Saturday, 17 November 2012

Moving times...

Thanks for reading, everyone :-) I've now shifted operations over to my new website, which you can find here. Hope to see you there!

Monday, 5 November 2012

Review time

The last full day of Litfest was devoted to prose, 'words in their best order', and the order was very very good. The sun was shining, and the writers sat in the huge window of the LICA building at Lancaster University and read and talked and discussed and we sat and listened and asked questions and applauded.

Below are some reviews from the day,which should also be available at www.litfest.org, along with others from the week. They include: Claire Massey and the story walk of The Stone King, the Flax Landscape Showcase featuring Naomi Kruger, Sarah Schofield and Ian Hill; Rodge Glass and Alan Bissett in conversation; and M.J Hyland and Anneliese Mackintosh. I'd also like to make mention of the lovely And Other Stories. I wasn't down to review them on the day, and had to leave part way through: spectacularly bad timing. I did hear Andrew Bromfield read from his translation of the Oleg Zaionchkovsky novel, Happiness is Possible, though, which was sublime. A vivid, chaotic slice of contemporary Moscow with echoes of Chekhov. It's on my Christmas list...

But let us wait no longer. Please read on to gain a taste of what it was like at the all singing, all dancing, All Day Prose Shindig of Litfest 2012!



Claire Massey: The Stone King 




I’d not been to Williamson Park before, and it was a beautiful day for discovery. Sunshine, crisp air and a fantastic view out over Lancaster and the sea as we met above the Ashton Memorial meant that the morning’s story walk had an excellent start.

Claire Massey is known for her fairy tales, and today she became a Pied Piper of Lancaster, leading the children on a journey of discovery around the twisting paths of the park, reading each chapter of her new story in the place it was set.

Rose is counting up to 100 for a game of hide and seek, but the numbers wake the Stone King and he takes away her brother. It is up to Rose to find him, but what can she do? By way of the lake and the shelter, the darkest part of the woods and sundial, she finds help from a stone butterfly and a fishing boy, a tiny lady spinning moss rope and the leaves falling from the trees. Woven into the narrative is the story of Williamson Park itself, and its place in the history of Lancaster.

Claire was reading from a copy of her story which had been printed and bound to be an object of beauty itself. The cover was decorated with a fan of autumn leaves, and the hand cut pages could just be seen as Claire turned them, adding to the magic of the gathering. The children were intrigued, trying to catch glimpses inside. They were all caught up in the story, glancing over their shoulders as if to catch sight of the stone beast transforming from the smooth pebble, listening for the whispering of the leaves as they gave their cryptic clues, and waiting with bated breath for quarry walls to break apart as the prow of the stone ship forced its way out. And the adults were no less involved. I can promise you that, once you’ve heard the story, you will never see the front of the Ashton Memorial in the same way again.

And you can hear the story as you follow the trail around the park, even though Claire herself might not be there for your visit. The story has been recorded, and is available to hire on mp3 players at the park. For more information, come to http://www.litfest.org/storywalking/


Flax Landscapes: Naomi Kruger, Sarah Schofield and Ian Hill


I love landscape writing. I love how the writing becomes as much a meditation on being as about the visual sights being described to us. And the writing in this showcase demonstrated how this can be approached from different angles, yet still arrive in much the same place.

Sarah Schofield lives just down the road from me. Her story, The Key Safe, is set in and around the Ainscough flour mill in Burscough, and the familiarity of place gave the piece, for me, an interesting twist. The red brick of the flour mill dominates the village as you approach by train, as the central character does in Sarah’s story, but is curiously absorbed within the village once you are there. In the story, it becomes a symbol of childhood, with its secrets and unfinished business, and also the catalyst for moving on. At one point, Abi recalls the time in Venice when she rejects her boyfriend’s proposal and ‘he seems to look at her as a person furtively checks their watch.’ By returning to the mill, and particularly to the key safe within, Abi’s personal clock is set ticking once more.

