Thursday, 28 November 2019

Fairy Rock - Stephen Watt BLOG TOUR

When an invitation to participate in a blog tour for a crime novel in verse popped up in my inbox it was a challenge I simply couldn’t resist. Something innovative and different. Using verse to tell a story isn’t a new idea of course. But it does seem to be the domain of the more classic poets, one thinks of Coleridge, Browning and Longfellow to name but a few. Modern poetry hasn’t seemed to embrace the style as much. So it was a joy to receive this deceptively slender volume.

Okay, I hear you say, a novel in verse? That’s a contradiction in terms, surely? It suggests length and narrative and prose. Maybe. Who cares! When it comes down to it let’s not get too picky over genres and descriptors,and devices and styles, let’s enjoy and celebrate creativity and innovation.

Before getting to the meat of the text and the story it was interesting to consider how the telling of a crime story might lend itself to poetry. Poetry immediately suggests a textured language which can, but not always, be found in prose. It also suggests the rhythm of language, poetic linguistics inviting interpretation,and devices such as simile and metaphor which, of course, can be found in prose but the medium of poetry encourages such richness of language. For example;-

‘Car headlights cruised past,
beaming their lecherous eyes
down her knee-high boots,
the bronzed, palm-size, caramel-silk of her thighs.’

Yet a crime story suggests tight plotting and accurate research which somehow doesn't conform to initial thoughts of poets and verse.

So how does one go about reviewing a work such as this?  With a prose novel you look at aspects of character and structure etc., but will that work with poetry? Only one way to approach it as far as I’m concerned! Like for like! First for my blog. A review in verse! Here goes!

Tartan terror taunts,
Tortures the innocent reader
Like a symphony in stone.

Four from Glasgow, disparate, 
surviving this city with no crowns of thorns,
Knowing not what they’re doing,
Balancing on the tightrope of legality,

Hunched, bunched, scrunched
Mafia, raffia deals the blows
with geological grenades.

Vampire vamp
Ramps up the body count. 

Police place in the grasslands of floristry
a snitch witch, but
which way does the wind blow? 
Costello and Atkinson
Comedy duo or firm of solicitors? 
DS DI know?

A tale told with words a plenty
And poetry pictures to colour your mind.
Evocative images painting a scene to
Pillage the prose of conventional crime.

Pick up this book
And give it a look
Don't let it faze you.
Let it amaze you.

True to its roots
The words in cahoots
With a savagery of imagery
this poet doth suit.

Poetic diction 
not found in fiction.
You could do worse 
than read this verse!

My thanks to Kelly at LoveBooksTours for this fantastic opportunity. 
Please check out what other bloggers have to say about Fairy Rock. 

Wednesday, 27 November 2019

Leonard and Hungry Paul - Rónán Hession

This is a book about ordinary people. To be read by ordinary people. But it may well have an extraordinary effect on you. I experienced a similar mood and emotion when I read Rachel Elliott’s Don’t Feed the Bear. Quirky without being outlandish. There’s a frank simplicity about this book that astounds because it dares to be simple. Expect no explosive action and deeply flawed characters. Fiction can take us out of ourselves to explore worlds and scenarios that we could never dream of inhabiting but it can also reassure us that images of ourselves can reside within the pages of a story to entertain and inform.

Leonard and Hungry Paul, (the precise nature of his hunger is never divulged but left to the reader to interpret), are two men in their thirties both living in their respective parental homes. Their lives are unexceptional. Their friendship is solid, cemented by the playing of board games and the exchange of ideas and opinions. They don’t seem to waste time disagreeing. They are gentle, honest people with an abundance of kindness. My feeling was that both existed somewhere on the spectrum and displayed aspects of those associated behaviours. 

It’s a story of family and how the members of a family interact, coexist, nurture and support each other and, most importantly are also open with each other. These characters are considerate people who go quietly about their lives without making a song and dance about everything they do. None of them are attention seekers. This book details aspects of everyday events that might not always appear in the chapters of a novel for fear they are deemed simply too ordinary. But that’s part of the charm of this story. That’s not to say that everything is commonplace, I mean, a National Mime Association doesn’t crop up in every town does it? Or have I led too sheltered a life? ;-) 

It’s a beautifully observed, yet understated story. Uplifting in a quiet, sustained way. Whilst it does examine aspects of loneliness its two main characters exist and behave with such enviable grace and integrity that you wish you could be them. There is a subtle wit and humour running throughout the book that highlights some of society’s anomalies without seeking to ridicule. It’s a story of observations and analogies. 

‘He saw society as a sort of chemistry set, full of potentially explosive ingredients which, if handled correctly could be fascinating and educational, but which was otherwise best kept out of reach of those who did not know what they were doing.

In fact, he discovered that he was less critical of people when he allowed them in. People, it turns out, weren’t so bad. At least that was true of some people. And maybe that was the trick: to find the right people; to be able to recognise them and to know how to appreciate them when you do find them.’

There are elements of poignancy in this novel but rarely is the reader encouraged to feel sorry for any of the characters. There is a sense of optimism in the book. Nobody is unpleasant to anyone else. There is maybe one lesser character who tries but his attempts are unsuccessful because no one responds to him. It’s wonderful to have a story that gives credence to the quiet, introverted ones. People behaving decently to each other. People behaving with respect for others. It celebrates those people who feel a little out of sync with the digital/techno/consumerist/materialist/self-aggrandising world offering them a story where they are effectively reading about themselves. They are the heroes. We are the heroes.

