Monday, 29 July 2013

In Monday's Post


Killing is easy. Love is... The Hardest Thing

James Lear does Lee Child

Once a major in the U.S. Army, Dan Stagg fell afoul of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. In his late 30s, tall, and muscular, Dan is prone to violence, always upholding what he views as justice. He’s offered a great deal of money to protect the young male “secretary” of a powerful real estate broker. The vain, shallow—but most of all hot—young man’s idea of protection includes sex. Dan quickly realizes something strange is going on: he’s being used as a shield for a much more sinister operation and must chose between easy money and sex or the ideals that he embodied in the Army. Why should he do the right thing—particularly when the army betrayed him? The Hardest Thing is a sexy gay mystery as only James Lear can write it: filled with lots of gay sexual encounters, romance, sweat, violence, and conspiracy.


Thanks to Turnaround books for sending me this. I've read a couple of James Lear's sexy mystery novels before and this looks like good fun. (James Lear is the crime-writing nom-de-plume of firm favourite Rupert Smith.) This newest volume looks as if it might be a bit more violent and brutal even than usual!  A complete change from all the contemporary women's romance I've been reading lately! 


"Aspiring actress Mary Jane Shady, the heroine of Carr's raunchy, overdone, sometimes crude comedy, was nicknamed Topsy Dingo Wild Dog by her high-school boyfriend Bobby Henderson after he forced her to have sex with a dog, then ditched her. Now 35, Mary Jane is returning to Uncertain, her hometown in west Texas, for her 20th high-school reunion, full of lust for married Bobby, obsessive guilt over her sexual secret and trepidation because the townies think she's a Hollywood star--when in fact she does peanut-butter commercials. She is unaware that Ralph Painter, her obnoxious agent, and Arabella du Noir, black model turned advertising honcho, will soon arrive in Uncertain for an on-location shoot. In her first novel, playwright and producer Carr lampoons small-town tackiness, crass materialism, anti-Semitism and racism. Uncertain's unconventional residents include Baby Flowers, who takes striptease strolls through town; Mary Jane's mother, who runs a funeral parlor; and her 75-year-old Aunt Lottie, deflowered on a car top by her hubby Leo, who sports a Garfield the Cat tattoo on his chest." (From


I read this outrageous novel twenty years ago. It was a borrowed copy, and I've never seen it anywhere since. As a part of my project to reread things that I loved in the early 90s, I ordered this up from a second hand book dealer in the US. It arrived in Monday's post in a very handsome hardback edition and I can't wait to get back into this nasty, vulgar hunk of Southern Gothic.

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Ancient Typescripts

Jeremy has always told me I wasn't to chuck out my manuscripts. I guess he's right. Fun digging through these today - heaps of pages and notes and correspondence for 'Marked for Life', 'The Blue Angel' and 'All the Rage.' I even found stories I have no recollection of writing!

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Reading in the Sun

This is a long overdue update! What happened there? Almost three weeks went by..!

A lot of the time I’ve been working at the bottom of the garden in the sun for a while, and then in the shade. Bernard Socks has been helping out a bit. He scoots around all over the place now – quite used to his new surroundings. He’s got a cat flap and he’s quite happy coming and going any time of night or day. After that first occasion when he went off and spent a whole night on the tiles, slinking home again at 6am, we’ve learned to relax a little and let him go where he will. So very different to Fester, who was so much older, and content to live within the world of our wild and leafy back garden.

So what have I been reading through the middle of the summer?

I thought Emma Donoghue’s ‘Room’ was very good, and so was Rachel Joyce’s ‘The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry.’ Both have an urgency to them, and a fluency. When reading you feel like these are stories that are needing to be told. ‘Room’ especially draws you into a viewpoint that takes over your life for a few days. ‘Harold Fry’ I liked because it was all about taking the humdrum and making it epic, and showing how important apparently ordinary lives are. It does the same with the landscape of the UK – making it a backdrop that an ad hoc pilgrimage could actually happen against.

