A wee round-up of French reviews for Tony Hogan. Editions Philippe Rey have done astoundingly in getting it read and reviewed. Parfois, la vie est assez étrange et incroyable. C’est tout…
A wee round-up of French reviews for Tony Hogan. Editions Philippe Rey have done astoundingly in getting it read and reviewed. Parfois, la vie est assez étrange et incroyable. C’est tout…
Hello. Sorry it’s been a wee while. Here are the things…
First up, Thirst, Dave and Alena and their fractured, fragile love affair has been bought by my current amazing French publisher Editions Phillipe Rey. They have done the most amazing job with Tony Hogan and I can’t wait to see what they do with Thirst. I genuinely couldn’t be more thrilled to be staying with them and know Dave and Alena are in such safe hands.
Speaking of Thirst
The proofs went out about a week and a half ago. I feel a bit exposed but I think this is natural. People tweet occasionally to say they are reading it and, quite often really, that they are loving it. Those messages assuage my nerves for about ten minutes at a time. But this is part of the job. I’m sometimes asked advice from people about to have their first book out (I know, it’s not like I’m exactly a veteran…) but the way I got around Tony Hogan Fear (which was FAR worse because it was such a personal book) was to remember I was not in control anymore. I’d done my bit and it was happening anyway and all I could do was hold on and enjoy the fuck out of the high bits and hold on tight for the scary bits. I’m trying to take my own advice. Also, I remember that Thirst was the book that was there. The book I worked my arse off on and put huge chunks of my heart into. There was nothing else. So that’s what everyone got. I’m just trying not to be mental and stay happy really - shouldn’t prove hard, eh?
I’m sitting in my wee studio with the rain lashing down outside - all the drops clinging to the ivy on the big tree outside - little worlds within themselves. I’ve been in Budapest for only thirty days and it kind of fascinates me how quickly I’ve inhabited this new life and place.
Budapest is still making my heart swell each time I step out onto the street. I look up at the blue sky and gorgeous ruined buildings and realise there’s still a thousand streets to explore. It is my place. At least for now.
I’m working on book three. So far it’s 8000 words in. The first person narrative comes fast and fully-formed and I’m letting it spill freely from my head so I have my ‘clay’ (those raw words) to sculpt into something hopefully true and sore and good to read. I work at the library often, which has chandeliers and velvet armchairs and is quite literally gilded. The coat check man kisses my hand and once an old lady gave me a sweetie. It is the library you fantasise about that somehow I’ve been given.
I’m moving in a few weeks into an apartment in a courtyarded old house in the centre of town. My room has a big work desk by a tall window and a piano. The artists who live there have a little puppy. Like everything else for me the moment it’s transient but it is perfect in its transience still.
And tonight I’m off on a wee weekend adventure to Belgrade. I’m taking the sleeper train (sleeper train journeys are one of my favourite things ever since watching too many black and white films as a kid on Sunday afternoons on my council estate dreaming of Life Out There). Just me, my notepad, big walks with good music, lots of food. I ask nothing more.
So yes, staying sane in the face of the sophomore novel, living well as an act of gratitude, writing Tumblr posts longer than my WIP, eating a fuck tonne of cake basically…la vie est belle!
Beautiful drawing courtesy of my lovely pal Sharon Macdonald (@sharonronronron)…loveliest postcard ever!
I’m going to start this with a disclaimer that I’m going to try very, very hard for this post not just to be one long happy gurgling sound. But I honestly can’t promise anything.
Hello from the ‘lived a little’ beauty of Budapest. I’m in my little studio by city park, filled with brooding Hungarian wooden furniture, a big oriental rug over parquet floor, shutters on the windows and a tiny little kitchen with a good coffee pot and antique gas cooker…I’m cosy as a cat and could not love it more.
Budapest is astoundingly beautiful. Each day I’ve gone out for a walk and spent my days striding through the streets, looking up at the buildings against the cold bright blue sky, listening to music…this city is unfolding my heart and smoothing out its creases like an origami puzzle.
There are two others times I have felt such a sense of rightness at being exactly where I am. The first was when I was writing Tony Hogan in Vietnam - no company, just me, the story, my bicycle, the rattling, joyful activity of Vietnam’s streets and me feeling completely alone and totally peaceful.
The second was when I took a broken heart (mine) away from London to the work at a Sultan’s Chateau in Paris. Those weekends wandering the streets of Paris, watching films in the afternoons, eating really good food, sweating in the Mosque’s Hammam and walking the Seine to cool down afterwards, somehow gave me back everything I thought I had lost when I arrived there.
