Archive for the ‘Cold Light’ Category

Zoos. Reviews.

Saturday, August 13th, 2011

I came home from a lovely (very damp) week away to find that Cold Light has been nominated for this year’s Guardian’s Not the Booker.

Two years ago A Kind of Intimacy made the short-list, which was just splendid. So if you read Cold Light and you liked it you send me to the short-list again by clicking this link here and following the instructions. You need to write a short review to make your vote count.

If you didn’t like Cold Light, don’t let that stop you from voting. It almost always turns into a nice on-line scrap and there’s nothing like it, is there? There are some brilliant books on the long-list. Perhaps I’m supposed to vote under a series of aliases for myself, but my vote went to the book I nominated: Russ Litten’s Scream if you Want to Go Faster – and you can read my mini review of it here. I would have voted for Michael Stewart’s King Crow, also long-listed – a beautiful, startling, odd book set in Salford and Cumbria – a sort of Fight Club meets Kes – but Russ’ book just pipped it to the post by being so well constructed and unpredicatable. I wish I’d been allowed to vote twice.

I wrote on the ‘about’ pages of this blog that I don’t do book reviews. As ever, please refer to the title of this blog as an explanation for my recent review of David Whitehouse’s Bed which appeared in the Guardian Review last month.

I don’t know if reviewing is going to be a bigger part of the work I do in the future or not, yet. It is still something I have very mixed feelings about. I would, wouldn’t I? It’s strange and a bit not-on being the animal in the zoo as well as the person selling tickets at the gate, isn’t it? But reading is such a huge part of my working and thinking and writing life that it seems peculiar I rarely mention my opinions about the books I read in public. I will think on this more.

The next nice thing was hearing that Cold Light has been chosen by the Birmingham Books Festival to be their official Book of the Festival. I’ve appeared at various Writing West Midlands gigs over the years both as a writer and a reader and I have always been impressed by their events. I’ll be doing various things with the festival this Autumn, including an event on the 16th October. If you’re a bit skinty, the festival bods have just opened a competition where you can win two tickets for the event. All you need to do is write a short review of the book, and the best reviewer will be awarded the tickets.

US Cold Light Cover

Friday, July 29th, 2011

click to make it even bigger and better

Top Banana!


Sunday, May 15th, 2011

So. The Launch has come and gone.

Because Waterstone’s wanted Cold Light to be in their May promotion, the publication date was pushed forward a little from mid May to the end of April. Sceptre were fearsomely and efficiently ready, but I wasn’t, and refused (other than to get rid of a couple of bottles of fizz on the 28th) to feel like the novel was really ‘out’ until the original publication date.

Last Friday, Tom Fletcher launched his new and brilliant novel The Thing on the Shore and I tagged along with the launch for Cold Light. It was everything a launch party should be and our friends from the Northern Lines Fiction Workshop – the moral-supporters, pointing-out-when-you’re-being-lazy, noticing-crap-grammar-and-lazy-characterisation, buying-you-a-pint-when-you’re-feeling-crap amazing set of friends that they are, read with us. And we got quite a bit drunk.

It was a celebration, after all.

I have been so nervous about publicity. Since January I have been shrinking (literally) and wanting to find a very small place to hide inside. A mouldy stone to slither beneath.

Which is actually a fairly good state of mind to be in when it comes to writing another novel.

I don’t know why, it just is.


The launch night was stuffed full (a hundred people or more, apparently, and people sitting in the fridge…) of friends, not journalists or book buyers or customers. Just friends there for Tom and me. I know that launch parties are only for the author’s ego, and do nothing for sales or reviews or anything else. But my ego has been through the wringer, and it needed it.

If you were there and you haven’t had a message from me yet – thank you. My giant, pathetic, enormous and disgusting ego thanks you.

My ego is a giant, sweaty, moist thing. Its sort of pink and glandular looking – like the inside parts from CSI-New York.

Don’t worry, haters. Tomorrow it will be shrinking back to its papery, crinkly, skeletal nettle-leaf self.

And since then there has been the first nice print review and interview / feature in The Times (behind a pay-wall so I don’t think it would be nice to quote from it here) and a kind blog review and interview from The Book Bag and something amazing about the cover and an interview at 3am and so many emails and messages.

I have been overwhelmed with terror for three months and now I am overwhelmed with whatever the opposite of that is.

I think what I am trying to say is that writing can be fairly hard work and lonely. And of course I know I am lucky to be doing it. But it takes a long time, and the chance for celebration comes along only once every two years or so – if you are slow, like me.

And I have learned this week that it is good to celebrate and feel very loved and happy that you managed to do something that didn’t seem possible. Because there will always be work and doubt and trembling and it’s nice to have a day (well, an evening) where things like that don’t matter.

