Chris Killen Interview Part 2 of 2

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by Mike

The View From Here Interview: Chris Killen

Part 1 of this interview can be found here.

Chris Killen was born in 1981. He currently lives in Manchester. The Bird Room published by Canongate is his first novel.

As you move through the book the two main male characters and the female characters seem to merge into just one Will and one female ( Alice and Helen ). Helen "becomes" Alice but you are also left thinking they were always the same character anyway. Was it your intention to blur the readers perception of the characters and what was the reason you took this approach?

I already mentioned the film Persona ... Yes, I did intend to sort of 'blur' the perceptions of the characters, to a degree, but I also think that the characters stay 'separate', if that makes any sense.

I'm finding it hard to put into words why I decided to do this. I just stared at the screen for about five minutes. There are reasons: I liked the shift from 'realist' into 'not so realist'; I wanted to 'mirror' the characters -- there's lots of stuff about looking/being seen in there, if you want to find it.

I'm going to stop explaining myself now though. I like it in interviews with David Lynch when he just sort of says, 'The art should stand alone. I will destroy it if I try to explain it.'

What has it been like during the book launch?

Really, really fun. I got to meet some nice people, I had some free drinks and dinners. That whole week -- the launch in Manchester / reading in London / my birthday / starting as writing fellow at the University of Manchester -- was a bit of a blur. I was drunk for a lot of it.

Can you tell us what a writing fellow at the University involves and about some of the other things you are involved in like the 3:AM magazine and the readings at the Deaf Institute on Oxford Road.

The writing fellowship is great. I've been given an office, and a computer to use. I can come in every day to work on my own writing and things. I'm also on hand to give feedback on work by the current MA students, I'm teaching one undergraduate creative writing class, and running some 'informal writing workshops'.

For 3:AM I just occasionally read stories sent in, suggest edits (if needed), and then forward them to the editors to be posted.

There's No Point In Not Being Friends With Someone If You Want To Be Friends With Them is a monthly 'reading night' I help organise, with my friend Sally. The idea was to put on a night in Manchester to showcase prose as well as poetry, and for it to be quite eclectic and not too formal or reverent. We've also had stand up comedy and things, and there's always a 'video reading' by someone not from Manchester. In the past, for that, we've had Tao Lin, Blake Butler, Sam Pink ... lots of good people. And there's a bar and music and breaks between the readings and things. It's a good way to meet other people interested in writing. It's been going really well ...

I also like making short films and things. I recently made a silly animated video with my friend Socrates:

How have your friends reacted to you becoming a published author?

My friends haven't treated me any different, I don't think. They bought me drinks when I got the deal, and said, 'Well done' and things. That was about it. I don't really like saying, 'I am a published author' or anything, like if I'm at a party or somewhere. If someone asks me what i 'do' I will usually just make a face and mutter something about 'writing' and feel awkward.

Maybe my friends slag me off a bit behind my back, I don't know. I realise that I'm very lucky -- I have a lot of talented friends who are still working on first novels and things -- and it sort of feels like I can 'no longer complain about anything ever' to anyone. Which is fine, I guess.

What writing experience did you have before The Bird Room?

I wrote a lot of bad short stories, tried out different styles, and tried to write like my 'heroes' -- first Charles Bukowski, then maybe Richard Brautigan. I also tried (and failed) to write a novel maybe 4 or 5 times.

I think I was just about beginning to get better at writing short stories when I started (and carried on with) The Bird Room.

I've been writing 'seriously' since I was 18, so 10 years writing experience, I guess.

What advice would you give to writers trying to get a publishing deal?

I'm quite passionate about 'internet writing' -- flash fiction, blogging, things like that. I think there are lots of other ways now for a person to get there stuff read, and to 'make a name for themselves', whilst simultaneously following the more traditional route of, you know, sending to agents, entering prizes, sending stories to big scary literary magazines, etc.

Also, something I didn't really realise at the time I was sending my stuff out, was that to get a book deal or an agent, you just need to find one person who likes your work. The 'world of publishing' is just different people's opinions. And once you find one person willing to stand behind your work, then they will know other people who might like it, etc. etc. So I wouldn't be too disheartened if you get lots of rejections at first -- they are just individual opinions. Keep sending it places to try and find the one person willing to take a risk on it.

And general advice about writing?

I think the only way to improve is to keep writing. It's strange, sometimes it feels like you might never get any better, but then you look at a thing you saved from a year ago and see a lot of differences. As far as I know, there's no 'quick, easy way' to improve. But if it's something you enjoy doing anyway, then writing and carrying on writing shouldn't feel like work.

Can you tell us something about your next book?

I made a 'calendar' of 1993 this afternoon. Not the whole year, just from July 23rd until September 6th, which is the school holidays. That six week period is when the novel is set. I have lots of blank squares on the calendar still to fill in.

Is that Indoor Fireworks and any clues as to the premise of the book?

