Category: Featured

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

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

Crime drama: The Thief of Time (and Bookshelf Space)

by Guest Blogger, Rebecca Wilson.
by Guest Blogger, Rebecca Wilson.

If you were to walk into any bookshop or library, and run your hand across the shelves before randomly stopping, the likelihood of you selecting a book belonging to the crime drama genre would be exceptionally high. We live in a society that just loves a good murder (no matter how oxymoronic that sounds). And this popularity has gradually led to the construction of an elaborate and complex labyrinth of sub genres, archetypes and plots that is still expanding to this day. I’m guilty (pun intended) of reading an abundance of literature in this genre too, having read many novels that trace lone wolves, dynamic duos and loyal teams in their quest to bring justice to the wronged. †

So why, exactly, do we love crime drama?

This question has been a hotbed for critical debate for years, and the reasons appear to be endless.

After a little bit of personal reflection, I’ve pinpointed four ideas which I believe to be some of the most inherent components of the successful formula that is literary crime drama:

Places of Experimentation with Literary Style, Genre and Narrative Structure

From Victorian novels such as Wilkie CollinsThe Moonstone, with its innovative narrative structure (being one of the first to be written in the format of first person letters, journal entries and  transcripts) to the creation of modern day sub-sub genres such as the controversial Nordic noir genre (expanding the [spider’s] web even further) , crime drama has always been, as its themes suggest, an area where boundaries are pushed and waters are tested – and it appears to have worked so far!

Catharsis (Bakhtin and the Carnivalesque – a Really Interesting Concept!)

This one is a psychological theory, traditionally associated with the purpose of tragic plays (which, depending on your reading, can be seen to have close parallels with the themes and characters of crime dramas). In short, the theory suggests that reading texts where ‘socially unacceptable’ activities are played out enables audiences to purge subconscious emotions such as those of pity and fear within a safe environment. Reading and writing is a lot more than just a way of passing the time!

Places of Experimentation with Characterisation, Gender Roles and Identity

The literary crime drama landscape is saturated with iconic characters, from Conan Doyle’s world-famous super sleuth Sherlock Holmes to Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan, the genre isn’t short of complex, morally flawed heroes and villains. Opportunities for writers to explore issues of identity, including those of gender, race and sexuality are thrown wide open within this genre, so if you’re considering writing a crime drama novel yourself, don’t hesitate to go all out. Sherlock Holmes was the world’s first (and ‘only’) consulting detective remember, with supernatural powers of deduction, sociopathic tendencies and a chronic opium addiction. There aren’t many, if any routes that are closed off to you!

A Reflection of Our Times

Security has always been something mankind has sought, and in an era where threats of terrorism, climate change, and political upheaval are becoming increasingly inherent (at least, social media appears to be telling us this), reading texts where the heroes aren’t perfect, but where justice is restored (usually), a perfect source of illusory comfort can be argued to be provided here.

There are many crime dramas to sink your teeth into out there, including David J Grunter’s novel I’m a Killer that is available to purchase via the Scott Martin Productions web store. If you’re looking for a morally flawed, highly controversial character, with twists and turns galore to reignite your love of the genre, then you needn’t look much further than this.

#guestblogger, #rebeccawilson, #davidjgrunter, #imakiller, #crimefiction,

Elmer and Louise, Part 1

Elmer’s daydreams of escape and relief at having finally left the office, were disturbed within a minute or so of him arriving at the bus stop. The disturber was a disheveled eccentric woman anxiously circling a car that she seemed far too poverty-stricken to have ever owned. His own hair, primped, preened and moussed to perfection, bristled as he took a proper look. He shuddered, clearly being as fit, healthy and self-contained as she was demented. It’s what came from working at the hospital, surrounded by sickness and by healthy living posters. There was something to be said for saturation advertising.

It wasn’t only the woman’s actions that were demented. Her legs were clad in filthy long anglers’ wellies and her trenchoat, face and hair were blood-streaked and filthy. Later, he’d remember her as flapping like a vampire bat, but as she called him, he was far more concerned that she didn’t get run over.

