Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Tran Khai Thanh Thuy released from prison

I have heard from English PEN that Tran Khai Thanh Thuy, one of the recipients of a book I sent through their Writers in Prison programme, has been freed from prison in Vietnam and is now in the US.

The book I sent to her was The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark and if you've been reading this blog for a while you'll know that it was one of 48 copies that I was assigned through World Book Night when I signed up as one of 25,000 'givers' who distributed a million free books in the UK in March this year. There were 25 titles available to choose from, all donated by the publishing industry in an initiative that was launched with the aim of getting more people reading. Interestingly, all the titles reportedly saw an increase in sales even though there were so many free copies circulating.

I gave some of the books out at random on the streets of Brixton, I sent seven to prisoners of conscience via English PEN's Writers in Prison programme and gave the rest to some of the exiled writers I have been working with at Freedom from Torture.

If you weren't involved in World Book Night and you'd like to sign up for 2012, you can sign up here. You can also help to choose the 25 titles for next year by nominating your ten favourite books.

Monday, 27 June 2011

Alison Wonderland - Literary Death Match Winner

I read from Alison Wonderland at last night's Literary Death Match, an anarchic, fun, literary competition that is held regularly in several major cities around the world, including London, New York and San Francisco.

I was representing AmazonEncore against authors from Penguin (Nat Segnit), Melville House (Joan Taylor) and Random House (Leo Benedictus).

In round 1, our readings were judged on literary merit, performance and intangibles. However, the judges were so nice about all four of us that it was impossible to believe that there was any real winner in that round.

In round 2, I was one of two finalists who had to shoot lipsticked arrows at a poster-sized photo of H G Wells. And I won! The memory of hearing the husband and children of my opponent pleading with her in vain from the audience "Put your glasses on!" hasn't lessened my feeling of triumph this morning. As organiser Todd Zuniga explained as we all had a drink afterwards: "Someone had to win and it may as well have been you."

Hurrah! Before I went along to last night's Literary Death Match, I would have said that it was the taking part that was important. But now that I have won, I see that winning is important, too.

This is the first literary award I have won for Alison Wonderland and I'm thrilled, especially as I was presented with an engraved championship medal that is mine to keep forever.

Literary Death Match is sponsored by the lovely people at Picador. If you like the sound of it and you'd like to go along, the next one in the UK will be at the Latitude Festival on 14th July.

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Alison Wonderland - Winner Chosen

Thanks to everyone who signed up to win an advance copy of Alison Wonderland, which will be published on 16th August.

The winner has been chosen by and contacted by email: Megan McD. Congratulations, Megan!

If you didn't win, I'm sorry. I had such a good response to this giveaway that I'll be doing another very soon.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Literary Death Match, Sunday 26th June

I'm delighted to be on the line-up for Literary Death Match at the Bromley Literary Festival on Sunday 26th June with Desmond Elliott Prize long-listee Leo Benedictus (and LDM London, Ep. 15 champ), writer/historian/poet Joan Taylor and Nat Segnit (author of Pub Walks in Underhill Country and writer/star of Radio 4's Beautiful Dreamers).

Judges include Bruno Vincent (author of Grisly Tales from Tumblewater), writer/actress Julie Mayhew (her collection A Little Death is shortlisted for Salt Publishing’s 2011 Scott Prize) and filmmaker Heather Taylor. The event will be hosted by LDM creator Todd Zuniga.

Doors open at 7.00pm. The show starts at 7.45 pm. You can pre-order tickets at £5 here.

More details on the Literary Death Match site, on Facebook or on Twitter.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Top Ten Reasons I like Blogging

The Broke and the Bookish are asking people to list the reasons why they like blogging. I have written about this before, on this site and for the Writers' Guild magazine, but here are my top ten reasons:

i) I have made friends through blogging

ii) I can share random thoughts that won't make it into my books or scripts

iii) I can recommend books I have enjoyed reading

iv) I can share links I have found on the internet

v) I can mention literary events and theatre shows I'll be attending

vi) I can give away copies of my books and other people's books

vii) I can link to other blogs I like reading

viii) I can share news about my books and plays

ix) I can reminisce

x) I can connect to people I would never otherwise have met - like you.

