Tag Archives: book

Forest Rain – A review

Michael Forester, the author of Forest Rain is a facebook friend, and offered me his book to review. It’s an unusual piece of spiritual writing, mixing poetry, short story and autobiography.

I’ll admit that in the introduction I had a brief panic as Michael talked about life plans. I’m very much a maybeist, but I have problems with the life plan idea because it makes everything feel so predetermined. Why bother playing it out if you’ve already worked out the plot? I worry that it can be used for victim blaming and avoiding responsibility for others. But, it turns out that the book goes many places and barely touches on this again, so I was very glad that I kept reading.

The author has evidently spent a lot of time exploring different religions, and has no qualms about using terms from many paths. I enjoyed the eclecticism, which seems to come from a place of appreciation, not simple cherry-picking. I suspect Michael of having maybeist leanings himself, happy to explore what any path has to offer, willing to learn from anything and to say maybe to any substantial idea that comes his way.

Poetry is often the best way of getting metaphysical without getting bogged down in it, and I enjoyed the poems in the book.

The autobiographical content is fascinating if you enjoy seeing the world through someone else’s eyes – which I do! The author is one of the wealthy, privileged few who has come to see how empty that kind of materialism is, and has largely turned his back on it. Fascinating to see that process from the other side, having always been a pauper myself. Much of the writing explores the kind of life experience many of us will encounter from middle age onwards – the death of parents, the loss of physical capabilities, the changing nature of relationships. The author simply presents his experiences and reflections much of the time. Some sections are written to someone – and as the reader it’s interesting to see how you position yourself in response to this.

I enjoyed the book. I think the intended reader is someone in the second half of their life who may be questioning the choices they made in the first half of their life and looking for something with more depth and substance. It’s the ideal gift for someone showing signs of spiritual crisis, especially people with no strong religious affiliations. Being a broadly spiritual book, it is pretty accessible regardless of what the reader may believe.

More about the book here – http://michaelforester.co.uk/books/forest-rain

Advertisements

The Life & Times of Algernon Swift

The first time I met Bill Jones was in the Stroud High Street, where he tried to sell me a pun. The pun in question was on a postcard. Since then, I’ve followed Bill round a fair bit – well around Stroud at any rate. He gigs more widely but I’m not an especially dedicated stalker. He does performance misery that often turns out to be strangely amusing. And now, this. The Life & Times of Algernon Swift.

This is a small novel, so heavily illustrated and possessed of word balloons that it is classified as a graphic novel. The illustrations are all black ink, which works well for all the comments about colour in the landscape. Bill is very good at catching moods – gloom, anxiety, perplexedness, worry… as Algernon Swift nervously makes his way through a cloudy world.

The cover warns that the book contains over 200 puns. Readers of a delicate disposition need to be aware of the dangers. I hurt myself reading this book – my sides, mostly. Some peculiar and unexpected noises came out of my face while reading – hooting, snorting sounds of amusement, and a fair sprinkling of punished groans. (For reasons of decency I am limiting myself to just the one pun in this review, and that was it.)

If you like whimsy and wordplay, and have a decent tolerance level for double meanings, and were not viciously bitten by a pun at a tender age, this may be just the thing for you.

You can find it here on amazon, and no doubt other places as well.


Along the Way: A review

 

Author Simon Cole comes from a counselling background to the subject of meditation, and the result is a small book which I can wholeheartedly recommend. I’ve never seen an approach to mediation quite like this before!

How the book works is that you get a section of philosophy, pondering the kind of broad life issues that most people will be able to relate to. Then you get a short meditation that allows you to take those ideas further on your own terms.

This is very much a contemplative approach to meditation. There’s quite a lot of the ‘just noticing’ that I’ve seen in meditations that claim a Zen-approach, but again Cole’s book is not like anything I’ve seen before. Noticing becomes a deliberate process of engaging with a series of things – perhaps in your body or your immediate environment. It’s an invitation to engage with the world in a non-judgemental way, and to see what arises from that.

It’s a beautifully non-dogmatic little book, with invitations aplenty for the reader to go their own way, come to their own conclusions and hold their own beliefs.

