As Far As You Can Go

September 22, 2012

Like My Previous Collection, But With 100% Added Story

Are you tired of picking up short story collections and finding only nine or ten tales inside? Do you often wonder why someone hasn’t published a collection of 18 stories?

Well they have. As Far As You Can Go is a new collection by Martin Philp. It  features all the award-winning stories* of his puny collection One Big Echo of a Much Nicer Place, with eight brand-new stories, bulking the total up to a spray-tanned, muscular 18 (yes, 18) stories.

And at just over two quid for the entire collection, it works out at a great-value, recession-proof 11.1p per story.**

What’s it about?

As Far As You Can Go is 18 largely interconnected stories set in West Cornwall. They’re a mixed bag of comic tales with a mildly maudlin streak I can only apologise for. You’ll meet Dandy, a flamboyant, lonely, desperate-to-be-loved, Hayle man who suffers a cruel fate during carnival day. (You can read Dandy Allcock here.) John, who has a dangerous obsession with purchasing cut-price power tools from German supermarkets. And foul-mouthed Jack Tremenyans, who each year decorates the town with Christmas lights and a torrent of expletives. (Bizarrely, Jack’s story Merry Fucking Christmas recently featured in a Christmas service at Truro Cathedral.)

But is it any good?

To be honest, I’m not the best person to ask: I’ve messed about with these stories so much it makes my eyes water just looking at them. But the first collection did win the Holyer An Gof Award Fiction Category in 2010 (it’s a Cornish thing celebrating Cornish arts). And I have had some nice reviews from people.

You’ve convinced me. You’ve worn me down. You can have my flippin’ two quid.

You can buy a Kindle edition of the book on Amazon

And bear in mind, if you don’t have a Kindle reader, you can download one for free and read if from there. If anyone would prefer an iPad version or any other format, let me know and I’ll get on to it. It should only take me two and a half years or so.

Hope you like the book. If you don’t, well, as John Shuttleworth would say, I’m sorry.

Cheers.

*Apart from one, which wasn’t very good.

**Calculation not accurate

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In defense of short stories

October 31, 2010

I used to steer clear of short stories, for the same reasons I steered clear of poetry. I was told every word must count, because it is a short form. So as writers we would (presumably) weigh words out like a miser and polish them before putting them on the page;

My favourite short story? Glad you asked. Cat in the Rain by Ernest Hemingway.

and, as readers, examine the words and turn them to the light, like precious stones. It all seemed a bit precious and earnest.

After writing and totally ballsing up two novels, I decided to write some short fiction. But, interestingly, I found that certain chapters of one of my ballsed up novels stood alone as perfectly good (in the relative sense of my own creations) short stories. And it made me wonder if there is anything so different about this form after all.

After extensive research, writing and reading short stories, I have come to this conclusion (cue drum roll): Short stories are shorter than novels. That’s really all there is to say on the subject. They can appear to be a fragment of a life, something plucked from the stream; a sketch; or a moment of crisis. Anything, actually. Just pretty short. Inevitably, they’ll have one storyline and will lack the subplots of novels, because there simply isn’t room. But to look at rules in short stories is restrictive in my opinion, though you might look at tendencies.

One other thing. I think the reason people have trouble with short stories is because when you enter any new fictional world, the first few pages can often be disorientating or unsettling, while you find your feet with the narrative voice and the world in question. With a novel, no problem: you’re talking about perhaps five per cent of your reading time as hard work. With short stories, you’re required to be bewildered and work a little harder every time you begin a new story. Unless, of course, you’re reading a collection with a similar narrative voice throughout, in a single locale. That makes things a little easier.

Anyway, if anyone’s interested, here’s a few masterpieces of the form, from the top of my head.

John Cheever

Cheever is my current favourite writer. His stories have an easy grace about them that can appear deceptive at first; and yet as you read on you realise his subjects are always, and only, the important things. Love, disillusion, nostalgia (yes, and drinking till you wet your pants). The Swimmer is about a man who decides to return home from a party via his neighbours’ swimming pools, swimming a length of one, getting out, walking to the next, swimming etc etc. And yet in truth it is about something far more disturbing. The Tallboy is a stunning story with an unpromising subject: a piece of furniture. And yet it evokes beautifully the dangers of wallowing in the past, of attempting to bring the deceased back to life through treasured objects. These are beautiful stories with the ring of truth, told in the reassuring voice of an artist who is easy and comfortable in his craft.

Chekhov

I’m not sure if these stories came before or after his turn in Star Trek, but Chekhov is the name that comes up time and time again as the consummate miniaturist and author of a life (and accompanying crisis) in a few pages. I find some of his stories a little slow – for a great Russian read (or Ukranian to be precise) Gogol’s Dead Souls is funny as hell. But back to Chekhov, you have, of course, to read The Lady and the Dog, which is a beautiful, sad story of a sordid love affair which seems to be not only about this particular affair, but all the sad, sordid relationships of the world. (And this wider, metaphysical quality runs through many Chekhov stories.)

