London Book Club Blog

The London Magazine’s Short Story Competition 2014

It’s not an enormous leap to suggest those who love books and reading quite often love writing too. And just in case that applies to any of you, let me tell you about a competition you might like to enter.

The London Magazine has previously run short stories from some of the best-known authors in the world – Raymond Carver, Alison MacLeod, Hilary Mantel and William Boyd. And now you’ve a chance to have your name on that list, as their short story competition will be returning for its third year in September.

There are a few rules (you can check out a full list here), but the important bits are:

  • All entries must never have been published, self-published, published on any website, blog or online forum, broadcast, nor have won or placed (as in 2nd, 3rd,, runner up etc) in any other competition.
  • Submissions can be written on any subject or theme.
  • Short stories can be up to 4,000 words in length (no flash fiction). The title is NOT included in the word count.
  • Entry fee is £10 per short story.

The opening date for entries is 1st September, and you have until 31st October to get your entries in.  The winner is published in a future issue of The London Magazine. The runners up will be published on the magazine’s site. 1st Prize: £500, 2nd Prize: £300, 3rd Prize: £200.

To read more about the competition, the judges, and to download an entry form, please visit the site here. Good luck!

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September’s book: Polo by Jilly Cooper

No, really. Much to Jamie’s chagrin, the 80s MASTERPIECE by JCoops is our read for September. I imagine a few of LBC’s boys are thanking the heavens for their Kindles: the cover of this one is none too subtle.

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In Jilly Cooper’s third Rutshire chronicle we meet Ricky France-Lynch, who is moody, macho, and magnificent. He had a large crumbling estate, a nine-goal polo handicap, and a beautiful wife who was fair game for anyone with a cheque book. He also had the adoration of fourteen-year-old Perdita MacLeod. Perdita couldn’t wait to leave her dreary school and become a polo player. The polo set were ritzy, wild, and gloriously promiscuous.Perdita thought she’d get along with them very well. 

But before she had time to grow up, Ricky’s life exploded into tragedy, and Perdita turned into a brat who loved only her horses – and Ricky France-Lynch. Ricky’s obsession to win back his wife, and Perdita’s to win both Ricky and a place as a top class polo player, take the reader on a wildly exciting journey – to the estancias of Argentina, to Palm Beach and Deauville, and on to the royal polo fields of England and the glamorous pitches of California where the most heroic battle of all is destined to be fought – a match that is about far more than just the winning of a huge silver cup… 

Enjoy. How could you not?

George RR Martin and Robin Hobb in conversation

Metro journo and stalwart LBCer Daniella went along to see George R R Martin, author of the spectacularly successful phenomenon that is Game of Thrones. Here’s what she thought…

This week I was lucky enough to go along to see authors George RR Martin and Robin Hobb in conversation at London’s Freemasons’ Hall, in a event hosted by HarperVoyager and Blinkbox.

While Game Of Thrones fans might have been hoping for a few more hints of what’s to come in the A Song Of Ice And Fire series, the evening offered a fascinating insight into the writing process for two highly successful authors.

Martin said that ‘writing is not a career for anyone who needs or values security,’ adding that he believes being an author is ‘a career for gamblers’. He also revealed there were times when he believed his career was over, but ‘even at the times where I was afraid I was never going to sell another book, I never doubted that I would write another book’.

Given how we critique books we love (and hate) at book club each month, it was also interesting to hear George RR Martin discuss his experiences as a reader too. He admitted there were books he couldn’t put down that he felt he could have improved upon, while some works that he valued critically that he couldn’t finish.

I also loved what host Jane Johnson, the UK editor for both Martin and Hobb and a successful author in her own right, said of reading: ‘It’s a very magical process, reading. I think it’s the most personal thing you can ever do because it’s just you and that story and nobody else can interfere with it.’

All in all, a great evening and an interesting discussion.

If you want to read more about the event, I also rounded up some of the evening’s highlights for Metro here: (http://metro.co.uk/2014/08/20/writing-is-weird-man-the-highlights-of-game-of-thrones-author-george-rr-martin-and-robin-hobb-in-conversation-4838243/)

Date for the Diary: Poets Out and About in Paris and London

The lovely folk at the Book Department of the Institut Francais emailed this week to let us know about a poetry event that they’re hosting.

jacques-reda

Jacques Reda

Poets Out and About will feature poetry readings and discussions from London-based writers as well as Jacques Réda, one of France’s greatest living poets whose work explores the uncanny banality of city life. The event will pay tribute to the continued resonance of this poet’s work in the urban landscape. The event is chaired by poet and Modern Poetry in Translation editor Sasha Dugdale.

