Reading The Shining and The Little Writings I Did

SONY DSCMark Morris, in his article, ‘How Important is Characterisation in Horror Fiction’ (which I’d really recommend anyone interested in horror to read), suggested several character-driven novels. Among them, The Shining, I somehow managed to avoid reading (or seeing the film) until today, so I immediately rectified this by purchasing it at my local bookstore, along with two other horror novels in the list that I haven’t read until now, but want to: American Psycho, by Brett Easton Ellis, and The Ritual, by Adam Nevill (and I’m already a big fan of Mr Nevill’s work, having read his two short story collections ‘Hasty for the Dark’ and ‘Some Will Not Sleep’).

So, this week I read ‘The Shining’. I would not want to spoil it for someone else, but I believe any claim that it is a classic of modern supernatural horror literature is justified. The writing style and paragraphing at times is quite unconventional, so it may occasionally require some work to work out which character’s thoughts are being presented (it did for me, anyway) – though this is also a positive aspect of the novel, as it relates to the story itself too.  There was a lot of excellent foreshadowing, and the language was both poetic and direct, with very ‘punchy’ use of verbs. The central characters and their backstories are also described with detail (particularly the father). I was also struck by the excellent pacing, which made me, particularly in the last third of the novel, particularly concerned with what would happen on turning over the page. I’m not so sure exactly why, maybe I’m getting more emotional in my refining years, but I felt a bit teary when I got to the end of the novel. Maybe this had to do with the well-developed characters, the pace of the last quarter of the book, and the shocking climax.

I would have read more last week, but I had to do a lot of marking, even take some home with me. Still, that’s all done now. More reading this coming week, eh?

Ah, but thinking back, I did do some more reading. I read another page of ‘the lobsters run free’, several times over.  It was an excellent piece of flash by Catherine Edmunds, ‘The Hierarchy of Substances’. Such wonderful poetry to it. When you get to the end, it turns back on itself and brings you back to the beginning. And then you read it again. A jewel of a piece. It’s like the TARDIS, it has so much in it in such a small thing. Maybe I’ll read it every day this week. I replayed the whole of Herman Hesse’s ‘Siddhartha’ once, visually, after reading it constantly for months on end when I was at university. I’m sure I can learn a lot about flash fiction from rereading ‘The Hierarchy of Substances’ alone, as it speaks to me now and in the present moment.

I did some writing too. I also submitted two pieces of flash fiction online. I’m working on a few more, experimenting to see where the words fall and what they can do, and there’s a horror story that’s hiding there at the back of my scalp. It wants to show itself as soon as possible. I’ll tell you how these all go next time. I’ll probably have finished reading ‘The Ritual’ by Adam Nevill then too.

Well, that’s it for now. See you next week, unless you want to chat before then.

Ronnie

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Into the New Year With Some Reading

Greetings, and happy New Year!

This year I’m not doing a year-long course in Creative Writing. Of course, when I drive past Hagley Park near the hospital I think of the wonderful things that I’ve learnt in the course, I consider doing it again. But I’m quite confident that while I have learned a great many things, doing the course again would probably turn into a crutch, for me anyway, and I think I could learn more by freeing up that Saturday morning for my own writing. I’m quite confident I can do a great many things if I only allow myself to – and I have a lot of great notes, handouts and fine examples of short stories and excellent works of fiction that have been suggested on the course. This year I’m going to publish several short stories, and a great many pieces of flash fiction.

After Christmas I read a fair bit on a family trip around the South Island, while taking a rest from driving, and in the evenings. Here are a few works that I’d really recommend (mostly, but not all new):

the lobsters run free, being a collection of top entrants in 2017 of the Bath Flash Fiction award. I have really enjoyed reading the pieces of local Christchurch writers Nod Ghosh ‘The Cool Box’ (a great story which relates what thoughts and images rush through a person’s head) and Frankie McMillan’s ‘Reading the Signs’ (a story which brings a tear to one’s eye and which also, I believe, was included in ‘Best Small Fictions’), but I’ve also read a few other excellent pieces, including Emily Devane’s ‘The Hand That Wields the Priest’, Rose McDonagh’s ‘Pony’, and Amanda O’Callahan’s ‘Tying the Boats’. I’m still working my way through the book. I read flash very slowly, and then read the works again, but these works are ones to savour. I think that anyone interested in flash fiction should buy themselves a copy,  to read the few pieces that I have mentioned, and the others that I have yet to.

