Update July 2019

The long awaited exciting writing news (for me anyway) is coming at the end of this glance at the month’s news but I want to address a few other things.

OUT AND ABOUT:
Despite travelling being difficult I persevered and spent a week in the Brecon Beacons. One of my favourite towns in the area remains Hay on Wye but as it’s a town of mostly book shops how could it not. Had a noteworthy lunch at Talgarth Meal (seriously cannot recommend it enough), but only a passable dinner at The Dragon Inn, Crickhowell after waiting an hour (not recommended and I hate saying that about anywhere). The area deserves a mention for the amazing scenery and clean air — perhaps the freshest I’ve yet to come across in the U.K.

Talgarth Mill Sharing Platter (cheese option).

FILM:
I had high hopes for Possum directed by Matthew Holness and starring Sean Harris and Alun Armstrong, in which a disgraced children’s puppeteer returns to his childhood home, forcing him to face secrets that have tortured his entire life. Sadly, I feel this spiralled away into a missed opportunity. I watched this out of curiosity because it’s decidedly dark fiction, and the twisted plot contained touches of Iain Banks in style. The dark ‘Silent Hill; look of the protagonist’s old house held promise as did the posters, but this played too much on many people’s innate aversion to spiders.

This film is eerie rather than scary, though that might not have been a bad thing if played right. The initial sight of the puppet’s legs are definitely worth a shudder, and the head worth a yike, but, once fully revealed, the puppet quickly loses any hold over a large percentage of the audience, eventually looking laughable. Though surreal, we’re aware from the blurb that what Philip sees may be delusional and while we, therefore, cannot easily separate reality from fantasy, this tones down the scare factor still more. The one good thing about this for me is the questionable ending, though I cannot say why without a spoiler. Still, although the film is short at approximately 1 hour 20 minutes, the plot plods along at a slow build to reach an abrupt and somewhat predictable climax. I worked out the story of the parents, had ideas regarding Uncle Morris, and I suspected what was in the room Philip is reluctant to enter. Still, Holness achieves his wish and preference for films that ‘linger’, and nudge the viewer to contemplate later, plus there is no faulting the performances of the two lead actors. Reviews on this film are mixed. For me, this didn’t quite work, mainly because I expected something ‘more’ but it remains an interesting if surreal exercise. The thing I found most disturbing is the central poetic story behind the puppet’s creation.

READING:
Cross Stitch (AKA Outlander), Diana Gabaldon
Read this mainly because I’d heard good reports and because I considered watching the series based on this book. I detest giving negative views; unfortunately, I can’t give this more than a passing nod despite wishing I could. I found the writing excellent, and the history I imagine/hope well-researched though full of accuracies/inaccuracies as suited the story with sufficient plot to carry the content well. I can even get a handle on this is historical and women were treated differently (as was everyone in those times, but especially women at least when comparing with most of the western world today). Indeed, their treatment was likely far worse than portrayed in this book.

The reason this story fails for me is Claire, the protagonist herself. She lacks emotion in that she doesn’t suffer the right level of angst and heartache. The sense of her worry over her true husband missing her is less than if he were a brother or father who might discover her gone, and she hardly seems to miss him at all. While I could accept her going into another relationship through necessity (I won’t say more to avoid less than obvious spoilers), and even attraction making the reality less odious, still there’s no heartrending for this ‘lass’. Jamie is right approximately halfway through the book that she’s not taking her predicament seriously enough, although, of course, he doesn’t comprehend the true nature of her plight.

Claire seems to shake off dangerous situations like a dog rids its coat of water (oddly paraphrasing a line in the book I didn’t know existed when I started writing this review), in a way any person would be hard disposed to do, and with little physical, emotional, or psychological damage. Even a woman of the 21st century would feel terror let alone a woman, who should, by historical fact, have led a more cosseted existence. The idea she has nursed men injured by war seems used to inure her against the threat of rape, torture, and death itself even when it’s her own and hideous. And one moment I surmise they intended to be powerful (though many women will find off-putting as sexual violence) had me rolling with laughter and ready to cast the book aside. This book would have worked far better and might have had a chance of being a real love story had the man left behind in the future been a relative or dear friend (maybe even an adopted brother to avoid nasty associations with other characters in the book) instead of a husband. There would be no infidelity questions for one thing, which almost everyone in the romance market votes as the biggest turnoff.

