Thursday, 5 August 2021

I've Been Vaccinated

This morning I got a message that over 40s can now get vaccinated in Kigali, so I hopped a moto down to my local clinic and got Pfizered! Feeling so happy. You can find the global vaccination map here, and more about vaccination inequity here

List of Private Clinics Currently Offering the Jab in Kigali

  1. Hopital la Croix Du Sud (Kwa Nyirinkwaya)
  2. Plateau Polyclinic (Nyarugenge)
  3. DMC Hospital (Kicukiro)
  4. Nyarurama Adventist Polyclinic (Gikondo)
  5. Kigali Citizen Polyclinic (Remera)

Wednesday, 4 August 2021

Wunderkammer der Kulturgeschichte


My friend, author and academic Leif Inselmann, who is helping me with all things Mesopotemian in my Sargon novel, has just started a very cool blog: Wunderkammer der Kulturgeschichte (The Chamber of Historical Cultural Curiosities). 

It is in German, but you can easily run posts through Google Translate.

As he explains in his opening post:

Was humanity really visited by aliens in the distant past? What forms the core of old myths and legends? And what misconceptions do we develop when we learn about history?

Mankind’s past is a cabinet of curiosities: puzzling myths and legends where the truth is hard to distinguish, archaeological finds that can’t be easily understood... history has always been a reflective surface for the ideas of later generations: from the Sumerian King List to ancient aliens, humans have transfigured, reinterpreted and distorted the past. 

His blog aims to explore curiosities in the fields of history, archeology, and mythology, to explore discorse in academic research around these topics, and review literature. If you're into all things fortean, check it out.

Monday, 2 August 2021

The Left-handed Booksellers of London


Recently finished this after my friend, Cassie, mentioned it on Facebook:

In a slightly alternate London in 1983, Susan Arkshaw is looking for her father, a man she has never met. Crime boss Frank Thringley might be able to help her, but Susan doesn't get time to ask Frank any questions before he is turned to dust by the prick of a silver hatpin in the hands of the outrageously attractive Merlin. 
Merlin is a young left-handed bookseller (one of the fighting ones), who with the right-handed booksellers (the intellectual ones), are an extended family of magical beings who police the mythic and legendary Old World when it intrudes on the modern world, in addition to running several bookshops. 
Susan's search for her father begins with her mother's possibly misremembered or misspelt surnames, a reading room ticket, and a silver cigarette case engraved with something that might be a coat of arms. 
Merlin has a quest of his own, to find the Old World entity who used ordinary criminals to kill his mother. As he and his sister, the right-handed bookseller Vivien, tread in the path of a botched or covered-up police investigation from years past, they find this quest strangely overlaps with Susan's. Who or what was her father? Susan, Merlin, and Vivien must find out, as the Old World erupts dangerously into the New.

A fairly gentle read. Overtones of The Reivers of London, Diana Wynne Jones, and Emma Newman's Split Worlds series. 

The lead male character, Merlin, is a little Howl-esque. A slightly vain, fashionable fop with intense magical abilities. I like the main character, Susan, who was more than capable of keeping him in check - a child of the 80s. 

I just checked my clips/notes, and found I only made one, which is a little unusual for me:

A tree is strong, but the wind is stronger. A stone is strong, but the sea is stronger. The sun is strong, but sorrow is stronger. 

So, yes, it was a nice book especially if you like your folklore of the British Isles. The Old Man of Coniston and the summer solstice play a large role. A little bit of 80s nostalgia in there, including mention of a Swatch. I get the sense this might be more enjoyable in tree format, read over long winter nights beside the fire. It's got that sort of oldy London atmosphere that doesn't entirely translate to the sun-bleached equator. Seems like the set-up for a series. 

Sunday, 1 August 2021


National Geographic


I've started a new novel!

Working title P-Script (the actual title I have in mind is way cooler). It's something that's been rattling around in my brain for a while, and I'm hoping to keep it down to around 80-90k.

Like Creeper's Cottage, it's all about those abandoned places, but this time it's 250 years in the future. My first attempt at sci-fi and I'm excited. The first chapter is down. I'm someone who researches a lot, and I've always suspected that futuristic novels take just as much research as historical ones, because you need to be aware of so many trends and scientific developments.