Ian Hill’s contribution, Instar, reminded me of the wonderful Kathleen Jamie, not least with his pinpoint descriptions of the birds. A pair of herons ‘stalk the shallow pools like elderly vagrants in search of coins.’ A marsh harrier is like ‘a rower heading for open water.’ From the liminal places of the shore, and the special resonance it has in his own family history, Ian takes us via the metamorphosis of butterflies and moths to a memory from Ian’s own youth, when he climbed at Trowbarrow Quarry. The landscape which helped to form his own mental geography is now having its impact on the stretching boundaries of his sons’ development. I was left with the sense of constancy of place allied to constant change, a circle which closes yet ripples ever outwards.

We finished with Naomi Kruger’s short story, Causeway, set at Sunderland Point. The narrator, up with her baby for a nighttime feed, allows a random memory to float up to the surface of her mind, an overnight stay which ended in silent discomfort. As she traces over the events of the long ago visit to the house on the far side of the causeway, we are absorbed in the sense of the outsider viewing a landscape to which her friend so clearly belongs. And as the sea covers the causeway, the narrator is trapped in the otherness of this world, wishing for home and the ‘smell of washing powder coming off the clothes on the radiators, the plastic windows that seal rooms off like Tupperware.’

All of the pieces, as became clear in the post-reading discussion, share a sense of unfinished business. Landscapes are deeply entwined with our memories: they act as a route back into the past, back to the sense of our own younger selves. They form layers through which we can access the past and present, and sometimes see the way forward into the future.





The three stories can be downloaded as an ebook, The Language of Footprints, from www.litfest.org. It comes in epub format, so you might have to download Calibre as well http://calibre-ebook.com/. It's pretty easy. In that I could do it, so you can too. They will soon be available on iBooks and Amazon as well.



Rodge Glass and Alan Bissett

Review by Graeme Shimmin


First half: Bring Me the Head of Ryan Giggs by Rodge Glass

Rodge Glass came out of the tunnel well up for it and looking to do the lads proud, reading from Bring Me the Head of Ryan Giggs, his novel about a fictional Manchester United player called Mike Wilson who made a single first team appearance (against Oldham Athletic) at the time when Ryan Giggs and David Beckham were also making their debuts. Wilson, voted the worst ever Manchester United player, is obsessed with the man voted the best, Giggs, whom he regards as his 'nemesis' due to a misplaced pass that Wilson believes cut his career short.

Glass's high work rate impressed as he read two excerpts, first Alex Ferguson visiting the Wilson household to sign Wilson up (Glass's silky skills being complemented by some Glaswegian grit as fellow writer Alan Bissett put himself about a bit doing an uncanny impression of Sir Alex Ferguson) and second, a quick-fire dissection of the clich├ęs that fill post-match interviews.

As Glass headed into the tunnel it appeared to be all over. He'd grabbed a cheeky lead and now surely he'd park the bus. Some fans were leaving the stadium, heads down and tears in their eyes.



Second Half: Pack Men by Alan Bissett

Whatever the gaffer had said in the changing room had clearly fired Bissett up. Anonymous in the first half, looking unsettled and seemingly with half an eye on the transfer list, he was a different player now: head up and bellowing. It was all about respect. Respect for your mates, respect for the craft, knowing you can't let the fans down.

Bissett bullied his way through the middle, leading by example. He cracked open his novel, Pack Men, and ripped into the opposition with an uncompromising passage about clashing personalities in a group of Rangers supporters down in Manchester to watch the 2008 UEFA Cup Final, the irrational views of the various characters captured perfectly by Bissett’s deadpan drawl. It was Ulysses. It was Jaws. It was alive in front of our eyes.

Incisive and penetrating, Bissett pulled the fixture around with a captain's performance that left his fans cheering.

Extra Time

It had been a game of two halves and the crowd were on edge as the fixture moved into the final period still delicately poised. It was all about who wanted it more now. The ref appeared to have lost control and the tackles were flying in. Bissett attempted speculative shots from long range, Glass sniped and harried. It wasn't just about football any more: it was about friendship; it was about society; it was about what it means to be a man. Loyalties were questioned. History beckoned. The ref blew for the end of the match. Both players slumped to the ground, exhausted.

It was going to go to penalties.

