Monday, 3 July 2017

The Screen Savers, by Bryan Romaine

My good friend Bryan Romaine has published his first novel, The Screen Savers. I was fortunate enough to be given an advance reading copy in March of this year, which I read, thoroughly enjoyed and then reviewed.  I've been holding on to that review ever since, and now that the book has finally been published I can tell the rest of the world what I thought of it!

The book can be purchased in hard copy or Kindle form from Amazon on the link below:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B073JPH5CD/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1499073004&sr=8-1&keywords=bryan+romaine


The Screen Savers.
Literature has a long history of eccentrics and obsessives, from Cervantes’ Don Quixote, through Laurence Sterne’s Uncle Toby and HG Wells’ various tragic specialists, up to Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of The Dog in The Night-time and beyond. In The Screen Savers Bryan Romaine has created another in this line of complicated, neurotic, eccentric, fallible and ultimately human literary characters in the simply-named Adam. I think anyone who has lived on their own for any period of time will be able to relate to Adam – either positively or negatively. But at a basic level this reviewer found him to be an endearing creation with a real sense of truth about him.

This is Bryan’s first novel, and stylistically it is a very confident work. The narrative voice gives the reader a sense of immediacy and pace. The only exceptions to this are occasional predictive clauses informing the reader of events or decisions further down the line; these serve not to spoil, merely to whet the appetite or ensure that the reader’s focus remains aligned with the authorial voice. It’s a subtle hand-holding technique within what, on the surface, appears to be a text that lays itself and its central character completely bare to the reader.

The author’s confidence, and competence, is further displayed by the fact that the book is largely under-written. Peripheral detail and description is scant at times, yet there are also occasions where detail and information is thrust at us with almost manic fervour, reminiscent of Bret Easton Ellis’ Postmodern classic American Psycho. Somewhere within this uneven landscape of tropes and signifiers the reader gets a very real sense of Adam’s world and surroundings. Scenes don’t always pick up directly from where the previous one left off – although where there are narrative gaps or jumps the reader is very soon able to fill in the blanks. We may not get to experience every scene or every moment, but we still know pretty much exactly what’s gone on – and that displays the author’s skill; Bryan has an acute understanding of how to craft the text in an engaging way. Symptomatic of these narrative jumps is the pervading sense of the sections or chapters as a modestly sequential collection of flash fiction pieces, all adding together to create a cohesive whole.

The short sections gives the reader the impression that they are steaming through the book at pace – which can be a bonus for those who like to read on their commute to work. But The Screen Savers is deceptive in this; Adam’s voice, his worries, hang-ups and obsessions actually ferment a much deeper understanding in the reader’s mind than the simple words we read on the page in these brief scenes and moments. We start to fill in gaps ourselves; we absorb information and use it to clarify or justify actions already witnessed or those yet to come. So The Screen Savers is very much a collaborative text existing as a contemporaneous whole; the reader is constantly editing the text in their head and revising their understanding of characters and events as they progress through the work as more and more becomes clear. So the reader unwittingly works with the author in real time to create their individual experience, rather than sitting back and being dictated to.

In common with many previous texts fuelled by obsessive, eccentric characters, The Screen Savers is naturally very funny. The prospect that someone could be mistaken for Clive Owen and also Martina Navratilova paints some wonderful images in the reader’s head, for example. The humour is situational and character-driven through reactions and mannerisms; it is never forced and ‘gags’ (such as any are) are never set up in a contrived way. For example – and this owes much again to the pictures that the text conjures in the reader’s head - there is a persistent reference to deceased Scottish actor Alastair Sim. Now, okay, some younger readers may need to contextualise him, but the conceit is planted with perfect legitimacy and once there the obsessive revisiting of it, and the resultant mental hoops Adam puts himself through, create some extraordinarily comedic moments and images.

There is a notional ‘story’ running through the book, but this isn’t a plot-driven page-turner; it’s more of a character study as Adam comes to terms with various aspects of his life and his own mental challenges. One thing the book does expertly is show that no one is normal, or ‘ordinary’. Everyone reveals themselves to be flawed in some way – either in their own eyes or through those of Adam. Everyone has hang ups or oddities that they accommodate and deal with on a day to day basis in their own way.

