Friday, 29 July 2011

Getting to the point. Sheila Mary Taylor's, 'Pinpoint'.

July has been a very busy month for me - which is my not very good excuse for failing to post anything for the last three weeks.

In Northern Ireland, July is the holiday month, but I can't say I've had anything in the way of a holiday as yet. Maybe soon.
A few days ago, I read from Belfast Girls,  at the Market Place Theatre in beautiful Armagh City, at the John Hewitt International Summer School, a prestigious literary week, as a fringe event. It was lovely to be asked, but I don't think I've ever been so nervous about a reading from Belfast Girls before. For at least a week in advance I couldn't settle to anything else - and it's taken me a couple of days, now it's over, to recover.

I'm glad to say it went well. The crowd was a pretty reasonable size, they were enthusiastic, and they wanted to buy the book. In addition, I was excellently supported by two musicians, both members of my family. Raymond, my husband, of Celtic Roots Radio, sang, to loud applause and at my request, the song he wrote a few years ago to celebrate the ceasefires, 'Place You Were Born.'  This is a song about Belfast, and seemed particularly appropriate to the book, which of course is mostly set there. My son Dave - formerly the lead singer in the very popular Belfast group, The Debonaires - sang two songs, one of them his own marvellous 'All These Battles,' again very appropriate, and brought the house down. I guess he's made a few more fans! (And they seemed to enjoy my readings, too.)

If, like my audience, you'd like to buy Belfast Girls, here are the Kindle links - it's also in paperback.

My second excuse is that over the last few weeks, when not trembling with terror about the forthcoming reading, I've been trying to finish my next book, 'Danger Danger.'  It's not quite done, but near enough that I feel I can take a short time off to write this long overdue blog.

So, getting to the point at last.

This blog features a mixture of books I've loved for years, and books I've discovered recently. Pinpoint, by Sheila Mary Taylor, is one of the recent discoveries.

Over a year ago, when I was on Authonomy and reading furiously, it became clear to me that of the 6,000 books (then!), of which I read parts of over 2,000, a few stood out as professional work, the sort of thing I would expect if I picked up an unknown author in the library or in a bookshop. Most of the books, while in many cases obviously having a lot of potential, needed work. Pinpoint, right from the first virtual page I read, was clearly in a different class.

A legal thriller, with an attractive female protagonist and an intricate story which I would hate to spoil for you, Pinpoint takes off without a second's hesitation. Julia, the solicitor at the centre of the story, goes to visit a new client, and immediately feels something telling her that this so-called Sam Smith is her twin brother, dead for twenty-six years. The introductory chapter ends:

'Scary coincidence.
But let's get on with it and start the job - it's going to be a long haul, and he's got a lot to do to beat the charge. Murder. Horrible, cold-blooded, psychopathic, sexually motivated sadism.
And I think I know him.'

Then we are straight into the court scene eight months later, with the jury about to pronounce its verdict, amid some nail-biting tension.

The book is written in a sharp, smooth style, polished and professional. The characters are real, interesting. The plot is gripping and page turning. And this becomes less surprising when one realises that Sheila Mary Taylor has previously been responsible for the editing and re-publication of several books written by her mother. We are not dealing with a novice writer here.

Pinpoint moved up the Amazon Kindle thriller rankings with remarkable speed. As I write, it now sits in the overall bestseller ranking somewhere between 200 and 300, and it's clearly marked for the top. The only real question is, how soon?

I'm an avid reader of detective stories. I bought this one for my Kindle App. as soon as it appeared, and I'm looking forward to a regular dose from this writer to feed my addiction. When's the next one, Sheila?

You can buy it on Amazon, both Kindle and paperback, at both .com and, and unless you really dislike thrillers, I'm convinced you should.  It's only 86p/ $1.30 at the moment.  No wonder it's flying upwards. Long live eBooks!
Here are the links:

Sometime I'm going to find out how to show the book cover as well.  

See you soon, from your technologically incompetent writing friend, Gerry. (We creative people are better with the right hand side of the brain, so they tell me.)

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

The Books We Weren't Allowed To Read. Barbara Pym's Unwritten Masterpieces.

