Sunday, 25 September 2016

Really Bad Writing - By Gaslight - Steven Price...

So, I do have a penchant for stories based in Victorian England, probably because of my love for Charles Dickens and other English classical authors. I also like to try out new authors, to see how they fair in that genre.  What I don't like is to find an untried author who believes they are so good already that they can take egregious liberties with the grammar of the language, with the result that what would have been a promising and entertaining tale is ruined by their foolish "author's license"!
Such a book is By Gaslight by Steven Price.
Now, I do know well the American - or, even more sadly, in this case, Canadian - philosophy over the English language that runs along the lines of "we need to change it so much so that it's American, not English", but sometimes the need to be different leads to such a bad result that it makes a story unreadable.  The apparent love-HATE relationship that they have with the humble comma, for instance, leads to situations where sentences lose their structure and cohesion, and become minefields of re-read, re-read just to get their meaning clear, causing the reader to struggle to get a flow in the writing, thereby destroying their ability to enjoy the tale.  Some times writers do this out of ignorance, but most often they do it because some other writer/mentor fed that attitude to them. In either, and/or any other case, it is wrong! Commas serve distinct purposes in the language, and to wilfully (a) neglect and (b) remove them only leads to sloppy, and often incomprehensible writing.  In By Gaslight, in an attempt to be too artsy-fartsy than he has the skill for, Mr. Price takes this to the Nth degree, and any child in an English primary school would have had their knuckles rapped for such bad work.
But as if that weren't bad enough, Mr. Price has, either through ignorance or yet another puerile attempt at artsy-fartsiness, also chosen to TOTALLY ignore the use and function of quotation marks! While I know, through editing the books of a number of North American authors, that they do have trouble with the rules of dialogue, I had never thought that totally ignoring them was part of their repertoire!  Mr. Price proves me wrong, alas!
The result is that the narrative runs continuously, and the reader is not aware of the fact that words are supposedly being spoken by a character until they happen to meet a (often correctly used!) comma, followed by a dialogue tag - ', Steve said.' or ', Paul hissed!'  This is not only distracting, it, again, causes the reader to often rethink or recast what they have just read, making the flow of the narrative very choppy and cumbersome.
I'd like to think that this was totally Mr. Price's fault, but I really do believe that his publisher and their editors are also to blame for these atrocities, as no editor worth his or her salt that I know would allow such depravity to be visited upon their readers.  The sad thing is - the book is actually a damned good yarn, and I wouldn't persuade any reader not to read it just because of the incompetence of the author, his editors, and his publisher.
Taking the abuses of the English language that American (and Canadian writers) like to think they are good at to such an extent in the name of art is really nothing more than a failure to understand why there are rules to the language in the first place. Otherwise, it is just a jumble of words!

Saturday, 12 March 2016

The Scarlet Gospels - Clive Barker

I have been a huge Clive Barker fan ever since I first stumbled upon The Hellbound Heart back in the late 1980's. (Showing my age now! LOL) While the majority of people, it seemed, learned of Clive through the scintillating horror films of the Hell Raiser series, which are based on the Hellbound Heart novella, my own route was through his novels and short stories. I avidly devoured The Great and Secret Show, Weaveworld, Imajica, Everville, Coldheart Canyon, etcetera, etcetera, through to Mister B. Gone, enjoying each and every one for Clive's detailed and superbly grandiose narrative style.
And now we have The Scarlet Gospels, the long-awaited and desperately anticipated conclusion to the Tales of the Cenobites, in particular the greatest Cenobite of them all - the great Hell Priest himself, more commonly (and unflatteringly) known as Pinhead.
The novel tells the tale of the final confrontation between Pinhead and the great saviour of humanity from many of Clive's other stories, Harry D'Amour, the tattooed avenger of evil. I don't intend to recount much, if any, of the plot or details of the story, as I'd rather you read the book for yourself.
What I really want to blab on about is the style of Clive's writing in this book, which has continued to improve like fine wine. In this novel, the detail and imagery, in both breadth and execution, are absolutely phenomenal!  We are taken on a journey through Hell that makes Dante's Inferno look like the tentative scribblings of a miscreant child. Seriously! The scope of Barker's world of the damned is  incredible. The sojourns of both Pinhead and his associates, and D'Amour and his team of Harrowers, pulls us through vast, colourful (or colourless) lands, seas and forests, as well as crowded cities and demon-clogged roads, and temples that take us back to the unhallowed lands of the Old Ones as depicted by H.P. Lovecraft, and magnificent, endless cathedrals that the mind finds hard to comprehend and visualize because of their very vastness!
And the language Barker uses to describe these vistas and the events that unfold within them is so rich and detailed, and impeccably varied, that I ended every chapter with a "Wow! That's amazing!", and the thought, once I had finished the book, of "How did he fit so much into only 361 pages?"
And, yes, while I have read some of the comments by readers of the book complaining that it was too short, I find that kind of remark really only shows how ignorant they are of Clive's skill as a writer. Sure, I would like the book to be longer, but if that's how many words it took to write the novel, who are we to complain in the face of a master like Clive Barker?  Certainly there is nothing missing from the book in the way of completing the tale, and does every Clive Barker book need to be as long as Imajica or The Great and Secret Show? In that case, Mister B. Gone would be woefully short! And no writer worth his or her salt starts a story with the statement, "I am going to write an 80,000 word or 200,000 word novel!" or "I am going to write a 40,000 word novella!" That's just not the way it works, dear readers! A writer writes a story until it's finished, whether that takes 10,000, 100,000, or 500,000 words!
Rant over, my recommendation is - buy a copy of The Scarlet Gospels and read it. If not for the fact it is destined to become one of the classic horror stories of all time, then do it simply for the fact it is a beautifully written story.

