Magical Realist Book Review: The Firebird by Susanna Kearsley

This week, allonymbooks author Evie Woolmore, herself a writer of magical realist historical fiction, reviews The Firebird. 

I’m a relative latecomer to Susanna Kearsley’s work, as the first of what I would describe as her magical realist novels, Mariana, was published in 1994. Kearsley’s books could be defined broadly as historical fiction, where the past offers a portal for the present day heroine to witness history first hand and understand the truth of her own situation in some respect. It could be more simply described as time travel fiction, but what drew me to reading The Firebird (2013) was the focus on a more specifically psychic skill, psychometry or psychoscopy. This is the ability to ‘read’ something of an object’s past by touching it, explained by the psychometrist picking up traces of the energy of past owners or inhabitants. The word psychometry was coined in the nineteenth century, and literally means ‘reading the soul’, which in itself is an apt metaphor for this particular novel.

The Firebird‘s heroine, Nicola Marter is an expert in Russian art, and when she comes into contact with a small carved wooden bird, she instantly senses something powerful and significant in the object’s past, that it once belonged to the Russian Empress Catherine. Compelled by the tragic circumstances of the bird’s owner, she seeks the help of an old friend whom she hasn’t faced for many years. Rob McMorran possesses a psychic gift of a strength matched only by his purity of spirit, and in revisiting her past decision to deny her own ability – and her feelings for Rob – Nicola becomes able to revisit the past. The novel then becomes two stories in one, the events which lead to Nicola’s acceptance of her own ability and the events which lead us to the bird’s original owner.

Kearsley’s approach to historical fiction – and to the historical story in the novel – is as thorough as any fan of traditional historical fiction would expect. Indeed, The Firebird is the second in the Slains series, novels which draw on the rich and dramatic history of Scotland’s Slains Castle. Kearsley is detailed, accurate, and readily gifted at reimagining the past for her reader, although at times I think the historical authenticity slightly weighs down the pacing. There are also an enormous number of characters in the historical story, and in the last third of the novel, as the plot became more complex, it became occasionally difficult to keep track of everyone, especially after a break in reading. This is though a mark of Kearsley’s determination to tell a historical story properly, and not to oversimplify what were key historical and cultural events in Scotland’s past.

My key reason for reading this book, of course, was the paranormal aspect, and the reason why I would broadly call her novels magical realist. Not having read any of her other books, I was struck immediately by two things: the direct way in which Kearlsey introduces the psychic ability into the story, and Nicola’s implied sense of shame at her ability. It becomes apparent as the book goes on that Nicola’s attitude to her ability is complex: having volunteered years before for scientific tests of her ability, she did not complete the process and her emotional entanglement with and abandonment of Rob has left her with unresolved feelings about everything. Indeed, the direct acceptance of the psychometry as valid, right from the outset of the novel (we are left in no doubt that Nicola believes what she has ‘seen’, even if it has left her unsettled), is somewhat at odds with Nicola’s doubts and uncertainties about her own psychometric ability: she is afraid of what Rob can do, and of what she might be capable of doing, but is never in any doubt about the validity of the ability.

This comes to a head when Nicola must decide whether to admit to the owner of a painting she has been sent to buy that she knows it is a fake because she has seen its true and far more contemporary artist painting it when she touches the picture. Rob confronts her reluctance to admit publicly who she truly is and thus who he is too, and although Nicola ultimately accepts her ability, I was left with the sensation that this was ‘a cross to bear’, so to speak, for all involved. The potential for being a social outcast in any community which did not readily accept their psychic gift, and the unending requirement for proof of ability, is a common theme in any novel which tries to resolve or explain the paranormal, and in many respects The Firebird is framed as Nicola’s search for her own authenticity. I was left wondering though what I was meant to believe about psychometry, which was a curiosity because the novel is constructed around that original assumption that it is valid. We can’t access the careful historical truth Kearsley has written for us, if we don’t believe that what Rob and Nicola can do is actually possible. And yet they are arguing about how publicly acknowledging that ability is part of what makes it genuine.  I felt slightly as if I was being given something at the same time as it was being taken away from me. And I think this is the core conundrum of what makes novels which try to reconcile the ability so problematic. And in this case, paradoxically, we need an explanation for the journey from fiction (where anything is possible) to fact (the historical aspects of the story).

