Appointment in Arezzo – Review

muriel spark

Appointment in Arezzo by Alan Taylor

“This book is an intimate, fond and funny memoir of one of the greatest novelists of the last century.”

Alan Taylor has written a very personal and compelling biography of his friend, the novelist, Muriel Spark. Spark wrote 22 novels which will be coming out from Polygon next year in handsome hardback editions to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Spark’s birth. Best known for The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie Spark also wrote short stories, plays, reviews, essays and biographies.

“The Muriel Spark 100 programme will celebrate the life and literary achievements of one of Scotland’s finest and most internationally respected writers across the year, through a series of events, including talks, exhibitions, readings, publications and screenings.”

In advance of the reprints and the 100 years program Alan Taylor’s biography is published in November 2017. I received an advanced copy in return for a review.

Taylor first met the author in 1990 in Tuscany when he interviewed her. They hit it off and Taylor subsequently house sat for her as well as accompanied her on some of her foreign trips. He came to know her well and this is an intimate portrait.

Written in a very companionable style the book creates a colourful picture of Spark. A passionate and fiercely intelligent woman and one of our greatest writers. Taylor includes the contentious stuff – her attitude to her Jewish roots, her failed marraige, her estrangement from her son and her self-exile from Scotland. But the threads of her life are woven into a tale of warmth that shows the great affection Taylor had for her.

It does what a biography should – it brings to life the subject and makes you know them better. Spark comes across as someone you’d like to invite to a dinner party. I’ve read several of Spark’s books and she’s one of those authors you look out for in second hand shops, so a new set of hardbacks is very welcome.

If you are a fan of Muriel Spark then this is a must have biography. If you are just generally interested in writers lives it is also well worth your time. Recommended.

 

 

 

2084 Review

Unsung Stories ran a wildly successful Kickstarter earlier this year to create an anthology of stories inspired by Orwell’s 1984. I got a sneak preview of the book before receiving my own copy and it’s a delight.

From the Kickstarter (follow the link above there’s a bunch of author interviews there that are worth seeing & more info on the book):

“Today we know how prophetic Orwell was, with the very language of his imagined future entering our present. With the seismic shocks, politically and culturally, still resonating after 2016, the time is right to look ahead again.

2084 features 14 stories from leading science fiction writers who were all asked the same question – what will our world look like 67 years from now? The anthology features new and exclusive stories from:

  • Jeff Noon
  • Christopher Priest
  • James Smythe
  • Lavie Tidhar
  • Aliya Whiteley
  • David Hutchinson
  • Cassandra Khaw
  • Desirina Boskovich
  • Anne Charnock
  • Ian Hocking
  • Oliver Langmead
  • Courttia Newland
  • Irenosen Okojie
  • EJ Swift
  • Malcolm Devlin

In 1948 Orwell looked at the world around him and wrote 1984, now a classic dystopian novel. Here 15 writers asked themselves the same question as Orwell did – where are we going, what is our future?”

There are many names here known to me and some that I’m reading for the first time in the book. Like all such anthologies there is a range of styles and although all are quality stories some hit the mark more than others YMMV.

The anthology kicks off with Babylon, a story by Dave Hutchinson which was very much in his ouvre, if you like the Fractured Europe series you’ll enjoy this tale of border crossings and the future of immigration.  Other stand outs for me were Anne Charnock’s exploration of unintended consequences arising from Universal Basic Income in A Good Citizen. Jeff Noon’s haunting Room 149 about the things we leave behind in a digital universe. The Endling Market by EJ Swift which was a nifty piece of environmental writing with a kick. Aliya Whitely investigates the age gap and the coming tension between virtual and real in Uniquo. Saudade Minus One (S-1=) by Irenson Okojie is an evocative future wild west tale of new nuclear families and Lavie Tidhar’s 2084 Satoshi AD a tale which could possibly be described as Heart of Darkness meets Bladerunner. And that’s a full half of the tales -so you can see it’s difficult to choose stand outs!

