I might have saved myself the effort of writing a post to go with the link and simply reblogged it. So here it is…

My Memories of a Future Life

for logo‘Without the music there would have been no creativity’

Once a week I host a writer who uses music as part of their creative process – perhaps to open a secret channel to understand a character, populate a mysterious place, or explore the depths in a pivotal moment. This week’s guest is screenwriter, playwright and novelist Cally Phillips @i_ebookreview

Soundtrack by Michael Jackson, Shaggy, The Beatles, Harry Belafonte, The Muppets, Nat King Cole, David Rovics, Sam Cooke, John K and Fred Ebb, Joel Grey, Liza Minnelli, Bing Crosby, The Andrews Sisters

All my life I have made up words to songs. As a student I used to entertain my companions on the way to and from the pub by making up ‘different’ lyrics to pop songs and musicals.  It was just something I did.  I heard music as a soundtrack in my…

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Undercover Soundtrack

Yesterday I took part in Roz Morris’s Undercover Soundtrack, a sort of Writers Desert Island Discs. But I was paying tribute to Steinbeck and I reckoned folks could wait till today to find out about it…

Here’s the link

About the process. The question posed is: What part does music play in your creative process? I discovered this was one of life’s really impenetrable questions. I don’t listen to music when I write. I need complete silence to work creatively because I need to be able to concentrate and I’m afraid any ‘white noise’ or music just breaks the spell. I turn inward to my brain when I work and it doesn’t work best with interruptions. And since for me, music is about the words and songs are like short stories, it would be like reading a book while trying to write one. Not advisable.  So silence it is.

And indeed silence is a far greater part of my life in general these years. I have this theory of life. It’s simple (but weird to most I know!) And it’s my personal journey I’m not advocating it for others. But it works for me. I don’t travel any more because for me travel is what you do when you go ‘looking for something’ . People travel to ‘find themselves’ or to ‘see things.’ Well, I’ve seen most things and found myself so I don’t need to go anywhere else. For me, staying in the same place and looking at it deeper each day, or seeing the small changes that nature and time afford to ‘the same’ is every bit as fulfilling as going to other places.  If you learn how to look deeper you really need to move very little.  That sounds a bit eastern religion maybe, but it works for me.

And it’s the same with music. I realised a couple of years ago that for me music was a way of discovering and then affirming my identity – as a young person.  It was part of my life’s journey towards an identity of self. As a ‘complete’ adult, I no longer have the yearning or nostalgia or need to try and find or define myself in terms of  love or raging against the political system (music was always about love and/or politics) for me.

Add to this the fact that I believe ‘all moments are one moment’ which basically just means that if you engage fully with something at the point of connection you always ‘have’ that connection, there is no need to constantly revisit the past or other states of being, place, feeling.  You’ll either get this or you’ll just think I’m ‘reet strange’ – I can’t help that. This is who I am and what I’ve learned for myself over the process of 50 years. It’s my personal experience.

So the problem of looking at what influence music has on my creative process was initially a thorny one for me.  I used to use certain ‘types’ of music as the kind of ‘theme’ to work I was writing. I don’t now.  Now if I listen to music it tends to be on the ‘nostalgia’ trip and I don’t take that very often. I don’t need to. I’m fully engaged with ‘the moment’ and quite happy with my life so I don’t need to remind myself of who I was before I reached my state of personal spiritual enlightenment (ha ha!) Of course I could use music to get a ‘handle’ on a character – what kind of music would they listen to, but it’s just one of many questions one asks about characters in the research stage and doesn’t really take precedence over any of the plethora of other questions.

So I took a different approach to the set question. (I looked at the same thing from a different, perhaps deeper perspective)  And for that – you’ll need to look at the Undercover Soundtrack.  By looking deeper at the question I was able to see a whole other way in which music has been absolutely central not just to my whole life, but to my creative process over the years – and of the work I’m most proud – that which involved building creative relationships with others and just ‘doing it for ourselves’ in a world which isn’t really interested.

A journey through life with John Steinbeck

steinbeck.It’s John Steinbeck’s birthday today. He would have been 111 years old.  Steinbeck came with me and helped me through the  difficult transition of adolescence and so I have a very fond place in my heart for him. Pop stars came and went but Steinbeck stuck. He’s a writer whom one can take from childhood into adulthood through those difficult teen years and not miss a heartbeat along the way. He’s an easy man to love though his writing is uncompromising.  He’s real. You know where you are with Steinbeck.

The Red Pony is a great story. Of Mice and Men is a great story. East of Eden is a great story. And The Grapes of Wrath is, in my opinion, The Great American Novel. (You know, the one F.Scott Fitzgerald was trying to write all his life) F.Scott Fitzgerald is probably the writer I quote more often, and refer to more often in writerly circles and he did write lots of really good novels (and short stories) and I’d say he influenced my understanding of narrative structure more BUT for an out and out gut wrenching, heart-felt story of America (and people) as they really are Steinbeck is your man.