Thursday, 28 January 2016

The Children of Rarn - redux

Can't believe it's been so long since I posted here. Just goes to show what a busy year 2015 has been, and how much time I have spent NOT writing, but working at what modern-day authors call the RLJ - or Real Life Job!
But 2016 has started with a different tack. At the beginning of 2015, Gollancz, a well-established and venerable publisher of science fiction and fantasy, and now an imprint of the Orion Publishing Group, put out an call for direct submissions that was, apparently, so successful, they repeated the call for 2016, and, taking advantage of their opportunity, I submitted my fantasy novel The Children of Rarn, which is based on the song cycle developed by Marc Bolan in the late 1960's and early 1970's.
The Children of Rarn tells the tale of a race known as the Peacelings, and their arch-enemies, the Dworns.  The Peacelings, guided by their High Priest, Agadinmar, and ruled by the Swan King, live in relative peace and prosperity in the haven-realm of Beltane, while the Dworns, along with their thralls of trolls and "dragonbreed", live outside Beltane, hidden away, and commanded by their demonic lord, Lithon the Black.
Marc wrote a small number of songs, intending to build these into a full fantasy rock concept album, but failed to complete the project in his lifetime.  All that was left were the original demo version that he recorded with Tony Visconti, and a few re-recordings of some of those songs in his catalogue of unfinished works.  Even The Children of Rarn theme became the bookends of the first T.Rex album, simply titled T.Rex.  All-in-all, these were the very bare bones of the potential album.  Shortly after Marc's death, Tony hunted out the demo version and applied some light production to it, so that it could be subsequently released on the album "MARC - The Words and Music of Marc Bolan 1947-1977", as The Children of Rarn Suite.

Taking these as the spine, and adding in a few characters from many of Marc's other songs of the same time period, and including some characters and events based on Marc's real life, I built a fantasy novel, which has topped out at around the 100,000 word mark.  I originally started the story way back in the late 1980's, and submitted it, with varying success, to a couple of publishers.  But then I let it lie, even though I discussed the project with Tony Visconti, who was very supportive of developing the novel.
And now I have submitted the project to Gollancz for consideration in their 2016 Direct Submissions call.  It arrived there on Tuesday, so I am now in that purgatorial limbo that authors go through, between submitting a novel and waiting for a response from the publisher.  In the meantime, I still have to rescue around three-quarters of the novel from the WordStar files I wrote them in - yes - WordStar!!  And the whole thing could really do with a good re-edit and maybe a partial re-write, as I am definitely not the writer now that I was then - by which I mean my style and voice are much stronger now than at that time back in the days of mystery!
With my fingers crossed, I will keep you informed of updates and progress, and, with a good - nay - great stroke of fortune, maybe I will hear something wonderful back from Gollancz.

Friday, 7 February 2014

The Ocean at the End of the Lane - Neil Gaiman

What do you say when you read a book that so vividly reflects so many of your own life experiences, and yet which takes you beyond them into new and inspiring ways to view those experiences? It's difficult - so very difficult - to rationalize a work that instils so many emotions. Emotions like admiration for the work, enjoyment for the tale, remembered fears from those childhood events that correlate to events depicted in the tale, and, yes, jealousy for the success of a work you feel that you could have written yourself. Such a book comes along only once in a while, and leaves us profoundly changed in ways we hadn't expected, and maybe didn't want to.
Such a book is The Ocean At The End Of The Lane by Neil Gaiman.

