…The One-eyed Man is King

Janet Cameron’s intriguing whirlwind of notes. Note the slashes to indicate the incidence of the repetition of words like are not unlike the marks a prisoner might make on the wall of a cell. Note also the shortcuts to the action. These historic notes go with the prize.

Janet Cameron’s intriguing whirlwind study notes on ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ Note the slashes to indicate the incidence of repetition are not unlike the marks a prisoner might make on the wall of a cell. Note also the shortcuts to the action. These historic notes go with the prize.

Normally I’ve to work hard for my rewards so you can imagine my pleasant surprise when I turned up at the Central Hotel in Dublin on Friday night and was presented out of the blue with a prize. The presentation was given by a small group of writers consisting of 1) Hennessy Short Story finalist and crime-writer Colm O’Shea 2) Eye-surgeon and writer Ian Flitcroft the creator of the thoroughly enjoyable ‘The Reluctant Cannibals’. 3) Novelist Janet Cameron of ‘Cinnamon Toast And The End of The World’ fame, blog writer with the gift of the gab and a scathing sense of humor. It was Janet who presented me with the prize, the prize being a copy ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’.

A new take on the perpetual trophy? One copy of ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ up for grabs, the next winner will be the third owner.

A new take on the perpetual trophy? One copy of ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ up for grabs, the next winner will be the third owner.

Now, I’m no literary snob but I did read an extract of this title in the national newspaper a while back and made a decision that I wouldn’t prioritize it as a read. Not that I’m against erotic fiction. I admire the intense prose of Anaïs Nin for example and the sexual tension in Nabokov’s Volshebnik (‘The Enchanter’), is a gem read. But if the writing slips, the content becomes porn and that tires quickly. But, the tongue-in-cheek backlash (‘scuse the pun) against EL James from the educated classes bothers me too. ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ is a benchmark book, it’s a positive example of self-publishing, it’s a digital-first title only going to print when earned its stripes as online bestseller proving that publishing globally online is a very different thing to the traditional gatekeeper type-publishing with its neat print runs. I commend this title if only for shattering some obstructive legacy thinking. But I really did not want to buy it. Or borrow it from the library, or have it on my ereader or what not.  Nor did I want to put it on the  ‘to be read’ list in the Goodreads list alongside Munro and Franzen. The lurking snobbery of that bothered me.

All four of us in of the Central Hotel crew had reasons for not reading it but our reasons were dubious. Mine, apart from snobbishness, was that I might find myself crippled with writers’ block jealousy that I hadn’t written it first. Ian Flitcroft was the most open-minded saying that at least it opened up reading ‘at all’ to a group of people who ordinarily wouldn’t go near a book. Colm O’Shea, to be fair, confessed it wasn’t his genre at all, but perhaps if it were more gritty with a bit of murder thrown in? Maybe. The book bothered Janet too. Here we were, bitching about something we hadn’t read, it felt that the time had come to read the thing. So being excellent delegators and knowing that time is precious, much like a study group, we nominated one person to read for all and report back. Janet Cameron was nominated as reader for all. She would keep us updated via her blog and ‘just for fun’ she decided also to throw in 50 pages of ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ and 50 pages of a lesbian biker novel called ‘Satan’s Best’ so we could get a balance on ‘pure trash, great literature and middle-brow trash, all concerning sex.’ What emerged was a very concise report that will not only make you laugh but is clearly a solid draft for the “For Dummies – Fifty Shades of Grey’.

Ian Flitcroft’s culinary obsessive ‘The Reluctant Cannibals’ is a treat to read. The writing is meticulously researched, the passion of subject is irresistible and touch of the macabre gives it a unique fleshy edge.

Ian Flitcroft’s culinary obsessive ‘The Reluctant Cannibals’ is a treat to read. The writing is meticulously researched, the passion of subject is irresistible and touch of the macabre gives it a unique fleshy edge.