Hasty for the Dark, by Adam L. G. Nevill. A dark and rich collection of horror fiction. I would also advise the reader to enjoy these stories slowly and carefully too, provided they can deal with dark stories of madness, evil and despair. I’d advise those easily disturbed or those taking tiny little steps into an interest in horror to stay well away though, as they might not survive the exposure to these stories, which range from cults and nightmares coming too close to home, to epic world-ending Lovecraftian disasters. I’d really recommend this collection for readers of dark fantasy and horror who like to be challenged and brought to thoughts of dark dread and emptiness (Don’t say I didn’t warn you. You’ll be staring vacantly out at the night after some of these). Excellent.

The Book Club, by Alan Baxter. This well-paced novella is at times mystery, at times cosmic horror, but thrilling throughout. I don’t want to describe the story too much, but it describes what the male protagonist’s wife does after his wife doesn’t return from her book club, and realistic presents someone in shock and grief along with the reaction of other characters (including police officers) to his behaviour. I was really impressed by the way the writer kept my attention right from the opening lines to the end of the novel and with his believable characters.

The Graveyard Book (full cast audiobook), by Neil Gaiman. At just under 8 hours, this is an excellent way to spend a long drive in the car. This is a full cast audiobook, so it’s like listening to an old radio play, with many terrific actors and voice actors participating. I guess it could be described as a coming-of-age story of a boy who is forced to live in a graveyard with ghosts and other supernatural denizens after his family is murdered. Despite the grim plot, there’s a lot of humour and exciting and fantastic incidents in the book, which make it suitable for anyone from 8 up who likes a good story. If you like this, I’d suggest you buy the book, or if you like the book, get this. I don’t think you will be disappointed.

Well, those are just some of the things that I’ve read recently that I’ve enjoyed. I’ll try to make my blog a much more regular event in this coming year, and I’ll be sharing my thoughts on other writing that I do in future too.

Oh and while I was engaged in all this reading, my flash piece ‘These Scars’ was published in the wonderful December issue of Flash Frontier. I’m now back from my holiday and can jump about and point excitedly at this link: http://www.flash-frontier.com/december-2017-1000-words/ Hope you enjoy it, and the other stories in the issue.

Bye for now, and have an exciting and productive 2018! tree-2784155_960_720

Ending is a New Beginning

This image is a print by the Mexican artist Jose Guadalupe Posada. It was on the front of a card given to me last night at the graduation at the Hagley Writers’ Institute . The director, Morrin Rout, although not a big fan of horror, selected this wonderful card because she thought I might like it. I do. A lot.

I got the card, with a book voucher inside it, for being runner up for the Margaret Mahy prize (congratulations to joint winners Merissa Foryani and Phoebe Wright!), and my writing portfolio was among the top six selected of those on the course. I was really pleased by all this, and it was terrific to get detailed feedback from the experienced writers and editors who looked at my work to learn from in the years to come.

My course at the Hagley Writers’ Institute is now completely finished, in terms of classes, but I’m really just beginning to be able to apply the information that I was exposed to on the course. There are lots of handouts, examples of good writing, and all of the notes taken and exercises that I’ve scrawled down.

I hope all of the writers that I’ve met on the course keep up their writing momentum and go on to do wonderful things in future, and to those who read this that I’ve yet to meet in person, may you unceasingly pursue your own creative dreams and goals.

Thanks to James Norcliffe, Christina Stachurski, Frankie McMillan, Bernadette Hall, Kerrin Sharpe, and Morrin Rout, and to all of my wonderful fellow-students and classmates, for all of their support and advice while I was on the course.

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To the West and Onwards

Road_West_Coast_New_ZealandRecently I travelled to the West Coast on a solo adventure to do some writing, and I wrote a fair few first drafts of stories, poems, flash pieces and riddles. By riddles, I mean Anglo-Saxon style riddle poems, a style I’m experimenting with. It was great to live in my head for a bit, drink wine, scrawl freehand on paper for hours, and read poetry aloud, loudly. I also sat in cafes and read Dahl and Poe, and then took notes on different things I noticed. I found it sad that the Chinese tourists who visited the beach used their selfie sticks to take pictures of themselves facing away from the sea, with the beautiful lapping tongues vying for attention behind them, the salt and the sea spray flying on the sea breeze.

I’m finding it hard to keep up with all of the ideas that I’ve written down, or get down with all the ideas I’ve written down and let them possess my soul for periods of the early morning, or late in the evenings. But that’s okay. I’m sure I’ve got enough down on each of these ideas to develop them later on after I keep drafting the flash piece and horror short story I’m currently working on.

I had a terrific evening last night. Erik Kennedy, a local poet and editor, released his chapbook ‘Twenty-Six Factitions’, that the spell-check function on my computer is not too happy with, but that I think is a most amusing and stimulating collection that bursts the thought-streams free. The six guest readers, also local poets of some renown, heralded the launch of the chapbook in a fine manner.