Flannery O’Connor

A Good Man is Hard to Find is a hypnotic story which brings a shocking change in tone to a tale that begins with the mundanities of a family outing. A bit like Hitchcock’s Psycho. Another great story is The Artificial Nigger, which is about two country men coming to town, and is full of Biblical resonance. Her stories are set in the American South and accentuate the grotesque; there is something cartoonish about them, and yet also authentic and true.

Denis Johnson

There are far too many writers doing that drink-drugs-hopeless-sordid-barfly thing, yet Denis Johnson is a master, evoking a desperate world of rusted Americana and hopeless lives in a chilling, yet extremely readable way. You never feel he is trying to bullshit or impress you, but rather explain calmly and quietly a world on the margins that is, at times horrifying; at others, beautiful.

Raymond Carver

The writer who spawned a million inferior imitators, with his pinched, minimalist prose about the often mundane lives of Americans. It sounds unpromising, but Carver is the writer who is deeply poetic without appearing to write poetically. They are wonderful, beguiling stories because you will rarely find the beauty in a single line, but only in the wider context. In that way, the art of Raymond Carver is something almost invisible, hiding behind the words, but there all the same. One other thing: the simplicity of the prose makes these stories so effortlessly readable. (That’s always something worth mentioning after waxing lyrical about the style.)


One Big Echo – an award winner

July 28, 2010

One Big Echo of a Much Nicer Place recently won first place for fiction and short stories, at the 2010 Holyer an Gof awards ceremony held in Waterstone’s, Truro.

Sometimes dubbed ‘The Cornish Bookers’, the event is an annual competition to celebrate local publishing.

You can find out more about the award from this report from the This is Cornwall website.


Local Heroes – or Why I Hate Humphry Davy

March 24, 2010

Setting is hugely important in One Big Echo of a Much Nicer Place. I mean, how could I begin to suggest the rambling, decaying mind of an old bachelor without  Hayle’s crumbling North Quay as a backdrop? Here’s a few of the places you’ll see in my stories. I think of them more as characters than locations – sometimes the lead, other times making a cameo appearance.

Foundry Square, Hayle.
If my stories were movies (not much chance of that) Foundry Square in Hayle would be the opening shot: the hustle and bustle of people and cars, the train rumbling over the viaduct, someone effing and blinding because they’ve been boxed in outside Spar again.
My locations are personalised, fictional sketches. Spar is a beacon of hope (really), the viaduct always looms ominously, old men grumble in deep voices outside the bakery, the fruit and veg shop is run by a couple who are sad but revelling in their sadness. The sound of rain pattering on the canvas roof on wet Tuesday afternoons is music to their ears.

Market Jew Street, Penzance
Have you ever wondered about Humphry Davy statue’s odd pose? All hands on hip and starey eyes like he’s frozen in a moment of consternation. Never has a statue cast such a supercilious, haughty gaze on his townsfolk. He judges the citizens against his own achievements and finds them wanting. One of my stories is set in Penzance in the Eighties. From what I remember of the time – the lines of boarded up businesses,  endless charity shops, the terrible hairstyles of my generation – Humphry Davy was striking just the right pose for the occasion. But I still don’t like him. I’m going to write a story where he hits the skids and spends his last guineas on cheap cider and drinks it sprawled under his own plinth. That’ll show him.

Hayle dunes
Whenever a character needs to tell someone something important – declare his love, reveal that life is a big crock of ordure – I pack him or her off to the dunes in Hayle. This is Hayle’s strange, whispering, marin-swaying border between prosaic reality and a world of dreamy sunsets and infinite possibility. It bring about that crack in the psyche, that pause or gap in a person’s life where they break from the illusion, see and reveal things.
The dunes also say something else about Hayle. They evoke the breadth and range of the place. See the strange, breeze-block structures squatting in the dunes, then look out beyond to an infinity of blue. It’s all there. All of it. (Just watch out for the bags of dog pooh. Oh, please don’t get me started on that subject…)

The Weir, Hayle
My collection is called One Big Echo of a Much Nicer Place because it is a phrase a character uses about the world in general. But later I realised it also said something about Hayle: at least when you’re in a certain mood. There is the echo of zeal and activity about Hayle, the ghosts of working-class industrial workers kicking about the rubble. Usually, they’re down at the Weir. Can a place be beautiful and ugly at the same time? Yes. Go to the Weir. The rubble, the cry of a curlew, the swirl of tide and pool, dithering like it can’t find a way out from a nostalgic daydream, this is the Weir. It is broken and it is beautiful. (And I’ve just fortuitously come up with the title for my next collection (self publication due 2037.)

