Waterstones launch

Here are some photos from the launch event for the anthology, held at Waterstones Piccadilly on April 6th. Thirteen of the authors were present, as was our editor Rufus, friends, family and a smattering of industry folk. Our numbers were periodically swelled by various poor lost souls looking for a poetry reading – indeed some even claimed our event was ‘more fun’.

All photos were taken either by Bill (Theresa’s husband) or the super-talented Kate Bulpitt.

Thirteen of the fourteen authors of the Book of Unwritten Rules
Thirteen happy authors (Stephen, you were missed)
Hubbub
Hubbub – the launch in full swing
Authors signing The Book of Unwritten Rules
L-R Ivan, Theresa, Kate B, Annabelle
L-R Sarah, Julia, Christina, Kate H
L-R Sarah, Julia, Julie, Kate H
L-R Jim, Emily, Julia
L-R Jim, Emily, Julia
L-R Bill (Photos and author wrangling), Theresa, Christina
L-R Bill (Photos and author wrangling), Theresa, Christina
Lisa and Kate H, not signing
Lisa and Kate H
Rufus Purdy, our editor and MC on the night
Rufus Purdy, our editor and MC on the night
Jim (James) gave the speech on behalf of all of us
Jim (James) gave the speech on behalf of all of us
Theresa
Theresa’s special thank you for being chief cat herder for the past two years

The anthology will be launched at Waterstones Piccadilly on April 6th, where the authors will be signing copies available to buy on the night. Attendance is limited, so do get in touch with us or tweet using #unwrittenrulesbook if you want to come / reserve a signed copy.

Kate Hamer, Tim Glencross, James Hannah and Annabelle Thorpe (we hope) will also be happy to sign copies of their novels at the launch.

If you can’t wait to get your hands on a copy, it is strictly speaking available to purchase via Amazon in print and as an e-book now.

 

Get to Know My Story in 5 Easy Steps

The whys and the whats behind my Book of Unwritten Rules contribution: Get to Know Your Husband in 5 Easy Steps.

*** Contains spoilers **

  1. It contains two opposing unwritten rules.

I didn’t realise this until I wrote the ending. At first, I was focusing on the importance of implicit trust in a relationship, the JENGA-block that once removed, topples all.

But my protagonist had other ideas.

She went against my unwritten ‘rule’ and followed my written ones instead, coming out with her tail between her legs. She spied on her husband. She second-guessed him. She stalked him. She was proven wrong time and time again.

But when her husband’s thoughts finally came to light, it was me who was proven wrong. My character learned things she wished didn’t about him. She pushed and pushed for the truth until their marriage crumbled anyway. And when the smoke cleared, she showed me there was a second unwritten rule to the story all along, somewhere hidden amongst the dust: trust your instincts.

2. It’s written in the second person.

The Marmite of all narrative styles. I had my first stab at this at uni with my short story, The Bystander, about a victim of domestic violence torn between passivity and wanting to escape. I knew it seemed try-hard and pretentious, but it felt right for the duality of the character. And thank God only a third of the class hated it.

I left the second person alone for a while after uni. Packed my bags and went off into the wilderness of lone writing. And then it seemed fitting to fish it out again for Get to Know Your Husband.

Of course, addressing an anonymous ‘you’ fits the didactic thread of the story. But there’s more to it. Everyone in a relationship at some point encounters at least a splinter of doubt in its solidity, or can relate to suspicion in some way. I wanted to make it okay to recognize the ugly in yourself. The mistrust. The angst. The parts of you you wish you could control – and the parts you shouldn’t change at all.

And my protagonist – she’s dual again. She’s the ‘I’ who wants to know the secrets of her husband and herself. The ‘you’ giving herself reassurance and simultaneous goading.

The second person narrative makes a story detached and wholly internal at the same time. An unsure seesaw. And that’s precisely the tone I hope I got across.

3. It has a didactic 5-part structure.

This was my first attempt at writing a story with such clear segments. I thought it would help with the structure, but actually it was harder to try to create five mini stories within one – each its own slice of pace, arch and movement that needed to contribute to the whole cake.

