Weekly Wodehouse Quote

“But, that night, as he sat smoking his after-dinner cigarette, Reason, so violently expelled, came stealing timidly back to her throne, and a cold hand seemed suddenly placed upon his heart.”

The Custody of the Pumpkin

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Book review – JPod by Douglas Coupland

JPodThe first time I was exposed to JPod was funnily enough through a television series in Canada that was based on the book. The production of the television series was Canadian, probably because of the fact that Douglas Coupland is Canadian, so I doubt any of my readers not from Canada would have heard of or seen the television series. I thought the series was very humourous, albeit a bit bizarre and I was interested in seeing how the book stacked up against the series.

Of course the book was much more different, but much better, as is usually the case. The story is about Ethan Jarlewski and his co-workers who work at a big game design company in Vancouver. The company is a big, bureaucratic mass, imposing more and more idiotic changes on their workload. Ethan and his co-workers try to keep themselves motivated and interested, but are not always successful at battling their despair at their bosses. They all exist in a moral grey zone, to which even Ethan’s parents are not immune – with sometime hilarious results.

Although the book is truly funny, it is also a very poignant commentary on society, where the lines between moral and immoral are constantly tested and blurred. Ethan’s world is invaded with the rise of China, the rise of marijuana grow-ups and corruption, and Coupland shows how those factors influence and change his life dramatically. Although the reader’s credulity is severely tested at times, Coupland spins such an amazing tale that the reader cannot but go along with it. You get so swept up in the story, that it all becomes plausible. You find yourself muttering: “I can’t believe that happened to him, poor guy,” rather than: “That would never happen in real life.”

For all the hilarity and bizarre events in the novel, the book definitely makes you think about our society and what we value nowadays. Coupland is a master at catching the reader unawares – just as you are heartily laughing at a passage in the book, he comes out with an unexpected punch that takes your breath away. He keeps you on your toes and sometimes in the dark, but at the end of it all, you feel richer for having read this book.

One funny part of the book I would like to share is that Coupland appears in the book himself. And not in a necessarily flattering way. A little excerpt from the book:

Coupland said, “…Tell you what, if I get you guys back to Shanghai, then you have to give me your laptop computer, period. No erasing anything.”

“What?”

“That’s it, game boy. Give me your life.”

I looked into Coupland’s cold eyes; it was like looking into wells filled with drowned toddlers. “Okay, I promise.”

“Hop in. And remember this, Ethan. I own you now.

We drove away.

(With apologies for the formatting, I have not figured out yet how to not get an extra space after hitting enter.)

I can definitely recommend JPod, as well as Microserfs and The Gum Thief, two other books I have read by him. If you like to be entertained while at the same time made to think critically about the world we live in, the way our society is and what we value most, then Douglas Coupland is your man.

I am a writer

For the last two years, since my family and I made the move from Canada to England, I have been absorbed in working in my role as a tax accountant, and studying for my tax designation. Add to that the stress of settling in a new country and the busyness of being a mom to two young boys and I have often felt that my life was lived for me, not by me.

Then I found out about NaNoWriMo and I remembered, from times long ago, that I loved to write. And I thought it was time I do something I really enjoy. I was not sure I was even able to write anymore, but I was determined to give it a go. I wrote my exams in the beginning of November and managed to write 75,000 words during the month of November, winning NaNoWriMo. I finished writing the rest of the novel in December.

I found out that I was still able to write. Not only that, I tremendously enjoyed the plotting, outlining and writing process. To be busy with something other than numbers and figures. To go back to my “roots” of language and literature. To go back to being myself. That is how it felt to write my book, and I am very grateful that I committed myself to the challenge of writing 50,000 words in a month. It brought a piece of my own identity back to me. It prevented me from losing myself in all the other roles I need to fulfill in my life.

And now I have a book, and the editing process has begun. And this is where I find out I am not such an amazing writer after all. The plot is all right, the characters are fine, but the writing needs a lot of polishing and a lot of – well, rewriting really. And I begin to doubt that it will ever be in a good enough shape to be published. Considering it is my very first book, that is not an unreasonable doubt.

Will that mean the end of my writing aspirations? Will I be a failure if I do not publish this book? Absolutely not. I don’t write for fame or riches. I write to stay sane. And I plan to write another book when the next NaNoWriMo comes around in November. Just for the sheer enjoyment of writing again.

Because I am a writer.

