Monday, 29 September 2008

Veggie Books: The Weeping Women Hotel

I've always been the kind of person who abides by rules.

I get the shivers when I think I might be trespassing. On a trip to Salzburg, Hubby took a wrong turn and we ended up driving along the riverbank, much to the disgust of the locals, who gesticulated at us a lot until we had reversed very slowly back on to the main road. I crouched behind the dashboard and cried.

So I feel liberated by proxy when somebody breaks rules. I always cheer for the one who sticks two fingers up at authority, and I really enjoy the rare moment when they don't get punished for it.

Alexei Sayle books break the rules. Nothing expected happens, but the events feel right. The characters are never quite beyond two dimensions, but you end up really caring about them. And the writing never quite obeys all those made-up rules that other writers try so hard to follow.

The figs are a case in point.

The Weeping Women Hotel is the place where women go when there is nowhere left to go. They get on a train to anywhere, and when they get off, that is the hotel next door. Women stay for as long as they need, maybe forever. The book starts with the arrival of Harriet to the hotel, and her first breakfast. She says she doesn't want breakfast, but the receptionist tells her she does. Breakfast is the specialty of the place.

...First there was a row of brown ceramic jugs, elegantly hand-written labels before them on the stiff white-linened table describing the contents of each: there was orange, mango, melon, peach and pear juice, and all of them seemed on inspection to be freshly squeezed. Then there were the platters of cheeses, sliced ham, fresh figs. Further along were lidded dishes with a little paraffin flame burning beneath each: these were labelled 'bacon', 'sausages', 'scrambled eggs', 'wild field mushrooms' and 'today's special - huevos rancheros con chorizo'. There were piles of toast wrapped in thin creamy linen and freshly baked baguettes, pots of thick home-made jams, slabs of farmhouse butter.

This is obviously not your usual British hotel. But alongside the sense of threat there is the realisation that you really want to stay in a strange hotel that offers figs and other such delicacies for breakfast. You want to learn a martial arts that involves jumping out of the same tree every day. You want to take out membership to the Muscle Bitch gym at Pointless Park.

It's warm, and funny, and very weird. And figs for breakfast are the least of it.

Friday, 26 September 2008

Response times

Submission: Early February
Response: Late September

Professional magazine with staff.

That is all.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Veggie Books: I Am Legend

Garlic is one of the few bulbs that has an important role to play in horror literature.

Why? Because it repels vampires, which is really useful when you're stuck in a world full of them and not much else. So Robert Neville, the lone survivor of a horrible plague that has turned everyone else into a vampire, has got used to living surrounded by garlic. He reeks of it, but he cannot smell it any more. He has adapted to it, just as he has adapted to a world in which his opinion is the only one to matter. Therefore, who cares if he stinks, or if he kills vampires, or himself? He must satisfy his own moralistic sense, and not the readers'. Therefore, it's inevitable that we look at some of his behaviour from a distance, and find ourselves disagreeing with his choices by the end of the novel. He does not live in a normal world, but one that he endeavours to keep normal by exercising principles of science and fair play that no longer exist.

This is most obvious when he experiments with the garlic.

'He jiggled one of the pink leathery cloves in his right palm. For seven months now he'd strung them together into aromatic necklaces and hung them outside his house without the remotest idea why they chased the vampires away. It was time he learned why.

'He put the clove on the sink ledge. Leek, onion, shallot and chive. Would they all work as well as garlic? He'd really feel like a fool if they did, after searching miles around for garlic when onions were everywhere.'

Is it ridiculous to think onions might have the same effect? It makes me smile, as a reader, because I'm surrounded by the weight of horror literature on the subject. I don't know why garlic works; it just does. And an onion isn't going to cut the mustard. But Robert Neville has been cut free from such knowledge. He is a lone experimenter in a terrible world that makes no sense. A world in which there's going to be no room for garlic.

Here, the garlic represents the past, the familiar, all that must be looked at afresh. We smell the garlic, although he does not.

