Literary Crush – Raymond Carver

Raymond Carver – What We Talk About When We Talk About Love

 

The most disturbing of reads I find are not the supernatural tales or horror stories or even crime thrillers but those works that meticulously describe the human condition in a state of poverty.

By ‘poverty’ I not only mean financial strain but in particular the all-pervading poverty of spirit which has a soul crushing bleakness that blows through the reader as the coldest of winds. Raymond Carver is a master of conveying this state and the characters that inhabit it.

 

The short story collection What We Talk About When We Talk About Love is a perfect example of the form of writing known as ‘dirty realism’ or ‘literary minimalism’. Carver explores the lives of predominately working class Americans living or perhaps more correctly struggling to survive in the Pacific Northwest region. Prevalent themes across the collection include the breakdown of marriage through boredom and or infidelity, the devastation of grief, and the futility of both aspirational ambition and love in a world diminished by financial and social pressure.

Images resonate long after the stories finish of claustrophobic lives only tolerable with the short-lived relief provided by alcohol, cigarettes, and or sex. Given this, unsurprisingly, there is also a palpable sense of violence barely restrained within the wafer-thin constraints and facade of a ‘civilised life’.

The closing story ‘One More Thing’ for example, is haunting in its depiction of the anger and desperation of a husband forced out of his home by his wife and child following his own deplorable behaviour of drink and aggression. There is so much pain and so much futility.

‘L.D. put the shaving bag under his arm and picked up his suitcase.

He said, “I just want to say one more thing.”

But then he could not think what it could possibly be.’

Carver employs a stripped-back language as the stories unfold through the naturalistic observations and conversations of his characters. This minimalist technique gets the reader right inside the head of the character. We feel what the character feels and see what the character sees and fully inhabit their world. The detail of the writing is visually striking and in just a line of text he crafts the landscape and sets the mood of the moment. In the story ‘The Third Thing That Killed My Father Off’ Carver writes,

‘It was a warm, drifty day. You could see the dust hanging in the air.’

Beyond setting, Carver keenly captures the physical traits that succinctly depict a character.  In the tragic and powerful story ‘The Bath’ about a child knocked over by a car on his birthday, Carver observes of the mother staring lost and anxious at her son lying in the hospital bed,

‘The woman stood there a while longer, working her lip with her teeth.’

With each story you get the sense of arriving into the narrative where something has happened outside of it, with the effect that the drama builds and lives on in your imagination from what is implicit as much as what is explicitly described.  In the opening story ‘Why Don’t You Dance?’ a man’s possessions, the entirety of his belongings, sit in the driveway for sale. The question is why? We are never given the answer, just the careful detail of each object that spoke of a life now changed or ended.

But the most disturbing story of the collection for me is its title namesake ‘What We Talk about When We Talk about Love ’. In this penultimate story two couples in love sit around a dinner table slowly getting drunk. They discuss in a rambling way what they think love is. One suggests even violence and suicide is forgivable in the name of love. Another ends their discussion by suggesting to his horrified lover and friends that love simply doesn’t last, even true love is only true for a limited time. In the context of the whole collection it is a message which is devastating, after all the only thing that doesn’t rely on money is love. The only thing that perhaps can lift a life from poverty is love. The loss of love is the loss of the purpose for life itself. This devastation is embodied by the narrator’s final observation,

‘I could hear my heart beating. I could hear everyone’s heart. I could hear the human noise we sat there making, not one of us moving, not even when the room went dark.’

Commentators note that Carver’s own life carries the themes within it that his writing explores. This makes perfect sense and explains that the power in his work comes from personal experience, adding fuel if it is needed to the writing adage ‘write from your heart’ even if perhaps the end result is hard to read.

 

 

 

 

© 2016 All rights reserved. No reproduction without written permission.

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Literary Crush – Kirsty Logan

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I first came across Kirsty Logan at a special event, marking the 40th anniversary of Gay’s The Word, at the British Library.

She read from ‘Underskirts’, a short story from her collection The Rental Heart and Other Fairytales and I  was immediately struck by the sensuality of the evocative language, the vivid images, and thought-provoking premise so much so that I bought her collection, curious to read and learn more of this story and the many others.

‘Underskirts’, I discovered, is about the indiscretions of an aristocratic Lady with a not-so-private passion for her maids.

“They love love as I do. They see the straight line of my jaw along the length of their thighs and they see how it fits, the geometry of bodies…I know how to fill the gaps in a girl.”

The best short stories grip the reader with a tension inherent within them and ‘Underskirts’ exemplifies this as every word is heady with sexuality and power, fizzing with the peril of transgression. The reader senses that it is only a matter of time before the Lady’s behaviour is challenged by one of the many onlookers we hear from.

