book reviews, books, reading

The Book of Joan by Lydia Yuknavitch

THE RESISTANCE STARTS NOW

A group of rebels have united to save a world ravaged by war, violence and greed. Joan is their leader. Jean de Men is their foe. The future of humanity is being rewritten . . .

Lidia Yuknavitch’s mesmerising novel sees Joan of Arc’s story reborn for the near future. It is a genre-defying masterpiece that may very well rewire your brain.

Gorgeous language

Passionate and fierce willingness to transgress and disgust in the service of the story

Unique biological science fiction, but it serves the story.

Fascinating characters and points of view

Perfect blend of literary and genre conventions.

This has an operatic feel to it and it took delight in the celebration of queer identity.

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book reviews, books, fiction, reading, Uncategorized

Rosewater by Tade Thompson

Rosewater is a town on the edge. A community formed around the edges of a mysterious alien biodome, its residents comprise the hopeful, the hungry and the helpless – people eager for a glimpse inside the dome or a taste of its rumoured healing powers.

Kaaro is a government agent with a criminal past. He has seen inside the biodome, and doesn’t care to again – but when something begins killing off others like himself, Kaaro must defy his masters to search for an answer, facing his dark history and coming to a realisation about a horrifying future.

What I liked

Lots of provocative and clever ideas but nothing at the expense of the story

Well-realised history and back story

Different time periods don’t jar the flow of narrative

Comic book energy and invention.

Exciting and considered extrapolation of Nigeria in 2066.

What I didn’t like

Nothing.

It’s a heady cocktail of ideas, poured over a careful story. I’m looking forward to the next one.

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books, craft, reading, Uncategorized

My Favourite Things – Books

Here are some of my favourite books, there are books on the craft of writing, lectures about nihilist philosophy and pop culture as well as fiction and non fiction. For disclosure, if you buy through these links, I have an affiliate account so it throws some pennies in the hat but get these books because I love them and the world needs more sharing the good things in it rather than the bad.

This is what the series of American Horror Story: Freakshow wishes it was. Humane, bizarre and beautifully written. It is one of those books I return to time and  again. Dunne is no longer with us, but this book is. I envy you reading it for the first time.

Percy has produced some fantastic cross genre work and this collection of essays speaks to an appreciation for literature and pop culture without casting either one in a negative light. It has a robust honesty which I find invigorating and useful.

Stephen King, much like Prince, was one of the artists which resonated from me at an early age. I’ve followed his work and example and resisted aping his mannerisms but his working class generosity of spirit and craft makes this book indispensable to me. He offers up a toolkit and reflects on his own experiences, professional and personal to give you an idea of what might be possible if you put the work and energy into the writing you do. There’s a lot on offer here, and if you’re looking for good, solid advice on the craft of writing, then King is your man.

Grammar is an important consideration in writing. A poor choice of phrase rips the reader out of the moment and undoes the hard work you’ve done establishing mood and setting. Don’t be precious, you’re never as good as you think you are, so something like this is worth investing in. Learn the rules in order to break them and Strunk tells you the rules in a pithy, elegiac way which makes it a useful reference work when editing.

 

Holiday has established a niche in mining the wisdom of Stoicism for it’s applications in the modern world and for his fantastic understanding of marketing and media. Here is a united work which talks about finding your own place and developing work which resists trends. He talks about Iron Maiden and The Shawshank Redemption in glowing terms, especially with the factoid that Harrison Ford and Tom Cruise were up for the main roles but Frank Darabont the director went with his own choices instead.

Next I will talk about music, then films with links to them for you to click on and preview/buy.

It’s strange how we will rush to interact with something bad but distrust a recommendation of quality or worth, relative as they are.

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beauty, books, fiction, reading, short fiction, women

Writing Announcement

My story ‘Women and Children First’ will be featured in the April 2017 issue of Infernal Ink Magazine. The link to the magazine is

http://hydramstar.com/Infernal_Ink.html

It’s a story about a man who survives a terrible tragedy at sea, only to find himself at the mercy of something far worse.

