Paul Samael

Pedalling Backwards

September 28, 2014



“Pedalling Backwards” by Julia Russell is a very well written literary novel which has attracted an impressive haul of positive reviews on Amazon, and two five star reviews (including mine) on Smashwords. 

Lizzie, her husband and her parents have rented a holiday cottage on a bleak, muddy island in the Blackwater Estuary.  What could possibly go wrong?  Well, for starters, Lizzie has recently lost a baby.  Her husband thought it would be a good idea for them both to get away from things for a bit, but didn’t seem to fancy the idea of being on his own with Lizzie the entire time.  So he invited her parents.  The trouble is, Lizzie’s relationship with them (especially her mother) is not an easy one.  Added to which, Lizzie herself can be pretty infuriating at times.  So the atmosphere as we join them in the cottage is, well, a little tense.  All the ingredients, I’m sure you will agree, of a really super-duper, relaxing holiday.

One thing’s for sure, it isn’t chicklit, as the author has been at pains to point out (I hope she won’t mind me reproducing this graphic):



That said, given my description of it so far, you could be forgiven for thinking that it might possibly be a teeny bit hard going - and maybe even something of a misery-fest.  But I’m happy to report that it turned out to be much more of a page-turner than I initially expected.  It’s true that Lizzie’s behaviour is infuriating at times, even for the reader, but I wanted to know why she was behaving like that and in particular, why her relationship with her parents is so difficult – so for me, her behaviour set up a mystery that I wanted to find the answer to.  The other thing that really held my attention was the quality of the writing itself – for instance, I found myself nodding in recognition at the depictions of the awkwardness of group and family behaviour in the various “set pieces” on the island (the novel weaves between these and Lizzie reflecting on various events in her past – not just the loss of her baby, but her relationship with her sister as well).  

Yes, some of the subject matter is quite depressing and yes, I sometimes wanted to shake Lizzie out of her passivity and force her to stop dwelling on the past.  But this is quite a compact novel (just under 60,000 words) so I didn’t feel as if the actual writing was dwelling unnecessarily on those events – and personally, I don’t subscribe to the school of thought which holds that writers should only be telling stories in which everyone lives happily ever after (see this post).  

I certainly didn’t feel that “Pedalling Backwards” was unremittingly bleak in its outlook, because it does show a possible way out for Lizzie.  For example, at one point, her sister remarks somewhat enviously upon Lizzie’s ability to simply enjoy the moment, without bothering about what other people think.  And by the end of the novel, I had the feeling that Lizzie had begun to recognise that this ability offers her a way out of dwelling on a difficult past which she cannot change.  The author certainly has a talent for short, striking descriptions which successfully convey some of these transitory moments – for example, she is particularly good on food and the novel has a very strong sense of place (Professor Google couldn’t point me towards any islands called Storsea in the Blackwater Estuary but from the descriptions in the novel, the setting sounds a lot like Osea Island).

In a slightly stream of consciousness way, the rather bleak, muddy setting was one of the things about “Pedalling Backwards” which reminded me a little of “The Third Person” – another free, self-published novel which I have reviewed here.  Both feature somewhat unsympathetic narrators (coincidentally both called Lizzie), both focus on sibling relationships and both deal with fairly challenging subject matter (but in a very readable manner).  Also, both fall into the category of novels that I probably wouldn’t have picked out in a bookshop as “books that I would probably like” - but that for me has been one of the unexpected pleasures of reading free fiction (see this post).  So although in my opinion both novels were good enough to have been picked up by a commercial publisher, I’m glad the authors went down the self-publishing/not-for-profit publisher route - because if they hadn’t, I’d probably never have read them.

If I have a criticism of “Pedalling Backwards,” it’s that it didn’t fully explain why Lizzie’s parents are the way they are (this is only really hinted at) – but as the story is told from Lizzie’s perspective, it would be difficult to go back into their past and find out.  And maybe in that respect, the novel just reflects reality – after all, how much does any of us really know about our parents’ past and what influence it has had on them?   There is a scene in the novel where Lizzie and her sister are looking at old photos of their parents, taken before either of them was born, and having thoughts along those lines.  So I’m not convinced that this is necessarily a fair criticism of the novel – and in pretty much every other respect, it more than met my criteria for a “good read.”

At the time of writing, “Pedalling Backwards” was available free from Smashwords here.  The author’s website is here and there’s an interview with her here.


