Reading out loud: Will Eaves and The Absent Therapist

absent therapist

As you well know, we here at Nothing in the Rulebook are quite partial to the Goldsmith Prize shortlisted novel, The Absent Therapist, by Will Eaves. Not only is it one for any essential reading list, and makes for a great literary stocking filler, it also lends itself to performance in a way that many books simply don’t.

This is in no doubt partly down to the variety of the novel – the different perspectives and voices, characters and ideas held within its pages. We’ve already put together a short list of some of our favourite extracts, but what better way to appreciate a work of writing of this nature than harking back to the aural origins of storytellings?

At a recent event at Vout-O-Renee’s, Eaves performed (it truly is a performance) a fantastic 45-minute reading of excerpts from The Absent Therapist.

You can watch a short video clip of the reading here below:

Now, if that’s peaked your literary curiosity, then we have a great tip, just for you. Will Eaves will be delivering another animated reading at Bookseller Crow in Crystal Palace, on Thursday 24 November.

We speak from experience when we say this is an opportunity not to be missed. And if the 24 November seems far too long away, then you can always purchase the book itself.

Advertisements

The Waves Burn Bright – Book Review

the_waves_burn_bright-270

There should be a critical term for a book that you can’t stop reading; but also makes you stop and think. One that is both page-turner and intellectually stimulating, politically active and engaging. Reading The Waves Burn Bright – the latest novel by Scottish author Iain Maloney – takes you on one of those rare, utterly enjoyable literary experiences where you find yourself disappointed to have to close its pages (to change trains on the commute to work; or because it’s three in the morning and you’ve been reading avidly on your sofa having come in late from a day in the office/football practice/drinks/boozy dinner – delete as appropriate – and you realise there is a real chance you might not sleep at all if you don’t force the pages of this book closed).

Even with its pages closed, it is a book that stays with you. You will find yourself musing on its action, pondering the motives of the characters, and re-imagining the events described in the hours between reading. Indeed, there are certain passages that are so vividly described, so moving and intense, that they will remain with you long after you have come to the end of the book. For instance, as we follow the principle protagonist of the novel, Carrie Fraser, experience the traumatic evening of July 6th 1988 – the night of the Piper Alpha oil disaster, in the terror-gripped hospital waiting room, the emotional impact is frighteningly real.

It is, of course, nigh impossible to truly imagine the feelings of the families that were forced to wait in those sterile hospital walls waiting for news from the oil rig that night; nor of the men aboard the Piper Alpha itself. A disaster of such scales is rarely possible to contemplate; but less to write about effectively. As Kurt Vonnegut notes in Slaughterhouse 5, there can sometimes be an expectation that it is easy to write about these types of events (in Vonnegut’s case, the destruction of Dresden), because “you only have to write about what you saw”. Of course, the reality is quite the opposite, and so it is a sign of Maloney’s considerable writing skill that he is able to not only recreate and describe the night on the oil rig (brought to life through the eyes of Carrie’s father, Marcus), but also able to capture the raw emotional impact that the Piper Alpha disaster had – not just for the men and their families immediately involved, but also of the wider Aberdeen community.

This manifests itself – at times – as righteous anger in the writing. The bitterness, for instance, carried in Marcus’s remarks as he recalls: “nobody cared about safety standards” – or the revelations Carrie discovers for herself: “decisions about safety, budgets, cuts, were made onshore by people who would never be put in danger.” This, of course, is the natural reaction to events that expose – ultimately – the failures of the modern neoliberal capitalist model, where profits are placed above people, and regulations stripped away. Here, The Waves Burn Bright places the blame for the disaster squarely and quite fairly at the door of the oil industry – but without the need to create moustache-twiddling villains of the oil company executives themselves.

Of course, this is not just a book about the Piper Alpha disaster – thematically and narratively, The Waves Burn Bright touches upon numerous different elements and dimensions. Carrie’s world-traveller life post university, Marcus’s alcoholism, gender roles and sexuality, questions of reality, of how we derive meaning from life. Are adventures good for us or do they just wreck our lives? Does travelling the world make you a cultured adventurer, or just a way of avoiding coming home, of addressing feelings we rather would avoid or ignore?

These are questions that are not necessarily met with answers in the book. This is a relief, for there is often a tendency in modern writing to lay it all out there for the reader – as though we wouldn’t be able to bring our ideas to the table otherwise (which ultimately is surely against the very nature of literature, reading and writing). Indeed, Maloney’s real strengths as a writer is that he doesn’t fill in just for the sake of it. There is a Hemingway-esque brevity to many of his sentences; particularly in the passages describing the night of the Piper Alpha disaster itself, as well as in other pivotal narrative moments, such as during Carrie’s visit to the Sakurajima volcano in Japan. This style ensures it is the reader who fills in the gaps – and our mind runs along the same thought patterns of Maloney’s protagonists. This creates a liberating sense of openness and inclusivity – which is surely a key reason why reading The Waves Burn Bright is such a pleasure.

 

The Woman in the Water

Woman Cover.jpg
From the creative minds of Bath-based writers Sheila and Will Barton, and published by Endeavour Press, the UK’s leading independent digital publisher, comes The Woman in the Water

Bath, 1761
Lizzie Yeo has not had an easy life…


Sent into service by her dominating father, she ends up pregnant and rejected by society.
When the baby tragically dies, her Aunt Mary secures her a job as a wet nurse, working for her own boss, the vicar Jonathan Harding.

