Although I am able to review books for the local paper, this applies only, of course, to books produced or written in Wales, that have some relevance to the area around the Cardigan Coast where our paper stretches to. The big problem for me is that the books I really want to write about are often not the ones I am given to review. To be fair the Tivyside, our local weekly organ of news, views and pics, is one of the few local papers remaining who are interested in publishing book reviews. Many just dont go near them any more. So I am not complaining on that score. It’s genuinely great to be able to give a bit of publicity to people writing in our area. But, and it’s a big but for me, as I am an eclectic reader moving between fiction and non-fiction,regional, contemporary, historical, in fact, you get the picture, just about everything readable that is out there. My writing is a bit like that too, and my own latest offering, now picked up by Llanerch Press, is another historical one, and centres around the grave of King Arthur. Imagine my interest when I find that Phil Rickman, known for his clever Merrily Watkins series, has a book out called the Bones of Avalon, which is not only about Arthur’s bones, but is centrally dedicated to the great astrologer/wise man of British history, John Dee. I began to read it with some trepidation as Rickman’s reputation for ‘dark and spooky’ goes before him and I’m not a great enthusiast of horror thriller stuff Within a page or two I was hooked, so much so that the past week-end has been transformed into my being taken by the hand on a trip to Glastonbury in the middle ages, post dissolution and horrible Henry, the early years of Elizabethan age. Here in this book is what I see as expertise in full flow. High quality writing, total credibility, descriptive passages full of perfect detail. Rickman is a genius or an analeptic – or possibly both of course. I recommend it to all those who love an intelligent mystery, historical information that is fresh and believable, sense of place that just makes for an immediate need to go there. The last thing I wanted was to come to the end, and yet, why not? I will now read it again, knwing the twists and turns and getting so much more out of it, for being ahead of the game. Bliss.
This week I came to the end of a book I have been writing for longer than I care to remember. I abandoned it years ago, but thanks to a persistent friend who enquired about it regularly, I eventually returned to it to see what it was that had attracted her to it. She had read the first chapter, something that friends have done with other work of mine when I have wanted to share my new idea with them. This idea, a teenage detective, daughter of antique dealers, with the name Arianne Lexicon, was meant to be my foray into writing a proper formula detective story, something I have never managed before. Despite having written so called ‘mysteries’ before, the challenge of this one was to keep all the balls in the air, so to speak, and then bring them all together in a dramatic and artistic pile at the end. I got two thirds of the way through and gave up. My attention strayed into historical material and without the interest of the friend Arianne’s adventures would have died on the page without ever being finished. Euphoria follows always at the end of a long work. Even short stories can give me a high if I contrive a good ending. And that is why this book took so long. The planned ending didn’t work out, thankfully the actual ending was better than I could have hoped.
So euphoria comes and a real need to put it out of my head for a few days. How to do that? Read a new book by someone I admire. So yesterday I went out and bought Patrick Gale’s latest book, A Perfectly Good Man. Having devoured the first few chapters I am already in deep. For those who have not come across him, try Notes from an Exhibition, an extraordinary novel where the talent and bipolarity of the central character challenges and attracts simultaneously. I went from there to Friendly Fire, which I found happily in the Bookworm Second-hand bookshop and cafe in Grenoble, and was engrossed in between outings for an entire week. It is a lovely ‘rite of passage’ and more, and I followed that with Rough Music which I tried years ago and hitting a painful moment I left it. Returning to it I could not understand why I did that!
So my week has brought me an ending of one of my own books – hooray, and the most enjoyable beginning of reading someone else’s work.