Song of the Sea God – the conversation

SongoftheSeaGodMy novel, Song of the Sea God, has been in print for almost 12 months now and in that time I’m delighted that it has built up quite a few reviews from readers on Amazon sites in the UK here and USA here. It’s fascinating to get reviews of your book as it feels as though a conversation, which began as one-sided, with me sitting in front of a keyboard tapping away, is now becoming a two-way dialogue, as readers across the world respond to what I have written.

I just thought I’d like to pick up on a handful of the themes people have raised about the book in recent reviews and talk about them a little.

I’ve been lucky so far that reviews of the book have been positive, and obviously I’m thrilled about that. But, if anything, I’m even more delighted by the way people have clearly thought about and responded to the ideas and issues, the characters and situations – that for me is what has made having the book published such a joy. A big thanks to all whose comments I have borrowed from their reviews to discuss here. Thanks to my publisher Skylight Press for believing in the book and getting behind it  – and thanks also to all who have read or are reading Song of the Sea God, because it’s you readers who have transformed it from a pile of papers in my bottom drawer to a proper novel!

“The islanders all seem pathetically on the brink of something intangible. They are like so much driftwood aimlessly going about their mediocre lives until John Love shows up. All of a sudden, it is as if they all want to believe that they are capable of more. Their needs become the energy that fuels this stranger who captivates them with his promises.”

AE Wallace

I suppose I wanted to do two things with the islanders in the book before the arrival of their ‘saviour’ John Love. I had to make it clear that there was something to save them from – so I couldn’t have them all deliriously happy – but I also wanted them to have a kind of ‘everyman’ quality – as this was supposed to be a book about more than the fate of a handful of people in a small community – it was supposed to be about all of us. And sadly, I think the notion that we are ‘driftwood’ and unfulfilled in some spiritual or emotional way is all too common these days.

“It is beautiful and dark, funny and chilling, and the only problem I had was that I couldn’t really empathise with the main characters. They are very well drawn and developed, but I didn’t find them really likeable as people. But apart from that, I stand in some awe. The prose is crackling, sharp and evocative (It reminded me at times of the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins), the setting and story are compelling in the manner of Lord of the Flies.”

Rivergirl

It’s interesting the notion of the characters being likable or not likable because I don’t think I gave it too much regard while I was writing. I was more concerned they be interesting, believable, within the terms of the book, and that they represent people in the wider sense. So I made them both good and bad, lovable and horrible, all rolled into one human package. Another aim of mine was to combine quite a ‘gritty’ environment – cold and uncouth and brutal – with language which, at times, transcended those things.

“What shines through is how much the author loves his characters. Each is so lovingly and cleverly observed. He defies you to pigeon-hole them, to either love or hate them, and in this way the reader is offered hope for themselves. It would be right to describe this book as dark, but it also has plenty of warmth and wry, surprising humour. I loved it.”

Laura Creber

This is a different, yet equally valid, way of seeing the characters in the book I think – the idea that you can care about them, love them even, despite their undoubted faults or even because of them. I do like it when people mention humour in the book too – because laughter is such a big part of life and I would struggle to leave it out of anything I write.

“I didn’t see the end twist coming, anymore than some of the characters did, it left me gasping that I hadn’t foreseen it and yet what I most liked about this book was how Chris portrays all those many tiny mundane thoughts & actions that are so rarely revealed in a character. The minutiae of a person’s life, that can have such huge consequences.”

Lula

Not everything I write goes in for twists and turns but I found them particularly suited to this subject matter. I think in a way you could say Song of the Sea God is a book about things not being what they seem. It opens with a person who is convinced they are dead but turns out to be mistaken – and things don’t get any more clear cut after that. It’s also very true that I do use tiny bits and pieces about people to help me draw character.

“This is not a depressing novel, not even a harsh expression of flash-light realism; it is novel full of magic. And even if the magic of the main character, John Love, is questionable, even if the energy of the town is that of the mob, the ultimate message and gift is one of transformation and revelation. The reader comes out of the book better off, more connected and deepened.”

PE Wildoak

A novel full of magic – I do like that. While I was writing the book I sometimes thought of Shakespeare’s The Tempest – his island full of magic, his magician and his Caliban. I tried to make Song of the Sea God a book where bad things happen which, in the way it is told, can still be uplifting.

Song of the Sea God visualSee what you think! Don’t forget if you get a moment to take a look at my book Song of the Sea God.

You can look inside to read the first few pages free and download a free Kindle sample for UK readers here. And for readers in the USA here.

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Marjory McGinn – Author Profile

A warm welcome to author Marjory McGinn on my blog this week to tell us about her great new book which transports us to Greece on the wings of a pun – Things Can Only Get Feta.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATell me a little bit about yourself as a person?

