Chris Power on Farnborough: ‘I probably grew up surrounded by arms dealers’


This post is by Chris Power from Books | The Guardian


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The author recalls living in a sleepy commuter town, unaware that his neighbours were developing missile guidance systems

Growing up, I always thought my hometown was anonymous, but I didn’t suspect until much later that its anonymity might be a ploy. When people ask me where I grew up and I tell them Farnborough, some of them say: “Oh, the place with the air show.” It was always my town’s claim to fame, but if I thought about it at all I thought about it in the same way you might think of a circus or a parade: it was about the Red Arrows, stunt helicopters, or maybe a gigantic Airbus coming in to land that would, in the middle of a hot, bright day, plunge our garden into darkness.

What Farnborough Airshow really is, of course, is an arms fair, with some family fun sprinkled around the edges. ...

Guestbook by Leanne Shapton review – persistently uncanny


This post is by Hephzibah Anderson from Books | The Guardian


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Sharp prose and visual artwork combine in these seductive modern ghost stories

In the lexicon of reviewer-speak, entries don’t come more hackneyed than “haunting”. The urge to reach for it should be a critic’s cue to do more thinking, and yet in the case of Leanne Shapton’s new volume, Guestbook, this diaphanous adjective feels oddly precise. It’s a book that is, after all, subtitled Ghost Stories; more particularly, its pages summon up a persistently uncanny atmosphere that is impossible to pin down, remaining purposefully, lingeringly opaque.

Shapton, who helped judge last year’s Man Booker prize, is a quirky, determined talent: in her youth, she trialled for a place in Canada’s Olympic swimming team, and a portion of her early professional life was spent as art director of the New York Times’s op-ed page. She is as at home with pictures as she is text, requiring her ...

Out from the margins: meet the New Daughters of Africa writers


This post is by Margaret Busby from Books | The Guardian


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More than 25 years after her groundbreaking Daughters of Africa anthology, Margaret Busby reflects on the next generation of black women writers around the world

Time was when the perception of published writers was that all the women were white and all the blacks were men (to borrow the title of a key 1980s black feminist book). At best, there was a handful of black female writers – Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Maya Angelou – who were acknowledged by the literary establishment. This was the climate in which, more than 25 years ago, I compiled and published Daughters of Africa. It was critically acclaimed, but more significant has been the inspiration that 1992 anthology gave to a fresh generation of writers who form the core of its sequel, New Daughters of Africa.

The critic Juanita Cox told me: “I received Daughters of Africa as a birthday gift ...

Swallows and Armenians: Arthur Ransome’s forgotten inspirations revealed


This post is by Alison Flood from Books | The Guardian


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A new art project is exploring how the characters in the English children’s classic were modelled on a family from Aleppo

Arthur Ransome’s fictional Walker children – John, Susan, Titty and Roger – are quintessentially English, enjoying summers sailing in the Lake District with bread and marmalade for tea, and peppering their talk with regular “jolly good”s. But the Anglo-Armenian family who inspired the Walkers deserves to be more widely acknowledged, says artist Karen Babayan, who hopes to re-establish the connection through an Arts Council England-funded project spanning stories, dance, theatre and art.

The Altounyan children – Taqui, Susan, Mavis (known to her family as Titty), Roger and Brigit – lived in Aleppo, Syria. Their father, the half-Armenian, half-Irish Ernest Altounyan, had known Ransome since their school days at Rugby, and Ransome had unsuccessfully proposed to their mother, Dora Collingwood. Altounyan married Collingwood in 1915, and their friendship with Ransome ...

The Finalists for the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award have been Announced


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The Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award for the best short science fiction of the year have been selected. We’re honored that a story published on Tor.com, Daryl Gregory ‘s “Nine Last Days on Planet Earth,” and two Tor.com Publishing titles, Brooke Bolander’s The Only Harmless Great Thing, and Kelly Robson’s Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach, have been selected.

Click through for the full list—congratulations to all the finalists!

2019 Finalists for the Theodore A. Sturgeon Memorial Award

  • “Freezing Rain, A Chance of Falling,” by L.X. Beckett (Fantasy and Science Fiction, July 2018)
  • “The Only Harmless Great Thing,” by Brooke Bolander (Tor.com Publishing)
  • “The Secret Life of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington,” by P. Djèlí Clark (Fireside Fiction, February 2018)
  • “Umbernight,” by Carolyn Ives Gilman (Clarkesworld, February 2018)
  • “Nine Last Days on Planet Earth,” by Daryl Gregory (Tor.com, September 2018)
  • ...

