Not That Kind of Girl: My Thoughts

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As renowned American creative Lena Dunham stands up to Kayne West and his latest video, depicting grimy plastic versions of naked celebrities which use their images without their permission, therefore robbing them of their identity and safety, I have decided to check out her book, Not That Kind of Girl, to gain a clearer view of Dunham. I have not labeled this as a review on her intriguing and deeply personal collection of essays because I do not wish to review it. A review is more of an overview with a recommendation attached, whereas I intend to offer a pure opinion piece, with a focus on my own views on the book and its authors approach to handling a traditionally sensitive topics.

I have always been a fan of people who speak their minds; those who are not afraid to create art which offends society’s pernicious and captivates its confused. Therefore, whilst my exposure to Dunham prior to finding her book in a charity shop a few weeks ago has been limited, I have always considered her to be the kind of public person I would like.

That theory has been proved through my reading of this highly charged, delightfully honest book, which is structured as a series of chapters on such topics as love, sexuality and mental health. These topics are still, despite our comparatively liberal age, considered a taboo, and many who approach them do so through the guise of fiction or poetry, obscuring real meaning and experience behind invented characters and word play.

Dunham, however, is brave enough to face these issues, particularly sexuality, head on. Although the book uses pseudonyms to obscure the true identities of many of the principal participants it is primarily a guide based on the author’s own personal experiences, and this makes it invaluable in a world where young women are still often not allowed to express opinions or ask questions on their own sexuality and mental problems.

Another aspect of this Not That Kind of Girl which makes it especially interesting is Dunham’s own regular admissions that she is an unreliable narrator, and that many of her memories are obscured by the ravages of time and the affects of her later learning and understanding. This, to my mind, is a ground breaking acknowledgement, as many other auto-biographical works often paint themselves as being completely true by mentioning, in an off hand way, the recollection of others to support the writer’s memories. Dunham does the opposite here, and many tales and recollections are prefixed with a statement that the person or people involved do not remember the incident. This both highlights the fragility of memory and the issue of documenting experiences which are never entirely your own.

Despite handling delicate topics with great sensitivity, the book nevertheless attracted a great deal of controversy when it was first published. Having read the book I have come to the conclusion that controversy was drawn to the text because of what it is about, rather than what it actually said. As a young, outspoken woman with a lot of curiosity and even more people regularly telling me to shut up – my opinion was recently deemed unimportant because of my lack of a regular boyfriend – I feel this book is a vital outlet for people in a similar position, or those who simply wish to broaden the spectrum of their reading beyond the traditional narrative of female sexuality as entirely dependent on male attention.

 

Graham Wynd Interview

Graham Wynd author

Another excellent interview for you, this time courtesy of the wonderful Graham Wynd, who talks about inspiration, writing styles and the essence of noir fiction.

Tell me about how you came to define your writing style. What drew you towards darker fiction?

I really couldn’t say! I’ve just always been drawn to dark things, horror and ghosts, even as a kid. I loved scary stories. My little brother and I used to always have this book out of the library called Shrieks at Midnight which was just macabre poetry. I used to write a lot of horror but then I slowly drifted into noir and crime because I loved the style.

What is your background in writing and how did you get in to writing gritty crime fiction?

I’ve always written a wide variety of things, fiction and non-fiction. As an academic I study rather esoteric things (medieval magic for example) but I can totally blame my getting into crime fiction on Paul Brazill because he suggested I write a story for his Roman Dalton series and then I just kept writing more and more. Of course I’d always admired writers like Hammett and Chandler, but I hadn’t really thought about writing that kind of thing until I got that nudge.

You write a lot of short stories. What draws you to this style of writing?

I write a lot of long things, too, and it’s great to be able to write the whole of a story in a short time – sometimes just in a day. When you work on something for months or even years it gets to be something you live with. Sometimes you just need to write a story that’s completely different, with different voices, just for a change of pace.

Where do you take your inspiration? Are there any rituals you do to get yourself in the mood for writing?

I get inspiration from everywhere: snippets of overheard conversation, words that jump off the page when I’m reading, song lyrics – that’s a big one. Especially from The Fall. But anywhere: I can’t walk down the street without getting ideas. I wish I could sell them off!

Tell me about noir as a genre. What are its defining characteristics?

 For me noir is all about a mood of hopelessness; it’s people in desperate situations who think that maybe just this one thing will turn out right if they take a wild chance and do something crazy – but it’s noir so it will all end badly of course. There’s oodles of atmosphere and usually sex is in the air, because it makes people do crazy things.

