Escaping Barcelona (Mad Days of Me #1)Escaping Barcelona by Henry Martin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I came to Henry Martin’s book following a discussion of literary fiction in the modern day. I mentioned the cult novel Trainspotting and pointed out that difficulties with the heavy Scottish dialect did not override the fact that it was totally realistic in its handling of drug addiction. Escaping Barcelona also has a form of gritty realism dealing as it does with uncomfortable and unpleasant issues like statelessness, homelessness, exploitation and homosexual rape. It is however a much more approachable book.

The quality of the writing here is excellent and it is not written in dialect or the vernacular which makes it easier for the general reader to get into. To me, the language of evocation and description is vital. One of my favourite poets, for example, is the war poet Wilfred Owen because he brings a talent for visual description to things we don’t consider poetic subjects. In this way Owen gives the horror of war a striking and vivid reality. Henry Martin, for me, achieves something similar on a smaller scale in Escaping Barcelona from the trilogy Mad Days of Me.

In an era where increasingly readers have little time for description, characterization or exposition, he allows us more than just a glimpse of his protagonist’s world. The author is not just content with what his character does and what happens to him; you feel Rudy’s initial sense of awe and excitement on arriving in Barcelona, you smell, taste and see his surroundings. Later the same skills are applied to his physical deterioration, how the fabric of his unwashed socks becomes embedded in the skin of his feet for instance.

Rudy starts out, as many young people do, by feeling trapped at home. He longs for freedom and adventure and leaves the safety and security of his home to seek that freedom on the road. Ironically his search leads to virtual imprisonment in a world where everything is reduced to the absolute basics of survival and where it is hard to trust anybody. His interactions with young women on holiday draw attention to this irony. They too seek freedom and adventure through travel, but unlike Rudy they have not been victimized; they have not lost the physical means of escape and they are still in control of their own destinies. He envies them and he fears for them too. His eventual escape is almost a very final escape, the significance of which was not lost on me.

The novel Escaping Barcelona deals with issues on the underbelly of society; issues of criminality, exploitation of the weak, powerlessness, hopelessness and the all too convenient invisibility of the poor and the homeless. Its premise that this can happen to anybody young, innocent and trusting is sadly built on truth. Your hopes rise and are dashed along with the young protagonist, you see life at its most fundamental, learning survival skills and dealing with frustration and fear along the way.

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I was lucky enough to win a copy of this delightful book in a Goodreads Giveaway. To be honest, it is outside my genre as a reader (and certainly outside as a writer) but I have catholic taste and had entered thinking the blurb was intriguing.

So, These Days of Ours arrived without fanfare on my doormat one sunny day this Spring and I put it on my to be read pile. When I got round to reading it, it was a hot summers day and I was looking for something gentle I could enjoy between bouts of watching Wimbledon. (Whew! Is that exciting or what?) I thoroughly enjoyed this cosy romance, became increasingly angry at the jealous, vindictive and shallow Becca, found myself wondering how on Earth Kate could always be so kind, forgiving and wimpish and yet could not put the book down. (Except to enjoy Roger Federer of course).

The book is a delightful series of vignettes written around social occasions that outline the past history of Kate, Becca, Charlie, Julian and a varied supporting cast. It is actually beautifully written and the characters are very lifelike. Towards the end Juliet Ashton drops some real bombshells and without giving too much away (don’t you hate reviews that rewrite the story?) These Days of Ours has a very happy ending.

I recommend this book for anyone who enjoys old fashioned romances without too much sex or for anyone who is a sucker for long slow build ups and happy endings.

I just posted a short review of Suite Française on Goodreads. It is short because I wanted to digest the reading experience before committing anything final to the ether. First, here is an apologia. I studied French to A-level standard and can understand quite a bit of what I read but I never spoke French well and my days of writing criticism of French literature in French are well past. Having read Suite Française in English, I would feel daunted approaching it in its home language because it is a complex and intricate work full of description and characterization. Camus, which I read at school, is stark and simple in comparison.

Despite my linguistic failings, I would not dream of reading French poetry in English translation and I feel the French language has a gentler, altogether fluffier feel to it that can be lost in translation. When you read an author in translation, you are in danger of missing the music of their words. If the translator is worth their salt then the ideas will not be lost even if their execution is modified. This translation works well.

Suite Française was originally intended to be a five part novel of approximately 1000 pages. It was influenced by Tolstoy’s War and Peace and Nemirovsky also found inspiration in Chekhov and Flaubert. What we have therefore is very much an unfinished project. She was constantly planning changes and had sketched out the direction for the other other three books but this is as far as it got. What intervened was deportation and a month after this she was gassed at Auschwitz.

