Saturday, 18 July 2015

Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee


I listened to To Kill a Mockingbird and Go Set a Watchman back to back this week.

 
Mockingbird was a delight to experience again after all these years. Having discovered, and accepted, that Watchman is neither a prequel nor a sequel (It's the first draft of the same novel - a draft that was rejected) I relaxed into Reese Witherspoon's southern accent and tried to enjoy it for what it was.
 
Watchman is a bit weak on story. I found it preachy and annoying towards the end where the perspicacious author's voice comes through in a sequence of final speeches. The editor, I imagine, might have said: 'You have an interesting subject (black man on trial for rape of white girl in 1930s south) but didn't make enough of it, and an interesting voice (Scout in the flashbacks) and should use those to frame your rewrite.'
 
In order to mould it into her bestselling classic, Harper Lee cut many irrelevant episodes (including Jean Louise's boring love interest and uninspired coming-of-age anecdotes). She changed the point of view - it was no longer an adult looking back at her childhood, but a story written from the child's point of view. The new version centred around the court case where Atticus is not an anomaly among white men - he does have a black maid and only takes the case because he is asked to. He fights for Tom Robinson even though he knows he will lose. He may not speak down to black people but he does consider himself as a step above.
 
As a reader it's a mediocre book.
 
As a writer, it's fascinating how Harper Lee rewrote and turned it around. It's interesting that she kept whole chunks of text (that appear almost word for word in both versions), like the history of the feud between two families, or the history of how the town was founded. She had obviously done the research and wanted to keep the words.
 
I found an interesting piece by Brilliant Books here:
"We suggest you view this work as an academic insight rather than as a nice summer novel. This situation is comparable to James Joyce's stunning work 'A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man', and his original draft 'Stephen Hero'. 'Hero' was initially rejected, and Joyce reworked it into the classic 'Portrait'. 'Hero' was eventually released as an academic piece for scholars and fans—not as a new 'Joyce novel'. We would have been delighted to see “Go Set A Watchman” receive a similar fate."


In conclusion, I'm not sorry I spent a week in Alabama with Scout/Jean Louise but I do feel that publishing this book was a huge swindle on the part of the publisher. Large profits were made by misleading the public that this was a prequel/sequel. How many of us purchased Mockingbird for the second time too? I couldn't possibly know what state of mind Harper Lee is currently in, but I know I wouldn't want any of my early drafts to be released like this.

I'm inclined to agree with Salman Rushdie on this:

Salman Rushdie

@SalmanRushdie
Don't think I'll be reading Go Set Your Watch or whatever it's called. I have unpublished juvenilia too; would cringe if it got published.
 

Friday, 27 February 2015

Shortlisted ICB short story competition

Good news from the International Club of Bordeaux: My story 'Well Done' has been shortlisted in their 1st Annual Short Story Competition, judged by Amanda Hodgkinson. And I'm delighted that my fellow Writing Group member, Jane Cooper, is shortlisted too with 'The Competition.' Congratulations to the winners in each category.

Looking forward to reading all the shortlisted stories and the winners in the forthcoming e-book.

Monday, 1 December 2014

The Incubator Journal

My short story 'No Such Thing' appears in Issue 3 (December 2014) of The Incubator, another great literary journal, featuring writing from Northern Ireland and Ireland. Have a browse; the pdf version is free to download. I've enjoyed 'Sparta' by Heather Richardson and look forward to reading the rest when I receive my hard copy.

Monday, 24 November 2014

Crannóg 37


Delighted to see my short story 'Poke' in the autumn 2014 issue of Crannóg Magazine.

Great to read the other stories in this issue. There are some very talented writers out there. My favourite (so far) is 'Tomorrow' by Melissa Goode. Beautiful and intriguing cover image by Isabelle Gaborit.



Monday, 25 August 2014

RTE Guide/Penguin Ireland Short Story Competition 2014

Writing news is trickling in at a slower pace these days as I'm sending out fewer stories and trying to concentrate on my next novel.

But one competition I did enter was the RTE Guide/Penguin Ireland Short Story Competition 2014 and I was delighted to hear that my story, The Bugaboo, was on the longlist.

