Monday, January 08, 2018

Want to play Chicken?

Living in the countryside is not all joy. One thing I've had to come to terms with is the degree of roadkill, most of which are pheasants. Trust me, they are not the brightest of creatures. A friend once hit one and rang to tell me the accident had killed the car's radiator and decapitated the bird. Said friend stressed his unhappiness. My reply was, "I'm sure the bird wasn't too happy either."

At the time I didn't understand how they 'pop out' onto the road. It's amazing and heart-stopping. Blink and you'd miss it, might not even know you'd hit something or what. If you make eye contact, the bird blinks back and ignores the tonnage of metal bearing down on it as if its never been startled and has the assurance of immortality the like of which humans only dream.

Yes, I've visited the countryside many times, but when it's a holiday, we choose the best of weathers; maybe we never came when there were many pheasants about, or maybe we never stayed where they were so prevalent. In one small stretch of road a few weeks ago we counted at least 10 dead pheasants, all recently killed. While I believe many drivers need to slow down and stop over-taking (particularly on blind spots — I never realised how dangerous driving in the countryside can be, road-wise, until living here), there are moments when killing an innocent animal going about its business cannot be avoided, of course. This happens in towns, but it's the sheer number of dead things we've seen that's eye-opening. We slowed for a pheasant the other week and had drivers staring at us as if to ask why. My question is, why not? Accidents happen but if we can avoid an animal without danger to ourselves or anyone else, we will. It's called compassion and respect, a thing lacking in all society. Quite a few pheasants owe their continued existence to my husband's keen driving. The closest we've come was to push one along as it tried at the last second to fly away. We stopped; it continued across the road...though I'd be surprised if it didn't have a bruise or two.

As for the tradition of the Boxing Day hunt, we're told by laughing locals that's an excuse for those who take part to have an annual 'p***-up'. Before anyone objects and contacts me to dispute this or in anger, these are not my words but the words of those whom I don't know, have lived here far longer than I have and were likely even born here. Doesn't throw a better light on the hunt even if it alters perspective. I'm also informed by these same folks that the 'rule' with pheasants is if you do run one over, you can't stop and go back to pick it up, but the person behind can have it. I'm guessing this is to stop people running them down on purpose.

And as for altering viewpoints, let's link back to the friend and the radiator. To those who are in so much of a hurry that the risk of hitting a wild animal doesn't make the driver take it just a little bit slower…the damage and expense to the car proved extensive; all because of a pheasant. Imagine what the damage could be if it were a deer. Might be an accident from which nothing walks away. Now does anyone want to play chicken?

Monday, January 01, 2018

Reads of 2017 and Welcome to 2018

Welcome to 2018! I usually end the year with a list of a few titles so, although I lost much of the start of the year's reading time with a move (more on that below), I'll begin with a selection of the books I managed to pore over mostly through a combination of my sheer stubborn will and desperation when viewing my to-be-read mountain.

I'm never certain how I feel about Patrick Gale's work simply from a personal preference. His works read, to me, as though I've dipped into someone's life and been forced to step out again. This is not a fault by any means -- many such works have received critical acclaim, and the plotting of this has to be admired. In Notes from an Exhibition, I loved the non-linear sequence of the storytelling but found myself irritated with many of the characters. Again, this is not a negative -- fully-fledged characters can be as frustrating as people may be in reality. The story is ultimately one that's a painful glance into mental illness. Another book that made it more apparent to me why I'm never sure whether I love or simply appreciate Gale's work was A Perfectly Good Man. It's style vs content. There's too much telling rather than showing but I love the way the author can jump back and forth with the timeline without losing the reader, and I enjoyed the overall plot of this one.

I don't usually speak of a book and a film in the same paragraph but for The Girl with all the Gifts, by M.R.Carey I advise reading the book, forget the film. If you've seen the film, read the book. This is your zombie survival story with a backdrop of intelligent science and equally intelligent twists. The film lacks the depth of character development and interaction of the book, coming across as a made-for-TV movie, paring the story down to stripped bones. The writing, though aimed more at a young adult audience, is worth consideration for any zombie fan.

