A story that took flight

The following comes with a proviso, or a few.

Firstly, there are going to be spoilers in this so if you haven’t seen The Aeronauts as yet, please come back once you have – I really would love to hear what you think of the film or indeed other films that have inspired you and your writing.

Secondly, I am an inconsistent reviewer. This is mostly because of time (there’s always a more pressing deadline for me to write), or mindset (why-would-anyone-want-to-read-what-I-have-to-say-itis).

Thirdly, I’m not a film critic. I generally leave that up to my brothers who would have much more intelligent (or at least long-winded) things to say no doubt.

But with all that in mind, I realised that it wouldn’t work as a very long twitter thread (often how I share my thoughts about various things that have inspired or fired me up) so instead, the thoughts are going to get put down here.

Neither of us rushed out of our seats, instead we let the credits roll before starting to discuss the experience of the story we’d just been a part of. We came out of the cinema into freezing fog that felt so otherworldly and yet so close to what we had just watched that it gave the right atmosphere to keep up our conversation all the way home. We often talk about the films we see on the way home, but this felt different somehow.

Having recently plotted out my novel, to try and find my way through the story I wanted to tell vs what came out in a few drafts many moons ago, the awareness of the typical story structure was very present in my mind. The joys of being a writer and a critical reader. It tends to mean that I can see where a film or a TV drama is going too, which can spoil the experience somewhat when you’re looking for some kind of escape. The Aeronauts didn’t leave me feeling like that.

Instead I felt taken by the hand, invited into the basket of the balloon to explore with them. I loved how it started in the middle, stepped back for what felt like the briefest of moments to explain how they got there, before continuing. This isn’t a new thing, or something I haven’t seen or read before, but it worked so beautifully.

I loved that it wasn’t a love story. That there were human drivers for the characters, but that wasn’t the end goal. There wasn’t a magic wand for the grief both main characters felt – her for her husband, him for his father, both for not being heard or understood by those around them. Everything was waiting for them when they landed again, but in the time that they rose to the extraordinary height and back down again it was just them.

I didn’t know how it was going to end, and that was a thing of beauty in itself. There were no huge pointers, no over explanation, no over-the-top twist. It unfolded, yet it was no where near as straightforward or plain as that sounds. I breathed a sigh of relief when they landed, I let go of my wife’s hand which was pretty much crushed out of fear for their not getting to earth again, but I didn’t foresee it. It could have gone either way right up until they both were standing (just).

The balance between the two characters was extraordinary. That they were able to save one another (although, let’s face it, Amelia Wren (Felicity Jones) did a lot of the hard work). That the writers, the film makers/ directors/ producers, the actors, gave enough space for the words they did say and those they didn’t. In a novel or a short story, that space is often more present than in films especially mainstream feature-length, yet it was so important. It felt like we were watching an two-hander play, the intimacy was so immediate – most likely because of the confinements of the balloon itself.

Most of all, that feeling has lasted. Long enough for me to stay up and immediately write this. Long enough that I know I’ll wake up tomorrow thinking about this story. Long enough to think some more research about aeronauts is required because I want to know more. Long enough to understand how I want to write a story as good as the one that we were just part of.

Listen to the Whisper Network

If only you’d listened to us, none of this would have happened.

Chandler Baker’s novel, Whisper Network, starts and ends with a call to be heard. For the women at the heart of the novel to be heard, for the voices that inspired their stories to be listened to.

The novel is not straight forward, stories like these rarely are, and it’s suitable that it doesn’t fit in the narrow boxes that publishing houses like it squeeze most into. In parts, social commentary, thriller, women’s fiction: dark humour edges it but with the bite of reality that stops you laughing too hard.

It’s a story of how one man’s actions affects the lives of multiple women. It is the story of how the world sees the action of few women that would change the course of one man’s life. It’s the story of how the world views one story as more important than the others. It’s the story of our mothers, sisters, daughters. Our bosses and our assistants. The invisible and the seemingly seen. The story of how all actions will have consequences but they’re not always in our control.

I don’t want to deep dive into the story, pick it apart and re-present it for you. Because that’s what happens. I want you to explore it and find your own story in it, as I did, and as the author wants you to. Her notes on why she wrote the book are as worth reading as the novel itself.

