literary magazine 12
Inside: Summer Reading: The Integrity of Jackets. Photo credit: Bengt E Nyman
Cover image: Keith Harris 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, Diego Cupolo Cupolo, Kerrie Anne, BT Cassidy & Fossfor. Copyright: The View From Here magazine 2009 2009-06-05 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 people, places, or events unless otherwise specified.
The View From Here is full of insightful interviews, intelligent reviews, and beautifully-designed designed pages. I can always find something good to read here.
Michael Kimball Dear Everybody
The View From Here Interview:
Andrew Davidson interview nterview by Kerrie-Anne
soon after he began a Media course. As his 30th birthday approached, Andrew moved to Japan. Spending the next 5 years traveling Japan J teaching and translating English. This is where he embarked on writing a story which has taken 7 years to complete and has been well worth waiting for. I give you Andrew Davidson. Growing up in the small town of Pinawa, Manitoba, has many advantages. What would be your fondest memory? Iâ€™d have to say all the hours I spent playing ice hockey, either with my childhood teams or practicing alone on the outdoor rink. But there are many memories that could compete, as I had a wonderful childhood full of love ve and support. Out of all the places you could have gone why Japan? Was it convenience or desire which lead you there?
My first interview for The View from Here and I have the pleasure of introducing you to Andrew Davidson author of the International Best Seller 'The Gargoyle'. The Gargoyle is a fictitious tale involving two main Characters. The first a Pornographer, drug addict and alcoholic, whose identity entity we never learn and has become known as The Narrator. The second is that of Marianne Engel, a carver of gargoyles, who believes she is a 700 years old former Nun from the famous Engelthal Monastery. The story is gripping, fascinating and keeps you wondering ndering right to the last page. Andrew Davidson grew up in a small town in Canada. He managed a Degree in English Literature,
As my thirtieth birthday was approaching, I was haunted by the thought that I was just about to enter my fourth decade without having lived outside of Canada. I just wanted to experience a new culture, and the location was not that important. A number of my m acquaintances had taught in Japan
and had told me about the great time theyâ€™d had there. It seemed relatively easy, as the English
conversation schools regularly had recruiters looking for prospective teachers in Vancouver, where I was living at the time,, and the only real requirement was a university degree. I had a few interviews and, almost before I knew it, was on a plane to Japan. Once I was there, I discovered that I loved the country. I went with the thought that I’d stay for a year, but ended up staying five. One point, which every interview I have read makes mention of, is the amount of time it has taken for this story to emerge. Did you have any idea when you began, the journey would be so incredibly complex and the length it took to achieve would uld cause such curiosity? I had no idea how long it would take to write and no clue that the amount of time would be of interest to anyone. I thought this would be just like every other project I’d ever worked upon—something something that would entertain me for a while, and then be tucked away in the drawer with the rest of the unpublished work. I can understand the fascination with the idea that a person would work on a speculative project for seven years, but if I hadn’t been writing I would’ve been writing something else in any case—writing writing is what I do. But it was easy to return to the story night after night, because I was curious to see how it all turned out. Although the humor throughout The Gargoyle is mingled within the seriousness of circumstance, Jack is s a breath of fresh air. Her Nickname ‘Crispy’ for our Narrator showed her direct and uncomplicated nature. How important is a sense of humour to your writing and your well being? I hope I always treat my work seriously, but I’m a goof at heart. Your Research took you from Medieval Germany, to a Medieval Monastery, through Dante’s Inferno and The Divine Comedy and into Mental Health and all manner of issues surrounding victims of severe burns. Out of the vast array of subject matter which did you find the most interesting? Each of these subjects held a different allure for me, but if I had to choose one I’d go with burn treatment, simply because it was the one about which I had the least knowledge in the beginning. Everything that I learned was new to me, and often so surprising that I could scarcely believe it was actual treatment and not science fiction. I have read in other interviews you state ‘The lead female character, Marianne Engel, emerged from my consciousness without out my having to coax her out. This was a weird and unexpected experience: she arrived with her full name and her appearance already set, and she began intruding upon my other writing until I consented to give her my full
attention. She seemed to have a lot lo to say, and wouldn't shut up until I wrote it all down. Eventually, that resulted in the novel.’ Was the character of the Narrator initially as strong as that of Marianne Engel or did he evolve more from the telling? The narrator evolved from my needs as a a storyteller, more than anything. I started the novel because Marianne Engel insisted she had stories to tell, but I knew immediately that I could not write these stories in her voice. The reason was her unreliable nature—already nature I was wondering whether she was a liar, a schizophrenic, or someone who had actually lived what she claimed. And yet, I also knew that I could not write in the third person omniscient: there could be no author, hovering above the action, who could explain everything. With Marianne ne Engel, explaining everything was never an option. So, I needed a narrator who was not her, but who could say: “This is what I saw, and this is what I think of it—but but what do you think?” For many years you lived overseas in Japan moving from town to town n as work permitted, I noticed throughout The Gargoyle many Japanese aspects, not the least being Sei’s story and again with Sayuri. Were these characters a result of your time in Japan, an amalgam of people you met and stories you had heard or a need to reference r your time spent traveling throughout the country? Certainly my time in Japan had an impact on my storytelling, because it had such a great impact on my life. Although Canadian, I consider Japan to be a “second” home country. Sayuri was mostly a challenge hallenge to myself: I wanted to write a character who was a Japanese woman, and I needed a physical therapist, so.... Of course much of her experience was cobbled together from what I learned in Japan—but Japan she’s not one person I know, although she might be a hundred. Marianne Engel’s obsessive passion for cooking feasts to set before our Narrator is one of her endearing qualities, if she were to cook for you, which would be your most appealing meal? Whatever made, I’d
thankful. Out of all the Characters in The Gargoyle who was your favourite and why? I'm of the opinion that if I were to let slip a "favorite," it would be like a parent choosing a favorite child. I don't want to cause trouble in the ranks. I don't have a favorite character, to tell the truth, as they all spoke to me in different ways. One thing I find Curious is throughout the story. Marianne is constantly referred to as Marianne Engel, never Marianne but always with both names Why? Many reasons, but most of all because it never felt correct to refer to Marianne Engel by anything other than her full name. It always felt like shortchanging her by half. Besides, the narrator never reveals his name, so if you add their names together and divide by two, you've got one name each. There are several stories with in The Gargoyle. That of the narrator and his battle with the snake of his addiction, his past and his growing emotional attachment. Then there is Marianne Engel’s own journey, her confidence in what and who she believes she is, her own obsession in her carving, her devotion to God and to tell him their story. Then there is their story linking the whole together. Was this a process of evolution, design or simply the way the story came out that allowed such a seamless flow throughout the story? If there’s one thing that I’ve learned in the many years that I’ve been writing, it’s that for me plot outlines result in dead stories. I try to push my characters around, and they hate it, and they refuse to cooperate. I spend much of myy time getting to know my characters. I will do anything to understand them, from writing their childhood diary entries to sketching out their clothing. After a few years, once we’ve gotten to know each other quite well, they trust me enough to let me follow ow them around. Then they do things that confuse me, and I write it all down. At the end I look inside all the writing in an attempt to find the “plot.” Then I hopefully remove everything else else—the things that I needed to know, but the readers don’t. It seems ems many of the characters in Marianne Engel’s story telling are either tragic lonely souls such as Siguror or tragic lovers Francesco and Graziana. The thought of an emotion being so strong as to transcend time and death, is one which is seldom tackled and d rarely in the context of Dantes Inferno. Was it your intention to show Love as an everlasting quality or as a tool to doom lovers from the moment they enter?
The last person in the world who should suggest what a book “means” is the person who wrote it. From the very first page through to the very last, the underlying truth or delusion is left to reader, you give no conclusive validity to either persons thoughts, either to Marianne Engel’s claims or to the Narrators theories, you leave the final verdict to that of the reader, giving clues and evidence as to either theories. How hard was it not to place your own verdict at the end? This was not difficult at all, to tell the truth. Essentially there are two voices in this novel – the narrator and Marianne Engel—and and neither one of these voices is Andrew Davidson. (I hope.) To illustrate, the narrator is an atheist and Marianne Engel is absolutely certain of the existence of God. Clearly, I cannot agree with both of these points, but that doesn’t matter, because bec my job is to portray these characters as honestly as I can. The very worst thing I could do is judge my characters, and without judgment any “verdict” is impossible. The success of The Gargoyle has no doubt given you some wonderful surprises. What is the best and the worst thing about now being the author of an International Best seller? The best thing: I no longer require a day job to support myself while I’m writing. The worst thing: now that writing is my job, I have far less time to write. Many of those reading this are themselves budding authors. What advice would you give them as they embark on their own journey of discovery? If you’re writing because you love writing, keep doing it. If you’re writing because you couldn’t stop even if you wanted ed to, then you’re definitely on the right path. And if you’re writing because you think of publication as a necessary validation, you should never pick up a pen again. What is the most important thing you have learnt along the way? Writing one’s first book b is of no help at all in writing one’s second book.
Dear Everybody by Michael Kimball Publisher: Alma Books Review: Charlie Jonathon Bender killed himself in 1999. Before making the decision to end his life he had gone to great pains to understand and document it. Dear Mom and Dad, I don’t know why I was so sick when I was a baby or why I cried
so much, but I don’t think that I ever wanted you to put me down in my crib. I couldn’t get out by myself and I couldn’t tell if you were going to come back for me. I think I kept crying so that you wouldn’t leave me alone. Could you hear me? Can anybody hear me? ‘Dear Everybody’ is a collection of unsent letters, cuttings, records of conversations and other assorted materials that his younger brother Robert has edited into a compelling account of an unfolding tragedy as he also seeks to understand his brother’s life and death. Stories of families, love and death seem to be Michael Kimball’s stock-in-trade. I say ‘seem’ because I haven’t read his first two novels but these themes are evident on the neat and contained website that details his work to date http://www.michael-kimball.com. ‘Neat and contained’ was likewise my first impression when I was handed this remarkable novel. It won’t be the longest book you’ll read this year but it will be one of the most memorable, both in style and content. Jonathon’s life is set out as a diary; sometimes a page may only contain a few notes, on other occasions it might be a newspaper cutting or lines from a transcribed interview. For me this worked beautifully, creating a sense that what I was holding was not a work of fiction at all, rather a ‘found manuscript’. It also meant that the whole book was readable in no more than a couple of evenings. This may not be to everybody’s taste, both in length and approach; it may take the reader a while to appreciate just what Michael has done here but this is most definitely a book that should not be abandoned after a few pages merely because it doesn’t fit expectations of what is a novel. That this book is a quiet tour de force is testament to the skill by which Michael brings us the events, significant and trivial, that collectively created Jonathon’s life and death. There is humour and horror here and for me, moments when I was uplifted, others when I despaired, wanting desperately for the book to have another ending. But real lives don’t always have happy endings and I was struck by quite how true to life this story felt. I am, in a small way, a therapist and I have had stories not unlike this told to me before. They are hard to listen to and make no mistake; this is a hard book to read in places. I have no shame in saying that I was angered, heartbroken and deeply moved by the people Jonathon met, lived with and loved. On more than one occasion I cried, not just for Jonathon but for a world where through misunderstanding, fear, disinterest and downright nastiness, lives like Jonathon’s will be lived over and over again. But there is joy here too and a message that underpins everything, that we are shaped by others and we in turn shape them. Writing a novel with a moral centre without being ‘preachy’ is not easy. Michael Kimball deserves great praise. Oh, and I said earlier that this was the first of Michael’s books I’ve read. It will not be the last.
