Thursday, 6 January 2011

Happy New Year!

Here we are in 2011 and in a spirit of optimism, I am making a few changes to The Self-Publishing Review.

Regular visitors will have noticed that I've not been posting here much lately. There were two reasons for that: I've been incredibly busy with paid-for writing, which has to take precedence over my blogging activities; and I've been getting so many ugly anonymous comments and emails from this site that I needed to rethink my approach.

The good news is that I'm on the home stretch of the book I'm writing; and I've now managed to collect the IP addresses of all of the people who were being less than polite, and I have now reported them to their ISPs. I find joy in such things.

So that I can deal more easily with any such sad obsessives in the future, I'm going to move this blog from Blogger to Wordpress. Comments here are now closed, but you can still take part in the discussions over at my new home.

I hope to see you there. Thank you, readers and especially writers, for your support over the last year. May 2011 be a splendid and productive year for us all.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Ordeal, by T K Varenko

It is a verse-ornated story
About love, betrayal, wrath
Royal vampires' bliss and glory
Bringing them straight to their death.

Luella, fierce, strong vampire,
Falls for a pretty human catch
Sent on her fiancé’s desire
To celebrate they are engaged.

This unexpected turnabout
Is doomed to come to a dead end:
Her human sweetheart's dead to shroud:
Her fiancé’s avenged for that.

And she is punished for blood treason,
Banished into a mortal child,
Whose human body is a prison
For all her powers to bind.

Her memories obliterated,
She is to find her love at last
Who proves to be too much related
To the misfortunes from her past.

Ordeal is a vampire story written completely in verse, which follows a simple A – B – A – B four line form. It's a relatively easy form to write if you have a good awareness of rhythm and rhyme; sadly the author of this book appears to have neither.

His lines don't scan, his rhymes often don't actually rhyme; he uses words which almost sound good but don't mean what he seems to think they mean; and several of his verses make no sense at all.

He has forgotten to put his own name on the front cover of his own book; the cover image he has chosen is extremely unappealing, and brings to mind the inside of a mouldy eyeball, complete with blood vessels; the back cover copy is almost illegible as the font used is over-fancy and out of focus; and the book has no copyright page.

The writing is quite astonishingly bad: this verse reads as though it has been dragged backwards and forwards through Babel Fish a few times. I read five and a half pages out of two hundred and twelve despite ignoring several of the author's less significant lapses, and I strongly urge this writer to put in a lot more work on his craft before he even considers publishing anything else.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Take It Easy: Untangling the Internet: an easy guide to start using the Internet by Ohad Kravchick

If you ever thought it's too late for you to learn how to use the Internet THINK AGAIN!

In "Take It Easy: Untangling The Internet," author Ohad Kravchick guides you through an easy, step-by-step process to using the Internet, by providing:

> An introduction to the Internet and the benefits of using it.
> A detailed walk-through with illustrations for using your computer and connecting to the Internet.
> Real-life Internet scenarios (websites), containing simple and more advanced examples, complete with easy to follow illustrations.
> Directions showing how to find the information you need.
> A list of useful Internet locations for your knowledge, finance, chores, hobbies, and entertainment.


Ohad Kravchick has been a professional computer instructor for more than 8 years; he is focused on ease of learning. He earned his master's degree in Computer Science from Fordham University. He lives with his wife in New York City.

For more information about this booklet and its publication, log in to:
To order more copies call 1-877-377-3311 (toll free)

I use the internet a lot: I use it for research, for networking, and for blogging. I'm not, however, terribly computer-literate: I depend on my lovely friend Clever Andy to rescue me from technical tangles and I'm frequently grateful to him for all his help. Consequently, I was looking forward to reading this slim book in the hope that I might improve my knowledge of all things internet. Sadly, I was disappointed.

This is the single most confusing instruction manual I have ever encountered, and I include in that list the Italian instructions for a fridge which accompanied the DVD player I bought recently.