Yes it is. It is about two awkward teenage cousins living in a house together. There will be lots of 'small explosions' and moments of 'miniature awkwardness'. Some really horrible things happen to the characters. There is a seven foot man in it, too, called 'the long man'. That's all I want to say about it, I think.

Would you answer any of these questions differently on another day of the week?

Yes, probably.

Usually I will look at an interview, once it's posted, days or weeks after, and think, 'Oh dear'.

Read TVFH review of The Bird Room here.

Go to the bird room's site here.

And read Chris' blog here.

Photo credit (modified): Sarah Lee

Chris Killen Interview Part 1 of 2

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by Mike

The View From Here Interview: Chris Killen

Chris Killen was born in 1981. He currently lives in Manchester. The Bird Room published by Canongate is his first novel.

Can you tell me a bit about yourself.

Hi. My name's Chris. I'm twenty seven years old. I'm quite slim, with brown hair and brown eyes. I currently live in Manchester and have been single for about a year. I guess I'm looking to meet someone easy-going, funny, a bit silly. Nothing too serious at first, just getting to know each other, and then see where it goes from there ...

What's your ideal night?

I think it would be hanging out with someone who made me laugh a lot, who also maybe wanted to kiss me occasionally -- someone who wasn't repulsed by the idea of that. We would lie in bed without clothes on and smoke roll-ups and drink red wine, maybe, and whisper things and try to make each other laugh. There would be lots of laughing, sometimes turning into that silent heaving/crying kind of laughing. Something like Mazzy Star or M. Ward would be playing quietly on a stereo. There would be fairy lights in the corner of the room, or maybe candles, and it would not be warm or cold -- the temperature would not be any kind of 'issue'. Maybe there would be a TV and DVD player, too, and a remote control near the bed, so we wouldn't have to get out if we wanted to turn it on. But mostly we would just create lots of new in-jokes and things, and by the end of the night we would have developed a whole impenetrable world of things which if we tried to describe them to other people, they'd probably not understand, or just go 'oh, that's nice' blankly, which would be fine – we wouldn't really care about their opinion, anyway.

What is your favourite book?

Pan by Knut Hamsun.

What is your favourite bird?

The Crested Norwich Canary.

I wrote a short 'wikipedia' entry about the Crested Norwich Canary on my blog a while ago. Here is an excerpt:

the crested norwich canary doesn't have a head. once i looked at a video on the internet of two crested norwich canaries sitting on perches in a birdcage, trying awkwardly to move around without being able to see. one managed to hop in an ungainly fashion onto another perch.

the 'design' of the crested norwich canary eschews 'practicality' and 'survival' instead focussing on 'the absurd' and a 'dada-ist approach' to being a small bird. the crested norwich canary has transcended function and the ability to see/move around properly.

I especially like the paintings of the Crested Norwich Canary by the artist J.W. Ludlow -- here is a good example.

How did you get your publishing deal with Canongate and how did that feel?

It felt amazing. It still hasn't really sunk in. Or it has maybe just started to sink in, now that I've actually seen it in a few shops and things.

I've wrote about how I got the Canongate deal quite a lot in previous interviews. In brief, I met Steven Hall (author of The Raw Shark Texts) in Waterstone's, while I was working there. He offered to read my novel, then passed it on to his editor, Francis at Canongate, who is now my editor.

There was about two years prior to that, though, of sending it out to agents, being rejected, pestering other authors, etc., with no great results. I had just about given up on The Bird Room when Steven read it.

Did the rejections lead you to question your ability to write and did you ever consider self publishing during that time?

I never really questioned my ability to write; I remember at that point being very happy with what I was doing, being very confident about it, but just thinking that maybe it wasn't something suited to 'mainstream' publishing.

Yes, I was considering self publishing. I had a 3-step plan for The Bird Room.

1. Send out to agents and any 'large' publishing house that accepted unsolicited manuscripts.

2. Send to smaller presses / maybe try places abroad (?).

3. Publish it myself.

I was about halfway through step 2 when the Canongate deal happened. I'd had some interest from Social Disease -- who I liked the look of -- but at that point I believe they were waiting on Arts Council funding, so couldn't commit.

Can you tell us a bit about the book?

I think of it as a black comedy. It's had very mixed reviews. Someone in an Amazon customer review complained about not being able to give it 0 stars (1 being the lowest). But people that like it seem to really like it. It is about a relationship destroyed due to irrational paranoia and jealousy. It is also about internet porn. When I wrote it, I wasn't thinking it would end up on 3-for-2 tables in Waterstone's. Most of my favourite authors are 'cult' authors. I was just trying to write something that people like myself and my friends might like to read.

Do you find yourself checking through reviews and amazon ratings a lot? And how do you deal with the ones like above that hate it?

Yes, I have spent the past few weeks 'frantically' checking the amazon page for new customer review, sales rank figures, etc. In a moment of weakness -- it was very late at night, I was a bit drunk -- I even wrote a comment in reply to a particularly scathing review.

