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Weekend Omnibus

Here, here, here

She loves as we love

Sweet prayers

A Song For A Beast

Fall

Filed under silence

Some book reviews – for disclosure, they do contain Amazon Affiliate links, which I get a small amount for each click, so please do so.

The Book of Joan by Lydia Yuknavitch

Rosewater by Tade Thompson

Headhunters by Jo Nesbo (review)

I also consult on stories and scripts, if you’re interested, then this post talks about what I offer:

Want to finish the story you started?

 

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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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Headhunters by Jo Nesbo (review)

Roger Brown has it all: clever and wealthy, he’s at the very top of his game. And if his job as a headhunter ever gets dull, he has his sideline as an art thief to keep him busy.

At a gallery opening, his wife introduces him to Clas Greve. Not only is Greve the perfect candidate for a position that Brown is recruiting for; he is also in possession of one of the most sought-after paintings in modern art history.

Roger sees his chance to become rich beyond his wildest dreams, and starts planning his biggest theft ever. But soon, he runs into trouble – and it’s not long before the hunter becomes the hunted…

The crime fiction of Western Europe has proven to be a recent discovery for me. They have a unique set of obsessions and themes, a degree of technical rigour and manage to carry a delicate balance between background exposition, back story and detailed scenes of torture and murder.

Jo Nesbo is one of the biggest names and this was my first book of his. I’ve dipped into other writers, Lars Keppler and Erik Axl Sund are two recent additions to my lexicon of the genre and now I have another writer with an extensive back catalogue to explore.

A quality problem to have.

Roger, the protagonist manages to defend his actions with a paean to domestic and romantic patronage. His wife, a beautiful and forthright woman, inspires his criminal enterprises so he can fund her tastes and hobbies. This reason, slight as it is, is well presented and makes him a fun character. It becomes important as the situation demands he carries out an escalating series of betrayals, crimes and evasions in order to stay one step ahead of the situation he finds himself involved in. Nesbo uses a crisp, well-observed tone for Roger, which makes his descent into horror all the more involving and enjoyable.

The cultural differences are organic and add a sense of place which made it all the more enjoyable for me. I may not have visited the places Roger has, but Nesbo’s skill makes it part of the palate and it adds depth and warmth to the story.

Some detachment and artifice in the use of minor characters does detract from the book to a small degree but otherwise this was cerebral, entertaining and moves like a bastard throughout.

(Amazon Affiliates links included to offset some of the costs of producing this emanation)

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2018 in books.

Books

I’ve made recent, tentative inroads into Nordic Noir, which has been a surprise. There is an economy of plot and craft and a willingness to go into some dark psychological areas which manage to make them long, but compelling stories.

Erik Axl Sund and Lars Keppler are two authors who have captured my interest. The former, are a writing partnership, which is something which fascinates me when I work so much alone. Their book, The Crow Girl, was a powerful, engine of story with deep, relentless plotting and some crisp, observations alongside a melancholic, beautiful sense of scene and character which kept me engaged throughout.

Keppler is a more commercial approach, but the books (The Hypnotist and The Nightmare) are irresistible. The murders are inventive and gross, the motivations are realistic but also have a grand, operatic madness to them and despite their page count, whip along at a rate of knots.

My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent was raw, entrancing and beautiful work. It is one I will read again. It has a wounded muscular beauty to it which captures the struggle of adolescence in a depraved, exploitative yet tender perversion of parental responsibilities and individual struggles to find oneself.

Fyodor Dostoyevsky

I’ve never read much in the way of Russian literature. I came to him curious and nervous but I read them and was moved by the insights and powers on display. 

The literature of wrestling with deep thoughts and issues, here isn’t ponderous or affected. There’s a masterful display of empathy, observations and human nature. Our brains and concerns haven’t evolved much since these were written so the insights remain fresh and compelling. Dense prose is essential not an affectation here and although there were points of mild endurance, I read four of his books with increasing awe and appreciation. 

Crime and Punishment is genuinely haunting and wrenching. Notes From Underground speaks to a misanthropic envy and need which is discomfort itself. I recommend him to anyone. 

Stephen King, in Sleeping Beauties, co written with his son Owen, and Elevation did solid work but the former felt like a greatest hits compilation and the latter was a vaguely patronising paean to acceptance and had a strange bigotry of low expectations attached to it. Shame, but he still captures the essence of human nature and how it is illuminated by the impersonal and bizarre forces around it. 

 

 

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Two Pages (24/10/16)

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The above picture is the completed exploratory draft of Lawful Evil. I finished it on Saturday in a mammoth writing sprint. Whenever I finish a draft, it’s a bittersweet experience, a mix of relief and regret. A lot happened during the three months of writing it, and the work reflects that. It’s the first book where I worked from a story grid, so it has more of a structure from the first. Now, it goes away for a couple of months, I’ve set a reminder to dig it out then and start transcribing it from longhand to the computer. During that time, I am editing as I go, making sure that the themes and ideas ring true, fill in any gaps and generally polish it up until it shines. I will be looking for beta readers after that, and sending it to the agent for further notes and feedback.

She’s Here is going really well, in the editing stages where I am looking at things like sticky sentences and overused words rather than the story itself. It’s an education and I always feel like I develop my craft when looking at my own flaws and correcting them. You will, of course, make new mistakes but they’re only tragedies if you fail to learn from them.

After that, I will be starting something entirely new again. The projects will require a little bit of research, but that’s a pleasure in and of itself. I am always writing, or thinking about it, and there’s nothing that stops me. It’s a great relief that I have this purpose, it keeps me upright when the world wants to kick me in the stomach.

I finished a couple of books at the weekend. Robin Wasserman’s Girls On Fire which was stunning, reminded me a little of Megan Abbot’s writing, but had it’s own sense of urgency and passion. It does not spare you, in it’s telling and I was genuinely moved and invigorated by the books.

