Slaves of New York

Monday, 9 January 2012

A series of interconnected stories of life and sex in the city, predating Bushnell by a decade.

Slaves of New York
Tama Janowitz
(Picador, 1987)

I tried to read this short story collection before, but put it down as the first one seemed to be trying too hard. All “look at me, talking about dicks!”. Whatever. On a second attempt, I realized this was a set of stories about dreams and realities in New York. The recurring characters are, for the most part, now recognizable as hipsters: urban artists, bands who never quite break through, etc.

Jewelry designer Eleanor recurs the most. She’s a small-town Pollyanna, desperate to believe she and her boyfriend are on the cusp of success. She’s just so…wet. Though the description of her work at the end made me think of this stuff by Margaux Lange (hattip to Kelly Hale). Are we meant to read her as deluded? Or does the upbeat end of her story mean she is really going somewhere?

Janowitz’s jagged, brusque prose sometimes seems like her characters: pushing so hard to be edgy that it becomes all style and no substance. It’s a style that suits short stories, but can make them disengaging. The collection’s seems laid out to reinforce that.

In the teeth of the evidence

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

This probably rounds out the reviews for the year.

In the Teeth of the Evidence
Dorothy L Sayers
(New English Library, 1970 edition – now Hodder & Stoughton)

I’ve a terrible feeling I’ve read this collection of short stories before. It opens with a Lord Peter Wimsey murder mystery, then a set of Monty Egg murder mysteries, then a set of standalone stories of the ‘sting in the tale’ kind.

Short crime fiction is a very different beast to the crime novel. You need to misdirect the reader yet swing back to the solution without causing whiplash. With less room to manouvre your cast and no space for subplots, it’s a tricky thing to pull off.

It’s not Sayers’ strongest form. When I think of Sayers books, I think of the brick thick Gaudy Night; all Latin quotes and romantic subplots. Wimsey was one of the first detectives to have a domestic live. Put Wimsey in a short story and he’s too high-handed. He barges in and solves a crime, end of.

Montague Egg is much better suited to the short format. A travelling salesman for a wine company, he lives by The Salesman’s Handbook and quotes from it given a chance. He doesn’t seek out murders to solve, he instead tends to be protecting the company’s interests. For example, when a customer dies of poisoning from one of their bottles of wine. Because he is thrown into new situations thanks to his job, there’s less of a sense of him ‘swanning in’.

The nagging suspicion that I’ve read this collection before means I can’t really comment on the sting in the tale stories – they only work if the sting is a true surprise and I seemed to know them already.

If you’re a Wimsey fan, you’re better off with the novels, but this is worth reading for the Egg stories alone. They’re neat and well-characterised, and make full use of the format.


Sunday, 22 February 2009

Sovereign is my latest short story. It’ll be available in the collection Iris Wildthyme and the Celestial Omnibus, published by Obverse Books in the spring.

I am unusually happy with this story. It went from a casual pitch (“Iris goes on holiday to an artists’ commune in 1950s Cornwall, where they are being menaced by a giant owlman”) into something rather stronger. The artists’ commune is now a remote house, as I had to cull extraneous characters, but the themes almost drew themselves out of the idea.

When people ask what the point of twitter is, I make the usual replies most twitterers do. But here’s another. My twitter – like those of many other artists and writers – gives a curious insight into the world of writing. It’s not the same as blogging, which is a more considered process and where each post has a purpose (buy my story!!). I did blog briefly about the story earlier this year though. Here, for anyone wondering, is the inner workings of writing:

10:13 Dec 28 has started writing. Is miracle.

1:15pm Dec 29 is making the drawers on new spare bed, fiddling with new camera and planning to write 1k+ today (yes, @stuartamdouglas, am on it)

9:24pm Dec 29 is gorging on chocolate…and trying to get on with writing

10:12pm Dec 29 has FAIL on writing – will work on train tomorrow.

