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


Monday, 27 December 2010

The Woman Before Me by Ruth Dugdall

4/5 rating

** spoiler alert **

I was excited to read this novel as I had read some of the author's work on authonomy.com. This book thankfully, lived up to my excitement. I read it in about two days, constantly thinking about the characters and the story, so much that I had to pick it up again and again!

Rose Wilks is a cold and intriguing character. Her story is told in the present but also through her entries in a black notebook, talking about her past, her relationships and the events leading up to the death of her friend's baby, Luke.

The other narrator is Rose's probation officer, Cate. Her character is not likeable at first but I begun to enjoy the alternative perspective - her observations about the other characters in particular (Emma, the mother of the dead child, Emma's current husband, Jason (Rose's partner and Emma's ex-husband), and the other people in the prison environment)). Also, she provides a different perspective of Rose.

Thinking of someone killing a baby on purpose is of course something that most people don't like to think about and the beauty of this novel is that it plays on the desire for Rose to be innocent, when in fact, there seems to be ample evidence to the contrary. And even if she isn't guilty of murdering Luke (which I'm not saying either way), you can argue she is no doubt a troubled individual who has hurt people in other ways and that she is being rightfully punished for some things she has done (stalking, obsession, lying, manipulation). But the question is - should she be released? Has she paid for her crime/s? This is Cate's dilemma and the dilemma of the readers who can only watch the information unfold, toiling with their perceptions of Rose.

A great novel and I'm excited to say that this author has another book forthcoming in 2011. The Woman Before Me is by no means a masterpiece and there could be some fine-tuning of the writing but overall, Dugdall is a very good writer who has constructed a story that I won't forget in a hurry.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

There is more than one way to skin an... author?

Some interesting developments of late. Pearson, the large educational publishers, now want to offer and even award their own degrees. Read more here. In the same week, Curtis Brown, a large literary agency, also want to start a Creative Writing School. And this is what I really want to talk about.

Wow, how strange I thought. You pay £1600 for a 10 week course, have one weekly evening course and a few extra sessions conducted by "leading writers and other publishing professionals". The reward? A critique by someone from Curtis Brown. AND if they like your work you could even be offered representation, at the usual 10-15% commission of course.

The comments on The Bookseller website are enough to show people's lack of support for this idea. In fact, some of the comments are downright angry, including one from a fellow literary agent who writes:

'As a literary agent I am dismayed at this development. Agents should not be taking money from prospective clients up front. It goes against every principle of agenting and will just give agents a bad name. What were you thinking Jonny? Writers pay for the course and then have to give you 6 weeks exclusive option on their work? WOW! Make your money the old fashioned way - earn it!'

Another unimpressed person commented:

'Instead of vanity publishing, we now have vanity agenting! Pay a part-time member of staff's wages for three months and they'll give you an insider's view to publishing. Writers would be better off doing an unpaid internship at a publishing house or literary agent's. Or finding respectable outreach programmes and writer development scemes, such as Inscribe by Peepal Tree Press, Signposts in South Yorkshire, The Writing Squad, etc. Sorry folks, but if you think £1,600 is a shortcut to getting published, and is even worth it, then you're sadly deluded. If agents can't make their money selling authors and their books any more, then I'd seriously doubt the qualifications of said agents to teach anything.'

Gosh - angry or what! But I found myself agreeing with a lot of the comments. For £1600, you would expect a bit more than a weekly evening course. Plus, those extra sessions don't seem to have any weight attached to them and they sensibly don't specify how many you get! It also does seem to be a way of Curtis Brown a) getting authors to come to them instead of actually searching for them (God forbid they do any legwork), and I think this makes me suspicious that they will most likely try to get said 'students' to write in a way that suits them and b) earning themselves some extra money in desperate times by taking advantage of other people's dreams and c) getting long-term commission money in the bag by securing a few writers from the course.

All of these points are not necessarily bad. I think it's obvious and understandable for Curtis Brown to want to make money. However, I think what people are especially upset about is the price tag (you could undertake a certified Masters course at a university for a whole year for around £3000-4000 - with more lectures, support and that small thing at the end of it, hmm - a degree!) and also a feeling that this move is backhanded and unfair (particularly for taking money in advance, which is what agents and publishers are not meant to do - unless it's self-publishing!)

It's definitely a big change for the literary world and I wonder if it is something that other organisations and businesses will begin to do more often, or if this is a one off experiment. Time will tell...

Note about the cartoon: It has nothing to do with my piece really but I thought it was funny!

Friday, 19 November 2010

Authonomy blog piece

Hi all,

Great bit of exposure on the Authonomy.com blog on Friday the 19th Nov. Read the post by pressing on the link: Experiences of being published

Authonomy.com really was a great tool for me after my Masters ended as the feedback was invaluable for improving Ellipsis. I think these types of websites are going to be great moving forward and will certainly highlight a couple of writers here or there who really deserve to be in print!


Sunday, 10 October 2010

exits/origins review by Colin Herd

‘exits/ origins’ by Nikki Dudley

Knives, Forks and Spoons Press 2010

NB: Please note that the formatting of poems is not consistent with the chapbook due to HTML codes!

Knives, Forks and Spoons are an extremely exciting small press, willing to take risks, publishing (and at a steady rate) chapbooks of innovative and experimental poetry. One of their more recent volumes is Nikki Dudley’s exits/origins’, a suite of edgy, restless and, in every sense of the word, uneasy lyrics. According to a short foreword, the poems were composed adhering to “two rules:

1. Don’t close the poems

2. Start with something overheard, seen out and about, repetitive phrases or something I stumbled across by chance.”

As constraints go, of course, these ones are not exactly strict and kill-joy like ‘the rule of threes’ or ‘no heavy-petting in the pool’. In fact, the purpose of these rules seems to be to create a lively, attentive, open compositional mood for both the writer and the reader, much less hard-and-fast than fast-and-loose. Indeed, the poems in ‘exits/origins’ are distinctly freewheeling, lurching urgently and impatiently across the page:


look like umbrellas?

They led us with the lights

of their mobile phones, modern mime

out of an exit wound out of site out of mine

the drone will

continue to burn

why did we stop evolving? ’

A particular strength of Dudley’s collection is her ear for misheard or mangled phrases, such as ‘out of site out of mine’. This technique gives her poems an eery, taut surface, where it feels as though each word could detonate into other words, malapropisms, puns and interpretations. One of my favourite examples in the volume comes from the poem ‘Blood in my/ear’:

‘can you heave me gorgeous? What you say about me?

