Friday, 14 December 2012

Notes to Self Prior to a Year of Events

a) the two-glass wine hypothesis will prove to be correct.

b) events are very tiring, especially one hour lunchtime readings where you have to keep talking for exactly ONE HOUR. This is a long period of time. Don't expect any sympathy for this.

c) it's OK if only your parents turn up. Seriously. And remember this doesn't reflect on you; it reflects ON SOCIETY AROUND YOU. Think this as you go over your two-glass wine limit. At lunchtime.

d) you never know what event organisers will do, such as decide to include a random poet in your event, who cries at her own poems. If this happens, don't expect any questions from the audience and don't expect anyone to buy any books.

e) never try to leave a music festival at 7 am on the Sunday morning to go to another festival. You will want to cry. You will cry. You will miss seeing New Order.

f) there are actually mosquitoes in Wales, and they bite through tights.

g) a one person tent is meant for one person.

h) it's perfectly OK to BYO wine to events.

i) if you do too many readings, you will certainly get Event Fatigue. This is similar to Compassion Fatigue. You will certainly never want to open your book again. You may even be cruel to it.

j) Swansea is very far but you can get there and back from Manchester in a day.

h) Throckmortons' Festival has its own butler

i) if you spend a weekend at Throckmortons where you don't even have to pour your own drinks, your nail polish won't chip at all

i) Boris Johnson's dad is a really nice guy

j) you tube recordings of you reading are a bad idea. But there is nothing you can do to stop their proliferation.

k) don't attempt to drive yourself to events. At some point you will actually be driven by a chauffeur. Unfortunately, it won't ever be in a limousine.

l) if anyone takes a photo while you are reading, you are going to look like a goldfish:

(c Paul McVeigh)

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

The War Tour on Tour and exactly how much wine to drink before a reading

Reading out your work in front of people for the purpose of their entertainment is a daunting prospect for any writer.  It is probably not advisable to resort to dancing, juggling or doing card tricks to deflect attention from your prose. What you should do is practice. A lot. And secondly, you should know exactly how much alcohol is needed for a smooth delivery.The right amount will get you talking and make you less self-conscious. Too much and you will be slurring into the microphone and including embarrassing jokes.
So, after a lot of study and many years of practice, I have come to the conclusion that the right amount is exactly what the governement health people advise for daily consumption, which is a maximum for 2-3 units, which works out as 1-2 medium glasses. This also depends on the time of day. Two glasses of wine first thing in the morning might be a slippery slope, so it's best to use your judgement there. But a hip flask of whisky can liven up an instant coffee at a library reading. I am not advocating being drunk at readings. This only leads to regret. You know it. I know it. But sometimes we just never learn...

Litmus at the Lit and Phil
Sara Maitland, Zoe Lambert and Christine Poulson
"The Lit & Phil plays host to an evening of science and semi-fiction.. Sara Maitland reads and discusses her story about the often overlooked astronomer, Henrietta Swann Leavitt, a woman who despite being un known at the her death changed the face of astronomy with her discovery of the period-luminosity relation – a yard stick for measuring distances in space. Zoe Lambert talks about Lise Meitner – the first scientist to identify nuclear fission (one caricatured by a US journalist as ‘the woman who left Germany with Bomb in her purse.’ Whilst Christine Poulson discusses the moment when American biologist Kary Mullis, driving home late one night, dreamt up a way of revolutionising DNA research."

We will be staying in a hotel afterwards so I hope Sara and Christine like to party. 

Lit & Phil Library, 23 Westgate Road, Newcastle Upon Tyne, NE1 1SE. 

 Festival Number 6 @ Portmeirion
Notes From the Edge
The Central Piazza         
Friday 14th September 

"Four writers read from their work and discuss how and where it finds common ground. Maria Roberts’ best-selling memoir Single Mother on the Verge explores the trials of living with an eco-warrior. Award-winning novelist Emma Jane Unsworth’s fiction features characters often drawn to the darker side of themselves. Shortlisted for the Edge Hill Prize, Zoe Lambert’s short story collection The War Tour gives voice to women in situations of conflict all over the world, while journalist Alison Taylor’s edgy dating memoir The Still Single Papers “makes Bridget Jones’ Diary read like a Saga holiday brochure” (John Niven)."

