Wednesday, 5 December 2018

#bookreview: Global Fiction

Back on the reading list, we read two stories deemed "Global Fiction", one of which was written by one of my tutors, Christy Lefteri. So obviously I had to get her to sign my book :p
(She said, "This is so weird." But why should it be? haha)

By the SeaBy the Sea by Abdulrazak Gurnah
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

By the Sea is beautiful, a meandering story of remembrance that takes you from Zanzibar to London, through Malaya and Persia, a story of business, love, and revenge.

Wandering through Saleh Omar's memories and Latif Mahmud's accusations, Abdulrazak Gurnah reminds you again and again that what you perceive as a child may not always be true. Related tenuously by marriage, the two men's lives have been intertwined by a series of slights and betrayal, each branch of the family grasping for the property and wealth of the deceased as their own family's prosperity rises and falls over time. Behind the scene, pulling the strings, is Hussein, who both entrances and tricks, then disappears home to Persia to let things fall out as they may.

Yet it's not Hussein himself who brings about their downfall. It's their pride and greed, hidden behind a veneer of religion and holiness, supported by a belief in their own perception of right.

At times, the story seems to drift too far into the past, and you end up on distant shores wondering why Abdulrazak has left you there, but down each branching river, you end up by the same shore, realising that each diverging stream had an effect that ultimately led to Saleh's persecution and need for asylum. And it's by the sea in London, where Saleh tries to build a new life--or at least to let what's left of his life end peacefully--that he has to face the painful past and finally lay it to rest.


A Watermelon, a Fish and a BibleA Watermelon, a Fish and a Bible by Christy Lefteri
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm fighting the urge to write only complimentary things because Lefteri is my tutor lol.

Again, I feel that the reading of this book was slightly impacted by the fact that I was reading it in spurts, mainly while on various trains, and whilst really sleepy. Still, this goes to show that it wasn't particularly exciting to me, because I've powered through books in the middle of the night whilst dead-tired because I really wanted to know what happens next. At any rate, I liked it enough despite the fact that it's historical fiction and not fantasy, so *shrug*. Thinking it over, I'm not too sure if the 4-star is impacted by bias. Now that I'm writing the review, I'm wavering down to about a 3-star, so I'd say it's a tentative 3.5-star book, just because I'm not sure.

The best bits of this book are the beginning and the end. It starts off with this really fairy-tale like sequence, full of symbolism. It's beautiful, and sad, setting you up to journey through war-torn Cyprus in 1974. Lefteri moves you through the capture of Kyrenia through several viewpoints: Maroulla's childish innocence, Adem Berker's loss and guilt, Richard's longing, Commander Serkan Demir's anger and hatred, Koki's fear. Sometimes it's too much--the core of this story feels like Koki's, the way she's caught between Greeks and Turks, an outcast to both groups as much as she is deeply tied to both. I loved the way Adem's, Richard's and Koki's stories weaved in and out of each other, I didn't care so much about Serkan (Lefteri admitted that he was a rather two-dimensional character without an arc) or what his whole confusing interaction with the baby was about, and whilst I loved the thread of the rose and the petals and the innocent fairy tale of Maroulla that both starts and ends the novel, she wasn't ultimately very important to the story. Whilst she acted as a sort-of impetus for Koki to keep moving, keep trying to survive, I kind of feel that she could have been replaced by anything (or anyone) else.

The middle dragged a little as events played out over the five days. There's an immersion in memories of the past, both a sense of longing for what was as well as a lingering regret over how things played out over the years. Ostracism of the Other seems to be a key theme which recurs over and over again, both on a personal and a national level, with the microaggressions of the Greek-Cypriots against Adem and Koki seemingly representative the aggressions of the Greek-Cypriots towards the Turkish-Cypriots and the British in their midst on a national level. In retaliation, the Turkish soldiers rape the women and murder the men on a macro scale of revenge, even though these specific women have done nothing to them personally.

The ending (which I can't say too much of because of spoilers? maybe?) is a beautiful execution of the classic race against time, leaving you braced in your seat with bated breath, hoping that yes, they will meet, yes, things will work out in the end, no, no, please don't miss each other.

Yes, so I was hooked by the beginning, got slightly bored by the middle and then loved the ending, so overall, I'm not very sure how much I actually liked it.

View all my reviews

---

On a final note about global fiction, it feels as if books tagged with the label always seem to be sad stories about refugees and war and displacement, and I'm wondering why.

Friday, 30 November 2018

#fridayflash: Memories



“Rahsia, this is all really yours, you know,” she said, eyes staring up at the gathering rain clouds.

Rahsia frowned. What a strange thing to remember. She had never stared up at … no one had ever said that to—she froze, snatching at the memory in her head.

“I felt terrible being the Secretkeeper, as if I’d stolen your life. Nek knew it would pass from me fairly quickly, although she didn’t know until right at the very end of her life that it would go to me at all. She didn’t know it would go back to you. I didn’t either, not until now. I’m glad, though. I’m glad you’ll have the life you’ve always wanted, that you’ve always planned for. You don’t have to avenge me. Just ... just watch over my children if you can. I don’t know if you can. Everything is changing. You might end up in Suci, for all I know.” She laughed.

Iman laughed.

This was Iman’s Memory, but wasn’t she at the Temple? What was she doing lying on the street dying? How could Rahsia even access them unless—

Rahsia scrambled to her feet and raced out the door, startling everyone in the tailor’s shop, racking her memory—no, Memories—for where Iman had last been. She stumbled into a dark alleyway and was greeted by crowds. Priests, doctors, passers-by—it was like the day Nek had died all over again, except that this was out in public, where everybody could intrude into her grief.

Father Farouk stood over Iman’s broken body.

“I know who killed her,” Rahsia said, breathlessly.

The priest from Suci tilted his head inquisitively. “You have the Memories.”

Rahsia almost chuckled. He’d said it exactly the same way to Iman before, as if he were not checking, not asking, but telling her that she does. But it was still a question—even if it was written on his face, not in his tone. “Don’t tell me: You need me. We have things to do.”

His lips quirked upwards slightly before smoothening out quickly into seriousness. “Take your time. But not too much. We must uncover the true rites behind the Sacrifice and the Penance before it is invoked.”

Before the end of the world. Memories bubbled to the surface, but Rahsia suppressed them for the moment. “I must bury Iman first, and settle her children.”

Farouk nodded. “Do they have family?”

“No. None left. But there are friends, I suppose. Neighbours who will do what is necessary.”

“When you are ready, then.”

“I will see you within the week.” Despite her words, Rahsia didn’t leave immediately. Instead, she grabbed hold of Farouk’s arm. “Take what you need. She needs justice.”

Farouk nodded and laid a hand on the crown of her head, pulling the Memory of Iman’s murder.

“Justice will be served,” he murmured before disappearing into the crowd.