Read more from Graeme by visiting www.graemeshimmin.com. I'm reading Rodge's Bring Me the Head of Ryan Giggs at the moment, and will review it soon. Rodge's website is www.rodgeglass.com, and you can read the interview I did with him earlier on this blog. Alan Bissett is at www.alanbissett.com, and Pack Men is somewhere to the top of my reading list. (Alan, it would be at the top if you'd given me a copy at the reading like Rodge did ;-))


M.J Hyland & Anneliese Mackintosh


The Place of the Short Story


Anneliese Mackintosh was in good voice for the penultimate event of Litfest 2012. I mention this particularly because it was her fourteenth gig in eight days. Go, Anneliese! The story she read was a deceptively gentle love story, spoken from mother to daughter. As we followed the baby’s growth through toddlerhood and on towards teenaged rebellion, the sharpness of life ripped through, mirroring the scars from the self-harming of both parents. It’s a story that I’d like to sit down and read over again, finding more on every visit.

M J Hyland read first from Even Pretty Eyes Commit Crimes, shortlisted for this year’s BBC International Short Story Award, and then from Hardy Animal, an essay to be published in Granta this month, which takes on the diagnosis of MS. Both were stripped down and uncompromising: the unwelcome father with his incongruous pineapple; the unwanted disease that Hyland tried to hide. Good memoir is particularly engaging, allowing the reader/listener in on uncomfortable truths. I’m looking forward to reading the whole text.



The second part of the session was given over to discussion around the short story. They should be ‘quick and stunning, lots in small doses’, ‘one thing in one story with charged emotions.’ We talked about the power in what is not said, that it’s ok to leave stuff out. Short stories invite questions and events left hanging, and they welcome the sense of unsettling happenings. There is a gap between what people say, and what comes out. Are short stories most welcome to those with a short attention span? Is it impossible to escape into a short story in the same way that you can with a novel? How much of short story writing is cutting out the bits that tell the story? How satisfactory is an ambiguous ending?

We also touched on opportunities for publication. Kindle blurs the lines and boundaries between novels and novellas and short stories, leading to a democratisation of forms, which must be a good thing. Anneliese shared the comment from one publishing house that they ‘only bring out one collection of short stories every two years’, whilst M.J pointed out that the literary scene in the US not only embraced short fiction so much more robustly than we do here in the UK, but also paid more for it. I'm sure I wasn't the only writer in the room making a mental note to follow this one up...

You can find out more about what Anneliese is up to at www.anneliesemackintosh.com, and have a look back on this blog for my interview with her earlier on in the festival. 

For M.J Hyland, go to www.mjhyland.com. You can read Only Pretty Eyes Commit Crimes at http://www.granta.com/New-Writing/Even-Pretty-Eyes-Commit-Crimes. Hardy Animals is available in Granta 120: Medicine, downloadable at http://www.granta.com/Archive/120





Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Litfest: The Official Launch Night



Yes, it's Wednesday, and the Mystery Launch has taken off in a cloud of words and glitter! Remember that you can follow events using #LitFest2012, or reading the daily reviews at www.litfest.org.uk. I couldn't make it to this evening's events, thanks to hiccups involving kids and scouts and drama club and the like, so I'm doing just that myself.

What I can do, though, is bring you the latest in my series of Litfest interviews. Tonight's guest is a writer based in Manchester. Zoe Lambert's first full collection, The War Tour, is made up of stories which 'weave a dark and disturbing web, interlacing documentary accounts with imagined testimonies to give voice to the many silenced casualties of war.' I'm lucky enough to be in one of Zoe's writing groups this year, through Madlab's Omniversity programme, and I'm really looking forward to hearing Zoe read at the All Day Prose Shindig this Sunday.



Zoe, I know that you've been on a bit of a tour yourself this year, reading at lots of festivals. What are the best and the worst moments of performing at a festival? And what do festivals add to the individual reader's experience of literature?

For readers, it’s great to hear the writing in the author's voice, and to be able to ask them questions. Going to see new writers or writers you aren't familiar with is a lovely way to find new things to read. It's much more personal than 'Customers who bought this also bought that'. For me the highlight is a good discussion with the audience, when they ask thoughtful and challenging questions and the Q and A turns into a debate. The worst is when no one turns up. I've had a couple of events where there's just been a couple of people (and they were my mum and dad). That's a bit depressing.  

