Amity & Sorrow Blog Tour – From Playwright to Author

237424211575835499_EwHOb8d3_cI have been a playwright for a long time, and I will never forget the visceral jolt of the first time you hear your words in an actor’s mouth.  Sometimes it’s the sucker-punch of despair:  the words are all wrong or there are too many of them, the rhythms don’t work, nothing makes sense, you’ll never be ready by opening night.  Sometimes – the best of times – it’s an arc, a spark:  the words become the character, suddenly made flesh in a circle of chairs.  The actor makes the words more real than they ever were in your head.  The actors together make a web of your words, spinning the story into a whole, light as air, a net that has room to hold the design and direction, all the ideas.  The play itself is only this:  words, light, bodies, sound.

I have had many a first night of a play, but I had never had a book launch.  I had never felt my own words in my hand or seenamity_roundal (2) them printed on anything other than my own paper, my own printer.  My plays were all too small, in terms of “bums on seats”, for a publisher to consider.  I never thought I would ever see my words as a thing – as an object.  And suddenly, there was a stack of them at Goldsboro Books to be signed.  They were there in the window of Daunt Books, lit like treasure.  Amity & Sorrow was not a performance to be interpreted; it was its own thing.  It was a book made of paper, old as print itself.  The words weren’t made for an actor’s mouth; they were made for the eye and for solitude.  It was overwhelming, thrilling, and also somehow distancing, disorienting.  The thing of it was there and done.  Finished.  There would be no rehearsals, no recasts, no more rewrites.

blog tour (3)Now, I sit in the cusp between the book being out in the UK, where I spotted a copy on a shelf at Waterstones Brighton, sitting a little closer to Jeffrey Archer than either of us liked, and the book being released in the US.  I know that boxes of Amity & Sorrow are being shipped there, for I was emailed a photo of them by my mother, co-owner of our family bookshop, BOOK’em Mysteries, where I used to be the buyer.  She has to keep them in the back until the release date, 16 April, or fear the publisher’s wrath.  I know I will see my book in a number of bookshops, because booksellers have been generous enough to invite me for signings:  I look forward to visiting shops throughout Los Angeles, the Bay Area and Portland, with my sharp pen and my big grin.  I will be skulking through any bookshops I pass, ones that haven’t invited me to come, on the off chance I might see it there, telling myself I can’t assume it will be anywhere.  It is unbelievable for this former struggling playwright, suddenly turned book stalker overnight.

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How I’m Solving The Kindle Conundrum

Anyone who follows me on Twitter may have noticed I while I go I tweeted the following:

“Been staring at my Kindle TBR for about an hour. Can’t decide what to read. I wonder if it is because it’s just a list of grey writing?!”

This was then picked up by Cat Dean at Canongate and discussed a little in one of their blog posts. It has been bothering me ever since. Once upon a time, I hated eReaders… with a passion. I wrote many blog posts detailing how they were horrible items and I’d never own one. The soon changed once I saw many benefits to owning a device, but recently I have found myself shunning it for various reasons. One of the predominant causes is as listed above. Whenever I come to choose a book to read, my Kindle gets forgotten and even if I pick it up and browse it, nothing jumps out.

To me, this issue arises because my base reasoning for choosing a book is a tactile sensation. I like to stand in front of my TreeBooks and view the spines, read the synopsis on the back or inside the dust jacket. I like to feel the heft of a novel and weigh it against others and the eye is naturally a major part of this selection process. Despite sound advice, I tend to choose books by the cover, but also by how the spines catch my eye or the style of the font that is used.

When clicking through the list of books on my Kindle I lose everything single one of those things. [Now, here is where I say that I own a basic model Kindle, no flashy screens or covers art for me] So, for me, my eyes can’t be attracted by a lovely font, nor can my hands interact with the delicate embossing on a book jacket. I am given a formal, bland and grey list. Gone is the impulse inspiration that a real book gives you. However, my Kindle still means something to me. So how can I solve this issue, without needing to use my tablet or buy a Kindle Fire.