Would I recommend it? For fans of historical fiction, yes, without question. For fans of magical realism, probably not, because Kearsley doesn’t really say anything new about psychic ability, or craft any originality with it as a story element. But I will read other books of hers, if only to satisfy my curiosity about how she uses this time travel device in other contexts.

To find out more about Evie Woolmore’s historical magical realist novels The Salt Factory, Equilibrium, and Rising Up, visit the pages on this website or go to Amazon to download samples.

Another great review of Evie Woolmore’s Equilibrium

And hot on the tail of the lovely review of The Salt Factory, a review by Emmy of the Flaming Colours blog of one of Evie’s other novels, Equilibrium.

Equilibrium is a haunting tale of guilt and longing. Set against the backdrop of London and the Boer War, it shows Britain in a state of change. And as with all change, it is not welcomed by everyone. Between reactionary forces and those of change, the characters in the book struggle to find their own balance.

The atmosphere of London is captured beautifully in the book. The strict class divisions were still very prevalent in social Britain around the turn of the twentieth century. And it plays a huge role in the story. It illustrates poignantly the position of women at the time and the dire consequences for those who try to reach beyond its confines. Add to these the ingredients of the paranormal and a skeptical scientist and you get an idea of the historical depth and detail of the book. I found it absolutely captivating.

We learn much of what drives the characters because we spent a lot of time in their minds. But instead of it bringing me closer to the characters, I mostly felt it slowed down the story. The real engagement came when the pace of the story picked up. At that point, the dialogue and action brought them to life much better than the musings in their mind did. This is illustrated by the characters with whom you don’t get to spend time in their heads; Rafe (who at the start of the story conjured up echoes of Mr. Rochester for me. You’ll have to read the book to see how that works out!) is an excellent example.

The paranormal aspects in the book are well handled. There was a surge of interest for mediums and the paranormal during the time the book is set so it blends in seamlessly. Epiphany, ethereal as she may seem, is the real driving force behind the events of the story and the magical realistic elements are the author’s well used tools to portray what is in essence a very realistic tale of human losses and how to deal with them.

A stunning review of Evie Woolmore’s The Salt Factory

Author Alan Skinner posted this review of Evie Woolmore‘s novel The Salt Factory on Goodreads. His review – like his books – is worth reading, for its diligence and honesty. And if you ever review books, his blend of the personal and the objective is a style worth evoking.

The line between fantasy and magical realism is not a thin one. Between the two lies a huge gulf filled with literary conventions, belief and, most of all, the difference between suspension of belief and the creation of belief. Evie Woolmore may well disagree but magical realism is about the fantastic seen within the ordinary rather than jostling for room beside it. Marquez, the greatest of all the so-called magical realism novelists, elevated the ordinary into the magical rather than forcing the ordinary to give way to the magical. Woolmore respects that though her brand of magical realism is less flighty than that of Marquez or Borges.

The Salt Factory by Evie WoolmoreIn the Salt Factory, Evie Woolmore deftly teases out the fantastic. It is, perhaps, more mystical than magical but she has a sure grasp of her spirit, never letting it slide into the mundane and facile supernatural. While we might guess where she is going, the trip there is what matters, not the arrival.

It is best that I make clear my interest in writing this review. To say I am writing this review only because I liked the book would be to state only half the truth and since the unspoken half could unfairly damage the credibility of the review, it is best to come clean.

Last year, Evie, as reviewer for Awesome Indies and her own book review blog, Allonym Books, produced a very generous review of one of my books. Now, I detest the practice of cross reviews, where authors make a pact to review each other’s books. Readers deserve more honesty and transparency than that. It never occurred to me to to even read one of Evie’s books, let alone review it. I rarely write reviews being far too self-centred to think that any books but mine deserve to be reviewed, and far too busy working on new ones to be distracted. Yet, the intelligence and literary grace of Evie’s review piqued my curiosity and I found myself buying The Salt Factory.