The sections are short, making it ideal for people who need a pointer for a brief meditation – an ideal book to keep to hand for when you need a prompt or a focus. These are great exercises for busy minds, and for the kinds of people who want to take the stillness of meditation and do something with it.

I thought it was great, I’ll definitely be reading his most recent title soon.

Along the way on amazon – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Along-Way-themed-meditations-living/dp/1539065308/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1477315631&sr=1-1&keywords=along+the+way%2Csimon+cole


Colouring for Fun and Profit

 

Like most children, I had colouring books, but as soon as I could draw for myself I did more of that. Adult colouring books aren’t something I would automatically have gone for – but this is because I kept drawing. Many people don’t – and the reasons often have little to do with ability or personal potential. Creativity is often seen as frivolous, not proper work, not something that will provide a real job.

So, on the profit side, it’s worth considering that creative industry is worth a lot of money. Every single manufactured item you own was designed by someone. There are even jobs colouring in. I know because I do it. In the comics industry, it’s perfectly normal for the original drawing and the colours to be done by different people.

On the emotional side, creativity is essential. We aren’t meant to be cogs in a machine, dutifully performing tasks without thought, care or room for innovation. All of us have the capacity to be creative. Many of us are denied the opportunities, or actively discouraged from taking them. Creativity doesn’t sit well with doing what you’re told and accepting what you’re given, and that’s probably why so many people are steered away from it, and why it’s so often presented as being only for an elite few.

So, if adult colouring books open a door for you – excellent. If a colouring book gives you the confidence to pick up some pens, or pencils, and if you get joy, or calm out that, all to the good. However, if working within the lines keeps you thinking that you can’t go it alone, challenge that idea! If you don’t think you can draw, ask when it was that you stopped. Like everything else, drawing depends on doing it, and pushing through the times when what you imagine and what you do are a long way apart. It’s worth knowing that professional artists have exactly the same problem, and what they can imagine, and what they can execute are always out of synch too.

 

 

Images in this post were taken from the Moon Books Gods & Goddesses Colouring Book (officially by Rachel Patterson, but I gather her whole family were involved in creating it!). I used a professional standard of pencil, but not a professional standard of paper so the colours were less intense than they might otherwise have been. It’s worth bearing in mind that if you’re using cheap pencils, felt tip pens, crayons etc, then you’ll have a hard time making your work look like something done with far more expensive kit – the main difference is density of pigment. Quality of paper has an impact too. Also avoid comparing your work to anything that might have been in photoshop. Art done on paper is never as smooth and shiny as art done on a computer.


A very Druid apocalypse

One of the great things about being an author is the being able to kill people and never face any legal consequences. I expect I’m not the only person who looks around at the rest of humanity every now and then and thinks “dear gods, we are a cancerous growth and something must be done about us!”

As an author, I can have a nice big apocalypse from the safety of my own writing space. I have lavished hours of thought and attention on imagining how I want civilization to end its current incarnation. My most recent novel, When We Are Vanished, is to no small degree, me having my cathartic apocalypse. I’m not an especially bloodthirsty person, and I don’t enjoy reading or writing long gore scenes, so I wanted it clean. The title is something of a giveaway here, because in my perfect apocalypse, people just vanish, melting away like morning mist as the sun comes up. Streets empty of inhabitants, and in their absence, new forests grow up. Apathy, in case you were wondering, is the main reason for this disintegration.

One of the standards of dystopian fiction is the scenario of dwindling resources and the last humans fighting desperate battles over the stuff. I never was much of a fan of owning stuff, so in this setting I’ve got an excess of resources and very few people trying to use them. In this future, you can have as big a house as you want (there are so many empty ones) it’s just a case of how much work you want to do keeping it warm and keeping the trees out. If you can work out how to fuel a car, you can have a car. There is a steam car, the last remaining survivor from my original plan to do this as a more overtly Steampunk setup.

My apocalypse is green. It requires people to knit jumpers and keep goats, although I promise you there’s nothing cute about where that side of things goes. The goat is a total git. I may also have had a ‘wicker man’ moment – not an actual wicker man, you understand, just something of the vibe.

