IF – you were to read a brief bio of me – i.e. fifty-something primary school teacher, wife, mother, grandmother, resident of a Scottish, Hebridean island – you’d probably picture a late-middle aged (but not old of course) grey-haired, sensible, respectable and conventional woman. I know I probably would. We all do it – make lazy assumptions, go with stereotype, prejudice and preconception. It’s easier, less risky more comfortable. And for the most part in our busy lives, these filters that help us decode what we need to pay attention to – these ‘usual rules’ and our judgemental shorthand – are benign and get us through the day.
BUT – you probably guessed –there was a ‘but’ – there are times when assumptions and comfort-zone thinking can and MUST be laid aside. There are times when we should all start from scratch and try something new or get to know new people. There are times when we should approach and embrace the unknown with an open-mind. It’s how we grow, how we learn and how we thrive. It’s certainly my approach to life – despite fitting the above stereotype a lot of the time.
SO – what’s the above got to do with this book review? The answer is EVERYTHING.
Or rather it’s got everything to do with the book itself.
‘EVIE AND GUY’ BY DAN HOLLOWAY is a love story. It’s sad in parts. It’s happy in parts. It tells the story of a relationship between a man and a woman over several years and it tells it from the points of view of both lovers. So, those unfamiliar with Dan’s work will probably be thinking – oh, here Anne goes again. She’s been reading another soppy romance. And this Dan – he needs to man up – what’s he doing writing romantic fiction? If that’s what you’re thinking – STOP right there. Open your mind, you’re about to encounter something new and it’s worth making an effort to get your head round it.
‘Evie and Guy’ is a book without words. There – go figure… Figure being the operative word. Holloway tells the story using only numbers. And it works.
The story is told via a series of dates. I must admit I had to read and reflect, re-read and reflect, read again and ponder some more – before I started to get it. But I was in ‘embrace the new’ mode and I know Holloway is a writer worthy of time and trust. And you know what – it was worth it.
Having put in the effort, I began to see possible meanings to the dates, began to see a story. My interpretation may differ from yours of course – but that’s true when reading any book. I found it sad but hopeful – but then I am a romantic…
Contrary to what one’s prejudices might dictate, Holloway shows that it is possible to tell a story by numbers. Numbers and their patterns do form a sort of language. They do communicate something and they have meaning and relationship to each other.
I am a teacher of children with special needs and some of my pupils have little or no spoken language – not because of any physical difficulty in producing speech – but because they can’t use words. Words make little sense to them. But oh boy they can communicate. Being wordless does not equate with being dumb. There is a brilliant book on this very subject called ‘Autism and the Edges of the Known World’ by Olga Bogdashina. I reviewed it here. It deals with language as a barrier to communication.
Words don’t have the monopoly on language. A person who is extensively paralysed can communicate by blinking. Morse code uses dots and dashes. All codes use more obscure symbols to stand for less obscure ones. Words themselves are codes. Any form of communication requires the receiver to interpret the sender’s meaning.
With Holloway’s ‘Evie and Guy’ it’s simply down to a willingness on the part of the reader to decode and interpret the writer’s message.
Reading a book written entirely in numbers is like looking at a painting. You have to look and relook and really engage with what’s in front of you. You can’t skim and scan like you can sometimes get away with when dealing with the printed word. The same can be true of music. It can take a few listens to appreciate what you’re hearing. And perhaps it is music that Holloway’s book is most akin to. Numbers and music share several similarities. Both have pattern, rhythm and flow. Both can build to a high point and then ebb away. Both musical and mathematical ability come from the same region of the brain. Music and maths are capable of transcending language. They don’t need words.
So, yes – a book written entirely in numbers is weird. Yes, it’s hard work. Yes, it’s difficult to do and difficult to read. But that’s sort of the point.
I love words. I love verbal and written language. However, I salute, respect and admire what Dan Holloway has done in ‘Evie and Guy’. It’s brave, original and experimental. But more than that it’s liberating – and it works. Go on give it a try – you might surprise yourself.
‘Evie and Guy’ can be downloaded free as a pdf and Dan suggests that, if you can afford it, you can make a paypal donation to email@example.com
In this recent series of posts – ‘Writing for Love or Money’ I wanted to explore what motivates writers to write, how money can be made from writing even without a traditional publishing contract – and to discover if money is ever the main motive. As part of the series I have invited several authors to contribute a guest post on what motivates them. The contributors write very different things and for different reasons. I hope you enjoy discovering more about all of these talented writers.
