literary magazine 11
Cover image: Lisa Larsson Artwork: Fossfor The Magazine on-line: http://viewfromheremagazine.com EDITOR: Mike French Managing Editor: Sydney Nash The Crew: Kathleen Maher, Paul Burman, Stella Carter, Naomi Gill, Jen Persson, Jane Turley, BT Cassidy Cassidy, Fossfor, Diego Cupolo, Kerrie Anne & Charlie Wykes. Copyright: The View From Here magazine 2009 2009-05-01 Published by BLAM Productions based in the UK email: email@example.com Painting of microphone used throughout: Fossfor Fiction articles in this magazine: All people, places and events depicted therein are fictional and not meant to resemble any actual ctual people, places, or events unless otherwise specified.
I'm from the US so I tend to gush...and gush I will about The View From Here. It is full of indispensable things to a writer...interviews with successful authors, helpful insider information, great fiction and a venue for the exchange of ideas. It's great fun to read and is my guilty pleasure when I'm supposed to be working on my next novel.
Patricia Wood Lottery Short listed for the 2008 Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction UK
The View From Here Interview:
Iain Banks interview by Mike
Iain Banks came to widespread and controversial public notice with the publication of his first novel, THE WASP FACTORY, in 1984. He has since gained enormous popular and critical acclaim for both his mainstream and his science fiction novels. He is now acclaimed as one of the most powerful, innovative and exciting writers of his generation: The Guardian has called him "the standard by which the rest of SF is judged". William Gibson, the New York Times-bestselling author of Spook Country describes Banks as a "phenomenon". I caught up with him after he finished writing his latest book, due out later this year.
Can you tell me a bit about yourself. 55, married but separated and in the process of getting divorced, no children, living happily with partner in Fife. Merrily writing away to produce a book every eighteen months or so. Hobbies include music and hill walking. Driving a wee diesel hatchback these days after an attack of green guilt made me sell the fast cars. Gave up flying too, mostly for the same reason but also because I just got bored with the security rituals. What's your ideal night? No single template. Drinking
and eating feature heavily as a rule, though. What is your favourite book?
well and so not taking the game entirely seriously, while I was. I even designed a sort of super-Risk that featured a variable-geography
I wish I knew. Just going on the mix of people at events and so on, I think the Venn diagram concerned has a fairly generous middle bit, but
board and lots of different types of units, plus different terrains and resources and so on. I never did persuade any of my pals to play it with me though I had a lot of geeky fun test-playing it. Anyway, Sid Meier did it a lot better.
obviously further market research is required.
Sorry, I don't have one. Fair enough! What book are you currently reading then? The Gods That Failed by Larry Eliot & Dan Atkinson. What was your first break into being a published author and how did that feel? Getting a phone call from the late and much-missed James Hale of Macmillan while I was sitting at my desk pretending to be a costing clerk for a big firm of London lawyers in March 1983. James plucked The Wasp Factory and me from obscurity. The rest is modern studies. Do you know anything about the plans to turn The Wasp Factory into a film and will you be involved with the screenplay and the music and lyrics to the soundtrack? The film rights are mine again apparently, as of recently. So a film is a possibility - watch this space. I'll leave a proper screenwriter to get on with their job. Ditto the music - I have absurdly ambitious plans for my music but a soundtrack for Wasp Factory does not figure in them. In your book, The Steep Approach to Garbadale, the family business is built around a game called Empire! Is this based on games like Risk and do you have a love of playing board games yourself? Yes, it is. I was a Risk adept, I'll have you know. Well, I thought so at the time. At one point in the early Seventies I'd won 13 out of the 15 games my pals and I had played over the course of one summer (and, patently, remembered this statistic). I believed then that this was because I was a genius. In fact it was because I had a car. This kept me sober while my chums were all roaring drunk and often stoned as
In your book science fiction readers are described as anoraks in a conversation between Alban and Fielding. Do you think science fiction readers are seen like this and as a science fiction as well as a literary writer yourself how do you feel about the genre and its image?
Alban muses towards the end of The Steep Approach to Garbadale that "the trouble was that so many people seemed to feel a need for certainty, for clear paths leading to set objectives with tickable goal boxes." Are you someone who needs these or do you like to be more spontaneous and go with
Of course they are. And while there is a grain of truth here it's mostly just a patronising put-down, born partly out of a sort of technophobia. Only a culture that ever considered calling somebody 'too clever by half' and regarding this as a genuine criticism could be quite so self-defeatingly stupid about SF and its fans. On the other hand I have a sneaking respect for the keep-SF-in-the-gutter faction, too... Cripes! I'm jolly well conflicted. Why do you put your middle initial in your name for your science fiction, was that your idea? To keep certain of my uncles happy. There was a degree of avuncular disapproval that the good name of Menzies might somehow be seen as not good enough. Anyway, it helps distinguish the mainstream from the SF, though the debate over its usefulness is on-going. Is there much cross over between the people that read your science fiction and those that read your literary work?
the flow and just "travel hopefully" as Alban puts it? I am when I'm writing; I like to complete a certain number of words per week. In everything else I try to be a bit more relaxed. In the context Alban is talking about I try to be as
different from possible.
Alban asks himself "What do I really want?" Is this a question you've ever asked yourself in the context of your writing career? No. The career itself is the answer to the questions I asked myself as far back as primary school. The Guardian said of The Steep Approach to Garbadale, "one can't help concluding that his heart wasn't completely in the job." How do you cope with reviews of your books, do you let them effect you/do you read them at all? The Times for example said The Wasp Factory was "rubbish" but now have changed their minds! I tend not to read them. Reviews are written for potential readers, not for writers. As a reader/potential reader, I read and use reviews all the time, but as a writer - well, bad reviews make you want to stop writing and good ones make you think you need never be edited again, and neither response is really useful for you as a writer or for your readers. Don't get me wrong; reviewers do an important job, it's just not the one everybody appears to assume they do, which is telling writers where they've gone horribly wrong. Alban makes a cutting speech towards the end of the book about American foreign policy. Is this something that you feel passionately about yourself? Darn! What gave it away? I'm with Alban here... actually I'm not, I'm
with Verushka; Alban was a suspicious supporter of the war whereas I was against it before the start. Long before; I remember thinking What the fuck are these evil right-wing bastards up to now? back before September 11, just because of some of the briefings coming out of the White House. It was obvious they were angling to attack Iraq (at least - maybe Iran too). And I absolutely believe Verushka's line about trying to justify the war being like trying to justify rape; no matter how fancy you dress your arguments up you should just be ashamed of yourself. You describe yourself as an "ideas" writer - Do you find those ideas harder to come by these days? Yes. Luckily one gets better at exploiting the few one does have as one gets older. One also starts to use the impersonal first person more often, one does. Can you give some advice to those writers who are trying to get published. Yes, I can. It's all about the three "P"s: practice, practice, practice. Actually it's about practice, perseverance and pluck. Except take the "p" off "pluck" I just put that there for alliterative effect. I meant "luck". What do you think are the common pitfalls and mistakes new writers make in learning their craft? Not practicing enough. Also, not loving writing for its own sake but just treating it as a career prospect
that will in time yield vast amounts of money. The poor fools! Plus, not sending publishers return postage with the manuscript. (I have yet to work out how one does this with this new outerweb thingy on the computer, but I'm sure it's possible.) What is your view of the publishing industry at the moment? And is your approach to writing a novel different now to how you first started out? I don't know enough about publishing to comment beyond saying it seems to have got a lot more corporate over the last twentyfive years, which, as an observation, is not exactly sock-knocking-off in its originality. Anyway, I just write the books, and do so now pretty much as I ever did. Can you tell us something about your next book? It's called Transition, it's published in early September and it's mainstream. About as mainstream as The Bridge, admittedly, but still mainstream. Though not in the States. There it's going to be published as SF. Confused yet?
Photo Copyright(Modified): Foley / Opale
Marvinâ€™s Girl by Brent Powers
Well, all else failing I decided to visit my uncle Marvin. He rung me in and I entered his venerable old Victorian, floating above the steps a bit. This was nice because I usually fell. "Marvin?" I called. "Marvin?" "Yeah, I'm comin'." He was way at the back of the flat. I could hear him skating across the hardwood floors on his socks the way he always did. Marvin was like a kid. He was young at heart but old on the outside with skin like old leaves. "Hoop-de-doo!" he said when he opened the door. That's how he always greeted me. Then he skated back up the long hallway and into the living room. I followed and got in there in time to see him take a leap into his big old chair.
"Tab in the fridge" he told me. "Also oyster stew, brown eggs, tuna salad, Velveeta and a Budweiser. Choose the Budweiser, open and pour. I do not object if you should want more. I remember how you like to come over and drink everything up, everything in the house, and that's how long the conversations is. Right? Right?" To oblige him, I went in to his vast San Francisco kitchen and grabbed the Bud. Came back in and sank into his old couch which said oof! "That a boy," he said. "Get all fucked up." He was having Tab and vodka. He served me my first drink when I got out of high school and that's what he gave me. Gah! If that was all they ever gave you I'd be a teetotaler from day one.
Marvin raised his glass. "Here's to you, Nuttso!" He took a slurp of his spiked Tab, making disgusting sounds. "How are you, Marv?" I asked him, just for something to say. I had very little to talk to him about any more. I don't know what I was doing over there really, I was just on the loose and thought of him, and I was approaching his neighborhood when the thought had just entered my head that it would be wise to throw my wallet down the sewer, that I should end it here, first with my wallet and then my body even though I knew it wouldn't fit, but the next thought was of Marvin.
"Like her?" Marv said, breathing old meals and medicine in my face. "Oh, I'm coping," he said. "Remain interested in history, philosophy, great books of literature in easy to read editions. Don't haunt the night anymore. Don't chase after working girls. Fixed income don't include working girls. Add that knowledge to your future plans, mental case. Crazy as you are, the gov'mint won't pay for jollies. Hey, but I got this." He leaned forward and pointed at his cheek. There was something there alright, a mole or something. "Take up that magnifier over there," he said. "Get a look at my honey." I did like I was told. I bent down with the large glass, the one he used to examine old coins. At first I thought I wasn't seeing it right but H well, it looked like a tiny little woman sitting on the side of his cheek. Yeah, that's what it was, a tiny little woman in a bathing suit. She was sitting there a little above the froth of his white mustache, and through the glass I could even see what she looked like, her body type, all about her. She was a little thick in the legs, and she had small breasts that she must have contemplated improving at times, a square head, a squarish hairdo to suit it, or it would be if it wasn't all shapeless and frizzy from swimming in his mouth. "Like her?" Marv said, breathing old meals and medicine in my face. "She is a strange creature, ain't she?" I kept looking. I was waiting for her to move. I wanted to know if she was alive or just some weird skin formation. But then she did move: she took one foot and scratched her opposite calf. The expression on her face was that of a tired woman who'd seen a lot and been disappointed with the whole dang thing. Somehow I just couldn't blame her. I put the glass back and drew away. "My new gal," Marv said proudly with his old lips pursed. I waited for the little dame to slide down from
the movement, slide down and get all tangled in his mustache, but she held her place without effort. Perhaps she was stuck there by means of a small amount of rubber cement. "Best I've had. Name's Cookie and she works in the darkness of the school system. In what capacity she won't tell me but I imagine she's one of those office people who're always telling kids to get their hands out of their pants, types a thousand words a minute, all business at work but a total animal on the dance floor. She says she's from back East and attended Barnard but that's grunt, she's Glendale, Arizona from tip of her toes to her chinnychin-chins. Wished I'd been there for some of the good stuff she was giving out in her full sized life. What the hell, though, at least we can talk. Hard to hear her sometimes due to all the waxy buildup in my ears currently but we do share some good times. I read at her from Milton to get her good and guilty feeling; then I let her off the hook with some hip new free psychologic whoopy, gets her wet so she almost comes unglued. I love her. Glad she came to me in my time of ancient need." "Where did she come from?" I asked. I tried to sound serious and matter of fact. "I told you. Glendale, Arizona." His expression was one of hurt accusation. "Never been there, myself. Why would I have? Them places are just assend bus stops. That's why she concocts all that about a fast East Coast life of perfumed sex in hallways with married men and dinners at the Four Seasons; being kept in a suite at the Plaza Hotel where there were these little robot vacuum cleaners she'd always be stumbling over and inconvenient servants who'd lick her face. She said she saw all four seasons looking out the big windows of that suite at the Four Seasons, saw the park and the carriages, the opera lovers in tall hats and at night there was the Staten Island Sex Fiend in his cape stalking Riverside Drive. He'd ask an unattended lady to light his cigar with her Bic lighter -- it was still in the day of the Bic lighter -- and then he'd yank her into the bushes and make nasty with her until she swooned in an amazement of pleasure, then told the police later how awful it was. Only civil. Can't have enjoyment of them things, it's not Christian. Yeah, she told me all this only she's fulla shit like an old tomato. I enjoy the stories so I don't bother to correct her. Hell, the stories are pretty goddamned sexy, you wanna know the truth. I even get stirrings down there from the Stranger in my Pants H So, tell me, son. What are you into lately? Still engaged in criminal activities?" "You mean brokerage? Nah, I'm too soft," I confessed. "That's no life for a poetic soul." "'Poetic soul'!" he giggled, spitting up long strings. "But hey. You still married to that deaf and dumb bitty?" "Which deaf and dumb bitty was that?" "Well, I can't remember her name, Nuttso. She couldn't say her name. And you wouldn't tell me. Wouldn't tell me a goddamned thing. Afraid I was gonna steal her away from you, I guess. Take her into the closet and show her what it's really like. Come on, what was her name? You can tell me now. You
probably pushed her down the stairs going HEEHEEHEE!" "I never had a deaf and dumb biddy," I told him. "Maybe you did and forgot about it. You've had so many women, Uncle." "Well, in traction, then. Didn't you have one in traction?" I chugalugged my beer. "Marv," I said. "I've had one girl and one wife. The rest is sadness." "Oh, ain't that the truth." He looked sympathetic. "Well, look. You oughta get yourself one of these. Recommend it. She don't give you no grief. There's no real jollies to the deal but H well, you're comin' to the time, aincha? Few years it won't matter. Just bullshitting will be enough. You sit there of an evening listening to your sad and lonely iTunes and talking sweet and lovely, it's even better than all that exhausting bangin'. Don't have to shower afterwards or apologize for coming too soon. Lot of advantage to the celibate kind of love. You can wax poetic and get all gooey and stuff without the actual mess." He went on like that until I tired of it. I found I could sort of back away slowly, saying, "Right. Right." He'd still be talking. Didn't even know I was gone. I could hear him all the way down to the street. It was then I decided not to toss my wallet or my body down the
drain. I figured I could hook myself up with something in life, a growth or something. Marv had done OK. I could do OK, too. And live to share what I have found with others. It is a good and handsome life we have.
