Harper Collins review

A happy day, Halloween 2014. The Harper Collins review arrived today. I copy it below but also see previous posts 

 

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‘A Relative Invasion – Book I, Intrusion’ by Rosalind Minuet

Tensions are brewing in England as World War II is set in motion. As the adults’ anxiety spills over into five-year-old Billy’s world, his own battle is just beginning. An only child, he longs for a playmate, and when his aunt, uncle and cousin move nearby, he thinks his dream has come true. But cousin Kenneth turns out to be darkly manipulative and a bully who haunts Billy’s days, though the adults see only his porcelain looks and flawless manners. With emotionally distant parents who can’t understand his plight, Billy latches on to the idea of owning the precious Cossack sabre of his father’s friend. This icon sustains him through the invasion of Kenneth, evacuation and the shock of war, but will it destroy as well as save him?

Minett weaves a powerful and compelling narrative with strong and relatable characters, and offers an evocative portrayal of England’s war-time home front. Billy is immediately sympathetic and Minett perfectly captures a child’s viewpoint, adding a gentle and honest humour to the story. The mounting tensions between Billy and Kenneth parallel the rising agitation in Europe, and make the underlying manipulations of war more understandable to children. In terms of dialogue, it rings true both between the children and strained conversation of the adults. The author is deft in capturing that sense of tightly controlled emotions in the parents’ characters and in the act of showing, not telling. The scene where Billy’s mother ‘wields the wooden spoon viciously round the edges of the bowl’ is a great example.

There is good pacing between chapters, and the build-up of tension is managed well. Beginning the chapters with news updates helps to orient the reader and reinforce simultaneous narrative of what’s happening in Billy’s world and on the home front. The portrayal of family relationships is very well done and throws light on what attitudes and values were like in 1930s England – Billy’s mother greeting his father at the door and taking his briefcase; tense, sideways comments about jobs and money; and the sense of social and familial obligation. This and the war’s tension is offset by the humour that comes through when seeing it all through Billy’s five-year-old eyes. His misheard expressions – ‘jelly face’ for ‘angelic face’; ‘Nasties’ for ‘Nazis’ – add a warm comedic element. The pivotal scene where Billy and Angela find the Cossack sabre is very effective – it foreshadows the violence about to erupt in Europe, and shows through Billy the human impulse of both the reverence for the weapon but also the temptation to use it impulsively.

A Relative Invasion has received many good reviews on Authonomy and seems to resonate with plenty of readers. The manuscript itself has excellent grammar and sentence structure; it would not take a great deal of editorial tinkering to make this book a strong commercial proposition for a young adult list.

 

 

 

 

 

Short Story Winners

Review of the Bath Short Story Award Anthology 2014

Ken Elkes

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I suppose that once a long list of good stories becomes a short list of the best, the final ranking is always personal rather than definitive. However, choosing from this short list must have been pure pleasure. From the winner to the brave and successful one-page story writer, there are no duds in the anthology. I review seven.

The artist for the excellent and imaginative cover of this anthology, Elinor Nash, also gained first prize with The Ghost Boy. A young accident victim retains an understanding of emotions and a strange insightful sensitivity although few other functions, Nash uses the 3rd person narrative voice to display Jake’s thoughts. He hears surrounding domestic sounds in colour (synaesthesia) “lemon yellow whooshes” and “the indigo velvet spiral of the drill”. He is painfully aware of the effect of his changed life upon his family. The imagination involved in perceiving this tragedy from the victim’s point of view probably nailed this story as the winner.

I really enjoyed Roisin O’Donnell’s, Under the Jasmine Tree, commended, because of the several levels of meaning. This story presented the reader with an original topic although the theme of reunion between mother and adult child, long separated is not entirely new. Requited but fated love is signalled by the description of the loved-one’s voice “clear as water and rocked with the rhythms of the sea” that contrasts later with it “rough as sea-spray” because he’s choked by what he’s done, what he’s caused and by his vocation. The sad acceptance of her situation is portrayed with due weight, her final decision symbolised by the permeating perfume of Jasmine.

Another commended story was ‘It’s a Girl’ by Lisa Harding. This was an even heavier theme, the trapped immigrant finding that begging is more successful with a puppy than a baby. This woman without adequate means of communication has a life of misery doled out by her keeper. Well written but a doleful tale.

