Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Letter from the Editor, June/July 2008

Whether it's summer reading programs or beach books, it seems that everyone is searching for the perfect summer tome. Summer reading is apparently different from reading for the rest of the year. For some of us. Those of us in education or those of us who are still students can enjoy lazy summers of endless reading. However, for most people endless days of summer reading are just myths perpetuated by publishing companies.

This special double issue of Estella's Revenge focuses largely on summer reading and its accompanying myths. Enjoy interviews, articles, columns and a slew of reviews to help you find that perfect book--summer or otherwise.


Table of Contents:

Author Interviews




Door Prizes Galore!

Past Months' Winners:

May 2008 - A copy of Elizabeth Crane's You Must Be This Happy to Enter: Stories - Nikki Evans

June 2008 - A signed copy of Karen Abbott's Sin in the Second City - Raych of http://www.booksidoneread.blogspot.com/

The July door prize is a copy of Catherine Jinks' Evil Genius.

To enter to win the July door prize, e-mail the editors at estellabooks (at) gmail (dot) com.

Author Interview - Jane Johnson

By Heather T.

I was lucky enough to have been invited to interview the author of The Tenth Gift, Jane Johnson. She was kind enough to answer my questions via e-mail. She is an interesting, talented woman and I’d like to once again offer my thanks to her for writing such an entertaining novel and for taking the time to reply to my questions.

HT: How long did it take to write this novel? Did you have trouble finishing the book and leaving Julia and Cat behind?

JJ: I started it in 2004, and finally delivered it in 2007, so I lived it for three years, and really immersed myself in it, so yes, it was hard to leave the characters behind. Though a relief, too, to be truthful: when I started out it seemed the most immense and difficult task and I was very, very relieved to have completed it to some degree of satisfaction.

HT: Did the writing process flow smoothly for you? Could you explain your process?

JJ: Hmm, not sure 'process' is something I have! I don't really have a disciplined routine, partly because I'm juggling so many things at once and many of them can get in the way of the writing. I'm not a quick writer, though: generally I will aim for 1000-2000 words a day, but if they don't come, they don't come, and it certainly doesn't happen every day. I keep a notebook, and I often find new material comes easier if I write longhand outside somewhere, especially in wide open spaces or by the sea, as if my imagination needs a lot of space in which to roam. Then I'll type the draft into the laptop and edit as I go.

HT: I noticed a bit of a supernatural strain throughout with the sad attic and Annie Badcock. I wondered if you plan to next write a novel which explores this theme more fully. I want to know more about Annie!

JJ: Yes, it's really a well-disguised ghost story! I do enjoy a touch of the supernatural and magical -- for me they enliven a book, and the next novel certainly involves these themes. But not Annie, nor indeed Cornwall, I'm afraid. In fact, Annie is based on a local character in my village, so I think I'd better leave well alone!

HT: Do you consider yourself to be a spiritual and/or religious person? Whether or not you do, do you think it had an impact on the story itself?

JJ: Not in any serious or organised way. I indulge in a bit of magical thinking and superstition from time to time (I blame my mother and Cornish ancestors); and I've had one or two strange experiences in my life which raise the question of there being things we simply don't understand, patterns of life that catch us in their toils. And yes, certainly, these things influence the story and how it's told.

HT: Do you keep a journal and record story ideas? Will we see more of Julia and Cat in a future novel?

JJ: I keep all sorts of notebooks and scraps of paper and computer files, but as ever, not in any organised way. A lot of them just stay in my head, and emerge when they join together, like story molecules! No more plans for Julia and Cat, though: I like to think I've set them free to live their own lives now.

HT: I like to re-read books and I wondered if you do the same and whether or not you have a particular favourite?

JJ: Yes: I have a very unretentive memory, so after a few years I can quite happily revisit a favourite book and find new things in it, especially with heavily textured, rich books like those by Mary Renault; or classics like Thomas Hardy.

HT: Is there a much loved quote you could share that speaks to your thoughts and feelings about life?

JJ: I don't go in much for aphorisms or pearls of wisdom (if I knew them I'd forget them!). But I do like, and try to follow, some of the 14th Dalai Lama's wise words:

Take into account that great love and great achievements involve great risk.

When you lose, don't lose the lesson.

Follow the three Rs: Respect for self, Respect for others, Responsibility for all your actions

Remember that not getting what you want is sometimes a wonderful stroke of luck.

Learn the rules so you know how to break them properly.

Don't let a little dispute injure a great friendship.

When you realise you've made a mistake, take immediate steps to correct it.

Spend some time alone every day.

Open your arms to change, but don't let go of your values.

Remember that silence is sometimes the best answer.

Live a good, honourable life. Then when you get older and think back, you'll be able to enjoy it a second time.

A loving atmosphere in your home is the foundation for your life.

In disagreements with loved ones, deal only with the current situation. Don't bring up the past.

Share your knowledge. It's a way to achieve immortality.

Be gentle with the earth.

Once a year, go somewhere you've never been before.

Remember that the best relationship is one in which your love for each other exceeds your need for each other.

Judge your success by what you had to give up in order to get it.

Approach love and cooking with reckless abandon.

(Especially the last one!)

Thanks very much to Random House Canada for this one.

Author Interview - Daphne Grab

Interviewed by Melissa

Being a new author can be simultaneously exciting and thrilling, yet full of anxiety and intimidating: what will everyone think of my book? I've followed the development of Daphne Grab's first novel, Alive and Well in Prague, New York through the group blog, The Longstockings, as she's posted about the experience. A graduate of The New School in New York City, Daphne is not only a talented writer, former teacher, and city girl, but a busy mom of two preschool children. Needless to say, I was very excited that she was willing to spare some time for an interview.

MF: How did you decide to become a writer? Is it something you've "always" wanted to do?

DG: It was always in the back of my mind to be a writer, though I could never come up with a good idea for a book. Then about seven years ago I happened to read the acknowledgements of a book I’d just finished and I saw that the author had gotten an MFA at The New School in New York City. I was living in NYC and on a whim emailed the school asking for a catalog. When I saw that one option was to study writing for children I had an “a-ha” moment where I knew that that was exactly what I wanted to do. Once I realized who I wanted to write for, the story ideas came.

MF: This is your first novel; congrats! Can you tell us a bit about the process? How long did it take from conception to finally seeing it in print? How do you feel finally getting your story out there?

DG: Thanks! I got the idea for the book the summer before my last year at The New School. I wrote half the manuscript then and finished it and workshopped it a ton over the next year.

My teacher that first semester did a lot of neat things with our class and one of them was a mock submission. We each gave her five pages of our manuscripts along with a cover letter and she passed them on to Jill Santopolo, her editor at HarperCollins. Jill came to class a few weeks later and gave us feedback on what we had written. Mine was one of the stories she said she’d have asked to read in full, so after I graduated I queried her and two weeks later she made me an offer on the book! It was the most incredible feeling to know I’d actually sold a book. And though it felt like I’d completed a long journey, it was actually just the beginning. Jill is very hands-on and we revised the manuscript several times over the next 9 months or so. Then it went off to copy editing and I felt finished again but a month later it came back with a gazillion red marks because I am not the greatest with spelling and commas. All said, it will have been two years almost to the day between when I first got the offer and when the book came out.

It has been so strange in these past months to start getting reviews--I still can’t believe that people are actually reading this story that has lived in my head for so long! I am lucky in that the reviews have mostly been quite lovely, but there are still moments where I read someone’s interpretation of an aspect of the story and think, “Wow, that’s what I did there?” It’s kind of neat.

MF: Your book is about a girl -- Matisse -- dealing with her father's Parkinson's Disease. How did you choose to write about Parkinson's, rather than a different illness?

