Why I like absurd stories on occasion…

Last post I talked about some weird and wonderful books I love- so today I’m talking more about why I’m consistently drawn to unusual stories. From Alice in Wonderland to Endgame, these are the stories with staying power. I’m drawn to them for some inexplicable reasons… and some reasons I’m going to try and explain right now! Here’s why I enjoy some wacky stories…

surpriseThey’re unexpected! And who doesn’t love *surprises*! (okay, I don’t always love surprises, but they can sometimes be a good thing- like a surprise puppy or a book you didn’t expect to be quite that good rocking your world).

 

memoryBecause they’re so different and stand out from the crowd, they’re all the more memorable. I read plenty of books I can’t place and don’t remember all that well- but unusual stories stick in my mind more (hopefully for a good reason 😉).

 

spaceThey take you out of this world- and isn’t that half the point of losing yourself in a book? One of the things I love about absurd or weird or strange books is how they force you to lose yourself in a truly fantastical reality. You have to forget what you know- or what you think you know- and accept the world the author is presenting you with.

 

new perspective doggoAnd because of that, they make you see things from an entirely new perspective. When books are different, it’s a special opportunity to see the world from a whole new angle. It’s an opportunity to think and reflect on our own reality.

 

lightbulb momentAll this gives us greater clarity about the world we live in. Sometimes it takes seeing our world from the strangest of viewpoints to fully understand what’s going on around us (and then we realise everything’s just a bit nuts!)

But what do you think? Do you enjoy absurd stories? Or are they not for you? Let me know in the comments!

The Phonecall – an Absurdist Short Story

She had every expectation of a phone call that morning. Mouth still singed with coffee, she barely missed a beat when the buzz came and put on her best dressed smile to pick up.

“Good morning,” her boss said, without missing a beat, “I’ve been looking over your work for the last year and it made me think of promoting you.”

This was not what she had expected. “Oh that’s great news Mr Willoughby!”

“Yes- well I don’t like the way this is progressing so I’m terminating your contract.”

“Wait- what?”

Mr Willoughby sighed down the phone line.

“I can’t breathe,” she gasped.

“Let me explain,” Mr Willoughby replied coldly. “You see our company has all the power.”

“I see,” she stuttered, trying to regain her composure “so would it have helped if I asserted myself more?”

“No if you hadn’t been so polite and amenable and the model employee, we’d have fired you sooner.”

“That doesn’t make any sense.”

“I’m sorry it doesn’t make sense to you,” Mr Willoughby harrumphed.

“But I thought I was doing well- I passed my appraisal with flying colours- I don’t understand.”

“You don’t understand the company values.”

“How so?”

Silence.

“That’s just something we like to say when we fire people.” There was a pause down the line. “Look why would you think you had a place at this company?”

“Well… there was a contract? But I suppose that doesn’t mean anything.”

The rage was quick and swift. “How could you say that! Are you calling this company into disrepute?”

“No, no, I didn’t mean that. I suppose you were serious after all.”

“No, we always had our doubts about you. We think we can do better.”

“Oh. So, you have someone else lined up for the position?”

“No,” Mr Willoughby replied too sharply. “There is no one else.”

“But you have an idea of someone you’d prefer?”

Another beat of silence passed. “Look, we’ve said everything we needed to say. Your work was not good enough.”

“Oh god I’m not good enough!”

“I don’t understand why you’re taking this so badly- this should galvanise you to go and seek other employment. We could advise you about career opportunities if you’d like?”

“Oh no, please don’t!”

“There are lots of opportunities at our company- a position has just opened up in fact- would you like to apply?”

“This is insane- I’m hanging up now.”

Now it was Mr Willoughby’s turn to gasp.

“But I thought we could continue to share business contacts! I don’t see how that’s possible now!”

“No,” she agreed, calmer than she felt, “that’s not possible.”

Willoughby hiccupped, breathing heavily down the line.

