Fletchski has a new site!

Greetings all you wonderful Lobsterites.

I’ve a lovely new blog over at http://fletchski.wordpress.com Why don’t you pop over and have a look at all the stuff I’ve been up to lately?


The Nao of Brown

The Nao of Brown by Glyn Dillon

Great cover.

Great cover.

Why am I writing about this book? I’m writing about this book because I’m jealous of how wonderful it is. Not only can Dillon tell a moving tale with warmth and honesty but he can tell it in an engaging and innovative way. So why am I jealous? I can also weave a story that lives with you long after you’ve read it so… Well, the reason I’m jealous is because not only can Dillon craft words into a tight narrative but he’s also a bloody good artist. Seriously just check out the Nao of Brown website for peeks inside:

The Nao of Brown

I was rather excited to see that you could also buy toys that were featured in the story there! I haven’t bought any, yet.

Dillon is an excellent draughtsman; he uses very clean, economical lines and then washes over them with breathtaking watercolours. This isn’t your traditional comic book art, this is art. Each page could be framed and put on the wall it really is that good.


The story concerns Nao Brown an Anglo-Japanese woman who wants to find love but is afraid her   neurosis will put those she cares about at risk. Nao has urges, very similar to Tourette’s Syndrome, in that she will think of the worst, most horrific, thing to do in social situations, visualise the consequences of them and then have to employ a range of coping strategies to stop herself from doing them. One of these strategies is Nao’s attendance at the local Buddhist temple, which as you’d expect, is serene and calming, that is until she notices the teacher’s penis is poking out of his shorts!

nao bike

There are lots of wonderfully comic moments throughout the book but that doesn’t mean it’s a comedy. Her relationship with the sage like washing machine repair man is gentle and accommodating until, well I don’t want to spoil it.

My wife does not read comics but I went on and on about how wonderful this book was that she sat down and read it from cover to cover and thoroughly loved it.

I spotted The Nao of Brown on the shelf in Nostalgia Comics in Birmingham, it was £16.99, I did a quick scan on the phone and discovered I could save £6 at tax dodging amazon. I pondered and pontificated and then snatched it off the shelf. I’m so glad I did, it was one of the best £16.99s I’ve ever spent.

So if you never buy comics, or you rarely do, make sure you buy this one, you won’t regret it.

Gorgeous art work.

Gorgeous art work.

Review: The Road

The Road
The Road by Cormac McCarthy
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A book of such terrible beauty that it left me choking back tears at the end.

The characters and images will live on with me for a long time, like the shadows of the lost world the father guides his son through. Despite the utter despair of a dying world I found this a very positive book. The father and son are ‘carrying the fire,’ which I took to be that they are trying to be beacons of hope in a hopeless world. The father constantly tells his son that they are the good guys but routinely refuses to help others despite his son’s protests. This creates conflict between them but it is something that simmers constantly throughout rather than exploding when things become to much. The book is filled with a constant dread with regards to what might happen to the father and son and it is this dread that powers the book along. Written in short paragraphs with no chapters its the kind of book that I would normally struggle with but the characters are so sympathetic and the language so poetic that I was hooked by the first paragraph. When he talks about the grey, lifeless days his words are succinct and full of purpose, ‘Like the onset of some cold glaucoma dimming away the world.’ McCarthy creates a post apocalyptic vision that appals and shocks, a world sparsely populated with desperate, shameful people, that pray upon the misfortune of others by stealing their food and often their lives. The father and son set out upon the road,a quest to head south, to find the ‘good guys’ to ‘carry the torch,’ to avoid the marauding, cannibalistic gangs, to not be eaten or worse.

McCarthy never states the nature of the catastrophe that has befallen the Earth, (it sounds like it may be nuclear with a description of percussive thuds and bursts of light on the night it happens) or names the father and son and, for me, this makes it even more powerful. The fact that they aren’t named means that they could be anyone but more importantly that names are no longer of use.

