Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Kirkus have spoken.

I loved this article by a Kirkus editor who was insane enough to write a novel - and then had to suffer the stress of waiting for the Kirkus review to come out.

Anyhow, in tomorrow's issue of Kirkus there will be a review of A Vengeful Longing. I was sent a preview of it, but I held off posting until the review was available online. I see now that Barnes and Noble have added it to the reviews of the American edition of AVL, so I think it's okay to post it here.

I'll confess I was very worried. But as my UK editor said, I couldn't have asked for a better appreciation of what I've been doing:

Kirkus Reviews

Morris (The Gentle Axe, 2007) again resurrects police inspector Porfiry Petrovich from Crime and Punishment for a second rousing crime mystery.

The story bursts open with a poisoned box of chocolates and the violent deaths of Raisa and Grisha Meyer, wife and son of Dr. Martin Meyer, a reclusive opium-eater. On his strained first day at the job, opinionated, idealistic Pavel Pavlovich Virginsky begins an apprenticeship under the older, wiser Porfiry Petrovich, and together they dispatch to the crime scene. The case appears to be open-and-shut, but in the following days, amidst the stifling heat and stench of drab, gray 19th-century St. Petersburg, a series of curious, seemingly unrelated murders occur. With mounting evidence tying the crimes to an insurrectionist cell plotting against the Tsar, a labyrinthine web of evidence begins to unravel. Each new lead becomes a dead-end, but the coincidences-so various, yet so exact-eventually lead the policemen toward the culprit. Richly colorful and alive, Morris's characters brim with texture, whether they are hard-nosed cops or seasoned prostitutes, cantankerous slumlords or bespectacled bureaucrats. None escape the piercing intellect of Petrovich, who opens every individual's closet of vice and hypocrisy. Forcing all to admit their deepest shames, he provides them a psychological conduit for personal revelation and redemption. Equally powerful (and parallel) to this Virgil-like probe of the human psyche are Petrovich and Virginsky's forays into the city's deepest shames: a hospital for the mentally insane and a tenement infected with cholera, where the only sounds are that of wailing for the dead. Musing on questions of love, regret, misery,injustice, disillusionment, etc., Morris seamlessly and brilliantly segues from intensely grave to laugh-out-loud funny.

Provocative, satirical insights into humanity's darker corners.

Monday, April 21, 2008

500 bastard words...

... into my new work and I'm struck by the thought that it's a lot easier to read a book than write one.

You can see by looking at the post below that it was - let's see, when was it? - exactly a week ago that I was boasting about starting the bloody thing. 500 words in one week. Works out at about seventy words a day. Not a great rate. I will certainly have to pick up the pace if I hope to finish it anywhere near the agreed deadline (June 1st 2009).

To tell the truth, I have made progress, even if it hasn't resulted in a great flood of words. I realised that I didn't have the opening right. Or to put it another way, I'd got it wrong. But at least I could see it. And now I think I've sorted it. I have a crucial aspect of the opening pinned. I know where my character is, and what he can see, and how he feels. I also know, more or less, what's going to happen to him. And I think I know why. Hey, all I have to do is write the thing.

I was gently chastised by a fellow writer at the weekend for my lack of focus. He asked the question, "Don't you worry about focus?" Yes, I do, actually. Very much.

Aside from writing the novel, I'm also working on the libretto for an opera. That is the project I mentioned in a mysterious way some weeks ago. Things have been notched up a serious level or two in that, and now it seems that I may be called upon to provide some words for the thing. I think I may have until the end of May to do that. Can't quite remember exactly what I agreed to. Thing is, people seem to be acting as though it has some chance of being produced.

Then every day my kids remind me that I started writing a story for them. And demand another chapter.

Oh, and I also agreed to contribute something to The Abstracta Project. What is The Abstracta Project, I hear you ask? Well, it's going to be a novel, or a something, constructed out of "found texts", the contributions of a number of writers working independently, which the entity that is "The Abstracta Project" will stitch together into whatever it ends up being. Sounds crazy, doesn't it? Which is precisely why I wanted to take part.

So far, to my knowledge, the following writers have agreed to contribute:

Steven Hall
Carlton Mellick III
Ray Robinson
D. Harlan Wilson
Ben Myers

And me, of course. I sent my fragment in today. The Abstracta Project (the name of the person, or persons, behind it is unknown to me) seemed very pleased with it. It will be interesting to see how this shapes up.

