Month: Jul 2019

Review of Gail Honeyman’s ‘Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine’

by Guest Reviewer, and author of ‘Helios Sphere‘, Eleanor Duvivier

It has been a long time since I’ve felt compelled to write down my thoughts about a book.

Eleanor and I (also called Eleanor) connected.  We went on an adventure together through the ink and the turn of the page.  I should have known, it’s not often you come across a heroine called Eleanor.  Eleanor is not a conventional heroine and at times it’s hard to see her as a heroine at all.  In fact, at first I felt sure that she would be revealed as a psychopath.  This balance on the line of character profiles is truly intriguing.

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine is about a woman who thinks she is fine and is quite happy plodding along in that bubble until events start happening at her which makes her realise that she really isn’t fine at all.  For those, like me, with mental health issues that would worry about reading due to the last bit please don’t worry.  The author is empathetic and it isn’t used as a plot twist and moved on without proper appreciation and treatment.  Eleanor’s moving on is given such care and attention that I’ve never seen anywhere else.

Gail Honeyman, author (image from Goodreads)

Despite the book being about Eleanor there is a network of solid characters in this novel.  Eleanor learns to converse with people, make friends and care for others as well as herself.  It is a story about how Eleanor loves herself to love others.  This in itself is unconventional. It isn’t necessarily a story about Eleanor falling in love with a specific person although one could be fooled to think that at first.  When you struggle you know the first step is self-love and acceptance.  We can’t give from an empty cup after all.

What resonated with me was that Eleanor has scars on the same side of her face as I do mine due to a fire.  I shan’t say why Eleanor’s fire started.  When I was in primary school camping with Mum we got caught up in a tent fire and the end result was we were hospitalised with scars that we would share for life.  My flowery dress got caught upon the tent pole and my Mum had to tear melting tent apart with her hand to free me. 

For years I was bullied for surviving and called all manner of things for having scars.  Early on the scars were rigid and pink like mountains across my dark skin, in time they have paled.  It is small reactions that Eleanor does: showing the best side of her face, fearing the hairdresser, fearing the wielder of the makeup brush, not feeling perfect and being afraid of perfection.  These truly resonate with me.  There is a way that you act when you have scars that you hope no one notices.

It was the first book in a long time that I have laughed, cried, contemplated my own life, stayed up late to finish, oo’d, ahh’d and genuinely annoyed the other people around me about whilst reading.  I will read it again once I have time, just so that I can digest it all.

£20 note!

Since I started post-Uni summer I’ve been catching up with my reading list.  I’ve got books from three Christmases ago that I need to get round to.  This treat was the first on the list and in it I found a twenty pound note from my Mum – thanks Mum!  That’s what I get for taking so long to get round to a book, eh?  A little surprise in the pages. 

When you’ve been reading extracts of books and Uni reading for what feels like forever getting stuck into a book for pleasure was a real gift.  It was difficult to avoid spoilers during my Creative Writing MA as everyone was starting threads about it and was reading it that winter.  I can see why they were so obsessed.  This book was a gift in itself, had a gift in it, and was given as a gift. 

#eleanorduvivier, #heliossphere, #eleanoroliphant, #scottmartinproductions, #lesleyatherton, #review, #bookreview

‘Elmer and Louise’ by Lesley Atherton, Part 4

Photo by Вальдемар on Pexels.com

Elmer had assumed he was dead but, as occurs regularly in the cliffhangers of psychological thrillers, the ‘death’ he experienced proved to be an enormous exaggeration of his symptoms.

He was hurting, bleeding a little, and had bumped his head and almost every one of his body’s protrusions on the van and on the pavement’s kerbstone… but he was a strong and sturdy guy, and despite his injuries was in far better condition than he deserved to be after being hit by the large, white plumber’s van.

Following Elmer’s self-ejection from the stolen car, Dulcie and Louise had done exactly what he’d expected. The car had stalled right next to Elmer’s fallen form, but his girlfriend and sister had chosen not to scoop him up, return his forcibly to their stolen car, and take him with them on their journey.

Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

They’d driven off, without even a backwards glance, leaving Elmer crumpled in the gutter and with nobody but the driver of the white van to offer assistance. The plumber, at least, showed some empathy, squealing his vehicle to a halt and practically falling out of the van door in his eagerness to get to the crumpled shape.

