Excerpt from The Angel in the Stone by R L McKinney

R L (Rebecca Louisa) McKinney was born in Boulder, Colorado and was raised in Northern California; she came to Edinburgh as a student in 1995 and never left. In various incarnations she has been a bartender, horse trainer, teacher, researcher, community development practitioner, and local government dogsbody. Her first novel, Blast Radius, was published in 2015.

The following excerpt from Rebecca’s second novel, The Angel in the Stone, gives us a look at Calum as he manages the complicated responsibilities of his life in the West Highlands, working to preserve a present still haunted by the past…

 


 

Mary MacDonald’s Farewell

 

As Calum drove, his mind was a confusion of memories and emotions, all punctuated by the same sense of falling through open space that came to him in dreams. Sometimes when he took a corner too fast, he felt the wheels lift off the road and the vehicle turn in slow motion onto its side, roll and sail out into nothingness. The loss of control frightened him, forced him to lift his foot from the accelerator and wipe his sweaty palms on his jeans.

He found his mother on a bed in A&E, turning the pages of a gossip magazine. She was dressed in a hospital gown and sitting on top of the sheet, knotted white legs sticking out in front of her. Her toenails were long and neglected and he wondered for the first time whether she was even managing the basics of personal hygiene. The acrid stench of burnt plastic radiated from her hair.

‘Hi Mum.’

She looked up at him and seemed surprised. ‘I wasn’t expecting you. How did you get here so quickly?’

‘I drove.’

‘From America?’

He sighed. ‘From Glendarach. What did you do?’

Her eyebrows drew together. ‘What do you mean?’

He pulled up a chair beside her bed and sat down. ‘You started a fire. Jesus… I knew this would happen. You promised me you wouldn’t.’

‘Ocht, don’t be daft. I’ve done no such thing. I’m here for tests.’

‘Tests…’

‘Yes, tests.’

‘Right.’ Calum sighed and glanced around for a nurse.

‘Well if you visited more, you’d know.’

He looked at her again.

‘I saw you last Sunday. I spent most of the day with my head under your sink.’

‘Well I don’t remember. I must have blocked it out because you were unpleasant, as usual.’

‘Aye, no bloody wonder.’

‘Language!’ she said in an exaggerated stage whisper. Nothing wrong with her hearing, anyway.

‘What’s happening then? Are they keeping you in?’

She made an exasperated sound. ‘They don’t tell you anything in these places. I expect they’re waiting for Finn to arrive to take me home.’

Calum rose from his seat. ‘Jesus Christ, what’s the matter with you?’

People in surrounding beds stared. Calum drew the curtain beside his mother, sat down again and took a deep breath. ‘Finn’s gone,’ he said, very softly. ‘Don’t you remember?’

‘What do you mean he’s gone?’

‘Mum… he’s dead. You know that.’ It was not news he’d expected to have to deliver a second time.

Mary’s hands shook as she fingered the sheet. ‘He’s… no… that’s not right, Calum. Why would you say that?’ Her voice crumbled and she moved her head back and forth. ‘Why would you do that to me?’

He lifted his hand and held it above hers, afraid to touch her. ‘It’s been twenty-one years.’

She continued to shake her head, but her eyes had filled with tears and her lips trembled. ‘I… of course… I do remember now. I don’t know what I was… oh dear… I don’t know what came over me. I think I must have dreamed about him last night.’

Calum allowed his fingers to settle over hers, tried to expel his temper with a long, slow breath. ‘It’s all right.’

Her eyes narrowed as the recollection seemed to solidify in her mind, and he turned away from her so he didn’t have to see the accusation that would inevitably accompany it. Perhaps this creeping amnesia would cure her of the need to blame him for something that had never been his fault, but right now he could feel her gathering her energy for an attack.

The arrival of a young doctor diverted her attention. By the state of his stubble and crushed shirt, he looked to be nearing the end of a very long shift.

‘Now then, Mrs MacDonald, I see your son has arrived. I’m Dr Robertson. You must be Finlay.’

‘No, I’m Calum,’ he replied tartly. He wanted to walk away and leave Mary to the mercies of the NHS and Highland Council’s Social Work Department. He wanted to claim no further knowledge of his mother or the dilemma she now posed for ever-dwindling public budgets. He gripped the sides of his chair and held himself down. ‘My brother Finlay passed away in 1993.’

‘Oh… ah… ’ the doctor glanced down at his clipboard and quickly composed himself. ‘I’m sorry, she… asked for him.’

‘Mrs Macdonald is having some problems with her memory,’ Calum said, and glared at his mother.


The Angel in the Stone arrives in stores via Sandstone Press on August 17th; you can follow Rebecca on Twitter and you can stay up to date on her book’s release by following Sandstone Press on Twitter and Facebook.

Personal Essay: Dear Body by Jonatha Kottler

Having previously worked as a university lecturer in Albuquerque, Jonatha Kottler now lives and writes primarily in Europe. Jonatha was one of Edinburgh’s 2016 Story Shop writers and has contributed to ECAS, to the Dangerous Women Project, and to Edinburgh’s Write Like a Grrrl community. Her work has also been published by The Guardian and by 404 Ink in their hit collection, Nasty Women. She is presently writing her first novel, and one of her essays is slated to appear in an upcoming collection entitled No Filter.

The opinions expressed in this piece are those of the authors and not necessarily of The Ogilvie editorial staff.


Dear Body

 

Dear Body,

I recently wrote two articles about being fat. Being fat isn’t new for me, but writing articles about it is. One was published in a collection of essays and was subsequently picked up by a major website in the US. They wanted to re-publish it to help promote the book. It had a moderated comments section and the things people said weren’t all that bad–mean things that I expected, but nothing as mean as I’d heard about, or seen written about other women online (like those who dared to read their own poetry on YouTube and were threatened with death—levels of criticism that Charles Dickens never had to deal with).

I wrote the second article for a major UK newspaper, and there were a lot of comments–about a thousand at the time that I decided I had read enough–and that came as quite a shock to me. They were still not at the level of what some people have come to expect (for doing things like simply playing or writing about video games). I had promised myself that I wouldn’t get caught in the comments–I would take the high road and not read them–but of course, I did read some of them. I was glad that I did—there were many friendly suggestions for places I might consider looking for clothes (it was about plus-size shopping) and some people who felt that I articulated things which they couldn’t say themselves. Things I wrote meant something to someone, and that’s part of why we write things, isn’t it? To share our ideas and experiences and hope they connect with someone else.

But then there was one man’s comment–the one that made me wish I’d never looked at any of them, made me even wish I’d missed out on all the kind and important things that others said. It was a comment about my size, and obesity, and how I look and whether or not I should be allowed to take up the space that I take in the world. He read the piece I wrote and went looking for other mentions of me on the internet (I imagine he found some old comments by my students, too!). When he found a link of me at a reading, on YouTube, he linked back to it in the comments section of the article and said, “This is what this author looks like. I don’t think we should normalize this.”

