Thursday, 29 December 2011

Amazon bot has picked up my festive freebie

It seems that's bot has been busy sniffing out folks' special offers. Peril has gone free again on, presumably as the result of a bloghop Smashwords freebie offer.

So, if you're an user and haven't already got hold of Peril on, then dig in!

If you've enjoyed reading Ruby's blog then please sign up to Ruby's News for freebies, advance review copies of upcoming novels and occasional updates. Thanks! 

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Awfully good! The Road by Cormac McCarthy

It’s taken me several days to come back from the place that The Road took me. Oh, yes, I’ve seen the film. So there weren’t a lot of surprises. Nevertheless, I found myself as the man pushing the shopping trolley, trying to avoid cannibals and persevering in the face of fate, all for the love of a son. As a father I can completely understand that.
During the final pages of the book I found myself looking around the train carriage I was travelling in, wondering whether I could bring myself to eat any of the passengers. Not even the old lady opposite, who smelled of ham, seemed appetising. The Road had me so strongly in its grip, but I found that I was one of the good guys. I would never consume human flesh.
I think that McCarthy’s style is ideal for The Road. He eschews the punctuation that normal humans require around dialogue, mixes direct and reported speech, and joins everything together with description of setting and action that colours the canvas like a speed painter. There is just enough to set the reader thinking about what has been left unsaid and the subject matter is perfect for that minimalism. Apocalypse, infanticide, slavery, cannibalism, starvation, futility of being. It sounds grey and ashen, the devastated world that is The Road, but I want back in. Like a dream interrupted by extreme outcomes or some external stimulus, I need to get back in. The man went through so much to protect his son, a continual search for hope and safety. I was that man and I died too, but I’m praying tonight that sleep will set me back on The Road.


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Saturday, 10 December 2011

Hot and sweaty!

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I very much enjoyed this book. It's quite an epic and five different first person narrators really bring the story to life. All my senses were constantly addressed with the headiness of the Congo.

When I reached the end of the family's time at the mission I was looking for the story to end, and felt dismayed that there were over a hundred pages still to go. Looking back now, I appreciate the full denouement that the author has provided.

Kingsolver's method of using the different female voices to tell the story is perfectly applied. We're able to understand the differing perspectives of the mother and the daughters. No doubt Kingsolver considered giving us the voice of the father, but he really isn't meant to be understood.

This book will have you counting your lucky stars that you live in comfort and re-opens a can of worms concerning the involvement of Europe and the USA in Africa.


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Friday, 9 December 2011

How to put your precious manuscript out there as an e-book

Are you an author who wants to publish independently using e-books? I'll try and start you off on the right road ;-]

Ingredients you will need
  • One lovely manuscript, as polished as you and your editing buddies can make it, as an electronic document, ideally in Word. Remember this at all times: version control is essential for all your docs.
  • A professional-looking front cover as a jpg file.
  • A product description - check pages like this and this to see what I mean.
  • Miscellaneous other things to spice and season - think about which genre your book is in, what tags best describe your book.

I've published 3 books on Amazon (2 of mine, 1 for a friend) and it feels like I've got the hang of it now. Key points for Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP):
  • the best format to upload is html. I've tried uploading Word docs to KDP but end up with formatting problems that I can't fix like centred titles, uncontrollable indents etc.
  • I use Word to finalise the formatting and then save as a html. The 'nuclear option' is best - copy paste the entire manuscript into Notepad or some other text editor, then paste back into a blank doc of whatever word processor you use. That will get rid of any bad format habits you may have.
  • Then format all the chapter titles, indents etc to be uniform. Easiest is to 'select all' and format everything the same e.g. Times 12 pt first line indent 0.5cm, then step through the doc and format the titles how you want them. If you have a lot of italics or strange font switches then you'll have to pick them all out individually, best to avoid.
  • Don't use page numbers - keep the header and footer empty.
  • Add disclaimer, copyright etc. in title page.
  • If you like then add some links to blog, website, other books at end of the manuscript
  • Amazon doesn't need an ISBN. They allocate an ASN number that becomes the Amazon reference
  • Upload your html doc and step through all pages on the preview facility. This isn't exactly how it will look on Kindle but it's close. Watch out for any blank pages, misaligned text, html code, anything that shouldn't be there or looks odd.
  • Proceed through the KDP process, click publish and then about 48 - 72 hours later go and buy your own book on Amazon. Download to your Kindle or Kindle for PC and step through the whole book. Go back immediately and make changes to the doc that you uploaded, keep tight version control, upload corrected version. Best to get it right before folk start to pick up your book from Amazon. If you find serious issues then 'unpublish' during the revision process. Get it right, your reputation depends on it.
  • Things that go wrong include having two copies of the front cover in the Kindle book (KDP lets you tick a box to include your jpg within the doc), forgetting the disclaimer / copyright / contact details, typos etc (that confirm the public's worst thoughts about poorly edited indie authors).

I've published 2 books on Smashwords. They insist on a Word doc but the results seem to be more predicatble and better than KDP. You won't sell a lot of copies direct on Smashwords but they distribute to Barnes & Noble, Sony, Apple itunes, Diesel etc. I thought nothing was going on with my Smashwords efforts but just found the other week that I've given away (mostly) and sold (a handful) 1200 copies of Peril at B&N, 50 at Sony and 25 at itunes without even trying. Smashwords produces the mutiple format types required for all the different e-reader devices and also has voucher options which are useful for free giveaways.

Friday, 2 December 2011

Profane language? WTF? Don't read on!

(Seriously, if you are offended by profanity then stop here and just go read the Peril or The Baptist pages.)

I recently sent a copy of The Baptist to a friend's work email as a pdf attachment. She didn't receive the email. She did receive an automatically generated message from her employer's Mail Sweeper programme.

This e-mail has been stopped in Profane Messages. 

A report was attached to the message with the MIMEsweeper Analysis results. She printed a copy and took it to tea-break where the content engendered a lot of discussion. Irish tea-breaks are an occasion for great craic. The consensus was The Baptist contained a lot of action but not enough components to perform it. They discussed the parts of speech.

I've listed the report results below and I have to say that, whilst I didn't intend to write a profane novel, I can remember almost exact each and every page where the offending words occur.

It went a little something like this:

The phrase 'arse' was found at location 70126
and so on. I'll just share the count.
arse x 1
balls x 2
bang x 3
bastard x 12 (quite a lot of bastards, one of them capitalised therefore a pronoun?)
bitch x 6
bloody x 8 (how quaint that bloody should be a profanity in this day and age)
blow job x 1 (shouldn't I have hyphenated the blow-job?)
bollocks x 1 (shouldn't there be at least two of those?)
crap x 2 (okay UK and Ireland it's an expletive)
cunt x 3 (I do apologise, it's very rude word but, in my defence, it was, or rather they were, in dialogue. Not uncommon in Ireland.)
fag x 5 (this means cigarette in UK and Ireland and that was the intention)
fuck x 10 (no argument there)
fucker x 4 (I'm getting an idea for a Christmas song now)
fucking x 21 (in fairness, there is a lot of that going on)
penis x 1 (poor little lad, all on his own, but just goes to show it takes only one)
prick x 3 (oh, right ... well)
queer x 1 (surely acceptable as an adjective?)
sex x 7 (the vanilla version is profane?)
sexy x 2 (sexy too)
shirt-lifter x 1 (at least it's hyphenated, if homophobic, but anyhow it's dialogue)
shit x 11 (a fair amount of which was capitalised, perhaps a placename?)
shite x 1 (the Irish for above)
slut x 1 (so few?)
wanker x 1 (there's always one)
white trash x 2 (confused me, is that profane?).

