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Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Wishing You a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year


Season's Greetings


Here's wishing you the very best for
Christmas and the New Year.




Image for The Snowing and Greening of Thomas Passmore
pp. 224 & 263

Saturday, 13 December 2008

Review at 'The Witty Ways of a Wayward Wife'

Over at The Witty Ways of a Wayward Wife, the lovely Mrs T gave The Snowing and Greening of Thomas Passmore a green thumbs up. Not only has she selected a verdant colour scheme for this post, but has accompanied her glowing review with some superb photos, which certainly do justice to the way I was imagining a few key scenes in the novel. And as for the analogy to a 'rich dark truffle' -- well, coming from a chocaholic, I'm flattered. I'm also delighted that Mrs T felt so attuned to the language of the novel.

Thanks, Jane. What an excellent Christmas pressie you've given me.

Friday, 5 December 2008

Ways To Maintain A Healthy Level Of Insanity

It can be a crazy time of year and a tad frantic at times, so it was timely when someone at work sent me a version of the following:

Ways To Maintain A Healthy Level Of Insanity


1. At lunch-time, sit in your parked car with sunglasses on and point a hair-dryer at passing cars. See if they slow down.

2. Page yourself over the intercom. Don't disguise your voice.

3. Stand at the bottom of a tall building, point up and shout, 'Don't jump!'

4. Put your paper bin on your desk and label it 'IN.'

5. Put decaf in the coffee maker for 3 weeks. Once everyone has got over their caffeine addictions, switch to espresso.

6. In the memo field of all your bank debits, write 'For Smuggling Diamonds.'

7. Finish all your sentences with: 'In accordance with the prophecy.'

8 don't use any punctuation or capital letters

9. As often as possible, skip rather than walk.

10. Whenever you go out to eat, order a Diet Water.

11. Sing along at the opera.

12. Go to a poetry recital and ask why the poems don't rhyme?

13. Put mosquito netting around your work area and play tropical sounds all day.

15. Invent a wrestling name for yourself and insist that your co-workers address you by this. (What name would you choose? I'll stick with
The Burmanator.)

16. When the money comes out of the ATM, scream: 'I Won! I Won!'

17. When leaving the zoo, start running towards the car park, yelling: 'Run for your lives, they're loose!!'

18. Tell your children over dinner: 'Due to the economy, we're going to have to let one of you go.'

19. Think of an appropriately inappropriate idea for Number 14 and post it as a comment along with your wrestling name.

20. Smile whenever you have no reason to.

Friday, 28 November 2008

Birthday!

Amongst others, it's William Blake's 251st birthday today. Happy birthday, Will!

From what little I know about him, his unconventional views and unique voice led to him being regarded as either madman or mystic. That alone makes him interesting but, beyond that, I've always admired the edge to his poetry -- the dark shadow lurking -- as well as what he added to the art of the period. To celebrate this day, here's not only a smattering of his words (something other than Tyger, Tyger and Jerusalem) and an image, but also a birthday song from The Beatles.


I Asked A Thief

I asked a thief to steal me a peach:
He turned up his eyes.
I ask'd a lithe lady to lie her down:
Holy & meek she cries---

As soon as I went
An angel came.
He wink'd at the thief
And smil'd at the dame.

And without one word said
Had a peach from the tree
And still as a maid
Enjoy'd the lady.
(1796)

The Human Abstract

Pity would be no more
If we did not make somebody Poor;
And Mercy no more could be
If all were as happy as we.

And mutual fear brings peace
Till the selfish loves increase:
Then Cruelty knits a snare,
And spreads his baits with care.

He sits down with holy fears,
And waters the ground with tears;
Then Humility takes its root
Underneath his foot.

Soon spreads the dismal shade
Of Mystery over his head;
And the Catterpiller and Fly
Feed on the Mystery.

And it bears the fruit of Deceit,
Ruddy and sweet to eat;
And the Raven his nest has made
In its thickest shade.

The Gods of the earth and sea
Sought thro' Nature to find this Tree;
But their search was all in vain:
There grows one in the Human Brain.

Saturday, 22 November 2008

Recent reads


Caught up with a bit of reading recently, particularly during the holiday in Queensland (distant memory that it is). Was keen to get between the covers of the Legend Press titles I bought a few months back. I won't rabbit on about all of them here -- not today -- but must say I enjoyed many of the short stories in The Remarkable Everyday and Seven Days (and will be looking forward to opening Legend's other collection of shorts, Eight Hours, before long). It's good to see a publisher invest in this sort of anthology and I'm never quite sure why so many are reluctant to. To my mind, it can be a tremendously gratifying form and a well-written short story can have as much impact on a reader as a novel. It certainly ain't all about size.

Luke Bitmead's White Summer also hit the right nerve with me. Particularly enjoyed the humour and the voice he created here. A very entertaining yarn (which is, first and foremost, what every novel should aim to achieve) with the added bonus of being set in a locality I once knew.

And I'm just a few pages away from finishing Kathryn Harrison's Envy (Fourth Estate). This is a very sharp piece of writing about sexual betrayal from a haunted/disturbed psychoanalyst's point of view. Whilst the writing can seem introspective at times, this introspection is a significant aspect of Will Moreland's story, and Kathryn Harrison has me convinced that she must have trained in psychoanalysis too, such is the credibility of this aspect of her writing. There are twists and surprises enough in Envy to keep the story moving at a compelling pace, and I'll be looking out for her other titles.