Image: Pngtree

‘Are you alright, lady?’

His accent was refined Edinburgh, with the intentional focus on ‘refined’.

‘Thank God. Thank God. Come here. Wounded cargo.’

What?

She grabbed the sleeve of Elmer’s suit jacket and he bristled again. She was not the kind of woman who’d be encouraged to touch any part of him or of his apparel, and she definitely was not allowed to touch his navy blue silk blend. Lee Rager suits weren’t made to be pawed at by unwashed fingers, nor their fibres broken by her rasping, uncut nails. Almost £2000, the suit cost him. £1993, to be exact, once he’d had he pants shortened.  

‘Can you get off me, lady?’

It was more an order than a request, and the woman backed off, beckoned and urged him towards the car’s back seat.

‘Look. Look. Me sister’s been attacked. She’s been attacked. She’s precious, wounded cargo. Make her better. You’re a doctor aren’t you?’

‘I’m not.’

‘A nurse?’

‘No. I work in administration. The hospital’s just there – that big building there.’

‘I know. That’s why I’m here… but I bumped the car.’

Elmer followed the madwoman’s eyes. Lying on the car’s back seat was a woman dressed in black robe with white headpiece. The white was stained with blood, rusty dried and cherry wet. The black was speckled and streaked with dried clay mud and darkened bloody patches. The woman moved her head a little and looked back at him.  

‘You’re an angel. A saint,’ she mumbled, blood bubbling from her mouth’s corners.

‘I’m a hospital administrator. Not an angel.’

‘Oh God, in heaven. I give you thanks for delivering this angel to me.’

Elmer sighed. She was as batty as her sister.

‘She’s in a bad way, kid,’ he said to the crazier of the two. The one not lying collapsed on the back seat. ‘You have to take her to hospital.’

‘I can’t drive.’

Elmer shook his head. It was typical of him to get saddled with each and every lunatic who passed his way. And here were two – one who was demented and the other who thought she was a nun. Perhaps they were on their way to a fancy dress party, but he suspected that both of the poor unfortunates had come straight from the loony bin.

Part two coming soon…

Literary Inadequacy

Walking round an independent bookshop this morning, I experienced overwhelming feelings of anxiety and dread. I wasn’t being followed and I hadn’t forgotten my debit card. My problem was much worse.

I was experiencing artistic anxiety. Literary anxiety, to be precise.

Being an author and publisher, I’m in regular contact with other creative souls – writer who express themselves with a succinct brilliance, and others whose wordy exuberance inspires and challenges me constantly. I love to hear their work and their comments on mine.

But… and it is a big but… I have this very real sense of literary inadequacy. I can’t remember the last time I read a bestseller purchased from the Asda shelves, or from the Waterstones display tables. I can’t converse on the fashionable, the literary, or even on the archaic. In other words, I’m not what anyone would call well-read when it comes to the contemporary classics.

That doesn’t mean I don’t read – what it means is that I don’t read the correct, approved books – the ones that might be raved about on Radio 4, in the pages of a woman’s mag, or at a trendy book club. But should I? I’ve read plenty of classics and I happily select books at random. Unless the subject matter is one I dislike intensely (and there aren’t many – military history, heraldry and monarchic dynasties are three that come to mind!) I’ll give the book a go.

I’m also not afraid to enjoy the sometimes dubious pleasures of film novelisations, low key romances and unpublished, experimental works. Why not? Just because something isn’t out there and on every shelf, it doesn’t mean it isn’t valuable.

Perhaps this is down to stubbornness, but I don’t tend to read stuff till any furore has already died down, and I can read without reference to hype. But this means I’m always at least five years behind my more fashionable reading friends. Hence the anxiety.

I suppose I could read reviews, thus pretending that books have been read. I could even actually read the books I ‘should’ read, though I’d have no idea where to start, and which of the famous names to follow as priority.