You know there are moments  reading fiction where you are taken out of yourself? This happened to me with The Red Pony.  You know how in school when they make you read round the class you just hate whatever they are making you read because the process of class reading, complete with embarrassed mumbling and monotone delivery from the more nervous or uncommitted class members? Well, despite us being made to read The Red Pony round the class, I had this out of myself experience. I’ll admit, we had done the obligatory everyone read a paragraph and were on the ‘silent reading of a chapter’ (and I was many chapters ahead) at the point when the pony dies and I was NOT THERE. I mean I WAS THERE. I was there in the story, not in the hideously ugly 70’s concrete classroom.  I was taken out of my own environment into quite another.  That, for me, is the ultimate power of fiction. That’s the drug. That’s my addiction. It gets harder to find as you get older and have read more, but Steinbeck was my first real experience of it as far as memory serves.

Steinbeck must have been a favourite in schools in the 70’s (I’m not sure why.) As I progressed through secondary school: The Red Pony was first year, Of Mice and Men was second year and in third year we were introduced to The Grapes of Wrath.  Steinbeck was always in my schoolbag!   I think Of Mice and Men was ruined by the classroom reading experience as I certainly didn’t ‘get’ what it was all about at the time– spoiled by a number of stupid boys in my class just laughing at Lenny and the ‘retarded’ behaviour. However, this in itself stuck with me over the years as I’ve re-read Of Mice and Men, seen it on stage and film and generally incorporated it into my psyche as a ‘good book’ written about intellectual disability and social stigma.  I think in some ways Robin Jenkins The Cone Gatherers tries the same thing but even though I’m Scottish not American, I still find Of Mice and Men the better book.

However, it was The Grapes of Wrath that really opened up Steinbeck for me. It’s a beast of a book in length (and makes me wonder if the teacher gave it to our class just to keep us quiet for the longest time so they had to do least teaching?) and the proportion of ‘read round the class’ to silent reading was much less. And consequently the reading experience much richer.  This was the first text I studied ‘seriously’ as it was to form part of the now defunct O Grade exams, which I took seriously as the first stage towards escape into the adult world where I could make my own choices and take my own responsibilities.  And I can still remember the visceral feeling of reading The Grapes of Wrath. The dust bowl.  At the beginning (as we read round the class) I thought how boring it was. As I started to experience the journey across America myself, through my silent reading, I was absolutely gripped.  The Joad’s struggle became my struggle, became everyone’s struggle.

By this time I was quite hooked on Steinbeck but as an adolescent there are so many books to read and so many authors to discover  and so I didn’t read East of Eden for another couple of years, not until I discovered James Dean and the film. The ‘legend’ of James Dean played a large part in my adolescence and when I encountered Rebel Without a Cause I wanted to consume everything ever ‘done’ by Dean. This way I came across the absolutely remarkable Antoine de Saint Exupery story The Little Prince which has become one of my philosophical staples and of course Dean was in East of Eden, so I went back to Steinbeck. He welcomed me back with open arms. He spoke directly to me. This time it was personal.

I can never decide which Steinbeck book I ‘like’ best, The Grapes of Wrath or East of Eden, and it doesn’t really matter. The first seems to be about all people and the second seems to take you right inside your teenage self. They sit side by side on my shelf (alongside a plethora of F.Scott Fitzgerald and Norman Maclean’s A River Runs Through it, and just along from all the other really ‘significant’ novels of my youth.) This shelf is categorised simply by the importance of the novels to my life, not by ‘black penguin’ or ‘orange penguin’ status, or alphabetical or period or genre or anything. Just SIGNIFICANCE.  And I guess it’s probably my favourite shelf. It’s the shelf I promise myself one day I’ll re-read right through. And I guess that should tell me what me real reading pleasure is.  One thing is for certain Steinbeck is the core.

We are quite used in this internet driven world of starting out on a search and getting taken down diverse paths from one thing to something completely different. But Steinbeck did that for me long before the internet. The influence of Steinbeck took me to places and got me reading books and having thoughts I might never otherwise have encountered.  And I still  feel his influence resting in my heart. For me he stands for the uncomfortable truth, for telling life as it is for the ordinary man.  F.Scott Fitzgerald was a writers writer, but Steinbeck is out and out a readers writer. It’s a dilemma I’ve struggled with over the years both as reader and writer and I have to say, though I love F.Scott Fitzgerald’s work with a passion – (from the position of an outsider though, I read the weakness of aspiration in all his characters) Steinbeck for me is the stronger force. He exerts the greater pull even if I read him less. Because his ideas get inside you. And if you are an ordinary person (as I am) with little hope of ‘becoming’ anything ‘special’ then Steinbeck writes for you.  He’s not trying to get you to ‘be’ something, he’s just showing you life as it is. And often it’s hard and nasty. But reading Steinbeck makes you feel somehow less alone as a ‘nobody’ because he has elevated them to importance simply by writing their lives.