This is going to be a great event. I am worried I will be late because I'm still trying to put up my brother's high tech mountaineering tent. Or I might just be lost somewhere in Wales. But I hope I get there. The line up for the festival is AMAZING. 

Zoe Lambert at the Alderley Edge Community Book Festival
I'll be reading in a line-up that contains Jackie Kay, Melvin Burgess and Mike Garry.
 Organised by Oxfam.
Reading Room, Festival Hall, Talbot Road, Alderley Edge, Cheshire SK9 7HR.
More information here.

I will be coming straight from Festival 6 so expect wellies, mud, and messy hair. I hope I will be able to string a sentence together and not lost somewhere in Wales.

Kagyu Ling Cultural Programme presents The War Tour by Zoe Lambert.
'The event starts at 7.30pm with a welcome cocktail. Free but donations are welcome on door.
Kagyu Ling Buddhist Centre, 45 Manor Drive, Chorlton-cum-Hardy, Manchester, M21 7QG.
More information from Jessica Frye on 0161 850 4450 or culture[at]'

Yes, it does say a free cocktail.

Zoe Lambert at Throckmorton Literary Festival.
Throckmorton Literary Festival at Coughton Court, Warwickshire.
More information about the festival here. 9.45am. Georgina Harding, David Starkey and Rachel Seiffert are also reading over the weekend.

I am not sure where this festival is, but it sounds wonderful. It's in a very old hall, with a Jacobean staircase and I am staying over in it because my reading is in the morning. I hope there's a four poster bed. 

BORDER FICTION with Jane Rogers, Zoe Lambert and Michelle Green

'Comma Press presents three exciting authors, whose short story collections cross personal and political borders. Jane Rogers' new collection, Hitting Trees with Sticks, ranges from Uganda to Australia to the West Indies, taking in love, death, and Alan Turing along the way. Zoe Lambert's The War Tour paints a picture of the world’s conflict zones, giving voice to the silenced casualties. Michelle Green's forthcoming Jebel Marra, explores the complexities of the on-going war in Darfur through the eyes of aid workers and the people involved. Didsbury Baptist Church, Beaver Road. Manchester, M20 6SX.
Part of the Didsbury Arts Festival.

I am calling us The Comma Girls.

Friday 12th October:  For Books Sake 2nd Birthday Bash!
The Star and Garter
I'll be reading my zombie and caravanning story from Short Stack and dressed to the nines in red and white poker dots.
Also reading will be Emma Jane Unsworth, Clare Robertson and Les Malheureux, and they all know exactly how much wine to drink. 
Details here

LANCASTER - SUN 21 OCT Zoe Lambert and Jo Baker: The Right to Imagine

These two North West writers explore elements of war within their story-telling. This event brings you two readings and a short discussion on the act of creating fiction around events that may not be so close to home.
Lancaster LitFest
The LICA Building
Lancaster University

WED 24 OCT Zoe Lambert at Chester Literature Festival
Chester Town Hall, Northgate Street, Chester CH1 2HJ .
 More info here.
See how serious my photo looks next to Andrew Motion. Very serious indeed.  

LONDON - SAT 27 OCT Zoe Lambert with Adam Marek, David Vann and Chris Paling
The Stone Thrower The Story Salon 3, at the society club
12 Ingestre Place, Soho London, W1F OJF

I am really looking forward to this event. I bet the guys are scared about reading with me.

Zoe Lambert in Conversation with Eleanor Rees at Wordpool

I'll be reading with Liverpool poet, Eleanor Rees and discussing place and locality in our writing. We tend to talk about vintage dresses a lot, so this may come up too.
more info to follow.

Dylan Thomas Festival (note to self - check date)
reading with Edge Hill Prize shortlisted writers, Rowena Macdonald and AJ Ashworth.
more details to follow.