There seems to be a buzz around short stories at the moment, with the BBC National Short Story Award, new collections from writers such as Deborah Levy and Jane Rogers, and the increasing availability of single short stories on Kindle. What is special about short stories, and where do you see them going in the future?

It's funny, no one ever asks what is special about novels, or can you define a novel. Short stories don't have one special quality and continual attempts at definition end up delimiting them into certain kinds of short stories.  New technology is creating exciting opportunities for short stories. For example, Comma Press have projects for apps. More collections of short stories have been published recently, as well as collections disguised as novels, or 'novels in stories'/short story cycles. I see short story publishing going further in the direction of in between forms. 

I love the idea of a short story app! Let’s shrink it further still. You only have six words tell us about The War Tour


Buses. Frosties. Conflict. Goats. Exile. Trams. 

Journals, both online and in print, are a great place to encounter new short fiction. What are your recommendations for us to go and try out?

Stand, Ambit, 3am magazine, Mslexia, McSweeneys. Short FICTION. Structo, New Fairy Tales, Riptide. Best of British Short Stories gives you a selection, so try that. 

I have a soft spot for Alice Munro stories, as they were my introduction to the genre. They have a very strong sense of place, and, although the protagonists often want to get away from their surroundings, they have left me with a hidden desire to live somewhere in the distant reaches of Canada.
Which writers affect you with their depiction of place, and which fictional landscape would you most like to inhabit?

One of my favourite depictions of Canada, well, Nova Scotia, is by Alistair Macleod. A wonderful short story writer. Also, I like how Flannery O'Connor links place and character in her short stories. Chekhov's Lady and a Lapdog has gorgeous atmospheric descriptions. Most fictional places aren't exactly happy places. In fact I can't think of one I'd like to inhabit. Mostly, as in Munro's stories, characters are trying to find other places to live in. 



Thank you, Zoe, and see you on Sunday. 

You can check details and book tickets for the Shindig, or for any other of the Litfest events, by going to www.litfest.org. The War Tour is published by Comma Press, recently named as one of the six best independent publishers in the UK: find out more about them at www,commapress.co.uk. Zoe's website, www.zoelambert.blogspot.co.uk has excellent posts as well as a huge number of links to other great sites: well worth browsing.




Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Litfest Week is here!




For tonight's interview, I'm heading out of Lancaster to the More Music Songwriter's Circle over in Morecombe. Coming fresh from the WiredIn event yesterday (catch my review on the Litfest site), I'm really excited about the words and music side of this week. And on Thursday evening, there's more coming. More Music are presenting an evening of songs and stories from some of the area's finest songwriters. I've been having a chat with Pete Moser to find out more:



Pete, I've been having a look around your website, and you have such a great mix of things going on: I really wish I lived closer! Can you tell us a little bit about the Songwriter's Circle? 

For years we have worked here with inspiring songwriters who are often working in a context and writing about things/topics that are relevant to their lives. With Litfest we have the opportunity to focus on the words and stories behind the songs and ask people to chat and share their thoughts. This is the first of a new season of events in our great new venue, and we are very excited that this is happening with Litfest.

How does the glimpse into the process of songwriting, and the storytelling involved, enhance the experience of listening to the songs themselves?

I hope that through the sharing of the thinking behind the songs we will help people to listen to and identify with the songwriters and their stories. It may inspire people to think that they can write songs themselves because they understand where the songs have come from. They may also realise that the craft of songwriting is not impossible but also that getting a good rhyme, a good rhythm in the words and a great structure takes a little work!


Can you tell us a bit about the artists who will be involved in the evening?

Dan Haywood is great local singer/songwriter who has run his own bands and has great following. Comes back from a European tour that morning! http://www.myspace.com/newhawks

Joe Kondras is the songwriter and drummer from local band The Heartbreaks, and follows a great songwriting tradition from the Kinks through to Morrisey via the The Libertines and with taste for Northern Soul and the Boss. http://theheartbreaks.net/

John Fox is a poet, theatre director and visionary artist who has worked in site-specific theatre and civic and personal celebrations since the '60s. A long time collaborator with me, we have written many shows and songs together including The Hollow Ring and The Golden Submarine (in Barrow) http://www.deadgoodguides.com/

Katy Pickles is a young person who has developed through working here at More Music and at local college music courses. A very talented performer and writer who is now playing regularly on the local circuit.

