A Brutal War seen through a Young Woman’s Eyes: Ellen’s People by Dennis Hamley

A1zllPmfbbL._SL1500_“It’s dark now. The church clock has long struck midnight. Betty and Madge, twins and my younger sisters, went to sleep the moment I blew their candle out, but I can’t sleep and I’m wondering if I ever will again.”

Thus begins Ellen’s People, the first novel in Dennis Hamley’s Ellen Trilogy. Ellen Wilkins, a young woman living in rural England on the eve of World War I, has just witnessed a recruitment drive in her village. She has also witnessed some of the less attractive behaviour associated with such campaigns: jingoism, hatred of “the Hun”, and fury against those who openly prefer peace to war. To Ellen, this is more than a purely abstract concern: her beloved brother Jack has enlisted, and she worries about what might happen to him. “I don’t know much about wars,” Ellen admits, “except soldiers and sailors get killed and Jack might get killed with them.” Continue reading

Beauty? It depends on who’s looking…

Warning: reflections may be distorted by societal pressure.

Warning: reflections may be distorted due to societal pressure.

A man of my acquaintance, who shall remain nameless, is currently going through something of a midlife crisis. Just a few years ago, he accepted an expanding waistline and greying hairs with equanimity. Now, he has begun an aggressive campaign against these things. He practically lives in the gym. He is contemplating cosmetic surgery to rid his face of its tiny, almost imperceptible, lines. When he isn’t doing these things, he’s complaining about how he isn’t quite as handsome as he’d like to be. And there I was thinking that obsessive anxiety about one’s appearance was a female trait… Continue reading

Linear vs Circular

cycletimeI recently read this very interesting post by Lauren Sapala, in which she argued – very convincingly, to my mind – that writers, by pressuring themselves to achieve goals, can actually hinder their progress. In the post, she made a very simple but, to me, quite startling point, which in turn provoked one of those “lightbulb” moments, when I thought, “Ah-ha! So that’s where I’ve been going wrong all this time!” She says:

“Our culture tends to think of time as linear. It moves forward in a straight line. So if you want to get anything done, you need to move forward in a straight line as well. And the most popular method used in our culture to conquer this straight line is to push ourselves. This push is commonly referred to as ‘drive’ or ‘motivation’.”

Continue reading

“Art is Magic” – Aniko Carmean introduces her new short story, MIXED MEDIA

Aniko Carmean

Aniko Carmean

It’s guest post time, and today’s visiting blogger has a special significance for me. Aniko Carmean was one of the earliest people to befriend me when I first set out my stall in cyberspace, and she’s been a kind and encouraging friend ever since. Her blog is beautifully written and occasionally raw, touching upon all the problems and frustrations associated with putting pen to paper. Her writing hums with verve, insight, and sheer talent. Continue reading

Two Great Gothic Finds: And Soon the Song & The Frankenstein Inheritance

Sometimes, I really think I ought to read more slowly. I find myself – and not for the first time – with two books to review in quick succession. In my defence, I’ve been on something of a Gothic fiction reading spree in preparation for my contribution pieces to the Edinburgh eBook Festival 2014 (coming soon, as they say). That entailed reading a lot, and fast. Anyway, on to business . . .

91LNVA4m+NL._SL1500_My first great self-published Gothic fiction find is J.D. Hughes’ And Soon the Song. (Disclosure time: J.D. is an acquaintance, and an occasional visitor to this blog. As always, I’ve tried not to let this influence my evaluation of the book.) Continue reading

Write what you know, or what you love?

advice1There’s a lot of advice for writers out there, some of it very good. Joshua Wolf Shenk’s “Have the courage to write badly” is essential for any writer who doesn’t want to give in to utter despair whilst reading through their first drafts. Harper Lee’s advice to aspiring writers that they would be “wise to develop a thick hide” is more relevant than ever in the age of Amazon and Goodreads. Paul Theroux’s blunt suggestion that young would-be writers should “leave home” makes sense – your parents are unlikely to understand, still less support, your decision to become a writer and starve in a garret, so perhaps you’d do well to cut the apron strings. As for Dorothy Parker’s advice that the greatest favour one could do for wannabe writers was to shoot them while they were still happy – well, we’ve probably all felt like that at one time or another. Continue reading

When Cupid meets the Muse…

This cherubic little fellow has much to answer for...

This cherubic little fellow has much to answer for…

Q: I recently met a man whom I really like. It’s early days, of course, but he’s charming, intelligent, generous, and really quite romantic. Sounds ideal? There’s one teeny, tiny little problem. I think he might be a writer. He hasn’t actually admitted it as yet, but I keep finding him scribbling away in a notebook and tapping at a laptop keyboard, often at some rather inappropriate moments. Yesterday, he talked admiringly – and with a touch of envy, I suspected – about “the supreme fluidity and grace of A.M. Homes’s prose.” What should I do? Continue reading