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books, creative writing, reading, women, writing

Mason Jar

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Shirley had not left much in the way of belongings. A few worn, battered boxes of objects that held sentimental value and the musk of years clinging to them. Laura had taken them in without a care to examine them, exiled them to a corner of the basement whilst she got on trying to raise Kelly when Shirley went into the care home. Kelly’s memories of Sheila had been abstract, the smell of her, violets and chamomile, the soft, flabby crush of her embrace, her lilting gentle laughter and how it carried up into the air.
Shirley had been bitten by life. Her husband, and Laura’s father, Pete, had been a brutal, weak man who was quick to blame everyone else for his failures and in turn, quicker with his fists if anyone called him on it. They had survived as a family due to Shirley, who took it all in her stride, back at a time when marriage was something you believed required work. The work that was similar to a drop of water eroding a cliff face. Laura and Kelly’s generation knew the lie of it, even though some of their relationship choices had uncanny parallels to Shirley and Pete, a predisposition towards rough confidence and an ambiguity as to what rough meant in that context.
Shirley would say if either of them ever asked what stopped her from leaving or taking a knife to Pete’s throat whilst he slept. She would ask them to fetch down the mason jar that sat on the shelf in the living room, with the seal of cracked, flaking rubber and the lid sealed on with tape.
She would give an inscrutable grin and tap the lid.
‘I would open this up, and scream or cry into it, close it again and go on about my day. Your pa was an asshole, but he used to balance that out with being sweet. Over time, men like that, they don’t get sweeter as a rule. The jar kept me going on making sure you were alright.’
Laura had survived her marriage as her mother had. At first it was the same determination, and then the fortunate act of a 17-year-old drunk driver who had ploughed into Bobby’s pickup truck and killed them both. Bobby had been a protégé of Pete, without ever having met him. The only good thing he had left Laura was Kelly, and so she retreated behind the role of mother, unwilling or unable to trust her instincts to love again so freely. When she did date, Kelly noticed, they were tepid, plaintive men whose safety had suffocated their animal natures until they were muted, gelded soft boys with worn, adult features. Her step father William, had been one of them and Kelly had liked him, although she knew that the relationship was a band aid on an amputated limb for her mom.
Kelly, at that time, seventeen felt an arrogant pride in seeing the mistakes of her relatives and was determined to avoid them herself. No, she would not let herself be taken in either sort of man – the brute or the eunuch. She would be more cautious in who she let into her bed or her heart.
She was later reminded of the maxim, that if you wanted to make God laugh, tell him your plans.
Predators came in all forms. They adapted to their environment, wore the plumage of safe, appropriate identities but beneath it all, they still held the same crawling disdain for women. Barrett had been displaying some of his work for his final grade. He had long, shining hair and round spectacles, spoke with his hands and was informed about third wave feminism and the benefits of a vegan diet. Kelly had thought him safe, a good man who would align with her values even if he didn’t immediately set a fire in her loins.
It was two years into it that he struck her for the first time. He had gotten a scathing review by Harlan Foster for his last show, and although Kelly had sought to soothe him, he had taken it as criticism. His bony hand came up and caught her on the curve of her left cheekbone. The surprise hurt worse than the blow itself. A small, resigned voice at the back of her head gave an unpleasant chuckle and told her that she was not so unlike her mother and grandmother after all.
She had been six months pregnant at the time.
She had stayed. Laura was undergoing treatment for cancer at the time on the other side of the country, barely able to muster the energy for a conversation. Kelly had, by getting pregnant and quitting her work, tied herself to Barrett, whose success had been intoxicating even as his ego had developed an unpleasant, peevish swagger that resonated with deep, ancestral memories. Shirley was a ghost in ageing flesh, dementia had reduced her to unfocused smiles and an orderly to change her diaper. Kelly, stood in the bathroom with a cold cloth to her bruised cheek, realised how effectively Barrett had cut her off from anything approaching a support network. The price of his intensity and attention had come due. She patted her belly, squeezed out a few tears as he pleaded with her through the door and swore that she would not repeat the pattern of previous generations.
It was a year before he struck her again. She had just managed to get Georgia off to sleep, a fractious baby who conducted the tension between her parents like she were made of copper. He had come back from signing a new deal for more of his work, appropriations of other people’s Instagram posts recreated and blown up into hallucinogenic collages that generated controversy. He blamed the drink this time, but Kelly knew that vulpine smile, the opportunity to shut her down with a single blow. His smile knew her weakness, and she hated it. They had a beautiful home, tastefully decorated but Kelly would have burned it to ash if it meant her and Georgia got away.
Within six months, Laura and then Shirley had passed on. Barrett had been dryly supportive, a means to continue isolating and controlling her. He checked her emails, went through her phone. He had clung to her at the funeral, not as a gesture of comfort, but to keep her to heel. A single unguarded conversation might arouse suspicion.