Right, Christmas is on the horizon. So, in the spirit of the season, I offer:

The Baptist Twelve Days of Christmas

(I'll just go to straight to the last verse)

On the twelfth day of Christmas my true love gave to me
Twelve bastards bragging
Eleven shits a fan-hitting
Ten fucks a flying
Nine fucking expletives (cheated, there wasn't nine of anything)
Eight bloody bus stops
Seven sex in the opens
Six bitches barking
Five ... fags ... a ... puffing!
Four fighting fuckers
Three quiet cunts
Two dangly balls
And a slut arse-wanker penis blow-job bollocks.

(That leaves a spare queer sexy shirt-lifter shite white trash, sounds like one of my characters.)

I'm sure we'll be hearing that little ditty on the radio.

All in the name of literary art, my dears.


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Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Writers and Readers both

If you're a UK Kindle user then here's a great group on Goodreads:

UK Amazon Kindle Forum

Unlike facebook groups or Amazon threads, you can be sure that it's a spam-free zone.

I'm a member of a lot of Goodreads and LibraryThing groups (not to mention facebook) and I have to say that I enjoy my anonymity and can indulge the reader side of Ruby on the reader-oriented platforms.


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Saturday, 19 November 2011

Not just any boy

A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I became really wrapped in Vikram Seth's family saga and had to get it finished before my holiday as this tome is just toooo big to carry around at 1478 pages .

At the start it was a bit challenging with so many characters rushing on-stage. I had differentiating them all from each other as they seemed to be a big bag of sons (successful or ne'er-do-well), daughters (married or unmarriagable, matriarchs and patriarchs. But something dragged me in and held me there. Perhaops it was the atmosphere of post-colonial India just coming to terms with its own societal complexities and the very effective tickling of my senses by Seth's settings.

The year or so covered by this gargantuan novel isn't exactly a day-by-day account, as there are several concurrent threads, but after three hundred pages or so (the size of a regular novel) I had a firm handle on who was doing what and how the threads were likely to intersect. I think this book just wouldn't have worked as anything less than a thousand pages.

Vikram Seth manages to avoid dramatic temptation, working very much on the personalities and their interaction. There are some events of major consequence in the final quarter but no spoilers from this reviewer. I was thrown out of the flow just once or twice, particularly when two chapters ended with a similar homo-suggestive hook that turned out to be a red herring.

A Suitable Boy was been my breakfast companion for six months. I recommend this book to anyone who has the appetite and stamina for heavy reading.


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Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Peer Review; The Blind Leading The Blind?

I'm delighted to have been asked to write a guest post on a new website called (link at end, please read on). It's aimed at short fiction writers (although no height limit is specified, haha, joke) and runs competitions. I'm not known as a flash fiction / short story writer myself, but a couple of my blog posts provoked the site owners into contacting me. They'd also read and enjoyed Peril and gave me some coverage (hopefully I'll get the same for The Baptist!)

Multi-story looks like a very interesting site for those in shorts, offering respectable prizes, judging by professionals, low entry fee and a very comprehensive list of resources on the links page.

The chosen guest subject was one close to my heart - the trials and tribulations of writers that cut their teeth in the ether of peer review writing websites. I was that soldier. Delighted to say that one elephant joke was allowed. Here's the article...

Except for the lucky few, we’ve all been there: typed the closing lines of our first completed work of fiction; sighed with contentment; packaged the manuscript in a glossy folder depicting dolphins or kittens; anointed the query letter with a dab of perfume and presented Mrs Murphy at the Post Office with half a dozen packets of literary heaven.

‘Yes, Mrs Murphy, all this time, living in your midst, like a normal person. I am a writer!’ (Adopts mincing stride and a flourish of the hand).

Next day’s walk to work is on air, knowing that there won’t be many more such mundane days because the agent, publisher and film producer are in a bare-knuckle fight over who will make the most money from that blockbusting masterpiece now winging its way to the literary world.

A few celebratory bottles of wine and several days later the self-satisfaction of the perfectly packaged bundles is wearing off. A couple of weeks and you decide to redecorate walls of your study with all the rejection slips that begin to flood through the letterbox like Hogwarts invitations arriving at the Dursleys’. Clearly the agents and publishers you selected weren’t selected carefully enough. Might the action adventure of a philandering power generation engineer’s international swashbuckling be a little out of their genre? Writers and Artists Year Book in hand, you print another batch of submissions, make a mad dash to the stationers and endure sweaty tussles with other anguished authors over the last remaining large Jiffy bag. Another few weeks and a second wall of the study gets papered with the next wave of responses.

The logical next step presents itself. Consult an expert. Hand over a tidy sum of money to a professional third party in return for a critique of the manuscript, to try and understand why the rejections keep coming. A nice little man, with a peculiar talent for acidity, points out that characters, plot, pace & structure, use of language, narrative voice (what’s that?), dialogue, settings and theme are all awry. But the query letter is nicely fragrant. A discussion of these results with family and friends reveals that any number of them would have happily given you a similar kick in the privates for much less money than you paid to a stranger.

So, now you’ve been battered about the head with what is wrong with the masterwork, how do you put it right? A formal creative writing course is out of the question because you’re broke / agoraphobic / living in the middle of nowhere / in a foreign country / in custody. A bit of internet research reveals that you are not alone. There are global communities of aspiring writers posting their work online, critiquing each other’s efforts and striving to rise above the hoi polloi. Free-to-join websites run by reputable folk. Prizes of professional critique by editors from the big publishing houses. Success stories of authors that have been discovered and offered seven figure publishing contracts. You sign up, format your manuscript for online consumption and prepare for greatness. You are officially in a writers’ group. Happy days.

What happens next depends upon the architecture of the peer review website. In any case, a burst of compulsive activity is likely. You are a newbie and, unless you are somehow familiar with online communities and forums, all those beginners’ mistakes await you. Strangers will offer friendship. Strangers will crawl all over your literary masterpiece and tear the flesh from its bones. Internet trolls await, running out to engage you in flame wars of words if you should clop too loudly across their bridge.

