Friday, December 28, 2012

Twelve of 2012

2012 was a slow year for me. I got through 54 books (The Crimson Petal is nearly done) this year, compared to 66 last year. But, it has to be said, that in that time I have been editing my novel, and in August I started teacher training - all reading and writing has gone more or less out the window since then. Still, I've chosen my reads wisely and I've been richly rewarded. That time of year where everyone's looking back at what is brilliant. So here's a top twelve of 2012 (in no particular order, because that would be much too difficult).

1. Bed - David Whitehouse
Real and surreal all at once. Heartwrenching and honest, which I love.

2. Boxer, Beetle - Ned Beauman
As my review started: A nine-toed gay Jewish boxer in the late 1930s and a 21st century collector of Nazi memorabilia - how was that not going to be a great book?

3. A Prayer for Owen Meany - John Irving
So easily one of the best best books I read this year, and my most recommended. So stunning, and everyone should read it.

4. Pandaemonium - Christopher Brookmyre
My first shot at Brookmyre and it was mental. This story went in all sorts of crazy places.

5. Gillespie and I - Jane Harris
Glasgow 1888, and a story that I hadn't anticipated in any way at all. Constant twists and a narrator that you just don't know if you can trust.

6. Tales from the Mall - Ewan Morrison
After six and a half years working in retail, Morrison's Tales from the Mall is full of anecdotes and stories that I can relate to. Since reading this book I haven't been shopping in quite the same way.

7. Filth - Irvine Welsh
Aww, this book just filled me with so much glee. And I mean it. This was just so much fun, in a Welsh kind of way. Bad polis made for a great read.

8. Skellig - David Almond
I didn't review this here, but I read it and I loved it.

9. Nothing is Heavy - Vicki Jarrett
A speedy read, because the story pulled me along so fast - another novel that creates surreal circumstances for its likeable characters.

10. Fremont - Elizabeth Reeder
Heartbreak seems to be a theme of the year, but here it was constant, in the sweetest of ways.

11. A Monster Calls - Patrick Ness
Stunning, stunning. Definitely in the top three this year. And so pretty!

12. The Crimson Petal and the White - Michel Faber
Haven't finished this book yet, but wow, it's brilliant. At over 800 pages it's a bit of a brick, but so easy to read because it's so good.

There we have it. And now I'm off to pack for two weeks in Thailand. Happy New Year and see you in 2013.


Friday, December 14, 2012

For Review: A Monster Calls ~ Patrick Ness

Sometimes you read a book and it's hard not to fall in love with the author for writing something so beautiful. The idea of A Monster Calls came from Siobhan Dowd, and Patrick Ness turned this into a short novel, complete with gorgeous illustrations from Jim Kay. The result is a book that is a stunning both to hold and to read.

Conor is thirteen years old, bullied at school, has an absent father, and a mother who is dying from cancer. He struggles to make sense of his life and his mother seems to be getting worse. One night, at 12.07, Conor is visited by a huge monster. The creature is frightening, but it wants to tell Conor stories, and expects to hear one in return - the truth about how Conor is really feeling.

Suffice to say that Conor's emotions are fraught as he deals with extra sympathy from teachers, and has to listen to vague ideas from his father. Conor waits for the monster every night as his mother's condition deteriorates: their meetings are often difficult, confusing, and dark. Told from Conor's point of view, the reader is given access to his thoughts and feelings, while also trying to make sense of them. As a child narrator, he is likeable and sympathetic but, as an adult reader, I brought to the story an understanding that he lacked which, if anything, only heightened my feelings towards his narrative.

I read A Monster Calls in two sittings. The second time round, I told myself that I'd only read a few chapters, but I ended up reading more than half the book. For the last twenty or so pages I was sobbing. Not just one tear, not crying, but actually sobbing to the point that I was worried I would ruin the pretty pages with lots of big fat tear drops. A Monster Calls is available now in an 'adult' format without Kay's illustrations, but I can't understand why anyone would choose to read it with just the black and white text. Rather than the pictures just accompanying what was written, the drawings (which I would probably hang on my wall - I don't know much about these sorts of things, but they were like textured prints) were very much part of the narrative, and added an extra layer to the text.

