Sunday, March 1, 2015

Collected reviews.

Reviews from all sources [as far as I am aware] are published at this MEDIA link. If you know of a comment or review somewhere on the net that I may have missed, let me know. 



Monday, December 30, 2013

Saturday, April 20, 2013


It's foolishness, all this, he said, and sat to watch the game.

Let them all calm down, he said, soon enough it will be done

Sit down, we'll watch the game.

I worry sometimes, though, she said

They bother me, the noise they make. They never stop, I wish they would

But still …

She watched the game.

It's none of my concern, he said, and turned to watch the game

My voice? What is it I could say? I can't begin to turn the tide

What more can I do, anyway? Just sit and watch the game.

Hush. Hush. No need to make a noise. Sit here and watch them pass

Don't draw the fire of crazy men; don't lead the eye toward our place

Don't say a word, it's nowt of ours

Just sit and watch the game.

There is no line of decency, so hush now. Sit here, too

It's come before,  ool come again

It's just a joke, give them a poke, electric jigger in ye hand

We'll laugh together all of us, when this is done and all is past

Just sit for now and haud yer wheesht

Sit still and watch the game.


Wednesday, April 10, 2013


Mr Churdal lived in a box on the 1174th floor of his modest apartment tower, and for the first time in his fifty year box residency, he was unhappy. 

At some time in the recent past, two, maybe three years ago, he had taken to wearing his shirts backward. He would struggle to button them all the way up, ensuring the collar was tight. The resulting red faced throbbing of his head loaned him the appearance of evangelical zeal, and that look brought with it centuries of gravitas, of towering ecclesiastical edifices and pointed spires and rock hard shafts thrusting at the sky. As for thumbing his nose at clothing conventions, ha! How could he care less what those below thought, when everything below him was demonstrably beneath him?

He had, for some years now, devoted himself to the painstaking construction of a life-sized elephant leg. Correct in every detail, he had crafted it by hand and he knew every wrinkle, every notch, every stubbly bristle. It was dark in his box and difficult to see, but he knew it intimately and he loved its smell: polystyrene and two-part epoxy resin, linseed oil and Morocco-finished leatherette. He had come, with no small amount of pride, to call his construction, “The Elephant”.

The problem which was causing him discomfort had arisen because he'd broken one of his own sound and undisputed principles of being. He had opened a leaflet, junk mail advertising from a local zoo, and his attention had been caught by the image of a blurred and entirely indistinct elephant, its leg shown in high definition hyper-colored detail. He didn't read advertising leaflets. He did not. He had no reason to read such balderdash. He had shelves of literary masterworks with which to fill his bulging, throbbing mind.

And yet… And yet, he'd seen the picture. He'd read the caption. He could not unsee it. ‘There is nothing,' the leaflet claimed, ‘like the smell of a real live elephant.'

It was a shattering revelation and he would have dismissed it as an aberration, but he could not shake the feeling that his masterwork might one day be considered lacking. What if those who came after him - the anthropologists and devotees who would dissect his life in the centuries to come - found evidence of an oversight? The scandal might eternally blemish his legacy.

He needed a sweet snack. He fancied Greek, so he took down a volume of Joyce, layered some pages with crushed nuts and honey and baked the whole in the warmth of his Hands-Free-Itty-Bitty-Book-Light. But he ate without pleasure. His books, his books, were entirely lacking in information on the smell of elephants. He tried for metaphors, he sought out allegories, he came up blank. His only hypothesis, as he loosened his collar in despair, was shit. Elephants would walk in shit, their own shit, and therefore, logically they would smell of shit.

There was only one thing for it. Reluctantly at first, but growing more confident as the work progressed, he saved his leavings and began to build a lifelike layer of shit on the sole of the elephant's foot. And you know, it didn't smell so bad at all!

Meanwhile next door, Ms Coombangg felt her way through the darkness of her box. With fingers sensitized to Braille, she found the perfect place and carefully positioned the last bristle of her elephant's trunk. It was done, and not a moment too soon. The gallery owners would be there in half an hour to collect her magnum opus, this single statement piece for her one woman exhibition — Elephants: the Whole Truth.