I was caught in this spiral in my head where I couldn’t help but imagine: he read what I wrote–a piece about my own life experiences–and had been so upset about it, disgusted or angry enough to go out and Google me (it doesn’t take long, I know, but I cannot imagine bothering to do this after reading something in the newspaper. After all, it was the first sunny Saturday in April). He’d had a “ha HA!” moment when he found me, looked at my image–on a day when I was pretty proud and happy, doing my first public reading–and decided my image was an excellent exhibit to submit into evidence in the trial, The People v. How Jonatha Kottler Looks. He’d linked the piece in, to save others the arduous task of finding it. He’d felt that he had a point so trenchant that it only needed the 1,000 words my picture stood for to make it.

I try to keep a positive perspective. I’ve had lots of lovely comments and messages–a woman who used the articles to reconnect with her sister and speak honestly on this topic for the first time. My words broke down a wall between them.

But I was thinking about that link. The case against me being normal. Judged guilty by the comments section of your local newspaper and the sentence pronounced: your words don’t matter because your body isn’t normal. And I’m the one who let him in, invited him to have a lovely place at the banquet in my mind, where the smorgasbord includes my self-worth, my dignity, and my desire to put words in public, and he can devour as much as he wants. All for the low, low price of a Google and a copy and paste.

How utterly fucked up is that? He’s fucked up–a moralising asshole who judges and destroys in a few clicks what took much longer to create. And me, I’m fucked up, too, giving him the comfy chair in my psyche.

So, no more. Last call for assholes. You don’t have to go home, but you aren’t allowed to take up space in my mind, my heart. I will not populate myself with the members of the comment section, or be one of those people, either. I am writing a new comments section: the one my body deserves.

Dear Body,

You have taken some serious shit, my friend, from the outside world, and also from me. This is a letter of apology to you, for things I’ve thought, and things I’ve done, and things other people have said that I have let burr against you. I pledge to protect to you from this, to be your armour, and to shine that armour with my words of praise.

Dear Body,

You are my companion–we have been through everything together. You have held me and taken me places, all the places of my life.

Miracle-Strong Body,

You have battled germs, and made the tears for me to weep when only tears would do. You are there, strong to hold me up, or tired to drag my buzzing head down to rest. From inside you have cradled my thoughts, and laughed to dizziness and known pleasure, somehow, without any help from my Hamlet-swirls of endless thought and decision-indecision-regret.

Dear Body,

In spite of all of that, you turned some cells into another person, you transformed food into tiny earlobes, and eyelashes, and a brain, and toenails and a heart muscle. Sometimes old brain here has trouble choosing dinner from a menu, and yet you, quietly, steadfastly, made a completely separate and marvellous human being, and brought him into the world, and fed him and held his hand and held the book of stories and read the words over and again. And all of this while keeping me going, heart, brain, toenails, all moving along.

Dear Body,

I have treated you unkindly, giving you too much of some things and not enough of others, and criticizing you all the while. Reducing you into segments to appraise minutely–eyes too narrow, thighs too wide. I have made you into a letter of complaint: the person next to me has got a much better nose, why is she so thin, so beautiful, so glossy, so unwrinkled, when what I got was this.

Dear Body,

Recently I described you as an old reliable car–you keep running but if I try to explain you to someone it is as a list of quirks: the passenger window doesn’t open and you can’t listen to the radio and use the windscreen wipers at the same time…

But, Dear Body,

You aren’t a list of complaints, or a series of regrets, or a mass of scar tissue, or a thing to be judged. You are GLORIOUS–a home and a companion and the only one who has been with me my whole life, and instead of wishing you were thin and unwrinkled and not sore, instead of being a quirky car that I’d keep until it wore out but would never buy in this condition, instead of all of that, I will say:

Dear Body,

Thank you. Perpetual motion chug chugging heart, expanding lungs, gentle touching fingertips, blinking eyes. Thank you. You deserve my gratitude and my care and my shining armour against those who would hurt you with sticks and stones or words. Dear Body.


Jonatha can be followed on Twitter.

Workshop: American Gods, Season One by Angela Hicks & Calder Hudson

Angela Hicks and Calder Hudson were both Creative Writing MSc students at the University of Edinburgh for the 2015-16 year. They set out to workshop Starz’ new series, American Gods, shortly after the show’s debut; once they’d completed its first season, the two conducted the following discussion to express their thoughts.

This discussion contains spoilers for Season One of American Gods. The opinions expressed in this piece are those of the authors and not necessarily of The Ogilvie editorial staff.

 


 

C: As is tradition, we’ll begin by specifying our knowledge of the source material for this show. Angela and I have both read Neil Gaiman’s American Gods (in its original 2001 version, rather than Gaiman’s preferred text–the slightly longer tenth-anniversary edition). I don’t think either of us are Gaiman fanatics, but we were both interested in this show and we’d planned on watching and workshopping it for a long time. I was super enthusiastic about this going in; I’d been reading a lot about the show–interviews, promotional materials, that sort of thing–and it all looked promising.

A: American Gods felt like a good book to adapt for TV. It’s a long tome so they had plenty of source material; it has one main story narrative–Shadow’s journey with Mr Wednesday; it has a lot of interesting characters. But the book also has weaknesses–times when characters are underdeveloped, for instance–which I felt that a show could change and redress quite successfully.

C: Yeah, agreed. [sighs] With that said, having watched the first season, I have to admit I’m colossally disappointed in the results. I don’t think this is the weakest show we’ve workshopped but I’m overwhelmingly disheartened by the end product. The show has many positive aspects, but its execution felt wholly underwhelming.

A: Underwhelming is a good word to use for this show. It has the source material, it sets things up, but somehow it fails to deliver, leaving me pretty indifferent with the end result.

C: Now we have the challenge of considering why that is. We do these as workshops rather than reviews because we’re interested in looking at the way certain things work–or conversely don’t work–in shows, and how they can be fixed.

A: That’s part of the reason, I think, that we review the first seasons of shows–because they can often still be in that developmental stage, finding their feet and working things out.

C: Right, and because it means we get to watch lots of new shows.

A: [laughs] That too. But back to AG–what do you think the main reason neither of us were…super excited at the end of this first season?

C: I think if I were to describe the show in one word–and I don’t think this word is necessarily a damning thing–it’d be “indulgent”. That’s true of the book as well–particularly Gaiman’s preferred edition–and on the one hand the detail is often very visceral and evocative. But the negative of this approach is that pacing can feel laggardly and blunted by the excess of interjections and information in the main narrative. The takeaway the show should have had from the book was, put bluntly, the story needed more conciseness and forward momentum, but if anything, it’s worse than the books in this respect. The show had the chance to improve on some of the book’s vulnerabilities, but it didn’t learn from those lessons at all.

A: I think when you talk about overindulgence and slow pacing, it falls into two separate categories, both of which are detrimental to the show. Firstly there’s the drawn out cinematography which overemphasizes many details. We’re shown a gramophone, then we’re shown it being set to play, then we’re shown the needle start, and then we watch the record turn… Any tension is undercut by boredom as the audience waits for things to happen.

C: It’s clearly a conscious choice by the show, but I think you’re right–it doesn’t work, at least not to the extent they use it.

