In the Ditch

by Kathleen
“Multiple personalities.”

“The guy changed his mind, Jack. They haven’t done multiple personalities since you were born.”

“We’re watching history then. Actors probably miss doing multiple personalities; I would.”

Nikki popped open the front door, spilling groceries. “Why aren’t you guys riding bikes?”

Gathering loose fruit by the stairs, I pointed at Jeremy, her husband, the drug-hating pharmacist. Whereas, Nikki would let me get high, providing I did it in secret.

The year before our dad had killed himself and our mom in a head-on collision. The other driver was a guy my age, Andrew Somebody. He died, too, sneaking out at night without a learner’s permit. But he wasn’t drunk. No one ever said anything, but our dad was always drunk.

So at sixteen, I had to move in with my brother and Nikki. I went from St. Louis to Cow-town, Illinois; left varsity basketball, my friends, this girl Alex. Yet I did way better than Jeremy who screamed in his sleep, when he slept, which was never.

I helped Nikki put away the groceries and she shook a milk carton at me. “Make him go bike riding.”

“I tried.”

She stomped into the room, still holding the milk. Jeremy flicked the TV’s volume up to the top. Opening the back door, I smoked while they argued.

“What difference does it make, Nikki?”

“Difference isn’t the point.”

Something shattered and Nikki called me into the room. One of them had thrown the fern against the wall, smashing the planter. But Nikki had won.

Jeremy wanted to strap the bikes onto the car or else walk them till we reached the path. But I took off before he could stop me.

We turned onto Mattis Street, which even south of the shopping strip, was busy.

Riding barely behind me, Jeremy was yelling, which was insane.

Then the air changed, color, temperature, impossible to tell. Jeremy wasn’t yelling. I looked back, and where was he?

He’d ridden into the ditch. Squatting there, his bike flung ahead, his face turned red. I tore off his helmet, he looked so terrible. He tried to talk but no words came out.

Then I was crying. My skin bouncing around, snot bubbling under my nose. “Don’t die.”

Jeremy took off my helmet and hugged me without letting go. We trembled together in the weeds and he whispered, “We’re safe, Jack. We’re both safe.”

Week 3 Results of Hi Ho Books Away!

by The Lone Ranger

Two Caravans by Marina Lewycka

Return with me now to the thrilling day of last Friday ....

Drizzle. Caravan weather. I sit at my normal bench and adjust my mask. No sunshine to paint the wooden slats today. I pick up my hat and walk away leaving the book to its fate like an Indian left to die on wooden railway sleepers.

10 minutes later ...

A man in a yellow jacket picks up litter and circles the arena. He passes close to the bench.

21 minutes ...

The drizzle has stopped. A middle-aged man in a brown coat picks the book up. He looks at it then sets it down on the other side of the bench. He sits down. After a moment he reaches over and picks the book up again. He flicks through, then hurls the book back towards the far corner of the bench.

32 minutes ...

An old couple sit down right next to the book. Nothing. Another 5 minutes with them sat there.The book appears to be invisible. They get up, the old man adjusts his white baseball cap, and they wander off on their way.

53 minutes 22 seconds ...

An oldish grey haired woman picks up the book and walks of with it. She turns her head back to the bench as she heads towards the library. Two Caravans drop into her bag. She looks back again, climbs the steps and enters into the lobby.

Is she going to hand it in? I jump to my feet and whistle for Silver. She appears on the skyline and runs to me. Her mane flows in the wind. I pat her side, leap up and with a cry of "Hi Ho Silver Away!" gallup after the book nabber. ( Well actually I ran, but it sounds better with the horse.)

I enter the library and grab a book to hide behind as I sit down. I glance over the top of the spine. She is at the return counter. Will she? I get up and move closer. No. She walks towards me. My hand slips to my gun. She checks her bag, glances at me, then walks upstairs.

I return to Silver and slip her a sugar lump, happy that another book has flown.

Next week: We Are Now Beginning Our Descent by James Meek.

For last weeks account click here.

An Audience Full of Surprises

by Stella.

I was going to post about something else, but another thought occurred to me while checking my stats at Feedburner and I ended up writing this post instead (which also reminds me that in future I would like to post about attention spans or the lack thereof). According to my lovely assistant, Feedburner, or FeeB, as I call her when we’re alone and can talk without me looking like a lunatic, the days my blog gets the most traffic are those when I post haikus. To put it simply: I find this odd.

