It’s a ‘twofer’ – today you get 2 milestones for the price of 1

Firstly – I’ve reached a blogging milestone.

THIS IS MY 1000th POST!!!

I’ve been blogging since September 2008, which means I’ve managed on average 181.818 recurring posts per year, or a post almost every other day. Bloomin’ ‘eck! How did that happen?  But – forget all about that!

* * * * *

Secondly, today is the first day that I can officially tell you about my new project.  The website SHINY NEW BOOKS will go live at approximately 9am (BST) on Monday 7th April, i.e. in a week’s time.  Please click through NOW and subscribe to our email newsletter, so you don’t miss a thing!  

Together with three of my best blog-friends: Victoria, Simon and Harriet, we are proudly launching SHINY NEW BOOKS – a new online book recommendations magazine.  I hope you’re a little bit curious about how this came about?

Well … Victoria had posted on her blog about her ideal online books magazine. I’d been commenting elsewhere about the lack of trusted reviews in the press these days and that most of the reviews seemed to be non-fiction, and that I thought there was room for a blogger-led review magazine. Victoria spotted this, and bless her, contacted me (thank you 🙂  ). We thought we’d give it a go and see what happened.  One of the first things we realised was that we needed more people on the editorial team. We said ‘Simon T’ simultaneously and luckily for us he said, ‘Yes’.  Then the three of us said, we need a fourth editor – and we all said ‘Harriet’ and she said yes too!   A couple of Skype calls later, and Shiny New Books was born.

Our intent from the start has been to harness the expertise of our blogging contacts to bring you well-written reviews of a great selection of books you might want to read, be it fiction or non-fiction, contemporary or reprinted.  A lot of wonderful UK bloggers have contributed towards our first issue, and we thank them sincerely – we couldn’t do it without them.

The main thrust of SNB will be quarterly, following UK publishers’ catalogues, so the first issue features reviews of books published from Jan 2014 through to early April. However, we’ll have a mini-issue in May with additional reviews, and the email newsletter will be monthly-ish and with competitions and discussion threads and links to additional reviews.

One of the areas that we are proudest of is our ‘BookBuzz‘ section. We’ve been talking to authors, publishers and other specialists and commissioning a whole load of articles about authors’ processes, influences and stories; how books come about; and background articles and information to books featured in our main review sections.

The four of us are, of course, terribly excited about Shiny New Books and we hope we can rely on you to visit, join in, and spread the word.

Please also visit our facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/shinynewbooks and twitter: https://twitter.com/shinynewbooks and follow/like us.

THANK YOU!

You’ll

Advertisements

Daughters of Time with The History Girls at the Oxford Literary Festival

20140330_132906_resizedSo back to the Oxford Literary Festival for one last time to hear some of The History Girls talk about their new anthology of historical short stories Daughters of Time. The History Girls is a collective blog that was the brainchild of Mary Hoffman, and now has 28 women writers of historical fiction (both adult and children’s/teen) and non-fiction regularly contributing, (they have an assigned day per month each).

The talk was in a small room off the main quad of Christchurch College – a very ‘keep off the grass’ type place, policed by wardens (formerly known as ‘Bulldogs’) in bowler hats. As always, I was early, and was directed to their little cafe but had a little wander through to the back gate instead, and stuck my head into the Cathedral – it’s a whole other ‘Bridesheady’ world still.

Back to the talk.  The four authors at the table were Mary Hoffman, Penny Dolan, Celia Rees and Leslie Wilson.  Although I’ve only read the excellent novel Witch Child by Celia Rees, I’ve had books for teens by Hoffman and Wilson on my shelves for some while. Penny Dolan writes for a younger audience. Mary introduced the foursome, and then two more of the History Girls in the room – Sue Perkiss and Katherine Langrish. Between them, I think they knew around half of the audience – maybe more!

20140330_140154_resizedDaughters of Time is an anthology of thirteen short stories together with background articles by the individual story authors about important women in English history, and goes from Boudicca to Greenham Common. Each story features a young woman, whether as the main character or an added character and the collection is aimed at older children upwards. Indeed, I hadn’t heard of some of the women featured, so it will be an education for me too to read.

Penny Dolan chose Mary Wollstonecraft – the author of The Vindication of the Rights of Women. Wollstonecraft led a fascinating life and sounds a formidable woman. Dolan’s story is from the PoV of a girl who met her during her travels.

