted at for some more. And not just for those little bottles of IPA or the fact on my way home I stopped for frozen custard. Before I was a writer this is sort of what I imagined being a writer would be like. And that’s because Nikki and Ian are writers too and so they know this and they put on a very fine bash with hip literary crowd.

The Good

Getting a whoop from the crowd for my character Dave’s love of the humble Breakway biscuit. Getting a proof of Nicci’s new novel Lay me Down (I have read the beginning so far and will collect it from my pals house when next back in London…it is truly outstanding so far). Sarah Perry and Peter Moore practically marching me off to Gladstone Library – apparently I have to go immediately (after Sarajevo).

Things we will never speak of again

Because I’m fairly relaxed about readings this being my second round of this stuff, I sometimes forget myself. That is how, mid-reading, I found myself unthinkingly in ‘tree pose’ (think flamingo…) like I do absent-mindedly while doing the dishes sometimes. It’s not a good ‘I’m a proper author’ look, guys.

So, that was the first twelve days of August and that didn’t include Cambridge and catching up with pals and the 1.3 million emails…so, do you see? Do you see why I haven’t been in touch and why I arrived in the Balkans looking and sounding like Iggy Pop on a bad day…and just you wait to hear what happened from the 12th to the 30th…go on, yer a wee bit curious, admit it (there’s a trifle story if that adds to anticipation…).     

Well that was something else

Oh hello. Sorry. I’ve been meaning to write this post for a week. Instead I have been doing lots of other types of writing (more of which later) and travelling back from beautiful Berlin to London for the next six weeks oh…and yes, launching my second novel, Thirst, just over a week ago and trying to not Completely Lose My Shit (with varying degrees of success - also more of which later).

I think most of the people who read this already know there is about a year and a half gap between selling a book (and that only happens after you’ve spent at least a year writing it) and it hitting bookshelves. Plus this is a second novel and a very fatalistic voice (sounds like a mean-drunk Bill Nighy (though I hasten to add I’m sure Mr Nighy is an excellent drinking partner)) is saying ‘if you fuck this up, if this fucks up, you don’t get to publish a third’ - which is maybe or maybe not true depending on ho many internet articles you read and your state of mind (I have read approximately 2683). Anyway, my point is there’s a bit of a build up and then, there it is happening, you’ve got a book in the shops and Other People are reading it and talking about it.

So, how did it go? Well, pretty bloody all right I think. The most scary thing about having a book out (for me…) is the very public nature of any criticism it receives. But actually, what I’ve felt instead is just such a massive amount of well-wishing, warmth, support and general g-ing up. And while most days for the last few week I’ve been on an anxiety rollercoaster - oh, look! A great review! Pass the gin! They say I’m here to stay. Maybe I am! I should get back to writing my third Ach but this one says they like Dave/Alena/Hackney/Siberia better than Dave/Alena/HackneySiberia…my career is over. What’s that temp agency’s number? Pass the gin! I can learn to touch type…and on and on in a high-pitched loop…- it’s also been amazing feeling like people are willing Thirst to do well

Kerry Hudson WaterstonesYeah it’s a can of Pina Colada…sing me a song about it…I also like getting caught in the rain. 

And things have been good. I made sure they started good by making my publication gift to mesel’ a ticket to Brazil (on impulse, which I could maybe/maybe not afford and probably can’t actually but fuck it…so first the Croatian coast, then Sarajevo, then three months in Brazil, Paraguay, Argentina). When I have felt Losing My Shit was imminent I reminded myself to ‘work hard, be kind, don’t be an arsehole’…this is all I can ask of myself. And then I had a strong drink and ate something sugary. I also realised, pretty much as soon as I got back to London, that (holy shit!) it was happening so I might as well enjoy the crap out of all the exiting stuff. 

And then? Then all of this happened… 

I wrote about:My travels across Siberia // Writing routines // Being working-class // The WoMentoring Project // Falling in love on Charing Cross Road // The terrors of writing your second novel // My favorite vintage things (but also how I’m not really into ‘things’) // Alena and how I conjured her and her fox’s fur hair and baby shark teeth // how many people it takes to launch and make a novel

And I answered many, many questions…

On my Thirst soundtrack // On gin or tequila // On the intersection between love and need // On my favourite word (cunt, clearly) //On my ideal boozy dinner party // And…how I remind myself not to be an arsehole every day (singalong! you should too!)

