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This blog documents my staying at home and writing (and the subsequent whatevers to that writing). It also serves as an online journal for friends and family. It is more-or-less guaranteed to be sans intérêt to most anyone else.

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writing about writing and various writings

2006 Reading List

Being a list of books read during the current year.
· Peter S.Beagle: The Last Unicorn
· John Christopher: The Pool of Fire
· Ayerdhal, & J.C.Dunyach: Étoiles Mourantes
· Haruki Murakami: The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles, A Wild Sheep Chase, Kafka on the Shore, South of the Border, West of the Sun, After the Quake, Dance, Dance, Dance
· Michael Chabon: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay
· Jonathan Stroud: Ptomely’s Gate
· Ayerdhal: Consciences Virtuelles, Mytale, Balade Chroréïale, La Bohème & L’Ivraie, L’Histrion, Sexomorphoses
· Philip Pullman: The Broken Bridge
· Frédéric Lenormand: Mort d’un Cuisinier Chinois, Madame Ti mène l’Enquête, Le Palais des Courtisans, L’art délicat du deuil
· Jonathan Coe: The Accidental Woman
· Arthur C.Clarke: Rendez-vous with Rama, The Fountains of Paradise
· Arthur C.Clarke & Michael Kube-McDowell: The Trigger
· Arthur C.Clarke & Gentry Lee: Rama II, The Gardens of Rama, Rama Revealed
· Angie Sage: Septimus Heap Book 1 - Magyk, Septimus Heap Book 2 - Flyte
· Ian McEwan: Amsterdam, Atonement, The Innoncent
· Roddy Doyle: The Commitments, The Snapper, The Van, The Woman Who Walked into Doors, Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha
· Christopher Fowler: Disturbia
· James Morrow: Towing Jehovah, The Eternal Footman, Blameless in Abaddon
· Laurent Genefort: Omale, Les Conquérants d’Omale, La Muraille Sainte d’Omale, La Mècanique du Talion, Une Porte sur l’Ether, Les Chasseurs de Sève, Le Sand des Immortels, Les Croisés du Vide, Les Engloutis
· Melvyn Burgess: Redtide
· Terry Pratchett: The Carpet People, Night Watch, The Last Hero
· Tobias Hill: Underground
· Matthew Pearl: The Dante Club
· Helen Fielding: Bridget Jones - The Edge of Reason
· P.D.James: Cover Her Face, A Mind To Murder, An Unsuitable Job for a Woman, Innoncent Blood, The Skull Beneath the Skin, Death in Holy Orders, The Black Tower, Shroud for a Nightingale, Death of an Expert Witness, A Taste for Death, Devices and Desires, Unnatural Causes, A Certain Justice, The Murder Room
· Lawrence Block: The Burglar who thought he was Bogart, Out on the Cutting Edge The Sins of the Fathers, In the Midst of Death, Time to Murder and Create, A Ticket to the Boneyard, A Dance at the Slaughterhouse, A Walk Among the Tombstones, The Devil Knows You're Dead, Everybody Dies, All the Flowers are Dying, The Burglar in the Closet, The Burglar Who Studied Spinoza, The Burglar Who Traded Ted Williams, The Burglar in the Library, The Burglar in the Rye, The Burglar on the Prowl
· Orson Scott Card: Enchantement
· David Brin: The Kiln People, Postman, Uplift War
· Ian Rankin: Resurrection Men
· Justine Larbalestier: Magic or Madness
· Margaret Atwood: Surfacing
· Michael Connelly: The Black Echo, The Concrete Blonde, Trunk Music, Angels Flight, A Darkness More Than Night, City Of Bones, Lost Light, The Poet, Blood Work, The Lincoln Lawyer
· Herbert Lieberman: The concierge, La Nuit du Solstice, Le Vagabond de Holmby Park
· Eoin Colfer: The Opal Deception,
· Jasper Fforde: The Eyre Affair, Lost in a Good Book, The Well of Lost Plots,
· Ian Sansom: The Mobile Library - The Case of the Missing Books,
· Alexandra Marinina: Black Note,
· Faye Kellerman: Stalker,
· Jonathan Kellerman: Blood Test, Monster, Doctor Death, The Murder Book
· Sue Grafton: D is for Deadbeat, E is for Evidence, F is for Fugitive, M is for Malice, N is for Noose, O is for Outlaw, P is for Peril, Q is for Quarry, R is for Ricochet
· Nouvelles des Siècles Futurs, An Anthology compiled by Jaques Guimard & Denis Guiot

Reads from 2003 are here.
Reads from 2004 are here.
Reads from 2005 are here.

