Small drama, great writing

 Review of A Distant Father by Antonio SKÁRMETA


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.


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


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.


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 comes out in paperback later in February 2015, a fuller version than the Kindle.)   Intrusion---6x9

“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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REVIEWS: Oyster A boy with potential

The characterful writer:

Recent reviews


A Brilliant Short Story
By Sheila M. Belshaw (South Africa)

An incredibly insightful look at the machinations of a boy so intellectually damaged that he cannot fit into normal society. Only a writer with a deep knowledge of the human psyche could carry off something as profoundly moving as this story is. The voice is amazingly real and I found myself following his twisted thoughts and seeing exactly where he was coming from, and at the same time feeling dreadfully sorry for him.
On top of all that, the story is beautifully written, so that nowhere does it not flow as though from the pen of a superb writer.


And from Austria, By C.R.Putsche

Oyster. A boy with potential By Rosalind Minett

This is an outstanding short story that I managed to devour in just one sitting. Rarely does an author so courageously expose truths, realities and day-to-day struggles of a boy who finds it difficult to fit in to society.

Jake tells us his disturbing story from a first person narrative which gives the reader a real insight in to his tangled thoughts and feelings that you can somehow sympathise with him and understand his unbalanced mind, while nervously anticipating what he will do next. Jake has quite the back story, as he comes from a dysfunctional family who put his safety, health and wellbeing at risk which results in him being moved from one adoptive family to another before he ends up in the Home and yet another Home before he commits his greatest atrocity in his short life so far.

Make no mistake this book is a real frightener, albeit a book of fiction and a major credit to Rosalind Minett who knows her stuff when it comes to the workings of an unbalanced mind besides having a literal talent to depicts things of an unnatural nature.

These are two of the 5* reviews on Amazon.

The review is also on this review site, as shown below this post.

Originally posted on walkerputsche Book Blog:

A boy with potential
By Rosalind Minett
This is an outstanding short story that I managed to devour in just one sitting. Rarely does an author so courageously expose truths, realities and day-to-day struggles of a boy who finds it difficult to fit in to society.
Jake tells us his disturbing story from a first person narrative which gives the reader a real insight in to his tangled thoughts and feelings that you can somehow sympathise with him and understand his unbalanced mind, while nervously anticipating what he will do next. Jake has quite the back story, as he comes from a dysfunctional family who put his safety, health and wellbeing at risk which results in him being moved from one adoptive family to another before he ends up in the Home and yet another Home…

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Can Christmas be free?



Oh, no, Christmas is never FREE. Even if you don’t spend a cent or a schilling, a pound or a lire, you are unlikely to be free of some responsibility, even if it’s just that of being thankful for the efforts others have made for you.

However –

BOOK ONE of A RELATIVE INVASION – INTRUSION – is FREE – on Christmas Day and Boxing Day.

If you’re out of touch with such days of celebration, that’s 25th and 26th December.

Eat, drink and read yourself merry.


Here’s the link for Japan

but it’s free in US, UK, Europe and S.America too.

The saddest thing I’ve heard is the solo person’s Christmas pack of a tiny pudding, single person ready meal and a one-ended cracker.  Fancy not including a book! To me, a book is essential for Christmas. If you’re on your own, ideal company, a way of leaving sad aspects of this world and joining others in some fantastic adventure or dilemma. If you’re socialising in a crowd and it all gets too much, how wonderful to sink back into an inconspicuous armchair and disappear behind your book. Even a refugee or a rejectee can be empowered during a good read.

Yes, reading does make you free – of the moment, of the company of irritants, of old ideas, to meet people from other worlds or carry favourites from home. See that book-shaped bulge in the bag of the boy at the back? (Note my alliteration!)

entrainedEvac     The Latin Quarter, Paris, France

Whatever your circumstances, I hope Christmas is a good day, one way or another. I hope you discover a book you come to love, and if that’s mine, how wonderful. It will take you into Billy’s world where he worries about his manipulative cousin, while his parents worry about Hitler. Are these emotions so different? Is Cousin Kenneth’s invasion really of a different nature, psychologically, from the Nazis?  In any case, read and enjoy. And it’s not cost you a dime.

