Mike Recommends: The Swap

COMPETITION: Win a copy of this book. See details after the review.


"You had nothing to run away from, you see, in your past there was nothing to hide from so you stayed where you were: reading comics and doing swaps and listening to pop music."


















The Swap is Brit Pop literature: alternative, loud and fun. It reads like a farce that is highly entertaining and easy to read.

Harvey Briscow, a comic shop owner, returns to a school reunion in Cornwall in an attempt to track down a copy of Superman 1 that he swapped as a kid. In doing so he stumbles into murder, mystery and love ...

"Mmm." She nodded and smiled again and this time the emeralds went soft and turned into forest pools like the ones in Swamp Thing."

Debut author, Antony Moore's love of comics shines through his writing, as in the quote above, and his strength lies in building up characters that are believable despite the cartoon edges he gives to their actions.

One of my favourite scenes is with Briscow on the phone to his Mother.

"It was his mother, which caused Harvey a certain degree of outrage: he had rung her yesterday, done his duty for the week."

and

"-his mother would come on the line and in her little tiny voice, the one that he didn't recognise, the one she saved for other people, would say "Hello", as if she had never spoken on the telephone before and she might be punished for it."

Here as in other places, Moore's humour comes from mirroring back to us in a heightened way the mundane of the real world that surrounds us all.

The Swap isn't a window into a different culture like Khaled Hosseini, or one that gives profound insights into human nature like Mark Haddon, neither is it as bizarre and clever as Kurt Vonnegut, but it is enjoyable and likable:

the sort of book to pack in your suitcase for a light read on some sun washed beach.
Somewhere like Cornwall even ...
on the rare occasions when it's not raining.

Antony Moore was born in Cornwall and now lives in London.

Read a great article by Antony Moore in The Times, called Letting go of your first novel is so very hard to do.







COMPETITION: Win a copy of The Swap.

Leave a comment on site about what your favourite comic was as a kid and why.
Best comment wins!

Closing date 09th November.

Prize courtesy of Amazon.co.uk who sent me a second book in error and have agreed that one of you lucky readers can have it as a prize.


Next Month: Salmon Fishing in the Yemen by Paul Torday.

Half-Time Scores















Half-Time scores in:

Aussie Cynic
...............1...........Rest of the World......0

Go!Smelltheflowers.... 2...........Rest of the World......0

Flame Books ....... ......0 ...........Mike French.............o

TheMightyErudite....
. 0 ...........Mike French............0


Match Analysis :

Aussie Match:

Aussie Cynic played well, passed a blinder to Mike French who went on to score with a Bloggers with Integrity Award.

Flowers Match:

Go! Smell the Flowers played their new line up, with Aussie Cynic scoring in the first minute from a run down the centre, followed by a header by Mike French just before the half-time whistle.

Jim & Em in goal saved Mike dying from embarrassment by punching away an own goal off Mike's left foot.

Other new stars RYK played a good defensive game with some entertaining footwork and TaylorBlue had to be treated after a tackle that left her staring at the sky whilst Ange looked on from the bench anxiously.

Members of the Go! Fan club, dubaidave, Gary, Birdget Jones & AngryFromEllesmerePort stormed the pitch demanding to be included in the squad.

Spokesman Gary said, " To be honest they played like a bunch of girls, my gran could have done better."

Flame Match:

Flame books, saved two attempts by Mike on goal. Each time the ball getting lost in the crowd. Club owner Sean Wood said he, "Enjoyed the game."

Erudite Match:

A goal against The Mighty Erudite was disallowed when the linesman ruled offside. Manager Juli Klass said,when asked if the rumours of a transfer for Mike to her team were true:

"Mike is a very gifted player - I absolutely loved the first two goals attempts but then got a little lost along the way with the third attempt. "

Half-time oranges anyone?

Mike

Rats, Mice and Men.

I love a good story. I love good characters even better. Those with heart and soul. Pixar and Brad Bird know how to focus on both. Ratatouille is scripted well and is a charming film which I left the cinema feeling proud to be French. (Before I reminded myself that I am in fact English.)