Oh and I did a live interview on the BBC Scotland Culture Show with him from that there Deacon Blue where I *lost the ability to read the own words*…(I blame the fan-girl-itus) and an interview for The Observer

kerry hudson interview

And yep, the reviews came…here I have to say a particular thank you to the internet reviewers who God bloody bless them made sure my publication week was full of lovely exciting stuff each and every day. What was interesting about both the online and print reviews was how much the interpretation changed from reader to reader. In a way that never happened with Tony Hogan people related to and felt strongly about different stands of the story…I hope that’s because it’s a more complex story (it is) but whatever, it’s fascinating for me to read people’s varying interaction with the story.  

And so yes, there were *blush-making-a-bit-teary-punch-the-air* reviews from Sara at A Salted, Eric at Lonesome Reader, Thom at Workshy Fopp, Helen at Fiction is Stranger than Fact, Dan at Utter Biblio, Simon at Savidge Reads, Naomi at The Writes of a Woman and Jessica and Writer’s Little Helper. All people and reviewers who I enormously respect.

And yes…then there The Papers and Mags…and here what they said…

'It explores the lives of people not generally considered fit for literature and does so with wit and a shrewdness that makes Hudson’s subjects zing from the page.’ (Louise Welsh, The Guardian)

'…an exquisite, stimulating mash-up…A brilliant, enthralling saga' (Joseph Crilly, The Irish Times)

'Funny, inventive, delightful.' (Viv Groskop, Red Magazine 10 Best Summer Reads

'Fresh and original…it’s an unsentimental love story' (Sam Baker, Harper’s Bazaar Best of British Reads)

"Tremendously affecting… impressively unostentatious in its instinct for a common story within a city of millions that never gets heard" (Claire Allfree Metro)

"Kerry Hudson has consolidated her position with this second novel as a writer who is prepared to face the injustices and the grimness of life, and tell of lives usually ignored… Thirst is hardly an easy summer read… but it is probably an essential one" (Lesley McDowell Scotsman)

"A classy will-they won’t-they romance with a difference… Sheer escapism from start to finish" (Bella)

"Both funny and touching… Hudson’s debut was highly praised and this is a terrific follow-up" (Woman & Home)

"As the last few chapters crescendo into a breathless, sob-inducing finale, Hudson marks herself out once again as a terrifically talented storyteller who, luckily for us, is here to stay" (Yasmin Sulaiman List)

So basically what I am saying is ‘holy fuck, that was a few weeks and a half and..THANK YOU lucky stars, readers and bloody lovely folk’.

I’m off to have a can of Pina Colada. 

Try again fail better

Would you like the good news or the bad news first?

It won’t surprise you to hear that I am very much a ‘good news first’ type of woman… so – HOORAY – I am in excellent company on The Bookseller’s 2014 list of Rising Stars. I said it on Twitter but I’m going to say it here too…this was for The WoMentoring Project and so also belongs to each and every one of the ninety amazing women who offer their time and knowledge for free as mentors. It only exists because of them. Anyway, very lovely and especially to be on there with fellow Womentorers Sarah Savitt and Sarah Rigby (the project has a fair few Rising Star alumni too).

More good stuff…I’ll be appearing at Edinburgh International Book Festival event with Simon Van Booy on the 25th August. We’ll be talking love stories and ‘the calm violence of attraction’.

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And the bad. 30kin35 ends today and I managed 13k-something so just under half what I’d hoped. My excuses are plentiful and creative: WoMentoring, being back in London and then at Lumb Bank teaching Arvon, the Thirst promotional ball starting to roll. These are all facts but also, honestly, I could have hit that target if I’d really wanted. The truth is I wanted to take time off to see friends, to cycle about Berlin, browse at Neukoln flea market, eat delicious torte (I’ve set up an Instragram called ‘Kerryeatsalot’ because cake this good deserves to be revered), to go rollerskating at the park that used to be an airport, get my hair cut like Japanese schoolgirl’s, have sweat run up my nose while downward dogging at ‘hot yoga’.

Guys I know, I know: you’re not angry you’re disappointed. But look, I have my second novel coming out in four weeks and that’s really (super, fucking, very etc.) exciting and a privilege but also a little (wee, tiny etc.) bit stressful. So I want to do things that make me feel happy. And it’s summer and I’m in Berlin and I want to enjoy that too. That’s not to say I’m slacking, as my gran would say, I’m ‘working my dogs off’ but I kind of felt I had enough going on.

So, I hang my head in defeat over 30kin35 but will now probably go and have a hullumi wrap in the sun unrepentant. It was useful though, I realised posting my daily wordcount motivated/shamed me into writing more than I ever usually would and that the whole thing helped me return to the story when I’d been away from it for a while.