DG: I wanted to write about a girl whose father had a degenerative illness that would ultimately be terminal (cheerful, right?). It’s such a huge and profound thing to see a parent slowly lose the ability to care for themselves and to know they will not get better. I drew on my own experience of my father having ALS and I chose to write about Parkinson’s because it has certain similarities to ALS as they are both neurological illnesses. I didn’t feel ready to write about ALS, but more than that I didn’t want to write my own experience, I just wanted to able to draw on that experience in forming my main character and the story.

MF: The other issue Matisse deals with is the differences between living in the big city and a small town. Was that an intentional theme of the book, or do you think it just came about because of your personal life experiences?

DG: I liked the idea of the main character facing challenges on a number of fronts, some lighter than others. I grew up in a small town that suddenly had an influx of NYC tourists when I was a teen. It was such a funny thing to see these people all spiffed up in city clothes that would just get muddy if they took a walk in the woods. But now I see myself being “city” when I go back to my hometown, so at some point it occurred to me that it would be a fun issue to write about. So I think the answer is yes to both!

MF: What do you hope readers will get out of your book?

DG: That even in the face of terribly difficult things there are moments of fun and laughter and beauty. That connections to other people are crucial. That it’s better to face hard things than to hide from them. But my number one hope is that people enjoy it!

MF: You are part of a group blog. When did you start blogging? What inspired you to start? Has there been any benefits/distractions to your writing?

DG: The eight of us are New School grads from two different classes and we’d been writing together for a while when we decided it might be fun to do a group blog. I think we started in the fall of 2006, so it’s been a while. I think it’s benefited me in a number of ways, the most important being connecting to writers, teachers, librarians and readers. Spending a lot of time reading other peoples’ blogs can be a distraction but I think it’s great to know what other people are writing about and thinking about in the kidlit world, and I love that our blog is part of that.

MF: Where do you find inspiration for your writing?

DG: Everywhere! It starts with me being engaged by an idea or a scenario that can come from something I see or read or just start thinking about as I'm walking down the street.

MF: Do you have a favorite place to write? Any writing "rituals"?

DG: I write at my desk, which is actually my dad’s desk, and it’s stuffed into a corner on our bedroom because NYC apartments are small. I work for four hours in the morning, while my kids are at preschool, and my ritual is that about two hours in I do yoga for half an hour or so. It gets my blood flowing so I can last the final hour!

MF: What are your top five favorite books of all time?

DG: So hard to pick just five! But here they are:

The Color Purple, by Alice Walker
A Ring of Endless Light, by Madeleine L’Engle
Fifteen, by Beverly Cleary
Dairy Queen, by Catherine Gilbert Murdock
The Catcher in the Rye, by JD Salinger

MF: If you don't mind telling us, what can we look forward to seeing from you next?

DG: I just sold my second book so I’m actually very excited to talk about it! It’s called HALFTIME and it’s a middle grade book about a boy who is a huge football fan and a bit of a social loser at school. At the start of the book he learns that the baby his mother gave up for adoption 21 years ago is the best college football player in the country and the story follows the ups and downs as his new half-brother comes into his life. There are girls, bullies and family growing pains. And my work in progress is a teen book that I hope to finish and sell in the next year or so.

MF: Thanks for you're time, Daphne!

DG: Thanks so much for having me!

You can find out more about Daphne at her website: http://daphnegrab.com/. And please see Melissa's review of Alive and Well in Prague, New York in this issue of Estella's Revenge.

Author Interview: Diana Birchall

Interviewed by Elaine Simpson-Long

Diana Birchall is the author of Mrs Darcy's Dilemma.

Elaine: Diana, when did you first read Jane Austen and what was the first book of hers you read?

DB: About the age that Catherine Moreland was when she devoured Gothic novels, or maybe a little later. I was about twenty and it was Pride and Prejudice. Austen wasn't as universally, passionately read then and I'd have read it earlier only I was put off by the title - I thought it sounded stodgy, and was imagining a George Eliot sort of affair. Imagine my delight and surprise! Not that I don't like Eliot, but you see what I mean.

Elaine: And which is your favourite or is that impossible to answer? ditto character

DB: My first love is my last love, Pride and Prejudice. But my favorite character is the social horror I have come to identify with - Mrs. Elton from Emma.

Elaine: JA has always been serialised and dramatised over the years but there has been an explosion of interest in her over the last decade. I put this down to the Colin Firth factor myself, but do you agree? And why do you think she is such a perennial favourite for dramatists? No need to mention wet shirts and diving in lakes...

DB: I suppose the dramatizations were the catalyst that caused the new explosion of interest, but I think that the explosion was long overdue, because she was always so good. I wouldn't go so far as to say that she was "marginalized because she was a woman," as the rhetoric goes, because she was certainly an established classic novelist; but everyone didn't read her. People who now read and discover her because of the movies, are finding out for themselves how good she is. There's so much in her and people react to her in so many different ways, that it's not surprising she's become a perennial favorite for dramatists - and of course they will exploit the phenomenon as long as it's making money. Will people get tired of Jane Austen dramatizations and sequels? They might; the rage for adaptations will eventually pass. But I don't think people will ever get tired of reading Jane Austen. I know she's lasted me a lifetime.

Elaine: You wrote Mrs D's Dilemma some years ago but have only now be able to find a publisher. Do you think this is linked to the dramatisations mentioned above? And how did Sourcebooks discover your or vice versa?

DB: Yes it is. I wrote Mrs. Darcy's Dilemma in 1994. As far as I knew it was the first sequel to Pride and Prejudice written since Pemberley Shades in the 1990s, and I thought I was inventing the form. My New York literary agent thought so too, and expected big success. But unfortunately for me there are not so many ideas in the world as there are aspiring writers to seek them, and with uncanny synchronicity others went and did otherwise. I'd sent the book to a literary agent in London, and he immediately assigned the idea of a 25-years later Pride and Prejudice sequel to Emma Tennant, to write in two months, to "beat the American competition." I knew immediately that was the end of my book; no one was going to publish another sequel at that time, especially by an unknown. I remember lying down in the shape of a cross on the floor of the Santa Monica coffeehouse where I do my writing and howling from sheer disappointment. But that's a writer's life! The agent said, "I don't know what happened, but put it away, and this book will be published in ten years." And it was; a small English publishing company picked it up in 2004. Then, last fall, two more companies approached me simultaneously and asked to give Mrs. Darcy's Dilemma national American publication. That was directly to tie in with all the new films. It was a long time coming.

Elaine : regarding dramatisations - what do you think of them? I refer to the Olivier P&P, the recent P&P, the Colin Firth P&P and the recent Sense and Sensibility on the BBC (if you have seen it) and previous versions. Any comments on any you have seen would be really interesting.

DB: I'm afraid they won't be interesting because generally speaking I can't bear adaptations! Jane Austen took root and colonized my mind (somewhat like what AOL does to a computer) so thoroughly before I ever saw a dramatization, that I couldn't, shall we say, adapt. Dramatizations shatter my own mental images and I don't want them in my head, interfering with the text. I've watched most of them, writhing. To me, the best is the Emma Thompson Sense and Sensibility, they really did a lovely job and brought out the emotion in a natural, convincing way. And, being a contrarian, I also quite like the Rozema Mansfield Park which everybody hates. They hate it because it's not Mansfield Park, but that didn't bother me. It was thought-provoking, it was Rozema's riff on themes she imagined in the book - even if you find it hard to swallow the emphasis on slavery, and the transposition of Fanny into a kind of version of Austen herself and Elizabeth Bennet, I found it quite inventive. The more supposedly faithful adaptations bore me. I do like the Olivier P&P as a kind of glamorous period piece. The one I hated most, the very worst of all, in my opinion, is the Billie Piper MP. I know, how can I like the Rozema one and hate this one, but I do. The Rozema one at least had some thought behind it, however strange. But Billie Piper was possibly the worst piece of inane, willful miscasting I've ever seen. It was like graffiti.

