TBR Challenge – Powder – Kevin Sampson

Genre: Music, Masculinity

Narrative Style: Third person from various perspectives

Rating: 3/5

Published: 1999

Format: paperback

Synopsis: Keva McCluskey, lead singer with the unknown Liverpool band, The Grams, wants nothing more than the fame and success he feels are his due. When he meets Guy de Burnet, of newly formed Rehab records, he realises that his dreams may be about to come true. Will fellow band mates and manager, Wheezer, be a help or a hindrance on the way to the top. 

Reading Challenges: TBR Challenge 2019

Time on Shelf: My husband bought this at the time. He read it and really enjoyed it. I didn’t get round to it. So twenty years after he recommended it, I finally read it. No wonder he doesn’t often recommend a book for me to read.

I really wasn’t sure what to rate this book. There were some things I really enjoyed about it but also some things I really didn’t. However, it is generally quite well written and I did feel compelled to read on so I guess the good points won out.

What I really liked about this was the way it reminded me of the nineties and of the music scene then – a time when I was very enthusiastic about music and a time before The X factor and all those talent shows. There is a genuine love of music behind this novel. It also seems like I would imagine it is like when a band first takes off with all the madness of touring and recording. Sampson has long been involved in the music industry – as a journalist and a manager – so the novel has an air of authenticity.

However, this is also a very laddish book. And in that it is also very much of its time. At times it felt like an extended edition of Nuts. It is full of lewd sexual encounters. In fact, most of the women in this novel are little more than holes to be filled by the band. I’m not a prude and some of these encounters were amusing especially as guitarist, James Love gets more and more twisted in his needs. It just would have been nice for some of these women to be given a personality not just body parts.

There are some similarities between this novel and Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting. It is obviously aiming for a similar grittiness and honesty. And it is written in a similar style with little in the way of over-arching plot – more a series of vignettes about the band and the various hangers on. However, it lacks the emotional depth of Welsh’s novel. The characters are stereotypical and do not develop. I felt little for them and didn’t really care whether the band would survive or not. James Love is similar to Welsh’s Sick Boy but there is no hint of anything underneath his womanising so it all becomes dull and tawdry.

Still, it was amusing and it did make me nostalgic so I’m not sorry to have read it. It is quite a long read at 500 pages. Maybe if it had been shorter, I wouldn’t have got so impatient towards the end.

 

 

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The Writing Process

So, I have finally done what I have been promising to do for the last twelve months. I have started getting more involved on Twitter. I have discovered many writers and have many books on my to-read list. What is most interesting about this is the way it is possible to discuss things with other like minded people. To be fair, one of the reasons I like writing is it is a solitary process. It suits my anti-social soul. But it is good to know that there are people out there who understand and who are interested in the way other writer’s work.

It has made me think about the way I work. I wish I could work in a linear way. I don’t mean the finished product, as such. Choose Yr Future is not told in straightforward chronological order. It moves between events just after the end of civilisation and what happened before. It also retraces events from the points of view of the different classes in society. That’s fine. That is what I want because it means not everything is revealed all at once. What I mean is the process of actually getting words on a page. Even if I were going to write a beginning, middle, end sort of story, there is little chance that it would be written in that order.

Even when I was at university, essays were written out of order and assembled later. This is very much the way I work when writing fiction. I have an overall plan, of course, at least in my head. But I have to hope that it will all fit together eventually and I have a recognisable whole. At the minute, as well as editing Choose Yr Future, I’m trying to work out what I have yet to write for another project which has holes all over the place. A large amount of it is typed up but an equally large amount is scattered about in various notebooks, along with many other half started projects. Pulling it all together is likely to take a long time.

I have problems with planning. I tend not to commit an overall plan to paper or screen. Part of me worries that if I plan too carefully, my creativity would be hampered. I would probably save myself the chore of moving chapters around until the order feels right if I was more organised in the first place.

