From Welsh to Gaiman: Great Reads of 2018 (so far…)

This is my first year of being self-employed, being my own boss, and it’s resulted in more reading time! Here are my favourite reads of 2018 so far…

Skagboys

by Irvine Welsh

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I read a few Irvine Welsh books years ago and loved them all. In December, I finally got round to watching Trainspotting 2, having been putting it off for ages expecting it to be rubbish. It turned out to be bloody brilliant, so I put Skagboys on my Xmas list and my Mum delivered. I highly enjoyed spending so many pages of tiny type with the boys and girls of Leith.

Art Forms in Nature

by Ernst Haeckel

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I’ve had this book for ages and I often leaf through it, wondering which drawings would be best as tattoos, which ones would make great wallpaper, etc… This year, I read the introduction and other writings included in the copy. Some of it is a bit dry, but I really love going through all the beautiful images.

Starter Zone (The Revelation Chronicles, #1)

by Chris Pavesic

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I reviewed this book back when I read it in March. Chris also wrote a great guest post on Hodags!

Hatshepsut: The Pharaoh-Queen of Egypt

by in60Learning

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This was a quick and easy way to learn about a subject I was interested in but knew almost nothing about! The book is short enough to try, without the commitment of a more traditional historical text. In60Learning also has short books on numerous other figures and events. Hatshepsut (1478-1458 BC) was an important figure who helped to reunite a broken Egypt.

Have a go if Cleopatra is the only female figure of Ancient Egypt that you’re familiar with! It’s worth it for an interesting and very easy read. Take a look at my original review here.

Indigo Glow and The Tree Outside My Window

by Israfel Sivad

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Read my original review of these two poetry collections here. I also reviewed a novel by Israfel last year and you can read one of his poems here. Oh, and there’s an author interview too – great guy!

True Love: A Practice for Awakening the Heart

by Thich Nhat Hanh

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This was actually a re-read. I find I can go back and read Thich Nhat Hanh’s words again and again, and this is probably my favourite of his books.

A Christmas Carol

by Charles Dickens

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This was another re-read, as I was teaching the text to a student this year. I must admit to not really being a fan of Dickens, but I find A Christmas Carol very heart-warming and enjoyable. Of course, The Muppet’s Christmas Carol and Blackadder’s Christmas Carol are both far superior to the book!

Docherty

by William McIlvanney

Docherty by William McIlvanney
Docherty by William McIlvanney

I hadn’t heard of William McIlvanney, but following another emotional adventure with Renton and co, I needed more tartan noir. This was an excellent book and I found it both funny and moving. It’s set in a small pit village in Scotland at the time of the First World War and revolves around one family.

The Big Man

by William McIlvanney

The Big Man by William McIlvanney
The Big Man by William McIlvanney

I decided to read this after reading McIlvanney’s Docherty. I preferred Docherty, probably because it’s a bit of a coming-of-age story and I like that, but this was still a great book. I’m looking forward to trying his other novels.

Counterfeit World

by Daniel F. Galouye

Counterfeit World by Daniel F. Galouye
Counterfeit World by Daniel F. Galouye

My Mum gave my other half a big stack of old Science Fiction Book Club books a few years ago, which she was lucky enough to pick up at a local auction. This is the first one I’ve got round to reading and it was great fun.

I only realised afterwards that I’ve seen a film based on the novel called The Thirteenth Floor. I can’t say I’d recommend the film, but the book was way ahead of its time. It was published in the 1960s and it really reads like it comes from that era.

The Man in the High Castle

by Philip K. Dick

The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick
The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick

This instantly became one of my favourite books of all time. At least in the top three! I haven’t seen the TV series, but I have a feeling that all that I love from the book would be missing, so I don’t think I’m going to try.

A Scanner Darkly

by Philip K. Dick

A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick
A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick

After reading The Man in the High Castle, I needed more Dick! This wasn’t quite as good but it really was still fantastic. Surreal fiction at its best. I saw the film when it came out at the cinema and I disliked it. Quite a lot. If you felt the same, don’t let it stop you from reading this great book!

