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