Tuesday, 26 November 2019

She - A Fragment

She could admit it now, as an adult, but she had been afraid of her mother at times when she was tiny. Those fierce framed spectacles that seemed to emphasise the latent discontent behind the eyes. Her mum was quick to anger and was unable to deflect the vent of it from those around her. Thus some third party could be the source of the fury but those close would be the ones to suffer. Mostly it was verbal invective and a tone of voice, there was little physical manifestation. But it hurt and it ran deep. There is so much a child cannot understand. Especially of the adults around them. The concept of Mother and Father as some distant species separate from any other creates a false understanding. It is only when the child becomes the adult, and maybe parent themselves, that the full import of the parent/child relationship becomes apparent.

Sometimes it was the fragment of a tune from long ago, a certain fragrance, a familiar flower that triggered what Hattie always called her ‘mummemory’. And invariably she cried. She didn’t want to. After ten years she felt there was something a little lacking in her that the tears arrived so readily. And she just knew her Mum would be furious with her.  But there it was. Grief. Like so many life hurdles it didn’t come with a book of instructions. She pondered it often. The nature of this powerful emotion that competed with love for dominance. The seeds of grief; guilt, anger, despair, regret, futility, failure and a longing that knew no end hid around every corner of her life and sprang into germinating action with sly cunning. It wasn’t that she was permanently sad or unhappy, no. It was the unexpectedness of the triggers that reinforced to her that she remained in grief grip.

From the little girl who was frightened of her mother it was sometimes hard to fathom the infinite depth of love she came to possess as an adult. It was a snowball love in one sense. As Hattie came to know her mother as a person and listen to her, not from the maternal mantle but rather that of a friend, the love grew until, at the end it was an explosion, a piñata, throwing out the rewards of loving someone unconditionally. 

What astounded her and was heartbreaking was the realisation that her mother’s sense of self, her awareness of her shortcomings had confounded her for most of her life. In one explosive outburst her mother averred that she had been ,’A bad daughter, a bad sister, a bad wife and a bad mother.” To be a prisoner of your own personality was a confinement without parole. Hattie tried to reassure but she knew her words hung empty. Her sister sometimes called these confessions and the analysis they provoked psychobabble but for Hattie they were all clues to the tormented psyche of an unfulfilled person consumed with regret for their own self and those around them. Hattie’s Mum didn’t understand why Hattie, and for that matter, her siblings, could bear to be near her. She didn’t understand how they could continue to love her.

Maybe if Hattie could have been more objective she might have asked herself the same question but she didn’t. She accepted the possibility that this love, this acceptance of  someone, warts and all, derived from an intrinsic bond that began potentially from the moment of conception? Tied up with it all too, was the recognition that she had so much in common with her mum and that facilitated her understanding. However Hattie was not in possession of the anger and she wondered if it was a direct response to her mother’s anger that any germ of such a trait was subdued because of the fear it had engendered within her a child. Was that even possible? 

Her mother’s self awareness touched Hattie deep inside. Things her mother said stayed with her and continued to affect her. After the death of her father, Hattie’s Mum had said, I wish I’d been kinder to him. I wish I hadn’t been so unkind,’ . That had Hattie in bits on so many levels. Then followed further revelations of how in marrying she realised soon after that she had made a dreadful mistake. She alluded to her poor temper assigning its cause to the fact that she was so unhappy. And Hattie overflowed with sadness that her mother had been so unhappy for so many years and she didn’t know it. But even knowing there was nothing she could have done. She loved her father too and the desperate sorrow she felt for him and the semi life he must have lived was another vein of sadness inside her. The twin beds and then separate rooms had begun to make sense when she was younger but the full import struck her forcibly as an adult. 

And all the time she spent as a child; baby, toddler, a minor, a teenager, a student, she was ignorant, or blind to the turmoils and dramas that were her parents and their lives. Over forty years they remained married. Lived together, did things together. But was there love? Was there even friendship? She never got to speak to her Dad fully about such matters so she was only in receipt of her mothers side. But when she was clearing the house after her mother’s death she came upon a packet of letters tied together with a red ribbon. They were an exchange between her parents when her Dad had been sent to work overseas for several months. It was after three or four years of marriage. They were
on thin, blue air mail paper and the writing was hard to decipher where the years had worked on them. The ink had bled into the paper like tattoos on the skin. But on face value they were love letters, candid, uncensored, full of extravagant emotion, mostly on her father’s part.  Hattie’s sister questioned whether they should be reading such an intimate, private correspondence. But the question they posed for Hattie would remain unanswered. Did they love each other? 

Monday, 25 November 2019

All the Wrong Places - Joy Fielding

Having thoroughly enjoyed She’s Not There by Joy Fielding I was delighted to receive her latest novel from Readers First. If a missing child was at the heart of She’s Not There then missing girls are at the heart of this taut and quite chilling pyschological thriller. 

As sub text the remit of including older female characters and rendering them both crucial to the storyline and characters of some substance is satisfied. Paige’s mum, Joan, leaps off the page at you. And if you are of mature years there is much to relate to. What I particularly enjoyed was the dynamic between her and Paige, (our sort of heroine), that ably demonstrated the balance required  between being a mum and being your own person too. 

However that is not the main thrust of the book. The story looks at the perils of internet dating sites and the risks you take when meeting up with strangers. It also looks at relationships and fidelity. I hope that isn’t one spoiler too many. Apologies if it is. 

The cast of characters fall very much into two camps, the goodies and the baddies. The baddies are odious which is necessary because of what happens ultimately in the story and that I won’t give away except to say that I found the implications of what happens to one character really nasty. But I did see it coming. It didn’t dilute my feelings though and the conclusion is open ended which leaves the reader with that ‘looking over your shoulder’ feeling. 

I guess it’s almost a fusion of chick lit meets psycho thriller but it never teeters over into one camp more than another. In fact I’ll qualify that by saying that the psycho thriller part does dominate.   

