Archive | March, 2010

Book Blasphemy

31 Mar

Have you ever used a book in vain?

I’ve gone over the weird and wonderful things we’ve used when there was nary a bookmark in sight (or, as I suspect, when we just wanted to be bookishly quirky). Now I’m wondering, have you ever taken it one step further and used a book for a non-book purpose?

Books make up my poor man’s nightstand: Ikea boxes + tower of books + magazines stacked on top, et voila: the perfect perch for my morning multigrain Cheerios.

Yesterday I used a special edition Harry Potter to prop up a misbehaving printer power cord.

And I’ve possibly used a phone book for kindling, but never a real book.

What about you? Other forms of book furniture? Anything more inventive?

My book tower isn't nearly this fancy

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A Gmail Date with Gavin James Bower

29 Mar

Back story: Last week To Hell with Publishing held a very cuddly David Vann reading event, which I wrote up here (and didn’t at all brag about Florence Welch being there and stealing one of my event posters). Bloggers, writers, and publishing folk filled their little shop and I parked myself conveniently near the tub of free Becks, handing them out like I owned the place and keeping an eye out for people I thought I recognized from the internet – first-time meet ‘n greets included kimbofo, Savidge Reads, dovegreyreader, Evie Wyld, and Stuart Evers. One of my networkees was Gavin James Bower, a stone-cold ex-model fox and author of Dazed and Aroused and Made in Britain. We chatted for approximately 60 seconds but made a deal to take our burgeoning friendship to the next level with a gmail chat, which he’s reproduced in full here.

The next day, Emma Young sort of jokingly (sort of not) came up with The Twitsbury Set, a young people literary circle jerk. Why not?

Not surprisingly, Gavin and I are both interested in the idea of how important networking is for young authors, publishing people, etc, in this scrappy little industry. I don’t even think we need to be too cynical about it – finding like-minded people who may (or may not) help you out down the road, encourage you to do something interesting, or foster new ideas, more than makes up for a few awkward moments at a party. Do I sound too crunchy granola?

Here are my highlights from our chat today:

On writer’s pets…

me:  Am I right in thinking you’re too cool and cosmopolitan to own a pet?

Gavin:  i think owning pets is cruel. eating them on the other hand… i did once have a cat, called top cat – or ‘tc’ for short. i like cats. but i couldn’t eat a whole one

On writers who don’t get around…

me:  Do you feel like you know a lot of the young writers in London? Is there a sort of supportive community?

Gavin:  probably not. i only know a few young writers in london – the ones who, like me, get around a bit – but i imagine there are plenty sitting at home, just…oh i don’t know…writing…or something

me:  Just writing! How passé.

Gavin:  i know! not on twitter, not in a clique – not even trending. if i ever see one of them i’ll shout ‘where’s your hashtag gone?’ in football chant style. they won’t get it, of course…

me:  It’s all fun and games until some no-friends writer wins an award!

Writing is easy, everything else is hard…

me:  How much of your time do you actually spend writing? Is it something you have to consciously set aside time for, or is it more haphazard?

Gavin:  if you don’t count blogging, twittering…and, um, texting – which i’m assuming you won’t – i don’t spend a lot of time writing at all. i seem to be always writing, insofar as working on a project like a novel or screenplay, say, but the actual stream of consciousness writing thing comes quite naturally and takes up very little time. it’s the planning beforehand, the note-taking and the procrastinating, and then the editing afterwards that takes up the real time. and that’s forgetting the self-promotion that goes with it, which takes up more time than everything else combined

me:  I think that sounds promising though. Way too many people say they want to write and never get around to actually giving it a try.

Gavin:  my two least favourite ‘types’ to meet at networking events are people who talk about wanting to be a writer without actually having written anything…and close-talkers

me:  My least favourite are the ones who don’t smile. Please give me some clue as to whether you hate my guts or not!

On the necessity of self-promotion…

me: Do you think self-promotion is just a part of any writer’s job nowadays?

Gavin:  it’s not just a part. it’s THE part. for young writers anyway. unless you can pay a pr company to promote you/your writing, you’ll have to do it. there are exceptions – some big publishers support young writers – but it’s collaborative at best. meaning, a writer can’t just sit and write from an ivory tower and expect to be read and known and liked

i think that puts pressure on writers to be more than writers, and to develop other interests and projects, which is no bad thing

The part where I get all sappy…

Gavin:  we’ve established why i go to networking events. (to sell my soul.) what’s a result for you when you go to one?

me:  Seeing that the publishing world isn’t quite as scary as I thought, figuring out which aspect of it I’d really like to be involved in, and being around writers. I think it makes me more creative by association or something.

Gavin:  i like that

me:  Book blogging and going to book parties has also sort of gotten me back to my reading roots. What do I REALLY enjoy, what makes some books amazing and some books just ok (and if others loved it, why?)

