News August 2018

Hi Everyone!
Yes, I know it’s September. I should have posted this last week, but I’m slightly late as we were away visiting family.

READING:

The Bullet Trick, Louise Walsh
I’ve read one of Louise Walsh’s books before (though the title escapes me) upon recommendation. I recall not being taken with it. This book I enjoyed more. The writing is slick and I like the way the story jumps back and forth between settings and time. The big reveal, not so big, but an enjoyable, cosy thriller. One I liked for the writing and presentation more than the plot.

In the Place of Fallen Leaves, Tim Pears
Felt myself falling into this story almost right away, certainly by the start of the second chapter. The writing is lyrical, creating images and imparting information in an intricate weave. It’s a book without a plot, though, more a memoir in tone than a story, an exposition of events over a long, hot summer in Devon, at times grave, others times sad and humorous. Not one to speed through.

The Girl Next Door, Jack Ketchum
This book is hard to review objectively. On the one hand, it borders the type of horror termed as torture porn. On the other, and in a part precisely for that reason, I’m sure it does what it intends to do. It provokes emotion and, I hope, for most people, in the right way, making the reader uneasy and restless. Ultimately, I wasn’t able to forgive anyone, not even the protagonist. There’s something voyeuristic in the reading, speaking to the part that wants to put the book down. Yet, like watching a train wreck, another part of the human soul/nature wants to discover the outcome. Wants justice. Retribution. Wants to be able to ‘do something’, to act, particularly as this is based on a true story—the book’s real saving grace as it highlights the plight of all abused children, spiking the guilty nerve of anyone who doesn’t want to get involved. The book is confrontational and unsettling in so many ways that it questions the causes behind my very dislike. The book is terrible, and in that possibly achieves its purpose, making of the book a conundrum both excellent and dreadful. It’s a repulsive grim read that’s hard to turn away from or dismiss, though I’m positive not everyone who reads this will have the same experience as I did. I do not like this book, but that’s okay—I shouldn’t—but I do appreciate it as a job well done: vile but emotive because of that.

FILMS:

If you’ve ever seen Tarantino’s work you know you’ve got to have a stomach for violence but one of his less violent and surprising films was The Hateful Eight. There are a few graphic shootings but most of the film comprises long drawn-out conversations. We found it interesting, surprised how fast an almost 3 hour film passed, but I can see where it will send many to sleep.

Been catching up on Doc Martin, a series I’ve always liked, but I don’t get what the creators are trying to do with the character in season 7 with the dog story.

SPOILER: Even if it would be a part of the character’s mental condition, this is fiction and even if they turn it around, it can never be forgotten or forgiven. When he was merely irritated with the dog, it was mildly funny. When he dumped the animal at the side of the road, it became more questionable. When he tried to kill it, game over. Way to go making me hate the character. If I were his wife, Louisa, it would be instant divorce. I’ll stick with the series but this story line has made me dislike the MC and even the inhabitants of the village as no one seems to want this poor homeless dog. Saying that, end of Season 8 (9 will be out next year and is the last), has the best line possible.

WRITING:

I’ve already mention in another blog post that I made the difficult decision to remove some of my titles from circulation.

I also returned the galley proof of A Not So Hollow Heart and received the cover. Amazingly, there were no errors though there is one issue where house-style has determined the use of US punctuation in an otherwise UK setting, UK characters, UK spelling and punctuation book.

And lastly…I have something I want to tell you but can’t…yet. It may not happen and if it doesn’t, I’ll no doubt just let you know ‘no joy’. I’m terrified to even mention it.

Until the end of the month…Happy Reading!
Sharon x

The Passive Argument makes me Tense

I’m back from a week away and my workload is overflowing so for a quick blog this week, I thought to draw attention to a brilliant ‘rant’ on the often abused word ‘was’ and the mistaken disuse of so-called passive voice. Incidentally, the ‘rule’ on passive in the UK is not to overuse, but no one EVER tells a writer to eliminate it here precisely for these reasons: http://pcwrede.com/blog/misunderstanding-grammar/

The ‘To and Fro’ of Writing

If the dream of being a published author includes the ‘hideaway’ at the bottom of the perfect garden in full bloom on a summer’s day with bees buzzing between the flowers, think again.

When the vision is of a long desk with a deep leather chair set in front of a panoramic window showing the view of the beach and a long stretch of sand leading to the palest blue water ever seen, my advice is to reconsider.

If the picture is of the writer tapping away at the keyboard, making notes on paper, taking the occasional call from his or her agent and smiling in ill-disguised pleasure over a glass of wine at the end of a writing day while reading the latest heartwarming review over the last release, alter those ideas.

Most published authors still need to work on a part-time if not full-time basis. Even if they can write full-time, life isn’t all roses and champagne.

