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

Facts and fiction: Historical Magical Realism – Evie Woolmore’s blog for the Magic Realism Blog Hop

As part of the Magic Realism Blog Hop, running 22-24 July, allonymbooks author Evie Woolmore discusses her use of historical settings for her magical realist novels.

Almost a year ago, I responded to Robert Harris‘s lack of enthusiasm for magical realism. He said, “I enjoy recreating the concrete details of a society or a city or a country or a structure and then playing around with it. I’ve no taste at all for fantasy, or for magic realism. That’s garlic to a vampire as far as I’m concerned.”  I observed that Mr Harris seems to position his works as directly opposite to magical realism, “as if facts are somehow literally fatal to the genre or vice versa.” And yet, as I went on to say, “if one is to consider Mr Harris’s Fatherland or Pompeii, has he not merely done as I and other magical realist authors do: to take a position in our familiar world, and simply consider a new perspective on what we know? He calls it “playing around”. I call it a “what if?””

I recently published my third magical realist novel, The Salt Factory, and like its companions Equilibrium and Rising Up, it embraces a historical setting, this time England and Colorado in the early 1890s. And as my thoughts turned to what I am going to write next, I wondered whether there is something implicit in the historical setting that makes it an effective home for magical realism.

Zoe Brooks, host of this fabulous Magic Realism Blog Hop, defines magical realism on her website as “a literary genre that incorporates fantastic or mythical elements into otherwise realistic fiction.” Like most historical novelists, I strive for accuracy in my books, and spend hours researching the period, the geography, the vocabulary and so on to enable me to create as authentic a setting as possible, a setting that is, as Zoe describes, “realistic”. Yet why do I go to so much trouble to create an authentic historical setting when I’m going to be challenging the reader to think of that same world in a different way, because of the magical realist themes I introduce? Will you care that Thelonia Jones is wearing the correct Victorian knickerbockers when I’m going to introduce her (and you) to a little girl who can bring dead things back to life?

The Salt Factory by Evie Woolmore

I wonder if there is a veil of otherness and separation that falls over a novel when its setting is removed from us in time as well as in possibility, a veil that actually helps us believe more in the book’s magical qualities? In other words, if I set this story in a land far, far away in distance and time, isn’t it much more possible that the things I’m going to tell you happened actually did happen? Isn’t that far more likely than if I tell you this happened yesterday in a house around the corner from where you live, which might make you start thinking of reasons why it can’t possibly have occurred? It’s a wonderful paradox, typical of what makes fiction so fascinating, that while I strive to make you believe in the authenticity of the Victorian England I am painting in my novel, I am doing so just so you will feel more comfortable when I show you something very extraordinary in that world.

My motivation for writing has never been to find out how far I can stretch the boundaries of your imagination. I am not a creator of marvellous ‘worlds through secret doors’ like Tahlia Newland’s Diamond Peak or John Dutton’s Temple of Truth. The magical realist aspects in my novels do not exist in parallel to our world, they are right here in it. They are discoveries like electro-magnetism and radiation in the nineteenth century and the Higgs-Boson particle in the twenty-first, they are 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.

So perhaps I also like using a historical setting because it’s a way of lessening the shock. If I make you comfortable in a world by making it feel authentic, then you will be less disturbed when I reveal some of the hidden truths about that world. There is something very safe about historical fiction. We are escaping from this time and this world to one which seems less complicated, and through which the author leads us like an experienced tour guide. And so perhaps we are less troubled when unusual things happen there, for we can learn the lessons of that world, understand its characters, appreciate its themes, admire its vision, because it is a foundation for our world, and yet still safely separate from it.

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To find out more about Evie Woolmore and her magical realist novels, please visit her page. You can read an extract from The Salt Factory here.

allonymbooks has also published a contemporary satire with a magical realist twist by Cadell Blackstock. Cadell has now blogged about ‘Magical Realism for Men’ as part of the blog hop. To find out more about Crash Cole in ‘The Rake Spared’, visit his page.

