Cally Phillips reviews:

Today I want to bring your attention to three writers  who have contributed to Auld Lums as reviewers. Each of them has one work reviewed by me at IEBR over the last six months and I’ve republished these reviews here for the festival.  I’ve never met any of these people though I have built up (to varying degrees) a professional (and friendly) virtual relationship with each one of them. In each case I’m very keen to read their forthcoming work.  You can find out more about each of them in Festival links but I’ll give you a thumbnail sketch here too.

John Logan has for some reason best known to the mainstream, been overlooked by mainstream publishing. He’s had good reviews, favourable critical response to his work but over 20 years he’s struggled to get a novel published, despite some commercial/critical success in the field of short story writing.  He finally bit the bullet and published The Survival of Thomas Ford as an ebook. It’s done rather well. John (and many readers) have put the faith and hard work into getting it ‘visible’ and read and the Amazon model has certainly been working for John this past few months. If you want to know more about the story behind the story here’s a link where John talks about the Survival of John Logan and gives a Note from Frankenstein’s Castle. John is currently working on a short story collection Storm Damage which will come out as an ebook in September (fingers crossed!) I was desperate for him to give us a sneak preview for the festival but he’s holding his cards close to his chest and sees the collection holistically so we’ll just have to wait for the work in its entirety.

Find out more about John by scrolling down the Festival Who’s Who

Rosalie Warren is a pen name.  Rosalie has written one ebook thus far Charity’s Child (previously published in paperback) and is working on a second, ‘Alexa’s Song’ which I hope we’ll be able to read this autumn.  She’s still got feet firmly in both camps of indie and mainstream publishing (and while they want what you have to offer that’s a great place to be, I’m not knocking it!) She’s got several commissions and published books out there which you can find out about by going to her Amazon Author page. Behind the authorial ‘character’ of Rosalie is the real life Dr Sheila Glaseby, who has been of more use to me than I can tell you in discussing my own work, especially with regard to experimental use of metaphor and structure and how to render it intelligible to a ‘real’ reader.

Find out more about Rosalie from her Festival Page

Carol McKay is another relative newcomer (aren’t we all?) to epublishing though not to being published, and has set up Pothole Press with her husband Keith. Her first ebook is a collection of short stories Ordinary Domestic which is challenging and enjoyable on a number of levels. It certainly had me switch my brain on, and that’s always a good thing in my (e)book!  I have only just started to ‘get to know’ Carol and you can find out more about her in her Festival Page and in her own words in her writers piece  

Now, on with the reviews.  You might like to look at these reviews as a first, tentative step in a relationship between reader and writer.  Great relationships can blossom from such first steps.  Because behind the writing are always real people. And one can get to know them through their work in more than obvious ways.  I am grateful to be virtually ‘getting to know’ each of these people (and their writing) who I would never have known or known about had they not been brave enough to become ‘indie’ publishers.  

JOHN LOGAN

The Survival of Thomas Ford I heard about this book through viral marketing,  not something that usually appeals to me, but for the sake of this site I put aside my cynicism about how one rises up through the Amazon charts and decided to find out for myself what all the fuss was about. I’m glad I did. Literary fiction is usually up my street. Contemporary thriller, only sometimes.

From the very opening, the ‘literary’ fiction box was ticked with the beautiful prosaic description.  OF A CAR CRASH. That was a master stroke. It worked. And I wondered why it worked? I was put in mind of the many films that I’ve seen (in a former life as a screenwriter) and how often the use of cinematic lighting can kill off the veracity of a scene or movie (Killing Private Ryan springs to mind… I mean, going into war beautifully back lit?)  However, in this novel, the opposite is true. The heightened language actually enables one to fully engage with the horror of the initial car crash. So far so good… the writer has us hooked. Would the rest of the novel live up to expectation?

I’m happy to report that it did. What really did it for me in this excellent novel was the depth and detail.  This applies to both characters and plot/narrative. Logan really takes you into the depths of his characters souls, using the kind of details that show up only in a well crafted novel (and that other writers appreciate because they know how hard it is to achieve). There is a panoply of characters one cannot ‘like’ but Logan manages to keep you engaged with them, almost as if you are rubbernecking a car crash!  Giving compelling motivations to unlikeable characters is a skill that Logan pulls off every time.

The consequence of in depth, detailed, controlled writing (especially interesting in a novel where one of the characters is obsessed with Chaos Theory) was that reading it became like waiting for  the moment of impact… that’s the best way I can explain the suspense engendered by the author.  The imagery is strong, haunting and sometimes horrific, but then you wouldn’t expect to walk away unscathed from a car crash now would you?

In conclusion then, what matters is not how you find out about a good book, but that you FIND a good book. For me, The Survival of Thomas Ford justifies the premise behind the Indie ebook review site. While all that glitters is not gold and while climbing up the Amazon charts may be dismissed as super good marketing, if you allow your cynicism to dictate your choices, or listen to the detractors who are constantly telling us that there’s nothing other than second rate tripe being self published, you’ll miss out on some of the best literature being written today.  With this novel, Logan has proved that however he got there, (and there’s a story behind that to curl your hair)  he deserves to be at the top of the pile!  I would certainly recommend the book to anyone who loves good literature. I want to read more of his output and I don’t care what format it’s in. He’s a great writer. He should be read. Conventional publishers failed him time and again – to their shame – and I for one am glad that he finally bit the bullet and gave us the opportunity to ‘discover’ him. I look forward to reading more of his work.

