RAOC War Memorial at Deepcut

RAOC War Memorial at Deepcut
RAOC War Memorial at Deepcut

Tuesday, 20 October 2009


Don't be silly; a blog could not possibly do justice to this masterpiece. You'll be blogging Shakespeare next, and any way how come you haven't read it before?
You see it in Felix Holt, but here it is more subtle: the way the plot doesn't work in a linear fashion, but rather is a web of influences and linkages. It would probably be true to say that this book couldn't be written now since editors would stamp hard on the authorial comments. Yet they, with the thoughts of so many of the characters, serve to offer a deep insight into 19th century rural life. I want to tell my lecturer in rural history that this is a first class primary source. It has everything: reaction to the Reform Act, agricultural reform, absent clergy and the absolute domination of money

The Handmaid's Tale

I doubt that there is a book which draws so much sympathy from its readers. The story is devastating, but that is only part of what Margaret Atwood does. The heart of the genius of the book is not a real fear that what she describes could happen, rather an uncomfortable acknowledgement that it is a metaphor for the oppression that does happen in so many different guises.
At a slightly different level it is one of those books which reminds a would be writer just why they sweat blood. The enterprise is worth every drop if there is a possibility of getting anywhere near this quality of writing.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Trumpet by Jackie Kay

If someone dies and those around discover a secret which the deceased had kept closely hidden all their life, how best to tell the tale?
Jackie Kay offers each of those concerned their own voice. The deceased's spouse knew, well she couldn't not. But the deceased's son, the mother, the best friend? What of them? Kay throws in an investigative journalist for good measure and shows how the propect of payment loosnes or tightens tonges. It is tour de forece in point of view.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Notes on a Scandal - conclusion

Who is the protagonist?

The story is about Sheba, the account of her downfall; this is how it seems, but then doubts begin to creep in. The narrator, Barbara, is, like any narrator, in control of how the story is heard. Slowly, almost imperceptibly, we begin to see her hand digging deeper than the narrative into the story itself, then deeper than the story into being the trigger for events (taking the three tiers expounded by Bal amongst others). The is much more than an unreliable narrator; this is a narrator who is affecting the characters so much so that Sheba, who began by ignoring Barabara, ends under her power.

There is perhaps an echo from Hotel de Dream where Emma Tennant paints a picture of an author finding her characters in open rebellion.

Monday, 29 June 2009

Notes on a Scandal

This is a beautiful book, but as an exercise in point of view it is a masterpiece.

There is a first person narrator, but one who has such a strong agenda. You just know that each of her observations is going to be coloured.

I do believe that, at last, I can see the narrative as distinct from the story, and oh how it adds to the pleasure.

Sunday, 14 June 2009

First person pov

I have been sifting through, trying to find a first person voice for Icarus.

John Banville writes The Sea as first person, but as a recollection of something that happened some time before. He is in the present and recalls the past and move from present to past tense accordingly.

Graham Swift writes The Light of Day in first person present tense, but again slips into past tense for recollections.

Engleby is first person past tense, but then this makes sense when at the end the first person narrator explains that the account is his diary. Sebastian Faulks cleverly keeps this secret so that the account feels more like the action as it happens.

In Moon Tiger, Penelope Lively moves between first person present tense and third person past tense as she switches between the narrative of the story teller and flash back.

Graham Green, in The Quiet American, has his narrator write about his friend Pyle in the first person past tense. You don't get any real sense of it being an account of something that happened previously; there is no nagging imperative to imagine just where and when the narrator is recounting his tale.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

John Grisham, The King of Torts

I was advised to read a John Grisham thriller to gain a sense of the tension needed in The Icarus Bond.

I am half way through. Grisham is sticking close to Campbell's twelve parts and it works. There are places where, without pace, the reader might pause too long and dig up little flaws with some of the detail of the plot, but Grisham keeps you at it.

I miss the more fully fleshed characters of Richard Yates, but it is quite relaxing to have a more staightforward plot to read.

Sunday, 26 April 2009

So many ways to begin - Jon McGregor

First fulsome praise for independent bookshops, the Falmouth Bookseller in particular. I wanted to read books which set the world of work alongside domestic life. They had recommended Revolutionary Road and I loved that (see earlier blog). They also recommended this. It has a little less of the work place that is relevant to me but so much more.
The style to begin with put me off. I couldn't cope with dialogue and no speech marks. But slowly I got used to it and began to wonder why in reported speech we use speech marks at all.
The story follows the rhythm of a man looking through those things he has collected through life. With each object or paper there is a memory. The memories slowly fill in what for me was a jigsaw. As with jigsaws I found myself guessing what the missing pieces might be. Slowly McGregor yields them up and the picture becomes clearer.
His style is gentle as is his treatment of his characters. The feeling is of an author who genuinely cares for his creation.
In a way it is reminiscent of Penelope Lively's The Photograph.
Jon McGregor has written another work of great quality.

Monday, 6 April 2009

The Time Traveler's Wife

After so many people told me how good this was, I had to read it. And now I have to admit that it is not for me. I have made it one third of the way and can see it is clever, but there is nothing grabbing me. Knowing me, I will press on a little further.

If any blog followers can tell me what they found in it, I would be truly grateful.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Revolutionary Road - the conclusion

For me the best aspect of this book is the astonishingly realistic dialogue. Richard Yates obviously listens alot. But it is more than that, since he embeds the thoughts of the characters and allows them to use words in their heads which they dare not use out loud.