Bearing in mind that this is a draft of under one half of a novel, how do we fare as readers and does she achieve her goals? Reading the appendices was useful here. I particularly enjoyed this resource and the opportunity it gives to get inside the creative process of a talented writer. It set out her plans for the further development of story and characters; it set out the main purpose too and was really informative. I felt that the style was an impersonal one; Flaubert’s ideas were important to her, and she sets out ideas through the lives and actions of ordinary people. This is done with fine attention to detail, the preoccupations of a populace fleeing from a conquering army in all its sometimes banal detail. If anyone is killed there is a cold detachment that seems to say; “There you are, that’s all there is to it.” This flies in the face of the prior self importance of these characters, who are very much prisoners of the ego – as we all are from time to time. There is talk of the “hive community” of the Germans, but this comes through the French characters too perhaps.

Be prepared for some unorthodox punctuation. “Points de suspension” tend to be frowned upon by modern readers, as I know only too well. (I am fond of them in poetry and it has invited harsh criticism from some critics.) They are used extensively in the scene where Bruno plays the piano and emotions and ideas flow with a breathless and excited quality. It is a shame this way of using them is dying out…

Suite Française is not an easy read or a page turner, but it is a beautifully executed work of fiction based on real life and experience and as such I can highly recommend it. For those who prefer something more approachable, the film is also very enjoyable and much warmer than the fiction.

Today’s post is the first for a long while and may be the longest thing I have written in weeks. At the moment I am listening to my new rescue Persian Babooshka chirping at the birds in our sunny garden. Her former mum is a victim of terminal cancer and she, barely more than a kitten, was busted out of kitty jail only two weeks ago. Already, in true tortie fashion, she is asserting her rights as a would be Head Cat.

Meanwhile here I am, grateful that I can see and appreciate the beauty all around me. It is now seven days since my eye operation and it is still a little sore but the clarity of this new world is amazing. For the first time in my life my distance vision is near perfect. I will need reading glasses for reading and writing, this I know, and the glare from computers and the TV is troubling – but what an advance from where I was last week.

I will not dwell on the unfairness of cataracts at a younger age than normal because if all goes well with this – and with my second operation – I am being given the chance of near perfect vision to enjoy the world while I still have the desire and strength to experience it too. Who knows why I have them anyway? I have always suffered from sensitivity to light so they may be due to a surfeit of sunlight as a child in the tropics or more likely they are an inheritance from my father whose genes I seem to have manifested so far in health matters as in much more. Whatever the cause, the slow, frightening and inevitable dimming of sight has been dramatically reversed and the world I see is staggering in its beauty.

Equally staggering is the list of messages in my Goodreads inbox. I have been so out of touch since my mother’s passing in September and in fact caring for her had put things like doctor, dentist and optician well onto the back burner. I was overdue a little “Me Time” after the funeral, the flat and the paperwork had been sorted. Today was the first time I had attempted to read anything on my Kindle and I managed four chapters before soreness set in. I have some off-the-shelf readers I bought yesterday but my guess is that I will need to ask about computer spectacles after the second eye has healed. In the meantime I will take it one day at a time, enjoy the walking even though I must still wear an eyeshield when out and slowly get back to doing the things I love; the musical arranging, composing, the half finished second novel and adding a tribute to my mother to a second edition of The Tenderness of Mountains. All in good time, of course, meanwhile I have cats to feed, fresh air to breathe and today (now I have reading glasses) there are books to read and review, thank God.

 

Author of  full length romance novel, “Summers & Winters”, Heather Dowell is only 23 now, but has been writing for about 10 years.

“I don’t think there was ever really a moment when I decided to write. I never really thought about it until now, but I think I started coming up with ideas after watching A Walk to Remember. The first plot I came up with was for Summers & Winters. I didn’t make it past the first 60 or so pages until 2009. On my second deployment, my writing really took off. I was tired of looking at a black screen watching the minutes go by, so started stealing computer paper, and pretending like I was working on job requirements, when really I was working on this novel. Now that the novel is finished and I have all of these other ideas swarming around in my head, I don’t think I’ll ever stop writing. People always say they were born to do something, and I believe writing is the thing that I was born to do.”

Heather loves writing, has a rich imagination and is not bound by any one genre, except that she is not interested in non-fiction, Westerns or horror. She has favourites however:

“I love paranormal, sci-fi, dystopia, and fantasy, and I enjoy the challenge of trying to write them and make them realistic.”