The character of Claire is sometimes far too shallow and unbearably naïve, yawning in boredom even when her life is in jeopardy, making her appear plain foolish. Even when she’s at her most courageous, she spoils it by doing something reckless or stupid so dashed any hope moments later in disbelief. She has some redeeming factors, namely unwavering determination, but it’s not enough to present a strong well-rounded heroine. There’s a little too much deus ex machina, which in a novel of this length stretches even suspended belief to breaking point and there’s little regard whether her actions alter the course of history. In addition, some degrees of suffering best left to the imagination gets dredged out as though for perverse entertainment leaving me to question why. To show strength of character? By that point we already know the levels of pain endured, and how strong these people are. This left me feeling constantly flipped around and turned on my head as the book is neither one thing nor the other. The historical machinations were the only parts of interest to me and the repeated references to various forms of rape repellant. I don’t believe in prettying things up when writing, but this screamed of excess.

Yet…the book is epic and inspires emotional investment, even tugs at the heartstrings, and I was on the edge of my seat at one point hoping for a happy ending by which time realising there was no other (emotionally happy) future for Claire. It’s good but because of Claire’s impulsive and heedless nature I didn’t find it one to keep. I doubt I’ll read more, but I may check out the series.

Good Omens, Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
A reread of a classic (because I’m awaiting the DVD release so I can see Amazon’s adaptation starring David Tennant and Michael Sheen) by two outstanding authors who are also my favourite writers. This story displays both their talents, creating a meld of the sublime and ridiculous in all the right ways. Any fan of Douglas Adams would do well to pick up this story. The world would be a poorer place without this collaboration. Pure magic.

WRITING:
As to the big news… I’ve spent months unable to reveal the contract I signed with Big Finish for a story in their audio Short Trips range. My story, THE INFINITE TODAY, features Matt’s Smith eleventh Doctor and companion, Jo Grant, read by Jo herself ‘Katy Manning’. They invited me to the recording earlier this year but alas owing to health I could not attend. I need not say how I felt about a missed opportunity that may never occur again. Katy has apparently done a wonderful job bringing the story to life and I await hearing it. The story releases in January 2020.

The Infinite Today by Sharon Bidwell, January 2020

The Desire to Stop

The chances are there will be times the writer will want to stop. Just give up the dream of being published. This has applied to me owing to some health issues and publishers closing. This is understandable, particularly if the person has spent many years trying without success. But what of those published? The worry doesn’t end there.

With the success comes, if not added pressure, at least pressures of various sorts. A writer may be only as good as his or her last book. We’ve seen instances where a writer gets lambasted because the creative vision that started a series hasn’t met the expectations of a majority reader vote. I’m not talking about good or bad writing — I’m thinking of those cases where an outcome differs to what readers expected, or a character dies much to the displeasure of many.

There will also be times when, as a reader, the writer comes across a book so brilliant, this leads to self-doubt and the question, “Whatever made me think I could write?” Never fear on this score. There will always be titles that make the writer shout, “I can do better than this!”

Sometimes the writing becomes a slog. A story isn’t going as the writer wants. The right words just aren’t coming to mind, or there’s a plot hole to work around. There are deadlines. The writer grows tired. The paperwork is a pain. There’s paperwork to fill out? Oh, come on! Paperwork? No one told me there would be paperwork. All this can bring down the writer.

The good news is no writer feeling this way is alone. The only advice I can give is never to make a hasty decision. Sleep on it. Wait, a week or a month. Start working towards taking a break. Take just one day off, away from books, words, computers, readers, publishers. Any or all these things, and many I’ve not even mentioned, can make a huge difference to one’s outlook.

Just prepare to feel the same way again at a future date. To want to just walk away from the whole labyrinth of publishing — and it is a maze — and find something easier to do (especially if the desire is to make a living), instead. And don’t be surprised to hear almost every writer has thought about giving up sometimes, either before success or even afterwards.

Dragon #4

Not the most sophisticated of inclusions but this is my latest acquisition. I got him at the Brecon Beacons National Park centre. One of those instances where this little guy seemed to shout, “Pick me, pick me!” And as a red welsh dragon was one thing my collection lacked and I wasn’t taken with any of the ornaments, I brought this one home with me.

red welsh dragon soft toy

Update June 2019

OUT AND ABOUT:
Got away for a weekend which was a much-needed break and a test of my present health for which I coped well but not brilliantly. Saw the new and mostly disliked Tintagel bridge. A controversial topic to be sure. I won’t walk across it for three reasons, possibly four. On principal, because I want to use the old steps, and because it wouldn’t surprise me if it gave me vertigo. The possible fourth reason is I don’t trust it. Maybe more on that another time but for now, this is what the first section looks like. There will be a one and a half-inch gap between the two halves. Most locals and visitors seem to admit the design is out of keeping with the area and it cuts across the face in the rock often referred to as King Arthur’s face.