So, you’ll just have to take my word for it that this is not a tit-for-tat thank you, or part of a bargain made with another author. If I was to bargain away my soul, believe me, I would side with Faust and ask for a much higher price than a review. My soul is worth at least the guarantee of a best-seller, most likely several, with an unusually inspiring Muse thrown in for insurance.

This is a well-written book. Its measured prose flows easily and treads confidently between exposition and description. The book unwinds itself around you. We often talk of a book as being a page-turner as if that were some automatic measure of value but it seems to me that the page you can’t bear to leave is a better mark of a well-written book. The reader should want to remain with, to to linger over, each page, rather than rush past it to see the next one. And that is the type of book Evie has written; the well-written page-lingerer, like the novels of Henry James.

That is not to say that it plods or is dull. It has a compelling storyline that moves along briskly enough with only one or two brief and barely noticeable quiet spots. And its main protagonist, Thelonia Jones, is an intriguing and unusual creation: a English-born, gunslinging US marshall not afraid to be masculine but not compelled to be so. Children and adolescents may well like and need kick-ass heroines but feisty, independent and smart ones like Thelonia serve adults better.

Disconnection and displacement are obviously important and interesting themes to Woolmore for they loom large in the book. In fact, it is a book populated by the disconnected or those connected to the wrong people or places, almost like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that is pulled apart, shuffled and re-assembled. When Woolmore gradually pushes the pieces back together, we realise that the landscape actually hasn’t changed at all but that we’re just looking at it from a different horizon.

It isn’t a deeply profound book but it does’t set out to be. It is a reflective, thoughtful, intriguing book. There’s a mystery at its heart but it isn’t a whodunnit. I’m not even 100% sure there’s a defined solution. I know I came to my own, one that satisfied me, but perhaps it isn’t the same one as Woolmore intended. It doesn’t matter; she only wrote it. I read it. And it worked for me.

*****

Evie Woolmore’s The Salt Factory is available from all Amazon sites. And if you want to try before you buy, you can read an extract here.

Interview with Zoe Brooks, magic realist writer and reviewer

This week, allonymbooks novelist Evie Woolmore interviews author Zoe Brooks about their mutual interest in magic realism and Zoe’s project to read widely in the genre.
Evie Woolmore: Zoe, you explain on your blog that you started reviewing magic realist books because people told you that’s what you wrote. What qualities were you attributing to your own fiction when you started writing that you now identify as being magic realist?
Zoe Brooks: The Healer’s Shadow trilogy books and Mother of Wolves are all set in a non-specific world, which could be our world but isn’t. The world is very realistic – influenced by my study of history and my travels – and so it is unlike the incredible fantasy worlds of most fantasy books. Looking back I realize I was influenced by One Hundred Years of Solitude, in which Marquez creates the town of Macado, in an unspecified country which could be somewhere in South America but isn’t.  The world of my books isn’t full of spells or magic, but there are Shadows.  The heroine of the trilogy, Judith, is born with a Shadow. Shadows appear to be human but aren’t in some ways. Through the course of the trilogy, Judith and the reader understand more and more about what Shadows are. 
 