Like many authors, Heather becomes deeply involved in the lives and the feelings of her characters too:

“The thing I love most about writing is giving life to my characters. I don’t feel settled until others can read about them. Sometimes I think of my characters as real people. I cry when they cry, laugh when they laugh, and love when they love.“

The next book in the series is “The Coldest of Winters” which picks up right where book one left off, “well, a few hour later to be exact. Sorry about the cliff hanger, but it had to be done. It was the perfect ending to book one and lead in to book 2. I’m sure some of you saw it coming, but I doubt you will be able to predict what will happen in book 2.”

With the quality of Heather’s characterization and great romantic content we can certainly look forward to book 2!

Of course, Summers & Winters is also available worldwide and clicking on the picture below will take you to Amazon UK.

 

I asked Heather to give me a flavour of her characters for you to read and she came up with this interview. Characters were interviewed separately, but the answers are given together for ease in reading!

Heather Winters (H:) and Mitch Summers (H:) interviewed by the author, Heather Dowell (I:)

I: Where do you go when you’re angry?
M: I go to my grandpaw’s. He lives on farm, so there are always things to do. Chopping wood seems to be the best method for getting rid of my frustration.
H: I go running. It doesn’t really matter where. I just can’t sit around. I have to do something about it, or I’ll go out, and that won’t be pretty.

I: What is your biggest fear? Who have you told this to? Who would you never tell this to? Why?
H: My biggest fear is that when I have to go back home, Mitch won’t follow me like he says he will. I’m sixteen and he’s seventeen, our parents aren’t going to change their lives around so that we can stay together. After my grandpa dies, I’m going to have to leave. It’s scares me to death. I’ve told Brittany. I wanted reassurance that I wasn’t being a worse wart. She said she could tell that Mitch loves me, but didn’t offer anything else.
M: My biggest fear is telling Heather that I love her. I’ve never told anyone that before, and I most definitely would not tell Stacey. Stacey would open her mouth and expose Heather and me, and then Heather would be forced to leave.

I: Does you have a secret?
M: I’m dating Heather. It’s not a secret to my closest friends, but no one else know. I want to tell everyone that we’re together so that I can take her on actual dates, but we’re living in the same house, and if my parents find out about us, they’ll find other living arrangements for Heather.
H: I’m in love with Mitch! [squeals]

I: What makes you laugh out loud?
H: Um, everything. [laughs]
M: Listening to Heather’s laugh. I love her, but she sounds like a seal.

I: When you think of your childhood kitchen, what smell comes to mind?
M: Pancakes and waffles.
H: Something on fire. My mom can’t cook worth a – [covers her mouth] – flip. [nods her head in confirmation, blushing]

I: What is your most treasured possession?
H: I have two. The ring my dad gave me when promised not to [gives an awkward look], you know. The second is his compass that doubles as a locket. It was the only thing that survived the [takes a gulp before sighing], you know.
M: It’s going to sound really stupid. I know you’re gonna laugh. I’m a guy, I’m not supposed to be a romantic sap, but this is what she has turned me into. It’s the picture she drew me in Art class a few months ago – a heart with a key at the center.
I: Aw, that’s so sweet. [cough] Dork. [cough, cough] Sorry, got a frog in my throat.
M: [rolls eyes] Sure you did.

I: Moving on, when and where were you the happiest?
M: In my bed.
I: WHAT!!! Y’all didn’t [intruding face]?
M: No. Wow, you have a dirty mind [blushes]. Heather though I was asleep and she [bites his lip and turns his head away from the interviewer, while running a hand through his soft, blonde hair] told me she loved me.
I: AHHH!!! That’s awesome.
M: [raises eyebrows] Yeah, it really is. [bites lip]

I: When and where were you the happiest?
H: Hmm, I’d have to say the entire weekend of Sammy and Brian’s Birthdays. The campgrounds at Hilton Head were awesome, but what I most enjoyed was going to go on a really date with Mitch. We weren’t too worried about the people there with us finding out. We can’t be so careless anywhere near Homestead, so it was nice to be a few hours away.

I: Which talent would you most like to have?
H: I’d love to be able to dance. I’ve had great dance partners that make my look like I know what I am doing, but I have new skills of my own. I’ve only mastered grinding and slow dancing. Anything else, and I’ll look like a fool.
M: I’d love to be able to play the guitar. Heather likes for me to sing to her, even though it makes her cry. They are happy tears, she assures me. I’m sure if I ever have a kid, I’ll want to be able to sing them to sleep, and playing the guitar would only help. [glares questionably] What? No frog in the throat?
I: [wipes tear away with index finger before sniffling and regaining composure] No. That really was sweet.

I: What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
M: Being without Heather. You going to cry again?
I: Nope, I’m good. You’re back to being sappy again.

