Two reviews of Burying Brian have surfaced online this week. The first is on my own website, where Peter Tennant and Andy Cox have kindly given me permission to reproduce in full the March Brian review published in Black Static issue twenty-two.
To read this click on my website link below and select What's New, and then the link to the review itself.
Also available here is my critically acclaimed first novel, Digging up Donald, along with a free-to-download chapbook, Mrs Mathews is Afraid of Cricket Bats, which I think is a reasonable sample of what you can expect from Donald and Brian.
Thank you so much if you should choose to stop by.
There's a rather stunning review of Burying Brian to be found in issue four of Shock Totem.
Reviewer Robert Duperre says:
"The Prose Pirie uses is clever, never dull, and brings about a sense of poignancy that does what the best literature is supposed to do—make you think."
"Burying Brian is the best book I've read in a long time…"
I've known Rob online for some time now. Indeed, I'm a fan of his own no-nonsense style of writing in his blossoming trilogy The Rift
And it's not the first time Rob has offered assistance in building my writing career. Back in 2004, when I'd just had Digging up Donald published, Rob and his now wife Jessica Torrant helped place Donald in an arts festival in which they were involved.
It's a feature of the writing community that there are nice people like Rob and Jessica around who are selfless in the willingness to help out.
So, thank you so much, Rob, for the review and your continued support.
"For decades, readers have used the Page 99 Test to judge the writing of a book before buying it. That's the idea here... but with a twist.
Here, published and unpublished writers share their page 99s with readers like you. And you get to rate their writing (without knowing if it's published or who the author is). It's fast. Fun. Addictive."
In truth it is fun. But from a critique point of view it's all a little futile. People commenting seem to think landing on page 99 should make perfect sense, despite the fact that 98 pages have gone before and who-knows-how-many pages are still to go. It's a bit like walking in on the middle of a film and expecting to pick up at once all that's going on. Personally, I'd judge a book on its opening and not its page 99.
It does make for some interesting comments, though. I got my share of 'I love it' and such like, but the real fun comments are the snarky ones.
For instance, Of Burying Brian, "michael goins" writes:
"FORMAT IS INCORRECT. Why? Why write if you aren't going to at least learn a few very, very fundamental things? One of the #1 rules in writing is not to have similar names and you violated it what is supposed to be page 99 but is obviously the beginning. Three are lawyers, but one is a tax collector, one is a bank manager, and one a town councillor. HOw are any lawyers??? Terrible. Choppy sentences, terrible format, bad dialogue, telling and not showing. Lots of work to be done here and some of it involves learning how to write fiction."
He seems to have decided I've not posted a page 99 at all but the beginning. I'd hack my hands off rather than pass either page 99 as a beginning! He then goes on to add a further comment:
"Not PUBLISHED but self–published. Definitely not the same thing."
Which, as both books are published by Storm Constantine's Immanion Press, to which I have no association whatsoever except being one of their authors, the comment is not actually true. Possibly Mr Goins has simply decided it's self published because he believes it to be so bad.
Then, "AdamL" writes:
"All a bit Terry Pratchett for my tastes. Generally well–written and easy to read, but the stuff about the horseman needing a good house – "Can’t go raining death and destruction on humanity from any old hovel now can we?" – is fairly obvious, the kind of thing I used to write when I was 14 and obsessed with Douglas Adams. The biscuit factory line contains too much exposition to work as a punchline, and it's an obvious joke anyway, sorry. You obviously have an imagination, but try to find your own voice and your own take on things."
"Pinkiepup2" bemoans: "I does not make sense so far."
But don't worry, because Pinkiepup1 will have the answers. :-)
And things don't get better for Digging up Donald. Again, Mr Goins is in good voice telling me:
"Doubles not singles when doing dialogue. What the heck is a "brow?" Father wouldn't be capped. "taleteller’s breath and paused a yarn–spinner’s pause." – too cutesy. Why is the dialogue in the first paragraph split into two paragraphs? Opening and closing of quotation marks is poorly done. This is a laundry listing of information all told in a run rather that being revealed with action. Too little here to know if I'd red it, but most likely not, even when it is actually ready to be read. DIalogue is stilted."