This is the third in the series of guest posts. I first ‘met’ Dan Holloway several years ago on a peer review writers website. Later I kept up with him on Twitter and we both write for Words with Jam, an online magazine for writers. I have also visited and reviewed two virtual exhibitions of art and writing curated by Dan at his Eight Cuts Gallery. Dan is a true ‘indie’ writer as you will see.
Love or Money
by Dan Holloway
It’s a truism that if you don’t love writing, really love it, you’ll get nowhere – wherever it is you want to go. But for me it goes beyond that. When I’ve tried to make money from my writing I’ve felt like my writing has really suffered, I’ve been distracted from the goals I’d always set for my writing. It even got to the stage where I have removed one of my books, which I originally self-published to make money, from availability for good.
My parents bought me an old school desk for my 3rd birthday, and I’d sneak downstairs to scribble at it almost every night, but despite that and the fact that our house always creaked beneath the weight of books, and I was brought up to idolise the likes of Virginia Woolf and Colette, the main creative influence in my life has always been art. And the desire to transfer the vibrancy I feel in the art world into the way people see books, combined with a love of philosophy and a burning ambition that comes from playing competitive sports from an early age, has led me to turn my back on the idea of ever making money. Or at least to consider it an irrelevance. I still feel slightly nervous putting my goals on paper (exactly the kind of nervousness that separates a lot of literature from a lot of art) because it sounds so over-reaching, arrogant even. I feel the need to make the obvious postscript every time I do – I am not saying I think I’m good enough to do it, I’m saying I have to try.
In short, I want to make literature the stuff of watercooler conversations the way the likes of Tracey Emin has done for art. I want people to look at books in new ways, to get excited by the possibilities they hold, to make them question what books, stories, words, really are and what they can do. And I want to unpick the structural power games, the patriarchies and colonialisms inherent in every language system, to pull language apart and with it the straightjacket that constrains the way we think of ourselves in the world, and to create from the unravelled mess a poetics of hope, the possibility of every voice truly being able to inject itself into the world.
The practical upshot of this is that what I feel most compelled to write is something no self-respecting publisher would go near. At least not one without a whopping subsidy behind it enabling it to take on board projects with very little chance of selling more than a handful of copies.
But it’s a very hard furrow to plough without deviation. The pull towards something more commercial is incredibly strong. I’ve succumbed to it on several occasions, trying to write thrillers – having a measure of commercial success in the process, but then finding people only wanted to talk to me about marketing or crime fiction, and that the things so deeply ingrained in my writing DNA were being left out of the picture. At other times I’ve found my spoken word shows reaching a wide audience and offered the opportunity to reach a wider one – if I just altered the content a little, made it more widely acceptable.
Pretty much once every six months I find I have to remind myself what I really want from writing, and radically repositioning myself towards the margins. It’s an incredible wrench, and when I am struggling to make basic rent and debt repayments every month it’s even harder, but it feels so much better when I do. And whilst it’s 99% certain that I’ll never achieve my goals, if I head down the path of even thinking about making money, that figure becomes 100%. So, my next project (after my first solo show at Cheltenham Poetry Festival, Some of These Things Are Beautiful, which is a poetic journey through the world of lost friendship), Evie and Guy, due out in May, is a novel without any words, told wholly in numbers. And I will be launching 6 titles from new, largely experimental, poets through my small imprint 79 rat press on June 10th.
You can see YouTube clips of Dan reading his work at the two links immediately below.N.B.Please be aware that although there is no swearing, the content is adult in nature.
http://danholloway.wordpress.com(where my collection “i cannot bring myself to look at walls in case you have graffitied them with love poetry”, which accompanies my spoken word show, is free to download, along with my experimental novel “The Man Who Painted Agnieszka’s Shoes”)
‘Once Upon A Time In A Gallery’ is the latest online exhibition of writing, art and music from the Eight Cuts gallery.
The press release for the exhibition, puts the exhibition in context and is contained in the post immediately before this one. It should be read before reading my review.
I have two tales of my own in the exhibition – I’ve not reviewed them.
