Continue The Story Winner!

Reader Logo
by Mike

“I’ve stalled, thousands of miles above the rocks and earth – the only way is down.”

At the start of the month we kicked off our Continue The Story Competition. The prize : 3 signed books from Paperbooks. We had 8 great contributions and have ended up with a fantastic short story. The story, with an ending written by me will appear in November's edition of the magazine, issue 5, which is out on the 7th November.

The story called Surrounded has contributions from:

Mike French (er me)

Jane Turley

Kristina Meredith


Kathleen Maher (another crew member sneaking in!)


Lisa Holdren

Aussie Cynic

Madison Richards

But the WINNER is Kristina Meredith: That's a quote from her work above.

So congratulations to Kristina: Three signed books, including Paul Burman's book ( see review in the article below) on their way to you courtesy of Paperbooks. (Er that is once we have your address! Can you contact us Kristina!)

Top photo: Kabils

Lost Love Dipped in Sadness, Snow and Earth

Reader Logo
by Mike & Fossfor

The Snowing & Greening of Thomas Passmore
by Paul Burman

Some memories are like photos – snapshots – that hang in neat frames at the back of the mind. Sometimes they shake at night and rattle a train of images into our dreams.
The Snowing and Greening of Thomas Passmore follows Thomas through a fractured path of memories as he tries to work out what on earth has happened to him. One moment he is waking from an Australian beach, the next he is landing at Heathrow Airport. He is a man adrift, trying to stay awake as he tumbles towards his lost love, Kate. Behind him and before him are his memories of his life in England and Australia; his wife Elin and his children. Slipping through his worlds he remembers his childhood, his fathers suicide:
The memory of my father as a person recedes. With it goes part of who I am – my link with who I’ve come from, my connection to our past.
And his finding and losing of Kate.
Where’s the Kate I’ve known? Where am I? We’ve both vanished.
Paul Burman, in this his debut novel, weaves a lyrical tale told with great love and tenderness that spins a magical tale of lost love dipped in sadness, snow and earth. The writing is excellent:
The sea is the colour of granite and the sky is rusty-veined quartz, and between them they’re grinding the day smooth, clean, polished.
The air rasps against the back of my throat, condenses and becomes an icicle growing in my lungs.
The story heart wrenching and mysterious:
I’ve discovered a world without real dialogue.
Paul pitches the pace right, with the reader wanting to see what happens and at the same time wanting to linger looking at the world that he paints. There is a great love of the land and this is used powerfully in the book. And it’s almost as if Paul takes Thomas past life, his hurt and his love, and pours concrete over them, burying them in hard cold blocks that Thomas has built his new life in Australia on.
The connection between yesterday and today is getting too thin to trace.
During the book, like the flowers that break through the urban world covering his childhood landscape, the green shoots of Thomas’ past life break through the concrete of the past until towards the end they are coloured white in snow and burst forth in greenery as Thomas’ loves live again in him and become one with him.
If you love a tale well told, with wonder and intrigue; a tale with layers, a heart and a soul, then read this. It is wonderful.

You can order The Snowing & Greening of Thomas Passmore here or direct at Paperbooks.

Art by Fossfor created for The View From Here. (Click on the image above for a full blown view!)

Before I Die

Reader Logo
by Jen

Before I Die
by Jenny Downham
Publisher: David Fickling Books, a division of Random House Children's Books

Following on from the young adult market ‘front line’ interview last week with Nikki Heath, we take a view from the other side this week, and meet author Jenny Downham.

Today I’ll review her novel "Before I Die", and on Wednesday in Part One of the interview we discuss its research, writing and publication. In Part Two on Friday, Jenny shares her experience of winning prizes, an inspiring method of overcoming writer’s block, her recommended reading for young adults/ authors and her ten top tips which writers of all genres can use.

Managing to be both devastatingly sad and life-affirmingly positive, Before I Die is the story of sixteen-year-old Tessa, diagnosed with leukemia trying desperately to fit a lifetime of experiences into her remaining few weeks.

In such stories we often want the impossible. The character must defy the odds, find a miracle cure and survive. In this story, the reader shares Tessa’s reality in knowing she cannot avoid the outcome. She will die; it is only a question of when. And this drives the narrative at a cracking pace.

The reader accompanies Tessa in her final weeks, one step ahead of the rest of her family experiencing the typical stages of grief; denial, anger, bargaining (her “to do before I die list” provides the structure of the novel), depression and acceptance.

Eleven year old Cal is desperate to impress anyone who’ll pay him attention with magic tricks, especially their Mother who is back living at home again, and Tessa’s Father who has stopped work to care for Tessa but struggles to keep her behaviour and attitude within normal boundaries in an abnormal situation. Each of the five main characters serves to help the reader better understand Tessa, to see her from different perspectives, though the story is told from her own viewpoint. The characters each develop in different ways, surprising Tessa at times, and the readers at others. We see Tessa as defined by her relationships to the other characters. And at the end of the novel, we see, then hear each of them, drifting in and out of Tessa’s consciousness as she lies in bed, as if they are standing on a blacked out stage, spotlighted in turn, as individuals or groups, to comment over the last pages, until we see Tessa’s final memories and hear her final thoughts:

“Let them all go”


“All gathering towards this one.”

Concretely we are left with the hopes and instructions she shared on notes for her friends and family, the future plans of her boyfriend Adam and the promise of the unblemished life of her best friend’s unborn baby. But more powerfully, we feel an immense determination that we want to make the most of every hot chocolate shared with a friend, or trip to the zoo. But it is not melodramatic, because it rings absolutely true. And above all, it says, make the most of your relationships. It’s all about relationships. It’s only what connects you to the people you love “all so different and equally unimportant” that means anything in the grand scheme of things.

Downham successfully writes with simplicity and clarity on complex themes. Teen love, sex, death; the loss of a parent, roles, choices and responsibilities; society’s expectations and constraints.