Kate Howden has been performing on the folk circuit for years with a band and also with guitarist Paul Jones http://www.howdenjones.co.uk/

Gary Bridgens is my secret weapon - a performer with a gift for the gab with a million and one stories and a great sense of comedy and entertainment. He will be hosting and asking questions and making everyone feel at ease!


When did you first get interested in music, and who was the first songwriter to grab you with their narrative voice?

I’ve been listening and playing since I was very young, learning piano and trumpet and then guitar, and busking my way through my teens. Dylan, The Beatles, CSNY and a lot of 60's bands! Always a great lover of political folk songs - Woody Guthrie etc. Then really inspired by a few poets especially Adrian Mitchell, Boris Howarth and John Fox, who told joyful and powerful stories through verse that I was privileged to turn into song.


If you could create your own band/ensemble/collective with musicians from any time or place, who would be in it? And where would your dream venue be?

Ouch - hard one. Dream venue - a living room or a round tent. Somewhere intimate and with a place within a community and a context to work in! Outside by the River Amazon, in an amphitheatre by the side of the sea in Cuba...
The band - Charlie Haden on bass, Miles Davis on trumpet, Greg Allman - guitar, my friend Ben on drums, Adrian Mitchell singing and declaiming words, Luk Mishalle on sax, Stevie Wonder - keys and vocals....

Pete, it's been great talking to you, and it sounds like Thursday is going to be a fantastic event. I'm going straight to have a listen to all of the songwriters - thanks for the links! 


The More Music Songwriter's Circle will be happening at The Hothouse in Morecombe at 8pm on Thursday 18th October. Book tickets by calling 01524 831997.

You can find out about everything that happens at More Music by visiting www.moremusic.org.uk, and don't forget to follow the rest of Litfest's events this week at www.litfest.org. There will be reviews and more information about what's going on for the rest of this fabulous week.

Tomorrow, I'll be talking to the short story writer Zoe Lambert, so see you then :-)






Tuesday, 9 October 2012

8 days to Litfest...

I'm getting in early today, because my guest today, the amazing illustrator Guy Parker-Rees, was so very speedy with his answers. This will give me an unwarranted reputation for efficiency, but don't tell anyone; I'm happy to take the credit...

Guy's books include treats such as Giraffes Can't Dance and Spookyrumpus: just looking at the pictures will make you want to dance along. He'll be running a Picture Book Master Class for the young artists-to-be at Litfest, on Saturday 20th October, starting at 10am. It's going to be a great event, so make sure you don't miss out: booking and details are at www.litfest.org

So, a big hand, please, for Guy Parker-Rees!


Guy, I've spent many happy hours with my kids reading (and re-reading!) their favourite picture books. They've all designed their own stories and characters over time, which of course I have stashed away for when they're famous. What was your very first story and character, and does your mum still have it in a drawer?

I found some pictures I had painted as a child a few years ago and was shocked to see that they are very similar to what I am doing now? I think this might be the first book I ever made!



That's lovely! Thanks for sharing it with us :-) Why do you think that animal characters appeal so much to children? And is there an animal that you've always wanted to have in a book, but haven't got around to yet?

I have always loved animals. As a child I wanted to be an elephant. I was born in Africa so that affected my choice, I think: I've always particularly liked African animals. I like the fact that animals can be universally appreciated and identified with. When drawing a child you have to put them in a specific cultural context and a child looking at the book might be more likely to think- my family doesn’t look like that. I’ve always wanted to do a book about meerkats- yes, even before they were famous on telly!

You're going to be at Litfest on Saturday 20th October, with a picture book masterclass for kids. What can they expect from the morning?

I hope the children coming will help me make up a brand new animal picture book character. I will tell them a little bit about how I come up with ideas for characters and how I paint the pictures. Then they can all create their own character. There will be reading of stories and maybe my friend Gerald, the giraffe, might come out for a dance at the end- but he might not, he’s a bit shy.