Two stories used the well-worn theme of the holocaust. Cleverly written, but again very depressing, was Anne Corlett, the local prize winner’s story, The Language of Birds. The main character, beleaguered by her past, maintains her heavy lie and turns her painful thoughts to the sound of bird song. Each song represents another aspect of the story and leads to a conclusion that seems only fit.

The Crust, by Mona Porte, has a Jewish painter irritated at his father for allowing the Nazis to steal his paintings. The family meet the awful fate of Jews and the painter is reduced to starvation in a camp. For me, this was the weakest story because too much was told through dialogue as if readers had not come across this topic before. However, the use of the crust as an irritant, on several levels, was clever as was the twist at the end.

The third prize winner, Alex Hammond, had a more direct approach with No Man’s Land. A boy in Spain is making his own replica of the bunkers and dugouts, but needs help in making mud given the dryness in Spain. He appears to be more in tune with the dreadfulness of the battlefield until the end of the story makes the situation clear. I thought this fresh, competent writing with no wasting of words.

Lastly, the second prize winner,

with A Beautiful Thing, Kit de Waal, Unknown

gained my admiration for writing something uplifting. It’s my belief that this is harder than writing tragedy. The story twists the reader’s expectation in a new direction. I loved the detail of the expensive spats leading to a brave foray into new territory, with unexpected and heart-warming results. The style of writing reminded me of Marquez. I’d read this author’s work again.

The story parents neglect

Now available on Kindle, Intrusion, Book 1 of this WWII home front trilogy. FREE OCTOBER 31st and NOVEMBER 1st

 

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A rivalrous coming of age in WW2

A Relative Invasion is set in 1937 to 1965. It has WW2 as a backdrop but it isn’t essentially a war story. It has a child narrator, but it isn’t written for children. I’ve attempted to reproduce in micro those very emotions which the frustrated, humiliated German nation experienced post WWI and which Hitler played upon. I’ve put them in the breast of Kenneth, an artistic, manipulative child, small for age and frail, when meeting his younger, stronger cousin. It’s this sturdy youngster, Billy, who is the innocent protagonist, suffering psychological bullying from his cousin, and physical bullying by his uncle. In Book 1, Intrusion, now out on Kindle, the story starts as war in Europe threatens. In parallel, readers see how Billy’s predictable life will be threatened by Kenneth and a domestic war may begin.

The inferiority that six year olds can have are really the same as those of de-powered nations. I imagine that what lay in the breast of Hitler, a poor specimen of a man without the kind of background he craved, was that desire to outdo and take over other nations just as sickly Kenneth, whose muscly father Billy resembles, aims to over-reach Billy and encroach upon every aspect of his life. In this way he hopes to encompass another’s strength. Similarly, the adults with their own preoccupations fail to intervene.

The cover depicts Billy on the left and artistic Kenneth on the right, facing each other across the image of the shashka, a Cossack sabre with a special significance.

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Billy has seen this in the home of his father’s colleague, Mr Durban. Caught up in his own fearful memories, Mr Durban’s WWI story of how he came to own the shashka captures Billy’s imagination. The shashka acts as an icon that supports Billy throughout hardships, separations, rejections and evacuations.

In Books 2 and 3 of the trilogy, Billy has known anxiety from his adverse experiences and learned of the dangers of distant warfare. With increasing age and experience, he discovers the dangerous qualities of the shashka and, ultimately, those hidden within himself. For that reason, Books 2 and 3 are loss-of-innocence as well as a coming-of-age story, and therefore rather darker. Billy is five at the beginning of Book 1 and in his twenties by the end of Book 3. His emotional and moral development occurs alongside the acting out and ending of World War II and similarly ends as the devastation caused by warfare at all levels must be faced and overcome.

My intention in the writing of Billy’s story in this particular stage of history is to show that we understand at the macro level is happening in micro. Kenneth is a Germany to Billy’s Britishness, but Billy is blind to his inherent and acquired advantages as perceived by Kenneth.

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To the child himself, there is nothing twee about childhood – a fact that adults often fail to realise.

