The Fine Colour Of Rust
by P.A. O'Reilly
Published by Blue Door/HarperCollins
I was fortunate enough to recieve an autographed copy of this book as a gift from my Antipodean literary advisor. Despite having both a free book and a personal message from the author, I shan't let either cloud my opinion here. 

But if you're looking for a good read about a group of not-quite-ordinary people struggling to carve a life out of a small town half way between Melbourne and and a great big open space, then you'd do well to pick up a copy. 

On the other hand, if you're looking for something fast-paced and where the action explodes off the page, this isn't for you: this story moves at it own pace, it unfolds gradually and gives you the time to savour the grains and dust that make up so much of our lives.

The story revolves around Loretta Boskovic, a single mother among a sea of single mothers who daydreams of capturing the heart of a reliable and hopefully (though always imaginary) well-heeled man, whilst inspiring the rest of the town of Gunapan's population to do battle with big and small government. Her much dreamed of man also has to come with a pretty decent car because her own, as we explore in great detail, is always en-route to the scrapyard.

The town is, by and large, forgotten by everyone bar the locals and is thus ripe to be shafted by unscrupulous property dealers. Not only do they plan to nick the local water supply, they see the town as a sort of feeder factory of workers for the resort they plan to build (with help from some obliging members of the local council). That's battle No 2.

Battle No 1 involves dragging the Minister for Education, Elderly Care and Gaming into Gunapan to talk to the residents about their never-going-to-give-up battle to save their children's school from closure.

And if the minister's title brings a smile to your lips then you'll be happy to know that the book is laced with this kind of humour. It's not quite black, but for every situation Loretta and the town finds themselves in, there's nearly always a humorous lining. For me, one of the great lol moments was the hospital scene between Loretta, her sick mother and Loretta's children, which is both bizarre and sharply dark.

The characters, their lives and experiences are all well written and believeable - you warm to them all (except the scattering of baddies). If, like me, you read foreign literature to gain something of an insight into how other nations think and act, then you won't be disappointed, though it'd probably be wise not to imagine that the Gunapanians represent all of Oz. On the other hand, the issues being dealt with here are universal, the sort of things we read about wherever we are.

One of the things I like about reading books in non-British English is to discover how the langauge used differs to mine. So would I say that it is typically Ozzie in voice and circumstance?

I can't say I know enough about Australia and her people to comment, but it does reflect a certain gritiness, a willingness to get on with life without much moaning about what it's throwing at them. The language is undoubtedly Aussie, but given that Oz English is by and large British English, you only notice the difference in the details. In a way I'm a little disappointed by this: I know that if I read an American novel the English will be very different to British English. But this isn't a criticism of the book, it just shows how close Oz and British English still are.

My only real criticism is there is a long-ish build up to a fairly important event which we jump over, to land in the aftermath of an explanation of how it had unravelled and been dealt with. I felt slightly cheated because I wanted one or two of the baddies to get their come uppance, and I wanted the satisfaction of witnessing it.

On the other hand, O'Reilly twists and binds the ups and downs with so much humour and humanity that it's pretty easy to forgive her for not satisfying my expectations in that department.

It isn't a difficult book to read: the pages turn almost by themselves as O'Reilly's easy style of writing and the laughs keep you wanting more. Overall, I really enjoyed this snapshot of middle-of-nowhere Australia, a place populated with every-day people struggling to bring happines into some pretty tough lives, and not giving up on this despite the commercial and political skulduggery. Personally, I'd like to find out what happens next, but failing this, will settle for reading the rest of O'Reilly's back-catalogue.

You can order the book from Amazon, and while you're waiting, you can read the excellent interview with the author on her website.

I've just finished reading Julian Barnes novel, The Sense of an Ending, which I really enjoyed for a number of reasons. One of the reviews listed on the back cover describes it as a masterpiece.

Which made me start wondering just what is a masterpiece. We all have our own opions and it is a matter of taste, but one thing's for sure, book reviewers have to be really careful about using such words (they're entitled to their opinion of course), because such high praise can only lead to high expectations among readers. 

And if these are not met, you are not only disappointed with the read but also then question its validity and potentially any other reviews from the same source.