To enter the fabulous giveaway of magical realist books, including Evie’s novel Equilibrium, and a Franz Kafka bookmark, follow this link!

For Evie’s reviews of some other magical realist books, check out those listed on indie book reviews.

To read other blogs from allonymbooks on magical realism, try this tag.

To read other blogs on the Magic Realism Blog Hop, please visit the other participating writers:

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 – Cadell Blackstock – and Evie Woolmore’s third blog for the blog hop

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The Salt Factory by Evie Woolmore: Exclusive Extract

To coincide with the recent publication of Evie Woolmore’s new novel The Salt Factory, this week’s blog is an extract from Chapter 1. To read the prologue and the rest of the novel, please visit Amazon UK, US or any other Amazon site.

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   Lymington, July 1891 

I don’t want to look at the dead bird for a moment longer than I have to.

At least, I think it is dead. It has been lying very still for several minutes but now, as the little girl beside me reaches out for it, its cloud-white breast surely twitches. The horse shies and whinnies, tugging at the harness I hold, its head jerking and rolling as if witnessing the most violent decay.

I must have imagined the fluttering of the bird’s heart. Its eyes are glassy, and from the horrible angle of its head, twisted almost back on itself against the wet sand, I guess its neck is broken. If it isn’t dead now, it will be soon.

My revolver hangs against my leg, in the folds of my skirt. It would be easy to put the wretched bird out of its misery. It would make a mess on the beach, but the sea would wash it away. The little girl would have to leave first, of course, and that might take some talking.

Talking which I don’t feel like doing.

How the bird could have come to such a fate, I can’t imagine. It isn’t as though it could have fallen off a rock, because there aren’t any. Nor could it have flown into something, unless it mistook the hot glossy shimmer of the wet beach for the clear summer sky faintly reflected in it.

The day is hot and oppressive. If I close my eyes, I might be back home in Colorado but for the vinegary sweet smell of seaweed harvested by the low tide and the mourning cries of other seagulls. My damned corset grips stiff and damp to my ribs, the bustle hangs like a canary cage off my behind, and the petticoat drags like a wet blanket, weighed down even more by the revolver. I long for the loose poplin shirts and trousers I wore on the ranch, for the simplicity of my holster. But first impressions are first impressions. And if the Magnus I remember from my childhood is anything like the Magnus I am about to see again, he would never permit such a breach of ladylike disposition. It will be shock enough for him to see me again. Best not make it worse. Continue reading

Magic Realism Blog Hop: 22-24 July 2013

Magic Realism Blog Hop

allonymbooks author Evie Woolmore is delighted to be joining Zoe Brooks’ Magic Realism Blog Hop which will take place later in July. Zoe writes a terrific blog about her own books and writing, but also regularly reviews a wide range of magical realism books from around the globe. If you’re looking to try your first magical realist book, or don’t quite know what the genre really is, then do check out her reviews for some excellent recommendations.

Among the other adult and YA authors already signed up to the Blog Hop are Awesome Indies’ Tahlia NewlandKirsty Fox, author of Dogtooth Chronicals (reviewed by Evie earlier this year); Eilis PhillipsJordan Rosenfeld  and  Chaunce Stanton. If you are a magical realist author and want to join the Blog Hop then visit Zoe Brooks’ website, and if you are a fan of reading then watch out for some book giveaways too!

The Salt Factory by Evie Woolmore: new to Kindle next week

This week, Evie Woolmore discusses her new historical magical realist novel, The Salt Factory.

salty9_optionI was chatting to a friend the other day about my books and she asked, as people sometimes do, ‘Where do you get your ideas from?’ I was able to answer, quite honestly, that the original idea for The Salt Factory came so long ago, that I can hardly remember. But it is a novel that, despite the agonies of plotting and rewriting, I have absolutely adored throughout.