No, this isn’t a blog about books our parents / teachers/ censors thought were unsuitable for us. This is about books which might have been written but weren’t, and the sad reasons why.

I was introduced to the wonderful Barbara Pym when I was already an adult, by a friend who wanted my opinion of her. My friend had heard Pym compared to Jane Austen, and wanted to know if I thought she deserved such a striking testimonial. I read one book, Some Tame Gazelle, and was immediately hooked.

Barbara Pym isn’t really so very like Jane Austen. Her characters are much less realistic, much more satirically and ironically drawn - although Jane Austen certainly uses irony, just as Barbara Pym does. Everyone knows the opening sentence of Pride and Prejudice,  ‘It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife,’ which is unmistakeably Austen. The opening sentence of Some Tame Gazelle is just as unmistakeably Pym, if not so widely known. ‘The new curate seemed quite a nice young man, but it was a pity that his combinations showed, tucked carelessly into his socks, when he sat down.’ Who could resist reading on? Certainly not me. But the difference between the two writers is already obvious.

Barbara Pym’s sad story is already fairly widely known, but I’m going to tell it again in case you may have missed it.  From 1950, when Some Tame Gazelle was published, until 1961, Jonathon Cape published six of her books. They were popular, and she had an established fan base, which was steadily growing. Then, in 1963, Cape turned down her new book, An Unsuitable Attachment, for no very clear reason. Barbara Pym was devastated. Who wouldn’t be?

The strange thing is that this book, which was finally published in 1982, is in my opinion one of her funniest. The attachment between the cat Faustina and her mistress Sophia (who says,'I sometimes feel I can't reach Faustina as I've reached other cats'), the parish visit to Italy, Mervyn's proposal to Ianthe ("Whose house would we live in? asked Ianthe. 'Oh, yours!' he answered without hesitation. 'Ours isn't at all nice and besides it's only leasehold.') – these are only a few of its marvellous moments.

But all Barbara Pym's books are full of such moments of sheer delight.  Excellent Women, with its first person narrator Mildred ( who tells us in the first chapter that 'I am not at all like Jane Eyre, who must have given hope to so many plain women,') is one of the better known and is certainly one I love, but it would be hard to pick out any of the books and say it was her best.  They are all well worth reading –  and, after all, there aren't very many of them –  unfortunately. 

Over the next fourteen years, she tried in vain to work out what was suddenly wrong with her writing. She rewrote the rejected book, tried a round of other publishers, and tried a new style in The Sweet Dove Died, but found that it was also rejected.

Things changed suddenly in 1977. Lord David Cecil, the well known Literary Critic, and Philip Larkin the poet, both chose Barbara Pym to be included in the Times Literary Supplement’s list of the most under-rated writers of the century – Pym was the only writer to be picked twice. Her stock immediately soared. Her next book, Quartet in Autumn, was published within months, The Sweet Dove Died was published soon afterwards, and her early books were re-issued. But her second spring was all too short. In January 1980 Barbara Pym died of cancer, aged sixty-six.

This is a story which makes me very angry.  When I think of the number of books which a confident, happy Pym would undoubtedly have produced during those empty years, I feel like kicking – or even killing – the publishers who took it upon themselves to proclaim that her books were going out of fashion, and that the public wanted something different.

Moreover, her output was not only limited but changed. Her few later books are much more serious, even melancholy. They are still brilliant books, but what happened to the sparkle of her first six? What, indeed!

If there’s a moral to this story, it is surely that for too long writers – and, of course, readers – have been suffering from the dogmatic opinions of a handful of people who have, in this case, stifled the creative springs of a great writer and deprived us of books which would have added hours of pleasure to our lives – well, certainly to mine. And we have no way of telling how many other books have been lost to the world because publishers took it upon themselves to reject other equally good writers, who eventually gave up and stopped writing.

Thank goodness the EBook revolution should have put an end to all this.  Writers need no longer allow publishers to dictate what shall be read. Readers need no longer be deprived of books which they would enjoy. All we need is the courage to make our own choices, and to stop allowing a small group of people to censor our reading as well as our writing.