The Bond - H. J. Hampson

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by H. J. Hampson

I see Suzanne Arnold’s face every time I close my eyes. There she is with her dazzling, sunshine smile, tattooed on the insides of my eye lids. These days - at least - it is not every time I blink, which is how it used to be. It’s curious she’s smiling, really; but, I suspect she is not smiling at me. It’s a replica of a photograph, so of course she’s really smiling at whoever is - or was - beyond the camera lens. Kevin, no doubt. Pathetic, wet, Kevin. He doesn’t deserve her eternal smile.

Her hair is so dark and thick and I long to touch it, smell it. Does it smell of molasses, I wonder? I’d like to think it does. Or caramel, or autumn? She looks like an autumn kind of girl with her hair and her chestnut eyes that could warm you with a glance on a fresh October day. Sometimes when I dream about her, I wake up imagining she’ll be there next to me. Don’t I sometimes feel her soft breath on my neck just before the fragile dreams disintegrate in the stale air of the morning?

Read More at The Front View

In Defence of Thomas

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by Jane Turley

Forget Thomas Hardy. Forget Dylan Thomas. Let’s talk about the Thomas who has made more impact than any of his namesakes.

Let’s talk about Thomas the Tank Engine.

I want to make one thing clear first. Nothing would make me happier than taking a flame thrower to Thomas or blowing him up with a stick of dynamite.

You see, as the mother of three sons, over the last 18 years I’ve read every Thomas book and watched every spin-off video. I’ve even sat through that awful film starring Alec Baldwin which was like having pins stuck through my head. I’ve also trudged through countless engine sheds and had my bones shaken till I’m on the edge of a breakdown whilst enduring “fun” steam rides. In addition, I hold Thomas personally responsible for the time when pregnant with No 3 the miniature steam engine I was sitting on derailed. If that imagery isn’t enough to make you queasy, let me tell you I’ve also risked my life by driving with one hand whilst pointing out the window and yelling “Look, there’s a steam engine whoo-whoo!” Yes, when you’re desperate to avoid the kids stabbing each other in the car even a steam engine becomes interesting. In fact I’ve been known to become almost orgasmic at the site of a puff of smoke or high pitch whistle when faced with the alternative of another rear seat punch up.

I’ll not deny too that my evenings reading Thomas books, which I found poorly written, repetitive and unimaginative, were sheer utter torture. Subsequently, after many years of agony, the day I took those books and videos to the school fayre was one of the happiest days of my life. Knowing I would never again hear that monotonous music or Ringo Starr’s uninspiring narration was like winning the lottery.

However, no matter how much I despised Thomas, no matter how much I wanted to read books with more interesting “puffing and panting”, I only parted with Thomas when my boys were ready. Why? Because Thomas the Tank Engine had given them heaps and heaps of pleasure and entertainment. Countless hours were spent reading, watching videos and building train tracks that would span several rooms. What’s more, when my boys were sick and incapacitated I could always rely on Thomas to spin a little magic. Thomas was a hero unmatched by any other preschool book or cartoon character.

So when I read a few weeks back that Shauna Wilton, a Canadian professor of political science had analysed 23 episodes of Thomas the Tank Engine and delivered her findings to a conference in a speech that included a number of negative anti Thomas statements and concluded that he “represents a conservative political ideology that punishes individual initiative, opposes critique and change, and relegates females to supportive roles…Any change is seen as disrupting the natural order of things” I was ready to fly to Canada, tie the woman to some train tracks and run her over at 50 miles per hour whilst humming a well known children’s television theme tune. (Yep, you guessed which one!)

Luckily for Professor Wilton, my eldest son, who despite his monstrous upbringing subjected to hideous Thomas cartoons with dark undertones of bigotry, racism and right wing ideology, held me back. Yes, unbelievably, despite his running around my house screaming “Peep, peep I’m Thomas and you’re the Fat Controller Mummy” (an accurate statement) he’s turned out to be pretty well adjusted and sensible. “You can’t do that Mum,” he said. “The woman is clearly a fruitcake. Just go to your study and chill out. And don’t forget to build that new bridge while you’re there, I want to test out Percy later.”

Look, what’s wrong with these left wing academics? Are they all nuts? Thomas the Tank Engine is about steam engines with silly faces! Do we have to take all this politically correct mumbo jumbo so seriously?! If so, I want to object to Postman Pat because frankly he spends far too much time in the company of sheep and I find that more worrying than one of my sons becoming a train spotter.

Oh alright, I’ll be sensible for a moment.

Thomas the Tank Engine was written in the 1940s by The Rev W Awdry, a Church of England vicar. Of course it’s going to reflect the age in which it was written and the Reverend’s experiences but does that mean it should singled out as a bad example to children of today? No, it shouldn’t. By all means, if some people want to use it as a learning tool to educate their children about feminism and social class, then that’s their prerogative but I seriously doubt whether any preschool child understands such concepts or is likely to be subconsciously influenced by conservative ideologies. In my experience, little children are only interested in the adventures, the colorful characters and a happy ending. And that’s the way it should be.

I agree with Professor Wilton that we should be concerned about what our children watch and read, but I’m afraid my concerns are primarily if they have access to unsuitable adult material. I believe that as children grow they have to learn to assimilate information for themselves and to differentiate between fact and fiction, past and present, right and wrong. Reading childhood literature from other eras is part of that process. It’s a way of opening up the world to them in an educative and creative way which allows them to safely explore new worlds both real and imagined. Forcing a child to see your own opinions, which may be invisible to them, undermines this process. It may even curtail their pleasure and be indoctrination of the worst kind.

The truth is I’m concerned that this wave of political correctness that started out as a well meaning intention to protect civil liberties, has now spiraled out of control. Children’s literature is becoming increasingly “inclusive” and many words and terms have now been branded offensive when there is no offense intended. Of course, I want to see literature that is representative of all aspects of society and of course I don’t want to hear genuinely offensive words but what happened to reflecting the interests of the majority and the concept of free speech? And where will all this ridiculous moral sanctioning end? When the likes of Awdry and Blyton are banned for being too sexist and middle class? I hope not, but Professor Wilton is typical of a new breed of academics and politicians who seek to assert their own opinions of universal equality and conformity on all. Their tolerance has become intolerance and to my mind that’s not political correctness or democracy. It’s fascism.

