Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Kat Ward - A Courageous Woman, a True Survivor and a Very Talented Writer

I recently finished the first part of Kat Ward's harrowing autobiography: 'Keri - The Early Years'.

For those of you who aren't aware Kat Ward is the courageous woman who initiated the disclosure of the Jimmy Savile child sex abuse scandal after appearing on a TV documentary with others about the incidents.




Beginning with her earliest upsetting memories at the age of three, Keri is severely abused both physically and psychologically by a mother who never wanted her and who told her she was wicked. From the outset, we are there with the vulnerable little child as she is subjected to a catalogue of horrific abuse, simply for being sick, wetting herself or having a fear of water. Keri's situation worsens when her mother moves in with 'that man' Terry (later to become her stepfather) who is soon inflicting punishment on her and treating her in the same brutal and abusive way as her mother. Physical abuse soon turns to sexual abuse when Keri is not yet five years old.

However, there are positive people in Keri's life, especially her Nana, who teaches her to read and allows her free rein to be creative. Nana is kind and loving and Keri is heartbroken whenever she has to return home to her mother's and stepfather's. In a way, Keri would have had a very different childhood if she'd been allowed to live with her Nana and we can't help wishing that it had been so. We feel Keri's heartbreak every time she has to leave Nana to return to her family home where her only refuge is the company of the family pets: the dog, the cats - and Lambie - the lamb knitted for her by her Nana, always close at hand to give her comfort during the most gruesome of times.

Click here for link to paperback


At primary school things are not much better for Keri, where she is bullied for being different - she has bad eczema - and when she does make a friend her mother soon puts a stop to it. In fact, like all bullies and manipulators, her mother needs to keep Keri as unpopular and friendless as possible to maintain her power over her. Once again, when Keri has a new baby brother, the difference in the way he is treated, compared to the way she is treated, is stark. Not only this, but Keri is scapegoated by her mother and stepfather so that her brother grows up believing that Keri is treated differently and punished because she is 'bad' rather than because their parents are abusive. This is another way in which the appalling abuse is maintained because Keri is portrayed as 'the liar' and 'the aggressive baddie' rather than her mother. Time and again, it is her mother who is believed and not Keri. It is the same when Keri confides to a teacher and is referred to Child Guidance. By this time, Keri has already been branded 'a bad child' and 'a problem child' - her own wayward temperament seen as the cause of the problem and her 'poor parents' as the 'victims' rather than vice versa. Thus Keri is the one who's accused of attacking her younger brother, the one who 'screams insults' at her 'poor mother' and the one accused of making 'inappropriate sexual advances' to her stepfather when in reality she is being raped by him and subjected to all manner of abuse.

All Keri wanted was to be believed but she was badly let down by the system and the prevailing and appalling attitudes of the day, for example, by the terribly patronising Child Psychiatrist. It was easier for the professionals to believe that Keri must be lying and bad, rather than accept the reality of her situation. Of course, the manipulation of the authorities by her mother did nothing to help Keri.

For younger people who may be shocked and stunned by such attitudes, in the 1960s and 70s when Keri was growing up, children were routinely slapped, spanked, slippered at home and school, and boys were also caned in the classroom (maybe some girls too). But Keri was subjected to punishment far beyond even what was considered 'acceptable' or 'appropriate' at the time. Regarding the horrific sexual abuse Keri suffered, this was also a time when this just wasn't talked about: there was no ChildLine, and rape and child abuse hadn't been widely exposed for the atrocities they are.

However, although the appalling catalogue of violence and abuse can sometimes seem relentless, the book is powerfully written and acutely observed and the autobiography is interspersed with many more positive or hopeful interludes, for instance Keri's time at boarding school. We see a strong, resilient spirit that refuses to be broken, a feisty temperament that refuses to be cowed. Encouraged by her Nana and later some of the nuns, teachers and friends at the Catholic boarding school she attends when a little older, her love of learning and her questioning nature is fostered and she starts to blossom. At boarding school, away from her family, she gets a different perspective on the world and the family dynamics start to change when she returns home in the holidays, particularly her relationship with her brother, and without Keri to scapegoat, her mother and stepfather turn on each other until their relationship deteriorates. Observing their relationship through Keri's eyes we start to see her mother as a pathetic, weak figure, and very rarely we get glimpses of a woman who is almost human, for instance when she shows solidarity with Keri over her spider phobia.