Don Juan de la Mancha by Robert Menasse Translated by David Bryer Publisher: Alma Books 2009 Review: Jane It’s well known that book covers and their blurbs are influential in our choice of novel and I’m as gullible as the next person when it comes to falling for a bit of propaganda. If the blurb reads An entertaining read, easy to digest - The Telegraph I’m more than likely to succumb to the thought of a delicious book feast or, at the very least, serve it up with mayonnaise. (I’m on a diet so even paper has become attractive; it has remarkably similar properties to lettuce.) And if it reads Best book since The Bible – The Sun naturally I will rush out and buy it as fast as my Zimmer frame will let me. Of course any opinion on a book is subjective but if you’ve read the blurb for The Devil Wears Prada or The Undomestic Goddess you might believe some publishers need prosecuting under The Trades Description Act. Anyhow my point is; on the rear cover of Don Juan de la Mancha it reads “One of the most entertaining comic novels of these past few years” so with this phrase in mind I set about reading with my Laugh-O-Meter and spare knickers to hand ready for a rip roaring rollercoaster of a read. Unfortunately by page 50 and not a giggle having passed my lips I decided there must be something wrong with me and I resolved to start the book again. I duly flipped to the rear cover to see if I’d read the blurb correctly. And there it was; One of the most entertaining comic novels of these past few years - Die Zeit Yes, I had failed to see Die Zeit. I now felt fully justified that I hadn’t been laughing my socks off. Because, and I ask you, what do the Germans know about comedy? Yes, yes I know those silly boots are hilarious but come on you’ve got to admit Brecht never really had you in stitches did he? Now the author of Don Juan de la Mancha is Robert Menasse, an Austrian, so I began to wonder if there were lots of in-house jokes about lederhosen and frankfurters that I simply wasn’t getting. But realistically how many gags can you have about Lederhosen and frankfurters? Not many. Well okayMquite a few about frankfurtersM but this is a family site so let’s not go there. I carried on reading the blurb; Published in more than twenty languages, Robert Menasse is one of the leading voices in Austrian literature and the recipient of numerous literary awards, as well as a prominent essayist and journalist.
Now in if I translate this into more utilitarian language it reads; You are thick if you don’t like this book. So with my glasses placed studiously upon my nose, my Aspirin dissolved and my feather quill poised to make copious notes I set about reading Don Juan again. The novel, I decided, was like a crossword puzzle; once I had put myself into the mindset of the writer everything would fall into place. This time I resolved to read it through in as few sittings as possible having discovered on my first attempt that the proliferation of characters and the events jumping between the past and present made it easy to lose the thread of the story. I duly read the book and here’s what I found; Don Juan is Nathan, a 50 year old Austrian journalist working on the lifestyle section of a newspaper. Suffering from a midlife crisis and on the advice of his psychotherapist he recounts his life thorough an adhoc journal. It describes how his relationship with his father, his two wives and his many lovers have all proved, in some way or another, unsatisfactory. Although Nathan’s relationship with his mother is less tainted all her romantic liaisons have also failed. As the story develops we see that he has lived his life yearning for fulfillment and a constant need to find and feel sexual desire. Basically, Nathan is a man whose cup is always half empty and never half full. The past and future are always more attractive that the present and so he lives his life in limbo. When he consults the newspaper’s astrologer she tells him his birth is on the “border.” He is in between two personalities. Maybe this why he is so fascinated by females, their sexuality and why ultimately, even though it is comical, he ends up dressed as a woman. Don Juan de la Mancha is an intriguing book examining the relationships between men and women, sexuality and desire. It is sad, funny and poignant and I’m sure Freud would have dined out on it. It is the perfect fodder for those who wish to study the human psyche. However while the novel is all of these things, I never laughed, cried or felt deep empathy for any of the characters. In real life that is what we do. We laugh, we cry, we empathize, we feel. We don’t just observe. And so I closed the book feeling like I’d seen only half the picture. So is Don Juan de la Mancha a comic novel? Well it is – but for me that comedy came from visualizing the scenarios in my mind; the writing didn’t really speak to me. I’m not sure whether that is because the oomph was lost in the translation from Austrian, the irksome narration so none of the other characters really become alive, or whether Menasse simply can’t blatantly deliver the humour that the situations invoked. However, I can see this book translating extraordinarily well into film. In fact it would be the perfect material for Woody Allen but like his earlier films you’ll probably either love it or hate it. So there you have it. According to the blurb I’m thick and don’t understand Austrian humour. Damn. I should be depressed. But since I just dressed up as a man I feel a whole lot better.
The Integrity of Jackets by Steve Potter A discussion on book covers prompted by Deborah Lawrenson's book Songs of Blue and Gold. Gold As book jackets become more and more generic, it becomes harder to ‘never judge a book by its cover ’. And whilst this is not a problem for those authors /genres that would want to be identified by specific themes – Crime, Science Fiction and Fantasy for example e – it is more problematic when cover art is alienating half of the book’s potential audience. Worse still, when it is the audience which the author wanted to reach out to in the first place. There will, of course, be authors and titles that are aimed very much at a gender specific audience, as the annoyingly named ‘chick lit’ testifies – but what of books with cross gender appeal? And just because women represent the majority in terms of book buyers, does it really make sense to jacket a book with a purely p female audience in mind?
Upper Left: An alternative cover for Songs of Blue and Gold painted by Fossfor for this article. Background Image: Keith Harris
It is, of course, indicative of a wider issue – as what publishers are striving to do is pass muster with buyers at the high street chains, many of whom – with first time authors in particular – will look straight past the synopsis and concentrate on the cover ( and I shamefully admit to having been guilty of this myself on many occasions .) Jacket images are as much driven by booksellers as by book buyers. The money spent on jacket design (as well as editorial, sales, marketing etc) ultimately has to be recouped in sales. And herein lies the dilemma for any author / publisher in terms of the integrity of their book jackets. As we are all too aware, retailers operate around seasonality and offers to attract customers, and we are just around the corner from the annual 3 for 2 Summer Reading promotions that will dominate bookshops for the next few months. In the current economic climate, books – even at full rrp – represent fantastic tastic value for money. But for many, if a book is part of an offer, it becomes that much more compelling and it is here that the jacket image needs to do its job. Book buyers have always responded well to recommendation – and that is what the book jacket has become. A recommendation based upon the style of the jacket – the jacket will tell the reader all they need to know without even having to consult the blurb. For many low frequency book consumers – 2 to 4 purchases a year, generally for holiday reading – the images on a book’s cover can be more compulsive than the plot. Generic jacketing has allowed books to become an impulse buy. But book jackets need to be seen – they need to be featured in that 3 for 2 summer reading promotion. And here is the vicious us circle, because they won’t ever appear stacked high on tables at store fronts unless the jacket image has ticked the appropriate boxes that tie it to the theme of that promotion - and as such they will continue to be generic and uninspiring. So, whilst publishers and designers will say their ambition is to create stylish and
innovative covers, the reverse seems to be true. Stereotypical jackets are increasingly the norm – and one can clearly see why publishers and retailers would want to continue with a formula that sells books, but couldn’t they be selling a whole load more by not alienating half their potential audience? The best example I can think of are the books of Douglas Kennedy – whose jackets bear an uncanny resemblance to Deborah’s, the same designer de perhaps? Here is an author that was given the typical ‘summer reading’ treatment to appeal to a mass female audience. And yet, Kennedy is a writer whose novels are set against the backdrop of pivotal moments in history, often have a mystery element and are in parts real page turners – in other words, books with definite cross gender appeal. In essence, the book jacket has morphed into something that conforms to perceived stereotypes – blokes read books about war and action heroes and women about love and sex. Ultimately there is nothing
wrong with jackets being genre specific – one only has to look at the original Penguins which were differentiated by colour and are now considered to be classics of their kind. Though it does seem silly to pigeon hole authors by cover image alone. That being said, I am sure that Kennedy is not complaining – with
promotions – titles which otherwise might have languished in mid list obscurity. The main concern c is that the potential book buyer is being put off by the cover, and this seems a great shame – particularly as some of my favourite fiction in recent years has been found hidden behind a book jacket that was definitely not aimed at me. hat as the importance of It could be that the jacket image for web based bookselling – where every cover is available to view – becomes more apparent , that we will see more innovative and inspiring jacket design come to the fore again. Until then we should, after all , never ne judge a book by its cover. Steve is Commercial Trading Manager at The Book Depository www.bookdepository.co.uk
A word from Deborah Lawrenson to TVFH on her covers ... the aid of targeted jackets his books have moved from midlist at best, to key frontlist / promotable titles. Independent booksellers and the smaller presses, by their nature, tend to fall outside of convention – and that the two continue to exist will ensure that innovative writing and stylish design will flourish. An example that seems to typify this difference is that of Catherine O’Flynn’s What Was Lost. The success of this book can be attributed to many factors – not least that it is a stunning novel. It found its early success from the support given to it by independent booksellers and the quirkiness and originality of its jacket. That the cover stood out, and did not hint at any gender inspired content, ensured the book garnered fans of both sexes. As the book gained its more than deserved success, it was rejacketed and given what in my opinion is a much more non descript , almost non-fiction fiction feel. The quirkiness kiness of the original jacket seems to add life to this book, whereas the new one seems to be much more along the lines of the generic covers we increasingly see. All that aside, I would encourage everyone to read What Was Lost , regardless of which jacket you find. In all – it seems that the gender specific jacket is here to stay. And who can blame publishers, when jacket images allow their books to sit in 3 for 2
I love the new cover design. It captures the essence of the book: the dreamy literary aspect and the colours and word-pictures pictures that were an important part of writing about "Lawrence Durrell", aka Julian Adie. As a reader, this really appeals to me as well; the gorgeous sea-greens, greens, blues and yellow would certainly draw me closer ser to it on a bookshop shelf. Intriguing, too: abstract becomes a recognisable image. Very clever and lovely. But I can completely understand why Random House published with the cover they did. They would say this one is too "literary hardback" for a wide commercial audience. For a them, it's all to do with author branding and recognition, and theirs was a design to match my previous novel for them, The Art of Falling. My beef is with the publishing--wide obsession with branding, target marketing and following follow current trends, often dictated - deep breaths - by the now hugely influential supermarkets. It meant that Songs of Blue and Gold was pushed out last August (summer read! beach scene!) in sea of similar covers broadly aimed at the lucrative women's beach-read beac market. Sadly it also ensured that many people (including men who are interested in Lawrence Durrell) who subsequently raved about it, would never, ever have picked it up in a shop. shop
Charlie by Mike Hancock
I swallow another shot of whiskey as I think about the poor dog. Half-dead. Lying on his side, immobile, barely moving as he labors to breathe. His left eye is covered in a milky film from the cataracts that leave him almost blind, and his right eye is only marginally better. His coat has turned to an old matted gray. His body has developed the swayback, malnourished look of all old dogs. But still he lingers, day in and day out, there in the kennel inside the workshop in the backyard. I sit on the bed that I slept in as a child when I came to visit my grandparents. Maw Maw is fast asleep in her bedroom and I’m staring with a drunken focus at the wall, thinking about the dog. Charlie.