The central theme for the exhibition was to consider and develop fairy tales for the twenty-first century. All the exhibitors did this in their own way and style. Some of the content is adult in nature so if you’re offended by sexual references, nudity or erotica, the exhibition is probably not for you. However, there are several items that are suitable for children and adults alike. All of it is impressive and though- provoking. And I think curator, Dan Holloway, has again produced a stunning and original collection of work. His energy, commitment and vision are what make the gallery the very special online place that it is.
Below are my personal responses to all the exhibits. The exhibition is organised into fifteen ‘rooms’, as is my review. I hope you feel able to visit the exhibition at http://eightcuts.com/ either before or after reading my review. Please consider leaving comments on the Eight Cuts site and/or here.
The music can be heard at www.myspace.com/eightcutsgallery – my favourites were Sana Raeburn’s ‘Saffire Drake Theme’ and ‘Dreams’ –both were dreamy and haunting.
INTO THE WOODS
Going ‘Into the Woods’ seemed like a good start point for the walk through this exhibition. It was a disturbing beginning. Two very powerful poems here – ‘Missionary Position’ by Rohini Soni and ‘TheWizard and I’ by Sarah Melville.
Rohini’s is the darkest of the dark. The tone is reverent, the content is horrifying and terrifying – and, one can only hope, cathartic for the reader.
Sarah’s is also disturbing and dark. The wizard is an ambivalent character – friend or foe? The defiant narrator always seems in danger of a comeuppance, but also seems to be in control. And then there’s the disintegration of the text – mirroring the children’s song ‘Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes’ where as it’s sung the body parts are no longer named – in a one at a time progressive disappearance until there are no words left – only action. This is an inspired device – nodding in the direction of children’s poetry/song for much more adult purposes. Brilliant!
A LONG, LONG TIME AGO
‘A Long, Long Time Ago’ is an ironic label for this part of the walk. Both Marc Nash and JS Watts take a modern perspective on traditional tales in two very different pieces of writing.
Marc’s piece, ‘The Eighteenth Brumaire Of Peter Schlemi,’ reads like part academic thesis and part excoriating critique. It’s clever and very demanding of the reader. He seems to lament the loss of the oral tradition – something that I see as very much alive and well. And it was the (to us) facile simplicity and formulaic approach that meant the traditional fairy tales could be easily retold and translated across language and culture. The time had to be non-specific and the themes universal – i.e. love, fear, survival, hope.
But while my view is not so bleak as Marc’s, I do admire the keen wit and intelligence and the surgical incisiveness that Marc brings to his tale. There’s no resolution, no redemption but it’s a highly moral tale. And above all it is sly and engaging storytelling. Awesome.
JS Watt’s ‘Tidal Flow’ has a saga feel to it. It is lore, it is symbolic – a nod in Beowulf’s direction in some ways. It’s laden with symbolism and the language is beautiful. The modernity contained in it flows easily through the mythic structure. There is, too, the flow of time through the whole piece. There is a recognition of where society is now – but also that there’s no start or end point to the themes and narrative contained here. A rich, poetic and lyrical tale of where we are now and there’s no going back. ‘After Dark’ – after dark comes the light and in the case of these two tales – enlightenment. I LOVED them both.
After dark comes the light, and, in the case of these two tales – enlightenment. I LOVED them both.
‘The Littlest Dream’ by Eric Laing – WOW! It has an oral-story telling quality and a flawless rhythm. It’s intriguing from the start and will appeal to adults and children, but, perhaps, on different levels. It’s reminiscent of ‘The Elves and the Shoemaker’ but – it’s not a mere reworking. It’s MUCH more than that. Tup, the mysterious little creature who is the secret helper is a marvellous creation.
There is humour and pathos. I loved the description of one of the inferior, counterfeit dolls as a ‘cycloptic Ruttleby’.
And the ending is very effective and affecting – no ‘happy ever after’ but moments of insight for Tuttleby, Tup and the reader into the nature of love and what really matters.
‘The Ephemeral Man’ by Heikki Hietala is simple and BEAUTIFUL. It has everything a tale of this sort should have. It has lyricism, and, again, a rhythm that lends itself to being spoken aloud. It’s life-affirming, wise and insightful. There is, one hopes, a happy ever afterlife for Omar and peace in this life for Mashood. A WONDERFUL tale.
