Wednesday, 12 December 2007
This is what happens. You are about to get engaged to a fantastic girl who is way out of your league but who for some reason is head over heels in love with you. You have a decent job, a rent-free apartment in Manhattan and things can only get better. Except you think you have fallen in love with the widow of your best friend and your long-lost father has just turned up with a constant, Viagra-fuelled erection.
Tuesday, 11 December 2007
Back in June, I was interviewed for an article in Writers' Forum magazine. During the interview, as I mentioned in my blog at the time, I was asked for my top tips for writers. In an effort to avoid all the usual suspects, I resorted to the following running tips:
- Run every day, whatever the weather.
- Set yourself goals and targets.
- Keep a training log or journal.
- Run lots of shorter races before you attempt the marathon.
- Study the way successful athletes tackle the race.
- Join a running club.
At the time I said these all had a direct equivalent in writing, and I would leave it to you to do your own translation. Just in case you didn't quite manage it, the current issue of Writers' Forum has kindly revealed all. You can read my piece on page 27 - including a full running-to-writing translation. There's also a couple of other pieces on running and writing . . .
Thursday, 6 December 2007
To Deal tonight for a meeting of Deal Writers. Despite the wet and windy weather a dozen writers made it, with six giving a reading. I had set the group a challenge inspired by Raymond Queneau’s Exercise in Style. Here is the scenario, suitably adapted and Anglicised:
The narrator bumps into a long-necked man on a bus and later sees him in a train station in the company of a friend who pins a badge on his coat.
The challenge was to recount the above incident as a brief chapter in a romantic novel, a spy story, a detective story, a western, a Greek tragedy. The writers could choose one or more of these styles, all of them or none.
The six writers who shared their efforts with us took the same scenario in remarkably different directions. We had a crime story, a romance, a comic-thriller, a poem featuring Madonna, and a spy story that morphed into a vampire tale. The winner on the night was a tremendously creative east-meets-west tale set in 19th Century London and featuring Sherlock Holmes and haiku! The odd thing about the six readings was that, although we are based on the south east coast, every one of the writers set their stories in London. Perhaps that’s because Deal is such a quiet and charming place. A peaceful seaside haven would be an unlikely setting for tales of murder and Madonna and vampires and spies.
But not ghosts. If you don’t believe me then I recommend the latest issue of Deal Today, the lifestyle magazine for the east Kent town of Deal. Deal Today is available for the bargain price of £2.00 in all good newsagents and bookshops in and around Deal. Why am I hyping this august publication? Why, because the Christmas ghost story was written by yours truly. Okay, it may not be Dickens, but it’s worth two quid of anyone’s money!
Wednesday, 5 December 2007
I’ve always considered the master of concision to be the great Raymond Carver. I read a few weeks ago that his widow was planning to bring out the original ‘unexpurgated’ versions of some of his short stories, unsullied by editorial intervention, and I was eagerly awaiting their publication. Imagine my distress, therefore, to learn from last Saturday’s Guardian that most of the things I really like about Carver's writing weren’t written about Carver at all – they were written by his editor Gordon Lish.
Of course, I knew about Lish’s influence on Carver. I was once told for instance that Lish made him rewrite the 8,000 word A Small, Good Thing which resulted in the 2,000 word The Bath (although I've since learnt that Carver wrote the longer version two years after the shorter story). But I always assumed it was Carver that had penned the rewrites. Now it seems it was Lish all along. I’m pleased to say I’m not alone in feeling somehow let down. Marcel Berlins shares my sense of . . . well, if not betrayal then at least disappointment.
It’s not the fact that the stories are less good, or in any way devalued by not being entirely by the hand of the great man. It’s more that I like to aspire to describing my writing as ‘Carveresque’. From now on, I suppose I’ll have to say it is a bit ‘Lishy’.
Tuesday, 4 December 2007
First, the Deal Writers anthology View from the Pier was published. This involved a considerable amount of organising as we self-published. But we also received an awful lot of local publicity. I was interviewed by the East Kent Mercury and got a half-page spread with a terrible photograph of me taken with a wide-angle lens. (Wasn’t it Tony Benn who said he hated wide-angle lenses because ‘they make you look like a loony’? Well, he was right!). We had a very successful launch in a bookshop in Deal, and as the East Kent Mercury sent a photographer we managed to get another page of decent publicity. And I’m pleased to say the reviews have been good, too. But the result has been that we have already completely SOLD OUT of the first print run and I’ve just had to order an emergency reprint.
Second, I’ve been rewriting my novel An Honourable Man, changing it from third person to first person – which is a lot more work than you might think. I've also re-titled it The Long Week.
Still no news on the publication of The Belfast Boy. It has been with the publisher – who insists they are still ‘very keen’ on it – for over a year now. I’m told this is par for the course . . .
Plus, of course, my dad died and I’ve been having to deal with the sale of his house and dispersal of his estate.
So I think I have some decent excuses for my absence. But it’s good to be back!
Wednesday, 19 September 2007
In my novel, the chance meeting happens between a man and a woman. The question I asked myself was ‘What if there was a sexual chemistry between them?’ And what if, instead of simply exchanging a few pleasantries, they embarked on an affair? But what if one of them then turned out not to be who the other one thought they were?
This is the sort of thing that can and probably does happen in real life, but I knew that fiction is different from real life in that it has to make sense. So I gave one of the protagonists a motive for wanting to meet the other character, and then made them engineer the ‘chance’ meeting. I also came up with what I thought was a clever device for showing the vulnerability of the other protagonist. I thought it worked okay, and the trusted readers I showed the manuscript to seemed to have no problem with it. So I completed the novel and entered it in a competition run by A&C Black.
