Regular readers (should there still be any!?), will know that Alison Kennedy is one of my favourite ever authors. I was sure to delve into this rather hefty novel on the front foot, although rest assured if I hadn’t loved it, I wouldn’t be writing about it now.
Nicky (my rather splendid, completely beautiful and awe inspiring lady wife) always claims I have a leaning towards, as she says, ‘high brow’ books. I think the industry calls it ‘literary fiction’, although I couldn’t give a shit what it’s called, I either enjoy a book or I don’t. And, Nicky, i do believe you’re currently reading the vintage autobiographical novel, Heartburn, by Nora Ephron. High brow indeed!
This heartbreaking, yet heart warming, tale is told without any suggestion of formula. The prose combines a personal third person narration with soul searching internal dialogue. And the same method is applied to both the main characters.
Powerful it is. Floyd’s ‘Two lost souls swimming in a fish bowl’ lyric would surely be on the soundtrack to the movie this book DEMANDS to be made into.
A flawed love story of flawed love as our two main characters battle their way through 24 London hours. There’s a darkness to Jon and Meg, our hopes for them never soar too ambitiously as we fear for their fate. Jon, in late middle age, working within the inner reaches of the civil service and privy to the hideous secrets that come with that, finds a unusual outlet for his feelings and emotions. Meg, a recovering alcoholic and bankrupt accountant, lost and alone in a crowded city, takes the bait and seeks refuge in Jon’s words.
Will destiny allow this unlikely pair to find romance? Told by the two protagonists in short bursts, the day starts and finishes in darkness, but will there be light?
The attention to detail, the imagery, the complex plot and history, together with the deeply personal voices make this a compelling read. It has to be read, there’s no room for skimming or presumption. Falling asleep with this book in my hands was always a frustration, I would grab it on awaking and even read a page whilst the kettle boiled for morning coffee.
Not a small book and it demands the readers’ involvement, but boy it’s good.
I don’t know if at any point I consciously set out to believe in myself, to believe myself to be a writer. But with each baby step I am delving a tad deeper into the world of ‘us’ writers. That took some time, to get myself to admit that, hell Kevin, you write…. You are a writer!
Talking of belief. I may be the trumpet blowing, flag waving, bag carrying, shouting believer in my beautiful wife’s amazing challenges and adventures (check out my blog of her amazing 70.3 triathlon HERE), but she is more circumspect in her support. A simple text message, whilst I was at work this week, said “you CAN do it” about my writing. Sometimes it’s not grand speeches that are needed, it’s simply genuine belief. Not only that but I came home to a beautiful new notebook as a surprise present too. Anybody else who writes will know what a great and inspiring surprise that is.
Another day this week I came home to a gingerbread man. Mmm mmmm
Yup. My wife is ace ❤️
Well, here I am, writing. And how I’ve embraced the pen and keyboard this week. My membership of Writers’ HQ is up and running, giving me access to all of their fabulous courses, their members only online groups and a world of motivation and drive.
Poor Nicky was exhausted when she asked “What are you writing?” “Well,” I enthused “Writers HQ suggested I take an every day situation and then come up with five ways of interpreting them, then find the best one and then find the character within that and and and and and……..” and, and, and on I went! Childish excitement? Damn right.
So, my novel is back on track, a poetry theme in my head has started forming on paper, I’ve got two firm short story ideas already being fleshed out and a piece of flash fiction I’m rather proud of.
So, whilst Nicky is delicately picking out some Beethoven, devouring some Ross Raisin, performing miracles with the jigsaw and plotting her next set of fantastic challenges (including the BIG one…. watch this space), I’m writing, reading, writing and reading.
Whilst I was enjoying reading some blogs and social media posts from the more independent side of the writing and publishing world, I came across a Twitter campaign started by Salt Publishing (#justonebook) who were in need of a financial lift. It had a tremendous response and a quick glance through their titles soon had me ordering Two Sketches Of Disjointed Happiness by Simon Kinch.
What an absolute treat. It arrived within a week with a lovely hand written post card.
Two Sketches Of Disjointed Happiness is a debut novel by Kinch, a Spanish resident hailing from the UK. The book promised an experimental feel, an exploration of choices and consequences, of reflection and regret.
It doesn’t disappoint. Within a page I found myself hurriedly devouring the words, so many questions to be answered by the next page, and the next and the next. I started the (admittedly shortish) offering immediately upon opening and finished it the following lunchtime.
A young man, Granville, an American travelling in Europe, receives a message as he prepares for the final legs of his journey home. The mystery of the message’s detail is never truly revealed, but this news and Granville’s subsequent actions, combined with a piece of misfortune, leave him pondering a massive decision. To reverse his direction and choose a Spanish destination or to plough on towards his flight home.
