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Frankenstein in Baghdad – Ahmed Saadawi

From the rubble-strewn streets of US-occupied Baghdad, the scavenger Hadi collects human body parts and stitches them together to create a corpse. His goal, he claims, is for the government to recognize the parts as people and give them a proper burial. But when the corpse goes missing, a wave of eerie murders sweeps the city, and reports stream in of a horrendous-looking criminal who, though shot, cannot be killed. Hadi soon realises he has created a monster, one that needs human flesh to survive – first from the guilty, and then from anyone who crosses its path.

To the backdrop of post Iraq war Baghdad, with all its daily acts of terrorism and political sects vying for power; life goes on as usual for the inhabitants. To this perilous way of life, is added a modern take on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

With a strong start I was looking forward to following the lives of the various inhabitants of Baghdad.  Sadly, after the initial forty or so pages, the story soon started to wane and, although it kept me entertained – especially with the role superstition plays in people’s lives – it never really hit the heights which the early pages promised.

On a basic level it’s an easy read but below the surface – should you wish to delve into it – there is the strong sense of chaos of infrastructure and the political (and by extent religious) failures (and upheavels) both inept and corrupt which show through. The tone of the book is one of a sense of needing to believe things will get better without much evidence to support it happening anytime soon.

There is a diverse range of characters from all walks of life, a good mix of likeable and odious but all are well written with a decent amount of depth for such a big cast, in relation to the size of the book. The structure of the story overlaps events, keeping the story compact and allowing the reader to see a range of reactions to the same circumstances.  Although this firmly sets characters and details into the mind, the overall time frame of the book is harder to pin down and makes the story feel a bit nebulous as the relation of events to each other wasn’t too clearly defined. Read the rest of this entry »

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Posted by on 22/05/2018 in Fiction

 

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Moondial – Helen Cresswell

Minty has heard stories of strange happenings in the big house across the road from her Aunt’s cottage.  And when she walks through the gates, the lodge-keeper knows it is Minty who holds the key to the mysteries.  She only has to discover the secret power of the moondial, and she will be ready to carry out the dangerous mission that awaits her…

As a child I must have watched the television show half a dozen times so having been given the book by my parents a couple of Christmases ago, I have made sure to hold onto it.  Having read through the story twice so far and thoroughly loving it both times, it surely deserves more attention, especially for the younger generations.

The Nostalgia factor aside, the book itself holds up remarkably well.  It’s a beautifully told story, full of haunting set pieces (one of which was quite sinister and sent a bit of a shiver up my spine, which is a rare thing to happen), and it positively oozes charm and a sense of adventure and discovery.

Things gets going quickly and thickly layers on a sense of the secrets waiting to be discovered.  The prologue starts off this trend by setting up the reader with that feeling of solitariness and an encouragement to visualise the described surroundings.  Once involved with the imagining, the vulnerability and aloneness of the night are very effective in the scene setting. It’s a simple step to immerse one’s self in the atmosphere of the book after that.

This is a great read for all ages, a wonderful story of place and time, of ages, and the feel of history set in physical stone, and how that is an echo both forwards and backwards in time to our age.  The contemplation and interpretation of ornamental garden decorations has never been so interesting and has surely inspired the imagination of many a writer.  The part it plays within the story is both puzzling and charming.  Without giving any spoilers out ,the story itself manages to take in several strands both of present and past, and weave them in such a way as to give them equal time although the pressing story of the present isn’t as interesting. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 19/05/2018 in Children's Literature

 

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The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini

Afghanistan, 1975: Twelve-year-old Amir is desperate to win the local kite-fighting tournament and his loyal friend Hassan promises to help him. But neither of the boys can foresee what will happen to Hassan that afternoon, an event that is to shatter their lives. After the Russians invade and the family is forced to flee to America, Amir realises that one day he must return to Afghanistan under Taliban rule to find the one thing that his new world cannot grant him: redemption.

Picking this up at the airport was always going to be a risk. as bestsellers always seem to be these days when it to comes to quality.  As expected it was an easy book to get into and a quick read, I enjoyed it to begin with, reading 132 pages in one sitting. Further on there were a few problems that niggled me and ultimately the book became distinctly average.

The first part of the book is superior to the rest by a country mile (or indeed a mile of any sort).  The depiction of Afghanistan and the life as seen through Amir’s eyes was interesting and his relationship with Hassan was one worth investing in .  Seeing the distinctions of class and race, as well as the influence of religion and the day-to-day life rituals of Afghans was something new and refreshing to read about.

I didn’t like Amir at all, he does nothing to endear himself to the reader but I appreciated that, it gives the writing more impact when I did feel sympathy for him.  His relationships with friends and family are decently done, enough to keep me caring about the characters throughout but never overly so.