That said, I feel 'okay' about the mixed reviews -- I wasn't expecting everyone to like it. What frustrates me more is when a review is just a complete plot synopsis. That seems to be pretty common, it seems a bit lazy somehow. The Guardian one even described the ending and finished with the last line. That was kind of strange.

What research did you do for the book?

I just had the compulsion to write 'lots of wanking'.

I don't know, there wasn't much 'research' as such, more just things that I liked -- books, films, etc. – that I feel maybe 'informed' it. Early on, when I was making the first notes, I was watching a lot of foreign films; Pierrot Le Fou by Jean-Luc Godard, and Persona by Ingmar Bergman where two particularly influential things at that point, I think.

How many edits did it go through?

It took around three years to finish. During that time, there have been at least 7 or 8 edits, but maybe three 'major' ones.

There was a 35,000 word original version.

Then there was a 19,000 word edit where i cut out a lot of 'extraneous, embarrasing shit'. (This was the version Steven Hall and the people at Canongate saw; the version that got me the book deal ...)

Then there was a 35,000 word 'expanded' edit -- which is the final, published version.

For many people that would put it in novella territory, did that effect the reaction you got from publishers and agents?

Yes, I was aware that the length would make it harder for me to find someone willing to take it on. I don't think any agents or publishers actually mentioned that in their rejections though. It was mostly just standard letters; 'Dear _______, We are sorry to say ...' etc.

I like to think of it as a 'short novel' as opposed to novella. The word 'novella' makes me think of something 'twee' and 'floral' -- like a book wearing a little frilly skirt or something.

Richard Brautigan's novels were always around 28,000 words. Amelie Nothomb's novels average about 18,000 words. I got quite obsessed with word counts around the time I was sending it out places.

Do you find it easy to write sex scenes, or do you worry what people will think?

I didn't find the scenes themselves hard to write. There's a lot of writing about sex in the book, I think, but only one or two actual 'sex scenes'.

I did worry, occasionally, what my mum might think. She finally read it, a couple of weeks ago, and described it as 'strong meat'.

Tommorow part 2 where Chris gives some advice on writing and getting published.

Read TVFH review of The Bird Room here.

Go to the bird room's site here.

And read Chris' blog here.

Photo credit: Sarah Lee

For Part 2 click here.

For a printed edition of this interview go here.

Pass Me Some Eyes, Please -- Mark Ludgate

"It’s like um…"

His conversation is heard from everywhere in the café. Outside, the pebble beach is wet. The bench he sits on is wet. He takes something from the bag on the table and bites it from his palm.
"…it might have been around October, probably October time. No, that’s all wrong. Ha, how silly of me to forget. No, it was November, definitely, yeah because the point is that the weather was cold, so cold. Ha, everyone always says that, like they weren’t expecting winter to come back around again, "Oh it’s so cold isn’t it." So… it was November, maybe the fourth or something like that… lets not dwell on that: not important… But the beginning of November, and cold like, shit. I dunno’, it was cold enough that we could be sure the earth must have been getting her final laugh, really shaking us up for global warming. ‘Cos, she knows that we’re fibbing, soothing our conscience, when we say we care about her. It was killer cold."

Read the rest at The Front View

Don’t Ask Why

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by Kathleen

April never considered telling her father no. Although she lived a mere train ride away, Anders hadn’t contacted her even when Max was born. But now that her son was six, he invited them kindly. No matter that in thirty-two years, he had only once taken April to lunch, when she was ten. That, and several random, pre-dawn phone calls; a few greeting cards.

On the train Max asked a stream of questions about the grandfather nobody ever mentioned. Why did Anders want to meet Max now? What was a recluse and why did April call him one?

“Don’t keep asking why, sweetheart. Sometimes you have to wait and see.”

But why hadn’t Max seen Insect Collector magazine if Anders owned it? Why did some people collect insects when most people hated them? Why did people have bug fairs? Why couldn’t Max go to one?

“Ask him to take you, honey.”

At Grand Central they took a taxi to West 21st Street. The sidewalks teemed with people; the narrow, towering buildings obliterated daylight.

Anders’ building looked especially decrepit. They waited long minutes until he opened the door. “Well, well.” He shook Max’s hand and moved to kiss April, who recoiled involuntarily.

In the unkempt studio, April touched her son’s head and knew Max found the shrunken old man amazing. That Anders reeked of alcohol and loneliness didn’t penetrate the boy
s wonder. Whereas April imagined the cluttered space and soiled artifacts springing organically from her father’s leathery hands.

Beneath a gray window a primitive computer and printer sat on a linoleum-topped table. “A young man at Radio Shack provides me with parts.” Anders smiled, showing his grimy teeth.

“Come here, Max.” He steered the boy, waving to include April, toward two cabinets, where a fluorescent lamp brought a spurt of cleanliness into sharp relief.

He opened a thin cabinet drawer, which displayed huge, iridescent beetles.

Max said, “Yikes.”

Anders chuckled or more like croaked. “See these?” He opened the next cabinet with its array of butterflies.