And now here I am in Budapest. My third Place I Am Meant To Be. It was risky to come. I didn’t have a broken heart to mend or a stressful all-consuming job to retreat from (except, y’know, writing). I love my London life and it was harder than I imagined to leave it. But in the interest of being brave, of being grateful for freedom, in the interest of living as well as possible I chose newness. I am so happy I did. One gamble and I found myself here. This is the perfect place to write a book and I’m going to write something fucking beautiful. Thank you Budapest. Also thank to le Figaro and the Boston Globe for giving me two reviews which made my first week here even more glorious*.
Tired of my happy gurgles? here’s some pictures so you can see just what i mean…
*Feel I should put *something* useful in here…
I am in Luton, the most unlovely of airports but Jesus, I love an airport. I’ve written about my love of the airport the plane journey before - this bubble within the bubble of travel – before so I won’t again but…I am happy and I’m excited for my Budapest adventure.
I notice that it gets harder and harder to leave my London life for these trips and I feel glad that I love the city and the people in it so much, that for someone placeless like me it has become my place. But I am ready too. I am ready for solitude. For long bundled up snowy walks with good music and a coffee. I am ready to find a new city’s secrets. Most of all, I am ready to write another book, to tangle myself in some made up people and their made up world and make it real, truthful, beautiful and hard. I feel lucky to get to do that.
There’s other things…
I’m setting up a peer mentoring for women pilot project. After meeting with a young writer and offering her some advice I started thinking how nice it would if all young female writers had the benefit of a chat and some support from someone who understood. Women writers are still paid less and reviewed less than their male counterparts which I’m sure you’ll all agree is pure bullshit. Publishing is still largely middle-class and there is still an element of ‘knowing someone’ being beneficial (though it’s worth saying I am working class and knew no one and was just very lucky…). What if young women had access to professional women who could help them somehow? What if those mentors donated their time so that those who otherwise couldn’t afford access could? …And so it is born. I took to Twitter and was flooded by amazing, incredible women showing support.
I’m emailing them (you) all next week. It will be a simple process: a database of professional women, a very simple and easy application process for mentees (because they are trying to earn a wage and write and do everything else on top), mentors will choose who they mentor, mentees promise to ‘pay it forward’ if and when they can to another group of women…I’m working on a yearly bursary idea too (but one step at a time eh?). Anyway, THANK YOU to all those who responded – I haven’t forgotten, it is happening and I think we’re going to smash it.
Oh and the US Tony Hogan came out this week. Published by the mighty and admirable Penguin. I ate a big burger and couldn’t quite believe that people on the other side of the world would be reading about what wee Janie Ryan did.
Oh and proof of THIRST are being printed…who would like one? If you’re a reviewer, journo or Oprah please just drop me a line…
Finally, remember that one women show of Tony Hogan? Well you can come see an excerpt of it with Spread the Word (who generously provided a bursary for me to adapt the book)…on 19th February at The Albany. Tickets are cheap (£3!) and you’ll also get to see the (far more talented) performance poet Simon Mole and then participate in a robust (read opinioned) discussion of live lit performance. I am nervous. Please come if you can and smile at me from the audience.
That’s it…my flight has been called. I’m going to curl up and read about my lifestyle crush Robert Capa and his adventures…then I might go emulate a few of them.
These were my ‘leaving cocktails’ (I’ve been having leaving cocktails for two weeks – I am a shell of myself…but thank you for all the loveliness guys - especially my lovely friend Gosia who made cookies…) - cheers!
I know I said no resolutions last time but, as is a lady’s prerogative (I know: ‘lady’ part is dubious), I would like to retract this.
In one weeks time I’ll be in snowy -4 Budapest. I’ll wake in a tiny studio by City Park, I might go feed the pigeons, it will be the beginning of a five month adventure through Europe - I don’t know where yet. I’ll be writing what I want to write and living as I choose. I decided that for 2014 I do have a resolution: I want more. I want to live fearlessly, with kindness and with gratitude for the freedom from convention that writing allows me. Don’t give me the same as last year 2014…give me more and I promise to use it wisely and make good work from it.
My book comes out with Penguin US on Monday. The reviews for the French edition have been cest magnifique. I have started my third book and have enough time and peace of mind to write it. I can’t think of a better way of acknowledging this than by making good work and living like my heart may suddenly stop (which of course it might).
Anyway, here are a few things from writers who held me up when I was a furious teenager raging at life. I thought, though they are well known quotes, I might write them here too. A wee gift or a statement of intent or…I don’t know…a something. So here you go (with thanks to the lovely Jenni Fagan for Vonnegut goodness…)…
Let me live, love and say it well in good sentences.