This is in Wales again. Perhaps I'll still be lost in Wales finding my way to Festival 6. This is not unlikely.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

How not to talk on the radio

No one gives you media training if you're a writer, so I thought I'd share the mistakes I made on Women's Hour, BBC radio Manchester, ALL FM and EL FM.

1. Don't expect the actual interview to be anything like the discussion you had with the producer. It won't be. Producers want to find out as much as they can about your work; they will ask nice open questions so you will feel at ease. In an interview, the point is getting an angle so the questions won't be as nearly as nice, especially on radio 4.

2. If the interviewer starts widening her eyes at you, it means 'SHUT UP' so she can ask you another question. Don't under any circumstances pause and then ask 'excuse me?' which I did on Women's Hour.

3. Do copy politicians on the Today programme: go in with a sound bite, and get it in, no matter what they ask. Michelle Green, who was on Women's Hour with me, did that with a quotation, and it was probably the best part of the interview.

4. Make sure you mention the name of your publisher or where the book is available. I completely forgot to do this on BBC radio Manchester. 

5. If you are shortlisted for a prize, remember to mention it too, which I forgot to do on EL FM.

6. In general, they will always always ask if the book is about you. If it isn't, they won't understand how it is possible to write anything not about yourself. You will have to think of a reason for not writing a book all about yourself and defend this terrible action. If your book is all about yourself, you are going to have to make a full confession about your life. Remember, interviewers aren't interested in the book; they want the human story.

7. Make sure you know exactly where your book came from. If in doubt, invent an amusing anecdote about when you had your first inspiration. This always goes down well. My long explanations of the origins of The War Tour were dull and probably brought on the 'eye widening' moment.

8. If you have a cold or cough, like I had on WH, don't worry; the adrenelin of being on the radio will make your cough magically disappear. Do sip a hot toddie in the studio. No one will know.

9. If you can bear it, listen to yourself afterwards. I have never done this. If I did I'd probably never get out of bed again. But it might have improved my interviews.

10. If you can organise it, do local or community stations first; the interview will be more relaxed and friendlier. My interviewers on ALL FM and ELFM were warm and supportive and lovely.In fact, community radio, I salute you!

11. Don't worry too much if your tights have a massive hole in them, like mine had for EL FM. It's the radio.

12. Make sure you ask reliable friends who are good at lying to listen in and tell you how amazing it was. Don't not tell anyone and then go home feeling sorry for yourself (yes I did this).

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

The Edge Hill Prize and Other Stories

Well I'm very excited to be shortlisted for the 2012 Edge Hill Prize for the short story. The awards do is tomorrow at the Free Word Centre in London (if you follow Free Word on twitter they DM you a word!). I'm all ready to go. Booked my train. I have, till it rains, extremely smooth hair. I'm looking forward to meeting AJ Ashworth, Sarah Hall, Rowena Macdonald and Tessa Hadley and drinking lots of wine with them. There's more about the shortlist here.

'A startling good collection of stories by a confident writer. Reading it is like taking a masterclass in how to do it well.' Mslexia (buy issue 54 here)

It isn't online but here are some reviews that are:

'Lambert's collection presents a carefully balanced picture of the world's combat zones... The writing is disarmingly plain and to-the-point... a kind of narrative ambush... I'd recommend that you read these.'The Guardian

'Reading 'The War Tour' is like wandering through a labyrinth of the unexpected, full of marvellous things... Lambert gazes into the abyss and does not flinch.' - 3:AM Magazine.

'Poignantly portraying the everyday loves, losses, strengths and sacrifices of those living with war, The War Tour depicts trauma, horror and confusion alongside defiance, duty and survival, all in quiet, compelling language that resonates long beyond the final page.' - For Books' Sake.

what makes this book special is the warmth and care that is shown to the real people in the stories and her determination not to judge or take sides.  War is not something that happens a long way away or a long time ago, it happens to the people you meet every day in Manchester and Salford or any other City. Lancashire Writing Hub

'it is the level of research, the desire to bring to light hidden, forgotten or sidelined stories of war, and the willingness to showcase her writerly concerns that form the basis of Lambert’s personal hallmark. The effect can be polemic.' Real Time Short Stories

'The War Tour begins and ends with a flourish... surprising and very well written.'Keeper of the Snails blog

Friday, 17 February 2012


Despite a furious bidding war between The Daily Mail, The Sun and The Mirror, as well as several journalists camping outside her home, short story writer Zoe Lambert has given an exclusive interview to Tom Vowler at Short FICTION journal. One of the few remaining Sun journalists said: 'I'm gutted not to get the interview. I thought all short story writers were dead, like Chekhov, but it turns out some are alive. In the good old days I would have got the latest on her writing process by attaching a microphone to her cat, but now my hands are tied.'

