What I’ve Learnt About Authors

Over the past month I’ve been doing a lot of reading. Though you’d be forgiven for thinking otherwise if you were to go through my blog posts. I now work for a literary agency, you see. The good news is that I’m legitimately surrounded by books all day, the not so good news is that I have to read a lot for work so my leisure reading has taken a bit of a backseat. In the past month, I’ve read all kinds of books ranging from a tale of survival in war-torn Beirut, to a novel about the eventful private life of Pablo Picasso, and I’m excited to say that I’ve also read something from a first-time struggling American writer that I have really high hopes for.

I’ve come to understand that almost everyone feels they have a novel inside them, and I’ve unfortunately become that person that crushes the dream, the bearer of bad news. I’ve learnt that it gets easier with time and also that there are some delusional people out there who take it very personally and start to become aggressive.

In my mind, whenever I think of writers, I’ve always maintained a lofty image of a spectacled person with unkempt hair, lounging over a typewriter with a black coffee and cigarette in hand. However, I’ve discovered that authors are real people with real lives. And…

  • I’ve learnt that some live at very normal looking London addresses.
  • I’ve learnt that they are at times insistent that their true identities remain concealed (all for very valid reasons).
  • I’ve learnt that they take public transport and that they sweat after walking through the muggy, late summer, London heat.
  • I’ve learnt that as established as they are, sometimes their work isn’t that good.
  • I’ve learnt that they can lose all their work through the unfortunate drowning of their laptops (Yes. Drowning).
  • I’ve learnt that some are very particular about certain things, especially about money.
  • I’ve learnt that the cover design of a book is the centre of many arguments and can cause professional relationships to dissolve.
  • I’ve learnt that they write on random bits of napkin, stapled together with pages of faded pencil and images drawn crudely with a biro and that it’s your job to make sense of it all and to type it up into a word document (where it should have been in the first place).
  • I’ve learnt that they marry acrobats.
  • I’ve learnt that they find it difficult to write when their children are teething.
  • I’ve learnt that they’re human. As nervous as I was to meet them, so were they to meet me.

So, a million cups of tea and dozens of manuscripts later, I can honestly say that it’s all so very subjective. All I am is an avid reader, my opinion is not necessarily worth more than anyone else’s; I just happen to have a job that means my opinion can be put into effect. All I can say to writers is do your research and send your book to the right agent, an agent on whose list you genuinely fit, because it’s a really nice feeling to be able to tell a person, after years of being rejected, that you loved their submission and would like to read more. The relief and sheer elation in their response is palpable (though they try to play it cool).

And I promise, a review will be up here by the end of the weekend.

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We Need to Talk About Daniel: THE GOOD FATHER by Noah Hawley; A Gushing Review

‘This is how it happens. There is nothing and then, suddenly, something. A family is making dinner, talking, laughing, and then the outside world muscles in.’

Dr. Allen, your son killed the next president of the United States.” – Ten words that no parent would ever wish to hear; words that no parent would ever even dream of hearing. Yet Dr Paul Allen, the narrator of this tale, ‘a man who had found contentment in life, happiness. A lucky man, who had come to expect good things’, is confronted with this reality in the middle of pizza-making with his second wife and their twin sons. Along with the rest of America, they watch the shocking news of the assassination of a charismatic Presidential candidate as it unfolds on their TVs. Minutes later, the Secret Service are at their front door revealing that the man arrested for the murder is Danny, the child of Paul’s first marriage.

Paul is instantly in denial, vehemently rejecting the possibility of his son’s guilt. A universe in which his son is able to commit murder is incomprehensible to him, and asking if Daniel is culpable is like asking ‘What if rain fell up instead of down?’ At one point, Daniel’s mother says ‘Danny shot Jesus’, as senator Seagram, though not black, was the fictional equivalent of Obama, a man who represented hope, a man loved by all.

Daniel’s actions spiral the lives of his family members into uncertainty and constant questioning, his father asking himself what he had done to make Daniel who he is, what could he have done differently?: ‘Was this what the rest of my life would be made of? Endless nights spent building alternate histories, running simulations, looking for a way out of the maze?’

Hawley explores the impact that divorce and absent parents have on children, questioning whether this core instability can extend into other parts of a person’s life. It is always too easy to point a finger at the parent, and they are always the ones that the public ultimately land up blaming and hating, ostracising them from society, allowing their shame to build a protective wall of ‘us’ and ‘them’, as if bad parenting were contagious.