2006 Film and DVD List

Being a list of films viewed during the current year.
· Good Night, and Good Luck, George Clooney
· Pompoko [Heisei tanuki gassen pompoko], Isao Takahata
· The Pacifier [DVD], Adam Shankman
· Millions [DVD], Danny Boyle
· Truly Madly Deeply [DVD], Anthony Minghella
· La Double Vie de Vèronique [DVD], Krzysztof Kieslowski
· Layer Cake [DVD], Matthew Vaughn
· Ice Age: The Meltdown, Carlos Saldanha
· Natural City [DVD], Byung-chun Min
· Garden State [DVD], Zach Braff
· Volver, Pedro Almodóvar
· Batman Begins, Christopher Nolan
· The Ladykillers, Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
· Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Michel Gondry
· Tideland, Terry Gilliam
· A Cock and Bull Story, Michael Winterbottom
· Flightplan [DVD], Robert Schwentke
· Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, Gore Verbinski
· Casino Royale, Martin Campbell
· X-Men: The Last Stand [DVD], Brett Ratner
· Superman Returns, Bryan Singer
· Nanny McPhee [DVD], Kirk Jones
· V For Vendetta [DVD], James McTeigue
· La Science des Rêves, Michel Gondry
· Infernal Affairs II [Mou gaan dou II] [DVD], Wai Keung Lau, Siu Fai Mak
· Infernal Affairs III [Mou gaan dou III: Jung gik mou gaan] [DVD], Wai Keung Lau, Siu Fai Mak
· A Tale of Two Sisters [Janghwa, Hongryeon] [DVD], Ji-woon Kim
· Mirrormask, Dave McKean
· Labyrinth [DVD], Jim Henson
· The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy [DVD], Garth Jennings
· National Treasure [DVD], Jon Turteltaub
· The Weather Man [DVD], Gore Verbinski
· Bandidas [DVD], Joachim Roenning, Espen Sandberg
· A Bittersweet Life [Dalkomhan insaeng] [DVD], Ji-woon Kim
· Babel, Alejandro González Iñárritu
· The Fountain, Darren Aronofsky
2005 Film and DVDs are here.
Black as Snow

This is just to announce that I have put Juliet online under a Creative Commons licence. It is serialised daily, and will end at the start of April… Enjoy.

The book is called “Black as Snow” and is available from this link.

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Juliet, alone in the world

At the end of the year, I sent Juliet off to a new reader, and I thank her very much for slogging her way through my words. And also for writing back, sending me encouragements not to stop there. I won’t embaress this person by naming her here, but knowing her as a person—however distantly—and as a professional in the publishing industry, means that I attach importance to her words. While she may qualifiy, or rather disqualify, her judgement, it was precisely the kick that I needed to stir me to action.

So yesterday I swatted up my list of agents, and sent out tentative enquiries as to submitting the ms. It is too early to know if any of this will come to anything, but even as I type, Juliet is on her way to other hands, eyes, and opinions.

Now that Juliet is out of my hands, and launched upon the world, for better or worse—she may find her way, but she may just as likely return home, exhausted to sleep for a while within the covers of the folders on my desk—I have been thinking about what is the subject and the matter of the book as I attempt to advance on the others.

It is clear to me that—anthropomorphic rabbits aside—this is a coming of age tale: how Juliet comes to terms with herself, with her new life, with herself, and her abilities, and qualities. This is the novel that I wanted to write. Yet, alongside those events, and the other characters’ actions, there is another presence in the novel.

I never name the place where she lives, but for me it is the Sussex countryside where I played and roamed and explored when I was young. At that time, stumbling onto a sort of bucolic Narnia just through the next thicket, would not have surprised me. This was the possibility that was always there, waiting, suspended, just around the corner. I am not certain in this fenced and frightened time that children still have the liberty to wander as we did, but I am pretty sure that the desire to do so, to go out and invent the land, that that need is still there.

This possibility offered by the land—or the sense of ‘place’, for want of a better term—drawn from my own experience, is also present in one of my other working manuscripts. The opening scene of Tooth—for the moment, at any rate—takes place with the protangonists routing for flints in a freshly ploughed field. Exactly the sort of joyful and pointless thing that we got up to.

As I now have four books on the boiler (well, three, if I consider that Juliet is off the boil, and may be revised, but is, to all intents and purposes, finished as is) it is also interesting to look at the themes. While they are all in the magical fantasy canon, there are nonetheless two different undercurrents running in there.

Juliet and Died both have elements of terror in them. Terror, not horror. Horror for me is somewhat explicit. Terror is the feeling of unease lying behind the events and the characters. It is not explicite descriptions, but an atmosphere of disturbance and ill ease.

Pirates, and the latest sketches currently living under the name of Tooth, are on the other hand, adventures. It is perhaps caricatural—and revealing—that it never occurred to me that the principal character of Pirates was anything but male, even if his principal opponent is a very strong-willed girl (the good baddie). In fact, she is a much stronger character than Colin, and he does spend much of the plot being a wimp.

Tooth, came naturally with a female protagonist (probably as, like Juliet and Died it is being written with Kim in mind), but the plot is much more complicated, and I am currently battling on paper with lists of characters, groups, collections of people, waiting for the more forceful ones to push their way to the surface and impose their points of view. Lots of them will inevitably be male. I can’t help that. It’s the world that they live in. Although the absence of women, and the fact that my protagonist—not to say hero/heroine—is female, is part of the story/plot.

Why is it important to bring in strong female characters?

For a start, I’m pretty sure that children identify with strong characters. I don’t think it matters that much to them whether they are male or female. Just that if they are strong, they can feel for them in their struggle. Secondly, if girls can get a strong role—and not just as good baddies—it does provide a form of role model saying, Yes, you can do this. Girls can give as good as they get, and better even. As a father of three quite strong (and complex, and differing) girls, I am definately aware of this.