Celia Rees, was stuck on who to choose until a conversation with her daughter led her to choose Emily Wilding Davison – the suffragette who fell under the King’s horse at the Epsom Derby in 1913. The story starts at Victoria station where Davison buys a return ticket to Epsom, and befriends a young woman behind her in the ticket queue. Davison was a radical suffragette – the question is did she intend to use the return part or not?  One interesting fact about her was that on the night of the 1911 census, she contrived to lock herself in a broom cupboard in the Houses of Parliament so she could put it down on the census – apparently Tony Benn arranged for a plaque to be put in the broom cupboard to celebrate this). All the authors urged us to always use our votes.

Daughters-of-Time-coverLeslie Wilson chose the Greenham Common women – she was one of them. Although she didn’t camp out with them, she lived nearby and helped out and got to know a group of women well.  She proudly wore her badges.  She remembers getting the call to go out at 2am on the night the cruise missiles arrived. Her story is told from the PoV of a teenager who runs away to join the women.  Leslie was, and is proud of what they did – she even confessed that she has a police record herself from the time, but this grass roots movement did make an important difference – Leslie was almost moved to tears thinking of how close we came to nuclear war during those days.

Back to Mary Hoffman – whose own story is about Lady Jane Grey, the sixteen year old girl who became Queen for just 9 days.  Mary was proud to say she has a family connection through her grandson, as her grandson’s father is a descendant of Catherine Gray, Jane’s younger sister.

There was just time for the other two History Girls in the audience to briefly introduce their chosen own daughters of time in the anthology. Katherine Langrish (who blogs at the excellent Seven Miles of Steel Thistles has written about Lady Julian of Norwich – the first woman known to have written a book in English, and Sue Perkiss – Aethelflaed, Lady of the Mercians and King Alfred’s eldest child.

The History Girls obviously all get on wonderfully together, and it was lovely to hear some of them talk.  All six signed books at the end which was lovely – each signing on the title page of their own story in the volume.  Celia Rees added ‘Vote!’ to her inscription. The History Girls is a wonderful blog – do go and visit it.

* * * * *
To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
Daughters of Timeedited by Mary Hoffman published March 1st by Templar Books, paperback

Natalie Haynes at the Oxford Literary Festival

amber furyOne of the best new novels I’ve read so far this year has been The Amber Fury by Natalie Hayes (my review here).

I returned to the Oxford Literary Festival today to the confines of a lovely oak panelled room in Corpus Christi College to hear her in conversation with Peter Stothard.  The room held maybe sixty people in total, so we were up close and personal from the off.  Natalie and Stothard ambled in a few minutes late, apologising for their shambolic entry – they’d gone to the wrong venue!  They apologised for not having really prepared in advance to talk about Natalie’s novel – but it didn’t matter a jot.  Stothard (editor of the TLS), although prone to liking to hear his own views slightly too much, knows his classics OK, and Natalie as a classicist and former stand-up comedian can talk about anything, so it made for a great hour of chat.

The first of the Greek tragedies in the book that Alex uses to teach the PRU pupils is that of Oedipus.  Natalie said, “If you’re going to win over teenagers, definitely start with illicit incestuous sex.”  She explained (for structure nerds) how she structured the novel on Aristotleian principles – every scene should reveal character and advance the plot.  Also the book is in five acts, like the plays of Sophocles.  The over-riding theme is of freewill vs determinism – the essential Oedipal quandary.

NatalieHaynes_tagtmlHowever, we found out that Haynes’s own favourite Greek tragedy is that of Medea – the one who, spurned by Jason, killed all their children (according to Euripedes). It didn’t fit the book, however, the story of Alcestis which is essentially that of sacrifice did, and is also an essential part of the plot.

One other thing she said that stayed with me is, that you should read Catullus as a teenager, but Horace as a grown-up.  I did Catullus for O-level – our translations were rather tame as I discovered a few years later when I bought a proper edition of his poems as a student; I did love them then.  I’ve not looked at them for years – but then I’ve not read Horace – maybe his time is nigh.

Most of the audience appeared not to have read the novel!  I really recommend it – and I can claim bragging rights too. Natalie signed my ARC at the end, and was impressed that I had the ARC – ‘I only got given one of those’ she said.