about the author Brent Powers is a guy who was supposed to be a movie star only he changed his mind during a rehearsal of "Oh Fame Oh". He fled to writing. He did it for years without remembering to publish it. Someone reminded him that a writer must "utter his shit abroad", so he did, and has since, in zines and small print mags from around the time of the turn of the century. His work has appeared in 3AM, Sein und Werden, The Blotter, Bewildering Stories, Hiss, Opium, forthcoming Dogmatika, and so on. He even published a novel, "The Dog's Tooth", in 2002. He is very brilliant and handsome.
Original Photo Credit: Joe Shablotnik at Flickr (graphic enhanced by S. Nash)
The Insanity Test by Stella
This month I was going to do an elaborate article on the fine line between insanity and perseverance in pursuing a writing career. My punchline was going to be: you're only insane if you stop enjoying it; or if you think you won't need a day job; or if you start referring to yourself in the third person; or if you start hearing voices. Since the punchline is already spoiled and since I'm not a certified psychology practitioner, let's scrap that deadly serious article and do something much more fun. Like invent a questionnaire for evaluating your sanity. Yes! It's short! It's fun! (It's probably inaccurate!)
Two: Who do you let read your work? a) Nobody. Who cares? b) One or two carefully selected individuals. c) It really depends on my mood, but I usually try to get a number of different perspectives. d) Anyone! Three: How often do you write? a) Whenever. If I feel like it. b) I try to write as often as possible, but there isn't always time. c) I make time to write even when I'm very busy with other things. d) Every day for two hours at least. No matter what.
The View from Here Insanity Test! It goes like this: ten questions, each with a choice of three answers. Pick the answer that best suits you. a = 1 point; b = 2 points; c = 3 points; d = 4 points. Tally your points at the end to see which Sanity Profile is yours. One: Do you carry a notebook and pen everywhere so you can always be sure to have a place to write down your thoughts and ideas? a) Meh. I'll probably remember. b) I try to, but it's not a problem if I don't. c) That's just good planning. d) Of course. Doesn't everybody?
Four: Do you need a quiet writing environment? a) It doesn't matter. b) I prefer it to be quiet, but I can handle some background noise. c) Sometimes I enjoy writing with music playing, or even a movie or a TV show. d) Though I do a special kind of writing exercise to music, I need dead silence or I can't concentrate. No distractions please! Five: Have you read any writing manuals/manifestos/advice books? a) I don't care what anyone else does. b) I don't mind reading about other writers' methods, but I try not to let it influence me. I like my own style.
c) Yes, I've read some and found a number of interesting things. d) I read as many as I can. Six: Do you have a picture of your favorite writer hanging on a wall in your house (possibly close to where you do your writing)? a) I'm not into that kind of thing. b) I used to, but I took it down. c) Yes, but it's not right where I can see it. d) More than one, actually. Don't look at me like that! It's inspirational. inspiratio Seven: Do you keep a diary? Have you considered that it could be used later to analyze your work? a) Right. Like I even keep a diary. b) I doubt it'll be of use to anyone. I don't write much in it. c) I have thought of that. I'll leave instructions with someone I trust to destroy it after I die. d) No! (Yes.) Eight: Do you know a lot of other aspiring writers? a) No. b) A couple. One of them is a good friend. c) A lot. I'm very friendly with most. d) Countless. I run a mailing list and organize workshops. kshops.
Nine: If given a choice, would you rather be commercially successful or critically acclaimed? a) These questions are stupid. b) Critically acclaimed. I think. c) Can I be a little bit of both? d) I don't see why those two should be mutually exclusive. If I'm critically acclaimed, then lots of people will read my work. Ten: Do you wonder whether your work will stand the test of time? a) I should have stopped reading after the first question. b) It's not that important to me. c) I can't say that I don't. d) But of course. Who wants to be forgotten?
Sanity Profiles Slightly Insane (10-19 points) And probably more than a little antisocial. We admire your "I'm only writing for me" attitude (confession: we're a bit envious), but you might enjoy sharing your work with others just a little more and getting some feedback. Also, if you're ever looking to get published, you'll need to adjust to the idea that eventually other people have to get involved in the process. And, if you'll excuse the cheap psychology, our guess is that your loner bravado is a cover for hypersensitivity. Casually Insane (20-30 points) You're calm, you're cool – you've got the passion, but you don't let it run your life. If you scored closer to 20, you might want to get a little more active. Don't be afraid to get a bit crazier. If you scored closer to 30, then you should be careful you don't end up in the Noticeably Insane
category. It's likely they're not enjoying themselves as much as you are. Noticeably Insane (31-40 (31 points) And probably more than a little stressed-out. out. First we suggest that you calm down. You're probably very entertaining company and very good at getting things done, but don't forget that hat you're not running a marathon and don't let ambition poison the creative process. Also, don't be so quick to turn to others for their opinions or guidance. You have eyes and ears everywhere – and that's a good thing – but it's also important to listen to yourself. Or, it might be the opposite: you ask for everyone's opinion but then don't bother listening. Listen to an opinion before you decide to ignore it.
Background image: John Goodridge
Book Reviews I listened to the town below breathe its shallow night-time breaths, in and out, in and out, and all around me the Earth sang. Gwenni Morgan is a young flying detective in this charming book set in a Welsh town in the 1950s. In a story told with a love of words and infused with childhood wonder we follow Gwenni as she peels back the facade of normality as she investigates a mysterious death to reveal family secrets. 'Everyone knows these things but most of us don't talk about them.' Her mother, her hands 'gnawing away at each other like mice eating cheese.' is not best pleased: 'No one will think Gwenni's clever if she goes around saying she can fly and dead animals are resurrected,' says Mam. Reading the book is like poodling along in an old Morris Minor, it has a quite charm that gradually pulls you into its story. Hints of darkness, magic and a defective story are set into the Welsh village in a way that are totally believable and the flights of fancy so delightful that you fancy that if you closed your eyes you could join Gwenni in the sky. The fact that this is a debut novel is impressive and it deserves the attention Waterstones have given it by naming Mari as one of its New Voices for 09. It is rare for an author to be so in control of their work on their first outing and there are no wild flourishes or bumps in the road along the way.
The Earth Hums in B Flat by Mari Strachan Publisher: Canongate Review: Mike
If you love language and storytelling and if you love a book that has a distinctive voice without shouting at you, then pick this up. Read it at night or in a plane - or in a little Welsh village on holiday - just make sure you read it sometime this year!
was impossible in this anonymous agglomeration of clothing chains, supermarkets and dark pubs. Only a few bored teenagers on bikes stared blankly at my Figaro as it purred through the town and out the other side in no more than a couple of minutes. It’s passages like the above that stand out for me in this book. Andrew as a (rather gloomy) chronicler of city and landscape, writes with confidence and clarity. My problem is with characters, both major and minor. Jack, the struggling author and narrator quickly becomes irritating. At first his struggle to defeat his ennui and live a little seems promising and I wanted him to get his backside kicked a little on the road to spur him on. In his companion Neil, the juvenile offender, amateur philosopher and anarchist there should have been a butt kicker par excellence. The trouble is, Neil never feels fully drawn, remaining more two dimensional free spirit than three dimensional man, and so Jack remains as he starts out, more observer than participant in life. As such he is jaded and prone to self pity which becomes wearing after too short a while. The minor characters met along the way share Neil’s central flaw. I can see what Andrew wants to create with each one but they don’t ring true for me. It comes down to the approach Andrew has taken, to use Jack as narrator. Whilst we know what is going on in his head, we can only infer what drives everyone else through their dialogues with Jack and dialogue is Andrew’s weak suit. That doesn’t mean it never works; when it’s punchy and to the point the characters are alive: On The Holloway Road by Andrew Blackman Publisher: Legend Press Review: Charlie To damn with faint praise may be the unkindest review of all; the reader was neither delighted nor disgusted, enthralled or appalled. One reader’s hate may be another’s love after all. But there’s neither here for me so I must come clean at the outset and say that Andrew Blackman’s On the Holloway Road is Ok – not great, not terrible, just Ok. The central premise in many ways is a fine one; a road trip in modern day England and Scotland that references that seminal road trip account, Kerouac’s On the Road. The pairing of the jaded, rather unadventurous author Jack and the mercurial, dangerous Neil is a good staring point too – one hopes for adventure, insight and growth for the pair placed against snapshots of Britain. And to be fair Andrew has done his homework. I suspect he’s travelled miles on and around the Holloway Road: I slowed down as I approached Towcester, an important staging point on the old road. It was a disappointment of course. Even to imagine Roam legions at camp
“Fuse was blown,” she stuttered, shivering. “Couldn’t face hunting down the torch and fixing it. You don’t mind, do you?” Unfortunately there are too many moments when what Andrew’s characters say feels ‘polished’, as if they are reading prose meant to define them for us rather than simply talking, allowing us to work them out. Hence, like Neil, they come across as ideas not people one might actually meet. But all is not lost. Andrew is a new writer and learning his craft. He clearly has stories to tell and desire and perseverance to put them on paper. If he can develop an ear for dialogue to match the eye he has for place then good things will surely come. One final point. Through jack, Andrew articulates strong views on what constitutes the ‘literary’ novel, what the publishing industry want and what that means for writers. Combine this with the references to On The Road that run throughout and Andrew invites the reader to ‘compare and contrast’ both his work and himself to Kerouac. My initial reaction to this was astonishment at such hubris. On reflection I believe he is instead asking us to consider what is important in writing, perhaps suggesting that literature has somewhat lost its way and a turn back to the autobiographical, life as it is lived voice is needed. A worthy sentiment.