As Keri reaches adolescence she reaches out and makes some trusted and supportive relationships in the new neighbourhood, and we start to feel the tide turning.

It is impossible not to root for Keri. On finishing this first part, I immediately wanted to read what happens next in Keri's extraordinary life, especially as part two is called: Keri: Fighting Back'. On my to-be-read list for sure.

                                       
                                  The next paperback in the series



                                   The next paperback in the series


Both volumes of Keri are sold together as one book on Kindle and called 'Keri'

Not only is Kat Ward a survivor if child sexual abuse, she's also a survivor of aggressive bowel cancer.

You can read about it in her book: 'A Life On The Toilet' in which she gives an insightful and good-
humoured account of her struggle with bowel cancer.
                                     
                                  Click on here for the Kindle version

                                


Kat is currently working on the next book in the Keri series.

Away from the laptop, she enjoys tending to her garden (health permitting) and showering 

affection on her 7 "adorable" cats. 

Friday, 3 October 2014

Best Served Frozen - the wonders of Gerald Hansen!


I met some very talented writers whilst on the writing site Authonomy and one of those it's been a privilege to get to know is Gerald Hansen. 




His latest offering is 'Best Served Frozen'  and I think it's his best yet! I mean, they're all all pretty sensational but this reached new heights (or lows!) depending on your perspective.


I've read all of Gerald Hansen's books and they just keep getting better and better! This one has to be the icing on the cake and you will see the significance of that remark when you read it! You better batten down the hatches because Fionnuala Flood is back in town. This time, Dymphna Flood is set to tie the knot with Proddy boyfriend, Rory, father to one of her children but not the second child or even the one on the way (possibly). Aunt Ursula, Fionnuala's exiled sister-in-law is on the guest list and we know this will spell trouble. 

Hansen's larger than life characters always have me in stitches with their fresh and gritty Derry wit. If they're not tripping down steps, they're standing on abandoned toilet seats or otherwise getting clonked at some inopportune moment. Hansen's timing for comedy is spot on and there's not many who get it down to such a fine art. His characters are often getting their wires crossed which adds to the tragi-comedy. I've said it before but it's always worth a another mention - Hansen is a master of plot and no scene goes to waste. As if all this wasn't enough, the author still manages to make every sentence fresh and full of literary gems. Here is one example: 'her body was like an ageing sofa you'd want to dump on a skip, shapeless and uncomfortable, with lumpy bits...' This isn't an isolated example either. The book is full of such startling treats. I learned about Irish Alzheimers' which is 'they forget everything but a grudge'! Then there are the usual wacky and wonderful names such as Top-Yer-Trolly (an old friend), Pence-A-Day and Eat-So-Yum. Hansen knows how to poke fun and revels in it. So sit back, enjoy the ride and hilarity and the nail-biting climax. You won't be disappointed.





Other books in the series:

An Embarrassment Of Riches
(Semi-Finalist in ABNA 2010)





Hand In The Till




Fleeing The Jurisdiction



You can find out more about Gerald's books and where to buy them from:



Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Awesome Indies Quality Site



I decided to write this blog as part of a drive to raise awareness about the Awesome Indies website dedicated to quality in self-publishing. There are always discussions about the quality of indie books and without a gatekeeper it is inevitable that some substandard books will slip through thereby lowering the name of indie books in general. There is a big demand for sites such as Awesome Indies in the new publishing environment. 

The idea of the Awesome Indies site is to promote independently published books that meet the same standards as mainstream books and provide a place where readers can browse for books assured of their quality (as determined by editors and authors against a clear set of criteria). The Awesome Indies team hope to raise the opinion of such books in the general readers' perception and to encourage and support self-publishing authors striving for excellence. The site ethos is one that strives for comprehensive, objective, editorial reviews and abide by a strong set of ethics, such as complete honesty in their reviews and no favours for friends.

Below is an Awesome Indies Badge for approved authors to use on their websites:





They also have similar badges for your website and the much coveted 'Seal Of Excellence' Badges.

