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 This previously unpublished story is to be exclusively featured in Issue 6.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).