The story is set in Boston which I’ve had the pleasure of visiting a few times even though I’m a Brit so many of the locations were familiar to me - Newbury Street and the Paul Revere House for example. As a reader I do enjoy that. It gives a story a subtle, subconscious almost, elevation.

Joy Fielding is an experienced writer who seems to know how to entertain readers even if that means making them uneasy! The narrative flows and rarely loses momentum so you want to keep reading and reading to find out if, and how, and why and when and a myriad of other questions.

But it isn’t a feel good book, even though the main characters emerge with various redemptions and there are some attempts at lighter moments I think you are left feeling vaguely disturbed. But, my dear reader, that is the diversity of fiction for you! And we wouldn’t have it any other way!

Sunday, 24 November 2019

Book Blogging, Social Media and Me

I’m old enough to remember what I was doing when John F. Kennedy got shot. I remember pre decimal coinage - threepenny bits and sixpences. I  remember Green Shield Stamps. I remember Dixon of Dock Green and I definitely remember that time when we had no internet or mobile phones. And I know that I rub shoulders with a generation who were born into this broadband, wifi, digital age and know no different. But I’m no technophobe.I was using a Sinclair ZX 81 back in the day!  I have my reservations about the integrity of some platforms and practices and I think cyber crime is a huge threat. And I think social media is a mixed blessing. In the earlier days of the Internet there was no social media. Unless you count ICQ? Anyone remember that, back in the nineties? The first social media site I remember in 2000 was Friendster. It predated Facebook. I never had a good feeling about Facebook. I never had a good instinct about Mark Zuckerberg. I mean the first use of Facebook to compare pictures of women and decide the most attractive is an abomination. I wouldn’t want to be associated in any way with such a platform. But it puts me in a definite minority. And has it harmed my status as a blogger and ‘influencer’ (not sure I like that term)?

 I do not have a huge reach on social media. I don’t know why. Perhaps it is because I am not good at self promotion. It doesn’t come easily to me and to be honest i find it embarrassing. Not enough self belief maybe. So my follower count is pretty low on both Twitter and Instagram. I don’t do Facebook - as you know ;-). And, sadly, your reach seems to determine how good a blogger you are perceived to be regardless of your reviewing ability. But I also think that levels of interaction also play a part and that is something that mystifies me. Am I good reviewer but a bad blogger? Or I am simply not good enough on social media to be considered a good blogger let alone a decent reviewer? 

I am constantly amazed by the output of so many people on social media. People who have full time jobs, and families and yet they seem to post extensively and articulately on an almost daily basis. The quality of some Instagram photos is stunning. The effort that goes into them is almost mind boggling. And they comment and interact copiously too. I don’t know how they do it.  My efforts at photographs are of low quality. And I haven't the faintest idea how you do a story on Instagram. I tried once and something happened which I didn't want to happen and it's put me off forever! I try, I really do but I scroll through maybe a dozen photos on Instagram, I’m trying to read everything and even trying to comment but then I start to lose interest. The damned adverts drive me to distraction.  I look at the time and realise there are too many other things needing to be done. Same on Twitter. So much stuff to read and I’m not following that many people! How do folk following thousands of people keep up with them all?   

And the interaction. Again I try to interact when it seems relevant. But there seems to be
cluster cliques of bloggers who all solidly support one another. I confess I feel quite envious sometimes. They seem to know each other and meet up too. I’ve never been able to break into any of these cliques. Is that because I’m not a good enough blogger or influencer and do not garner respect from my blogging colleagues or is it because I am no good on social media? Social media seems all about having a potent and visible presence. I have sporadic and quite heartwarming interaction with some people but I always feel I’m on the periphery of it all. If one of my tweets gets a half dozen likes then that’s tantamount to it going viral for me!

But does it matter? As far reach goes it is a disadvantage for a book blogger because there are publishers who won’t consider adding you to their blogger lists unless you have a minimum 1K followers! That leaves me out for the foreseeable future! I’ve not even hit 300 followers on Twitter yet!!  I’m reminding myself of an earlier post this year where I was stressing about my decline as a blogger. I came to terms with that and found a kind of peace because I am happy with what I’m doing. It all comes from my heart. I suppose I’m just mystified at how it all works. Sometimes social media reminds me of a school playground. Kids coming out to play in their groups. Some won’t play at all. Others wander round the outside making an occasional foray in, to be half welcomed but not wholly accepted.  Others are repelled no matter what they do until they go complaining to the teacher. Other just try and spoil the games and make some of the kids fearful of playtime. Trolls they’re called. Like in the fairy story. 

Will the internet and social media end up being part of a fairy story? Once upon a time? Nothing is forever. Will it all implode one day without warning? How will we cope? Me? I’ll just carry on reading and scribbling as the screens go black one by one.

Saturday, 23 November 2019

Ring the Hill - Tom Cox

This is the third of Tom Cox’s books that I’ve pledged towards. Normally I’ve started to read them almost before I’ve taken the packaging off. But not this time. I decided I would restrain myself and savour the event. Make it last. For without a doubt a new Tom Cox book is an absolute joy.

Ring the Hill offers a return to Tom’s non fiction writing after his fiction foray with Help The Witch. ( I do hope he will explore fiction again.)  It seems such an effortless narrative, I’m sure it isn’t, but sometimes it’s like you’re having a chat with a mate who is sharing, with loquacious enthusiasm, something he’s found out and is overflowing to tell you. It’s very uplifting. It’s warm and it’s witty and it’s honest. The love and reverence for the natural world is the life blood of this book and Tom’s devotion is infectious. I wanted to go out and see some hares, I wanted to swim, I wanted to climb Glastonbury Tor. I wanted to sit in the sun with Roscoe and Ralph. I felt the chill and snow depression of the Derbyshire winter.I wanted to make sure Clinton was safe.  I wanted to live in The Magic House. And I wept all over again for the loss of The Bear and Shipley. 