Not that I think only few people can appreciate haikus, on the contrary – I think haikus are very approachable as a poetic form. It’s just the feature of my blog which I assumed people wouldn’t get. Why? Well... They’re these strange little things that don’t make much sense. I mean, am I actually trying to be poetic? Why isn’t there punctuation? Why are there words but no syntax? Am I kidding or what? In the beginning I figured the haikus would be virtually ignored, but so far they’ve garnered the most replies.

It’s not the first time I’ve been surprised by a response. We’ve all written things which we were sure would be successful but barely resonated with anyone, only to write something else we were sure would fail and have it go over splendidly. The effort put into both kinds apparently has nothing to do with it. Part of the reason for this is, unavoidably, chance. Maybe you posted/submitted/published at a bad time – people were busy; they recently read about the same topic elsewhere, so your writing doesn’t have the same impact; the universe doesn’t like you; etc. (Don’t take the universe thing too hard – it doesn’t really like anyone.)

When writing, it’s so easy to slip into criticism like, “No one will want to read this. What am I bothering for?” Or, conversely, praise such as, “My, what brilliance! Everyone will love this.” Yet, no matter what you might think, someone else can think differently. It’s why I always try to remember, notwithstanding that crazy variable of chance, no matter how well you think you know an audience, they can still turn around and surprise you. The uncertainty of that can be unsettling, but it’s liberating as well. It means there’s hope for change, that just as your writing evolves, you can expect your audience to evolve as well – maybe not in the same direction, maybe not in your own time. But someday, whether in the near or distant future, you can still count on surprises.

Monday Editorial : May 26

It's bank holiday here in the UK today - which means rain of course!

O well , stuff the rain I'm looking forward to our James Meek interview coming soon. I finished his latest book We Are Now Beginning Our Descent last week and there will be a review of it to go alongside the interview. The verdict? You'll have to wait and see!

More on The View From Here this week:

The Lone Ranger has been out with the book, Two Carvans. This time he was involved in a high speed chase! His report will be in on wednesday.

A short fiction piece by our author Kathleen Maher, who has regularly brought us little gems in the form of under 500 word stand alone fiction. Together with her knack for adding an atmospheric image to her piece it's something I look forward to each week.
is featuring The View From Here for a month. If you want a classic from the past from the magazine, then you can find a 3-part interview with them here.

Have a great week. Hope the sun shows itself in your view of the world. And if you're starting to write your next bestseller then remember try not to open it, like this editorial, with a first line about the weather!

Don’t Look

by Kathleen
That June when Helen was thirteen a soft, bright sky domed the earth, covered by dazzling green lawns. A profusion of buttercups blossomed.

Helen loved her father so much it hurt. She attended six a.m. Mass with him and his law associate, Janet Collins, every morning.

And if he punished Helen, but never her sisters, Helen only loved him more. When she made a mistake, he smacked her hard. But he and Helen shared a daredevil nature, he said. So that Helen, like him, needed harsher discipline, unlike milder souls.

At eight p.m. Friday, the Transfiguration eighth-graders would attend their last dance before high school. So Helen dragged her friend Mollie home for lunch. She planned to grab her white dress and shiny blue shoes. After dinner, Mollie’s older sister would help them with their hair and make-up.

Helen’s mother was away, visiting relatives, and last night her father, who was working on a legal case requiring a marathon strategy session, had sent Helen and her two sisters to stay with the neighbors.

His car was gleaming in the driveway, along with another car. The house was locked, when ordinarily it never was.

Helen rang the doorbell. She leaned on it and tried the garage door, the basement door, and the back porch. Mollie wanted to buy their lunch in town. But Helen needed her dress-up clothes. Behind dense shrubbery, she opened the pantry window. They crash-landed among cereal boxes and canned soup.

“Dad, hey, Dad!”

Her parents’ bedroom door was half open. But from behind the door came a menacing vibration. The space between the hinges revealed naked Janet Collins behind the door. Through the hinges, Helen saw Janet’s arms pressing into her breasts. She saw Janet’s nipples and deep, linear navel.

Her father was pretending to talk on the phone. His feet were crossed on the disheveled bed and he adjusted a flannel robe he never wore.

Then Helen turned, pushing Mollie down the stairs.

In the village, Helen bought Mollie some French fries. She wasn’t going back to school.

Mollie said, “Meet me at three.”

