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I like things with a certain…symmetry? weight? Presence. I like things that come into the world already artefacts.Messages cover Messages and Your Messages are two such things. The original Messages project, between Lynne Rees and Sarah Salway, grew out of a collaboration, just an idea that both of them stuck to. The result is hugely neat and satisfying: 300 pieces of 300 words each. Deep sigh.Your Message cover

Now it’s launching into a smaller format, along with the culmination of the Your Messages project, another brilliantly conceived and executed collaborative project. Lynne and Sarah collated the work, choosing at least one piece for each day of the month, and bluechrome have produced an anthology from it: all proceeds to charity. Talk about art. Yes, let’s talk about it: art as in making from materials, where process is valued as much as product. Where something emerges which moves the eye, the mind and the heart, fully occupying its own space.

Longer term readers of this blog will remember the fun I had doing my first one, on 8 November. It’s the one in Your Messages. Which I can’t wait to get my hands on.

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And hooray! Thrilled to discover over the weekend that one of my pieces has been chosen for publication in Your Messages. As some of you may remember (or maybe not…), the blast of doing it was long-lasting. When I was in the Lakes in late November, I felt quite bereft of the whole project, having wanted to do at least one a week to keep my hand in….Alas, to venture to Hawkshead and try to find a computer would have been breaking my pact with the Land of Long-hand. So I didn’t.

However. It’s turned out more than all right in the end. The launch for Your Messages goes like this:

Messages coverDate: Thursday 31 January 2008

Time: tbc

Venue: The Poetry Cafe, Betterton Street, London WC1

I’ll be reading, along with maybe 20 others! Sounds fabulous. I’m very honoured. Thank you to Lynne Rees and Sarah Salway for thinking of it, and for running such a tight ship. A wonderful, enriching and utterly sound idea which created a strong community, and will produce a fine artefact. Not to mention make some good money for a more than fine charity. Hats off to you, ladies!

At long last I’m able to get to something I’ve wanted to (get to) for a few days now. Things tend to amble into my (our) path(s) though, some enjoyable — the antics of the children, my time away, the Night Train launch — and some not so enjoyable — a grotty cold!

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Rachel Sarai’s VineyardSo. What I’m wanting to mention is Rachel Sarai’s Vineyard, by Deborah Rey. I finished it just before I went away, and thankfully any fear I had of it fading was unfounded: this is a book that stays with you.

The book moves between the grown-up Rachel’s world where her mother is dying and where she is left to deal with the funeral — and the child Rachel’s world where she is a runner for the Resistance, and where a triangulated emotional and psychological battle takes place between her mother, her father, and the beautiful violinist, Marie.

This is also a book that doesn’t pull any punches. The narrative style in the ‘present day’ voice of grown up Rachel swings between rancourous and sarcastic — and is at times insoluably vulnerable. The ‘child Rachel’ voice is closer to reportage: visual, slowly paced, and dealing more plainly with symbolism, letting emotional weight gather. Young Rachel’s wisdom, her determination to ‘be strong’ mixed with a real need and desire to love and be loved is… heartbreaking. Throughout the book, we are reminded of who she was, what was taken from her — and who she is now, what she has inevitably become, her own battles fought.

There are several striking, visceral scenes in the book, which Rey tackles with considerable courage. I found myself wanting to turn away, not to witness this — yet I had to, because Rachel had, and because, in some strange way as a grown-up now myself, I had to. I owed it to her to be with her, as no one had been with her then.

I cried twice while reading this book, and as I say practically held the book at arm’s length on two further occasions. I was flung all over the place.

More than anything, Rachel Sarai’s Vineyard strikes me as a book that absolutely had to be written. The experiences in it simply could not go unrecorded. I can only guess that it must have been simultaneously hellish and uplifting to write, the kind of piece you write with your hand over your mouth. You mustn’t say anything, but then again — then again — you must. And Deborah Rey has.

Now that this particular ice cap has been smashed through, it seems to me that there is at least another book in these experiences. It’s safe water now — not exactly clear sailing — but my instinct tells me the worst is over. I was particularly taken by the lyrical, observational, generous voice of young Rachel, and suspect she has more to say.

Rachel Sarai’s Vineyard is published by — yes — bluechrome, that Portishead bastion of the nearly unconventional. And I think that bluechrome being what it is has allowed this book full voice, much to the credit of author and publisher. A limited Special Edition is available now, and the full print run follows in April 2008.

Losing You front cover

AGAIN!

Amongst the emboldened messages lined up like little soldiers yesterday I discovered a gem: another wonderful review. This time from (astute) Caroline Smailes, on what has got to be one of the most enticingly-titled blogs ever: What You Reading Caroline?

Here’s a taste:

A short read-in-one-sitting novel told in two parts, in two lyrical voices. A sparse yet precise piece of fiction that forces the reader to think about invisible words, about all that is left unsaid.

The story centres around the time just before and after Marilyn’s father’s death and is perhaps a study of the assumed within relationships…There is an eeriness, a darkness that comes from the invisible words, from the unspoken.

Crafted, skilfully paced and visual through familiarity…There are unanswered questions that the reader will never have responses to…I loved the layout and feel of this book. A beautiful object that added to the pleasure of the read.

What a treat! She’s also taken the trouble to put the review on amazon, for which I am grateful.

And I’m delighted to see once again some appreciation for the care bluechrome take with their books. Hear, hear! There’s none of this flimsy almost transparent paper, invisible margins, dense text and bendy covers malarky — no sir-ee Bob. If you’re going to do it, do it right. And they do. bluechrome books are a joy to (be)hold.

I HAVE MOVED

From January 2010, my new blog is Waving and Drowning

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Who am I?


A writer born in Texas, who grew up in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia (yes, like the song), and who's been living in the UK since 1988. I've published two books (see below), and teach creative writing at the University of Kent. I'm married to a composer, and we have two young children. See About for my full profile.