6 Amazing Novels You May Have Overlooked

The world of literature is booming with countless treasures waiting to be discovered; texts created to suspend our imaginations, play with our emotions and make us see the world in a different way. We all know about the books we should read. The Lord of the Flies. Animal Farm. Of Mice and Men. Jane Eyre. To Kill a Mockingbird. These are the texts that our school teachers told us to study – with good reason, of course. Although I agree that everybody should read these at some stage, there’s a fundamental issue with selecting such classic pieces early on. It puts restrictions on your reading material.

 

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It encourages you to seek out the best of the best, most of which you could likely find on lists posted by sites like goodreads [1] and The Telegraph. [2] But the truth is that the best of the best won’t necessarily be on these lists. In fact, if you weren’t aware that these backstage authors existed, you might never come across their work. You would have to go out of your way to find them.

So, while I could go on about the obvious texts, I would instead like to draw attention to the novels that I feel don’t get the credit they deserve. You may vaguely recognise a couple of these novels or their writers. Others are likely to be completely unknown to you. Regardless, if you’re on the lookout for an exciting new read, you should definitely consider these following options.

 

The Death of Grass (1956) by John Christopher

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In this post-apocalyptic novel, author John Christopher imagines a world gripped by widespread famine. When a new virus sweeps across East Asia, in turn infecting the region’s rice crops, the people of the UK fear that a deadly mutation could spread throughout Europe and threaten its essential agriculture. Protagonist John Custance remains hopeful that a cure promised by their government will soon arrive. But once it’s revealed that the cure has been a lie all along, the eradication of all types of grass (including wheat and barley) becomes imminent. With the aid of his friend, Roger, John leaves his London home behind and attempts to navigate his family through the English countryside to the safety of his brother’s potato farm. To reach this hidden valley, however, they need to journey through a land which is rapidly descending into chaos. Exploring the subjects of humanity and desperation, The Death Of Grass is a gripping read from start to finish.

 

Kindred (1979) by Octavia E. Butler

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Historical pieces that focus on the horrors of pre-twentieth century slavery seem to be all the rage right now. But this wonderful work of science-fiction by Octavia E. Butler gives readers a new spin on this dark subject matter. Kindred tells the story of Dana Franklin, an African-American who is unwillingly transported back in time to antebellum Maryland during the height of the slave trade. There, she is forced to save the life of her white, slave owner ancestor on numerous occasions just so she can continue to exist in the present. Continually jumping back and forth between these two heavily contrasting eras, Dana comes face to face with life as a slave – and must often make horrific, questionable decisions just to survive. Bursting with unsettling imagery and a captivating plot, Kindred succeeds with intriguing audiences while effectively portraying a deplorable part of our history.

 

Enduring Love (1997) by Ian McEwan

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Ian McEwan has written his fair share of great stories over the years. This one, however – despite being one of my favourites by the author – hasn’t received the positive reception it should have warranted. Enduring Love opens with a romantic picnic between Joe Rose and his girlfriend Clarissa, whom has recently returned from the states. Everything seems as it should be, until disaster comes crashing into their lives. Upon witnessing and attempting to aid in a hot-air balloon accident, Joe believes he’s part to blame for the deathly tragedy that resulted. But soon enough, this turns out to be the least of his worries. After the accident, fellow survivor Jed Parry seems to develop an unsettling obsession with Joe; an obsession that proceeds to spiral out of control and threaten not only Joe and Clarissa’s long-term relationship, but also their lives. A drama that reads like a thriller, McEwan’s powerful work delivers a vivid and thought-provoking narrative that’s never short of suspense.

 

I Am Legend (1954) by Richard Matheson

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You may well have seen the big-screen version of I Am Legend starring Will Smith. Although, what you may not be aware of is that it was originally a novel written by Richard Matheson. The two, however, are radically different. This has prompted an ongoing polarisation of viewers/readers as to which is better; but in my opinion, the novel is by far the best. Like the film version, the story is centred on Robert Neville, who believes himself to be the last man on Earth. Following a pandemic that has left the remaining human race in a vampirical state, Robert battles nightly terrors, loneliness and depression in the hopes of one day understanding and discovering a cure for the disease. While the movie version explores the famous horror trope on a basic level, Matheson’s novel is much more than a mere vampire tale. It’s an attempt to ground the myth of vampires with scientific reason, while tackling difficult topics and ideas that you’d never find in Will Smith’s Hollywood flick. Whatever your preference, this book is a triumphant sci-fi classic.

