Saturday, March 30, 2013

Books are Written to be Read

Before I started my creative writing MLitt, the only people in the world that had seen my writing were my teachers. That does include one teacher who, if I wasn't as stoically stubborn as I am, might have persuaded me to stop writing forever. Then I began the MLitt programme, and all of a sudden there were 12-13 people sat round a table, reading and critiquing my work. That was weird, but it was definitely very good. A small handful of those people have seen around a fifth of my novel, but beyond that, just me, and the lovely people at Bamboccioni Books have read the full thing.

Swings and Roundabouts is being published. That still feels like a really weird thing to type, but it feels stranger still saying this out loud to other people. Slowly but surely, I'm getting used to the idea. But as I am, along comes the growing realisation that people will (hopefully) read it. I'm not even thinking about reviews, or what so and so might publically write or say about my book. I'm more concerned with the experience of the reading of the book. The novel was never written to be just for me, the dream the idea was always that someone might pick it up in a book shop and read it. But what will that be like?

Like the Samuel Johnson quote - "A writer only begins a book. A reader finishes it." So right now, my novel is in transit, and I'm wondering (perhaps too much) of what a reader will think of it as they are reading. Is it going to be a Marmite read? Will everyone have different reactions to it, or different affinities with different parts of the book, or the characters? Are readers going to get to the last line and wonder how they even managed to be bothered to get to the end? I don't know. Nobody knows. And when people are reading the book, it's not like I'll be sat next to them to assess their expressions as they go through it, nor will they be able to ask me questions, or challenge me about parts. This is not a workshop.

Clearly I'm over thinking things - #anxiety - and clearly I paid too much attention in my first year at university on the reader/author relationship. But still, I wonder...

Monday, March 25, 2013

For Review: Gone Again ~ Doug Johnstone

Following my complaints about reading depressing books all year thus far, I then picked up Gone Again. There are some really hard hitting scenes in this book, some horrible ideas and themes, but the action moved along so fast that there wasn't too much time to dwell. Besides, I always like to read books that are set in Edinburgh, where I can imagine the landscape, and I know the nuanced differences between street names.

272 pages, and to write a fair review means that I can't say much of anything that happens beyond page 50 or so. But what is safe to divulge is that Mark Douglas is called one day to be told that his wife hasn't turned up to school to pick up their six year old (and utterly adorable) son Nathan. Mark, of course, is a man full of worry for the safety of his family, and when the local police services don't seem to be doing enough, the father takes matters into his own hands and begins his own investigation. And that's about as much detail as I can go into. Beyond this, there are many hmm moments, some ah ha!s, plenty of oh my goodness, and towards the end there were 'swears' uttered outloud. The plot is the real driving force of this novel, and the pace means that the pages are flicked by really quickly.

That's not to say that there's nothing to the novel. Like I said, there are threads of violence and dysfunctional families through the story, but they're so well interwoven that the narrative doesn't feel too full or stuffed full of stuff, which can sometimes happen with shorter novels. Still, after all of three or four pages, my heart was in the right place with Mark and Nathan. Mark was a dubious character in places, and deliberately so, but Nathan was such a gorgeous child to read about that it was impossible not to care about what happened to the family.

Big themes, big heart, and fast paced, Gone Again was great fun to read.

Faber, 2013;
Paperback;
272 pages


Tuesday, March 19, 2013

A Quote Instead...


~ Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte

For Jo, who can't find enough literary quotes on the internet.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

For Review: The Overhaul ~ Kathleen Jamie

Reading this collection of poems was like looking through a collection of gorgeous paintings. That's my bit of imagery about imagery in Kathleen Jamie's The Overhaul.

This collection of poetry is like being back on the west coast - full of the sea, the moon, boats. Jamie is able to absorb her surroundings into lines of words in a way that is just so. The authenticity and the atmosphere of these places is captured well, and there were one or two poems that felt like being back on the Scottish coastline. Nature is something I've always struggled with when writing my own poetry - I've attempted the Scottish Highlands, and the small seaside town, but it's never seemed real enough. Many of Jamie's poems, however, raised a smile and a 'yes, this is exactly what that is like' understanding: pin-pointed and coloured so well, and yet in so few words.