You begin to gather feedback on the pages that you posted for virtual consumption. This involves a reciprocal arrangement with other writers, either in a structured one-for-one review system or through social networking. All of a sudden you’re not just a writer, you’re also a reader, a reviewer, a critic. Folk expect you to be able to constructively critique their work. You make mistakes, go with trends like less is more, show not tell, and where to stick your Oxford commas. You exchange writer jokes on message boards e.g. Marriage isn’t a word, it’s a sentence. LOL. Other acronyms such as POV and IMHO start to become part of your parlance. It’s likely that you will regurgitate criticism, either acknowledging learning from the reviews that you’ve received or biting back at viewpoints and opinions that seem uninformed or spiteful.

Month three of online peer review and there aren’t enough hours in the day, enough days in the week, to do enough reviews, to earn enough credits for reviews of your own work, to network friends, to climb the mountain of the charts and attain that Holy Grail of a pro-crit. Waves of self-doubt wash across your frontal lobe as your chart ranking fluctuates. Newbie reviewers play havoc with your scores as they deliver novice critique of your work. You start to frequent the discussion forum and find solace in the company of other authors, your seniority growing. Is first person, post-modernist narrative voice passé? Should you rewrite in a less florid or less minimalist style to elicit more favourable reviews from the peer group? There seems to be a hard-core clique that know the secrets to all this, the mechanism of the charts and how to spam to the top without being seen to spam. It’s a tough time, you’re not getting anything written except reviews of other people’s work and you’re neglecting the ironing.
Month six and you’ve become a firm member of the old guard. Respected by veterans, dissed by paranoid newbies, considered a part of that alleged clique. Your revised work is doing well and it’s on final ascent to the summit of the charts. Your extended social network is brought into play, posting support requests on Facebook, Twitter and every form of social media known to authors and readers. The last day of the month approaches, there’s a photo finish, a Steward’s appeal and yes, you’re a winner! High fives all round, virtual back-slapping and emoticons aplenty on the forum.

The long wait begins. Will the professional critique confirm your writing skill, honed by crash-course experience in the intense editing and critiquing world of online peers? In the interim, you arse about on the forum, see off a few trolls and grace a few newbies with gratis reviews and critiques. Just for fun you designate a particular aspect of creative writing as your special focus area for the day, using Mittelmark & Newman’s How Not to Write a Novel as your bible.

On Mondays you severely and mercilessly critique a piece, soundly and resolutely thrashing it for excessive use of adverbs.

Tuesdays are an attack on two-dimensional characters, asking that they be fleshed out so that they leap from the page.

Wednesdays you add a little extra, advising the writer to titillate the senses by making sure that all settings are a tasteful olfactory, tactile, audiovisual experience.

Thursdays are the day to attack any speech tag other than ‘said’.

Friday is for fish and you go angling for inadvertent red herrings that mislead the reader.

Saturday deals with the identity parade syndrome, taking down an author or two that uses a mirror or other blatant device to give a photo-fit description of characters with big dark eyes, silken hair, a matching twin set in cornflower blue and average size breasts.

Sunday you weed out the clichés from a newbie’s work and leave them with the bare bones of a plot that then magically takes on the tone a Scandinavian detective drama.

You’ve discovered the power to weave straw into gold. Your username is by now well known on the site and has a well-earned reputation for being firm but fair. Empowered by the journey, it’s time to launch new forum discussion threads about the fine differences between similes and metaphors, the plausibility of hyperbole, and to draw attention to an outbreak of anthropomorphism in the newbie writings you have come across. Wikipedia serves you particularly well in the formulation of your position on these matters.

At last the professional critique of your novel opening chapters arrives online. Some jumped-up junior editor from a big publishing house has totally panned your labour of love. Two-dimensional characters. The plot premise is unbelievable. Stilted dialogue. Over-described, over-told, indefinite genre, unmarketable. It has to be a mistake. The reviewer must have read a different book to the one that tens, hundred of people have voted for with their virtual feet. You followed their suggestions to the letter, those experienced online authors with knowledge of narrative voice, point of view, story arcs, prologues, scene, sequels, antagonists, conflict, protagonist, sensory perception. The result was almost edible and some young know-nothing has regurgitated it in your face, in public, for thousands of peers to see. Well, she’s obviously wrong. To hell with the dead-tree publishers. You go straight to Kindle Direct Publishing and begin to upload your novel as an independent e-book. That’ll show them.

I’ll finish with a parable. Six blind men were asked to describe an elephant by touching its body. One felt the tail and said that the elephant was like a hairy rope. Another grasped a leg and said that it resembled a tree. A third handled the ear and was sure that it was a great flying bat. The fourth was snuffled by the trunk and said that an elephant was a mighty snake, bigger than a python. The tusk was touched by another who claimed that it was surely a unicorn. The sixth found its huge eye and knew that it must be a giant squid. None of them could describe the hole. [sic] is a new website aimed at short fiction writers. It has some very interesting content and an excellent links page.

No authors were hurt in the making of this post.


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Monday, 14 November 2011

Any resemblance is purely coincidental

When I launched Peril (original title The Rise and Fall of Ger Mayes - catchy huh?), a few early readers asked if there was an element of autobiography in the book. They were mostly people that knew me.

Of course there's an autobiographical element in most fiction. It doesn't mean that a thriller writer is a murderer (although it doesn't preclude it either!) but the author does have to have a mind that can conceive the murder. So, am I the philandering, hapless, conscience-free anti-hero Ger Mayes in Peril? If you've read the book then maybe we can meet up for a coffee, go for a few beers, get in a fight, visit a dodgy nightclub. A regular night out in Kilkenny. Then I'll let you be the judge and jury.

A little overseas incident came to mind this weekend and I thought I'd share it. Peril readers might recognise the behavioural traits.

About fifteen years ago I was working as export sales manager for a burglar alarm company in Rochdale, Lancashire. The boss was a millionaire megalomanic who made us park our green company BMWs with the bonnets facing out so he could drool over his fleet. Now, he was probably more Ger Mayes than I am.

Anyhow, I was secretly waiting on work permission for another job in Switzerland and tried to wangle some german language lessons out of my boss on the strength of needing to boost our sales there. He, being the smart business cookie that he was, did a spot analysis of export markets and concluded that I needed to improve my french instead of my german. So I found myself at the lovely Isabelle's language school and we happily conjugated together for a few blissful weeks.

The boss endured this as long as he could and then registered me for a local Chamber of Commerce business trip to France. It was all in modest northern style - take the train through the Chunnel, stay in a budget hotel, visit as many potential business partners as possible and bring back the wonga. My compatriots in the Chamber posse tolerated me as a young upstart, not quite fitting into the group profile. I didn't come from old merchant money (or any money, in fact), spoke with a slightly posh accent, didn't smoke and had all my own hair.

On the day of the adventure I woke up early to a sharp frost. The windows of my car were thick with ice so I let the engine run to warm up and defrost. After three minutes of scraping the outside of the car I heard a click. The doors had locked themselves, the key still in the ignition, engine warming up nicely. I didn't have a spare key.

It took a bit of pacing around the car for me to realise that there was only one option. I bunched my fist and gave the rear quarter-light window a sharp karate punch. There was a crack, but not of glass, of knuckle. My arm felt numb from finger to elbow. I picked up a rock from the flower bed and smashed the window with it, using my other hand. There wasn't too much blood.