Reviewed by Cally Phillips on Indie eBook Review site on March 15th 2012

ROSALIE WARREN

Charity’s Child. Once I started reading this book, I actually didn’t want to put it down. I nearly read the whole thing at a sitting and only dragged myself away from it because I had to.  It’s quite a skill to pull someone that far into a narrative. Even though I thought I’d guessed early on who was ‘responsible’ for Charity’s pregnancy, the twists and uncertainty kept me guessing, and it become a need rather than a want to get to the revelation.

In the first part of the novel the central character Joanne is sidelined by her burgeoning love of Charity in a way that will be very familiar to many who have experienced similar ‘passions’ (be they hetero or homo sexual).  But it’s really not Charity’s story and in Part Two there’s a subtle shift, adding more depth and dimension that I imagined possible and yet making the whole tale even more plausible.

Joanne lives in Charity’s shadow. She’s captivated by Charity from the first moment she meets her yet it is Joanne’s story that ultimately is every bit as interesting and sad as Charity’s.  It was better than fiction because it was hard not to see it as fact.  I believed the story at every stage.  Clearly drawn from a powerful combination of personal experience and painstaking research (the marks of a good novel) Joanne’s teenage angst is palpable, poignant and quite compelling.

There’s a quite complex exploration of  how people’s live intertwine and affect each other and the consequences and fall out are moving and disturbing.  Tom and Charity illustrate how people can ‘fool’ themselves when they can’t face the truth of their emotions or situations.

The exploration of the points of connection between sexual abuse, power, control and religion are strong stuff and it’s a tribute to the writer that through the mouthpiece of Joanne this never feels too full on or ‘adult’… and so the novel is actually quite appropriate as a YA read as well.  Perhaps it best illustrates the folly of too tightly labelling a novel because far from falling between two stools, it certainly finds its place in both adult and YA fiction without compromise.

The complications of secret and illicit passion are revealed in a variety of situations throughout the novel – relationships between Joanne and Charity, Tom and Louise, Charity and her father, Joanne and her mother and aunt among others, serve to deal with family problems, sexual awakening and the uncertainty of identity and religious faith that are so central to the teenage experience.  Joanne never becomes too wise for her age, never steps over the line of her own understanding and this adds significantly to the poignancy of the novel.

The vulnerability inherent in religious belief is carefully and bravely drawn and redolent with echoes of reality. Anyone who had a teenage experience be that with the Moonies or evangelical Church of England (or anything in between) will recognise the characters and the dilemmas faced by Joanne.

Rosalie Warren writes with intelligence, compassion and insight about a very difficult subject. I’m really looking forward to her next book.

Reviewed by Cally Phillips  at IEBR on 23rd August  2012 

 CAROL McKAY

Ordinary Domestic. Initially I struggled with these stories, much as I struggled to comprehend what the famous E.M.Forster ‘only connect’ epigram was all about. Then it hit me. If I were to describe Ordinary Domestic in one word it would be ‘disconnect.’  Clever. I’m no judge of a ‘collection’ of short stories or how they should fit together and that’s perhaps why I found myself bouncing around in this collection, never quite sure what I was being told in a more holistic way… and that’s the point. The unifying feature (for me) of this collection is ‘disconnect.’

Within these fifteen stories, of very varying length, some very very short and some a more ‘regular’ length, the unpleasant realities of everyday life and relationships are explored. The range of emotions runs from poignancy to sheer disgust at the ‘ordinary domestic’ human condition exposed within stories that cover as seemingly eclectic a range of subjects as memory, breast cancer, child abuse, dementia, incest, aids and adoption.  But on reflection I did realise that all of these were indeed ‘ordinary domestic’ topics and so the collection does indeed do what it says on the tin!

The stories are too diverse for me to review each in and of itself.  But be prepared for a variety of length, of style and even of languages (I was happy to see Scots featured in a couple of cases.  I found ‘What Mattered about the Dancing’  and ‘Our Family Tradition’  were over before I’d really had time to realise what they were saying – and then had to re-read them a couple of times before moving on,  I had to constantly refocus my reading brain in order to juggle the ‘disconnect’. That’s no criticism, just an observation of the awareness of a symbiotic relationship a reader has to adopt to read such work.  On reflection I found Ordinary Domestic presented a range of difficult subjects intelligently pulled together and challenging to the reader in a range of ways.

For me the standout story was Careless, and this because it clearly showed two perspectives on a subject which I found fascinating – the links between the two main characters, each stuck in their own personal worlds – were poignant and moving.  Two women joined by a single personal event, unknown to each other sharing a sorrow. On a bus. It gives you pause for thought – that you could look across a bus and never know what the person sitting opposite you is feeling, thinking or going through.  We do it every day. When we get cut up driving, or when we celebrate a success, how much time do we give to ‘why’ the person may have driven erratically, or think of all the people for whom our birthday for example is a day of bereavement.  The ‘disconnect’ of the characters in the stories thus also potentially reflects our own ‘disconnect’ from other people, and it’s a clever and brave thing to do because until I understood the central ‘disconnect’ I didn’t understand the point of some of the stories. I was looking for an ‘only connect’ pattern when I needed to focus on the complete opposite!  I’m glad I stuck with it. Difficult can be fulfilling.  And of course, the difficulty lay in me, not in the work. A lesson worth learning.

Reviewed by Cally Phillips  on IEBR Thursday 9th  presaging the launch of the ebook festival.