I confess…

I’m a writer who’s not been writing. That is to say, anything I’ve written in the last few months is for something that’s personal to me, not for publication, or maybe one day to show a few specific people.

Reasons I’ve not been writing are many, including having got out of the habit owing to the wrist break last year (good now but not perfect with some aches), but mostly because I’ve been more focused on exercise and health issues, which would be easier if I gave in and sat at home, but I refuse to be a shut-in at my age. I may avoid people at times (or certain people all the time), but I enjoy getting outdoors and going to new destinations. It’s taken a long time for my mindset to get around to ‘screw this’ even though I’m going to struggle. I see an acupuncturist as a last resort because the health service can’t do anything for me — the only available meds made me worse. I foolishly didn’t even realise I was dealing with a cronic pain issue, until my acupuncturist said, and then I felt like crying. But I choked it back and carried on, which is the way I’ve handled most things in life. Yes, sadly, life gets in the way sometimes, despite the best intentions.

As for the writing, I’ve got three projects in mind. Something for re-publication, a work in progress, and something new. I’ve started on the re-publication project to get used to writing again, and have proof-edited one chapter and come up with ideas to add to it. I’m not running a race but I’m now motivated to finish.

Reads May 2024

The Old Man, Thomas Perry
This is a thriller with believable, interesting characters, though I found the pacing uneven. Even in a thriller, not all the chapters should be at speed, but I found the flow here a little off pace; I’d get used to one momentum before being thrust into another and back again. Still, I found the story absorbing. Anyone who expects to find the television series in these pages may be put off. Maybe that’s why I found this a little jarring. Much more happens in the series than here, and the ending wraps up a little abruptly. It’s hard for me to choose which version I preferred.

Agatha Raisin and the Murderous Marriage (audio), M.C.Beaton, read by Penelope Keith
In this one, things go awry when Agatha ignores the possibility that her estranged husband could still be alive. I found this instalment entertaining, possibly because the more Agatha tries to solve one murder another ensues and she finds herself at the heart of the investigation.

Everfound (Book 3 of the Skinjacker Trilogy), Neal Shusterman
Perhaps the best of the three, which means the author did his job well, increasing the tension as the overall story progressed, making this a trilogy worth finishing. He’ll (eagerly?) throw characters into the worst scenarios, perhaps situations that mean the end of them, often just when you love them the most. This shouldn’t put anyone off, though, as it adds tension and drama. I also liked that the author showed that even unpleasant characters have layers and motivation for what they do, something sometimes not highly dealt with in books for younger audiences. I grieved for those I earlier thought deserved their bad ends, which takes some doing no matter the age of the reader. As for the age of that audience, I find it difficult to judge, being as I read books like Oliver Twist when I was 7 or 8 years old. A satisfying series.

House of Leaves, Mark Z.Danielewski
This is a tough book to review without breaking it into parts. Johnny Truant tells us his story of reading the Navidson report as written by an old man called Zampano. I found Truant’s sections irritating, constantly going off on tangents and telling a story seemingly unrelated to the notebook he’s reading, especially his gratuitous sexual encounters; although at one point I wondered if these were as imaginary as some of his hallucinations of personal peril. However, Navidson’s story as ‘written’ by the character of Zampano grabbed my attention but alas, made me want to read those sections without the interference of the rest.

Then there are the annotations, again many of which seem to tell the reader nothing. At best, they lend a kind of authenticity to Zampano’s note taking, but are almost entirely unnecessary. The experimental style of the book is mildly interesting, but all this extraneous information is taxing and makes the book drag. Early in the ‘report’, Zampano includes almost two pages of names, which turn out to be (according to a footnote) names of photographers. I didn’t bother reading through an entire list of names, which were there for no apparent reason I could see. The references to echoes and labyrinths seem somehow to refer to the novel itself. As does the sentence ‘All solutions are necessarily personal’ (page 115) appearing to suggest the outcome of the story (good or bad) will be unique to the individual.

In another, the author notes a real or fictional article (I don’t know which) remarking ‘In the future, readers of newspapers and magazines will probably view news pictures more as illustrations than as reportage…’ referring to the inability eventually to distinguish between genuine images and those manipulated. But in this, and references to other technology, once again the writer seems to manipulate the reader, telling us we can trust nothing.

And what is the point of the boxes of text or blank pages, other than to suggest the maze of corridors and wide open spaces within the supernatural realms of the ‘house’ investigated in the Navidson report? Likewise later, lines the reader needs to read in the opposite direction, or from a corner, etc., appear to be representations of Navidson’s exploration.

