Saturday, 3 December 2011


...and it ended badly.  Or well, depending on your view!

I was in London anyway you see, for some Edexcel training.  So it would have been rude not to.  Plus I'd only been to the one on Conduit Street, so visiting the one in Covent Garden could only give me a sense of completion.

All in all I prefer Conduit Street as it's bigger and has more on display, but Covent Garden was lovely too - especially the staff.  She actually did a little scream of excitement when I said, 'Ahhh, go on then,' and whipped out my battered credit card.  She also showed me the inner sanctum.  Well a cupboard of special offers anyway.  I was momentarily tempted by the Sienna in tan, reduced to £50.  'It looks like something Indiana Jones would carry,' I sighed, thinking of Harrison Ford and his whip.

But my heart was already set on one thing...

Look I didn't buy both.  Well not at the same time anyway.  I bought the Deco a few weeks ago when it was half price.  I made my long suffering friend Alison go and pick it up for me.  She called the shop and got it put aside as it was the last one in stock!  I only wanted it in ivory you see.  So I was meeting Alison to collect it.  But I also had my eye on the Osterley.  I've been using an Osterley in brown for a while now and love it.  But the plum...oh the plum.  What the hell, I thought.  It's nearly Christmas.  The photo above is plum, by the way - iphone cameras aren't that great.

I also got a free pen!  I'd never thought about using a Filofax pen before - I prefer to go a bit cheaper, but I must say it's great.  Writes really smoothly, the ink is very black and the small size isn't annoying at all.  I wouldn't like to make loads of notes with it, but it's great for a diary/organiser.

I've completely moved into the Deco now.  I stuck this postcard in that I've had hanging round the house for a while.  I think it used to belong to my great Uncle and I was just taken with the retro aspect of it.  It's also taken about 10 miles from where I live in Burnham on Sea.  So the plum Osterley is waiting for its moment.  I'll probably alternate them once the Deco glow has subsided.  The brown Osterley is having a rest.  

My set up is pretty much the same from before.  I've only changed the dividers (these are from Paperchase).  I might not write on them - quite like them plain.  Definitely worth getting these - they fit the Personal really well and have a gloss finish - only cost £2.95.

I've also started using Slimline address/phone inserts as then you get the tabbed dividers but just with a line for phone numbers rather than the whole address shebang.

I also bought this from Paperchase:

I'm using it as a diary.  Now I've never kept a proper diary before.  I'm using it to record fairly bog standard stuff really - what I was wearing, reading, watching, what I did, as well as a few things stuck in.  Not really into the whole Dear Diary, today I am blue, thing.  I just thought it might be interesting as a more factual record.

I know what you're thinking - why not use a Filofax?  I wanted something with thick plain paper that I could stick stuff in.  Plus I'm not sure if I'll keep on it - so this book seemed ideal while I test it out.

I've sold a Malden in vintage pink to make room for the Deco.  I got a lovely email back from the lady I sold it to, telling me she was going to use it to keep track of her dog training.  I've also put up a Finchley and another Malden so hopefully they will sell too.  I do love the Malden - but I never really gelled with the crimson like so many others did.  I'm just keeping my grey one I've decided.  If I sell those that will take me down to 4 Personals.  Not so bad.... (and plenty of room for later expansion, cough cough).

A few other things to look forward to:


Sunday, 13 November 2011

Theatre Review: RSC Macbeth 2011

We managed to get tickets to the Michael Boyd production of Macbeth at the RSC in September.  Despite having taught Macbeth for around 4 years I've yet to go off it - a fate that often meets the other texts we study (Hamlet - shudder).  Anyone who knows me well knows I'm a bit of a fan-girl of early modern drama.  Shakespeare, Middleton, Marlowe...  I just love that good ol' tragic action and spectacle.

Now I haven't seen Macbeth live for years - not since Derek Jacobi played the lead in 1994 at the Barbican! How would the 2011 production compare?

The setting offers clues to this interpretation.  We are faced with a stark, eerie stage, full of broken statues and stained glass fragments.  Perhaps a reminder of the reformation and iconoclasticism?  The characters stride across these ruins, oblivious to their tragic arc and the workings of fate.  Interestingly, Ross is played sympathetically as a priest, trying to find meaning where there is none.

Ghosts literally haunt this performance.  Aside from Banquo, the ghosts of Macbeth's victims begin to fill the stage, following the King round and round.  Whilst this is visually effective, in the flurry of short scenes in Act 5 the audience is treated to a lot of feet clumping around as they gallop on and off stage, chasing the tyrant like Roman Furies.  This really is a play at the interstices of the reformation - broken remnants of Catholicism vie with very Catholic revenants.

