Second review

For the Hundred and Eighty-Fifth Book.

I was delighted to receive this review from Andrew, avid reader, and book-obsessive – (biggest personal library I have seen yet, I think.) I asked him if he could name another book or author that the writing reminded him of and he said: ‘No, not really, but that was why it was so good.’ Encouraging for me in one way, but difficult when agent-hunting as they invariably wish to know where to place the book – fair enough but I don’t know either. I can see a tad of Iris Murdoch, perhaps . . . he mentions Laurence Durrell; my ‘other half’ suggested Calvino.

 

The Hundred and Fifty Eighth Book.  Kate A Hardy.

The Hundred and Fifty Eighth Book is actually a book called ‘Five’, which mysteriously appears on the shelves of second-hand bookseller Hamish, back in 1985. Hamish himself is working hard, most of the time, at being a writer, having started sixteen years previously with a collection of poems, much derided by his father,’a disgruntled gangly hornet with an ever ready sting’.Nevertheless it is his father’s library that forms the basic stock for Hamish’s shop.

The parallel literary world of second-hand book selling in 1980’s  Bloomsbury [almost]’, is a world where a struggling author could feel trapped. The small cafes, pre-cappucino yuppy world is well defined with plenty of tea and toast. A comfort zone frequently subverted by the chain of co-incidence relentlessly bowled along by Kate A Hardy’s seemingly innocuous prose. In reality a density of quotidian details which seep into the reader’s consciousness by stealth.

Hamish has no sense of smell, a serious condition for second-hand booksellers and bibliomaniacs.

‘Five’ is dedicated ‘To whoever picks this up’,and almost the first co-incidence, in a book of co-incidences, is the revelation that its’ protagonist has just been cured of his own lack of the sense of smell.From here on in Kate A Hardy structures her novel with generous helpings of chance, pre-destination and synchronicity. A layer cake of intrigue and complexity which compels the reader to continue to the very end, which, of course may not actually be the end.Along the way, an assortment of memorable friends and relations, and chance meetings reinforce the structure of Hamish’s journey.

With a Durrellian sense of different views of the same events, all, or none of which may have been precipitated by the appearance of ‘Five’ in Hamish’s world, our sense of reality is cannily manipulated by the author.The author being possibly any one of at least four candidates on offer.

Read this new novel from Kate A Hardy, guaranteed to intrigue, entertain, and install a nuance of unease which will keep you going to the end, and beyond. A follow up is surely necessary…

So what do we have here? Certainly a mystery story. A closely observed period piece. A well written

and imaginative take on the issues of self determination vs the blind watchmaker. A really good read from the outset.

Enjoy!

AWGilman

UPM

 

Stalking an idea

So . . . next book.

A few days have passed where my usual morning writing slot has been filled with going over ‘old stuff’, looking through filed projects and odd folders marked: “ideas.” It is a little disturbing not having the ‘rolling’ project, something solid to work on everyday; the comforting pattern of writing, editing, and re-writing crammed into the rest of the everyday-ness. The last book is being ‘looked at’ by someone at the moment, and waiting for a response is, as I’m sure any writer knows, a strange time-bubble of possibilities, trying not to get any hopes in any way, but it’s rather nice to go about the day-stuff thinking something could happen.

So . . . the stalking and the idea. The idea is the follow on to the last book, (The Hundred and Fifty Eighth Book) and – I think – will be set on Hampstead Heath in some unspecified very far away time. The stalking will be much walking/wandering and thinking on the Heath, possibly swimming in the ‘Ladies’ Pond, and recalling childhood/student/post-student times spent on this rather extraordinary bit of the Earth.

Before the Heath-derive I need to visit certain roads and places that featured in the last book, (mostly around Camden and King’s Cross) and sketch, preparatory to making full ink drawings to be included in the (finished . . .) novel. An interesting challenge as the book is set in 1985/1990 and 1995, so cars/buses/fashion/ street furniture, etc will have to be researched and segued into the artwork.

Apparently it’s not going to rain.

Unknown.jpeg

Unknown-1.jpeg

Constable painting of The Heath and a pond – not sure which one

Website

I think I do need one – mainly to grab together all the loose bits of ‘me’ information out there. My brother has promised to help ‘build me’ one but in the meantime here’s a mock up of the opening page I would imagine to exist out there in web-land – sort of.

If he’s really clever, and I think he is, You, the public, will be able to click on a photo of me and find a short biography; click on various books – Hoxton, Dog, and other tales, Going out in the midday sun, The hundred and fifty-eighth book . . . and a notebook perhaps which will then reveal a page of my sketches and musings over characters/places/overheard conversations, etc. Oh, and a few links to this blog and the another one, Goodreads reviews, and so on. Simple.