‘Oh my God, you alright, mate…? Mate…? You just fell out of the car and my van hit you and then you rolled to the edge. It’s lucky there were no cars coming.’

Elmer shuffled slightly on the kerb and grimaced. ‘You can go. I’ll be alright.’

‘I can’t leave you here like this.’ The plumber’s forehead dripped with perspiration.

Elmer wiped his eyebrow with his forearm and was less concerned than he should have been when the blood seeping from his skull coloured the skin a deep crimson.

‘Here, get in. I’ll take you to the hospital. It’s only a few minutes away. It’s the least I can do.’

Photo by Tom Fisk on Pexels.com

Elmer nodded and allowed himself to be helped to his feet and guided towards the van. His right shoulder, hip, ankle and knee hurt like mad from the impact, and he struggled pathetically onto the front seat.

‘I’m Simon.’ The plumber offered a hand to shake.

‘Elmer.’ He shook his head. ‘No handshake. My wrist is killing me.’

‘I’m not surprised… You hit the ground pretty hard. And Elmer’s a pretty weird name.’

‘Yeah. Even worse when you try living with it. My sister’s called Louise. She was in that stolen car. That’s why I got out.’

‘What do you mean?’ He started up the van and the tinny rumble seemed to trigger cognition.

 ‘Hell! Elmer and Louise! No way! Your parents named you after a film?!’

‘Yeah. They had a terrible sense of humour. And look where it led us. Lou’s on her very own criminal road trip. I’m surprised it took her this long to come up with the idea, to be honest. I’m the straight one. She’s always been a wild card.’

Simon put on his seatbelt and took a toke of his e-cig before replacing it into his overall’s pocket. Elmer’s nose crinkled.

‘God, that smells like my grandma’s mouldy pot pourri. What’s it supposed to be?’

‘Can’t remember. Cinnamon biscuit? Strawberry and lime cheesecake? These things are a pile of crap, really. All they ever taste of is charcoal briquettes and ethanol… Strapped in?’

Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

‘Strapped in?’

‘Seatbelt. Get your seatbelt on.’

‘Oh. Yeah. I’ve done it. Thanks.’

‘Guess that means your arm isn’t broken. Still need to go to the hospital though.’

Elmer shrugged, then nodded in resignation, closed his eyes, leaned his congealing scalp against the van’s head rest, and began to sob.  

Review of Short Stories – Snapshots of Life, Morality and the Complex Human Landscape of Emotion

by Guest Blogger, Rebecca Wilson

Throughout my life in education so far, I have received the same message – that ‘high quality’ literature lies exclusively within the academically compiled lists of ‘classics’ which frequently feature lengthy pagination and fairly distant publication dates.

The majority of these ‘classics’ consist of reams and reams of plot, description and deeper meaning. However, the sheer length of many of these ‘classics’ has (arguably) rather ironically led some of them to fall into the trap many writers face – maintaining balance.

Although I am by no means advocating that all longer stories lack balance, as you lengthen a story, the danger of this pitfall increases, and the deeper meanings in works can sometimes be swamped by excessive description or other forms of irrelevant minor detail.

This is where short stories have a unique advantage over longer stories. This trap is often much easier to avoid.

So why do short stories not have the same claim to the literary spotlight?

Don’t be deceived by their length, these works can offer a lot more than you may initially think…

Punchy, Powerful Messages…
With Clarity!

When reading short stories, readers are arguably less inclined to rake through dozens of pages before uncovering any implicit messages. The power of these messages is thus less likely to be sacrificed or difficult to extract, as is the case with some of history’s most hailed literary classics. A key example of this in my opinion would be Tolkien’s famous Lord of the Rings trilogy. Although a classic story, and one which I adore, the important messages it carries such as those of the value of friendship, loyalty and teamwork are often lost amongst the endless description of the vast landscape and history of Tolkien’s Middle Earth. Although I can admire Tolkien’s expansive imagination, in his ability to build a world in such minute detail, the level of this detail included in the story can sometimes make reading the trilogy an arduous and lengthy task, rather than a singular source of enjoyable fantasy escapism.

Quality not Quantity
(of Pages and Profit!)

It’s no hidden secret that many classic novels, such as Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles often owe their length to the practice of serialisation and being ‘paid by the letter’. Here, the creativity vs commerce debate begins to flare up again, although it is often difficult to judge whether novels entirely owe their length to this cause or not. The endless sub plots and lengthy descriptions evident in classics such as DickensGreat Expectations can most certainly frame many classics as guilty of this in many respects, whereas shorter stories can often pack unique punches some longer stories can find, owing to their length, much harder to achieve.