The train journey went smoothly, thanks to a few cans of beer and some painkillers. I kept my swelling hand under a newspaper, read a book and made small talk when necessary. The guy next to me spent the entire time playing with some kind of gadget that he called a Nintendo.

'I've never read a book in my life,' he said in between games. 'I can't concentrate long enough.'

We hurtled down to the south of England and through the newly built tunnel that linked Blighty with the old foe. It was a strange feeling, travelling through a tunnel under the sea. The thought of terrorist attack or some kind of accident was never far from our minds.

Lille was our end destination and the hotel lived up to expectations. Greyish linen, small hard soaps and a breakfast to cry for. But at least the weather was like home - a constant, driving rain. I put up my British brolly and ran around the corner to the car hire place from which my boss had rented me a nice little Clio, the cheapest thing on the menu.

At that time there were no toll roads in the UK and the idea of paying to drive on a motorway was anathema to me (ergo my boss too). I drove up to the entry barriers in my entry-level Clio and pondered the situation in the ongoing downpour. My breath was steaming up the windscreen so I played with the air controls until it cleared.

There, at the side of the last, unmanned booth, was a narrow gap between some bollards. It looked small, too small for my BMW, but I managed to squeeze the tiny Clio through without scraping the bodywork. The road opened out in front of me, the sky cleared and I was free to ride the highways. All the way up to the next city where my first business meeting awaited.

At the required exit I came to another booth. This time there was no gap to sneak through.

'Billet, s'il vous plait,' the monsieur said.

Isabelle, help me now, I thought.

'Je n'ai pas le billet,' I said, hopefully, naively and then desperately.

'Impossible! Impossible!' the excited cashier shouted.

So, the company credit card was charged with the entire length of the Autoroute from wherever to wherever. I resolved to wear my gumshield and groin protector for the debrief with the boss back home.

The meetings went off okay that day and the next. I chattered animatedly, wanting to impress with my grasp of language and panicked by my lack of comprehension when my would-be business partners started to respond in their native tongue.

On the second night the entire Chamber posse got hopelessly drunk and I told my Autoroute toll story with great embellishment (unlike here, which is the bare bones).

We rose the next morning to find that a French lorry had caught fire in the Chunnel, blocking our exit from the country. Twenty-three hours wait for a place on a delayed ferry in choppy seas, then the slow train to London and on to Manchester.

These days I approach the Irish motorway toll booths with trepidation. I have a barely controllable urge to find an illegal way through. If I see a car parked with its engine running I have a strong urge to break the window with the nearest rock. And I've never been back in the Chunnel.

So, yes. I guess I am Ger Mayes, in parts. I've often found myself in some kind of peril.

But I'm definitely not The Baptist!


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Monday, 7 November 2011

It's Tudor time - inside the head of Thomas Cromwell

Ruby's review of Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Wolf Hall won the Man Booker Prize for fiction in 2009 and caused quite a stir at the time for a couple of reasons. Mantel's book was derided by many as just another Tudor saga, nothing new, a docudrama of sorts. The other main objection was that it was unreadable. Some people cited the numerous characters named Thomas as causing confusion, others said that the overall cast was too broad. Together, these objections were enough to stop me rushing out and buying the book at the time. Then, two weeks ago, I happened across a copy and decided to put it to the test.
Now, I’ll be honest and say that I can’t get enough of the Tudor genre. Henry and his harem – divorced, beheaded, died – divorced, beheaded, survived. And the Reformation of the church in Britain remains a contentious topic, especially here in holy Catholic Ireland. In the last couple of years I’ve read and enjoyed a number of novels set in the period, including Dark Fire by C.J. Sansom and The Queen's Fool by Philippa Gregory. I might revisit my bookshelves and designate a Tudor shelf. Wolf Hall will sit proudly on it and I'm going to tell you why, but the novel has a flaw which loses one star from this reviewer. First, the good stuff.
Thomas Cromwell is the cornerstone of Mantel’s tome. Not the Roundhead fella that wreaked havoc around the place, de-feathering cavaliers, beheading kings and ruining a lot of perfectly good castles in Scotland, Ireland and Wales. That was Oliver. No, Thomas Cromwell was the guy that became Henry VIII’s right hand man.
Wolf Hall deals with the period leading up to the ecclesiastical schism between England and Rome. This might sound like dry stuff, administrative and diplomatic wranglings, but Mantel turns it into a story of relationships, everything revolving around Cromwell. She builds the fate of the country upon his character, a great structure of power rising from a man of pragmatic principles. There is violence and torture, there are executions, burnings, beheadings, but none of it is gratuitous. Physical relationships occur and are often outrageous but not explicit.
Mantel doesn’t titillate with bawdiness. She leads the reader through the same minefield (anachronism I know, but what’s the Tudor equivalent?) that Cromwell faced in order to deliver his king a divorce, a new wife and the wealth of the church. She does, however, titillate the senses with a sumptuous serving of Tudor sights, sounds, smells and tastes. To read Wolf Hall is to look through Thomas Cromwell’s eyes, to feel his frustrations and lust, to share his victories.
The narrative viewpoint is so firmly Cromwell’s that it’s almost a first person account. It took me a couple of hundred pages to realise that. Whenever Mantel refers to what ‘he’ is thinking or doing, the ‘he’ is almost invariably Cromwell, even if it is a room crowded with men. Therein lies my only negative mark for Wolf Hall. The second chapter almost had me giving up, so many male characters with similar voices in dialogue and the narrative describing what ‘he’ was thinking. I hadn’t realised that Cromwell was and would be the dominant viewpoint.
Wolf Hall left me with a lasting moral that pragmatism is the trail of breadcrumbs which leads us through the forest of life’s complexities. There was no more dangerous and confusing time in England’s history than the Reformation. Idealists found themselves turn torturer and then subsequently themselves bound to the stake as the wind of change turned and fanned the flames at their own feet. Of course, Cromwell didn’t outlive Henry and met his own sticky end, but that’s not in this book. This is a feel good story.
My parting word on Wolf Hall is that I think the title is an ingenious little device. To find out why that might be, you’ll have to read the book!


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Sunday, 6 November 2011

They've found Yani, under the floorboards

Those words caught me freeze frame. The game was up.

In her grief, my ex-girlfriend Brit had loved that dog too much. Typical girl.

I had inhaled Brit's last words from her mouth. It was sweet. I'll say that for her, my ex-love. She was always fresh and fragrant. In the way that some people are.

Scandinavian. Norwegian, to be exact. Alpine.

It was planned. I can't even remember why, just that it had been a typical exercise in Ruby Barnes attention to detail. The kicked-to-death dog, buried. The objecting, strangulated ex-girlfriend, buried with the dog. A few keepsakes, everything free of trace DNA. But, when I heard that they'd found Yani, something transpired that I hadn't exactly planned for.