Thanks for reading

If you have a blog (whether you talk about books or anything else) what do you like best about it?

Midsummer's Eve Giveaway

My book, Alison Wonderland, will be published on 16th August. To celebrate, I have a signed advance reader's copy to give away in the Midsummer's Eve Giveaway, 21st-24th June:
After her husband leaves her for another woman, twentysomething Londoner Alison Temple impulsively applies for a job at the very P.I. firm she hired to trap her philandering ex. She hopes it will be the change of scene she so desperately needs to move on with her shattered life. At the all-female Fitzgerald’s Bureau of Investigation, she spends her days tracking lost objects and her nights shadowing unfaithful husbands. But no matter what the case, none of her clients can compare to the fascinating characters in her personal life. There’s her boss, the estimable and tidy Mrs. Fitzgerald; Taron, Alison’s eccentric best friend, who claims her mother is a witch; Jeff, her love-struck, poetry-writing neighbour; and—last but not least—her psychic postman. Her relationships with them all become entangled when she joins Taron for a road trip to the seaside and stumbles into a misadventure of epic proportions! Clever, quirky, and infused with just a hint of magic, this humorous literary novel introduces a memorable heroine struggling with the everyday complexities of modern life.

"Only occasionally does a piece of fiction leap out and demand immediate cult status. Alison Wonderland is one... Smith is at the very least a minor phenomenon." The Times

This giveaway is now closed.
Thanks to I'm a Reader, Not a Writer for hosting.

Monday, 20 June 2011

Lovely Literary Events - London

Poetry and Illustration at King's Place tonight, Monday 20th June, 7.00 pm. With Simon Armitage, Colette Bryce, Heather Phillipson, Chris Riddell, Nick Hayes and Philippa Johnson. Original artwork will be made on the night. £9.50 if booked online.

Zine Fest at the Women's Library on Saturday 25th June, 12-4 pm. Celebrate the alternative world of self-made paper zines and come along for stalls, workshops and discussions centred around this radical and fun form of publishing - it's free. Detailed programme here.

Carol Ann Duffy & Friends at King's Place, Monday 27th June, 7.00 pm. Carol Ann Duffy will be joined by the two other national laureate poets, Gillian Clarke (Wales) and Liz Lochhead (Scotland). Also featuring the acclaimed poet Imtiaz Dharkar, and musical interludes from her regular collaborator John Sampson. £9.50 if booked online.

The Book Stops Here on Monday 11th July, 7.30 pm. Readings at Alleycat from Naomi Wood, David Whitehouse, Sophie Hardach, Shireen Jilla.

The Romantics at Keats' House on Saturday 16th July, 3pm or 7pm. £10 or £8 concessions: A new theatrical production celebrating and dramatising the lives and loves of Britain's most influential romantic artists. Actors will invoke and bring to life luminaries such as William Blake, Mary Shelley, Samuel Coleridge, Lord Byron, John Keats and Robert Burns and feature live, unplugged music. Performances will be in the garen at Keats' House so bring a picnic and immerse yourself in some of the most beautiful poetry ever written.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Sunday Salon - books, books, books

I have had an eventful week: I went to see Verdi's Simon Boccanegra at the ENO and Trevor Nunn's excellent production of Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead at the Haymarket, and I watched Christopher Nolan's Inception. I also read an excerpt of Alison Wonderland at the Oxfringe Festival in Oxford, went to my daughter's degree show at Central St Martin's and I had some new author photos taken. The press release about Amazon Publishing's late summer and fall books went out - Alison Wonderland is on their list with a publication date of 16th August.

I have been reading and buying books by people I met in New York and at readings over here in London and Oxford:

I read the free teaser chapters for Dove Season by Johnny Shaw (which will be published on 16 Sept) and Carry Yourself Back to Me by Deborah Reed (which will be published on 20th Sept). I enjoyed both samples immensely and I'll be buying the books when they come out in September.

