Posted by: flexiblegoat | November 29, 2009

Texts from Last Night

Texts from Last Night

It’s not exactly news this, but I’ve just noticed that one of my favourite websites is being made in to a book, to be published (somewhat inexplicably) just after Christmas. Texts from Last Night is quite, quite brilliant. Granted, the texts do revolve around two core themes – sex and alcohol – but it still manages to be addictive to the point where I can happily binge for hours, only tearing myself away when I realise I’m re-reading ones I enjoyed on the last visit. The texts reveal a level of debauchery on behalf of American college students that makes me wonder whether I wasted my university years by not getting wasted enough; but their appeal is not limited to shock value: from time to time you come across some real surrealist gems, such as when one recipient is informed that they tried to eat their girlfriend’s tampons because they thought it would end her period. There’s also something immensely satisfying about the snappiness of the language and slang these “kids” employ, which radiates a kind of nihilistic self-confidence. Another thing I’m stuck by is how nasty some of the texts or the episodes they detail are. If you have to ask your friend whether inflicting sex with your new boyfriend on your ex via his mobile phone is mean or not, there has to be something a little strange going on in your head.

A tendency to treat your fellow human beings like the excrement on the sole of your shoe is also in evidence on another blog-turned-book, The most common scenarios that lead people to exclaim “Fuck My Life” appear to be being told by a child that you’re fat or ugly, or discovering that your partner of x years has been dating someone else for the span of your relationship. All the mini-confessions begin with “Today,” and end with “FML”, which makes them a lot more formulaic and less free-wheelingly surreal than the texts on Texts from Last Night. The fact that publishers appear to be falling over themselves to publish internet blogs is something I probably would get vaguely grumpy about if I didn’t find these sites both hilarious and darkly compelling. I remember being told a few years ago by a young editor that she was constantly on the look out for new blogs that would translate well into print. Now it appears that agents are extracting six-figure fees for the rights to the more successful sites, so I wonder whether the days when an observant editor could pick them up on the cheap are gone (if they ever existed). I also wonder how long the trend for these books will continue. At a time when the future of the physical book is apparently in doubt, taking content from the internet and putting it between the covers of a paperback seems like swimming against a thaw-swelled stream. I love both these sites, but I’d never even consider buying the books.

Posted by: flexiblegoat | November 19, 2009

Echoes from the Dead: Johan Theorin

Echoes from the Dead

Wow! I started reading this at 8PM last night, finished it 10 minutes ago. It’s won a couple of awards, Best First Crime Novel by the Swedish Academy of Crime and the CWA John Creasy (New Blood) Dagger 2009 (same, deal first book), and deservedly so.

It begins quite slowly, truth be told, takes around 100 pages of the paperback edition to kick in, but the author uses this downtime to lay out some effective descriptions of scenery and soul-sapping  existential situations; leaves swirling on pavements forming a pattern that may well tell a story, the ghostly voices trapped in automated telephone systems. These tend to drop off once the action gets going, which is a bonus: you want to know they can do it, but you don’t want it to hold you up once you’ve caught the scent.

The plot may owe a little to Stieg Larsson’s first novel. While there is a policeman involved, he’s not the prime mover in the investigation; the mystery is based on an island and concerns a long dead child whose body has never been found and a relative (mother in this case) who can’t accept that they’re almost certainly dead.

A probable perpetrator is pinned up on the board right from the start, and the novel switches between his story (1940 onwards) and the ‘present-day’ (mid-nineties). No hardened crime enthusiast is going to take this at face value, and the author very skillfully develops his character so that two-thirds through you can’t quite believe he was capable of it even though no plausible alternative scenario has yet been sketched. I often find I get frustrated by novels with multiple narrative strands because there’s one that interests me and one or more that I have to plough through to get back to that storyline, but this wasn’t the case here, perhaps because the ‘flashback’ sections are short and to the point.

The standout character here has to be the grandfather of the dead child. 80-odd, stuck in a home, can’t walk without assistance, but desperate to find the truth, partially, he admits to himself towards the end, so he can stand up in front of the whole town and show how smart he is. The way in which he personifies the disease that limits his mobility – Sjögren’s syndome because Sjögren, his “companion” – doesn’t seem particularly original, but it works and adds depth to his character. One annoying habit he has is an insistence on keeping his cards close to his chest, but his daughter seems to find it grates just as much as the reader might: she shares the irriation and it does add to the suspense, though I, who cannot help but blab what’s on my mind, find this tendency closer to plot-device than believable character trait. Anyway, there seems to be a huge number of pensioners doddering about interrogating other pensioners, and there’s something rather entertaining about that. Theorin also manages to conjure an incredibly spooky ghost, which, for a moment, you think has actually gone so far as to push a central character down a stone staircase.