I've read that many people read through this seemingly short book in one go, and very quickly. If they thought they were doing it justice by doing that, all well and good to them. Myself, I took quite a long time to read this book, and even took a break about halfway through. This wasn't because I found the book difficult to read, but mainly because I wanted to digest and assimilate the experience and its correlations to my own reality, evaluate the metaphors and emotions they brought.

And there were a lot of those.

The beauty of The Ocean at the End of the Lane lies in the craftsmanship with which Gaiman cloaks a truly deep study of conflict and fear within what is, apparently, a child's eye view of their world. Hidden within the story simply told are nightmares and dreams, both real and imaginary, that entrap the lonely seven year old hero, and yet which provide him with unfathomable opportunities to escape his all-too-grey-and-grim reality. His adventures with Lettie Hempstock and her family provide him with the perfect anodyne to the apparent coldness and loneliness of his parents home as seen through the youngster's eyes, filling those voids with wonderous characters and creatures, and perilous but protected pastimes. Any child that ever read J.R.R. Tolkien or C.S. Lewis will be familiar with these sojourns into The Perilous Realm. But what makes Gaiman's achievement truly unique is the perspective he brings of the adult remembrance of these adventures, and the inability to truly validate the difference between the reality and the fantasy.

As I mentioned earlier, I found numerous correlations between events and experiences in my own childhood, and those encountered by the hero of The Ocean at the End of the Lane. This, in and of itself, is both alarming and, at the same time, cathartic. Alarming, because it brings back all of those memories - whether good or bad - and lays them at your feet, along with the fears they engendered at that time. Cathartic, because it then allows you to resolve those events in a different light - that of maturity, maybe - that makes them, perhaps, less fearsome than they seemed at the time. Gaiman's story opens windows onto our own childhood demons, and gives us an opportunity to resolve them, or not, as we see fit.

I thoroughly recommend this book - not that Neil Gaiman needs my recommendation to drum up sales or followers. But don't rush through it. Take the time to learn from the experience, and grow with the story. As far as I am concerned, I will attempt to get over my jealousy at Gaiman's success, and endeavour to write my own stories, and, hopefully, achieve similar success.  

Finally, my love and thanks to my wife for buying me this wonderful book. xxx 

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Tropic of Cancer - Rancid Ramblings...

I don't know!  Maybe I've been spoilt over the years by the purity and prosody of "real" English Literary classics, or maybe it's because I actually do like to have some kind of plot or storyline in the books I read - and there have been many thousands of those - along with at least one deserving character.  On the other hand, maybe it's because I don't like being taken for a fool by being served - or, in this case, sold - pathetic puerile rubbish!
Anyway, whichever it is, I have to say, having just read "one of the greatest American novels of all time", I am left distinctly unimpressed and dissatisfied by the rancid ramblings of a rabid mind that is Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller.
I find it hard to understand how this work is even considered to be a novel!  I, personally, would classify it as an incoherent collection of variously influenced journal entries, daubed all too frequently with sporadic obscenities purely for the self-gratification of the author, as they provide no gratification, or even entertainment value, to the reader. By "variously influenced", I mean, rantings that are influenced by whatever intoxicating mendicant Miller has been able to extract from his cadre of erstwhile enablers, most of who seem to be in pretty much the same predicament as himself.  Even when he does manage to break into a (short) period of cohesive sequence, it's built on the back of racist and sexist philosophies that both demean the author and, more importantly, provide ample illustration of the propensity for denigration of other cultures and countries that is inherent in humanity, no matter which country it originates in. Of course, one has to wade through almost 70 pages of the incoherent ramblings before one reaches the coherent ones, by which time anyone with a modicum of morality and decency would have given up long ago. In my own defence at having read thus far and further, I was reading with an eye on the overall impression and veracity of the book, so I really had to read it all the way through!

The interesting thing about the book, I find, is Miller's apparent delight in describing the juvenile attitudes and behaviours of himself and his cohort when writing about the various sexual and other nefarious activities they are partaking of. Whether this is an indication of a narrow focus - either deliberate or unintentional - by the author on those specific memes, or, more alarmingly, an indication of the decadence of the society Miller is immersed in at that time, is a matter of much discussion over the years. Of course, the overall and continuing effect of that style has been to incite the interest of notoriety in the book over the years, which, in its turn, has lead to significant sales and subsequent continued fame and infamy. This might have impressed me more if the author was an immature juvenile, but Miller was actually in his 40s when the book was published, so that excuse is, sadly, no excuse at all!

