If you are alive and aware in the year 2015, you know that one of the most common complaints articulated is how technology has surpassed all other avenues of entertainment for “today’s youth.” Likely every parent, teacher, mentor, writer has made note of this cultural evolution (devolution?), and while most would claim no antipathy for technology itself (many quite happily using it to their own advantage), there is a general sense that proper balance between the tugging mediums has yet to be found.
Which prompts the question: Is there a way for kids to learn and engage with technology without losing the glorious and countless benefits of reading actual books? As any book-reading/loving adult who concurrently loves the Internet can attest: YES! But first you’ve got to inspire a love of books and reading, and that’s not easily done in the cacophony of ever-more-seductive screens.
Mark Barry, a Nottingham UK native who also happens to be an incredible writer and novelist (two of his books,Carla and The Night Porter, are top faves of mine!), is the co-founder of a brilliant organization called, quite appropriately, Brilliant Books (you can read all about it HERE). This organization’s sole mission is to create access to, and interest in, books… books that children are then inspired to read. Books that are put into the hands of children who might not otherwise have them. But Mark and his partner, Phil Pidluznyj, don’t just leave it there:
Essentially, Brilliant Books go into schools with successful people in tow; people who credit their success in careers, etc. because they read fiction as children and continue to read.
In two hours, they give an inspirational talk, then help us work with up to twenty children, in small groups, mostly reluctant readers, each writing a short story. Finally, after eight weeks, the stories are collected in an anthology which is presented to the kids in front of their peers, so they essentially become published authors at between 10 and 14.
Pretty amazing idea, isn’t it?
Obviously, there is a need for this sort of activity in millions of schools around the world, and if you’re interested in organizing just such a group in your area, much info and inspiration can be drawn from reading whatBrilliant Booksis doing.
Another way you can help is from afar: by purchasing Access All Areas, a sweet little short story anthology Mark put together as a fundraising gift.
Gathering many of his favorite authors (including, humbly, yours truly!), he gave the prompt to “focus on the magic of books and reading,” inviting writers to share stories about what inspired them as readers, what sparked their passion for words; what contributed to their love affair with books. The proceeds of this anthology, now on sale in both e-book and paperback at Amazon, will go directly toward much-needed items for Brilliant Books.
But the biggest call-to-action here is BUY THE BOOK!
Because this one’s not about raising the profile of any specific author, or participating in a push to get Amazon rankings up, or a contest won. It’s about spending a few dollars on a lovely collection of stories, all written for the purpose of getting — and keeping — kids interested in reading. As Mark always says: “A society that doesn’t read is a poorer one than one that does.”
It’s not every day you have a deliciously brilliant author/indie publisher from the UK spend a little word count on your behalf, so when it happens, how remiss would you be if you didn’t share those precious words with your always interested audience?
Please take a moment to enjoy the very funny, astute, and really touching write-up Mr. Mark Barry wrote up about the state of fiction in general, and my fiction specifically.
And when you click over to read the full post, I urge you to take some time to click on Barry’s books posted on his site. The three I’ve read—Carla, The Night Porter, and Once Upon A Time In the City of Criminals—were each incredibly original stories, with fierce wit, enough edge to slice a finger, and utterly intriguing characters and plot lines. Which makes his kudos for my work all the more meaningful.
Thank you, sir; you are a reminder of what a wonderful circle of wagons the indie community can be!
• • • • • • • •
Lorraine Devon Wilke Reviewed!
by Mark Barry
Contemporary Fiction is the unwanted, bastard stepchild of Independent fiction.
Harsh? No. True. Don’t believe me? Come and join me at the shelter where, just outside the soup kitchen, you can find ten, fifteen, twenty Contemporary Fiction writers huddled around the brazier, polystyrene mug of powdered Minestrone warming fingerless mitts and coating trembling, arid lips.
Contemps just can’t catch a break.We starve for our art.
I’ll go further.