Short FICTION have also managed to steal her short story 'The New Girl' from under the tabloids' noses. This previously unpublished story is to be exclusively featured in Issue 6. The same Sun journalist said: 'We were hoping the publication of Zoe Lambert's interview and short story as centre spread of the Sun would bring new readers to our beleaguered paper and reveal our literary and feminist side. We wanted to reassure our female readership that we value women for their brains, and not just their cup size. We were't even going to photograph the author in a low-cut top, but had ideas for a shoot of her in combats and leaning on a tank or truck while looking at her book in a thoughtful but sultry manner. Sadly for her career prospects, she declined.'

Visit the Short FICTION website for this exclusive interview.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Short Stack

I don't have a kindle. Kind of beginning to feel a bit left out. Especially since Short Stack is available on kindle for 99p for today only!!! I'm very excited about the pulp fiction anthology from Pulp Press and For Books' Sake, featuring ten twisted tales of zombies, sex, sleaze and vengeance. My story is about a romantic getaway with zombies and caravans. Can't wait for my paper copy to arrive!

Yes I do feel a bit behind the times. A lot of my students are much more technologically savvy than me. I go to them for advice on blogging. Thought it was a fair point that using a phone to make notes in public places is less obtrusive than a notebook. People think you are texting when really you are writing down what they are saying. Good tactic. My MA students are currently involved in some exciting projects. Craig Pay and David Schofield are launching Cutaway Magazine. They are still accepting submissions and I think it's going to be an exciting addition to the Manchester literary scene. Lucy Walton is the book editor for Female First and here is her interview with me.

I've been lecturing on the MA creative writing for a few years now along side Jon Glover. Jon is a wonderful poet and editor of Stand Magazine. He is launching his new collection of poetry, Class is Elastic on Thursday 16th at the Bolton Octagon at 7.30pm. It is a real pleasure to read with him at the event. He is a dear friend and colleague. Will let you know how it went!

Monday, 13 February 2012

Are they real? Characters and why I wrote The War Tour

I've been asked a few times about where I got my stories from. The most notable time was on Women's Hour. 'Did you ask asylum seekers if you could use their stories?'

In many ways these are valid questions, but on the other hand, they are curious questions to ask a writer of fiction. I've found people always want to know if what you are writing is autobiographical. Which part is real? Is that character based on a real person? This kind of response forgets that fiction is about making stuff up. This response assumes I went out and found people who had experienced conflict or who were asylum seekers and that I greedily wrote down their stories, like the literary equivalent of tapping people's phones.

Fiction is a sticky, gluey mess of things and facts and research and the imagined, and something someone said once and some more abstract ideas and some feelings and something you can't quite explain that you want to communicate and some words that come into your head...and a million other things. I just found this quotation on Claire Massey's lovely blog. It is the playwright August Strindberg describing his characters as:

'conglomerations of past and present stages of civilization, bits from books and newspapers, scraps of humanity, rags and tatters of fine clothing, patched together as is the human soul'

How beautifully phrased. We work from 'scraps of humanity'. In The War Tour - though three stories are about the historical figures Lise Meitner, Rosa Luxemburg and John Hanning Speke - there is no real life equivalent of Japhet in 'When the Truck Came', or Devrim in '33 Bullets'. To have included living people's actual stories of trauma, war and exile would have been unethical and an act of appropriation. (For more on this there is an essay/metanarrative called 'Notes' at the back of my collection, which makes a brief exploration of Spivak and Said and Benita Parry on issues of appropriation, which I place in the context of 19th Century British exploration and colonialism).

