Seeing us through to the end of the year we’ve reached out to a number of our favourite artists and cultural creatives to join us in celebrating good things. A bunch of five things that make their world go around, inspire them or just need celebrating for what they are. There’s no theme here. It’s no kind of "best of year" round-up. These are just five things of the many things identified as making the world a better place to be. We’re all about positivity. Almost all of the time. We promise…
Lisa Blower is an award winning short story writer and novelist, first coming to prominence by winning the Guardian National Short Story contest. Hailed by Kit De Waal as the ‘natural heir to Arnold Bennett’. Lisa is a champion of working-class literature and regional voices, often paying homage to The Potteries where she grew up. Her two novels, 'Sitting Ducks' (Fair Acre Press) and 'Pondweed' (Myriad Editions) have seen nominations for numerous prestigious awards and her recent collection of short stories, 'It’s Gone Dark Over Bill’s Mother’s' (Myriad Editions) won the Arnold Bennett Prize. These days creatives have day jobs and Lisa is providing direction to the next generation of working-class voices in her role at the University of Wolverhampton. Here are her five carefully considered things…
It’s mainly a hangover from 15 years of working in the industry, but I cannot bear a quiet house with no radio on. It’s the first thing I do every morning without fail: I put the radio on. 6 Music first then drifting towards Radio 4 as the day wears on. As I write this, I'm still with 6 Music - The Waterboys 'The Whole of the Moon' whilst outside a crisp full moon is on the rise. I remember Terry Wogan in the background as a child. Steve Wright in the afternoon whilst I did my homework. John Peel on low because it was past my bedtime. Pete Tong officially starting my weekends. Zane Lowe’s DJ-offs and playing whole albums. Like whole albums! I sometimes listen and think – that feature’s not working at all, you should do this. I remember taping myself as a child – play and record, two fat buttons pushed down together with two hands – and recording the Charts as I chomped away on a pound of blackcurrant liquorice and a pound of chocolate limes. My dream job was always to produce Women’s Hour. But a pirate’s moll, Kiss, then Galaxy then Kerrang all distracted me. In commercial radio, you tell advertisers that radio is company, peoples’ best friend. Consistent. Regular. Always on. For me, it’s a habit but also a connection with music which I also wouldn’t be without. And though I do appreciate streaming for the 'drunk' playlist option, it's one of the 21st century's greatest cultural shames that radio has been allowed to drift off radars with centralised playlists replacing local programming meaning that broadcasting career opportunities are now practically non-existent.
I drink too much of it and it’s never instant. I can see my Nan now with a glass bottle of Camp and drizzling it in a pan of hot milk. She called a ‘milky milky’ and I loved it. Then she progressed to Mellow Birds. I loved that too. I’m now an Americano with hot milk please. It’s the first thing I buy when I am anywhere else. I don’t get syrups, twists, double shots, solos, skinnies, or half caps and only order from baristas not machines. My heart sinks when I see a button pressed instead of beans, and to add to my long list of coffee snobbery, prefer a takeaway cup to a sit-in porcelain mug because it goes cold too quickly. In my many Ibizan summers (radio perk) Café Con Leche with a plate of patatas bravas was my breakfast of champions. Backpacking solo around New Zealand I kept a coffee spot diary. I don’t own a Nespresso or a DeLonghi contraption but have a couple of cafetieres (one is a Spode) and my espresso pot bought in Florence some twenty years ago is still going strong. I don’t have a favourite brand, but I do know a good coffee over a crap one. And never, ever be made a coffee by someone who only does decaf.
