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Smash Lits with Tom Vowler

1 How do you organise your book shelves?

Utterly chaotically, anything anywhere, though I have one of those memories that means I know where each one is.

2 What is your favourite cheese?

Peels of parmesan, preferably with a glass of red.

3 You are wallpaper. What is your pattern?

Something dour, peeling a little.

4 What was your favourite book as a child?

James and the Giant Peach, though curiously I hated fruit.

5 What is your default pub drink?

Pint of real ale, hoppy and golden.

6 What was the last text you sent?

‘About half eight?’

7 Who would play Stephen Briggs in the film of your book?

Shaun Evans – he of the young Morse.

(Ooh, he’d be perfect for the role. Good pick!)

8 Bacon VS Tofu – who wins? Why?

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Bacon. You can’t trust words that end in ‘u’.

9 Do you believe human beings can spontaneously combust?

No, but I wish some would.

10 Have you ever written an angry letter to a magazine or “news” paper?

If only there was time.

11 Have you ever woken up laughing?

Only when I sleep naked.

12 Have you ever had your fortune told?

A man in a pub did once say, ‘You’re heading for a beating’.

13 How much money did you spend yesterday?

About £9.

14 Where do you go in your dreams?

The Cornish coast if I’m lucky.

15 What’s your most vivid childhood memory?

The family cat escaping from the car in a strange town.

16 Who is your favourite Neighbours character?

Is Charlene still in it?

17 What’s your favourite bird?

Are you referring to my peregrine obsession here?

Originally I was going to ask if you could draw a peregrine…

18 Have you ever seen a ghost?

As an ardent sceptic, I hope not.

19 Who is your writer crush?

Sarah Hall. Her words do something wonderful to me.

20 What question should I have asked you?

That one.

 

Tom Vowler is a novelist and short story writer living in south west England. His debut collection, The Method, won the Scott Prize in 2010, and his novel What Lies Within received critical acclaim. He is co-editor of the literary journal Short Fiction and an associate lecturer in creative writing at Plymouth University, where he’s completing a PhD looking at the role of the editor in fiction. That Dark Remembered Day is his second novel. More at www.tomvowler.co.uk

That Dark Remembered Day by Tom Vowler

Vowler has a keen eye for nature and roots us in a landscape whose bleakness matches the dark heart of the story. Stephen narrates the opening and closing of this novel, the middle two parts voiced by his mother and father, and through them we explore a devastating crime. Stephen has returned “home” twenty years on to visit with his ill mother. Driving through the village, drinking in the local pub, walking by the river, he is surrounded by people and memories from the past. His stay forces him to confront what happened and the impact it has had on not only his life, but the lives of all who were there. The dreadful crime at the heart of the story is kept from the reader until the end, unfolding gradually in the telling. I found the mother’s voice the most interesting and wished she could have been allowed more light in a life which seemed impossibly harsh.
This exploration of post traumatic stress woven into a compelling story is a real tragedy.

 

vowler

 

Stay tuned for Tom Vowler’s Smash Lits.

 

 

Smash Lits with Kerry Hudson

1) What sandwiches would you make for a picnic with Will Self?
Soft white loaf, soaked with tequila, sprinkled with sugar, garnished with a slice of lemon…this sounds pretty good actually.
2) Do you have any writing rituals?
I use ‘Freedom’ the app to turn off the internet. Otherwise, because I travel so much, I’ve trained myself to write literally anywhere. Still, when times are tough you can’t beat a long walk with some good music to unstick whatever’s stuck.
3) Did you have an invisible friend when you were younger?
No but I had a tiny plastic Gonzo that I took everywhere with me and chattered to incessantly until it got taken away. I fucking loved that little toy.
4) What is your motto for life?
Work hard and be kind. I try to remember it when I feel a bit at sea and not sure what do about things.
5) What’s your favourite sweet?
Fizzy cola bottle hands down. 