The runners-up prize in the competition was a critique from The Literary Consultancy. Although the feedback I received was generally good (‘a readable, pacey piece of fiction’) the reader had real difficulty with the contrived ‘chance encounter’. More importantly, she thought my ‘clever’ device simply didn’t work. It made the character concerned sound ‘more mad than sad’. She said it spoiled the whole book.
This was tough feedback to take – after all, the ‘chance encounter’ was the foundation I had built the whole novel upon, and the ‘clever device’ was the key to understanding one of my main characters. But I could also see that the feedback was absolutely right. Problem was, I didn’t know how to make the novel work without that central episode or the insight provided by my device. So I put the manuscript away for a couple of months and concentrated instead on editing the Deal Writers anthology, and on writing a few new short stories of my own. The short stories helped clear my head a little, as well as putting some much-needed cash in the bank!
Now that the anthology has been safely put to bed (I don’t have a precise publication date yet, but it will be going on sale for £3.50 plus P&P in the next month or so) it’s time to dust off An Honourable Man and to hunker down to some serious rewriting. It feels like a massive, daunting task. I think I know how to handle the rewrite, but I won’t really know till I write it, will I?
So, here goes . . .
Friday, 7 September 2007
Thursday, 23 August 2007
Here’s her ‘final word’ from her Paris Review interview of 1992:
The best training is to read and write, no matter what. Don’t live with a lover or roommate who doesn’t respect your work. Don’t lie, buy time, borrow to buy time. Write what will stop your breath if you don’t write.
You can read the rest of the interview here: http://www.theparisreview.org/viewinterview.php/prmMID/2028
Friday, 17 August 2007
The group decided some time ago that it would produce an anthology, but for months it seemed as though there wouldn’t be enough material and I was seriously thinking we would have to abandon the project. But then just lately I’ve received a flood of stories, poems and articles of a really high standard, and in the end my co-editor and I had to make some tough decisions about leaving out some really quite good stuff simply because we were running out of space (we already have a contract with the printer, so we have a fixed page limit). But the anthology is beginning to look really good.
So - now we know we have a viable publication, the arguments – sorry, I mean discussions – the discussions are beginning about what to call the thing. At least one member objects to the very use of the word ‘anthology’ altogether, on the basis that it’s old-fashioned and would give potential readers the wrong impression of the work. I think they’re wrong, because an anthology (dictionary definition) is exactly what it is. But then I still refer to LP records and frocks and listen to Radio 4 on the wireless.
Anyway, we shall have the, er, discussion at next week’s meeting and hopefully come up with something everyone can agree on.
Yeah, that was a joke.
Wednesday, 8 August 2007
The list in full:
Nicola Barker - Darkmans
Edward Docx - Self Help
Tan Twan Eng - The Gift Of Rain
Anne Enright - The Gathering
Mohsin Hamid - The Reluctant Fundamentalist
Peter Ho Davies - The Welsh Girl
Lloyd Jones - Mister Pip
Nikita Lalwani - Gifted
Ian McEwan - On Chesil Beach
Catherine O'Flynn - What Was Lost
Michael Redhill - Consolation
Indra Sinha - Animal's People
A N Wilson - Winnie & Wolf
Tuesday, 31 July 2007
It’s always hot in this city. I take out my handkerchief. I wipe my face. I wipe my neck.
In a Japan destroyed by war, Detective Inspector Minami from Metropolitan HQ is on the hunt for a serial killer.
I itch and I scratch. Gari-gari.
But in post-war Tokyo, no one is who they say they are.
I bow and I apologise.
Based on a true story, David Peace tries to recreate through a cinematic style the sounds and smells and heat of a war-torn, defeated nation.
Ton-ton. Ton-ton. Ton-ton. Ton-ton. Ton-ton. Ton-ton . . .
The sound of hammering and hammering.
I’m afraid for me all this hammering home, all these descriptive asides and repetitions, become a bit too much. The book is just too stylised for my Western tastes, I guess, and for me that tended to get in the way of the story. I found myself skipping too many paragraphs to get back to the meat of the story.
I bow and I apologise again.
Peace’s great achievement, though, is in conveying a real sense of time and place. The heat and the squalor and the hunger are almost tangible.
I itch and I scratch. Gari-gari.
But in the end, I found it all rather overwhelming. And the revelation at the end was, to me, a little predictable.
I bow and I apologise again.
This is an interesting book, certainly original, but I couldn’t decide whether it was intended as a clever literary novel or a pretentious crime novel. Either way, for me, Peace hasn’t quite pulled it off.
Friday, 27 July 2007
So I did. Does that mean I sold out? I don't think so. It’s a crime novel, after all – what Graham Greene would have called ‘an entertainment’ – so artistic integrity doesn’t apply!
As I was rewriting, I heard about a publisher who had identified a gap in the UK market and was looking for ‘gritty crime fiction’. I sent my novel off to them, they sent it back asking me to put back in all the stuff I’d taken out, and they are now considering the result. Early feedback was positive: ‘We like it,’ they said. I’m still waiting to hear whether they like it enough to publish it.
Which brings me to my question: Do I need a literary agent? If this publisher likes my novel and offers me a deal, why should I give away 20% of whatever I get to an agent? I’ve heard plenty of stories about authors who don’t have agents, who deal with publishers direct and conduct their own contract negotiations. They seem to do well enough.
On the other hand, what do I do if my publisher eventually decides NOT to offer me a deal? A lot of publishing houses have stopped accepting unsolicited mss from the general public and will only look at submissions from established literary agents.
A fellow writer, himself a well-established novelist, thinks I was crazy not to have gone back to the agent with my rewritten novel, rather than sending it direct to a publisher. Finding the right agent is, he says, far more important than getting your book accepted by a publisher. He says the best thing about an agent is that he or she will know exactly the right editor at each relevant publishing house to approach.