As a reader, it is just the sort of novel I enjoy. It is a bubble of a world where time slows down and all the things we took for granted slowly stop being true. It captures that feeling of falling in love, of permanent change, of the dawning of a completely new perspective on the world. All those things happen to Thelonia Jones in one way or the other, and yet the novel isn’t really about any of them. It is, in the manner of all my novels, a book that seems to be about one story and ends up really being about another.

As Lector’s Books pointed out in my interview with them a couple of weeks ago, my novels do tend to have a twist in the tail, not in the sense of a thriller or a crime novel but in a subtle slide in the way the world is revealed. Unlike the writers whose magical realist works I admire, such as Erin Morgenstern or Carlos Ruiz Zafon, I do not simply present my alternative world as is, without explanation, because for me the explanation Continue reading

Evie Woolmore’s interview with Lector’s Books

Lector’s Books tells a wonderful tale of how a book can enchant you so much that you put your life on hold to read it straight through from start to finish. Fortunately for me, the book in question was my novel, Equilibrium (information about the story, an audiobook extract, and links to Amazon from the Equilibrium webpage).

So I was delighted when Lector’s Books invited me to give an interview about writing, about Equilibrium and about my new novel The Salt Factory, to be published later this month.  Read my interview, find out more about the excellent Lector’s Books website, and check out some of their recommendations for great indie published novels. Lector’s Books have also published a review of the novel on Amazon.

Author as genre?

This week allonymbooks author Evie Woolmore discusses the challenges of marketing across genres.

As I put the finishing touches to my new novel, The Salt Factory, and draw together the marketing plan to accompany its launch, I find myself facing once again that eternal dilemma: which categories to use on Amazon.

Fiction. Yes.

Now what?

In an interview with Diva magazine in 2011, author Sarah Winman was told by the interviewer that she was being described on the magazine’s cover as the new Sarah Waters. Winman’s reply? “Poor Sarah!…We’re very different. I don’t think I’ve earned the stripes to even be compared to her, quite frankly.” Winman’s modesty perhaps misses the point: when a generic label fails to be useful or available, an author name often stands in its stead. Yet which Waters was Winman to become? The “historical” novelist, the “gay” advocate, or the “supernatural thriller” writer, to name but three.

This is a tool that print publishers have used for years, describing an author as ‘the new’ somebody else. If you liked this, you’ll like that. It’s a testament to the old-water-in-new-bottles scenario that many feel print publishing has become over-reliant on, but it is also a mark of how little genuine development there has been that no one has yet come up with an innovative way for authors to market themselves differently.

I have blogged before about how rejections of my books by print publishers have generally concerned their perceived difficulty in finding a marketing pigeonhole for my type of novels. But if someone had actually asked me, I would have told them that if they liked Erin Morgenstern and Carlos Ruiz Zafón, then they would like my novels too. It’s a difficult thing to admit that one’s novel is bouncing off other people’s walls, when one of the things I know sets my books apart is the sheer originality of the ideas. But I can say with certainty that if you loved the imaginative possibilities of The Night Circus then you’ll love those same qualities in Equilibrium and The Salt Factory. If you think Zafón has captured the magical, mystical possibilities of Barcelona beautifully then you’ll find my evocations of the slip in time between contemporary and wartime Warsaw in Rising Up to be equally vivid and engaging.

I can say these things not because I copied what those writers did, because I didn’t. But  what I do have in common with them is a desire and an interest in using fiction to bend reality just a little bit to see what might be just beyond the boundaries of perception. I am nodding when I read them, out of admiration as a reader and out of understanding as a writer. You might no more describe Zafón or Morgenstern as science fiction or fantasy as you would an Evie Woolmore novel, but what are the alternatives? Indeed Amazon categorises The Night Circus as contemporary fantasy. But that category is so big that it also includes Ben Aaronovitch’s magic crime procedurals and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale as well as various vampire and imagined worlds novels.

Zafón himself considered this issue in a Q&A about the creation of The Shadow of the Wind, where he says “it is a story that is made of many stories; it’s a story that combines humour, it combines mystery, it combines a love story, it combines historical fiction – it combines many different genres, to create a new one, a new genre, a hybrid that does all those things as well.”