And if all of the above pertain to a somewhat emotional response to the book rest assured that there is plenty of folklore and information to excite and satisfy the more cerebral of readers out there. Illustrated with Tom’s own photos and some beautiful contributions from his talented mum this is a nature book to entertain the curious. And would you just look at that cover?

And as always, and how I would be complaining were it not so, TOM’S DAD OFFERS US HIS IRREPRESSIBLE TAKE ON LIFE. With just a simple change of case Tom’s word portrait of his Dad is so vibrant you feel like you’d know Mr. Cox senior if you met him. 

Tom’s books are unique I think because in many ways they are genre defiant. They are never ‘just’ nature books,  or books about cats, neither are they ‘simply’ a memoir or autobiography. They are portals into one man’s original and positive take on life and the world we live in. We would do well to take Tom on as a role model and try to emulate. In this book Tom Cox shows us that life does not have to be complicated. Take a walk in the landscape around you and look at the beauty of all things natural. Chat with people you encounter on the way. They all have their stories to tell. Everyone can do this and be better for it. (Maybe not move house so many times though! ;) )

My thanks to Tom Cox for the writing of this book. Reader, I loved it and I'm a better person for reading it. 

Tuesday, 19 November 2019

17 Church Row - James Carol

If Mary Shelley subtitled her book ‘A Modern Prometheus’ then I guess this could be subtitled ‘A Modern Frankenstein’! Since the blurb gives little away I will not go down the spoiler path intentionally but it’s going to be tough trying to avoid some fundamental themes within the book without letting something slip.

I read this within a 24 hour period. It was tempting not to try for sleep but I did. ’Unputdownable’, ‘page turner’ are all epithets we offer freely and glibly sometimes when we’re talking about books. But sometimes it is so true you have the red eyes to prove it. This is one of those books where it IS true! Your heart will feel like it’s on a trampoline it ends up in your mouth so many times. And if you have an Alexa you might not by the end of the book. 

If you’re a devotee of psychological thrillers you might be reminded of J P Delaney’s The Girl Before but that’s possibly a thematic comparison rather than a plot comparison. The emotional dynamic of 17 Church Row is broader and more explosive.

It’s an ambitiously plotted novel that sends the reader up many a garden path as you, along with the hapless Rhodes, trust and believe, at face value, what you see before you. But delve a little deeper and the seeds of unease start to take their grip until they won’t let you go. 

Nikki and Ethan Rhodes have suffered the ultimate loss, their child, Grace. But Grace was twin to Bella, who hasn’t spoken since her sister’s death.  Needing to try and move forward the Rhodes relocate from a house full of memories to the titular Church Row house designed by a whizz kid architect, Catriona Fisher, that has an advanced home security system that reduces Alexa to a charity shop bargain. 

I will not divulge any more. It’s a clever book and doesn’t deserve to have that shattered by a clumsy reviewer revealing the salient points although, my goodness, I sympathise because I would like to shout out and show you all the clever bits! 

Interestingly I thought, for a male writer, the female characters were very well drawn and the fewer male characters seemed weaker. But the majority of your empathy is reserved for Nikki and Bella as you will both of them to cope with their respective traumas. 

The narrative hurtles along at a compulsive pace with a chronological narrative for the most part interspersed with some italicised chapters that deal with a past, and some clues if we did but know it!!

The conclusion is open ended and quite chilling. It’s not a book that leaves you with that snugly warm, satisfied feeling of all ends being tied up. You’ll be looking over your shoulder and viewing life with suspicion for a while after reading, I reckon!

You can enjoy this story for what it is, a darn good thriller, or you can seek to delve beneath and extract a deeper meaning perhaps that has something to say about our contemporary, digital, techno world and its potential future. Or you can do both ! Like me!

My thanks to Reader’s First for a copy. 

Monday, 18 November 2019

Wakenhyrst - Michelle Paver

I’ve wanted to read this for the longest time so when I saw it on the library shelf, a spanking brand new paperback, I grabbed it quick and I did a silly, happy dance which only narrowly avoided the library staff phoning for assistance!

I read Thin Air, some years ago now it seems, and was impressed with it. I was also extremely happy to find that a quote from my review was used on Redhammer’s website! Here’s a link to that review for those who might be interested,

Paver has a talent for the atmospheric and she displays this to remarkable effect in Wakenhyrst. The word ‘gothic’ seems bandied about nowadays but not all stories accredited with that moniker truly seem to embody those aspects that really make a story ‘gothic’. Paver does. This is gothically gothic ! It is consummate story telling with its themes of sorcery, mysticism and superstition. Witches and devils, gargoyles and murder, the reader is trapped within the spell of the story desperate to know, to discover what really happened between Maud Stearn and her father, Edmund Stearn. The chilling, brooding mood is sustained to the very last full stop.

In true story telling tradition a journalist seeks out Maud, in the mid nineteen sixties, and her story is divulged and forms the meat of the book. The reader is sent hurtling back to a pre WWI English village, Wakenhyrst where the Stearns live in their house, Wake’s End. The relationship and dynamic between Maud and her father is tense, taut, you get the feeling that it could snap at any moment. Maud is coldly trapped within her gender and her father is unable to see her as she truly is. He only sees the stereotype of women of that era, and someone who he can put to good use. I do not wish to offer any spoilers except that sometimes I feel like I’m the last person to get around to reading this, so would it really matter? Nope, I won’t be persuaded other than to say that Edmund Stearn is an archetypal gothic character almost, a manic, deluded, controlling obsessive. A monster?!

