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Welcome to The Literary Pig's blog - a safe haven for all those afflicted with
the unbearable urge to write.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Invitation to the launch of The Siren Journal's debut anthology FUGUE

The Indoor Writer is pretty excited to have a short story in The Siren's debut anthology FUGUE. If you live in or near London then why not come along to the launch party at the London Review Bookshop, 24 October, starting 7pm (details below). There will be wine, nibbles and author readings. If you can make it then please RSVP to contact@thesiren.co.uk and let them have your name ... and don't forget to come and say hello!

You can buy the Fugue anthology from the following:
The Siren

Venue location: 14 Bury Place, 
London, WC1A 2JL 
London, WC1A 2JL 
(near Holborn London Underground Station)

The Fuguists are: 
Adrian Slatcher, Adam Steiner, Stephen 
Totterdell, Brandon Robshaw, Avgi meleti, 
Stuart Snelson, Gary Budgen, Neill Ran- 
dall, Gary Budden, Tracy Fells, Stephen 
Scott, Róisín O’Donnell, Darren Lee and 
Charles Yu 
Edited by: Lucy Carroll 

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

The Lie of You by Jane Lythell

I'm delighted to welcome Jane Lythell to the blog today to chat about her novel 'The Lie of You'. I recently met Jane over the summer at a workshop on writing radio drama in Brighton. She's a local writer and I was intrigued to learn she'd just published her debut novel ...

I'll let Jane introduce herself:
I live in Brighton and I'm a sea-lover, star-gazer, film and football fan. My background is journalistic writing and television production. I was a Producer at TV-am and then Commissioning Editor of Features at Westcountry Television. I left to become Deputy Director of the British Film Institute and later Chief Executive of BAFTA before joining the Foreign and Commonwealth Office for seven years.I now write full time. My debut novel THE LIE OF YOU is published by Head of Zeus and my second novel AFTER THE STORM will be published in January 2015.
I am on Twitter: @janelythell

One woman's fear is another woman's weapon ...
The Daily Mail describes 'The Lie of You' as a 'clever psychological thriller ... the author's real skill is her ability to invent memorable original characters. A thrilling read.'

I took 'The Lie of You' on holiday (Lake District) and very quickly became absorbed in the dual narrative of Kathy and Helga, two very different women both working on the same architectural magazine. Kathy is Helga's editor and boss - and it soon becomes clear that their relationship is strained. For a couple of days this book stayed in my rucksack as I needed to keep reading at pub lunch stops between bouts of hill-walking. This is a page turner and I loved the different voices of the two women. Sympathising with Kathy's growing paranoia and also empathising (eventually) with the obssessive Helga. It's easy to label Helga as the 'baddie', but as the story develops we learn the reasons behind her, at time, very odd behaviour. 

The prose is tightly written carrying you along at a cracking pace, but also the characters and settings are beautifully drawn as Jane is a very visual writer. With the first person narratives of the two women you really are inside their heads, experiencing all of Kathy's insecurities and Helga's jealously. The readers clearly see how strained Kathy and Marcus' relationship is becoming, but poor Kathy ploughs on trying to balance all the conflicts of a full time working mum with a young child. At first small things start to go wrong at work, but the mistakes start to build and Kathy doubts her own abilities when in reality her life is being manipulated by a malevolent individual. I found this aspect of the novel quite chilling, as it felt all too believable. It also brought back some painful memories of the early days of balancing life as a new mum with a full-time management role, I did feel for Kathy.

This novel explores every woman's fear of being watched/stalked and the disruption and dangers that such obsession can eventually reap in someone's life. What I enjoyed was that we often overlook the obsession of women with other women and this is fully explored in Jane's enthralling novel. I enjoyed this immensely and highly recommend 'The Lie of You'.

Q: With a successful career working in TV production (amongst other things) how did you come to write The Lie Of You?
I wanted to write all my life but I had a small daughter and a big mortgage so for years I worked in full-on occupations which left very little thinking and writing time.  I would go on Arvon weekend courses to keep the writing flame alive. That is a great organisation. It wasn’t until I got into a financial position where I could give myself two years writing time that it really started to happen. That was in May 2011 and how joyful that felt – to have time to write.

Q: Why did you choose to write a psychological thriller with these particular themes?
The novel explores jealousy that deepens into full blown obsession. I’m interested in what makes people do extreme things.  I think all of us have a dark side which we strive to tame and control. Then something can happen which tips an apparently sane person into obsessive and destructive behaviour. I wanted it to be credible though, not so extreme that the reader would say I don’t believe that. By writing alternating chapters from the point of view of the two women I hoped to reveal their motivations and create sympathy too.

