Monday, December 19, 2016

A little freebie for Christmas

A new series set after the 1968 Doctor Who serial The Web of Fear follows the adventures of Alistair Lethbridge-Stewart spanning the four years from when he was a colonel in the Scots Guards to his promotion to brigadier and head of the UK branch of UNIT. Candy Jar Books brings additional life to Lethbridge-Stewart, fully licensed by the executor of the Haisman Literary Estate, Hannah Haisman, and endorsed by Henry Lincoln. Whilst the series is not Young Adult fiction its intention is to maintain that family-friendly feel balancing the classic with a sense of modernity.

To get a feel for the series, visit Candy Jar Books offers and drop down to the bottom of the page for this year’s Christmas free download. Enjoy!

Monday, December 12, 2016

The Art of Compassion

We’ve forgotten the art of compassion.

When considering what to write for this week’s blog the subject of compassion seemed appropriate for this time of year. To begin, I want to transport you to an incident that to me remains vibrant.

This took place in 2008. We were off on holiday and making our way to East Anglia. It was a beautiful day in May. The sky was blue, the breeze was blowing into the car’s open windows, the birds were singing. We were relaxed and happy. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say I felt blessed and even the traffic crawling to a stop wasn’t enough to upset my good mood. The hold-up was short lived...as was my happy feeling.

A small black shape landed on the road in front, exhibiting every indication of happiness, hopping about excitedly and fluttering its wings. Before I could even gasp the car ahead rolled forward over the bird’s wing, squashing the bones, feathers and flesh into the tarmac leaving the bird both damaged and trapped.

Put yourself in this bird’s place. You’re going about your day-to-day business and something mashes a limb into the road so that you’re pinned, in pain, and cannot break free. The best you can hope for is another car to roll over you bringing about a quick death.

I flinched and was left feeling helpless and sick at heart. I could do nothing to help this creature. The only way to release it from the tarmac would have been to amputate its wing, something I was not capable of doing, and even then the poor thing was likely a short time from dying of shock.

All this because it landed in the wrong place at the wrong time. That could happen to anyone and any thing.

The husband patted my arm as though I was six years old, and while I didn’t need the comfort, he wasn't going to hear any complaints.

My reaction, my feelings for another creature even though its pain and demise had no impact on me or my life is the very definition of compassion.

The dictionary definition is sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others. Why are we not taught this in schools? Is it something parents no longer discuss? One of my favourite books as a child was The Water Babies because I loved the concepts of Mrsdoasyouwouldbedoneby and Mrsbedonebyasyoudid. Why is all this so absent from the world?

The driver of the car that ran over that bird could not have known the creature was on the road. The driver was not at fault. It was a mere accident. No one was to blame. These facts made what happened no less painful to witness, but here’s the thing. I can’t quote statistics but it would be eye-opening to know how many drivers would have run over the bird had they known it was under their wheels. I’ve also been witness to other instances where I’ve been directly involved; beeped because we’ve stopped for a rabbit in the road; seen a woman who had to turn her car to stop cars driving over a dog who had run out and been injured (in that particular incident we and one other driver ended up taking the dog to a vet even though we were no part of the accident). We see road-kill all the time, but when did we decide it’s okay to run over things even if they can be avoided? Indeed, why are there people in this world who would gladly aim the car and shout ‘score’ for a hit? Who is raising these despicable souls?

Of course, I’m not just talking about animals here or creatures on the road. We treat each other the same way. What kind of being does it take to knowingly run over a living creature when they don’t have to? To abuse a dog, a cat, a horse, or anything that breathes? When did society start to think it doesn't matter and so many to believe we can all do what we like without considering the impact on our friends, our families, our neighbours, society itself? Or to think it’s acceptable to walk by a woman on the road when she’s pleading for help having been hit by a car because ‘someone else will call the ambulance’ so there’s no reason to get involved (an actual story a temp apparently once confessed to a colleague in an office I worked in many years ago).

When I was growing up I was taught not to cause harm, to do unto others only as I wanted them to do unto me. That’s not to say be a pushover and accept abuse, but why be the cause? Why are so many so oblivious to the pain of others, and why do so many behave as if it’s perfectly acceptable for behaviour to be so reprehensible that we even have a modern reference to it, that of ‘Troll’?

Compassion: sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others.

Take it on board.

Monday, December 05, 2016

Sixes

Today, I feel like visiting my past life of crime.
What happens when Irene comes face-to-face with a past enemy?
Stop by Shotgun Honey to indulge a wicked sense of righteousness.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Wishes Do Come True

My latest news speaks for itself. Excuse the unseemly author squeal but HOW COOL IS THIS!!!!!
Sharon x

PRESS RELEASE 25/11/2016
LETHBRIDGE-STEWART
PRE-ORDER FREE STORY

Candy Jar Books is pleased to announce its latest brand new free story!
The Wishing Bazaar by Sharon Bidwell will be sent out to all subscription customers, and those who pre-order the forthcoming novel, Blood of Atlantis by Simon A Forward.

Sharon Bidwell was born in London on New Year’s Eve. She has been writing professionally for many years, with her first short story receiving praise for being “strong on characterisation, and quite literary, in terms of style”. Her work has appeared steadily in both print and electronic publications, such as Midnight StreetAoife’s KissNight To Dawn, and Radgepacket. She has written several romance novels under the name Sharon Maria Bidwell, including Snow Angel and A Not So Hollow Heart, as well as dark fiction under the name Sharon Kernow. She was propelled into the universe of Steampunk as one of the writers for Space: 1899 & Beyond, winning the approval of series creator and award-winning game designer, Frank Chadwick. She wrote three books in the series, one of which was co-authored with editor (and writer) Andy Frankham-Allen.The Wishing Bazaar is her first piece of Doctor Who related fiction.