One thing I will say, is that I went into reading it with this marketing bi-line:

Big Little Lies Meets #MeToo in THE Must Read Book of 2019

I often avoid the books that come with the hype, the order to read it, and to be honest for the first chapter or so, it tainted my reading. I was looking for the clever cinematic reveals and the self-reflected story. Yes, that does come with it but it’s a carefully told story with excellent literary devices. And they are all more the satisfying when they happen to you rather than you looking for them. Let their stories take you in, as hard as it is hear all of them.

Whisper Network is published today. I hope women, and men, will read it, discuss it, and continue to learn with it.

A place to retreat to

This is not a review I want to write. You’re going to find out my secret and then I’ll have to share. I’m terrible at sharing.

To be totally honest with you, with myself, I share ‘me’ too much. So much so that it leaves very little time for ‘me’. Urgh. Just writing that sentence makes me cringe.

However, it’s true. I needed an escape. Not a complete run for the hills (my wife needed to escape too) but to be away. I saw someone recommend Catherine McNamara’s writing retreats in Italy. Cat and I met long ago at The Word Factory, and she’s often said we should go out there.

The thing was, she runs writing retreats. I wanted to go away to write, but I also wanted to go away to think, to read, to have enough head space for possibilities. Also, my wife doesn’t write (she tells people that. Actually she’s a damn good poet but she keeps it on the quiet). So would it be fair?

She went along with my plan, when Cat said of course she could do a retreat for the two of us. Because that’s what Cat can do – make it fit for you. The writer who stayed a week or so before us had spent her week mostly holed up in a choice of inside and outside spaces working. But Cat gave her the space to unplug too, to discuss work and life and the universe over beautiful meals and excellent drinks. I imagine anyway, because that’s we did, a lot.

We also got guided tours of two cities that are now firmly in our hearts. I read almost three books (probably the same I managed in the first half of the the year) and took the time to discuss them at length. I thought a lot, but not the worrying thoughts that plague the day-to-day about work and family and life on the whole. I thought about my writing, what was working and wasn’t. I even talked about it, which I hadn’t felt able to for a while because my focus has been on the work that can pay now, rather than hopefully later. I thought and talked about that work too, and how it’s going to play out in the second half of my first year as a freelancer.

We slept in, we stayed up late, we got up early, we crashed out. Whatever worked on that day. The only ‘order’ was ours to decide.

I run retreats, much shorter, one day retreats for Writers’ HQ writers. I know the power of saying – “don’t worry, whatever you do today is yours to do. You don’t have to do the washing up, and you don’t have to think about what’s going on at home, you just need to be in the room writing.” I watch writers leave with big grins and new ideas. I forgot what that feels like myself. Until Cat gave us that, or maybe just the space for it. New ideas, hope, and relaxed grins.

I’m going back, next time, as a writer writing rather than a writer in need of a break. I’m going back to sit in the sun-warm outbuilding to write more of the next draft of my novel where Cat wrote her first. I’m going back to continue to reform ideas when the head space is lacking. I’m going back to be in great company and to be looked after in the way I hope I look after my writers (if only for a day and not a week!). I’m going back because I promised Voss (the pup) I’d kick the ball some more.

I didn’t want to share, because I know that Cat’s weeks get booked up. There’s some availability left in late August/September I believe, and if you fancy being part of a taught group then Cat will be running a tutored retreat with Tom Vowler in September (which I’m gutted to miss). She’s taking bookings for 2020 too if you like to plan ahead.

You can find all the info about the retreat on Cat’s website, as well as more about her award-winning writing. Just leave me a week, eh?

ARH reviews: The Gloaming by Kirsty Logan

So it is no secret I am an admirer of Logan’s writing. I started getting excited about her first collection of short stories, The Rental Heart and Other Stories, back in 2015. I use the title story as an example in workshops – I cannot forget the protagonist in that story. In fact I cannot forget so many of Logan’s stories. I ate up her first novel and her second collection soon after and have been waiting impatiently for more stories.

The Gloaming novel Kirsty Logan

The Gloaming is packed full of the stories that I had been waiting for. The magic within them, the unsettling dark and light of the island, the weight of myth, legend and the elements.

The Ross family grows and changes with the tide, pulling you in and along with their unfolding. Although Mara leads, the multiple perspective allows you to weave in and out of views to see the full picture. Piece by piece.

The novel is a mesmerising dive into what it is to belong, loss and grief, the turn and tumble of love, how sexuality belies what ‘should be’.