Oh, and after I wrote this blog I found and watched a documentary about John Steinbeck on iplayer. Here’s the link  And I noticed that for those who like (or have to) listen to their fiction rather than read it, they are also serialising The Grapes of Wrath on iplayer for radio. 

Preserving fiction and creating something new…


“We choose to go to the moon…  and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard. (JFK, 1962)

The Preservation of the Olive Branch is quite remarkable. It does not just defy genre, it almost defies definition. It is not just a work of fiction, it is a reflection on the creative process.  If you don’t grasp this you will not get to grips with the power of the narrative.  The best way I can put it is that in this novel the author undergoes an exercise in the art of ‘seeing ourselves as others see us.’ But that’s not all.

There are two journeys running through the story. One is the simple narrative:  a thriller

that wants to be a political novel – which fails in its endeavour because of the lack of skill of its young writer – and the other is the life journey of that writer as he revisits his creation some thirty years later. Putting these journeys together you get the life not just of the writer/ narrator  but also to some degree of the author. And this is a compelling idea. It is an exploration of the layers of narrative found here which both challenges and rewards the reader in equal measure.

The potential problems for a reader are that the original ‘novel’ is quite weak in places as the preserving narrator/writer himself acknowledges. An inability to see that the story is not just the novel can prejudice the reader – here is the narrator telling him/her that the story is not good and yet inviting them to read on. Why should they?

Initially it’s because the narrator himself is quite captivating and his story is considerably more compelling than that of ‘The Olive Branch’ itself. And this is what the reader needs to appreciate.  It is the act of preservation which elevates the original novel way beyond what it was. And this is a key and important concept to grasp. The narrator is not just preserving a text, he is revisiting his youth and reassessing his former opinions, strengths, weaknesses and issues of confidence. And he is brave enough to lay this bare for the reader.

As the story goes on, the narrator is drawn back into a reassessment of his past and his relationship with his creative process and we as readers are similarly moved. It is when we get drawn into the subtext, the creative process and the reflective aspect of this work that it really comes to life.

The Preservation of the Olive Branch goes way beyond being a novel and enters the realms of asking what a novel is. What fiction is. What creativity is. It’s deep and it requires a lot from a reader. But then it required a lot from the author, not just the narrator, and it is the layered narrative and the one step removed aspect of the work that really captivates. Brendan Gisby may still lack the confidence to stand in the centre of his work – the narrator offers a second hand perspective of the author’s real thoughts – although when he does this, as in The Bookie’s Runner, his writing is truly moving.  But it is that lack of authorial confidence which is at the core of Gisby’s writing and nowhere more so than in The Preservation – where he bravely tackles this issue for himself and lets us in on the process.  The honesty and humility with which he writes is quite unique and deeply moving.

This is definitely not a novice ride. And I would recommend that readers read both The Bookie’s Runner and The Island of Whispers before they attempt this book. That way they will have seen the best of Brendan Gisby’s writing both his fact as fiction/memoir and his political novel and they will be in no doubt that what he’s attempting in Preservation of the Olive Branch is something worth the investment of time on the part of the reader. You need to be reading on at least two levels all the way through. You need to be challenging your own pre-conceptions of writing style and of the importance of class in confidence and creativity. And most of all you need to be unafraid to challenge your own preconceptions and prejudices about the construction and consumption of creativity.  You will find out more about Brendan Gisby by reading The Preservation of the Olive Branch. If you read it carefully enough, you’ll probably also find out more about yourself.

Cally Phillips is a member of the Reading Between the Lines collective. smallREADINGFor more reviews by the group click the image.

FairTrade Fortnight starts today. And today Scotland has been afforded FairTrade Nation status. I’m not sure what that means, all I know is I’m doing my bit for Fairtrade by running the festival and writing fairtrade fiction. And hopefully others will join in!

Guerrilla Midgie Publishing

Welcome to the festival. This is the start of FairTrade Fortnight and we very much hope you’ll come here regularly and join in by sharing your creativity with us.

The story of fairtrade is the story of people. Real people with lives very different to ours. But people with the same hopes, dreams and aspirations.  This fortnight if you watch the films and read the reports you’ll be transported from winter in the UK to countries all over the world.  Bring a bit of sunshine into your life each day. And bring some sunshine for workers around the world. Make fairtrade the inspiration for your flash fiction.  And let us see what you can do!

