Friday 30 May 2014

Some amazing young writers…

Totally inspired by these youngsters and what they have produced in their 500 word stories. Imagine being 9 and not only winning a prize but have it read by a famous actor. Wow! And its a good one. I loved the humour in the under 9’s Silver Medal Winner’s story, and the heartfelt sadness in the Bronze Medal Winner’s. You can listen to all the winners in both the Under 9’s and the 10-13 category here

Sunday 25 May 2014

The Cock Fight


In the dark, a tense circle of counting

numbers multiplied

odds spiralling.

In the centre, two sets of hands

each holding fast their prize

tenderly controlling.

The raucous rabble of expectation

the boisterous buzz of excitation

fast frenzied fury unabated

accelerated climax -


An abomination of feathers.

Acknowledgment to Steve Hammond8569881918_53a13794c3_o
Acknowledgement to David Boté Estrada

Saturday 24 May 2014

Edison, New Jersey by Junot Diaz

Short Story Title: Edison, New Jersey
Author Junot Diaz
Where to find it full text online and
Oxford Book of American Short Stories
Brief summary a slice of blue collar worker life in the USA, the main characters are two delivery men who transport everything from card tables to one end of the socio-economic spectrum to full sized pool tables to the other.
ashramblings opinion well written, has a few potentially unfamiliar slang and Spanish words but their meanings can be inferred and they can all be found in online dictionaries

Friday 23 May 2014

Short Story Quickie


I do occasionally read short stories, usually with my online book group. When I was a child the only reading done in my father reading the newspaper and my mum who read The People’s Friend which I am astounded to find still exists today. It was and is a magazine aimed at women, and in those days aimed at housewives, and packed full of craft and cooking articles side by side with short stories. I don’t think I picked up another short story until I was in my 40s, in the days before ipads, tablets and mp3 players, when I would do long car, train or plane journeys for work and especially with car journeys could end up sitting outside a client site for 30 minutes or so having arrived too early for my appointment. Poetry and short stories were a great gap filler.

Now as I say I read them mainly with my online reading buddies, but whereas I review and log my other reading here I never say anything about the short stories I read. So I am going to rectify this immediately with the tag “Short Story Quickie”. I will give a very brief comment on the story, (purely my opinion on first reading), the usual link to more from the author and, if I can find one, a link to where you can read the story.

I reckon as a rule of thumb short stories take anything between 10 and 60 minutes to read – so great for when you are sitting down with a good cup of tea. They are also a great way to test out an author you haven’t read before. Please post back if you follow up on one to read.

Look for the first posting under this new tag in the next couple of days.

Wednesday 21 May 2014

The right to a life

Cries Unheard: Why Children Kill: The Story of Mary Bell

Looking for JJ (Jennifer Jones, #1)

Finding Jennifer Jones (Jennifer Jones, #2)

Cries Unheard: Why Children Kill: The Story of Mary Bell

by Gitta Sereny

Looking for JJ
by Anne Cassidy

Finding Jennifer Jones

by Anne Cassidy

My in person book group has been reading a pairing of books, Cries Unheard and Looking for JJ, to which I added in its sequel Finding Jennifer Jones. Cries Unheard is Gita Sereny’s account of her conversations with child killer Mary Bell while Anne Cassidy has written a fictional account of a child killer trying to establish an independent adult life after release.

I found the Sereny book quite disjointed to read which surprised me for a serious writer on the serious topic. It was repetitive and uncoordinated and although this in part may reflect Bell’s own recollections and outpourings to Sereny, her account and professional analyses of these meetings and conversations  could have been presented in a much more concise fashion to support her argument against the way our justice system treats such children.

Cassidy’s novel is fiction; and let’s be clear, it is not a fictionalised account of the same people or incident. However, she does touch on many of the same issues and themes as one reads about in Sereny’s book  including the socially marginalised home environments of the children and the endless intrusion of the paparazzi of the gossip press. Whilst Sereny’s book also covers the period of Bell’s incarceration in children’s facilities and subsequently in mainstream adult prisons, Cassidy’s story  largely bypasses that part, telling of what led up to the incident and concentrating on the period following the killer’s release into the community and her attempt to establish a normal life. Whilst I did not particularly like the optimistic ending to the sequel, thinking it too forced, I understood why Cassidy would want to give hope to her character.

Together these books raise questions about society’s responsibility for children who find themselves at breaking point and, not knowing how to manage their situations, end up with behaviour which has life changing consequences. The tabloid press would have us believe that these children are innately evil, that they have no place in the ordinary world and no right to life haven taken one. Sereny does not believe this and neither, I suspect, does Cassidy. I was struck by how Cassidy wrote her killer’s surviving childhood companion, Lucy, who as an young adult has put the incident behind her and almost dismisses it out of hand with a ‘we were just children’.