The good thing with all this is that if I have confidence in just one thing about me it would be my ability to write. Oh, I know for sure I'll hit and miss with readers--what writer doesn't?--and I have no issues whatsoever handling criticism. But it concerns me a little that a more novice writer, who is less thick skinned perhaps, might be wise to stay away from page99. Or maybe not.
I've no idea who Michael Goins is, or if he's in the habit of Googling himself, but if he does and he lands on this Blog I'd love him to say hello.
I reviewed "Fables from the Fountain" for the "The Future Fire". An anthology edited by Ian Whates, Fables is written in homage to Arthur C Clarke's "Tales from the White hart", and features eighteen tall, often pun-like science fiction stories from eighteen authors including Ian Watson, Stephen Baxter, and Neil Gaiman.
Each story takes place in the mythical London pub called, not surprisingly, The Fountain. The book is most definitely worth a read.
Well, my war story came back rejected, which is a shame as I thought it a decent piece of writing. Still, such is life. Perhaps they did want Rambo after all. I'll be interested to read the published anthology to see what kind of 'different protagonists' they were looking for.
I'm doing some decorating, so if you want me I'm the one up the ladder.
I also submitted another short story to an anthology today, a story that's been bounced back to me more times than a very bouncy thing. And I can't quite put my finger on why—the story itself is a personal favourite, with lots of hidden depth and character development, and an ending I think refreshingly real for a fantasy tale. But do editors like it? Not yet. :-)
It's worked its way down all the appropriate pro markets until now I'm almost giving it away to the 'token payment' Johns.
I suppose all writers have at least one story that bemuses them in their ability to place it somewhere. This is submission number twenty-five for this story. Twenty-fifth time lucky, perhaps?
I submitted a short story today. Nothing unusual in that, you might say, but in actual fact I haven't submitted much of late. Why? I don't know, really, I just seem to go through such lean patches where not much takes my fancy.
I like writing stuff fresh for a particular project rather than merely recycling old stories hoping to hit an acceptance. This story was written for the Weird War anthology.
I liked their comment about wanting stories featuring unusual protagonists. It inspired me to write a story pretty much with no obvious protagonist. Instead it centres around a British street in world war II, and brings the war to the inhabitants of that street, sometimes brutally, sometimes subtly, but always dispassionately. The result is a story with no heroes but lots of victims, and mirrors how I tend to see warfare anyway. I'm gambling this will elevate it from the slush pile. Of course, the gamble, as always, is that it might run totally flat with the editors. If they want Rambo characters then I'm done for. Time will tell.
I'm also psyching myself up to review an anthology which came to me as a PDF file. Had I paid more attention at the time I'd have not taken the review on, as the thought of reading 240 or so PDF pages on a screen fills me with dread. Coming fresh from reading 30k words or so from Shock Totem's bi-monthly flash competition, I anticipate eye strain ahead.
In this issue is my story "This is Mary's Moon", the 'sister story' (in that it grew from the same seed before going its own way) to my tale "The Spring Heel", published in Haunted Legends anthology and itself gathering favourable reviews.
The artwork, by Dave Senecal and shown above, is rather special.
Also included is Pete Tennant's fabulous review of Burying Brian, in which Pete says such nice things as: "…the gentle humour that informs this work, the self-mocking way the characters have about them and the beguiling prose with which Pirie captures their actions and attitudes." and "…you marvel at Pirie's ingenuity and his ability to continually find some phrasing that will put a smile on the most curmudgeonly of faces…"
And as if that's not enough of me, there's also an interview in which I discuss amongst other things the battle of the sexes. If you want to know who won, and the fight was dirty I can say, then you need to buy Black Static 22.
Dear me, is it really that long since I wrote anything in here?
Tut, I say; tut and procrastination.
The biggest news on the writing front is that not only does the next (hopefully) issue of Black Static include a short story of mine named "This is Mary's Moon", but it also carries an interview with me, and has a review of Burying Brian.
Even jokingly I'd never dare suggest to them they rename it the Steven Pirie edition. :-)
I don't like to comment too much on reviews, either about my writing or when I'm writing them for other people—it's odd but I like to feel a reviewer is a protected species; should never be questioned even if the news is bad.
I will say it's wonderful to get a non-horror-reader/non-British perspective on my writing—very illuminating.