You may want to contribute every day or you may want to write about a particular product or issue.  It’s totally up to you. But remember, a bit of research won’t go amiss before you…

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The final IEBR review… and what a book! But it gives you the place to go to look for reviews in the future too… out with the old and in with the new. Something to celebrate on Day 21 of 50 days…

indie e-book review

physisI may be stretching the truth only a little when I suggest that in days gone by mainstream literary publisher types dismissed this novel as ‘just an old man’s havers’. But dismiss it they did and it’s just another indication of the fact that ‘no one knows anything’ is all too prevalent in mainstream publishing.

Here in the world of indie publishing I DO know something and I believe I can spot good writing and a great novel when I see one. That’s why I write reviews, to share this knowledge with you, the potential reader. And for my money, if there was any justice in the world I reckon The Physic Garden would (and should) win the Orange Prize for Fiction – or similar.

I have read a lot of Catherine Czerkawska’s output over the past year (and known her for many years) but believe me my comments on…

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The Physic Garden by Catherine Czerkawska

physisI may be stretching the truth only a little when I suggest that in days gone by mainstream literary publisher types dismissed this novel as ‘just an old man’s havers’. But dismiss it they did and it’s just another indication of the fact that ‘no one knows anything’ is all too prevalent in mainstream publishing.

Here in the world of indie publishing I DO know something and I believe I can spot good writing and a great novel when I see one. That’s why I write reviews, to share this knowledge with you, the potential reader. And for my money, if there was any justice in the world I reckon The Physic Garden would (and should) win the Orange Prize for Fiction – or similar.

I have read a lot of Catherine Czerkawska’s output over the past year (and known her for many years) but believe me my comments on The Physic Garden would stand whoever had written it.  Knowing the writer and some of the ‘history’ around the non publication of it, I feel confident in stating that it has become clear to me that while some writers may well need editing, other writers write best when unfettered by the constraints of the mainstream demands and fashions.  Catherine is clearly one of these writers. As a longstanding professional she is more than capable of structural editing and with developing confidence I hope that she will finally realise that work such as The Physic Garden is not in the bestsellers list purely because they are served by marketplace fashion rather than by any real understanding of what makes good novels.

This is not just a good novel. This, I contend, is a great novel. It’s reminiscent to me of The Mill on the Floss and Tess of the D’Urbevilles BUT it’s better because I cheered when the Tullivers were drowned they annoyed me so much and however much I know I should have sympathy for Tess I just want to give her a slap and tell her to grow up. In constrast I had such a feeling of emotional engagement and empathy for William Lang that it actually broke my heart a bit when the denoument was revealed. Yes it’s true. I kept telling myself, it’s only a story but WHAT a story. It is a beautiful, elegant at time elegaic expression and exploration of betrayal.

And the construction is so great too.  In the beginning it seems incredible to the reader that William can have much of a secret, and one cannot imagine what the ‘betrayal’ which caused the lack of friendship would be. I guess it’s at this point that the superficial reader would dismiss the story as ‘an old man’s havers.’ It may be an old man’s havers. If so, what havers. And actually, what we have is yes, an old man, but he’s telling the story of his life, so it’s not ‘old’ in any sense at all.  Perhaps the combination of an old man looking back on his life in a historically distant time is too much for the superficial reader?  But the skill with which Czerkawska keeps the reader on the hook, getting right to the end of their tether asking ‘why’ and ‘what’ and ‘how’ (active engagement in such questions is a great way to draw an audience through a story in much more depth than simply feeding them a plot which answers specific questions at every small step of the way) and one has a constant unease because one realises it must be something really bad if William is still so obsessed with Thomas even all these years on. And yet, the old man William, how can he have any really dark secret?  We are played with in the best way possible. It’s not a ‘thriller’ but it keeps you asking questions and so keeps you engaged.

Then, we find out part of the reason. And it’s shocking. And sympathy with William is firmly established. However, one still can dismiss William (the young William) as simply being too ‘moral’ for the world he finds himself in and conclude that he’s bound to be let down by Thomas – but you’ve still only got a small part of the whole story under your belt. There’s so much more.  One becomes as obsessed with finding the answers in the story as William is with Thomas. That is really clever writing.

There is so much domesticity that one is completely tricked into thinking the ‘bad’ thing will have to be small and William’s response will have to be over-reaction.  You think?  Czerkawska pulls us along towards some truly grim and awful resolutions and even when you think you’ve cracked the ‘why’s’ they suddenly become less important.  When you know why there is still more.  It’s not just about the reasons. It’s about the effects. It’s a deep study of betrayal and how that impacts over a lifetime.  I was being manipulated by the writer all the way along in the best of ways.  I felt like Czerkawska was completely in control of her story and that I was privileged to have it fed out to me in the way it was. No editor could have done a better job, believe me. This is writing from the heart and with the skill of a lifetime’s experience as a creative individual.

