Christopher Walker: Dreamers, Seekers, and Malcontents

In The Amnesiac and Other Stories, Christopher Walker presents thirteen engaging, beautifully told short stories about a diverse collection of dreamers, seekers, and malcontents. Be it a photographer recalling a young woman he almost loved, a coffee shop owner unwittingly caught up in an assassination plot, or a group of young English writers in search of a legacy in Spain, Walker paints a delicious series of portraits alternately tinted with pathos, danger, and humor. It’s a diverse collection, too, mostly mainstream fiction but with a smattering of fantasy and science fiction, that romps all across Europe.

Walker’s storytelling is straightforward but thoughtful, punctuated by great imagery, as in this excerpt from “The Castle,” in which a young girl looks out on her climate-change altered world where nonstop rain and rising sea levels have reconfigured the land:

Sarah was peering out of the window again, her forehead pressed up against the cool glass. She imagined the feel of the rain on her skin, and she thought about how whenever they got out of the rain some of it always seemed to linger like a memory on her clothes. (p. 252)

I felt the editing might have been a bit inconsistent. Some parts of some stories don’t quite have the smooth texture that typifies the collection. However, that doesn’t distract much from the engrossing character of each story. You’re walking alongside these people as they traverse their world and their lives, sharing in their joys and sorrows. The Amnesiac and Other Stories earns five stars for both story and writing. Well done, sir!

 I recently asked Christopher Walker about the collection and his writing. Here’s what he said:

Are the stories in this collection appearing for the first time, or have they been published elsewhere?

​Most of the short stories I write are targeted either at writing competitions or calls for submissions from various literary journals. Quite often there are story requirements that help me to frame the tale I want to tell, but most of the time there’s a word limit and nothing else. Still, having somewhere to submit gives me a lot of motivation to get down to some serious writing, and when I’m successfully able to place a story I really appreciate the positive feedback that that brings. I love publishing my own books, but seeing my name on somebody else’s collection has a certain charm to it, and I’m fortunate to be able to credit two literary journals with printing stories of mine before I launched the collection. WOLVES magazine ran “Six Photos of a Girl I Nearly Loved,” and The Nabu Review took “The Castle.” I’m indebted to both for their editorial feedback, as well as for supporting me as an independent writer.

I enjoyed the lead-off story, “Six Photos of a Girl I Nearly Loved,” but the one that really hooked me was ​t​he second, “The Assassination of Norman Wisdom.” I had the eerie feeling that I was there in Albania, accompanying the group of angry young men determined to gun down the celebrity they despised. Where did that story come from, and were any fragments of real people sewn into it?

​The Albanian story had an interesting genesis. I found a short story competition in England — the Yeovil prize perhaps, or the Bath one, I can’t quite remember — and they had an open entry where anything goes. The judge was Tony Hawks, a name I recognised from his books and TV broadcasts. I thought that by targeting something directly connected with him I might stand a better chance of getting noticed (I was wrong). Back in the early 2000s he made a TV show — and later a book — called One Hit Wonderland, about taking the ageing comedy legend Norman Wisdom to Albania, where he was popular, in order to get a pop song into the charts. I think he’d wanted to win a bet or something like that — it was weird in a way that he’d be picking on the poor Albanians for this vanity project, and that feeling of weirdness gave birth to the idea of some local youths wanting to shoot Norman Wisdom. A lot of what happens in the story is true — Norman Wisdom did indeed give a short concert in the middle of a football match in Tirana, and Tony Hawks was there too. The rest of course is sheer fabrication.​

The ultimate story, “Seville: Or, Failure” follows a trio of young aspiring writers seeking the perfect place to become inspired and write. Yet their journey ultimately leads to their separation and very little real writing, although the failure of their experiment leads to victories of other sorts. Do you see this tale as an allegory for the writer’s journey?

​In a sense, yes. The germ of an idea for this story came from a friend of a few years back. She often went on about wanting to be a writer, but that she wouldn’t start actually writing until she’d found a classic typewriter to work on. That struck me as an unusual approach, and made me wonder if it was perhaps the allure or social cachet attached with being a writer that she was after, and not the long hours of hard work that the role really involved. Although I realise I’m as much a part of the problem as anyone else, I do honestly feel like there are too many would-be writers out there. It’s not for everyone. I’m often not sure if it’s for me; but when I go a short while without writing I start to get enormously frustrated. I need the catharsis. The characters in ‘Seville’ are looking for catharsis; it’s only that it takes them a while to figure out what form that should take. ​

What else have you published?

