Reviews

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from various quarters

All this section consists of is are reviews of some of the books included in this section of the site. I have also included an extract from reviews, of my contributions to TTH 39 and SCWI 4 and 7 because magazine publications are important to many of us.

There are reviews or extracts of reviews for the collection The Lake; a competition feature for this collection that appeared in Country Quest magazine; a collection of literary essays entitled Living Words; a single poem Michael Maine and the Demon of Youth; Nietzsche's Children, a collection of poetry; the speculative fiction collection Checkpoint; and my contributions to TTH 39 and Sons of Camus Writers International Journal issues 4 and 7.


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Jan Davies on The Lake, a collection of eighteen stories published in 2006

    To read THE LAKE is to hop across countries imaginary and real, dropping into locations as varied as a public school, a Romanian church, a Malayan bus and a London brothel. Immersed in local life stories swing in mood from sad to tragic, from humorous to hilarious.

    Water is always significant. The Lake's solace and beauty finally drown Peter and his pain. He has lost his wife to "pink monkey hands" but blames catching "his first perch" from the lake as his downfall. Water also engulfs Granddad's ashes in the next story but with the comic image of Jimbo, the dripping dog, holding the rescued pipe in his mouth. Surprisingly, the young narrator is sexually aroused by his enamelled-fingered, plump, brash aunt (but then he is a 12 year-old boy!)

    Love in Ladbroke Grove deals more credibly with lust. Free from his mother's clutches a man makes a journey "he had to do" to sample the mysteries of sex. He discovers it is not only forty-four year old virgins who are lured by lavender oil but young men with girlfriends.

    The narrator is often arrogant or smart to begin but as the result of events reaches an understanding of himself or his surroundings. The factory worker wishes Thind "had not looked at me like that" after the deception at the porridge factory. Mistaken identity teaches the young writer not to judge by appearances. The appreciation of a painting brings enlightenment at a gallery. And in Stamford Bridge the ten year-old's lies about his football knowledge results in his never attending another football match.

    Perhaps the strongest example is May Thirteen. The visitor, resentful and irritated at having missed the Moon Festival gradually shares the locals' fear that history will repeat itself. Tension mounts before relief. As fear changes Abdul in the shop, so it gives the visitor a new perspective. The events take place in the heavy atmosphere of a tropical night, drawing us in the mounting terror.

    In stark contrast, could The Queen, the Moon and the Sun be a satire on the Chinese dynasties and their Emperors? Probably not but we can imagine Blackadder's Elizabeth the First, complete with stick-on hairy wart, her consorts also having short career prospects with her refrain, "off with his head!" In the popular fairy tale the princess is quite content with one moon around her neck while another "grew" in the sky. This story spirals into an enjoyable farce.

    But Ray is at his best in the role of traveller. In Delta lessons are to be learned about sinister local life and customs.

    An unsettling incident, fuelled by greed, leaves the group deflated. Engine oil soils the river bank; a dirty end to a dirty incident. Equally unhappy is the clumsy attempt of an American to photograph a praying woman in Cozia. During a guided tour of a Romanian church this irreverent intrusion on the woman's dignity shows Vernon's lack of "insight into the country". Could this be a comment on all tour parties who flock through sacred buildings world wide?

    As a rule, science fiction leaves me cold, however hard I try to enjoy it. When we depart from planet Earth or communicate with aliens I am "spaced-out" in the lost sense. But I have it on good authority that Ray can "throw his imagination into a place where no-one has gone before..." and he has in this collection.

    Finally, a word on how Ray treats his children. In China Dogs little Ronnie "allows a little hope into his young breast" and in the final story "a solitary tear rolled down the pale cheek" of four-year-old Ricky. Surely not the way to portray our future delinquents! His treatment of the dog Jimbo is much fairer.

    Seriously, though, these stories are colourful, oozing atmosphere and have something for everyone; from thought-provoking incidents in foreign parts to strange tales with surprise endings. Filled with sharp observation, topped with a generous helping of humour, they make enjoyable reading.

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From a competition feature for The Lake, in Country Quest magazine, September 2006 issue

    Regular Country Quest contributor Raymond Humphreys has recently released The Lake, 18 short stories set all over the world, including Wales. According to the author, most of the stories have some sort of autobiographical element.

