Hay Festival: Michael Cunningham on The Snow Queen

Michael Cunningham

Michael Cunningham reads the opening pages of The Snow Queen

I had not one but THREE brief chats with my author hero Michael Cunningham at Hay Festival—at his author event, at his book signing and, by sheer coincidence, at the bar of the Old Black Lion. No, I wasn’t stalking!

Unbelievably, in my opinion, this was Cunningham’s first appearance at Hay Festival. He told me he’d been waiting for an invite.

Cunningham won the Pulitzer Prize for his exquisite fourth novel The Hours, which happens to be my favourite novel of all time. The film version of the book was directed by Stephen Daldry and starred Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman, Julianne Moore, Ed Harris and Clare Danes. In his Hay Festival conversation with Rosie Goldsmith he said, “I must be the only living author who’s happy with the film of their book.”

Incidentally, his fifth novel, Specimen Days, was written in three parts and included a science fiction element. I asked about this foray into SF because of my own writing inclinations and he said that science fiction was definitely part of the zeitgeist at the time he wrote the novel.

The Snow Queen is his latest novel and it opens thus: Read more

New Year Update and a Bunch of Recommended Reads

Happy New Year! While you’re all chilling on New Year’s Day I thought I’d offer some book recommendations based on my recent reading. What’s surprising is that I’ve not read a single eBook over the past month – only print copies. Here’s a fab selection including three novels from the Man Booker 2013 shortlist and some old favourites. I can recommend them all:

Here's a pile of books I loved reading in December.

Here’s a pile of books I loved reading in December.

In-Flight Entertainment, short stories by Helen Simpson (several stories touching on issues around climate change);

The Testament of Mary, short story by Colm Toibin (Booker shortlisted. A reading highlight of my year); Read more

Catch Up: 10 Blogposts Since Release Of A Calculated Life

It’s four weeks since 47North released a new edition of A Calculated Life and I thought I’d mark the occasion by doing a round-up of all the recent guest posts and reviews I’ve written. It’s been manic, but a great deal of fun. I really appreciate the massive amount of support I’ve received from other 47North authors and the good wishes from readers. Those all-important reviews are coming in and it’s pretty encouraging so far. Read more

Hugo Awards Short Stories 2013: My Favourite

Three short stories are in contention for the Hugo Award and they are diverse. I’ve enjoyed them all. And, as I’m writing a few short stories at the moment, I’ve found it fascinating to read the best of 2013 (as nominated and selected by members of the World Science Fiction Society).

Here’s an admission: I’d intended to read all the shortlisted novels because I wanted to compare them with the Arthur C Clarke Award shortlist, which I reviewed here earlier this year. But with all the work involved with my novel’s new release by 47North, I scaled back my ambition. First, I opted to read all the shortlisted novellas, and later I scaled back again and decided to read the shortlisted short stories. So I spent a lovely Sunday afternoon reading these stories in the shade of my apple tree. Read more

Latest Shenanigans: Strange Horizons • 47North • Hugos …

Before you all hit ‘silent mode’ for the month of August (that is, those of you who live in the northern hemisphere), I thought I’d bring you up to date with what’s happening in my little world. It’s just one month since I received the email from David Pomerico at 47North offering me a publishing deal, and it’s been full-on hectic – in a good way – since then. But before I tell you what’s happening with the new edition of my book…

strange horizonsOver at Strange Horizons (SF articles, reviews, new fiction), you’ll find my review of Ioanna Bourazopoulou’s What Lot’s Wife Saw, translated by Yiannis Panas. This dystopian novel won the The Athens Prize for Literature.

While you are there, I’d recommend the article Evaporating Genres, by Gary K. Wolfe. Gary examines the crossover of SF with historical fiction, horror, fantasy and thrillers. Also, Niall Harrison is reviewing Angela Carter’s Nights at the Circus, which my local book group is reading at this very moment. Read more

Hay Festival #2: Will Self and the Out-Sourcing of Violence

Will Self

Will Self in conversation with Sarfraz Manzoor

Will Self always pulls a big crowd at Hay and this year he dished out a sizzling mix of wit and venom, plus comic banter with interviewer Sarfraz Manzoor. In a (literally) terrific performance, he read from his latest novel Umbrella. As he later explained to the audience, Umbrella is the completion of a trilogy that follows ‘the outsourcing of violence’ in modern times.

He said Umbrella’s main character Audrey Death – a post-encephalytic patient in a London asylum – embodied the impact of technological developments in the 20th Century. In 1908 Henry T Ford built his first industrial production line, said Self, and in 1914 this new wave of industrialisation transferred to the trenches creating a production line of death. Read more

Lydia Davis

Hay Festival #1: Lydia Davis Booker International Winner

lydia davis

Lydia Davis: Novels simply take too long!

‘I do love the basic Anglo Saxon vocabulary,’ said US-writer Lydia Davis at Hay Festival. The remark was prompted by a question from the audience (Why do you write so many single-syllable words?) Davis continued: ‘I do like the Latinate, too, but Anglo Saxon is the language of great emotion. “I am so mad.” “You are so wrong.” When to use different registers of language is an interesting question. The story itself makes the choice.’ Read more

Hay Festival Reading: Will Self and ‘Umbrella’

Will Self

Will Self will be in conversation with Sarfraz Mansoor at Hay Festival.

At Hay Festival in 2006 I intercepted Will Self between events and he very kindly signed my hardback copy of The Book of Dave. Only… he wrote “From Anne” instead of “For Anne.” No matter how hard I try to untangle this briefest of encounters (what exactly did I say? what did he say?), I can’t fathom how this misunderstanding was precipitated. Maybe he thought I intended the book as a gift, hence “From Anne.” I did sense, just momentarily, that Will realized something had vaguely gone awry. In this comical, typically English exchange, neither of us remarked on the error (if that’s what it was). I said, “Thanks, Will.” And that was that.

Anyway, in readiness for attending his talk at Hay Festival later this month, I’ve read his novel Umbrella, in eBook format; nothing for him to sign this time. He’ll be talking with Sarfraz Manzoor not only about his novel but also about ‘the possibilities of the digital form’. Should be good.

So, what do I think of Umbrella? Read more

Favourite Quotes from Write the Future Micro-Conference

I’ve deciphered my scribbly notes from last week’s Arthur C Clarke Award and Write the Future micro-conference, organized by Tom Hunter,  and I thought I’d share my favourite quotes from the day:

Lauren Beukes, author of Zoo City (winner of the Arthur C Clarke Award in 2011) and The Shining Girls, quoted Muriel Rukeyser:

“The universe is made of stories, not atoms.”

Ben North of HarperCollins quoted Ludwig Wittgenstein:

“If a lion could speak, we could not understand him.” Read more

Arthur C Clarke Award Winner? Dark Eden by Chris Beckett

Dark Eden

You can just see Chris Beckett at the podium if you squint.

Chris Beckett was presented with the Arthur C Clarke Award 2013 yesterday evening at a packed event at the Royal Society. Many congratulations! I hope this award will create a bigger readership for his brilliant book, Dark Eden.

And I’m holding off to the second paragraph to say – I told you so!

Yesterday I stuck my neck out and said Dark Eden was my favourite on the shortlist (and I’ve read and reviewed them all on this blog over the past month). It was the second book I read on the shortlist and here’s the review. Read more