Range Editor Andy Frankham-Allen says: “I first met Sharon via the wonderful world of social media back in, I think, 2009. I was very impressed with her work, and soon enlisted her for my Space: 1889 & Beyond series. Her work ethic was proven to me when a novella fell through at the last minute and she agreed to co-author a replacement with me – which we did, in only two weeks! Sharon’s first drafts are often better than a lot of published works out there, and from the off I told her that I would get her writing for the Lethbridge-Stewart series. She resisted for all of five minutes.”

Sharon says: “I've written for and with Andy before with great success, so I was not entirely surprised when he got in contact about his latest project. For one thing, he'd been 'hinting' for some time that he wanted to rope me in and Andy isn't someone who understands no as an answer.Whenever I hear from Andy, I never know whether to cheer or groan. All those who write novels for well-known television shows now have my utmost respect. Some find it easy; for others the experience feels difficult and involves a lot of angst. I'm one of those worriers. Despite the responsibility, Andy has dragged me into incredible worlds and stories that are part of history and there's no way not to be grateful for that.Invariably the experience of writing for Lethbridge-Stewart was, for me, daunting, exciting, fun, and adventurous…a bit like the character himself.”

Shaun Russell, head of publishing at Candy Jar, says: “Sharon was an unknown quantity for me, but I knew that Andy had worked with her before, so I was more than happy to see what she’d come up with. Having read her short story, and looked up her other work, I now believe she’s going to be a wonderful addition to our stable of authors on this series.”

This story is set between Times Squared and Blood of Atlantis.

Blurb: Back from New York, Lethbridge-Stewart is investigating one of the strangest cases that has come across his desk yet. Wishes are coming true, and if there’s one thing Lethbridge-Stewart still doesn’t believe in it’s magic. But what if he’s wrong?

The cover of The Wishing Bazaar is by regular cover artist, Richard Young. Richard says:“I adore working with Candy Jar, and their cover briefs are always so specific, but this one was rather ambiguous as there were several elements that I could have used on the cover. I decided to concentrate on the alien of the piece.One passage of the story mentioned its burning eyes. Using a combination of traditional drawing and then colourisation in Photoshop (to really get the blazing eyes right), this is what I came up with.And I'm pleased to say everyone loved it.”

The Wishing Bazaar will be sent out to every person who pre-orders Blood of Atlantis (as a single book, or as part of our bundle/subscription offers).

Blood of Atlantis can be pre-ordered individually, or as part of the Series 3 Bundle (both UK and overseas), which includes the previous novel, Times Squared by Rick Cross, and the forthcoming novel,Mind of Stone by Iain McLaughlin, or the subscription deal for those wishing to get six books for the price of five.

Candy Jar is pleased to announce that the subscription offer is now being extended to international customers. Please see http://www.candy-jar.co.uk/books/subscriptions.html for more details.

Candy Jar is also offering a special promotion for its online customers. Buy Blood of Atlantis for £8.99 and get Times Squared for £5. This promotion also applies to six other Candy Jar titles. Please see http://www.candy-jar.co.uk/books/offers.html for more details.
-END-

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

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

Monday, November 14, 2016

Being Busy, the art of Tinkering, and Screaming

I came across this post from 2012 and repeat it here now almost word for word as I wrote it then. This year is different. I am writing. I have been doing lots of editing and I've more of both ahead of me. I've not done anywhere near enough promotion and those 'life' annoyances are different but still very prevalent, maybe more so. Part of me wants to sum up the entire post into a single sentence: I'm a writer and I'm forever busy:
A friend sent me a text last night: "I hope the writing is going well." I had to reply that I'm not writing. I haven't been for...well, I'm not sure. Several days, maybe three or four weeks, and it's starting to annoy me. I've found a moment here and there to 'tinker' but not to write, although that's not entirely true either.

I've 'tinkered' with a bit of story, but not had time to sit down and truly write so in that sense I've hardly written a word. On the other hand, I've written plenty. I've had edits. I've written long-overdue emails. I've three works out in December so have written blurbs and promo, and typed my book details everywhere I can think of, and written blog posts for places I'm hoping to show up at to pontificate about my books or the writing process that created them for anyone who has asked me, or cares to read them. And sometimes just to say hi -- to connect with other writers and readers and thank them for their support, understanding, and lovely words and messages.

This is another side of 'writing' and I've had lots of that to be going on with, but I've also spent some time out to attend to daily 'life'. Much as I'd like to claim otherwise, we all have them, these daily lives, and maybe that's a good thing -- keeps a person grounded. I've a relative in the hospital, the extension roof sprung a leak, and I've done some shopping, some of which I can't avoid as we head towards Christmas. I will have a Christmas run of presents to attend to, and I have parcels to pack up, post off or deliver. I have cards to write, and a yearly letter to put together for those I have and haven't neglected equally -- either way it will be a chance for them to catch up on what is happening at 'our house'.

I'm...deep breath...busy, but in that, I can't say this time is all that different to any other time. I'm always busy, because when I've ticked off all the things on my current to-do list, there will be another one to attend to, and another one, and another after that. It doesn't stop. It's part of writing, living this double life, and sure, sometimes it's part of any normal life, too, but having all this going on occasionally means I procrastinate and tinker a bit with something trivial because it stops me from screaming aloud, which will only earn me strange looks and speculative whispers. And if there ever should be a time when I'm not busy... As if that's going to happen. I'll still be occupied because what writers do when they're not busy is get busy writing. See how that works?

Still, I'm getting antsy and I'm longing for the moment -- and it will arrive this week -- when I sit down and begin work on something. It may be something that needs editing -- it may be old or new, may require a complete re-write, or may be ticking over quietly in a dormant brain cell for now, but I've reached a point where if I don't write 'story' it's quite possible you'll hear me screaming.