A Monster Calls should be readily shared, and I fully intend on using it in my classroom - for all ages. I'm glad that I read it, and I'm glad that it was written.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

For Review: Great Expectations ~ Charles Dickens

Believe it or not, I've never even seen a BBC adaptation of Great Expectations. So, what with the film out now, I decided that I should probably read the book beforehand, especially as it's been sitting on my To Be Read list for years.

Having not seen an adaptation, I actually had no idea of what would happen. Of course I knew about Miss Havisham and her dusty wedding dress and, for some reason, I thought Great Expectations was her story. Pip? I had no clue. Call me ignorant, but that's the case.

Several hundred pages later, and I'm enlightened. Pip is an orphan and is brought up 'by hand' by his older sister, who is married to the local blacksmith. As he grows up, he is asked to visit Miss Havisham, frozen in the past at the point where she was jilted at the altar. There, at Satis House, Pip meets the beautiful Estella: elusive and aloof. At the point of becoming a young man, Pip is told that he has been given a large sum of money by a benefactor to go to London and become a gentleman.

This Pip does, and he becomes close friends with Herbert Pocket (who is, it has to be said, such a lovely, lovely man). Pip goes about his London life, doing a bunch of things that aren't really much explained or described, apart from eating food in a gentleman's club and buying fancy jewellery. He comes into a lot of debt, but that's the least of his concerns when he discovers who is benefactor is. And, that's a huge part of plot that I won't go into for risk of ruining it for anyone, who, like me, might not have a clue to narrative of Great Expectations.

The novel is, unquestionably, a Dickens novel. I'm not his biggest fan in the world ever, but he has written some decent books (I'm thinking more A Tale of Two Cities, much less David Copperfield). I enjoyed Great Expectations, especially because I loved Pip. He's a good guy, with the odd flaw, and his rags to riches story might have made him ungrateful in places, but he has a good heart. Better still is his Uncle Joe: the sweetest, most humble, adorable man. Estella did my head in, a little.. I can understand the allure of an incredibly beautiful woman, but really, I couldn't understand how it wasn't obvious that she was a complete waste of time. But then, I'm not a heterosexual male and I have never been head over heels in love with a woman just because she's stunning. It would be interesting, as I always think when I read about beautiful women, to see what it would feel like to be Estella, and to be so loved for looks and grace. And I've already mentioned my love for Herbert.

Dickens creates an interesting cast of characters that is altogether very...Dickensian. It isn't any wonder that there are so many adaptations of his novel - this is the kind of story that you want to see and hear, and really get involved in. The man spins a good yarn, and has ways of pulling together such odd characters that there's no knowing how each will react, or what their motivations are. Great Expectations was pretty good, and tonight I'm off to see the latest film version - curious now as to how it will compare.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Homespun Threads - Short Story in an ebook

Fairy tales are one of my (many) weaknesses. I've always loved reading them, and following the way that several stories evolve and change. And I've always enjoyed writing them too. This time, I get to do both.

Homespun Threads (A Patchwork of Fairytales) became available for purchase just a couple of days ago. It features 35 fairy tales and stories from an assortment of writers, including yours truly. Here's a bit more about the project:

Homespun Theatre Company came together through a love of storytelling, from Tolkien to Studio Ghibli. This book is a collection of 35 fairytales from around the world featuring work by T.S.Rosenberg, Jem Roberts, Lyndsay Wheble and many more.

We've got dragons, princesses, witches and manticores, adaptations of old favourites and brand new stories never told before - hopefully something for everyone in what is quite an eclectic mix!

All proceeds from this book will go towards re-developing and touring our children's show, East of the Sun, West of the Moon.

There's some exotic names and exciting encounters in this collection, and all true to the form of the fairy tale or the myth in some way or another, but morphed and made individual. My own story, All The Better to Hold You With, is a retelling of the Little Red Riding Hood tale, but told from the point of view of a lovelorn wolf.

The idea of using creativity to promote and produce even more creativity, I think, is a great idea, and I'm very pleased to be involved in all of this. If you'd like to read the collection, it's available if you click this link on Smashwords. It comes in all sorts of ebook formats that I'm not hugely au fait with, but there will be one to suit your ereading needs. Enjoy!

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Teaser Tuesday (a day late): 05 December

"I'll tell you...what real love is. It is blind devotion, unquestioning self-humiliation, utter submission, trust and belief against yourself and against the whole world, giving up your whole heart and soul to the smiter - as I did!" 

Words of wisdom from Miss Havisham.
Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens, p.214