Chapel Street, Penzance
Chapel Street, the upper-middle class neighbour of proletariat Market Jew Street. The bistros, the antiques, the expensive furnishing, the immaculate pubs – Chapel Street smiles at its own reflection in wine bar mirrors and antique silver tea trays. Whenever a character is beginning to feel alienated or dispossessed I quickly push him down Chapel Street. He inevitably starts to feel worse and that is always good for a story. (You’ve got to be heartless, ruthless even, in such matters.)

Hayle pubs
I use real names for places and that includes pubs but, in truth, all of these are composites and impressions and not the real places in question at all. The important thing about pubs is that they are places where things happen to people. They are the venue for reconciliation or humiliation, the grand operatic moments of a life amid the crackle of a crisp packets, the click of pool balls, the flash and bleep of the fruiter, the ostentatious belch of Fatty Thomas, the soporific drone of Terry Nine Pints at the bar as he sets the world to rights by recommending burnings and floggings for people not of Cornish origin. I love pubs. But only fictional ones, where I am the hand that brings justice and retribution. It’s one of the perks of writing.


One Big Echo – in Uys Gallery, St Ives

February 11, 2010

‘I’ll have a big ceramic pot, please, and a copy of One Big Echo of a Much Nicer Place.’

Those are the exact words you can hear now* in one of the artiest and craftiest corners of the county, because One Big Echo of a Much Nicer Place is now available in Uys Gallery, St Ives*

Roloef Uys makes beautiful stoneware pots and displays them in this gallery, run by his partner Melanie. I’ve been looking at them myself and they really are things of great beauty.

Visit www.uysgallery.co.uk to find out more about Roloef’s pots, or visit the shop at 8 Tregenna Hill, up near the bus station.

*Only likely to be heard if someone is simultaneously buying a book and a pot


One Big Echo – in a good ice-cream shop near you

February 9, 2010

You know how it is.

You go to an ice-cream shop and buy a rum and raisin. And you feel strangely dissatisfied. And then you say to yourself:

‘You know what would make this a complete and fully satisfactory retail experience?’

‘What?’ you say.

‘If I could buy a book alongside my ice-cream.’

‘Exactly!’ you say.

Well now you can. Because Mr B’s Ice Cream Parlour in Hayle have bowed to heavy authorial pressure (nagging) and decided to mix retail genres by selling One Big Echo of a Much Nicer Place alongside its glorious ice-cream.

Early trials revealed much confusion, with punters licking books and reading ice-cream, but they soon got the hang of it.

I’ve got ice cream in my book

Interestingly, One Big Echo features a story called Love and Ice Cream, about a man who falls in love with a fellow ice-cream seller. (Well, I thought it was interesting.)

Find out more about Mr B’s Ice Cream Parlour at www.mrbsicecream.co.uk/ and then visit them to try the creamiest Tiramisu, richest Black Forest Gateau or one of the many other mouthwatering flavours.

And to pick up a copy of my new book.


Meet the Characters (Part 2)

January 28, 2010

Florence Bray
Apparently growing older is best done gracefully, but no one told that to Florence Bray. With her barely tolerated husband recently in his grave, she rages against the wasted years, casts off acquaintances and finds solace, and adventure, at last in the company of the demonic Mr Drew, a man with an appetite for love, drink and offending the elderly.

Henry Caldwell
Meet an ice cream salesman with a mind as cold and icy as his frosty confections. Henry is the scourge of hot, sweaty optimistic youth, and seems bent on bringing the knowledge of life’s disappointments to the young as quickly as is inhumanely possible. What will save the youth of Hayle from Henry? Love, of course, in the shapely shape of fellow ice cream vendor Sarah.

Ronnie Honeychurch
What is art? No idea, and neither has Ronnie by the looks of it. Until one day this anxious little painter of twee Cornish landscapes accidentally smears one of his tired paintings and begins a journey through impressionism, expressionism, and finally a deadly abstraction. Or something like that. Like I say, I know nothing about art. Like everyone else, I just look at the price tag.

Bill Downder
Bill keeps a diary. Every day he writes what he has for dinner, and what the weather’s like. Then his wife dies. And Bill embarks on a furious spree of writing (well, about 1,000 words)  looking back at the years with humour, regret and an admission that he knew exactly what his wife did with Fish Pie Matthews at the dinner and dance.  I’m sorry, I can’t write any more. I’m welling up.

PC George Thomas
He’s fat, he’s indolent, he wouldn’t know a clue if he saw a great big sign saying ‘Clue!’, and therefore, naturally – and really it goes without saying – he’s absolutely nothing like any policeman in Cornwall or adjacent counties. PC George Thomas is, however, quite the connoisseur of quality biscuits. Join him on a courtesy call to the recently robbed Mrs Grace Pellow, and on a high-tea adventure through Hob Nobs, Chocolate Fingers and beyond.