H: Losing someone you love, especially when their death comes suddenly.

I: What is the quality you most like in a man?
H: Hmm, I’d have to say compassion. I have to have a man that ok with me being emotional at times or angry, or whatever I choose to be at any given moment. He has to show me that he love me and isn’t going anywhere.
I: Trust issues?
H: [one eyebrow raises as the other lowers] I lost my dad when I was 12. I don’t do well with death or any sort of goodbye. I ever despise the very words. Maybe that makes me weak. I don’t know, but it’s not a trust issue. I just like having assurance.

I: What is the quality you most like in a woman?
M: A like a woman that is completely raw. That’s not really the right word, so I’ll explain. I like a woman that doesn’t hold back what she is feeling in order to please other people and is unapologetic about who she is. I want a woman who will put her heart on the line and let me in. A women that will let me discover the depths of her soul. There is only one women like that, and her name is Heather. [hands interviewer a tissue]

Who is your favorite hero of fiction?
M: Superman
H: Superman. I think he always will be now.
I: Why is that?
H: Superman always remind me of the first night I saw Mitch. The airport lost my things, so Mitch let me borrow his pj’s. They are Superman pj’s. I still wear them every night.
I: [cough] Dork. [cough, cough]
H: If going to bed in clothes my man once wore makes me a dork, so be it.

I: Which living person do you most admire?
H: My mom. We both lost dad, and she just kept on kicking.
M: My grandpaw. He’s always been here for me.

I: What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
M: My looks. Heather looks at me like I’m some kind of god, but I’m really not all that good looking, or at least I don’t think I am. If she’s attracted me, then that is all that matters. I could care less about whatever anyone else has to say about my looks.
H: My singing voice. I’m no Demi Lavato. I’m try, and I guess I sing better than most, but I’m not rock star material by any means.

I: On what occasions do you lie?
H: I lie when I’m protecting myself or my friends.
M: When the outcome of telling the truth is unbearable.

H: Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
M: You tell me.
I: [shrugs]
H: You know.

I: How would you like to die?
H: That’s a horrible question for someone like me, but I guess I would want it almost instant, like a car wreck. I’d have long enough to say my last prayer and then POOF.
M: In my sleep. I’m a wussy.

If you were to die and come back as a person or thing, what do you think it would be?
M: Rain, because I would be given other things life.
H: The wind. I could go anywhere.


This is a poem from my collection In Remembrance of Future Present: A Journey through the Art and Heart of Lisa Gabriel, recently released again and in a Goodreads Giveaway. (Details at the end) It was written at a dark time in my life, but is about rising above that through positive thought. I do find these days that so many people have paid lip service to the concept of positivity that it has lost some of its credibility. Being negative about others whilst apparently embracing “positivity” as a set of values is neither positive nor constructive. For me, positivity is a very personal thing, at the time of writing this poem and others it probably made the difference between life and death – it certainly made the difference between sanity and insanity when depression was a very real and close companion.

So, eat, drink and be merry – but above all SING because the singing soul has no room for dark thoughts to multiply. That IS positivity!

In A Quiet Time

I will not write darkly
In this quiet space where time and tide
Seem at standstill…
For me, the Present is a race
To fill the Parting Glass
Before I taste Eternity –
But in this cold time
I live to dream –
Think kindly of me.

I will not write darkly
Of empty, silent days without Truth
For Darkness chains me down…
I would be free!
Pure Love seeks only Light!
I ask no more than this –
The future will be bright
And we will know
No more of pain.

(c) Lisa Marie Gabriel 12th June 2005

Goodreads Book Giveaway

In Remembrance of Future Present by Lisa Marie Gabriel

In Remembrance of Future Present

by Lisa Marie Gabriel

Giveaway ends January 25, 2014.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

Last night I gave in to temptation and decided to run a Goodreads Giveaway on The Cougar. I like the way the physical book has turned out and being aware that there are lots of dinosaurs like me who like the feel of a real book in their hands, I thought a draw might publicise the thing. So we now have a Kindle edition (which is on KDP Prime and free to borrow for Prime members) and a paperback that looks and feels good. We shall see how it goes.

I gave in to the temptation of trying the matte finish out this week too. Today another copy of The Cougar came, this time with a cover in the said matte finish. It feels really nice, but loses depth and becomes very two dimensional. While a plain graphic style cover might look much more elegant in matte, I prefer the depth of colour and the 3D aspect that gloss gives my western hemlock forest image so it will be back to gloss finish any time soon.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

The Cougar by Lisa Marie Gabriel

The Cougar

by Lisa Marie Gabriel

Giveaway ends February 12, 2014.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win