Unfortunately he doesn’t give that genre a name.

Perhaps there is something in reversing the process and  ruling genres out, rather than in. In what seemed at first a daring idea, I began to consider whether putting my novels in the Historical Fiction category really was the best thing to do. Certainly they all have historical settings, but then I began to wonder what sets one historical novel apart from another. And what do they all have in common? Historical authenticity seems an essential quality in a historical novel, and the recent trend towards the novelisation of historical figures (such as Hilary Mantel’s trilogy) is one of many narrow trends within a genre that might otherwise be seen as relatively homogenous. Authenticity is certainly important to me, and I do a lot of research to make sure that settings are accurate, but am I contributing something new to the genre of historical fiction? No, probably not. Because what I am contributing is nothing to do with the historical aspect. And so, by way of an experiment, I am relocating my novels from historical fiction to historical fantasy, because I am, like Zafón and Morgenstern and Aaronovitch and Attwood, trying to say something new in fantasy.

I should like one day not to be the new Sarah Waters or the new Erin Morgenstern or even a other-gendered reincarnation of Zafón, but to be the only Evie Woolmore. My books are recognisably a genre in themselves, historical fiction infused with an otherworldly setting, worlds where the boundaries are blurred and things are not quite what they seem. But for now, my readers will be able to find my books under the big and welcoming umbrella of fantasy, where minds are open to distinctive voices saying interesting things.

Indie Book Reviews (4)

This week Evie Woolmore reviews the second in Tahlia Newland’s Diamond Peak series, and a cold war thriller by Helena Halme.

Stalking Shadows by Tahlia Newland (Amazon UK and Amazon US)

This second volume in Tahlia Newland’s YA series picks up just where the first volume, A Lethal Inheritance, finishes. Ariel has barely begun her journey to rescue her mother and she has already faced both the darkest of foes and her own internal doubts and fears. Following a fierce battle, she has barely time to regroup before she and Nick, her companion and would-be boyfriend must set off again on this, the next stage of their journey. Continue reading

Love him or hate him, you’ll want to get to know him: Cadell Blackstock on his creation Crash Cole

You only have to turn on the TV or flick through a magazine to see how much attention our wicked sides are getting from the media and advertisers. Soap operas love their villains, newspaper column inches are devoted to moral ambiguity and the thinner sort of woman’s magazine is full of headlines including the word ‘cheat’. Doesn’t everyone love a rogue?

Crash Cole in ‘The Rake Spared’ began seven years ago as the collision, literally, of two quite distinct ambitions. One of them was to concede at last the love-hate relationship I have with opera, that normally loiters in the shadows. Opera’s affinity with darkness is often revealed as compellingly as any movie and though I might never admit this down the pub, some of my favourite anti-heroes are not Loki or Blofeld but the operatic bastards: Mozart’s Count Almaviva or Puccini’s Scarpia. Operatic stories tend to be very good ones, if at times  laboriously realised for those of us who are tone-deaf or ignorant of German, and I had long felt that an operatic libretto might retell and translate effectively in novel form.

My other motivation was to try to process the increasing hysteria that follows people in the public eye, to try to understand it and fashion it in such a way that it became the backdrop to a story. The extreme reactions people show to public phenomena and public figures has only been exacerbated by twitter in recent years, but in 2006 one event in particular caught my attention. After the near epic reaction to the death of Princess Diana in 1996, the dragster accident which nearly claimed the life of British TV presenter Richard Hammond presented a different kind of challenge to the British public. Hammond was lucky enough to live, but he was seriously injured, and his rescue, recovery and rehabilitation were  exhaustively covered by the TV and newspaper media. I was fascinated by the level of interest shown in Hammond – a popular personality who, with his good looks, good sense of humour, knowledge of cars and bikes, and suitably British sense of self-deprecation, was appealing to both men and women – and by the way people responded quite personally to his situation. It wasn’t particularly that it could have happened to one of us rather than to him – he was driving a jet-powered dragster at 288mph when he crashed – but that his real life persona, his lack of artifice, and the fact that he wasn’t playing a character in his work made his accident very real to us. The inability of audiences to disassociate the real person from the fictional has always interested me, but here was an example of a very real kind of empathy. People literally felt for Hammond. After the emotional tidal wave around Princess Diana’s funeral it was a small step for me as a writer to imagine how that might manifest in a different way after an accident like Hammond’s.*