And finally, so many adventure stories are male-orientated. It is important that female characters impose themselves in the genre. I personally don’t have any qualms about my being an old white male trying to write this material: after all, Lyra—one of the most remarquable ‘heros’ of recent times—was also written by an old white male—makes us sound like gorillas, doesn’t it?—and she is absolutely marvellous. Would that I can become half as good a writer as Pullman is.

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2005 Reading List

Being a list of books read during the current year.

Bruce Sterling: Heavy Weather, Holy Fire, Bruce Sterling
Terry Pratchett: The Fifth Elephant, The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents, The Truth, Thief of Time
Lemony Snicket: The Austere Academy, The Hostile Hospital, The Vile Village, The Carniverous Carnival
Walter Jon Williams: Metropolitan, City on Fire,
Iain (M.)Banks: Excession, Use Of Weapons, The Player Of Games, Look To Windward, The State of The Art, The Business, The Wasp Factory
Eoin Colfer: The Supernaturalist
Douglas Adams, Terry Jones: Starship Titanic
Douglas Coupland: All Families Are Psychotic, Microserfs
Carolyn Parkhurst: The Dogs of Babel,
Robert Charles Wilson: Gypsies, The Harvest
Jan Mark: Useful Idiots
Leon Garfield: Mr Corbett’s Ghost

Susanna Clarke: Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
Dan Brown: The Da Vinci Code
Mike Brotherton: Star Dragon
Poppy Z.Brite: Swamp Foetus
John Irving: The World According to Garp, Widow for a Year
Nick Hornby: High Fidelity
Brian Eno: A Year With Swollen Appendices
Jonathan Coe: The Closed Circle
Donna Tartt: The Secret History,
Hanif Kureishi: The Buddha of Suburbia
Philip Pullman: Lyra’s Oxford, The Tin Princess
Philip K.Dick: Complete Short Stories, Vol.1, 1947-1953, Complete Short Stories, Vol.2, 1954-1981
Ian Rankin: The Falls, Hide And Seek, Knots and Crosses, The Hanging Garden, Black and Blue, Witch Hunt, Dead Souls
Haruki Murakami: Sputnik Sweetheart, Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World: A Novel, The Elephant Vanishes [Short Stories]
Neil Gaiman: Neverwhere,
Margaret Atwood: Oryx and Crake, The Handmaiden’s Tale
Daniel Wallace: Big Fish
Vincent Ravalec: La Vie Moderne [Short Stories]
Stephen Davis: Bob Marley
Jerome Charyn: Call Me Malaussène [Short Story]
Mark Haddon: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Diana Wynne Jones: Castle In The Sky
Cory Doctorow: Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town
Don DeLillo: White Noise, The Body Artist
Jay McInerney: Model Behavior, How It Ended, Ransom
Paul Auster: The Book of Illusions
Martin Amis: Yellow Dog
Greg Bear: Slant, Queen of Angels, Moving Mars, Legacy, Vitals
J.K.Rowlings: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Louis Sacher: There’s A Boy In The Girl’s Bathroom
Jonathan Stroud: The Amulet of Samarkand, The Golem’s Eye
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: The Lost World
Salman Rushdie: Midnight’s Children
Neal Stephenson: Cryptonomicon, Snow Crash
Kim Stanley Robinson: Red Mars, Green Mars, Blue Mars, The Martians, Icehenge, The Wild Coast, The Gold Coast
Dan Simmons: Hyperion, The Fall of Hyperion, Endymion, The Rise of Endymion
Orson Scott Card: Ender’s Game, Speaker for the Dead, Xenocide, Children of the Mind, Ender’s Shadow, Shadow of the Hegemon
Jasper Fford: The Eyre Affair
John le Carré: Single & Single
David Sedaris: Naked
Ursula Le Guin: The Other Wind
Stephen Baxter: The Time Ships, Voyage, Titan
Joe Haldeman: The Forever War, Forever Free
Christopher Fowler: Psychoville
Robert J.Sawyer: Factoring Humanity
Jeffrey Ford: The Physiognomy
Fabrice Colin: Dreamericana, Le Fils des Tenebres
Greg Egan: Terenesia, Quarantine, Distress
Ray Bradbury: The Illustrated Man [Short Stories]
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Small Thoughts about ‘The Half-Blood Prince’

Curiously this was the book that I read the most in 2005, and I can’t really understand why…

I started reading the Harry Potter books when The Goblet of Fire was released in French, and I decided that I should perhaps read that one before Kim. I quickly read through the first ones, and then GOF, which, I’ll admit, shook me more than a little at the time, what with the sudden death of Cedric Diggory at the end. Even the intrusion of the Death Eaters at the Quidditch World Cup was rather scary, containing elements of the rise of fascism in Europe. In fact, the whole “pure blood”, “Death Eaters” and Voldemort business does seem to have very clear fascist overtones, and can be considered heavy matter for children’s reading. Not that I think children’s reading should be sanitised, just that it is a good idea, as a parent, to know what one’s children are reading, and to be ready to accompany them, and to answer questions.