It has been useful thinking about it. There are things that I could do to make life easier for myself. The creative process isn’t sacred. And as it is a process, it should be open to change. I’m unsure if I should abandon this WIP as being too complicated and start with an idea that is merely that. Then I could try and be more organised from the start. It sounds good but there is at least one part of my mind that is laughing hysterically at the very idea.

TBR Challenge – A Room With A View – E.M. Forster

Genre: Classics, Romance

Narrative Style: third person, chronological

Rating: 3/5

Published: 1908

Format: Paperback

Synopsis: Lucy is on holiday in Florence with her chaperone at the start of the novel. She is keen to experience life but is often hampered by the mores of the day and her conventional chaperone, Miss Bartlett. Her life is unbalanced when she meets the unconventional Emersons, particularly the son George. When she returns to England, her life no longer seems so straightforward. 

Reading Challenge – The 2019 TBR Challenge

Time on Shelf – about 5 years. This was inherited from my husband’s aunt. I felt I ought to read it rather than wanting to so I put it on the list to make sure that I did.

I definitely have mixed about A Room with a View. I liked it better than Where Angels fear to Tread which is the only other Forster I have read but I really didn’t like that so it’s not saying much. In a lot of ways, I feel about Forster like I feel about Austen. The writing is clever and sharp but ultimately doesn’t move me.

When I read Where Angels Fear to Tread, I thought I’d never met a writer who seemed so ill at ease with his own masculinity and that of other men. In this novel, it seemed that the unease could be extended to the whole human race. Forster observes his characters well but I felt he was removed from them. And as such, they seemed more like representations of certain ways of being rather than fully drawn characters.

The story itself is very simple. Lucy feels obliged to marry a man she does not love because he is from the right social class. She has to choose between him and the unconventional George, who works on the railways. Part of the problem is that we do not see that much of George so it is hard to understand exactly what it is that is so loveable about him.

I’m not a big fan of romance. And for all the social observation and cleverness that is all this is. It’s not a terrible book. It was pleasant to read, just not for me.

TBR Challenge – You Really Got Me: The Story of the Kinks – Nick Hasted

Genre: Music, Biography

Narrative Style: Third Person, Chronological

Rating: 4/5

Published: 2011

Format: Hardback

Synopsis: Hasted takes the story from The Kinks origins in the early sixties up to the modern day. Using interviews with original members, he traces the history of one of the sixties most interesting bands.

Reading Challenges: TBR Challenge 2019

Time on the shelf: This was bought when it first came out in 2011 as my husband is a bit of a Kinks obsessive. 

I’ve always liked The Kinks. Some of my favourite songs were written by one of the Davies brothers – Waterloo Sunset, Stop Your Sobbing, Death of a Clown to name but three. Having read two of Ray’s books – X-Ray and Americana – I thought it would be good to get a less biased view of what life with The Kinks was like.

It seems that life with The Kinks was dramatic and even life threatening. This biography is filled with incidents that if one or two of them happened to a band you might consider them unlucky. Not helped by the almost constant fighting between the Davis brothers and between them and other band members. Pete Quaife started to travel with the roadies to escape the constant fighting and ended up nearly dying in a car crash. Mick Avory threw his cymbal at Dave on stage, knocking him out and immediately went on the run. There are many other incidents that would have felled lesser bands but somehow The Kinks kept going.

There is also insight into the writing of the songs and the mindset of Ray and Dave Davies. Hasted uses a lot of quotations from various interviews so the reader gets a genuine insight into the creation of some of the most iconic songs of the sixties. However, this use of quotes from the various band members, and other involved parties, does break the narrative up and I would have liked more straight reporting of events.

However, this isn’t really an unbiased look. Hasted is obviously a huge fan and you would have to be to be able to write this book and still love all involved afterwards. Both Ray and Dave are very difficult people and their personal histories are filled with failed marriages and bad behaviour. The worst of which – such as Ray’s troubled relationship with Chrissie Hynde – were glossed over and not really investigated. Bad behaviour is reported but not really commented on.