That said, I really enjoyed the book, which is published by Vintage Press, it's a simple story and deceptively easy to read. It's told from the perspective of a man who's looking back on his life and dealing with things that happened at university (by and large) and the impact of those times on him (and a few other people) now. 

It's also to do with memories, and how these change with time, and how they become less certain as we age. Amateur writers such as myself can learn a lot from how the book's written. For example, you don't have to write 100k words to tell a story or for your work to be valid; the story can be low key - you don't have to have tons of actions or plot twist: simplicity can be your friend.

But as much as I enjoyed it, it's not a masterpiece in my opinion. A couple of indisputable masterpieces for me are Cormac McCarthy's The Border Trilogy and Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast.

These books take you deep inside the story, far, far away from the here and now. Then they bury you in words and ideas, they are poetic and imaginative in ways that take you can never expect. They lead you away from yourself whilst simultaneously taking you deep inside yourself. 

And when you've finished reading you are changed: the book is tattooed on your psyche. You are still savouring and thinking about them a year later and wondering how much more time has to pass before you've forgotten enough to start reading them again.

That, for me, is the difference between a masterpiece and a damn good read.

Welcome to IAAY number nine!

This week it's all about British writer and editor, Marian Newell, whose first novel was inspired by childhood memories of the Cinque Ports and their lurid smuggling folklore.

IAAY is published every Wednesday (yes, all of them), so there's plenty of time for you to join in too! Contact me via the comments section or via Twitter: @mickdavidson.

It’s All About Marian Newell
It’s All About Charles Dickens

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens (1859)

 It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.’

This must be one of the greatest closing lines in fiction, quite an achievement when you remember that the book has a cracking opening line too. The words moved me to tears when I first read them in my late teens, and the nobility of the protagonist’s sacrifice retains its power for me still.

This book shaped my taste in fiction, making me seek grand themes and psychological depth.  Most of all, it piqued my interest in motivation. I want to get to know characters as if they were real people, and I want to understand what they want and why they act as they do.

One of the grand themes in this story is redemption. It asks whether a worthless life can be redeemed by a single noble act. It also invites us to consider whether the sacrifice has less value because the life is worthless, a burden to the man who sacrifices it.

The quoted words are finely crafted, using the literary device anaphora — the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of successive clauses. This occurs throughout the book and underlines the recurring theme of doubles. There are the two cities of the title and the two characters so alike that they can be repeatedly mistaken for one another.

For me, though, the power of the quote is in the satisfying resolution it gives to the story. An ending that might have been unbearably sad is lifted by the fact that death holds no fear. There is utter confidence that the path taken will leave everyone, including the man who forfeits his life, better off.

A sense of closure remains important to me. I often find stories that end ambiguously to be unsatisfying. While recognising that there is value in personal interpretation, I usually prefer to know what the storyteller means rather than to discover my own meaning in their work.

It’s All About Me

A Devil’s Dozen by Marian Newell (2012)

This, my debut novel, is a fictionalised account of real events. It describes the rise and fall of a smuggling gang that operated on the Kent coast in the 1820s. The tale demanded a strong focus on historical detail and actual incidents but my own interest was more in the nature of the fourteen viewpoint characters. I wanted to use fiction as a tool to look beyond the recorded facts.

It struck me that any group of that size includes a variety of people, doing similar things but for a range of reasons. Having read as much as I could about the time and place, I considered how the men might have differed in their backgrounds and circumstances. The motivations of the characters that I created range from need to greed, from the wildly irrational to the coldly calculated.

My story is unlike A Tale of Two Cities in that it has a factual core and doesn’t impose specific themes on what took place. However, and with no comparison to Dickens’ mastery of the form, I do see ways in which my work was influenced by his. Much of the impact of the sacrifice in A Tale of Two Cities comes from its unexpected source. Our expectations are often confounded: people we consider reliable may let us down, while people we dismiss may surprise us. I tried to cast against type when I allocated actions derived from contemporary local rumours to the individuals I had characterised.

Returning to endings, the optimism of mine certainly owes a debt to his. I was mindful of the importance of opening and closing chapters and considered my personal favourites. It was Rebecca (‘Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.’) and A Tale of Two Cities that sprang to mind.

My manuscript originally ended on a reflective and slightly sad note. During the editing process, I revised it to conclude in a more forward-looking way:

‘You sees that, boys? Paul? Tommy? You sees it?’