Her settings subtly underline the storylines; the teen pregnancy is revealed in the B&B's former “family room” which has been renovated since Tess had stayed there, and is now furnished with a four-poster for honeymooners, changed, just as Tessa’s family structure had changed. Yet a young family passes by outside the window and Tess speculates on the child’s name. The fragile balance between the past, present and future is neatly presented, almost Scrooge-like, in a bedroom.

She employs all the reader’s senses without making it obvious until you look for it: ... "opened the wardrobe. I startle the coathangers and they chink together. The smell of damp wood fills me.”

She imparts motherly wisdom to her teen audience without trying to, “you want some sweet things Tess, but be careful. Other people can’t always give you what you want.”

Grief, like so many other things in today’s complex world, can't be reduced to a neat plan with absolute definitions, goals, and instructions. But to deal with it, Tessa starts a to-do list, and, released from the constraints of 'normal' life, it contains all the things she wants before she dies, some reasonable, some risky, some rebellious. Some will make you want to be angry with her, dislike her, even give up on her. But she is so real you can’t. 327 pages of writing for teenagers which is pure genius. Go on, add it to the stack.

On Wednesday in Part One of the interview, Jenny Downham discusses her research, writing and publication.

Before I Die by Jenny Downham, edited by David Fickling and published by David Fickling Books, won the 2008 Branford Boase Award, which celebrates an outstanding debut novel for children over seven, and highlights the importance of the editor in nurturing new authors.

(see The Guardian for a Sept. 26th article by David Fickling, on slush pile avoidance)

Before I Die was also one of the final four in the shortlist for the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize. The prize is awarded for works of children's literature by British or Commonwealth authors, published in the UK during the preceding year. The award has been given annually since 1967, and is decided by a panel of authors and the review editor for The Guardian's children's books section. It may be compared with the American Newbery Medal.

Jenny Downham was an actress for many years before concentrating on her writing full-time. She lives in London with her two sons.

Before I Die is available here, and from all leading book retailers.

Young Adult Reading (and Writing) Guidance. An Interview with Nikki Heath. Part 2 of 2.

Reader Logo
by Jen

The View From Here Interview:
Nikki Heath

Part one can be read here.

As School Librarian of the Year 2008, Nikki Heath is someone who knows books for Young Adults. She has insider knowledge of what young people like to read, current trends in popular books, and of the challenges faced promoting reading to a demanding and discerning audience. She talked to The View From Here, reviews her favourite books for Young Adults and offers her eight top tips for writers.

Which YA authors and books do you most enjoy reading and would recommend to us?

I have many favourite Young Adult authors, including Darren Shan, Michelle Magorian, Anthony Horowitz, J.K Rowling and Jacqueline Wilson to name but a few. These authors are well established writers, with many followers at my school. Newer authors, such as Cathy Cassidy, Jenny Valentine and Derek Landy are all beginning to have their following and all have published books this year that I have adored. However, two of my favourites have to be Robert Muchamore’s ‘The Sleepwalker’ and M. G Harris’ ‘Invisible City’.

Robert Muchamore’s ‘The Sleepwalker’ is the 9th installment of his ‘Cherub’ series, which began 4 years ago. It is impossible to talk about the latest book in this series without mentioning the rest. The books centre around two characters, brother and sister James and Lauren, who were orphaned and joined Cherub. Cherub is a group of MI5 child agents aged between 10 and 17 who are trained to infiltrate situations that adults would find difficult; As the readers of the series age, so do the characters in the book. They go through all the stages of adolescence that our children would, with the added complications of trying to complete their Cherub missions. Some of these are life threatening, and have involved drug smuggling gangs, animal rights activists, prison inmates and eco-terrorists.

In ‘The Sleepwalker’, Jake and Lauren’s mission is to gain the confidence of a 12 year old boy called Fahim who anonymously dialed a hotline. He thinks his dad is to blame for an air crash. His mum has disappeared, too, and Fahim believes that his dad has murdered her. The children word as a team to try and discover exactly what his father is involved in, and help to solve the puzzle of why the plane crashed. The characters are extremely realistic; there is one particular scene describing a typical brother and sister arguing on the plane which I could totally relate to, having seen my children doing the same thing. However, when they realise their plane is about to crash, they change, and work together to try and leave messages in plastic bags for their dad, telling him how much they love him and will miss him. If you have never heard of Robert Muchamore, you need to go and buy his books!

The other book I have chosen is called ‘Invisible City’ by M.G Harris, and is the first book in a series called ‘The Joshua Files’. The book can’t fail to stand out on your shelves, as it’s encased in a bright orange clear cover, which looks fantastic! The story is told as a blog, written by Joshua as he tries to make sense of his dad’s mysterious disappearance. Joshua and his mum have been told that he has died in an accident, and later that he was murdered, but as the circumstances surrounding the apparent death begin to unfold, they become more and more certain that he hasn’t died at all. Josh travels to Mexico to try to make sense of it all, and discovers a sister he didn’t know he had, a codex, and an ancient civilization. However, some people will stop at nothing to keep… or discover a secret.

This is a fabulous, thrilling adventure story, which takes a real country and snippets of its history and seamlessly mixes it with fictional happenings, in this case conspiracy theories and UFOs. You can’t help but feel for Joshua and admire the ways in which he copes with each new obstacle which seems to fall in his way. It’s a must read, and I cannot wait for the sequel!

What do you think YA readers look for when choosing a book?

A great looking cover that stands out. A fast paced, unusual/interesting blurb (when they actually look at it!) Something that's 'thin;' even in years 10 and 11, thick books will put them off. In some cases, something with an element of the forbidden in it, so crime, rebellion, that type of thing!

