Posts Tagged ‘tiny deaths’

I am on retreat with a bunch of awesomely talented writers, in a gorgeous undisclosed location. I am sharing a cabin with Rob Shearman – he doesn’t eat cereal with milk! Nor does he drink coffee! I know, scandalous.

Is good here. Quiet and retreaty, waterish. Food is excellent. So far, no serial killers. Nor daleks. Wonderful.


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Robert Shearman is a nice man. He’s also an amazing writer – allow me to quote from a review of his first collection, Tiny Deaths, “The dialogue is witty and wise, the settings believable, and the characters… well, they’re all people you know, even the multiple Jesuses (what is the plural of Jesus?). The humour is dark but never nasty. These stories display their brilliance in ways both sly and shy, as if lifting their skirts to show off their knickers and then acting as though nothing happened.” Okay, admittedly I wrote that review, but the fact remains that the book won a World Fantasy Award. He has also written for stage and television – including Dr Who. Dalek showed us how daleks evolved to conquer their greatest enemy, the stairs.

Now Love Songs for the Shy and Cynical, his second collection is currently stuffing its swag full of awards: the Shirley Jackson and the Readers’ Award in the Edge Hill University Short Story Competition, thus far. He is coming to Australia for AussieCon4. Go and meet him, buy him a drink.

 Here he takes time out from his very busy writing schedule to answer my silly’ish questions:

Now Love Songs for the Shy and Cynical, his second collection is currently stuffing its swag full of awards: the Shirley Jackson and the Readers’ Award in the Edge Hill University Short Story Competition. He is coming to Australia for AussieCon4. Go and meet him.

1. What are your writing fetishes, i.e. what can’t you write without?
Well, I’m remarkably superstitious about writing. And when I first started, I seemed to come with about twenty or so superstititions already fully formed. I could only write outside at night time. I could only write with a certain type of pen in a certain type of notebook. I could only write listening to one specific artist on my CD walkman to one specific project. Dear God, it was annoying.

And over the years, as I’ve grown older and less tolerant of myself and my stupidities, I’ve been weening myself off them. Writing outside at three in the morning was fine when I lived in Devon with nothing but sheep for company and very lenient policemen; it’s less sensible now I live in London and I share the early morning streets with prostitutes and gangland warfare and – bizarre, but true – hordes of twelve year old children who try to scare me by riding bicycles at me. So I still write outside – but I do it in the *day*time, and now only so I can get away from the twin distractions of Facebook scrabble and television game shows. I still listen to music, but they’ve invented a thing called an ipod now, so it can be any old nonsense on shuffle… so long as it’s ambient and dull. (I’ve bought an awful lot of very dull albums over the years, which would be *achingly* awful were I not wanting to write to them.) And I still use the same exercise books – but only because I accidentally bought a joblot of eighty of them a few years ago when I thought I was only ordering half a dozen… and I have a lifetime to get through them.

Otherwise, I’m really very normal.

2. When I was first asked to write for Dr Who, I …
…was on a bus in London. And it’s against the rules of London buses to dance up and down the aisles – they say it distracts the driver. So I was obliged to sit squarely in my seat and wait until the bus came to a complete halt before I could get up and do the dance thing.

I’d been a huge Doctor Who fan when I was a kid – really, genuinely obsessive about it between the ages of twelve and fifteen, the sort who could recite every single story title in order. (Actually, I still can.) And the affection for it never went away. The original BBC series was cancelled in 1989, and although I was at university by then, and was just a little too old to love it in the same way I once had, it caused me genuine distress that it was no longer on the air for the next fifteen years. It just seemed *wrong* in the scheme of things. So when the BBC announced the series was to be revived, way back at the end of 2003, I was over the moon. When my agent phoned me up a couple of weeks later, on that London bus, I was rather higher than the moon and somewhere in the vicinity of Pluto.

The irony was that I was with a new agent, and someone who had no idea of my Doctor Who geekery. And someone, too, that I had told rather stiffly I had no interest in working on anyone else’s television series – from now on, I’d said, I’d only write self-created work. So when she phoned to tell me an offer had been made, and that I was to bring back something called… what was it they’d said, Daleks? – I jumped on her right there and then to ignore all I’d instructed her and to accept. (I think she might already have done so. Every good agent knows to ignore me most of the time.)