“Wow!” Max’s eyes widened. He peered at the vivid gossamer wings swirling with red, orange, and blue. Patterns like eyes dotted a lot of them.

“Asterope sapphira.” Anders pointed to an especially gorgeous blue butterfly. “Originates in the Amazon.”


Anders opened every drawer and talked about every specimen. Origins and traits.

Then April forgot herself. Almost unaware, she clenched her fists. “Why, Anders, why? Why now? I mean, why you? Why you jerk! Why oh why ever not?”

Max was tugging her elbow. “Mommy. Don’t keep asking why. Sometimes you have to wait and see. Sometimes nobody knows.”

the bird room by Chris Killen

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by Mike

the bird room
by Chris Killen
Publisher: Canongate

I am not a man. I am a hat stand. Her favourite hat hangs from my erection. Oh god, I should start again somewhere else.

Chris Killen's debut novel is a splintered story of torn relationships between Will, Alice, Helen and Will. Two Wills? Confused?
Well the outline of the characters tends to overlap so that at points new characters tend to emerge or for a fleeting moment you're not sure if some characters are the same person.

I want to disappear. I want to not be a part of things any more.

Chris fills the bird room with sharp prose, dysfunctional relationships, sex and Internet porn to produce a novella of emotional intensity. It's a bit like dicing up a Julian Barnes novel on a chopping board, adding a pinch of Mark Haddon's A Spot of Bother, throwing half of it away and then throwing what's left Jamie Oliver style onto a plate. It gets mixed up, is a bit mad, but isn't half good.

In fact it's better than half-good, it's excellent. Although I suspect an acquired taste. It could dazzle you and just as easy annoy the hell out of you. If you like a clear plot and a linear time line then:
stay away.

The plot hangs around Will finding himself suddenly involved with the confident, smart and sexy wild card, Alice. It's a threesome with paranoia though:

There is a glass girl in my head. If I ask too many questions she will shatter.

And Will is taken with her, not just for the sex:

'Lie down on the bed,' she says. Her voice is quiet. It's just the outline of a voice. I can hear the slipping off of clothes. I can see her silhouette, over by the blue rectangle of window.

but for something more:

What I want is cloudy and indistinct. It exists somewhere at the centre of her.

The book often plays on people being observed and recorded and in that it has a touch of Tom McCarthy's Remainder to it, but with a technological slant, the Internet, e-mails, video cameras:

Her eyes do not close but instead they widen and widen and widen, until impossible, until they are like huge black lenses recording me.

It all goes wrong when Alice shares how an ex-boyfriend talked her into doing porn. Will becomes obsessed with finding it and reality recedes into the background.

Enter Helen, with yellow hair and blue eyes, she used to be Clair, but now she is an actress. Well she isn't quite an actress, in fact Helen isn't quite a porn star, but she's heading that way and sells her body to voyeurs via the web.
Will contacts her and sets about reconstructing her as Alice and the elusive porn film of Alice which destroyed his relationship with her.

So a book about the cold, impersonal nature of porn...

It's very cold in here. Cold and impersonal, like coins in a till.

It's destructive influence on deeper relationships and how technology can blur the distinction between truth and fiction and reflect back to us a myriad of possibilities that ultimately lead to isolation and a loss of self.

She waits for something wonderful to happen to her. In her head, Will appears behind her. He puts his hands on her waist, slides them up over her tits and magically her nipples harden.
I'm fucked.
I want to disappear.
I want to not be a part of things any more.

Chris Killen was born in 1981. He currently lives in Manchester. The Bird Room is his first novel.

Take a look inside the book here.

Go to the bird room's site here.

And read Chris' blog here.

Welcome Charlie Wykes

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by Mike

With the amount of book review requests we have been receiving from publishers, it's time to boost our reviewers here at the magazine.

So welcome Charlie Wykes, friend, book lover and 2000AD fan. ( A UK comic for those who don't know!)

Charlie pointed me in the direction of some great influential books after reading an early draft of my book, including Julian Barnes, Iain Banks and Kurt Vonnegut for which I will ever be grateful.

Charlie will review a book each month and is currently reading White Man Falling by Mike Stocks.

Searching for the Story

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by Paul Burman

One September several years back, my job took me to Thessaloniki, northern Greece, for a couple of weeks. As I flew out of Australia, Sydney launched
its Olympic Games Opening Ceremony, and the irony of seeing several events taking place in my home country through the medium of Greek TV wasn't lost on me. I'd lounge in my hotel room at the end of the day, watching the 100 metres or the discus throwing, and find it bizarre that Mount Olympus was only a spit and a lick away. As was Alexander the Great, Aristotle and Socrates, and there were more Byzantine churches, Roman baths, temples and tombs around than you could poke a javelin at... It's a stunning country to visit, not least because its rich history and culture is apparent at almost every turn. So many stories.

However, this isn't a travelogue, and while there were many
experiences (from both contemporary and ancient Greece) to enjoy on that trip, and which I've often savoured since, it was a fragment of domestic grief only briefly witnessed that created the most profound effect on me. Comedy and tragedy happens all around us - unreachable and unalterable, despite being uncannily close at times - and sometimes all we can do is join the Chorus as unwitting and helpless observers, hoping that the worst of the stories are never our own.