Where I live there are a fair few cottages dotted about the landscape that have become ruins. Old mill sites, more recently abandoned industrial buildings too. Some take a fair bit of spotting. Nature is reclaiming them, and in the normal scheme of things it does not take the plants long to start overrunning our abandoned mess and re-greening. Lost mediaeval villages are little more than bumps in fields. Signs of us disappear at a pleasing speed, when we are vanished.

More about the book here – http://snowbooks.com/products/62388?variant=5508640705


Perceptions in reviewing

We each come to book reviews as individuals, with different needs and ideas about what a book should do. From an authoring perspective, this is an unwinnable game, because there will always be people who, for perfectly legitimate reasons, wanted your book to have been something else. From the reviewing perspective, it creates all kinds of challenges too. The best reviewers have the self awareness to flag up their own biases such that anyone reading the review can factor that in and make their own judgments.

As a reviewer, I found Fiona Tinker’s Pathworking Through Poetry to be a really interesting book, not least for the way in which it opens up poetry as a tool for pathworking. I wouldn’t work with the poems the authors suggests, but the method the book explores is something I’ve found tremendously helpful. One of my biases is that I like analysis – something this book features heavily. I like to understand things intellectually and I find this deepens my scope to engage emotionally. However, not all readers respond in this way.

Below is a review from  Frank Malone – OBOD student and professional psychoanalyst.

An Ambivalent Appreciation

I had a significant mix of reactions to Fiona Tinker’s Pathworking Through Poetry: Visions from the Hearts of the Poets. Initially I was attracted by the title. Working as a psychoanalyst, often the best interpretations to patients are like poetry – called overdetermined interpretations. In psychoanalysis, an interpretation is any intervention that is designed to facilitate something unconscious becoming conscious. The overdetermined interpretation (developed in the 1960s by Marie Coleman Nelson, one of my supervisors during training) is a verbal intervention that is ambiguous enough to carry multiple levels of meanings for a patient. Thus there is “projective room” for the patient to interpret to herself whatever is psychologically needed in the moment.

Abundant projective room is one of the characteristics of great art. There must be enough ambiguity for multiple generations and cultures to see their issues addressed in the work. However objective the aesthetic quality of the work may be, it will never be great art to you if it cannot answer one question:

“What does this have to do with me?”

Hence my essential critique of the book. The author gives so much historical and biographical detail about the poems examined that it interfered with my being able to make psychological use of the poetry.
An analogy comes to mind with filmic art. My emotional responses to a work have been diminished by watching behind -the-scenes documentaries. Scenes can feel less magical once the camera tricks are known. (Even though my appreciation of the skill and craft of producing the scene may have increased.)
I found that generally for me, it was not psychologically helpful to know that, for example, in a specific image the poet was actually struggling with a certain set of personal issues. It interfered with using that image for my own healing and self evolution.

Conversely to my above statement however, the author does give specific examples of how historical and biographical particulars can facilitate pathworking. For instance, in discussing the image of the holy Rood in O’Sullivan’s Credo she says helpfully that, “contemplation of the symbolism of the priest hiding behind this dead screen can be a rewarding exercise for those meditating on their position with regards to the religion of their youth” (p.68).

I am however thankful for this book. As a member of the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids, I am naturally interested in Celtic history, legends and spirituality. W.B. Yeats was brought to life, and I knew nothing of Fiona MacLeod and Seumus O’Sullivan. As a healer I am drawn to Bridget, and I appreciate how the author facilitated Bridget’s voice. As a mental health professional I also appreciated her comments about psychic vampires, and the importance of psychological and spiritual protection before pathworking. She also emphasises the need to utilise one’s own spiritual tradition in operationalising protection.

I will keep this book ‎as a reference to the poets examined, but not as a tool in my spiritual practise.