Elaine: have you visited Jane Austen's house at Chawston? I live in the UK and am ashamed to say I haven't which failure I really should remedy. If you have visited I would love to hear what you think.

DB: Yes, many times. My first visit was in the mid-1980s. I'd just colored my hair to look nice for the trip, and had a violent allergic reaction. My forehead swelled up with edema so badly that if I pressed my finger in it left an inch-deep indent. Then the edema slid down to my eyes so when I awoke in the morning on the day my husband and I were to fly to London, they were completely shut. I scotch-taped them open and drove to the emergency room, where all the doctors and nurses surrounded me in a circle and gazed with astonishment, storing up the anecdote. I was given Benadryl and told to stay sitting up, which was the one good thing, since that's what you do on an airplane. We flew to London with me wearing a big hat, sunglasses, and hair over my face, with my husband leading me by the hand through the airport. I looked like I'd been in a car wreck. And the next day was the Jane Austen Society AGM at Chawton, for which one particularly wants to look sweet and pretty and ladylike! Chawton was simply lovely, but I did notice faces turning and staring at me in fascination as I entered the tent and tried to take my seat as inconspicuously as possible. There were some great old names there - David Cecil, Tony Trollope, and the Countess of Huntington. When she spoke from the podium, she rolled her Rs in a very grand manner - "Will you all please Rrrrrrrrise" - I'd never heard anything like it. The people and the proceedings all seemed like the last relics of old-fashioned England. I always enjoy visiting Chawton, and on my visits to England have made many friends so that when I go to an AGM there are many joyful encounters. The people are more up to date now but happily the tradition is just the same.

Elaine: Your knowledge of the books is obviously encyclopedic as you can quote at the drop of a hat (I know!) and have caught her style quite beautifully, in fact, the best of all the prequels and sequels I have read. How do you do this?

DB: I have pretty nearly total recall of the books because I have re-read them not dozens of times, not hundreds of times, but thousands. This is partly because of my "day job" as the book person for Warner Bros, reading manuscripts to see if they'd make movies. I can't read popular modern fiction for pleasure anymore, so I escape into the past...and Jane Austen. As the most enduring and re-readable author of them all, she has become both mental balm and stimulation for me. She has a mysterious quality of there being more in her to discover with each reading; we're forever finding new thoughts, ironies, intentions and jokes, and are never bored. Then, most wonderful to me, is the beauty of her language. She places every word with such precision and balances every sentence so perfectly that studying her art minutely is, as they say about nuns, a living rule: or the best writing school that could possibly be. Loving to play with language, almost insensibly I began sliding into her style. When I won a contest in the JASNA magazine Persuasions, writing in Jane Austen fashion (I was doing Miss Bates - the easiest place to start!), it gave me the idea and the confidence to embark on the experiment of sustaining the imitation for the length of a novel. That was how Mrs. Darcy’s Dilemma was born. Of course it’s impossible to write like Jane Austen, and any modern American who thinks they’ve done it has passed the point of eccentricity and gone certifiably barmy. No one in our century, with our influences, can write with the thinking and expression that prevailed in the 18th century. Then there is the little problem that Jane Austen was a genius, and we are not. If writing like Jane Austen is the goal, our experiments are doomed to failure; however, the mere act of trying, and of studying what Jane Austen did, is an illuminating and beneficial enterprise for any writer. Different sequellists have different approaches. Mine's about style.

Elaine: Will you be publishing another book soon and, if so, can you tell us something about it?

DB: I hope so. I'll only say it has Byron in it and a secret!

Visit Diana Birchall at http://www.dianabirchall.net/

Reading Outside

By Stuart Sharp

Summer’s here, and the reading is… well, quite difficult, really.

Some of us might have fewer commitments in the summer, maybe a little more energy, possibly a little more time, but that doesn’t mean we’re going to spend that time reading. There are so many other temptations in summer that it’s easy to ignore the written word in favour of going to the beach, or travelling abroad, or (in my case) playing a succession of sports that take up hours at a stretch. Even our most basic images of reading are challenged by the changing seasons. Curling up with a good book in front of the fire is definitely easier in winter than in the heat of mid-summer.

Presumably, though, we’re not just going to give up on books for the next few months. Even the idea of having to cut back to make room for everything else isn’t ideal. What we need instead are ideas for fitting reading in with all the things we plan on doing in the summer. And that means reading outside.

The first thing is to start reading something you’ll actually get through. That might sound hugely patronising, but the distractions of summer probably mean a shorter attention span and less inclination to finish those books that go out of their way to be difficult. This is not the time to start reading James Joyce, or to decide that it’s finally the moment to give Satre’s Being and Nothingness a go. Instead, it’s time for something that flows beautifully, making for easy reading. Something, in fact, like Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series, or Judi Hendrix’s The Baker’s Apprentice.

That’s not to say that the summer demands staying away from great literature. Far from it, but even among the classics, some will make for an easy read on a summer’s day, while others are just a recipe for drowsiness. The combination of Spencer’s Faerie Queen and a hot day is almost a guaranteed way of catching up on lost sleep. Shakespeare’s comedies and sonnets, on the other hand, seem almost to have been designed with a summer day (or possibly a midsummer night) in mind. Personally, I find that Christopher Marlowe’s plays work just as well in the summer, with the likes of Doctor Faustus and The Jew of Malta being easy to read and perfectly paced.

Poetry also seems like a natural choice here. After all, the classic image of the poetry reader is of them reading outside in a secluded, sunny spot, not huddled inside against the cold. The poems of some of the best known poets, like Yeats and Wordsworth, almost demand to be read outside, while even something a little newer, like Alison Brackenbury’s Breaking Ground, seems to work better outdoors than inside.

Of course, exactly what you choose will be influenced to some extent by where you’re going to read it. That brings us nicely to the second main point; make sure that what you’re reading is something you’re happy for other people to see.

It sounds like a frivolous point, doesn’t it? After all, reading is just supposed to be about you and the author’s words. Sadly, it doesn’t work out like that. On a summer’s day, when you’re reading outside, reading is about you, the author’s words and every annoying passer-by with an opinion on what you’re reading (which is, let’s face it, most of them).

Usually, something even vaguely literary works as a way of avoiding odd looks. Sometimes, though, it can become a hindrance, particularly once sport becomes involved.

A few of us will probably spend much of the summer vaguely involved in assorted sports, either as a player or spectator. It might seem that you’re not exactly getting your money’s worth if you have to take a book with you, but there are some occasions when it’s absolutely necessary.

For the not quite willing parent or partner dragged along to watch a loved one play a sport that isn’t exactly spectator friendly, a good book is essential. Even for players involved in longer tournaments, there will be dead periods where they aren’t doing anything. As someone who once made the mistake of forgetting to take a book to a fencing tournament, I can tell you that these periods can seem like a lifetime without something to read.

But what to take? Particularly as a participant, taking the wrong book with you opens you up to weeks of (reasonably well-intentioned) abuse. Unfortunately, with the average sporting team ‘the wrong book’ can include just about everything that’s perfect for summer.

This is where books vaguely connected to the sport in question come into their own. Not only do most sports have some highly entertaining books tucked away if you look, but your loved ones/team mates think you’re taking more of an interest as a result. For my favoured sports of cricket and fencing, Deep Cover by Ian Botham and Dennis Coath, and By the Sword by Richard Cohen are both good places to start. For other sports, the main thing is to stay away from the awful ghost written autobiographies that take up so much space in bookshops. Don’t let them take up space in kit bags as well.