One of the most intriguing aspects is the directorial decision to have the witches played by children: Macduff's children.  So we see a circular pattern of fate and violence where the children set up Macbeth's destruction on the heath, and are also the victims of this initial meeting, savagely slaughtered on Macbeth's orders.  I'm still not quite sure about this.  Shocking, yes.  But it hurt my head a bit - like some kind of Gordian knot.  There's no denying the power of seeing the witches for the first time however, hanging like broken lifeless dolls above the stage - before they start to jerk.  Freaky children eh?

I like Jonathan Slinger's Macbeth.  He's earthy and natural.  Lady Macbeth on the other hand is played quite safely.  Big hair harshly swept back and swinging dress - a real hard bitch.  I'd have liked to see a bit more subtlety in her.

The porter and Seyton though - wow.  Both played by the same actor, the porter's scene (you know the one - when he's pissed at the gate) reminded me a bit of Guy Fawkes.  Jamie Beamish swaggers around, yelling "knock knock" and getting lots of laughs before chucking a load of explosives.  But this comic character quickly develops into much more.  He often stays onstage, watching Macbeth and Lady M with knowing eyes.  And when the elusive Seyton appears in Act 5 (pleasingly pronounced "Satan") we begin to understand his role.  The porter/Seyton straddles this world and the after life, but he definitely seems to be of the devil's party.  Finally we see him surveying Macbeth's crumpled dead body left on stage.  The tyrant moves, starts to get up groggily, and moves to Seyton's beckoning finger, as he ushers Macbeth's ghost into the ominous door at the back of the stage...

In short, it's a wicked performance.  We stayed in Stratford overnight and were amazed at the lack of places to go after.  We found an Italian restaurant eventually.  I've already booked tickets for the production of Julius Caesar next year (part of the Shakespeare World Festival).  I'm an absolute sucker for any of the Roman plays.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Important Star Trek Musings

In life, there are many important questions.  Will I be famous?  Will I be rich?  How much time do I have?  Which is the best series of Star Trek?

I'm going to try and answer that last one today by a simple method.  I shall put the main/recurring characters into three categories and see where we stand at the end of all this division.  I'm not using TOS or Enterprise by the way.  TOS can't really compete as it's a whole different ball park, and I don't do Enterprise.  So it's between TNG, DS9 and VGER.

Firstly TNG (1987-1994).  Onto a winner already here as we've got Patrick Stewart and some amazing episodes such as Tapestry, Best of Both Worlds, Redemption, The Inner Light and Chain of Command.  S1 is a bit sucky, but once you hit the S3finale/S4 opener it really hits its stride.  So here we go (warning - a few spoilers):

Awesome characters

Jean Luc Picard: God I love that man.  He's honourable, clever, strong and diplomatic.  He quotes from Shakespeare and Moby Dick.  He hates children.  He likes tea.

Worf: He's Klingon and all exciting and warrior-like.  Plus he gets even better in the later seasons when his hair gets all long and wild.  Worf enables episodes that focus on Klingon culture too.  Plus he's not unpleasant to look at by any means.

Guinan: I think it's more the fact that Whoopi Goldberg's on the Enterprise D's bar.  She knows stuff about the Borg too.

Okay characters

Deanna Troy: Now I know it didn't help that she had no defined role initially and said vague things like, "Oooh I feel a presence", but she was quite annoying.  Only quite mind.

William Riker: Ahh the Kirk substitute.  I still remember that episode when he was lumbering around in his bathrobe, chasing the ladies.  At least he grew a beard after S1.

Tasha Yar: We never really got a chance to know Tasha before her untimely demise from an encounter with an oil puddle.  So I couldn't go out on a limb either way.  Denise Crosby is good in the later alt timeline though.

Beverley Crusher: I always wanted to like Beverley more, what with her red hair and vague Picard-love interest link.  But I never could muster the energy.  I like her more than Deanna though, but not enough for the AWESOME rating.

Wesley Crusher:  Bless 'im.  Precocious lad who burns out too early and becomes all hippie-ish.  Mostly harmless.

Data:  Now I can hear you all howl at this one, but Data did do my nut quite a lot.  Part of me likes him, sure. But the other part finds his incessant search for humanity irritating rather than endearing.  I would say sometimes he moves into the AWESOME category though.

Katherine Pulaski:  We only had this prickly doctor for S2 so never really got to know her that well.  She was a bit like a female McCoy.


