THIS ISN'T THE SORT OF THING THAT HAPPENS TO SOMEONE LIKE YOU: Jon McGregor is book club guest author on Tues 16 April, 9-10pm

(134 Posts)

Our March Book of the Month is a short story collection that highlights the tremendous power and beauty of this form of fiction. THIS ISN'T THE SORT OF THING THAT HAPPENS TO SOMEONE LIKE YOU is set in a bleak, Fenland landscape where everyday lives are acted out in quiet communities. Every one of the thirty tales is completely different, with a unique voice. All the characters seem to be threatened in some way; some manage to find peace, some are thrust further into danger.

Twice nominated for the Man Booker Prize and winner of numerous awards, Jon McGregor is a particularly skillful and distinctive writer. His style is strange, mysterious, authentic, unusual and poetic. Reading the book is like holding a delicate yet devastating crystal ball, containing strange, shape-shifting visions of the lives of others. Linda Grant put it best, in her Financial Times review: McGregor is the contemporary master of lives lived in what the Irish call a small way, and the belief, which is literature's, that we are all poetic.'

You can find more details on our March book of the month page.

You can get your paperback or Kindle version of the book here.

And don't miss the insider knowledge on all Jon's work, his BBC Short Story Awards and who he considers to be a ground-breaking British writer at his excellent website or you can follow him on Twitter: @jon_mcgregor

We are thrilled that Jon will be answering questions about THIS ISN'T THE SORT OF THING THAT HAPPENS TO SOMEONE LIKE YOU, his previous books and his writing career on Tuesday 16 April, 9-10pm. So please feel free to discuss the book here throughout the month and then come and join in the author chat on Tues 16.

Looking forward to hearing what you think...

HormonalHousewife Fri 15-Feb-13 12:53:17

Ooh I loved 'when nobody speaks of remarkable things'

we read it at a book club a couple of years ago and everybody loved it. It brought back some memories and some surprises too.

I've put my name down grin

MercedesKing Sun 17-Feb-13 09:07:28

Oh, Haven't read about his book yet, but I have plans to emerge myself in his stories in the month. Well, I'll start from 'when nobody speaks of remarkable things', then I will come back to join the discussion. smile

Clawdy Tue 19-Feb-13 17:15:59

For the second month I seem to have missed out on the chance to get a free copy! Received an email this morning telling me to apply for copy of the March book and when I scroll down to the "leave your details" bit,it says "This form is currently private and cannot be viewed by the public". What does that mean? If they've all gone,what was the point of sending me an email today?

PeazlyPops Tue 19-Feb-13 17:54:59

Received the email, but can't fill the form in, as I get the same message as clawdy.

Gargamella Tue 19-Feb-13 18:25:47

Same here re inability to apply for free book. I'm not the greatest with technology but I used to be able to handle this one. Could MN revert to how it used to operate?

Rufus43 Tue 19-Feb-13 19:25:30

Same message here! I was beginning to think I'd lost the plot. If anyone works out how to apply for a book I'd be grateful if you could let me know.

greengirlie Tue 19-Feb-13 19:33:05

Not letting me apply either.. I am quite 'up' on the fang dangle of this technology malarky.... slightly bamboozled by it confused

ditto!
If there are books left I would love to apply too

T3G43 Wed 20-Feb-13 00:42:09

Me too. Getting the same message as others. MN can you please let us know what's happening? Thanks.

Clawdy Wed 20-Feb-13 14:57:45

I see now the Book of the Month Page tells us all the free copies have gone. What happened?

ShadeMumsnet (MNHQ) Wed 20-Feb-13 15:56:49

Apologies to everybody who wasn't able to apply for a copy of the book. The form was open from 12pm last Friday, then we emailed a reminder on Monday night to make sure everybody knew where to go. There was a huge response and the form closed late Tuesday afternoon. Next month we'll put the deadline on the page and on the reminder so everybody knows when it'll close.

ShadeMumsnet (MNHQ) Mon 25-Feb-13 15:19:25

You can find a full guide to the various book club giveaways here.

CuriousMama Thu 28-Feb-13 22:44:15

I ordered this at the library and got an email today to say it's in :-)

So, how is everyone finding it?

Without doing any spoilers, I'd love to know whether you think the ending of 'Wires' is leading to something gruesome or not...

I enjoy the ambiguity in many of the stories, but it also constantly distracts me - my mind is yearning to reach a conclusion when it is blatantly not allowed to!

Interesting piece in FT by Sam Leith (reviewing an American, 76 year old short story writer) that resonated with my thoughts on this book - he points out that they are:

'so various. so inventive, so full - sentence by sentence - of the oddity and quiddity and complexity of individual lives... full of the ambiguous little epiphanies that are the bread and butter of the short story writer'

I had to look up 'quiddity' in the dictionary, but otherwise my feelings exactly...

thejoblot Sun 10-Mar-13 21:01:02

Only 2 stories in so far but finding the descriptions so gripping I even managed to block out the noise at a childrens birthday party!

lilibet Thu 14-Mar-13 17:29:02

I got the book from the library today and just have to finish the one that I'm reading at the moment -that- -I- -only- -started- - this- -morning- and I'll be with you.

[puts head down and gets on with reading]

lilibet Thu 14-Mar-13 17:29:44

Why didn't that work? hmm

lilibet Thu 14-Mar-13 17:30:48

Ah, I only put one dash instead of two

Yes, I know I'm talking to myself ...

[wanders off muttering]

gazzalw Fri 15-Mar-13 07:38:14

Er Tilly do you think anyone got the freebie copies? It's all rather quiet on the commenting front isn't it?

NinaNannar Fri 15-Mar-13 07:41:25

I didnt get a book. I aint a readin

I'll check about the freebie copies - agree it seems eerily quiet.

Or maybe everyone just inundated with World Book Day/Red Nose Day/fancy dress overload and no time for reading?