Another thing that I found annoying was Halstad’s insistence that The Kinks were the only band that were any good or meant anything. Generally, when another band or song was mentioned, it was in a critical light. Okay, so the Kinks are very good but that doesn’t mean that everything else was rubbish.

Overall, this was an entertaining read. It certainly made me wonder how on earth they kept turning out hit after hit when they could hardly stand to be in the same room together.

TBR Challenge – The Virgin’s Lover – Philippa Gregory

Genre: Chick Lit, Historical Fiction

Narrative Style: Third Person

Rating: 1/5

Published: 2005

Format: Paperback

Synopsis: Mary Tudor has died and Elizabeth’s position as the new queen of England is precarious. With threats from the French and the Catholic church, she feels there are few people she can trust. When she starts a secret relationship with the already married Robert Dudley, she makes her position even more dangerous as few approve of the match. 

Reading Challenges: TBR Challenge

Time on shelf: Five years – I inherited this when my mam died. We’d enjoyed reading and recommending Gregory’s other novels so I avoided reading this one when I couldn’t discuss it with her. 

I was expecting to enjoy this. I’ve read Gregory before and thought that her novels were intriguing and gave a convincing impression of what life at court was like. Not so with this book.

It wasn’t just the setting that was unconvincing. The characters were flat and impossible to like. Gregory seemed enamoured of Robert Dudley and often mentioned his dark good looks and the ridiculous effect he had on Elizabeth. His ambition and his handsomeness were the only features of his personality so it was hard to see exactly why the queen might love him so much. Elizabeth was frequently reduced to jelly, little more than a quivering mass, by her lust for Dudley. I understand the impulse to make Elizabeth more human but, in this novel, she lost all power and became the the Tudor idea of womanhood, unable to function without her male advisors.

The beginning of the novel plays out like an Elizabethan sex romp. It is like a cross between a Carry On film and a bad porn movie. Not that it is explicit, it’s more that the scenarios feel like something from porn. Elizabeth dresses as a servant so that Dudley can take her in the stables. Out hunting, Dudley drags her from her horse to do it in the leaves. It was all quivering loins and heaving bosoms. It was so unsubtle that it was laughable and it really detracted from the political elements of the story.

It was also hard to have sympathy with Amy, Dudley’s wife. She is portrayed as pathetically in love with Dudley who is somehow so charismatic as to have both these women absolutely besotted with him. She spends most of the novel in a puddle of tears, refusing to grant him a divorce, mooning around like a lovesick schoolgirl. Again, she was little more than a plot device.

Finally, Gregory is taken with the idea the Amy was murdered by Cecil – with the Queen’s approval because she is so incapable of resisting Dudley’s charms and it is the only way to not marry him – as part of a plot to bring Dudley down. Although there were many rumours at the time about Dudley’s involvement, most historians do not think this was the case. And Gregory’s tale does nothing to convince the reader that this might be a possible version of events.

 

TBR Challenge – The Martian Chronicles – Ray Bradbury

Genre: Science Fiction

Narrative Style: A series of interlinked short stories that show the human journey from arriving on Mars through settling there to leaving again. 

Rating: 4/5

Published: 1950

Format: Kindle

Synopsis: Through a series of interlinked stories, Bradbury explores the human relationship with Mars. Beginning with invasions – and Martian attempts to thwart them – Bradbury’s stories look at colonialism, human nature, loneliness and war.

Reading Challenges: TBR Challenge hosted by Roof Beam Reader.

Time on shelf: This has been on my kindle for about two years. The last Bradbury short story collection I read was a bit hit and miss so I avoided this one for a bit.

This was, for the most part, very enjoyable. I’m not a massive fan of short story collections as I usually find some don’t quite hit the mark but the narrative links running through the stories helped the whole thing to hang together.