On my last morning in Thessaloniki, before flying to Athens, I was up and packed by 5am and standing at the open window of my room. It was still dark outside - still and dark - and warm with the promise of another hot day. My room was located on the fourth floor, at the rear of the hotel, looking across to the back of a couple of high-rise apartment blocks. They didn't seem too big a stretch away and it would have probably added to the ambience of the place if someone had slung a washing line between, but I've always enjoyed the backyard and rooftop views of cities, seeking out the back streets and lanes in preference to postcard hotspots, and so it suited me fine.

It was good to breathe in the end of night, the start of day, and to catch a few moments of stillness before heading down to the lobby and catching the airport bus. And I was thinking this and mentally checking to make sure I hadn't forgot something - that I'd kept my passport and tickets handy and that sort of thing - when, from an apartment almost opposite, a woman began crying.

It began as a sobbing. Deep sobs, one after the other. Until one sob became an intense wail: a drawn-out cry that reminded me of someone drowning. She was sobbing and crying as if the best of her life was over, and I couldn't tell whether it was from grief or pain or loss or betrayal or... There suddenly seemed so many reasons a woman might cry at 5 o'clock in the morning. I peered out to try and identify which apartment and which room she might be in. Was she hurt? Had she witnessed the death of her child. Or a husband? What sort of loss was it? Was she sitting next to a telephone or a bloody mess? Was there a scribbled note in her hand? Was she in danger? Did she need help? I couldn't tell, but the solitary sound of this woman crying was amplified across the courtyard of tall buildings, along with its poignancy, and it found its way into me. It was one of the most plaintive, lonely sounds I'd ever heard.

It seemed that at any moment someone would have to join her, to soothe and comfort her, or to continue bullying and berating her; that the click or slam of a door would be equally clear on a morning like this, along with the ripple of soothing words or the throwing of pans, the smashing of crockery. But none of that happened. Just as she began her lament, so she ended it. As I stood and listened and wondered what - if anything - could be done, a current swept her from one end of grief to another, and her wailing once again became a series of sobs punctuated by silence. Except the silence now seemed louder than before. And I had to catch a bus to the airport.

So evocative was this scene for me that I've tried writing it numerous times across the years, although most often when I'm somewhere far from home. Usually as a poem, but occasionally as a short story. Except the words I really want and the view I really want to present have always eluded me. All I've created are scraps of paper with scribbled jottings and crossings-out to join the heap of other scraps of paper covered in scribbled jottings and crossings-out. (I have trees worth of these and sometimes, when we're short of winter firewood, I'll burn a box or two of them and we'll warm ourselves on the flames of old words.)

I could leave it well alone, of course, and allow the scene to simply hang in the gallery of my memories. Except I'm reluctant to. And so, I do what many writers do and begin to analyse why what I've tried won't work, while searching for a way of telling it in a way that might work instead. I look at the possibilities from different perspectives and learn that I can't
see my way forward, perhaps, because my focus has been misdirected. Maybe, instead of attempting to present a view of the woman's predicament and an interpretation of her situation, or even just capturing an evocative moment in life, the power of the scene might lie in the many questions that are raised but left begging. Or, in a Carveresque manner, it might lie in describing two characters who, for very different reasons, find themselves on the brink of change. There are so many possibilities. Maybe it needs to be one of those stories whereby, instead of making sense of the world - or a slice of the world - we end up with even more questions than answers along with a weightier awareness of our smallness in the universe. Maybe I should turn to Euripedes, Homer, Sophocles, and ask how the Greek poets would have shaped the telling of this story. Perhaps I should question what universal truth might be revealed here. Maybe, perhaps, possibly... There are so many ways of telling a story, if only we, as writers, can find one that works.

Line of Defense

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by Stella

Way back – practically a year ago – when I wrote my first post for the View, I expressed mild distress over the fact that when you tell people you’re a writer, they usually suspect your intelligence, judgment, or sanity (possibly all three). Apparently the world divides writers into two types: the Hack and the Artist. The Hack makes an absurd amount of money for producing garbage effortlessly – garbage which anyone could write. The Artist must commune with the universe to create, thus his or her work is born out of some mystical, unexplainable process – and thus who the hell even understands what he or she is babbling about.

Even if you're not a writer and are simply fond of reading, chances are you've been caught in conversations where you were forced to defend reading, authorship, literature, literary criticism – probably all of these. If you've ever found yourself spluttering for a line of defense, I have compiled here a list of handy responses to a number of typically infuriating statements. In some cases, I've included a bad – that is, sarcastic – answer, which you should avoid giving. You needn't fear cocktail conversations any longer.