Saturday, 8 November 2008

Thomas Passmore in America

Following hard on the heels of Barack Obama's victory in America, Thomas Passmore enjoyed a sweet victory of his own: a wonderful review from American-based Kathleen Maher at Diary of a Heretic.

Snuggled comfortably between a poster for Obama and an image of Bob Marley, I don't think he could want better company (see this week's Main Page of Kathleen's Reviews, Memes & Badges site).

I thoroughly enjoyed the way Kathleen crafted this review, and the phrase "he makes a pilgrimage through his past" is, I believe, one of many apt descriptions she's coined for the book. (Thanks.) What particularly pleases me is that The Snowing and Greening appears to be 'translating' well for a variety of readers, from different backgrounds. What more could I ask?

The review is also posted at Cr8Buzz. And, whilst your cruising the net, please visit Kathleen's companion site, where she regularly posts the serialisation of her novel Diary of a Heretic.

Sunday, 26 October 2008

Colonel Blink


For J.T.

Sometimes – not very often, but sometimes – I’ll do something foolish on account of refusing to wear my glasses and, if I admit as much, will earn the scorn of my Nearest & Dearest. She’ll laugh and call me Colonel Blink and show no pity for the embarrassment my vanity may have caused me.

The first time she tossed that epithet at me – Colonel Blink – we were 22 years old and living near Cardiff, Wales, and may have been younger than we are now, but were inevitably getting older, even then. At least I was. I’d had 20/20 vision for the first 20 years of my life, and had never really wondered why it was called 20/20 vision until my optician told me it no longer was. Might have guessed it was just a USE BY date after all. All the same, I wasn’t so short-sighted that I needed to wear those damned glasses all the time, but only to watch TV or at the theatre or the cinema, or if I wanted to recognise people on the other side of the street.

The car we owned back then was an ancient Beetle which broke down more reliably than it ran, with an electrical system that pre-dated Thomas Edison. Not only was it our first car, but I suspect it was the first car. The headlights were so weak that a bicycle’s front light would outshine them if a cyclist happened to be behind us, although this wasn’t often the case as most cyclists usually passed us in a flash.

We were returning to Wales one night after a weekend on the other side of the border and had been driving (or being dragged in the jet stream of tractors and bicyclists more likely) along brightly lit motorways for a couple of hours before turning into an unlit side street on the edge of Cardiff, when Nearest & Dearest calmly asked me why I was driving on the pavement and whether I thought it might be safer if she drove now instead. Hmm.

In my defence, it was an unusually wide pavement and I’m sure I’d have felt a bump or two from climbing the kerb, even in our tank of a Beetle, had there been one. And the road was poorly lit and our own lights weren’t so good, so it probably wasn’t my fault at all, but the fault of the City Council or Volkswagen or Thomas Edison. Even so, that’s the first time I got called Colonel Blink.

I didn’t really mind though because I’d been a fan of The Beazer when I was a kid, and Colonel Blink, The Short-Sighted Gink, was one of my favourite characters. His stories were always good for a laugh. How he kept his driver’s licence I haven’t a clue, and it’s a good job he didn’t live near Cardiff, but he was the only guy who could inadvertently foil an armed bank robber by mistaking him for a hat stand or get the better of an escaped grizzly bear by treating it as a carelessly placed rug. Colonel Blink saved the world (and himself) without ever being aware of it. My kind of hero.

Fortunately for pedestrians, my Australian driver’s licence requires me to wear glasses whenever I drive, but there’s no law that says I’ve got to wear the things when I’m out walking and so, to compensate for not being able to recognise friends who might be walking on the other side of the street (or standing in front of me these days), I say hello to everyone. I’m just friendly, that’s all. I’ve even been known to say hello to a reflection of myself – how I hate those mirrors on the pillars in department stores – and I once apologised when I reached to look at a shirt that my reflection was also reaching to look at.

‘Colonel Blink,’ she calls me, and thinks it funny. By now, I should’ve learned not to share my latest misadventure.

A couple of years back, I was jogging along a rough coast track nearby. It’s a narrow track with scrub and bush on one side and rocks and sea on the other. I came to a bend and there was a large figure in front bending down to tie up his shoe laces. ‘Sorry,’ I said, and at the sound of my voice, the kangaroo stopped grazing and bounded off. Hmm.

It’s said that pride comes before a fall, but I reckon it’s vanity that throws down the banana skin, and I really must wear my glasses more often, or go for laser surgery.

The fall came recently, in Port Douglas, only a hundred metres from the Crocodile Warning sign that I mentioned in a recent post. It was a warm and balmy night and my Nearest & Dearest and I were looking for a restaurant attached to the Port Douglas Yacht Club. There was a single street light in the middle of the car park and reserve that separated this area from the rest of the town, and the light would flicker on for a minute and then off for five.




After a bit of wandering around, we thought we’d found the Yacht Club, but couldn’t find a way into the restaurant, which we knew was at the back of it overlooking the water. As always, I was leaping ahead, doing the hunter-gatherer thing, being the one to find the way, when I came to the edge of the reserve and... found a path... at the bottom of a short drop (well, about 4 foot of drop). Hmm, this’ll take us round the back of the building and there’ll be an entrance there, I thought. Pity the lighting isn’t better.

All ready to jump down, I realised Nearest & Dearest wouldn’t find it as easy to clamber down the bank in her skirt as I would in my athletically-trained David Hasselhoff board shorts, but that, once down, I could give her a hand.

‘Here’s the path,’ I said, ‘but there’s a bit of a drop.’ And was about to jump.


