Potentially a killer.

OYSTER: A BOY WITH POTENTIAL

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I hate that question, ‘How do you get your ideas?’ But for once I can answer.

Some years ago I was watching the news. A U.S school was in a state of panic after multiple shootings by an adolescent. The account was truly shocking and the outcomes were followed closely by the media over several days. Sadly, there have been other such events since, in and outside of the U.S. I knew that much analysis would follow. As a psychologist, I had sometimes interviewed/assessed such youngsters. Those, I can’t write about but I could use the experience to imagine new characters in that role. I imagined a younger boy into another geographical and social setting and imagined what might lead to such an extreme act. I wrote a longish short story. It was long-listed in the (now defunct) FishKnife competition that year. Later it won a Bloomsbury review from topping the favourites on the YouwriteOn site. The editor said that I was “a writer of potential” (pun), that I had “an intriguing premise“, my first line provided “a gripping opening” that “plunges the reader straight into the novel’s moral dilemma” and that s/he “was impressed by use of a first-person narrator.” S/he went on, “The use of an unreliable narrator is tricky to pull off, and you handle it well – the character of Jake has stayed with me since I first read it.” There were also suggestions for how I might extend it into a novel, associating it with ‘Before I Go to Sleep‘ and ‘Gone Girl’. I put my story to one side, because at that time I was wholly involved with rewriting my trilogy, A Relative Invasion.oyster_tiniest Now on Kindle: “Oyster, a boy with potential,” is the first of my Crime Shorts. Will it be a killer? It’s a 5k read. I believe there is an appetite for stories of that length. Indeed, one reviewer (Morgen Bailey) has written: “This story has a feel of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, although I much preferred this one, and it just goes to show how much can be done in around 5,000 words. Homed is the second in the Crime Shorts series, eerie and chilling perhaps, but it’s not my style to spell out the gore and violence. I’m all for subtle suggestion and reading between the lines. Homed_book_cover-2

Where do your words come from?

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Where do your words come from? Here’s the tree showing the main roots. When you eventually find the little twig that is English, it’s the sort of twig size that might be chopped off by the gardener to encourage strength in more viable branches. Such a diagram helps enormously to conceptualise the place of one language in comparison with another and the relationship between apparently unlike languages. I found this diagram from bing images. Later, I found ethnologue.com, a site full of rich information.

However, I didn’t just come upon these randomly. This is why I love Stumbleupon. It is a serendipity resources. It is full of such excellent information and illustration (provided you make full use of the thumbs up and thumbs down).  After listing your categories of interest – mine are diverse – you are offered pages fairly randomly within those categories. According to whether you give them thumbs up or not, your preferences are further refined by the site. Warning, don’t do this too much or you may miss items that you had not realised were within your interest.

You see a page that sparks your interest, and off you go on another research journey that might, at some time, come in useful for one of your books.

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I originally saw a page from Vox with a wonderful chart by Minna Sundberg (which I can’t reproduce here). This led me to research out the further sources.

Here’s Sundberg writing beneath her chart:

The origins of English  —–        Minna Sundberg

Where English comes from

English, like more than 400 other languages, is part of the Indo-European language family, sharing common roots not just with German and French but with Russian, Hindi, Punjabi, and Persian. This beautiful chart by Minna Sundberg, a Finnish-Swedish comic artist, shows some of English’s closest cousins, like French and German, but also its more distant relationships with languages originally spoken far from the British Isles such as Farsi and Greek.

When readers ask ‘Where do you get your ideas from?’ The answer is often ‘from reading’.  And then that reading leads to more reading . . .

And one day, to writing!

 

 

Bath Literary Festival, 1. Two authors, two issues.

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New authors might sit back and consider the undercurrent in their fiction. Despite a variety in the subject matter, authors may unconsciously repeat themes that have marked their lives.

