Category Archives: guest blogger

The Crocodile Princess

Ian Gregson THE CROCODILE PRINCESS book cover

 

I got a present the other day; a signed copy of The Crocodile Princess by Ian Gregson; novelist, poet, critic and Oxford Professor of Poetry nominee. I had only ever met Ian once in person before. That was five years ago, when he gave me his personal copy of As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner and told me to consider writing my next novel in the first person. I did more than consider it, I took up the challenge, one which, for years, was marked more by cursing than by anything I would care to call satisfactory progress. Now the novel is finished. Thank goodness. Now I can get back to reading for pleasure.

A pleasure I wish to share with you. Below is the opening of Ch2 of The Crocodile Princess. I love it for so many reasons. I’m sure you will find your own.

 

THE CROCODILE PRINCESS

 

‘No no you’re not going to catch me,’ shouted Joe Keane, the American ambassador in Cambodia. He stared in the face of Norodom Sihanouk looming on a billboard above him, Sihanouk dressed all in white and with a shaved head, saintly Buddhist, his serenity a rebuke to Keane’s desperate, breathless driving forward of his cyclopousse, his bicycle rickshaw, his pedalling ever more frantic because the finishing line was a huge jacaranda tree only forty yards past the billboard, and Peter Cook was gaining on him, now only fifteen yards behind, and calling to him, taunting him with his growing nearness, about how he would imminently overtake, about the superiority of Cook’s own cyclo, about how Joe’s contraption was wonky, about how Joe himself – worst of all, this, as Joe was gasping more and more for breath –   was an old man, was past it… and Joe was dizzy now, standing up on his pedals, then sitting down again, and the cyclo was so unwieldy, and four times heavier than a normal bicycle, and he could feel his head sicken, where dazzling white enormous Sihanouk in the silver of the nearly-full moon was swimming in his eyes above him – or no, too bright for that, because in fact lit from below by a carefully placed lamp, so now, as he approached, Joe could see lizards running all over the god/king… lizards (and he thought this ludicrously, even painfully, given what he needed to concentrate upon) attracted by the insects on Sihanouk that were, in turn, attracted by the lamplight… and then he thought about that thought and knew he was observing his thought self-consciously still because of the opium he had smoked earlier, at Madame Chhum’s, the opium whose pungent taste even now lingered between his teeth and inside his tongue, somehow both sweet and bitter, the opium that made his thoughts wrap themselves around each other, twist inside each other and open passageways that led past tens of doorways which might open at any moment and lead down other passageways… and it was being too deeply inside that thought that led him not to notice he was veering to the right, not to notice so that now he had to wrestle the cyclo leftwards, still half-hoping to go forwards as well, still somehow to win because the tree was only twenty yards ahead, but it was no good, the front wheel was pointing left but the weight of everything behind it, the hooded seat and the wheels and Keane himself, was dragging it still to the right, so that his back right wheel was slipping more and more into a shallow ditch, and he made a final effort, standing on his pedals feeling that his breath was squeezed hard as though his lungs might burst, but no, it was no use, and he slipped further into the ditch and the whole ungainly contraption toppled onto its right side, and he saw Cook go flying past him to the jacaranda where he stopped and jumped out of his cyclo and danced about him with his arms in the air.

***

I’m not quite halfway through the book but already have loads of questions. Here are a few:

 

  1. Ian, do you have any personal experience of the diplomatic service? If not, what kind of research did you do in order to portray this particular social group so convincingly?

I’ve never worked as a diplomat, but I think it’s important that the novel tackles political questions and if you focus on a diplomatic community you’re involved in politics straight away. In particular, it’s important for British writers to explore the colonial experience, especially given the extent to which writers in colonized countries have focused on that history from their perspective. So I researched the lives of ambassadors and other Embassy staff, and read memoirs of diplomats, including ones that described that life in the time and place of The Crocodile Princess.

 

  1. How long did it take you to write the book and did you use any time management software to help you? (What do you think of such software in general?)

It took me three years – some days I only wrote about two hundred words, and I revised the first draft extensively. I’m not even aware, to be honest, of what time management software is!

 

  1. One of the things I adore when reading The Crocodile Princess is the way you weave in witty observations that make the characters immediately come alive in a line or two. I also have the impression that it is at times a very thin line indeed being drawn between humour and disdain. Why did you decide to give characters this edge and have you personally ever been at the receiving end of such treatment?

The focus on comedy arose from the element of alternative history, where I invented an alternative life for the comedian Peter Cook. I wanted this component to throw a defamiliarising angle on the politics. I love the idea of the novel as a polyphonic form that incorporates multiple voices and languages. So I conceived of the satirical comedy as a language which would be a source of imagery – as in the references to the domino effect, for example. The element of disdain in it might be connected to the class aspect, of Cook’s upper-middle class origins (his father worked for the Foreign Office in Nigeria). And that might also indicate that I wanted some distance from Cook, which was why I invented Waldo Vaughan as an angry left-wing Welsh nationalist comedian as an alternative which unfortunately never occurred.