To sell in Indie, you need to be writing genre fiction.
Famous Nottingham author Nicola Valentine held court on this in a debate at the Nottingham Writer’s Studio a short while ago and many, many blogs and analysts on the scene allude to the eminence, the supremacy of genre. Here’s the top four (outside non-fiction and self help).
Vampire – preferably the stuff that sparkles. Erotica – atm, LGBT erotica in particular. Young Adult – pick something unreal and it’s likely to be written about: Wizards, Zombies and Gargoyles have been popular recently and of course, Romance/chicklit – say no more.
(The really clever authors who are sitting on biblical piles of paper moolah the size of the Tower of Babel are those who write dirty vampire romances for teenagers. They’re rolling cigars made of crisp twenties and laughing all the way to the bank).
Unreal. Invented. Other. Escapist.
In fact, genre fiction= escapist. The more fantastic, the more unreal and out there, the more it is likely to sell.
Contemporary fiction writers can usually be found hunting for food in skips outside conferences full of genre authors, which is a shame as generally contemporary fiction authors, as writers, knock genre writers into a cocked hat. These boys and girls can write.
And Lorraine Devon Wilke, who lives just up the road from Brenda Perlin, the “Faction” writer I featured last week, is a damned fine contemporary writer indeed.
At the time he was in the midst of reading my short story, “She Tumbled Down,” and promised to get to my novel, After The Sucker Punch, as soon as he was able. Which was delightfully soon, considering how busy this guy is. I say “delightfully” because Mark did that thing every writer loves when someone’s reading their book: he sent emails during and throughout his read, exclaiming over bits he liked, sharing thoughts on various characters and plot twists, assuring me that, when he was done, he would write a proper review. He and I did share some thoughts about the review conundrum (bracingly discussed in OK, Let’s Discuss This Whole Book Review Thing… Please), and I made him swear on a stack of indie novels that whatever he wrote, it would be his authentic opinion, good, bad, or in-between (I made the pact in return, given his status as a fellow author whose books I’ll read).
Of course, this sort of promise is always a dicey thing, something every reader of indie novels (and even some traditional novels) knows. You pick up the book of someone you’ve met in a writer’s group, a book club, online, or at a convention, and you do so with a certain gnawing fear that you’ll discover, sentences into the thing, that writing a review is either going to be a painful process or something you’ll eschew all together for the sake of the friendship. So when you make that pact with someone directly, well… there’s no turning back, is there?
So when I got the news today that Mark’s review had posted, I approached it with bracing fortitude, hoping for the best but, mostly, wanting Mark to have felt comfortable enough to stay true to his word, no matter how the reading experience transpired. And I couldn’t have been more thrilled, pleased, delighted, honored, and really touched by what he had to say.
I’m leaving the whole review here, because I loved the depth with which he analyzed the narrative and shared his perspective. However, I have left the links to his sites above and below, so you can check them from time-to-time for his ongoing reviews and updates about his own work.
Thank you, Mark Barry, for being such an unabashed supporter of the literary arts… and those of us who love painting our creative pictures with them!
After The Sucker Punch: A Review
After The Sucker Punch (ATSP) is a fantastic novel.
I’m writing this because I know most of my readers are always on the lookout for a good book – and ATSP is a very, very good book.
I met the novel’s author, Lorraine Devon Wilke, two weeks ago through a lovely friend of mine, Orange County’s Brenda Perlin. A resident of LA, Lorraine came around the interview Cauldron to widen her exposure to a UK audience.
Out of respect, Lorraine made a gift to me of both her novel and short story “She Tumbled Down” and while I loved the short story, the novel is something else entirely.
An Indie novel, it is definitely in the top ten of the books (Trad or Indie), I have read (which is a fair number) since I started Green Wizard.
After reading twelve chapters on Kindle, I immediately logged on to Amazon and like some literary Victor Kiam, I bought the paperback.