A Vengeful Longing by R.N. Morris Publisher: Faber and Faber Review by Jen Crime and historical fiction. Three murders, two detectives and one very interesting “loan”. ‘A Vengeful Longing’ is the second book for which R. N. Morris has borrowed Dostoevsky’s character from Crime and Punishment, Porfiry Petrovich, and fully fleshed him out into the protagonist of this historical crime series. Being a crime novel, I’ll have to be careful not to give anything away. So in shortest summary from the blurb, here’s what happens: “In the heat of the St. Petersburg summer of 1868, a doctor’s wife and son are found dead, victims of a suspected poisoning. The doctor is arrested, but when further bodies are discovered it sets investigator Porfiry Petrovich on a thrilling and dangerous chase through the dark heart of the city, encountering aristocrats, soldiers, beggars and prostitutes as he hunts down a ruthless and elusive killer.” The St. Petersburg of 1868 was a generation post Napoleonic wars and pre-revolutionary Russia. It was an era in which the Tsar and nobility resided in country dachas far removed from the cholera and poverty
stricken city of workers. ‘A Vengeful Longing’ also includes characters from the newly developing and educated middle class, a doctor, a trainee lawyer, but R. N. Morris is equally adept at describing the desperation and deprivation of the poor. This spread of characters not only gives a more truthful backdrop to the plot, but is one of Roger’s greatest strengths - his emphasis and skill at creating characters, vividly bringing them to life, or taking them from it, with equally graphic power. The greatest challenge I had reading it was one, which Roger is familiar with, “those pesky Russian names”. I was only able to read this book in many short sessions, and as a result, kept losing track of who was who, since Russian names are typically in three parts, and use the last name, the diminutive, or the full name depending on who is talking, how well the person is known and so on. Roger says, “A number of readers have commented on this, almost apologetically, saying that they found it a little difficult, at least at first. My response has been to say, if you think it’s hard, you should try writing the damn thing! I have been fortunate though in that I had a Russian friend double check the names for me, on A Vengeful Longing, at least. Plus, my copy editor was a Russian graduate.” This accuracy and authentic use of names is of course in keeping with the time and setting, although occasionally I did wish he’d just kept it simple, and foregone the accuracy. Having said that, his use of historical places and detail is not overly done. On the contrary, he manages to achieve the fine balance of giving a real “feel” for the place and time, without bogging down the story in background detail. We know St. Petersburg is on the coast, when seagulls call out above the correctly named Russian streets. St.Isaacs’ Cathedral features, but does not interfere with the storyline. This was spot on. I love crime (in the literary sense), and at the risk of a run-in with all his crime fans, I think the whodunit and whytheydunnit factors, are well done, but not brilliant. We are very aware from early on, as is the leading investigator Porfiry Petrovich, that the wrong men are arrested and released; and we are uncertain and unconvinced of the motives of the killer. As we reach the conclusion, we follow Petrovich’s psychological consideration of individuals, share in his chain of thoughts and the events that surround them, which leads him to the correct conclusions. However, just as the investigator is rational and steady in his approach, so is the plot, and for me there failed to be sufficient pace change at the end, which I would often expect of a crime novel. The dénouement happens quickly, and although we see it coming, it happens without a progressive build up. Now it may well be that different readers would react to this differently, but I would have liked to have seen more of the “thrilling and dangerous chaseH as he hunts down a ruthless and elusive killer” from the blurb. Instead, it was a carefully measured pace which came to an almost unexpectedly abrupt conclusion. So if this was not what I most enjoyed and appreciated, what was there that held me in ‘A Vengeful
Longing’, which made me think, which kept me wanting to turn the pages, which makes it a good book? For me, it is a crime story written in a literary fiction style. And not because the character is ‘borrowed’ from Dostoevsky. Because, by all accounts, PP is much more in R. N. Morris’s work than he was in the "original". For me, it is a literary fiction, because it is interwoven with themes, motifs and issues, which go far beyond your average murder mystery. From the opening sequence we are met with characters with various degrees of rationality and intellect, of mental or physical illness, of ability or inability. There is a fine balance between the mentally ill and the genius, and parallels between physical illness in the city and the sickliness of the State. There are ongoing hints of the political backdrop against which the action takes place, and in the final pages of the book, there is a strong hint of the revolution to come in the uprising of the masses against an unjust power. “The new civil flag, adopted a decade earlier, Porfiry could still not bring himself to regard as Russian.” Salytov snarled at the sight of it, “Germans.” The idea of identity, national and individual also runs through the narrative and emphasises the author’s belief in the importance of character. “Is there, do you think a specifically Russian type of hypocrite?” asks Porfiry, at one point. And the belief in God or organised religion is also raised by characters questioning their own beliefs. Porfiry seems solid and astute, but also curious and humorously cynical. Porfiry’s enlightenment and insightful nature is contrasted well against that of the rougher policeman, Salytov. We see the psychological versus the brute strength approach and which wins over connects again into the political theme. Youth, growing old, and dying are also motifs which tie into the political and social aspects of the age but support the plot very well. We see young wives or mistresses replacing the old such as Virginsky’s new mother, and later the dying old mother whom is rather ghastly to hear and worse to see, appears to reflect the dying “old” Mother Russia which will give way to a new Russia, but not whilst the current situation exists. The family in which the daughters all die of cholera highlights that this situation has no future. There are wonderful asides and remarks on authority throughout the story but they equally contribute to our understanding of the investigators’ characters, as when Porfiry tells his young apprentice Virginsky: “Another skill you will find useful to possess is the ability to persuade a sceptical superior of your abilities.” Later, as he traps flies with trays of honey laced with alcohol Virginsky asks Porfiry “Why don’t you just poison them?” to which he replies, “What would be the fun in that?” Perhaps the strongest motif is the contaminated water system. We experience through Porfiry both the smell and health problems caused by the poor sanitation
of the city canal and river systems, and the resulting flies and cholera. Porfiry Petrovich complains to the authorities about the canal below his office, and receives a letter which plays a part in the plot, but also highlights the disinterested unwillingness of the State to act. The motif also highlights the coexistence between the rational and the insane, physical and mental health. “The train stopped at a station on the Ligovsky Canal. The lunatic asylum remained in view, as if to provoke them.” Thomas Mann’s “Death in Venice” came back to haunt me reading A Vengeful Longing, in more than this motif. The role of women in nineteenth century Russia is not discussed, but is shown in the roles assigned to them in R N Morris’s fiction: prostitutes, mistresses, kitchen and serving staff, unwanted wives, presumptuous daughters or young women making unwise choices, even older women in authority are corrupt or too tied to the law to be good, the brothel manageress or landlady. I can’t think of one woman who is portrayed in a positive light. But the theme which I enjoyed picking up again and again, ties into the balance between the mental and physical health, the rational and insanity. It is writing, its role and the purpose of writing. The opening scene, “Grisha’s pen moved swiftly, the letters forming with seemingly mechanical perfection” contrasts perfect writing with an imperfect mind. In a visit to the asylum, Porfiry Petrovich meets an educated man who has written a letter of complaint to the Tsar on the current state of the country and has ended up locked up as a result, but we are not quite sure if he is only a political prisoner or not indeed slightly unbalanced. And a young French woman is discovered at the scene of a crime, “Ah naked I hear, apart from a counterpane. That will provide a colourful detail for your memoirs, Porfiry Petrovich.’ “I will not be writing any memoirs.” He replies. There are diaries, letters, political pamphlets and books read in secret which all have negative results upon sharing them. Porfiry achieves nothing through his letters and success through his thinking. Porfiry Petrovich speaks in a measured and careful tone. His character has a distinct voice. And he himself remarks on the importance of what one says, “When you have worked in this job as long as I have, you will learn to pay especial regard to the precise form of words people choose, particularly suspects.” Roger is a crime writer, but above all, this book shows he is a good writer. In a recent article in The Guardian, Michael Holroyd wrote, “the word ‘literary’ is death to sales.” So perhaps I shouldn’t say that this is literary crime. Is there such a thing? Perhaps it is just crime with an above average writing quality? Morris’s first Porfiry adventure, The Gentle Axe, was so successful that the publisher has authorized two sequels. This is the second, A Vengeful Longing, and he’s completed the third, A Razor Wrapped in Silk. I’ll be adding the two others to my reading stack, and I’m even inspired to read Crime and Punishment. I’m sure Dostoevsky would be delighted.
The View From Here Interview:
R.N.Morris interview nterview by Jen
ABOUT R. N. MORRIS R.N. Morris was born in Manchester, England, in 1960 and now lives in North London with his wife and two children. He sold his first short story to a teenage girls’ magazine while still a student at Cambridge University, where he read classics. BIBLIOGRAPHY Writing as Roger Morris, his contemporary urban novel Taking Comfort was one of the successes of Macmillan’s “Macmillan New Writing” imprint in 2006 and his first published novel. (Macmillan New Writing was launched in April 2006 with the aim of discovering superb new novelists writing in all genres. It publishes one novel per month and welcomes submissions from unpublished novelists of adult fiction.) His short fiction has been published in a number of mainstream, genre and literary publications. One of his short stories, The Devil's Drum, appeared in the Horror Anthology Darkness Rising and was subsequently made into an opera performed by the Solaris Musical Theatre Company in the Purcell Room on London's South Bank. Another, “Revenants,” was published as a comic book. A Vengeful Longing (2008 Faber and Faber) is the follow-up to his first novel written as R.N. Morris, The Gentle Axe (2007 Faber and Faber / US Penguin). Both belong to his historical crime series in which the central character, Porfiry Petrovich, arose from Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment. Tell us how you found out about the Macmillan New Writing scheme and what happened to make your book a success?
I found about it through the internet, I think. I was always on the lookout for publishers who were interested in new authors. I liked the fact that they were accepting e-submissions, it seemed to make the thing that much more immediate. The book had been to one previous publisher. An editor there had been very enthusiastic and gave the impression that she was about to make an offer on it. But her more conservative colleagues thought it was too much of a risk and so the offer did not materialise. At that point my agent sort of gave up on it, because he knew that I was working on something else that he thought was much more marketable – the book that would become A Gentle Axe. So I decided to sub Taking Comfort myself, and actually at the time I didn’t tell my agent I had done it. By this time, Gentle Axe was finished and he was subbing that. Anyhow I did eventually come clean with him, and soon after I got the email from Mike Barnard of Macmillan New Writing, saying they wanted to publish Taking Comfort. I was delighted. I had been writing for
many many years and had lost count of the number of unpublished novels I had under the bed. I had virtually given up hope pe of ever being published. Soon after, my agent got the offer through from Faber and I was in the slightly embarrassing position of having two publishers. To go back to Taking Comfort, there was a launch party for the Macmillan New Writing imprint, and I met the reader who had pulled my book out of the slush pile. That was a great moment. She took the trouble to find me and congratulate me and say how much she had enjoyed the book. Needless to say, I was extremely grateful to her. Following the contemporary contempora urban writing of Taking Comfort you went back to 19th century St.Petersburg for both ‘A Gentle Axe’ and the second in your series ‘A Vengeful Longing’. Do you think you have now found your home in historical crime or do you have any plans to return to contemporary ontemporary fiction?
I am enjoying writing historical novels and I am amazed at how well they have been received so far. So maybe it is my niche. But really the whole thing came about because I had an idea for a book – to write a detective novel with Porfiry Petrovich, the detective from Crime and Punishment, as the central character. I then had to become a historical novelist to write the book that came from that idea, so I was learning the ropes as I went along. Having said that, I had attempted similar things in some of my unpublished novels. One was purely historical, no crime. Another was a different period, different setting and slightly more surreal storyline! Perhaps the way to look on those unpublished novels is as apprentice pieces. I wouldn’t like to think that I can only write historical crime now. I have other ideas for books I would like to do, though most of my ideas are historical, I think. I find it very difficult to think about writing about the contemporary world. As soon as you start writing about it, what you are writing becomes dated. I imagine that Taking Comfort, written in 2005, has the feel of a different time to it now. The Times wrote in a review “As forensic science has come to dominate the real world of murder investigation, crime writers are increasingly turning to moments in history when detectives had to do without fingerprints and DNA.” Do you think that affected your choice of setting and time period or what drew you to Russia and that era? I think there is definitely something in this. I couldn’t begin to write a contemporary crime novel. For one thing, the science dominates to a degree that is not only bewildering for me, but also does not interest me that much. Also the idea of the classic detective who solves mysteries by the power of his intellect or his psychological insights just isn’t appropriate in that setting. Everything seems to be solved by DNA, or fibre samples, or the dust from some obscure seed pod only found in one area of the Arizona Desert. I’m not sure forensic
investigators can do everything that they are represented as doing on CSI, and I certainly don’t believe they have those whizzy graphics on their computers. But people these days seem to think that they can do anything, and really, where’s the fun in that? I can’t imagine how you would structure a modern detective story. It’s all about waiting for the results from the lab. Once you have it, you go and arrest your man. As for the period and setting of my books, that really came from the idea. Everything started with this mad idea, to write a detective novel that had Porfiry Petrovich from Crime and Punishment as the protagonist. I was the victim of my ideas – and not for the first time. Were you afraid of potential negative feedback at “borrowing” a classical character, Dostoevsky’s Porfiry Petrovich? What has been your actual experience/feedback so far? Yes, I was. This was something that gave me a great deal of anxiety and there were a couple of reviews from purists who basically took the ‘how dare he?’ and ‘he’s no Dostoevsky’ approach. That was expected, so I was able to deal with it. The Kirkus review of Gentle Axe was particularly sniffy. But what worried me more was that it included a spoiler – I got very worked up about that! A South African journalist wrote an article accusing me of a version of identity theft, based on the fact that my acknowledgement to Dostoevsky came at the back of the book, rather than the front, so the reader didn’t know before hand that I had taken the character from someone else. They didn’t know that I had put the acknowledgements at the front in my manuscript and it had been moved to the back by the publisher. Anyhow, there were far more people who were positive about the whole thing, including many fans of Crime and Punishment. One reviewer said that Axe was a ‘worthy successor to one of the greatest novels ever written’, which thrilled me enormously, as you can imagine. Anyhow, I’m more relaxed about it now, and reviewers seem to be too. The Kirkus review
ngeful Longing must have for A Vengeful been by a different person, because it was totally positive and even spoke highly of Gentle Axe, so it shows how subjective all these things are. Did you deliberately bring in Virginsky as a role, like Lewis to Inspector Morse, or o why is his character important to you and the novels? Well, I’m not sure how deliberately I do anything as I usually write by my instincts, and if I do something like this I can only ever say I did it because I had the idea to do it and it felt right. In n retrospect, it seems to work well, and it is definitely something readers have responded to favourably. It seems to allow Porfiry’s character to develop, because he has a foil to work against. I would also say that Virginsky does have some kind of role in n the books in terms of dramatising some of the political and intellectual issues of the time. He represents the youthful generation, in opposition to Porfiry’s older generation. He’s young, idealistic, impatient – and yet I think he learns from Porfiry, and a begrudgingly admires him. As the series develops, the tensions between the two men will come out more, but in A Vengeful Longing, he is very much in the junior role, learning from Porfiry, and questioning him too. The challenge of having this young man working with him keeps Porfiry on his toes, I think. It often seems publishers want more of the same after an author is initially successful, but authors and readers may need something new. Some crime writers I enjoy wax and wane as time goes on with a single ngle character Cornwell’s Scarpetta springs to mind - whilst others continue to enthrall and support good plot lines but finally need to retire Mankell’s Wallander or Rankin’s Rebus for example. What will become of Porfiry Petrovich - do you already have ha his career mapped out?