Thank you, friends.

Cold Light book trailer – the stills

Sunday, April 17th, 2011

Click on the pictures to see how brilliant they are. Go on.

These are all stills from the Cold Light trailer – which I spent a day out and about in Preston on Friday helping to make.

My bit was very tiny but the guys at Progress let me hang about for a bit afterwards to watch the filming and see how these sorts of things are done. I’ve never had an experience like that before and I was blown away by the detailed and careful attention required to make even a short film. I could offer only a tour of Preston’s less beautiful corners and a styrofoam cup of parched peas as a token of my gratitude. And while filming in the bus-station, some tiny Preston scallies strutting around in their own little cloud of skunk-smoke threatened to stab us all in the neck. Sadly, they didn’t hang around long enough to sign consent forms so they could appear as extras.

Book trailers that show the faces of the characters run the risk of disappointing the reader. So much of the pleasure is to be found in imagining the faces of the characters for yourself. I know that because I like reading as much as I like writing, and so it was something I worried a little bit about. Especially when it came to putting the faces of Chloe and Lola out there. Cold Light is a gripping, page turnery book with a tangled investigation into a decade old murder at its heart but, like everything I write, it is really about the changing and troubled relationships between the characters. And these two in particular. More than event, more than setting – if Chloe and Lola were going to be cast for the trailer, it was important to get them right.

I met with the film makers in the pub the night before to go over the schedule for the next day.

‘You’ve not seen the girls yet, have you?’ one of the guys said.

‘Nope,’ I squeaked, and a few clicks and swipes of a mobile phone later and a picture of Becky and her friend Gemma appeared.

And I came over all teary eyed and emotional, which is unlike me. They are just right. And the the painstaking work that Progress did before filming – reading the book, casting the actors for Carl, Chloe and Lola, visiting Preston to scope out the locations, shopping for clothes, parkas, shag bands, bags of chips and more gold jewellery you can shake a stick at – means that these images are as close to what went on in my head when I was imagining the story as possible.

What do you think?

I’m very pleased, and dead excited about seeing the finished product. Which should be soon.

Big (mega) thanks to Matt, Ben and Amy at Progress, Katy at Sceptre and Andrew, Gemma and Becky the cast. Andrew did a brilliant job of looking appropriately terrifying but is actually not like Carl at all IRL. So don’t send him hate mail because he’s a gentleman. 🙂

Tug O War

Monday, April 11th, 2011

Bad blogger again.

I am very deep into my first draft of the third book. As yet mainly un-named. Just over 50k words in. I want to get it written as fast as possible because I can already guess the sort of editing that it is going to need and I want to give myself plenty of time to do it.

I didn’t think writing to a deadline would suit me but imagining my editor drumming her fingers on her desk waiting for me to type a bit quicker is actually very helpful. Vanishing into the spaces between the words and the noise the keyboard makes is wonderful. I reckon if I could fully explain how happy it makes me I wouldn’t need to do it.

But there are other demands on my time. I am pulled out of my head and into the world and then the book makes me irritable and hauls me back again. I can only imagine how fun this, along with the anxiety about Cold Light’s imminent arrival, is making me to live with.

Tugs in the other direction include two recent interviews – journalists coming inside the house, which was new and strange. Both very nice and polite and complimentary about my domestic offerings (tea, fig rolls, a token amount of pre-visit hoovering up) but Strangers all the same, inside My House and with Tape Recorders.

I was naively unprepared and expected to be asked only about the books, but that wasn’t how it panned out. I’d really like to have a body double Jenn for interviews. Someone bubbly and cheery with thoughts like lasers instead of grumpy, inarticulate woolly me.

Something I have learned this week about being interviewed: the only way to deal with the thoughts about what an idiot you were, and what stupid things you said, is to refuse to think them at all. Type, instead. Drink tea. Get over yourself.

Teaching – busy at this time of year as I have one set hurtling towards the end of their first year, and the handing in of portfolios. I suspect they are still disbelieving when I tell them one of the most useful things they can train themselves to do for their writing is to read it out loud to themselves, look up words they’re not sure of and be consistent about italicising the names of books and computer games. It is true. Little things count. And the other lot, slowly losing themselves in longer short story collections and novels and forgetting that they’re going to get marked on this sort of thing, because merits and passes and distinctions are not that important when it comes to writing good books. It’s a tiring time, working with them, but the best time so far.

On the way home from Manchester there’s a man who has sat next to me twice now who does that legs wide apart thing. He opens a textbook to learn Chinese and then puts his head back against the seat and closes his eyes. I coughed a little and touched his arm (I thought he was sleeping) and I told him he was squashing me a little bit. He said, ‘I know love,’ and I laughed, feeling envious of that amount of confidence, and leg room.

