Monday, April 30, 2012

Impulse Magazine!

I like magazines. I like good, little, indie magazines; the kind of thing where writers put in what they want, and do what they want, and it's all a labour of love. Maybe that's nostalgia kicking in from my own newspaper days, but there's something so great about just going on there and doing it yourself.

Impulse Magazine does just that. Some journalism students at Napier University in Edinburgh got together and created a magazine that is, actually, just lovely. It's glossy and nice to look at and hold - they haven't skimped on presentation. The folks involved distributed several hundred copies across Edinburgh, and also some in Glasgow too. I was lucky enough to get my hands on a copy (cause I work with a journalism student who is involved - great job, Niomi!) and it's full of delightful things - lifestyle articles, fashion, and the arts. That's right, not just music, but all of them. There's a chat with Alan Bissett about ebooks, and an interview with a friend I went to uni with who is now a poker superstar!

It's a magazine worth keeping an eye out for if you're floating around Edinburgh/Glasgow. Otherwise, you can see all the articles online at And, of course, you can catch up with them on Twitter and Facebook too.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

For Review: The Hunger Games ~ Suzanne Collins

So I did it. I read The Hunger Games. It wasn't about the hype. I'm not a hype driven person when it comes to books. But it happened to be one of this month's Scottish Book Talk books, so I caved and went with it.

Initially, it wasn't just the hype thing that had me sceptical about the book, but the plot. It's Battle Royale, but sweet. That was my prejudice, and I was quite right in that. So the book's about some kids in the middle of nowhere fighting to kill each other until there's only one survivor. So far, so Battle Royale. But in The Hunger Games it's about politics and class, a kind of terrorist threat against the people to be sure they don't rebel against the Capitol and its power, which is a kind of despotic we-can-do-what-we-want rule. And this much is pretty much widespread knowledge by now, especially thanks to the film.

Reading the book, I can entirely sympathise with the want to turn it into film. Forget the huge profits of a successful triology of films, it's the kind of novel where the reader wants to see what's going on. And I'm not even talking about the gore. There's something about fantasy/sci-fi worlds that people want to actually visually see, and Panem is no different - it sounds hugely vast, and the Capitol so incredibly startling that I'm almost tempted to watch the film myself just so I can see how they did it all. And maybe one day I will watch it, when my younger sister gets it on DVD. In terms of sights and sounds, Collins paints a grand picture that I imagine translates well to film. As far as the book goes, she does well in creating a world that seems hugely alien but, with all it's recognisable features, is perfectly tangible. In all honesty, I think I approached The Hunger Games with a heavy prejudice that the writing was going to be terrible, but I was very pleasantly surprised - and I was nearly in tears by page 26.

Protagonist Katniss is sixteen years old, a tough hunter, but also capable of loving and missing her family, and maybe even of romantic feelings. There's probably a little bit of everyone in Katniss, or at least the desire to have some of her other qualities. Who doesn't want to be attractive and deadly? Fierce but loveable, Katniss is a great balance for a teenage heroine. Oh, and I might even have a crush on Gale.

If I was fourteen, I'd be completely besotted with the book, and I'd probably already be devouring the second two. I'd talk about it with all my friends, have posters on my bedroom wall, and I'd wear a little mockingjay badge on my school jacket. As it is, I'm quietly passionate about it, and only know of one friend who has read all three. I have way too many books on my shelf to be quick about reading the others, but I'm sure I'll get round to it eventually. Still, I would definitely wear a little mockingjay pin if I could find one. Yeah, I reckon The Hunger Games is worth all that, if only for some fast-paced glee.

Monday, April 23, 2012

For Review: Further Interpretations of Real-Life Events ~ Kevin Moffett

Harper Perennial were kind enough to send me a copy of this book for review, and it's a good-looking book too. But I was reading some of the quotes on the back, all the praise from other people and I was concerned - could one writer really create a selection of short stories that can do all that? Turns out that Kevin Moffett actually can.

Further Interpretations of Real-Life Events is the name of one story, and also the name for the entire collection. It suits. Moffett has a keen eye for the everyday bizarre; all the things that people think and do that some writers don't (or maybe are afraid to) clue into. People are weird creatures, but we all exist in the same world and do the same things, so for ever strange occurrence, there's an everyday recognition. That's my literary turn on, and Moffett really satisfies. There's a birdhandler on a cruiseship, a man from Estonia who swallows part of his tooth, and a woman who falls for a Lieutenant who thinks he's still at war.

