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  • 18. Robert Neuwirth: 'I wanted it to be plausible as a machine thinking'

    In this Winter series of podcasts we've heard from Linda Mannheim, Richard Smyth and Ariel Marken Jack. This time we welcome Robert Neuwirth and his short story The Disambiguation.Neuwirth tells us how his story started from a couple of one-liners that were driving him crazy and wound up stuffed full of computer code.We anthropomorphise the machines that surround us, he says, so we keep expecting "artificial intelligences to be human. But they're not. They're inhuman."While he tries to keep his fiction separate from his career as a journalist, where he's been reporting on informal economies and shanty towns for more than twenty years, there's obviously some "bleed through"."The world is a non-narrative place," he explains. "There are stories we can tell and those stories have a kind of narrative, but there are always fractures in the narrative and places where your complacent narrative blows up."Next time we'll be talking heroes and villains with Liam Hogan.

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  • 17. Ariel Marken Jack: 'The way I fight back is through my writing'

    We've already heard from Linda Mannheim and Richard Smyth in this Winter series, and now it's time for Ariel Marken Jack and their story The Bread Boy.Marken Jack tells us how their writing began in isolation, flat on their back with chronic fatigue syndrome. This debilitating illness is giving rise to writing they call "the most 21st-century form of literature that I can imagine… Who among us doesn't have that feeling that almost everything in life is completely outside of our control?"They reflect on the second guessing common to all those marginalised by the patriarchy: "This thing happened. This was bad. Was it really that bad?" And they pay tribute to the value of connecting with those who have had similar experiences.They also wax lyrical about the alchemy of making bread and the joys of making pickles – a "vote of confidence in the future"."It takes about three weeks to make a good jar of sauerkraut," Marken Jack explains. "So you're slicing the cabbage and you’re going, 'I'm going to be here in three weeks. And this cabbage is going to be amazing'."Over the next three weeks at Fictionable we’ll be hearing from Robert Neuwirth and Liam Hogan.
  • 16. Richard Smyth: 'We all need an Otherland'

    Last week we heard from Linda Mannheim, who told us that the only way she can go back to the neighbourhood where she grew up is in fiction. This time we welcome Richard Smyth and his short story Karóly Bálint's Metaphor.Smyth explains how his story isn’t exactly set in Budapest and reflects on how the bleakness of the steppe echoes the stereotypical grimness of the north of England.Writing in the third person can feel "restrictive", he continues, because he wants "to see inside", while the first person is "just more fun"."Talking in a new voice is such an absolute delight," he says. "I think it’s one of the reasons why I write."That and perhaps love – a subject Smyth says he returns to "again and again". Not that he has a rose-tinted vision of humanity, he adds. "My basic position is: people are all right."Next time we’ll be talking baking with Ariel Marken Jack.
  • 15. Linda Mannheim: 'What is a happy ending?'

    In this Winter series of podcasts, we'll be hearing from Richard Smyth, Ariel Marken Jack, Robert Neuwirth and Liam Hogan. We start off with Linda Mannheim, who joined us down the line from Berlin.Mannheim explains how the central character in her story Those Last Days appeared to her "out of the blue" and how she found her fiction inexorably drawn back to her childhood in Washington Heights.Things were a little different back then to Lin-Manuel Miranda's musical – there was certainly less singing and dancing – but what is writing for, she asks, if not to explore the difficult subjects that are part of life?Growing up in "a refugee neighbourhood", the sense that there are places you can never go back to was "really, really big", Mannheim adds. "The only way I could go back there was by writing about it."
  • 14. Catriona Bolt: 'Everyone in the story associates mushrooms with death'

    We've already heard from M John Harrison, Irena Karpa, Seán Padraic Birnie and Shauna Mackay on the Fictionable podcast. Now we bring this autumn series to a close with Catriona Bolt and her mycological short story Bloom.Bolt tells us how she fell in love with mushrooms despite, or perhaps because of, their double nature. These mysterious organisms were the perfect lens through which to explore the expectations surrounding young women at the beginning of the 19th century, she explains, an issue that still has resonance in the 21st. With historical fiction, "you can step into another land", she continues, but it's always connected to the present day.Fairy-Land hovers at the edges of Bloom. Bolt reveals how she had to resist its pull and how she found the model for her sparring sisters closer to home.
  • 13. Shauna Mackay: 'It's listening to the characters and letting them take the lead'

    In this autumn series of podcasts we've heard from M John Harrison, Irena Karpa and Seán Padraic Birnie. This week we welcome Shauna Mackay to discuss her short story Matching up the Pattern at the Join.Mackay tells us how her short stories are driven by voice, by characters she conjures up and then follows on the page: "I sound like a witch now." The characters come from mixing and banging words together, she explains, so she enjoys spending time with them, even if they're sometimes a little awkward.According to Mackay, the northern texture of these voices emerges from the rhythms and tones of her everyday life, but it's hard to say exactly where they come from. Perhaps she's drawing on the time she spent working as a nurse, she continues, where you "see humanity in all its messy glory".Next week we'll be joined by Catriona Bolt, who'll be talking mushrooms and reading from her short story Bloom.
  • 12. Seán Padraic Birnie: 'I was quite depressed and pissed off with work'

    This autumn we've already heard from M John Harrison, Irena Karpa and her band, Qarpa. This week we have an appointment with Seán Padraic Birnie and his story The Medical Room.Birnie tells us how he was fuelled by frustration at work and struggles with chronic fatigue syndrome. "It made me laugh, I think," he says, "but I wasn't sure it would make anyone else laugh."Elements of the gruesome office mechanics in The Medical Room are drawn from life, Birnie explains, but the pull of horror fiction lays bare the power structures that are always at play.Next time we welcome Shauna Mackay, with Catriona Bolt joining us the following week.