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Rigg's Cabinet of Curiosities

curated by Thornton Rigg

Month

September 2016

Argh : where’s your red pen?

I don’t post a review of every book I read.  Why?  I am not a professional reviewer so I’m not obliged to file copy;  and because this site is about celebrating good books not criticising the three stars and below.  However, if anyone is interested, here are the top five faults which stop me recommending a novel I have read or have attempted to read.

  1. Indulgent world building.  It’s like sitting next to an enthusiastic bore. I love your world.  Really I do.  I just don’t need that much of it, thank you.  I want the story.  And my own space to imagine and have fun on my own.  Go away.
  2. Jumping Po470acd1c55ec9b862106a42efd5ea110int of View.  You want me to get travel sickness?  Just jerk me from character to character.  In the same scene.  In the same chapter.  It’s like pinball.  Where’s your empathy?  Try reading it as if it were your first time.
  3. Too many adverbs, she added menacingly.  Stop putting your dirty, annoying, nudge-nudge paw prints all over my reading experience.  Trust your writing will suggest more than the words written on the page.
  4. And here we come to Point Four in my List of Things That Irritate My Reading Experience just in case you haven’t guessed and need it spelt out,  Exposition.  Take out as much as explanation as you dare.  I can work out what’s going on from the merest trace.  I’m a social animal, I’m trained to pick up nuances and hints, and as I am reading a book, it’s what I am expecting to have to do!  It’s fun.  Don’t do it for me.
  5. Getting from scene to scene.  Real life has lots of boring bits.  Yadda Yadda Yadda.  Do not write those bits in.  Think very carefully about including anything that isn’t the main story.  Cut to the chase and signpost it clearly.  If you want the reader to pause or set off in another trajectory, put in two or three sentences of well crafted place description, back story or exposition as a springboard.  Boing!  And off we go again.

Reading back over these points, it is obvious that good writing is like good architecture.  It stands up; there’s nothing extraneous; and you walk through marvelling at its simplicity and inherent rightness … without seeing a hint of any plans or scaffolding.

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The Call : Q & A with Peadar O’Guilin

I was asked for a review and Q & A with Peadar for a brilliant new feminist website called EtymNews.  Here’s the thought provoking result:

The Call by Peadar O’Guilin: the next Hunger Games?

Looking for another The Hunger Games or Divergent?  Here’s a brilliant Young Adult novel set in a dystopian Ireland.  Imagine living in a country where every single teenager gets “The Call”.  Without warning, you are transported to the baroque horrors of the Grey Lands where the vengeful Sidhe hunt you for sport, killing you or worse.  Much worse.  The odds of surviving this ordeal are improving through intense training in special colleges and now perhaps one in ten teenagers make it back alive.  Nessa is the girl least likely to succeed with her legs twisted by polio yet she is absolutely determined to be the very best she can be.  Tension builds as we learn the horrific fate of other students as they are “Called”.  But who will be next and can Nessa and her friends make it through?

The Call was inspired by the beautiful northwest of Ireland where he grew up but now Peadar O’Guilin lives just outside Dublin.  He has written plays, published short stories, and performed as a stand-up comedian whilst holding down a day job. I tracked him down to ask him a couple of pertinent questions about the book …

Q: Why did you choose to make your main character a girl not a boy? 

A: When I first started reading, female protagonists spent their lives peeping out from between the covers in the romance section of the bookshop. Now and again, a few would make the journey over to the SF shelves, especially if the writer were somebody like C.J. Cherryh or the late, great Tanith Lee. I loved those books, but took no particular note of the character’s gender, except to think, well, the authors are female, so naturally that’s the type of character they’re going to use.

My own short-stories had a few female protagonists, but only when the story really needed one. My default, even for the bit-players, was “standard” straight, white male.  And then, one day, the internet exploded with talk of “diversity”. Back in the beginning, the definition was so limited, it was almost enough for a book to pass the Bechdel test. But even then, the debate looked to me like a lot of angry people shouting at each other and I didn’t want to be involved.

