Follies and Nonsense

June 7, 2018

Isn’t this gorgeous?  

On 14th June, Fahrenheit Press are publishing a Limited Edition Hardback of A Savage Art.

Take a look at the design – it leaves me breathless.  It’s based on a William Morris textile print and although there’s no hint of erotica it’s deliciously sexy.

 

I can’t wait to get my paws on a copy – and also Derek Farrell’s Death of a Diva and Jo Perry’s Dead is Better

Take a look here on the Fahrenheit Editions page

Give in to temptation – you won’t be disappointed. Of course if you’re not tempted by collectible hardbacks, you can also buy the ebook or paperback versions because the content is pure gold.

Derek’s novel was the first book I was able to read when I was stuck in hospital two years ago. I even had to set aside the Stephen King and Sharon Bolton novels because they could not keep my attention. Death of a Diva kept me engrossed and even made me laugh and also intrigued and surprised me in one of  my worst weeks ever.  Jo’s novel, Dead is Better, is unique. It’s dark and funny and cynical and it has a dog! Who can resist a novel with a ghost dog?  I am seriously proud of being in such good company.

Clearly I am biased here, but there’s a lot of great fiction available from Fahrenheit. I’m gradually reading my way through the list – although it’s getting hard to keep up.  If you love reading crime, do consider signing up for the Patreon.

Yes, I’m shamelessly biased, and I don’t care. So there.

Ann

 


May 28, 2018

It’s the fortieth anniversary of the first time my love called me an idiot…  

Also of our first date.

Or technically, it would be on the 29th May – but it was Spring Bank Holiday.

We met at Liverpool Uni. We met at Shelley’s teddy bear party. I’d been watching him as I knew Shelley had a terrible crush on him and I couldn’t tell why. “Are you sure?” I asked her later. “He seems, well, a bit arrogant to me.”

I bumped into him a few times in our Hall of Residence dining room. Stole a chip from his plate…which got me into no end of trouble. Collected cooked breakfasts for him, including hard boiled eggs on Sundays… It was habitual for those of us who generally stuck to cereal and toast would fetch plates of cooked breakfast for the gaping maws of the hungrier male students. Some Sundays Ryan would put away seven or eight hard boiled eggs…

Then there was the evening he and another friend, Andy Eastwood, came for coffee in K4 – the rooms I shared with my good friend Andrea. We had more space than most of the other students so we ended up, somehow, having quite a few parties in there.

Andrea and I retreated to the kitchen and as we were making coffee, a coin was produced. Reader, we tossed the coin. I lost.

Back with the coffees and Andrea plonked herself on my bed – next to the gorgeous Andy, of course. And I sat on her bed, with Ryan.

The conversation must have gone better than at the teddy bear party, because at the end of the evening I agreed that I’d go with him to the fair in Sefton Park on the following Monday – after an initial show of reluctance, given that my first Law exam was on the Tuesday.

Monday arrived and we met up in the queue for Hall dinner. It was chicken curry – the least said about that the better. Then we wandered down the road to the park, hand in hand. We wandered around the fair, occasionally bumping in to people we knew. Ryan had a go at winning a teddy for me and failed – something which he has since rectified.

I was a very foolish young woman. Is it too optimistic to think I’m only slightly foolish now? Probably.

I’ve never been fond of fairground rides. I am terrified of heights. I was more terrified of looking like a wuss, so I agreed to go on the ferris wheel.

I don’t recall what else I wore that day – probably jeans and a sweater – but I do remember I was wearing my black wooden clogs. At least worrying about them dropping off and killing someone standing gave me a break from the other, more immediate source of terror. He held my hand, but I don’t think he knew how scared I was.

I didn’t kill anyone with my clogs, which was a good thing.

Then I made my big mistake.

Candy floss. I’d never had candy floss before. I’ve never had it since. After Hall curry, it all proved too much for me.

This is why it’s the fortieth anniversary of the first time Ryan called me an idiot.

I threw up. Not only did I throw up, bounteously returning the curry and the candy floss to the earth where it belonged, I put my hand over my mouth.

So in his defence, he was right. I was an idiot. And he did produce a clean hanky and then disposed of the evidence.

The first date was not, then, a great success. It’s probably not a surprise to hear that the fortieth anniversary of our first kiss is still a few days in the future. Thursday, I think…

The next day, it was my first Law exam. The History of the English Legal System. It’s the only exam I have ever failed… I scraped 44% and a bare pass required 45%.  It wasn’t really Ryan’s fault at all – it might just have had more to do with the number of times the lecturer had to wake me up in Friday morning lectures.