“Are you… crying right now Mr Willoughby?”

“You were a wonderful employee,” he said, the sobbing intensifying.

“Okay, well I’m sorry it had to end this way, I’m going to go now.”

“Aren’t you going to tell me I was a good boss?”

She hung up.

The Town with No Name – Flash Fiction

Towns do not simply vanish overnight- at least not usually. Yet that is exactly what happened to the town of ——. Its buildings, its residents, its very name disappeared into the aether one yuletide evening.

Of course, for the neighbouring townsfolk of Runcold this was a massive inconvenience. Especially coming at such an auspicious time of year. Think of all the trading opportunities that were lost forever! Think of all the planned deliveries that would not be made! Think of the inconvenience! Everyone had their celebrations all planned out- and now who knew where to get that extra-special speciality that the town of —– was known for (and was now forgotten forever).

When the desperate nature of their plight was realised, the townsfolk tried all manner of remedies. With the guidance of the mayor, they held a candlelit vigil. When that didn’t work, they lynched the town idiot. And when that didn’t work, they went to bed early, as they often implored their children, waking up more refreshed than they had in years. But none of it seemed to do any good! The town of —— remained gone!

Grumbling at their hard luck, they all decided to go about their business and forget about the unfortunate affair. Until one day, as spring began to creak its way over the town border, a ragged traveller appeared at the gates.

He stood for three days, stench wafting into the town square, before the mayor decided to ward him off for disturbing the peace.

“Who goes there?” he said softly to the stranger, not wanting to cause any violent outbursts.

The stranger merely pointed to his throat, indicating that he had been robbed of words.

“Well, I’m sorry that you’ve been inconvenienced, sir,” the mayor went on, “but I don’t see how I can help you if you can’t tell us what you want.”

The traveller held a letter aloft, but when he slotted it through the gates and the mayor picked it up, the words on the pages disappeared.

Air rushed from his lungs.

“You’re- you’re from that town —— that town —–“

A collective gasp rose up from the crowd. Remembering what had happened to their neighbours, the townsfolk were suddenly very afraid.

“We don’t want none of your trouble here!”

“Go! Go before you do us in too!”

But the traveller refused to be turned away. He rattled the gates and he mouthed wordless pleas. Naturally, the townsfolk knew they could not ignore him forever. Unlocking the gates, they pulled him inside and strung him up next to the village idiot. Then they decided to move on with their lives. The town of —— may have been gone, but there wasn’t a lot they could do about it and they had no real reason to be concerned. Things would go on much as they always had. Sadly, the residents of Runcold never did get their much longed for presents.

Most generic thriller plan…

What kind of person writes a generic thriller with an awful twist? Well today it’s going to be me with a generic thriller novel plan! Enjoy!

November 2021. Out in the dismal northerly wastes *ahem* windswept landscapes of the United Kingdom, The Adams family (not to be mistaken for the Addams family) are going on a staycation. 

In an incredibly overpriced holiday home (a house that has a History-with-a-capital-H) we have 7 close family members: Mr Adam Adams, his wife Mrs Adam Adams, his mother-in-law Ms Stepford, his two creepy twins darling children, his (unimportant and therefore unnamed) sister and his brother-in-law Rhett Herring. Naturally, because this is an old house with a History, they are all going to start dying, one by one… obviously starting with the unnamed sister!

But before we get to the bloody bit, we must have an obligatory row between Mr and Mrs Adams. They are discussing something that happened in the past (unspecified) and how they will overcome it (they won’t). Mrs Adams is drinking excessively for the sake of the plot because of this terrible thing that happened in their marriage. And Mr Adams is just trying to get away from the humdrum of his necessarily dull life (and a dreadful scandal unfolding at work that he is deeply embroiled in). His sister and Rhett Herring are being SUPER ROMANTIC- which is why it’s surprising when she (really I don’t have a name for her) winds up with her wrists slashed in the hot tub.