The idea for such a site was the brainchild of Tahlia Newland at the end of 2012. Says Tahlia, 'It started out as a WordPress blog. I was so sick of reading substandard books that I also wanted recommendations from people who knew the difference.'  This is when she came up with the idea of authors submitting 4 or 5 star reviews and approving such reviews by trusted reviewers in a similar way to industry professionals. Tahlia contacted approved reviewers and asked them to check submitted books against criteria before accepting the book.  However, after a while, Tahlia found that even this system wasn't rigorous enough so she decided to have a clean slate and only approve those books that she personally knew and trusted.  Authors were asked to resubmit their books with three approved reviews or to submit their book to the AI Team for review.  Another valuable team member joined - Brain Sfinas and the new look site was launched. The Awesome Indies initiative has raised issues particularly in those whose books that don't meet their criteria, but they have discovered that though some Self Published authors do not want genuine critical appraisal, there are many out there desperate for it, and the site seems to be getting a name for giving it because there's a big demand for such reviewing services.  They began to offer more to authors than  a simple review and as a result they have expanded their author services to meet authors' needs. 'Our reviews rapidly became the most comprehensive and editorial in nature of all the review sites and authors began to really value that level of feedback,' explains Tahlia. 'Brian pointed out that we were providing a valuable service and that some authors would be happy for us to pay to give their review some kind of priority. This came at a time for me when it was either this beast had to start paying me at least somthing for the huge amount of time I put into it, or i'd have to shut up shop and get a job, so I agreed to charge for priority reviews so long as there was always a free review option as well. The One Stop Submission is very popular. A lot of authors request this service as soon as they publish a new book and before they publicise it, knowing that after we have pointed out any issues and they have fixed them, their book will be top quality. The editorial services are just getting going with our first major edit and a couple of proofreads and mss appraisals.'

Awesome Indies is about to enter another phase, beginning with a revamp of the site including a simplified menu and a new design, and new ways to attract the discerning reader.


My other reason for writing this blog is that I also wanted to put something back. I have had two of my books (so far) awarded an Awesome Indies badge of approval at no cost to myself.  I agree that you should always have a free option alongside the paid priority options, even if you have to wait a bit longer. Having said that, I would gladly support the site with donations as I think what they're doing is unique and very worthwhile. 

One of my books 'Fall Of The Flamingo Circus' with Awesome Indies with approved badge to show this book has been placed on their list of independent quality fiction.




Thank you to Tahlia Newland for the background information to the site.

For more information about Tahlia Newland and her books please visit:

http://tahlianewland.com/

More information about Awesome Indies books and the site please visit:

http://awesomeindies.net/

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

The L Word



Too many people seem to be daunted or scared off by the L Word.  That is, the Literary Word.

I’ve recently read Under Milk Wood and I’m sure many would recognize this as a great piece of fiction although it may not be recognised as literary fiction but to me it has all the imgredients. As I read it the qualities that made it so striking were firstly the language: At the sea-end of town, Mr and Mrs Floyd, the cocklers, are sleeping as quiet as death, side by wrinkled side, toothless, salt, and brown, like two old kippers in a box…and there’s plenty more of where that came from; secondly the characters with their colourful monikers such as Nogood Boyo, Butcher Benyon or Organ Morgan to name but a few,  and finally the voices. For instance: Me, Mrs Dai Bread Two, gypsied to kill in a silky scarlet petticoat brown as a berry, high heel shoes with one heel missing, tortoiseshell comb in my bright black slinky hair, nothing else at all on but a dab of scent, lolling gaudy at the doorway, tell your fortune in the tea-leaves, scowling at the sunshine, lighting up my pipe.

Apparently Thomas wasn’t a great one for plot.  In Walford Davies; introduction to Under Milk Wood he explains that Thomas ‘knew better than anyone that his strengths did not lie in extended ‘plots’ of any kind. The only firm frameworks that were ever congenial to him were the intricate verse-forms of his poetry. In all other respects his genius was essentially lyrical, capitalising on the vividness of parts within loose structures.’

