Friday, 30 January 2009
Although I’m not sure I agree with Rule Three, here are HEINLEIN'S FIVE RULES FOR WRITING:
1. You must write.
2. You must finish what you write.
3. You must refrain from rewriting, except to editorial order.
4. You must put the work on the market.
5. You must keep the work on the market until it is sold.
Wednesday, 28 January 2009
Last year, the Willesden Herald famously decided not to award a prize in their international short story competition because none of the entries were quite good enough. Their decision caused a storm (especially among some entrants) but surely they were right – if none of the stories were flawless then none of them deserved a prize. So my question is, Should a prize as prestigious as the Costa be awarded to a book that everyone agrees is flawed?
Just a thought.
Wednesday, 7 January 2009
The gist of the story, taken from the blurb, is as follows:
One frozen January morning at 5 am, Inspector Wallander responds to what he believes is a routine call out. When he reaches the isolated farmhouse he discovers a bloodbath. An old man has been tortured and beaten to death, his wife lies barely alive beside his shattered body, both victims of a violence beyond reason. The woman supplies Wallander with his only clue: the perpetrators may have been foreign. When this is leaked to the press, it unleashes racial hatred. Kurt Wallander is a senior police officer. His life is a shambles. His wife has left him, his daughter barely refuses to speak to him, and even his ageing father barely tolerates him. He works tirelessly, eats badly, and drinks his nights away in a lonely, neglected flat. But now, with winter tightening and his activities being monitored by a tough-minded district attorney, Wallander must forget his troubles and throw himself into a battle against time and against mounting xenophobia.I really enjoyed this book, although I found I was less interested in the crimes as I was in the relationships Wallander tried to repair, attempted to form and usually messed up along the way. I liked the view of Sweden it portrayed, warts and all, and sometimes I liked the way Mankell examined some of the social issues (but not always – the debate on immigration he has with a woman he should be seducing didn’t quite ring true, for instance). Although this first outing for Wallander is never as good as his later appearances, it is still better than most police procedurals and definitely worth a read.
Tuesday, 6 January 2009
The demise of Cadenza is a sad loss, not only because it is one less market for writers but also - and more importantly - because it is yet another door closed to readers of quality short fiction. Hats off to Zoe King, the editor and publisher of Cadenza, for keeping the magazine going for as long as she did (even subsiding the cost herself of late). It will be sadly missed.
Monday, 5 January 2009
This is one of the outstanding strengths of this novel. Not only does Smith paint a brilliantly evoked picture of the Stalinist Soviet Union, he uses his hero to explore in more detail how the State controlled the lives of ordinary people. It is like Orwell making Winston Smith a member of the Thought Police. Smith (the author) manages to capture the overwhelming sense of day-to-day paranoia in Stalinist Russia and the effects this has on love, friendship and trust, the way it can so easily turn them into hatred and betrayal. Leo’s nemesis, Vasili, is a perfect example. His admiration for Leo (possibly verging on a necessarily suppressed homosexual desire, punishable by death in Stalin’s Russia) turns to vicious hatred.
Thanks to Vasili’s betrayal, Leo is exiled with his wife, Raisa, to a bleak town in the Urals. Here, Leo learns not only that his wife does not love him, but she only married him out of fear and now despises him. With everything now out in the open, Leo must somehow live with this new knowledge. Meanwhile, he stumbles across another dead child, a murder and mutilation similar to the one he covered up in Moscow. Leo discovers that children are being killed and mutilated across the country, but because they are never reported as crimes the perpetrator can never be caught. Working outside the law, Leo is determined to track down the murderer and bring the killings to a halt.
The plain simplicity of Smith's prose drives the narrative relentlessly forward. As Leo pursues the killer, pursued himself by Vasili, the novel works brilliantly as a tightly-plotted thriller. But it also works on a different level, with its examination of a totalitarian society and its effect on human relationships, and I for one am not surprised that this book was a contender for both the Booker and Costa prizes. Reader, I loved it.
Thursday, 1 January 2009
Food for thought . . .