 

Sheepshagger (2001) by Niall Griffiths

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If you’re a fan of Irvine Welsh’s ground breaking text Trainspotting, my guess is that you’ll come to love Niall Griffiths’ Sheepshagger. Set in the moorland mountains of west Wales, the story follows Ianto – an estranged, uneducated teen who gets his late grandmother’s home unrightfully taken from him by English holidaymakers. Throughout the grim narrative, Ianto’s friendship group attempt to fathom the mind of their companion and determine both the causes and motives that ultimately lead him to commit a series of savage crimes. Griffiths handles the mystery of Ianto with masterful storytelling that will leave you itching to read on. While it’s far from an easy read, Sheepshagger is a profound and lucid experience that tackles themes of colonialism, tragedy, friendship and morality. Yet be warned; it features plenty of swearing.

 

The Children of Men (1992) by P. D. James

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My final overlooked novel – another brilliant post-apocalyptic creation – is The Children of Men. Much like the 2006 film adaptation of the same name, P.D. James introduces us to a dystopian world that’s ripping itself apart thanks to universal infertility. The crying of a new-born child has not been heard for the last eighteen years, meaning science has failed, arts and democracy have been abandoned, and the future seems bleak at best. Apathetic historian Theo Faron spends his days reminiscing alone and showing little concern for the fate of mankind; that is at least until Julian, a young freedom fighter, comes seeking his help. Suddenly, Theo – a man whom has often neglected responsibility – is given a task that could not only change his own life, but the lives of everyone on Earth. While the book’s pace starts off slow, I assure you it’s well worth sticking until the end. This is a thrilling read which raises philosophical questions about our society and what it means to live and to love.

 

Sources

[1] https://www.goodreads.com/shelf/show/100-books-to-read-before-you-die

[2] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/books/what-to-read/100-novels-everyone-should-read/

 

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The Happy Homeless Man

This time last year I was living in a shared house in Uxbridge, Middlesex. Every time I needed to commute to work, I would have to walk for thirty minutes to reach the nearest tube station – which required taking a pedestrian tunnel to cross one of the main roads. It was in this passageway that I encountered a peculiar homeless man every day. He was Indian (or of Indian complexion), had a thick, greying beard, was easily in his sixties, and I would always find him on a stained mattress coupled with its own duvet. How he had acquired these items was a mystery to me.

Sometimes he would be asleep when I passed him; other times he would be awake. Whenever he was awake, however, he would be sprawled out in a casual position (or pose, if you like) on the mattress – occasionally smoking a cigarette. Yet, not one of these characteristics were his most intriguing. What defined the old beggar above all was how friendly and modest he was as a person. Every time he saw me, he would recognise me and extend a silent, earnest greeting. ‘How are you today, sir?’ his face seemed to ask.

To begin with, I would simply smile awkwardly and continue onto the tube station. However, as the weeks passed, I started to develop an admiration for this elderly man. In spite of his situation, he always had a pleasant demeanour and never directly asked for money. The plastic cup was there waiting to be filled, yet not once did he plead or gesture towards it. He was unlike any other homeless person I’d ever encountered.

So, whenever I came home from work, I did whatever I could to make sure I had something to give him. I attempted to average two pounds a week, but when I didn’t have the change spare, I would ensure I always had something I could give him. A piece of fruit from my lunch would have sufficed in this situation.  I got dubious at times, thinking that once I was gone he would sneak off with the money I gave him and buy another pack of cigarettes. Although, after a while I thought, ‘You know what, mate – go ahead. You deserve it.’ It eventually got to the stage where I would hope and even look forward to seeing him on my daily commute. Even though we rarely spoke in conversation, he had made such a positive influence on my daily life.

Then, one day, he was gone. Him and every trace of his existence vanished. He never returned to that spot in the underground passageway and since moving to East London, I haven’t seen him since. I never even knew his name. I don’t know to this day what happened to that happy homeless man. Perhaps the police picked him up and moved him elsewhere; or maybe one of the homeless charities found him and have helped him to get his life back on track. I doubt he will ever read this, but wherever he is now, I can only wish him the best.

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That was one of my more positive encounters with homelessness. But here’s where it doesn’t get so warm and fuzzy. Depending on where you live, homelessness is something we witness every day of the week. Yet, while it results in an estimated 4,134 people sleeping rough on any one night in England [1], we as a nation are reluctant to do anything about it. That, or we simply choose to ignore it. According to Homeless Link, there has been an increase of 16% in rough sleeping in the UK since 2015 alone. If you think that’s bad, you’ll be disgusted to find out that homelessness has risen by a monolithic 134% since 2010 [2].

