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

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Thursday, 10 November 2011

I'm back and poetic...

Hi everyone,

I apologise for my terrible absence from my blog. I have been adjusting to life in a new city - Madrid - and attempting to be a teacher! It is going very well - I make less mistakes, I know a few Spanish words and the city is brilliant!


Me and a lovely view in Madrid!


I have also finally begun to write again so here are a few recent poems, some my usual style and one a little more traditional in style perhaps. I hope you enjoy them!

1.

Ayuda – if I calling you, please

me / answer someone
something

Take notes: I is trying
grows into? A people a persons
no childs, no more.

For example, in my case I carry
tols, no, tools
of land gu age – (quicker) – language
like sandwich.

Can you under-stand me?
Can you over-stand me?

Poe-hams are losing, poe hams are lost in….
I going to be learning about
this, there there, can you love

me is difficult, I nose it. Don’t need
to speak me, no, I look it with
own –

Fuck, lost in a word. How you
say lost
in a word?

Finding me is
__________
__________
__________
__________

2.

I’ll keep these pieces of you
just in case you can’t make
it back. I’ll scatter them
around the house like leaves that no one
picks up. They are pages of a book nowhere definite.
They will just float around and seem
to disappear

At night, I’ll give life to your laugh, flesh
to your soft hands. I promise. When
everyone else has put you to rest, you will
linger in my life like the jarring
smell of cut grass, not always obvious but when I stop,
I’ll feel you there.

I won’t let anyone take these pieces, no matter
what happened between us. I’ll fly you
at half-mast. I’ll put a photo on the pin board that
won’t ever be replaced. As long as
I remember my own name and yours, I promise.

All the stories and the half-truths in those last days or weeks
won’t be lost – I’ll pick through those threads
and make something for you.
Wherever you’re going, you won’t ask
me to take you home again.
You won’t ask me to take you home.

See you in the walls. See you by the toaster when
I’m still foggy with sleep.
See you, even though you lost
the pieces that make you somewhere
behind those eyes.

Somewhere is Iris.

3. (to be published in the forthcoming issue of 'streetcake')


The whirled is dan generous
- I could make a home but
home won’t forgive.

Don’t wannah loose threads, don’t need
to re-invert – still
think about chile hood in the hood is
where I love.

Missing sum – think! Equations
are more easy, more easy
than pies and mash.

I root my words in cool her, can you
still see
me, por favor.

The streets. Streaks of light darkness,
bow tea full sky.

Don’t you
Don’t it
Forget the about

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

I just blogged to say I love you...

Hello lovely blog readers,

I am afraid I will not be online much for the next month. I am currently doing an intensive 4 week CELTA course in Madrid. I hope you will come back in October when hopefully I will be posting more comments, reviews and writing!

Until then, hasta pronto (see you soon!)

Nikki x

Saturday, 16 July 2011

SNEAK PREVIEW: Second novel, Semblance

Hi all,

Here are the first two chapters of my second novel, Semblance. It is a sequel to my debut novel, Ellipsis. However, I want it to also be a stand-alone novel so hopefully I have included all the details that are needed for this to happen.

Anyway, most importantly, I hope people enjoy it! If you have any comments, do let me know. I'd love to hear whatever you have to say.

Enjoy!

p.s.: Apologies for any formatting issues - blogger has it's own rules!

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

PART 1


Chapter 1 / 0.5 days


22:32

As if losing Daniel wasn’t enough. Yet, we cold’ve could’ve moved on. We could have pretended we were all okay. But now Thom is hurt and he might even die. It feels so wrong to write that.


Why am I writing anything at all? That’s why I think things have changed, as though somewhere inside of me, I know I will need to look back at these notes one day and remember the moment when our family changed forever.


The waiting room is cold. The tea in his hands has hardly helped at all. It is tepid at best and stone cold at worst.


10:45 pm. He’s been in and out of this room for three hours, taking time to check on Thom, take a piss and talk to Mum in the corridor. He has been alone for most of the time, wondering if Thom will pull through.


A stab wound to the stomach – that’s a lot of blood lost. And beyond that, his cousin seems to have suffered something so traumatic that he can’t even begin to understand it. What led Thom to do it? And can they ever bring him back?


It isn’t unexpected, he supposes. Daniel throwing himself in front of that train six weeks ago shocked them all. Richard hasn’t even had time to think about it properly, and now Thom has hurt himself, leaving him to pick up Mum. How can his family be in such ruins?


Suddenly, Richard is not alone anymore. A man comes in and introduces himself as Michael. He doesn’t even knock. He just walks in as if it’s a decent time to disturb someone’s thoughts. Richard has never met the guy before. He is a sensible looking man with an uncomfortable fuzz of stubble. Richard guesses he hasn’t allowed himself not to shave in a very long time.