Whilst reading I couldn’t help thinking that so many reviewers told others not to bother, and yet, the book remains acclaimed. On the one hand, the author has written something incredible when one considers the work of putting all the content together — that of Zampano’s notebook and Truant’s experiences while reading said book — with all the annotations. It must have been a pain to organise, and to print, especially when first published. But has the author, in actuality, written something ultimately pretentious with little substance, leaving readers floundering around trying to find personal meaning in a literary labyrinth? In that regard, the book almost reads like a joke played on everyone who gets lost in its pages.

Or does the book attempt to work like the maze Navidson explores? Psychological references try to explain the true meaning of Navidson’s claims, treating these details as the maze of Navidson’s mind. I enjoyed reading the Navidson house storyline, and there was a touch of creepiness in the odd place, but anyone looking for a horror story may be hard-pressed to find it here. Truant’s descent into madness seems insubstantial, although the conclusion of the book, when we learn more about his mother from her own written word, left me questioning if he was always so inclined to a breakdown. Ultimately, I understand the love/loathe reactions. This book will mean different things to different people — lots to some, nothing to others. This has to be one of the most peculiar books I’ve read.

Fabulous Fowey

I’m pleased to share that we recently returned from a much-enjoyed weekend break in Fowey. Having had a thoroughly good time, I thought I’d share some photos along with a few details.

This harbour town nestles in an area of outstanding natural beauty in Cornwall on the west side of a deep estuary facing Polruan, with the Fowey River flowing out to the sea and Bodinnick further upstream. Fowey is perhaps most famous for being home to author Daphne du Maurier, who lived at the blue and white house known as Ferryside, near the Bodinnick Ferry. However, the town offers much more than quaint streets, modern and ancient houses, and boats bobbing on the blue estuary waters. A stay here isn’t complete without taking to the water at least once, whether for a short boat trip or a longer one.

The roads in Fowey can be narrow and steep, with limited parking. We opted for an Airbnb with parking provided for convenience. For those wanting to stay right on the estuary, there are a few options with parking, or you’ll need to leave your vehicle in a long-term public car park.

We enjoyed wandering around this delightful harbour town on our first evening, which allowed me to capture photos without many people around. The next day, we explored more, indulging in excellent food and walking to St. Catherine’s Castle and Readymoney Cove. Unfortunately, our visit to the small beach at the cove was marred by a strong stench, possibly because of nearby fertilising or a worse cause. However, I wouldn’t let this deter anyone from visiting, as there are plenty of other attractions, especially for walking enthusiasts.

One highlight of our trip was the well-known 4-mile Hall Walk, which involves two ferry rides. We started with the large transport ferry to Bodinnick, walked around to Pont Pill (small but pretty), and continued to Polruan. From there, we took the smaller passenger ferry boat back to Fowey, where we ravenously devoured delicious fish and chips at Havener’s restaurant. The walk, which offers some fine spots for photo opportunities, took us a leisurely 2.5 hours, although it can be completed in 2 hours or less depending on fitness and weather. Given the up-and-down nature of the paths and steps, wellingtons or sturdy boots are recommended.

For food, as well as Havener’s, I can also recommend Bufala pizza, Organicafe (lunch and cake), Game of Cones (ice cream), and cakes and pasties from the Quay Bakery.

For those looking to explore further, nearby places of interest include Lanhydrock, The Eden Project, and the Lost Gardens of Heligan. However, there’s plenty to do for a fulfilling weekend in Fowey alone.

Reads April 2024

Everwild (Book 2 of the Skinjacker Trilogy), Neal Shusterman
This carries on where Everlost left off, being the middle book in a trilogy. The intended audience is a teen readership, but I still feel older and younger can read this depending on the person, even though the themes are much darker here. I’d heard some surprises were disturbing and although I wouldn’t go that far, I hadn’t thought I could feel at all uneasy or surprised. This story certainly evokes the question of just because a person (or in this case, afterlight) has an ability, does this mean they should use it? For the greater good, probably not. I found this book better than the first, and, therefore, intend to finish all three books, when after the first, I felt I might not bother with books 2 and 3.

Agatha Raisin and the Walkers of Dembley (audio), M.C.Beaton, Read by Penelope Keith
This outing flows along like most of the Agatha Raisin books, although this time Agatha and her neighbour (and possibly love-interest) James Lacey team up and move temporarily to a village to solve a murder pretending to be a married couple. Romance is in the air in more ways than one, and the end of this book sets up an interest question for the next book to come.

