Tagevents

My Loncon schedule

Later this month, I’ll be attending Loncon 3, the World Science Fiction Convention, which runs from Thursday 14 to Monday 18 August. I’m scheduled to appear on three panels; here’s where you can catch me:

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Friday 15 August, 10.00-11.00
Don’t Tell Me What To Think: Ambiguity in SF and Fantasy

What does ambiguity (of setting, plot, identity, and so on) bring to a work of fantastic fiction? How is ambiguity created, and what effect does it have? Does it always work? Can a story be too ambiguous? The panel will discuss stories they have chosen, exploring exactly how they achieve their effects, and asking what divides a satisfyingly ambiguous story from an unsatisfying one.

The chosen stories are:

‘The Squirrel Cage’ by Thomas M. Disch (1966) [publication history]
Ofodile‘ by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2013)
‘A Young Man’s Journey to Viriconium’ by M. John Harrison (1985) [publication history]

[EDIT: Thanks to Niall, I’ve added in links to the publication histories of the two stories that aren’t available online, so you can track them down if you want to read along.]

Participants: David Hebblethwaite (moderator); Nina Allan; Scott Edelman; Patrick Nielsen Hayden; Ellen Klages

Saturday 16 August, 16.30-18.00
Bridging the Gap: Genre and the Mainstream

Iain Banks’ work was famously divided into ‘mainstream’ and science fiction, but this division wasn’t always applied consistently. For example, Transition was published in the UK as mainstream fiction, while in the US it was classed as science fiction, and Banks himself declared that it was ‘51% mainstream’. This sort of boundary blurring can be seen in both ‘slipstream’ texts and in mainsteam works that engage with science fiction. In this panel we will discuss writing that crosses boundaries – real or imagined – between science fiction and the mainstream. How has the divide been understood and characterised? How has this changed over time? Who is currently writing across this divide and to what effect?

Participants: Preston Grassman (moderator); Anne Charnock; David Hebblethwaite; E.J. Swift

Sunday 17 August, 19.00-20.00
Fandom at the Speed of Thought

The story of fandom and the SF field in the twenty-first century is the story of the internet: more voices, fewer gatekeepers. How are authors, reviewers, editors and readers navigating this shifting terrain? In what ways has the movement of SF culture online affected the way books are written, presented, and received — and how has it affected the way readers identify and engage with authors and books? Do the old truisms — never respond to a review! — still hold sway, or are author-reader shared spaces possible, even desirable?

Participants: Chris Gerwel (moderator); David Hebblethwaite; Kevin McVeigh; Aishwarya Subramanian; Leticia Lara

 

Event report: Juan Pablo Villalobos at the London Review Bookshop

One of the reasons I’ve enjoyed going to the World Literature Series of events at the London Review Bookshop is the serendipity of learning about something I don’t know that well, which then turns out to be fascinating (so far, I’ve heard talks on Japanese book design and the Thousand and One Nights). Still, it is also nice to have the reference points of a more familiar subject, which is what I had for the latest event.

The evening was hosted by the excellent And Other Stories press, as publisher Stefan Tobler interviewed Juan Pablo Villalobos, the Mexican author of Down the Rabbit Hole (which I reviewed here) and Quesadillas (which I reviewed here). We began with Villalobos reading from the opening of Quesadillas, first in Spanish (cue laughter from the Spanish-speakers in the audience and those of us who’d already read the book in English and know what the beginning is like), then English (cue laughter from everyone else). Tobler then read from another And Other Stories title, Rodrigo de Souza Leão’s All Dogs are Blue (which I reviewed here), which Villalobos has translated into Spanish from the original Portugese. Both readings underlined how much these books are spoken texts.

The interview section started with Villalobos’s experience of translating All Dogs are Blue. The author said that he viewed translation as responding to an instinct to share a book you love with other readers (he’d been introduced to the book by Tobler, and immediately wanted to translate it for a Spanish-speaking audience). Thinking about it, I suspect that I’m responding to a similar instinct when I write about books.

I’m always interested to hear about the different kinds of choices that translators have to make. For Villalobos, there was the issue of slang; he ended up producing two versions, one Spanish, one Mexican. He also made  appoint of leaving in a lot of the Brazilian words, as he wanted the reader to remember that this was a Brazilian book. Villalobos suggested that the power of All Dogs are Blue lay in its imperfections, and I think that’s very true; the rhythm, flow and idiosyncracies of its language draw you into the narrator’s world.

