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Sunday, 31 January 2016

Flash fiction in the fish and chip shop

I wonder if they sell Baggy Pants?

If you've ever waited in a long queue willing the time to pass you're sure to like an idea  French bureaucrats  have introduced for their customers -  free short stories. The Alpine city of Grenoble have, it seems, installed vending machines with printed stories for anyone visiting their municipal offices. What a very good idea.

So how does it work? After  taking a number in the queue at the town hall, customers push a button to receive up to three minutes fiction on scrolled paper  similar to supermarket receipts.

According to The Times newspaper this week the initial 600 stories were drawn from the best on Short-Edition, a Grenoble-based publishing application with 10,000 writers and 141,000 subscribers.

Short-Edition  came up with the idea after watching people enjoy the 'feel-good' factor of buying chocolate from a vending machine.  A short story, they reckoned, could have the same effect.

The machine, which has no screen and just three buttons, has gone down well with French writers who welcome their new (if fleeting)  readership. Nicholas Juliam, a civil servant who contributes to the site says. 'As an author, it's very gratifying to be read, whatever the place.' And who an I to disagree?

Imagine the possibilities - children's books for bored families on airports, flash fiction in the fish and chip shop, horror in the hairdressers and Victorian drama at the dentist's, not to mention that very long queue in the supermarket... Picture the scene when you get to the front of the queue. 'Hold on a sec, will you? I'm on the last page.'

I've just one suggestion. Add a free bar of chocolate too.

Sunday, 24 January 2016

Looking forward to living in the past.

Not a smartphone in sight

I'm often accused of living in the past but reading through today's newspapers it's clear I'm not on my own. The Times runs a heart-warming story of  wartime romance rekindled after seventy years, while  the Guardian takes a look at  Jimmy Hendrix' lifestyle -  'art nouveau,  Ena Sharples and John Lewis curtains.'

Even the Daily Mail is feeling nostalgic: 1970s - The Best Year of our Lives, shouts a headline.The full-page piece previews Back In Time for the Weekend, a six part series  beginning on BBC2 next month. The  programme makers asked one family to try living in five different decades, starting in 1950. And which did they like best? The 1970s.

The Ashby-Hawkins family - child minder Rob, IT consultant Steph and children  Daisy, 16 and Seth, 12, agreed: 'It gave us a real insight. We've done things we never thought we'd do.We've done things as a  family together which has been brilliant. The Seventies,  they added 'had the perfect balance of convenience and family values before households were splintered by technology.'

The Mail gives us some fun facts about each decade. Did 1950s women  really do housework for eleven hours a day, seven days a week?  Not my mum, that's for sure.

By the 1960s, teenagers had arrived  and bingo became popular with housewives. The TV had made its mark and one in three households had a vehicle 'making day trips possible.'

Home brewing became popular in the 1970s  and by the mid 1980s around three million British households had a home computer.Ten years later Sunday trading was legalised and ten times more people shopped on a Sunday than went to church.

Which brings me back to today. According to the Mail the average adult spends more than eight hours a day on media devices. In fact  people can now sit in the same room but not interact because they are using games consoles, smartphones or tablets.

In last weeks Times Magazine food critic Giles Coren  spent two thirds of his column discussing social media. Dining at the upmarket Sartoria in London's Savile Row he  counted 40 diners, 33 of whom were tapping away on their phones.  'I was so angry,' he wrote 'I got up to glare.'

The party of a dozen Italians, who didn't speak to each other, upset him the most. They were, he says,  'presumably forking out for this £1,000 meal nobody was paying any attention to.'

So what's the answer? Maybe we should all try a week without our smart phones and laptops and  try a spot of talking for a change. Let me know what you think.

Monday, 18 January 2016

The 1960s scandal that still lives on....

Photo courtesy of thalidomide uk
Kim Fenton

Campaigner Kim Fenton was born with no legs and deformed hands  - none of which has prevented her from living a successful  life. But this weekend Kim was one of the first to congratulate The BBC for highlighting possibly the worst medical scandal in history through it's popular series Call the Midwife.
Though not based on Kim's life, the programme spoke for all the  children  maimed by thalidomide  - an innocuous-looking pill their mothers took in pregnancy to cure morning sickness in the late nineteen fifties and early sixties.

'I'm delighted that this part of history has been remembered and that a younger generation will know our story,' Kim, a former mayor of Castlereagh  Borough  Council told BBC Radio Ulster's The Sunday News. She and other survivors want the German government to properly compensate survivors who are now suffering even greater  complications as they live through middle age.

Thalidomide  was  developed   by German pharmaceutical company Grunethal in the 1950s and withdrawn three years later after it was found to disrupt foetal development.

As a writer I've always believed in the power of tackling real-life problems through  fiction  but this drama was  more poignant - and more pointed - than anything I've  seen before.

In the well-researched storyline a baby girl is born, without arms or legs, to a happy working class family. Her father, however, rejects her as a monster.  Not even the medical profession at that time understood what had caused the tragedy.

Today I visited thalidomide uk's website to vote for the setting up of an enquiry into thalidomide, something that still, after all these years, has never taken place.

I hope you will too.

You can Find out more about thalidomide here

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

ONLY THE 'LONEY' - debut author hits the big time

Photo courtesy of Lancashire Writing Hub 2010

A modest and extremely likeable  librarian who writes in his spare time has won the Costa First Novel Award 2015 with a  book described by  Stephen King as 'an amazing piece of fiction.'

The Loney by Andrew Michael Hurley had previously received praise from a host of national newspapers including this from the Sunday Times: Dankly atmospheric his eerie narrative is packed with the palpable and pungent..'  Meanwhile the Daily Mail called it 'an eerie disturbing read that doesn't let up until its surprise ending.'

Interviewed on BBC Television North West Today this former schoolteacher who has been writing for 'ten to fifteen years,' seemed as surprised by his success as anyone else.

'I can't quite believe that Stephen King has read my book, let alone given it such praise,' he said modestly  adding  'It's taken me a long time to get here. I'm anything but an overnight success.'

Andrew, who has lived in Manchester and London but is now based in Lancashire, has used a stretch of waste ground in Preston that runs, he says,  'from the back of the council estate to the River Ribble' as the background for his spooky novel. 'Locally the area is called The Loney and I realised straight away that this would be a great title for my novel.'

The Loney was first published by  Tarturus Press, a small independent publishing company in Yorkshire  who agreed a first print run of 300 hardback copies in October 2014. It was some time later that Mark Richards of John Murray realised the book's true potential. Little did the author know that this would take him on a journey leading straight into the arms of the Hachette Group, a name synonymous with global publishing.

Now part of the Hachette Group the John Murray publishing house, founded in 1768, prides itself,  on the 'ability to foster genius.'

So here's to the genius of Andrew Michael Hurley. In a world full of so called celebrities who constantly sing their own praises I can honestly say that this great accolade couldn't have happened to a more deserving guy.

You can find out more about The Loney here

Perfect if you like the macabre, gothic and odd (Melissa Cox