Monday, November 07, 2016

The Seeker

To start with a summation, I’ll say this book (by Andy Frankham-Allen) is absorbing and satisfying. Initially, I didn’t feel that this was going to be the case. At the risk of the author’s wrath, I confess it took me more than a few pages to get into this story. That isn’t to say my attention wandered; I simply didn’t find it gripping, but I quickly accepted I probably opened the pages with more than a little bias, and the fault lies with me, not the writer. Knowing the author’s style my already active imagination worked overtime with anticipation, for I’ve been waiting for this book for more than a little while. The pace at the start was steady but a little slower than I was expecting. However, that’s my one and only negative and it’s a small one. I found the book increasingly absorbing.

I should say I’m going to be sharing a publisher with the author and our paths have crossed in writing circles enough to call each other friends. After reading The Seeker we eventually went on to write a book together for the series Space 1889. It says a lot of Andy's tenacity that he talked me into co-authoring. However, if a writing acquaintance pens a book that I dislike, I simply never review it. Neither do I review all the books I do like, but I keep my evaluations generally for books that speak to me on some deeper level of enjoyment that makes the book a keepsake. The Seeker, book one of four in The Garden series, is such a book.

Absorbing and satisfying is the only description that fits the gradual expansion that made every distraction in my life irritating. By the time I reached halfway I’d find myself suddenly thinking of Willem and wonder what was happening to him as if his life hadn’t ‘paused’ while the book lay shut, but continued between the closed pages. That felt unacceptable; I wanted to be reading.

Willem is both a businessman and loving uncle, with much in his life to be thankful for including a long-standing friendship with his best mate, Jake. That’s not to say that Will’s life is without stresses and seeing Jake at long last appears to be getting serious with his latest girlfriend, Will decides to take a chance and follow what began as an internet romance to its logical conclusion, to meet up with the person he’s only known online. From here what happens after Will disappears leads the reader into a clever reworking of mythology extending back to ancient Egypt. As I immersed deeper into this supernatural world that exists in the undercurrents of our own, that initial steady pace began to make sense. One needs to fully know and understand Will to make what happens to him all the more involving.

It’s been a while since I read a book where I loved almost all the characters, both ‘good’ and ‘bad’ and ached equally for them. There is much manipulation and secretive agendas that make the line between antagonist and victim blur, as do the lines of sexuality. Although Will is gay, this is not a homosexual novel, and it would be a tremendous pity if anyone dismissed the reading of it as anything less than it is -- an engrossing narrative bringing new life to the vampire mythos that could equally interest vampire aficionados as well as those with no particular liking for the subject.

This is and isn’t a vampire book, just as it is and isn’t so many other things, but rather a satisfying blend, a commingling of old and new, the future and the past, complexities of relationships, love and hate. One is left feeling that these characters are all being moved like pawns in some great game where some fundamental rule or ‘truth’ is missing. Those who believe they are following a line of destiny are as helpless as a newly rebirthed upyr of the story. I hurt for Frederick in an almost equal way as I did Willem. In this expert way, the author humanises the villains of the piece, making the reader care even when a twinge of betrayal or guilt accompanies the feelings, for Willem remains the central pivot that wreaks havoc with the emotions, both with the other characters in the story and in turn with the person turning the pages.

Unusually for a book in a series, I have to agree with another reviewer who commented on the truly great ending, calling it both subtle and powerful. I’d like to add another word to that: perfect. It’s the perfect end at the perfect moment. I feel content enough to leave the story for now, and let the events I’ve learned so far percolate...with anticipation.

You can check out Andy's Amazon page where you will see The Seeker has two covers but this is the latest:


Monday, October 31, 2016

Happy Halloween

Last year I took part in the 'Howloween' Blog Hop. Unfortunately, owing to an update of my site I've lost that particular post, but I did note the contents. When discussing all things unnerving, it occurred to me there are many things ‘scary’ about writing. One of those is the fear there will come a day when someone devours all the plot bunnies. Often the writer struggles to kick the furry little blighters back because they're rampaging and demanding attention as much as any zombie on the march for brains. I'm sure my bunnies have nasty sharp teeth and claws -- they sure enjoy nipping at my ankles -- but many ask the question: where do they come from? So let's concentrate on the scary ‘how’ and ‘howl’ of plots. How does one make the magic happen?

I doubt there’s a writer in existence who won’t one day be asked, “Where do you get your ideas?” There is no spell book. No magic shop one can go to. Authors wish there were, but in some ways ideas are conjured up out of thin air. A writer is someone who can connect two or more seemingly dissociated events, can play the ‘what if’ game, and maybe add an extra twist.

Here is a brief example. I wove my short story Bitter and Intoxicating for the anthology Red Velvet and Absinthe (editor Mitzi Szereto; foreword by Kelley Armstrong) in answer to a submission call for gothic erotic romance. Although a list of example work was given, I didn’t have anything written that fitted, and worse, I had no ideas. I went online and began running searches for red, velvet, and for absinthe. Although the stories didn’t need to have anything to do with these items, I needed a place from which to start. I certainly didn’t expect to write anything on those topics. I was just searching for a spark.

I came across a painting by Albert Maignan, La Muse Verte, which seemed a good portrayal of what the effects of absinthe was supposed to have on the artistic mind. Inspiration! What if a distraught painter came across a seductive woman in a bar, one with flaming red hair clad in a diaphanous green gown, and she was to take him home to try absinthe promising that it would be the answer to all his woes? The resulting story is part BDSM, part gothic horror, part sensuous seduction ‘painted’ with words -- something fitting to read on a dark October night in front of the fire with the wind blowing outside.
From Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository

Monday, October 17, 2016

Tired of Adulting

As children we often feel put-upon because the adults are the ones who make ‘our’ decisions. This is not helped by the numerous times these restrictions come without an explanation. Children feel victimised, unfairly treated. At times, they are bullied by other children, and in worse cases, by parents and teachers. We hear, or imagine, how great it is to be an adult. Being ‘adult’ represents freedom. This is strengthened by being told, “Well, when you’re an adult you’ll be able to make your own decisions.”

