You can find my Two Thirds Northreview of Omar Sabbagh's latest poetry collection in the newest 2020 issue. It's a stunning book and Two Thirds North is a great literary journal committed to 'a belief in the power of the story, the poem, and visual art to describe, illuminate and make real.'
I am also currently working on some reviews for the Welsh poetry journal, Envoi.
When considering how to learn to write a narrative fiction, pretty quickly you start teasing apart the elements of the books you read and liked. How does good dialogue work? What’s important to achieving a satisfying pacing? How do you pick a point of view? What is at the core of a good character? This is also where many teachers of writing start, and more worryingly, where they end too.
It is not officially morning but everyone in the world has already reported waking up from dreams either completely or partially encrusted with black mold. The general consensus: it is black mold, all right.
These snapshots (interconnected, but by the barest thread) of the apocalypse are laden with unknown references to veiled wider world lore and impressionistic aesthetics that lend them an oppressive, dreamlike quality. In Kristine Ong Muslim’s The Drone Outside,the boundaries of speculative fiction are pushed into a surrealist fantasy space. Muslim envisions our species’ shared narrative limits. Some of these pieces are descriptively rich, others merely fragments of dialogue such as ‘The Outsiders’ or contextually obscured epistolary microfictions such as ‘Demolition Day,’ a series of letters, at least one to the dead. From the first page to the last, we readers are haunted by something so incomprehensibly vast (in its consequences and reach) that it becomes, essentially, a limit experience to contemplate. The longest and most memorable story (the most sensibly narrative based) is ‘The Early Signs of Blight,’ which obeys many of the conventions of a supernatural horror, only to be so enigmatic about the locus of its horror — which is only semi-perceived and even then largely from a child’s point of view — that it becomes something more than this genre categorisation helpfully indicates. It is eerie not chiefly because it is cosmic or alien, but because those qualities are barely detectable beneath a kitsch domesticity, but sufficiently present to invoke the eerie.
Even more for the utopia and dystopia than many other forms of speculative writing, a fiction’s world is pivotal to a reader’s engagement. It can be elevated from a mere backdrop to the very (however disguised) subject of the book, its hook as well as its raison d’être; such a story’s characters are a means by which to explore and humanise the setting. The Museum of Second Chances imagines a society that is compelling and thematically rich. Its premise is a self-professed eco-utopia, but one in which inherited collective guilt is deployed as a spurious, semi-mythic justification for state power. This artfully plays with ambiguities in a genre that can sometimes overindulge gauche satire, if not bludgeoning didacticism. And even when exploring established motifs (genetic modification, revised official histories) it does so with an inventive wit that relates everything to its heroes.
August is not a great time to ‘aggressively promote a brand’—to use one of the corny buzz phrases that parasites into the vulnerable mind of any go-getting freelancer. People are keener on taking vacations than having their novels cut up and surgically stitched back together for the prospective discerning, if brutal, attention of agents and publishers. Nonetheless, it is an undertaking (or, more loftily, vocation) to which I am currently committed.
Today's post had a few welcome surprises. As well as a hardback, bound copy of my PhD and utopian novel, We Are Seven, I also received Rowan Tree Editing's first leaflets. They are modelled on the website and were designed by the very talented Adam Craig. He is the commissioning editor of Cinnamon Press's Liquorice Fish Books imprint, a champion of innovative and idiosyncratic writing.
Just posted my Amazon review for Terry Melia's Tales from the Greenhills, a book that deserves to be widely read. As well as adding it to my own list of available edited work. Currently working on new, exciting editing and preparing to release leaflets for the Rowan Tree website. Exciting days.
Many ideas have coalesced to form my new editing website, RowanTreeEditing. Samuel R. Delany once proposed that ‘it is almost impossible to write a novel any better than the best novel you’ve read in the three-to-six months before you began your own. Thus, you must read excellent novels regularly.’ Delany’s Architectures of Possibility is a book about writing, but it is not a catalogue of clichéd injunctions—show, don’t tell; write what you know—but a prompting to explore and expand literature’s limits. Therefore, between exercises and interviews, he only demands that we read. I hope to accomplish something similar. I will encourage my clients to be bolder, know the histories of their genres, read and then write with greater ambition.