REVIEWS: Oyster A boy with potential

Recent reviews

oyster_tiniest

A Brilliant Short Story
By Sheila M. Belshaw (South Africa)

An incredibly insightful look at the machinations of a boy so intellectually damaged that he cannot fit into normal society. Only a writer with a deep knowledge of the human psyche could carry off something as profoundly moving as this story is. The voice is amazingly real and I found myself following his twisted thoughts and seeing exactly where he was coming from, and at the same time feeling dreadfully sorry for him.
On top of all that, the story is beautifully written, so that nowhere does it not flow as though from the pen of a superb writer.

 

And from Austria, By C.R.Putsche

Oyster. A boy with potential By Rosalind Minett

This is an outstanding short story that I managed to devour in just one sitting. Rarely does an author so courageously expose truths, realities and day-to-day struggles of a boy who finds it difficult to fit in to society.

Jake tells us his disturbing story from a first person narrative which gives the reader a real insight in to his tangled thoughts and feelings that you can somehow sympathise with him and understand his unbalanced mind, while nervously anticipating what he will do next. Jake has quite the back story, as he comes from a dysfunctional family who put his safety, health and wellbeing at risk which results in him being moved from one adoptive family to another before he ends up in the Home and yet another Home before he commits his greatest atrocity in his short life so far.

Make no mistake this book is a real frightener, albeit a book of fiction and a major credit to Rosalind Minett who knows her stuff when it comes to the workings of an unbalanced mind besides having a literal talent to depicts things of an unnatural nature.

These are two of the 5* reviews on Amazon.

The review is also on this review site, as shown below this post.

http://walkerputsche.wordpress.com

Catherine Rose Putsche Book Blog

http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B00OQTA1FK/ref=cm_cr_ryp_prd_ttl_sol_0

Oyster
A boy with potential
By Rosalind Minett
This is an outstanding short story that I managed to devour in just one sitting. Rarely does an author so courageously expose truths, realities and day-to-day struggles of a boy who finds it difficult to fit in to society.
Jake tells us his disturbing story from a first person narrative which gives the reader a real insight in to his tangled thoughts and feelings that you can somehow sympathise with him and understand his unbalanced mind, while nervously anticipating what he will do next. Jake has quite the back story, as he comes from a dysfunctional family who put his safety, health and wellbeing at risk which results in him being moved from one adoptive family to another before he ends up in the Home and yet another Home before he commits his greatest atrocity in his short life so far.

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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.

Authors’ stimuli: preparing for that blank moment

PERFUME                                 SMELL                            STINK

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In a previous post I suggested that, at the point of urgently scribbling down that new idea, it may be worth exploring what actually prompted it.

The power of olfactory stimuli in activating memory is well known. I believe it is much harder to ‘dream up’ an olfactory experience than a visual or auditory memory that might affect the character in your story. For  a visual stimulus we have Art to display ideas, perspectives, narratives, symbols.  We have Theatre and Radio to present ideas and emotions through sound patterns, speech or music.  snuff_opt

There is no equivalent for smells. The writer may sit, pen raised, summoning up exactly the right sound or sight to cause his hero to pale with emotion, and the reader to imagine this accordingly. Far more difficult to write more than ‘the smell/scent/perfume/stink of’ (whatever) caused the emotional impact. How much of a struggle to work out what might have been recorded in long term memory.

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It might be a good idea to be prepared for that blank moment. Perhaps the answer is to note down your own strong reactions to any smell, pleasant or unpleasant, listing the source for each but avoid the obvious like dog poo. For instance, the whiff of musty clothes in a charity shop reminds Kara of a down-at-heel great aunt; the scent of aloe vera takes Anna back to the birth of her baby but reminds Dan of a little lane in Almeria where he was set on by teenage thugs.

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With such a list of smells, you can google them to add any interesting facts to their source and the memories they evoke for you. Easier then to strengthen your writing with that detail that enthralls readers and brings them right into your story.

Literary competitions

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Short Story competitions

COULD YOU BE A WINNER?