Turning to Villalobos’s own work, he has been widely translated himself: Down the Rabbit Hole has been translated into fifteen languages, Quesadillas into eight. Villalobos commented that he saw similarities between All Dogs are Blue and Down the Rabbit Hole in terms of their tone and humour; I think there’s something in that, and I might add to that list the importance of the protagonists’ limited perspectives.

Villalobos said that the style of Quesadillas was meant to parody the rhetoric of politicians. He also talked about it being an ‘open’ book, all loose ends and a feeling of escape, in contrast with the more ‘closed’ Down the Rabbit Hole. I can see where he’s coming from with both of those points, but now I want to re-read the books to see what else I can find. And I’d say that an author event that leaves me wanting to revisit books that I’ve previously enjoyed is a very good event indeed. (Even better if it involves a chance to meet the author and get a book signed…)

quesadillas

Event report: Abelfattah Kilito and the Thousand and One Nights

WLS_GN_L (1)I enjoyed the June event in the London Review Bookshop’s World Literature Series so much that I wanted to make sure I went along to this month’s, whatever the subject. It was another interesting event, though it may be that I lack some of the context to write it up properly. Here goes, anyway…

Abdelfattah Kilito is a Moroccan writer and critic; he was interviewed at the LRB shop by Marina Warner, mostly about his own fiction and one of his key scholarly interests, the Thousand and One Nights. Warner commented at one point that Kilito’s work often blurs the line between fiction, essay and memoir (which Kilito put down to his admiration of Borges); there was a similar blurring going on in this interview.

Kilito told of how, as a child, he could not afford to buy books; instead, at the age of 12, he joined an American library in his home city of Rabat. Most of the books were in English, but there was one stack of books in French – and so the young Kilito was set. The power of books and stories became a recurring theme of Kilito’s talk: he remarked that Scheherazade’s telling of stories saved a human community, because it stopped the King from killing women. In the end, the King demanded that Scheherazade’s stories be recorded by his scribes, even though he could have just taken the books from her library – there, Kilito suggested, was an early expression of the value of publishing.

Kilito said that he was fixated with the idea of people ‘carrying’ particular stories with them: anyone who tells a story discharges it to the listener – and they may go on to transmit it to someone else. He mentioned a story of souls in the underworld reading the books of their own lives; eventually the souls grew bored, and started swapping their books and reading each other’s – but then they forgot their own book, and were unable to find it again.

During the audience questions, Kilito suggested a difference between Arab intellectuals of the past and present: in the past, Arab intellectuals would translate works from other cultures a great deal, but were less concerned with having their own books translated. Now, Kilito said, Arab intellectuals may well want to be recognised in America and Europe – it can even be the case that they may not receive full attention in their home countries until they have that recognition elsewhere. But efforts to translate more go on, in all directions; stories continue to be carried and transmitted.

This was the last event in the 2012-13 World Literature Series; I’m only disappointed that I didn’t discover them sooner. I asked on Twitter if there’d be another Series, and received this reply:

Oh, I will.

Event report: Salon London’s Summer Essentials

Salon London is a monthly event that brings together science, art and psychology with three speakers looking at different aspects of the same subject – “massive ideas in intimate spaces”, as host Helen Bagnall put it. I went along to my first Salon last night, held in the Café at Foyles. The theme was “Summer Essentials” – and, appropriately enough for the location, began with books, as the Independent on Sunday’s literary editor, Katy Guest, recommended books for different situations on your summer holiday. As it turned out, I’ve only read one of them…

In the airport bookshop looking at the bestsellers? This year’s top surprise bestseller has been The Old Ways, Robert Macfarlane’s tour of Britain’s ancient paths. [I can sort-of second this recommendation, as I remember enjoying Macfarlane’s reading from the book at last year’s Penguin bloggers’ night. I still haven’t read The Old Ways myself yet, though.]

Waiting for the plane and need something short? Try Ali Smith’s Shire [a mixture of essay and story that sounds to be in a similar vein to Artful], or Dan Rhodes’ Marry Me [that’s the one I’ve read; read my thoughts here – the short version is that I really liked it].