There is some good prose – again mainly in the first part – and for a time I was totally engaged with the novel and the characters, sadly that ended with the first part of the book and it became more imprecise in its focus before descending into generic bestseller fare.  That is not to say that there wasn’t anything good to speak of in the latter ha;f, I found the nod to a lack of integration or acceptance of older immigrants, into new countries and cultures to be a good topic to approach.  Similarly the intolerance of Islam and the hypocritical way some have of applying religion, which stretches to all religions is a timely topic to write about. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 09/05/2018 in Fiction

 

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Interview with Author Nicholas Conley Part 2

Part one of the interview can be found here as well as links to Nic’s blog.  A big thank you is also due for the time he took to answer my questions.

Can you explain a bit about your approach to novel-writing?

It’s a bit mysterious, even to me. I’d say that it begins with an idea… a scene, a character, a philosophical concept I want to explore, a weird scientific theory, et cetera. From this idea, I take notes. As time goes on, I continue compiling notes, character ideas, concepts, and so on. In this “genesis” stage of the process, I’m basically putting together every idea that hits me, sometimes for years at a time: since I have so many different potential novels in my head, it’s not always clear where an idea will properly fit, so I make sure to document everything that occurs to me. At this point, every potential novel is like a riddle: how will it work? Can it work? As a result, some of the novels I’ve written have gone back to story ideas I had years and years ago. With Intraterrestrial, for example, I started having ideas for it when I was just a teenager.

Eventually, as these ideas come together, I get hit with what I think of as a “lightning bolt.” I’ll be driving, in the shower, in bed, or wherever, and this spark of light just suddenly breaks open my skull and says “THIS is the solution.” Suddenly, the novel will fully crystallize, and I’ll know that I have to write it. Going back to Intraterrestrial, the moment that the novel concept felt “ready” was when I took my past ideas and merged them with my healthcare experiences: the notion of the traumatic brain injury being at the heart of the novel brought Adam’s story to life.

So, once I hit this point, I then begin writing my first draft. This is the part where other people think I’m crazy, because I write my first drafts fast, really fast, making sure to put solid work in every single day. I generally finish these drafts in one or two months, at most.

…but then, even though I write the first draft extremely quickly, I take a long time on edits. After the draft is done, I’ll let it sit for a couple of months, and then I’ll come back to it, and spend a year or two slowly editing that draft into the book I really want it to be. Some novels take only a year of edits, others have taken far longer, at which point they understandably sort of transform into entirely different books. I always know when I’ve reached the “final” draft stage, at least for submitting it for publication: something clicks, something feels right.

You are a big traveller, heading out to Africa, Europe and Asia, how important is travel to you and how does it help influence your writing?

Travel is immensely important to me. I strongly believe that travel is a strong antidote for such contemporary maladies as prejudice, laziness, insecurity, and so on, because travel forces you to break out of your boundaries. It’s easy for someone who has been sitting in a homogenous setting for 10+ years to make judgements about people or settings that are “different.” But when you go out to another country, when you sit and share dinner with those supposedly “different” people, you can’t help but be struck by how much we’re all in this together, and we need to support one another in every way possible.

What’s important though, while traveling, is to not be comfortable. If you ask me, one shouldn’t try to stay in a place that reminds you of home: stay in the place that’s totally different, that’s outside your comfort zone, a place where you can learn. In everyday life, you get so swallowed up by your daily routine that you can start to define yourself by it: I.E., I’m Joe Smith, I wake up at this time, eat these things, see these people, wear this sort of clothing, et cetera. When you travel, when you go somewhere with a different language, culture, and way of life, it forces your consciousness to expand, makes you into a better person.

And of course, yes, this has a huge influence on my writing! Traveling helps me to look at the world from many different perspectives, which is important when it comes to writing fiction.

Of your books, which are you most proud of?

I’m going to be totally honest, and say Pale Highway. Don’t get me wrong, I love Intraterrestrial, but there’s something about Pale Highway that… well, it astonishes me that I was able to write that book. There’s so much packed in there. Pale Highway is the work I really define myself by, at this point in time. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 15/04/2018 in Interviews

 

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Evil Star Wars

There are few authors I actually pay attention to as people, unless the books are of extremely high quality. Thankfully Margaret Atwood is a thousand miles from being one of those authors.

I just heard about this so sorry for being a bit late with it. I’m talking of course the Variety interview Atwood did recently, which is a fairly straightforward, marginally interesting interview until she bizarrely makes the claim that Star Wars was to blame for 9/11.  I mean we all know it was Back to the Future that predicted it, but idiocy aside, what is the world coming too?  Here is the section in question (with my italics):

You attended one of the women’s marches last year. What do you make of this latest wave of activism? 
Typically, waves are waves. They hit the shore and then they recede and then they hit the shore again. How many backlashes have we been through? We used to have a race going on, to see which would win, between “1984” and “Brave New World.” It looked as if “Brave New World” had won. That turned out not to be true. Just to give you a very creepy feeling, there was an opera of “The Handmaid’s Tale” that premiered in Denmark in 2000. It started with a film reel going across the top of the stage and showing various things blowing up. And one of the things that blew up was the Twin Towers. But it hadn’t blown up yet. They did the opera again, and they had to take it out, because it was no longer in the future. Does that give you a creepy feeling?

Yes, it does.
They didn’t get that idea from my opera, don’t worry. They got the idea from “Star Wars.”