---

So I've finished compiling The Painted Hall Collection into a single book, and decided to add a bonus story, Shattered Memories. This is a short story that happens sometime in Secretkeeper, which is the second book of what's going to be the Absolution Trilogy. If things go as projected. I'm still working out what happens where. 

But, bonus short story!

Details to come soon!

Wednesday, 28 November 2018

#bookreview: Letters to the Church | Francis Chan

Letters to the ChurchLetters to the Church by Francis Chan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Letters to the Church is thought-provoking, especially since it addresses some of the issues I am currently having around church.

Chan draws examples from his personal experiences, both in the old megachurch and in the new house-church style, but qualifies them with the statement that what he has done and what he is doing isn't representational of what Church is meant to be worldwide. He seems to ask instead, who are you following? Jesus or the church leadership team? What does faith, love, and community look like in your context? How would Jesus work in your situation, in your community?

The one thing he does come strongly against is the consumer mindset that besets many a churchgoer, myself included. The emphasis here is not how the church can cater to you, but how you can serve your church in its goal to reach the surrounding community.

I guess it all centres around the question What IS church? Is church as we know it the way it's supposed to be? Or is it supposed to be something more? Chan draws stark differences between the Westernised church (Westernised, not Western, because there are many churches in the East which follow the Western ways) and the persecuted church.

And that's the answer I'm still trying to find.

Note: I received a digital copy of this book from NetGalley. I was given the book with no expectation of a positive review and the review is my own.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, 27 November 2018

#guestpost: Why the busiest times are the best times to write by @akooman

If you’re like me, you have to pretty much hire private security to keep yourself from watching reality television, because if you start you can’t stop. Not the self-absorbed-celebrity-does nothing-significant-and-films-themselves-arguing type of reality TV. I mean the shows where creative people have a deadline to make something, with an interesting challenge thrown in for kicks.

Like: Use this ball of string, four rags from a mechanic's shop, and a push-up bra to design a glamorous outfit that an A-list star will wear to the Met Gala. You have three hours.

Or: Here’s a box of locally grown produce (turnips), a can of Spam circa the Vietnam War, and four jelly-filled doughnuts. Make an appetizer that will persuade a Michelin-star chef to hire you as the sous-chef at her new Vegas restaurant. You have twenty-five minutes.

Put a bunch of success-hungry creative people in a room together and give them a timed challenge with limited resources and I’m a fan, no matter if it’s fashion, furniture or fine dining.

It’s amazing to see what people can come up with on a forced timeline. It’s cathartic to see how they handle the pressure cooker of agreed-too but extreme limitations, especially when there’s some prize money and career breakthrough on the line.

If you’re indie anything—musician, writer, artist—you probably know just how mesmerizing it can be to watch such creative feats unfold.

As ridiculous as it may first sound, I think there’s something to be gleaned—besides entertainment and the occasional inspiration—from these creative Guinea pigs: a sobering kind of motivation.

In fact, my busiest times are the best times to write. Now, you might scoff at this premise coming from me, since I’m about to release Book Two in my YA series nine years after releasing Book One. But hear me out, because I stand by my claim.

One of the most productive exercises I have incorporated into my own writing practice and that I use when I lead other writers in workshops is to “force” writing for short moments, with a single rule: write for an entire minute, no matter what.

For some, especially writers with writers’ block, this can feel like cruel and unusual punishment akin to water boarding, but it’s actually a kindness. Once the parameters are clearly established and the stopwatch starts, one minute typically turns into two, then three, even five or more and the resistant writer can’t stop writing.

Boundaries, deadlines, limitations are a kind of grace for any writer.

That’s not to say one can command the best content at any time, simply by summoning a stopwatch and a pad of paper with a pen. Because certain stories must be ready to tell.

That’s the flip-side of the coin that is my own writing practice. I thrive within clear deadlines, but the story I need to tell must also be ready to be told. And there’s mystery to that process for me.

So, I can’t say with one hundred percent certainty why I waited almost a decade to write Book Two. Life got busy (with multiple stage plays, tours, a film, world travel, family, grad school, and a hundred other things) so the project got pushed back. But it also wasn’t ready.

I wrote other things in the meantime and when it was, I set a timeframe. And, on available days I had to write, I sat down to craft the story. Sometimes the writing flowed outside of the set time; sometimes it stopped short.

Then I’d schedule another deadline until the book was complete. Despite “everything else” in my life both professionally and personally, I’ll do the same for Book Three.

For some reason, the busiest times are the best times to write because I’m forced to ensure I carve out time for the thing I love, that refuels me, that I need to do, in the midst of all that’s going on (even when the busy thing is a writing project itself. Because—as an aside—even in the midst of a project, there’s always another story I want to tell and pick away at and find time to simply outline because it’s another opportunity and a kind of reprieve or breath of fresh air from the hard work that the current project requires).

So, my fellow creative, let “busy” fuel your practice. What mesmerizing feats will it force out of you?

##

Andrew Kooman is an award-winning writer and producer with a Master of Arts degree in English from Western University. His critically acclaimed work has been produced around the world and translated into more than 10 languages. A co-owner of the production company Unveil Studios, Andrew writers for the page stage and screen. His new novel Ten Silver Coins: The Battle for Acchora is available November 29, 2018 and is the second book in his YA series.

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Get a copy of Ten Silver Coins: The Battle for Achhora

Print Book - As of November 29:
amazon.com (and all regional territories)
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Monday, 26 November 2018

#musicmonday: So Faithful | Josh Yeoh, feat. John Dip Silas


You’ve been so good
You have been faithful
Oh how I love you, God

---

Because sometimes you need to sing it into being.


Friday, 23 November 2018

#fridayflash: Physicality



The first thing Daisy noticed about the house was the draft.

“It’s a little cold in here, isn’t it?” she remarked to the real estate agent as they went up the stairs to look at the bedrooms.

The agent gave her an odd look. “The heating’s on,” he said, going to check the thermostat.

It was, indeed, on.

Daisy stood next to the radiator, feeling the warmth of it, wondering where that odd draft had come from. But it seemed to have disappeared; the house was warm and cosy, everything she had been looking for.

There were two large bedrooms on the upper floor, each with their own attached bathrooms, perfect for when family came to visit or if she decided to take in a lodger. On the ground floor was a cosy living room filled with antique furniture and knick-knacks from the prior owner (a little old lady who’d died the previous year) and an old-fashioned fireplace, a mid-sized kitchen, and a tiny study, should she want to do any ‘serious work’, as the agent put it.

It was perfect, despite the yard being too large (a gardener could be hired, if need be?) and that draft (where was it coming from?). Daisy got the number of the hired man who used to work the yard for the previous owner, but didn’t mention the draft; after all, the real estate agent hadn’t noticed anything. Maybe she was a little too sensitive to the weather.

Daisy paid the down payment on the house and moved in right away.

###

Elizabeth woke up in the living room. Really, she’d taken to falling asleep all over the house lately. She yawned and stretched, then got up to put the kettle on, only to walk into the coffee table. She stood, blinking confusedly at the table for a while, then looked around the room. Someone had moved the furniture while she’d been a sleep. How rude!