Nikki's Eight Tips how to Excel as writers for Young Adults:

1.Young Adults tend to be captivated or will reject a book after reading less than a page, so 'grab' them straight away!
2. Say it quickly (no waffling!)
3. Treat the audience for what it is. Try not to be condescending /talk down to them.
4. Keep the plot simple (within reason!). If it's too confusing, they'll not finish the story/book/article.
5. Don't use bad language unless necessary and relevant to the plot. More likely to get recommendations from librarians this way!
6. Research characters and places to make your story seem as realistic as possible. If they don't believe it, they won't keep reading!
7. Write for girls, too! Lots of contemporary writing is aimed at boys and we need more authors writing for girls!
8. Keep up the fabulous work - don't give up! There are so many wonderful established and emerging authors for teens at the minute that it's hard to keep up! What a great time to be an author.


School Librarian of the Year 2008, Nikki is based at Werneth School, Stockport, UK. Werneth School has 1200 pupils, Yrs 7-11 (ages 11 - 16).

Before her appointment in 2004 Nikki, a qualified librarian, worked for the local School Library Service and two further schools. She has head of faculty status and so can keep putting ‘the library’s point of view’ at curriculum meetings. She works in close partnership with Sally, her nominator (both agree to great effect!), and is line managed by the deputy head with responsibility for teaching and learning.

In 2004 Nikki found a library little changed over thirty years. She began by organising a revamp. This sense of purpose has continued, she calls it ‘a journey that never stops’.

Nikki runs the library with the help of an enthusiastic team of pupil librarians. After training they are expected to take responsibility for breaktime and lunchtime running of the library, freeing Nikki to be available for individuals. The librarians are enthusiastic about their roles and the humorous but sympathetic support they receive from Nikki. They mentioned her reputation for appearing in T-shirts with a message, such as, "Old librarians never die, they just get reshelved!"

The Werneth Head of English stated that the library was now firmly at the heart of all the school did “She facilitates: but it’s more than just being a librarian or a teacher: she takes you with her because of her great enthusiasm and belief in reading”.

Guaranteed Happiness

Reader Logo
by Kathleen

My family called me, “Pris,” which I hated.

It bothered me until I was thirteen and Felicity sauntered into our humdrum classroom, after being expelled from some top echelon school.

With several seats vacant, she collapsed into the one beside me, and blew bubblegum that miraculously didn’t stick to the gleaming swatch of dark hair covering half her face.

Behind her books, she exaggerated our teacher’s lisp. “Such supercilious pusillanimity.”

I laughed and spent the afternoon in detention. Thereafter we were best friends. Felicity lived in a mansion overlooking Lake Michigan. Her parents traveled and her brother Barret attended boarding school. A housekeeper existed, but barely.

In class, Felicity showed me her body-piercings. When nobody else was looking, she flashed her navel and budding breasts.

My parents didn’t miss me. They were happy I’d made such a rich friend. At Felicity’s, we watched movies, swam naked in the lake, and, fitting our bare- feet bottoms together, pushed, testing our leg strength.

That summer I kissed her in a webbed hammock, getting lost in her perfect, sweet face. Breathless, I asked, what next?

Her quicksilver blue eyes darted around. “Lots,” she said, “but you’re not ready.”

Then I fell in love with the backs of her knees as we bicycled along less fancy streets, which nonetheless maintained summer’s endless leafy green canopy. Splotches of sunlight shimmered over the asphalt.

Felicity’s instinct for houses where contented owners answered the doorbell rarely missed. Her game required genteel manners and a waitress’s receipt booklet. If the homeowner would sign the receipt—no money, don’t worry—Felicity promised she would think of the person every day. She’d say their name out loud, guaranteeing their happiness. As witness, I tried unsuccessfully to act solemn. After we collected signatures covering two booklets, though, the game bored her.

Halfway through August, everything bored her. Suddenly, Felicity refused to leave her darkened bedroom—or even talk. I visited and she ignored me.

Except, just before leaving forever, she said, “If you ever think of me, Pris, say my name. And I’ll say yours.”

That was ten years ago. Last week her brother Barret, whom I had never met, found me in Manhattan. He’d pay for the plane ticket if I’d visit the hospital—the same one where John Hinckley is kept.

A nurse led me to an unrecognizable Felicity, huge and twitchy from drugs. Her lustrous hair was hacked into a bowl-shape, her quicksilver eyes blank, and her tantalizing face hung bloated and vacant.

Appalled, I finally took her grossly swollen hand. Her voice burped like gas from a forgotten cave. “I. Know. You.”

“And Felicity,” I choked, “I know you.

Her laugh was guttural. “I don’t know me. But you…”

“I say your name, Felicity, every day.”

When I returned, my husband teased me for lying to her.

As if he could possibly understand. As if anyone could.

Young Adult Reading (and Writing) Guidance. An Interview with Nikki Heath. Part 1 of 2.

Reader Logo
by Jen

The View From Here Interview:
Nikki Heath

Ed Balls, the UK Government Children's Minister, is quoted in an article by Alison Flood in the the Guardian on September 12th, as having advised 'caution' over the controversial use of age guidance banding on children's books and recommended "parents seeking guidance about this contact librarians or teachers who know about the full range of children's literature".

As School Librarian of the Year 2008 Nikki Heath is someone who knows books for Young Adults. She has insider knowledge of what young people like to read, current trends in popular books, and of the challenges faced promoting reading to a demanding and discerning audience. She talked to The View From Here in September, on International Literacy Day, about the importance of reading, her opinion on age-banding books and in part two shares her experience of what young people enjoy (and what they don't), reviews her favourite books for Young Adults and offers her eight top tips for writers.


What do you see is the importance of reading for Young Adults?

Encouraging reading for pleasure at school and at home is a fabulous way to improve the literacy skills of our students and children. It is also a way to give them a lifelong pastime, even if it is one that is only use when travelling to work, or on holiday! Best of all, many of our young adults do not realise how quickly their reading skills, and therefore their academic potential, can be improved by ‘just reading’ for 10 minutes every day, whether the reading material is a book, a magazine or even the back of a cereal box.

As a parent of 5, 14 and 15 year old children, I know how difficult it can be to drag them away from games consoles, social networking sites and many other activities which are seen as central to their social life and get them to sit down with fiction or non-fiction reading materials. Many children will not read at all at home, and sometimes a library lesson is the only chance they will have to surround themselves with books and be ‘swept’ into another world.