Neither would Thomas’s work fit into the structure of a play.  When Thomas was offered the chance of having his works broadcast on the radio, the producers got round this by calling Thomas’s work ‘radio features’ rather than ‘radio plays’. Douglas Cleverdon states that  a radio feature ‘has no rules determining what can or cannot be done and though it may be in dramatic form, it has no need of a dramatic plot’.

Now all this fits in with the concept of literary fiction where plot is secondary to what may be character-driven or voice-driven or both.  There’s a lot of misconception around literary fiction: that it is lofty, flowery, wordy - maybe because of the word ‘literary’ –  it may  be, but more likely it won’t.  It is just as likely to be gritty, edgy or experimental.  Literay fiction is non-genre fiction so there is more freedom to bend the rules expected of a genre – for example experimenting with form, structure, characters, voice, language.  This is why it’s my favourite fiction and what I also like to write. Too often people review literary fiction and don’t understand the genre.  They may say ‘nothing happens’ and have missed out on acute observations of characters and situations.  They’ve missed out on fresh and poetic language.  Fine art gets the same flak.  Of course, you get Fine Art and Literary Fiction which doesn’t work or is just trying to be different for the sake of it but you also get poor genre fiction and poor commercial art too.   They say Fine Art is art’s for art’s sake, thus Literary Fiction is sometimes words for words’ sake.  Yes, it may annoy the hell out of some people but it is often – should be – at the cutting edge of fiction, rolling back the frontiers.

Some of my other favourite literary writers who also tell a great story include: Margaret Forster, Ali Smith, John McGahern, Jon McGregor, Alison Moore, Kate Atkinson, Jane Gardam, Penelope Lively, Helen Dunmore, Paul Magrs, Jeanette Winterson and many more.  


Saturday, 6 April 2013

Endings


In three recent reviews of three different books of mine, the subject of endings has come up.  Two of these reviews were thorough, in-depth reviews – always worth their weight in gold - the other a four-liner. But what they all had in common was the feeling that my endings were rather abrupt.  The fact that these three reviews came close together in time, regarding three different books of mine, prompted me to write this blog. It’s always good to be challenged and also to know the effect of your writing on your readers. 

The four-line reviewer felt that Thalidomide Kid ‘was so rushed in the last chapter that it was almost like the author was trying to beat a deadline and just whipped out the ending rather than finish the story’ and ‘felt cheated of a conclusion’. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth! I spent a lot of time writing and polishing the book with the help of my then publisher.  Although my publisher made several suggestions for improvements, interestingly enough, none of them included extending the ending.

Another very favourable review for Fall Of The Flamingo Circus states: ‘My only issue with the book, and it’s a small one, was the ending. It just sort of happened. Lauren’s life didn’t seem resolved in any way. However, I guess diaries do just that, one day you’re writing one, the other you’re not. This though is a personal view. I like stories to close off.’  More about that later.

The third review of Did You Whisper Back? - another thorough in-depth critique - gets to the heart of my intentions when I end a book.  The reviewer states: ‘The ending is abrupt which I’m assuming is a deliberate intent to show that a) there are no happy endings and b) there are not really endings in life and c) what we are looking at is a very small beacon of hope, a very small new beginning rather than an ending…I can live with that abruptness because I think it’s stylistically intentional.’

It’s very satisfying for writers when readers and reviewers ‘get’ your intentions.  I don’t go in for long drawn-out endings.  I hold my hands up, guilty as charged!  This is because I have an aversion to the sort of endings, be it in books or in films (especially films) that dot every ‘i’ and cross every ‘t’.  When that happens I find myself wanting it to end in the perfect place which for me is leaving a bit to the imagination, a bit of mystery, a bit of ambiguity, wanting a bit more. There’s a tradition in European dramas and films to understate endings and not to overdo them which is perhaps lacking in the UK and the US tradition.

In literary fiction, there is more a tradition of the fluid or ambiguous ending.  But if you are used to reading genre fiction with different expectations of endings then this may jar and leave you feeling disappointed or frustrated.  

