In Oldham

Well, I’m back in Leicester after a fantastic two days in Oldham, where I was at the 2013 Brilliant Books award. And the whole thing has been enormous fun. We writers and illustrators were all looked after incredibly well (the legendary Oldham Cheese Pie lived up to the whispered rumours), and it was a pleasure to meet teachers, librarians, schoolchildren and parents and see such enthusiasm for writing and literature, as well as to get to know some of my fellow-writers better.

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Brilliant Books 2013

A very quick post this, to say that I’m heading to Oldham today for the Brilliant Books 2013 award, and am very proud to say that [amazon_link id=”1407116525″ target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]The Snorgh and the Sailor[/amazon_link] is on the shortlist. The full list of shortlisted books is here — there are some great books on the list, and it’s good to be in such fine company.

What do you want to talk about?

It is always interesting to get reviews, even if they are not entirely favourable — or perhaps particularly if they are not entirely favourable — and so I was pleased this morning to see that my book [amazon_link id=”1441124152″ target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]Levinas, Storytelling and Anti-Storytelling[/amazon_link]  (the original title, incidentally, was the much nicer Troubled Tales, but Bloomsbury, alas, overruled me!), has had received an interesting, although somewhat ambivalent, review from Jeffrey Di Leo, over on the excellent Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews.

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Writer’s Toolkit: Writings, Travels and Tools

Tomorrow, I’m down in Birmingham at the Writers’ Toolkit day, taking part in a couple of panels. Firstly, I’ll be talking about writing work overseas, and secondly about digital tools for writers. These are rather large, rag-bag subjects, and as these are panels rather than stirring orations, I will need to keep things rather brief; but I thought that here I might present a few thoughts on both topics — both for the benefit of those who might be interested and not make it to Birmingham, and also so that I can use this blog post as a crib-sheet tomorrow, and thus not have to lug my Macbook down to Brum. Read more

Tanimbar Medicine in Unmapped Magazine

I’m absolutely delighted to say that my essay on Tanimbarese medicine has been published in the wonderful Unmapped magazine. The essay is about witchcraft, possession, strange octopi that lurk in the stomachs of their victims and crazed Indonesian nuns with syringes. Unmapped is available by subscription, for £2 a month — and it’s a wonderful publication, so do think about signing up.

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Bob Gottlieb on Editing

I’ve been thinking a whole load about editing lately. This is partly because I’m editing two book-length projects of my own, and partly because I’m in the thick of writing a book about writing, and so I’m having to step back from the process to think a bit more broadly about what it means to write. So I thought I would share what is one of my favourite pieces on editing, the interview in the Paris Review back in 1994 with the great editor Bob Gottlieb. The interview is interesting in itself, in that interviewer Larissa MacFarquhar interviewed Joseph Heller, Doris Lessing, John le Carré, Cynthia Ozick, Michael Crichton, Chaim Potok, Toni Morrison, Robert Caro, and Mordecai Richler, asking them about working with Gottlieb; and then she interviewed Gottlieb himself, thereby getting both the writers’ perspectives on working with him as an editor, and his perspective as editor working with the various writers.

Here’s an extract:

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Big Beasts, Little Beasts, and the Value of Creative Writing

In this week’s Times Higher Education, there is an interview with the writer Hanif Kureishi, who has recently been made professor of creative writing at Kingston University. When it comes to creative writing, universities are fond of appointing Big Beasts of literature to professorial posts, in the belief that the presence of some charismatic megafauna might add colour, sparkle and glamour to the grey halls of academia. And for the Big Beasts in question, it is an attractive prospect: after all, however big a beast you are, it is hard to make a living from royalties alone – these days, it’s tough out there on the savannah. Read more


Just a quick plug here for the new (and terrifically interesting-looking) Unmapped magazine, a magazine for hidden stories from around the world, tales from places that have been left off the map.

They are publishing two issues a month, and you can subscribe to a month’s worth for a very reasonable £2. Their beautifully-designed website is here, and their inaugural issue is free.

Accidental Sinology

I’m down in Bangor for a brief spell, where I’ve been talking to creative writing and translation students about how a few years back I found myself stumbling into matters Sinological, and the general mayhem that has ensued since then. I wasn’t sure that I was going to get here at all this morning, as there was train chaos across the midlands; but five trains (five!) later, I pulled in to Bangor station on time. And I’m glad I made it.

It’s been a fun afternoon. My talk was called “A Book of Changes? Writing, Chance and the I Ching: or, The Adventures of an Accidental Sinologist”, so I was talking about my forthcoming novel-of-sorts, A Book of Changes, based around the sixty-four hexagrams of the I Ching. Read more

Historical Novel Society: Review of the Descent of the Lyre

I was delighted to see that [amazon_link id=”9380905076″ target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]The Descent of the Lyre[/amazon_link] has just received an excellent review from the Historical Novel Society. Here’s a brief extract:

Do not mistake this for a mere retelling. This is masterful storytelling, such that one cannot help but sense the ancient thrum, the pulse quickening, and deep down the feeling that the music really has been there all along.

You can read the complete review here.


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