I will buy The Lantern by Deborah Lawrenson when it's published next week on 23rd June. I have been reading Deborah's blog for a while and I met her in New York. The Lantern is described as a modern gothic novel set in Provence where Deborah and her family have a house. (YouTube video of the setting here.) Deborah has just heard that the book has been chosen for the TV Book Club on Channel Four and her episode will be aired on 26th June on More4 then repeated on Channel Four on 2nd July.

I recently saw Sue Gee read a story from her new collection, Last Fling, published by Salt Publishing. It was a beautiful, sad story but I didn't buy a copy at the reading because I wanted to get it for my Kindle - and when I got home I saw that it wasn't available. However Salt Publishing tipped me off on Twitter that they had just agreed the ebook rights and it went live on 18th June so I bought a copy that night.

I started reading The Passage by Justin Cronin before I went to New York but I got distracted by all the books above, as well as The Zoom Zoom by Penny Goring which I read recently and have mentioned here a few times. I have just resumed reading The Passage - it's very good. I recommend it. The paperback is £3.99 on Amazon at the moment and it's on this list of Father's Day gift ideas by Jennifer Lawrence of Jenn's Bookshelves. So if you need a last-minute present and you're close to a bookstore...

Links on the Internet
Interval Drinks: Edinburgh, in short A condensed overview of the programme for the festival.

Futurebook: Is the ebook market reaching maturity in the UK? Yet another gibberish blog about the future of ebooks. Sample sentence: "This weeks top 20 only 8 titles prepared to take titles over £1." Huh?

Riot kiss couple tell their story on CBC News Photo by Rich Lam, Getty Images.

Kitten playing an invisible harp via @GarethAveyard

Man blasts off wart with shotgun

Russian scientists persuade female colleague to remove clothes to swim with whales as "whales don't like artificial materials"

Free runner in wheelchair "after lover's husband pushes him off a balcony"

Dog in the clouds photo via @petsalive

Happy Father's Day. What are you reading? Are you doing Father's Day things today?

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Romeo and Juliet at the O2

The Royal Ballet is at the O2 this weekend with Romeo and Juliet. Edward Watson and Lauren Cuthbertson are in this afternoon's performance at 2pm:

Rehearsal photos and more information here: The Ballet Bag

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Alison Wonderland - another coin in the wishing well

My daughter has just finished her final year studying set design at Central St Martin's and I'm going to the private view of her degree show tomorrow. Years ago I worked with a theatre director who teaches at St Martin's and I couldn't step through the door of the building to meet him without the line from the Pulp song Common People popping into my head. I don't know how the young people study there without hearing it every day and going mad but perhaps they get inured to it, or they're too young to be bothered by the reference. Pulp songs make me feel sad. Which of us, when we were fourteen years old and the whole world was before us, didn't say we'd meet up again in the year 2000? My friends and I were going to meet in the cafe where we'd hang out and smoke and drink weak cups of sugary tea or a coke float, which is made by filling a glass with generic cola and putting a scoop of cheap vanilla ice cream in it.

We never did meet there, of course, though I recently met one of my school friends in London after 22 years and she looked the same, and the time-smash weirdness of feeling simultaneously that too much time had passed since I saw her, and yet that it was no time at all, was absurd. But that's nothing compared to wondering how my daughter could go from this to this, growing up before my eyes while I still feel fourteen years old.

As some consolation, whenever I look at her, I still see this little blonde child on the right. Even when we're in an old people's home together, I'll look at her and believe that she's somewhere between three and five years old. Perhaps, when my mind is frail and my eyesight is weak, I'll even believe I can see the owl.

As for what has happened since the year 2000, which seemed such an important future landmark when we were still in the past, I have published six books and had some plays produced, and yet I feel that I haven't achieved nearly enough. The feeling that came with publishing my first book was the best, I suppose because all I ever wanted to do was write and publish a novel, and I did it. It's what I wished for when I dropped coins into wishing wells. I don't believe in that kind of magic but I still wished for it, just in case. And when the book was due for publication, I wished for good reviews. That wish was granted, too.