Helen wandered around until the school bus was waiting in an alley.

Instead of preparing for the dance, Mollie left Helen alone in a bedroom until almost dark. Mollie’s mother entered, saying Helen’s father had stopped by with her good clothes. She could sleep over but he expected her home before noon.

The next morning Helen thanked Mollie and her mother and left. Wearing her school uniform, she drifted through the suburbs.

Finally, at a loss, she traipsed home. Her father ran up.

“I said, be here at noon.” But instead of punishing her, he fondled her ear.

The worst thing he did—though she wouldn’t think so for years—was to ask her directly, “Is anything bothering you, Helen?” And then he turned his head. “Something you don’t understand?”

“No, I understand. I totally understand.”

Week 2 Results of Hi Ho Books Away!

by The Lone Ranger

A Thousand Splendid Suns (or Three Thousand Splendid Seconds) by Khaled Hosseini

Return with me now to the thrilling day of Monday....

I return to the scene of last weeks crime. Sunshine plays across the bench, then winks out. I sit in the shadow and watch. A lady in a strange yellow picks up fallen leaves. Or is it litter?

I'm away. The book is down. I sit at a distance and watch.

20 minutes later....

This sun is weak. I am cold. I am the The Lone Ranger. I am splendid.

28 minutes ...

A man runs towards the bench. I tense. He is wearing a tracksuit. He exercises by hoisting his foot up onto the bench and rocking back and forth. On each thrust he flicks at the pages. He leaves. Does it count? I wish I had taken more notice of my mission. I decide it doesn't.

40 minutes ...

A fire engine mounts the pavement, sirens blasting and drives up towards the bench. Has Splendid Suns been mistaken for a bomb? It's set in Afghanistan - surely they can't be that paranoid? It drives past and stops at the library. Perhaps a return of an overdue book?

53 minutes ...

A woman picks up the book, flips and sets it down. ( She doesn't flip, the pages do.)
Flipping doesn't flipping count. Pick it up woman. I am cold. A man of the law walks past, I stare at the fellow ranger from behind my mask. I am the Lone Ranger. Stop making me plural. He leaves.

I hour 48 seconds ...

Yes I know - I can't believe I'm still sat here as well. Shut up and listen. ..

A young woman strolls by the bench and glances down. She walks on and then stops. Turning, she returns to the book. She's a professional I can see it in her stride. She snatches the book and strolls of with it under her arm towards the Town Hall. I watch her with a warm glow within as she steals my book.

Next week: Two Caravans.

Read week 1 result here.

Monday Editorial : May 19

Yesterday saw the very first e-mailing of the weekly version of the magazine. If you still haven't registered then sign up in the form in the right hand side-bar.

Through my letter-box today from Legend Press : Fire Horses by Mark Piggott - looking forward to reading it and doing an interview with Mark for the magazine.

And he's been out again. The Lone Ranger will bring us his account of week 2 in Hi Ho Books Away! Find out how he got on with A Thousand Splendid Suns.

Finally for this week : A NEW FEATURE ON THE MAGAZINE

Yep - can't stand still here : One of the things we want to encourage is a sense of community for authors and readers, so to help that along as well as commenting on the articles you can now send letters to the editor.

Hit the "Letters to the Editor" tab at the top of the page for details!

It's your chance to have your say, raise topics and generate your own discussions in the magazine.


Trips, traps, landmarks - part one

by Paul Burman

Sometimes I wonder why it is I’ve spent my whole life wanting---no, needing to be a writer. Why is it that anybody decides to follow a particular path? Any path. Is it nature or is it nurture?

I was six when I tried scribbling my first (and only) film script. It was about a soccer match that was somehow going to decide the fate of the planet, except it would be a comedy. A divine comedy! There’d be a team of Hells Angels on one side.

I can’t remember if I wrote more than four or five pages, but I do remember that the idea was inspired by three things:

  • a fleeting interest in soccer,
  • the screening of several Ealing Studios’ comedies on Sunday afternoon TV, which I thought were pretty funny,
  • a maroon, hard-cover notebook, which someone had given me for Christmas, and how those two hundred beautiful pages of clean, lined paper were begging for something special to be written in them.

But this early and incomplete creative effort, I suspect, is similar to something many of us do in childhood. We write plays, put on puppet shows for parents and uncles and aunties, enact roles through games, and tell one another stories as we drift towards sleep. There’s nothing unusual in this. So what is it, beyond this, that fires in us a desire to spend a lifetime crafting words, creating tales, aiming to capture an audience’s attention?