That's why I loved reading John Steinbeck's book Of Mice and Men as a kid. It had characters you cared about. They had heart and soul; you believed, you cared, you cried.

Lenny in Of Mice & Men likes dead mice as they are soft.
Linguini in Ratatouille likes a rat as it helps him cook.


But the difference?

In Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men, Lenny & George dream of a better life. Steinbeck doesn't deliver it to them.

In Ratatouille the rodent is soft but alive, as is the message of the script. Brad Bird delivers the dream.

Which is closer to life?

Both.




Most of the time we get the Steinbeck conclusion, the hope is allusive, life smashes our dreams in painful blows.

But just occasionally we get the Ratatouille. The hope, the dream delivers.

I think that's why adults like films like Ratatouille, we know that the world is cast as a Steinbeck landscape, but the child in us knows there is always the hope of a happy ending.

We need both in literature. I dislike the demand for a happy ending as much as I hate the insistence that a real, gritty, literary book should have an end note of despair.

A kid's film with a rat compared to a classic literary giant like Of Mice and Men?

Stranger things are in my head!
Maybe I'll show you sometime.

What do you think: Is there such a thing as a happy ending in the real world?

Mike

Coming soon to a Blog near You

So what's coming up before the end of the year on The View From Here?

Check out the vid:


Mike

Writing Tips Unleashed















Photo Credit: Agorilla

Writing Tips & COMPETITION TIME

There are plenty of great writing tips that are out there to help improve your writing.
But could they go further? Could these pearls of wisdom help with life outside of the page?

Well ...

Writing Tip: Show not tell

Understood by IKEA
Not understood by History Teachers

Writing Tip: Omit needless words

Understood by Monks
Not understood by Estate Agents, lawyers, people at dinner parties

Writing Tip: Don't use cliches

Understood by babies
Not understood by your Boss

Writing Tip: Don't keep switching point of view (POV)

Understood by Cows
Not understood by Politicians

Writing Tip: Connect with people's emotions

Understood by school dinner ladies ( Yuck ! )
Not understood by automated answer machines: Press 1 if you hate me, traffic wardens

Writing Tip: Less is More

Understood by Bonsai lovers
Not understood by your tax demand, your children at Xmas

Writing Tip: Keep the tension and pace going

Understood by Formula 1
Not understood by Post Office queues

Writing Tip: Do not use dialect unless your ear is good

Understood by impressionists
Not understood by George Smith at eleven-o-clock Friday Night at the Fox & Hound.

COMPETITION TIME :

There has got to be more ! Leave a comment in the style above and add your own to the list. Best one wins a copy of both books below, which are books that I would recommend to any writer learning their trade.



The Elements of Style by William Strunk & E.B. White
(Read an extract here.)

On Writing by Stephen King


Good luck. Competition closes on the 31st October.

Mike

Mike Interviews: Paul Burman


Mike Interviews



This is the first of I hope a series of author interviews. Kicking it off is author Paul Burman. Paul's first book is due out next March from Paperbooks and is called The Snowing and Greening of Thomas Passmore.


Tell me a bit about yourself

Born in Duston, Northamptonshire, 1957. Went to Kingston Poly to read Literature, prior to licking stamps in the Post Office for three years. Attended University of Wales in Cardiff to acquire teaching accreditation, and consequently survived teaching in Swindon for six years. Emigrated to Australia at age of 32, with wife and two children, after Margaret Thatcher was returned for a third term of office. Lived at six different addresses in South Australia and Victoria in our first six months, but settled in Port Fairy, where we’ve lived for seventeen years. Currently Head of English at a large state school in Warrnambool. Will have to emigrate to the moon later this year if John Howard is elected Prime Minister yet again.

What’s your ideal night out or in?

The ideal night involves not having to bring any work home (no correction, no reports) and having the time and energy to write or read and go for a walk along the beach, and sometimes to watch a film. If it’s the weekend, I particularly enjoying sharing the cooking of a meal with my wife and having friends round, so we can spend the evening eating, drinking, chatting, being silly and laughing.

What’s your favourite book?