I want to write more about Mara, Islay, Bee, Peter, Signe, Pearl. Having read their story quickly, gulping in words that bring wonder and often don’t fit my sasanach mouth, I want to tell you everything.

Instead I will say this. Read The Gloaming now.

Good things come in…fours?

Seasons, cardinal directions, card suits, limbs… Okay, so I’m scratching around and breaking the rule of three. Normally I happily live by that superstition but you have to celebrate when there’s more good things around. Here are a four great things that I wanted to share with you this week.

 

Library Friendship

Friends of British LibraryThis to me is the most wonderful of gifts. My parents purchased this for me for my birthday at the start of February. Having enjoyed the last exhibition on the Gothic Imagination, and the current one on the anniversary of Alice in Wonderland, the prospect of a year of opportunities there does make me extraordinarily happy, along with the chance to make the most of the member’s room when a spare seat in a peaceful place to write is needed. If you want to find out more, visit http://support.bl.uk/.

The Tiniest Literary Magazine 

Matchbook StoriesThe latest issue (number four) of Matchbox Stories arrived exquisitely packaged up from Book Ex Machina. I will be honest, this was an on a whim purchase but I’m so pleased I did. The four tiny stories by Ali Smith, Etgar Keret, Marti Leimbach and Frances Gapper are brilliant. Full of wit and wonder, these micro-tales left me thinking. Thinking of all the possibility there is in so few words, and the power that can be contained in no more than five sentences. If you’d like your own set then visit their site here.

Sublime Beginnings

Word Factory
Photo credits: James Lawson http://www.james-lawson.co.uk

Word Factory‘s year began on Saturday. Although Marina Warner could not be with us, and we all send our best wishes to her, the evening was a wonderful start to the year. I’ve written about how proud I am to be a part of Word Factory before, and although I have had to step away to concentrate on my collection in the past couple of months it still continues to be a great source of community, understanding, and inspiration. If you haven’t been before do let me know, I’d love to introduce you into the family.

Beautiful Monsters

Mslexia 69I have been subscribed to Mslexia for a good few years now. I’ve seen them refresh their design before to ensure they stay engaged with their readership and this one is no different; beautiful inside and out. It offers features which cut into what the industry and writers are thinking about, how-to advice from exercises to inspire to ways to reconnect with your writing and reading communities. The showcased stories are always worth reading – this month, Ana Salote’s left me chilled as the layers of meaning sunk in. Their website is also a mine of information so pop along and find out what you’re missing.

 

 

The last and the first

First resolution of the new year: to blog more frequently, more immediately. Less thinking about what I should be writing here, more of the ‘here’s what I want to share right now’.

Which leads to the second resolution: review every book I read. It’s only polite, for each author provides me with something which could be returned. Sometimes my reviews are written in full, but more often they are shared briefly on social media or spoken about with fellow readers.

So with that in mind, here is my last review of 2015 and the first of 2016.


thebeesThe Bees
by Laline Paull

This is a beautiful novel that I happily spent a day or so inhabiting Flora 717’s hive world. I know a fair amount about bees from friends and relatives who keep them, but the journey that this novel takes enabled me to explore the facts as well as an imagined world. The deeper parallels with our current society, feminism, balance, understanding the worlds we inhabit made this an incredible read rather than a flight of fantasy.

sladehouseSlade House by David Mitchell
I read Slade House in one sitting, just over 4 hours, because I couldn’t stop reading. I was gripped. The journey through time held my belief with characteristic detail; the repetitive elements were familiar rather than grating. It held the same magic that the journey into The Secret Garden did for me as a child, but with a deeply gothic and unnerving layer. I am certain the attic in Slade House will stay with me, and many others, just as the one at Thornfield in Jane Eyre and the prison that holds the narrator of The Yellow Wallpaper.

Which allows me to conclude with my final book related resolution. Focus on my to-read pile and read for me. This allows me to ignore the current trend for reading challenges that part of me would like to take on but the bigger part wonders what is the point? I understand where it is used to engage new readers, but when you already read widely and often I don’t understand the need to pressurise the reading process. Yesterday I shared a link from Pam Mcllroy. She asks, when did reading become a competitive sport? I reposted the link because I felt that she understood my take on why we read without the how we should read. A more personal resolution is to avoid the negativity of should at all costs. And then of course I went and read a book in 4 hours.