I'm sure the children will give him lots of encouragement! Now, I have so many favourite illustrators that it would take until the end of the festival to list them. If I had to choose one imaginary world to visit, it would be a toss up between 'Brambly Hedge' and 'Meg and Mog', although I'm now going to spend the rest of the day thinking about other ones... Who has been an influence on your illustration, and which world would you choose to have a day out in?

As a child I always loved Richard Scarry’s books and in my latest book, Tom and Millie’s Great Big Treasure Hunt, I wanted to create a world like that: a world that’s friendly, jolly and bustling and with so much detail you can get lost in all the things going on. Oh, and full of lots of different animals, of course.




Picture books can pack a lot of emotion into a short space. What else can illustration do that words sometimes can't? And why don't books for grownups have more pictures?


I think picture books can show feeling that you might not want to articulate but when you see them it makes you feel less alone with those feelings. My favourite characters are always the little ones who might feel a bit left out of the centre stage action: looking on, watching and wondering. I was the youngest of four so that’s probably me! Also, I think pictures provide a shared space. When a parent is looking at a picture book with a child  they can both point things out, talk about what’s going on and what they feel about it: put the world to rights generally! With just the words, everyone is in their own imagined world, albeit guided there by the author, and maybe as adults we value this private space? Children seem happier to share it.


Thanks, Guy, it was great talking to you. Your last comment reminds me of a time I was in a French library with my kids. The eldest was the only reader, and she was so frustrated at not being able to read the words! The younger two, on the other hand, were more than happy just looking at the pictures.

If you want to find out more about Guy, visit www.guyparkerrees.com. I did, and spent quite some time making the animals dance... And don't forget to book for his Picture Book Master Class on Saturday 20th October. You know where to click! www.litfest.org.






Monday, 8 October 2012

9 days to Litfest...

Ok, so I had the weekend off, and now I'm having trouble adding up. Who am I kidding? I always have trouble adding up! Which makes it a little worrying that tonight is a night of numbers. More in a minute.



The Mystery Launch Event is holding itself in check, all mysteriously, until Wednesday 17th,  when all will be revealed. And it's completely free! You do need to book tickets, though. Do it now, and you won't forget. www.litfest.org. Just a click away.


And in the meantime, there are those Festival Tasters: 

Behind the Cover: 
                      10am til 5pm, Sat 13th & Sun 14th 
                                              City Centre Street Performance!

                                     :Litflash Lunchtime
                                           12pm til 2pm, Sat 13th
Writing Collectives! Hidden around Lancaster!



Ok, so back to those numbers.

Did you know that it takes just eight and a half hours to travel by train from Penzance to Lancaster? Well worth it to catch the short fiction of Adam Marek and David Constantine at 6pm on Thursday 18th, I think.

Or you could jump on the 19.16 at Manchester Piccadilly on Friday 19th and be right on time for the Spotlight Open Mic SLAM at The Park Hotel, and win cash prizes £50 £25 £10  I don't think Blogger is up to flashing neon lights, which is a shame. Money looks so great with flashing neon lights.

And who would like to combine their literature with a spot of architecture? Yes? Then start your journey at the 'cinematic, sculptural, heroic' spot that is Preston Bus Station, and catch a Bus 41 from Stand V and end up at, I don't know, the All Day Poetry Shindig on 20th October? The BBC Writers Room at lunchtime on the 19th? Or even the Post Festival Event celebrating the bicentenary of Mr Charles Dickens: 4th November, a day of debate and comment, exploration and participation? Or maybe all three?

As always, full details are at www.litfest.org

To plan your journey, try www.transportdirect.info It takes a little time to get going, but has such nice pictures 



Friday, 5 October 2012

12 days to Litfest...





This is a public service announcement.You may have noticed that the days are decreasing swiftly, and we are now less than a fortnight away from the word-filled splendour that is Litfest 2012. So could everybody please start doing anti-rain dances, so that all of the outdoor stuff happens as it should, under blue and autumnally sunny skies. Thank you.  