The hardest thing is to live richly in the present without letting it be tainted out of fear for the future or regret for the past.
I love people. Everybody. I love them, I think, as a stamp collector loves his collection. Every story, every incident, every bit of conversation is raw material for me.
And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise.
- Sylvia Plath
- Kurt Vonnegut
Images courtesy of this talented Etsy artist Ryan Sheffield…I highly recommend you go buy a print.
I should’ve known this year would be a good one. I started it under the stars by a campfire up in the Vietnamese mountains, drinking whisky, feeding birthday cake to the farm’s guard dog each time he came around. The next day my friend and I walked the deserted hills of the national park, found a tiny deserted café where I wrapped a tiny black kitten in my tartan scarf and drank hot sweet Vietnamese coffee. We got lost and then we ran full-pelt down the biggest hills.
From there I returned to Hanoi and then to Bangkok and Chang Mai where I filled up on sunshine after the long cold winter months in Vietnam. I returned to my beloved Hackney, to the energy the edge the sullied beauty of my city that is always home to me no matter how often I leave it.
I took a lot of planes and trains and buses this year… to Hanoi to Bangkok to Chang Mai to Liverpool to Chambery to Bonnie Balloch to Northumbria to Seoul to Gongju to Busan to Edinburgh to Budapest to Northumbria and home again. I taught at Cambridge University with National Academy of Writing and with the British Council in Korea. I’ve ran along the River Han and the Thames, the sky stretching above and me feeling like I was flying. I started to meditate. I moved next to a bakery and ate a lot very good bread. I was able to give up my salary job and make a living as a writer.
Tony Hogan came out in paperback and continued to do me proud with good reviews and a few more prize listings. I won the Scottish First Book of the Year. I sold my second novel Thirst and worked and worked and worked to make it as good as it could be. I judged the Green Carnation Prize with a wonderful group of people.
It has been a year of all of the good stuff – big and small – I’ve been able to devote myself to writing. I’ve worked hard and been very lucky and hopefully I’ve passed along some of that good fortune too.
And the new year? I’ve just started the first draft of my third book – that blissful run of imagination and freedom and the blank page and I’ll be working on that for the next twelve months. In January the French edition of Tony Hogan will come out with Editions Phillipe Rey (somehow wee Janie’s made it to French Elle and Harpers and Bazaar) and then in February with Penguin US (likewise the Ryan women have had nice mentions in Publishers Weekly and Booklist). I’ll be teaching a lot in 2014: for Arvon, The Norwich Writers’ Centre, back at Cambridge with NAW. I’ll perform the first section of the Tony Hogan play in London with Spread the Word.
At the end of January I’m going to move out to the romantic post-communist gorgeousness of Budapest for spring (coming back to lovely London regularly for talks and teaching and events) to properly hunker down and enjoy every moment of filling that blank page with a story.
And then…in July…Thirst will come out. It’s had some early reads – people have wept (in a good way) I hope to bring the reading pubic to happy/sad tears regularly in 2014. And here, hip hip hooray, is the amazing cover.
So that it really. No resolutions. No regrets. Lots and lots of gratitude for what I’ve been given this year. If I have any wish for 2014 it is for more of the same: working hard to make good stories, running and swimming, traveling, being grateful for the interesting brilliant people I know and meet, eating good bread, drinking coffee and petting dogs in the street. Small, simple, good pleasures, a life lived fully and with kindness and curiosity.
Here’s to 2014 you lovely lot – lets make it a smasher.
So I finished Thirst. I mean properly actually finished Thirst. I know I have been saying I’ve been ‘finished’ for ages but now I truly am. Yesterday night I sent my editor back my final few responses to notes. It’s on Amazon and Goodreads. People have started asking for proofs. I’ve seen the first draft cover – it’s very different from Tony Hogan – as is what that cover holds. It’s also very beautiful. I remember when the idea of writing one novel seemed like an impossibility and now I have two. Those of you who’re beginning your first: if I can, bit by bit, 1000 words by 1000 words, then so can you. Do it.
I was trying to explain the writing of this novel to a friend the other evening. I said It’s like I had two oak trees and I whittled them down with a darling needle to reveal these complex matchstick people or like those paintings where the artists builds layer after layer of paint only to scratch it all away again or like building an ocean cruiser with driftwood and glass pebbles. I once saw beautiful close up footage of ants in formation carrying sequins that glittered and sparked in the sunlight – I would like it to be like that too.