MeanMotherClucker Sat 16-Mar-13 16:49:33

I was warned away from short stories by my mother many years ago ("too bitty" apparently) and never quite got around to reading any until now. I started TITSOTTHTSLY yesterday and am already half way through, loving it all. The atmospheric fenland background somehow brings together the bitty-ness and the wonderful language evokes each of the very different characters in an exceptionally visual way. Very memorable, thought provoking and I'm really enjoying the change of genre.

Enough for now, back to octonauts & rugby blaring from various rooms, while I hide out in the kitchen with my book...

gazzalw Sat 16-Mar-13 17:55:06

Oh I loved short stories in my younger days and have read all the Somerset Maugham ones - they are fantastic.

I can imagine that the stories set in the Fenlands will have a Waterland bleakness to them.

Might try and see if I can find these as I'm intrigued.

NinaNannar Sat 16-Mar-13 21:11:22

I liked the post war German short stories and the (less. Erudite ) Jeffrey archer. Also goon squad was short story style.

But. I haven't read this one

jennywren123 Mon 18-Mar-13 08:18:03

Still waiting for my copy from the library. Apparently it is now in-transit to my local library but I found out recently that they only have fortnightly deliveries, so I'm not holding out too much hope of getting and reading it before next Tuesday! sad

SergeantSnarky Tue 19-Mar-13 02:55:37

Bloomsbury - Jon reads one of the stories from collection- Well worth a listen.

GeraldineMumsnet (MNHQ) Tue 19-Mar-13 10:52:23

SergeantSnarky

Bloomsbury - Jon reads one of the stories from collection- Well worth a listen.

Here's the link to Jon reading from his short stories.

Thanks for flagging SergeantSnarky.

gazzalw Tue 19-Mar-13 16:53:12

I will listen to this later on.

Had a hunt int the local library for the book but couldn't find it.

STOP PRESS: DATE OF WEBCHAT HAS MOVED TO TUE 16 APRIL, 9-10PM

We're putting the March webchat back a bit, to give everyone a chance to receive/get hold of/read their copies, and to avoid the Easter mayhem. So you now have 3 extra weeks to get your questions ready - do post your thoughts and questions up here at any time.

Hope that everyone manages to secure a copy - it is a remarkable, beautiful book. I'm happy to post mine to anyone who can't get their hands on one...just let me know.

Oh, and a quick reminder to those who do receive a free copy - could you post here when it arrives, so we know they've got there safely? Thank you...

HazelDormouse Wed 20-Mar-13 12:27:48

Received of a copy through the post this morning. Thank you. Look forward to reading it. Pleased to hear that there is now an extra three weeks for the webchat.

HormonalHousewife Thu 21-Mar-13 16:54:36

Fantastic - just got home and checked the mail box to find a free copy and then logged on here to find the webchat has been changed - yahay !
I am really looking forward to reading this and asking a question as like I said remarkable things was a really good read.

ElectricSoftParade Thu 21-Mar-13 18:28:43

Received a copy this morning. Thank you.

Glad to hear the copies are coming through the door, do put your thoughts and questions up here whenever you can - the more advance ones the better, as we can hopefully then get everyone answered on 16th...

And marvellous to see Jon as the main pic in Observer's line-up of Best Young British writers...

Fingers crossed he will be on the official Granta Top 40 list when it is announced on 4th April - we'll keep you posted.

gazzalw Fri 22-Mar-13 13:45:15

I've yet to track this down in a library. Might head to Waterstone's tomorrow!

SunshinePanda Sat 23-Mar-13 16:24:27

Just received mine - thanks. Looking forward to curling up on the sofa and getting started.

lilibet Sat 23-Mar-13 20:02:55

I'm really enjoying this, so much more than I thought I would. Tilly how much would I have to bribe you to have one question per story? Plus follow up of course? wink

Janimoso Mon 25-Mar-13 11:56:32

I am bowing out of this one this month guys. I did start reading it, got two thirds of the way through but its not my thing. So I am onto next months book... see you then :-)

HormonalHousewife Mon 25-Mar-13 12:43:49

I've devoured mine in about 48 hours. What put you off Janimoso ?

Agree with Lillibet in that we might need more than one question each as some of it was a bit complicated... any chance Tilly grin

gailforce1 Mon 25-Mar-13 18:15:37

My copy arrived today so thank you to MN and the publishers. Looking forward to settling dowm and starting tonight!

PointeShoes Tue 26-Mar-13 10:25:03

I have just started reading it , downloaded it, seems quite interesting so far. Will have more of a read at nap time.

brendarenda Sat 30-Mar-13 18:41:46

I've just finished the book. I'd read the story 'If it keeps on raining' in another short story collection and it's stuck with me ever since. The thing that I found interesting in this collection is the way a darker reality seems to be lurking right on the edge of the 'everyday'. Like the boy floating in the sea, you're balanced between two very different outcomes - and there's just a cigarette paper between them. I found the stories quite hard to read, because I was often dreading the ending too much - and of course the story ends just before the 'ending' - and somehow not knowing makes it all the more powerful. I'd like to know how Jon McGregor goes about getting the balance right between what's in the story and what he leaves out. Does he write a 'bigger' story and then edit it back to its essence, I wonder?

Picturesinthefirelight Mon 01-Apr-13 17:33:18

I seem to have inadvertently reported a post (my iPhone has a mind of its own here instead of posting I've received my copy but only recently.

No bribes necessary. You can absolutely have more than one question each, given the nature of the book.

Do put (all) your questions up here and I will start sending to Jon.

Just to remind everyone again, Jon will be joining us on Tuesday 16th April, 9-10pm.

HazelDormouse Sat 06-Apr-13 20:34:32

The stories remind me of Alan Bennett's Talking Heads due to how carefully both writers seem to choose their words and a sense of the ordinary, with a sometimes dark undercurrent.

The stories within the collection seem to resonate with each other. For example 'Have yet to be found' ('Remains') makes you think back to 'In Winter the Sky'. Forcing you to view the latter story from a different perspective. After reading 'Airshow', 'Memorial Stone' (A bit confused by this list of place names - actually rather puzzled by the significance of places and maps in the stories in general) only makes sense to me by thinking of those who have been lost to war and violence.