It’s so easy to get behind the main character and follow him on his devastating journey. I’ve read reviews which say this book is hard to get in to, but I really was hooked from the start. It’s also an excellent portrayal of drug use, or how people get into the world of addiction and can’t escape. Who’s who in this world?

The only other novel I’ve read by Philip K. Dick is Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, so I’m really looking forward to trying more.

Strange Secrets

by Mike Russell

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It was great to have another dose of Mike Russell’s entertaining, yet unsettling surreal fiction this year! Highly recommended for fans of The Twilight Zone, Philip K. Dick and strange things in general.

Each story is easy to read, yet a puzzle to digest. It includes mysterious wardrobes, a little boy with a troubling map, and a couple who can’t agree on the species of tree in a forest. Who’s really the puppeteer? Can the truth survive? You can read one of Mike’s stories here. Strange means strange.

Dark Alchemy

by Neil Gaiman, Garth Nix, Mary Rosenblum and others

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This was also a re-read and you can view my original review here. It’s a perfect collection for cold nights or rainy days.

The Unity Game

by Leonora Meriel

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Check out my original review of this great book and also of Leonora’s earlier novel, The Woman Behind the Waterfall. She also took part in a great interview. The Unity Game really is an enthralling book. It’s got an excellent unlikable protagonist, something I really enjoy in a novel.

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Next up: I’m currently having a great time reading One Fine Day in the Middle of the Night by Christopher Brookmyre. He’s new to me – another discovery on my quest for tartan noir. I’m also planning to delve into Dick’s The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch.

 

 

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Author Interview: Israfel Sivad

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What cultural value do you see in writing?

In my opinion, writing is the foundation of human culture. As one of the earliest means human beings created to launch their thoughts into the future, there would be no cultures on this planet today without writing. However, writing is no longer the sole means of spreading stories and knowledge. With the 20th century advent of film and television, the idea of telling stories through writing is perhaps even the most archaic form of writing today. However, there’s a magic that still exists, for me at least, in a written story. I remember as a younger man thinking that I wanted to develop a form of writing that couldn’t translate to film, that had to be read to be understood. I wanted to expose what language alone is capable of being. It’s an internal experience rather than an external experience. That’s what I want to capitalize on in the stories I tell: the fact that they exist solely in the space between my mind and the reader’s. And therein, for me, lies the current cultural value of writing—that space between the writer’s mind and the reader’s and how it allows one person to comprehend another’s unmediated, unadulterated thoughts. There’s no actor to interpret. There’s no vision to see. There’s only one mind reaching out to another.

Well said, Israfel. I love a good film, but nothing beats the connection we get to a book and its author.

 

What was the hardest part of writing your books?

The hardest part of writing my books has always been getting the words to form themselves right on the paper. Stories come to me quite often and quite easily and relatively fully-formed. The act of sitting down to write is something I enjoy. I often put on music to keep myself still and simply stare at a blank computer screen or piece of paper until the words come out. However, getting those words shaped into the vision I want others to see, that’s a painstaking process. As I wrote many years ago in my poem “Break Through” published in my collection At the Side of the Road—“Words come too hard to mean nothing.”

Quite. I get a little put off when I read that an author has released seven books in a year. I want to read a craft, not a formula.

 

What inspires you?

My greatest inspiration over the years has always been my own memories. My muse is an internal one. I look back over my life and wonder if all the twists and turns really lead back to here, to this theme that recurs, that creeps into my head, that plays its twisted chords of gunfights and shootouts, of falling, laughing back into bed with someone I love tight in my arms. That’s from a poem of mine as well, “Saint Annie” in The Tree Outside My Window. I never thought of it as being a simple synopsis of what inspires me, but as I contemplate this question, I’m coming to believe it is.

I loved The Tree Outside My Window. Read my review here.

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How do you feel about ebooks vs. print books and alternative vs. conventional publishing?

