Great view from here

My long-awaited contributor copy of  The View From Here arrived this week, to much excitement in the Monkey household.

Illustration credit: Conor Tarter, Gavin Schaefer.

I thought I’d share with you what it looks like (I’m quite pleased with the layout and illustration) but you’ll notice that the words have been tampered with in the gimp (that’s the gnu image manipulation program, for those that don’t follow me on deviantArt) so if you want to read it, you’ll still have to buy a copy.

As further enticements, there is an article about and interview with Booker-shortlisted Damon Galgut; an article about the changing nature of literary coverage by the literary editor of The Guardian (and Observer, and website); book reviews; poetry; and of course, short stories. I enjoyed (and would imagine anyone who likes Gwendoline Riley’s style will enjoy) Thanksgiving by Meredith Miller, a slow gaze across friendship, closeness and dreams; that was the other short story which was only available in the print edition (there is also part 2 of a serial by Kathleen Maher, which I confess I haven’t read yet).

The view from here

The February edition (issue 32) of The View From Here is now available, featuring a story of mine called The Fan-boys on Tour. Selected parts of the magazine are available online but if you want to read Fan-boys you’ll have to obtain a print copy (available by mail order from their website). It’s a reasonably short story (not micro-fiction, but what a lot of people would describe as flash – about 500 words), mainstream (i.e. non-genre) and is about brotherly love in the scuzzy underground of devoted followers of half-forgotten punk bands. For you, it may be about something entirely different, such is the beauty of fiction – read it and discover.

Go hug an illustrator, tell them I sent you

It’s the second annual International Illustrator Appreciation Day – I know this because I made it up a year ago. The aim was to draw some attention (no pun intended, I swear) to the illustrators who interpret and enhance stories (or novels, with cover art) and enrich the reading experience. It’s probably more relevant if you read a lot of sci-fi or fantasy but I’d like to encourage you to take this opportunity to highlight an artist you’ve enjoyed in a recent magazine, or leave a comment on someone’s blog. You might think they won’t care, but even apparently successful artists may well appreciate some confirmation that someone’s noticed what they do.

To that end, I’ll point you at Darren Winter, stand-out artist in the last Interzone I read, and of course Mark Pexton who hasn’t been in Interzone for a while but we’ll forgive him because he’s been working on our stunning graphic novel (I’m allowed to refer to the art as stunning, I didn’t do it).

Long-awaited appearance in Bards and Sages Quarterly

It seems ages since I had my story All the Room in the World accepted for Bards and Sages Quarterly, but the October 2010 issue in which it appears has now been released. Unusually for me (at least so far) it’s not free to view, you actually have to buy a pdf or a paper magazine if you want to read it. To encourage you in that direction, I’ll let you know that it’s a kind of lightly humourous science fiction (science fantasy? If you call Doctor Who sci-fi, then this is probably sci-fi, if not then we’ll stick with fantasy but of a sciency bent), it runs to two pages and is set in a British university (or probably strictly an English university). I enjoyed writing it, several people have enjoyed reading it so far, so I hope at least some of you do too.

The etiquette of book reviews

I haven’t had a book review anywhere except on this blog of mine for ages, so I was wondering recently if there were any suitable places to consider. A quick search and I’d found a few likely contenders, but I’d also crossed off a couple due to what I saw as bias.

If a website or magazine only allows its reviewers to go as low as ‘good’ in their ratings (as opposed to ‘excellent’, ‘life-changing’ etc), that can go one of two ways. Either you follow the old ‘if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all’ (leaving the reader to assume that if there’s no mention of a book it must be rubbish, when in fact it could just be that no-one’s reviewed it yet), or if you’re reviewing to get your name out there, you might be tempted to put a positive spin on a poor book (or out and out lie about it). Neither approach seems particularly helpful to the reader, which surely is the point of the review.

I’ve been reading Private Eye on and off for the last 17 years, and I know there are plenty of reviews out there written by friends, relatives, colleagues etc of the author which say overwhelmingly good things about a book (deserved or not) in order to pay back or call in a favour, or to drum up trade. I also know that any book reviewed in Private Eye itself is likely to be there to allow the reviewer to exercise wit and venom in tearing it apart (so if that doesn’t happen, I tend to assume the book’s a superlative effort, though maybe it’s just been written by a friend, relative or colleague of the Eye’s reviewer…), not so much a book review as a catty erudition article.

What a review should be (in my opinion) is as fair an assessment as possible by someone who would generally read a book of that sort. I wouldn’t review a romance novel because I’d be prejudiced against it from the start and know nothing of the conventions or expectations of the genre; I wouldn’t ask a literary snob to review a science fiction novel for similar reasons. If my dad says the latest Robert Rankin’s lacklustre I’ll take notice of him, if my mum (assuming she could force herself to read it all) said the same thing I wouldn’t care because I know it’s not her kind of thing. While I don’t in general want to read or write negative reviews, I’d want to be warned by someone else who’s enjoyed a particular author’s work in the past that their latest offering is below par, and I’d want to be able to say ‘normally I like this kind of thing but the characters in this book are just wooden’. Constructive criticism is part of a writer’s improvement process, and if I was disappointing my previous readers, I’d want to know.

A few story recommendations

For no particular reason I thought I’d mention a few stories I’ve enjoyed lately while checking out places to submit, or reading magazines.

Mannikin by Paul Evanby was a good start to Interzone 229: an alternative 18th century in the West Indies, politics, slavery (both manifest and subtle), and a scientist who believes he’s acting for the best. Some pleasing detail and an interesting premise.

At The View From Here magazine, Cling by Andrew Hook grabbed my attention. Well-written, capturing the complexities of friendship (particularly when it involves writer/editor roles as it does here with an ongoing film project) and leaving an unsettling feeling of otherness.

De facto date of marital termination by Leslie Coleman at 50 to 1 is one of the neatest pieces of microfiction I’ve seen in a while. Often (my own included) they verge on poetry or leave things a little too open. This one seems to set a scene that tells you pretty much all you need to know about what’s just happened and what the current mood is.

Back to my magazine-surfing…