Blind Dating in Bishkek

September 12, 2014 § Leave a comment

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The autumn issue of The Dublin Review has a long tale of the joys and sorrows (more of those) of trying to do internet dating in Bishkek in Kyrgyzstan. Suffice to say, no weddings are currently planned.

It begins thus:

September is the perfect month for dating in Bishkek. The intense heat of the Kyrgyz summer has passed, but the days are still bright and warm. In the evening you can eat outside, then stroll through the park, without feeling the slightest chill.

Before I travelled to Bishkek, I’d been living in London for six months, and despite the many possibilities of the place I was in a dating rut. We went to the British Film Institute or the Hackney Picturehouse. We spoke sometimes of Mad Men, sometimes of Breaking Bad, always of Game of Thrones. We were witty and cutting and sometimes we kissed but even after three drinks, with our eyes shut, our tongues entwined, we remained urbane. We were youngish, smart professionals. We were polished stones.

My initial reasons for visiting Kyrgyzstan’s capital had nothing to do with dating. I wanted to do a report on a clinic that treated drug addiction by putting its patients into comas. I had nothing else planned, and knew no one in Bishkek. Three days before I was due to leave, I was checking OkCupid – not with any real conviction, more out of pathetic habit – and saw I had a message from a fifty-six-year-old woman in Uzbekistan. ‘Good face!’ she wrote, which was nice of her, but alas I had no plans to visit Tashkent. It did, however, make me wonder if OkCupid had any English-speaking women in Bishkek on its site.

 

First contact

August 26, 2014 § Leave a comment

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Winner!

April 17, 2014 § Leave a comment

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I’m amazed and delighted to have won this year’s Willesden Herald Short Story Prize.

My story, ‘Ward’, is about a young girl who gets very ill and how it changes her.

You can read it and the other nominated stories by buying the anthology which is a bargain at £5.99 (incl. postage)- the best place to buy it is here.

An extract:

She’d never had so many presents. Flowers, magazines, teddy bears and balloons, a poster of two puppies wedged in a boot. Sandra was the only visitor who didn’t bring a gift. Her presence was confusing, because she and Emily weren’t friends. Emily wondered if Sandra liked her the way she liked her classmate Maxine: quietly, from an awed distance, content to sit two rows behind. After ten minutes she noticed the way Sandra’s eyes returned to the needle in her arm, the IV line, the slowly shrinking bag. She asked if Emily was in pain, if she was going to have an operation. She wanted to tell everyone about her dying classmate.

 

 

Learning the Wrong Lessons in Xinjiang

July 3, 2013 § Leave a comment

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A show of force in Urumqi this week

My piece for the 4th anniversary of the Urumqi riots is at Dissent magazine.

‘Medieval Lifestyle’

April 16, 2013 § Leave a comment

A mining project in Xilinhaote, Inner Mongolia

A mining project in Xilinhaote, Inner Mongolia

Isobel Yeung, who works for CCTV, China’s state broadcaster, recently wrote a piece for The Independent in which she argued that the Western media are misrepresenting China’s policies towards ethnic minorities in Inner Mongolia. She argued that the government aren’t trying to destroy the culture of nomadic herders by moving them into cities- they just want to improve their ‘medieval lifestyle’. Here’s my response to this in The Independent.

Welcome to Comely Bank

April 12, 2013 § Leave a comment

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The prologue of the novel I’m working on, and that’s working on me, is up at the PEN America site.

 

2013 PEN World Voices Festival

March 25, 2013 § Leave a comment

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The program for the PEN World Voices Festival of International Literature in New York is now online, featuring many great writers, such as James Kelman, Aleksandar Hemon and Edna O’Brien. If you happen to have $1000 kicking around, I’d suggest you get a ticket for the Philip Roth Literary Gala event.

I’ll be taking part in two events in the festival, the first A Literary Safari, where I will be pursued, Running Man style, through a booby trapped labyrinth while giving a reading. The second is a more sedentary affair, though possibly equally perilous- I’ll be moderating an event on Revitalizing Endangered Languages.

Lots to check out- and if you’re not in NYC then, I’m sure a lot of it will be online on the PEN site.

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