Thanks to Carey for the review, and to Djibril at the Future Fire for hosting it…
Well, let's be honest, there's rampant self-promotion afoot all over the Internet. And here's my bit. :-)
I've compiled a short chapbook—four short, humorous stories—and made it available for free download at Smashwords.com. Of course by making it free I hope to be read by as many people as possible, and then those people will be so taken by my writing skills, my blistering imagination, and my utter humility, that they'll be sure to look in on my novels Digging up Donald (itself available on Smashwords for a veritable pittance of cash) and Burying Brian.
That's the plan, anyway. Of course the exact opposite may occur, and folk might run screaming from Smashwords, vowing never again to download a suspicious looking ebook from that Pirie fellow. It's a chance I have to take.
It's called Mrs Mathews is Afraid of Cricket Bats. This is the cover:
I was wandering the shelves of Waterstones in Liverpool, as one does, when I spotted "Pretty Little Dead Things", by Gary McMahon. I had read and enjoyed some of McMahon's short fiction down the years, and I'm always happy to support a small press author's push for greater things, so I bought a copy.
Overall it's an excellent read. Thomas Usher, following the tragic death of his family, finds he has the 'gift' of being able to contact the dead. Or rather the dead may contact him, for Usher's lack of control at such contact is a large part of the book's charm. Set loosely in Leeds, it's a grim story throughout, as Usher's battle with his own inner demons is nicely paralleled to those external ones bent on destroying the world.
McMahon displays great skill in weaving Usher's emotions into a story that's something of a page-turner at times. If I have a criticism then it's with the ending. Usher is spirited off to 'other places' for the final showdown, and events become somewhat surreal. I'd have thought given Leeds, or indeed any northern city, has enough nooks and dark corners for a final showdown between good and evil without resorting to such devices, the story could end where it is staged—sometimes painfully close to reality.
But that's not to detract from what is a very enjoyable book. And good luck to McMahon in breaking through into 'bricks and mortar' book stores!
I'm about three quarters through reading the single author anthology of short stories "The Bride Stripped Bare", by Rachel Kendall.
If ever there was a book that 'pulls no punches' in its stories, then this is it. No subject would appear taboo for Kendal, and what results is a fascinating journey through humanity's darker side.
But if these stories are difficult, they're told with such brutal honesty, and with such assurance by Kendall, that the reader simply can't 'walk away'. It's like this dark underbelly exists and so simply has to be witnessed. It's life stripped bare.
I received my first rejection of the year. It was a sad one as it was for an anthology I was really keen to be in, and sad in that I wrote the story from scratch especially for that anthology. Still, I can rewrite it for a more general market without too much heartache, so all's not lost.
But who'd be a writer, eh, rejected as we are? :-)
I googled myself. All writers do this, even if like masturbation they tend to do it when no-one's looking (or maybe some writers do it loud and proud, what do I know?).
It's far too soon for any reaction to Burying Brian, but I found many reviews relating to Haunted Legends, and my story "The Spring Heel" therein. Perhaps I should also mention the anthology has been nominated for the Black Quill awards and was deemed anthology of the year by the Chicago Sun Times. Which is all jolly nice.
Steven Pirie’s “The Spring Heel” (a Spring-Heeled Jack tale) is a fascinating reclamation where the legendary figure once rumored to haunt the streets of Victorian-era England (romanticized in the extreme by Pirie’s desperate protagonist) turns savior for a woman eager to escape the reality of her world.
The Spring Heel by Steven Pirie is set in Liverpool and introduces us to Ruth a homeless prostitute and the mysterious Spring Heeled Jack. It’s a deeply emotional story which brings the traditional legend, kicking and screaming, into a modern world of drugs, violence and tragedy.
Of course, not all reviewers heaped glowing praise on my story. Some pretty much ignored it, and others were lukewarm.
The remaining tales, including… "The Spring Heel" by Steven Pirie… tend to walk the line between the two genres, generally channeling local legends through the psyches of the stories' central characters. While I found these meldings to be interesting, the psychological element tended to dominate the narrative so much they were virtually indistinguishable from many of the ghost stories.