Thursday, November 8, 2012


People whose conversation I enjoy have been talking a lot about life-changing times, lately. Decades that have marked crucial turning points in their lives. Realizations that have come, and with them an illumination which has changed the way they see the world, or more importantly, changed their artistic response to the world they live in.

That power of change, the response to an epiphany, has been something I have honoured for many years. One of the quotes prominent in my workspace is:

 “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”
George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman (1903) “Maxims for Revolutionis

Being raised unhappily in a strictly paternal authoritarian household where bigotry and social one-up-manship seethed under a thin veil of cultured courtesy pounded into me first an unquestioning obedience, then a slow-burning anger, then a desire for anarchy that was ill-mannered and uncorsetted.

I tried to look through lists of music and films of the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, 00s, and 10s to find favourites and life-changers. There were too many. I have been too many different people through all those decades to find a place to say, ‘that is when I realized I was me’. I have trouble knowing who me is, even now.

What is common to other people’s discussions I’ve followed, though, and all those about planning for their success today, is passion. All the people who get together to discuss the things that precipitated a need to change – or to find a voice in the face of injustice, or to make the time in the life of a busy working wife and mother to write – speak about their passion.

Often they speak about the passion for reading at an early age. Some speak of keeping fading copies of stories they wrote as small children. Some speak of the anger that found a voice through art.

I don’t appear to have a passion. I get passionate about issues. Cruelty, any kind of enabled suffering, makes me angry and outspoken; injustice, bigotry, waste, illiteracy, education failures, health and mental health rights, all other human rights – just the typical lefty sort of ideologies, but generally I seem to be like water.

Water just finds a level and sits, or evaporates and then tumbles down again, or slowly erodes obstacles. Water only gets any grit about it when there is some external force causing a disturbance. That’s me. No passion. Water. Lucky water.

I haven’t had to struggle for any of the successes I’ve had; I’ve just been in the right place at the right time and known the right people. I’m not competitive at all. I cannot win a race. If someone is in a hurry to get past me I am as likely to step aside and offer them my skates to make their journey easier. That isn’t saintly – it’s just that I don’t care if someone gets where they’re going ahead of me.

I think that’s why I feel so lost in this new world.

I cannot compete. I cannot call out continually, ‘Mine is best’. And among those who have no need to succeed in terms of recognition, I have no passion to drive me on to make myself find my very best and put it out there for others. I need external stimuli, deadlines, causes. I need to have something important to say that someone else hasn’t already said better.

The only thing I have in common with the world of other artists is this endless, circular, self-destructive, ego-driven fascination with myself and telling everyone else about it.



Sunday, April 29, 2012


You know me; I’m that obnoxious soul who keeps saying, ‘Screw the writing rules’. Every writer knows there are rules that we must OBEY. They are rules, rules, damn it. They exist so we can clearly demonstrate that the weight of educated opinion is with us when we choose to criticize.

Of course there are rules. Even I must relent at some point in the discussion, although I know good people with firm arguments who would say, ‘No, there is no need to relent. Ever. Creativity trumps literary fascism every time.’ But… I have to take a middle road when the choice is there. I argue the case of the Buddha: “Books [rules] are useful for finding your path. Once you have found your path, burn the books.”

In February of 2010, the UK Guardian asked some well known authors what were the most important rules for writing well. Some dug deep into their scholarly vaults and produced great wisdom on the points and counterpoints of language and expression. Like Elmore Leonard, who numbered among his recommendations:

  • Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue. I once noticed Mary McCarthy ending a line of dialogue with “she asseverated” and had to stop reading and go to the dictionary. Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said” … he admonished gravely. I have a character in one of my books tell how she used to write historical romances “full of rape and adverbs”.
  • Keep your exclamation points ­under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose. Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose”. This rule doesn’t require an explanation. I have noticed that writers who use “suddenly” tend to exercise less control in the application of exclamation points.

But I read through and found those rules which I believe we should all keep to the fore as we labor through our creative worklife. These, I think, are essential and all aspiring writers should be caused to have them tattooed to their inner thigh in remembrance.  