Charlie is a wire-haired fox terrier and in his prime was a rambunctious, feisty, lovable little dog. Only Charlie was born crippled, his hind leg deformed. Dad and Maw Maw doubted he would live. There wasn’t just the botched-up leg. He was a runt, one of those undersized puppies which tend to get kicked out of the feeding frenzy and are left to die. So Dad supplemented his mother’s milk with formula from a baby bottle. Did that for the few weeks it took for Charlie to get some density in those fragile bones, and soon he was running around with the rest of them, albeit with a funny little gait. Dad was like that, taking over when others don’t. Dad usually sold most of the pups from his litters, always getting top dollar because of the dogs’ great
bloodlines. He had usually kept one or two but he knew this would probably be the last litter so there was no sense in keeping any. Customers came and went, flocking to pick out their favorites. Then somebody came in and bought the last two healthy males, and so there was only Charlie. The puppy nobody wanted. By then Dad and Maw Maw had taken a liking to the crippled dog, so they decided to keep him. Not that there was much choice in the matter. As a kid, I played with Charlie when I was here, which was a lot. But even later when I stopped in from college, I always said hello to Charlie, and he always came running, his crooked leg ill-timed with the other three, causing that funny bounce of his hip to compensate. He jumped up to me as best he could, often coming down not on his feet but on his side, and still bouncing back up to do it over again. Like most dogs, Charlie was full of love, but I think unlike most dogs, he was given a double helping of it, in thanks for the family who took him in.
It’s dark out, everything’s blurry, everything’s in shadows. I sit on the bed in the middle of the night, drunk, as I am most nights after Dad’s funeral. Charlie. Dog wouldn’t give up living as a puppy and still won’t at thirteen. Lying on his side, blind, every now and then getting up and staggering over to his water bowl. He doesn’t eat much at all. Can’t hold it down, I guess. But he won’t let go. Charlie will lie there as long as it takes, hanging on to his last few moments of life. Now here’s the thing. Charlie’s been out there for ten days, ten days and no telling how much longer he’ll endure just for the sake of breathing in and out, just to hang on to the world a little longer. To see me coming to refill his water bowl and pet him on the head. And that’s why he lives, for me. Now here I am these last ten days, going out to Charlie’s bed, feeding him what little food he can eat. All soft stuff, no dry food. And water. Keeping him alive out in the workshop on that shag carpet bed of his. He’s not able to do anything, all day and all night, but think about living. Think about me. Just live. That’s all. Only a little whiskey left now. I rise, almost falling, hitting my knee on the edge of the rickety television stand. Everything’s foggy, just off to both sides. I see good straight ahead. Singular. I draw back the curtain, look into the dark rain outside and at the workshop. Lightening comes down, illuminating the shop and pens lined up in front, each with an entrance to the shop where the dogs can get out of the rain. Except Charlie’s the only one out there.
Shop’s got a heater but I wonder if he’s warm enough. Bring him inside for the night? Make him more comfortable maybe. But Charlie ain’t gonna be comfortable ever again. He won’t give up. I don’t want him to suffer any more. I’m tired of suffering. “Fuck this!” I turn around quickly. Too quickly. The world is spinning. I pause, wait for my vision to catch up. I grope through the kitchen, bump into the table, open the backdoor and the cold, wet air blasts my face. I have a t-shirt and jeans on, barefoot. The blast clears my head and vision enough for me to make it down the stairs. The rain comes down in biting pellets, hitting the top of my head, my shoulders, running down my chest. It’s dark out, everything’s blurry, everything’s in shadows. Gotta go on memory, on feel. My bare feet shuffle on the concrete patio, past the table where me and Dad used to fillet fish together. I see the gate and feel for the latch. It’s dark and smells musky. Cold in here despite the little propane heater in the corner. My clouded vision picks out the semblance of kennels inside, tools lined up on the opposite wall, and the big crack in the concrete floor. I use it as a guide, stepping on it, feeling the cool, uneven floor. Through the musky smells of the old, damp shop, rotted wood and rusty tools, I smell Charlie’s old, sick dog smell. His breathing is muted, barely a light sigh as I stand by the chain link gate. I bend down and lose my balance, falling forward and crashing the top of my head into the cold metal. I fall on my side in agony, writhing on the damp concrete. The blood trickles down my face, whiskey making the pain into a comfortable, hazy throb. I pull myself up from the concrete and sit in front of Charlie. He doesn’t move, just contemplates me with his cloudy left eye. “Hey, boy, how you doing?” He lifts his head and then slowly brings it down again. His ear is cocked and listening. “Me leaving you out here like this. It’s my fault, Charlie. You don’t know no better.” I edge up to the gate, leaning in. The damp smell of his coat wafts up from his bed. I feel his stare. My hand nudges the latch loose, Charlie’s ear shifts. The gate swings out. “C’mon old boy.” I feel around his body, pick him up and bring him out. I sit down against the metal toolbox behind me and cradle him in my lap. “You’ve been a good dog, Charlie. You did real good, boy.” His body is limp against my thighs, the rough, wiry hair brushing the wet denim of my pants. The world is spinning in a sweeping series of darks and grays as the incessant rain patters against the sheet metal roof. My desperate, drifting mind reaches out, wanting something far-off and unreachable. I give up and return to him. A gun will wake the neighbors. A knife is too messy. This is the only way. “I’m sorry, old boy.”
I grip the back of his head with one hand, his nose with the other, and twist violently. A brief whimper. A dull crack. I look down at his motionless body and begin to cry. I carefully place him back in his bed. I stroke the old matted fur and then close the door. Gripping the corner of the kennel, I pull myself up and stumble outside to the rains. “Calvin.” “Yeah?” I wake up in a stupor, my head exploding from the dull ache that hits at once, subsides, then returns. There’s the blurry image of Maw Maw peeking at me from the door of my room. “It’s Charlie,” she says. I force my eyes to focus and see the gaunt expression on her face. “He’s gone?” I ask. “No. He’s just lying there like he usually does, but he’s whimpering and can’t even move now. I think he’s getting ready to die.” Maw Maw narrows her eyes. “Say, what happened to your head? Looks like there’s blood on it.” My heart recoils in horror. I didn’t kill him. He lived. Oh Jesus, he lived. “Um. Bumped it on the desk last night looking for something. I’ll go out and check on Charlie.” Maw Maw shakes her head. “I just hate seeing the poor thing suffer. I know how much you and Dad loved him.” She closes the door. I fight against the urge to vomit and stand up, the blunt pain in my head causing me to suck in my breath. I force myself to walk to the kennel. I sit by his limp figure, listening to his low moans and wanting to absorb his pain. I sit until my back
aches, until my legs cramp, never moving, never leaving. Maw Maw peers in every couple of hours and asks, “Is he gone?” and I reply “Not yet.” The rains have ceased leaving the fresh fragrance of light dew on the grass. I hope Charlie can smell the grass. I hope he can feel the newness of the world. I hope in his mind he’s playing out there now, romping about with his awkward gait as I throw him a ball. The wind picks up and brings the sweet freshness of life into the darkness. I look down at my friend and see that he is not breathing. “Good boy.”
about the author Mike Hancock is a former hunting guide and commercial fisherman. He spent seven years guiding elk, deer, and bear hunters in Montana, Idaho, Wyoming and New Mexico. Prior to that he was a deckhand for two seasons aboard a factory trawler in Dutch Harbor, Alaska. Now living in Dallas, Texas, he is a high school English teacher and freelance writer. He holds a B.A. in English Literature and a M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Southern New Hampshire University. "Charlie" is an excerpt from his forthcoming novel, "Fallen". This is a story of fathers and sons and of emotional bonds that transcend culture and time. Set in the looming mountains of Northwest Montana in 1870 and 1997, the novel chronicles the lives of Grey Bear, a distraught Piegan warrior in the aftermath of the Marias Massacre, and Calvin, a tortured young hunting guide, as they endure hardships and abuse, both seeking redemption in an untamed wilderness. Photo Credit: allyaubry on Flickr
The View From Here Interview:
Patrick Gale interview by Jen
Patrick Gale has a long and successful writing career, but the inclusion in the UK's 2008 Richard and Judy Book Club of his last book, 'Notes from an Exhibition' further added to his widespread appeal. It sold over 273, 000 copies in 2008. His latest book, 'The Whole Day Through' was released on May 28th. The Aerodynamics of Pork is the most unusual title of your first book. How and when did you begin writing? Why were the first two books published simultaneously? I’d always written fiction almost too easily all through school. I think I was very lucky to be encouraged but not specifically taught much about the process, so that I sort of worked it out for myself. My school made me read enormously and so did id my English degree and I maintain that reading is the best possible training for writing! I didn’t think I was going to become a writer, though. I thought I’d be an actor or, at a pinch, some kind of music teacher. Somehow my hobby became my living. The first two (very short!) novels were published on the same day purely because Penguin had bought out my first publishers, Abacus, and didn’t want to retain me as a writer. They were simply clearing their backlog of books but I was the beneficiary because it secured the novels a lot more coverage in the press than they probably deserved. Longhand or PC? What tools do you feel are must musthaves for writers? Longhand for me. I started off on a horrible electronic typewriter with a tiny memory then an Amstrad PCW9512 which had a horribly noisy daisywheel printer. By the time neat sleek pcs came along, I’d already been driven into writing by hand and fallen into the habit. I do think it works better. The process is wonderfully organic and messy – just the way creativity eativity should be – so that you keep having extra ideas and the writing process never quite stops. Whereas writing on a pc, the way I’m doing this now, feels artificially neat and tidy and – judging from all too many novels on the market – convinces writers rs they’ve finished when they haven’t! The only tools you need are a nice pad and pen and somewhere quiet and comfortable. I write out of doors a lot. I also manage to do a lot of work on the Penzance/Paddington trains.
