I was pleased with this

Manic Readers reviewed my book, The BindingThe Binding Cover:

“The Binding by SF Hopkins is an enjoyable read. In the beginning I felt just Rodney and Melissa’s story. It had more substance. However, as the story went on I came around to Caroline and James. Still Rodney and Melissa were my favorites in this book. I like how the past and present intertwined with each other. There was good balance between the past and present. Readers who like historical romance stories with a happy ending and don’t mind some spice should check out this book.”

I like it! Thank you, Manic Readers

Zoë Ferraris

I read Zoë Ferraris in the “wrong” order—I started with her third book, Kingdom of Strangers, realised what I’d done and read Finding Nouf (also published as The Night Of The Mi’raj) and now I’m about to start on the middle one of the three—City of Veils.

Two months ago, I hadn’t heard of Zoë Ferraris. Now she’s in that small group of writers where I know I’m going to be watching for the next book and I know I’m going to buy it. She got into that group because she writes good, well constructed thrillers and because her characters are human and believable and she makes you care what happens to them. The added attraction, though, is that she writes about Jeddah. I spend a lot of time in Jeddah and Zoë Ferraris describes both the place and the society extremely well. She’s qualified to do so—she’s American, born in in Oklahoma in fact, but she was married to a Bedu from Jeddah who she met in the States and who took her back to Jeddah when their daughter was born.

I’ve seen comments by Arabs that she doesn’t really understand Jeddah society. Oh, yes, she does. She understands the basic decency of so many of the ordinary people and she understands how thoroughly they are supressed by the rich, the powerful and the devout. If you read her books, you’ll understand, too—and you’ll have a really enjoyable read into the bargain.

The Panopticon by Jenni Fagan

You can tell a good painting because the eyes follow you round the room. (If you’re not familiar with this piece of art theory, learn more about it here). Whatever your view of that idea, you can tell a good book by the way the characters come into your life as real people and won’t leave. Anais Hendricks, protagonist of The Panopticon, held me from the moment I opened the book and she never let go. When I was half way through and going to bed, I dreamed about her. When I was thinking about how to deal with something, I found myself wondering what Anais would do. This is a wonderful book, and for a first novel it’s one in a million. Anais is as unreliable a narrator as narrators get: she didn’t put the woman PC in a coma (or did she?); the blood on her clothes is from a squirrel (or is it?); she has no idea who her birth mother was (or does she?) Fagan is in complete control of her material from the first page to the last sentence. The ending had me in tears. I’m not going to say what the ending is, or whether the tears were happy or sad, because I don’t want to spoil the book for you when you read it. But read it you must.

Into the Woods by John Yorke

 

I’m reading Into the Woods, A Five Act Journey into Story by John Yorke. Yorke is Managing Director of a UK independent film producer (Wolf Hall among others). He’s been Head of Drama at Channel Four and Controller of Drama Production at the BBC. This is a man who understands Story.

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So far I’m up to page 3 in the Introduction, and already I’m excited.

The quest to detect a universal story structure is not a new one. From the Prague School and the Russian Formalists of the early twentieth century, via Northrop Frye’s Anatomy of Criticism to Christopher Booker’s The Seven Basic Plots, many have set themselves the task of trying to understand how stories work. In my own field it’s a veritable industry – there are hundreds of books about screenwriting (though almost nothing sensible about television). I’ve read most of them, but the more I read the more two issues nag away: Most of them posit completely different systems, all of which claim to be the sole and only way to write stories. How can they all possibly claim to be right? None of them ask ‘Why?’

Why? I’ve never seen that question addressed before. I’m reading on, and I’ll be reporting here.

True to Life? Or Photoshopped?

Some of my favourite writers are those who appear to draw their characters from life – warts and all. But I did say “appear”. Because many of the stories that are most true to life are, to a great degree, invention. Jane Austen, for example – you don’t read her books so much as inhabit them. The people are real, the buildings are real, the motivations are entirely believable and I have no doubt that there was a basis of observed reality there but what made her such a consummate artist was what she did with that reality.

I started mulling this over when a friend in England sent me this picture of Cartmel Priory. He and his wife had been to a restaurant there to celebrate his birthday and he shot this. His email told me how beautiful the Priory was – and all I could think was, “How could you leave it like that?”

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I left it, too – not my  picture, not my problem – but I was irritated. Irritated enough to come back to
it and remove those horrible, ugly bins. I ended up with this.

 

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Then I sent the pic back to my friend with a message saying, in effect, “I’ve fixed it for you.” And now he was the one to be irritated. He had sent me “an accurate portrayal of how it actually was” and in return he had received “a glossed up olde-worlde picture of how you’d like it to have been. A FAKE.” (Olde worlde? I can see two cars, for Heaven’s sake).

I’d like to say I was hurt but I can’t because I don’t get hurt easily. I did, though, ponder the question of expectations. Then I asked my friend what was the last novel he had read and he said he couldn’t be sure but he thought it was Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad which had been a set book at school several decades ago. He hadn’t enjoyed it and was in no hurry to repeat the novel-reading experience.

And that, I thought, was it. Those of us who like fiction want to see reality, yes; but we want a form of reality that has been processed by the artist. What we want is the reality behind the reality. Which is what I thought I was doing when I removed those dreadful bins.

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