Stephen King: On Writing

I was never a fan of Mr King until recently. I seem to have been under the impression that he only ever wrote horrific stories that would give me nightmares for months.

It would seem that this is just not true, as my previous post here will testify.

On Writing has almost spiritual significance for me. My partner bought me a copy as I first became interested in writing and instructed me to read it. Since I hold his advice in very high regard (usually!), I set aside a weekend and read it from cover to cover.

It has proved informative and entertaining in equal measure, telling the story of the author’s life and offering some wonderful advice about The Craft, as he calls it. In fact, it’s how I’ve come to refer to my writing too, and also where the inspiration for this blog came from (see my first post here).

For anyone even considering writing, or for anyone who enjoys Stephen King generally, I’d highly recommend this book. Actually, even if you’re not a fan of his, I’d get it anyway. It’s not his usual fare, although the writing is very much his own style.

I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say it changed my life!

Paul Sussman: The Labyrinth of Osiris

I spotted this is Tesco, of all places. Not my favourite place for novel browsing, I must admit, but there we go. I was drawn by the title, as I’m a big fan of ancient Egyptian mythology and history.

The story is well planned, and although it flits around quite a bit from place to place, this is essential to the storyline and doesn’t detract too much from the action.

I also like the fact that the author has helpfully included a glossary to explain the Hebrew and Arabic words which frequently appear in the text.

The two central characters, Ariel Ben-Roi and Yusuf Khalifa, are well thought through and their relationship is intriguing. The fact that one is an Israeli Jew and the other an Egyptian Muslim adds extra religious, cultural and political dimensions to the story.

A great read, and also a great shame that this was the last work from this author as he died suddenly after publication. I may well have to dig out his earlier work…

Julian Barnes: The Sense of an Ending

Winner of the Man Booker Prize in 2011, I spotted this during a refreshment stop at Warwick Services on the M40. (See how easily I get distracted by books?!)

The author writes in the first person, narrating the thoughts and memories of a retired man reflecting on his childhood and young adult life.

He creates tension without the use of action throughout the first half of the book. Instead, he cleverly uses the character’s memories to convey clues as to what happens next.

In this case, a solicitor’s letter is the catalyst to a chain of events which makes our character relive moments of his past.

This is a novel which covers a huge range of emotions: teenage angst, first love, jealousy, bereavement and, in the end, remorse and regret for the daft things we do when we’re young.

An intriguing read, for sure. I look forward to more of this author’s work.

James Bowen: A Street Cat Named Bob

Well, it was about time that I mentioned a cat book!

My mum bought me this for my birthday last year, knowing that I’m mad about all things feline. This was no exception.

A Street Cat Named Bob  is a lovely heart-warming tale about homelessness on the streets of London and about how caring for someone (or something) else can help to draw out the best in everyone.

There are some frank and open insights into the author’s personal circumstances and how he came to be on the streets in the first place.

It’s not a book that will change your view of life, but it’s entertaining all the same, especially those of us who have feline friends.

Stephen King: 11.22.63

Apologies for anyone who’s following who’s wondering why I haven’t posted in 4 days; I’ve been on a reading rampage, and this book by Stephen King is the reason.

The book starts in 2011, but the action takes place mostly in the period 1958-1963. A portal is discovered in the back room of a diner which transports the narrator, on each visit, back to 1958.

The mission the young teacher undertakes is to stop the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. He spends a lot of time almost as a secret agent, following Lee Harvey Oswald and bugging his home for evidence that he was, in fact, acting alone on that fateful day. The methods he uses to achieve this are inspired, given the lack of Wi-Fi, computer surveillance and other gadgets which the likes of the CIA would take for granted nowadays.

If you’re a fan of the conspiracy theories and you’re hoping to find some whisper of evidence that Oswald was coerced or had help, or even wasn’t there at all, look elsewhere. This book will not fulfil your fantasies.

It is, however, an exceptionally well-written story about a time before mobile phones when people could leave their doors unlocked when they went to bed at night. It’s also a wonderful love story about soul-mates who come from different times.

I’m not usually a Stephen King fan but this is the third novel I’ve read now. I may be changing my mind…

Jasper Fforde: The Eyre Affair

My partner introduced me to this book shortly after he moved in. I spotted the brightly coloured tome sitting on the shelf and was drawn by the title.

“Just read it,” he said. “You’ll love it!”

At any given time, there’s at least two dozen books on my Must Read List, so I’m staggered I’ve managed to read this one so soon.

The story takes places in a hilarious dystopian future with some echoes of Orwell’s 1984. The heroine, one Thursday Next, works for Literatec. They are one of the many branches of the police, who seem to govern almost every aspect of society. Among the ‘crimes’ she investigates are missing characters from well-known novels, in particular, the title character from Jane Eyre.

