Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Christmas Offerings from Oscar

These final countdown weeks of 2011 have been an interesting time for me.

Somehow I managed to scrape through to the penultimate round of the hectic New York City Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge, one of 100 contestants whittled down from 480 starters. If any of you short fiction writers haven't yet tried NYCM competitions, I strongly recommend that you should have a go. Be warned though that you will have to be disciplined to work against the clock. In the FF Challenge this means writing a story of up to 1000 words in 48 hours. That does get the creative juices flowing, believe me.

In November Every Day Poets published my World War 1 prose poem Farewell Sweet Molly Brown. I don't consider myself to be poet, so this result came as a very pleasant surprise. In fact, that small success prompted me to attempt my first recorded reading,  on Audioboo.

New York seems to have been lucky for me this year, because today The View From Here has put the icing on my Christmas cake, by  publishing my short story Nighthawks: A Fable of New York.

I hope you might perhaps have time to read/listen to my offerings. If you do, please let me know what you think.

I'd like to wish any poor lonely souls who happen to find themselves in my humble blog, a very happy Christmas - or whatever this season may be to you - and a healthy and peaceful New Year 2012.

As ever, help yourselves to tea and biccies, but please do turn the lights off when you leave.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Seasonal Success Assured - FREE Christmas Present Guide:

Why go through the hell of making Christmas present decisions when I offer you four sure-fire suggestions for book presents that will make someone's day? The first three are books I have recently read and can heartily recommend, the fourth is one I can recommend equally heartily but in which I must confess a small vested interest.

Recommendation: The Coward's Tale, by Vanessa Gebbie (Bloomsbury)

Suitable for: Anyone who loves enthralling stories and fine writing. A must for the most important person in your life. This gift's significance will build and build.

More about the book: When describing The Coward's Tale I find it difficult to avoid using superlatives. From the very first page I was drawn to the rhythm of Vanessa Gebbie's writing and the warmth of her characters. It's impossible to pigeonhole The Coward's Tale. In her story of a Welsh mining town and the effect of a past mining disaster on the community, Vanessa has created a magical world grounded in harsh reality. A saga of sorts - yes - but intimate too, comprising many stories of individual lives, beautifully entwined with a structure and narrative technique that combines the warmth of traditional story telling with her own unique style.

Imagine how your standing and judgement will increase in the eyes of the recipients of this book when, over coming months and years, The Coward's Tale attracts literary approbation of the highest order. It is a  classic in the making - trust me. No, don't thank me now, but do please remember that you heard it here first.

Recommendation: The Secret of the Sands, by Sara Sheridan (HarperCollins - AVON)

Suitable for: Lovers of well written and meticulously researched historical fiction combined with a touch of romance. Don't be fooled by the cover art, which might lead the unwary to believe Secret of the Sands is a 'girlie' book. It's not. The cover blurb describes it as 'A rich and epic novel…', I'd go along with that.

More about the book: Sara Sheridan's work covers an amazing range of style, subject matter and genre. She may occasionally be heard reporting from far-flung places on the BBC Radio 4 programme 'From our own correspondent'. In The Secret of the Sands Sara combines her enthusiasm for primary source research with an entertaining writing style of journalistic clarity. This enthralling tale is based on the true life19th century adventures in the Arabian Penninsula of British Navy Lieutenant James Wellstead, and his relationship with a high-born Ethiopian girl trapped into slavery. The Secret of the Sands is written with the kind of panache only achievable by someone who knows their historical subject matter from the foundations up. A book to savour.

Recommendation: Mrs Darcy versus the Aliens, by Jonathan Pinnock (Proxima Classics)

Suitable for: Anyone breathing and possessing a sense of humour, with the following caveats: HEALTH WARNING Not to be read by persons of a sensitive disposition or those diagnosed with Obsessive Jane Austen Loyalty Syndrome. On no account should this book be read whilst imbibing hot liquids or operating machinery.

More about the book: This is the Jane Austen sequel that Jane might have written had she reached puberty in the era of the Beatles and Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds. Jonathan Pinnock, conversely, has managed to ghost-write her work without any artificial aids or stimulants… allegedly. Imagine your favourite Austen novel with added aliens, tentacles and assorted unlikely literary and historical characters. Got it? OK, now put the mix in a blender, add skilful writing, a generous portion of wit and serve with an arty drizzle of innuendo. In short, a crazy mash-up guaranteed to raise a laugh.

Recommendation: The Archangel and the White Hart (VWC publication)

Suitable for: Anybody who enjoys a good read, particularly those who have limited time for reading. The Archangel and the White Hart is a slim volume that will slip easily into a handbag or briefcase ready to dip into during otherwise wasted minutes. A cornucopia of pleasant surprises to carry with you anywhere.

More about the book: The Archangel and the White Hart is an anthology of writings - short fiction, poetry and excerpts from longer works - by members of Verulam Writers' Circle (VWC). This is the book in which I have a vested interest (not a financial interest, I receive no royalties) in that VWC is my home writers' circle and two of my stories are included in the volume. The Archangel and the White Hart is a professional publication edited by Jonathan Pinnock (see above) and comprising some of the the best work by a group of outstanding authors, many of whom have had novels and other works published and/or broadcast.

But Not Least: Clearly, my selection represents only a tiny fraction of all the terrific books currently available. So, as a post script I'll add two other books that are right at the top of my 'to read' pile. The first is a collection of short fiction Somewhere Else, or Even Here, by A. J. Ashworth (Salt Publishing) and the second is an historical fiction novella The Onion Stone, by Mandy Pannett (Pewter Rose Press).

The clinching argument: You can buy these books online thereby saving a lot of fuel, pollution and frustration. A book has to be easier to wrap than a pogo stick or a set of golf clubs. Buy today and you'll have time to read the books before you wrap them. Win-win. You know it makes sense.

So, what are you waiting for?

Good shopping and reading.