 

Read by robots

August 22, 2014

In common, I suspect, with many authors, I write at least partly in the hope that at least a few other people will read my stuff.  So I was a little dismayed to discover that the overwhelming majority of my “readers” on Scribd appear not to have been people at all, but robots.

Until recently, Scribd was showing my total “reads” as being about 1.4K.  I was somewhat sceptical of this (see this post) and thought the true figure was probably in the low three figures – but felt that even ...

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HHhH by Laurent Binet

July 31, 2014



This book by the French author Laurent Binet is described in its blurb as a “novel” but I think it would be more accurate to categorise it as “faction.”  What I mean by that is that the book is based quite closely around actual historical events but it also has certain features in common with other genres, like memoir or, at times, fiction.  I have blogged about faction before – in particular a book called “Red Plenty” by Francis Spufford, who started off writing a factual accou...

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Abraham the Anchor Baby Terrorist

March 8, 2014



This is a very interesting and well written novel by Sean Boling, whose collection of short stories (“Pigs and Other Living Things”) I have already reviewed on this blog.  It’s about an attempt by Islamic terrorists to insert a long term “sleeper” agent into the US.  This is to be done by smuggling a pregnant Algerian woman into the country and passing her off as a South American immigrant;  her son, the Abraham of the title, is to be raised to carry out as yet unspecified tasks on ...


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The Hole in the Wall

February 5, 2014


"The Hole in the Wall" by Clare Fisher is another mid-length piece (longer than a short story, shorter than a novel) of the type which I have been trying to promote on this blog because it is so under-represented in modern fiction (but I recognise that I may now be in severe danger of boring people to death with this point).  Luckily, we live in the age of the e-reader, which seems to be (slowly) helping to create more of a market for mid-length fiction - so maybe, eventually...


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Stream of consciousness: what does it mean to you?

January 8, 2014



Fear not:  this blog entry is not intended to be a free-flowing word association experiment chronicling all thoughts and feelings passing through my head right now.  That may come as a relief to you, although possibly not to my employers, for whom I should really be doing some work (the trouble is, I work from home on Wednesdays and it’s easy to get distracted when you start thinking about interesting concepts like “stream of consciousness”).  It’s also easy to get distracted by gazin...

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The Free Indie Reader No.1

December 20, 2013


Just wanted to draw attention to this interesting project from Tom Lichtenberg - it's a collection of short stories he has put together from self-published authors, intended to act as a "free sampler."  As Tom explains here, it's an attempt to reach a wider audience than he has so far managed by reviewing other people's work on his blog and elsewhere - so I hope it succeeds.  

I say that with a certain amount of self-interest, because it includes one of my stories.  But even if that were not t...
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Interview with James Crawshaw

November 22, 2013





Here’s an email interview with James Crawshaw, one of the founders of bibliotastic, a free ebooks platform based in the UK, which occupies a space somewhere between a straight ebooks platform (like Smashwords or Feedbooks) and a peer review/”incubator” site for new writers (like YouWriteOn – which I have reviewed here). 

I recently submitted my novel to the site and am happy to report that it was a straightforward process – bibliotastic will also convert your Word...


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The Future Manifestations of Saint Christina the Astonishing

November 13, 2013





This short book describes eight appearances of the medieval “Saint” Christina the Astonishing (the unofficial patron saint of people affected by mental illness) in the near and distant future.  The “real” Saint Christina is said to have risen from the dead during the course of her funeral – and when I say “risen”, I mean literally soaring up to the roof of the church where the ceremony was being held.  According to Wikipedia, she flew up there because she couldn...


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3 by Moxie Mezcal

November 3, 2013



3 is a collection of three long-ish, meaty short stories by Moxie Mezcal.  By “meaty” I mean that they could almost qualify for the novella tag – because there is so much going on in terms of plot and interesting ideas that by the time you’ve finished, you are left with the kind of feeling more commonly associated with longer fiction.
 

The first story, “Home Movie,” is about a porn store DVD which has been replaced with what appears to be a snuff movie – is it ...


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About Me


Paul Samael Welcome to my blog, "Publishing Waste" which will either (a) chronicle my heroic efforts to self-publish my own fiction; or (b) demonstrate beyond a scintilla of doubt the utter futility of (a). And along the way, I will also be doing some reviews of other people's books.
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