Wednesday 18 September 2013


Madness is something I fear. I worry I have it, am nervous I might break down into complete madness or worry that those around me might suffer because of my thinking patterns. A long spell in therapy helped me out with this, but the unease still lingers.

This might help to explain why the opening passages of ‘I WasDora Suarez’ were so difficult for me. 
Looked at another way, I’m entirely within normal parameters of human sanity and those chapters would be difficult for anyone. They may also be particularly difficult for male readers given the subject matter, but I’m not sure on that one.

It’s a brutal beginning, the killing of Dora and her landlady, but it’s more the description of the killer’s actions and trains of thought that are particularly sinister.  I’m not sure I’ve been to such extremes before.

So, killer acts and police respond.

The police response is rather amazing. It’s rooted in a brutality of its own in a period of time not so very long ago when the actions of the force were certainly more openly callous and anything went. When such techniques are applied today, I’m sure they’re a little more hidden and covert.  It’s based in The Factory, a place with a foreboding name in itself. The Factory is run by The Voice. The Voice calls back a sergeant who was fired a while before to take up this particular case, reason being he’s the best copper they have even if his methods and manners are problematic.

Our police sergeant is a brilliant mouthpiece. He is inside the mind of Suarez courtesy of her diaries. He’s also in the mind of the killer and the suspects and has an amazing insight into humanity. The only thing he lacks is any sense of manners or etiquette – he sees little need for warmth or politeness as they simply serve to hide a lot of hypocrisy.

The Factory to on about their business and shake up the London underworld.

It’s brilliantly done. The territory is very familiar in terms of the rugged application of threats and violence of the police, but the way it’s handled is wonderfully different. The dialogue is the best example of this. It’s hammed up as far as it can be. Has a very theatrical feel to it. An absurdist one. It’s direct, circular, unconventional and hugely entertaining.

The sergeant slowly wears down the obstacles to finding his man and leads us to a startling climax.

I loved the book and it brought me a lot of pleasure in terms of the structure, the characters and the uncertainty of anyone’s sanity. Good and bad have to mix so that black and white come together to make a grey which seems to turn into some kind of pink.

I did also find some elements extremely difficult to read and that should be a warning to some as I can usually handle some pretty dark material.

Lovers of crime fiction or of literary examinations of the human condition should pick this one up straight away, but make sure your wearing your bullet-proof vest when you open the pages.

Friday 13 September 2013


Having recently read a couple of books which spawned films I love (Rumblefish and The Outsiders, for example), I thought I’d give Cool HandLuke a go.

My first impressions were very positive, the lean prose telling of the harsh routines and lives of prisoners on the Hard Road (or chain gang).  As well as its raw quality, there’s something poetic in the simplicity.

Take this, a description of then the gang are being driven back to their cells after another tough day and are taking in some of the sights:

‘The fruit of the orange trees goes speeding by like the globes of distant planets dangling in outer-space.’

Eventually the plot gravitates to the Cool Hand Luke of the title.

He’s a tough bird and a war hero who has seen too much of what human beings are capable of during his time in Europe to ever care about much again. He soon becomes the leader of the pack and the stories of his escapes are retold by those who were there, sometimes to inspire and mostly to help pass the time.

What you get here is a story that’s woven inside a tapestry of prison life. To me, the passages became a little repetitive, like the routines they reflect, which might have a lot to offer many but left me feeling a little stir-crazy. I wanted to burst out and break back into the narrative of Luke’s life on more than one occasion.

I was reminded of a reading event I attended  a good while ago when Ed Bunker brought to life his prison stories with colour and humour; I’d definitely have liked a little of the Bunker spirit in this one.

I did find myself rooting for Luke and holding my breath while I was holding out for news of his progress on the run and there was enough in this to bring me pleasure.

In truth, and the question is always going to be there, I enjoyed the film version so much more.

Once I’d finished, I slipped back to the beginning as I usually do when there’s an introduction. I was quite taken by the author’s life and would like to find out more about him. It made me wish that I’d liked the novel a little bit more.

What I will say is that it has enough about it to make it worth reading. Give it a try and take from it what you can – you just might love it.

Wednesday 11 September 2013

The Pudding Is In The Proof (proof reading tips)

Before starting, I’d like to thank the people who’ve been incredibly generous with their help, support and advice on proof reading.