I prefer reading physical books. They’re comforting. They remind me of childhood and running away from my daily cares, hiding in my bedroom from the rain outside. For me, ebooks don’t carry that nostalgia, but I believe they very well could for future generations. I also prefer my books to be read in print form for two reasons. First, I love the new covers coming out for the second editions of my works (and future first editions)—I only have three second editions currently available: The Tree Outside My Window, Indigo Glow and The Adversary’s Good News. I want these books to exist physically for people to hold and see. Second, a physical copy of my book is launched into the world. Who knows where it will land. Who knows who will discover it. As far as alternative vs. conventional publishing. I’ve never gone the conventional route. I’ve always enjoyed the control I exert over my product as a self-publisher. Friends of mine who have entered the traditional publishing world have rapidly lost control of their words. I’m very afraid of that. However, I’m also aware certain avenues are closed to me for marketing as a result. Personally, I feel it’s the writer’s choice how she wishes to proceed. Neither seems to me to be inherently superior to the other.

I agree, Israfel. I think it’s the author’s choice to publish in their preferred format(s). But, I love that I can lend a finished paperback to someone. I can read it in the bath without fear of the financial consequences. I can donate it to a charity shop and wonder where it will end up and who it will influence.

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What is your role in the writing community?

That’s an interesting question. As a young man, I would have said my role was to be the greatest writer in the English language of this day and age (laughs). However, today, I believe my role in the writing community is simply to expand genres, to push others to see that there is more we can do as authors. We don’t have to follow existing conventions. We can create new ones, new stories, new languages. To quote myself yet again, from the story “Catatonia” in Psychedelicizations, I want to write stories that a giant can fit in, to challenge artistic barriers and reveal how they can be overcome.

I’m surprised by this answer! I know that Israfel is active in the poetry community and works hard to promote/work with others, so I thought this would be his answer. I’m inspired by his big dreams though.

 

What’s the most interesting book you’ve ever read?

I think the most interesting book I’ve ever read is Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow. It tells a powerful story in a fascinating manner. It’s thoroughly intriguing to me. I don’t understand it, and I don’t want to. I simply want to experience it again and again. I love the ideas of this book, the tone of this book and the language of this book.

Oo, I will look out for this.

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Where can we learn more about you?

The easiest place to learn more about me is by reading the books I’ve written. It’s the only place I’m truly comfortable revealing myself. And in reality, my books reveal more about me than I ever intended.

 

How long on average does it take you to write a book?

The shortest amount of time I’ve ever worked on a book was a year. The longest was ten years. I don’t know if there’s an average amount of time. Different projects require different investments.

I think this comes across in the author‘s writing. It’s honed, it’s considered. It changes as a person changes over a period of years.

 

If you didn’t like writing books, what would you do for a living?

Well, since I’ve never made a living as an author, I’ve done a number of things to make money, everything from construction to copywriting. I think if I could choose any one thing to do for a living other than writing, it would be teaching philosophy, which I was setting myself up to do at one point in time. However, life didn’t unfold in that direction for me.

I hope that life allows Israfel to dedicate more time to his writing. The world needs authors like this!

 

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?

I like writing with the lights off.

Enough said.


I have reviewed Israfel Sivad‘s poetry books and his excellent novel, The Adversary’s Good News. View all of his books here.

Poetry by Israfel Sivad

Indigo Glow and The Tree Outside My Window are two poetry anthologies written by Israfel Sivad. He also wrote a truly excellent novel, The Adversary’s Good News, which I reviewed a while back.

Israfel Sivad is the founder of Ursprung Collective, which has been referred to as “fantastic brain food” on ReverbNation. His first novel, “Crossroads Blues“, has been compared to the work of Fyodor Dostoevsky (Palmetto Review).​​ His second novel, “The Adversary’s Good News“, was a finalist for the 2016 Chanticleer Paranormal Book Award. His stories and poems have appeared in the Santa Fe Literary Review, The Stray Branch and Badlands Literary Journal. – Goodreads

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The poems in both books cover the themes of romance, drugs & alcohol, supernatural beings, angst and religion. I believe Indigo Glow was released prior to The Tree Outside My Window, but I actually read both at the same time, leaving each book in a different room to dip in to when I fancied a read.

To me, The Adversary’s Good News is a much more mature piece of writing. I feel that anyone could enjoy it and gain from it. These poetry collections are perhaps a little more niche. I would recommend them to teenagers and twenty-somethings, or those still struggling with the general themes of life, looking for others to relate to.

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