Adults are liars. People are born into a world where they are never free. They are born into a world with expectations. That’s not entirely a bad thing -- I do believe in a certain standard of social and ethical responsibility, but it’s why money can be the root of all evil. Money represents a kind of freedom most of us will never obtain, never appreciate. It’s not so much about what we can buy, or what we can own. It’s not even about not having to do as we’re told. It’s about not having to do as we’re told, unjustly.



Children and adults bully children. Adults and children bully adults. Children look at adults and see them as having all the power, when the truth is most adults will never have the power at all. Adults remain children. It’s just that some are better at hiding it. Some ooze confidence but in their darkness hours they are still children. We all need a cuddle sometime. We all wish someone else could be the adult for a day. We all just keep plodding along, doing the best we can. We learn our parents were 'winging it', faking it, 'putting on a brave face'...and maybe that's the true definition. Maybe in that regard I excel at being 'adult'. I'm still tired some days. And it is on those days where creativity is many a person's survival mechanism.

'Adults' everywhere, I hug you.


Images from memepile. If aware of any copyright breaches, please advise.


Monday, October 10, 2016

Monday, September 19, 2016

Shaking hands with Lethbridge-Stewart

Hi, everyone! I thought this week was a good time to post an update I planned to entitle Update September 2016. That changed when my most exciting news arrived in my inbox this morning. I can't exactly call this Dark Fiction, but it's more that side of my writing than anything else, though the tone of the story is fast and light. My short story The Wishing Bazaar is now part of the third series of Lethbridge-Stewart 'The Brigadier' of Doctor Who fame. I've been keeping this secret for quite some unbearable time. With the press release it's official:


***

My next truly Dark Fiction title Blood Moon will appear in Night to Dawn magazine early next year. It is one of several from an on-going project of shorts under a theme, of which I've already published some stories. I have it in mind to place a few with magazines and then form a collection either through a publisher, should I be able to find one, or dip into self-publishing.

***
I've other news for writing that has nothing to do with Dark Fiction so I'll refrain from posting here, except to say, others are screaming for work from me, I know. I'm sorry. Life pitches us curves and no one can be more frustrated than I.

I have a schedule I'm diving into. Thanks to everyone who has asked for work and those who have shown incredible patience.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Plot vs Pants

First, an explanation.

A writer who is a ‘plotter’ plans out the course of the story, spends time thinking about the plot, theme, subtext, characterisation, and many other elements ‘before writing’.

A ‘pantser’ sits down at the keyboard with an idea or a model (these are two different things I won’t explain here except to say one is more fully-fledged than the other) and begins to write. ‘Pantsing’ is to ‘fly by the seat of’ (one’s pants), though I prefer to call it organic writing.

I’m (mostly) a pantser, which I’ve come to realise doesn’t mean I don’t plot but having read a reference to Stephen King recently, a proverbial lightbulb went off in my head illuminating the fact that, like King, I’m an intuitive plotter. I am NOT for the record stating at this point in time I do it as well as he does, but here’s hoping one day, preferably soon. Really, that’s the definition of (successful) pantsers -- they are intuitive plotters.

Yes, I am able to face the blank page and craft a story with nothing more than a vague idea in mind. I tend to write from beginning to end. I seldom jump around. The story comes to me as if I am reading, and in that respect it appears I’m lucky the way King is fortuitous. We are able to ‘pants’ it. The same cannot be said of every writer, though it doesn’t diminish the effort required, and a simple but painful truth remains: sometimes planning isn’t a bad idea even for pantsers. A story may not work for many reasons. Vital elements may be missing. Or be in the wrong order. Even a good book may benefit from being looked over to check all the important formations of story-telling are present and/or in the right place.

I imagine most writers start out as pantsers, unless they have some form of professional writing background. The majority of writers are readers who range from someone ‘wanting to have a go’ to those who have always dreamed of it being a vocation. Some (the lucky few) will discover they are intuitive, their writing tends to be organic, and they write something good enough to capture a publisher’s interest. Those who aren’t intuitive likely never publish anything, or nothing well-received.

Stories have patterns. Don’t worry if you didn’t realise this. If you’re a reader, you shouldn’t. I was ‘just’ a reader once, though there’s no such thing as ‘just a reader’ to those who love books, who buy them or produce them. A reader should enjoy a book without seeing its framework. The reader isn’t supposed to know the design is there.

Pantsers start writing and either give up or get nowhere (I throw my hands up and confess there are always the often-dreaded exceptions) because they don’t realise this, or they are intuitive and form the shape without realising. Once pantsers become published authors, they may or may not perceive the hidden construction of stories. Some will continue to be intuitive without thinking about it, while some (of which I am one) will begin to spot these layouts.

A note of warning: IMHO recognition of these designs ‘may’ spoil the simple enjoyment of reading somewhat (at least for me). As an author I now read a book more aware of the narrative. I’m able to spot the ‘inciting incident’ (for example). Don’t worry if as a reader you don’t know what that is, but writers should understand. For me, books were more enjoyable when these plot points were ‘invisible’ because as a reader my mind wasn’t tuned in to spot them.

Plotters know stories require an arrangement and they set out to make the task easier for themselves by laying the groundwork beforehand.

To a pantser plotting feels like studying for an exam. A plotter to a pantser can seem like one of those irritating kids in school who enjoyed the study process. Ironically, I was one of those who didn’t overly mind studying -- good thing because as a writer there are times when I need to do research.