His Bloody Project, by Graeme Macrae Burnet, is the fictional 'factual' telling of the 'bloody' deals of one Roderick Macrae. In a sense, there's little plot to this book. There's a crime, the perpetrator's account, a court case, and a verdict. What makes this book stand out is the readability and even enjoyment of the story's working. The research and tone make one feel as though the reader has taken a step back in time, paying witness to the events on which a young man's life 'hangs' (forgive the pun). The book is persuasive and although leaves some uncertain it's noteworthy to mention that the author managed to make this reader at least feel more sorry for the criminal than the victims.
The Box, by Jack Ketchum, is a short story that appears to engender a love or loathe response. I would have made it more visceral but I still liked it, being the type of thing I would write. Either you're someone for whom the story cannot be complete without the revelation of what is in the box or you're someone whose imagination can take flights of fancy.

If you're looking for an extraordinary suspenseful passionate adventure, consider Project Prometheus 1: In Her Name, by Esther Mitchell. It's a shame some readers of suspense may shy from the romantic elements, and some readers of romance may hesitate to delve into a world so richly layered as this, but what action-packed blockbuster doesn't contain components of both? The romance is far from saccharine and the action far from puerile. The reading experience was much like watching a feature film play out, and I equate the 'experience' of reading this in that format -- like watching a television series. Though not the type of material I would routinely read, the writer's command of world building, story-layering, knowledge, and use of myth and fact, means I'll be reading the rest of this series, though the first can be read as a standalone book.

The Man Who Disappeared, by Clare Morrall was a book I found difficult to rate. My feelings fluctuated so much. Oddly it's written in a tense seldom used but I had no problem with that or the writing itself. I did have some issues with the characters and their choices, but more than that, at times I had issues with what the characters took offence at and what they did not. The problem is we all have our own experiences and beliefs, and only through research can a writer put over an opinion that may not be theirs. In other words, I was judging the character's reactions by how I would react, and how I would feel, so I don't wish to mark the book down. I'm not a reader who believes a writer is necessarily wrong just because I think some points of the story should have gone a different way. I found this a decent read but not a keeper.

Off Season, by Jack Ketchum, I rate middle of the road because it's an excellent read of its type but I generally prefer my horror books a little deeper and not completely action-based. I found this more like watching a gory horror film than being immersed in a book. If it's the type of action-based brutal horror story someone likes it'll be excellent for them so it's one for individual judgement. Most interesting was the author's notes at the end of how this book was first received and severely cut by the publisher even to the point where the author didn't get to keep the end he wanted. On that note, I applaud the republication of the author's original intention...and much prefer the author's conclusion. Once upon a time, the graphic nature of the book would have been seen as too extreme but to some will seem mild now. I can't say it's a book I enjoyed because of the content. Neither did I dislike it, nor was it instantly forgettable, but it's not a book I'll be keeping. This is the first time I've read Jack Ketchum though I'm aware his work has a wonderful reputation. I can't say from this one book whether he's an author for me.

In contrast, Meat, by Joseph D'Lacey, is a questioning form of horror. I won't linger on the small fact that I felt the writing could have done with a slight tidy, or that the formatting on the copy I read was less than perfect. That and the plot reservations I was ultimately left with means I couldn't give the book a perfect rating. However, I can't see how the author could have written a different outcome. This is, without doubt, a dark dystopia, one that's as gruesome as it is possible to imagine. No real surprises but richly developed into a solid conceptual future designed by accident or intent to make the reader question their ethics. I'd be happy to read more by this author.

The Wolves of London, Obsidian Heart 1, by Mark Morris, isn’t what I would strictly call a horror novel. It’s one of those instances where genres blend to mesmerising effect including touches of urban fantasy and even steampunk and, yes, horror, because, some of the strange world the protagonist, Alex Locke, stumbles into is as horrific as it is fantastical and magical. This book won’t please every reader, but it will entertain many who appreciate the use of a wild imagination, being slowly drawn into a stranger than average universe, who are prepared to suspend disbelief and give credence to any and all possibilities. I personally like the unhurried progress, the twists and turns, and quirks of the story. The peculiar surprises. Granted, towards the end, the book starts to feel a little disconnected and jerky but that’s owing to plot points being established for the arc of the series. This book will leave the reader with more questions at the end than at the start. Who are the Wolves of London? What is the Obsidian Heart and what powers does it hold? Why has Alex been chosen, and why does it seem as if he’s part of some design constructed by unknown antagonists, possibly his growing list of enemies? Whether it’s a perfect set-up I won’t be able to say until I read the whole trilogy. Neither can I say whether I will love the story as a whole once I finish, but I do know, having read this, I have to discover how the story concludes.

