Update Oct 2019

Hi Everyone!

OUT AND ABOUT:

This month we spent a couple of nights at a delightful little place on Bodmin Moor. We’d happily return though we now know it’s three miles down an, at times, one car width lane. Wouldn’t put us off though we’d like to go in better weather. We were lucky while out and about, the purpose of our stay mainly to meet with friends. A couple of weeks later we attended a food market which is temptation itself. Two sausage rolls, two pasties, two chocolate brownies, two churros (eaten on the spot), two packets of cheese,  and three packs of sausages for the freezer later, we made ourselves stop.

FILM/TV:

Being as it’s October we’ve been watching a lot of old horror films, and a couple new. In The Tall Grass is an odd one based on a novella by Joe Hill and Stephen King (Joe Hill being his son) that’s currently only available on Kindle but will be out in a collection next year. I have to admit my first thought when hearing a kid screaming for help in a field of tall grass was I’m not going in there, could be a setup. I would have fetched help. It’s difficult to talk about this one without giving the plot away but the concept of being lost in a maze of grass unable to find a way out turned out to be watchable, with elements I appreciated but others I disliked.

Another Netflix offering was Eli, the story of a boy seemingly allergic to the environment (think Boy in a Plastic Bubble with a twist), whose miracle doctor/cure may not be all that it seems. I like this film for the haunted house elements which are so well done.

And we had to rewatch a few classics, which for me includes Fright Night, the original 80s film, where a teenage horror-film buff has a vampire move in next door and has to seek help from a washed-up television star ‘vampire killer’, Roddy MacDowell (always a favourite of mine). Also starring William Ragsdale, this film is now a cult but if you’ve not seen it on Blu-ray you’ve never seen it before. It’s wide, bright and clear, and the depth of distance is incredible. I recall watching it on VHS where we thought everything happened in darkness. I won’t leave with a mention of the remake which, though fairly bad, has its moments. I think Colin Farrell steals the film who seems to having a ball and enjoying being a vampire far too much, and, of course, the late great Anton Yelchin who died far too young.

READING:

The Doll Factory, Elizabeth Macneal

I have to admit the style distracted me at first but soon drew me into the world of Victorian London. The perfectly assembled cast delivers a tale of love, obsession, and atmospheric horror. The fair Iris who wishes to better her situation; her poor embittered sister, Rose; the exuberant Albie; the questionable love interest in Louis; and the infatuated Silas. I couldn’t help thinking of undertones of John Fowles ‘The Collector’ although if that in any way gave inspiration to this novel the author has enriched a basic idea and made it her own. Also, I think the comparison to various other titles is a pity as people like John Fowles are literary noteworthies (regardless of whether you like them) which promotes the book to a level difficult to attain. Some books are simply enjoyable. I’m uncertain whether to consider some parts of the story entirely historically accurate but the tone suffices to transport the reader into another era. The only real downside for me is that I was expecting something perhaps a little more gothic. Still, a fabulous debut.

Happiest Days, Jack Sheffield

One of the strangest things to read in this series is how people show up at school to register their children, something I never experienced. Such were simpler times portrayed so well by Jack Sheffield. Though simply written for anyone who recalls the 80s, these books, imbued with nostalgia, carry a cosy, leisurely ambiance that’s like walking through time with an old friend and made me stay with this 10 book series, of which I believe this is the last though the author has written other titles.


Dracula, Bram Stoker:

A re-read of a classic I’ve not touched for many years. A book of this type will always receive mixed reviews. A classic, by definition, is always a book of its time and will jar for a modern reader. Especially for a modern reader who has not read classic literature for most of their life. My childhood books included novels such as Tom Sawyer and Treasure Island so I have no problem with reading this. At such times when Dickens was popular, writers were paid by the word so if any such novels feel padded there’s a reason. This book does feel overlong, and if written/edited now would be much shorter. I’d particularly forgotten the peculiar way Van Helsing speaks which I read with a blend of irritation and amusing pleasure. In the 21st century the book has many faults, much of it reading like Victorian melodrama, and is far from horrifying, but in 1897 Dracula would have been petrifying. It’s almost impossible to review a book of this type so it’s important to understand how this novel was pivotal.