Now Alison Wonderland is being published by AmazonEncore in the US and worldwide. I'm going to wish again for good reviews and hope that the publisher will take care of the sales. Here's the press release that mentions my book. Wish me luck. Or, better yet, please pre-order the book in the UK or the US or ask for it in your local bookstore. It will be available to buy on 16th August.

Monday, 13 June 2011

Lost Gardens of Dinas Powys

I must have mentioned before that my ideal job would be Assistant Head Gardener in a large country house. I wouldn't want to be the head gardener - too much responsibility - but I would like the outdoors nature of the job, the solitude, the reward of growing plants and knowing the Latin names for them. There would be a walled garden, an orchard and an orangerie. I would spend my days grubbing in the borders, pruning roses, mulching, bluing the hydrangeas, smelling freshly-cut grass and reflecting on the big questions that are habitually provoked by tending to small things. I would have all of the joy that would come from spending my days in such a place, and none of the financial obligations. One day, shortly before I reached retirement age, an old-fashioned-looking, late-flowering, fragrant rose with dusty pink petals would be named after me.

Unfortunately I have no skills that would recommend me for such a job and you will look in vain for the Helen Smith rose in garden centres in twenty years time. Most house plants die in my care (overwatering - it turns out you can love too much, especially if the recipient of your love has green leaves). I have a small, pretty garden in London with an apple tree, roses, orange blossom, peonies, foxgloves, hollyhocks, hydrangeas, clematis and some excessively tall spiky trees that attract admiring comments from friends who like tall spiky trees. But I'm plagued by hungry slugs and the grass on the lawn is tatty. The other week I bought a plant in Homebase that turned out to be a buttercup.

Still, we all have our fantasies. At the weekend I went to Cardiff with my daughter to help my sister-in-law clear out her parents' house and tidy up the garden. Inside the house we threw away most of it, kept some of it, laughed at old photos, and lugged and heaved, dismantled and dusted. I drove there from London in a rainstorm on Friday and drove back in another rainstorm on Sunday, but on Saturday the sun shone all day. I know you don't believe in any of that nonsense, and nor do I really, but it did seem almost as though something or someone must have intervened to ensure the weather gave us a chance to sort out the garden while we were there. Lauren, Leanne and I - and Louis, my little nephew - weeded and hacked at the brambles, and Lauren planted petunias, begonias and lobelias, and other bright plants she had grown at her place from seed. 'It's like the Lost Gardens of Heligan,' I said when we had finished. Which it wasn't. But it was nice to see the place restored to some of its former loveliness, with peonies and primoses and self-seeded love-in-a-mist visible in the borders, and even some rhubarb in the corner near the sundial.

So this week I'm supposed to be writing. First I have to go to Oxford on the train to do a reading for the Oxford Fringe Festival. If you're going to be there, I'll look forward to seeing you. I love travelling by train because I can pretend I'm going on an adventure, and also I can read. I can't read while I'm driving, obviously, because if I did that we'd crash. But I can't even read when I'm a passenger in a car or on a bus because I get carsick. I'll take my Kindle and finish The Zoom Zoom by Penny Goring, a collection of crazy, sexy, dirty, beautiful, sad poems and short pieces of fiction. I have never read anything quite like it, her writing is awesome.

Talking of awesome things, I saw Inception last night. I don't understand why so many people told me I wouldn't like it. I loved it. I loved the lucid dreaming mythology, the casting and the ambiguous ending. I understand how Christopher Nolan could write something like that but I don't begin to understand how he'd go about filming it. I don't care if it is his job, it's an extraordinary achievement.

Whatever you're doing this week, I hope you're planning something wonderful. If not wonderful, I hope at least you'll get a chance to do something creative, whether it's gardening, knitting, painting, writing or whatever it is that you like to do. Talking of which, I wish I could include blog posts in my daily writing word count but I can't. Nor can I count chatting on Twitter. I need to turn off the Internet and do something useful. I think I am going to start writing the thing I said I wouldn't write next (my novel, Beachy Head, about a woman and an angel who go on a road trip after the angel saves her from suicide). I have seen and admired too many artistic things recently that have reminded me that the whole point of everything is to spend your days doing something you're proud of, that you think is good.

What are you doing this week? I know I said I would turn off the Internet but of course I won't. If you comment on here I will come back and peek.