I think winning stories have to capture the heart as well as the attention of the judges. I’ve rarely read a winning story without feeling I know why it was chosen. Usually the setting is striking, the structure is very satisfying, the ending unexpected and the main character convincing. I’m saying nothing out of the ordinary, I know, but it’s as well to have these features of winning stories in the back of your mind as you start to write yours. Some writers give up competitions at the first or second failure to get on the shortlist.

However, some rehash their stories or even leave them as they are and keep submitting them to different competitions, on the basis that ‘liking’ a story and finding it surpasses other good entries is very subjective.  

I reviewed one winner, Anne Corlett, on a previous post (See Review: H.E.Bates winner)  Her story is well worth reading for that structure, setting, believable character (s), and unexpected ending, a thoroughly satisfying read. 

It is not always previous competition winners or successful journalists turning to fiction who win. There have been some notable first timers who have run the contestants out of the ground. The main thing is to have a go. The writing towards winning is good practice, and you can regard it as just that. Robert the Bruce would have been entering every competition until chosen, egged on by his spider. So, try, try, try again if you haven’t been successful so far.

These competitions have April deadlines.

APRIL

11 April — Litro magazine Theme: Augmented Reality Max. length: 3,000 words
26 April — Felixstowe Book Festival Short Story Competition Theme of Conflict 
30 April — 13th International Short Story Conference Story Contest fee: €10 (theme: The Braids of Identity) 
30 April — The Bristol prize   any subject. Max. length 4,000 words
30 April — E.M. Koeppel Short Fiction Contest 
30 April – Fiction Uncovered 2014 
30 April — Tom Howard/John H. Reid Fiction & Essay Contest 
The more entrants, the more money to finance the next competition. Let me know if you are one of the short-listed or even better.

Affordable writers’ services

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I take reviewing seriously. A few months ago, a writer seeking my independent review will have been disappointed. I read it and commented, but didn’t publish any review.

My policy: if my rating would be 3 stars or less (Goodreads, Amazon) I don’t publish. I send the review privately to the author. I’ve never seen the value of a highly negative review. It’s not as if the general public are rushing out impulsively to buy a novel from which they must be protected. The prize for the best hatchet job leaves me cold, in the same way that putting an obese person naked in a crowd of jeerers would.

The point here is that the fore-mentioned author had not used an editor.  The novel was full of factual inaccuracies about the main dilemma, which made the plot unworkable. The first chapter alone would have caused any editor worth his/her salt to advise the author not to go further until the necessary research had been carried out. Furthermore, the minor character in Chapter 2 had a different personality when he sneaked in again in Chapter 11. Finally, there were two chapters in the middle that were not relevant, let alone essential, to the plot. They needed cutting. The writing itself was fine, so was the original story concept. Shame. I hope that writer took the advice.

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RULE: Never submit any novel until it has been edited.      

I always read and re-read and constantly correct my own work, yet a proof-reader will find several things per chapter that I need to tweak. It might be a lettr missed out, or a, comma misplaced or even word missed out.  Once spotted I can’t imagine how these errors escaped me.

RULE:   Always use a proof reader, even for a short story.

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When you decide to publish, you’ll need to convert your book into e-pub and e-mobi formats. This is not an impossible task, thanks to Calibre but it is time-consuming and fraught with potential error-making. You can land up with ?eft? #blb instead of the word you wrote. The headaches this formatting task may cause you, even if you overcome your fear and time problems, can be eradicated by using a conversion service.

RULE:  Even if your printed book is absolutely perfect, every page needs checking again in its e-versions.

Such services can stretch the writer’s budget unbearably but they are vital services. Without access to a known editor or proof-reader, it is safest to go to the Society for Editors and Proofreaders Directory of Editorial Services who will charge about £21-28 per hour according to the extent of textual work required (e.g. proof-reading alone would be at the lower end of this).