The history is also very interesting. There’s plenty of wee gems of information regarding gardening and publishing – the impact of the printworks on the garden is a very clever and very powerful image throughout and works on the reader on a subliminal level to show the connectedness of things which otherwise one dismisses as quite diverse.

But most of all I have to commend the power of the writing which can get a reader to care so much (about an old man’s havers.)  When the denoument is finally revealed and it all comes crashing down around the reader’s head, Czerkawska is not finished. She has consideration for the bombshell she has dropped and gives us time to fully get to grips with what’s happened by the final section which patiently explains life ‘after’ the end and pulls all those questions together and leads to understanding. This section contains the most eloquent and deep exegesis of betrayal I think I’ve ever read.  It touched me deeply. And it got me thinking about betrayal in a whole new light. Which again has be great for a novel – it connected directly with my lived experience.  It’s a novel written by a very good writer and written for readers. It may not have passed through the filter of mainstream editors but I think it’s all the more powerful for that. This is truly an ‘authored’ piece and the committee work a publishing company looking for that elusive ‘bestseller’ would have destroyed it.  If you ever want an example of how writers can achieve great things without intervention – this is it. This is as good (and better) a novel as many I have read, including classics.  But what do I know – after all, this review would be dismissed by the mainstream as just an old woman’s havers wouldn’t it?

The Physic Garden is available in Kindle format    and find out more about Catherine Czerkawska. 

Cally Phillips is a member of the Reading Between the Lines review collective. Click the picture to find out more.

Today  this review is also featured as the final review on the Indie eBook Review site.  It was a great experience editing that site for a year, but all good things have to evolve and out of IEBR has come Reading Between the Lines, a looser, more manageable review collective.   The quality of the books and the reviews is the same. The admin headaches are seriously reduced. I hope you’ll become a regular reader of our reviews year’s work.  For those mourning the passing, don’t fear – we have evolved into a more flexible, less admin hungry review collective and in future if you’re looking for a great read, why not try the evolved site READING BETWEEN THE LINES on Facebook. All you have to do is like the page to get news of the latest reviews.

If you don’t ‘do’ Facebook you can also keep updated about Reading Between the Lines HERE 


Books and gardens… what’s not to love?

physisIt’s an exciting day today. Well, an exciting week. Something to celebrate. The Birthday itself may be over but the 50 days have a long time to run.  So we move on to other celebratory activity.  Not only have I got the first lot of washing out on the line – optimistic perhaps, there is sun but also frost on the ground – and were my back not still ‘teetering’ I’d be out there digging (honest) but because it is I’m inside typing ( I know people take time off work for bad backs but mine has been of the kind that means I’m only comfortable when sitting at my computer – how lucky am I? I would be an employers dream no?)  because of this, and before it gets warm enough to go out and sit in the sun, I can tell you all about Catherine Czerkawska’s latest publication THE PHYSIC GARDEN. 

Well, actually I can’t tell you ALL about it because it’s scheduled as a review on both the Indie eBook Review site and its successor Reading Between the Lines on Thursday 21st.  (That in itself is a small hommage to Dennis Potter who cut the mother of all deals to have his final works KARAOKE and COLD LAZARUS shown across BBC and Channel 4 networks. It was a great idea but it meant that one couldn’t get them on DVD for YEARS while they argued over the rights)*

Which is an example of the folly and stupidity of the broadcasting and publishing industry. Of which The Physic Garden has had more than its fair share of experience.  More of that on Thursday.   I’m bursting to tell you about this book because it has gone right up there in my Books of the Year 2013 (or any year).  Generally I like Catherine’s writing.  But this one is a tour de force. On the surface it’s nothing like her last publication  Ice Dancing but actually, the characters are just as well drawn so in an important sense it is.  It shows the freedom now afforded to writers who can control their own publications.  It’s possibly more challenging than some of her earlier romance/historical fiction but it’s equally readable.  It has depths. Hidden and obvious. It is just magnificent. I can’t praise it highly enough.  As you’ll see if you read my review on Thursday.

But before that, you can find out about it for yourself.  It’s available now on Kindle as an ebook.  Believe me I shall be ‘encouraging’ (that means harrassing) Catherine to get it out in paperback as soon as possible.

Here is how Catherine describes it on Amazon.  It’s got to make you want to read it…

‘What am I afraid of? That a million thoughts, feelings, memories, will come rushing back to overwhelm me? I cannot begin to describe to you the terror – there is no other word for it – engendered by the thought of him, even now, and yet he was as kindly a man as you could wish to meet, one who inspired trust and friendship in equal measure, a man who inspired great love in all those who knew him. I used to think it an unmitigated blessing, used to envy him. But now, with the wisdom of my years, I realise that it can be a peculiar curse and a burden, to be a man whom people love.’ 