Friday, 10 June 2011

She Writes - Blog Hop

I belong to an online community of women writers called She Writes. Meg Clayton has organised a 'blog hop' this weekend. What is a blog hop? It's just a way of finding new blogs to visit.

If you found this blog via the blog hop, welcome! Please leave a comment to say hello so I can go back and visit your blog.

As for me, I'm a novelist and playwright. I live in London. Please take a look around. Why not start by watching a short video?

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Lovely Literary Events - Oxford

I'll be at the Albion Beatnik Bookstore on Monday 13th June for the Oxford Fringe Festival, reading with the New Libertines. The event starts at 6.00 pm and tickets are now free. Facebook page here. Details of other events here.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Top Ten Settings in Books

Jana at The Broke and the Bookish is asking for top ten settings in books:

I went to school in Dorchester and I often claim that I must have read pretty much every book that Thomas Hardy ever wrote (though I doubt I have - it just feels like it). Thomas Hardy assigned fictitious names to the real locations in his books and, in one of those life-imitating-art (or rather local councils and pub landlords copying names from literature) nonsenses, roundabouts, streets and pubs in and around Dorchester now use locations from Hardy's books to identify themselves.

1) 2) & 3) Casterbridge, Weatherbury and Egdon Heath are all fictional places in 'Wessex', Hardy's name for Dorset. My favourites of Hardy's books are Far From the Madding Crowd, Tess of the D'Urbervilles and Return of the Native. If I eat too much rich food at dinner I think of how Gabriel Oak saved Bathsheba's sheep when they broke into a clover field and got bloat. If misunderstood social signals lead to unfortunate consequences I think of Bathsheba sending the valentine's card to Farmer Boldwood. And when I have to make an effortful journey I think of poor Fanny urging herself rung by rung along the fenced path towards the workhouse after she had been wronged by Sgt Troy. All those characters are in Far From the Madding Crowd. Claire Tomalin's biography of Thomas Hardy, The Time-Torn Man, is also interesting, if you like biographies and want to read about him.

4) 5) London. Lovely London. I was born here, moved away when I was a child and then moved back to claim it when I was 18 - in part, I'm sure, because I wanted to inhabit the fictional London I had read about in literature: the London of Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories and Dickens' novels. My favourite Dickens novel is Our Mutual Friend. Driving past the 'Limehouse link' it seems absurd to think of Eugene Wrayburn walking in darkness along a towpath towards the lime kilns of Limehouse. But there are plenty of olde worlde buildings and locations to visit in London - you can even visit 221b Baker Street and read some of the letters Sherlock Holmes still receives. Every other doorway has a blue plaque confirming that a famous writer once lived at that address. Favourite London books... ach, don't make me choose. If it's got London in it, I'll probably like it.

6) San Francisco. I visited with my daughter soon after reading Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City books which were also serialised on TV by Channel 4 with Olympia Dukakis as Mrs Madrigal. It's a charming city that fulfils all my 'I could live here' criteria: you don't have to drive, and there are plenty of sushi restaurants and gay men.

7) Savannah. I have yet to visit but I have wanted to see the place ever since reading Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt, another of my favourite books.

8) Brixton. OK, it's London again. But this is a specific part of it, where I live. Martin Millar set many of his books here. My favourite is Lux the Poet. It's about a Brixton-based poet on a quest and it's brilliant. Martin Millar is one of those people I'd quite like to meet and wouldn't be able to say anything to if I did because I'd be much too shy to say anything more apposite than 'I love your books' which, coincidentally, is what I said to Margaret Atwood when I met her. It's non-controversially true but unlikely to get me a footnote in anyone's memoirs if I stick to that line every time I meet a favourite author.

9) France. If I'm honest, I started reading French literature because I was in love with the language and the place, rather than falling in love with it after reading about it. Candide is one of my favourite books but much of that doesn't take place in France. So, instead, I'll choose the stories of Guy de Maupassant, my favourite being Boule de Suif which is set during the Franco-Prussian war and concerns a prostitute who shares her picnic with ill-prepared snobbish fellow-travellers as they flee the town of Rouen, and is spurned by them after being pressed into doing something repugnant to her to save their lives. It's a really good story.