It appears that character is more defining d in your work than plots and planning. Many of your stories feature difficult women and fathers who ‘get away with it’. What appeals to you in these characters? Ooh. Lots of questions in one. I try to let my characters suggest my plots rather than the other way around. I think if you do that then you’re more likely to come up with a plot that’s lifelike – always assuming your characters are lifelike to start with. As for difficult women and naughty fathers – I suspect there’s a strong element of wish sh fulfillment in my fiction. Characters, like dogs,
can express the things their owners are too polite or inhibited to express. Several of your books include mental health issues Alzheimer’s, Bi-polar polar disorder. How do you research these subjects? With h some difficulty. I don’t like fiction to be research researchheavy so, again, the characters come first then I do the research where I have obvious gaps to fill or where I need to know about a disease or whatever that has shaped a character. For writers at the b back of beyond the way I am, the Internet is a great boon, as is having a sister who’s an eminent epidemiologist and a friend in psychiatry. Can you take us through the steps behind one of your books getting published? How long does it take to write a book from opening line to final word, the editing, and final submission? It varies. When my publishing stock was low, e.g. back in 2000 when Rough Music was yet to be published, there were nearly 18 months from delivery to publication. I’ve just delivered my latest one, however, and that’s due out in less than six months. The writing process varies in length too. I’m a quick an obsessive writer once I get stuck into a piece of work but being expected to tour to book festivals, especially ones overseas, comple completely disrupts the process. My latest book turned out to be very short – about 150 pages, which was a joy because I was able to work on it uninterrupted for three or four months and then, on the rewrite, for another two. A bigger, more complex book, could never ever have been put together so quickly. Tell us a bit about daily workings with your agent, editor or publishers. Less of the daily. I only have dealings with my agent when there’s a new deal under negotiation or a new book about to be published. We’re good friends but he’s a very busy man and his job is just that – the deal and getting the best one possible. My editor is a really close friend, which is lovely. We holiday together every autumn and she’s a constant source of support and stimulus. There are e then lots of different people at my publisher’s I have dealings with at different times. There’s my official in-house house editor, my hardback publicist, my softback publicist, my softback editor, the jacket designer and so on. But basically whenever there’s a new book in production or just published, I’ll have regular e mails and phone calls from them and between books life gets wonderfully quietM Publishers want more of the same and writers want to do something different each time. How do you deal with this clash? Ignore the publishers! Actually, that’s not quite true but I have to follow my instincts primarily and be confident that whatever I produce, however weird or unexpected in
marketing terms, will still feel like a Patrick Gale novel. I am painfully aware these days, however, that whatever I write will have to be marketed – the new novel is being heavily sold into Sainsburys despite nobody from Sainsburys having read it or known much about it in advance. I’ve done my best not to let this influence the subject matter of the book but I was at least able to reassure my editor that what was emerging was a weepy love story, and we all know that love stories are eminently sellable. As a writer, one is often told, read widely, write every day. But what would your recommendations be to aspiring authors, starting out in today’s world of publishing. Absolutely. Never stop reading. I regard reading as the writer’s equivalent of the dancer’s daily class – it keeps your mind limber, it stimulates you whether it’s good (envy!) or lousy (comforting!) but most importantly, if you read analytically, it doesn’t just remind you how it feels to be enfurled in fiction but can teach you how certain emotional effects can be triggered in a reader. I understand that you are part of the staff of the Oxford University Creative Writing Diploma. Do you
think aspiring authors can learn to write or are good writers born? I’m not really on their staff. I’ve just been a visiting lecturer there occasionally.. I always feel really inhibited when asked to lecture or teach because I have no training at it. As to the nature/nurture question, it all depends on the sort of writing under discussion. I tend to think that if you can talk well you can often write well, or fluently at least. And elements of both talking and writing can be efficiently taught – which is how journalists are trained. But for really good fiction you also need elements of empathy and a willingness to lose yourself, your ego in effect, that is probably harder to teach. I’ve met some really rather nasty novelists, however, whose novels are still terrifically stylish and win prizes etc. But there are about fifty stylists to every Carol Shields, which is why I prize the empathy element so. Did yourr study of English, including any particular writer or book, have any great influence on your own writing? Yes. Iris Murdoch was a big influence, as was the King James Bible, my father’s beautiful spoken prose and Jane Austen. But so was my early music tr training, I think. I’m always very aware of the rhythm of a piece of writing and I test my writing on myself in my head like a piece of music. What have you learned in the course of your writing life, that you wish you had known at the start? That the fiction ion that works best is actually very quiet in its surface effects. Somebody early on should have said to me, “It’s fine. You can write. Now calm down and stop showing off.” Which of your own books or characters are your favourites and why? And your favour favourites written by someone else or that you wish you had written? I love the books I wrote when I was intensely happy – Rough Music, Little Bits of Baby, Notes from an Exhibition. My favourite characters are my brave, badly behaved ones. I sort of live through gh them. (See early comment about dogsM). I wish I’d written Murdoch’s The Sea, The Sea and The Black Knight. Tell us about appearing on Richard and Judy with “Notes from an Exhibition’. You described it (in Falmouth) as ‘an awful beauty parade.’ What changed nged for you as a result of making the R&J list? The first I knew was a phone call from my publisher, very excited, saying it had made it through to the longlist of 20 titles. At this point I had to jump through hoops (as did my publisher) writing a letterr to Richard and Judy saying how much getting onto their short list would mean, not just to me but to Penzance etc. I also had to write a chapter by chapter synopsis. There was then a mercifully short judging period – about a month – before
ime slightly hysterical phone call to say the another, this time book had made it through. Just what this meant took most of Christmas, and a lot of phone calls and e mails from other novelists, including my old friend from college, Kate Mosse, for me to realize my life was about to be changed. A film crew came down to interview me a few weeks later. They filmed me in our kitchen, out on the cliffs and around Penzance. Also, bizarrely, they hired a local woman artist – nothing like my character – to represent my character. On the evening the show was broadcast featuring Notes I had to answer questions online for about an hour. Then I just sat back and watched the book’s sales go through the roof. Completely weird and amazing and I now remind myself at least once a week that something mething like this will never happen to me again. The book ended up being 22nd on the overall bestseller list for the year and the top title on that list from HarperCollins. Thanks to that, Sainsbury’s picked whatever I wrote next, as a title for promotion in their new book club venture, so the R&J benefits may be continuing for a little while yet. Some of your (book) jackets were rebranded recently. Do you like the new look and did you get involved in the design process? I haven’t seen the new look yet but I can understand the sense behind it. Notes sold well so they’re using the Notes jacket as a template for the new ones. I’m very nervous about my new novel’s jacket. All I know so far is that it’s shot in a bathroomM Can we assume your next book also has a challenging mother? I believe she is something of a naturist, if I recall correctly? The Whole Day Through has a very challenging mother but rather a wonderful one too. She’s extremely clever, which was a tough one to pull off as I’m not. She’s a type t I have a weakness for – brutally honest but basically decent. Very self-sufficient sufficient so she detests getting old and having to depend on others. Do you often hear feedback from your readers? What do they say? I get about two e mails a day through my website web and about two letters a week, which I love as it completes the reading/writing circle. Some of the messages are rude but a lot are very simple and just say thank you, it touched me, more please. A great boon, I can tell you, when you’re having a bad writing riting week! You said that you are ‘an obsessive gardener.’ What do you grow? Are you obsessive about anything else? I grow flowers and vegetables. I love germinating seeds and smuggle a lot back in my socks when I travel abroad. In the recent frosts I’ve e just lost a magnificent Moreton Bay Fig I’d grown from seed brought back from Australia and am heartbroken. And yes. I’m obsessive
about all too many things. Loading the dishwasher. Loading the washing machine. Alphabetising my spices. What can I say? I work from homeM A Sweet Obscurity has a musical theme. Do you listen to music when you write? What do you enjoy listening to, or playing? Always. It has to be music with no words, though. I find it a really useful device if I listen to the same cluster of pieces while working on a given story as it provides an unconscious shorthand that lets me return to the same emotional space if the work has to be interrupted for any length of time. I find I only have to read my novels again to remember the pieces I wrote rote them to, pieces which often have nothing to do with any music described in the text.
the empty times of year, but I know I’d find the same about Norfolk or Pembrokeshire. I do need the country, though. I’d become a very different sort of writer if I had to live in a city all the time. Going for walks is such a part of my writing routine, as is not talking to anybody for hours on end, which is very hard to do in town. If you were to share the cooking of a celebrity summer barbecue who would it be with: Nigella, Jamie or Delia - and which guests would you invite? None of the above. I’d want Simon Hopkinson or the late Jane Grigson. Both cooks who can/could really write. Simon’s Roast Chicken and Other Stories is a classic of the genre and he’s also lovely company. As for fantasy guests ; Stephen Fry, Michelle Obama, Meryl Streep, Ian McKellen, The Endellion String Quartet and then, oh, a novelist or twoM
You live in Cornwall and have said that you ‘feel claimed by it'. How does your environment affect your writing or settings of your stories?
Is there a question you would you like to be asked at interview, but never are?
Yes, I’m heavily influenced nced by environment but I’m not precious about it. Cornwall is wonderful, especially so at
Those jeans look ok fantastic on you. Where did you buy them?
I must extend a very warm thank you to Patrick Gale to whom I spoke after an event during Cornwall County Council's Wonderful Words Festival 2008. 2008 He was highly informative, humorous and above all, very charming rming and generous to his audience. Bibliography: 1985 The Aerodynamics of Pork 1985 Ease 1987 Kansas in August 1988 Facing the Tank 1989 Little Bits of Baby 1990 The Cat Sanctuary 1996 The Facts of Life 1996 Dangerous Pleasures 1999 Tree Surgery for Beginners 2000 Rough Music 2003 A Sweet Obscurity 2005 Friendly Fire 2007 Notes from an Exhibition 2009 The Whole Day Through Upcoming: Gentlemen’s Relish, a second collection of short stories due out at Christmas. Patrick’s website: www.galewarning.org Author photograph credit Mark Pringle
The Never Ending Treasure Chest by Anne Brooke I’d like to share a cunningly hidden secret with you – one all too often forgotten by the writing world and one that I’ve even heard people say is a bad thing, if you’re in the process of writing. Every time I hear that, I groan inside, I can tell you. It’s the secret of reading. Not something talked about much in writers’ circles or in writers’ conferences, but to my mind it’s the foundation upon which writing skills can be learnt and by which they’re able to develop to the full. If you want to be a writer, you have to be a reader first and foremost. It has to be so much a part of your life that you almost get to the stage where you don’t even notice you’re doing it. When I was young, my mother (rightly enough) never allowed us to read at the breakfast table, even when we were on our own. But without something to read, I felt at a loss, not quite whole. So, as nothing else was allowed, I would read the cereal packet. Back and front, top and bottom, both sides too. Having words – however regimented and unexciting – in front of my eyes and easing their way into my eager young brain seemed to place me more fully in the world. They were something to hang on to, something that even seemed to make more sense of me. Incidentally, they also made me an expert with the marketing approaches of Mr Kellogg, but that’s probably another story M As a child, reading was one glorious adventure after another. You could find magical, mysterious worlds within the covers of a book, and that’s a feeling that’s never really left me, even through the rather drier (in terms of reading) University years (see below). Sometimes I could hardly bear to put a book down. I regularly secreted a book under my pillow or under the covers so after official “lights out time”, I could lean precariously out of my bed and read by the landing