I knew from the start I wanted to parody a fifties’ women’s article – ‘Be the Perfect Housewife’, ‘How to Fold a Napkin and Keep Your Man,’ but it needed a little update. Something that would capture the anxieties of today. The world has shrunk and opportunities have grown – we’re always being encouraged to follow our hearts, and to sniff the greener grass trimmed neatly all over Facebook. For infidelity and suspicion, the world’s a meadow.

It’s easier than ever to keep up the pretense of happiness online and harder to maintain it in reality. I think in many ways, technology fails relationships, unpicking threads in the life you think is enough for you and your partner, but might not be behind the veil of a screen.

Ultimately, the didactic five-part structure was a nice way to play around with pace, building it up and knocking it back down. Plus, it was fun to be so bossy.

4. It’s inspired by a fear of my own mind.

I’m not married. Or paranoid. But I’m definitely aware of how scary the mind can be if you let it run away from you.

I’m a self-labelled ‘nattercan’. A worry-head. An anxious Annie. I’ve always filled my time alone with distractions; writing, reading, warbling along with my iPod, because I’ve always been afraid of the thoughts my mind can conjure. Catastrophising. Personalising. I have a special gift of seeing the very worst in a situation, taking a pleasant Sunday stroll and churning out a potential horror story.

But throughout my twenties I’ve been learning to trust myself more. I’ve taken on Mindfulness and yoga and CBT and all the other clichés of a person looking to ‘find herself’. And I’ve learned that my mind’s not all that bad at all. It’s actually pretty creative. And it’s fun to notice my thoughts rather than suppress them and see where I end up.

I chose a married and anxious woman as my main character because she’s everything I could so easily be – and everything I don’t think I will be anymore.

5. The ending is bizarre.

Ah, the surreal and unresolved ending. Another giant dollop of Marmite in my story.

I didn’t plan for the literal ending to become figurative. Or the figurative to become literal, however you see it… I’m confusing myself.

I just wanted my character to finally get her wish: to know exactly what her husband was lusting after, what ate away at his dreams while she fretted beside him. Maybe they had an honest conversation where he exposed his dirty colours. Maybe she poked and poked until he spilled out lies just to shut her up. Maybe she really did find evidence she couldn’t unknow.

Or maybe, just maybe, she was driven insane by her own relentless paranoia.

I don’t know what the ending is. But I’m not sure I mind. Perhaps it bothers you, but that’s okay too. I’d rather it got under your skin in one way or another…

Follow Emily on Twitter: @e_simpo

Genesis

Confession time: a big old written rule book gave me the germ of an idea for my story, Little Judas.

Carnal union between an unmarried man and an unmarried woman. Fornication. An offence against chastity. You guessed it, the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Sweet fornication, judged a grave sin by that stout religious spinster, lips pursed under a hair-sprouting melanomal mole, arms crossed on a bosom of shelf-like proportions.

From that starting point came a story of falling dominoes, a linked chain of events mostly transgressing one or more of the Catechism’s principles. I use mostly because the wearing of a wig, which features large in my tale, is neither a principle nor a transgression as far as I can tell. But abusive relationships, adultery and divorce are.

At the heart of this misery could only be a child narrator. Tiny tubster Veronica Maloney. The Catechism describes children as a ‘gift’. While her mother and father may have forgotten to say thank you, I was grateful to write her. And all is not lost for Ronnie by the end of the story. There’s hope in that Snoopy pyjama case.

Talk about a girl . . .

It’s been quite a year for Kate Hamer: shortlisted for the John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger and the Costa First Novel Award; making it to number three on the Sunday Times’ Best Seller List; into paperback in the UK and hardback Stateside. Not bad for a first-time novelist.

Since February 2015, Kate’s clocked up many miles by train, car and even ferry boat, crisscrossing the UK to talk about Carmel, the abducted girl heroine of her debut novel The Girl in the Red Coat.

I caught up with her early on, in West Sussex, when she appeared as a featured author at Crawley’s WORDfest, my local festival of all things wordy. This was a brilliant opportunity to touch base with Kate, who I got to know as a fellow student on a three-month novel writing course, run by London’s Curtis Brown literary and talent agency.

