Monday, 26 November 2012

Seminars, Squids and Sex Dolls.

Right, a quick round-up of all things writerly as I've been as neglectful as ever (I even forgot my login details, although I can blame my uni schedule, I hope), so, to begin:


This term it’s a reading module, one book a week for ten weeks, and seminars are based on studying the mechanics of whichever novel is under scrutiny (characterisation, style, P.O.V, themes, plot etc).  It's actually been quite difficult to read novels 'as a writer', and while I can spot various techniques in poems, once a novel grabs you it's tricky to distance yourself to the level where you can see how it's grabbing you; kind of like watching a film and noticing the lighting and the angles rather than focusing on the action.  Some part of this may have been due to me being disinclined to break the mystical spell of the oh-so-sacred-story, but as the weeks have progressed, there is a new ruthlessness in my approach, which means that I do have much more appreciation for the novels that I do like now, and at least I can better verbalise what I don't like, rather than stating: well, it was just..shit. I'll be scribbling in books in permanent pen and breaking their spines before I know it.

Anyway, so far we have torn to pieces:

Everything is Illuminated –Jonathan Safran Foer.

I 'appreciated' this one, in that I liked the scope of ideas and the overall quirkiness and the fresh take on the Second World War and the focus on hidden histories, but due in part to me leaving it to the last minute to read, I couldn't get as fully absorbed as I could have done, and I began to find it tiresome and difficult to plough through as it progressed. My overall impression is then: original but over-hyped. But I must impress, props for the boldness and the approach.

Going Out –Scarlett Thomas.

A stark contrast to the week before, a very easy read (but one with many hidden layers- Wizard of Oz references, capitalism, reality TV etc).  Luke is allergic to the sun and confined to his bedroom, but he and his friends embark upon a journey down the B-roads to Wales in a camper van, in the hope of finding a healer. A coming of age type tale, and another 'quirky' novel (is this a thing now in contemporary literature? Quirky sells, obviously). Interesting and inventive and touching but ultimately forgettable.

Dorian- Will Self.

Will Self makes me sick (in a good way), with his envy-inducing eloquence and his snazzy words (that made me consult the dictionary about ten times per page) and his sardonic face that sneers –oh, you wish you were as clever as me- and this book has probably been my favourite one so far. I loved Wilde's original, and this take, described thus –"Brutal, savage, infinitely readable…it will upset people"- took all of the implied decadence of the former, and transposed the characters to the 80s, where Aids, homosexuality, drug abuse and Princess Di all become commingled with the themes which include power of influence, vanity, vice, superficial society, the creation and reception of art and celebrity culture.  At times the 'shock' aspect did become a little tedious, but maybe that's the whole point, that we are so anaesthetised that it's hardly surprising that people are looking for such thrills, in greater and greater measure, so yes, read it.

A Whistling Woman by A.S Byatt.

A novel of ideas (reason versus belief, faith versus science, mind versus body, good versus evil, evidence versus superstition, revolution versus institutions, female biology versus female independence, passion versus restraint…) ideas that are excellent in theory but in the context of this book made me want to sleep/cry/throw it out of the window. In hindsight, I can again 'appreciate' it, but reading it was an ordeal. And I don't use that word lightly.

Politics-Adam Thirwell.

According to the blurb, it is a book about a) a father and a daughter and b) a threesome, and is not about politics, at all. Which isn't actually true. The broader politics (mentions of Stalin, Hitler, Mao) are juxtaposed here with personal politics, and ones of gender and sexuality and politics pertaining to the body, so cue various cringe-worthy sex scenes that certainly made for lively conversation ('Now, how could you make fisting sexy?').  The main literary device that we focused on was the use of the intrusive narrator, which I really liked (maybe that says something about my own authorial vanity), and the book overall did pique curiosity and there was a certain peering-through-the-keyhole-quality to it that couldn't fail to draw the reader in, not matter how awkward the exchanges. So, overall, the confidence of the voice and dry humour made it very readable, and I did enjoy it.