Isn’t it convenient that our government doesn’t have the resources to provide the increasing homeless population with the help they desperately need, but have plenty of cash handy (£396 million to be exact) to renovate Queen Elizabeth’s palace? [3] £396 million! Just think of what that money could do; how many homeless people could be brought off the street and given the proper care. But no. While our capital’s oversized monuments undergo “essential” restoration, other areas in dire need of funding are mercilessly cut off. As a result, the hard work is left in the hands of charities like Crisis, Emmaus and Shelter. Although these agencies do whatever they can to bring rough sleepers in from the cold, they simply cannot provide for the entirety of the homeless population – meaning vast numbers are left to fend for themselves.

I think Johnathon Pie articulates the situation effectively: ‘It’s a societal failure, homelessness. […] It’s people that are hungry, begging and sleeping on the streets. And yet we’re encouraged to see homeless people as if they’ve somehow failed themselves; as if it’s their fault; they haven’t worked hard enough. […] A society doesn’t work if one person is living rough. It’s morally bankrupt if this is normal, and on the increase, and getting worse. […] Every day I walk past people who are cold and hungry and ill and homeless, and I don’t stop and give them everything I have. Shame on me.’ [4]

Homelessness is a horrid situation, and one that’s not going to rectify itself any time soon. When it comes to human nature, kindness should be a given. On the other hand, when anything that is supposed to fundamentally help people is being cut from government funding, it’s difficult to find room in our busy lives for selfless acts. Yet without us, the homeless community is alone. They have nowhere else to turn but to the common man. Now, I understand that everybody has commitments in their own lives that cannot be ignored. I recognise that all citizens can’t just be expected to spend night after night at the nearest soup kitchen to help solve this issue, but there are ways that you can help these people without going too far out your way.

For instance, instead of throwing out any non-fitting or unwanted clothing, donate it. If they would have otherwise gone to the recycling centre, then you may as well give them to a worthy cause. Another way of helping the homeless – according to The Telegraph – is by alerting professional authorities like Streetlink to any sightings. [5] By doing this, you’ll be helping to connect the right people with those in need. One of the most direct and conventional ways of helping the homeless, however, is by giving money. Whether you’re donating it to a shelter or giving it straight to the victim, you’ll be making life a little easier for someone worse off than yourself.

Of course, there’s always the argument that we shouldn’t give homeless people money because it will only enable the addictions they have. Well firstly, just because they’re living rough doesn’t mean they are addicted to anything – or that they’ll use your money to fuel their next drug fix. But if this is such a deep concern for you, then why not simply cut out the middle man. Go into the shop, grab a sandwich or a cup of tea and give that to them instead. That way, you’ve taken any possible temptation out of the equation.

Half the time, we don’t give money to the homeless because we simply don’t have spare change on us at the time. This is fair enough, as I have also experienced this on numerus occasions. Having said that, the number of times I’ve been short of cash in a store that doesn’t accept credit or debit cards is embarrassing. If you too go through this headache, then kill two birds with one stone. From now on, every time you walk past the cash point with an empty wallet, just draw out a tenner. Then, if the shop you visit doesn’t accept credit card, you’re covered. And at the same time, if you pass a homeless person on the way back, you’ll have something to spare.

I’m not saying this will solve the problem. But by donating whatever coins you have on you, you can walk on knowing that you’ve made that person’s day a little bit brighter. Because considering how horrid their days can get, a bit of brightness can make all the difference. We’re all guilty of walking by the homeless without lending a helping hand. Don’t feel guilty, though. It’s not what you’ve failed to do that matters now; it’s how you choose to act from now on.

Sources

[1]https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/585713/Rough_Sleeping_Autumn_2016_Statistical_Release.pdf

[2] http://www.homeless.org.uk/facts/homelessness-in-numbers/rough-sleeping/rough-sleeping-our-analysis

[3] https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/nov/18/buckingham-palace-to-undergo-370m-refurbishment

[4] http://educateinspirechange.org/alternative-news/journalists-rant-homelessness-christmas-amazing/

[5] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/11620159/Whats-the-best-way-to-help-the-homeless.html

4 Ways To Create Your Perfect Writing Environment

There are a number of factors that come into play when one undertakes writing. Anybody that has ever struggled to craft an essay or creative piece will know this. Writing is not something where you can just fire up the laptop and get on with it. It requires a particular mindset – and there are so many things that can deter that mindset. Deadlines. Hunger. Tiredness. Lack of motivation or inspiration. Loud sounds or unfinished jobs. I could easily go on.

 

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Sure, these things can affect any type of work you do. But writing is different from most other endeavours because if just one of these factors are present in a writer’s consciousness at the time of execution, the overall quality of the final text can be jeopardised. Suddenly, what could have been a literary masterpiece could just as easily end up as a sodden, unfathomable mess. I speak from experience. But there is something you can do about this. No matter what else is going on in your life, you can always take necessary steps to ensure that one core feature is fit for purpose: your writing environment. It probably goes without saying, but if you want your work to be the best that it could be, the space in which you carry out your writing must be without fault.