It all sounds a bit bleak I know but it isn’t. There is much to admire within the pages of this book. The beauty of the alien yet familiar landscape, the lost childhood of the boy, the memory of the mother but most importantly the bond between father and son. I did something I rarely like to do with books, I watched the film before I read the book. The power of McCarthy’s writing made me forget about the film, which to be fair is a decent adaptation and, if, like the film, I’d have finished it at night I would have once again run upstairs to kiss the sleeping heads of my children. As it was I made a cup of tea and sat thinking, thinking about the friends I’d lost and the world that took them.

This book is a must read. Spread the word.

Buy it here.

Some other links you might like;

Wikipedia info on the book.

Info on the film.

View all my reviews

Top Ten Tolkien

Another great article I’ve found today. This one is from the Bestseller Labs blog written by Jonathan Gunson. Whilst the piece focuses on Tolkien the writing tips are universal. Once again I’ll post a link to the original blog at the end of a short extract.

J.R.R Tolkien’s vast, sweeping stories have captured readers’ imaginations for decades. What are the secrets of his craft?

The answer to this question is the subject of today’s guest post by Roger Colby, author and English teacher. Roger imagined what it would have been like to have met Tolkien, sat down with the master and learned from him.

Over to Roger…

Roger Colby ‘meets’ J J R Tolkien
I have long been a fan of J.R.R. Tolkien. Every year, when school dismisses for summer break, I read The Lord of the Rings. This year I will read it to my children and do all the voices for them. Tolkien was a brilliant writer, but what if we could sit down with him and ask him any question we wanted? What if he could give writers advice about their own writing from his years of experience as an incredible storyteller?

This is possible if we read his letters. I have a musty old book entitled ‘The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien’, edited by Humphrey Carpenter. I once spent the better part of a month reading it cover to cover and underlining every instance where the master of Middle Earth wrote about his process.

What follows are the best of those notes – Tolkien’s Top Ten Tips For Writers

1. Vanity Is Useless

Tolkien writes in a letter to Sir Stanley Unwin on 31 July 1947

“…I certainly hope to leave behind me the whole thing [LOTR] revised and in final form, for the world to throw into the waste-paper basket. All books come there in the end, in this world, anyway” (121).

The Lord of the Rings has a worldwide following, has inspired films, video games, animated features, songs, poetry, fan fiction and countless other things, yet its author felt that in reality it may not be that important to the world.

There are several other instances where he writes to people about how humble he feels about the things he writes and that they are not really life changing at all, but simply imaginings “from my head”. In Tolkien’s opinion, The Hobbit was published out of sheer “accident”, as he had passed it around to a few close friends, one of them being C.S. Lewis.

Finally (and lucky for us) an Oxford graduate, Susan Dagnall, who worked for the London publishing house of Allen & Unwin, encouraged him to submit it for publication. He did, and there are pages of letters where he struggles with the process of publication. He was not, in any way, a vain man, especially about his writing.

2. Keep a Stiff Upper Lip

In another letter to Sir Stanley Unwin dated July 21, 1946, Tolkien lists a mound of personal struggles he was facing: being ill, being overworked and missing his son Christopher who was away in the Royal Navy. He put many of his struggles aside, though, and went to writing.

He had to balance his day job with his desire to write epic stories set in Middle Earth. He found time. He made time. It took him 7 years to write The Hobbit. (117) The thing that he writes about most in this period is his struggle to get the work finished on his novels and to balance teaching and his many duties at Oxford College. Apparently he found a way.

The rest of this article can be found here.

Cultured Soul.

I ripped this in its entirety from the New Humanist website. It’s an interview from their latest issue where Ian Banks talks about being a rationalist and gives us a brief insight into his writing process. If you like is it might be worth taking out a subscription to New Humanist magazine, I’ll post the link to their site at the end of the article.

