Friday, 27 November 2009

Punished for good behaviour

If you're in Rome on 5 December you might like to take part in No-Berlusconi Day, the product of a viral campaign to eject the Buffoon from power before he does any more damage. Don't be put off (or encouraged?) by the fact that the demonstration is now being referred to, rather unfortunately, as nobday. It looks as though it's going to be a big event, although I detect a certain indignation fatigue setting in among people who, three years ago, would have happily ripped down the walls of Villa Certosa with their teeth and nails. Indifference, even if feigned, is both a pretty extraordinary way to react as things go from bad to worse and, at the same time, explicable precisely because of the decline from malgovernance to mafia that we're witnessing at the moment. It's a long story and others can - and will - tell it better than I can, but it's emerging from confessions made by mafiosi pentiti (grasses) that a series of terrorist attacks in Rome and Florence may have been instigated by two politicians - Marcello Dell'Utri (looking cultured in photo), B's right-hand man and already convicted of collusion with the mafia, and the Buffoon himself. They had political reasons for this and it doesn't take too fine a mind to work out what these might have been. But nothing comes without its price, and it appears that Berlusconi has been less than loyal to his old friends. A series of laws should have been revoked or modified to give the mafia more wiggle room. This hasn't happened, for reasons that we can only imagine. But it's ironic that the shit should hit the fan because Berlusconi has failed to keep his promise to the world of organised crime. The fact that the pentiti are now spilling beans to magistrates with what seems to be the approval of Cosa Nostra can only mean that it's in the interest of the latter to shaft their old comrade-in-arms. Revenge is a dish best eaten cold, as the proverb has it. Which is rather a pity, because Berlusconi is getting more and more heated by the day.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

The Fiction Desk interview

A couple of weeks ago I met up with Rob, the man behind one of the most interesting and wide-ranging literary blogs around, The Fiction Desk. We had an excellent lunch and talked about, among other things, writing, publishing strategies, power and casual cruelty. This is the result. And this is me standing in front of a wall on Via Ostiense in Rome, a few yards from where I work.

Charlotte Gainsbourg and Beck: Heaven can Wait

Partial but clear-sighted vision

Monday, 23 November 2009

Another day, another thought

Today's thought comes from The Waste Books, by Georg Christoph Lichtenberg:

It is a question whether, when we break a murderer on the wheel, we do not fall into the error a child makes when it hits the chair it has bumped into.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

A dark, fast-paced story...

Amazon has just posted the cover of my next novel, published by Picador in May 2010, which makes it feel oddly official. Here it is. You can pre-order from the big boys here and from Book Depository, at a lower price and with free delivery, here. No pressure, obviously.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Button up

The France Soir correspondent in Rome, Ariel Dumont, has just been sacked for being anti-Berlusconian. This isn't what the paper says, of course. The editor talks about the need to rationalise its overseas representation for reasons of budget and denies any pressure from the newspaper's owner. France Soir is controlled by 23-year-old Alexander Pugachev, the son of the Russian oligarch Sergei Pugachev, the 605th richest man in the world, ex-Chekhist and close friend of Putin. Berlusconi, by sheer coincidence, is also a close friend of Putin, in what passes for friendship among people of this sort.

By further coincidence, the newspaper has also sacked Natalie Ouvaroff, its Moscow correspondent, who has been less than gentle recently with the feisty bare-chested salmon wrestler from St. Petersburg, the man whose reputation may not be besmirched, or else. The dinky badge to the right, by the way, belongs to the KGB ans may once have adorned young Vlad's lapel, or wherever they used to wear these things.

Still, things could be worse. Getting the sack isn't much fun, but it's better than being shot in the head.

Friday, 20 November 2009

Not very well known people in important places

A lovely piece of self-fulfilling reporting yesterday on RAI One's evening news. They were talking about the appointments made by the EU for president and foreign minister. After telling us that neither Tony Blair nor the Italian candidate for foreign minister, Massimo D'Alema, had been selected (for which relief, much thanks), they showed a brief clip of Cathy Ashton going about her business in a smiling and competent manner, followed by a photograph of the new EU president, Herman Van Rompuy. Not much is known about him, they said. You'd have thought this was the cue to tell us a little more about him, other than that he's Belgian, but you'd have been wrong. They had other, more important fish to fry than sole à l'Ostendaise (a Belgian speciality, if you were wondering).