But if it's not about me and doesn't include real life stories then why did I write it?

The book began with the publication of my short story cycle in Comma's Ellipsis 2 in 2006, which included the two stories 'These are only words about a woman on a bus' and 'The Breakfast She Had'. Both explored the effects of war on women and were the kernals of the rest of the book. Both stories contained the two things that made me write the book. First, the treatment of asylum seekers by this country and the Kafkesque and dehunamising asylum process. I was doing campaign work for asylum seekers in Manchester and I was angry. I felt more people needed to talk about what was happening.

The second kernal was apathy; we (us in the UK) - like the man on the bus in my 'These are only words' - don't want to know; we don't want to listen. At the same time we are fascinated by certain stories of horror. War zones become holiday destinations. We visit Auschwitz and are horrified by it. But we think this has nothing to do with us. Back in 2003 there was a moment of public outrage at Iraq and a moment when we thought it does concern us, but then public apathy seemed to settle in again (though Stop the War is still going strong).

While I was writing the book, I was continually beset by doubt. What do I know about war? What gives me the right to write these stories? Why the hell am I writing this book? But at the same time I was also compelled to write it. I couldn't not write it. And I don't think I'm alone in feeling those things. I think most writers doubt themselves but something in them keeps on going.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

How to Save a Library and Lise Meitner goes to Maghull

For National Libraries Day I read at Meadows Library in Maghull, Sefton. With the closures and threats of closures, Meadows seems to have taken a novel approach - unless more libraries are doing this? - they are based in a leisure complex. The building is open plan and on the left is a swimming pool and on the right is the library. You can see people swimming while looking at the books. It's not a quiet library. There's a TV screen playing a music channel and from somewhere I could hear the pump and beat of an aerobics class. But the library was a community and social space, and not cut off.The librarian said that the library and the leisure centre supported each other. But they had been hit by other cuts. There had been a drop in children coming to the library since free swimming had been stopped.

As a child I loved libraries. So did my mother. We were members of quite a few: Eccles Library, Hope Library, Height Library, occasionally Swinton library. Going to the library was a family day out. My mother was - is a big reader. But we don’t go much anymore because she is dependent on others taking her, and others, like me, aren't always reliable. So we tend to buy books in bulk from Waterstones.

This reading was a family day out as my folks chauffered me there. I'd checked the library was accessible (I get really angry about places not being accessible). What I liked about this event was that it wasn't in a secluded room at the back of the building, but in the middle of the library space on the first floor. The doors were closed so we weren't disturbed by people going to the gym, but we weren’t hidden away either.

I was worried about reading 'Crystal Night'. I wasn't sure whether the audience was expecting a story about the discovery of nuclear fission, and I didn't want to blind them with science, but they seemed to really enjoy it; there was a lively discussion, which continued after the event had finished. I told them that when I wrote the story I had had a moment of feeling I understood the experiments, but now I’d forgotten what the hell it all meant. The science and explanations in the story had been down to James Sumner's excellent input and Ra Page’s equally excellent editorial help. But what I had also been interested in was Lise Meitner's experiences fleeing Germany in 1938. Her story resonated with other stories I was writing in The War Tour about refugees and the effects of war. She was, of course, very fortunate to be whisked out of Berlin by Neils Bohr and Dirk Coster, but she was a woman who had overcome the barriers of gender to become one of the few renowned female scientists at the time, and then had her position at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Chemistry taken from her. What also fascinated me was how she was at once sidelined by history (alone in Stockholm and pushed outside of the discovery of fission) and also absolutely central to world events.

When I was writing the story I thought of giving a bigger picture of her life and perhaps including what happened afterards - Hiroshima and Nagosaki and Otto Hahn being awarded the Nobel. But I wanted to stay in that moment in history - the beginning of 1939 when WWII was yet to begin and she wasn't aware of the devastating possibilities of nuclear fission, and though I hope I didn't reduce the story to a clichéd eureka, for Lise Meitner there was a moment when these were 'beautiful results'(to quote one of her letters).