Category Archives: Novels
Are we learning Newspeak as we speak?
George Orwell’s masterpiece novel is 70 years old this week.
I first read it thirty years ago, when 1984 was already a year in the past. But it was clearly then a warning to be vigilant, to watch Big Brother and ensure He/It/They didn’t take over our little part of Oceania (though Ireland doesn’t even get a mention as Airstrip Two, or something).
Yet, despite the fall of the Iron Curtain five years after its setting it’s become more relevant as time goes on.
Orwell had lived the experience of seeing the ideals of the common man being twisted, controlled and eventually stymied by a stronger power, which pretends to be helping, often with propaganda as one of the main weapons. Consider the attempts to halt climate change, pollution, corruption, environmental destruction over the years since the 1960s. They were as effective as the efforts to overthrow communism in the USSR and Eastern Europe. Hopefully the current demonstrations from #fridays4future and #extinctionrebellion will have better success, because we can’t afford wait till capitalism collapses under its own weight – predicted to happen soon enough but not before it causes ecological collapse.
The emission of a reality TV series called Big Brother brought the book to the consciousness of a mass of viewers who’d never read as voraciously as some of us do.
And yet, how frivolous a use of the term. How cosy we were in thinking we had control of how we were being observed, could opt in to 24/7 scrutiny for a few weeks in the hope of winning cash prizes and/or fame.
I’ve not read the book again since I was fifteen (I very rarely read a book twice), but recently I’ve been teaching students about dystopias and I’ve watched clips of the John Hurt movie version, which bring it back into focus like a slap to the face.
When I tell the kids where the reality TV show name comes from they’re surprised, but what’s more astounding is the ease with which we have allowed Big Brother (Big Business, Big Data) to take over our lives, to actually scrutinise us more than the TV cameras do on that show.
Though we don’t pause to consider it much, now They can look into our thoughts, from our daily choices and actions in a real setting, not on some TV set.
And I’ve started wondering if we aren’t already starting to use NewSpeak.
At first, we did it to ourselves, since people stopped writing letters to one another, as well as a decline in reading.
Then, when phone texting became a thing, we started shortening words and changing spelling to fit more words in, and speed up messaging. We also started choosing simpler words rather than more complex ones.
Now, though, Big Brother is doing it.
Just like Big Data has figured out that predicting our choices is easier when They are in fact guiding us – as seen in the Pokemon go game – so, I think, predictive text on our phones (and the suggested replies suddenly appearing on our emails nowadays) is designed to do the same to our thoughts: to direct them, shorten them, prune the word selection until we are saying the same thing again and again, using only the few words They tell us to. Eventually, the sentences They construct for us will be considered good enough. We will write what They suggest we write. And, as Orwell so vividly explained, we will think how They want us to think. Simply.
Is there any remedy against this trimming of our mental faculties?
Read the book.
Read the book again (I plan to this summer) and again, and read more books in general.
I was in the Basque speaking area of Navarra last weekend, up in the hills.
We went to visit a museum made by a very interesting guy called Iñaki Perurena, whose famous in the region for having Guinness World Records for lifting stones, among other things.
He has some amazing sculptures and lots of interesting paintings of characters from Basque Mythology on huge rocks dotted through the woods.
The Basques have a lot of strange characters that live in the woods. A much richer diversity than the simple fairy and leprechauns of Ireland, to be honest.
They have a type of Faun, mermaids, goblins, their own Santa Claus character, a cyclops, giants…
And…. another creature who you might bump into while walking the woods in such remote areas where houses are separated by large tracts of land, and visiting your neighbour involves a trek up a mountain.
Gizotso, is werewolf in Basque, and is said to be an extremely strong savage beast that lives in the woods and is made by sexual intercourse between humans and wild animals.
I’ve a long-held interest in werewolves, of course, and my kids speak Basque in school, but I’d not heard of this particular thread of the great tapestry of werewolf tales.
It’s fascinating how many different versions there are of this story. One of the things that unite all human societies are the similarities in our fireside tales of others who live just outside the light spread by our hearths. And the werewolf is perhaps the most ubiquitous of all, more than even the dragon.
At the same time, it’s disturbing how easily every society can alienate others and reduce them to the status of “savage animals.”