My questions are these:

1. Do you believe any other writers have influenced this particular collection, and if so, who?
2. How would you want the reader (ideally) to approach this collection? Do you think it matters that a reader just dips in and out of the work, not reading them in any particular order?

Pinkbatrobi Wed 10-Apr-13 03:15:55

Hi there, first of all thanks very much for my copy, which arrived after I'd forgotten all about it (I'm quite new to MN!) and was a lovely surprise. Sorry too that it didn't occur to me to post it when I got it, but had to be told about this thread by a friend... Bear with me, I'll learn, eventually grin

About the book, I also find short stories generally unsatisfactory, precisely for that sense of being left with loads of questions and not enough clues as to the answers... The literary equivalent of coitus interruptus if I am allowed the analogy....

But I did enjoy reading these. Maybe the fact I live in Cambridge, at the edge of the landscape Jon describes so well...I was intrigued by the geographical connotations, the references to villages and places that are familiar. I loved the verbal prowess he displays in the different registers and styles of the prose; it reminded me of the "exercises de style" by Raymond Queneau - I wonder if Jon has read it? To me the whole book has a certain taste if the surrealist....So I guess the first question is: which story did he have more fun writing? And which was the most troublesome for him? Was there one he had to go back to to polish and rewrite?

And also, on a completely different level: what is going on with the woman whose car is hit by the sugarbeet? Why is the older guy standing with his arms tensed? He really lost me there. This is a bit I found really difficult to understand. Which I guess means he's succeeded, right? But still... I want to know!! I would love for him to elaborate/explain.

Last question: which one is his favourite character? The one he feels he's painted best?

THANK YOU!!!
Ps already recommended b

Pinkbatrobi Wed 10-Apr-13 03:17:37

*book to friends hmm not sure what happened there...

mayajan Wed 10-Apr-13 12:22:48

Message deleted by Mumsnet for breaking our Talk Guidelines. Replies may also be deleted.

Thanks to everyone for excellent questions so far - just a reminder for everyone to put their questions here before I send them to Jon this weekend.

(and pinkbatrobi, I am equally haunted by the sugarbeet story - I haven't stopped thinking about it for months, and desperate for Jon to explain what is happening at the end. But I expect that's not allowed...)

Looking forward to getting the answers on Tuesday, 9-10pm...

pillowcase Sat 13-Apr-13 00:10:59

oh missed this but am marking my place to come and listen anyway

pillowcase, we'd love to have you - everyone welcome.

I've just sent advance questions to Jon and now very much looking forward to tomorrow night, see y'all at 9pm..

And to all those fans of 'If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things', do feel free to ask Jon questions about that book, or his writing career in general.

Our bookclub chats always cover the author's entire career, so everyone welcome.

Hullygully Tue 16-Apr-13 08:57:13

well, much as I would have liked to join in, my copy of the book failed to materialise so I can't <massive huff>

HormonalHousewife Tue 16-Apr-13 10:03:42

I really enjoyed this book Jon, thanks for giving us the opportunity to ask some questions about this.

I was wondering how you feel about actual books in comparison with electronic readers, in particular how would 'in winter the sky' feel to read electronically. Would it work and have the same effect ? On paper this opposite page 'thing' works really well. A bit confusing in its approach at first but then i kind of got it. ( strangely this is a recurring dream of mine over the years that I have done some serious harm and not yet been caught but awaiting being found out grin so a bit eerie for me !)

Can you explain your thinking on the subheadings on each chapter ? my take on this wild was that these were the type of stone used for the burial headstones for the person who died in each story.

Can 'fleeting complexity' really be considered as a short story ?

'we wave and call'. This really affected me. I thought it was haunting. Do you have any personal experiences which you lean on to help write any of these stories. I truly hope not and that you just have a very vivid imagination.

Tilly, the sugarbeet story I just wildly again assumed there had been a random accident which the two men seized upon and pretended to help the woman before killing her opportunist crime style.

Can you explain why you added the final chapter 'Memorial Stone' ?

thanks. This was one of the most thought provoking books I have read for a while.

Hully, sorry to hear you didn't get a free copy this time. Come anyway if you want to chat about Jon's other books?

gazza, did you manage to find a copy at Waterstones?

And a quick call-out to MeanMotherClucker, lilibet, thejoblot, ElectricSoftParade, SunshinePanda, gailforce1, PointeShoes plus anyone who did receive one of the free copies - hope you're able to make it tonight and looking forward to seeing you at 9.

Hullygully Tue 16-Apr-13 12:25:45

No I don't because I'm SULKING and have to go out

Just read AM Homes' May We Be Forgiven. Wot a corker.

lilibet Tue 16-Apr-13 14:40:05

Hi Jon, thanks for coming onto mumsnet. This was the first of your books that I have read and I loved the way that you wrote and will certainly read your other books. Sorry I won't be here tonight, but there are a couple of things I would like to talk about.

Firstly something that maybe completely out of your control. On the cover of my book it talked about a boy setting fire to a barn. This put a slant on the relevant story that wasn't actually stated. Was this the background to the story but it didn't make it to the page, or was it just your publishers?

When does a short story stop being a short story?

Thanks
Lili

JonMcGregor Tue 16-Apr-13 16:29:15

This isn't the kind of test post that happens to a forum like this.

JonMcGregor Tue 16-Apr-13 16:31:13

pillowcase

oh missed this but am marking my place to come and listen anyway

This isn't the sort of test post using the quote feature that happens to a post like this on a forum like this.

(I won't be using the 'This isn't the sort of... ' format all evening, don't worry.)

CautionaryWhale Tue 16-Apr-13 16:33:03

grin

gazzalw Tue 16-Apr-13 17:43:01

East Anglia is quite an oppressive and claustrophobic environment in which to live. Did you choose it purposefully for this reason for these rather unsettling stories? Are you native-born or have you spent years living there?

gailforce1 Tue 16-Apr-13 18:01:15

Hi Tilly, I'm here and looking forward to the chat later.
Thank you for the free copy of the book as I would not have gone out and bought a copy myself and I would have missed out on some very powerful writing.
Can I ask Jon which authors he reads and are there any books that he finds himself returning to?