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Responding to Aliya responding to David

The time-travelling one with the cure for malaria

An SF novelette called Skipping Stones, due for serialised inclusion in Farrago's Wainscot. This is the story's third acceptance. One of the other publishers turnedaround the decision to publish and the second one folded. This story was co-written with Ekaterina Sedia.

The novel condensed into a short story which is actually rather good

A proper, literary short story this one, covering the lifetime of a couple and its family.

The science fiction gangster book with Aliya

Kind of the purpose of this blog, if someone publishes it. 'Under consideration' at the moment

The story with Aliya

This one is called Overturned and is split into three viewpoints: a girl's fantasy, a crime caper and a relationship breakdown

The other story with Aliya

Another story that was accepted, sat on for about two years and then the publisher decided not to release the book. This is in a kind of 2000ad post-apocalypse stylee

And uncompleted:

The Novel

I've actually been making some more headway on this recently. Who knows, might have it finished before dead o'clock

The Young Adult

I lost the manuscript. I need to re-write the whole thing.

The science fiction rock musical

Not as bad as We Will Rock You sounds. It has shades of Christopher Marlowe, Mary Shelley, Alice in Chains and Creedence Clearwater Revival

There is more, but that's all you're getting for now.

Sunday, 7 September 2008

Veggie Books: Bel Canto

There aren't many books out there that use a vegetable in a symbolic fashion, but if authors were keener to express the inner lives of their characters in veggie fashion then I think the onion might be the most popular option.

Onions are deep. Onions have layers. They can be spring, red or pickled. They have tough skins and inner hearts. They make you cry.

In Bel Canto, guests at a party given for a Japanese businessman are held hostage. At first, they think of nothing but their possible deaths. But, as Ann Patchett points out, it's difficult to keep up that level of worry for too long, so as the days pass the fear gives way to other emotions. The terrorists start to become people to the hostages, and vice versa. For the first time it's noticed that two of the terrorists are women. And issues such as food begin to become important.

Raw ingredients are shipped in to enable the hostages to cook, but the terrorist Generals will not allow them to use knives. So the two women terrorists are told to help with the preparation.

Thibault, the Frenchman in charge of the cooking by virtue of being French, asks Beatriz, one of the terrorists, to chop the onions. At one point while she chops he picks up another knife, forgetting that he is not meant to touch them. Beatriz immediately trains her gun on him.

"He isn't supposed to hold the knife," Beatriz said in Spanish. "The General told us that. Doesn't anybody listen?" She kept her gun aimed, her heavy eyebrows pointed down. Her eyes were starting to water from the fumes of the onions, and soon there were tears washing over her cheeks, which everyone misunderstood.


The hostages think she is crying for some other reason, an emotional reason, and so her control is lost and she has become human to them. It soon becomes obvious that she's not going to ever shoot one of them, and the lines between victim and aggressor are lost.

Onions have a lot to answer for, huh?

Great book.

Friday, 5 September 2008

Real writers do it longhand

Aliya and I have several things in common, including brown hair and eyes (the irises, not the whites, obviously), fairly average heights for our respective genders, both being parents of young daughters and the fact we're at odds with the world due to our sinistral persuasions. Perhaps most importantly, we both write long hand. Only difference is, Aliya has a nice auntie who sends her notebooks every Christmas.

I spent much of this week traipsing the West End looking for a conveniently-sized writing book of modest quality and feel, with well-spaced lines. Not much to ask? My last nice writing book was a present, and once you've tasted quality, it's hard to go back to spiral bound office notebooks.

Stationers were useless, as was the internet. John Lewis, Waterstones and House of Fraser were all extremely disappointing. In the end I got a nice Moleskin pad from Selfridges. There was a scarily priced concession for a company called something like Allins of London. I picked up an awkwardly shelved navy blue number there without a price tag visible. It was £89. And the Moleskin I ended up with (just over sixteen quid) is a nicer colour with better-spaced lines.

If anyone can recommend somewhere other than Selfridges for future buys, I'm all ears. And no, PC World doesn't cut it. Not even if there's a soulless Staples next door.