Perhaps it not so difficult to see how such stories of werewolves can spring forth in our imagination from simple ingredients such as deep woods, woodland dwellers, people we don’t like, and people we desire.
Of course, nowadays, nobody believes in werewolves.
It’s the little things.
You know when you’re watching a movie and you say to yourself, “that’s bullshit?” Because you know too much about the particular topic, and the director didn’t do his homework, so you’ve a guy shooting way more bullets than are in the gun etc.
Well, I’ve had a couple of those recently that all came together and makes me want to point them out.
The first is from the book I’m reading – Dan Brown’s Origin
Yea, I know, Dan Brown isn’t writing for accuracy.
But he could at least try.
Let’s leave aside straight away the fact that he’s put lots of detail into all his descriptions of the architecture (before you start reading the novel he states that all the locations and art etc. are real) but invents a parallel universe Spanish royal family. It’s actually quite funny to read how the king of Spain is so devout, when the former king is a notorious philanderer.
It’s the little things that catch a reader. Like when at the start of the novel two Irish football fans harass a Spanish Admiral in a bar. The fans have been watching a soccer match between Ireland and Spain or Portugal (it’s unclear where this takes place) and are drunk (that’s fine) when they enter the bar, empty but for the barmaid and the admiral. Now, not only would two Irish fans not harass a local to drink with them, being happy enough to be with themselves, they’d not be just two of them alone after a match. There’d be hordes of them. And when we read that the name of the bar is fucking Molly Malone, it’ just taking the fucking piss! What a crock of shit.
Just laziness. Perhaps what Brown considers Irish is what he sees in Boston, but he’s never watched footage of Irish fans after an international game on foreign soil, that’s for fucking sure.
I’m obviously not the first person to point this out...
Research. It’s what writers do. Getting people right is more important than how long the LCD screens in the Guggenheim are.
The second examples come from a movie I’m half way through.
Hold the Dark.
As a biologist and woof enthusiast, I stuck it right on when I signed up to Netflix!
I knew there’d be bullshit about wolves. They’re always cast in a bullshit light.
But that wasn’t the problem on the believability end.
I was at first impressed to see the local woman put masking tape on the tip of the gun barrel, to keep out snow and dirt. We do that in the bog, in case you fall and get peat and dirt stuck up there. You can’t shoot a rifle that’s obstructed like that. Well, you can, but do it far away from me.
But then, they go and make a point of the naturalist, played by Jeffry Wright, struggling to get the masking tape off the barrel so he can defend himself against the approaching wolf pack!
No! No and fucking NO!
You don’t take the tape off! You just fucking shoot! The pressure blows a hole in the tape before the bullet could even touch it! Any hunter knows that, or should.
But what most pisses me off about some movies, and it’s perhaps not a problem of doing research, but just society, is how much the actions of some characters differ from what I consider sensible and, given the state of our world right now, basically unacceptably stupid.
Wasting stuff, especially energy.
They’re in Alaska.
Not Anchorage, but way up north.
The biologist inexplicably turns up without decent footwear, like he’s never tracked a wolf in his life. The local gives him some boots more appropriate to the weather. And a good caribou skin.
But yet, she lives in a house that looks way under insulated for the clime. I’ve more cladding on my house in Spain, and that has foot-thick brick walls to boot.
And she goes around in cardigan open to the wind, and stands with the fucking door open looking out at the snow.
I know she’s a bit crazy, but such habits are ingrained. She’s not rich – her husband is off in the war and she says she can’t pay the naturalist.
So why is she wasting the heat?
I dunno if it’s just because I was always told to turn off the immersion heater and turn off the lights to save money, but I’m sure poor people the world over are pretty frugal when it comes to this kind of thing.
Also, the naturalist sleeps on the couch with just his long johns and a flimsy blanket. The fire is roaring, of course. But he’s a naturalist! Where’s the sleeping bag and less of the wasting firewood?
Climate change, Jeffry! Your character would be very aware of that, even if your host is not big on energy efficiency.
As I said, perhaps it’s just the state of society.
But, as I also said it’s not acceptable.
And we should stop showing such irresponsibility.
As Hollywood knows, art imitates life and life imitates art.
It’s time to start modelling good behaviour.
