A blog by Nikki Dudley about the gaps in everyday life...


Tuesday, 29 December 2009

The countdown begins!

My novel is now on my publisher's site, Sparkling Books with all the relevant info.

People can pre-order from Waterstones and Amazon, so it's all getting very exciting!

Proof copy has been received. It looks amazing and can't wait to see it with the full cover and all last amends completed.

Only 15 weeks to go!!!

Thursday, 17 December 2009

The Woman in the Dunes by Kobo Abe for Book Group in Jan 2010

First off, four stars out of five. Secondly, I have found a new writer of which I wish to grab all of the work of and see if it is as good or dare I say, improves even...

In three words, I would sum up this novel as succinct, creative and suffocating. Hmm, I know what you're thinking, 'suffocating' is not a particularly positive word. But I mean it in that you can't stop reading because as you do, the description keeps hitting you over and over, hardly giving you time to breathe. And equally the presence of sand in the novel, all around the characters, in their food and drink, on their bodies, creates a sense of suffocation at all points.

Yet, although the premise of an insect collector being imprisoned in a sand pit, seems in some senses depressing and perhaps boring, Abe really makes sure that it is neither.

So to the beginning but without ruining too much of the novel: we meet Niki Jumpei, an insect collector who has impulsively decided to visit some sand dunes somewhere in Japan to find insects, specifically sand beetles. By nightfall, desperately needing a place to stay, he ends up deep in a sand pit, seemingly offered hospitality by a woman who lives in a deteriorating house at the bottom. By morning, the ladder to freedom has been taken away and so begins Niki's fascination and hate for his imprisonment.

What was interesting was that the protagonist, Niki, came to the dunes because he had a fascination with sand initially. He talks about how it 'flows' around the world and it's 1/8 of a millimeter size. And in the novel, the sand does flow through it and it does seem to get into the smallest places. As you read, you can almost feel the sand on your skin, grating at you as it does Niki. His initial fascination soon becomes questioned by the woman he lives with in the dunes, who has lived with sand in a completely different way to him- it doesn't flow for her, it weights heavy on her body, her home, everything she owns. Sand for the woman destroys her possessions, soils food, killed her husband and child.

Niki is educated about sand and a new way of life. Yet he schemes constantly, trying to find his escape. Yet almost like a case of Stockholm syndrome, Niki eventually finds comfort in the woman. If anything, he seems to be more attached to her than she is as Niki constantly notes her lack of sincerity. It almost seems she is merely desperate to have a man in the pit with her to help her clear the sand.

Some may have found the minute detail in this novel a bit too liberally spread but I found them exciting to read. I became submerged in the claustrophobic sandy landscape and Niki's turmoil.

Most interesting was that the exact thing that Niki wanted throughout the novel becomes meaningless. Although some may call this obvious, I still enjoyed this. When the ladder is finally returned and left unattended, what does Niki do? It leaves the readers with a few questions: what happens when you finally obtain the unobtainable? And what happens when you see the world from another perspective and it changes your priorities?

A fantastic read for fans of succinct and alternative fiction. If you like unusual descriptions and facing a situation completely different to your own (I hope!), this may just be the read for you...

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Do you have any ID?

So Christmas is fast approaching and some children's books will be seeing a whole new era of age banding. Yet, not all publishers are opting in, as this article from The Bookseller below points out.

Bookseller article: Age guidance divides trade as first Christmas approaches

The scheme will see age bands put onto the back of books, to show which children 'should' be reading them. This was put into place by some publishers after research by the Publishers Association (PA) showed that parents and gift buyers found it difficult to select age-appropriate books for children.

Hmm, what a reason...

I find myself on the side of some of the publishers who have failed to take on the scheme, for example Bloomsbury and Usborne. Also, many high profile authors are also against the scheme, such as Phillip Pullman, Anne Fine, Darren Shan, to name a few.

Although this scheme will of course make it easier for parents and gift buyers to choose age appropriate books (although it is beyond me why they can't look at the shelf headers in bookshops- they usually have age ranges), I feel this scheme is bad in two ways: 1) some children have a lower reading level than their age group and having age banded books will lower self-esteem and leave them open to ridcule, and 2) some children read above their reading age and although this may not seem something to be ashamed of, can lead to alienation and feeling self conscious.

As I a child, myself and a friend of mine had higher reading levels than some of our peers and it did create some tension. Some of the other children noted that we were reading above our reading age and with branding, I just feel it's an unneccesary addition, making this all the more obvious. Similarly, someone else I know had difficulty with reading and writing, always being far behind other children. I'm sure it's difficult enough when you are behind others and you have to get through the simpler books before you can progress. Therefore, should there be an age band making the child conscious of how far behind they are, just to please parents and gift buyers?

Not only for children's esteem, authors have also complained that age banding will mean certain age groups are excluded from reading their work. Children will feel less able to identify with certain characters if they have an age in mind when reading. Often, authors leave the age of their protagonist out for this very reason. Also, books often cross over between children, teen and adult genres. Readers are a mixed bag so why do we need more categories!?

I can see some of the benefits I suppose- it can be difficult shopping for a child in bookshops. Yet I feel that is what the staff and the visual pointers are there for. I'd much rather have a bit of hard work shopping to save the children of tomorrow feeling ashamed or conscious when reading.

Perhaps above all out of this, someone should've asked the kids?!

More information on age banding can be found here


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