While my solution doesn’t add any of the tactility of a real bookcase, I have decided to be as ruthless with my Kindle as with my book culls. I decided the only way to get around this is to limit what I see on my Kindle. I created a new collection and decided that I will only have ten books within that folder and no more. I trawled through the 81 unread titles on the unit and selected the ten books that appeal to me the most and popped them into the new collection. Then I deleted everything else.

I know, Kindles are great because they can hold so many books, but sometimes that is an issue. We have all been spoiled for choice before and I feel that is one of the issues I have. The beauty of this technology is that I can delete everything and just redownload them in the future. My plan is to work through the ten books in the collection and then choose ten more to replace them, eliminating many from choice and cutting down on the time spent looking. Granted, it is never going to be like standing in front of bulging shelves, but something had to be done other wise I will miss out on the books I genuinely want to read but often forget about.

It isn’t a foolproof idea. I may still forget to check it and may forget to replenish the selection, but we’ll wait and see. I’ll report back to see if my Kindle reading increases with this new plan, or not. For those interested, the ten books I chose for the collection were (in no particular order):

  1. Running Like A Girl by Alexandra Heminsley
  2. Chaplin and Company by Mave Fellowes
  3. The Best of all Possible Worlds by Karen Lord
  4. The 10pm Question by Kate Di Goldi
  5. The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides
  6. The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
  7. The Rest is Silence by Carla Guelfenbein
  8. Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson
  9. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
  10. The Earth Hums in B Flat by Mari Strachan
* and yes, I purposely left out any images on this post for wry and witty reasons. Ithankyou!

The Tower by Simon Toyne

9780007391639There’s always going to be a lot of pressure on the shoulders of an author who is putting out the third and final part of their trilogy. For Simon Tonye, that pressure must have been apparent. After dates slipping and “tight deadlines”, The Tower is finally coming to us. Was it worth the wait? Does the trilogy finish with a flourish? No. and No. Not for me, anyway.

I really enjoyed Sanctus and The Key for their preposterous plot points and conspiracy theory themes. They were entertaining because Toyne wrote them well and he made the ideas take on a new sheen. His story wasn’t just about the evils of the church, it was about natural spiritualism. As we arrive at The Tower the loose threads should be tying themselves together and a conclusion that fits the preceding story should flow. However, it felt as if Toyne was grasping at straws and hoping that something would pay off.

The opening half of the new novel is brilliant. It keeps the same themes from the previous two instalments and contains the same tense plotting. New characters are introduced and are welcome to sit alongside the previous greats of Liv and Gabriel. All these things heightened my excitement kept me wanting to keep reading through the night. Eventually the middle of the book arrives and all the fresh ideas seem to be thrown out of the window. Suddenly cliché is rife throughout the pages. Every plot twist can be forecast without any real skill and when they arrived they led to my eyes rolling.

It seems that convenience and coincidence is the answer to many of the plot questions. So many of the long and short standing plot arcs are solved by saying “oh, the answer was in the room all the time, gosh!” This sticks out because the two opening parts had much more quality to them. Within the final fifty pages I found myself becoming more frustrated with how things were wrapping up. Gone was the unexpected and imagination. The writing quality is still great; Toyne doesn’t let himself down in that respect. His characters still have that spark that I want from a thriller but upon closing the book I walked away with a heavy heart.

Published by Harper Collins. This book was kindly sent for review by the publisher.

Note: I hate writing negative reviews, particularly when I respect the author so much. I genuinely enjoyed Sanctus and The Key.

Gender Bias

Recently there was a great discussion on the best platform for discussions – Twitter – about why men don’t seem to read more women authors. It is something that genuinely puzzles me. Please don’t expect to find any answers here, these are mere ponderings that ought to probe for reasons rather than reveal them. During my small trip to London last week I had the same conversation with everyone, the question being “Why don’t more men read books by female authors?”

I’m a man, [I double checked this morning] and I have my own views on this topic. I have frantically searched for possible reasons and have come up with the following to start us off.