More things tugging me away from the first draft, and the pleasure of becoming invisible:

My first event in a long time as part of my fellowship at Manchester University. I read a bit from Cold Light AND a very early drafted part of something from book three. Which I worry might have been a mistake. It’s like a new love right now. I want to talk about how brilliant it is all the time, but I’m experienced enough to know we’re heading for a fall out sometime soon and those sort of spats are better fought and won behind closed doors. I read it anyway, never heard it out loud before (that’s right, I don’t take my own advice you clever, close reading devil, you!) but I think it worked okay.

I don’t think I would do it again. It felt like taking off my clothes and pointing out my problem areas to a gathering composed of all the people who have ever dumped me. But it only seemed fair – the audience was stuffed with students who have been trusting and brave enough to show me their drafts and speak to me about their ideas. It felt right to return the favour.

I ate frogs legs, that was new. And was very sad to wave goodbye to my fellow fellow, the poet Paul Batchelor who moves onto new things this month, and whose poems have restored me on more than one occasion, especially in the past few weeks when all my typing has left me emptied out and tearful by the end of the day.

This week there is lots of writing to look forward to and on Friday I am helping to make a book trailer for Cold Light.

(the picture is of Florence La Due who was a cowgirl and ‘champion roper’ and, I imagine, able to handle herself very well in a tug o war, thank you very much)

New Blog Rules

Thursday, January 13th, 2011

From now on I am only going to blog about the nightmares I am having about the publication of Cold Light. I’m having really, really detailed nightmares right now.

A special hard-backed novel-length bad review of Cold Light free to every reader of *insert your favourite broadsheet here*

For the tabloid reader, a full colour supplement, eight page spread of bad reviews..

Oh God. What have I done?

I think I might write the reviews myself, and pitch them to all the papers and blogs and amazon reviewers and good reads raters and book clubs and crazy people who like to send me facebook messages / email me in the middle of the night. It will save them time and at least then there’ll be no nasty surprises for me.

I am sure if I did this I would stop having the nightmares. Whenever I stand on a bridge I worry about falling off it. That feeling makes me want to jump down, just to get the anxiety over and done with.

Jackets for the hardback arrived yesterday for me to look at. They are perfect and brilliant. I got a hardbacked book of around the same size (it was The Tiger by John Valiant) and tried them on. Felt a bit daft. Took the dust jacket off and got John’s book dressed again. Sorry John.

Picture stolen from here.

Mental Image

Wednesday, January 5th, 2011

Insert glib quote about life imitating art, or something, here.

It has been a week of not much writing and lots of looking. I haven’t planned it this way, but a batch of similar tasks have all cropped up together over the past week or so.

I have been looking at logos and mock up web pages for a new project (you will hear about this soon, and first, o reader  – I promise) and wrestling with the problem of getting the ideas about images out of my head and into an email so that my partner in this project and our designer can see them too.

I’ve also been making lists of locations in Cold Light and discussing the pros and cons of each of them with the digital marketing person at Sceptre. She’s taking my ideas and her own and working them into a brief for a film production company. They’ll use the brief to make a trailer for the book. The idea, I think, is to have me in some of the settings reading bits of the book to bring the locations to life.

When I was writing Cold Light I imagined the river freezing over in icy chunks that were inches thick. It suited me to believe it could happen though in my heart of hearts I doubted it. The cold weather we’ve had over the past couple of weeks has pleased me because the river really did freeze over. Kim took he picture of the Ribble opposite and also recently disproved my theory that fish can live in frozen ponds as long as there’s an air hole in the ice.

So all this thinking about setting, and location reminded me of a conversation I had with a member of the audience during an MLF / Rainy City Stories event about Writing and Place late last year. The three of us (me, Claire Dudman, Nicholas Royle) were talking about using real places in fiction. I said I’d used Preston for Cold Light, but taken some liberties, changed a few things around – for my own convenience and because I didn’t want to depict the place exactly, but write more or less how I felt about it (hence the river freezing over  – which at the time I didn’t think was possible.)

I made a hash of explaining it, but I think I meant that the atmosphere and emotions of a place were more true and real and interesting for me than street names, real bus routes, distance between parks and shopping centres, Debenhams’ policy on shoplifters. There are Facts and ‘facts’ about a place. And the audience member said, ‘well why call it Preston at all then?’ which was a good question, and stumped me, until I realised on the way home (spirit of the staircase) that I hadn’t actually mentioned Preston by name at all in the book – just other things that made it obvious, like the name of the motorway and the river and the shape and size of our very special multi storey car-park.