This novel has been a constant building up and tearing away again until the shiny stuff has been revealed. Thirst has taught me so much. It’s more ambitious than Tony Hogan and I think probably more mature but I like to think there’ the same fragile bruised but hopeful heart beating at the centre of both stories.
What now? Well I thought I’d take a week off to daydream. It’s like a Snow Day. But it’s a week. For daydreaming. Not to do anything other than wander and watch and eat and make little notes that I won’t understand when I read them back. And because I woke up last Sunday and impulse bought a flight, I’m off to do that in Budapest. I’m going to sit in thermal spas, go to the flea markets, eat torta, go to the opera (twice) and eat an impressive quantity of paprikad pork. A celebration and a decompression and a wee adventure all at once.
When I come home I’ll embark upon my next book. I can’t wait. For me, there’s no greater adventure than a blank piece of paper and a seed of a story in your head. I’ll probably write about that more actually…the joy of the first draft…but for now I’ve got to catch a plane. And buy snacks. Obviously.
That’s what I said when I woke bleary-eyed on Sunday morning after the Scottish Book Awards. So no, I didn’t win the overall prize of Scottish Book of the Year. That prize went to the very admirable and very deserving Gavin Francis for Empire Antarctica. But I did have the most wonderful time. Someone asked ‘were you really upset when you heard the news?’ and I thought about it and replied, completely honestly, that I was disappointed for about a second - a small pop - but then I was just joyful to be there.
And it’s true. Of course I’d had a wee think about what I’d do with a whacking £30k (plans included a garret in Paris, setting up a writer’s workshop, diamond shoes…) but actually, a bit like buying a lottery ticket, it never felt real so there was nothing to miss.
And I woke on Sunday after the awards ceremony in the most beautiful B&B, looked at my £5000 prize cheque for for First Book of the Year (maybe the biggest cheque I’ve ever seen with my name on it), chucked on a big jumper and ate a giant breakfast by a roaring fire and felt on top of the world (except for a gentle hangover obviously).
And here’s why I felt so happy (added to the sausages obviously)
1. All of the kindness, generosity and support that people showed in voting for me and trying to get others to vote for me. I’ve said it already but that meant a huge amount to me. I was, and am, massively grateful to those who came out fighting Janie Ryan’s corner. I can’t say thank you enough for that.
2. The awards night itself. The other authors, the judges, Sally Magnuson, the organisers, readers, animators and everyone else I met were….fucking lovely. Really that was the best bit of the night…and all the champagne, the delicious dinner, the fact I then went of to join a dear friend’s hen party (at near midnight) and ended up in my posh frock dancing in a circle of pals dressed as pilots and a man in a babygrow to THIS…it was a strange and strangely wonderful way to end the evening.
3. The cheque. Yes. I think I’ve made it clear that money makes a difference to writers. No, we don’t eat commas or shelter from winter winds in parentheses…we need an income like everyone else. That cheque will give me the freedom to begin my third book and there are few better gifts that the gift of writing time for a writer. I know how lucky I am to get to write full-time and I remember that as I embark on my next book.
So…yep, just the usual stuff that makes me happy: good people, good grub, happy memories and knowing I’ve enough in the kitty to keep on writing for a while.
A few people commented over the weekend about how grateful I seemed for everything that had happened in the last year. I’m aware that it might be a bit sickening but, for me, it’s because I know where I might have ended up. How things might have been for me. Instead I got this wonderful life full of adventure, experience and creativity. I get to eat good food, have access to music and words, film and art and live somewhere I love to live. I have so much freedom. I think I’d be an arsehole if I wasn’t grateful for that every single day.
I slept all the way back to London on the train, my crumpled party dress squashed in my suitcase, a big grin on my face and my fingers twitching to write some more stories. Lucky.
The day after tomorrow I’ll board a train to go off to Lennoxlove Festival, I’ll put on a nice dress and as soon as I arrive I’ll realise it’s a) not warm enough b) a bit too short for sitting on stage (and yet I will still wear it) and hear the winner of the 2013 Scottish Book Awards Scottish Book of the Year be announced.
Thinking about this has butterflies stinging through my guts for some reason. I am just a naturally nervous person - I’m glad of it, it makes me strive and forces me to work harder, gives me a lot of energy weirdly - but this is making me very nervous indeed.
There are good things. Whatever happens I leave with a very gratefully received £5000 as winner of the First Book category and I might (might, perhaps, maybe) even leave with £30,000 as the overall winner.
We can all agree, that by anyone’s standards, it’s a staggering prize. For a writer starting out, hell, for any writer, that is a life changing amount of money. Not for the amount of sci-fi socks you can buy, or delicious toast, or gallons of coffee but for the freedom to write. The freedom to write without the wolf at the door and money worries. Just you and the page and the knowledge you have time to write the book you want to.