You know, I think there are a lot of good, strong moral messages in Thomas the Tank Engine. I don’t agree that the messages in Thomas “punish initiative” but instead offer clear definitions of what is right and wrong; naughty behaviour is punished and good behaviour is rewarded. These are simple, effective messages for a young child to absorb at the age when they are discovering and testing their parental and social boundaries. They are important lessons to learn for any child, or indeed anyone, who wants to live within a functioning society.

So should I be lucky enough one day to become a grandparent, like millions of other grandparents and mums and dads all over the world, I shall be reading Thomas the Tank Engine to my grandchildren. Possibly I’ll feel less vehemence towards him then and I’ll only remember the delight on my children’s faces as I peep-peeped and poop-pooped my way through all the adventures.

And as for Professor Wilton? What she needs is good ride on a steam engine with a tender behind.

The Mother of All Jobs

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by Shanta Everington

It's not so much the 'pram in the hall', as the sticky fingers on my laptop and the voice in my ear screaming, 'Mummy!'

After a much needed break with my family over Christmas, I scheduled in some writing time for January. I was about to start work on my second article for The View From Here and wham! my son was too sick to go to nursery.

I do nearly all my writing when he is with someone else or asleep. But there are times when you find yourself in a fix. Children are unpredictable and don't care much for deadlines and diary appointments. But, hey, nobody said it would be easy! I swapped notes with some other writing mothers to share challenges, benefits and survival tips.

Rachel Pattison runs a freelance writing business and is working on a novel. Rachel agrees that time is the main challenge.

'I used to write during my children's nap times but now my two-year-old doesn't nap during the day, I can only write in the evenings once both girls are in bed,' she says. 'By then, I am tired so it's not ideal. I have to be really disciplined and prioritise carefully.'

UK author, Kate Lord Brown, a finalist in the ITV People's Author competition 2009, is working on her third novel while raising her family. Kate discusses the inherent contradiction of being a writing mother.

'Writing is essentially a selfish, solitary career - writers tend to enjoy their own company, need peace, space, time to work. Raising a family is one of the toughest, most challenging, selfless and wonderful things you can do.'

US based Dawn Colclasure, author of Burning The Midnight Oil: How we survive as writing parents, tells me that guilt can be one of the hardest aspects of balancing writing with parenthood.

'When my oldest was a toddler, I'd spend several hours a day writing. I missed out on a lot of one-to-one time with her and I never forgave myself for that,' says Dawn, acknowledging how difficult it can be to balance the demands of parenting with a writing career. But she believes it is doable. 'It's all about managing your writing time wisely and making sure you are still there for your children.'

With her second child, Dawn doesn't devote several hours of each day to her writing. 'Some people may criticise this and say, "Isn't your writing important to you?" Yes, it is. But my children come first.'

Rachel loves being able to fit her work around her children. 'The children are my top priority and if I can build up my writing business while they are young, that is a bonus. Freelance writing sometimes entails a late night or two to meet deadlines but mostly the hours are very flexible.'

We all felt that our children provided inspiration. 'Thanks to them,' says Kate, 'I have known greater love, joy, pain and fear than I thought possible. This richness of experience is a huge, unexpected bonus in terms of my writing. I think having a family also makes you raise your game - you discover ambition you never knew you had.'

Time becomes precious and you somehow manage to fit all sorts of things into an already hectic schedule. And for me, sleepless nights aided creativity as characters started speaking to me in that space between sleep and wakefulness.

Dawn also stresses how having a writing parent can encourage children to develop their creative sides. 'My daughter is aware I write stories, so this has inspired her to write stories, too.'

I would have to agree. Even at three years old, my son likes to sit next to me, mark making with his pencils, declaring, 'I like writing too, Mummy.'

Kate and Dawn both talk about the importance of getting support from other writers. 'It helps to shares your tears and triumphs with a group of people whose eyes do not glaze over as you talk about your work, or think you are mad to keep a notebook in your nappy bag,' says Kate.

Dawn adds, 'Non-writers just don't get this writing thing. I have found a camaraderie among other writers who do.'

We all agree with J G Ballard that the 'pram in the hall' doesn't have to be a hindrance. 'The pram in the hall can be the greatest support and stability you've ever had,' says Kate. 'Just like a desk, but with wheels.'

And wheels can help you get where you want to be. It's only since my son arrived in 2006 that my own writing career has started to take off. I've now had two novels published, and one of my short stories was shortlisted for The Bridport Prize 2009. I've just been commissioned to write a parenting book, which certainly wouldn't have happened before I became a mummy!

Okay, that's quite enough for now. Let's get the finger paints out.

Photo credit: ulybug

A Week in December by Sebastian Faulks

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Artwork by Fossfor

A Week In December
by Sebastian Faulks

Sebastian Faulks has presented me with a dilemma. I am not sure if I am left liking this novel for what it is or if I have lingering feelings of regret because it isn’t quite what it might have been. That being said, I’m not sure if Faulks set out to write the Great British Novel that defines the decade just gone in the first place...

Taking the plot first, we have a group of intertwined characters, brought together by an upcoming dinner party to be hosted by the wife of a Tory candidate. There is the morally bereft hedge fund manager, his wife and their alienated son. The bitter literary critic who has nothing but contempt for the ‘modern novel’. The impecunious young barrister who yearns for love and a world where learning is still valued. The naive young Premiership footballer from Eastern Europe and his centerfold girlfriend. The affable Lime Pickle magnate, recipient of an honour and father to a son enmeshed in radical Islam. And not to forget Jenny, the Tube driver who circles beneath London whilst living another life in virtual reality.

Over seven days we are given snapshots of their lives, loves, hopes, fears and dreams. Some are mundane, some heartfelt and touching, some life changing and in the case of Veals, the hedge fund manager, truly world changing. But ‘Seven Days’ is no mere character study. There are numerous plot lines that draw these disparate people together; again some are mundane happenstance whilst certain characters have story arcs that seem too long to be disparate stories in their own right. The Barrister and the tube driver for romance, the critic for satire that cocks a snook at literary London, the hedge fund manager for high finance thriller and the young radical for.. well I won’t spoil that one.