Book review – Playing for the Ashes by Elizabeth George

Playing for the AshesWhen a body is found dead in Celandine Cottage in Greater Springburn, the initial thought is that the body is that of the resident of the cottage, Gabriella Patten. When it is discovered that the body is, in fact, Kenneth Fleming, England’s star batsman, Inspector Lynley and Detective Sergeant Havers are called in to help the local police with their inquiries. With too many suspects to choose from and hardly any clues to go by, Lynley and Havers are facing a difficult challenge. And when a suspect is finally apprehended, and when he confesses too, the case seems closed. Except that Lynley is harbouring suspicions and he will not rest until he has uncovered the truth.

Elizabeth George takes her readers on a path of discovery. We find out who Kenneth Fleming was and how he touched the lives of everyone around him. We get several different points of view of the people who had some sort of relationship with Kenneth. Slowly we discover what type of person Kenneth was and how the people closest to him felt about him.

Interspersed with the story of Kenneth and those close to him is the story of Olivia, who writes her parts in the form of a journal, or letter, as we later find out. It is not immediately obvious who Olivia is and how she fits into the larger scheme. Her story is quite an unpleasant one, and it is not until the end that it becomes clear who she is writing to and to what purpose she writes down her life story.

Elizabeth George is a master at weaving a web of relationships, of causes and effects and of the way different lives connect. I am usually not enamored by many different points of view. Very few authors can pull it off effectively, leaving the reader with the feeling that he or she is being pulled in every direction, unable to connect with any of the characters in the story. Not so with Elizabeth George. She gives each character their unique voice, and enough time to draw the reader into their story. Through all of it runs the story of Lynley and Havers, the thread that connects them all. Although this book is one in a series featuring Inspector Lynley, the personal life of Lynley is but a very small part of the book. That is true for each book in this series. It is entirely possible to read them out of order and still be able to follow what is going on. I very much like that; too often authors get carried away with their main characters, drawing the focus away from matters at hand (often a mystery) and focusing instead on their personal lives.

I did not like the parts that were written from the point of view of Olivia. Not because they were not well written, but because I thoroughly disliked Olivia. I think (at least, I hope) that this was the intention of the author. Olivia is not completely repulsive; there are some redeeming qualities about her, but not many. And when she is finally in a position to do the right thing, she instead presents Inspector Lynley with a very difficult choice. Luckily for all of us, Lynley does the right thing in the end.

I can definitely recommend this book – and any other written by Elizabeth George. They are thick books, but well worth it.

Self publishing?

Ever since I started on the Booksexhilarating and scary journey to write a book, I have been thinking of what to do with it once it was written and edited to my liking. And although I am now convinced I want to share my book with the world – if I ever get it into a good enough state – I am still unsure of whether to find a traditional publisher for it or to go the self publishing route.

There is something to say for both routes, and of course everyone will tell you to do what suits your needs best. But I am not sure what that is. So let me look at each route and see if I can make a decision.

Self publishing

I have read a lot of articles on the subject of publishing, participated on the NaNoWriMo forums in discussions about this and have talked to published authors – both those who went the traditional route and those who self published. The opinions are definitely divisive. Some who self publish say that the reason they chose for self publishing is so that they can keep total control over the creative process. They do not have to compromise the ideas in their novels at the demands of an editor who will not allow the book to be published unless his changes are made.Others self publish because they simply cannot get a publisher interested in their work and they strongly believe their novel is great and needs to be shared with a wider public. These people are not always first time writers who have never published anything before and whose work may have been rejected by publishers because it was sub-par. Some writers whose novels have been published over the years have been told that they are not commercially viable anymore and they have had to resort to self publishing.

There are of course disadvantages of self publishing: you do not get the benefit of a professional editor, you do not get an advance for your books and you have to arrange all your marketing and distributing yourself. The advantages however are that all profits of the sale of your books will go to you.

Traditional publishing

The benefits of traditional publishing is of course that a lot of the work is done for you. You get a professional editor who kicks your novel into shape, you do not have to handle the distribution of your novel and in some cases you get an advance so you do not have to wait until your novel is sold to receive some money from it.

I was at a conference a few months ago where two published authors talked about self publishing. They were quite denigrating about it, mentioning that self publishing has introduced a lot of very bad writing on the scene. Be that as it may, and I don’t doubt that some self published novels never should have seen the light of day, there are also a number of novels that have been published the traditional way that are absolute rubbish. Take the very popular Fifty Shades of Grey for example. A book that started as a free fanfic written on an online blog until it got so popular that a certain publisher saw the chance to make a handsome profit. So the names were changed, the book was heavily marketed and bingo, it became a huge success. Although I have only read certain parts of the book, I can say with certainty that the book did not benefit from the services of a professional editor. Any editor worth their paycheck would have done a complete overhaul of the book. The publisher was more interested in making money off the book than in making sure a good piece of fiction was published. (Needless to say I will not be reviewing that book, but for a good chapter-by-chapter recap, see Jenny Trout’s blog.)