Travelling and mental exhaustion

We’ve all experienced this. We’ve all been on a holiday, or a long journey, or simply sat at home ‘relaxing’, picked up a book and after a certain amount of time been more focused on getting to a numerical target rather than reading the text itself. Just picking up a book that has 400+ pages can be a bit daunting, with your brain telling you “this is going to take forever”, and thus, in this mindset, it does. And then you procrastinate from reading it, and alas, five months later, you’re only 200 pages into reading Vanity Fair (and yes, I am speaking from personal experience here). The book is abandoned, you grumble something about time wasting, and move on to a different book (not a classic this time, seeing as you’re holding a grudge for a bit). This is why shorter stories are simply perfect for the weary traveller who just wants something interesting to dip into for a short while, and why short stories can often maintain reader interest for a longer amount of time.

Skill of the Writer in World and Character Building – in Such a Short Space of Time!

This is a skill that is very difficult to master. Longer stories enable writers to gradually build up characters and thus have the safety net of future events in the story to fall back on should the development of a certain aspect be sparse in one section of the novel. Short story writers do not have this safety net, and so their ability to craft worlds and characters in such short spaces of time, that are interesting and sufficiently developed to keep readers engaged should be celebrated as a true indication of artistic talent.

Exploration of Ideas Not Suitable for Longer Work

Some ideas that are captured in short stories, such as singular emotions or experiences, can be very high intensity or simply not suitable to be explored in a feature length novel. To shorten a story can often be an efficient way of ensuring intensity remains high, concentration is less likely to fade and allows unique ideas to be explored in isolation, rather than being mentioned briefly amongst a tangled web of plot, description and characterisation. To cite an example, in Lesley Atherton’s collection of short stories Can’t Sleep Won’t Sleep Vol.1, there is a fascinating short story titled ‘Conflict’. This is my favourite of the collection, because it explores one singular emotion in such great depth, and just makes you, well, think!

And that’s simply to name a few unique benefits reading shorter stories can offer you. So why not read some yourself and see these ideas in action? Lesley Atherton’s series of short stories titled Can’t Sleep Won’t Sleep currently has five volumes for you to delve into, and the series most certainly embodies the ideas listed above surrounding the unfairly marginalised value short stories possess within an ever-expanding modern literary landscape.

#lesleyfridayreads, #can’tsleepwon’tsleep, #scottmartinproductions, #rebeccawilson, #lesleyatherton, #shortstory, #shortstories

Darkness.Chill.Silence.Bliss

Photo by Noelle Otto on Pexels.com

Summer isn’t ice-cream and beaches. Not to me.

The summer forces windows wide, admitting birdsong, creaking gates, the whirring of mowers, the madness of hedge trimmers, and the rhythmic cawing of noisy birds.

Neighbourhood children add to this with shouts, as do their mothers, while the grinding, grating power tools amplify their white noise backing track.

The skies are bland and blue, adorned with swathes of dove-grey clouds.

We wake early and retire late, and doze through the heat of the day, to be wakened by the ‘Greensleeves’ of the ice cream van.

Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.com

Houses remain empty while gardens fill with barbecue smoke and the snuffles of meat-obsessed canines.

But, to me, summer’s not ice-cream and beaches.

Neither are the darker months merely times pre- and post- the manic expectancy of Christmas; the craziness of shops, the worries of the poor and the extravagance of the rich.

It’s more than that.

Winter brings its own silent, deafening beauty and the comforting sounds of rain and wind.

Summer’s muggy blankness is a barrier of brightness.  

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Yet I’m drawn into winter skies; as tangibly solid and grey as my bed sheet. Winter rises late and snuggles down early in duvets that wrap us in their womblike comfort, while streets echo with cloistered emptiness.

I celebrate the differences of our seasonal extremes, but winter’s majesty, winter’s peace and winter’s rest are the introvert’s perfect backdrop.

Winter’s chill factor warms and energises my soul.

And autumn is a welcome transition.