All the Fiends of Hell, Adam L.G. Nevill
Nevill has been among my favourite authors from my first read of his books. My favourite out of those I’ve read so far remains No One Gets Out Alive. This newest novel may well be a close second, although trying to choose the best of this author’s work is difficult. In this (possible) alien invasion, supernatural horror, there’s so much to appreciate. The author well uses every sentence, creates a solid plot, and introduces a protagonist who is an average man thrown into exceptional circumstances. One of the book’s strengths is this character’s reactions. Even when he’s frozen in indecision, making me scream, the reaction is appropriate, genuine, and realistic. Real people aren’t superheroes. When hurt, people writhe in pain, unable to always miraculously drag themselves to their feet. The bad guy reminded me of several people I’ve stumbled across and was an excellent love-to-hate antagonist. The world-building also performs well, creating a steady creeping atmosphere and breakdown of our world. Although the horrors unfolding take place on Earth, they feel terribly genuine. The question of what’s bleeding through into our existence, extraterrestrial, inter-dimensional, denizens of hell… you’ll be wondering about and believing in them all, gazing at the sky and hoping it never turns red.

Moonraker (audio), Ian Fleming, Read by Bill Nighy
I found this surprising. The best thing about this book is the female romantic interest. She’s quite different from what we expect from the Bond universe. Her indifference to Bond was refreshing and nothing about her was quite what we imagine of the average Bond ‘girl’. I thought no one could make a game of cards sound interesting, but Fleming conveys the tension of the players. Negatives are few and in part a sign of past times and writing styles. This exemplifies why a writer shouldn’t solely focus on one human movement, such as the shrugging of shoulders (and what other movements could shrug?), and sprinkle it throughout a book. And the focus on what people wear grew tiring. But these points are minor. Overall, this highlighted the contrast between the films vs reading the books. Of course, Bill Nighy expertly reads the audio, as one would expect.

Crusade in Jeans, Thea Beckman
I knew nothing about this book other than it was award-winning, and never having come across a historical children’s book before, I couldn’t resist having a look. I’ve seen some say the book suffers because of the translation, and I can easily believe this is true, as some stories don’t translate terribly well. Still, this based on fact fiction — an event in history I had only a vague concept of — is extremely readable and adventurous enough to entertain many children and some adults alike. It’s certainly memorable, and it’s an interesting concept — a fifteen-year-old stuck in the wrong time viewing the events with a modern mindset. In reality, early on, people would likely have killed such a visitor, but Dolf’s persistence in trying to save almost ten thousand children will capture the imagination of many. Having read this, I was ready to give up my copy, but I see it’s rare and selling for exorbitant sums.

Snowblind, Don Roff
This started out well, though I was less absorbed by the end. The author uses any cliched horror moments well by making them funny. A relatively light, fast read, that’s entertaining. I can imagine this could make a decent film if done well, and it’s apparently currently in production.

Ask Not What a Publisher Can Do For You

It’s an extraordinary realism for aspiring writers: many publishers and agents often seek authors who already possess a substantial following.

The search for publication can be akin to seeking that crucial first job — employers want experience, but how does one gain experience without a job? Traditionally, writers begin with shorter works, offering their skills for free, then progressing to paid assignments. With luck, perseverance, or a blend of both, they may eventually see longer works accepted, though not always or often with a major publisher. Many first publish with midstream or small press; indeed, it’s possible to manage successful careers with smaller publishers, and most writing credits improve a writer’s chances. Like with any job application, the writer builds a resume.

By saying publishers and agents seek writers with an audience, I’m not only referring to their preference for published authors. They have a keen interest in sales figures and, therefore, followership. Today, social media presence is an important and complex challenge. Writers often struggle to balance writing with networking, which, while occasionally enjoyable, can also be time-consuming, demoralising, and a tempting excuse for procrastination. Also, the effectiveness varies.

Accurate statistics to determine what works and what doesn’t are problematic. Success hinges on too many variables including but not limited to genre. A large following doesn’t always translate into sales, while some authors with modest audiences enjoy sturdy trading.

Publishers and agents naturally prefer writers with an existing readership. They desire assurance that taking on an author will lead to worthwhile sales. They’re increasingly interested in writers who can bring their own audience. Today’s publishers are asking not what they can do for the writer, but what the writer can do for them.

This shift partly explains the rise in self-publishing, and it has contributed to the perception that publishers prioritise writers based on what they can offer. But remember, this is not an absolute rule, and it’s important not to view the industry as heartless; we all share a love for the written word. Still, with this perspective, rejections become less shocking.

Sadly, these days some publishers do nothing, and writers will, at some point, need to ask the right questions. While tempting to sign the first hint of a contract, depending on the size of the publisher, it may be important to enquire about career prospects, potential sales, and marketing support. Understanding what questions to ask and when is more important than pressuring the publisher or asking obvious ones.

Update March 2024

Hi Everyone!

AT HOME:
We visited relatives for an extended Easter break and, for once, the journeys weren’t too bad despite a hold-up and diversion when returning home owing to a lorry on fire. Of course, these days, the moment one leaves the main road, there’s little to no help. Gone are the days when anyone puts out signs, and don’t bother relying on GPS as Satnavs try the utmost to turn you around to go back the way you came, placing you on the very road you need to avoid.