He explains he is Alice’s brother. Richard asks him who Alice is and he says, “Sarah”.

So, he has been right not to trust her. She had been staying in their house for the last four weeks or so, with Thom defending her more and more as time went on, and now he is being told she lied about her name, she has been ill for a long time, she is sorry for lying to them all.


And most of all, Thom is missing.


Who the hell cares about that strange woman or what she decides to call herself if Thom is missing? She is only important if she was involved with the stabbing, which isn’t bloody unlikely.


Michael seems genuinely concerned. He says he can’t find Alice either. Maybe they’re together? He asks Richard, as though he might know.


“Look, I don’t have a clue. I need to find Thom.” He shrugs off Michael’s questions. What a waste of time it is standing in this dark room with the brother of that liar.


Yet as Richard reaches the door, there’s a knock. He opens it and sees a policeman standing there.


“Richard Mansen?” he says, reading from his notepad.


“Yes,” he agrees, still pulling his jacket on. It’s cold outside and Richard guesses that if everyone still can’t find the injured Thom in the hospital, he must’ve made a run for it.


“I’m sorry but I need to look for Thom,” he pushes past the officer.


“Mr Mansen, that’s our job,” the man tells him, almost sulkily.


Richard turns back to him. “Well, you’re not doing that too well are you?”


He continues down the corridor, wondering where to start.


He supposes he shouldn’t have been so dismissive of the policeman but since Daniel’s death, he’s found himself a little more suspicious of them in general. They’d taken ages to follow up after his death and even then, they just said something like ‘open and shut case’. Daniel was just some suicidal loser to them.


Although, it is clear now that it wasn’t ‘open and shut’. There is a reason that Thom decided to turn a knife into himself in that room with Sarah, or Alice, if that’s the name she wants to go by these days. He’d suggested as much to Thom when they’d last seen him and argued about the strange way he was acting. Now he is missing and Richard will never get to apologise for asking him to leave.


Losing his brother and cousin in the space of six weeks – what a pile of shit. And now he has to be some kind of detective, does he?


He looks around the floor that Thom was on but finds nothing. There are a few nurses rushing around, clearly panicked that they have lost one of their patients. Richard ignores them and moves on. He goes downstairs in the lift, which seems to take forever with patients transferring in and out, and finally arrives in the lobby.


Outside, he walks up and down in front of the entrance, pacing. Nothing. He walks around the drop off bays, avoiding the ambulances pulling in. Nothing. He walks between the cars in the car park and only finds Michael again. He is cradling the woman he calls Alice, the one who Thom trusted more than perhaps he trusted Richard before he disappeared.


He wonders if she could’ve tried to kill Thom. Is she crying out of guilt or loss? Whatever happened before, seeing her being heaved upwards by her brother makes him sure that she has no idea where Thom is now. He quickly turns away and pulls his collar up before they can recognise him, walking back towards the hospital.


It is only when he stands in the entrance watching an ambulance pull up without sirens or lights that he realises. In his mind, he believes that Thom is already dead.


Chapter 2 Yellow bruises


I have no idea about you when I leave the hospital.


Thom is gone and this is all I am thinking about, struggling towards the car, leaning on Michael. I am cold, so cold I can’t feel my fingers anymore. Even the bandages make no difference.


I guess you hardly exist yet. In the days and weeks to come, you will start to grow and I’ll realise that I have to be sane again. It shouldn’t be as easy as that but when the Doctor tells me the news one month later, it feels that easy. Sanity – yes. Madness – no.


In the car driving back from the hospital, Michael asks me whether I love Thom. I look across at him, tears still burning my eyes, whispering, “I never told him.”


It isn’t a yes but it answers the question.


Michael doesn’t ask me about Thom after this journey. He only brings him up when he has too, usually when I do. Generally, he tries to blank out the man who nearly broke his nose, who accused him of being a rapist because of my lie, who was on the verge of killing his sister in that bed sit. He doesn’t think I deserved to die, yet he is wrong. I don’t say it though. I never want to tell him about Daniel and how his eyes stared straight through me when I pushed him in front of that train.


“Michael, can I stay with you for a while?” I ask him as he stops at the lights.


He smiles, sleepily. “Ali, don’t be stupid,” he scolds me playfully, squeezing my knee. I have an urge to tell him to call me ‘Sarah’ again but I realise it will never work. He will always call me Alice or Ali. I can’t reinvent myself, even though I believed I could whilst I stayed at the Mansen house.


“Michael, I’m sorry about everything,” I say quietly.


“What are you sorry for?” He glances over but has to look back at the road quickly.


“For what happened with Thom. Your nose. The horrible incident today.”


“Look, I’m just glad you didn’t get hurt…” Michael’s voice wavers.