What drew you to this particular style of writing?

I think I just have an affinity for it. It comes pretty naturally to me. Maybe I just have a noir kind of outlook. Scotland may help with that 😉

Have you got any projects coming up that you are particularly excited about?

I’m putting the finishing touches on a novella called Love is a Grift and I’m working on a couple of longer things but I’m not sure which one will get done first. I’ve got a short story coming out in a Fox Spirit crime anthology called You Left Your Biscuit and the story is ‘Elf Prefix’ which is a bit of a weird heist story. I’ve got a non-fiction piece on Dorothy Hughes’ The Expendable Man coming out: she’s one of the finest noir voices ever but seldom gets credit for the her extraordinary work.

Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward to later in the year?

Oh, too many! My TBR pile is huge. I know I’m counting down the days until Brazill’s Cold London Blues is out. Patti Abbott’s Shot in Detriot is out but I mistakenly ordered it in the States so I either have to shell out for a copy here or just wait until I’m in NY this fall.

Anything you’d like to add?

I should add that my novella Satan’s Sorority is noir though it looks more like weird fiction. There’s nothing that happens in the book that needs a supernatural explanation—it’s pure crime fiction. Sexy crime fiction 😉

Thanks Graham for a really enlightening interview! To learn more about Graham check out the wordpress site HERE.

H is For Hawk: Review

H is for Hawk

I have promised before, so here you go: my thoughts on Helen Macdonald’s H is for Hawk, which is one of my all-time favourite books and one which I would throughly recommend.

This beautiful memoir offers an emotive insight into Macdonald’s struggle as she searched for a meaning and a purpose to her life following the death of her father. This is the real focus of the book, with the Hawk, Mabel, and the struggle Macdonald had in training her, highlighting the depth of the sorrow and depression she felt at that time.

The inspiration for the text came from T.H White’s The Goshawk, a book which Macdonald frequently references. This books tells a similar story: White, a former school master turned author, decided to train a goshawk, a pursuit which later turned into an obsession.

In the same fashion Macdonald becomes increasingly fixated on training the hawk: it is as she reaches success and begins to hunt properly with the bird, learning its patterns and following its thoughts, that she sees that she is becoming less of herself.

This touching chapter of Macdonald’s life is written into this fascinating book with true skill: the author clearly has a strong knowledge of the history of hunting with hawks and a number of other rural pursuits, which she showcases with ease.

There are also some areas of near perfect description which highlight Macdonald’s passion and love for birds of prey. The very best example, and the one which has stayed with me ever since I first read this book over a year ago, is the depiction of Macdonald collecting her hawk on a Scottish quay. The breeder is meeting someone else, and has bought both Macdonald’s hawk and the other buyer’s with him. Macdonald describes the hawk she is supposed to take in the most glorious fashion:

“She came out like a Victorian melodrama: a sort of madwoman in the attack. She was smokier, and darker, and much, much bigger, and instead of twittering, she wailed; great, awful gouts of sound like a thing in pain, and the sound was unbearable.”

This stunning, passionate recount of meeting the hawk (which the breeder swapped for the younger bird at Macdonald’s request) is an excellent example of the skilled, sumptuously descriptive use of language that pervades throughout H is for Hawk.

To conclude then, my suggestion is this: READ THIS BOOK IMMEDIATELY. Get a copy in any way you can. There are some pretty covers available for those who judge books by their cover, but whether you fancy the flowery one or are happy with the beige, please read the words within, as they make for a fascinating insight into topics including humanity, history and goshawks. Which are frankly the only three topics one should ever take any interest in.

 

Pennies for Charon: Review

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Following my awesome interview with the wonderful Benedict J Jones, I decided to review his latest novel, featuring the fast talking, hard hitting detective Charlie Bars.

Set in London, the book takes its identify from its setting, with the characterisation, dialogue and plot all taking their lead from the grimy streets Jones depicts.

The novel’s plot revolves around missing call girls, gruesome murders and heavy drinking, interspersed with glorious lines that should be memorised for later use. A particular favourite of mine is “he wouldn’t be clapping if he was happy and he knew it any time soon”, but there are plenty to choose from. The book is brimming with witty reportage and the quality of dialogue that could easily be found in a cult film.

Charlie Bars is a great example of a typical pulp fiction detective, with more than a little of a whiff of Philip Marlowe about him. Always getting into situations he doesn’t need to, he is drawn into the gruesome case of a serial killer stalking the street of London.