An advantage of Cameron’s report is that she wades through the surplus flesh (sorry!) and points out the pages where serious action occurs. You don’t even have to bother with the thin plot if needs be. When the going gets tough, Cameron casts Ana as Cillian Murphy, which sort of helps keep it interesting. Cameron spotted a failing of imagination in the book as follows: Despite all the spanking and follow up penetrative sex, Grey’s order for Ana (aka Cillian Murphy) to be ‘on first name terms’ with his ‘considerable length’ is never fully realized. A star without a name? So Janet opened up a competition. The challenge was to name Grey’s favorite body part. The winner would get a ‘used’ copy of ‘Fifty Shades of Grey.’ Naturally I rushed to enter the competition. The naming of the part (or parts – for they are, to my holistic mind, inseparable) fired up my imagination but more importantly IF I won it would solve the snobbish dilemma re how to have the book without buying or borrowing it. I confess when presented with the prize publicly I did blush and ask for a bag to take it home in, concerned that I might encourage unwanted chat with some drunken langer on the last bus. As to what Grey’s dong and associated parts are now called? Go to Janet Cameron’s website Part III to find out! Spot the dearth of imagination. Could it be that I was the only one who entered? So it seems, as they say, in the land of the blind…

To spread the love I now open the competition to find a new name for the ‘member’ he (or she) who wins gets the printed book posted or even better presented to them in public, only after I’ve read the interesting parts

Rewriting The Literary Kiss

One of the things I love about writing is that you never know where it’s going to take you. Or sometimes you do know. You may even have it mapped out as in: write that scene, the one you’ve been putting off? DO IT now. In some cases it’s a rewrite. As much as I like the discipline of a rewrite there are times I have little desire to groom the rawness of earlier draft. Take a scene between lovers? I just want to let them get on with the way they did first time around, full of flaws and awkwardness, on the other hand I don’t want to be mashing their heads together like some authorial version of playing dolls.

Legend kissing, Romeo and Juliet

Legend kissing, Romeo and Juliet

The scene? A kiss. Just two people kissing. So, what’s the big deal? Couldn’t you just write ‘…and so they kissed…’ and be done with it? Not really. The kiss in real life may be incidental but in fiction it’s a device. It’s got to push the action on, be a defining moment. You’ve got to get the essence of what that kiss is about, why it needs mentioning at all? A fictional kiss can, in the end, be quite a cerebral thing, an out-of-body experience for the protagonist as much as for the author as the narrative strives to impose the message on the moment and balance it with any kind of natural beauty (or as needs be, repulsion) and integrity, the integrity being? That you believe in that kiss, experience it, involve yourself in the paradigm shift that comes from it. Actually, writing a kiss can leave you quite breathless.

Watermark Book Cover

Sean O’Reilly’s breathtaking book ‘Watermark’ orbits on a kiss

Literary kisses are wonderfully varied because literary characters are necessarily honed to see things a certain way.Take Humbert’s almost forensic kiss with Lolita ‘not daring really to kiss her, I touched her hot, opening lips with the utmost piety, tiny sips, nothing salacious.’ or Romeo’s heated plea to Juliet ‘Sin from thy lips? O trespass sweetly urged! Give me my sin again.’ Or take Sean O’Reilly’s novel Watermark, a whole erotic world built on an illicit kiss that shuttles his protagonist Veronica on an aching journey of desire, ecstasy and despair ‘I kissed you and you learnt nothing from it. I kissed you for joy and you twisted it into an ugly thing. I kissed you and it should have disappeared in an instant, a beautiful frail thing to hold up to the light but you caught it and pinned it down and wanted to show it off.’

Cameron creates a whole night bathed in a kiss

Cameron creates a whole night bathed in a kiss

The book I’ve just finished by debut author Janet E. Cameron Cinnamon Toast And The End of the World has a gripping kiss between two male gay teenagers. ‘How did it feel?’ the smooch deprived Stephen Shulevitz asks. ‘Picture a dark empty house in the winter. Then somebody goes walking through the rooms switching on every single light, basement to attic one by one, until it’s so bright you can hardly stand it. It felt like that.’ Respect. Instead of baulking at the challenge Cameron creates a whole night bathed in this kiss because she knows this is necessary for the character (and therefore the story) to develop. Job done. But enough of reading about it, time to do the writing. Who knows where it will take me? But I’m hoping for some breathlessness alongside some retained awkwardness from the previous draft – as in life no kiss is truly perfect, it’s the flaw that makes it sing.

Listen to Sean O’Reilly discussing Watermark on The Parlour Review

More info on Janet E. Cameron’s book on her website