As an example he cited a friend who had a somewhat chequered publishing career. Her first two novels were published by a major publisher who had bigger fish to fry in terms of spending money on marketing. Her agent then got her a better deal with another large publisher, but again her next two novels were undermarketed. Sales were very poor and interest in her waned. Her agent, however, kept faith in her work and last year signed her with a third major publisher. Since then her career has really taken off. Her latest novel is just outside the top 20 fiction list. Without her agent, he says, none of this would be happening.
I have to admit, that's a pretty compelling argument in favour. I guess that’s why it is so hard for a new writer to get accepted by an agent!
Wednesday, 25 July 2007
Mrs Parsons has a visitor, and it isn't the gas man:
I don’t let him come no farther than the scullery though. Well, you can’t be too careful. Mind you, he looks on the level, if you know what I mean. Nice coat. And a proper shine to his shoes. You can tell a man’s character by the shine on his shoes. In my day, if you couldn’t see your face in a man’s shoes you’d give him a wide berth. That’s why there’s so many young girls in trouble these days, if you ask me. No one bothers with shoes any more. They all wear these plimsolls.
Read more in next week's Woman's Weekly!
Tuesday, 24 July 2007
Thursday, 19 July 2007
Something similar happened just last year, when The Sunday Times anonymously submitted the first three chapters of a couple of 1970s Booker Prize winners – V.S. Naipaul's In a Free State and Stanley Middleton's Holiday - to agents and publishers. As with the Austen submissions, neither book was recognised, and both received standard rejection letters.
It’s all jolly amusing, I’m sure, to the majority of people. But to a lot of writers it’s all immensely depressing.
Tuesday, 17 July 2007
IN COLLABORATION WITH DEAL WRITERS
KENT ONE-ACT PLAY COMPETITION
Monday, 16 July 2007
I could understand studying Chekhov and Mansfield if I were taking an Eng Lit course, and I could certainly understand why we needed to be aware of the innovations these writers introduced a century or more ago. But I wanted to study the techniques used by modern writers, authors who were at the top of their game now.
Modern masters such as Penelope Lively, in fact. Lively has been writing for thirty years , and she has produced around forty novels. A Booker Prize winner in 1987, there's no doubt she is a writer to learn from.
So I began reading her latest novel, Consequences, from a writer’s point of view, trying to learn her techniques and how her effects were achieved. From that point of view, I thought her new novel was a master class. In fact, it was so good I couldn’t help forgetting myself, and just reading the book as a reader. I found it completely enthralling.
Consequences is the story of three generations of women, beginning in the 1930s with Lorna, then focusing on Molly in the post-war years and finally rounding off the tale with up-to-date Ruth. But this is no ‘family saga’ novel. The book is about the way time changes perceptions, and about memory and loss.
Lively paints with quick, broad brushstrokes, then suddenly paints in a detail that brings her characters and their emotions to life on the page. The history of seventy years is sketched out in less than 300 pages, and yet you feel you know the principal characters intimately. Lively is a master at telling the reader more by writing less.
There’s a heavy tension hanging over the first part of the novel. Wealthy debutante Lorna’s love affair with struggling artist Matt is brilliantly drawn. The young lovers run off to Somerset to live in Arcadian bliss and a poverty that Lively carefully describes yet still seems idyllic. Baby Molly is born, and you know that in a few years the perfect life of Lorna and her little family will be shattered by war. With the benefit of what we know now, the events are predictable. But Lively’s technical skill in telling the tale makes that predictability acutely poignant.
Molly’s leg of the tale is concerned with post-war austerity and the dawning of the sixties. Everyone is artistic and bohemian, and they are all very nice. When Ruth comes along I thought she might rebel, and for a while it does indeed seem that she will succumb to the lucrative allure of Thatcher’s Britain. She marries, and her husband Peter is the one character we find it hard to sympathise with.
Lively is a master of plotting and structure, and this story is satisfyingly symmetrical. We end up pretty much where we began, and it feels like we have come home ourselves.
This is a novel to be savoured.
Tuesday, 10 July 2007
But really I don’t think any writing is a waste. The struggles I’ve had over the past few days trying to convey a certain emotion, or sketch out a sense of time and place, have if nothing else been good mental exercise. There’s an analogy to be drawn with running, but I’m constantly boring people with my running analogies so I won’t labour the point. Other than to say that I feel I’m in a more fit state to tackle my next writing project.
It’s not rubbish. It’s an investment . . .
Saturday, 7 July 2007
Isabel, Owen and Julia were childhood friends. But when they were fifteen, Julia disappeared without a trace – an event that had a devastating impact on the others.
Years later, Isabel returns to her home town in the north of England
for Owen’s funeral. She hadn’t seen him since they recklessly burned down the local supermarket together; he was sent to prison and she, just shy of her 18th birthday, to a young offenders’ centre. Isabel suspects that Owen was responsible for Julia’s murder, and she’s hoping finally to find some kind of resolution.
Feeling cut off from her husband and child in Turkey, and awash with unexpected memories, Isabel ventures further into the murky depths of her past. But nothing is as it seems – either past or present – and as Isabel’s world unravels we finally realise the stunning, shattering truth . . .
I think if you read the book as a detective novel (which up to a point it is, with Isabel trying to discover the truth about what happened to her friend Julia) you should spot the clues to what’s really going on. This is a very clever book by a fine writer.
But today I ignored the little twinges from my patella and set of on a very gentle jog to get started on the rocky road to fitness. The fact it was such a lovely morning helped, too! Within four or five steps my knee had tightened up and was begging me to stop. I didn't, and pretty soon the tightness had gone and I began to enjoy myself again. I even ran further than I'd planned I felt so good. And I'm pleased to say the knee feels fine.
What's this got to do with writing? Well, I always feel that I'm more productive after I've had a run in the morning. And the past week or so in particular I've been very unproductive indeed (which may of course have something to do with The Secretary being away on an island off the coast of Africa!). But I'm sure physical fitness has a positive effect on mental abilities, and I know running gives me the opportunity to mull over an issue I might be struggling with in my writing. So, in theory at least, I should be a bit more creative today.
