news & reviews


Proof Copies Arrive

After marching around the house preparing to curse the postman for every minute he was late, they arrived. Here, finally, are the proofs (advance reading copies) of Nights of Villjamur. (Thanks, Julie!)

It’s not quite the final product, but it will certainly do for me. This, incidentally, will be sent out to various reviewers, in the vague hope they will praise it immensely, and not rip it to shreds. It also acts very nicely as a paperweight, raised gaming terrain and fuel (in these harsh economic times), should the reviewer find the literary substance somewhat lacking, which I hope they don’t. And it’s also uncorrected, so I’m bound to have littered it with hundreds of brand new grammatical constructs. Marvel at how I push language boundaries unintentionally! It’s received the high-level structural edits, as well as the line edit, so it’s pretty polished, but the copy-edit has only recently taken place – which means that there will be the odd typo. The main thing is that reviewers can get their paws on it before the book hits the shelves in June.

The pictures aren’t great quality since they were rushed on my iPhone whilst trying to contain stupid sounds of glee. What I’m most struck by is how much the artwork looks like a photograph of a fantasy city if you’re casually glancing at it. I’d certainly recommend a visit there…


The City And The City

I’ve finished the ARC of this one, but I’m not going to post a review for a few weeks—I’ll let the interwebs take its natural course before I throw my thoughts out there, and let the proper reviewers do their thing.

And did this fanboy enjoy it? Oh yes. Yes he did.


Book Updates

I’ve just heard from Chloe and Julie at Pan Macmillan that book proofs / ARCs of Nights of Villjamur should be ready by the end of the month to go out to reviewers so they can pull it to pieces.


This book was sold almost a year ago exactly; it seems forever to get to this stage, and I’m impatient at the best of times. I’ve read through it and hacked at it more times than I care to remember. And although there’s still with a copy-edit to go on it (ARCs are uncorrected proofs), it’s a big psychological step forward.


Waltz With Bashir

A fine night last night at a funky cinema in Nottingham, to dine finely and then watch Ari Folman’s Waltz With Bashir. This is a stunning animated film concerning the 1982 Lebanon War, based on the director’s first-hand encounters and experiences, and it also functions as a meditation on memory and trauma.

The fact that it is animated has a powerful effect—it shows the war and experiences as a trippy, surreal collection of images, where dream and reality overlap. The animation almost casually and intimately invites the viewer into some horrific scenes, where otherwise the reality might be too intense. And as a result the images are deeply and worryingly clear for long afterwards.

Trying to piece together his own forgotten experiences in the war, Folman interviews those he fought alongside, or who were at some of the major events in the conflict, notable the massacres at Sabra and Shatila. Gradually, and in a deliberately non-linear way, Folman rebuilds his own role in the conflict, and also the film provides excellent insight into a valuable piece of history and the experience of a soldier. A feel-good film, this is not; but it is very stylish, lucid, and powerful.

Here’s the trailer:


Stuff I’ve Read

If anyone particularly cares!

I took a break from the genre this last month. I’ll often dip into the mainstream lit fic territory to see what’s going on. So, on a recommendation, I read Ian McEwan’s novella On Chesil Beach on the plane in a neat, concise sitting, with some wine—a recommended combination. I put off reading this since it became one of those vaguely fashionable books to read last year (which, I know, is no reason not to read something). Very simply, it’s about a couple’s wedding night set, with perhaps much intent, in 1962. It’s a very intense and brief blast of a work, a sensitive investigation not so much of sexuality, although it certainly is; but more a book about moments. And what ifs. Surprisingly powerful—and exactly the right length. Good review here.

Ann Enright’s The Gathering was less impressive. Following the history of a Irish family after a death, it explores the tentative fabric of family life. This should have been a novella—and if the editor had gone to town on it, then it could have ended up being a very profound work. As a result, it was diluted with self-indulgent meanderings.

As a result of such word wastage, I’m about to open up Brian K Vaughan’s graphic novel, Pride of Baghdad, following a pride of escaped lions during the Iraq war. And then it’s fully back into the genre with The Yiddish Policemen’s Union.