No DNA or other modern TV methodology could entrap me. I'd made very sure of that. Encased in the concrete floor of a new apartment. A beautiful Danish woman, mid-thirties. Her toy poodle, aged whatever. Personal accoutrements in a time capsule. What I didn't account for was the guilt.

'They've found Yani,' my wife said.

The urge to confess was like a regurgitated breakfast.

How could I withstand the inevitable police interrogation?

My wife needed only to ask the questions:

Did you murder Brit and her dog? I knew you were having an affair but why did you kill her? And why the hell did you kill her pet dog? You bastard.

She had no idea how annoying a spoilt pet dog could be. Or a mistress who had, as friend and confidante, a spoilt pet dog.

And then the police. A perfectly planned murder with no trace evidence, except human guilt. I don't need to imagine Gene Hackman, Robert De Niro and pals, twisting the evidence. I am the piggy, waiting to squeal.

The moral of the story is that the planning of murder is not the weakest link. When you kill, carefully cleanse, formally lay to rest and move on, your psyche must follow suit.

I knew that the finding of Yani meant that they would find Brit in the next forty-eight hours. I knew that my wife's mention of Yani would lead to an inquisition that I could not withstand. Then a police investigation to follow. I was untrained in facial and body language denial.

It took me three hours to extricate myself from this dream sequence, after waking.

While I struggled with reality, my family faced a real life challenge.


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Friday, 4 November 2011

Bunfight at the Breaffy House Hotel

The toaster was on go-slow at breakfast this morning in the Breaffy House Hotel, Castlebar, County Mayo. I looked at the queue, gauged the speed of the toaster and just knew that it was trouble waiting to happen. There was an apologetic ducking and diving in and out of the queue and I walked away with two slices of not quite toasted bread. This didn't drive me into an apoplectic fit. I guess that's just the sort of guy I am.

I took my anaemic slices, with some real butter and apricot jam, back to the family table and looked after myself. On the way I almost walked into a big, muscular chap with dreadlocks. He came bounding into the nearly empty breakfast room with a 'Here I am, yes, it's me, I shall select my own table' demeanour. Good for him.

The family joined together at our table from their various hunter gatherer ventures and began to eat silently. They took turns to look at me and then around the room. All very odd, as it's usually twenty questions from my ten year-old daughter or a spontaneous quiz from my seven year-old lad.

After a while my daughter said 'Will you tell him, Mum? Or shall I?'

What could it be? Had I forgotten to put on my trousers (again)? Had they sold some copies of Peril or The Baptist to the underpaid continental staff?

'You'll have to promise not to do anything about it,' my lady wife said.

I knew immediately that she had experienced a confrontation and my chivalrous tendencies, always resulting in disaster, were being manipulated. Any man who insults my wife can expect to feel the full fury of my chin on his fist. It always ends badly and the blood doesn't come off my shirt.

'Of course,' I said, slyly crossing my fingers under my toast.

'Well, we had an encounter at the toaster.'

'He had flat white hair,' my son said.

'Go on.'

I tried to follow the gaze of my son who was attempting to hint at the location of the provocateur. Unfortunately my son has a squint when not wearing glasses so there were several suspects. I turned round and glared at them all. One white haired man stared back angrily. He must be the one, I thought. I'll kick his stick away.

My daughter began to chatter. 'He stole my toast. He was upset because it took two goes to get it to toast properly. Then he took my toast, argues with Mum and told her to stop being rude and shut up!'

I looked at my wife and she nodded.

'I walked away,' she said. 'He was English,' she added by way of explanation.

She's Irish, I'm English, eight hundred years of oppression and all that.

'He had a round face,' my son said.

I looked round the room again. Perhaps if I made every man say 'castle' then I could identify the offender and mash his round face into his full Irish breakfast (FYI fried egg, baked beans, black pudding, white pudding, scrambled egg, potatoes, tomatoes, sausages, bacon rashers and toast).

'Too late, he's gone,' she said.

I didn't believe her and the rest of the meal was spent scowling at the remaining breakfasters and muttering revenge under my breath. I would ankle-tap the fella at the top of the stairs and then walk away, unseen. I would confront him face-to-face and demand an apology, treating his first invasion of my one metre personal space as an assault and then unleash Ruby the Kick Boxer (I would need to do half an hour stretching first).

To cool off we all went for a swim. Once in the pool, I isolated the kids and interrogated them, up close.

'He had black wiry hair and a brown face,' said my son.

Flat white hair and a round face. I didn't have my hearing aids in and had misheard at the breakfast table. The self-proclaiming egomaniac who almost made me drop my soggy toast. He was a big, muscled guy.

Over a glass of wine this evening my wife revealed more. The guy had been very aggressive to her and the kids, and she'd said she would tell her husband (that would be me, defender of her honour).

'And I'll take your husband out front and beat him up,' he had said.

Her discretion was the better part of my valour. Ankle-tap would have been the weapon of choice, or perhaps a bitch slap with an apricot jam smeared slice of toast.

I'll get him next time, when he least expects it. Ninja Ruby.


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Tuesday, 1 November 2011

He's here.

It's dark outside, the evenings are drawing in. You want to snuggle up with a loved one but they're away, out of reach. You open your kindle and decide to scare the hell out of yourself instead. Well, here's something fit for purpose. The Baptist has launched on Smashwords, and

More about The Baptist on the page up top.

Right, enough selling and back to the blog...

