Disclaimer by Renee Knight: A Book Review

This book isn’t good.  No, this book is excellent.  While it didn’t grab me straight away, I was certainly hooked by the end.  Coming after ‘The Improbability of Love’ this book helped to restore my faith in storytelling.

So what is it about?  The blurb says

‘When an intriguing novel appears on Catherine’s bedside table, she curls up and begins to read.  But as she turns the pages, she is horrified to realize she is a key character, a main player.  This story will reveal her darkest secret.  A secret she thought no one else knew…’

Perhaps its me but those three little dots have a deeper meaning than at first appearance. Coming after that blurb they they tell of something insidious.

When the story is read it has disatrous consequences for not just those involved but her family too.  Isolated doesn’t even begin to explain what is happening.  Catherine is forcibly pushed out from her family.  What happened in the past was unforgivable. The problem is, what is written in the book is a false version of events.

By the time the truth comes out, severe damage has been done.  The author of the book, Stephen Brigstoke, decides to make amends for his sins.  Now everyone knows the truth  Catherine considers whether it is a good idea to rejoin the family.

As you might have guessed, I have skipped around the story without revealing too much.  When you come to read it, I know you’ll love it.  Be careful though, it is a story for adults.

 

Show, Don’t Tell

As a fledgling writer you are taught that you should ‘show, don’t tell’.  But why, you might ask? What is the harm in telling anyway?  For that matter, what do you mean by that phrase?

Let me give you an example of show first:

Michael crept across the darkened kitchen and stopped at the fridge, his hand resting on the door.  He glanced round before opening the door. The light from the fridge made his skin glow as he fished for his favourite snack, salami.  After giving it a sniff he devoured the cylinder of pork.  Closing the door, he licked his fingers and returned to bed.

And here is an example of tell:

Ever since he was a child, Michael had fostered a secret habit nighttime eating.  The first time was at the age of eleven he had woken during the night with hunger pangs.  Desperate to have something to eat, he snuck downstairs and gobbled a plate of cheese left on the side.  His mother, Maureen, wondered who had eaten their food until one night she caught him red-handed.  The scolding she gave out did not deter him however.  He knew what he was doing was bad for his health but he could not help himself as he stole across the kitchen and raided the fridge.  This time he went for the salami.

Here’s the problem, in the first example the story evolves before your eyes.  You get an impression that Michael is probably impulsive by nature.  You don’t know what the original cause was for this secretive eating, you are left to your own conclusions.

In the second example I have told you the reason.  In order to do that I had to pull away from the story to tell you.  The flow was been disrupted in order to give you this piece of character-building information.

The reason I bring this up now is because of the book I am reading ‘The Improbability of Love’ by Hannah Rothschild. Parts of the book are engaging however Hannah does have a habit of telling rather than showing.

In short bursts, I admit, it is useful to tell some back story.  When it stretches to two pages and the story to one paragraph, then I have a problem.  While I haven’t finished the novel I keep asking myself the same two questions ‘Do I need to know the motivation of every character in the story?  Do I need the life history of said characters too?’

Currently, the answer is no.

Editing Lesson No.1

Every single character must have a profile.

First I’ll give you a little bit of background to ‘Unit 16’. A couple of years ago, not long after I first started writing, I wrote a short scene.  Perhaps I should explain, I get ideas/scenes and need to get them down. Most of the time I don’t do anything with them but occasionally I do.

I liked what I had come up with and had always planned to take it further.  Two years later, I did.  This scene became the prologue for ‘Unit 16’.

When I wrote the piece it was exactly as I imagined in my head.  Which is fine, until you make a story from it.  Because the characters were not fleshed out I spent some time addressing that.  Except for one of them.

This particular character dies on page one of the prologue.  I thought to myself, why does he need a profile?  He doesn’t live beyond the first couple of paragraphs, it’ll be a waste of time. That would have been fine if he didn’t have any influence on the rest of the story.  He does.

That led to the minor (ish) crisis that was the subject of last week’s blog.  Fumdamental questions were not asked; Who is this guy?  What does he do?  Why is he about to be killed?

Answering those questions is what I’ve been trying to achieve last week.  Unravelling this character has helped pin down the time period of the prologue.  Having thought long and hard about it it looks like I can potentially keep the year as it is but possibly change locations.  It feels such a relief that I can essentially keep things as they are!

Updates

I’m excited to announce that my story is officially in editing!  Well, it would be except, you know, life and all.  I have done some editing, honest.  I have the pieces of paper with pencil markings all over it and everything.

Being a little more serious (me?) I learned a lot about editing when tackling The Pink Salamander.  Sure it’s hard writing a story but I tell you what, editing requires a completely different mindset.  For a start you need the story needs to make sense.  While I have only tackled the Prologue (I’m editing chapter by chapter simply because any other method would be too much), I’ve spotted a few plot holes and things that could be improved.

In my haste to listen to my muse and get the story down I got caught up in flow.  It felt good at the time (don’t get me wrong, you need this as a writer!) but it left a glaring error which entailed a fairly large re-write to remove it.  With that out of the way I concentrated on other aspects and am pretty pleased with the results, so far.

As a treat I thought I’d give you a sneak peek of the first character. Before joining Unit 16 (working title, by the way, needs imporving if you ask me) Mark Ladensfield was living life through a bottle.  Mark had lost his job and his wife had left him.  To console himself, Mark routinely went to his local pub where he proceeded to drink himself stupid.