Although born in Perth, Scotland, I emigrated with my family to Australia as a nine year-old but I think it engendered a restless spirit in me that has continued ever since. Like most kids brought up in Australia, I didn’t have a sense of boundaries, or a fear of exploration, so it was a very transformative experience. My first friend in Australia was a vibrant Greek Aussie called Anna with whom I shared many long family lunches where Greek was mostly spoken, which sounded madly exotic to my young Scottish ear. I am sure that inspired a life-long interest in Greece which culminated in my spending three years in the Peloponnese from 2010, and writing a book about it.

What made you want to be a writer?

The move to Australia and my attempts as a child to make sense of that huge experience definitely spurred the urge to write and I used to pen stories for my own amusement which, not surprisingly, always had a migrant angle. I started in journalism in Sydney and later became a feature writer for a Sunday paper. I loved journalism and found it deeply fulfilling yet at the back of my mind, I had the dream of writing a novel. I had no shortage of material either but despite scribbling out a few stories now and then, I never got round to the novel when I was younger. Maybe it was the fear of failing that put me off. Journalism was a safer bet and all journalists know the thrill of seeing a byline on a big newspaper spread. It can sustain you creatively for a long time.

Tell me about your journey as a writer and how you have developed.

About eight years ago, now living back in Scotland with my partner and our manic Jack Russell dog, Wallace, I was freelancing and finally had time to start a novel. The story had a journalistic theme and was very light-hearted. I thought it was great (naturally) but the rejection letters piled up, and despite two massive re-writes, I never found a publisher. It’s a common rite of passage, I know, but I think the book probably wasn’t good enough, and I had a lot more to learn about creative writing. But during that time though I did discover my own writing ‘voice’ and that certainly helped when I began writing my non-fiction book Things Can Only Get Feta. It was certainly encouraging that my publisher Anthony Weldon said the book read like a novel. That might not have delighted more serious writers of non-fiction but it certainly hit the right spot for me.

bookcoverTell me about your current book and what makes it a great read?

Things Can Only Get Feta is about a slightly risky adventure my (journalist) partner Jim and I, and our dog Wallace, undertook in Greece from 2010.  After an Arctic winter in Scotland and a restructuring of the newspaper industry we decided we needed time out of the rat race and escaped to Greece since it’s a place we both love, and I had some Greek at least having spent a year in Athens in my twenties. The timing was terrible though as Greece slid into economic ruin, but we went anyway, picking a remote village in the Mani, southern Peloponnese, because it seemed more authentic. We met some wonderful, stoical Greeks who provided great material for the book. We also had many escapades, especially with Wallace, like smuggling him into a 2,500 year old archaeological site in a backpack with the lure of chicken sandwiches, which turned into a chapter in the book.

I started writing it after the first year. I had the sense that this region was so remote and unspoilt that it couldn’t stay that way forever and I wanted to capture its way of life before it disappeared. And because I worked hard on the language I got to know a lot of the village Greeks well, so I like to think the book, although it’s also entertaining, goes a bit deeper into the Greek experience than a lot of comparable books.

What’s next? Maybe a second book on Greece and one day I might have another bash at a novel. We’ll see.

Where is the book available?

Things Can Only Get Feta: Two journalists and their crazy dog living through the Greek Crisis (Bene Factum Publishing, London) is out now.

The paperback and Kindle are available at http://www.amazon.co.uk here.

And also at www.bookdepository.co.uk, and leading bookstores.

Information about the book and about Greece http://www.bigfatgreekodyssey.com

Quick writing tips from top authors

I thought this week I’d share a few one line tips from top writers – just because I think they’re great and are the sort of thing which make us think about what we write. In the end I believe we all find our own best way to get words down on the page, but I also believe it’s a good idea to listen to good advice which comes from experts – so here is some.

Annie_Proulx_Frankfurt_Book_Fair_Conference_2009Write slowly and by hand only about subjects that interest you.

Annie Proulx

I’ve always written first drafts by hand in notebooks – I think it gets you in touch with the words and what they mean – also it ensures that when you come to type your work up on a computer later you are effectively doing a second draft. I think it also slows you down and that’s a good thing – there’s no point in writing faster  than you can think. As far as writing about what interests you goes – writing a novel is a marathon – if you are writing about something which doesn’t fully engage you then you are running uphill.

Kurt-Vonnegut-US-Army-portraitBe a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of.

