Friday, 27 November 2015

Coping With Rejection

Nina Milton is guesting at the Open College of the Arts blogsite again, this week, with a blog about coping with rejection. Lots of intersting comments coming through on this subject, which is close to every writer's heart.

I can clearly remember my first rejection. It was as if someone had released a little valve on me. The sort of little valve that beach balls have so you can blow them up. I didn’t think I’d ever be able to write again...

Go to 

to read the entire article. 

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

The Naxalites: fictions about the Indian uprising

Talk about buses, coming along in pairs. 

Two books, published recently, both examined the Maoist uprising in India. Now, I didn’t even know that there had been a Maoist uprising in India, so two novels in close succession felt like more than coincidence. But it's probably no more than a good example of Jung's collective consciousness at work. 

In both books, a young man is drawn into a radical far-left movement called Naxalism, its name derived from Naxalbari, a tiny village to the north of Calcutta where impoverished peasants rose up against the police and landlords in 1967, sparking off dreams of a nationwide insurgency that would replicate Mao’s earlier revolution in China.

I read Jhumpa Lahiri’s Lowland first, and this was my introduction the the Naxalites, a movement I’d never heard of  before. I love learning new things from the fiction I read, however, at the end of the book, I still didn’t know anything about the uprising. That story is skirted and what is examined instead is disappearance, the not knowing. 

Subhash’s younger brother, Udayan, has gone without trace, and he’s missed by all the people who care for very much for him in a multitude of different ways  Lahiri explores these lives – lives lived with a blankness where a person should be. What Lahari is saying, it seems to me, is that disappearance is more poignant than death, for there is no closure when someone vanishes off the face of the earth. Udayan's family are trapped in the unkowning. How differently would have been their lives if that disappearance hadn’t happened? How different are their lives  because of that mysterious gap appearing in the centre of the family.

As I was reading Lowlands, I fell in love, once again, with Lahari’s  erratic, dancing prose and the power of her characters, who feel and believe and with such passion and depth. But her short stories are more lucid than this longer book. The writer is far better at getting under the skin of characters 
 like this, exploring their dreams, fears, failures and secrets,  than she is describing settings or actions. Rather than demonstrating any overarching narrative drive, Lahari’s Indian family seem to live in the clouds, if not in the Cloud. But at the end of the book, I could truly say I'd loved it, because the ending is exqusiite. It both explains the beginning and takes us in a circle back to it. It’s because of this one little device, which I had to wait  432 pages for, that Lowlands stays with me,

In direct contrast, The Lives of Others, by Neel Mukherjee does not try to 
skirt around the issue of the Naxal 
uprising. We learn how punishing was the regime the idealistic students set for themselves, in their attempts to emulate Chinese Communism, and we also see in graphic detail the way the police and state dealt with their beliefs. 

The structure Muckherjee has chosen takes us alternately from the Ghosh Family (and their long-standing business empire) and their teenage son, Supratik. The family - or at least Supratik's mother - is struggling, as in Lowland, to come to terms with the disappearance. Their lives, in contrast to the starving peasants Supratik is now starving alongside, are rich and charmed, to the point they simply cannot imagine any other life. As with Lowlands, we watch several generations, this time mostly in flashback back from the starting point of 1967, to learn how much the family members truly hate each other. 

While Lowlands had a problem with getting to grips with setting, this book seems to not bother with properly introducing characters. Constantly I got lost and frequently I was grateful for both the glossary and the Ghosh family tree, printed at the front of the book.

I found the chapters focused on Supratik grueling but easy to read. It was the Ghosh chapter I found troublesome. I seemed to constantly be waiting for characters and their situations to be introduced and explained, while trying to figure out what was happening and what had happened to this unpleasant family. I almost gave up several times, as I wondered where this book was going. But when the writer gets to grips with a scene, he's wonderfully colourful and imaginative.

The Lives of Others seemed to be telling and showing me far less than I thought I'd need to understand the story, yet, when when I’d finished it, and pondered upon it, I realized that somehow I’d gained a complete picture and could see the romance and direction of its narrative perfectly. 
If you like to discover new information while reading fiction, or love books that tackle large issues, you'd probably enjoy either of these. Lowland was short-listed last year: The Lives of Others won the prize the year after. Why not read both and decide for yourself if the Booker judges made the right choices.

Monday, 16 November 2015

Paper Cuts by Nicci Rae

…If you divide a still image into a series of small coloured dots, the human brain will reassemble the dots into a picture that makes sense. This is the principle on which television is based… Nicci Rae, Paper Cuts

This week, I'm featuring the work of fellow crime author Nicci Rey. She's a full time writer and editor and she also co-presents a weekly show on Radio Harrow.