As a reader, I still have problems with J.K.Rowling’s books. It is clear that she has built a solid and convincing world, a sort of mirror image of a certain type of children’s fiction—I’m sure that C.S.Lewis, for example, would feel perfectly at home in the Houses, and boarding school environment, that is Hogwarts. However her writing is leaden most of the time, her pacing is generally pretty off: both in Order of the Phoenix, and HBP, one has the feeling that she has to get some much of the backstory out of the way first that the climax is suddenly rushed. And the whole hunting-the-Horcrux-in-the-green-cave episode in HBP is a complete non-sequitur that reminds me of John le Carré’s The Honourable Schoolboy, when Jerry Westerby disappears off on a wild goose chase into the wilds of Indochina in a fascinating diversion that brings nothing positive to the story except echoes of Joseph Conrad, even if it is beautifully done.

Probably the thing that I retain most from JKR’s writing is that a strong plot, a coherent world, and credible (and complex) characters are more important than a developed or elegant style. Sure, that would be a bonus, but it is surely better to get the books out and read, than to get them perfect. I also get a very strong Dickensien feel from the books, particularly the descriptions of food, of gatherings, and the naming of characters.

I approached HBP with trepidation. I had heard, as a lot of others had, that an ‘important’ character would die. I did not believe that this would be Dumbledore, and, each time I have read the book, invariably, I found myself crying at his burial scene.

I have no qualms about revealing now that Dumbledore dies for two reasons: one, most of those who intend to read the book, have already done so, and secondly, to say that revealing he dies will ruin the book is, frankly, rubbish. This is not a whodunit. A book is not the ‘answer’ at the end. A book is the shared journey through the pages. In fact, were I working on the screen adaptation of the novel, I’d start with the funeral, and us the ceremony to recap the contents of the book, just to get the false suspense out of the way. Why he does [if he does..] is more interesting that the blunt statement: Dumbledore dies.

However, I am assuming that if you are reading me, you have either read the book, or you have no intention of doing so, so consider this a spoiler warning.

I read HBP a fourth time because JKR stated in an interview that Books 6 and 7 could be taken as two halves of the same book, and that there were a lot of clues as to the last tome inside this one. So I went hunting. This is what I find…

Harry and Ron are probably the most developed characters. This is normal. Harry is the hero, and Ron and the rest of the Weasley’s are his substitute family. But we have quite a bit of backstory on a few other characters, and that is interesting.

We know a lot about Snape, surprisingly enough. While it is logical that Book 6 provided Voldemort’s backstory, Book 5 provided Snape’s, with HBP filling in a few blanks. I will be quite clear: Snape is my most favourite character in the films, and I believe that Alan Rickman’s interpretation is masterful. Where the Snape in the books is sallow, dirty, and ambiguous, Rickman’s performance has majesty, menace personified (it is lucky he can fit so much into so little as his lines seem to get shorter and shorter in each film), and a voice that would make a statue tremble as he calls out its name. But, the major question is, Is Snape guilty?

My answer is no.

I base this on an overheard conversation that Hagrid reports to Harry.

From the Bloomsbury UK children’s edition, page 380:
“I dunno, harry, I shouldn’ta heard it all! I—well, I was comin’ outta the Forest the other evenin’ an’ I overheard ‘em talkin’—well, arguin’. Didn’t like te draw attention to meself, so I sorta sulked an’ tried not ter listen, but it was a – well, a heated discussion, an’ it wasn’ easy ter block it out.”
“Well?” Harry urged him, as Hagrid shuffled his enormous feet uneasily.
“Well—I jus’ heard Snape sayin’ Dumbledore took too much fer granted an’ maybe he—Snape—didn’ wan’ ter do it anymore—”

The conversation peters out with Harry and Hagrid trying to determine what ‘it’ was. So why put this in? It is obvious that JKR wants us to understand something. At the time we are lead to believe that this is probably searching Slytherin for evidence of Malfoy’s misdeeds, but why? To set us on a false trail.

Dumbledore knows he is being overheard. He is, after all, a most powerful wizard and he could easily (and silently) cloak the conversation. He knows Hagrid is there, in the same way that he knew Harry was under the Invisibility cloak in The Prisoner of Azkaban, and he knows that the conversation will be reported to Harry. He also knows that, when the time comes, it is necessary for Harry to know this. For if Snape ‘kills’ Dumbledore, it is on Dumbledore’s specific orders.

Go reread the chapter of the killing and you will see, quite clearly, that Dumbledore is reminding Snape of his duty and his engagement, not pleading for his life. But why?

[note I have just found a site that supports my theories, go see dumbledoreisnotdead.com ]

Dumbledore knows that only this ultimate sacrifice can allow a number of things to come to pass… What are these things?

One, and probably the most important, is to protect Malfoy. Dumbledore is, before being one of the most powerful wizards of his time, the Headmaster of Hogwarts, and as such, he has a duty to protect his charges. At this point Malfoy has not committed the irreparable; in fact, he has serious doubts, and Dumbledore uses his last breath to encourage the boy, and show him that there is hope, that all is not inevitable, he can resist, and the Order will assist him. We saw from what Moaning Myrtle told us, that behind the façade, Malfoy is not at all at ease with what he has got himself into. Dumbledore offers him hope and forgiveness. In my opinion, Malfoy’s dilemma should be central to Book 7, as Harry will need allies in Voldemort’s camp.

The second point is precisely that: Who, after he has ‘killed’ Dumbledore, can ever doubt that Snape is the most faithful of Voldemort’s followers. Snape will be confirmed as the closest helper of the Dark Lord. Ready to help Harry, although Harry will probably not realise this until it is too late, blinded as he is by his hate for Snape. I expect Dumbledore’s portrait—sleeping peacefully at the end of HBP—to provide some explanations here, even if Harry doesn’t want to believe it.