Which brings us, finally, to the third major component of reading outside, the practicalities of it. Space is only one concern, and is quickly followed by a host of other questions. Is this valuable first edition going to get mud on it, or the contents of the picnic hamper? Will walking around with the hardback edition of Milton’s Paradise Lost under one arm result in one arm longer than the other by the end of the day? Can I fit all the Harry Potter books into my backpack, and will I topple over backwards if I do?

The key question here is that classic for book lovers: hardback or paperback? Outdoors, the extra durability of the hardback seems almost essential, right up to the point where you realise that you’ll have to carry the thing around with you. At that point, the humble pocket sized paper back looks like the better bet. It stays that way right up until the point where dirt, rain, or any of the other things nature seems to have designed with books in mind come into the equation.

One answer is to start investing in dust jackets for the summer. As a cheap alternative, a layer of clear sticky back plastic works perfectly well. So long as you manage to avoid the bubbles and air pockets that plagued my school textbooks, it doesn’t even do anything to spoil the looks of the thing. The result is paperbacks that are at least a little resistant to the things the outside world throws at them.

Of course, even that solution to the paperback versus hardback debate isn’t perfect, at least not outside. True, it gives you a nice, lightweight book that will survive, but it does rob you of one of the most useful tools for the summer; a nice heavy hardback with which to squash all the bugs that summer invariably brings out.

The Comic Assembly Line

By Chris Buchner

I recently had a conversation with a friend, the contents of which were about my entry in Small Press Idol; an American Idol-like competition hosted by Dimestore Productions. Basically, the prizes involve getting your idea published by Dimestore. Runners up get put together their own book, second placers get cover features for Dimestore’s anthology Mysterious Visions, and first placers get #0 issues whose sales will determine the ultimate victor for a four-issue publication deal. Even if you don’t win, it pays off in exposure; like for last year’s second place winner, Sky Pirates, which ended up signing a deal with Free Lunch Comics.

In talking with my friend about my entry, the subject of all my production problems that plagued me along the way came up. My friend was shocked at how much goes into making ONE comic, which led me to realize that not many will know or recognize how much of a collaborative effort comics are in order to make the ever-looming deadline. A team on a comic relies on each other because if just one of the people drops the ball the comic is either delayed or never again sees the light of day.

Following is a general overview of the typical basic process involving a standard comic production team (certain circumstances may differ for teams whose members have multiple tasks and for single-person projects):

Like anything else, a comic starts with an idea. This could be from a writer, editor, artist…anyone. Ideas are the easy part; execution is the challenge. The idea is passed on to a writer who works up an outline to get a general sense of pacing and plot within the confines of how many issues they have to work with. That outline then reaches the script stage and is passed along to an artist after a series of revisions. Of course, this whole process is overseen by the editor of the book, and anything that the writer does has to meet with their approval before advancing to the next stage of development.

The artist plays a big role in the production. Without the artist, there is no comic. Everything comes to a screeching halt if for some reason they get delayed, have a production slowdown or just flat-out refuse to work. Before getting to work on actual pages, the artist could work on character renderings based on notes from the writer or notes from a discussion between the two. This could be so the artist could get a feel for the characters, or to develop the characters if they’re completely new for the comic in question. Once the final draft of the script is near or reached, the artist sets to work on the pages. Some artists do thumbnails, small pictures that are mock-ups of a comic page, where they then plan out the placement of the panels and do quick rough sketches of the action inside of them. From here, the artist then draws them on the actual comic page (which is about double the size of the final product that reaches shelves) and passes them on to the inker once they get approval.

The inker, despite Kevin Smith movies’ indications to the contrary, is not a tracer. An inker can be every bit an artist as the artist themselves. Sometimes, depending on the style of the artist, the inker is demanded to tighten up and finish the images. Maybe the artist is weak with backgrounds. A good inker can draw in the background around the action, finishing the panel. They can also be called on to make minor corrections to an image that an artist could have missed or done in error, freeing up the artist to finish the rest of his work and keep the production line going. An inker can also help or hurt the artwork. Depending on how they do it (by hand or computer) and if what kind of style they use, they can either add depth and drama to the pencils or take away from the artist’s skill and make them flat, cartoonish images.

The finishing touches come from the colorist. The colorist can add the color to the book, obviously, but also can do what’s known as greyscaling to a black and white book. Greyscaling is essentially coloring but with tones of gray, black and white. Like in movies, this process can help convey the tone of the scene, time of day, mood, etc. As with the inker, the right coloring is key in order to accentuate the artwork and story.

Letterers have a difficult task. There’s a fine art to lettering; not only do the word balloons have to flow with the natural methods of reading, but a letterer needs to determine the proper placement of the balloons so as not to clutter up the page or block necessary parts of the artwork. A good artist would, hopefully, be aware of this and attempt to leave some room for the letterer to work. In the old days, there used to be even more skill involved as all the lettering was done by hand with measured lines, but it has been made easier when computers came into the picture.

All of this, however, would not be possible without the spirit of collaboration. Creative people all have their own styles, their own ways of doing things, and their own ideas. Sometimes, colleagues on a project may have opposing ideas in terms of direction or the characters. Compromise plays a very big role in collaboration, the ability to be open to the new ideas and maybe integrate them together in a way that all parties are satisfied. If egos are allowed to come into play, that can take a toll on not only the final product, but the rate of production as well. It has been known to happen that an artist, unhappy with a writer’s idea with no compromise on the horizon, will turn in pages done how they wanted too late to be fixed without missing the deadline.

It only takes one major blunder to throw a production schedule completely off and put the entire process behind. In making comics, everyone involved brings something to the table, be it an idea or their particular skill. The spirit of collaboration is what gets the books made and made right. Each person has their task to perform on the book, and without that task being done the book can’t be finished or it looks like trash. It’s all about teamwork, compromise, and meeting the ever-important deadline. Sometimes creative differences and ego can get in the way, and sometimes the people may be creatively mismatched to the point their work doesn’t compliment each other. And that’s only the creative aspect of making comics! There’s still a whole other business side to it, but that’s an article for another time. A lot goes into making these little picture books, and now you have an idea of just how much.

Beach Reading

By Elaine Simpson-Long

About this time of year, when the sun is shining (hopefully), the nights are lighter longer and with the promise of warmth and long sunny days ahead, the papers break out in a rash of articles on Beach Reading wherein the great and the good give the readers their list of summer reading, or those books they will take to the beach when on holiday.

Now the first thing to remember when reading any such articles is, that they are all lies. Every critic or A-Z list celeb will tell whoppers when answering this question. Why? Because nobody wants to admit that they might read romances or murders or, heaven forfend, chick lit when they are away. If a lofty minded critic from one of the up market papers tells you he is taking Proust or Tolstoy with him on his sojourn on the beaches of the Maldives or other fleshpots, you know he has his fingers crossed behind his back and he is telling you a big fat lie. I mean, come on, who is going to lie on a sun bed anointed in Factor 30 or whatever, iced drink to hand and trying to look cool and glamorous reading A la recherché de temps perdu or War or Peace?

When I go on a beach holiday, and I have one coming up soon, my criteria for choosing books is their total lack of stimulus to my little grey cells. I want something I can wallow in, enjoy, and then toss to one side, either in the bin or leave at the hotel/villa for somebody else to pick up and read. They have to be paperbacks, no hardbacks on the beach as they are much less flexible, if you roll over on them while sunbathing you could crack the spine or tear the dust jacket, paperbacks are more forgiving.

Never, never take a book with you that you love and cherish. This is folly and dangerous folly at that. The chances of it being covered in sea water, sand and sun oil are too high and you do not want to wreck a treasured tome.