The couch she’d been on had been placed at an angle on the left of the fireplace so that she could rest with toasty toes while looking up occasionally to see that her roast wasn’t burning, which was why she’d gotten up and walked straight ahead towards the kitchen. Only, someone had moved the coffee table that was supposed to be by the head of her couch—to put her tea cup on, of course—into the middle of the room, right in front of the fireplace. Really, where was the sense in that?

Elizabeth shook her head, tutted, moved the coffee table back to its original position, and then went to make a cup of tea.

###

The kettle was whistling in the kitchen again, but Daisy was quite sure she hadn’t put it on. It had taken to whistling at odd hours of the day, usually at eleven in the morning, well past when Daisy had her breakfast, and then again at three in the afternoon, when she was busy working in the study.

Sure enough, the kettle was warm, but it was empty. She put it away, locking it in the cupboard for good measure (There! See if those hooligans could get at it now). She was almost at the study door when she realised something looked different. She stood in the doorway, surveying the living room. Someone had moved the coffee table. Well, she was too tired to move it again, so she decided to let it be.

Daisy shivered. That draft was too much. She’d have to find someone to fix it.

###

It wasn’t funny. Why anyone would think that pranking a little old lady was a good idea, Elizabeth couldn’t fathom. How could she have elevenses if the kettle was locked away? She’d gone searching up and down the kitchen for it, but it had been nowhere to be found. Someone had locked this cupboard though—really, this was too much—so it had to be in there.

Elizabeth fretted, wondering who she could call. Maybe that nice young man down the road who did her yard could help. He’d know how to pick the lock, or maybe he’d be able to help her find the key. She had to admit—her eyesight wasn’t what it used to be. She’d lost many a thing in the last year, especially with all her furniture being moved around by pranksters. Resolutely, she marched out of the house, letting the door slam behind her.

###

The slam of the door jolted Daisy from her mid-morning nap. Those hooligans again! The furniture, then the kettle, and now, the door. And that perfectly nice real estate agent hadn’t even warned her that there were hoodlums in this area who enjoyed breaking into people’s houses! Admittedly, they hadn’t stolen anything (she’d checked all her belongings to be sure), but they were very annoying.

Daisy went down and had another look around. Nothing had gone missing, though someone had obviously been rifling through the kitchen cupboards. What did they expect to find in there? Hidden money? She wasn’t one of those little old ladies who kept spare cash in a jar in the kitchen. She’d had enough. It was a Saturday, so the real estate agent was probably not going to pick up her call, but she’d seen a man (the hired man the agent mentioned, she thought) in one of the houses down the road when she was coming back from the store the other day. Maybe he’d know what was going on in this neighbourhood.

###

Alex looked up in alarm at the sight of two ladies beelining towards him, one alive and one very much dead. It was at times like this that he hated his ability to see and speak with the dead. Well, he should have expected it. He’d known Elizabeth’s spirit hadn’t left the house yet, but hadn’t done anything about it or mentioned it the last time he’d worked on her yard.

Now he was going to have to explain to the new occupant that she was sharing the house with a ghost and to Elizabeth that she’d left the physical plane. How fun.

---

Partially because we were supposed to do suspense, with elements of foreshadowing, shifting points of view, withheld information and lines of convergence, if I got that all right.

But also partially because I promised someone on twitter a ghost story.

Heh.

Wednesday, 21 November 2018

#bookreview: Ten Silver Coins: The Battle for Acchora | Andrew Kooman

Ten Silver Coins: The Battle For AcchoraTen Silver Coins: The Battle For Acchora by Andrew Kooman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ten Silver Coins: The Battle for Acchora drops you in the middle of a story you last left... almost ten years ago now. It took me a while to reorient myself to the happenings in this book (seeing that I don't have a copy of the first one with me at the moment), but then I got caught up in the excitement and it didn't really matter.

The Drylings of Acchora are now visible, and the volcano they've been hiding in for years has erupted, causing them to have to flee for their lives, both from the spreading fire and the Rashtakar's armies. Ama and Juria take risky, unconventional paths to try to save the land and people they love--not just from the evil one, but from traitors in their midst.

It's an ambitious project, in both scope and breadth. The story gets slightly confusing at times as Kooman tries to pull several key storylines into one cohesive text, jumping from Juria and her brother Jordyn, to Ama and Jill, sometimes together, sometimes individually, extending the various points of view as you go further in the novel to encompass a huge cast of Drylings. Kooman can get very descriptive, giving you details of what these creatures look like in exquisite detail, describing action scenes sometimes almost blow for blow--it's imaginative and vivid, but sometimes a little too much to take in at a go.

Carrying on the theme of acceptance and second chances from the first book, the Drylings' rejection and suspicion of the Invalids--Drylings born without wings--echoes Jill's status as an outcast in Vendor. This is countered firstly by Ecklar's drive to save Juup and Trill when no one else would and Ama's willingness to take them in, as well as Jill's persistence in seeking them out.

The Battle for Acchora is also a journey of rediscovery for the Drylings--things they have long forgotten come to light as they emerge from their shelter. If there is a new theme to this story, it's probably this: that the sins of the fathers should not be visited on their children.

If there were anything I'd really like more of, it would probably be a little more clarity on the mystery of the ten silver coins. But I guess Kooman is just teasing it out as we follow the coins (and Jill) into the next book!

Note: I received a digital copy of this book from the author. I was given the book with no expectation of a positive review and the review is my own.





EXCLUSIVE EXCERPT FROM BOOK 2 Jill loosened the red tassel and opened the mouth of the pouch, pouring the contents into her hand. She gasped. A handful of coins filled her palm, the same dirt covered coins in need of a polish that she had found in the emptied fountain in the Great Hall. “What’s on the coin?” the cat asked. Jill rubbed one of the coins to remove some of the dirt. The dirt smudged away to reveal an elegant equine face. She held it up for the cat to see. “A horse.” “Turn it over,” the beast commanded. The other side was also covered in dirt. She placed it back in her hand. When the cleaned coin surface touched her skin, the ridge of the scar etched into her palm by the firestone started to pulse slightly with red light. “What marking is on the other side?” the cat asked. Jill started to rub the dirt off the coin. She didn’t expect to see anything, since the opposite side of the coins had been devoid of engraving when she first acquired the treasure from Seraph. “Oh my!” Jill said, when she saw the mark. “How can that be?” “She held up the coin for the cat to see. “Impossible!” the cat said. “It looks like you,” Jill said, “but this beast has wings.” Excerpt From: Andrew Kooman. “Ten Silver Coins: The Battle for Acchora.” iBooks #itunes #BookSeries #YA #novel #adventure #identity #story #writer #preorder #fiction #giftideas #christmasgifts
A post shared by Andrew Kooman (@andrewkooman) on

Ten Silver Coins: The Battle for Acchora launches on 29 November 2018.