We'll see . . .
Thursday, 5 July 2007
Tuesday, 3 July 2007
I've agreed to help judge a one-act playwriting competition being organised by a local amateur dramatics company in association with Deal Writers. I met with the other two judges today and we thrashed out the competition rules and began thinking about publicity.
The competition will be open to any amateur playwright living in Kent, and the winner will not only receive a cash prize (we're thinking £100 at the moment) but will also have the opportunity to have her/his play performed by the New Deal Theatre Company. The closing date for entries is likely to be towards the end of November.
Full details will appear on the Deal Writers website shortly.
Monday, 2 July 2007
After Dark is a very short novel, almost an extended short story, so I was sure I was going to really like it. The action takes place over the course of a single night in a city ‘like a single gigantic creature’. During this night we are going to meet nineteen year-old Mari, her sleeping sister Eri, a young man called Takahashi and Kaoru, the retired female wrestler and currently manager of a love hotel, together with sundry peripheral characters. There are all living their lives in the darkness of the night, ‘when everybody’s supposed to be asleep’. It is an alien environment, as alien as being under water.
The novel is narrated in the first person plural, often as if through a camera. We have the characters under surveillance, even the sleeping Eri. At the love hotel, we watch CCTV images of a ‘guest’ who has beaten up a Chinese prostitute and later, on the same screen, watch Creatures of the Deep along with several of the characters. We see ‘weird deep-sea creatures. Ugly ones, beautiful ones. Predators, prey’. Geddit? One of the characters moves from one side of the TV screen to the other, and mirror images remain in the mirror long after the reflected character has departed. This is Murakami, after all.
But I have to say I read the novel with a degree of disappointment. Maybe that’s because of my own unrealistic expectations. I think it just wasn’t surreal enough for me (after a throwaway comment by Takahashi I was expecting a giant octopus to appear – sadly, it never did. Or did it . . . ?). Nevertheless, the story is always interesting and the ending nicely satisfying. I was expecting a truly great novel from one of my favourite authors, but After Dark is just very good.
Sunday, 1 July 2007
The reason I'm hoping to see her next week is that we have been invited to the launch of Susanna Jones' new book, The Missing Person's Guide to Love. It will be good to see Susanna again, too, as she was one of the inspirational tutors on said Arvon Course.
The other inspirational tutor was Courttia Newland, who I was delighted to discover today has been nominated for the prestigious CWA Dagger in the Library Award.
Good news all round!
Saturday, 30 June 2007
Friday, 29 June 2007
Meanwhile, I’m looking forward to meeting up again with my fellow emerging novelist Julia Buckley. We’ve both been invited to a book launch party in Brighton next week (of which more later).
I heard some disturbing news about a well-established magazine for writers, which I won’t name, from a writer-friend of mine. It seems she sold them a couple of articles, which they published, but when she tried to bank their cheque she found it had been stopped for no obvious reason, leaving her bruised and out of pocket. I’ve had problems with this particular publication myself, having waited six months for payment for a story two years ago. Another friend of mine only got paid for his story when he threatened to sue them. I understand the magazine in question is now ‘under new management’, so hopefully matters will improve. But that’s just another example of how vulnerable we ‘lucky’ writers are!
Monday, 25 June 2007
To make matters worse, the postman brought me another rejection letter this morning (very polite, welcoming further offerings, but a rejection nevertheless). I have a Churchillian quote on my office wall: ‘Success is going from failure to failure without a loss of enthusiasm’. It’s meant to help, but some days it just doesn’t.
One bit of good news, though, is that another of my short stories, The Piano Teacher’s Husband, has made the longlist for the Cadenza short story competition. I found the following message on their website:
Due to a record number of entries, results from our March 2007 competition have been delayed, but we are currently working to bring them to you. You can see the longlist here.
Somewhere in there is my story! So that’s encouraging, at least.
Many thanks to Michael Allen for bringing three articles by M.J. Rose to my attention. M.J. Rose describes herself as ‘the internationally bestselling author of eight novels and two non fiction books’, and earlier this year she republished on her blog three articles on the 'luck' required to be a successful writer that she originally wrote for Poets & Writer's magazine in the US. Okay, they have a clear American slant, but they are just as relevant to us Brits. They appeared on her blog on 11June, 12 June and 13 June.
Sunday, 24 June 2007
The narrator, Matilda, is a young woman from the Pacific island of Bougainville, which not only has the richest copper mine in the world, but is also an immensely fertile source of fish and fruit. In 1990, the government of Papua New Guinea took action against the Bougainville islanders, leading to a bloody civil war.
Most of the story relates to events that occurred on the island during that civil war, when Matilda was in her early teens. The narrative style is deceptively simple. I began reading thinking this would be a straight-forward ‘rites of passage’ novel. In a way it is, but it is far more, too.
The onset of the civil war has resulted in the closure of the school in the village where Matilda lives. To the rescue comes an unlikely teacher. Pop Eye, the only white on the island, a man who sometimes wears a red clown’s nose and pulls Mrs Pop Eye along in a cart, steps into the breach. Pop Eye (aka Mr Watts) reads a chapter a day from Great Expectations to the kids, and it is this that not only helps them cope with the casually described hardships (and worse!) of living through the island’s blockade but also opens up their imaginations.
So far, so what? you might think. On a superficial level, this is another novel about an inspirational teacher and the power of books – in this case Great Expectations – to change lives. But the themes and ideas in this book reach much wider than most. On top of that, this is great storytelling. I was hooked. I read this book in two sittings and enjoyed every moment. There is suspense, there is pathos, there is horror, there is excitement – in fact, there is just so much to savour in this book.