Paul is not without his flaws, but his unrelenting devotion to his son (though perhaps now too late) is truly heart-breaking. Swearing that ‘his vindication would be my grail’ he does everything in his power to ‘save’ Danny. This soon develops into an obsession, him tirelessly collecting and collating all information related to the crime, him reading books on famous assassinations (McVeigh, Sirhan Sirhan, Hinckley) and sharing these details with the reader, him searching for similarities between these men and his son:

‘I had spent the last three months trying to compile the evidence, to add up all the moments from Danny’s childhood that could provide a diagnosis, a definitive answer as to who he was and why he did the things he did, and yet in life everything is open to interpretation. We see the past through the prism of our perception. When a man is indicted of a crime you review his life looking for patterns. Incidents that may have been meaningless before suddenly loom large. Look. He killed spiders. That must have been an early warning sign.

We are asked many questions through the course of this book. Who do we apportion the blame to? Is there even a need to do so? Can blame spread beyond the culprit himself?

The desire to know what leads a human being to commit a heinous crime like this, is what propels this narrative, is the reason why I found myself hooked onto every word of every page. Is it that part of us that feels alone and disconnected from the world that comes forth and does what was previously thought to be impossible? ‘A person, alone in the dark, disappears little by little, piece by piece’ until they reformulate into a different person. But then this: ‘Understanding the reason makes killing reasonable.’ Murder cannot be cleanly boxed up and categorised.

Ultimately disillusioned (and perhaps also delusional) does Danny do what he feels needs to be done, searching for his place in history? The lack of logic in his thinking and in the thinking of other seemingly intelligent men always has the ability to infuriate me, but evidently ‘the world is full of twenty-year-olds with too much in the way of balls and not enough sense. This is what young men are good for. Revolution and murder.’ That Danny doesn’t fit into the stereotypical psychological profile of a killer is important. Hawley plays with notions of nature, nurture, destiny and chance, never quite pinning down the reason why things have turned out as they have. Ambiguity is the tool of great writers; it is what gives novels lasting impact.

I. LOVE. THIS. BOOK. But then again, I knew I would. We Need to Talk About Kevin is one of my favourite books, and as this also works with themes of parenthood and innate vs. learned characteristics, that I would enjoy it was inevitable. I’m surprised this book hasn’t had more media attention; I honestly believe it to be an astonishing achievement. There are so many profound passages in it, sentences that provide great insight into the human mind and human motivations, that my list of pages to quote from grew too long to attempt both cohesion and concision. A book that I could not wait to finish yet was sad when I finally did. It did not disappoint on any level, I cannot recommend this enough. Read it.

So I’ll leave you with these two thoughts to ponder on:

  • ‘We’re not all put on this earth to do what’s right.’
  • ‘You can’t make a good person do bad things. You can’t change who they are fundamentally in the time it takes to eat a sandwich. That’s science fiction. The only thing that can change who we are is life.’

Internet Not Working

Hey Guys,

Just thought I’d let you know that my internet hasn’t been working since the weekend so can’t post my new book reviews. In this day and age when good customer service is a given, the end of a fruitless 2 hour ‘do this, then do this’ phone conversation sprinkled with patronising hold music, resulted in the technician saying they can’t come round to the house until Friday!! Was not amused. I’m furtively typing this at work when I should be working so have to go, but I assume you’re all waiting with bated breath for my next post. Or not.

Koko x

 

Book Review: What They Do In the Dark [will forever baffle you] by Amanda Coe

What They Do In The Dark – Amanda Coe

This is a very difficult book to review. To do so properly would mean having to reveal the ending, which would spoil the book for any potential reader as, I suppose, the way in which the story unfolds is what makes it all the more intriguing.

Having said this, I’m not sure if having a shocking conclusion galvanises the entire story into goodness. I’m not sure the ending is enough. For much of the time I was reading this book, I didn’t know what it was I was reading, where the story was going. You’ll find that any review of this book you may come across, including the blurb itself, is deliberately vague. I personally feel that this prevents you from anchoring your thoughts properly and therefore your reading becomes less focused.

Before I carry on, I should say that I actively despise this book cover. Horrendous choice. Just thought I should put that out there.

This book is about two young girls living in northern England (Yorkshire) in the 1970s. One, Gemma, lives a fairly privileged middle class life and the other, Pauline, lives in squalor amongst family members who barely register her existence. Into this story enters Lallie, a child film star who Gemma is obsessed with and whose new movie is being filmed on location at Gemma and Pauline’s school. Rude and unkempt, Pauline is a product of her surroundings, and Gemma, her mother’s child, is a pig-tailed picture of manners. An unlikely pair, a relationship of bare tolerance develops between the two, resulting in consequences that no one sees coming.