​I’ve been working at a feverish pace over the last few years, ever since I discovered how simple the world of self-publishing was to enter, and how rewarding it was to see your own name on the spine of a book on your bookcase. I started with a children’s book called The Man in the Mango Tree — the first draft was written in a single sitting, from beneath a tree in Nigeria as it happens, though not a mango tree sadly. From there I went on to write a more grown-up book called Hit the Bottom and Escape, based on my adventures in Ghana and Nigeria. Most recently I put together a collection of short stories set in my adopted home of Poland, called Sara the Writer.​

What are you working on now?

​That rarest of things happened to me a few weeks ago — a whole story presented itself, as if it was shown to me as a movie in my head. My job seems to be just to write it all down before the threads of the memory begin to fray. I’ve got a title for it, though: The Stars Too Can Die of Sadness. It’ll be a novella, and I’d like to have it finished by the end of the summer.​

What advice do you have for writers or readers?

​My advice for writers is to re-read. I think we all do a good job of reading — it’s probably what motivated us to get into writing in the first place. But the first time you read a book, you don’t tend to do a critical job (or at least that’s my experience). The second time around you start to pick the story apart, see how the sentences were put together, how the characters get their individual voices. It can take multiple re-readings. I’ve read By Night in Chile about four times now and I’m still finding new things to learn from Roberto Bolano. I’m sure that my own work will be infected by his voice and his style, but I can live with that. I don’t see it as a problem.

As for readers — well, they are the lifeblood of literature, aren’t they? All I can ask is for them to continue existing, for being who they are. It doesn’t much matter what most people end up reading — I’m happier living in a world full of people who read John Grisham than of people who don’t read at all. If there are enough readers, you get that wonderful “long tail” effect, and that means that somewhere out there, there must be a person who will find my book, read it, and enjoy it. I’m happy to lock myself away for weeks on end, struggling to get my story just right, as long as there are even a handful of readers who will appreciate the effort.

Where can readers find you?

At closelyobserved.com, which currently redirects to my Amazon author profile, and on Twitter.

Alex Carver: Gangsters in Space

Casimir (Cas) Dragunov’s big brother Nikolai is in trouble. Again. Nikolai was the reason Cas joined the Armed Forces of the Federation Planets (AFFP) in the first place, but after being court martialed and dishonorably discharged, he went from trouble to trouble, always relying on Cas to bail him out. This time, it’s different. When Cas arrives on Dormero Station to pay off Nikolai’s debts to crime boss Valen Massio, his brother is dead and Massio wants payment in the form of work, starting with the delivery of a mysterious package. Cas has little choice but to take the job, but he’s pursued by Massio’s rival, who also wants the package. Taking ownership of his brother’s decrepit spaceship and unexpectedly helped by a fellow soldier, Cas dodges and battles gangsters as well as security forces in a race to make the delivery, knowing that his military career, if not his life, is over.

Although it’s pretty straightforward, I really enjoyed this story. Carver doesn’t throw us too many curves, but he does throw a few good ones. Also, this is the first novel of a planned series. The author has introduced us to his world and his characters, and invites us to follow their further adventures. The questions left open at the end of An Unwanted Inheritance are no doubt springboards to those adventures. So while a richer story would have been possible, this isn’t a bad start, with solid characters and enough action to pull the reader through. I’ll give it 4 stars for story.

While the writing is a bit rough around the edges, it’s not bad. I noticed a number of sentences I would consider run-ons, but I’ve seen the same thing from other British indie authors. It’s less common from my fellow American authors. Maybe that kind of structure is in vogue on the other side of the Atlantic? Either way, the book is readable enough, so I wouldn’t downgrade the writing too seriously. Let’s call it 3.5 stars, with 4 stars for the overall rating. I’m looking forward to the next installment.

 I recently asked Alex Carver about the novel and his writing. Here’s what he said:

Cas Dragunov is an honorable man who finds himself in a situation where honor is hard to maintain. He insists he’s not a criminal but realizes that he’s become one in order to pay his deceased brother’s ill-gotten debts. Is his decision motivated by his sense of honor–a debt is a debt, no matter how it arose–or by his adversary’s long reach–there would be no place to run?

I think Cas is in an impossible situation. If he thought he could get himself beyond the reach of Valen Massio I suspect he would, but even if he did I think he would make arrangements to pay off his brother’s debt, just without breaking the law.

The first book in a series. Have you started the second volume yet? Can you give us any clues regarding the further adventures of Cas and his “crew”?

I have started book 2. It is about 75% done on paper. Some other projects have claimed my attention for the time being, but I hope to have book 2 done by early next year. In it Cas tries to find a solution for the problem of Ettie [a child he rescues en route to delivering Valen Massio’s package], while dealing with some of the problems arising from book 1.

