Book review The Great Night by Chris Adrian

The Great Night coverA Midsummer Night’s Dream
has been my favourite Shakespearean play since my teens, relishing the eerie setting, whirling otherworldiness and that wonderful sense of the uncanny balance between here and there – our plain, ordinary land and the realm of Titania and Oberon, and the unstable brink between childhood and adulthood.

So when I discovered the existence of The Great Night, a book that seems to be a direct homage to Shakespeare’s play, I was both reticent (how could they possibly do it justice?) and irresistibly intrigued.

Fortunately, author Chris Adrian is a masterful storyteller who seems to relish the original text as much as I do, and highlights, then subverts or enhances elements of that first tale. The fairies are of the primitive, undainty sort that more commonly populate our earliest fairytales, as likely to do terrible, unknowing wrongs as to grant wishes. Puck is particularly fearsome, Titania’s morals utterly fluid and often suspect, and nothing is ever what it seems for more than the most fleeting of moments. Continue reading

The Last Bookshop – a short film

cr The Last Book ShopGot a few moments to spare this weekend? This gorgeous short film comprises a chilling tale, beautifully told in just 20 minutes.

cr The Last Book Shop_1The scene where the old shopkeeper (who has been waiting for a customer for 25 years, two months and six days) shows the small boy how to open a book is surprisingly moving, and the ending is just sublime.

I love the line where the shopkeeper explains books as giving you “memories of things you will never experience.”

Find out more about the talented makers at 

How to survive the quiet times: A guide for writers, part 2

Commission from HellAlmost every freelance writer experience the occasional lull. In this series of guest posts, freelance journalist Deborah Willimott offers some favourite tips for surviving those quiet times.

Survival technique 2: Accept the commission from Hell

You type ‘yes’, click ’send’ and in seconds your soul belongs to somebody on a Weekly desk for the next four months. You have accepted The Commission From Hell.

It will require ‘case studies’. Lots of them. Photogenic ones (read: ‘real’ people who look like catwalk models). Aged between 26 and 27. It requires said CS to talk ‘candidly’ (ie with lots of grot and embarrassing detail) about their sex life (usually) whilst being photographed smiling next to their (equally breathtakingly photogenic) partner they have just ‘candidly’ revealed is “shit in bed.”

You also generally have about 24 hours to find these people and convince them they really want to do this for absolutely no incentive at all – apart from maybe ‘a day out in London’ and possibly a bottle of £3.99 Merlot (bought by you out of your earnings for this nightmare).

By deadline day you will have run up an immense phone bill, at least one of the case studies will have got angry/cried/dropped out, and the words “You didn’t say we’d have to be photographed” will have been uttered. But finally, you’ll be done and your cheque for £125 (minus Merlot and phone bill costs) will be in the mail…

…After you’ve finished eight complete re-writes.

Survival tip 1: Become a ‘Curtain Twitcher’
Survival tip 3: Google your illnesses
Survival tip 4: Seek food
Survival tip 5: Experiment with a new computer font
Survival tip 6:  Consider organising your accounts
Survival tip 7: Cook something complicated
Survival tip 8: Dress inappropriately 




Listen to 2012’s Bridport Prize winners

Lichen and rust cr Judy DarleyWith only just over a month (37 days!) till the deadline for Bridport Prize entries, now is the perfect time to get a sense of what made the judge’s skin, eyes, throats and spines tingle among last year’s entries.

You can listen to last year’s winning poem, short story and flash fiction here, and then click here to find out how to submit your own entries.

Book review – A Northern Line Minute by William Leith

A Northern Line Minute coverFrom the very first sentence of this Penguin Lines tale by William Leith, I found myself utterly vested in the outcome. A smell of smoke on an Underground train? Few things can be more frightening.

