Saturday 29 October 2011

Review of c.j. Skuse's Pretty Bad Things

Pretty Bad Things is c.j.skuse’s debut novel and is published by Chicken House. And what a debut! It is the story of Paisley and Beau, the ‘Wonder Twins’, who had first hit the headlines when they were six and were found lost in a forest. As readers, we join them when they are sixteen and they are given the letters that their absent dad had been sending to them from prison for the last ten years. Their grandmother had ordered that the letters should be destroyed but her housekeeper kept them and gave them to Beau instead. The twins had been separated for a lot of this time with Paisley being sent to various boarding schools which she inevitably was expelled from as she was a troublemaker whilst her brother had to live with their grandmother. He had learnt to keep his head down and not to rock the boat despite being badly bullied at school. The incident with the letters triggers a journey for the twins as they go to search for their absentee dad in Las Vegas. The dad they were told didn’t care about them. The letters showed otherwise. Their search for him becomes intertwined with crime as in a desperate attempt to find him they rob various candy stores leaving a trail behind them in the hope their dad will pick up on it.

As a lecturer in creative writing at the University of Winchester there is a second year module which I teach on entitled ‘Textual Intervention’ where we encourage students to look at stories, fairy tales etc and ‘intervene’ with them. Pretty Bad Things is a perfect example of this. The ‘intervention’ with Grimms’ Hansel and Gretal, is inspired. I have to say the grandmother is one of the most evil characters I have come across recently. A perfect witch. There were many times when I wondered how low could she go?

Skuse has produced two main characters with really strong yet distinctive voices. The story is told in the first person and the chapters alternate between Paisley and Beau so you get a balanced view of everything that goes on. I have to confess there were times when I wanted to slap Paisley but her desperation is so apparent that by the end you can almost forgive her anything. Talking of the ending, it is not predictable and neither is it sugar coated. This is a story full of emotion and effectively shows the turmoil of being a teenager. It also gives you, as the reader, that opportunity to vicariously experience being the rebellious teenager you always wanted to be.

This is a good and challenging read. Give it a go!

Whilst writing this review it has been a perfect autumn day so I thought this would be a perfect piece of music to finish on. Justin Hayward lived next door to a close family friend and this has so many memories of those times so this is for Aunt Syl and all the laughter from those times.

Wednesday 26 October 2011

When I handed my MA dissertation I felt bereft but nothing prepared me for the way I would feel once the PhD process was over with. I am totally lost. Something that filled every waking minute for the last four years has gone and I have to say it is a very strange and horrible feeling. What do I do now? Part of the problem is I don't think I ever thought beyond the PhD. I am told that there is plenty to do, just got to work out what it is. Doing a PhD gives you a structure and a title -you are a research student - then when it is has finished both have gone.

In a couple of weeks the whole process comes to a very final end when I graduate, which will be an amazing experience. We get to wear the most wonderful gowns and we graduate in Winchester Cathedral which is truly spectacular. I will be surrounded by family and friends so it will be a fantastic day. But I have set myself a challenge I have got to get over this dreadful feeling of loss by then. There is so much to do out there, so I am told, even if things like not being able to travel are thrown in my way. I have rewrites to do to the PhD novel for a publisher who have expressed an interest. I have papers to write. But it is all very scary. I think I need a whole bucket full of courage. Fancy holding my hand ;-)

I should also say I haven't been totally wasting my time. I have been reading several books which I am going to post reviews on very soon. It is a novelty to read a book without having to think how it fits in with the PhD, so there are benefits. Keep an eye out for my reviews on Meg Rosoff's There is no dog, c.j.Skuse's Pretty Bad Things and Jandy Nelson's The Sky is Everywhere, for a start.

Don't get me wrong despite all the stress at times and the feeling of loss now I wouldn't change a thing. My PhD years were truly good years.