Granny Stepford is found over the body with a knife, but of course no one has any idea who did it, so they phone the police for an expert opinion. Unfortunately, all the phone lines are dead (thanks to the twins slashing all the phone lines). Everyone immediately overlooks the little rascals and starts questioning Rhett and his motives. After all, he is new to the family and how well do they really know this working-class wheeler dealer anyway?

As it gets dark and they devise a plan to drive to the nearest village, they discover that the cars have both broken down. Bummer. They shall just have to make it through the night in the old house with a history of dead bodies (and a graveyard in the back garden next to the hot tub). All Mrs Adams can do is try and figure out the mystery for herself through her alcohol-induced haze.

Naturally, she’s absolutely certain it was Rhett, because how could it be anyone else? Not her loving (but admittedly adulterous husband). And not her obviously devoted mother (who just happened to bring her professional kitchen knives for a weekend away). And not her darling children (who have more of an interest in taxidermy than should ever be healthy for ten year olds).

She goes to confront him and finds him skewered in the billiards room! Where he was just playing snooker with Mr Adams. The same Mr Adams who borrowed loads of money from him and then used it to cover embezzling a load of funds at work (so that he could live it up with a mistress who left him for a billionaire that could better fund her lifestyle). But Mrs Adams does not think of any of this, because she is an alcoholic with mental health problems and possibly a drug addiction (she’s also very, very stupid). Distraught, she seeks comfort in a bottle and wanders round the haunted house in the dark, scared of every creak and crank she hears.

Morning comes, as its wont to do, and she finally comes to her senses. She must confront Mr Adams… ABOUT THE AFFAIR!! She’s been brushing it under the carpet for too long! Never mind the dead people that are piling up and that her children are currently playing with some petrified rat’s bodies. She goes down into the cellar where her mother and husband are currently having a nice drink annnnd HER HUSBAND HAS BEEN FOUND POISONED! DUN DUN DUNNNNN!!!

She screams loud enough to wake the dead- though not really loud enough to wake the dead. Just loud enough to get the attention of some neighbours who in turn call the local police. PC plod finally turns up to bulk up the plot… and ends up fed to the lawnmower those little rapscallion twins were using. What a terrible accident.

Now Mrs Adams is more alone than ever. She can’t phone the police again (especially since they heavily implied she had the most to gain if all those people died, since she would then be the beneficiary in any will). She begins to doubt her own sanity and wonder if she actually did do all these terrible crimes. She just can’t remember dammit.

As she’s considering walking the 15 miles over to the police station and handing herself in, her mother appears with a knife and it dawns on her… It was granny all along!! (just go with it) Granny lifts up the knife to plunge it into her- and she conveniently remembers Mrs Adams self-defence lessons and backhands her into a concrete wall. Goodbye granny.

BUT WAIT! There’s more! With her dying breaths, she rasps out that she was not actually granny all this time. You see, the house they were in was MAGIC and allows the dead to come back for one night of the year… So Granny was just possessed all along. By a dead dude. Her abusive ex-husband to be precise. So really this was a message-book all along (please give me some kind of prize!)

Mrs Adams is so relieved that this awful ordeal is over. She puts her arms protectively around her lovely children and promises to always look after them. The twins smile back.

Annnd fade to black!

The Scary Truth About the Publishing Industry: Cancel Culture Has Won

It’s free speech week again… and I’m feeling stumped. Not just because my inactivity on twitter means I’m not privy to the latest gossip of who’s been cancelled. And not because I’m out of ideas. It’s because when I think about this topic, I feel my heart sink. Because not much has changed in the years since I’ve been writing about this topic. Authors are cancelled, threatened and attacked by the “virtuous” online… and too few seem willing to stand up to them.

More and more, I’ve observed the culture of fear that exists in publishing and writing communities around the world. Say or write the “wrong” thing and your career will be over (sometimes before it has begun). Heck, you don’t even have to say or do anything at all. Sometimes, as was the case with Zhao, you can write a book that no one in their right mind would deem offensive and be cancelled just because the mob was hungry that week.