I still have no regrets. It turned out that Andy Eastwood was the arrogant one after all. He later deeply offended me by being surprised at how well I did academically (after I switched to English! Obviously).  I guess he thought I was thick because I was …exuberant….and/or a woman. I reckon I won the coin toss after all.

Ryan’s still here – so yah boo sucks to all those who reckoned we wouldn’t last six months.  Andhe cannot ever claim he didn’t have fair warning.

Yes. That was deliberate. And I’m not sorry.

(Wasn’t he lovely? Still is, truth be told.)

Ann


October 29, 2017

What a year!  

Today it’s been a whole year since the publication of my first novel, A Savage Art.

I know how much of a thrill publication is for every writer – but the last couple of years have been so difficult for me that it’s impossible to overstate how much I needed this, and how much I’ve appreciated everything about it.

From the first email response from the fabulous Chris McVeigh at Fahrenheit Press, the sheer delight of seeing the gorgeous cover design, the day of publication and then later holding an actual paperback copy in my hands, each new first was a joy.

Best of all, though, was the realisation that people were actually reading my novel and enjoying it.

(My darling Ryan is peering over my shoulder and pointing out that he’s a person, and I should mention that some people previously HAD to read it…)

People I know, and people I don’t know.

Wow.

I keep pondering a quotation from Kurt Vonnegut – his first rule for writing fiction, in fact.

Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.

I’m not much of a one for rules, but that’s one I hope I’ve not broken!

Thank you so much to everyone who has read the novel, and to everyone who has taken the time to review – on their blog, or on Amazon or Goodreads. It is very much appreciated. And thank you also to those who shared their responses with me and even their criticisms – that is also very much welcomed.

It’s a funny thing but I was actually quite well prepared for criticism – critiquing and being critiqued helps to develop a thick skin. What I wasn’t prepared for was  how I’d feel when readers loved my novel and said so. So strange a feeling – I come over all emotional every time.

The difficult things about this past year – I’ll spare you most of it, don’t fret – have been a series of misadventures with my health. I am beginning to feel much better now, after three surgeries in twelve months, even though there’s still plenty of healing to be done, but the hernia is fixed, the ovarian cyst gone and the wonderful doctors and nurses of our NHS have done a pretty good job of putting me back together.

There’s still the lupus flare to get through, but I am almost myself again.

I’m back to my writing. I’ve written a short story. I’m working on editing my second novel, which I have neglected for too long. I am excited about it again, and that’s a good sign.

It’s been a very eventful time and I am very grateful to everyone who has helped me get through it.

And an extra special thank you to Chris McVeigh, Mr Fahrenheit himself, for making my dream come true – and for publishing some fabulous novels which have kept me entertained while I’ve not been up to much else. I am in such good company, it has to be said!

Ann


July 30, 2017

Top of the Lake : China Girl (No spoilers)  

When I saw that the BBC in their infinite wisdom had released all the episodes at once, I promised myself I would take it slowly. No more than one a day.

I make myself a lot of promises I know I’m not going to keep. Just as well I have low standards.

Friday, I was under orders to rest – slight post – operative temperature. And after last year’s experiences, a little fear. (Don’t worry. I won’t go into detail. Unless I get around to writing that medical thriller, in which case all bets are off.)

So I watched it all.  One episode after another. I let Ryan cook – which, as ever, meant beans on toast.

I loved the first series and had been looking forward to this immensely. It was, after all, Jane Campion’s film ‘In The Cut’ (generally quite unpopular) which inspired my novel ‘A Savage Art’

In a Guardian article last week, it was said that this was deeper and darker – and indeed it was. In places it was positively weird.

But it was every bit as brilliant as I had hoped, and I am feeling inspired again, indirectly, to follow my own weird tangent.

I’m not going to say anything about the characters or the story or anything, knowing many people are more sensible than me and are eking it out.

I wonder if I’ll believe Elisabeth Moss as Offred tonight? Isn’t she fabulous?

Ann


May 8, 2017

Into The Water, and why I loved it anyway.  

I’m trying to understand what it is I ‘ve loved about the follow up from Paula Hawkins to The Girl on the Train.  Without spoilers, as far as possible as I really don’t want to spoil it for anyone. So there’s nothing about individual characters and plot points here – only generalities about theme and structure and genre.

Val McDermid has some reservations which she discussed here in her Guardian review.

There are eleven narrators for one – some in first person, and some in third. It’s a bit confusing and I did have to flick back and forth trying to work out whose point of view I was in, and at what point in the timeline. The voices are not particularly individualised.