Just like few characters smoke in movies now compared to the chain-smoking of the fifties and sixties, movie makers can stop having characters do stupid shit that worsens climate breakdown and pollutes our planet. Hopefully it will happen a bit quicker than the change from smoking to not – this is more urgent.
Then maybe readers and viewers won’t get be so let down by the stories we’re told.
On the other hand, if real people keep acting like these characters, then our children won’t have much time, money, or inclination, to “Netflix and chill.”
So, I know it’s been a while, but things have been as hectic as a 2-year-old in a new playground. Literally.
My final chapter of the Silver Nights Trilogy is out now, and so I thought it a good time to recap what I learned in the process of writing it.
1) Things take longer than you think…
Especially when you think you can squeeze side projects in there between…
I always knew I’d finish my trilogy (I advocate the finish your shit mantra) but I thought I’d have it done a couple of years ago – around six months after the first novel came out and I realised just before publication that it was going to be a trilogy. The nuclei of the second two parts came to me very clear and I reckoned that I’d have them both done by Christmas – I had a part time job and summer in between, after all.
But then I got the idea for a novel about Loch Ness, and that just grabbed my attention like a talon clutching my balls, insisting I go along with it. So I thought it best to comply. The first draft spun out easily, but then there were drafts to go over before I submitted, and another project popped up. This was going to be easy – my publisher put out a call for erotic romance novellas set in one night in any city, for a series called City Nights. Well, I had a long short story set in Madrid that could be refitted in a jiffy. Or not. The challenge of writing erotica wasn’t half as hard (fnarr!) as shaping it into a longer story that was still under 25k words. Anyway, despite it taking me several rewrites I got the bug and did 2 more cities since, Pamplona and Boston (for these the story was simple, starting from scratch always is simpler) published under the name JD Martins – yes, I am a school teacher. Then there were edits for a YA paranormal and a children’s fantasy novel to go over for publication (yes, I’d a drawerful of old novels that I finally found willing publishers for). And of course, real life did it’s usual trick of getting in the way. Our daughter was diagnosed diabetic at two and a half, so I spent a lot of time cycling across town to inject her at lunchtime, we had another sprog six? months ago… all that great stuff. But the sequels kept simmering away in the meantime, slowly taking shape… of course, people kept asking when they’d be ready and I kept telling them a date not too distant in the future – three months or so, by this Christmas, as soon as submissions reopen, I’m sending both books straight away…
2) Think before you decide to write a trilogy.
At least, think before you tell everyone, and have the second and third pretty much ready to go before you tell everyone. Sure, the idea for the second and third novel might come to you real quick and seem pretty safe and secure, but they need to tie together like a trilogy, and, more importantly, people are going to be waiting on them – some won’t even read the first part till they know the second and third are written and out there for them to read straight after – hands up who’s waiting on Game of Thrones to finish it’s run before even starting? Only me? Oh… anyhow, though the ideas might seem pretty solid, they have to lead directly from the first to the second and into the third and though there might be three books, hence trilogy, a series can have three books, too – you just don’t write the fourth book, and nobody’s going to feel cheated. Are you? It’s not that the second and third novel aren’t solid, but the challenges facing the characters can’t be the same, and things that happen in the sequels need to have a coherency with the first, so perhaps write them all at the same time, rather than have one done and decide to add two more
But definitely write part two and three together. It might piss off those waiting impatiently for the second to come out, but it’s better in the end. Also helps keep all those characters in your head at the same time – werewolves have big families, dammit, especially when they’re trying to build up their numbers after centuries of persecution.
3) Stick to your original vision
I wrote the first novel in this trilogy, Leaving the Pack, twenty-five years ago. The time in between turned out to be very useful. I was inspired by Whitley Strieber’s novel Wulfen, and to honest, I never really read much about them since then. I liked my werewolves (almost as much as Strieber’s) and I didn’t much like the movies I occasionally saw or the few books I read. Having a book out before you write the next leads to the temptation to take reader’s opinions into account as write. But making everyone happy isn’t a possibility and if the reader didn’t like the first book, it’s pointless to try please them in the second, or the third. Besides, when I looked around at some of the other werewolf novels out there, I realised their tastes were more aligned with the books I wanted my story to stand out from – the real tribe who engendered the original myth.