It is perversely fitting that it is her daughter and the thought of her mother’s ‘‘sins’’ that is the Lady’s undoing. The daughter ‘‘tells’’ her father, blind to his wife’s actions by his arrogance, of her mother’s ‘‘wickedness’’.  The Lady’s banishment to isolated confinement for the rest of her days does not shake the Lady’s deep belief that her passions are not needing of repentance but are rather the very essence of ‘‘grace” and “glory’’.

A striking feature of this collection is the scope of storytelling, sweeping from artificial hearts as the answer to broken ones, to coin operated rent boys and to tiger palaces.  Themes blend and contrast together. The notions of “grace” and “glory” explored in ‘Underskirts’ for example are in stark contrast with the unsettling brutal tale of two young men’s search for their brother, amongst the hard-edged drinkers in the bars in the story ‘The Broken West’.

The reader follows the brothers from bar to bar as they desperately seek the intimacy of the blood bond of their brother, so much so the pressure of it bleeds out from an emotional need to a physical one. Sex with men becomes blurred with the search for the physically familiar, the consolation of the same. Every man and no man they meet have at first-glimpse the potential to meet that need, so their search, their “Investigation” seems endless in all its damaging futility.

“Faces look different close up, and the only way to get that close to a stranger is to kiss them or choke them.”

Throughout the tale the one brother Daniel is desperate for the sexual and physical connection of the other brother Jack. Gay love is entwined with incest in a tortured knot of need.  The twist comes in the final paragraph when Daniel encounters a random man who has all the features of their lost brother. Daniel says nothing. The reader is left knowing that finding what they both seek will lose what one brother wants most.

The theme of longing for something runs through the collection, with all the desperation and emptiness that accompanies it. It is a theme mastered and explored in all its forms, notably the search for love, for identity, for freedom and for home. Arguably, the worst longing perhaps is for that which is gone for good – the longing that accompanies grief.

The story ‘Feeding’, for example, is truly haunting in its vivid depiction of a mother’s loss of a baby. The parched earth of the garden the bereaved tries to nurture into life symbolises the hopelessness of bereavement. The emotional toll is embodied in the stark unravelling of the mother starving herself to death. When the relief of the rain comes it is too late.

“Shelley lies among the tomato plants…Her cheeks are concave, her collarbones so sharp they seem about to pierce her chest. Her belly is famine-swollen, tight and round in the cup of her hip bones. The rain falls into her eyes.”

Kirsty Logan is a writer’s writer. By that I mean she inspires a creative vision which is expansive and borderless. She reminds the writer that your work is only limited by the courage to write down the idea, the vision conjured in your head.

I am excited by the further work of hers I will read and excited by the prospect of the work she has inspired in me to write.

 


Kirsty Logan is a professional daydreamer. She is the author of two novels, The Gloaming and The Gracekeepers, and two story collections, A Portable Shelter and The Rental Heart & Other Fairytales. She lives in Glasgow with her wife and their rescue dog. She has tattooed toes. www.kirstylogan.com

 

 

 

 

© 2016 All rights reserved. No reproduction without written permission.

Looking for something to read this Easter? The Lesbian Talk Show with Anna Larner – Author Reading

Looking for something to read over the Easter holidays – maybe in a beer garden with a pint or in the bath with a large glass of wine or flat out on the sofa with a cadbury creme egg?

Have a listen to me read from my new novel Love’s Portrait and see if it might be the book for you this Easter.

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The Lesbian Talk Show is podcast channel for women about women. 

Listen here 

 

Here’s what some lovely people have had to say so far…

Sparks fly between Molly, an art curator, and Georgina, her museum’s aloof benefactor, as they research the portrait of a 19th-century lesbian social activist and try to convince the museum’s board to display it. – Publishers Weekly

What an interesting book this has been! There is a passion that flows throughout the whole story and that surrounds you completely…it is really interesting and very, very recommendable. – Netgalley

I loved it, it’s got a bit of class and a gentle pace that curls around you. – Clare Lydon

It’s the perfect mixture of love, romance and belonging. – Kitty Kat’s Review Blog

It’s not too much of a leap to say that, if Jane Austen was writing lesbian romance fiction today, she might have come up with something akin to ‘Love’s Portrait’! – Goodreads

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© 2016 All rights reserved.

Interview With ELLCon (European Lesfic Literary Conference)

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We spoke to Anna Larner about her books and her writing plans for the future.

(A) TELL US SOMETHING INTERESTING ABOUT YOUR LAST PUBLISHED BOOK. 

My debut lesbian romance Highland Fling had the working title How Does The Sun Know How To Shine?

Without giving too much of the plot away, early on in the book, Moira Burns (one of the main characters) is worried about her lack of sexual experience and she seeks reassurance from her first love. Her lover responds by saying “How does the sun know how to shine, Moira?” “How does the wind know how to blow?” “How does the rain know how to fall?” helping Moira to understand that her sexuality is as natural as nature itself and is something to be cherished and enjoyed.