  • Upbringing and childhood environments
  • Pure sexism (As also suggested by the wonderful Jane Harris)
  • Naivety

Now, before I start to explore these ideas let me lay out some things. When I choose a book I don’t look for the gender of the author. It bothers me none. To be honest it matters not whether a book is written by someone whose sexual organs dangle or not. If anything I lean towards reading more fiction that spills from the pens of women. As stated, I am a man, if I want to escape [which is why I read] I want to escape into the different. I want to read the inner workings of someone who may, quite likely, think differently to me.

This could be linked to my upbringing. I was raised by a single mother – my father having abandoned me before I was even forced through the birth canal. Does this leave me more open and susceptible to women and their opinions and/or feelings? Of course, I am connected quite strongly to my mum, nobody’s thoughts or feelings matter more to me. Does this sway my habits? I am also a married man and father to three girls [It would be hard to pump more oestrogen into my daily life]. I feel a duty (and a pride), in a way, to be more open to women and their creative output.  I want to set an example for my daughters to help them to grow into strong women [Maybe I’m also more open to exploring my emotions after the death of my eldest daughter?!], and as I said, I enjoy reading different approaches to certain topics. Would I think and act differently had I been raised with a male presence in my home or if I had a raft of sons rather than daughters?

I am not in any way attempting to justify those who don’t read fiction written by a woman. We all after all come from women; they raise us at the most tender points of our lives. So, maybe it is just sexism?

Of course this opens a whole new can of worms. I would let you make up your own mind about this. Let’s be honest, sexism is still rampant in our world in the same way that racism and homophobia lingers where it should not. If we open this can of worms, we should be opening the cans that are labelled “novels by people of colour” and “LGBT fiction”, also. I can’t delve into this world as I have no direct experience with it. So, let me just leave these quotes here that come from female authors on Twitter:

From D.E. Meredith (author of crime fiction featuring male protagonists) – “I had a man who said “I don’t read women’s fiction” about my books having no idea what or how I wrote.”

And from Jane Harris (author of literary/contemporary fiction) – “Men often tell me how much their wife/mother/aunt enjoyed my books with no sense of how insulting it is.”

Also, here is one from a female book blogger, Kate, who hits the following topic dead on – “Some men clearly have no concept that there’s a difference between books by women and books for women.”

Here is where naivety comes in [though some may have a stronger word for it]. Do men generally put off female writers because they believe they will always be reading the next Sophie Kinsella? Do they fear opening the novel and having to read “chick-lit” just because a woman’s name graces the cover? Should the publishing industry be doing more to push fiction by women into male hands? Do the covers of certain books put off a male reader who would actually be quite open to the story being told? Are men scared by what they might read? Guys, if you open The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey, you won’t find a copy of The Female Eunuch inside!

The thing is some men are missing out on some wonderful fiction. The likes of Rebecca Hunt, Barbara Kingsolver, Maria Semple, Margaret Atwood, Karen Russell, Aimee Bender, Gillian Flynn, Lauren Beukes, Maggie O’Farrell, Daphne Du Maurier and Hilary “best current writer on the planet” Mantel – are slipping under their radars.

It all comes down to equality. Women can be terrific writers, as can men. Women can also write badly, as can men. Women think with their brains and feel with their hearts, as do men. [You can’t see, but I’m doing the “I don’t get it” shrug of the shoulders].

So, what do you think? Let us have a reasonable conversation in the comment section below. Why do you believe this divide exists? What can we do to change perceptions?

*U.S. podcast Books on the Nightstand also covered these ideas recently on episode #221 ‘The VIDA Count’

Discombobulated

Last week I visited London to meet many of the lovely people in publishing and blogging who I have dealt with over the two year lifespan of this blog [It’s almost two years, but let’s just round it up, hey?!]. I was invited to a tea party at Bloomsbury and utterly enjoyed my two days surrounded by books and wonderful people. However, upon my return I felt as if a switch had been thrown in my brain and suddenly I’m debating what kind of reader I am and why this blog is here. So, the easiest way to figure things out is to stumble blindly onto aforementioned blog and ramble.

goat-faceI suppose the switch was flicked when I sat down in the Bloomsbury offices and had to “introduce” myself to the group. Honestly, it was like an Alcoholics Anonymous for the Broke and the Bookish. I said my name, where I blogged and because I wasn’t reading anything on that particular day I was asked what genres I generally read. I actually don’t know. I mean, you only have to skim this blog to see that I read a bit of everything – from YA to “literary fiction”. But I’m missing out on so much. I also have people saying [with tongues firmly in cheeks] that I only read new releases and that’s true.

