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About Rafael Shareef

Rafael Shareef has been a member since November 17th 2011, and has created 3 posts from scratch.

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Book Review: Tiny Sunbirds Far Away (Christie Watson)

THE BOOK CENTRES ON THE YOUNG NARRATOR, Blessing, in Nigeria, against a backdrop of political violence caused by the actions of oil companies in the Niger Delta. Blessing lives with her parents and brother, Ezikiel, in Lagos in a cocoon of luxury and comfort. However, soon her father’s abandonment of the family for another woman forces her mother to go to her parents’ home in the Delta, with Blessing and Ezikiel, where conditions are raw and squalid. In the neighbourhood gangs of violent boys prey on anyone they don’t like. The local police are portrayed as a corrupt mafia demanding bribes at every juncture. Inter-ethnic conflict is endemic.

We are never quite sure whether Blessing’s grandfather, the head of household, is the qualified petroleum engineer he claims to be, unjustly excluded by overpaid ex-pats, or a fantasist. It is the grandmother, a much-respected midwife, who keeps the family together. She gradually initiates Blessing into the mysteries of her profession.

Blessing’s brother, Ezikiel, is the other major character in the story. He is angry about his mother’s taking up with Westerners and joins the gang. In the course of trying to blow up a pipeline, he suffers horrifying burns, which lead to his death. The Oedipal and political struggle with his mother shatters her and she decides to wed a Western admirer, Dan. The wedding becomes the tragic centre of the plot when a gang of youths abduct Dan in mid-wedding.

It is at this point that I began to feel that the plot comes unstuck as the strands of a powerful tragedy unwind into sentimentality and political propaganda. There’s an inexplicable naked demonstration by the neighbourhood women, which shames the gang into releasing Dan, who reappears as a Deus ex Machina and whisks Blessing’s mother off to a new life in England. Blessing, however, declines the change and chooses to stay with her grandmother in the Delta.

Another fascinating character is the second wife of the grandfather, Celestine. With her obsessions about lycra and her almost peripheral status in the household, Celestine provides some humour and also engages the reader’s sympathy.

One of the most unforgettable aspects of the novel is the graphic description of the deliveries of genitally mutilated women. Towards the end of the book Watson clearly invites the reader to join the political causes of female mutilation and destruction of the Delta by the petroleum companies. Although these are noble gestures one cannot help feeling that this somehow takes away the power of the story. Again, the return of Blessing’s mother with Dan about ten years later seems a rather feeble ending.

As a white woman writing about Africa Christie Watson’s novel could be compared to that of Lessing’s The Grass is Singing. Watson’s evocation of life in the Delta is strong and memorable. However, the politicization of the issues she addresses diminishes the story. Besides, Lessing is a master in engaging the reader’s sympathy without overt propaganda.

This book was a part of my effort to try more contemporary fiction and I’m glad that I read it.

– Golden Langur

‘Final Draft’ Essential Software – Reviews

‘FINAL DRAFT – THE INDUSTRY STANDARD FOR SCRIPTWRITING’ is described as ‘essential software’ by Michéal Jacob (formerly the BBC’s creative head of mainstream comedy and executive producer of sitcoms My Family, Two Pints of Lager and a Packet Of Crisps, and The Smoking Room.)

As this is the case, I was wondering if a scriptwriter out there who was lucky enough to own Final Draft might like to write a review of it for us?

Final Draft - The Industry Standard for Scriptwriting

Final Draft - "Essential Software" - Micheal Jacob

I’m sorry but there would be no payment for said review – except for the prestige of having one published on WRITERSDOCK, with your byline intact of course!

We look forward to hearing from you.

Carry On Loving Shakespeare

RECENTLY I HAVE NOTICED SEVERAL TRAILERS ON THE TELEVISION for a series of programmes entitled Shakespeare Unlocked. This raised two questions in my mind:

• Why does Shakespeare need to be unlocked?
• Why do I, personally, have such a love for the writings of Shakespeare?

To take the questions in the order that they are posited, I suspect that the answer to the first lies in two of the most common comments that I hear when people are discussing his plays, which go as follows:

• They can’t possibly have any relevance or interest for me; they’re written in such old-fashioned language that they obviously only applied to the times when he was alive.
• He writes all his words in funny orders instead of just coming straight out with it and saying what he means.

Whether I agree with either or both of these statements is not the point at issue here. I hear them expressed often enough to know that they are true and relevant to a significant number of people, and they form a barrier to the desire to listen to what he has to say: therefore his writings do need to be unlocked for a large number of people.

One potential answer to the first question, then, lies in my answer to the second, which is not:

‘Because I am a middle-aged (being kind) literary fuddy-duddy.’

The descriptive part of that sentence may well have a foundation in truth but the first word makes the sentence as a whole, as an answer to the question posed. That is not how I come to have such a deep-rooted love of the Bard’s works.