For me one of the main characters in the book is devoid of all human characteristics; it is the swirling, misty Fen that seems to envelop Wake’s End, the big house occupied by the Stearns. Coupled with a sense of ‘Fennish’ folklore and murmurings of starlings,  it was as if everything and everyone were trapped within a deep claustraphobic prison. 

There’s plenty of scary stuff to keep you up at night but I defy you to put the book down! It is a treat to read a book such as this. The experience is one with that indefinable sense of being treated to something so satisfying and complete, so substantial. If you haven’t read it,read it,if you have,why,read it again!

Sunday, 17 November 2019

The Flower Girls - Alice Clark-Platts

I won’t fib, I was totally up for another D.I. Erica Martin story when I heard that Alice Clark-Platts had written another novel. But conversely, being the contradictory little wotsit that I am, I also enjoy seeing a writer diversify. Yet Ms. Clark-Platts hasn’t strayed too far from her comfort zone with this mystery story that has a police and courtroom presence in it. The ‘cop’ this time is Lorna Hillier, astute, instinctive, tenacious and philosophical,

‘Hillier is certain that criminal impulses lurk unbidden in everyone. But it is only the people who act on those impulses that guilt can claim as its victims. The rest of us feel it but shake it off, thankful to God, or whatever it is that guides our moral compass, that we are able to control it.’

That not everyone can shake it off, certainly within the fertile imaginations of the crime novelist, is paradoxically a blessing for we wouldn’t have the stories we do if everyone behaved themselves!
The miscreants here seem to be sisters, Laurel and Rosie. When the novel begins one is behind bars, one isn’t. The greatest disservice I can do is offer any spoilers here because the novel pivots on the reader discovering, layer by layer, what happened then, and what is happening now. It did remind me of a case in the news over twenty five years ago but the author did reference that. It’s tight, taut and twisty. Dark, and possibly a little depressing, but it was never gonna be uplit now was it?! The characters are edgy, uneasy, you never quite get to trust any of them and then you start mistrusting yourself, your own instincts, for what really did happen with The Flower Girls? 

I often wonder, when you discover an author whose work you continue to enjoy, whether you subconsciously intuit their thought patterns and can see where the novel is headed? Certainly you have an affinity with their narrative style and characterisations but plots are nebulous things and vary greatly. I did surmise some of what was going on but I did not anticipate the final ‘Conclusion Blast’! It was a goody! And the poor reader is left open mouthed, possibly rereading because you can’t quite believe it and then as you process the implications you feel a cold chill travel down the length of your spine. Then you close the book. 

And in my case you return it to the library where someone else is desperately waiting to read it. 

Friday, 15 November 2019

Zero - a fragment

I wish I’d never fallen in love with Zero. The name means nothing to me now. It meant everything to me then but I should have taken heed. What’s in a name? Nothing and everything. But I was finding my way. Fresh out of college; away from the halls of residence and the refectories. Away from the privileged kids who didn’t receive grants because their daddies earned too much. No more tutorials and dissertations. No more lectures and seminars. No more set texts, I could read whatever I wanted to. And see, Zero, was kinda famous. He was a shit hot guitarist in a local band who always believed they were on the cusp of something big but they never were. They were never even on the cusp of something little, really, just locally famous. And I got a kick out of watching Zero, with his sunburst finish Les Paul, strutting across the various stages of all the dives and bars he and the band played in, strumming the blues and everyone watching like they couldn’t get enough. And I couldn’t get enough. 

Sunburst Finish by David Rain
Courtesy Flickr
Zero was smart but he was a bad ass at heart. His moral compass was questionable sometimes and he used people and cast them aside when he was done. I knew that after knowing him for a very short while. Not a criminal exactly but I remember the day he was in court for possession of amphetamine and I was scared, I mean really scared, that he was going to prison. He didn’t. He just turned up smiling with those goddamn cute little dimples he had that melted me whenever I saw him smile. One thing, though, my whole life I don’t think I ever talked with anyone the way I talked with Zero. We could sit up all night, just talking. Now I can’t hardly remember what we said but I do know that we both listened to  each other and I think he was one of the few people who really listened to me. He told me once that I was a real person, not like the others. and that made me feel real good. So I told him everything and he listened.

He liked to read. So did I. He liked to write. So did I. He kept a journal. So did I. He liked cats. So did I. And music? Well, we shared so much music. Music to dance to, music to sing to, music to fuck to, music to think to, music to listen to even. I can credit Zero with influencing my musical taste even now and some of my favourite books are those that he recommended, no, insist, I read. He just knew what I'd like instinctively.

But I think that being a local hero went to his head. It kinda goes with the territory that women of all ages were interested. Rock chicks. I was smart enough for him but not  pretty enough nor dangerous enough. I mean I smoked a little dope now and again but I  wasn’t into the whole speed thing which he loved. I liked that I wasn’t because it told me that I wasn’t just some infatuated groupie hanging on his every word. But plenty of women were. And he liked that.  

I tried to play it cool. I didn’t want to seem like I didn’t care but I figured the best way to lose him was to act all hurt and affronted. So I didn’t. He told me I was a star, a constellation!  I felt pleased. But star reminded me of the asterisks he put in his journal to show every time he screwed. I might be a a fucking constellation, but a constellation in a major galaxy it seemed. Then he wanted to borrow money. I guess it wasn’t much in the grand scheme of things but it was a lot as far as I was concerned. He wanted to cut a solo disc without the band. He had the songs. He had the musicians. And he had the backing singers. He just needed the backing. Yeah, I should have said no, but I didn’t. I gave him  the money. And you might be thinking that he never paid me back. But he did. With interest, But he wouldn’t let me sit in on the recording session. I was devastated. All my  encouragement and support for his music, and putting up the money, then this? And I  knew then that there was a fundamental change. Actually there were three fundamental changes; they were vocalists, all younger than me, all prettier than me. The oldest story in the book, huh?