Need to get away from an annoying family? Become lost in Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life [definitely a book I am intrigued to read]. Kids not keen on the prospect of studying Shakespeare? Give them Ben Crystal’s Springboard Shakespeare guides. [Apparently Ben Crystal is an actor who’s also son of the linguist David Crystal; if he shares his father’s touch for writing about language, I bet these books will be great.] Interested in all things Tudor and want to learn more? Try Leanda de Lisle’s Tudor: the Family Story.

Then came questions from the audience. What books will Guest be taking on holiday? The newest ones, probably; but certainly Precious Thing by Colette McBeth. Being sent 200 books a week, how does Guest decide which to read? Covers can help, especially with new authors; Guest mentioned Polly Courtney, who left her publisher because she wasn’t happy with the chick-lit style covers they were using for her books, and pointed out that the cover for Courtney’s new novel, Feral Youth, is rather different.

Did Guest think John Williams’ Stoner was worth all the praise that’s been heaped on it? Bret Easton Ellis likes it; so, if you like him, then perhaps. Recommend a good big detective series? Not really something Guest reads much, but she suggested the work of Marian Keyes. What’s going to be the next big historical period in fiction? The eleventh century, tales of Vikings, Guest suggested.

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Book recommendations in hand, we then heard from Robin Fegen, one of the directors of the Robin Collective, “purveyors of curious events and experimental food”. Fegen was here to speak on taste and flavour; he talked about how factors like colour and sound can affect how food tastes, and explained that there can be great individual variations in the sense of taste, with so-called “supertasters” being particularly sensitive (as the chemist Arthur L. Fox put it, people live in “different worlds of taste”.

Fegen had a few experiments for his audience to try, in order to see who might be the supertasters. My results were inconclusive: a tastebud-counting exercise suggested that I had a lower number than average, which tends to be characteristic of a nontaster – but I could very much sense the bitter taste of PTC, which would point towards the opposite case. Maybe I should just conclude that I have good taste…

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The evening’s final speaker was John-Paul Flintoff, whose topic was “how to have meaningful conversations”. Time was a little tight at this point, so we didn’t have chance to try all the activities Flintoff had planned – a pity, really, because the session was good fun. I especially like the idea that a good conversation should be an adventure – sounds a good guiding principle to me.

A dozen Penguin authors

On Thursday night, the good folks of Penguin General (the Fig Tree, Hamish Hamilton, and Viking imprints) hosted their second annual bloggers’ night, in the 5th View cocktail bar at Waterstones Piccadilly. This event was on a different scale from last year’s, with almost twice as many authors, and quite a few more bloggers – I don’t know if this was the largest-ever gathering of UK book bloggers, but I imagine it must have been close.

I was particularly pleased to get the chance to meet Nat Segnit, whose Pub Walks in Underhill Country was one of my favourite books from last year; he also gave one of the best readings of the night. But all twelve readings were good; so let’s go through them.

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Naomi Alderman’s new novel is so new that there aren’t any advance copies yet, so she read from her laptop. The Liars’ Gospel is a retelling of the life and death of Jesus; Alderman read from the very beginning, which describes the ritual sacrifice of a lamb – and, if the rest of the book is as well-written as that, it’s one I want to read.

I already had a copy of Jennifer McVeigh’s debut, The Fever Tree, on the TBR pile. It’s set in South Africa in 1880, amid rumours of a smallpox epidemic in the diamond mines. There was some really good use of detail in the domestic scene which McVeigh read, and that bodes well for the rest of the novel.

Have I still never read anything by Marina Lewycka since A Short History of Tractors in Ukranian? (Answer: no, I haven’t.) I should probably rectify that, and Lewycka’s  reading from Various Pets Alive and Dead was a good reminder of why. Her extract effectively sketched the four main characters in the novel, and included some sharp description of place.

Next up was Greg Baxter, whose first novel, The Apartment, was the second book from tonight already on my TBR pile. Baxter was a measured, precise reader, which went well with the spare style of his extract. I’m now still further intrigued to read the whole book.

22 Britannia Road by Amanda Hodgkinson tells of a Polish family reuniting in England after the war. I’m not quite sure whether this is a book for me, but I found the particular extract Hodgkinson read to be a good character sketch.

Now on to the only non-fiction book and author of the evening. The Old Ways by Robert Macfarlane is about the ancient paths ofBritain, the stories intertwined in them, and how people have been shaped by them. Macfarlane read an extract concerning an the encounter with Hanging figure by the sculptor Steve Dilworth; fascinating stuff, and definitely a book I’d like to read.

