25 books that will stick with you and blow your mind

Apologies for the stupid title. I stole it from this stupid article, so do forgive me.

1. The Tale of Genji, Murasaki Shikabu
The first novel ever written! Universally recognised as a great masterpiece of Japanese prose narrative, The Tale of Genji is an incredible insight into the moral, social, political and sexual values of its time and place.

2. To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
One of those books that changes lives, especially young lives. It teaches the importance of justice and integrity in the face of cruelty, racism, hatred and fear. A classic, by anyone’s standards.

3. Frankenstein, Mary Shelley
Widely considered to be the first science fiction novel, Frankenstein endures because of its insightful evocation of character and theme. Apparently, male-book-list writers also consider this a worthy book. Thanks a lot!

4. & 5. Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte, and Wide Sargasso Sea, Jean Rhys
You can’t read Jane Eyre without reading Wide Sargasso Sea. Bronte’s novel is a fantastically gothic tale of the unloved, the orphaned, the abused and the unwanted, set against the wild Yorkshire moors. Rhys’ novel provides a mind-altering reading/rewriting of Jane Eyre. It’s a powerful story of dislocation, dispossession, sexism, racism, and the ways in which these oppressions can lead to “madness”.

6. The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood
A dystopia that has proved to be frighteningly prescient. Atwood’s powerful novel is a brilliantly written, witty, and terrifying insight into religious fascism.

7. Human Acts, Han Kang
A novel about the Gwangju massacre of 1980. I don’t know if such horrors have ever been written about with such compassion. A novel that lays ghosts to rest. Han Kang is a genius of the highest order.

8. Half of a Yellow Sun, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Gabriel Garcia Marquez said, “the worst enemy of politicians is a writer,” and it’s hard not to recall those words when reading this effortlessly brilliant story about the state of Biafra. Like ‘Human Acts’, it lays out the human truth and makes us care.

9. The Bloody Chamber and other stories, Angela Carter
Only read this if you like magic, fairy tales, blood, sex, horror, dreams, talking animals, Jungian archetypes, and beautifully accomplished writing. Classic writing that will endure.

10. Kindred, Octavia Butler
A rich and complex novel that combines slavery memoir with fantasy, and political allegory with time travelling science fiction. An absolutely astonishing feat of literature.

11. The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K Le Guin
A ground breaking work of science fiction, with one of the most compelling settings ever devised. This novel explores sexual politics and colonisation within an adventure story that has you on the edge of your seat.

12. The Blazing World, Siri Hustvedt
Narratively innovative, thematically complex, a brilliant collage of a novel that makes you fall in love and leaves you utterly bereft. The art works in this book deserve whole galleries to themselves.

13. The Neapolitan Quartet, Elena Ferrante
These lucid, original and page-turning novels tell the story of a complicated friendship, and in doing so chart the subtle effects of class, poverty, marriage, and education on individuals and their communities.

14. The Lover, Marguerite Duras
No one writes like Duras, with such vulnerability, sensitivity, and courage. The Lover is a book that is suffused with feeling and contradiction, ardour and terror.

15. White is for Witching, Helen Oyeyemi
One of the best haunted house stories ever written. Oyeyemi is one of those perfect writers who can seemingly do anything at all, create ghosts out of thin air, anything she likes.

16. Netsuke, Rikki Ducornet
This short, terrifying novel takes us inside the mind of a dangerous narcissist as he hurtles towards destruction. Absolutely mastery from Ducornet: careful, precise, and shocking.

17. Magic for Beginners, Kelly Link
The same flavour of surrealist magical realism that Haruki Murakami writes – but Link does it better. These pieces expand the territory of the short story, setting up outposts in contemporary culture and politics, creating and dispelling illusions with masterful sleight of hand.

18. The Knife Drawer, Padrika Tarrant
This is the book I most frequently recommend to other book lovers. Why? Because it is utterly brilliant. Moving, funny, frightening, and very very weird. A Jan Švankmajer film in prose. Like nothing else you’ve read.

19. We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, Karen Joy Fowler
The less you know about this funny, charming book before reading it, the better. One of the most awesome – and technically accomplished – twists of all time.

20. The Woman Upstairs, Claire Messud
“How angry am I? You don’t want to know. Nobody wants to know about that.” So begins this brave and magnificently furious book, so angry it could burst into flames at any moment and you wouldn’t be too surprised.

21. We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Shirley Jackson
An unreliable narrator, possible death-by-mushroom-poisoning, and angry villagers with pitchforks are just a few ingredients in this wonderfully funny and macabre book.

22. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Muriel Spark
Spark’s sparse and precise language here serves to emphasise the brittle brilliance of Miss Jean Brodie – magnetic, charismatic, an inspirational leader — and a fascist. One of the greatest fictional characters of all time.

23. The Hour of the Star, Clarice Lispector
Lispector’s final novel, and her masterpiece. A deceptively simple story with a philosophically intense and ambiguous underlying narrative that echoes and ripples long after the end.

24. We Need to Talk About Kevin, Lionel Shriver
A big, American novel that both responded to and shaped the cultural conversation around motherhood and violent masculinity. Shriver writes with great authority in this deeply serious book.

25. My Name is Leon, Kit de Waal
It’s only just been published, but I predict that this book is going to be huge. HUGE. And deservedly so – it’s utterly heartbreaking, ultimately uplifting, and full of heroes. An instant classic.

