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Books I’ve Been Reading

The Martian by Andy Weir

It’s a neat, bold book. It captures the urge to survive, it shows the science and it manages to tell an old archetype in a new way. The use of the journal ties in with how we read now. Blog posts although the book has third person sections to demonstrate the efforts of NASA back on Earth and his former crewmates.

The science is explained well, as a dramatic device to show the challenge and the means to overcome it. It’s a condensed version of the issue that comes up in writing, the tension and release of problem and solution. It’s expressed well and the book, although a little earnest in places, has the classic energy and structure of great adventure fiction.

Beautiful You by Chuck Palahniuk

I’ve enjoyed the essays that he puts up at Litreactor and his class is well worth taking. He has a unique and personal style, he writes about powerful things and his voice comes across very distinctly.

In being positive, I hope that this book is simply a private joke made public. The tone, the exposition and the characterisation all mark this out as Fifty Shades of Grey for hipsters. As satire, it’s too broad and breathless in tone to land the joke. Have you ever seen The Following? Awful show, thinks that it’s far cleverer than it actually is, or maybe I’m missing it somehow but I have no care to continue to interpret it. Shame, really.

The Internet Is A Playground by David Thorne

There’s a playful intelligence and sense of humour on display here. Various neighbours, employers. colleagues and administrators play straight man to the cynical and mercurial wit of David Thorne. A man who pays for chiropracter bills with a drawing of a spider.

The site is here.  The book contains a selection of the correspondences, some articles and towards the end, a hilarious and bittersweet travelogue about a trip to the US. There is a second book out, which I will be ordering.

I am close to 150 pages of the second draft of Nothing Keeps Me Anywhere. The book is a different direction from the previous two, definitely more challenging in a lot of ways but it reflects the things that I have learned from the previous two.  The challenge of it has been enjoyable, demanding different things from me in terms of craft and structure. I am waiting for the agent to get back to me on the second book but I am always working on something. There’s a complete exploratory draft in longhand that I will be transcribing in the new year and the aim is to get Nothing Keeps Me Anywhere finished before I go into that.






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Dark Places

It is a good book, not as disturbing as Sharp Objects nor is the plot as engaging as Gone Girl but it represents a transition between the two books in an interesting evolution. There is a sense of rural noir, the desperate bleak horror of what an economy in freefall does to people and how that horror compels some terrible, long reaching decisions and consequences. There are moments of nihilistic decadence, and the narrative shows the lies and self deceptions as having a reach beyond the immediate.  Yet for all it, it lacks the passion of the first book and the inexorable logic of the third. It is still a cut above the majority of it’s imitators but it slightly dips for me.

At the moment, I am working on an uncomfortable dinner scene that moves things forward and reveals some hidden subtexts that arose between the first draft and this, that gave me some really powerful insights into the book and the characters. These moments are really what shape the story for me, they’re borne out of that time spent marinating in the universe of the characters as well as a general playfulness, best espoused as  ‘what if’.

It’s good to be in this place, where the book is evolving and I can also cut away the dead ends that clutter a first draft. I aim for a smooth, legible read and resist anything that reads too much like WRITING’ to me. The story, the book is the boss and although beautiful language is aesthetically important, whatever poetry exists does so at the story’s behest. It has to follow it’s own logic, and sometimes that frustrates me, especially when there are points where it feels like I am trudging rather than flying through things but that’s necessary sometimes. I can always cut. I can always cut. Two pages a day builds up a routine where it becomes autonomic on one level and frees up mental real estate for when I come across story issues.

I’ve started The Martian by Andy Weir, which has an engaging, avuncular voice as well as a well staged increase in scale and urgency. Science is amazing but here, we get to see how even the simplest of tasks can be fraught with danger in the most hostile environment known to us, an alien planet. The tone is engaging and even from a layman’s perspective, Weir makes the explanations of the dangers and trials involved as tense as a gunfight.