Geordi La Forge:  Geordi's features in some of my most hated episodes and story lines.  You know - the ones where he falls in love with a computer/hologram/robot/dream/whatever as he's incapable of normal human interaction.  Add to that a does of Data in his most "how do I become human" mode and it's a total URGHH.

Miles O'Brien:  I just can't like the man, with his little squinty eyes and gruff voice.

DS9 (1993-1999).  I really like DS9 - it has a bigger supporting cast and I like the space station set up.  It allows for more developed story arcs with an emphasis on Cardassian/Bajoran/Wormhole politics.  But how do its characters work out?

Awesome characters:

Ben Sisko:  I love him!  I know at the beginning we get a bit of conflict between Sisko and Picard because of Wolf 359, but Sisko's a different kind of guy and I like his leadership style.  He's more action orientated and isn't afraid to bend the rules when needs be.  Plus from S4 he becomes incredibly delightful to look at (it's the beard okay?).  As much as I love Picard, I feel Sisko is more the kind of commander/captain I could follow.  When I enter Starfleet.

Kira Nerys: She's a strong female character but that's tempered with her religion.  Her dual loyalties makes her subject of some interesting story lines.

Jadzia Dax:  She's pretty, intelligent and a great gutsy lady.  Once her character develops she's a bit of a cheeky minx too.  She loves everything Klingon - a girl after my own heart.  And I love her spots.

Worf:  As above!  Plus here he makes a super couple with Jadzia and his hair is very long and wild.

Quark:  How can you not love Quark?  I'm still not sure why some say "Quark" and some say "Quork" though.

Garak:  I love Garak with his shady past and tailoring abilities.

Gul Dukat:  There's just something about him...A total trickster character whose loyalties continually change - capable of immense cruelty and kindness.  I do think they missed a trick with his daughter and could have done some more work on her storylines.

Okay characters

Odo: Sometimes he does enter the realms of AWESOME, but I don't gel with Odo all the time.  I prefer how his character interacts with others and his impact on them, more than him, if that makes sense.

Jake Sisko:  Aww Jake.  I actually prefer him a LOT to Wesley Crusher, but he's still not AWESOME.

Nog and Rom:  They're fairly inoffensive...


Miles O'Brien:  As above.  Plus there's even more of him in this series.

Julian Bashir:  He's a hit with the ladies?  Seriously?  I wish he'd just stay in the holodeck with O'Brien.

Ezri Dax:  I don't even have words to describe how annoying she is.

Voyager (1995-2001).  The god of sci-fi (DS9's Ronald D Moore) left Voyager quite early on due to creative differences.  It's often been said that VGER suffered from having a "reset" button.  They're lost in the Delta Quadrant for seven years but the ship looks all brand new and spanking each episode.  I'm not going to lie though - I shamelessly enjoy a lot of Voyager.

Awesome characters

Kathryn Janeway:  I was a little unsure at first but once she got rid of that stupid hair bun and wore it down she was great.  Although she completely contradicts herself sometimes (I'm more inclined to blame bad script-writing here).

Seven of Nine:  Okay okay.  I know she's effectively Data but in a more attractive body, but I don't care.  She's ex Borg and she's cool.  She may be dressed in an outfit that leaves little to the imagination but she's still a female character with lots of depth and guts and why shouldn't she look good too?

The Doctor:  You can't help but love the Doctor and all his weird peculiarities.  Especially when he and Seven have a little sing-song (my bf hates those episodes).

Seska:  Seska was cool, but then she went.  If you hadn't noticed I like strong and interesting female characters.

Okay characters

Tuvok:  I want to put Tuvok in the AWESOME, but he's just not developed enough.  What we see of him is really promising (all that stuff about his rage and dark depths etc) but it goes nowhere.  I think it's partly due to the appearance of Seven - she monopolised a lot of airtime at the expense of others.

Tom Paris:  Tom's almost in the hated category. Almost.

B'Elanna Torres:  And Torres was almost in the AWESOME but she becomes quite wet and boring.

Chakotay:  Just what is the point of Chakotay?  If anyone knows please do tell.  I can't muster up any energy to despise him though.

Kes:  They got rid of her to make room for Seven just as she was getting more interesting.  I could listen to Jennifer Lien's voice all day though.


Harry Kim:  He's just another Geordi! Nooooo.

Neelix:  I utterly, utterly detest Neelix.  Utterly.  At least they phased him out a bit in later seasons.

I know I've missed out a few odds here and there, but let's tot it up.