To slightly redress the balance, here's a photograph of them both. Van Rompuy is the one in the coordinated blue shirt and tie (a Top Man deal) in the front row, staring ahead and obviously concentrating on raising his European profile, while the great and good of the continent think about their own affairs all round him. Berlusconi doesn't appear to be present, although judging from the 'Not now, Silvio' look on Ashton's face and Sarkozy's widely spread hands I suspect he's behaving badly just off-camera.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Bingo bongo

People in Britain are right to be worried about the BNP, but even Griffin and his mean-spirited cronies might think twice before imitating the Northern League council of Colacchio*, a small town near Brescia. As part of their Yuletide festivities they've decided to conduct a door-to-door search for immigrants whose permit to stay has run out and expel any they find forthwith, and certainly by 25 December. This might not sound very Christmassy to you, accustomed to the notion that the festival is a time of good cheer in which a general welcome is extended to all. That's not what Claudio Abiendi, responsible for 'security' in the town, thinks. For Abiendi, one of the original founders of the League, Christmas isn't a time of welcome, but an affirmation of 'the Christian tradition, and of our identity.' It's not clear which Christian tradition they're referring to here, although they could be referring to such high points in the church's past as the Inquisition, Vatican support for Nazism, forced baptisms, witch hunts, and the organisation of pogroms in much of medieval Europe. And to show how deeply rooted the local administration is in the millennial heritage of Catholic Italy, or should I say the decade-long identity of 'Padania', the very sound of which brings a smile to my scoffing lips, they've decided to call the operation 'White Christmas'. That's right, in English.

*Actually Coccaglio. See comments for correction, apology, and so on.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Sticks, stones, words, lawyers

That Berlusconi and his associates don't trust certain magistrates hardly needs repeating. But it's odd how much faith they put in the due process of law when they're trying to shut up someone inconvenient. SB's already brought cases against newspapers in Italy and abroad, so far without success, but that isn't as important as establishing that acts of criticism will lead to substantial, even crippling lawyers' fees to prove their legitimacy. Now one of his right-hand men, Renato Schifani, a Sicilian lawyer and the owner of one of the senate's most splendid comb-overs until the Forza Italia image police got their hands on him, has decided to take Antonio Tabucchi, the author of, among other books, Sostiene Pereira, to court for an article he wrote for L'Unità, the ex-PCI that's already being sued by his long-time boss, SB. Tabucchi, whose name often pops among Nobel candidates, has been accused of besmirching Schifani's character, something the man does perfectly well for himself whenever he opens his mouth. Presumably Tabucchi mentioned some of Schifani's former associates, usurers, Mafiosi and the like, and didn't stress firmly enough that a man should never be judged by the company he keeps. If that weren't the case, of course, we'd hardly need to dig into Schifani's no doubt crystalline past for proof of unwise associations. I'd have thought the hands of a man who lends his professional skills to keeping the half-pint Buffoon out of jail were already quite muddied enough.

PS The word Berlusconi wasn't recognised by the spell-check of the computer I'm using to write this. It proposed, as an alternative, Lusciousness and an adjective referring to conifers. His old chum, the self-exiled 'socialist' crook Bettino Craxi, produced similarly improbable results, including Praxis, Cranium and Craving. There's a thesis here...