I am sure that Mr Kravchick is a lovely man; he's a professional computer instructor and I bet when he talks to people in his classes he helps them enormously. But he has no aptitude for writing. His sentences range from confusing to unintelligible, and his errors in grammar mean that he often make statements which are completely wrong. I'm very sorry to have to be so damning. But this is a terribly badly written book and I can only see it confusing anyone desperate enough to turn to it for help. I read just three of its sixty-three pages, despite my best attempts to be generous.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Lost in Juarez, by Douglas Lindsay

From the creator of the cult Barney Thomson crime series, comes a darker, more sinister novel.

The government is watching.

4 million names on the DNA database and counting; CCTV cameras on every street corner; telephone records available to any agency which requests them; restrictions on movements around Westminster; ID cards and the most all encompassing surveillance operations ever conducted. All in the name of freedom.

When his latest book is shelved due to government interference, Lake Weston—international bestselling, Bob Dylan-addicted children's author—decides that it is time to stand up for personal rights. He writes and anonymously publishes a scathing polemic, the Animal Farm of its day, about a government which seeks to restrict civil liberties in the name of freedom. The book quickly achieves notoriety. The media is animatedly curious about the author; the government, however, already knows.

As the security services close in, Weston find his name dragged through the gutter press. Suddenly he must run for his life, not knowing who he can trust and with nothing in his pocket except a few pounds and an iPod loaded with 1256 Bob Dylan tracks.

About the books of Douglas Lindsay:

"Gleefully macabre... hugely enjoyable black burlesque." The Scotsman

"Pitch black comedy spun from the finest writing. Fantastic plot, unforgettable scenes and plenty of twisted belly laughs." New Woman

"Lindsay's burlesque thrills offer no sex, no drugs, no desperation to be cool. Just straightforward adult story: fantastic plot, classic timing and gleeful delight in the grotesque." What's On

"Extremely well-written, highly amusing and completely unpredictable in its outrageous plot twists and turns." The List

I really wanted to enjoy Lost in Juarez: it has a good jacket design, and the book feels balanced in my hands thanks to its professional production values (although I would have preferred a matt laminate on the cover—those glossy finishes always feel a bit too low-end to me). Despite the rather clumsy back cover copy the quotes which accompanied it really got my hopes up, and its premise appealed to me: so I started work on this book with some enthusiasm.

I was very disappointed.

The first hurdle I had to overcome was the book’s poor internal layout. The paragraphs are indented by only a single space, making reading difficult and tiring; and the font used throughout the book is just a trifle small. The problem with the font size is just a personal preference (amazingly, I seem to be getting older and find such close type wearing to read for long), so I didn’t include it in my tally of problems, but such typesetting issues have to be considered by self-publishers: they directly affect the readability of the book, and are likely to make potential readers turn away from this book without really knowing why they’re doing so. If you want to sell as many copies as you can it’s important to put as few barriers between the reader and the text as possible, and by making it even a tiny bit difficult to read the text, you’re shooting your book in its metaphorical foot.

Sadly, though, I felt that this book had more troubling issues than the size of its typeface. The author's style is staccato and repetitious: he frequently uses sentence fragments and seems to be aiming for a hard-edged tone which at times morphs into pastiche. There were several confusing passages; a few lines which made no sense at all; a scattering of odd punctuation choices including an ellipsis of magnificent proportions; and a post-coital scene which was so full of adolescent self-importance that I found myself cringing as I read it.

I stopped reading after that sex scene, so read just sixteen pages out of two hundred and twelve. It's a shame, as further on in the book the writer gets into his stride more, and the text does improve: but that’s too late if he wants to grab browsing readers who will usually begin at the book’s first page.

I’ve skim-read this book to the end and am convinced that with a better editor this book could have been significantly improved, and would probably have earned a recommendation from me. In its current state, however, I found it a clumsy and uncomfortable read on several levels. Nevertheless, there is something about it that I liked and I hope to see more from Mr Lindsay in the future.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

I'm Still Here!