I don’t deserve this unconditional love at all. He should feel angry at me, for the past two years – about Mum, the times in the hospital, how I lied to him and ran away from him, how I put my obsessions with Thom and Daniel first.


“I should’ve been the one,” I admit, biting my lip.


“What?” Michael nearly drops his hands for a moment but remembers he’s supposed to be driving and instantly grabs the wheel tight again. “What are you talking about?”


“I should’ve gotten hurt, not Thom.” I start sobbing again. I cry myself to sleep for about two weeks after I lose Thom. This is only the beginning.


Michael pulls over to the kerb and stops the car. He turns to me, his features seemingly bursting out of his face as though he no longer has control of them. His eyes are bulging, his mouth hanging open, his cheeks flushed with red. The bruises around his face are only slightly yellow now and you can barely see them unless you know what happened. Yet, I can see them. And possibly I will never be able to see his face without them.


Although, his yellow bruises also remind me of the moment we found each other again. Amidst all the madness and confusion, we were together again, as brother and sister. I think it’s that moment that seals it. My new colour will be yellow. I will try to keep away from red – the colour that made me follow Daniel and push him to his death.


It’s worth a try anyway.


“Don’t you ever say that…” he takes my bandaged hands and squeezes them, adding “okay?”


I bite my lip at the pain but don’t say anything. I stare into his face through the blistering of tears and feel myself nodding, although I don’t agree.


“You are my sister and I love you, Ali. We can take care of each other now,” he reassures me. He kisses my damaged hands like a rejected suitor. I pull them away from him, clasping them together weakly in my lap.


“I don’t know what’s going to happen,” I moan.


The windows are misting up from the heat and the tears in this tiny space. What I mean to say is ‘I don’t know what to do with the rest of my life’. No Mum, no Thom, no memories. I have lost myself in the obsession and madness. How can I build something out of the shards of the human I once was?


“We’ll sort something out,” Michael looks towards the windshield as rain starts to plummet onto it, and then faces me again, “together.” What a beautiful word. Together. I had believed Thom and I would be together only a short time ago and now I am alone and Thom is lost in the infinite possibilities of London or maybe the UK, the world, or death even…


But I am not alone really. There is Michael. And there is you.


Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Review of Ellipsis on Spinetingler Mag site



A great review of Ellipsis, written by Michael Lipkin (writer and editor of Noir Journal) was featured on the Spinetingler Mag website today. They also feature an interview with me!

Here is the copy (WARNING - contains some spoilers!):

Reviewed by Michael Lipkin

Ellipsis begins on a London train platform, as an unidentified narrator stares at a man near the track . . .

“I chose him because of the red scarf.

“My palms sweat. Dirt from the wall is smudged across them and slithers in the folds. There is a faint smell of kebab in the air and an excited murmur moving down the platform like Chinese whispers. I wonder how distorted the message will be by the time it reaches my end.

“Can you hear it too, Mum? Do you think they’re whispering about me?”

In these few lines, Dudley offers a striking symbolic image—the red scarf, artistically-crafted creepiness, and a hyperrealism that pulls the reader into the scene—suspended among precise details, suspended in time, fidgety about what might happen next.

The narrator, the reader learns, has been stalking this man for weeks. Slowly, it becomes clear that he or she will push the man in front of the train.

“The clock says 15:32 as casually as ever but it secretly signals to me: this is the correct time.”

The slow hyperrealism continues, details and flowing metaphors keeping the reader on edge.

“It is the scarf that ensnared me . . . . It is a snake that has coiled around my attention and shot its venom into my blood.”

The train approaches. The narrator’s “chest implodes,” and his or her “body springs alive.”

Next follow 23 lines, each a short sentence, each separated by a space—a poem suspended in time. An eternity passes . . . .

Step forward.

Peer into dark.

Wind hisses at hot skin . . . .

The train arrives. The man mouths the words “Right on time.” The demented narrator pushes . . .

Was the man speaking to the narrator?

And that’s just the first chapter, five pages.

Next the scene shifts to an insurance office, the narration to third person.

Thom Mansen is an empty man, on the phone all day telling customers why their housing insurance doesn’t cover some mishap. The job provides what Thom needs—a script to guide him though life.

Suddenly, Thom gets a phone call. His cousin Daniel is dead, hit by a train. Thom immediately feels guilty that he never really got to know Daniel. Yet he remembers that his cousin was mysterious, difficult to know.

Daniel is not exactly Thom’s cousin, though. When Thom was twelve, his own parents were killed in a car accident. He was adopted by his Aunty Val, who had two sons: Daniel (Thom’s age to the day) and Richard (a few years older).

So why does Thom still call her “Aunty Val” and refer to Daniel and Richard as “cousins” instead of “brothers”?