Friday, 13 November 2009


This cleverly designed bag with the handy noose-shaped handle might be the closest we'll ever get to seeing justice done in Italy. It's the old story. You've read it here on this blog a tedious number of times and pretty much anywhere else that's talked about Italy in the past twenty years. It's the one that begins: 'In any normal western democracy...' and then goes on to describe the latest exploits of a governing class that has never quite grasped the concepts of shame or accountability (in other words, the guardian angels of any democracy worth its name). It was bad enough under the Christian Democrats, who regarded the electorate as ignorant and tendentially obedient subjects, cowed by the authority of their masters. These days, under Berlusconi, we're simply tele-customers and it would, indeed, be more than fitting if the tin-pot Duce were to meet his end on the side of a shopping bag. What continues to astonish, though, is the extent to which shame has been excised from the body politic. You probably remember that Berlusconi's most recent attempt to wriggle out of the various court cases in which he's the accused was blocked by the supreme court a couple of weeks ago. But a couple ofweeks is all it takes to come up with a new solution. This time a bill has been proposed which exempts all ex-cruiseship crooners with hair transplants from prosecution, as long as their surnames begin with B. I'm joking, of course, but only just. It might have been better if such a law had been proposed. It's obvious that Berlusconi will never serve a day in jail, so legislation which really is ad personam might be the simplest option, howwever hard it is to swallow. Because the worrying consequences of this new proposal are that the putative prison doors will be flung open not only for our wily hero, but for all other kinds of equally serious evildoers, who will simply walk away scot-free and ready to re-offend, secure in the knowledge that they'll almost certainly walk free again, however many people they rip off. These are white-collar criminals, which means they're up there with Bernard Madoff, destroying lives while feathering already gilded nests. In my wilder days, I'd have called them filthy capitalist scum, and, guess what, those words still work for me. These people will be practically guaranteed immunity under the new law, which imposes time limits on trials. The more complicated the trial - and financial crimes are necessarily complicated - the less likely it is to be concluded within the time allotted. Oh yes, illegal immigrants, while fulfilling all the conditions of the measure, whose presence in this country is not a crime but an infraction, will nonetheless not be able to benefit from the law. The banker who squirrels away the savings of a thousand pensioners, in other words, will emerge unscathed. The Filipino woman who wipes their arses will find herself doing time. This, you won't be surprised to hear, is a sop to the Northern League, which tolerates, indeed encourages, large-scale business malpractice but doesn't like black faces cluttering up its super-sized shopping malls.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Wil the real Maggie Gallagher fuck off?

My Facebook friends will already have seen this video, but why keep all the good stuff for them? It's funny, and sad, and harrowing and you don't need to have seen the sanctimonious bitch's original video to appreciate it - indeed, it's better if you don't. The real Maggie Gallagher already has more attention than she deserves. It was made by a writer/actor called Jeff Whitty. His excellent website can be found here.

Thought for the day (not necessarily part of a series)

Today's thought comes from the collection of Georges Perec's occasional writings, Species of Spaces and Other Pieces (beautifully translated by John Sturrock). It's part three of a short piece called The Countryside.

Nostalgic (and false) alternative

To put down roots, to rediscover or fashion your roots, to carve the place that will be yours out of space, and build, plant, appropriate, millimetre by millimetre, your 'home': to belong completely in your village, knowing you're a true inhabitant of the Cévennes, or of Poitou.

Or else to own only the clothes you stand up in, to keep nothing, to live in hotels and change them frequently, and change towns, and change countries; to speak and read any one of four or five languages; to feel at home nowhere, but at ease almost everywhere.

Animal sense

And when you've finished considering the dolphin, consider this.

Sunday, 8 November 2009


One of the great pleasures of sitting at a computer for hours on end pretending to edit reports about food security in the Philippines is that you can nip over to Marie Phillips' blog every now and again. It's a particular treat at the moment because she's following Strictly Come Dancing. (Good God, did I write that?) I see the programme once every four weeks, which is rather like watching a horse race through a gap in the fence. Or it would be if Marie didn't keep me up to date. It's been a secret treat up to now, but when she wrote that Nathalie 'bounced around the stage like a hot cocktail sausage in a mouth' I felt I had to share it with you. And just to celebrate Craig's long overdue departure here's a photograph of him smiling. As are we all, Craig, as are we all.

Disease is not mass

If you have a scrap of rationality and the merest modicum of scientific knowledge, here's a video which will make you laugh until you weep. You just have to get to it before the lawyers pull it down.

Thank you, Rob.