A: And secondly, they add in even more material which doesn’t appear in the book. And it’s not a short book to start with. Some additions work–I think Vulcan as a gun producer nicely brings it into 21st century America. But then we get an entire episode–the seventh out of eight, so really close to the end, when we should be building up to that big finale–which is all about how the Irish fairies came to America via the tales of a random woman called Essie. It just feels like superfluous filler.

C: To be fair, the story behind the seventh episode exists within the books; it’s just not as overemphasized. I expect the Essie narrative was included to try to create a more multitudinous, mystical atmosphere, but given the pacing already felt slow before then, it was exhausting. In some cases this same issue doomed more interesting ideas, too, which is a shame–like how we’re given more backstory for Laura Moon, Shadow’s dead wife. It’s a nice idea to develop her story, but they dedicate an enormous amount of time to it without giving it any drive.

A: I didn’t think the Laura stuff worked. This is one of those cases where less is more. Adding in so much doesn’t make her sympathetic or engaging, it makes her less interesting. Also, by showing her so much from the start, it undercuts the power and impact which she has in the book when she returns to Shadow’s life.

C: I think we disagree about that to some extent, but I do agree that Laura’s enigmatic agency, which really comes through in the book, feels obfuscated by the show’s excess. From a workshopping perspective, you’re right; there are whole shots, scenes and pretty much whole episodes which could all be heavily cut or removed entirely without the audience feeling they’d lost something conducive to the show’s central premise.

A: Agreed. And I also think that they have too many narrative threads which aren’t streamlined or interwoven.

C: Like Czernobog–we meet him in what might be my favorite sequence in the show, and he seemingly joins the core cast, only to never show up in this season again. The book is already sprawling, but the show takes this to a new level and it’s so frustrating. In the book Czernobog’s there in the famous ‘House on the Rock’ scene for the big reveal about the gods–the plot’s crux–which is where I assumed they were going to end the first season of the show. Instead they don’t get to this natural focal point, which would have established the show’s goals and stakes really effectively in a poignant finale. They get seven-eighths of the way there, but because they’re moving so slowly, they don’t make it–but they still want the content from that scene, so they shoehorn it in earlier, lessening the impact of those big, exciting reveals.

A: If they’d cut the Essie episode, they could’ve easily reached House on the Rock, and it would have been nice to tie in Czernobog and Mr Nancy again.

C: Exactly. It’s… it’s disappointing, to say the least. But, on a happier note, I want to touch on all the positive things about the series too–some of the additions and alterations the show makes are really great. Some minor characters are reworked from cameo appearances into much more fleshed-out roles; for example, the character of Salim (played by Omid Abtahi) has only a minor role in the source material, but he is transformed in the show into a more crucial (and interesting) figure. I wish the show had included more of him.

A: That’s true. I also think the depiction of Media (Gillian Anderson) is very well done and an occasion where the show’s penchant for stylization is effective and suits the character.

C: As always, we can’t fault the casting of the show. Anderson does terrifically in the role of Media.

A: And, as mentioned above, the show’s addition of the character of Vulcan (Corbin Bernsen) and his acceptance of the new world order also worked well. The show does a good job of updating itself while partnering certain atmospheres with certain characters. The same is true of Bilquis (Yetide Badaki), whose role has been nicely expanded from the book. The show takes time to set up why some of the old gods take the deals offered by the new regime of Mr World et al., something which the book doesn’t manage as effectively.

C: The show also makes sound choices and changes with respect to Shadow himself (played excellently by Ricky Whittle). He’s far more vocal than his book counterpart–an expected change given the different mediums; as a result we get a bit more of his immediate reactions to situations he and Wednesday find themselves in. Shadow’s been adapted well for the screen and Whittle does a terrific job of bringing him to life.

A: You’re right; keeping him predominantly silent wouldn’t work–though Whittle is very talented and gets a lot across with facial expressions and body language. I found this Shadow more likable and nuanced.

C: Another positive part of the TV series–my favorite segment from the season, which I touched on earlier–is the chess game between Shadow and Czernobog (Peter Stormare). Not only are the individual performances top-notch, but the atmosphere in that scene is excellent–and to give credit where credit is due, when this show is good, it’s good, and it certainly knows how to establish atmosphere. Moments like that are incredibly satisfying. It’s just a shame that too often the show hasn’t considered the book’s vulnerabilities or learnt from mistakes made by other shows of its kind.

A: Such as its often iffy portrayals of women? The book also isn’t always excellent at its female characters, but it was admittedly written some time ago–TV shows today should get less sympathy, given they have a chance to modernize.

C: I think the way this show tackles some issues like race and sexuality is quite effective, but yeah, I wouldn’t really say it tackles anything relating to women or femininity.

A: I don’t know that it really is that good at portraying different races and different cultures–it has quite a cherry-picking approach to representing their mythologies which perhaps means it veers closer to voyeurism than true representation. But to focus on women for the moment–there are certainly some issues regarding its portrayal of women. There’s Laura, who sort of… asserts her dominance through espousing a fondness for sex, and through distancing herself from other women in this regard.

C: Yeah, you can tell a guy wrote a lot of that.

A: Yes. It’s… it’s whatever–lazy, under-developed, out-of-touch, cheap. And then there’s the voice-over line uttered by Mr Ibis of “Intelligence has never been uncommon among women”, which is at best weird, and at worst incredibly patronizing and insulting. It’s one of those lines you can’t quite believe that all of the writers, editors and actors read and thought was good.

C: It’s one line, but it’s an immensely disappointing line indicative of overarching issues with the script.

A: Speaking of immensely disappointing…

C: Sure.

A: That opening scene of episode one–the prologue–the scene which is meant to hook viewers in. I hated it. It’s one of those many times where the show’s languorous style really doesn’t work. It could have been a powerful scene, but it ends up being tedious and, as is so often the case in this show, raising too many questions which it has no interest in answering–for example, why do the Vikings, when they decide to fight to please the gods, fight each other and not their enemies inland? I think that the book’s opening–of Shadow in prison–is a better beginning, and more coherent.

C: I had fewer problems with the show’s opening, but yes, if you’re going to change things from the source material, then you need to be damn sure that it’s better; this show doesn’t manage that.

A: And about the show’s ending, which, as you mentioned earlier, is not that similar to the corresponding scene in the source material. I got the sense watching AG with you that, while I was annoyed at it from pretty early on, you gradually lost patience with it throughout the season. But did that dramatic finale redeem it for you at all?

C: Sadly, it didn’t. This show takes so much time–a whole season–to establish one of the central tenets of the story: for the gods, belief is power, with worship strengthening them and disinterest making them atrophy. And yet the show repeatedly overrides said rules; in cinematic situations this central rule is thrown out the window. The show ends with Easter (or rather, Ostara)–who is described as having only a sort of proxy-power at present through her alliance with the modernist cabal–essentially depriving America of all its crops and agriculture. This is a much greater display of power than any other god or deity has shown in the show thus far, so it’s disorienting, given that Ostara has supposedly been living off of referential praise and not true worship as the show asserts. The rules don’t seem to matter all that much.

