Wednesday 22 January 2014

A Book of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi (translated by Victor Harris)

The cover image above (as it did in the version I've read) states that this is "The classic, bestselling samurai guide to strategy - at home and at work." And in parts you could find that with a bit of loose interpretation, that is exactly what it is. If you mine for it. I didn't have the patience, if I'm honest, to read it this way. I did try, simply by re-reading most sentences twice and taking breaks between reads. It weighs in at 112 pages, notes and all, so reading it slowly wasn't a massive chore. And there was a young kid inside me who enjoyed the idea of applying the wisdom of a samurai guy to modern living, I'm not quite too ashamed to admit.


And I cringe a little to say it...

I'd have gotten as much from an internet search of "Miyamoto Musashi" and checking out some of the cool memes out there that attribute quotes to him.

I'll hang on to my copy as I found some interesting nuggets in Victor Harris's introduction and notes. Maybe future versions of the book (I bought this edition second hand) gear Musashi's recordings more towards a martial arts instruction, which I think the translator and (according to his short bio) President of the European Kendo Federation would probably have been good at if given the opportunity to pose for images or provide illustrations. Without the context of samurai sword fighting (or Kendo, as it is practiced in a day and age where it's not acceptable to behead a person on the street) a lot of the text is pretty abstract and meaningless. On the other hand, knowing that these teachings were first written in 1645 is awe-inspiring.

I should point out that although I have an interest in martial arts, I have never been to a Kendo class. Could be that this book would be a perfect tool for a deeper understanding of the art.

And if all I take from it is the instruction to "do nothing which is of no use," then I'm probably going to improve my professional and personal life. But I'd have to give my Xbox to the kids. Not sure I'm ready to take that leap into real adulthood yet.

Wednesday 15 January 2014

Sinéad Morrissey, Congratulations

Yes, CSNI is a couple of days behind the excitement, but I felt it had to be repeated. Congratulations to Sinéad Morrissey on her latest stunning achievement. She is The TS Eliot prize for poetry 2013 winner!

I'm pressed for time today, but if you want to know more about the Belfast-based poet, here's a Q&A from The Guardian.

Adrian McKinty has more to say in a blog post on the Belfast Poet Laureate (which is useful, considering the blog intends to focus on Northern Irish crime fiction):

"I'm not always ahead of the curve but with Sinead Morrissey I have been. I've been banging on about her for the last five years on this blog. Her collection Parallax was one of my books of the year and I was delighted when she was picked as Belfast's first ever poet laureate..." Click here for the rest

Saturday 11 January 2014

The Man With the Gloved Hand by James McKimmey

Allan Guthrie recommended this book when I told him I was interested in reading a bunch of crime fiction written in third person objective POV (AKA behaviourist POV). One of the best-know uses of this POV can be found in Dashiel Hammett's The Maltese Falcon. Basically, the writer chooses to tell the story without venturing into the minds of the characters. This can create a number of effects that are fun to play with, but generally it's a way of withholding information from the reader to increase tension and intrigue.

And there's plenty of tension and intrigue in McKimmey's novel. The story line is a little basic. A serial killer tale that was too easy to figure out. But what I found especially interesting about this book is how easy it was to read. The last example of third person objective POV that I'd read was Interface by Joe Gores (also recommended by Mr Guthrie). I felt a little lost in the opening chapters of Interface as the focus shifted quite quickly from one character to the next. There was no such confusion in this book. McKimmey's novel was much shorter than Gores', and the plot much less complex. Also, there were fewer characters to lose track of, and the protagonist Packy Hooper, by being present in every scene, served as an anchor.

All interesting food for thought as I continue to work on my own example of a third person objective/behaviourist POV for my PhD.

If you happen upon this post and think of other examples of behaviourist POV, please do feel free to recommend them in the comments section.

P.S. You can read Allan Guthrie's thoughts on The Man With the Gloved Hand in this round-up of McKimmey's work.

Friday 10 January 2014

Talkin' to Sam Hawken

What attracted you to Fight Card MMA?

I like boxing and have watched it for decades, but my interest in it had cooled over the last ten years in favor of MMA, which I find to be a deeper and more technical combat sport. MMA also continues to evolve and improve as the years pass, which makes watching it an exciting prospect because you never know exactly what you’re going to get and at what level.

