Book Reviews

Pushing the Ogre Off the Corner of my Desk

For someone who has turned the act of self-berating into something of an art form, I’m feeling a little more pleased with myself than I’m used to at the end of this week.  It has been one of achievement of goals set and small steps of progression and that is definitely a reason to be cheerful.

I’m delighted to say I have finally got my act together, stopped prevaricating and completed the re-formatting of What We Didn’t Say. This calls for  hands-up admission; I have absolutely no idea why it took me so long and why I was so averse to getting on with it.  I think I let it become a little ogre sitting on the corner of my desk glowering at me and telling me it was going to be way too painful to be bothered with. Unfortunately over the course of the last 10 months, I kept feeding the ogre a steady diet of excuses until it assumed permanent residency and became Shrek-like in proportion. How mad was that?

On balance, the reformatting was a fairly tedious process, but not as bad as I anticipated and after one or two little wobbles, once I got going it seemed straightforward.  The longest part was checking the format, using the Amazon preview function, for the various Kindle enabled devices and I have to say, it does present very differently in a bog-standard Kindle to a Kindle Fire HD or iPad.

So here it is in all its glory, not yet linked to the print version — Amazon say that may take up to five days. I have made it available in all Amazon market places globally and through the Kindle lending library. Even better, for five days starting tomorrow, 3 March, What We Didn’t Say will be available completely free and you can get a copy here.

I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Bec Evans at Write-Track for allowing me to be part of the beta testing of the Write-Track website because this process of setting goals, taking bite sized chunks out of them on a regular basis and reporting back my progress and sometimes the lack of it — publicly — has quite frankly revolutionised my productivity. I am certain without the impetus I received from taking part, I would never have finished the one last step in bringing What We Didn’t Say to a wider market. I guess I am like the dieter (hang on, I am a dieter), I need to step up onto those scales every week; I need accountability, I need someone in my corner, I need goals and I need to see that I am making progress towards them. Most importantly, I needed to see the ogre for what it was and this process definitely helped me and so I’ve pushed the bugger off his perch, reclaimed the real-estate of my desk for more productive purposes and am refusing to feed him any more.

After 30 years in management this should have been and indeed was nothing new to me, I just didn’t do it in anything other than a work environment, but now, with the motivation I gained in the Write-Track trial I have applied it across the board.  Bec has written a great post on her own experiences which makes very interesting reading.

In my list of reasons to be cheerful — I submitted my proposal for inclusion in the writer development programme earlier this week, in fact 5 days before deadline and even if I don’t get accepted, just the simple act of submission means I am truly emerging from the dark days of despondency and with What We Didn’t Say really finished I am now able to turn my attention to the next project which will be completing my novel.

In Other News…

As mentioned in my last status update, I finished Year of The Flood which brings me to my second hands-up admission: I read this 2nd book in the Maddaddam trilogy in 2010 well before I read the first one. On that basis then, I can say it does stand alone and can be read that way, but as one reviewer said, why would you? So when Maddaddam was published I decided to start again, from the beginning. My review of Oryx is here.

The Year of the Flood (MaddAddam Trilogy, #2)The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Year of the Flood isn’t exactly a sequel or a prequel, it runs almost parallel and retells the story started in Orxy & Crake from a different perspective. In the closing stages however we pick up Jimmie/Snowman where we left him at the end of Oryx. The point of view shifts between two female characters Toby and Ren and the voice switches between 1st and 3rd person pretty seamlessly. Interestingly in other books I’ve read that do this I’ve found that switch irritating, whereas in Year of the Flood I hardly noticed it – a testament I believe, to Margaret Atwood’s skillful writing.

Orxy and Crake was told from a male perspective, this is a book about female characters and is pretty much a story told in expository flashbacks from the point of view of the two main female characters, Ren and Toby. Both women are interesting but Toby is by far the more resonant for me, more aware, less gullible, possibly more resilient and I have to say less irritating than the rather bland Ren who I did get to the stage where I just wanted her to shut up so I could hear more of Toby’s story.

Where Orxy & Crake was set in the corporate controlled compounds, this one is set in the anarchic Pleeblands among a whole host of unsavory characters who find themselves left on the fringes of an increasingly dualistic society: Compound or Pleebland –Haves and Have Nots. Although I say anarchic, there is definitely a prevailing law of the jungle. Atwood’s Pleeblands is a grim vision of a dystopian society where anything goes and life is incredibly cheap; violence (it seems particularly against women) and organ harvesting are all too commonplace and any form of sexual deviation can be bought or sold. The distinction between life as a woman in the pampered Compounds and the desperate Pleeblands is sharply drawn. It seemed to me career choices for women revolved around either slinging Secret Burgers or selling sex.

I think it’s fair to say that all the lead females are sexual victims of one sort or another or become so through the course of the story. This is an aspect of this dystopia which I found myself increasingly uncomfortable with. A lot of things aren’t explained – the background of the mysterious Zeb who isn’t really well developed (but nonetheless interesting), or the exact nature of a fallow state, for example. We are given a much better understanding of the somewhat Syncretistic God’s Gardeners led by the enigmatic Adam One with their theology drawn from multiple sources. At various junctures throughout the story we are treated to Adam One’s homilies and hymns and although they do reinforce the message they break up the flow of the story and from the mid-point onwards I found myself skipping past them.

There is plenty of Atwood’s considerable wit and wry observation in this story. The book is a reasonably quick read and despite the violence and the grim (although not entirely without hope) future it portrays, I did enjoy it and leapt straight into Maddaddam.

And so that’s me done for today, I’m off to do some quilting – of all the needle arts I get involved with, this is the one which has eluded me the most and now that my new sewing machine is finally working correctly, I’m in the early stages of making a quilt with fabric inspired by the TV series Downton Abbey.

Wishing all readers a week of peace and progress, whatever your goals.