Notes:

* This list was compiled just off the top of my head in response to that seriously ignorant Independent article, and I’ve left out SO MANY wonderful writers – I could have mentioned Rebecca Solnit, Magda Szabo, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, George Eliot, Jane Austen, Nnedi Okorafor, Zadie Smith, Nicola Barker, Lydia Davis, Alice Thompson and so many many many others.

bookish winter things

 

Winter is cold and depressing (my favourite). I continue to fill my empty existence with reading and writing. My field notes from January:

My Black Static story “White Rabbit” has been well received, and even garnered a very nice mention in the Guardian! It’s good to see Black Static getting some recognition in the mainstream press for its support of new and established writers. And it’s good to see genre writing given serious consideration. And my family and friends are most impressed.

Des Lewis wrote a dreamcatching review of “White Rabbit” which I thought a sensitive and telepathic reading of the story. The whole point of writing is to make that connection with other humans, so this pleases me immensely.

Work continues on the novel. The 5.30am starts don’t get any easier. I may be reaching some sort of ending, if the panic attacks and attempts to run away are anything to go by.

On reading: this is a picture of all the books I read in January, arranged left to right in order of how great I think they are. The blue book on the far left is “A Spell to Conjure Violets” by Kate Mascarenhas, and it is really, truly wonderful. A strange, clever, moving story about parallel universes, paths taken and not taken, and how to account for our mistakes. The reader is drawn in through the completely believable characterisation and setting. Mascarenhas prints and binds the books herself, beautifully, and has paperbacks of this for sale now. You can contact her via twitter – she is @flynnker and she’ll be delighted to take your order

black static, white rabbit

It turns out that I’m not too modest to mention that White Rabbit, my very first story in Black Static, made the cover. And what a cover! The utterly brilliant artwork is by Vince Haig, who has done another superb illustration for the story inside. One of the most wonderful experiences a writer can have is seeing their work sensitively interpreted and extended by an artist. Without a doubt, Vince Haig’s pictures make White Rabbit a better story.

Small presses are a big part of the thriving culture of literary genre writing, and deserve our attention and support. Volume 50 of Black Static is out in early January, and would make an excellent New Year’s/late Christmas present for the fiction aficionado in your life. (Afictionado, surely?!) And if you like this sort of thing, get a subscription. TTA Press depends on subscriptions to be able to survive and pay their writers and artists (very important!), so there’s no better way to show your love.

bong! the news

 

A brief update on what’s what and what’s not in my world… I finished the first draft of my novel at the end of the summer holidays, which meant I had three whole days of holiday left before starting back at work. I spent those days in a whirl of shock and delight and terror. It was fun. After that, I put the novel in a drawer to cook, and went to work on a couple of short stories. How exciting to write short stories again after being neck-deep in a novel! You can write them in a weekend! It’s like magic.

The first of these stories, The Art Lovers, is a nasty little tale of crime set in Italy, Greece, and London sometime in the 1970s, with our protagonist living on a Euro rail card, a student grant, and an unhealthy delusion about the nature of women. It’s due to appear in Crimewave 13, from TTA press. This is really exciting for me – I don’t often write crime stories, so to have one published in the best genre magazine in the country is an incredible privilege – and stroke of luck.

White Rabbit is the name of the second story, and I’m pretty sure it’s the best thing I’ve ever written. It’s kind of creepy, a little bit sad, and fairly psychedelic. I’ve always loved Alice in Wonderland, and this is a fairly twisted way down the rabbit hole. It’s set to appear in Black Static 50. Very excited about this one.

I’m back to editing and redrafting the novel now, which explains why I’m finally getting around to writing a blog post. Because when faced with trying to bring sense to the mess of scenes and chapters and terrible sentences and logical black holes and broken timelines, everything else suddenly seems a lot more fun. Writing my blog, cleaning the flat, disembowelling myself with a teaspoon, whatever. And yet, it has to be done. I don’t know why. It just does.

mythically delirious

In the words of Mike Allen, “makes our notoriously offbeat Clockwork Phoenix seem like a product of the straight and narrow.” How can you possibly resist? Now available to buy on Amazon UK. Buy it, write a review, say you love us only.

the best bit

The absolute best bit about writing is when you get a lovely new copy of a book containing one of your stories. There are other good bits, but this has got to be the best. It never gets boring.

It adds to the brilliance when you are sharing covers with some flipping amazing writers, like Priya Sharma, Nina Allen, and Carole Johnstone, to name but a few.

You can buy this book here or here or in a good bookshop.

starred

The Mythic Delirium anthology gets a starred review in Publishers Weekly, and my story gets a mention. Pretty sweet. Go me!

By the way, where’s the apostrophe in Publishers Weekly? They don’t seem to have one. I would put it after the s, personally. Makes sense to me. Or they could add a verb… Publishers Weekly Take a Bath. Publishers Weekly Destroy Incoming Meteors and Save the World.

Well, anyway. They’re publishers. I’m sure they’ve thought about it.

the sea in birmingham

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.

the egg

The blurb about me in the current Interzone mentions this short film from a while back, so I thought I’d post it up here for the curious. It’s based on one of the first decent(ish) short stories I ever wrote, and represents my first short story sale. Actually, this was the little story that could. First of all, it got me a place on an awesome screenwriting course, then it won first prize in a competition judged by Graham Joyce, and then I sold it to a film company. Honestly, watching the film now makes me cringe – for all the  bad writing they left in, and all the bad writing they added along the way. But despite its weaknesses, this story marks the moment when I became a real writer.

The Egg

 

stop me and buy one

 

Interzone 246 is out now and contains my grim little story ‘Cat World.’ But even better than that, it also contains stories by Aliette de Bodard, Lavie Tidhar and the brilliant Priya Sharma. So for heaven’s sake RUSH OUT AND BUY A COPY! Even better, subscribe.

While you’re at it, grab yourself a copy of Black Static, which this month has Ilan Lerman‘s very creepy story ‘The King of Love my Shepherd Is,’ along with stories by Nina Allen and Joel Lane. You can thank me later.