When I was a lad of about eight or nine years old, around about the time that Tyrannosaurus Rex became extinct, newsagents’ shelves were stocked with large numbers of adventure comics for boys, which no longer seem anywhere as near so prolific. Among these was one called The Ranger. It was a weekly publication that offered complete short stories and serials in comic strip format. I remember buying it every week and reading it from cover to cover, but I can only remember one story from it in detail. The title of that story was Macbeth. As a cartoon strip it was presented in a format that boys of my age were familiar with, and some of the language was paraphrased to maintain a narrative flow whilst key speeches retained the original voice. Reading Shakespeare in that way, without the title being changed – as in the Romeo and Juliet/West Side Story scenario – not only brought the play to life for me but also led me straight back to the original with a clear understanding of what was going on, which I could then apply to the other plays and interpret them similarly as I read.

Boys Own style adventure comics may be a thing of the past but Shakespeare’s plays don’t need to be. With each new generation there is a treasure trove of literary brilliance readily available and waiting to be rediscovered, just needing an appropriate outlet and a communicator smart enough to see it. Sadly, programmes on Radio 4 and the more esoteric TV channels, however well-intentioned, are more likely to cater for the interests of those already in love with the Bard than those who have yet to discover his talents. Any smart communicators out there?

– David A. Troman

Book Review: Searoad – Chronicles of Klatsand (Ursula Le Guin)

KLATSAND, FORMERLY FISH CREEK, IN OREGON is a tiny settlement that grows over four generations to become an off-the-beaten-track and less than fashionable coastal resort town. It lies on the Pacific coast of Oregon and is only separated from that mighty body of water by the Searoad of the title. In one poem, ten short stories and one longer assemblage of diary entries from the ladies of three generations of one local family, and occasional interjections from a fourth generation, we are introduced to a variety of residents and passing personnel who interact with their surroundings. In sharing the lives of these people we are enabled to see some of the pivotal events of the twentieth century on those whose lives are lived outside of the mainstream of American Society.

There are two factors, for me, that make this a hugely enjoyable but quite difficult book to read. Firstly, the language is so beautiful in its own right that it is very difficult to concentrate on the content of the stories rather than the words themselves. This is one book that should definitely be read, and loved, as a paper copy rather than an electronic one. Every word carries the feeling that it has been deliberated over at length, and chosen then placed with surgical precision. The language of all the stories and diary entries verges on the poetic and flows with the same effortless motion as the Pacific Ocean, which borders one side of the Searoad.

The second factor is the time sequencing of the narratives. Following on from the introductory poem, there are ten short stories that form what may be considered as part one of the book. They each focus on the occupants of one of the establishments in the settlement of Klatsand, and each fits into its own era, but the sequence is not a linear time-line. All these stories were originally published as stand-alone shorts in a variety of American journalistic publications, which means that each is a totally self-contained unit in one sense, but when they are all put together, as they are here, then the connections begin to emerge.

The final story is titled simply Hernes, and is written in the style of diary entries from four ladies of Klatsand. This is not recorded as having been published separately anywhere else, which gives rise to the feeling that it was written to tie together the earlier shorts into a more cohesive narrative.

Fanny Crane Shawe Ozer is the matriarch of the Herne family, although her daughter Jane Shawe Herne is the first to bear the name of the title. Like her mother, she was postmistress of Klatsand for a while and thus deeply interwoven into many of the Klatsand residents’ lives. Lily Frances and Virginia continue the line, with each one being very much a woman of her time without ever becoming a stereotype.

In overall summary, this is a story of American life and times in a part of America that got marooned in the mid-twentieth century, epitomising the good and the bad that go with that time and place. It is an enjoyable, entertaining and enlightening read, which shows a different side of Le Guin’s writing when compared to her, arguably more well-known, fantasy works such as the Earthsea Quartet.

– David A. Troman

Can’t Afford An Editor? Here’s One For Free!

IF YOU ARE SHORT OF AN EDITOR (OR OVERBLOWN PROOFREADER) all to yourself, you should read on.

So, I was thinking: what do I have to say that would add value to a bunch of writers’ lives?

I’m still thinking about it, but in the meantime take a look at the following FANTASTIC tool.

It’s a free manuscript and book editing software that you access online or ‘in the cloud’, if you like. And you don’t even need to sign up.

I’ve used it. It’s brilliant. Simples.

Just to help you to get started with it quickly, click the link to the site and scroll down to – and click – the button labelled ‘Use it Now’. (You can’t miss it.)

Copy and paste your writing into the box and click ‘Analyse’. It will then give you a report on:

  • Overused words
  • Cliches and Redundancies
  • Sentence Length Variation
  • Diction Report
  • Vague & Abstract Words
  • Complex Words
  • Sticky Sentences
  • Alliteration Analysis
  • Consistency such as, but not limited to, spelling, hyphenation and capitalisation

Furthermore, if you look at and click some of the links in the column to the left of of the report, it will give you more information about each of the above.

Just get in there and check it out. It needs two hundred words to get started; it’ll protest if you paste in less . . .


Erm . . . P. S.

Apparently in the above text I have:

  • 4 overused words
  • 1 cliche
  • 1 long sentence
  • An average sentence length of 6.9 words
  • 6 diction issues
  • 8 vague and abstract words
  • 1 seven syllable complex word
  • 4 five syllable complex words
  • 4 four syllable complex words
  • 8 sticky sentences
  • 6 word alliterations
  • 1 spelling mistake and
  • 2 capitalisation consistency issues . . .

Click here:

– Stephen Gritton