In other news yesterday I found a whole box of old photo albums for sale at the market, full of family pictures, new born babies, birthdays and weddings. The writer magpie in me rejoiced but the more human part of me felt a bit sad to be honest as I wondered how they’d ended up there…except I suppose each photo represented a moment of life, something important to whoever took it. Anyway, they were beautiful and a bit sad and I looked at them for a long while in the sunshine trying to imagine who had taken such time with them. I’m going to make stories from them.     

how cities can become love stories

Let me set the scene. It is a hot summers night in Berlin. I’m sitting outside the Café Cortado (their motto is ‘you can’t buy happiness but you can buy coffee and that’s pretty close’) in Friedrichshain. There’s the usual constant birdsong, small sparrow-like birds hopping from table to table, sharpening their beaks on chair backs. To the right there’s an Eis shop (ice-cream shop) and there are people sitting on sofas out on the street. Earlier a little girl with a head full of curls demonstrated clipping on her giant yellow earrings to me. Before that, a four piece band came by and sang ‘All of me’. The city is full of activity and life and gentle at the same time. It’s full of conversation and colour and possibility. You know, I don’t think I’m coming home.

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It’s funny, it wasn’t like Budapest – a quick, intoxicating falling for the city – instead, Berlin has slowly and persistently won me, revealing its charms slowly. I had no idea how I felt until I realised I was meant to leave on the 15th of June and that I desperately wanted to stay and see what the city had in store for me. So now I am staying to see what that might be. Still London is a heady ex that I can’t quite quit so am home for the whole month August to indulge.

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Because I can’t stay away, I also spent last week at glorious Lumb Bank, Ted Hughes old cottage, looking out at the rolling valleys of God’s own country. I was teaching a Queer Fiction course with Jonathan Kemp. It was a special week, a week where I worked like bejesus to try and make sure it was worthwhile to the other writers, a week where I learned a lot too. I took a 6am flight back to Berlin, arrived back at my flat at 11am thought I’d have a ‘nap’ and slept the sleep of the dead for seven hours. I hadn’t realised how tired I was but I woke up contented, went and ate Turkish food and some ice-cream, glad I’d done something scary (yes, tutoring for a whole week is scary no matter how amazing the group you’re facilitating is…) and that I was back in sunny Berlin with so much to still explore.

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And now? Now it is just four weeks until Thirst comes out and I feel so happy and grateful that I get to say that but also somewhat removed from it - because I am here, because I’m already over a quarter into my third book. But good things are happening too. In another one of those strange incidents I would never have imagined the very posh Harper’s Bazaar picked the very not-posh Thirst as one of its six Summer Reads. I have an interview booked in that I don’t want to jinx but which I’m bloody delighted and grateful to have been given. People are hosting me on their blogs which is hugely kind (would you like to too? Drop me a line…more the merrier!).

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And I’m doing some wee ‘hurrah I wrote a book and someone published it’ type events.

First: Short Stories Aloud in Oxford on the 1st of July where an actress (so not me with my dodgy accents) will read the story that inspired the novel I’m working on now and I’ll answer some questions (maybe with dodgy accents).

Then: Support-acting for Nikesh Shukla at his Bristol launch of (the excellent novel) Meatspace on the 3rd July. There’ll be him (he is bloody brilliant live) me (doing sex scenes and Siberian accents) and…Funk DJs, Funk the Trunk, that’s right, moves will be busted.

Otherwise things are quiet or as quiet as they get these days. I’m reading through entries for the IdeasTap/Writers Centre Norwich mentoring competition (the talent out there is stupendous). Writing novel three (30kin35 is seriously behind but I am writing a lot and the story is there, it’s waiting, it’s over-layering my life like a coloured filter…that last bit is hard to explain actually…). WoMentoring goes from strength to strength – ninety mentors, amazing bits of mentee feedback that make the work worthwhile. Writing a story about food that changed my life. Practicing my Siberian accent.

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So, these are all the things.

I sometimes wonder if, along with all the other things I juggle, I should keep doing these posts…which are really as much an emptying of mind onto the internet as anything purposeful or useful. But honestly, I want to remember this time of travel, hard-work and new experiences. I know these things don’t last forever but while they are happening I want to celebrate and acknowledge them. So, there we go.