I finished the year in November by reading 11.22.63, Stephen King. Firstly, for a UK audience, the title likely made a few people blink if they are unaware that the US writes dates differently to the UK. Here, we write the date chronologically: day, month, year. This being a pivotal date in US history, I'm not criticising this, but I could understand if, to some readers, it didn't automatically click that the numbered title is a date. Did I enjoy the book? Yes. Did it have as much to do with Kennedy's death as I thought it would? No. This is one of King's well-known 'journeys' (he has stated that some books are to be enjoyed for the journey rather than the destination), and those who are familiar with his congenial tone will understand that this is a book that doesn't have as much to do with the basic idea as the circumstances that stem from one man's decision-making. At best, it makes for a readable story and pleasant experience. But if you're looking for an in-depth story on conspiracy theories, don't look here.

My book of my 2017 reads, is The Shadow of the Wind, by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. I don't tend to rehash the plot as that can be worked out from the blurb so I will simply say I loved this book. Real sentences, real words, first person which I don't usually like as well as third, but the prose flowed too smoothly for me to notice, the writing entirely pleasant. Though I was able to predict a couple of the plot points, the greatest strength of this novel is it's a mystery woven like a tapestry. Overall the book has the feel of a classic that will stand the test of time. I was smitten. This one reminded me of why I love books.

On a personal note, 2017...the year that began with an on-going upheaval which resulted in our moving, not to our favourite place, but to a good compromise, a move that happened far sooner than we ever expected. Not saying that move was without problems -- what move ever is? -- but we got through it. It's the year in which my other half not only started a new job, he found a position he's enjoying, is respected, and I've noticed he is a far happier person. It's the year we gained a larger house, which we'll enjoy until we decide to downsize. It's a year we settled in the countryside, after a traumatic 4 years that seemed to be pushing us here. We decorated the interior and landscaped the garden.

It's the year I intended to return to writing for one of my publishers only to sadly learn they were closing, but it's also the year in which I wrote my first Lethbridge-Stewart novel, due out shortly. It's a year in which I met most of the few goals I set (being realistic with the move etc), and a year I'm finishing ready to face the list of things I hope to do in 2018. It's the year we finished by going on a cruise and visiting some Christmas markets and then enjoying our new home and seeing our best friends. It's a year we're ending in peace and with a good deal of gratitude.

Happy New Year to all. Thanks to everyone who are true friends, and those who've supported me even if it's from the sidelines. Wishing you happiness and peace...and Happy Reading!

Monday, December 04, 2017

Update December 2017

I missed blogging last week because I was too busy with edits. I’m pleased to announce I’ve signed contracts and finalised about everything for another foray into the life and times of one Lethbridge-Stewart. More on that shortly. For now you might like to pop along to the new Lethbridge-Stewart website and dig around.

I’ve about caught up with work in progress and have some new plans for 2018, with projects spanning several genres, some studying, and other things. I’m even ‘having a go’ at plotting, interesting for a general ‘pantser’ of a writer as in fly by the seat of. I won’t be surprised if I end up doing a little of both. As for this month, though I’ll likely be back with an end of year message or two, for now I’m taking a break, and a much-needed holiday. Best wishes to you and yours at this time.

I’ve rather sadder news I feel I must mention, although it relates to a completely different genre. Many of us were informed this weekend that my main publisher, Loose Id, is closing. It’s hard to hear as I had hoped to write for them again this coming year and was working on finalising a submission. I’ve had a rough four years, which included two moves and other issues. Problems that seriously interfered with and finished off my hoped-for writing schedule. I had at last hoped to return to working with Loose Id as I had next to nothing new out with them during that time…a time now finished but unforgettable.

It's relevant because Loose Id gave me my first full-length publication. They helped me step from the realms of publishing short stories in magazines to writing longer length work. Though not my only guidance they were there at the beginning, and I’ve managed to take that learning process, add to it, and use it in other genres. I might not 'be here' if not for them even if they took me on a divergent path. Those I’ve worked with will always have my gratitude. Such closures have almost become part of the publishing industry backdrop but on this occasion, for many, it truly feels like the end of an era.

Monday, November 20, 2017

What's on your desk?

A few weeks ago Alternative Read invited me to share my desk. This is that post.

So…say a few words about your routine, they said. If only I had one! I’ve tried various regimens.

