Hugos And Graveyards

28 07 2009

I’m a bit late to comment on Adam Roberts’ critique but this kind of surprised me:

“But The Graveyard Book is too twee, too cosy, especially given that its theme is Death which is, in reality, neither twee or cosy, as some children, and all of us eventually, grievously discover.”

I have a lot of time for Adam, both as a writer and a critic, but the idea The Graveyard Book is about death, or Death as Adam puts it, struck me as just wrong and an uncharacteristically literal interpretation of the text. The Graveyard Book may be set in a graveyard and may feature ghost and ghouls but I took the book’s central theme to be about Life. As evidence I offer the following:

“…Liza’s voice, close to his ear, said, ‘Truly, life is wasted on the living, Nobody Owens. For one of us is too foolish to live, and it is not I. Say you will miss me.’…”

And this:

“…’Why can’t I just stay here? In the graveyard?’

‘You must not,’ said Silas, more gently than Bod could remember him ever saying anything. ‘All the people here have had their lives, Bod, even if they were short ones. Now it’s your turn. You need to live.’…”

And finally (because I risk copyright infringement):

“…’Face your life
Its pain, its pleasure,
Leave no path untaken’

Maybe I’m missing something?

I could go onto some of the other arguments where I differ from Adam. For example, I am on the record as having loved Little Brother. A predilection that did not prevent me enjoying Adam’s own Swiftly which was, incidentally, one of the best books I’ve read this year. I could expound at length on the futility of arguing against a popular vote based award but I suspect that would be dull and rehash others arguments.

No, all I really wanted to say was what you do with your life is more important than death.

And that, I think, is what another Neil was trying to say.

Sunday Naps

26 07 2009

I do like a lazy Sunday when I don’t have to be anywhere and today’s afternoon nap has done me some good.

I’ve managed a solid pace over the last seven days racking up some wordage each day. This is a marked improvement on where I’ve been for the last few months but the fact I can’t reach into four figures (save weekends) remains a little bit frustrating given my natural tendency as a writer (and a reader) to binge. However, at the moment the day job simply doesn’t allow enough downtime to think long enough to produce more. Learning my head only has so much capacity has been a tough one.

G’s mum is visiting at the moment. We hung out down by the river in Greenwich, had some ice cream, wandered round the market and the bookshop, saw a film and generally had a nice time. Today, well I needed a rest. Reading wise I am having a bit of fantasy binge at the moment but I plan to move onto some non-fiction titles I’ve been hankering for and, for no explanable reason, Bleak House.

Nothing else to report at the moment.

Friday Flash Fiction: Trust

24 07 2009

This post has now moved to: The precis follows:

A bit of fun this week, qualifying for my new criteria for Friday Flash on the grounds it’s damn near impossible to sell this type of story due to the over-used nature of the sub-genre. Candy floss fiction. Black, naturally.

By Neil Beynon

As long as he lived he could never forget the smell of the street that night, the stench of piss wrapping itself around the diesel of the passing cars as they zipped past. He gripped the knife in his hand tight, his gut twisting like a caged cat and glanced around for a more substantial weapon. In the mouth of the alley Ceridwen stood unmoving. She blocked the path to the street.

“Why do you raise your knife?”

…Continue reading here:


21 07 2009

Not an awful lot to report.

I spent last weekend in Oxford and, after a somewhat unfortunate incident with the hotel room, had lovely time seeing old friends.

It was my first time in the city. It’s a strange place full of contradictions: we passed a mock tudor McDonalds on the way into the city by car and then, walking through the centre, we saw an actual historical building that had a Pret shoehorned into it. The city is a layer cake of architecture ranging from the Anglo-Saxon to the present, from the well preserved to the careworn and heaving with tourists at this time of year.

We were lucky enough to have access to some of the university as we were attending a wedding reception on site. I wasn’t immediately familiar with where we were until G and I wandered round one of the courtyards. It was a strange somewhat dislocated sensation as I realised I was standing in an area I’d seen in any number of television programmes and films – Morse and Harry Potter being two of the more obvious. But for me, of course, it was all about Tolkien because we were by Bodleian library, where the Red Book of Hergest is kept and some of Tolkein’s own manuscripts now live.

As regards my own writing I am still focussing on short stories while I sort out the current backlog of longer ideas. Reading wise I have been on something of fantasy binge and so, once I have finished Looking for Jake and other stories, I think I’ll be tackling something out of my comfort zone. I am also compiling the all important Holiday Reading list on which I shall spend most of my backage allowance. Happy days.