Is it because someone whose opinion we cherish praises an early effort? Does this sow some seed in our psyche to try and try again, in crave of praise and a readership? Or is it the absence of this that compels us to write and write again, craving any reaction whatsoever? And if we dismiss the attention-seeking argument, is it because we are genetically wired to tell stories and explore truths, in the same way that some are wired to take risks or to stretch their physical ability to run faster, jump higher, or to protect or to nurture others?

Nature or nurture, or a little bit of both?

If, when I was eight, I hadn’t won a parcel of fishing gear for my entry in a short story competition, would my interest for writing have waned in the same way my interest in soccer and fishing waned? After all, I wasn’t that hooked on literature at this age (it more or less amounted to reading Emil and the Detectives by Erich Kastner seven times, perhaps on the basis that depth of reading might equate with breadth of reading). And it didn’t trouble me that I won a book token for an Historical Society’s short story competition, with a piece about the Danes battling it out with the Angles, simply because mine was the only entry. Even this wasn’t enough to make me question where I was heading with an interest, which few other people seemed to share, in scribbling down stories.

What I’m saying, I suppose, is that there are landmarks in any journey we take. There are points at which we stop or are stopped, and obstacles we overleap. They begin to define us and our passions, as well as our pet-hates. Sometimes we carry on regardless, not really knowing why we need to carry on or how we started in the first place. All the same, it’s a useful thing to know, I think, why we chase the dreams we do, and what it is we hope to achieve in fulfilling them.

Grow Gigantic and Run

by Kathleen

Coming home with a migraine, Sam saw his daughter Rosalyn and Anna through the kitchen window। They traded tastes off wooden spoons like sisters, although Anna was his age.

They would want to know how he was feeling, including nuances that were beyond him. Having made it inside the living room, he resolved to maintain reticence.

In one corner of the living room light from the street streamed in, illuminating a horse from an antique carousel. Sam had always assumed it was a gift from one of his wife’s lovers. Last New Year’s Eve, sixteen-year-old Rosalyn had plopped a blonde wig on its head.

The kitchen lay past the horse through a swinging door. The sudden, sweet smell of brown rice almost brought him to his knees as he leaned against the door frame.

Through the hinges he saw Rosalyn holding a finger to her lips. Anna said, “I think it’s time, don’t you? Let’s ask today’s contestant to come on out and say hello. Sam Durkin, folks, a financial consultant from Westchester, New York. Sam?”

He had no choice. He was in pain but conscious.

“Let’s give him a hand,” Rosalyn said.

Seeing his face, Anna whispered. “Imitrex?”

He’d already taken two; he could take another after midnight. Anna turned off the lights and through the jig-sawing darkness, she gleamed. Through filters of pain, he kissed her goodnight, ecstatic as always at her touch. He found his daughter concerned in the background and kissed her goodnight, too.

Upstairs, he dreamed about being ten years old with Anna and watching a horse being born. They stood inside the hot, humid barn, charmed by a shaft of light turned substantial by motes of hay. Grandpa’s big, blonde horse, Lorna Doone, snorted and thrashed. They watched her belly shift backwards. She reared up and issued a noise like a scream. Their grandfather ran into the barn, into the stall, and held Lorna’s head down. More thrashing until he had to jump back from her bucking hindquarters. He stroked her side and the foal rippled through its mother’s body. Grandpa was pulling and yelling above the horse’s ferocious screams and kicks. So many legs working and then they heard a wet, wrenching sound.

The foal lay still inside a pillow of slime, which Grandpa ripped off. He cleaned the foal, a filly, rubbing it with hay. Lorne Doone had rolled onto her side.

The children, Sam and Anna, hugged each other as the newborn horse tried to stand—and did.

Shot through this half-conscious memory were haphazard sensations that harked back to Rosalyn’s birth. She had been bloody and squalling, not lifeless, not trapped in a thick sac of membrane.

But the recollections ran together: the violence of birth, the hugeness of a head, the spindliness of legs and how quickly we totter up, grow gigantic, and run.

Week 1 Results of Hi Ho Books Away!

by The Lone Ranger

Men in Space by Tom McCarthy

Early Monday morning. I'm without my Indian and Silver is tied to the crash barrier in the pay 'n' display carpark. I make my way.