So that was that. It dwindled as things do. And considering how much we talked when things were good it was ironic how little we spoke when things were bad. One of the last things he ever said to me was that I annoyed him and I got on his nerves. Ouch! Yet I don't think it was anything I did or said, it was that he no longer had a use for me. For him things had run their course. He was ready to move on. I could say I was heartbroken. And I was, but if I’m honest I knew deep down that it wasn’t a forever thing. He was never a forever person, it wasn’t his nature. I knew that. Maybe I wasn’t either. But it did affect my perception of relationships that has persisted to this day. Nothing is forever.

You might be wondering if he ever made it in the rock business? Was the record he cut a success? No, it wasn’t. But ironically one of the backing singers went on to become world famous. I won’t say her name because it wouldn’t be right. I went to see her perform once, she had a damn fine voice. And I felt kinda sorry for Zero that he didn’t make it because he was a damn fine guitarist. 

However I did meet up with him again many years later. He put a letter through my mum’s door. By then I had my own house and was fairly established professionally. He wasn’t to know that of course. In the letter he apologised for having hurt me which touched me because he showed no awareness of that at the time. The tone of the letter suggested something of a farewell. Alarm bells went off in my head because I knew his mother had committed suicide. And I didn't know if he had become fragile. I always felt  there was the potential. So I wrote straight back with my address and phone number. He called. Straight back. We talked on the phone  Hesitantly to begin with. But it didn't take long to realise he was the same old Zero. We agreed to meet for a drink. Actually we didn’t meet. He picked me up. In a beat up old Ford. Guess he wanted to see the house, how well I’d done for myself maybe.I was curious to see what time had done to him. It was dark in the car and I couldn't see him clearly. I didn't want to stare either. We didn't say much but it was like the hundreds of times we'd sat just like this in a car on the way to somewhere or maybe we were going nowhere. 

We went to the closest pub to my house. He parked up and we walked silently to the entrance. We sat across the table from each other. I got a clear look at him then. Age. I'd forgotten how much older he was than me. The difference didn't seem to matter when we were both younger. He admitted to needing spectacles some of the time. It was almost an apology!  Although he’d lost all his shock of unruly, curly blond hair the dimples were still there. As the alcohol dissolved and melted our time skins we fell almost into our old style of chatter, which felt good, and continued until the last orders bell sounded. There was an unspoken reluctance within both of us as we slowly made our way to the exit. He dropped me back at the house. There was no attempt at affection, not even a peck but I was okay with that. He drove off and out of my life. I never saw him again. And truthfully? I remember wondering what I had ever seen in him!  Zero. The name means Nothing to me. Should never have fallen in love.

Friday, 8 November 2019

Gemini - a fragment

I am Gemini. Two sides to me. Two spirits. Two minds. One heart. Juxtaposition. Paradox. Dichotomy. I walk with myself in parallel. What I see and hear and feel I disguise with my other self. Vice Versa. My yin and yang oppose and conflict me. I cannot make a decision. and if I do it’s the wrong decision. 

I look up. I look down. I look happy. I look sad.  One self does not know the other self. I need convergence to find some harmony in this life dungeon. There are pauses; this morning. I saw the sun peering over a cloud formation that looked like a mountain range and I thought I had woken up in the Alps. Dents du Midi. Behind the houses a leaf shed ash tree rose above the roofs like a fantasy peacock looking down. Then my one heart leaps. I see a butterfly and both my selves are breathless with the symmetry and beauty. And my one heart could burst with an approximation of love. But where do butterflies sleep at night? And the bees! So furry, so purposeful and motivated. I wish for longer pauses. 

However what rises must fall. and how it falls. Down. Abyss. Chasm. Depths. Depression. I am Gemini. None shall know me for I do not know myself. One of me repulses while the other tries to attract, without success. Repulse wins. Always. Why? Part of me is square and the other part is round and they will not fit together. I do not fit together. I am apart. Astrology biology. Could it be possible? 

One self tries to fit in whilst the other knows that it is not possible. But what of my one heart? It hurts. It bleeds. It is broken. Not just by love but by life. It tried to feed my two spirits without success. My heart is green, chakra green, not red. Red is the blood colour, flowing. Red is life. Red is danger. If my heart turns red, should I be afraid? Or should I rejoice? Always the balance. Seeking the balance. Scales, Weighing it up and getting nowhere. Trying hard but failing as the weights refuse to counter balance. A pendulum. Rhythm. Missing. Not firing. 

Stepping out. Another pause. Sun. Sea. I stand on these cliff tops and I see the sky as a blue dome arcing from all horizons, enclosing my selves on this planet. The sun can restore me; like a solar cell I recharge. The sea can restore me. Like a rising tide I am uplifted. But which self? Both selves? Or just one for the sun and one for the sea? Is this my one hope? My one chance at salvation. It’s cold and the wind blows. Screeching of seabirds puncture the peace. They see me. They see deep inside me. Gemini, they scream. We know you. But the sea is ours. Crows, carrion seekers. Timid, shy. Wary. Their agonised calls rend the salt air. Their obsidian plumage shines in the sun. Gemini, they caw, we know you. But the sun is ours.

Is there nothing for me? Nothing I can make my own? I confuse. I confound. I perplex. I can see it in your eyes. All of you. Glazed eyes. Not comprehending. Try to do the right thing, say the right thing, feel the right thing, think the right think but I fail. I am the wrong thing. But there have been moments. Fleeting but so sweet, so neat, so pure. Can I feed off the memory of those moments. Can I analyse? Consider what made those moments different? And for a while I am excited, hopeful even for if I can do that can I recreate them? Can I make my two selves fuse and let me join the world? 