light instead. Goodness knows why I never thought of a torch or even simply got out of bed, but I didn’t. I was always a rather literal child and liked to think that at least I was still in bed as the parents had instructed, so they couldn’t be too upset if they ever found out. They didn’t, I think. Later, I remember one occasion when the English teacher at our secondary school had given us Alexandre Dumas’ The Black Tulip as we would be studying it during the following term, even though she said it might be hard going. Hardgoing?? It was the most devastatingly wonderful book I’ve ever read. I literally couldn’t put it down. I started reading it late that night and didn’t finish until gone 2am the following morning. It gripped me entirely – I loved the characters, I loved the plot, I loved the world it created. I’ll never forget the look of astonishment on the teacher’s face the next day when she asked me how I’d got on with it, and I told her I’d finished it. And please (well, we were a very polite school M) could she tell me if Dumas had written anymore? It changed that particular 15 year old girl’s life in a way that nothing else really has since. And reading, I think, is like that. Or should be. All during my teens, twice-weekly or even three times weekly trips to the library were factored into our evenings (how my mother must have groaned at the “book miles” she clocked up M) and I must be the only person I know who’d read Anthony Powell’s Dance to the Music of Time before she was seventeen. Though, sadly, not in the right order. Indeed, that fatal and dangerous mix of Dumas and Powell is probably partially responsible for the type of books I produce now, though I wish I had half their pizzazz. Which just goes to show that a writer’s output may primarily be formed by his or her reading childhood and young adulthood. Be afraid, be very afraid M
At University, two English degrees meant that the thrill of getting a new book faded, I admit. The demands of coursework reading for tutorials, seminars and ultimately examination both at undergraduate and postgraduate level caused the magic of the book itself to grow a little weaker, but it gave me other skills which are just as useful for a committed reader who wishes to write, or indeed for any reader: a deeper understanding of structure; a broader concept of theme; a working knowledge of the interrelationship of plot and character. Now, reading a book meant not only that I could enter another world, but that I could have a more intimate understanding of an author. And, in addition, of that author’s relationship with the world they lived in. Because with every word written, the creator of that word gives away something of their character and purpose, and reveals themselves more fully to the reader. For me, discovering books became a discovery of their writers also. After University, and without the pressure of gaining a degree or two, I found that slowly the magic of reading crept back into my life. It wasn’t the same however, though I’d thought perhaps it might be. But in the end I realised that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. The magic had been blended with a more purposeful sense of the possibilities of analysis. Now I could respond to a book as a reader, but also as a kind of surgeon too. I could decide whether something worked, or not. And why. I found myself both enjoying what I read and also wondering if it would have been better (or worse!) if the author had done something differently, changed a scene here, added a character there. And so on. And, all the while this was happening, I was – unbeknown to me – storing up knowledge I could draw on when, in my late thirties, I began to write fiction for the first
time. And, yes, of course – as we all know – it’s different when we ourselves actually begin to write. It’s not how it is in the books we’ve read, or even in the picture we had in our minds before the pen reaches the paper or the finger reaches the keyboard. Believe me – it never will be. The battle and the fun are in the trying. But it’s my belief that a lot of the writer’s art comes from a deep understanding of the field we’ve chosen to work in. That understanding can be improved by adding the skills of the writing trade that can easily be found in every county in the land – via writing courses; writing conferences; writing groups. We know they’re there and we should use them. There’s always – always – room for improvement. But the understanding itself is something far richer and more subconscious and comes from our reading world: the books we’ve read in the past and those we’re reading now are a vital factor in the kind of writers we are or want to become. Reading is also a way of being more human and more alive. What we love to read – even more than what we love to write – teaches us who we are and shows us our place in the world. These days, I find I always have several types of books on the go: a novel or short story collection; a book of poetry; a biography, historical or current; and a book of spiritual reading. Oh and let’s not forget the Bible – whatever your religious opinions, it has some of the most beautiful poetry ever produced, the best pieces of flash fiction (aka the parables), the best epic story telling, and a cunning sense of character. Plus it’s almost impossible to understand any work
Picture credit of station: Mo Riza
of western literature prior to the twentieth century without it. So, when I hear writers say that they don’t read while they’re writing because they fear it would influence them too much or affect their own writing in some negative way, I am for all these reasons deeply shocked. It takes away so much of the treasure house they could be storing up for present or future use, and it makes them so much less than they could be. And their reasons for not reading are precisely the reasons why they should: they should be influenced and their writing should be affected, in a positive way. That, after all, is the point of a book. Nobody writes a book (or lives or breathes or loves) in a vacuum. Not reading whilst one is writing is akin to saying that because I love my husband, I can’t then also love my mother too. But neither love nor books are like that – there’s always enough to go round. I freely admit that without Maria McCann’s magnificent novel, As Meat Loves Salt, or virtually anything produced by Patricia Duncker, I would never have had the courage even to attempt A Dangerous Man or Maloney’s Law. It inspired me to the type of work I never knew I could write. And showed me more about myself than I’d ever known before. I like to think I’m a better writer because I read those books first. And trust me: no matter who or what you read while you’re writing, you’ll always find your own voice and your own way of telling the tale you want to tell. You don’t have to worry about plagiarism – if it happens (and it’s rarer than you think, when done unconsciously) it’ll be obvious as it won’t be in your voice or your story and, in that case, you can easily
press delete or Tippex it out and start again. But never, ever be afraid of reading. It’ll add a richness and depth to your world that you simply don’t want to miss. Because, just as there are three vital factors that you must bear in mind when buying a house: location; location; location – so there are three vital factors you have to nourish if you want to be a writer: read; read; read. All the time, whether you’re writing or whether you’re not. Oh, and enjoy. You’ll never regret it.
Anne Brooke’s fiction has been shortlisted for the Harry Bowling Novel Award, the Royal Literary Fund Awards and the Asham Award for Women Writers. She has also twice been the winner of the DSJT Charitable Trust Open Poetry Competition. Her latest poetry collection is A Stranger’s Table, and her latest novel is Maloney’s Law. Both are available from Amazon. Her work is represented by agent, John Jarrold, and she has a secret passion for birdwatching. More information can be found at www.annebrooke.com and she keeps a terrifyingly honest journal at http://annebrooke.blogspot.com.
The View From Here Interview:
John Baker interview by Kathleen John Baker’s previous books include “Shooting in the Dark,” “The Meanest Flood,” and “The Chinese Girl.” His first novels were a popular six book-series starring Sam Turner as detective. “Winged With Death,” he has said, is a departure for him. While the novel involves countless crimes, it’s not a traditional crime novel but a riveting story combining Uruguay in the 1970s and York, England in the approximate present.
John, how did you research this book and how did it fit into the process of writing the novel? The research with regard to Montevideo took a long time. I read every book I could find on the subject. Academic works, political works, biographies, histories. All in all I suppose it took me the best part of a year. And at the end of it I was still unsatisfied. I then began to make contacts in Montevideo and
people who had lived through that time and were now widespread, many of them no longer living in Uruguay at all. It is quite difficult to assess how the research about a time and a place fits into the process of writing a novel. But, for example, it is impossible to write character convincingly without hearing time and place behind the voice of that character. Take the Yorkshire moors away from Heathcliffe and you end up with a different man. I was committed to Montevideo a long time before I knew who would people “Winged with Death, ” but the characters who eventually form the core of the story would never have been born without my own particular knowledge of the city during that period of time. You’ve mentioned it’s your first novel written in the first person. Did you and Ramon form a bond that’s different from when you write in the third person? The main difference between first and third person narration is that the former method dictates that everything must be filtered through the perception of the narrator. In third person point-of-view the writer has more freedom, and is not even tied to a single narrator. I’m not sure about the ‘bond’; because for much of the time I felt I could be quite objective about Ramon. I never suspected he was me. On the other hand, of course, he could never be completely free of me. I am reminded of Nabokov’s: “My characters are galley slaves. And, simultaneously, Flaubert's reply when he was asked who was
his model for Emma Bovary: “Emma, c’est moi.” (Emma, that’s me.) Perhaps the writer is not best qualified to answer this question? Ramon’s story came to me piecemeal. It was fed to me one word at a time as I wrote the novel. In the very beginning I was concerned only to achieve an authentic voice, a beguiling voice. I was interested in discovering where he came from and what was his destiny, but I never let that get ahead of the writing. I was aware of his influences and I was aware of the changes that his life had brought to him. I liked him and he always had the ability to invoke compassion in me. In a recent review he is compared to Camus’ “Meursault in L’Étranger,” someone who drifts, almost free of personal will. And while I can see this in his character now, it has only come clear to me with distance. At the time of writing, when my involvement with him was close, I saw his passion and his will up close. Perhaps he is a paradox like the rest of us? I found the descriptions of the tango so sensual and yet as Candide says, almost a kind of “esoteric religion.” Do you tango? Is it a real-life passion of yours or did you imagine it as specific to Ramon? I have always danced. I always think it is a pity that we all dance as children, and then as adulthood gobbles us up many of us decide to stop dancing altogether. I can’t help it; when I hear music I begin
immediately to move differently. I’ve danced tango for about ten years. I’m not a great dancer; what I do is called social dance. It’s about connecting with a partner and moving together. It’s exciting, exhilarating when it works. The religious thing is what religious people do with it, or with anything. By religious people I mean those who can’t believe in god and instead latch onto some social programme or a dance or a sport or start collecting stamps with a vengeance. You know who I mean. For a long time I have wanted to use dance as a metaphor, but the possibility only arose in this book. I suppose the setting made it possible; once I had Montevideo as a subject the tango could take to the floor. The balance between ideas and plot, or action, in the book is exquisite. It impressed me especially because many novels I read that attempt to show a character’s intellectual life offer a choppy or lopsided story. Why do you think others have so much trouble integrating the two? You don’t ask an easy question, Kathleen. My first reaction is to state that I am interested in ideas. All of my novels have been about ideas. I wasn’t aware that others have trouble integrating plot and idea. But if they do I can only imagine that it is because of a basic misunderstanding of the idea of tension in a novel. Or perhaps a disregard for tension altogether? Tension comes about when the reader identifies with the position of a character in jeopardy. But in a novel it is quite important to fuse ideas with an element of tension. I can’t find the reference to this story, but if some aspect of it is wrong, I hope one of your readers puts me right. Graham Greene was asked by a writing student if he could write a scene on a train where two men discuss the Christianity of Kierkegaard. Greene said yes, it was possible to write about anything,
but the key was in finding the way to do it. In this case the discussion of ideas would work fine as long as there was a bomb planted under the seat of the railway carriage. Other than the all-time greats, which writers do you enjoy, especially contemporary writers whose “greatness” is yet to be determined? I read critically these days. I enjoy the all-time greats best and would
always go for these over a contemporary writer. Sorry, but that's how it is. However I do read contemporary writers. These are the last dozen novels I read: Borderliners by Peter Høeg Runaway by Alice Munro Netherland by Joseph O’Neill A Lost Lady by Willa Cather Dancing for the Hangman by Martin Edwards The Mortgaged Heart by Carson
McCullers The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson Gilead by Marilynne Robinson The View from Castle Rock by Alice Munro The Fifth Woman by Henning Mankell My Name Is Red by Orhan Pamuk Crow Lake by Mary Lawson Thanks for your time, John.
I have always danced. I always think it is a pity that we all dance as children, and then as adulthood gobbles us up many of us decide to stop dancing altogether.
Man In The Mirror by Terry McKee
Jacob's mother exhaled frustration in a muffled puff; she was fighting a losing battle between reality and her sons denial. Denial was in the lead. "Jacob is nearly ready to go out on his own again," they said; but she was skeptical. This would be the second time she’d have to let go. After raising him twice, (the first time traditionally, the second as an accident victim, from coma back to independence) her instincts screamed "no", fear of him falling again tore at her gut. Jacob’s brain injury left him snared in a vicious web of what was and is. Different from typical physical injuries, this was a "Catch 22." The better the patient got -- the worse he felt. Jacob’s insight into deficits is not only short lived due to memory loss but disheartening and frustrating, serving only to increase his denial.
