Tuesday, 1 December 2009

The Voodoo of Fiction

A recent Canadian article http://www2.macleans.ca/2009/11/05/an-eerie-short-story-gets-even-eerier/ sees parallels between Alice Munro's 2006 story 'Dimensions' (in her new book Too Much Happiness) and a murder, two years later, in British Columbia, where she lives part of the time. Men do kill their children sometimes, and their wives discover the bodies, and yes, those men hear voices and so on - but anyone can understand why Munro finds it difficult to read that story out loud. Sometimes it's hard to write certain things just in case you make them happen. There could be a story about that if I dare put the words down.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Short Story Reading with Robert Graham

1.00, Wednesday 18th November, Room B005, Business Building, Edge Hill University. I'll be reading from The Real Louise and Robert will be reading from his new collection from Salt, The Only Living Boy.

You can now buy The Real Louise on Amazon. http://www.amazon.co.uk/Real-Louise-Ailsa-Cox/dp/1902096576/ref=sr_1_7?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1258011549&sr=1-7

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Sex and the Novel

The Manchester Literature Festival opened this week with a rather tame discussion on sex and the novel featuring Will Self and Martin Amis. Amis pondered the sexual aspects of novels by George Eliot and Jane Austen as if mugging up for an exam, and there was much discussion of Lolita. A shame he didn't talk about his own writing at all. Self was sharp as ever, talking about J.G. Ballard's 'death of affect'. He was scornful of so-called 'transgressive literature' in an age where, as he put it, you can get porn in every hotel room. Good for him - academics get very excited about such things, but honestly, it would be more daring to write a conference paper about an unfashionable writer like Somerset Maugham than deliver something on coprophilic websites. Is sex like writing? Hmm. Maybe. If you can keep your eyes closed.

I'm introducing Chris Beckett and James Lasdun at a festival reading on the 24th. Should be interesting. What is it about Lasdun's work that's so much like Maupassant?

Monday, 28 September 2009

No Se Puede Vivir Sin Amar

Read all about the launch of Malcolm Lowry: From the Mersey to the World on Robert Sheppard's blog Pages. Edited by Bryan Biggs and Helen Tookey for Liverpool University Press, the book is a tribute to Lowry from his birthplace, and its contributors are some of the writers and artists whose work has collided with his. Robert's 'Malcolm Lowry's Land' retraces a journey to Lowry's grave. When I wrote my story, 'No Se Puede Vivir Sin Amar' I used some of his techniques and themes. Lowry had a lasting effect on the way I structure my stories. Writing a story not in imitation of Lowry - I wouldn't dare - but through my reading of him - has been such a pleasure. Not stopping and explaining. Not asking yourself why something strange just appeared on the page. Trusting the language.

Friday, 21 August 2009

The Writer's Life

I'm currently hiding away in Wales with George my dog (see pic from gonzopix; no, it's not snowing, that was last autumn). After my morning's writing we walk along the river and up the cycle path to Caernafon (jolly families breezing past on their bikes, passengers on the steam railway daring to raise their hands in just a tiny little wave...) The castle suddenly rises up in front of you like a child's fort - and then the sound of the fairground in the square, a sort of Eurovision voice: 'Ladies and gentleman please, our ride is about to begin!' You'd expect the square to be pedestrianised, but in fact cars -I mean REAL cars cutting through town - weave in between the fairground rides. The locals all hang about outside the bank waiting to see if a tourist gets hit.

On the way home George pauses at exactly the same spot, climbs onto the wall and looks down at the river. He sees something we don't see; and also dogs are creatures of habit, just like the Writer, who is hard at work on The Institute which is turning out to be - crikey - a novel. By the time I get back I'm covered with scratches, my clothes are torn, my hands numbed by nettles. What kind of hard wiring makes me do this? I can't stop myself. I'd risk my life for blackberries - and they're not that great, not as if they were raspberries. I think it's some kind of primate behaviour, like certain sorts of grooming habits; lets not get into details. Oh but they are irresistible, glowing in the hedges like jewels....

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Storm over Dollarton

The Malcolm Lowry Centenary conference is almost a month ago now. There were three other Brits there (not counting RICHARD J LANE of Vancouver Island University), outnumbered by the French who seem more likely to have studied Lowry than most UK scholars. Apparently there was a French writers’ conference about him last year. On the last night, a yellow school bus drove us to Dollarton, where Lowry once lived in a ramshackle hut by the shore. That week had been hot and dry, but the rain was falling as we set off and by the time we crossed into North Vancouver the sky was sulphurous, and a great fork of lightening hit the towers of the city. We got there, sat in the bus listening to the rain for a few seconds and then we all got out. We were Lowry nuts. We were geeks. (Even the Lacanians were basically geeks.) We were the Malcolm Lowry Fan Club and nothing was going to stop us wandering through the forest in a storm straight out of Under the Volcano.