Q: I found some sections quite unnerving, perhaps because they dwell closely on deep-seated fears such as being watched when sleeping. How much research did you undertake and can you tell us about your particular process?
The voice of Heja came to me very clearly. I saw her as a woman who had a deep malevolence towards another woman who is unaware of it. I then had to work out why she felt like this. From what deep seated disturbance did her hatred of Kathy arise? As for research I was fascinated by psychoanalysis in my thirties and read a lot of Freud. Actually Freud is a master storyteller and I found his writings both illuminating and enthralling. Psychological thrillers allow you to explore the interior landscape of your characters.

Q: This is an incredibly visual book. As I read I could clearly see the characters and their surroundings. What do you see when you’re writing? Has a background of working in TV production stimulated or influenced your writing and…
Do you have any plans to convert The Lie Of You into a screenplay? It would make a terrific film or TV drama.
Thank you. Quite a few readers have said that. I studied cinema as a postgraduate and worked in television for fifteen years so I’m sure I’ve been formed by this. And I’m a huge fan of Hitchcock. I do see the scenes in my novel unspooling as film sequences as I’m writing them. For example I had to see in my head the two flats that Heja and Kathy live in right down to the layout of the rooms and even the sounds they may hear from the street below.
I would love The Lie Of You to have a second life as a TV or film production. And it certainly has enough cliff-hangers to make a good drama over two or three nights! The way that works though is that you have to get a TV station or producer interested in doing the adaptation and they make it happen. Fingers crossed.

Q: With your first book doing well can you share what your next writing project is? I believe you’ve now finshed book 2? Anything you can share with us?
I completed my second novel this summer and Head of Zeus are publishing it in January 2015, with availability on Kindle from December. It’s called After The Storm and has a very different setting and characters. However there is still a psychological disturbance at its heart which drives the story forward.

Q: There are many writers out there keen to get their work published. Hw did The Lie Of You make it to print?
For me the turning point was finding a literary agent. I’m represented by Gaia Banks of Sheil Land and I couldn’t have a better champion. I sent Gaia the first forty pages of The Lie Of You and she loved it but said the novel was too short. It was under 60,000 words at the time. So we worked together on the manuscript for six months. You only get one chance with a publisher so you need to get your book into as perfect a form as possible. Never submit too early. Take the time to edit again and again and show your drafts to people you respect. Gaia’s comments were invaluable and my partner also gave me masterly feedback. The final version of The Lie Of You is 87,500 words and I learned a lot in the process of revising and editing.  

Here are some links to where you can buy 'The Lie of You':

If the above whetted your appetite then here is an overview of Jane's next novel: After The Storm
A man who had no voice. A woman who helped him find it.
Rob and Anna have only just met Owen and Kim. Now they've chartered their handsome old boat to take them to a far off island in the Caribbean.
With just the four of them on board, Rob dreams of lazy afternoons snorkelling. Anna looks forward to the silence and solitude of the sea.
But why does Owen suffer acute insomnia and seem so secretive about his past? Why does Kim keep a knife zipped into her money-belt? Anna, a speech therapist, can usually get people to tell her the truth... but does she want to this time?

Jane is also appearing at the SHOREHAM WORDFEST - details below if you live close enough to attend:

Saturday 11 October 11.00 – 12.30 Sussex Yacht Club Tickets: £6.00
Jane Lythell and Lucy Atkins
Laura Lockington, organiser of Brighton’s Bookish Suppers, will interview two authors working in this genre today.
Jane Lythell, TV producer and former BFI Deputy Director, wrote The Lie of You, a chilling psychological thriller about jealousy, manipulation, and obsession between two women.
Lucy Atkins, award-winning journalist and book critic, is the author of The Missing One.

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Small Wonder Short Story Festival

Every September Charleston hosts the Small Wonder Short Festival and if you write, read or love short fiction then it's definitely worth a visit. The events are housed in a flint stone barn, which is surprisingly cosy (but can get chilly in the evenings). As this is a rural setting then many of the authors have to
contend with background heckling from cows, crows and the occasional tractor. Sweet fermenting hay (not dung as many assumed) provides a fruity sensual overtone.

The single track road leading up to the farmhouse and events has to be traffic controlled, so the Indoor Writer took the easy option the free bus service from Lewes train station. The free bus ticket also gets you a free bottle of Small Wonder beer brewed locally by Harveys of Lewes. Surprisingly few visitors took advantage of this terrific service - there were only 5 people on the Sunday morning bus!