When you said I’m a chore, only soft rumbles, blood dried

and tested tissue paper wrestling did you

here and now’

Dudley’s focus, even in her most lyrical moments, is squarely on the potential of words to be corrupted, to shift, alter, change, mean something else, or demean another. Her poems take shape from wordplay, a rich textuality where one word seems to trigger the next based on sound or semantic quality. Dudley’s indulgence of what the poet Charles Bernstein has called ‘writing centered on its wordness’ gives her poems their depth, their energy, their humour and their resistance of closure. I don’t mean to suggest, though, that the poems in ‘exits/origins’ are self-indulgently opaque language-games. Far from it. There is an emotional rawness to many of these poems, such as the following example from ‘Did I buy this small notepad because my thoughts are now small?’:

Unused pens are prison bars, only hinting

at freedom when I let

the ink cascade onto paper/ snarling

at the blurry screen until the words revolt/


Dudley’s inventive use of language is still present: the way the words ‘revolt’ and ‘dissolve’ point towards their conspicuously missing triplet ‘resolve’; the pun on ‘pen’ as in ‘prison’, and the conflation of metaphors, pen, ink, computer screen. But here they are in tow to a very real emotional tension between freedom and constraint, the freedom of writing creatively and the constraint of necessary employment. ‘offices, surrounded by pens/ in boxes’, as one poem has it. The same tension exists in the somewhat perverse task of writing poems according to rules, rules specifically designed to maintain a free and open atmosphere in the poems that result.

A couple of the poems in the volume take this dynamic of freedom and constraint even further as their words and letters are corseted or strait-jacketed into textual shapes, a light bulb, a speech bubble and the numerical 2. The awkward spaces between letters and words that are necessary to accommodate the shapes are used to good effect, such as the speech bubble poem, ‘So I’m not speaking English now’, which tails off to a hanging point:

‘that flow together

like chains


I think of this hanging, unresolved point (the mouth, I suppose, the origin (or the exit?) of the speech bubble) as the missing jigsaw piece, and the toe in the swinging saloon door of the poems that was rule number 1. It’s this space, this gap at the origin or exit of the poems that makes Dudley’s collection such a pleasurably disconcerting debut chapbook of poems, well worth the attention it requires.

Monday, 27 September 2010

We are family, I got all my sisters, brothers, mum, dad etc with me...

So although I've titled this blog with an adapted version of a pop song from 1979, what I want to focus on is incest in books! Hmm, not necessarily the type of thing people usually want to discuss at length but lately, I seem to be reading lots of books that include incest...

It's a strange coincidence or is it a more popular trend in books? I am not sure but I felt it was worth discussing. Recently I've been reading Now You're One of Us by Asa Nonami and Invisible by Paul Auster. I have never read Asa Nonami before - it was actually a recommendation from Amazon.co.uk as I'd read a few Japanese authors recently. Paul Auster on the other hand, is one of my favourite authors. Since I read The New York Trilogy, I've been ploughing through his books with the same hunger.

Well, first off, Now You're One of Us. The premise? A young woman marries into a new family and begins to wonder if they aren't just a little too perfect. The house consists of three generations of the same family and although they are lovely to her, she is suspicious of them because one of their neighbours (who is also their tenant) tries to warn her of something and shortly after, dies in a gas explosion, along with his family. A troubling idea simply won't leave the narrators mind and she fights with her affection for the family and the idea that they were somehow involved with the man's death. I don't want to ruin the book at all. However, what troubled me slightly as a reader and what came completely out of the blue in most respects, was incest. And I don't just mean one type of incest. There were many threads here.

I really enjoyed Nonami's writing style. She is succinct, builds mystery well and accurately portrays her narrator's troubled conscience. The ending disappointed me slightly as it didn't seem to flow and the narrator abruptly changed her mind, which seemed a bit unrealistic. Nonetheless, I will be checking out more of Nonami's works.

So onto my next read. Having finished Now You're One of Us, I thought I would delve into an old familiar friend - Paul Auster. My friend brought me his new novel, Invisible, for my birthday. The premise sounded a little bit repetitive of some of his previous works but I started reading, happy to be back in Auster land. Then, out of nowhere - incest! And reasonably graphic incest. I haven't read all of Auster's books but this is definitely a new theme. I was a bit troubled in general as voluntary incest isn't something I would partake in myself (not sure if this needs to be said but I will say it!), but the graphic detail with which this went into was a little unsettling. The incest in Invisible begins as an adolescent experiment which is forgotten for a long period but resurfaces for a six month period when the siblings are much older (although this is later contested and it isn't clear if it actually occured). The love that the brother and sister feel for each other is described well but it is also spiked with Auster's matter-of-fact tone, as well as being presented as a memoir.

It may be because I read the two novels in succession (actually, I am about twenty pages from the end of Invisible) but this overload of incest got me thinking a bit. Is it something that writers are more willing to discuss now? How does the general public feel about this subject? It is really a concern that has always existed, all the way back to the old Oedipus complex but I still find it is a subject which is sometimes hard to confront. I am not sure if enough writers I know have dealt with voluntary incest. Of course, you get a lot of abuse stories but voluntary incest isn't quite as common.

There are a few other books I have read with incestuous relationships. One that particularly sticks in the mind is The Cement Garden by Ian McEwan. It may stick in the mind because it was intertwined with a story about children keeping their dead mother in the house, enjoying a summer without authority and perhaps as a consequence, the two older children indulging in an incestuous relationship. This incest almost makes more sense in terms of the story though, as if the children are trying to recreate some type of parental relationship with each other. In fact, I didn't even remember there was incest in this novel until I searched for some on Google!

The other ten books I found on Google, I hadn't read. Has anyone else read a novel with incest in it and what did you think of it? With me, I know incest occurs in real life, so as with all other things that can happen, I don't think it should be missing from literature.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Not the Booker Prize 2010

Hi all,

A great fun non-prize, Not the Booker Prize 2010, is being fought for on the Guardian blog site. The prize is a lovely Guardian cup!

It is meant to be a bit of an antidote to The Man Booker Prize and aims to highlight forgotten books from the Booker shortlist and also gives less well-known authors a shot.

Some of the nominees so far include:

-Jon McGregor Even the Dogs
-Lee Rourke The Canal
-David Mitchell The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet
-Gerald Woodward Nourishment
-Tom Fletcher The Leaping

There are plenty more. I actually haven't read a lot of these books but am currently reading Even the Dogs. It is enjoyable so far but I am not completely convinced thus far.

I think this is a great opportunity for lesser known authors to get on a longlist and/or shortlist, as they rarely get a chance otherwise. This is why I threw Ellipsis into the hat also!