Anthologies are also hard to review because it’s hard to give full attention to every single story in a collection. Because, while I really enjoyed this entire anthology, there were definitely some I loved more than others:
The Spring Heel by Steven Pirie — from the title one can see that this is a tale about the English legend, The Spring Heeled Jack. I loved how this story was both eerie but had me almost rooting, in a way, for Jack.
The Spring Heel by Steven Pirie – This is the retelling of Spring Heel Jack as told through the experiences of Ruth, a down-on-her-luck prostitute. She fears seeing the Spring Heel means death or worse for her. In the end, joining the creature supposed to be the devil results in the most unexpected of things. This story is told well enough to make it timeless. It could be set in the modern day as well as London in the 1800s. I finished the story with a smile on my face.
I'm going to write a story about a shepherd. But, in the meantime, here's ten things everyone should know about sheep:
1 Sheep are of the Kingdom Animalia, Phylum Cordata, Order Ungulata with Sub-order Artiodactyla. They are of the Family Bovidae with Sub-family Caprinac, of the Genus Ovis and Species Ovis-Aries. Basically, this means they are alive.
2 One of the most famous sheep (which, ironically, wasn’t alive) was a sock puppet called Lamb Chop, wielded by deceased comedienne Shari Lewis. It is unique as being the singly most unfunny sheep in existence.
3 Farmers like to ‘dip’ sheep regularly. This involves fully immersing the animal in a bath of antiseptic and detergent liquid, and not what you’re thinking.
4 Calling a sheep ‘Lamb Chop’ or ‘Mint Sauce’ is paramount to animal cruelty. As is turning them into socks.
5 Sheep don’t shrink in the rain.
6 A sheep dog is not a sheep, rather it is a dog used by farmers to bully sheep into pens and things. Dog sheep, however, are sheep of easy virtue, used by farmers once the dogs have bullied them into pens and things.
7 However, sheep may shrink if tumble dried.
8 Another famous sheep was Dolly the Sheep. This was the first animal ever cloned, and so marked a momentous advance in bio-molecular sciences. Dolly died after a particularly violent dipping by a farmer in 2002, and was served to the queen with sauté potatoes.
9 Some sheep are good at clinging to precarious, mountain crags and rocky outcrops. Those that aren’t are dead.
10 Sheep dislike being carted off for slaughter. Many are heard to utter, ‘Bah!’ when so carted.
I did something today I've never done before as a writer—withdrew stories from a (supposedly) pending publication.
'Why did you do that, Steve?' I hear you ask, all aghast.
Well, the stories (four flash pieces) were accepted back in 2007, and since then communication with publication's editors has been, shall we say, somewhat sporadic. Despite claims that the publication will happen, surely there's only so long a writer should wait before dismissing the sale and moving on.
And it's not as if I'm an impatient bloke in that respect—I've waited to see a story placed many times in the past. Maybe I just wanted to flex a writerly muscle. Maybe I'm growing up as a writer. Perish that thought, eh?
It struck me yesterday I'm not reading as much as I used to. The last time I stopped reading it was because I needed glasses. You'd think that would be an obvious one, really, not being able to see the words and all, but it surprised me back then how long I went before I realised the problem was physical. It was only when my arm wasn't long enough to hold the book that it dawned. A swift visit to the Optician's, and behold, the world was back in focus.
I suppose I could need a new prescription, but this time it feels less physical and more a question of setting time aside for reading.
So, I'm going to promise myself I'll read at least a book a month. I'm not a slow reader, but often I force myself to read slowly to immerse myself in the story. And it's so hard these days to read purely for pleasure and not study the writing and language itself. But I reckon a book a month shouldn't be a problem.
So, where to start? Shall I go high-brow or slum it? Literary or genre? Comedic or 'serious'?
So, this is 2011, is it? It's a bit damp. And not much looks different when I look out my window. Possibly that's because my curtains are closed, and should I open them I'll find the world has shifted sideways.
There didn't seem quite so many fireworks at midnight this year. Maybe people have got no money to buy them.
Still, we're off to the football soon. It's an away game, and even though it's not too far for us to travel, I do like the little trips for the football.
Here's hoping you're not too hung over this morning.
I'm an author living in Liverpool, UK. My comic fantasy novel, Digging up Donald, is published by Immanion Press, as indeed is my new novel Burying Brian. My short fiction has appeared in numerous places all over the world.