Even though the story of the fight for screen seven at the local cinema is somewhat ancillary the author skilfully creates a sense of increasing tension as the narrative builds towards its conclusion – again this is achieved organically and not through any forced manipulation of characters and incidents. This produces a real sense of elation at the conclusion, rewarding the level of involvement and commitment the reader has invested in the characters and the text. The conclusion itself is appended by some wonderfully humorous (and organic) moments. We don’t get a pay-off scene between Adam and Yvette, and if there had to be a negative I’d say that Adam and Yvette’s relationship is a little too scant and under-written after she returns from her weekend away, but that’s really a minor quibble amongst a whole load of positives. 

To sum up, The Screen Savers is very well - and sympathetically - written, and I’ve greatly enjoyed the experience of reading it. I felt I could relate to Adam and to his situation in life; I understood the mental hoops he puts himself through in his relationships with other people. I’ve relished the challenges of the text, it’s lightness of touch and the shorthand way it has of encouraging the reader to infill any narrative gaps. Although I appreciated the bite-size chapters I really didn’t want to put it down once I’d started it, and I can envisage future re-readings with time set aside to consume it all in one go.

I hope this book gets the wide audience and appreciation that I feel it deserves, and that we get further works from Bryan Romaine as a result.

The Lethbridge-Stewart Quiz Book

OK, so yet again a few months have gone by and it seems I've neglected my Blog. The thing is, there's been 'stuff' going on and it's not always 'stuff' I can talk about until things are announced, but now we're into the second half of the year maybe things will pick up again around here.


First up is The Lethbridge-Stewart Quiz Book, from Candy Jar Books, compiled by Mark Jones and featuring an exclusive short story from Yours Truly. The rather splendid cover is by Richard Young.

The book is currently available to pre-order via the Candy Jar website on:

http://www.candy-jar.co.uk/books/thelethbridgestewartquizbook.html

and I'll no doubt post a reminder when it's actually released. The Lethbridge-Stewart Quiz Book features questions from the Target, Virgin and BBC novels, the Big Finish and BBC audio stories, comic strips and the Candy Jar Lethbridge-Stewart novels.

Thursday, 16 March 2017

The Unofficial Doctor Who Limerick Book!

So, the guys at Long Scarf Publishing have produced another fan-led Doctor Who book for charity. This one is called The Unofficial Doctor Who Limerick Book and it's raising money for MIND.

It's available now to pre-order.

Yes, it does feature some limericks from yours truly.
 
And yes, I could have written this blog post in limerick form if I'd really tried!









Details on the book and how to order it direct from the publisher are here:
 
http://drwholimerickbook.strikingly.com/
 
Details on the charity MIND can be found here:
 
http://www.mind.org.uk/
 
Please do purchase a copy if you can.

Thursday, 2 March 2017

World Book Day 2017

It's World Book Day - yay! This always provokes a mass of '10 Favourite Books'-type lists on social media. I can't pick ten, or twenty - or possibly even fifty. The best I can do instead is pick a favourite book per decade from the 1680s onwards, when my reading really starts. Yup... So here goes!

1680s Aphra Behn Love Letters Between A Nobleman and His Sister

1690s Nothing!

1700s Delarivier Manley New Atalantis

1710s Daniel Defoe Robinson Crusoe

1720s Jonathan Swift Gulliver’s Travels

1730s Eliza Haywood Eovaii

1740s Henry Fielding Joseph Andrews

1750s Laurence Sterne Tristram Shandy

1760s Horace Walpole The Castle of Otranto

1770s Frances Burney Evelina

1780s William Beckford Vathek

1790s Mary Hays A Victim of Prejudice

1800s Thomas Paine The Age of Reason

1810s Mary Shelley Frankenstein; or A Modern Prometheus

1820s Samuel Pepys’ Diary (the first proper publication of the diaries written in the 1660s)

1830s Charles Dickens The Pickwick Papers

1840s Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol

1850s Herman Melville Moby Dick, or The Whale

1860s Wilkie Collins The Woman in White

1870s Lewis Carroll Through The Looking Glass and What Alice Found There

1880s Robert Louis Stevenson The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll & Mr Hyde