As the chapters and alternating narratives tightly interlock, readers learn that the stalker/pusher is an attractive young woman with dark curly hair, who was recently in a mental hospital after her own mother (“Mum”) had died.

It becomes clear that this story of murder and mystery also has within it the parallel and ironic stories of two dysfunctional, crumbling families.

The young woman (whose name is really Alice but uses the name Sarah) is haunted by the thought that she knew Daniel and that he wanted her to push him in front of the train. Yet her mind is clouded—she can’t remember. Obviously a delusion. Or is it?

The story has two unlikely detectives searching for the truth of Daniel’s life and death—Thom and Sarah, the killer herself.

Dudley’s plot ensnares the reader more deeply as Sarah attends Daniel’s funeral. Little by little she gets to know the family, soon even living with them on the pretense that she is behind on her own rent. And she innocently gets Thom to fall in love with her.

Then Thom discovers a jolting clue—a brief note left by Daniel with the exact time and place of his death. Did Daniel know he would die in front of that train at that moment?

Thom and Sarah separately begin to find more clues, all consciously left by Daniel.

Sarah thinks:

“[W]as Daniel a genius who left behind an unsolvable puzzle? Or was he simply an ordinary man who wanted to die?”

Ellipsis is not a story of action. It plays out through characters’ dramatic discoveries, thoughts, and conversations. Yet the slow-paced hyperrealism creates as much mystery and suspense as any fight scene or shoot-out.

A character, about to explain a startling new development, may become conscious of her breathing or of the details of the peeling paint on a wall, leaving the reader’s heart stopped, wondering what will be revealed next.

Wondering–because in this story, people, events, relationships are not what they seem. Startling discoveries and revelations dramatically shift readers’ thoughts and expectations.

“You know why he jumped?” Thom asks sternly. Aunty Val blinks for several seconds, her lips taut and dry. It is so silent Thom can hear her swallowing; it is the loud and elongated sound of fluid squeezing through a tight pipe.

Dudley is a poet as well as a novelist. She uses her skill as a poet to weave the tight fabric of this story—not just with hyperrealism, but with metaphors that come to life, powerful symbols, subtle foreshadowing, and parallel events and images.

In fact, the book deserves a second read—to see more deeply into the foreshadowing, symbolism, parallelism—or whatever else—the reader may have missed in the first reading.

There is a moment toward the end of the story when one character’s shocking revelations become a bit complex, slightly like part of a soap opera. But by this point, Dudley and the story have built enough credibility to absorb this moment; and the new knowledge smoothly blends into the story’s unexpected, enigmatic conclusion.

Perhaps Dudley has forewarned the reader of the nature of the conclusion in an earlier description of Daniel.

“He is like that book, The Catcher in the Rye, because after you’ve read it cover to cover, you’re not really sure what happened when someone asks you years later.”

But readers need not be put off by the enigma of the book. It’s a tale that will keep them wondering, gasping, thinking, smiling, grimacing, rereading. What more can a reader ask for?

Monday, 20 June 2011

Latest book reviews




Hi everyone,

I can't write long reviews but here are my brief thoughts on my latest reads...

Dance, Dance, Dance (Haruki Murakami)

As strange and surreal as ever, this novel follows a man's fascination with an old hotel and all of the weird personalities he meets along the way. More menacing and tragic than some of his other novels (bar Norwegian Wood for the tragic aspect) - very enjoyable. Some characters really funny, great wit throughout and a complex web of emotions that simmer quietly to the surface.
My rating: ****

If You're Reading This, It's Too Late (Pseudonymous Bosch)

A YA book I read after reading the first in the series at work. It was fun but didn't seem as well crafted as the first novel (The Name of This Book is a Secret). The author pops into the narrative throughout which is an interesting element and something I think a lot of teenagers will enjoy.
My rating: ** and a half


Chaos Walking Trilogy (Patrick Ness)

Hard to sum up all three books here. So much happens! Although some of the world that Ness chooses to set his novel sometimes isn't described particularly vividly, the trilogy is still a fantastic exciting set of reads! The characters are the main aspect to be enjoyed - I found Todd annoying at times but he grows up a lot throughout the trilogy and he has some complexities that are explored well. Viola was more of a favourite for me and I enjoyed watching their relationship attempt to survive in a time of war, betrayal, terrorism, death and struggle. The Mayor is a chilling and frustrating character and the development of him and some of the other characters is also well done. The representation of noise throughout the book is brilliant - often highlighted by varying fonts, bigger fonts and scribbles across the page! A great set of books and I hope he writes some more YA books.
My rating: **** and a half for the trilogy!

A Matter of Death and Life (Andrey Kurkov) - Reread for Book Group.