Longlist for Hilary Mantel Competition and Shortlist for Bonnie Greer Competition

The characterful writer:

Look forward to reading all the long list.

Originally posted on ShortStops:

Longlist for the 2014 Kingston Writing School Hilary Mantel Short Story Competition

Congratulations to the thirty writers of the following longlisted stories:

Blackout
Crow
Dirty Ink
Dog Days
Don’t Look Down
Duende
Fortuna Street
Fresh, Cold, and Most Importantly, Whole
Full of Grace
His Father’s Son
House of Dust
Household Gods
It’s a Luxury to Cry
Nirvana
One Day in Sarajevo
Piece by Piece by Piece
Print
Rag Doll People
Rivers are Damp
Rosa and Kelsey
Season’s End
Small Deaths
Soft Shoes
The Thousand Yard Memory
The Beasts of the Earth Will Adore Him
These Silver Fish
Water Bull Ride
What Lies Beneath
What the Wind Brings
Witching Hour

A shortlist of ten stories will be officially announced on October 31.

Hilary Mantel will publicly announce the first prize and two runners up prizes at a daytime award ceremony in Kingston-upon-Thames on December 5.

Shortlist for the 2014 KUP Bonnie…

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Birth of a trilogy: WWII in micro

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NOW AVAILABLE AS KINDLE –  http://amzn.to/1rdcuEd

The birth of a singleton is a mammoth event in the life of any parent. As for triplets, there’s now a changed and increased expectation, the anxious anticipation of the event, the prolonged delivery and the certainty of ongoing attention. It isn’t surprising if all this results in the emotion of ‘never again.’

A Relative Invasion is a coming-of-age trilogy set in the Home Front of WWII. The concept is that the feelings and tensions in Europe (macro scale) are mirrored in micro by this family, and particularly the two cousins in their emerging rivalry. The protagonist, Billy, a sturdy well-meaning boy is manipulated and bested by the frail, artistic Kenneth who is silently envious. There is a secret symbol of power, the shashka, which insidiously permeates the family’s fortunes.

In Book One, INTRUSION, as the adults worry about the onset of war, Billy’s is already beginning. He so wanted a play-mate but it came in the form of Kenneth. The four parents only see the porcelain looks of Kenneth and not his darker soul. Emotionally neglected or misunderstood by parents and aunt, and bullied by uncle and cousin, Billy imagines owning the precious Cossack sabre of his father’s colleague, a man who champions Billy. This icon sustains him through the invasion of his life by Kenneth, through an evacuation and the shock of war, but can the icon damage as well as protect?

Book 2, INFILTRATION, follows Billy through a second evacuation where he spends the rest of the war while Kenneth is lodged beside Billy’s family. A tragedy enforces a dramatic change in their futures. Billy’s growing attachments develops his confidence and capabilities so that he almost becomes like a hero from his precious book. Kenneth’s talent overlays his strengths and weaknesses. By VE Day, the boys’ mutual admiration and suspicion must be transported back to Wandsworth.

In Book 3, IMPACT, adolescence and the sharing of emotional space bring the rivalry to a crisis. A dreadful incident follows, darkening the boys’ interaction into adulthood. The outcome is devastating for all members of the family. Billy must find an honourable resolution which will enable his survival, while Kenneth ensures he will always have the last word.

TRIPLETS

INTRUSION is out in Kindle, paperback to follow.

The extract uploaded to Authonomy gained its medal and a full review by Harper Collins – awaited nervously.

In a much earlier draft, the book was Highly Commended in the Novel section of the Yeovil Prize 2011, and an extract converted into a short story, was runner up in the Guildford Festival.

Readers on the writers’ sites Authonomy have commented:

“…an enchanting book written by Rosalind Minett who is a master of research. She has skillfully conjured scenes from the WWII era and the chaos and desperation of that time. She has managed to bring it to the reader’s mind seamlessly and effortlessly with clever interpretations from a five-year old mind.”

“…the stark and simple times of wartime Britain are superbly evoked, with just the simplest of brush strokes”

“The depiction of pre-war and 1945 England is so exactly right, so accurate it scares me. Adults … buttoned up both figuratively and literally, unable to express any emotion except anger and often terrifying figures to a small child.”