She was a great speaker, erudite and funny of course, but when she read the first page and a half of her novel, (which immediately gets you hooked with suspense) – she was seriously good at that too.  The Amber Fury is a brilliant read, and you’ll definitely want to explore the Greek tragedies after reading it.

 

 

 

 

A Childhood Rediscovery …

The Martin Pippin books by Eleanor Farjeon

Coincidence is a funny thing. I moved a pile of my old children’s paperbacks, and at the top of the stack I left was this book. Martin Pippin in the Daisy-Field by Eleanor Farjeon. It sort of looked familiar, and when I opened it up and saw the coloured in pictures (I always added to the illustrations when I was a child!), it got a bit less vague. Then I read a little, and it took me back…

CCF03282014_00001

Martin Pippin is a wondering minstrel, and one day he encounters six young girls who beg him to tell them stories…

Two were standing, two were stooping, two were sitting at their chain-making; and as they strung the daisy heads, they sang scraps and snatches of songs, no longer than a daisy-stalk…
Overhead the sky was going green, and the stars were making pin-pricks where the green was deepest, and the moon a yellow hole where it was palest, along the shoulder of Rackham Hill, and the dome of Amberley Mount. It was high time that the six little girls were in bed.
Martin thought so. And though he was afraid of nothing so much in the world as girls big and little, he made two strides across the boundless river, and stood in the daisy-field.

Martin Pippin 1SALLY: It’s him!
SYLVIA: What’s he come for?
SUE: To send us to bed, you know.
STELLA: I shan’t go.
SALLY: Let’s shut our eyes tight, so he’ll think we can’t hear him.
SOPHIE: I shall put my fingers in my ears.
STELLA: I shan’t. I just won’t go.
SELINA: I wonder why it’s so horrid going to bed, when it’s so nice being there.
SOPHIE: Oh it isn’t, S’lina. There’s nothing to do in bed, except go to sleep. …

They bicker some more until they realise Martin has come amongst them, whereupon they ‘shut their eyes tight, and put their fingers in their ears‘. They chat and Martin agrees to tell Sophie a story…  He tells each girl a story in turn – from the tale of Elsie Piddock who Skips in her Sleep, to the Mermaid of Rye who was born in a winkle.

Between each story is an interlude where he and the girls talk – sometimes in normal prose, sometimes as a script – just like above. The book is set in Sussex in and around the Long Man of Wilmington chalk hillside figure, who makes an appearance in one of them.  It is utterly charming – how could I have forgotten about this book? which I got or was given in 1969 – (I know that, I put the date on the inside cover, along with my full address – the one with the solar system etc.).  I shall have to make time to read the stories once again.

Martin Pippin in the Daisy-Field was first published in 1937, some 26 years after Farjeon’s first book featuring the story-telling minstrel – Martin Pippin in the Apple-Orchard.  The first book of stories was not written for children, but a young soldier who had been a friend of Edward Thomas, like Farjeon herself.

The coincidence came when I looked up the books on Amazon to see if they are still available – and lo and behold, a new paperback edition is due out next week!  Better news still, Martin Pippin in the Apple-Orchard is available for download on Project Gutenberg (no illustrations though).

* * * * *
To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
Martin Pippin in the Daisy-Fieldby Eleanor Farjeon, re-pub 31st March by Red Fox books, paperback
Martin Pippin in the Apple Orchardby Eleanor Farjeon, re-pub 31st March by Red Fox books, paperback

Ian McEwan at the Oxford Literary Festival

I come to you hotfoot from the Oxford Literary Festival where, in the domed confines of the Sheldonian Theatre, Ian McEwan was presented the Bodley Medal by Richard Ovenden the current Librarian of the Bodleian Library.  Before the presentation of the medal (which is made from copper from the old roof of the Bodleian, and has been awarded to around a dozen people so far including Hilary Mantel last year), the two sat in conversation.  McEwan was both witty and erudite, as was Ovenden and it made for a great event…

mcewan_ian

Ovenden started off by asking McEwan about his writing process… firstly – the physicality of it.  McEwan said he was an early adopter of word processors – he likes the way they allow a ‘dynamic of constant revision’.  He sometimes writes trial paragraphs longhand and then tries them on the screen.

When quizzed about his writing environment and sharing his house with another writer, his wife, it’s one upstairs, one downstairs – but I can’t remember which way round.  He told us he had a marvellous piece of software called ‘Freedom’ – you set a time, and it blocks the internet for you!

