Monday, March 26, 2018

Dragon #1

I make no secret about the fact I love dragons and own a few. Some would say more than few but they fill only one cabinet so it's far less than I could own if I let myself buy every one that caught my eye. Buying dragons began a while back. If I saw one that 'spoke to me', as such objects do, while on holiday in the UK I would bring take it home with me. In that respect my dragon collection has taken many years and hasn't grown all that fast. I bought another the other day, people cried out to see it, and so I decided to share the occasional post featuring my dragons.

There isn't much of a story to go with this one except it's a garden ornament I have no intention of putting in the garden. It's metal and no matter how many years it's designed to last, invariably the elements will wear it down. I'll set him by a window in the hope the light will work but, if it doesn't, I didn't buy it for the light. I loved the colours. When my other half first saw this his words were, "Is that a garden ornament?" to which I replied yes. "I wouldn't put that in the garden," he said so there is some method to my madness.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Not so Warm Bodies

The other week I read a post by Isaac Marion. He’s the author of the best-selling WARM BODIES, made into a film. He’s a success. A writer who has ‘made it’ in the world of the book industry, right? With a film (somewhat based) on one of his books, how could he not? Alas, being a writer is rarely that simple.

As I had already discovered, Warm Bodies is now the first in a trilogy. I read the second title, THE BURNING WORLD, this year after discovering its existence. I include my thoughts on both books below but what I didn’t know until more recently is that the third title, THE LIVING, is burning a hole in Isaac Marion’s hard drive, the author having finished it almost a year ago.

Although the first book was on the NYT bestseller list, book 2 hasn’t done so well, and, unless it does, there may be a no go on the third title. If it comes to that, I can only hope the author will find another publisher or go the route so many writers have to and self-publish (if contracts allow, mind). I won’t go into the pros and cons of that in this blog but I’m using it to illustrate one of the many reasons ‘why’ authors turn to self-publishing and why the perception that indie is purely amateur hour is false.

Not everything is as elementary as writers or readers would like to believe. This is a perfect example of the struggle writers face, of how ‘every’ book is as good as starting from scratch. Akin to an actor reading for a role, writers audition every time they submit a manuscript, and, if expectations aren’t met, the writer may have to climb a proverbial ladder again even if they’ve notched up a bestseller on any of the rungs close to the top.

That’s the truth, a simple, not-so-pretty fact about publishing. Unless the writer is a huge, well-known, consistently best-selling name (brand) often seen in the top 10, their next title will not automatically get snapped up. Even if under contract ‘to be published’ it may get pushed back or off a publisher’s list and, depending on the contract clauses, end up in limbo with the writer in purgatory. And I've known more than one writer to be in this position.

One thing I have to add is that I hadn’t heard a thing about the release of the second book or that even one existed. This leads into one of the biggest battles writers deal with every day — the need for marketing, something too often left to writers in the present climate. Most publishers do not have huge marketing budgets; many have none. Writers have even less but the expectation falls on them to get the word out. I only came across the second title because the question, ‘I wonder whether Isaac has written anything else’ popped into my head.

As to those books: I first read Warm Bodies about 4 years ago. With my hands on the novella prequel and the novel sequel I dipped in again. First, a word on the film of the book. It's not bad, but it uses the more humourous parts to convey the author's much more visceral idea in a too-light way. When I first saw trailers I imagined the book to be a Young Adult 'popcorn' story, a jokey hoot. Do yourself a favour; if you've seen the film, regardless of whether you liked it, DO read the book. It's a decidedly different experience.

With the characters of 'R' and Julie, the setting is a modern twist on Romeo and Juliet set in a dystopian future where zombies outnumber the living. Even many of the survivors seem dead inside, imprisoned as they are behind their safety barriers. Like many zombie books this is a story that questions and reflects society, but in a skillful way. An unexpected read the first time around, and no less pleasurable the second. The book contains threads of something dark and disturbing, yet enlightening, will speak to some people though not all; I hope it speaks to many. This is not a gory horror novel, not a teen rom-com spoof. Hidden within its pages the tale celebrates life in all its messiness. The story is a metaphor for so many things, the state of the world, the meaning of life, civilisation out of control. It imparts the essence of almost every zombie story and life itself. It's a book about living.