3. The worst thing that’s ever happened to me at a con/reading was …
Conventions are a bit awkward and embarrassing if you’re there as a very minor guest, and no one has the faintest clue who you are. If I go to a Doctor Who convention, I’m treated (rather wonderfully) like minor royalty. Doctor Who fans are terribly loyal. They give you free beer, and free pastries, and free head massages. But if it’s a *general* sci-fi convention, and I’m only there to represent the Doctor Who contingent because I’m incredibly cheap – if I’m surrounded by lots of actors from American shows, and I’m just a *writer* from something made in *Wales* – then I can feel a bit like a village vicar in a room with the Pope.

I was at a con in Toronto once where that was most acutely obvious. I was in the green room, walking about helping myself to nibbles, in the company of several Star Trek actors, guest stars from The X-Files, and that lady who was in Babylon 5 who was also in Lost. (My God, was she grumpy.) I think they all thought I was some crazed fan greedy for snack food. I then had to appear on a live television show alongside George Takei. George Takei was a charming man who spoke about the great innovations of Gene Rodenberry, and how all the fictional gadgets he’d come up with like the communicator had been so prophetic. I was then asked by the interviewer whether Doctor Who was similarly advanced, whether that too would inspire the great inventors of the future. Whether the TARDIS could be something that’d be the blueprint to a whole new technology our children might enjoy. “Nah,” I said. “It’s a load of old bollocks, really, isn’t it?”

4. I hate being a writer when …
That’s hard. I don’t think I ever hate being a writer. Not any more.

I used to. There was a period when I just found the whole *effort* of filling a blank page to be torture. And then there were the deadlines. And then there was the editing. And then there was the awful self-realisation, upon finishing every single script, and every single story, that you hadn’t revolutionised the art form after all, and that what had made the journey from brain to paper was about five per cent of what you’d hoped for.

But now I just find the idea that I’m a writer terribly funny. I became a full time writer when I was 22. I was very lucky. I’m now 40. I realise I’ve spent 18 years for someone to tap me on the shoulder and tell me it was all a mistake, or a very odd joke – that I’m not allowed to do this job after all, that I have instead to go and do something that involves cash registers or heavy lifting. It’s bound to happen one day. My shoulder is ever waiting. But until my shoulder is tapped, I’m determined just to enjoy the whole thing – deadlines, editing, self-doubt and all!

5. Donuts (or doughnuts) or danishes?
Hmm. Doughnuts. I like toying with the hole in the middle, and pretending its calorific content extends to the entire ring around it.

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Just saw that the delightful Rob Shearman is joint winner of the Shirley Jackson Award! Love Songs for the Shy and Cynical is wonderful – lyrical, gentle, achingly arch at times, and just plain wondrous at others.

BTW: Tiny Deaths won a World Fantasy award in 2008.

Couldn’t happen to a nicer writer.

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Here’s a snippet from the Intro by the delightful Robert Shearman to Sourdough & Other Stories :

We are shaped by the stories we’re told. And the first stories we’re told are fairy tales.

Nowadays, this may not be strictly true, of course. Kids may be dangled on the knees of overprotective parents, and read stories of hungry caterpillars, or shown cartoons with easily digestible morals, or sung ballads which are all about emphasising the importance of the letter ‘B’. But the kids reject them in the end. In the end, they come back to the fairy tales, the ones that have been handed down through generations – the ones that feel elemental.

Angela Slatter’s tales too feel elemental. As you read them, you can’t but help feel you’ve read them before – or snatches of them, at any rate. Surely you heard these when you were children? They’re like the fairy tales you can only dimly remember – the lesser-known ones kept in the back of the books you read when you were small – perhaps hidden because they were stranger, and meaner, and more disturbing. The elements are all there; there are castles, and princesses, there are spinning wheels and cursed marriages.

And what Angela catches so well about the fairy tale is the very matter-of-factness of these stories of magic and weirdness. About how very casual are its cruelties. This is a world in which bargains are made that rarely serve either party well, in which a person can pull off her own thumb in order to distract an enemy, in which tongues can be cut out with only mild regret, in which souls can be lost, futures destroyed, whole identities wiped and stuck inside idiot dolls.