A: I had similar questions about AG’s internal logic in other places too. For example, it adds in deities like Jesus who are still worshipped today. The plot of “old, forgotten gods versus technological dominion” is good, but through adding in religions which are still followed in the present day, the premise starts to get a lot more confusing and woolly–why does the character who believes in Allah end up with the Egyptian god then, and so on? I think having ‘modern’ gods was an unnecessary move which clutters things up. The show would’ve been better to shore up and improve what they already had rather than introducing more partially-explained concepts to the narrative.

C: I actually disagree there–I do think they could have made the inclusion of the different representations of Christ work, had they exerted a bit more effort. But you’re right–the world’s rules are very unclear in the show, which is disheartening given that it has time to make them clear. The show has plenty of source material–what it needs now is gumption.

A: And to return to your comment about the finale–yes, if it’s going to invent an ending which diverges quite heavily from the book, it needs to have increased its pace and plot a lot, because otherwise viewers have too much time to consider plot-holes, and to find faults in what you’re watching. The show should either have done a whistle-stop tour of action, or a very pared-down adaptation with respect to characters, but with a lot more depth. Instead it fails on both fronts.

C: Yes indeed; though there are benefits to the show’s indulgent approach, this indulgence causes significant problems in relation to depth and pacing. To go back to the show’s opening, we spoke about the prologue, but not the credits; I think–if this isn’t too cliché a thing to say–the opening credits are emblematic of the show with respect to overarching flaws. They aren’t ugly, but they’re excessively long, and don’t do much other than take up time. This show has a very specific visual aesthetic–one achieved predominantly through a lot of vibrant colors and CGI–which actually works well by and large; some of the animated sequences are very pretty. But it all adds to the feeling that, for all the show’s glitz, there isn’t enough substance beneath it; it’s all frosting with no cake underneath. And look: I understand that this show is beginning with some preset laurels it can rest on. Similar shows are doing well on TV; they clearly paced this out to have multiple seasons; Gaiman’s book is already beyond celebrated. But their desire to set up a long-running saga has resulted in a bumpy introduction.

A: You said, after the end of the last episode, that you’d grudgingly watch a second season of this show; I’m not sure I would. The show isn’t abysmal–as you argued, the visual style works at times, and some scenes are wonderfully atmospheric–but I gave it eight hours and it couldn’t bring it together for me.

C: That’s tough, but fair. Though I quite liked the book and though I had immense hopes for this show, I’m not sure it deserves the second season which will assuredly follow this one down the line. Even if they failed to learn from the book’s missteps, I hope the writing team behind the show can learn from the mistakes they made when starting out; moving forward, I hope American Gods can find the momentum and substance its first season lacked.


Angela and Calder are available at their respective Twitter accounts, @MS_a_hicks and @CMA_Hudson. Their previous workshop of The Last Kingdom is accessible here.

Commentary: Self-Publish and Be Damned by William McIntyre

William (Willie) McIntyre is a criminal defence lawyer and the author of the Best Defence series, a continuing saga of Scottish criminal law novels enveloped in themes of noir, wry humour, and social commentary. Having been both published and self-published, Willie is readily familiar with the ins and outs of the Scottish publishing scene.

The opinions expressed in this piece are those of the authors and not necessarily of The Ogilvie editorial staff.

 


 

Self-Publish and Be Damned

 

At the Writer’s Museum in Edinburgh, there was recently an exhibition celebrating the 30th year of Ian Rankin’s famous fictional creation, Detective Inspector John Rebus. One of the items on show is the first rejection letter the author received from a publisher. Brilliant. I know if I’d had Mr Rankin’s good fortune I’d be sending those rejecting-publishers a Christmas card from my yacht in the Caribbean every year. Not that I’m knocking publishers. They’re running businesses–they need to use their best judgement and sometimes they get it wrong (but, seriously, Inspector Rebus? There’s wrong and there’s really wrong).

Speaking as someone who submitted his own book (Relatively Guilty, first in the Best Defence Series) to a number of publishers several years ago, it’s the ones who don’t give writers a fair chance that annoy me. One of my first submissions was to a publisher whose guidelines refused electronic transmission–it might have been the 21st Century, but they wanted it in size 12 font on paper, double-spaced and with one inch margins. That’s a lot of ink and paper for a 95k word book. Fortunately I ran an office with a large stationery cupboard; I printed it off, put it inside a large brown envelope and placed it and my covering letter in one of those large grey indestructible plastic bags, along with a similar plastic bag stamped and addressed to me for return of the manuscript if, inconceivably, it was to be rejected. And returned it duly was… more than three months later, with a standard rejection letter. This surprised me on two counts: firstly, I thought it was a good book (admittedly, I’m biased) and, secondly, it was clear to me that the brown envelope containing the manuscript had never been opened. Unlike Mr Rankin, I didn’t keep the letter, and, although I don’t remember the date, what I do remember is that it was the day I thought, ‘Stuff this’ (or words to that effect) and self-published the book on Kindle, where five years later it remains my best seller.

Many traditional publishers complain about those who self-publish. One never hears of artists being criticised for self-hanging-paintings-on-a-wall, or would-be popstars for self-singing-to-folk-in-a-pub. Literature is different. Publishers and agents view themselves as the gatekeepers to quality, and that’s fine, so long as the gate is kept open and your book, or even part of it, is actually read by someone–and you don’t mind waiting… and waiting… and waiting.

On the other hand, publishing an e-book is straightforward and immediate. The finished product may not be quite as well-polished as it would be had it gone through editing and proofreading by professionals, but then again, one doesn’t have to hang on for months only to receive a pro forma saying how much the publisher ‘adored *insert title of book* but don’t think it’s a good fit for us’. Moreover, it was self-publishing my books on Amazon that acted as a portal for me to being traditionally published by the discerning folk at Sandstone Press.

If the ink is in your blood, you will write. Do not be ashamed to self-publish. Let the world see what you’ve written. Somebody might like it. I don’t mean to come over all Gray’s Elegy about things, but think how many potential Ian Rankins and JK Rowlings there are out there who can’t wait forever, hoping that some astute publisher will take a chance on them. Think how many budding Ian Rankins have given up on that rejected manuscript which could have made them famous, or at least could have made them a living?

Do it yourself. Publishers don’t always get it right. Mr Rankin has that in writing.


More of Willie’s writing is accessible via the Best Defence website. The next book in the Best Defence series, Last Will, arrives in stores this November.

House. by Nigel Best

Nigel Best has been writing poetry for over four decades. His poetry has been greatly influenced by life experiences, as well as by his love of language. He has read at several Scottish book festivals and enjoys experimenting with different styles and subject matters.

 


 

House.

 

a wonderful house
with trees and yes flowers in the garden
the driveway lined with poplars
twelve-tonal doorbell
a fitted carpet lying unfitted
and dejected
dust climbing the stairs
cobweb wallpaper in every corner
slow motion pictures reaching for the floor
striving for hidden foundations
bare brick
unwilling wood
the doors are hinge-stuck
the ungrateful owner took away the roof
the postman delivers silence
and you sit in the kitchen
playing the atmosphere
a wonderful
mighty house


Nigel can be reached via email.

