Saturday, 29 June 2013

Haiku on Saturday #3

Crow follows the plough.
Hungry crow, wolf of the fields;
Torn scrap of blackness.

Thursday, 27 June 2013

All at once or a bit at a time?

Here's a quick question. If you're reading a book and absolutely loving it, do you gobble it up as quickly as you can because you just can't stop yourself or do you ration yourself to a certain number of chapters at a time to make the pleasure of reading it last longer?

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Haiku on Saturday #2

What is left of a
lifetime’s dreams? All that remains
is seen in his face.

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Haiku on Saturday #1

Frost on the fields makes
an old man of the landscape.
The year is ancient.

Haikus are great; little bite-sized nuggets of poetry, tightly packed and quick to read. I've got quite a few tucked away and I'll be posting one every Saturday.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Books I couldn't finish

It's normal for writers and readers to wax lyrical about the books they loved, or still love, years later. Less talked-about are the books that they didn't like (but I hear you cry, that's what we've got Amazon One-Star for, no?)

I tend to get most if not all of my books from the library first go and then if I like them, I buy them for the bookshelf. That way, I don't get my fingers burned as I used to, many years ago, when I belonged to a book club and bought on their recommendation stuff that got given to charity shops or donated to the library so that they'd have a chance of finding a more receptive home.

It's rare that I'll stop a book halfway through and take it back to the library unfinished. However, one of the recent ones was Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. She's written this, and its sequel, Bring up the Bodies, about the life of Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII's fixer and schemer extraordinaire.

It's a big book (which was one minus point if you need to get a book read relatively quickly) and for some unknown reason, she chose to write it in the present tense and never actually identify Cromwell, merely referring to him as 'he' during the narrative, which made it immensely difficult to tell who was who when there was more than one 'he' present. It just didn't work for me and rather than slog on with it, I took it back, unfinished.

Another work that I had high hopes for to begin with was The Terror by Dan Simmons.

This is another big book (do you spot a trend emerging here?) about the loss of the Franklin expedition which disappeared whilst trying to find the Northwest Passage in the mid-19th century. It's a richly-detailed read and puts you right amongst the sailors and officers who made up the expedition but by jingo, it's long, long, long!  I felt like I'd accidentally ordered ten times as much of my favourite food as I'd intended and had to eat it all. In the end, I realised that I wasn't going to get to the end of it and skimmed forward to find out what the reveal was about the horrible monster which was picking off the sailors one by one. What a disappointment!  I won't give any more away just in case you've yet to read the book but for me, it was a massive let-down.

I won't go into too much detail on Dean Koontz's 77 Shadow Street.

I so wanted this to be everything that Apartment 16 by Adam Nevill wasn't (i.e scary), but after only a few pages, I began to realise that it wasn't. It veered off from psychological horror towards a strange sort of science fiction; indeed, it didn't really seem to know where it was going, which is probably why Bloody Disgusting, the horror review site, called it a 'boring, unplotted mess.'

I actually finished this one but it wasn't scary  

So what about you?  Have you started a book that you'd wanted to read but ended up tossing it to one side in either disgust, boredom or bemusement?

Saturday, 8 June 2013

The Hobbit

I've just finished reading the book that I got from my son for my birthday. Yes, I blush to admit it but although I had read it several times before, it never made it into my Tolkien collection. An oversight that I'm happy now to have corrected.

Of course, the book is back in the news now because of the trilogy of films that's been made from it. I have my own opinions about them; I watched the first one on DVD and was tutting throughout at the amount of changes that had been made (an experience that I recall having when I watched the Lord of the Rings films). I wonder why the film makers felt the need to tinker with what are rightly regarded as classics of their genre.

Still, it seems to be making them enough money and with that in mind, I don't suppose they care overmuch that Tolkien traditionalists like myself view the introduction of  'new' characters (i..e not in the books) as a kind of literary vandalism.