No, it has to be disposable reading that goes with you. Books that you have no close relationship with and don't mind waving farewell to as you head for the flight home.

And the number of books to go with you in your suitcase? This is dependent on the amount of reading you think you will do and the speed with which you read bearing in mind that you are liable to doze off at frequent intervals while sunbathing and will not take in quite so much as normal. I always pack an allowance of a book a day. I then add an extra one or two just in case and then I always go to the airport with another book, this is in addition to those packed you understand. Just imagine how awful it would be to have a cancelled flight and/or delays and nothing to read, it does not bear thinking about. Of course, the airports always have bookshops and there is usually a Borders or Books etc in case of emergencies and loss of luggage. Worth keeping an eye out for are 'airport editions' which are special paperback editions of new hardbacks or books not yet published. These are always good value for money and well worth checking out. I nearly always buy one...or two.

So, to sum up:

Plenty of books for beach and airport
Paperbacks, preferably not too large for carrying backwards and forwards to sun bed
Nothing precious, only books you don't mind losing
No hardbacks
Nothing intellectually testing or stimulating

Have a good holiday!

How I Spend My Summers

By Miss Havisham

Anyone familiar with Great Expectations (and if you’re here you must have noticed the theme) should have a passing knowledge who Miss Havisham is. She’s the bitter old woman wearing the tattered wedding gown dating from her jilting at the altar decades ago, unwashed and unbrushed hair sticking up like a Brillo pad, sitting around watching rats eating what’s left of her wedding cake (though how any cake could last that long is a fact that’s always baffled me). And for kicks? She teaches her ward, Estella, that men are shit and she should use her beauty to make every one of them pay.

A good life, Miss Havisham has. Well-rounded. Well, sort of. Okay, not really at all. The woman hasn’t seen daylight in at least 40 years, and she sure as heck doesn’t bathe. We can safely surmise that, considering the dress and all. While I’m not saying I’m exactly like her, not that bad, once you’ve read my story you’ll know my own secret Miss Havisham-like tendencies. But let’s not spoil it quite this early. That would stop you reading the essay and, well, that’s not what this is about now is it.

To begin at the beginning, I’m the sort who whines constantly about the weather. In the winter it’s, “I’m so COLD!” In the cold months (in Chicago that’s October through May) I can never get or stay warm no matter how much I bundle up. The one time I’m comfortable is when I’m dressed in flannel pajamas, hibernating beneath the down comforter.

If I had my way I’d hibernate all winter, though I’m thinking the library (my employer) would have some issues with that. Family Medical Leave all winter, every winter? Sounds a bit suspicious. (Though if you know a doctor who’d sign off on that let me know.)

At work it’s equally horrible. The library keeps the thermostat in the staff room set somewhere around 60 degrees year freaking ‘round. I guess they’re afraid if it gets too warm we’ll all fall asleep. That problem’s avoided by keeping our teeth chattering, which sounds like a room full of typewriters going full speed. The collected condensation from our breath gives the room a foggy, Dickensian feel. It’s really very Scrooge and Marley, and appropriately literary for a library.

The funny thing is, no matter how much I complain about winter cold, as soon as the temperatures rise to 90 or above for more than two consecutive days I start whining all over again, this time for the opposite reason: “It’s so HOT!!! Turn on the air conditioner, you cheapskate, or I’m calling my attorney!”

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all about 80 to 85 degree weather, clear blue skies dotted with little puffy clouds, flowers bursting into bloom (though I’m afflicted by allergies, a misery for another time) and all that sort of stuff. It’s the humidity that kills me. When the mercury hits 90 and the humidity’s high my makeup runs down my face, making me look like Tammy Faye Bakker as Picasso may have depicted her (were he very desperate for material). Very not attractive, in case you don’t remember the 1990s.

Then there’s my naturally curly hair. It’s not the pretty kind, the sort that’s thick and wavy (like my daughter’s, damn her), but the kinky variety that turns Einstein-like in high humidity. Ever see ‘Bride of Frankenstein’? I’m that chick’s twin when it’s humid. Either her’s or Marge Simpson’s, though my hair’s a little less blue. No matter what you hear about miracle hair products on TV, there hasn’t been one created yet that comes near making a difference on my hair. It’s a travesty, I tell you.

Not to sound like a big whiner or anything (too late for that), but when it’s sunny my pasty Dutch-Irish complexion burns like Thanksgiving dinner at my mother’s house. Like her food, it doesn’t matter how much sauce/lotion you put on it. Burned is burned. My dermatologist thinks of me as his poster child for future melanoma. He can’t look at me without shaking his head, mentally planning what he’ll say about me in the eulogy.

Considering my feelings about pretty any extreme form of weather, spending life sitting around in a tattered wedding gown in a manor house with heavy velvet drapes shut against the weather doesn’t sound half bad. In winter you just light fires in the fireplaces. In summer, hey, it’s England! It’s generally pretty temperate there, give or take a freakishly hot summer. Throw in a fortune of mysterious origin and who needs work! I’d be slave to no man’s thermostat.

The downside would be the lack of good hygiene, though the hired servants wouldn’t dare complain in my presence. And the hair? It’s already like Mrs. H’s half the year, so who’d notice? That leaves one lack: a minion, a young protégé. I’d need to apply for someone to be just like me: smelly and comfortably warm year ‘round. There must be a taker somewhere, someone willing to come live with me in my darkened Victorian mansion, picking up pieces of my tattered gown as they fall off, talking about how all men suck. Hell, that’s half the female population right there.
Just one request, please. Someone clear out the wedding cake and set out some rat traps. I may be willing to endure a lot of things, but even a hermit must have her limits.

Back to the 90s: Fatal Attractions

By Chris Buchner

Part I:

In the 1960s, Marvel had begun to change the face of superhero comics forever. They introduced characters that were flawed and realistic. The Fantastic Four, the first family of the new Marvel, debuted without costumes at all. Spider-Man was a teenaged hero when teenagers were usually sidekicks. But the most unique heroes of all came in 1963 when Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created the Uncanny X-Men (it should be noted that the book was known as The X-Men until 1978’s #114). They were mutants, people born with extraordinary powers that set them apart from the rest of humanity. Because of this difference, they were feared and hated.

Professor Charles Xavier, a mutant and the most powerful telepath on the planet, dreamed of a day when humans and mutants could co-exist in peace. However, his old friend, Erik Magnus Lehnsherr, the self-styled master of magnetism known as Magneto, had a different dream; one born from his days as a Jew in the Nazi concentration camps of WWII where the mutant race would rise up and dominate the humans. Both men sought out and recruited mutants for their own teams.

Xavier created the X-Men designed to protect humans and mutants from each other and aid in the realization of his dream. They were the then-teenaged Scott Summers, aka Cyclops, with the power of optic blasts; Jean Grey, aka Marvel Girl, with the power of telepathy and telekinesis; Henry McCoy, aka Beast, who had super strength and agility; Warren Worthington III, aka Angel, with wings for flight; Bobby Drake, aka Iceman, who could manipulate the cold. They worked out of Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters (now Xavier’s Institute for Higher Learning) out of the Xavier family mansion in Salem Center, NY.

Magneto formed the Brotherhood of Mutants; full of like-minded individuals who sought to flaunt their power-given superiority over those they dubbed “flatscans.” The original roster included Mortimer Toynbee, aka Toad, who possessed abilities similar to that of a human frog; Jason Wyngarde, aka Mastermind, with the power of illusion; and twins Wanda and Pietro Maximoff, aka Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, with the ability to alter probability fields and super speed respectively.

