My latest hypnotic read: The Porpoise by Mark Haddon

The Porpoise is a book of two halves, two worlds, two dimensions, myth and reality, now and then, all of which blends into one whole and then unfolds outside the boundaries of time and space.

A mother dies in a plane crash and her baby is cut out of her womb. The baby-girl’s father transfers to her his love for his dead wife, but his love (or perhaps it is veiled hatred) is selfish and warped, expressed through incest. A young man tries to save the girl, but is discovered and pursued by an assassin sent after him by the father. The girl is trapped but, at a great personal cost, escapes into the ethereal realm of her fantasies, thus freeing herself from the unbearable reality she has been forced to share with her father all her life. And this where each of the characters crosses into the other world. That world isn’t kinder or better. It is equally dangerous and even more brutal – a typically fatalistic setting of a Greek myth. Their stories continue under a different guise: the story of Pericles, Prince of Tyre (inspired by the play by Shakespeare), starring Pericles himself and his faithful companions, as well the incestuous King Antioch, the treacherous Dionyza, the tragic Chloe, hers and Pericles’s daughter, Marina. They all face cruel challenges, survive betrayal and death, and are tested and punished in ways that have nothing to do with what we would consider justice.

The writing is urgent, taut, engrossing. The book is written in the present tense, which lends it even more urgency. No time is wasted on the conventions of dialogue, or on superfluous adjectives. I was gripped by every new development and swept away in its current. Even though the plot jumps between different characters and eras, it all seems so immediate and intimate, and the characters are so vividly drawn that I had no problem re-engaging with them. The descriptions are dynamic – you watch, rather than read them, like this marketplace:

“He is in the alleyway again. A blind woman is doing conjuring tricks, coloured pebbles appearing and disappearing in her dancing hands. He turns a corner. A boy has stolen a loaf. The baker curses but does not give chase. The boy is a rabbit vanishing into brambles. He turns another corner. A donkey lifts its tail and sprays wet shit all over the white toga of a man at the adjacent stall. The crowd applaud. Pericles leaves the market through the triple arch of the eastern gate and stumbles down the zigzag cobbles to the agora.”

Last night I read well into the early hours of the morning, unable to tear myself away from my kindle until the last full stop. An unstoppable and highly original tour de force.

Talking to Lorraine Mace about discovering Sandman

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In order to reliably convey Sandman, I delved into the history of Afghanistan. I didn’t struggle with understanding the mentality of a nation subjugated by the Soviets – that was easy, I know of it first-hand. Sandman’s personal journey through two wars was harder. I am eternally grateful to Rodric Braithwaite for writing Afghantsy, The Russians in Afghanistan 1979-89. I read that book from cover to cover, took notes, re-read passages, and I gained a glimpse of what may be crossing the mind of an Afghan who had lost everything apart from his expertise in killing. I hope Sandman captured the essence of the mind of a terrorist.

The whole article: http://thewritersabcchecklist.blogspot.com/2020/01/friday-fiction-feature-anna-legat.html

The grander scale of things

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Last night I went to a Christmas concert at St John the Baptist’s. Reluctantly.  I bothered only because Daughter was performing – she was playing flute. I wouldn’t have gone otherwise, what with life being full to the brim with post-election trauma therapy, Christmas shopping, cleaning, addressing envelopes on copious Christmas cards and generally just chasing my own tail.

It was a life-saving experience (just about as I had lost my will to live). It was elevating and heart-warming. I bleated my socks off joining the choir in carol-singing. Husband had to rib me a few times to shut me up as in my enthusiasm I attempted to turn some brilliant solos into catastrophic duets.

That one short spiritual trip has made me realise that there are nasty-little, bothersome things in life that seem to dominate everything else and leave you with no space to breathe, but when you get a chance to shove them out of the way you will see the light at the end of a tunnel, and you will pump up your chest and stand tall above them. And whilst standing tall, you will see high and far – you will see that grander, better world out there. It’s all there, just obscured from sight by those nasty-little things. Just like the wood that you can’t see for the trees. It’s a question of scale and proportion.

So now the News channel is banned from the house, music CDs replaced Radio-blinking-4 in my car, I eat cake for breakfast, wear a Santa hat and burn scented candles. If the world must fall apart, it will have to do it without me. I am having a jolly this Christmas.

The Thieving Writer’s Syndrome

I imagine every writer suffers from this affliction: wherever we go, whomever we meet, whatever we hear, see and read – we steal it. Whatever we touch turns into a story, which we write greedily and for which we claim sole ownership.

It’s called “copyright”.

We don’t want others to copy our work. We make them pay for it even though, in the first instance, we have stolen it.

I do it all the time. It has become a habit of which I am barely aware. Every person I ever got to know will sooner or later make it to my books. So, beware! Avoid me if you care for your privacy. Or your mortal right.

The same with places. I nick every place that I visit. At some point I will pull it out of my back pocket and it will become a setting for my story.

All writers do it.

On my recent trip to the Canary Islands I discovered that a lot of stories that I would like to write had already been stolen and written by others. Like so:

1. The Odyssey (Sirens calling to Odysseus)

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2. For Whom the Bell Tolls

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3. Robinson Crusoe

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4. Guns of Navarone

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5. The Old Man and the Sea

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6. Treasure Island

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The Testaments – how to write a perfectly original sequel

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It is often the case when a sequel to a novel or a film is just a watered down version of the original. It has the same protagonists facing the same dilemmas with a few tweaks to the time and place setting, and a few flashy gimmicks and new characters thrown into the mix to refresh the plot. Think Star Wars.