I suppose this revolves back around to the blog and my intentions when I read. So, let’s ask, why did I start my blog? Well, I’ll tell you the same story I told everybody last week. None of my friends read, none of my family read [well, occasionally] so I had nobody to talk to about the best fucking books that I have read. I started this blog so I could hold a massive neon arrow and point it at the best pieces of fiction and tell you that if you didn’t read it I would kick a bag of kittens into a river. That’s why you rarely see negative reviews on here; life is too short to read something that doesn’t entertain at its base value. If I don’t like it, it won’t get covered.

However, at times I have lost sight of that. I started to only read the books I truly wanted to experience and I discovered greats such as Gatsby, Bell Jar and Catcher. But, recently, I’ve wandered into a dead end in this maze of mediocrity. I’m too busy scanning the review pile or keeping an eye on Twitter because I feel I have to keep up with everyone else. I’ve forgotten why I read and that is to experience the written word and what comes with it.

At my last count I totalled up my TBR pile and was shocked to see the number hit 353 titles. [There are people out there who climb into the thousand’s and they are both terrific and terrifying]. I’m so busy keeping up with the Joneses that I’m blinded by the shiny and lose track of the dusty greats in said TBR. Book blogging has turned me into a Magpie and while I do enjoy reading on the cusp of publishing I want to explore more. So, why don’t I? Well, I don’t want to fall behind others. I feel pretty fucking ashamed of that but we live in a society where we have to keep up and run with the others. I have even reached a point where my “blogging voice” has deteriorated. THIS is how I talk and how I write in an informal position and this is how it will stay. [It’s hard to know whether the curse words will stay, I’m pretty raged up, right now]

But now the switch has flicked, I don’t want to do that anymore. I want to explore more short goat1fiction. I want to explore more nonfiction. I want to explore people writing in essay form. I want to submerge myself in words until I’m dizzy. But, I still want to read new novels by debut authors. Or by established authors who knock out successive hits. I want to discover what I love and what I hate. I want to learn to establish the confidence to say what kind of reader I am.

I’ve decided that my blog will revert back to its true form. It will be a place for me to tell you about great books. So, I’ve made a list of rules, commandments, if you will. I will attempt to stick to these with a rigidity only found in the legs of fainting goats.

  1. I will not covet my neighbours books. As of now, I will try not to be led astray by the shiny covers of new books [as much].
  2.  I shalt read what I want to read, when I want to read it. Reading is about spare of the moment choice. I’m sick of lining up books in the order they need to be read. As of now I will pick up and put down books as I want and will not bend to pressure.
  3. I will review thy review copies in a sensible fashion. I’m pretty lucky to be sent lovely books by publishers. I know they want coverage of a book out there so that other people may discover it, but I cannot write to deadlines within my hobby. I will always aim to review a book within four weeks of its release… if I miss that I’ll get up out for the Paperback. And in the words of certain publishers, I will learn to relax.
  4. I shall not race myself to finish books in record times. I’m a slow reader and I need to accept that it’s fine.
  5. I will not be ashamed if I read a “literary” book and don’t understand it on many different levels. There is too much pressure to “get” these kinds of books and I’m done with that. If all I get out of it is enjoyment then that is fine. I’m sick of searching for hidden meanings in order to fit in. JOG. ON.
  6. I will lose myself within literary magazines and explore new avenues of the written word. And not worry that I’m not actually reading a book, instead.
  7. I will discover more obscure books and older novels that have slipped past me.
  8. I will always bring you, the reader, and me, my true blogging voice.
  9. I will no longer use star ratings as books cannot be summed up in small JPEGs, but in words from the heart.
  10. I will blog because I enjoy blogging [and reading], even if I forget to do it occasionally or have little time because my children are driving me crazy and/or there is something awesome on TV.

