As delightful and thought provoking an anthology as I've read in a long time. The stories themselves fall largely into the flash fiction genre and occasionally the vignette, though to pigeon-hole them this way hardly does them justice. The settings span the globe but are set mostly in the Asian sub-continent and the far east. The topics and social issues they deal with are both difficult and provocative: domestic abuse, poverty, sexuality, and exploitation to name but a few.
As a European reader, I was captivated by the author's accounts of life in other cultures, many of which are saddening and hard to comprehend; our (European) notions of poverty and depravation are quickly turned on their heads by the honest and sensitive way in which they form the backdrop to the stories. Elements of the storyline in each case often deliberately remain unwritten, i.e. implied or hinted at, forcing the reader to use their imagination and interpret each story in their own way and really think about what they are reading. Some of the stories conclude with a glimmer of hope for the future set against the harrowing circumstances of what's gone before; others do not, which for me really gives them added authenticity - life isn't all about happy endings.
If all the reader is looking for is light entertainment then this book probably isn't it, but for stories that really engage the reader, gets them thinking, challenging their own perspectives and thinking, then these twenty six literary jewels would be hard to surpass.
This anthology is aptly named; the stories tread a fine line between the mainstream and the surreal. The variety of settings and scenarios never fail to hold the reader's attention and take them somewhere new with each story, whether it be during a storm aboard a transport ship or the cells of a Bangkok jail. In each story the author skillfully manages to set the scene and atmosphere to such an extent the reader really does feel like a fly on the wall of what's happening, which is quite apt as in one of the stories, a very clever and original idea, the narrator is indeed, 'a fly on the wall.'
At nearly sixty thousand words, this is no throw-away effort of slightly elongated flash fiction, but a real collection of well written and thoughtfully developed stories that keep the reader thoroughly entertained, effortlessly combining elements of the adventure genre with that of the thriller and suspense.
Some of the stories follow the tried and trusted short story format of providing the reader with a clever and unexpected ending, whilst in others they simply draw to a logical and satisfying conclusion, thus keeping the reader guessing and intrigued right to the end.
I would definitely recommend this to fans of the short story and novella genre, and indeed anyone who enjoys reading well written stories of any length.
(reviewed long after purchase)
This is the 2nd of Maurice Northmore's books I've read and the 2nd one I've thoroughly enjoyed.
The central character, Foster Saunders, is a cabinet Minister and chief rival for the Prime Minister's job, but he's also a man with a hidden past, so hidden in fact that he only discovers it himself quite by chance. Inevitably, the Prime minister also comes to learn of Foster's past and wastes no time in using the information against him. But Foster Saunders also has his own information that he can use against the Prime Minister, and is equally ruthless in his lack of hesitation to use it if needs be.
In the early part of the story there are some excellent and unexpected twists, followed by several more as the book progresses. The political manoeuvrings amidst the corridors of power conjure up definite echoes of Michael Dobb's 'House of Cards', but things quickly progress in a more action driven direction as the Prime Minister takes steps to ensure Foster Saunder's removal from the Westminster political arena, taking the reader to the political upheaval and prisons of the far east, military coups, assassinations, and daring escapes.
There are a several characters, some of whom appear larger than life, with colourful names such as the Duke and Scarface; all are well portrayed and convincing, and integrate well into the overall story. Throughout the book, the reader is kept guessing as to Foster Sander's fate, and how he's going to overcome his situation. The conclusion is as unexpected as the opening twists in the story but equally satisfying. A very enjoyable read!
Having read several of Maurice Northmoors’s previous books I decided to take a look at one of his non-fiction works, namely his approach to writing a novel.
‘Fast track your novel’ is an excellent read and resource for the novice writer pondering over their first novel, as well as providing a lot of useful and interesting pointers for the more experienced writer. Much of the general advice contained is equally applicable to other forms of creative writing such as the short story and script writing. One of the things I liked most about this book is that the author doesn’t try to tell the reader how to write or impose any particular style or technique when it comes to the actual writing itself, but simply aims to guide and assist. There are several chapters dealing with some of the technical aspects of writing, i.e. explanations of points of view, structure and its different forms, pace, and ‘hooks’ to keep the reader’s attention, to name but a few. One of the strongest elements of the book is the author’s attention to characters and characterisation, with numerous examples of the different types of character, their respective genres, and their development, along with clear and interesting examples. This use of examples to emphasise what the author is saying is a feature throughout most the book, and really does illustrate and bring to life the points the author is making.
The individual chapters are clearly presented in an easy to follow style and format; short sharp paragraphs, with much of the text supported by easily remembered lists and bullet points, which make for a very quick and easy style of reading. At no point till did I feel it a chore to read through the content, which I’ve often found to be the case with other non-fiction works, where overly long tracts of text barely give the reader to stop and pause for thought. Never having read a book of this sort before, how this book compares to other similarly themed books I can’t say, but what I can say is that upon reading it, I came away with a wealth of ideas and pointers for the future, and with a lot more knowledge and confidence for when I decide to write a novel of my own.
There is much more I could say in praise regarding the content but to do so would require writing beyond the scope of a simple review. In conclusion then, would reading this book enable just anyone to write a novel? No, but assuming you already possess a certain degree of writing skill and imagination, it will provide much of the theory and framework of writing a novel, saving the prospective author many hours, days, and weeks learning of by trial and error. Money well spent...
This is one of those books that gets off to a flying start, really drawing you in from the very first page. Our principal character, a Scottish vampire by the name or Cameron, finds himself in the unlikely scenario of having to explain his existence and circumstances to the French police authorities. Right from the start the book begins to live up to the author’s claim of ‘comedy with bite…’ The central character Cameron Blair has lived for over a century, living off the blood of both humans and animals to survive, much as you might expect of a vampire – but that’s as about as far as any similarity to the traditional image of the evil blood sucking stereotype goes. What the author has done here is provide the reader with a humorous and satirical exploration of just what else it takes for a vampire to survive through the ages, i.e. earning a living, interacting with humans, sex and romance, and a host of other circumstances and practicalities you wouldn’t normally associate with a vampire; although committing a host of crimes over the course of a century our vampire here also displays some remarkably human tendencies and virtues, some to his advantage, and others to his detriment such as loyalty to a human friend which is what leads to the situation he finds himself at the beginning of the book.
Although this is just the second of the two books the author has written in this vampire series, it reads just as well as a stand-alone book, and not once did I find myself confused at not having read the first book (yet). I also liked the first person point of view, which I must say is not a style of writing I often like in a full length novel but one which works extremely well in this instance, giving the reader a thorough insight into Cameron’s mind and rather skewed sense of logic and morality; since there is no jumping from one character or location to another the story flows in a mostly linear and easy to follow fashion. Cameron’s ‘inner narrative’ provides just as comprehensive a view of the wider picture as might be achieved had the author chosen to write in the third person, and the way Cameron deals with people is the perfective vehicle for the author’s humour here – referring to his blood sucking activities as breakfast and feeding, the reference to blood that’s been processed to prevent clotting not tasting as good as fresh blood, his dislike of cat’s blood, and fear of getting rabies when he once drank from a fox are just a few examples of when you just can’t help but laugh. In many ways, Cameron is like a vampire version of E.W. Hornung’s gentleman cat burglar Raffles, sharing the latter’s charm and debonair persona, and yet like the former, doing what he has to do to survive and get by, with possibly just a bit of the amoral serial killer Dexter thrown in the mix.
A very funny and entertaining take on the more traditional vampire genre, and just as the author describes it as comedy with bite, I’d say definitely a huge helping of humour with the horror in this one… great book.