It seems a nicely eclectic choice, I can’t say I miss seeing Zadie Smith, Ian McEwan, Martin Amis or Rose Tremain – whose exclusion seems to have twisted the knickers of some commentators, it’s good to see new names on the list. I’m currently reading* two of the contenders: Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up The Bodies and Sam Thompson’s Communion Town. I’ve already read, reviewed, and can thoroughly recommend Ned Beauman’s The Teleportation Accident and The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce.
*I say currently reading, I sort of am, but everything’s on hold while I finish Sean Chercover’s deliciously page-turny religious thriller The Trinity Game.
by Barbara Erskine
The story is set in the same location, by the bank of the same tidal Suffolk river, but the action is split between three eras: 865; Anglo Saxon England, a time of Viking raiders and warrior kings still choosing between the old Gods and the new Christian faith. 1865, where the lord of the manor has a new, cruel, spoiled aristocratic wife who delights in forcing a reluctant young smith into a doomed affair, and the main plot, which takes place in the here and now; the old barns and forge are now peopled by wealthy middle-class incomers – like Zoe, an unhappy wife, dragged from London by her selfish, boat-mad husband, who rediscovers her zest for life in the arms of her neighbour Leo, a former smith who has been badly scarred by an accident at his forge.
River of Destiny is full of Barbara Eskine’s trademark themes: ghosts, hauntings and reincarnation. It starts out brilliantly and I was instantly gripped, I thought I was in for a treat; what a shame it quickly became so annoying and silly.
The plot feels badly thought through and dreadfully contrived. The characters are caricatures and each one seems to have a convenient skill that emerges when needed, like the Smith who studied Anglo Saxon and can read runes, and the friend who’s a great and accurate psychic – though why she’s needed at all is a bit of a mystery because ghosts, hauntings and evil portents litter the plot like paper cups around a KFC and absolutely everyone can see and sense them at all times of the day and night. I do also wonder if Barbara Erskine has ever seen a field-buried Saxon sword? I doubt it, if she thinks such an artifact can be pulled out of the ground intact, dragged about the countryside for a bit before being pushed back down into the soil. I know it’s just one bit of nonsense in a book already drowning in silliness and I’m probably the only person who rolled their eyes at this particular lack of attention to detail (but it was fantastically annoying!).
More to the point then, is the odd style. Everything, even dialogue, is written entirely without contractions –
`I thought you had gone without me.’
`I thought you would go there to look for Curlew’
`You are a brave woman Zoe.’
– and I don’t understand why; no one speaks like this, it adds nothing to the reading experience. After a very short time it began to make me mad.
In short, River of Destiny is an annoying, chic-litty, soapish piece of nonsense – which is fine, if that’s what you’re after. It wasn’t my cup of tea and I wish I could be more positive because it started so well and maybe that’s my problem with it; I was expecting more and I was disappointed.
I’ve dithered over my rating. Two stars or three? At times, it was hugely annoying, but it was undeniably compelling, a genuine page turner; it would be a terrific mindless holiday read, and if that is what you’re after, well then, come on in, the water’s lovely.
by Mark Haddon. Read by Nathaniel Parker
Once again Mark Haddon demonstrates his remarkable ability to hone tight, true and fascinating glimpses of humanity through the simplest and most mundane of situations. The Red House is enjoyably engaging, with a deep dark undercurrent; a beautiful blend of the mundane and esoteric in the most everyday of circumstances.
An extended family spend a first holiday together in a rural cottage. Estranged for 15 years, Richard and his sister Angela meet again at their mother’s funeral, then Richard invites Angela and her family to share a family holiday near Hay on Wye. The Red House is a ship of fools story in which not very much happens on the outside, inside the heads of the characters lies a whole other world; everyone – of course – has a secret, a trauma, everyone has their own demons to exorcise and to say more about any one of them would be to spoil.
As so often with Haddon’s work, it’s the child who has all the best lines. 8 year old Benji – ‘a kind of boy-liquid which had been poured into whatever space he happened to be occupying’ – is the most engaging and likeable character. Refreshingly honest, Benji serves as the Voice of naïve Truth amidst the secrets, lies and double-dealings of the adult’s interactions. An omniscient point-of-view takes us into the minds of each character as an individual, and Haddon’s trademark misunderstandings – each individual never truly sees the motivation of any of the others – run like a dark thread through the intricate tapestry of the whole, emphasising the solitude of each human existence.