Awesome - 3
Okay - 7

Awesome - 7
Okay - 4

Awesome - 4
Okay - 5

So there we have it - scientific proof.  Of what I have no idea.  I guess DS9 is the winner - 3 UGHHs (and I've got to be honest - Neelix probably counts for about another 5 URGHHs alone) but a resounding 7 AWESOMES.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Film Review: The Gits

Chances are you haven't heard of The Gits.  But if things had gone according to plan, you probably would have. The Gits were a band on the Seattle scene in the early '90s, on the cusp of "Big Things".  They'd played with Nirvana, just toured Europe and had a deal on the table from Atlantic.

You can see how things should have progressed.  But on a summer night in 1993 everything was blown apart when the singer with the gloriously strong voice, Mia Zapata, was beaten, raped and murdered walking home from a night out with friends.

The Gits (2005) is a documentary which follows the roots of the band, from their birth in 1986 at Antioch College, through their early years in Seattle to Mia's murder and the subsequent demise of the band.  Filmed 12 years after her murder, the Police still haven't arrested anyone and it looks like they never will.

It's quite a hard film to watch; there's so much footage of Mia, plus load of photos.  You really get a sense of a community based around music, and friends hanging out together, supporting each other.  One particular clip shows a house party where The Gits performed a few songs (bet the neighbours loved that).  Mia's singing 'The Drinking Song' with the lyrics 'Here's to them - to all of my friends'.  Interviews with the other members of The Gits and other bands and people on the scene still show a raw pain and anger over a decade on.

But what's so strange about this documentary is that it doesn't end how you expect.  Part way through filming DNA evidence caught the killer.  The killer's saliva had been held since the case, when DNA techniques were less advanced.  12 years later, things had progressed and a full DNA profile could be taken.  And a match was found...

Jesus Mezquia was a Cuban national now living in Florida.  He'd been in Seattle in 1993 and had a previous history of violence against women.  He was found guilty after an eight day trial.  It's quite odd seeing the courtroom verdict - obviously here in the UK cameras aren't allowed inside.  Mia's friends and family are there, crying and hugging each other as he's cuffed and sent down.  He didn't know Mia - Detective Gagnon who headed the investigation believes he was a predator out looking for a victim.  Mia was in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Actually scrap that - there's no reason why any woman shouldn't be able to walk home alone at night in safety.

The Gits is powerful stuff.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Jersey Devil Press

My story 'Exposure' is up on Jersey Devil Press today.

This one went through a few changes - mainly in tense and perspective.  It was first person for a while but I think the change to third works much better.

Direct web link here: Exposure or you can download the whole edition and see the other stories as a PDF here: Jersey Devil Press Aug 2011.

Monday, 25 July 2011

My Foxy Friends

I've had some orange furry visitors in my garden for the last few months: a whole family of foxes.  There's mum fox and her little foxy brood (the most I've seen in one go is seven).

I feel quite privileged to have the little blighters ambling around.  They have an established routine which happens most days:

5-7am: Mum stands around whilst the kids frolic round the garden

7-9.30am: If it's nice weather time for a bit of sunbathing

9.30-3pm: Nap time.  Everyone back to the den.

3-5pm: Back out for sunning, frolics, play-fighting and also digging for worms

5-9pm:  Back to the den for, um, tea I guess

9pm onwards:  I head out with my jam sandwiches and leftovers and feed my brood.  Sometimes I catch one unwares in the grass and he gives me a funny look before slinking off.  Normally I head back to the house and watch them eat.

The rest of the night: Woken up periodically by foxes screeching.  They come right up to the house and sometimes steal the shells I've put outside the kitchen window.

Apparently the young will move out at the end of July.  I'll be sad to see them go, but at the same time it will be nice to have my garden back.  I haven't mowed the lawn for weeks.

It's been great seeing the babies mature - their coats changing from brown to orange.  They all have super white tips on the ends of their tails.

Monday, 27 June 2011


I've had one of my stories put up on Metazen (which I'm most pleased about).

It's called My Body, by Starlight.

Metazen is always worth a look and has some great pieces up every day.

Friday, 15 April 2011

Book Review: The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas

The Slap follows the stories of eight characters who were all guests at a suburban Australian barbecue, tied together by their roles as witnesses.  A child is slapped at this barbecue, by a man who isn't his father.

Who would have thought such a small screaming brat could have created such a flap?  If Harry hadn't slapped him I would have.