The world at an angle: reasons to love short stories


This post is by Daisy Johnson from Books | The Guardian


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Daisy Johnson, author and judge of the BBC national short story award, explains how the form can work wonders beyond the novel

I would like to write critically about the state of the short story as it is now, but I would also like to write emotionally, ecstatically, about what the form means, and has meant, to me.

I can remember when I first fell in love with short stories. I was at Lancaster University, studying English literature and creative writing. The campus is composed of grey, concrete blocks that mirror the sky; I was not necessarily happy or very comfortable with myself there, but it had the biggest library I’d ever been in. Aside from Shakespeare, my literature course was mostly about novels, but the creative writing course was almost entirely short stories. Something about the form immediately appealed. They were bright flashes, suddenly illuminating everything, while also throwing ...

Victory by James Lasdun review – suspenseful, truthful, audacious


This post is by Johanna Thomas-Corr from Books | The Guardian


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Two brilliant novellas about sex and power chime perfectly with the moment we’re in

Victory contains two novellas, Feathered Glory and Afternoon of a Faun, united in themes of male friendship, waning middle-aged powers and sexual transgression. Both make a motif of large fowl: a swan in the first, wild turkeys in the second. And both centre on a steadily married male teacher and a friend who has been more reckless with women’s hearts. Together they make a convincing case for James Lasdun as one of the most incisive investigators of the human heart writing in English today.

Feathered Glory opens with Victor, a bohemian music critic, turning up at his old friend Richard’s house in upstate New York having just left his girlfriend and baby for a married woman. Richard, an elementary school headmaster with a “morning assembly manner”, offers a cautionary tale from his own past as ...

Victory by James Lasdun review – suspenseful, truthful, audacious


This post is by Johanna Thomas-Corr from Books | The Guardian


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Two brilliant novellas about sex and power chime perfectly with the moment we’re in

Victory contains two novellas, Feathered Glory and Afternoon of a Faun, united in themes of male friendship, waning middle-aged powers and sexual transgression. Both make a motif of large fowl: a swan in the first, wild turkeys in the second. And both centre on a steadily married male teacher and a friend who has been more reckless with women’s hearts. Together they make a convincing case for James Lasdun as one of the most incisive investigators of the human heart writing in English today.

Feathered Glory opens with Victor, a bohemian music critic, turning up at his old friend Richard’s house in upstate New York having just left his girlfriend and baby for a married woman. Richard, an elementary school headmaster with a “morning assembly manner”, offers a cautionary tale from his own past as ...

Helen Oyeyemi: ‘I had such a lovely time dating different cities’


This post is by Arifa Akbar from Books | The Guardian


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The award-winning author on her passion for food, life in Prague and critics who told her to ‘live a bit’ after publishing her first novel while at school

Helen Oyeyemi is an award-winning author of eight books. Born in Nigeria, her family moved to London when she was four years old and she published her first novel, The Icarus Girl (2005), while still at school and her second (along with two plays) while at Cambridge University. She won the Somerset Maugham award for White Is for Witching (2009) and the PEN Open Book award for her short story collection, What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours (2016). In 2013, she was named a Granta best young novelist. Now 34, she lives in Prague. Her new novel, Gingerbread, is published this month.

Gingerbread is a novel about an inherited recipe for gingerbread. Are you a fan of the stuff?
I ...

Mouthful of Birds by Samanta Schweblin review – surreal and unsettling


This post is by Hannah Beckerman from Books | The Guardian


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Brilliantly disconcerting tales of the human psyche from the Argentinian author of Fever Dream

Samanta Schweblin’s 2017 debut novel, Fever Dream, won the Argentinian writer widespread acclaim as well as a shortlisting for the Man Booker International prize. Fever Dream transcended genre: part ecological morality tale, part story of maternal self-sacrifice, it skilfully combined aspects of the supernatural and witchcraft with an atmosphere of underlying horror. Mouthful of Birds, Schweblin’s new collection of short stories, demonstrates a similar blending of genres, and a comparable climate of surreal, unsettling tales.