‘Don’t,’ she said. ‘That’s the sea. This is the wharf.’ Just in time. And laughed. And called me Colonel Blink, and reminded me about the crocodiles I’d be wrestling if I really wanted to jump in.

Except Colonel Blink would have mistaken a croc for Auntie’s suitcase and would have wrestled it into submission without even realising, whilst I earned myself a stiff drink or two and the opportunity to learn from Robert Louis Stevenson, who once said: “Vanity dies hard; in some obstinate cases it outlives the man.”


Friday, 24 October 2008

Excellent review


Yesterday was pretty special when the Facebook application Visual Bookshelf let me know that Jen (aka The Amateur Book Blogger) had posted a wonderful review. Well, it didn't tell me in the e-mail that it was a wonderful review, just that it was a review -- I discovered how fine it was when I read it. Jen also posted her review on Amazon.co.uk and on her own blog, so I'm trebly delighted by the coverage she's provided. (Thanks, Jen.)

What I really like is that Jen's reading of the novel is the reading I was aiming to create, down to her observation about the chaos and the relief. Hmm, every time someone posts a review or a comment like this, there's a little sigh of contentment for knowing that Thomas Passmore is sailing well.

Saturday, 18 October 2008

Fat Tuesday


Had my first swim this side of winter in the Southern Ocean this morning. It was a tad fresh. Not as warm as the Coral Sea, but clearer.

The first swim is always a baptism. Makes me feel summer is on its glorious way. Long days, warm nights.

Fat Tuesday arrived by post last Friday and I finished it yesterday. I'm not a fast reader, so that's the best sign. Have been looking forward to getting my mitts on this book every since I struck up a friendship with Gary Davison over at PaperBooks. We've travelled parallel journeys towards seeing our books in print -- enjoying similar high points and hiccoughs -- with our publication dates alternating two or three times along the way, to say nothing of the advice and book recommendations we've bounced back and forth.

I've always loved Chris Gooch's cover design for this book (it reminds me of Skinhead and Suedehead, which I read as a young teenager), and it certainly picks up on some of the elements from the story: the montage of a knife, a fight, an Australian beach, eccies, marijuana, a couple sucking face, all set against the top half of a young bloke's closely-shaved head. Nice font too.

Anyway, if you like your story to be action-packed and fast-paced, with a liberal sprinkling of sex and drugs and rock 'n' roll -- well, all sorts of music really -- then you should give this a try. I liked picking the nuances of Spencer Hargreaves' Geordie vernacular in the narrative and the fact that I felt I was being delivered a good yarn from start to end. Particularly liked the middle section, which lends itself to the title of the book: the description of the Fat Tuesday festival at Marasa Bay and the craziness of the world which the characters get thrown into there. The vitality of the writing reflects the festival atmosphere superbly.

Well worth a read, and available from book shops in the UK, from PaperBooks or Amazon. Good on yer, Gary.

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Don't play with the crocs

During our holiday in Port Douglas, tropical north Queensland, last week, we came across this crocodile warning on the foreshore:


...next to the children's playground.


...and one of the swings was missing!

Saw these beauties in the Daintree River.



PS. Picked up a review in The Independent last Sunday. Getting some great coverage and interesting comments, even if they might have given The Snowing and Greening of Thomas Passmore an extra couple of spuds! (See Bio/Interviews page.)

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Back home


Got back late Monday from nine days in tropical, northern Queensland. Bliss!

There are a couple of stories (involving crocodiles) from this trip that I'll share in a later post, but the first thing I've been trying to do is re-establish some sort of routine. It went to pot for a few weeks before our escape north, what with the book getting released and a rush on at work and the dreaded lurgy that knocked me for six (well, four perhaps) and...

But how wonderful it was to open my e-mail and, amongst the 80+, get a batch of enthusiastic responses to The Snowing and Greening of Thomas Passmore. Not only that, but Mike French posted a tremendous review at The View From Here and Revish, and Fossfor created an illustration that superbly captured a scene from the book. Also discovered today that the Daily Mail Online featured The Snowing and Greening, although the review (a paraphrase of the blurb followed by a one line crit) didn't recommend it: "Promising though this (storyline) sounds, the narrative darts down far too many lyrical dead ends"!

Never mind, I don't expect everyone to 'get it'. That's just the way it is, and it's fine. It makes every other review so much more delicious.

However, The Australian Times put together a very substantial response, based around a recent interview. So, all up, it's been a good couple of days, even if the temperature has been about a hundred degrees cooler in not-so-tropical Victoria.

PS. The pic shows the only place in the world where two World Heritage sites meet: the Daintree Forest's Cape Tribulation (Captain Cook had a tough time here after ripping a hole in his boat) meets the Coral Sea of the Barrier Reef. Pretty special.

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Oh, and I forgot to say...


I'm definitely a tad short in brain space at the moment. One of the things I meant to announce in today's earlier post was the launch of the third print edition of The View From Here. Now available to preview and buy.


Pics more than words

Bit of a photo blog this week --- a phlog --- because I've run out of hours and brain space to string too many decent sentences together. So here are some pics of recent happenings.


The whales are back in town. Three or four Southern Right Whales have been off the coast this winter. Captured this image of mother and calf off Logans Beach at end of August. Very special visitors.


Port Fairy Book Fair, and yours truly introduces and discusses the excellent memoir Mother Land with its author Dmetri Kakmi.

Book Reading at Cape Nelson Lighthouse cafe in Portland. Thanks to an 'interesting' postal system and the presence of only one copy of The Snowing and Greening of Thomas Passmore, the book signing became a book reading. Regardless of this, it was great to catch up with old friends on a beautiful and warm moonlit night to celebrate the novel's UK release (and a very appropriate venue for the selected reading). Lots of eating, drinking and laughter.


