Saturday, 22 April 2017

Book Review - The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan

The premise of this book is simple: an ocean liner sinks and 39 people huddle in a lifeboat waiting to be saved. Through the testimony of Grace Winter we follow their journey and share in their experiences over 3 weeks at sea.

Except that it's not that simple. Grace is an extremely unreliable narrator and we learn to question everything she tells us, both about what happens to her and her fellow passengers in the lifeboat and about her life before she boarded the ship.

I have mixed feelings about this book. It is undoubtedly well written and yet there was some spark missing. Many of the characters in the story are fleeting and brief, either dying before we really get to know them or playing a small part so we never get to see them as fully rounded characters. Some of them are not even given names. But I suppose that is part of the unreliable nature of Grace's recollections, some passengers making a greater impression on her than others.

Grace Winter is the central character and I found her a rather cold person. I started off sympathising with her and her situation but as the story unfolded I was struck by how selfish and self-centred she was. Her role as the unreliable narrator also made me question everything she said and I started to dislike her the more the narrative unfolded. There are few likable characters in the novel, even pathetic Mary-Ann who I rather liked starts to become annoying. Mrs Grant and Hannah act as contrasts to the other female characters as they start to take control away from the men in the boat. Strong women like this are usually my favourite types of characters but here I found them to be most unpleasant.

I also felt somewhat unsatisfied by the ending. As I found Grace a difficult character to like I wanted her to pay the price of her actions in the way other characters did. She seemed to get away with things too much for my liking! 

As a story of endurance and survival I liked The Lifeboat. The descriptions of the conditions in the boat, the struggle to survive and the changing nature of the Atlantic Ocean were wonderful and evocative. Something about the ending felt a little rushed as the narrative jumped from 2 weeks in the boat to the rescue after 3 weeks rather abruptly. I understand why this was done but it felt a little clumsy to me.

I certainly enjoyed this debut novel from Charlotte Rogan and will look out for more from her in the future. Definitely worth a read, in my humble opinion.

Thursday, 13 April 2017

The Joy of the Short Story

I've recently taken part in a couple of writing contests which have involved writing short stories. I didn't win the first one but I received some useful feedback which, if I'm honest is why I entered in the first place. However I had an email from Joe Bunting who runs The Write Practice and one of the contests I entered asking for feedback on the contest. So I filled the survey in and emailed it off.

I had a reply from Joe suggesting, based on my replies, that I thought more about writing short stories rather than tackling a full novel. I read the email, looked at the webpage he linked and it really got me thinking.

I have got 53,000 words written of a novel which is meandering around and going nowhere fast. I have been struggling to pull it together and keep walking away from it in despair. If I'm brutally honest most days it's sucking the joy out of writing having to do battle with this beast which is running away from me.

So why not do as Joe advises and give the short story a try? It's not like I've got anything to lose.
The 53,000 words will still be there so I'm not wasting anything by trying another form for a while. In fact there is a possibility that some of those words may be re-recyclable into a decent short story. I've got some great characters that I could use and a setting that works so why not?

For the first time in ages I feel positive about my writing so I have decided to use the rest of the time this month to try writing short pieces and see if I can get something which I'm proud of and I can submit out of it. The novel will have to wait.

Maybe short stories are what I am destined to write. 

Monday, 10 April 2017

The Prompt 146 - Glass

Through a Glass Darkly

I look into the mirror,
What do I see?
Shadows of the woman
I want to be

She shimmers just out of sight,
Peeping over my shoulder.
Very faint and rather slight
A shade, a ghost, a myth.
Hair is glossy, beautiful and bright,
Tumbling around her pale face.
Eyes like diamond glints of light,
Teasingly beautiful and happy.
Behind her there are birds in flight,
She walks in beauty like the night ...

Now I've gone too far,
Caught up in a poetic moment.
So I gaze into the mirror once more
And there she is, the shadow me.
Physically we are the same,
Plain, unremarkable, sharing a face and name.
Yet she is serene, untroubled, content,
Where I am anxious, fretful and filled with doubt.
She clutches a book to her chest and smiles.
My hands are empty, dreams as yet unfulfilled.
She points the way, I must follow.

I look in the mirror,
What do I see?
Shadows of the woman
I want to be.

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Book Review - The Forgotten & The Fantastical 3, edited by Teika Bellamy

I am really struggling to know how to review this stunning collection of short stories. Usually with an anthology I like to give a flavour of the collection, pick out a few favourites and comment on them while pointing out writers whose work I will be looking out for in the future.

However that won't work for this collection. Every story spoke to me, touched me in some way and naming a favourite would be like picking a favourite child - it's OK, I only have one so it's no contest!

I have decided to look at each story in turn and write about what I loved about them. I do urge anyone who enjoys good story telling to seek out this collection, it really is wonderful.

The first story is Silence Rose from the Water Like Steam by Poppy O'Neill. This tale is haunting in its simplicity. The idea of not being heard because you have no voice - whether actual or perceived - is so relevant to today when so many feel marginalised or ignored. The joy of finding your voice rings out loud and clear at the end.   This is followed by Midnight Riders by Dan Micklethwaite. I loved his idea of a London Tube driver as a character in Cinderella! Sometimes the peripheral characters are the most interesting and here Dan has breathed life into one of them and told the story from a unique point of view.

