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.

© All rights reserved.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Of Fairy Tales and Lost Things

In keeping with the season, I thought I'd rehash (and tweak) an old review of The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly. No doubt better known for his crime novels, this may suggest a peculiar departure for the writer, but if so one he more than adequately explains in the last quarter of the book. This he dedicates to a discussion of the underlying themes and stories that have influenced him during his life, including their origins and a delightful reintroduction to, and the inclusion of, a few of these stories themselves. He incorporates these into the book expertly and chooses a style that is reminiscent of the rhyme and rhythm of those fairy tales that for most of us were the first introduction to story-telling.

In so doing he initially confused me, not because I didn't understand his intention but because, as a writer, I couldn’t see the market from a publisher’s point of view. Clearly I enjoyed it and I could envision many adults doing likewise, yet initially, I could see this being a book many publishers often reject as seeing ‘no market for this type of thing’. This is not a book for children although a book that children of a particular age could read and doubtless gain from the experience. I agree with the author that an adult will likely read this in a very different light to that of a child. This makes The Book of Lost Things one of those novels that may need re-reading at a different stage in one's life, possibly for the young adult and then as a mature one. I was pleasantly surprised to come across such a book for an audience of many ages, because of the writing ‘rule’ that dictates if the lead in a book is a child then it's a children’s book.

This is most definitely a book for adults to enjoy, not solely because of the surprisingly bloodthirsty content. It’s amazing how many of us forget how dark, foreboding, and just plain violent those old fairy tales that we grew up with and loved so well indeed were. I didn’t need the book’s added sojourn through the world of fairy tales to know that in many versions of Sleeping Beauty she awakens while giving birth, or the wicked queen in Snow White is made to wear red-hot iron ‘slippers’ to dance in until she dies, just as I know that in Cinderella birds flew down to pluck out her stepsisters’ eyes. Fairy tales have always held great interest for me and have influenced my work. Indeed, my twisted semi-erotic story Rose Light is a retelling of Cinderella. Admittedly I had to heighten sexual content to satisfy the publisher who released it under a romance banner, but it's a story that I intend to one day restore to its original form for a darker market. So nothing in the content of Connolly’s book surprised me. Nevertheless, I was amazed to find a book published that kept to the traditions of these stories and celebrating their content, of change, of choice, of triumphant, if often in a gruesome way.

Ultimately the strongest depth and substance to the book is grief, and loss, and how it changes us, becomes a part of who we are and, like stories, influences our lives. Overall because these are a ‘fairy tales’,  they resonate in the way good stories should.

Monday, October 02, 2017

Thanks for the memories, James

As it's October I thought it suitable to mention a writer who has 'been with me' since my teens. True, one of the first horror books I ever read was by Stephen King. The book was Salem's Lot if anyone is wondering. But for a long time, my favourite 'horror writer' was James Herbert. When I heard of his death, I experienced that jaw-dropping moment when one doesn't want to believe the news and can remember the moment as though it happened this morning.

I place the term 'horror writer' in quotes because Herbert was never entirely happy with being categorised, and had his share of mixed reviews. He felt any violent or horror-related work met a certain brand of snobbery. It's a problem I completely understand and why I label my own horror writing as Dark Fiction, precisely because many stories flank other topics and genres.

Some horror writers aren't, truly, writing what I call horror even if there's an element of that in the story. Some of Herbert's work became blended with the paranormal (he said himself that his later works tended to lean to the supernatural), fantasy, and I have always felt a large part of his compositions contained humanitarian questions and shone an ugly reflection on society. In Herbert's own words, some of what he had to say regarding his motivations and underlying themes might surprise many.

I recall one particular mention of the seemingly oversized rats in his books Rats, Lair, and Domain. The trilogy may have been inspired by a line in Dracula, but the description and size of the rodents came from the creatures he saw in the overrun areas of the East End of London in which he grew up. Having seen 'Rodents of Unusual Size' (some readers will know where I borrowed that from and it's not Herbert), I'm prepared to believe. Some can look bigger or at least match the size of small dogs.

There's also the issue of how much is too much? Yes, violence (and sex) can be gratuitous but I've also believed a writer should 'write' and not fear to show something as it is or would be. Herbert wasn't a writer who feared to call a 'spade a spade' and preferred to give an honest portrayal of any scene. Of course, his writing, which was ignored or even banned when first published is thought of as more commonplace now. Books and films deemed once to be adult viewing can now be found in school libraries.