I haven’t blogged about writing for a while so thought this was an apt post. My teenage dream was not as fanciful, and mostly composed of finishing a single work, sending it away, having it edited, published, and while…yes, maybe having to attend books signings, working on the next novel. I never envisioned the back and forth, to and fro, hop from one foot to the other, mental swings and roundabouts of working on several stories at once.

I’ve edits on one work and have to return the galley proof to a deadline, trying to write a full novel (to a personal deadline), trying to write/edit a short story that’s needed ASAP, and trying to draft a proposal for yet another idea for a potential novel. Oh…and I’d also like to be working on a few short stories I’m considering sending out and/or putting together in an anthology. There are many pitfalls linked to the dream of becoming a published author, many of which no one warns about, and working on more than one project simultaneously is one.

I’m not even going to pretend to enjoy it. On the rare and fortunate occasions when the work flows the last thing a writer wants is to have that stream interrupted, to throw a mental switch, and to perform a intellectual feat of dexterity. That’s what makes leaving a story at long last nagging to be written to rest, to work on something you’ve possibly read and edited thirty times, so torturous.

Sometimes I read something I wish I’d written myself. Often it’s a book. This time it’s a blog. No one can express what I’m trying to put across more than this post by author Kate Douglas. It’s an oldie but goodie so I’ll let her speak for writers everywhere:http://lisapietsch.com/2010/04/20/kate-douglas-delivers-the-essential-author-101/

Time for a Change

I made the difficult decision last week to remove some of my titles from circulation. Not an easy or overnight decision by any means—I spent many months reaching that conclusion. With the closure of one publisher now was as good a time as any to reconsider some of my older works. Those I’ve withdrawn no longer represent me. I’ve improved and my style has changed. I may re-release some after an edit but I’m happy to let others rest for now, if not indefinitely. I wrote a few books I never intended to write, owing to the muse and opportunity. I regret none of them—they were all a learning experience—but my interests have grown, as have the possibilities.

To some writers, particularly those still seeking publication, the decision to withdraw books from the market may sound surprising. No one warns you of the heartache when a good publisher closes, or having to make the sometimes heartrending choices, and this was definitely one of those. I was pleased and proud to hear their door remains open. This re-enforces the fact they were a wonderful group to work with and tells me they’ve appreciated the stories I produced for them. Didn’t make parting ways any easier.

The simple truth is some older works can do more harm than good, particularly when the writing has improved so much as to be almost unrecognisable. I don’t mean the older work is necessarily poor, but the difference can be so great it may influence someone’s decision to hire the writer, and there can be many factors too many to bother mentioning here. If a work weighs heavily on the writer, if there’s a smidgen of doubt, the best thing can be to put the work to bed. In the matter of love it’s sometimes said the heart wants what the heart wants. It’s a peculiar lesson for the writer to realise the same can be said of one’s writing.

Update June/July Part 2

Books read…

I discovered Adam Nevill this year, a horror writer not afraid of using more than a few words from the dictionary. I’ve read two of his books: The Ritual (back in March), and Banquet of the Damned (in June). The Ritual is a book of two halves. I so wanted to give it 5 stars, but I preferred the first half of the book to the second, and, although I’m unsure what might have been a better conclusion, the end felt a little abrupt. What I love about this book is the atmosphere the author creates capturing my interest in a way many books of this type have failed and making him an author I want to read regularly. I imagine some readers may like to know the characters a tad more—that occurred to me on some level—but in a horror story it’s not always necessary to know these men are little more than regular guys doing their best to get by in their average lives and who don’t deserve the situation thrust upon them. A wonderfully atmospheric lost in the woods horror story.

For Banquet of the Damned, I easily understand why this book receives mixed reviews, and it’s purely owing to stylistic preference. I sank into a rich vocabulary and longer sentences so often lacking in modern fiction. I don’t want to use the term literary as it carries an unfortunate modern-day connotation of dusty libraries and mildewed books written by notaries of a by-gone age (a sad view of the classics that were part of my childhood reading and nowadays occasionally termed ‘too difficult’). This definitely isn’t that, but one can say this book is a more stylish horror. Another way to describe it: I can imagine a few editors returning the manuscript circling the occasional sentence as purple prose. Thank goodness the publisher ignored them if they did. The carefully chosen style to weaves a delightfully successful spell on any reader able to appreciate the opulent seductive description spiced with the ‘creep’ factor; the sense that something is coming and might be present on the next turn of a page. This seems to be where Adam Nevill excels.