 

  1. Another thing I admire: the philosophical remarks which lift the plot beyond the mere happenings within the diplomatic circle yet without rendering the book too high-brow or know-it-all. Are any of these opinions ones you share or were they attributed to your characters much in the way you would choose the colour of their hair or select for them the right spouse?

I agree with some of them and not others. One of the things I wanted to depict was a kind of ideological norm for 1962 – people being racist, sexist, homophobic, and snobbish – but above all casually, as part of a set of unquestioned assumptions. Hector Perch, the left wing journalist, is the character whose views I would most naturally share, but – partly for that reason – I wanted to show him being alarmingly wrong in his political diagnosis of Cambodia. One of the ready resources you can draw upon in a novel set in 1962 is the ironies that arise from having characters have perceptions which readers – from their knowledge of subsequent events – realise are shockingly wide of the mark.

 

  1. A critic whose name unfortunately escapes me said that a novel in verse is an abomination. You write novels as well as poetry. How useful do you find the distinction between poetry and prose in contemporary literature?

I wouldn’t want to write a verse novel because the form of poetry, to my mind, would be too awkward. But the idea of poetry being dialogic and novelized, as theorized by Bakhtin, is very important to me. And my own poems have always invented characters who speak the poems, and they have overlapping points of view where voices collide. And I like to think that in my fiction I call upon forms of imagery which I’ve learned from writing poems.

 

  1. Tell me more about the cover.

Adam Craig at Cinnamon designed it. He came up with several alternatives, but I thought that the understated reference to Angkor Wat was cool and laid-back in a way that appealed to me.

 

  1. What’s something the readers don’t know about one of the protagonists: something you had in mind when writing the book, but which didn’t make it into the final version?

It’s not so much a character thing. A pun on ‘backwater’ haunted me: that word is repeatedly applied to Phnom Penh. It’s important that the city was patronised in that way, because it means that outlandish stuff could happen there that wouldn’t have been tolerated in Paris or Moscow. But I also thought of the word as referring to the astonishing yearly event in the city, when its river reverses its flow. That image was connected for me to the central themes of the novel’s ‘alternative’ nature – its focus on systematic disorientation, of a deep-seated bewilderment which I hoped would express how little in control people are of what is underlyingly shaping their lives.

 

  1. What are you reading right now and why would you recommend it?

I’m reading Geoff Dyer’s But Beautiful, which is a novelised version of the lives of jazz musicians like Duke Ellington and Thelonius Monk. Based on facts but extending what is known through fictive speculation. I’d recommend it because it does what I most admire – it is beautifully, accessibly written so you feel compelled to keep reading, but it also asks fascinating, complex questions.

 

The same can be said of The Crocodile Princess. Definitely. Thanks, Ian, for sharing your views with me. Some people think the author doesn’t count and that we should approach the book as an autonomous work of art. I’m not one of them. Ian’s answers allow me to get so much more out of reading his novel. And I hope they make you interested in finding out more.

Writing not for agents and publishers, but for you, the reader: Matthew Temple

Matthew Temple books
Hello again! In this post I’ve decided to feature a fellow author I’ve been writing to quite a lot recently; Matthew Temple. We’ve taken different approaches to marketing our work and I must say that the more I talk to Matthew, the more I admire him. Here’s what he has to say about mainstream publishing:
I’ve spent so many years sending out thousands of query letters to literary agents and it’s fruitless.  They don’t want to publish what I’m writing.  I did briefly publish Things Said in Dreams with a small press, then finally broke my contract with them and put it on my website for free.  Now all my books are free.  I feel better about that.  I think the publishing industry needs a revolution—the publisher takes way too much of the profits, for doing something anyone can do, while the author takes the small part of the profits, when what they did takes a lifetime to learn and is the essential product. It is the total product.  I’d rather say fuck you to publishers who do that. I’d rather give it all away for free and be poor for the rest of my life than go along with something I think is immoral: thievery by the publishing company.
Someday it’ll change, I think.  Till then, I just forget about everything except the writing. That’s all I can control—and not even that fully.  But I just write the best thing I can, that’s my whole job and I have to let go of the illusion that I control anything else.
matthew temple photo
Matthew Temple
For more of his view on the topic – and the hiccups that come along with it –  visit Matthew’s blog. Take the time to discover and recommend his books. Every single one for FREE!

One Manner of Hunger

one manner of hunger cover picture

Today’s Words’ Worth comes from a writer I got to know on the internet last year, Bill Johnston:
‘I tend to be either intensely focused or entirely too laid back. My demeanor is actually nearly always quite cheerful. Something about a keyboard and a concept is always so grim. Deep, eloquent and grim for a humorous soul. I’m not sure what it is… Like water my words in type run to the lowest point without the effort required to raise them.’
 ‘No matter how many times I molt, I have layers beneath that will not shed.’
On the topic of American’s being prudish:
‘We love and hate our filthy shit. I find for every one prude there’s two more that want to hear more. It swings more both ways here than I’m guessing it does there, but once something filthy must be read there are church ladies with copies under their mattresses.’
*
Bill Johnston. William Thomas Johnston. Poet. Storyteller. Blogger. Friend. Proof that online encounters can grow into something beautiful. It’s a pleasure to know you, Bill!