So, back to the story. Which opera to retell? I wanted to write about a huge character, big in the public consciousness. I wanted someone who inspires sympathy, empathy, envy, hatred and attraction. Someone men want to be and women want to be with. Someone who, when suffering a near tragedy, will inspire most of those people to want him to survive, perhaps in spite of their rational selves. Yet success does not generally come to those who have been entirely nice, good, or well-behaved. I wanted this figure to be divisive, dramatic, compelling but not necessarily in a good way. So who else but Don Juan, recast as Don Giovanni by Mozart in 1787? A great lover, adored by so many for what he is, not who he is, a man who takes what he wants without thought to the consequences. What men among us don’t secretly harbour a version of Don Giovanni inside them?

And so Crash was born, a mostly popular public figure, a façade, a construction of, by and for his fans, who has an accident which nearly kills him. Only is it an accident at all, or is it the consequence of Crash’s own actions, the wilful desire to have his own way finally caught up with him? On the verge of his passing, Crash is saved by the literal adoration of those same fans, their love and affection hauling him back from the brink of death. But what is the life that Crash almost left behind? And as he races the press to find out the truth about his accident, what will happen to the co-dependence between him and his fans? Can they keep him alive or will the truth kill him?

Seven years on since I first wrote the book, that intimate overblown relationship between star, media and public has become even more extreme than it was then, and perhaps it is a shame that twitter and facebook were not as strongly established at the time the novel was written to merit reference, though they would not have changed the story. Bringing the novel to publication in 2013, I decided not to update the novel to include reference to social media, because it was a detail that did not alter the central premise. It is not that the novel belongs to its time but rather, like Don Juan and Don Giovanni, that the story of love, hate and revenge stands the test of time.

Love him? Hate him? Crash is a divisive figure who feeds the public consciousness much as they feed his need to be alive. I hope you’ll want to get to know him though. He remains one of the best characters I have ever written, and I am delighted to let him out into the light.

To buy a copy of Crash Cole in ‘The Rake Spared’ by Cadell Blackstock, visit Amazon UK or Amazon US or search the European Amazon sites for Cadell Blackstock)

*It should be noted that this is not a novel about Richard Hammond – if he will forgive me, it was only his accident that inspired me to write this story, and not the man himself. I was as relieved as anyone that he made a full recovery.

Indie Book Reviews (3): British Indie Authors (1)

This week Evie Woolmore flies the flag by reviewing books by three British (or British-born) indie authors.

Dogtooth Chronicals by Kirsty Fox

Despite its stark quasi-apocalyptic backdrop, Dogtooth Chronicals is in many ways a love letter. It is a saga, a fantasy/nightmare, an epic multi-dimensional, multi-narrative prophecy, and it is long. But – and perhaps this is where being a British reader reviewing a British novel really shows – it is truly a love letter to the cities, landscape and weather of Britain.

The novel is woven together from the first person narratives of a diverse and distinctive cast of characters whose lives individually and together are chronicled before, during and after a dramatic and world-changing weather event. That is to over-simplify the plot, for if it is a dramatically compelling portrait of how people survive in the most desperate circumstances, it is also an analysis of what parts of themselves are preserved and what parts are given up when people’s lives change beyond anticipation. Each of the characters is bearing the complexities of their past in some way, which will propel some forward and which others will finally be able to surrender.
It is far too complex a novel to discuss in a short review, and certainly some readers may be put off by the novel’s sheer length. For this reviewer, the opening section before The Weathers was Continue reading