The cast of The Slap is very multi-cultural and PC (although quite a few of them aren't so PC themselves).  We have the extended family of Greek immigrants, now settled; the white Australian girl converted to Islam; the Aboriginal man also converted to Islam; the Jewish woman dating a younger guy; the young guy who's just come out the closet; the white trash alcoholic man; the hippie woman who breast feeds her kid till it's like four or something; the girl whose father became a woman and then died from an AIDS related illness, along with her mother; the Indian vet married into a Greek family....You get the drift.  But against this liberal leftie ensemble we get vitriol, misogyny and general unpleasantness.

The trouble with The Slap is that I didn't really like any of the characters.  They're all proved to be sly equivocators who say one thing and mean another.  They all seem to be two-timing their partners.  In the end I sympathised most with the two teenagers: Connie and Richie, although I do worry about their future after reading the whole novel.  I really do.

But the reader ends up having to spend time in all these different characters' heads.  Harry, the child-slapper, is the most unpleasant.  We view "the slap" from the perspective of barbecue host and Harry's cousin, Hector.  Harry seems okay from Hector's view.  He was just protecting his own child (the screaming brat looked set to brain him with a cricket bat).  But once we get into Harry's head, well, we just want to get out really.

In a way this works, this constant reappraisal of character that we're forced into.  Eight sides to every story after all.  I like how we're given a glimpse of the character and then move onto another, never to return, unless through another characters' view.

A few things annoyed me however.

For example, some sloppy writing.  The hippie mum has no money.  Her white-trash-alco-husband-who-wants-to-be-an-artist keeps on spending it all down the pub.  They're skint.  Utterly.  Yet she spends an afternoon getting her hair done at a salon before she goes to meet the girls and orders champagne.  

But mainly it was the sex.  Please God Not Another Sex Scene.  I was reading this on a busy train and I actually had to re-angle my book so the person next to me couldn't look over and think I was reading some Black Lace story.  What's with the cringe worthy mild erotica?  The low point for me had to be when the teenage Connie had a bath and found herself appraising the girth of a shampoo bottle.  PLEASE GOD NO.

I've not really read any modern Australian fiction before.  But what I've learnt from this novel is:
- Australia is a melting pot of diversity and ethnicity
- Yet there are a lot of sexist views
- And class is an issue too
- Quite a few parents are so liberal they don't mind their kids doing drugs.  They even chat about it before the kid goes on a night out
- Some of the parents look after kids while speeding
(disclaimer - I'd like to read some other fiction to get a more rounded view)

So The Slap eh.  If you're expecting an investigation about the ethical issues about hitting a child then you won't find it here.  The actual slap is a trigger to explore these (mostly) seedy lives.  But if you're looking for a load of unpleasant, egotistical, mean and lying characters, well, here you go.  And that's fair dinkum.

Thursday, 31 March 2011

Book Review: Girlfriend in a Coma by Douglas Coupland

I've been meaning to read Girlfriend in a Coma for a while; it's always on sale in HMV and Fopp for a few quid, has an interesting cover and of course, a title taken from a Smiths song.

This novel has a 3 part structure - part 1 is narrated in the first person by Richard whose girlfriend Karen ends up in a coma aged 17, part 2 moves into third person when she wakes up 17 years later, while part 3 moves into another first person narrative from a ghost named Jared.  Oh and the Apocalypse has happened. Confused?  Well I was, and still am.  Jared bookends the story.  We'll come back to him later.

I quite enjoyed the start - a bit of late '70s nostalgia and a suitably morbid premise, despite the OTT language in places.  In the first few pages we learn the December night air felt like 'the air of the Moon'; the city dreams of 'only what the embryo knows'; Richard and Karen were 'pumping like lions'; Richard 'thought of jewels being tossed off an ocean liner over the Marianas Trench'.  Err, what?


Karen falls into a coma rather than confront the vision of the future she sees.  Okay! This is my kind of stuff!  But things gradually become more slipshod.  The sudden change to third person was a bit off putting, but the change to Jared's narration was totally jarring.  I kept on thinking he was Richard, our initial narrator.  No surprise as their voice is exactly the same.  Who is this Jared anyway?  Some teenager who was friends with the main characters and died before the story begins.  He hovers over them, after the plague, touching them and giving them gifts, curing their ailments etc like some high school Virgin Mary in American football shoulder pads. Throw in some ridiculous and pretentious mumbo-jumbo and a million pop culture references (yes I can see you like The Smiths).  And then it was all a dream.  Sort of.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Book Review: The Passage by Justin Cronin

I've just finished Justin Cronin's The Passage - thank the Lord.  You know when you've been reading a book for too long and you just want to move onto another story?  Well it was getting to that stage.  I'm normally a quick reader but this behemoth had me going for about 3 weeks.