She's published three novels: LEAVE ME COLD, MAD BESS WOOD and her most recent work, PAPER CUTS. Like me, she's currently working on a fourth novel, with the working title BADGERS & JAM. 

Tiffany Wilson is the nation's TV darling, host of Talking with Tiffany, favourite viewing on  morning television, but Tiffany wants so much more – she wants to be thought of as a serious journalist, and she's just finished a documentary, Our World. This is a hard-hitting piece of broadcasting, which has followed the journey of Ayo and Masika Akiloye as they are brought from Moucha Island off the coast of Africa to the UK. The couple have been filmed for six months, shown discovering all the Western World has to offer. 

Now, Tiffany is dreaming of being crowned TV queen and winning BAFTA glory for her work. She brings the Akiloyes into the studio before they are shipped back  to Africa, at the end of this experiment, and interviews them on her morning show for a final time. 

Tiffany's dreams twists into nightmares as the Akiloyes drop the bombshell, live on air, that they plan to flaunt the  the law  and stay in England.

Very quickly, the Nation's Sweetheart has become Enemy Of The State.

 Events begin to spiral out of control as as the country - and the press - support the Akiloyes, vilifying Tiffany and the TV company for using the Akiloyes as an experiment in the name of entertainment and, as Tiffany fights to restore her reputation she discovers that there's more at stake than her ratings…

PAPER CUTS comes out this week in paperback and is already available for download from Amazon. It's a fast and furious read perfect for crime-fiction lovers who like their books short, sweet and spicy. If you're hea

ding on a long plane journey, this would be a compulsive companion. I loved the way Rae opens up the interior of news journalism and criss-crosses the world as she unfolds her story. 

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Winter Poems by Nina Milton


They are matchless,
My trees in winter. 
While I watch telly and eat carbs, 
Put the fire on, the heating up, 
They stand naked to the battle;
Steady for storm, ready for gale. 

Winter trees communicate in semaphore
Black flags against the half-day’s light.
They are gallows for bats,
Rigging for gulls,
Blue cages for robins 
Steeples for stormcocks.

In the cold sun, 
The oaks glow emerald with moss;
The planes strike piebald patterns;
Birch trunks shimmer like a high moon. 
I pull on gloves, hat, scarves,
Brave the cold to watch 
As they wait secure, 
Dreaming sap dreams,
Expectant for spring.


                                                                                   Scrag End,
                                                                                   Hag wending
                                                                                   Her cackling flight
                                                                                   Over the mushroom yews.
                                                                                   The Samhuin night holds her,
                                                                                    Unfolds her soaring cloak
                                                                                    As she rides her birch broom high.


Storm Eye
Borne higher 
Than Circling wind,
A vortex for a throne.
Below, as we run for cover
She shrieks a laugh and spins
Stridng the tides.

Boughs creak
Clouds flapping
Seas flooding, seeing blood.
She shakes the earth 
Till fire spews.
Life’s elemental horrors are hers
As she beats out the storm

Misshapen crone, 
Winter harpy - time for home,
Let late winter snows gentle 
Lambs and snowdrops into life,
I implore, beseech you, hag,
It’s Bridget’s time, so pack your bag.

(the Cailliach is a Scottish Goddess, whose legend states she epitomizes hard winter)


The train flies; 
Rails roar in terror of looming night
Miles shudder on
Into a dimmed future.
Sky is ashen with a splash of paint,
Tree, pole, nudging horse in silhouette against it.

The colour drains; 
Green frowns into grey, 
Brown slides towards black,
Your eyes get dim
In this darkening world, dotted  
With small square stars of windows.

Willows as fluffed as candyfloss;
Oaks flash past like lollipops, poplars are batons 
Directing the chugging wheels.
Settling cows hunch in the loaming.
Look away – don’t guess the shapeless things out there.

When you look back, day’s death is fulfilled
And all that can be seen is the sound of the train.


Photograph of Stanton Drew
 by the late Carni Tipton
Suppose the dolmen that squats high on the track
Are three petrified shepherds who never sleep – 
Moonbeam white, resting as they watch their sheep
Leaning to rest each on the other’s back?

While down in the valley, three circles lie,
Earth-rooted like old men’s molars, they stare
Past the earth’s harried timekeeping to where 
Stars wheel backwards and the moon’s phases fly

To the beat of these sandstone hearts. One ring
Lies fallow, resting in the weedy grass, 
The grandest circle is spaced wide and fast
The third stays tight, upright; I hear it sing.

