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Spark and Carousel – Goodreads Giveaway Now Running!

E A M Harris:

A great offer for anyone interested in fantasy reading, (you’ll probably have to go to the original to use the widget mentioned).

Originally posted on Joanne Hall:

You can get your hands on a FREE paperback of Spark and Carousel in a special Goodreads Giveaway that runs from now until September 26th, to celebrate the release. Enter using the widget below and don’t forget to add the book to you To-Read shelf!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Spark and Carousel by Joanne Hall

Spark and Carousel

by Joanne Hall

Giveaway ends September 26, 2015.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

Don’t forget that you can also pre-order Spark and Carousel on your local Amazon, in both Kindle version and paperback. Alternatively, come along the physical launch at BristolCon, where there will be cake…

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Slipped down the plughole?

Lost Pubs cover artI recently came across a book (now, sadly, out of print but still available here and there including libraries) called The Lost Pubs of Bath by Andrew Swift and Kirsten Elliott.

My inner pedant was irritated at the imprecision of the title – how do you lose a pub? Did it slip down the back of the sofa or get thrown out with the old newspapers? Maybe it ran off like a lost puppy.

In reality it may have been demolished or bombed, but in a place like Bath, which seriously conserves its heritage, it has more likely just changed its use. So why not say so in the title?

But ‘lost’ is an emotive word. It carries a lot of baggage for almost anyone – we’ve all lost things or people that mattered to us.

‘Lost’ gives us a straightforward ‘no longer around’ with that little hint of sadness that the vanished past ought to have – though whether any of us would really want to un-vanish it is another question.

So the title is a suitable one, and the inner pedant can go back to sleep.

Frank O’Connor award

I’ve just come across the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award, which I’ve never heard of 9781907773716before. The winner this year has recently been announced and it’s Carys Davies with her collection The Redemption of Galen Pike.

I’ve heard of Frank O’Connor and it’s great that he’s remembered by a major award, but as with all these awards, I wonder about the people who didn’t win or even get shortlisted. Does it affect their sales? Does anyone outside their circle even know? How do they feel about it? The prize, at €25,000, is the largest in the world for short stories so winning makes a real difference.

This award is one where a publisher submits a book published within the year concerned. I assume that the author’s permission is needed, but I can imagine conflicts arising if they don’t give it (maybe there’s a prizewinning short story in there somewhere; or a mystery à la MarpleMurder in the Publisher’s Office).

There seems to be quite a revival of short stories lately and prizes like this can only encourage it. The media reports and other publicity must be good for the form and for literature generally, as well as for the writers concerned. So congratulations to Ms Davies, her publisher, Salt, and all the judges and others involved.

Five Fascinating Facts about William Faulkner

E A M Harris:

I love odd facts about famous writers, and these facts are truly odd. My thanks to Interesting Literature for gathering them up and posting them.

Originally posted on Interesting Literature:

Fun facts about the life of William Faulkner, author of The Sound and the Fury

1. William Faulkner was born Falkner; according to one story, the ‘u’ was the result of a typesetting error Faulkner didn’t bother to correct. Curiously, Falkner’s  great-grandfather had been Colonel Faulkner but had removed the ‘u’ – William put it back. Faulkner (William, that is) was born in New Albany in Mississippi in 1897, the eldest of four sons.

2. The website Snopes.com took its name from the Snopes, an unpleasant family who feature in the works of William Faulkner. Faulkner’s Snopes Trilogy, comprising The HamletThe Town, and The Mansion, was published between 1940 and 1959 and centres on the Snopes family, a grasping and corrupt dynasty including a paedophile (Wesley), a pornographer, and a thief (this article has more Snopish detail). Perhaps because of the association between Faulkner’s…

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Holmes and Watson revealed

Holmes and Watson cover artI enjoyed this book. It is well written and scholarly without being pedantic or heavy.

However, I did find it odd reading a biography of people who don’t exist. For instance, as many biographers do, Ms Thomson speculates on what her characters were doing in the times not covered by the published stories. For real people this attempt to fill in gaps makes sense – they must have been doing something. But for fictional characters the true answer is ‘nothing’, and most of the time their creator probably didn’t give the question any thought.

Reading this book has made me want to know more of the real facts and I hope to find a good biography of Conan Doyle in the nearish future.

I recommend this to anyone who enjoys the Holmes stories and who likes a stylish, fictional biography. If you haven’t read any of the stories you’ll miss out on a good deal of the references and nuances, so I suggest you get a few of them in before starting Ms Thomson’s work.

Cover art from goodreads.