Talking about the development of his novels, and the research that goes into them. McEwan said he has a ‘duty to some kind of truth’, to do the research properly.  For instance for Saturday, his most-researched novel, he shadowed a neurosurgeon for two years and got mistaken for a proper doctor by some students, so at home was he with the subject.

Going back, Ovenden asked him what got him on the literary path towards being a writer.  McEwan said it was whilst he was at Sussex university when he was about 20 that he discovered Kafka and Polish author Bruno Schulz. They seemed ‘off the planet’ and excited him enormously when he realised that literature was a conversation that anyone could join in.

The conversation moved on to screenplays – McEwan said they are ‘very much like novellas’ in the need to establish characters quickly, and having few sub-plots as they will only be around 100 pages long.  He described some of the ‘pleasure and anguish’ of working with others, and within the Hollywood system.  The screenwriter is very much a lowly position, the director has long been the auteur. He’s glad that there is much writer-led TV now, especially coming from Scandinavia.  Ovenden asked about Christopher Hampton’s adaptation of Atonement.  McEwan felt he’d done an excellent job getting into his mind.  He praised Hampton and director Joe Wright, and the casting of Saoirse Ronan as Briony in particular.

Then we got onto the subject of McEwan’s new book, which he finished this week!  The Children Act – is a novel about a judge who is undergoing tough personal times, and the effects that a particular case is having on her.  Fiona, 59, is a judge in the family court and had to rule on a case involving the separation of Siamese twins.  To save one, the doctors had to kill the other, else they would both die within a few months. She overrules the family’s wishes to leave it to God, and rules for separation being the choice of the lesser evil, but as her own marriage is failing, she obsesses over the decision – the legal vs the moral vs the religious.

McEwan read a couple of passages from his manuscript – we were the first audience to hear any of it.  It sounds like vintage McEwan tackling big issues, with some visceral language highlighting the plight of the child in bad family break-ups, and then a passage about the twins.  Can’t wait for the book!

Then a few audience questions before the presentation.  The first questioner almost accused him of schadenfreude – being rather ‘chirpy’ when he read the extracts from his new novel – he was hamming them up a bit to inject some drama – this did make the book sound irresistible when it comes out. McEwan replied seriously, there was no intention of being chirpy!

Another question was about McEwan’s predilection for explosive plot devices, (which don’t happen in all his novels).  He replied ‘I quite like novels where something happens.’ He sometimes feels the need to put his characters through something extreme to see what happens to them,exploring  their different viewpoints and memories.  He has a strong belief in character.

After the presentation, McEwan moved over to the festival tent outside to sign books, but in the end I decided not to indulge – I own copies of most of his novels already, but it was also wet, and just about the Oxford rush-hour, so I opted to go straight home instead. He was an entertaining speaker, although this was one of the more expensive events at the festival, it was interesting to hear what makes one of the best modern British authors tick – I really should read more of those books!

 

What on earth is ‘Quantum Biology’?

P1020027 (2)

It was the second night of ATOM! Abingdon’s new science and technology festival last night, and off to Abingdon School for a lecture by renowned scientist Jim Al Khalili, who will be familiar to many for his programmes on BBC2/4 and his Radio 4 series The Life Scientific.

Jim’s day job is as Professor of Theoretical Physics at Surrey university, where one of the areas he is investigating is the new field of ‘Quantum Biology’.

To explain where QB comes from, he gave us a potted history of its development. It could have taken off in the 1930s but the leading chap was a Nazi, so it got subverted to the third Reich, and was ultimately buried as a subject for several decades.

What exactly is it though?  Because, as Jim said, ‘Down at the quantum level, things are very fuzzy.  ‘Quantumy.’ ‘ he said, waving his hands in the air and getting a laugh.  How did chemistry become biology? That’s the abiogenesis question (a new word for me that!).  Can quantum mechanics help to explain life?

He went on explain some of the key mechanisms that may be involved – quantum tunnelling (equivalent of going through walls), and quantum entanglement (where particles apart from each other have are linked somehow). He then went through some of the key areas in QB:

    • Enzyme action – confirmed in the 1980s
    • Photosynthesis – now established
    • Magnetoreception in birds – lots of work here
    • How we smell
    • DNA mutations (his particular area of interest).