10) Japan. Another of my favourite books is The Pillow Boy of the Lady Onogoro by Alison Fell. I met the author once and told her how much I liked it and she said, 'It's a dirty book,' which made me blush. I suppose it is quite rude in parts, but it's beautifully written, and clever, too. Yukio Mishima's life is perhaps more interesting than his books. He committed suicide by seppuku after setting up a private army. My favourite Haruki Murakami novel is Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, which is the first of his that I ever read. If you like his work and you haven't read Underground, I recommend it - it's a non-fiction account of the sarin gas attacks in Tokyo, told by people who were involved, written by Murakami and translated by Alfred Birnbaum who is my preferred translator of his work.

Monday, 6 June 2011

Wuthering Heights vs. Jane Eyre

My friend Samantha Ellis wrote a piece for the Observer this weekend about how her childhood reading influenced her view of the world and her place in it - and may not necessarily have set her on the right path. Walking on the Yorkshire moors last summer, thinking about Jane Eyre and Cathy in Wuthering Heights, she suddenly realised: "all this time I've been trying to be Cathy when I should have been trying to be Jane."

I have often had similar misgivings. The books I read as a teenager typically featured 19th century heroes and heroines who suffered for the greater good and never told each other how they really felt. But of course, I now know that when people never tell each other how they really feel in books, and messages reach their destinations too late, it's a plot device - there would be no conflict otherwise, and no story. Similarly, the reason people suffer horribly or sacrifice themselves to the greater good is to increase what TV people call 'the jeopardy'; it ups the stakes and makes it more interesting.

So... yes. Be careful what you read when you're young and impressionable. Stories are lies that tell the truth - we shouldn't get hung up on imitating the lies, we should stick to trying to find our own truths.

But forget Cathy, forget Jane Eyre. I think I'd rather be the madwoman in the attic.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Sunday Salon - Brilliant books

Thanks to everyone who came down to the New Libertines reading at the Stoke Newington Literary Festival yesterday. It was sold out and the stewards were turning people away at the door which was good news for us, I suppose, though disappointing for people who couldn't get in. I'm sorry if you were one of them. Details of more events here.

The event marked the launch of The Zoom Zoom, a new anthology of poetry and prose by writer and artist Penny Goring. Her writing is beautiful, dirty, sexy, sad and wonderful. There are some samples of her writing on her site here and extraordinary images and videos which she has sourced on the internet (and acknowledged) and matched to lines from her poems here. You can buy the book in paperback or for your Kindle in the UK and the US. Interesting Q&A with Penny here. There's a fantastic film of her poem, Temporary Passport, performed by Penny and animated by Ashleigh Nankivell - it was shown at the Liverpool Biennial last year:

Temporary Passport from ashleigh nankivell on Vimeo.

As well as Penny's book, which I bought and started reading last night, I'm reading Dove Season by Johnny Shaw, who I met in New York last week. Dove Season won't be published until September but I'm reading the free teaser chapters on my Kindle. Johnny is a playwright and screenwriter and Dove Season is his first novel. He's an interesting man and it was fun to spend time with him in New York. I love what I have read of his book so far - it's beautifully written, with an engaging first-person narrator and some wry observations about the southern California desert/Mexican border where the book is set. Johnny teaches screenwriting and I know there are quite a few playwrights and screenwriters who read this blog so I'll see if he'll do a Q&A with me about his work some time. If you like the sound of Dove Season you can pre-order the paperback in the UK and the US and/or download the free teaser chapters from the Kindle store in the UK and the US.

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Baby Bathhouse

I'm reading at the Baby Bathhouse in Stoke Newington as part of the Stoke Newington Literary Festival today, 4-6 pm, with the New Libertines. Our event is sold out but if you have tickets, I'll see you there.

More information about the line-up here and a programme here. If you can't make it but you're in Oxford on 13th June, we'll be reading at the Albion Beatnik Bookstore at 6.00 pm for the Oxford Fringe Festival. We'll also be at the Poetry Cafe in Covent Garden later in the year.