Only five months more…

#lesleyatherton, #summer, #winter, #scottmartinproductions

Read This Book: NO MATTER WHAT! ***** FIVE STARS

Read this book ‘No Matter What‘ by Lesley Atherton

Review by Guest Blogger, Lauren O’Neill

No Matter What‘ is a short tale told from the point of view of Jayne Smith, a ghost writer who loves her job. She enjoyed the challenge of trying to write a book, autobiography or memoir in a way that it would seem her clients had written the books themselves. That is, until a certain supermodel named Hawk was sent her way, bringing not only stress and trouble along with him but also a past that Jayne had long since left behind.

Image: Pngtree

Lesley Atherton does a really good job of drawing you in and keeping you there and interested until the very end. Usually for me, short stories are just something to read to pass the time but with ‘No Matter What‘, I found myself enthralled with every word.

Even for a short story, each chapter flowed easily from one to another, I never found it difficult to get to the next page, never got stuck on a paragraph and never struggled to find the motivation to continue.

Jayne Smith, the protagonist of the story, is a woman who doesn’t find the need to impress or be a different person just to appease her peers and clients. Throughout ‘No Matter What’, I noticed how I didn’t agree with everything she believed but I still wanted her to come out victorious, be it ignoring the “supermodel version of Christopher Ecclestone” that was Hawk or being able to one day get the recognition she truly deserved for her hard work.

Without giving too much away, I saw myself mentally making note of every word she wrote, putting it away for later. This may just be a short fiction story but within it, you’ll find many things you could put to use in your life. As I started reading, I had somewhat of an idea in my head on what ‘No Matter What‘ was going to be about. Boy was I wrong!

For a 64 page story, there were so many twists and turns that kept me guessing and I have to admit, I never would have predicted what was going to happen and I think that’s quite a feat.

Illustration – quick sketch by a young Morrigan Atherton-Forshaw

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed ‘No Matter What’: the story was interesting, gripping and even quite helpful in some places. It kept me intrigued and excited to keep on reading to find out what happened to Jayne and if Hawk had caused any more trouble for the poor woman.

I would definitely recommend ‘No Matter What‘ to you if you enjoy a quick little fix of humour, excitement, mysterious supermodels and a ghost writer with more to her than she lets on, if you enjoy all that, then this is the story for you.

5/5 stars

#lesleyfridayreads, #lesleyatherton, #scottmartinproductions, #laurenoneill, #nomatterwhat, #shortnovel

‘Elmer and Louise’ by Lesley Atherton, Part 3

Elmer’s girlfriend, Dulcie, tapped her acrylics on the passenger side of the car’s dashboard.

‘So,’ Elmer urged, glaring at her. ‘What’s with the car?’

His sister, Louise, was still struggling to remove her disguise and make-up, but piped up from the back seat. ‘Well…’ Elmer turned to offer his encouragement and noticed Louise’s eyes flickered sparkly and bright.

‘We kind of took it.’

‘Took it? From whom?’

‘Erm, I wasn’t introduced to the actual owner. We found it in the Asda car park.’

Elmer stopped the car and grabbed his girlfriend’s arm.

‘What?! There’s CCTV all over that car park. They’ll have seen you.’

‘They’ll have seen two mad old ladies. Not us. Even you didn’t recognise us.’

‘But what about fingerprints? Oh my God, my fingerprints are all over a stolen car!’

Dulcie sighed and continued tapping.

‘Well, yes. But so are ours.’

‘But why would you steal a car? Louise? Dulcie? What the hell’s going on? Why have you done this? Why have you got me involved? I didn’t need this. I have a management meeting tomorrow morning.’

Elmer held his hand over his frantically beating heart. ‘Come on, you two. I have a life. I’m next in line for a big promotion too. I can’t get involved in crime. Not even as an observer. There’s no way.’

‘Calm down, Mr Asthma Attack,’ Louise teased as Elmer’s face reddened.

He glared. ‘I haven’t had asthma since I was a kid, Louise, and believe me, I’m not going to capitulate on this one like I always used to. Mum and dad are going to be told about what you’ve done. You’ll be disowned by all of us. I’m going to tell Paul too. You’ll be a jailbird divorcee by the time you’re forty. And you, Dulcie, why would you jeopardise your new acting career my doing something so stupid?’

Suddenly realising that he was still holding the steering wheel, Elmer let go and with the end of his tie began to wipe as many of the car’s surfaces he could reach.

‘And shut up with those fingernails, Dulce!’