1890s Bram Stoker Dracula

1900s Sir Arthur Conan Doyle The Hound of The Baskervilles

1910s Ford Maddox Ford The Good Soldier

1920s James Joyce Ulysses

1930s Aldous Huxley Brave New World

1940s Ernest Hemingway For Whom The Bell Tolls

1950s JRR Tolkein The Lord of The Rings

1960s Anthony Burgess A Clockwork Orange

1970s Douglas Adams The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy

1980s John Irving A Prayer For Owen Meany

1990s Irvine Welsh Trainspotting

2000s Audrey Niffenegger The Time Traveler’s Wife

Authors I love but couldn’t accommodate: Virginia Woolf, Arthur C Clarke, Tobias Smollett, EM Forster.
 
Hopefully there are some oddities and surprises in the list, along with the predictable crowd-pleasers. 

Also this list ignores all the Doctor Who and associated spin-off novels from the 1960s onwards, as choosing between those is just impossible. 

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Paul & Nessa's Happy Hour Show 43

Not posted a show here for a while - but then the guys at Cranked Anvil have been busy doing other exciting things in theatreland and not uploading their shows to Mixcloud. But here is Show 43, the next in line containing material by me.

With thanks as always to Paul Dunn, Vanessa Karon and Cranked Anvil Productions for using my material in the first place and then for letting me post these shows here on my Blog. For more information check them out at http://crankedanvil.co.uk/ or follow them on Twitter @CrankedAnvil.


Show 43. Sketches written by Paul Dunn, Stephen Philip Druce, David Foster, Tim Gambrell, Michael Monkhouse, Matt Watson, and David Metcalf Jamie McLeish & Andrew Kirkwood as MKM Comedy. Performed by Sarah Boulter, Carole Cooke, Paul Dunn, David Foster, Harriet Ghost, Michael Grist, Vanessa Karon, Wayne Miller, Dolores Poretta, Adam Ramsey, Craig Richardson, Jay Sykes, Stephen Sullivan, and Jordan Todd. Script editor was Paul Dunn. First broadcast 22.06.16.



Paul & Nessa's Happy Hour - the end

September 28th was a very sad day for me, and it's taken me nearly three months to get round to writing about it which I think is rather telling.
I received a tweet from my mate Paul Dunn on that day, asking if I (and actor / fellow writer David Foster who plays Murgala in my sketches) was going to tune in that evening to Paul & Nessa's Happy Hour - those of you who follow this Blog however fleetingly will know that this is the local radio show in Sunderland to which I have contributed comedy sketch material since mid-2015.
I replied in the affirmative - I'd made it a habit to tune in online each week, not just to hear my material performed but also because I really enjoyed the whole show. I rather facetiously tweeted to David that I reckoned we'd be sacked live on air. As it turned out this was almost true! September 28th's show was, very suddenly, the final edition of Paul & Nessa's Happy Hour on Spark FM and we didn't know until Paul announced it live on air.

I was, quite simply, gutted.

That's not me being selfish or egotistical by any means; I wasn't paid for any of the sketches, nor did my involvement earn me any particular kudos or further opportunities. But I did feel massively proud to hear my material performed and broadcast regularly - and even repeated (material must be half decent if producers want to use it more than once!), and Paul & Nessa were very generous with the thanks and credits on air. I always looked upon the whole endeavour as a collaboration: we were all doing it for the love of it, and if it helped bring light to someone's evening then that was a job well done.

No, I was gutted because I really loved the show each week and really felt a part of the team. I understand perfectly Paul & Vanessa's reasons for putting the show on hold; I assume it was a relatively quick decision, since plans were already in place for a Christmas Special with a return for Murgala and some new material which I'd started working on. We remain firm friends (as firm as anyone can be when at opposite ends of the country!) and I hope further opportunities may arise to collaborate again in the future.
There are about fifteen other unused sketches already written (not Murgala), which may see the light of day eventually, we'll see. In the mean time I'll continue to post the Mixcloud editions of the shows as and when they are uploaded so people can follow things through to the end.

Paul & Nessa have very publicly thanked me on a number of occasions. I'd like to thank them, and Cranked Anvil Productions again here for using my material in the first place and bringing a huge smile to my face every Wednesday evening from 21:00 - 22:00.

Thanks guys - and a Merry Christmas.
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