He avoided hitting her face after that. If anyone asked him, he would have said that he liked the expression that came to her when he kicked her in the shin or drove his bony fist into her stomach. He reminded her what power was, even if he lacked the awareness to see that this was a metaphor akin to cancer being a reminder of good cellular activity.
Because, he said, he loved her.
Their collective estates were mostly medical bills, absolved by good insurance policies and a few objects. William had died of a heart attack when Kelly was eighteen, so it was down to her to sort through the collected detritus of a life spent surviving, sifting through the trash of discarded dreams and fragile shelters for anything worth treasuring.
The jar was still intact although the tape holding it closed had faded to the texture of parchment, its control now a thing of sentiment rather than physics. She kept it in the kitchen where it drank in the light of the day through the large window. She showed it to Georgia without letting her handle it.
Because, when she held it, Kelly imagined a hum of something inside, tapping against the glass, eager to be released. She would laugh and put it back on the sill, but it was a shrill, polite rejection of the senses.
She had never asked her mother if she had screamed into it.
She wondered if it would work for her.
Georgia had been at daycare when Barrett had sauntered in, gazing around the kitchen for something to use as a reason to hit her. Kelly wondered when that would finally stop and he would just come over and beat his frustrations out of him and into her. He had grown more violent in his rages. Luckily, he had stayed away from Georgia which Kelly would have found intolerable, and that too became a reason to stay in the perfect cruel trap of their marriage. He needed her. He had stopped progressing as a man and an artist, perfectly content to nurse his insecurities and failings, the only true child of their marriage and Kelly’s presence meant he had someone to take it all out upon.
‘What’s wrong?’ she said.
Nothing. Everything. He had moved past the point of needing an excuse as much as she had moved past trying to fight him. The bruises healed, the blood in her urine would fade back to the straw yellow and the limp would disappear on its own. The paranoia, the removal of her privacy had done more damage to her sense of self. She had been a good girl, with her lid screwed on tight but what was inside her.
She ignored the screaming hum aside when she dreamed about it. A kaleidoscope of humiliation, clowns chasing after her that had faded by the time she awoke. She would cry in the shower afterwards and then return to bed, desperate not to wake him.
In the kitchen, he grabbed the soft flesh on her left bicep, dug his fingers in and brought his other hand up across her face. She cried out, felt the heat of her own blood on her upper lip. His lips were pulled back over his teeth and his eyes gleamed like broken glass in a children’s playground.
She was stood with her back to the sink and he shoved her. The edge of the sink bit into the small of her back and she flailed to remain upright. Her fingertips touched the glass of the jar, warm from the light.
The humming called to her, travelling down the bone roads and nerve pathways into her brain. Older, wiser voices told her what she needed to do.
What she had always needed to do.
She pulled her left arm away from his grip and was punished with gouges where he had dug his nails in. With both hands, she picked up the jar, fighting the desperate, atavistic urge to smash it against his high, veined forehead or into his long, hooked nose. It would have injured him, but another instinct made a more compelling argument. Without words, only the crude magick of memories and a need to save herself before he lost it completely and ended up killing her.
She held the jar towards him and wrenched the lid off. It made a soft, sucking sound like smacking lips in anticipation of a good meal. The pneumatic hiss was audible between them and that, above the rising tide of his rage, made Barrett step backwards.
The silence, for a moment, was a bomb going off in the room between them. A pressurised wave that ripped everything to rags before Barrett staggered backwards, his hands to his face.
Blood welled between his fingers and Kelly held the jar forward. It vibrated in her hands and she held onto it with what strength she had left in her. Barrett collapsed onto his knees, then fell forward onto his stomach, his feet kicking out a tattoo against the tiles. She kept the jar aimed at him as he floundered and thrashed with agony. Whatever was happening to him robbed him of the ability to scream.
Kelly knew how that felt.
He brought his knees up to his chest, hands still at his face although they were smeared with blood which had spread out into a thick, dark puddle around his head like a halo. The smell of wet pennies and unseen, internal processes filled the air but Kelly kept the jar open and pointed at him. She screamed along with it, adding her voice to the chorus of pain and anguish that had been her terrible, unwanted legacy alongside her mother and grandmother.
She caught the faint scent of burning and stared, in appalled disbelief as smoke began to rise in tendrils from his still form. The jar hummed as it went about its work and she watched him flake, turn grey and then disappear into a few smears of ash and the acrid scent of smoke on her lips and tongue. The blood had boiled away alongside every inch of him.
She shut the jar, looked at what remained and replaced the jar on the shelf. She left the lid off. She sobbed and sunk to her knees, the kind of healing, ungainly cries that was beautiful and ugly in the same instant. When she stopped, she looked around and realised that Georgia would be home soon. She wiped her eyes and got to her feet.
She looked for a broom and a dustpan. The sunshine came in, a second wave of brightness and warmth at her back. She whispered her thanks and set to work.