Book goes down well: nice sun-lit bench, plenty of people. No sign of guns. Drinking saloon shut.

Man near a bus stop gets straight to his feet as I leave. Walks past me as I make my get-away to watch the bench from a safe vantage point. He heads for the book. I glance back. Man sits down. He is middle aged, dresses smart with jeans. No spurs. He picks Men in Space up and starts to read.

I look at the shadow of the town clock on the cobbles. The sun is low: by my calculations it took 56 seconds from me leaving till the book being picked up. Admire the guy; he walked straight past me, bold as brass. Didn't say a word as he headed for it.

So here's my receipt for leaving Silver in the carpark. Will add it to my expenses.

Next Week : A Thousand Splendid Suns.

Another exciting adventure from me, the Lone Ranger!

I'm trying to sleep here.

by Stella.

This post is about inspiration. Not what gives inspiration or how, but when. I know that sounds silly. “Now that’s a silly question.” You might say, or, “I’ll go watch videos on YouTube instead of reading this post.” Which would be a mistake. Not life-threatening, of course, but one of those I-Shouldn’t-Have-Left-the-Light-on-in-the-Hall mistakes. You see, I’ve noticed a pattern in my inspirational cycle. We all get ideas from many things at many times, it’s often surprising as to what and why, but I usually get ideas either when I’m supposed to be working on something that’s not my own fiction, or – and this is constant – when I’m trying to fall asleep.

I’m snuggled under the covers. I’m trying to clear my head. At last I start to drift off and-

“Hey, you got a minute, honey?” My inner-voice. (Actually, an inner-voice. I’ve got several. They take it in shifts; it’s more efficient that way.)
“Is it important?” I ask; weary.
“Of course it’s important. Do I bother you when it’s not?”
“I’m not answering that.”
“Come on, I have an idea.”
“So do I. It’s called sleeping.”
“You’ll be sorry when you wake up in the morning and I can’t remember it.”
“You’ll remember it. Your memory’s not so bad.”
“But I might forget. You know I do.”
“But I don’t want to get up and write it down. I’m comfy. And you know I’ll get caught up and it’ll be a half hour later and that means less sleep.”
“You’re getting cranky, you know.”
“Wordsmith’s prerogative.”
“Don’t sneer. It’s rude.”
“Come on, just write it down and I’ll shut up.”
“Alright, but this better be good. You haven’t always been so brilliant.”
“Okay, okay. Get a pen.”

Obviously I have some issues, but other than that, the point is that exactly when I try to shut off my brain, my imagination gets going. Not that this pre-sleep inspiration always produces gems. Some nights I’ve written down ideas only to throw them out the next morning. Yet the inspirational vibe is there, sometimes more so than when I’m in front of the computer screen actively trying to figure things out.

It does make sense that trying to clear my head before sleep would inadvertently help me focus on what’s making my head cluttered. Besides, you should respect an idea that comes knocking on your door, even if it’s at an inconvenient hour, because we all have those days when we wish they’d come knocking but don’t. Days which subsequently lead us to consider forsaking writing and taking up hobbies/professions that a) don’t involve using extended metaphors, and b) don’t make us regard inspiration superstitiously. Which would be a mistake. Not necessarily life-threatening, but of the I’m-Being-Nagged-on-the-Inside-by-Regret variety. And so it goes on. Sweet dreams, everyone.

Monday Editorial : May 12

I don't know about you, but so far I'm having great fun here. So what's coming up?

Next week we launch our free weekly e-mail version of the magazine. So if you prefer to sit down for twenty minutes and browse through the weeks articles over a coffee ( and Muffin? ) then this will be the format for you. Register in the right hand side-bar and we'll add you to the mailing list.

And an advance reading copy of booker shortlisted author Tibor Fischer's new novel Good to be God has arrived at The View from ALMA Books, so look out for a review on that in the magazine before it hits the shops in September.

And he's back! Yes our Lone Ranger ( see previous article ) has carried out his mission and left his first book Men in Space by Tom McCarthy in a secret public location. Once dropped his brief was to withdraw and time how long it took before someone started reading it or walked off with it!
He's pretty excited and will bring us his report and first result on Wednesday. The time will then be added to our score board in our quest to find the fasted book to be picked up. Think the Stig in Top Gear with our Lone Ranger being the Stig - O look see below and you'll see who I mean.