March 2015. Bath Literary Festival offered its usual treats, the most popular being the talk by Kasuo Ishiguro, booked out within minutes of the programme going live. His first novel for ten years, The Buried Giant, has surprised readers by its fantasy genre. Ishiguro suggested that all of his novels had an underflow of unspok

BuriedGianten, part forgotten material.  There may be fantastic creatures in his novel but ‘buried’ in his title refers obliquely to the human tendency for suppressing memories about painful matters.

He had given a wonderful one-hour interview on BBC4 covering similar ground, whereas Elif Safak was newer to the Bath audience.

The two authors had ‘burying’ in common. Shafak referred to the ‘collective amnesia’ of Turkey, uncomfortable events in history more easily ignored if historic artefacts were not preserved.

medium_01-elif-shafakSpeaking fluently, extemporaneously and passionately in her third language, Safak also had amnesia on her mind, collective amnesia, for so much has been suppressed. The role of the woman, the existence of minorities. There is little urban memory, so that residents do not know the origin of their street names, for instance, and are not encouraged to ask questions or to care about the past. Shafak mourns the loss of cosmopolitanism in Turkey, which is why she loves London. The variety of cultures, nations, sub-groups is precious and stimulates creativity.

As a lonely child, Shafak found the books she read more real than the Turkish world around her. The questions she asked, the situations she wrote about, caused social bullying. She was spat at in the street, prosecuted for her first book, and her work came to the world in translation.

Shafak gave the listeners an insight into the current Turkish situation that was far more powerful than a description of her latest book (The Architect’s Apprentice, out late April).  It was a talk which had the full hall flocking to her queue as soon as her event ended.

‘No,’ she advised a questioner. ‘In the evenings, the streets (in Istanbul) belong to the men.’

Istanbul

There was a parallel with Ishiguro’s talk. Ishiguro had rebelled against being an author who ‘explained Japan’ to other audiences. (He has lived in England since childhood). Safak had ridden the salt water of being a female author in a patriarchal society, so that the ‘wonder’ of her success appeared to be solely that she was a woman.  Both authors wanted recognition for the content of their novels, not to be defined by the stereotype.

But the real highlight of this literary festival came in the smaller room, the salon, with a smaller quieter audience, many of whom were deaf. London-based artist and writer Louise Stern grew up in Freemont, California, and is the fourth generation deaf in her family. Her debut novel ‘Ismael and His Sisters’ is set in a Mexican deaf community and is an extraordinary analysis of the way we experience the world and the barriers we build out of language. She hardly talked about her book, but about communication. It was very powerful.

That is the subject of my next post.

Confused identity

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An emergence from tragedy

This is the first of my reviews of self-published or very small press fiction. In fact, it is not to be published for another few weeks, but I think you will want to put this on your wishlist.

I read Tracey Scott-Townsend’s first book, The Last Time I saw Marion, and was impressed by the quality of writing and unique storyline. When I received Another Rebecca I wondered if the quality would remain, but I wasn’t disappointed.

The title suggests that we are in for a retake at Manderley, but no. This is not a Du Maurier sequel. The other Rebecca is a reformation of her mother, who has the same name. She now calls herself Bex to differentiate from the girl she once was, and sadly, is no more.

The novel opens on a dreamy sequence that is a time slip. Rebecca flits from hospital into a fantastic and erotic adventure, but it doesn’t last long. When we return to the present time, it is clear why Rebecca needs (and deserves) to escape reality.

She lives in a miserable and increasingly crisis-laden home, abandoned by father, caring for an alcoholic mother.

There are three voices: the girl, Rebecca, her mother, Bex and Jack, her seemingly errant father. The language is similar for the two parents, whereas Rebecca has gained more education and maturity despite being a young person.

The alcoholic mother whinges her way to disaster, yet in the chapters in her voice we find the remains of what could have been a nice person. The disgusting state she has got herself into isn’t minimized but the background story, built up slowly, shows her jagged path to destruction.