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books, creative writing, inspiration, reading, writing

Summoning The Daemon

 

The title does not contradict my previous statements on inspiration. It is inconstant and should not be relied upon as part of a writing process if you want to achieve a regular body of work. I do, so I don’t rely on it. I write through all the different shades of feeling.

Feeling ill? Still writing

There’s a new season of that show I like on Netflix that I have time to binge watch? Still writing.

However, inspiration is pretty wonderful and when it lands upon you, it is like mainlining the universe. In Ancient Greece, they referred to it as a spirit called a daemon. Inspiration, in that context, can be seen as summoning it so I will use that metaphor going forward. Sit down, kids, this is going somewhere interesting.

Sources of inspiration:

The most obvious one is reading. I include audiobooks amongst this, as the science supports that listening to one resonates in the brain in the same way looking at words on a page or screen does. I will break that down for you into some further definitions.

Fiction – I say this and it is kind of hammered into you that if you are a writer, you should be reading. The why of that, to me, is the following reasons. It allows you to see the possibility of what can be done on the page. There are no right or wrong books to be reading. A good book can inspire envy as well as  much as a bad book can inspire contempt.

Reading as a writer is different from reading as a reader. You want to see what effects are possible, then you look at how and what the writer uses to convey that effect. Don’t see this as an adjunct to dry, literary analysis, think of it as figuring out what they did and how you can reproduce it in your own writing. It is not plagiarism, which is stupid to do in the days of software that can analyse and point it out, although people still do it and even sell books online with it. Warren Ellis, the comic book writer, offers this up in terms of comic books. Tear it apart, use the entrails to see a possible future for your work. Chuck Palahniuk has a lovely quote that I use.

“Nothing of me is original. I am the combined effort of everyone I’ve ever known.”

