sheenaghpugh: (Default)
Christopher Meredith is a novelist and poet from Wales. Though he works mainly in English, one of his books for children is in Welsh and he also translates from Welsh into English. He is a professor of creative writing at the University of Glamorgan. His most recent collection of poems is The Meaning of Flight (Seren) and he has just completed a new novel, The Book of Idiots, which will be published in 2012. He is also involved with five artists in the project "Bog-Mawnog", responding to fire damage on a mountaintop in the Black Mountains in Powys. A booklet of Meredith's poems, Black Mountains, with images from the artists is being produced by Mulfran and there will also be an exhibition about the project in Brecknock Museum, 16th July to late September.


Toy Revolver

He loves its pointed symmetry
the lazy, opened hook of trigger
stock shaped to the palm
like a lover's hip,
opens it like unstoppering a flask
of magic that might spill.

He holds the chamber,
sectioned like fruit, close
to see each scoop and groove
each empty socket in the disc,
counts with a fingertip
six spaces for the dark seeds.

Interview and more poems behind cut )



Links to other poems and information

Breaking Wood - Christopher Meredith reading his own poem on YouTube.
What flight meant - a poem of Chris's featured on Jo Preston's writing blog.
Christopher Meredith's website
Seren, Christopher Meredith's publisher
Christopher Meredith's page on the Contemporary Writers website
A Woollen Line - the blog of Pip Woolf, who is involved with Meredith in the Bog-Mawnog project.
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Review of Melog by Mihangel Morgan, translated by Christopher Meredith (Seren 2005)

Melog is a novel with a rich cast of characters, but the only two who really matter are Melog himself, an avatar of that perennial literary type, the Mysterious Stranger Who Changes Lives, and "Dr" Jones, the hapless protagonist whose life is changed. Dr Jones is a failed academic on the dole, devoting his middle years to somewhat nebulous study of the vast 19th-century tome, The Welsh Encyclopedia. At least, however, this is a real book, whereas the one for which Melog spends most of the novel searching, The Imalic, may well exist only in his imagination, as may several other things like his country and his history.

Melog is a young man, emaciated, with striking blue eyes and unusually white skin and hair, whom Dr Jones first sees theatening to throw himself off a high building. He's thus in an accidentally rather angelic pose (he is also stark naked) and Dr Jones' first impression, indeed, is that Melog is extra-terrestrial. True, the first request an angel makes is not usually to be taken to the nearest chip shop, nor are they generally portrayed as habitual liars, thieves and fantasists.
cut for length )
sheenaghpugh: (Default)
If you've had enough of contemporary novels about nothing that matters very much, with tedious or dislikeable protagonists you wouldn't care if you never met again, with posturing authors anxious to show off their stylistic brilliance at every opportunity instead of getting on with the story and, above all, novels that don't so much end as peter unsatisfyingly out along with the author's ideas and impetus, I suggest you try this one a.s.a.p. and don't be daunted by its doorstep size. The intrinsic interest of the story and its two main narrative voices is such that on a first read you won't even be conscious of time passing, much less of the stunningly artful structure that underpins it.
more behind cut )

sheenaghpugh: (Sydney Smith)
The first thing to say is that when I'd finished this book, I knew for certain I would read it again. This is important, because I've been fearfully disappointed in my novel-reading over the last few years; if I had a quid for every well-reviewed contemporary novel I've read once and know I shall never re-read… Usually it's because they just don't seem to be about anything fundamental enough, and they don't do enough to me; you don't get that wrung-out feeling of having been through something momentous that you get after reading, say, Adam Bede or Kim. There are a few exceptions, and this is one of them; it is definitely a re-reader, partly for all the right reasons and partly because I'm by no means sure I understand it all yet.
more behind cut )

sheenaghpugh: (Default)


Crown of Acorns, Catherine Fisher's latest, has three separate strands, taking place in three time zones. In prehistory, Bladud the leprous king is cured by the sacred spring of Sulis, but the circles he builds to her honour in his gratitude come to imprison him. In the 18th century, Zachariah Stoke works as apprentice to Jonathan Forrest, who dreams of building a perfect circle of houses. And in the present day, a girl of 17, calling herself Sulis, arrives in Bath, with a false identity provided for her by social services and a habit of looking over her shoulder for a man who may or may not be there.