These readers read early chapters of the first book. As the characters grow, the story’s darker aspects increase. Finding a resolution is never easy for a complex situation.

Flash Fiction

kaleidoscopeNo flashy words:
Review of Eating My Words: 2014

THE NATIONAL FLASH FICTION DAY ANTHOLOGY

Edited by Callum Kerr
Angela Readman
Amy McKelden

One of the beauties of an anthology of flash fiction is that it gives exposure to such a large number of different authors. It was good to see this, rather than many entries by a few authors. Furthermore, the anthology included a section of micro-fiction entries, a form requiring even more skill if a reader’s involvement is to be engaged.

I reviewed last year’s anthology, Scraps, ScrapsBkand approached the present one with happy anticipation. I didn’t have the advantage of seeing the foreword – I only had the e-book.

This year’s title is appealing and apt. It refers to the theme set the writers – The Senses. There was a wide variety in how this was interpreted, and a degree of variety in the quality of writing.

The opening story was totally enchanting in its reversal of perceptions of the rat. With a good arc and subtle references, Becky Tipper’s story set a promising tone for the book.

At the end of the book the winners of the micro-fiction competition displayed the economy of words against the ingenuity of concept.

In the remainder, the following stories pleased me particularly. Different readers will have different preferences, but those stories that feel complete in the read surely master the genre. It doesn’t have to be a surprise ending, but it does need to make sense of the beginning and/or display a clear concept. This blog emphasises the importance of character in writing.  In flash fiction, a character must make an immediate impact.

The imagery in Tasty – a story about pornography – works well, and the conclusion is both believable and restorative. The concept of ‘unfinished stories’ in Dress Sense ensured that the issue of loss and stasis would resonate after the read. This was a sensitive piece as was the much longer story by Sarah Hilary. She paired two unlikely characters and set them forth for an imagined future.

There were several sad reads, and a wry one, Show Don’t Tell, which made me smile. Nik Perring’s story was even more wry. A girl with an addiction to giving up and her boyfriend’s understandable responses suggested two interesting characters who would hold their own in a longer story, but nevertheless the piece had a satisfying conclusion. A wider smile still for What We Do In Our Sleep. It really pays to consider the ridiculous sometimes, for it can illustrate a point – in this case, hypochondria – more clearly than a set of descriptions. Tino Prinzi uses dialogue well and wittily here.

I did balk at some hefty wordiness (“feculent metastatic lesions”) in Seven Breaths, but the psychology of the piece was well understood. Another insightful piece, more about coming to fruition than coming of age, was Launch Pad. It launches the reader into a vivid classroom scene and slyly comments on adult expectations. Handle with Care was itself beautifully handled, displaying sensitivity and poignancy in a piece that explores a child’s revulsion against cruelty.

Michael Marshall Smith totally encapsulated the theme of The Senses in his story, Half-Life, with a very clever plotline. I admired this, as I did the well-written Chekhov’s Gun, for imaginative use of the theme.

Eating      EATING MY WORDS 

It is hard to pick out some stories for mention when there are many that make the purchase of this anthology worthwhile. Death, love, lust, thwarted ambition – all are aspects of the human condition that these writers consider. All the more surprising, then, to read about swallowed kittens, chemically induced sensation removal and the beauty of being an oyster.

Long live the flash fiction genre.

Berko Writers: Learn The Art Of The Short Story With Adam Marek

The characterful writer:

What a good course, and very reasonable price indeed.

Originally posted on ShortStops:

The Berko Writers’ Workshop has announced its next course – a six week programme getting to grips with the art of the short story.

It will be led by Adam Marek, author of the collections Instruction Manual For Swallowing and The Stone Thrower.

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Adam won the 2011 Arts Foundation Short Story Fellowship, and was shortlisted for the inaugural Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award and the Edge Hill Short Story Prize. His stories have appeared on BBC Radio 4 Extra, and in many magazines and anthologies, including Prospect and The Sunday Times Magazine, and The Best British Short Stories 2011 and 2013.

The course runs every Tuesday evening 8pm-10pm from October 7 to November 18 (not October 28 for half-term), upstairs at Here Cafe, Berkhamsted.

Berkhamsted is 35 minutes from Euston and there are four trains an hour, returning late to London.

The course fee is £150 and…

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