The tapping didn’t stop, but otherwise the two women held their silence as he continued wiping, and that was when, in utter frustration, Elmer threw himself out of the stolen car, and straight into the path of a large, white workman’s van. He crumpled under the tyres as the van screeched to a halt.

Did Elmer survive?

What happened to his sister and girlfriend?

And was there any reasoning behind any of the day’s events?

Well, obviously, yes. There’s always a reason. Or should I say that there’s always an explanation, though such explanations may be devoid of all reason.

That’s what Elmer thought as he emerged from under the white delivery van, and noticed the symbol on the side. It was in the shape of a stylised toilet, and underneath was the text: ‘Trust Us With Your Plumbing’.

He wasn’t going to trust anyone again in a hurry. He’d trusted two mad old ladies with his life, and look where he was just twenty minutes later: broken and bruised, with resentment and fury in his soul.

After all, he had things to do, places to go, work to finish and hair to preen.

K-Pop – It Isn’t Just Music!

K-Pop‘ is a genre of music which originated in South Korea, and now seems to have taken over the world – much like The Beatles did in the 60’s.

by Guest Blogger, Lauren O’Neill

But will it stand the test of time like the Liverpudlian rock band has?

To some people, K-Pop is just some new thing that the female youth of this world have started to obsess over, and something that with time we’ll grow out of and find something new to fall in love with for a while.

But it’s quite the opposite in this case as K-Pop fans can vary in gender, colour, sexuality, age and location.

BTS at Wembley, 2019

This type of music is like any other genre – the only thing different is that they’re singing/rapping mainly in Korean. It is difficult to understand why so many people who don’t speak or know the language would listen to and pay money to see Korean groups and soloists.

But, a lot of the time the lyrics, when translated, mean a lot more to the fans than some stereotypical love songs do. For example, here are some K-Pop songs that bring light to more serious topics:

  • ‘My Pace’ by Stray Kids. Stray Kids are a 9 member boy group from the Korean Entertainment company JYP. This song talks about how you shouldn’t compare yourself to others and that just because someone is further ahead of you, doesn’t mean they’ll finish first. ‘Don’t compare, it’s alright to go slowly. Go your own path, my lane’.
  • ‘Answer: Love Myself’ by BTS. BTS are a 7 member boy group from the Korean Entertainment company BigHit. ‘Love Myself’ is all about… well, loving yourself and how important it is to love yourself and to treat yourself with kindness and respect. The 7 members also use this song to thank their fans, who they call ‘army’ for helping them reach this conclusion: ‘The me of yesterday, the me of today, the me of tomorrow (I’m learning how to love myself). With no exceptions, it’s all me’.
  • ‘I’ by Taeyeon. Taeyeon is a singer from SM Entertainment, as well as a member of the girl group ‘Girls Generation’. She sings about how even if you feel like the world is against you and being cruel, you must stay true to who you are and who you want to become and then maybe they’ll see you for who you truly are. ‘People don’t know, they don’t see your wings. A new world you’ve met could be cruel, but strong girl you were born to fly.’

Of course, there are the love songs out there in the K-Pop music industry that are all about a girl and a boy falling in love, and that’s okay! But that’s not all there is. Just like the songs I mention above, there are songs that could help you, make you feel better or just reassure you that you’re not alone and you’re doing okay.

BTS at Wembley, 2019 – two shows sold out in just ninety minutes!

K-Pop is an inclusive family that brings together people from all over the world. Many of them make friends for life through the connection they have – thanks to the music and the groups that brought them together.

K-Pop can also open the eyes of millions of people to different issues that are affecting the world today. BTS, for instance, has teamed up with UNICEF to help put a stop to child violence. A portion of their album sales and 100% of the profits from the sale of goods connected to the campaign goes towards many social programmes that will hopefully make a difference in someone’s life. So far BTS have raised over 2.4 Billion won as of April 2019.

Blackpink at Manchester
Blackpink at Manchester

K-Pop isn’t just music, it’s a community of people of all shapes and sizes who are finding themselves, finding their purpose or just finding a group/soloist that makes them happy. It may not be your kind of thing, which is perfectly fine but who knows, maybe you’ll find something you like!

#kpop, #k-pop. #thebeatles, #southkorea, #laurenoneill, #lesleyatherton, #scottmartinproductions, #bts, #unicef, #Taeyeon, #GirlsGeneration, #smentertainment, #bighit, #straykids, #jyp, #blackpink