Some readers will be surprised that I read or even like the horror genre, despite my saying constantly that I read anything and everything. Truth is, I grew up on horror books. My teen years were romances (usually Mills & Boon because that was what my friends were reading), Herbert, King, and Steinbeck. I'm serious when I say my library is eclectic.

I suppose in a sense I also admired Herbert because he was a success story -- well known and British. The young writer in me couldn't help being a little envious. So much happened to me throughout those years. My life went through so many changes. What I read during that time is blended with all the other memories. Lately, I've felt the pull to return to those roots with my writing. Though to date, it's been strictly short stories, I plan to try my first Dark Fiction novel soon and I'm sure I'll be thinking of Herbert when I do.

My tribute will be a simple one: many, many thanks for the memories, James.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Lethbridge-Stewart Series Five Announced

PRESS RELEASE 18/09/2017
LETHBRIDGE-STEWART
SERIES FIVE ANNOUNCED


Candy Jar Books is pleased to announce the latest titles in its Lethbridge-Stewart range of novels are now available for pre-order!

Series five opens with The New Unusual by first-time novelist, Adrian Sherlock, who wrote the short story, The Playing Dead, in 2016.

It is followed by A Very Private Haunting by Sharon Bidwell, who is no stranger to writing novels, with quite a resume behind her, including the Lethbridge-Stewart short story, The Wishing Bazaar in 2016.

The series is wrapped off with The Man from Yesterday, by popular novelist Nick Walters, who returns with his much-anticipated second novel in the Lethbridge-Stewart series, following 2015’s Mutually Assured Domination.

Range Editor Andy Frankham-Allen says: “It’s quite an exciting series, with three very distinctively different stories. Each explores very different aspects of the Lethbridge-Stewart universe. A New-Age thriller taking the team to Australia, a ghost story set in and around a haunted manor, and an all-out adventure which pits very branches of Lethbridge-Stewart’s family against each other.”

The New Unusual sees our heroes being drawn to Australia after investigating strange goings-on at dream-ins, mysterious new age gatherings in which people explore their deepest desires through eggs of alien origin. This book features the return of Lethbridge-Stewart’s nephew, Owain.

A Very Private Haunting sees Arthur Penrose finally take ownership of a Scottish manor house that’s been in his family for generations. There are many secrets in the house, but what connects them to the mysterious shadow creatures that Lethbridge-Stewart and his men are investigating?

The Man from Yesterday sees Lethbridge-Stewart learn the truth behind his father’s disappearance at the end of World War II, when aliens arrive on Earth from a mysterious region of space known only as the Realm. This book features the return of Lethbridge-Stewart’s brother from another reality, James Gore, and his father, Air Commander Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart!

Andy continues: “This series of books sees our lead characters, in particular Lethbridge-Stewart and Anne Travers, dealing with the fallout from the losses they suffered in series four. The series ends on something of a cliffhanger, which will have repercussions for the series as a whole for a long time.”

Head of Publishing Shaun Russell says: “Series five is the last in the ongoing series for a while, as next year we’re stepping out of the usual narrative to present a special series of novels celebrating fifty years of Alistair Lethbridge-Stewart and Anne Travers.”

The New Unusual, A Very Private Haunting and The Man from Yesterday are all available for individual pre-order now, for £8.99 (+ p&p). Or you can pre-order them as part of the discounted UK bundle for only £26.25 (including postage), saving £9.72, or an international bundle for only £45.00 (including postage), saving £5.97. Or, you can buy it as part of our yearly subscription offer. Order early to avoid disappointment.

-END-


For more information, or to arrange an interview with the editor, authors, cover artist and/or license holder, please contact Shaun Russell at shaun@candyjarbooks.co.uk or 02921 15720



Previous series:
Lethbridge-Stewart series 1:
The Forgotten Son by Andy Frankham-Allen
The Schizoid Earth by David A McIntee
Beast of Fang Rock by Andy Frankham-Allen
Mutually Assured Domination by Nick Walters

Lethbridge-Stewart series 2:
Moon Blink by Sadie Miller
The Showstoppers by Jonathan Cooper
The Grandfather Infestation by John Peel

Lethbridge-Stewart series 3:
Times Squared by Rick Cross
Blood of Atlantis by Simon A Forward
Mind of Stone by Iain McLaughlin

Lethbridge-Stewart series 4:
Night of the Intelligence by Andy Frankham-Allen
The Daughters of Earth by Sarah Groenewegen
The Dreamer’s Lament by Benjamin Burford-Jones