Review: The Exploding Boy and other tiny tales, Nick Parker

Because the mainstream print world currently won’t provide oxygen for a format like this – flash fiction – we have to be thankful to self-publishing platforms for delivering this to us.

I’ll admit that my reason for buying a digital copy was just to quickly and cheaply see what a non-own self-published title looks like for my own benefit, but I’m not reviewing this just to give kudos to another writer, but because I actually love this collection.

If you’re someone who’s strapped for time or just doesn’t like reading long works, or just wants to step away from phone book volumes for a little while, I’d definitely advise giving this a go. In paperback form it’s a svelte 107 pages.

Why was I first attracted to this book? Other than having my ‘comrade indie author’ radar on, I spotted an enticing Guardian review about it, and though I didn’t purchase it straight away, that title and Faber & Faberesque cover stuck in my mind – which just goes to show that you should never skimp on any one element to tempt a reader.

How would I describe what’s in here? Bizarre – but the good sort. A lot of the stories don’t really have plots, they don’t have characters that develop and they don’t go very far (on the Kindle some tales turn out at just half a default page), but they are charming and can make you smile. They’re well-written almost-still-lifes which as a whole work like a collection of disconnected fever dreams.

It’s obvious why publishers wouldn’t like it as flash fiction collections are not something we see on bookshelves, their thin spines won’t stand out in the high street, and you can’t justify the cost of that little paper printed if it doesn’t sell well; but it’s criminal that that’s the environment we have.

The strongest audience for this, in my view, are commuters and bog readers. These tales will pass the time between bus/train stops (making avoiding eye contact even easier), and the moment before you flush and go. Because many of the tales, for instance, on a mobile phone would fit on one or just a few screen flicks, that is probably the ideal device for it.

As I write, I only have a few more tales left to read. I could’ve zipped through it faster, but like a bar of an exquisite chocolate it’s better to have a couple of nibbles at a time. My favourite tale, which is the longest, is The Boyle Curriculum; without giving much away, you really want to know what sort of a person Boyle is, and you really wish you could be back in the authentic primary school classroom that examines him.

We probably won’t see this nominated for a Booker Prize, but certainly, it’s made me a fan, and I hope we can expect another volume in future.

Visit Nick’s site for more info and links to where you can purchase the Kindle and paperback editions.


Coming soon… + Thumbs up: ‘Bad Science’ by Ben Goldacre

During January I cut right down on unimportant activities to finish off editing my vitamin D book, and, I’ve done it. Two years and one month exactly. However, you won’t find it anywhere yet as I’ve yet to create its artwork, compile it into an ebook (I don’t think you’ll see a physical version until a few more months, but I don’t think many will mind this – lots of people surely got ereaders or tablets for Xmas), and give it a final quality-assurance read. In general, the bulk of it is over and it’s just the somewhat more fun manufacturing part now. Because this is a book with references and an index (yet to be generated), it’ll take a bit more effort than making a fiction one. Jutoh will guide me through this process from tomorrow.

Anyone expecting a huge book will be disappointed. It is virtually average non-fiction length (I suspect about 300 Kindle pages) but as potent as a juice-packed orange. Most layman books on the subject are slender (I had the chance to see a popular selection of them at conferences last year) and the more scientific ones are full of details that don’t matter to you as a person. My book, like most self-help books, answers three questions: What? Why? How? That’s all you need to know. Quality not quantity. The time I took was needed to wait for data, get my facts right (as much as possible) and think about the narrative. And I’m also somewhat neurotic.
A lot of vitamin D books talk solely about the health side, but I also discuss the very interesting socio-political effects of the problem, which scaffolds the subject very nicely. Anyway, that’s all I’m going to say about it now. You’ll get to read it quite soon, for a cost that won’t burn your pocket.

If you haven’t signed up to the mailing list, please do so now as I’m not going to promote this book much further on this blog. The only reason this post hasn’t appeared on my mailing list is because I don’t want to bore most subscribers with ‘yeah, it’s coming’. Again.

As I began drawing this project to a close I also picked up a digital copy of Dr. Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science. At various times over the years I’ll admit that in looking into vitamin D my paranoia over some aspects of the medical world grew, and I was hoping that the highly-respected Goldacre would pop some of my beliefs, but surprisingly he seemed to confirm the majority of them. I do have some disagreements with his viewpoints (one of which is very large indeed – if I were to debate about it with him I could hold my argument very well into a deadlock at minimum; and no, I don’t believe in homoeopathy past the placebo effect), but as a whole Goldacre is a very sharp, clever, writer who details that profit-driven malice and incompetence are rife. I’d recommend this to anyone who wants to learn about how you should properly read medical papers and how you should be wary of certain media reporting, not to mention people that want to sell you a dubious pill for everything. His next book in August will be called The Drug Pushers and will probably go for the jugular of what we call Big Pharma; I look forward to that.
Though Bad Science only alluded to it with a sarcastic short paragraph, I get the feeling that Goldacre doesn’t think much of the cholesterol hypothesis of heart disease either.
It’s an entertaining read and should kit you up from many bold claims we can all fall into.

This year I hope to blog a bit more regularly, but remember, when you look at the reverse of many of my promises, they have no real cash value; that’s my only consistency.