Most magic realism is about two cultures meeting – often a western realist culture and an indigenous culture which believes in magic. The trilogy is partly about the clash between the new university-based medical doctors and traditional healers, such as Judith. In The Company of Shadows, the final book in the trilogy, Judith completes her training as a healer. As a result what might be called “magic” appears, but then it depends how you look at it. I think this ambiguity is a common feature of magic realism. 
EW: Yes, I agree that ambiguity and a clash of cultures are something I would certainly identify as being magic realist. How useful do you think ambiguity is as a creative tool for a writer?
ZB: It’s a very useful tool. It is also true to life – life is ambiguous. If you are using a first-person narrator I would say ambiguity is a necessity, as your central character can’t be certain of everything.
Ambiguity can be used to keep the reader turning the pages: what’s going on here? But whether you can still have ambiguity at the end of the book is another matter.  Some people want everything wound up and explained at the end. In magic realism that doesn’t always happen – sometimes the magic is just part of the world and isn’t explained, other times the reader cannot be clear if the magic was actually in the head of one of the characters. Personally I am quite okay about that when I read a book that ends in this way, but other people aren’t. In the case of The Healer’s Shadow trilogy, the last book answers a lot of people’s questions.
EW: What unexpected surprises did you discover among the books you read and reviewed, in terms of new authors, books you weren’t expecting to enjoy, or clever uses of magic realism?
ZB: What a question! I’ve read over ninety books for the magic realism blog, so where do I start? Of the classic magic realist books the one that blew me away was Pedro Paramo. It’s poetic, experimental and just wonderful. Previously I had read very few short story collections, but magic realism works well in short stories. Moscow But Dreaming by Ekaterina Sedia has to be one of my favourite books so far and Diving Belles by Lucy Wood is a lovely evocation of the magic of Cornwall. In terms of clever uses of magic realism I suppose the use of magic realism in Graham Joyce’s psychological suspense novel The Tooth Fairy was an eye opener for me as a writer and has influenced the book I am currently working on. I had not experienced Chicano literature before and I loved the historical biography The Hummingbird’s Daughter by Luis Alberto Urrea. Hardly a surprise as it’s about a traditional woman healer, which is also the focus of my Shadows trilogy.
 

EW: I too very much enjoyed Lucy Wood’s Diving Belles, and it reminded me of how different the narrative drive is in short stories. You mentioned the influence of The Tooth Fairy, so I’m curious what else you have learned about your own writing of magic realism from reading so widely in the genre?

ZB: I don’t subscribe to a view that magic realism is a form of escapism. I have just finished Burning Angel by James Lee Burke, which is a gritty detective story with an element of magic realism. Your book can be very real and also magical. The more I read the more I see magic realism as a way of exploring reality in its totality. I’ve always tackled hard issues in my books – The Healer’s Shadow trilogy is about overcoming prejudice and persecution. I believe magic realism can allow you do this in a deeper way.

EW: So, can you share with us what you are writing at the moment?

ZB: My current work in progress is set in modern Prague. It’s a place I know very well, as I spend half my time in the Czech Republic. Prague may be a bustling modern city, but it is also one where almost uniquely you are aware of a magic reality alongside the normal world. I am always surprised how many Czechs believe in angels, devils and nature spirits. The novel is a psychological suspense. A young British woman has gone missing. As we meet people who knew her and read her letters and journal, we find ourselves in a shifting world of reality. In a fortnight I will be flying off to the Czech Republic again, where I will be finishing off the first draft of the book. 

Zoe, it’s been a real pleasure talking to you about magic realism. Thank you very much for sharing your thoughts.

You can find out more about Zoe, her novels and her magic realism blog at her website. You can find out more about Evie Woolmore’s magic realism novels here at allonymbooks, and read Evie’s review of Zoe’s first Healer’s Shadow novel here.

 

Magical Realism, Visionary, Paranormal…? EM Havens and Evie Woolmore in conversation

This week EM Havens, author of Dark Night of the Soul, and allonymbooks’ own Evie Woolmore discuss the challenges of labelling their books as magical realist or visionary or fantasy or….

Evie Woolmore: When I read your blogpost the other day about the success of Dark Night of the Soul (DNOTS) after its release, I was amused to read the statistics you gave us from the Kindle rankings – #1 in Metaphysical/Visionary; #1 in Fantasy Super Hero; #1 in Dark Fantasy; #1 in Visionary Fantasy; #23 in Fantasy. Brilliant to have done so well so quickly, but what a range of genres to sit across! How do you see the advantages and pitfalls in labelling your work by genre?

EM Havens: Thanks, Evie! Yes, I am brilliant…and humble. (That’s a joke. My husband said people don’t always get my sense of humor so I thought I should say.) But, let’s just get all the cards on the table. Those numbers are from my free promo days with Amazon KDP Select. They correspond to how many free books I gave away not actual sales. I did put a lot of time and energy into promoting the giveaway, but it’s really not that big of a deal. It’s just a fun little contest I have with myself to see how high I can get in the overall free books when I run a promo. I actually made it to the front page (#19 overall) with one of my other books. THAT was exciting.