The second half of the evening began with Elif Shafak’s reading from her latest novel, Honour, which focuses on a Kurdish-Turkish family who move toLondon. Shafak read from the beginning of the book, where the daughter of the family prepares to meet her brother on his release from prison (he was convicted for murder). This was a strong set-up for the rest of the novel, and I look forward to reading on.

Set in 19th-centurySomerset, Nell Leyshon’s The Colour of Milk is the account of a girl named Mary, who is sent to work for the local vicar’s wife, where she has good reason to write down what happened to her. Leyshon’s excerpt gave a hint as to what that reason might be, and her reading brought Mary’s character vividly to life.

Then it was Nat Segnit’s turn to read from Pub Walks in Underhill Country – and it was just like discovering the book all over again. Segnit was an excellent reader (an audiobook of this read by him would be wonderful), and the extract he chose hilarious. Seriously, if you have not read this novel, you should.

From a novel I already loved to one of which I’d never even heard. Tom Bullough’s Konstantin is a fictional account of the life of the Russian rocket scientist Konstantin Tsiolkovsky; it was tricky to judge from the reading what the book as a whole might be like, but I started reading it on the train home, and it’s shaping up to be interesting.

The next author to take the stage was Nikita Lalwani, reading from her second novel, The Village. The set-up sounded intriguing – a documentary-maker travels fromEnglandto make a film about an Indian village which is also an open prison – and Lalwani’s reading only confirmed that view.

The evening closed with a reading from a Booker-winning author – James Kelman. Mo said she was quirky is a novel chronicling a day in the life of a single mother; on the evidence of Kelman’s reading, it’s also a novel very concerned with voice – it felt like a novel to be read out loud. I look forward to reading and finding out if that impression is correct.

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And then, as Joshua Ferris put it, we came to the end. My thanks to everyone involved for such an enjoyable evening.

Coming up: the Slighjly Foxed Readers’ Day

This Saturday, I’ll be going to an event organised by Slightly Foxed, a quarterly journal whose contributors recommend beloved – and perhaps unjustly forgotten – books. They’re holding their first Readers’ Day this weekend, a day full of talks (and cake, and a prize draw…). It includes Penelope Lively and Sue Gee discussing how they use autobiography in their work; a talk by a wood-engraver on illustration; sessions on George Mackay Brown, Graham Greene, women in the Second World War… It is fair to say that a lot of what will be covered is not my usual reading matter; but I’m a great believer in stepping outside one’s reading comfort zone, so I am looking forward to it.

There were still a few tickets available for the Readers’ Day as of this morning – more details here on the Slightly Foxed website.

In case you ever wanted to hear me speak about short fiction…

…you now have a chance to do so. On 16th July, the Bristol Short Story Prize will be hosting ShortStoryVille, its first festival of short stories. And, at 1.30, you will find this item on the programme:

1.30 – 2.30 Reading Short Stories – panel discussion chaired by acclaimed short story writer Tania Hershman. Is there an art to reading a short story? Is it very different from other forms of fiction? Does it depend on where a story is read: a collection, single story in a magazine, on an ereader? Tania is joined by three passionate short story readers- book reviewer and blogger David HebblethwaiteClare Hey, former editor at HarperCollins and founder of trailblazing, digital-only short story publisher Shortfire Press and Scott Pack, publisher at The Friday Project, influential blogger, commentator, reader, creator of the popular meandmyshortstories blog and all-round book-billy.

The rest of the schedule is here; it includes writers like Helen Oyeyemi, Stuart Evers and Sarah Salway — sounds a good line-up to me.

The ShortStoryVille festival will be held on Saturday 16th July from 12.00 to 6.00 at the Arnofini arts centre, Bristol. Expect to see more short fiction coverage on here during the run-up.

Seven Penguin authors

Earlier this week, Penguin Books held a reading event with seven of their authors, each on their first or second novels. A bunch of bloggers and friends gathered at the Union Club in the heart of London to hear about some new books – and it was a very enjoyable evening.

First up was Joe Dunthorne, whose debut novel, Submarine, has just been made into a film. He read an extract from Wild Abandon, about young Albert, who is convinced the world will end in 2012. Attempting to dispel his fears, the boy’s mother persuades Albert to imagine a conversation with his sixteen-year-old self, thereby reassuring himself there is life beyond a couple of years hence. But the plan doesn’t quite work out as Albert’s mum intended… The conversation that Dunthorne read out was very funny, and I’m sure I’ll be checking out Wild Abandon when it’s published in August, and perhaps also Submarine before then.