Finally, Dumbledore, through his love for the school and for Harry, had to protect Harry. Why did he freeze Harry? Snape noticed that there were two broomsticks on the tower. He knew, or guessed that Harry was there under the Invisibility cape, but did nothing. He didn’t kill him either as Harry chased him through the school grounds. Dumbledore, making the sacrifice, like Harry’s mother before him, shows that Good Magic will always be more powerful that the Dark Arts.

And we should remember that Dumbledore’s familiar is, after all, a Phoenix. Expect surprises here… No, he won’t rise from the dead, but he will be back in Book 7.

But can Harry really beat Voldemort?

Voldemort is supposed to be the most powerful practitioner of the Dark Arts. He has mastered spells that Harry can’t even imagine. He has returned from the dead, and is quite prepared to do that again, and again… yet Harry was unable to attack Snape, or even perform a summoning spell, while frozen under the cape. And this boy thinks he can defeat the Dark Lord?

He will need help from Ron and Hermione, probably from Ginny as well as we know she has a strong character and a good way with hexes, and I doubt that she’ll let Harry let her go. And her parents will be horrified. Even more so as most of the Weasley children will probably come down on Harry’s side: don’t forget that while Fred and George love their work and a good jape as much as the next person, more than just monetarily, they feel they have a debt to Harry. After all, it was he they chose to give the Marauder’s Map to, not to Ron… (I fear Luna and Neville will also help, as they’re like that… Good loyal friends. I also fear for them, as it is likely that they could be the first victims.) Snape and Malfoy will have their parts to play, and without this combined assistance Harry will not be able to vanquish Voldemort.

But will Harry die?

JKR has stated quite clearly that there would be seven books and that’s all. The easiest way to make sure of this is to do a Conan-Doyle and to kill off your hero. (Well, at least he tried.)

I don’t think Harry will die. He will lose his scar, I’m pretty sure of that. But he won’t die, and neither will Voldemort necessarily. I see Voldemort as being banished into a non-life, trapped forever inside one of his part lives, one of his Horcruxes. This would be a far greater ‘punishment’ for his actions than just dying. Perhaps Sirius Black and the curtain in the department of mysteries plays a part in this banishment…

If Harry does live, I’d rather like to see one more book. A sort of “Twenty Years After”. When, rather than danger, Harry, Ron, Hermione and the others have to face the fact that they’ve grown up, that they have children of their own and jobs and responsibilities to the wizarding community, and all that that brings with it. It would be a fitting ending for this saga that having year by year watched the heroes and villains grow from children to adults, it also accompanies them onto to the next generation.

Well, I can wish.

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Here be spoilers...

..but only very small ones.

When I mention it some of my friends mention that wonder at the fact that not only do re-read books, but I often come back many times to them. Recently I re-read Icehenge by Kim Stanley Robinson, and noticed something that I hadn’t before. This is one of the pleasures of re-reading: the plot, and characters are known, and you can concentrate on other things.

The book is in three parts: the first is the journal of one Emma Weil, the second an account by the archeologist Hjalmar Nederland, and the third and final part is provided by Edmond Doya. The first part, we learn in the second, is in fact a found journal. Found by Nederland. Through this find, the history of Mars—written by the ‘winners’—becomes rewritten. Yet the first part is possibly fiction. I’ll explain.

When we pick up a book of fiction we are expecting exactly that. Yet we accept to suspend our belief and accept that, within the confines of that book, that world, what we are reading is ‘real’. Thus, when we first read the Emma’s account of the mutiny and the Mars Starship Association, we feel for Emma. We believe. It is real.

In the second part, Nederland finds the book. He becomes the reader. He reads what we have read, we share his experience in reading. In reading, the journal becomes real to him. Incidentally it provides proof for him not only of events that have been covered up up to now, but when Icehenge is discovered on Pluto’s north pole, the journal also provides the clue as to the origin of this strange, stark and beautiful monument.

What is the role left for Dory? He is the critic. For him, the journal starts out as being ‘real’. But we follow his journey of enquiry: what if this journal was not the real account of one Emma Weil, but a fiction ? Possibly based around real events, but we aren’t even sure of that any more…

To compound this, the Nederland that we see in part three is not the young [relatively, we’re talking about post-humans here, with thousand-year life spans] ambitious professor, but a cog in the machine, part of the system, struggling to defend his ‘truth’, his ‘reality’, in the same way that those in power, fought against him in part two.

So the whole book takes on another dialogue, about the nature of fiction, about our role as reader, about the nature of ‘reality’ that the book is supplying.

When I first read Icehenge, I found it a ripping yarn. Robinson reminds me of Ursula Le Guin’s best work in that his worlds [and people] are complex, peopled with ‘real’ complex people. Now I see a new manuscript hiding under the palimpsest. And I’m sure that when I re-read the book some time hence, I will again suspend belief, enjoy the tale, and find new cause for wonder.

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...with a small ‘d’

It was one of those moments of weird synchronicity or coincidence. Call it destiny with a small ‘d’.