This is what the lighthouse looks like at night, according to my camera, but I thought I should include a daytime shot too.

Friday, 12 September 2008

BlogTalkRadio with Magdalena Ball and Mike French


Wednesday
8:00--8:30 am: interview via conference call for The Compulsive Reader on BlogTalkRadio. Magdalena Ball interviewing Mike French and myself about The View From Here, The Dandelion Tree and The Snowing and Greening of Thomas Passmore.

7:52¾ am: dial number and receive Telstra error message advising me to use a different overseas code.

7:54½ am: inadvertently phone New Zealand. No one answers. All the same, begin wondering what sort of conversation I might have if the Kiwi I'm phoning picks up. It seems a good idea to phone Australia-based Maggie Bell as if phoning from overseas.

7:56 am: dial number and receive Telstra error message advising me to use a different overseas code, or contact their Helpline.

7:56½ am: dial Telstra Helpline. Listen to menu.

7:57am: still listening to menu.

7:57¾ am: no option on menu for difficulties with conference calls, but plenty of options for reporting different sorts of faults. Never knew there were so many different sorts of fault. Fascinating really.

7:59 am: staring at telephone in disbelief.

7:59¼ am: phone rings! It's Maggie Bell and Mike, and a quick countdown into the show. Very quick.

It was great fun doing this interview, even though the call quality on my phone was poor and I couldn't quite hear everything; this just ensured my responses were even a little more random than normal. I sound like I'm standing at the bottom of a pit with the telephone receiver at the top, which is much the way it is. And whilst the evil cackle I produced at the start of the interview doesn't reflect my normal melodic laugh, I do get to sound like this when no one's thrown food into the pit for a few days.

I was going to read a longer extract from the book, but as I started each new sentence, the previous sentence was still coming back at me, which was a little trippy and reminded me of singing London's Burning as a 'round' when I was at school once. Kept expecting the altos and sopranos to kick in with the previous line and found myself beginning to listen for it.

Listen to the interview here.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Everything's happening

There's a fair bit happening at the moment.

Have just posted Part One of an interview with Gary Davison over at The View From Here, in preparation for the release of his novel Fat Tuesday on 27th September. Since meeting Gary through our involvement with PaperBooks, we've trod parallel paths --- with similar high points and low points --- in our journey towards publication. It's much easier when you can share moments of insanity with someone else!

The Ex Libris Port Fairy Book Fair & Literary Weekend is coming up. On Saturday, I'll be hosting a discussion with Dmetri Kakmi, author of Mother Land (Giramondo, 2008, ISBN 978-1920882433), which is described as 'a vivid portrayal of Greek-Turkish life on the Aegean island of Bozcaada, in all its beauty, poverty, and ignorance.' It's a stunning piece of writing---a powerful memoir. Lots of superlatives spring to mind, but for the moment I'll just say that his story-telling has a compelling tug to it and his prose is quite simply exciting. As you can tell, I'm loving it.

We'll be talking about his journey as a writer and the process by which Mother Land revealed itself, as well as exploring the overlap between memoir and fiction, and what it's like for an editor (Dmetri is a senior editor for Penguin) to be edited.

This is one of a number of events that'll take place across the weekend (art exhibition by illustrator Shaun Tan, talk by author Alice Pung, second hand book sales, etc), but one of my favourite annual events is the Barbara Cartland Hurl. Visitors are invited to dress up in something pink, read an excerpt from one of Barbara Cartland's romances and then see how far they can hurl it across the town green. This is a slightly less demanding activity than tossing the caber, but there are prizes for the best reading and the best hurl.









Was feeling a little out of things on Sunday, being so far from British book shops, but then some excellent news, accompanied by pics, arrived. A big thanks to Gary, who let me know that Borders, Newcastle, had The Snowing and Greening of Thomas Passmore on the shelves and in the 3-for-2 displays. This was followed by pics from Paola and Joel, proving (because seeing is believing) that the book really did exist and was on the shelves in Borders, Swindon. Thanks Paola and Joel. And then yesterday, Mrs T absolutely knocked my socks off by dedicating a whole post to her sighting (and capture) of The Snowing and Greening in Waterstones, Milton Keynes (which town incidentally rates a mention on p.164). See her pics, read her post.
And today my copies of the book arrived!

I pick them up, I prod them and turn them over... and they don't vanish. Wow!

Saturday, 30 August 2008

The Snowing and Greening of Thomas Passmore

What's to be said?

It's out there. It's released.

Can't think of anything else to say.

Gob-smacked!

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Six Unspectacular Facts


I’ve been tagged by Stella with a meme: to provide six unspectacular facts about myself. The rules of the meme also include linking back to he/she who tagged, mentioning the rules, tagging a further six bloggers by linking, and leaving a comment for each blogger.
Here goes:


  1. Because I’m not very good at handling animals, my first pet was a tortoise (easy to catch and easy to pick up).

  2. My first ambition in life was to be a stage coach robber (not sure who would’ve looked after my horse, given my poor animal-handling skills, but I couldn’t have made a quick getaway on a tortoise).

  3. I’m better at swimming underwater than on the surface (I suck – literally).

  4. Was a vegetarian for over twenty years, but started eating fish after almost colliding with an edible-sized whiting, which had a length of fishing line hooked to its mouth. Tried unsuccessfully to catch it, and was unsure whether I’d release it or eat if I did, but started craving fish from that point on. (Fortunately, I haven’t been tempted to jump into paddocks and wrestle with cows or sheep, or any other living thing... except the occasional carrot and potato.)