So if you want to nominate someone you enjoyed reading in the last year and you think deserves more recognition, pop along to the blog and cast your vote. You MUST nominate something this week in order to vote on the longlist when it goes up next week.

Have fun! x

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Ellipsis in PAPERBACK and event

Hi all!

Ellipsis is coming out in PAPERBACK on Sept 27th 2010. Very exciting! You can read more and buy it on the Sparkling Books site. It is £9.99.

I will also be promoting and signing copies of Ellipsis at Finchley Road Waterstone's on October 16th. It's from 2pm-7pm and I'd welcome anyone popping by to see me or grab a copy.

All very exciting and more info soon...


Thursday, 19 August 2010

Taropoetics by Anna McKerrow - review

I was delighted to hear recently that Anna McKerrow was going to have a chapbook published by The Knives, Forks and Spoons Press. Having published her twice in streetcake, I was keen to see more of Anna's writing. I was also curious as to whether the content of her chapbook would be similar to what I have published in streetcake. Turns out, it wasn't. And thankfully, it didn't disappoint.

For Taropoetics, Anna explains at the beginning of her chapbook that the writing process involved consulting five tarot cards shuffled and dealt at random once a week for an entire year. The free-written text was then collated and edited for the chapbook. Inspired by the works of John Cage, Jackson MacLow and Hannah Weiner (if you haven't checked out the mind-bending Clairvoyant Journal, you should!), the influence was quite clear.

The poems; short combinations of words seperated by forward slashes, are very dense. I had to take my time reading them - only devouring a few at a time, before taking a break. However, it doesn't mean I wasn't enjoying them. Quite the opposite, I loved the way they appeared so concrete (like the poetry of Steve McCaffery), yet they were mixed with a certain tenderness. The unusual imagery also reminded me of Maggie O'Sullivan - I'm not going to wax lyrical about these writers- if you want to check them out, then that's great.

So back to the imagery... The images were contradictory, violent, delicate. Some of my favourite sections include:

(13): 'sharp capitals/cut/bring blood through/eye shadow/cheeks sucked in from the top/gaunt fear/list those purple days/soft lashes on bloody barbs/kohl shadow wipe/violet cringe/bloodshot curve...'

(42): 'all my blood for yours/there is nothing left/to give/forgive it all/dim cling to wet coverage/wet walls/thin ground/fire burns surface grass on horizon/dry winds pull above/rakes trails into sand/volcanic space under...'

Sometimes, there is also repetition used in Taropoetics. This in particular adds to the softer moments throughout the chapbook. At first, the format of the poems might seem daunting and you might be tempted to try to fully understand the process behind the poems but please don't - just enjoy the poetry for what it is. Just digest the brilliant images interwoven with language that can be both viscious and tender in the same breath.

Check out more about Anna on her blog

You can buy Anna's chapbook, Taropoetics, for £5 from The Knives, Forks and Spoons Press.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Bookstock event

So Bookstock was last night... A great event organised by The North London Reading Group, of which I am a member of Group 3.

A great line-up of readers.

They included:

Tony Dunn - Comedian, broadcaster and self-confessed book nut Tony Dunn was compère for the night.

Nikki Dudley - (me, obviously!)author of recently published Ellipsis. Has also written a 'chapbook' called exits/origins and co-founded online magazine streetcake.

The Punk and the Princess - punk rocker Bobby Smith appeared with his God fearing, methodist Nigerian wife to tell their story One Love Two Colours: The unlikely marriage of a Punk Rocker & his African Queen.

Penny Rudge - Penny's debut novel Foolish Lessons in Life and Love was published earlier this year.

Leigh Russell - Leigh is the author of crime thrillers featuring DI Geraldine Steel. Last year's debut Cut Short was a runaway success with three reprints in under a year. Recent follow up Road Closed looks set to follow suit.

Rick Senley - Rick is a journalist, photographer and author of ironic Victorian murder mystery Moustache Man - the Deadly Whiskers.

Willesden Green Writers Group - Creative writing collective the Willesden Green Writers Group has published several award-winning anthologies. In What We Were Thinking Just Before The End, Brixton-based and Bridport Poetry Prize-shortlisted Lee Webber contibuted haikus, whilst bushy-beared and Arts Council-funded Bilal Ghafoor gave accounts of his time and travels in Pakinstan. Lily Hyde is a childen's author who has travelled around Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union for the past 10 years.

Here's a video of me reading the first chapter from Ellipsis...

It went quite well overall. I liked seeing the varied range of authors. I particularly enjoyed hearing some poetry from Lee Webber and Bilal Ghafoor's travel accounts were rather strange and interesting - not the usual stuff you hear about and also a very honest account it seemed.

I even sold a book to someone I didn't know so it was worth it just for that. I hope they enjoy it!

Anyway, great event and I hope the North London Reading Group do some more.


Friday, 16 July 2010

My chapbook, exits/origins, has been published by The Knives, Forks and Spoons Press! It can be bought from their website for £5 and there are some other great writers on there.

It's all very exciting and I hope you all enjoy reading it!


Saturday, 3 July 2010

Chapbook coming out this month!

Hi all,

I'm very excited as a lovely press called 'Knives, Forks and Spoons Press' are going to publish my chapbook, exits/origins.

They have also published some other great writers, including Anna McKerrow, Alex Davies, Ryan Ormonde AND LOTS MORE! Do check them out and buy a couple if possible.

More information soon!


Saturday, 12 June 2010

Bookstock event on 31st July

Announcing Bookstock - Sat 31 July

The North London Reading Group has taken over a pub in central London on Saturday 31 July for our very first literary evening - Bookstock!

Eight very varied local authors will be reading, performing and discussing their works in a beautiful Edwardian room in the Blue Posts pub in W1. In between there will be comedy, competitions, reasonably priced beverages (courtesy of Mr. Samuel Smith), and plenty of socialising and book swapping.

The line up currently includes:

* Crime author Leigh Russell
* Nikki Dudley
* Clive Brasnett
* Bobby the Punk
* Rick Senley
* Lee Webber, Bilal Ghafor and Clare Sandling of the Willesden Green Writers' Group

Download a flyer (PDF, 513KB)

Whether you are a member of one of the 10 North London Reading Groups, a hanger on, somebody looking to join a book group, or just fancy a bit of literary action, make sure you join us — the entertainment kicks off at 7:30 at The Blue Posts, 81 Newman Street, W1T 3EU.

Tickets are just £5 in advance (or £6 on the door).

Friday, 4 June 2010

New interview on Editorial Training site!

Hi all,

here's a link to a little interivew on Editorial Training website.