Tommy looked at Pierce, who closed his mouth and swallowed. They all stared at each other for a moment or two, then Pierce cleared his throat and shouted back.

‘We see it. By Christ, Quacks, we all see it.’

I had lacked the confidence to stop at this point but feedback made me realise that cutting what came afterwards would make the ending stronger. Readers would be able to see what the future held, just as my characters were seeing it.

I wonder if Dickens knew all along that his story would end with the uplifting sentiment we read in the final version. I suspect he probably did.

Welcome to IAAY number seven!

This week it's all about Australian writer, calligrapher, artist and, as if that wasn't enough, Olympic cycle trainer, Graham McArthur. Oh yes, did I mention he plays the guitar a bit too and released three music CDs ?

IAAY is published every Wednesday (yes, all of them), so there's plenty of time for you to join in too! Contact me via the comments section or via Twitter: @mickdavidson.

It's All About Graham McArthur
It’s all about My Father
I grew up surrounded by letters. Lettering was everywhere inside and outside the house. My father was a sign writer and calligrapher although he never used the label. He worked from home and there were large signs in the driveway and in the ‘shed’ where he spent most of his time. Small stuff was made inside wherever there was room. Works on paper, wood panels, scrolls, plaques, heraldry, photo mounts etc were stacked against the walls and on chairs and any available flat surface including the floor. The dinning room became his inside studio for 360 days of year (it only functioned as a dining room at Christmas). As a small pre-school boy this is the room I spent most of each day in.

I can not remember a time I did not draw. For obvious reasons most of my drawings contained letters. My father thought that if I was drawing letters, I should draw them correctly. From the age of five and before I learnt to read, he had me drawing Roman Capitals in pencil on a daily basis (up to about age 11-12). My love of letters has never lessened.

It was many, many years later that learnt to appreciate just how much he taught me and how skilled he really was. I still have a few leaves of gold leaf from those early years of learning to brush letter and gild on glass, wood and leather all before I learnt to read.

Unfortunately nothing has survived except 2-3 leaves of gold. I can only imagine how bad those early letters were, but the memories are what is important and much more precious than any physical reminders.

It’s All About Me
I left art school early to pursue a career in fine art. After an inaugural sell out exhibition I spent a few years painting portraits and landscapes. This drove me insane and so I turned to commercial illustration eventually working as an illustrator and typographer for a printing and publishing house during the early 1970’s. By the mid 70’s I was freelancing and have been freelancing ever since. 

Three years ago I accepted a full time job offer and have pulled back from illustration somewhat. Today my interests and work is varied and broad. I still love letters and lettering, calligraphy and type design. These precious things will never leave me. I still love to draw and paint and have learnt late in life to appreciate abstract art and all its singular challenges. I now understand just how important my often tedious and repetitious classical training in drawing, painting and lettering is in creating a sound foundation from which one can have the freedom of choice in pursuit of experimentation and discovering the new. Without that training you have little to nothing from which to stand on or leave behind.

I made my first guitar in circa 1990 because I could afford to buy a good instrument. Its is a terrible instrument but it taught me much. Ten years after that my guitar workshop became my daughter’s bedroom and guitar making was transferred to the shed where it remains with an ever growing hunger to re-establish warmer and more pleasant surroundings befitting its stature and importance to my life. Of course I play terribly and one should always wear ear muffs when I am near an instrument.

Music is of course extremely important to me and is a big part in my daily life. A recently developed passion for electronic soundscapes and experimental music genres has almost become an obsession, well OK, I will admit it is an obsession. 

Sorry can’t help it. My third CD was thrown at the world a few days ago.

When not following the above distractions I find a strange comfort it reading and writing. My fantasy novel ‘Mironmure’, which began life some 15-20 years ago is as stagnant as always, but not forgotten. I am still working on it - honest. The other novel is going much better and I am hopeful it will be finish with in the next 12 months. This time I have taken to crime with the aid of a rather socially inept and reclusive artist who has become very pissed off and annoyed at a certain individual who steals artworks and kills people. Can’t say any more on that. 

I must not leave without mentioning the bike, its always about the bike. Cycling is in my blood and its a sport I love dearly. Three athletes I introduced to the sport and coached in their formative years are riding for Australia in the Olympics. I am very excited about that.

