Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Her Father's Daughter by Nessa O'Mahony

I'll be quite upfront to start with and say that Nessa O'Mahnoy is a friend of mine. We both worked for our PhDs 2003-2007 and graduated together form the Bangor University in 2007. I'll also say that straight away afterwards that that makes no odds.  I'm fastidiously honest in my reviews and only that which has really impressed finds its way on to this blog.

I've had this book for quite a while. I wish I'd read it sooner. It is a delight.
As the title suggests, there are autobiographical elements here of the Nessa's relationship with her own father. It also contains the story of her mother's relationship with her grandfather.
The poems are strong because they relate to the real world. Nessa uses a powerful mix of writing with the senses and her own inner thoughts and observations to tell an engaging story through language carefully chosen. 

A particular favourite of mine is 'Natural Selection' (34):
April blusters into May,
plays a glassy tune
on the wind chime
guarding the crab-apple
from bull-finch rapine.

At my desk on the first floor
I miss most of the garden action,
though the upward climb
of pink and white
on the silver birch
can still arrest me  
There are a further three stanzas.  

Friday, 4 August 2017

The Pier Falls by Mark Haddon

It's rare for me not to be able to predict the ending of a short story or indeed even what is going to happen next. The collection of stories delighted me because every single one took me by surprise.

'Wodwo' starts off like a rerun of Alan Ayckbourn's Season's Greetings where a family come together to celebrate Christmas and the cracks begin to show. Except Mark Haddon's story turns even more sinister than Ayckbourn's very quickly. 'Bunny' might set out to be a salvation story. We are kept waiting for the overweight title character to be saved. 'The Woodpecker and the Wolf' goes through some bad phases but the ending is surprising. 

All of the stories are on the dark side.  The title story tells of a disastrous accident. 'The Gun' will surely end badly. 'The Boys Who Left Home to Learn Fear' leaves us with the opposite of hope. 'The Weir' brings two struggling characters together. Perhaps it is very appropriate that this is the final story in the collection. We are left with a little hope this time.     

Haddon gives each story a unique and convincing in voice. If you've read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time you'll know that control of style is one of his fortes. You won't be disappointed here.
The book was a gift from a friend. This edition is hard back and has a delightful cover. It was easy to hold which is not always the case with thick hardback books. Just think of some of the later Harry Potters. It also has a handy bookmark ribbon. It includes Haddon's sketches. The font, its size and line- spacing are all just right. This all makes it a delightful book to own.    


Tuesday, 11 July 2017

The Great War by Dawn Knox

This little volume contains one hundred stories, each told in exactly one hundred words, written one hundred years after they might have taken place.
They are naturally of great interest to me as I am also writing in this era. Although my own historical work is set mainly in the 1940s and World War II, much of my work has connections with that time.

The one hundred word story requires some delicate craft. The whole story arc must be contained there, and arguably there should be a three act structure as well. Dawn Knox manages this demanding task very well.
She has clearly invested in a great deal of research and sustains the variety. There are some really heart-breaking stories such of that of the young man facing a firing squad and another one about the young men who make up that firing squad. One young man, who has been sent back to Blighty because of a hand injury, is constantly accosted by the young women of the White Flower Movement. There are lighter-hearted stories too: the young man who grumbles because his parcel from home is constantly delivered to another man with same name, the man who survives but misses his pals after the war, the Land Girl who appreciates working in the fresh air instead of in a munitions factory.

This great little book looks at so many different aspects of the Great War. The short extracts make it very easy to digest and always tell a very human story. A great resource for anyone wishing to learn about this terrible war. 

Monday, 22 May 2017

The Content Machine by Michael Bhaskar

This could be described as a close reading of the publishing industry. Michael Bhaskar steers us away from the idea that publishing merely means making public. After all, he asks, is a book with a 10,000 print run that doesn’t sell a single copy any more “published” than a typescript left on a park bench? 

He takes a long look at the industry and also compares it with farming and the music trade. He describes how it started, what it became and how it is evolving now.  

He discusses filtering, framing, amplifying and curating. He shows us models that have worked, are working now and may work in the future. He doesn’t shy away from pointing out their flaws. 

This book has an excellent critical tone and the Bhaskar’s research and knowledge must be commended. He provides as well easy to follow foot-notes, an extensive bibliography and a very useful index. 

This book certainly helped me to clarify my ideas, as a writer, editor and publisher, about the whole process. 

I was pleased to see confirmation that this academic publisher used print on demand – a model Bhaskar discusses. We see Lightning Source’s logo on the final page. This is the very company we use. Slightly puzzling though that the digital resources are listed separately form the print ones, given what the author discusses. 

Never mind. This is an excellent text and is certainly informing my decision of where to go next.          

Sunday, 21 May 2017

A Woman Undefeated by Vivienne Dockerty

Another stunner by Vivienne Dockerty. This is one of those thick, engaging books that are difficult to put down. A young Irish woman’s life is turned upside down when she flees the failed potato crop and disrupted family. She comes with her new husband and family to England.       
Dockerty holds a close point of view and we are with Maggie all of the way. She does not have an easy life but she is feisty and brave. All of Dockerty’s characters are well drawn. They are rounded, believable and consistent. 

There is pace and tension a plenty in this tale.

Here we can admire the craft of a master story-teller. 

I am so pleased that I have the sequel, Dreams Can Come True, waiting on my shelf.  I do hope this writer will continue producing these satisfying novels for us.