The X-Men books have often been seen as a mirror to the issues of racism that prevailed in the days of their creation. Themes like assimilation and tolerance often found their ways into the stories. Despite these progressive ideas, the book failed to find much of an audience and was cancelled with issue #66. The title went on, however, and reprinted older stories from #67-93 while the various X-Men made cameo appearances in some of the other Marvel books at the time. In 1975, they took another progressive stride in a re-launch by Len Wein and Dave Cockrum, who introduced an international team of several new and a couple pre-established characters in Giant-Size X-Men #1 that proved popular enough to merit taking over Uncanny with #94.

The new X-Men were comprised of new characters such as the Russian Piotr (Peter) Rasputin, aka Colossus, with the ability to turn his skin into organic steel; the German Kurt Wagner, aka Nightcrawler, with a demonic appearance, super agility, and ability to teleport; the African Ororo Munroe, aka Storm, who could control the weather and the Native American John Proudstar, aka Thunderbird, with super strength and speed. Previously established characters included the Irish Sean Cassidy, aka Banshee, with a sonic scream that could deliver destructive damage and allowed him to fly who first appeared in Uncanny #28; the Japanese Shiro Yoshida, aka Sunfire, with the ability of pyrokinesis and flight who first appeared in Uncanny #64 and the Canadian Logan, aka Wolverine, with a mutant healing factor, animal senses, and bones and claws bonded with the unbreakable metal adamantium who first appeared in The Incredible Hulk vol. 2 #180-181 just a year prior. Led by Cyclops from the original team, this new team reignited the series which still progresses to this day.

To celebrate the 30th anniversary of the X-Men, writers Fabian Nicieza and Scott Lobdell penned the crossover Fatal Attractions which ran through every X-book n production at the time. And, who better to ring in the festivities than the X-Men’s very first adversary, Magneto? Unlike other crossovers, Fatal Attractions was a glimpse at various adventures within the lives of Magneto and his followers with an underlying theme, rather than one cohesive story. Each issue came with a wraparound cover (meaning one image across both covers) and a 3-D hologram card attached to the front cover with a different character for each issue in the story.

Magneto’s Brotherhood had evolved into the Acolytes, created by long-time writer Chris Claremont and Jim Lee in adjective-less X-Men #1 in 1991. Still mutants who share Magneto’s vision for dominance over humanity, many of the Acolytes worshipped him with religious furor as a savior. They operated from Magneto’s base in space, called Asteroid M, before it was destroyed in a conflict with the X-Men, and were predominantly led by Fabian Cortez, who had the ability to enhance mutant powers, when Magneto was believed killed in that battle along with the very first group of Acolytes. Under his leadership, the Acolytes had gone up against, and lost, several times to the X-Men.

One of those times was during an attack on a hospice where they senselessly murdered humans to prove their superiority, followed by an attack on the military compound Camp Hayden. The base turned out to be the headquarters for Project: Wideawake, the government’s latest program for the development of the newest model of mutant-hunting robots known as Sentinels, which first appeared in Uncanny X-Men #14. Both times, they were confronted by the government-sponsored mutant team X-Factor.


X-Factor was an offshoot team created by the original X-Men after Xavier had placed Magneto in charge of the team and the school conceived by Bob Layton and Jackson Guice. They worked to track down and help mutants through the cover of a mutant-hunting organization people could call and hire to track down and dispose of mutant threats, posing as normal humans. When action was needed, they would go out in costume as the mutant outlaw X-Terminators. Realizing the ruse was doing more harm than good by instigating hatred, and because it was the plan of their mutant-hating business manager Cameron Hodge, the team abandoned the idea and eventually rejoined the X-Men. Peter David and Larry Stroman were brought onto the book to recreate the team and keep the series going in X-Factor #71. The team would work for the Pentagon, making them the first and only salaried mutant team formed of X-Men allies.

The roster at this time featured Alex Summers, aka Havok, brother of Cyclops and former X-Man who could generate plasma blasts; Lorna Dane, aka Polaris, a former X-Man with the ability of magnetism similar to Magneto; Jamie Madrox, aka Multiple Man, with the ability to create duplicates of himself through physical impact; Guido Carosella, aka Strong Guy, who could turn kinetic energy directed at him into strength and muscular mass; Rahne Sinclair, aka Wolfsbane, formerly of the X-Men junior team the New Mutants who was a virtual werewolf; and Quicksilver (Quicksilver and Scarlet witch had turned against Magneto and became heroes to seek redemption, both at one point becoming members of the Avengers).

Their government liaison was Valerie Cooper; an ordinary human who had a similar role with the defunct team Freedom Force, also sponsored by the government and comprised mostly of then-reformed villains. They were also joined by a frequent ally and thorn in their side, the bounty hunter known as Marshall Evan Stone III, aka Random, whose body was a form of protoplasm that allowed him to change size, shape, increase his strength and fire bio-matter projectiles.

During the conflict, Cortez tried to recruit Quicksilver to their cause, to take leadership of the Acolytes as Magneto’s heir, since it was revealed that Quicksilver and his sister were his children. Quicksilver refused, and the Acolytes retreated. It was also at this time revealed that Val was under the control of one of the Acolytes for some time, finally shaking it off. However, that didn’t help her team forgive her for withholding information about the Sentinels and created a new tension between them. X-Factor left, breaking their ties with Cooper.

Exodus was born Bennet Du Parris (although spent a lot of his time under the name Paris Bennett) in France sometime in the 12th Century. He had superhuman physical attributes and powerful psionic powers including telepathy, telekinesis and teleportation. He could also act as a sort of psionic vampire, stealing that energy from others to use for his own means. A confrontation with Apocalypse, an ancient mutant with a belief in genetic culling so that only the strong may be allowed to survive, found Exodus stripped of his powers and locked away in a crypt until Magneto found and rescued him. Exodus became Magneto’s new right-hand man and chosen heir. Exodus traveled to Camp Verde where X-Force resided, offering Cannonball and Sunspot safe haven on the Acolyte’s new space station, Avalon.


The New Mutants were the junior team of X-Men, X-Men-in-training created by Chris Claremont and Bob McLeod in 1982’s Marvel Graphic Novel #4. When the then-mysterious mercenary from the future, Cable (later revealed to be the son of Cyclops and Jean Grey clone Madelyne Pryor sent to the future to help him survive infection of a deadly virus), took over the group, it was transformed into the platoon-like team known as X-Force in 1991 when Rob Liefeld and Fabian Nicieza took over the book and ended The New Mutants with #100. The team was defined by its edgier approach to Xavier’s dream, with characters evocative of the anti-hero movement of the 90s.

The team was comprised of Nathan Dayspring Summers, aka Cable, with the potential to be the most powerful telepath and telekinetic on the planet if most of his telekinetic abilities were not dedicated to keeping the techno-organic virus infecting his body in check, instead relying on large weaponry for combat; Domino, a mercenary with the tendency to make the odds fall in her favor and Cable’s lover; Shatterstar, a swashbuckling mutant from another dimension with enhanced physical attributes, quick healing, fast learning ability, and able to project bio-electricity through his swords; James Proudstar, aka Warpath, brother to the deceased X-Man Thunderbird who shares his abilities of super-strength and speed; Theresa Rourke Cassidy aka Siryn, the daughter of the X-Man Banshee who shares his sonic scream; Julio Richter, aka Rictor, who was able to generate seismic energy through his fingertips and Maria Callasantos, aka Feral, a cat-like mutant with a beast-like temperament.

Holdovers from the New Mutant days included Sam Guthrie, aka Cannonball, who could fly at jet-speeds and project a force field around himself why flying; Tabitha Smith, aka Boom Boom aka Boomer, who could create energy “time bombs” that detonate whenever she wishes and Roberto DeCosta, aka Sunspot, who could absorb and rechannel solar energy.