 I also don’t have complete control over my genres. Amazon chose a couple of those for me. I think the benefit is that more people might accidentally stumble on to the book. I worry, though, that not only will readers be disappointed the story doesn’t fit their expectations of the genre, but  also that the broad spectrum will confuse people enough to forgo purchasing. It’s really a conundrum. I generally have a hard time pegging the genre down myself, so it’s kind of fitting. 
EW: It is a conundrum, I agree! I understand exactly what your concerns are about reader expectations, but I also wonder whether readers of quite broadly defined genres like magical realism, fantasy and so on, will be generally more open to variations in those genres? Are they generally imaginative readers less bothered (and more inspired!) by innovation than someone reading a very specific (and perhaps formulaic) type of paranormal romance? What’s your sense from the contact you have with your readers?
EMH: I think fantasy/scifi readers are more open. Not because they are fantasy/scifi readers, but because the genre appeals to their reading habits. I have to laugh every time the hard core Historical/Contemporary Romance readers in my writing group try their hands at critiquing a scifi novel. “I don’t get it.”, “I don’t understand.”, “You need to tell me more about where this takes place.”, and the list goes on of complaints in reading the first paragraph. Where as, I’m perfectly fine with being in the dark for several chapters, and I actually LIKE that! Not to say I don’t occasionally enjoy a straight forward Romance, but to each their own.
 The comment I’ve been getting most about DNOTS is: “This is not what I expected. I’m so glad I gave it a chance!”  Most readers have taken that chance on it because they enjoyed another of my works. They say it’s unlike anything they’ve ever read and find it hard to categorize, but the overall response is positive. 
EW: That’s a really interesting point about ‘being in the dark for several chapters’. I know what you mean and I enjoy it too. That’s where readers who do prefer historical novels struggle with MR I think, because they like to get their bearings early on. Authenticity is important in that sort of novel, but magical or alternative realism really challenges that idea. How can the reader know what authenticity they are seeking, when we are creating a new/alternative/magical world for them? It just doesn’t exist in the same way.
So the question all that leaves me asking myself is, what sort of problems am I creating for the reader by writing historical magical realist fiction?!!  Am I giving with one hand and taking away with the other?! I suspect that’s one of the reasons that publishing house marketing teams struggled to know how to pitch my books, because they demand contradictory things of the reader: a desire for authenticity and a suspension of belief.
So when you’re thinking about new books to write, are you able to harness that idea that readers think ‘This is not what I expected’? Does it help you be creative?
EMH: OH! Most definitely! Sometimes, if I get stuck on a plot line, I’ll brainstorm and try to think of the thing that will be least expected. I think you know what part of Dark Night of the Soul I did that on. LOL! But hey, it packs a punch I think. Readers have loved that part. I’ve also written a steampunk romance called Fate War: Alliance. The comment of, “This is not what I expected” showed up there too (in a good way!). I like romance, but I get tired of the same plot told a million different ways. I could almost tell you the page number in which the first kiss would be, or the first misunderstanding. When I wrote Fate War, I wanted it to be different, more real in how the characters interacted. People don’t just change overnight. I think that threw a lot of romance readers because they were expecting the same old, same old. But in the end, they really liked it. That may be crux of everything I write. I don’t want readers to guess what comes next, because that’s the kind of book I want to read too! I’m definitely putting the same touches in upcoming novels.
EW: A recent review of my novel Rising Up posed the question “is it right to use magical realism in this way when the subject matter [the Holocaust] is so dramatic?” In a blog a couple of weeks ago I explored the idea that by calling it magical realism we are acknowledging the relationship and the juxtaposition between the ‘magical’ and the ‘real’. Dark Night of the Soul considers the spiritual consequences of suicide and features a character whose death is a direct result of an ongoing war, so what are your views on that balance between the ‘magical’ and the ‘real’?
EMH: I think magical realism does what any good science fiction or fantasy does. Juxtaposing magic, fantasy, the future or other worlds with what we know, is like shining light through a prism.  It allows us to to look at things from another angle, through a different lens and bypass our preconceptions and imagine a rainbow of different possibilities from what our finite experiences permit. That being said, I actually believe in the supernatural and that it plays a part in shaping the “real”. I don’t think the two can be separated. But I’m sure that’s another question for another day!
EW: I really like that idea of shining a light through a prism, showing things at another angle. In my blog for the Magical Realism Blog Hop in July I described it as “part of the fabric of this all-too-real world, visible all along if only you would just tilt your head a little further to one side and set yourself free of some of your pre-conceptions.” I think these sorts of metaphors help readers understand what to expect, and how magical realism (or alternative realism as I considered in the Blog Hop) might differ from fantasy or other paranormal fiction.
We could go on all day, couldn’t we? It’s such a fascinating topic, and I am really delighted to have had the chance to chat about it with you, EM. I can’t recommend DNOTS highly enough to anyone who hasn’t read it, so do visit EM Havens’ website and find out more about her and her books. Thanks EM, stop by again soon!