This book is so short, it barely takes a few hours to read. I have read it a few times before but really enjoyed it once again! Kurkov's minimalist style is taken to the extreme here in terms of the character and the shortness of the novel! The premise is very darkly humorous - the narrator hiring a hit man to kill him to make him seem more interesting (at least in death!) Great stuff and much recommended.
My rating: ****

Strangers (Taichi Yamada)

I read this book some time ago but it has really stuck with me. A recent divorcee lives an anonymous life in a quiet apartment block. One day however, he meets his parents, long since dead. They appear the age they were when he last saw them. Overcome with emotion and nostalgia, he can't help visiting them. He also starts a relationship with his mysterious downstairs neighbour. As his health deteriorates, he realises he must escape the supernatural world he has been mingling with. But all is not as it seems with his parents or his new love. A great eerie novel!
My rating: *** and a half

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Novel number 2 - the state of play

Hello all,

I will be posting some book reviews soon but for now, just a hello from me.

Novel number 2, also known as Semblance is now complete. I have gone through and picked out the annoying things I do without realising, for example writing a lot of 'as though' and 'as if' etc. There is also a strong time line in this novel so I have had to check all of it is as accurate as it can be but this may still need work...

I think I found Semblance almost harder to write than my debut, Ellipsis. As Semblance is a sequel, I am worried how people will respond to the characters. One is also the first person narrator in the first novel, so that's not so much of an issue. It's the second character, Richard, who appears in the third person narration, that worries me. As he appeared in Ellipsis as a more minor character, it's hard to know what people will think of him stepping up to a more major part in the sequel.

I have given Semblance to my first reader and await feedback. Once plot inconsistencies or any overall comments are dealt with, I can then get down to the proper editing. I am thinking of enlisting friends who work in editing or potentially a freelance editor. This is yet to be decided...

Now I have finished my second novel, I've found an idea playing on my mind for a while coming to the forefront of my mind. Novel number 3 looks set to begin soon. The problem is I'm such a perfectionist that I want the beginning to come to me straight away when in fact it's best if I just start writing and refine it later. I think I'll force myself as I do when I'm in the throes of a novel and feel stuck or when I haven't written a poem for a while. It's best to write something than nothing.

I've realised I am quite preoccupied with the human mind - how fragile it can be, how it can't always be trusted, how it adapts or fails to adapt. Ellipsis was marketed as a 'psychological thriller' - and I realise just how much now that I wouldn't have been happy with it without 'psychological' being included. Despite it being linked to criminality, being fast-paced overall, wrapped in mystery - I didn't want readers to ignore the elements that also dealt with the human mind.

I suppose every author has their preoccupations. And it seems I have found mine.

What's yours? Who are your favourite authors and what do they seem obsessed with?

Right that's enough from me... Reviews of my latest reads soon!

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Book Review - The Ferris Wheel by Frederick Morel


*small spoiler alert*

The Ferris Wheel is a crazy ride into the main character, Paul's, mind. There are three parts interwoven - New York, Conneticut and a fair ground, featuring the said Ferris Wheel of the title.

The narrator isn't particularly warm but I found myself intrigued to find out where he was going and where he was from. The lack of chronology meant I was struggling throughout to place the narrator somewhere, much like he struggled to place himself anywhere. This is NOT a criticism however!

I ended up speeding through this book. It was so raw and unforgiving - the Ferris Wheel was almost a haunting monument throughout the book, obviously linked to the narrator's relationship with his parents, which is never quite resolved. The New York scenes were filled with youthful hopes, thoughts and situations. In contrast, Conneticut is where he tries to make a 'normal' life and then tries to escape that life.

What was so interesting was I was trying to find something to latch onto throughout but what came through the most was a sense of apathy and unreliability - was any of it real? Which parts? Did the narrator go to New York at all? Is the Ferris Wheel a real memory that he looks back on? Where does he end up? Who did he really meet and who did he imagine?

So many questions. The sign of a good book. Plus, it's still fresh in my mind a few weeks later.

Bravo Frederick, great stuff! Look forward to the next novel!

Thursday, 31 March 2011

How NOT to respond to a bad book review

Hi all,

There's been some recent controversy about this review and response on Twitter. The co-editor of my online mag, streetcake, sent this on to me. It made me laugh a lot!

Read the review of The Greek Seaman by Jacqueline Howett on the Big Al's Books and Pals blog - pay particular attention the the comments below the post. The author gets just a little bit irate...

Also, see the reviewers follow up blog about negative reviews

I'm really glad I didn't do anything like this when people reviewed Ellipsis. I might've been a little upset by a few comments made about my novel but it's best to just take them in your stride, not go on the blog/site and attack the reviewer that's for sure!!! All of it is lessons learned for the next novel, not something to cry yourself to sleep about.

Hope you enjoy the blog posts! It gave me a giggle x

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Do you read 50 books per year???


So Michael Gove has now told us that children should be reading 50 books per year.