Lumb Bank Loveliness

Hello from the wilds of Hebden Bridge. Some of you might know that, along with Jonathan Kemp, I’m in Yorkshire at the moment tutoring a queer fiction Arvon course at Lumb Bank. I’ll wait to write about it but I will say we couldn’t have wished for a lovelier, livelier, more interesting bunch of students. Lumb Bank, Ted Hughes old cottage, is an extraordinary place and I am sure I am learning as much as the participants about all sorts of things.

Yesterday, after tutorials and before tutor reading night, I went for a walk. I saw these two nanas, just sitting on a bench looking over the valley, having a right good gossip. It made me very happy indeed.

 

Things from yesterday

#ThingsISawTo(yester)day 

By Wiener Strasse, two benches side by side. On one bench sat two old Turkish men. Suit jackets and white shirts, leaning back, legs wide. They talk in occasional heavy sentences, slow nods. On the next bench three old Turkish women, with heads scarfs, dark clothes, socks and sandals. They too lean back, legs wide but they talk faster, add hand gestures, over-step each other’s words. All five are short and solid looking, they make me think of pigeons, sitting and passing the day in the sunshine, trilling away, tired of the city but still in love with it enough to sit and watch it pass by them. I listen to the men’s short slow sentences combined with the women’s more energetic conversation. I think they’re making a kind of music and probably have been for decades in the same way on that same bench. Without any obvious reason it’s time to leave. They stand slowly, hands on knees. The men walk one way, the women they other.   

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#30kin35

1671 words yesterday. So basically that’s me kicking the novel’s arse after a long weekend in London where nothing got written (except in my head (which doesn’t count for these purposes)). The simple truth is the more you write the easier it becomes. The more you let the story you are trying to conjure inhabit your real life the easier that becomes. The more you respect and commit to your project the easier it becomes. It’s never easy (not for me anyway) but it does become easier. I tell writing students this all the time while often forgetting this myself. It is good to remember.

Before yesterday…  

I wrote a review in The Guardian of Emma Jane Unsworth’s outstanding novel ‘Animals’. Getting to write a review in the Guardian is one of those surreal happenings that I thought would never happen in a million years and then suddenly do and from nowhere. There’s a lot of instability in a writer’s life (more than most would imagine - I might write about this at some point) but the adventures, these sorts of strange opportunities make it well, well worth it. Anyhow, read the review if you’d like and definitely read the book. You have my word that it’s a corker.  

Things I saw today and gay cake writing fuel

#ThingsISawToday….the sun fleeing the city in the most beautiful way…

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#30kin25

1089 words today (some not total shit either)…largely thanks to finding a wee candlelit gay cafe, where the waitresses were hot and the cake was delicious…if it works it works, right?

0kin1 and #thingsisawtoday

30kin35

So , twas a bad day for 30kin35 (30,000 words that I’m trying to add to my first draft in 35 days for those not in the know (and really, why would you be))…I managed zilch. Partly because I moved apartments today to my more permanent sublet (more of below), partly because Thursdays is when I do the bulk of #WoMentoring Project work and also…because I took a two hour nap this afternoon. But guys, if you take a two hour nap you’re very, very tired yes? If you’re tired you should sleep…so says me and my body even at the expense of words today. So tomorrow is the day to pull it back…

#thingsisawtoday 

Largely what I saw was my new sublet. Smack bang in the middle of Kreuzberg and above an excellent coffeeshop - it’s pretty sweet. My room has polished wooden floors, white walls, a white sofa, giant desk and a bed…except for all the white (I am a spiller, I just am) it’s perfect for working. Also the window looks out onto this busy intersection which is perfect for people-watching (just behind that tennis court there is an open air cinema…yes!). 

Photo: View from my new wee sublet...& there's a brilliant coffee shop downstairs. All Of The Things.

Otherwise I went to the library via the ice-cream parlour of my dreams: Fraulein Frost. I’m sure a psychoanalyst would have a field day with my love of ice-cream but, quite simply, it takes me back to the sweetest, simplest pleasures of being a kid. This parlour is also filled with adorable kids in beanies having highly entertaining sugar tantrums…which is a bonus.

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The last thing I saw was an accident on one of the busiest roads here. Only a little one…I heard the usual screech of tires and felt the note of alarm in the air as people stopped to stare but the cyclist was already getting up from the busy road, smiling, clearly feeling foolish. When he reached my side I asked him if he was ok and he put his hand on my arm and said ‘oh yes’ he waved his other arm around his head ‘I was just thinking about…so many things’ and shrugged…I looked down to see if his bike was damaged…but no, no bike…it was a fucking unicycle he’d fallen off while ‘thinking about so many things’. Only in Berlin.