I’m feeling more at home with the poets here now. Some poetry events due to their style and serious lecture-hall settings can be rather stiff and formal, but that event was much more relaxed. It was in a bar, the beer was good, and the people were excellently strange.

In recent news, I’ve received two pieces of wonderful news.

The first is that my portfolio at the Hagley Writers’ Institute is among the top six, which is good because this means it will be assessed by Anna Rogers, a top editor and manuscript assessor, as well as the excellent tutors on the course.

Last night I also got an email from Michelle Elvy and Sam Rasnake, the editors at Blue Fifth Review, who nominated my piece of flash fiction, ‘Sometimes, there are bears’ for the Pushcart Prize.

Next time, I’ll share some thoughts on reading that’s been keeping me awake these nights.

Bye now,

Ronnie

Paul Tremblay and the Writer’s Craft

Recently, I have been reading Paul Tremblay’s novels: ‘A Head Full of Ghosts’ and ‘Disappearance at Devil’s Rock’Ghosts,_Northwest_IA_7-26-13r_(10909756646).

‘A Head Full of Ghosts’ is a terrifying tale of psychological/supernatural horror (perhaps a bit of both), and deals with themes of reality television, possession and mental illness. It is a truly disturbing tale, perhaps more for me as a poor young woman in our street has some psychological issues herself, and sometimes has to be taken away by the police in the hours of darkness, screaming shrilly and lashing out wildly. I can imagine why in the past, and even nowadays, people with some mental issues were regarded as possessed by evil spirits. ‘Head Full of Ghosts’ is a very readable and complex novel rich with meanings and which will certainly welcome re-reading, not least due to the quality of Mr Tremblay’s prose.

I’ve just finished reading ‘Disappearance at Devil’s Rock’. I was constantly impressed by Paul Tremblay’s use of the present tense. Christina Stachurski, a well-known New Zealand playwright and poet, and my tutor at the Hagley Writers’ Institute, told me that writing in the present tense often gives a story more immediacy. Tremblay is a master of using it for this purpose, and his writing is a wonderful model to a writer on how to do this well as well as being clear and enjoyable to read – well, for a horror lover, anyway.

One final point that I’d like to mention is that as with Joe Hill in the ‘The Fireman’ (which I’ve also read quite recently, and which, at around 1,000 pages I wanted to read all at once), Tremblay is adept at dropping questions and provocations to hook the reader and make them read on to receive clarification.  Yet Tremblay never answers all of the questions, which makes one want to read the whole story all over again to get a better understanding.

Because of these reasons, and because they give they are damn fine stories to immerse in, I would really recommend reading Paul Tremblay’s novels. Oh, and he’s won lots of awards too. Although for me, it’s the writing and story that matters. Great writing, great stories. What more could you ask for. Buy one.

October Rambling

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Excuse my absence from the world of blogging. For the last few weeks I’ve been incredibly busy drafting and redrafting a collection of my poetry, flash fiction and short stories for the Hagley Writers’ Institute end-of-course writing portfolio hand-in. I’m pretty proud of the work I submitted, and pleased I got it all in on time.

In the past few weeks I’ve also received wonderful news that my zombie story, ‘What Have You Done?’, will be published in Issue 3 of the Australasian SF and Horror magazine, Breach. Discover the magazine at https://www.breachzine.com/

In my lunchbreaks I have found myself collecting phrases from newspaper headlines that are particularly amusing (for me, at least) because of their confusing, misleading nature. In the past couple of months I have collected a few great ones: ‘Woman in fatal accident caught driving’, ‘1920s Butcher Turns into Café’, but the most fabulous recent piece of nonsense was from the October 11 issue of the Press, entitled ‘Legs Trapped’: ‘A man is critically injured after his legs were trapped at a workplace in Christchurch’. Although the incidents in themselves are not amusing, the way they are reported is.

This morning I watched this lecture by Stephen Fry. He’s well worth spending an hour and a half on, as this lecture on technological change is informative, provocative, and inspirational. One of his important points is we have to fight for the kind of future we want to see.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=24F6C1KfbjM

Farewell, for now. Let’s talk again before the ghosts of the dead walk the streets.

Balancing the Books

I have now officially got too much to read for a good long while, otherwise something inside may break. I will need to put some of my reading material away for a bit so that I can write more.

Recently I got into a buying frenzy of books on poetry, writing, and works of fiction. A day ago, I finished one of these: ‘Bird by Bird’ by Anne Lamott. This is a book well worth reading for her honesty on writing and publishing and her dark sense of humour. I have several (as in more than eight) full-length novels and a few short-story collections in my library that I intend to read, well, after I have worked my way through the ones begging attention close by.