This grumble on my part gets us away from the fact that the book itself stands up very well to re-reading and is a fine work in its own right. It takes a slightly more light-hearted tone with authorial asides (in the same way that CS Lewis used to chat to the reader whilst writing the Narnia stories) but it cracks along at a splendid pace, never flagging or boring the reader.  Its relation to the Middle Earth mythology fell into place as Tolkien was writing it; he needed a name for the elf that they met at Rivendell and he chose Elrond, already a character in the legendarium that he had been working on since the First World War. With that, the references to Gondolin and Elvish history started to creep in, but at that point there was still no hint of the grander scheme of things that Lord of the Rings represented. In fact, this can be seen very clearly in the original chapter which dealt with the appearance of Gollum.  That Tolkien had to revise this heavily shows how he retrofitted the story of the Hobbit into the trilogy.

There's much in fantasy these days that's dark, gritty and generally grim; it takes all sorts to make a world and I don't deny anybody their right to read that kind of stuff. I dip into it myself from time to time. But the Hobbit takes us back to the 1930s, when the fantasy genre was only starting to develop into what it would one day become; it's a decent story, well-told, championing courage, friendships, truth and honour. Always recommended.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Too much coffee and not enough sleep #2

Another poem that arrived in my head following a caffeine and insomnia party. I've given up caffeine now. I wonder if I'll still write weird stuff like this.


On that page, I saw her standing, a piece of shadow
shaped like her,

                        as if the daylight were afraid of her
                        and shied away;

and as she turned, I closed the book again.

I did not wish to hear that story. No-one ever knew
that I had been there.

I felt warmed by the smile she gave as the smoke
wrapped itself around her like a bridal veil.
She held out her hands and the book fell open
again, a different page of our history.

                                                       Crows laughed,
as if they were privy to our elaborate joke.
But each time we tried to touch, there was something
in the way. I pushed but it was too thick; it felt like
clotted dreams.

                       How many had I pulled from
her head before her soul was empty?

My coat is heavy on my shoulders and feels like
the skin of an old man, worn out and threadbare.
I pinch myself to stop from dreaming

                                                         and the
glass of every window shattered. Black smoke
poured out. The fireman shook me hard to wake
me from drowning in my screams;
                                                   something else was there
too, mummified grief and a tree bereft of leaves.
I choked on the size of my defiance and ran.

Monday, 3 June 2013

Too much coffee and not enough sleep #1

Sometimes I just find a poem pouring out of me and have no idea what it means or where it came from. This one happened after a morning of strong coffee following a sleepless night.


She sparkled somewhere in the darkness;
I could hear her and I could smell her
and then, like a slab of night come falling,
he was there and put his arm around her.

I heard their feet in the passageway as if
they were playing a rhythm on a giant drum,
and when the sound went out with them,
the night and the silence slid into the space.

There was nothing but a ticking, as if a clock
was shaving slices off the night while it waited
for morning to arrive. I pulled my blanket up
around my face and breathed its mustiness in.

And it seemed to me that somewhere I could
hear her crying, smell the saltiness as it came
flowing out of the two wounds we called
her eyes, put there by a heavy sharp hand.

Then, as if she was a fish we had once caught,
my dreaming reeled her back in. I woke or
thought I woke and there she was, that
diamante doll, standing and watching me.

I said I’m glad you’re back but why is it so early
when no-one else has come in, why is it so early?
Springs nudged me in the ribs to keep quiet,
saying can’t you see that this is all so wrong?

I breathed out and the darkness misted, and
then she was as if she had never been, a space
where she had once stood. The laughter of
the stars rang in my head like frozen blood.

Now two occupied coats hang in the doorway
and faces like leather masks move and blink
and let the words crawl out, slithering and
black like insect blood. I am led away by the hand.

Someone takes everything inside my head and
smooths it out, makes it black and white, sells it
to a man who has had his heart taken out with
a knife. I can see the scar where it happened.

Like a palimpsest, my life is erased. All that I am
is torn off like mouldy wallpaper. Something new
is fixed in place. I do not think that it will hold
but there is no wall there now. Nothing is there.

I can hear a dog barking, snarling at the future,
baring its teeth at something no-one else can see.
But I know that the night is just waiting to fall again
when it thinks that nobody is watching.