The first story, Headlights, opens with a newly married young woman, Felicity, being left by her husband at the side of the road: “In the flat darkness of the countryside, there is only disappointment, a wedding dress, and a bathroom she shouldn’t have taken so long in.” What begins as a seemingly straightforward story about a jilted bride ...

Picnic in the Storm by Yukiko Motoya review – ingenious stories


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Meet flying commuters and a man made of straw in tales from a prize‑winning Japanese author

Strange things happen in Yukiko Motoya’s short stories: salarymen get swept skywards, Mary Poppins-like, by their umbrellas; sales assistants help aliens choose the perfect outfit; and women challenge their boyfriends to duels. Like soap bubbles, several of these stories catch your eye, but the instant they are gone you forget about them. It’s when Motoya is on the rocky terrain of collapsing relationships that her strangeness finds the friction it needs to stick.

In 2016 Motoya won Japan’s most prestigious literary award, the Akutagawa prize, for the novella that appears here as “An Exotic Marriage”. It is an ingenious, funny and frightening story in which San and her husband appear to be transforming into one another. “Whenever I’d gotten close to someone in the past,” San thinks, “I’d had the feeling that little by ...

Mouthful of Birds by Samanta Schweblin review – the stuff of nightmares


This post is by Daniel Hahn from Books | The Guardian


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Primal themes are explored in this unsettling collection of short stories from the author of Fever Dream

Nobody who has read the Argentinian author Samanta Schweblin’s brilliant, profoundly unsettling novel Fever Dream, which was shortlisted for the Man Booker International prize in 2017, will be surprised to learn how well suited her talents are to the short-story form. Her disciplined economy in creating atmosphere and effect is allied to a refusal to overexplain. That stubborn, unapologetic resistance to revelation is one of the things that makes Mouthful of Birds, her debut collection in English, such a success.

Her quiet withholding has a great power to unnerve. The stories may be structured with something resembling finality, yet they never completely come to rest. (But how did she die? Where have they gone? And what’s that unnamed thing?) Whole selections of tales with clever twists can suffer diminishing returns, ...

Victory by James Lasdun review – two powerful novellas


This post is by Marcel Theroux from Books | The Guardian


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Uncomfortable corners of the male psyche are explored in a tale of a sexual assault accusation, and visions of adultery

In the afterword to his four-story collection Different Seasons, Stephen King describes the heart-sinking moment when you realise that what you’ve written is a novella. He compares the form to “an anarchy-ridden literary banana republic” where no one in their right mind would want to end up. Fiction between 20,000 and 40,000 words long does seem to be the least appetising prospect of all for publishers. That’s a pity, of course. Give me great bantamweight work any day – think of Heart of Darkness, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Animal Farm – with its extraordinary power-to-size ratio, rather than the grandiose bloat of an interminable saga.

James Lasdun’s new book is actually two novellas, Feathered Glory and Afternoon of a Faun, and the headline act ...

Recasting Fairy Tales: Snow White Learns Witchcraft by Theodora Goss


This post is by Liz Bourke from Tor.com Frontpage Partial - Blog and Story Content


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Theodora Goss was an award-winning writer of short stories (and poems) before she took to novels (The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter, European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman) but her novels were the first of Goss’s work I’d ever read. I admire them deeply: they’re engaging, solid, well-crafted examples of the form. But Goss’s shorter work, collected here in a new volume, aren’t just good: they’re a revelation.

Snow White Learns Witchcraft—published by Mythic Delirium Books, an outfit perhaps best currently known for its Clockwork Phoenix anthology series and Mythic Delirium Magazine— collects poems and short stories on fairytale themes. There are eight short stories and twenty-three poems, with each short story bracketed by several poems that bear it some thematic or topical similarity.

I’m not particularly enamoured of Goss’s poetic style. It’s a little too plain and unadorned for me—I’m fond of blank ...

You Know You Want This review – Cat Person and other tales of the unexpected


This post is by Lionel Shriver from Books | The Guardian


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While enjoyable, Kristen Roupenian’s horror stories don’t live up to the hype afforded her New Yorker hit

In publishing, the New Yorker’s Cat Person was rarer than a super blood wolf moon: a mere short story that became an international must-read, was released as a stand-alone paperback (inflated improbably to 72 pages; what, was the font New Times Roman 24?), and catapulted the unknown author to stardom. The subsequent collection, You Know You Want This, now being adapted for an HBO series, is getting the kind of frenzied, lavish publicity push that can sometimes backfire with reviewers. A book shoved down your throat can trigger a gag reflex.