6) Who is your favourite Neighbours character?
I met Karl Kennedy at Neighbours night in Melbourne when I was twenty-one. He was right bloody charming.
7) What’s your favourite swear?
Cunt, cunting, cunty. 
8) Have you ever had your fortune told?
Not yet but I am a fan of a good old coin toss
9) What is the oldest piece of clothing in your wardrobe?
It was *sob* my thirteen year old denim jacket (originally my wee sister’s from Tammy Girl) but it went ‘missing’ at this year’s London Book Fair (thieving scallies).
(Oh no,was it this one? If anyone knows what happened to Kerry’s jacket please leave a comment!)
10) Who is the silliest writer you know?
Will Self after a tequila sandwich or two (not really (but I bet it’s true)).
11) Can you make up a poem about being thirsty?
I wanted a drink
I had a wee think
The answer was clear and I headed for the sink
(there’s a reason I write novels…)
12) Your writing is music, what style is it?
Alt-folk with an occasional electronic remix. 
13) Who would play Dave and Alena in the film of your book?
Love this question! Dave would be Tom Hardy and Alena…an unknown from Siberia discovered at the local shopping centre. 
14) What has been your most embarrassing moment?
Oh there are so many, my mind is literally flooded. Almost walking out on stage in front of two-hundred South Koreans with my skirt tucked into my knickers at a British Council event is probably quite high…saved only by a  very sweet lady who ran after me and saved my dignity. Honestly though, such a frequent occurrence my threshold is *high*.
15) Bacon VS Tofu – who wins? Why?
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Bacon. There’s a reason why it’s the only thing veggies say they miss.
16) Have you ever had a nickname?
People often call me KHud these days. I quite like it. Makes me feel vaguely street.
17) Do you talk to yourself?
All the fucking time. The other day while waiting in line to see a film. Not anything important either, just casual observations…I’m keeping my eye on the crazy Richter scale. 
(Ha! Me too. The other day I was in an office on my own just blethering in and on to myself, then I saw the security camera in the corner…)
18) Do you have a favourite pen?
I never did but I love those thin-line red pans usually used for illustration for writing longhand.
19) What would you do if you were invisible for the day?
Go and see lots of free films, help myself to the Ben and Jerry’s and pic’n’mix, sneak into the Zoo, stay the night in a library. Basically what a bookish seven year old would also do.
20) What question should I have asked you?
You asked my favourite swear word – I’m a happy woman.
Huge thanks to Kerry for answering the questions. And please read the previous post where I tell you all how ace her latest novel “Thirst” is, then do yourself a favour and buy it. 

Thirst by Kerry Hudson

Thirst is a joyous read despite its depiction of poverty, violence, abuse and deprivation. It is sliced through with warmth and fizzes with energy from start to finish, just as Hudson’s debut, Tony Hogan… did.

Security Guard Dave meets Alena when she shoplifts from the swanky London department store he works in. Both of them have been battered by life and they are, each in their own way, broken and desperately in need of kindness. And both have secrets.

Alena left her Siberian housing estate to journey to London where she hoped to find a better life. Dave has always dreamt of leaving his estate and travelling. Real life isn’t like that though and both have had their dreams destroyed. When they come together they are uneasy and wary. The things that have happened to Alena have transformed her. She’s had to psychologically armour herself. This is a story of love and redemption, but Hudson’s customary realism ensures there’s no fairy story guaranteed happy ever after. (I was holding out for a “maybe a bit content for a period of time” ending and nope, I won’t tell you if that happened or not.)

I raced through the book, eager to know what would happen. It’s an engaging, bright, beautiful novel with an important heart. Blimey, Kerry Hudson is good. 

Come back tomorrow to read Kerry’s answers to my Smash Lits questions.

A Song for Issy Bradley by Carys Bray

 

The Bradley family are devout Mormons. Ian is the Bishop, his wife, Claire, converted to the faith before marrying him and together they are bringing up their four children – Alma, Zippy, Jacob and Issy, following stringent Mormon rules. The author was herself, until relatively recently, a practising Mormon, so it’s fair to assume the book is an accurate representation of family life within the faith, with all the accompanying homilies and entreaties.