Euro robinHe elaborated on magnetoreception in birds a bit because it’s a great story involving the European Robin which migrates from Sweden to Spain or northern Africa and really does fly south for winter, but is sensitive to the angle of inclination of the Earth’s magnetic field rather than the field polarity. This is all due to a particular frequency of blue light and signalling protein in their retinas.  The experimenters found this out by catching migrating robins and confounding them with different light frequencies and magnetic fields!

It was all fascinating, and given that the audience was from teenagers through to nuclear scientists, his explanations were both clear and interesting to everyone.  A lively Q&A session followed, led by Valerie Jamieson, features editor of New Scientist magazine, and Jim graciously signed books for all afterwards, (do excuse my slightly ‘fuzzy’ photo above!).

* * * * *

Today I’m taking my daughter to the family science show ‘Visualise’, the closing event of the festival. It’s been a great success, and I sincerely hope it becomes an annual event. The organisers are hoping to set up an ATOM society – I’ve signed up!

Don’t expect many book review posts from me for a week or two. This week was Science Week. Next week sees my binge at the Oxford Literary Festival. I’m booked for events with Ian McEwan, Natalies Haynes and a quartet for women authors of historical novels for YA readers, led by Celia Rees for starters.  More reports to follow!

ATOM! Abingdon Festival of Science & Technology

diamond light

The Diamond Light Source

Our town of Abingdon-on-Thames is situated in one of the real science hubs of the UK. Apart from all the science faculties in Oxford to the north, just south of the town is the Harwell campus – home of the Diamond Light Source and the Rutherford Appleton Lab. To the SE is the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy home of JET – the Joint European Torus and other high-powered projects.  This is what Professor Frank Close told us on Thursday evening, introducing an evening of ‘Converscience’ the opening event of ATOM! held at my daughter’s school.

Frank_Close_2011Frank is a professor of particle physics at Oxford and the first ‘Converscience’ of the evening was with Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnett FRS – the noted cosmologist who discovered pulsars in 1967, despite pirate radio stations broadcasting on the frequencies reserved for astronomical research!

Bell told us about how she made her discovery.  As a post-grad radio-astronomer, she had to analyse up to 96 feet of paper print-out every day, and after about 3 miles of paper, she gradually realised that there was a regular anomaly of interference.  She worked out the pulsing was occurring in sidereal time – so it couldn’t be man-made.  Her bosses took a lot of persuading – what if it were an alien transmission?  She christened it the LGM1 – Little Green Man 1. To her immense relief, she found a second pulsar (her ‘Eureka moment’) and then two further ones which finally proved to her bosses that they weren’t of alien origin. They in fact came from neutron stars, which had previously been theorised, but pulsars were completely new.

'Miss Jocelyn Bell', 1968However, when the discovery was published, her name wasn’t first on the paper, and she didn’t get the Nobel prize, her boss did.  Instead, she got the Sun headline ‘Girl discovers little green men’ – the media attention was intense and she said, ‘I felt like a piece of meat.’

When the converscience was thrown open to the audience, there were plenty of questions about women in science – apparently only 12% of astronomers are women in the UK, compared with over 30% in Argentina.  She made a plea for more women to study science, and for engineers in particular – the Higg’s Boson couldn’t have been discovered without the engineers who built the Large Hadron Collider.

We soon returned to pulsars though and the question of how you would know if the pulses were from an alien intelligence. She replied that she’d expect some kind of code – a repeating pattern perhaps.  Anyway, over 2000 pulsars have now been discovered, and still no little green men.

robin inceAfter the interval, the comedian Robin Ince took to the stage, and gave us a high-speed short version of his 3 hour science stand-up routine!  Radio 4 listeners may be familiar with him through his programme The Infinite Monkey Cage, co-hosted with Professor Brian Cox – Ince told us how he is the ‘enthusiastic idiot, the antimatter version of him‘ (Cox, that is).  He was actually quite funny (although a little loud and definitely hyperactive). He told some great true science stories including about Darwin’s nose, Richard Feynman and the aurora borealis, and he showed some stunning pictures from a Tumblr blog called WTF Evolution! – do check it out.

This was followed by a final converscience between the three – and with three sceptics on stage, the question of whether science and religion could ever be reconciled came up. Professor Close put his reply rather well – there are ‘Hows’ and ‘Whys’ – science is a how, religion is a why, Bell (who is a Quaker) added that she had no problems with it as they both have sense of wonder.