The Night Clock, Paul Meloy. First, I have to say I like this book. I need to say so because it may not be obvious. Paul Meloy’s imagination packs a punch. Unfortunately, the story is vastly superior to its execution. On a purely grammatical basis there are so many instances of ‘it, was, and were’ sentences to bog the story and make it drag. I took way too long to finish this. The book suffers too much tell instead of show (too many instances of the type such as ‘he was standing’ required the simple improvement of ‘stood’), and I’m unsure if the writer has any real understanding of tenses or tried to be artistic in the use. Again, I can see a few people complaining over the ‘purple prose’, though that doesn’t always bother me if used well. There’s a greater book here and fantastic ideas that sadly do not gel in this length of a novel. I wanted to know more of the characters and to care for them. The various threads read more as perplexing even unnecessary tangents though mostly draw together, but left me feeling the narrative strove to be clever instead of engaging. Instead, the promised level of threat never manifests and I didn’t much care whether anyone survived by the conclusion. Which is a pity, as this visionary setting promised much and had me enthralled. I love the overlapping story threads and blending of genres.

The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, by Stephen King, proves what I’ve always said, that King is labelled wrongly as a horror writer. He’s a storyteller. I can see where this collection may be labelled as self-indulgent but then, as a storyteller, he no doubt wants to share these tales and has earned some forbearance. Not that there’s no other reason to read this collection. I liked it. I didn’t adore it, but a number of stories I liked more than others, a few I loved, and there were none I hated so I’ve given the book 4 stars where I might prefer to give it 3.5. Short story collections are books I dip in and out of and often take me weeks, even months, to complete, while I soar through novels; but I found King’s writing so familiar and familiarly ‘comfortable’, I finished the book off without setting it aside. A portion of these stories are a tad silly, others fun, some questioning…I won’t say any are scary but then I’m seldom scared by King’s work, by anyone’s, so I’m not singling him out in that regard. As a ‘constant reader’ adding this to my bookshelves was a no-brainer and while it’s not the best of his work, I wasn’t disappointed.

Writing-wise…

I contracted the re-release of A Not So Hollow Heart with JMS Books, this version edited and lengthened. The only real complaint I had from critics was that they wished it were longer…so now it is where I felt it needed it, though I’m uncertain it’s a length to satisfy readers. Yes, there’s always more to fledge out, to explore characters deeper, but there’s a point where all the information needed to ‘tell the tale’ is on the page. I’ve tried to deepen characterisation.

I’ve also been contacted to work on another project…I can only say ‘sci-fi’ related, but there’s no way I can know if anything will come of that at this point. Had a bad feel moment when doing research for a disaster, natural or otherwise, where people died. Had a ‘not enough casualties for my purposes’ moment. I’m not a terrible person, just a writer, honest.

Speaking of writing…when a reviewer drops in words like ‘rips you up’ and ‘grab a box of tissues’ I know I’ve done something right. A jaw drop moment for Flowers for the Gardener. I put much thought into this book and the reviewer is spot on that I wanted to show life is short and what comes from poor communication and assumptions, which is what many arguments (particularly those between family and friends) are. The reader is crying and I’m left smiling. Such is the life of a writer.

Book Review: Flowers for the Gardener by Sharon Maria Bidwell

Update June/July 2018

Hi everyone.

Trying something a little different. I’ve been lax with keeping everyone up to date and sometimes I’ve much to tell, sometimes a mere trickle. There are times I’m resting, other moments when I’m planning, days when I’m writing (not always much to impart then), and occasions when other things interrupt the best-laid plans. I’m trying to do something of a more involved ‘update’, an exercise which also stretches the old writing muscles.

***

We were away in June to Norway so for this time only this update will include both the months of June and July.

One can say every country is a land of contrasts and Norway has its cities, but what I always take away is the memory of the sheer immensity of the landscape. To stand surrounded by mountains almost defeats the ability to take everything in, numbs belief to what the eye takes in. I don’t recall ever visiting any place where the air is cleaner, where a person doesn’t struggle even on the hottest day to breathe. If it weren’t for the long, dark winters, it’s one country where I could imagine living.

***

Enough concerning my holiday. Films I’ve watched these months include the new version of Stephen King’s IT, which is my favourite book of his although there’s a whole section I would have deleted as both reader and writer. I didn’t realise the film would be told in two ‘Chapters’ and that another is coming in 2019, though this makes perfect sense when one knows the story takes place in two stages with the characters as children, and, later, as adults who discover they failed to vanquish the horror.

It’s refreshing to see a book featuring children treated this way. There’s a rule in the publishing industry most readers won’t even consider: if the protagonist is a child then the book is for children. This line has blurred owing to the popularity of Harry Potter, read and watched by more adults than kids or so it seems, and with many YA (Young Adult) books making it to the big screen. There are many excellent YA novels out there. When I was a teen no such genre existed: there were simply ‘books’ and while there were categories and age groups, largely one’s parents decided whether to police reading material. I confess I read King long before I should have, and my teen years were filled with Mills and Boons (it’s what the other girls were reading), the ‘classics’ (which had been part of my childhood), John Steinbeck, Stephen King, and James Herbert. There’s a reason my reading has always been, and remains, eclectic.