Third in the collection is The Web and The Wildwood by Lynden Wade. This is a wonderful re-imagining of The Lady of Shalott, giving a voice to the Lady. There is a darkness in this tale and anyone who has been captivated by the poem will enjoy exploring the back story in a most thought provoking way. Next comes Listening to the Mermaidens by Angi Holden. I loved the sparseness of this story. The mermaidens are seductive and secretive, always just out of reach. The twist at the end took my breath away. The fifth tale is Melissa's Bearskin by Ronne Randall. If I was forced to pick a favourite from the anthology it might be this one. I loved Melissa who thought the best thing in the world was to be a princess. The emerging love story was so warm and tender and I confess to weeping at the ending.

Next is The Narclops by Sophie Sellars. This is such an interesting take on the modern world. The references are subtle yet deftly handled and I really enjoyed stepping out from behind the screen and looking critically at our technology obsessed world. The seventh tale is The Lost Children of Lorenwald by Elizabeth Hopkinson. A sadness runs through this story which I found heartbreaking. It really resonated with me as a mother. But there us also hope and reunion which lifts the tale at the end. The themes of acceptance and the power of love shine through and lighten the mood as the story unfolds. Iron Man by Claire Stephenson comes next. A curious tale and one I had to read twice before writing this review. I struggled to make sense of what was happening at first yet when I read Claire's notes about the story I gained some understanding and re-read her story about transformation. I'm still not sure where my sympathy lies but I'm not likely to forget either character soon.

The next tale is Airless by NJ Ramsden. I found this story both complex and compelling. I was drawn into the memory of Mika and into his story/history. The image of an unknown world with complex issues surrounding human survival is mixed with the suggestion of another world, a world just out of sight populated by strange creatures. Although contained within a sci-fi narrative the story taps into the fairy tales and folklore that are so familiar to us. Although the ending is rather bleak I liked the glimmer of hope contained there. The tenth story is The Daughter with Indigo Eyes by Moira Garland. As a lover of corvids I was in love with this story as soon as the first raven cawed! Annie's strength at a time of turmoil was compelling. She seemed to embody so many tales of women coping in war when the whole fabric of society appears fractured. Her relationship with Cora felt real to me, the difficult relationship that many daughters have with their mothers and how you have to let your children fly in the end.

Flower Face by Ness Owen is a gentle tale which reminded me of summer days, unrequited love and finding ones true place in the world. Blodeuedd is an innocent, made to fulfil the desires and happiness of another with no thought given to her own happiness. The ending is very satisfying, I was pleased that she found her true place in the world and with it contentment. This is followed by Spawned by Clair Wright. While this story made me laugh out loud it also touched on long forgotten feelings - the strangeness of motherhood, the terror of being with a new and yet strange baby, the realisation that I was responsible for this child and the knowledge that a stranger had arrived and changed our lives forever. I was rooting for Ruby and Ricky and again I enjoyed reading about the time after the fairy tale usually ends. A great read.

Bearskin and Bare-skin by Carys Crossen speaks of the power of sisterly love. The bond between Ursula and Bernarda is strong and familiar to me as a sister myself. There is strength and determination in Ursula which propel her throughout the story as she searches for both her sister and her true identity. Crossing the Victoria Line by Marie Gethins is a sad tale. A beautiful, poignant re-telling of Hans Christian Andresen's The Little Match Girl. As the sad story unfolded, sprinkled with telling details fro  our modern world, I felt tears prickle my eyes. Despite this there is a tiny flicker of hope in the kindness of strangers which lifted my spirits a little.

T/he Salt Child by Rachel Rivett is a short yet sweet story exploring the idea of belonging. I was drawn to its rhythmic quality, the repeated phrase 'if not there, then where?' pulling me along with the Salt Child as she looked for her place in the world. There is a Salt Child in all of us, wandering and searching for where we belong. The descriptions of the places the Salt Child visits are beautiful and evocative. A lovely story.  The penultimate story is The Truth About Tea by Sarah Armstrong. This story spoke to me of lost love and the danger of settling for second best. I was torn between sympathy for Sophie who had lost her true love and tried to compromise and Diane who was protecting her son from making a mistake. s an older woman I empathised with Diane ad it was refreshing o get another perspective on the older woman in fairy tales. Finally there is Girl on a Pied Horse by Sarah Hindmarsh. With echoes of Pandora's Box Sarah weaves a tale of desperate escape, of re-birth from death and of sacrifice. I was willing the girl to escape and the narrative galloped along with all the frenzy of the Pied Horse in the story.

I am aware that this is much longer than my usual reviews but I hope I have given a taste of this wonderful anthology. I must also comment on the beautiful illustrations that precede each story by Emma Howitt and Georgie St Clair, they are stunning and reflect the stories so well. Usually I send books I have finished to my sister but this one is so good she may have to wait until I have read it again - sorry sis!
If you have the chance to I urge you to read this book. I promise you won't be disappointed.