The reader can see where society has failed these children prior to the killing, afterwards during their trial and incarceration and after they are released back into the community. Most readers will be appalled by the fact that Bell received little or no psychiatric care or help during her period of detention. As Sereny points out it is no one’s responsibility to find out why something happened – the police are only concerned with finding the killer, the courts with convicting or acquitting the person, the jail system with keeping them inside to serve their sentence.  Equally many readers will know of the extraordinary and commendable lengths Bell has gone to in order to protect her daughter from press intrusion. As Cassidy’s novel shows, Jennifer’s past is but a recognition away – be it from a freelance journalist, or someone connected with the original incident who seeks the opportunity to make some money out of it.

ashramblings verdict Sereny 2* Cassidy 3* but together I think they are greater than the sum of their parts and would recommend them as a trio.

Tuesday 20 May 2014

The cutting edge

For this week’s exercise for my Creative Writing class our tutor came with a selection of scientific photographs. He used only the more abstract ones from his vast collection. I did recognise some – the surface of a plant, a fungal spore – so picked one I did not know.

I only had my mobile phone with me so the resultant photograph is not too good, reflecting the library overhead lights, but hopefully good enough that you get the gist.

The brief for our writing was to think differently, almost like a Martian would. I didn’t take the visitor from outer space theme too literally but here is my effort.

At the bottom of the post I will tell you what it actually is and post a better picture.

Cutting edge


The cutting edge

This is a strange place. Directionally confused, every which  way I look it is the same. The madness of regularity, row after row, pattern repeat after pattern repeat, 2 this way, 2 that, 2 up, 2 down, packed tight pointed roofs, a log pile of stacked boxes. Moving over them I slip down onto their crevasses and am grazed by their edges. I loose my footing and end up looking upward like a Kaffir on a bed of nails. Held fast. The walls encroach at a slow, steady, unrelenting pace. They nudge onwards, ever closer the advancing army of swords pointed towards me, their prey. The double edge serrations bite deeper, shredding my soul. The machine annihilates all in its path. I am but dust.


In reality the picture is of an Anechoic Chamber - An anechoic chamber (an-echoic meaning non-reflective, non-echoing or echo-free) is a room designed to completely absorb reflections of either sound or electromagnetic waves. They are also insulated from exterior sources of noise. The combination of both aspects means they simulate a quiet open-space of infinite dimension, which is useful when exterior influences would otherwise give false results. You can see lots of better examples here

Monday 19 May 2014

Cliff House

Last week my Writing Group took a trip to Cliff House Holiday Park near Dunwich where one can purchase residential log cabin style lodge holiday homes . It is set amidst woodland atop the cliffs which lead down to the single beach. This is my output from the day.


Fellen sleepers slumber deep

Rotten carcasses half asleep

Eroded shorelines cry and weep


Sea kale mounds reclaim the stones

Lost and found some old grey bones

Blackbirds sing as waves roar

12 church bells peel no more


Woodland paths aside the seas

Smiling happy families

Fitted kitchens, garden sheds

I bet there’s even Goodnight beds


No rustic lodges frontier life

But edges planed off with a knife

Wild flowers mix with daffodils

Pretty lawns and floral sills


Fine dining and welly boots

Needless men arrive in suits

Playing footie unawares

Of penetrating kitchen stares

Saturday 10 May 2014

Looking for JJ by Anne Cassidy

Looking for JJ (Jennifer Jones, #1)

This is a book, aimed at Young Adults, won the Booktrust Teenage Prize in 2004. The potentially difficult subject, a child who murders another child, is deftly handled by the author who in this first of two books tells the story of Alice Tully, aka Jenifer Jones. At 17 years of age she has been released from prison after having killed her best friend when they were 10.

The reader is placed in a situation where she is sympathetic towards the young woman because the author makes the story around the topic of an ineffective parent, discovery by the tabloids, sympathetic social workers, and shows Alice doing the normal teenage things like having a boyfriend, working and planning for university.

In the end the tabloids are hot on her heels, unwilling to let a story lie and to believe that someone can change and have the right to life a live just like anyone else.

ashramblings verdict 3* A difficult topic well handled.