There are two pieces of prior knowledge that would probably add to your enjoyment of this novel. The first is at least a passing acquaintance with Dickens’ greatest novel, Great Expectations. The second is an understanding of the civil war that pitched the rebel islanders (the ‘rambos’ of the book) against the government forces of Papua New Guinea (the ‘redskins’). However, neither is essential as the writing is just so damn good!
As soon as I finished it I had to find out more about Mr Jones, so I went onto the internet and only then discovered that earlier this year he had won the Commonwealth Writers Prize for Mr Pip. And deservedly so.
Saturday, 23 June 2007
She likes it better now, she says. The plot moves along nicely. She really likes the characters.
But the ending sucks. I have tried to follow Wilkie Collins’ advice (‘Make ’em laugh, make ’em cry, make ’em wait’) and left so much to be resolved in the last couple of chapters that it is, apparently, overwhelming.
She’s right, of course (she always is).
So it’s back to the laptop on Monday morning . . .
Wednesday, 20 June 2007
Wednesday, 13 June 2007
I had to write to tell you how much I enjoyed the short story "The Stain" by Paul Curd. It was gripping and unusual and I hope we hear from him again.
In spite of intending to contact you many times this is the first time in 20 years that I have written -that's how much this story impressed me!
Thank you very much. I.S.
Thank you IS!
Monday, 4 June 2007
I realised I learned the most important thing about writing from training to run marathons. I had to adopt a very disciplined approach to my running, and I realised at once the incredible similarities between becoming a successful runner and becoming a successful writer.
So these are the top running tips that I translated into my writing practice:
- Run every day, whatever the weather.
- Set yourself goals and targets.
- Keep a training log or journal.
- Run lots of shorter races before you attempt the marathon.
- Study the way successful athletes tackle the race.
- Join a running club.
Friday, 25 May 2007
Ann Johnson has a terrible secret.
Her new neighbours seemed friendly enough, but she’d been warned to stay on her toes. Country folk liked to know more about you than people who lived in London. You couldn’t call it nosiness; it was all part of living out in the country, the community spirit. It was what village life was all about. Nevertheless, she knew she had to be careful.
The house she bought was anonymous and unobtrusive, a plain cottage on the outskirts of the village. It was the start of her new life, she told herself as she unpacked her suitcases and put her clothes away in her new bedroom. No more looking over her shoulder. No more living in fear. She felt safe knowing that nobody here knew her. She could start again. As she unpacked she tossed aside the things that could do with a clean. There was still blood on her jacket . . .
Read more in next week's Woman's Weekly!
Tuesday, 22 May 2007
Saturday, 12 May 2007
What can I say about Ernie? About our dad? He was a big man, built like an old fashioned centre-half. But he was also a kind and sensitive man. And, ultimately, he was a very brave man.
It was just seven months ago, on the exact anniversary of the death of our mum Doreen, that dad was diagnosed with bowel cancer, after months of complaining about a backache that his so-called doctor dismissed as osteo-arthritis.
The prognosis was never good. The cancer was already too far gone. But in the first few weeks there was talk of a clinical trial and a possible wonder drug that might give dad a year or two longer. But there were so many complications that in the end the clinical trial never happened.
I remember just a couple of months ago, after the specialists had told him he had a clear choice, I remember having one of those conversations with him that you might have in a hypothetical way in the pub. Would you rather have a short but relatively comfortable life? Or live longer but with a lot of discomfort? That was the choice dad had to make.
The specialist had said dad could undergo a course of treatment that might keep him alive for a few more months, but with some pretty grim side-effects. Or he could forego the treatment and have a shorter life with less unpleasant side-effects. Dad wanted to know what I thought. What would I do if I were in his position?
It’s easy to make hypothetical decisions, when they don’t really affect your life. Dad had to make the decision in real life. He decided not to have the treatment, and to make the most of his last few months. But even those last few months were cut short.
I went to see him a couple of weeks before he died. He looked well – better than he had looked for ages. He was planning a weekend away in Eastbourne with Brenda. He was in good spirits, looking forward to the break.
Well, dad and Brenda went to Eastbourne, but it tired him out. When he came back, his nurse decided he should be admitted to St Christopher’s Hospice for tests. We were expecting him to be in for a few days and to come back home rejuvenated. But instead he suddenly became very ill, and he died on the 26th of April, exactly seven months from the day his cancer was diagnosed.
So in a few short months, we had witnessed how his health had deteriorated, physically. But his spirit was always strong. And he continued to draw and to paint and devote himself to his art, right up to the end. He died in the hospice with a sketch pad by the side of his bed.
One of the onerous duties that fell to me and Gary and Louise, as dad’s next of kin and executors of his estate, was to write and phone people to let them know what had happened. Everyone who knew him – his neighbours Doe, Alan and Graham; his district nurse Dan, the staff at the Royal Marsden and St Christopher’s Hospice – everyone we spoke to who knew him said what a kind and lovely man he was. I think he brought something special to everyone he met.
We were going through the papers in dad’s studio earlier this week when we came across something he wrote not long ago. At first we thought it was an essay, or a personal manifesto, but it seems to be something he had copied, probably from a book by another artist. It clearly meant something to dad, or else why would he have taken the trouble to have written it all out so neatly? The gist of the piece is in this passage:
When I walk into my studio there’s no doubt I’m spending a day with a trusted friend. Because after all the periods of uncertainties and gloom, mixed with exhilaration and flashes of inspiration, I discovered that really, Art and I wanted the same thing . . .
And the next part is in capital letters, as though this is also what dad wanted.
Art and I wanted the same thing: A PERSONAL AND CREATIVE RESPONSE TO EXISTENCE.
The essay talks about how the artist – how dad – allowed his innermost spirit to perform freely and with no reservations. His paintings and drawings were driven by pure joy. The images he created on a sheet of paper were his personal imprint.