SHORT STORY COLLECTIONS
Being a writer, I thought – well, one of my five should be books – but when I thought about it, it’s not just any books but short story collections that I couldn’t be without. I adore short stories. To write them is a real knack. There’s a ton of skill required because you don’t have much room to manoeuvre, and you have to do what a novel does with 90% less words. I’m at a constant loss of why short stories never find the readerships they should or why the novel can’t budge up and make room for them when they’re such a craft and not just some tiresome sibling that won’t behave. I write short stories all the time. I think in them. It’s where my writing heart beats. Sometimes, they find an audience and do well. Often, they don’t but I really don’t mind. I write them to practice. To get better at them. And I read them all the time. I never read a collection in order. I don’t think they’re meant to be read in order even though the ordering of stories in a collection or anthology is laboured over. Rather, I look at the shortest story first and read that. I think – if you can tell me sixteen stories in one in two or three pages then I’m ready for your others. Sarah Hall is a majestic handler of the short form. Katherine Mansfield should’ve been made a Dame for her contribution to them. Shirley Jackson’s are true masterpieces and Mark Haddon’s short fiction is massively underrated. Blue4Eva by Saba Sams that won the BBC Award this year is crazy-good writing. I try and read one every couple of days or so. It’s like I feel something is missing if I don’t. I check for my keys, my phone, my husband, daughter, all are present, then realise. I’ve not prescribed myself a short story in a week.
The sea, a lake, a river, a pool, a lido, a puddle, Point Break. I’m drawn to them all. I’m a Pisces which perhaps goes some way to explain my addiction to the water. I have to live near it and positively yearned for the sea during lockdown. This is strange from someone born in landlocked Stoke-on-Trent who spent one week a year at the seaside (Barmouth or Borth) and was told not to paddle in Rudyard Lake because it was full of crabs. That being the STI version, not the side-walkers. And you never dipped so much as your little toe in the Trent canal. Perhaps then water’s lure was like boys you were warned about, but it’s been a healthy relationship so far. I’m not a fast swimmer - it’s my one excuse for exercise – and breaststroke with the plodders most mornings. I love bodyboarding because it makes me squeal like I’m twelve and yes, I have a Dry Robe and ‘wild’ swim like every other Guardian reader, but I can also watch the water for hours. Waves, particularly. When I need a moment, I make myself a coffee and watch YouTube videos of the waves at Nazaré because their size and well, insane dominance, fascinate me. I’m also fascinated by Fairbourne. Far from the rugged beauty of Portugal’s Atlantic tip, it’s predicted to be the first coastal village to be reclaimed by the sea. The beach itself is long and pebbled and often considered Barmouth’s poor cousin across the spit. We go there a lot like we’re expecting some massive wave to appear on the horizon. There’s also a particular cove up from Newgate in Pembs that’s so secluded and crystal clear that I hope you never find it because it’s mine. That’s the only way I can explain it. I hug water. Like it’s all mine.
RUMOURS, FLEETWOOD MAC
It feels horribly poignant to choose this given that the world has just lost the light of Christine McVie. I have cut her pictures out of magazines to take to hairdressers for over twenty years having realised I would never have hair like Stevie Nicks. But I know this album backwards and have at least three copies in various reissues along with the original scratchy vinyl that I still play. I’m fascinated by its conception. How the rows, break-ups, and coke fuelled the songs. How snide and dramatic 'Go Your Own Way' actually is. How brittle and off-kilter Stevie’s wails are on 'Gold Dust Woman'. I knew every single word to every track by the time I was ten without knowing any of the trauma and hysteria that had created them, or how venomous a spurned Lindsey Buckingham was when he positively spit-sings at Stevie – 'Packing up/Shacking up is all you wanna do'. My dad used to play 'Rumours' to get me to sleep when I was little. Later on, when he played it at night whilst I did my homework, I’d incorporate the lyrics in whatever I was scribbling, probably because their spats resonated with what I was experiencing at secondary school. Perhaps why I have carried around those lyrics for so many years they’ve become an answer to whatever has troubled. 'I know there’s nothing to say/Someone has taken my place' came to mind every time I was dumped/the dumpee. 'And the songbirds keep singing/like they know the score' – was my lockdown earworm. I despise every cover that gets made of these tracks because songs derived from that worm-bucket-level of raw and brutal emotion can never be replicated, and I’m gutted that I never got to see them play live.
More info about Lisa Blower can be found here