Caught between strands of truth and amnesia, Jacob’s brain played tricks, allowing for small glimpses of what was while blinding him to what is. With nearly a year since the accident; everything that could be done was done. His broken neck was fused, there was no paralysis; his shattered legs mended and his sheared mind was healing. Physically rehabilitated, he re-learned everything he needed. Fine and gross motor skills, balance and co-ordination, and the last nine months Jacob spent in cognitive therapy, studying memory strategies, problem solving, reasoning and sequencing. Nearing its end, the therapist proclaimed him ready to deal with the real world. Jacob was ready or not for the second time. How long would his luck hold out, his mother wondered, how many times can one person survive multiple catastrophes? With two too many car accidents behind him, she thought three strikes and you’re out, the long arm of the law of averages would reach out to take Jacob and next time he mightn’t be strong enough to shake it off. Vulnerability, unpredictability and innocence were stacked against him. With her maternal armor kicked into high gear, it was all she wanted – to protect him from all the world’s ills and himself but it wasn’t her fight to fight. Her suspicions were further confirmed after this morning’s conversation. Behind Jacob’s steely, divergent eyes, she saw his anger; he was pissed with the world for failing to give him his due. Entitlement flowed through him like a river uncertain of its current; everyone else was responsible for his adversity, which now dictated his path in life. Without permission and culpability, he was subjected to the ebb and flow of its tides. “Mom, I don’t want to stay here, this state is full of hicks. I want to go back to school in California, because for the first time in my life, I want to study. . .” Jacob’s fist came crashing on the counter, she heard it crack. “Is your hand all right?” “Fine, just leave me alone, for once.” Jacob tried to rub the enlarging redness away. “Honey, you’re saying that because you think that by getting back to California, you’ll return to your old life . . . That will never happen, for Christ’s sake, you’re lucky to be alive. . . When will you realize that? It’s time to face facts, you can’t do the things that you could before,
you’ll never be able to take a full load of courses again, you’re going to be in school much longer than originally planned. . . Give yourself a chance; understand that you still need more time to heal. The brain is a complicated organ and no one can tell us exactly when you’ll be fully healed, if ever. . . Did you take your pills this morning?” Jacob’s emotions seethed just under the surface, like lava boiling inside the volcano. “No, it’s you who doesn’t understand. . . God damn it! I’m sick of this fricking shit. I’m fed up with all the doctors and professionals, who think they know everything about me, with their useless medications and with therapy, I won’t go anymore. . . Everyday it’s the same excuse, give it time, give it time, I don’t want to give it anymore time. I’m so fucking sick of this crap; no one knows what I’ve been through. I want my life back, I want out from this hell and NOW!” The self edit top blew, as spit spewed from his mouth, Jacob exploded with all the pent-up frustration that comes from being on the verge of independence. The professionals forewarned of such eruptions. Moments later, with his emotions quelled, Jacob said, “I think I’ve proven that I can be responsible. And yes, I did take my pills this morning, I take them every fricking morning, I don’t need you to remind me any more . . . When will you get that through your thick skull?” Jacob stormed out of the kitchen and wobbled up the steps, his gait still awkward and unsteady. Though twice as large, he was a shadow of his former self. ‘Weebles wobble but they don’t fall down. . .’ popped into his mother’s head as she watched him climbed the stairs, hanging onto the banister for balance. She listened as he showered, to the water traveling down the pipes in the wall and thought about his life. The accident happened so quickly, but then don’t they all? Like water running down the drain, his life ebbed from his body until he arrived at the hospital and the tide was turned. Then the rapid climb of his recovery was nothing short of a miracle -- everyone told her. Jacob once told his mother it was because of her he’s still alive, it was her voice that called him back from the gate separating life from death, pleading with him not to enter. He knew she’d be angry if he went through, so he turned back, back to life.
Jake searched for lost connections, weaving vines of snapped synapses of yesterday with today’s sprouting neurons. Jacob emerged from his coma changed though, no longer the same boy whose eyes smiled and lips quivered when he lied, instead he was like a toppled tree that survived the storm, he’s altered but still growing. Slower, more thoughtful, less patient but more compliant, shier but more resolute now, the accident
twisted his growth direction to one that Jacob refuses to accommodate. This uneasy feeling prickled his mother’s nerves, she knew that he couldn’t be with her forever, she wouldn’t be around forever to take care of him but her heart begged to differ. Eventually she’d have to let go to wherever the tide takes him and the fine hairs on her neck refused to lay flat. Jacob stepped out of the shower and into the vapor, almost as if he stepped out of his body. He felt lost in the fog, like two halves to a whole, both fought for the same space inside him. Torn and incomplete, the bisection left him contrary, nearly negating each other. It was a conflict he couldn’t name, understand and most certainly didn’t like; leaving him feeling disturbed and tired. As he cleaned the steam away, the other emerged, staring back at him in the mirror. Like a ghost revealing its ubiquitous self to its former owner, Jake stood before Jacob as another persona, his other, better half, watching, waiting, wondering when it would come, exactly when would Jacob realize he was looking at himself, at his new true self, no longer an image of what was but of someone cleansed and entirely whole, not repaired jigsaw pieces of a tattered memory but the recently variegated version that he had become. ”What do you want? Why can’t everyone just leave me the hell alone?” Jacob asked his reflection. “To remind you who you are.” Jake had waited months and still it didn’t look like it was going to happen, not today at any rate. No matter how he tried, Jake couldn’t get Jacob to comprehend the new reality of him, instead Jacob fervently resisted with his entire heart and soul, wanting only to be what was, before the accident, but would never be again. “Thanks but I don’t need reminding, I know who I am.” “So sure are you?” “Yes, damn it! Now go away, would you?” “No. Tell me then, why did you lie to your mother about school? You know you hate school and that she’s right. It’s your old life you want, to party and play but remember that’s the spider that caught you.” Creeping further into Jacob’s jungled psyche, Jake searched for lost connections, weaving vines of snapped synapses of yesterday with today’s sprouting neurons, in an attempt to help Jacob to come to terms with who he is, deficits and all. “I would have thought that you’d learn your lesson. . . Your mother hit the nail on its head, too bad she can’t hit you in the same spot. Eventually you’re going to have to face the facts. . . You’re not the same as before, your injuries have made you someone else but obstinacy distorts your vision, so can’t see clearly and you don’t realize it.” “Fuck you; I don’t need to hear this crap. There’s nothing wrong with me.” Jacob again wipes the mirror clean to better see his goatee; he shaves it off for the third time in three months. On the train to therapy, Jacob stares out the window with nothing in his mind, it’s kind to him in that regard, some things he forgets very quickly, like a two year old
who just had his favorite toy taken away, it’s easily replaced with a new one. Jacob forgot the harsh words with his mother and the mutated reflection of himself. The click-clack rhythm mellows Jacob, rocking him to its continuous motion, keeping his brain empty. The clickety-clack, clickety-clack lulls Jacob to sleep, into a recurring dream that began in his coma. The sound of brakes applied integrate into his dream, Jacob realizes that the train is coming to a slow, noisy stop at Crystal Creek station; in his vision, he exits with his other fellow passengers. It’s a short walk to the bus stop but it means crossing Providence Blvd, a bustling eight lane artery. Jacob stands at the head of the cross walk, waiting for the light to change. He hates crossing such a busy road, the whoosh of the speeding cars, the honks of impatience and heavy bass from booming radios thumped in his ears. The sounds emanate from everywhere, he turns his head right, then left, looking for a pause in the river of vehicles. At the height of morning rush hour, there are a few lulls in the onslaught of deafening traffic. Jacob spies his bus down the street, then looks to the scheduled stop. No one is waiting, anxious that it won’t stop; he presses the button for the light again. When it finally does, he steps cautiously into the cross walk, he wants to run across to catch the bus but fear holds him glued to the ground. He’s stuck a few feet from the curb, unable to move in either direction. A car screams passed, blowing through the red light. Another driver sits on his horn and screams out the window, the shrill is matched by the pulse in his ears. Sounds swirl around him from all directions, seeping into his brain, crashing and colliding into each other, buses, cars and trucks, engines revving and brakes screeching, confusing and confounding him. Uncertain of when, Jacob knows he should go but something holds him still. Jacob feels as if he can’t move, stuck in a vortex of sound, it winds around him, coiling around his body, starting with his ankles, the cord moves up his torso before finally reaching his head, pulling tighter and tighter on his brain, holding him captive. The bus pulls up to his stop, he watches several people get off. No one gets on. Jacob waves, in an attempt to get the driver’s attention, hoping he will remember him from yesterday, he doesn’t. Jacob just began taking the bus three mornings ago, why would he. As he watches the bus shut its doors, Jacob cries,” Wait, wait for me.” He wills his legs to move but they’re paralyzed, bound to the pavement in terror. Another honking car screeches to stop just inches from Jacob. “You stupid ass, what the hell are you doing?” the crazy driver shouts, adding some hand gestures for good measure. Panic rises in his throat and wet runs down his legs; he must move now or stay permanently where he
remains. The choice is before him, so Jacob shuffles clumsily across four lanes of traffic, weighed down by large boulders attached to each ankle and it takes all his strength to drag it across the road. As the bus pulls away from the curb, the driver is so busy looking over his shoulder; he doesn’t see Jacob until it’s too late. The blood drains from his face, turning him ghostly pale, Jacob sees the bus come head-on into him, striking him down yet picking him up at the same time, in one smooth, painless sweep. Finding a small lip in the grill his fingers hold tight, Jacob is lifted from the street to a place he remembers. The noise and cars are gone; the bus rides a golden road. Instantly, he feels light, free of the weight that held him down, as if the bus has lifted him to a higher plane, releasing him from the expectation and trepidation. The gate appears at its end; Jacob sees his choice, slightly different from before but nonetheless important. He must cling to this side of the gate with all his might or fall. He knows now that while the others were trying to help, ultimately it was he who had to take the next step and pick wellness over disability and exchange today for the past, just as he did before. As acceptance replaces fear, a small smile creeps at his lips and a floaty, airy sensation, like he’s flying through the sky on the wing of an airplane surges through him. Jacob looks through the window to see the driver, though he already knows who it is. Jake sits behind the wheel smiling; he mouths ‘I told you so’. ‘Fort Lauderdale, next stop Fort Lauerdale’ comes across the train’s PA system, rousing Jacob from his nap. Disoriented and damp, Jacob realizes he missed his stop. It takes him a few moments to gather his thoughts before he decides to get off. Once on the platform, he reaches for his cell phone, “Mom, I had a small accident but I’m ok. I missed my stop but no worries; I’ll change when I get to therapy.” “Jacob, are you all right? Do you want me to come down there? Oh, I just knew something like this would happen!” “No mom, I’m fine -- and from now on, please call me Jake.”
about the author Terry resides in south Florida with her husband, two horses, three dogs and several hundred lizards.
Photo Credit: Paul Keller at Flickr.
Spare Me by Kathleen
Bob Dawson loved all sports, but saw real marketing potential in golf and sailboat racing. If I joined him, I’d be director of communications. Two hour commute oneway, minor salary increase, but I’d never be a junior business reporter again. Needing salespeople, Bob gave me a bonus for finding Jason, my neighbor in Yonkers. Within a week, Jason and I took the train together to Westport where Big Bob worked and lived. It didn’t take long to realize the business was barely hanging on. Bob raged through the office, elated or furious, depending upon whether he could make payroll without spending his own funds. But if the business was going under, Jason would know it, working in sales. I pestered him about this, because my wife was pregnant, and I needed a job with healthcare. But he laughed at my worries. “Everything’s copasetic, man.” By now, Jason was wearing the same brand-name clothes Bob did. He used the same barber, saw the same doctor, and bet on the same games. Jason drank Bob’s favorite martini and had adopted the same retro lingo. Perhaps mimicry was de rigueur in sales. Or, perhaps for Jason, the saddle shoes, clubby suspenders, and soft-colored ties dispelled insecurity. People often believe what they wish and Jason believed whatever Bob told him.