And that seems to be the way traditional publishers want to go, although there are exceptions. If you submit your book to a publisher, the foremost thought is “can I make a lot of money off this book?”. If your book is rejected, it could be because it is rubbish, but it could also be that the publisher did not think there was a market for your book at the moment and he did not want to lose money over publishing it. Of course publishers need to make a profit, otherwise they could not exist, but lately it seems that quality of writing is compromised in favour of the almighty pound (or dollar).

Add to this all the seemingly excruciating process of querying your novel and the traditional route does not seem so attractive anymore.

Have I talked myself into a decision? Not really, or at least, not yet. Self publishing does seem a lot more work than I have time for at the moment, unless you use one of those self publishing companies like CreateSpace. They take care of the printing and distributing and in return, take a cut of your profits. You still have to do the marketing, but I have heard that if you publish your novel the traditional route, you still have to take care of the marketing yourself.

So please share your thoughts, comments and experiences. I would love to hear what other people think.

Weekly Wodehouse Quote

“A certain critic – for such men, I regret to say, do exist – made the nasty remark about my last novel that it contained ‘all the old Wodehouse characters under different names’. He has probably by now been eaten by bears, like the children who made mock of the prophet Elisha: but if he still survives he will not be able to make a similar charge against Summer Lightning. With my superior intelligence, I have outgeneralled the man this time by putting in all the Wodehouse characters under the same names. Pretty silly it will make him feel, I rather fancy.”

Preface to Summer Lightning

I am editing!

As some of you may know, I participated in NaNoWriMo in November. NaNoWriMo is short of National Novel Writing Month, an international writing challenge where you write 50,000 words of a new novel in a month. I did not know whether I had the energy, stamina and creativity to undertake the challenge, but nothing ventured, nothing gained. So I signed up in June and started plotting my novel. By the end of October, I had a fairly detailed and polished outline and I was ready to go. Despite a full-time job, two exams at the beginning of the month and two young kids to take care of, I saw the end of November with 75,000 words. I went on to write another 17,000 to end my novel with roughly 92,000 words.

That was just the beginning. As everyone on the forums had warned me, the first draft would be a rough draft, editing would be essential. So yesterday I took my stack of paper that represents my novel, a red pen and I started editing. I only got as far as the first chapter that evening, but it was better than nothing. I felt rather proud of myself: I did not have to change that much. Considering I am quite hard on myself, it made me feel good. Then came today, and the second chapter. Suddenly I don’t feel so great anymore, I had to cut multiple paragraphs of rubbish that had no place in my novel. I will not be replacing them with anything else, so I  have just reduced my word count. Yikes! Seeing all those red scribbles does not make me feel warm and fuzzy inside.Editing

But I will go on. I will make it to the end of my novel with my red pen and my hard-nosed attitude and hopefully by the end of it, I will have taken out all the rubbish and put in some more good stuff. Then it will be ready for my beta readers, who will undoubtedly have more suggestions and constructive criticism. But I will not give up until I have a good, polished novel that I can be proud of. Whether I will then try to find a publisher for it or publish it myself is something I have not decided, but I would definitely like to share it!

Book review – Private Sector by Brian Haig

I will start by saying that I don’t understand why Brian Haig is not more popular than he is. His characters are well written and often funny, the plots are complex and full of suspense and the ending is always surprising. Maybe the writing is just too intelligent for the average reader, I don’t know. But I wish he was more celebrated, he definitely deserves it.

Private Sector is the fourth book in the Sean Drummond series. Sean Drummond is a JAG officer who is part of a group of army lawyers who defend black ops soldiers whenever they get into trouble. In the first three books in the series Sean has been in a few tricky situations which he was able to extricate himself from successfully. Now his boss, General Cooper, is sending him to a private law firm as part of a Working With Industry Program. Sean is determined to be kicked out of the program and back into the army as soon as he can, but when his predecessor and friend is murdered, he decides to stay on a bit longer in order to get to the bottom of her death.

I really loved this book, as I do all Sean Drummond books. This one is a bit different, as it is set in the world of private law and Sean’s thoughts and comments on the wonderful, sleezy world of private law are priceless. Sean teams up with his friend’s sister Janet and together they uncover who is behind the murder of not only Lisa, but also three other women. Of course the army is involved, Sean and Janet are ordered to stay out of it all, but Sean takes justice into his own hands and settles things satisfactorily.