7:06pm Dec 30 is meant to be typing up notes but is looking at Ollie & Nic sale prior to spree shop there tomorrow.

4:28pm Dec 31 @KittyJimjams strangely, I *always* manage to write several pages when in Foyles cafe, even now Ray’s Jazz has been moved to the 3rd floor.

7:40pm Jan 2 has written up writing from train & is too cold to carry on writing in the attic. Going downstairs for takeaway and warm writing cranny.

10:32am Jan 3 is back in attic, with 600+ words written in bed last night to transfer. Frost so heavy that the road’s gutters were solid ice 1st thing.

12:12pm Jan 3 the 600+ turned into 743 words. Yay!

11:31pm Jan 3 is going to bed early and writing her wintery story there as the temp is due to drop to -4C tonight:

1:03AM Jan 4 has around 1.5k words to type up tomorrow. This writing in bed lark really working.

1:47pm Jan 4 suspects the story works just as well without 1K of what she wrote yesterday. Arses. This is mainly as she’s worked out a key change.

11:54 Jan 5 had forgotten how knackering working a full day and then writing for an evening is.

9:39pm Jan 7 is conducting experiment. Is having your road dug up more likely to distract you from work than the internet?

9:48pm Jan 8 is trying to write epic fantastical end of story but is mostly wishing she had some cake in the house.

11:43pm Jan 8 hates duplex printing at home: always seem to bugger it up

10:36pm Jan 11 has edited her story but still needs to write a missing scene. But wants to watch ER instead.

10:19 Jan 12 is reworking story. And resisting urge to look at vids on you tube.

10:22pm Jan 12 is peeved she can’t use ‘Morgan’ as surname as will look like wicked fangirl.

10:47pm Jan 12 is wishing she’d nicked The Darjeeling Ltd back off the chap. And wondering where her copy of ‘Wild Wood’ by Weller is

12:37am Jan 13 is done! Hurrah! gin!

    As you can tell from that, I was writing the story during the very cold snap in the first weeks of January. What you can’t tell is that it was so cold in my attic that I was sitting here with three or four layers of clothing on, and a rug over my legs. I’ve also deliberately excluded a couple of tweets where I asked if anyone could remember something I’d forgotten, as those give away elements of both the plot and theme and the answer led to the story’s eventual title.

    If you are interested in seeing the minutae that crosses the minds of writers/artists on twitter, you can try following: Dave Gorman, Jon Ronson, Charlie Brooker, Jamie Smart, Jamie McKelvie, Graham Linehan, James Moran, Stephen Fry, Paul Cornell etc etc.

    Murder in Baker Street

    Friday, 25 March 2005

    Murder in Baker Street
    edited by Greenberg, Lellenberg & Stashower

    I’ve been having a bit of a Sherlockian craze over the last few months and, having reread the Canon, I’ve moved onto the non-Canon. (Some of this I can blame of Kelly Hale, whose non-Canon Holmes novel I read a couple of years ago and which is finally getting published.)

    This is a collection of short stories featuring Holmes and Watson by modern crime writers. There’s nothing very wrong, just the occassional jarring Americanism or a not-quite-right Watson voice, but they do seem to lack a certain something. It’s not that I am wedded to the Canon – I thoroughly enjoyed the recent Rupert Everett non-Canon adventure on the BBC – but the devilish detail doesn’t work in most of these. Some suffered from what we in the Doctor Who trade would call the HGWells effect: let’s get our famous fictional character to meet a famous author/person of the time and the historical one will be inspired by him! Thus Holmes is brought into a case, involving mysterious marks on someone’s neck and Mittel European servants getting all superstitious, by one Abraham Stoker.

    The best was, I thought, A Hansom for Holmes which put aside Watson as a narrator in favour of a cabman who gets entangled in a case. This had the lively narration you want from Holmes, without trying to mimic ACD’s style.

    Ah well, it passed the time until the New Annotated… arrived.

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