During one of these sessions a man known only as Colin challenged Mark to a contest.  In one week’s time Mark was to compete against Colin in three disciplines; observation, agility and solving three dimensional puzzles while blindfold.  With nothing to lose, Mark accepted.

He sobered up in time and completed two out of three challenges faster than Colin.  It was then that Colin revealed that Mark had taken an aptitude test for a secret organisation and offered him a position.

And that, folks, is where I’m going to leave the sneak-peek.  Goodbye for now.

 

Oh one other thing, I recently posted a link to a great TED talk about Procrastination on my Facebook page.  You should go over and check it out.  It’s both hilarious and thought provoking.

 

 

The Pink Salamander has landed!

What I threatened a few months ago has finally come to pass (probably before Christmas but I’m not too sure!), The Pink Salamander is here, yay!  You can read it here The Pink Salamander or you can navigate via the menu on the right.

So what was the inspiration behind it?  Well its a strange one really, I recall the title popping into my head not long after I had woken up one morning.  A Pink Salamander was so unusual that, at first, I dismissed it.  I then decided otherwise and went with it.

I took me a while to write it but far longer to edit.  I’m glad I did as the first draft was mainly dialogue.  Dialogue works well in your head but does not make for great reading.

I hope you like it.

 

 

The Night Manager: Episode 4

Now that Pine is deep inside Roper’s crew he can be trusted to own one of Roper’s companies and it is here where we start.  His meddling has not gone unnoticed by Corcoran who has taken more than a dislike to Pine.  Threats ensue especially after a nighttime liaison.  While at the time there was nothing untoward going on between Pine and Roper’s girlfriend, they soon develop a more intimate friendship.

Angela’s back-up source has been getting cold feet and needed persuading to help once more.  His fears are realised later on when he is found dead.  The information he gave was pivotal in more ways than one.

For a start Angela’s team, with the help of a mole, (I use the term loosely here) is able to discover who is set to gain from Roper’s deals.  Shockingly the people are senior members of MI6.  To make matters worse, a member of the government is embroiled in it too.  Wheels must turn which results in the aforementioned death.

While this is going on Roper and Co. make their way to Istanbul.  It is here that Pine must carry out his first transaction of his new company.  As expected, all goes smoothly.

Then we come to a scene which I felt was unnecessary. We know that these deals involve weapons, through dialogue as well as carefully photographed documents, so why show Roper and Co. visiting the ship the weapons arrived on?  Perhaps it is to add an air of excitement or danger to the proceedings.  Without actually seeing the weapons the story could come across as being lukewarm.  I can only guess.

Pine’s antics with Roper’s girlfriend were not as secret as you might think.  Angela’s team have discovered the affair and they order him out.  Panicking, Pine informs Roper of a police presence and they escape just in time.

This episode, despite the earlier reservation, was very good.  The plot twists and turns, never quite going where you think it is.  It helps that brilliant acting brings the story to the fore.  While I have taken the time to highlight the main cast, the supporting members are excellent too.  Even the dinner guest who lost a lobster salad to Corcoran’s antics was well played.

 

photo courtesy of intheequation.com

Ex_Machina: A Review

Do you know what it feels like to be duped?  That feeling you get when you know you’ve been outsmarted.  Its not very nice, is it?  Perhaps you thought you were clever, thriving on it.  Then someone comes along and shows you how foolish you can be.

So I guess my take on this film is this; its smart, very smart.  A thought provoking film that will lead you one way and yet be heading in an entirely different one.  That, my friends, is the hallmark of a great story.

The premise is this, a man wins a competition to spend a week with his boss.  Not just any boss, the boss, the owner of the company he works for.  The winning and the journey are irrelevant except to give a sense of remoteness to where he ends up.

On arrival Caleb, the winner, discovers the ulterior motive.  He is to help perform a Turing Test on an AI the boss has built.  For those who don’t know, a Turing Test is used to see if a candidate can pass as being human.  In this case the AI is a female called Ava.

Throughout the week Caleb and Ava learn about each other.  Not content to leave them to it Nathan (the boss) watches them through a CCTV system.  After all, he needs to observe the test in order to have a point of reference when comparing notes with Caleb.

As new pieces of information come to light, you begin to empathise with the characters.  Trapped in the wilderness they are, in essence, in a cage of their own making.  Who is the caged and who is the keeper?  That is the question.

So it is a given that things start to go wrong.  How and why, I will not reveal but it does add tension to the story.  Over the course of the film they help to reveal loyalties between the parties.  Which all aids to inform their behaviour.

I can’t help but imagine what must have been going through Caleb’s mind over the course of the week.  Who does he trust?  His unsavoury boss or the woman who’s caught his attention?

This film could not have worked without three great actors.  Domnall Gleeson expertly plays a tentative yet thoughtful, Caleb.  Alicia Verkander performs wonderfully as Ava.  Without her wiles working their magic this film would not be as good as it is.  Finally we come to Oscar Issac.  As Nathan, he plays a pretty damn good antagonist to Gleeson’s naive looking protagonist.

As each character is significantly different, they are easy to get into.  But the depth each actor brings to their role makes them feel alive.

Credit must also go to Alex Garland who wrote the story.  I think we forget that if it wasn’t for the story, there would be no film.  If this is what he comes up with, I can’t wait to be outsmarted again.