It is one of the key messages that I hope readers will take from Highland Fling, along with living your life for today, looking forward, free from regret.

(B) WHAT GOT YOU INTO WRITING? 

I attended the ‘States of Independence’ Book Festival held in Leicester’s De Montfort University, back in 2012. Bold Strokes Books hosted a panel on that day, encouraging people to consider writing for an LGBT press. It was a proper lightbulb moment for someone like me with an overactive imagination and a passion for all things LGBT.

(C)  CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT YOUR WRITING STYLE? HOW DO YOU DECIDE ON PLOTS AND CHARACTERS? ARE YOU A PLANNER OR A PANTSER?

I’m a writer with a lyrical, descriptive style who cares about the detail of things. Bringing to life a setting is important to me, evoking a sense of place and the particular mood of the moment. I’m also keen to portray the uniqueness of each character, what makes them laugh, what makes them cry, and sharing this with the reader.

I’m not sure I decide upon plot and character, it’s more that a place, a person or an event sparks a creative response from which a story begins to form. For example, the idea for my latest work Love’s Portrait came from a creative writing workshop focusing on forgotten female abolitionists. Their passion and courage in the face of opposition was so inspiring that I began to wonder ‘what if’…and how to weave that ‘what if’ into a contemporary love story.

As to whether I’m a planner or a panster…I’m a bit of both. I work to an outline which gives me direction but ultimately the details, the heart of the story emerges from the act of writing, which for me is where the magic lies.

(D) IF YOU HAD TO DO IT ALL OVER AGAIN, WOULD YOU DO ANYTHING DIFFERENTLY? 

No, I wouldn’t change a thing. Going back and seeking to change the path of your life feels a bit like flattening out the mountains – with the breathtaking ride of the highs and lows lost in favour of a more plain and certain view.

(E) WHAT IS NEXT FOR YOU? WHAT IS YOUR NEXT PROJECT?

I’m currently working on my second novel Love’s Portrait, a contemporary romance infused with a tragic love story from the past. At the heart of the plot is the mystery of a watercolour of a beautiful woman painted in the 1830’s.

Again not trying to give too much of the plot away, it is a love story between Molly Goode (a sweet, quirky, and passionate museum curator) and Georgina Wright (a confident, stylish, but somewhat closed off investment banker) who has inherited the painting through the death of her father.

The theme of the book is about the strength, compassion, and ballsy-ness of women whether it be during the fight for the abolition of slavery or in the fight for LGBT voices to be heard in mainstream society.


Why not check out the ELLCon website for more interviews with authors who are attending the conference. Also you can sign up to their newsletter for book giveaways and get all the latest conference news.

Not long to go now…

 

 

 

 

 

© 2016 All rights reserved.

 

 

 

 

Love’s Portrait – Teaser

Love's Portrait - Anna Larner 2018

Context of extract:

Museum Curator Molly Goode (central character) has just attended a museum funding meeting with her boss Evelyn Fox and the Chairman of the Trustees Mark Drew. Her suggestions that the museum should focus on more diversity and community based projects are rebuffed in favour of securing the ongoing patronage of the Wright family, headed by Georgina Wright (central character).

Molly returns to her desk defeated and dispirited.

 

Molly returned to her office, dropped her notes back into the bin where they belonged, and slumped onto Fran’s desk with a heavy sigh.

“You’re sitting on my sandwich.” Fran pushed at Molly’s hip, encouraging her to stand.

“I’ve sat on your lunch? Oh my God, could this day get any worse?” Molly held Fran’s baguette, squishy in her hands. It was now less buoyant baguette and more flatbread and pretty much summed up her morning.

Fran stood with a groan. “Want anything from the cafe?”

Molly looked down, crestfallen, and shook her head.

“I take it the meeting wasn’t exactly a great success.” Fran rested a motherly hand on Molly’s shoulder.

She couldn’t bring herself to mention the annex let alone that she had prompted the idea of a dedicated exhibition in the first place. “Honestly it was chilling to hear them. Everything’s about money or status to them. I thought museums were for and about the people.”

“You’re sounding more like a social historian every day,” Fran said, with an approving nod. “Although isn’t the art world, your world, all about that—status?”

“Not for me.”

“Good for you.” Fran placed her hands on her hips. “I think we need cake.”

“Have lunch in the square with me?”

“Sorry, no can do, I’ve a shopping list longer than David Attenborough’s career. But I’ll see you later. So what will it be—Victoria Sponge or, better still, eclairs?”

Molly mustered a smile. “How about both?”

“Good choice.” Fran turned back at the door. “Do you remember what I said to you when you first started at the museum? That you will always feel disheartened if your approach is to work against them?”

Molly nodded.