Apologies for my silence over the last month or so: I'm just a little bit busy with other projects but I will be back here in the near future, reviewing the stack of books I have by my side. There are a couple of treasures in that stack, I'm pleased to say. I'm still happy to receive submissions for review, and am blogging pretty much as usual on How Publishing Really Works.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

The Faith Of A Child: Stefan G Lanfer

Preparing for fatherhood? Freaked out? Help is here.

Playwright Stefan Lanfer has penned a vital new book on the struggles of dads-to-be.

When a woman prepares for motherhood, other women guide her on her way. Not so a dad-to-be, who gets pats on the back, corny jokes, or vague assurances he'll do fine. Until now, his best hope was by-moms-for-moms baby books--a gap filled by Stefan Lanfer’s The Faith of a Child and Other Stories of Becoming and Being a Dad, in which the author chronicles his own journey to, and into fatherhood, lending a comforting and humorous peek into the vagaries and joys of being a dad.

According to Lanfer, "When my wife was pregnant, I was STRESSED out, and the guys around me were no help--until, just in time, I hosted a group of dads at our home. I fed them dinner, and they fed me their stories." As he listened, says Lanfer, "I got inside the head space of a dad, and, finally, I felt ready."

To pay forward this gift of stories, Lanfer shares his own in The Faith of a Child. To dads-to-be, Lanfer says, "If you want tips, tactics, and advice for childbirth and parenting, you've got dozens of choices. But, if you want real stories that actually let you picture fatherhood, The Faith of a Child is for you.

The Faith Of A Child is composed of a series of vignettes from Lanfer's life with his wife and, eventually, two small children. He writes in blank verse, which I didn't find particularly successful: his writing is neither tight enough nor lyrical enough to shine in this form (to see blank verse working well, read Sharp Teeth by Toby Barlow, a book I adore). And while he presents this as a book of stories to prepare men for fatherhood I'm not convinced that fathers will find the stories collected here at all useful: most are without any real resolution or message, and far too personal to Lanfer to inspire or instruct anyone else.

It's a shame, as there are occasional glimpses of beauty: for example, the title story is touching and rather lovely. But the few gems there are are muddied by Lanfer's rather unfocused style, and they're hidden among a lot of other stories which only invoked a reaction of "so what?" from me, I'm afraid.

A reasonable effort, then, let down by a lack of clarity and focus. While I think it's wonderful that the author finds his family life so compelling, he really needs to look at his stories with a harsher, more critical eye in order to recognise which are worth working on and which should be kept as a private, more personal record. I read thirty-two pages out of one hundred and fifty-five.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Where Spirits Live: Omri Navot

When a new boy moves into the neighbourhood, everyone thinks he's as strange as can be. But not Angela. She finds herself drawn to this mysterious boy, and with his help discovers that there's more to her world than she ever imagined. Together, they journey to mystical realms where they learn secrets about themselves and each other. A touching book about youth, spirit, and friendship, Where Spirits Live is bound to enchant you with its mystery and magic.

I did try to find a cover image to use here, but without any luck: perhaps the author could add one to his own blog. Just a thought.

The simplistic tone of this book and its young main character made me wonder at first if it was intended for a younger audience: but its focus on spirituality makes that unlikely and so I'm still not quite sure where this book would be shelved and what its target market is.

The writing is mostly competent although I noticed a couple of peculiar paragraphs which had little to do with the text which surrounded them, and which would have been much better cut; there were a few sentences which were so poorly constructed that although I could work out what I think the author intended to say, the actual meaning of his words was nonsensical; and a pivotal scene in which the main character's parents have the first of many fights comes as a complete surprise as until that point they've been portrayed as happy and settled.