Those familiar with the story will remember Charlotte Bronte’s famous novel is written entirely in the first person. Upon Jane’s kidnap from the story, therefore, the pages of every copy of the book in existence become blank which causes a public outcry.

What follows is a romp through this strange reality, interspersed with periods of time inside the action of the book. Indeed, one of the best scenes takes place at Thornfield Hall, Edward Rochester’s English country residence, during the fire which kills his first wife, Bertha.

It’s an incredibly clever story and the first in a series, so I guess I shall be looking for the next one shortly…

Virginia Woolf – A Room of One’s Own

“…a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own, first published 1929.

However, A Room of One’s Own isn’t a work of fiction; it’s more of an essay. It was written based on a series of lectures she gave to ladies colleges in Cambridge University.

It also has more than a touch of feminism about it. However, it’s important to consider the context in which it was written.

Woolf’s father believed that only the boys of the family should be formally educated so in fact, when delivering these lectures, Woolf would have been speaking to ladies with far greater opportunities than she herself had.

On reading the piece, however, you become aware of how she advises these young ladies that it was very much still a patriarchal society, and if they wanted to become writers, they would do well to ensure their own financial security.

An interesting read, certainly, I’m not so much a Woolf fan generally, but I did find this engaging.

Penelope Fitzgerald: Human Voices

I have recently finished “Human Voices” by Penelope Fitzgerald. It’s a comedy of sorts, written from inside the BBC during the Second World War. Not my usual fare to be honest, but it does one good to branch out occasionally, does it not?

The characters seem a little exaggerated but then, having never worked in TV, perhaps I’m not the best judge of that. I love, for example, how the author describes one character going off in a huff because their carefully planned programme had to be canned because it didn’t give the right message to the public. I guess at that time, absolutely everything had to be considered within the context that Hitler was about to land on British shores at any moment. A programme that might challenge the current mood of solidarity was probably not considered suitable broadcast material.

One wonders how we would react to a similar situation in 2012, over seventy years later.

Would the BBC once again step into the breach and do their duty by providing the nation with uplifting and motivational programming?

How do the recent scandals within (and without) the Corporation change our view of the BBC as an organisation?

And what of us, the licence-paying public? How have we changed in the last seventy years?

It’s often remarked how the community spirit has left us these days, particularly in urban areas where most of us have barely even laid eyes on our neighbours, much less have had a conversation with them. Would we somehow draw together in a time of crisis and help each other, as our ancestors did? I’d like to think so.

I welcome your thoughts…

Sarah Rayner: One Moment, One Morning

The other day I finished reading an amazing novel. It’s one of those which had been sat on my bookshelf for some months, since I moved house back in April. However, it had never made it’s way off the shelf again for some reason. Instead, it sat there in hope, collecting dust.

Last week I decided I was spending far too much money on new books without ever having finished those I already had. So, I made a commitment to myself. For every new book I purchase, I must read one of my existing books first.

The book I chose was called “One Moment, One Morning” by Sarah Rayner. I read the back page. It said something about a train journey, three different passengers and their experiences. It sounded harmless enough. A bit of light reading, I thought. So, I grabbed a bookmark and started.

To say it was an emotional rollercoaster is not an exaggeration. I think the tears might have started before I finished the first chapter. I won’t give away any spoilers, but it’s a harrowing story about a personal tragedy, seen through the eyes of three very different female characters

I was very much captured by the author’s beautiful style. I could really feel the desolation of one particular character and how she comes to terms with her loss.

Let’s just say I would dearly love to be able to capture the same emotions in my readers when I write. Something to aim for, I guess.

Andrew Davidson: The Gargoyle

I picked up Andrew Davidson’s debut novel The Gargoyle at a book stall which comes to my workplace from time to time.

I always browse the stall when I can, but they very rarely bring anything I’m interested in. It’s mostly children’s literature and cookery books. Not that I have anything against these particular genres.

Indeed, I have a very healthy collection of cookery books in my kitchen and just about every one has tell-tale signs of being used frequently!

On this one occasion, however, I spotted a novel. I picked it up and it sounded interesting so I bought it.

Like many books I buy, I carefully placed it on my bookshelf and there it remained for quite some time until I spoke to my partner about it and he said he had enjoyed it. Having learnt that he has an impeccable taste in literature, I thought it was high time I gave it a go.

I remember that day I started reading it. We were going on holiday abroad, my partner and I, and he was going to a barber’s shop the evening before we were due to fly to have a wet towel shave. Apparently, they’re all the rage these days! So, we went into the shop and after he was settled in the chair, I opened the book and began to read.

I was gripped from the very first page. The action is narrated by the central character whose name we never learn. He is involved in a serious car accident and suffers life-threatening injuries and terrible disfiguring burns all over his body. His recovery is aided and abetted by another hospital patient by the name of Marianne who believes they have been lovers in a previous life, centuries before.

This is a book I couldn’t put down until the very last page. Highly recommended.