Looking forward to observing my former classmate engaging in the art of public speaking, not to mention swapping notes afterwards, I hot-footed it to Crawley library, where Kate shared the platform with fellow debut novelist Alex Hourston.

This was a well-chosen pairing: not only did they share the platform, but these two were also both listed by The Observer as new faces of fiction to watch in 2015, both published by Faber and both worked with the same in-house editor – yet this was the first time they had ever met! Hats off, then, to WORDfest for bringing them together.

Their novels also have something in common, focusing as they do on the relationship between an older and younger woman: The Girl in the Red Coat divides the narrative between Carmel and her bereft mother, Beth, in alternating chapters which chillingly chart Carmel’s abduction; Alex’s novel, In My House, examines Margaret Benson’s response to a stranger’s cry for help, and the unlooked-for consequences that arise from teenage Anja escaping her trafficker.

Under the astute chairmanship of Festival Director Marianne Lindfield, and some canny questioning from the well-informed audience, Kate and Alex divulged their approach to writing and reflected on their passage from aspiring writer to published author.

Kate described how her story started with an image that came to her late one night: a little girl in a red coat, alone in a forest. So taken was she with the desire to know more about this lost soul, she jumped out of bed and wrote the whole first chapter there and then, in one go. ‘With writing, sometimes the next step is unclear. If this happens when I’m working on a manuscript, I don’t panic. For me, it’s important to have faith that the answer will reveal itself.’ This approach has certainly worked well for Kate.

The evening came to an end all too soon, with the added bonus of having booksellers Waterstones at the event, giving us the chance to linger afterwards over book signings and refreshments before making our way happily home.

Read Kate’s short story The Cherry Stone in our anthology, The Book of Unwritten Rules.

Follow Kate on Twitter @kate_hamer.

Exciting news…

We’ve been somewhat quiet of late, but we have some exciting news.

We have had a lovely cover designed for us (by the very talented James Bates):

Cover for The Book of Unwritten Rules
Cover for the anthology

And even more excitingly, we have a proposed launch date – April 6th. Leave a comment or get in touch if you’d like to come along to the launch (London only, I’m afraid) and get your hands on the exclusive (and sure to become a collectors’ item) hardcopy edition.

Much more soon!

Shropshire, Superstition and Mary Webb – The Inspiration behind The Barley Child

I’d been thinking about setting a story in Shropshire for some time. For a writer of historical fiction, its rich past, carved into the largely unchanged rural landscape is a gift and with such long history comes all those unwritten rules associated with the oral traditions of local folklore and superstition.

Growing up in the area, I’d always been aware of a landscape so overwhelming we’ve had to invent stories to make ourselves feel better about it; stories that tame it and explain its power, and help us understand it.

Take Gwendol, the giant, for instance who created the whale-backed hill known as the Wrekin. One day, he set out with a shovel full of mud to dam the river Severn at Shrewsbury, knowing it would flood the land and kill the local inhabitants. On the way, he was met by a poor cobbler carrying a sack of shoes for repair. Knowing what the giant was planning to do, the cobbler convinced him it was a very long walk to Shrewsbury. To prove it, he opened his sack and showed the giant all the shoes he’d worn out, travelling there and back. Abandoning his plan, the giant dropped the soil from his spade where he stood, creating the largest part of the Wrekin, then scraped the mud off his boot to make the smaller mound.

It’s worth knowing when you consider this that the river Severn floods nearly every year in Shrewsbury. It always has, even before the threat of global warming and it probably always will.

At six years old, I saw no reason not to believe this story. Years later, it came as a surprise to learn the Wrekin isn’t simply a pile of mud dropped from a shovel, but composed of volcanic rocks and is a product of volcanism, although contrary to yet another popular belief,  it was never a volcano. Naturally, this is a far less interesting story because there’s no mention of giants.

It doesn’t stop there. Even the prominent rocks and stones that stand on the Wrekin itself have taken on names and superstitions, creating customs of their own. If a pair of lovers can climb together through the cleft in the rocky outcrop known as the needle’s eye, they’ll enjoy a trouble-free marriage.