You've probably heard of Cronin's epic vampire pop culture meets literary novel which prompted a bidding war before it was even finished and will be given cinematic treatments in the near future.  But is it any good?


I've gotta be honest, this is not an easy read.  In the literal sense.  It's just so bloody big.  Now I've tackled big books before - your James Joyces and Tolkeins and Kings, but this was just plain painful.  My hands are still aching even now.  The strange thing is my copy is around 760 pages long - that's shorter than Stephen King's The Stand (at least I think so - the pages are larger) but the actual book is so big it's awkward and resulted in a bruised nose when I fell asleep reading it in bed. You certainly can't put it in your handbag.  I feel that Cronin may be personally responsible for boosting Kindle sales.  But of course, that doesn't really matter, it's what's inside that counts as my teachers always told me, which leads me onto...


I have to agree with the many reviews I've seen which say the first 250 odd pages are gripping.  We meet an interesting cast of characters - Amy, Wolgast, Carter - and Cronin gives us decent character development.  This is the part of the novel which covers the outbreak of the virus and how a kind of Apocalypse came to pass - maybe just in America, but who knows?  The relationship between Amy and Wolgast is developed and works well to hold it together.  Sister Lacey too.


Which brings me onto the next section - 100 years later.  Now quite a few reviewers on Amazon say they don't like this bit as suddenly finding all those characters you've been spending time with for the past 250 pages are dead(ish).  I don't actually have a problem with that.  If the book's going for an epic, sweeping history, dislocating feel, then it works.  However Cronin introduces too many new characters in too short a space of time.  I'm still not sure who some of them are, and I wasn't sure who I was supposed to side with.  It was only about 70 pages before the end that I realised who the "hero" was.  Not that a book can't have lots of heroes, but this one is evidently more important and I'm not really sure why.  Other characters die and I don't really care.  Who are you again?


So there are some plot holes and confusion.  But to be fair, it was only when I read the end and thought "Hmmm, that doesn't really seem like a proper ending," and investigated further that I discovered it's the first in a trilogy (note to self - must buy Kindle).  So some bits left hanging may be resolved later

But there are some stylistic aspects I find a bit UGLY.  For example, Cronin likes to trick the reader.  Oh no! S/he's dead!! How sad.  Cut to different scene.  Cut back.  Oh it's okay, s/he's not, and here's why.  Also as I ploughed through, my poor aching hands forced into vampire-like claws, I noticed a few bits of flamboyant vocabulary peeping through.  Vampires "ascend" and "descend", people "arise" from sleep and so forth.  And I'm still not really 100% sure why (MINOR PLOT SPOILER AHEAD) when the Colony party wake up that party of vamps in the library they don't just run out into the sunshine of the Californian desert.  Instead they go and hide in a shopping mall, with shade and those kind of dark spaces that vamps love.  But then the vamps seem to be able to move around in day a lot, just by keeping in the shade of trees - when it suits Cronin.  But I guess Spike and Angel did the same...maybe I'm just thinking a bit too much about this.

If I was going to grade it I'd give it a "C".  I'm hooked enough to want to read the rest when they come out (but on a Kindle) but I'm not under any illusions that this was the Holy Grail of a popular-literary mash up.  Now I'm going to go and massage my aching knuckles some more.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

[phantom kangaroo]

I've had my first poetry acceptance/publication this week - something I'm pretty excited about.  It's in an online magazine called Phantom Kangaroo which I've been reading for a little while now.  Initially the name grabbed me, but when I looked at the manifesto I knew it was the sort of publication that was right up my street:

Phantom Kangaroo is published on the 13th of each month, and features 13 poems by 13 poets.
We accept poems in any form, of any subject, or of any length, but favor is given to poetry in the shape of ghost sightings, horoscopes, obituaries (preferably yours), fortune cookie fortunes, tales of UFO abductions, and home-made love spells (preferably ones that work). 

It's run by poet Claudia Lamar - you can check out her work here:

Anyway, here's a bit of background context about my poem 'A Ghost About Town'.  Last summer John (I work with him, he's an English teacher too at my college) kind of got me into this induced, heightened state of poetry writing.  He'd give me some material (a quote, newspaper article or myth) and I'd produce a poem, and quite often he'd also produce one and we'd compare.  This one came about from a quote from Robert Benchley, the American humorist, about ghosts.  It got me thinking about America and Europe and our differing ideas about/sense of history.  Also at the forefront of my mind were ideas from New Historicist Stephen Greenblatt (Hamlet in Purgatory) - hence my slight manipulation of a Shakespeare quote in there.  So all these ideas slopped around my head for a while and this was the result.
Here's the link, but please do check out the rest of the issue.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

[molotov cocktail]

I've just found a home for this flash fiction piece I wrote before Christmas.  It's in Molotov Cocktail, which I'm really stoked about as it's a quality flash journal online.  Have a look and check out the other pieces in there (and the back issues).