Some writers can work more effectively under imperfect conditions than others; yet regardless of one’s personal levels of tolerance, everybody has their own vision of what the ideal writing environment consists of. And I’m guessing that in all those visions, a screaming baby (for instance) is nowhere to be seen. With this in mind, what does need to craft the best possible environment for writing? Below, I have outlined some suggestions on how to accomplish this. I strongly believe that if you can put these elements into practice during your next writing session, you’ll succeed in shaping your perfect work space.

 

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1) Detach yourself from the outside world

I mean this in the most figurative sense; but at the same time, there’s also no harm in taking it literally. Especially when writing is involved. The truth of the matter is that the world is full of unwelcome distractions. When your writing duties call – unless you lock yourself in an empty room – it’s near impossible to physically remove yourself from all external irritations. So, what’s the solution? Shield yourself from distractions by creating your own invisible bubble. If you can find a way to drown out everything around you so that you’re focused solely on your writing, you can accomplish much more in a shorter space of time. I achieve this through the use of music. Whether I’m in a café, on the train from work or just at home, simply by popping in some earphones and listening to an album, I can effectively ignore the rest of the world. This technique doesn’t work for everyone, however – as for some of us, music itself can be a severe distraction. In this case, a basic pair of ear plugs would suffice. As long as you can remove fellow commuters from the equation, your bubble will remain intact.

 

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2) Surround yourself with potential inspiration

Mood rooms are a weird concept on paper, but at its core lies an authentic way to aid your writing. Horror icon, Stephen King tells us that ‘good story ideas seem to come quite literally from nowhere, sailing at you right out of the empty sky.’ [1] When it comes to writing, it’s the most random of objects that can spark your creativity. So, while you may not have dedicated inspiration room at your disposal, you can still fill your immediate environment with items to help you generate ideas. If you own an intriguing object – or an image, a quote, anything loosely related to what you’re writing about – then bring it along to your workspace. You never know what it could bring to life.

 

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3) Place temptation out of reach

If you know of anything that might hinder your writing progression, deal with it before you sit down. Put it out of sight and out of mind. This goes for everything from that last slice of carrot cake on the kitchen side to your attention-seeking housecat outside the door. Having said this, there’s one specific culprit you need to put to rest before everything else; something that can be both essential and deadly to a writer. The internet. For research purposes, it’s one of the best resources known to humanity. But as soon as your research is complete – and all that’s left to do is write the damn thing – the internet becomes your nemesis. These days, you can access the web through your PC, smartphone, tablet, watch, games console. And the digital world is full of temptations waiting to tear you away from your writing and turn you into a procrastination addict. Consequently, there’s only one thing you can do to prevent this. Turn it off. Don’t just close all your apps or put your phone in your pocket. If it won’t inconvenience anyone else, go to your router, press the power button and refuse to press it again until you’ve written everything you planned to write that day. As extreme as it sounds, it’s for the best. When you come to re-read your work and realise it’s not actually complete nonsense, you’ll be glad you practised this restraint.

 

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4) Make sure you’re comfortable

Now before you jump to conclusions, this doesn’t mean climbing into bed, wrapping yourself in your duvet and remaining there all afternoon. It turns out there is such a thing as being too comfortable. Ideally, you should attempt to find a happy medium; a position which won’t result in aching limbs, but also won’t prompt you to stay put for too long. I’ve been able to carry out my writing in less than welcome circumstances in the past, yet I find I always produce my best work when I sit down and think, “You know what. I could get used to this.” However, your bodily comfort is just half the story. You should also make sure your brain is equally comfortable. If you take a break from your work every other minute, you won’t get much actual writing done. This is obvious. Yet staring at the computer screen or writing pad for hours on end isn’t going to aid your performance either. Therefore, when you reach a pivotal stage in your piece, don’t feel bad about taking a step back and having a five-minute breather. This could mean a quick toilet break, boiling the kettle, simply stretching your legs – whatever suits you best. But once those five minutes are up, get straight back to writing. The longer your break, the harder it will be to return to your desk.

That’s all there is to it. If you can apply this advice into your writing routine, you may just find that the next collection of words you create is better than anything that has come before it. This is no guarantee, of course. Only you have the power to transform that blank Word document on your screen into a flawless work of literature. These four steps, however, may just help you on your way. Good luck.

 

Sources

[1] King, Stephen (2000) On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, London: Hodder & Stoughton, pp. 29