Write until I’m exhausted, never a great plan. Stick to a minimum number of words able to walk away self-satisfied and smug because I’ve got at least that amount of work accomplished. Or write as the muse dictates. Truth is, there is no correct choice. It’s a question of finding what works, and like all designs, sometimes life gets in the way and a change is necessary.

I used to like to write first thing in the morning. I came to struggle with that because I always worried I neglected something, maybe an important email. I try to quickly check email and do a pass through some type of social media early now, so at least it’s not nagging at me. So distracting!

If I have the opportunity I try to write a couple of hours in the morning and a couple early afternoon. If not, then I’ll write when and where necessary. I can work if there’s a television on in the room as long as it’s not a show I’m interested in, but I don’t tend to cope well with music playing. I’ve written during a journey or while visiting relatives. I’ve written for ten minutes or ten hours. Routine…it’s a wonderful dream.

My desk does not look interesting, though I can lower it or raise it as I want so I can choose to sit or stand, a better option then being glued to the seat facing a deadline. It’s not always as bare as it looks in the picture mostly because ‘hubby’ puts papers on there for filing or attention. If I’m peeved, I may throw these underneath on the floor. Don’t worry, I’m joking…partly. I really do chuck some papers into a pile by my feet. Course, I’m always hoping the little guys to the right will help with the filing if not the writing. Hasn’t worked yet.

 
The pictures above are for enjoyment only. Although always a fan, I didn’t realise how much I’d come to adore Terry Pratchett’s work until I heard of his illness and, subsequently, his death. All but one of these pictures are official (and the odd one for my pleasure only, added because I loved it so much). This is a new house, a fresh start, and I drove my other half crazy getting him to hang these as I wanted.

Death, Rincewind, Errol, Greebo, The Librarian and The Death of Rats all look down from around the Discworld while I work. These and the overcrowded bookshelves at my back are part of a world I love so much. They’re the part of me who loved The Beast because he gave Belle a library.

I write in many genres and I’m pleased to say the latest upcoming titles in the multi-authored Lethbridge-Stewart series (The Brigadier of Doctor Who fame) will include my book, A Very Private Haunting. http://www.candy-jar.co.uk/books/lethbridgestewarthome.html
My first foray into this universe is available now on Kindle in the short story, The Wishing Bazaar.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Interesting article

Interesting item on covers for horror films that could as easily apply to artwork for books.


Monday, October 30, 2017

Happy Halloween?

Some might call wishing someone Happy Halloween an oxymoron. Readers of less dark fiction may well be surprised to hear how much I love Halloween and so many things spooky.

In keeping with the season, I thought to leave you a little scare this week. Some will find this funny, some may jump. Everyone's reaction is different. My question is always how many times would anyone keep flicking off the light?

Monday, October 23, 2017

The Grimm Truth

I wrote this article for a West Country community newsletter that I used to contribute to regularly. Subsequently, this piece was also accepted for publication by Gothic Fairy Tales. However, little was I to know that its publication in a small Devon paper would result in my receiving fan mail…all the way from South Africa! A North Devon ‘maid’ (as they are often referred to) had moved all that way but continued to pay for and receive local news as a reminder of her true home and the place where her heart lies. She simply adored The Grimm Truth and wanted to thank me for writing it. No one could have been more surprised and delighted than I. Until I began writing novels this was my first instance of anyone outside of the UK reading my work. Who was to know that a simple article would travel such a long way?

*****

Take someone who has not only travelled abroad but also explored many counties in the United Kingdom. Couple this with an extensive interest in writing, and one cannot visit these places without gaining an awareness of the numerous tales and fables that exist, many unique to the areas. For a writer, it is impossible to ignore the tales of King Oberon’s epic battle on Dartmoor and the wealth of legends regarding fairies and pixies in Devon alone. These stories are born out of and are woven into the magic of legend and history. Yet, as adults, we segregate many of them to the realm of quaintness and childhood. Many of us fail fully to comprehend the extent early delights such as Fairy Tales and Nursery Rhymes are part of that wealth.