Art, the essay says, is not what is painted but how it is painted.
Dad was a commercial artist for most of his life, but it was only in later years – just recently – that he dropped the commercial side and took up painting for pleasure, and it was then I think he became a true artist.
I think Dad was genuinely happy in the last few years of his life. He found religion after mum died, and I think he got a lot of strength from his God and from the Bible. By then he had met Brenda and her family, and being with Brenda gave another dimension to his life. Then of course Chelsea won back-to-back league titles, and that made him happy. But, just as important I think, he had fallen in love again with Art, and I know that made him more than happy. I think it gave him a sense of fulfilment. It was then that his art began to be his personal and creative response to his existence.
Art is not what is painted but how it is painted. In the same way, life is not what is lived, but how it is lived.
Saturday, 28 April 2007
Later I discovered there had been an earthquake, somewhere off the coast of Dover. An earthquake! Here in Kent!! According to the BBC News website, the Kent incident is the largest recorded in Britain since an earthquake in Dudley in 2002.
A seismologist from the British Geological Survey said the tremor was around 4.3 on the Richter scale, with an epicentre 7.5 miles off the Dover coast.
Saturday, 14 April 2007
The End of Mr Y is a clever book full of complex ideas and a running joke about the nature of fiction. ‘I am aware that I’m not in a story’ says the protagonist with no trace of irony. ‘The world doesn’t revolve around you’ says her mother. Oh yes it does. Everything is a metaphor, and there are so many paradoxes, as the narrator says towards the end, you may be in danger of developing a headache. This is a multi-layered book that will entertain you while it makes you really think.
For example, do you believe in telepathy? Consider: this book was made up in the mind of its author, Scarlett Thomas. She gave her thoughts words and committed those words to paper. When you read those words, your mind recreates the author’s thoughts in your own mind. So are you not reading the author’s mind? Isn’t that telepathy?
Okay, let’s forget the paranormal and get scientific. Everything is made up of individual atoms, and atoms are made of smaller particles – electrons, protons, neutrons – which are themselves made of quarks. Things might get even smaller than that for all we know, in the same way that the universe might be even bigger than we think: it might be part of a multiverse. And that’s just in this space-time dimension. How many other dimensions are there?
If all this gets you thinking philosophical thoughts – do objects exist outside of language? what is consciousness? – then this is the book for you. If you don’t understand any of the above then this may still be the book for you, for Ms Thomas explains complex ideas so clearly.
The End of Mr Y is a mixture of Alice in Wonderland, The Matrix, Being John Malkovich and an introductory seminar on the deconstructionist theories of Derrida. It’s fantastic - but sometimes too clever by half. Who or what is Mr Y? Or is it Mr Why? Or is this book really about the End of Mystery? Everything is deconstructed and examined, including quantum physics, philosophy and the nature of God and religion. There are so many questions raised by this book. But it’s good fun trying to get to the bottom of them.
Friday, 6 April 2007
So this afternoon I'm off to Sandwich Bay with the armful of pebbles I've 'borrowed' over the years.
Or maybe I should keep them on my desk until after my next novel On Sandwich Bay is published?
Thursday, 5 April 2007
Three overall winners, who will have their work referred to a top literary agent, will be announced on the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook website in July 2007. Meanwhile, I'm off to celebrate!
Monday, 2 April 2007
Saturday, 31 March 2007
The Tenderness of Wolves was the 2006 Costa Book of the Year, apparently a better book than William Boyd’s Restless. As I loved Restless I was really looking forward to reading this.
There’s a murder at the heart of the book and the plot revolves around the quest to find out who really killed the trapper Laurent Jammet. The story is told from the different points of view of most of the different principal characters (and there are quite a few) but the only first person narrative is that of Lucy Ross, the mother of the main suspect. Everyone in this book is a long way from home. Everyone is lost, often literally. Everyone is looking for something (and it’s often not what they think they are looking for). This is a story about love.
The Tenderness of Wolves is a tremendous first novel. The writing is assured, it’s a decent story well told, and the sense of place (which every reviewer has remarked upon) is breathtaking. The atmosphere of the isolated town of Caulfield, full of exiled Scots, is beautifully described. Although I wouldn’t describe it as a ‘gripping’ read, there’s an underlying sense of unease running throughout. Overall, given all the hype surrounding this book, I have to say I was a little disappointed. But I think that’s because my expectations were raised a little too high. This is a very good book.
Wednesday, 28 March 2007
Richard & Judy Best Read of the Year: The Interpretation of Murder by Jed Rubenfield
Book of the Year: The Dangerous Book for Boys
Author of the Year: Richard Dawkins for The God Delusion
Children's Book of the Year: Flanimals of the Deep by Ricky Gervais
Crime Thriller of the Year: The Naming of the Dead by Ian Rankin
Popular Fiction Award: Anybody Out There by Marian Keyes
Newcomer of the Year: The Island by Victoria Hislop
Biography of the Year: The Sound of Laughter by Peter Kay
TV & Film Book of the Year: The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger
Decibel Writer of the year: Jackie Kay
Sports Book Award: Steven Gerrard - My Autobiography
Lifetime Achievement Award: John Grisham
Sunday, 25 March 2007
Although I’ve followed the adventures of Dalziel and Pascoe on TV, this is the first Reginald Hill book I’ve read (sorry, Reg). It’s alleged that, unlike Colin Dexter with John Thaw’s Morse, Reginald Hill does not approve of Warren Clarke playing Andy Dalziel in the TV adaptations of his novels (he isn’t fat enough to play the Fat Man for a start). Hill denies it, of course (or at least he denied it in a recent interview I read), but his latest book represents a formidable challenge to the TV adapters. For the eponymous hero spends most of the book lying in a coma in intensive care, until finally . . .
Well, the clue is in the title. Of course Dalziel won’t die, you’re thinking. Will he? I won’t give away the ending, but I have to confess I was shocked.