In such an ancient landscape there’s always a story; a stone is never just a stone, it is the route to a happy marriage, the spine of a sleeping monster or a chair to seat the devil. A veil of mist is not simply a result of the excessive damp that plagues the county, but a subterfuge created by a mystical force to cover something more sinister.

As a child living not far from Wenlock Edge, I was drawn to the writing of Mary Webb (1881 -1927) who was born nearby and set all her novels in the area. Although unfashionable today and often parodied, most famously by Stella Gibbons in Cold Comfort Farm, she was a nature writer and poet of such power she was at one time likened to Emily Bronte. If you can forgive her outdated style, you’ll find the dominance of the landscape on the lives of her characters is in a similar spirit to Thomas Hardy.

All writers are magpies, picking up shiny pieces here and there as we go, feathering our creative nests with everything that touches our imaginations or our hearts, which is probably why so much of Mary Webb’s mysticism appears in the emotional world of my own story, The Barley Child.

I’m reminded of her writing every time I look at those blue Shropshire hills, or walk along the ancient escarpment of Wenlock Edge, or stand at midday each Boxing day on the iron bridge that spans the Severn at Ironbridge, watching the Morris men, listening to the local bawdy songs I remember from the school playground. Songs I imagine Mary Webb would also have known.

If you’ve read Mary Webb’s Precious Bane, you’ll be familiar with the notion of a barley child, and the seven whistlers circling the sky, reminding you there’ll be a tragedy, just in case you hoped the story would have a happy end. And if I tell you I’d forgotten these details when I wrote The Barley Child and only rediscovered them recently, re-reading Precious Bane for the first time in thirty years, I wouldn’t expect you to believe me.

But you only have to look at the Shropshire landscape and imagine the people from the past, their bodies and spirits broken by their efforts to work the land, to guess the grim inevitability of their stories. Whatever was going to happen to Mary Webb’s characters or to mine, it was always in the hands of fate.

Absence makes the plot grow stronger

By Christina Prado

What makes a piece of writing successful?  The answer is less about the words than you might think. What will really make or break your literary efforts are the ideas that govern and shape your work. In this sense, the actual business of writing begins long before any marks at all land on the page. I refer, of course, to that woefully undervalued element of the writer’s working day — staring into space.

True, you may not be scribbling furiously, burning up the paper; you may not be hammering the keys or filling the screen; you may not, in the least, appear to be working, but you are. For, in that moment of seeming absence, in those invisible innermost regions of your brain, you are testing out your idea. You are nurturing it, working out its weaknesses and strengths, being honest about its potential to be a winner in a world that is challenging and competitive. You are deciding whether it is robust enough to take its first steps out onto the gleaming white page.

Once your idea is out there, be brave enough to let it make its own way for a while. One note of caution here; at this stage, it is advisable to keep a rein on. Ideally, the retractable kind. Why? Well, because this is where the words come out to play.

Beautiful, glorious, seductive, alluring, frisky words. More than a million of them in the English language. It’s a minefield out there. You certainly do not want unsuitable words to lead your idea from the path you have so carefully mapped out for it. A quick press on the button marked “Retract” will bring it back, just where you want it.

However, it is just possible that your idea might meet some words that are good for it; ones that make it stronger, more exciting, more at peace with itself than it would be without them. These new influences may require you to adjust your thinking, to develop your idea in a direction you did not anticipate.

At times like these, you would do well to cease your scribbling or hammering; to lay down your pen or close your laptop; to peer into the middle distance, an unseeing look in your eye. While you are doing this, remember; you are not simply staring into space.

 

James Hannah: Q&A

After Barbarians by Tim Glencross wowed the critics, we can’t wait to see what readers and reviewers think of the next of our group to be published; James Hannah with The A-Z of You and Me.

Read on to find out what he thinks drumming and writing have in common.

James, introduce yourself in 50 words.

I’m a novelist, and divide my time between Shropshire and London. I have an MA in Beckett Studies from the University of Reading and its Beckett International Foundation. My novel The A-Z of You and Me is due out in spring 2015 through Transworld Doubleday.