The author of 26 literary and science fiction novels, Iain Banks is a bestseller across two genres. New Humanist interrupted his writing to probe his views on life and the universe, and hear why he’s embarrassed for Homo Sapiens as a species
This article is from New Humanist magazine, produced by the Rationalist Association, a charity dedicated to reason, science, secularism and humanism. Please feel free to read it for free. If you’d like to stay current with all our new content, events and podcasts,
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In 1996, when you were first interviewed by New Humanist, you described yourself as an “evangelical atheist”. Has anything made you change your mind?

Nope. In these trying, troubled times, I think it’s even more important to keep on making a proper fuss about refusing to buy into all this “religion” bollocks.

In your latest novel Stonemouth, the protagonist Stewart, feels “embarrassed for us as a species” that we continue to need religion. Is this a fair reflection of your own view?

It is. Homo Sapiens’ middle name is Gullible. No, really, it is.

Human nature – are humans just animals as John Gray suggests, or, as Ray Tallis argues, does having a consciousness make us special?

I think the statements are compatible, though I guess it depends how much work the word “just” is considered to be doing in the first one. We are unarguably animals, but just as there are profound differences in complexity and behaviour between, say, a flatworm and an ape, so there are profound differences in complexity and behaviour between the apes and us. In the end I’d side with Tallis and agree that having the sort of consciousness we have does, of course, make us different. It just doesn’t make us quite as different as some of us might like to think.

Do you believe in moral progress?

Cautiously, yes. It seems like a failure of both nerve and imagination not to. At worst, as something more to be aspired to than boasted about.

Humanist, secularist, atheist, agnostic, freethinker, rationalist: which, if any of these, do you use to describe yourself?

I am happy to sign up to all of them; the only caveat is with the “agnostic”. I’ve always felt that one ought to retain just the tiniest, sliveriest wee bit of agnosticism to season what is basically outright atheism, on the grounds that – in the end, after all – each of us is just a solitary smart ape on a piffling little planet in an ungraspably big universe, and the sheer bleeding obviousness of there being no supreme deity could itself be a huge cosmic joke on the part of a particularly annoying and mischievous god. It’s an admission that, well, you never entirely know. I maintain that this is close enough to absolute atheism as to make no damn difference.

In your sci-fi civilisation The Culture, the ideas of transhumanism have come to pass – science has prolonged and enhanced life, religion has been eradicated, as has scarcity. Professor John Harris has argued that it is our moral duty to use science to enhance human life. Do you agree?

In theory, yes. In practice I am not looking forward to the obscenely rich and powerful being the first to benefit from serious life prolongation. Imagining people like Rupert Murdoch dying, despite all that money, is one of my most innocent, if heartfelt, pleasures. But still, yes.

You said you’d like to live in The Culture, but isn’t it the messy struggle, in which scarcity, crime and bad things are inevitable, that makes life worthwhile?


Multiverse, String Theory, branes, parallel universes: what’s your current favourite explanation of the nature of the universe?

My own. The whole concentric/nested universes thing (see Culture novels for details). Totally barmy, of course, but it’s mine.

In Transition your characters “jaunt” though space. How were they able to do that?

Ah. That is the multiverse theory, right there. I think. Or possibly the parallel universes thing. I recall being confused at the time. Patently I still am. When I’m asked this question “live”, as it were, I just keep waffling and waving my arms until people forget what the original question actually was. This, I am discovering, is harder in print. … So … Next question.

Are you an optimist or a pessimist?

Short-term pessimist, long-term optimist. That way you get fewer nasty surprises but can still keep going. With a smile, a whistle and a general air of breeziness, natch.

Much of the action in Stonemouth takes place when your characters are teenagers. How do you get into the minds of the young?

Honestly I have no idea. By being still a bit childish myself? Never having had the responsibility of being a dad? Still listening to Radio One? Just listening, maybe; keeping an ear open for how people younger than I am express themselves. Other than that it’s just taking a punt and getting away with it. So far.

Are you a meticulous planner who knows where the story is going from the start or do you dive in and see where you end up?

I need to plan. I tried not planning a book once and it ended up over 400,000 words long, which is hefty, even by skiffy standards (it’s part of my juvenilia – not for publication). I love the idea of having to write the novel to find out what happens after your idly dashed-off, fabulously intriguing beginning – it seems terribly romantic, and I’ve always suspected that’s how proper writers write – but it’s not for me.