An intriguing character is John, a resident in a mental institution, who tells it as it is. He is the character, the only character who tells what he sees. He is the child, but with the maturity of the adult.

The dialogue tends not to be short and sharp, rather Yates gives the characters room for extended and involved conversation.

Great book

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Revolutionary Road

I was guided towards this book as one which dealt with the world of work, which is relevant to the novel I am writing. It is remarkable.

It has the most authentic marital row I have ever read (page 40 of the Vintage edition).

It offers a wonderfully realistic picture of reading to young children (page 56)

Revolutionary Road gives a great sense of the feel of a 1960's office. The sense of annoyance with a young mistress, I suspect, must surely ring bells for any who have walked that path.

It is written at a good pace but with no strong plot; it is very much a book about the interaction of characters. Tennessee Williams said about the book, 'this is more than fine writing; here is what makes a book come immediately, intensly and brilliantly alive...a masterpeice'.

He's not wrong.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

The House of Sleep

Jonathan Coe's 1997 book is described by The Times as 'hilarious and devastating'. There are two very funny passages and the central plot, which never feels quite central is grim. The first funny bit is for us writers and is a delicious encounter between a commercial film director and a literary writer.

The story largely hangs on the symptoms displayed by people with sleep disorders and from time to time approaches farce. For me the heart of the book surrounds the relationships between a small group of students who were at university together and who later encounter each other (it is not a Peter's Friends!). This part is written sensitively and make the read worthwhile.

Thursday, 5 February 2009

How do you write children as children?

Patrick Gale knows and you can see it in his Notes of an Exhibition. He has the siblings Garfield and Morwenna visit their mother in mental hospital where she has given birth to the new baby Hedley. The way they are shown to react has such an authentic feel to it. We are told when writing for children to write to their height. Gale knows exactly what that height is. We can say that his book is not strongly plot driven but the characters and their interaction is utterly compelling.


Monday, 26 January 2009

Shakespeare - AL Rowse and cutting edge language

The first biography of Shakespeare written by an historian.

The significance of this shines from the very first page as the reader is lead into the detail of life in Stratford. Rowse serves up the evidence he has unearthed of the financial and other dealings of the Shakespeare family and their circle. It has a flavour of archeology as the facts are presented and the reader is invited to help find into which sort of pattern they might fit.


The most exciting observation I have read so far is about the newness of language. We read Shakespeare and the King James Bible and weary sometimes at their antiquity. Wrong, wrong, wrong. These books were cutting edge of the new English language, quite possibly shocking but definitely the sort of thing bright young men and women would get very excited about.

This is the swinging sixties of the sixteen century

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Notes on an exhibition -the author's perspective

Patrick Gale came to talk to us at the Professional Writing Course at University College Falmouth and was particularly helpful about the process of writing. He passed round the manuscript of his latest novel which showed the hand writing with which he starts and the manuscript alterations which follow. Then came the first typed draft, again with subsequent manuscript amendments. It is a process which demands discipline.

I have already begun to use the leather covered note book my wife, Maggie, gave me for Christmas! It brings to writing a sense that it is special but combined with the fact that it will alter, not least in the process of putting it onto computer.

Patrick spoke of how he wrote Notes on an Exhibition. I had already observed the way point of view moves and I asked him about this. He explained that he had written the book as really a series of short stories all around the heroine Rachel, and he had then placed them in some sort of order. It shines out that the story holds together through the relationship of the characters rather than through any clear thread of plot.

It is refreshing and inspiring .

Sunday, 4 January 2009

1599 A year in the life of William Shakespeare

My purpose in reading James Shapiro's superb work is to feel the world in which Chrispin Kyd lived. Chrispin is the hero of my teen fiction set in Elizabethan England. The initial idea was a trilogy with the first around Walsingham and spies. I am now attracted by the interpretation of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar and its implications for a bright grammar school boy. The key for me is to assess the degree to which such a boy might sense what is abroad politically.

Saturday, 3 January 2009

Notes on an exhibition - another change of pov

Having spent time with Antony, Patrick Gale passes us on to his son Garfield, or rather not his son; Garfield being the child of the Professor whose brush off may have resulted in Rachel's first suicide attempt. The affect is fascinating. It is like looking through a prism, almost the same view but from different perspectives. The strong Quaker theme is encouraging for someone who wants to include a spiritual element in his writing. There are small hints of Joanna Trollope or even Mary Wesley

Thursday, 1 January 2009

Notes from an exhibition - Patrick Gale

The teen novel is still in process but the hunger for something more substantial took hold. Patrick Gale is a writer in the ascendency. His book begins slowly. We are allowed to spend time with artist Rachel as she wakes and prepares to paint. It is a pleasant pace, with short moments when the motion quickens. I note the contrast with my own first draft of my first chapter where there is too little time for contemplation - this will be addressed.
Back to Notes from an Exhibition, the second chapter moves the pov from Rachel to her husband Anthony and a good number of years earlier at Oxford. The first point of note is ther similarity with the early part of Engleby but the second is the more technical question of the stance of the narrator. H. Porter Abbott in The Cambridge Introduction to Narrative explores the distance of the narrator from the characters (2002:67) and I sense that Gale is closer to Anthony than he was to Rachel. This may well change, but I note it as work in progress at page 18 of the 2008 Harper papaerback..