He said it’s a bit like writing a book only easier . . . for someone who has just about mastered turning the computer on and off, the idea of ‘building’ something like his own wonderful website is utterly beyond me. Watch this space, as they say . . .

IMG_1024.jpeg

To state or not to state

I don’t really set out to write with any particular age group in mind – well, perhaps not ‘kids’ as the language and occasional scenes might not be appropriate – mind you after being told to fuck off by a three year old when I had stopped to tie a shoe-lace outside his gate when I was last in the UK – maybe not . . .

IMG_0248 2.JPG

Anyway, I’ve just been told by someone in the ‘industry’ that it must be stated, categorised, pigeon-holed, marked out and carved in stone – what is the age of the reader? I don’t know. I really don’t. I’ve had readers of twenty through to eighty-five and many in between who all seem to chomp their way through the book and give hearty feedback.

I was greatly pleased to find this wonderful Will Self talking to Will Self ‘interview’ where, amongst other subjects he discusses this very thing and concludes that it is probably a mistake to alienate possible audiences though stating ‘reader age’.

https://www.theguardian.com/books/video/2014/sep/03/will-self-interviews-will-self-video

Unknown.jpeg

I remember my mother raising an eyebrow when I was in the middle of reading Papillon when I was twelve and then notching the brow a tad higher when I came back with a copy of Sexus, ‘borrowed’ from the shelves where I used to babysit as a fourteen year-old. I don’t think it did me any harm, and how many ‘Oldies’ have I seen on trains reading Harry Potter and teen vampire stuff? I don’t suppose anyone envisaged such a readership crossover at the time of the initial editorial meetings.

Genies and/or sub-conscious

Unknown.jpeg  Last night, in the bath, I was listening to a Ted talk by the author of Eat, Pray, Love – a book I have still to read but was hugely put off by the glacially-long and tedious film of the same name.

Anyway, Ms Gilbert gave an engaging lecture with some great ideas and illumination to anyone facing the odd day/week/month/lifetime of artistic struggle. The part that particularly intrigued  me was the suggestion that ‘outside forces’ might be assisting with the creative process; in fact in Roman times they apparently  believed that ‘genies’ lived within the walls of an artist’s/writer/creative person’s work space and would appear, insinuating themselves into the tortured virtuoso, to help steer the work in the right direction.

Certainly when I am at my most involved it’s true that words and phrases do shuffle forth and present themselves, seemingly with me having nothing to with it, and those are often the most flowing and free sections. So, is there a genie sitting on my shoulder having materialised from behind the plaster-board  or is it just the brain shutting off all exterior influence and ‘going for it’?

At the moment one of my projects in re-writing a short story as a novel. This morning I was ambling around a paragraph of said work, stopping and starting, changing, not quite sure what I was doing. As I added in a couple of lines which were possibly more decoration than moving anything concretely forward, the genie suddenly poked me and we were off on a completely different plot line, me running behind: ‘wait . . .I’m not sure if this a good idea.’ But having looked at it a few times, it works, and I’m looking forward to continuing with this whole new tangent that I don’t think would have occurred to me if I had sat down with notebook and tried to plan ahead.

I run to the main road, catch a bus and claim the upstairs front seat. Poems are still shuffling about in my mind: stanzas, couplets, brave paragraphs and solitary dangling words. I stare out on pubs, hardware shops, hairdressers, couples arguing and couples entwined.

Miniature universes surround me, even on the seat across the aisle; that young man engrossed in reading a letter . . . his expression when he opened drew the sheet of paper from the envelope then folded it, put it away to then retrieve it again. Something he couldn’t take in the first time: love, death, revenge, hatred . . . loss?

Above, the section I was fiddling with when seized with the idea of making the young man and his letter part of the plot rather than more of an embellishment to the main storyline – a whole new direction in the book which I hadn’t planned at all . . . confusing; quite a bit of re-juggling but a new turn that I’m happily reflecting on as I go about the rest of the day’s jobs.

images.jpeg

Stalking the plot

Why do writers get drawn to a particular place when setting stories? Familiarity obviously, knowing your patch of earth and not writing total inaccuracies, yes, but to me its more than that. The characters have to feel alive in their placings, whether content or uneasy there; and I have to feel a connection with the environment to make the words convincing.