  5. When people ask me what the R of my middle name stands for, I tell them Rumpelstiltskin (even though I can’t spin gold from straw).

  6. When I stopped working for the Post Office, I had to sign the Official Secrets Act (which I’ve probably contravened by mentioning it), even though I never could remember the price of a first class stamp.

  7. I believe it’s healthy to question accepted values and beliefs, and that some rules need to be broken. (Hence a seventh unspectacular fact and, in the absence of directly tagging six other bloggers, an invitation to join this meme if it interests you. If you choose to, let me know and I’ll post a comment.)

Sunday, 17 August 2008

Countdown

It's been a busy and exciting week. The Portland Observer ran an interview on Monday 11th August (click here), the PaperBooks website has leapt into high gear (regular blogs, an Online Shop with special offers, heaps of useful links...) and The View From Here launched the second edition of its print magazine (click here to preview and/or order).

And The Snowing and Greening of Thomas Passmore is now less than two weeks away from appearing in UK bookstores!!! (If anything deserves three exclamation marks, for me this is it.) I'll be posting the occasional blog over at PaperBooks before and after the release, so if you get a chance it'd be great to see you there too sometime.

Sunday, 10 August 2008

Welcome

Welcome to the new blog. I thought it was time for a more dynamic site, with the opportunity to include additional pages, and where I could maintain a series of links instead of having to bounce these back from the website. So here it is. A new roost.

And timely, given the massive changes that have taken place on the PaperBooks website.

Have been looking for a follow-on to the Thunderbirds opening sequence, and had fun at YouTube revisiting some old favourites (Fireball XL5, Stingray, The Saint and a heap more), but decided to stick with the bird image for the moment. Just in case anyone gets to feeling too cosy!

Welcome.



Saturday, 2 August 2008

Thunderbirds Are Go!


Lucy, the dynamic publicist at PaperBooks and Legend Press, has been channelling some of her dynamism towards promoting The Snowing and Greening of Thomas Passmore in recent weeks. There's been an online interview at WriteWords (which I haven't seen because I'm not a member), a short piece in the UK's Northampton Chronicle & Echo (which my Mum and Dad discovered for me) and an interview in one of my local newspapers, The Standard (which the world and his dog seemed to read yesterday).

It's been a busy, fun week. This is something I could get addicted to.

I've also enjoyed interviewing Caroline Hamilton, author of Consumed, which is a particularly fine novel I reviewed on this blog a couple of months back. You can read this by clicking The View From Here.

What's more, it's only four weeks until ...

Saturday, 30th August!

Sunday, 27 July 2008

You can please some of the people some of the time, but...

The_seaWas beginning to think there was something wrong with me.

Almost every book I’ve picked up in the last few weeks has got dumped before I reached the end. And this despite each one coming with some heavy-duty recommendations.

What works for one doesn’t necessarily work for somebody else. It’s a matter of taste and the preference of the moment, and is all very subjective, which isn’t a bad thing. It’d be a boring world if we all enjoyed the same things, and for the same reasons.

All the same, the process forces me to Then_we_came_to_the_endquestion what I’m looking for in a piece of writing, and how I might address this myself. And how to sustain a reader’s interest when they might be feeling a little flighty and not easily hooked.

First off the rank was John Banville’s The Sea (winner of the 2005 Man Booker Prize) which I stopped reading at page 40. This was followed by Then We Came to the End, by Joshua Ferris, which won a Richard and Judy British Book Award for 2008, and which my sister and my wife both enjoyed tremendously (whereas I came to an end with it by page 51). Then I tried James Frey’s ‘memoir’ A Million Little Pieces, which grabbed me so A_million_little_piecessoundly for 160 pages that I carried on reading for 130 pages more despite feeling that nothing new was happening, and eventually stopped reading with 210 pages to go. After this catalogue of failure on my part as a reader, I was determined to finish Penelope Green’s autobiography When In Rome ... and did. T'ra-t'ra!

Somehow I had to break the jinx.

I won’t go into why I put three of these books down prematurely, When_in_romealthough I try not to reject a book until I know why I’m doing it. The important thing to remember is that each of these books worked well for big numbers of other people. Who knows, but perhaps the planets were out of alignment or something as far as I was concerned. Perhaps I chose the wrong book for the wrong moment. Selecting a book to read can be a random process at times.

Sunday, 20 July 2008

Things are happening

Work on Number Two got seriously delayed in the second half of the holidays recently, but all in a good cause. The final layout for The Snowing and Greening of Thomas PassmoreLayout arrived, prior to being sent to the printers, and I was bouncing about the place with a mixture of nerves and excitement as I worked my way through it, checking that everything was as it should be. It’s interesting to see ‘house style’ applied to punctuation and formatting (double inverted commas versus singles, for example) and to see what the words look like on the actual page. The process also made me realise how easy it is for a typo or two to slip into 84,000 words, even when you’ve drafted and redrafted dozens of times---probably because of that redrafting---but I hope and trust that every little i is dotted and every little t is crossed now. Having said that, I recently came across a typo in a recent edition of Nineteen The_view_from_here_coverlargeEighty-Four, which goes to show that these little blighters can even slip into the pages of modern classics.

Also heard that Borders (UK) have offered to include The Snowing and Greening in their Independents promotional bay for six weeks, from September through to mid-October, which will be a tremendous kick-start, following its release on 30th August. Great stuff!