Hi Ho Books Away!

Starting next week ...

Hi Ho Books Away!

Running for 10 weeks our masked hero will conduct a daring experiment to find out the most popular book in his collection.

Each week our Lone Ranger will leave a book in the same secret location in a public area.

His mission?

To time how long it is before someone starts to read it or ... gasp ... takes the book Away!

He will then report back to us at The View and we will place the book in our table with the quickest times at the top of the chart.

So which book will top our chart after 10 weeks?

How many will the Lone Ranger loose?

Will he just get really bored?

"I'm up for this challenge," said the Lone Ranger to the magazine, "It will take all my covert skills to stay under cover, but I will be brave and deliver each week."

When asked how he would pass the time, our Lone Ranger said he would probably place the book near a cake shop and eat donuts as he waited.

Gosh! - Look in next week to see how Tom McCarthy's book Men in Space gets on.

Hi Ho books away!

Unguarded & Undiscovered

by Kathleen

My mom’s waiting in the glass-walled library because I asked her here. But now I’m embarrassed, ready to run and hide.

My mom’s not embarrassing, not at all. It’s me. Half way through my first semester at college, I wake up screaming. Meanwhile, my roommate cries all the time.

Last night I dreamed that surgery-gone-wrong had attached my organs outside my body. The lower intestine? Disgusting. I had to wind it up like a hose and duct tape it to my hip. I heard sniffling and scratching and woke up to find Monique crouched naked, surrounded by empty candy wrappers and gobbling up another Cadbury bar, cream oozing out.

Through the glass doors, I see my mom talking to Robert Peterson, who dresses like a banker. He also uses an unlit pipe for a prop. It’s impossible to fit in here. People prize their own superiority so much that the social atmosphere stinks of five thousand geniuses stacked on totem poles.

My mom has gotten Robert to laugh for real. I’ve only seen him fake-laugh. It’s getting dark and the rain hits in horizontal sheets. I better go in, before she makes Robert laugh again. She hurries over to hug me, not caring that my clothes are soaked.

Shit, did I really push my hand in her face? Like: “Halt!” She doesn’t care; she’s touching my shoulders and saying how much she loves me and I’m shrinking back, gritting my teeth. “Quit talking. People can hear.”

We stay at a “Bed and Breakfast,” meaning someone’s house, which creeps me out, but anything’s better than the dorm. Without my roommate weeping and eating, I sleep late. My mom’s already dressed and reading The New Yorker.

“They left out muffins and coffee for you.”

“I’ll eat later. Whoa! It really felt good to sleep.”

It’s stopped raining and the fog is chest high. I ask her if we can walk back. “Before I have to reconfigure myself into that capsule.”

She smiles her sympathetic smile. “That bad?”

It’s great to be outside. We trudge along hills swathed in fog—no distinct sun in the sky, just this thin, tight light. My mom says she’ll remember this, the trees dripping and sighing in the cold, fresh, highly condensed air.

“We could be walking back a hundred years,” she says, “or ahead.”

“We could end up anywhere.”

And then my mom says the perfect thing. She says, “What if we end up someplace we can only find in our minds? When we’re off guard.”

Wouldn’t that be sweet? My mom and I wandering off somewhere unguarded, and until then, undiscovered.

It's Not Easy Being a Novel in a Chick Lit Cover

Hearts & Minds

by Rosy Thornton

Review: Mike

St Radegund is a college in Cambridge that needs help. Money actually. Tons of it. And they have just appointed a former BBC executive, James Rycarte, to their Head of House. An appointment that breaks one hundred and sixty years of tradition in college that only accepts woman students.

Let's pop inside Rycarte's mind with a quote from the book:

Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain ...
"Her imagination has been captured by the idea of studying abroad - and what better place for her than here at St Radegund's?"
... and saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me.

Good eh?

And into this the author, Rosy Thornton, adds as if she were stirring in ingredients to her evening supper: Martha the Senior Tutor with her depressed daughter and crumbling marriage. And the Dean to the college, Darren, who the "Tigresses" have targeting for their "snog" initiation.

So is it any good?

Well in despite of the cover and title, yes. Surprisingly so. There is dry humour:

"What's the worst they can do to us?" asked one pragmatist. It was not a rhetorical question: she was reading Law.

And an insight into human behaviour that plays out against the formal setting.

And yet.