You can find out more about Graham at the following:
 * All art work (C) Graham McArthur

Sex, Death and Trains: All Yours For Nothing (still!)*
*Terms and Conditions apply: you can get a free copy of my first novel, The Darkness Beneath, by following this link - but hurry! Only the first 100 people to sign up can claim a free copy.

Rolling and Tumbling
Well I rolled and I tumbled, and I also ducked, weaved and bobbed through last week as I waited for my accountant to call with the exact time and date of the end of the world. Turns out it's 0900 next Tuesday. Which means that I've had another week of sticking my head in the sand and pretending that nothing-serious-is-about-to-happen.

So look out next week, watch out for jack-in-the-box highs and wrist-slitting lows: my rational self will be rationed for at least week, as will the few pennies left in my bank account. On the upside, you can sit back and watch me go into meltdown from the comfort of your own living rooms. Consider it a service and don't forget to send an occassional postcard to me at the asylum/debtor's prison.*

(* To be announced.)

Cover Story
I love book covers me, they're brilliant but creating them is a real art. Some book covers make me want to buy the book just for the cover but I have to say that far too many covers from indie authors are pretty amateur. Especially those that are only published as eBooks, and the designer (if that's not too grand a term) hasn't considered shrinkage. I.e., how small the text and images will be once the full size art work has been shrunk down to Kindle size.

Another major error is the mixing of fonts. It's not that you shouldn't, but I think the basic rule is that you shouldn't use more than two, and they should be simple enough to be readable after they've been put through the incredible shrinking machine. This also goes for the images used. Sadly, many of the covers I see are either the work of people who know nothing of design, or are the creations of people who think that Photoshop's main purpose is to create cutesy borders around terrible photos. To which they add the following across the bottom in some less than attractive and far too enormous font: © IamRubbish Photography. This is done because they make the twin mistakes of imagining they have an image worth copy writing, and that their work is so good they can call themselves professional. Wrong on both counts.

But I digress.

What you're here for is, apart from watching my financial implosion, is to find out more about what's happening with The Girl isn't it? Ok, ok, so here's the story. I realised the other day that to make one of the final chapter's last few scenes work, it has to take place in the dark. Not a problem really, just slide time forward a couple of hours and your done. 

Well, almost. We want dark but it's summer, not high summer but we're still graced with very long days. Darkness doesn't get out of his limousine until at least 2200. So the slide has to be by at least two hours, otherwise the cops are going to look very silly walking through the woods with their torches shining while the sun's still high in the sky. 

And yes, this is a love story/romance, why would't there be cops? 
Sex, Death and Trains: All Yours For Nothing*
*Terms and Conditions apply: you can get a free copy of my first novel, The Darkness Beneath, by following this link - but hurry! Only the first 100 poeple to sign up can claim a free copy.

You Have Friends!
Last week (and all of this so far) was not a good week as I had a cold and bloody awful toothache (and there's no past tense about either now, they are just less noticable). These forms of misery are not compatible and had to be fought of with Echinacea and pain killers. Something I try to avoid at all costs, but the combination of bastard irritations got the best of me. Which is why both my blogs are late this week.

On the upside, I had many good wishes from friends world-wide via facebook, which was very cheering - thank you all for your support!

Just When I Thought Everything Was Going To Change
It didn't. But not for a want of trying. We arrived at the tax office on Thursday morning ready to be hung out to dry only to find the appointment had been cancelled at the last minute.

Very sadly, a family member of the person we were seeing had died that morning. It's moments like these when you realise that the enormity of many problems we have are purley subjective. Not that that means anyone's problems are lessened because of it. But given the choice between death and taxes, I'll go for taxes every time.

Novel Two Finished!
Or is it? As all writers come to learn, writing is all about re-writing and although I have finished the main body of writing, there's still a ton of re-writing to be done. But that's the fun part! That's the bit I really enjoy, the carving of the real story from the thicket of my words. Removing the dross, the deadbeat, the dull and the screamingly hilarious attempts at saying something clever. 

Time to get the analogy machete out and send it slicing through the weeds of words and - oh, looks like I've started again.