Fundamentally this is a gritty, dark and sometimes humorous novel that really gets under your skin. You’ll remember it for ages afterwards, and keep puzzling over strange occurrences or nuances in the characters that are frighteningly realistic. A great book for fans of real old school crime fiction, this book is as wonderful as its author.

Hot Milk: Review

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Deborah Levy’s novel, much like the critically acclaimed, Man Booker prize nominated Swimming Home, is heavily literary, full of illusions and heavy symbolism. There are a number of examples of strong literary illusions, such as the presence of a chained Alsatian whose freeing and uncertain survival act as a constant symbol for the precarious and halted life of the novel’s protagonist, Sophia Papastergiadis.

Sophia is in Spain with her invalid mother Rose, who has remortgaged her home in order to seek a cure for the mysterious illness that intermittently robs of her of the use of her legs. The pair live in a rented beach hut, although there are frequent references to Sophia’s home back in London, where she lives in the store room above the coffee shop where she works. Her unfinished PHD in anthropology is a metaphorical weight which Sophia carries with her at all times, as she finds solace with a number of lovers of both genders and becomes pathologically possessive.

Characterisation is Levy’s strong skill, and she does it well here, creating characters which are both symbolic and believable. There is Pablo, the scheming owner of both a local restaurant and the wayward Alsatian mentioned earlier; Ingrid, Sophia’s female lover, who is haunted by a troubled past; and the enigmatic Gomez of the Gomez clinic, who utilises strange methods in his hunt for a cure for Rose’s ills.

The richness of the narrative and the strong literary illusions make this novel and excellent exploration of a number of themes, such as truth, identity, belonging and family.

Despite this, there are periods where the troupes are taken too far. A key example of this is Levy’s portrayal of Sophia’s Greek father, Christos Papastergiadis, a wealthy shipping company owner who abandoned Rose and Sophia in favour of a wife 40 years his junior. Sophia visits the couple and their baby daughter in Greece as she struggles to find a purpose in life. Christos’s new wife, who is not much older than his eldest daughter, is so truly infantile that her depiction borders on caricature. She wears fluffy sheep slippers both in and out of the house, owns framed Donald Duck prints and constantly sucks jellied candies. The deep contrast between herself and Christos, who is shown to be a deeply ruminative and religious man, is almost laughable. When Christos announces that Yorkshire (the home county of his now ex-wife Rose) is “famous for a beer called bitter” the reference is so obvious that Levy may as well have capitalised the adjective.

The heavy symbolism and dense, literary style may put some people off, but this is a multi-layered book, and one which leaves readers with more questions than it does answers. If that is not the point in reading then I don’t know what is.

Interview with K. E. Jarram

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Ladies and Gentlemen, this is the interview I have been excited about for a long time. I went to University with this reprobate, and I adored his dark series Lasciate Ogne Speranza, as well as his excellent poetry (for anyone ever privileged enough to attend a poetry meeting at which this gentleman is performing, please shout ‘Do Robot Sex’ from me. He’ll know what you mean). Here my friend talks about his latest projects, the authors he enjoys and the importance of dreams. Enjoy! 

Please tell me about your writing style. Why do you focus on darker themes within your novels and stories?

I wouldn’t say that I necessarily ‘Focus’ upon darker themes in my stuff. It just tends to be what ends up coming out. I often say that it’s not like I sit at my desk and think ‘Okay, what’s the most horrible thing I can think of?’ No, not at all. I’m actually greatly suspicious of these ‘Splatter-Punk’ sorts who write stuff for the sake of being as disgusting as possible.

As both a writer and a person I’m obsessed with extremity in all of its forms. Writing acts as a means for me to healthily explore this obsession. Contemporary society is far too afraid of addressing its own innate and undeniable fascination with subjects such as death, violence, and unrestrained sexuality. A society that will send a child to a therapist for drawing scary pictures. I myself would be more worried about a child that doesn’t.

As for my ‘Style’, well, that’s a tough question as I’m not totally sure that I have one. My work tends to be very character and dialogue driven. I adore writing dialogue as it’s very challenging. The task of writing a passage that simply consists of two people sat talking to each other and still have it be interesting takes a great deal of effort. I also try to avoid massive paragraphs of description. Readers don’t need to be spoon fed, they know what the inside of a pub looks like. For me it’s all about the mood of a setting rather than what it looks like.

How did you get into writing? What made you want to get into fiction?

I think I was something like ten or eleven years old when I started knocking out my first short stories. I wrote them on this monstrous electric type writer that my Grandmother gave to me. It made the most diabolical noise and caused the whole desk to shake!