On this evidence, Theorin is something of a master plotter. You get some answers easy, then there’s a bolt from the blue, you feel pretty satisfied for a couple of pages, and then comes a twist thats turns your head upside down and tears your heart out. I may not be the best there is at guessing these things (I’m not at all), but I never even thought there would be a further development by that stage, I thought that was it, all tied up with string, but no… I take all my hats off to anyone who nails this one. But, and I think this is key, I don’t think I’d have felt short-changed if it hadn’t been included. It’s like a bonus, an exquisite cherry on top. Marvellous, marvellous book. Black Swan, £7.99.

NOTE: The reviews on this blog, of which this is the first, will be marked, unless I decide this is a bad idea, by a stubborn refusal to outline or summarise plots except in the vaguest, most general way possible. They will therefore be incredibly subjective.

Posted by: flexiblegoat | November 14, 2009

WSJ Article: How to Write a Great Novel

How to Write a Great Novel

Fantastic article this, not really a guide to writing a great novel, but twenty authors sharing a little about the processes they go through. Pamuk, Atwood, Mantell, Diaz (Junot, not Cameron), Ishiguro and a whole load I haven’t heard of. I won’t really try and sumarise, but when you read about people writing the first lines 50 to 100 times for each book or throwing out two or three drafts, the bar seems just that little bit higher. Check it out…

Image: Robert Rodriguez

Posted by: flexiblegoat | November 13, 2009

Poetry from Art

There’s a poetry reading at the Tate Modern on November 23rd by the poets who attended Pascale Petit’s Poetry in Art course. I might have attended myself if I had known about it.

I’ve been doing a little writing from paintings over the last few months, though not very much, as I’ve been working on a dissertation etc. It started in a gallery in Milan. I hadn’t slept and I felt pretty out of it and mo pointed to a painting and said “write something beautiful about that”. I wrote one line about it, and then about painting another, and then another. When I was back in London I tried fitting them together.

I’m going to post an experiment I worked on in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. I started off with an idea of what I wanted to write about and based the lines in the poem, if it amounts to one, on depictions in paintings that grabbed me. I’ll lay it out with links to the paintings that inspired each line. Here goes…

Senorita Bonita meets the Shadow












Don’t be fooled by the path

through the forest

that your bridges

will hold in slick weather.

His gift’s a heavy torque to wear,

see how it chafes you.

The pale wraith is the miracle worker spent,

so spend a lonely hour to learn

how gods alike must die alone.

The hunters need not speak

of what they woke on the heath that day:

my image is set in rock above the city,

and now you see my footprints in the snow.

Call this a conversion if you must,

but blinding light is rarely binding.

You’ll find the morning after

as you left this afternoon.


If anyone else is doing this kind of thing or sees this and has a go themselves, I’d love to hear from them. I find it quite a fun way to write, although, like I said, I’ve not really got too far into it.

Posted by: flexiblegoat | November 13, 2009

Tracyho tiger

I was browsing a bookshop on Obchodna in Bratislava last Friday at around 8am (8am! – I felt sorry for the staff) and I came across this on the fiction shelves.

Tracyho Tiger

It’s a Slovak translation of a novella by an American author, and it is so beautifully illustrated and produced that I just had to get it for mo. The endpapers are gorgeous, the chapter headings likewise, and all the characters are so quirky and colourful. Somewhere in the middle there’s a fold-out where a city becomes a huge tiger and the last illustration is the same tiger looking purple, fat and happy reading a book with a cup of coffee. Now, I have next to no clue what the story is but there’s a synopsis on Wikipedia. Here’s a link to where you could probably buy it with a bit of luck, and also to the illustrator’s profile where you can see some of the illustrations (though I don’t think she put up the nicest ones) and see her other work.

I really hope an English language publisher decides to pick this up, because I’d love to have a copy I can actually read, and I don’t think I’m up to learning Slovak just right now.

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