I was helping sell books at the event, and of course I succumbed to buying a copy of Ince’s tome – Robin Ince’s Bad Books Club: One man’s quest to uncover the books that taste forgot.  Nothing to do with science, but it looks rather fun.  I got him to sign my copy, and he wrote:

‘To Annabel, beware lighthouse keepers posing as novelists. Robin Ince.’

Hmm! Cryptic…

Night two of ATOM! to follow this evening – a lecture by Jim Al Khalili about quantum biology.  I’m doing the book-stall again (natch!)

Spring is sprung …

robin page bookRobin Page will be familiar to many from his TV career hosting One Man and His Dog in the 1990s, and lately for his countryside columns for the Telegraph newspaper.

I found this delightful little book he wrote back in 1977 nestling away on my shelves this morning, and as it’s the vernal equinox today – the official first day of spring, I thought I’d share some spring weather lore with you from it…

It is usually claimed that spring starts on 21 March, but in fact ‘it is not spring until you can put a foot down on twelve daisies’. Daisies are among the first flowers to respond to the warming sun and the rising sap, but many springs do not really start until April or May.

Alongside all the natural barometers of the weather from the plant and animal world, this little book is full of proverbs and aphorisms like:

If March comes in like a lion,
It goes out like a lamb.
If it comes in like a lamb,
It goes out like a lion.

I’ve just checked back on the Abingdon Blog for March 1st – and Alastair reported a sunny St David’s Day with well-wrapped people sitting outside to drink their coffees on the Market Square. Best keep a brolly on me for next week then.

What should we watch for in April. Page tells us:

April is most famous for its showers, which are often at their heaviest on the last Saturday of the month, the first day of the cricket season. It is also a month which gives an indication of the weather to come later on in the summer.

Thunder in April
Floods in May.

I do hope not!  Had enough of that this year already, haven’t we.

When April blows his horn,
‘Tis good for hay and corn.

I was going to put this book in my bag for the charity shop, but actually I enjoyed this so much, it’s going onto my reference shelves.

Whatever the weather, enjoy your spring!

‘My Heart Belongs to Daddy’ …

Reasons She Goes to the Woods by Deborah Kay Davies

reasons-she-goes-to-the-woods-9781780743769_0 Deborah Kay Davies is one of those writers who does dark brilliantly.

Her first novel True Things About Me (my review) was disturbing yet unputdownable – about a thrill-seeking young woman who gets into an abusive relationship.  Her second novel, the Baileys longlisted Reasons She Goes to the Woods is also disturbing and unputdownable…

It’s about a child, Pearl, and her family. There’s her little brother The Blob, there’s her mother and her beloved Daddy.  The book’s blurb quotes from the nursery rhyme There was a little girl, (which was actually written by Longfellow, I found out!).

When she was good
She was very, very good,
And when she was bad she was horrid.

Except that Pearl is more often horrid than good. She’s an experimenter on other people – when she gets found out, they don’t like it – especially her mother who punishes her. She hides in the woods behind their house. It soon becomes clear that the mother has mental health problems, and Pearl gets blamed, and as she grows up and becomes a teenager, her experiments get nastier, and her mother carries on getting worse. Her poor beloved Daddy is beside himself with worry.

Some might say that the outcome of the novel is predictable given Pearl’s seeming single-mindedness in her actions; the route to get there though is not so obvious and builds up gradually over the course of the book.

The author, tells the story with a great deal of style. Although the book is nominally 250 pages long, only half the pages contain the story. Each pair of pages contains a one or two word heading on the left, and then a single paragraph that fills the page on the right. So the book is only really about 120 pages long.

Each right hand page is a vignette recounting one snapshot of Pearl’s life, moving from primary school through to teenage years. The extract below is the last third of the first of these little stories that make up the whole:

The living room is quiet. In the entire world there is only Pearl and her father. Her mother laid a fire before she went out; taking ages, leaving instructions, dropping things, then slamming the door and coming back. Now Pearl listens to the sounds coming from the grate as the flames lick each other and purr. From the place pressed against her father’s knee she feels a rippling sensation move through her body, as if a delicate, frilled mushroom were expanding, elongating, filling her up. She exhales slowly. She mustn’t disturb him. He would push her off with his beautiful hands if he woke up.