School librarians, working with other school staff, therefore play a crucial role in ensuring students have regular access to books. They can work closely together to promote reading and provide an environment where peers can share their enjoyment of reading and recommend books to each other. It is so rewarding to hear students discussing books and authors, and to chat with them about their last book, and even more rewarding to work with those who ‘hate’ reading, and watch them become avid readers. We are so lucky that there is such a wealth of fabulous authors writing for young adults who make our jobs so much easier.

Do you think YA readers are more susceptible than adults to the recommendations by peers of what to read?

I think social networking and peer recommendation will in the future work hand in hand with Young Adults. Peer recommendation is more likely to happen at school and in school reading groups/classes, and more with newer readers/less confident readers/emerging readers is a classroom situation. Social network 'reading'and 'bookshelves' are more for the established readers who are confident about what they read, and who want to tell the world about it.

Adults don't have the kind of personal contact in a controlled environment that students have. In many cases, unless they join a reading group, they are more likely to review/chat online, especially as many will have kids and therefore more restricted social lives. I would rather chat face to face with someone about what I read. It's all down to how you feel more comfortable discussing, reviewing and recommending, really.

What do you think of the scheme to "age-group band" books?

I am TOTALLY against it. I am sure that publishers thought they had every-one's best interests in mind at the beginning of the scheme, but it was badly researched and did not take into consideration the professional experience of authors, librarians and teachers up and down the country. I'm sad to say that I foresee this going in the same way as computer and console games - parents will see their kids reading or attempting to buy books with older 'age ranges' on them and will stop them from doing so. It will limit the market more, not expand it. We're trying to encourage reading for pleasure of any format and anywhere, and age banding sends out totally the wrong message. Of course, there will be many adults who don't mind and will not really pay much attention to age banding on books, but what if a child FINALLY finds a book they want to read, maybe for the first time ever, and eagerly takes it to be purchased and is told they can't? It could put them off for life...

I was an avid reader and still am, and I read many books which were at my reading age but way above my physical age. Yes, some of these did have had more adult issues dealt within them, but if you don't fully understand an issue, you tend to read the words, but not take in their true meaning.

Children know so much these days and have sadly lost a lot of the childhood innocence that I had in my early teens. As a parent I know this is difficult to accept sometimes, but I know my teenage children are talking about so many more adult issues a lot sooner, and I'd rather these were dealt with through books and peers than in real life. Teens are told what to do on so many fronts that this will just take more of their choices away from them. We are supposed to be letting them take ownership of their career choices and their futures but at the same time telling them they can't read a certain book? How ridiculous!

If you aren't sure which book to buy for your teen friends and relatives please buy them a book voucher and give them the choice! They can then wander around the book shop for hours, working out which books to buy. It is NOT a boring gift; far from it. I am sure book lovers all over the world will tell you the same.
I am fully behind the No to Age Banding campaign. I probably would have been discouraged from reading, and would therefore not be a librarian, if it had existed in my teen years.

(part two to follow on Friday, including her experience of what young people enjoy reading (and what they don't), reviews of her favourite books for Young Adults and her eight top tips for writers.)

Nikki is currently supporting a global, one-day creative writing initiative "the Write Path" on October 6th, International School Libraries Day, which is supported by Alan Gibbons. In the spirit of his 'Campaign for the Book' and to support school libraries, he is one of five authors who have penned an opening chapter of the stories which will be continued by young people in ten schools across the world, from Stockport to Saigon.


School Librarian of the Year 2008, Nikki is based at Werneth School, Stockport, UK. Werneth School has 1200 pupils, Yrs 7-11 (ages 11 - 16).

Before her appointment in 2004 Nikki, a qualified librarian, worked for the local School Library Service and two further schools. She has head of faculty status and so can keep putting ‘the library’s point of view’ at curriculum meetings. She works in close partnership with Sally, her nominator (both agree to great effect!), and is line managed by the deputy head with responsibility for teaching and learning.

In 2004 Nikki found a library little changed over thirty years. She began by organising a revamp. This sense of purpose has continued, she calls it ‘a journey that never stops’.

Nikki runs the library with the help of an enthusiastic team of pupil librarians. After training they are expected to take responsibility for breaktime and lunchtime running of the library, freeing Nikki to be available for individuals. The librarians are enthusiastic about their roles and the humorous but sympathetic support they receive from Nikki. They mentioned her reputation for appearing in T-shirts with a message, such as, "Old librarians never die, they just get reshelved!"

The Werneth Head of English stated that the library was now firmly at the heart of all the school did “She facilitates: but it’s more than just being a librarian or a teacher: she takes you with her because of her great enthusiasm and belief in reading”.

For part 2 click here.

Jon Haylett Interview Part 3 of 3

Reader Logo
by Mike

The View From Here Interview:
Jon Haylett

Jon Haylett won The Bridport Prize in 2003 and The Royal Society of Literature's VS Pritchett Memorial Prize in 2004. Jon's first published novel, Cry of The Justice Bird came out last year with the publisher, Paperbooks. A year later I catch up with him to talk about his journey to publication and his writing.

For part 2 of the interview click here.
For part 1 of the interview click here.

This is your tenth novel, but your first one to be published. Did you ever consider self-publishing and were there any times where people sought to take advantage of you as a new writer?

Justice Bird was my eighth novel; I’ve written two since. Yes, I’ve considered self-publishing but never seriously because I know I’m lousy at marketing.

I don’t think anyone has taken advantage of me as a new writer, but please don’t get me started on how arrogantly rude some agents are.

O go on, give us some examples!

Okay, I'll give you a recent example. It's not an untypical sequence of events involving a novel and Pollinger, a large and well known literary agency in London.

Jan: Sent synopsis, 3 chapters, CV and covering letter with SAE for return.

