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.
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 is definitely worth a shudder, and the head is 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 was reluctant to enter. Still, Holness achieves his wish and preference for films that ‘linger’, and nudges 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.
Cross Stitch (AKA Outlander), Diana Gabaldon
Read this mainly because I’d heard excellent 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 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 get 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.
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.