The Physic Garden is the story of a close friendship and a betrayal so shocking that it pervades the whole novel, like the memory of a nightmare. As a young man, William Lang worked as a gardener at the old college of Glasgow University but he has spent most of his subsequent life as a printer and bookseller in the growing city of Glasgow. When the novel begins, in the mid 1800s, he is in his seventies, widowed and living with his grown-up family. He has just received a parcel containing a book called the Scots Gard’ner, as well as a handwritten journal. With these volumes comes a letter saying that they were left to him by Thomas Brown, a gentleman who has recently died at his country house in Ayrshire. So many years later, the unexpected legacy of the books reminds William of his youth when he and Thomas became unlikely friends. The memories come flooding back. 

Some of this is based on truth. There was a gardener in Glasgow called William Lang. There was a nineteenth century lecturer in botany at the old college of Glasgow University whose name was Thomas Brown. It is clear from surviving correspondence that the two men, who were not very far apart in years, struck up a friendship. It is also clear that Thomas valued the work William did in collecting plant specimens for him. Later, when William found himself struggling to cope with a polluted garden and the necessities of providing for a widowed mother and younger siblings, Thomas Brown helped him as far as he could. The printed books mentioned are real. But the rest is entirely fictional.

Here’s a wee taster of my review:

‘This is not just a good novel. This, I contend, is a great novel. I had such a feeling of emotional engagement and empathy for William Lang that it actually broke my heart a bit when the denouement was revealed. Yes it’s true. I kept telling myself, it’s only a story but WHAT a story. It is a beautiful, elegant, at times elegaic expression and exploration of betrayal. If you ever want an example of how writers can achieve great things without intervention – this is it.’ Cally Phillips, Reading Between The Lines

And for more about it by Catherine, read her blog post on Authors Electric  It’ll give you more insight and whet your appetite. Then just click and download. And READ. It’s that simple.

If spring sun and the chance to get out in the garden and a great new book which you can take out with you on your ereader isn’t enough, then you have no soul.

And when you’ve finished reading The Physic Garden you might well give those Dennis Potter films a go. Because your brain will be nicely warmed up for seeing the possibilities of depth of narrative he utilises.  With all of these works my advice is LOOK CLOSELY, LOOK DEEP and be prepared to be shocked and moved in equal measure.  For me the best writers put their heart into their work and none of the stories I’ve mentioned today will disappoint you if that’s what you’re looking for.

I’ll be writing more about both Catherine and Dennis this week and I leave you with something to get you thinking (you have to watch right to the end) about not just broadcasting, but publishing and narrative in general.

* Note, it is now possible to get both of them as DVD and you can also watch online at Channel 40D or even on YouTube.


Now I’m rushing to finish my work so that I can get out in the garden with a good book AND TV series. Sometimes new technology is just WONDERFUL.  And having a dodgy back can be a silver lining as well. Digging. Huh, that’s for another day. Today I’m celebrating depth in narrative. Why not join me?

The Brendan Gisby Effect.


A funny thing happened yesterday.  Apart from turning 50. That’s just old now. And yes, thank you I did have rather too good a time as my head and stomach attest this morning. I’m feeling delicate. But I don’t have to go back to REAL work with the new publishing company till Monday, so I can take a bit of time to recover.
AWIP45coverBut the really funny (and very nice) thing that happened yesterday was that off the back of Brendan Gisby’s review of Another World is Possible, I sold 4 copies of the ebook.  Hurray. That’s (hopefully) four more people who will get to experience this novella in all its strange glory.

Shall I tell you a bit about it – I mean, we’re on a roll here and I’d hate you to miss out.  It was first
written as what one might call a blog novel in 2007.  That was the 40th anniversary of the murder of Che Guevara. I marked the year by blogging daily on world politics – picking different countries that Che had been involved in – Bolivia, China etc – but as well as that I wrote a serial novel online.  I doubt anyone read it then.  I privately printed 20 copies.

Encouraged by fellow writer Mary Smith, I had it published by YouWriteOn – I experimented with them as a  ‘distribution’ channel. Distribution is still one of the key issues for non mainstream writers.  It sold some. Not many. I moved on to other things.  I wanted to write a novel. And AWIP wasn’t long enough. I’m not keen on going back and revising things that have LIVED in one way but with the epublishing option, I  thought about bringing it out in that format because ‘size’ wouldn’t matter so much.  Then I had an idea to make it part of a trilogy. Then a trilogy in four parts. Now I’m giving myself a lot of work!! And because of that I didn’t actually epublish AWIP, saving it till I had at least one of the other parts ready.  However, I’ve just had to radically restructure the rest of the series – things to do with narrative voice and the like (only interesting to fellow writers) and I thought maybe I shouldn’t leave AWIP sitting there on the virtual shelf.