No, I must retreat. My two selves must hide away. Disappear into the lives and minds of others though their written words. Safe. There I am safe. But as the tears flow from one self the other dissolves into cackling, hysterical laughter that deafens me. I am Gemini.

And finally my heart splits in two.

Photos courtesy Flickr - commercial use allowed.
Butterfly and bee by me, one from each of me.
Words courtesy me. Both of me. 

Monday, 4 November 2019

An Interview with Janet Roger

Guest Interview with Author Janet Roger

After reading that rare thing, a literary crime story, I'm thrilled to have the opportunity to interview author, Janet Roger. My thanks to her for all her time and input.

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Two candles flaring at a Christmas crib. A nurse who steps inside a church to light them. A gunshot emptied in a man’s head in the creaking stillness before dawn, that the nurse says she didn’t hear.

It’s 1947 in the snowbound, war-scarred City of London, where Pandora’s Box just got opened in the ruins, City Police has a vice killing on its hands, and a spooked councilor hires a shamus to help spare his blushes. Like the Buddha says, everything is connected. So it all can be explained. But that’s a little cryptic when you happen to be the shamus, and you’re standing over a corpse.

My review is on the blog but you can click here

I'm pleased to welcome historical fiction author Janet Roger to Bookphace:

 You are a new writer to me so I wonder if we could begin with a little background, and your writing journey?

Well, I’m a long-ago Eng. Lit. graduate who started as a lumberjack and wound up in the City of London. The City being that single square mile that sits inside London’s original Roman walls. Today it’s the capital’s financial center, it's Wall Street if you like. As I get older, that journey from very tall trees to very tall buildings feels increasingly as if it happened to someone else. I’m sure I’m not alone in that, but still it’s an odd sensation. Anyway, I suppose the Eng. Lit. thing can go one of two ways: either you’ll be inspired into writing yourself or you’ll be too terrified even to think about it, because you know what went before. I paid my dues to the terrified club.

 Secondly may I say how much I enjoyed Shamus Dust.  I found it a most impressive debut. Can you tell us a little of its genesis?

You’re very kind to invite me. The answer to this one is quite complicated, but in the end it’s entirely about a time and a place. The Shamus Dust story is spun from a puzzling event I came across in that time spent in the City. It had happened in the early years of the Cold War, when hundreds of its acres were still flattened rubble from wartime bombing. You see, those blitz sites turned out to be archaeologists’ dreamland. For a few short years, digging there gave them unimagined access to the two-thousand years old Roman city right beneath their feet. And they wasted no time. Before reconstruction got seriously under way they’d made monumental discoveries: a Roman temple, a Roman fortress on the line of the wall, even the foundations of an arena - a Roman coliseum, no less. And there was the puzzle. The discovery of the temple and the fortress made instant splash headlines. Yet London’s very own Roman coliseum - yes, there really is one - got overlooked. Seriously! And then entirely forgotten about until a rainy day almost forty years later, when the drawings were noticed again in the archaeological record. That idea completely bowled me over. A Roman arena the size of a football field had simply been missed by the professionals! I suppose, since I’d been raised in Eng. Lit., it was natural to start imagining how the story might work as fiction. After all, it was hard to credit as fact. Shamus Dust, of course, tells it very differently. It goes back to the Cold War years, when rebuilding the City was up for grabs, fortunes were staked on a construction boom and those blitz sites were some of the most valuable real estate on the planet. In this telling, the interests include high-end racketeers as well as corrupt City grandees, who think delaying construction would be very bad karma indeed. Cue a monumental discovery on a construction site that nobody will get to hear of. Cue also the apparent vice killing that gets Shamus Dust under way. And then cue the hardboiled gumshoe who gets hired for the cover-up. A reviewer put it this way: Imagine Polanski's masterpiece, Chinatown played out against the bomb sites and grimy alleys of a freezing 1947 London. I can’t do better.

 I thought the attention to detail was outstanding. It made the book very visual, very film-like for me. I wondered if the cinema of that genre has any influence on your writing?

Yes, it very definitely does. I’m an especial fan of that first, classic, Cold War period of film noir. In fact, I’m just now working out how to take myself from here (South Australia) to the Film Noir Foundation’s annual bash in San Francisco next January, called Noir City Film Festival. I came rather late to realizing how important those films had been for writing the women in Shamus Dust. Because, let’s face it, the hardboiled fiction of the same period - like the world it springs from - had a problem seeing rounded characters that weren’t straight and white and male. And yet women in films noirs, for example, often make astonishingly more nuanced and convincing portraits. Perhaps because, in the end, there was no escaping putting the role in the hands of a woman. On the one hand, Shamus Dust is a pastiche of the hardboiled style. On the other, its women are driving the story, which requires characterization beyond the range of ‘40s detective fiction. Film noir, I think, shows how to do that and yet stay within the terms of the genre. Needless to say, the camerawork of those movies - and its fetish for bright silvers and ink-black shadows - influences the wintry mood of Shamus Dust throughout.

 I loved the snow leitmotiv throughout especially when the thaw sets in towards the end of the book, and I found it very powerful in creating a mood.  Hard Winter - Cold War - Cool Murder - all appeal to the wordsmith in me! Was that a clear intention from the outset?

How I wish I could tell you I had it all mapped out from the start! It’s not that I don’t make lists, you understand, just that I’m first-class at never paying them any attention. Yes, that snowy, freezing London of the story makes me shiver too, and it was a real one. The whole of Shamus Dust moves the events it’s spun from, something like five years back in time, to Christmas and New Year 1947. That monster winter though, is from a year earlier still. Photos and newsreels of the time show you stunning pictures of immense blizzards that went on and on. The sea froze off England’s east coast! The snowscapes are irresistible, so I borrowed them. I think the slow thaw that sets in arrived quite naturally as the story began to resolve. As for the subtitle, I’m glad you like it. The book was complete when it dawned on me that English readers - especially those less ancient than I am - were having to look up what a shamus is. I thought they might need a gentle nudge that they were looking at a private eye noir.