Business remained flat. But that didn’t stop Jason from joining Bob’s church. He bought a new Camry to attend Sunday services, an expenditure that shortened our commute and allowed me more time to act busy. Meanwhile, Jason and Bob played golf and ran in Westport’s 5Ks in which Jason came close enough for fun without ever beating Bob. I interviewed elsewhere whenever possible. One corporate position looked definite until I arrived to sign the contract—and learned that hiring me was an ousted executive’s parting gesture. The day after my son was born, I returned to work. And in that brief interval—Bob decided to sell his home. Jason explained that Bob planned to move to LA where he knew people. “People he’s got real dirt on.” Friday afternoon Bob drove me to a strip club. I braced for bad news, which it was, just not what I expected. “Fire Jason.” Mouth full of bile, I knocked on Jason’s cubicle frame, indicating we go to a meeting room. I flicked on the lights and Jason half sat, leaped to his feet, and held up his hands. “No, don’t. Don’t do it.” “Bob said.” “But I can keep my office till I get something else.” “You gotta leave now, Bob said.” Jason sank against the closed door, head flopping sideways. “Traitor.”
The Awkward Brunch by Stella
Concentration is a wonderful thing. Too bad I don’t have enough of it. You’ll understand why in a minute. Recently I had a conversation with another friend who writes and we got onto the subject of influence – the process itself – the analyses, the imitations, the parodies, ultimately ending in absorption. Naturally name-dropping followed – who, when, how, why. My list wasn’t difficult to make: Jane Austen, Edith Wharton, Virginia Woolf, Harper Lee, Billy Wilder, Orson Welles, Howard Hawks, and Woody Allen. That accounted for the who, but the when, how, and why were all much fuzzier in my memory. Ah, I thought, excellent. I’ll do a healthy cycle of introspection and pinpoint what I owe to each. This is where the lack of concentration came in. What happened was, instead of mapping out something insightful about the nature of influence, what I ended up doing was contemplating what it would be like giving the eight of them brunch. Seriously. Oh sure, it sounds like a real easy job. Set a date and send out the invitations. But there’s so much more to it than that, and I’m not just talking about the menu. The seating plans alone could drive you crazy. Including me, there would be nine of us and nine is an awkward number to seat. On top of that I decided a round table would work better than a rectangle – no one gets precedence that way, although you still have to figure out where to put everyone.
The half-and-half, half, as in boys on one side, girls on the other, also has its merit. Alphabetical is always an option, but it lacks imagination. It’s like letting the dictionary do the heavyheavy lifting.
The boy-girl-boy-girl girl scheme is perfectly respectable.
To make matters even more interesting, I wondered what it would be like to invite eight fictional characters in place of their creators. To be fair, I invited one female and one male character per actual person, which doubled the number of guests to eighteen eighte and which
made it necessary to have two tables. Yes, I know I separated the characters in terms of gender, but I had to narrow down the seating choices at least a little bit. Besides, I would have had to make up more seating charts and you simply have to limit the nonsense somewhere.
As for the ladies:
It seemed like a good idea to keep Charlie Kane away from Newland Archer (they’d only quarrel about society issues) though ough I wonder whether seating him next to Walter Burns won’t be dangerous. They’re both newspaper men, it’s true, but you can’t trust Walter not to shoot his mouth off. Although come to think of it, putting Alvy Singer on Kane’s other side could be equally explosive. Peter Walsh might feel intimidated sitting so close to gentlemen like Archer and Fitzwilliam Darcy, but he should feel comfortable with Joe Gillis sitting to his right. Atticus Finch will do fine no matter where he’s sitting, god bless him.
It was a real dilemma whether to invite Clarissa Dalloway or Mrs. Ramsay, but poor Clarissa is always throwing parties – she’d probably enjoy being a guest for a change, and Mrs. Ramsay probably wouldn’t be able to leave the kids anyway. y. I put Scout between Mary Kane and Hildy Johnson even though I thought she’d like Sugar Kane the best, but I thought it would be interesting to put Sugar next to Helen Sinclair since they’re both in show business. (Since I’m sure you’re wondering – I didn’t n’t invite Annie Hall because I figured she’d be too stoned and you have to remember there’s a minor at the table.) No need to worry about Elizabeth or Ellen Olenska – they both enjoy diversity. You just have to hope that Ellen won’t keep everyone waiting; she likes being the center of attention. I can’t even begin to imagine the conversation at any of these tables. I also couldn’t figure out where the heck to seat myself in all this, but honestly – if such a brunch could actually occur, I’d probably freak out and not show up. Although, theoretically I might attend if either of the culturally referential brunches were a possibility. At any rate, I’d still pay for the meal. I at least owe them that. Background photo: John Goodridge
Telescopes by Ian Smith
The night sky was clear and I was sure I’d be able to see everything through my brand new telescope straight out of the box—the craters on the moon, Saturn’s rings, every detail. I assembled the parts in my bedroom and started by training the telescope on a distant house.
It wasn’t easy scanning up and down and I could only locate a fuzzy wall. Then I clapped eyes on a man looking at me. He smiled and waved both arms as though he was trying to attract the attention of a passing airliner.
I thought nothing of it and he disappeared from view. I pointed my new telescope in the direction of the moon. I kept seeing the moon pass back and forth but I couldn’t lock onto it. Every time I tightened the thumbscrew the view changed and I was left staring into empty space.
Then there was a knock at the door. It was late so I ran downstairs and flung the door open as though sheer bravado might make a burglar think twice about bashing my head in. “What?” I snapped. “Just checking up,” said the man I’d seen through the telescope. “No, look, I’m terribly sorry,” I said, my hands outstretched. “I was only—” “I’m just checking up,” he interrupted. “Is it a Celestron Nexstar? Looks like a Celestron Nexstar 130 SLT with fully computerised mount to me.” “I really don’t know,” I said. “Don’t know!” he said. “Well I’d better come in and ‘ave a proper look.” He walked straight past me, galumphing upstairs taking several steps at a time, his huge shoes raking each riser. I closed the front door and followed him warily. He went into my bedroom and thumped down on my bed occupying all of it. He looked through my telescope, his fingers working overtime. “As I thought,” he said. “The Celestron Nexstar 130.” “I’m sorry,” I said. “This is my bedroom and I—” But he was engrossed in the telescope. “You’re ‘aving a spot of bother,” he interrupted. “Because the Starfinder Pointerscope isn’t calibrated correctly, ey?” “Well, actually—” His fingers were a blur, “Geoffrey’s the name,” he said. “Geoffrey Halibut, as in the fish. Pleased to meet you. And you are— ” “Look,” I said. “It is rather late and—” But Geoffrey suddenly went rigid, the bed springs cracking beneath him, “Oooh, what a beauty!” he exclaimed. “The Corona Borealis.” “I only wanted to see the moon,” I said pitifully. “Before having an early night.” “Oh aye,” said Geoffrey. “But you can see the moon through binoculars. In total there are eightyeight constellations. You want to ‘ave a look, ey?”
But before I could answer, Geoffrey put his finger to his lips,"Shhhhhhhuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu uuuuussssssssshhh!” he said. “I’m sorry?” “Shhhhhhhuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu uuuuussssssssshhh!” I stood by the bedroom door. “Now look, Geoffrey,” I said pointing down the stairs. “It is very late and this is my bedroom and I—” “Shhhhhhhuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu uuuuussssssssshhh!” he said putting his hand to his ear. “Can you hear it?” He pressed the side of his head above his ear as though he had a persistent headache. Then he shook his head violently from side to side as though he was trying to remove water after swimming. “Now look,” I said. “The shushing,” said Geoffrey. “Drives you mad, ey?” I took a deep breath and sat down on the corner of the bed not occupied by Geoffrey. “Geoffrey?” I asked putting my hands together. “Have you considered seeing a doctor?” “Seeing a doctor?” he replied shuffling towards me. “I ‘ave a fixed routine you know. How can I see a doctor?” “Please,” I said putting my head in my hands. “I just wanted an early night.” “Don’t mind me,” he said thumping the bed. “Lie down here if you want to.” “No,” I said. “I don’t want to.” “Off you go,” he insisted. “Lie here and watch me search the heavens.” “No it’s okay thank you,” I said. “I’ll sit here.” “Right you are.” Geoffrey unscrewed a tiny lens, blew on it and replaced it. He loosened the locking arm and turned the handle gently. Each movement was coordinated with his breathing so he wouldn’t disturb the viewfinder. Geoffrey’s precise movements rocked the bed gently and I could hear my wrist watch ticking. Occasionally, he uttered a whispered, “Great stuff!” “I’ll be in the spare room,” I said standing. “If you need anything.”
“Just one thing,” said Geoffrey. “Be a gem and switch the light off. Better in the dark, you see.” I put out the bedroom light, crossed the landing and climbed into the spare room bed. I lay awake listening. Every now and then there was a crack of bed springs as Geoffrey discovered yet another distant constellation. Next day, I was woken by Geoffrey holding a cup of black coffee in front of me, “Couldn’t find a tea-bag,” he said. “And someone not a million miles away left the milk out so I made coffee.” “Well thank you, Geoffrey,” I said scrambling to sit up. Geoffrey plonked onto the edge of the bed. “Found five constellations,” he said. “Your Celestron Nexstar beats my old thing. Tonight I’m going to find the Sextans Triangulam Australis, ey?” "Are you?" I said wearily. I took a sip of coffee and looked at Geoffrey. His hands were shaking. I drained the coffee cup and handed the empty cup back to Geoffrey. “Well thank you for the coffee, Geoffrey,” I said. “But I need to get to work now.” Geoffrey jumped up. The coffee cup landed on the floor. He flipped his head from side to side, “Stay here!” he shouted. “Don’t go!” I watched the dregs of coffee soak into the carpet, “Geoffrey,” I said looking up at him. “I really must get on.” I pulled the duvet off, stood up and stretched. Geoffrey stepped back. I pushed past him and walked across the landing into the bathroom. I closed the door and climbed into the shower pulling the curtain round. The water drummed my head and I leaned against the tiles wondering what I was going to do about Geoffrey. After all he was quite a big man. I switched off the shower and climbed out. I stood on a bath towel and saw myself in the mirror naked in the steam. “I can still hear it,” said Geoffrey. “D’you mind?” I shouted grabbing a towel and wrapping it round myself. “For Christ—Look, I need a few minutes here.” “Sorry,” he said.
I could hear the rush hour traffic, but that wasn’t what Geoffrey was hearing. He was crouching against the radiator, his knees under his chin, his hands over his ears. “Look," I said. "I have an idea.” I turned the shower full on and manoeuvred Geoffrey to the edge of the bath. “Careful,” said Geoffrey. “Hang about.” I held Geoffrey’s head under the shower, turning it so the warm water soaked into his ears, as though it might wash away the shushing noise. I felt the soft hairs on the back of his flabby neck. I switched off the shower, sat Geoffrey upright and towel dried his wet hair. “Well?” I said. Geoffrey opened his eyes and spat out a stream of water, “Shushhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!” There was no hope. I closed everything off and left Geoffrey dripping on the bathroom floor. I pushed a deodorant stick under my arms and dressed. But the doorbell rang. I gave up any idea of being early for work and ran downstairs pulling open the front door. “Hello,” said a woman. “And how are we today?” “Late,” I snapped buttoning my cuffs. “Good," she said. "I was wondering whether you could help me. I’m asking all residents in the area if they’ve seen a man what’s calling himself a Mr. Geoffrey Halibut?” She tried to look over my shoulder. I folded my arms making myself bigger in the doorway. “And?” “And I’m his mother,” she said. “And I want to speak to the little bleeder. Not right in the ‘ead you see.” “Well, I’m terribly sorry, Mrs Halibut—” “I’m not an ‘Alibut,” she growled tapping her head. “He makes up these names. ‘Alibut, Ostrich, Anchovy. You wanna watch it, mister. He’s deranged in the ‘ead.” “Well, thank you,” I said trying to close the door. “I’ll keep an eye out for Mr. Ostrich, or Mr. Anchovy.” “Make sure you do that, mister.” “Thank you. I will.”
