Living in an artist’s house

•August 3, 2010 • 11 Comments

I have found blogging hard these last few months. I have been busy. Or perhaps I am just not  a blogger, not committed? I have been teaching at Totleigh Barton and The Hurst for Arvon with that nice poet Cliff Yates and that young David Flufeder. I have been working on edits of the memoir, due to be published next summer. I have visited Brighton to bounce on castles with my best chum Amanda and her two year old nutter, Willa. I have bought myself a straw trilby for the summer. I have sold another book, wow.  I have been running with Andre, (this morning). And I have been shooting the breeze with Curly, a lot. I like living in her house.

An artist’s house is clean and full of art. A writers house is grubby and full of books.

For the last four months, since April, I have been living in an artist’s house. It is very beautiful and full of good art. The garden is just as the interior, exotic and colourful and full of surprises. Firework aliums and echinaccea, and clambering roses and clematis. I have been teaching out there too. Lovely, of an evening. My students bring humuus and melon and all kinds of goodies to eat.

It’s good for the mental health to live somewhere so aethetically pleasing to the eye.  Though Curly and I have taken to smoking tobacco rollies and drinking the odd beer in the garden. Last night we were at The Island, drinking G and Ts. Summer is a wonderful state of being. Kensal Green is very local. People say hello in the street, everyone knows each other. Caremlo has gone on holiday to Italy for two weeks. Tonight I will blog, for the first time in weeks. then I will read a nice book one of my students sent to me in the post, The Ballad of the Sad Cafe, by Carson McCullers, that Amercian prodigy. I like her work very much.

I must Skpye my mother any day now. I know she will read this. Hello Mum. I’m fine.


But you can’t cut me off!

•June 23, 2010 • 3 Comments

Today a huge cardboard box arrived from Chicago. It was very exciting opening it. Inside a big purple hatbox and inside the hatbox a mountain of sexy and expensive chocolates – a gift from Barbara Kingsolver. My flatmate, Kina, a chocoholic almost fainted when he saw the cache. This gift has been very gratefully received. Thank you Barbara.

I have not blogged for two months because I have been a little…er…discombobulated. Nice word. I moved house on 26th March, the same day my editor called to tell me I’d been short-listed for the Orange Prize. It has all been a bit of a blur since then. Last summer my novel was hardly reviewed in the UK press, now things have changed. Nice reviews everywhere and a tube poster campaign – and the book is selling well and Penguin US have bought it too. Hurray.

This is very gratifying considering that during this time I have been so broke that I could not pay my mobile phone bill – and yes, it’s true – I was cut off – by Orange. I tried to explain to the nice man in accounts that really he should cut me some slack. “You can’t cut me off,” I wailed. “I’m a writer. I’m broke – and I’ve been short-listed for the Orange PRIZE for fiction.”

“Oh, really?” he cooed, interested. “I’ll make a note of that.”

Five days later, my calls were blocked.

This is a writer’s life. And I love it.

Barbara Kingsolver – you rock.

Oh, what a week that was

•April 29, 2010 • 5 Comments

I’ve just had an incredible ten days. I was back at Totleigh Barton, in Devon, looking after a grand old house. I then heard the news that I have been short-listed – for the Orange Prize. Four days later, I turned forty-five. I went to Cornwall to stay with a friend; I came back.

This week I am a little older and a lot more read . Both feel good. There was a flurry of news stories in the national press. Since then, Tweets, nice book blogs, new friends on Facebook, and sightings of my book everywhere, even on the tube – have all been coming in. I am currently celebrating in a quiet way.  My Mummy is coming out for the ceremony and reading at the Queen Elizabeth Hall. My very talented and unruly private creative writing students are also coming to see me read and are threatening to bring banners and football rattles (they already sent me a bouquet which included oranges). I am thinking about a frock. I pinch myself regularly. I am also in training for a 5k charity run in Battersea Park, Race for Life, for cancer research, so running  a lot keeps me focused on….err….running a lot.

As I write this I am wearing pyjamas. I have an article to write, another book to edit. One of my best friends has advised that I stop letting people know that I spend a lot of time  writing in my pyjamas, like now….so maybe I best get dressed, eh?

Fantasies, fantasies…

•April 18, 2010 • 2 Comments

The Trinidadian journalist Andre Bagoo has just uplaoded an interview with me on PLEASURE, an arts/books/pleasure website in Trinidad. Oops. I was silly enough to relay my fantasies about Trinidad’s handsome Prime Minister. And now there is an election brewing in Trinidad, just like here.

Dear Mr Manning, can we talk?

You can  read the interview in Pleasure here.