Having lost his wife Jane, he needs someone to take care of his son.

At first things look to be going well for Lizzie, but when George is sent off to school, she finds herself without work.

But Harding helps her secure a job with the local apothecary, Mr. Leslie, delivering the curing waters of Bath to invalids.

Lizzie is smart and hardworking, and it’s not long before the Leslies offer her a room in their house, meaning she can finally escape the horrors of Avon Street once and for all.

But when a body shows up in the river, she can’t help but notice that her friend Nancy has also disappeared.

Determined to find answers, Lizzie sets out to find her friend, but she cannot shake the feeling that someone is watching her.

After Lizzie is attacked in the street one night and then finds herself caught in a deadly house fire, it’s clear that someone wants her gone.
But who?

And is it all connected to The Woman in the Water?
Praise for Will & Sheila Barton
“A terrific whodunnit, drawing the reader deep into the secrets of Bath in its glory days. And in Jonathan Harding and Lizzie Yeo, there are two new stars in the world of detectives” – Stewart Harcout, screenwriter of Poirot and Maigret
The Woman in the Water is now available on Amazon: 
 
Read it on any device with free Kindle App from Amazon

How Ralph Waldo Emerson saved Walt Whitman

Walt_Whitman_-_Brady-Handy_restored.png

Walt Whitman

For all people who aspire to create art – be it in poetry, fiction, illustration, textile design, photography, film-making – one of the biggest impediments to success is self belief (or lack thereof). With the various creative industries stretched and diminished by cuts to public sector arts funding, generally diminished budgets as print media declines, and an unwillingness of the major publishing houses, art galleries and film studios to gamble on unproven talent in favour of established artists – the challenges facing aspiring creatives are vast.

Such are the obstacles in their way, in fact, that it can be easy to become despondent and discouraged – falling into a general malaise that can ultimately prove fatal to the creative impulses necessary to make new and interesting art.

But, of course, this is not necessarily a new phenomenon (although our modern digital world does have its own unique factors that can prove disruptive to creativity). Indeed, artists have been struggling with feelings of self-worth and personal belief in their work for centuries. In Nichomachen Ethics, for instance, Aristotle discusses at length the vital importance of what we might essentially call self-confidence.

Even artistic titans are far from immune from such feelings – or such lack of confidence in themselves.

On July 4, 1855, Walt Whitman self-published Leaves of Grass — the monumental tome, inspired by an 1844 essay by Ralph Waldo Emerson titled The Poet, that would one day establish him as America’s greatest poet. But despite Whitman’s massive expectations for the book, sales were paltry and the few reviews that rolled in were unfavourable.

Whitman, who had been supremely confident the book would do well, soon faced a crisis of confidence when his work failed to take off. This is perhaps not surprising, considering some of the reviews he received.

Writing in The Atlantic, Thomas Wentworth Higginson said of Whitman’s book: “It is no discredit to Walt Whitman that he wrote Leaves of Grass, only that he did not burn it afterwards.”

Rufus Wilmot Griswold , the literary critic for The Criterion, meanwhile, dismissed Leaves of Grass simply as “A mass of stupid filth”.

In the face of these reviews, Whitman felt compelled to supply his own (incredibly positive) review of his work to countenance them. He submitted an anonymous review of Leaves of Grass to The United States Review, in which he claims his poetry “brings hope and prophecy to young and old”, and explains that “Every word that falls from his mouth shows silent disdain and defiance of the old theories and forms. Every phrase announces new laws; not once do his lips unclose except in conformity with them.”

That Whitman was driven to write such glowing self-praise is evidence of a deep insecurity that his work was not becoming the success he expected it do be.

Yet Whitman was saved from falling into a soul-searching pit of remorse and self-disbelief by an extraordinary letter of praise from none other than Emerson himself, who was not only the muse for the volume but also, by that point, America’s most significant literary tastemaker. The missive, found in the formidable but enchanting volume The Letters of Ralph Waldo Emerson (public library), is nothing short of spectacular — both in its beauty of language and its generosity of spirit:

“Dear Sir,

I am not blind to the worth of the wonderful gift of Leaves of Grass. I find it the most extraordinary piece of wit and wisdom that America has yet contributed. I am very happy in reading it, as great power makes us happy. It meets the demand I am always making of what seemed the sterile & stingy Nature, as if too much handiwork, or too much lymph in the temperament, were making our Western wits fat and mean. I give you joy of your free and brave thought. I have great joy in it. I find incomparable things said incomparably well, as they must be. I find the courage of treatment which so delights us, & which large perception only can inspire.

I greet you at the beginning of a great career, which yet must have had a long foreground somewhere, for such a start. I rubbed my eyes a little, to see if this sunbeam were no illusion; but the solid sense of the book is a sober certainty. It has the best merits, namely, of fortifying & encouraging.

I did not know until I, last night, saw the book advertised in a newspaper, that I could trust the name real & available for a post-office. I wish to see my benefactor, & have felt much like striking my tasks, & visiting New York to pay my respects.

R.W. Emerson”

There is something particularly magical and generous about an established cultural icon taking a moment to send a note of appreciation to an emerging talent who one day becomes a celebrated icon in turn.

It is, of course, often easier to be a critic than a celebrator. But Emerson’s letter proves the real value of the gift of appreciation – and of support for a fellow creative. After all, we could all use a little recognition and encouragement.