A great site by the way. Here's a little blurb about them:

They provide training in editorial skills, to people who work onall kinds of publications, whether as freelance or as in-house publishing staff. They do long, short and distance learning courses.


Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Ellipsis launch at the Camden Arts Centre - the verdict

So, the launch has now taken place and Ellipsis is officially released into the world. Here's my overview of how the night went, should anyone wish to know or other authors find it useful...

1) Getting everyone and everything there

Luckily, I knew the books had arrived in advance as I checked with the Camden Arts Centre in advance. One less thing to worry about... Next thing was arranging the drop off of glasses, napkins, wine and other items which didn't need refrigerating. This went suprisingly well, but perhaps because my mum is so organised! After this came the inevitable drop outs on the day. I wasn't too concerned. I'd invited around 140 people and around 80 said they were coming, which meant a few last minute drop outs wasn't too upsetting. Most suprising was my brother and sister-in-law turning up all the way from Ireland!

2) Signing books

I think I spent around 70% of my night doing this! It may be because I didn't want anyone to miss out on a customised and personal message though, so damn myself for being so meticulous! It was a good idea to pre-sign, with the option of adding a personal message on top though, and most people went for this. It meant they could carry their book around with them, which seemed to make them happy! I managed personal messages in about 40 books, with some additional ones being made the next day, when I wasn't hyperventilating... My family were nice enough to wait in an orderly queue, although I felt a bit bad about that, I guess they were most likely to demand less of me at a time like that!

3) The reading

The venue was booked from 6.45 for 2 hours. Suddenly at nearly 8pm I though, ah! I'd better read something! Full speed ahead. A quick intro from my publishers, Sparkling Books, and then straight in. I told a little story regarding 'The Boy Stood on the Burning Deck', which my dad has made into a rhyme over the years and said it was the reason for me being a writer! Luckily, it had the desired effect and got people smiling and chuckling a little. After this, I chose 3 chapters. I have 2 narrators so I chose one for each of them, and one where they were together in a chapter. They seemed to go down well and people were listening. I remembered to speak slowly, despite my hands shaking mercilessly, because if you're going to do something like that, you may as well do it right! After that, the mood was lightened with an Ellipsis giveaway. I used first and last lines of chapters, plus chapter headings, to do the raffle. Prizes were very small chocolates but people seemed to appreciate it! After a lovely impulsive message from my boyfriend, Joe, my publisher closed proceedings and I invited everyone to the pub!

4) The closing

It was a great feeling having people come up to me at the end and say they were excited to read the book, the launch went well, or some still asking for last minute personal messages! I think my family, Joe's family, Joe and other helpful friends did us proud. The event was a huge success. Books were sold, people were smiling, apparently the food and wine were great (I didn't get to sample either until the next day!), and people seemed genuinely interested in the book and me as a writer.

A few days before the launch, I kept getting a poem in my head. A lot of people will know it: When I have fears by John Keats. Here it is for those who don't know it or want to be reminded...

When I have fears that I may cease to be

Before my pen has glean'd my teeming brain,

Before high piled books, in charact'ry,

Hold like rich garners the full-ripen'd grain;

When I behold, upon the night's starr'd face,

Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,

And think that I may never live to trace

Their shadows, with the magic hand of chance;

And when I feel, fair creature of an hour!

That I shall never look upon thee more,

Never have relish in the faery power

Of unreflecting love;—then on the shore

Of the wide world I stand alone, and think,

Till Love and Fame to nothingness do sink.

Thinking about this poem, I feel quite happy. Keats spent all his time worrying about not being able to achieve his goals before the end of his life (when he did actually achieve some without realising!) and here I am at twenty-four, having achieved a goal I never thought I would! No showing off here, just surprise and appreciation that I'm lucky enough to have something in print at this age, whether it sells well or not.

All in all, a great event and things are still going well. Some online reviews, a local paper mention in the next week, and I'm working on the rest. Slow progress but definitely progress...

Thanks to all for your contribution to the launch - I just hope you all enjoyed it as much as I did!

I hope you all enjoy the photos too, I think we got some great ones!!!

Nikki x

PS: Any requests for photos, I can send them over... Email me.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Interview featured on website

I have an interview on the Essential Writers site. Some interesting questions asked and answered here:

EW interview

Thanks to Judy Darley for supporting Ellipsis!

Latest review of Ellipsis

Hi all,

latest link to a review for Ellipsis:

Sam Ruddock - Books, Time and Silence (Same review posted at: Vulpes Libris)



Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Favourite First Lines- the answers!

Right, here are the answers for my first lines competition. Not too many guesses but still, here it goes...

1) It was love at first sight. The first time Yossarian saw the chaplain he fell madly in love with him. - Catch 22 by Joseph Heller

2) The beginning is simple to mark. - Enduring Love by Ian McEwan

3) If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. - Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

4) The gunman is useless.I know it. He knows it. The whole bank knows it. - I am the Messenger by Markus Zusak

5) If I had smoked, it might have been easier. - A Matter of Death and Live by Andrey Kurkov

6) On November 11, 1997, Veronika decided that the moment to kill herself had-at last!-arrived. - Veronika Decides to Die by Paulo Coelho

7) It was a wrong number that started it, the telephone ringing three times in the dead of night, and the voice on the other end asking for someone he was not. -The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster

8) One day in August a man disappeared. - The Woman in the Dunes by Kobo Abe

9) When the phone rang I was in the kitchen, boiling a potful of spaghetti and whistling along to and FM broadcast of the overture to Rossini’s “The Thieving Magpie,” which has to be the perfect music for cooking pasta. - The Wind-up Bird Chronicles by Haruki Murakami

10) 124 was spiteful. Full of a baby’s venom. - Beloved by Toni Morrison

11) I am telling you this just the way it went/ with all the details I remember as they were,/ and including the parts I'm not sure about. - Make Lemonade by Virginia Euwer Wolff

So, which ones did you get? And what are your favourites?

N x

Friday, 30 April 2010

Favourite first lines

As a reader, what I really love is a great first line, or more accurately, a good first few lines. It isn't always done. For example, one of my favourite books, The Great Gatsby, doesn't have a particularly good first line at all. It is:

'In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I've been turning over in my mind ever since. "Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone," he told me, "just remember that all the people in this world haven't had the advantages that you've had."'

Not groundbreaking by any means. Based solely on that small extract, it doesn't seem like a book I would want to delve into but luckily, the first chapter sees to that! A bit of a cliche, but the image of Gatsby reaching out for that light in the distance is still amazing in my opinion.

But back to it!

