Wednesday, 10 December 2014

TOP READS OF 2014

Strangely, for me, I only got to around a dozen novels this year, most of my reading time taken up with Short Fiction, PhD research and teaching undergrads. The year kicked off with an extraordinarily visceral book, and ended with something no less worthy. Those in between ranged from enjoyable to fabulously mediocre to upsettingly awful, the less dwelt on them the better, and one should always be delighted with a strike rate of one in six. My (likely) last novel of 2014 was another to strike a fierce blow to the gut, a narrative so taut, immersive and affecting, I could hardly face the world or my life for several hours.
 
What Jones' The Dig does so brilliantly is everything I've been drumming into my short story class this term: intensity, compression, timing and lacunae. There's a surgical precision here that invites the reader to regard the text a poem, although the west Wales countryside is always evoked with gritty realism rather than forays into the sentimental. Daniel, a lonely sheep farmer bruised by life's contrails, attempts to forge a life - the reader dealt a devastating blow within pages of meeting him. Solitary and sensitive, he is on a collision course with an unnamed persecutor of badgers, a brutal man so brilliantly drawn as to remind this reader of those quiet psychopaths we brush against from time to time. Tension crescendos like a slowly tightening tourniquet around the chest, the finale perfectly spare and resonant. Muscular, moody and unsettling, there is as much beauty to be found in The Dig as there is poignant despair. This is art at its finest.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

D'OH!

During my time as Editor of Short Fiction, we’ve received some interesting covering letters (emails) with submissions. As a salutary lesson of how not to approach a literary journal, I thought I’d share some with you.

Dear Editor,

  • I'm delighted to say I've chosen you to publish my short story.
  • Hello, I'm [name redacted]. I've always wanted to be a writer. In fact I would say it's my destiny.
  • Obviously I would prefer one of the bigger journals publish my story, but...
  • (From the U.S.) Hello you limey bastard. 
  • Please tell me how much you will pay me for my story.
  • Do you publish novels?
  • I think there's a gap in the market for vampire fiction set in the modern world.
  • I am seven-years-old and have been writing stories all my life.
  • How long is a short story?
  • I look forward to working with you...
  • Please respond to my Linkedin request.
  • Bear with me...
  • You are about to read one of the greatest ever short stories.
  • I need no introduction, but here's one anyway.
  • Here's a story for you to reject.

Monday, 15 September 2014

THE BIG SCREEN

Someone asked for my top ten films the other day, a task, as with books, that's often impossible, the list drawing attention to what's absent. But I had a go anyway.

21 Grams
I could have chosen any of Mexican director Iñárritu’s films, but Penn, Watts and Del Toro are superb in this chronologically fragmented masterpiece of lives crushed by a moment’s tragedy, the title coming from the supposed loss of weight upon death, suggestive of a soul were it not a scientific apocryphal tale.

No Country for Old Men
Violent noir thriller adapted from Cormac McCarthy’s book. Who can forget Javier Bardem’s cattle gun? Brilliantly shot.

Léon
Luc Besson’s intensely beautiful tale, with Jean Reno’s finest role as The Cleaner and a precocious Natalie Portman learning the rigours of a hit man, which apparently includes drinking lots of milk.

Fargo
Now-vintage comedy crime noir from the inimitable Coen brothers.

Dead Man
Unforgettable, stylish outing from Jim Jarmusch. Worth it for Neil Young’s haunting soundtrack alone. Great cast.

The Lives of Others
Remarkably affecting film of a Stasi agent’s moral awakening. Cinema at its finest.

The Usual Suspects
Crime thriller with so many great performances from emerging talent. The final scene in the police station has rightly become iconic.

Withnail and I
‘We’ve come on holiday by mistake.’ Uniquely brilliant.

Before Sunrise/Sunset/Midnight
See how I snuck 3 into 1 here? This poignant romantic trilogy invests the viewer so deeply in Celine and Jesse’s lives. Beautifully shot, exquisite dialogue. Quiet and powerful.

Let the Right One In
Elegant art-house Swedish vampire tale of love and revenge. As ever, avoid the US remake.

Sunday, 4 May 2014

BLOG TOUR

As you know, with any new publication comes an obligatory virtual tour of writerly blogs. It's the law. No, really, it is. Our publishers remove our children, hold them at gunpoint, returning them only once we've fulfilled this promotional frisson. So, with the paperback publication of That Dark Remembered Day on June 19th, I'll be putting it about a bit, literary tart that I am. Do pop along, to chat, to heckle, whatever. With each stop, I'll be giving away a copy of the book. See you anon.