Friday, 3 June 2011

Jo, Joe, Judy, Al and Me

The new edition of Words With Jam is out. It has an exclusive interview with JK Rowling as well as 60 second interviews with Judy Blume and Joseph O'Connor and an article by friend-of-this-blog, Big Al of Big Al's Books and Pals - he became an overnight internet sensation after he gave a reasoned 2* review to a book on his site and the author berated him for it in the comments section with such memorable phrases as: 'I'm not in the mood for playing snake with you', 'Who are you any way' and 'Fuck off!'

The magazine also carries a review of the recent event in Oxford where I told my story, Aubergine, and read an extract from The Miracle Inspector. The Words with Jam people liked the story so much they asked me to record a special audio edition for their podcast series which you can listen to here. Alternatively, you can watch a video of me telling the story here.

You can buy a printed copy of Words With Jam, download it for your Kindle or read it for free in PDF format.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Rings on his fingers and bells on his toes

Last night my dear, lovely friend John turned up unexpectedly from Hong Kong. I first met him there many years ago when I was travelling around the world with my daughter. Since then I have spent time with him in London, Shanghai and again in Hong Kong.

In addition to teaching English, I did all sorts of weird jobs while I was first in Hong Kong all those years ago: working as an extra on a 'noodle Western' Chinese-language movie whose title I never discovered, hostessing in a karaoke bar (hired, as you will guess if you have ever heard me sing, for my ability to drink half a bottle of the clients' brandy in one sitting rather than for my tuneful voice), supervising children's parties while dressed as a brown bear, sewing fancy dress costumes...

Sometimes when I was working I would ask John to look after Lauren for me. By then she would have been about five years old. He was a musician (he still is) and some days he would take her busking on the MTR, which she thought was a great treat as she was allowed to wear her ballet costume and collect the money. I know it sounds like begging but at the time it seemed like a marvellous adventure.

But then, with John, even the most mundane exchanges are inherently amusing and everything somehow turns into a marvellous adventure. Yesterday I called to confirm that I was on my way to meet him near Leicester Square:

John: You don't have to come if you're busy.
Me: No, I want to see you. I'm on the bus.
John: You're in the bath?
Me: I'm on the bus.
John: Ach, well don't worry about it, if you're not even dressed yet.
Me: John? I'm on my way. I'm riding on a big, red moving vehicle.
John: [long pause] You're...? I don't even... Give me a call when you get out of the bath.

And then, about five minutes after I turned up to meet him, we were surrounded by a Brazilian band playing very jolly music. Was life always like that when I first knew him, twenty years ago? Or have I forgotten the boring bits? Maybe it is just the way things are when I'm with John.

Lovely Literary Events - London and Oxford

Tonight I'm going to The Sugar Lounge to hear Moris Farhi, Sue Gee, Jonathan Kemp, Deborah Levy and Eva Salzman read poetry and fiction at an event organised by Lucy Popescu. It starts at 7.30 pm and it's free.

On Saturday 4th June I'm reading at the Stoke Newington Literary Festival as part of the line-up for the New Libertines. Our event has sold out but there are plenty of other interesting events planned for the festival, starting tomorrow. Check out the programme here.

The following Saturday, 13th June, I'm reading at the Albion Beatnik Bookstore as part of the Oxford Fringe Festival. It starts at 6.00 pm. Tickets are £4, available here. There's a Facebook page here.

On Saturday 25th June there's an event called Survivor! hosted by Juliet Stevenson, organised by the Hampstead and Highgate fundraising group on behalf of Freedom from Torture. It starts at 7.30 and tickets are £10. My friend Amina's poem has been set to music and there will be various songs and readings, including a piece by another friend, F. Mehrban, whose poems can be seen on YouTube here.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Alison Wonderland - Winner Chosen

Thanks to everyone who entered the contest to win a signed advance copy of Alison Wonderland. The winner, Michele L, has been contacted by email. She was chosen using

I'm sorry if you didn't win but I'll be having other giveaways on this site throughout the year. The next one is scheduled for later this month. Please check back here or join my Facebook page for details.