My brother had an altogether different explanation for readers’ perceptions of endings. He thought it may be a gender thing and he may well be right.  The need for something ‘to close off’ and the feeling of being ‘cheated of a conclusion’ were both from a male perspective, whereas the reviewer for Did You Whisper Back? was female.  OK, I know this isn’t scientific evidence but it did get me wondering. 

This is where I’d love to have your feedback and thoughts. Feel free to knock these theories down in flames!  Do you have expectations of how a book should end?  Do you like everything to be tied up or do you like a bit of mystery?  Do you have different expectations from different genres?  And do you think there are gender differences?

Finally, thank you for reading and many thanks to those who have taken the time and trouble to read and review my books so meticulously. 

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Reviewing My Reviews.


New Year New Start!

It's about time I did a fresh blog since it's almost a year since the last.

I don’t do many book reviews though I try to support indie writers by doing some. I try to be positive and fair in my reviews, concentrating on a book’s strengths and have erred on the side of generosity.

But I've been thinking - is this helpful to the author?  Shouldn’t I also be concentrating on a book’s weaknesses too?  Then again, a review isn’t the same as a critique.  If an author asks for private feedback about a piece where there are clear weaknesses, I wouldn’t hesitate in offering it where I felt it was warranted.

That said, I wear two hats: one as writer and one as reader.  And I also feel an obligation to the reader.

Lovely as it is to receive them, too many glowing five star reviews does little to profit anyone: neither the author whose book is being reviewed nor your own integrity as a reviewer.  It cheapens and threatens to patronise.

So from now on, I intend doing my reviews a little differently, aiming to highlight weaknesses as well as strengths if possible. I may also amend some reviews I’ve already done where weaknesses were overlooked. This may be due to too many typos or some other deficiency.  I may drop a star here and there (a 4 Star review is still very worthy) but I want to save the 5 star reviews for my absolute personal favourites. 

Well, that’s the intention anyway.  I may revert to type by next week.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Meet Ben Hardy

I first met Ben Hardy on Authonomy and found his book on wine-making - then a work-in-progress - a refreshing read, laid out in short appetising chapters and washed down with a good home-brewed humour. It was clear then that this book had great potential and so it didn't surprise me at all when it was snapped up by The Good Life Press.






My Review



If you think this is just another book on wine-making you'd be totally wrong. Yes, wine is the raison d'ĂȘtre for the book but it's as much about the accompanying events which enrich the whole wine-making and wine-drinking experience: the food, the friends, the family members, the cats, the classical music, the dissertations on medieval childbirth and other little anecdotes that almost make you feel a participant in the Hardy household. The book is divided into sections according to wine flavour (and there are many), and we are privy to the agonies and ecstasies of each new flavour, from the picking (or buying), to the stalking, mashing or cutting of the fruit (or vegetable), to the bottling, maturing and eventual drinking. The events are relayed with a wit, sometimes dry, at other times sparkly, just like the various wines. Banana, plum and blackberry are some of the fruits employed, even exotic tinned fruit, though Hardy strongly advises against the potato. "I think this is the most disgusting wine I have ever made or supped. It's bitter and tastes of raw potatoes," he writes with his usual candour. I'm not at all surprised that the Barley Wine tasted like Carlsberg Special either - as a teen I would drink both to get off my head quickly and cheaply, though the Barley Wine was pretty bitter and disgusting to my youthful palate. I am also very averse to rhubarb but I must say that the description of something more akin to pink champagne and no hint of rhubarb did sound very enticing. One gets the feeling that corks are popping and wine exploding all the time in the Hardy household and when they're not drinking the stuff or having Wine Parties for friends to rate Ben's wines, they're foraging, picking, racking, bottling and keeping a journal. One wonders how Ben and his wife Claire - whose home-made dishes are usually a mouth-watering accompaniment - have time for all their other pursuits.






About the Author


From Leeds, Ben turned 40 last year, and he describes the last decade as being “a strange mix of wine making, commercial property, playing the bassoon and medieval history.”  You will hear a lot more about his interests in his book and his blog.


Read more about 'what happened next' at Ben's blog.
http://bensadventuresinwinemaking.blogspot.com/


Ben's book can be purchased in paperback at Amazon - now at £9.74 
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Bens-Adventures-Wine-Making-Hardy/dp/1904871909