Monday, May 30, 2011

Brief Book Review: 'The Confidential Agent' by Graham Greene

Brief Book Review: The Confidential Agent by Graham Greene

A former lecturer in romance languages, D is now a middle-aged confidential agent of the Left, who is in England attempting to secure coal for his side in his unnamed wore-torn home country (which contextually corresponds with Spain). An enemy agent, L, is already in England to perform the same task for what is depicted as the morally bankrupt Right.

The moment the widowed D steps off at the station he chances to meet the daughter of the coal magnate he is required to see. Despite their age gap, she begins to fall for the much older D. She even refers quite comically to her oedipal complex.

The story explores class differences, the grey issues of government and business, xenophobia and mistrust. D’s heroism stems from his valuing of humanity and he evolves over the text’s duration into a determined agent rather than the nervous, passive man that the reader is initially introduced to.

The Confidential Agent is a thriller, which concentrates on character and alludes to ethical dilemmas and larger ideologies rather than simply the ‘over-the-top’ action moments that often pollute many of today’s thrillers.

While not as enlightening as the Power and the Glory or The Heart of the Matter, The Confidential Agent is a highly entertaining and rewarding read.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Short Story: 'A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings' by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

 "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings" by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

After a storm, a married couple discover an old man with enormous wings in their courtyard.Both the couple's and the community's actions that follow make for an interesting read.

 The 'matter of fact' way in which it is written epitomises the stronger magical realist works.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Short Stories

Short Stories

The short story is an invaluable vehicle for writers to develop their craft. In terms of voice, style and structure, the form allows for some extreme variation, which may not be capable of being sustained successfully throughout the lengthier novel form.

I prefer the longer versions of short stories, my favourite works all possess juicy narratives, so if it's under 2000 words I often feel unsatisfied. I suppose I like some meat in my reading and titbits do not suffice.

With more time being taken up these day in social media and the many varieties of 'sit-down' leisurely entertainment, the short story could potentially undergo its own popular revival. Novelettes and short stories may fill a reading void as they're a great way to sink into some reading without any serious time-commitment.

As for flash fiction, it certainly has its place but it is not a genre I take great gratification in reading. I might think that a piece is clever but I never seem to recall the story at a later date— there's no 'wow factor' a few months afterwards. Flash fiction (to me) feels more like a writing exercise rather than a 'true' story.

I find John Cheever, Will Self, Richard Yates and Joyce Carol Oates exceptional writers in the short form. There are dozens of others too.

I see more and more anthologies at bookstores. Perhaps the short story renaissance has already begun?

I'll be presenting ten short stories that I consider highly recommended reading. There are of course a myriad out there that I am yet to read or regretfully may never even touch upon.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Horrorscope Review: ASIM #50, Andromeda # 50

HorrorScope Review: ASIM #50, Andromeda #50

Mark Smith-Briggs, the editor of HorrorScope and a short story writer too, has written a review on Andromeda #50 at HorrorScope. I believe that outside of a generic review of Dotdotdash5, it is the first formal review I have received on a piece. I'm thankful and relieved to see that it's positive.

I don't believe that it's ethical for me to comment on other stories in the collection besides stating that I thoroughly enjoyed them. Mark did name what he believed to be some standouts, which I will mention for the writers' benefit: Mark Lee Pearson’s Whaling the Multiverse; Nicole R Murphy’s The Fairy King’s Child and Dennis J Pale’s Morrow Street.

Debbie Cowen’s The Truth About Dragons, Shona Husk’s Skull Jeweller’s Apprentice and Damien Walters Grintalis’ A Glimpse of Nothing in Silvered were also mentioned in a most positive fashion

Regarding my own piece, Mark wrote the following:  Anthony Panegyres’ The Wine Endures [...MILD SPOILER TAKEN OUT...] is also a great read and an example of how well ancient myths can be mashed up with the modern world to create a fresh take on old tropes.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Books Bought Recently

Books Bought Recently

I recently bought from my two favourite Perth bookstores: Planet Books (Mt Lawley) and New Edition (Fremantle and Northbridge).

I still buy books even though I do realise that I already have a depressingly insurmountable reading list. When choosing, I use a random number system on my 'want-to-read-list' to ensure that I read a variety of writers (terribly nerdy, I know).
Anyway the buys and reasons for them are as follows:


  •  The Last Werewolf  by Glen Duncan. I heard him interviewed on the radio while driving to work. It sounded like a great read, plus a FB friend, Karen, recommended it.
  • The Almost Moon by Alice Sebold. I enjoyed The Lovely Bones so what the Hell.
  • The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter. Sounds riveting and I have always been curious. 

  • Gentleman of the Road by Michael Chabon. I read Chabon's book about writing and reading so buying a novel by him that appealed to me seemed the next logical step.
  • New Australian Stories 2 by Scribe Publications. Outside of the journals I subscribe to, I largely read writers from abroad. I've been thinking that I should read more from the local market. The guy working at the bookstore also had a story in the collection and I felt a sudden compulsion to support an emerging Perth writer. 

Feel free to comment on any of the above books and what your recent buys (if any) are. 

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Writing Groups

Writing Groups

It is important that a writer has a reading audience before he/she submits his/her work. In this regard, a writing group is a useful tool. I wouldn't join any old group. The old adage 'Can't read, can't write' holds truer than ever here.  Hopefully the group has a few published or ‘verge-on-being-published’ writers involved.

A group should be capable of offering broad advice on structure and ideas; or specifics such as scrutinising the minutiae of a piece (line editing etc).

There are some inherit dangers of course:
  • Readers preferences. Obviously it's so subjective: One's person's glistening lake is another's swamp.
  • Poor advice. Go with your gut but my general rule is to change things if two or more readers you respect deliver the same constructive criticism.
  • Differing opinions on your piece – once more go with your gut.
  • Generally a good writer is a good editor but this is not always the case. Some strong writers may be biased towards their own specific style or their own reading preferences.

It is vital that members of a writing group are honest, open and thick skinned. A member should be able take and give criticism in order to better not only their own piece but also other pieces in their group too.

I recently had the fortune of having breakfast with Jonathon Strahan and Ellen Datlow (two leading anthologists) and it was interesting to hear that they usually line edit even highly lauded authors. This supports the case for as much feedback within the group as possible.

If you have a fragile ego you may be of detriment to the group. Be open to suggestions and advice. If you want a piece improved then you really require a ‘no-holds-barred’ approach. I would rather be criticised and improve a piece than be told how wonderful my piece is (naturally a tad of praise when deserved can work wonders too – I am not a complete masochist/sadist).

I’ll follow this blog up with another soon relating to my own writing group; using initials rather then full names to allow for a certain degree of anonymity.