Men, music and a multitude of lists

22nd October 2004 at 01:00
Teacher Hayley Long proves anoraks can be female. George Wright reports

As an English teacher who is also developing a career as a writer, Hayley Long might well be tempted to make her work a set text for her pupils.

But the second-time novelist has no plans to add her latest book, a semi-autobiographical tale about one woman's journey through music, men and university in Aberystwyth, to the syllabus at Whitchurch high, in Cardiff.

If she did, students might find Fire and Water - featuring a liberal dose of sex and swearing - a refreshing change from Wuthering Heights.

The book, which takes its name from an album by 1970s rock band Free, is being pitched as "High Fidelity for women". And Mrs Long, 33, is inevitably being seen as a female Nick Hornby.

"That comparison has been made ever since the publisher first looked at my manuscript," she says. "But the strange thing is, I've never read any of his books. As far as I'm concerned, any similarities are purely coincidental."

The similarities are undeniable, however. Classic records, favourite gigs, list-making, compilation tapes and messy relationships feature heavily.

Which all goes to prove that the peculiar world of the music anorak is not the exclusive territory of men.

"People still express surprise that I am so into bands. They say things like 'I thought it was just men who were into that stuff'. Well it's news to me.

"I will use any excuse to play my records in class.

"For instance, I showed children an Adam and the Ants video - which they found completely weird - to stimulate a discussion of the romantic poets.

"And when I was young I would sit in my room listening to the radio and writing down the names of every record I liked. I also spent hours writing lists of things, from the smells of different rubbers to a record of where and when I bought all my posters."

Writing continues to occupy a great deal of her spare time. But she now churns out stories instead of lists, and her third book is already under way. (Her first novel, The World of Elli Jones, had a limited print run with a small publishing house.) "Other people ask me how I manage it, with a teacher's workload," she says "But I tell them if you want to do something, you have to make time for it.

I do it instead of flopping in front of the television every night. This is my relaxation."

Fire and Water, published by Parthian, will be launched at Cardiff Chapter Arts Centre on October 29

Hayley's top five album list

* Rubber Soul - The Beatles

* Talking Book - Stevie Wonder

* Kings of the Wild Frontier - Adam and the Ants

* Shooting Rubber Bands at the Stars - Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians

* Hopes and Fears - Keane

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