Posts Tagged ‘scotland’

One of the stipulations for any story is that it must be self sustaining, keeping the reader engrossed enough to travel to the end with a feeling of satisfaction of having been on a journey worth taking . The short story, if written well, is one often overlooked medium which satisfies this rule.

Ryan O’Neill, a Scottish writer now living in Australia, proves this repeatedly in his short story collection “The Weight Of A Human Heart”. This book is a treasure-house of journeys that he deftly steers us through with all the wisdom and vision of a seasoned traveller.

Superficially these journeys are literal, taking us to Australia, China, Rwanda, Lithuania and Scotland, providing us with a breadth of landscapes on which Ryan carves his characters and delivers haunting narrative. This merely reflects his own world experience, sharing it with not a hint of self satisfaction or showboating: he shows us a glaring, unaltered view of scattered continents, their inhabitants and invaders.

Ryan also steers us through the mechanics of storytelling. In some pieces, we enter the familiar territory of traditional narrative outlay, such as in “The Saved”, a story of injustice through unfettered bigotry painted expertly on a Rwandan backdrop of verdant hills, shimmering lakes and unrepentant sinners. The intimate and rich nature of these tales prove that Ryan is at home in the company of other short story writers such as Margaret Atwood, Kurt Vonnegut and Graham Greene.

In other outings, Ryan sends us to uncharted lands. He bends, or rather reinvents, the rules of narrative structure. In “Figures in A Marriage”, he graphically demonstrates the disintegration of the relationship between a husband and wife using Venn diagrams, flowcharts and doodles (among other devices). These visuals, far from distracting us from the plot, bring the destructive nature of the marriage into stark view by reducing it to cold categorisation and bare statistics.

This realism is further portrayed in “The Examination” where the 1994 Rwandan genocide is handed to us through an English test paper of a survivor. At this point the reader is no longer passive but employed as the boy’s invigilator and marker, mentally circling certain passages in blood-red ink. Never before has this horrific act of human savagery been so sensitively described by an outsider.

Alternatively, Ryan takes us inside his craft by dissecting the art of short story writing. “In Seventeen Rules For Writing A Short Story” he literally follows the stipulations outlined by other writers, deliberately creating a mish-mash of pulp fiction, demonstrating that creativity and originality cannot be governed by laws, even those pronounced by fellow writers.

However, at the centre of his collection are its wide range of characters, our travelling companions through these wonderful vignettes. Despite the all too brief moments that we spend with these people, Ryan manages to portray them so masterfully that they stay firmly with us. Even in the first paragraph of the first piece, “Collected Stories”, the huge chasm between a mother and daughter is firmly established, a chasm filled with the obsessive story writing of an isolated, chain-smoking widow. In “The Chinese Lesson” the true nature of the relationship between a teacher and student is revealed, recast and then revealed again, polarising our feelings towards them: wishing protection for one and perdition for the other.

“The Weight of A Human Heart” is a work of relentless brilliance with a heart of its own: deeper than the South China Sea, wider than the Australian outback and heavier than the salt tears cried by a world of characters in joy and sorrow.

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To hear my exclusive interview with Ryan, click —>here<—

The Chunt-Issue 03- June 2012 (Aussie Edition)

^^^Click up there to download your very own copy…

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As one who is old enough to experience life in the UK under Margaret Thatcher as well as her legacy in the following decades, I went to see The Iron Lady with the anticipation that it would shed some light on the woman so dominant in my formative years (after my Mother, Grandmother and female school teachers). I had heard charges that this film was too sympathetic to a woman who was perceived as an uncaring, insensitive monster by many, especially in Scotland, where the majority did not vote her into power. My views on her politics are as complex as this country’s system of government and I tried to leave those at the ticket booth before watching this film.

It opens with a frail, widowed Mrs Thatcher buying a pint of milk and paper at a grocer’s  shop,  harking back to her days on the other side of the counter at her father’s small business. Working in retrospect, Phyllida Lloyd walks us through Margaret’s life via jarring memories in a fug of senile disorientation. I would have preferred that these flashbacks were  few and far between as they were over-dramatic, oversimplified and seemed like Channel 5 were handed the directorial baton and told to churn out a limp, caricature-filled afternoon TV movie. Even Meryl Streep’s portrayal fell short during these snippets, failing to show the intensity of the Iron Lady’s stare and the cutting force of her authoritarian bearing. Streep is more powerful and moving as the rust-encrusted, elderly stateswoman suffering hallucinations- involving spritely and touching dialogue with Jim Broadbent as a mischievous Dennis Thatcher. There was no schadenfreude on my part in watching the demise of this once powerful woman. I would not wish this illness on anyone or their families. However, it was fascinating to see her being treated like a petulant child by her carers as well as being locked in by her Special Branch armed guards while she still occasionally demonstrated the stubborn fervour and stern philosophy that had propelled her into power.

This was not a fitting biopic for such an imposing presence in 20th Century world politics. It was bereft of the power, spirit and determination that Margaret Thatcher showed throughout her years in power. It failed to adequately show the heights of her megalomania as well as the extent that the country, then her party, poured scorn on her style of leadership.  At the end of the film, I felt I learned nothing that I had not experienced myself at the time of her governance. The best sections of the film showed the human mortality of a proud woman,demonstrating that no matter how powerful we are, we cannot lead ourselves away from our own decline. My opinion of Thatcher the politician had not changed nor had my sympathies towards her personality. If the film had as much power as the eponymous Lady, then maybe this would have had more impact on me.