2013 – In Writing

I haven’t written an awful lot of fiction this year, but I have managed to interest a few editors in what I have written:

I’m pretty pleased with that!

Book Review: ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’ by Ian Flemming

15924411I first read this book twenty-five years ago when I was an impressionable young teen who loved it for the fairytale: a young woman, bruised by two love affairs with men who just wanted her for her body, buys a Vespa and sets off on a journey across the USA. Not long into her adventure, however, a dragon rears its ugly head and she finds herself unwittingly embroiled in an insurance scam, enslaved and abused by two evil gangsters. All is not lost, however, because, just as things are about to take an even bigger turn for the worse, out of the storm comes James Bond, a dark, dangerous hero who not only rescues her but who shows her what it really means to make love.

This time around, I didn’t love the fairytale; I hated it. I simply had trouble believing the way Viv thought, even for a woman of the 1960’s. It might come as a bit of a shock, but not ‘all-women love semi-rape’. What is semi-rape anyway? And Viv just doesn’t cut it as a heroine. The most independent thing she does is set off on her journey, which is a pretty big thing I guess, but you’d figure that a young women with enough get-up-and-go to Vespa herself across 1960’s USA would have a bit more gumption when faced with the things she’s faced with. As a 21st Century 40-year-old woman, I want a lot more action and a lot less swooning from my leading ladies.

1/5 – I did not like it.

Book Launch: What’s Your Story?

photoThese books are the culmination of D.J. Kirkby‘s time as Writer in Residence for the Portsmouth Libraries. There are three in each pack: a collection of stories written by the adults of Portsmouth, a collection of stories written by the children of Portsmouth, and Denyse’s own Realand, which evolved from the short story – The Box of Broken Things – that she wrote for them in return.

My contribution to the project was very small in comparison to that of everyone else: I took the photograph that’s on the front cover of the children’s anthology. Early last year, Denyse asked for people to interpret The Box of Broken Things using different media. She had someone to draw a picture, someone to write a poem, someone to write some music. I offered to take a photograph, and this is the result of my efforts:

nembow_2013-01-24Denyse kindly invited me to last night’s book launch and asked me to give a short talk about working on this collaborative project as a photographer. Which I did. The best bit of the evening, though, was meeting some of the other contributors. Carol Burns, the artist, was there, as was Sam Cox, Portsmouth Poet Laureate, as were some of the authors whose stories have been included in the books and, of course, Denyse herself. I always enjoy meeting other creative people in person because it’s so easy to fall into conversation with them. We ask each other probing art-related questions and we understand each other’s gabbling, over-excited replies. They always leave me fired-up and ready to give my next project good go.

Book Review: Seriously Funny 2 by Adrian Plass and Jeff Lucas

16151841I thoroughly enjoyed reading these exchanges between Jeff Lucas and Adrian Plass. Although in places it did feel like I was reading letters that were intended to be read by a wider audience than just their recipients, there is so much honesty and openness that I could forget about that. Laugh-out-loud funny in a few places, tear-inducing in others – a heart-warming mix of pathos and humour. Overall: reassuring … and thought-provoking.

My favourite part – which sums up the whole book for me:

“Lord, remember me when you come to your Kingdom.”

“Sorry, mate, it’s not that simple …”

Yes it is.

4/5 – I really liked it!

A Time for Everything

wiki2I don’t remember much from my history lessons at school, but I do remember learning about the three-field system. In Europe, way back in the Middle Ages, farmers would let one of their three fields lie fallow. In the autumn, one field would be planted with rye, barley or wheat, and in the spring, one field would be planted with oats, barley or legumes. The third would be left unplanted. Not only did this provide two harvests a year – thus reducing the risk of crop failure and famine – it also strengthened the soil as the fallow field would be allowed to recover. It might be treated with green manure to replace the nitrogen sucked out of it by its previous occupants, and the build-up of pests and pathogens that might occur if one crop were to be continuously cultivated would be avoided. Soil structure and overall fertility would also be improved.

I think you can probably see where I’m going with this.

For the last six months, I’ve been enjoying a fallow period of my own. I’ve not written a single word of fiction. This wasn’t through choice – although I wouldn’t say I’ve been suffering from writers’ block – it was through lack of desire. I simply had no urge to write. This was an odd sensation, or rather it was an odd lack-of-sensation. The need to write stories had left me with nothing but a shrug of its shoulders. I didn’t even feel that there was a void that needed filling; I just got on with life. I sorted out my home – if it was neither functional nor beautiful it went to the charity shop. I sorted out my ‘To Be Read’ shelf – some of which I read, some of which I sent to the charity shop. I sorted out my wardrobe … The charity shops did very well out of me last autumn. I quit Twitter and Facebook for a while. I spent more time with family and friends. I picked up my knitting needles (for the first time in 25 years) and made hats for those who wanted one, and hats for those who didn’t! I watched a lot of box-sets and dramas on the telly.

Looking back, I know I needed a break. I needed to lie fallow. In the first half of last year, I wrote a lot, produced a lot, got caught up in all the blogging, tweeting and facebooking that seems to go hand-in-hand with writing these days. My nitrogen needed replenishing, and I needed to be rid of the pests and pathogens that were nibbling away at my creativity. My structure and overall fertility also needed improving. I needed a time to rest and replenish. (I think I’ve milked about as much as I can from this particular metaphor.)