You should do the same with bad writing too. What that means is subjective to you, but if you get that faint sense of ‘I can do better than that’ or not even the faint sense where you resolve yourself to a vigilante crusade to burn every copy of that book in existence, then you can still learn something useful from it. Bad books have a malign sense of energy, and some of the subjectively worst books have been the most popular. Slag Dan Brown off all you want, he won’t hear you from atop the massive pile of gold and escorts that he sleeps upon.

So, read, listen to fiction. It gives you scope for your own work.

I also add that it is good to read outside of your genre. If you want to work in a particular genre, it is arrogant not to read the leading proponents of the style. Who those are is also subjective, but I believe that if you read outside of that, then you can incorporate elements to make your voice unique. It is healthy and lends itself to original work, if you can do it in a natural way. What matters is that you look to make those elements organic, not some Frankenstein’s Monster literary hybrid that lurches from the slab with lightning running through it’s decayed veins.

Non -Fiction.

I will refer to Tom Clancy for this:

“The difference between fiction and reality? Fiction has to make sense.”

I would argue that any written non fiction is fictional in construction. Actually it is not me who argues that but Steven Pressfield because you are still choosing which moments and perspectives form your account. Reality television is not, because it is not a dogme 95 camera trained on a fixed point and neither is non fiction writing. I digress though.

Non-fiction is a mine of inspiration for me. It is an education awash with pleasure because you can pick up a great deal of images, incidents and story prompts from the stuff of life itself. You can change the names, details but keep that little spark there alive and you have something that resonates whilst still having the plausibility of real life.

Pick a subject, look for the good stuff and let it wash over you.

OBSERVATION

I work a day job, lots of us do. Your colleagues, your customers are all potential sounding boards and sources of inspiration. Listen, ask questions that relate to whatever you were working on and need some juice to pump into your writing. Anecdotes are everywhere, and you should use them wherever possible, legal issues and ramifications withstanding.

I hope these points are of interest, and that they help. Feel free to disregard what does not work for you, and please offer up your own points in the comments or to me via the contact form at the bottom of this post.

 

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books, creative writing, reading, work, writing

Updates On Writing and Reading. 2017

In 2016, I finished 4 first drafts, sent a final draft off to the agent for submission to publishers this month which is Until She Sings, my second book.

I read somewhere in the region of 300 books in the last twelve months, which is based on library loans and what I have on the Kindle. I do read quickly, but it’s not always the same speed with each book as sometimes the text demands that I slow down and savour the work a little more than normal.

I go by Stephen King’s maxim that reading is the key to good writing. Don’t use that as a stick to beat yourself with, I oftentimes wonder if what I do verges on obsession, but the truth of it is, I was a reader before I ever became a writer and there are a  great many books you will have read that I have not, and vice versa. We’re not in competition, and I put up the amount I read because it came up in conversation with a friend of mine and I was interested myself.

So, this year, I will be continuing to put my work out there. It is my purpose and I keep working to improve, or at least, not lose anything I have gained to inertia and apathy. I am at work on the second draft of Lawful Evil, and hit the 40 page mark of that today so that will occupy the next few months and then, circumstances permitting, will either be resuming work on Until She Sings or will be working on something new in a first draft, or working on Strange Lights in second draft. It probably sounds tedious, but it marks a progression of the process for me, and the aim was always to act like a professional even when no one was paying me money or attention.

In April, my short story, Women and Children First, will be published in Infernal Ink magazine which I am looking forward to sharing with you all.

So, the work continues, for those of who are new here, hi I am Matt, please feel free to drop me an email via the About page, and if anyone wants to collaborate on anything, I would be amicable to suggestions.

Thank you for reading my work. Please don’t be shy about commenting, and I will always try to return the courtesy. I know as much as anyone that writing can be lonely at times, and we should support one another where we can.

Welcome to 2017, we’re all just walking one another home, eh?

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