1984 is one of my favourite books, it’s bleak but compelling, and Orwell is one of my favourite writers – I’ve read pretty much everything he’s written and have an Orwell shelf (well half shelf, he wasn’t that prolific). So I was especially interested in this collection. The stories are all great but most of them are inspired by the question and less by Orwell & his writing. Although there are many nods along the way. I was expecting very political stories, and playing with the language – for example Orwell’s Politics and the English Language is more relevant today than it ever has been. This would be my only criticism of the book – and it feels like a mean one, that is –  it wasn’t what I’d constructed it would be in my head, it didn’t meet my specific expectation. But that would be a silly reason to mark a book down! Especially when the stories are this good.

I thoroughly enjoyed this anthology and recommend that you go buy a copy as it’s a handsome collection of stories from some of the most exciting names working in SF&F right now.

FantasyCon

I shall be at FantasyCon again this year and on some programming:

On Friday I shall be doing a reading at 8pm alongside Jan Edwards and Chris Donaldson

On Saturday I’ll be on wo panels (there’s a possibility I’ll be on a panel on Sunday too – the list isn’t quite finalised)

Saturday 4pm Panel room 1 – Being BFA Nominees

 

An award nomination can be a great confidence booster for a writer. It can also lead to all sorts of new opportunities. Our panel of BFA nominees will discuss what got them to this stage and what they hope their nominations will bring in the future.

Participants:

Ian Hunter (mod) 

Erica Satifka, Pete SuttonNeil WilliamsonPhil Sloman

 

Saturday 5:30 Panel room 3 -Writing Short Fiction

 

Short stories are the life blood of Fantasy, Horror and Science Fiction. With Drabbles, Flash Fiction, Ultra Shorts, Poetry and the more traditional 2500-5000 word pieces all having their place, our panelists talk about what works form them in writing the short.

Participants:

Ed Fortune (mod)

Pete SuttonDean M. DrinkelPhil Sloman, Justin Newland

And on Sunday evening is the British Fantasy Award for which my book A Tiding of Magpies has been nominated in the best collection category – so I’ll be therenervously awaiting the verdict!

Convention news

This year I’ll be at 9 Worlds once again – I’m not on any programming so I’ll be mostly hanging around the bar or in the audience.

Then I’ll be flying off to Finland for WorldCon

I’ll be on two panels  –

Thursday Aug 10   10:00 AM to 11:00 AM (1 hour)
Where:  Messukeskus – 101c
Tags: fantasy literature history

Historical Fantasy: What is it and how does it differ from fantasy or historical fiction? What makes for good historical fantasy? What are some variations within this genre? How can it illuminate our understanding of the past and future?

Where I’ll probably be talking about my forthcoming novel Seven Deadly Swords (Grimbold Books)

&

Friday Aug 11   05:00 PM to 06:00 PM (1 hour)
Where: Messukeskus – 205
Tags: literature science fiction fantasy
Weird Fiction is alive and well and, perhaps, weirder than ever! Fans and authors discuss the genre, its popularity and legacy.
Where I’ll definitely be talking about A Tiding of Magpies and Sick City Syndrome both are definitely in the Weird genre. As will be the next novel The Certainty of Dust
In September I’ll be at FantasyCon where the British Fantasy Awards will be announced and A Tiding of Magpies has been shortlisted for best collection. I’m also a judge on the Best Novella category and we’ve had some interesting discussions about the shortlist.
Then October is a busy month where I’ll be helping run 3 big events: Bristol HorrorCon, Bristol Festival of Literature and BristolCon (this is why I usually take holiday in November!)  – More details on them when the programs are revealed. I will be appearing several times during those events…

Doing it wrong part two: On writing every day

write-every-day-writing-is-a-muscle-that-gets-stronger-with-use-quote-1

Part one is here

Pick up pretty much any ‘How To Write’ book and they’ll tell you that in order to be a proper writer you should write every day.  Some suggest getting up an hour earlier than you need to and write for an hour.

Get out of bed a whole hour earlier than you need to?!