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Reading List 2011

The Wind Up Girl - Paulo Bacigalupi (REALLY enjoyed this! Future calorie-punk)

Reservation Road - John Burnham Schwartz (Interesting idea, not sure the execution totally worked)

Fahrenheit 451 - Ray Bradbury (Forward thinking with some really beautiful descriptions in there)

The Passage - Justin Cronin (I was reading this for weeks!)

High Rise - JG Ballard (That '60s architectural dream of streets in the sky meets Cabrini Green; modern life is rubbish when all there is to eat is barbecued pet dog)

Girlfriend in a Coma - Douglas Coupland (Just read the first 70 pages and you'll be fine)

The Slap - Christos Tsiolkas (It's like Neighbours on coke, and with more sex)

Lustrum - Robert Harris (I'm literally OBSESSED with Roman history)

Oryx and Crake - Margaret Atwood (Hey, I loved this! So much so I read it in a day)

The Great and Secret Show - Clive Barker (Enjoyed about 30% of it, the rest needed a severe edit)

The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ - Philip Pullman (My first Kindle read! A re-telling of the Jesus myth with some interesting changes)

A Visit From the Goon Squad - Jennifer Egan (Seriously the most amazing book I've read in ages

The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini (Don't know why everyone raves about this. I found it contrived and full of one dimensional characters)

Zoo City - Lauren Beukes (Liked the setting and the animal spirits as punishment.  Not so sure about the hard to follow thriller plot and bizarre finale)

Small Island - Andrea Levy (This is a potential set text for A level so thought I'd check it out. Enjoyable period details and had a good hook. The outdated attitudes are quite unsettling though! Worth a look)

The Line of Beauty - Alan Hollinghurst (Part 1 - blossoming sexuality in the early '80s; Part 2 - hedonism and Maggie T; Part 3 - the party's DEFINITELY over)

The History of Love - Nicole Krauss (loneliness, some funny bits, interesting divisions, some confusion but hey ho)

Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell - (a re-visit for me as I'm teaching it.  I love this book ; it's so playful and varied, plus it gets better when you read it again)

The Secret History - Donna Tartt (another re-read. I love this book!)

Quarantine - Jim Crace (I really didn't enjoy this as much as I thought I would. I found the shifting narrative perspective a bit distancing)

Tamburlaine Must Die - Louise Welch (This has been sitting on my bookshelf for years, literally. It was a fun quick read - kind of a literary romp)

Year of the Flood (Follow up to Oryx and Crake. Loved it - although I preferred Oryx and Crake a bit more. It did lose a bit of pacing at the end)

One Day - David Nicholls (Not my usual genre, but I was drawn in by the structure. Immensely readable, but some of the dialogue and characterisation really did start to grate. Loved the late '80 and '90s references though!)

Sophie's Choice - William Styron (God this was hard-going: Nazis, porn and sexism)

Never Let Me Go - Kazuo Ishiguro (Ironically, I felt let down)

The Fellowship of the Ring - JRR Tolkien (I used to read this every September, but stopped about 10 years ago. Surprised myself by how much I'm enjoying it again!)

The Two Towers - JRR Tolkien (I still can't decide which is my favourite - although I guess that's kind of a pointless thing to think about as Tolkien didn't want them broken up anyway)

The Return of the King - JRR Tolkien (And my marathon is over. I had fun.)

Monday, 7 February 2011

Book Review: Reservation Road by John Burnham Schwartz

Reservation Road is about the aftermath of a horrific incident; Ethan and Grace Learner's young son Josh is killed one summer night in a hit and run.  However the driver isn't just a faceless figure that disappears into the night.  Instead we get to know him through a first person narrative.  It turns out the Learners know the killer too.  Dwight is a divorced mess of a lawyer who's still obsessed with his ex wife and has violent tendancies.  His ex wife taught Josh piano.  Josh was a gifted piano player - a trait which seems employed to increase the poignancy; Josh had so much to lose.