Bishop Bradley is big on sacrifice and duty, believing his path to heaven is assured just so long as he devotes himself to serving his church and spreading the word. He prioritises church duties over family duties, which is why it’s left to an overstretched Claire to shop for Jacob’s birthday party and organise the food. Her youngest, Issy, is unwell and tucked up in bed, Claire too busy to pay her much attention until it’s too late and tragically she dies.

It’s Bray’s ability to be quietly devastating that makes the story so affecting. Never mawkish or sentimental, she uses humour and a warm understanding of the human psyche to explore each family member’s thoughts and feelings in turn. They struggle to cope with their grief in very different ways. Jacob believes Issy can be brought back to life with his faith. Zippy focuses her attentions on a classmate she fancies, the only other Mormon at her school, one who she hopes will marry her. Alma lives for football and is the most cynical, yet finds unexpected comfort from one of the Brothers at church. Ian throws himself into his ministry and tries to keep home life going when Claire takes to Issy’s bed and refuses to speak or get up. Claire, overwhelmed with a deep depression that goes unrecognised because it wouldn’t be the done thing, questions her faith and waits for a sign from God. (I won’t plot spoiler, but there was a Claire scene that broke my heart and cemented my absolute dislike of Ian.)

Writing about the beach Bray describes, “The track is sandier now, damp and sticky; gritty, like cake mix.” It’s this descriptive power, employing the everyday and and mixing it with insight, which really elevates this novel. The children’s voices all feel accurate – Jacob aged 7: “There are so many kinds of never. There’s the never Mum uses when she says, “Never talk to strangers; it’s dangerous,” and there’s the never Dad uses when he says, “Never play with your food; it’s bad manners.” But Mum talks to plenty of people she doesn’t know, and Jacob has seen Dad break Oreos in half to lick the creamy bit.” These simple contradictions are followed by larger ones. At the centre of it all, the question why Heavenly Father would take Issy.

A wonderful debut, full of heart.

 

 

Bookshops are shops that sell books

When people come into the bookshop and ask for a specific book the ideal is that we will have that title in stock and be able to sell it to them there and then. If the book is not in stock we can order it and get it in a couple of days. (Unless the book is out of print, or the publisher is out of stock, or the book does not have a UK distributor.) Customers sometimes act incredulously if we don’t have the book they want. They are shocked that such a large bookshop does not have a copy of “Whatever The Book Is” and wonder why not. We can’t stock every book in print. Even though we have five floors we do not have enough room. But, we will order it. We will obtain it for you if it’s at all possible. We are happy to do that. We want you to have that book. We love books. We are booksellers.

A guy asked me what he had to do to get his book on our shelves. I asked him who his publisher was and he said “Me.” We could not stock all the self published books, could we? Where would we put them? Who would buy them?

I still find it astonishing that so many authors think the secret of success is getting their book on to a shelf in a book shop. They imagine then it’s just a matter of customers seeing their book and ta-dah, they will buy it. I’ve seen books, good books, books I have read and enjoyed, sit on the shelf for years. I’ve seen them promoted and discounted and still not selling. (And yes, there are others, the ones that sell and keep on selling with no promotion or fanfare, because they have that indescribable something that works, but I’m not talking about them today.)

Here’s the thing – bookshops are shops. They exist to sell books. They are a business, so they need to sell books to keep their business going. It seems to me that some people ignore that fact and view bookshops as a public service. A bookshop is not a library, and it does not HAVE to sell any book it does not choose to, does it? Perhaps the bookshop did stock that book at one time and it took months to sell. Perhaps we just sold out of it? Perhaps it’s an interesting new title that we will pass details of to the buyer.

To those that say there should be more books about  *insert person’s pet thing*, I want to ask why? Because you say so? Because you happen to write books like that? Because you like them? I happen to really like Tivall vegetarian schnitzels. When I lived in London it was easy to find them, but here in West Sussex it’s not. A large branch of Waitrose sold them for a while, but they stopped. I did enquire in store and I filled in an online stock request, but they never got them back in. I assume it was a decision based on sales. It would not occur to me to insist that they should stock it simply to please me and any other customer that might share my taste. Recently my local Holland and Barrett has stocked them. They are way more expensive than they were at the supermarket, but it’s my choice whether or not I buy them.