The story isn’t your usual police procedural type of tale. It is a story with a complex plot about an extremist plot against extremist plotters, with a multi-layered counterplot. The introduction of the Security Services adds to the mix and takes the story off in unexpected directions. It’s a book about belief (in truth, in God, in self, in right and wrong) and about identity and division (Yorkshire/Lancashire, Anglo/Asian, Christian/Muslim, cops/spooks). The novel is perfectly structured, but it’s the development of the characters (especially Peter Pascoe without the support and guidance of the comatose Dalziel) that brings the story to life.
Perhaps it’s because Dalziel plays such a small part in the book that Hill feels he has to transfer his characteristic language to Pascoe. It’s interesting watching Peter Pascoe gradually stepping into the Fat Man’s role. By the end of the book, the transfer is almost complete, with Pascoe beginning to speak like Dalziel.
Maybe Ellie was right, because the Fat Man wasn’t around, he felt it necessary to speak his lines. [p.309]
Then, a little later:
Whoops, there he went, slipping into Fat Man terminology again. [p.321]
Even Pascoe starts to struggle with his identity in the end – ‘Who is me?’ he says on page 367.
How clever is Hill being? Is he deliberately aping television here? For I couldn’t help thinking of the way Colin Dexter’s Sgt Lewis, nice-but-dim happily married sidekick, has since Morse’s death been transmogrified by television into a lonely and bitter widower with a sudden Morse-like penchant for alcohol and a previously concealed sharpness of mind. You might almost think Hill is taking the micky out of Lewis.
But this book is also, it seems to me, a direct challenge to the television people, daring the adapters to try and adapt this one. And reading novels like this reminds me why I will always prefer a good book to most of the stuff on the telly – even Dalziel and Pascoe.
Friday, 23 March 2007
Daily Mail launches a first novel award
The Daily Mail has teamed up with Transworld Publishers to launch the Daily Mail First Novel Award. Transworld will offer the winning author a publishing contract of £30,000 and publish the winning book in April 2008.
The award will be judged by bestselling Transworld authors Joanne Harris and Lee Child; Jane Mays, the Literary Editor of the Daily Mail; Benedicte Page, the Book News Editor of The Bookseller, and Francesca Liversidge, Senior Publishing Director of Transworld.
The award will be for an original, previously unpublished début work of fiction on any subject or genre, from romance to crime, science fiction to adventure. The closing date for the competition is 2nd July 2007.
"We are delighted to be working with the Daily Mail on this exciting new venture", said Francesca Liversidge, "and we look forward to discovering an author with real bestselling potential. Securing that all-important first publishing contract can be fraught with difficulties and we hope this initiative will provide an opportunity for new talent to reach the marketplace."
The link to the details of how to enter is here.
Thursday, 22 March 2007
What advice would you give to new writers?
Don't be at all hesitant to exaggerate and tell lies. People get trapped by stories which usually happened to themselves or to people they know, and they feel obliged to tell the truth. To tell it as it was. But the important thing is to know how to change the truth to make it a better story.
It's taken from an interview in The Guardian. You can read the whole thing here.
Wednesday, 21 March 2007
Dealing with Writing is offering two weekend playwrighting residencies during the year.
Dates: Friday May 11th - Sunday May 13th and Friday September 21st - Sunday September 23rd
All writers with an interest in the craft are welcome.
There’s a lot more info on the Dealing with Writing website: http://www.dealingwithwriting.com/
Tuesday, 20 March 2007
. . . Since publishers aren’t putting money into first novels anymore, and since the magazines have died, and since television isn’t buying from young freelancers anymore, and since the foundations give grants only to old poops like me, young writers are going to have to support themselves as shameless hacks . . .
. . . If you were Commissar of Publishing in the United States, what would you do to alleviate the present deplorable situation?
There is no shortage of wonderful writers. What we lack is a dependable mass of readers.
I propose that every person out of work be required to submit a book report before he or she gets his or her welfare cheque.
What a good idea! I would vote for a political party that had such a proposal in its manifesto. I think every person who is IN work should also be required to provide their employer with a book review as part of their annual appraisal or pay review. I would also support:
- Travel discounts for passengers reading books
- TV licence discount on proof of purchase of at least four books per year
- A Winter Book Allowance to all pensioners
- A Summer Book Allowance for all holidaymakers
- Applicants for passports to recite from memory at least one poem
Monday, 19 March 2007
This novel won the Crime Writers’ Association Duncan Lawrie Dagger for 2006. It is the first Ann Cleeves book I’ve read, and it won’t be the last. It’s a neatly constructed crime novel, perfectly paced and beautifully written – the psychological crime novel meets the old-fashioned whodunit.
The novel begins at New Year in the Shetland home of elderly Magnus Tait. A few days later an incomer to the island, Fran Hunter, discovers the body of teenager Catherine Ross in the snow not far from the old man’s house. The islanders believe Tait had murdered a young schoolgirl, Catriona Bruce, eight years before and are all certain who must have murdered Catherine. Thrown into this psychological mix is Jimmy Perez, the lonely detective assigned to the case. Jimmy is ‘emotional incontinent’, and you would think he would have trouble suspecting anyone of murder. And yet, slowly but surely, he uncovers the strained relationships and hidden secrets that lead him to the killer.
The sense of place is tremendous – the cold and the isolation are tangible. And the author has captured perfectly the sense of a community seemingly united but with tensions and divisions just below the surface. There are echoes of the cult movie The Wicker Man, with the outsider policeman coming to Shetland to solve the murder against the background of the forthcoming Up Helly Aa fire festival.