Authors (like myself) who write series have to be very conscious of templates, repetition and stagnation. Yes, the heroes of the series grow on our readers and yes, they have to be presented with consistency. But everything else in every new sequel has to be fresh, surprising and curious: a new bookish land yet to be discovered and explored. Otherwise, it all becomes stale like the same stretch of the same congested road a commuter gets stuck on every day. Even the most ardent fans will grow bored and frustrated.

The Testaments are a lesson on how to avoid the pitfalls of sequels – the curse of the sameness. The first-person narrative moves away from June. It is now the infamous Aunt Lydia, and two teenage girls (one brought up in Gilead and the other one in Canada), who take the centre-stage. Their stories are vivid and engaging. I was guessing, I was speculating, I was biting my nails – all the things you do when the plot draws you in. The thought-provoking message of The Testaments did not detract from Atwood’s cracking story telling.

Not all of the Booker Prize winners found favour with me as a reader. Some of them I started only to find myself overwhelmed with the heavy theme or the author’s eloquent philosophical referencing. So I wouldn’t bother to read on. Atwood has a message, but that message is delivered subtly, without overpowering the story or dwarfing the characters. And that is the beauty of The Testaments.

 

Anna Legat: My Guest Author: Attorney, Waitress, and Librarian – well-travelled Jill of all trades

Today, I am visiting the versatile crime and contemporary fiction writer and my fellow Headline-Accent author, Jane Risdon, to chat about Gillian, formally known as DI Marsh. Her latest case is that of Haji (aka Sandman) an Afghani wars veteran on a mission of revenge and destruction.

Discounted kindle and paperback of Sandman

Jane Risdon

https://www.facebook.com/AnnaLegatAuthor/ Anna Legat

Today I am really pleased to welcome Anna Legat back to my blog. We share the same publisher, Headline Accent.

She first appeared here in 2016 and she has written more books in her fab DI Gillian Marsh series since then…

Find out about Anna:

A globe-trotter and Jack-of-all-trades, Anna Legat has been an attorney, legal adviser, a silver-service waitress, a school teacher and a librarian. She read law at the University of South Africa and Warsaw University, then gained teaching qualifications from Wellington College of Education (Victoria University, New Zealand).

She inhabited far-flung places where she delighted in people-watching and collecting precious life experiences for her stories. She writes, reads, lives and breathes books and can no longer tell the difference between fact and fiction.

Read about the series she has written:

DI Gillian Marsh is the troubled heroine of my crime series, which include

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Back in time to Edinburgh

If you one of those history enthusiasts who would rather travel back (and forth) in time than into infinity and beyond, then Edinburgh is a place for you.

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The moment you land at Edinburgh Airport you get the impression you arrived in Hogwarts – Harry Potter-styled wizardly outfits are scattered all over the place. You stand a good chance of bumping into J.K. Rowling at the grocer’s.

Even the contemporary Fringe Festival has the feel of a Victorian fayre: street performers, jugglers, comedians and all manner of things bizarre and freaky call out to you from every street corner.

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The most modern building to visit is Hollyrood, the Scottish Parliament building, but from there it is only one-way street back in time.

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Historical fireplaces took my fancy, maybe because I had overestimated the Scottish Summer average temperatures and felt slightly on the shivering side.

Edinburgh Castle oozes history, the blood shed in endless battles and sieges trickles from the castle walls, the ghosts of betrayed leaders and prisoners of war haunt even by daytime (the night must be seriously overcrowded) and battle cries can be heard over the cannon fire.

And if you are still not satisfied that you have travelled far enough, you can always descend underground to walk the ancient Mary King’s Close (not recommended for people with claustrophobia).

And finally, you can’t have Edinburgh without a bagpiper – so here is one for you:

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First, there was the Word – The Handmaid’s Tale

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Between watching the last available episode of June’s story and opening –with the utmost care, as the author urges me to do on the cover – The Testaments to read what happens next, I reread The Handmaid’s Tale.

The TV series is based on the book. In its own right the series is powerful, uncompromising, thought-provoking. It is also full of dramatic tension, twists, visual effects that burn into your skull, fast pace between now and then, as well as amazing acting – I mean, a-ma-zing. It is brilliant TV. There are very few writers out there who would refuse having their novels adapted for performance. Whether it is for the stage, the radio, television or cinema we want our stories to stay alive and continue to be re-enacted for our audiences, be it readers, listener or viewers. And looking at it from the other side of the coin, there is no film nor theatre or radio play without it being written first. As the famous first line of the most-read book in the world says, First there was the word.

But that doesn’t mean that novels should be written in scenes or film frames. The Handmaid’s Tale wasn’t. Reading it, you would think that it is too retrospective and too abstract to ever qualify for adaption. But you would be wrong. Novels – great novels – provide inspiration, a theme, a focus, a feel. Adaptations run away with that and develop it into scenes, frames, events and twisty plots. One does not detract from the other. To the contrary, one feeds off the other. I took note of that as writer: it is written in big red letters in my little black book.

I loved both the series and the book though the series took several liberties with the characters and the plot. Despite that, The Handmaid’s Tale remains instantly recognisable.

The genre provides interesting dilemmas too. You may know from my earlier blogs that I am genre averse. At first sight you would be tempted to classify The Handmaid’s Tale as sci-fi – it is about the future. But it isn’t. Atwood refers to it as speculative fiction. This term fits perfectly. It is about our world today as it may or may not evolve. The chances are that it will. If you believe that, the speculation draws you in and it becomes your alternative reality (like it or not). And when the book your read becomes your reality, then you know you’re reading a masterpiece.