Monsoon season continues — we’re on our 8th storm of the year right now — and this is affecting a lot of the country. Farmers understandably complain about ruined crops, and business owners complain about lost bookings and fewer visitors. There’s been little in the way of a spring, though we could work on the garden occasionally.

FILM/TV:
Working our way through classic episodes of Doctor Who is interesting. At season 9 now, with Jon Pertwee, who was my first Doctor. I’d forgotten how argumentative this Doctor could be with Lethbridge-Stewart, though the smirk of amusement on the Brigadier’s face softens their confrontations. It’s a delight to see Katy Manning as the companion (Jo) being that she voiced the short audio story I did for Big Finish Productions. I remember her, of course, though I recall which episodes I’ve seen by the monsters more than anything. I’d also forgotten how adventurous Jo Grant was.

WRITING:
I am writing, though there’s not much to report right now, as I’m mostly doing some editing rounds and re-writes. Not very exciting but that’s how writing goes sometimes.
Stay happy and healthy!
Sharon x

Reads March 2024

Everlost (Book 1 of the Skinjacker Trilogy), Neal Shusterman
A teen book for 12 up that deals with death and, to some extent, what happens afterwards, although this isn’t a religious book. Everlost is a kind of purgatory for the souls of children who get knocked off course. The world the author creates with its various characters, creatures, and monsters is the best thing about it. However, there’s a lack of emotion from Nick and Allie over their death, to a point which struck me as unrealistic. There’s plenty to like about them, but there could have been more. Likewise, the suggestion of a budding romantic interest seems out of place so early in events. The book is more of an adventure plot than a teaching method, which is fine, though I feel it could have done more. Still, the book contains a great cast, and I’d still recommend this for children even though I feel some under 12s could read this. I was reading books like Oliver Twist when I was 8, so the nasty parts don’t seem to warrant such a high age rating for some. I’m sure well-read younger readers would enjoy this and it’s easily readable, containing some fabulous ideas, and a well thought out story world.

The Face, Dean Koontz
A re-read for me, and a well-plotted exceptional book for someone prepared to suspend disbelief and accept a storyline heavy on supernatural elements in a thriller involving a kidnap plot. Some of the descriptive passages could be called overwritten, and I can’t help feeling a little trimming would help the book. I liked the use of a child in this story, those chapters being some of the best. The parts which revolved around the antagonist(s) were a little heavy-going, but the various threads certainly keep the reader guessing with so many creating an intricate story overall. It’s hard to say more without giving the plot away.

The Girl of Ink and Stars, Kiran Millweed Hargrave
A young adult book that has enough of a story for adults to enjoy, with a story complex enough to stretch younger readers. The book’s beautifully presented with maps and patterned pages. The world building here stands out, though there’s something vaporous about the overall plot and some of the action sequences, which may confuse a younger audience. Even I found a couple of sequences difficult to picture; with all the drops off ledges, I expected broken bones. Although characters get hurt, they seem to have miraculous escapes. Still, there’s something charming and magical about this story. The young female lead shows more than her share of bravery, as do her young friends. I’m left wanting a grumpy old chicken.

A Stroke of the Pen, Terry Pratchett
A collection of lost stories written before Discworld. There are many hints of Terry’s developing style here and of his books to come. Light reading but charming, and every story left me smiling. Worthwhile for the dedicated Pratchett fan.

Green, Jay Lake
I’m unsure how I feel about this novel, which can easily be called an epic fantasy. The plot includes slavery, abduction, and mystical holy wars. Green is a girl whose path in life changes when her father sells her, but by the end of the book, the reader and the character have reason to question her destiny often. Mostly, I found the writing and story absorbing even though I don’t favour first person storytelling, but in parts I found the narrative lagged because of meticulous description, which includes all the training Green goes through. This made the book feel overly long despite much of the training being interesting. When we learn of the planned life path various people have for Green, there’s good reason to feel increasingly sorry for her. None of her choices appear to be wonderful, none of them simple. The sexual content never feels entirely natural or necessary, though perhaps realistic and handled well for those whose companionship is restricted. The details become somewhat vague when dealing with the various deities. I sometimes found Green’s character vs her age hard to believe despite her training, but it’s nice to see a young lead treated with the same respect an adult character would receive. For so long, the ‘rule’ has been a child lead marks a book for a young audience. That’s plainly not the case here, couldn’t be, and even though Green is in infancy when taken, we are privileged to her inner thoughts as she’s moulded into what others would make of her, while she battles to keep a sense of self. Strongly character driven, wonderful in parts, weaker in others, I’m pleased to have read this, but feel disinclined to read the rest of the trilogy, although Green makes for an interesting and capable female lead.