Monday, October 31, 2011

Poem of the Month: October 2011

Sometimes we stumble across things by accident. Literally, I stumbled on this. The following poem fell from a book when I was tidying up my bookcases. When I leaned to pick it up I nearly fell over.


Some men never think of it.
You did. You'd come along
And say you'd nearly brought me flowers
But something had gone wrong.

The shop was closed. Or you had doubts -
The sort that minds like ours
Dream up incessantly. You thought
I might not want your flowers.

It made me smile and hug you then.
Now I can only smile.
But, look, the flowers you nearly brought
Have lasted all this while.

- Wendy Cope

Sunday, October 30, 2011

For Review: The Radleys ~ Matt Haig

Hmm... I don't do vampires. I've read Dracula, and I'm a girly fan of S.Roit's Paris Immortal series. And that's it. Vampires are cool and all, but they have a habit of being written about rather badly. So, I can't claim to know everything about vampires in books, but I can tell you when something is a decent read or not.

In this case, sadly not. I'd heard positive things, that The Radleys was a different from others of its genre. What I would like to know is, how? Like I said, I don't read a lot of vampire stuff, but it's part of our everyday culture now where people reference garlic, sunlight issues, etc, etc. The Radleys did that too. I think the idea was to throw vampire fiction and tradition into a humdrum little town, an invasion of a 'normal' family. But it was just too ordinary. I couldn't care that Rowan was bullied, I had absolutely zero interest in Clara's involvement with boys, and their parents 'conflicts' of emotions and instincts hardly tore me up. And that, really, is all that I can say. Family of vampires, the kids find out (though how, in a book with sprinklings of pop culture references, they didn't figure that out for themselves), they have to cover it up because they're 'different' - usual vampire stuff. Just in a quaint, modern setting. But the environment did nothing to change the fact that is was all just a bit...samey.

The writing itself did nothing to excite me either. I need to be challenged and thrilled; neither happened. Instead, at points it seemed clumsy - did he know that he said the same thing twice in the space of a couple of paragraphs, like the character noticed the same thing for the first time more than once? And italics used for thoughts and other things and dialogue and dancing around too many heads of too many characters that didn't seem to matter. Hmm.

If the trials and temptations of seventeen year old vampires are your thing, then go for it. Otherwise, The Radleys isn't an experience that you might gain anything from. Or maybe I'm just too old for this stuff.

Monday, October 24, 2011

For Review: Pretty Monsters ~ Kelly Link

"What are you reading now?" So says colleagues at work, so asks my boyfriend. It's difficult to talk about the content of Kelly Link's book these days and for people to take it credibly.

"It's about...magic. And there's werewolves and stuff. But it's not crap! And it's not stupid. It's clever, and properly written, and really good." It was important for me to get it across that Kelly Link's Pretty Monsters is a great book, despite popular misgivings of similar stories. As a reader, and a book reviewer, I can't lie; mention magic and mythic in a current novel and I wince a little - let's not pretend that the book market isn't saturated with magical crap.

But Pretty Monsters is so far removed from that. These short stories are so genuine, and each one is touching in its own way. Each of the characters in each of the stories is vivid, alive, and so real. While the stories might surround ideas aliens, monsters, and magical women, at the heart of each is a fantastic character. Reading 'Monster', I was terrified for James Lobrick - I wasn't sure what would happen to him, both in terms of the monster at camp, and at the hands of bullies. In 'The Constable of Abal', I was largely concerned about gods and ghosts, but I also needed to see how Ozma's love life turned out. My absolute favourite, though, was 'Magic for Beginners.' Jeremy is one of the most gorgeous characters I've come across in a while. He's absolutely adorable, and if I ever have a son, I want him to be like Jeremy.

Link really knows how to weave a yarn, and she tells a good story too (it's true, because I heard her read 'The Cinderella Game' at the EIBF). If you like a little bit of the foreign and unknown in your stories, then Pretty Monsters would be a good way to go about it. a charming set of short stories.

Monday, October 17, 2011

A Poet. I Know It. You Might Not.

There. I've said it. Yes, I write poems. I really enjoy writing poems. Sometimes, when I'm going about my daily business, a line will spring into my head that will become part of a poem.

What does this mean?

Often I think in lines and stanzas.
The mundane excites me.
I think too much.

What does this not mean?

It doesn't mean I am incapable of being human.
Nor does it mean that I have no social life.
I am not a different creature.

A few years ago I took a poetry course as part of my undergraduate degree. Until then, poetry was something that I liked to keep under lock and key, literally, in thick journals. Mostly, it was because it was too awful to show anyone in the first place. That course shaped my ideas and understanding of poetry, and it became something that I crafted more purposefully.

During my MLitt, I flirted with poetry. In July last year I wrote a poem a day for a month. That really spurred me on to take poetry more dangerously. A few months ago, I actually even got a poem published in From Glasgow to Saturn. That makes it even more real. Genuine, actual poetry out there for people to read. Wow.

So there. That's my coming out story. I've had difficult reactions to my poetry writing in my past. One flatmate used to actually introduce me with, "This is Bethany. She writes poems." Poetry is not a tagline.