Despite putting up tuition fees and slashing funding to local councils (hence libraries and other public services), Michael Gove had this to say:

“One of the biggest problems in the English state education system is that only a minority can follow an academic education and that only a minority can go to university. Quite wrong. Our expectations have been too low for too long. The aspiration for someone to read 50 books a year isn’t from a school in the poshest part of Manhattan where they are all going to have bound copies of CS Lewis, this is a school where 83 per cent of the kids are on the equivalent of free school meals, but they still expect them to read 50 books a year.”

Hmm, thanks Michael. Although I think it is a good thing if anyone promotes more reading, I think this idea doesn't really take into account the varying interests of people. Perhaps a child won't read 50 books per year but is achieving high marks in science, or maths, geography, or on their apprenticeship course. And what if they read but the books they choose are not deemed the 'right' type of book i.e.: graphic novels, non-fiction, biography? Also, what if a person prefers to read comics, magazines, newspapers or online articles?

Gove's suggestions of authors includes: JK Rowling, CS Lewis, Philip Pullman, Kenneth Grahame, Rosemary Sutcliff, Alan Garner and Ursula Le Guin.

I have only read Rowling, Lewis and Pullman. I have however, read a lot of books in my life. And as a child/teenager, I probably wouldn't have been any cause for concern for Mr Gove. However, do I really read 50 books per year?

It got me thinking... So here is all I can remember reading in the last year (not including newspapers, magazines etc. I will however include poetry collections, which are usually shorter than fiction novels!)

1. Little Women
2. Pigeon English
3. Comedy in a Minor Key
4. The Sign of Four (Sherlock Holmes)
5. The Hunter
6. The Devil's Whisper
7. How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe
8. Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk
9. The Woman Before Me
10. Ellipsis (several times!!!)
11. The Killer Inside Me
12. Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman
13. Norwegian Wood
14. Taropoetics (poetry)
15. Strangers
16. Unhooking the Moon
17. No and Me
18. Farewell, My Lovely
19. Now You're One of Us
20. Invisible
21. In the Country of Last Things
22. Wuthering Heights
23. The Music of Chance
24. Light Boxes
25. Crime and Punishment
26. Past Continuous
27. The Book Thief
28. After the Quake
29. Like (poetry)
30. Y chromosomes (poetry)
31. The Art of Racing in the Rain
32. The Unbearable Lightness of Being
33. 253
34. Helpless
35. Even the Dogs
36. Prop (poetry)
37. High Performance (poetry)
38. Cutting Movement (poetry)
39. What a Carve Up!
40. Vox
41. I am the Messenger
42. The Ruined Map
43. Zygal: A book of mysteries and translations (poetry)
44. Coconut Unlimited
45. A Short History of Tractors in Ukranian.

...That's all I can think of actually!

I also re-read and started these other books:

1. Hunting Unicorns (re-read)
2. Howl and other poems (re-read)
3. The Satanic Verses (unfinished)
4. Last Exit to Brooklyn (unfinished)
5. Ghost Stories of M R James (unfinished)

So according to Michael Gove, I don't meet his targets! There may well be a few books I have completely forgotten but overall, this is quite a comprehensive list. I think it would be a struggle to read 50 books a year as I feel like I've read a lot as it is!

So, how many books have you read this year?

Thursday, 17 March 2011

A hello from Nikki - writing update

I just realised I haven't written anything on here for a month. Not good!

Although, I would love to write something more structured, I have quite a lot going on, so I am just writing a quick update. The main issue is that life just gets in the way - netball, Spanish lessons, writing in snatches, a trip to Birmingham, meeting up with people, illness and work!

I have been desperate to get on with writing the sequel to Ellipsis, with the working title Semblance. I am tantalisingly close to the end. It is currently 80,000 words (5,000 words more than Ellipsis was) and looks set to grow even further. Perhaps editing will cut a little off at the end.

Overall, I am happy with Semblance. I do have a few gripes that I need to fix.

A) Is the first part too slow in pace? Do I need to cut it down? Do the differentiating chapters from the two perspectives work?

B) Are the characters narrating, Richard and Alice, true to the way they were represented in the last novel? Obviously there is more intimate detail here but is it realistic? Also, I don't want Richard's narration to be too similar to Thom's in Ellipsis. Although they are related, I want them to have different voices.

C) Does the ending come too quickly? It seems like I am suddenly at the end and I want to be sure the build up is realistic and gives enough backing for the dramatic ending.

These are things I am sure I will figure out, particularly when I give it to a few select readers to consider. Luckily I know some people in publishing who hopefully will be keen readers and most of all - be honest with me!