Yet ... some of the detail of the college politics could have been pruned back to allow the lives of Martha and Rycarte to take centre stage more. Even the Dean could probably go, especially as the book plays on Rycarte being a man in a woman only college.

It would have been better to just have stuck with Rycarte as the only man and Martha as the lead woman. When Rosy does she is brilliant. The book pulls you in and she has you.

Overall it is like reading an author who is finding her voice whilst the title and cover try to quiet her down with pink bikes and flowers.

I hope that Rosy throws the chick lit wrappings into the bin for her next book. I'd like to see what she can really do when let loose inside her characters heads with the setting an open stage instead of a closed curtain that they have to fight through.

Click on the image below to read the article Mirrors of Black Type, written by Rosy for the View From Here.

First Line Competition: Win a $100 Amazon Voucher

No editorial this week - instead a competition!

The first line of a story can be a tricky one. How do you start to hook people in without making the sentence convoluted or clunky?

Well have a go with the picture above. Leave the first line for a story inspired by the beach scene in the comments below to enter the competition.

First prize for the best wins a £50 or $100 Amazon voucher!

Closing date for entries Friday 13th June 08 .

Good Luck!

Photo Credit: Natasha Hirtzel

"There was a Scot, an Australian and a ..."

by Paul Burman

QUESTION: What do Edinburgh and Melbourne have in common?

Well, it’s not the climate, that’s for sure. Nor the penchant for warm ale in one city and cold beer in the other, even if a chaser of whisky might accompany both. And seriously, it’s no joke that although these two cities might be diametrically opposite on the face of the globe they share a common passion for literature.

ANSWER: Whilst UNESCO recognised Edinburgh as the first City of Literature in 2004, Melbourne is hoping to be the second.

But what is a City of Literature? Do we need them, and why?

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization launched the Creative Cities Network ‘to promote the social, economic and cultural development of cities in both the developed and the developing world. The cities which apply to the network seek to promote their local creative scene ... (and) share interest in UNESCO’s mission towards cultural diversity.’ Edinburgh proudly promotes itself as a city of words where literary events run almost every day, and the City of Literature Trust aims to:

  • ‘Promote book culture in Edinburgh
  • 'Encourage involvement in Scotland’s literature
  • 'Develop literary partnerships around the world’.

Melbourne is culturally well placed to take on a parallel role. According to Victoria’s principle broadsheet The Age, ‘There are more bookshops in Melbourne than in any other Australian city, and there are more books, magazines and newspapers sold in Victoria than in any other state or territory. This city has a proud and honourable tradition of fostering fine publishing, including smaller, independent concerns that might not always aim for the top of the best-seller lists but nevertheless have quality as their byword.’

Also, in a country that loves its festivals and ‘events’, Melbourne annually hosts its fair share. In addition to The International Comedy Festival, Moomba Waterfest, The Grand Prix, The Australian Open, etc, it hosts a Writers’ Festival, an Emerging Writers’ Festival, the Victorian Premier’s Writers’ Awards and the prestigious Melbourne Prize for Literature (worth $60,000). At the moment, as well as waiting to hear news of its application to UNESCO for City of Literature status, which is expected this month, it’s developing a Centre for Books, Writing and Ideas at the State Library.

From a writer’s point of view---and of anyone interested in Literature---it’s heart-warming to see such a significant commitment from the State to supporting this area of the Arts. There may be economic benefits (Edinburgh reportedly derives an additional ₤2.2 million per annum from activities associated with its City of Literature status), but these, it’s to be hoped, will only be a small part of the overall story and, although there’s no joke and no punch-line to this post, a positive response from UNESCO will put a smile on many a face.

Rabbit Writer - Inspiration

Where to find inspiration.

And so starts Rabbit Writer!

I do hope it proves entertaining to all the readers here at The View.

Mirrors of Black Type

Author Rosy Thornton talks to The View From Here about her book Hearts and Minds and on the perils of her colleagues seeing themselves in her fictional characters.

Write about what you know. It seemed like good advice for a new author, but I worked my way through three novels (one published and two under the bed) before I tried acting upon it myself.