There is a fairly large cast of characters, and therefore many suspects, but Ann Cleeves draws each of them well, giving them unique voices of their own. There are clues and red herrings, and I enjoyed trying to solve the mystery before Perez finally discovers the identity of the murderer. And despite my amateur sleuthing, I was completely wrong and satisfyingly surprised when the killer was revealed. The identity of Catriona’s killer is also uncovered (I got that wrong, too!) as the novel reaches its satisfying climax.
There are three more novels promised in this series, and I’m looking forward to reading the next one hopefully later this year.
Thursday, 15 March 2007
‘The past was coming back. All of it. The dead, it seemed, were digging their way out of the ground now.’
Readers familiar with Coben’s earlier work (particularly other stand-alones such as Just One Look) will recognise the device of having something from the past, seemingly dead and buried (quite literally in this case), coming back to disrupt the present comfortable life of the protagonist.
In The Woods, the event from the past happened twenty years ago, when four teenagers at summer camp walked into the woods at night and were never seen again. Only two bodies were ever found. Now, it seems a newly-murdered man may have been one of the teenagers whose bodies were never found twenty years before, something that could have repercussions for everyone involved.
It all feels cosily familiar Coben territory. He even gives another run out to homicide investigator Lauren Muse and PI Cingle Shaker, a couple of characters from his last stand-alone (The Innocent). This means he doesn’t have to work too hard at rounding them off. Trouble is, I didn’t feel he’d done too well with rounding off his principle characters, either. Paul ‘Cope’ Copeland in particular never really comes to life for me. I don’t believe him when he does something quite early on in the book which affects everything that comes after. Only a fool would make the decision Cope makes, and yet Coben paints him as a smart cookie with a political ambition. Sorry, it just doesn’t ring true.
Cope is also a single parent, struggling to be a half-decent father to his daughter. He himself had ended up being a lone child living with only a father. Understandably, perhaps, Coben doesn’t have enough space in the plotting of this novel to fully develop Cope’s struggle to balance fatherhood with his career. Which is a shame, for as the plot unfolds the theme of fatherhood is significant.
The plot is, as usual, full of twists and turns – although this time out I saw quite a few of the twists coming some way off. Does that mean I’m just getting used to the Coben style, or is Mr Coben simply running out of steam? He has certainly flogged this plot device, of the past coming back to bite the backside of his presently comfortably-off characters, if not death then certainly to within an inch of its life.
Despite the sketchy characters, the familiar terrain and the occasional implausibility, this novel WORKS. In the end, I couldn’t put it down. Even when I guessed most of what was going on I still couldn’t put it down – just in case I was wrong.
Thursday, 8 March 2007
Sometimes I stand at the bus stop,
near the beech tree that isn’t there,
listening to the wind that doesn’t stir,
waiting for you to arrive on a bus
that doesn’t come this way.
There’s Hardy-esque dialect (albeit Yorkshire) in poems such as Proper Peaky and Hearts and Flowers, and some vivid wartime memories – Home Front and Dover – 1940 for example. You could say there’s something for everyone – and like the poet’s Bunny Girl, you’ll keep finding bits of yourself, scattered among these pages.
The Sorcerer’s Ark is the second collection of poetry from June English (her first collection, Counting the Spots, was published by Acumen in 2000) and a fine collection it is, too. It spans a lifetime of experiences and emotions, with poems that are written with vivacity and honesty. I defy you not to be touched by them.
Wednesday, 28 February 2007
Also, when would a duty manager come on and go off duty?
I’d be very grateful for any help anyone can give me!
Monday, 19 February 2007
Friday, 26 January 2007
I’m well pleased – I always think the size and quality of the illustration the editor gives you is an indication of how good they consider the story to be. So a full page full colour picture has made my day!
Thursday, 25 January 2007
Sunday, 21 January 2007
Saturday, 20 January 2007
I know writers who say they can’t read while they’re writing anything. But surely, as writers, we’re always writing something (even if it’s only in our heads). I have no problems with reading while I’m in the middle of a writing project. But I guess it’s each to their own.
I was supposed to run today, but the knee is still sore. Or is that just an excuse?
Friday, 19 January 2007
Meanwhile, my injured knee feels a lot better today – no pain, just some stiffness – so I’ll be back on the run tomorrow.
Thursday, 18 January 2007
This year I'm running for Macmillan Cancer Support. When my mother died of breast cancer in 1998 her last days were made more bearable thanks to the care she received from a Macmillan Nurse. Now my dad has cancer, and he too is receiving invaluable support from Macmillan nurses.
Please dig deep and sponsor me online.
Donating through the Justgiving site is simple, fast and totally secure. It is also the most efficient way to sponsor me: Macmillan Cancer Support will receive your money faster and, if you are a UK taxpayer, an extra 28% in tax will be added to your gift at no cost to you.
So please sponsor me now!
Many thanks for your support.
Wednesday, 17 January 2007
Tuesday, 16 January 2007
Monday, 15 January 2007
Distance: 5.6 miles Time: 42:00
Sunday, 14 January 2007
Saturday, 13 January 2007
Distance: 7.5 miles Time: 56:26
Friday, 12 January 2007
Distance: 4.4 miles Time: 34:56
Thursday, 11 January 2007
Unfortunately, the weather forecasters lied. My long run took me along the coast, from Sandwich to Kingsdown and back. It was so windy the cross channel ferries weren’t even operating (they were all parked up in the Downs) so I must’ve been crazy to have run. The wind was a gale force easterly, with gusts up to 70mph that kept threatening to blow be into the sea. It was a real struggle to exceed walking pace (or even to move in a forward direction sometimes!) but I thought that, as I was running an ‘out and back’ course, it would be much easier coming back. It wasn’t. I was completely and utterly ker-nackered by the end. My overall time was meaningless: there should be a way of measuring effort – I felt as though I’d run a full marathon. Once I’ve recovered I’ll probably think today’s was a damn good session, but right now I just think the whole marathon thing is a crazy idea!
Distance: 14 miles Time: 2:09:36