This author is skilled at setting a conflict from which the story can flow. We soon learn that Jack is caught up in a no-win situation that was caused by his kindness, not his neglect. It is easy to sympathise with his position, torn between competing emotional forces.

Our identification is with the Rebecca whose future is before her. The mystery surrounds and is a part of her, interacting with the art that inspires and possesses her.

As the narrative progresses, it becomes more complex and the fantasy Rebecca began with permeates the theme in a new way. The significance of the title comes into its own. Finally, the tangled threads of these three characters’ story reach their conclusion, making for a thoroughly satisfying read.

This is a thoughtful, well-structured novel with good characterisation. The life-style and thought-processes of the alcoholic are credible, as is the good-heartedness, yet ineffectiveness of the husband. Scott-Townsend has not made the mistake of painting her characters black and white. The positives and weaknesses are carefully revealed.

There are some lyrical descriptions of scenes that add to the pleasure of reading this interesting story. It should please readers of fantasy as well as those who enjoy tales of family conflict.

 

Small drama, great writing

 Review of A Distant Father by Antonio SKÁRMETA

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Los Caimanes, Chile

 

I like to follow a kind of diet in my reading. You can gorge on too many books in the same genre and regret it. I had just finished the dark indeed, Dark Places, and felt in need of a total change, an irrigation if you like. A Distant Father provided just that, and not in clubs.clubToo often in UK and US the highly rated book is high drama, exploding on the senses as if only extremes of behaviour or events will capture our attention. Skarmeta, this prize-winning Chilean author, quietly writes a story that immerses itself in our imagination. The young man returns to his village where the clock has stopped at ten past three, stepping out of his train carriage, his teaching diploma in his battered suitcase. He is aching to display it to his adored father — who gets into the carriage as the son gets out, and stays away. Why? He is so loved by son and wife, who mPASAPORTE_OFICIAL_CHILENO_(2013)ourn his absence.

However, his friend the miller explains that he has stayed so long when there is almost nothing to keep a grown man in the small village.

Even so, the young man decides to stay despite the lack of opportunity, despite the poverty. He teaches the children, the miller provides bread, the other males leave for the nearest city. This is where our hero goes to lose his virginity but not his soul. In that city he begins to learn some of the mysteries that surround his father’s absence, the pain experienced by each individual involved.

He continues his journey making a deep difference to those in his life. He has a bereft, hardworking mother, a student who wants to become an adult via the brothel and whose sisters pay him much attention. There develops an ethical tension around conflicting desires.

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At the end, he enables his student to take his geography prize of a globe (the ‘world’) into (and for) his future. This great metaphor is not all, for the beauty of the story is the way the young man brings good to everyone by an unexpected, but perfect solution to the set of problems – even if the clock remains at ten past three.

It is not high drama but everyday and small ones that turn out to have profound impact on the reader’s understanding.

I loved this book, its clear picture of rural Chile, and for the simplicity and beauty of its writing. I loved the presentation by Other Press,a small hardback with transparent cover, a joy to read and which added to my enjoyment. It is rare to read a book twice and for it to remain looking new. The result is for the purchaser to keep it and value it, and not to pass it casually on, as we would with a paperback.Unknown

John Cullen’s translation is effortless and we would only know it is a translation because we have no novels of this nature in our culture. And that’s a great shame.

 

Antonio Skármeta is a Chilean author who wrote the novel that inspired the 1994 Academy Award-winning movie, Il Postino: The Postman. His fiction has received dozens of awards and has been translated into nearly thirty languages. In 2011 his novel The Days of the Rainbow won the prestigious Premio Iberoamericano Planeta-Casa de América de Narrativa. His play El Plebiscito was the basis for the Oscar-nominated film No.