I will resist. It’s not an author’s fault when an ad campaign raises the bar higher than any humble short fiction collection is likely to clear. This is an enjoyable set of stories, often executed with flair. They’re fun. They’re ...

You Know You Want This by Kristen Roupenian review – dark short stories


This post is by Nicole Flattery from Books | The Guardian


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‘Cat Person’ became a phenomenon. Does the rest of this debut collection measure up?

Kristen Roupenian’s eagerly awaited debut collection features a lot of bad, self-involved behaviour: in one dark fairytale, “The Mirror, the Bucket and the Old Thigh Bone”, a princess literally falls in love with her own reflection. And at the centre of the book squats “Cat Person”, a cultural phenomenon in its own right, goading you into a reaction.

A story of modern dating at its most destructive, the piece was published in the New Yorker in December 2017 and promptly went viral. I first encountered it while scrolling through my Twitter feed in a McDonald’s; the bright, plastic space was a perfect fit for the overheated social media frenzy it provoked. In the online conversation, you had to pick a side. Were you with college student Margot or schlubby, older Robert? The fact that it was ...

Dylan Thomas prize: teacher and nurse among ‘starburst’ of young talent


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Sally Rooney, Sarah Perry and Michael Donkor among those longlisted for £30,000 prize for books by writers aged 39 or under

From the critically acclaimed debut of Emma Glass, a 31-year-old still working as a nurse, to the first book by 33-year-old Michael Donkor, who currently teaches English in a London secondary school, a “starburst of young literary talent” makes up the longlist for the largest prize in the world for young authors.

Given to the best literary work in English by an author aged 39 or under, the £30,000 Swansea University International Dylan Thomas prize is named after the beloved Welsh poet, who died at the age of 39. It is intended to “invoke his memory to support the writers of today and nurture the talents of tomorrow”.

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‘Like Charlie Brooker on Buckfast’: the caustic world of Chris McQueer


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He quit his job selling trainers in Glasgow to become a writer. Now his contorted visions are earning him comparisons with Irvine Welsh. How does he feel about it all? ‘A bit poncy’

Chris McQueer’s granny thinks he should get a real job. The 27-year-old Glaswegian, who quit his work punting trainers in a sportswear shop last year to concentrate on a writing career that has already prompted comparisons to Irvine Welsh, admits that he still feels shy describing himself as an author.

“Even with taxi drivers, if they ask ‘Whit dae ye dae?’, I still tell them I work in the sports shop. I feel a bit poncy...” But McQueer has had to get used to talking about himself since he started self-publishing short stories on Twitter three years ago to see if he could make his pals laugh. His first collection, Hings, brought into ...

Jayant Kaikini’s No Presents Please wins DSC prize for south Asian literature


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Writer sees off competition from Kamila Shamsie and Mohsin Hamid with award for his collection of Mumbai-set short stories

The poet and short story writer Jayant Kaikini has beaten internationally acclaimed writers including Kamila Shamsie and Mohsin Hamid to win the DSC prize for south Asian literature.

Kaikini’s No Presents Please, a collection of stories set in Mumbai, was originally written in the southern Indian language of Kannada and translated into English by the award-winning translator Tejaswini Niranjana. The $25,000 (£19,100) prize, which rewards the best writing about south Asian culture from writers of any ethnicity and from all over the world, will be split equally between author and translator.

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Cat Person fame was ‘annihilating’, reveals Kristen Roupenian


This post is by Sian Cain from Books | The Guardian


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Recalling the viral success of her short story about sex and modern dating, Roupenian says attention was both a dream and a nightmare

A year after her short story Cat Person was debated and picked apart by millions of readers around the world, the author Kristen Roupenian has recalled what it was like dealing with the scrutiny that came with her sudden prominence.

Writing in the New Yorker, which first published Cat Person in December 2017, the American writer explains she had only been published in small journals before she debuted in the magazine with her story about Margot and Robert, framed around a single bad date.

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