Claim: Literary criticism is not only unnecessary, it always spoils a good book.
Answer: Criticism is necessary for a number of reasons. First, good criticism improves understanding of a text; understanding a text leads to better understanding of literature as a whole; better understanding of literature as a whole leads to new production of literature. Second, criticism preserves the text by discussing it and trying to illuminate why it’s worth discussing in the first place. Third, literary criticism is like sports commentary – you can watch a game without it, but it helps you enjoy the game on a whole other level.
Special Bonus Comment: A critique, being only an opinion, is not written in stone, ergo it can change. Criticism is meant to be an ongoing discussion, not the passing of final judgment.

Claim: You can say anything you want about a work of literature because everything is subjective.
Answer: You can’t, actually. Just like you can’t walk up to someone, invent things about them and have them considered "true," you can’t say whatever you want about a work of literature. Things have an origin and a context, which you need to relate to in some way. Theories/interpretations have to be based on evidence, not on gut reaction or whim.

Claim: The author of a text is not important since the text, once published, no longer belongs to them but to the reader. (This is a variation on the previous statement.)
Answer: That’s like saying that once you’ve made a cake, you no longer have any right to tell people how you baked it. It’s also like trying to write a biography about someone without researching their parents and family. The relation between author and text is like the relation between parent and child. It may not tell you everything, but it's a useful place to start.

Claim: There are so many writers these days. It seems anyone can do it.
Bad Answer: Then I’ll be glad to read your novel when it’s finished.
Good Answer: Like anything, writing is a skill that needs to be acquired. Many people can dance, but there are numerous levels of proficiency, not to mention various styles of dancing.
Special Bonus Comment: The really great thing is that the possibilities are endless given the number of variables involved.

Claim: It's not really difficult to tell a story – you start at the beginning and when you come to the end, you stop.
Bad Answer: Then tell me where you’d like me to start and I’ll just finish when you’re too tired to listen.
Good Answer: There are lots of ways to tell a story and sometimes the sheer infiniteness of possibilities is overwhelming. When you read a story, you're essentially reading one possibility chosen out of a million. Granted, it may not always be the best one, but it's still the product of a complex selection process.

Claim: Who needs Henry James or Jane Austen? Give me J.K. Rowling any day.
Answer: Books and authors don't come out of nowhere. They're part of a chain of thinking that you can trace backwards. In order to appreciate a new link, it helps to be somewhat familiar with the previous links. Whether you realize it (or like it) or not, all culture is interconnected in some way – the high and the low, the good and the bad, the popular and the obscure – mutually influencing each other.

Claim: [insert name here] is the only writer who ever wrote anything good. They just don’t know how to write good fiction anymore.
Bad Answer: People usually say that and then hold up as paragons of literary virtue some poor writer who wasn’t appreciated in his or her own time.
Good Answer: To paraphrase Elvis, there's enough room for everybody. There are as many different readers as there are writers, and they can't all be accommodated by the same person.
Special Bonus Comment: Unfortunately, people aren't always rewarded for their merits in a timely fashion, but the important thing is to be appreciated in the long-run. After all, what good is it to be wildly adored in your own time and then forgotten by the next generation? Besides, culture is dynamic, not static. Today something is out of favor, tomorrow it's revived.

If anyone has any more of these, I'll be perfectly happy to formulate answers. I also do weddings, but I'll leave that for another post.

All In Love Is Fair

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by Kathleen

Markham’s Pub is perfect for this neighborhood. I
m the bartender and know all the regulars. Roger and Jason arrive after work without fail, and again after dinner. Friends since grade school, they’re grateful to still have jobs.

They drink whiskey and recite the same old childhood pranks. But their patter changes so the humor rises differently every time. They don’t get noticeably drunk or ask me the obvious. And they never confess.

Their girlfriends are nursing students. Zoë and Vanessa don’t come in when Roger and Jason are here. They arrive earlier, drink wine near a window, and hold hands.

Today after an hour of giggling and entwining pretty ankles under their table, the girls approach the bar, having agreed I should know what’s what.

Ordinarily, I turn my back when people offer details. But Zoë and Vanessa are so damn cute—in love—that I’m happy to listen.

“The only reason they don’t already know,” Vanessa says, “is because they’re oblivious. On purpose.”

’ve given them fair warning,” Zoë says. “I mean, how explicit do we have to be? We’ve said we’re serious.”

Later, when Roger and Jason arrive after work, I’m less thrilled by the situation.

Roger watches a pair of dark beauties lost in conversation and asks, “In your educated opinion, Joe, are they lesbians?”

“The Brianti sisters? Shy but straight.”

For weeks now Roger and Jason have wondered about women alone, women in pairs, and women in groups. Sapphic love appears everywhere. Or is it just them?

This evening neither shows up after dinner. Instead they stagger in, well after my shift when I
m savoring my brandy and choosing the night’s final playlist.

“We don’t need to tell you what happened.” Jason rocks back and forth.

“You know I couldn
t have known for sure, till now. Can I buy you guys a drink?”

Of course, I can. And since I
’ve always liked them, I listen to their side—seems only fair. Zoë’s moving in with Vanessa; Jason’s stuff was piled up in the hallway. Roy can’t make the rent alone but—no way can they live together.

