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Where have I been?

I’ve been quiet lately, and haven’t read much since I wrote my review of Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity, back in January. I’m reading a few short story collections by Graham Mort, Stephen King, Ernest Hemingway, Ray Bradbury, and John Steinbeck, so I’m not completely idle, but they are taking some getting through.

My main reason for being quiet is a novella I’ve been editing. I wrote it over twenty-five years ago, but when I went through it last year, I felt I should work on it some more. During the edit, I cut about fifteen percent, and think I have a much tighter piece of work now.

I’m also waiting to hear about the novel I wrote last year, provisionally titled A Different Path. After several rounds of edits, I’m expecting some professional editorial feedback which will help me determine the next steps to publication.

In addition to all the above, at the back end of last year, short stories were flowing out of me at a rate, and I’ve been submitting a few to online literary magazines this year. I hope to share some good news on that front, very soon.

So, you could say I’ve been busy.

Photo by Francesco Gallarotti on Unsplash.

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Blog Posts Book Reviews

Top Three Novels of 2020

I’ve read lots of fiction this year, including a mix of great novels and short stories. I’ve been keeping track of everything through Goodreads, and I thought it would be a good idea to try to pick out the top three books I’ve read in 2020.

One of my favourite authors at the moment is Andrew Michael Hurley, and I’ve read all three of his novels this year, two of which definitely qualify for this list. However, to keep some variety, I’m going to limit myself to one book per author.

1st – Winner – Devil’s Day by Andrew Michael Hurley

Devil’s Day is a masterpiece of folk horror fiction from Andrew Michael Hurley, and one of the most beautifully written books I’ve ever read. Boiling the plot down to a single sentence, it’s the story of a man and his wife who return to his family farm for a funeral, and help with preparations for an annual festival in advance of bringing their sheep down from the moors for winter.

My full review of Devil’s Day.

2nd – The Discomfort of Evening by Marieke Lucas Rijneveld

The Discomfort of Evening is narrated by Jas, a ten year-old girl who lives on a dairy farm with her parents and siblings in a northern village in the Netherlands. Her brother dies after falling through ice while skating, and the family begins to fall apart as her parents become depressed, first over the death of a son, then over the loss of their entire herd during the foot and mouth outbreak. Jas tries to make sense of these events and deal with them through a series of uncomfortable rituals.

My full review of The Discomfort of Evening.

3rd – Luke and Jon by Robert Williams

Luke and Jon is a debut novel by Robert Williams, first published in 2010. Luke and his father, struggling after the death of Luke’s mother, move to a remote run-down cottage on the fell overlooking the northern town of Duerdale. They soon meet Jon, the strange boy with a secret who lives in the next house on the fell, wears 1950s clothes, and goes to the same school as Luke.

My full review of Luke and Jon.

There are a couple more novels that I loved, but didn’t quite make it into my personal top three for the year.

Normal People by Sally Rooney

Normal People is the story of Marianne and Connell who grow up in a small town in the west of Ireland. The novel covers their relationship over four years as they finish school and go on to study at Trinity College in Dublin.

My full review of Normal People.

Friend Request by Laura Marshall

Friend Request is the story of a woman who receives a Facebook friend request from a girl she used to know at school. A girl who died twenty-five years ago.

My full review of Friend Request.

There are lots more novels on my want to read list on Goodreads. I can’t wait to get started in the new year.

Photo by Giorgio Trovato on Unsplash.

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Blog Posts

Getting Critical Distance when writing

It’s very difficult for writers to get true critical distance from their work, especially when the work in question is a novel that has consumed almost every waking moment for months. Unfortunately, critical distance is exactly what’s needed in order to view a piece of writing objectively.

First draft

After completion of the first draft, one approach is to put that novel away in a drawer for a couple of weeks and forget about it. I did this after finishing my most recent novel, A Different Path, and it was an effective technique. The first draft took three months to write, so some of the earlier chapters were already unfamiliar to me, and this extra two week break gave me some much needed distance from the work as a whole.

Subsequent drafts

That first distanced read-through is a crucial one because it gets progressively harder to obtain any real critical distance after each pass. I’m currently trying to get a couple of weeks of distance after making changes for my second draft, but this will be the fourth time I’ve read the work through, and I’m worried I’ve now become so familiar with it, a two week break won’t be enough.

As I write this, the second draft has started calling out to me from inside the leather portfolio case it’s been trapped in for the last ten days. I’m now tempted to unzip it, caress the pages, let some light fall on them for a few minutes, maybe even read the first sentence…

Work on something else

A possible solution to the problem of diminishing distance might be to put every second draft away for six months and work on the first and second draft of a new idea instead. Six months is a good chunk of time, and that should be enough distance to bring back the objectivity.

Twenty six years of distance?

I recently re-read a novella I wrote twenty six years ago during the winter of 1993/94. The story was about a particularly dangerous type of computer virus, hence the image at the top of this post.

Reading it back after so long was a wonderful experience in many ways, but the critical distance I managed to get from the writing was unbeatable. I was able to come back to it purely as a reader, without remembering anything about the writing process, the plot, or the characters, apart from one or two names.

Photo by Justus Menke on Unsplash.