Way too many to mention here and the list is always growing, but I’m a big fan of Raymond Carver’s short stories and of Haruki Murakami’s narrative style, and of Tim Winton’s novels, and, and ... and I have to stop there because if I began mentioning individual titles (Dirt Music, The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, Will You Please Be Quiet, Please ...) the list would go on and on. Once started, I couldn’t stop. And, of course, then I’d have to distinguish between those books that have had an impact on me for reasons I can’t easily identify and those books which I admire as technical masterpieces (Of Mice and Men, Slaughterhouse 5, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time ...) and---oops, there I go. Stop!

When did you start writing?

I remember trying to write a film script when I was 6, and can’t recall ever losing my interest in writing since then. Of course, there have been other things I’ve wanted to do along the way (I had it mind to be a stagecoach robber when I was 7), but I was certainly plugging away at short story and poetry competitions as a teenager, and writing the beginnings of numerous novels (I used to be one of those annoying kids who wrote to authors asking for advice with my latest story). I studied Lit. at Kingston because Creative Writing courses hadn’t been invented, although I had looked into getting jobs at Blackwells and Foyles when I left school so that I could earn a living amongst books and spend all my spare time writing. When I was at Kingston Poly, I had a brief opportunity to be part of a group who worked with the playwright Olwen Wymark, and this was great fun, but I probably didn’t start writing with any clear sense of commitment and direction until I was in my early twenties. Haven’t stopped since. I’m an addict.

How did you get your first commission/agent?

Had one near-miss with an agent and almost got burned once. The first occurred just before I emigrated, when the agent felt confident enough about an MS to take it to the Frankfurt Book Fair---how excited I was---but came back from that Book Fair having decided to stop representing fiction and to pursue non-fiction instead. Ouch! The second occurred a few years back when I almost got suckered by an American “agency” who took me through a number of stages in the build-up to representing me before asking me to pay for the process; the alarm bells rang and I found them exposed on the internet site Writer Beware as a con. So much for the disappointments.

Prior to obtaining my first book deal (PaperBooks accepting The Snowing and Greening of Thomas Passmore), I approached a number of agents in the UK and Australia, including a couple of agents who’d liked my last MS but ‘hadn’t felt confident about finding an appropriate publisher’ and who’d asked to see my next MS. With unusual speed, I received rejections from every one. Although a couple of glowing reader’s reports accompanied the rejections, it felt like I’d taken two large steps backward, particularly as it was clear that fewer and fewer publishers were willing to look at manuscripts unless they’d been submitted via an agent.

It was about this time that I read an article by Keirsten Clark at PaperBooks and decided that, having dispensed with agents, this would be the first publisher I’d approach. Two weeks later, I received an e-mail asking to see the remainder of the MS and---well, the book comes out in March 2008.

What is the book about?

Thomas Passmore wakes from a warm Australian beach to find himself at Heathrow Airport on a winter's morning. Burdened with an unshakable sense of déjà vu, it soon becomes apparent that something strange has happened to him and that he has to try and piece together the fragments of his life and learn to live fully in the present ... or remain a sleepwalker forever.

Haunted by his father’s suicide, his mother’s rejection and by vivid dreams of a figure from his past, his increasingly bizarre journey takes him through childhood, a self-destructive adolescence, and into a world where his struggle to live again is mapped against the struggle between winter and spring, night and day.

(I enjoy exploring that territory where the ordinary meets the extraordinary.)

It's an interesting title, how did you come up with it?

The literal response is that I came up with the title after researching that wonderful pagan deity the Green Man (good old Google). I played around with a thousand and one phrases until I arrived at one which I felt was lyrical enough and which encapsulated a key aspect of Thomas Passmore's story.

Beyond this, I'm wary of saying too much and spoiling (by explaining away) a turn of phrase that, I hope, excites curiosity. The safest answer would certainly be: Read the book and all will be revealed.

How does it feel now the book is approaching publication?

Nerve-wracking! I didn’t get a proper night’s sleep for about three weeks after Keirsten Clark at PaperBooks offered to take it on, worrying that she’d soon realise what a mistake she’d made and that she’d be looking for a way to politely back out (or would return from a Book Fair and decide to focus only on non-fiction). After all, five novels not only generate enough rejection slips to wallpaper a room but also a few buckets of self-doubt to paste the things up with.