Not always the case totally. I’ve invented parts of deserts, the outskirts of Las Vegas, the interior of a mega-yaght, outer space and heaven; not so easy to visit as, in my case, London – my default choice.

London: place of my childhood and a large part of my adult life – I still find myself checking, (with horror-widened eyes) the price of a nine square meter box-flat in Bloomsbury every now and then . . .

I visit when I can; plan a day of galleries and museums and then find myself walking and walking, like a slightly arthritic greyhound let out from a trap in my sub-consciously chosen direction for that day.

Two nights ago I sat in my rented nine meter-squared box – (part of the wonderfully cheap and homely St Athans hotel in afore-mentioned Bloomsbury) and planned my ‘flaneur’ day. This time I had a sort of self-imposed directive: my character Smithi’s walk from Shoreditch church to the Princess of Wales pub on Lea bridge Road and back via the Hackney marshes. Although the tale is set in 2070 and everything would be no doubt somewhat different . . .  I wanted to walk the route – Google Earth is incredible but not the same thing as actually pacing the roads.

P1020613.jpg

Starting point outside the hotel

 

I left the hotel at 5.30 (insomniac writer) and walked – a lot, in the wrong direction, retraced my tracks and found all sorts of new places I’d never seen before such as St Georges gardens and a building called the Horse Hospital. I also wasted a lot of time trying to find a café that would resemble the steamy, formica interiors of my student-hood. Nope. In the hypercenter all those soul-warming places have disappeared under a tsunami of Pret a Manger and Starbucks. Sob.

P1020656.jpg

The pub, Lea Bridge Road and boats

As, these days, my legs protest at too much striding I allowed the flaneur activity to include a bus: the number 10 to Clapton pond – not quite the same process as buses tend to stick to their decreed routes and don’t veer off, distracted to then take a new and undiscovered path. There is a pond! – smallish with ducks and trees surrounded by throbbing traffic and sulking pigeons.  I walked on to the pub, which was was closed but I paced around it imagining the lama-roasting scenario I had planned – (good that works), then continued along the river lea and towards the Hackney Marshes, via an intriguing area of ancient reed beds used for filtering the water from the Lea; onwards over a metal bridge, up Millfields lane, stopped at the wonderfully-named Cooper and Wolf  café (formica and ancient stuff, great tea and buns, yes!) up Mare street, Clapton Rd, Graham Rd and onto Kingsland Rd and St Leonard’s Church where I flopped onto a pew and imagined the interior of the vestry that features largely in my series of books.

P1020658.jpg

Wilderness within London

So, the plot route was walked, photographed, sketched and is now firmly planted in my mind. Now to rewrite that section with all the colour and noise of streets and the strange tranquility of the river Lea, reed beds and the marshes.

 

 

Finished? Nah . . .

Well, possibly, or at least certainly moving in the right direction.

 

IMG_9550.jpg

Latest version of the manuscript being sent off with its own aged map of the East End and foreword by Jake the Prophet.

I found what I think was ‘draft six’ this morning while having a shelf clear-out – a slim-ish volume of about two hundred pages. I can just about remember thinking when I unwrapped it, fresh from ‘Aunty Lulu’, ‘Yup, reckon this is the one’ . . . then ten minutes later finding about fifteen faults and knowing the whole process will have to start again. It usually takes about a day to settle in, this realisation; a slight gloom drifting over me until the ‘sorting it out’ urge kicks in and I’m away again, happily typo-hunting and adding/subtracting needed and un-needed chunks of prose.

IMG_9552.jpg

  Not sure where 1,2,3,4,5 are . . . 

It’s an odd (and some would say lonely) thing, writing, not just the actual pen to paper, digit to keyboard but all the other stages: rounding up a rampaging idea, rough drafts, fairly solid-looking spiral bound manuscripts, a trial copy, re-writes, BIG edits, small edits, typo edits, adding chapters, etc. But in the later stages when people really start reading and commenting, adding useful thoughts and sometimes suggesting vast deforestation (a tad disturbing at the time but usually 99% invaluable)  it becomes less of a lonely occupation and more of a team effort. Recently I’ve had some excellent help; suggestions that made me wince a little at the thought of the amount of manuscript archaeology that would be involved, but it’s all good stuff, brain-flexing, writer-muscle building and laying down work practices for the next tome . . .

On the same dust-ridden shelf, I also found my first ever (or at least one that Mum kept) story book. Written in pencil (and coloured pencil!) in a khaki-green school exercise book, this particular tale describes a crocodile eating a small boy – with a correction by Mrs War (I still remember her, with fear) for not using the past tense of eat.

IMG_9554.jpg