This one's inspired by Hans Rosling's statistics and the current trend in Japan and Italy. The implications of this on the economy, health care, and housing fascinates me. I had a guest staying from Abuja recently and we got talking about the far future, and it really sparked my imagination and made me think I should get on with writing this. Historical fiction is all about explaining other people's thought processes and why they did things, but here, I get to invent reasoning that hasn't yet happened. It's kind of liberating.

And, don't worry, I'm not abandoning Sargon. Things are actually going okay there. I think I've fixed the first chapter, and I'm busy resetting the tone. It's not looking quite as bad as I first feared, and I even had someone contact me asking if they could be a beta reader. I'm chipping away at it in between P-Script and a couple of other projects.

I've been really enjoying a couple of Netflix series as well, one on music, This is Pop, and the other on films, The Movies that Made Us. Kind of a trip down Nostalgia Avenue, and absolutely fascinating how many blockbusters were rejected by every agent in town.

So, soldiering onwards.

Saturday, 31 July 2021

Musical Interlude: Meat Loaf

I fucking love Meat Loaf.

Every now and then, I write a line and have to stop because it reminds me of a song, and I have to honour that song by going off to listen to it. Today I had two, on two different projects. The first was:

They laughed a lot, and when Masarru looked at him, he was certain he saw something that wasn’t there before. 

Yeah, you've guessed that one. But which version do you prefer - modern or vintage?

I'm probably going to change that line, it's a bit too cliche.

The second project:

Shy had only been ten when their mother disappeared. Sometimes she resented her brother for having half a decade more memories of her... He had a clearer image of who she was and how much she had loved them. Whereas there were a lot more things Shy felt unsure about. A lot of things that felt hazy. A lot of dust on the rear-view mirror. 

So, of course, I had to take a Meat Loaf moment.

My go-to cooking song is the one below. Food just cooks better to it. And I never get sick of Ellen Foley. I mean, you'd offer your throat, right? 

(On a related note, I just searched Netflix for 'Rocky Horror' and it suggested 'Glee'! No, Netflix. No. Bad Netflix.)

I really need to do more musical interludes, it's been too long.

Friday, 30 July 2021

The Savage Detectives

Contrary to popular belief, I do actually own some physical books. They're pretty hard to come by, and often quite expensive, but, occasionally, people leave and let me peruse their bookshelves, or in the case of my neighbour, Didier, simply deliver a large bag of books to my door. 

These books are precious, but also usually a few decades old. 

One such book was The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolano. 

New Year's Eve, 1975: Arturo Belano and Ulises Lima, founders of the visceral realist movement in poetry, leave Mexico City in a borrowed white Impala. Their quest: to track down the obscure, vanished poet Cesárea Tinajero. A violent showdown in the Sonora desert turns search to flight; twenty years later Belano and Lima are still on the run.

Well. What a read.

It's very rare that I'm confused by a book, but I struggled to follow this one. It totally stumped me for a moment.

It's written in three distinctly different parts:

  1. First person, single character. A really believable story of a young poet, Arturo Belano, breaking into the Visceral Realist scene and having lots of sex. Told as diary entries.
  2. First person, multiple character, telling of sightings of the two poets, Belano and Ulises, on the run. told in numbered chapters.
  3. Back to Arturo's diary entries, as an old man, explaining what happened that night in the desert.

Quite an undertaking, and not a traditional narrative structure. For that reason, it should be praised. I do enjoy it when a book trashes tradition and tries something new.

However, I can heartily advise you not to buy this on audio, as I did. I have a paper copy of the book, but I rarely have time to read, so I prefer to get things on Audible and listen in the shower, whilst cooking, and before bed. 

The reason I say 'read it yourself,' is because the audiobook is read by two men: Eddie Lopez and Armando Durán. They do a fantastic job, however, half the male characters are queer. Because there wasn't a female narrator, I couldn't tell the female characters from the gay men. When it switched to the eye-witness accounts in the middle, it confused the hell out of me. I'm usually pretty good at distinguishing the difference between a man and a woman on sight (not always, but most of the time). However, when two people are having sex - and they both have male voices, and all the characters were male before... you just assume... 

So, yeah. I became suspicious when one of the men kept referring to himself as another man's 'girlfriend' or 'woman,' but, nowadays, that in itself isn't a complete decider. When one of them began talking about her smelly fanny (in the UK sense) I definitely twigged. Although I got the general gist, it certainly added an extra layer of mystery that I don't think the author intended.