Excerpt from A Message From the Other Side by Moira Forsyth

Moira Forsyth is the author of five novels and has also published poetry and short stories in magazines and anthologies. As editorial director of Sandstone Press, she has edited both fiction and non-fiction, including a novel long-listed for the Man Booker Award and the 2017 Betty Trask Prize.

The following excerpt from Moira’s upcoming novel, A Message From the Other Side, gives readers a glimpse into the life of Helen as she navigates the 1990s–and all the intrigue and excitement of a new, uncertain world…

 


 

Excerpt from A Message From the Other Side

 

You could not rely on Joe. Years later, Helen thought how different her whole relationship with him might have been had it happened twenty years later and they both had mobile phones. She could have kept track of him, and he might have told her what he was doing, or given her more warning if he wasn’t going to be around. As it was, Joe was one of the first people she knew to get a mobile phone, when many of her friends still scorned them. He saw the advantages.

There were times when Joe’s unreliability worked in her favour. He appeared out of the blue, probably letting someone else down, with a new car or–once, alarmingly, a huge motorbike–ready to take her out. He wanted her to drop everything, the moment he was back. Mostly she did, since being with Joe was much more exciting than being with anyone else.

‘Right–where do you fancy tonight?’

‘I’ve not had supper–do you want something to eat?’

‘We’ll eat up in town. Little place in Soho I fancy trying–my pal Bernie runs it. All right?’

‘I’m not dressed for that. ’

He was in her tiny hallway and she was in his arms. ‘Bed first? You lovely girl–come on then.’

It was ten o’clock before they were eating in Bernie’s cramped restaurant, full of people who knew each other.

‘You’re ruining my digestion,’ she told Joe. ‘I never eat so late.’

‘Try this,’ he said, pouring the rioja.

What was Bernie going to do when his friends stopped coming for dinner? It was such a small restaurant she didn’t see how he made any money, since everyone stayed for hours and he never got the tables cleared for another sitting.

Sometimes they were not back in her flat before three or four in the morning, taking expensive taxis home. He always had cash and rarely used his American Express card. He was not a man who liked paperwork. He took a roll of notes out of the inside pocket of his leather jacket, peeled off what he wanted, gave a generous tip, and was off and up the stairs before Helen.

‘Come on, girl, get your key out.’

‘Hush, you’ll wake the neighbours.’

‘Give them something to talk about.’

‘You’ve already done that, with a new car every other week and that motorbike!’

As soon as they were indoors his hands were all over her.

‘I wouldn’t like to get in a fight with you,’ she gasped, feeling the hardness of muscle as he gripped her. ‘How tough you feel.’

‘Women think they can fight men off,’ he shrugged, ‘but they don’t stand a chance. Men are always stronger.’

She wasn’t going to get in a fight with him, so what did it matter? His strength was good; she felt protected. He had old-fashioned ideas about the frailty of women.

He smoked but, in deference to her, not in bed. He sometimes got up again after sex, pulled on his jeans and a jersey and sat in an armchair with another cigarette. In those early days she rose too, giving up the night since it would soon be morning. During that first summer when Catherine went to Scotland, it grew light while they were sitting there, the grey London dawn coming bleakly into her little sitting room. ‘I’m exhausted. I don’t know how you do this.’

He shrugged. ‘It’s the weekend. Party while you can.’

‘If it was just the weekend–but I’ll soon have work to go to, even if you don’t.’

‘I’ve got work.’

‘What?’

‘I’m my own boss. I suit myself when I start and finish.’

‘What kind of business is it?’

They had been seeing each other for two months. The school holidays were nearly over and she still had little idea of how he spent his time when they were apart. They’d gone all the way to Brighton on the back of that motorbike, and walked over Hampstead Heath one morning he was full of energy he needed to work off. Once when he was driving a Jaguar, they had gone to Cambridge to meet someone who was keen to buy the car. She assumed he was some kind of car dealer, but he shrugged off questions about his business.

‘Ask no questions, you’ll be told no lies.’

She hated this answer. Seeing him lounging in her Windsor chair, dropping cigarette ash on the carpet, filling her room with smoke, she wondered if she even liked him. He wasn’t her sort. He said he had grown up in Glasgow then left at eighteen to find work in London. He had never gone to university, though he admitted to being ‘at college’ for a while, but she was no wiser about that than when she had first met him.

‘You know all about me,’ she said. ‘What’s the secrecy for?’

‘No secrets,’ he said. ‘I have a few things going, that’s all.’

‘Selling cars?’

He stubbed out his cigarette in the ashtray she’d put by the chair. ‘Furniture, antiques, that kind of thing. We got a warehouse just outside Watford.’

‘We? You have a partner?’

‘Two. You met them. Charlie and Brian.’

She could not remember which was which, or even if Brian was the man she was thinking of, that they’d met one night at a club, and whose wife had said to her as they occupied adjacent cubicles in the Ladies, ‘Joe says you’re a teacher, right?’

Unused to carrying on a conversation while she peed, Helen said only ‘yes’ until they were out and washing their hands. In the mirror their eyes met, Gaynor’s heavy with make-up. She was older than Helen, glamorous in a showy way, with heavy jewellery and short skirts.

‘I’m a music teacher. I work in primary schools and I have a couple of private pupils too.’

‘You’re not his usual sort,’ Gaynor said, amused, ‘but he’s smitten right enough.’

She watched him now in the cold early light, the white sky outside revealing nothing about what kind of day was coming, though the flat was stuffy from yesterday’s heat.

‘It’s just that school starts next week. You could come here in the evening, and I’ll still have weekends, except I’ve taken on a couple of Saturday morning pupils, so–’

‘Will I move in?’

‘What?’

‘Would it make it easier for you if I move in?’

She had not reached that stage. Where, anyway, was his home? In bad moments she wondered if he had a wife somewhere. There had been a speculative look in Gaynor’s eye when she questioned her that night in the club. So you’re his bit on the side this time, she might have been thinking.

If he offered to move in, there was clearly not a wife. Relieved, she said, ‘Would you like to? What about your own place?’

‘I’ve been kipping at Brian and Gaynor’s when I’m not here, to be honest. I gave up my place weeks ago.’

Perhaps the wife had thrown him out. Perhaps Gaynor had had enough of putting him up.

‘We could see how it went…’

‘Just say if you’d rather not.’ His smile was rueful. ‘Sorry, didn’t mean to put you on the spot.’

‘No, no it’s fine, it would be lovely.’

‘Tell you what, I’ll give up the fags. You’d like that?’

Laughing, she went to sit on his welcoming lap, and put her arms round him. ‘I would.’

 

Afterwards, she began to panic. She knew so little about him, and there was a dangerous edge to Joe, with his secrets. Too late: he was moving in before school began.

She expected him to come and go mysteriously as he always had, out of contact for a few days, reappearing without warning. For the first few weeks, it was not like that at all; it was a kind of honeymoon. When she came home from school he was there, cooking the evening meal. He went outside for a cigarette when he couldn’t do without one, and he filled the only vase she had with flowers, then brought her a jug that looked old and valuable. Perhaps it was true about the antiques, for the next week he brought home a round mahogany table. Her kitchen was a galley, so she had no dining table and was tired of eating from a tray on her lap. The wood was burnished, the bow legs intricately carved. It took up most of the middle of the sitting room.