One thing I really want for Semblance is much tighter editing. Particularly I want to spot errors and also, some reviewers for Ellipsis mentioned my descriptions as something which hampered the pace of the novel. It didn't seem that I used too much, more that the ones I did use were rather dense and heavy, hence putting them all together in a row made it slower in their eyes. I want to make sure I am even more succinct this time. Although, I do write how I write, and I wouldn't want to alter it too much just because of a few reviews.

Anyway, I am already thinking about my third novel, which I imagine must be a good thing. This must mean I feel like Semblance is doing well, like a child ready to be independent or something... Ideally, I will get back to writing poetry too. Lately, it's been focused mainly on death (not as morbid as it seems, I promise...) and to be fair, there's only so much you can write about that issue!

Any budding writers out there, any tips for editing your novel well? Despite having one novel out there, I still feel I have a lot to learn.

Until next time, hasta luego...

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

February book reviews




The Sign of Four
by Arthur Conan Doyle / *** stars

I fancied some good old crime fiction so I turned to Mr Doyle. This novel was short and starts off with Holmes and Watson having some good banter at the start. Holmes is taking drugs and telling Watson that the only thing that can surpass his addiction is the excitement of a puzzling case.

Enter: beautiful young woman with some pearls and a mysterious note... Watson is smitten almost immediately. This side-story didn't particularly interest me, especially as it didn't seem quite plausible. Either way, there is definitely an enigmatic case set up. The young woman's father was killed some years ago and for the last eighteen years or so, she has been receiving one pearl in the post per year. She believes these are connected. And now she has received a note to ask her to meet at a location that night with someone she doesn't know.

What to do? Well, of course Holmes and Watson are drawn right in. After another murder, things take a drastic turn and pull Holmes and Watson even further into an intriguing case which has something to do with lost treasure, a mysterious sign left on the bodies of several people (the sign of four) and events from the past that won't rest.

I did enjoy the usual banter between Holmes and Watson. Holmes is a mastermind as ever, donning disguises, outwitting the villains, observing the most minute details... However, I didn't find this as satisfying as some other Holmes novels. I think what brought it down was the long-winded confession by one of the villains at the end. Apart from that, it was intriguing and exciting throughout and definitely quite unconventional!

Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman / *** and a half stars

I was given this at work to review for our childrens' website. It was an interesting tale - Harri, an eleven year old boy from Ghana is settling into his new life in the UK. He lives with his mother and slightly older sister. He is the second fastest runner in year 7, he draws the stripes on his 'Adidas' trainers, he is fascinated with the Dell Farm Crew and he is friends with Dean.

When a boy is murdered on his estate, Harri and Dean start to investigate. They collect prints, observe people around their estate and search for the murder weapon. In a world where they don't trust the police, Harri's investigation starts to reach his sister, his friends, the notorious Dell Farm Crew who terrorise his estate and school, and even Harri himself.

This is a gritty and funny book which deals with serious issues. Harri's voice is unique - abrupt, discriminate and innocent all at once. My only gripe is the paragraphs written from a pigeon's perspective which just didn't work for me, but overall, a great read and I would much recommend.

Comedy in a Minor Key by Hans Keilson / ** and a half stars

I was recommended this book by the ever knowledgeable Amazon.co.uk (he he) based on my past reads. It actually sounded good so when I saw a free copy at work, I was pleased to take it home and get started.

This book starts in a strange way. I wasn't sure whose perspective it was coming from for the entire first chapter. This turned out to be something that happened throughout the novel but because I got used to it, it was much more manageable.

Not to ruin it too much, the story is of a young married couple (Wim and Maria) and their experiences of housing a Jew in hiding during the Second World War. I won't spoil the plot but it is an interesting snapshot (a 'snapshot' because it is also so short!). Wim and Maria are interesting main characters, despite Wim being a bit distant and Maria a bit domesticated (which may be realistic for the time but as a woman, slightly annoyed me).

From early on, the novel presents a problem to the characters and readers, who must try to find the best way of dealing with it. There is not really any 'comedy', unless it is VERY black. There are many flashbacks, all adding to the tender and troubling relationship between the couple and the man they are hiding, Nico. What was strange was the amount of other people in the novel who were also hiding people. Although, it made me hopeful that this was true!

A satisfying read. Not amazing and there are some flaws, but worth a read. A new perspective on WWII at the very least.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Arts cuts really do matter, actually...

Hi all,

here's a good blog talking about the cuts to the arts:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/booksblog/2011/feb/03/arts-funding

It's something that I feel very strongly about and I think it is terrible for future generations that the arts are under threat like this. Obviously, as this blog points out, essential services (i.e.: hospitals, the police, benefits etc) need to be preserved but the impact of the arts can't be ignored. The arts may not be 'essential' in many respects but in others, it gives people hope and purpose in a way that nothing else can.

Save the arts!

Monday, 17 January 2011

Reading round-up!! Jan 2011...



So what have been my latest reads and what was my verdict? Read on if you care to find out...