A lot of the time, people deny that anyone gets cancelled at all (never mind those who have lost their jobs or had contracts cancelled) because some people are too successful for them to destroy. Which actually says a lot about them and not about those they wish to cancel- imagine seeing it as a mark of success to destroy someone’s life and measure your success by how much you’ve made them suffer!!

When I voice my fears (on a personal level) I have been told to just ignore it and carry on. Don’t engage. Don’t worry. Don’t think about it. But the problem is not speaking about it gives one group of people all the power. And those people seem very happy to use that power like a battering ram.

Honestly, I don’t blame people for letting it go under the rug. It’s become such an insidious part of online culture that no one talks about it anymore. It’s there, we know it’s there and there’s nothing we can do about it.

… Except that there is. Instead of going along with the crowd when someone tries to ban a book, you can lead a silent rebellion and read it for yourself. You can review it, you can share it, you can quietly display it without comment (if you happen to work in a library and happen to have a lot of Salman Rushdie books to hand 😉). Read the books that are dangerous, that are questionable (or even that were written by a dead Russian because somehow that’s offensive too). No one can crush creativity forever if you refuse to comply. Go forth and read naughty books! 😉

What do you think? Am I being too pessimistic? Or hyperbolic? Let me know in the comments below!

My Ultimate Austen Adaptation Ranking

Last month, I was inspired to reread and rewatch some of the works of Austen. And once I got started, I couldn’t stop. Because, well, it’s Austen. And who doesn’t love knowing there’s going to be a happy ending? However, when it comes to adaptations they are not always guaranteed (as well we know). Which is why I decided to rank these- hopefully if you follow this list you might at least avoid some major disappointment 😉

Obviously, this is not an exhaustive list, since I haven’t watched all the movies and tv series (there’s A LOT!) And I decided that while Mansfield Park is a good adaptation, I’d leave it off this list, since my view will be coloured by the fact I don’t like it much as a story.

Anyhoo, let’s get onto the rankings, shall we?

#13 Persuasion 2022– they didn’t even try with this one. As I discussed in my review it was NOTHING like the original. And it was boring to boot. So yeah, not much of an adaptation.

#12 Sense and Sensibility 1995– *unpopular opinion* I really didn’t like this movie. It just doesn’t capture the magic of the book for me and feels more like lots of other soapy shmultzy Hollywood romances. I must be one of the only people to think this way (given all the accolades its received) but it feels disconnected to the source material for me. Particularly with regard to the casting for the sisters.

#11 Clueless– it’s a great idea… but somehow transposing the story onto Beverley Hills just ruins it for me. I can manage to appreciate Emma in the regency period, but when she’s the modern day equivalent, I find her extremely irritating.

#10 Bridget Jones Diary– I know this isn’t a direct adaptation, but that’s not gonna stop me including it. And unfortunately, simply having Colin Firth is not enough to make me love this movie. I might have been the wrong age for it when it came out and I don’t believe its aged that well.

#9/#8 Persuasion 1995/Persuasion 2007– I’m gonna be lazy and stick these two together. Both of them are fine, but nothing spectacular. WHICH IS WHY WE NEED A GOOD PERSUASION ADAPTATION- GAH!!!

#7 Emma 1996– this is reasonably high simply because I really like the Mr Knightley in this one. It’s nothing special as an adaptation, but I do enjoy watching it.

#6 Emma 2009– I often think the TV versions work better- and this is a good example of that. With plenty of space, there was more of a chance to get the book right. And this version also manages to have quite a bit of passion behind it.

#5 Emma 2020– it’s a shock to me this is so high up the list, considering I didn’t even want to watch it at one point. But this genuinely made me laugh, had *the best* Emma and was a joy to watch. I would’ve even rated it even higher… had it not been for the nosebleed scene.