There is abuse in this book (I thought I’d help you frame your reading with this little bit of contextual information); different kinds of abuse, but abuse nonetheless. Experienced by all three girls. This is alluded to without being presented outright, which is all the more reason why the explicitness of the ending comes as even more of a shock. And the ending is the least predictable one I have ever come across. I was so troubled by it that I had to actually put the book down for minutes at a time, unable to finish a particularly disturbing sentence.

This book really made me ponder the fragility of a child’s mind, how malleable it is. How impressionable. How a child’s process of rationalisation can be so off key. How one, small decision can alter the lives of many forever. How you will never know what one is capable of doing in the dark.

Why Blogging Reminds Me of High School

Blogging kind of reminds me of high school. Ok, that’s not quite true.  I didn’t actually go to ‘high school’ per se. I spent my senior school years in England where it is in actual fact called secondary school; so there’s that. I thought I should clarify that in case you were picturing me in jeans and a JanSport backpack, walking down locker-lined halls listening to Blink 182. Mine was an all-girls situation and I had to wear a ghastly red and baby blue uniform. Real Hot. (Did not bring any boys to the yard.)

I should probably shut up now because my ‘high school’ experiences were nothing like that which is depicted in most stereotypical high school teen movies from the late 90s / early 2000s (complete with unrealistic, synchronised mass-dancing scene). (For some reason, the only film that seems to keep popping into my head is She’s All That with Freddie Prinze Jnr, back in the days when he was desirable, haha.)

Source: Wikipedia.org

Sorry, couldn’t resist. This is sooo bad, it’s actually quite good:

So let me change this post to ‘Why Blogging Reminds Me of What I Stereotypically Believe an American High School to Be Like.’

A lot of the bloggers are nice and friendly to the new girl in school: they talk to me, make me feel welcome, occasionally respond to one of my many questions. A small number even decide to be my friend and follow me around the campus of WordPress High.

We wander around in our cliques (categories); the foodies stick together and are always seen with their cameras at lunch time, the bookworms talk about books that are 50 shades of a colour that is not grey, so therefore no one cares; the geeks fill their pages with concepts only few understand, the arty ones don’t care if they’re liked, they let their pictures speak for themselves. And then you have the popular kids which are those blogs with a really large following, taunting you with their stats. They are the jocks and cheerleaders, all blonde and soaring blue eyed graphs looking down at you from their thousandth hit of the day whilst you’re still struggling to make double digits on most days. People just flock to them. You hate them. Or hate that you follow them and ‘like’ everything they do.

You post something new on your blog, ending with a few questions to encourage discussion and debate. You agonise over a catchy title, add a few interesting pictures, tag like your life depends on it, and you’re pretty much good to go.

And then no one responds.

Your question remains unanswered, floating about in cyber space as a constant reminder of your miniature failure. It’s like being relegated to the Loser’s table in the cafeteria (again, making this up, I had an assigned seat at lunch). The sting of rejection is palpable. But then after a while you get used to it, like you get used to having your lunch money stolen. You no longer expect to eat lunch. Who needs those calories anyway? Pshh.

And then one day, out of the blue, you are seen talking to WordPress in the halls (this means you’ve been Freshly Pressed), who’s like this uber cool kid in school so now everyone wants to talk to you. Those questions from before, they’re now answered without any prompting. So many people want to have discussions with you, you can barely keep up. You’re ‘liked’ into oblivion. You feel loved; validated. You try to play it cool.

A week goes by, and soon the other students start to forget that you’ve been touched with the ‘cool’ wand and wander off to talk to the next new thing. You feel used. You feel empty. Like a one night stand.

So the ultimate goal of high school is to be popular, to be heard, to matter. And here most of us are, high school a distant (or I guess not-so-distant) memory, still being haunted by who to sit next to in class. Who will cause those blue-eyed graphs to ripple…?

Disclaimer: This is total tongue-in-cheek.

Top Ten Bookstore Pick-up Lines

I know I didn’t post this in time for it to be useful for your Saturday afternoon bookstore visit, but thought I’d post this just in time for your Saturday night out! Some of these are bound to work at a bar. If you’re not married by the end of the weekend, then you’re definitely not saying it right.

Pick-up lines for bookworms
Source: http://adamgarbinski.tumblr.com