The detail in writing fiction

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Jonathan Wolstenholme “The Collector” 2005

I’ve used Jonathan Wolstenholme’s painting to portray a focus on detail. The collector uses detail to identify his butterfly, the artist attends to detail in creating a new perception or meaning, and the writer can produce a whole array of significance and emotion through adding tiny touches of detail. It was while watching the DVD of Room on the Broom with little people that this post suggested itself. In the delightful children’s book, a dog, a cat, a bird, a frog in turn ask for a place on the witch’s broom in return for finding her lost items. But the DVD adds a layer to the original. After the cat is installed, it suffers a jealous moment and wants to persuade the witch against taking on any more passengers. All this is conveyed silently, purely by a raised eyebrow or a turned-down mouth, the invention of the animator. The book was satisfying enough to the child, one good turn deserves another, but with the added detail of the cat’s facial expressions, the child is reminded of his own difficulty in sharing or being joined by a newer traveller in his life. An added layer is given to the story.

Noting the animator’s effective additions, reminded me of the delight in ‘reading’ the graphic book by Shaun Tan, The Arrival.  This is a flowing wordless narrative about emigration. Categorised as a children’s book, it would do well on every adult’s bookshelf. In my view it is as much a classic as Coelho’s The Alchemist.  The Arrival is chockful of meaningful detail. Just one example: leaving his country, the emigrant must say goodbye to his loved ones. Tan portrays this not just bya picture of a loving hug, but a close-up of the hands clasped, then loosened, then the fingers leaving those of the others, a tremendously evocative set of images. This is just that detail that resonates with the reader. Another graphic artist might have left it to the hug or the sad face.

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UX Myths from user-experience designer Zoltán Gócza

In textual works it is also the small detail that can hit the heart-strings. I’ve tried to do this in Book 1 (Intrusion) of A Relative Invasion. For example, seven-year-old Billy is on the station platform, other children crowded around him, but he doesn’t have a parent present. While the others are hugged and last goodbyes exchanged, the oncoming train causes a small waft of wind that lifts Billy’s name tag against his face, and lets it fall again.

Kate Atkinson’s heroine in One Good Turn breaks an established routine of breakfast by eating the remains of a packet of chocolate digestives with her coffee, and on the peach sofa in the living room. This little detail lends a delightful visual, but its significance lies in the  implied rebellion against her absent husband.

In An Equal Music, Vikram Seth shows us how distressed his protagonist, Michael, is about his musician friend, Carl, although Michael is avoiding talk of him. Michael touches the red mark on the left side of his chin, the violinist’s callus. The image of Carl’s bow sweeping up and down comes immediately to his mind.

I’ve been arbitrary in my choice of examples. However, if you pick a novel up and opened it randomly anvolcanod find no such detail, perhaps it will be a disappointing read. Crises and tensions in the plot do make us want to read on, but I believe it’s these little details that give a feeling of satisfaction during and after the read. This doesn’t seem to happen with a book that is wholly plot driven. It’s like the difference between eating a large pizza or a meat and two veg meal. We may feel full initially but we need a decent dollop of protein. The sense of satisfaction lasts so much longer. (Intrusion is out in paperback and on Kindle.)

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“The Dragon Can’t Dance” by Sheree Renée Thomas

The characterful writer:

A tweet introduced me to this magazine, and through it to this story. I hope my followers appreciate it as much as I did. Good reading, the whole magazine.

Originally posted on Jalada:

The Dragon Can't Dance


The first time I danced, I hated it. Six years old, skinny as a string bean, shy, observant, the last thing I wanted was to be pulled into my nana’s long, strong arms, and swept onto the makeshift dance floor at her birthday party. My hair was tightly braided, laced with the new gold and white beads Mama bought just for the occasion. My freshly oiled temples smelled like heaven, hurt like hell. Coconut and mango braids throbbed with the thunk, thunka-thunka that thumped from wood veneer speakers sprawled across two wobbly card tables in a corner of the garden. Nana threw back her head and pranced, that’s right, pranced past my two uncles, my sisters, Papa and Mama, past all her old neighbors and church friends, and rolled her ample hips like a much younger woman. I was scandalized! Everyone clap clapped and howled at the vision, bellies full…

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