For serials, these things have been bothering me and I feel like these goats… [Yes, more goats!]

Snapper by Brian Kimberling

9780755396207Despite the appearance of a novel, Snapper reads more like a collection of short stories all with a similar theme. In this case, Nathan who studies birds and lives in Indiana. Each story contains Nathan who seems like a representation of Brian Kimberling. We see a writer who has created a character in order to explore his own feelings and thoughts about his home. Nathan is unsure and distant about his home state of Indiana and through several tales about many different topics he explores the concept of home and love.

Our narrator, Nathan, is a rather complex man who is in love with the birds of Indiana and a woman who epitomises the freedom of our feathered friends. He is perhaps only complex due to the scattered way in which his story is told. Because of the structure of the ‘novel’ we see lots of moments from Nathan’s life, but each one is rather surreal and almost farcical. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it does make for a more confusing read than if it was more formally arranged.

The topics range from exploring the wilderness for birds to boat trips into lakes and capturing snapping turtles, from the trials of marriage to the trials of drug taking roomates. There are bird facts to be learned and anecdotes to be enjoyed but it lacks cohesion. While Kimberling’s stories are funny, witty and sweet and his writing is smart and solid, there always felt as if there was something missing. It’s an entertaining book, it’s intelligent and I laughed out loud many times but it didn’t steal my heart. I didn’t put it down thinking that I would recommend it to everyone I meet (unlike the rest of the Tinder Press titles I’ve read so far).

The first half of the book is very strong and grabs the reader with a grip that makes you want to read everything about this man and his life. The initial stories are pleasant and entertaining – they hold that small town America charm that I personally love. The second half suffers a little from pushing the farce and humour a little far. The cast that surrounds Nathan becomes rather unlikeable and the stories wander a little too aimlessly.

Having said that, I enjoyed Snapper, but it’s one of those books where I find it hard to nail down my feelings. It is hilarious in places, Nathan is a great central character and most of the plots are absurdly terrific. There are far more educated people out there who can say it better than I, but this blogger just can’t put his finger on why the book didn’t capture my mind, despite containing many of the elements I love in my fiction.

Published by Tinder Press. This book was kindly sent for review by the publisher.

3star

The Crane Wife by Patrick Ness

9780857868718Bestselling and award winning writer Patrick Ness is probably best known for his YA writing and his ability to make me cry. While The Crane Wife takes him to different extremes, bizarrely this new novel actually holds a few similarities with his other writings. This predominately appears within the folklore feeling that abounds this story and transforms what would usually be a contemporary piece of fiction into a fairy-tale. This is magical realism at its height. Man helps Crane recover in his garden, Crane magically becomes the centre of his world as a beautiful woman. It is a story that imaginations were created for.

Ness is retelling a folk tale and placing it in the modern world. One night, George is woken in the middle of the night by an odd and misplaced sound. Upon venturing into his garden he discovers a beautifully perfect white crane that has seemingly plunged to earth after an injury. Once George helps the crane, his life will never be the same again. Kimiko walks into George’s shop and from that moment the novel becomes a surreal dreamscape that contains humour, passion and ethereal themes.

Kimiko becomes a centre point in which the plot, characters and metaphor revolves around. She is a puzzle to be unravelled within the journey from first page to last and while she appeals in many aspects, at times the vagueness of her personality can grate. In fact, the same can be said for the entire book. Ness’ writing twists and turns with grace and pirouettes through glorious prose, however there are aspects to the plot where the surreal becomes a little too much. This is mostly towards the close of the book as all the intricacies of Patrick’s ideas come to a head.

It’s an enigmatic novel that captures the heart despite the small flaws in the construction. While I floundered a little towards the tail end I still found myself utterly enamoured by the flow of the writing and the prose chosen by a talented wordsmith. The reader falls for Ness’ abilities in the same way the cast falls for Kimiko, it becomes passion between reader and writer – Between ordinary and magical.

Published by Canongate. This book was kindly sent for review by the publisher.

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