It is always a bit weird reading science fiction from a long time ago. (So long ago, in fact, that the stories are set in the early 2000s. It is weird to think that Bradbury’s distant future has already faded into the past.) Even when Bradbury was imagining amazing future technology, he was hampered by the knowledge of his age and things sometimes felt a little quaint.

However, the main point of Bradbury’s fiction is not to write a perfect version of future technology but to look at the way human nature will be shaped by technological developments.  So he looks at the way that humans would behave when they arrive on Mars – how they immediately turn it into another version of earth, trying to remove all Martian traces and not caring how much they ruin the planet (And the Moon Still Be as Bright). He looks at relationships between Martians and humans – although most of the Martians have been killed off by chicken pox. In the story The Fire Balloons, priests are sent on a missionary mission to Mars and Bradbury discusses the idea of what sin might mean on a foreign planet.

Some of my favourite stories were early in the collection and revolved around failed expeditions. In The Earth Men, the newly arrived spacemen are taken for mad men and placed in an insane asylum. Due to the Martians telepathy they can see others’ hallucinations and so all assume that the Earth men are merely mad. Telepathy also figures in The Third Expedition. When the crew arrives, everything resembles their hometowns along with long dead relatives and they come to believe that Mars is really heaven. However, nothing is what it seems as the Martians have used telepathy to lure them into a false sense of security.

The final two stories are both poignant. There Will Come Soft Rains shows the way an automated house will continue running even after nuclear war has destroyed civilisation. Finally, a family escapes the war on Earth back up to Mars. Hoping to repopulate the planet now that Earth is ruined, a number of people have hidden rockets until they could use them to escape. They burn all documents they have brought with them and relate to their identity on Earth including a map of Earth. In the end, having promised his sons the possibility of seeing Martians, he shows them their reflections in a river.

As with the best science fiction, the themes are still relevant to our modern society especially as the race to get to Mars is underway. The technology may seem a little hokey but the ideas are still important.

 

 

TBR Challenge 2019 – The Tiger’s Wife – Tea Obreht

Genre: Magic Realism, War

Narrative Style: First person

Rating: 4/5

Published: 2001

Format: Kindle

Synopsis: Natalia’s country is still recovering from many years of war. She is travelling to a neighbouring country to deliver medicine to an orphanage when she learns that her beloved grandfather has died. She recounts the stories that he has told her about the Tiger’s Wife and the Deathless Man and tries to make sense of the future, both for herself and her country. 

Reading Challenges: TBR Challenge

Time on Shelf: Inherited from a relative in 2014.

I didn’t really know anything about this book – where it was set, what it was about but I liked the premise of ‘a girl who loved tigers so much she almost became one herself’ and it is a while since I have read any magic realism so I thought I’d give it a go.

This book is set in an unnamed Balkan country, an area that I must admit I know little about. Of course, I can remember the wars of the 1990s from the news but it was a long time ago and I was a lot younger at the time. So now that is yet another thing to go on my long list of things to find out more about.

The country has been devastated by the war but is now starting to try to recover. Natalia and her friend Zora are doing their bit by delivering medicine to an orphanage across the border. Near the start of this journey, Natalia discovers that her grandfather has died. She begins to tell the stories that he told her about the escaped tiger, the Tiger’s Wife and the Deathless Man.

I enjoyed the mix of myth and reality in these tales and I enjoyed fitting the details of the story together. Obreht’s writing is at its best, I think, when telling these mystical tales of death. I particularly liked the story of Darisa the Bear and how he became so good at hunting. Unfortunately, I’m not really sure what the overall point of the stories was. They seemed disjointed and removed from the modern day story. I don’t think Obreht quite managed to pull the whole thing together.

This is a novel about death and the rites that go with it, both on a personal and universal scale. Natalia is recovering from her Grandfather’s death as her country recovers from war. As such it is not an easy read and is dour in places. However, there are moments of beauty in amongst the grit.