Wednesday, 17 September 2014

I don't really "do" memes any more but...

I don't go on Facebook much, if I can help it. I don't really "do" memes1 on there either - it all feels a bit 2008 - but since this one is book related and I was nominated by a good friend (not just nominated, Dark Steps made it onto her list) then I thought I'd better do this. Here's the spiel. List ten books that have stayed with you, for whatever reason, then nominate others to do the same. Simple.

I've added an extra rule of my own: only one book by any given author. Anyway, in no specific order, here goes:

Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk. You think the film is intense? Try the book. Pitch perfect prose too.

The Road by Cormac McCarthy. Maybe not his greatest work but this is about books that stay with you...at the time in my life I read this, I was pump-primed, ready to be flattened by this book.

High Fidelity by Nick Hornby. The book that speaks to me most about being a bloke (and about being a record collector).

Vox by Nicholson Baker. Famously dismissed as a "toenail paring" by Stephen King because of its brevity, Vox is proof that word count is not the be all and end all. Intimate, shocking (still), thought-provoking and very special to me. I almost swapped this choice for The Fermata, by the same author, but since I read Vox first, it (just) gets the nod here.

I Am Legend by Richard Matheson. An exercise in controlled horror. You've probably only seen the Will Smith vehicle, but wipe that film from your mind and savour the far-superior source material instead.

Skeleton Crew by Stephen King. I nearly chose The Stand. I nearly chose the recent (and brilliant return to form) 11.22.63. I should probably have chosen The Shining, as it's arguably his best work. But I chose this collection of short fiction instead, as it was the first King I ever read. It's probably not even King's best collection (that's Night Shift, I expect) but it does include The Mist and Mrs Todd's Shortcut. Most importantly though, it began a love affair for me that persists to this day.

Oryx And Crake by Margaret Atwood. If there's been a better (and more unnerving) slice of speculative fiction written in the last twenty years, I haven't seen it. Atwood is beyond compare, in my book.

The Death of Grass by John Christopher. Nowadays book shops, real and online, are awash with dystopia - everything is dystopian this and dystopian that. But this book, long out of print but now back in circulation, just pips The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham for proper, old-school dystopia.

The Outcast by Sadie Jones. I thought long and hard about whether to include this. It is a good book, of that there is no doubt. Have I read other, greater books? Yes. But this makes the because it stays with me, more than most others, because of the time in my life and the circumstances in which I read it.

Watership Down by Richard Adams. The book I have read more than any other (14 times, I think). In a book about rabbits, all human life is here.

And now a cheat, to mention a couple more books. Just bubbling under, not making the cut, Spaceship Medic by Harry Harrison, a book from my childhood, and Rendezvous With Rama by Arthur C. Clarke, from a time in my teens when I read an awful lot of science fiction. Oh, and American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis which, I'd wager, stays long in the mind of anyone who reads it.

And that's it - ask me again next week and you'd probably get a different list. I know this isn't Facebook but the whole thing is about books, and this is where I write most about books, writing and reading, so it seemed relevant. If, by slim chance, we're friends in Zuckerberg's empire, I hope you don't mind the repetition.

1. Is there a verb yet that means "to 'do' a meme"? Answers on a postcard to the usual address (i.e. post a comment). Cheers.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

In case you missed it... Margaret Atwood offers succinct answers to succinct questions... and other book news

Bookshop chain Waterstone's have just run a Q&A with Margaret Atwood via Twitter using the #AskAtwood hashtag. The results are definitely worth reading. Here they are...

In other book news, Dave Gorman has a new book out, Too Much Information, loosely based on his incomparable Powerpoint presentation live show. And Mark Kilner has just published his second collection of short stories, Numbskulls. If you're half as discerning as I think you are, you'll enjoy both, albeit for different reasons.

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

An exercise... because exercise is good for you

Courtesy of the brilliantly talented author Sarah Dobbs and her Creative Writing the Artist's Way programme...

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Perhaps you're not seeing everything, ever

I mostly try to write unsettling stories, psychological horror, the horror of the everyday and the things that people do. That's because, if I can quote Mark Kilner (who you will like reading, by the way), the whole "horror as in werewolves and goblins or horror as in psychopaths running around with knives" doesn't really do it for me.

What makes a story scary, horrific or just plain unnerving for you? I recently read an excellent view on this in Eva Wiseman's Observer column; I think you should read it too (here's a link) but even if you don't, here are a few paragraphs from it that make some fine points.

Walking home after seeing the Blair Witch Project at the local lido multiplex, a thing ran across the pavement in front of me and maybe it was a massive cat or maybe it was a deathly monster. I suppose I'll never know. But this is the joy of horror. That the stories never tie up neatly, and that perhaps you're not seeing everything, ever.