WHO
WHEN
WHAT



19/6

Fun Quiz



26/6

On Structure



3/7
 PTSD 
 & 
Peter and the Wolf



10/7

Word Association



17/7

On Peregrines



24/7

Smash Lits



31/7

Something Funky



7/8

Interview



14/8

 On Writing

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

IN A NUTSHELL

http://www.amazon.co.uk/That-Dark-Remembered-Day-Vowler/dp/075539223X/ref=sr_1_fkmr0_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1394617126&sr=1-1-fkmr0&keywords=that+dark+remembered+day+trade

Tomorrow is publication day, that tiny window when an author looks up from their keyboard, nods in quiet acknowledgement to the fruit of their long labour, before getting on with the next book. You wish it well, hope that it's not bullied, hope you've bestowed upon it enough heft to take care of itself in an often cruel world. 

The coming days/weeks will see the proliferation of that question authors despise, those three words that roughly translate as 'sum up the entire novel for me in a three-second sound bite that centres mostly on plot but also touches upon theme and character, none of which I'll really listen to': WHAT'S IT ABOUT?

So in a preemptive attempt to deflect some of these blows, here, in no particular order, are my current responses.
  • About 320 pages
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • An hour's madness
  • A paean to the peregrine and The Peregrine
  • The legacy of war
  • Fatherhood
  • Friendship
  • Violence and its contrails
  • Read it and see
Perhaps it will be loved, perhaps hated. Anything but indifference. For now I'm grateful some writers I respect and admire have said lovely things about it, which you can read here.

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

FORGIVE ME, FATHER...




If you haven’t heard of David Vann, it won’t be long. My agent sent me his debut, Legend of a Suicide, a year ago – a fabulously original collection of linked narratives that announced his talent (Vann's, not my agent's, though his talents are legion). There have been two novels since – Dirt and Caribou Island – but it’s his third dalliance with the longer form that I caught up with over the last couple of days. Morally challenging – of its characters and readers – Goat Mountain is narrated by an eleven-year-old boy (perhaps from the veiled vantage of adulthood) with astonishing linguistic richness and lyricism, the often-staccato prose also taut and muscular, likely evoking comparisons with Cormac McCarthy.
Paused for a moment, peered curiously around, eyes blinking, some kind of bird too fat to fly. Same thoughts as any bird, thoughts of nothing, no mind. Icy soul of anything made too long ago, bird or reptile or rook. 
Opening with a seemingly inexplicable and devastating moment of violence, the book lays bare three generations of a hunting family – grandfather, father and son – as they try (and fail) to cope with the contrails of this murderous act, their subsequent descent into depravity horribly compelling, as already frail familial binds are stretched and finally severed.

There’s a bleakness laced throughout the narrative, but one tempered by the opulent and visceral imagery, by the lyrical evocation of landscape, the scrub- and burr-laden terrain of northern California, a keenly felt place that acts as both allegory and texture as events play out. And despite this vast ranch beneath its immense skies, we soon become claustrophobic, agitated even, particularly in the build up to one shocking rites-of-passage set piece. There’s a devastatingly unflinching middle section (especially for someone with strong anti-hunt sensibilities, of which I am one), but none of it is gratuitous, forced as we are to reflect on our own potential for savagery and unhinging, given the right (or wrong) circumstances. 

Above all this is a book that asks difficult questions – about the nature of humans, the origins of violence and our capacity to both survive and resist it, to repeat it. It meditates unapologetically on culpability, on what age we become responsible for our actions, on sins that are biblical in origin.
Noah lived nine hundred and thirty years. But we are more ephemeral, risen and walking, made of dust but filled with thirst. Dust that will not rest. And this is god’s will, but his cruelty was to make the dust think, so that it would know its thirst as it walked. 
None of this is to say that the book lacks pace and great tension, or is ever burdened by the heft of its own ideas. It isn’t. Just allow yourself some small space to recover after reaching the shattering denouement.
This bullet would travel endlessly inside him and never find a target. It would travel for thousands of years and hit nothing because it would have a shadow somewhere immovable. Those thousands of years become less than an instant and the bullet vanished and winking into being and gone.
I sense Vann will always write ‘important’ books, or rather his work will achieve that distinction and more with the unfurling of time.

Goat Mountain is published by William Heinemann, £16.99

Sunday, 22 December 2013

EXPECTANT PARENT

If holding your novel for the first time can be likened (loosely) to holding your new-born, perhaps seeing the book’s cover is a little like espying the image of your baby on an ultrasound scan. Perhaps not. Anyway, I got to see the cover for the next novel. What do you think?

OUT in 2014
And here’s an early blurb for the book.

From the author of What Lies Within and The Method, comes a thought-provoking and beautifully written thriller.

A son returns to the small town where he grew up, where his mother still lives and where a terrible event in his childhood changed the lives of every person living there. As the story unfolds through the eyes of the son, the mother and finally, the father, the reader experiences the taut build up to one day's tragic unravelling, and the shock waves that echoed through a once happy family and close-knit community. Will they ever be able to exorcise the damage of that day or do some wounds run too deep?

In exploring the darkest corners of the human heart, Vowler asks whether we can truly know what those closest to us are capable of? Part psychological suspense, part lyrical meditation on fatherhood, war and the natural world, That Dark Remembered Day is a gripping and moving literary thriller that will haunt you to the end.