My initial plan was to write four Porfiry books, one for each season of the year – though they are not set in the same year. I’ve now written three – with the final edits just being sorted out for the third. If Faber want me to write the fourth, then I would love to do it. I have the storyline and I think it could be quite a good finale to the quartet. I really don’t know what will happen beyond that. I personally would like to write something different, maybe something nearly contemporary, though not quite. I might go as modern as the 1960s. I was born in 1960, so that would be interesting. I do have ideas for several standalone books. You have just completed a first draft of the third Porfiry series, A Razor Wrapped in Silk. Can you tell us something about that? A Razor Wrapped in Silk is set in autumn, again in St Petersburg, a few years on from A Vengeful Longing. There are basically two story strands, one to do with the industrial workers in the city, in particular child labourers; the other is focused on more aristocratic circles. It explores the different attitudes to the murders of people from these very polarised sectors of society. The Tsar makes an appearance in the book, which is something slightly different for me, because neither of the other two had any actual historical personages in them. People who have read it – my agent, my wife and my editor – seem to like it best of the three. Mainly, I think, because the character of Porfiry is developing even more, as is the relationship between Porfiry and Virginsky. As with the others, it is quite a dark book, though there is also a lot of humour in it. The humour is one of the reasons my readers so far have enjoyed it. It’s weird writing books. You spend all this time on your own, working in isolation, not really knowing whether what you’re doing is any good, or even works. There’s a lot of anxiety and trepidation involved in handing it over to someone else to read, but then again the book is only really complete when someone has read it.
A Vengeful Longing made the 2008 CWA Duncan Lawrie Dagger shortlist. How did that come about and what did it mean for you? It came totally out of the blue. I think what happens is that your publisher enters books for these competitions but then it’s really in the lap of the judges. I was lucky because there was obviously someone on last year’s judging panel who liked my book enough to shortlist it. A different set of judges might have picked a different set of books. I was asked by one of the judges what it meant for me to be shortlisted and I replied at the time that it reassured me that I was not totally wasting my time. It’s a validation, really. Do you think that literary crime fiction is a distinct genre apart from commercial crime fiction? Do you think you get a different response from critics and journalists because it seems an above-averagely educated work of crime fiction? It’s difficult for me to answer this, to be honest because I never set out to write a deliberately ‘literary’ crime novel. Having said that I have to accept that the literary connection in my books – that they are drawn from Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment – did push me in a certain direction, a perhaps literary direction. The truth is, though, that I just set out to tell the story in the best way I could, and in a way that was appropriate to the theme and setting. I did have a meeting with an editor at a more mainstream crime publisher and basically she told me that she would be interested in Gentle Axe if I ‘dumbed it down’ – that was actually the phrase she used, and to be honest, it shocked me. Possibly there is a distinction between literary and commercial crime fiction, though to be honest I like to think of myself as a storyteller first and foremost. It’s just that I also believe that style is also a part of storytelling – that you can contribute to mood and scene – and of course drama - by the actual way you write something. The writer’s first responsibility is to keep the reader reading. And, as a
r, bad prose style is one of reader, those things that stops me reading, so I do try to attend to that. As for the responses from critics and journalists, I think I have done pretty well there. Whether that was because of the perceived ‘literariness’ of the books, I can’t really comment. Why the different names: RN Morris and Roger Morris? (And what does the N stand for?) I was advised to use two different names to distinguish the two genres. My first book, Taking Comfort, a contemporary urban novel, came out under der the name Roger Morris. Then when I switched genre to historical crime, I was advised to use a slightly different name. Strangely the reason given was that it would confuse booksellers if I stuck with the same name, because they wouldn’t know where to put ut the books. (The N is for Norman.) What was your first published work, are you a full time writer and if so, how did it develop alongside your day jobs? My first published work was a short story for a woman’s magazine. Actually it was a magazine aimed at teenage girls. I was still a student, which was a long time ago. I followed that up with a couple more for the same kind of magazine. Then I decided I would write a novel, and that was where it all started to go wrong! Basically it took me years to get a novel published, and I have a stack of unpublished novels tucked away beneath the bed, or somewhere. I’m not sure how many! I have been writing full time for about a year now. Basically I stepped away from my day job in order to write A Razor Wrapped in Silk. Now that I’ve finished that book, effectively, I suppose I am out of a job! Before that I was working as a copywriter. I was lucky because I was able to work three days a week and have two days each week for my own writing. You seem to favour a PC rather than longhand. What tools do you feel are must-haves haves for writers?
Actually, I write a lot in longhand. I think I wrote all of the current book in longhand, typing up as I went along and then editing on PC. My method before that had often been to begin writing longhand, transfer to PC and carry on writing on PC once I was in the zone. But I consciously decided to write everything longhand this time. For one thing it took me away from the computer, which I see as much as a distraction as a tool these days. More of that later, though! Must-have tools for a writer – a range of pens in different colours, colour-coded index cards, big pads, comfy chair, coffee pot, computer, printerH white board, pin boardH ummmH. waste paper bin. I’m sure there’s some other stuff too. At what point in your career did you get an agent? I’ve had my current agent for about ten years. Before that I had another agent and it was through her that I got my current agent. What happened was that the agency she worked for was taken over and she was out of a job, though she did successfully set up as an independent. However, she wasn’t able to take me on because she was focusing on children’s writers. So she contacted my current agent and he agreed to look at a manuscript. He liked it but had some reservations, so we met and discussed it. I revised it, he read the new version, liked that a lot better and took me on. Sadly, he was unable to place that manuscript. Or the next. Or the next. Or the next! You get the idea. But he stuck with me and I stuck with him, and eventually I managed to write something he was able to sell. Does plotting crime come naturally to you? How do you manage to know whodunit but give the reader only hints all the way along and make it all match up? I do enjoy the plotting stage of writing, though it can be frustrating at times, when you seem to hit an intractable problem. But I am great believer that there is always a solution. I do my plotting like I do
everything – by instinct. It’s very flattering that people seem to enjoy that aspect of the stories. It is something I work at quite hard. I think all those techniques are just a way of tricking the subconscious into giving up its secrets. Writing stories is a kind of controlled, conscious dreaming. Your subconscious knows all along where you are going to take the story. You have to tease it into revealing its secrets.
writewords.org.uk and zoetrope.com. They are a great source of support and encouragement. ouragement. But somewhere like that is also a place where you can have your work critiqued.
You have four rather humorous YouTube videos in a series “the writer’s life”. In one you talk about your ‘amazon’ ranking. Do you really look at your ratings, or review online reader feedback comments?
My book would have to be Crime and Punishment. Useless, inanimate object? HmmmH that’s a tricky one. My cat is useless, and inanimate for most of the time. I might take a guitar, if that’s allowed.
Well of course. One of the things you realize very soon is that there is no one to do this stuff for you. You might expect that I would have someone at my publishers who is paid to check my amazon ranking for me. But sadly that is not the case. It’s just one of the things that an author has to take on. You’re on the social networking writers’ sites Crimespace, The Red Room, and you have TWO MySpace pages. What role does the Internet play in your writing career and what advice would you give to unpublished writers with no online presence? I am prepared to do anything I can to help make my books a success. MySpace has been very useful in that it has put me in touch with readers, booksellers and reviewers. One contact led to a podcast interview on The Writing Show. Another led to a bookseller in America who really got behind the book and started handselling it in her store. I even got contacted through MySpace by an MA student in Poland who is writing a dissertation about Dostoevsky and me! I only did all this stuff once I had a book published, or about to be published. It didn’t seem necessary before that. I think the only online activities I got involved in as an unpublished author were using it for research, and belonging to a writers’ community. In fact, I belong to two writers’ groups,
Assuming you will one day be on Desert Island Discs, which book and which useless, inanimate object would you hope to take with you and why?
What is coming up next for you in terms of events or publishing news? I willl be at the Bristol Crimefest in May, taking part in a discussion on historical crime on Sunday May 17th. My next novel is scheduled for publication in early 2010. I have also written the libretto for an opera by the composer Ed Hughes about Jean Cocteau, called Cocteau in the Underworld. Scenes from it are going to be performed at the Brighton Festival on May 4. Do you read other crime writers’ work for pleasure, for study of the competition or to improve your own writing? Is it possible for you read a crime ime novel without dissecting it? To answer the first part of the question, a bit of all three. To answer the second part, yes and no. I do read books like an ordinary punter, but at the same time there is a part of my brain working away at how the author does what they do. What are you reading currently? War and Peace, as it happens. I’m embarrassed to admit I have never read it before and felt that I ought to. I am really enjoying it. It’s a great read, truly. Utterly gripping. Mind you, there are rather rathe a lot of Russian names. I wonder if anyone complained to Tolstoy about that at the time.
Something Familiar by Kara Weiss
Monty reached into his pocket and pretended to palm a key. He made a turning motion at the broken lock and pushed the door open, like his father had showed him earlier that day. The dank smell filled his lungs; decades of cigarette smoke and poor ventilation and piss and mold and God knows what else. A stench that should not exist in a living place. Puddles had gathered in the dipped middle of the first six stairs, brown water floating on the beaten carpet.