I’m currently engaged in ‘The Name of the Wind’ by Patrick Rothfuss. I’ll try to resist reading too much right now –though the magic calls to me – as I’m currently engaged in preparing my portfolio for graduation from the Hagley Writers’ Institute, and stabbing at my poetry and stories with a pencil to see if the lines are strong, or if they collapse under pressure. I’ve murdered a few of my children already.

In the past week I have joined the New Zealand Society of Authors, sent a short zombie story off to ‘Breach’ e-zine here in New Zealand (although as it is online, it may as well be anywhere), and have received word that my flash fiction piece, ‘Life is on the Edge’ was accepted for publication in the September issue of Flash Frontier. I’ll post a link to it when it is live.

Happy writing and reading to you all, and chat more later on,

Ronnie

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My 7 Goals to Work Towards

Inspired by writer and editor Lee Andrew Forman, whose original blog-post is at https://wordpress.com/read/blogs/70570264/posts/2355 , I have decided to write a bucket list. So, in no particular order, I have decided to write down a few targets to reach in the coming years.

 

  1. Write a book of poetry written in metrical verse and traditional forms.
  2. Write a collection of flash fiction which includes work in the genres of horror, fantasy, or science fiction.
  3. Publish a collection of horror short stories.
  4. Write a novel (in the fantasy or horror genre).
  5. Make a living solely from my craft, either by teaching writing workshops or by selling enough copies of my novels or books.
  6. Be invited to speak about my work at a large public venue, in New Zealand or overseas.
  7. Publish a non-fiction article in a newspaper or magazine with a high readership.

 

I don’t know how long these will take me, but I’m working towards 1, 2 and 3 right now. When I have achieved these seven goals, which will probably take me a good while (particularly 5), I will make more.

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Poetry and the Monsters

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I’ve recently received word that my traditional Shakespearean sonnet, ‘To his lover, awaiting sundown’, has been accepted for a future dark poetry anthology by Lycan Valley Press, entitled ‘Untimely Frost’.  I’m pleased that in this poem I was able to combine my love of iambic pentameter and vampires.

Also, just released is the latest edition of Sirens Call eZine, which contains my flash fiction piece about a werewolf, ‘Against the Wall’. The pdf of the eZine is available here: http://www.sirenscallpublications.com/pdfs/SirensCallEZine_August2017.pdf  I haven’t read it completely yet, but I’m sure there are lots of wonderful stories in it for your reading pleasure.

I’m also very pleased to share that the recent issue of Takahe is online, and it contains my poem ‘From Ashes On’, accessible here: http://www.takahe.org.nz/t90/ronnie-smart/  There are no monsters in this one, but it is in iambic pentameter.

Poetry and Craft

I’ve been thinking on Neil Gaiman’s ‘Make Good Art’ for a while. It all depends on what you mean by ‘good’, doesn’t it? Good means different things to different people. When I think of a poem as good, every syllable and stress, every rhyme and pause, has a reason for being the way it is. There is no padding in a good poem.

For me, if a poet uses rhyme at the end of lines, there must be a good way to get there. If the poet can’t get there well, the poet should kill the rhyme, or work on an appropriate way to reach the ending. Otherwise it won’t even be as good as when you sing a half-remembered song. At least with a half-remembered song, you can hum the length of the line, then get back to the good bits. If end rhymes are forced and draw attention to themselves too much, they can turn the rest of the line into a kind of unremarkable nonsense that’s either a wordy rush or full of worthless padding.

In the last week or so I’ve come into contact with a few excellent poems.

One of these, and the high point of the National Poetry Day in Christchurch for me, was listening to Jeffrey Paparoa Holman read his poem about the famous Maori chieftain and warrior Te Rauparaha and the Thistle Inn. I found it online, here on his blog:  https://paparoa.wordpress.com/2010/05/23/i-was-dreaming-of-te-rauparaha/ Jeffrey informed me that it’s in his selection of poems, entitled ‘Blood Ties.’ I’m going to Scorpio Books to get it soon.

The other two poems were in two poetry books that a friend, the writer Sabine Schneider, gifted to me recently. The first was Joy Green’s excellently crafted sonnet ‘Surface Tension’, which is in a poetry collection of the same name, the other is a poem called ‘The colour of birds’, which is in Tim Upperton’s poetry collection, ‘The Night We Ate The Baby’. The latter poem concludes with the lines ‘…every slow / invertebrate creature glowed its wire.’ I’m not sure what ‘glowed its wire’ means, but I love the line.