AT THE WATER’S EDGE
‘At the Water’s Edge’ holds a poetically fluid trio. ‘The River’ by Cody James is the dark and gruesome tale of Mylene. The story has some classic elements – Mylene walks in a forbidden place, she pricks her finger, there’s a spinning wheel and a handsome but treacherous young man. The style of the telling is also classic fairytale. But this is Cody James writing. She sheds the skin from off the form, takes in the guts and remakes it. It’s brilliant, layered, original and perfect.
‘Said the Sea Witch’ by Kirsty Logan is poetry with incredible imagery. It’s a warning to be careful what you wish for and it’s a dream that turns to a nightmare. There is no happy ending – because beneath the imagery is an all too often nasty truth – the happy ending is often just a false dawn. This piece is short but says so much. Fabulous.
‘Hexing the Sexing’ by Penny Goring – the language drips, spurts, gushes and flows – it thrusts and it yields. It’s pure Penny. It’s ENTRANCING and clever and I clapped at the end.
Sarah Spencer’s pictures in this part of the exhibition require you to stop and stare. They show terribly damaged beauty, and perfection that is horribly flawed. I saw all sorts of human fears represented in these faces just as they are in fairy tales.
‘Embers’ pictures by Shannon Moran – The embers of what? And whose fairytale? The pictures are provocative in that they provoke a strong reaction – well they did in this viewer. Several emotions and thoughts.
Shock – not in a prudish, outraged sense – just the shock of the unexpected. Fascination – with the beauty, with the poses, with the stories and the possibilities.
Amusement – a suspicion of subversion
Admiration – for the skill – of photographer and subject
Wonder -at the relationship between photographer, subject and viewer
Embers of old ideas of power and dominance in sexual relationships and the spark of a new dynamic?
A re-imagining and re-imaging of who and what a fairytale is for?
FAR NOT SO FAR AWAY
‘Far Not So Far Away’ – A tale set in a not too distant and scary future, a saga of unsatisfiable and blinkered desire and a Norse myth, form this trio of exhibits. Here the reader is confronted by legends from the past and warnings of what may be to come. The tone of all three urges us to listen and resist the temptation and corruption which could/will lead to our downfall.
‘Connected’ by Roland Denning – WOW! There’s a 1884 ish vibe here. The story’s set in a technologically controlled world where the boundaries between reality and fantasy, between sanity and madness are blurred, to say the least. It’s cleverly written and intriguing from the start. There is a feeling of menace throughout. This is Big Brother become Big Daddy – a warning of something that is terribly possible if we continue to give away our liberties so lightly and allow ouselves to be hypnotised by weasel words and celebrity. A SUPERB story.
‘The King and the Star’ by Harriet Goodchild has the feel of an oral story that would be told around a campfire. It’s gripping. There’s a young man on a quest to be king, a slaying, an infatuation, a flight for freedom. It’s bleak, Beautiful and sad. The imagery is visually rich – you’ll gasp. SPELLBINDING story telling.
‘Voluspa’ 11 by Sana Raeburn – seems to me to be based on the actual Norse Myth – tale told by the eponymous character. It takes in other elements of myths from the same time and place and the writer creates something new and fresh and FABULOUS. It also calls ‘Lord of the Rings’ to mind. It’s a technically brilliant telling of a Creation and Fall tale. Great writing.
HAPPY EVER AFTER
‘Happy Ever After’ is definitely not the case in the first story here, it’s ambiguous in the second but it happens in the third.
‘The Lake of Swans’ by Quenntis Ashby is, as you might guess, reminiscent of the story of Swan Lake. It’s also no surprise that the author is also a dancer. It is a terrible, brutal tale. The pain of the main character reflects a dancer’s painfully broken body. There is the idealisation of the ballerina character and her objectification. There is pain, fear, torture and death. The powerless woman is the then the victim of a bungled rescue. Beauty is a curse and death is a release. There is no happy ending but there is escape. This is a bleak reflection and reworking of a traditional tale. It is beautifully written and very disturbing.