Preorder your copy from Andrew's website (with special freebies!) or from the following retailers:

Monday, 19 November 2018

Friday, 16 November 2018

#fridayflash: more #nanowrimo excerpt from the WIP



Josh stood frozen. Was this the way? Was this how they’d finally be able to return to Maha? They’d get Michael back to Maha—it was impossible to bring Samuel under these conditions—and when they were there, they’d be able to drum up the revolution, be able to amass an army to fight back, find a way to win back their city. He could subvert Lady’s Dell’s orders. Somehow. He had to talk to his father, see how they could use this to their advantage. Maybe they could actually leave without too much bloodshed.

The blow that landed on his cheek stunned him.

“Bastard. You’re planning to take it, aren’t you?” Michael growled. “You’d take my throne from me and laugh as I grovel at your feet. You want to break me like Dell has done my father?”

“Michael—”

“The throne of Maha will not be taken by infidels. It will not be occupied by Bayangans. The world will end before God allows that to happen!”

“Michael!” Josh grabbed at his prince’s flailing arms. “That is not what I intend to do! Listen to me, Michael,” he whispered fiercely, forcing the mad prince down on his knees. “You will be restored to your throne. But for now you must stop this. Stop it before you endanger everything.”

But Michael wouldn’t stop. He was in a frenzy, driven by fear, anger, and bitterness. Josh wrangled him into a chokehold, then manoeuvred his body, pressing him face-down into the floor. Reaching out, he snagged the ever-present chains and snapped them on the bands around Michael’s wrists and ankles. Michael continued wriggling on the ground.

“I don’t know how to talk sense into you, Michael, but you have to snap out of this. I can’t return a throne to a madman.” Josh kept his voice low, hoping that no one was listening at the door. “I’m going to meet my father tonight. I didn’t plan on bringing you along, but I’m going to need to. You need to listen to everything we have to say and understand Michael that everything we’ve been doing is intended to return your throne to you. You’re going to have to make decisions tonight. And you’re going to have to trust us.”

Michael stopped struggling.

“Can I let you up now?”

Michael nodded and Josh lifted the pressure from the back of Michael’s head and neck.

“Do you really mean all you said?” Michael asked, still wild-eyed, mouth full of carpet dust.

Josh nodded. “I do.”

“Why have you never told me all this before?”

“I told you right in the beginning, but you refused to believe me. And then it got too risky.”

“Then why tell me now?”

“Because if Dell intends to return us to Maha, this speeds up our timeline. This is an unexpected development that I hope will turn out for good. I don’t know how exactly we can subvert it to our purposes, but if we can, it means that you now need to know what we plan and how to react when we stage our coup.”

Michael lay silent. He closed his eyes and breathed in deeply. Then he opened it as he exhaled. “I’m sorry. Could you let me go now?”

Josh dug in his pockets for the keys and released the chains. His jaw hurt and he stretched it.

“That’s going to bruise really badly,” Michael said, dropping his eyes habitually.

“Yeah, thanks.”

They sat in silence.

“You know what?” Josh finally said. “You really pack a punch. This was the hardest time it ever took for me to subdue you. And even then, I felt as if you let me.”

Michael lay on his back and stared up at the ceiling. “Something’s changed. Something clicked in me and I felt a surge of power. Not like anything I’ve ever felt before. It shocked me so much that I stopped. I was only flailing about half-heartedly to throw you off.”

Their eyes met. Josh’s eyes widened.

“Your Berserker powers,” he gushed in a quiet whisper.

“No…” but Michael’s eyes widened too.

---

I was thinking of developing this week's homework into something for next year's Commonwealth Short Story prize so I decided not to post it up. :)

Anyway, did a 10K day yesterday, wouldjalookitdat!


The story is probably 80% waffle right now, but that's okay, because most of that waffle is helping me figure out what the characters want :p

Wednesday, 14 November 2018

#bookreview: Reading Like a Writer | Francine Prose

Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write ThemReading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them by Francine Prose
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I picked this up because it was on the supplementary reading list and I was feeling lost about how all these people with literary backgrounds were giving deep opinions on the books we're reading in class and I was just like... it's a book, I liked it or I didn't like it, or it bored me to death. (I don't do very well in verbal discussions. I would just like to send them all my Goodreads reviews lol).

Prose talks about the things she looks out for when reading, which is sometimes helpful, sometimes uh, where did that come from? But on the whole, it's covered a lot of things we've also been doing in class. I do like her end conclusion, though, which does say just read for the sake of enjoying the language, not because you want to dissect the story or argue about your opinion of what the author intended when he said such-and-such. (Will Self also said that in yesterday's lecture: read, read, read, read.)

I do read a lot. But what I need to get better at is close reading. This book gave some pointers on how to start doing that.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, 13 November 2018

#guestpost: the Diverse World of the Island of Myste | Randall Allen Dunn

Diversity in stories is a very popular theme today. However, I was planning to write characters with diversity long before it became a trend, because many other writers were doing the same thing before me.

I saw strong examples of diversity in fiction when I was a kid. Television series like Star Trek and Mission: Impossible had very diverse casts that showed various races working together as teammates and equals, who rarely acknowledged the difference in their races. Several other television series highlighted individual races, such as Diff’rent Strokes, All in the Family, The Jeffersons, and 21 Jump Street. I also saw cartoons that featured other races, like Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids, The Amazing Chan and the Chan Clan, and animated portrayals of The Harlem Globetrotters and The Jackson 5.

Diversity in fiction is not really a new concept. It’s simply identified and spotlighted more heavily these days when it occurs. Those shows that portrayed diversity well have inspired me to create stories that present diverse groups in believable and positive ways. Even in high school, I wondered why the lead protagonists in American fiction stories were always white. I determined to write some stories with non-white heroes.

My latest story, The Island of Myste, is a fantasy adventure for middle grade readers, about an adoptive family that is also a mixed family, something which has not been done very often in fiction. We have many stories about heroes who have been adopted, from Superman to Harry Potter, but they typically share or resemble their adoptive parents’ race. The nine-year-old hero of this story, Yumiko Corr, is a Japanese girl who has been adopted by an African-American couple. This causes her some stress because she clearly doesn’t look like her new parents, which gives her an innate sense that she doesn’t truly belong.

My wife and I are white, and we have two African-American children that we have adopted. One of the most heartbreaking things I experienced as an adoptive father was when our one-year-old daughter was comparing her brown-skinned arm to my wife’s, and asked when her skin would start to turn pink. My wife explained to her that we had different skin colors and it would not change, and did not need to change, because she was perfect the way she was.

