The Graham Greene Affair: A 140 Day Challenge

The Grahame Green Affair
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The Graham Greene Affair: A 140 Day Challenge.

In the summer of 2013, (oh god, it’s 2 years ago, I’m so old) I began working on my dissertation; a 6000 word novel opening, accompanied by a 4000 word essay. I dubbed my novel Rimjhim, a title which I still have trouble spelling, but that I ultimately love more everyday. It is the Hindi word for the sound that rain makes, and acts as the perfect image to open this particular story. Alec, the story’s narrator, has had his memory erased and rewritten so many times, that it is hard for him to tell fact from fiction. Rimjhim is his memoir, his attempt to reassemble the fragments of his life. It was a story that I was passionate about, that I loved, right up until I started trying to finish the damn thing. Suddenly, I find myself looking for any excuse not to sit down and write.

So I’ve come up with a plan.

In The End of the Affair (1951) – my favourite book and a HUGE influence – Graham Greene describes his own writing method:

Over twenty years I have probably averaged five hundred words a day for five days a week. I can produce a novel in a year, and that allows time for revision and the correction of the typescript. I have always been very methodical, and when my quota of work is done I break off, even in the middle of a scene.

He was meticulous and disciplined; traits that, as a writer, I would love to train into myself. In fact, one of my New Year’s Resolutions for 2015 is to get into a regular writing pattern. So, over the next 140 days, I will be setting aside time each day to write 500 words. They may not be as pristine Greene’s, who wrote “without crossing out anything” (Michael Korda, 1996), but they’ll be something.

140 days of 500 words makes 70,000; the average length of a first novel. The aim of The Grahame Greene Affair is to have a complete novel by March 2016. That’s 6 months to write, and 6 months to edit. And I invite you to come along for the ride. If you’re up for the challenge, I’m more than happy to beta read, and discuss ideas. Just drop me a line!

Yes, it’s certainly going to be an interesting few months, but damn it! I will get to the end of this affair!!! (Oh whoops, I made a punny. That bodes well.)

Best,

Mort.

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Review: Every Day

every day
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Every Day by David Levithan

WARNING SPOILERS

Every Day left me in two minds. It definitely has it’s good qualities; as a commentary on sexuality and gender, it’s an outstanding piece of young adult literature. However, as an example of science fiction, it made me want to weep, and not for joy.

The narrator of the novel, A, is an entity who jumps from body to body, regardless of gender. As such A is not gender neutral, or gender fluid, but just a person, who doesn’t really understand what the fuss is all about;

“I had yet to learn that when it came to gender, I was both and neither.”every day

“In my experience, desire is desire, love is love. I have never fallen in love for a gender. I have fallen for individuals. I know this is hard for people to do, but I don’t understand why it’s so hard, when it’s so obvious.”

For me, this was so incredibly relatable. While I’m fully aware of being a female of the human species, I have never really understood phrases like “You think like a man” or “That’s not lady like.” I have often felt that you could pick my consciousness out of my body, park me in another, and I would still remain the same person. Seeing Levithan approach this subject, in a way that makes it accessible to readers who cannot identify in this way, was amazing.

However, by the end of the novel, that sense of awe had worn off. I found myself infuriated by the poor use of the science every dayfiction elements in this story, particularly in regards to character utilization.

From the beginning, Every Day sets itself up as a romance novel. You know the novel’s plot will rotate largely around A and Rhiannon, but alongside is the sci-fi sub-plot: who is A? Is A one of a kind? Is there a way for A to stay in one body? And through Nathan, A discovers answers to these questions. Vague, vague answers, that A decides to run away from. Just ups and leaves Rhiannon, this girl he loves. Don’t even get me started on the I-have-to-go-but-this-guy-who’s-currently-hosting-my-consciousness-will-make-a-great-boyfriend scene. To Patrick Ness, who calls Every Day, ” a wholly original premise racing along with a generous heart towards a perfect ending,” I say, “You, sir, are a heinous liar.”

As A runs away from the priest, Levithan seems to launch himself in the opposite direction to any kinevery dayd of satisfactory ending. He abandon’s the priest character, not even deigning to let us read the e-mails that A and the priest exchange. Here I am, thinking perhaps he could learn from the priest how to stay in the body of a comatose kid, thereby gaining a family and a happy life with Rhiannon, but no, no.

The ending was so insanely frustrating, that if I hadn’t been reading a friend’s copy, I would have actually thrown the thing across the room.

In conclusion, do I love the concept and characterisation? Yes, absolutely. Do I think it’s worth a read? Certainly. Do I recommend finishing the book when you’re along, purely to protect those you love from flying objects? Oh definitely. Definitely, yes.

Review: The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul

the long dark tea-time of the soul
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The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul

I was introduced to the character of Dirk Gently as a fresher with a serious Sherlock hangover, and only BBC iPlayer to keep me company. I fell in love with the BBC’s adaptation, partly because of my not-so-secret crush on Stephen Managhan, but also due to Gently’s infectious attitude towards life. Over the summer, I managed to read the first novel in this short series, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. I was so taken with Adams’s bizarre writing style, that most of my creative writing projects for the next athe long dark tea-time of the soulcademic year were dedicated to replicating that sound; the unequivocal, deadpan satirist, with a unequalled sense of humour. In particular, it sparked the creation of a certain giraffe scene that became semi-infamous amongst my course-mates.