Whatever the case, I had already read several Fight Card releases in their main line (the one set in the ‘50s), because in addition to being a fight fan I’m also a student of pulp fiction, especially Robert E. Howard. For those who don’t know, Howard was a prolific sports-pulp writer and was well known for his boxing stories. Fight Card’s traditional boxing tales hew very closely to the Howard model, though I notice less humor in them. They make for entertaining reads, but I didn’t feel as though the period setting was right for me.

In December of 2012, Paul Bishop — one of two men, including Mel Odom, who started the Fight Card line — posted a mockup cover of an MMA release that showed a woman in mid-punch, along with the title Rosie the Ripper. MMA, as I mentioned, was a growing interest of mine and I found myself particularly intrigued by women’s MMA, where some intense and creative fighting was going on. Immediately I thought this could be something I could do, but I had no instantaneous ideas and it was almost a year later when I came up with something and shared it with Paul, who went for it. I have a long (possibly boring) version of this story on my blog

Have you got any fight experience?

The short answer is no. I trained in boxing when I was in my mid-20s, but never even progressed to the point where I was safe to spar with other students. I found it a gratifying experience, but it costs money to train and I’ve never been exactly flush with cash. Consequently I have never gone back, even though there are a couple of excellent boxing and MMA gyms near my home.

Other than watching MMA, did you need to do any more research for the fight scenes?

Watching and reading are the biggies. Not just televised fights, but training videos on YouTube and all the other wealth of things available to those interested in the sport. A particularly helpful book is Mixed Martial Arts for Dummies, by Frank Shamrock. It may seem like it’s too basic for those who know MMA, but the step-by-step instruction and explication of the thought behind the techniques provides great value for a writer seeking authenticity. Which is to be expected, seeing as how it comes from Shamrock, one of the greats.

Who is your favourite MMA fighter (you can have more than one)?

As I say, WMMA is my thing, but I am going to shock a lot of people when I tell them Ronda Rousey is not my favorite fighter. Sure, she has great mat skills, but she seems like an awful human being and I like the fighters I follow to be decent people as well as athletes. Miesha Tate, who is one of my favorites, may not have the skill-set to be a champion anymore, but she’s generous to her fans, supportive of other athletes and generally a nice person.

I follow a few WMMA fighters online and have interacted with some of them. Fighters like Bec Hyatt, Cassie Robb, Michelle Waterson, Raquel Pennington and Roxanne Modaferri. Most of them aren’t stars, but they come to the sport the way I prefer fighters to come to the sport, and so they get my support.

On the male side of the equation, I have great respect for Johny Hendricks, who I think really ought to be the UFC Welterweight Champion right now. I’m also impressed with Travis Browne, who’s a real monster in the cage.

During a recent visit to No Alibis, David Torrans told me he'd love to have you over for an event. You tempted? Maybe for your next Serpent's Tail release?

Given that the majority of my fanbase, if such a modest audience can be called a fanbase, is in the UK and Ireland, I would absolutely love to cross the pond and meet everyone. When The Dead Women of Juárez was shortlisted for the Crime Writers Association John Creasy New Blood Dagger, and it looked as though I might win, Serpent’s Tail intimated that they’d fly me over, but obviously I didn’t win and that never materialized. I do have a passport, though, and I’m prepared to use it at a moment’s notice.

Thank you, Sam Hawken!

Thursday 9 January 2014

READ! Ye eejit.

"If you're not reading, you're not writing." Ian McDonald

The award-winning science fiction word-slinger (and fellow contributor to BELFAST NOIR) said that to me in 2006. He was kind enough to act as a writing mentor for six weeks (organised through the now disbanded Creative Writers Network) and a lot of what he said stuck with me. But the above is something I tend to forget on a regular basis. I'm hoping that the act of writing this blog post will make it easier to remember.

Sometimes I get stressed by a lack of progress in a project. I'm not a lot of fun to live with when that happens. And not much use. EVERYTHING is a drain on my time and creative energy, in my mind. Sometimes I even think, I don't have time to read, for feck's sake.

That's a mistake, every time.

For this writer, reading is motivation, inspiration and a bunch of other -ations. I feel like my voice and style is pretty much nailed down so I don't worry about aping better writers or paying too much of an homage to a favourite novel.

Also, it's part of my job now.