Friday, 6 November 2009

Scum rising to the top

Last night's edition of Anno Zero talked about Fondi, the town I've lived in for the past eight years. Anno Zero is one of the programmes Berlusconi accuses of being fazioso, a holdall term that roughly translates as not being shamefully unbalanced in the speaker's favour. It's taken a while to look at what's been happening here, but it was good to see an entire edition dedicated to a situation that really would be unsustainable anywhere outside Colombia (and I apologise to any Colombian readers I may have immediately - I speak with the sort of ignorance about elsewhere normally exhibited by the current Italian government). People who haven't been to Fondi may have the impression that it's a sleepy market town, not quite on the coast, and that's certainly an attractive picture and, in some ways, true. Fondi has always been predominantly agricultural and remains a market town - it now has the largest wholesale fruit and vegetable market in Italy, and among the largest in Europe, a couple of miles from the old centre. This means that Fondi is also, in economic terms, a very rich town, or one, at least, that sees inordinate amounts of money change hands on a daily basis.

The police chief of Latina, the provincial capital, recently conducted an investigation into exactly what this involved and came to the conclusion that the local administration had been infiltrated by organised crime to such an extent that it was no longer viable, and should be removed. The dossier went to the minister responsible, Roberto Maroni. This isn't that unusual a situation in Italy, where illicit relationships between the Mafia and government are as common as those that take place in Putin's bed at Villa Certosa. The normal procedure is for the ministry to rubber stamp the dossier and dissolve the council, barring the incriminated public servants from future public office.

On this occasion though, thanks to the obstructionism - still unexplained - of three cabinet ministers, the rubber stamp wasn't applied. Maroni, instead, asked for 'clarification' of the accusations. The clarified dossier, which said exactly the same as its predecessor, duly returned to Maroni's desk some months later. Where it sat for as long as it (in)decently could. Finally, when the dirty rotten business was beginning to attract too much unwelcome attention and there was nothing the government could do but give in and send the whole gang home, said whole gang - mayor, councillors, functionaries (those who weren't in jail, that is) - upped and resigned. This not only made it impossible to dissolve the administration en bloc, but meant that all those who resigned could stand again at the next elections, something that will almost certainly happen.

The building you can see in the photograph above - a monument to post-fascist vulgarity with a touch of Luxor thrown in - is the new town hall. I've been meaning to write about it for some time, but one's heart sinks at such ugliness. Still, it was illuminating to discover last night that when its construction was open to tender only one company applied, and that this company was actually a consortium of companies, some of them with extremely dodgy pasts. Companies - and individuals - involved in public works in Italy are obliged to produce a document attesting to their Mafia-free status, a procedure that would have excluded these companies - and the entire consortium - at the outset. Or it would have done if the person responsible for checking hadn't 'forgotten' to ask them for it.

Now anyone who lives here knows that Italian bureaucracy doesn't do oversights - it will drive someone into the grave for a piece of carta protocollata - so this isn't very convincing. Not even Claudio Fazzone seemed convinced last night. Fazzone used to be a driver for a Christian democrat senator years ago. Now he's a senator himself, with hand-tailored suits, more money than he knows what to do with, villas scattered like confetti around the globe, the privatised water of the entire region in his fiefdom and the look of someone used to getting his own way. He's got a mean, tight little face, like something attached to the bladder of his head to scare people off. He's the kind of man who threatens to sue whoever disagrees with him, who waves sheafs of paper around in lieu of argument. Mind you, compared to some of the ex-members of Fondi council he's Isaiah Berlin.

An Anno Zero journalist tried to interview some of them, starting with the mayor, who told him to fuck off and then accused him of being maleducato. Then there was the ex assessore di cultura, a barrel-bellied martial arts instructor who could barely manage a whole phrase in standard Italian and whose CV apparently includes a spell as bodyguard for a Mafioso. Basically, as squalid a bunch of low-life crooks as you could wish to meet... There was a wonderful moment when the journalist was stalking the mayor along the echoing corridors of the new mausoleum to democracy that's been built on what used to be a small but respectable park, asking him dificult questions and being roundly ignored. (This was just before the fuck off moment.) Finally, the mayor seeks refuge in an office and tries to slam the door behind him, and the door doesn't quite fit the door frame. It rattles and shudders, but has to be jammed into place. The grandiose and unnecessary building has been thrown up so shoddily that the bloody doors won't close! Hallelujah!