Faulks places his characters in an imagined Britain that is disturbingly and deliberately close to some of the more unpleasant aspects of reality. How about a literary award sponsored by a Pizza restaurant. Not so shocking perhaps. Now consider a gameshow where contestants share a house; being removed one by one through the public vote whilst their every move is scrutinised and debated by a leering panel of celebrity experts. Got that already? Now consider that the contestants have been chosen for the particular psychiatric disorder they suffer from. Ah now we’re uncomfortable. But would you watch? Are you sure? If you didn’t how could you express your outrage over dinner with friends?

Faulks is challenging us; making us think, making us question how close we are to what we suppose we could never become. It’s no accident that the Islamic radical is one of the more rounded and likeable characters and the fund manager is more amoral than immoral; doing what he does because he happens to be clever, and getting away with it because as a society we value cleverness far more than wisdom.

Oh and let us not forget the learning to be had here. If you want to know how one man can bring the financial world to its knees or how easy it can be to manipulate impressionable youth then this is the book for you. The technical details of the former are fascinating but quite hard going and I suspect for some readers they will break the flow although I had no such issue. Mind you I liked A Brief History of Time...

With the above said, I come back to my opening comments. But let’s be clear first about one thing. Faulks is a master of the craft of writing. Turning the pages is never a chore and for the first hundred I found it damn hard to stop. Not a word of a lie; I picked it up meaning to place it on the bedside table for later and somehow lost an hour. I felt sure I was going to be given something profound, to achieve new insight, to be telling everyone it was important that they read this book. By the end though I felt that what I had in my hand was clever, satirical, blackly funny (very funny) in places and effortless to read, it wasn’t enough to entirely define who and what we have become. Whilst I never stopped caring about the characters portrayed, I found my attitudes to them remained the same from start to finish and that was somewhat disappointing and rather surprising to me. I wanted to be challenged, to be given ambiguity, to find good and evil under the same skin. It’s very hard to do but we know Faulks is more than capable. Perhaps the issue is one of space, too much for less than 400 pages? As I said before, there could be half a dozen embryonic novels here. But then again maybe Faulks never set out to write Bonfire of the Vanities but is so good that he cannot help but hit some of those notes in a deliberately contained black comedy? Or just maybe it’s time. I can’t help but wonder how this will read twenty, fifty or a hundred years from now. A definitive novel of the early years of the new millennium or just a very accomplished period piece. I’ll leave my children a copy in the time capsule...

A Modern Day Dickens

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by Jane Turley

The 1830s saw the arrival of one of the most formidable forces in English literature. His style and voice became unique and would sparkle for generations, indeed so much so, that his works have never been out of print.

His name, of course, was Charles Dickens.

Today, someone new has been blowing out the literary cobwebs. For over thirty years he has been producing academic work and both adult and children’s fiction. He has been unbelievably prolific and, like Dickens before him, he has now been serializing his work before publishing it as a complete novel.

His name, of course, is Alexander McCall Smith.

Alexander McCall Smith is most famously known for the award winning No1 Ladies Detective Agency which truly launched him into the public eye back in 1998. Since then he has completed over thirty works which have taken him from relative obscurity to international literary stardom. Not content to sit on his laurels, McCall Smith embarked on a new project in 2004 with the serialization of 44 Scotland Street in The Scotsman newspaper. This was followed by Corduroy Mansions early in 2009 on The Telegraph website and by its sequel The Dog Who Came In From The Cold which reached its conclusion just before Christmas.

The Dog Who Came In From The Cold is a delightful, amusing and thoroughly entertaining story about a collection of quirky stereotypical British characters in a spoof thriller which mocks the spy genre and takes its lead from John Le Carré’s The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. The good news is that unlike Le Carré’s ridiculously complex plots McCall’s novel is ridiculously stupid; the protagonist in Le Carré’s novel is an aged MI6 intelligence officer whereas in McCall’s novel it is an innocent Pimlico terrier called Freddie de la Hay who unwittingly finds himself on loan to MI6.

There are a number of amusing plots running concurrently in The Dog Who Came In From The Cold about the other residents of Corduroy Mansions which are, more or less, tied up at the end of the novel. However, it is obvious that the stories are to be continued in more depth at some later stage - a mouth watering proposition for McCall Smith fans who will champing at the bit to find out just what happens next.

McCall Smith has an engaging knack of writing in a style that is both humorous and superficially lightweight but in actuality provides some very astute observations about British society at both its best and worst. Beneath the frivolity the tales are of friendships and folly, love and loneliness, joy and sadness. These are the stories of life of which we are all familiar; tears that come with laughter but also with pain.

Aside from being a pleasurable read, The Dog Who Came In from the Cold also became an interesting experience for me for other reasons. To my delight, I was amongst a group invited to read the chapters in a PDF format before publication on The Telegraph. However, my delight was tempered by trepidation as I’d never read a published novel in entirety “on screen.” Whilst I’ve debated the pros and cons of both the Sony e-reader and the Kindle in the past in neither case had I found the urge to make the final plunge.

So was my experience successful?

Well, yes and no.

Initially, I struggled with reading the story onscreen. The PDF format was advantageous as I could change the font to my requirements but my concentration wandered and I found myself having to reread passages. Many of my distractions were the same as I have when I read a paper book; noise, children, husband, biscuits, coffee, prescription drugs…but eventually I buckled down and rocketed through it. However, I unashamedly admit, I missed holding a book in my hands. For a book lover the scent, the feel of a book is both intoxicating and addictive and I'm no exception.

Whatever my personal reservations, there is obviously a future in e-books and serialization in the manner of McCall Smith. But will technology ever totally eliminate the need for traditional books? I don’t think so. It’s a big, wide world out there and there’s room for everything and everyone. McCall Smith is the perfect example of how successful an online book can be but his brief chapters and simple writing style are ideally suited to the electronic format. Somehow, I can’t see me reading Zadie Smith or for that matter even the great man himself, Dickens, on an e-reader. But others will, especially the young. And who’s to say they shouldn’t?