It will be clear already that what links the three strands, apart from images and themes, is a location, the city of Bath. To the young Sulis, it is her "ideal city", bewitching her both with its golden stone and its unimaginably long history, and it works much the same magic on the reader. So does the grand obsession of Forrest, a slightly fictionalised version of John Wood, architect of the King's Circus in Bath, a visionary artist plagued by mole-eyed money men. Meanwhile in the best Fisher tradition we have not one but two refreshingly chippy, unorthodox young protagonists in Sulis and Zac, (not to mention their two equally chippy foils, Josh and Sylvia).

Like the perfect circle of houses, the themes and images in this book constantly mirror each other, but though what goes around comes around, it is subtly changed; history does not simply repeat itself in a new time but rather reinvents itself constantly, as no two acorns produce identical oak trees.

If having two teenage protagonists - albeit pretty late teens - makes a book "young adult" rather than adult, I suppose that's what this is, despite the fact that the portrayal of 18th-century Bath's gambling hells, and the girl who used to work in one, is as grim and gritty as you'd expect. But the adult/young adult boundary is meaningless when the book is good enough - does anyone stop reading Treasure Island when they grow up, just because Jim is young? - and this is the most enjoyable novel I've reviewed for a while (S. Pugh. aged 59 and a quarter).
sheenaghpugh: (Heslop from Porridge)
Review: Pocket Notebook by Mike Thomas, pub William Heinemann 2010


Jacob Smith, firearms officer, is dressed for an op:

"Today’s outfit:

Atlas Assault coveralls with Namex III flash-resistant fabric and Kevlar Reinforcement patches on the knees, elbow and groin; Damascus Imperial neoprene knee pads; Damascus Imperial ‘Hardshell’ elbow pads; 5.11 Tac-Ak Tactical Application gloves with Kevlar; spare Blackhawk Hellstorm Light Operations gloves; Lava Combat GTX boots; Web-Tex Cross-Draw Vest for cartridges and percussion grenades along with Maglite LED 4D cell torch, plasticuffs, Gerber multi-tool and normal kwik-cuffs in a Fobus cuff-case; 5.11 ‘Field Ops’ Sniper Watch; Viper 3-point rifle sling modified to hold my pump-action; Bianchi UM92 military holster for the Glock; Blackhawk Hellstorm Poly-Pro Tactical Balaclava; Bulldog customised ballistic body armour; Avon FM12 respirator coupled with an Anson Atlas flame retardant Avon respirator cover; Atlas ballistic helmet which offers ballistic and blunt trauma protection; Gorilla Bar for method of entry and a collapsible ‘Quickstep’ ladder, both strapped to my back.

All in black. I look cool as fuck. Imposing. Intimidating. A futuristic street-warrior. RoboJake, and you've got twenty seconds to comply. Only problem is I can barely move."

Jacob's immobilizing armour is not just physical. Nor just verbal, though he has an impressive (and funny) screen of collective nouns ("a Pointlessness of Police Community Support Officers"), nicknames ("I just referred to him as Seal Pup because all I wanted to do was club him to death") and assorted sardonic coinages: even in his nightmare of being executed, the relatives and friends in the viewing gallery have programme notes printed "Jacob Smith: Why Bother?"

Behind his obsessive body-building, fascination with Vietnam war films and computer games, sudden attachments to women who aren't his wife and automatic iconoclasm in the face of accepted propriety and procedure, Jacob is breaking up. His principal worry is that he is 38, but only his wife and best friend know why this matters, and neither can help him overcome the fear that he will become what he hates in his own past. But Jacob should really be worrying about more immediate matters, like the money he owes to some very ruthless people and the growing concern of his superiors about his work methods.