Similarly, if you go to the bookshop and they don’t have the book you want, you have choices, you can order it from them, or online, or shop elsewhere, so where is the Big Bad?

What if there is no conspiracy? 

 

(Of course, these are my personal musings and are in no way meant to represent any official view from the company I work for.)

Lane Ashfeldt, SaltWater, Smash Lits

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At the heart of a good story collection is damn fine story-telling, something that SaltWater is chock full of. Lane Ashfeldt writes with a keen sense of place, setting her prize winning tales in Dublin, West Cork, London, Greece, New Zealand and Haiti. She is launching her collection at Waterstones Brighton at 7:30pm on Monday 12th May and you are welcome to come along and hear her discussing short stories and competitions with Vanessa Gebbie and Bridget Whelan. If you’d like a FREE ticket please just call the store or tweet @BrightonWstones:

Lane

 

Lane agreed to take part in one of my Smash Lits interviews, so, without further ado

1) What colour is Tuesday? 

Green

2) Have you ever had a nickname?

Laney (primary school on). The Extra Terrestrial (university). The Mother-thing (more recently). Oh, and people I don’t know often call me Lana in emails, but I really don’t wear enough lipstick to ever be a Lana, I think.

3) Bacon V Tofu – who wins? Why?

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Bacon, just because.

4) What’s the most twunty writer thing you’ve done?

I don’t know. I looked up twunty writer thing and somehow got this page so am leaving the link instead.

5) Who is your favourite Neighbours character?

None, don’t watch.

(I don’t understand how people can NOT have a favourite Neighbours character. You should watch, Lane.)

6) Do you bite your nails? 

Nope. Except on holidays post 9/11, due to carry-on luggage restrictions.

7) What is your motto for life? 

Don’t have one – would never stick to it anyway.

8) You hold a dinner party and can only invite writers (living or dead). Who do you ask? 

The hardest question by far. I might ask a writer from a couple of centuries ago, at least, and make them microwaved M&S dinners. Maybe the Shelleys? Or if I could travel in time, I might go back a few centuries to a place in rural Ireland where my family were then living, and listen to the storytelling around the Bealtaine (May Day) bonfire — though a revision course in Irish might be needed.

9) Do you have any recurring dreams?

When I was living in a one bedroom flat shared with two people, I dreamt extra secret rooms, hidden under the flat. Around that time I also dreamt a secret beach in London. I was so upset when I woke up and realised it was just a dream.

10) How do you organise your bookshelves?

Rarely. My books spend more time in stacks and boxes than on shelves. I also lose books. Great when you find a good book again, but that doesn’t always happen. But I have a project on the go to fill an old wardrobe with books. Maybe two, if it works. I haven’t decided whether to leave the doors on, or not. What do you think?

Ah, that’s a pretty neat idea. You could get a lot of books in a wardrobe.

11) What school playground games do you remember playing?

A space travel game, in round see-through spaceships. We all thought inter galactic travel (probably time travel too) would be a thing by the time we grew up, and we haven’t even got mass-produced hoverboards yet…

12) Sparkling or still water?

Tap.

13) Do you have a picture on your wall? Describe it.

Oil painting of bedside clutter, including a book about Katherine Mansfield with a paua shell obscuring her face. “Coming home” by Sarah J Moon.

14) What would your superhero power be?

Touchtyping 1000 words a minute. (I wish!)

15) Hardbacks, paperbacks or ebooks?

All three.

16) Can you make up a poem about salt water? 

Only if serious money changes hands.

17) Have you ever had your fortune told? 

Once, but afterwards was told the fortune-teller, who worked out of a shop with a bead curtain doorway on Holloway Road, was really a prostitute. She was reluctant to tell my fortune and not very convincing, so this may well be true.

18) Do you talk to yourself?

Yes, rarely. Mostly to remind myself of essentials if packing in a rush. A poor substitute for the lists I should really write, often leading to the purchase of a new toothbrush or power lead.
19) Word association – I say Cloud, you say…? Water? Salt? Boat? Phone?

Skype.

20) What is your favourite sound?

The sound of deadlines whooshing by.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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