Thursday, 21 August 2014

The Joy Of Rejection by Jasper Gibson

I have recently read A Bright Moon For Fools, a dark comedy by Jasper Gibson which is perfect for fans of Hunter S. Thompson. It also reminded me of the recent box office hit The Grand Budapest Hotel with our hapless hero, an overweight alcoholic older gentleman called Harry Christmas on the run in Venezuela after committing a crime being chased across the country by a knife wielding maniac. The dark humour is interspersed with the odd flash of disturbing violence and Harry encounters some colourful characters as well as taking on some new guises. There is also some warmth as Harry reminisces about his dead wife and tries to atone for his bad ways. Harry is an articulate and gentlemanly conman with some amusing monologues on what irks him about modern life, or what he calls The Rot. You will end up feeling all sorts of emotions towards him during the course of the novel, but he is certainly a memorable character!

The author Jasper Gibson has very kindly written the feature below for my blog, which highlights the feelings of rejection when your pride and joy is not snapped up with publishers straight away...

The Joy of Rejection

Jasper Gibson

 It was only once I’d finished writing my first novel ‘A Bright Moon For Fools’ that I understood the ancient and mysterious bond between writing and sex: rejection.

Your first rejection, like your first love, is always the most painful. In my case it was doubly so because it wasn’t even from a publisher. It was from my agent.

Recently returned from Caracas, clutching my story about a man called Harry Christmas – part Ignatius P. Reilly, part Jim Royale, part Oliver Reed –crashing around rural Venezuela, unable to get over the death of his wife and getting into serious trouble, I was brimming with pride and excitement.

I’m back!’ I told the agent, ‘It’s taken me three years and now I’m done!’

‘Congratulations!’ he said. ‘Fantastic! Send it to me! Great!’

I never heard from him again.

For five months I left messages and sent emails. Finally I got through to an assistant. Let’s call him Henry. ‘Henry’ I said ‘I’m just calling to see if your boss has read my manuscript yet’ and he said ‘What was your name again?’ and then he said ‘What was the book called again?’ and then he let off a harrumph and sighed. Poor old Henry was having a rather tiresome day.

‘I think I have seen that around somewhere,’ he conceded. ‘Things have been so busy lately – probably the best thing is – why don’t you just send it in again?’

‘Henry,’ I replied ‘have you ever seen a man defecate in his own mouth? Because that’s what you’re going to be able to do once I’ve ripped your spine out! Now find my book and tell him to read it!’ Do you know what Henry said? Nothing. Because that’s not what I said to Henry.

What I said was ‘OK. Um. Right. OK…’ by which time Henry had already hung up the phone, and I was stuffing another manuscript into an jiffy bag so full of self-loathing it didn’t fit into the post box.

Eventually I got another agent and that’s when the real rejections began, the juicy ones, the ones that taste like acceptance for the first two thirds of the email before turning to ashes in your mouth with the word ‘Unfortunately…’.

But, as the saying goes, when one door closes, another one slams in your face.  You remain undeterred. In fact, you get used to rejections. Then you find you quite like them. You’ve absorbed the stories of your favourite writers who were rejected countless times before being published. ‘I knew it.’ you curse as yet another gloomy email arrives. ‘This proves it’s a great novel!’

Now you’ve been driven quite insane. You positively delight in the rejections. You are a veteran. Rejection letters are your war stories. When I finally received an email from Simon & Schuster saying they wanted to publish my book I threw myself back from my desk in horror ‘This is an outrage!’ I thundered. ‘How dare they?’

But that was it. Now revenge will surely be mine. Now I can haunt the aisles of Waterstones and WHSmith, waiting for someone to pick up a copy before I snatch it out of their hands and rubber stamp the word ‘rejected’ on their foreheads. ‘Your fundamental character isn’t likeable enough,’ I’ll say, carefully replacing the book on the shelf. ‘And you won’t appeal to teenagers. Now clear off!’

Thanks to Jasper for taking the time to write this. A Bright Moon For Fools it out now!

Sunday, 3 August 2014

We Are Called To Rise

We Are Called To Rise follows the lives of four residents of Las Vegas in 2008. Avis is a mother and wife, who has had an eventful childhood and has created a more stable adult life for herself, but at the age of 50 plus, everything starts unravelling once again starting with her husband leaving her for a younger woman. Luis is a soldier serving in Iraq coming to terms with the acts of war he has seen and taken part in. Roberta is a voluntary caseworker, giving recommendations of where children should live when their parents split or other heart-breaking situations. Bashkim is a bright eight year old boy of Albanian descent struggling with his American school life and traditional home life. Their seemingly separate and different lives collide in unexpected ways as a result of a series of tragic circumstances, with the author discovering how good people and kind acts counteract the brutality and tragic nature of life.