The effect of all of this is to create a universe in which, for all the magic and wonder to be seen, individual lives are cheap and hard and soon forgotten. And in which the very phrase ‘live happily ever after’ can be flung as an ironic rebuke …

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Robert Shearman’s new collection of short stories is almost here! Squeeeee!

If you read and loved Tiny Deaths (which you did, you know you did), then Love Songs for the Shy and Cynical will make you even happier. I had the good fortune to read an early draft of the collection and can highly recommend it. Tiny Deaths won a World Fantasy Award … I see no reason why this next one shouldn’t follow in its sibling’s footsteps (but no pressure).

The first love song in the world, as composed by a pig in the Garden of Eden…

The Devil, alarmed when his hobby of writing romantic fiction begins to upstage his day job…

Sometimes poignant, sometimes cruel – but always as startling and fresh as Shearman’s fans have come to expect.

Pre-order here http://www.bigfinish.com/ranges/love-songs-for-the-shy-and-cynical

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Or something like that. This looks exciting anyway:

Chain Gang

There’s a new series starting on BBC Radio 7 on Saturday September 26th, and they want you to help out.

Chain Gang, written by Rob Shearman is looking for help. They’re going to make the first two minutes of a story and transmit it on Radio 7 – and then want you to tell them what happens next. Each week Rob will dramatise one of the storylines that people send in to create the next episode.

You can find out more at the Chain Gang website, where you’ll also find instructions after the first episode transmits about how to send in your storylines.

From Piers Beckley over here http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/writersroom/2009/09/chain_gang.shtml

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So much writey goodness in Brow #5 … if for no other reason, get this one for Rob Shearman’s Be of Good Cheer (you know, Rob Shearman, talented British writer, wrote that Dr Who ep, won a World Fantasy Award for his first collection Tiny Deaths – yes, I see you nodding and light bulbs going on around your head, that Rob Shearman). Art! Writing! Assorted miscellaneous goodness. Blurby bits below:

Hey what! It’s Friday, and Brow 5 is up for preorder (ships in a few weeks). What it got??? A chapter from Tom Bissell’s Rome book (out 2012). Twelve new poems by Tao Lin. Michael Hearst goes on tour with The Magnetic Fields. New work by Robert Shearman, Mandy Ord, Glen David Gold, Bryce Wolfgang Joiner, Scarlett Thomas, Angela Slatter, Justin Taylor, Chris Currie, Tony Birch, Krissy Kneen, Blake Butler, n a bourke, and many more.

Art all the way through by James Gurney (Mr Dinotopia) and Renee French. A hundred pages of the best and strangest new writing about Brisbane. And Thomas Benjamin Guerney’s fully acted-out and music-ed sci-fi audio drama: eighty minutes of strict post-apocalyptic rhyming couplets, which Daniel Handler calls “an epic of heartbreak and awesomeness”. TLB5 is a 280-page book + CD.

Better yet, you can subscribe to either side of this issue. Start right now with TLB4 (Spiral Stairs, Heidi Julavits, The Lucksmiths, Neil Gaiman, and 103 others), or finish in December with TLB6, which is an atlas of the world: 246 countries, a bunch of cities, and several made-up places, newly observed by The Church, Douglas Coupland, Christos Tsiolkas, Bodies of Water, and who knows who else.*

POINT OF PURCHASE: www.theliftedbrow.com.

Heaps of live shows coming up all the way into October. Let’s keep in touch. And let’s never land this ROFLcopter! Not when “the giggles” is a renewable fuel.

We feel lucky every day, all thanks to you, and we always hope you’re doing good. This is totally, personally, 100% the book I wish I could get in the mail today and spend all Saturday reading. Works with a coffee. Try it, you’ll like it.

The Lifted Brow.

*Maybe you? Submissions close in 11 days, and the details are really easy: http://www.theliftedbrow.com/?page_id=14 (read less) Hey what! It’s Friday, and Brow 5 is up for preorder (ships in a few weeks). What it got??? A chapter from Tom Bissell’s Rome book (out 2012). Twelve new poems by Tao Lin. Michael Hearst goes on… (read more)

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