Dead Letters Teaser #14

L0ND0N, Nicholas Royle

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I wasn’t questioning my view about the likability or otherwise of characters, but I was concerned about what I might be getting into. A widely held opinion is that it is a mistake to conflate narrator and author, yet a convergence of Ian and his narrator was precisely what I feared.

What if Ian was like his narrator? Did it even matter? Well, yes, I tended to believe it did. Not in general, but in this particular case. I kept a Wankers Shelf – a section of my library reserved for authors so narcissistic they asked their publisher to stick their author photo on the front cover of their book, or they wrote a piece for publication constructed around extracts from their fan mail; for authors so convinced of their own greatness they refused to ‘get out of bed for less than a grand’ when invited to contribute to an anthology; for authors who were just wankers – wankers to their editors, wankers to their publicists, wankers to booksellers, wankers to their readers. Just wankers.

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Dead Letters is alive!

DeadLetters

It’s always a thrill to receive a box of books in the post. And it was especially satisfying to open this parcel, if only because it meant it hadn’t gone missing (which I was convinced was going to happen). The books are lovely; Titan have done a beautiful job. It seems like such a long time ago that I first came up with the concept, but all the hard work was done by others: eighteen ridiculously-talented writers (and each one a pleasure to deal with) contributed wonderful stories. I was thinking with some sadness that the project was over, but really, with the book’s publication, it’s only just started. Because now you lovely readers get involved. I hope you love this anthology as much as I do.

Dead Letters: the cover

Dead Letters cover - FINAL

I’m pleased to be able to reveal the cover to the new anthology, scheduled for publication next year. Credit to Titan for agreeing to list every author on the cover. None of that ‘And Many Others’ nonsense here!

It was a privilege to work with so many talented writers. I hope you’ll be as impressed by the stories as I was.

Dead Letters

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Coming in April 2016 from Titan Books…

Dead Letters

An anthology of the undelivered, the missing, the returned…

Edited by Conrad Williams

The Green Letter – Steven Hall

Over to You – Michael Marshall Smith

In Memoriam – Joanne Harris

Ausland – Alison Moore

Wonders to Come – Christopher Fowler

Cancer Dancer – Pat Cadigan

The Wrong Game – Ramsey Campbell

Is-and – Claire Dean

Buyer’s Remorse – Andrew Lane

Gone Away – Muriel Gray

Astray – Nina Allan

The Days of Our Lives – Adam LG Nevill

The Hungry Hotel – Lisa Tuttle

L0ND0N – Nicholas Royle

Change Management – Angela Slatter

Ledge Bants – Maria Dahvana Headley & China Miéville

And We, Spectators Always, Everywhere – Kirsten Kaschock

Dry Run

I’m currently writing a novel loosely connected to two previously published pieces of fiction.

In some cases, chunks of text from both The Owl and Rain have been transplanted into the book. They might be changed slightly – the characters are different, for example, and have to be moulded to fit their new avatars – but essentially what I’ve done is cut and pasted segments of old into a new piece of work, feathering the edges to make sure of a true fit.

I have form, here. Blonde on a Stick contains a chapter that was an unpublished short story from the early 1990s. The Unblemished contains a character, Gyorsi Salavaria, and associative text that was lifted from a short story, Bloodlines, written ten years previously. That novel also contains sections from a short story, Outfangthief, from the same period. It was as if those old stories recognised something in the new stuff I was doing and called out to it. Or maybe that old stuff hadn’t been finished properly, somehow, and the newer me set out to do the material justice without realising it, until those old words started tapping me on the shoulder.

At first I felt as if this was somehow a cheat. Maybe what I was doing wasn’t right, that it was peddling yesterday, that it wasn’t progressive, a sensitive recycling. The reader might notice, causing him to realise he is involved in a process of reading fiction, pulling him out of the story: a grim scenario when we’re in this partly to capture attention. But for me, I sometimes feel as if the novel contains apertures, like those in a jigsaw puzzle, that the relevant, related sections form the short stories fit well, with a little massaging. It helps when influential writers do the same thing…

I spoke to three friends of mine who all work in a similar way, and it was interesting to get their responses in relation to why they go back to earlier work as a starting point for, or an adjunct to something new.

