Wednesday, 19 May 2010
I recently heard from Sharon Ring who reviewed an old story of mine that was published in Joel Lane's Beneath The Ground anthology about seven years ago. It's one of my favourite stories so it was lovely to hear someone enjoyed it after all this time. Here's the review. Hope Sharon doesn't mind me reprinting it here...
SSM Guest Review: Lost and Found by Simon Avery from Sharon Ring
May 6th, 2010
Title: Lost and Found Author: Simon Avery Collection: Beneath The Ground Editor: Joel Lane Publisher: Alchemy PressRelease Date: 2002, although I’ve also heard that a “problem with printers” meant the release date was actually 2003.
The blurb on the back of Beneath The Ground promises “tales that explore the transition between our world and the tunnels and mines beneath”. As with any anthology, some of the tales are more successful at fulfilling this promise than others and, as we all know, “getting” a story is a very subjective thing. Two stories in this collection really stood out for me; Where Once I Did My Love Beguile by John Howard and Lost and Found by Simon Avery. It was difficult to pick just one for review but in the end I opted for Simon’s story as it fed into an old phobia of mine, the London Underground system.
Lost and Found is, at its most basic, the tale of an obscure folk singer’s descent into madness and his eventual disappearance told through his friend (who remains nameless). It is set in both the seventies, when Danny’s life falls apart, and in the early 2000’s, when his friend and Danny’s sister renew an old relationship. Simon bridges the two decades beautifully with a series of letters sent from Danny to the friend who then shares them with Danny’s sister, Sarah.
Throughout his mental breakdown Danny becomes increasingly obsessed with the London Underground system, finding himself there frequently when he wakes, and ultimately becoming convinced of its otherworldly nature to which he is invariably drawn. As his sister points out, “it was London. Somehow, once it got hold of him, it was corrosive”.
Each detail of the story crafted by Simon feeds a quietly oppressive feel to the narration. This is just another London disappearance which goes unnoticed apart from by Danny’s close friends; there are no national headlines, no public outcry, just another person lost to the city. As for Danny’s version of events, told through his letters, this is just as simply told. That otherworldly existence he glimpses then pursues just is, without any need to over-describe or fill with visceral images.
Lost and Found is a beautiful and haunting read, one which won’t easily be forgotten.
Sharon Ring’s blog is Dark Fiction Review
Monday, 9 November 2009
Soon you're dreading bed-time for the beseiged couple. Scene by scene, the claustrophobia and anxiety grows more and more palpable, and our bond with Katie and Micah stronger.
And it is genuinely unnerving. Later, the scares escalate as Katie and Micah begin to realise the inevitable: there's simply no escape.
Tuesday, 3 November 2009
I was expecting to be a little disappointed then, by Niffenegger's new book, Her Fearful Symmetry. How do you follow a book that sold by the bucket-load and has such a classic status place in a lot of people's hearts?
Well, of course, you don't. If you're writer worth your salt, you write a book that is an absolute left turn, the absolute opposite of that first book. Although what Niffenegger's new book does share with The Time Traveler's Wife is the question 'What If?' TTTW asked 'What would it be like if we could really travel in time, up and down the years of our life?' And in Her Fearful Symmetry, the question is 'What if we could come back from the dead?' They're both questions that hundreds of writers have asked down the years, but most of them are considered horror or SF writers, but Niffenegger has managed the audacious feat of being a writer who gets away with curious speculative fiction in the populist mainstream.
Admittedly, the strange, supernatural moments in Her Fearful Symmetry are couched in a novel that is at heart a leisurely paced charcter piece. The ghostly element is weaved in early on, but it takes half of the book for the reader to see where Niffenegger is heading. And it's a strange, credibility defying turn that seems to have divided the critics.
But taking into account that I loved The Time Traveler's Wife, and that although elements of Her Fearful Symmetry don't always work, I enjoyed this new book equally, if not more. I'm not entirely sure why yet (I only finished it last night), but this was one of those books that I simply couldn't put down and actively looked forward to picking up again. It was even one of those books that I started to slow down with, so as to make it last that little bit longer. That doesn't happen too often!