A highlight was Graham Swift (Friday 26th Sep) talking about his latest collection 'England and other stories'. He also read 'Saving Grace' from the same collection. His reading was a masterclass in how to read your work. He took his time, read slowly and carefully savouring every word. It was mesmerising.

Swift shared that he believes a short story begins when "a sudden moment tips up a life". He's "never felt fear of any subject" and will often go into very dark places. He feels that's the deal as a writer. On the question of the differences between novels and short stories he said he felt the differences were exaggerated and the novel is "really just a long story". And that in reality the novel is the oddity because everyone is a short story writer, telling stories in the pub, waiting for a bus etc.

The annual Small Wonder short story slam followed and yes the Indoor Writer got to read! She didn't win (£100 cash prize), but it was terrific fun. Each year there's a different theme with a 3 min max limit. 'Red Letter Day' was the theme and prompted a surprising range of stories.

The Indoor Writer was back at the festival for Sunday afternoon and what a treat was in store ... Edna O'Brien followed by Rose Tremain. Both talking about their most recent short story collections and the art of writing short stories.

Edna O'Brien read extracts of her story 'A scandalous woman' (from 'Saints and Sinners' and 'The Love Object'). She confessed that "writing gets harder" as you get older and lack the energy of youth, but she still believes "literature is everything". A top tip for any writer was how she begins her writing day by first reading a page or paragraph of something remarkable such as James Joyce or Virginia Woolf - it's like training yourself with good language rather like an athlete warming up. Alice Munro is another favoured short story writer she loves to read.

The old favourite 'why do you write' prompted her to think carefully before answering. Looking back on her life she would still become a writer all over again, despite the lonely existence and how writing is not lucrative. "You might as well ask why do I breathe?" she declared. "Words have befriended and beleagured me, but the urge to write is far greater than ambition or vanity - it keeps me from drowning."
What more can you say ... An inspirational woman.

Rose Tremain, wearing rock star dark glasses (she had to swap them for her reading glasses at the lectern) was equally inspiring. She read a delightful story 'Extra Geography' from her latest collection 'The American Lover' (The title story is currently shortlisted for the 2014 BBC Short Story Award). Invoking a very believable New Zealand accent. In the interview she described the short story as "a little thing, standing periously on the edge". Interestingly, she has to have the whole story complete in her head before she starts writing (the Indoor Writer was pleased to hear this as this is exactly how she writes short fiction). Short stories sometimes come like dreams or out of historical reading/research or simply from a commission. She confessed to not being precious and sometimes a commission means she has to lock herself away like Rapunzel and just "get on with it". Her own favourite short story authors are mostly American writers (she taught Creative Writing modules in Nashville for some years where she got the taste) including Annie Proulx.

You can buy books at the event and then get them signed by your favourite authors. Unfortunately, the queue for Edna O'Brien moved slowly and the Indoor Writer had to rush off for the next talk, but she did get to chat with Rose Tremain (one of her all time favourite writers) - who is lovely. She also met some new writers either in the audience or on the bus, everyone is very friendly, which is good to know when you're not in a group.

There are still more events, including Margaret Atwood, continuing up to the end of Wednesday, but many sold out. Look out for this Small Wonder in 2015 and book your tickets early!

Sorry there are no photos of the speakers ... really need to sort out a better phone ...

Monday, 29 September 2014

BBC Short Story Award 2014

Ho hum the Indoor Writer didn't make the final five shortlisted short stories for the BBC award. With a top prize of £15,000 this competition attracts the big names in writing short fiction so it wasn't too much of a surprise when this year's names were released to include: Tessa Hadley, Rose Tremain, Francessca Rhydderch, Zadie Smith and Lionel Shriver. Several of these have recently released short story collections so I'm guessing their agents were keen to get extra publicity. Hilary Mantel has only recently brought out a new short story collection (with the eye-catching title of 'The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher'), so perhaps we can expect to see her name on the shortlist in 2015 ...

If you want to listen to the shortlisted stories you can still get them on iplayer or download the podcasts here

We've listened to all of them. They are well written stories, but to be honest nothing beyond the skill of many writers working in the short story form. Disappointingly none had any fantasy/magic/wonder element that the winning 'Mrs Fox' by Sarah Hall had in bucket loads from last year's award. If I had to vote for my favourites then I'd plump for:
Bad Dreams by Tessa Hadley - I even stopped dusting to listen to this as the atmosphere and language captured me from the beginning
Kilifi Creek by Lionel Shriver - a seemingly lightly written story with dark undertones. This is Shriver's second consecutive year of making the shortlist so hoping she gets in the top 2 this year.