But I have come to believe that sharing the same race within your family provides a deeper sense of belonging, especially for kids. We all know it shouldn’t feel that way, but children in a mixed family can feel disconnected, even though they know they are fully loved, simply because they look different. In The Island of Myste, Yumiko and her adoptive parents travel to Tokyo to search for her birth mother, so Yumiko can feel a sense of identity, once she knows where she came from. But a freak storm transports them to another dimension, where nothing exists but an enormous island, on which strange creatures called the Nephilim have been trapped for centuries. Like Yumiko, the various individual Nephilim feel disconnected from one another, even though they are all one tribe, created with different roles and abilities. The Centauri (Centaurs) are outstanding archers and woodworkers, while the Taurusors (minotaurs) are overly aggressive iron workers, and the Meral (mermaids) nurture others and help them to see beauty in life.

Unfortunately, the Nephilim were all banished to this dimension for failing to lead and protect mankind, as they were created to do. They were divided even farther when a spoiled human boy, Rodney, recently took over the island, using stolen magic to enslave everyone. Yumiko soon discovers that she’s destined to rescue the Nephilim from Rodney and return them to her own world.

But to do that, she’ll have to teach the Nephilim to work together and have hope again, that they can be restored to their former roles of honor. Just as we need to maintain hope that we can overcome prejudices and stand together as one race.

I’m really looking forward to introducing readers to all the Nephilim tribes, many of which will surprise them but, I hope, will satisfy their expectations for what they have always imagined creatures like centaurs, mermaids, gargoyles, and other fantasy figures to be. Some are introduced in the first book, and more are revealed in Book 2.

There’s a sneak preview at the end of this book for the sequel, Terror on the Island of Myste, which comes out in December. That story introduces some new central characters and Yumiko makes a bold decision that changes everything for the Nephilim. Book 3: Escape from the Island of Myste releases in January, when the Nephilim attempt to escape from King Rodney and the island. There’s also a contest that people can enter, to be named as a Nephilim in the final book. To enter, people can link to my website to learn how to create their own Nephilim name, here: http://www.randallallendunn.com/2018/10/17/learn-your-nephilim-name-for-the-escape-from-the-island-of-myste-contest/

All you have to do is choose which Nephilim you want to be, then follow the naming pattern to turn your own name into a Nephilim name. You can become a fairy, gargoyle, minotaur, or whatever you want.

Once you have your name, just email it to me at Randall@RandallAllenDunn.com, with a contact address for you or your parents. If you have trouble creating your name, email me your name and I can send you your Nephilim name in 2-3 days.

Then I’ll add your Nephilim name to a page where you can ask people to vote for your Nephilim name. https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1Q4Uq0xkqx6es95DhDwJkuqdKgdQKoJVJf_MBxCOR9Bg/viewform?edit_requested=true

The top 3 voted names by midnight of December 31st, 2018, will be published in Escape from the Island of Myste!

Meanwhile, Book 1: The Island of Myste, is now available for pre-order and will launch this Friday, November 16th!

###

Despite 900 years of Jedi training, Randall Allen Dunn was rejected as Defense Against the Dark Arts professor at Hogwarts. He later used his Lunar gifts to become a volunteer Watcher guiding future writers and Vampire Slayers, until the Sorting Hat placed him in the YA ThrillerWriter faction. He now writes action thrillers that read like blockbuster movies, packed with action, adventure, and infinite possibility.

You can contact him by using the Force or by email:
Randall@RandallAllenDunn.com


Monday, 12 November 2018

#musicmonday: In Over My Head | Bethel Music



---

I have come to this place in my life
I’m full but I’ve not satisfied
This longing to have more of You
And I can feel it my heart is convinced
I’m thirsty my soul can’t be quenched
You already know this but still
Come and do whatever You want to

I’m standing knee deep but I’m out where never been
And I feel You coming and I hear Your voice on the wind

Would you come and tear down the boxes that I have tried to put You in
Let love come teach me who You are again
Would You take me back to the place where my heart was only about You
And all I wanted was just to be with You
Come and do whatever You want to

And further and further my heart moves away from the shore
Whatever it looks like, whatever may come I am Yours
And further and further my heart moves away from the shore
Whatever it looks like, whatever may come I am Yours

Then You crash over me and I’ve lost control but I’m free
I’m going under, I’m in over my head
And You crash over me, and that's where You want me to be
I’m going under, I’m in over my head

Whether I sink, whether I swim
Oh, it makes no difference when
I’m beautifully in over my head
And whether I sink, whether I swim
It makes no difference when
I’m beautifully in over my head
And I am beautifully in over my head
Beautifully in over my head

---

You hold the world together
Stop me unravelling

Friday, 9 November 2018

#fridayflash: excerpt from the #nanowrimo WIP

A knock on the door alerted King Samuel that it was time for the scry. He reluctantly kept the bottle back in its place, stood and smoothed down his shirt, then shrugged on his royal robes. He would appear in this kangaroo court in all his regality so they’d remember who he was and what he represented.

The council was already seated when he entered the Council Room. They made to rise, but he gestured at them, signalling them to keep their seats. He took his own seat at the head of the table and nodded at the priest in charge to open the scry.

The High Priest from Suci appeared in the mirror and, to his surprise, the Secretkeeper from Impian. What was she doing there? Where they conspiring against him? He narrowed his eyes at them. Well, if it was going to be a firing squad, at least Tun Ali from Impian wasn’t there. Moments later, King Samuel winced when Tun Ali appeared in a second mirror. Ali looked bored.

“You too?” Samuel said with a snort.

Ali shrugged. “I was summoned, so I here I am.”

“Well, let’s get this over with, shall we?” Samuel said, looking at the High Priest.

“This is no joking manner, young man,” the High Priest said sternly.

“As I have said over and over again, this is the best course for Terang—it is the only way to see lasting peace in the kingdom, instead of always having to worry about impending war from Bayangan.”

“You would ally with the enemies of God!” the High Priest protested.

“Well, if God were against them, he can strike them dead and we wouldn’t be in this fix of always being on the brink of war. Don’t you want peace, High Priest? Don’t you think the people deserve that chance for peace?”

“Young man, your heart is in the right place, but your actions are wrong. This treaty might offer peace for the short term, but it will only end in disaster,” the Secretkeeper said.

“I’ve prayed about this,” Samuel said obstinately, “and since God hasn’t struck me dead, I can only assume that I’m not doing anything wrong.”

“He has sent his word to the priests both in Maha and in Suci but you have ignored their advice! You only listen to your own council.”

“The Temple itself says that each man can approach God on his own and that God speaks to their hearts. My heart says that this is what is right for me and for Terang. Dare you go against your own teachings?” Samuel mocked. He pushed aside the remnants of his worry that he might be headed in the wrong direction. This was right, he told himself again. “Besides, the council of seven in Maha are in agreement.”

The seven other men around the table nodded. They hadn’t all been in agreement at first, but Samuel had worn them down, pleading his case and reworking the treaty to satisfy their worries until they had reluctantly agreed. The only thing he refused to budge on was the fact that he was going to marry Dell.

The High Priest and the Secretkeeper seemed to be having a hurried whispered conversation.

Samuel preened. He’d managed to throw them off, at least a little.