Here is a list of some of my favourite first lines, and I've tried to also choose ones which I think have followed it up with a brilliant rest of the novel too! I'm not going to say where they are from. Perhaps some of you can guess? Maybe I should get a little prize for the person who gets most of them right, without cheating!

1) It was love at first sight. The first time Yossarian saw the chaplain he fell madly in love with him.

2) The beginning is simple to mark.

3) If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.

4) The gunman is useless.I know it. He knows it. The whole bank knows it.

5) If I had smoked, it might have been easier.

6) On November 11, 1997, Veronika decided that the moment to kill herself had-at last!-arrived.

7) It was a wrong number that started it, the telephone ringing three times in the dead of night, and the voice on the other end asking for someone he was not.

8) One day in August a man disappeared.

9) When the phone rang I was in the kitchen, boiling a potful of spaghetti and whistling along to and FM broadcast of the overture to Rossini’s “The Thieving Magpie,” which has to be the perfect music for cooking pasta.

10) 124 was spiteful. Full of a baby’s venom.

11) I am telling you this just the way it went/ with all the details I remember as they were,/ and including the parts I'm not sure about.

So there are just a few first lines I like. Some of them are fairly simple but it's just the ones that may me want to read on and find out what they're talking about or ones that have a real impact as they are so sharp, or funny, or ambiguous.

Right, so are there any guesses? I'll post the answers in a few days time, for all those who are curious!

N x

ps: I will have to publish comments after the list is up so people can't see any potential right answers!

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

First review of Ellipsis

My first review of Ellipsis is now available on the following blog:

Follow the thread

It's generally very positive and I think he enjoyed the read. There's a few minor criticisms but that's to be expected. Overall, very happy with it and look forward to more reviews soon!


Monday, 26 April 2010

Publication day!

"Right on time," Daniel Mansen mouths to Alice as she pushes him to his death. Haunted by these words, Alice becomes obsessed with discovering how a man she didn't know could predict her actions. On the day of the funeral, Daniel's cousin, Thom, finds a piece of paper in Daniel's room detailing the exact time and place of his death.

As Thom and Alice both search for answers, they become knotted together in a story of obsession, hidden truths and the gaps in everyday life that can destroy or save a person.

Ellipsis is a disturbing thriller stemming from what is left unsaid, what bounces around in the mind and evaporates when trying to remember. Can there be a conclusion when no-one seems to know the truth?

So today is the big day. April 26th 2010 is the day my first novel is officially released. I'm feeling a few things...

a sense of achievement. Even if this doesn't go as well as I might hope, I've still had a novel published before the age of 25. Not to be sniffed at...

nervous. Ellipsis isn't really mine anymore. It belongs to the readers now and I can only hope they enjoy reading it as much as I did writing it.

thankful. My friends and family have been amazing. As well as that, some people I don't even know or hardly know have been supporting Ellipsis.

When I read a good book, I get so absorbed that I forget time and think about what might happen when I'm forced to do other things. It's a tall order but I hope someone feels that way about Ellipsis.

Well, let the feedback begin...


Friday, 16 April 2010

Roehampton University support Ellipsis!

My lovely old unviersity, where I did my BA and MA have posted a little interview with me.


Although a little corny perhaps, I wouldn't have written my novel without Roehampton University. My Masters in particular got me writing fiction properly and taught me how to feel confident about my work. Also, having to take criticisms from about 20 people was tough but useful. Roehampton has been great to me and I'm glad I chose to go there.


Thursday, 15 April 2010

etcetera blogzine - one of my poems published!

One of my poems, 'Hi all!', has been published on the blogzine, etcetera.

Visit them here and give it a read: http://etceterart.blogspot.com/

Etcetera's aim is to foster a critical-creative, supportive community in which as-of-yet unpublished writers can display their work to an interested and receptive audience, where you can write reviews and articles about pretty much whatever you like providing they are engaging and original, where literature can merge with music, interviews and art.

Good to see another new exciting venture up and running.

wordPLAY May 4th event details

The Good Ship on May 4th

wordPLAY brings you minty-fresh new verse, prose and other spoken wordy goings-on in a chilled and refreshingly-rather-different monthly variety showcase

John Osborne
http://johnosbornepoet.blogspot.com/ - a firm favourite from the wordPLAY launch back by very popular demand, John is back, reading from his new book 'The Newsagent's Window'

Catherine Martindale
http://www.myspace.com/poeticat - Catherine Martindale has performed spoken word poetry for 4 years, receiving high acclaim for her honest, thought-provoking, and comic take on urban life in West London.

Bronagh Fegan
http://nestgallery.blogspot.com/2010/02/bronagh-fegan.html - stunning new writing from this fast-rising star of the scene

Chris Horton
http://christopherhorton.blogspot.com/ - wordPLAY was gutted not to host Chris in Jan 2010 due to illness...hurrah, this wonderful poet is finally gonna do the gig after all!

Liz Adams returns by popular demand, this time with beautiful prose that has delightful echoes of her wordPLAY-fave poetry

Ray Morgan
http://www.myspace.com/raypoetry- works her dry wit to wondrous effect in her observational and witty poems

Music: Verity Flecknell

Becca is your host - some say she's nocturnal...others say she just can't remember if she left her sunglasses in Sheffield or not...

Doors 7pm for 8pm start

Entry: £4.50 / £3.50 guest list/concessions

We love you so much wondrous wordPLAYers...please help us keep bringing you quality spoken word and musical greatness in one of the most chilled out and laid back atmospheres in town by coming to see us on 4th May! Spread the word...

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

I just blogged to say...

The power of blogging, tweeting and author websites is really getting some press now. Today, the shortlist for the Author Blog Awards was announced, which includes several writers. The aim of the award is to 'recognise and highlight the writers who use their blogs to connect with readers in the most imaginative, engaging and inspiring ways'. Here's the shortlist below:

Author Blog Awards

I had a look on some of the shortlisted sites and the main thing that struck me was that what seemed to be the key to success was regular updates and replying to comments/readers. Obvious, you may be thinking. Well yes. But you would think popular sites may also include fancy technology or some innovative getup. This list merely emphasizes to me that communication is one of the main drivers behind gathering interest and in effect, sales/popularity! People no longer want their favourite authors or celebrities to be quite so unreachable. They want to be able to send them a quick message or hear from a direct avenue what's going on with them, be able to give feedback on a post/tweet.

And publishers too, are keen that any new author they take on is committed to building up an online following. The power of the internet is shocking. It doesn't always work, granted, but when it does, it can create a phenomenon. Look at some obvious examples- Arctic Monkeys, The Girl With the One Track Mind, sites like Authonomy and CompletelyNovel that find exciting new reads, Stephen Fry's tweeting and how just recently he had a run in with a rude fan, and so on. There are lots of examples but sadly I don't have the greatest memory!