And a footnote for those who follow Italian politics. It was great fun to see the Berlusconi- Fini conflict mirrored in a small but revelatory way by Fazzone and one of Fini's lieutenants, the unfortunately named Bocchino (don't ask - but if your dictionary gives 'cigarette holder', get a new one). Fazzone - fat, arrogant, litigious, vainglorious, intolerant, smugness and distrust stamped all over his ugly face. Bocchino - reasonable, logical, persuasive, disturbingly plausible. I'm no great lover of Fini or his colleagues, but what a pleasure it was to see Bocchino's distaste as Fazzone blustered beside him, a distaste so evident that even Fazzone must have realised that, perhaps uniquely, he didn't have a single crony there to back him up. Like monkey, like organ-grinder?

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Asswipe party

See these people? See how happy they are? They're down on their knees, clutching their hands together in prayer, waving their mass-produced, church-funded banners! They're ecstatic with religious fervour! They've won their apocalyptic battle! They've beaten off the evil perverted hordes! Every thread of synthetic fibre on their overfed bodies is twisting in virginal delight at the victory of natural law! Look at the fat one in the middle! She's creaming her impeccable jeans! There's no way she's going to let other tax-payers get their hands on her tubby little rights, or children (Because that's what they want! They want our kids!)! Look at the priestly one on the left with his neat sticker and his would-be workman's overalls, whose hand's all scratched up by the entirely natural bifocals of the old bat on the floor! (Because God made bifocals! God made comfort wear!) He's the one who passed the collection plate during mass to stop those sick faggots having the right to hospital visits! Hallelujah! Look at the skinny one with the skinhead haircut, who's sublimated his filthy desires and has never, no never, had sex with a man! Oh joy! Oh fucking joy! Oh fucking fucking joy!

Yes, I'm annoyed, too annoyed for subtlety or wit, by the results of the Maine referendum on marriage equality. I don't live in Maine, and have never considered doing so. And the presence of these asswipes (thank you, Wendell), celebrating the success of a referendum that cancels the rights of a substantial minority of tax-payers, without any reduction in the taxes they pay, is unlikely to make me change my mind. Everything that needs to be said about the kind of god these people worship has already been said (by, among others, Xenophanes*), so I won't repeat it, but it is worth repeating that the moral high ground in this issue isn't where they're holding their squalid little party. It's somewhere else, somewhere very far away from where they're gathered, somewhere they'll never, in their wildest dreams, be able to reach. And it's a far better place.

*if cattle or horses or lions had hands and could draw,
And could sculpt like men, then the horses would draw their gods
Like horses, and cattle like cattle; and each they would shape
Bodies of gods in the likeness, each kind, of their own

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Strange fruit

Two items in today's newspapers here that throw an oblique light on each other and on Italian society as a whole. The first is about the decision of the Ku Klux Klan to conduct a recruitment campaign in Italy on the grounds that recent government legislation against immigration provides a more attractive model (in KKK terms) than that of any other western government. This fertile ground has been prepared by the notoriously racist Northern League, with the connivance of their Berlusconian cronies, and an almost inaudible demurral from the opposition, presumably on the ignoble principle that defending immigrants on your own patch does no elected politician any good. (Recent anti-immigration laws here have been roundly condemned by the United Nations and the EU, but have no doubt gone down a treat in BNP headquarters.)

The second is an EU ruling that crucifixes should not be displayed in classrooms, following a case brought by an Italian woman whose request that the cross be taken out of her children's classroom was ignored at every level of the judical system. The government, which now has to pay the woman 5000 euros for 'moral damage', will be appealing. The Vatican, in the meantime, is 'pausing for reflection'. This decision will no doubt be grist to the mill of those who whine on about 'islamification', although the woman who brought the original complaint was defending the right of her children to be educated in a superstition-free zone rather than one in which a variety of nonsenses jostled for space. Good luck to her. Good luck to us all. If the EU's ruling is ignored or overturned, what's to stop all the new KKK recruits dressing their children like the unfortunate tyke in this photo?

Monday, 2 November 2009


I've just discovered that Little Monsters (still available from all good booksellers) has found its way onto the long list of the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. It's a very long list indeed, but it's still a pleasure to have been nominated (by Stockholm Public Library, no less) and my fingers are crossed for the next stage: the short list, announced on 14 April 2010.

Masai root juice

If you need help with problems regarding your love life, business activities, personal enemies and sexual equipment (and, let's face it, who doesn't?), happen to live in or near Johannesburg and have a spare nine euros in your pocket, this post from the always interesting WH in SA might be just what you need.