‘The So White Woods’ by Alison Wells – Many of the traditional elements are here, apples, a picnic, a basket of food, the woods, a huntsman, a dark haired beauty. But the story is totally modern. The female protagonist is a drugged, date-raped unwitting participant in a grotesque reality show. I loved the title of the show – ‘Celebrity get me out of the White Woods’ and the clever observations, such as the narrative retort of ‘was there never a sentiment in the singular?’. The author takes our vacuous, rapacious, celebrity obsessed culture to its logical conclusion and makes a bitingly satirical and witty story. BRILLIANT!
‘The Mermaid’s Dream’ by Marija Fekete-Sullivan is a gorgeous, fabulous fable – definitely a tell/read aloud. It’s one for adults and children. It’s rich in symbolism and has a strong moral heart. The language is beautiful. The ending is satisfying. LOVELY!
Helga Hornung’s mermaid picture is a perfect accompaniment to the above story, with its jewel colours and peaceful, loving feel.
IN A CASTLE ON A HILL
‘The Princess and the Ogre’ by Richard Dowling is absolutely Brilliant! This works on so many levels. Clever, entertaining, knowing, sly, funny, easy to read but with a strong moral thread – and the punchline TREMENDOUS. A fantastic tale for older children and adults alike.
LET DOWN YOUR HAIR
‘Red’ by Paul Freeman – You’ll gasp – ‘oh no! It can’t stop there!’ Beautifully written – scaffolded onto the traditional version of the Red Riding Hood tale -a terrific parable – leaves the reader speculating. Great stuff.
‘Amadan na Briona’ by Sessha Batto This is strong, powerful, disturbing stuff. It provoked a strong reaction in this reader as it is much more sexually graphic than the stuff I normally read. However that is not a criticism, it’s an observation about this reader. And of course in traditional tales sexual desires and love are one of the main drivers – their power is hinted at – here it is explicit.
The story is beautifully written and crafted. The Amadan is a well-known figure in Gaelic myth (Irish and Scots) but this reworking was absolutely original and very clever. There was also clever use of many of the staple ingredients of traditional fairytales. And the moral thread was strong and subtle. Impressive.
‘The Rental Heart’ by Kirsty Logan – A sad tale of broken hearts – the opposite of the traditional ‘happy ever after’. It says so much about our still very idealised views and expectations of romantic love, our emotional illiteracy and our self-absorption. It’s bleak, touching and full of insight. An original take and a first-class telling.
‘Letter to Juliet’ by Mao the Poet – Superb – love the conversational, unpretentious tone. Thank goodness, there are no straight lines – that’s what makes life so surprising and art and love so invigorating – as here.
THE FACE AT THE WINDOW
‘When Good Moms do Bad Things’ by Robert Dean – Painfully true – the potential for self-destruction and detachment that is part of our human nature is graphically portrayed here. A disturbing, honest and original take on the flawed notion of a fairytale existence. Happiness here is a serpent – a life with no challenge offers no contentment or peace. ‘Happy ever after’ is a poisoned chalice. Excellent ‘beware’ story.
‘Bonnie Dormant’ by Anne Stormont – who? Modesty forbids… J
THE PRINCESS IN THE TOWER
‘Partners in Crime’ by Peter S Brooks – I’d no idea where this story was going but was hooked from the off. It’s certainly no fairytale. The writing is sharp – I loved the description of Lindsay’s anxiety – her ‘shipwrecked consciousness’ -brilliant. Yes, the twist is maybe too much of a coincidence – but, hey – it’s a parable. Original and engaging.
‘The Secret Dairy of Alice in Wonderland age 42 and Three-Quarters’ by Barbara Silkstone is I suspect this is part of a longer work – a novel perhaps? It’s excellent, witty writing – great style and characterisation. I wanted more.
TILTING AFTER DRAGONS
‘We Were making Fairytales’ by Katelan Foisy – is a small set of photos and handwritten notes. I kept going back to the pictures and the little notes. Sadness and waste and yearning.
Pictures worth a thousand words.
WHAT BIG EYES YOU HAVE
‘Get Real’ by Michelle Brenton – I LOVE this funny, witty, clever rap from a modern Cin – go girl!
‘The Owl’s Lament’ by Patrick Whitaker – an original take on the Lear rhyme with a nod to Romeo and Juliet. BRILLIANT, clever, knowing, subversive – PERFECT.
Great pics in this section from Sarah Snell-Pym and Shannon Moran.
‘Scarlet Hood’ – you may say it’s genius – I couldn’t possibly comment – J