Kurt Vonnegut Jr

I always think a book should really be about something – that there should be issues and events in there which are worth the weight of all those words. I suppose that’s what Kurt Vonnegut is saying here in a way – that there‘s not much point having characters just drifting about unchallenged. The awful things of which he speaks can take many forms of course

479px-Zadie_Smith_NBCC_2011_ShankboneTry to read your own work as a stranger would read it, or even better, as an enemy would.

Zadie Smith

This touches on the power and importance of rewriting – which, for me, is a crucial part of writing. I think the ability to self-edit successfully is a hard-won but vital skill and it really does depend on the ability to come to your own work as if it belonged to someone else and view it with a critical eye.

800px-Elmore_LeonardDon’t go into great detail describing places and things.

Elmore Leonard

I wrote a blog a while ago about words being in some ways better at describing ideas and emotions than they are at describing things. I believe, as clearly Mr Leonard does, that a good way to bog your book down with detail which could bore and baffle the reader is to describe things in tortuous detail. Often less is more and an impressionistic approach can be more satisfying.

Do you have any favourite writing quotes? Share them with us in the comments!

Song of the Sea God visualDon’t forget if you get a moment to take a look at my book Song of the Sea God.

You can look inside to read the first few pages free and download a free Kindle sample for UK readers here. And for readers in the USA here.

Jesse Christiansen – Author Profile

Today I’m delighted to welcome author Jesse Christiansen from Florida to my blog, Jesse is one of the writers it’s been my pleasure to meet on social media and his novel Pelican Bay has just been released. Welcome Jesse.

JGCAuthorPhotoTell me a little bit about yourself as a person?

When I try to describe myself as an artist from a third-person perspective, I can’t help but think of myself as a creature that underwent a metamorphosis from a non-winged to a winged state.

Up until the age of fifteen, I was involved in sports and the usual boyhood mischief. But during that fateful summer twixt my fifteenth and sixteenth year, something mysterious happened. I became quite introspective, and began songwriting. By high school and college I was writing short stories. Now, I’ve devoted the remainder of my life to novels. I’m a person who lives in his own creative space, and I’m told that often. What happened in that summer? Maybe I’ll never know.

Tell me about your journey as a writer – how you started and how you have developed?

I started writing extremely unusual short stories that are still tucked away in a personal box in storage. Whenever I’m moving, I’ll often look at them and giggle. They were stories the likes of someone waking to utter darkness and nothingness and trying to find others, etc, etc. I must laugh when I share the fact that my college professors did not like them at all. Gave me low grades. I wonder what they would say to me now as a published author. What kind of review would they write for my novels?

I went into a hiatus after college, then years later, at age twenty-six, I wrote my first novel. Perhaps I needed to process things. I learned that the writer must read as much great work as he can, and write as much as he can, in order to develop. And somewhere along the way I realized that what was more important in building my confidence in my literary art was not what my college professors saw, but what I saw in my work compared to the work of successful authors. The threads of magical realism that my professors loathed are, ironically, what are present in many great modern works. So I guess you could say that I transformed my “C’s” into “Industry A’s.” Maybe I got the last laugh after all.

How would you describe your work – it‘s themes and the important things about it?

My publisher says I write mystery suspense. I suppose my work does carry much mystery and suspense, but only in an effort to obey the story, for the book is the boss, and only in an effort to keep the reader turning pages, for readers are the wind, without which the artist flies rather low to the ground. But my work has many other themes, including my desire, like most writers perhaps, to share some wisdom about the human experience. Also, magical realism, inevitably, finds its way into every novel I write. Maybe those themes that keep coming back unfold the true voice of a writer.

PelicanBayFFmedTell me about your current book – what is it about and what makes it a great read?

PELICAN BAY is about a nosy little quirky beach town and its investigation into an undersea cemetery as well as into the soul of a very old and very mysterious fisherman, Captain Shelby— an investigation the reader may soon feel was better left alone. Ethan looks to the grandfatherly fisherman for answers, but when he doesn’t heed the old man’s warnings to let things be, a domino chain of events leads to unsettling realities for the seaside town.

I think what makes PELICAN BAY a great read is its unique mystery, its chilling suspense, and the greatest character of my writer life, Captain Shelby, a figure that the reader wants to fear and blame, but the spaces between the lines, gluing the captain’s ancient sea-worn soul together, makes the one sympathize and look deeper … keeps one sweetly imprisoned till the end. The reader has to know what happens, not so much for the story’s sake, but for the sake of those memories that we yearn for, why we seek out good books. Because those memories we may forget came from fiction, and we can replace our undesirable memories with those. Pelican Bay’s a hauntingly beautiful world you’ll never escape from, and be happy for it.

Where can I buy a copy of your book?

The book’s available on Amazon.

United States

UK

Paperback