At the heart of each story is a fascinating character, or two, and Moffett has a way of introducing his characters in such a way that they're instantly known and loved. There wasn't any story that didn't move. And it's never obvious or contrived, always subtle and very clever. These are the kind of characters that remind you of real life. Someone told me a story about their colleague, and I said, 'That's like this story I read, where this guy...' Circumstances might be different, but the feeling is the same, and there's a huge variety of feelings here; gentle ups and downs, but definitely felt.

All bar one of these stories have appeared in magazines, including McSweeney's and the Harvard Review. It's no wonder. If I haven't made a case for it already, Moffett can really write. Someone will probably want to make these short films, but that's impossible, because it's about the words. Stylish and brilliant.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Teaser Tuesday: 18 April

It's Wednesday, but my internet was down last night. Still, I just wanted to share this little section:

...write. Set down on paper. Woo your love with words on the page... To write, however, is to substitute living words for empty scrawl. It is to filch and deceive. There is nothing natural in it - a parasitic, masturbatory art!'s all you've got. Steal from the writings of others in order to spin your tale.
The Echo Chamber - Luke Williams (57)

Sunday, April 15, 2012

For Review: Hit & Run ~ Doug Johnstone

Cars are not my most favourite thing. I'm fine as a passenger (I can't drive), but as a pedestrian I really struggle, especially when it comes to busy streets. A green man is a seen man, a red man is a dead man - my everyday mantra. There was a horrible car crash in Doug Johnstone's Smokeheads, but I was really just asking for it reading a book called Hit & Run.

Billy is a journalist who drives home one night, completely off of his face on drugs and alcohol. In a car with his girlfriend and brother, he hits someone. They leave the dead man, but Billy gets the job of covering the story for the local newspaper. Of course, the accident only happens once, but Billy relives the ordeal several times, each particularly vivid. Shudder. As Billy uncovers more details, he discovers that he has killed Edinburgh's biggest crime lord, and the result takes him way out of his depth.

St Leonard's police station is mentioned several times throughout the novel, and I happen to live beside it. I can see The Montague pub from my living room, and Arthur's Seat from my kitchen. Hit & Run happens to be the fourth novel I've read this year set in Edinburgh, but I don't think I've ever read anything so local as this. It couldn't be any closer, short of scenes in bedroom. At risk of rambling on about how much I love Edinburgh, I will suffice to say that it all excites me terribly! Yeah, I live here, but the setting is just so perfect for non-Edinburgers, non-Scots, non-UKers - busy streets right beside cliffs and copses.

Setting aside, I'm a fan of Billy Blackmore too. He's just a normal guy who makes a really stupid mistake, but the consequences and the guilt are pretty hefty. A lot is made of his dead mother, but I'm not really sure how that actually matters; that sort of guilt would drive you crazy regardless. And it does. It destroys Billy pretty rapidly, and it's sad to watch him deteriorate. He gets messed up with some dramatic stuff, and with the usual drifts and pulls of his various relationships. I was nervous for the ending, for what kind of reconciliation might go on, but it was all real.

Hit & Run was like that - real, just is what it is, and stripped bare of any nampy pampyness (NB: this is a literary term, obviously). It's refreshing to read something that is offered as a 'oh-no-I-have-to-keep-on-reading' book - my dentist got a look when she broke me away from a particularly riveting scene so that she could give me fillings. Despite the goo and the sad and the horror, Hit & Run was fun.

the 24 project

Sunday morning, flicking through Facebook, the usual clickclickclick, and I came across this little gem: the 24 project. 

From the tumblr, here's the idea:

A collaborative pop-up online arts journal, where we will be collating submissions from all over the world - but only accepting within the next 24 hours. Midnight 14th April GMT up until midnight 15th April GMT. SEND US THINGS YOU HAVE MADE. Poetry, flash fiction, recordings, videos. previously published work welcome - we will link to the source. This journal will only be up for 7 days after the 24 hours have passed, and all work will be free for publication elsewhere after that period.
All copyright remains with the artist.
Also, if reblogging, please give credit to the artist.

Before work this morning, I sent them a teeny piece of flash fiction that they were very kind to publish for me. It's called 'Say Jump' and you can read it here.

So, if you're on GMT and reading this at the time of posting, you've got a few hours left to send them your scribbles and things. Otherwise, there's seven days of enjoying some brilliant stuff.

A literary quickie. I love it!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

For Review: The Echo Chamber ~ Luke Williams

Evie Steppman is born two months late with extraordinary powers of hearing. Her mother dies as a result of childbirth, and Evie is left with a grief stricken father. The Echo Chamber moves from 1950s Nigeria, to 70s America, and returns to Scotland, following Evie in her quest for sounds and silence. But her gift for hearing comes at times at a price, a threat to her relationships with others, and with herself.