The other 3 stories are:
The American Lover by Rose Tremain
The Taxidermist's Daughter by Francessca Rhydderch
Miss Adele amidst the corsets by Zadie Smith

If you were judging which story would you pick?

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Lakeland Interlude

Beginning of September the Indoor Writer and Handsome Hubby escaped to the English Lakes for walking, pubbing and reading. It was a chance to rejuvenate the writing cells and hopefully from the pictures below you can see why ...
Top: View from Orrest Head, Windermere

Right: William Wordsworth's grave, Ambleside churchyard

 Centre: Britannia Inn (worth a visit), Elterwater

This one's for Wendy ... Dungeon Ghyll Force, The Great Langdales 

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Commonwealth Writers Short Story Prize 2015

The Commonwealth Writers Short Story Prize 2015 is now OPEN! Full details of how to enter can be found here. Submission window closes 30 November 2014. And there is no entry fee.

For the 2014 prize over 4,000 stories were received so you may think what is the point of submitting? But I did enter and my story was shortlisted for UK/Canada region. To be honest I still haven't got over the shock. If I can do it then so can any one of you out there ... go on submit your best story, what is there to lose?

And as a shortlisted writer I was invited to the launch event for the 2015 prize. It was a fabulous evening at Malborough House where writers, agents, publishers and diplomats rubbed shoulders while the wine flowed freely and the nibbles were unusually tasty (and mostly suitable for veggies). Thankfully, I didn't have to attend on my own and first met up with Debz Hobbs-Wyatt (shortlisted for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize 2013) and her writing chum, Paula Readman. You can read a great account of evening on Debz's blog here.

There was mingling before and after the main event, a panel discussion on the topic 'No Laughing Matter? Conflict and humour - is there a line?'. Romesh Gunesekera was in conservation with writers Leila Aboulela, Kei Miller and Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi. It was an entertaining discussion and rather pertinent as Jennifer's 2014 winning story 'Let's tell this story properly' has many comic moments (read it here). Debz and I both discussed how our own shortlisted stories had comic elements, mainly in voice rather than deliberate jokes. Personally, I find it difficult to write any short story without some humour, simply because even in the most tragic moments there is always humour - it's how we survive.

A highlight of the evening was meeting and chatting with Jennifer. Ugandan born but now teaching at University of Lancaster, Jennifer is a novelist and short story addict. She shared how she entered lots of short story competitions and became so concerned about the cost that she now searches out as many free competitions as possible. I have similar worries as the entry fees mount up, so I avidly watch out for the free to enter competitions and these writers always manage to root them out: Patsy Collins, Helen Yendall.

To record the event Debz took this writer selfie of the three of us ... hmm now I'm thinking back to that Scottish play again ...

Tracy, Paula and Debz - from hereon known as The Bridge House Anthologists ... we all have short stories coming out in the 2014 Bridge House Anthology to be published December (more on that in a later blog...)

Friday, 22 August 2014

What are you reading on holiday?

LitPig is stacking his rucksack with holiday reading. With several full bookshelves to choose from it was a tough decision on what to pack, but he's plumped for these (in no particular order):

The Lie - Helen Dunmore
Recently heard Helen talk at Chichester Waterstone's and she signed this copy too! Another friend who attended the same talk reckons this is Dunmore's best work to date.
Helen confessed that she was unlikely to write a final book to conclude 'The Siege' and 'The Betrayal', as the story could never end happily.

Bad Mothers United - Kate Long
We LOVE everything written by Kate Long and this sequel to the excellent 'Bad Mothers Handbook' will be quickly devoured. (Just wondering when Kate will bring out The Hamster's Diary in paperback... though he'd probably use if for nesting material)

The Humans - Matt Haig.
Really enjoyed 'The Radleys' and a writing chum has raved about this one.

The Lie of You - Jane Lythell
The Indoor Writer recently met Jane at a workshop on 'writing radio drama' in Brighton. This is Jane's debut novel, which looks to be an intriguing crime thriller. Can't wait.

Hmm now wondering when LitPig will get time for hill walking - the whole point of the holiday, but then he has to live up to his literary name ...

What have you been reading or planning to read on your holidays? Please share if you've read any good page turners over the summer.