Now then, where was I on the novel? Focus. Must focus.

Monday, April 14, 2008

News from the keyboard.

I've started writing. The new book. I mean actually writing, as opposed to researching and planning, and generally fretting about the damn thing. The first words were scrawled in green ink in a paperblanks notebook in Sable d'Or cafe in Muswell Hill, while I was waiting for my kids to have their back-to-back piano lessons. An hour to kill. One sentence written, and re-written, and re-written and crossed out and abandoned. Then resurrected and reshaped.

Later, at home, other sentences were tried out. Some were modified. Some were ditched. Something like an opening paragraph began to emerge. After that, the second paragraph was easier.

It's a breakthrough. I may carry on.

Monday, April 07, 2008

My starred review!

The Publishers Weekly review is now online. You can find it here.

Friday, April 04, 2008

A Very Good Friday.

I heard today that A Vengeful Longing has received a starred review in the US industry mag, Publishers Weekly. This is apparently felt to be a very good thing in itself, as the publication is highly influential within the book trade. I don't think I can link to the review, not yet at least, as it doesn't seem to be available online, but it is a great review. Almost overwhelmingly, unbelievably so. The reviewer uses the word "superb". I don't think I've ever had a superb before. It ends with this:

...this novel stands out from a number of fine czarist-era mysteries — by Russians and foreigners alike — like a FabergĂ© egg at a yard sale.

Oh, and I happened to buy a copy of The New Yorker today. Spotted the following, well placed in an article about Barak Obama's church minister:

Reviewed in The Economist.

Once again I've been reviewed alongside a fellow North London Historical Crime Writer, this time in The Economist. Frank Tallis and I were previously both reviewed by Joan Smith in the Sunday Times - though that time it was Frank's newest novel FATAL LIES that was under discussion. This time it's A DEATH IN VIENNA (as it's known in America - in this country it's VIENNA BLOOD). And not so long ago, Lee Jackson and I were both reviewed in The Telegraph.

Fortunately, the reviewer, who is not credited in the online version of the mag, seems to like both our books. Frank's is an "enthralling narrative", while A VENGEFUL LONGING gets: "Full marks to the author for bringing Petrovich back to life in this ambitious work that is a real pleasure to read."

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

The eggs have it.

Remember Yoka from Egg Wars? That was the eggy diorama that my daughter and her friends created for their school decorate-an-egg competition last year. If you go back and read that post, you'll discover that their entry won the prize for their year. Well, competition time came round again. The pressure was on. Not only that, her younger brother was also eligible to enter this year.

The entries were judged last week, but in a move reminiscent of the Zimambwean elections, but obviously so much more trivial that I almost feel ashamed making the comparison, the relevant authorities have only just announced the winners today.

It turns out that both siblings were placed, and not only that -- to their father's great delight -- their placings were identical: both came second for scenery in their year.

My son continued the Egg Wars theme initiated by his sister last year, with Egg2D2:

Sis and friend went for a scene closer to home, or rather school, depicting some kiddy eggs in class with their teacher, Ms Eggsworthy, whose name is very similar to my daughter's teacher's. Not only that, I can personally verify that the likeness is uncanny:

In other news...

I had a weird -- I might almost say "Kafkaesque" -- appointment with my GP today. At least I think I can call her "my GP", though I have never actually seen her before and doubt I'll see her again. She was asking me about my asthma, which I assume was the point of the appointment. I hadn't actually asked to see her - she'd insisted I saw her when I called in for a prescription renewal. I told her I was fine, no problems. She looked at my notes on her computer screen and continued to ask me routine questions:

"What's your occupation?"
I hesitated a beat before replying: "I'm a writer. Full time, now."
She cocked an eyebrow at that. "Really? What do you write?"
"Under what name?"
"R.N. Morris, mostly."
I swear all this was being entered into my medical notes, either that or she was googling me during the appointment.

If she was googling me, she might have discovered, as I just have, that The Gentle Axe is now available as a Kindle book, and in other eformats elsewhere. It's great that the ad that google generates with that last link is

Can't Pull Back Foreskin?
Fix your tight foreskin - Treat it with a GFS device - The Gentle way

I really hope it's not an axe they're recommending.