I was reading John Irving’s Widow For A Year just after Jay McInerney’s Model Behavior and, you know what? neither of these had chapters. They had sections of varying lengths, set off with a title, but no formal chapters. This, predictably, brought about the question of where the chapter as we know it in contemporary literature, came from in the first place. It is a bit like punctuation—so obviously there that you can’t envisage a world without it. And then you find yourself reading not one, but two books, that throw that out of the window. It was most liberating, even if I still don’t know who invented the chapter.

However, I saw that using this type of structure in Juliet would solve a lot of the little issues that I’d been having and were giving me doubts. So I pulled out the latest revision copy on the computer, duplicated it, and set down to transforming an awkward chaptered story, to an unchaptered one using the books I mentioned as models. This also—at last—gave me room for the new introduction that I had been working on for some time, the one that appears to quell my qualms about the start, and to adequately introduce the two separate twists of the Y shape.

And there it was… finished but for the shouting.

Juliet has been sent out to trusted beta-readers, and I’m anxiously waiting for reactions…

[Parenthetical remark about starts. There is a school of thought that says go for a hard-hitter and pull in the reader. This seems to be popular with agents and publishers too according to the advice that I see on the web—and the habit of now asking just for the first chapter of a manuscript. Yet, when I look back at books I have enjoyed—and now I going out of contemporary lit—they don’t seem to have the ‘get up and grab ‘em by the throat’ approach. This seems to be a modern thing, born of the need to quickly make a mark in a time of decreasing attention spans. Yes, a story should entwine you into it’s world and the initial dilemmas that it poses quite quickly, otherwise you’re not going to want to spend time with it. But does this mean that every opening scene must be aggressive and ‘in your face’? So where does one draw the hard-hitter line? For Juliet, I went for a start that I hope intrigues, that allows me to present her, and to introduce the world. No, it isn’t a hard-hitter. But I count that it encourages readers to continue… I’ll see.]

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A small step for all Munnkind

Dear Reader, I am appealing to your finer sensibilities in the instance of my current dilemma. Put in a nutshell, my Dad wishes me to censure this blog.

Before I explain the full complicated horror of the situation, I had better give you some background on my Dad, who was a sprightly 140 years young last Christmas tide. As you can imagine, all this technology and Internet stuff is a bit new for him. When we were young, he didn’t even want telephones in the house, forcing us to go to the neighbours every time we wanted to send, or receive a phone call. He did, however, think that electricity was a fine idea: he had all us children pedalling away on the generators. Kept us quiet and out of the way, he said.

Finally, a couple of years back, he got himself a computer. About a year later he managed to persuade someone to switch it on for me, and since then he hasn’t looked back [nor dared switch it off]. His first steps on the Internet—a small step for Munnkind, a great falling over on one’s face for humanity—went fine once we persuaded him to stop stuffing cheddar suppositories into the mouse.

This should let you know then that my father and technology get along like a house on fire. Especially if you let him fix your fuse box.

Now that you’re up to date, I’ll try to explain our difference: you might have noticed that this blog is subtitled “sending news to Mum and the world since last week”. [It originally read ”...since the middle of last week”, but that was too wide for the page and I had to trim it.] Those of you who didn’t skip Lit classes at school might find irony in that statement. The others will find it sarky. You’ll both be right. This blog obtained its subtitle by the simple grace of my Mum saying on the phone that I never wrote and gave news.

Then this arrived this week:
I wish I knew what the devil you are on about most of the time . I get the cat bit, and you have my sympathy with regard to your shoes but why have you had to follow the example of so many other less imaginative people. and introduce swearing, when there are so many other words that are A More Beautiful, B more expressive C more imaginative Dmore emphatic and E less offensive—How can I print this out and show your Mother. Bear in mind that your original dedication was to her.

Thanks Dad.

Now I know why Mum complains when I suggest that she badger you into printing out the news. However I don’t get it… “but why have you had to follow the example of so many other less imaginative people. and introduce swearing”? Why indeed. I went back to the posts and read through, looking for swearing. And I don’t get it. Where do I swear?

Aside: The last couple of times that I have seen my Dad, I was surprised at his language, he was peppering his sentences with casual interjections of a vulgar nature, not just things of a polite ‘darned gob-smacking nincompoops’ nature, but the sort of Bill Grundyisms that got you thrown off the BBC when I still lived in GB. I put it down to age. I put it down to Tourette Syndrome. I put it down to the fact that old people nowadays are just not like the old people we had around when I was young. I think he is just not aware of how he is speaking.

Now, I use this blog to note and explore writings. If I am describing a a place or situation, or trying to build a character, then I will use language that is appropriate to that. You don’t expect a docker to speak like the Pope do you? And descriptions and writing would be poorer and sadder [not to mention full of stuttering] were this the case. It doesn’t mean anything goes and all that I write is wonderful, far from it. This is all trial and error.

I read over the pages expecting to stumble on a muckle of swear words. But I didn’t. I did find one smattering of an old-fashioned four-letter word but it was used in a context to describe exactly what it said it was, and not as some gratuitous interjection.

Please, can you find liberal swathes of swearing, wandering this blog in all liberty? If so, please get it touch and point them out to me.

Dad, perhaps the best thing to do would be just to print out the stuff, and give it to Mum. And if she’s not happy with it, perhaps, at her age, she’s old enough to say so. And if she’s fine with it, well, then she can catch up with a bit of news from me. No?

