Saturday, 8 August 2009

Review of Bubble on Vulpes Libris

A mixed review of Words from A Glass Bubble on Vulpes Libris today by the prolific and straight-talking writer Anne Brooke. I am eternally grateful that people take the time to read closely for comment, whether they give me a glowing endorsement or not.
To the review. As I say, some OK, some not. Some lovely, generous approval, of stories like Closed Doors, for example. And the title story of which she says,
There are some stories that are soul-grippingly good. Particularly class acts included the title story itself, “Words from a Glass Bubble”, which is a fascinating tale about the strangeness of religion and loss and how every human peculiarity can be used to produce a positive and satisfying result. Characterisation here is both intricate and clear – a special pleasure.

Poor old ‘Tommo’, among others, (see post below) comes in for less good comment.
On the negative side, some of the stories teeter dangerously towards shades of the melodramatic – parts of the already very dramatic “I Can Squash the King, Tommo” seem rather overwritten and the end particularly took me out of the world the author wanted me to stay in at a point in the text when I should have been fully immersed in the tale.

But the most interesting (and puzzling) assertion is that I ‘write for competitions’. I am not sure where that comes from. I have never said it, only done it once myself, and indeed, when I teach, I tell writers not to! My single exception is the flash on ‘lust’ for Small Wonder Festival slam back in 2006. It is on the Small Wonder Website.
This is what she says:
It also struck me as I was reading that some of the stories, especially those in the first half of the collection, had that particular feel of being competition entries that had not been edited rigorously enough to feel entirely at ease at finding themselves in a working collection – I’m not sure I can fully explain what I mean by that concept (and yes, shame on me for that evident failing). Something perhaps about the smoothness, the turn of phrase or the ideas expressed …? I could be wrong here (heaven knows, that happens often enough) but surely there is a difference between a story written for a competition and a story written because it demands to be written, and the writer’s life would be incomplete without it. It may be to do with the passion that every tale should have, and some of these here have a lighter scattering of that vital element than they should.

I would love to be able to ask her, how should one edit a story that happens to have won a comp, for a collection? What does she mean? Make it worse, somehow? I guess I will never know!
The whole Review on Vulpes Libris, HERE.

Anne Brooke blogs HERE and her bio is as follows.

Anne Brooke has been writing for eighteen years and is the author of seven novels, numerous short stories and poems. She was shortlisted for the Harry Bowling Novel Award in 2006, longlisted for the Betty Bolingbroke-Kent Novel Award in 2005, and shortlisted for the Royal Literary Fund Awards in 2004 and the Asham Award for Women Writers in 2003. In addition, she has twice been the winner of the DSJT Charitable Trust Open Poetry Award. Her GLBT romantic thriller, The Bones of Summer, is available at Dreamspinner Press. Her crime thriller, Maloney's Law, is published by PD Publishing and available from Amazon in the UK and US. In addition, another crime thriller, A Dangerous Man, is also available from Flame Books. Her psychological crime novel, Thorn in the Flesh, and her romantic comedy novel, Pink Champagne and Apple Juice, are both published as eBooks from Bristlecone Pine Press, and are also available as paperbacks from Goldenford Publishers. Her latest poetry collection is A Stranger's Table, which includes poems about mysteries, boats and women. This is available via her website.

Footnote: I was disppointed to see that Anne used the review to bash Salt for their recent Just One Book Campaign. I am not convinced that is strictly relevant to my work!


Anne Brooke said...

I'm happy to explain what I meant, of course, Vanessa! You only have to ask.


Though, as I said in my review, I find it difficult to put the difference between competition and non-competition into words, myself. As I implied, it's something in the veneer of smoothness which somehow minimises the passion, I think. Much like the way there's a strange "sameness" these days to some of those books written as part of a creative writing MA course. There are of course special demands for competition and MA work, which may make the difference? It's hard to say!

I also regret the use of the word "bash" in terms of my thoughts on Salt. I like to think I was simply expressing an opinion (which did have a view on how I felt about the book, though I tried to acknowledge that and put it to one side in my review, as I admitted). Naturally I do appreciate it's one with which nobody else will agree. 'Twas ever thus.