Hullygully Tue 16-Apr-13 19:50:04

with the boy setting fire to a barn, were you influenced by Stephen King's Firestarter?

SunshinePanda Tue 16-Apr-13 20:31:04

Hi Jon, I think I am still bewildered by some of your stories! I am impressed particularly by the way you make the bleakness of human relationships at times seem beautifully sad. I was so pleased that you revisited Catherine and Michael in Grantham as I loved Which Reminded Her Later. What made you decide to revisit these particular characters?

GeraldineMumsnet (MNHQ) Tue 16-Apr-13 20:35:33

Frivolous comment <lowers tone>: the acronym for this book is TITSOTTHTSLY, which sounds a/ a bit rude and b/ a bit like a MN nickname.

What's your favourite book title? And how do you come up with your unusual titles? If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things is beautiful.

Hullygully Tue 16-Apr-13 20:40:14

I haven't read this book yet <glares at Tilly> but I did read If Nobody Speaks (which had a pivotal car incident I hope or it wasn't that) and I have been round the dreary old fens on a large and very cold boat. Do you come up with your titles yourself? They are of a piece and quite modern, it strikes me.

Hullygully Tue 16-Apr-13 20:40:40

haha cross post

Hullygully Tue 16-Apr-13 20:43:19

I would also like to ask Tilly, in reference to:

His style is strange, mysterious, authentic, unusual and poetic. Reading the book is like holding a delicate yet devastating crystal ball, containing strange, shape-shifting visions of the lives of others

what drugs she takes before her lyric poesies weave their dreamy magic?

I really am going in a min, will leave you in peace.

wordfactory Tue 16-Apr-13 20:56:47

Hi Jon.

When I talk to my students about unusual novel structures, I always mention Even the Dogs.

Could you tell me how you would describe that structure? I often call it fractured or splintered...but that doesn't seem to do it justice.

Also, could you comment on how you came to use that particular structure and if you had considered anyhting more traditional/usual?

By the way it is one of my all time favourite books, even more powerful when read out loud. As a fellow novelist I can only say that it is both a work of absurdly briliant technique and a heartbreaking, page turner. I salute you!

Evening everyone

This is the first time we have done short stories as a Book of the Month, so please feel free to ask multiple questions and discuss as many of the stories as you wish.

I am delighted that Jon is joining us tonight to talk about his writing career and the remarkable THIS ISN'T THE SORT OF THING THAT HAPPENS TO SOMEONE LIKE YOU.

Jon, firstly, thank you very much indeed for taking the time to be here. And many congratulations on your mesmerising, thought-provoking book. We'll kick off with the advance questions from further up the thread. And then we'll aim to get through as many new ones as possible over the next hour (although getting through all the posts above may take a good chunk of that...)

I'd also like to add our two standard MN Bookclub questions (which we like to ask all authors):

Which childhood book most inspired you?

What would be the first piece of advice you would give anyone attempting to write fiction?

Over to you...

JonMcGregor Tue 16-Apr-13 21:05:24

Evening all. Is it okay to be nervous? Feel like my typing skills are going to be tested. Okay. Will answer these two standard questions, then post answers to the questions I was sent earlier, and then get cracking on the live questions.

JonMcGregor Tue 16-Apr-13 21:06:21

Childhood books:
The Elephant and the Bad Baby (and they went rumpeter, rumpeter, rumpeter, all down the road)
Swallows & Amazons. The entire series. Numerous times.

JonMcGregor Tue 16-Apr-13 21:06:51

First piece of advice to writers?
Read more. Read a lot more. Be influenced.

JonMcGregor Tue 16-Apr-13 21:07:18

brendarenda Sat 30-Mar-13 18:41:46
I'd like to know how Jon McGregor goes about getting the balance right between what's in the story and what he leaves out. Does he write a 'bigger' story and then edit it back to its essence, I wonder?

Hi Brendarenda - thanks for your question. I like your image of there being just a cigarette paper between the different outcomes; that was very much the feeling I had about a lot of these stories while I was writing them, that they could go either way and that sometimes it might be best to leave them before it becomes clear which way they go.
Anyway - a bigger story? Sometimes. But never deliberately. Sometimes when a story isn't working, I've stripped out particular characters or scenes (or the beginning and the end) and found the story works better as a result. Sometimes I've done this for an arbitrary reason - in one case, because Radio 4 needed something to be exactly 15 minutes long. I cut that story in half to fit the time, and it improved a lot as a result.
But other times, I've just stopped when I've realised I can't take the story any further. 'Fleeing Complexity' is an example of this..

Hullygully Tue 16-Apr-13 21:07:20

Ooo I can join in! I loved the elephant and the bad baby, read (past tense) it to my kids all the time. Are you very young?

JonMcGregor Tue 16-Apr-13 21:07:45

HazelDormouse Sat 06-Apr-13 20:34:32
My questions are these:

1. Do you believe any other writers have influenced this particular collection, and if so, who?
2. How would you want the reader (ideally) to approach this collection? Do you think it matters that a reader just dips in and out of the work, not reading them in any particular order?

Hi Hazel, thanks for your questions.
1, Um, yes, plenty of writers have influenced this collection. And by influenced I do indeed in many cases mean that I've stolen their ideas. Who? George Saunders, Lydia Davis, Donald Barthelme, Richard Brautigan and Peter Hobbs would be a few of the key culprits.
2, Well, you could just dip in and out of the work without reading them in any particular order. But if you'd told me you were going to do that, I wouldn't have bothered spending weeks with them spread out all over the floor trying to put them into a sequence which made some kind of sense and which made the reader feel they were on some kind of over-arching narrative journey.
(To be honest, if you've paid for the book I really don't mind. One of the things I value about fiction is that the reader is in charge of their own experience. But for the record, yes, they are designed to be read in sequence.)