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Monday, 31 October 2011

Crying in the rain

Dig down through the soil in any part of my garden and you’ll hit a solid pan of pebbles and boulders. It comes as a surprise after two feet of soft, rich soil. A hard, jolting surprise. The tines of your fork bend as you try to find a way through, to ease the foreign matter loose. Your neat hole dug for the fence, trellis or gazebo post becomes enlarged and distorted in the search for the margins of a large boulder. When the obstruction is revealed in all its terrible glory, the shaft of the spade snaps in an attempt to lever the monster free from the earth.
This isn’t a natural feature of my back garden. There’s no glacial or ancient river-bed explanation, it was caused by huge earth-shifting lorries that used my back yard as a throughway during the construction of the housing estate seven years ago. There’s no such easy explanation for the obstruction under my own soft surface. It was found beneath my ribs, after I broke them in a karate sparring session. The boulders can be dug out of the garden with the right tools. My cancer couldn’t be removed. It was part of me.
James loves the garden. He’s not a typical boy. The flowers and vegetables are safe from harm when he’s around, unless he has other, more boisterous, playmates to visit. We have the accoutrements of childhood - footballs, sliotars, a rugby ball, the usual sport playthings, but James doesn’t kick the heads off the roses or bash the broccoli. He inhales the scents, wonders at the earth’s creative abundance and carries ladybirds from tree to tree. My special son with unique focal powers. He dwells within a spectrum of disorders, a fitting word for the range of colours and lights that brighten his world.
From the front of the house I call to my family, each of them busy, indulging in their own favourite pastime. They don’t hear me or, if they do, there’s no response.
My wife, Leah, reads a novel. When she doesn’t read, she sleeps on the white stitched, dark brown leather of the Italian sofa in the playroom. We chose that sofa together, just before the recession took hold. There was a bitter fight with the bankrupt furniture company to get it delivered.
Sarah plays her silver-plated flute, bought with her own money saved from birthday, Christmas and Holy Communion gifts. At age six she drew her first note from a flute at the music school open day and took a firm vow to one day buy her own. Now ten, she picks up any new classical piece from sheet music within minutes. It’s too early to say she’s a prodigy but the sound is heavenly.
I walk through to the back of the house, calling for them again. James hears me first, his ear ever tuned for my voice. He looks up from his Lego and I stoop down to ruffle his hair. When he’s not playing Lego or exploring the garden, James likes to watch recorded TV programmes that include quizzes, facts and figures. He’ll stand in front of the screen and speak the answers in time with the contestants, every high and low score of the series stored in a memory that can’t remember where he left his shoes.
I became needy. The family understood that. I didn’t show pain and they didn’t smother me with sympathy. They showed that they cared by respecting my needs when I had to have one or another to keep me company.
‘Let’s take a turn around the grounds,’ I say.
Leah lets her glasses slip down her nose, gives a tight smile and returns to her book. Not her.
Through the archway, in the dining room, Sarah runs through a minuet and hits a wrong note.
‘That should be a sharp,’ I call to her.
‘I’ll play that again,’ she says and runs through the tune, an emphasis placed on the corrected tone.
‘I don’t know how your father could tell the difference,’ Leah mutters from behind her book.
James stands and I put my hand down to his.
‘We’re going outside, Mum. We’re going outside.’
‘Yes, dear. Come in if it rains.’
He unlocks the door and hooks it open.
‘Down here, Dad. Down to the orchard, where it’s squelchy.’
It’s just a dwarf Granny Smith’s apple and a Victoria plum tree. I built the trellis across the garden to give an illusion of a secret garden. This is where I did battle with buried boulders. This is where I sit on my bench, listening to the birds and watching James gather the autumn leaves.
‘Look, Dad. These aren’t from our tree.’ He holds up a fistful of oak leaves that have blown in from the neighbour’s garden.
Sarah’s flute strikes up a new tune, a march. The notes stride down from the house, and James stomps around the base of the apple tree, his shoes hitting the waterlogged ground with the sound of troops crossing the marshes.
‘Let’s dance,’ he says and takes my hand, swinging his arm to the military step. He will never be too self-conscious, too embarrassed to hold his father’s hand. James doesn’t see, hear or feel other people’s opinions. But he sees me, feels the strong, assuring grip of my hand on his.
My feet make no splash next to his. The rain begins to fall, pattering the leaves. The tears of an absent father.

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Saturday, 29 October 2011

Guess who's coming to town? And it ain't Santa.

My new serial killer e-book will get an airing on Amazon and Smashwords next week, so I'm moving all things Baptist to the new page for The Baptist. In my defence, I was having a lot of strange dreams at the time of writing and I'm not sure where all the darkness comes from, but I know where it goes.

The Baptist won fourth place in the YouWriteOn Book of the Year Award 2011.

Here's the Amazon 'Click to LOOK INSIDE' preview

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Just when you think it's safe to go back into the water

We've all heard the stories of infection risks from fish pedicure. Even in small-town Ireland the word has spread to Kilkenny folk and perhaps that's why they stay away in droves from the two new fish pedicure places in town.

I was walking through Market Cross shopping centre a few days ago and found myself lured into a shop by a glamorous young lady. She then sat painting her nails while the kids and I stared at a dozen tanks of titchy fish that raced around looking for their missing lunch. My wife's tough jogging feet sprang to mind and I bought her a gift voucher - because she's worth it.

One week later and I urged her to redeem the voucher. We got a call from the MacDonagh Junction branch just as we were perusing the tarantulas and goldfish at the new pet store. Redemption was imminent.

Things were buzzing over at the fish pedicure place - there was a young lad having his toes nibbled as his dad looked on.

'Which ones haven't eaten all day?' I asked and the girl guided our hosed-down wife / mother victim to a tank full of piranhas.

Little known to us, one of the fish had mutated after excessive feeding and the result is in the picture above.

It was like a slow murder scene from Austin Powers. She still has nightmares.


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Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Nineteen reviews - time to clear the decks with a new page for Peril fans

It's nearly ten months since Peril was launched as an e-book and there have been nineteen reviews posted by readers on various public access websites (Amazon, Smashwords etc). So, to decrease clutter and stop me blowing the Ruby trumpet, I've created a new page for Peril reviews to keep the blog clear for general articles.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Here's something refreshing

I'm a big fan of Melody Gardot, Julie Feeney, Jennifer Warnes, beautiful and melodic female voices. If you like a bit of blues or just a sweet tone then take a listen to this young lady Sam-Hannah-Turner and let her know if you like it. Mighty oaks and all that.

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Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Saturday, 15 October 2011

What's that lying under my car? Is it a monster, is it a monster?

Last night I came home from work, sat my wife and two young children (7 and 10 years old) down, and said
'I have a story to tell you and I swear that it is true. When I've finished I want you to give the story a score out of ten.'

They just laughed, pretty much used to me stringing them along, but I had a captive audience. Mrs B was just out of the shower and, it being late, the kids were keen to do anything other than go to bed. So they listened. It went like this.

A few days ago I was on a business trip to Cork city with a work colleague. We left early and travelled together in her car. She insisted on doing all the driving. That meant a four hour round trip and we sandwiched that around a meeting with hospital consultants, bump-starting and then jump-starting her car, and a national conference on Diabetes. It was a long day. I could tell she was getting worn out towards the end of the driving (no comments on her driving prowess and yes, I had offered). I was chattering away and getting fed up of listening to my own voice. She was probably tired of listening but too polite to say so.

It was early evening when we pulled into the car park back at base. Most folk had gone home. I thanked her for the day and headed into my darkened room for half an hour, supposedly to catch up on work email. Peril had sold a few copies, the blog traffic was good, Ruby_Barnes tweeted some nonsense. Then I went out to my cold car and drove home.

About an hour later my friend left the building. Dark and windy, autumn leaves wafting around the odours of early fall. She walked over to her car, parked in a now dimly lit area beneath some big old chestnut trees, and climbed back in behind the wheel for the drive home to her family.

She turned the key and started the engine. Roaring and screaming came from somewhere outside the car. There was nothing to see through the windows but the noise was too terrible to ignore. She switched off the engine, opened the door and stepped out. There was no-one and nothing around. Just fallen leaves and the prickly husks of horse chestnuts. No attack victims, no tortured animals. But the noise continued and a banging started to come from underneath her car. She bent down to have a look and found a man on the ground under her car, clothes torn and covered in blood. He was trapped under the engine.