Despite these quibbles the pages turned at a decent pace and I suspect that a good editor could turn this text into something much cleaner and sharper and ultimately more rewarding. My main concern for this book, though, focuses on bigger things. Its plot feels far too familiar; I found nothing new or exciting here, and feel no compulsion to read on; I am not convinced by either of the two main characters (the boy seems more than a little creepy); and I'm particularly uncomfortable with the boy’s suggestion that if the girl ignores her parents fighting it will all just go away.

A valiant effort, then, and a book not entirely without merit: but it is too deeply flawed for me to recommend it, I'm afraid, even though I read forty-one pages out of one hundred and fifty-one.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

The Turning: Paul J Newell

The world is Turning. He can sense it. Now he has to stop it.

People are disappearing.

When Lleyton Quinn is arrested in connection with a missing woman, he insists he knows nothing about it. He's wrong. Soon he comes to realise that he is intimately entwined in the whole mystery. And when the female detective who arrested him pleads for his help, he is dragged to the centre of a phenomenon that could change everything. This is more than just missing people. The very fabric of society is being slowly unstitched by an unknown seamstress, and Lleyton has been chosen to pick up the threads. Before it's too late. Before he disappears too...

This book is an intriguing blend of crime-thriller and science-fiction. Comic, dark and surreal in places, the story is based in the near future, in a world not too dissimilar from our own. Rich in thought-provoking concepts, this novel touches on all aspects of humanity, culminating in an evocative new theory about the nature of our world. This is fiction... that promises to teach you something.

The Turning is the sort of book that would might well accrue a stack of personalised rejections and offers to consider the writer's next book when sent out on submission to mainstream publishers and agents. It is so very nearly excellent: but because of the author's inexperience in both writing and editing it doesn't quite reach the mark.

I can sympathise with Mr. Newell, because he makes the same sorts of mistakes that I make in my first drafts: we both over-write, we both use cliché, and we both like to hammer our points home and then some. The difference is that I then try to edit all those mistakes out, whereas Mr Newell seems content to leave them standing.

Overall, then, an impressive attempt which is let down by a lack of skilled editing. It's a shame, as beneath all the extraneous stuff Newell's writing is bright and pacey and engaging, with a light humour which reminds me a little of Harlan Coben's Myron Bolitar novels. Newell shows real talent and potential, and if he pays much more careful attention to his editing skills in future projects he might well go far. I read sixty-six pages out of two hundred forty-two to find my fifteen mistakes: however, I will almost certainly read this book right to the end and so I recommend it, despite its faults.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Life Skills 101: A Guide To Understanding The Seasons In Your Life: Lori J Parker

As the magnitude of trials continue to escalate in the world today, Christians need to understand the seasons of preparation that God has for each of them. In Life Skills 101, Lori Parker identifies why we experience various trials. She offers practical ways to identify and overcome these trials so we will be ready for the Lord's return.

Lori Parker, is an anointed author, conference speaker, and founder of One Choice Ministries. God has given her gifts of compassion, joy, and boldness. She has a passionate desire to see people develop an intimate relationship with the Lord. Lori preaches Biblical truths that stir the Body of Christ into action.

"I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see."~Revelation 3:18

Life Skills 101 gets off to a poor start. Its back cover copy discusses the trials we will all face in life, and informs us that the book has a strongly Christian perspective: then on the first page of its introduction it tells us that it's actually about our relationships with money and with god.

It implies that everyone reading the book will have little money and an irresponsible attitude to the little they have; that everyone who appears to be doing well is really hiding a mountain of debt and misery; and that the reason so many people overspend is that they are too proud, and feel they deserve better than they have. The author seems to resent college graduates, especially those who go on to postgraduate education; and she states that Christians should be exempt from rules which apply to non-Christians, as they can depend on god's guidance. It would have been useful if god had given the author a little guidance on the rules of punctuation and grammar, but perhaps he shares my view that writers should learn how to do these things for themselves.