1950s Nigeria - a completely unknown world to me. In fact, by the end of the book, I understood more about its history than I ever had done (which, admittedly, was nothing). Nigeria is related as a vibrant country, rich in culture and of course, for Evie, sounds. Evie recounts her life with vivid use of sounds - the people's voices, the market, the insects even. To hone in on the one sense makes for a noisy read. However, as Evie grows up she is made to realise the colonial and racial barriers that keep her from the cooks, onion sellers, and their sons. A young white girl living in Nigeria doesn't have much place for friendship, and it's in her loneliness that Evie really recognises her skills.

As a young woman, Evie works at a theatre in Edinburgh and becomes friends and lovers with a wilful actress. Together they tour across America where Evie travels to capture sounds on a tape recorder. But between hearing and not hearing, Evie struggles to reconcile a life with friendships with her need to record and experiment with sound. Essentially, it becomes an obsession that begins to eat away at her, whether she recognises this or not.

The Echo Chamber is Evie's attempt to set down her history, and her father's and her grandfather's, in words. She is set on relating stories, but is honest in narrative: there are days when can't write, and times when she's aware that she might not be getting some details quite right, because she is so focused on the sounds. In order to tell her story properly, she visits her grandfather; a man of many personalities, kept in care. The result is a book so full of story, of many threads of narrative and characters. So much of it is so closely interwoven, that it's impossible not to flick back through the book at points to try and figure out where you heard that phrase before, what connection a postcard has with who and where and why.

Williams has written an impressive debut. Seriously, this book is magic. It's about Evie, about her hearing, about her family life, about the history of Nigeria, about America, about lovers, about loneliness. It fits together in a big clump that somehow fits together. Too many reviews use that word 'moving', but The Echo Chamber is, and it tugs the reader every which way. A good storyteller will make the reader/listener feel for all the characters mentioned, and a good writer will understand how important it is to maintain this on the page. Williams does both, and The Echo Chamber is a must for readers curious about stories.

The Echo Chamber
was this month's Scottish Book Talk read. If you want to take part, then click here for more info and tos ee what books are coming up soon.

Monday, April 09, 2012

And The Writer Said: But That Isn't Me

As a writer, I sometimes feel a little exposed showing off various poems or short stories. There are always parts of myself in between the lines or, sometimes, just very blatantly there in the things I'm trying to say. Worse than that is the fear that people will read me into words that have nothing connected with myself. Like reading a poem and saying, 'Oh my God. That's awful. Is that how you feel/Did that happen to you?' No, it didn't. But I imagined the circumstance and put it into writing.

This week's Literary Blog Hop asked:

How do you feel about fictional characters who are obviously closely based on the author? Is this an example of authorial superego? Or just a natural extension of the "write what you know" advice?

First off, how do you know? Who is a reader to assume that a character in a novel is in any way a representation of the author? I've read Thomas Hardy's letters, some autobiography, and some biography. I feel more acquainted with him, that I can recognise parts of his life and his character in his novels. But who am I to really say that Hey This Is This.

I know some writers personally, and it's always amusing to recognise parts of their personality in various characters. But obviously based on the author? I'm not sure a good writer would set out to do that. I see similarities and echoes of the writer, but only because I actually know them as a human being. And you might pick up a Katie Price book and say Oh Em Gee, that is so just her. As readers, we might have reason to believe that that is the case. But to say that obviously? Don't flatter yourself.

So how do I feel about fictional characters who are obviously based on the author? I don't. Because I wouldn't be so quick to make those assumptions. And nor should any reader, unless the author is someone they speak to, and can actually say that they're friends with.

The 'write what you know' mantra is an important one, but as a writer myself, I'd suggest that readers perhaps shouldn't be so quick to judge what is author and what is fiction.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Happy Easter!~

Happy Easter, all!

Easter Day

The silver trumpets rang across the Dome:
The people knelt upon the ground with awe:
And borne upon the necks of men I saw,
Like some great God, the Holy Lord of Rome.
Priest-like, he wore a robe more white than foam,
And, king-like, swathed himself in royal red,
Three crowns of gold rose high upon his head:
In splendor and in light the Pope passed home.
My heart stole back across wide wastes of years
To One who wandered by a lonely sea,
And sought in vain for any place of rest:
"Foxes have holes, and every bird its nest,
I, only I, must wander wearily,
And bruise My feet, and drink wine salt with tears."

 - Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde and chocolate, what more can I ask for?

Monday, April 02, 2012

Best Thing I've Read This Month

So yesterday I bought a stick of rock. Delicious and so bad for my teeth. It contains eight E numbers. Beneath the ingredients it says:

May Have an Adverse Effect on Activity and Attention in Children

Succinct prose at its best.