Do you really believe that?
Remember the first one? Two guys fly a plane in the middle of something and blow that up? The only difference is, in “Star Wars,” they get away. Right after 9/11, they hired a bunch of Hollywood screenwriters to tell them how the story might go next. Sci-fi writers are very good at this stuff, anticipating future events. They don’t all come true, but there are interesting “what if” scenarios.

Where do you start with this car crash?  Most importantly her play was not a catalyst at all, it couldn’t have been. We don’t know why not, and as usual interviewers won’t do their job and ask probing questions so I guess that will remain a mystery.  Star Wars gave them the idea – presumably not the original film – not one of the many books or films where hijackings and attempts to do damage with planes are central plot points..

I’m not offended because it’s Star Wars,  I’m not one of those people. I enjoyed the original trilogy but think the new films are utter rubbish. but why would anybody who seems intelligent come up with something so downright odd?  Maybe it was an odd bit of failed sarcasm, although it doesn’t read like it.  The more cynical may suggest it is because the second season of The Handmaid’s Tale is due to air on the 25th April.  If this is the best she has, then maybe save it for the marketing team.  Whatever the reason, I’ll save my money and not encourage such people and their inane ideas with book/DVD sales.

 
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Posted by on 13/04/2018 in Fiction, Films, Interviews, Journalism

 

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Interview with Author Nicholas Conley

Having been a long time fan of Mr C. and enjoying his novels, including latest book Intraterrestrial, it was high time I poked the toe back into the interviewing game. Sadly not with an interestingly flavoured beverage at an obscure coffeehouse as always imagined but through the medium of email.

Your latest book Intraterrestrial came out recently, (and very enjoyable it is) how has the reception been so far?

Thanks for the compliments! The reception so far has been enthusiastic, which is amazing to experience. When writing a book, so much time is spent in this solitary space, experiencing a whole world no one else sees, so it’s always surreal when that story is opened up to the world, and other people are talking about it. A great feeling, but a surreal one.

I love the title, how long did that take you to come up with and what working titles fell by the wayside?

It’s interesting, every writer I know has different feelings in regard to titles. For me, I can’t even write a novel without knowing what the title is. The title embodies every theme in the story. It’s like a fishing line, stringing the beginning to the end, keeping the reader focused on the essence of the book’s core idea.

Intraterrestrial was one of the more challenging titles to come up with, as you might imagine. With a book that’s so surreal and otherworldly, the title needed to match that. When I was taking notes for the book, my first working title was “Unearthly”—which ended up becoming the title of the book’s second act—but as a full title, that didn’t quite work.

Finally, I considered some of Jungian imagery and archetypes that exist in the novel, and that lit a spark. I thought about the term “extraterrestrial.” I love etymology. I’ve done some writing for Dictionary.com, for that reason. And so thinking about Carl Jung, I considered how the “aliens” in this book, rather than interacting with Adam’s external self, instead dive into his mind, his consciousness, his imagination, using his thoughts to create versions of themselves. So, looking up the root of “intra,” I eventually decided on the term Intra-Terrestrial, which became Intraterrestrial.

There is an interesting question in the book about what is real and how much imagination plays a part in the story, and to what extent.  The fine line between them is one of the intriguing things of your story, how difficult was it to achieve that balance?

It does seem like the notion of “perception” keeps haunting me, considering I keep coming back to it in different stories!

My feeling is that there are two things about “reality” which seem unarguable: one, there must be some inescapable truth to reality, something real that we perceive. Two, though reality exists, our perception of reality must be undeniably flawed, limited by our senses, and embellished by imagination. After all, a lizard views the world differently than we do, but a lizard’s perception is no less accurate.

Now, if there are creatures out there that don’t experience the universe through their senses—let’s call them “aliens”—then it follows that they somehow would still exist in the same universe, even though “their” universe might not seem remotely similar to “ours.”

The story in Intraterrestrial, to me, is merely a magnification of this truth. Everything that happens to Adam, from the car accident to the alien “abduction,” is real. It happens. But everything about he perceives these events is “false,” or rather, it’s simply a sensory construct based on how he views the world. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 11/04/2018 in Fiction, Interviews

 

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Who Are You? Gender Bias – #KidLitWomen

Who Are You? Gender Bias – #KidLitWomen

A thought provoking post, well worth a read, and a comment!

Jilanne Hoffmann

In 2015, I sat in a darkened auditorium in a hotel in Los Angeles, wanting to throw up. I had word poisoning.

What was the source? The messenger’s message.

In that dark room, Shannon Hale, a keynote speaker at the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Conference, was turning the spotlight on gender bias. She recounted stories of school visits, featuring her Princess Academy books, where boys either openly booed the idea of princesses or had been excluded from her assemblies because teachers or school admin believed “boys wouldn’t be interested in her books.”

While I hadn’t said those exact words, I was standing at the top of the slippery slope that takes one there. I had been volunteering in our school’s library and was guilty of saying: “This book has boy written all over it” or “Girls will really like this book.” Possibly more than once.

Fast…

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Posted by on 04/04/2018 in Children's Literature

 

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