So! Where were we?… we were in 2013 to be precise and I was just saying that I’d been longlisted for the Dylan Thomas Prize and then I fell completely silent. For a year and a half. Why? Well, because I ONLY went and had the best year ever and I sort of forgot to internet for a bit. But now I’m back, hurrah! Just to bring us up to speed, I’ll outline where I’ve been and what I’ve been up to, and then we’ll get back to the usual poetry type stuff.
So the longlisting turned into the shortlisting and then things went a bit nuts. I couldn’t have really anticipated how the Dylan Thomas Prize would affect things, but being part of it really marked a line in the sand in terms of how I looked at my own writing career. It was something that provoked me to acknowledge that I should take my writing seriously – not in a navel-gazing hipster way, but I just became aware that I should start respecting my own writing time and not continue to treat it like a side-line hobby.
The prize week itself was one of the best experiences that I’ve ever had. Me and the other shortlistees were installed in a beautiful house surrounded by horses and hills for the week and taken out each day for publicity calls. The Guardian described our set-up as ‘The Hunger Games crossed with Big Brother’ given that we were all, in a sense, competitors, and also, we were being filmed constantly. Despite the artificiality of the situation (and the fact that we were constantly knackered from being awake for about 23 hours a day which was partially our own fault), it was actually fertile ground for the creation of new friendships as all seven of us were in the same unusual situation and we all navigated it together. I’m still in regular contact with five of the seven short-listees. Infact, Marli Roode, the brilliant south-African novelist is teaching a residential course with me this coming Autumn. I would go into more detail about the experience but really, it would just be gushing because it truly was the best time. And I can imagine reading about it would just be like looking at somebody else’ holiday pictures: faintly boring and abstract.
So fast forward two months to the early Spring of 2014. The dust had settled and I was thinking about what to do next. One morning, staring into my laptop screen, an email popped up asking me if I fancied writing a short story to go in an anthology, and then would I mind going on a mini European tour from the UK to Italy to Germany with the book (I thought about it for about half a second. There is really only one answer to that question!). Then I got phone call from somebody else asking if I’d like to go to Canada ‘next month’. And that was pretty much the template for my year. I was invited to Melbourne, to Sweden (but couldn’t go because I was shortlisted for another prize and had to stay in the country for the awards evening) and to British festivals and events.
I celebrated my publishing house’s 21st Birthday at the Hay Festival with many of my lovely Parthian stable-mates. I saw Icebergs in the north Atlantic, flew over the Alps, saw Raphael tapestries in a neo-classical palace and then had to be ‘contained’ in said palace because a protest had started outside (not my fault). I’ve navigated foreign cities by myself in boiling heat and deathly cold. I’ve met some fantastic people and generally, lived my life thoroughly, properly.
And I got a tiny bit of writing done too. My second book, The Undressed, was released in 2014. Claire Houguez (Parthian) did an amazing job of making the book look elegant. As well as working in publishing, Claire has a (not so secret) side-line in burlesque dancing. She makes all of her own costumes and therefore has an eye for period detail and femininity. She was just the perfect person to direct the visual style of The Undressed. The book itself is based on a cache of antique nude photographs of women and Claire’s interests just dovetailed with it beautifully. At some point, I’ll take some pictures of Claire’s little details on the inside pages and post them up here.
What else? I also bought a caravan (!) and was unexpectedly landed with an 11 week old mongrel pup. I called him Seamus. And that is about it.
I’m just grateful for every tiny second of the past year, it’s been magic. I’d spent quite a few years chained to a desk doing research prior to the DT Prize so it just goes to show that you never know what’s going to happen. I’m now taking some time to focus on a lengthy piece of work again – a new novel inspired by my travels to Newfoundland. I want to get back to reading about Plath too. I’ve been neglecting her as much as I have been neglecting this blog. Sometimes, I don’t do modern life very well. I know that we are supposed to document every tiny thing these days but when I’m into something, I don’t often stop to take pictures or Tweet about it. But I’m glad I wrote this out, it’s reminded me of so many great things, and people. Here’s to the next twelve months!
Ciao for now!