He followed up the stairs the trail of mold folded into the edge of the ceiling and the wall, and wondered if he would ever get used to any of this. He wondered if he would ever get used to the neighborhood. He'd borrowed the only jacket his father would let him take, a Carhartt work jacket with a tear at the elbow, and walked out onto the street. The winter Boston air cut cleanly through the canvas and the pockets did
nothing to warm his hands. He should have borrowed a pair of kicks too, he now thought. Had his father been willing to lend a pair. His were the same Timbs he'd had on his last admit to Juvenile Detention sixteen months ago, and his toes and heels were destroyed, pressed and rubbing against the hard leather. They were at least two sizes too small. His desire to get out of the apartment had been spurred at least as much by his interest in checking
out the 'hood as to get out of the apartment, his father's insolence as thick as the building's stench. At the second floor landing Monty nearly tripped over the splayed legs of an old man buried deep under layers of scratchy gray blankets. His eyes were dead and teeth acid burned, and he huddled over a camp stove, a sick wool glove covering the hand that held the spoon. The man had been there since Monty had arrived that morning, and he wondered if the man recognized him, or knew him standing there. The man didn't look up, and he spoke to the flame in words only he could understand. Monty walked passed, and the man pushed a jug of gas beneath his knees, guarding it against the possible theft. "I don't want your fucking gas," Monty said, but the man either ignored him, or didn't hear, and as Monty turned away he kicked his too-small work boot into the step, and the stab of pain quickly gathered in his eyes, and he bit his lip not to scream. He stayed there several minutes, trying to wait out at least the acuteness of the pain pulsing in his foot, before realizing he'd be waiting days, and thought maybe he'd better take them off. He bent to pull them off and from the close distance the fetid stink off the carpet was pure and potent and he gagged and inhaled deep that same smell before standing upright, and the shock brought up half a cup of the coffee he'd had just an hour before. The brown puddle rested on the tips of the carpet bristles for a moment before disappearing deep into the fibers, the smell of bile indiscernible over the preexisting stench, and he decided to keep his boots on his feet. The fifth floor came slowly. His father's apartment was dark behind the door, and Monty felt a silence he tried to ignore. He knocked, and waited, and when he knocked for the fourth time he wondered if his father was passed out, or gone. He found an old Blockbuster card in his wallet and jammed it into the small lock on the handle and it popped so easily he wondered if he could work the other three. He tried the top lock and found quickly that it was a deadbolt,
and dropped the card and leaned his shoulder into the door and tried to force it. He thought he felt the doorframe begin to give and he stepped back, and knew the only thing worse than being locked out would be the resulting damage of breaking in. He dropped from his knees to a sit and tilted his head back, aiming his face at the higher air. It was three hours before his father came dragging up the stairs. He held a crumpled McDonalds bag, grease soaked and crushed. "Got you dinner," his father said, dropping the bag next to his son. His father worked on the locks and Monty touched the cold paper. "You see what you wanna see?" his father said. "Yeah," Monty said, thinking now that locked out or locked in, it was so much the same. While he'd been biding his time at Detention, his father had traded down the apartment they'd had in Brookline, and moved to a one-bedroom two miles southeast. Mission Hill. Their old apartment hadn't been fancy but it was big enough for two and the windows were set to let in light when there was light to let in. It was one of few low-income buildings in Brookline, tucked into a quiet uppermiddle class neighborhood, and Monty's father had traded down in every possible way. He followed his father inside the gloomy space and stood in the doorway, watching his father collapse on the wool couch. Their old La-Z-Boy sofa set he'd also traded down, for a couch that looked like the worst of Goodwill. "You gotta lock it," Monty's father said. "Am I gonna have to wipe your ass, too?" Monty turned the four locks and stepped inside. He leaned against the wall and slid to the floor. He untied his Timbs and pulled them off, careful not to cause more damage to his feet. His socks were bloody and when he pulled them off he didn't know where to put them and he wished there was some place he could lie down. The living room wasn't much bigger than his cell and the couch took up half the room, sitting squat against the wall
between the bedroom and bathroom. The wood doors were warped and cracked, and they hung open as if dead. Opposite the couch a small entryway led to a kitchen nook. Though hole was the word that came to mind. "What happened to the old couch?" Monty asked. "Got this now. Guess you'll be sleepin' on it," he said sadly, mourning his own loss. "I'm allergic to wool." "Well, aren't you just a warm beer on a hot day." Monty looked at his feet. Blisters had formed and popped on his knuckles and the ends of his toes, and the skin curled tight and dead around the holes. The wounds on his heels were more elegant, the edges sloping inward through layers of flesh, red and white. That night Monty unfolded the pile of sheets and thin blankets and made a bed on the couch. He pulled back the quilt and lay on the sheets. The itch of wool was immediate, and though he willed himself to block it out, he shot off the couch after thirty seconds, a fresh rash already pushing at his skin. He pulled the linens from the couch and shook them and inspected them for lint and shook them again. He made a bed on the floor and tried to sleep. In the morning the men sat silently over coffee. Monty sat on the floor, his seat padded by the quilt. The room was dim and shadowed, and filled by the sounds of morning foot traffic and children's hurried steps and Monty wished he were anywhere else. His father sat now with his legs splayed, occupying half the couch and Monty could see that his father's life happened on those wool cushions. He could see that very little happened at all. Monty finished his mug and poured another, the new freedom to take pressing hard on his heart. He returned to his pile and sat with the mug between his legs. The nutty steam rising off the drink. He took a sip and when he looked up from his mug his father looked away, and Monty wondered what his father saw. What he needed to see.
"I'm going out," his father said, getting up abruptly from the couch. "Where you going?" "Out. Don't spill that." "You don't got work?" Monty said, setting the mug on the floor. "I'm back on the night-shift. I work tonight." Monty's father turned from the coat closet, looked at his son. Their eyes met and neither looked away, and Monty felt him searching, for something familiar, maybe, something he could understand. The door clicked shut as he disappeared, and Monty rose from the ground and took his father's prized Red Sox jacket off the hanger. He took a garbage bag from the kitchen and began filling it with the few things he had. He choked a knot at the top of the bag and slung it over his shoulder before locking the door from the inside and pulling it closed. From the moment the lock clicked in the door he hated himself for forgetting to trade-up his Timbs for a pair of his father's kicks. The Blockbuster card he'd used before he'd left in his otherwise empty old wallet, which now lay useless on the wool couch. Over the night, his feet had scabbed and blistered. He should have bandaged them, and he should have taken his father's shoes, but he didn't, and he started down the stairs, trying not to limp. Outside the sky was blinding white. A thick cloud domed overhead and the world was aglow. Monty pressed his eyes shut for a moment and when he opened, they were filled with tears he had to wipe from his face. He didn't know the last time he'd walked alone in daylight. He started up the street in the direction he'd explored the previous night, but in the slow of day, it didn't feel like the city he'd remembered. A couple old men hobbled with matching walkers, and cigarette butts and broken glass made a neat trellis in the gutter. Down a side street a cluster of cop cars gathered, and outside the yellow tape people yelled and cried. Across the street two young girls jumped rope. There were no sirens, and the scene looked mundane. He kept walking and passed almost nothing, just a
modest church surrounded by a sad wrought iron fence. He found his way to Tremont street, and then Longwood, and the broken residential streets turned to choking traffic. The bottoms of white coats flapped under winter jackets, and the people walked with a brisk authority, holding their stethoscopes from beating on their chests. Monty walked on the curb, letting the important doctors pass. Down the street he saw the hospital where Dr. Gupta had set his broken arm, and around the corner the one he'd been born in. Three ambulances screamed past and he shuffled against the crowds onto Fenway Drive where the people and stores and Dunkin' Donuts were gone and there was nothing but the easy flow of traffic and snow covered trees. He followed Fenway until it became Park and the road widened and he was in a neighborhood he didn't know. Two women approached quickly, touching each other with the warmth and attention of a particular social class and he remembered to stand up straight. One of the women pulled a set of keys from her purse and pointed over her shoulder with the key. A late model Lexus flashed and beeped. The women were wearing the kind of clothes that reminded him of what his father wasn't, but the wounds on his feet were rubbed down to deep layers of flesh, and he needed to go the right way. "Excuse me," he said, suddenly aware of the dirt on his pants, the dried blood on his lips. "Is this Comm Ave?" He motioned to the cross street ahead. "Yes, that right there," one of the women said. She rubbed her leather-gloved hands like they might spark. "But there's no sidewalk on this section of the street." He noticed the Burberry lining peaking out of her collar and saw now that her earmuffs matched the print. She looked like the kind of woman who brushes her teeth after every meal. "It's okay, I got it," he said. "Well, where are you going? A couple other streets run sort of parallel and--"
"Thanks, that's okay. Thanks." He brushed quickly past the women, his palms sweating in his pockets. He took a left onto Commonwealth Avenue and continued on the two-foot curb that flanked the shoulder. It was only a quarter mile before it merged into Lenox and he knew where he was. The sidewalk emerged in wide and perfect cement squares, and perfect bushes lined the front lawns. A stiff frozen snow topped the roofs of second and third cars not often used, and the neat stillness reminded him of winter and he realized it's been a year since weather has been a part of life. He walked along the gutter where thin sheets of ice crushed beneath his feet, and passing cars spread wide to give him room, and when he came to Tammy's house, there was no car in the driveway. There was no one home. It was close to seven when Mr. Broder pulled towards his house, slowing as the dark something on his porch came into focus. A person-a man, it looked like--sitting on the top step, head dropped between his knees. He pulled into the driveway and cut the engine, hoping the man would wake and run. But he didn't move. He had no hat and a thin layer of broken snow dusted his head. He got out of the car and slammed the door. Still, there was nothing. He took a few steps closer, thinking about the freezing temperature, and the thin jacket on the man. Dead winter, the sun had set hours ago and the light cast by the street lamp was a gesture at best. The road was silent with the warmth of full households, and he considered knocking on his neighbor's door. But then, what was he afraid of? He felt for his cell phone in the holster on his pants and held it there as he approached the steps. "Hello?" he said, body half turned toward the street. "Hello?" he said again, with a voice more like the house was actually his. The man's head jerked up. He looked at Mr. Broder and rubbed his eyes, wiped the winter from his nose. "Shit," he said, "Hi Mr. Broder."
Mr. Broder looked at him, trying to place the face, the voice. He didn't know either, but there was something familiar, something that reminded him of his daughter. "It's Monty, Sir." He looked at Mr. Broder, realizing for the first time that there were multiple outcomes possible. "Monty, are you okay?" Mr. Broder rushed the boy and dragged him in the house. Inside, the walls were fresh and familiar. The furniture and maple wood detailing he remembered from his childhood, as he did the crystal chandelier that hung in the entryway. He and Tammy had always played in that hall, though there was nothing there--just a stiff carpet and a couple antique piano chairs. A boring fourth grade afternoon had found them lying on their backs beneath the chandelier, taking turns kicking a semi-deflated birthday balloon in the air, until one of them had kicked too hard, and the balloon grazed the fixture, gently lifting three of the crystals from the chandelier and dropping them to the floor. They'd dragged a chair from the kitchen but couldn't reach, and even with Tammy propped on Monty's unsteady shoulders, there was an unrecoverable foot of distance. Rather than face Mrs. Broder, they'd hid the crystals in the seat of one of the antique chairs, and fled to Tammy's room without ever saying a word. Mr. Broder guided Monty into the kitchen and put on a pot of water. He opened the fridge looking for his wife's lasagna or roasted chicken, but in the naked white light the few items stocked were evidence. And a sad reminder. Monty sat at the table. Old newspapers were overflowing in the bin, and the counters were clean, but barren. The fruit bowl was empty. There was no garlic on the ceramic plate beside the toaster. "Where's Mrs. Broder?" Monty asked. Mr. Broder let the fridge door slowly close. "Suzanne is gone," Mr. Broder said, immediately aware of how irritated his voice emerged. "Didn't you know?" "Yeah, sorry. I forgot." Tammy had told him, over a year ago. But
the notion that Tammy's parents had split was the kind of nonsensical information that never sticks, and Monty had promptly forgotten. Even before his first arrest, he'd held the Broders as an emblem of what could be. They read The Economist and didn't keep soda in the house. They were professionals. They skied. Mr. Broder sat at the table across from Monty, setting down two mugs of hot water and a tray of tea. He flipped through the selection, one tea bag at a time, settling on a chamomile peppermint. He didn't say anything, just looked down at his mug, occasionally yanking the bag to the surface. Monty leaned over his mug, the scentless steam rising to his face. He took a sip. The water eased down his throat, warming his body from the inside. "You want a tea bag?" Mr. Broder said, sliding the tray across the table. "I can't stay with him." "Can't stay with whom?" Mr. Broder said. His voice was calm and unsurprised. "My father." "What's wrong with your father?" Mr. Broder said, slipping into his Public Defender persona, a petpeeve of his almost ex-wife's who berated him for treating her like a system kid. And he knew the question was ridiculous at best. Beside the local gossip, and what he'd heard second hand from his daughter, there had been a series of articles in The Tab, chronicling the assault and battery charges filed against Monty's father. "He moved to a one-bedroom in Roxbury. Below The Hill," Monty said. Mr. Broder sipped his tea. He wished the significance of this weren't so obvious. "I stole his jacket," Monty said. "I used to have a jacket like that." "Me and Tammy and B.J. and that kid Fred, we used to sneak into games. After the sixth inning, it was easy. Security left and it was just open," Monty said. "Is it okay if I take boots my boots off? They're killing me." "Are they new?" "Nah, they're wicked old."