It breaths the pulse notes of a well-tuned harp
It holds the secrets of a trusted chart.


My feet stand deep by your heel in the gloom
Of your towering wilds.
Storm wave, Wailing Wall,
They named you Black Hill,
The back end of Brecon’s
Mountain range where, disconsolate, you loom.

Ceridwen loves to feel the dusk enslave,
Wrap wild anguish round
A heart. Black Mountain must
Belong to her,
Stirring an iron-cast pot
Inside a hollow crag, some dark-eyed cave

Murky shadows move me; what you are, Ker –  

Goddess, hag, or just a tale 
From old-folk years? No answer.
Only the wind, steep with dread
Flap of umbrella bat, bleak caw of crow,
As they soar into the desolate air.

From the break of dawn to moon-slivered night,
Herbs lie in curling steam.
Cauldron-sour on the tongue,
Perilous to steal, it will devour,
Turn you mad or
Offer transformation into light.

I turn upon my heel, can’t hold my place.
The barren cliffside sucks
At hope, drags away cheer.
My shoulders shudder 
At the goddess glowering in her crag
And want to weep at your heartbreaking face.

Winter Poems by Nina Milton

Monday, 2 November 2015

Lila by Marilynne Robinson

There are books that draw the emotion out of you. Historical romances that leave you in a heap of tears. Thrillers that sheer your nails down to the quick. These are good books – I hope my Shaman Mysteries can cause such reactions in people.

Connected  by Kasey McMahon 
fabricates a networked goddess 
out of Ethernet cables.
But there are also books – rarities – that draw emotion into you. Such books often leave you feeling as you never have before and words cannot aways express such emotions, but feel like the bundles of cables inside telecommunication boxes. Not only are these books rare, they are usually destined to become classics.

I’ve come to reading Marilynne Robinson a little late in the day. She has already been awarded the Pulitzer Prize, the Orange Prize and was long-listed for the Booker with Lila, her fourth book, which I’ve just finished.  By the end of this intense ride into her work, I realized it might have enjoyed it even more if I’d started at the beginning.

Robinson’s last three books has become a trilogy set in the fifties, focused on the Iowan town of Gilead, where John Ames, the preacher, has lived all his life. The first book is a posthumous letter from the elderly John Ames to his young son. The second book is an account of Ames’ friend and godson. We meet all these characters in book three, Lila, which tells the story of Lila, Ames’ wife. 

Lila, perhaps in her thirties, blows into town when Ames is 67 and widowed. She has spent her entire life so far on the road and has no idea even who her father is. There’s a knife hidden down her garter which has its own gruesome story, and she’s living in a little den by the river, where she’s hidden the few pounds in her possession. Ames becomes alive in Lila’s presence and marries her
“I felt as though I recognised you somehow,” he tells Lila. “It was a remarkable experience. It was.” She says: “But you don’t really know nothing about me.” 

 Marilynne Robinson 
Photo: Ulf Andersen
Looking into the photo of Marilynn Robinson, I can see in her face how it is possible that she can write with such a heightened intensity, with the elegance of a poet and the understanding of a philosopher. She has a regal look, which feels both humble and full of humour. That face promises great writing, of depth and breadth, and Lila answers that promise, filling me, as I’ve said, with feelings I could not express in words. Something like longing, perhaps. Something like death and birth. As a Christian, Robinson is a sophisticated thinker. Although this is the story of a fallen woman saved by a minister of the church, there is nothing pious about it. Instead, it is open and subtle and passionate. I can’t guess what the writer meant Lila to be ‘about’, but to me it looks at how we exist in the world for just such a short time, and how our spirits respond to that. 

Anatole Broyard wrote of Robinson in The New York Times: “It’s as if, in writing…she broke through the ordinary human condition with all its dissatisfactions, and achieved a kind of transfiguration.”

Lila is not a book with a complex plot, although its structure is elaborately folded into Lila's past, which Ames does not know about, and the present, which builds a surprising amount of tension out of Lila’s restlessness, now pregnant with her husband’s child. All her life she has survived by keeping society at bay, and still considers running away. “I don’t trust nobody,” Lila says, and Ames replies: “No wonder you’re tired.”

I have been missing something from my life, and that thing is reading Marilynne Robinson. I’m so glad I spotted her on the long list for the Man Booker. How Lila failed to make the transfer to the short list is a puzzle  – the Guardian described it as ‘the biggest surprise’. But I doubt Robinson is unduly worried. For a start, she’s recently been presented with a National Humanities Medal by Barack Obama. For another, she doesn’t look the sort.