Luke Williams’ The Echo Chamber (due in May) was already on my radar because it has the sort of crossover speculative premise (the life of a woman with preternatural abilities of hearing) that particularly appeals to me. I’m not sure how well I can judge from the opening extract Williams read here just what The Echo Chamber will be like as a whole (and he did say that the novel goes through a number of styles as it progresses), but it is still a novel I want to investigate.

The next author was Jean Kwok, whose novel Girl in Translation concerns Kimberly Chang, who moves with her family from Hong Kong to a squalid apartment in Brooklyn, and finds herself caught between the worlds of great achievement at school, and working in a factory at night to help make ends meet. Kwok told how she drew significantly on her own life experiences for the novel, which sounds an interesting story.

I’ve been meaning to read God’s Own Country, the first novel by Ross Raisin – a fellow native of West Yorkshire – for some time now. I will get around to it – honest. Tonight, Raisin was reading from his forthcoming book, Waterline (to be published in July), which is set amongst the shipyards of Glasgow. As it’s written partly in dialect, Raisin said, it didn’t sound right in his natural voice; so he affected a Glaswegian accent to read his extract. How good he was, I’m in no position to judge; but the extract itself was nicely atmospheric, and bodes well for the whole novel. I’ll probably read God’s Own Country first, though.

On now to Rebecca Hunt, whose novel Mr Chartwell was the only one of the seven featured writers’ that I’d already read. Essentially it’s the story of Churchill’s Black Dog of depression come to life, well worth a look. Hunt was an excellent reader; had I not known about the novel already, the strength of her reading alone would have made me want to seek it out.

Helen Gordon’s debut, Landfall – about an art journalist reassessing her life when she moves temporarily back to the suburbs – is not published until October, so it was quite a treat to hear an excerpt of it so early on. The snapshot Gordon read was a conversation between the protagonist and her daughter during a car journey; again, I’m not sure how much of a sense of the wider novel I have from this, but it was a nicely observed extract and I am intrigued.

The final author to read was Hisham Matar, a Booker nominee for his first novel, In the Country of Men. He read an excerpt from his newly-published second book, Anatomy of a Disappearance, which concerns a boy dealing with the disappearance of his father. Matar’s description was vivid, and left me wanting to read more. A fine conclusion to a strong set of readings.

Behind the scenes at The TV Book Club

Last week, I and several other book bloggers (Simon from Stuck in a Book; Claire from Paperback Reader; Keith from Books and Writers; and Cherry from Cherry Mischievous) were invited to watch an episode of The TV Book Club being filmed – the episode that was broadcast tonight, in fact. This is my little account of the day.

The sofas and chairs of the TV Book Club studio are directly opposite the set of Saturday Kitchen, and it was in front of that programme’s counter that we sat to watch the filming (doing so was what really brought home to me how small the space is; though the actual set of The TV Book Club seemed relatively large from where I was sitting, there really isn’t much more outside of what you see on screen). Two episodes were being filmed that day, and we saw the second – which was actually the first in order of broadcast. So, whilst I would have loved to witness the discussion of Even the Dogs in person, I shall have to wait until next week; today was the turn of Michael Robotham’s Bleed for Me.

Filming of the programme ran more or less in ‘real time’, and the broadcast result was not much different  from what we saw in the studio (apart from the editing-out of the moment where the panel gave too much away about the murderer’s identity in Bleed for Me). Nigel Havers was an excellent guest – great to see someone so enthusiastic about books; Val McDermid’s film, in which she interviewed her forensic anthropologist friend, Sue Black, was interesting; and the discussion engaged enthusiastically with Bleed for Me.

After the filming, we were taken to the gallery to see some of the production work, and then to the green room, where a celebration was held for the birthday of one of the production team. I also had the chance to speak to presenters Jo Brand, Dave Spikey and Meera Syal. All in all, a fine and interesting day; many thanks to The TV Book Club for inviting me along.

Photo courtesy of Specsavers: Our Intrepid Hero peruses Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese; Keith and Cherry are in the background.

Links

The other bloggers’ posts on the day:

Keith

Claire

Simon

Cherry


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