And now, without further ado, I would like to introduce my next guest. Novelist, biographer, editor and academic, Rodge Glass is 'the product of an Orthodox Jewish Primary School, an 11+ All Boys Grammar School, a Co-Ed Private School, a Monk-sponsored Catholic College, Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Strathclyde University and finally Glasgow University. He will be found at Litfest as part of the All Day Prose Shindig alongside Alan Bissett, where he will be reading from his latest novel, Bring Me the Head    of Ryan Giggs. Guaranteed as a book 'for City fans to love as well,' it has been described by Will Self as
'a complex and moving portrayal of obsession, football and heroes with boots of clay,' and you don't disagree with Will Self if you know what's good for you ;-)

Ladies and Gentlemen, Rodge Glass!



Rodge, you've spent some time around creative writing programmes, and I'm delighted to see that you're now at Edgehill. Personally, I was most grateful to my MA for giving me an excuse to ignore the washing up and get on with writing instead. What do you think is the single best thing to be gained from creative writing courses?

For me it was being part of a community of people interested in the same thing - writing. I was lucky enough that the courses I was part of, at Glasgow and Strathclyde, had a good mix of community spirit, pro-active friends who were always happy to help each other - and crucially, regular access to published good quality writers who could pass on their expertise. So: community. All courses can hold people back if they are simply sausage factories for a certain world view or writing style: mine wasn't like that. My mentors genuinely wanted to me to find my own voice and use it. Which is what I try to pass on.

In Bring Me the Head of Ryan Giggs, you have a protagonist who has missed out on stardom in a slip of the dice. What could you have been world champion in? And which celebrity talent show would you go on once you'd retired?
 
Ah, I dream of being world champion at most things - but I could never have made it in football as I'm a chronic asthmatic and I used to secretly hide my inhaler up my sleeve hoping no one would notice it there. Given the choice I'd beat Mr Bolt in the 100 metres - let's face it, the 100m doesn't take very long to run, so once you've run it a few times you've still got plenty of time left every day for writing your novel. Which is what I really fancy being world champion in. As for celebrity talent shows: none please! If I ever do Strictly, shoot me...

You can take any two writers out for the night. Who would you choose, and where would you take them?

Ok, this would be fun. You didn't specify alive or dead so I'm having two dead ones, David Foster Wallace and George Orwell. They've got reputations for being pretty dark, and that's how I like my conversation, but as I'm taking them to see Nick Cave at a sweaty club in Manchester (we are in fantasy here right?) I'm sure they'd feel pretty upbeat after a couple of hours of the Cave preacher magic. Darkness can be strangely uplifting when it's truly convincing.

What's the most number of books you've signed in one day, and was your signature still legible at the end?

I think the most was my first book launch - everyone in the family and friends bracket buys one that day as a) they're pretty confident you won't write another cos let's face it, it's a surprise you've made it this far, and b) they haven't read anything you've written yet so don't know if they disapprove. Was my signature legible at the end? It's not really legible at the start, but it was even more of a scrawl than usual. I have an elaborate signature. It was designed many years before I thought I'd need to use it very much.

The ManBooker Prize has been running since 1968, just ten years longer than Litfest. Which book, from any time, would you most like to have seen as winner, and why?

I'd like to have seen Lanark by Alasdair Gray win it in 1982. There was a bit of a stooshie, as they say on the other side of the border, as it wasn't even longlisted. Very rare, both then and now, to get Scottish literature recognised, though there are an embarrassment of riches from Scotland at work - Janice Galloway, Ali Smith, Jackie Kay, AL Kennedy, James Kelman (the only ever Scottish winner), Alan Bissett...and Alasdair Gray. I wrote a biography of him, and I believe he's the most important literary artist in that country currently alive. Will Self rates him highly too, and you don't disagree with Will Self if you know what's good for you...


Come and listen to Rodge at the All Day Prose Shindig on Sunday 21st October from 3 - 4 pm at the LICA Building at Lancaster University. Visit www.litfest.org to book tickets. And you can find Rodge at www.rodgeglass.com. Thanks to Rodge for being such a great interviewee; come back tomorrow for more Litfestly wonderful news and info. That's an invitation to all of you, not just Rodge, btw...