May: Follow-up call to see if they are interested. They've lost it. Spoke to an agent who said he'd like to see it.

May: Proposal re-sent, to him personally.

Early September: Rang. He's away. Colleague says he is interested, but not to send the book just yet.

Mid Sept: Rang. He's very busy but he'll get back to me within the week.

Late September: Follow-up call. He's away.

Early Oct: Follow-up call. He's out. Colleague promises he'll call me.

Early Nov: Rang. Managed to speak to him. He's terribly busy but promises to get back to me the following day.

Late Nov: Email arrives asking me to send the book, which I do.

Late Dec: Emailed - no reply.

Mid Jan: Emailed - no reply.

Late Jan: Rang. Not available, but I was invited to leave a message, which I did.

End Jan: Rang. Spoke to him. Yes, he has looked at it and has passed it to a colleague for a second opinion. He'll get back to me shortly.

Feb: Over a year since I started, so I gave up. I never heard another word.

If this were abnormal I'd put it down to one arrogant idiot, but it's happened to me several times. Yes, I know agencies are very busy and they are inundated with proposals but there is such a thing as common courtesy.

Do you hope that some of your other books will now be published and can you tell us a bit about some of them?

I have the three-book deal with Tom Chalmers who has taken over PaperBooks from Keirsten Clark. The remaining two I’m offering in the contract are written. They’re set in Africa, one, Black Mongoose, in a country which might be a cross between Kenya and Zimbabwe. It tackles the thorny problem of what its citizens should do about their leader, one of the greedy, corrupt, ruthlessly violent politicians that Africa is parading across the world stage: Amin, Mugabe, Moi, Bokassa, Mobutu, Mengistu, Taylor, Doe of Liberia and so, so many more. The book offers a simple if rather bloody solution to their problem.

To be honest, I’m much more keen to see my literary works published, particularly The Tourmaline Pool which is based on the Bridport-winning The Crossing. I fear that the system will now label me as a writer of what you term ‘extreme action/adventure books’.

Can you tell us about what it was like to win the Bridport prize for your short fiction?


Very rarely in life does one set oneself a goal which one believes is unattainable yet, after working at it for years, suddenly reach it. When Frances Everitt, the Bridport Arts Centre Administrator, rang to tell me that Rose Tremain, the principal judge, had selected my story from thousands of entries from over fifty countries, I couldn’t take it in. When that was followed by the success of Bendera Beach in the Royal Society’s VS Pritchett prize, I had proved to myself that I could write first class fiction.

What’s so good about these competitions is that they’re anonymous, so there’s none of the influence of celebrity that distorts so much appreciation of modern British art. It’s such a shame that short stories are the Cinderella of literature. I don’t think anyone who hasn’t tried to write a short story has any idea how much goes into it. Short story writing is a far more intense process than novel writing, and the editing is excruciating. The Crossing is an almost perfect short story: even today, five years later, there are few words or phrases I would so much as tweak.

Did winning the Bridport prize help you in approaching agents and publishers and getting you out of their slush piles?

Stupidly, I thought that someone who could take on some 4,500 writers from all over the world, anonymously, for what is still one of the top international short story prizes - the prize in 2003 was £3,000 – and win, could write, and that, therefore, agents would show an interest.


I don't think that being an agent these days has anything to do with nurturing talent. It's a ruthless rat-race in search of the next Harry Potter.

Do you have any tips for new writers?

I think any writer has to have utter confidence in what they write: given that, in today’s literary bear garden, never let the buggers get you down.

Have you started on your next book and can you tell us anything about it?

As I said, my next two books for PaperBooks are ready in draft. At present, between writing more short stories, I’m editing The Smiling Chameleon, the first book of a semi-autobiographical trilogy, Fifty-two Days. The blurb for it goes as follows: “Chameleon describes nineteen days in the life of a teenager who has just returned to paradise. Sadly, paradise, this year, is due to last exactly 52 days. After that he must spend the rest of the year back in hell.”

Let me explain. Paradise is the tropical coast of Kenya where I spent my summer holidays, with its large colonial house, five servants, white-sand beaches and pretty girls in bikinis. Hell is a barbaric public school and holidays in a dismal London flat.

I like it best of all my novels but the trilogy runs to 520,000 words: door stop material.

Thanks Jon.

Jon's book is available at Amazon here. Or direct from Paperbooks here.

Good Game

Reader Logo
by Kathleen

George married Ben’s twin sister, Vanessa, and Ben married nobody. Twelve years later, Ben knew he should have relocated and started his own life. But he worried about leaving Vanessa, and so lived next door.

George goaded Ben into dating women he had already romanced. Somehow George managed this subterfuge and convinced Ben that calling the game would ruin everything.

In October, when Vanessa visited their mother, she asked Ben to make sure young Scott got to soccer. “The team depends on him and George gets so caught up in stuff, he forgets.”

He sure did. Saturday afternoon, Scott showed up at Ben’s backdoor in cleats, needing a ride to practice. His dad had gone to pick up something from “a colleague” hours ago.

“My game starts in ten minutes.”

Ben drove his nephew to a muddy field. Scott said he had a ride home.

When Ben returned, George was pacing the sidewalk. “I almost called the police—kidnapping.”

“Who do you think you’re fooling?

“What the hell are you talking about? You’re going to wreck a happy family because I had to run an errand?”

“Don’t drag your kid into it.”

George shrugged and grinned. “Play some one-on-one?”

Ben said, “Too wet.”

“We’ll watch our feet.”

Ben kicked at the leaves under a backyard hoop, while presumably George hunted up a basketball.

He appeared on the back porch, twirling the ball on his finger.

Ben slapped the ball hard to keep up a dribble. George closed in and Ben missed; it rolled around the rim and out. George jumped for it and slid. Ben grabbed the loose ball and scored.

“Like that, huh?” George drove in. When Ben covered him, George slammed an elbow in his stomach. George missed his shot and hurled the ball so hard Ben’s hands stung.