I also read Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh, which was a noir novel that reminded me of Patricia Highsmith. It had some compelling moments but the elements that have perhaps been its selling point ultimately became it’s downfall. It takes too long for the big reveal to occur and when it does, the ending afterwards becomes too abrupt. It is beautifully written, the narrator/protagonist has a strong and well realised set of flaws, and there is a willingness to acknowledge the flesh in the book.

I am now reading A Wake of Vultures by Lila Bowen, which is very enjoyable, essentially it’s Buffy In The Wild West but it works really well in terms of worldbuilding, letting the western elements breathe and it’s quite interesting how the two genres work together. I’ve got the sequel as well, so will be reading that.

Books and writing get me through. My passion and purpose remain unabated.

Thank you for reading.

 

 

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Two Pages (19/10/16)

toy-loneliness-grief-sadness-autumn-nostalgia-cold

I wrote two pages of Lawful Evil, the second section of background exposition narrated in first person. These pieces don’t go always go into later drafts verbatim because sometimes I cut them into pieces and seed them throughout the work. With these, and an earlier section, I like the voices that I used here. It’s a perspective that I have seen done in other books and it lends weight to the different textures of the book.

Editing She’s Here was productive this morning, cut some extraneous details and tidied up some of the language. I tend to work to a rule of cutting around 10% but sometimes it has been more, and that gives me an opportunity to put forward the intention of the scene. I am putting more narrative colour in terms of talking about Tommy’s emotions and relationships. Finding where the pain and emotion within me lives and putting it onto the page.

The writing makes me feel pretty. There are a lot of times in life that you need that place where you are kind to yourself, especially when circumstances deny you that opportunity and my writing allows me to do that. It’s keeping me upright a lot of the time, and allowing me to function at points when I otherwise would not.

It does not mean that I put anything less than my all into it. I focus on making the story sing and mine whatever quality is within me.

I am reading A History of Seven Killings by Marlon James. It is the first Booker Prize winning book I’ve read. Awards attract my interest but my passion for reading is too inclusive, I know what i like but I am always willing to give different genres and stories a chance. We all have our favourites, but I enjoy trying, failing, succeeding with different authors. The book itself is intense, challenging but it moves at a breakneck pace, moving in all sorts of different directions before returning with a controlled mastery of history and setting. I am reminded of James Ellroy, who has always combined history, crime and the ambitions of others into blistering, exhausting stories with a similar amount of skill.

Thank you for reading.

 

 

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Two Pages (17/09/16)

It was a touch spare this morning, and I hinted at a story point that will pay off later. Two actually, because I wanted to give things a touch of narrative tension. In retrospect, I may cut it but that will come later on. Some mornings, I go with the flow, and letting things breathe is a little bit indulgent, but you need to breathe.

I finished The Girl On The Train last night, and it works in terms of it’s paring back to a perfect, bone clean thriller. It will be a formula that will appear in varying forms of quality, a template that will see a rash of similarly themed conceits without any real examination as to what made the original such a success. It moved constantly, between multiple viewpoints and it’s characters were duplicitous, unreliable and were magnificent sketches of self-deception and damage. It’s noir, essentially, if you were to define it, with a nod to psychology in that it deals with alcoholism, transference and a few other concepts. It is chockful of reversals and revelations and even the ending itself doesn’t fade out on sunshine and kisses, looking instead to retain the same atmosphere until the final word. You can tell that Paula Hawkins was a journalist in the retention of focus throughout. She also shares the same gift for the portrayal of female damage as Gillian Flynn and Megan Abbott.

It’s strange to read that, whilst working on Lawful Evil, although I can’t say what my book is, truly, until the second draft. The exploratory draft, although working to a story grid, which allows me to hit certain points and meet genre expectations is still a slow walk, a long exhale until my lungs are empty. However, my experience knows when I am meandering a little, but I still get it down anyway. In the next stage, I might read through it and not transcribe it all, a paragraph, a sentence can advance things along and if the scene doesn’t speak to the controlling ideas of the book, then it is cut without hesitation. You cannot be precious about the writing that doesn’t move the story forward or illuminate the theme.

Look at Charles Dickens, and how his stories, his characters were always moving things forward, variations on a theme. In jazz, which I used to think was just noodling until I started playing bass guitar, you work to a common theme and then each instrument is playing variations within that, against one another. It can be as complex as Weather Report or simple like early Miles Davis. Writing can offer that experience, in it’s creation. I see forests of post-it notes outlining every plot point but I know, and have written, from chasing an image or a concept down until I catch it. Sometimes, when it’s on the page, it becomes something else and during the chase, there are insights that go into the book that surprise me.

Sometimes it is about keeping going, building momentum and knowing that you can edit, refine and cut the unnecessary if you need to. I used to believe that the great books I devoured sprung from raw id, thrown into the world with an ease afforded to a gilded few. It takes discipline, effort, a lot of different elements and commitments and those are things you either have within you or learn. Get those things right for you and you’ll produce work every time. Whether that sells is a question I cannot answer yet. When it does, I will let you know. When my first manuscript did not land a publisher, my contemplation of it afforded me a great deal of insight. It was invaluable to me, and informed my writing afterwards. The first book was too heavy on the sexual content but erotica is a wonderful place to develop the conveyance of something primal and refined at once, just that the story meandered a little, details were sent to the sex scenes and then the dramatic elements did not breathe. I’m still working/editing from agent notes on the second book and it’s done from a place of wanting success and focus. The balance between art and commerce is a debate to be had by smarter people than I. Is there a market for your work? That’s the question you should hold off asking until the second draft, just write it and then bring other forces to bear.

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