The moon is as prevalent in The Overhaul as other features of the landscape, and 'The Study' was a particular favourite of mine. "entering my study/like a curiosity shop" reminds me of the view from my old bedroom by the sea. Perhaps there's a slightly nostalgic pull in Jamie's poems, taking me back to scenery that I often think of fondly.

Beyond the sea, there are poems about flowers, and those were my other favourites. Again, flowers are just one of those 'poetry things', but here they're seen differently, with their own personalities too (along with the personified sea and moon). 'Roses' and 'An Avowal' are two different but bittersweet takes on flowers and what they mean, and what they do.

Personally, I'm a read aloud poetry reader - I like to hear how the words sound before looking back over them on the page. The Overhaul is very satisfying in this way too. There's a kind of push and pull quality to the sounds and to the occasional rhyme, so that the poems lilt along nicely. I know there are lots of non-aloud poetry readers out there, but it adds an extra dimension to the words, and it's a practice I would recommend.

It's been a while (ie, more than a year) since I have reviewed a poetry collection. Not that I'm out of the way of reading poetry, it's just not something I've put my mind to. But after reading The Overhaul, I think I'll need to make this more of a priority.

The Overhaul is this month's Scottish Book Trust's Book Talk read.

Picador Poetry, 2012;
50 pages

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

For Review: Charlotte Street ~ Danny Wallace

Yes! This is exactly what I needed in my life. Everything I've read so far this year has been so hard going. I love to feel devastated at the end of a novel, and I appreciate a good cry, but I don't think my poor heart could take any more. But Charlotte Street has left me feeling elated.

The tagline on the front of my copy says 'A heartwarming everyday tale of boy stalks girl' and that sums it up pretty nicely. Jason Priestly is an ex-teacher in his early thirties trying his luck at journalism, living with his best friend Dev (who I will say now that I love) above his second hand video game shop. So far, so good, only he's found out via Facebook that his ex-girlfriend is very happily engaged.

Jason's gloomy, trying to muddle along as per every day when he bumps into a girl in the street, a pretty girl, who drops her disposible camera. After much deliberation between the two friends, the photos are developed and a search begins to find The Girl.

This book is lovely. And I know that lovely is one of those words that people use, but it's a word that I use and really mean. Danny Wallace has written a story that is funny, romantic, bittersweet, quirky, heartwarming, charming: all these things in a list, the words that come to mind when I think about how I feel about this book. And that's not easy to do without being overly sentimental or just pointlessly twee.

I liked Jason a lot - for all his flaws and mistakes, Jason could be any of your good friends: well-intentioned, amusing, interesting, but bruised (to use a word that crops up several times in the novel). I realise here that I am listing things a lot in this review, but in the four hundred pages of Charlotte Street there are lots of little stories, and several colourful characters to get to know - it feels very full. Told from Jason's first person narration, it was good to like him so much, and to really get to know him. But, as I mentioned before, I am a little bit in love with the video game lover Dev, and that is alright with me, because it's always fun to be a little bit in love with fictional characters.

Finishing Charlotte Street was great fun, and just so satisfying. I just want to hug everyone and be everyone's friend and to go into the world and be happy. It feels like such a long time since I closed a book with a smile, and on a cold miserable March evening I really appreciate it.

Thanks for the review copy from
William Morrow;
Paperback;

409 pages.

Saturday, March 02, 2013

When a Writer Becomes an Author

Swings and Roundabouts (2013)

Bethany Anderson was born in Falkirk twenty five years ago. Since then she has scribbled many short stories and poems, and graduated with an MLitt in Creative Writing from the University of Glasgow. Bethany currently lives in Edinburgh, where she is training to be an English teacher. Swings and Roundabouts is her first novel.


That's me. And Swings and Roundabouts is the book that I wrote. And it's going to be published this year by Bamboccioni Books.

The dream has happened. This writer has become an author.

More details to follow when I have them, but suffice to say that I am beside myself with excitement! (Told you exciting things were happening!)