Ben missed two shots and George dunked two. Zigzagging, Ben slipped sideways. On the ground, he wiped mud from his face with his shirt. George’s shot ricocheted off the backboard. Ben drove in close toward the center. George shoved Ben’s back and they both slammed into the pole.

Ben raced toward a lay-up when George’s head smacked his shoulder, knocking him flat. With a whoosh, a barrier opened. A cavern inside Ben’s chest filled with oxygen.

Ben’s fist flew at George’s face—the squish of contact and George groaning on the ground. Without thinking, Ben straddled George and kept punching him. George was screaming, “What did you tell Scott? When you drove him to soccer. What?”

They rolled in the mud, fists flying until Scott and Andrew Shimizu stood over them. Mrs. Shimizu was backing toward her car. Scott called after her, “They’re best friends. They do this all the time.”

Wincing, dripping blood, George took the mother’s wrist. “Let me explain.”

While Ben? Ben ruthlessly, gloriously entered his own house and slammed the door.

See it There Laughing

Reader Logo
by Mike

Minyan: Ten Jewish Men in a World That is Heartbroken
by Eliezer Sobel
Publisher: The University of Tennessee Press

"I for one tried to take the injunction to love myself to heart, and I really devoted myself, but I found I needed to keep my relationship with myself open so that if things didn't work out I was free to see other people."

Minyan is a book about ten Jewish men told through the eyes of Norbert Wilner who helpfully tells us, "although parts of my story are identical to the author's, I am a fictitious character."

With one of the ten recently deceased, Wilner paints the lives of his friends in a series of short accounts woven together to let us know what his friends are like, what makes them tick and how strange and wonderful they all are. Within the novel lies a review of Wilner's own novel, which I suspect is Eliezer's review of Minyan, or at least feedback he had received:

"Funny, good writing and interesting characters, but lacks narrative thrust, doesn't hold up as a novel."

I would agree.

Although in stating Minyan's main flaw, its lack of narrative thrust, Eliezer seems to be saying, You think I care? It's a good book, read it and laugh a little.

The result then of these stories strung together with no narrative thrust?

Brilliant. This book is amazing. It has a heart to it and a delight that pours out. For me the true test of a great book isn't the narrative thrust, i.e. a story that keeps you turning the page, but an emotional thrust: I turn the pages because I care, because the book delights me and connects with me; it has a heart and soul. Minyan is all this and if you want a comparison, then think Kurt Vonnegut and think of one of those films made by a small film company that lacks drive and a neat ending, but charms the hell out of you without assuming you're a moron.

The book is insightful, layered and funny. And thankfully it doesn't try to preach a message to the reader. O and there is some narrative thrust. Wilner decides to start the Happy Hearse Funeral Parlor, discovers salvation through humour and falls in love. "Why, you thought I was all talk?"

So what is this Minyan, this group of ten Jews like? In a personal ad, Wilner sums up their collective characteristics into one fictitious character:

"37-yr-old Jewish gypsy bohemian fringe artist type, sad, fearful, incapable of intimacy or commitment, no real job or future, moderate substance abuser, seeks wealthy Jewish blonde virgin who will mostly leave me alone and bear me children."

And to single out one of them:

"Other people have mystical experiences in which they hear prophetic voices inside their heads; Wissbaum hears only "Beer here! Get your ice cold beer here."

Eliezer's writing style is excellent and he uses the phrase "See him there ... " in much the same way that Kurt Vonnegut uses the phrase "So it goes." In fact you do get the distinct impression as you read Minyan that Eliezer Sobel perhaps has a flash of genius about him.

See him there now laughing at this remark. Hopefully see him there writing as well - I want more.

Eliezer Sobel is the author of Wild Heart Dancing. He lives in Batesville, Viginia. Minyan was the winner of the Peter Taylor Prize for the Novel.

Order Minyan here.

Read an extract here.

Visit Eliezer Sobel's site here.

Jon Haylett Interview Part 2 of 3

Reader Logo
by Mike

The View From Here Interview:
Jon Haylett

Jon Haylett won The Bridport Prize in 2003 and The Royal Society of Literature's VS Pritchett Memorial Prize in 2004.
Jon's first published novel, Cry of The Justice Bird came out
last year with the publisher, Paperbooks. A year later I catch up with him to talk about his journey to publication and his writing.

For part 1 of the interview click here.

The Cry of the Justice Bird is graphically violent - was that difficult to write?

Mike, I’d be desperately disappointed if you didn’t feel that all the descriptions were graphic: the African scenery, the vivacious Boromundi people, the wall-to-wall action. None of it was difficult to write.

In my experience Africa is a dangerous place. In our safe civilization we’ve forgotten the realities of death and violence; we’ve sanitized them. How many people have gone out recently and killed and prepared the flesh which appeared on their dinner plates? When some nutter goes on a brief rampage it’s headline stuff, yet the sort of gang I describe in Justice Bird has been active in the recent history of Sierra Leone, Zimbabwe, Liberia, Kenya, Uganda, Somalia, the Congo/Zaire, Algeria, and many more.

One of the questions the book poses to us, sitting in our comfortable safety, is, “What would you do if some one near and dear to you was the subject of extreme violence but there was no hope of redress through justice?” In the US or the UK, justice, mostly, works; but in vast areas of the world, Africa in particular, it doesn’t.

Violence is such an integral part of the human condition that any good writer must be able to cope with it, albeit in different ways. My only surprise was that Lorna, my editor at PaperBooks, felt that some of the most violent sections needed to be even more prolonged: the dismemberment of Mophas Mandabanga on Lake Kenge was considerably extended to keep her happy.

Some parts of the book read like Western fantasies played out in an African setting (I'm thinking of the end bit with the "page 3" girl pose etc).Was this a conscious decision to write in this way to give the book a heightened sense of reality?