This book gave me a very interesting glimpse into another world—but that doesn't mean I think it's any good. The author attributes all sorts of things to god's grace but doesn’t discuss why this might be so; she shows no understanding of social or psychological failings, she implies that we have no need to take personal responsibility for our mistakes or problems, and makes no allowance for the fact that sometimes terrible things happen to people which they simply cannot overcome even if they believe and trust in god. And that's where this book fails.

If the author had attempted to encompass more shades of grey—to recognise that not everyone believes in god, for example, and that often, hard work can be far more practical and effective than prayer and contemplation—this book would have been much better. As it is, it's a judgemental, disappointing and patronising text which encourages us all to live our lives responsible only to god, and to make no efforts to resolve our own problems or improve our lives other than by praying for god’s guidance: and that means it's only going to be taken seriously by people who already agree with the stance it takes; and that people like me, who disagree very strongly with most of the claims made in the book, are going to dismiss it.

If I were this writer, then, how would I improve this book? Instead of discussing abstract groups of people who are disappointed in their lives I would write about specific people and tell their stories in more depth; I would stop making insulting generalisations about people who did not share my beliefs; I would learn a little about logic and fallacy and apply what I'd learned to my writing; and I'd stop being so very disapproving about the way other people live their lives.

I read fifteen of this book's one hundred and thirty seven pages, and won't be reading any more.

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Nymphas’ World: Rachel Haldane

Nymphas' World

Although Kay is only ten years old, she always knew that she broke away from the ordinary. However, she did not anticipate ever acquainting herself with a fairy. Kay discovers a new world of old that no other human has ever trespassed before, meeting mythical creatures, strange beings and experiencing magic!

Kay and her brother Rob explore the land of Nymphas and learn much about fairy origin. There are, however, evil Nymphas as well as virtuous. Rob is snatched by the Onyx Nymphas and Kay has no choice but to go...

Beyond the Onyx Mountains.

Nymphas' World has the most off-putting cover I've seen on a book for a long time. It's an ugly image, badly executed, without any comedic value to lessen its impact.

The back cover copy is, as you can see, confused and confusing, and can't even manage to remain in one tense. And then we get to the text inside.

It takes a lot of effort to write a novel and this one is relatively substantial, at nearly four hundred pages long: I applaud Ms Haldane’s efforts for getting so far. But I'm afraid that her writing is nowhere near good enough to be published.

She makes so many of the basic errors that I wondered at times if it was intentional: she writes in a very passive voice; she lists almost every action her characters perform, so reducing her pacing to a plodding, pedantic crawl; her sentences are so poorly constructed that it is often difficult to extract any meaning from them; and she has a tendency to sacrifice clarity in favour of big, impressive-sounding words.

These are issues that even the most skilled editor could not fix: with all due respect to Ms Haldane her writing just isn't up to a good enough standard, I'm afraid. I went out of my way to be lenient here, but even so I read just four pages out of three hundred and eighty-four. I strongly advise this writer to read more, and to learn more about the craft of writing, before she considers publishing anything else.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

The Darkness: Bill Kirton

When Tommy Davidson is found with his throat cut, his brother Andrew's shock turns to thoughts of vigilante retribution. Known villains, including the person indirectly responsible for the death, begin to disappear. Thanks to the efforts of one of Cairnburgh's cleverest lawyers, each has managed to evade justice. But not any more. Meantime, rape victim Rhona Kirk starts a new life in Dundee but finds it difficult to shake off her past. As DCI Jack Carston tries to find what links the various missing persons, he's aware of his own darker impulses and of an empathy between himself and the vigilantes. His investigation becomes a race against time and against the pressure of darkness.

The jumbled and dull back cover copy for The Darkness is no indication of the quality of the text of the book itself: I found a lot here to keep me interested, and would like to see what happens to Bill Kirton's work when it is passed through the hands of a competent and demanding editor.