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what we did on our holidays...

It just came to me the night before last… a provisional driving license. I was reading Douglas Coupland’s wonderfully cooky All Families are Psychotic at the time, and ever since have been trying to see if there is some deep ‘cause and effect’ in play somewhere. I will now explain for those in the back row who I can see are fidgetting as they weren’t paying attention when they should…

Over a year ago I completed a novel—not a kid’s story, but a comic novel for adults—which I then shut in a drawer. To a certain extent I was happy to have just finished the damn thing. On the other hand, it was bad. No, bad is not the fair word in this instance. It was uneven, flawed, and possessed of a hefty bump in the middle. So I ‘drawed’ it. I have regretted this at times because—like the parson’s egg—it was good in parts. What was unfortunate also was that I liked the characters, and, in my head, they had already started to live out more adventures.

But the problems was the bump. While that was there, there was no point in trying to do anything.

And so, as I said, the other night I realised that a provisional driving license would solve everything. And, it fitted in with the character arc for that character who is slowly moving back into society, and life, and such. OK, I’ll have to do a bit of research in order to verify that things have not changed too much since my day, but it would be fun if this was back on the rails.

Plus. In about a week we are heading off on holiday for a week to Ludivine’s parents’ new place in the South. [How I will update the other blog while away, I don’t know… we’ll fall off that bridge when we get to it.] And so it occurred to me that I could work that week revising the novel. In fact, all this ‘other’ work is taking too large a chunk out of my days—in addition to the musicBlog, there is the site that I’m building for some photographers, and various other stuff. But I’d like to get back to revising Juliet [I have some ideas of how to do this], and Pirates needs continuing now that I cleaned up a little problem in it. And there’s Died just screaming to be written.

I’ll keep you posted.

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a blue morning

Another piece of fiction, I hasten to add, [to introduce some songs by Kristen Hersh], for that blog, over the way.

. . . . .

Blue light creeps round the pulled curtains as the day crawls back into place over Paris. Like everyday, you’re there to greet it. If greeting is the word. You pull the curtains aside, unlatch the shutters and inhale the freezing morning air. It is probably the only time of the day that life outside is supportable. When it is cold and fresh and crackly, when people haven’t yet had time to fuck it up. It’s like, as a kid, discovering a whole field of snow just for you, before people with boots and cars and dog shit can mess it up. You could breathe that cold white blueness.

You breathe. And then the cough hits in, and you close the window waiting for the shaking and shuddering to calm. Then you move to put the water on the gaz flame, to heat for a coffee.

The light from a window hits a postcard on the wall. It is long, longer than a normal-sized card, and washed out in this icy-fresh morning light. But the image was overexposed anyway. That was the effect that the photographer wanted. Or the person who designed the postcard. Or was it an accident? It seems so deliberate, emphasizing the pounding desert heat crushing the spiky Joshua Tree on the edge of the picture. You wonder why you pinned it up, just there on the wall. And was it you anyway? Or just another you… not this one, not today.

You want to listen to Kristen Hersh, Your Ghost. That bleak voice and sparse orchestration echoing down that corridor that’s empty too. Michael Stripe’s voice as if he’s whispering to you, only you, from behind the door. You need that empty, echoing space.

You curse at the computer that can’t find the track. What good is a computer that loses files? You calm, you resist, you don’t throw it across the room. To see it smash against that blue wall. You set it down. You order it to play what Hersh it can find, counting that something in there will either sooth those grated nerves. Or scrub them up so badly they’ll ring and throb in tune to the songs.

A new feeling in a new day.

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the story of how ‘The Group’ split up

This is a piece that I wrote in French for my musicBlog. It is the first time that I have used fiction there to introduce the music and found the experience interesting. Here goes…

Music would never be the same again…

Exercing delicate care, Chris picked up the needle and set it back to the beginning of the track. The opening chords, guitar, organ and cymbols, marking the beginning of Los Endos, squeaked from the small loudspeaker on the floor between his feet. He slipped his long blond hair behind his ears, set the guitar to his knees, and made himself more comfortable on the edge of the bed. His hands fluttered up and down the guitar neck, occasionally departing into a flurrying cascade of solo guitar work, as he silently barred the chords that he’d manage to transcribe so far.

Brian looked up from the cramped desk where he was sitting. Chris’s parents had bought it for their son when he was eleven and had passed his Eleven Plus, promising him a future at a Grammar School. Back then it had seemed spacious and wonderful. Now it was small, uncomfortable, and embaressing. Not only by its size, but by the promise that it had once seemed to contain. Brian sucked on his pencil lead. Then he, too, pushed his hair back behind his ears. Unlike Chris’s, his was still sticky from the last round of Yuck. But not sticky enough to stay in place when he bent forward. Yuck it should be noted was a popular game among Brian’s circle of friends. Yuck was generally a race to finish drinking a cup of coffee entirely by the means of dipping your hair in it, and then sucking the hair. Preferably in public. Hard-core ‘Yahoos’, as players of Yuck were known as, also played it with soup. This was why it was called Yuck.

Brian’s hair fell forward, and over his eyes again. At times like this he thought it would be easier just to tie it back, but no-one did that, so it was a no-no. Or even, just to get the mess cut off, once and for good. But again, everyone and his dog was growing his hair out long, so that too was out of the question.