The trouble is, depending on what level of intuitive grasp the writer has of the subject, the pantser can be the one looking wistfully back, wishing they had spent the hours pouring over the text books in order to obtain a better result, but I’m not advocating either option.

Which is better? This is a simple question with an easy answer: use the one that works for you. Some writers plot, some pants, and some do a mixture of the two, and what’s required can differ from work to work, genre to genre, project to project. The choice often comes down to which the writer finds easier, more natural, or even which he or she can withstand. For some pantsers, plotting can seem torturous. For some plotters, pantsing must seem bewildering and disastrous.

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Ten Memorable Titles

I was tagged some time ago on Facebook. The way the game works is to list ten that have stayed with you in some way. They don’t have to be the ‘right’ books, and you shouldn’t think about it too long — just ten that have touched you and stayed with you. Then you nominate ten more people to play the game.

My problem was sticking to ten, and sticking to the ‘stayed with you in some way’, which isn’t necessarily the same thing as favourite books and authors.

Here, I’m including the list but with a variation on the theme adding explanations. Slight cheat — the first is two by one author, and there are a couple of trilogies.

In no particular order:

The Happy Prince/Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

The Happy Prince — read as a child, and I cried my eyes out. Well, not literally and that would be gross, but yes, I sobbed. Hey, I was like nine or younger, and the first time I heard the story someone else read it to me. It would probably still make my lips tremble. It has everything: morality, romance, heart-wrenching pain. A Picture of Dorian Gray is just one of those stories that’s never forgotten. As is often the case, my first awareness of this tale was the old black and white film. I didn’t get to read the book until my teens, but it’s an undeniable classic.

Gormenghast (trilogy/first two books) by Mervyn Peake

Not only a story that has touched and stayed with me, it’s one of my favourites, if not ‘the’ favourite owing to the scope of imagination, the names given to the characters, but most of all the richness of the language used, something sadly lacking in most books today.

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

I adore this ‘other world’ below London in this urban fantasy. For Doctor Who fans, it may be of interest to know that Peter Capaldi played The Angel Islington in the 1996 television series, but it is the novelisation that stayed with me. Again, I love the names given to the characters, and the idea of an ordinary man dragged into an extraordinary world, one right under London as well.

Wraeththu (trilogy) by Storm Constantine

This is possibly the author’s most well-known and outstanding work. A futuristic fantasy of post-apocalyptic proportions told through the eyes of three characters (one per book). The story follows Wreaththu — hermaphrodite beings who are skillful with forms of magic — and their interaction with humans. At times romantic, but questioning perceptions of sexuality and mankind’s humanity/inhumanity to each other, there’s more going on here to those with an open mind.

Snowflake by Paul Gallico

A child’s book that I’ve never seen anywhere since. I last tried searching for it about five years ago, but it wasn’t available, and I think I only found one listing for it. (Update: there are a few copies around and it can be listened to on youtube.) I have no need of an actual replacement, although mine is so old and well-read it’s now lacking a cover and is just a very thin volume of aged yellowing pages. In short, Snowflake is born, goes on many adventures, falling in love with Raindrop and then at the dramatic conclusion returns to the sky. It had everything for a child — adventure, romance, and even self-sacrifice. I loved (and kept) so many of my childhood books, but this is my favourite.

Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

My first ‘adventure’ for an older reader, and I’ve chosen it because it’s linked to the one good clear memory I have of my mother. She read it to me long before I was able to read it myself. She must have read it, at my request, about three times before I was able to take over. I still have the little burgundy covered book that she gave me. Owing to her ill health, I don’t have many memories like that so her reading Tom Sawyer is priceless.

Knowledge of Angels by Jill Paton Walsh

Only read once, but I loved this book and remember it well. Some might see it as an argument against religion, but I think more than that it illustrates what man is capable of doing to each other, using religion as an excuse. I especially like the story behind the book, that it was turned down by everyone, so Jill Paton Walsh self-published at a time when it was much harder to do than now. It went on to win a Booker prize — before they changed the rules to disallow self-published titles.

The Incredible Shrinking Man by Richard Matheson

It was a close call between this and I Am Legend, but this just pips it for me. My first memory of the story was once again the old black and white movie. Who can forget the battle with the giant spider? Some love spiders, some hate; some have this strange love/hate affinity with them. I think their webs are beautiful and amazing. I think the spider is incredible. I just don’t want to come across one unexpectedly. In short, my early recollections were of that chill down one’s spine at the thought of battling a giant spider. I hadn’t read the book until recently, and likely had a preconceived notion of what to expect. The book, though in many ways accurate to the film, differs vastly in that it’s more emotional. I didn’t expect to experience so many emotions including such sadness interwoven with sympathy for the main character, in what many assume is a horror story.

Nocturnes by John Connolly

I like John Connolly’s work. I’m often perplexed with how he seems to break so many ‘rules’, particularly with his Charlie Parker novels — including both first and third person viewpoints, and even telling the story in an omnipresent way when relating something that happened in the past. Not all writers can even manage point of view changes successfully, but it seems to suit his style, his ‘voice’. I chose to include Nocturnes because I was surprised to come across a collection of short stories with gothic influences. They are both olde-worlde and new.

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

Best known for writing One Hundred and One Dalmatians, and the sequel The Starlight Barking. Yes, 101 had a sequel, and I have both books. I Capture the Castle has one of the best opening sentences. As John Steinbeck’s end to Of Mice and Men is startling, the most memorable thing about Dodie Smith’s first novel for adults has always been the line that begins, “I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.”

Monday, August 22, 2016

Real Publishing, Real Books

An ebook is a book in what may be, for some, an unfamiliar format. This necessitates the reader to get used to different methods of reading and storing books, but the end product is still that of a story. The writer has other differences to consider between electronic and print markets.