  •  Take a pencil to write with on aeroplanes. Pens leak. But if the pencil breaks, you can't sharpen it on the plane, because you can't take knives with you. Therefore: take two pencils. If both pencils break, you can do a rough sharpening job with a nail file of the metal or glass type.
  • Take something to write on. Paper is good. In a pinch, pieces of wood or your arm will do. If you're using a computer, always safeguard new text with a ­memory stick.
  • Do be kind to yourself. Fill pages as quickly as possible; double space, or write on every second line. Regard every new page as a small triumph ­– until you get to Page 50. Then calm down, and start worrying about the quality. Do feel anxiety – it's the job.
  • Do restrict your browsing to a few websites a day. Don't go near the online bookies – unless it's research.
  • Do keep a thesaurus, but in the shed at the back of the garden or behind the fridge, somewhere that demands travel or effort. Chances are the words that come into your head will do fine, eg "horse", "ran", "said".   Roddy Doyle
  • Reread, rewrite, reread, rewrite. If it still doesn't work, throw it away. Helen Dunmore
  • Do it every day. Make a habit of putting your observations into words and gradually this will become instinct. This is the most important rule of all and, naturally, I don't follow it.
  • Never ride a bike with the brakes on. If something is proving too difficult, give up and do something else. Try to live without resort to per­severance. But writing is all about ­perseverance. You've got to stick at it. In my 30s I used to go to the gym even though I hated it. The purpose of ­going to the gym was to postpone the day when I would stop going. That's what writing is to me: a way of ­postponing the day when I won't do it anymore, the day when I will sink into a depression so profound it will be indistinguishable from perfect bliss.  Geoff Dyer
  • The first 12 years are the worst.
  • The way to write a book is to actually write a book. A pen is useful, typing is also good. Keep putting words on the page.
  • Only bad writers think that their work is really good.
  • Write whatever way you like. Fiction is made of words on a page; reality is made of something else. It doesn't matter how "real" your story is, or how "made up": what matters is its necessity.
  • Try to be accurate about stuff.
  • Have fun.
  • Remember, if you sit at your desk for 15 or 20 years, every day, not ­counting weekends, it changes you. It just does. It may not improve your temper, but it fixes something else. It makes you more free.   AnneEnright

  • Marry somebody you love and who thinks you being a writer's a good idea.
  • Don't have children.
  • Don't read your reviews.
  • Don't write reviews.
  • Don't drink and write at the same time.
  • Don't write letters to the editor. (No one cares.)
  • Don't wish ill on your colleagues. Try to think of others' good luck as encouragement to yourself.
  • Don't take any shit if you can ­possibly help it. Richard Ford
  • You see more sitting still than chasing after.
  • It's doubtful that anyone with an internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction.  JonathanFranzen
  • Write.
  • Put one word after another. Find the right word, put it down.
  • Finish what you're writing. Whatever you have to do to finish it, finish it.
  • Put it aside. Read it pretending you've never read it before.
  • Remember: when people tell you something's wrong or doesn't work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.
  • The main rule of writing is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you're allowed to do whatever you like. (That may be a rule for life as well as for writing. But it's definitely true for writing.) So write your story as it needs to be written. Write it ­honestly, and tell it as best you can. I'm not sure that there are any other rules. Not ones that matter.Neil Gaiman
  • Don't just plan to write – write. It is only by writing, not dreaming about it, that we develop our own style.
  • Write what you need to write, not what is currently popular or what you think will sell.PD James
  • Have humility. Have more humility. Defend others. Defend your work. Defend yourself. Write. Read. Be without fear. Remember you love writing. Remember writing doesn't love you. It doesn't care. Nevertheless, it can behave with remarkable generosity. Speak well of it, encourage others, pass it on. AL Kennedy
  • My main rule is to say no to things like this, which tempt me away from my proper work. Philip Pullman
  • The nearest I have to a rule is a Post-it on the wall in front of my desk saying "Faire et se taire" (Flaubert), which I translate for myself as "Shut up and get on with it." Helen Simpson

Many of these greats said READ. As many said, DO NOT READ.

While Roddy Doyle said, “Do not place a photograph of your ­favourite author on your desk, especially if the author is one of the famous ones who committed suicide.” Colm Tóibín said,If you have to read, to cheer yourself up read biographies of writers who went insane,” and “On Saturdays, you can watch an old Bergman film, preferably 'Autumn Sonata'.” So who’s right? 