4) Don’t bother reading in-genre – it’s probably not your genre, and there’s some weird shit out there.
I did read a few other books over the years, but reading other werewolf novels was a bad idea. They filled my head with stuff that I didn’t like, making me second-guess the world I’d created – a real world where shifting is just as physically impossible as it is in ours.
In tandem with their physiological lunar rhythms, these people worshipped the wolf, had an affinity with their four-legged brethren that had led their enemies to assume they turned into beasts.
As a zoologist, I knew that wolf mating is similar to dogs, where they are unable to separate afterwards for a while. I went to double-check the term (knotting) in the final edit and discovered a sub genre of werewolf novels that was eye opening, let’s say.
5) The real world has changed, and so must your characters.
Even though my werewolves are first found roaming the city during the late Eighties, when homosexuality wasn’t nearly so visible in our cities, and I have no interest in writing gay sex scenes – and I doubt I could make them hot enough for the readers of werewolf knotting – I totally agree that we need more diversity characters in our novels. The werewolves are an ancient tribe, and the poster boys for patriarchy, but even they have to evolve to deal with the way things are nowadays, including equality for their daughters. But such changes are a joy to write, to put your characters in awkward situations. One thing that has not changed for the pack, however, is they still hate vampires, and real vampires are not so nice as they’re made out to be.
You can get all three books here….
So, after much quiet, the howl returns…
As I said in a post longer ago than I thought it was, I’ve been living in the real world these last many months.
But I’d done a year or more inside my imaginary city, the setting for the Silver Nights Trilogy.
I’m ready to publish the second and third instalments now.
Leading the Pack is out on Pre-order as of today!
you can get it for just 99c until publication on March 15th from Amazon….
and Unleashing the Pack will be edited soon and the cover is nearly done…
It was a pleasure to return to the characters, but working on the two novels in tandem was a struggle while I was immersed in them, and I hope I’ve done justice to my original vision of the werewolf story.
The question I feel I have to answer, before anyone even reads part two, is, “why go back?”
Because I didn’t need to.
The first book, Leaving the Pack, didn’t have an open ending. It was a stand-alone novel.
But I couldn’t leave it alone.
I had to go back and expand on the idea.
So I hope I’ve done the right thing. I hope I’ve not made a mess of the story.
One thing I hate is when writers and moviemakers go back just for the sake of it.
One of my favourite movies is Highlander, and I’ve seen it many times. I hate the sequels. I hate the series. Stupid films that made a mess of a great original story.
I’m watching Lonesome Dove, after having read the book, and now I have discovered there are sequels and prequels, but I’m wary about even going there, given some comments I’ve read.
Why mess with such perfect stories? Why corrupt the vision?
If you go back, you have to have a reason, a need, something else to say.
In my case, I wanted to explain the werewolves from different angles. Firstly, from the viewpoint of a new generation. Paul’s pack, in Leaving the Pack, is a disciplined machine. Paul has complete control (mostly) of his power. But is such camaraderie innate in a race so apt to violence? What is it like to feel such potency for the first time. I wanted to explore the line between being the alpha and what I called the leash – does power necessarily come with responsibility or vice versa?
Secondly, how do werewolves adapt to a new millennium? The twenty-first century is a world that such an ancient tribe as my werewolves would have trouble confronting, in terms of our more open, permissive and public society. How can you remain hidden in plain sight with so many cameras watching? The world is changing rapidly for us; imagine for a race who live so much longer. And at the same time, if they can embrace the future, then so can any other culture.
Twenty years is a long time. But always take the time you need…
Now the second and third parts of The Silver Nights Trilogy are ready to be launched, I can reveal to you the new look of the Leaving the Pack cover….
This cover will tie the three books together with the same look.
The second part, Leading the Pack, will be published next month, and is going to be available for pre-order very soon. I’ll also have ARCs for my reviewers in a few days, so drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to read and review…
In Pamplona at the moment, we are celebrating the 90th anniversary of the publication of Hemingway’s novel, The Sun Also Rises (a.k.a. Fiesta).
There are several activities organised, and a large exhibition in the Plaza del Castillo of photos from when he visited Pamplona – of him, and taken by him and his friends.
Some of the places he stayed are still here, under different names to those used in the novel, some have changed.