Of course, there are many tempting offers online but it’s a risk to take one up without knowledge of their quality. The dangers  have been outlined on other blogs I’m sure, so I won’t use space detailing these. What I can do is point readers to affordable and reputable writer/reviewers/editors. The following  people are all authors themselves and who offer proof-reading and editing. They charge about £4 per 1000 words for proof-reading, £5 per 1000 words for editing. A full structural edit is a long job so a 100,00 word novel will run you into the hundreds.

All the following people have different styles and strengths.

Firstly, there is multi-tasker Morgen Bailey, whose richly informative blog I have already mentioned in my post Towards a Superblog.  I can vouch for her outstanding speed and attentiveness and for the reasonable prices she charges for her editing and proof-reading.  She can rapidly spot where a story is going wrong as well as punctuation or continuity mistakes. Her work is worth every penny.  She will also offer a critique – a very helpful service for a writer wondering whether their piece is worth pursuing.morgenbailey

Morgen also constructs websites – a nightmare for many writers. See the one she did for the journalist and novelist Jane Wenham Jones whose articles you’ve probably read in Writing Magazine and elsewhere.

Secondly, there is novelist Karen Perkins (Thores Cross; The Valkyrie Series, etc). Go to her for inexpensive help for converting files to the required format for publishing as paper-back or e-book. Not only does she offer editing, conversion and other services but she has just published two really useful books: one on editing, one on formatting. If you want to be self-sufficient, these books certainly fill a very important gap in the market. I will be reviewing these books in the near future.

Karen Perkinsformatting guideEDITING guide UK - small

Thirdly, there is Lucy Middlemass, YA author, with two books winners on the writers’ site Authonomy. Watch out for her lively character,  Jinger Barley, when her books are published.  She is a very good reviewer across genres. Her reviews are extremely thorough, helpful and fair, even when it’s clear she has not had a high opinion of a book. She manages a review thread for YA fiction where she encourages the same positive approach. Lucy similarly offers a thorough editing and critique of novels. It is clear that she has not only read thoroughly and made her line-by-line edit, but has thought out the writer’s intentions and can advise his best route forwards.  LucyMiddlemass

Finally,  Tony Foster offers full structural edits. Tony has a B.A. (1st class honours) in Creative Writing. He begins his Ph.D focusing on Writing Theory and Cognitive Poetics later this year. He writes across disciplines, including radio plays, screenplays and prose fiction. Tony’s edit includes a detailed critique and chapter-by-chapter analysis. He charges £10 per 1000 words, negotiable above 50,000 words, which also includes proof read, line edit and manuscript layout to publishing standard. He can be contacted here: blightersrock@gmail.com

DON’T FORGET:  You will need reviews for your book once it is fledged.

RULE: Never pay for one.

Not every reviewer writes to a high standard but you can look at their other reviews to estimate their quality. You can look at Amazon’s top 100 reviewers and hope to get a review. You can ask friends and family BUT have reviews that sing out what you have done.  The best reviews are those from readers who’ve read your book and constructed their own, independent opinion of it.

I may write a subsequent post detailing online reviews that have impressed me.

Emerging short story

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                                                    Wild cactus, dangerous to touch

I finished a short story yesterday.  Each time this happens I get a tremendous sense of self completion. That sense usually dissipates on a re-reading. I think I edit more than I write. However, this was a third sitting and a long one.  (I can always edit again.)

I submitted it for StoryFriday, a superb event that happens one Friday evening on alternate months. It’s held in Burdalls Yard, Bath, an atmospheric and quite historic building with a mediterreanean courtyard and a cave-like theatre. It’s owned by the Performing Arts department of Bath Spa University but used by others in the evenings. A Word in Your Ear, of which StoryFriday is a section, gains from this availability.

There is a theme set, authors submit stories and the best are selected, either performed by the authors themselves or by one of the two talented actors. There is interesting live music as the evening starts, with candle lit tables and a bar.  At the appointed hour we all take our seats in the small theatre, and the story performances begin. The standard is very high so I don’t count on my story being accepted.  However, I thought beginner writers might be interested in the process of writing this story.

I think that once an idea comes for a story the writer can become too involved in one aspect to pay due attention to other important elements that go towards making a good story. In my case, I was totally immersed in developing the voice of a not too reliable narrator. (Readers of my previous post of this title will realise that this appeals to me.)