There’s a lot of shenanigans that feel perilously close to cheating in the way information is with-held from the reader to maintain suspense and surprise. This definitely includes a few circumlocutions which dragged this reader right out of the story for moment.  However, some of them are maybe psychologically within the realms of possibility, so I wouldn’t dismiss them all as outright cheating.

I’m not sure about the setting – I agree with McDermid that it seemed randomly rural town. I don’t know the area concerned though, so it didn’t really trouble me.

So yes, I think Val McDermid’s review is perfectly fair. Of course it would be – who knows the genre of crime fiction better?

And yet, in spite of all that, I still loved the novel. And I’m trying to analyse why.

Perhaps it’s not really a psychological thriller. Not in the sense of  “transcending the genre” – a phrase so condescending to crime fiction lovers that it makes my teeth itch like a squeaky chalk on a blackboard.

It seems to me that it’s a deep novel about memory, and truth and lies. About miscommunication. And about how all those things are complicated by different points of view.

Those narrators are essential to the structure because the novelists is telling us about tragedies which have deeply affected several families, and a whole community. It’s almost a realistic way of telling the story, as clearly because of all those secrets and lies and miscommunications, no one knows the whole story, although it is gradually pieced together.

There’s one point in the story where a major character finally tells the truth about something which happened to her and you think hurray – but still, it ends up being misunderstood and complicating things even more. And I think there’s some real psychological insight here – we see people projecting things that have happened to them onto other people. Making assumptions based on their own personal experiences and prejudices. There’s a lot about mysogyny and difficult women – from the point of view of a whole range of people – young and old, male and female. There’s a reason why the novel starts with a shocking and graphic disposal of a witch being drowned – although it’s left an open question whether the modern day psychic is really talking to the dead, or if it’s all a psychological phenomenon. But it does all add to the gothic feel of the novel.

The misunderstandings are not always deliberate. Sometimes it’s a question of motivated reasoning – to avoid being confronted by one’s own complicity. Sometimes it’s naivety, and simple lack of experience, or a lack of imagination and empathy.

There’s an exploration of the idea that a good person might have at times acted badly,  or a bad person done some things for good reasons. None of the characters is wholly sympathetic – no matter what horrors they have been through. There was just one character I found deeply unpleasant and saw no redeeming features in – but only one. Other readers may have a different experience.

If anything, the novel is spoiled by shoehorning it into the necessary structure for a psychological thriller, because at that point it startes to lose nuance, and the twist I’ve been expecting isn’t really a surprise in spite of those avoidances and circumlocutions. So for me it wasn’t a particularly satisfying payoff.  It’s a bit strange to enjoy all of a psychological thriller apart from the last couple of chapters – so that’s what prompted me to spend a bit more time thinking about it.

Who dunnit has never really interested me as much as why, so perhaps my response is not so surprising. And suspense odoesn’t have to be about who to be a compelling read.

I always go back to this Hitchcock quotation –

 “One of the most essential things in a film is visual clarity. I think an audience should be given all the facts. For example if you take suspense – suspense can only be achieved by telling the audience as much as you can, I don’t deal in mystery – I never make whodunnits, because they’re intellectual exercises. You’re just wondering – you’re not emoting. My old analogy of the bomb. As an example, we couold be blown up this minute and the audience would get five seconds of shock. But if we tell them five minutes ahead of time there is a bomb that’s going to go off, that would get five minutes of suspense. and we didn’t have suspense before, because the audience were in ignorance, you see.”

I wonder, now, if all those with-holdings and circumlocutions were necessary for this novel to work. It might perhaps have been a better novel without them. Maybe a second reading, now that I know what was being held back, would make that clear.

Still, even though I wasn’t surprised by the twisty ending, I was certainly emoting like crazy. There were characters I cared about – some more than others, which with eleven narrators is pretty much bound to be the case. And there were a couple who I think might have been more developed.

I think Into The Water might actually be a far more interesting novel than Girl on a Train because it isn’t a standard psychological thriller. It’s trying, and in some ways succeeding, to do something more.

Neil Gaiman said a novel is a long piece of prose which has something wrong with it.

What is often missed, I think, when we criticise any novel is how easy it is to pick out those things which are wrong.

And yet what we might like about a novel are those things which are right about it, even while we can see the flaws.

Not unlike the way we can clearly see the imperfections in that special person and yet still love them.

Yes, that’s it. I loved this novel – warts and all.

 

Ann

 

 

Sources:

Guardian : Val McDermid review

Hitchcock quotation on YouTube