And still on the good news front, The View From Here has been launched as a print magazine in the United States. Mike French, editor of The View From Here, has put together an attractive and exciting literary magazine using articles and interviews from the online version, and has generously given The Snowing and Greening of Thomas Passmore a significant promotion. Today the States, tomorrow the world! To preview the print magazine, follow the link in Mike’s announcement.

Monday, 14 July 2008

Sparks

Been out of town and down to the city for a few days. A matter of making the most of the last precious days of holiday before heading back to work.

It's always good to spoil ourselves in Melbourne, to meander through a few galleries, catch up with a few exhibitions and sample a few new restaurants. It's good to do this even in the middle of winter ... particularly in the middle of winter.

Art Deco 1910--1939 was at the top of our list of exhibitions this time, although we took in Photographers in the circle of Alfred Stieglitz and a few others besides. And we seemed to lean towards Italian and Greek cuisine on the whole, although this was by chance more than design.

Whilst it made a break from sitting at a keyboard and constructing fiction, the interesting thing is that these expeditions always spark a frenzy of ideas and I always want a few days afterwards just to ride on the energy they provide. There doesn't have to be any connection whatsoever between what I'm looking at and what I'm working on, but the interesting thing is that being surrounded by other people's ideas and interpretations of the world sharpens my focus and sense of what can be achieved. It leaves my head bouncing with new directions and fresh layers of ideas, and needing to write, write, write, before I explode, or forget.

Here's a flavour of the Art Deco era to get you tapping your feet and courting and sparking.

Sunday, 29 June 2008

Flat chat

Winter_evening

Am engrossed in a major rewrite of Number Two at the moment, or what I hope will become Number Two ... if the ideas hold their sense, if the characters continue speaking to me, if the words fall into place. It's all a matter of If. Things are working well at the moment, so I'm making the most of it. And it's good timing because I've just started a fortnight's holiday, and it's winter and raining and cold outside, and I've got the wood fire stoked up inside. I think I've rediscovered the story's momentum and the new places I'd like to go with it, and I'd like to get this latest draft finished by October. That's the plan.

Sunday, 22 June 2008

Recent reads

Although I’m a fan of Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, I’ve read and discussed it so many times now (it having been on the curriculum for three years) that I was getting close to throwing it out onto the lawn and thrusting a garden fork of my own through it. That’s nothing against the quality of the writing---I still admire it---but I feel pretty much the same way after dissecting any text for a third or fourth time in a row. Defenestration, followed by impalement.

A_spot_of_bother

It was partly this that made me hesitate to pick up A Spot of Bother for several months, which is how long Mark Haddon’s second novel has been sitting on my stack of books. This and the fact that I’d heard a few people declare that A Spot of Bother didn’t live up to Curious Incident. And the fact that, at 503 pages, it was about 300 pages longer than I like a novel to be. All the same, the time felt right recently to pick it up and make a start; but, having started it, it soon became one of those books I didn’t want to put down again. Loved it.

A_spot_of_bother_blurb_2

A Spot of Bother doesn’t live up to Curious Incident because it doesn’t need to. Its success lies, in part, in the fact that it’s very different, and is, if anything, more entertaining. Comprising 144 very short chapters, Haddon rotates the point of view in every chapter, exploring the unique perspective of each key character in turn, as events unravel---and unravel they do. They may be soundly dysfunctional, these people whose lives we spy upon, but there’s also something archetypal about them, and I feel sure I’ve met each one in real life. Whilst A Spot of Bother might have a lighter and more frivolous touch to it than Curious Incident, that’s exactly what’s needed here. It’s a wonderfully crafted and satisfying novel, with plenty of wry humour and is certainly a compelling read.

Saturday, 14 June 2008

A Word With A View

You‘ve got to love language. It’s such a freaky thing. And it’s amazing what we have words for ... as well as what we don’t have words for. It doesn’t surprise me that there are words like ‘home’ or ‘lover’ or ‘life’ or ‘death’, or words for any event or action or object that we regularly refer to. What does leave me gob-smacked though is that we have a word for the very singular act of throwing someone (or something) out of the window:

Defenestration.

How weird is that?

I mean, it’s not like something that happens very often. I don’t know about you, but I can’t recall ever hearing of someone who was thrown out of a window, let alone doing it myself (although now that the word is in my vocab ...). Besides, in Australia, where the majority of houses are single storey, pushing someone out of the window would just make them mad. Madder than a cut snake, as they say in these here parts.

It seems that if ‘defenestration’ exists in the lexicon, then there should be specific words to describe a number of other singular acts that occur on a more (frustratingly) regular basis, such as:

when the toast slides off the plate and lands butter-side down on the floor;

when the biscuit breaks into your hot drink after you’ve dunked it;

when the cork snaps as you’re pulling it out of a bottle of wine.

So, this week, I’m searching for single words to describe any of the above, or for other events that fall into this category, or for other bizarre words like ‘defenestration’ which seem as if they oughtn’t really to exist, but do.

As always, all contributions gratefully received.

To cap it all, I browsed YouTube in the hope of finding a clip of someone being pushed out a window and found this:

Sunday, 8 June 2008

What do you look for in a book?

The_spare_room_2 Helen Garner is a big name in the Australian literary world, but, to my shame, I’d never read any of her books until I was recently asked to read The Spare Room, her first work of fiction in 15 years. Book taste is a very subjective thing and the synopses of her books have never made me want to pick them up and engage with them. That’s alright. We all have different tastes---thank goodness. And she has fans aplenty without me.