Here a quick blurb:
Julia and Valentina Poole, two American identical mirror-image twins in their early twenties, are bequeathed an apartment in London overlooking Highgate Cemetery by their aunt, Elspeth, who was herself the identical twin of their mother, Edie. Elspeth and Edie have not had contact for more than two decades, and as a result, the twins have never met their mysterious benefactor.
Naturally delighted, and yearning for adventure, they readily accept the bequest, even though it comes with a couple of strange conditions, the main being that their mother and father are not to set foot in the apartment. They arrive, and soon spend their time becoming accustomed to their new home, and indeed their new country and surroundings.
The apartment is on the first floor. Underneath them lives Robert, a thirtysomething writer, and guide at the cemetery who was the lover of Elspeth, and who has not yet come to terms with her death. Above them lives Martin, an obsessive compulsive crossword compiler, whose Dutch wife, Marijke, has recently returned to her home country, unable to continue living with her husband’s ever deteriorating condition. And creeping into their home comes The Little Kitten Of Death, a snow-white feline visitor from nowhere who is soon adopted by the twins as a pet albeit without it’s consent.
And into this strange brew, another companion enters. Elspeth herself, who finds herself quietly haunting the twins’ apartment, observing them for the first time as they make their new lives, and unobtrusively occupying the locked desk drawer of the desk in her old office.
What makes Her Fearful Symmetry really sing is not the speculative supernatural stuff (although that's handled with the same kind of reducing something down to its nuts-and-bolts-aplomb that Niffenegger displayed with time travel), but the quite beautifully drawn characters that inhabit the house that sits next to Highgate Cemetery.
Robert, torn between his devotion to Elspeth's memory and his attraction to Valentina, who's almost half his age; Martin, the obsessive-compulsive who can no longer leave his flat, and whose wife leaves for Amsterdam after twenty-odd years of marriage when she finds she can no longer deal with his sickness; the twins themselves, Valentina, who decides she wants to free herself of the domineering shadow of Julia; Elspeth, who discovers that although she is dead, she can exert control over all of them; and Highgate Cemetary itself - so much so that I think next time I'm in London, I shall try to visit. Niffenegger draws it with such a rich palette that it sounds irresistable.
It's a fantastic, Autumnal kind of book, brimming with atmosphere and a sense of place, and populated with flawed characters that you genuinely hope make the right decisions. Martin, in partiular with his physical rituals and emotional tics and his flat filled with boxes is an acutely observed study of OCD, and his relationship with his wife and one of the twins is worth the price of the book alone. And indeed, if the direction the book takes in its last third seems a little too audacious for some, I didn't mind too much because I was already too invested in the characters.
It's a sublime bit of writing.
Thursday, 29 October 2009
So, after motoring down to London last Wednesday morning and catching the Tube in, we had a mooch around the usual haunts in the city, passing the Theatre store, where John Barrowman was in the middle of a signing session for his new book (which is excellent, by the way), then passing the celeb haunt, The Ivy (on the way to the Cinema Store) and passing Andrew Lloyd Webber, then onto FP and the fabulous Fopp (where I picked up season 6 and 7 of The Shield for £8 each - we're midway through season 6 and loving it - full thoughts on the whole thing soon).
While waiting for the show to start, we saw Anna Friel arriving late for the show and then settled into our seats (dead centre and about five rows from the front). The Haymarket Theatre (which recently ran Waiting For Godot) is a beautiful old place, reeking of history and grandeur. Alec Guiness performed here, as did JOhn Gielgud, Peter O'Toole, Lauren Bacall and Ingrid Bergman. Amazing history.
This version of Breakfast at Tiffany's is an adaption of Truman Capote's novella rather than taking its cues from the Audrey Hepburn movie, but it retains much of that movie's charm for those who haven't read the book.
Of course any adaption of Breakfast... stands and falls on the actress filling Holly Golightly's (doubtless expensive) shoes, and Anna Friel (whom I've long shamelessly lusted after) is more than capable. She's luminous and simmering with just the right amount of eroticism and charm to instantly illustrate why all the men in her world are falling over themselves to have her. Joseph Cross (who was in Milk, Flags of our Father's and Running With Scissors) is excellent too. He's very young and manages just the right balance of naievete and bitterness.