Monty untied the laces from his right boot and pried the leather apart. He tried to crunch his toes, to clear his ankle from the heel of the shoe, but couldn't negotiate the squeeze and the ragged flesh scraped out of the boot. He bit his lip and swore only in his breath. His foot came out a blood-soaked mess. "Whoa!" Mr. Broder said. "Hang on, let me put a towel down. That is a lot of blood!" Monty peeled back his sock and saw that the wounds were no longer bleeding. A hole the depth and width of three stacked quarters was worn into the back of his heel. On his knuckles blisters were popped and rising. "Well this looks horrible," Mr. Broder said. "Take off the other one, I'm going to get some hydrogen peroxide and bandages and see if we can clean you up." Mr. Broder walked up the stairs, wondering where he could find gauze and disinfectant. It had been years since he had to clean his daughter's wounds, though hers had only ever been the scrape of a small rock on a soccer field, or a swab of road rash from a missed landing on her rollerblades. He tried to clear his head of the distain he had for Monty's father, of the memory of Monty on the first day of fourth grade, double black eyes and a bump on his head like a tangerine. He rustled through ancient tins of Band-Aids and Neosporin and felt no better about this updated image of his daughter's oldest friend. In the dark quiet Monty felt the old house breathing in the winter. The vents kicked and a rush of warm air emerged from the floor by the newspaper bin. He remembered melting chocolate chip granola bars on that vent. Tammy had taught him how. To set the naked bar on its wrapper, to balance it on the slats above the vent. They'd sat crosslegged, watching the sticky granola melt apart. Monty stood from the chair and balanced on the heels of his feet, sliding down the wall. The air blew hot and dry, pinching his skin. But for the past sixteen months he'd been only degrees of cold-sleeping in a concrete cube under thin blankets, he'd quickly wasted
his calories fighting a losing battle against the chill. The skin beneath his nose would take weeks to heel, and so, because he could, kept his hands warm and still, soaking dry the hot air. Mr. Broder came down the stairs and cleaned the flaps of skin hanging from Monty's feet. He poured hydrogen peroxide over his was dry and clean as it could be, he asked Monty for his father's phone number. "What are you gonna say?" Monty asked. "I'm going to let him know you're here, and that you're safe. He's probably worried about you." Monty didn't say anything. "I mean, he should be worried about you." Monty slumped forward in his chair, holding his head in his hands. "Please don't take me back." "Monty, he's your father." The phone in the apartment rang unanswered and there was no machine at the other end. If he had a cell phone number, Monty didn't know it, and soon they had nothing to do but order a pizza and watched the Bruins lose. Monty's feet pillowed with gauze, the soft white blocks compressed into Mr. Broder's slippers. He wore an oversized Burton sweatshirt he found in Tammy's room - a vestige of her relationship with a semi-professional snowboarder who didn't know how to read. Not even a menu, Mr. Broder said. They sat sunken in the sofa, eyes glazed on the T.V. They booed the calls and slid the pizza to each other across the waxen floors. The game ended and the men sat away from each other, waiting to see what Mr. Broder would do. Monty fixed a piece of gauze that had come undone. "Ready for bed?" Mr. Broder asked. Monty nodded. "You practically lived here when you were a kid," Mr. Broder said. Monty nodded again, unsure if he was talking to him. "You and Tammy used to jump out of the laundry room window into piles of leaves. God, Suzanne almost killed the two of you. Remember? You cut your knee on that stick and we had to take you to the hospital? And after the
hospital Suzanne dragged you guys out of the car and sent you to timeout. I think she made you sit in the second floor bathroom for three hours." Monty smiled. "Yeah, I remember," he said. He remembered perfectly, the six-foot tall piles they used to scrape together. They took turns watching each other launch from the window, every jump out-doing the last. They were stunt doubles. Firefighters. Bandits. He remembered the enormous worm that crawled out of Tammy's tangle of hair just as the sun was disappearing and the first gusts of steamy air came panting from their mouths. He touched the raised scar on his knee. Mrs. Broder had held his hand as the surgeon pressed the massive needle into his leg. And she hadn't let go until the last stitch was in. "God, I can't imagine what happened to your father." "Don't worry about him. He knows how to take care of number one." Mr. Broder offered a sad smile, and by the expression on Monty's face he was certain Monty knew what he was getting at. Monty woke to a gradual brightening that illuminated the room. For the past year and a half he'd been startled awake by a tinny bell and the flash of fluorescent lights that left him with a headache through breakfast. Mr. Broder had put Monty in the master bedroom. He'd taken to sleeping on the daybed in his office and didn't like the idea of anyone in Tammy's room but her. Monty stepped down from the king sized bed and followed the radiant heat to the master bathroom. It was undiscovered territory, having always used the bathroom off Tammy's room. The half-bath was bigger than his cell, with a granite counter that sprawled across the wall and easily held the two sinks. He opened the hidden cabinet that was built into the wall. It was stocked with Kiels: hand soap, moisturizer, intensive cream, face wash, face buffer, facial moisturizer, exfoliate, astringent, eye cream, eye rejuvenator, eye elastin, caffeinated face cream. There was a bottle of
blended oils that included avocado. He guessed at a bottle of Ultra Moisturizing Buffing Cream with Scrub Particles, and followed it up with Brightening Botanical Moisture Fluid. A shy stubble was emerging on his chin but he couldn't bare the thought of bringing a razor to his ultra moisturized face. Mr. Broder had given him a fresh head to use on his own electric toothbrush and as Monty ran the massaging bristles over his teeth a string of foamy paste dripped from the corner of his smile. Downstairs, the men drank coffee over sections of The Boston Globe. Mr. Broder used a French press, and Monty watched as he poured the boiling water into the sleek glass container and gently pressed the grinds to the bottom. The process was neat and subdued and Monty wondered how people learned these kinds of things. On the front page of the Metro section a man lay bloody and dead on the steps of an apartment building. Shot point-blank at eight pm last night. It was gang related and retaliatory. Mr. Broder knew the address and he looked at Monty, trying to discover if he knew it too. Mr. Broder quickly folded the page and said nothing. "Like three blocks away." "I'm not sure, I'm not that familiar with the neighborhood." "I wasn't asking, Sir." When the grinds were drained and the paper was marked with rings, Mr. Broder tried Monty's father one more time. Again, there was no answer. "You remember where the apartment is?" Mr. Broder asked. "Yeah, I know." "Okay then, no time like the present." "Don't you have to go to work?" "I'm the boss. I called an assistant D.A. He'll take care of anything urgent." He said this as he got up from the table and started up the stairs, taking them by twos. He went to his closet and emerged with a pair of running shoes. They were too big, but with the gauze and bandages they'd fit okay. Monty looked at the New Balances peaking out from under his jeans. They weren't like the ones that had
become suddenly cool ten years ago. They were old and worn and functional. And for a moment he was embarrassed in a way he'd never been before. And he knew immediately that it was a luxury. The men wrapped themselves in scarves and hats and gloves, and as Mr. Broder reached for the door Monty touched his shoulder. "What if he's there?" Monty said. "He's your father." "I can't live with him. I can't. Please. I'll get a part-time job and buy my own food and shovel and do the dishes and I can cook. I'll cook, and I promise I won't get in trouble. I swear." Mr. Broder looked at him, remembering the night he was first arrested. He'd heard about the kid whose nose Monty had broken when he was thirteen, and the security guard whose jaw he'd cracked just a year ago. He thought of the tents he'd made with Tammy when they were in second grade and the card he'd given Suzanne on Mother's day, more than a decade ago. And beneath his jacket and under his tshirt were homemade tattoos and scars like tallies that ran up his arm. He said nothing, and guided Monty out the door. They backed out of the driveway and the elegant homes that filled the historic neighborhood quickly passed, and in a matter of breaths the street was flanked with beat down tenements and heaps of shit piled snow. They passed the tapedoff half block they'd seen in the paper, and when the car stopped outside his father's building Monty had lost the rhythm of his breath. Mr. Broder pulled his Club out of the back and fixed it to the steering wheel. "Lot of jacks in Cottage Farm?" Monty said. "I go a lot of places for my job. You can't imagine what the state pays to insure this car." Monty got out and leaned against the outside of the car. A group of ten-year-olds came down the street yelling at each other, and Monty saw that they were wearing Colors. "Get the fuck outta my air space, Darin," one of the girls said, "I done
told you, get your nasty nose pickin' fingers off'a me." "You can put yo nasty pussy pickin' fingers on that fat cousin you got," a different girl shouted. "I ain't even playin' with you no more," Darin said, "punk-ass ho." Mr. Broder stood next to Monty, and when the group passed he took a step toward the building, nudging him along. Monty reached into his pocket and pretended to unlock the door. Mr. Broder followed him in and said nothing, like he'd seen it everyday. The smell was even more offensive than Monty remembered and with Mr. Broder a step behind he felt more ashamed than vindicated. The old man with the camp stove was passed out on the second floor landing and when Monty rounded the corner Mr. Broder crouched to his side and felt for breath beneath his nose. "Sir?" he said. There was no answer. "Sir, I'm just going to roll you onto your side, okay? If you can hear me, I'm just going to roll you onto your side so you don't choke." Monty watched as Mr. Broder took hold of the man's canvas jacket and rolled him to face the wall. At the fifth floor they knocked but there was no response, and when they tried the door it was locked. They stood facing the door, waiting for something to happen and when Mr. Broder's phone rang he flipped it open and saw that it was Tammy. She was on a ski trip with friends from school, staying in the condo of her freshman year roommate. Milton Academy was only forty-five minutes away but Tammy was always getting her off-campus permissions revoked and he'd figured out by the end of her first semester that impromptu visits were only fun for him. In the fall and spring he was at all her cross-country and track meets, screaming with ballistic cheer, but in the winter he hardly saw her at all. He looked at Monty, the flattened running shoes hanging loosely on his feet. He hadn't complained once. They walked slowly down the stairs, each occupied by their own thoughts. On the second floor, the man with the stove sat against the wall rocking his head from side to side.
"Gone, gone, gone," he said, eyes drifting around the floor. "Yo Daddy, he got his shit last night. He be long gone." Neither said a word and they walked to the car, knowing the man was right, that in fact, he'd long been gone. In the car, Monty looked out the window, a shadow of relief falling over his face. Mr. Broder took a couple turns away from Cottage Farm, and found a spot down the block from City Sports and cut the engine. "You'll need some new shoes. And a backpack," he said. And there would be rules. He thought. And expectations. He looked at Monty. "And a coat. We'll get you what you need." Monty nodded his head and looked at his lap. He sniffed the tears that were falling from his nose. The men sat in the car, waiting. For instructions. Directions. For some reason not to believe it would be okay. "And we'll need to get something better for your feet," Mr. Broder said. At least the exterior was something he could resolve. He reached across Monty's shoulder and rubbed his head in the way father's do. He felt the place where the tangerine bump had been the first day of fourth grade. It was smooth now, under his coarse, adult hair, and Monty nodded his head, wiped the tears from his face. Mr. Broder unlocked the car and got out, and watched as Monty carefully removed his feet from the car. The shoes were so big, and Monty looked at them, and thought, maybe one day they'd fit.
about the author Kara Weiss is in her second year at the MFA program at the University of Washington. She received the Ingam Prize for fiction, which has provided her with full funding and a monthly stipend for the 2008-2009 academic year. We think this rocks. Photo Credit: ginnerobot on Flickr
Don’t Revere the Peer by Sandra Norval OK, I’ll admit it. This is my first article. It’s not the first article I’ve written, but it is the first article I’ve sent to a publication. Why? Because I have spent years giving in to the worst form of procrastination; I revere the peer. Ask yourself this. How many times in your life – and I don’t just mean your writing career, I mean every aspect of your life – have you looked at something someone else has done and allowed it to stop you in your tracks? I have many skills. I work as an accountant, I have a photography qualification and I teach canoeing among other ‘talents’. My big failing in all of those skills has been my fantastic ability to revere the peer. Please don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting for one moment that you shouldn’t respect your peers, admire them or even aspire to achieve what they have. Just be sure that you don’t hold them in such high esteem that you fail to recognise your own skills. Let me tell you my story. I have been writing for most of my life. I was never shy about people I knew reading my work and I always received positive feedback. I even had people asking me when I would write a novel. The problem was I didn’t believe them! Whenever I read or heard someone else’s work I heard their voice and mine was always drowned out – at least to me. It never occurred to me that my voice was different, or that it was actually individual enough to stand out from the crowd. In my head the other writer was standing on a podium at the front and I was shouting from the back, unheard and even feeling guilty for interrupting. Now I am studying for an Environmental Studies degree. I
have taken a difficult route to do it, because I earn a good salary and can’t afford to give up work. To build up some experience I have had to network at every possible opportunity and swallow my pride, bottle my lack of confidence and get my face out into the world of experienced conservationists. Luckily they are mainly a friendly bunch and most are willing to help. I joined a huge variety of different groups, grasping at every learning opportunity always assuming that they all knew everything that I didn’t. I asked one particularly supportive helpful friend to act as a mentor which, as it turned out, was the best thing I ever did. He changed my entire outlook on life simply because he pointed out that he didn’t know everything, he just knew different things to the things I did. Wow! What a revelation! Of course it now seems blindingly obvious, and just that one piece of inspiration broke me free from the chains of awe that kept me on the ground always looking up at the peers that I had up on pedestals. Since that day I have stepped out into the world with new confidence, I view myself with different eyes. I realise now that in actual fact, I have something to offer the world – the results of my own experiences. It is the sum of those experiences, every little moment that I have seen, every seemingly insignificant thing that I have done that gives me my voice. Suddenly I feel as if I have been given a microphone, with amps turned up to 11 and I fully intend to use it! I’m currently waiting to hear back from a magazine on my first short story submission, and I am six chapters into my first novel. As well as these I have book ideas to fill a bookcase and the confidence
to start getting them on paper. I’m setting aside the notion that someone else will have the same ideas and do it better; actually, they will just do it differently. The simple reality is that each of your peers, and mine, have reached the place that they are at through a series of experiences and decisions. This is what makes us unique. Faced with all the same options, each person would have made different choices and ended up in an entirely different place. You should also consider this: every time you stand in awe of someone, you may have failed to notice someone else standing in awe of you. I have had many occasions in my life when I have been told that I am admired for all my achievements. There have even been individuals that were inspired by my actions. There is no greater compliment, and naturally, we all like the warm feeling of knowing that we can have that effect on another person but the main point that I would always make to anyone that ever tried to hold me up on a pedestal is this: Imagine you are there, balancing up high; what a scary place that would be, always in fear of falling off. I know I wouldn’t feel comfortable with that kind of pressure. I also know that I’m tired of having a sore neck from always looking upwards. If I want to better myself, reverence won’t do it. Respect, inspiration and admiration will help me to recognise the aspects that I could take on board, but only looking at myself and using what I’ve learnt from others can ever take me forward on the journey that is, after all, my own.