*    *    *    *    *

Readers who, like me, thrive on understanding the mechanics, and who don’t find that gets in the way of their spirituality, will likely love this book. You can find out more here – http://www.moon-books.net/books/pagan-portals-pathworking-through-poetry Readers who need the room for unrestricted emotional responses probably won’t, although as Frank points out, it’s still very much worth considering this book for what it can teach you about poets working in the Celtic traditions.


Little Glass Men

One of the things I love about the internet is the scope for bringing people together to work on projects. This is a story that, for Tom and I, began over at www.copperage.deviantart.com with an approach from a young writer looking for book cover art. As Tom is usually busy, he tends to say yes to projects that he finds inherently interesting and worthwhile, and having looked at some of the text from the book, he took on Little Glass Men.

Author Connor Walsh had clearly done his research, (this is going to be a recurring theme!) because he wanted a gloomy, mournful sort of cover. This is something Tom Brown is especially good at.

The book itself is about veterans from the First World War, in a hospital in Louisiana, circa 1921. The setting immediately got my attention – having researched and written my own WW1 novel some years ago (not currently available) one of the things I noticed is that we only really talk about the war years, and not what happened afterwards to the many injured survivors. The aftermath of war is something we need to talk about, and Connor wades into the physical and psychological horrors faced by the survivors. He does this adeptly, not bogging the reader down in unbearable suffering, but certainly getting across the long term costs of this conflict.

You get quite a long way through this book before it starts to become apparent that it is not just a tale about the characters’ pasts. As we delve into the histories of the inmates, a shadowy plot has been forming, and this gradually develops as the narrative unfolds.

I found this to be both a strange and a captivating read. Some of the characters are quite unhinged, and when we look at reality over their shoulders, it’s never entirely certain how things really are. Perhaps the idea of how things ‘really are’ isn’t even relevant when dealing with the kind of breakdown of civilization and humanity this war represented.

This is an author who knows his stuff, and who has given a great deal of thought to the period, and its many issues and how those issues might interconnect within a single story. At the same time it does not read like a history lesson. If you are happy to read darker tales then do check it out.

More about the book here – https://www.amazon.com/Little-Glass-Men-Conor-Walsh/dp/0692456279


How not to get your book reviewed

“Nimue…did you read it all?  If not can I ask that you do so?  If you have read it can you speak to it as if in reference to what it can do for folks waiting for it?  You know the ones of your audience on the ascension trail. 🙂  In fact a reviewer does not look at hat it can do for you personally but for what it can do for others who read it.”

I’d read slightly under half and said it was not a book I could review or endorse. That should have been the end of the conversation. The first rule of reviewing is that it has to be fine for people not to like your book. Some people won’t like your book. If the people who don’t like your book offer not to review it, they’ve just done you a kindness, as I see it. I’d rather not spend time and energy drawing attention to books I dislike, so it’s only if something seems dangerous or potentially damaging that I’ll go so far as to review bad ones. Usually, I just don’t review them. It wasn’t *that* bad a book, just smug, dogmatic, one true way all this life is illusion create your own reality. Why she thought I’d make a good reviewer is anyone’s guess.

Don’t tell a reviewer how to review. That’s not clever or polite. Unless they ask for your opinion on their review, at no stage should you do this, aside from at the end when they have reviewed, and you say thank you, and if their review is awesome, you say so, and if it’s a bit short, you say ‘that’s great, thanks’. The wiser author also doesn’t argue with reviewers about what they think, how they feel and how they express that. Most reviewing is unpaid. If someone gives your book time and attention, it makes more sense to be nice to them. They are doing you a favour. They have no reason to be nice to you. If you are a git, they will not review you, or not review kindly.

No, you can’t ask me or any other reviewer to read the whole book. Whether I read any of it is up to me. Whether I can comment on it is also my choice. The trouble is that new authors all too often do feel a bit entitled, sure they have the book everyone has been waiting for, and expecting everything to fall into place. ( I was there, many yeas ago) It generally doesn’t, and either you grow fast, and learn and survive, or you succumb to anger, bitterness, and resentment.

I care about my reputation, and the relationship of trust I am trying to build with people who read what I have to say. I think most reviewers do – you don’t enter into an exchange of ideas only to appease the author. What point would there be?