Time and time again, history demonstrates how people are often afraid of change. They may abhor it, even refute it, until such time as the whole process becomes bloody and cruel. But change can be embraced and that means moving at a pace which considers what we value of our past and how much of it we need or want to take forward into the future. In literary terms, I have more concerns about the state of the English language and the effect of texting and “twittering” than whether or not e-books will kill off traditional books or if McCall Smith publishes his work online. In fact, wouldn’t it be great if e-books were delivered free directly to young adults to encourage them to read? Who knows, maybe by providing such material authors might boost their subsequent sales and help to preserve the English language at the same time?

There’s a whole host of issues we need to think about with the way technology is affecting our literary lives but it’s inevitable; change is coming. It’s already here. It’s not going to be an easy ride for some but once the dust is settled on publishing and copyright laws, remuneration for authors, and other such dilemmas, the world of literature might be even richer and diverse.

And maybe, just maybe, with the likes of Dickens and McCall Smith leading the way, the path of change might be easier than we expect.


Corduroy Mansions is currently available in hardback; the paperback version will be available in May. The sequel The Dog Who Came In From The Cold can be read on the Telegraph website where it is also available in audio form, read by Andrew Sachs. It will be released as a hardback in May.


Have you got an e-reader or a Kindle? Has it changed your reading habits or is it still in your drawer? Why not drop me a line with your opinion at or leave a comment and we'll select the best for publication.

Interview with
interview by Mike

Late last year I caught up with the editor of, Judy Darley, and asked her all kinds of questions. Normally she is in the interviewer seat, so it was time to turn the tables ...

Tell me a bit about yourself.

I’m a freelance writer and editor based in Bristol. I divide my time between writing fiction and producing features for magazines and websites. In the past fortnight, commissions have included a feature on Norwegian knitwear and one on pampering at spas, so there’s a lot of variety involved. I specialise in writing about travel, culture and literature, though, and run a website for writers called

What's your ideal night out/in?

The best night out for me is in a restaurant with friends, preferably in a foreign city.

What is your favourite book?

When I was a child, I loved Alison Uttley’s A Traveller in Time, and then I discovered Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mocking Bird, which was my introduction to ‘grown up’ reading.
I’m currently reading How to Paint a Dead Man by Sarah Hall, and am completely captivated. She has a knack of encapsulating her characters’ thought processes in a series of exquisite sentences.

Can you tell us what is all about?

It’s a website for all kinds of writers, from playwrights to satirical columnists: the aim is to make it as inclusive as possible. I accept submissions from a huge range of writers, which keeps the content lively and the voice varied, giving contributors a chance to showcase their writing and readers a chance to be provoked and entertained.
The website also includes masses of information on writing courses, competitions, jobs and so on to equip visitors to pursue every writing avenue possible.
As my background is in travel writing (I was previously Features Editor on Spanish Homes magazine and have written for Portugal, the Italian and Greece Magazine), I’ve recently starting publishing travel features on locations where writers can go and be inspired.

How did Essential start?

One day I was searching for a website that would meet my needs as a working journalist and aspiring author. It turns out that kind of website didn’t exist. The same day I bumped into a former colleague who had gone into business building websites and pairing them up with editors with ideas. He liked my ideas and was born.

What kind of growth has it gone through to get to what it is today?

It’s grown hugely in the past year. The website has only been active since October 2008, and to begin with I was the only person working on it. Now I have writers providing regular reviews and features, but I still do the bulk of the work on it.
I’ve been really charmed by the number of people who have contacted me to let me know how much they enjoy the website and how useful they find it.

Highs and lows during the years?

I’ve found that the recession has made sourcing freelance writing work much more difficult than previously, and then when I do get a commission the challenge becomes fitting in the time to work on the website.
The most exciting moments are when a writer contacts me out of the blue and asks to be involved in some way.

How did you build your reputation?

Through making contacts with likeminded people, being friendly and approachable but very focused. Networking is a big part of it, and, luckily, that’s something I really enjoy.

What's it like working at home? Do you find it distracting or do you feel isolated?

I try to make sure I arrange to go out and meet people most days, so I get at least a couple of hours of human interaction. I find that some days I need more quiet than others, but whenever I get stuck for inspiration or motivation heading out for a short walk or meeting revs me right up again.

Any interesting stories from Essential Writer's dealings with authors or publishers?

Everyone I’ve dealt with has been really lovely, though I did get the feeling that playwright Mark Ravenhill was distracted. I was interviewing him over the phone and I kept hearing sloshing noises throughout our conversation. I think he was either doing the washing up while we were chatting, either that or he was having a bath. I think his mind wandered when the water began to get cold…

Where do you hope to take in the future?

Eventually I would like it to be self-supporting so I can give it my undivided attention rather than trying to squash it in around everything else.

What do you make of the current climate for new writers?

It certainly isn’t an easy time for new writers, or even established writers, but I do believe that if you want it enough and work at it hard enough, you’re in with a chance.

Can you offer any advice to new writers?

Be in it for more than the money. Listen to every piece of advice you’re given and don’t take criticism to heart – it could be the most useful thing you’re ever told.

How would you like to see the publishing industry develop in the future?

I hope there will be more opportunities for new talent.

What is your view on self-publishing?

When I was Features Editor at Spanish Homes Magazine, I reviewed countless self-published books written by lovely people whose friends had told them to give it ago. A lot of the time the stories were great, but needed some drastic editing. It’s a horrible thing to come across a typo in a published book, and I’d like to think that going the traditional route will help prevent that in a way that having your friends and neighbours read it can’t.
That said, I think it depends on what you’ve written and your reasons for writing it. A detailed memoir of your grandfather’s exploits in Burma may not have mass appeal but it would be a priceless legacy to give your children.

You describe yourself as an aspiring author, what are you working on and what have been your experiences in trying to get published?