IT is undoubtedly a horror film. While I’ve a soft spot for the first try to put it on the screen back in 1990, mainly because of Tim Curry’s appearance as Pennywise, the book at last has the treatment it deserves. It’s decidedly creepy in places. Scary? Hard to say. Fright like many things is subjective and I struggle to choose a film or a book when I was last ‘scared’. Something unexpected might make me jump but that can happen in any genre. Films, books, any media that has made me peep into dark corners to check whether shadows are something more are rare. Still, I loved the creepiness of this version, particularly as the impression left by a book is difficult to transfer to screen. Reading is often far creepier than watching.

Other noteworthy (and one or two not) films would be Darkest Hour (Gary Oldman deserved recognition for his role as Churchill), a film I admired for the acting, and because it kept a war film interesting without turning it into another bombardment of huge explosions. The scenes are to do with what went on ‘behind’ the war and engaging. Victoria and Abdul is another instance of historical ‘dramatisation’ though I sense this one is with more liberty. Still, it’s interesting, and Judi Dench’s performances can seldom be faulted. Something we started and stopped after twenty minutes was The Brits Are Coming. Despite the well-known cast, it came across as chaotic and decidedly unfunny. Atomic Blonde was better than expected. Mostly we’ve been catching up with all 7 seasons of The Game of Thrones, the series and books I both recommend.

More next week where I’ll get to a few book titles…

To Read or Not to Read

When I mention my To-Be-Read-Mountain, few are surprised. Not only do I buy more books per year than I can usually read, I inherited a good 500 books from my father a few years ago. That’s 500 I kept, discounting those I gave away to friends and charity. He had many genres, including fantasies I’ve longed to read, series of which I’d never heard. A few trilogies had the first book only, or book one and two with the third missing so I went searching to complete those that interested me. These amounted to a great many novels, adding to an existing large collection. My bookshelves ‘double up’.

I’m always amazed by people’s reactions, ‘Wow, books’. Makes me think of the little green men from Toy Story all going ‘Oooooooohhhhhhh.’ With me I can spend an hour or so in someone’s home wondering ‘what’s wrong with this picture?’ before I realise, there are no books. A house without books, to me, isn’t a home.

Still, I’m left asking can we have too much of a good thing? When having to move, yes, and I’ve carted this lot around twice in recent years. I’ve come to the time where I must be more selective of the books I keep, even purchase. Some writers are exempt from this rule—quite a list of them—will stay with me always. No one should be surprised when I say one of those authors is Terry Pratchett.

I’ve been listing him in my top five for more years than I can recall but it wasn’t until he died that it hit me what a long love-affair I’ve had with Rincewind, Death, The Luggage, The Librarian, Sam Vimes, and…well, that names a mere few, though I shouldn’t forget Rob Anybody, my favourite Nac Mac Feegle. Say hello, Rob. Don’t worry; he always looks that grumpy.

This may sound like gobbledegook to many but not to anyone who grasped the wonder of Terry’s satire. A friend once told me she’d read the first book (in her words: cute, about wizards) without getting that Terry Pratchett wrote satire, that the Discworld was our world, that the University was our government, the clacks system our postal service and so on. I’m not as surprised as I might be. Not many know Gulliver’s Travels was also an exercise in parody.

When Terry died, I was already experiencing a rough day during lasting stress. The universe bestowed another hammer blow. Is it possible to experience real grief when someone you’ve never met dies? Absolutely. I won’t be the only one to say so. When you’ve admired someone, their work, kept track for many years the loss is real. If nothing else ‘no more Discworld’ is a hard kick.

I’ll soon be picking up another of his books with the bittersweet knowledge I have about four titles to go and the fantasy books he wrote with Stephen Baxter. Yes, I’ve still a few of Terry’s books to read…and in there is a puzzle. Why haven’t I read them all?

Because I’ve so many writers I love and I like to be able to spend time with Terry’s books.

I wanted the stress to pass and to be settled before I dipped into the last of his titles. I wanted to feel relaxed while reading them.

I wanted to treasure them and also delayed because he’s gone from this world and once I read the last few titles, there will be no more.

This sounds ridiculous but I know many who were on the last book or two who said the same: once they finished those, there were no more to look forward to. It’s like closing a book, having found it so good, the desire is there to begin again. Given enough time I’ll do that too. Meanwhile to Terry, a man’s whose imagination the world was lucky to have, a heartfelt thank you!