There were times, over the last six months, when I wondered whether the desire to write would come back. There were times I hoped it would, and there were times I hoped it wouldn’t. But it has. Two weeks ago, I started to get that aching, tingling feeling in my wrists again; it’s the feeling that usually proceeds a burst of creativity, and now that burst is here. I want to write. I need to write. A story, a blog post, a tweet … anything. So I have. I’ve run a #flashcomp at 1000words. I’ve written and submitted a flash-fiction. And now I’ve written a blog post.

It’s time to produce again.

Book Review: Retribution Falls by Chris Wooding

6285903I’ve given this book two stars because it’s the average of one and three. There were some aspects of this book that I enjoyed and would give three stars to, and some aspects of this book that I didn’t like at all and to which I’d give one star.

First off, I admit that I am a massive fan of Firefly and the reason I bought this book was because I’d seen it recommended as a story that would be enjoyed by Browncoats. So it had a lot to live up to. Perhaps it’s no surprise then that I didn’t like it as much as I’d hoped.

I’ll start with the things I liked about it:

I enjoyed the plot; I’m a sucker for the Mal Reynolds, Jack Sparrow, Han Solo types – captains of ships, who are both pirates and good men and who set off on adventures with nothing but personal gain in mind, but who, by the end of the story, realise that there’s more to life than money. Darien Frey certainly goes on that journey, although at the start of the book he’s far, far more pirate (and unpleasantly so) than any of the aforementioned captains. As plots go, it was fairly straightforward and the conspiracy wasn’t overly convoluted, but that wasn’t a bad thing. Thumbs-up for easy reading!

I thought the actions scenes were gripping – some of the best writing in the book.

I liked the world – airships that could fly like X-wing fighters, enchanted weapons and ‘technology’. It was fairly sparsely described – there was enough to give a taste of the setting without slowing down the action.

I liked Jez. She was the most interesting character, self-motivated, intelligent, strong.

On to the things I didn’t like:

Ironically, the thing I liked least about this book was its similarity to Firefly. It was too similar. Some of the plot points, characters and scenes had been transplanted straight from the TV show, for example:

  • Crake and Bess seemed to be based on Simon and River – posh bloke on the run with a girl in a box
  • Pinn was Jayne Cobb – stupid thug/bully
  • Quail was Badger – the petty criminal who sets people up with jobs. Note the animal name.
  • The Coalition was The Alliance
  • The Manes were Reavers – merciless, terrifying marauders. (Reavers ain’t men. Or they forgot how to be. Now they’re just nothing. They got out to the edge of the galaxy, to that place of nothing, and that’s what they became – Mal, Bushwacked.)

There’s a scene where two of Frey’s crew go to a ball in disguise – “Shindig”, anyone? And there’s the scene where Frey is tortured with some form of electrical muscle cramper … That’ll be from “War Stories”.

And then there’s the very last line of the book, which is almost word-for-word the same as Mal’s last line in the episode “Serenity”. I couldn’t quite believe it when I read it. Gobsmacked doesn’t cover it!

I also noted some similarities to Pirates of the Caribbean. Malvery reminded me very much of Mr. Gibbs, there’s a hidden pirate stronghold (Retribution Falls = Shipwreck Cove) and a magic compass. The Manes also reminded me of Barbossa’s undead crew in Curse of the Black Pearl. (“We are not among the living, and so we cannot die, but neither are we dead. For too long I’ve been parched with thirst and unable to quench it. Too long I’ve been starving to death and haven’t died. I feel nothing, not the wind on my face nor the spray of the sea, nor the warmth of a woman’s flesh.” Barbossa, CotBP.) Haven’t you heard the stories?

To be honest I felt cheated. I wanted something that was reminiscent of Firefly and my other favourite piratey adventures, not a complete ripoff. The sense of déjà vu was overwhelmingly disappointing at times.

Another thing I didn’t like were all the flashbacks which were used to tell the characters backstories. I felt they slowed the narrative down too much. I wasn’t entirely convinced by Frey’s change in attitude toward life and his crew either. There didn’t seem to be any particular catalyst for this and I thought his introspection had to work too hard to cover for it. And then there was the wobbly point of view and the disagreement in tenses, sometimes within the same sentence. Rookie mistakes. I also thought it was odd that we never really got to meet the real baddies of the book, the people behind the attempted coup, the Awakeners.

The final thing that really turned me off this book was its portrayal of its female characters. When I first started feeling uncomfortable with this, I shrugged it off as just being down to the characters’ attitudes (i.e. part of the plot) but by the end, I found myself googling ‘retribution falls sexism’ because I wondered if I was the only person feeling uneasy. I could write reams about this but, to my unpleasant surprise, I found lots of reviews by people who felt the same way as me. Here are a few:

http://ferretbrain.com/articles/artic…

http://thebooksmugglers.com/2010/06/b…

http://lightningtreelive.wordpress.co…

It wouldn’t have been so bad had the characters’ sexism been tempered by the presence of some balancing narrative or the presence of at least one female character who wasn’t either beautiful and therefore solely an object of male sexual desire or who wasn’t unattractive and therefore not an object of male sexual desire.

Well, that’s it. Overall ‘Retribution Falls’ was a very derivative work (I can’t believe Joss Whedon hasn’t sued Wooding!) with some redeeming features. I think that if I wasn’t so familiar with Firefly I would have enjoyed it a lot more. And let’s face it: nothing, no nothing is ever going to be as good as Firefly!

Now, I have a dilema. I’ve already borrowed the next book in the series from the library. Part of me wants to read it; I’ve got the feeling that now the crew of the ‘Ketty Jay’ is all set up, they might have some fun adventures of there own, but the other part of me thinks that the déjà vu will disappoint me all over again. Maybe I’ll give the first chapter a go. Just call me a sucker for punishment!

2/5 – It was okay.