Everything is graced by Haddon’s astonishing writing. The detail of a week in a Welsh cottage, blighted by rain and unrelieved boredom, is exquisitely described: ‘Scrabble, a tatty box in some drawer, a pack of fifty-one playing cards, a pamphlet from a goat farm.’
`Cooling towers and sewage farms… Seventy miles per hour, the train unzips the fields. Two gun-grey lines beside the river’s meander. Flashes of sun on the hammered metal. Something of steam about it, even now. Hogwarts and Adelstrop. The night mail crossing the border… That train smell, burning dust, hot brakes, the dull reek of the toilets.’
‘The bandage on the vicar’s hand, that woman chasing her windblown hat between the headstones, the dog that belonged to no one.’
Nathaniel Parker’s narration is wonderfully understated, each character comes through clearly defined without the need for ‘voices’, or over-dramatised characterisation. Sublime.
Not today, no, not quite. It is still July (it is, isn’t it?) though the dark and wet and chill mean it feels more like November some days. What a hideous summer it’s been, I’ve given up on my gardening blog for now – what would I post? Pictures of stripped kales, munched hostas and lettuces eaten to the nub.
Instead, I thought I’d post a series of snowscapes I made when I was working on Entanglement’s cover, with Angel strolling into his snowy Other World. I took the pictures of the landscapes around our house during a spell of snowy weather last year, then photoshopped them to bring out hidden colours, shapes and shadows. I hope you enjoy them.
Watching the rain, listening to the woodmice mice who live in our walls, breathing in the scent of the lilies that survived the red beetles and the rain. It’s a nice time to be awake; I’ve been thinking about Chaos – the novel, not the state of my life, although the two sometimes seem interchangeable.
Life has been more than a bit frantic lately. The weather; the terrible floods that made raging rivers of the streets roundabout, left boulders in the roads and ripped potholes everywhere – and mangled my (already struggling in the dreadful weather) poor vegetable garden. Family business has kept me from the job of reading and writing (so if I’ve promised to read and review your book you’ll have bear with me a while longer as I’m more than a bit behind) but I’m almost caught up to LIFE now and hoping to start work on part two of Entanglement this weekend – and do a bit of reading.
I’m currently 15 pages from the end of Jude Morgan’s extraordinary The Secret Life of William Shakespeare; has anyone else read this? It’s taken me the better part of three weeks to finish, which is very slow going for me. The language is so rich and dense, like good Christmas pudding covered in burnt rum and cream and just as delicious but too much to take in anything but small bites.
Entanglement is selling steadily – slowly, to be sure, but drizzling out of the kindle store at a gentle rate and a BIG thank you! To all who have taken the trouble to obtain a copy, my gratitude cannot be gauged in your human measures, but it is pretty mighty. I shall be organising a FREE GIVEAWAY next week, so if you have a Kindle and you don’t have a copy and would like to read a paranormal fantasy about an ineffectual man forced to get off his lazy arse and save the world, that’ll be the time to grab one.
In the meantime, it’s still raining, blackbirds are singing, the air smells of stargazer lilies and water mint and I am in need of coffee. The gorgeous image at the top is not, alas, mine but it suits my current mood to a t – and what is a t? And who is Larry and why is he so damn happy? But these are questions for another time, for I am in need of coffee and must be about it.
Image ©theres-no-end at deviantART click the pic to see more of her wonderful work.
Many thanks to Chris Hill, author of Song of the Sea God (out in October 2012) for hosting my author profile on his superb blog. Please be sure to visit!
Tell me a little bit about yourself as a person?
(I never know what to say to this question!)
I was born in Yorkshire, grew up in Bedford and now I live in a cottage on a wild and windy moor. I never knew what I wanted to be, prevaricating my way through multiple degrees and various careers.
My last proper job was a freelance journalist which I drifted into when working on a never-completed PhD in Development Studies, and ended up living in Havana for ten years working for various papers and magazines, radio and TV. Life in Havana consisted mostly of long periods of extreme boredom when nothing at was all happening, in heat and humidity…
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Telstar the single – written and produced by Joe Meek, performed by The Tornadoes – was released on 17th August 1962. Telstar was a groundbreaking song, featuring a claviolene and multitudinous electronic effects, many invented or pioneered by Meek, it was the first British single to reach number one in the US charts.