Over a year later, I finally found time to read The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul, and I am pleased to announce, it was well worth the wait.

While the book is technically a sequel, reading the original is not at all necessary. All you need to know is that Dirk Gently is a man who takes the interconnectedness of all things deadly seriously, to the point where he has given up conventionalthe long dark tea-time of the soul methods of navigation, and instead follows cars and people that look like they know where they’re going. No, I’m not joking. The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul sees Gently investigating the death of a client, leading him down the back streets of London, past an old people’s home and straight into the great hall of Valhalla. Oh, did I forget to mention Thor, Odin, and a fella named “Toe Rag” all have a major role to play in the novel’s events? Woops.

This is definitely a novel for those of you who love the Marvel movies, or just have a passion for Norse mythology. While Toe the long dark tea-time of the soulRag lacks the sex appeal of Tom Hiddleston’s Loki, he makes up for it in his hilarious attempts at tormenting Thor. Thor himself is rather adorably unable to think and talk at the same time, and is prone to outbursts, which have a habit of transforming lamps into kittens and so forth. For the fanfiction writer’s amongst you, it will certainly provide some headcanon fodder.

In the middle of all this absurdity, it one of the best written female characters I’ve read in a while; Kate Schechtor. Unlike the usual floosies of your common noir, Kate is a curious, level-headed, the long dark tea-time of the souldriven woman, who has as much trouble comprehending bath salts, oils and bombs as I do. She is not your common dame, she is brave enough and smart enough to make her own path through the story, and is all about the practicalities, “Kate sighed. “Will I need a coat in Asgard?“. For a detective novel from the 1980’s, she’s a real treat, and you’ve got to love Adams for that.

My only complaint was the lack of MacDuff, the previous book’s secondary protagonist, and Gently’s onscreen sidekick. This is purely because, MacDuff acts as a Watson the long dark tea-time of the soulfigure, giving background information on Gently’s character from their university days together. For this reason, I personally recommend reading the first book, simply to get a fuller sense of Gently’s character, although the order in which you read them is up to you.

The Dirk Gently novels are certainly some of my favourites. As a student, they were a breath of fresh air in a pile of dense literature. As a graduate, they provide a wonderfully warm gulp of humour to fill the hours I spend in coffee shops. But most importantly, as a writer, I recognise that they are something entirely different, and that is what makes Adams one of my literary heroes.

the long dark tea-time of the soul

Finally, for those of you who find yourself hooked, there are further chapters available in The Salmon of Doubt, the third, but rather unfortunately incomplete, novel in the series. RIP Adams, you beautiful man, you.

Review: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

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I admit, I was sceptical to begin with. The synopsis gave me the impression that this was going to be a book about a girl who outgrows fanfiction and finds real love in the real world, and that was not a storyline I was interested in. I put the book down, I walked away. And then a friend told me that they’d enjoyed it, and I was in the market for some light-reading, and figured, “Why not?” I have never been more pleasantly surprised.

Rowell’s voice is fluid, and her characterisation is generally good. While many of the characters are detestable as people, they are also brilliantly well-rounded. There is just enough of Laura (the twins’ mother) present to allow us to understand the motivation behind her actions, without the words ever being said. There is just enough of Nick, to give us a sense of his teetering ego. And there is enough of Wren to make us hate her, before we love her all over again.

What is lacking is a full sense of Levi. We know his physical appearance, we know his background, but we don’t know any of his real flaws. From 460 pages, I can tell you a 100 things that Cath loves about Levi, but not one that she hates. Even his reading difficulties are turned into an opportunity for romance, rather than an individual fault. Levi is the kind of character that sweeps you off your feet, but you can never quite ground him in reality. Perhaps I shouldn’t grumble, after all it is a young adult romance, and therefore feet sweeping is to be expected. But the perfection of Levi left me with a bad taste in my mouth, like the message had been corrupted. It’s fine to support the idea that you should be yourself and do the things you love, but adding in the perfect guy who will hunt you down no matter where you hide was just a little to ‘happily ever after’. Maybe a greater discussion of the looming summer apart would have helped. I just needed something to shake the fairy glitter of this otherwise amazing tale.

However, what is lacking from Levi, is made up for in other ways. Rowell may not have grown up as part of the ‘fandom’ generation, but she gets it, and she gets fanfiction. Cath’s obsession with the world of Simon Snow (Rowell’s creation with in a creation) was spot on.  Rowell understands the need to explore, play, and finish stories differently. She even understands that sometimes, the fanfiction is better than the fiction.

I grew particularly fond of the Simon Snow interludes, and Cather’s fakefiction. As someone who never really enjoyed Harry Potter, as others seemed to, I found Snow to be very interesting. In my opinion, Rowell explored more engaging concepts and story paths in a few extracts than Rowling did in 7 books. Specifically, I loved the spells that relied on the power of words, such as ‘please’ and ‘up, up and away’, as well as The Humdrum, who managed to be both a surprising and sinister villain, something that Voldemort never quite achieved.

Ultimately, this was just the book I needed. It was emotionally rich, but still playful. I hope Rowell will someday bring us more of these guys, and until then I’ll be browsing fanfiction.net to keep me going. For a romantic, looking for a light read with a kick, this is definitely the book I would recommend.