Not only have I had lists of corrections that were sent at double-quick time (meaning ‘Sweetheart’ quickly became clean and polished), but I’ve had ideas and suggestions that I’m going to take forward with me with my next publication.

Some of them I’ve seen and used before (and clearly forgotten) and others are new to me. 

Essentially, the message is the same. Proof-reading is painful, hard-work, difficult and mundane, but it’s also vital to what we do as writers.  The pudding really is in the proof – a pie with a soggy bottom really shouldn’t be served up outside of the family (thankfully, my family are the only ones I ever cook for!).

Here is a summary of the advice I was given. If it’s old-hat to you, I don’t think there’s anything lost in being reminded.

Off we go.

1.       Be patient. A book’s finished and there’s a buzz of excitement and relief. The worst thing that you can do straight after finishing is proof-read. The work is far too fresh in the mind and the eyes will play tricks – yes they will. Leave the story for at least a couple of weeks (preferably longer) and do something else in the meantime.

2.       Beta readers are extremely useful. The more pairs of eyes that read the work, the more mistakes and errors you’ll find. If you have family or friends that you can trust, use them (don’t use them for reactions to the book or for bigger editing suggestions, however, unless they have particular skills and complete detachment). If you don’t have anyone in mind, ask in a forum, offer to barter you skills for theirs. Join a writing group. Use places like You Write On for community advice. If these things aren’t possible, paying for a read might be the only option and this might be expensive even if it is money well spent.

3.       Once the book is written, upload it to Createspace or Lulu or similar and order a proof copy. Reading on paper is so much easier than on a computer screen. Use post-it notes to mark errors and changes. I saw some great photos of books full of notes what looked more like hedgehogs than anything and it gave me comfort to see I’m not the only one.

4.       Listen to the book. Use Word Talk or Kindle Speech and listen to it. Make sure you’re intending to pay attention though – no sneaky kips!

5.       Use the stand-up-and-read-aloud method. I suppose the standing up keeps you on your toes (ouch).

6.       Upload your work to your ereader and read it there. By changing the format, the new experience makes things easier.

7.       Go for a root-and-branch review. Sentence by sentence. Does each one make sense?

8.       Use spell-check properly. It’s there and it needs to be used. I find it frustrating because it picks out so many things that I wanted to be there that aren’t necessarily correct – names and speech patterns for example – so I tend to stop taking it seriously. I will next time.

9.       Explore different writing software if you want. I saw mention of one and tried to download it and failed, so I’m not going to mention it.

10.   For spellings, read the work backwards. It leaves the brain in unfamiliar territory and there’s no prediction getting in the way.

11.   Try a coloured background for your text. It may make it easier on the eye and also alter the impression. Experiment with different colours to see what works best for you.

12.   Work hard at it. This isn’t the place for short-cuts or haste. If you don’t, you might come to regret it.

I’m stopping at 12. They seem really helpful and I’m going to use the list next time without doubt.

Write well and, when it comes to proof-reading, let’s be careful out there.

I'll finish with a mention for the wonderful Thomas Pluck. He's a talent as I'm sure you know. He's also one of the good guys. If you haven't heard, he's produced a trilogy that you can get separately for kindle or in one as a paperback or kindle as the omnibus. Better still, the first book is free for you to check out and it's called Blade Of Dishonour Part One: The War Comes Home (US). It looks very interesting indeed, so I'd urge you to check it out if adventure is your thing.

Tuesday 10 September 2013


I read The Longshot a while ago and was hugely impressed. 

Buying a copy of Gone To The Forest was a must for me and I’m pretty glad that I did.

It’s a strong and disturbing book that follows the lives of a small family and community who live on a huge piece of land that was claimed by Tom’s father (the old man) when nobody else seemed to own it.

At the opening, we meet Tom in extraordinary circumstances. He’s been deserted. The house is empty. A radio on the porch informs locals that the revolution is on its way. There’s immediate intrigue and tension.  The tension mounts when Tom’s father brings along a guest for dinner, the rather wayward niece of landowning neighbours, a lady whom it becomes clear is to become Tom’s bride. In typical, sparse tones, the tale is told:

“He takes the girl fishing and a week later they are engaged. He does not know how the engagement happens. One minute they are fishing and the next Mr Wallace and Mrs Wallace are standing with his father on the veranda. There are champagne bottles being opened.”