JonMcGregor Tue 16-Apr-13 21:08:18

Pinkbatrobi Wed 10-Apr-13 03:15:55
Hi there, first of all thanks very much for my copy, which arrived after I'd; it reminded me of the "exercises de style" by Raymond Queneau - I wonder if Jon has read it? To me the whole book has a certain taste if the surrealist....So I guess the first question is: which story did he have more fun writing? And which was the most troublesome for him? Was there one he had to go back to to polish and rewrite?

And also, on a completely different level: what is going on with the woman whose car is hit by the sugarbeet? Why is the older guy standing with his arms tensed? He really lost me there. This is a bit I found really difficult to understand. Which I guess means he's succeeded, right? But still... I want to know!! I would love for him to elaborate/explain.

Last question: which one is his favourite character? The one he feels he's painted best?

Hey, Pinkbatrobi, that's a lot of questions! But thanks...
(Deep breath...)
I haven't read Raymond Queneau, no, but I know a man who has. And conversations about his work, plus that of people like Lydia Davis did make me want to play with form in this book. Just as each short story is a blank page in terms of character and setting, so can it be a blank page in terms of form, typography, perspective, etc.

The most fun stories were probably 'Memorial Stone' (which I think I'll come back to in a later answer) and 'New York New York'. Although actually 'I'll Buy You A Shovel' was also a lot of fun, simply because I very quickly had a really vivid sense of who this pair of characters was, and how they related to each other.

The most troublesome was 'New York New York': in it's first version, it was constructed entirely of lyrics from songs about New York, and it was only at the copy-editing stage that I learnt how ruinously expensive it would be to publish in that form. So I had to find a way of reworking it - the story is effectively now a story about a film of a story that will never be published.

Polishing and rewriting? Yes. All of them. All of the time.

The woman with the sugarbeet. Well. I'm going to guess someone else will ask about that, so I'll save my answer for later. Spoiler: I'm not really going to answer the question properly.

Favourite character? Probably the pair from 'I'll Buy You A Shovel'.

JonMcGregor Tue 16-Apr-13 21:08:51

(Ha! Feel like I might be buying myself some breathing space by posting such long-winded answers. This might be an error...)

It is a very different experience reading one short story, and reading a collection. It made me think a lot about the position of each story, and its neighbours. And also how the overall tone can be kept, even when the style is so varied. Like listening to an album from start to finish rather than picking out tracks. (though maybe there is always a personal hit single, and mine might be Wires)

Jon, how do you decide the position of each story? And were you at any point considering whether the stories might coalesce into a novel?

(And Hully: I sniff book binding glue.)

JonMcGregor Tue 16-Apr-13 21:10:01

(Apologies - I've lost who asked this question. If it was you, thanks!)

I was wondering how you feel about actual books in comparison with electronic readers, in particular how would 'in winter the sky' feel to read electronically. Would it work and have the same effect ? On paper this opposite page 'thing' works really well.
Can you explain your thinking on the subheadings on each chapter ? my take on this was that these were the type of stone used for the burial headstones for the person who died in each story.

Can 'fleeting complexity' really be considered as a short story ?

'we wave and call'. This really affected me. I thought it was haunting. Do you have any personal experiences which you lean on to help write any of these stories. I truly hope not and that you just have a very vivid imagination.

Tilly, the sugarbeet story I just assumed there had been a random accident which the two men seized upon and pretended to help the woman before killing her opportunist crime style.

Can you explain why you added the final chapter 'Memorial Stone' ?
**

I don't read books on e-readers, yet. It doesn't appeal to me. I like to read one book at a time, not have 100 of them available to flit between. I don't have any great objection, and my guess is that if anything people who had fallen out of the reading habit have started reading a bit more as a result of using them. But one of my disappointments with the Kindle in particular is that by allowing the reader to choose the font and typesize, any design choices made by the publisher and/or writer go straight out of the window. I haven't checked (a shameful admission perhaps) but I imagine that 'In Winter the Sky' might be a right old mess on the Kindle if the reader changes the default size/font.

Wow. I should probably be keeping these answers shorter, right?

The sub-headings are the names of the places where each story is set.

I think 'Fleeing Complexity' is a story (narrative = something changes), but I don't mind if you don't.

Hasn't everyone swum out a little too far at sea, or felt the pull of the tide? I do have a vivid imagination, but it usually starts with something happening or almost happening in real life and then taking the 'what if..' a bit too far.

Sugarbeet... I'll get on to that.

Memorial Stone - there's an apocalyptic/flood undertone to the collection, which becomes heightened towards the end of the book, and the idea is that this is a list of places which would be lost to floods in the event of catastrophic sea-level rise. As my creative writing tutor always said: Make sure you send the punters home with a good joke!

JonMcGregor Tue 16-Apr-13 21:11:15

(Again, have lost this question's questioner. Apologies/thanks.)
*
Firstly something that maybe completely out of your control. On the cover of my book it talked about a boy setting fire to a barn. This put a slant on the relevant story that wasn't actually stated. Was this the background to the story but it didn't make it to the page, or was it just your publishers?

When does a short story stop being a short story?
***
Well, the story in question ('Fleeing Complexity') says that 'the fire spread quicker than the little bastard was expecting'; and a later story refers to 'a burning barn on the horizon'. So I suppose I was hoping some readers would put two and two together. It was always a burning barn in my mind.

My definition, and it's only mine, is that a short story is any piece of fiction which can be read in a single sitting. Of course, there's a huge flexibility in that - it depends on your reader's patience,

On the sugar beet story, and the ending or non-ending and just what's going on at all: it's complicated. I wrote a short essay about it a while ago, which you can find here - onlearningtoread.tumblr.com/post/11017277122/the-title-of-the-story-wires-is-taken-from-the

JonMcGregor Tue 16-Apr-13 21:12:11

gazzalw

East Anglia is quite an oppressive and claustrophobic environment in which to live. Did you choose it purposefully for this reason for these rather unsettling stories? Are you native-born or have you spent years living there?

