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Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Angel Rock by Darren Williams

Angel Rock by Darren Williams
Harper Collins, 2002

"Angel Rock is a fabulous novel of revenge and redemption, coming of age and coming to terms, of love, loss and yearning, and of trying to find your way home." So says the back cover and I agree.

This book is a compelling story well told. The characters are believable and the setting, Australia 1969, portrays a less sanitised life, a raw and more dangerous life, than most of us are used to in the twenty-first century. It is a beautifully crafted story that I found hard to put down, even when tired at the end of a long day.

I believe that a well told story can redeem poor writing, but good writing will not make up for a poorly told story. This book was an example of the former; I enjoyed reading it despite poor writing and, by implication, poor editing.

The opening sentence of this book was a whopping forty-eight words long and the second sentence was written as follows:

"The footpath was baking hot and the grass on either side of it full of bindi-eyes and no easier on his bare feet and his progress was punctuated by spells of hopping to recover from one or the other." I stopped and read it again, and a third time. Then gave up and moved on. The book was full of such bad construction and I soon gave up trying to decipher each one and just read through them to maintain the flavour and rhythm of the story.

The other problem was the dialogue - it was well written and believable but appallingly attributed; it was as though either Mr Williams or his editor didn't believe in attributions and deleted them at every opportunity. The result was strings of short pithy dialogue where, as a reader, one had no idea which character was saying what. Again, in order to maintain the flow of the story, I had to stop trying and simply move on.

How much of the subtlety in this story I missed due to poor writing and poor attribution, I have no way of telling, though I suspect that it may be quite a bit. Nevertheless, this story was ultimately a good read and one that I am glad to have spent time with. If the writing had been better, it would have achieved 4.5 stars but, as it stands, it really only qualifies for 3.5 and a "Should try harder" comment for both writer and editor.

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Thursday, May 03, 2007

A better blooper.

Looking back on the last two reviews, I realised that the last one was about a well told story, not too well written, while the previous one was about a well written story, not well told. As I explained at the time, my premise is that you can get away with the former, but can't get away with the latter. Writing is essentially about 'story' (in it's broadest sense). Put another way, the art of storytelling is made concrete in the craft of writing. Art can shine through mediocre craft, but craft can never redeem mediocre art.

The last two books I read rather prove the point. If I had to read one of them again, I would choose Angel Rock because the story is so well put together that the writing bloopers can be read through. On the other hand, I almost gave up on The Testament of Gideon Mack, despite the excellent writing, because the story was so poorly constructed.

My original post on this subject was entitled "I don't want to be a writer any more". If you're interested, then go and read it again; it was a fresh conclusion to me at the time, but one that's proving to be quite sound.

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Sunday, May 13, 2007


Cemetaries may not seem like a good place to spend writing time, but they can be. I went looking for some inspiration for a story and came across the grave stones of the "Winter" family. Husband and wife died years apart and three children all dead at around a year. I made notes and tucked it away for another time. Then, when I came back to it recently, what I thought was a story turned out to be a poem:


Ghosts of breath hang,
drifting silent above your stones.
Robert, 49, husband of Beatrice, 79.
What happened, Robert Winter,
that you left so soon?

Harry never filled his first page;
Robert and Beartrice, eighteen
when he was ripped from their book.
Surely it tore a ragged edge,
when he left so soon.

Charles saw just one candle.
Did he take a step before he left?
Did you joy as he fell into your arms
before he went to play in Harry's yard?
Why do Winter boys leave so soon?

Ivy Thelma, thirteen months entwined.
Did two names give you two chances?
Why did you use them so quick
in the rush to join your brothers?
You, the girl that left so soon.

Was it always winter living
or were there summers too;
unrecorded in this place of endings,
where ghosts of breath hang,
drifting silent above your stones?

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Thursday, May 24, 2007

You Drunken Lout

Last night the heat
was too much
for an Autumn night
I lay tossing
sleepless in
the still darkness
until you came
down our street
at eleven-thirty-three

You drunken lout!
banging gates
playing footy with
the trash cans
left ready for
the rubbish man
in the morning

God, were you noisy!
just you on your own
thrown out when
the isobars closed
funneled in the gradient
of barometric pressure
to hurl yourself against
the walls of my abode


I closed the windows
you weren't there
and lay drifting
in the darkness
trying not to heed
your cacophonous brawl
as you vent your spleen
for all to hear
and I wondered ...

to whom can one report
a Nor'west gale?

New Zealand is notorious for its Nor'west gales, nowhere more so than Canterbury. So, when a 'goodun' blows up we know all about it.

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Saturday, May 26, 2007

The Raw Shark Texts

The Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall

I come straight from the pages of The Raw Shark Texts, overjoyed at the freshness of this book and wondering how on earth I can post a review without putting people off reading a fantastic book.

It is probably one of those 'love it or hate it' books that will polarize those who read it. What will you make of the seven blank pages towards the end of the book? They contain no words yet, in context, they say a lot. What will you make of the 'letter graphs', the little pictures made up of letters and words that are scattered throughout the book? Difficult to understand at first, yet so much a part of the story.

By now you will be getting the idea that this is an unusual book and so it is. But in the midst of this strangeness Steven Hall weaves a compelling and well written story. Conceptually this book shouldn't have happened (who would have thought a publisher would take it on?) and it shouldn't work (what reader could enjoy its confusion?) but the facts are; it's here and it does work; very, very well.

Douglas Adams (the infinite improbability drive) meets Rene Descartes (I think, therefore I am) might sound like a scary and unlikely combination but it's what came to my mind early on and that conviction didn't shift by the time I got to the end. It's a psychological thriller, its a love story, its an action mystery and, if I were to try to give you the gist of the story, I would probably give too much away.

Advice; get hold of it quickly, the literary sharks are circling and it's bound to get snapped up.

Definitely a five star read.

"The Raw Shark Texts" by Steven Hall, Published by Canongate, ISBN 978-1-921145-74-2

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