Many thanks for the link, however, and I do wish you all the best with future work, which I shall watch with great interest!


pierre l said...

It does seem like a strange review, stating off with a large paragraph against Salt Publishing followed by "Anyway, I appreciate I’m a lone voice here, so enough said". It sounds as though your book would have been great if it had been published by someone else...
I am very pleased that Salt had this campaign -- I bought books that looked interesting to me, not just random books to help keep them going.I would have been very sad if they had just disappeared from one day to the next, without asking for help. And they actually delivered the books I ordered. As for comparing Salt with vanity publishing, words fail me.

pierre l said...

I am slightly confused. I think the above comment by Anne Brooke must have just been approved, because I didn't notice it as I was writing my own comment.

Lauri Kubuitsile said...

You can't win for losing. I think this may be the very reason I may be drifting away from short story writing.

If you want to make any money with short stories, in my experience, you must submit to contests and that means you write stories you intend to submit for a certian contest or, alternatively, you choose stories you've already written that fill the bill (still a sort of grooming) . I don't think one is any better than the other.

I would expect contests to be the edge that helps define the borders for what a good short story looks like. To get a collection published, the stories must be good. If the stories have won contests then by definition (if we have agreed to my earlier assertion) they are good.

(Just writing that has made my head hurt. I think I need tea... and cake. )

Vanessa Gebbie said...

Thanks for all the comments - been out for the day, meeting old school friends, two not seen since 1968! Great fun.
And thanks again for the review Anne. I was reading a book on the train for review - and ploughing through work I would have put down were it not for a promise to read and comment!
Clarifying comp topic: I just write. Always have. And then when a call for a comp came up, I looked to see what I had that was 'good enough' in my view, polished it and sent it off. There was never much sitting on the computer. Stuff got written then sent out quite fast.
Maybe I over-polished for some tastes? Dunno! Can't comment on the demands for MAs, never done any! But your comments are very interesting, really valuable. Thank you.

Hi Pierre - good to hear from you. Thank you for supporting the One Book Campaign. It was brave thing to do, and has meant that Salt can keep going over what would have been a very difficult few months, I believe.

Of course I value them, I would, they are my publisher! But they are also a very well-respected established publisher of great poetry as well as one of the most dedicated publishers of short fiction. They have a hugely valuable role to play, countering the ever-growing influence of the huge faceless publishing houses - a brave lot. And lovely with it.

Vanity publishing? Huh? Not in the same paragraph as the word 'Salt', let alone the same sentence! They would be appalled.

Lauri... have a slice of cake. Chocolate. With sparkly topping. And icing. And a second helping!

Sarah Hilary said...

Just popped across to say I think it's great that V and A (!) can enjoy this sort of civilised and enlightening exchange, no hint of sour grapes or negativity, just two writers respecting one another's opinion and agreeing to differ. A breath of fresh air. Brava!

Julia Bohanna said...

Well said Sarah. The debate is mature, intelligent and open. I don't that polish and passion cannot live together in a short story collection. Professionalism and talent is all about marrying the two. In Vanessa's collection, there is a very happy marriage....

Sarah Hilary said...

Hi Julia. For me, it was the rawness of Vanessa's writing that hit home. By which I mean I felt absolutely connected to the characters and their lives - there wasn't that distance which I associate with a certan kind of professional writing and which can have the effect of holding the reader behind an invisible rope from where we're supposed to admire but not quite connect. In V's stories I felt right THERE, getting dirty and messy and hurt and helped, right along with the characters. If that makes any sense..! I'm pre-caffeine here. It's not a pretty sight.

Vanessa Gebbie said...

Thanks all, lovely words.

Anne's comments are very valuable - and without my commenting on the work in this book (a useless passtime now anyway), those comments will prompt me to take care when editing in future, to ensure I don't undo 'passion' in the search for something else that is good. I hadn't even thought of the possible distinction and am grateful.

Its all about collecting different tools for the writing toolbox. And learning when to use the bleedin things!

annie clarkson said...

Hi Vanessa, it's an interesting review. honest is the word perhaps, although it is one person's view so...

I haven't read your book yet, one of many on my to read list. I did however read your story in the one world anthology which I adored...

Looking forward to reading more,

Annie x