Well.... some people might challenge your use of "oppressive and claustrophobic" as far as East Anglia's concerned.... but these stories are actually mostly set in Lincolnshire, and in places there is certainly something eerie or uncanny or claustrophobic+agoraphobic about that landscape. Which was what made me want to place these stories there, yes. And unsettling is a good word.
I grew up in Norfolk, but haven't lived there since I headed off to university. I've never lived in Lincolnshire.

JonMcGregor Tue 16-Apr-13 21:13:44

gailforce1

Hi Tilly, I'm here and looking forward to the chat later.
Thank you for the free copy of the book as I would not have gone out and bought a copy myself and I would have missed out on some very powerful writing.
Can I ask Jon which authors he reads and are there any books that he finds himself returning to?

It's a long list.... to start with books I return to:
John McGahern, "That They May Face The Rising Sun"
WG Sebald, "The Rings of Saturn"
Alice Oswald, "Dart"
George Saunders... pretty much all of it rewards rereading
Also, off the top of my head... Kevin Barry, Cynan Jones, Alice Munro, Maile Meloy, Sarah Hall, Don DeLillo, Lydia Davis, Donald Antrim, Donald Barthelme, Ali Smith, um... ask me again in a minute and I'll think of a few more... Evie Wyld, Chimamanda Adichie, Julian Gough

JonMcGregor Tue 16-Apr-13 21:14:27

Hullygully

with the boy setting fire to a barn, were you influenced by Stephen King's Firestarter?

No: by the Prodigy song of the same title.

JonMcGregor Tue 16-Apr-13 21:16:00

SunshinePanda

Hi Jon, I think I am still bewildered by some of your stories! I am impressed particularly by the way you make the bleakness of human relationships at times seem beautifully sad. I was so pleased that you revisited Catherine and Michael in Grantham as I loved Which Reminded Her Later. What made you decide to revisit these particular characters?

Honestly? That second story was originally supposed to be a part of the first; but it just didn't work. It overcomplicated the main story. But I couldn't bear to get rid of the scene, so I made a new story of it. I'd like to think that most people don't notice they're the same characters, but am also glad when some people do.

The titles feel like poem titles (Years of This, Now or We Wave and Call)– and your writing is as economical and precise as poetry.

Is the short story closer to poetry than to the novel? Are there particular poets that you admire and read often?

JonMcGregor Tue 16-Apr-13 21:17:54

GeraldineMumsnet

Frivolous comment <lowers tone>: the acronym for this book is TITSOTTHTSLY, which sounds a/ a bit rude and b/ a bit like a MN nickname.

What's your favourite book title? And how do you come up with your unusual titles? If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things is beautiful.

Come on. You have to try really hard to make that sound rude, don't you?
Titles: they usually come from somewhere in the text, and they usually end up being something which I hope carries a sense of what the overall book is about or is like or the mood it's trying to convey.

Calypso2 Tue 16-Apr-13 21:18:03

Hi Jon,thanks for such a thought provoking set of stories which I devoured over the course of the week when I received my free copy. Ive since bought 'If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things' which I LOVED - wow! what an amazing book - it stayed with me for a long time after I'd finished it. I'm amazed at how you manage to weave such great stories out of tiny details of everyday life. I wonder how you come about all these minute details - do you spend a lot of time watching people going about their every days lives?

JonMcGregor Tue 16-Apr-13 21:23:58

TillyBookClub

It is a very different experience reading one short story, and reading a collection. It made me think a lot about the position of each story, and its neighbours. And also how the overall tone can be kept, even when the style is so varied. Like listening to an album from start to finish rather than picking out tracks. (though maybe there is always a personal hit single, and mine might be Wires)

Jon, how do you decide the position of each story? And were you at any point considering whether the stories might coalesce into a novel?

(And Hully: I sniff book binding glue.)

The sequence of the stories is really important in a collection. Some collections can be built around making narrative connections between the stories (recurring characters; thematic links; etc) but I didn't want to or didn't feel able to do that here. But what I did want was some kind of sense of progression and coherence. So each of the sections are broadly themed (and right now I can't remember what those themes are, except that the middle section is stories about people who leave Lincolnshire and go elsewhere, and the later sections are generally about impending possible apocalypse), but I also attempted to create a rhythm and variety in the pace/length/style/mood of the stories.
What I was hoping, basically, was that people would read the book from beginning to end, not just dip in and out.
Not looking at anyone in particular at this point.

Mspontipine Tue 16-Apr-13 21:25:09

Sorry my post may sound very dull but can I just say I really loved 'If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things'. I haven't read this one yet but definitely will after reading the discussion on here - I'm from Lincolnshire so will be paying particular attention. grin

I love it that you were nervous about typing on here.

Thanks everso much for what you do. Keep up the good work smile

JonMcGregor Tue 16-Apr-13 21:27:33

TillyBookClub

The titles feel like poem titles (Years of This, Now or We Wave and Call)? and your writing is as economical and precise as poetry.

Is the short story closer to poetry than to the novel? Are there particular poets that you admire and read often?

No. I don't think so. I mean, some short stories can be poetic in style or effect; and some poems can be more narrative than some stories. But ultimately prose is doing a very different job to poetry.
People talk about economy and precision and compression as something that short stories do and novels don't; but I think novels should be using those same tools.
The key thing for me is that a short story can be read in a single sitting, which lends the reading (and writing) experience a density you can't get in a novel.

I have just read the essay on Wires, and now running to my Larkin collection to try and find the poem...

I felt her victimisation by all these men very strongly, but I couldn't work out if she'd already had her epiphany about Marcus and was therefore over the 'wire', and could prevent these men from harming her. Or if she was still uncertain and under their control.

Fascinating hearing about the starting point for these stories.

JonMcGregor Tue 16-Apr-13 21:31:25

Calypso2

Hi Jon,thanks for such a thought provoking set of stories which I devoured over the course of the week when I received my free copy. Ive since bought 'If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things' which I LOVED - wow! what an amazing book - it stayed with me for a long time after I'd finished it. I'm amazed at how you manage to weave such great stories out of tiny details of everyday life. I wonder how you come about all these minute details - do you spend a lot of time watching people going about their every days lives?