X-Force tried to fight Exodus, but were no match for his powerful telekinesis. Sensing an opportunity, Cannonball agrees so long as they could bring their teammates Rictor and Boomer with them. Also, two mutants in their care brainwashed by the Mutant Liberation Front, a young mutant terrorist group founded by Cable’s evil clone Stryfe, Rusty, a pyrokinetic, and Skids, who can generate a force field. Exodus reluctantly accepted and took them all to Avalon, leaving Cable with a tracer to track them down.

Arriving in Avalon revealed that it was actually Cable’s former base, the space station Graymalkin upgraded with tech from the alien Shi’ar Empire, allies of the X-Men when Jean Grey for a time became possessed by the Phoenix Entity in the Dark Phoenix Saga. They also learned that Magneto was very much alive and well, and used his abilities to destroy Rusty and Skids’ implants. Once again, he offered to let them remain in his home.

The rest of X-Force had made their way to Avalon. Using his knowledge of the station, Cable hoped to use the bodyslide technology, a form of teleportation, to get everyone off safely while he set the self-destruct sequence. Rusty and Skids, however, wished to stay and were left behind. Cable’s final act was to retrieve the sentient program from the station known as The Professor, but is stopped by Magneto before he could set the self-destruct. Magneto easily tears apart Cable’s metal arm and implants, forcing the soldier to retreat.

It was about this time that the Acolytes learned it was because of Fabian Cortez’s manipulations for power that Asteroid M was destroyed and their brethren killed, and almost led to Magneto’s own demise. The Acolytes tried to exact their vengeance, but Exodus stops them informing them a greater punishment awaits him. At that time, Exodus had now gained control of the Acolytes.

The Legacy Virus was a super virus released by Strife that originally only targeted mutants. The virus came to infect Illyana Rasputin, the younger sister of the X-Man Colossus and eventually killed her. She was staying with the X-Men at the time due to her parents being murdered by the Russian government to take her for her mutant abilities, revealed when an abduction to an alternate demon dimension resulted in her being temporarily aged to the teenaged New Mutant Magik.

She was given a service and burial on the Xavier estate when Magneto and the Acolytes decided to crash the funeral. They made their intentions known of their desire to wipe out all humanity from Avalon (which appeared menacingly from above), and offered all those who wanted a chance to survive to come with them. The X-Men fought valiantly, but Magneto was even more powerful than ever and they stood little chance. Colossus, distraught over all the tragedy in his life, brain damage he received from the X-Cutioner during X-Cutioner’s Song that forced him to remain in armored form, and his belief in Xavier’s dream wavering, accepts their offer and became one of the Acolytes. In his first bit of rage, Xavier took control of Magneto’s mind and forced him and Avalon back into space. He escaped, Xavier unable to kill him.

Sure, I Know the Queen, June/July 2008

By Jodie

A quintessential British summer is what we’re having in England right now. Forget all those tv images of strawberries at Wimbledon and the false expectations books like ‘Brideshead Revisited’ will have nurtured, here in the Midlands we’re all dressed in jumpers as we experience a typical British summer. Gallons of rain, or as one weather presenter put it rain which “ we need in summer to keep those reservoirs topped up”, cold temperatures and even a bit of sleet is what we’ve got. Meanwhile topical programs are running slots about how we don’t wear enough sun cream making us all feel as if we’re delusional and the rain is only in our minds.

Still with the rain keeping us indoors during the largest concentration of Bank Holidays that we get all year there is always an excuse to pick up a big British book. My favourite this month, The Welsh Girl’ by Peter Ho Davies is set in Wales and uses history to illuminate problems that are still confusing modern Britain. How do we form a national identity we can be proud of without shaping it around hatred of other countries? Is Britain a cohesive nation or still separate countries unfortunately conjoined and should we want to be one nation at all?

This book deserves to be analysed as it deals with enormous issues like shame and nationalism while still creating a potent story that is not distracted or troubled by these themes. Peter Ho Davies writing is gentle but avoids flounce or purple prose when describing the beautiful Welsh countryside. His main characters are described sharply with minimum physical description. Readers may come away from the book feeling they don’t know what Karsten or Esther look like but a strong picture still emerges as the author acquaints you with the essence of his main characters in short, bold lines.

‘The Welsh Girl’ is set apart from the glut of books about World War II by its setting which allows the author to avoid simplistic framing of ideas about the injustice of shaming soldiers and enemies who turn out to be friends. Peter Ho Davies emphasises the fact that many Welsh people did not feel that World War II was a British matter but rather an English problem that they had been unwillingly dragged into to make up numbers. He reminds us that although it suited the government to talk about Britain as a united nation during the war the country was still divided by national prejudices and genuine grievances. The Welsh people in Davies mining town do not view the English who arrive in their town as heroes because they are sappers involved in the war effort, they are still detested and hardly tolerated. When the main Welsh character, Esther has an English boyfriend she has to hide it as if she were dating a Nazi. In turn the English do not see the villagers as equals and prove this by contemptible actions early in the book.

The majority of the book focuses on Esther, a young Welsh barmaid desperate to escape the confines of her village and Karsten a member of the German army. Both want to escape their nationalities as they feel they do not fit somehow but at the same time they each feel a strong sense of identity. Karsten misses the countryside around his mother’s pension and feels a strong urge to join the hard core of Nazis who drill even when captured. Esther loves her father’s flock and feels the bonds of ‘cynefin’, a mystical instinct that keeps the ewes from straying, attaching her to the village. Still neither character naturally conforms to what their countrymen expect of them so Esther and Karsten are forced to make some pretence at other people’s idea of normality in an effort to avoid isolation but they can not change their true natures. Each reaches the same resolution, gaining a sense of empowering pride and forging new definitions of their nationality so they can survive and live peacefully but they do this in different ways. Much is sacrificed but much is gained.

Both characters are used to explore ideas about shame as well as nationalism but remain deftly described characters in their own right. The way that Nazi nationalism is compared to Welsh nationalism is a brave idea to express and another original facet of the novel. By specifically comparing the barbaric form German nationalism took with the extreme arguments of Welsh nationalism Davies takes the reader back to history class and shows that there were reasons why ordinary German citizens supported the Nazi party. By showing that circumstances, coupled with persuasive, historically logical argument and propaganda led to genocide in Germany he cautions against nationalistic argument. Then by explaining how circumstances, such a loss of mining jobs and logical arguments, for example Esther’s father’s speech about the English definition of the term ‘welshed’, created intense nationalistic hatred in Wales Davies instructs readers not to think of Nazi Germany as an isolated phenomena. Although he is specifically looking at nationalism in Wales he is counselling other countries to avoid supporting ideas that produce national rivalries.

Despite Davies tendency to produce stereotypical secondary characters such as Esther’s stern, sheep rearing father and Rhys, the sensitive and naïve boy next door, this book should receive praise as the first novel of a writer who will surely develop.

From My Bookshelf, June/July 2008

By Lisa Guidarini

I’d like to say I’m in the process of cleaning out my bookshelves, that that’s the reason I’m pulling out random books to read, before I release them into the world. That’s not strictly so.

For six months I’ve had four bags of books in my car I’ve been meaning to donate to the library, books I’ve either read and don’t intend to re-read or those that aren’t appealing to me anymore because I’ve lost interest in the subject. It was my intention to donate these sorts of books to the library, to find new owners who’ll read them.

Instead, I keep transferring them from the trunk to the seats in the car. My children have become used to tossing them into the back seat to make room for them to sit in the car, which I understand is its primary function. It’s gotten so bad my youngest refers to it as the “mobile library.” He recently said, “Pretty soon we’ll have to keep quiet so our “patrons” will be able to read without diversion.”