The problems I found—a tendency to exposition, a lack of clear characterisation, a couple of clichés and a few punctuation problems—are all fixable because the underlying writing is strong, clear and fast-moving. Kirton has a raw talent which gives an edge to this book that most writers will never achieve: if he focuses on revising his next text to a higher standard I can see him doing very well indeed.

I was particularly harsh with Mr. Kirton in my judgement of his book but despite that, I read twenty-four of his three hundred and thirteen pages. If I had found this on the slush pile, I would almost certainly have asked to see more: as it is, I am going to cautiously recommend this book despite its flaws.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Moonlight: Keith Knapp


No more room.

It began with a power outage. A power outage that went beyond lights and televisions. Clocks stopped telling time. Cell phones no longer received signals. Cars became dead relics that wouldn't start.

As the world around them becomes darker, so do the inhabitants of the small town of Westmont, Illinois. A mysterious and evil presence has taken a hold over the village, making the once peaceful town a place of violence and despair

A small group of individuals, untouched by this presence, must uncover the mystery of why they remain normal and discover what—or who—is taking control of their town, one soul at a time.

Because the Man in the Dark Coat is out there. Hunting them.

And not everyone can remain untouched forever.

In the tradition of Stephen King, Dean Koontz and Clive Barker, Keith Knapp tells a horrifying tale of innocence and sin, and what people will overcome to defeat their own innermost demons in the search for hope. This is his first novel.

Moonlight shows great potential. It has an interesting premise and the writer's style is immediate and very accessible, full of believable characters dropped into tricky and surprisingly plausible situations.

Where the book fails is in its editing. I found numerous problems with its punctuation (when will self published writers learn the difference between hyphens and dashes?), a few clichés; redundant statements, some lapses in tense; and a lot of repetition of various plot-points. I understand this last was intended to reinforce the plot but I found it patronising and infuriating, and it only really served to slow the pace of an otherwise fast-moving story.

The author would be wise to improve his editing techniques, too. There is a scene in which a generator will not work which I found particularly irritating: I've lived off-grid for the last thirteen years and we've had several different diesel generators during that time, as have our off-grid neighbours: I've never seen a single generator to work in the way described here. I'll admit I've not had hands-on experience of every single model of generator that there is, and I'm no expert in their workings: but I know enough about them for this description to jar me right out of the narrative—which is exactly what writers should aim to avoid.

In summary, then: a book with real promise and a writer who could do well, let down by basic errors in editing, technique and research. All these should improve with experience, so I hope for better from Mr. Knapp in the future. I read twenty six pages out of a total of four hundred and sixty five, and would have read more had that generator been a little more true-to-life.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Red Poppies: S. P. Miskowski

Five stories revealing the chilling reality behind the roles women play every day. A sense of dread pervades the atmosphere in these wickedly funny, dark tales of female desperation.

Red Poppies
A house cleaner becomes the muse to a crazy trophy wife and then finds her status threatened by a newcomer.

A Personal Recommendation
A bright student will do whatever it takes to pay for her education.

You Never Know
The eccentric subjects of a documentary offer more strange behaviour than the filmmakers expected.

Next to Nothing
A bitter catering company employee reaches the breaking point during a party at a wealthy client’s house.

Idiot Boy
Some siblings live large and others are born to clean up the mess. (Idiot Boy was originally published by Identity Theory.)

First, the bad news. The back cover copy for this book tells me nothing about the book or its author and needs to be substantially reworked; the layout of the front matter needs addressing; and the image on the jacket is muddy and dull, and could be vastly improved (it would help, too, if the title were easier to read). All these things do affect sales, and with self-published books being so difficult to sell it seems foolish to me that so many writers shoot themselves so firmly in the foot by producing covers and layouts which are below par.

And now, on to the writing. The short story is a very difficult form to master. There's no room for even a single mistake: every word has to earn its keep, and in an anthology every short story has to work alone and in conjunction with the others that it shares space with.