Us Prestonians have got some fantastically grotty places – I’ve been revisting my memories of them to find pictures to show to the people in charge of making a film that will sum up Cold Light in four minutes or less. The only problem is that, especially in the not-grotty park, the locations of 1997 are not the same now. So not only could I never find pictures of the fictional Preston I’ve bludgeoned into existence with my keyboard, but the pictures that will appear on the film trailer will be more than a decade out of date.

I know that’s okay. I know that the trailer, the same as the book, is interested in evoking rather than describing a place. In this case, a pretend one.

But all the same, here I am making lists of  locations to film in, finding photographs on flickr and fretting because the old bandstand isn’t there any more and things in the trailer aren’t exactly going to look the way they do in the book. The only place it is real is in my head. The film trailer and the map I am making and the other bits and pieces that make use of real places and pictures to describe what it might look like are just approximations of it.

With A Kind of Intimacy, when people have mental pictures of Annie or her house that don’t quite match up to mine, I can shrug – the book is as much yours as it is mine now. She can be six foot tall for you and around my significantly-below-average height to me – it doesn’t matter too much, and the fact that the reader is the co-creator of the novel – bringing the pictures to life and using the words as their jumping off place – well, that’s what books are for, isn’t it?

Perhaps all this anxiety I’ve found in rooting about for images and trying to find the exact right picture to show the film production company what the park where Emma and Lola do their drinking should really, really look like, is just a way of not letting go, not giving the reader room to make her own pictures. And I think it’s because now it’s 2011 and the book will be published This Year and I’m getting nervous about having to let go of it whether I want to or not, and a little bit because over the past month I’ve seen parts of Cold Light become real before my eyes.

Which is unsettling.

Winter Wonderland

Wednesday, December 29th, 2010

2010 has been a good year for me but I’m glad to be leaving it behind. I wasn’t very well for quite a lot of it, and there are so many new things to look forward to next year.

Like a new business, and a new job, and a second semester teaching at UCLAN and of course, the new book.

I’ve been excited to show you the cover for quite a while. More excited than ever now there’s chunks of ice floating along in the Ribble and Preston looks a bit like the pretend-Preston in Cold Light.

I like it a lot. When I was down in London in the summer I looked at lots of drafts for this cover – pictures of frozen ponds and icicles and bare trees, of teenage girls – alone, in pairs, twirling or staring, fuzzy or in focus, sitting on benches, in the grass, near water. Of spider-webs decorated with frost, of parks, of the sky in winter.

They all captured the strange and other-worldly chilliness I wanted to evoke in the book but Cold Light isn’t so much about girls’ friendship as it is about what it feels like to be permanently excluded from friendship (yes, again) and about what it’s like to stare through the mist, through a frosty pane of glass, at something you don’t quite understand.

The image of the gangly girl staring away from the camera at something too far away to see jumped out at me at the time, and I’m glad it’s the one we all finally went for.

And while I’m here… wouldn’t ‘Winter Wonderland’ make a brilliant opening credits track for a horror film? A snowman dressed as a clown? Come on!

Holes and Writing

Friday, November 19th, 2010

I read this old Guardian article about The Mole man via a rabbit-trail of facebook links that I forget the start of now.

This quote made me smile:

“I don’t mind the title of inventor,” he said. “Inventing things that don’t work is a brilliant thing, you know. People are asking you what the big secret is. And you know what? There isn’t one.”

Mr Lyttle died since the Guardian wrote about him in 2006, but only after being evicted from his own house, re-homed in one belonging to the council and continuing to dig…

I’d hate to turn this blog into a po-faced collection of craft and industry twittering. Of self promotion and back-scratching. I can be very logical and practical and organised and if you want to be good at anything, you need to have or develop those skills.

But there’s the magic of it too. The thing that is harder to talk about than how to get paid, or what colour fountain pen ink floats my boat. The inventing things that don’t work for no other reason than the fact that it’s brilliant. The Mole Man reminds me of the character of Donald in Cold Light… I reckon I was thinking a little bit about writing when I invented him.


Top Banana!

I am off now, happily, to dig holes for no other reason than because I want to.

Imaginary Sandwich. Cold Light Blurb.

Tuesday, November 9th, 2010


In  break from my ranting about cash, here are a few things to look at while I’m busy Checking The Proofs.

Me, Clare Dudman and Nicholas Royle at our Rainy City stories event chatting away about place and wilderness and reviewed for the Manchester Literature Festival Blog by Words & Fixtures Clare. I love the picture she’s chosen for it. Our Nick is offering me an imaginary sandwich and you can’t see my face. Hooray!

Second, my lovely publisher Sceptre (if you’re reading this, I am not blogging but Checking The Proofs I SWEAR DOWN I am I am I am) have put up the Official Blurb on their site and published a short blog post by me about what made me want to write a strange novel about television, flashers and Preston on their blog. Read it.

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