However, beneath all the passion were a few arguments that made me question what I was doing. The main ones were: 1) The world is diverse, if your stories are not diverse, you are not reflecting reality. 2) Everybody likes to see themselves in a story, so, why shouldn’t they? 3) Every book that adds to the overwhelming mass of “standard” characters lends credibility to the idea that only one type of story is valid.

At that point I decided to reverse my previous default. I would always start with a female protagonist unless the plot demanded otherwise.   And that, dear friends, is the story of how Nessa came out of the aether with two X chromosomes…

Q: Many reviewers appreciate that there’s no predictable “love triangle” in the story – though there is plenty of romance. Did you deliberately set out to break the formula?

A: I didn’t set out to break the formula. I generally don’t read the type of book that has love triangles in it. I am always more interested in the life and death tension of a story, rather than the will they/won’t they tension. It’s not that I dislike romance. I am a human being who has tender feelings now and again. When I write romance into a story, it’s usually a fantasy I’m creating for myself, that I want to believe in. Love triangles only confuse my simple soul.

Q: Did you find yourself drawing on your own experiences as a teenager as you were writing the book?

A: Very much so! I went to a boarding school when I was Nessa’s age. I took a smelly bus from the same station as hers, following much of the same route. Obviously, the idea of a refectory, of classes and a dorm, are extremely familiar ones to me as a result. I also read some dodgy love poetry and wrote lines that were far, far worse than anything she quoted!

 Peadar O’Guilin

Q: The world building includes an Ireland being shut off behind an impenetrable barrier; a terrifying yet wronged enemy; and hard choices children have to make when they are far too young.  Were you ever conscious when writing of exploring your country’s recent past, or are the roots all in Irish mythology?

A: I am very conscious of history.   We Irish have seen both sides of colonialism. We were colonised, but in Scotland, and in North America, we were also colonisers. The famous US general, Sheridan, often misquoted as saying “The only good injun’s a dead injun”, was of Irish stock. Almost every human being alive today lives where they do because their ancestors drove out somebody else. The fact that the concept is right there in the Book of Conquests is just a reflection of how long we have been doing this to each other.  Ethnic cleansing is a horrible practice that I hope we are starting to grow out of. But the consequences live on a long time after the crimes, and in a way, that’s what my book is about.

Peadar O’Guilin has written an intense and thrilling story which is definitely my favourite Young Adult novel of the year so far.  With a deft touch, Peadar builds very genuine, complex characters with a great deal of humour and humanity. I loved Nessa: her unfailing determination, her unflinching honesty about her condition, her fierce friendships and, ultimately, her strength of purpose which shines through at the tremendous climax.

So, with the nights drawing in … why not treat yourself to a fresh, thought provoking, and really scary story?

David Fickling Books; 01 Sep 2016; Hardback; £10.99

Cogheart : Peter Bunzl

… a riveting good read …

I love it when I can relax into a story, enjoying the easy ride of a born story teller.  Cogheart is just that type of book.   With a host of clockwork mechanicals, including Mrs Rust and Mr Wingnut and a stubborn fox mechanimal, Lily and Robert race through a thrilling plot, fighting  deliciously sinister mirror eyed villains towards a tremendous finale full of airship chases and clockwork skullduggery.

cogheart

Peter Bunzel spins a well constructed story with immaculate pacing and lovely plot twists which create various anticipations to savour for a sharp eyed reader.  Nothing  is wasted or extraneous, though Peter takes time to add decorative Steampunky flourishes.   It’s a great fun and I highly recommend it – probably in the 9 to 12 age range.

Cogheart is Peter Bunzl’s debut novel. He is a successful animator working on commercials, promos and 2 BAFTA winning kids’ TV shows. He has also written and directed several short films.  This is why there’s a delightful mini website for this book: cogheart.com and some FREE gifs on offer.

Cover design moment: With Peter’s visual background, it’s not surprising that Cogheart has a great cover, map and occasional illustrations by a wonderful American artist,  Becca Stadtlander.  Her work really enhances the story.

Cogheart was published on 1st September 2016 by Usborne and recommended to me by Emily at A Festival of Books.  Thanks, Em!

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