Every time I turn a corner a book flies off a seat. When a door opens at least one book falls out. I nearly left a parking lot with a 100 year old book by Balzac sitting on the pavement, falling underneath the car unnoticed. I screeched to a halt and grabbed it, unable to leave it behind where who knows what may have happened to it.

I do sometimes donate books, but sometimes I occasionally buy a few back from the library sales. That way the library is making money from the book, plus I get to keep “the preciousssss….”

All that to introduce this, my new ER column, “From My Bookshelf.” Each month I’ll profile a different book, reviewing it in a brief way, letting you know if there’s an interesting back story behind how I obtained it.

This month’s book is by Korean author Young-Ha Kim, titled I Have the Right to Destroy Myself. As the title suggests, it’s loads of fun. The theme is suicide, one man’s belief that those who are miserable, or who have lost faith in life (especially in art), have every right to commit suicide. He’s willing to be there for the person, staying by their side, providing moral support while their lives slip away. Sometimes, he tells us, he has sex with the person before they end their lives, though usually not.

The book’s not all grim. In a way it’s a parody of books with suicidal themes. Mostly it’s a treatise on the importance of art, how it transcends any one life, and the question of how important enduring art is compared to the lives of the creators.

Kim necessarily chooses artistic types as his characters. All of them are involved in the artistic process. C and K, brothers who are never named both fall in love with a woman named Judith. Her art involves covering her naked body in paint, slinging her hair on the canvas and rolling around on it. It’s performance art, meant to be seen by an audience, and she’s well known for it, having developed a following.

C wants desperately to videotape Judith in action as she creates. After some argument she relents. When the resulting videotape is presented at an art gallery Judith becomes inconsolable that her art has been devalued by capturing it on film. She feels it’s stolen a part of her soul; her reaction is dramatic and immediate.

To tell the rest would ruin the tale. It’s grim, but I’ve always had a soft spot for Asian writing specifically for its dark quality. I’m not one who believes life is easy or particularly fun, nor do I generally enjoy reading cozy works that don’t force you to think outside the façade we call “normal life.” Kim’s book forces deep thinking. It investigates moral issues as well as the meaning of art and how it affects the artist. It’s a short though very deep work, one that demands to be read slowly. Though it has qualities of surrealism, it’s not as much so as the work of another Asian writer I admire very much, Haruki Murakami. It’s a complex little book at 119 pages.

I bought this book from Barnes & Noble, mostly based on the intriguing title, but also because it was a staff favorite. Not a particularly interesting backstory, but then again I buy a lot of my books based on book lust.

Would I recommend the book? Wholeheartedly, though be somewhat cautious if you’re feeling particularly down. It’s somewhat redemptive, somewhat tongue-in-cheek but not all depressives may agree with me. What’s ironic is I read it immediately after a book with the opposite theme, one recommended to me by my therapist, Paulo Coelho’s Veronika Decides to Die. Weird how karma works sometimes..

I’m pleased to be a part of the ER team. I’ll be back next month with another column based on another book pulled off my shelf. Stay well, and keep reading.

An Irish Country Doctor/An Irish Country Village

by Patrick Taylor
Published by Forge
Review by Nancy Horner

There were two characteristics in the description of An Irish Country Village that appealed to me when I found out a copy was available for review. First, the word “Irish”. I tend to love Irish storytelling and was in the mood to take an armchair trip to Ireland. Second, the comparison to series books such as those written by Jan Karon and James Herriot. I haven’t read anything at all by Karon, but I know both authors are known for their gentle stories of life with a unique cast of characters who live and work in a small village. As often as possible, I try to avoid harsh language, overt sexuality and violence, so the book sounded like my cup of tea. And, I adore Herriot’s books.

An Irish Country Village is the second in a series of books about two doctors working in Ballybucklebo, a small village in Northern Ireland. Set during the 1960s, the story takes up where An Irish Country Doctor left off, with young doctor Barry Laverty beginning his assistantship under the blustery Dr. Fingal Flahertie O’Reilly. In the previous book, Dr. Laverty made a mistake that is coming back to potentially haunt him.

I read about 50 pages of An Irish Country Village before realizing that I simply didn’t have a grip on the characters. What kind of interaction went on between them in the beginning? What was their history, together and as individuals? What exactly were the details of the error Laverty made in the first book? The book might stand alone okay, but not extremely well. I needed to understand where they were coming from in order to comprehend the emotions and interactions within the novel. So, I set An Irish Country Village aside and checked out An Irish Country Doctor from my local library.

Ah, that did it. An Irish Country Doctor begins, so to speak, at the beginning, as Dr. Laverty tries locate the village and has to ask directions from a young man on a bicycle, a fellow for whom the information that Laverty is going to work for Dr. O’Reilly prompts a strange reaction. Is Dr. O’Reilly frightening? Dangerous? What did that look of fear and possibly respect that crossed the cyclist’s face mean? I was hooked immediately.

As An Irish Country Doctor progresses, the reader learns about the histories of Dr. O’Reilly and his housekeeper, “Kinky” (Mrs. Kinkaid) while Dr. Laverty slowly adjusts to village life, gets to know the patients and falls madly in love with a beautiful young civil engineering student whom he meets on a train. The elder doctor O’Reilly is an eccentric man with a beer-drinking dog, a crazed cat and occasionally offbeat, deceptive manner but the best of intentions. The dog and cat are well-described, fun characters and I found that I enjoyed scenes with the two pets were usually favorites.

O’Reilly and Laverty have a game in which they try to prove their literary knowledge; one doctor spouts quotes and the other responds by blurting out the source. I found that particular aspect of the book annoying and rather childish. There were times, too, that I really thought Dr. O’Reilly’s deliberate dishonesty went over the line. I’m pretty certain I wouldn’t want him to be my doctor. And, yet, I tried to overlook the characteristics I disliked and just enjoy the setting, the unique language and the stories.

During a moment of distraction, Laverty does make a terrible error in An Irish Country Doctor, but the first book closes on a high note as a party is thrown for a young couple and their new baby, soon to leave for a new life in America.

An Irish Country Village is much the same, focusing on the unique characters, Laverty’s love life, the everyday business of doctoring and the ways Dr. O’Reilly connives to keep the lives of villagers running smoothly. There are a few tense moments during medical crises in each book. But, it’s the colorful Irish slang, the two crazed animals and the country characters that make the two novels unique and special. Fortunately, the author has provided a glossary in both books and even a few recipes from Mrs. Kinkaid.

Both books are enjoyable, light reads with just a little mildly yucky detail about patients, a wee bit of cursing and a tiny bit of sex. Recommended for light, fairly clean reading with quirky characters and a great sense of place. I believe it’s important to become acquainted with the characters in the An Irish Country Doctor in order to fully understand and relate to their continuing story in An Irish Country Village.

The Tenth Gift

By Jane Johnson
Random House Canada
Reviewed by Heather T.

(Possible spoilers.)

This is a captivating story that spans 400 years. Mystery, pirates, romance, embroidery, strains of the supernatural, history and adventure – this book really has everything and goes at a wonderful pace; I could barely put it down. I’ll be first in line to read Ms. Johnson’s next book, I can tell you.

Julia Lovat is given a seventeenth-century embroidery pattern book with margins full of faint writing. The writing turns out to be the story of Cat who was kidnapped from the Cornish coast by North African pirates with the intention of selling her as a slave. Prior to reading this story I was unaware of the fascinating historical fact that ‘the Barbary corsair raids on the south coasts of England, which took place intermittently over the course of more than two hundred years during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries…’ (p.387)

After I finished the book I realized that I hadn’t stopped to make any notes for quotes! Yes, it was very captivating indeed! I did love the first line of the book which follows.


‘There are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they have never happened before, like larks that have been singing the same five notes for thousands of year.’