Archive | September 2012

Sunday Roast: your servings for this week

It’s time for a round-up of the posts this week, and a sneak peak of what’s coming up next week. So sit back, turn on some Patrick Doyle, and dig in:

Coming up this week on:

  • Monday and Wednesday: parts II and III of Leafin’ Through (it’s like the days Blue Peter used to be on TV, if you are of a certain age) – expect American Gothic and theatre;
  • Tuesday: my critique of the circumstances surrounding the publication of The Dark Heroine by Abigail Gibbs;
  • Thursday: a special entry to tie in with National Poetry Day!
  • Friday: another Litlist to consider, either for me (hello!), or for the book geek in your life.

Also look out for a commentary on my HOT BOOK DATE ™ with Judith Summers’s Casanova’s Women, and another LitApp at the weekend.

Have a great Sunday evening, gentlefolk! I’m off to create a real roast and catch up on Doctor Who before the spoilers overwhelm my every medium.

LitApp review: QUICK FICTIONS

Who, what, where?

A collection of short stories (300 words and under). Professor Nicholas Royle of the University of Sussex started off the Quick Fic revolution among the students and reading evenings. Now there’s an app, made by Aimer Media and Myriad Editions. Part of Aimer’s intensely cool mission statement reads:

We believe that many forms of publication contain much more structure and “cleverness” than can be seen on the printed page, we are dedicated to bringing out as much of that editorial vision as can be squeezed into a download.

Amen.

Myriad, meanwhile, is a Brighton-based publishing house, home to novels including Isabel Ashdown’s Glasshopper and Elizabeth Haynes’s Into The Darkest Corner. Students and staff from the University of Sussex, as well as established writers, authored the contributions.

 

On the surface

The app looks like this (click the image to go to its home at Aimer):

Smooth, clean, cool. When you first launch the app you are met with the opening screen shown on the phone above, which in turn goes into a random story from the selection. Scroll left or right to get to the next story; do it fast and you’ll roll through the selection, free to stop whenever you want.  The stories themselves are not connected: you are free to randomly scroll, or organise in alphabetical order by author or title.

 

Quick content review

With a range of experience, age and fields under the skin of these pieces, it is small wonder that you end up presented with a virtual buffet of genre and skill. The bitesize biographies under each story roots them in academic, hobbyist and other backgrounds. Of note is Holocaust meditation “Teeth” by author Sue Eckstein, and “Fortification,” a grimly funny serving that gives a new meaning to the phrase “a murder of crows”. Occasionally, however, the stories miss marks: the aimless “Mourning Due” exhibits talent but, really, veers towards becoming Carrollesque, rambling about time, space, and starting yesterday. “The Functions of Theory” begins promisingly before giving into a very student tendency to namedrop Derrida et al.

These hiccups aside, the power of the short story is not lost in these contributions.  On the whole, the app’s selection is strong, continuing to feed the genre.

 

Extra perks

Should you feel inspired by the fics, you are invited to submit your own for consideration. This could potentially develop into an excellent springboard for new writers, or, as is the case here, experts in other fields who want to showcase their creative writing.

There is also a “Favourites” section – the one in mine is Abi Curtis’s contribution, Lighthouse, which is poetically constructed with such phrases as “Rabbits, shocked at the human presence, scatter, basalt-eyed”. (Curtis herself is a highly skilled poet – see her latest collection, The Glass Delusion.)

 

Overall rating

Brilliant idea – pleasantly designed – loses a star for some of the more pretentious content

★★★★☆

Quick Fictions will set you back the princely sum of 69p, and you can get it here.

It’s Friday, I’m in lust: Litlist

Should I find myself in a magical situation wherein I am not penniless, the parts of my Litlist puzzle look like this…

 

(Clicking the item takes you to its respective page. I know. It’s whizzy.)

1. The Writers’ & Artists Yearbook 2013 from The Literary Gift Company

Invaluable for those such as myself who would like to get into writing and publishing in some respect. Also comes with a side order of feeling grown-up and important.

2. Novel Teapot, 2 cup from WritersGifts.co.uk

Because if you’re going to own a teapot, you might as well have one with a pair of novels on the lid. I don’t drink that much tea in one sitting but just look at it!

3. “Hoods make not monks” from The Globe giftshop

I like Shakespeare, it’s not a secret or a big deal. I just really, really do. I also like other people to be aware of how much of a geek I am, so, you know.

4. GIN Scrabble badge from Bookish England

The simplest way to declare, “I am a lush, and I am also very stylish”.

 

 

Rowling, stoned: getting irked over a Guardian review.

I’ve literally just remembered that J. K. Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy is out today, so I gave it a quick Google to check the Kindle price. On the first page is a review by Guardian writer Allison Pearson. I shan’t link to it. Here is why.

I’ll get straight to the point. There was always going to be a bunch of parallels whipped out between TCV and the HP books. This is primarily because people are idiots who can’t seem to fathom how one writer can write different genres. Pearson’s review is absolutely strewn with weak Potter jests. The review gets off to a limp start when she states, “my tongue had been silenced after a powerful spell cast by lawyers”. Har de har har, do you see what she did there? I hope you did. It sets the tone for a thoroughly churlish, silly piece.