Told in the present tense, there is a dreamy otherworldliness about Pearl’s actions that belies the fact that a lot of what she does is downright nasty. It’s clear that the mother-daughter relationship never happened and that she idolises her father. She also has a controlling relationship with her few friends, and The Blob too of course. After all, Pearl only wants one thing …

Deborah Kay Davies has again probed the dark side of relationships – different ones this time.  I wonder where she’ll go for her next novel?  As I said at the top, this book is disturbing and unputdownable, an uneasy but thought-provoking read.  (8.5/10)

* * * * *
Source: Publisher – thank you! To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
Reasons She Goes to the Woods by Deborah Kay Davies, pub Feb 2014 by Oneworld, 250pp, Hardback.

A screenplay novelisation …

A Million Ways to Die In The West by Seth MacFarlane

Seth_MacFarlaneThere’s no denying it – Seth MacFarlane is very talented.

Apart from being very handsome, he’s an award winning animator – having worked for Hanna-Barbera after college, he’s the creator of Family Guy, co-creator/producer of American Dad, the comedy film Ted, and he acts/voices many characters. He sings too (wonderfully – I’ve seen him with John Wilson’s orchestra) and had a hit album of standards. Now he’s written a book – sort of…

When I saw his name attached to a comedy western novel A Million Way to Die in the West, I pre-ordered a copy – in fact I forgot I’d pre-ordered it and bought it again – so I have a spare.  It wasn’t until the book(s) arrived, that I found out that the novel is based on a screenplay by MacFarlane, Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild for a movie of the same name.  A little searching brought up the film poster below – it’s released in May.

millionwestposter_large It’s the tale of a mild-mannered sheep farmer called Albert Stark who’s fed up with life on the American frontier.  It opens just past high noon and Albert’s been waiting for the guy who challenged him to a duel to turn up.  He’s late, Albert’s a coward and he uses his opponent’s tardiness to wriggle out of the duel which would have meant certain death.

Louise is the object of Albert’s affections – she promptly dumps him after the non-duel for Foy – the extravagantly bewhiskered and over-dandified owner of the town’s moustachery.

Albert’s one friend Edward isn’t much help. Edward is a simple and happy soul who is engaged to Ruth, a Christian whore who doesn’t believe in sex before marriage, (apologies in advance for the quotation below):

‘Where’s Ruth? She coming to church?’
‘No, she has a ten o’clock blumpkin,’ Edward answered matter-of-factly.
Albert stared at him, confused. ‘What’s a blumpkin?’
‘It’s when a man receives fellatio while he’s making stool. They just invented it in Italy, and it’s become popular here.’ Edward smiled with pride in his awareness of world affairs.
‘Receives fellatio? You make it sound like a Communion service,’ Albert said.
‘Well, it’s just the process.’
‘So, a guy gets his dick sucked while he’s taking a shit.’
‘Albert, don’t use those words, Edward said with indignation. ‘It diminishes Ruth’s work. She takes a lot of pride in doing a good job.’

seth macf

Yes, this is the level of the humour in this story.

What can Albert do to get Louise back?  A mysterious lady stranger may hold the answer – when Albert rescues Anna from danger in a bar-room brawl, they hit it off, and become friends. Anna turns out to be a regular Annie Oakley, and teaches Albert how to shoot.  But before he can put his new-found skills to use, Anna’s past catches up with her when the notorious outlaw Clinch Leatherwood, the deadliest gunman in the west, comes to town…

I think the movie is going to be hilarious – sort of like Deadwood done for laughs – it has an all-star cast and looks great from the publicity photos.

The book though, because it was written up from a screenplay, is a little thin, not enough added to it to make it entirely successful as a novel.  It has it’s moments – there are some great funny gags, and even a reference to Homer’s Odyssey, but there is an awful lot of toilet humour – the film I imagine being aimed at late teens and upwards audience.

There was nothing wrong with the novel, it entertained and was very easy to read, it just lacked a bit of substance.  This is one occasion when I can say – I’m sure the film will be better than the book, and as a lover of westerns, I will probably go and see it. (6.5/10)

* * * * *
Source: Own copy. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
A Million Ways to Die in the West by Seth MacFarlane, pub March 2014 by Canongate, 208 pages, hardback.