It’s all happening on Friday 12 September at 7pm at the French Institute in London. Justin Hopper will bring the evening to a close with a performance poem specially composed for the event.

Entry is free, but if you want to attend, you’ll need to register by emailing box.office@institutfrancais.org.uk – and let them know LBC sent you!

August’s book: Open City by Teju Cole

We’ve (all right, I’ve) been neglecting LBC’s lovely blog of late. No more. Let’s get back on the right track with our pick for August, suggested by the lovely Alice V: Teju Cole’s Open City.

 

Open City

 A haunting novel about national identity, race, liberty, loss and surrender, Open City follows a young Nigerian doctor as he wanders aimlessly along the streets of Manhattan. For Julius the walks are a release from the tight regulations of work, from the emotional fallout of a failed relationship, from lives past and present on either side of the Atlantic.

We’ll see you at the end of the month. Happy reading.

On the curation of an impressive bookshelf

LBC’s Hannah on her bookshelves – and the careful consideration of what’s on them. Hannah blogs here, where this post first appeared. Reproduced with permission.

A Confession

It’s no secret that I have a book problem, right? I mean, I accidentally ended up in the remainders section of Gower Street Waterstones today and came out with a PG Wodehouse and Hunter S. Thompson’sGonzo Papers – and I only have about 40 books in my to-read pile.

It’s also no secret that many of us in the 20–40 age bracket in the western hemisphere have what might be termed a ‘personal branding’ problem – the essentially automatic editing-presenting of the bits of our lives we choose to present to the world via social media in a way that reflects our sense of ‘us’.

In my case there are certain things I’m ‘proud’ of – a general eclecticism in my cultural tastes, that takes me to McBusted one day and the ballet two days later, with the same amount of joy – but like all such things, it comes with a worrying amount of snobbishness about the things that don’t fit; sometimes a snobbishness about some bits of popular culture, and sometimes a snobbishness about over-intellectualism; and layer upon layer of complexity. This thing here, this thing there, this in that situation, that in this other situation. It’s not even exhausting, it’s so innate – but it is, I think, limiting. I might make a big deal about not wanting to get stuck in my box, but really, unless the right person at the right time acts as a voice of authority, recommending me something that might not naturally cross my path in such a way that makes me take a chance on it (say, making me watch One Direction videos until I can identify all the members of the group…), I’m probably going to end up staying in it – or rather, in my set of boxes, because like most people, I have a collection of interconnecting boxes.

A lot of the time, with my, this appears in my reading. What I read, when and where I read it, where and what I talk about – what I admit to, and what I don’t, and where. I pick books for commuter journeys, long train journeys, and holidays around what I feel like reading at that point in time, and on what I want to be seen reading. I love my kindle, partly because I don’t have to limit myself to the books that will fit in my bag, and partly because I don’t have to make these choices in the same way, but in many ways, the lack of that framework makes it significantly harder for me to choose what to read next. Yes, I know.

This continues on, into the choices I make about the books I keep, and why. For example, my copy of The Da Vinci Code, read in an attempt to understand what all the fuss was about and a desire not to reject something just because it was insanely popular (one which may have backfired, as I am now deeply sceptical of the insanely popular book in large part because of wasting my time on The Da Vinci Code), is now stashed somewhere in my parents loft. I refuse to have it on my shelves – and I have no desire to re-read it, so what would be the point? But equally, I refuse to give it away in case someone else wastes their time reading it. And I’m not into burning, or even pulping, books. That’s ridiculous, right?

Meantime, in my ongoing attempt to reduce the number of books I own by being realistic about what I’m going to re-read, or lend out but want back, I am continuing to refuse to get rid of my copy of Gary Shteyngart’s Super Sad True Love Story. I do not dislike SSTLS. But nor do I love it. When asked if I would recommend it, I um and ah about it, and make noises about how I think it’s very good and very smart, and worryingly on the nose about the kind of world we live in and the future we’re creating – and also about how I didn’t really love it, so maybe you should read it, if you think you might like that kind of thing. It really doesn’t need to stay in my possession. I’m not going to read it again. But – and here’s the thing. I like being the kind of person who has read Super Sad True Love Story (and has some opinions about it, obviously) – I have a picture in my head about the kinds of people who have and would read it – and I like it remaining on my bookshelves as a testament to me being one of them. It is also, sadly ridiculous, because honestly, who cares – and why do I care if they care?