‘Pity you’ve got that piano,’ he said as they edged round the table on their way out one day. ‘Takes up a lot of space.’

‘Not as much as your table!’

‘I thought you liked it?’

‘I do. It’s beautiful.’ She kissed him. ‘But I need the piano.’

‘Got to get a bigger flat then,’ he said as they went downstairs to the street door.

‘I can’t afford a bigger one.’

‘Don’t you worry about that.’

He opened the passenger door and she got in. He made sure she was settled in the car before he got in himself. He always did this, just as he always walked on the outside of the pavement when they were together. In some ways, he was what her mother would call a gentleman. Not that her parents had met Joe and she was in no hurry for that to happen. They lived in the house where she and Catherine had grown up, in a leafy road of 1930s half-timbered houses, her father growing tomatoes and playing golf in his spare time, her mother a stalwart of the WI.

Joe took her to an exhibition preview at a small gallery in Highgate. Another surprising thing was how wide his acquaintance was, how catholic his interests. He knew the gallery owner, not the artist, but he said they should buy something as this was a painter whose work would increase in value.

‘What if you don’t like the pictures?’ Helen teased.

‘We don’t have to put the bleeding thing on the wall, girl. I’ll keep it in the lock-up, wait a bit, then in another year or two, sell it on.’

‘That seems a waste. I’d rather buy something I liked and have it to look at.’

‘If you like one of them,’ he said, ‘I’ll get it, and you can hang it on the wall in our new place.’

As they reached the gallery he said, ‘What about Highgate then? D’you fancy a place here?’

‘Can we afford it?’

He put his arm round her waist and squeezed. ‘Course we can. Come on then, this is it.’

There was no missing the gallery, since on this warm summer evening the preview guests had spilled out onto the pavement with their glasses of wine. She felt the buzz of excitement that went with all Joe’s excursions.

Joe introduced her to the gallery owner, a little man in an embroidered waistcoat waving a cigarette in an ebony holder. His laugh was hoarse with years of smoke inhalation and he had a Glasgow accent many times thicker than Joe’s, whose veered between Govan and North London depending on his mood and who he was talking to. Helen thought Frankie a bit of a poser, but he made her laugh and seemed such a friend within five minutes she felt she could ask him, when Joe drifted off to speak to other people, ‘Which one is the artist? I can’t imagine, looking at the paintings. Everyone looks too civilised to produce one of them.’

‘Over the top, eh?’ Frankie said with a wink. ‘They sell though. I don’t see him in this crowd. He’ll be outside having a fag, pontificating aboot his art.’ He reached out and caught a girl by the arm. ‘Never mind, here’s Rose, she’ll tell you about the paintings. Won’t you sweetheart?’

‘Oh, hi, Frankie,’ the girl said. She looked Helen up and down.

‘I’m Helen Guthrie.’

‘She’s with Joe,’ Frankie said, grinning, so that Helen worried this meant more to Rose than mere information. Not that Rose would attract Joe. She was stocky, with no looks, and dressed in dusty black. She also seemed, as Helen shook her hand, a bit grubby, her dyed red hair unbrushed and lank.

‘Right,’ Rose said. ‘How long’s that been then?’

‘That I’ve been with Joe? Oh, not so long. A couple of months.’

Rose raised her eyebrows. ‘You’re doing well.’

Catherine had a gift for chilling you with a look. It was a gift Helen longed for sometimes.

Later, she said to Joe, ‘Who was that girl, Rose something? Is she Will’s girlfriend?  The artist.’

Joe stopped outside an Italian restaurant. ‘This do? I’m starving after all that cheap wine. Frankie’s commission’s about ninety per cent and he still buys antifreeze.’ He pushed the door open. ‘Ok?’

‘Rose?’

‘Oh, give it a rest. I’ve known Rose for years. She’s always hanging round some guy’s neck. It could be Will now, for all I know. Piss, his pictures anyway–I wouldn’t waste my money.’

‘So you didn’t buy one?’ She wouldn’t have minded Will’s painting being consigned to a lock-up in Camden.

‘Too right. Frankie’s losing his touch.’

They went into the restaurant, where it turned out he knew the waiter and there was a long conversation about football before they even ordered their food.

Rose. They had barely spoken before Gaynor appeared, and Gaynor by contrast seemed quite a pal, so she had gone round the exhibition with her. Gaynor had drunk several glasses of the cheap wine, and was able to tell her a lot about Frankie and the artist and several other people, that Helen found illuminating. Joe’s world opened up a little more.

Gaynor said nothing about Rose, except, ‘That cow.’ Then with a squeeze of Helen’s arm, ‘You keep away darlin’, she’s not the kind you want to get friendly with.’

 

There was no need to worry about Rose–or anything else. In a fortnight Joe had found them a three-bedroomed flat in a 1930s block in Highgate, close to Hampstead Heath. He arranged it so that Helen got out of the lease of her own flat without a penalty, and he took her to Heal’s to buy furniture, since the new flat was largely unfurnished. She did not see whether he counted out several thousand pounds to pay for all that, since she had wandered off to look at lamps and coffee tables while he arranged delivery.

Go back to the Highlands and live with her sister? She was glad she hadn’t even considered it.

Three months after they moved into the new flat, Helen realised she was pregnant.


A Message From the Other Side launches in Inverness on July 20th. To keep up to date on the release, you can follow Moira on Twitter and Sandstone Press on Twitter and Facebook.

 

1969 by Darrel Fickbohm

Darrel Fickbohm is originally from Sioux City, Iowa. He studied theater, English literature, and philosophy in the American Midwest and the Dakotas and is committed to exploring their dramatic themes through acting, writing, and directing.

 


 

1969

 

When I was five I
Wore that yellow raincoat walking
Above the planet crawling
With questing worms
Under the rainfall–silvery drops
Making wires of continuous
Lines,
Startled by thunder
In red boots.

 

Five boys
Drowned before the rain, all
Playing on the reservoir bank.
The whole town in desperation
Searched the water,
Looked along the pitiless shoreline.

 

And they found them there
Almost together like white,
Swollen oysters.
Mothers tearfully gave the rest
Of us cookies for our living throats.
Then the sky opened up like outrage.

 

Clouds salted with the
Souls of children, blasting
With thunder the bigness of it,
Driving the searchers home.
It didn’t have to do with
Them anymore.

 

Under the pitching breeze
Of a summer storm
Coming close after the tragic heat
I peered
From below the low-brow
Slicker hat brim in a town
Gone silent
At the figure of my sister’s
Hand, puffy and pink
Between the gray mouth of
Screen door and house.

 

Water, she said,
Over and over until
It stained me forever
Drops falling from her
Splayed fingers.


Darrel can be reached via email.

 

 

For Kristiina by James Machell

James Machell is an Edinburgh-based science fiction writer who dabbles in romantic poetry. Aside from numerous SF publications, he has performed one of his poems for the inaugural edition of Underpass magazine and has had poetry published by Concrete.

 


 

For Kristiina

 

1
Kristiina, Kristiina,
Hardly is your name spoken
Without regret,
For if only to have met you sooner,
Would have spared
My mortal ribs
From breaking as they hold you now.