I shut the door and went back upstairs. I unwound the towel on Geoffrey’s head. His hair was flat and shiny like seaweed abandoned by the tide. “I have an appointment,” he said looking up at me. “With Dr Grappa.” Dr Grappa’s receptionist was talking on the phone at the back of reception when we arrived. She saw us and propelled her chair towards a computer. “D’you have an appointment?” she asked shaking the computer from its slumber. “It’s about Geoffrey,” I said. “Geoffrey who?” “Halibut,” said Geoffrey. “Geoffrey Halibut.” “An ‘Alibut?” she snapped slamming the mouse down. “Take a seat would yer.” Dr Grappa was jabbing and clicking a computer mouse when we entered, his mouth slightly open as though he was sucking the information off the screen. “Take a seat,” said Dr Grappa. We sat down. “I keep ‘earing this noise all the time,” said Geoffrey. “A rushing sort of shushing noise and—” The doctor held up a finger to silence Geoffrey and then did a little Cossack dance to wheel his chair over, “Look at my finger please,” said the doctor putting his finger in Geoffrey’s face. Geoffrey stared at the doctor’s finger. The doctor looked into Geoffrey’s eyes and then catapulted himself back to the computer. He typed with his mouth open like a goldfish. “Good,” said Dr Grappa. “Now, do you have a problem staggering or leaning to one side?” Geoffrey blinked, “Do I?” he replied beaming. The doctor looked up and smiled, “Maybe we can try something different,” he said. “I’m all ears,” said Geoffrey. “Please stand heel to toe,” said the doctor. “With one foot in front of the other.” Geoffrey stood in place as instructed, “Right you are,” he said throwing his arms out like a tightrope walker.
“Now keep walking,” said the doctor. “One foot in front of the other, heel to toe, eyes straight ahead.” Geoffrey approached the wall with his arms outstretched. “Concentrate please,” said the doctor. “And look up for me. That’s good. Now step in place if you would.” Geoffrey stepped in place like a toy soldier, not an easy task for a big man. I wished the doctor would stop the test before Geoffrey fell over, but Geoffrey kept marching. “Keep going,” said the doctor checking his watch. Geoffrey nodded and continued marching on the spot, “Aye,” he said. “Hard work this is.” “Knees higher,” said the doctor. “Left, right, left, right!” Geoffrey drew in his stomach and pushed out his chest. “Good,” said the doctor. “Swing those arms. Left, right, left, right!” Geoffrey did what the doctor asked, his arms lifting higher, his expression growing more serious with each step as though he was in my bedroom travelling through space, ticking off each constellation with a huge jerk of his body, driving himself to some distant place. Sweat formed on his reddening cheeks and his pale lips smacked together. A noise in his head no one else could hear sizzled and cracked. Dr Grappa announced there was no cure. He advised Geoffrey to learn to "step outside himself, outside of the noise". Geoffrey chose not to return to his mother that night and stayed in the dark recesses of my bedroom, gazing out through my telescope while I lay on the spare bed staring at the ceiling and twitching violently as I drifted into sleep thinking of distant constellations.
about the author Ian Smith has an MA in Creative Writing, Goldsmiths, University of London. His writing credits are vast and varied, including poetry and two plays. Photo Credit: computerhotline at Flickr.
Getting Over Me by Nick Weldon
Having been writing novels on and off for over twenty years, I celebrate today the fact that I've finally managed to finish one. With this success comes insight into failure, which I now share with you. Perhaps it will save you time. I've never found writing difficult. I seized at an early age the first principles of the art, and received strict training in the details of the craft from my mother, the writer Fay Weldon. As I progressed through school, sentences once long, clumsy and saturated with vague and emotive adjectives became lean, precise and finely balanced. My teachers, puzzled and envious, said I was cheating. At University my Tutor in Philosophy sighed as he awarded me my First. "You don't know much more than them", he said. "But you can write". But I chose jazz as a profession, over writing, and happily or otherwise improvised my way through my twenties, thirties and forties at the piano. The occasional song or poem popped up, and I once managed to get a Radio Play 'Laura-Mae and the Olivardies' past the committees of Radio Four and out onto air. By some miracle. But the novels I kept starting kept stopping. Twenty, thirty, sometimes forty thousand words, all going well, then suddenly a dead end, or rather, a sheer drop and then beyond, the afterimage of the ending I had so meticulously planned, fading away into the horizon. "Mum", I whinged, "I'm stuck". "No you're not", she replied. "You're finished. Wait for the next one". So helpful. What was I waiting for? What needed to change for my
writing energy to complete itself in a novel? Fay was diffident on questions of technique."Start writing", she would say, "and carry on until you stop". But she once confided that she would never have been able to find her own novel form but for her intensive spells in Freudian analysis. "I could see my characters", she said. "But I couldn't get to them. I had to get past myself". Her words now resonated uncomfortably with me. Perhaps the change I sought was in the realm of emotion rather than of technique. It turned out to be in both. There were several reasons why I hadn't gone into analysis, or any other form of therapy. Firstly, the emotional confusion I felt wasn't severe enough to interfere with my day to day interaction with the outside world, even if it spavined my artistic progress. Secondly, I no longer trusted psychoanalysis, since it was itself in turmoil, having being submerged in a tide of gooey amateurs. Thirdly, I was already working hard on my own to
illuminate my conscious and unconscious motives, not least at the piano, where I found, over hours of improvising, sounds that seemed to reach down into the cavernous depths of my inner self, and melodies that were in one sense maps of my mind. Then I hit fifty, and many things changed. I was hit by a wall of grief
about my father, who had died ten years before; I had what people often call a breakdown. (How strange are our ideas about mental health. The opportunity, even out of necessity, to work through the confusion and conflict of childhood and emerge as a balanced and positive adult is surely not a
breakdown, but a breakthrough!) Then, gradually, I began to find less touch at the piano and to fall in love with another instrument, the double bass. Also, perhaps because of the real emotional work I had recently had to do, I was finding the act of improvising less interesting, and also less necessary. I joined an orchestra, becoming fascinated by the long, complex forms of the symphonic repertoire. It was music, but not as I knew it; my own sound was right down in the mix, and though itself essential in the music, could only succeed if other, higher voices were allowed full expression. Jazz musicians are obsessed with their own voice; this is surely why the jazz novel is so scarce. As I learned to understand the interplay of many voices in orchestral writing, and the subtle ways in which they combine into a single narrative, I was, unknowingly, getting past myself, and learning to write a novel. It finally happened last year, quite by accident, while I was in the
fever of a bad flu, and writing only because I was too ill to sleep. But there was something else in between that I must mention. The year before, I sat down to write a brief biog for a web page, and didn't stop for three months. In the resulting memoir ('Joanna', still in manuscript) I set down as much of my life as I chose to remember, and in so doing rid myself of all the useless scripts I had accumulated in my mind, of all the monomaniac clutter I had generated in my constant retelling to myself of the story of my life. What a beautiful moment this was! Now, as I raised my eyes up out of my own boots, there was space again in front of me, but it was not as before, a gulf of ego, but just clean, fresh, open air, filled with interesting new scents and breezes, new ideas, new places, new feelings, new people. Finally I was over me, and able to envisage someone else. So, last year, I started to write, without even intending to, and, just as I had been advised, went on until I stopped, and this is how I came to finish my first novel. Nick Weldon was born in Cambridge, England in 1954 and is the son of writer Fay Weldon and folk singer and actor Colyn Davies. He was introduced to jazz by his stepfather Ron Weldon. Nick studied at Keele University, where while honing his blues licks, he received a First Class Degree in French and Philosophy. His first novel, Idristan, was published in February 2009. Photo credit: Ben Smith www.nickweldon.com
Crazy Women by Kathleen
When Edward and his family finally arrived, the receptionist said Mrs. Nesbitt would receive them in an hour. As always, the family waited at the McDonald’s across the highway. The nursing staff refused to prepare residents before their guests arrived, because getting the elderly patients cleaned up, dressed, coiffed, and settled involved strenuous maneuvering. And often their visitors failed to show up. Inside the grimy franchise across the highway, Edward’s wife Amy conceded that McDonald’s coffee wasn’t bad. Grant and Diana, who were approaching their teens, hooted. “Really, Mom? You think it’s safe to drink coffee here?” She laughed. “I suppose I was prejudiced against it.” Edward, however, imbibed nothing. He acted disinterested unless someone suggested his grandmother was slipping into dementia. Or if the thought occurred to him unbidden. “Grandma never misses a trick. Her mind is sharper than ever.” Amy signaled her children—do not contradict him or you’ll be sorry. After Edward phoned the facility and learned Victoria was ready, the family hurried through the hallways, averting their eyes from the communal rooms, where
contorted bodies were strapped into padded furniture. Reaching Victoria’s dismal, sick-smelling room seemed like an oasis. “So lovely to see you!” Amy kissed Victoria’s papery cheek and gestured that her children do likewise. Despite trouble speaking or swallowing, Victoria wanted to give little Diana a quart of vodka, hidden behind a curtain. “Open it now, honey, because somewhere it’s cocktail hour.” “Yes, but not for nine years in Diana’s case,” Edward yelled into his grandmother’s ear. Grant elbowed his sister and whispered. “Sharp as a tack.” Before long, Amy half-carried, half-dragged Victoria to the minuscule bathroom. Victoria wasn’t heavy, just stiff as stone, crying and moaning whenever Amy moved her. Adult diapers filled the bathroom shelves but Victoria insisted the nurses were joking. Nonetheless she cringed with apologies as Amy cleaned her. “Hush, this is nothing,” Amy said, “compared to when the kids were babies.” Mission half-accomplished, Amy heaved Victoria, who moaned and groaned pitilessly all the way back to her recliner. Hands flailing, she snatched at the tissue Amy offered and spit into it. From next door a woman screamed, “Save me! Someone! Get me out of here!” A nurse appeared. “Sorry about the crazy woman next door. Just don’t listen to her.” “Save me!” the woman yelled. “Get me out of here!” “Victoria,” Amy said, “this is horrible. Please, come home with us.” “Don’t be stupid,” Victoria said. “You can’t mean it.” “Amy, have you lost your mind?” Edward demanded. “Victoria needs expert care.” The crazy woman continued screaming. “I’m ready to save you, Grandma. The lady next door does not sound crazy to me. If I woke up her body? In her bed here? I’d be screaming, too.” “That day will dawn,” Edward said. And Victoria added: “He’s right, my dear. You’re next.”
Interview with Katie Fforde
Interview with Yasutaka Tsutsui
Next monthâ€™s issue out: 3rd July