This was around the time when I’d realised that books were actually produced by living, breathing people, and that anyone could do it. I enjoyed writing because it got a reaction out of people. One of the first things I ever discovered that I could do well was to make people laugh.

However I didn’t start concentrating on writing seriously until I was in my late teens and wasn’t successfully published until I was twenty two. My first efforts weren’t really that great and I wrote them mainly for my own amusement. It was more putting daydreams onto paper than actually structuring a story, but it was a start at least.

I’ve always been attracted to fiction as I see it as being the ultimate form of expression. There are hardly any limitations to writing. If you can find the words for it then it can happen. There aren’t any rules that say you can’t do this, you can’t say that, that’s not true, this isn’t possible, and so on.

William Burroughs once said ‘Write about what you know’, but I much prefer Stephen King’s version ‘Write about whatever the hell you want!’

Tell me about the status of Lasciate Ogne Speranza, I’m a big fan! Have you finally finished it?

Lasaciate Ogne Speranza is currently kind of similar to a very recently deceased body. The flesh is dead and the soul has vacated it, but there are a few electrical impulses still firing away, which I’ll get into later.

I now see that series of novels as me cutting my teeth at writing pieces that are 50,000+ words. Making sure that I can stay dedicated to a piece long enough for it to reach a substantial length.

I originally began writing the series for my Grandfather. An avid reader and huge fan of the crime/thriller genre he really enjoyed the first three books and would always pester me about when the next one would be ready, not quite grasping that the damn things took me almost a year each to write. Sadly, not long after Id started the fourth and final novel, he passed away following a long battle with cancer. I then found myself unable to finish the last book knowing that he would never get to read it. So unfortunately I have now declared that the series will never be finished. I’m thankful to everyone who downloaded a copy and enjoyed it, some of the feedback I received I was amazing and I’m so very glad that I was able to provide people with an entertaining, albeit incomplete, story.

Are there any activities you do when you’re looking for creative inspiration?

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that I am never uninspired. Ideas come into my head all the time and I have to try my best to keep them in order and not forget any good ones. It can be as simple as a spontaneous light-switch above the head or as boring as sitting and having a really long think.

I enjoy walking. I enjoy going out to write. There are a few select pubs where I’ve gotten a great amount of work done. I try to keep a notebook with me at all times just in case something pops up. Though I have also, on numerous occasions, had to dash to the nearest stationary shop as I’ve come out unprepared. Some of my best scenes have been written on the fly.

Dreams are also very important. Far too many people don’t pay attention to their dreams. I’m not really a big believer in dream interpretation or anything like that. You know what I mean? A dream about your teeth falling out means you’re worried about money? Very silly. Though our dreams do act as a clear window into our subconscious and they can sometimes help me to put the finger on that one idea that I can’t quite get my head around. 

How do you go about researching your books? What information do you believe is essential before you settle in to writing a new piece?

 Who? What? When? Where? And why? Are the questions I always hit first when I’m planning any new project. The ‘What if?’ element usually starts the whole process rolling and the aforementioned questions need filling in as I go along.

Another key thing I make sure to do is find out if anyone has done the idea before. Whenever I come up with a potentially promising project I always trawl the internet as deep as I can to make sure that no-one has beaten me to it.

I also like to be as factually correct as I can possibly be. We live in an age where research has become so easy that it’s unforgivable for an author to make factual errors. The internet makes this very easy, but I also like to do some hands on research if I can. For example, I recently wanted to know more about stained glass windows, so I actually set up a meeting with the rector of the Loughborough Parish church and went along to ask questions and take photos. He provided me with information that can’t be found on any website so it adds a proper level of realism to my story.

What books are you reading at the moment? Is there anything on your radar that is really inspiring you?

I listen to a lot of audio books while I’m at work and can usually get through one a week.

Jay Bell’s Something like… series was something I recently enjoyed and was a huge influence on one of my current projects. I’ve also, within the last year, developed an almost unhealthy love of the work of Truman Capote. People mostly know him for In cold blood, Breakfast at Tiffany’s and pretty much nothing else. But his work is so much more than those two books. His debut novel Other voices, Other rooms, which he wrote at the mere age of twenty three, is an absolute masterpiece of the Southern Gothic genre and opened my eyes to a whole new way of writing which, I’m not too proud to admit, I’ve been trying my hardest to emulate ever since.

Tell me about your music. What projects are you working for and is there anything new coming up we should look out for?

For the time being I’ve pretty much given up on music. I’ve recently moved to a new town and had to decide what few instruments I could bring with me.