First, there are seldom advances. Some publishers have introduced a small advance but generally, this is not the case and don't expect the type of up-front payment as the 'big six' might offer if they feel a book has the potential to be a bestseller. To be fair, many mid-stream print publishers aren't so free with initial payouts. When offered, these prepayments aren't always as large as they once were and based on a number of books a publisher 'expects' to sell. I've heard of huge advances withdrawn if an acceptable manuscript isn't delivered and, in some instances, if books simply don't retail well and meet expectation. Advice is, don't spend an advance -- bank it for a good while.

Print books are often also released electronically now whereas predominately electronic books aren't going to make the shelf in a local bookstore, not unless they eventually go to print, or the shop has the facilities to offer electronic books as part of its 'stock'. Maybe not even then. Many printed books never make it to local shops, either, and require ordering, but let's not forget technology is advancing. Predictions are one day a book 'shop' may consist of a catalogue and a screen from which to order, the books appearing 'magically' as some sort of electronic download or almost instant POD (Print on Demand. While this sounds like science-fiction such scientific applications are being considered and in development.

The good news for the writer is royalties on ebooks are higher and here's where the ebook author has a difficult choice. Print books are wonderful and many writers will say they long for their titles to be in print. They may read ebooks themselves and love them, but the writer wants to hold their work as something 'solid'. Touch makes something feel more actual. It may be why many mistakenly conclude the electronic markets aren't real publishing, while others love being able to cart a library around on a small device that fits into a pocket. In context, there are those who say emails aren't real letters but the technology still transfers information effectively. However, the writer also needs to consider he or she can earn approximately 25, 35 or 50% in royalties from an ebook. From a print book, royalty payments can be as low as 7%. Let that sink in for a minute before I add a writer can earn more in royalties from an ebook but these titles may not have such a wide distribution, so the potential to sell fewer copies, though this has improved through distributor networks more recently. As more mainstream titles appeared in electronic formats so more companies became distributors just as they would with print, and even printed works can have the same problem with limited markets and outlets.

Now we move to why ebooks cost so much. After all, they skip the printing stage. Yes, they do, but this is another matter for those who scorn ebooks to consider. Printing is the ONLY element that the ebook skips. This is a rough guide only based on experience but consider the levels a story goes through before release.

When submitted to a publisher the submission goes to a reader. A reader may be an editor at the publishing house or a reader only, but either way, from a synopsis and first three chapters, a reader will decide whether to ask for the entire manuscript. If the reader likes the draft, they'll pass it on, discuss it with others in the publishing house including management, and a team will decide whether to offer a contract. This is especially true if the writer is an unknown name to them. An editor is assigned and the work goes through the editing process. Some publishers allow a writer to work with a single editor for all work submitted. Sometimes, publishers simply hand the next book scheduled for editing to an available editor. I much prefer building up a relationship with an editor, to learn how we both work, and where we can trust each other. This can make for less friction and time wasted. Depending on how much attention the work needs, it may go through one, two, three, or more edit rounds before the line-editing department provides a fresh 'set of eyes' to look the story over. This time, the book is specifically checked for punctuation errors, house-style etc., and even obvious story problems. When one or two line editors are finished, the work is returned to the main editor who will look at the changes before sending them on to the writer. The writer and editor collaborate and, once happy, send the work to the proofing department. A final effort is made to spot any errors before the book is formatted* and ready for release. The writer may or may not get to proof the final galley. (*Some formatting is often left to the author, but I'll not go into that this time.)

While this sounds like a leisurely process, it isn't. I've grown used to "Can we have this yesterday?" It's often a fraught time. Think of all the effort that goes into this editing procedure. As much as I love my books when I've gone through all the revisions I do prior to submitting and all these edits, and considering that I try to re-read at every opportunity, by the time the book is published I'm feeling a little sick of it. Also, keep in mind most writers work part-time if not full-time as well as write. Many editors do likewise. In some instances, so do the publishers. Many companies, with the exception of extremely large publishing houses, are run as secondary businesses. Management, editors, line editors, proofers, and the authors all give of their so-called 'spare' time -- a phrase that quickly becomes an in-house joke. When considering the number of man-hours, it makes the financial rewards paltry.

There's also the cost of cover art. Early on the writer may be required to submit a cover art request to provide an idea of the book's subject. Providing the artist with enough details takes considerably more thought than many expect. Some publishing houses ask the writer to 'okay' the cover, some don't. I've heard of some authors being extremely upset by their book covers. I'm sure there are good and bad examples in all markets but, so far, my comments have almost always been taken into consideration. Covers can range from quite cheap to expensive.

Wait. We're not finished. Who writes the blurb? That's the short teaser on the back cover of a printed book to get the reader interested in buying. Often, that's the job of the author, too. A publisher may change the blurb completely or simply tweak it, but the author has to provide an original and full blurb. The writer also has to submit a new story with a synopsis and usually needs to maintain a website. The author needs to promote, though if with a good publisher the company will do at least of a portion of promoting, too. Some now request a whole marketing strategy along with a manuscript. I'd be wary if the publisher asks for this without any indication of what they will do in return, but it is a part of modern-day publishing. A writer's best ability is to be accomplished at marketing.

Promotion shouldn't be left entirely to the author but any 'wannabe' needs to know they are expected to play their part. For the writer who envisages the romantic image of sitting at a desk tapping happily away, one work after the other, nothing could be further from the truth.

This still looks as if I've not answered why ebooks can cost as much to produce as print. One reason is the difference in those royalties, but we're not talking millions made by the writer or publisher. Not these days. What this means in terms of actual money, I'll cover another time, but in brief, an ebook goes through the same or similar process as most printed books. Only the final stage -- the format it's produced in -- differs, and this can take 'more effort' because there are many types of files available now. Glitches can happen. Returns for errors create more work and cost.