“Sorry.” I salute when their drinks arrive. “To better days.”

“We’re okay, Joe. I’m better already.”

Maybe so, but I hear them out until four a.m. Jason worries he
s failed to encourage Zoë’s feminine side. And Roger admits to too much time acting like guys, no girls allowed.

“Don’t blame yourselves. Maybe they were made for each other.”

“If so, they lied to us. Told us both we were their best lovers ever.”

“And until lately, you probably were.”

Roger turns away, eyes brimming. “What do you really think?”

“What I always think: All in Love is Fair—Stevie Wonder. ’Cuse me a sec.” And I yell out, “Last call!”

The Island

The Island
by Victoria Hislop

Publisher: Headline

I’m not a fan of family sagas. However, when a friend gave me The Island by Victoria Hislop, the wife of the humorous Ian Hislop of Private Eye and the TV programme Have I got News for You, I thought I’d give it a shot.

Unfortunately, by the time I’d read it that was what I wanted to do to myself.

For a start, I’m one of those people who read a lot into a title and as such “The Island” is about as riveting as “The Dishcloth” or the “The Floor Mop.” In fact, the only way a title like that could be interesting would be if it was written by Stephen King or James Herbert in which case I’d be anticipating mummified rats and zombies crawling out of an ancient island crypt. Now that would be riveting.

Unfortunately, there were no mummies in this book but there were plenty of picturesque settings, strong silent types and raven haired beauties. (Groan.)

Not being a connoisseur of beach books, as The Island is described on its cover, I’m guessing these are the standard ingredients of a such novels; a sort of literary version of Dallas or Dynasty. Only in this case without the fun bits.

Well alright, it wasn’t that bad. In fact, it started off quite well on the premise that the young, beautiful Alexis (Hmm…those Dynasty overtones again) travels to Crete to uncover her past and discovers that her great grandmother was incarcerated on the leper island colony of Spinalonga. Subsequently, the tale travels back in time and we learn the full story of Eleni and her daughters, Maria and Anna. The eldest daughter, Anna, escapes her lowly upbringing by marrying into a wealthy family but risks everything by having an affair with her husband’s cousin. The younger daughter, Maria, contracts leprosy and like her mother is confined to Spinalonga.

The ingredients were all present to make this book a really good read but I felt the yeast was missing and it just fell flat. Considering leprosy and adultery were the two main themes of the book one might have expected some explosive moments. But that simply didn’t happen; emotions were kept under wraps, characters never fully explored and dramatic moments curtailed. Some characters and plot lines just fizzled out when there was the potential for some juicy confrontational moments. For example, when Anna’s husband finally challenges her about her adultery he shoots her and it is all done in about a page! He then runs off, as does the adulterous cousin and they have barely a mention in the rest of the book. Bah humbug! I’m lodging a formal complaint with The Plot Police.

Oh well, I’ve started ranting, I might as well continue. I found some of the plot tediously predictable. For instance, the doctor working on a cure for leprosy falls in love with Maria but manages to cure her before she succumbs to disfigurement. How dull is that? Wouldn’t it have been more interesting if she had been disfigured? Or maybe the doctor could have quit medicine and become a car dealer or a priest or for real excitement he could have fallen on his own hypodermic syringe and killed himself. Whoopee!

In all seriousness, I felt the issues surrounding prejudice caused by disease and disfigurement could have been explored to a much greater depth. The ending too was quite dissatisfying as in the opening chapters we were led to believe the revelations would help Alexis make a momentous life changing decision. Unfortunately, this turns out to be merely dumping her boyfriend which you could pretty much guess was going to happen anyway. It might have been more satisfying if it had been revealed that Alexis or her boyfriend had a life threatening condition like Aids. Then there would have been the scope to examine whether or not attitudes to potentially contagious and fatal afflictions have changed since the days of Spinalonga.

So after reading 473 pages, some of them surplus to the plot, I just felt cheated. However, I’m a great believer that every book has a secondary purpose. For example, Tom Cruise’s biographies make the perfect platforms for reaching the top shelf, War and Peace makes a good door stopper and The Island is a great cure for insomnia because every time I picked it up I just…….


Insanity -- Joseph Lynch

Insanity -- Joseph Lynch

My head pounded like a steel spike was imbedded deep into my forehead. I managed to open my eyes a sliver against the morning light. Sprawled in a small bedroom, the bureau, dresser, and bookcase all of inexpensive wood veneer appeared familiar. A closet, its door ajar, revealed a bright peach blouse with a ruffled front. An image of a woman with bright blue accusing eyes formed in my mind - Naomi. Her name brought me peace. I had made it home.

I lay as if dead hoping to slip back into the bliss of unconsciousness but the pain kept me in the land of the living and brought the usual host of annoyances: nausea, thirst and the shakes. Like any veteran drinker, I bore these well as I could but I never got used to the unnamed fear and wanted to hide from it.