Music is something I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with. I love making music but I hate performing live. I love the process of recording music but I hate trying to get people interested in actually listening it. Being in a band has always been difficult for me as I usually want to maintain a certain level of artistic control which the other members often come to resent.

So, I’ve had to make the decision to put the writing first. When I write I don’t have to run my ideas through four other guys. I don’t have to haul a car full of kit to the other end of town and pay upwards of ten pounds a time in order to write. I don’t have to drag people to a dingy venue in the middle of nowhere on a Thursday afternoon in order to get them to read a story.

Music demands a level of dedication which, at this moment in time, I simply cannot commit to. That isn’t to say that I’m turning my back on music forever. If the right situation presents itself I’ll always be willing get back into it.

Speaking of things to look out for, have you got any new writing projects, books or stories coming up? Are you researching anything exciting at the moment?

I currently have two main projects, both of which I’m very excited about.

The first being my supernatural Mega-novel Residence. I’ve not set this book a word limit as I’m releasing it bit by bit on my DeviantArt account in installments of between six and eight thousand words at a time, so it can pretty much just run and run. It’s by far my favourite thing I’ve ever written and is, in my opinion, my best work. I actually tried to get the first third of it published via an independent press in America, but it was rejected on the grounds of being, and I quote, ‘Too strange’. Admittedly it is a very weird story and doesn’t really have a point apart from to be a rip-roaring thriller. Though I’m still very proud of it.

My second project, and the one that has swiftly started to take up more and more of my time, is my totally realist novel As they come in. The premise for this book had been festering away in the back of my mind for quite a while, but it’s only recently that I’ve finally started putting the pieces together. I remember hearing a story about Ronnie Kray. He would bring his boyfriends with him into pubs and ask of people,

“Isn’t he gorgeous?” to which all those assembled, hardened East-End gangsters every one, would reply,

“Oh yeah, Ronnie, He’s lovely!”

I also watched a documentary about a guy from Liverpool. He called himself a ‘Debt collector’ but he was in-fact, if anything, an enforcer through terror. I found myself astonishingly attracted to his ruthlessness and his brutality, though there was also a kind of odd tenderness to him when he was filmed with his family, talking about his hopes and dreams or the pride that he had in his boxing club. I thought to myself, what would it be like to be in a relationship with someone like that? What would the consequences be? Could you be in a loving relationship with someone who does horrible things for a living?

This book also includes characters from Lasciate Ogne Speranza. I was writing a particular character and I started to notice a feeling of familiarity. It soon became obvious that this wasn’t a new character at all, and after I threw in the towel and admitted that it was an L.O.S character the floodgates opened and I decided to bring in a few more elements from those books.

As they come in is a very different creature to L.O.S in that it isn’t so blood-thirsty that the pages are sticking together, but is rather a story following one person’s journey through a life changing experience.

The book is also my first real attempt at addressing the subject of sexuality head on. As a twenty eight, Gay, working class man I often feel that I’m not properly represented in contemporary literature. As much as I loved the Something like… series, the books still left me thinking that Jay Bell’s characters live in an idealised world that in no way speaks to today’s Gay youth, let alone today’s Gay young adults.
As I say in the book,

“To old to be a twink, too young to be a queen.”

Within the writing community, are there any up and coming fellow authors or books you are excited about in the future?

I know a great many fantastic artists and writers who are deserving of much more praise than myself.

The brilliant illustrator and comic-book writer Ramiro Roman Jr creates stories and scenarios that are almost indescribable in their surreal beauty. Ramiro never fails to astonish me with every new thing that he puts out. His work can be found at redmuseum.net

My good friend Garath Barsby is an amazingly talented writer and cartoonist. His novella Werewolf asylum was even available on the shelves at Tesco for a while. His stuff can be viewed at myweirdwriting.wordpress.com

Trevor Gates, an awesome author and artist from Texas, is one of my favourite underground artists at the moment and creates images and pieces of writing that often make me think, ‘Damn, if this guy isn’t famous yet then I don’t stand a chance!’ Check out his Facebook here, facebook.com/Trevor-Gates-224601067564715/?fref=ts

Anything you’d like to add?

I guess all I have to say is thank you very much for offering to include me in your blog. I understand that 99-percent of everyone reading this probably has absolutely no idea who I am so I really appreciate the exposure.

I very much miss going to The Boot with you, Hannah and drinking astonishingly large quantities of their cheap bitter. You’ll have to come and visit me soon!

In closing, Let’s put it this way, trust me you’ve not seen anything yet!

I’d just like to say thanks, it was great to hear from an old friend. Check out his Facebook page HERE