Review: No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy

17 07 2009

No Country for Old Men book coverBefore the Coen brothers got their hands on it there was just a book by Cormac McCarthy.  Several people whose opinions I value had recommended McCarthy and so I avoided the film, opting instead to read the book first and save the film for another time.

No Country for Old Men tells the story of a drug exchange along the Texas/Mexico border that goes, it’s fair to say, a bit wrong. Llewelyn Moss blunders into the aftermath whilst out hunting and finds everyone dead or dying as well as copious amounts of cocaine and a satchel full of cash. What to do? A vet of the Vietnam war, a welder, and general ordinary guy, the money represents a chance at a life that he would otherwise not have and so Moss picks up the satchel and gets out of Dodge.

Meanwhile Sheriff Ed Tom Bell has a dead deputy and a truck load of dead drug dealers to investigate which leads him on to the trail of both Moss and Anton Chigurgh, a psychotic hitman tasked with regaining the money. The story follows the subsequent chase across the state and the musings of Ed Tom Bell, an the old lawman who finds himself dislocated from the world in which he is living and unable to cope with a manifestation of evil in a form he simply can’t comprehend (Anton).

I wasn’t sure I was going to like the book at first. McCarthy has opted for a third person limited view point for the majority of the novel with a first person monologue from Ed Tom Bell weaving through the story. He eschews the use of anything but the sparsest levels of punctuation making a new reader have to physically reset a great deal of their literary cues to distinguish between dialogue and thought. This book doesn’t want you to glide over it in a couple of hours, it wants you to take in every word and every idea because there is important stuff going on.

Once I settled into the style I found the sparse use of language powerful. McCarthy doesn’t inject every sentence with poetic fervour but has surgically sliced each word back to create a more immersive experience where he, as writer, disappears from view. However, when he does choose to flex his poetic muscles the lines he produces are wonderful. This, from early on in the book, is a good example of McCarthy’s style as a whole:

“A half hour he parked and walked out along the crest of a rise and stood looking over the country to the east and to the south. The moon up. A blue world. Visible shadows of clouds across the floodplain. Hurrying on the slopes. He sat in the scabrock with his boots crossed before him. No coyotes. Nothing. For a Mexican dopedealer. Yeah. Well. Everybody is somethin.”

The story itself is a classic Western template that on the face of it is riddled with cliches and doesn’t really have enough in it to sustain a novel. McCarthy deal with this by applying a classic technique of genre fiction and at traditional high points in the story his tale veers of in a completely different direction. I’m not sure if this is a conscious decision of the author and imposed on the characters or simply the result of rigidly following through the logic of each of his three protagonists given the story set up. I suspect the latter but McCarthy’s skill is such that I think only he could answer that.

No Country for Old Men is not an easy book, either stylistically or content wise. It is full of paradoxes: at one moment full of beautiful description, at others brutal violence drips blood from the page. McCarthy weaves three character stories into a simply rendered story that belies the complexity of the individual threads. It’s billed as a thriller but personally I think No Country for Old Men, like all good westerns, is as honest and gripping a morality play as I’ve read in recent times.

I urge you to read it.

Billie Jean

11 07 2009

Because I like Amanda Palmer and the song rather than anything else.

I’m only a few years younger than Amanda and Jason and was, like them, a fan of Thriller and Bad when I was youngster. However, I note that my childhood record collection also included a former soap star currently on stage in the West End and his diminutive co-star from said soap.

So childhood me: not such the music aficionado.

Anyhow, this is one of Amanda’s better covers. I still think it needs some drums.

Friday Flash Fiction: Endings

3 07 2009

This post has now moved. You can view it here: The precis follows:

There’s flash this week largely because I wanted to write something new but I wanted a warm up before I started. It is likely that F3 posting will continue to be a bit irregular as I need to start trying to write stuff that I have a chance of getting published elsewhere and so I’m planning to focus F3 more on story forms that only really work on the internet

This will by its nature mean that I have to be more selective about ideas and that will, in turn, take longer.

I’ll experiment to see what a likely frequency is and then let you know. For now here’s this weeks:

By Neil Beynon

I can tell their story just as easy as looking at them. Always can.

There is the woman leaning against the wall as if listening for something, only she isn’t listening. Not any more. Her purse has spilled open on the paving stones, a big chunky black Mercedes key, a mobile phone, and a note – a shopping list – flapping between her fingers in the breeze. A time written in biro on the back of her hand bearing the legend KIDS…

You can read the rest of the post here: