Friday, 28 November 2008

Voicing concern

I read an article a few months back about the potential disappointment inherent in going to see a favourite author read from his or her own work.

This really depends on the author. As any regular reader of this blog will know, Aliya is splurging forth podcasts like there's no tomorrow. And a good thing too. When I first heard her read, her tone matches that of her work, so everyone's a winner.

Historical novelist Gregory Norminton is by happy coincidence a trained actor. A few years back at the launch of Book of Voices we had three authors doing a reading in the middle of a RFH exhibition (with visitors unrelated to the launch milling about and making noise), but the promised microphones didn't materialise. The two authors up after Mr Norminton visibly struggled with the reading, but Gregory, who was up first, waltzed it. And of course his booming Shakespearean delivery perfectly matched his Elizabethan-set story. It was a lot for the other two to live up to in all honesty.

My own voice doesn't quite match up to the inner monologue of my 'reading voice' for my own work, although I'm happy to read aloud work by other people. I suppose I'm not so bothered about wrecking their work with my sound, as listeners will know it's not the sound of the author. Story-telling, rather than story-reading, is easier said than done with some types of fiction, and I guess that's part of it.

I guess a similar point can be made about author photos, which other than a marketing tool, serve little purpose--like the voice--but to have a reader pre-judge the work.

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Veggie Books: The House at Midnight

Lucie Whitehouse's The House at Midnight is an atmospheric read, but it does come with a few problems. However, it does have vegetables in it.

There was asparagus soup to start, then a huge joint of glistening beef that Lucas carved into slices so fine they were almost translucent. There were bowls full of roast potatoes, green beans, calabrese, parsnips, carrots. Horseradish circulated in a tiny silver cauldron with a blue-glass inside.

Yummy, huh?

It's pretty atmospheric stuff (old university friends, one inherits a house, mystery behind the house, relationships go pete tong, all gets a bit shotguntastic by the end) but I didn't take to it. I think the problem is the narrator. She's really unsympathetic to my mind, because she's so passive. She falls into a relationship because the bloke makes a move. Then another bloke makes a move and she snogs him. First bloke dumps her because he finds out, and then she waits for second bloke to contact her in order to start a relationship with him. First bloke takes pills so she starts hanging out with him again, even though that loses her a job she's meant to love. Where's the chutzpah? Where's the chasing after what you want? I wanted to kick her arse until she got up off the sofa and made some decisions for herself.

But this is my problem. I have a different definition of sympathetic. I find characters sympathetic when they move, and act, and have personality. That doesn't always have to be a nice personality.

I realise I'm alone in this.

What, to your mind, makes a character sympathetic? It can't just be moral goodness, can it? How boring.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

What's not to like?

Alis and David have both written recently about the things they find most difficult about writing. I am completely flabbergasted by Alis' issue with openings, and side with David slightly on the middles, but my biggest hurdle is most definitely research. If it was just one particular bit of information, then that's not a problem, but on the latest book I'm writing I need to know the ins and outs of Mexican gangs and drug trafficking (have a bit of knowledge on that already), European arms dealing circa 1999, the ins and outs of British local council operations and UK and international property law, healing time for a severed tongue wound, as well as the history of Sierra Leone, Liberia and Serbia during the Second World War. Oh and all about horses. Write what you know. Good advice. (To be fair, I know a little about most of these topics, but the local council politics is the thing I'm finding most daunting.)

So why not stick to SF, you cry? There's a whole other can of worms: heat- and solar-activated computers, artificial intelligence, nuns, cyber-gypsies and steampunks... It's the same problem wherever my pen takes me.

Monday, 24 November 2008

O Christmas tree, o Christmas tree

How lovely is the sponsorship of all your protective barriers by Ebay in mainline train stations around London.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Not gone, but forgotten

Things must be bad when I'm comparing myself to George W, huh? So why am I here?

Well it looks like Aliya has tempted me back by posting about reality tv shows. I can't leave a post about them sitting at the top of this blog.

So why the protracted absense? They seem to happen a lot with me, don't they.

The reasons are manifold, but include two main points:

1. Since having bubba, I changed my hours. My rather long commute into London now involves me not being able to sit down, which is the time I used to reserve for writing the odd blog post, amongst many other things.
2. Work. I've been working on a bit annual project that recently finished, in addition to which there's been an awful lot of normal work on.

I promise to make more effort in future. Sorry.

Friday, 14 November 2008

Veggie Books: Death of a Murderer

I've said this before, but Rupert Thomson is the writer I want to be. He tackles all the themes that I'm preoccupied with, and does it better. How annoying that he's out there, existing, scribbling away, making me obsolete. Still, I can't begrudge the man his novels. They are incredible.

Death of a Murderer is about the policemen who guards the body of Myra Hindley in the mortuary on the night before her burial.

Billy Tyler is not given to introspection, but that long dark night takes his mind in strange directions. At one point he remembers a trip to France with a friend who has all the money and some strange philosophical beliefs.

'What are we going to eat tonight?'

'I bought a couple of tomatoes,' said Raymond, 'and there's half a baguette left over from yesterday. That should do us.'

So that was supper.

Afterwards, Raymond declared himself quite full - 'replete' was the word he used - and Billy couldn't bring himself to disagree.

Over the next few days, as they journeyed south, Raymond subjected Billy to a series of lectures on food. It was his belief that food both dulled perception and extinguished desire.


How far can a person be influenced by another's beliefs? Will they willingly starve? Die, or kill?

Just think how good this book must be. I raved about it and it contains not one, but two, tomatoes.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Book cover designs for the modern era

Here are some contemporary book cover designs here. Fortunately they're not real. Unfortunately, they very well could be. I particularly like the Dostoevsky one.

"...not editing your work is akin to buying a new gown and turning up at the ball without make-up or brushing your hair." This quote is from Sam's latest A-z post. She's on E, on editing.

Not to go on about it too much, but this is such a good series of posts, and this is the best yet. Every writer, would-be writer and would-be book editor should read it.

Saturday, 1 November 2008

Recommendation nation

Stuff you wouldn't ordinarily come across recommendation thing:

A day late, but better tardy than never: A Halloween Story, by Interzone bod Peter Tennant. It's an amusing A Christmas Carol pastiche with lots of in-jokes for horror fans.

Requiem for the East, by Siberian author Andrei Makine. Makine pretended to be the translator rather than the author to sell his first novel in French. (He does the Nabokov/Beckett trick of writing in a language other than his mother tongue). Poetic and kinda heart-breaking. This book is the only one to have made me cry in public. I was on a train heading to work.

Fisher of Devils, by that rogue Steve Redwood. A perfect comic fantasy for those not of a Christian-fundamentalist mindset.

How about some music. Camden's Beatmolls were doing the Scissor Sisters thing with more verve, sparkle and dreaded hair long before the New Yorkers put the Bee Gees through the blender.

Can never recommend Monkey Boy enough, but only if you're of the garage rock persuasion.

And if your thing's more science-fiction new-wave surf punk, that can mean only one thing. It's time for the sadly disbanded Man or Astroman.