Looking for JJ by Anne Cassidy

Tuesday 6 May 2014

An Evil Cradling by Brian Keenan

An Evil Cradling

What can one say about this book but that it is an incredible record of an incredible achievement, namely that of remaining a sane human through an insanely inhumane experience. His insight into the mind of hostage and hostage taker, torturer and tortured is phenomenal. Yes, it is a hard read, extremely emotional in places but it provides an incredible insight into the depths of the human mind. It provides a well written account of his journey into self, his friendship and joking camaraderie with fellow hostage John McCarthy as they moved from place to place in Lebanon. He conveys an acute understanding of the pitiable, sexually repressed young men who guard them. Weaned on violence, nurtured on religious dogma, exhibiting unbelievably cruelty one moment and who want to learn to dance with their wife for their wedding the next, they are as much caught up in the situation as Keenan was. Throughout his four and half years in captivity, initially alone, Keenan never gave up and never gave in – stubborn – yes, resilient – yes, survivor – yes. One can but be in awe and admiration.

ashramblings verdict 5*  - a tour de force from a remarkable man.

An Evil Cradling by Brian Keenan

Friday 2 May 2014

The Fish Can Sing by Halldór Laxness

The Fish Can Sing by Halldór Laxness

Every so often I stumble across a new author whom I feel I should have known about. Laxness won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1955 for "for his vivid epic power which has renewed the great narrative art of Iceland" and his books have been translated into English by author and TV presenter Magnus Magnusson.

Alfgrimur, an orphan, grows up in Reykjavik, Iceland at the turn of the 20th century with a couple he calls grandfather and grandmother but who are not.  This is a classic bildungsroman type novel about an artist finding his own voice at a time when the old world was on the brink of the modern era. As he grows up Alfgrimur find his once safe and secure small child’s world is changing, just as Iceland is undergoing change, just as fishing is changing from subsistence fishing into mass trawling. The diverse community of people who board with his grandparents represent all strands of a society with a strong oral tradition. Uneducated in the formal tradition, poor in economic terms they nonetheless provide the boy with his education, life skills and moral stance. The book is a gem. It tells a great story deft touches of ironic humour especially made manifest in the character of Gardur Holme the supposedly world renowned, Icelandic opera singer and irony and raises real questions about worth, value, globalisation, greed, self worth and self respect.

ashramblings 4* A little gem of a find , I’ve already ordered another of Halldór Laxness’s books, Paradise Reclaimed from the library.

The Fish Can Sing by Halldór Laxness, Translated by Magnus Magnusson

Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return by Marjane Satrapi

Persepolis 2 by Marjane Satrapi

When I read Persepolis The story of a Childhood, I hadn't realised there was a second volume. Volume 1 left me wondering just what it was like for Marjane after she left Iran. Since then I found out that some editions are one volume, some two and others split the story into 4 parts. Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return follows on immediately after Marjane leaves Iran for Austria and follows her through her teenage there, her struggle to fit in and to survive on a low allowance, through her return to Iran, her student years and her readjustment to the repressive society she finds back home. She paints a relationship with her parents and grandmother which most youngsters would crave for and although portrayed idyllically they were clearly a huge influence on her personal development.

When my local library indicated the book had arrived for me I rushed out at 3PM to collect it and had finished it by 5PM. I can't recall ever having awaited a second volume with such enthusiasm.

ashramblings verdict 4* A great depiction of the normal struggles of growing up, compounded by the not so normal struggles of first living alone in a foreign country, and then coping with returning as a stranger in your own homeland.

Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return
by Marjane Satrapi

Bundu by Chris Barnard




by Chris Barnard

This book was shortlisted for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize in 2013 and was translated from the Afrikaans by South African, Michiel Heyns

Brandt de la Rey is a biologist working in a disputed, remote and uninhabited border region between South Africa and Mozambique.  In the third year of drought, as the growing trickle of hungry and dying refugees in search of food arriving at the nearest convent clinic threatens to overwhelm their ability to cope, Brandt hatches a plan to get them out of the area to somewhere better before all their food runs out.

What Chris Barnard has achieved is a compelling, sometimes humorous, story set around the awful turmoil of a few people at the mission trying to cope with famine and flood, with hunger, illness and death on a scale that just shouldn’t happen. All the characters  - Jock Mills, the mad, drunken pilot; Strydom the eccentric prospector; Malume, the baboon; Vukile, the doctor; Julia, the nurse, and Sister Roma – have their own reasons for being in such a remote place, everyone has his and her own story. He shows the stresses and strains taking their toll  as people face making difficult choices because to do nothing is unthinakable.

Told in the first person this story shows how basic humanity transcends linguistic and cultural differences, when there is no verbal communication, no common tongue, care and respect for fellow human beings presents the only common rallying cry.

ashramblings 4* Although a difficult topic to read about, it is written with sensitivity and awareness. The English translation is fluid and certainly helps in this respect. I couldn’t put it down – an unexpected page turner!