An A-Z of Possible Worlds

I was given the chance to read A.C. Tillyer’s extremely impressive début collection An A-Z of Possible Worlds a couple of months ago. This is what I wrote:

Bristling with intelligence and invention, often drily hilarious and occasionally chilling, this collection of interconnected stories is both a joy to read and the most appealing and effective primer of political thought I’ve come across for some time. AC Tillyer’s 26 possible worlds, arranged alphabetically from Archipelago to Zero Gravity Zone, insistently probe the meaning of power and its misuse, the rise of prejudice and authoritarianism, the role of capital, the lies we tell ourselves and each other in order to survive as societies - and they do so in an authoritative, highly readable fashion, with more insight and wit than many books ten times the size of this collection. Each small tale is both a parable and a perfectly realized world; taken together they turn into reflecting facets of a single world, that of Tillyer’s remarkable imagination, irreducible to mere allegory, a world that contains bog-people and multi-storey car parks without embarrassment. Echoes of writers as diverse as Swift and Tolkien, Borges and Magnus Mills, only reinforce the originality of Tillyer’s take on how we live – and fail to live – together. An impressive and thought-provoking collection by someone who deserves to be widely-read.

The book is now officially out, I'm more convinced than ever of its worth, and I'm delighted to have its author drop in on my blog to answer a few questions.

It’s a universal truth (or it feels like one) that publishers are wary of unpublished authors and first books, and this wariness increases exponentially if the first book is a collection of short stories, despite a recent revival of interest in the form. A-Z is a pretty high concept, but it still can’t have been easy to find someone both wise and adventurous enough to take it on. Can you tell us a little about the book’s pre-publication history and how you found Roast Books, or they found you?

You're right, it wasn't easy at all. In fact, I'd given up. I finished it nearly three years ago and sent it off to some agents because, I was told, nobody can be published without an agent. Several of them said they liked it but wanted a full-length piece from me first. Eventually, an agent did sign me up and took it to the publishers she knew but received pretty much the same response. They all wanted a 'proper' novel before they would consider publishing a short story collection. I kept trying to say that they were linked but, nope, they weren't prepared to take the risk. It seemed a pity to leave it to rot, so I printed each story out as a separate booklet, put them in a box, gave some away and kept the rest. Then about a year ago, I saw an ad for a short fiction competition in the London Review of Books placed by Roast Books, a new publishing company that 'specialized in short fiction'. The closing date was the next day and my A-Z didn't really fit the brief but I thought it couldn't do any harm to enter. So I dug out one of my story boxes and jumped on my bike to deliver it. Faye contacted me to say that my submission had 'created excitement at Roast'. I remember that really well cos I was on the phone to my sister when I opened the email and I kept chanting it to her over and over. It wasn't suitable for the first series of novellas she published but it became her first full-length publication. I'm full of gratitude to her for taking a chance on me and going where the big guys feared to tread. Actually, she's just shown me the next book she's publishing, which is also pretty unconventional: an illustrated journal that comes in a bag, with additional information such as useful facts, recipes and so on. I don't know enough about the publishing world to make sweeping generalizations but it does seem to be an industry in a state of fear, so it's brilliant to see somebody who's prepared to take risks and be different. I salute her, I really do.

You mentioned on Nik's blog, that you're working on something longer. A-Z is such an original concept in so many ways – not only formally – that I imagine it’s a fairly hard act to follow. Assuming your new book is fiction (which is a big assumption) I was wondering if it was a novel, or a series of stories, interconnected or otherwise, and, if the former, whether you planned to abandon the societal, collective take on human behaviour that characterises A-Z for something that operates at a more individual, even psychological, level, which is what we now tend to expect from the novel form, although this isn’t always, or necessarily, so (vide Kafka, one of the literary antecedents that’s been mentioned in connection with your work). Can you give us some idea of what to expect?