I loved this book. The author writes of catastrophic acts but never in a sentimental way. This book could easily have been a weepie, but instead she explores how bad things happen to everyone, but we all find the strength and human nature to deal with the impossible and how we should take pleasure in the smallest and simplest happiness in everyday life as well as responsibility for split second decisions which can change or ruin lives forever.

The main four characters are all likeable. Avis is a strong woman who tries to piece together the broken parts of her family including her disabled brother who she shared a troubled childhood with, her son who has returned from Iraq a different man and her daughter-in-law who is having problems in her marriage. She tries her best and gets on things rather than moping when things go wrong. Luis acknowledges his mistakes and tries to make himself a better man and amend his wrongs. He has great difficulty in this, but keeps trying with the support of his doctor and grandmother. Roberta takes the time to speak to everyone in a child’s life to work out the best place for them to live. She is selfless and wants to do as much good as she can but does not come across as worthy or self-righteous. And the most lovable character of the four is brave Bashkim. His story is one that is based on a true story and I felt for him so much, but again he does not wallow in self pity and is an intelligent and sensitive boy loved by his teachers and I was just willing for things to turn out ok for him.
We Are Called To Rise is not a book that I would usually read, but I am so glad I did. Although it is full of disastrous circumstances, it also manages to make you feel positive about life and how the smallest act of kindness or friendliness can make all the difference in daily life.

The King's Curse

The King’s Curse is the final book in Philippa Gregory’s amazing Cousin’s War series. I have really enjoyed all of the novels which gives accounts of the war between the Yorks and Lancasters from the integral women on both sides. It gives a fascinating point of view from each family and you end up rooting for different characters in each one.

The King’s Curse tells the story from the view of Margaret Pole who I have admired in all of the books so far. She had an eventful life born into an infamous and powerful family and was surrounded by tales of murder and deceit. Her mother Isabelle Neville (daughter of the Kingmaker Richard Neville) dies at an early age, her father George, Duke of Clarence was drowned in a barrel of red wine on his brother’s orders and her brother Edward was imprisoned as boy in the Tower of London by Henry VII and executed as young man. This book begins as Margaret is giving birth in the tower just after her brother’s death. Although she is devastated she has to remain part of the court of the current King who ordered the murder of her brother and the queen her beloved cousin Elizabeth  for her survival.

Margaret Pole had a fascinating life, living with the Prince of Wales Arthur and his young Spanish bride Katherine and telling the ultimate lie so that Katherine could still gain the throne once Arthur died by marrying his brother Henry. Margaret supported Katherine during her bleakest times and was given the task of running the household for Princess Mary. During Henry VIII’s reign she was in and out of favour several times and put herself and her beloved sons in real danger by staying a loyal supporter to Katherine and Mary once they were cast aside by Henry.

The King’s Curse is an epic read at over 600 pages long, but it keeps your attention with the combination of loyalty, deceit, scandal, murder and a large cast of historical figures who were all instrumental in changing England and its religion. I particularly enjoyed reading about Margaret’s relationships with Elizabeth, Katherine and Mary as well as her children. I did not realise how close to Henry VIII her sons were and the dangerous game they played in all covertly supporting Katherine. I also enjoyed reading about Bisham Priory and the long-gone Syon Abbey which are both near to where I live. And I always find the Tower of London a fascinating and terrifying place.

The end of the book packs a powerful punch and makes you think about how you would coped in Margaret’s position. I really admire her as a woman who stood up for what she believed in as well as surviving for so long in such dangerous times. This is a well-researched and grippingly written book, The Cousin’s War series has been Philippa Gregory’s best work and I look forward to seeing which period of history she will focus on next.