My brain is mush in the mornings – takes a while to get the motor running and I constantly seem to be sleep deprived anyway as my natural inclination is to stay up late, and sleep late. But I’m not allowed to sleep late as I have a day job…

But a great many ‘How To’ books advise that the morning is the best time to work – before the brain is cluttered. I intellectually get that, but it just doesn’t gel with me. Admittedly some books do say that some writers are night owls but even those tend to say that you should write every day.

writers write 1

I can see the logic here. And what this is meant to inculcate – if you write every day then writing becomes a habit and therefore easier.

I lead a pretty busy life. We all do. As well as having a day job, which often includes foreign travel, and writing I also organise a writing group as well as help organise 3 large events (Bristol Festival of Literature, Bristol HorrorCon and BristolCon – and plans are afoot for a new event from next year: WestCon). But that’s not why I don’t write every day.

What I learned from NaNoWriMo and Clarion Write-a-thon; as well as writing Sick City Syndrome in a couple of months to hit a tight deadline. Is that the well runs dry pretty damn quick for me. I’m a battery not a dynamo. I have a limited amount of energy to put into a project at any one time and once it’s exhausted I then have to recharge. It’s not energy that’s available every day.

writers write 2

I’m also a sprinter not a marathon runner when it comes to doing tasks. Ironic as I was rubbish at sprinting and was much more a long-distance runner in my youth. I’m pretty bad at maintaining momentum and doing long tasks. My interest/attention isn’t with daily increments. Hence I’m bad at e.g. exercising/dieting. I’m a fairly intuitive learner, and learn by doing but if I don’t get something the first few times my brain kind of switches off and it becomes very difficult to motivate myself to continue learning.

I think I’m naturally a short story writer because of this – that’s more of a sprint than a novel (although I have been known to work at a short story for weeks at a time).

Different strokes for different folks. So why do 90% of writing books insist that you should write every day?

Some of this is linked to two other pieces of advice/received wisdom that are often counterproductive:

Splurge then cut & writers get antsy when they don’t write.

Firstly I get the – proper writers get antsy if they can’t write. I’ve observed this phenomenon. But personally, as ably demonstrated that I only started writing in 2013, I’m not one of those people. I remember reading an essay by a novelist and literature lecturer which started out by saying that he was only interested in writers that had a fever to write. I’m the direct opposite – I have to be dragged kickign and screaming to the word mines – I’m Douglas Adamsesque in that regard (although I’m better at hitting deadlines). But many of my writer friends report that they become ‘not nice to live with’ if they haven’t written for a while.

On splurge then edit – I mentioned this in the first post wrt King’s On Writing. I’d taken it as gospel that real writers create a first draft then have to cut it by 25%. Now I’d prune, sure, everyone creates flabby prose, but I’d also have to add stuff. When I first started – a lot of stuff. I tend to brevity & had the unfortunate beginning writer quirk of – ‘it makes sense in my head so no need to explain it to the reader.’ As I said previously it wasn’t until I was at a workshop and under-writing was explained that I twigged that I wasn’t doing it wrong, it’s just that I was a very different writer to Mr King.

I do wonder if the ‘write every day’ crowd are also on the splurge then edit kick too?

If you’re a writer, drop me a comment – do you write every day? Do you feel guilty if you don’t, but secretly know that writing every day isn’t good for your process?

 

 

 

British Fantasy Awards 2017

A Tiding of Magpies has been shortlisted for the BFS Awards this year. I am stunned and very happy! It has some very stiff competition –

Best collection

  • The Parts We Play – Stephen Volk
  • Secret Language – Neil Williamson
  • Sharp Ends – Joe Abercrombie
  • Some Will Not Sleep – Adam Nevill
  • A Tiding of Magpies – Pete Sutton
  • The Unheimlich Menoeuvre – Tracy Fahey

and I’m very much having Imposter Syndrome over it!

It’s great to see a lot of personal friends also shorlisted and big congrats to everyone & good luck!

I am one of the jurors for the Novella category and I know it’s going to be hard to pick an outright winner having read most of them so far…