I’ve been writing novels since I was about 12. Well, I thought they were novels but at that point they were rather convoluted short stories. Over the past few years I’ve completed a novel I really believe in and I’m currently seeking representation.
Late 2008/early 2009 Rogers, Coleridge and White got really interested in the novel and helped me to revise it loads then decided not to take it on after all. I went through a mad maelstrom of emotions, ranging from elation that the book was good enough to be taken seriously and bitter disappointment that I was effectively back at square one, albeit with a drastically improved plot-line.
My main problem, I think, is that the majority of my writing is idea-driven, rather than plot-driven. I need to take control of my characters and make them get involved in what happens rather than letting them drift dreamily from event to event!

Finally you say you like a challenge, what activity would really take you out of your comfort zone?

I love to travel, because it always takes me out of my comfort zone, especially if I’m going somewhere with an unfamiliar language and customs. I always experience a frisson of nerves before I go somewhere new, and I find that really exhilarating. Being a bit scared is a good thing – it stops you getting too complacent!

Thanks Judy good luck with the site.

Thanks, I really enjoyed being at the other end of the questions for once!

To visit click here.

The Advance - Sophie Duffy

by Sophie Duffy

Late summer and the garden was a mess. Morley could see the state of it from his armchair in the window. Nothing wrong with his eyesight. He could make out the roses, branches splaying, petals scattered on a lawn in need of a short-back-and-sides. From the occasional venture to the vegetable patch he knew the courgettes were marrow-sized and there were enough unpicked blackberries to make crumbles for an army. He used to be on top of things. A keen gardener. Mulching. Hoeing. Now it had all gone to seed -- literally. Rheumatoid arthritis and a war wound had finally got the better of him. White flags came to mind.

Morley opened The Telegraph, focused on matters at hand; 8-Across.

If he had the money he’d get someone in, like his sister, Alice. She had a man-with-a-van who did her grass, odd jobs around the house. And a cleaner. Someone to dust the ornaments and rub away at the brass. What did she do with her time, aside from bridge and her wretched dogs? He had more time than he knew what to do with. Too much thinking. Too much remembering. Not enough action.

The Writing Life

by  Laura Solomon

Despite having worked a variety of other jobs in my life (waitress, fruit picker, P.A., IT consultant) I have always known in my heart and my bones that I was destined to be a writer. I felt it was my fate; there was little I could do to escape it. I have persevered through a number of obstacles and have now published three novels and a short story collection, have a new novel, part of a trilogy for Young Adults, due out in November 2010 and have won prizes in a number of UK poetry and short story competitions, including the Bridport Prize and the Edwin Morgan Poetry Competition. Admittedly, it has been a rocky road, fraught with pitfalls, but the thrill of completing work and of seeing it published has kept me going. At thirty-five, I feel there is plenty of track ahead and intend to keep writing for the rest of my time on earth. I have written ever since I was a small child and made up my mind to be a writer at age 18, after suffering a period of illness and have pursued my goal fairly relentlessly, or as relentlessly as my life would allow.

One of the main barriers to pursuing a literary career was the need to survive in the world, to earn a living, to buy a house and achieve financial security. I didn’t think that writing would ever earn me much money, so I have always worked long hours, attempting to juggle two things – the day job and the writing. Eventually, aged thirty-three, I had the house I wanted and figured I would rather have more time and less money and quit my job to write full time. I aim to write 1000-2000 words every day and usually meet this target, though if the writing isn’t flowing I don’t sit there staring at a blank screen, I get out and go for a walk up the beach or in the hills that surround my small town. I am careful not to overdo it, and pace myself by only working 5-6 hours per day, which I feel is sufficient.

I am often asked ‘where do you get your ideas from?’ which is a difficult question to answer, as I often just ‘see’ a story or a novel in my head, or sense, at the periphery of my vision, the trace of an idea, which I then attempt to capture, as a butterfly collector brings down the net on a butterfly, snuffing it out and impaling it on a board for public viewing. Some of my best ideas have arrived not when I am sitting at a PC, but when I am out and about in the world, watching, observing and listening. I used to be very shy about what I wrote, but as time has passed, I have tried to teach myself to be more professional and I am thinking about attending the Hong Kong Literary Festival in 2011 to talk about my Young Adult trilogy – but not before taking a course in speech making at the local Toastmasters club.

My most recently published novel, An Imitation of Life is about a giantess and photographer, Celia Doom. My Young Adult trilogy focuses on the life of an adolescent computer nerd, Olivia Best and charts the struggles of her and her sister Olivia following the separation of their parents. I typically do eight or nine drafts on every piece of work I complete and lately have also taken to getting manuscript assessments from a well known New Zealand writer, Barbara Else, whose help on my books for Young Adults has been invaluable.

After years of working jobs that I hated, I can now say that I have my dream lifestyle, just chiselling away in my corner and sending my work away, mostly in NZ and the UK, though I have had acceptances in the States, Australia and Hong Kong as well. My main focus is on the UK, as I feel it is a big market, but it is very tough to get work accepted there, as it seems so many people are writing and there is a lot of competition. British mainstream publishing doesn’t seem interested in what I write, but some of the small presses of the world have accepted my work, so I continue to write and send my work to them, with a view to one day moving into mainstream publishing, once I am more established in the UK.

I am an avid reader and have ploughed through the oeuvres of Margaret Atwood, Paul Theroux, Jeanette Winterson, Salman Rushdie, Angela Carter, Janet Frame and many others and am the proud owner of thousands of books. Strangely, I am not from a literary family, so I am not sure where my love of literature comes from – it seems to me a gift from above, or perhaps, below.

In my youth, I met with a lot of negative criticism, but these days people just leave me alone, to do as I see fit and, fortunately for me, I don’t have to answer to anybody except the muse, who visits when she fancies. Luckily, I have friends who encourage and support me and I even have test readers, who read through early drafts of my work and provide valuable feedback. The journey is only just beginning.