What I mainly know is Cambridge colleges, having been a Fellow of two different ones for the past twenty years. And in many ways Cambridge was an obvious thing to write about. I grew up reading my father’s old C.P. Snow paperbacks, and Dorothy L. Sayers’ Gaudy Night (although set in another place) was also a favourite of mine. Colleges make an excellent setting for a novel: small, claustrophobic and riddled with internal tensions, the university campus is a well-established forum for drama, just like other closed worlds from the hospital ward to the corridors of Whitehall. The college precincts give the narrative a natural focus and containment; the rhythm of the academic year gives a pattern to its timeframe.

So why did I put it off for so long? Precisely because colleges are small places. As I put it in an e-mail to my agent when first tentatively embarking on the project, ‘Everyone I know will think it’s about them and never speak to me again, and I will be either fired or sued or both in short order.’

I went ahead anyway, with what became Hearts and Minds. I constructed a fictional college, St Radegund’s: a nineteenth century foundation for women students and very clearly not modelled on any existing institution. I based nobody in the book upon anyone I knew. The central scenario for the book – a women’s college appointing a man as Master – is something which has never happened. So I should have been all right - shouldn’t I?

Alarm bells ought perhaps to have sounded when, on first reading the manuscript, my agent (who should know better) said, ‘I didn’t know you could cook like that, and speak Italian.’ This is something the novelist has to get used to: the attribution of our characters’ interests, traits and aptitudes to ourselves. (I am thinking of writing a novel in which the female protagonist reads Aristotle in the original Greek, plays concert violin and has climbed Everest without oxygen, on the basis that all my friends will automatically assume that I can also do those things.)

So now that the book is out, have I been ostracised, as I feared? Well, certainly not that – my colleagues have been very supportive, and mostly use it as an opportunity for gentle ribbing – but there has been a tendency to treat the book as a mirror. A former colleague of mine who moved away to a Chair in London wrote to me, upon reading the novel, saying, ‘I don’t remember us being that conflicted’. Of course we weren’t, I wanted to shout. But conflict is the stuff of fiction, and this is fiction. That means I have made it up! She also said that whenever I mentioned the topography of St Radegund’s it brought her up short - because otherwise she was picturing it as our old college.

I gave the new Master of St Radegund’s a past as a BBC executive. A faculty colleague here assumed this must be a reference to a particular former Cambridge Master who had previously worked in television – but at the same time an Oxonian friend was equally sure it must be about a current Oxford head of house who also has a media background.

I think it’s human nature, when reading a novel, to look for resonances in our own lives. We look for people and situations we recognise; it’s how fiction shows us things about ourselves. Maybe within the context of a university community the effect is more striking, but I suspect it’s true of all fiction. Whatever authors choose to write about, you may be sure of one thing: readers will always read about what they know.

Photo Credit: RomanLily

His Other Wife

by Kathleen

Alison didn’t remember most movies she and Sean watched, whether at the multiplex or on Netflix. Sean remembered the plot and music, all the taglines, who had starred, and who directed.

Alison remembered real life conversations. She remembered people’s names and faces after casual introductions on the street: friends of friends. She remembered not just women’s outfits, but men’s shirts, hair color and/or balding patterns. Smiles? She never forgot smiles, although she often judged them too quickly. Cold or warm, mean or kind, the result of too much dentistry or not enough.

So for years when she couldn’t remember which actresses had starred and which were “supporting,” she would joke, “Guess you better ask your other wife.”

“Why don’t we have any bourbon?” Sean swore that hot toddies cured impending colds and flu.

“You took it over to your other wife’s place last weekend.”

Alison was always asking him how many other kids he had, and how much money his other wife earned, because how was it possible that Sean and Alison never went anywhere or bought anything, but sank deeper into debt every month?

The first Wednesday night in January, however, Alison wasn’t asking Sean anything. Not why he needed to shower before coming to bed; not why for several weeks now he lavished her with sexual favors and attention as if desperate…to compensate for something.

While he toweled dry and rubbed expensive new creams into his face and hair, Alison wrapped herself naked inside the heavy top blanket. She wiggled to its edge, and keeping her hands flat by her hips, pinched the fabric. She wound the wool around herself, turning until she lay propped on her side of the bed, as tight and tapered at the ends as a home-rolled cigarette.

She breathed quietly, a body ready for disposal, though he might want some rope.

“What’s this?” He tried to tug her loose but her fingers clung to the edge. “You’re making a statement?”

“Not until you do.” Alison’s voice sounded muffled to her.

“I have to go first?”

“Now, later, whenever you want.” Even through layers of blanket, her voice reached right through him. “But yeah, Sean, you talk first.”