In your books about the Culture you have created a hugely complex world. How do you keep track of it all?

I have a document on my writing computer – cunningly entitled “Culture Facts” – that I refer to, and sometimes I have to look back through earlier Culture books. “Culture Facts” has grown rather a lot over the years; it’s beginning to look a bit fan-tastic itself. I only started it because I kept forgetting what colour the drones’ aura fields turn when they were being sarcastic and I got fed up having to leaf through the aforesaid earlier novels.

You said recently that funerals and weddings are “good raw material for novelists”. Why?

Weddings and funerals are both times of some raised emotional significance when you get all these often disparate people together and, well, interesting stuff can happen. Weddings are best, as they are in real life. Just more fun.

Who are your favourite writers?

It’s a long list. The SF section alone runs from Aldiss to Zelazny, with about 40 names in between. I used to say my favourite dead writers – Shakespeare aside, taken as a given – were Jane Austen and Leo Tolstoy, and my favourite living ones were Graham Greene and Saul Bellow. Then Greene and Bellow had the temerity to up and die. So thoughtless.

Who has sold more books, Iain Banks or Iain M Banks?

I don’t keep count. Probably IB, though maybe not; the IMB books have been selling better recently and my SF has always done better than the mainstream stuff in the USA, which is, obviously, a big market.

Which is your favourite Banks book? Why?

Possibly still The Bridge, though I’ve always had a soft spot for Song of Stone, bleak little thing though it is. The Bridge is maybe the one where there’s plenty of complexity but it doesn’t get in the way of the story. Use of Weapons is probably still the best of the SF novels, though my pal and fellow skiffy scribe Ken MacLeod had a hand in that one so technically it’s not all my own work.

Your books are full of pop music. Why?

I’ve always loved music, always needed it. I seem drawn to melody, specifically, over every other aspect. Writing/making music is my hobby, thanks to the wonders of some terrifically clever music processing software and various other bits of associated gizmology. I’ve written pieces for piano, some proper rock songs, some noodle synth pieces and – the thing I’m still tinkering with – a symphony. The symphony is definitely old-fashioned, probably derivative and quite possibly just not very good, but as long as I don’t let anybody else listen to it, it might be totally brilliant and I could be a musical genius. I think we’ll leave that particular flea-ridden moggy in its Schrödinger’s box, in an uncollapsed state…

You’re a supporter of Scottish independence. Do you think it will happen?

Maybe. Within my lifetime, I hope so. I doubt we’ll make it as early as 2014, but you never know.

Which whisky would you choose to celebrate with if it does?

Laphroaig. It would be no time for half measures.

Should we choose our Prime Minister by who is best at Fruit Ninja?

No. Asteroids. See? I’m a classicist at heart.

You used to enjoy driving sports cars but you gave them up. How do you chillax now?

Can’t be doing with “chillax”. Not sure what “relax” did to require being replaced. (Apologies – my inner curmudgeon coming out there.) Anyway, relaxed – if you will – is my normal state. If I want to get stressed I do something foolish like visit London. Other than that: “hillwalking” would be the more cooperative answer. Well, glenwalking. It’s like hillwalking except less strenuous. Also, I still have cars; it’s just there are only two now and they’re both small, diesel-powered and regularly achieve 60 mpg. In the old days, with the 911 Turbo and the M5 and such, it was a cause for some celebration to break the 20 mpg barrier. Also, having solar panels fitted to the roof of our house even as I type, and got my eye on an Ampera or a plug-in Pious – sorry Prius. So, more relatively green motoring fun to come, chums!

Iain Banks’ latest novel, Stonemouth, is published by Little Brown

Subjects:atheismbookshumanismIain Banksliteraturenovelsscience fiction
This article is from New Humanist magazine, produced by the Rationalist Association, a charity dedicated to reason, science, secularism and humanism.

Original article here.