The Devil's Whisper by Miyuki Miyabi - *** and a half stars

This is my choice for my latest book group. I hadn't read any of Miyabe's work before but as I'm into my Japanese writers at the moment, Amazon.co.uk thought it fit to recommend it to me. It turns out it was quite a good call. Despite my suspicions that the translation is far from top-notch, I found the novel quite absorbing and plot-driven. The main character, Mamoru, is a charmingly flawed sixteen-year-old who is thrown into an investigation when his uncle is arrested after hitting and killing a young woman with his taxi. Mamoru is convinced things aren't as they seem and in a bid to clear his uncle's name, he sets off to find the truth behind the mysterious dead woman, the eerie man who calls him to congratulate him for getting her out of the way, and all the other strange bits of information that come to light in the wake of the 'accident'.

I found myself racing through this book. It was incredibly easy to read and the characters were generally well-drawn. The details of the case are at times far-fetched but the twists showed the confidence of the writer to experiment and introduce something new and exciting to the crime thriller genre. As I said, images were sometimes a little too obvious and not as masterful as they could be, but overall, much enjoyed and I look forward to discussing it.

The Hunter by Asa Nonami - ** and a half stars

I wanted to love this book so much, which may have been half the problem. Having read Now You're One of Us by the same writer in 2010, I awaited one of the only other translated works by Nonami with great excitement. What I found was a novel that had lots of potential to be exciting and one that demonstrated the inventiveness that The Devil's Whisper also exhibited (reading them both in tandem gave me dreams of chasing others and being chased!), however, it wasn't as well executed. This plot got lost in the over-analysis of investigative procedures and the main character, Otomichi's, persecution for being a female officer in a world of men. The relationship between Otomichi and her older male partner was at times interesting and conflicted, at other times dull and repetitive. How many times can he blow hot and cold?! The criminals of the piece were unconventional and interesting, if not a little unbelievable at times. Overall, glad to have read it but I wish it could've been even better. It just lacked the sharpness I loved about Now You're One of Us. Shame...

How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu - **** stars

Science fiction is generally not the area I hang out in at the bookshop but I'd heard a lot of good things about Charles Yu's debut. Turning to the first page, I read a short paragraph - the gist? Charles Yu, the narrator (and author of the same name) shoots himself. Hmm, strange I thought and exciting too. What on earth is going to happen in this novel? So, rewind or fast-forward, or goodness knows really (time is not governed in universe-31 like it is for us)... Charles is a time machine repairman, who has been hiding from life for some time. His father disappeared when he was younger, his mother lives in a repetitive time loop of only an hour, he is in love with his operating system (TAMMY) and he has an imaginary dog called Ed. After shooting himself, his future self gives him a book. It's called How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe and he must use it to try and get himself out of the time loop he has created for himself.

This book is bleak in some respects and hilarious in others. The whole set-up is believable because Yu writes it so well. We have the tiny details and the human eccentricities (even for TAMMY who is an operating system and Phil, his manager who doesn't know he's only a computer programme) added in to give real depth to the novel. The narrator, Charles is a bit of a sorry character but spending time with him is absorbing and even though he could do with a bit of sprucing up, you're still on his side. The time travel and technical aspects of the novel were accessible, even for someone like me who barely ever reads science fiction. And I think the difference was I found the characters were strong enough to make me forget the genre entirely and just jump on for the ride. Much recommended!

Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Wicked Bestiary by David Sedaris - *** stars
To say this new collection of short stories by Sedaris is bleak would be a huge understatement. However, the originality and sometimes dark humour, makes it worth a read. The animals featured have seemingly human experiences i.e.: a bear plays on her mother's death to gain sympathy from the other animals who soon tire of her being so self-centered, a squirrel and a chipmunk have a relationship which is scorned by their families, a crow deceives a lamb and kills it's baby. Sometimes disgusting stuff and you wonder why you're reading it. However, I think Sedaris generally blurs the line between acceptable and risky, as I found in his other collection, Santaland Diaries, which had some real gems amongst some less accomplished pieces. I felt the same here. I loved some bits of it - they were intriguing and sometimes made me chuckle (such as the one about the crazy over-zealous rabbit!) but others were a bit of a step too far. However, my main gripe was the length of some of the stories. Just as I was getting into the swing of them, some of them would end abruptly. It left me dissatisfied at points. Still, worth reading if you enjoy Sedaris' dark take on the world and apparently, I mostly do.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Ellipsis OUT NOW on Kindle!!!

Ellipsis can now be bought for the Kindle!

In the UK, it's £4.99 and you can buy it on amazon.co.uk

If you're US based, you can buy it from amazon.com

Very exciting! And very good to have this option for those who want to read novels differently.

Although I don't actually know anyone who owns a Kindle...

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