There are those that have complete blackouts and remember nothing and only learn of their escapades from a third party. I am not so lucky. For the most part, I only lose snatches of the evening. Most of it comes back as if I’m in a dream and usually the dream is a nightmare.
I allowed myself to descend past the throbbing pain. The last clear memory I had was leaving the firehouse yesterday. It had to be about six. Naomi wasn’t going to be home for dinner. She was going to her parents to tell them about the new baby. So I decided to stop at McKenna’s to take a sandwich home. I had promised Naomi I wouldn’t get drunk. And I had no intention of having even one drink. But all day long, I had been thinking about the roast beef sandwiches at McKenna’s. McKenna’s roast beef sandwiches are famous throughout the neighborhood. I just wanted a sandwich and then I wouldn’t have to cook for myself. It started to come back:

For the rest of this story go to the front view here.

Free Writing

by Gary Davison

When I was invited to write an article for this wonderful magazine, I immediately checked up on what others had wrote about the chosen subject of writing. It wasn’t until I was reading the article by Eliezer Sobel, a prize winning novelist, that I suddenly thought, ‘Am I qualified enough to write about writing?’

I have no qualifications in any aspect of writing. Nothing of note to speak of in that area, I’m afraid. However, my debut novel came out last year and my second is due for release in the summer, and I lock myself away for three hours a day talking to myself, and occasionally writing it down, so I’ve got to be as nutty as the rest of you that have taken this game up, haven’t I?

I’ve chosen something I’m doing at the moment between books, to talk about. So here goes…

Everyone who wants to be published writes for the same reason. Oh yes you do. You might love writing, get a thrill out of reading what you produce, an even bigger rush writing that first draft, or crave the escapism writing gives in abundance. But if you have, or do, send your baby out into the world to be read, you’re looking for a pat on the back. You can dress it up any way you like, but it is the truth. Every one of us would love people to read our story and say, ‘Jesus Christ this is it. You’ve hit the big time. You’re a literary genius, not only that, my old pal, it’s a commercial blockbuster, get on a diet quick we’re going to Hollywood.’

How much we want this is another matter. Some will swear that they are tortured minds and are dragged to the keyboard by an unknown force and are unable to stop themselves pouring out bestsellers – they are special. And also complete liars. Others are more honest and write for a market, trying to punt their wares to the highest bidder. Whatever your reason, if we the public know about it, you’re after the adulation – and there’s nothing wrong in that.

So here’s the thing. How can anyone know that they’re writing their best if they’re not writing what they want and how they want? How can you know it’s your best if you haven’t the foggiest what your best is? Until you write for you, and no one else, you will never write your best or know just how good a writer you are.

When I wrote my first novel, I learnt so much about writing and re-wrote it at least ten times. I learnt about structure, characterisation, plot, all the stuff that you need to know about, but that slows the fun down. In the end, the book came out fantastic, (blow one’s own trumpet, why don’t you?) but I don’t consider it to be my best. My hands were tied in certain aspects and I was working to a plot and there were only glimpses of me really letting go. My second book I wrote with a free mind and free hand. There was no holding back and it’s my pride and joy. I know it’s the best I’ll ever write. No semi-colons, no italics and only 165 pages. No research, popcorn fiction, simply having a good time. It’s with the editors at the minute so I’m expecting a battle to keep it just the way I want it, but I’m up for the challenge!

I’m busy writing a story now, based on two characters, which I know for certain will never, ever be read by anyone other than me. And, let me tell you, the freedom is unreal. You can say what you like, the way you like, get so far into the characters and go off on as many tangents as you care to. You can be as bad as you like or as heroic as you want to be, but one thing you get from this type of writing is imagination. Imagination running wild for days with nowhere to go other than a page ahead, and before you know it, you’ve banged five thousand words out and are having the time of your life.

And who knows where it might end up? You could write your way into a character or a situation you’d never thought possible, and something could grow from there. With no one else viewing it, you can go as deep as you want with thoughts, without being worried about what others will think. Free writing unlocks everything for you, but it can’t be done unless you’re completely honest with yourself and write knowing that you won’t be showing the final piece to anyone. I compare it to when I passed my driving test at seventeen. “Feed-the-wheel, feed-the-wheel,” the driving instructor demanded, but all I wanted to do was wheel-spin in the street and have a good time. Free writing is wheel-spinning. It’s so much fun and it could get you to produce your best ever work. I know what I’m saying isn’t revolutionary, but when was the last time you tried it?

Gary Davison’s debut novel Fat Tuesday was published last year by PaperBooks.

This is what he says about himself:

Writes, reads, runs, gyms, golfs, gambles, red wine, chocolate, Chinese, The Post Office, The Great Gatsby, A Clockwork Orange, To Kill a Mockingbird, Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas, Amsterdam, Vernon God Little, Papillion, House, Dexter, The Sopranos, PrisonBreak, Boxing, Newcastle United, the wife, the daughter, Sydney, France, Sydney, Newcastle, Sydney.

Visit Gary's website here.

For a printed edition of this article go here.