There is only one rule which every writer suggested: Write. Writers write. There you go; the best advice money cannot buy. So off you shoot, then. Start writing.

For the full transcript and a more in depth discussion of the fine points of authorial skill - if you want to know which ‘how to’ manual they recommend; if you want to know the finer art of metaphor use, or non-use; if you seek greater guidance on polysyllabic proselytizing, then go to Ten rules for writing fiction: Part 1 and Part 2.

Saturday, April 14, 2012


Communication with Ax – kelpie cross.

Ax, get on your chair – goes to couch and curls up on it.
Ax, find your ball – runs outside or to last known place of ball, returns with ball.
Ax, get in the car – finds toy, goes to stand beside car door.
Ax, get out from under my feet when I’m cooking – goes to sit under table.

Communication with Ruby – Rottweiler.

Ruby, SIT – wags tail, gaping smile, eyes say, “What?”
Ruby, COME – runs over, tail wagging, gaping smile, eyes say, “Huh?”
Ruby, OUT – wags tail, gaping smile, eyes say, “Huh?”
Ruby, GET OUT OF THE WAY! – wags tail, gaping smile, eyes say, “I’m cute.”

She does have two other reactions.
Rolls onto her back, tongue lolls, tail wags, paddle feet wave at me.
And - wags tail, ears forward, drool falls from lips, eyes say, “FOOD! FOOD? Where’s the FOOD? FOOD!”

Could it be a ‘breed’ thing?

Wednesday, November 2, 2011


This week I’m struggling with lines.

I read this at bibliotastic:

“Why oh Why don't these self publishing authors get someone to proof read their books before uploading them. Spelling & grammar like we see in these books would have gotten me expelled from school.”
Since order is emerging from the delightful chaos of the digital fiction world, lines are forming where once none were needed and I’m not sure I like where they are being drawn.

Writing of any kind needs only to meet the expectations of its readers to be enjoyed. If readers want foremost to safely predict the plot and the ending, there is no driving need for great literary skill. If readers expect fast moving action, characters can safely be stereotyped. If readers demand a visceral hard-edged slice-of-life drama, they are unlikely to care if there is no punctuation or too many adverbs.

This is borne out in the wide world of popular print fiction, the only qualifier being that the reader can predict what a traditionally published book will provide because there is a system in place to guarantee such expectations. Readers in the print world can select their preference by genre because someone pays a slew of editors to make sure the genre guidelines are met. Those editors bring with them a host of proofreaders, and someone pays them, too.

And who is it that pays for them all? The reader.

Not the author. Published authors are paid their percentage of the cover price. Publishers also pay the acquiring editors and copy editors and the editors-in-chief and the sub editors and editorial assistants, and they recoup the cumulative costs of all successes and failures from the consumer. It is an easy process to follow.

It’s how it’s always been. Everyone knows what they get. Everyone is happy.

Aren’t they?

Readers moan that the authors give them rubbish. Authors blame editors who won’t buy their Art. Editors blame the book buying public. An extraordinarily narrow line of titles will sell to a large market, while the remaining buying public is no longer big enough to sustain an equivalently broad range of subjects and preferences.

No one has actually been happy about it for a long time.

Meanwhile, once upon a time in a digital landscape there was anarchy and it suited the authors and the readers who dwelt in that green and pleasant land. In cyberspace there was a Utopian balance, where art was created for art’s sake and appreciated by hedonistic epicureans in togas, reclining in fruit filled grottos; a flask of wine, a book of verse and thou.

Or maybe they were really tech savvy literati secretly reading Geekphic in their grey felt work cubicles, many of them creating their own fiction. Whoever they were, they knew they should expect the best that could be produced and provided for free. They found they were capable of filtering for themselves. They could find fiction they liked and avoid that which they did not appreciate; there was room for brilliance, and any author could make their art and find their audience.

But outside, the unhappy editors catered to the narrowest market, the unhappy authors muttered ‘Fuck it,’ under their breaths and looked for fairer alternatives, and the unhappy readers with shiny new tablets under their arms, followed a few well known authors into the promised land.

Suddenly digital delivery made both the editors’ choices and the distribution bottleneck obsolete and a fashion for self-publishing emerged. Suddenly there were queues. Suddenly we needed lines. According to readers like the one quoted above, we must have standards. Where is the line for a reasonable standard?