Tom’s very wise when it comes to the land, farming and fishing. At everything else he’s rather inept. He doesn’t really understand people and his intuitions are proved wrong at every turn. His decisions are always flimsy and easily influenced and he has blinkers on to what is going on in the world. Like the story itself, he is pretty much confined to his house in this claustrophobic tale.

The characters in the story seem very distant. They don’t drive the story; rather they seem to simply exist from day to day. It can make the read difficult at times, this distance, and being pulled by the nose by the plot is not entirely satisfying. As the characters all seem cold and doomed, it takes some concentration to hang in with the slow pace from one wonderfully told section to the next. If this novel were a character in Oz, it would most definitely be the Tin Man.

In the middle of the book, there’s a natural disaster when a volcano erupts. It causes chaos. Shows the people in the area to be frail and insignificant. Underlines the coldness of their interactions.

There’s lots of beauty to be had in the prose, especially when it’s about the landscape and, like the landscape after the volcano spreads its ash, the future seems as bleak as you’ll find it in almost any other novel, I’m sure.  There’s lots of allegory relating to colonialism, power and to misogyny and this is a worthy attempt at shining a light on such unpleasantness. There’s one scene in particular where Tom’s fiancĂ© becomes the victim of some of the locals that is particularly distressing, all the more so for being put together so well.

All in all, Gone To The Forest is almost a pleasure, though not a pleasure I’d recommend for light beach reading on a relaxing holiday.

Katie Kitamura clearly has a talent as a writer. She has something that is rather special. I hope to find something a little more human in her next effort so that her talents can be fully accessible to me and that I can feel something of the bond to the characters that I felt in her debut novel.  

Wednesday 4 September 2013

One Man's Opinion: FAHRENHEIT 451 by RAY BRADBURY

One of the good things about books is that there are so many of
them and that there will always be a gem out there to discover, no
matter who you are or how much you read.

Fahrenheit 451 is one of the diamonds I’ve recently unearthed.

I saw the film of this a very long time ago and it made a strong
impression, but I’d forgotten much of the plot and was left with a
series of powerful images, mainly of burning.

The book’s tremendous on so many levels. Most importantly for
me, it was engaging and dramatic from the beginning and the
unfolding of the story was perfectly paced and gripping enough
when it needed to be.

Montag is Fahrenheit 451. He’s a fireman. A book burner. He’s
identical to all the other firemen he works with and he’s coming to
something akin to a mid-life crisis.

He meets a young girl who helps to open his eyes. She’s special.
She isn’t like most of the human race in this place because she
appreciates conversation and nature and feelings. She’s also, I
think, attractive enough to play hell with Montag’s desires. She acts
as a mirror to his own life – a stale, loveless survival where things
come too easily and where TV and ‘products’ act like anaesthetics
against the human condition.

Montag has had enough of things, but has no idea why or what he’d
like to replace them with.

As he explores his thoughts and feelings, he encounters or come up
against a variety of characters. For example, Faber’s a book lover
and his boss is an all-knowing weapon of society. His own wife and
the community she lives in is dominated by wall-to-wall televisions
and small talk.

There’s also a bizarre war on the horizon. It happens away from the
citizens, but they know it’s coming. It’s a hugely disturbing
element to the book, the cold and sinister inevitability of this
conflict, I guess brought more to the fore with talk of attacking and
killing Syrians who are also attacking and killing Syrians. It's easy
to feel alienated from such huge decisions as this. Here, I'd like to
say I don't want the Western powers to intervene with our bombs
and are glad the British parliament kept the bombings at bay for
now. Chilling.

I’m sure there are a huge variety of ways that one might unpick the
various aspects of this book.

My take is that it got me thinking about the communication age of
computers and apps. I suspect I let too much of my time be
absorbed in these things and have to remember that on my doorstep
there is one of the most beautiful coastlines in the world and that I
have a wonderful family around me who mostly benefit from

More unnervingly, I’ve recently found myself making mistakes
with something in life and momentarily reassuring myself that it’s
OK because I can press the undo button. That’s a bizarre feeling
when it happens while you’re putting furniture together or have just
smashed a vase or similar.

It’s interesting to see that some of the ideas of the story have been
surpassed in terms of technology and yet the book suggests there’s
more to come in terms of the way society evolves.

My other take was to remember just how well a story can be
written. This one unfolds superbly and finishes with a dramatic
flourish when things reach an inevitable crunch point.

I really enjoyed it and would highly recommend it to you if you
haven’t paid a visit before.