In future books I hope to increase the crew by a couple, including a female–tentatively I am thinking of having the medic Cas met briefly in book 1 come aboard for some reason, but I don’t know the reason yet–and having Cas and crew try to find ways of earning money that are legal.

You’ve written a number of other books, including your Inspector Stone mysteries. How many of those preceded An Unwanted Inheritance?

An Unwanted Inheritance is my fifth released book, I released the first three books in the Inspector Stone Mysteries and Written In Blood ahead of it, plus a short story.

What are you currently working on?

Right now I am working on a sequel to my thriller, Written In Blood, which I hope to release in July. Together the books form the duology, Murder In Oakhurst, and may lead to a mystery/thriller series set in the countryside.

What advice to you have for readers or writers?

About the only advice I feel confident to give is, if you’re sure there is something you can’t do for yourself (I suck at making covers, and I know I do) pay someone to do it for you. If you want to be successful, you have to know your limitations, and not let your pride get in the way of asking for success.

Where can readers find you?

On Goodreads, Facebook, and Twitter.

Stevie Turner: Addictive Personalities

Frances and Martin Andrews have a serious problem: he’s addicted to pornography, and she’s addicted to spying on him to secure evidence of his transgressions. The lack of trust between them has shattered their marriage, and even counseling doesn’t offer much hope. Martin’s repeated lies render impotent his protestations that he’s changed. He desperately wants her back, but she desperately wants to be free of him.

That’s the set-up. What follows in this fast-paced and relatively short novel spans a few emotionally-charged years in which husband and wife must face their own flaws as well as each other’s. It’s a compelling read about a life-destroying indulgence that has ensnared all too many people, particularly in the Internet age. Turner does a creditable job of portraying the addiction and its effects, although I suspect she’s captured the wife’s trauma better than the husband’s. Frances grows considerably through the story, while Martin’s journey through hell ultimately seems fruitless. I’ll grant that’s one plausible outcome, but I found it disheartening. Maybe that’s the point? I at least would have liked a bit deeper glimpse into Martin’s psyche at the end to understand better how he ends up where he does.

The writing is good enough, although I thought phrases containing the word “porn” occurred a bit too often, and some of the dialogue, particularly with the counselor, seemed a bit stilted. (However, I’ve never been in a counseling session, so maybe that’s how it really is.) I also think the author missed some opportunities to delve deeper into the characters through the action. This is a complex situation that could easily support another fifty pages of development without feeling stretched.

A word of caution: Although this work is neither romance nor erotica, there are a few explicit passages, not excessively graphic but very direct.

The strengths and weaknesses of “Mind Games” had me hemming and hawing over a rating. I’ve settled on 4.5 stars for story and a bit better than 3.5 for the writing, yielding 4 stars overall.

 I recently asked Stevie Turner about the novel and her writing. Here’s what she said:

It looks like you’ve written a number of books. What subjects have you addressed, and where does “Mind Games” fit in?

Yes I have written a number of books over a 5 year period.  I always try to tackle subjects that haven’t been written about too many times before.  I am more interested in writing about relationships between middle-aged couples, as I find their problems and issues more interesting. With young people there is always the sexual chemistry and the bed-hopping which has been covered countless times in many different ways, but what happens to a couple when they age and passion dies away?  I prefer to write of problems that can occur in fifty-somethings, as they are more likely to face this scenario.

Addiction has become a major social issue. Readers might see aspects of their own lives mirrored in your  fiction and wonder if they could help someone who has an addiction. What has your research suggested?

No, it is not possible to change somebody who has an addictive nature. The change and motivation to stop needs to come from the person themselves.  Usually they would have to hit rock bottom before they decide to stop.

Which at one point in Mind Games seems to be where Martin ends up. But did he learn anything through his experience, or as the title suggests, has it indeed all been a game to him?

Martin is the kind of man that will not be told what to do by a woman, as he feels this will emasculate him.  However, he still loves Frances and wants her to return to the marital home.  If there is any chance that this might happen he would be prepared to do and say anything, but just as long as he can remain true to his own beliefs.

What are you working on now?

I am working on a novel-length version of one of my short stories which is in my published book Life: 18 Short Stories about Significant Life Events.  I think it might be ready later this year, because at the moment the words are tumbling out!

What advice to you have for readers or writers?

I would say for a start that unless writers read a lot, then they won’t learn to hone their craft.  It’s no good saying “I don’t get time to read because I’m too busy writing.”  If nobody is reading, then what’s the point of writing?  Also it’s best to have another source of income rather than rely on book royalties!  Beaver away and don’t give up writing just because somebody thinks your book sucks; sooner or later somebody will like it, it’s all a matter of opinion.

Where can readers find you? (You can just give me the links. I’ll format them for you.)

The offiical website of author Dale E. Lehman