The View From Here Interview:
Mari Strachan interview by Mike
Mari Strachan has been immersed in books all her life. She has worked as a librarian in academic, school, public, private and prison libraries. She has also been a book reviewer, researcher, translator, copy writer and web editor. She and her husband live part-time on a tiny smallholding in the hills of Ceredigion, West Wales, and parttime on a narrowboat on the Grand Union Canal in London. Mari was named as one of Waterstones New Voices for 09 earlier this year.
Tell us something about yourself.
A small cappuccino with an extra shot and a sprinkling of chocolate, please.
I look perfectly normal on the outside, considering how weird the inside of my head is.
What is your favourite way to spend an evening?
A dark chocolate Florentine would be lovely.
Sitting contentedly in the quiet of my parlour, reading. I donâ€™t get to do that very often!
Do you have any favourite words or phrases?
the right choice. How did I feel? Pleased and thankful.
I love being home so two of my favourite words are ‘cartref’ which is ’home’ and ‘hiraeth’ which has no exact English equivalent, but is that feeling of loss and longing you experience when you’re away from someone or something or someplace you love. My favourite English word is ‘melancholy’ and my current favourite English phrase is one my youngest son used to describe me when I was confused about something one time - ‘on tour with the Rolling Stones’ - I use it a lot! My current favourite Welsh phrase was written by our, then, national poet – Gwyneth Lewis – and is on the outside of the Welsh Millennium Centre in Cardiff Bay, ‘Creu gwir fel gwydr o ffwrnais awen’ - it sends shivers down my spine, but it loses its alliterative music in translation to: Creating truth like glass from the furnace of song.
How easy was it to find an agent to represent you?
Can you tell us something about your book The Earth Hums in B Flat? It’s funny, it’s sad, it’s even a bit Gothic in places. The Guardian called it ‘sober and sparkling’ (21.03.09). It’s told by a girl who doesn’t want to grow up because the adult world makes her uneasy. She deals with her unease by living in the world of her imagination, and trying to ignore what she doesn’t want to see or understand. But, when a local man disappears, everything becomes a great deal more complicated H How did you get your publishing deal with Canongate and how did that feel? First, I had to find an agent. Then my agent sent the novel around to publishers she thought might be interested in it, and two publishers expressed an interest at the same time. I liked what Jamie Byng and Anya Serota had to say about The Earth Hums and their plans for it and decided that Canongate was the publisher for me. After a year I’m even more certain that I made
I was lucky enough to find my agent fairly quickly. I’d had five rejection letters before I received the telephone call asking for the remainder of the book to be sent. I’d done my homework beforehand to find who might be interested in my book, but there was still a lot of luck involved, I’m sure – that the agent who might be interested had not just closed his or her list, for instance. What was the most important thing you learned on the creative writing Masters you studied at Manchester Metropolitan University? The most important thing I learnt was that it was OK to write the way I do: for years I had thought that my style was rubbish because it wasn’t like anybody else’s. It sounds daft in hindsight, but that was the way it was. The other important thing I learnt was to read fiction as a writer rather than a reader - to see the craft behind the writing. You were named recently as one of Waterstone’s New Voices for this year, how did you hear about that and what was your reaction? I heard before Christmas but there was a press embargo on the information! Neither I nor Canongate knew when it was going to be made official. I was convinced Waterstone’s were going to change their minds! But - phew! - they didn’t. So I was both pleased and relieved when it was announced in The Times at the end of February. Of all the accolades a writer can have, this is one of the best - prizes are nice to have, of course, but most are judged by four or five people, whereas the New Voices are chosen by lots of Waterstone’s booksellers, people who know about books. Would you like to see the book in the Welsh language?
Well, most of it is in Welsh - it just happens to be written in English! Seriously, if it were to be turned into Welsh I would have re-write re it rather than translate it. When Canongate bought The Earth Hums they acquired world rights except for Welsh translation lation rights, which I kept in the hope that one day I might have time to work on rere writing it. There is an amazing scene in the book involving a fox fur. The image of which has stuck in my head! Do you have dramatic moments from your own childhood that stays with you and can you tell us about one of them? I wish I had! I wish I could! My childhood was so ordinary (and so long ago!) that I don’t remember much about it. All the drama was in my imagination and the stories and poems and pretend newspapers I wrote and in the books I voraciously read. I’m not sure how I would have coped with all the drama Gwenni has in her life! What kind of things ended up in your pretend newspapers?! I can’t remember what I used to write about, but I remember carefully ruling ling in the columns, writing the ‘news’ in pencil, and drawing pictures to go with the stories, then sewing the pages together down the left hand side. I can’t remember anyone being remotely interested in reading my newspapers! I just enjoyed making them. I’ve always loved the physicality of books and paper and writing instruments – it’s probably why I still work that first draft in longhand, and why I would never be enticed by e-books! books! Can you give us some tips on writing, what works for you? Writers work rk in quite different ways, but I find that I have to write the first draft straight through without going back to re-write write and shape the writing. That way I have something to work on when I come to what is, for me, the best part of writing - the
a big cupboard on the landing where there is no desk space. I do first draft in longhand, type it up on the computer, then do all the editing and re-writing on the printouts and so on ad infinitum - it’s a very messy business - and I can work on printouts anywhere I go, and then put it all into the computer when I’m home again. I prefer quiet but find that sitting in a coffee shop with a lot of noise around is almost the same! I find it difficult to work if the noise is anything other than that kind of general hum. Music or chat on the radio, for instance, is just too distracting. shaping of that first draft into something as closely resembling the book I have in my head as I can possibly make it. When I’m actually writing as opposed to drafting I try to use all the senses to bring the writing alive, and use strong verbs, and keep adjectives and adverbs for when they really make a difference. Words are a writer’s power tools and it’s crucial to be able to use them effectively I’d recommend Fairfax and Moat’s book The Way to Write to anyone who writes - it’s about how to use words, rather than how to plot or create characters. And of course, anyone who wants to write should read, read, read! Do you have a set place to work? And do you work in quiet or do you have to have a background er I hum I as it were? We travel about quite a bit with my husband’s work so it doesn’t do to get too precious about where I write. When I’m at home I tend to do the longhand stuff at the kitchen table, because my computer lives in
Where does the notion come from that the Earth has a song, and why B Flat? At the turn of the century I worked for a big millennium project that was all about sustainable development. One of the galleries was a wonderful art installation where moving images, accompanied by sound and music, were projected onto huge glass henges to show the beauty of life on Earth and the destruction we wreak on it. The centrepiece of this installation was a ‘bottomless’ black pool over which the Earth was suspended - if a visitor held out her arm to touch the planet a laser beam would be broken which would cause the gallery to be filled with a low hum in B Flat - the sound the Earth makes in space, except that out there the hum is far too deep for the human ear to hear it. All planets emit a sound, apparently, which scientists are somehow able to pick up. The project unfortunately ran out of money before the centrepiece could be completed and I never did hear the song of the Earth!! But, it was there at the back of my mind and presented itself (eventually) as the title I was searching for and a kind of a metaphor for the whole book.
Can you tell us something about your next book and how that is going? My next book is set just after the Great War - I’m interested in how people cope in times of great change - and I’ve done quite a bit of research and preparatory work but I’m nowhere near where I should be in the writing of it! Panic! Has it felt different differe approaching the second book after the publication of your first book - is there an increased confidence or are you nervous that you can replicate the success of the first? When I’m thinking about my next book, researching for it, working on the characters, ers, finding the right voice for my main character and so on, I don’t think about anything else. I know I can write a novel from start to finish now, and I don’t see any reason why I can’t do it again (not famous last words, I hope!). I guess that’s a kind of confidence that comes with publication. The panic is because I’m due to hand this next book to the publishers in January 2010 and I’ll need to burn the midnight oil and the candle at both ends to do that! Do you dream of flying? I used to, and when I was very young I was convinced, like Gwenni, that I had actually flown not just dreamt it. I rarely remember my dreams nowadays, so perhaps I still do fly in them - I certainly wake up very tired some mornings, and my sister, who is interested in these things, ings, tells me it is a sign that I have been journeying in my sleep! Thanks Mari. Photo Credit ( Modified ) : Adam Ifans
Two Lovers Against A Wall by David Moran She stood straight, her chin slightly lifted with her back against the wall. The twilight wind blew loose dirt and empty wrappers down the street. As the old man pressed himself against her, she didnâ€™t seem overly concerned. Her fur collared coat rubbed against the grimy surface and the green skirt that met her knees blew against the brick. She wasnâ€™t flustered, she was calm and even a little dismissive of the sky that hung above them. Whenever she was alone with him, everything else felt like an intrusion. With a lit cigarette hovering by the side of his long black raincoat in one hand, the man gently stroked the cheekbone of the woman with his other as he leaned forward and kissed her. Once finished she smiled back at him with all her innocence before rather sneakily taking the remainder of his cigarette and putting it to her mouth; her eyes squinting slightly as the smoke met her lungs. She puffed a cloud of smoke directly at him. Although it was just to tease; he moved back a foot or so from her, clutching his hat as the wind kicked. For a moment, she looked a little worried that he was no longer so intimately with her, but it was really only for a moment. Tall, slender with high cheekbones and pale smooth skin, her smile revealed the tiny dimples on her cheeks. The old man whispered a few words, delicately tucking some loose strands of blond hair behind her ear. The dimples were revealed without transition, as if dawn had just dispersed night. With his chapped lips he couldnâ€™t resist taking another kiss. It was a kiss that was far more tender than the stubble that covered the
lower half of his face. He was a tall and thick-boned old man. He easily had fifteen years or more on the youthful woman. His shoes were modest in cost but a cared for shiny black. His briefcase looked worn and stretched like a boxer’s jaw. It was a traditional leather green and when clutched in his grip it often made him look vintage. Despite their sinister surroundings, visible through impeding fog, he seemed self-assured. Each time the woman glanced down the street at the puddles, at the shadows and queer faces lingering from doorways of abandoned houses; he took her fingers in his hand -- rubbing them until she was again and fully with him; no longer distracted by the mists of the night. Embracing the warmth of their close contact, they stared at each other with a sincere longing that required little explanation. Another kick of wind acted as an excuse for the man to wrap his arms around the woman's curvaceous hips, happily allowing the backs of his hands to meet the rough brick with an assertiveness that would have left the most unwitting in no doubt that she was his. Still, it grew late, and the evening activities of the street began to gather pace. The odd stray cat scampered across the road on its tiptoes, occasionally stopping to sniff discarded takeaways and stretch in a manner that exposed feeble bone. Casual whining could be heard from the weaker cats, no doubt crazed from delusional hunger, in the corner of a basement, further on down the road. Sly faces came and went from buildings, the odd one exposed by the sole streetlamp yet to have its bulb shattered and spread across the pavement. Cars slowly crawled up and down, rarely stopping outside a building for any longer than it took for a figure to lurch from a doorway. Their surroundings were not modest or kind. In the sun light
the street lay dormant, resentful to the new day which stopped old habits from roaming freely. Yet to both the woman and the old man, the broken street where they stood was a simple place where they could meet and be alone together, away from the distractions of their lives. “It will always be you,” she said, her eyes meeting his once her chin was lifted a little more upright. The old man lit another cigarette, and then sighed as the woman stroked his cheek. “No, it will always be you,” he replied. The woman gave the old man a kiss that would linger in his mind long after he had left her. A car horn tooted. As she looked over his shoulder and into the window of the car parked across the road, her eyes began to fill with tears. It was a black, expensive looking car, and the round figure who sat behind the steering wheel seemed to care very little about them or their moment. The old man didn’t bother to turn around, instead he tugged the strap on the woman's coat tightly like a hungry child would on their mother’s dress. Her red lips trembled a moment, but knowing that two pairs of eyes were now expecting something from her she managed to just gain control; and with a finality, she gave her full attention to the old man. “It’s not forever,” she said, kissing him firmly, until saliva threatened to spill from their lips. “It’s not forever.” Again the horn was tooted, and this time the old man had to take the briefcase from the pavement so he could distract his mind. He was no longer looking at her and neither was she at him. All they had left of the day were memories, and the cruel formality of the night. Slowly the woman made her way across the street, her heartbeat very nearly overcoming her. The round man sat in the car smoking on a fat cigar, tapping his
thumbs nonchalantly on the steering wheel, no attempt to open the door for her. The woman chose to sit in the back, and once the door was closed, the round man drove away. A pink neon light from the brothel flickered to life above the old man’s head. Once fully lit he turned until he was facing the empty spot where the car had been parked. The man didn’t bother to look to his right or acknowledge the two women offering him a sly service as they passed in fishnet tights. Quietly and without fuss, the old man pressed his back against the wall where the woman had stood until the rain began to fall.