Free Killer



FREE DOWNLOAD TODAY AND TOMORROW 18th and 19th December 2014

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 put 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. I’d had to cut it to fit the word-length requirement and I preferred it in its original form. Later, I uploaded it to a writers’ site, YouWriteOn (established in 2006 with Arts Council funding) where the top 3 rated novels (10,000 word extract) receive the reward of a full review by Random House, Bloomsbury or Orion editors.  Top short stories only receive a mini-review. Therefore, I thought out a possible extension to describe mine as a novel and wrote a synopsis.

A Boy with Potential achieved the top 3, so gained its review from Bloomsbury. The editor had no flies on him/her and advised that the submission worked best as a short story. However, s/he did say that I “was a writer of potential” (pun), that I had “an intriguing premise“, my first line provided “a gripping openingguilty 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 improve it, 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  A Relative Invasion. When I started listing my novels and short stories for this site I took out A Boy with Potential and edited it again.

It’s now on Kindle: Oyster, a boy with potential,”  as the first of my Crime Shorts. Will it be a killer?

FREE DOWNLOAD TODAY AND TOMORROW 18th and 19th December 2014

It’s a 5k read. I believe there is an appetite for stories of that length. Indeed, one reviewer 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.”

I am writing more in the Crime Shorts series.


Writing: how to improve your focus


It’s commonly mentioned by writers as a problem: keeping focus on the book you’re currently writing. It isn’t just the intrusion of other writing or everyday chores. More than ever, writers blame the ingress of social media caused by two pressures: the attraction of seeing friends’ and family’s daily activities, with consequent need to like, comment, or even worse, engage in a to and fro dialogue, and the constant emphasis on the importance of social media for marketing the books we write.

There is only one way round this problem. Limitation. In the same way that we curtail, if not curb, our pleasure in food and drink, we can avoid gluttony with social media activity.

Easiest to restrict family/friends to a time of day assigned to relaxation. Just best not to open those Facebook etc at other times. There’ll always be something to divert you. For marketing, wisest to schedule a set day and time for such work and avoid it at all other times.


I wonder if Pasternak was having trouble focussing in this picture, or was tormented in sympathy with his characters?

Keeping focus on the book in process does not mean never doing anything else until it’s finished, however. You can take off for a break somewhere entirely different and yet keep your focus on your characters. Keep them and their problems in mind and relate what you hear and see to their situation.

For instance, working on my WWII trilogy, A Relative Invasion, I realised that my protagonist, Billy, had not been punished by his adversary, cousin Kenneth, for a well-meaning interference with his aunt’s loneliness. Manipulative Kenneth would surely not let Billy get away scot free.  Taking time away from the computer, I set off to wander round an arboretum and get some fresh air (and fresh ideas). On the way, I listened to a radio programme about printing and book binding. The word ‘pigskin’ made me sit up. Of course! The pigs Billy loved had been taken to the abattoir. Kenneth could punish by giving Billy a pigskin wallet for Christmas.


Van Gogh

The arboretum itself made me realise that I hadn’t included much description of the boys’ surroundings beyond the initial one. How would they react to the countryside when evacuated away from the blackened buildings of London?


I listened to an interchange between some children nearby. The running and quarrelling suddenly stopped when one of them saw a squirrel burying nuts. It was vigorously stamping its feet, or that’s how it seemed to the younger child. She turned to her mother, ‘It’s having a tantrum!’  A lovely moment, and one I could work at for hostility between my two boy characters.

There were other ideas, too, that came from this outing. These could be called ‘writing refreshments.’

I could have taken a break and thought of other things, but keeping my focus on my book didn’t stop me benefiting from this time away from the computer. In fact, I wrote more rapidly once I got home, all the new ideas fresh in my mind. As is often the way, one new idea helped others so that the narrative moved along.

Have any of you readers gained unexpected ideas through taking a break away from your desk?