Photo by Conrad Williams

Photo by Conrad Williams

Nicholas Royle’s new novel, First Novel, is his seventh. He is also a prolific short story writer.

When I’m starting to think about a new novel I will try out certain ideas in the form of short stories. I’m aware that stories and novels are different things and I know that by the time it comes to folding these early thoughts into the novel they will probably have changed shape. Often, endings imposed for the sake of the short story form will go, and other, less visible work will be done as part of the folding-in.

Photo by Charlie James

Photo by Charlie James

Graham Joyce, author of The Silent Land, Some Kind of Fairy Tale and, soon, The Year of the Ladybird, does things a bit differently. His stories An Ordinary Soldier of the Queen (from Memoirs of a Master Forger) and The Coventry Boy (from Facts of Life) came into being after the novels in which they were couched had been completed.

I tend to be a bit too much fascinated with “stories within stories” structures (I blame Scheherezade) but I usually know at the outset if it it will work as a standalone. I might finesse the head and tail of the story to sell it as a standalone. The thing is the aesthetics remain untouched. 

Photo by Cath Phillips

Photo by Cath Phillips

M John Harrison’s novels include The Course of the Heart, Signs of Life, Light, Nova Swing and, most recently, Empty Space. Climbers, his brilliant novel from 1989, is about to be reprinted.

It’s an article of faith with me, part of a method.

(a) I’m an obsessive. I deal very heavily in repeating images & obsessive affects. No one complains that Dali or Ernst or Picasso used the same imagery over & over again. It seems to work for painters, why not writers. & of course you see obsessive repetition as technique in people like Ballard, Anna Kavan, many of the 50s & 60s nouveau roman authors, who were interested in breaking down narrative structures & looking for organisational methods from other kinds of discourse.

(b) I don’t see fictions as being discrete, or ever “finished”. Something which is totally itself in one incarnation becomes part of something else in another. I work by bolting bits together to see what they make. The boundaries of a piece are like those chemical sites on viruses that allow them to bind to cells; change the sites, top & tail the segment, & it’ll fit somewhere else, become something else. Guess I’m a structuralist. But I also think it’s a way of entertaining the reader by showing them your process.

As subject matter, I like the idea of contexts switching suddenly to become subjects, subject that flips to context; works well at the technical level too. I do test-bedding of novels as shorts, the topping & tailing of shorts so that they become chapters in novels, blog pieces that become bits of shorts, shorts that break up & get scattered as blog posts or tweets; but, really, that’s because any given component suggested all those possible relations during the process itself. If it’s fluid for me, let it be fluid for the reader. Nothing really “exists”: everything that seems solid in the universe is made of the dynamic relations between structures at the next level down.

So I see the whole thing as a kind of fluid momentum. Not as discrete products.

I feel I’m justified (and in sterling company) when it comes to refashioning some of that old material in order to service the current story, if it’s sympathetically done, and feels right. The work all shares the same blood, after all.

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Thanks to Nick, Graham and Mike for their time.

Alderley Edge Book Festival

Conrad will be reading from his novels Blonde on a Stick and Loss of Separation at the Alderley Edge Book Festival at 12pm on the 15th September. The festival carries on to the 16th and features such writers as Nicholas Royle, Erica James, Livi Michael, Zoe Lambert, Elizabeth Baines, Sherry Ashworth and Melvin Burgess. Conrad follows on directly from festival opener Edwina Currie who will be revealing, from her diaries, further juicy reasons as to why she should never have been elected to office.

The Festival will feature storytelling sessions to entertain younger readers and sales of donated books. Visitors will also be treated to live music and refreshments will be available.

There will be a £1 Festival admission charge.  Some events will be ticketed.

See you at the Festival Hall, Talbot Road, Alderley Edge on the 15th!

Murmurations

I’m thrilled to announce that a story of mine, All Our Dead Heavens, will be published in what promises to be a beautiful, must-have anthology edited by Nicholas Royle and available in October this year from Two Ravens Press.


All Our Dead Heavens
is a reprint. It first appeared in an anthology called Sugar Sleep back in 1993 (edited by Christopher Kenworthy). I doubt many people saw it.