A Short History of Tractors in Ukranian- Marina Lewycka

Guess what? Yes, it's quirky! The story is concerned with the romance between an eighty-four year old Nikolai, and his new bride, the thirty six year old Ukrainian 'gold-digger', Valentina, and the effects that this union has upon Nikolai's family as she enters their lives '…like a fluffy pink grenade.'

I liked this one, and found it funny and despite the ease of reading it managed to encapsulate themes such as survival, change, progress, compromise, responsibility, old age, 'will', obligation, love, forgiveness, liberalism vs radicalism etc. Plus the author thanks her former tutor in the book –Livi Michael- who is now our tutor, so that made us all feel that one day it'll be our creation being ripped to shreds by aspiring, scornful authors.

Writing News.

I had this piece published in the Lovecraft Ezine, an unusual publication story in that I was approached by the editor (the lovely and very supportive Mike Davis), and it took a few months and forward-and-backing and rewriting (and me being concerned that it wasn't 'Lovecraftian' enough) for it to be published, but when it was, it was with excellent accompanying artwork (by Robert Elrod, who can find at his site here), and audio by Juliana Quartaroli) which was all very exciting.

The title is basically stolen from James Joyce's poem, itself entitled 'The Twilight Turns from Amethyst', and while it fits the story with regards to Lana Lilac's eyes, there's both a nostalgic and a hopeful tone to the original that I thought would make a good contrast to the overall bleakness of my version.

The story received some great feedback on the site which was wonderful, as I was nervous about how it would be received (being an odd semi-erotic tale about lesbian strippers), and while having that option there –the 'leave comments for the author' one – could easily cause a melodramatic crisis should a commentator be less than positive, getting the good stuff is also an instant come-now-you're-not-really-shit when the inbox is full of rejections.


I submitted this flash piece for National Flash Fiction Day's Flash Flood, where they published a short piece every fifteen minutes for a day, and this I wrote in about an hour and sent off more as writing practise than anything else, but I'm pretty happy with it.

It tells the story of a man and his rubber doll and their romantic trip to the beach, but I hope that it did touch upon loneliness and desire and expectations as much as anything else.

Other writing news included me signing up for NanoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, where you well, have to write 50,000 words of a novel in a month, without over-thinking, or editing, just going, going going…), and I'm still on 12,000 and the deadline is four days away, so I have a feeling that maybe I won't 'win' it this year!  It's still been a good experience though as I have now fully plotted my novel out, so the not-thinking led to lots of covert thinking that led to lots of solutions to problems that I never knew where there. Or something…

So, now, I'm off to read my next MA book, and check my inbox, just in case a story acceptance is hidden somewhere, or maybe I overlooked something, or maybe one slipped into the junk folder…


  1. Hi Nicola. I pretty much agree with everything you say about the MA novels thus far, though I would be far more scathing about AWW. On the plus side, I'm loving Burnt Shadows. First book on this years list to really grip me whole.

    Congrats on the publications. Just left a comment for you on the Lovecraft ezine. Thought you really nailed the tone of a HP tale and the descriptive passages are chilling and precise. Loved the ending too, though the final sentence might bear trimming to leave us on the image of the closed eyes. Hope you don't mind me saying. Gripping story.

    See you at wednesday's session.

  2. I enjoyed "Twilight Turns from Amethyst" a lot. It speaks for itself since it stuck to me from September, when it was published there, and I believe it would still remain in my mind. The hinted things and feelings work very well in your story and it has plenty of Lovecraftian touch :)
    It is interesting at "Melt" that if you didn't mention that the second "character" is a sex doll it should have taken me a long while to guess it. I could tell that something is amiss, but I could not put my finger on it. Very interesting. And I like quite a lot how you play with your character's feelings.
    Congratulations for both stories! And I hope to see more of them! :)

  3. My initial AWW rage has abated somewhat, weirdly. I'd still happily fling it up the garden though...

    And thank you very much! I'm completely appreciative of the comments, and any editorial advice you have to offer as it's easy to become blind to your own work. I did send a few versions of the story and did struggle with the ending in particular, but I'm glad that you liked it :)

    Hope yesterday went well!

  4. Ah, Mihai you commented as I was replying to Dan's comment!

    Thank you for the kind words, they're much appreciated, and I'm glad you liked the stories :)

    Right, I best get writing, then...!