I found ‘The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake’ a bit precious and obscure at the same time, I’m afraid. I liked some of the more magical touches at the end – especially when it came to the brother’s ability to apparently turn himself into items of furniture. But I felt it all was all a bit earnest. Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s ‘The Midnight Palace’ was the fifth book of his I’ve read and it’s official – I adore their first halves, and get impatient with the second, when everything tends towards being just another adventure story, racing towards a destructive climax.

My favourite novel of the past couple of weeks is Julian Clary’s ‘Briefs Encountered’, which is a proper ghostly, camp, time-twisty romp. There’s a contemporary narrative about actor Richard Stent buying Noel Coward’s old house from comedian, ‘Julian Clary’ – who wants the place off his hands. It’s a romantic and fairly light tale that darkens quickly as the book goes on and it finds echoes with the fictionalized account of Coward’s life that twines about it. Coward and the tale of his lost love, Jack, is particularly well done, I thought. It doesn’t feel too awkward or reverent or stiff. Coward just glides back into life and Clary makes him both sympathetic and dynamic. There’s an especially good scene when, in some kind of afterlife limbo, the two protagonists meet across time zones.

It’s a fabulously cross-genre novel, lifting elements from ghost tales and gothic thrillers, chick lit and celeb-exposing blockbusters. I loved the fact that it all turns very dark and violent indeed by the end. Sometimes I was worried it was all going to go too far – with the melodrama, the name-dropping, the occasional sentimental touch and the casual misogyny (ouch). But Clary manages to control the whole thing and give us a very generous, funny, frothy ghostly novel.

And after that I needed a week rereading Anne Tyler. Just for a bit of focus and steadiness. Just to remind myself to concentrate on the texture and dramatic ripples in mostly still lives. Her wonderful ‘Ladder of Years’ was the first reread of my summer, after weeks of constant novelty…

So, how about you?

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Sorting out my notebooks...

There comes a time when you've got to sort out all your hundreds of notebooks and journals. And Bernard Socks dropped by to do some helping...

Monday, 1 July 2013

Somewhere in Time...

It was struggling to be summer this weekend in the North West, but we got into the car and went looking for sunny days. We finished up with fish and chips in Southport, and looking out at the sea. We parked on the sand at the exact moment Martha and Muffins started playing 'Echo Beach' on the car stereo.

My reading has been all about time travel, in one way or another... I read the novel by Richard Matheson that his movie, 'Somewhere in Time' was based on. 'Bid Time Return' was its original title, and it's interesting to rewatch the film and see how he actually improved the story and shaped it up. Both incarnations are still wonderful. I remember being very caught up in this story when I was in my teens. Maybe that's a time when we most feel that horribly, wonderfully, aching, all-consuming nostalgia that fuels this novel? Or this particular kind of nostalgia, perhaps - the kind that's for a time you never actually lived in?

Rereading and rewatching made me realise that Woody Allen kind-of glossed Matheson's tale with his marvellous 'Midnight in Paris' in recent years...  and that tied in nicely with my next read - which completely took over my imaginative landscape this weekend - Paula McLain's 'The Paris Wife.' This tells the sorry and brilliant story of Hemingway in Paris from the point of view of his first (rather put-upon) wife, Hadley. This is the world Woody Allen's hero feels desperate to get back to - but in McLain's novel there's no such misty-eyed, glowing fondness. Hadley's Paris is all hangovers, freezing flats, vomiting hookers and whooping cough. It is still, though, impossibly glamorous - and it's all a tad more fancy-seeming than it was in Humphrey Carpenter's very funny and de-mythologising 'Geniuses Together', which I read earlier this year.

Definitely recommend 'The Paris Wife' - it's one of those immersive books. Even if you have little or no patience with the idiotic bravado and selfishness of Hemingway - it's still a fantastic world to be in. The in-book joke, of course, is that the narrator, Hadley, makes such a wonderful job of telling her own tale - in lovely, vivid, supple prose and manages it after all the hoo-ha is over and Hemingway has shot himself in the head. There's a lovely irony in that - in that she quietly sets about doing justice to her story, after he's edited her out of his own noisy account.

What's next? I've got so many books stacked up at the moment - I'm not sure how I've managed that. How is your summer reading going..?