...

At times, it seems that every story suggests blockbuster horror. Like, for instance, these recent regional news reports about a fox that returns to the same woman's garden in suburban Leeds every night, to make an offering of another single shoe. I mean. Or the woman accused of murdering her elderly parents, alleged to have buried them on top of each other in the garden in Nottingham one bank holiday 15 years ago, but who it's claimed continued to send Christmas cards to the extended family, saying she and her husband were travelling in Ireland "because of the good air". The good air.

All these stories are fascinating because they're creepy, and they're creepy because they're thrilling, and they're thrilling because we don't understand them, and because hopefully we never will. That rich combination of tragedy and fear, and sadness, too, that fresh scent of mourning that we can examine from afar. The difference between jumping off a building and riding a rollercoaster. We feel the feeling, the shudder, and then we get to go home and put the kettle on and maybe have a bath.

The idea that perhaps you're not seeing everything, ever, is what keeps me awake at night. How about you?

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Anatomy of a bookshelf

More cartoon brilliance from Tom Gauld.
Illustration by Tom Gauld. Copyright (presumably?) © 2014 The Guardian
As spotted in The Grauniad, Saturday 24th May 2014.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

A story within a story within a story...

This blog is about writing - mostly, but not exclusively, mine. This post falls squarely into the "not mine" category.

I watched The Fisher King for the umpteenth time recently. It's a terrific film, in my view, beautifully shot and with a wonderful story at its heart. In the course of the film we discover that Perry (Robin Williams) was once a college professor with a particular interest or specialism in the fisher king fable of Arthurian legend (the story within a story). Later, in a rare moment of calm lucidity, Perry tells Jack (Jeff Bridges) another version of that fable (the story within a story within a story)... and it's lovely. At the risk of being sentimental, let me reproduce it for you here:

It begins with the king as a boy, having to spend the night alone in the forest to prove his courage so he can become king. Now while he is spending the night alone he's visited by a sacred vision. Out of the fire appears the holy grail, symbol of God's divine grace. And a voice said to the boy, "You shall be keeper of the grail so that it may heal the hearts of men." But the boy was blinded by greater visions of a life filled with power and glory and beauty. And in this state of radical amazement he felt for a brief moment not like a boy, but invincible, like God, so he reached into the fire to take the grail, and the grail vanished, leaving him with his hand in the fire to be terribly wounded. Now as this boy grew older, his wound grew deeper. Until one day, life for him lost its reason. He had no faith in any man, not even himself. He couldn't love or feel loved. He was sick with experience. He began to die. One day a fool wandered into the castle and found the king alone. And being a fool, he was simple minded, he didn't see a king. He only saw a man alone and in pain. And he asked the king, "What ails you friend?" The king replied, "I'm thirsty. I need some water to cool my throat". So the fool took a cup from beside his bed, filled it with water and handed it to the king. As the king began to drink, he realized his wound was healed. He looked in his hands and there was the holy grail, that which he sought all of his life. And he turned to the fool and said with amazement, "How can you find that which my brightest and bravest could not?" And the fool replied, "I don't know. I only knew that you were thirsty."

So what am I saying here, really? Firstly, The Fisher King is brilliant, go and watch it. Secondly, I'm going soft in my old age. And thirdly (mostly), I am envious of the ability to write such an entirely satisfying short story in a single paragraph.

Don't worry, normal service (the macabre, twist endings and tales of the unexpected) will be resumed shortly.

Monday, 14 April 2014

Ballardian children's fiction

Spotted this in the Guardian at the weekend and couldn't help but repost it. I also couldn't help but wonder whether an old friend of mine, creator of some uniformly excellent Ballardian fiction himself, saw it too.

Illustration by Tom Gauld. Copyright (presumably?) © 2014 The Guardian
As spotted in The Grauniad, Saturday 12th April 2014.

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Sales - neither rhyme nor reason

Weird, isn't it? In January, I had my best month, sales-wise, for well over a year. In February, I didn't sell anything at all. Not one word.

Probably best not to over-analyse, eh...?

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Interested in a signed copy?

Hello you. Yes, you. You look great today, by the way, have you done something different with your hair?

Right, now I've buttered you up... can I interest you in a signed copy of my paperback collection of unsettling short stories, Dark Steps? Yes, signed, with (if you like) a personal message.

If you'd like to buy one of these, for the bargain price of £3 + £1.40 P&P, you have until the close of play on Thursday 20th February to let me know. Include your email address, and I'll send you a PayPal link to send me the £4.40. Don't forget to include any personal message you might like.

After this date, signed copies will still be available but may cost a little bit more.

Dark Steps - a collection of short stories by Martin Pond
Dark Steps - it's pretty good, if I may be so bold. I think you'd like it.