StoryFriday for March has the theme, FERAL. When set a theme, I like to stick to it closely. So I have a feral narrator. He’s not like this wonderful creature, but the illustration demonstrates that a theme can be interpreted in unusual and unexpected ways.

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panzi – deviantart.com

The writing process

Deep into my narrator’s account, at about 2,000 words I realised that I had too many characters appearing. Even without assigning them names, they would crowd my story. I doubt if a story of under 3000 words can work with more than three characters, and I was working to a maximum word count of 2,200. Even that is too long for a spoken performance.

I sat back and re-thought the story. Where was my character at the beginning? How many places and situations could he refer to? Like characters, not too many, otherwise the reader/listener would become confused. How could I best lead up to the climax? Had I laid down a hint near the beginning so that the end had validity? Had I described sufficient of the scenes for them to be visualised?

After thinking this all out, I reworked rather than rewrote the story, but all the time the above considerations had to be written as seen through the eyes of the narrator.

I hope I’ve succeeded, but if I haven’t, I’ll come back and edit again. I think this feral narrator is refusing to let me go.

Scottish Showcase: Review of The Grind

Today’s post is a review I wrote for ShortStops, a literary online site that celebrates the short story.

The Grind is an online journal showcasing creative work from across Scotland had its first issue recently. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this as can be seen from the following:

THE GRIND – A NEW CREATIVE JOURNAL

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It was enlivening to read the first issue of The Grind, an online magazine showcasing short fiction and visual art from across Scotland. The Grind will give new artists and writers the opportunity to have their work seen by an interested audience. Always ahead in the field of Education, Scotland has its own voice and personality, perhaps insufficiently seen internationally.

Some of the contributors will be completely unknown, others have already won acclaim for their work. I enjoyed all the contributions but can only mention a few in a brief review.

The first issue is certainly as diverse as the parts of that country. Dramatic treescapes from Jamie McFarlane open the magazine. This is followed by some poetic gems. I particularly liked Dreamscape by Seonaid Francis, short but lyrical, and delicately to the point.

The tone is very different for the arresting architectural and life-style statements by Declan Malone. These photographs both appealed to the eye while depressing the spirit, and as spatial configurations, they somehow sum up a visual experience for a significant proportion of the population.

Also memorable, are the very disturbing psychological portraits by Bryan M Ferguson. Somewhat filmically, he portrays what is happening and has happened to his subjects whom he allows to speak for themselves. His use of black/white contrast add to the effect upon us.

There is flash fiction in this issue, as well as poetry. I would pick out the haunting set of mini ghost stories by David Flood. These are less fantasy than a representation of the living loss for the ordinary person of those departed. The short pieces held together well as a set.

In the same vein, I loved the haunting shadowy photographs of TV Eye, like flickers of memory. Some photographs please as a work of art, some as technique. These appeared to strike some new ground, touching on half formed thoughts or minimally perceived movements.

In strong contrast, the impressive and central work NMDA by CD Shade is an intellectual presentation. It uses text, rhythm and diagram to present a visual representation of the glutamate receptor and its functions. This work really needed larger pages for readers to appreciate the scientific, cognitive, language and life implications it draws attention to. I enlarged each section in order to read it properly. NMDA is in essence a scientific poem, unique in its style. I am sure it will receive the attention it deserves .

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This is a stimulating and exciting magazine. I did wonder if a different title would benefit it; a hydrophonics magazine has been using it for some time. Otherwise, only one criticism – the layout sometimes made it difficult to determine whose work I was seeing, so that I had to return to the Contents page. The author’s name, often written very small, hovered between pages. One artist framed his work, and this made for much easier viewing, especially on a tablet.

The talented writers and artists present a range of themes and genres in this first issue of The Grind. If there are to be changes in the later issues, I hope there will be a chosen theme each time. It will be exciting to see how the different individuals respond to this within their own medium and style.

I shall be looking out for Issue 2.

First published on www.ShortStops.info