Iain M Banks – Paul Kincaid

Iain Banks – with or without the ‘M’ initial to separate his sci-fi – is one of my favourite authors. Crow Road has the best opening line ever (“It was the day my grandmother exploded” – perhaps influencing my habit of collecting opening lines in fiction reviews here); Player of Games remains one of my favourite books of all time, and it was fascinating to get another viewpoint on it and the rest of the collection.

And here it is: a discussion of the man’s work, looking at themes and motifs in the novels, alongside briefer discussion about the political landscape and literary scene at times of writing, with the overall aim of showing the importance Banks had in the revitalisation of the sci-fi genre. Various interviews with Banks are used to add depth to the discussion, including a long reprint at the end.

Although Paul Kincaid mentions all of Banks’ books, the dissection-level is primarily aimed at the sci-fi – the ‘M’ – books. Given that these are sometimes multi-layered affairs, playing with structure and time lines, there were a few points of this book that had me going “Oh!” – and for that alone, I thank it. Perhaps not enough of those, as given the quantity of work to cover and fairly short length of this book, most are kept more to the overview plus a few random observations.

Also worth noting: this is a book for people who have already read Iain Banks’ work. There are a few of the later tomes that I am still saving/savouring (or, eking out so I don’t finish altogether!), and I did have to skip or at least skim the sections on those to avoid spoilers – obvious, given this is a book discussing those books, including the endings!

It was really great to read someone taking a body of work I love and looking at it with such care and attention. However, I’m not entirely sure about the tone: on the one hand, it’s very readable, but it tries to stay quasi-scholarly, whereas I think a bit more personal, heartfelt “I love these books!” (except for the ones he didn’t – no shying away from some being less than brilliant, if still always intriguing!) might have connected with the reader a little more. On the other, perhaps going a little more academic would have tightened the structure, maybe having topic sections instead of just a book-by-book approach with surrounding discussions feeling a little meandering.

Overall, this book is a great look at some fantastic works, and if nothing else has left me desperate to re-read most if not all of Iain Banks work – and quite possibly refer back to what was written here about it.

NetGalley eARC: 208 pages
First published: 2017
Series: Modern Masters of Science Fiction
Read from 18th June – 29th July 2017

My rating: 6.5/10

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Indite: a notebook crafted for writers – Adam Simone, Helen Savore

I love notebooks. I mean – LOVE notebooks. I have a huge stash and best intentions to use some before I buy any more, but that would go out of the window in a heartbeat for a physical copy of Indite.

The word means ‘write or compose’, in case you’re wondering, which is exactly what this book is for: custom made for writers, this “notebook with a purpose” is intended to be a “work in progress guide and historical record for your work’s progress”.

It’s split into three sections: craft, scratch, and productivity.

‘Craft’ is about building the foundations of your novel (if it’s a novel you’re planning; I’ll assume!), the plot and characters and so forth. You’re prompted to write your ‘Big Idea’ (a few examples are given, e.g. “a self-aware dog”), ‘Pitch’ (one sentence – go!), and explore your ‘what’ – what is the unknown you’re exploring in your story? What kind of structure and/or device are you using – here’s some blank space to ‘brainstorm’.

At first I thought putting these upfront was a little too soon – especially for the pitch – but the end of the section does have sections for query, hook, basic info etc – so actually I see why the split. You might prefer to fill these sections in later, but actually it’s really useful to have an idea – and written down, not just in your head – of what you intend the story to be. Referring back to this when you get a bit lost in the ‘saggy middle’ is invaluable! Besides, you can always change it later, right?!

Next comes several blank form pages for character sheets and ‘interview’ prompts, and settings sheets – all excellent things to think about, and have as a reference for later. There’s also a blank graph to ‘visualise momentum’ – i.e. plot narrative flow against pacing, looking for anyplace your story drags. To be honest, I felt this page needed a lot more explanation – it’s nice to have it there, but I would have to go look up how to make use out of it.

The middle section (‘Scratch’) is largely a collection of blank pages, several lined and then several dotted. A few of these have prompts, e.g. “Your character opens a door and…”, “Write a story in 100 words or less including these four words…”, “Draw a map that would be relevant to your character”, etc.

The final ‘Productivity’ section includes some writing session logs, space for a to-do list, and asks you to answer some important questions, e.g.: why are you working on this project? What parts of your craft do you want to improve? I really like this: it’s not just plotting or examining your characters, it’s about YOU, the writer, too. I have a feeling reading the answers to these would be highly motivational once the initial shiny glamour has worn off, and the going gets tougher.

I was initially a bit cynical about this book, given it’s 90% white space, really. I’d also have to suggest that it really doesn’t work so well in eBook/electronic format. However, even just reading through (rather than filling it in), I completely came around to the idea of having this kind of log for a writing project. It asks some really great questions, reminds you of several important areas to consider for a project, and generally just felt kind of exciting – a blank map to be filled out, as you start on your writer’s journey!

Very glad I got to have a look, thanks to NetGalley, and looking forward to getting my hands on a physical copy.

NetGalley eARC: ~206 pages
First published: 2017 (expected in May)
Series: Notebooks with a Purpose (www.atomandink.com)
Read from 3rd-10th February 2017

My rating: 8/10

Write Your Novel This Summer – Tish Heath

Sort of NaNoWriMo extreme edition, this takes the whole writing, editing, and publishing journey down to 4 months (guessing author isn’t in the UK if they have a 4 month summer! 😉 )

I really can’t agree with the tone, that anyone can and should just self-publish something they spat out in 120 days. Yes, the point that you can and should encourage yourself to tell the story you want to is fine, but there are more than plenty rubbish reads out there to show that a little care and attention is no bad thing.

The advice about not taking things too seriously is kind of okay, but I don’t think editing should happen immediately, or in one mad pass over a month or two. What’s the rush?! Wouldn’t you rather write something vaguely worthwhile and polished?! The author of this little pamphlet would denounce me as a snob, but so be it: poorly edited scribbles are okay-ish for blogs, but I hold actual books in better respect.

kindle: 21 pages
Finished 14th July 2015

My rating: 1/10