In Red Poppies there are a few glitches in punctuation which I mostly ignored, because I found the writer's voice so clear and compelling; some of the plots felt a little trite; the writer has a tendency to exposition which on occasion chopped into the flow of text. However, if she continues to refine and improve her work, and reads widely in the genre, I suspect we'll see more from Ms Miskowski in the future. This a good collection, which could do with a little more polishing and a few more stories: but which nevertheless carries with it echoes of Grace Paley and Aimee Bender. I read it all, and recommend it.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Leviathan's Master: David M Quinn

HISTORICAL FICTION It was the biggest sailing vessel ever built and the world's first supertanker. In the winter of 1907, the T.W. Lawson, a four-hundred foot schooner with seven masts, makes her first transatlantic crossing with more than two million gallons of kerosene to be delivered to London. With almost fifty years of sailing experience, Captain George W. Dow Is not intimidated, despite the Lawson's checkered history. But hurricane winds and an angry sea conspire to defeat man and machine. Bereft of her sails, the giant ship is trapped in treacherous shoals off the southwest coast of Britain. Seventeen lives are lost, including a local pilot trying to avert disaster. Now, Captain Dow is called to account—most especially to himself. Leviathan's Master is a true story, transformed into a gripping historical novella by the captain's great, great nephew.
Praise for David M. Quinn’s

It May Be Forever—An Irish Rebel on the American Frontier

  • "Master storyteller, David Quinn, erases time.... To transport the reader is the writer's job. Quinn does just that." Mary Sojourner, Novelist and NPR Contributor
  • "A beautifully written historical novel filled with excellent research and characters! Highly recommended!" USABOOKNEWS.COM
Visit the author's website:

iUniverse Editor's Choice

This is a momentous day for, after more than a year of reviewing books here, I have finally found a self-published writer who understands the difference between the hyphen and the em-dash. Hurrah! Here ensues much rejoicing.

Right. That's quite enough of that. Because apart from Mr. Quinn's impeccable em-dashery Leviathan's Master: The Wreck of the World's Largest Sailing Ship fails on the same old points: his writing just isn't strong enough. His dialogue is wooden, and veers queasily between an oddly-formal, Hollywoodesque archaic pattern and a more modern idiom: he uses dialogue to present great big chunks of exposition, so reinforcing its woodenness; and I found several contradictions, lapses of point of view and tense, and problems with logic: for example, the narrator describes the house he is in from various points outside; but he is bed-bound, and was brought to this house following an accident: he can't even walk to his bedside chair, let alone walk around the outside of the house; so how could he possibly know what the house looks like from the outside?

Once again, then, this is a story with potential let down by lacklustre writing. A better editor would have picked up these mistakes: but then a better writer would not have made them. I did my best to be kind, and managed to read fourteen pages out of one hundred and nine.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

More About The Song: Rachel Fox


Does a blurb ever lie?
Can it tell what's inside?
Go on, open me up
I have nothing to hide

Poetry was the first thing I ever had published: I've read a lot of it, I've written a lot of it (mostly bad), and, more importantly, I expect a lot from it. I expect poetry to have some sort of lyrical beauty even if it's a harsh or bloody kind; I expect its language to be at once sparse and pure, and dense with meaning. I want to read poetry which makes me think more deeply, surprises me, and which stays with me for days after I've read it. It's a very restricted form and so, more than any other, poetry cannot afford to have even a single word misplaced.

What poetry should not be is unfocused, meandering or trite. It shouldn't remind me of that boring bloke I sat next to on a train once who insisted on telling me all of his poorly-informed opinions about things I'm just not interested in.

I'm afraid that Rachel Fox's More About the Song fell into the category of my second paragraph, not my first. Her language is plodding, her imagery almost non-existent, her rhythms are unreliable and her ideas are trite. She hammers her points home in a way which is entirely unpoetic: and although I read this slim collection right to its end I cannot recommend it. It left me feeling dismayed and faintly embarrassed, which I don't suppose was the author's intended effect.