Hi Calypso2, and thanks. Really glad you enjoyed the book(s). As for details; it's not like I deliberately go around staring at people and making copious notes. I guess I'm just nosey, as lots of people are, and tend to remember things I've seen or heard. And in terms of writing, it's the details which can really anchor a character or scene for the reader - the frayed cuff or the restless hands or the quavering voice.

JonMcGregor Tue 16-Apr-13 21:33:35

Mspontipine

Sorry my post may sound very dull but can I just say I really loved 'If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things'. I haven't read this one yet but definitely will after reading the discussion on here - I'm from Lincolnshire so will be paying particular attention. grin

I love it that you were nervous about typing on here.

Thanks everso much for what you do. Keep up the good work smile

Hi Mspontipine (that's a Night Garden reference, right? And here I was thinking these were all your real names... unless that is your real name, in which case.... anyway... )
Nothing dull about your post - you like one of my books and you're going to read another, and that's basically enough for me. That's the whole point of doing what I do.
So, thanks!

JonMcGregor Tue 16-Apr-13 21:37:39

TillyBookClub

I have just read the essay on Wires, and now running to my Larkin collection to try and find the poem...

I felt her victimisation by all these men very strongly, but I couldn't work out if she'd already had her epiphany about Marcus and was therefore over the 'wire', and could prevent these men from harming her. Or if she was still uncertain and under their control.

Fascinating hearing about the starting point for these stories.

Well, for me that's the point, to leave the reader at that moment of absolute uncertainty. Whether or not anything terrible actually happens, this is the moment after which her defences will always be up and her trust in strangers be more wary. It's a moment I think most of us can point to at some time in our youth - for the lucky majority, the moment is nothing more than a cautionary tale.

Next up, a knock-knock joke...

JonMcGregor Tue 16-Apr-13 21:38:49

Knock knock.

Who's there?

Are you still there?

JonMcGregor Tue 16-Apr-13 21:44:36

TillyBookClub

Who's there?

Interrupting cow.

Mspontipine Tue 16-Apr-13 21:44:53

grin Yes I'm afraid it's not my real name. Love it that you watch In the Night Garden. It makes you ... real!

I'll keep reading. Thanks for the reply.

TractorKate Tue 16-Apr-13 21:45:29

Another fan here of 'If Nobody Speaks..' Thought you got the students packing up to leave their student home spot on -t he memories of packing up and not having a clue where you were going. Haven't read the short stories yet but will certainly try and get hold of them. Do you have any other novels in the pipeline?

JonMcGregor Tue 16-Apr-13 21:46:35

Mspontipine

grin Yes I'm afraid it's not my real name. Love it that you watch In the Night Garden. It makes you ... real!

I'll keep reading. Thanks for the reply.

Haven't watched Night Garden in earnest for a few years now, but the theme tune can still render me an emotional wreck....

pillowcase Tue 16-Apr-13 21:48:04

I haven't managed to read the book, or any of yours, but will. Thanks for interesting discussion

JonMcGregor Tue 16-Apr-13 21:48:13

TractorKate

Another fan here of 'If Nobody Speaks..' Thought you got the students packing up to leave their student home spot on -t he memories of packing up and not having a clue where you were going. Haven't read the short stories yet but will certainly try and get hold of them. Do you have any other novels in the pipeline?

Thanks, TractorKate! I can concede now, a decade or so later, that a lot of the student stuff in that book was pretty autobiographical - if not actually my own experience then the experience I was seeing around me.

Other novels in the pipeline? Yep. Getting there. I can't tell you anything about it/them though. Official Secrets.

JonMcGregor Tue 16-Apr-13 21:50:23

JonMcGregor

TillyBookClub

Who's there?

Interrupting cow.

Er... someone's supposed to say "Interrupting cow who" now. Not sure this is going to catch on as a comedy format.

JonMcGregor Tue 16-Apr-13 21:50:53

pillowcase

I haven't managed to read the book, or any of yours, but will. Thanks for interesting discussion

And that "but will" has made my evening. Thanks!

Oh no, I thought that was the joke - I was guffawing quite loudly already

Interrupting cow who?

GeraldineMumsnet (MNHQ) Tue 16-Apr-13 21:53:29

JonMcGregor

JonMcGregor

TillyBookClub

Who's there?

Interrupting cow.

Er... someone's supposed to say "Interrupting cow who" now. Not sure this is going to catch on as a comedy format.

Interrupting cow who?

Mspontipine Tue 16-Apr-13 21:53:30

Interrupting cow who?

Calypso2 Tue 16-Apr-13 21:53:53

Thanks for answering my question. I love nothing better than to nosy at other folks so am certainly not condemning you for it! i think you're right about the small details really anchoring a character, Its interesting that hardly any of the characters in your short stories or If Nobody is named! Is that deliberate?

Ps event read any of your other books -seem to remember there's one about dogs? Should I? Which ones?

JonMcGregor Tue 16-Apr-13 21:54:06

MOOO!

JonMcGregor Tue 16-Apr-13 21:54:27

No. That really didn't work, did it?

Oh and a quick reminder to anyone who hasn't posted yet that we only have about 10 minutes to go, so any last questions do pop them here...

Mspontipine Tue 16-Apr-13 21:56:26

Nope. Maybe stick with what you're good at wink

pillowcase Tue 16-Apr-13 21:57:29

Jon, I see you're hosting an event with George Saunders soon for Writers&Artists I think. What will that entail and have you done similar before?

I'm dying to get out to events/conférences but live too far from everything so have to just imagine.

JonMcGregor Tue 16-Apr-13 21:59:17

Calypso2

Thanks for answering my question. I love nothing better than to nosy at other folks so am certainly not condemning you for it! i think you're right about the small details really anchoring a character, Its interesting that hardly any of the characters in your short stories or If Nobody is named! Is that deliberate?

Ps event read any of your other books -seem to remember there's one about dogs? Should I? Which ones?