“My visions only see dark things if you take this route,” the Secretkeeper finally said. Her face was downcast, her tone low, but Samuel knew it was all an act. 

Get him to pity the woman and maybe his heart would be moved. No. He’d made his decision and he would stick to it. “Ramalan, I do not profess to understand the workings of your visions. But I have seen things with my own two eyes and they tell me that this is the best way forward. The people of our city are crying out for help. This treaty will bring jobs, trade, money. It will help everyone from the poor to the rich.”

“Must you marry the girl?” Ramalan asked.

Samuel’s face pinched. “Is that what this is all about? Despite all that I do for the kingdom, all the things I sacrifice, you would deny me the right to marry a young woman who is willing?”

“We do not deny you the right to marry anyone, King Samuel,” the High Priest replied. “Just not her. Not her, who is our ancient enemy.”

Samuel shook his head. “I don’t understand you. For all your talk of forgiveness and repentance, you cannot accept when one who was our enemy has repented and is now seeking to be our friend.”

“Fellow rulers,” Tun Ali finally spoke up, “Far be it from me to impose on any of you, being the youngest of all, but it is Samuel’s right to marry whom he wishes.”

Samuel shot him a grateful smile. “Thank you, Ali.”

The two scrying from Suci looked frustrated. “God says—”

“If I may remind you, High Priest, there are many Bayangans in Maha. All of them follow God and the teachings of the Temple. How can you be prejudiced against them when you preach love towards all? Princess Dell may yet come to know and follow God as we do.”

“And has she shown any interest in following our religion?” the Secretkeeper asked sharply. “Or does she merely delay you and tell you it may come to pass one day in the distant future?”

“In fact, Dell has visited the Temple in Maha when she was here,” Samuel said. He’d almost had to coerce her to go, and it was just a tour of the premises and not during services, but he didn’t say that. “I would say that she is quite open to listening about God. Belief and faith will come in time.”

A long silence permeated the room. 

“Do you have anything else to say?” King Samuel said when a long enough time had passed.

“It looks like we cannot convince you otherwise.”

“No, you can’t. I have quite made up my mind, and it is within my rights as the King of Maha and Sovereign of the tri-city states of Terang to do so, especially when the Council of Seven are in agreement.”

“One last thing then,” the High Priest said.

“What would that be?”

“Will you release my priests? The Temple in Maha has informed me that you have unlawfully imprisoned the Chief Priest Francis and two other high ranking priests over the last three months. What offence have they made against you?”

Samuel grimaced. “I will release them on the condition that they return to Suci and replaced with new priests who respect the authority of the King. These priests have spoken out publicly against My Royal Person in the middle of Temple services in an astoundingly rude manner. This is both disruptive and against the rule of law. If they wish to admonish me or impart their ‘words of wisdom’, I would advise them to do it in a more courteous manner instead of inciting insurrection.”

“Noted. We will discipline them as necessary,” the High Priest said.

“Now, if that is all…?”

Samuel waited for those in the scrying mirrors to assent before he signalled for the attending priest to break the link.

“Well, that’s that then,” he leaned back in his seat with a big smile.

---

So this is the last bit I wrote yesterday during my write-in at the Uxbridge Library. I'm kind of liking it at the moment, and unfortunately liking my "bad people" with more glee than the actual intended protagonists of this story.

If you notice, this takes place in the whole Absolution universe ha. It's supposed to happen way before Secretkeeper and Absolution, so yes, the Secretkeeper is Nek Ramalan, though I suppose she's not old enough to be "Nek" yet. Hmmmmmm. 

Wednesday, 7 November 2018

#bookreview: More from the MA reading list (which I surprisingly liked) #AnnasMA

White is for WitchingWhite is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Told mostly by Miranda's twin, Eliot, White is For Witching explores the tragic tale of Miranda Silvers, the girl with pica, who is slowly fading away after the death of her mother, Lily. I say mostly, because parts of the novel are also told in a general narrator type POV, by the house (hah) as well as Miranda's friend, Ore. But mostly, it's Eliot's voice who dominates, Eliot who is both friend and enemy to his twin.

Oyeyemi keeps you off balance throughout the book through POV changes, stylistic formatting changes, shifts and revelations within the text that sometimes blindside you. She starts with Miranda's disappearance, heads back to the past where it all began and then ends up back where she started: where is Miranda?

This week's theme is on Place, so I'm guessing this book is significant because it uses place (the house on 29 Barton Road) as a character, as a persona that holds secrets and affects everything in Miranda's life. (Is Miranda truly crazy, mentally ill? Or is it the house or whatever spirit that lives in it the one that is doing things to her; this living house that claims all Silver women as hers? Who are the shadowy beings only Ore can see besides Miranda?)

Dover seems like a small, white town, with a burgeoning immigration population. Is the racism seen (four immigrant boys slashed, killed; the house's rejection of Ore) something inherent in the house/its spirit or is it a projection of Miranda's subconscious? It's never settled who killed the boys, or why Tijana thinks it's Miranda, other than the fact that the last one, her cousin Agim, sees a slight resemblance between Miranda and his attacker.

Cambridge is nothing more than a place where Miranda escapes to and meets Ore, where she separates herself from the house, where she slowly fades. But Miranda also seems to feed off Ore, in the same strange way Lily might have fed off Luc, though it's never clear, never explained. (Is it the soucouyant? What is Sade trying to ward off?)

Nothing is clear. The narrators are unreliable, the main protagonist dead or missing, only seen through the eyes of those around her.

A haunting, unsettling read.

---

Perfidious AlbionPerfidious Albion by Sam Byers
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Perfidious Albion is very much a story of our times, for all that it's set in a future post-Brexit era.

Byers touches on all the current hot-button topics: racism and equality; Internet privacy, doxing, and rape threats; unsolicited dick pics; feminism, misogyny, and the fragile white male; efficiency, microtasking, and freelance culture. Within just Robert & Jess's relationship, Byers lays bare the stark differences in approach and understanding of similar events between a male and a female of similar standing and class (attacks on males are professional, attacks on females are personal). With Trina and Darkins, you see a vast difference in how the world treats a black female and a white male. Innocuous words are twisted into sinister intent for political gain.

There's no specific place to this, for all that it's set in Edmunsbury, a small town in eastern England. The events both seem local and global, a microcosm that holds true for the world. Everything is out there on the internet--Jess wars against Robert's online persona through a fake person of her own whilst maintaining cordial relationship at home; Robert changes his tone and beliefs (while pretending he's holding true to his principles) according to what his editor wants and what they think the readers want; Trina's life rapidly spirals just because of one ill-advised tweet latched onto by Bennington and opined on by Robert. A shady group of masked men disrupt events by asking "What don't you want to share?"

A lot, it seems.

Everyone has things to hide. And it's mob justice, beginning with social justice warriors on the net, that seems to prevail.

The Internet is a place on its own--a world that lives and breathes by its own rules, where nothing ever seems to die, or can be revived at will with just the right (or wrong) word, just one misstep.

