Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Christmas, Chutney and Dead Chicks

And would you believe it… January is over. I won’t go on about how this month has flown by. I reserve that sort of banter for church coffee mornings and jumble sales. Instead I’m looking briefly back over one shoulder, then squinting forward into the near future.

Christmas was a beautiful thing. For several reasons.

I was thrilled to do a reading at the National Short Story Day in Manchester. This was the first of a fantastic UK wide event, held annually on 21st December - the shortest day of the year. See what they did there? It promised to be ‘a celebration of prose’s short-yet-perfectly-crafted form’ and it was. Comma Press hosted the event at MaDlab in the Northern Quarter; a quirky gem of a venue which required eagle eyes and a secret knock to gain access - only the coolest literary types, or the most determined wannabes (i.e. me) got in. There were two other fantastic writers: flash fiction master and novelist David Gaffney and poet, writer and accomplished performer Michelle Green. I read second, after David’s brilliant PowerPoint flash fiction and before Michelle’s evocative and moving story extract. I like to think I was a suspicious, untested filling in an otherwise delectable sandwich (think own-brand squeezy cheese on ciabatta roll – uncertain, but it could just work) People clapped at the end which is always a good sign (unless it’s slow and menacing) and I was totally thrilled to be appearing with two great, established writers and to have the opportunity to read my work. And the Gluhwein was delicious. It was a superb event and one to watch out for next December.
What else made Christmas? Singing our annual rendition of Fairytale of New York with my brother and sister-in-law until the neighbours complained. We were delighted to see them (brother and sis, not neighbours, although they’re very nice, too) as they’d flown in on a pause from their sailing trip, currently stationed in Sicily on their beautiful boat, Planet. My sister-in-law is also a writer, so we had lots of time to rant about semicolon abuse; and plot how we would both bombard Mslexia magazine with submissions until they caved in and accepted our work.

Finally, it wouldn’t have been Christmas without mass chutney making.
Every year I make chutney and gift it to anyone who I think is too polite to decline it. Every year I have the same anxiety dream that I have somehow bred botulism in the sterilised jars and wake in a cold sweat. I then go downstairs and make a large cheese and chutney sandwich, eat it and sit nervously waiting for signs of paralysis. All clear this year.

Now, looking forward to the weeks ahead, I will be developing a themed short fiction collection, and flinging stories out, until something sticks. And applying for Come Dine With Me.

Today, I’m working on a short story that features, briefly, the decomposing carcasses of garden birds. It’s an unsavoury little tale. Uncertain how long it would take for the flesh of a small bird to entirely disappear, and in the name of research, I googled for images of ‘decaying sparrows’ and ‘rotting starlings’. No doubt the googlegods in their silicon e-tower have my card marked. At least I wasn’t looking up dead chicks. I think that’s a different thing entirely.