As for whether to read ebooks...as much as choosing what book to read is about choice, so should choosing the format in which one wishes to read be an act of free-will. I'd be devastated to see print books disappear, but I like to own a collection of both if for no other reason than much-needed space. Something else to consider is that I made my decision to write for an e-publisher based on what I could see happening to the book market in general. Although erotic publishers were at the forefront and the mainstay of the e-publishing market for a long time, books face strong competition. Many people struggle to find the time to read. The way ALL books are produced is changing, with even large mainstream publishers turning to POD technology and electronic formats. I own the works of Poe both in print and ebook. When considering publishing I decided not to turn my back on what might happen to the future of books. I could see many who sneer being taken by surprise. The author who turns their back on the idea of change could risk being left behind, and may miss out on some wonderful opportunities.

Monday, August 15, 2016

A Blast from the Past

It's April 2007 and I'm watching Night at the Museum. Mickey Rooney is in the cast. I'm experiencing a blast from the past, but one of those synchronous moments, a weird coincidence. I've recently lost my father. The connection -- as tenuous as it can be between people and families at times -- has been severed. When grief is fresh, it's often difficult to invoke a good recollection and, depending on the relationship, sometimes those are scarce. Seeing the thespian conjures a welcome memory.

Many years ago, I booked tickets for Sugar Babies at the Savoy Theatre in London; the performance starred Mickey Rooney and Anne Miller. I don't know why but at the last instant, I instructed the agent to add an extra ticket. I didn't check with our friends whether they minded, or if my father were free. I took a spur of the moment chance. Our friends didn't mind, and I told him to make sure he was available. I did not tell him where he was going except to see a show.

Sugar Babies is a musical revue, a tribute to the era of burlesque. Some might have thought it strange that our age group wanted to attend, but many of us had grown up watching musicals airing on a Sunday afternoon. The production was as nostalgic for us as for someone of my father's generation.

A fabulous evening was had by all, though if you were to ask me now to note the songs sang, or the skits performed, I couldn't. I can remember the moment Mickey came onto the stage too soon then had to stand pretending to be invisible until he could step in on cue, much to the entertainment of the other actors and the crowd. That Anne still had those fabulous shapely legs, which I rightly knew my father would enjoy viewing for real and not just on the television. That the saying not to work with children or animals, applies, at least when TV and stage is concerned: namely, a sketch where a woman had to stand covered in birds; the enactment went well except for the 'little presents' left on the floor, which created more laughter in a scene that should, and otherwise did, look beautiful.

We all had a wonderful night, but my father enjoyed himself most. He laughed his proverbial socks off and watching him laugh added to our amusement. I spent the evening sitting by his side while he chuckled, grinned, clapped and whistled. He did these things to the point of embarrassing, was the last one to stop, the last person to leave his seat -- wonderful! Not only do I have this recollection, he took pleasure in a marvelous evening during a hard working, stressful and, at times, painful life. My impulsive decision gave him enjoyment. For a few hours, he was able to set everything else aside.

This reveals a routinely overlooked truth: entertainment serves more than one purpose. A good book, a film, a play, music... Such things are part of our lives to a greater extent than we realise. The books I read as a child, many of which I still own, are friends, much as the people who remain a constant presence, and are as priceless. Not only do these things entertain, sometimes providing us with a much-needed escape, the moments they create shape our future, present, and our past.

The format doesn't matter. What makes us laugh, gasp, cry, jump or stare in wonder -- all these are markers, our companions along the way, part of the journey from birth unto death, and they form the blasts from the past that help our loved ones recall those happy moments once we are gone.
I owe a thank you to the creators, organisers, and performers for a precious memory...and to the writers, without whom such shared experiences would never happen.

Monday, August 08, 2016

Lisbon and Obidos

Whenever there are claims that a place may be the most beautiful capital city, I’m skeptical. I admit this is largely because I’m not much of a city person. Whenever we visit a capital I tend to like to pass through as quickly as possible, and often it’s amazing I visit any at all. While Lisbon is still too much ‘city’ for me, it is a place I won’t hesitate to return to if the opportunity allows.


We weren’t there for more than a few hours, and I was more taken with the tiled buildings, and the view of the river than anything else, so am unable to report what the city has to offer. I would recommend a trip on the water to fully appreciate the expanse of the bridges.




The most famous of these is the one modelled on San Francisco’s Golden Gate bridge. 230 above the water, it is possible to view the cars passing overheard and it’s a good opportunity to make use of a camera with a good zoom function.


The bridge was originally called Salazar. These days its official name is the 25th April Bridge after the 1974 revolution, but some also refer to it as the Tagus Bridge (the waterfront lying along the River Tagus), or more simply, ‘The Bridge’.


On one side stands the towering statue of Christ, resembling the one in Rio de Janeiro, this one paid for by the women of Portugal to give thanks their men were not involved in the Second World War. The plinth is 270 feet high served by a lift and steps and a promise of a good view. The statue is 90 feet high. I struggled to get this shot of the statue, bridge and boat, taking several and hoping for the best. I got the shot I wanted.

Thought to have been found by Ulysses, during its history Lisbon has been occupied by both the Romans, and the Moors, taken by English Crusaders who assisted the King of Portugal. This history is far more complex than I’m stating in a couple of sentences but is useful to bare in mind when viewing much of the architecture.


There’s much to see and do beyond Lisbon and I can think of several places we heard about that tempt us to return. We had the chance to visit only one outlying area and so chose Obidos.


Though busy with tourists if you’re looking for a picture postcard it’s a good choice. With it’s towering 12th century castle ramparts around a walled city of bright colours and cobbled streets, it’s a romantic spot.