2
I, like some old age peasant,
Am made delirious by the sun,
And nursed by her second face,
Will hold the hand of Kristiina,
Forever, in my second place.

3
I burn at the memory of your hand,
Which from first touch,
Measured larger than mine,
And your eyes in bed,
Sprawl, marking my dreams
Like the fly, mercifully crushed
Against my open page.


James can be contacted via his Twitter, @JamesRJMachell.

Hebron by Yael Veitz

Yael Veitz is a New York-based poet and editor of Clio: The Journal of the Brooklyn College Historical Society. Both her historical interests and her poetry reflect a geographically diverse background, an insatiable wanderlust, and, occasionally, her love for her cats.

 


 

Hebron

 

City of earth, of sleeping souls
Holding our shared ancestors as if in a cradle, under the mountain steps.
Do not inter the living.
Do not crush your inhabitants under broken cobblestones, blanketing them with thin,
White dust as they sleep.

You bury. It is your calling. You deaden their hearts, let them cast stones at each other
At the bus stop.
The flimsy fence between them, strewn with garbage, becomes another monument
To the dead.

You are all gravestones. You are cracked walls, broken pavement, warning signs and
Scarlet declarations gashed into centuries-old walls.
I slog up your steps,
Sneak into both halves of your great tomb, and feel the great sleep coming over me.
Eyelids heavy with weeping,
I almost curl up on the carpet at the mothers’ feet.

If the city has ears, they must be here, in the women who carried me.
So I murmur to them.
They incline their heads to me–Sarah, Rivkah–toss their soft braids over my shoulder,
Their ears a great desert expanse,
Their wombs puckered, leathern.

I try to tell them.
I try to tell them about the stones, the swastikas;
About the thick glass between our two halves, and the bullets that put it there;
About the girl who slashed her wrists to ribbons, wound those around her throat.

I try to tell them–Sarah, Rivkah–
Beg them to shake the earth,
To level the trenches,
To forget old jealousies.

But my words come out in squeaks–only one word, many times:
Just please, and please, and please–


Yael can be found via Facebook.

Interview: Chrys on Game of Thrones by Calder Hudson

Chrys is an online exegete known for her distinct blend of humor and insight. Several years ago, she began her popular series Chrys Reviews, in which she analyses TV shows through episodic recaps. These are presented as a compilation of stills from the show with her thoughts as subtitles (often satirizing the characters and scenes being portrayed). Chrys’ commentary thoroughly dissects the episode, paying special attention to dialogue, relationships between characters, and the (sometimes unabashed) mishandling of tropes. Chrys’ reviews are well-received on multiple platforms, including Tumblr, Reddit, and Imgur. Over time, she’s incorporated a number of different TV shows (including Westworld, Sleepy Hollow, and How to Get Away with Murder) into her Reviews series; she’s reviewed more Game of Thrones than anything else, with thirty-five episodes of the show’s sixty episodes covered.

In this interview, The Ogilvie’s Chief Editor Calder Hudson speaks with Chrys about her review process as well as her thoughts on HBO’s Game of Thrones and its upcoming seventh season. The opinions expressed in this piece are those of the authors and not necessarily of The Ogilvie editorial staff.

 


 

CALDER: What was it that first made you decide to do the Chrys Reviews series? With respect to the screenshot-style, did you have the format and presentation planned out in advance, or did your method develop over time?

CHRYS: I wanted to make people laugh and to challenge myself as a writer (or as a friend lovingly says, “shitpost generator”). The screenshot-style recap has been a Tumblr staple for quite some time, and while I’d never actually seen the show, Hannibal screenshots that made me laugh (even though I had no context) were the reason I thought it might be fun to do my own. At first I didn’t really know what I was doing, as might be evident in some Teen Wolf recaps, but I soon found that giving each character a voice of their own helped tremendously. The format itself shaped the style more than anything else. Text on a limited space means verbosity is out of the window, unless you make the very deliberate effort to turn that into a joke–a wall of words can effectively communicate the fact that a character is monologuing or rambling. Screenshots are also great for pacing; there’s nothing like a text-free shot to give a joke time to land.

Between the screenshotting and the commentary, how long does it usually take to complete each episodic review? Is there a particular process you have with respect to making them?

It really depends on the length of the episode. I normally go through every single frame of a scene to find the best facial expressions (Conleth Hill–Varys in GoT–and Ed Harris–the Man in Black in Westworld–are prime examples of actors that spoil me for choice). This also helps me to notice details I might have otherwise missed. The time it takes to write an episode recap can vary, especially from show to show. Since I go frame to frame, the longer the episode, the more work I have. It usually takes between five and eight hours total. Writer’s block can happen, but I think it usually affects the quality of the writing (and my mood!) more than the length of time spent on a piece.

In some cases you’ve written an accompanying text post with your thoughts on an episode. When you begin the recaps, do you usually go in with a skeleton-structure of what you want to address in the episode, or do you do the full write-ups after you’ve finished the recap?

The write-ups always happen after I finish the recaps, while I’m waiting for the images to upload. I keep notes while watching the episode and always have a mental list of things I want to address, for the most part managing to get my point across as succinctly as possible without forgetting anything. The trouble with writing something at around (or past) midnight is that memory and editing become… interesting creatures.

The shows you’ve picked (Westworld, How to Get Away with Murder, Teen Wolf, Game of Thrones, etc.) cross an array of genres. How do you select which shows you want to review?

All those shows are high drama, with ridiculous plot twists, situations, and characters. They’re fun! Even Westworld, with its more cerebral approach, can become a parody of itself without particular effort on my part. Additionally, they’re shows that sometimes become controversial and deeply affect the fans watching. This means I can be critical at times and provide much needed levity during others. My Patreon supporters also have a say, but they still choose from shows I’m interested in doing. Westworld recaps could just have easily been Luke Cage recaps save for a few votes, so that’s an interesting road not taken. The most important thing is that I either love the show or love-hate it. If I find myself bored, disappointed, or just plain tired of its nonsense, I stop (and have done so for at least three shows off the top of my head). I do have to admit to liking my version of events so much I’m still watching Game of Thrones as part of some sort of weird and narcissistic exercise in writing.

Yes—you also mentioned earlier that you wanted to challenge yourself as a writer. What sort of writing do you do outside the Reviews?

I’ve written a few short fanfics and generally like to play with characters and ideas. I’m currently wrestling with an original fantasy novel and the recaps have been excellent training for letting myself abandon the pursuit of perfection in order to get something (anything!) down.

On the subject of Game of Thrones—you’ve done more GoT episode recaps than you have for any other TV show, and earlier you mentioned you either need to love or love-hate a show to proceed to review it. If you had to put GoT into one of these two categories…?