But I’d rather watch random TV from eras long gone – and I have the same attitude to reading books. Take it at my own pace with no agenda and no ‘must read’ list. This way I come across some real stinkers as well as some perfect classics. I’m not sure I’m prepared to lose that spontaneity.

So, I guess I must live with this literary inadequacy and accept that there’s no way for anyone to read all the decent books that have been written – or all the bad books, for that matter.  

There’s more to life than being at the forefront of fashion. Life’s too short, anyway. I’d rather just read and be happy.

Review of ‘Jonathan Livingston Seagull’ by Richard Bach

It’s June 23rd 2019, and I want to say a massive happy 83rd birthday to Richard Bach, author of 70s classic, ‘Jonathan Livingston Seagull’.

Back in the 80s, I discovered this mind-blowing book in the eclectic library of two aging peace campaigners. I read it in a single sitting, then immediately began again. It delivers the clearest of messages:

It isn’t only acceptable to be different – difference is desirable.

Society inevitably values conformity when really it should be seeking uniqueness, free-thinking and transcendence.

Of course, stability, regularity and rules are important. Vital, even.

But there is always space for those who think outside these limits, as ‘Jonathan’ does.

Plot-wise, ‘Jonathan Livingston Seagull’ focuses on a radical young seagull who has ambitions to live differently to his fellow gulls. They exist only to eat, but Jonathan spends his days in more noble pursuits – perfecting experimental flying techniques. Undaunted by failure, even being ostracised by his fellow gulls doesn’t make him give up.

Like Jonathan, achieving my own ambitions hasn’t always been easy, but this book has given me the strength to carry on more times than I care to remember.

And it’s because of this that I recommend EVERY writer read this book, and EVERY artist. In fact, EVERY creator of EVERY kind.

But this isn’t only a book for creators, it’s a book for any free-thinker, and for everyone who has experienced isolation, disassociation or social exclusion – you too have much in common with this short novel’s titular character, and will have much to gain from Richard Bach’s writing.

So, Richard, have a wonderful birthday. Mine is one small voice among many, but I’m grateful to you for making me realise it’s OK to stand out, to leave behind the familiar, and to work towards achieving your dream, no matter what.

#lesleyfridayreads #childrensbooks #richardbach #jonathanlivingstonseagull #bookreview

‘Self Doubt’ – Poem by Lesley Atherton

We all have it – especially writers.

I hope this poem helps anyone else who has to deal with it. I don’t claim to be a poet, but sometimes the words just happen, then happen to mean something.

Image: Pngtree

The Voice

There’s no way you can sing and dance
Said Voice with sneering, snarling stance.
Your playing’s crap. Your singing’s worse.
Makes fingers twitch, makes eardrums burst.
– Creative stuff’s just not your thing.
– The Voice said Girl just pack it in.

Your needles break, your knitting sags.
Failed projects lounge in patchwork bags.
Your hemming rips, your beading flops
Applique flakes, and stitches drop.
– Creative stuff’s just not your thing.
– The Voice said Girl just pack it in.

And writing? Girl, for goodness sake,
You’re barely literate. You’re fake!
You self-indulge. You scrawl your name
With fallow dreams of shallow fame.
– Creative stuff’s just not your thing.
– The Voice said Girl just pack it in.

I’ve read your awful stuff, Voice said
You’re destined never to be read.
Remove the stories from your head.
The only decent scribes are dead,
– Creative stuff’s just not your thing.
– The Voice said Girl just pack it in.

What makes you think you’ll ever scrawl
A story strong, a tale not tall?
And why would any person buy
Your ‘Camping Tales’ or ‘Baby’s Cry’?
– Creative stuff’s just not your thing.
– The Voice said Girl, just pack it in.

So, when I’m low, the Voice is loud.
And when I’m strong, the Voice is cowed.
I’ll do it even if it’s bad
Cos if I don’t I’ll just go mad.
Yes. When I’m low, the Voice is Loud.
But when I’m strong, the Voice is cowed.
– Creative stuff’s just not your thing.
– The Voice said Girl, just pack it in.

#poem #selfdoubt #thevoice #lesleyatherton