 The depiction of a post blitz London is palpable. Do you know that area of the city well? And can you tell us little of how you approached what must have been painstaking research?

Well yes, I had two separate spells in the City, so I was breathing the air (and noticing the last scars of wartime bombing still hidden away in corners). There are two thousand years crammed into that single square mile, so the history is hard to avoid. Also there was the marvellous Museum of London, Guildhall Library, and the bookstores and second-hand bazaars that were everywhere. In fact, any walk through the City is an involuntary history lesson. Now that I think about it, that was just as well, because we’re talking pre-internet search here. Shamus Dust was written and then shelved for years until I had time to go back and reconsider it (still a member of the terrified club). I don’t really see myself as a  painstaking researcher, but - hands up - I’m basically incapable of passing by a museum or bookstore, and having a story to follow was a great excuse. I haven’t gone back in recent years, but last time I looked there seemed to be fewer London bookshops than I remembered. Sign of the times, no doubt, but such a shame.

 It’s a book that requires the reader to pay attention. The story is intricate and I can’t begin to imagine how you went about plotting it! Could you tell us a little of the process?

Seat of the pants! I write scene by scene, let the arc of the story develop and follow where it leads. More inspiration than method, but I think you guessed that, didn’t you? The hardest part, I think, is more often deciding the scene. I mean the when and the how of it, who’s involved and where the immediate story is headed. I really have no time at all for scenes (my own or anyone else’s) that simply park the narrative, characters and setting to no purpose. Every scene ought to move the reader forward. A recent review really delighted me when it said, Don't make the mistake of skimming anything, there's a lot on every page and all of it is important. Don't blink or you might miss something … Once I’m decided about a scene’s function, the first draft will often write fairly straightforwardly. There are exceptions of course, and my feeling when that happens is that I’ve probably got it all wrong, had better go back to square one and rethink the whole thing. We’ll draw a veil over the endless self-editing. 

 A further example of your attention to detail was in your observations of people from an age gone by. They were very acute and accurate. These people almost stepped off the page at me. How did you go about achieving that?

This could be your hardest question yet. It’s true I’m very visual. I do paint and draw. And I picture a pattern on the ATM keypad because I can’t for the life of me remember a code - not a thing you admit to in the City! But you’ve put me in mind of Graham Greene describing the inspiration for his main characters in The Third Man (it gets still voted the best ever British film noir). I looked it up for you because it’s priceless, and coincidentally enough he wrote this in 1947: I walked all up Piccadilly and back, went in a gent’s in Brick Street, and suddenly in the gent’s, I saw the three characters…I hope to God it lasts. Now, Graham Greene is no slouch at research. But he knows that somewhere along the line you absolutely need to conjure some small magic from somewhere. Not from the Brick Street gent’s in my case, though probably from somewhere equally unlikely. I really haven’t a clue, but if I found some characters that worked for you, I couldn’t be happier. 

 How do you approach your writing? By that I am wondering if you have a special place, special time, any special routines and rituals?

A whispered admission. Because I imagine there must be something deeply Freudian about this. But the truth is, I have a mortal terror of routine. Even the idea of a ritual drives me completely nuts. I’m quite happy not writing for months on end, and then doing nothing but, when the spirit takes me. And since I’m also an unmitigated itinerant, writing - like everything else - gets done wherever I happen to be, in the hope I’ll be somewhere else tomorrow. Slow boats to distant ports tend to get a lot done. Does this sound like a notifiable disease to you? Perhaps we should keep it to ourselves.

 I know that being an avid reader is almost compulsory for a writer so a question I always ask is if you can remember the first book you read that moved you to tears, if any?

As any lumberjack (probably forest worker, nowadays) can tell you, only gurrrls tear up. But now you mention it, I remember coming to the end of Sharon Penman’s The Sunne in Splendour at a tender age, and the sense of loss on turning the last page. The cure would have been to pick up the next volume and roll right on from the Plantagenets to the Tudors. But there was no next volume. So instead I started over again on the personal and political rivalries, the dynastic ambitions of powerful families and the war that inevitably followed. Did I enjoy it second time around? Every minute. Is it history? Not exactly. Did I care? No, but that was after a tear of frustration. 

 And finally having enjoyed this novel so much I am bound to ask when we can expect another new one! And is there anything you can tell us about it?

I’m quite well on with something that’s effectively a sequel to Shamus Dust. It’s called The Gumshoe’s Freestyle, set six months later in the City (of course), in the summer of ’48. Those Cold War years made interesting times. Freestyle ties up some loose ends, returns to some characters from the first story and develops with them. Actually, there’s a plant towards the close of Shamus Dust, though you do have to know your Raymond Chandler to spot it. I liked the idea of some passing link between two cases that Newman (the shamus, did I mention that?) and Marlowe will never know they shared an interest in. That said, Freestyle stands on its own and brings in an entirely new case. It’s been interesting deciding which characters to go back to, how fleeting or important they need to be, and of course, how to introduce them to a reader who doesn’t already know them from the earlier story. 

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About the Author

Janet is an historical fiction author, writing literary crime. She’s published by Troubador Publishing in the UK and represented by JKS Communications Literary Publicity in the USA. She trained in archaeology, history and Eng. Lit. and has a special interest in the early Cold War. Her debut novel, Shamus Dust: Hard Winter, Cold War, Cool Murder is due 28 October and is currently attracting widespread media interest.

Twitter             @janetroger