The internet is a fascinating thing. No one can quite predict where it will go next. Like Chinese whispers, if you put something out there, it may just get passed on and grow and mutate, creating a wave. Or it may only pass onto the select few and stay there. It all just depends who sees it, who passes it on, who's talking about it. These awards are a great example of the power of sharing and being willing to put some time in. 15,000 people voted for over 500 blogs. That's a pretty impressive number in itself and it's good to see some of the top blogs/sites and tweeters getting some recognition. We could learn something from them, that's for sure.

The results will be annouced at LBF. I wonder who shall be crowned winner...

wordPLAY event at The Good Ship

Last night, I did my very first reading for Ellipsis, at wordPLAY. It's held at The Good Ship in Kilburn, a suitably quirky pub. Readers were: KATE TEMPEST, HOLLY HOWITT, VILE ELECTRODES, NIA DAVIES, NIKKI DUDLEY, MEGHAN PURVIS

There were some great readings. I particularly enjoyed Meghan Purvis' poetry, which was both amusing and descriptive. Holly Howitt had some innovative flash fiction which was surprising at times. More interesting poetry from Nia Davies, along with a bit of Lily Allen style music from Vile Electrodes. And finally, Kate Tempest stormed the room with some passionate performance poetry (including a 12 minute one!)

All it all, it went pretty well. People were listening to my reading and I got a few compliments after, which was great. Nice audience actually, clapped in all the right places and were supportive to all the acts. Hopefully they liked the sound of Ellipsis and some of them look out for it.

Next event, Brighton Festival OPEN HOUSE on May 1st and 2nd. As some of you may know, Ellipsis is now being published on APRIL 26TH, so this will be my first event after publication! It will hopefully be very exciting and would be good to see some people there. After all, who can resist a day by the sea?

All the best, ND x

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Helpless- Barbara Gowdy (book group for March)

Rating: ** and a half stars.

So Helpless by Barbara Gowdy... Where to start? It's a novel that was hotly contested when read out on Radio 4 some time ago and from reading the premise I could see why. Hard to sum up but Helpless it is basically a novel with several narrators, one of whom is a single mother, Celia, struggling to cope with bringing up her young daughter; another is her nine-year-old daughter, Rachael; another is a man, Ron, who becomes infatuated with Rachael; and another is Ron's partner, Nancy. There are also other narrators who pop up now and again, namely Celia and Rachael's landlord, Mika. The numerous narrators do not seem to have any kind of structure, in terms of when they show up, which seems to be a flaw of the entire novel. There is a lack of conviction throughout in many ways, which I shall expand on slightly later...

I found this an uncomfortable read at first. Celia and Rachael were focussed on in terms of Celia's struggle to bring up Rachael as a single mother and her multiple jobs. Luckily for them, Mika barely takes any money from them for letting them live in his house. Mika is apparently a gay sesitive man, who just happens to be very generous. Sadly, he isn't developed very much. Rachael is fascinated with finding her biological father- apparently a black architect from New York. This means that every time she meets someone black, she asks if they're from New York, and if they are, she asks if they know her father. This sub-plot again unfortunately goes nowhere...

Ron enters the story. He sees Rachael singing at her mother's club (which is one of her part-time jobs) and starts watching her. He believes she is being mistreated, talking himself into the fact that Mika is a paedophile, although in reality, the paedophile is actually him. We meet his girlfriend, Nancy; an ex-drug addict who still smokes cannabis. She seems utterly devoted to Ron at first but these feelings seem easily overturned. She has no inkling of Ron's illness, which we see developed through flashbacks from the past of after his mother's death when his father invited a woman and her child to stay with them. As a teenager, Ron became attracted to this younger child. Ron remembers this girl forever and when he sees Rachael for the first time, his feelings are transferred onto her.

What was uncomfortable about the read was the suggestion. This may be the main thing that Gowdy did well. Ron's attraction to Rachael was disturbing as he constantly seemed to want to impress her and entice her, as though she were a potential mate, rather than a nine-year-old child. He takes her away from her mother and Mika, locks her up, tries to provide her with what he thinks she wants and expects that in time, she will grow to love him. He imagines that eventually she will sit on his lap, perhaps kiss him on the lips etc... I think what disturbed me was the thought process that perhaps he could essentially 'woo' a child into doing inappropriate things with him and treat this as normal. It would almost be less disturbing if he merely acted out his paedophelia, rather than expect a child to somehow fall in love with him.

What was irritating about this novel was some of the plot choices and strange twists in the plot that came out of nowhere, most notably they mention an idea about 'slave drivers' who wanted to collect children like Rachael and kidnap them to Africa. This is brought up, most ironically, when she is locked up at Ron's house. Rachel confronts someone she thinks is one and Ron apparently 'saves' her. After this, she starts to feel affection for him, wanting him to join in with activities and wanting him around. Nancy begins to feel threatened by this (she has aided Rachael beforehand, i.e.: letting Celia know that Rachael is still alive). I found Rachael's sudden intense fear and change of heart, re: Ron, very unbelievable. She has hated him, quite rightly, as he has kidnapped her and he makes her feel frightened. And suddenly, she decides that he's her hero?

All of the characters and plot seemed half developed. I wanted it to change but I did feel unconvinced by a lot of it at the end. Mika- what are his motives and why isn't he seen as a proper suspect in the investigation? Ron- is he an evil paedophile or is he just someone who wants to help Rachael, combined with misplaced sexual feelings? Nancy- does she realise Ron is paedophile or is she blinded by love? Rachael- is she an intelligent and confident young girl who loves her mother or is she a completely naive and easily persuaded little girl? If Gowdy had made just one of these decisions, I might've been convinced by this book. But alas, I felt like I had read an entire novel of half-thoughts, half-ideas and half-developed characters. I wanted to care, I really did... I'm not a horrible person, I just didn't feel like I had a significant connection with any of the characters.

Generally, my book group agreed with this verdict. We all read it as quickly as possible, not out of pleasure, but because we wanted to read something else rather than this uncomfortable, awkward novel. Perhaps this is what Gowdy intended, so perhaps she was successful in her aims. I am just judging this as an average reader and that's all I can do!

Monday, 15 March 2010

streetcake issue 10 now live!

Check out the latest issue of streetcake, the magazine for innovative, visual and experimental writing...


Writers this issue include: Ashley Bovan, Kerri Buley, Trini Decombe, Nikki Dudley, Juli Jana and Tony Rickaby.