TELEVISION:
Watched AFTER LIFE written by and starring Ricky Gervais owing to recommendation. With his share of successes and failures, this series shows the best side of his personal take on life. Though, at first, one could be mistaken for thinking he’s portraying a horrid character, the truth is he’s merely saying a lot of things people think but don’t say, a flood of dislike and brutal honesty from someone who is grieving. All six episodes need watching to understand the creativity behind the show.

I also liked Netflix’s series, DEAD TO ME, because of the way they present the story with slow reveals in a non-chronological order, constantly twisting what you believe about the characters.

READING:
Please, Sir! Jack Sheffield
While it’s true, these books get a little repetitive, after reading a few it’s hard not to get wrapped up in the lives of those at Ragley School. Charming and touching, at times funny or sad, and this one comes with a true cliffhanger.

The Living, Isaac Marion
The last in the Warm Bodies trilogy, a far superior Zombie novel that I would have loved to purchase in print to add to the two titles I already own. Alas, postage to the UK and import duties prohibited this (I purchased the ebook).

My favourite in the series is, and shall always remain, the first book, a title which perhaps says enough, but this takes the exploration further, giving us a beautiful, painful, and sad view of the world. These books are about so much more than a horde of walking dead — it’s about life, love, relationships, politics, society, racism, religion to name the most obvious, though I’m certain that to each the books will have something different to say. With each title the books grew darker in context. The writing felt poetic, at other times surreal, but always undoubtedly philosophical, which perhaps explains why the author has had to self-publish the third title. This is the most literary use of the zombie genre I’ve stumbled across, one that would be hard to exceed, and therefore publishers may have feared its lack of potentially purely commercial value.

I won’t deny moments where the story lost its grip on me, perhaps because each of the books has a decidedly different feel and the tone of the third was different to what I expected, but the way the author writes, the world he’s created, the intellectual significance behind the books are too eloquent to ignore. Though I enjoyed the last book the least, and it perhaps has some flaws, it completes an exceptional story arc, strong enough to be keepers for me.

The Rosie Project, Graeme Simsion
When I started this my first thought was OMG (the protagonist) is Sheldon (Big Bang Theory) but while it’s difficult for fans of the show not to see the inevitable similarities, it didn’t (as some people have pointed out) put me off reading but added another layer of amusement to the read. There’s a love story here with a difference. Intelligent, witty, at times throwing a light on human interaction in a way standard romances might not, this book is often joyful to read. I enjoyed this much more than I thought I would though the ending seemed a little rushed, perhaps explained because the book has sequels. I kind of prefer this as a standalone read but, if not for my to-be-read mountain, I might consider perusing the other titles.

Educating Jack, Jack Sheffield
Another in the ongoing teacher series that I’m attempting to read through this year. Sweet, charming, and nostalgic.

The Funhouse, Dean Koontz
A re-read as part of an attempted book clearance, this one was fun to revisit though in the worst way. I’ve said a few times that early Koontz books seem much of a product of the time in which he wrote them. The Funhouse, with its matriarch that would give Carrie’s mother a run for her money, and carnival monstrosities, is the most dated yet. This book is for those who like B-movies so bad they are good…which is exactly what this is as it’s the novelisation of a film of the same name, directed by Tobe Hooper. Never having seen the film I tracked down the trailer and even from the one and a half minutes of excerpts I can tell the book is better. Not a keeper for me but a nostalgic look back at 80s horror. Too much tell rather than show but my biggest complaint with the book is the lack of payoff. To me the conclusion was less than satisfactory and somewhat abrupt when taking the amount of backstory into account.

WRITING:
Finished a basic edit of an older work, which doesn’t sound like much but it’s in a shape for me to re-edit/rewrite should I now choose to. Off on a break soon and when back I plan on starting something new though I’m not sure in which genre. Also signed the contract for another Lethbridge-Stewart book, this one part of a spin-off set of books heavily featuring supporting characters. Mine features Anne Travis, (now Anne Bishop).