Writing on ‘Hard Mode’: The trick to understanding physical space

pilesofpages

Are you ready to try writing in hard mode? I want to tackle something this week which, in my opinion, is one of the hardest technical aspects of creative writing; managing physical space. By this, I mean creating a clear image of the space your characters are occupying and how they are moving within it. This will be a particularly important skill for writers of erotica and action/adventures as these genres rely heavily on complex physical actions which must be explained clearly for your scenes to make sense.

A Quick Demonstration

It’s easy to brush over this article and think ‘it’s not that bad’ so I want to give you a practical demonstration of why this skill is tough to master. This exercise was shown to me by one of my creative writing teachers years ago and it’s a lot of fun.

First you need to grab a friend and…

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Garden of Snow

Me to Penny: panic, fascination, release, a whole jumble of feelings I cannot and shouldn’t disentangle. It was a purity, a rawness before the Word. And yet it is language. And I wondered which images you were calling to mind before you exorcised them. At the end, I saw a woman who was exhausted, yet purified, somehow.
Penny to me: I had to psyche myself up for a few weeks.

Ladies & Gents,

Courageous, Primal

Penny Goring

Garden of Snow:

Worth the Risk (Rocking Summer Romances) by Lyn O’Farrell

WorththeRisk_200

Children’s librarian Amanda Lloyd values privacy above all else. Three years ago her wedding ended in disaster when her groom was arrested at the altar and the story of the ‘Embezzler’s Bride’ appeared in the supermarket tabloids. The experience has left her determined to avoid being caught in the public eye again. Until she meets a sexy single dad with a scandalous past.

Ex-racer Mitch Delaney is a public figure whose life has been plastered across the tabloids more than once. But he believes that anything worth doing is worth a risk. After the death of his ex-wife, he moved to Southern California to take care of his son Josh. He doesn’t need the complication of a woman in his life, especially since Josh’s grandparents have filed suit for custody. But Josh is on the hunt for a new mother and he has his heart set on Miss Amanda, and Mitch can’t fault his son’s taste.

Against her better judgment, Amanda finds herself falling for both of the Delaney men. When she agrees to accompany Mitch to a high-profile movie premiere, they draw the attention of the tabloids. Overnight Amand’a private affair becomes very public, threatening her job and Mitch’s custody suit. She’s waited twenty-eight years for the right man. But will happiness come at too high a price?

(Previously published as Private Affair, Kensington Precious Gem #121. Also: Golden Heart Finalist, Short Contemporary category)

*

His head was nestled in her lap. Amanda gently smoothed back the hair that had tumbled into his eyes. He sighed contentedly and gazed at her with soulful blue eyes.

“You really are a love,” she murmured. “I can’t imagine why I was ever nervous around you.”

The living room was quiet now, except for the soft crackling of the fire. Shadows played on the walls as the flames danced in the fireplace. Dinner was over, the kitchen cleaned up, and Josh was upstairs asleep. It was the first really relaxing moment Amanda had had all day.

“Is that mutt bothering you?” Mitch asked as he stepped into the room.

“No, we’ve been getting acquainted.” She smiled and scratched Albert behind the ears. He looked up at her adoringly. Then, as if aware that three was a crowd, he sauntered over to the fireplace and flopped down with a large sigh.

“Never thought I’d actually be jealous of a dog,” Mitch muttered, sitting down on the couch next to her.

Amanda laughed. “But he’s the sweetest thing.”

Mitch murmured his agreement, then said, “You’re sweet, too.”

She cocked an eyebrow at him.

“For tutoring Josh, I mean,” he said quickly.

“There’s nothing sweet about that. I expect to be paid the going rate for my efforts.”

“You will be,” he assured her, putting an arm around her shoulders. “In fact, there may even be a bonus in it.” He leaned closer, a teasing gleam in his eyes.

“What kind of a bonus did you have in mind?” Amanda knew she shouldn’t have asked when his look changed to one of desire.

Pulling her closer, he rubbed his thumb along her lower lip and her lips parted instinctively. She looked deeply into his eyes and saw a new tenderness she hadn’t seen before. Her body ached in anticipation as he continued caressing her mouth and gazing at her from hooded eyes that promised a world of pleasure in their blue depths.

 *

The final novel this month in the Rocking Summer Romances series, this is the only book I’m proposing that’s been co-written. Lyn O’Farrell is in fact Anne Farrell and Linda McLaughlin, putting their heads together. Taking the risk. I can’t imagine what it’s like to co-author a novel, and when I’m reading this one, I catch myself asking who’s contributing what. Can’t find any obvious seams, can you? Then maybe I should get back to the story as a story, and enjoy! The twosome aren’t taking any risks as far as the law’s concerned, which is why this sample’s more PG than erotic. Only one way to find out how hot they really get:

Amazon

iTunes

Barnes & Noble

Kobo

Smashwords

Can’t help wondering, though: are you two a couple in any other sense as well???