Gavin:  i sometimes hang round outside gyms, to get buffer by association. so you’re trying to find yourself at book parties? how bold

me:  Hah, apparently finding myself involves slurring, “I’ll DM you later!” as I stand on a couch and explain the difference between my fancy glasses and my casual glasses.

What he’s reading and whether his favourite books match his own style…

Gavin:  for work I’m reading Colin Bacon’s Vivian & I, which is ‘the real Withnail & I’ and due to be published soon. for pleasure I’m trying to read David Vann’s Legend of a Suicide because of all the hype generated by Joe The Publicist Pickering.

i tend to read short novels and radical, single premise-based non-fiction – so yes!

[ed: Then he made some jokes about being the best Gmail chat I’ve ever had. The interview ended on a sour note.]

The Way We Were

22 Mar

Baby's First Blog Post (they grow up so fast)

Cue Sarah McLachlan’s I Will Remember You, or Green Day’s Time of Your Life, or some other nostalgia-inducing song that’s not from the ’90s, because things are about to get self-referential in here!

Last week was my six-month blogiversary. I didn’t post about it then because the blog and I wanted to celebrate quietly, just the two of us, you understand. Also, I was busy helping a certain special indie publishing house make the final copy edits on their exciting new book.  I’ll be talking about this more later, but let me just say – it’s I’m-not-lying good. I was scanning the thing for misplaced quote marks and replacing hyphens with em dashes, and I still got sucked into the story.

And now, come along with me on my trip down blogging memory lane!

September 2009: I look at pretty pictures of writers’ writing spaces and muse about  tucking tiny scraps of poetry in tiny drawers, and how awesome it would be to have an entire arsenal of identical pens.

October 2009: Big bricky books make good self-defence tools. I tell a story about my mom trying to use a hardcover as a weapon in Ukraine, on Chernobyl kids.

November 2009: David Vann comes to call! He smoothly delivered some amazing blogbites: writing’s not a team sport, he doesn’t write in cafes because the sounds of people chewing would cramp his style, and fish serve as metaphors for the imagination.

December 2009: Paying homage to the books “they” made me read in school. The Chrysalids, Of Mice and Men, Flowers for Algernon, Macbeth, and William Blake all make cameos.

January 2010: Marina Endicott swings by with a messy desk and a fluffy writing companion, or writer’s pet, if you will!

February 2010: My call for creative bookmark substitutes is surprisingly fruitful (cacti? boyfriend elbows? what?) and The Road lets me indulge my crazy tinfoil hat side.

March 2010: Dan Rhodes’ Little Hands Clapping grosses me out and I like it. Later that month, I do a round-up of the last six months of blogging, which you are READING RIGHT NOW. Whoa. Meta.

Little Hands Clapping – Pretty Good, Pretty Gross

12 Mar

You know when you read something, and it’s fine, but you don’t know how to describe it except by rehashing its plot? Not so with Dan Rhodes’ Little Hands Clapping. This book has personality up the ying yang. What it might lack in substance, it makes up for in atmosphere and dark humour. This could just be the cover talking, but Little Hands Clapping is like a longer, grosser, Edward Gorey tale – not all that deep but packed to the rafters with whimsy and creepiness.

It didn’t take me long to get into this book. It opens with a description of a suicide museum, for gawdsake. I was instantly entertained by Rhodes’ gleefully wicked sensibilities (especially small details like the “crunch” of spiders as they’re chewed) and the way he handles a huge cast of quirky characters without slowing down the pace of the narrative. And at first, it was fun to wonder how all the different back stories would eventually be woven together.

But by the middle of the book, any reader worth her salt knows how it’s all going to go down, and the plot loses its tension. I’m not saying I wasn’t still into it, just that the book could have had a last chapter of Omigodwhatsgoingtohappen, but the opportunity was squandered by over-enthusiastic foreshadowing. I think he was trying to be mischievous by constantly reminding us how badly things were going to end for the grey-faced, long-fingered suicide museum curator and his partner in crime, Dr. Cannibal, but I think we kinda knew that already.

I keep hearing that this is not Rhodes’ best book, and I have no trouble believing that. The story may have fallen just short of being a must-re-read for me, but as a first-time Rhodes reader, I was just happy to discover an author who has such a refreshingly distinct style.

If you like your humour with a side of macabre (and a dash of dogs vomming genitalia), this is the book for you.

Five Can Lit Picks

1 Mar

At Meet at The Gate to finish off Canada’s turn on their World Literature Tour. Incidentally, they’re all by women: A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews (by the way, brand new information courtesy of last night’s Olympic hockey game between the US and Canada – is Toews pronounced Taves?), Lives of Girls and Women by Alice Munro, Helpless by Barbara Gowdy, Good to a Fault by Marina Endicott, and The Birth House by Ami McKay.