He looked enviously over at Chris, sitting on the bed by the record player. His hair always seemed to stay firmly behind his ears. Except when, on particularly long and bendy notes, he wanted it to wave around. Then it seemed to understand, and it flowed, underlining the emotion in his guitar solo. That, and the fact that he had ears big enough to hold the hair back in the first place. Which was probably why he had grown it.

“Can I rhyme ‘Platypus’ with ‘bus’?” asked Brian. As the official lyricist for the group, the others expected him to work wonders in three minutes on the back of an envelope.

“I thought we agreed the song was called Galadriel,” retorted Chris, as the last tinny cries of Phil Collins’ voice faded. “How come you’ve got a platypus in there?”

Chris lifted the needle again, and carefully set it back to he beginning of the track.

“Well, she went to ‘Australia’,” started Martin. “She had to, you see, to rhyme with ‘paraphenalia’...”

“Dunno…” Chris hesitated, half-closing his eyes and leaning backwards. “Doesn’t seem quite, I dunno, mystical enough to me. Galadriel went to Australia with her paraphenalia and got on the bus with a platypus... I thought this was supposed to be a song of unrequited love between a fairy princess and a butterfly that is her secret elven lover…”

“Look, if you want to write the…”

“No way, now I’ve finally managed to drop English Litt, I’m not going—”

The door burst open and a tall, thin figure wrapped in a roomy khaki jacket bounced into the room. For a moment Chris and Brian did a double take until it dawned on both of them that this was Pete.

He’d changed.

His hair which had been long coal-black locks floating down around his shoulders in a way which got the deputy head furious and made the girls swoon, had been hacked into short, untidy spikes that ressembled the fur on the back of a bedraggled puppy. But it was the same manic smile underneath.

“Sorry I’m late,” he said, before anyone could say anything, still in a state of shock. “But wait till you see these…”

He reached under the army-surplus jacket, the dense wool greasy and matted from continual wear and use, and pulled out a handful of records. Except these were singles, not albums.

No-one bought singles. Those were for kids. And pop music. Everyone knew that pop music wasn’t serious music. And everyone knew that it was the album that allowed artists to reach their true potential. That was what Bernard Levin was saying in the Sunday Times, no?. In the twenty-something minutes of a side, an artist could finally say something. A new art form was emerging. A single was..What? Fve, perhaps seven minutes maximum? What could you hope to do with that? And then these had picture sleeves, that was strange…

Chris took the small pile of records that Pete was waving in his face. Chris flicked through them, deciphering the covers that all appeared to be some sort of childlike collage, and not at all the subtle and wonderful Roger Dean covers that we’d come to expect.

The What? Generation, Richard Hell. Damned, New Rose...” murmured Chris as if struggling for comprehension.

“Nah! Pisshead! It’s New Rose by The Damned.”

Pete passed over two more disks from the deep pockets on the other side of the jacket.

“Sheila…” Chris started.

SheeNA!” hissed Pete.

”...Is A …what?” Chris stuttered. “A punk pocker?” His face creased in perplexity.

“And,” trumpeted Pete, holding up one more record like a trophy. It was not a picture sleeve this time, just an ordinary bright red paper pocket, “Anarchy in the UK!

“Pete? Are you sure you’re feeling OK? have you taken something funny? You can tell us, y’know…”

Pete ignored him, reached over and lifted the needle off Trick of the Tail, switched the speed to 45. He twisted the volume all the way up, and launched into the last disk. “Nah,” he said. “You’ll love this!”

Martial drums thundered, followed by a dark evil voice laughing, or more likely coughing, clearing cataarh from a tar-laden throat, before a high-pitched voice screamed out over the house, the street, the whole peaceful suburb. “I am the anti-Christ!

Mum’s head burst round the bedroom door.

“What is that noise?” she bellowed. “Turn it off now! Whatever it is. I’m not having that in my house!”

“See what I mean?” Pete winked.

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Cat in the bathroom

A towel falls;
a whole new continent.
Cat wonders
at this capacity humans possess
to change their environment.
Not just to play with it.

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back to the grindstone...

Curiously enough, and I’ll admit that I’m one of the amazed, Pirates is back on the rails. I just started rewriting the points in Chapter Three that needed rewriting, and it started working. I’m rather worried. There are other points that will probably need changing, and I suppose that I shall re-read all that has been done up to now, but I think I can probably continue. I’ll keep you posted.

On the writing front, I have just finished reading The Wish List by Eoin Colfer, it was a great read, and while the end was predictable, it was very nicely done, and had some lovely twists on the way. It was also a fine book in that, at no point did it pull its punches. It deals with crime, old age, child abuse, moral problems, but at no point—except for the age of the protagonist, and her world view—did I feel that it was a children’s book. No, it was difficult and subtle. Just before this I had read volume 2 of the Artemis Fowl stories. This was disappointing. It was a good bottle read, but the fizz went out very quickly, and there was none of the nuance and feeling in Wish List.

Oh, and I haven’t been a good boy. I haven’t sent Juliet out to agents. I’m probably worried about this, and would like an impartial opinion. I’d like to change the beginning, but on the other hand, whatever changes I might make won’t change the Y structure. However I still wonder if this first scene [that I have in my head] would help or not. Should I send off the manuscript? Indecision…

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