I’m not sure that there’s any shame in developing a sense of identity, or making choices about the person you want to be – or in that being reflected in certain cultural choices. But I worry that this becomes so natural that it dominates us – or rather, in my case, I worry that it’s orientated the wrong way, towards making the wrong impression on the wrong people for the wrong reasons. I probably need someone in my life with a claxon to call me out on my nonsense. To run their eye along my bookshelves and toot a horn and say, ‘Hannah, this is the wrong kind of pretentious display, GIVE THIS ONE UP NOW.’

That’s kind of scary, for me. But let’s start with this: if you want a copy of Super Sad True Love Story, let me know, and I’ll arrange for it to reach you.

Review: The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton

By LBC regular George, who blogs at George Berridge where this post was originally published. Reproduced here with George’s permission.

I missed out on last month’s read (We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves) because of work, but I was pretty thrilled to see that our read for April was the 2013 Man Booker prize winner, Eleanor Catton’s 800+ page behemoth, The Luminaries.

Prior to starting, I’d read all but two of the MB shortlist (The Luminaries and We Need New Names) and so from the off I thought Catton had some serious work to do – the competition was very strong. While I thought The Lowlands and Harvest were good, though not particularly captivating, Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being was magnificent and Colm Tóibín’s Testament of Mary remains one of the most heart-breaking and beautiful things I’ve ever read.

I can report, now, that Catton’s place on the podium (which I assume they have at the award ceremony else what’s really the point?) is completely deserved. The Luminaries is, on reflection, a staggering piece of work and a huge achievement for a number of reasons.

I won’t give too much of the plot away, but all that is essential for you to know is that the plot takes place in New Zealand during the gold rush of the mid-1800s. It’s initially set up like an episode of Midsomer. A young prospective prospector, Walter Moody, lands in a costal town to seek his fortune and to escape from a familial breakdown. On stepping ashore he comes across a Masonesque meeting of 12 men who are gathered to piece together a series of events involving the attempted suicide (or so the allegation stands) of a whore, the death of one man and the disappearance of another, and the origins and future of a large fortune.

Though it’s a somewhat slapdash comparison, Eco’s The Name of the Rose springs to mind when describing The Luminaries. Not that the plot or characters are similar, but that Catton has clearly put a vast amount of work into the structure and symbolism within the text. The Luminaries doesn’t follow a typical chapter progression style; the book is divided into parts, each half as long as the one prior (the first part is ~half of the book). The book revolves(!) heavily around the use of astrology – the dramatis personæ feature 12 “stellar” or Zodiac characters, and 7 “planetary” or Earth characters. I was told this before turning to page 1 and I am ashamed to admit that I believed I would already dislike the book, what with it being based on what seemed like a gimmick.

I was wrong, reader.

Instead of seeming forced or overly-academic (there is nothing worse in literature than a book that screams “LOOK HOW CLEVER I AM!”), the whole thing brings a fairly standard murder-mystery and gives it a Mariana Trench-like depth. Of course, you could read it and enjoy it perfectly well without this: it’s a great story. But with a little reading of basic astrology, my appreciation for the book increased exponentially.

While the characters certainly feel well-crafted, I can’t help but deal with a nagging sense that some didn’t get the coverage they deserved to make them whole – I won’t go so far as to say I feel cheated by this, but it did feel like a bit of a shortcoming.

Viewed as a whole, retrospectively,  what Catton has achieved is astonishing. As I mentioned at our discussion, one of my 4am showerthoughts was as follows:

When you’re young (or just older and clumsy) there’ll be a time when you break a vase or bowl or something similar of not insignificant worth.

Now, faced with the pieces, it’d be easy to say “well, that’s gone…” and sweep it into the bin. But consider the prospect of piecing the thing back together. Initially it seems pointless and dull, working out what goes where. But when the first big pieces and the bases slot together and the glue sets, you see something good begin to form out of the debris. You keep at it until you’re down to all but shards and splinters. When those final fractured bits of porcelain come together and you look at it as a whole, only then do you come to appreciate it for what it is.

That, to me, is The Luminaries in as small a nutshell as I can find.

There was some heated discussion over whether the books was worthy of the MB. Some questioned whether it won because of who Catton is, or because it’s academic (a critic’s book), forced, or whatever. But I don’t buy that for a second. Catton won because as a young novelist, she dared to try something ambitious and pulled it off.  If prizes refuse to consider books like The Luminaries as more than just text – by excluding their context – they’re not worth the glass they’re made of.