Friday, 1 August 2014

World War One Literature

I first discovered the power of World War I writing during the second year of my A Level in English Literature. As well as tests and coursework on William Blake, The Handmaid’s Tale and Othello, we had a whole year of reading WWI novels, letters and poetry in preparation for a three hour exam. I was not impressed and moaned in a Kevin the teenager voice ‘but war stories are for boooys!’ I just expected violence and depression about an era I knew little about. We started with reading and studying poetry together as a class beginning with Wilfred Owen’s Dulce Et Decorum Est. We had read this a few years previously and it was the first poem that had made me feel something. And this second time of studying it, really amplified my feelings towards it – shock, anger, revulsion and sadness. It is a powerful poem and one that really captures WWI for me. I really love Wilfred Owen’s poems, they are honest and articulate. He is quoted as saying ‘my subject is war and the pity of war. The poetry is in the pity. All a poet can do is warn’. His poetry shows how he was torn between his revulsion of war against his responsibility to his men. The fact that Owen died a week before the war ended makes his poems all the more poignant.

Wilfred Owen opened up to me a whole world of war-time poets, each with common themes, but varying tones and beliefs. Rupert Brooke died in 1915 before he was even able to fight in the war. His poems are full of patriotic idealism, which is made so apparent in his poem The Soldier – ‘If I should die, think only this of me; that there’s some corner of a foreign field that is forever England’. Issac Rosenberg volunteered to fight despite his views towards the war.
Siegfried Sasson is perhaps the most fascinating WWI poet. His work had a sarcastic, sardonic tone, making fun of the higher ranks. He wrote perhaps the most famous piece of writing during this time – A Soldier’s Declaration – and was promptly declared insane and sent to Craiglockheart Hospital along with shellshocked soliders where he met and became friends with Wilfred Owen. More on this later... It has been announced this week that Cambridge Digital Library will be publishing all of Sassoon’s diaries for the first time to be read online.

The war was the first time that working class men were writing down their feelings through letters, diaries, accounts, poems and even art, sketching their fellow soldiers and surroundings. These were to be either sent home if they survived the censors, to while away the time, or to make sure that they would not forget their comrades. It wasn’t just men who were writing poetry though. Lamplight by May Wedderburn Cannan,about her lover’s death in battle, is one of the most emotive pieces of writing you will ever read.

Apart from the odd extract from a book or letter, we were able to do the rest of the A Level assignment independently, reading as little or as much as we wanted. I started with perhaps the most famous WWI inspired novel of all, Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks. It tells the story of Stephen Wraysford, a young man fighting on the front, his affair with a French woman and years later his granddaughter researching his WWI experiences. I was blown away by the passion, claustrophobia and emotion of the novel and still remember it clearly and have regularly recommended to pretty much everyone!

I soon accumulated a pile of books from my local library and made my way through Strange Meeting, a story of friendship, death and a sense of belonging once the war is over by Susan Hill, All Quiet On The Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque, a German WWI veteran and the Regeneration series by Pat Barker – a brutal trilogy of books about soldiers suffering from shellshock at Craiglockhart Hospital including the friendship between Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon, beginning with Sassoon’s famous declaration. The ‘treatments’ the patients endure such as electric shock treatment are horrific and the fact that nobody understood what they had been through in France was heartbreaking.

My love for WWI fiction has remained and I have read many books, plays, poems and

accounts since. Most recently I have enjoyed My Dear, I Wanted To Tell You by Louisa Young, which is ultimately a love story but also looks at how women’s lives changed at home and how they coped with this in different ways, plus the pioneering plastic surgery used on soldiers by with facial disfigurements. The author’s grandmother helped Dr Gilles at Sidcup Hospital, where she came across a photo of a young soldier with a terrible facial injury which inspired the book. I really recommend this book and you can read my full review here.

A couple of other books which look at women’s lives during the war are Wake by Anna Hope and Citadel by Kate Mosse. Wake revolves around the ceremony of the Unknown Soldier returning from France and three women who are each coming round to the aftershocks of WWI on their respective son, brother and lover. Their lives although seemingly separate are intertwined with tragedy. Citadel is a more brutal look at war in France about an underground cell of resistance fighters headed by brave young women. This is a shocking and violent read which builds to its climax from a light-hearted start. You can read my full review here.

I have most recently read The Lie by Helen Dunmore, which tells the story of a young soldier called Daniel who returns to Cornwall in 1920 to find his only family has died. He is unable to cope with normal life and tells a small lie which escalates towards a heart-wrenching conclusion. Helen Dunmore’s writing is stunning. My full review is here.

To commemorate the 100 year anniversary of WWI I am aiming to read Birdsong once again and also Parade’s End by For Maddox Ford which has been in my to read pile for a while! I will also be reading Sassoon’s dairies online and visiting the poppy display at the Tower of London.