Sunday, 25 August 2013

A Reader and A Writer - Ending and Beginning

In my day job, parents often ask me how to help their children improve their writing. My answer is simple: read. Read with them. Read to them. Encourage them to read. Anything. Read yourself. The last one often gets me funny looks, as if that's the last thing a busy adult should be doing. For me, it's the first, last and always (to semi-quote The Sisters Of Mercy - that ages me). And so it is that my summer began in earnest with plans to read at least two books a week. At the same time, my 8 year old daughter enrolled in the Summer Reading Challenge at the local library - read 6 books, get prizes; keep going get a medal (there's a ceremony and everything!); read 20 have your name on the wall as a Super Achiever. I think she's up to 12 books now, sometimes reading one in a night (having trouble sleeping in this weather anyway). As for me: well, I've managed one a week since she started the challenge. The plans are there: my pile of unread books is probably the height of the average 8 year old. Still, anyway, here are my thumbnail reviews of my summer reads:


Product DetailsThis doesn't really need much of an introduction from me. Banks's passing was very sad - I'll miss the leftie, compassionately angry voice that we had from him. The Crow Road and Espedair Street are amongst my favourite novels, the latter a wee bit of an influence on what I'm writing at the moment (just a bit as it has a fading rock star in it). So it was then that I came to The Quarry with as high expectations as anyone. In the end, this tale of a meeting of a man and his old friends as he nears the end of his life, narrated by his possibly-on-the-autistic-spectrum son, is slight but affecting. Banks's voice shines through. There's not much plot but this is a book about people and, although not one of his greatest works, is a fitting note for Iain Banks to go out on. I'll miss his words, and miss his presence in our culture. Interestingly, a friend of mine, Lucy Carter, is the lighting designer for the operatic stage version of Banks's The Wasp Factory which is coming to the Royal Opera House soon. It's a pity that Banks didn't live to see it.


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My wife gave me this as a birthday present, and it couldn't have been better chosen. On the face of it, it's science fiction but is much more about... well, that would spoil it. We have a very flawed narrator who only gradually discovers what's really happening to him. He is a journalist aboard a privately-funded spaceship sent out with a varied crew to, well, explore and see how far they can reach into space. They are set to turn back at a specific point, so it is as much a PR exercise as anything else. But of course, not everything quite goes according to plan. What Smythe does brilliantly is rattle you through a rapid sequence of events quite early on, and you begin to wonder whether he's wasted opportunities to tell a more engaging story. But then. We get to look at those events from a different perspective and everything changes. It's the best novel I've read yet this year. It's just out in paperback, so treat yourself!


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Like the rest of the universe, judging by the queues at the Ely event (see below blog entry), I read Gaiman's latest novel this summer. I'd read all the publicity, and was a little wary of over-hype. Like a lot of people, I followed Gaiman's Sandman series, and I really liked his abruptly arrested run on Miracleman, so that was my way in to his work. The Graveyard Book remains a classic of children's literature - my daughter's not quite ready for it yet, but she will be. 'Ocean...' seems more slight than it is. I'm a big fan of shorter novels, and this tells as much story as it needs to - it's about growing up, and the notion of how we remember our childhood.There's fantasy in there, and some potentially nasty stuff, but some glorious stuff too. It's sad and joyous, and worth the hype.


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I don't often plug books by people I know, but I can't resist. Dave deserves all the praise that has been heaped upon him. I described this as 'Magnus Mills for kids' on Twitter, and I still can't think of a better way of describing it. A young boy books passage on a small boat captained by a bear. Pretty soon, they get lost. Arguments, adventures and bonding ensue. It's funny, it's fast-paced, it's accompanied by Dave's brilliant illustrations, and it's actually pretty moving. There are questions left at the end, and it doesn't end in the way I expected. But it does end in the way it should. So much more than a children's book. In fact, I don't think there's any such thing. There's just books for people. And this will touch you, whether you're 8 or 48.

Now, I guess I'd better get back to that pile of unread books! 

One quick plug for myself before I go:

Product DetailsVolume 3 of The Graphic Canon is out now, which features my comic strip adaptation of Wilfred Owen's Dulce et Decorum Est, which I did for Classical Comics a few years ago. Find out more here.

And, of course, you can still get copies of my books! If you'd like a personalised signed copy of The Legend of Tom Hickathrift, look me up on the 'Contact' tab above and drop me an email.
Reviews, comments, feedback from readers always welcome!

Product DetailsProduct DetailsProduct DetailsProduct DetailsSo, summer comes to an end. Back to the day job, but writing continues. Endings and beginnings. More on my next book when I have it...



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