Monday, 8 March 2010

Launch party for Ellipsis

Hello all,

here's the launch info. Let me know if you want to pop along...

Sparkling Books and Nikki Dudley invite you to the launch of Nikki’s debut novel, Ellipsis.
Date: Sat 15th May
Time: 6.45-8.45pm
Venue: Café, Camden Arts Centre, Arkwright Road, London, NW3 6DG
Nearest stations: Finchley Road, Swiss Cottage, Finchley Road and Frognal.
Parking at O2 centre.
Please RSVP via this link: http://sparklingbooks.ning.com/events/launch-of-ellipsis or simply email: nikkisdudley@hotmail.co.uk and let me know if you wish to bring a guest/guests.

Sunday, 7 March 2010

My latest book group read...

Here's a review by The Guardian on my latest book group book. I am currently finishing the novel and finding myself agreeing with the majority of this review. My own thoughts to follow...


by Barbara Gowdy

The tragic case of Madeleine McCann can only invest a novel about child abduction with a freshly vivid sense of horror. For all its page-turning professionalism, Helpless, a tautly plotted but unnerving psychological thriller that leaves the reader feeling decidedly sullied, is not an easy read.

The novel has had a mixed reception in the US and in Gowdy's native Canada, where critics are either discomfited or admire this daring attempt to imbue the psyche of a child abductor with shades of grey. Known for inhabiting the minds of unorthodox protagonists - a herd of elephants and a female necrophiliac have previously starred - Gowdy has further tested limits in her exploration of the vulnerability of a child-stalking kidnapper.

Rachel Fox, a preternaturally beautiful nine-year-old, is being brought up in shabby but loving poverty by her single mother, Celia. Rachel attracts attention wherever she goes: innocent admirers, model scouts and paedophiles alike appear to turn their gaze towards this girl. Celia is forced to take evening work in a piano bar where she occasionally allows Rachel to join her performance, while their beloved gay landlord Mika acts as a childminding substitute for the father Rachel has never known but longs to meet.

In the meantime, we are introduced to the unpleasantly nerdy Ron, small appliances repairman and beer-bellied loner, who cruises the streets of Toronto eyeing up young girls. One day he spots Rachel. "Yes, he said to himself, something happened. I fell in love. Only as he thought it did he realise it was true. A ripple of terror went through him ... he began to see himself for what he was: a man gearing up for suffering."

The lulling switch of focus between Ron and Rachel in Gowdy's controlled, rhythmic prose creates a slow-burning tension and plot progression that is persuasive and entirely sinister. Ron begins to convert the basement of his home into a girl's bedroom, battles his inner demons yet awaits his chance while promising his baby-hungry girlfriend that they will adopt a child. Opportunity arrives when a phone and electricity blackout hits the city, causing Rachel to run out for help, straight into the arms of the waiting Ron. He imprisons her in the Barbie-strewn basement, complete with colonial style doll's house and window bars (a ready-made cinematic feature if ever there was one), persuades his girlfriend that he has saved the child from a molesting landlord, and hides out as the alarm is raised. In his warped mental world, he presents the kidnap as a rescue.

Events follow a by now horribly familiar pattern of police procedure and media hysteria: forensic teams arrive, DNA samples and hard drives are taken, news conferences and road blocks are set up, and the story soon dominates the airwaves. While Celia and Rachel descend into their own versions of hell and signs of Stockholm syndrome stir, Ron swings between justification, doubt and desire, and keeps Rachel's knickers in his pocket. With references to "her quivering little form", "her thin brown arms, the insect-like hinge of her elbows, her prancing step", the prose takes on a nightmarish hue. Tying her up to kidnap her is, according to Ron, "like taping a doll".

Society would barely countenance a male author writing like this: he would run the risk of being labelled a crazed pervert. This leap of the imagination by a female writer may be more tolerable; but though it's courageous, and though Ron's awareness of the "line" not to be crossed remains, there are passages that slip into the gratuitously disturbing.

Like Humbert Humbert and his "initial girl-child", the motherless Ron had fallen disastrously for his eight-year-old stepsister in boyhood. By airing the roots of his predilections, Gowdy, like so many post-Freudian authors before her, insists on a psychologically driven series of actions that are not always as subtle as they're meant to be to a readership thoroughly conversant with notions of youthful trauma and arrested development. Although never specifically ordered to sympathise with the "hostile and chubby" Ron, we are clearly meant to understand him to some degree, yet he remains both physically and morally repugnant.

The novel throws up many issues. Such dubious territory, for example, should arguably not be navigated in what is essentially entertainment. But, on the other hand, the prose masterpiece that is Lolita would never have been written without considerable boundary-breaking. Helpless, however, is more reminiscent of Stephen King than of Nabokov. There's a strange sense here that Gowdy has both held back and stepped too far. Being propelled through this skilful but unpleasant page-turner leaves the reader with a distinct feeling of being stalked.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

One of my latest poems

Hi all, one of my latest poems if you fancy a read. None of the poems have titles lately. They're part of a collection called exits/origins. I only have two rules; 1) start with something random (i.e.: something overheard, a repeated phrase in my mind, a page in a book, something heard when flicking TV channels etc etc) and 2) don't have a closed ending. I seem to have a tendency to close poems so I've been trying to force myself not to.


“The sky is turning itself
in side, out,”
you said

and the cars were barriers to our escape.

The sky flapped like a (bird) caught in

my mouth tasted like blood

as I looked up to check: turning/ plastic bodies rolling over.

EYE IMAGINE the what are, what are you looking

at stranglers? Please hold my hand.

“It scares me,” you said, flipping an eye shut/ drive towards

Ex- but don’t, please don’t, let the tyres scream

Won’t jump out/hold on

Won’t jump on/hold out

Want to wake up in the darkness and know you’re a life, or is it beating, beating fortune?


Wednesday, 10 February 2010

"Right on time..."

Hi all,

I have my first two events for Ellipsis sorted out! Very exciting and scary. I will need to practice my public speaking, eeek...

Here's the info:


Readers: Nikki Dudley, Kate Tempest, others TBC
Price: £4.50/£3.50 concessions
Date: Tuesday, 06 April 2010
Time: 19:00 - 23:00
Location: The Good Ship, 289 Kilburn High Rd, NW6 7JR
Email: wordplaylondon@hotmail.co.uk

Brighton Festival (Open House)

David Williams - Acrylic Paintings, Giclee Prints and Cards. Michelle Dawson - Seaside Prints. Sally Meyer - Abstract Paintings. Rosina Beech - Jewellery. Jo Renshaw - Photography. Rowena Gilbert - Ceramics. Tony Gray - Found Object Sculpture. Also Amanda Sington-Williams reads from her new novel ‘The Eloquence of Desire’ and Nikki Dudley reads from her new novel ‘Ellipsis'.
Date: May 1st and 2nd
Time: 3pm both days
Location: 8 Southdown Avenue, Brighton BN1 6EG

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Time to share again...