Seven months later, although a little of the anxiety is still there, I’m using it much more positively to ensure my approach to editing is as thorough as possible and that The Snowing and Greening is exactly the way I want it to be ... and towards shaping the way I write generally.

Whilst I get excited by cover designs and seeing the book advertised on Amazon and at Blackwell Online, etc, and by anything good that happens for PaperBooks (see their website http://www.paperbooks.co.uk for recent successes with Borders’ Book Group Picks for Jon Haylett’s Cry of the Justice Bird and Jessica Gregson’s The Angel Makers), I suspect that I won’t fully believe that The Snowing and Greening is going to actually get published until I’ve got a copy in my hand and I can see it in a bookshop.

What advice would you give fellow writers?

I’m not sure that I feel qualified to give advice to fellow writers, but the five pieces of advice I’ve learned and most profited from are as follows:

Whilst making sure that the manuscript is as polished as possible, save enough money to send it to a reputable Manuscript Appraisal Agency, and be prepared to act on the advice they offer in return.
Aim to cut every draft by 25%.
Regard the deletion of words as an act of creativity, and always be prepared to take the sentence, paragraph or chapter that you’re proudest of and delete it if it doesn’t add significantly to the story.
Show, don’t tell.
Write because you enjoy writing and write what you would enjoy reading.

Thanks Paul!

Pre-order Paul's book at Amazon.

Check out Paul's blog at Paperbooks.


Mike Recommends: A Spot of Bother


"If only you could lift a lid on the top of your head
and say, 'Look.' "




















Families are dysfunctional. Most of the time things manage to hang together, but tug at them slightly and they start unraveling like wool from an old jumper.

Mark Haddon, in his sequel to The Curious Incident of the dog in the Night-Time, pulls at that thread by introducing a forthcoming marriage and a lesion on the hip of George Hall.

"He was dying of cancer. It was a horrible thought. But if he could just store it over there, in the 'Thoughts about Dying of Cancer' box, he might be OK."

It took me a while to get into the book, as Mark tells the story from the point of view of four of the family members, each taking their turns in their own stream of chapters; a little like Talking it Over by Julian Barnes.
Once I settled in though I thoroughly enjoyed it. It is also very funny:

"They could trace calls. At least they could in films. But in films you could make someone pass out by squeezing their shoulder."

"A couple of hours? Sarah wasn't very clued up about children and time measurement. Jacob was pretty much incapable of distinguishing between last week and the extinction of the dinosaurs."

George starts to go mad as Mark pulls at the lesion thread and as you read you do wonder how far Mark will go with it. George's greatest scenes happen in bathrooms and it is here that Mark reaches the brilliance of his first book. Because to be honest, good as this book is, it is not as good as The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time.

However ... wait before you stone me ... it does sit as a good companion to his first book.
Dog gave insight into the disintegrating world of a child with autism.
Spot gives you insight into the unraveling world of, well you or me, or the people living next door. You have been warned.

Are you getting older?
Do you use bathrooms?

If you answer yes to these, and I'm interested if you don't, then you could end up being like George.
It's no good holding on. If you have got to go.
You are in the bathroom now aren't you?
Okay carry on reading but be careful ...

So in Dog we see Christopher hiding from the world:

"So I climbed onto the middle shelf and I pulled one of the cases across like a door so that I was shut in, and it was dark and there was no one in there with me and I couldn't hear people talking so I felt much calmer and it was nice."

And in Spot we see George hiding from his family:

"He lay down and rolled into the shallow drainage ditch where the grass dipped before going under the fence. His coat was green. If he lay still they might not find him."

Can't wait to see what Mark comes up with next. Whose head is he going to flip open next?


An array of covers from the book
from the UK, USA and Germany.




Mark Haddon lives in Oxford. Visit his web site at www.markhaddon.com.
Read an interview with Mark on A Spot of Bother.
Read an extract from A Spot of Bother.




Next Month: The Swap by by Antony Moore.