It was interesting to see that Heminway, though he never ran with the bulls himself, did get gored by a baby cow, which they release in the plaza after the encierro.
I was struck by a quote they have printed on one of the posters, which he wrote to a friend: “Pamplona is the most enjoyable place you’ve ever seen.” It was true then and it’s true now.
And my good friend JD Martins would agree.
Have you had One Night in Pamplona?
As I get back into the swing of things after summer, first thing I have to do is congratulate David Devins of Co. Leitrim and Damian O’Sullivan of Co. Cork, who both won copies of my children’s novel, Peter and the Little People in the summer IWT Irish Wildlife Magazine’s book competition.
As you might know, I have pledged to give 10% of my royalties on Peter and the Little People to this NGO (if you’ve read the book you’ll know why) to help the great work they do.
At the moment a new battle has emerged for them, and us all, to tackle – the possible introduction of more destructive insecticides in Ireland, which threaten bees and other useful and important insects.
It seems that the fight to protect bees, like the fight to stop much environmental destruction will be continual, as companies try to introduce more chemicals.
It’s similar to George Monbiot’s post this week, that though the TTIP agreement seems to have been abandoned in the face of so much negative public opinion against it’s implementation, there are other similar treaties in the works, all designed to take power to legislate international companies from government – and thus public – hands. At the end he suggests we can never let our guard down, for the corporations and their cronies are always working against us and our environment, and they only need to succeed once, while we have to beat them every time.
Similarly, the bees and other insects only have to be erased from the planet once, and we have to save them every year, every week, every day.
Do your bit – join the IWT or whatever similar organisation operates in your country. And be vocal, even through the internet. It’s not quite the direct action that seems necessary to protect the Dakota water supply, but it’s effective when there are enough of us.
Sometimes you see a book come out exactly at the right time.
That’s luck, perhaps, or good planning. But then, there can be a slew of books on the same subject that are all on the mark, in fashion, ready to make that hay while the sun shines, and strike the iron while it’s hot.
I’ve never been one to jump on the bandwagon. The wagon usually goes too fast for me and I end up on my arse in the dust, or worse; the mud.
Many thought it was time to write an erotic novel after Shades of Grey went viral. I didn’t, but I wrote some anyway. They haven’t lit up any lists yet.
When my first werewolf novel came out, I was asked if I wrote it in teh wake of the Twilight trilogy. I wrote it twenty years before.
At the moment I’m writing a novel concerning the illegal wildfires in Ireland during the last two Aprils and the current government’s willingness to change the law so the farmers can do what they like when it comes to the environment. So it would be best to get the novel out as soon as possible to be current. However, it’s taking longer than I thought (it always does).
At the same time, it should not matter so much because I hope that in twenty years time the novel will still have its impact, like a novel set during the AIDS crisis of the late eighties still impacts us now just as much.
The novel is on hold this summer because I’ve got another time-sensitive project on my hands – one that can’t be put off, like putting up firewood can’t be ignored if one wants to live through the winter.
Time will pass, and though I will have other chances in the future to continue this project (and will have to) it’s at a critical stage right now and I have to take advantage of the time I have right now to apply to it – something that’s a luxury which thousands of others might envy me of.
The project is a little human. A mini-me, as it were; my six-month old son.
Books, Booze and a little Boy – Be warned: the three don’t necessarily mix very well…
I’ve got him – and his older sister; at her own critical stage of development – for the summer. He’s a time-intensive creature. He will be crawling soon and I’ve already accepted the fact that he’ll do his best to wreck my house.
But it is time well invested. I’m sure he’s a quick study – already clapping hands and holding out his dodie to me, then laughing as he takes it back.
Mainly, though, the means, the brainpower to think of other projects is being sucked away. He barely gives me time to clean the house while he sleeps and prepare his purees and fruit.
Many other parents know what I’m experiencing – it’s probably light compared to some nightmares, but for a writer, at least this one, it’s easy to start projects in spare moments but hard to tie a story all together without long stretches of quiet concentration.
So I’ll not bother. I’ll have a rest – as far as that goes – a holiday. I’ll go back to my books – the long list of novel spines staring at me from my bookshelves – and relax my brain. And I’ll read aloud, to let my son listen to the rhythm of one of his native tongues.