Laura Solomon was born in New Zealand and spent nine years in London before returning to New Zealand in 2007. She has an honours degree in English Literature and a Masters degree in Computer Science. She has published two novels in New Zealand with Tandem Press: 'Black Light' (1996) and 'Nothing Lasting' (1997). Her first play, 'The Dummy Bride', was produced as part of the Wellington Fringe Festival, and her second, based on her short story, 'Sprout', was part of the 2004 Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Her short story collection ‘Alternative Medicine’ was published in early 2008 by Flame Books, UK. Her novel ‘An Imitation of Life’ was published by Solidus, UK, in late 2009. Her novel ‘Instant Messages’ is to be published in 2010 and put forward for the Commonwealth Writer’s prize and was shortlisted for the Virginia Prize.

Visit Laura's site here

Photo credit of butterfly: Orin Zebest

Orange Prize Shortlist Writer Patricia Wood joins The View from Here Crew

Patricia Wood whose first novel Lottery was short listed for one of the UK's most prestigious literary prizes, the 2008 Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction, joins the team here at the View From Here.

"It was an incredible experience just to be nominated and long listed. When I found out I was on the short list I was not allowed to tell anyone for a week and I practically burst." 
Patricia Wood

Patricia lives on The SV Orion off Hawaii and is a bundle of talent, wisdom and fun all rolled in one. An avid SCUBA diver, Patricia has done everything from assisting with shark research to winning the Hawaii State Jumper Championship with her horse Airborne.

Patricia joins our new team of interviewers here at the magazine and will be using her wit, knowledge and insights to bring you the authors behind some of your favourite novels.

We are, to say the least, excited!  Aloha and welcome onboard Patricia!

There's a new view at The View From Here

If you take a look at the tabs running across the top of the page, you may notice that a new one's appeared: OPPORTUNITIES.

It's the page where The View From Here will promote some of the tremendous competitions, awards, conferences, programs that are available for writers in the English-speaking world.  Announcements in brief will appear in the right-hand column, while more detailed, weekly profiles will be presented on the main page.  We've kicked off with details of a Summer Writers Institute at Washington University in St Louis, but over the next few weeks we'll be asking a variety of specific publishers what they're looking for, what type of submissions are likely to turn them on (or off), how best to contact them, etc, so bookmark the page - it may connect you with the opportunity you need.

Enough from me, go and have a look.  Go on, take a look.

Fighting Ruben Wolfe

Fighting Ruben Wolfe
by Markus Zusak
Publisher: Random House
Review: Grace

I have never come across a book that would appeal so much to an 'average' teenage boy (if there is such a thing). I mean, a teenage boy who would rather do anything else than read a book. Zusak brings us into a world of teenage disaffection and communicates it with us bluntly and humorously.

The book is not exclusively aimed at the male of the species though, as it is accessible to teenage girls and adults alike.

Here are some of the reasons why this book is brilliant:

Zusak has created a strong, idiosyncratic, engaging narrative voice in the well-rounded character of Cameron Wolfe. Cameron's outlook on life is unique, and is the filter through which we observe the Wolfe family. Cameron is reminiscent of DBC Pierre's Vernon God Little – a disillusioned youth trying to make sense of a puzzling adult world. He makes for fascinating reading as he jostles to find his place in the world. Cameron is sensitive, disaffected, frustrated, concerned, gutsy, anxious, overshadowed - an underdog hero. Zusak has allowed us into Cameron's mind and we get a full insight into Cameron's reality.

Fighting Ruben Wolfe is gritty and real. Zusak describes real life so naturally that reading his narrative is like being a fly-on-the wall of the Wolfe household for a short while, capturing them just as they are at that particular time in their lives. As a result, we experience the thrill and pain of emotion that accompanies all their highs and lows.

Fighting Ruben Wolfe is poetry. It is prose, but such poetic prose that it jumps about on the page and leaps towards you. It has rhythm and pace and rhyme. I found myself re-reading sections because they were so pleasing to read; to say out loud and repeat.

The story is unashamedly violent without being gratuitous. The violence is described with the same element of poetry, for example, 'Blood has flooded my chest and stomach. It eats into my shorts.' There is gore, but it is not gory.

The story is emotive. It is a touching portrayal of how individual struggles and problems impact a whole family, and the lengths to which members will go to help each other. Cameron observes his whole family. He describes each family member and is able to empathise with their individuality. He is also acutely aware of the subtleties of the interactions between each member. Cameron is not elaborate on this matter, he does not laboriously describe nuances between one person and another. Instead we read passages like this when Cameron's older brother leaves home. 'On the porch, mum cries. Dad holds up his hand in goodbye. Sarah holds the last remnants of a hug in her arms. A son and a brother is gone.'

The narrative is powerful. It is full of smells, sensations, emotions and reactions. As a result we become fully immersed in the world that the Wolfe family occupies.

Fighting Ruben Wolfe is good humoured. Hilarious, in fact. The unpredictable, quirky, intelligent humour comes from using troubled teenager Cameron as the narrator. Cameron and Ruben, neighbourhood 'hoodlums', are tied to walking their neighbour's dog to keep their neighbour happy. The dog in question is Miffy 'a fluffy midget thing...a fluffy embarrassment machine'. Cameron goes on to explain that they look like 'two juvenile idiots walking a ball of fluff down the road. It's out of hand. That's what it is. It's disgraceful'. Moments like this litter the pages of Fighting Ruben Wolfe. They made me laugh out loud.

Cameron's perception of other people is insightful. He describes Perry's smile as 'a smile of diseased malice, friendliness and happiness all rolled into one devastating concoction.' Which begs the question, how can he know who to trust? He resolves to trust in his brother, Ruben, and hope for the best.

Although Fighting Ruben Wolfe is written for young people, it is not by any means patronising. It has layers of depth and insight into the meaning of fighting and being a 'fighter' (are you really fighting if you know you are going to win? Are you a fighter if you persevere through difficult times without losing your integrity?). The book also explores themes of pride, identity and relationships. A young reader will, I'm sure, be refreshed by the mature way big issues are presented to him or her.

Fighting Ruben Wolfe is fun to read, lively and compelling. It is a well-executed snapshot into un-sanitised family life via Cameron Wolfe who is a witty, honest and engaging narrative voice. I highly recommend it.

Fighting Ruben Wolfe will be published on the 5th Feburary. 