When I worked full-time in an office (for 14 feckin' years!) reading was something I did on my breaks. An escape from spreadsheets. Then, as time got tighter, I'd substitute a reading break for a bit of writing or internet research (AKA procrastination). Time to read became a luxury rather than a necessity. Now it's an unavoidable requirement for my PhD. My brain hasn't quite caught up with the fact that I enjoy the work that I'm doing now.

So, even if I feel like I'm slacking, I need to read every day. Which is why I've decided to track my progress on this blog. It'll keep me honest. Plus it'd be nice to know with absolute certainty how many books I read in 2014. My target this year is 100 books. Seems doable, but I'm only on book no.2. Need to get a shuffle on. So, an hour of writing then an hour of reading before lunch.

Thinking of changing my middle name to Lucky.

Wednesday 8 January 2014

Belfast Noir

Stuart Neville
Adrian McKinty

I've mentioned this on Twitter and Facebook a few times, but for those of you who don't do the social media thing, here's a wee heads-up about a short story collection you might want to check out. BELFAST NOIR is an anthology of crime fiction that will be published as part of the respected Akashic series. It's been edited by Adrian McKinty and Stuart Neville and between them I think they've concocted something very special. A look at the list of contributors is all the proof you'll need (even the charity case at the end of the list there).

Glenn Patterson, Eoin McNamee, Garbhan Downey, Lee Child, Alex Barclay, Brian McGilloway, Ian McDonald, Ruth Dudley Edwards, Claire McGowan, Arlene Hunt, Steve Cavanagh, Lucy Caldwell, Sam Millar and Gerard Brennan.

Isn't that a thing of beauty?

I've met, interacted with or read all of those writers, and I have rarely seen such an impressive murder of scribes. Yes, the Mammoth Book of Best British Crime (a series I've blagged my way into for a third time this year) is top notch, and jam-packed with writers in the same league as Lee Child, but BELFAST NOIR is extra special to me. It's Belfast, like.

Can't wait to get my hands on a finished copy, and I'm especially looking forward to the launch party, which I expect to be a little bit drinky, but mostly another one of those criminally few opportunities to catch up with some of the greatest talent in contemporary crime fiction and general cool cats.

Watch this space, or indeed Adrian McKinty's space, because he'll get the scoop and he's a better blogger.

Tuesday 7 January 2014

Somebody shoot that damn rooster!

Last night I finished reading Adrian McKinty's In The Morning I'll Be Gone. Top shelf stuff, people. Get your hands on a copy now.

It was the first book I read this year. I'm hoping to read 100 novels in the next 52 weeks. I don't fancy my chances, though. Only starting the second one today. Average it out over the 365 days and I'll only manage to squeeze in 60.83334 books. Who wants to read 0.83334 of a book? You get that far in, you should just get to the end, right? Still, I'll give it a go.

But I digress. Back to McKinty's excellent writing.

In The Morning I'll Be Gone is the third in the Sean Duffy series (currently a trilogy, but most readers will be hungry for more, I'm sure) and we rejoin the lippy RUC officer in 1984. McKinty has tonnes of fun with the history of Northern Ireland at that time, and there are a few Easter eggs in there for his constant readers and fans of his blog. One which will stand out for most is a pleasantly surprising, blink-and-you'll-miss-it cameo. Curious? Good. Get your hands on a copy.

As usual, McKinty's writing is lyrical and a good chunk of the inner monologue (Duffy serves as a 1st person narrator) is philosophical; perhaps a coping mechanism for a cop that has been through the mangle one time too many. It's been a while since I read the previous installments, but I do believe that this one is a little funnier than its predecessors. But it's humour dealt with restraint. McKinty presents a tragic past, and he knows when to adjust his tone accordingly.

In The Morning I'll Be Gone is an old school locked-room mystery served up by a writer who's well versed in the form. McKinty, in the role of writer/magician, uses his masterful prose as smoke and mirrors throughout, and manages to tease the readers with his puzzle before letting us in on the trick. It really is one of the more satisfying answers too, even though he works hard to manage expectations through Duffy's foreshadowing.

Keep 'er lit, McKinty. You've left your audience wanting more.

If you're wondering what the title refers to, by the way, then you have yet to discover the song that inspired the title. I only got to it yesterday, but I'm glad I did. Worth a listen if you have the opportunity.