#4 Pride and Prejudice 2005– gosh this is a very romantic version. It’s not as accurate simply because it’s compressed to fit the run time. But it’s a lovely movie all the same. And Keira Knightley makes an excellent Lizzie Bennet (even if no one could ever believe her plain). Not as sold on Darcy if I’m honest.

#3 Northanger Abbey 2007– this is just such a fun adaptation. I love how they were rather playful with this adaptation- it suits the tone and book so well. It never fails to put me in a good mood and is a pleasure to rewatch.

#2 Sense and Sensibility 2008– not my favourite of the books and yet it ranks so much higher on this list because of how beautifully its done. It brings tears to my eyes every time and captures both the sense and sensibility sides of the story.

#1 Pride and Prejudice 1995– because you simply can’t beat it.

Okay, dare I ask: do you agree or disagree with my ranking? What are your favourite Austen adaptations? And which ones do you dislike? Let me know in the comments!

Standing up for “real fans”

So George R R Martin has put his foot in it again. Recently he has slammed fans as “toxic” for not being best pleased with the Game of Thrones ending. It is often such implied that those who do not like what showrunners or writers do are not real fans. We’ve been here before with the entitled fans debate– but really, I’d have thought authors would’ve grown more self-awareness in that time, not less. Yet it seems (as I have noted in other interviews) there is a common elitist disdain for the independent reviewers/bloggers/readers who share their criticism online. And, as much as I sympathise with people for wanting to be universally loved, no matter the quality of their work, I side with readers and reviewers more.

Really, this is an absurd take for so many reasons. What constitutes being a “real” fan anyway?  Obviously, you can stop liking something you used to love. And obviously a story can disappoint. Someone that criticises a work for disappointing them does not stop being the same person whose hard-earned money funded it in the first place.  

Here, Martin and the like clearly mean blind loyalty… but to what exactly? Giant corporations who are trying to get our money and offer nothing in return. So many great franchises have fallen to giant corporations eager to churn out show after show that wear their skin. Going on a rampage, destroying their previously established plots, world building and characters. Is it wrong, then, for fandoms to rise against this wanton destruction?

Particularly when the people doing this offer no new ideas or added value. The stories they steal are shadows of their former selves. They do not entertain; they annoy. They do not bring joy; they make us miserable. And they do not unite us with a common mythos; they sow division. The stories and projects under this banner of “remake” frequently disappoint. They waste our time and money. All the while, there seems to be a scarcity of funding for new and innovative projects. It’s just the same old people (Abrams, D&D etc) being given project after project- despite no one being happy with the outcomes. 

And in truth, we are more united than divided on these matters. For instance, one could say most people are united in their disappointment over how Game of Thrones ended (and other similar disasters in recent media). Even though we all desired different outcomes, most of us were quite dissatisfied (rather a funny example, but (I had a pact with a friend of mine, that whoever got what they wanted at the end of GOT had to buy the other one dinner… needless to say that never happened). Star Wars fans were, understandably not jumping for joy at the Disneyification of their beloved franchise. And, similarly, many of us Tolkien fans are not best pleased with what is happening to our precioussss. The truth is, we do have a stake in these properties, because it is our love for them that keeps them alive. We are the real fans and we are fighting back.

I think a lot of this comes from a desire to pre-empt attacks on his new show… which I shall admittedly be watching. But you can rest assured, I don’t need anyone’s permission to say whether it’s good or not.

So, what do you think? Do you think Martin had a point? What are your opinions? Let me know in the comments!

Do you really have to pay for books?

Erm yes, obviously. Sorry to disappoint all the people on twitter saying that if they didn’t like a book they shouldn’t have to pay for it. Even if you didn’t like a book- or indeed didn’t finish it- you still should pay for it. It’s simply awful to return a half-read book to a bookshop. It’s like returning a half-eaten ham sandwich to Tescos because you got halfway through and realised you wanted cheese instead.