It is argued that the book is significantly surrealist, and I can agree to that. However, the danger with surrealism is - make it too obtuse, and it becomes confusing. Miller borders on that. And then breaking it up into pieces that do not follow a linear chronology, compounds the surrealist confusion until it becomes impossible to follow, and, eventually, actually annoying to the reader.
There is, really, no comparison between Tropic of Cancer and its Orwellian equivalent - Down and Out In Paris and London. While both authors have the desire to describe the impacts on their lives from their situations and experiences among the poorest denizens of these cities, Orwell's is a massive triumph of literary skill and genius, while Miller's is... 

Suffice to say, reading Tropic of Cancer has not inspired me to rush out and buy Tropic of Capricorn, its erstwhile sequel, in quite the same way I rush out to buy every new Tolkien book. On the other hand, I would recommend you read Tropic of Cancer for yourself, so that you can get the full impression and effect of what is, after all, one of the greatest American novels of all time!

Monday, 21 October 2013

Aberfan - October 21st, 1966

There are events in everyone's life that stick in the mind.  How often do you hear the question, "Do you know where you were when you heard John F. Kennedy was shot?"  I actually have no answer for that question, but, for me, the date that made such an impression is October 21st, 1966.
I never realised at the time, nor for many, many years afterwards, exactly what an impression the events of that day had actually imprinted in my psyche.  I was eight years old, and the grainy black and white television news images of the horrific disaster that occurred in the Welsh village of Aberfan, like most of the "grown up news" at that time, made little impression.  Or so I'd thought.
Then, almost 40 years later, I started to feel something strange inside - something that trembled in the depths of my soul - if that's what you'd call it - in a way that seemed to say "This is still there, and needs to be set free."  It's difficult to explain that feeling - it's like something trying to surface in your mind, trying to speak, so disturbing that it takes your attention away from the things you should be doing.  That "thing" that surfaced was a remembrance of those events back in October 1966, and the vision and clarity and emotion that came with the memory were both inspiring, and deeply saddening.
The expression of that "thing" - the vision, the clarity, the emotion - is the poem below.  I reproduce it hear, 47 years after the event that has become known by just one word all over the world - Aberfan.

It's now been 50 years since "Aberfan" - but not a lot has changed.
ABERFAN – October 21st, 2016
It’s been forty fifty years since “Aberfan”,
One hundred and sixteen children
Did not live to be woman or man,
Their fragile bodies broken!
A village fair is Aberfan,
Hid in the Martyrs vales,
Nestled amidst the green and gold
Of beautiful south Wales
But deep beneath her scenery
Lies the diamond black of coal.
To ransom this dark gold they sold
The Merthyr collective soul.
They sunk deep pits in Mother Earth
And mined the coal to sell;
But mines spit more than coal and dust,
Slurry they spit as well.
The garbage rock and dust and dirt
The does not burn is piled;
A blight on verdant pasture that
Is hideous, reviled.
And we all know that slag-heaps move,
We played on them as kids.
Our fathers' would have tanned our hides
If they'd known what we did!
But build a slag-heap on a hill
That’s watered by a stream?
The NCB knew this would be,
A Nightmare, not a dream.
They had been warned and warned again,
Of these they took no heed.
They went on piling up the slag:
Theirs was an evil deed.
Those murdering bastards knew full well
The spring fed from the hill
Would turn the slurry into slime
That, given time, would spill.
October dragged Autumnal feet,
With heavy skies and grey;
As if to wash away the dirt
It rained day after day.
The men on number 7 tip
Were worried by the storm.
They watched in horror as it swelled;
Could they prevent that harm?
In Pantglas Junior school it was
The last day of half-term.
The children sang their harvest hymns
But had no heart to learn.
At 9.15 in the morning
Of October Twenty-first,
God blessed the tardy children,
And, those on time, He curs’d.
Like some primordial monster
The soakened slurry fell,
Unleashing on the junior school
A blackness dug from Hell!
A rumble, growing louder,
‘Till it drowned all with its din.
The slag-heap crushed the stone-walled school
And buried those within.