I wouldn’t have picked up The Spare Room either, as it’s not my type of book: it’s about the friendship of two women in their sixties and the Bypass difficulties which ensue when one, who is seriously ill with cancer, comes to stay (in the spare room). However, I’m glad I did, even if it was just to see what a fine writer Helen Garner can be and how striking her observations of people and the way they interact can be. That’s pretty much as far as I went though. It was a very readable book and didn’t take long to finish, but apart from the expressions of grief and frustration for the stubbornness of a dying friend, and the strains such an imposition can create, it was not only a little too genteel and staid for my taste, but felt more like the stuff of a short story than 194 pages of novel.

Also finished Michael McGirr’s Bypass, The Story of a Road. I began reading this travelogue---recounting a journey down the Hume Highway on bike---several months ago and enjoyed the many anecdotes and bizarre snippets of information which make up each chapter and each leg of the journey, even though I’m generally not a fan of non-fiction. It would be an ideal coffee table book, if I had a coffee table, as there seemed to be nothing lost in picking it up and putting it down again between reading novels.

Whether you prefer fiction or non-fiction, what do you look for in a book?

Sunday, 1 June 2008

Delivering a book

Pram_with_book Pram_with_watermelon_baby

Some people say that getting a book published is like giving birth. It’s an interesting analogy, but a bit of a stretch, I reckon. My experience of birth is limited to that of being a father, watching on and feeling like a spare part and trying to be supportive, whilst generally gob-smacked and over-awed by the whole birthing experience.

There isn’t the pain or physical strain in delivering a book, although the gestation period is generally longer---much longer. Of course, there’s the similar angst that everything will go smoothly, without complications, and that the book will be well-received, and the sense that once it’s delivered up from the printers it’s pretty much on its own in the world, apart from being able to offer a word of encouragement here and there at launches and promotions. On the whole though, all the nurturing and hard work occurs with a book immediately after conception and prior to its delivery, whereas the trend tends to be the other way with children.

Some people say that giving birth is like spitting out a watermelon, which I’d rather not think about, thank you, and there’s no way popping out a book can be compared to this (although the frustration might be similar). So, here I am, searching for an alternative analogy: something that does justice to the process of one without diminishing the other.

All suggestions gratefully received.

P.S. Now that the agreements have been signed and sealed between PaperBooks, Legend Press and the authors, a delivery date for The Snowing and Greening of Thomas Passmore might not be far away. I’ll let you know.

Sunday, 25 May 2008

Ross Noble and John Steinbeck

Went to see Ross Noble perform on Friday night. Excellent! He's one of those comedians I enjoy watching time and time again. Love the randomness of his humour and the way he improvises, and how this randomness and improvisation is worked into the structure of his performance. There’s always an opening line or two, the beginning of an explanation or an apology, which he tosses into the audience and then runs circles around (and skips Of_mice_and_men_2 in and out of) as he draws on audience comments or behaviour to shape the body of his show. And he always returns eventually to those opening comments, and uses them to tie each act together---to give cohesion to the whole ramble. It’s the sort of symmetry of structure I sometimes like to discover in short stories and novels too.

Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, for instance: how the descriptions of light and sound that begin each chapter also bring them to a conclusion, and how the opening chapter is mirrored (but for a few sinister distinctions) in the final chapter. There’s the sense that the characters have not so much travelled full circle but have completed a full turn on a spiral, so that they’re close to where they started in some respects, but that some things have changed that can never be the same again. In both cases, the audience is left feeling that it too has moved forward. There’s catharsis in both comedy and tragedy.





This excerpt doesn't do justice to his whole show, but gives a flavour of his randomness.

Sunday, 18 May 2008

Consumed

Whilst I’ll dip into almost any genre of fiction at one time or another, it’s the rather broad genre of Literary fiction that I’m mainly drawn to. The novels I enjoy most tend to have quirky characters and an off-beat storyline set against an ordinary world; they’ll often be stories within stories, and have the capacity to not only hook me from the first page, but to regularly surprise me, and I’ll be so captivated by the lyrical quality of the telling that I won’t want to put the book down, but won’t want to finish it either. Occasionally I’ll discover a book like that.

Consumed Consumed by Caroline Hamilton (ABC Books) has those attributes. That it’s the debut novel of a Melbourne author raises it another notch or two for me, because it’s good to know that a book like this is home-grown.

Subtitled A Sensuous Tale Of Food, Madness And Revenge, the blurb includes this:

'A literary feast for the senses, Consumed is an enthralling story of gluttony, madness, bottled tomatoes and a woman who will stop at nothing in her search for the perfect recipe.'

When this novel was first recommended to me (thanks C.B.), I was put in mind of Laura Esquivel’s Like Water For Chocolate, which used to be a favourite. However, apart from the obvious focus on food, occasional elements of the surreal, and the strength of writing in both, Consumed is fresh and original. It’s gutsy, sensual writing that strides all the way back to genesis at one point, but probably isn’t for the delicate or squeamish (which is possibly another recommendation in itself), and tells the story of the young Amelia, who strikes up a friendship with the mysterious and eccentric Katarina.

Under Katarina’s instruction, Amelia begins an apprenticeship that teaches her as much about living as it does about cooking food to perfection, with many surprises along the way---not least of all Katarina’s murder. (It’s in the blurb, I’m not spoiling anything here.)

Whilst it might be a cliché to say that revenge is a dish best served cold, Consumed is anything but clichéd, and the second half of the novel chronicles Amelia’s development and growth into a woman who belongs to all time and who is determined to avenge Katarina’s death. It’s the reaching back and linking to the story of Lilith, Adam’s first partner in the Garden of Eden, that is the most delicious dish of all in this fine book ... but I won’t say any more. I mustn’t.