But the point of this post is not to shame thieves people on social media who don’t want to pay for things they buy (okay maybe it is a little) but to offer another alternative to things you can do instead of stealing books:

  • Use the library
  • Go for a walk
  • Talk to your friends online
  • Basically anything- no one forced you to buy that book.

People really don’t seem to get the damage that stealing, pirating or even returning half-read books does to the industry. As I have spoken at length about the topic before, I won’t bore you with repetition, but state very simply how does anyone expect someone in this already precarious profession to make a living like this? Theft is not a small inconvenience for people who depend on every book sale just to be able to keep writing. We’re not talking about making a fortune- we’re talking about publishers allowing writers to continue series, to write more books and reward readers with their stories.

So, yes, you have to pay for the books you take home from the bookshop. And if you don’t like it, you can always go to a library.

Okay- let me have it- what do you think on this topic? Do you think I’m way off base? Or do you agree? Let me know in the comments!

Bookish Hunger Games!

Ever wanted to know which book is the MOST SAVAGE?! Well I’m about to answer that question for you 😉

So, I had this idea to pick 12 books at random, have them fight it out and kill each other, until only one is left standing!! The winner not only gets to keep their life, but shall be crowned Victor!

Welcome to the inaugural year of the BOOKISH HUNGER GAMES!!! *

*this may be the only time I ever do this, cos I don’t know if this is a good idea, we shall see…

Okay using my whopping great big database from the last 7 years of reading and a random number generator, I came up with the following twelve tributes:

(I’m guessing that the Thief was the most likely one to volunteer for altruistic reasons…)

Right out of the gate, we know that Spanish Love Deception is getting mowed down. It’s weak sauce even for a romance novel and it got in the way of the Silent Patient getting some serious weaponry up its sleeve… (of course this is the last we shall see of the Silent Patient for a while as she skulks off to find a cave somewhere).

The Thief has a soft centre and tries to protect Little Dorrit, but she gets bludgeoned to death by a team of Wilder Girls, House of Salt and Sorrow and Young Elites (otherwise known as Team YA Killers). The Thief is kinda mopey about this (but really he should’ve chosen a better ally).

You absolutely forgot Accident Season was there… and not in a good way… it dies of hypothermia off screen. One could almost say accidentally.

Wilder Girls, though a strong contender, gets caught in a weird inexplicable gust of acid rain and morphs into some kind of monster. Out of the game… (until a few years from now when her remains are transformed into some kind attack-dog-monster-hybrid-monster-thing)  

Eventually Young Elites stabs House of Salt and Sorrow in the back. House just wasn’t as savage as it thought it was.

Captivate totally thought they were in it with a chance to win- because it’s used to being all smart and figuring out what a raised eyebrow means. Unfortunately, they didn’t take a hint and duck when Blackwing raised an axe to their head.

Girl at the Lion D’Or wasn’t really sure where it was going or what it was trying to be, so she drifted around until the end, but got mysteriously murdered off in a cave somewhere. I’m not saying that a certain Patient did it, but they’ve been oddly silent this whole time.

Malibu Rising has surprised everyone by making it this far. Surprisingly resourceful and savage, she burns down half a forest in an attempt to wipe out the remaining contestants. Young Elites and the Thief are both caught in the blaze- they just don’t have very good luck.

However, Malibu shouldn’t have stood there gloating so long, as one of the final contenders, Blackwing, smashes them upside the head. Out for the count.

And of course, the final twist, you won’t even see coming… Blackwing gets their comeuppance at the hands of the Silent Patient. Blackwing goes looking for her, sees her cowering in a cave, thinks he has her cornered… and let’s just say what happens next is a total bloodbath. Silent’s patience paid off 😉

Victor:

And that’s all for this year’s Bookish Hunger Games!! I hope you enjoyed reading that as much as I had fun writing it! Were there any surprises in there for you? Did your favourite contestant make it to the end? Let me know in the comments!