Magical Realism and History: an arranged marriage?

This week allonymbooks author Evie Woolmore discusses questions raised by two different reviews of her historical magical realist novel Rising Up.

In conversation with the author EM Havens recently (which will appear on this blog in a couple of weeks), I found myself pondering whether in writing historical magical realism I was making my life – and the lives of my readers – really difficult. In one of my other writerly incarnations I’ve print-published a couple of historical romances and I recently provided some questions for a book club discussion of one of them. The book is a divisive one – readers seem to either love it or hate it (no, I am not Hilary Mantel in disguise) – and I was asked afterwards by the club convenor to provide some additional information about the sources I used for researching the novel. I was reminded then how important it is to historical fiction fans that a novel be authentic. These are readers with a scrupulous eye for detail. They enjoy the immediacy with which the historical world is created for them by the author and many actively dislike ambiguity and uncertainty. They are in many respects the very opposite of those who enjoy magical realist and other ‘fantasy’ genres, who are quite happy – as EM Havens so delightfully puts it – to be in the dark for a few chapters.

I was thinking about these issues again when I read two recent reviews of my novel Rising Up. Set in Warsaw, a young woman trapped in the Jewish ghetto of 1942 finds she can talk to a young man in the contemporary rebuilt city. He is seeking his family’s past, while she is terrified for the future of her family. He holds the key, of course, for he knows what happens to the ghetto, but what does he tell her, and how and why can they co-exist?

As I’ve blogged before, Rising Up emerged from a number of visits I made to Warsaw, and an overwhelming desire to try to capture the lingering effects of the Holocaust and the ghetto in Warsaw. I didn’t set out to write a historically authentic Holocaust novel, though cleary the need to be historically accurate and authentic, not to mention respectful, was particularly important and I researched very carefully and thoroughly. But my aim as a writer was to find a way to make that lingering real somehow, to explore how memory and knowledge combine to influence how we relate to the past, and what might happen if the past became suddenly more present. I wanted to find a way to construct the story that expressed my own direct experience of walking round Warsaw feeling the constant echoes and whispers and reminders of the past. And because I think there are so many ghosts (constructed or otherwise), it made sense to me as a storyteller to make those ghosts real. What turned out to be magical realism gave me a way to use fiction to explore that.

In her review of the book, Zoe Brooks asks the very interesting question of whether it is “right to use magic realism in this way, when the subject matter is so dramatic?” There is always the danger that when fiction embraces very recent, tragic or symbolic history that the events will become trivialised somehow. It can be a very fine line, as I discussed above. So what struck me about Katharina Gerlach‘s review was that in some senses she was saying the opposite, that the “tiny and consistent fantasy element” enabled her to read about a situation she found personally very distressing but in a way she felt was authentic and genuine.