Though Stoker did not invent the vampire myth or write the first well-known story, he wrote the crucial novel, bringing us a vampire who would popularise the genre and creating a legend. Like the writing or not this book deserves its pedestal. Stoker touched on the darkest fears, not only of the time, but at the heart of terror, a creature capable of overtaking the human mind, of seducing, of changing shape and appearance, of ‘infiltrating’ the home, the heart, the marriage bond. Horror novels often reflect societal fears of the moment, and Dracula is no different though many of the same fears exist more than a century later. Stoker also puts into the mind unforgettable images — a wild country of superstition, Dracula’s towering castle, Harker’s slow realisation he’s a prisoner, Dracula’s vertical crawl, his intention to take over London, the crazed incredible Renfield, Dr Seward’s asylum. And, perhaps, for women today, the book represents the ultimate equality statement. Lucy and Mina’s story both begin with them represented as something beautiful and fragile, ‘creatures’ who can do nothing without their men and who require protection. The book ends with a gun in Mina’s hand. She has become a far different woman from the shy girl who did nothing more than look forward to a life of marriage. She wishes to protect Jonathan as much as he longs to protect her, perhaps placing Stoker as a realist and/or ahead of his time. Still, there are moments that sit uneasy with me, the worst of which is the historical error that anyone can provide a transfusion without blood-matching, a fact not discovered at the time but which cannot help making even this modern reader wince.

WRITING:

I’m delighted to say the pre-order release of my second Lethbridge-Stewart came out:

A new reality has been created by the temporal disruption ripping through the causal nexus. Welcome to 1978… with a difference.

Anne Travers, co-founder of UNIT, and her husband, Bill, are celebrating their wedding anniversary in France, which is the perfect opportunity for Anne to catch-up with an old friend; Madeleine Bonnaire.

At the institute owned by Madeleine’s father, one professor is more interested in his own project than any work for which Bonnaire has hired him. His need for secrecy and his attitude irritates his assistant, Paul Larousse, who would prefer to dwell on his feelings for Madeleine. Meanwhile, Victor Bonnaire is not at all happy to hear of Anne’s visit, not least of all because he’s always viewed Anne as a bad influence on his daughter.

What seems like a simple case of familial friction takes a bleak turn when a local unknown threat makes the news. Suspicion abounds and throws Anne and Bill into an unexpected mystery. What is the strange threat, and does it present a direct danger to anybody at the institute? Or to those who ask too many questions? Unable to walk away from her friend, Anne has no option but to investigate, little knowing she’s about to face the darkest shadow of her life so far.

http://www.candy-jar.co.uk/books/theshadowman.html

https://www.freewebstore.org/candy-jar-store/Bloodlines__The_Shadowman/p676602_20100089.aspx

And for anyone interested in getting a feel for the series there are free downloads, including my short story The Wishing Bazaar:  http://lethbridge-stewart.ne-dc.co.uk/downloads/

Stay well and be Happy,

Sharon x

Pre-order The Shadow Man

A new reality has been created by the temporal disruption ripping through the causal nexus. Welcome to 1978… with a difference.

Anne Travers, co-founder of UNIT, and her husband, Bill, are celebrating their wedding anniversary in France, which is the perfect opportunity for Anne to catch-up with an old friend; Madeleine Bonnaire.

At the institute owned by Madeleine’s father, one professor is more interested in his own project than any work for which Bonnaire has hired him. His need for secrecy and his attitude irritates his assistant, Paul Larousse, who would prefer to dwell on his feelings for Madeleine. Meanwhile, Victor Bonnaire is not at all happy to hear of Anne’s visit, not least of all because he’s always viewed Anne as a bad influence on his daughter.

What seems like a simple case of familial friction takes a bleak turn when a local unknown threat makes the news. Suspicion abounds and throws Anne and Bill into an unexpected mystery. What is the strange threat, and does it present a direct danger to anybody at the institute? Or to those who ask too many questions? Unable to walk away from her friend, Anne has no option but to investigate, little knowing she’s about to face the darkest shadow of her life so far.

Check out on the Candy Jar website.

Update August 2019

OUT AND ABOUT:
I visited Tintagel on what must have been the hottest day of the month. Far too manic with many paying the exorbitant fee to cross the (IMHO) horrible bridge to the castle ruins. Not something I will do and, as the cost has risen so much, I dare say my walks on the island are now a thing of the past, remembered with some wonderful photographs of the view.