Game of Thrones is something I have a lot of thoughts and emotions about, especially as the show relates to the books. I will always love the show for introducing me to the world and to a lot of people who enjoy talking about it. I also kinda hate the show for the way it cheapens and distorts the source material. A Storm of Swords is my favorite A Song of Ice and Fire book and I started recapping the show during Season Four, extremely excited to witness the Lannisters tearing themselves apart. To say that I was disappointed by the way certain elements were adapted is putting it lightly, so the recaps became a way to deal with all my nerd rage… and Season Five was just bad! However, the recaps help me adapt the adaptation—and having enjoyed the sixth season, I think GoT has become a show I’ve accepted. Like the weather, good or bad. For the most part I just like talking about it. It also doesn’t hurt that people apparently like what I’m doing; getting feedback of any kind is wonderful and the response to the recaps has been overwhelming.

GoT gets a lot of flak for how it’s adapted George R.R. Martin’s ASoIaF series, as you mentioned. Book fans and show-only fans often end up at odds with one another—do you feel you enjoy the show more or less because you’ve read the books and have that awareness of the differences between them?

Ignorance is bliss, yet it’s pretty hard to remain engaged and ignorant on the internet, no matter how hard YouTube commenters strive to disprove this point. I think I’d probably enjoy the show a bit more if I hadn’t read the books, but given how loud book fans can get, I doubt I’d remain in the dark and would eventually be disappointed.

Some of your recaps touch on the fact that GoT has gradually moved away from ASoIaF, especially insofar as how certain characters and plotlines are represented (or, in some cases, are not represented). Do you think this differentiation is why many fans feel less enthusiastic about recent seasons (particularly, as you said, Season Five), or are there other causes for that fallout?

I know a lot of people, book readers and show watchers alike, who were extremely excited about Dorne. I think disappointment hit both sides hard. It’s probably one of the few things we can all agree on: the Dorne plotline was subpar and a waste of everyone’s time and talent (particularly that of Alexander Siddig, who played Doran Martell). And then there’s the whole mess with Stannis which was… poorly executed. I’ve also noticed that production values just aren’t what they used to be. Screenshots from Season One make later seasons look like they were filmed in a basement using post production color grading as lighting… and let’s not even mention the wigs. At the end of the day what hit the hardest for me personally was seeing a whole bunch of people who used to love the show abandon ship and write quite bitter, eloquently phrased articles about it. To say it didn’t help quell my own dissatisfaction is an understatement.

With respect to “adapting the adaptation”, what do you think is missing most from the show which is present in the books—and on the flipside, is there anything you’re glad the show has altered from the source material?

The books make an effort to show that war and revenge slowly strip away people’s humanity. While graphic at times, the writing doesn’t glorify violence and savagery, and contains beautifully written anti-war rhetoric. The show is not only missing this, but also refuses to give characters the complexity they have in the books, a sin I could forgive in a movie adaptation but not in a series of ten-hour seasons. As far as things that are better… the aging-up of some younger characters makes for more palatable watching. While certain actions can’t be excused of adults–resulting in characters who are rash or stupid rather than childishly immature or overwhelmed–it’s easier to see horrible things happen to people around 20, rather than to people under 16.

As you said, a great many fans of the show have jumped ship in the last few years. Meanwhile, some book fans are also voicing resentment, having grown increasingly impatient during the wait for the release of The Winds of Winter. This has created another point of contention within the fan community, with dissatisfied readers going head-to-head with those defending the speed of GRRM’s writing. Has this controversy impacted you or your reviews?

I’m not that impacted by the controversy. This is probably due to the fact that the parts of fandom I’m most involved in are comprised of writers who are almost unanimously defenders of his speed, even while joking about it. Essentially it’s a conflict happening far away and which my environment ensures I’m on the right side of, since I’m of the opinion that we don’t own GRRM’s time, no matter how much we love his work and how disappointed we are by the fact there’s not more of it (and I find it all kinds of hilarious that show watchers get to be smug about spoilers).

Back in May, Entertainment Weekly reported that HBO is considering four different Game of Thrones spinoffs. Given your feelings towards the show in its current state, what are your immediate thoughts on that?

Honestly, my immediate thought was “Ugh…” but having read the article, I can think of at least a couple of stories from GRRM’s canon I’d love to see adapted (the fall of Valyria in particular). Maybe by a completely different team of creators, though.

The Fall of Valyria would an interesting base for a spinoff. Most people initially predicted that they would cover Robert’s Rebellion, Dunk & Egg, or the Dance of the Dragons… all parts of the canon which GRRM has already written a great deal about. Choosing something he hasn’t elaborated on much would allow for more artistic liberties and would enable them to avoid some of the lost-in-translation issues GoT has faced. Would you like to see the Fall of Valyria because GRRM has kept it ambiguous in many ways, or is it just part of the canon you’re very interested in?

I love the stories surrounding the fall of empires. There’s just something about the grandiose tragedy of it all, especially when combined with a kind of sick, morbid delight at seeing something that epic falling to its knees. In all honesty, though, I’d be lying if I didn’t say that curiosity has a lot to do with it.

With Season Seven of GoT only a month away, some spoilers have already surfaced through set photos and leaks. Have you looked into these, or are you keeping away from them until the start of the season?

I don’t go hunting for spoilers, no. I like to go into new seasons knowing next to nothing, though I have inadvertently seen set photos and that wonderful paparazzi shot of Kit Harington in full armor with sunglasses on.

With Season Seven in mind, is there anything you’re particularly nervous or enthusiastic about with respect to the show’s direction?

Sansa’s characterization is always a worry. That’s the big one. What I’m most looking forward to is all the characters’ roads converging as we head into the final season.

Is there anything you’re planning or predicting with respect to the new season of GoT—or the other shows you review, for that matter?

I have more than a few theories about what will happen in GoT (e.g. Jaime killing Cersei which I’d love because of the Aerys parallel, or Jon and Dany hooking up which I’d hate because it’s boring). As far as actually using any of them in the recaps, well… we’ll see. The GoT subreddit has rather draconic rules concerning spoilers and I’d rather censor myself than deal with the appropriate spoiler tags. In the case of Westworld, on the other hand, I felt completely at ease jumping on a theory’s bandwagon before it was revealed to be canon.

As far as those predictions are concerned, I expect only time will tell–though in the meantime, the Chrys Reviews series will continue to offer hints! On that note, do you think your close analysis of shows–even shows which can at times be so frustrating–honed your artistic instincts? Has making all these recaps left you with any lessons on writing and creativity at large?

Pointing out other people’s mistakes should help one avoid making them, right? I would hope that’s true, but we all have our particular quirks. I’m still someone who edits as she writes, doubting word choice and structure to distraction, yet the fact that I had to have something delivered every Monday has helped me to learn to just let go. It’s been good. Typos are still annoying, but they’re not the end of the world and I’ve made enough to know. What else… setting limitations for yourself is great. I’ve tried to avoid obvious and lazy jokes or references and the result is almost always better than what I might have originally written. Comedians who complain about PC culture really annoy me in this regard, because if we remove the whole hurting people aspect of their comedy they’re really just demanding the right to rest on the same lazy old tropes… deciding to not use the word “bitch” was hard, particularly because I swear a lot and Jesse Pinkman made it goddamn hilarious. But: the format is great for learning to create characters and flowing dialogue. I’d highly recommend it to anyone wanting to improve.


Chrys’ reviews and other projects are accessible through her website and her Patreon; she is also on Tumblr and Twitter.