I was longlisted in 2013 too and wrote this piece for writing.ie at the time. Unfortunately I won't be able to make it to Dublin this year but I'm sure the attendees will enjoy the day in Pearse Street Library as much as I did last year.

Monday, 7 July 2014

An Earthless Melting Pot

What a beautiful cover! Delighted to be part of this:


Another volume of prize-winning short stories from the Words with JAM BIGGER Short Story Competition 2013 is released ...
 
Judged by David Haviland (fiction agent for the Andrew Lownie Literary Agency), Polly Courtney (author of Feral Youth) and Susan Jane Gilman (author of The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street), this second collection displays the talents of another up-and-coming group of new writers. 
 
A heady mixture of stories, from romance to spine-chilling tension and from the virtual world to the extreme worlds of the self-deluded, these stories will take you to places you’ve never been before. 
 
Longer stories are mixed with pieces of flash fiction. How long is a story? As long as it takes to tell it. This second volume of competition-winning stories proves the maxim once again. 
 
Stories and contributors include:
Advertisement by James Collett
Guests by Alison Wassell
A Lonesome Snow Leopard by David McGrath
The Clock by James Harding
Apprentice Pillar by Ralph Jackman
Recycled by Marie Gethins
Drop-Dead Gorgeous by Helen Laycock
The Road to Repair by Gail Jack
Street Kids Don't Have Birthdays by Gill Sainsbury
Sackcloth and Ashes by Justin N Davies
Beneath the Arches by Lindsay Bamfield
Biological by KM Elkes
Is There Anything You’d Like to Say to the Person Who Donated this Food Parcel? by James Collett
The Baron’s Elixir by Mahsuda Snaith
Let Me Pay by Bren Gosling
Symbiosis by Mark Wilkinson
99 Red Balloons by Barbara Leahy
Cockles by A.M. Hall
Mustard Heart by L.A. Craig
Tell Me a Secret by Alison Wassell
Your Account is in Arrears
Take Action Now by Justin N Davies
A Pointed Question by Brindley Hallam Dennis
Trumpet Dreams by Hilary McGrath
Little Legs by Julia Anderson.
 
Paperbacks are available from Amazon. Ebooks are available from Amazon, Kobo, Smashwords and other retailers.

Monday, 16 June 2014

Short Story: What Happened to Us by Dan Chaon

What Happened to Us by Dan Chaon


The Spring 2014 edition of Ploughshares Literary Magazine contains this gem: A story about Rusty Bickers and the family that takes him in as a foster child. Joseph is the narrator and is eight years old. Rusty is fourteen. We know little of what happened to Rusty before he arrived into Joseph’s home except a few hushed conversations between Joseph’s parents, where we hear that ‘unspeakable things… happened to Rusty in his family home,' and Joseph’s mother's comment, ‘How long does it take to get over something like that?’

Rusty does talk to Joseph about his past at one stage:


‘Do you know what would happen if a kid like you got sent to a foster home?’


‘No.’ And Joseph breathed as Rusty’s eyes held him, without blinking.


‘They do really nasty things to the little kids. And if you try to scream, they put your own dirty underwear in your mouth, to gag you.’



Although Rusty's past was disturbing, we follow his summer in Joseph's home with a little optimism. We are lulled into the meandering narrative, peppered with humour, especially when Joseph’s father dances with his prosthetic arm.


‘After he got drunk, Joseph’s father would go around touching the ladies on the back of the neck with his hook, surprising them, making them scream. Sometimes he would take off his arm and dance with it.'


But this humour is followed by raw understated emotion:


'Sometimes he would cry about Billy Merritt.’


The story contains some great descriptive passages.


‘Rusty…watching Joseph’s family as they ate their breakfast, his shaggy hair hanging lank about his face, his long arms dangling from slumped shoulders, his eyes like someone who had been marched a long way to a place where they were going to shoot him.’

The story gets progressively more disturbing as the summer passes and we sense that Rusty is a deeply troubled teenager.


‘You could kill the little kids first, while they were sleeping. It wouldn’t hurt them, you know. It wouldn’t mattter. And then, with the gunshots, your mom and dad would come running in, and you could shoot them when they came through the door…’


An excellent and enjoyable story.

Dan Chaon is the author of the short-story collection Stay Awake, the novel Await Your Reply and other works of fiction. He lives in Cleveland.