Of course, much of the publicity for the show has been focused on the fact that both Friel and Cross have scenes of nudity, and while I can take or leave the male nudity, it all feels fairly functional to the story. I admit, I may have pulled something in my eyes for the Friel nude scene as I was staring so hard, but Amanda was just glad I stayed in my seat and didn't start whooping.
Clearly it wasn't what some of the audience were expecting - a few people never came back after the interval. Perhaps they were expecting the light frothy romantic comedy of the film and not the rather darker, profanity littered story of the book.
But we loved it. It was well worth the trip down to London again to see such a high quality production. I just wish I lived a little closer; I think I could quite happily become a theatre buff if I did. We're back in November again for the (I'm guessing star-studded) closing night of La Cage Aux Folles and the Collectormania on the day after at Earls Court.
Monday, 19 October 2009
Finished Nick Cave's second novel, The Death of Bunny Munro today. I zipped through it in a few days as its a pretty fast-paced read. Although it's full of Cave's trademark hellfire and brimstone, it's at heart the relatively small-scale odyssey of a door to door salesman who happens to also be a sex maniac. There's a rich seam of utterly absurd comedy as Bunny takes to the road with his ten year old son after his wife commits suicide. Bunny is a monster, of course; slowly going mad with visions of his dead wife and depraved fantasies involving Kylie Minogue and Avril Lavigne (whom Cave apologisesprofusely to in the acknowledgements), as well as having sex with every bored housewife he can lay his hands on. But Bunny is on the run from his life too, from the council flat his wife died in, from his dying dad and the responsibility of being a proper father to Bunny Jr.
As absurd and depraved as it gets (and it gets very depraved at times), it's also a deeply heartfelt and poignant book; utterly unsentimental but also quite moving. In many ways it's like one of Cave's better albums, able to se-saw through comedy, horror and sadness in the space of a few lines. It's one of those books that sticks around too; like a skewed version of the world that clings to you after the book is finished. Absolutely recommended.
And here below is an excerpt from YouTube of a Q&A he did in Montreal. This bit concerns his experience writing a script for Gladiator 2 (which he titled Christ-Killer). Absoutely hilarious. Would have been a whole lot better than the original film...
Friday, 16 October 2009
I've also been working my way through a splendid unauthorised biography of Tom Waits by rock journo Barney Hoskyns. It's spurred me onto filling the gaps in my Waits collection - Small Change, Foreign Affairs, One From The Heart - and it's also inspired my next bit of fiction, which'll be a full on noir tale with all the cliches included, and populated with some strange Waitsian characters.
So with that in mind, here's a very funny interview on Letterman, along with a blistering Make It Rain from Real Gone...
Tuesday, 15 September 2009
Cornwall Holiday Pictures Part Two and Three: St Ives, Lands End, Doctor Who Exhibition, Padstow and Tintagel Castle
And then onto Tintagel, the village and castle being associated with the legends of King Arthur and the knights of the Round Table. It's a beautiful little village, filled with tourists from all over the world, and although the trek down to (and back up from) the ruins of the castle is back breaking work, the view is dizzying; it's all sheer clifftops and wild landscape and roaring sea far, far below. Very windy, very knackering, but well worth the trip down the lost little lanes of Cornwall. I also got a cool dragons head for mounting on the wall (it'll make sense to those of you who visit the new Avery Towers in the near future).
Sunday, 13 September 2009
In the Mediterranean dome, my eye was caught by these stunning, almost Barker-esque sculptures by Tim Shaw of Bacchanal Dionysus rites - scenes of divine madness, possession, sacrifice and orgy. It didn't seem to find favour with the older folk in the dome, but I absolutely loved them, and gave me some ideas for my next novel which I'll be researching soon.
Next post will be St Ives and Land's End, which may contain scenes of a Doctor Who nature, as there was an exhibition that, being the geeks we are, we had to visit...
Friday, 4 September 2009
Thursday, 27 August 2009
At first it seems like little more than a Friends clone, but by the end of season one, you will - I personally guarantee this - be utterly addicted and invested in the characters. It's frequently hilarious, always has a least one perfect quotable for the rest of the week moment, and, as it goes on becomes as perfectly poignant as Frasier used to be.
There are far too many highlights to name: The Slap Bet, The Bro Code, Marshall and Lily's wedding, Robin Sparkles...
And nothing can prepare you for Barney Stinson. He's Legen- wait for it - dary.