Watch out for a joint Random House & The View From Here Project coming soon involving £300 worth of books as we do an experiment to gauge the reaction of that endangered species, the male reader, to Fighting Ruben Wolfe.

A Girl Named Grape - Guy Mankowski

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by Guy Mankowski

We spent winter in the bath, the bed; any womb we could find. Lily visited late at night to give me candles and deicer. My fingers had split open through frostbite. I held my bloody stumps against the flame of the candle, hoping its warmth would heal them. Lily would laugh, and say that she was the only one sane enough to keep me alive. Then she’d talk to the swallows while making pastries out of snow.

The pain was so intense that it made me reluctant to lift my pen. But I had to. I found it strange that my surrounding environment inspired me while also preventing me from writing. Snow frothed out of the ground and clambered up the trees. Lily and I huddled together and watched it swing there like an errant child refusing to come down. She’d shout at it to fall on the grass and sleep. The ice lingered round my windowsill and also refused to go. I didn’t leave the house for the whole of the winter. I had only my clumsy words, my characters, and her visits to keep me company.

Read More at The Front View

Issue 19 of The View From Here on sale now!

 Issue 19 on sale here  for $5.49 plus P&P for USA & Canada.

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Interviews with ...
Fiona Robyn
Todd Heldt

Original Fiction at thefrontview by:
Norbert Luciano
W. Jack Savage

Original Poetry at therearview by:
Cyndi Dawson
Joseph Goosey
Claudia Grinnell
Joseph Reich
Davide Trame

Guest Writers:
JK Evanczuk
Susan E. Kennedy

Stage Fright & Other Worries by Shanta Everington

Original Short Fiction by Kathleen Maher

Rabbit Writer monthly cartoon from Naomi Gill

Book Reviews of
Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger
The Girl on the Landing by Paul Torday

with original art by Fossfor.
ISSN 1758-2903i

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Meet Mark Andrushko

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by Stella

During December, I had the opportunity to interview Mark Andrushko, founder and chief executive magician of Scriptapalooza, a unique annual screenwriting competition which not only offers a cash prize of $10,000, it makes sure your script is read by actual industry people, and – wait for it – actually leads to getting your script produced. This is a little bit of a detour from the View's regular content, but as all of you are broadminded individuals interested in things other than pure Literature with a capital "L," and as some of you must be aspiring screenwriters or know someone who is, we give you Mark Andrushko...

Actually, before we get into Scriptapalooza itself, I think everyone would like to know more about you. (Cue the flashback dissolve.) What originally brought you to Hollywood?

About 17 years ago, I moved to Hollywood to get into the acting business and after years of just doing commercials and getting little parts in movies, I was kinda getting sick of the acting world. A lot of my friends were writers and always complained about screenplay competitions, how a lot of them were a joke, or you send in your script and don’t even know who’s reading it. I said to myself, let’s change that and that’s how Scriptapalooza was born.

How did you start Scriptapalooza? And who helped you?
I started Scriptapalooza with two people who were writers at the time. I came from a business side of the project, they came from the writing world, and we came together to start Scriptapalooza. At the busiest time of the year, we have five to six people on the staff. They deal with numbering scripts, answering phone calls, sending emails, clerical duties and making script deliveries to the producers and studios.

Scriptapalooza is an immense undertaking – the product of frustration with the way the industry works and the desire to see new writers get their work picked up by studios. When you first started, did you ever have thoughts like, "Oh god, what have I done?"
I never really felt that way, because I really love Scriptapalooza and what we have accomplished and created. Sure there are times when it’s hectic and just crazy busy, but I enjoy the whole process of seeing new writers getting hired or their scripts being optioned and then eventually their script being made into a movie.

The unique thing about Scriptapalooza is that all the reading is done by over 90 producers. We don’t use readers or “regular people” like other competitions because that’s pointless – they can’t do anything with your script. We go right to the source, to the people that can set up a meeting, option your script, buy it or go right to the studio with it.

This year will be Scriptapalooza's 12th annual competition (may we see a hundred more). When did you feel that you had created something durable?
Honestly, I felt we started something special in the first year. We named the producers and agents who actually read the scripts coming in. We would list the company name, their name and their title, and I think that changed everything. No one else has ever done that sort of thing.

Obviously, you must feel tremendous satisfaction when the winners have their scripts produced, but what is your favorite part of the competition itself?
My favorite part is that writers from all over the world can enter our competition, get their script read by a producer and if they do well in the competition, they can see their writing career begin with Scriptapalooza. We open that door for them which is closed so tight in Hollywood. We are their vehicle to get them there. To see a writer, who perhaps lives in Montana, or somewhere far away from Hollywood, get their opportunity, that’s what this is all about.

The funniest thing is when writers submit their original and only copy of their script, written with a type-writer (with hand-written notes scribbled over it and coffee stains on the pages, all of it!). Then four months later, they expect us to mail back their original script to them. The funny part is we usually did return the script. But this problem has been eliminated because now Scriptapalooza accepts email submissions.

Are there plans for expanding Scriptapalooza? What is your ideal future scenario?
Besides the screenplay competition, we do have a Television Writing Competition and also a Coverage Service. Those keep us busy all year round.

I can appreciate that Scriptapalooza keeps you busy all year round as it is, but let's say we're in a time fifty or a hundred years from now – moon colonies, androids, and so forth – what would you like to see in Scriptapalooza's future?
Ideally, and I think we're close, is that when we announce the winners, all the top 13 writers are represented and their scripts go into production, win several Academy Awards, and the writers thank The Academy and Scriptapalooza.

Now let's talk a little bit about the coverage service you offer. Among the numerous features of Scriptapalooza, you provide professional analysis of screenplays. How does this work? The writer sends you his or her screenplay and then what happens?
We have two types of coverage: regular and development. We break down the script page by page and give back notes on structure, plot, story, characters, dialogue and the first 20 pages. Also, you get a logline, synopsis and script back with notes on it.

Is it a one-time analysis, meaning, the writer receives your comments and that's it, or do you engage in a back-and-forth process?
It is a one-time analysis but usually after we’re done with the script, the writer has so many notes from us that they go right back and start rewriting their script.