I’m busy, I get a lot of demands on my time. If I like your project, if I like you as a person then I’ll support you in whatever way I can, but treat me like something you are entitled to, expect me to like your stuff, expect me to support you… and you’ll find that doesn’t work well. I’m nice enough not to name the author and the project, but that’s an act of generosity on my part. One the author in question is unlikely to notice and appreciate.

The timing is interesting because I’ve just read all of Mark Townsend’s ‘The Gospel of Falling Down’ – which I loved, and will review properly at some point. He explores and exposes the illusions of spiritual growth. Right now ‘the ascension trail’ sounds like everything I want to avoid.


Stroud Short Stories

It all started last year, when a chance encounter on twitter alerted me to the twice yearly event that is Stroud Short Stories competition. In a fit of inspiration, I wrote a piece of the right length, sent it in, and entirely forgot about it. Consequently, I was very surprised some weeks later to find I had been picked as one of the ten authors reading at the event. I hadn’t been on a stage much for years at that point, and was nervous, but it went well and I enjoyed it.

Along the way, John Holland (author and organisational powerhouse who took on running this event last year after Miserable Poet Bill Jones set it up in 2011) kept saying ‘and there won’t be a print version’. I’m perverse. There’s nothing like saying a thing can’t be done to get my interest. And really, a book of short stories? I can edit, I’ve put books together before, I live with a cover artist, how hard could it be?

80 stories and more than 50 authors. I’m nervous about stating an exact number for fear that, like Rollright standing stones and May Hill trees, they will prove uncountable in practice. I started in January, and there was a lunatic mad dash at the end to include the people who read on the 19th. Only three authors declined to participate. One straight ‘no’ and no reason given, but Adam Horovitz declined because he’d worked his into a much longer piece and is doing things with it (how awesome is that?) And one of the chaps who read in October is still looking at placing the story elsewhere. So, the odds are we’ll get him in volume 2 a few years hence. At least one other story became the basis for a novel.

The authors span ages, styles, genres and just about anything else it might occur to you to span in 1500 words. Even distance, because while most have a Gloucestershire connection, some are further afield now. There is genuinely something for everyone, and during the editing process I developed a deep affection for many of the stories and become fond of all the others. It has been a labour of love (which is to say, no one will become financially rich out of this, but other riches have definitely been forthcoming). We launch officially on the 8th of May at the Ale House in Stroud (all being well, I shall be chewing finger nails until books turn up.) There will be some copies to buy on the night, and otherwise, a saunter to www.lulu.com/will provide!

And there’s a lovely post from Debbie Young, here who read on the 19th.

One way or another I’ll be throwing myself at next October’s event, and yes, there will be another anthology a few years hence.


Introducing Letters Between Gentlemen

When I first saw Professor Elemental in a youtube video, I thought what a wonderful person he would be to work with. It was just a pipe dream, back then. And yet, a series of opportunities came my way, and here we are, here he is, and the book we wrote together is now available.

although that’s not quite how I tend to pronounce my name, but just as I don’t call him Professor when we’re not in a performance context, he tends not to call me Nimue. It’s actually my middle name, and not always the name I use at home, but when in use, I prefer the three syllabled Nim-oo-aye, to rhyme with ‘hay’.

Letters between Gentlemen involves a lot of messing about with history, for purposes of giggles and subversion. I have read a lot of published letters and journals from the Victorian era, a time when the letters of important men were frequently published. Of course many of our characters are women. There’s quite a lot of playing with gender – at least six cases of mistaken gender identity across the whole thing, in fact. I hadn’t stopped to count before, that’s actually rather a lot…

There are some esoteric bits – what is faux Victoriana without some dabbling occultists? In this case, it’s all about the Hermitic and Scientific gentlemen’s club. Or was that the London club of scientific, hermetic gentlemen? There are splitters, it makes it tricky to keep track. Watch out for John the Retriever, the floating mystic of Covent Garden as well. The Professor himself walks a fine line between magic and science, in that what he does claims to be scientific but frankly can only be explained by magic.