Quote #21 Annie Ernaux

He knew birds from their songs and looked at the sky every night to know what the weather would be like, cold and dry if it was red, rain and wind when the moon was in water, that is to say sunken in the clouds. Every afternoon he hurried to his garden, always neat. To have a scruffy garden, with badly taken-care-of vegetables, showed a sloppiness that was a clear sign of bad character, like being careless about one’s appearance or drinking too much. It meant losing the notion of time, the time in which different varieties had to be planted, and the worry of what others might think. Sometimes notorious drunks redeemed themselves with a beautiful garden grown between two benders.


Annie Ernaux – A Man’s Place (La Place)


(Translation mine, and hurried – you’ll find professional translations of a couple of Ernaux’s books at the beautiful Fitzcarraldo Editions)

(Short review of the book here)


A tiny Mars story

I’ve just realised that a story of mine that was published a couple of years ago in Helios Quarterly is available to read online.

It’s a wee thing, a romance, and/or a horror story, about a rover-like robot, and its astronaut handler. Have a gander here.

Nasa's Curiosity Rover takes selfie in middle of dust ...


A few self-centered thoughts on awards


In less than a couple of months my short story collection The Proverb Zoo will be celebrating its first anniversary. It’ll get half cut on lager, get on the table and banjax its knee, before realising the pub is empty and it has work tomorrow.

It’s a strange thing putting a book out in the world. Short stories in particular, unless you’re Tom Hanks, probably won’t get you a lot of attention. And being with a small publisher means small distribution, and little to no publicity.

That’s where awards come in. I used to think a book published would be eligible to awards, and have that shot, however long, at reaching a few more people.


In reality, literary prizes can be expensive. The Dylan Thomas Prize, for instance, costs the publisher £2,500 and forty copies of the book by the time it has reached the shortlist. Which for many small presses simply isn’t feasible.

Add to that eligibility: there are few prizes that reward short stories. A favourite of mine, Cork’s Frank O’Connor prize, has closed doors. It used to have no restriction in terms of nationality, age, or whatever else. It was the biggest prize (moneywise) for a short story collection. The Edge Hill Short Story Prize is a good one, but limited to writers born or residents in the UK and Ireland.

All this to say that this fellow here, what with being French and boringly residing in France, has/had two avenues to try to present his Proverb Zoo to the world:

  • The Republic of Consciousness Prize: rewards “the best fiction published by publishers with fewer than 5 full-time employees”. A brilliant prize that highlights books that don’t benefit from juggernaut PR campaigns. The Proverb Zoo was sent to the RoC Prize, but as you can see from the shortlist (and you should go have a look at it, buy a couple of these beauties), it didn’t make it.
  • The Saboteur Awards: a great, innovative award that looks for nominations in many categories (best magazine, spoken word night, etc…), and is open to public voting. Here’s where you come in: if you have read and enjoyed The Proverb Zoo, please consider nominating it. Buy it a drink, help it get off the table unharmed. If you haven’t, well, consider doing so (nudge nudge), and/or voting for whatever great stuff you’ve worn your eyeballs out on this year.

And in general, help these great awards, vote for them, buy the books, be awesome.

Slán folks, and thanks for listening

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A Personal Anthology of short stories

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I wrote a bit on twelve short stories that have stayed with me in A Personal Anthology, run by Jonathan Gibbs. It’s a great project: a weekly newsletter of 12 short stories selected by a different literary person everytime. You can (and should) sign up to the newsletter itself, or browse the site by writer/contributor.

I’ve tried to make my contribution varied enough, and most stories are available to read online, so go have a look!


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Stray thoughts on the aging of translation

  1. I read recently in Le Monde des Livres, the literary supplement to Le Monde, an article on re-translating books, and more specifically Poe and Fenilore Cooper. A part struck me: they talked of the recent wave of re-translations for American noir novels, the Raymond Chandlers & Co., that had to be “dépigallisé” (from Paris are Pigalle), ie cleaned up of the obsolete slang, to “go back to the modernity of their language and the complexity of their characters”. This is the same monstruously heavy slang that one will find in movies with Lino Ventura or Jean Gabin, which, added to the old-timey pronunciation, can make classic films appear multi-layeredly (sorry) remote.
  2. A few years ago my cousin was reading some Hemingway (in French). My mother, who used to be a French teacher, and hence pretty well read, commented on the fact that she was reading such an old-fashioned novel. While in the English speaking world old Ernest has remained esteemed as a modern classic, his style still pointed to as an example, in France it feels like he’s one of these old guys we don’t really think about. (Sub-thought: a student of mine – I teach English – was recently reading The Old Man and the Sea in bilingual format, with opposite pages in English and French. Hemingway’s pared-down sentences were turned into rich, convoluted ones.)
  3. I had the opportunity recently to see Hitchcock’s  North by Northwest (1959) in the cinema. When Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant) meets Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint) in the restaurant car of the train he’s fleeing on, he tells her within a minute of sitting down at her table that it’ s hard not to tell a beautiful woman “that I wanted to make love to her” (or something along those lines). The French sub-titles read “that I want to court her”. Pure gent, like.


Yes, he is.


Weird film in Nightscript

I have a new story out in the fourth volume of the excellent Nightscript anthology. It’s about a film shoot, a forest, maybe lovers. I’m quite happy with it, if I can say so myself.

In usual Nightscript fashion, it’s full of brilliant dark stories. And if you’re looking for something to read this Halloween (and beyond), they have a great offer: a bundle of the four volumes for 44$, shipping included WORLD-WIDE!

Cork International Short Story Festival

Folks, I am obviously terrible at this being up-to-date thing, but I thought I’d still say a few words on here about the Cork International Short Story Festival that took place in September, between the 12th and the 15th.

I was lucky enough to be invited to read from The Proverb Zoo. The event was in Cork’s central library, which meant a lot to me, in that the place is a little the ground zero of my writing career*. I used to live across the river from the library, and I spent a good few hours in its warm, well-lit interior. And it’s at the festival that I first heard people talk about writing, and in particular about short stories. I attended it a good few years, volunteered for it once. So, yeah, it meant a lot to participate as a writer.

There were loads of great short story writers. Highlights for me were Welsh writer Carys Davies (who writes some pretty striking historical stories), and Ben Marcus (US). I read his The Age of Wire and String a few years ago, a crazy little collection that reads like an encyclopedia of a world both familiar and a little (a lot) off. At the festival he read a brilliant story from his brand-new book Notes from the fog.

Events I regret missing were Irish writer Mia Gallagher and Helen Oyeyemi (UK), whose works are well worth checking out.

All in all, a brilliant festival to attend for short story lovers who are not to far from Cork, or can make their way there somehow.



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