The great thing about finishing the main body of writing is that now I can measure the time left on book two in months, rather than the end being in the dim and distant future, a time yet unknown to Man. After so much work over such a long period of time, it's great to start imagining that I can see the mirage of the finishing line.

All Change!
Another great thing that's happened with this book is that the very wonderful Nicoll Heaslip has come up with a much better name for it. The working title has always been Life Cycle, which is, let's face it, rubbish and only hints at what the contents are about. 

So, from this moment forth, book two is called: The Girl Who Dreamt of Water. Admittedly, this might not give you much of a clue about the story either, but it's so damned poetic that I refuse to call it anything else. So if you're confused by the title, you can read the first three chapters and sort yourself out.

And I'm very, very pleased to announce that she's also creating and designing the cover. Given how excellent the first one is, I can't wait to see the second. 

Looking back at last's week's moan about the Wall of Indifference, this week was totally different. When I announced on facebook that I'd finished the main writing of The Girl, I was awash with congratulations from so many friends, which was very cheering - thank you all!
*Terms and Conditions apply: you can get a free copy of my first novel, The Darkness Beneath, by following this link - but hurry! Only the first 100 people to sign up can claim a free copy.

Write, Despite Anything You Feel
Yes, that's my motto, something I say every day of the week to try an counter the negative thoughts that line up to block my path to writing success. Over the last three years of serious novel writing, I've noticed that these thoughts fall into two broad categories:
  1. Fear of Writing - lack of confidence in your abilities; struggling to make an idea work; fear that you aren't qualified to write what it is you want to write; fear that when you do finish people will notice right away how dreadful it is.
  2. Wall of Indifference - from the publishing world; from friends and family and the world in general.

You can probably add your own negativeties to these, feel free to do so.

Fear of Writing
This comes in all shapes and sizes and annoying disguises: fortunately there is one way of dealing with them all:

Write, write and carry on bloody writing!

Ok, that's simplistic I know, but you do have to keep going and not be defeated. You can feel defeated in the few minutes that elapse between finishing one novel and starting the next. Get a coffee or cup of tea and something nice to eat, cry a few tears, then drag out your writing tool of choice and batter the hell out of it.

I've had a massive attack of the unqualified bit over the last few months when trying to write the final chapter of my bike-based romance, The Girl Who Dreamt of Water (thanks for that Nicoll - much, much better than it's working title, Life Cycle). I really struggled with the idea that I know enough about female emotions to be able to write about them convincingly. And there was a lot to write about. 

The way around this has been to break the chapter down into several segments (15 in all) that are much easier to write. I haven't written them in order either: I wrote all the easy bits first and gradually worked my way into the harder parts. This meant I was able to take
each level of emotional intensity one step at a time. And because it's not written linearly, I've got a much better picture of how everything fitted together. Normally I write from start to end with occasional looping back to tie up loose ends. When you work like this, and you
don't ready know a lot of the details of what's coming, then it's like trying to assemble a jigsaw in a dark room, nigh on impossible. So not only have I got most of the words written now, I can see how I can disassemble and re-assemble the sections back into a proper story, and not just a set of events arranged linearly.

Which is nothing like how I wrote The Darkness Beneath: so not only have I learned a few tricks to keep me writing, but also that the way you write each book may vary. So if it sn't working, maybe you have to find another way of writing. Which is great, because I though writing is writing is writing, when really it's just writing, writing, writing. :)

You can read the first three chapters of The Girl here.

Wall of Indifference
In some ways this is much harder to deal with because it's so inexplicable. Ok, I know the publishing industry are drowning in the screams of wannabe writers and the millions of people who, like me, are convinced they have something worth publishing. What I find harder to contend with is the lack of support from the vast majority of friends and family. 

There are those who always pat you on the back, but the majority don't - and I know that I'm not alone in this - recent blogs and discussions I've been reading show this is very, very common. 

So why aren't your siblings cheering you on from the sidelines? That's a question I can't answer or fathom. If you'd climbed any other mountain of achievement, say in the sporting arena, or raised £1k for charity by living with beans in your pants for a month, they'd be there every time. But when you finish writing a novel and get it published? No, forget it, not good enough, not interesting enough. 

was talking to someone whose opinion I trust about this and they said it was probably jealousy. I find that hard to believe - how could anyone be jealous of something so inconseqential as writing a novel?