Anyone can write a book, anyone can sell their work to the world, anyone can set their ego free on the page for better or worse, anyone can distribute their work to any outlet, anyone can review their own work or others, anyone can spam the ether, and anyone can be a self-published author.

We are all free from slavery and gatekeepers, and no one enforces the rules. No one has to write to guidelines, so no one can be sure whether they are reading a romance, or an adventure, or a tragic fantasy. No one checks the grammar, no one deletes excess commas, no one makes sure the heroine gets her man, no one cuts those cheap awful plot devices that leave a reader fuming, no one sets a fair price, and no one checks the author can even write a book.

There are no benchmarks.

Along with all the other things they did for a price, the traditional publishing industry kept enough authors out of the game to avoid a saturated market. That kept the prices high enough to cover expenses. After mere months the ebook free market is getting soggy. Readers are milling around a bit lost. They would like some quality assurance along with their low prices. Like gayray01 at bibliotastic, they are whining about grammar and punctuation, even when the work is free. They want standards enforced if they are expected to read.

Is it better to have the power to make or break a novel wielded by a privileged few editors or by the semi literate masses?

But anyone can be an editor now, too, and anyone can advise on content, anyone can proofread, anyone can be a publisher, anyone can sell cover art, anyone can sell a service or a package of services to a self-publishing author. That author can then enter the saturated market and hope they can get some of their money back.

If an author wants to make money, perhaps even a living wage from their writing, then they have to treat it like a business. Many businesses lose money in the first year or two, but they cannot continue to lose money. Each successive release cannot cost more and earn less than the one before; so is there a line between a reasonable expense for the production of a professional looking ebook and plain old vanity press? Authors are not generally rich and famous. 95% of published authors make very little money from their sales. 99% of published authors’ names will be unremembered five years after the event. When is an ebook published with vain hope of making its costs back?

How much is needed to produce a professional finish? Where is the line? Is an ebook good enough when it meets all the criteria of a traditionally published novel? Does it need grammar and punctuation correction? That will require several proofing runs at $300 - $2000 each. Does it need quality cover art? Does it need to meet a set number of expectations in plotting in order to be satisfying for the majority of readers?

And if it is NOT a professionally finished product, if it is no more than an author can reasonably produce from their own effort, can it ever hope to draw market attention? Do readers even know how much a professionally finished ebook will cost to produce?

If reviewers, who no longer need any kind of pedigree, not even a pass in junior English, decide some books have too many modifiers, or suffer from convoluted sentence structure, or are not grammatically correct, or if they are considered too expository for today’s fashion, or too slow, or too meandering, or too violent, or too explicit, can those books from outside the common denominators ever hope to succeed, financially or otherwise?

If an ebook must have a professional finish, that is, must meet all the standards of a traditionally published novel and therefore must cost many hundreds or even thousands of dollars before it can be considered by any reasonable share of the market, how have authors improved their lot by self-publishing? It seems to me they have moved headfirst into the vanity publishing market. Traditional publishers and distributors can even charge for publishing packages now, and reward a chosen few of the broke authors with extended print distribution - the same sort of distribution once promised by traditional publishers who paid their authors. The situation is ludicrous. Where is the line for reasonable cost?

How many 99c books, or $2, or $5 books do we all hope to sell? Is hope the operative word? Dream? Pipedream?

There are many good websites filled with free information to help self-publishing authors find the best deals and avoid some of the worst cost pitfalls, but not everyone is able to do their own research. Certainly the loudest message to broadcast is to preserve your copyright under all circumstances. If you are self-publishing you should never be required to hand your rights or your future rights to any other person or organization. And beware editors who believe they have the right to arbitrarily change your text. But if we are required to meet a set of externally approved criteria and to pay for the freedom to self-publish, how have we moved forward from the old system?

If it costs more to produce a book than you can ever hope to recoup in sales, why would anyone continue to self-publish? If free fiction is ridiculed by semi-literates, why would the hard work and generousity of authors who give their work away continue?

If we reestablish the old system of controls and cliques, in the end what have we gained?

Why can’t good enough be good enough?

Have we created a new system where the author is worse off than they were before the revolution?