My favourite (read: least favourite and most infuriating) example comes when the review is still tenderly blossoming. Pearson quotes a graphic passage, and, instead of engaging with the emotions it provokes and its merit by itself, she chooses to write her disbelief that such filth could come “from the pen that brought you The Leaky Cauldron”. Another notable contender is when Pearson calls the readership and cast of characters “we Muggles”. Yep, she went and actually did that. There are no words (and certainly not for Pearson, who borrows Rowling’s with liberty).

J. K. Rowling reads from a Harry Potter book. Note how it is not The Casual Vacancy. I thought I might have to point that out to some.

The entire piece should, if nothing else, remind you that reviews are opinion and not cast in gold and gems. I would quite like to be a book reviewer; my apparent distaste for them in this case, you understand, is not distaste at all, but discernment. For now, I’m settling with reviewing this review.  It is unfortunate that someone being paid to review for a national publication should backslide into cheap shots. What is most dumbfounding is Pearson’s concern that young Potter fans might read the book. She mentions that a New Yorker interview dealt with the same thing. The answer to that particular “problem” is so glaringly obvious that it doesn’t bear mentioning.

I don’t think Rowling is a fabulously strong writer; I think she’s a very good storyteller. I haven’t read TCV, and I don’t know if I will. It’s not my type of book. I had hoped, though, that adults with the power to influence others, and paid for their writing skills, might be intelligent enough to review the book in its own right. Instead, what I have seen is a snide playground-level stoning of Rowling. I’m disappointed in my peers.

Leafin’ Through: Books for autumn, part 1 – Bleak House

What better way to start off my blog than by writing a trio of articles straddling two ever-pertinent delights: books and autumn! This post and the next two in the series were inspired by Jane Bradley’s Favourite Autumn Reads post over at the For Book’s Sake site. Reading in autumn is an ideal pursuit: indoors, with the heating on, mug of coffee. Maybe you’ve read your customary autumn stash time and time again, and you want something new. Hopefully, my top three choices – blending classic fiction, American gothic and, er, theatre – will give you some inspiration (and perhaps a new favourite).

For a little bit of reading music I’ve given you Paloma Faith’s new single. I can’t help but feel autumnal when I hear it, mainly because it’s used on the new John Lewis advert,, which has a lot of golds and browns in the palette. Coupled with the time of year it’s being shown on TV, the ad and the song are really nice little warmers to take the bite off the weather.

 

First Leafin’ Through choice: Bleak House, by Charles Dickens.

I adore this book. Well-meaning Esther ends up discovering some alarming family connections, whilst butter-wouldn’t-melt friends Richard and Ada fall in love and eventually (in a classic dose of Dickensian misfortune) suffer from Richard’s career indeciveness, and guardian John Jarndyce despairs over a behemoth of a law case and experiences decidedly non-fatherly attitudes towards young Esther. Dickens’s underlying purpose is to critique the law and its tedious, exhausting practices but there’s so much more. There’s smallpox! There’s a crazy bird lady! There’s (and this is the best) spontaneous combustion!

But there are two main reasons why this ends up at prime position in my selection:

I: The descriptions of landscape and scenery are phenomenal. I won’t spoil them for you, as they’re worth discovering for yourself. Look out for the infamous opening about London, Tom-All-Alone’s, and the grounds of the Deadlock estate in particular. They will make you curl up in the corner of the sofa feeling both slightly warmer for being indoors in a rainstorm, and very grateful for living in modern times. They’re also Dickensian prose as its finest.

II: The characters. Come on now, you knew that one. You may only have read a single Dickens work in your life, but you will have seen the insanely good way that Dickens names and enlivens his cast. Ben Jonson was doing the name-personality link way back when, but Dickens took it to incredible heights, and I think Bleak House is where he comes into his own. The sheer range of characters laid out before the reader means that you will end up with three or four favourites.

There are flaws, of course, depending on what you favour in your books. Esther can become gratingly selfless, and the subplot between her and young failing Casanova Guppy might be ludicrous for some (I really love it, actually). But not only is Bleak House wonderful cold weather reading material, the book itself is a weighty chunk that will give you a ridiculously large sense of satisfaction. Probably the Dickensian equivalent to a whole box of cheese and biscuits and a novelty mug-sized serving of cocoa to yourself. Definitely worth a purchase is the BBC adaptation on DVD, for some extremely entertaining autumn evenings.

Amazon UK retails Bleak House at £1.99 for paperback and free (free!) on Kindle, here.

ETA: For further celebration, elaboration and deliberation on Tom-All-Alone’s, I recommended getting a copy of Lynn Shepherd’s novel of the same name, on Kindle for under £5.

On Monday, I will be back with my second choice – a complete departure from Dickens, I can assure you!

Hel Gurney

Writer, performer, poet, activist, on-and-off academic.

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