I wanted to read this book because of Schwartz's narrative stance.  He uses alternating perspectives: Ethan, Grace and Dwight.  So we get three perspectives on the horrible event and see how it alters everything, including the Learners' marriage.  However rather oddly we get a first person narration for the boys (father Ethan and killer Dwight) but a third person for Grace.  I have no idea why.  Perhaps it's to show her emotional distance?  I found her quite hard to connect with, but she's zoned out and in shock so I guess this makes sense.  Or perhaps Schwartz felt he couldn't write from a feminine perspective?  Whatever the reason I found it quite disconcerting, like I wasn't getting the whole picture.  There wasn't really much to differentiate Ethan and Dwight's voice either.

I think it dipped at the end.  I won't give it away but it wasn't really what I expected and didn't feel true to the rest of the book.  But I still enjoyed it; there are some really evocative pieces suggesting the seasons, passage of time and memories and we do get a glimpse of grief.  Bit of a strange one though.  There's a film of it apparently, but I haven't seen it yet.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011


Ace news this week; one of my short stories ‘Petrol Head’ has been accepted by the Seattle literary journal MonkeyBicycle.
I’ve been looking for a home for this one for a few months now so I’m really pleased it’s found one. Very happy and it’s a great journal - you should definitely check out the other work on there.

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Take ‘The Notebook’, add ‘Forest Gump’ and a few sprinkles of ‘Big Fish’ and then mesh it together with bits of ‘Highlander’ (but not the cool bits) and you’ve got ‘The Curious Case of Benjamin Button’.
This is not a good combination people.

Saturday, 1 January 2011

Reading List 2010

How the Dead Live - Will Self (Exhausting and meandering. I look back on reading this as a dark time in my life)

American Gods - Neil Gaiman (Some bits worked, some I'm  not so sold on)

Persepolis - Marjane Satrapi (Fascinating)

Survivor - Chuck Palahniuk (Funny)

The Road - Cormac McCarthy ( bleak...)

The Little Stranger - Sarah Waters (Subtle)

Love in the Time of Cholera (Yawn. I know that's some kind of literary sacrilege)

Blood Meridian - Cormac McCarthy (Bloody brilliant! and bleak...)

Virtual Light - William Gibson (Sci-fi does po-mo)

Ladder of Years - Anne Tyler (A recommendation from someone at work)

Labyrinth - Kate Mosse (Not my thing at all)

Haunted - Chuck Palahniuk (I love you!)

The Unconsoled - Kazio Ishiguru (I actually only managed 150 pages - epic fail)

The Gunslinger - Stephen King (Quite enjoyed this)

Complicity - Iain Banks (So promising but silly ending)

The Drawing of the Three (The saga continues)

Heart Shaped Box - Joe Hill (Might be Stephen King's son but this was bloody awful)

Her Fearful Symmetry - Audrey Niffenegger (Interesting ideas, clumsy writing, could do better?)

Bright Lights, Big City - Jay McInerney (It's Bret before Bret, but a bit more happy)

Imperial Bedrooms - Bret Easton Ellis (A signed first edition helped things along. Nihilism, snuff, drugs and fisting)

The Beach - Alex Garland (Went down like ice cream but ultimately unsatisfying)

Outer Dark - Cormac McCarthy (Incest, lynchings, infanticide and cannibalism. Nice!)

Consider Phlebas - Iain M Banks (Really dense prose, packed full of STUFF, bit meandering but liked the ending)

Filth - Irvine Welsh (FILTHY! Shocking - deliberately too shocking? End was a bit, um, odd)

Imperium - Robert Harris (I REALLY ENJOYED THIS! Probably because it's about the Roman Republic mind)

Wolf Hall - Hilary Mantel (Thomas Cromwell is turned into a hero, of sorts. He has a pet dog called Bella. Thomas More comes across as a bit dishevelled  Off with his head!)

Cat's Eye - Margaret Atwood (Didn't enjoy this as much as I usually do all her work)

On Chesil Beach - Ian McEwan (YAWN)

The White Tiger - Aravind Adiga (Quite fun and slating)

Room - Emma Donoghue (In 2 minds about this one. It's quite engaging and lively, although it does go on too long. But on the other hand it's part of that genre of misery lit like "I Lived Under the Sink for 30 Years" or "Betrayed Angel" - you know the ones)

The Stand - Stephen King (An oldy but a goodie)

Let the Right One In - John Lindqvist (Pretty well written and a good translation but I got bored)

Book Review: Strange Bodies by Marcel Theroux

Theroux’s Strange Bodies is an immensely readable literary thriller which actually works quite well. It follows a strange but recognisabl...