I wondered if I should have been even more aware of that tension when I was writing the book than I already was, but then I realised that, for me, that particular juxtaposition of the magical and the real allows us as writers and readers to negotiate ways of revisiting the real when the real is very troublesome. It does not mitigate or trivialise that reality (in this case the past) by choosing to do more than just recreate it authentically, but it does offer a different way to examine our response to the facts. Rising Up was not an attempt to rewrite those facts in any way, in fact rather the opposite, but it was an attempt to enable a contemporary witness (Tom) to understand them better through the reality of Ela’s existence. Living museums and archive footage attempt something similar. But much of our understanding of dramatic and tragic historical events from before the age of mass media has been created and preserved through story-telling, and I wanted to examine how those stories might be changed or affected when individuals in different generations find themselves connected in a way that linear time ought not allow. When the past becomes the present and futures are shared.

I am Rising Up‘s central character Tom Macindeor – or rather I was when I was walking around Warsaw seeing and listening to the manifestations of the past. I could not help but be affected by what was in front of me, and I allowed Tom to do what I could not do, to listen to the voices of the past so I could understand my present better.

Magical Realism for Men? No swords or flowing beards here…

allonymbooks author Cadell Blackstock chips in with a few words of his own about magical realism.

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Reading fellow allonymbooks author Evie Woolmore‘s blog for the Magical Realism Blog Hop this week, and surveying the other intelligent and fruitful discussion on the subject, I was struck by two things. One, that the majority of participants in this blog hop are female authors. And two, that when I talk about magical realism to other men they tend to think – rightly or wrongly – of fantasy and magic, more than the realism. Even the guy who cuts my hair – a 30 year old new dad with a serious devotion to beer – has abandoned his customary delight in sharing his favourite zombie movies to tell me about his latest enthusiasm: Game of Thrones. ‘I’ve never read the book – I don’t read books, me,’ he informed me with great pride, ‘but the telly series is magic.’

Crash Cole in 'The Rake Spared' coverWhen I wrote Crash Cole in ‘The Rake Spared’, I didn’t want just to write about a failing TV star, ensnared quite literally in the trappings of his own celebrity. I wanted to blast down the walls of privacy that tenuously protect us as individuals. I wanted to push the idea of loving fans to a new level. I wanted to take an actual situation that was covered very prominently in the media (British TV personality Richard Hammond’s high speed dragster crash in 2006) and explore it from a different point of view – the subject, not the observers. In my novel Crash Cole, a motorcycling TV actor (no resemblance to Mr Hammond is intended whatsoever (nor even believable), let me be Absolutely Clear), has a serious accident and wakes up to find that all his fans have literally loved him back from the brink of death. But there’s a price. He can hear every one of their voices in his head.

But there’s no magic wand here. I don’t think it’s a huge leap in imagination to appreciate the pressure that a figure in the public eye must feel at times. Even this very morning, with the birth of the Prince of Cambridge, third in line to the British throne, questions are already being asked about what it will be like for him to grow up in a world of unprecedented public interest. All I did in Crash Cole was to manifest that interest as real, to make the pressure physical, identifiable, tangible.

Some of the bloggers on the blog hop have talked about alternative realism, rather than magical realism. That seems like a good label for what I’ve written. Crash Cole is a contemporary satire on celebrity, sex and scandal. I’ve said elsewhere it has a supernatural twist. Which I suppose it does, if hearing voices counts as supernatural. But for men who would be put off by flowing beards and long swords, I think alternative realism is a good way of describing a funky twist on the world we know.

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To find out more about Cadell Blackstock and Crash Cole, visit Cadell’s page.

Crash Cole in ‘The Rake Spared’ is available on all Amazon sites, including UK and US.

To read the other excellent blogs in the Magical Realism Blog Hop, visit these links:

Zoe Brooks (and Zoe’s second post and this one) – Kirsty Fox – Karen Wyld (and this one)

Leigh Podgorski – Tad Crawford Lynne Cantwell – Murielle Cyr (and this one )- Joel Seath

Edie Ramer – Laura at Curated Bookshelves Christine Locke – Susan Bishop Crispell

Jordan Rosenfeld – Eilis Phillips – and Evie Woolmore’s first blog hop blog