    "But I always edit or adapt actual events very considerably," he explains. "Porridge is the nearest to 'straight' autobiography, but the accident to Thind is pure invention. The stories written in the first person are not necessarily any more autobiographical than those written in the third person."

    Commenting on the mood of the book, he adds: "The stories are intended to have maximum variety. The title story is intended to be profoundly sad, but this mood isn't sustained throughout. Three of the others (Granddad; Queen; Zaryk) go for a disrespectful humour. Writer pokes more gentle fun at the scribblers you sometimes see in railway carriages. Humour is used in some of the more intense stories, like Ricky.

    The stories set in Malaysia and Romania are all written from a 'strangers in a strange land' angle and are meant to show that those strangers often misunderstand and sometimes upset the balance of the lands they visit. Rainforests, a speculative fiction story, is an 'escapee' from my SF collection Checkpoint. With a bit of luck this will be published later this year."

    Three of the stories are set in Wales, a country close to the author's heart. Six are set in London or partly in London, three in Romania, two in Malaysia, one on a distant planet, one in a kind of 'fairy land'.

    "In only two cases - the title story and Zaryk - is the location unspecified," Raymond continues.

    More information on the author is available on his website - www.benybont.co.uk

    The Lake is available from publishers KT Publications in the Kite Modern Writer Series, ISBN 0-907759-79-3. It can be ordered by post at a postage and packing inclusive price of 5.95 (8.95 overseas). Orders should quote the book reference KT130 and cheques made payable to KT Publications, 16, Fane Close, Stamford, Lincolnshire, PE9 1 HG.

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Polly Bird on Michael Maine and the Demon of Youth, a poem in Other Poetry

    With over 90 poets represented as well as 18 pages of reviews and brief biographical details of the contributors this is a brilliant buy. The poetry is of a very high standard but a few are worthy of special mention... Michael Maine and the Demon of Youth by Raymond Humphreys is a disturbing tale of youthful nastiness made even more frightening by the mantra Michael Maine (not his real name).'

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Robert Nisbet on Living Words, a collection of essays on literary subjects

    Literary biography can be on times be a parlous business. It is an unavoidable fact that it is usually written by scholars, professionals with reputations to make and therefore with a vested interest in saying something which will break new ground, will analyse in depth - will, if they are not careful, take some of the simple joy out of reading.

    Hence some of the pleasure I gained from reading Raymond Humphreys' book. It is the work of a man who freely admits to being a non-academic. In the strict sense of the word, he is an amateur (in other words, a lover of books and reading) and not a hard-nosed professional. And hence his book emanates a delightful sense of being a journey through literature's many paths and by-ways, in the company of a guide who is informed, well-read (extremely well-read, in fact) and who best of all finds a genuine delight in his reading - as well as having the capcity to communicate his enjoyment freshly.

    Living Words is published in Romania for the use of students working for the English Language baccalaureate. The first part consists of thirteen short critical commentarires on set texts, and in each of them Humphreys deftly and succintly takes on just one academic nail and hits it neatly on the head; the ironic voice in Huck Finn, the city as protagonist in Bleak House and many more.

    But the body of the book lies in the second half, its nineteen essays. They were originally written for Writers' Monthly and each one takes one dimension of the writing craft (war, the Welsh experience, the value of a sympathetic spouse, writing from experience, and so forth) and looks at three or more experiences in the history of literature.

    We learn, for example, of the literary and marital careers of Mrs. Gaskell, Katherine Mansfield, Edwin Muir and George Orwell. We learn of the sense of place, as it affected Jack London, J.G. Ballard, Wordsworth and Coleridge, Virginia Woolf and A.E. Houseman. It will be a very well-informed reader indeed who is not picking up little nuggets of information on almost every page.

    It is a long time since I read a book which afforded me such an easy wealth of relaxation and enjoyment. It really is an absorbing read and can be strongly recommended to anyone interested in the writing craft.

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Phil Carradice in the Prologue to Nietzsche's Children, a collection of poems

    It's not all that difficult to find a poet who has a deep and abiding passion for literature - or, for that matter, one who is knowledgeable and well read. But to find one who is both of those things and yet still manages to get across his message in a concise, pleasurable and colloquial style is, indeed, unusual; about as unusual, in fact, as finding a writer who, in addition to being a fine artist, is also a thoroughly nice person.

