Wednesday, August 23, 2023

The Only Harmless Great Thing by Brooke Bolander

I'm always of the opinion that there are not enough stories that are told from non-human protagonists, and The Only Harmless Great Thing by Brooke Bolander gave me a dip into something quite different from my usual fare. It's alternative history, with a little magical realism thrown in that re-envisions the horrors of the Radium Girls by way of pachyderm lore. This shortish tale shakes its fists at the injustices of this world perpetrated by capitalism, the patriarchy, and our species' love for cruel spectacle.

This is not an easy read, and Bolander's style is simultaneously dream-like and poetic, while offering some hard hitting themes as she slip-slides between a human narrative and elephants' meanderings and myth. I honestly don't have much more I can say about this story except that it left me scratchy behind the eyes – which can be both a good and bad thing.

I suspect this is one of those titles that's not going to work for those who take issue with strong feminist themes in literature. All the viewpoint characters have some form of issue with males, for their own reasons. I'm able to separate myself from the characters, so I didn't ave any issues with this. Additionally, Bolander does not spoonfeed readers as she shifts between different points of view without overtly identifying the viewpoint character – so you're going to have to read for contextual cues quickly to figure out which of the protagonists is at the helm. Honestly, this didn't bother me either, as those cues are pretty obvious to attentive readers. If she was intending for this to be a jarring experience for readers, it does work.

Bolander revels in narrative ambiguity, with many questions unanswered – I like stories that challenge me. And maybe, because this is a shorter read, it's easier to digest in small bites, and it's memorable. 

Friday, August 11, 2023

Spring doing what it usually does...

I debated whether I would do my usual newsletter, but if I'm absolutely honest, I find setting up newsletters fairly stressful, and it's a toss-up between doing what I love (which is writing) and spending an hour agonising over layout for a newsletter that goes into people's inboxes to die. At least the blog is searchable, and, I guess, no doubt scrape-able by AI. But this is not the post where I'm going to froth about AI. I've frothed enough online that I wound up on a Comic Con panel with a bunch of other creatives, a few months ago, where I frothed some more. I'm sure some fresh atrocity in the future will set me off again, but jawellnofine... enough controversy. 

It's so often as both editor and coach, that I write what I term as 'dear author' letters, where I employ such wonderful language as "as this novel stands, it's not ready for publication". My dearly beloved authors reading this now, you may enjoy your schadenfreude because I recently received exactly the same feedback on a submission. 

How did I respond?

Exactly as I tell my writers to. First read the letter. If someone has been arsed to write more than a paragraph (in my cases it was four, highly detailed and specific pages of suggestions and concerns) THANK them for their feedback. If you're smarting, DO NOT rant at them. Suck in your hubris and self-righteous indignation. Be graceful.

Then sleep on it. Come back to the letter the next day. Sometimes you'll agree, sometimes you won't agree with what has been given. Here's the rub, if a particular publisher has a style of titles (for instance a feminist or grimdark slant) then if you're not communicating what they'd like to attach their name to, my dears, the onus lies on you to revise so that you can communicate things clearly.

With my novel, I've got a pile of revisions awaiting me. I need to add two more points of view, reframe imagery that is not aligned with the publisher's ethos, and debug a magical system. It's going to require work. I'll be printing out this puppy, going at it with coloured markers and Post-it notes, and basically gutting it.

Will it be a better novel? Almost certainly. The old draft is still there. I can always go back to it if I'm not happy with the work that's been done. That's something I've told myself a gazillion times. I've never gone back to earlier drafts. But it's nice to have the safety blanket there.

So, you'll probably hear a lot from me in coming months about my revisions process. Stay tuned...

I've just finished writing a chapter for a book about Afrofuturism. It's an exciting opportunity where I could talk about these elements in my own writing. I am still waiting to hear from the editor if she thinks that I've done good. If not, no harm done. That's just how the industry is. I've had situations where my work wasn't a right fit. I've picked myself up, dusted myself off, and soldiered on. That's all we can do.

Other than that, I'm writing the last scenes for a YA magical academy novel that my agent wants by the end of August. So you'll excuse me if I'm not very chatty online. My other work has also kicked into high gear, so there's that to contend with, too.

And The Splintered Fool five-book series Toby Bennett and I wrote is chugging along nicely. I have cover art for book 1, The Serpent's Quest, which I'm currently laying out. I can't say more than this right now.


We don't get out and about much, but the husband creature and I took our fur-torpedo, Maia (a Malinois) with us when we went up the Garden Route to visit family. It was a bit of a whirlwind visit, but we're always on the lookout for pet-friendly spots. We overnighted in Sedgefield, at the Swartvlei Equestrian Estate, which is a lovely out-of-the-way spot on the knees of the Outeniqua mountains. We didn't stay long, but there are forest walks. Our cottage was super comfy, and the free Wi-Fi was a bonus. The kitchenette was a bit bare but if we'd stayed longer we most likely would have made use of the communal self-catering kitchen area. We also did a drive-by through Barrydale on the R62 and stopped by Diesel and Creme for coffee. Maia really wanted Thomas's milkshake.

Now Novel group coaching is an excellent way to gain the kind of constructive criticism you need to improve your writing, with weekly critiques from yours truly as well as other programme participants. Sign up here with promo code NERINE. 

It's nose down, fingers to the keyboard for the present. Do reach out to me and let me know if there are any writerly-related topics you'd like me to cover. Email me at