Saturday, 17 November 2012

Places Historic (Selective Shorts Series)

Highlighting another short story I located courtesy of Lightspeed Magazine today, this being Holly Black's Heartless.

Heartless is a narrative concerning the aftermath of battle and destruction – and the pickings which may be sifted from the battle ground in that aftermath by those who follow in the wake of the warriors; the camp women who scavenge amongst the corpses.  Ada is one such and this is her story.  The story of a “hedge-witch no more”, forced to scrounge for the spoils of war as part of the camp or face the possibility she may be killed by those who have invaded her lands.

Death appears in many guises within what is a deceptively short story at 3656 words – not only does Ada make her way through the physical remnants of the soldiers’ remains as they lie discarded about the battlefield but she is faced with the choice concerning whether or not to leave a surviving soldier to his eventual demise.  When she attempts to abandon him she is prevented from doing so by an ancestral manes, whose innate capability for good or ill is rumoured to be questionable.

Similarly, sacrifice plays an important part within the overall story arc.  Ada wears a finger bone about her neck to sever her emotions from the situation in which she finds herself and ensure she feels no fear or pain.  Ultimately, as the story proceeds, it becomes clear that there is more than the literal and simplistic manner in which pain can be encountered and that there are circumstances within which failing to act or care may be more harmful than the alternative.  Further, Ada’s choice concerning whether to live or die mirrors her decision regarding the nobleman she must decide whether to aid or leave to death. 

The imagery related to the severed finger and manner in which Ada is thus rendered “heartless”, as per the title, is also neat, with Roman culture in mind.  An economic tale which takes us to places historic.   

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

A Lovely Little Love Song

The author of Goodnight Mister Tom and Back Home, Michelle Magorian, will be familiar to some already.  I, however, have a soft spot for one of her works which I’ve seen less “buzz” about online, A Little Love Song (Not a Swan in the US).  Those already au fait with Magorian’s works will know she has written a number of novels set within war time Britain and A Little Love Song follows in both Goodnight Mister Tom and Back Home’s footsteps in this regard.

To quote the blurb on the back cover:

“At seventeen, Rose is convinced no one will ever love her, living as she does in the shadow of her beautiful older sister, Diana.  If Diana is the swan, Rose is the ugly duckling.  But for both girls this is going to be an extraordinary summer.

It is 1943 and the war has left its mark even in the sleepy seaside town where the girls have been sent out of harm’s way.  For the first time in their lives they are free of adult restriction.

For both girls it is a summer of self-discovery, but especially for Rose who unearths a love story set in another war, a story that becomes more real when she falls in love herself…” 

A Little Love Song is one of my re-reads – the books I “revisit” every once in a while, to re-experience the pleasure of reading again.  It’s also perhaps my favourite Michelle Magorian work to date.  Whilst Magorian revisits familiar territory in terms of the setting for her narrative with the war time theme, there are a number of respects in which this novel differs from those which precede it.  Rose is noticeably older than either of the main protagonists to whom we have previously been introduced, William Beech or “Rusty” Virginia Dickinson in Good Night Mister Tom or Back Home respectively at seventeen.  Consequentially, the reader is introduced to altogether new emotional territory.  Nor is Magorian reticent to delve into these depths. 

Through Derry, the local bookshop owner’s teenage cousin, Rose takes her first faltering steps towards a relationship and we see this rebound as she is tricked into a sexual relationship and her emotions are played upon, with Derry referring on a number of occasions to the fact that he is go off to war from which he might not return.  Away from parental supervision, Rose also finds herself associating with an unmarried mother to be, Dot, who was unable to marry her boyfriend, Jack, due to her father’s having withheld his consent.

Balanced neatly with these aspects of the narrative arc, Rose discovers the events which preceded it within the village of Salmouth and particularly those affecting Lapwing Cottage, the residence both she and her sister, Diana are renting and which had previously belonged to the locally infamous “Mad Hilda”.  Having discovered “Mad” Hilda’s diary and a letter which appears to encourage the reader to review the diary’s contents, Rose begins to appreciate that matters are not always as simplistic as they may at first appear and, indeed, that “Mad” Hilda may not in fact have been mad at all…  A moment of self-realisation confirms that, ultimately, it is “Mad” Hilda’s diary which prevents her from disassociating herself from Dot and allowing their friendship to develop and another, equally important, relationship to grow.  Furthermore, “Mad” Hilda’s diary takes on even greater significance once Rose realises it holds more than just the secret of Hilda’s sanity and has particular significance for someone with whom she is acquainted in the present.

Rose begins the narrative as an inexperienced and relatively na├»ve teenager who has never had to fend for herself.  By its conclusion, she has taken on employment and action to involve herself actively in the war effort.  Furthermore, she has developed the confidence to begin to write and she is engaged in a genuine, adult relationship.  Ultimately, the mistakes she makes along the way make this journey all the more credible.  Not only that, but the self-sworn “ugly duckling” has become a more self-assured and “darling” goose to her love and we, the reader, are happy for her for it.  Ultimately, happy does not have to mean absolute perfection – it simply means becoming self-aware and comfortable within our own skin; a pretty positive message to end Rose’s journey with - and ours with her.       

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Pondering Performance Poetry (Poetry Corner)

I had the opportunity to experience performance poetry at a writing event recently, which highlighted the fact that I haven’t had chance to read much poetry lately; something I may aim to rectify over the coming months.

For me, performance poetry is particularly fun, given there’s an acting element to the manner in which a poem is delivered or that it’s an opportunity to reconnect with the way in which words sound when spoken aloud or to project poetry interspersed with humour; reasons why I enjoyed Mark Gwynne Jones' Plasticman (audio version of the poem here).
Perhaps, with this in mind, I may well find myself indulging in further performance based poetry events in the future, as I reintroduce poetry into my regular reading list, given the extent to which I connected with its performance based aspect in this instance.  Here’s hoping!