Claire King

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Archive for July, 2015

Fire and Flood*

Posted on: July 18th, 2015 by Claire - 1 Comment

Writers, generally speaking, tend to read a lot. But we are also a pretty tough audience, as it can be hard to get fully swept away with a story if you can’t detach your author’s mind from the writing itself. For me it takes a sustained, captivating voice coupled with a powerful sense of place – environment, atmosphere or era – to make a novel believable and compelling.

But the last two books I finished went beyond that, both managing not only to engage me completely as a reader, but also speaking to me as a writer because even as I was swept along by the story I could not help but admire the authors’ skill: novels for novelists, perhaps? Both enjoyable and inspiring.

I don’t do book reviews but I wanted to share these novels, so I’m going to choose three words I think best describe the books, and give you a couple of quotes as a flavour of the writing.

The first is Stephen Kelman’s second novel, due out next month – Man on Fire. I found it comedic, charming and redemptive. Quotes below from uncorrected proof.

“I had the feeling the weather would enjoy stripping me down to the vulnerable parts I could cover up with clothes back home. I thought it might expose a madness I’d been carefully hiding all these years.”

“I chose the groin kick for my opening record because its danger and high skill level required would guarantee that it would remain intact for many years to come (this has since been proved correct as to this day of writing I remain unmatched in this area).”

“I was beating the life out of Bibhuti with a baseball bat when my first monsoon broke…”

ManOnFire

The second book is Sarah Perry’s debut novel After Me Comes The Flood – which was recently released in paperback. I found it languid, discomforting and atmospheric.

“She stood and reached across the table to shake my hand. Hers was as small as a child’s and her nails were dirty. She was very slender, and I could see how fine and sharp her bones were, with a thin covering of white skin glossy in the heat. In a voice on the verge of singing she said: ‘You must be hungry, John. Do sit, won’t you? And don’t let Walker frighten you: he will, you know – if he can.’ She gestured towards the man sitting next to her, who concealed a smile, then struck a match on the table’s edge and lit a cigarette.”

“As John set out on the path he paused to let a toad cross; it splayed out its soft patient feet and crept past, a pulse throbbing in its stomach and its butter-coloured eyes rolling thanks.”

Flood

 

*By complete coincidence, the casts of both of these novels play out their stories in searing heat, in anticipation of impending rains, but the similarity stops there. Even the quality of the heat and the impact it has on the characters is perfectly distinct in each book.

Are there books you have read recently that you loved as a reader but also admired for the quality of the writing itself?

 

Unplugged

Posted on: July 5th, 2015 by Claire - No Comments

We plug things in to give them energy:

Our phones, our computers, the TV, tablets, games consoles…but most of us have noticed that being ‘plugged in’ ourselves actually saps our energy.

There are lots of positives to the way we communicate these days. I love hearing what my friends are up to on Facebook and I love chatting about writing on twitter. I like that you can send and receive messages instantaneously and for free, it’s practical. But somehow these things can come to seem like an obligation, as though we have to be permanently plugged in so we can respond instantly, or within a couple of hours. And an obligation like that can be a burden, draining your energy.

So, since the kids school broke up early for summer because of the heatwave, I decided to give us all just a few days breather. We got in the car and drove north for about three hours, where we set up camp  alongside the Hérault river in the Causses & Cévennes national park, somewhere none of us had ever been.

Cauldera

Cirque de Navacelles – Cauldera formed by a river

Pic Saint Loup

Pic Saint Loup

All gadgetry was banned (although I admit we adults did take our phones and use the cameras, we did switch off from social media). We took water pistols, notebooks, swimming costumes, colouring books and a guitar and bought some postcards to write. We also borrowed a donkey for a while.

Child leading donkey

Child playing guitar

We played Story Cubes a lot at mealtimes. If you’ve not heard of these I do recommend them, they are just little boxes of dice with pictures on, so when you throw them you have a ready made story prompt. We all loved them and it got quite competitive to see who could tell the most engaging story.

Of course we all read too, although I had taken along an optimistic stack of books – two novels and a short story collection – but in the end I only read a few chapters because of all the conversation we found ourselves having.

We could only be away for three days (which wasn’t nearly enough time to enjoy the region properly, two weeks would have been nice) as Mr King had to go off to work and we have our gîtes to look after now the school holidays have started here, so it’s not as if it was some kind of gadgetry cold turkey, but it was lovely. We all enjoyed it and no one missed the electronic games or the social media that we sometimes reach for automatically in our spare minutes.

Man colouring in

Mr King is doing “Man Colouring”

I would love to say that when we got back the kids have turned completely feral and that Minecraft and DVDs have been forgotten, but of course they haven’t. But unplugging ourselves briefly has replenished our energy and set the tone for the two months of summer holidays that lie ahead. I recommend it.

—–

Camp by Robert Louis Stevenson

The bed was made, the room was fit, By punctual eve the stars were lit; The air was still, the water ran, No need was there for maid or man, When we put up, my ass and I, At God’s green caravanserai.

PS: My kids had never heard the word ‘ass’ before (in this context at least), so they loved this poem…

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