Two other good reasons to read the tree version is:

1. There are illustrations at the back. In the audio version, you get the text without the illustrations. There's also four pages of jokes about Mexicans that include illustrations. Though, these don't make a whole lot of sense either with or without the illustrations. 

2. It's an encyclopaedia of poetic form. Arturo reels off obscure word after obscure word for poetics. It's quite fascinating, but you'd never know how to spell half of them if you didn’t have it written down:  asclepiad, spondee, archilochian, zejel, syncope, tetrastich, and the list goes on. Interesting for poetry buffs and pub quizzes.

So... by the time I got to the end, I appreciated it because I understood what was going on. I didn't enjoy the switch from part one to part two, partly because of the aforementioned confusion over the gender and sexuality of the characters, and partly because I found the first part really engaging. I was fully invested in the main narrator when it suddenly switched to loads of stories from other people. I felt a bit detached, which I think was the point - set adrift in the world. Still, I did lose interest a bit.

There was randomly some mention of Kigali and Angola in there, but it felt more like adding the names to sound exotic, rather than giving a real sense of place. I also wonder, as it's about poets, whether he chose those places simply because Rwanda rhymes with Luanda. Probably not, but it was confusing to listen to. 

One thing I couldn't help thinking about was how much it reminded me of Carlos Ruiz Zafón's work (The Shadow of the Wind quartet). There was something about respect for poetry and authors in the theme, and about the writer deconstructing himself, that felt similar in style. Although, Zafon's work is much easier to follow. 

All in all, I'm glad I read this as it was a lesson in alternative structure. However, it also highlighted the pitfalls of this when translated to audiobook. I think authors have to be a bit more mindful nowadays of how their work might translate to other media, as audiobooks are becoming increasingly popular. I also think it was an interesting point that, nowadays, it does help to have a female narrator narrating female parts if they're written in first person. Just to avoid any confusion.

Thursday, 29 July 2021

Let the Fuckwittery Begin


Oh no!

It's bad.

It's really bad.

Feeling a bit down at the moment. Just started the edit on Akkad, and it's a complete train wreck. This is a new experience for me as my first drafts are usually pretty strong. But this one strongly sucks. The reason for this is that it isn't the story I initially set out to tell. It was only supposed to be a short prologue to the other character - and that's how it reads. It feels like a sideshow rather than the main event. 

I knew it was going to need some fixing, but I didn't realise quite how much. If I'm going to pull it out of the bottom drawer, it'll need some serious rewrites and an ambiance injection. The characters feel a bit cartoonish, the dialogue wobbles wildly between formal and cazh, and it's just lacking that weight that good historical fiction carries. That sense of gravitas. Which, for a guy like Sargon, is non-negotiable. 

I spent much of yesterday panicking and trying to set fire to my laptop. I think the 'end' key is entirely melted to the motherboard now. This morning, I took a few deep breaths, told myself to woman up, and took another look. Initially, I hated it so bad I wanted to completely start over. I'm still considering it, but I'm going to have a go at fixing it first. I've started resculpting the first couple of pages and I think there's a glimmer of hope in there. I just need to deepen the tone. A bit like painting, I've done the blocking in, now to bring the colour and fine detail. 

The other thing I need to do is really get my head into that timeframe. Again, because I thought it was just going to be a prologue to this other character, my mind had raced ahead a bit and was preparing to dive into another story. I need to rewind and become fully present in these opening pages. 

I found this really nice talk by historical fiction authors Steven Saylor and Steven Pressfield. I really liked it, and listening to authors talk about their process makes me feel more relaxed. I could identify with what they were saying and I've bought a couple of their books to look at their openers. I'm revisiting a few of my favourite historical fiction books to study their openers. Although I've been writing historical fiction, I've been reading a lot more contemporary work recently, so it really helps to immerse myself in the genre I'm aiming for. There are so many styles in historical fiction, but there's also a sort of undercurrent that unites them all. I need to grab hold of that. 

Meanwhile, I have a couple of other infant ideas on the go, so I'm going to play about with those in between editing meltdowns. It'll be nice to have other projects to work on so that I don't become too blinkered and obsessive. It helps to put this one project in the context of a much broader creative process. 

Wish me luck.