about the author David was born in a small fishing village on the East coast of Scotland. His family moved from Scotland to England regularly, and for a brief period he spent time in Budapest. He is inspired by writers such as Hemingway, Kerouac and Rimbaud. "Voices that always sounded as if they were on the move." He has studied creative writing at Buckingham, completed placements with independent magazines, worked on farms, in bookstores and for charities. He has lived in London, Toronto, Krakow, and traveled Europe and North America extensively. David has completed one novel, is working on a second and has published many short stories and "a pile of poems."
Photo Credit: keepwaddling1 on Flickr
The View From Here Interview:
Paul Brown interview nterview by Jane
Paul Brown is the author of 9 factual books, primarily covering environmental subjects. He worked for The Guardian newspaper for 24 years, the last 16 as their environment correspondent. He has met with numerous eminent politicians and scientists, attended climate change conferences and travelled to some of the world’s most remote places, including Antarctica. Although he left The Guardian in 2005 he still writes a weekly column in between travelling the world educating other journalists and continuing his campaign to raise awareness of global warming. His 2006 book Global Warning The Last Chance for Change was a best seller in the United States. He is currently writing his first novel. How long did it take you to put Global Warning together? I was invited by Lucky Dissanayake of Dakini publishing to write Global Warning because I’d written so much for the Guardian and she felt this kind of treatment, with lots of pictures, would attract lots of people. She employed researchers who asked me who to contact and what to do and they did all the picture researching and we got about three and half thousand pictures. I went through hundreds and hundreds of pictures. But writing is second nature to me so it was no problem to write. I’ve been writing about climate change for 15 years or so and been to all the meetings and understood all the
politics of it. The only section I had to do quite a bit of research on was the last few chapters when I looked at the latest technologies and looked at where they had got to; whether they were viable or not. I think if someone who knew nothing about climate change had to sit down and research a book and write it you’d be looking at 3 or 4 years because it would take you that long to master the science. But if you’ve been writing about it everyday and attending the meetings and you know a huge numbers of politicians from all over the world already then you are really are just organizing yourself to write it down. I noticed that you are produced your book to be carbon neutral. Could you explain a little bit more about that? Yes. We used sustainable paper which was expensive but it avoided cutting down rainforests and it avoided doing what most publisher do which is shipping the whole lot out to china and back again. This actually speeded up the process because we had it printed in Europe. And therefore there was not a time delay in shipping it backward and forwards in containers across the world. But it was carbon neutral in the sense that we invested in various green technologies which otherwise wouldn’t have been invested in.
Given the power of how much people read on the Internet, do you think ebooks are the way to go? Well I actually don’t read on the Internet. I work on the Internet and write on computers and refer to stuff on the Internet all the time but I regard reading as a recreation and so if I read something on the Internet I regard that as work. I do most of my reading in a sitting in an easy chair or on a train, plane or somewhere like that where it would be very ry difficult to tune into the Internet. I’m still reading my parents books and I don’t think my generation find reading stuff on the Internet fun whereas reading a book is fun. You’ve written all factual books. Have you thought about crossing over into fiction? ction? Yes. My next book is going to be fiction. I always wanted to do fiction and when I was younger I wrote plays and had a couple of them performed but they weren’t very good; what I really wanted to do was write a novel. Fiction is not always a natural crossover from journalism though is it? No, and I don’t have much confidence in my ability to do this but I want to try to see if I can do it and it will be great if I can. But it’s it fun writing. I’ve got so much stuff
though I don’t think I could write it in one novel! Is your novel going to be based on climate change? Yes and no. It’s actually about nuclear power. I’ve been writing about nuclear power as part of my environmental brief. In fact, I started writing about nuclear power before I started writing about the environment. One of the most extraordinary things about nuclear power is every time you think it’s been killed off by an accident or clearly it’s not economically viable or something else happens and makes you think nobody in their right mind is going to invest in nuclear power, it arises like a phoenix from the ashes and gets an extraordinary number of people to support it. And there’s absolutely no rhyme or reason for that apart from that the fact it has huge political back up and trade union support. Politicians are in favour of mega projects because the consequences of making a bad decision will not be in their term of office. That seems to be a big factor which I noticed you mentioned in Global Warning; how there has been a lot of talk by politicians but very little action. Well, what you need to combat climate change is hundreds and hundreds of small actions which in is not what politicians are good at and I just wanted to try and tell in a novel form how this could have been using fictitious characters. I read a paper on Nuclear power about a year ago explaining why nuclear industry was such a bad idea and going through the history of it. In a way it was doing that which made me realise what a great novel it would make because so many of the decisions are completely unexplainable by logic. How have you found writing characters and dialogue? Has it come naturally to you? Well it’s very hard if you’ve been
writing factual stuff - which comes second nature to me because I’ve been doing it for so long; I must have written millions of words. But when you come to write fiction it’s completely different. I mean, I can write sentences that make sense but whether it’s readable is altogether another matter. I think what I’m going to do is get my sternest critic, my wife, to read it and see what she thinks! But at the moment I think my biggest problem is making the characters come alive. I read an awful lot of novels but if a character doesn’t speak to me, if they’re a cardboard cut out, I lose interest in the thing. I have to identify with some of the main characters anyway or at least understand what makes them tick. I’ve just read one of the Dickens novels and part of it reduced me to tears and I thought "I’m going soft" but actually he’s a great novelist and you identify, you really care about those characters. What I’m trying to do at the moment is get the plot right, so that I can get the characters right. One of the things that happen in a newspaper office for example is that you have very short and pithy conversations and I’m sure civil servants have very long and convoluted conversations. (Much laughter) I suppose I’ve been rereading Dickens again to try and criticise the way he does it but also to see why he’s lasted so long and despite some of his failings people still like him and they’re are always on about his characters. The really best novels live with you - that’s why I think Dickens has survived and because he actually tells you about the morality of the age. He speaks of human nature and how it is and I think if you can approach that - then you’ve done well. Is there someone you admire most, who you’ve taken inspiration from? John Grisham. He has very original ways of starting books. You’re into the books straight away and there’s never a moment when there isn’t something happening; things are
moving along at a great pace. I’ve read a lot of his books, although I began to think his characters were letting him down but I do like stories to move along. I like the idea of page turners. So it’s not going to be like a Tom Clancy then – a nuclear industry techno thriller? Oh no. It’s really about politics and partially the politics of newspapers because one of the things you must avoid in journalism, particularly as a specialist journalist, is getting a bee in your bonnet. I had to very careful not to get angry about nuclear power because it was seen as political and if you’re a journalist jour you can’t be political in that sense. You still have write in an objective fashion. Is there any moment in your travels or your journalistic career that has particularly stood out? I went to the Antarctic to somewhere where very few, if any, people le had been before. I was with the crew of a Greenpeace ship and I thought I would go and sit in a penguin colony to see what it was like. I was on the edge of the colony and they had never seen human beings before and so they were a bit nervous of me. They The probably thought I was a very large penguin! So I sat down on the ice, absolutely still. They came closer and closer to me and nudged me with their beaks to see if I would move and when I moved they all leapt back like children. Then I sat still again and an then they crept forward to nudge me again and this went on for about half an hour or so. And they were just not frightened of me at all. You know, everywhere else you are on the planet things run away from you because human beings are bad for them but in the Antarctic things are just curious about you because are just another animal; you’re not a threat so they don’t run away. That was the most extraordinary experience. Finding out why animals run away from you is pretty salutary experience.
on’t Rev 349 Pieces: On Writing DEAR EVERYBODY by Michael Kimball
Dear Everybody started as just one letter, a man apologizing to a woman for standing her up — the man wondering if they had gone out that night, if they might have had a happy life, if maybe his whole life would have been different. I didn’t know then who was speaking or that it was going to be one of a series of suicide letters. But I did have a distinct voice, a particular way of speaking and a particular way of thinking. That one letter led to a rush of about 100 letters — Jonathon Bender apologizing to nearly everybody he has ever known. A couple of weeks after that, there was another rush of another 100+ letters and I had the spine of the book – Jonathon’s life and what happened to him. I learned about Jonathon Bender and his life in much the same way the reader does, letter by letter. I didn’t plan the novel out or outline it any way. I always try to let a novel tell me what it is going to be. Unfortunately, the letters weren’t in any kind of order, but since it was about a life, a chronological organization seemed right. I wrote out a chronology for Jonathon Bender, the purpose of which was to help me make sense of all the letters, but eventually it became a part of the novel. Still, I didn’t know which letters went with which years. I printed out all 200+ letters on different pieces of paper and spread them out all over my dining room. Every flat surface was covered with letters – the table, the seats of the chairs, the windowsills, the floor. I paced around the room for days – off and on, but for days – trying to place each letter with the right year, moving the letters from one year to another year until everything felt right. (That’s also how I learned
how long Jonathon Bender was going to live.) After I had the organization, I added the obituary, the eulogy, and the last will and testament. After adding those framing elements, the novel opened up for me in a new way. I realized that I could include anything. I added the mother’s diary entries, conversations with people from Jonathon’s past, the psychological evaluations, encyclopedia entries, weather reports, yearbook quotes, to-do lists, a mixtape, and other sorts of documents that fill in the parts of Jonathon’s life that he can’t tell us with his letters. The different documents seemed to give the novel more texture, more layers, to fill it out with story and fill it in with feeling. Writing a novel made up of 349 short pieces allowed me to deal with difficult material (abuse, mental illness, suicide) that might have become sentimental if handled as traditional narrative. And I found that writing in the form of letters allowed me to put huge amounts of story into the novel. Each letter is its own story. Writing Dear Everybody was a continual process of discovery, the novel continually unfolding and also becoming more complex. For the longest time, I felt as if I had this big secret. Sometimes, I would look out the window and wonder if anybody knew yet what I was doing. It’s a great feeling and this was especially so during the revision process (though it also alternated with feelings of disgust, which is another part of the revision process). I rewrote every piece of Dear Everybody. Nothing is the same as what I started with. I threw a lot of material away. There is easily another 50K words that didn’t make it into the finished novel. The revision process is
endless, until the book goes to the printer, which, thankfully, it eventually did.
Michael Kimball’s third novel, DEAR EVERYBODY, was recently published in the US, UK, and Canada. The Believer calls it “a curatorial masterpiece.” Time Out New York calls the writing “stunning.” And the Los Angeles Times says the book is “funny and warm and sad and heartbreaking.” His first two novels are THE WAY THE FAMILY GOT AWAY (2000) and HOW MUCH OF US THERE WAS (2005), both of which have been translated (or are being translated) into many languages. He is also responsible for the collaborative art project--Michael Kimball Writes Your Life Story (on a postcard).
Interview with author John Baker
Interview with author Patrick Gale
Interview with author Andrew Davidson
Next monthâ€™s issue out: 5th June
Literary Magazine Interviews with ... Iain Banks Mari Strachan RN Morris Paul Brown ISSN 1758-2903