While some escape, and many try
To save themselves and others,
That awful blackness traps them all;
Whom it doesn’t crush, it smothers.
And then – an eerie silence as
The dark void fills each room,
Encasing those dear children and
Their teachers in a tomb.
Then, through the silence, people come,
Miners, fathers, mothers.
While there will be relief for some,
There’s mostly grief for others.
They sought hard for their children,
Digging through the rock and mire
While deep in their hearts, broken,
Burnt an ever-growing fire.
They dug all through the daylight,
They dug through darkest night,
And each pew in Bethania church
Held a devastating sight.
The lifeless body of a child
Each by a blanket hidden
Was laid to rest in peace when it
Had been pulled from the midden.
One hundred and forty-four victims
Died in the Vale that day.
Twenty-eight of them were adults,
The rest, children at play.
Lord Robens was too busy to
Attend to Aberfan.
Receiving another honour,
Such an important man!
And when he bothered to attend
He lied about the cause.
The NCB were not to blame,
It was hidden springs, of course!
But the people of that valley
Were much wiser than him!
They’d played in that stream on the hill
Before it was filled in.
And, at the inquest, folk would take
No heed of Coal Board lies.
They knew who’d killed their little ones,
They knew whom to despise.
‘This is the truth - these words we want
This inquest to record,
'Asphyxia, no, sir! Buried alive
By the National Coal Board.'’
And who would pay the price for this,
The foul neglect and lies?
Why, no one from the NCB!
Spit in Welsh miners’ eyes!
“And, if you want those slag-heaps moved,
You’ll have to pay the cost.”
Well, Aberfan has dearly paid
With every life it’s lost!
Don’t ask how they recover
In their Welsh idyllic bliss.
Truth is – there’s no recovery
From tragedy like this.
It’s been forty fifty years since “Aberfan”
And not a day goes by
When a young survivor from Pantglas school
Wonders how they did not die.
They feel a sorrow and a guilt
For being still alive.
When all their friends were lying dead,
God, how did they survive?
Many of them that live there still
Take tablets for their pain,
But they don't take those pills, sir, no,
When it begins to rain!
The fear lies deep inside of them:
They won't get caught again!
And resentment and bitterness
Have, over the years, grown
‘Tween those who lost their children
And those that had lost none.
No, Aberfan will never truly heal
While memory lingers.
There’ll always be some hurt ones there
To wag their tongues and fingers.
There’ll always be some nosey fool,
Or morbidly sick tourist
Who wants to visit Aberfan
To see what they have missed.
The folk of Aberfan deserve
Our honour, respect, love;
Not idle stares and curiosity.
Remember, when you’re giving thanks
To Whom you deem above,
“But for the Grace of God, it could be me!”

Don’t ask if I believe in God
Or in the good, sweet Lord.
The proof that there is no such thing
Exists in just one word:

Copyright © Paul J. Todd, October 21st, 2006

Friday, 21 June 2013

Filey Summers - A Memoir in verse.

I guess, as a self-proclaimed author and poet, I should publish something now and then, while I'm waiting for fickle fame and fortune to strike!  But,  being honest, I wasn't sure whether to post this little poem about one of the great experiences of my childhood, on this blog, or on my Barney Blog, although this is far from a rant, and much more of a reminiscence!
Filey Summers
How do I spend my daydreams?
Wandering the paths
Of Butlin’s Filey Holiday Camp,
Reliving childhood’s past.
Old Sir Billy’s pride and joy,
The biggest Butlin’s ever,
Bringing summer fun to all
Despite the English weather!
The night before was sleepless,
Like a Christmas in July,
Our tummies full of butterflies
As hours dragged slowly by.
And then the rail or coach trip
With so little else to do
But sit in angst and wonder ‘til
The camp came into view!

The rows on rows of chalets;
Red and Yellow, Blue and Green,
And White for the self-catering,
The likes we’d never seen!
And over them, the chairlift,
Where we rode high in the sky,
Laughing down at the tiny folk
Below as we pass’d by.
The Indoor Pool was busy
And was always very warm;
A tropical oasis where
We were all safe from harm.
The clear and frigid water
Of the giant Outdoor Pool
Had tiered concrete fountains where
My brother sprayed the fools.

Two sittings in the dining halls
Of Windsor, York and Kent,
And seconds could be had without
More money being spent!
The first freshly cooked donut
That I had ever had,
Still hot, and sugar-coated,
Was a taste that drove you mad!
The Wild Mouse Rollercoaster
And the free Amusement Park
Kept the children entertained
From morning until dark
And then the glow of the neon lights
Would drive the dark away
And make the camp a fairyland
Of fun and endless play.
Shows in the Gaiety Theatre
Or billiards in the hall,
Or dancing in the discotheque,
While parents had a ball.
The Regency, the Viennese,
The French and Oasis bars,
The Sportsman and the Beachcomber
Where dad's could have some jars.

With playing fields and a cinema,
TV rooms and a lake,
With street trains and with endless games
He gave our folks a break
From looking after active kids
All day long, and, at night,
The chalet patrol kept careful watch
To make sure we slept tight!
So much to do – day in, day out,
No matter what your age;
It’s easy to see why Filey camp
Was all the Butlin rage!

“We know where you’re going! You’re going for a wee wee!”

Copyright (c) Paul J Todd, 2013.
All rights reserved.