Except for those with bestsellers, Hollywood film deals or a sugarmama/daddy I don’t know many writers for whom constant living by your wits, budgeting, eking out whatever income comes in doesn’t affect the way and what they write. So of course, there is the utter golden glory of the title of Scottish Book of the Year but lets not be coy here - that money would make a big difference to any of us up for the award. Here I’d like to give kudos to Creative Scotland, Scottish Book Awards and Scottish Mortgage Investment Trust for recognising that cold, hard cash is actually a fundamental tool of creative freedom and expression. I wish it weren’t the case but for me, and many others, it just is.
So, as we go into the final furlong I’ve no idea how the vote stands (and there’s also the judges vote to consider which makes up 50% of the decision), the butterflies are thundering through my belly and am looking forward to/ feeling anxious about the coming weekend in equal measure.
I would like to say thank you to each and every person who tweeted, facebooked, emailed in support of the book. I can’t say how much that has meant to me, to have the support of not just friends but also writing peers. That’s been one of the best things of all.
Anyway, come Sunday this will all be done and dusted one way or the other. Voting closes tomorrow (31st) and so I am asking you again…vote for Tony Hogan...vote for the freedom a prize like that can bring and for the book I can write with that freedom, for the lassies, for the debuts.
Ta very much you lovely bunch. Oh and here’s @savidgereads blog which says all this far better than I have and contains this excellent poster.
So I’m writing this with a box of Toffifees at my elbow (airport smackery - was either that or Toblerone and I always bruise the roof of my mouth with those) and someone having a loud screaming match outside my window. Yes, I am back in Hackney.
I flew home yesterday sitting next to the sweetest polly-pocket of a grandma who placed her feet up on the the vacant seat tray between us and motioned for me to do the same. I spoke my two words of Korean, she spoke her one word of English and we made ourselves a right cosy wee nest for twelve hours of reading and movie watching and snacking in companionable silence. It was a good way to fly home.
I have been trying to think today about my impressions of Korea overall but, to be honest, it is all too fresh…and then also, somehow, already feels like a dream or story. I will always remember the overwhelming kindness and generosity I encountered from people wherever I was. And the beauty of the forested mountains juxtaposed with the shining neon and glass of the cities. I’ll remember the waves of Busan. The incredible food, especially the street food tempura squid served with a little paper cup of spicy broth. I’ll remember high-fiving every single kid at Ui Dang Elementary and running down a huge hill in ridiculous costume with my arms held wide during he Halloween 5k. I think maybe it is always this way with me and travel: the people, the food, the moments of solitude when you suddenly realise, ‘I’m travelling, this place is strange but beautiful to me’. What Korea has achieved in a short amount of time, after complete devastation, is utterly incredible and I left full of admiration for what they’d achieved through hard work and determination.
But it would be wrong for me to paint a chocolate box picture of my travels. I can’t ignore the fact that as a queer, working-class woman with little formal education and even less interest in more conventional ‘family values’ I would be a persona non grata to many Korean people. Or ignore the fact that although in many ways Korea is an incredibly developed, hyper-developed even, country there are extremely traditional and conservative values which are fundamental to its society. And that there is, of course, something isolating about knowing your own values are so at odds with the majority of society’s. I can’t pretend I don’t know about the extraordinarily high suicide rate (according to the (not always accurate) Wiki it’s the highest cause of death in under 40’s in Korea). Or the fact that after Mexico, Korea comes in number 2 in the longest working hours poll. Or that it has the world’s highest rate of plastic surgery (1 in 4 women in Seoul have had surgery…you must submit your photo with an application for most jobs).
I don’t know how to process all of this right now. I found Korea to a complicated but beautiful and fascinating too. The longer I was there the less I felt I understood anything but I wouldn’t have given up the experience, or the genuine and kind human interactions I had, for the world.
It was dusk as the plane landed yesterday and the sky was a stormy bruise. I am so happy to be home in London. I’d forgotten what it is to know a city so completely that you feel that its underneath thrum is matching your own heartbeat. This week I’m spending time with people who know and love me and who I do too. I’ve rejoiced in London’s diversity and energy and idiosyncrasy. Today it was bright and fresh and I walked down the street singing to my music and smiling at everyone. No one minded, some even smiled back.
I will always want adventures and be grateful for what they bring but home really is where the heart is.
I’ll leave you with my favourite picture from my trip, just look at that gorgeous face, and I thank you for travelling with me.