Perfidious Albion feels like a cautionary word to readers: be careful of what you do and say online. Anything can be twisted if the situation is ripe.

---

The MetamorphosisThe Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Found this absolutely hilarious. Well, turning into an insect isn't exactly hilarious but... the story.

The ending though...

At any rate, this is pretty deep third person POV (I think?) primarily from Gregor, but it shifts to a general omniscient narrator at the end. It... actually brings to mind those stupid essays we used to write in school, imagining your a pen or a book or some other inanimate object. It's like someone asked Kafka, "Well, what would happen if you were an insect?" and then he wrote this.

View all my reviews

Friday, 2 November 2018

#fridayflash: Time Flies

I wrote a story, and it's gloriously stupid, and I was accused of fanfiction.
But I don't care. It's gloriously stupid and I like it. HAHA

---


The problem with eternity is the flies. I have no idea where they come from. It’s annoying, I tell you, but they’ve just always been here and they won’t go away. It is eternity, after all, so I suppose they’re here for the… duration. I’ve raised a prayer with the Big Man, but you know how it is. He’s too busy dealing with the prayers from earth to deal with those from this side of time. After all, earthly problems are temporary, but urgent. Eternal problems are… eternal.

Still, flies. Not ordinary flies—Time Flies. Millions of buzzing little pockets of time that remind you of temporality and mortality where it doesn’t apply anymore. If you squish one, time stutters a little, which is an interesting experience. There’s no actual today or tomorrow or yesterday in eternity, you know. It’s all one long, lump of events that eventually merges into one unending… day, for the lack of a better word. It’s always been a big ball of wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey stuff, anyway.

But time flies like an arrow—direct to the point, speeding along its trajectory, as straight and as true as the one who aimed it—so when a Time Fly hits you, it’s like mortality all over again. For a brief moment, you’re back there on earth—or whenever and wherever it was you were spying on in the universe—and I guess it’s jarring. Maybe a little dangerous if it’s done too often—it messes with your head and your grasp on reality. Elvis Presley, you know, always popping in and out of existence. You never know when a sighting is the real thing. I doubt he knows himself now, since it’s happened so often. People just launch flies at him for fun, and since he just can't help spying on any event that plays his songs or has Elvis impersonators, he often gets lumped in as his own impersonator. Ridiculous, but there it is.

Talking about mortality, back when I was a lad on earth, I hated it. I was always hoping to live forever—there’s that ‘and I will L-I-V-E E-T-E-R-N-A-L-L-Y’ song I always thought was a bit of a scam to make you learn your spelling—but when you’re alive and mortal, all you want is to stay alive. Mostly. Sometimes some people got a little suicidal, but even then, every narrow escape from death and maiming was like an answer from heaven, as if Someone Up There was saying ‘it’s not your time yet’. Cancer was the worst thing that could happen to you, like a scourge from the devil or something.

But here and now, time is a cancer. It eats at you. It grows like a tumour, with unexpected side effects. Blink and it could be tomorrow, or it could be yesterday. Yesterday, I opened my eyes to realise that I’d drifted off towards the distant past. Right then, that blasted Pratchett, cheeky bloke, launched a fair crate of flies at me and I spent an hour of earth time running from T-Rexes. By the time the effects wore off and I popped back into eternity, I was exhausted and caked in mud. Still, it was something to do so I can’t fault him. We're all bored to death here. Well, not quite to death, since we are already dead. I wonder where I can send him? I suppose if he popped back to earth in 2018 he’d shock a lot of people right there. I generally try not to blink near statues though.

If all this is a little incomprehensible to you, don’t worry. Time is a mystery, even to the philosophers, and if they can’t figure out if temporality is linear or circular, I doubt you, with your mortal mind, will understand. Honestly, I too find it hard and I have all eternity to puzzle it out. I’m just telling you as it is. As the good doctor said, it’s wibbly-wobbly anyway, and there are rifts in the continuum everywhere. How else can you explain Cardiff? Or Narnia? Or the Bermuda Triangle? Or, for that matter, Arthur Dent?

The earth is always imminently to be destroyed, if the movies are to believed, whether it’s by God, demons, Vogons, or random chance. It’s all the same from this side of eternity, because then you’ll just pop over the boundary and join us. It’s not as if you need to find the Ultimate Answer to the universe. We already know that, even if we don’t know what to do with it. I don’t quite recall what the Ultimate Question was. Time does that to you, it just makes everything so vague when everything blends together.

Where were we? Time is always ticking on for you mortals and I lose track of my thoughts so easily. Oh, we were talking about eternity, weren’t we?

Yes, eternity is great, it really is, if you like that sort of thing. You have all the time in the world to do whatever you wish because time doesn’t exist. There are no deadlines to chase, no datelines to worry about and definitely no dates to forget. I can pop back and forth whenever I wish, so it’s not as if I have to choose one over the other. Solves all your problems, you know. Back on earth, you’re always chasing time, as if it’s a thing that can be caught.

If it’s all the same to you, the bloody flies annoy me. Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana—and I wish Time Flies would love a banana so I could throw them one and they’d leave me alone.

---

#sorrynotsorry :p

Theme for the week: Time; and/or the distortion of it.

Also, based on feedback this week, I'm figuring that (including the seminar leader), 2/8 have no clue who Terry Pratchett is (though I'm just mentioning him in passing for the fun of it), "Elvis sightings" are a relatively unknown phenomenon, half of them haven't read Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, and only one  (another Malaysian, coincidentally) seems to have heard of the "Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana" quote. And mayyybe half know Dr Who, or at least appreciate the passing mention.

---

Nanowrimo is starting. I don't know if next week's piece will be a nano excerpt or a writing exercise. We'll see. Also, word counter is up on the right again, if you want to track my progress. 

Wednesday, 31 October 2018

#bookreview: Three | Krishna Udayasankar

ThreeThree by Krishna Udayasankar
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I won this book in a blog giveaway sometime last year in conjunction with #singlit. Figured I should read it now, or it would languish in my bookshelf for another year and a half at least.

Three is the story of the founding of Singapore out of the ashes of the Srivijaya empire--or, at least, the story of its founder of legend, Sang Nila Utama. It tries to pose as a grand epic; the saga of how Nila was ousted with his family from Palembang as a young boy and how he grew into his life as the king of Tumasik, which he renames Singapura because of the lion that shapes his dreams. And the framework of it, the background of the novel, is... yet the novel itself... isn't.

I couldn't quite get into it. There's nothing wrong with the prose. It's not the stilted, oddly academic "historical fiction" that's commonplace here. No--the language is lovely, almost ephemeral, like a dream.
I sleep. I dream. The children are still laughing, and there is still song. A ship appears on the horizon of placid seas. By the time it reaches shore, a storm is raging. Men, monsters with red eyes and drooling maws, emerge in droves from its dark hull. The children continue to play right till the monster-men trample them underfoot, their young bodies squelching into a morass of blood and meat.