‘Western’ fantasies? Jesus, Mike, do Western men have a monopoly on fantasies of a lovely, near-naked blonde girl chained up and laid out on a leopard-skin rug waiting to be rescued from two raging lions? No, I think the appeal of such scenes is universal, and as comic as they may be titillating. I’m sure that’s why so many women have enjoyed the book because it takes a poke at men’s base fantasies. At the same time, it’s the sort of book in which extreme violence and humour merge. I’ve watched a frightened hunter stab a wounded oryx with a spear and, as he did it, he .… laughed. Why?

But I do agree with you that the book conveys a sharp sense of reality.

In your book Temba is a character that serves to entice Armstrong away from his normal life into a life of adventure. Do you see your role as an author to show us that we can have more exciting lives ourselves or to transport us into a fictional world of action and adventure or both?

Temba is already dead set on the road to the cold-blooded torture and butchery of the ‘Five’, and doesn’t need Armstrong along. Armstrong, although he ‘writes’ the book as if he is the hero, makes the brave decision to tag along. For me, Temba is Africa, vivid, larger than life, determined, the sort of man I’d respect and friend I’d die for. He’s the hero. By comparison, Armstrong is bored and aimless: but - wow! - in the face of adversity does he come together!

I think any storyteller sets out to divert but I do hope that Justice Bird goes further by, as you suggest, pointing its readers along the road to adventure, because what is life without the excitement of adventure? My adventures, like hitch-hiking across thousands of miles of Africa, live with me. Even today, when I launch my kayak onto the wild waters of the Sound of Mull, I’m living another small adventure. I want to go on having adventures until I drop.

You bring together two cultures together in your book with Christianity and African superstition. The path of revenge that Armstrong takes to avenge Rebecca's death would not be one that Rebecca would have liked being a Christian. Armstrong doesn't seem to think this through and although you touch on this with Chloris later in the book you don't really explore the effect of extracting revenge on Rebecca’s killers has on Armstrong. Was that because you wanted to keep the book a simple action/adventure book and how much was the Justice Bird, that Temba introduces to Armstrong to, a device to overcome problems such as motive to get to the action?

Mike, I can’t agree with you when you say that the book doesn’t explore the effects of exacting revenge. Obviously, it isn’t an academic book but, for an action/adventure novel, it does raise all sorts of questions.

Both the nun Chloris and Armstrong’s girl friend, Rebecca, who was murdered, are devout Christians. I agree with you: they probably wouldn’t have liked what Armstrong and Temba set out to do. Chloris makes her view quite clear. But I wonder what people with those girls’ convictions would do instead.

Christianity preaches that one should turn the other cheek. Yet ‘turning the other cheek’ seems a quite pointless action in the circumstances. It doesn’t even pretend to work on a national scale. So Christian nations go to war and threaten to drop atom bombs on thousands of people when they see their interests threatened; and there is precious little forgiveness in the criminal punishment system ‘Christian’ Britain runs. So, would a good Christian really turn the other cheek to unrepentant rapists and murderers who glory in the horrible murder of an innocent woman? I wouldn’t: I’d exact a vicious revenge.

Armstrong does a fair bit of soul-searching before he decides to join Temba and, by the end, he’s sick at what has happened. After he’s killed the last of the ‘Five’, he says, “Perhaps I could stay (in Boromundi) and do a bit of planting and cherishing instead of killing.” It’s like going away on a great adventure, when you come home, kick your shoes off and sit in front of the fire: you’re knackered but glad it happened, you’re relieved it’s over but you’d go and do it again.

There are other ways in which the book is a ‘thinking’ book. Take the Justice Bird. Isn’t he that strange little voice that every human has, whatever their belief: a conscience?

For part 2 of this interview click here.

Jon's book is available at Amazon here. Or direct from Paperbooks here.

Issue 3 of TVFH on Sale Now

Reader Logo
by Mike

The View From Here issue 3

Interviews with authors ...

Julian Barnes
Caroline Hamilton

Industry News
Original Fiction

& much more!

ISSN 1758-2903

To preview & order click here.


Reader Logo
by Kathleen
Stephanie Wu invited Jane and Liam to dinner. And Jane eagerly accepted, well aware of the Wu’s struggle to fit into US suburbia. Stepping inside their Tudor home, however, she braced herself for rich food. Meat and alcohol triggered her migraines.

“Even filet mignon? Even Cotie Rotie?” Lawrence Wu hadn’t heard of migraines, but he sympathized—Jane’s ailment eliminated everything tasteful. His wife corrected him, “Tasty.”

It turned out that Lawrence and Jane both worked free-lance, while Stephanie, like Liam, provided the main income.

“From where,” Lawrence asked over apricot tart, “does the custom come requiring one to move the chair closer to the interviewer?”

His wife sighed. “In the US, you must engage the person. Sit close and make eye contact.”

“Strange,” Jane said, “but true.”

“Rearranging the furniture in someone’s office?” Lawrence stirred sugar into his coffee. “To me, it’s rude.”

“In China,” Stephanie said, “it would be offensive. But here? The contrary.”

Liam nodded, “The balance is tricky on purpose.”

In the Wu’s vast living-room, a grand piano stood magnificently in a corner. Gesturing, Lawrence asked, “Shall we sing?”

Jane couldn’t sing.

“No meat, no alcohol, and no singing equal no fun.” She blushed almost painfully as Lawrence suggested that Stephanie play Schubert. While Liam savored cognac, Jane rested against the piano. Quietly, Lawrence pressed hard into Jane’s bottom. But the grinding must be her imagination. It lasted a second, but returned when the music swelled. How ridiculous Jane was! How stupid and confused.

Soon Stephanie invited them for another dinner and Jane apologized for having failed to reciprocate. “Such manners.” “Please,” Stephanie said. “Our pleasure.”

The second lavish meal featured chicken. But Jane hadn’t stomached chicken for years. Her parents, she explained, had forced her to eat when she had no appetite.

“Odd. Not enjoying eating,” Lawrence said. “Yet it keeps you slim.”

After tiramisu, which Jane ate carefully, Lawrence proposed playing bridge.Too bad the Morrisons hadn’t a clue about bridge.