One word of warning we were given -- there’s no one ‘policing’ people going on the wall and many like to walk around the city from the top. However, we were told that they’d already had several accidents this year as they do every year. Tourists taking photos forget there’s a drop to one side, step back to take a photograph, and...you don’t need me to explain the rest. If unsteady don’t make the attempt and don’t become distracted!


We went in a few of the seemingly tiny shops and discovered they extend far back room upon room in some cases. There's plenty to find for the browser or shopper. Having cleared much from my house in recent months and having a couple of pieces of Portugal pottery all I bought home was the photographs.


Seems two passengers can get in the back of these and the driver gives a little guided tour. Didn't get a chance but wouldn't mind one of these to use in some of the country villages we often visit in the UK.


And so as not to leave you with this as the final image, here's another beautiful example of Portuguese tiling, and the wonderful countryside around Obidos.


Monday, August 01, 2016

A quick stop at Fuerteventura

This week’s hop takes us to what was our least favourite stop on our five island tour: Fuerteventura. This is just personal taste. It’s a beautiful place in many ways and, having considered a holiday there many years ago, we were delighted to finally see the sand dunes. However, we’re not beach people and find the typical tourist spots unappealing.

Fuerteventura is closest to the African continent, second in size to the largest, Tenerife, with Lanzarote being the nearest of the other islands. Fuerteventura is part of Las Palmas province, a self-governing collective of Spain. The original inhabitants likely came from North Africa.

Few attempted to settle permanently moving on to more hospitable areas. The island has seen its share of conflict, conquered, disregarded, considered to be of little interest, the populace sold into slavery, and the island raided by pirates during a turbulent history. The island’s fortunes didn’t change eminently until the 1960s with the introduction of mass tourism.

We decided to head to Corralejo, the largest area of dunes. The full stretch runs 10 kilometres along the coast, reaching as far as 203 kilometres inland, the area--know as Parque Natural de las Dunas de Corralejo--being a protected region.


The harbour is pleasant and there’s plenty of available shopping. Touts attempting to drag tourists into restaurants or to attend presentations were easily ignored (I suspect more easily and less aggressive than on some islands), but this was still too much of a typical tourist trap for us.


The dunes are impressive and beautiful, but for people who don’t like to sunbathe, a walk and a few hours were good enough.


Monday, July 25, 2016

Hola La Palma

I continue our hop around the canaries this week with a stop at La Palma. We were told La Palma is the world's steepest island. Whether true we were also informed it's lush and green, and that's definite. We've never seen so many banana plants.



Drive from one side to the other and emerge from a tunnel between contrasting landscapes; this is because the climate varies on the two sides. The north is divided by deep ravines and surrounding mountains. The south has small volcanoes with smatterings of volcanic scenery that in pockets of land reminded me of Iceland, while the whole isle enjoys high temperatures all year and plenty of rain.


Though the island has a turbulent history, more recently it's a peaceful, prosperous place. Locals have no wish to see huge holiday resorts or high-rise hotels so though welcoming it's more unspoilt than some islands.



I want to finish with one highlight. We heard good feedback on Plaza La Glorieta in La Las Machas. It's much smaller than we imagined and one comes upon it quite suddenly in a landscape where it's unexpected and even seems a little out of place. We anticipated a more typical tourist location, not this small quiet, tranquil area. The mosaic park is open with no admission charge. Designed by Luis Morera, a local artist, the detail on the mosaics made this a delightful place to stop and is artistically inspirational.


Adios, La Palma

Monday, July 18, 2016

La Gomera

When people talk of the Canary Islands one instantly thinks of noise, lager louts, and the party scene reputation of tourism, none of which are to our taste. One of the main reasons we travel is to view stunning scenery, of which the islands have plenty.



Our second stop on our recent wanderings was the little-known island of La Gomera, which lies fifteen miles west of Tenerife, and thirty miles south-east of La Palma. In fact, it's easy to see Tenerife on a clear day and one of my favourite photographs I took on the whole trip had to be of the highest peak seeming to grow out of the clouds.





The roughly circular island is just thirteen by fifteen miles and is full of contrast. No one is certain from where the original inhabitants came to this small island where there is little to do, though North Africa is a possibility, and the Greek and Romans definitely knew of the area. Mediterranean civilisation knew of the islands as the Elysian Fields. Its population of 24,000 (10,000 of which live in the capital of San Sebastian) largely subsist on fishing or agriculture, with a small but growing tourist industry. Note: Columbus came this way, and though we didn’t have time to see it, the house in which he stayed and drew water from the well for his voyages has been fully restored.





Though essentially arid, La Gomera is varied in its landscape. With cliffs and deep valleys at first glance one might expect to spot a film crew shooting a wild west movie in a place like this:







The average temperature ranges between 65 to 75, though to us it felt far hotter for the time we were there. This was definitely the hottest island we visited in the area that is known for year round ‘springlike’ weather. In fact, we wanted to get out of the heat for a bit so decided to head for Garajonay National Park, which, we had been told, was liable to be cool and misty. Not so the day we went. Take your rain jackets they said. People were giving us funny looks.


Reminded us of Puzzlewood in the UK.


No, I didn't take the tree shot at an angle--that's how it is.

The forest looks primeval in places and we had heard many good things and read some wonderful reviews calling the place magical. Our own take… Yes, we loved it, and it was good to get a chance to really ‘walk’, get away from crowds, take in the trees and flowers, but maybe one needs a misty day to find the place magical. Indeed, the online photos I've found look far more mystical than the views we saw on a dry, sun-baked day.


Maybe we weren't the only ones who wanted to rest in the heat.

We’ve also been rather spoilt by our visit to Puzzlewood near the Forest of Dean in the UK, which rivals the national park in scenery if not size. Anyone who has been to and loved the forest on La Gomera might be amazed what is on our own doorstep.