It's true, I did feel an enormous pressure to abandon the short story after the A-Z was rejected. Initially, I tried to write a historical fiction as that seemed to be the big thing at the time. But it just didn't work out. I'm not a big fan of historical fiction and, after a couple of chapters, I realized I was writing a book I wouldn't actually read myself. That was a turning point, to put it mildly. I don't think you can write a book you don't love and believe in. So that one hit the recycling and I've started on something much more up my street: capital punishment is back and it's being broadcast live! It's a full-length narrative and the characters have names this time, so it's structurally more conventional, I suppose, but it still takes a sociological 'what if' as a starting point and runs with it. Your question about whether a full-length piece becomes, almost by necessity, more psychological is a tricky one. Does this have to be the case? Probably yes, though I would like to argue that the A-Z is a full-length piece, that we can't go on a journey around the mind without visiting a series of disparate places. I guess I'm just not a particularly 'psychological' writer. That said, my new book does follow the effects that the changes within a society has on a group of individuals. The society's still the main character, though.

I noticed that you particularly like stories that have what looks like a surprise ending, but is actually one that the story has been intent on preparing from the outset. So do I!

Good! I always feel somewhat cheated when there's a big 'Ta Darr" moment at the end that you had no chance of predicting. It's the ones that, once you think about it, have endings that are built in from the very start that are so satisfying. They make you want to go back and read them again right away.

But I have the feeling that that kind of story is seen as slightly unfashionable these days, now that so much short fiction seems to work with the fleeting emotional moment, with ambiguity rather than closure, offering epiphanic fragments of experience that the reader is required to piece together. Any views on this?

Well, stuff fashion, is what I say!! These fleeting emotional moments are all very well but, when I read a story, I'm constantly asking why is he or she telling me this? It's all very nice to know that somebody's sorted out their relationship with their mother or whatever, but why should I care? Actually, I hate the idea of building a believable character by giving them a childhood, a couple of interesting hobbies and string of likes and dislikes. I just don't think people work like that. And a lot of the time, I don't want to know the intricacies of a character's thought processes. If somebody reacts a certain way to a particular situation, I think it's better to let the reader decide why they did so. Hearing a character's thoughts is fine: we talk to ourselves all the time, but I honestly don't believe we say things like 'I want to win this so much because I need the approval that I never had as a child' or whatever. I'm being deliberately crass, but you know what I mean! It's too easy to slot in a few details about a character's past and let the reader play psychologist, fitting them together until they have an 'ah-ha' moment and think they understand the motives behind a set of actions. You're the author, get on with the story. Let's start a resistance!

And how comfortable are you more generally with prescriptive notions of what makes a good story?

I went to a talk recently where the speaker declared that only the first-person or the third-person-subjective point of view is acceptable these days. According to her, the 'authorial- omniscient' narrator is dead. Well! I was so annoyed I could hardly speak. Maybe I just hate blanket statements like that and automatically want to sabotage them but I don't agree. If I want togo into all my characters' heads, or none at all, then I will. One of my favourite moments from The Leopard is when Chevalley and the Prince walk through the poverty-stricken village in the early morning. Chevalley wants to modernize Sicily and yet he's sad when he thinks that: '"This state of things won't last; our lively new modern administration will change it all."' But the Prince is also depressed: '"All this shouldn't last; but it will..."' They both think they'll get what they want and yet they're both unhappy at the prospect. Without an omniscient narrator, that poignancy would be lost. And, if you added the kind of cod-psychology to it that we were talking about before, they should both be happy they're getting what they want. No surprise, no insight - all lost because of an utterly ridiculous rule. I could give you more examples but on this one alone, I rest my case. So, prescriptive notions: bad!

For details of the other dates on the blog tour, click here. The next stop is at Caroline Smailes In Search of Me on 4 November. You'll find links to two of the stories on Nik Perring's blog and to two more at East of the Web. For more information about the book itself, and its author, click here. And, perhaps most important, you can buy it from Amazon by clicking here. Trust me, you won't regret it.

And yes, that's Anne in the post below...

Sunday, 1 November 2009


Wondering who this is? Drop in tomorrow and you'll find out.

Only connect

Another great Amazon recommendation:

Greetings from,

As someone who has purchased or rated Howards End (Dover Thrift Editions) by E.M. Forster, you might like to know that Wicked All Day is now available. You can order yours for just £5.49 (21% off the RRP) by following the link below.

Wicked All DayWicked All Day
Liz Carlyle
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