While there I met with a friend for breakfast and then went on elsewhere fast. I think I need to hibernate in July and August and go out the rest of the year. I wonder how many will be surprised to hear many living in the South West don’t go out on Bank Holidays. Was also unhappy that someone in a flash car yelled at my friend (who was driving) to ‘get over’. I quickly looked out of my side window and there was nowhere to ‘get over’ to. Unfortunately, visitors anywhere can be thoughtless. And yes, I’ve been one of them, but I’m always aware that the place I’m visiting is where people live and I act considerately. People playing music at volume, walking in the road, leaving dog mess behind…I did none of this and tire of this as anyone. Please be considerate when on holiday and on the subject of dog faeces, please bag up and dispose sensibly. I heard a news report of people regularly picking up down a country lane and throwing the bags into a nearby field. Ponies in the field accidentally ate the bags and died. Behaviour has consequences.

FILM/TV:
I’m more of a Marvel person than DC though both universes have wonderful characters. I had to watch Aquaman and not only for Jason Momoa. Unsure how I feel about the film, neither loving it nor loathing it. I found it enjoyable but likely forgettable, perhaps owing to the ladened effects although I cannot see a way to tell this story without them. For anyone still into their zombies, but who wants something a little more innovative complete with political machinations and if one doesn’t mind subtitles, they might want to check out Netflix’s ‘Kingdom’. I’m waiting for the second series now.

One noteworthy film for me was Bad Times at the El Royale. I’d not heard of this film but the cast caught my attention. Reviews seem mostly good though I’ve read mention of a Tarantino style film that doesn’t quite pull it off. I think it’s good that’s it’s not quite a clone of someone else’s work. People arrive at a hotel and then strange things happen. It’s not possible, to say much without spoilers. Turned out to be the circular storytelling I love with surprises thrown in. The type of thing I wish I’d written. Plus Chris Hemsworth. What can I say? Sue me.

READING:
NOS4R2, by Joe Hill reads like a children’s book for adults blended with a dark thriller. Though surreal, perhaps bizarre, the increasing conflict kept me enthralled. It’s been a while since I felt I couldn’t put a book down and while I maybe didn’t feel like that all the way through I did for most of the novel. This may be in part because Joe Hill has created a better heroine for me than many blockbusting movies. Victoria may be a mess but she’s a mess with reason, has stamina, purpose, tenacity, and a whole list of exceptional traits that many female leads lack. Perhaps some belief edged close to the line but in a world where Christmasland exists a thought or bike ride away I’m prepared to suspend my doubts for the sheer enjoyment of reading. I like the way he stretches the story over time told at different points in the characters’ lives. I may never enjoy Christmas in quite the same way but will happily live with that too for such a well-thought and excellently presented story which tugs on so many emotional strings.

Voice of the Night
A reread as part of a hoped-for book clearance though I didn’t remember this story at all so, first time around, it couldn’t have made an impact and I can’t say it did this time either. As with much of early Koontz it’s a book of its time. The oft sexual violence as imagined by one character is particularly off-putting as it should be but it’s still dated. Oddly, this book breaks a general rule of publishing in that if the protagonist is a child, then the book is for children but there’s no way this book would be for suitable for kids or, as the boys in question are teens, for a Young Adult readership. Nothing to do with the book but it crossed my mind to wonder whether this would have ever seen print these days. Another thing that ages the book is a ‘boy’ of Colin’s age would likely not, these days, sleep with a nightlight. I perceived the boys as much younger, maybe 7, 8, or 9, and Colin’s father is particularly devolved. The good parts of the book for me is Colin’s perceptions of the dark, a haunted house, a creature ready to jump out of the shadows having lain in wait for him, wonderfully described.

WRITING:
THE INFINITE TODAY, featuring Matt’s Smith eleventh Doctor and companion, Jo Grant, read by Jo herself ‘Katy Manning’ is up for pre-order at Big Finish Productions. https://www.jms-books.com/erotic-romance-c-29_94/swansong-p-2867.html

I also re-released a short GLBT romance story that previously featured in a charity anthology, a story I’m proud of for the layered construction. Swansong is available from JMS books and other reputable outlets for 99c/p:

Richard stands at the door of his living room watching a young man move about the room examining mementos of his life. He has brought this man here for one reason — to lay both he and a ghost to rest. Like the poster hanging on his living room wall, Richard has lived a sepia life for too many years. With his wife gone but not forgotten, his grief is complicated, yet Gloria’s presence lives on guiding him towards a happier future.

Richard believes what little love he had in his life has withered but before she died, his darling Gloria unlocked her silent throat.  Now the time has come for Richard to sing his own song, to face the future, to make the right choice.

The Infinite Today, Doctor Who Short Trips

As per my news last week, I’m delighted Big Finish Productions announded my short audio story performed by Katy Manning featuring the eleventh Doctor and companion Jo Grant (Jones) which will release in January 2020.