For the 45th anniversary I brought out a ‘special’ edition where I played around with the story – giving readers the option to read it either chronologically or episodically or both – but I think this was a bit too far for most. Certainly a fellow writer I respect just couldn’t come to terms with it that way. She found it too difficult.  And I decided I don’t actually want to make life difficult for readers. Challenging yes, difficult no. So I’ve withdrawn that option and simply put up the original.  And that’s had better response. Can I name names?  Rosalie Warren read it and liked it – and she gave me the title for one of the other parts (still to be written) which will be the companion part to AWIP.  It is The Revolutionary’s Daughter. She also helped me by giving me suggestions of other writers to read who tried more experimental styles.  I now know the work (and the pitfalls) of B.S. Johnson.  Reading his work was both enlightening and saved me a lot of time as I saw things I thought I wanted to do and didn’t like the way they did/didn’t achieve effects I was/wasn’t after.  I have been dabbling with Dennis Potter’s novels as well.  But I’m not sure that this is the way I want the trilogy to go – though it has given me a whole new ‘style’ of writing for short pieces. January Blues and Love Chocolate (in Fair Trade Fiction and on McStorytellers Feb 25th) are both examples of this ‘new’ style which quite excites me at the moment.

Other writers who’ve read it have given me good feedback.  Ingrid Ricks said it was ‘uniquely original’ and certainly I guess I’d agree with her there.  And Brendan’s review is the icing on the cake.  Read it here if you like.  Brendan describes it as a set of Russian dolls and he’s right there. Brendan is a man who understands the complex layering of narrative within novels (and how easily people can miss this and simply dismiss something as ‘huh?’ ) He picked up and picked out in his review the conundrum of exactly who is telling what story? Whose truth are we looking at?  And just exactly WHO is Che Guevara’s love child?   In fact Brendan in general (in my opinion) is a man who sees depth where others don’t.  His McStorytellers site is a true revelation. I shall write more coherently on this another day. McStorytellers offers so much more than just free short stories. It offers a whole new range of voices writing short stories.  It’s not openly challenging the ‘mainstream’ but actually I believe it’s starting to represent something that will be quite important to the future of publishing.

For me as a writer the greatest pleasure I can get is to find a reader who ‘gets’ what I’m writing. I don’t need or want to win awards. I’m not convinced that an awards panel really represents several readers who actually think your writing is fantastic and who understand the message of your heart you are pouring into the pages.  Cynically I think there are other considerations at the heart of the awards culture.  Same with ‘bestselling’.  You could do worse than read Alasdair McPherson  on this. On McStorytellers of course. It certainly made me laugh. And think.  And I think  I’d rather be best loved or best appreciated than best selling. For me it’s about quality of response rather than quantity. In other words I’m happier to hear from people that the book really made them think, laugh, cry, angry than bask in the financial rewards derived from a million lemmings who will toss the book into the charity shop after they’ve shared their water cooler moment being fashionable.

BIG IDEA ALERT. It’s about reading folks. Not about sales and awards. For me, anyway. And that’s why it made my day that Brendan’s honest and heartfelt review got me four new readers yesterday. I’m hoping that at least some of them will make contact with me after reading – either by writing reviews or directly commenting here or elsewhere to tell me what they thought.  And I’m looking forward to meeting Mr Brendan Gisby and shaking him warmly by the hand, some time in the not too distant future.   Here’s a thought. Favourite books become friends over your life don’t they? So why should it be strange that favourite writers could also become friends?  Think about how great an idea this is.

It’s one of the truly great possibilities of the epublishing revolution. It is now possible for the writer/reader relationship to be live and unmediated.  Yes, of course there is the sock puppet, troll, downside to this BUT I think we should all shake this off.  This is a great new opportunity folks. Live readers can talk to live writers and share their thoughts, opinions and views.  I have often imagined being able to tell Emily Bronte what Wuthering Heights has meant to my life.  Or George Orwell.  I wouldn’t be saying ‘now Emily that generational thing gets a bit complex, and the dialect used by Joseph and Nelly…’  no. I wouldn’t be giving her tips to ‘make it better.’  That’s not what it’s about.  It is simply that I’m a real person who has read and been moved by novels. And whose life and understanding of it have been shaped by many, many books. And I’d give almost anything to be able to engage in conversation with Emily about how clever I think her use of narrative devices is, and exchange views on the ways she uses dogs within the novel; or to talk with Eric  Blair/George Orwell on his opinions regarding totalitarianism and whether the clock striking 13 has a deep significance. And what does it really mean to say we love Big Brother?

