Beautiful Words is a kind of A to Z picture story book for grown-ups. Within the definition of the word for each letter, you also get a small glimpse of a story about Alexander, Lucy and Lily. The story and definitions will continue in Beautiful Trees and Beautiful Shapes.
It’s a beautifully produced little book – square, just larger than a CD case, with beautiful drawings and really nice texture to the cover. I love the way story emerges briefly, but you can sense the whole and the emotion attached to it. I also like the choice of words for each letter – that it’s a mix of common and rare. It’s the sort of book that would make a lovely gift for someone.
Despite the gorgeous production, the £14.99 RRP feels a little steep (especially if all three end will cost the same – £45 total), but you can get a copy for £8.43 on Hive, which also supports independent bookshops.
Nik has kindly popped over to the blog to answer a few questions about the series and short stories in general:
It started a couple of years ago when I started collecting words I liked, or thought were interesting or fun or unusual. I thought it’d be cool to write a book that celebrated them – the kind of thing I’d like to be given as a gift. Of course a book by some bloke you’ve probably never heard of telling you what his favourite words were wasn’t ever going to excite anyone so I turned it into a weird part-story, part-interesting fact thing. With illustrations.
Choosing just one word for each letter, which also fit with an underlying story, must have been a challenge! How did you choose the words?
It was! Mostly, I think I ended up picking words which would match or compliment Lucy and Alexander’s story, while still being interesting. I think we’re lucky in that, because it’s had so many different additions from so many other languages, English has loads of wonderful words to choose from.
What’s your favourite word that you had to leave out because it didn’t fit with the story or you already had one for that letter?
There were loads, as I’m sure you can imagine! Flicking through my notebook… knobble, kiosk, leonine, lunar, mesh, nimble, zip, imp, jiggered, galloon, gelatinous, ermine, demilune, cerise, quiver – I’d have had them all in there I think. There were some we lost from earlier drafts too. Such as…
Obsequious: If you are obsequious you are super-obedient, to the point of being servile. As nice as it is to be helpful, do remember that no-one likes a doormat. And if they do, you’re probably best steering clear of them.
Lover: Lover has been with us since the 12th century. More recently, I had a lover. I loved this lover. She was beautiful, and her lips were two halves of perfect. But this lover was allergic to me. I think I made her sick. I don’t see that lover any more.
Beautiful Words is a beautifully produced book with lots of illustrations. Was the final look of the book in mind as you were writing?
Thank you! Um, yes and no. I had an idea in mind when I was writing it but the illustrations I trusted my publisher and the illustrator, Miranda, with pretty much 100% so, while I knew it was going to be beautifully illustrated (it’s what Roastbooks do so well) I didn’t quite know how. But when I saw it, it was familiar and I love it.
What was it like working with an illustrator?
In this case, ridiculously easy. As I said I trusted Miranda to do what she does and she did it perfectly.
Can you tell us anything about the next two in the series, Beautiful Trees and Beautiful Shapes? What made you move from words to trees to shapes?
Well, the next two will follow Alexander, Lucy, and Lily’s story, through trees and then through shapes. And why? Part gut feeling (I think they’d work), part because I think they’d both lend themselves well to being illustrated, and part because I think they’re interesting. There’s also the more pretentious aspect that we start with something that’s a feeling (what the words mean to them) to something more physical (trees) and then something a little more abstract (shapes). Really, though, I just think they’ll look good. I certainly hope they do!
What comes next after the ‘Beautiful’ series of books?
We’ll have to wait and see! I’ve a bunch of short stories that I’d love to see out there, so maybe another collection. And I’m always working on other stuff so you’ll have to keep your eyes peeled.
What I like about flash/short fiction is that they are fragments or glimpses of something much larger than themselves, but are also whole. The story in Beautiful Words is only suggested at, but somehow a whole story is formed. What attracts you to writing/reading short fiction?
Pretty much the same thing. I like that they’re usually small moments with big implications, and that they trust the reader. And that they kind of bruise you in a good way. They may only be small in size but they can, if they’re done right, stay with you for a long, long time. A bit like a first kiss. They’re kind of bigger than they are. Like little Tardises.
[Debbie: I love the idea of story as bruise!]
And finally, any recommendations of short story writers or particular stories?
I’ve been asked this loads of times and my answer tends to be the same: pretty much anything by Etgar Keret, Aimee Bender, and Michael Czyzniejewski. Clare Wigfall’s great. I loved Marie-Helene Bertino‘s Safe as Houses. I love Angela Readman’s work too – she’s one to watch. This could, quite possibly, be my all time favourite. Enjoy!
Nik Perring is a short story writer and author from the UK. His stories have been published in many fine places both in the UK and abroad, in print and online. They’ve been used on High School distance learning courses in the US, printed on fliers, and recorded for radio. Nik is the author of the children’s book, I Met a Roman Last Night, What Did You Do? (EPS, 2006); the short story collection, Not So Perfect (Roastbooks 2010); and he’s the co-author of Freaks! (The Friday Project/HarperCollins, 2012). His online home is http://www.nikperring.com and he’s on Twitter as @nikperring