Truly Madly Tote-lee

•April 15, 2010 • 4 Comments

I’ll be in Devon next week. The village of Sheepwash, to be precise. I’ll be looking after a very old and charismatic house which I love very much. The house is called Totleigh Barton (pronounced Tote-lee Barton by locals) which is now the oldest of three houses owned by The Arvon Foundation. Totleigh is made from cob, oak and thatch. The walls are three feet thick in places, very cool in summer, very snug in winter. Totleigh’s beams were cut from forests nearby. It is a an ancient eco-house, made from whatever lay to hand a thousand years ago, a house thrust up from the ground on which it stands. It is rustic and stately – and a little eerie sometimes, too, for many, (including the poet Mimi Khalvati) have seen the ghost of a servant girl who haunts the house, who once maybe lived in the servant’s quarters by the stairs, the tiny cupboard now used to store loo rolls.

Sheepwash in the spring. Lambs in the rolling green fields, frisky bullocks in the fields too, red deer and badgers foraging about, house martins swooping in and out under the eaves of the old house, red campion and buttercups and primroses in the lanes. All this and  I get to spend a week with Arvon’s Queen, Julia Wheadon, who I also love very much. Julia was my friend and colleague for four years when I was a co-centre director at Totleigh from 2002-2006. I really can’t wait to be there. Good people now run Tote-lee, Claire Berliner and Oliver Meek. I will be assisting Oliver with an Arvon Friends week.

In many ways, I was born at Totleigh, as a writer, I mean. I came as a student in July of 1999, on a Fiction course with Andrew Miller and Emily Perkins. It was Andrew Miller who solved my problem of not being able to write more than a scene of 2000 words. “How on earth will I ever write  a novel?” I wailed. “Simple”, he replied. “Just write about a hundred of those scenes”. Cool guy. Top writer. One of the best writers around today. Andrew Miller was also a student at Arvon. He came on a course when he was eighteen and his then tutor was Angela Carter. Totleigh Barton is mentioned in his first novel Ingenious Pain. He loves Totleigh too. And in some romantic way I like to think there has been a chain of generosity come through Arvon when it comes to established writers mentoring new writers: Angela Carter mentored Andrew Miller who in turn mentored me. That’s why Arvon is such an amazing organisation – for it has, over four decades, fostered many of these literary lineages of writers and poets. My friend the poet Kate Clanchy came on a course taught by Carol-Anne Duffy and was ‘discovered’ at Tote-lee too. Esther Freud wrote the first pages of Hideous Kinky in the garden at Tote-lee. The list of these connections is long.

Ahh, I,am  rambling? Oh, dear.

I can’t wait to be there. Between jobs, I will smoke and drink outside the kitchen wndow and avoid having the house martins drop bird-shit in my pinot grigio. I will go tramping across the fields, up onto the lane which winds along the Torridge and I will go for a pint in the Half Moon with my mate the journalist Deborah Dooley – and I will be very happy.

strong coffee, buns and being a writer

•April 6, 2010 • 3 Comments

Just focusing on my emails, over coffee and toasted buns, when that nice Mr John Self sent me the following online review. Sigh. Made my day. I feel a warm glow spread through me.

For what it’s worth it’s reviews like this, come from outside the media, that make a writer’s life all add up. A writer’s life? Currently, I am long-listed for the Orange Prize 2010 and broker than I’ve ever been in my life. Rent?  Just about do-able. I met an artist friend last night for a drink in my local; over the course of two hours we each sipped a small glass of red wine and chomped through a bag of nuts she brought with her. I want to buy a song from EMI Music Publishing to use in my forthcoming memoir (Andromeda Heights, by Prefab Sprout) and I am faced with having to actually call up a lit-fest that owes me money and explain how badly I need to be paid.

Readers, don’t worry. A writer’s life is also this: planning to leave the country at the end of October to do a sea-voyage, (research for the next novel). Planning to write some of it in Cuba, planning to learn how to sail and dance and – of course –  reading reading, reading – in bed all day if I like (currently on the go is Sara Maitland’s great book on silence) and knowing lots of other ne’er do wells and down and outs who also write and knowing this is how most of us live: up (Orange) and down.  Over time, we all get more or less accustomed to it. My mother wanted such a different life for me. But, in three weeks I’ll be 45. It’s only just dawned on her, I think, this life I have chosen to live. It’s  not a phase.

Pass the jam.

The Writer’s Hub

•March 30, 2010 • 1 Comment

Birkbeck Creative Writing MA have recently launched The Writers Hub, a great new website for writers. Brainchild of my mate the writer Julia Bell, it’s a combination of news, reviews, stories and resources for writers. Amanda Craig, Nii Parks, Jean McNeil, and…err…me are some of those who have contributed to the sites early pages. I have contributed  a list of my eleven favourite websites which you can find on the resources part of the site: the list includes sites for good tea, the best bras, and where to get a jolly good massage. Check out the Writer’s Hub.