“The trick, if there is a trick”—Fran frowned slightly—“is somehow to find a way to achieve what you believe is right but that still delivers for the powers that be.”

“So is this how you handle Evelyn?”

“On my good days, yes. On my bad days, lots of rude words shouted at the top of my lungs in the privacy of the ladies’ loo.”

Molly giggled. “Right. Noted.”

The instant Fran closed the door, Molly was engulfed by images of the chairman with his expression of vacuous power, his mane-like hair swept back, his tie tight against his collar moving with his throat as he spoke. He was confident in a bullish way that suggested at his heart he was insecure. His insecurity made him dangerous, and if she was not mistaken, that was likely the source of his power and influence—not his knowledge, not his experience, but the fragility of his ego, charming when stroked, ferociously defensive when challenged.

Evelyn seemed to be a master at managing him, stroking to calm and cajole. She appealed to his competitive nature by presenting the museum as a place of excellence. A leading institution, indeed. She was the consummate manager of people.

Molly closed her eyes at the image of Evelyn with her pen raised to silence her. Her temper rose. She needed to find a place to shout rude words.

Leaving the frustrations of her meeting behind, she headed to her sanctuary, a small public garden next to the museum. Aptly named Museum Square, the simply designed square patch of civic ground was bordered on two sides by parked cars. A collection of benches placed around the inside edge of the square separated the grass from wide borders. A diagonal path, broken up by tree roots, stretched across, splitting halfway along to encircle a large horse chestnut tree. This tree marked the seasons, signalling the changing patterns of the year. In winter, bare and stark against white skies, the tree seemed to shrink, huddled with those brave or crazy enough to stop awhile and sit. In spring, tentative buds relaxed in the welcome return of the first rays of sunshine. In summer, students rested against its weathered waist reading their books, cool in the shade of branches laden with the soft flutter of green leaves. And in autumn, the debris of crushed conkers bashed free from its branches, littering the ground with evidence of battles won and lost and of time passing as the empty husks curled and browned.

She cherished those moments spent sitting on her favourite bench eating her sandwiches, with her lunchbox at her side and with the sprawling horse chestnut her faithful companion.

Basking in the calm stillness of the beautiful September day, she took off her shoes and let the grass brush against the soles of her feet. She lifted her chin to the cloudless sky. The air was changing from the dry sandy notes of summer to the sweet musk of autumn. The leaves above her were fading, and their greens had softened to mossy shades from vibrant lime. Even the midday light beaming through the canopy seemed weaker now, less luminous, its strongest rays falling on another person sitting on another bench, in another square, in another land.

 

*Now available to buy at the Bold Strokes Books webstore*

*Now available to buy at Amazon*

 

ISBN-13  978-1-63555-058-0 ebook

ISBN-13 978-1-63555-057-3 paperback

 


© 2016 All rights reserved. No reproduction without written permission.

 

 

Anthology of Poetry and Prose “We want to tell you how …”

We Want cover front

I am delighted to be a part of this wonderful anthology of poetry and prose celebrating women’s loves, lives and landmarks.

Fourteen women have contributed to this anthology. We share our experiences of love and life … and the landmarks that mark our progress through our lives … in our own very varied styles, using poetry and prose.

The anthology is published by Paradise Press.
ISBN 978-1-904585-89-3

144 pages          £7.99

Published:   March, 2018

 

We want to tell you how … contains deeply heartfelt, pain-fully honest, and beautifully written pieces of writing. For those who have ever lived with hope or regret, you will find your own story amongst these pages. —Clare Summerskill

 

 

 

 

 


© 2016 All rights reserved.

DIVA Literary Festival

DIVA Literary FestivalI’m thrilled to be taking part in the inaugural DIVA Literary Festival and Awards which are taking place at the Hilton Metropole, NEC Birmingham on 3rd/4th/5th November 2017.

The weekend will begin on the Friday evening with the DIVA Literary Awards and continue with two days full of book readings, writing workshops, panel discussions, poetry readings and much more.

Come and perhaps discover your new favourite writers!

Radio DIVA Interview

To tempt your appetite for the weekend listen here to me chatting with Rosie Wilby and Heather Peace on Radio DIVA.

I chat about my debut novel Highland Fling, my publisher Bold Strokes Books and my excitement about the upcoming DIVA Literary Festival. (from 42mins)

I look forward to seeing you there …

 

Saturday Nov 4th 10:30 – 11:15 
LEADING LADIES
Iconic literary characters live on in readers’ memories for all time. Bold Strokes Books authors explore the challenges involved in creating memorable characters and discuss strategies for making characters unique, non-traditional, and unforgettable.

Sunday Nov 5th 12:45 – 13:30
GENRE BENDING
From Fantasy to Adventure to Romance, Bold Strokes Books authors discuss what drew them to write in their particular genre(s). What are the similarities between genres? Where is there overlap? Do genre conventions matter?