Friday, 4 August 2017

The Pier Falls by Mark Haddon

It's rare for me not to be able to predict the ending of a short story or indeed even what is going to happen next. The collection of stories delighted me because every single one took me by surprise.

'Wodwo' starts off like a rerun of Alan Ayckbourn's Season's Greetings where a family come together to celebrate Christmas and the cracks begin to show. Except Mark Haddon's story turns even more sinister than Ayckbourn's very quickly. 'Bunny' might set out to be a salvation story. We are kept waiting for the overweight title character to be saved. 'The Woodpecker and the Wolf' goes through some bad phases but the ending is surprising. 

All of the stories are on the dark side.  The title story tells of a disastrous accident. 'The Gun' will surely end badly. 'The Boys Who Left Home to Learn Fear' leaves us with the opposite of hope. 'The Weir' brings two struggling characters together. Perhaps it is very appropriate that this is the final story in the collection. We are left with a little hope this time.     

Haddon gives each story a unique and convincing in voice. If you've read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time you'll know that control of style is one of his fortes. You won't be disappointed here.
The book was a gift from a friend. This edition is hard back and has a delightful cover. It was easy to hold which is not always the case with thick hardback books. Just think of some of the later Harry Potters. It also has a handy bookmark ribbon. It includes Haddon's sketches. The font, its size and line- spacing are all just right. This all makes it a delightful book to own.    


Tuesday, 11 July 2017

The Great War by Dawn Knox

This little volume contains one hundred stories, each told in exactly one hundred words, written one hundred years after they might have taken place.
They are naturally of great interest to me as I am also writing in this era. Although my own historical work is set mainly in the 1940s and World War II, much of my work has connections with that time.

The one hundred word story requires some delicate craft. The whole story arc must be contained there, and arguably there should be a three act structure as well. Dawn Knox manages this demanding task very well.
She has clearly invested in a great deal of research and sustains the variety. There are some really heart-breaking stories such of that of the young man facing a firing squad and another one about the young men who make up that firing squad. One young man, who has been sent back to Blighty because of a hand injury, is constantly accosted by the young women of the White Flower Movement. There are lighter-hearted stories too: the young man who grumbles because his parcel from home is constantly delivered to another man with same name, the man who survives but misses his pals after the war, the Land Girl who appreciates working in the fresh air instead of in a munitions factory.

This great little book looks at so many different aspects of the Great War. The short extracts make it very easy to digest and always tell a very human story. A great resource for anyone wishing to learn about this terrible war. 

Monday, 22 May 2017

The Content Machine by Michael Bhaskar

This could be described as a close reading of the publishing industry. Michael Bhaskar steers us away from the idea that publishing merely means making public. After all, he asks, is a book with a 10,000 print run that doesn’t sell a single copy any more “published” than a typescript left on a park bench? 

He takes a long look at the industry and also compares it with farming and the music trade. He describes how it started, what it became and how it is evolving now.  

He discusses filtering, framing, amplifying and curating. He shows us models that have worked, are working now and may work in the future. He doesn’t shy away from pointing out their flaws. 

This book has an excellent critical tone and the Bhaskar’s research and knowledge must be commended. He provides as well easy to follow foot-notes, an extensive bibliography and a very useful index. 

This book certainly helped me to clarify my ideas, as a writer, editor and publisher, about the whole process. 

I was pleased to see confirmation that this academic publisher used print on demand – a model Bhaskar discusses. We see Lightning Source’s logo on the final page. This is the very company we use. Slightly puzzling though that the digital resources are listed separately form the print ones, given what the author discusses. 

Never mind. This is an excellent text and is certainly informing my decision of where to go next.          

Sunday, 21 May 2017

A Woman Undefeated by Vivienne Dockerty

Another stunner by Vivienne Dockerty. This is one of those thick, engaging books that are difficult to put down. A young Irish woman’s life is turned upside down when she flees the failed potato crop and disrupted family. She comes with her new husband and family to England.       
Dockerty holds a close point of view and we are with Maggie all of the way. She does not have an easy life but she is feisty and brave. All of Dockerty’s characters are well drawn. They are rounded, believable and consistent. 

There is pace and tension a plenty in this tale.

Here we can admire the craft of a master story-teller. 

I am so pleased that I have the sequel, Dreams Can Come True, waiting on my shelf.  I do hope this writer will continue producing these satisfying novels for us.      


Sunday, 14 May 2017

Beggarman’s Cottage by Vivienne Dockerty

I first came across Vivienne when she advertised Beggarman’s Cottage on Streetlife. Ah, I thought. Another local writer. So, I ordered a copy of her book and she hand-delivered it whilst I was out.
As usual, it queued on my shelf behind various others. I buy books compulsively.  

Then I actually met her when I went to a local coffee morning – and bought two more.
I finally read Beggarman’s Cottage and was totally amazed. I’ve currently started one of the others. That will get a review here as well. 

I’m astounded that Vivienne Dockerty has never found a mainstream publisher. Her story-telling is excellent. Her writing is also superior to much that is written in historical fiction of this nature, even that which is published by the Big Five. 

Beggarman’s Cottage is a little tricky in that is has multiple points of view, including that of a ghost.  There is one character who has more of the story and we are gunning for her all of the time. Dockerty certainly engages us. The ending is satisfying but I’ll say no more here. 

Perhaps her stories are all the richer because they are based on those of her ancestors. 

She has moved back to Australia. I hope she will continue to write.