It may surprise many to know that the stories we now regard as created for and belonging to children were originally intended for adults only. They were often traditional folk tales with endings that were far more bloodthirsty than their modern-day counterparts. No one saved granny or the little girl in the red hood from the wolf’s ‘great big teeth’ and Sleeping Beauty was not awakened by a kiss, but impregnated by the prince, and even gave birth while still she slept. These stories speak of mysterious times and places, yet they are a tool to reflect incidences in our own lives and history. It was during the Victorian era that these stories began to be rewritten, printed, and delegated to the realm of children’s imagination. However, maybe in this they still serve their purpose for when read to children now, parents are unconsciously teaching their offspring that bad things happen in life, that we have to learn to deal with them, and that with a little luck and maybe perseverance the good guy can still win. Simply, these stories now teach us at an increasingly young age of the world in which we live, and they should not be regarded lightly or dismissed.

A well-known producer of collectable figurines clearly saw the potential of delving into these fantasies and tapping into the darker origins for adults. Consequently, a small series of figurines depicting these story characters combined with the macabre and Gothic, a soupcon of humour and eroticism hit the market as their response. Certainly not to everyone’s taste, a brief mention is not to publicise them, but to draw attention to the fact that these stories are still with us, and their influence remains as strong. In addition, these strange figures delved slightly out of the realm of fairy tales into the neighbouring text of nursery rhymes, these ditties that are regularly told to children of an even younger age. Indeed, some encyclopaedias classify them as verses for children.

Reminded of childhood reminiscences, I particularly recalled a book given to me by my grandmother containing works of the Brothers Grimm who collected stories as a study of their culture. Conversely, Hans Christian Anderson wrote his own stories, though he readily incorporated elements from the world around him. The Brothers were unhappy to find their work often referenced to children as they intended these tales for all. This was a contention they shared with Anderson, though their tales were sometimes considered coarse, while Anderson’s were often moralistic.

Knowing most fairy tales were not originally intended for younger audiences left the question of nursery verses and the origins and original intentions behind these short, entertaining rhymes. Choosing one for research purposes led to some interesting and equally entertaining information and equally if not more disturbing answers.

A few of us may be aware that Ring Around the Rosies was an account of the black plague and referred to the circles that occurred around the eyes; this ends unsurprisingly with people ‘falling down’ (dead). Conversely, how many of us remember Peter, Peter, Pumpkin Eater? How many of us would be content to read this to our children knowing that the origins are from America instead of Europe, though this may seem obvious since pumpkins were not readily available in England until recent years? Not much to concern anyone there even with the Pumpkin’s connotations of Halloween. Yet, how many of us would happily sit down to read this rhyme to children knowing what the verse actually meant. “Peter, Peter, Pumpkin Eater had a wife and couldn’t keep her” translates into an unfaithful wife; hence, he couldn’t ‘keep’ her. He put her in a pumpkin shell (pumpkin shell in this instance meaning chastity belt) and there he kept her very well.

Incidentally, the face carved in the Pumpkin is to frighten bad spirits away: it is not a bad entity itself. Another frequent mistake: children are not meant to trick you if they do not give them a treat. They are meant to ask for you to give them a treat or for you to play a trick on them: more examples of where traditions have been twisted to suit this modern age. So adults enlightened, children beware!

The truth is many of the rhymes that we once laughed over at bedtime were written using fact, even politics. Many were folk songs or even prayers; many rhymes were direct digs at greed and taxation. Some may have traditional customs. They may also be categorised as lullabies, riddles and tongue twisters among others. All had individual use and intended audience (counting rhymes are an effective aid to learning). Many are synonymous with other cultures though they may appear in a different form or with a substitute character relevant to that country’s history.

Some do not hold up so well in today’s climate. The tale of Miss Muffet, supposedly based on the daughter of an entomologist named Muffet who was frightened by one of her father’s spiders surely helps to instil fear in children of arachnids. Likewise, Peter Pumpkin Eater is seen by some as a form of abuse and the vision of a blind woman running after three mice with a chopper in her hand would be a strange sight for most of us. However, surely it is important to keep these in the context they have been regarded for decades. Once heard as children they became part of our play, have remained constant companions and did us less harm than most images youngsters are subject to today. The sad truth is some of these rhymes have changed over time and may not reflect their original intention. Alas, some origins are lost to us completely and the creators, many of them anonymous, are no longer with us. Still, they should not be discarded. Not many of us look back on them with any emotion other than a fondness. They are an integrated part of our history and, most importantly, they teach us to play with words at an early age.
Incidentally, King Oberon was seriously injured, and Puck still searches for herbs to cure him. If anyone has any suggestions they could be in for some fairy luck, though Puck is not generally thought of as trustworthy.

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