When I was a kid, I read three or four books a day. I really loved to read. I read every book in the house. Then I read every book in the school library, and then I read every book in the kids’ section at the public library. I got hold of books that were way too old for me – but they didn’t seem to do me any harm, probably because they went right over my head. I had no idea that Henry Miller was even writing about sex, for instance, and I thought that Solzhenitsyn’s Cancer Ward was quite a good story about a man who wasn’t very well.
I’ve slowed down (and wised up?) a bit since then, but still get through two, three or more books a week. Yet it’s increasingly rare for for me to find myself utterly in love with a book.
Then, last weekend, it happened. I was travelling to Birmingham from Edinburgh, a journey of just over four hours. I had my kindle with me and opened a book I’d found whilst browsing online. Four hours later, I’d barely looked out of the window. I had been transported to another world. Yes! That’s what’s supposed to happen! (But it hardly ever does.)
The next day, coming back, I finished the book with three hours of my journey still to go. And then I did something I don’t think I’ve ever done, in all my years of reading, which was to turn immediately back to the beginning and start again.
The book in question is Annabel, by Kathleen Winter. It put me in mind of Louise Erdrich and John Irving, if those two had collaborated on a novel about an intersex baby in a remote and hostile Labrador town. There were parts of it that I thought were a bit silly and over-simplistic, but the language completely drew me in, and the amazing setting kept me absolutely fascinated. There’s something about cold, harsh landscapes that make them perfect settings for stories about love and family, ritual and weakness. And there’s something wonderful about being shown a whole new world through the pages of a book.
I travelled down to Birmingham this weekend to attend the launch of The Sea in Birmingham, an anthology of short stories set in and around the city. My story is set around some of the city’s hundreds of miles of canals – we have more canals than Venice! That’s a true fact.
I had thought I wouldn’t be able to go to the launch, due to a lack of funds. But a kind friend (who prefers to remain anonymous) decided to be a Good Fairy and sent me some cash! In their words, ‘one of the few perks of being a writer is getting to go to your own book launch.’ I was utterly blown away by this person’s generousity, and hope I repaid it in some measure by going along and having a really fantastic time.
It was wonderful to meet some of the other contributors, including those I’ve chatted with online or admired from afar but never met in person. The event was in Birmingham’s swanky new library, which is a fine and glamourous place, although I’m pretty sure I did manage to lower the tone at least a little. There wasn’t much chance to explore, but at one point a few of us broke away from the crowd on the way to the studio theatre and got excitingly lost in the guts of the building. A kindly lady guided us away from the kitchens and other steamy workings, and back to where we were supposed to be.
We sold a lot of books. I signed my name on a few of them, and learned that I have absolutely no idea what messages to write. Even now I am cringing as I recall writing ‘Hope you don’t find any dead bodies in the canal’ on a mate’s copy. This is clearly an Area for Improvement.
After the launch and a few complimentary glasses of wine, I popped in to another launch – this one for Pigeonwings, a self-published collaborative novel by some members of Birmingham Writers’ Group. They didn’t have free wine, but they did have free salami and haloes. A few of us sat at the back of the pub and played a giggly game of consequences. It was rather like old times.
The Tindal Street antho is on sale through Amazon, and you can buy it here. I’m only sorry I can’t provide the full Officer-and-a-Gentlewoman experience to everyone who buys a copy. If you can make it up to Edinburgh, I could probably do you a fireman’s lift.
Mythic Delirium is such a fab name for a literary journal. It’s also a really good name for a medical condition – but probably not a great one for chucking a sickie. “I can’t come in today, I have a bad case of Mythic Delirium. A snake-woman brought me an apple and now I’m on a perilous quest. Probably be okay by Monday.” I mean, try it. It wouldn’t be the most outrageous sickie that anyone’s ever pulled. (One time, a friend of mine couldn’t go to work because she’d painted herself head to toe with orange emulsion some hours previously – there was some pretty far fetched sickie-throwing going on that morning.)
Anyway, I do have a mild case of mythic delirium, as my story ‘The Art of Flying’ is published in said journal, alongside work by such luminaries as Jennifer Crow and Patty Templeton. It’s another project from the talented Mike Allen, who is also responsible for the brilliant Clockwork Phoenix anthologies.
You can subscribe, or buy a copy for your e-reader, or read some of the stories for free. Lois Tilton reviewed the issue and described my story as ‘moving but depressing’ – you can judge for yourself, as it is free to read here. And when you’ve finished, you can enjoy yet another example of how not to write an author bio. I do so hate writing those things.