Two other colleagues were still at work. They raised the alarm and soon the Guards (police) and an ambulance arrived. The car was lifted and paramedics eased the blood-soaked man from under my friend's car. She was distraught, wondering whether she had run him over somewhere between Cork and Kilkenny and he had clung for his life to the undercarriage, the flesh torn from his back by the rough country roads. Or he'd been the last customer at the golf pitch and putt course next to our offices and we'd run him down when he'd squatted to retie his shoelace or something.

(At this point my kids were spellbound and my wife was looking at me through narrowed eyes.)

The Guards and ambulance crew managed to piece together what had occurred. During the extra hour that my friend had been working in the office, a tramp had been sitting on a stone bench near the car park, drinking from a bottle. He dropped his bottle and it rolled under the car. The guy crawled under the car for his booze and managed to get his head wedged between the ground and the engine. In his drunken thrashing  he broke the glass bottle and cut himself on it. There was a lot of blood but his condition wasn't life threatening.

My friend was traumatised by the experience and vowed never to work late again in case someone crawled under her car and injured themselves. The drunk was taken off to the local hospital for stitches and is probably now back on the loose with his new set of battle scars.

The listeners' verdict:

Mrs B scored me zero out of ten and said I had committed a basic story-telling error and failed to suspend disebelief. It couldn't possibly be true, the tale was probably only partially accurate and I had embellished it. She wasn't impressed.

My daughter gave me ten out of ten. She was gripped by the story, horrified at times and slightly relieved by the ending.

Seven out of ten was the score from my seven year-old son. He said he would have given full marks if the tramp had died.

Just because true life is stranger than fiction doesn't mean that it's believable. Or maybe it's the way I tell 'em. Perhaps I should switch from thrillers to YA.


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Friday, 14 October 2011

Thanks to @WodkeHawkinson

I was fortunate enough to be interviewed by the lovely Karen Wodke Hawkinson and the results are posted on Yahoo Associated Content. Here's a narcissistic snippet:

Ruby Barnes, author of Peril, dedicates his writing to the memory of his grandfather, the late Robert 'Ruby' Barnes. In addition to his writing, he also maintains a blog. Ruby has that unique talent for creating characters the reader both loves and hates, and simultaneously roots for and against. From the shipyards of Port Glasgow to the industrial heartland of Southern England, through the fractured reaches of mountainous North Wales and across Scotland 's bottomless lochs, Ruby has traveled and found inspiration for the misfits, rogues and psychopaths that haunt his writing. He is now based in sometimes sunny Kilkenny, Ireland. I was fortunate that Ruby graciously took time from his busy schedule to grant me the interview that follows:

Can you identify a moment when you knew you wanted to be a writer? What was that moment like?
That moment was when, as a teenager, my English teacher accused me of plagiarism over a poem I had written comparing an ancient tower with a mountainside, two sentinels observing time passing by. My parents also disbelieved that it was my own work. It was a moment of incredulity and elation. Then I was heavily marked down for suspected copying.
Read more here...

Friday, 30 September 2011

It's such a great read, I have to share my thoughts.

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It's taken me a few days to emerge from the world of Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I totally understand why this book is a prize winner.

Post-colonial Africa holds a morbid fascination for me. There are several excellent non-fiction books that describe the inexorable slide of newly independent nations into despotism and chaos. Crises of the day are tattooed into our memories by media coverage, be that accurate or otherwise, but we are often left ignorant of the post-colonial devastation of Africa. Apart from the association of a country called Biafra with acute starvation, I had little memory of Nigeria's independence or Biafra's secession. I was too young (not often that I can say that these days). Genocide was a word that I associated with other places, other times. That was until I read this book. It’s such a powerful piece of writing that I feel I’ve lived through it.

Adichie’s alternating third-person viewpoint lets the reader into the strongly differing characters of Ugwu, Olanna and Richard. Kainene is something of an enigma as we never read from her viewpoint and that suits her character very well.

Ugwu brings his latent intelligence out of the humble village and grows in the relative splendour of Odenigbo’s home. He experiences lust, envy, loyalty and self-loathing as he travels through the story. A boy with a strong moral code, he does commit offences as do all the characters, but his ethics are perhaps the purest.

Richard is self-obsessed, insipid and weak-willed. He’s doomed to always be ineffectual and peripheral. The world goes mad around him as he indulges in the delusion of being an author. It takes a great deal of life tragedy for him to find backbone. Like a fly on the wall, the corruption, murder and starvation pass him by, personally, but he observes everything up close, uncomfortably so.

Olanna gently rejects the opulence of her parents’ corrupt lifestyle and opts for a more altruistic existence with the academic idealist Odenigbo. The small sacrifices that she makes snowball into a cataclysm of starvation as the country tears itself in two and then suffers forcible reunification. Her relationship with Odenigbo mirrors the fate of their homeland.

Kainene is the strongest of them all. As the others lurch from crisis to infidelity, she is the stalwart. Protected from the emotive events by a social awkwardness, she provides a focused ending to the book.

These characters are so real that I could swear I’ve met them. They’re fallible, admirable, alluring and frustrating. Each comes into their own at different times in the story.

The settings tickled my senses. Privileged Nigerian society led me into a web of decadent iniquity. I wandered through the Nigerian gardens, sniffing their blooms, tasted Ugwu’s pepper soup, and indulged in drunken intellectual rants of an evening.

During the food shortages I found myself running to the cupboard and digging out tinned goods that had been at the back of the shelf for ages. I opened a can of mystery meat and enjoyed my corned beef and mustard sandwich with the savour of someone who has been close to starvation for three years. Or was it one hundred pages? I ran a very tight kitchen for that phase of the book.

In addition to brilliant characterisation and aromatic settings, this book also deals excellently with many tricky themes such as the apparent futility of intellectual altruism, mankind’s inherent capacity for cruelty, and racism within racism (black, white, tribal).

Adichie conveys all of this with a seamless power of observation, imparting a storm of emotion and a litany of events without the reader feeling that a story has been told. This is a story that lives.


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Saturday, 17 September 2011

Spread your tiny wings

Little Bird of Heaven by Joyce Carol Oates

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book was a wonder to me. A wonder that I enjoyed it so much, bearing in mind that the pivotal event is handed, pre-announced, to the reader. The rest of the book circles around this event, delivered mostly in two narratives that move in towards it, away from it and then meeting back up at the end. I gave Testimony by Anita Shreve a low score and that followed a similar format. Why then is Little Bird of Heaven by Joyce Carol Oates a more enjoyable read?

I found the author’s style off-putting for the first few pages. This was the first of her books that I’ve read and the constant use of dashes for pauses and italics for emphasis nearly made me put it down. I’m glad that I didn’t. It soon became a book that I looked forward to picking up every chance I had.

Krista Diehl’s first person narrative is very touching. She recalls events over the course of several years, admitting her own naivety and showing how her intuition developed into perception during that time. Her absolute, unwavering faith in and love for her father is something that any man could only hope for. That man is on a clear path to doom and Oates tells the reader on the first page that Eddy Diehl will die in a hail of police bullets. What is gripping is the emotional turmoil the characters endure as the Diehl family is ripped apart by infidelity and false accusation. Sections of narrative are introduced e.g. a section from Eddy Diehl’s perspective during his initial police interrogation, that give valuable insight into his state of mind and the mistakes he makes.