Hang on [dons marketing hat]

The one about dogs is called Even The Dogs, but it's not really about dogs. It's about a dead guy. It's about a dead guy, and his friends, and what happened to him and them before he died and after he died. They're all drug users and drinkers and people living on the margins and it's fair to say it's not a beach read. It's the book I'm proudest of, but I wouldn't blame you if you didn't start with it.

Before that was So Many Ways To Begin, which is about a museum curator who uncovers surprises about his own family history, and is set in Coventry and Aberdeen and Donegal and most of the 20th century, and is about memory and archives and love. It's a quiet book.

And that's it. You're halfway through the set already. I'm a slow worker.

This reminds me. I think I missed a question from much earlier about Even The Dogs...

Well, you made me laugh at lot. But I think Michael Macwhatshisface can probably rest easy that Mumsnet Webchat Comedy is still a way off stealing his crown...

JonMcGregor Tue 16-Apr-13 22:04:13

pillowcase

Jon, I see you're hosting an event with George Saunders soon for Writers&Artists I think. What will that entail and have you done similar before?

I'm dying to get out to events/conférences but live too far from everything so have to just imagine.

I am so excited about this. George Saunders is a hero of mine. I'm hosting a reading with him in Nottingham on May 28th, and then one at the Southbank in London on May 29th. I'll ask him some questions, and get him to read some of his stories. I'll try and get to the bottom of what makes his stories so great, and attempt to learn a bit more about how he goes about putting them together.

If you're too far from everything (everything?) then you could always try finding video clips of readings and Q&As on youtube or book festival websites. I think Edinburgh Book Festival post quite a lot of video. Some book festivals livestream events as well now.
It's second best, I know, but occasionally writers have interesting things to say about their work at these events. Occasionally...

pillowcase Tue 16-Apr-13 22:07:00

everything? Yes, rural France...

Good tip on video clips, thank budweiser for the interweb

Calypso2 Tue 16-Apr-13 22:07:45

Thank you thank you. It's great to hear your own summary of your backlist. I'll go out and buy the other 2 and give them a go - I like a challenge.

We've run out of time, and have to let Jon get to his bed/drink/what he's writing next.

Thank you to everyone for an excellent discussion and questions.

Jon, it has been great fun and highly illuminating to talk to you tonight. Thank you so much for taking the time to be here, and also for your considered and detailed answers. I hope you don't feel nervous anymore, and that you'll come back and talk to us again when the next project is finished.

Good luck with it all, and many thanks again.

gailforce1 Tue 16-Apr-13 22:11:08

I can recommend Even the Dogs - borrowed from the library as an audio book and the narrator was excellent.

JonMcGregor Tue 16-Apr-13 22:12:21

wordfactory

Hi Jon.

When I talk to my students about unusual novel structures, I always mention Even the Dogs.

Could you tell me how you would describe that structure? I often call it fractured or splintered...but that doesn't seem to do it justice.

Also, could you comment on how you came to use that particular structure and if you had considered anyhting more traditional/usual?

By the way it is one of my all time favourite books, even more powerful when read out loud. As a fellow novelist I can only say that it is both a work of absurdly briliant technique and a heartbreaking, page turner. I salute you!

There, found it. Knew there was one I'd missed...
Hi Wordfactory - thanks for this, really appreciate it.
Not sure how I'd describe the structure of Even the Dogs, in part because each of the five chapters has a different structure anyway. But I guess the recurring style would be something like 'broken' - lots of sentences that trail out, lots of stories which don't tie together.
The style in each chapter is linked to the theme, so eg the first chapter is about the body being discovered, so much of the narrative is revelatory (the layers peeling back, literally in the case of the wallpaper); the second chapter is about the body being carried across town, which mirrors Danny's journey to find his dealer, so the prose is very restless and rapid; the third chapter is the body in the morgue, and takes on the feel of a wake, and the stories are all characterised by waiting.... etc etc.

I'm sure I've written about this in more detail/clarity on my website somewhere. Let me try and find the link.

JonMcGregor Tue 16-Apr-13 22:13:55

Ah... while I was typing that longish answer you all went home without me. Well, that's fine. It's past my bedtime anyway. Thanks all for reading the book, and for asking questions and sticking around to hear the answers. It was a pleasure talking to youse all.

Until the next time....

Jon

Mspontipine Tue 16-Apr-13 22:16:57

I'm still here - night. Thanks for coming on here - it was super to meet you - as it were smile

xx

pillowcase Tue 16-Apr-13 22:17:10

Thanks Jon

Calypso2 Tue 16-Apr-13 22:18:45

Thanks Jon (and mumsnet) for great webchat.

wordfactory Tue 16-Apr-13 22:19:48

Still here too.
Thank you so much for answering...

Will check your website re Even the Dogs. Ammunition when I tell my students how important choice of structure can be, that it's not something to be afraid of...

You deserve an extra thank you for picking up on an overlooked question...

I'm looking forward to reading your other three books. It has been such a pleasure to have you here.

Good night.

Pinkbatrobi Wed 17-Apr-13 01:05:17

Oh damn busted damn I forgot! Really sorry to have missed this! I will go back and read the thread properly now but just wanted to say how sorry I am to have missed it and thank you to Jon for answering the questions. It looks as if he's been really thorough with the answers so really looking forward to reading it all. But how stupid am I? :-((

gailforce1 Wed 17-Apr-13 08:14:50

Thanks to MN and Tilly I thought that this was one of the best MN bookclub chats. Jon has given me many new authors check out so it does'nt look like my "to read" pile will diminish any time soon!! And I have Remarkable Things to look forward to..

Puddlelane Wed 17-Apr-13 09:25:04

What a wonderful webchat! What an interesting man!
Oh dear my Amazon account is going to get a hit very soon... now where is DH's credit card?

Picturesinthefirelight Mon 22-Apr-13 10:18:36

In afraid I gave up on this one. I just couldn't get into it.

Sorry.

Join the discussion

Join the discussion

Registering is free, easy, and means you can join in the discussion, get discounts, win prizes and lots more.

Register now