*Update* I’ve just finished Pride of Baghdad and it’s a superbly rendered piece. A wonderful allegory on freedom and the Iraq war, and perhaps done best using animals than humans. Good write up here:

What he wanted to do, Vaughan explains, was ‘to tell a story about the suffering of Iraqi civilians’. But telling a realistic story about the suffering of Iraqi civilians would not, of itself, hit home sufficiently hard: ‘It’s weird. You can threaten and kill a baby in a movie, but put a dog in jeopardy and people will walk out. You make a more immediate connection to a giraffe than a person. It sounds psychotic, that you can feel more for an animal than a human.’

Interesting stuff.


Back from the Dales

I have returned form the Yorkshire Dales, and should hopefully have something interesting to say soon. I’ve been finishing my marathon re-read of The Book of the New Sun sequence, by Gene Wolfe, surely someone who deserves a mighty heavy and shiny medal for services to literature. No way I can review it, or have the inclination to go into the detail. Plus, I want to stay away from genre reviews if at all possibly on here. But it really is something that improves on re-reads, and considering my tendency to give up on things, there was sufficient metaphor, insight, and sheer incredibly imagery. A chocolate box for the genre connoisseur, surely. You want cracking reviews of these books? Go see Larry.

To reward myself for the patience, I’m heading towards Alfred Bester’s The Stars My Destination, which to my shame I haven’t yet read, and is a book I’ve been assured by many that will be a superbly sketched romp across the galaxy, in grand Dumasian style.

Finally, a congratulations to Mr Mark Chadbourn esq. for his new book deal with Transworld. He really is a thoroughly nice chap, and this is news of the ‘couldn’t happen to a nicer guy’ type.


The Alexandria Quartet

Some thoughts on a book I read late last year. The Alexandria Quartet comprises of four novels, Justine, Balthazar, Mountolive and Clea. The first two are the most tightly linked, for everything you know in Justine is looked at from another angle, although still from the same narrator. Mountolive is more distant, and Clea certainly moves the three novels forward in time. But, as Durrell intended, they are all meant to be read as one.

The books follow a group of individuals based in Alexandria, Egypt, up to and including the Second World War. That’s about as general as I can get. There is sexual tension, and release; political tension that gathers throughout the story arc; there’s a whole wealth of Middle Eastern history. There’s religion and philosophy. There are momentous descriptions of place and time. The characters are the most complex and layered in any kind of fiction that I’ve read. From our often naive narrator, Darley, who is not really an ‘unreliable narrator’ because we have no reason not to rely on him. Then, the seductive and outrageous Justine, and her husband, the dark-hearted Nassim. There’s Pursewarden, who is one of the greatest fictional creations, layered with metaphor, representation of art, a dose of wit, and some incredible aphorisms. Perhaps my favourite character in any book, even when he wasn’t on the page. There are more, but a sentence here would to no justice.

I am in awe of Durrell for so many reasons. Firstly, for his experimental approach. For showing the relativity in his narrative, and how important that is to fiction—because it is real life. Not merely ‘point of view’, but showing us how one can never be certain of anything, in life or fiction. Secondly, the man brings alive Alexandria to be a character in her own right, a changing, liquid, grand place. (By the time you read Clea, the city has gone, as it was. A construction in the first place, only in words, when revisited after many years, it just isn’t the same place. It isn’t the same character.) Third, is his ability to carve a character to be just as unreliable as real life. In fact, more than any other novel, I was thinking, Here is the truest representation of existence.

This isn’t really a review, is it? I’m just gushing thoughts onto the page. Maybe I can’t really summarise it. Maybe, you just can’t? There are faults, perhaps. Some of the passages of text can make you sweat with their headiness. But that’s an aside. There’s so much to discover here. A history, a philosophy, a poem. I’m using very grand phrases, but you can’t do anything specific with a book like this.

Durrell is a phenomenal talent. He makes you pine for an age you never knew, as much for the quality of writing if nothing else. His ability to bring character and place alive are unchallenged. A thoroughly de-constructive narrative, too, the kind of thing to destroy the formula of a novel and rebuild it, brick by brick. And he often delivers some punching sentences:

  • ‘A city becomes a world when one loves one of it’s inhabitants.’
  • ‘There are only three things to be done with a woman. You can love her, suffer for her, or turn her into literature.’
  • ‘A woman’s best love letters are always written to the man she is betraying.’
  • I wish I’d jotted more down as I’d gone through. Just get it. Read it. Take your time and enjoy it luxuriously. Feel the dust of those Alexandrian streets. Feel that warm air blowing off the ocean. Hear the palms fizzing in the breeze. Durrell will show you the rest, but go at his pace.