‘Do you mind telling me who you are and how you came to be here?’ I asked, politely, I thought, all things considered, surprising myself with how calm my voice sounded.
‘Who I was,’ the figure corrected. He’d put a bit of reverb on his flat, Essex voice, giving depth and resonance. Nice touch, I thought, fighting a smile at the tired old antics, surprised he hadn’t brought a few chains to rattle; what kind of amateur did he think I was?
‘I was Heathcliff Strong.’
‘Heathcliff Strong? Really?’
‘Well, it’s not my real name, obviously. I was a musician, lead guitar and vocals, and I had a band and Alan Henderson was never going to sign a record contract, so I was Heathcliff Strong.’
‘You were in a band?’ I said, realising I was attempting to make polite conversation with a dead man in a world between worlds and realising how ridiculous that was, yet somehow, unable to stop myself.
‘The Magistrates,’ he said. ‘You won’t have heard of us; band split when I died in sixty-two, just when it was all kicking off. I can’t begin to tell you how pissed off I was. We’d opened for The Dakotas, we were about to go on tour and I want my bloody life back!’
His voice strobed pleasingly around the frozen landscape, echoing through the branches with interesting harmonics; we both paused to enjoy the effect.
‘Even Joe Meek couldn’t make a sound like that,’ he said, bobbing his head in appreciation. ‘You could probably do it now, though, with computers and stuff.’
‘You know about computers?’
He shot me a glare; pale grey eyes, searching mine, as if I should know… What? I had no idea, but I could feel his irritation. There was something I ought to have known and the fact that I hadn’t, angered him.
‘Of course I know about computers,’ he said. ‘In my last life, the one I just left…’
‘Three days ago. I just got here.’
– From Entanglement, chapter two
‘…The writing is richly metaphorical, dark but unexpectedly funny too, with sudden flashes of humour that take you by surprise. There are shades of Neil Gaiman and Diane Setterfield here, maybe even a bit of Terry Pratchett in the character of Alan Henderson, aka wanabee pop star Heathcliffe Strong, who was deprived of his life when a `bloody Bedford van cut him off in his prime’ in 1962. Repeatedly reincarnated into lives he abhors, all he wants is to return to the life he had as Cliffe Strong, front-man of the might-have-been-big, Magistrates…’
To say I am pleased would be a massive understatement; a king-size knickerbocker glory of understatement, with chocolate sprinkles, extra Smarties, hot fudge sauce and sparklers! Click on the cover-pic to read the rest.
Does my blog look smug today? 😀
is new to me and it sounds terrific. I haven’t been back to my much-loved, much-missed home town in far too long. @KioskAtThepark are in Russell Park, where Entanglement is set. If I’d known about them when I was writing, they’d be in the novel! I need to get back and take a walk around before before I start writing Chaos. A click on the Pic takes you to their Facebook page.
The warm weather had broken with last night’s storm. It was cold; the sky dense and grey as an old horse blanket, the morning’s light drizzle deepening into rain – not the best day for a stroll. I sheltered a while under the dripping horse chestnut trees, already turning amber and bronze, dead leaves and young conkers accumulating on the wet grass. A sudden breeze hurled the last of the bank holiday litter along the path, lifting it into an exuberant tornado before losing interest and dumping everything down on the mudded grate by the bins. I shivered inside Grandpa’s old overcoat, its tweed, damp and heavy and beaded with rain; I smelled like a wet sheep. My thoughts turned to hot chocolate but the café was closed till spring.
Sod the morning cobwebs, I thought, and headed towards town, to the Jacaranda, where the wood stove would be burning and there’d be hot, buttered cinnamon rolls on the menu. The path took me past the bandstand, where a stream of yellow police tape quivered on the wind, one end clinging fast to the copse of leggy rhododendrons where a group of unfortunate kids, looking for a lost ball, had found the mutilated body of a teenage girl. The torn tape fluttered round and around like a bird with a broken wing on the ruined lawn, where the ruts made by ambulance and police cars had pooled with mud and water. It was two weeks since it happened; it had been a big story but was old news now and already half forgotten. Just another murder; there’d been so many and it wouldn’t be the last.
Entanglement, chapter 5.
All images were gleaned from the internet, none belong to me. If you see your picture and would like to be credited, please let me know.