Here's a clip from one of my favourite episodes...
"Years ago, my mother used to say to me, she'd say: 'In this world, Elwood,' she always used to call me Elwood. 'In this world, Elwood, you must be oh, so smart or oh, so pleasant.' Well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant. And you can quote me."
A story about an alcoholic dreamer with a giant invisible white rabbit as a friend. Sell that these days and think about all the ways that Hollywood could (and would) spoil it.
Luckily we'll always have Harvey, possibly James Stewart's finest hour (and considering his incredible career, that's really saying something), and one of the most gentle, magical, moving and downright luminous films ever made.
I don't need to say anything more about this film. I loved it as a child and, seeing it again tonight, I loved it even more. One of the most wonderful and beguiling movies ever made.
And Stewart's speech about sitting in a bar and meeting strangers is a sublime reminder for the creatively bankrupt movie makers of Hollywood about the power of words...
"Harvey and I sit in the bars... have a drink or two... play the juke box. And soon the faces of all the other people they turn toward mine and they smile. And they're saying, "We don't know your name, mister, but you're a very nice fella." Harvey and I warm ourselves in all these golden moments. We've entered as strangers - soon we have friends. And they come over... and they sit with us... and they drink with us... and they talk to us. They tell about the big terrible things they've done and the big wonderful things they'll do. Their hopes, and their regrets, and their loves, and their hates. All very large, because nobody ever brings anything small into a bar. And then I introduce them to Harvey... and he's bigger and grander than anything they offer me. And when they leave, they leave impressed. The same people seldom come back; but that's envy, my dear. There's a little bit of envy in the best of us. "
Friday, 7 August 2009
I can't think of a better tribute than a clip from my favourite Hughes movie.
Wednesday, 5 August 2009
Friday, 10 July 2009
Thursday, 9 July 2009
I've always been a fan of Ryan Reynolds, from way back in his sit-com days when he starred in a show called Two Guys and A Girl, which never really got a decent airing over here in the UK, and still hasn't ever seen a release on DVD anywhere. It started out as a Friends clone, but evolved into a very funny ensemble show, and also introduced the world to the charms of Mr Nathan Fillion. But Reynolds always stood out, and I expected him to have a huge movie career. But he's been saddled with some pretty shoddy vehicles over the years.
Definitely Maybe kind of slipped under the radar upon release, possibly due to its slightly-smarter-than-the-average-bear credentials. But it's an excellent film.
The story is mainly told in flashback, as Reynolds' daughter in the film (played by the wonderful Little Miss Sunshine's Abigal Breslin) quizzes him as to how he met his mother, who he’s in the process of getting a divorce from. Reynolds' tale follows three failed romances - with college sweetheart Emily (Elizabeth Banks), free spirit April (Isla Fisher), and ambitious intellectual Summer (Rachel Weisz) - and the film holds back on revealing the answer to its mysteries until pretty much the final reel.
It's not laugh out loud funny, but it carries a little more weight than your standard rom-com and by the end leaves you feeling that you've seen something with a little more substance than usual. The cast are excellent, particularly Isla Fisher, (who pretty much labours under the weight of being Sasha Baron Cohen's other half these days), and Reynolds repartee with Breslin is beautifully played. Kevin Kline (who plays an alcolholic writer also has a splendid part to play in the proceedings. It's unconventional, bittersweet and much, much better than you'd expect from the writer of Wimbledon and Bridget Jones 2. Highly recommended.
Wednesday, 8 July 2009
Two episodes in and it's fast paced, witty and finally feels like a show that gives US TV a run for its money. It was a clever ploy by the Beeb to air the show on its flagship channel with the week long event that it deserves, and return the ubiquitous Mr Barrowman to what he does best: being killed multiple times and getting his arse out...
High points so far: the Torchwood-mobile being stolen by Chavs, the creepy Wyndham-esque WE ARE COMING, and the very funny WE WANT A PONY riff on it tonight, the scene between Jack and a daughter who looks older than he does, the regeneration of Jack in episode two, and the curious allure of Eve Myles running around with two guns...
A slightly Scooby-Doo escape in episode two did nothing to diminsh the fun of it all. It's hokum but it's utterly wonderful hokum.
Sunday, 5 July 2009
Any help would be gratefully received!