And guess what, I’ve just woken up to the fact that this is the opportunity staring us in the face as a result of the digital publishing revolution.  We don’t need to be mediated by Goodreads or Amazon or mainstream publishers or awards or anything else. As a writer with a blog and perhaps a Facebook Page one has a public forum where people (however few or many) can actually engage with us as real people.  I think this can be a joy for both writer and reader. Are there rules? Is there protocol? Well, not really, this is an organically growing thing. But I think we can take as read that I’m talking about positive interaction here. There’s no point saying to a writer ‘I didn’t get your book it was rubbish.’ Who wants to get into that conversation?  But I’m more than happy to engage with readers who question aspects of my work and how/why I made the narrative choices I did. I’m more than happy to talk to readers about any of the aspects to be found in Another World is Possible. Of course I am. I felt and still feel so deeply about the things in that book that I was compelled to write it. I’ve lived with it for six years, and actually in some ways for my whole life.  It doesn’t just cease to exist for me when it’s been published. It takes on a new life. It becomes part of a relationship. And for me that communicative relationship can be life affirming and enhancing for both reader and writer if we embrace it and start developing unmediated relationships where we talk about our writing.

So my suggestion is that both writers and readers have a good hard think about this and that we start developing positive ways in which to talk about writing and reading and books we’ve loved. Without the fear of the giant corporations or mainstream cultural rules or any of that malarkey. We don’t need it. We can make new relationships and new friendships using the tools available to us. And won’t that be so much better than only using social media for trivia?  Well, if you agree I hope you’ll open a dialogue and start a relationship with me through any of my books.  I’m in each and every one of them and I care deeply about them all. And I’ve got plenty to talk about.  But I’d rather it was a conversation not just me pontificating. I want to build communicative relationships. It’s why I write. And we can bring that out of the I do it here and you do it there. We can meet together and SHARE the relationship. That’s my hope anyway.  I’m already doing this with a few of the ‘new’ writers I’ve discovered during my time wading around in the digitial revolution.  And these relationships have become important to me. Not as ‘editors’ or ‘beta readers’ or a ‘self help group’ but as real friendships. Reaching out and communicating with other human beings to talk about why the world is as it is and how we want it to be and… well you get the drift.  When I write reviews, this is what I’m doing actually. Putting out feelers to say to the writer ‘this is what I think about what you’ve written and what I love about it and how I respect and acknowledge what you are doing.’   When I read reviews that’s what I’d like to feel too. But you know, it doesn’t have to stay at the formal exchanging reviews level. We can make writing personal again. And not be afraid of the consequences.  Give it a try!

Having teased you with the fact that AWIP is only one part of a much bigger story I should maybe just give you a quick summary of what the rest will be.

I have rough cover images for the other parts.

butterflycover therevdone got awayI have 100,000 words of Tom’s story The One that Got Away which has just received a big thumbs down from me and joint editorial ‘needs to be written in the first person’ from more writers I respect Kathleen Jones and Catherine Czerkawska. Both of whom were charming enough not to too openly agree with my judgement on the novel as it stands that IT’S JUST BORING.  It is boring. Unless you really love development economics in the raw.  I don’t.  I know Tom has a great story to tell, it’s just finding the ‘voice’ and the structure and style. And that will happen. In time. But you can’t rush this stuff.  And the final one is called Butterfly Dreaming. I hope that Dennis and B.S would like that one. It’s too ‘difficult’ for me to write at the moment, never mind too difficult to expect you to read!

The idea now is that there will be 2 stories of Roisin and 2 stories of Tom told from a variety of perspectives. I know that hardly sounds thrilling and certainly it’s a big mountain for me to climb in the writing. But I like a challenge. At the moment they are ‘parked’ while I get on with more pressing issues. Although now I’m getting some interest in AWIP of course I’m kicking myself that I don’t have the other three ‘shelf ready’ (isn’t that the phrase of the moment?) for readers. Sorry. You’ll just have to wait. I think I have other ‘easier’ stories that you may like just as well which I can produce more quickly.  I am certainly beginning to understand the concept that we ‘live a storied life’ (which is key to AWIP) in a deeper way.  And In the meantime, I hope to build a friendship with more readers and the works I already have out there.  There’s a reasonable range to choose from. Not something for everyone perhaps but something for a lot of people.


Come Chasing Waves

If you want to experience Chasing Waves for yourself, there are a number of clips for you to enjoy.

Chasing Waves. Anyone looking for an author? Rehearsal excerpt

Do you believe in Higgs Boson? Chasing Waves rehearsal excerpt

What is a wave? Rehearsal excerpt

What is Quantum? Rehearsal excerpt

Where is the beginning? Rehearsal excerpt

Who are we? Rehearsal excerpt

What is meaning? Rehearsal excerpt

You can buy Chasing Waves as an ebook for Kindle from Amazon UK or Amazon US or as an open format epub

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