It's an enchanting and superbly crafted novel.

Sunday, 11 May 2008

What's read and not there?

No blog this week, ‘cos after three weeks of intending to replace the guttering on the front verandah I’ve really got to get my act together and do it. So, no blog entry until next week ... except, hold on, what’s happened here? The sneaky little blighter is here all the same. It’s a blog post about there being no blog post. Hmm, bit of a paradox, that one. And there’s nothing like a good paradox, is there? Like:

There is no absolute truth.

Love that one.

Or:

I only ever tell lies.

Or:

Is the answer to this question ‘no’?

Which leads me to my favourite joke of all time.

Q: What’s red and not there?

A: No tomatoes.

And, talking of no tomatoes, I better go before I discover I’m not here either.

Sunday, 4 May 2008

Recent reads

I’ve just made the wonderfully deliberate mistake of ordering a new stack of eleven novels and short story anthologies to read, without having finished half the previous stack yet, and before ordering in all the other titles I’m keen to read at the moment. Isn’t this great?! What a terrible pressure to be under, eh? There’s a rubble of ancient paperbacks on the floor, waiting to be dropped in at the second-hand bookshop, and there’ll be a new tower of books reaching towards the ceiling. Can’t wait for the post to arrive.

Note to self: start reading faster.

Finished Thirteen by Sebastian Beaumont (Myrmidon Thirteen_3 Books) a couple of weeks back. Had first come across this on Scott Pack’s blog, where he raved about it, and then Gary Davison gave it a good plug too.

'Stephen Bardot is a taxi driver working the night shift in Brighton. He works such long shifts that he is often driving while exhausted and it is then that he starts to experience major alterations to his perception of reality. People start to take lifts in his cab who know things they shouldn't, and who ultimately may not even be real.'

Although I found it very readable from the start and enjoyed plodding along with it, I felt as though I was plodding for a while and that those outstanding qualities I’d heard about weren’t really grabbing me, though of course this may well have been because of the way I was reading at the time (all those external factors which shape the way we engage with and interpret a book---pressures at work, the weather, interruptions). However, there came a mid-point where it seemed to shift into a higher gear and suddenly I found myself reluctant to put the book down. The dynamics of the story transformed it from being readable and good to compelling and outstanding. Whilst I can more or less track where this happened and why, I don’t want to touch on that here in case I give too much away, and certainly part of the ride with this novel is that there's an incremental unravelling of clues.

At times it reminded me of books I was drawn to as a teenager like Herman Hesse’s Steppenwolf, Alain-Fournier’s Le Grand Meaulnes or John Fowles’ The Magus, and it felt like I was stepping into a shared element of How_the_light_gets_in_3 those worlds again, which is not to say it felt derivative in any sense. Thirteen comes across as being a very fresh and original piece of writing, and the taxi driver narrator is absolutely convincing. It wasn’t available in Australia when I ordered it a few months back, so I had to order it through Amazon; however, I think it’d be received very warmly here.

Also finished M.J.Hyland’s How The Light Gets In (Canongate).

With this novel, all those external factors which influence the way we read a book seemed to conspire against the two of us getting along. It’s well-written, but it didn’t work for me. It has a sense of direction, but didn’t feel cohesive. Ho hum. Usually I’ll ditch a book after 40 or 80 pages if I’m not connecting with it, but everyone I spoke to who’d read this thought it was a good read and so I stuck it out, but ... well, you can’t win ‘em all, and sometimes, regardless of how hard you try, the connection just doesn't work.

Sunday, 27 April 2008

Viral marketing?

A few weeks back I referred to a tall, round, brick chimney, which I thought Chimney_2 might have figured in the landscape of my childhood, but couldn’t be sure. Well, my dear old mum e-mailed me soon after to not only tell me I wasn’t imagining this chimney (phew!), but that the name DOVER, which was painted down its height in large, white capitals, was there to advertise a bike pump.

As she pointed out, someone had gone to greatAntique_bike_pump_2 trouble to advertise a product that was usually supplied with each bike as a matter of course. Indeed, it would be interesting to know how many people ever looked at that chimney and realised they’d lost their bike pump and needed to buy a new one---and a Dover bike pump at that? Or how many people, like myself, passed that chimney on a regular basis and didn’t have a clue what DOVER stood for? If the company owned the chimney it would make more sense to have a logo that size down the side of it, but I don’t think they ever did. Hmm.





Maybe, in a period where we talk about viral marketing and saturation marketing, this early marketing was about as incidental as it got. Advertising and marketing has changed a lot. And yet, in the world of books and music, word-of-mouth is probably one of the most effective forms of promotion there is. How many books have the critics slated or ignored, prior to them becoming phenomenally successful because a network of readers enjoyed them and recommended them to one another? Most of the books we buy, I think, are on our shelves because a friend or colleague told us they were a good read, and not The_dressmaker_frontbecause a critic in The Sunday Rag gave them five carrots or because we were sucked in by thirty seconds of prime time TV advertising or because they were plastered across the side of a bus or ... or painted down a chimney.

Rosalie Ham’s first novel The Dressmaker, which I read in 2005, was one such word-of-mouth success---a quirky 'Australian gothic novel of love, hate & haute couture'. I'm not sure what the critics had to say about it at the time, but for months everyone I met who was recommending a book was recommending this one until it became too difficult to resist buying. It was well worth it as a good read, which also made it the best kind of success story.