James Hannah | Claire Cousin Photography

Tell me about your journey to getting published. 

I’ve been writing myself to sleep at night since 1992. In my notebooks, the paragraphs always start out neat, but they flatline as I fall asleep. In spring 2011, a friend told me about the Curtis Brown course, and it happened to coincide with days I was down in London, anyway.

I leaned heavily on tips for submissions from the course, and they helped me sign with my agent, Sue Armstrong at Conville & Walsh. She helped me to refine the manuscript until it was watertight, and we managed to place it with a publisher shortly before Christmas 2013. I’m currently working with Jane Lawson at Transworld on making it somewhat more than watertight – with plush interiors and a grand staircase.

How much had you written before the course? How much has the story changed? 

The A-Z of You and Me was perhaps three-quarters finished in a linear sense. The story hasn’t changed at all; rather, it has been tested in a number of different ways. It’s become more robust, and the characters have had to justify themselves more. A certain amount of unnecessary “writerliness” has been removed. It’s not tolerated at the moment, like so much guitar soloing.

What are you working on right now? 

I’m shaping up one or two sections of The A-Z of You and Me that didn’t make it into the final novel. I’d like to see if I can place them as the equivalent of a non-album “singles” (Creation Records style).

Which book or author inspired you to get writing?

I often reflect on Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha by Roddy Doyle, which came at an important time when my mind was very receptive to new work. I read it shortly after it won the Booker prize in 1993, and somehow it felt supernaturally good. I’d never read anything quite like it, and perhaps that’s a very personal response. It told me all sorts of stuff I already knew, but hadn’t recognised within myself. The idea that writing should ignite what’s already in the reader’s mind is very appealing to me; it seems almost magical when it works.

Tell us about how you write. 

I play drums in a band, and I approach writing in the same way I approach drumming. The A-Z of You and Me. It’s based on a very tight formal structure, but when I was writing it, I kept it loose and left as much room for improvisation as possible. I didn’t think about scenes before writing them, and tried to allow my subconscious to lead the way.

This all sounds awful, as I say it, but it does encourage unexpected connections. It’s the same with drumming: you can control a song by dropping a beat, adding a beat, stopping altogether – but you don’t actually think about those things. You just instinctively try them.

In drumming and writing, the moment I start thinking, I’m dead.

Find out more about The A-Z of You and Me here, or here to find out more about James.

Barbarians beer  - as drunk by the bright young things

The launch of Barbarians

Barbarians beer bar
Barbarians beer – as drunk by the Bright Young Things

It was a delight to see so many people gathered to celebrate the launch of Barbarians by Tim Glencross (John Murray).Tim made the celebration a family affair, choosing to hold his bash at The Sevenoaks Bookshop. Well, if you’re mum is the co-owner of a fantastic independent bookshop, you’d be silly not to take full advantage of it.

Sevenoaks Bookshop
Sevenoaks Bookshop

As the first of our group to see his novel published, many of us who met on the Curtis Brown Creative three month novel writing course, back in the Autumn of 2011 were there to support him and wish him all the best.

CBC alumni / Festival Writers
CBC alumni / Festival Writers – (left to right: Theresa Howes, James Hannah, Christina Prado, Tim Glencross, Kate Bulpitt, Sarah Drinkwater, Lisa Berry)

We were thrilled to see that Grazia live suggested reading Barbarians as one of the top ten things to do on the weekend of its release (22nd May). The Metro called it ‘Astute, ‘immaculately funny’, while The Sunday Times described it as ‘An impressive debut’, and stated ‘Glencross feels like a writer to watch’.  But we all knew that already.

 

No more workshopping this draft....
No more workshopping this draft….

And so we all bought the novel, of course…

The author speaks
The author speaks

Shy and retiring type that he is, after a glass or two of bubbly, Tim was persuaded to give a speech, or maybe it was the beer that loosened his tongue.

 

 

And if you’re wondering about the significance of the beer bottles, you’re going to have to buy Barbarians to find out.