E A M Harris:

I’ve recently been reading about the literature of marginalised peoples (I’ll blog about it one day) so was drawn to this review. I haven’t read the book but it sounds fascinating. A romance that doesn’t ignore political realities must be unusual.

Originally posted on M C Raj Author:

Our Time Now – A review of the novel ‘Madderakka’

“Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe.” – Frederick Douglass

Author M C Raj’s novel ‘Madderakka: A Romantic Journey Through Cultures’ is a love story that celebrates the human spirit in its highs & lows. The protagonists in this love story are not just a couple of individuals but representatives of two indigenous communities from separate parts of the world. Veeran is an Adijan, member of the so called untouchable caste from India while Ramona is a Sami woman from Norway. An anthropologist and a philosopher meet under special circumstances and romance blooms between them. They also discover the similarities in rituals followed and oppressions faced by their…

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The Dreyfus affair from a different angle

9780099580881I’ve enjoyed several of Robert Harris‘ historical thrillers and An Officer and a Spy was no exception. His stories take place over a wide range of space, time and subject: this one is fin de siècle France and the Dreyfus affair.

I suppose that most people will have heard of this major miscarriage of justice. I had a vague idea that Alfred Dreyfus had been wrongly accused of something and sent to Devil’s Island, a penal colony in South America, but beyond that I knew little. I now know a lot more. As a story of amorality, corruption and sheer wickedness it takes some beating. It is also a story of the power of the press and public opinion and seems very modern for that reason.

The central character is Georges Picquart, head of the French counter-espionage (called the Statistical Section). He is present when Dreyfus is thrown out of the army, in which he was an officer, for allegedly selling secrets to the Germans. Later, in his counter-spy role, Picquart discovers that Dreyfus was innocent and another man was the traitor. He gathers evidence and tries to present it to his superiors. But they are at first not interested and later actively hostile. Picquart has stumbled on corruption and cover-up at the heart of government and suffers for his attempts to put things right.

Although there is little actual violence there is no doubt that Picquart is in increasing danger as he refuses shut up and go away.

Picquart was a whistle-blower who seems to have spent some time trying not to be. I think we would recognise him today more easily than his contemporaries did. As an example of someone who risks his career and public persona, and even his life, to right a wrong, his story is worth reading in all historical periods.

The power of poetry to prolong a generation – an envelope full of verse

Yesterday I received my quarterly mailing from the Poetry Book Society. This time the book was When God is a Traveller by Cover ArtArundhathi Subramaniam, who writes in English but lives in India.

As always, there’s something appealing about the slim book of verse with an exotic title; something that encourages both reading and thinking. Inside the colourful cover I love the way the poet uses the page, laying out her poem to enhance it’s meaning and to guide the eye to the emphasised bits.

I haven’t had time to really study this book yet, but already I’ve found my favourite poem: ‘How Some Hindus Find Their Personal Gods’. The process is logical and sensible:

It’s about learning to trust
the tug
that draws you to a shadowed alcove

The seeker recognises the god as he who is

… content to play a cameo
in everyone’s life but your own.

Isn’t this kind of recognition at the heart of all spiritual experience?

Along with the book and the Bulletin I’ve also received a booklet, Next Generation Poets 2014: a selection of poems from writers who might be the leaders of poetry in the future. This is part of a major campaign by the Society to bring to their work to the public. They define the next generation poets as having published their first collection within the last decade. As might be expected, the photos and brief bios in the booklet indicate that most of the poets are quite young, though a few could describe their ages as ‘late youth’.

I wonder if someone who published their first collection at the age of 90 would still be of the ‘next generation’. I like the idea of this strange extension of life. How long does a ‘next generation’ last? Perhaps in twenty years time their spirit can look down from Heaven (or up from the other place) and watch budding poets reading their collection.

Surrounded by darkness

Recently I bought a copy of One Hundred Poems from the Japanese: poems selected and translated by Onehundredpoemsfromthejapanese_300_504Kenneth Rexroth. Years ago I borrowed this book from the library and loved it, but at the time I didn’t have spare money to spend on books.

Reading these clear and heartfelt short poems is to wander in a different world: a world of underground passion, verbal precision and appreciation of small things, many with wide implications.

My favourite so far is:

I go out of darkness
Onto a road of darkness
Lit only by the far off
Moon on the edge of the mountains.

This has the human condition so right in so few words: where do we come from? where do we go?

The original was written by Izumi, who I suppose is the same person as Lady Izumi Shikibu. She was a lady in waiting at the Imperial court in the tenth to eleventh century. Apparently writing poetry was a popular activity for courtiers at the time.

Would that the fashion had spread and endured. If our political scene contained more poets who knows what it might achieve.


Cover art from New Directions publisher.

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