“So, what do you do?” Lawrence asked—Stephanie signaling him, bad question.

They discussed the school system. Here, at least, Jane could offer suggestions: Say this to the principal, not that.

Lawrence retrieved their coats, managing as he helped Jane into her jacket to brush his fingers over her breasts, and even, accidentally—she was positive—to direct her hand onto his trousers. For a second. So it seemed. Perhaps Jane was a racist.

Finally, to entertain the Wus, Jane invited them to see their azaleas (spindly or not.) “Saturday?” Stephanie sounded gleeful. “Thank you.”

When Lawrence requested another beer, he followed Jane into the kitchen. She opened the refrigerator and he opened his fly. She held a Heinekens. Lawrence held a stiff penis. “Will you hold it?”

“No, thank you.” Obviously, no cultural divide here, Jane hurried into the main room. Certain men acted out, worldwide.

Jon Haylett Interview Part 1 of 3

Reader Logo
by Mike

The View From Here Interview:
Jon Haylett

Jon Haylett won The Bridport Prize in 2003 and The Royal Society of Literature's VS Pritchett Memorial Prize in 2004. Jon's first published novel, Cry of The Justice Bird came out last year with the publisher, Paperbooks. A year later I catch up with him to talk about his journey to publication and his writing.

Can you tell me a bit about yourself?

Born in British East Africa, I spent my early years shuttling between my various homes there and boarding schools in the UK. In my late teens I was a great hitch-hiker. Once qualified, my wife and I worked as teachers on contracts in Africa and the Caribbean. As our children began to grow up we spent many years in the feisty county of Essex. For the last twelve years we’ve lived in a remote village in the western Highlands of Scotland where we ran the village shop which boasted it sold just about everything. So I’ve had the great good fortune to live and work in some wonderful places and meet a legion of unforgettable characters, but the price has been the leaving and losing touch with people we’d come to love.

My writing comes out of those experiences, particularly of the Kenya coast, Rhodesia, and the barrens of the Sahara.

What's your ideal night out/in?

With my wife, eating at a simple village restaurant in the mountains of Greece or Italy, enjoying fresh local produce lovingly cooked and accompanied by regional wines, all presented with pride - as if the staff would be thrilled if you were still there eating and drinking at six the next morning.

What is your favorite book?

Patterson’s Maneaters of Tsavo, in which Patterson, an ex-army engineer, describes how he set out alone, often at night and through impenetrable bush, to kill two man-eating lions that had, for months, been dining their way through the workforce on the Uganda railway. I am in awe of his spirit of courage, endurance and adventure, qualities I feel we do too little to nurture in modern British society.

It’s typical of the sort of books I relish: the stories of the old white hunters, the diaries of missionaries like Robert Moffat, the histories of adventurers and explorers and wars - Thesiger’s Arabian Sands, or Heyerdahl’s Fatu Hiva - or books on African history like Donald R Morris’ great work on the rise and fall of the Zulu nation, The Washing of the Spears.

How did you get your publishing deal with Paperbooks for Cry of the Justice Bird and how long had you been trying before that?

I had been writing for about 18 years, I had, in that time, considerable success, such as winning Bridport and the VS Pritchett short story prizes as well as having two London agents take on novels, but had endured a succession of rejection slips from my novels. I was convinced that my work had potential, it was merely a matter of how I broke through the wall into the market. Two years ago, in that useful magazine The New Writer, I saw an advert placed by Keirsten Clark at PaperBooks looking for ‘Gritlit’. I had no idea what ‘Gritlit’ was but Justice Bird seemed fairly gritty so I sent it off.

What research did you do for Cry of the Justice Bird and how much did you draw on your own experiences?

I rarely do any research. I write about what I know and only checked details very shortly before the Bird was published. I can’t say I’ve experienced everything that Armstrong does, but anything I haven’t I can imagine vividly. So I’ve never shot or tortured a human, but I’ve killed and dissected a fair number of other beasts.

In a way much of the book isn’t down to ‘experience’. Those who have lived in Africa for any length of time know that the dark continent is like a disease that never goes away. It is in the bloodstream, its heat, its vivid landscapes, and in the smell of dust and in its fiery sunsets. As a child I spoke Swahili as fluently as I spoke English, and spent more of my day in the company of Africans than with my parents. Almost all my writing celebrates that enigmatic continent, that raw land of contrasts and the unpredictable, and its wonderful people.

What was the main drive for writing an extreme action/adventure book?

Mike, I like your use of the word ‘drive’, because that’s what I feel about storytelling. It’s an urge, something that’s in one, but an art that has to be nurtured and directed, and it’s taken me years to begin to get it right.

I’d written adventure books for both adults and late teens, I’d written literary and family saga, I’d written mystery and travelogue. Agents kept telling me they lacked this or that, and particularly that I needed to ‘show’ not ‘tell’. So I lost my temper: Justice Bird TELLS a story straight from the shoulder, no holds barred.

How long did it take you to do the first draft and what processes did it go through after that to produce the finished article?

The Bird’s 80,000 words were written in four months. The first couple of paragraphs came to me one evening as I lay in the bath, so I wrote them down and the words kept pouring out. The book had no planning, no composing, no agonizing over plot or characterization, it simply flowed, almost as if the story lay fully formed in my head and simply needed releasing.

In its original form it had no mention of the Justice Bird. I have no idea what prompted his invention. He was based on the corncrake, a summer visitor to this part of Scotland which is, according to the RSPB, endangered. The locals take money off that august charity to keep fields free of sheep for part of the year so the birds can breed, yet everyone hates corncrakes for the dreadful noise they make, often in the twilight of the early hours of our midsummer mornings. His inclusion was one of the few changes I made before I began the editing process with PaperBooks, and even then little was altered.

The second part of this interview is published here.

Jon's book is available at Amazon here. Or direct from Paperbooks here.

For the printed edition of this interview at TVFH go here.