When Alfie Shaw approached me with the concept of the Doctor and Jo having more air time together how could I refuse. In fact, they wanted a story where these two might be stuck together for some time to come, and gone, and come, and gone…

Jo Jones is travelling. Setting out from London Gatwick to Mexico, she lands back at Gatwick.

Jo Jones is travelling once again. Setting out from London Gatwick to Mexico, she lands back at Gatwick with the exact same crew and passengers.

Jo Jones is travelling once again. Setting out from London Gatwick to Mexico, she lands back at Gatwick with precisely the same crew and passengers, again.

Jo Jones is travelling once again…

Available for preorder from Big Finish.

Available for preorder at £2.99. Big Finish also offer the 12 episode series bundle (TBA) at £30.

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

Daring Dexter

I was a latecomer to the Dexter series and, curiosity piqued, I read what I thought was a series of seven books. Turns out to be eight, and I needed to wait a short while for the publication of the last. Annoying to a reader who read seven consecutively all the way through, but an interesting exercise in comparing the books to the show. At the same time, I continued to watch the series and kudos has to go to the writer, the producers, and Michael C.Hall for creating what should be a despicable character and making him likeable. Michael’s portrayal is outstanding as a great deal of feeling for Dexter Morgan comes from his performance. Not that I’m forgetting the supporting characters cast equally well.

There are differences between the books and series—and I had no reason to worry about reading and watching simultaneously as aside from the first title the books approach a different tangent. There are as many similarities as there are differences, and someone can enjoy both without interfering with the other.

Having said all that, I will add something I rarely say. I prefer the series. This is not to belittle the books or the writer. Usually, I’d chose a book over a filmed adaptation or like them equally, but the series lasted for so long it explored Dexter’s personality to a greater depth and questioned many more issues. The books are lighter, although the series portrays a serial killer who delivers a quicker and cleaner death. The books aren’t explicit but delivers a far different scenario—the Dexter of the books likes to play a little. What I disliked most from the books was the paranormal aspects added to one story and the suggested evolution of the ‘Dark Passenger’. This appeared to provide an excuse and a pardon for every killer’s behaviour. I also disliked Dexter the most in book seven and in a way I’ve never disliked the character on screen. Television Dexter developed, became far more multi-layered than the book version. What’s not to prefer? Still, as always there would be no series without the books, without the writer. It’s too easy to watch television forgetting without the writer there is nothing.

My current dilemma is, owning both the series and the novels, and attempting to be more ruthless with what I keep…do I abandon the books to the charity pile? I guess maybe…though perhaps not yet. Should I want to write an anti-hero sometime, Dexter is a character worth more examination.

Women in Horror Month

It’s time to celebrate the 10th year of Women in Horror Month. Many may not have heard of it. Others may question why it’s necessary. Women writing horror are often under appreciated. Alas, it remains a fact some women and men writing certain genres are more likely to be passed over. Men have often written under female pseudonyms because of the perception men could not write good quality fiction in genres such as romance. In the world of horror the same mistaken impression often applies to women. I’ve heard the most common accusation being that women ‘hold back’ when writing anything bleak or nasty, a claim I refute. It’s a perception error that means many excellent authors risk being overlooked.

To those who’ve read my softer titles my interest in horror may come as a surprise. My appreciation began with the first horror book I found hidden away on my parents’ bookcase — books shoved together in no particular order, which to a booklover is next to sacrilege, but its odd, all black cover drew my attention. Had it not I may never have come across Stephen King’s SALEM’S LOT. The black cover revealed an embossed face with a single spot of red: the tongue. I’ve never seen this edition since.

I was of an age where I wasn’t supposed to read such a book so I squirrelled it away, read it under the covers, took it to school where no one ever asked what I was reading. Next I discovered James Herbert’s THE RATS trilogy and did nothing to hide my choice. In my teens I was reading Mills & Boon’s (because it’s what all the other girls read) along with John Steinbeck, Stephen King, and James Herbert. I’ve never looked back. My interest has wavered somewhat — I remember a period where I favoured fantasy — and I admit my reading activities have always been eclectic so my choices remain diverse, but the writing I love the most always seems to carry a dark thread. Though I’ve yet to finish writing my first horror novel, most of my short story work carries this darkness. As to why horror appeals to so many I’ve my own theories I may address sometime but not today in this blog. Today I want to raise a toast to all the women who work and promote in the horror field. Join us. Buy a book by a female horror writer this month.