I write poetry, and I like it.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Reading With the Skeletons

Oh looky! This was me:

From Glasgow to Saturn was asked to host a special Reading Party last week, to welcome the Creative Writing Programme’s new students. The students were treated to fabulous readings from current students, staff & recent graduates (a huge thank you to Elizabeth Reeder, Kerri McLawlin, Emily Munro, Alan Gillespie, Bethany Anderson & Laura Marney).  The evening also featured music from singer-songwriter and GU graduate Jo Mango, and we even made cake.  Thank you to all the CW students who came along and made it such a great evening.  We had fun, so watch this space for details of another FGTS reading party later in the term for all you lovely subscribers and contributors.

I'm the part that I bolded and underlined. That was my second time reading at the Anatomy Museum in Glasgow, which was a rather fitting setting for my novel extract about anorexia. Hrm.

I hope, I hope, I hope to get to do some more readings again. The buzz is just too good, especially when my writing seems to be enjoyed! Yay!

Saturday, October 08, 2011

For Review: Little Hands Clapping ~ Dan Rhodes

Another case of judging a book's readability factor by its cover. What did I know about the novel before I read it? A creepy guy living in a museum in Germany, and a host of curious characters.

Little Hands Clapping was this, and with so much more besides. I haven't been more pleasantly surprised by a book in a long time. There is an old creepy guy living in a museum in Germany, that is, a suicide museum. Some visitors stay after closing hours to take advantage of the Practical Methods room. The old guy finds them in the morning, and they are promptly taken away by the neighbouring doctor, so no one ever knows. It's a bizarre set up and it features as the centre for a series of fascinating characters. It's difficult to say too much without giving away too much, because that's how Rhodes does it: there's no gentle easing in, or any ta da moments. Instead, startling revelations are just there, completely ordinary facts of life. There are several 'Wait, he said what?' moments.

Little Hands Clapping is not gruesome or sick or twisted. Well, it is, but not a la American Psycho. This isn't a transgressive kind of read. Actually, it's an adorable novel, flavoured with the kind of darkness that belongs with Roald Dahl, and a touch of Lemony Snicket morbid. And when I say Roald Dahl, I mean 'The Landlady', not George's Marvellous Medicine. This book isn't for kids. One, swearing. Two, sex talk. Three, that fun bit that comes with adulthood that means that things can be better understood.

Basically, Dan Rhodes is a fantastic storyteller. What's more, he can write too. The two talents together make for a very enjoyable read, and I'm that he has mroe fiction out there for me to get too.

- Read in Bangkok, beneath air conditioning.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

For Review: Damned ~ Chuck Palahniuk

Yeah, okay, I can't lie: I'm in love with Chuck Palahniuk's brain. The  man is so clever that it's a perpetual literary turn-on. Just over a year ago, I was excited for Tell-All. This year, I had been looking forward to Damned. The subject didn't excite me as much as his pervious book, but the idea of a fourteen year old girl exploring Hell was fair enough.

And it was. Only, for the first 30-50 pages, I really struggled with the 14 year old girl part. Madison pissed me off - a rich, fat, spoiled, obnoxious bitch. But it wasn't necessarily those qualities that put me off (after all, I love Emma), but the voice itself. It read like Palahniuk, or and older, more cyncial male character from another book. In other novels, Palahniuk hadnles females voices very well, but this time Madison felt forced, and far from believable. The way that she spoke, thought, and reacted, seemed so far removed from my own 14 year old past, that of my friends', or of my now fourteen year old sister. In fact, Madison was both so annoying and incongruous I was very close to giving up. Had this been any other writer, I probably would have. But Chuck's name was clear to see on the cover and the writing still boasted those ticks of his I've grown so accustomed to.

Damned got there. Eventually. Madison makes some friends, and seeks to find out what she's actually doing there - was it that one time smoking weed? Something else? Palahniuk's depiction of hell is great. Of course, there's the landscape, the various demons. But what's really brilliant is the system - how Hell works, what being condemed for eternity really entials, and the various things living humans have to do to get there in the first place.

Damned does what it says on the blurb and it is an entertaining read, but far, oh so far, from being the best. There was around eighteen months between the publication of his last couple of books: I only hope the good man isn't hurrying up unnecessarily.

- Read on the plane from Edinburgh to London Heathrow.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Scotland is for Book Lovers

Scotland is pretty great, and there are some lovely bookish types in this country. I like talking about books. So do lots of other people. So do the Scottish Book Trust. So what have they come up with? Book Talk!

Book Talk is an online community that allows people who love books to enjoy all the benefits of a book club from the comfort of their own sitting room. Busy Scots who like to read can log on anytime to discover new books, listen to lively podcast discussions, read in-depth interviews with authors, browse reviews and, most importantly, join the discussion on Facebook and Twitter. 

This is bascially great. The internet is huge, and much of the banter I get surrounding books is American (such is the nature of the internet). What about the Scottish patter? Here it is. I'm excited about Book Talk.

Book Talk will feature books from a broad range of genres, from both new and established authors, with a particular focus on books by writers based in Scotland.

Anyone can sign up to Book Talk free of charge at You can also keep up with the latest Book Talk on twitter @Booktalk_SBT or #Booktalk. You can also follow us on Facebook, by searching for Book Talk.

Sign me up, Scotty!

Launch time is now GO! So get to it. Not Scottish? No worries - social networking is for everyone, right? So there's nothing to stop you joining in if you really need to!