So let's say you gave me feedback on a script and I rewrote it. Would I then be able to resubmit it and go through the process again? Then theoretically repeat this until you said, "Okay, great script. Time to shop it around." (For additional payment, obviously.)
Yes, we do have writers that resubmit their script for coverage, but usually we don't have them keep resubmitting the script, because after we go over it two times, the writer is pretty much set with us giving the notes for improvement. At that point, they can take it back to their agent or manager. We don't shop scripts for writers.

Earlier you mentioned Scriptapalooza’s international aspect. Both the competition and the coverage service are available to writers outside the U.S. What's the approximate ratio between domestic and foreign submissions?
I would say about 80% of our submissions come from the US and about 20% come from writers outside the U.S.

Are there any particular trends in writing you've noticed over the past years?
I do think writers are getting better at writing. There are so many classes and books nowadays and it seems as if writers are taking their time and really crafting good material. Every year Scriptapalooza gets more competitive, because we keep getting better writers submitting their scripts.

You feel that writing has improved over the years and yet there seems to be a pervading sentiment that movies are getting worse/more shamelessly formulaic.
Well, as we all know, what is written on paper isn't always reflected on the screen.

What really makes a script stand out (aside from being carefully proofread, I imagine)? Is it story, dialogue, accurate descriptions?
I believe dialogue is without a doubt the most important part of a script. I can tell when reading a script if dialogue between characters flows or breaks and doesn’t feel natural. It’s very difficult to write great dialogue. If you can master that, you will write a great script.

You have a TV screenwriting competition as well. What would you say are the fundamental differences between writing for television and writing for film (aside from length)?
Writing for TV is very different. You have to follow a different format and if you're writing a spec for let's say FlashForward, you need to know the characters and storyline. Of course, if you are writing a pilot, you are creating your own story and characters. Some stories are better suited and easier to make for television. There are a lot of cable options for full length scripts these days. The production costs will be lower but the writing quality is still there.

Finally, I'm curious to know what other names were scrapped. (I agree with Robert McKee on its degree of frivolity.)
A lot of names were considered, like the California Screenplay Competition, but we really wanted a name to stand out and not be forgotten. One day Genevieve, one of my partners, said “Scriptapalooza” and the rest is history.

See here for more details about submissions, rules, and deadlines for the 12th Annual Scriptapalooza.

Special thanks to Mark for the fun interview and everyone on the Scriptaplooza team.

Best of luck to this year's contestants!

The Front View Fiction: Houlihan's Wake - Bryan Murphy

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by Bryan Murphy

Houlihan wakes.

When the taxi goes over the second speed bump, it jolts him into full consciousness. “Playa Chisme,” the driver announces as he pulls up. There is no sign of beach or sea, only a street of assorted shop-fronts swimming in the heat. Houlihan clambers out of the taxi into it. He revels in his disorientation for a moment, and then he pulls his light backpack out of the taxi, pays the driver and thanks him. The driver gets out, ducks into the nearest roadside shop, emerges with cigarettes and a cold Sol, then sits in his car and gulps the beer as he watches Houlihan stagger along the short street.

Photo by Christopher Barrio

From the Editor's Desk: Notes on Fiction

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by Michael J. Kannengieser

Back in the days when I was “on the job” in New York City, I was always in danger of being cornered at parties and other social events. Typically, someone I just met would learn of my profession, and immediately size me up. After a few mild questions about law enforcement, they would go for the jugular and beleaguer me with complaints about traffic summonses they got for speeding, or ramble on about some cop in the city who was rude to them — or worse. I’d do anything to bail out of those situations short of faking a heart attack.

Those days are over, and now I work in the Information Technology field. After leaving the N.Y.P.D., I went back to school and received my technical certifications in network administration. Starting at the bottom, I continued learning and proving myself until I landed the position I have today.  Yet, while I have an entirely new career, the situation has not changed in my social life.

At parties, barbeques, and other occasions where I have to put on nice clothes and take a crash course in table manners before heading out in public, I am often cornered by someone with computer problems who automatically thinks I am willing to fix their laptop or solve their networking issue for free.  I am way past the level of desktop support in my business. I manage a department and have folks working under me; still, I am not interested in making house calls for minor repairs just because some guy brought the matter up with me at some get-together over a beer.

It is interesting to note that after I accepted the position of managing editor for this fine publication, no one has bothered me about it. Yet, they ask: “What does a managing editor do?” Folks at gatherings learn of my new gig and I see a puzzled look come across their faces. Sure, it sounds impressive to work for a magazine. The very title “editor” implies that one reads submissions and checks for errors. However, there’s more to it than that.

My job is to seek what is best for the magazine, discover new talent, accept work from established writers, and to act in a professional manner. Still, there’s more to the role. There’s an obligation to sustain the imaginative, often quirky, and entertaining atmosphere which characterizes “The View From Here.” Sure, I accept serious fiction; but, there has to be a message from the author, hidden somewhere in the paragraphs and punctuation marks, that they care about their efforts and what they have submitted is their best.

There’s a relationship between the writer and the editor which begins with the query letter. In effect, this is a business liaison and must be treated as such. There are resources out there for writers which explain in painstaking detail on how to approach an editor and what to write in a query letter. Informal salutations, poor grammar, gratuitous self promotion, and other unprofessional language are a huge turn-off. Sometimes when I am reading submissions, I feel like I am at a party, with my back against the wall, and speaking with someone who assumes that simply because they wrote a story and they think it is good, that I must accept it and place it in the magazine.  The message I have for potential contributors is to do some research, read the magazine and the submission guidelines before submitting, and take a crash course in party manners before sending out your letter.

So far my work has been satisfying and I am proud to be associated with such a fine periodical. I look forward to reading more submissions from writers who are insightful and creative, yet honest in their efforts. The stories I have accepted for 2010 are excellent; and, “The View From Here” going into this year, looks very good, indeed.

Photo by Christopher Barrio

Rabbit Writer -- Poetry. Sort of.

He's got it made in the shade.

Just thought I'd start the new year with a little rhyme. Hope I made it in time.

Okay, that was just bad.

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by Naomi 'Brigid' Gill