    Raymond Humphreys is just that type of writer. His poetry is not immediate in the sense that it is all surface gloss but there is, nevertheless, an immediacy which is immensely appealing. You have to work at his poems - and the harder you work, the more there is to appreciate - but they also have the ability to hit you hard and instantly between the eyes, the solar plexus, wherever it is you care to experience literature!

    There are no wasted words here; everything counts towards the finished article. And that, I think, is Raymond Humphreys' greatest skill. Beyond the colloquial style and the vibrancy of the words he constructs his poems like a carpenter constructs a bookcase or a set of shelves. He is a craftsman of considerable and consummate skill. Beyond that there is little to add - the words and word pictures can speak for them-selves.

    It gives me great pleasure to provide the preface to Raymond's book. His work deserves to be recognised and appreciated. Anybody who purchases the volume, anybody who reads it, will be immediately aware of an intelligent and humane mind at work. But more than that, far more, these poems are works of art in the truest sense of the phrase. Quite simply, Raymond Humphreys is a poet. Enjoy his words.

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Eric Radcliffe on my 'quarter' of The Third Half 39

Finally to RAYMOND HUMPHREYS. Three articles and 15 poems, 5 under SCENES FROM A SEASON OF MADNESS. From OLD BEDLAM:
        Try a good old-fashioned caning
        even padlocks and a chaining
        or a harness and swing-chair,
        then collars and well-shaved hair.
        So once inside, this doors for locking:
        electrodes make things really shocking.

A readable sequence but flawed by no apostrophe in 'doors'.

ECLIPSED is his best story, in which he displays some skill in depicting pre-eclipse 'atmosphere':
Totality swept in upon all of us like the shadow of some monstrous, black bird. The street lights in Newlyn, then in Penzance, came on. A thousand camera flash guns popped, pointlessly. All about, there was a sepia-clad silence.

THE YELLOW OMNIBUS story is worth a quick read.


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Gwilym Williams on my contribution to the 2006 issue (number 4) of the Canadian Magazine Sons of Camus Writers International Journal.
This appeared in the 3 August 2007 update of the independent small press on-line publication New Hope International Review, designed by Gerald England.

Sufficient almost to say that the writers in here include such people as the Welsh poet Raymond Humphreys, recent winner in the Pulsar Poetry Competition which it was my privilege to be invited to guest-judge in the final stages.

Humphreys is a talented and out of the ordinary writer and his articles and poetry in this edition do him justice. They are indeed one of the main highlights of this publication. There's a fact-filled tribute to Arthur Smith, the editor of Cambrensis the Welsh short story journal, an inspirational essay titled ANOTHER LOOK AT EXISTENTIALISM which is almost an how-and-why-to-do-it guide to the why and wherefore of writing, and of course the ubiquitous poems. This time there are two and I've gone for a verse from CENTRAL BUS STATION, KUALA LUMPUR written in a style somewhat reminiscent of the currently unfashionable Rudyard Kipling from this versatile writer. Zeitgeist plays her part in poetry:
       The leprous Hindu, the old Malay,
       they're only after some buckshee,
       don't seek to wrench my soul away:      
       so why should she?

I suppose Albert Camus would be pleased with what his children are attempting to achieve here, striving to lay bare their truths; reminding readers perhaps of Meursault the 'poor and naked man' in Camus' celebrated novel THE OUTSIDER.

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David Gill, writing in The Pulsar Poetry Webzine about Sons of Camus Writers International Journal Number 7, 2010.

...As far as the prose is concerned, two writers stand out, Raymond Humphreys and Morelle Smith. The former has chosen mostly novelists to illustrate themes e.g. Yuletide (mostly Dickens), Writers at Sea (mostly Conrad and Melville) but thoroughly readable...

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Peter Thabit Jones, writing in The Seventh Quarry Poetry Magazine on Checkpoint, a collection of speculative fiction published in 2007

    A collection of short stories aimed at the educational market and the commercial market. Like Alan Perry, Raymond Humphreys was much published in the late Arthur Smith's CAMBRENSIS; and the works in this book also consolidate the future of a form not always as popular as the novel. The stories are controlled, thought-provoking, and look into the future. The support material after each story, which considers elements of the form, is excellent.


Bayswater, Saturday Night
Checkpoint
Checkpoint - Contents
Publications I
Publications II
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