Thanks to Miguel Mota for the little ipods playing us sounds and memories from Lowry’s time at Dollarton, and for the mescal we drank as we listened to the passage from ‘The Forest Path to the Spring’:

‘…and the rain itself was water from the sea, as my wife first taught me, raised to heaven by the sun, transformed into clouds, and falling again into the sea. While within the inlet itself the tides and currents in that sea returned, became remote, and becoming remote, like that which is called the Tao, returned again as we ourselves had done.’

http://malcolmlowryatthe19thhole.blogspot.com/ has lots of Lowry material and links to more. The Book Club at the New Yorker has been reading Under the Volcano during August, and there are some great stories from old and new converts to the experience on The Book Club : The New Yorker.

Monday, 20 July 2009

More to come when I get back

Malcolm Lowry

Just off to Vancouver for Malcolm Lowry: A Centenary Celebration (July 23-25, 2009). I'll be giving a paper on sound in Lunar Caustic and flying home on his hundredth birthday, 28th July. I'll be raising a glass to him on the plane.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Manchester Book Market

Friday 17 to Sunday 19 July 2009 - St Ann’s Square, city centre Manchester

The Manchester Book Market, which first took place in Sep 2006, returns this summer as part of the Manchester International Festival for a three-day market accompanied by back-to-back performances from the cream of Manchester's spoken word scene. I'll be reading on Sunday at 3.30. See http://www.literaturenorthwest.co.uk/event/1454

Friday, 10 July 2009

Edge Hill Prizewinners' Reading

This year's winner, the very modest Chris Beckett, read alongside last year's winner, Claire Keegan, last Sunday at the Bluecoat. Claire always has some interesting things to say about the short story, especially what she calls the 'reluctant voice'. She says Irish writers are good at short stories because the Irish talk a lot without saying anything.

See my account of the build-up to the Award Ceremony at http://theshortreview.blogspot.com/. What I don't tell you there is that a certain website accidentally leaked our embargoed press release the day before the winner was announced. It was gone by that evening, but word gets round very fast these days and possibly Chris was the only person in the room who knew that he'd won. That is a genuine look of bemusement on his face the following morning.

Picture: Tim Power

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Alice Munro

I was mopping the floor when I heard Alice Munro had won the International Man Booker Prize. I carried on mopping, listening to Jane Smiley enthusing about her work. When I started my Phd research on Munro in the early 90s no one had heard of her - except for the writers. She was more widely known by the time I published Alice Munro (Writers & Their Work). But it seemed as though Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage (2002) would be her final book. In interviews she said she'd stopped writing, and and there was a valedictory feeling about the stories; and so I grimly entitled my last chapter 'Ageing, Decay, Abjection'. Two collections later, and with a third on its way this October, she is coming to Dublin to get her prize.

Articles on Munro stress small town life, relationships, the domestic. They sometimes make her sound comfortable and nice. She is not. This is from the title story in The Love of a Good Woman (1998):

In the dreams that came to her now she would be copulating or trying to copulate (sometimes she was prevented by intruders or shifts of circumstances) with utterly forbidden and unthinkable partners. With fat squirmy babies or patients in bandages or her own mother. She would be slick with lust, hollow and groaning with it, and she would set to work with roughness and an attitude of evil pragmatism.

Alice Munro's stories are full of dreams, misconceptions, deceit and distractions. Distraction is an art, I think, listening while mopping (inadequately - there's still plaster dust, only now it's more like runny foundation). What I learnt from her is that stories can go off at a tangent. They don't have to have a theme or to hang together, symbolically or otherwise. Now I'd better go and rinse the mop.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Photo competition

Tim Power took the picture in Dublin. Send in your photo captions! The winner gets a copy of The Real Louise.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Real Louise Launch

The Real Louise and Other Stories (Headland Press) was launched at the Bluecoat, Liverpool, on 7th May, during the Writing on the Wall Festival. Here I am, reading 'November' and with my publisher, Gladys Mary Coles, answering questions. The whiskey helped, and so did the wine, not to mention the glasses of mineral water.

The miniature made big, frighteningly big: this is what short stories should be. – Rob Shearman
Brilliantly detailed, intimate, and often darkly funny. - Graham Mort
The Real Louise is available from Headland Press, 38 York Avenue, West Kirby, Wirral, Merseyside CH48 3JF. UK orders £10.99 inc. p&p. Or contact ailsacox@hotmail.com.

Sunday, 25 January 2009


Welcome to my website. I'm a short story writer and critic, based in the UK. This site is all about my writing; if you want to know more about my work at Edge Hill University, you can find me on http://www.edgehill.ac.uk/english/CreativeWriting/Staff/AilsaCox.htm