The only bit I did not like about the book was the parts that were written from the killer’s point of view. I am not a big fan of the switch between first person and third person narrative even when it serves a clear purpose. Here I found it detracted from the story. I read the book the first time with the parts from the killer in it, and when I read it the second time, I skipped those bits. I cannot say that the story was more difficult to follow without knowing what the killer was up to.

All in all, this was a very enjoyable book that kept me on the edge of my seat. I can heartily recommend it!

Book Review – The Time Traveler’s Wife

Time Traveler's Wife

Synopsis from the back of the book: The Time Traveler’s Wife is the extraordinary love story of Henry and Clare who met when Clare was six and Henry is thirty-six and were married when Clare was twenty-two and Henry thirty. Impossible, but true, because Henry suffers from a rare condition where his genetic clock periodically resets and he finds himself pulled suddenly into his past or future. In the face of this force they can neither prevent nor control, Henry and Clare’s struggle to lead normal lives is both intensely moving and entirely unforgettable.

I read this book, because it sounded very intriguing, but I live to regret that decision. Henry and Clare’s relationship is only based on the fact that on one of his time travels, he landed in a meadow near Clare’s house and he meets her when she is six. During the time when she grows up, Henry keeps popping up every now and then, having given her a list of dates when to expect him so she can meet him in the meadow. When she is twenty, she meets Henry in real time and they start dating.

The meetings between Henry and Clare when Clare is still under-age are uncomfortably laced with pedophile feelings on Henry’s part. Even though Clare is his wife in his present, she is still a child when she first meets him. She grows up in the knowledge that she will become his wife, preventing her from leading a normal life and figuring out for herself who she wants to be with. For a while I thought – and hoped – that Henry had traveled back in time to “meet” Clare when she was six to manipulate her into marrying him when she was finally an adult. That would have made for a much more interesting story!

The author demands a lot of faith from the reader. There are quite a number of inconsistencies with the time traveling theory which defy credibility. If you are going to write science fiction, or insert a science fiction element into your love story, at least make sure it works and is consistent.

Some of the more salient points:

Time traveling is a genetic disorder that Henry has, yet in the beginning when he meets Clare, they have the following exchange:

People only travel in time in movies.”

That’s what we want you to believe.”

Why?”

If everyone time traveled it would get too crowded.”

If his ability to travel in time is due to a rare genetic disorder, there would be no “we” who would like to have everyone believe that people only travel in time in movies. Also, it would not be crowded because there are not that many people with Henry’s genetic disorder.

Also, Henry cannot take anything with him when he time travels. Even his clothes are left behind. Presumably this is not something he can control, it is linked with the genetic disorder of time traveling. However, in explanation to Clare why he cannot take anything, he says:

Well, think about it. If time travelers started to move things around in time, pretty soon the world would be a big mess. Let’s say I brought some money with me into the past. I could look up all the winning lottery numbers and football teams and make a ton of money. That doesn’t seem fair, does it?”

This does not make sense. If Henry’s ability to travel in time is the result of a genetic disorder, there would  be a scientific reason why he cannot bring anything. However, the way he explains it, there is a moral reason for not being able to bring anything with him, which suggests that time traveling is ruled by someone (or a group of persons) who set out the rules and regulations of time traveling.

There are a lot of circular references, as I like to call them, in the book. Starting at the beginning of the book, older Henry travels back in time to teach his younger self how to survive the dangers of time traveling, for example how to pickpocket. Presumably, if older Henry had not taught himself that, his younger self would have struggled more with time traveling. However, young Henry would have had to grow up to become an adult before he could go back to teach himself those skills and at that time, what would be the point of teaching him that? He would have already survived long enough to make it to adulthood and since he cannot change the past, the lessons would not have made an impact.

Another example of this is how Henry convinces Dr. Kendrick to treat him. Dr. Kendrick is not too keen until Henry tells him that his unborn son has Down’s Syndrome and that he will have another, healthy child. Henry would not have had access to that information if he had not traveled back in time with that information, obtained from Dr. Kendrick himself during treatment, and handed it to himself in order to use it to convince Dr. Kendrick. Think about these confusions of cause and effect long enough and you will start to go mad.

I could have maybe overlooked all these inconsistencies if the love story between Henry and Clare had been moving and unforgettable, but unfortunately it is not. The have a lot of sex;, Henry moves in and out of the present; they have a child who they, irresponsibly considering the dangers of time traveling, allow to time travel without worrying about her; and that is about it.

All in all, I cannot recommend this book.