What's not to like about that? It's haunting, it draws you in. And that's just a random paragraph my eyes fell on when I opened the book.

But it's waffly. Nila is a dreamer whose life is driven by the past, his fears, and indecision, and it makes for a story that goes in circles, especially when it's written from his point of view. Again, there's that first-person present-tense POV that comes to bug me--it's harder to like a story when you're reading it through the viewpoint of a person you don't resonate with in any way.

Udayasankar hints at many things but never says anything outright. It feels very Asian, to not say what you mean in hopes of saving face. Emperor Prabu Dharmasena only reveals his feelings when whispering in the night to a son he thinks is asleep. Nila's interactions with his brothers and sisters, and even the Majapahit emperor he considers his best friend, are couched in political terms. They cannot say what they really mean. They circle around issues, using metaphors, never getting to the meat of it. And that irritates me. Which is maybe hypocritical but it is what it is.

If there is a driving question in this novel, it's the question "what does it mean to be king?" that plagues Nila from the start of the novel when he is 17 to its very end when he has to face Majapahit in what might result in war. Through the three parts this book is divided into (Palembang | Bintan | Tumasik), Nila wavers back and forth, rejecting his heritage, his kingship because he doesn't know what it's supposed to mean to him. He seems to lack ambition, always pulling back into the shadows, unable to live fully in any calling--even if it's to be the sea warrior in his blood. Maybe that's why I can't stand him, because I personally cannot stand unambitious, overly waffly men. (Make up your mind! It doesn't matter if you fail, just make up your mind!--maybe this is why I am still single, but that is a digression, ha.) The only two things Nila seems to be sure of is his love of his wife, Sri Vani, and the fact that the seas are what matter. Even then, he needs to be prodded to ask for her hand, needs to be goaded before he will fight for the seas that matter to him.

Still, if you're looking for a novel that:
a) has adventure on the high seas (pirates! sea battles! swashbuckling stuff!)
b) has royal family drama (political marriages! barely veiled threats! deposed kings!)
c) is centred in Southeast Asia (the fall of Srivijaya! the strength of Majapahit! the ascendancy of Singapura!)
d) is historical fiction
I suppose this is for you. (Assuming you like waffly first person present POVs)

View all my reviews

Friday, 26 October 2018

#fridayflash: Breathe



Day and night, night and day, let incense arise.

###

He lingered, caught between life and death, suffering and bliss, finality and eternity. There was nothing more she could do but watch. Watch and pray, pray and watch, seeking assurances where there were none.

###

http://www.penang-vacations.com/kuan-yin-temple.html

The courtyard was hazy with incense. Ahead stood two iron stoves grey with ash, red joss sticks, perfume rising to the sky.

Breathe in, breathe out. Don’t cough.

The prayers of many lifted to the heavens. Inside, she raised her eyes to elaborate wood carvings, stained a dark brown, peeking out behind the thick miasma of sandalwood and agarwood. And looming in her vision, Kuan Yin Ma, Goddess of Mercy, in gold and red.

Save him. He deserves to live.

She lifted her arms over her head, joss sticks in hand. The temple medium muttered. What mysteries did he speak? Or what banalities? His utterings were translated by another priest, a foretelling of the future. Did she believe? How could she tell if the medium was in a trance or if he was high on fumes, drugged by the chemicals in the incense? She’d been told that there was only one God, only one Truth, but what if He did not speak to one like her—

The gospel is coercive at best, violent at worse, bathed in blood; not just the blood of the saints and martyrs, but the blood of those who refused to believe.

You who believe in the Prince of Peace while immersed in a history of physical, mental, emotional violence; you who speak words you do not believe, believe words you do not act on, act on words you’ve made up for your convenience, but subscribe to the god you say you obey; no other gods, you say, but what if other gods of wood and iron and spirit spoke when yours did not?

—She burnt her paper prayers in the iron stoves, wondering if the smoke would reach someone, anyone, up there. Then she left the temple with a string around her wrist and a blessing, thrown back out into the world with a wish and a hope, pigeons scattering as she walked away.

###

Basilica of the Nativity, Bethlehem

The room was hazy with incense. Ahead, the censers gleamed, perfume rising to the ceiling.

Breathe in, breathe out. Don’t cough.

The prayers of many lifted to the heavens. She raised her eyes to tall columns, images of the saints, behind the thick scent of frankincense. And looming in her vision, the cross, symbol of the Christ, in wood and gold.

Save him. He deserves to live.

She closed her eyes. The priest intoned. What mysteries did he speak? Or what banalities? But they were the words she couldn’t speak, in faith or in unbelief. She would not doubt. To doubt was to sin, to sin was death, and to die was to negate all that had been done—

There were things you were not allowed to think, even in the privacy of your own mind. Things like how faith was a dead thing, a hope in something invisible, delusional, yet the crutch many held on to.

You couldn’t hold faith, like you couldn’t hold the incense that rose to the heavens representing the prayers you couldn’t speak. It had no shape, no physical being, but you could feel it, like you could smell the perfume that lingered in old cathedrals, in the lighting of candles, in the censers raised, physical monuments of Man to the immaterial presence of God

—She rose as the congregation rose, sat as they sat, listening to the rise and the fall of the priest’s voice, following the rhythms of the service, tried to feel the things she was supposed to feel. She wrote her prayer, lit a candle, wondering if the smoke collected in the rafters ever reached heaven.

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When her husband died, she watched the black cloud of his cremated body and wondered if he would find god, any god, there. Prayers were prayed, words were said, but they were empty fumes that dispersed without impressing anything on what was left of her soul.

She sifted through the ashes, picking out bones. What he had been had dispersed with the fire of the furnace. What was left was residue, ephemeral, kept in a jar in a columbarium she would avoid, not because she could not remember, but because she remembered too much, felt too much, grieved too much.

Her faith or his? Sandalwood or frankincense? Statue or cross? Did any of it make any difference when death came all the same despite prayers raised, hope promised, despite words of comfort that only hid the emptiness of disbelief—

The gospel is violence to those who believe. Saint Stephen could tell you that, martyred for it. Or Apostle Paul in chains. All the saints smoked out of hiding by sword and fire.

Or you.

You who profess faith while ripped from your roots, from your heritage, culture, tongue; you who do not recognise the violence done to your souls while you worship the white man and his foreign god—who died for you, yes, died and rose, death and life, bread and wine, body and blood, flesh and soul, fire and incense—the brown god of the white man who insists, demands, you conform.

The brown god who said all peoples, all tribes, all tongues, all nations.

But the white man who says, you must become. Become us

—She was unmaking herself. All the things she once strove to be, once strove to become, she lay aside, weary. She was what she was, a foul stench of unbelief, a censer bereft, cold with old ash.

###

Faith and fire.

Faith by fire.

Let incense arise.

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She said make it experimental. So I did. (Related reading.)

The theme this past week was motifs/themes.