And our narrator, a self-confessed tunnel-phobe, who hates to drive, fly and, above all, take Underground trains, carries us through a journey that verges on becoming terrifying, as he becomes more convinced of the smell of smoke, yet more determined to tell himself that can’t be true – he must be imagining it, or it’s normal, or… all the things we tell ourselves when our lives could be in mortal peril, but might not be. Continue reading

Enter The Fiction Desk Ghost Story Competition 2013

Arnos Vale Cemetery cr Judy DarleyWhen I think of classic British ghost stories I get a satisfying shiver down my spine, not least because it’s an area women writers seem to excel in, from Mary Shelley to Susan Hill!

The Fiction Desk are straying from their preference for more or less realistic tales for a competition focusing solely on the genre of the ghost story, saying “some genre fiction should be part of any balanced reading diet. One genre that we’d like to feature more of in our pages is the ghost story.”

The closing date for entries is 31 May 2013. Continue reading

Not all clouds bring rain

Cloud MeteorosI’ve occasionally been accused of having my head in the clouds, but with this new artwork at St Pancreas Station, that could be regarded as a compliment.

Unveiled yesterday, Cloud: Meteoros, created by British-born sculptor and artist Lucy Orta and her husband Jorge, is suspended above the vast Grand Terrace, bringing a sense of scale and possibility to the 48 million people who travel through the London station each year.

Close up of Cloud Meteoros“I hope our sculpture will be one more way for the millions of visitors to admire the beauty of the space and to take their minds off the mundane,” comments Lucy. “Just in the way ceiling frescoes affected Renaissance dwellers many centuries ago, our hope is that this sculpture will similarly inspire Londoners, making them ultimately feel differently about their surroundings. What a wonderful way for art to intervene into people’s lives.”

Got to agree! I particularly love the characters resting atop the clouds, apparently designed to echo the passengers waiting on the platforms below.

To see it for yourself, visit St Pancreas before Autumn 2013, and look up.

Cloud: Meteoros



How to survive the quiet times: A guide for writers, part 1

Curtain twitchingAlmost every freelance writer experience the occasional lull. In this series of guest posts, freelance journalist Deborah Willimott offers some favourite tips for surviving those quiet times.

There are times in the life of every flancer (ed: this appears to be Willimott-ese for Freelancer) when the Journo-world appears to have neatly stored all your ideas under B1N in the filing cabinet of doom. In attempt to help you to get your brain up and working, this is part one of my three-part guide to surviving the long, dark, “between commissions” times.

Survival tip 1: Become a ‘Curtain Twitcher’

Other people’s business is always interesting. But when you’re a flancer at home alone, it doesn’t even have to be a turgid affair-based argument or actual, front garden homicide to have your nose welded to the double-glazing.

When all you have for company is the postman and Radio 4, hearing anything go on outside your window becomes your body’s equivalent to being smacked with that small rubber hammer the doctor uses on your knee.

But beware: The feel of curtain between fingertips becomes so deliciously addictive, you may feel you wish to move your desk closer to the window.

This is borderline nuts and can quickly escalate into you turning the lights off on purpose when dusk falls and sitting like a member of the KGB in a straight-backed chair with a note-book in one hand and a shot-gun across your lap until sunrise.

But anything is more interesting than not having any work – even the landscape gardeners discussing Kelly Brook within earshot at 7.30am.

Book review – A History of Capitalism According to the Jubilee Line by John O’Farrell

A History of Capitalism book coverI began reading this book on the day before Magaret Thatcher’s death, which made the cover image particularly poignant (and yes, that bearded chappie beside Maggie would appear to be Karl Marx).

Taking the format of a dream-scape, apparently experienced while riding the Jubilee Line, this is a somewhat surrealist tale, in which the trains are halted due to a collapse in Western civilisation, never to move again. Not great news for the passengers stuck on the now impotent train.

By setting it in the realm of dreams O’Farrell is able to deftly sidestep pesky questions by having his own characters ask them: “In retrospect it was a little strange that they had recorded messages specifically for this bizarre and complex set of circumstances.” Continue reading