I turned page after page, absolutely engrossed as one choice was apparently taken over the other. A study of young adult, of isolation, of timid suggestions of romance, all with the heavy weight of the relationship back home hanging over the story.
A gradual introduction of the imagined consequence of taking the other direction slowly blurs the boundaries between truth and hypothesis. This blurring left me, the reader, reeling, grasping to make to make my own choice as to which reality to believe.
The attempted romances are so delicate and nervous, I almost cringed for Granville. As with the direction he might have chosen, the reader gets to decide if he is shy, timidly coy and sensitive or maybe aloof and a little arrogant with little regard for the consequence for others of his actions.
I don’t wish to spoil the book for anybody wishing to tackle it but I do, thoroughly recommend it. With advice coming my way to read, read and read some more, to expand my reading net, to step out of my comfort zone, I feel Simon Kinch has handed me a gift. A book which dissolves into the reader’s mind is a prized possession and Two Sketches is firmly in that category for me….
I had just finished On Writing by Stephen King when Kinch’s cracking debut arrived. I have a very treasured possession, also entitled On Writing by AL Kennedy, a beautiful study of the craft of the pen. King’s book is more ‘manly’, more raaaahhhh if you like, but no less inspiring for it. It shames me to admit that I’ve never read a single novel of his, something I shall be correcting in the very near future.
All of this reading has me itching to grab the pen. Nicky, as she embarks on her piano journey, is finding that she hears music differently now, appreciating more of the subtleties, just as I now do with my reading.
Running – feeling good and enjoyed a terrific Parkrun battle with my visiting brother last weekend, just squeezing in front of him as we both snuck under 20 minutes.
Then on Sunday I embarked on an epic (well it felt epic!) 23 mile off road trek, taking in lots of beautiful countryside and coastline (Check it out HERE). We truly are lucky to have this wonderful coastline to go and play on so close to home, and it is perfect training for the upcoming Plague (which is 64 miles long and starts at midnight), Nicky and I have completed the 32 mile Black Rat version in each of the last three years and it really is my favourite ever event.
Nicky spent all 32 miles last year telling anybody who’d listen, and everybody else in fact, that this was her last EVER ultra marathon.
What’s she doing this year, I hear you ask, yup, you’ve guessed it, the 32 mile Black Rat. It is a complete sell out again (there are 4 distances on offer), read about last year’s shenanigans HERE.
For some reason I’ve been devouring books of late, there’s been some real page turners, some inspirational factual volumes – Dean Karnazes’ The Road To Sparta was a good read (see this BLOG), and so was the incredible Clem Attlee biography by John Bew (again, see this BLOG).
Also whizzed through whilst we were doing SWEET F ALL in Kefalonia the other week, was Slade House by David Mitchell. Now, I’m not normally your fantasy, nor horror, fiction type of guy, but for some reason, this relatively small paperback ended up on the credit card with I dread to think how many other books on our last Waterstones binge.
I know nothing of Mitchell, nor, indeed the genre, but what a quirky, mind altering, (VERY) darkly humorous tale it is. Elements of more simple ‘scary’ stories from childhood combine with quite disturbing blackness of hidden alleys, gates and stolen souls.
There is a pace and cruel wit to the exploration of the characters’ personalities and how the ‘victims’ are chosen.
The villains, if indeed that is what they are, are comedic in their evil ways, and their increasingly desperate methods of enticing are almost Laurel and Hardy, whilst being as sinister as Burke and Hare. Quite a trick.
The house, set secretly and classically behind a tiny gate in a dark high walled alley, holds the secrets and the spirits of the past. Its occupants need to feed on the right type of soul to fuel their otherworldly existence, inevitably based around a spooky loft.
It’s full of wonderful clichés countered by twisted contradictions.
The cyclical need for sacrifice culminates with a Halloween party where the guests get more than they bargained for. Well one of them does, for the others…….. (avoiding too much spoiler there)
It might make you think twice about that enticing alley on your next run, but it will definitely up the heart rate and turn the page.
It took me out of my comfort zone, and off the sun lounger, to a bizarre, only slightly unbelievable world. And I fairly rattled through it.
I have many influences in my reading and writing, one of my favourite writers, and motivational characters is AL KENNEDY and, she has, perhaps unwittingly, done as much as anyone to encourage my writing ambitions……..
“Have more humility. Remember you don’t know the limits of your own abilities. Successful or not, if you keep pushing beyond yourself, you will enrich your own life – and maybe even please a few strangers.” A.L. KENNEDY