Mike Thomas is a serving police officer and this dark, fast, funny but often moving novel has an authenticity that could never have come from outside. It helps us to feel we're on the inside, with Jacob, as he tries to make sense of his life. Jacob is not, when we meet him, a nice man, or a good man, though the more he comes apart the more, paradoxically, we see glimpses of the good man he might have been. But he is always a compelling, pacy, funny, complex narrator and protagonist in whom we can't help being interested and who carries us along on a breakneck journey of disintegration, revelation and growing self-awareness. Despite his best efforts, I ended up fond of him, and I think many other readers will too.


sheenaghpugh: (Heslop from Porridge)
A novel review this time:

Ghosts and Lightning, by Trevor Byrne, Canongate 2009


Denny Cullen, 21st-century Dubliner at university in Wales, thinks he's left home, but home isn't finished with him yet. Called back for his mother's funeral, he soon seems to be back in the groove, with relatives and friends who are going nowhere fast and doing nothing much (though, this being Dublin, they do it with considerable wit and inventiveness).

His sister Paula senses a ghost in the house she and Denny are allowing to go to rack and ruin; it might be her alcohol-fuelled imagination but then again it might be composed of memories of their dead mother, their absent father, the brothers from whom they are estranged and much other baggage. Before Denny can move on, he needs to decide which bits of his past he wants to leave behind, and which he needs to take with him. Though this is very much a novel of a young man in 21st-century Dublin, he is also a man with a sense of a long historical and mythological past (and his surname is no accident).

One reason this novel lives so vividly for the reader is the liveliness and realism of its voices. Denny's friends and family constantly come alive off the page: the insanely brave Paula, Uncle Victor the long-term book-borrower, gentle Pajo the emaciated recovering drug-addict with Buddhist tendencies ("he's mad into this kind o thing; life after death, ghosts, yetis, any and all religions. Basically anything there's fuck all proof for, Pajo'll believe it.")

Both fulcrum and observer, Denny himself is a joy of a voice. He is sardonically honest about himself:

Probably why I can't get a job, some witch's hex. Well, that or the fact I never filled out them forms at the FAS office

but also endlessly imaginative, as when he describes his friend Maggit having second thoughts about something he's stolen:

And wha about the kid who owned it? Is he not gonna miss it?
Maggit thinks about this. He looks into the bag again, like he might o robbed the answer as well by accident.


or when, travelling west, he finds himself overwhelmed by a sense of history:

… Dungloe, Annagary, Glencolumbkille. Never even heard o those places before, never mind been to them, and yet I dunno why, it all seems dead familiar. Mad that, isn't it? This feelin I get that nothing is new, not really.

There are a lot of very funny scenes in this novel – the car being constantly turned upside down, the funeral dominated by a priestly speech impediment. The variation of pace is remarkable too, from frenetic to leisurely and back, but above all the register of language, which accommodates colloquial and lyrical effortlessly. It's a terrifically assured and likeable debut.
sheenaghpugh: (Bookworm)
The sequel to Catherine Fisher's Incarceron, which was The Times children's book of the year, landed on my doormat this week.



And if anything, I think it's better than Incarceron. The theme of both is really unusual for a children's book: the way we interpret (and misinterpret) the world we live in. In the Realm, outside, extreme modern technology is used to create the illusion of a pre-tech age of imagined arcadian bliss (for the rich), complete with picturesque hovels whose impoverished inhabitants are forbidden to glass the windows because it isn't compatible with the era they are meant not to have moved on from. Jared, near the end, muses on age and decay, generally the last remaining taboo in this genre: ".. a staircase he had climbed every day for years had become a treacherous obstacle, a deathtrap. This was how time transformed things, how your body betrayed you. This was what the Realm had tried to forget, in its deliberate elegant amnesia". In Incarceron, the vast (or tiny, depending whether you are inside or outside) prison, Rix the magician's act depends on allowing people to persuade themselves things are true:

"So it wasn't the real Glove? [...] But it burned him?"
"Well, he was right about the acid. As for not being able to take it off, he was perfectly able to. But I made him believe he could not. That is magic, Attia. To take a man's mind and twist it to believe the impossible".

cut for major spoilers )

In short, a brilliant book which raises all sorts of fascinating questions this genre often doesn't. Now watch the Grauniad's review pages ignore it because it's fantasy. I don't think they have ever given her a review, despite the fact that she has been shortlisted for the Whitbread and Carnegie, translated into about 20 languages and both the Times and Telegraph regularly rave about her. Mole-eyed fools, the Guardianistas.
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