Where Warm Bodies stopped, the Burning World continues, and the story seems to speak on a wider basis reflecting society, the way we view authority and vice versa, the way countries are run. Maybe because Warm Bodies felt like a complete read I didn't enjoy this as much, which isn't to say I disliked it. It's definitely a worthwhile read, earns maybe one star less than the full score of the first title. I'll be interested to see where the author is going with this series. Warm Bodies is a book about living. The Burning World reflects more on ‘how we live’, on the quirks of society and how it's governed.

If you read Warm Bodies and are interested in following further chapters in R’s world then it’ll be worthwhile to help Isaac out by buying The Burning World (and no, I do not personally know the author before anyone asks, but I loved the first book, enjoyed the second, and long for the third).

Monday, March 05, 2018

Look out, he's behind you!

It’s just as well only my husband is present during our recent binge ‘catch-up’ watch of The Walking Dead. Like a participant in Gogglebox — a show that invites the audience to watch people watching television (though I’ve only seen adverts for it, some reactions can be to great comic effect) — I’m not a silent viewer.

This is a trait that once drove my relatives to gritting their teeth with irritation, much as I do when an inconsiderate cinema-goer persists on talking during a film, or won’t put their phone away. I appreciate the frustration; however, in the cinema I restrict myself to a few gasps or loud laughter when appropriate. It’s an entirely different experience with an unspoken rule of no talking. I’ve paid a ticket and want to be submersed. I have never, unlike when a grandmother of mine went to the cinema, made not only a public faux pas, but done so twice in the time it took to run through a single showing.

The film was The Time Machine, the classic version starring Rod Taylor made in 1960. She went with her husband and her adult children, and they arrived just as the film started. Although only the opening credits were rolling, my nan, intent on not missing a minute, gaze glued to the screen, fumbled her way along a line of people already seated. I heard the story of how she stopped one seat short of her own chair and plopped herself down on a bald man’s lap. I’m unsure as to the significance of his being bald other than that being the way she forever thereafter described him amidst general hilarity, but I am confident he was as surprised as she. My nan made everyone switch seats so she could sit as far away from him as possible and then sat hidden and, she hoped, forgotten in the darkness...

Until the moment when ‘George’ makes his way into the Morlock cave and we see their gleaming eyes. While the hero tries to creep around and the Morlocks brace to launch an attack, my grandmother gasped, put her hands to her face and shouted out, “Watch out, he’s behind you!” The cinema audience on this occasion met my nan's outburst with a round of laughter adding to the collective enjoyment.

I once worked with a woman who never understood this. When I referred to laughing or crying over stories — viewed or read — she always shook her head. Strange from someone who read all the time and professed to be a bookworm.

“But...but...but…” I stuttered, “how can you not cry over a sad scene?”

“But it’s not real,” she said.

As one who understands that stories are our way of examining and learning how to deal with reality, I beg to differ. As someone who has had to put a book down in a crowded train carriage owing to the risk of a tear or two escaping among strangers with no easy-to-explain reason, I fail to understand this lack of emotional attachment. Thrill seekers get on roller coasters looking for that up and down ride of a lifetime; book lovers take more tight turns and steep slopes lasting far longer than your average amusement park ride. Our pulses speed up, our stomachs grow tight, our throats close, we cry, and scream, and shout...with anger, with pain, with frustration, and with joy. Even when it hurts, we consider ourselves lucky.

Watching a beloved character's harrowing death the other night (even though through reading the graphic novel I had a sense of what was coming), make no mistake, I was vocal about it. Feel free to share whether you experience a story without emotion or find it next to impossible not to laugh when something is funny, cheer when the outcome is good, or scream when it’s the end you were dreading.

Monday, January 29, 2018

A Very Private Haunting

Shipping soon, what Candy Jar call my 'spooky opener' for series five. Yeah, I guess it is. Even when a foray into the world of Lethbridge-Stewart I couldn't help that dark side peaking out.

Get your orders in for this limited edition (with extended short story) before it sells out!

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?
 

For a reduced price you can receive the following three books before general release in 2018:

A Very Private Haunting by Sharon Bidwell
The New Unusual by Adrian Sherlock & Andy Frankham-Allen
The Man from Yesterday by Nick Walters

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.