Oates uses concentric story circles of two men, Eddy and Delray, hell-bent on self-destruction through their attraction to the ill-fated Zoe who ultimately betrays them both and leaves a poison legacy of suspicion. Outside of these two men run the stories of Eddie’s daughter, Krista, and Delray’s son, Aaron. Krista is described through her own thoughts and words. Aaron is described more in the physical sense initially. His dominant presence is tangible and Krista’s attraction to him seems terrible but logical.

As Aaron becomes older, his persona turns into Krull and this character comes to life through his actions and reflections. As he, in effect, loses his father, the character becomes more sympathetic and he moves into a similar space as Krista. Both he and she have lost their fathers and Jacky DeLucca’s confession brings them together years later. This reunification is also telegraphed early on by Oates, giving credence to what otherwise might seem an improbable turn of events.

I did have a problem with the Jacky DeLucca character. When Krista meets her for the first time, Jacky’s dialogue is very heavy and I felt like the story was being delivered through her mouth. The same with her confession at the end. She seemed too eloquent and I just wanted her to stop. It was obvious that the killer was one of Zoe’s murkier lovers and Jacky’s lengthy disclosure didn’t sound like a woman dying of liver cancer. That’s my only complaint.

To end on a high point, this has to be the first book I’ve read that ends with a sex scene and well done it is too. The requiting of eighteen years of lust is a fitting climax and it’s bittersweet. I’ll definitely try more from this author.


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Wednesday, 7 September 2011

The summertime has come (and gone) and the hills are softly blooming

As Gary Newman (who?!) would say, it's a burning car. The cool autumn draws in and our citizens resort to the traditional method of generating warmth. Pic taken recently by a member near Bohernabreena, County Dublin.

Well, there hasn't exactly been a summer here in Ireland, but I've finished my free giveaway of PERIL on Smashwords. If you downloaded it then I hope you enjoy the trials and tribulations of Ger Mayes. All reviews gratefully received - the good, the bad and the ugly.

P.S. If you're a LibraryThing member, look out for PERIL as a member giveaway.

If you've enjoyed reading Ruby's blog then please sign up to Ruby's News for freebies, advance review copies of upcoming novels and occasional updates. Thanks! 

Thursday, 25 August 2011

We don't need this fascist groove thang

I'm white. No, I don't mean Caucasian (although that's true). What I mean is that my skin is really white. That's what comes of being descended from Celts and growing up on an island off the north west coast of Europe. So, during the last three weeks of a holiday in central Europe, my family and I did our best to make adjustments to our skin tone. We wanted to look more 'normal'.

It wasn't a great idea. We just don't have the required melanin. The open-air swimming pool was bathed in a brilliant white light as the sun bounced off our lustrous skin. Glowing aliens from another firmament. When not trying to dodge between sunbeams, whilst applying sun protection factor 50, we played the game look! he's whiter than you are. None of the females were as white as us. Some of the more time-served ones were positively mahogany.

This holiday destination, like so many others in Europe, considers a chocolate tan to be the ultimate fashion accessory. Then it proceeds to hold people with a naturally dark colour in disdain.

We didn't spend the entire vacation at the town pool. Much of our time was out and about, during which we couldn't help but notice the prominent posters of ongoing political election campaigns. Smiling, serious, smart, the candidates presented their cardboard selves for selection. Harmless, bland, unobtrusive. Except for a number of cartoon-like posters in red, black and white. I'd seen similar posters before, in a previous life.

The political party in question had a long and proud history of being criticised by the UN during every election and referendum campaign. I recalled the last poster of theirs that I'd seen several years previously. The national flag and, in the centre, a Sadam Hussein type fella ripping through the fabric. The motto beneath translated as 'Keep the Fatherland for our children'.

At that time a colleague, an indigenous member of society, had explained his favourite joke - Question: what do a cherry and a [insert choice of foreigner here] have in common? Answer: they're both best seen hanging from a tree. This attitude goes some way towards explaining why one third of the country's population support the red, black and white poster party. Needless to say, the joke didn't hit my funny-bone.

However, the message of the current posters was clear enough. Mass immigration by shadowy people of a dark hue. There was clearly a problem of an increasingly global society and the political party was taking a stance against this. A trip up a mountain seemed to confirm the attitude when, on a funicular railway, the only free seats were around three African travellers.
'There are three seats available here' the ticket collector called out to the crowded, standing white passengers, but none took up the kind offer.

That evening we met with some friends from the country just to the north. Same language, same look. They explained to me that I had it wrong, the mass immigration wasn't a racial issue. It had to do with the country's agreement with the European Union that had opened the labour market. Anyone from without the borders was, to some extent, persona non-gratis. As a foreigner, my former work colleague had been appointed factory director in a rural location of the country but found that several local landlords were unwilling to rent accommodation to him as a non-national.

Bearing this in mind, the political advertising imagery confused me. Xenophobia or racism? I decided to do a little spot of internet research.

Most infamously, the party in question had used a black sheep image to show loyal white sheep kicking the black out of the territory. The party policy being promoted was to deport foreigners that committed certain crimes, together with their families. (By the way, children born within the state to foreign parents have no rights of citizenship.) I began to get a feeling for what was going on. Foreigners are black in character, regardless of skin tone.

Another amazing poster was widely seen during a referendum to ban planning permission for mosque minarets (yes, strange but true). The image suggested that minarets were equivalent to terrorist missiles on state soil.

There was more to be discovered. A series of posters presented a swarthy, bearded man named Ivan S. variously as a burglar, paedophile and rapist, asking if the populace welcomed him as a newly naturalised citizen. All foreigners are heinous fiends, presumably.

So, you've guessed where we've been visiting? A country in the heart of Europe, where around one quarter of the population are foreigners, where one third of the population (mostly rural voters) solidly back the SVP / UDC that is behind the poster campaigns. The Schweizerische Volkspartei (Swiss People's party).

Yes, the land of chocolate and yodelling. Military neutrality, great riches, private banking (what were they thinking, offending the Arabs with the minaret carry-on?) and nifty watches. Mandatory bomb shelters for every house and apartment block, compulsory miltary service, each Swiss male trained in how to use a semi-automatic rifle. No exertions for the ladies, but they are a dab hand at flower arranging.

What do my Swiss friends think of the SVP? In the main, they're nauseated by them. Societal issues that are of concern to everyone are simplified into xenophobia. This presses buttons that make people feel uncomfortable.

So, what is the SVP's intention? To leverage the country's right-wing stance, exploit xenophobic aspects of the human condition for votes and maintain political power? These poster campaigns are simplistic, effective, clever. Around a third of Switzerland's 7.8 million citizens support the SVP, which has the largest share of the vote for any single party ever in Switzerland. Is the SVP a transitory, maverick entity or is this a crucible in central Europe?


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