I am glad I did. It is a magnificent paperback indeed.
I teach the odd hour of Creative Writing and Self Publishing, and last night, I took the paperback of ATSP to our latest group to demonstrate how to structure dialogue.
The group I teach are professionals, experienced diarists, bloggers, report writers who wish to learn about e-publishing and between them, they read 100-200 books a year.
Not one of them could tell that this was a self-published book.
Printed by Createspace and professionally edited, it is a beautiful piece of work to hold in your hand. ATSP would not be out of place in Waterstones (and, without getting political, it makes a total nonsense of the idea that self-published work is somehow inferior. Saying so would be an insult to this novel and its creative team).
ATSP is a family saga. Tessa, a dreamy, thirty-something, sometime artist/writer/drifter with aspirations to something better than her current humdrum life, attends the funeral of her father, Leo.
After the Wake, and while staying at her mother’s house, she reads one of his many journals.
What Leo wrote is so shocking, it changes Tessa’s life and the lives of everyone in her extended family.
Four factors mark Lorraine’s brilliant debut as something special.
Firstly, her characters. Each so individual, so distinctive and so well defined, you can tell who is talking without the character being named. That’s no mean feat. Secondly, the dialogue is crisp, sassy and real, patter so realistic, you can hear it taking place. Thirdly, the way Lorraine links and merges the historical comments Tessa reads in the journal into the real time narrative is shrewd and repays rereading.
Then, finally, there is Tessa herself, the novel’s protagonist. You may not like her – two days after completing the novel, I am completely ambivalent about her * – but she is real and you can follow her train of reasoning at all times.
None of her behaviour is extranormal and you can imagine doing the same things she does (and that’s not a necessarily recommendation).
You watch her progress and change. You understand her one minute, then you can’t comprehend what she’s up to the next. Then immediately after, you want to reach into the pages of the book and wag your finger at her. You live her deliberations and you can feel her confusion on your fingertips as you turn the page.
At no time does Tessa lapse into stereotype. She constantly surprises you and – whether you like her or not, you cannot stop following her trials and tribulations for a second.
The supporting cast is excellent. Her family, particularly the harassed Micheala, and the alcoholic brother, Ronnie, are similarly absorbing. Tessa’s long suffering boyfriend, the corporate sportswear schill David, struggles manfully to accommodate Tessa’s whys and wherefores before being completely overwhelmed by them in some of the novel’s saddest scenes.
Her relationship with best friends Katie and Ruby would satisfy any fan of chicklit, (and I quite fancied the hapless, heartbroken Ruby, in a Sir Lancelot kind of way), but it is Aunt Joanne who steals the show.
The Catholic Nun-cum-Therapist helps Tessa deal with the aftermath of the revelations unleashed by Leo’s journal and becomes by far the strongest foil for her increasingly self-destructive angst.
You long for her to reappear in the narrative – perhaps because she is the only person strong enough – and brave enough – to confront Tessa, whose self-absorption is relentless.
Like the best contemporary fiction, nothing extraordinary happens.
People talk on the telephone (which happens a lot in this novel). Conversations take place in cars, in coffee bars, around the water cooler, on sofas, in the still life of the marital bed, the post-coital cigarette smoke still swirling between the blades of the fan rotating overhead.
There is virtually no action – just like real life.
The sheer joy of the ATSP is its very ordinariness. These are ordinary people going about their business, all of them affected to one degree or another by the portentous, unhinged rantings of Leo Curzio.
The richness of the everyday needs no explosions, because the revelations are the explosions.
A Christmas Conclusion
If you like contemporary work, I strongly recommend After The Sucker Punch.
Forget the e-book for once: Treat yourself to an early Christmas present and buy the paperback for seven quid or so. It is lustrous, with its cream pages, one and a half line spacing and comforting, airport-shelf heft.
It is a book which is written for paperback and meant to be read in bed; absorbed, over time, savoured by lamplight.