Hi all,

it's been a while. I've been so busy at the start of this year that I haven't been as friendly as I should have! Happy new year to all the readers of this blog!

One thing I have been doing lots of is reading, so here's a run down on my 2010 books so far (including Christmas 2009 reads):

The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
- *** stars

'Instantly the spirit of hell awoke in me and raged...I was suddenly struck through the heart by a cold thrill of terror.'

I have been meaning to read more classics and this Christmas, I decided to be pro-active and request a few. This was my first venture into classics for a while. A nice short one to begin with and one which delves straight in with a violent encounter within the first few pages- a mysterious and huge hulk of a man stamps over a young girl in the street.

A novel filled with a lot of heresay, misinformation and most of all, a vagueness of identity. A lawyer who is a good friend of Dr Jekyll is concerned when his friend decrees in his will that all his possessions be left to a Mr Hyde, in the event of his death or prolonged absence. The lawyer takes it on himself to find out why his friend would make such a request, when none of the people around him seem to know who this mysterious man, Mr Hyde, is. Meanwhile, Mr Hyde begins to pop up more and more often, his actions becoming more and more aggressive.

It ends up being a race against time to save Dr Jekyll from the grips of his murderous acquaintance. However, what the lawyer doesn't realise, is that Dr Jekyll is hiding a secret that will astound him and everyone else.

Although I enjoyed the contrast of the two characters here, I found that I wasn't that close to any of the characters. And although Dr Jekyll finally reveals his secret to his friend, I wonder why and how he stumbled upon his discovery. Although it's clear he continues to use his secret because of his freedom to act and do as he wishes, seemingly without repercussions. However, I never found out why a man who obviously has good social standing and education, wanted to create a formula to make himself into a monster in the first place.

The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle *** and a half stars

“‘Snap goes our third thread, and we end where we began....I tell you, Watson, this time we have got a foe man who is worthy of our steel.’”

Sherlock Holmes to me is always a swashbuckling ride of gentlemen, clever criminals and a lot of humour. The dynamic between Watson and Holmes is always amusing, with Watson constantly being undermined, even though Holmes obviously respects him. Watson is almost the reader, stumbling through the narrative trying to make sense, whilst Holmes is the writer who knows all the answers but wants you to find them on your own.

What's refreshing about this novel is that Holmes is faced with a seemingly supernatural force, a 'hound' who stalks the moors and in particular, seeks to either kill or frighten the Baskerville family from the home they reside in on the moors.

The landscape undoubtedly hangs throughout the narrative: haunting, foggy and cloudy- the sign of a good writer knowing how to convey the scene. Doyle can sometimes overwrite but I think this is more a sign of the time in which it was written.

Holmes is thoroughly amusing with his observations and habits. He seems to always be about thirty steps ahead of the other characters and readers, which can be amusing or very irritating. What I think he really represents is the ideal detective, one who is a gentleman, rational, and almost always right. His flaws are that he is also rather arrogant, he makes others feel incredibly stupid (particularly Watson, who in this novel is upset that his diary entries are worthless as Holmes seems to already know everything), and no matter how ridiculous the outcome, he always seems to have guessed it already.

I may be a modern reader but part of me hoped Holmes might screw up, just once...

Nonetheless, an interesting read with a good plot. The hound and the moors are truly scary and dismal prospects, portrayed well. The characters are generally believable, although the villain of the piece is a little far fetched- having the power to manipulate several women to extremem lengths, being able to control a crazy hound, having a long-winded back story of going abroad and discovering secrets about his family history which prompts him to plot an equally long-winded revenge ... You might be a good villain but really...

The Ruined Map by Kobo Abe- ** and a half stars

Having just read The Woman in the Dunes, I speedily checked this out of the library. Although potentially a good premise: a private investigator searches for the husband of a strange woman, the novel disappointed me.

The characters had great promise - a strangely cold, slightly drunk and inactive woman as the wife, an investigator who feels no one is ever looking for him, a 'brother' of the wife who is shady in more ways than one, and a sad clerk who lies compulsively about the missing husband and things in his own life. However, they left me unsatisfied.

What I found mainly though is that although I wanted to uncover the story, I had no idea what was going on! Dialogue is often unmarked and starts out of nowhere, I had no idea where the characters were and how they got there and I had no idea what the main character was really doing. I am disappointed as The Woman in the Dunes was so exciting because I was easily able to become enthralled. However, this is a hard read. Perhaps it is the translation, I am not sure.

However, I still see the promise and I'll be checking out his other novels.

Reef by Romesh Gunesekera
- *** stars

I recently read Monkfish Moon, a collection of short stories by the same writer. I like the way he uses language so brutally, conveying strange lands and lives I have never experienced in an accessible but fascinating way. Reading the short stories, I yearned for them not to finish so quickly, having only just begun to feel settled.

Then onto Reef... Triton, a young boy is thrown into the life of Mister Salgado, a wealthy marine biologist, both living in Sri Lanka. The story mainly follows Triton's growth from odd jobs boy to master chef. His descriptions of food and his obvious pride are both endearing and a little boring at times, depending on their length. The relationship between he and Mister Salgado though, is fascinating and complex. The fact that Mister Salgado doesn't like to eat in front of others is an example of the jarring in their relationship with a simple issue like this- Triton loves food and wants to show it off at every opportunity and Mister Salgado wants to keep it private and quiet.

Some of the political issues are not as well explained as I would like but there is a sense of trouble brewing throughout. I think the element of marine life and the sea is meant to be a symbolic representation of the country being overthrown by water, as it is later overthrown by violence, but this isn't always as clear as it should be either.

I think the character of Nili really rejuvenates the story about a third of the way through. One of my major issues is that Triton barely leaves the house and therefore doesn't develop any kind of relationship with others who do not visit the house, particularly women. I guess the suggestion is that he does so in England, later in the novel.

Overall, I enjoyed the read. I only took two sittings to read it. Triton is likeable, Mister Salgado a complex fellow, Nili, endearing and a little controversial. The story is also interesting and written well. As I said, I guess my main qualm is the isolation in terms of Triton and sometimes the discussion between Mister Salgado and his friends, which aren't always clear to an outsider. Still one of the better novels I have read for a long time and a good writer I hope to read more of.

Next novel: Wuthering Heights


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