Update Nov 2019

Hi Everyone!

OUT AND ABOUT:
I finally got to see Amsterdam this month, visiting when on a late cruise which also included Hamburg, and Bruges, though, for some reason, I believed Amsterdam would be quaint. Some highlights were a canal cruise, cheese, and chocolate. I fell in love with many of the houses in the countryside of the Netherlands; so much more interest architecture than ours. Having visited Bruges a few times we opted to see the countryside. Unfortunately, I find travelling extremely difficult these days so the trip wasn’t as enjoyable as it should have been.

FILM/TV:
Found Luke Cage good but a little slow, and though Iron Fist started promising, I’m unsure about the pacing. I also find several character’s reactions somewhat naïve in both series. Good viewing that should be great.

Began both BBC series of His Dark Materials, and The War of the Worlds. Though I have to be honest, I hardly watch the ‘beeb’ these days but had to give these a chance. So far so good.

READING:
The Shining, Stephen King
I’m sure there’s few people who need telling the plot of The Shining. Alcoholic writer takes a job at the Overlook Hotel to be the caretaker over the winter taking with him his wife and son, only young Danny Torrence has a talent the like of which is undocumented and to the ghosts of the Overlook he’s a shining beacon. As a side note for anyone who has only seen the film, the book is decidedly different with a depth the film lacks. This story is also far creepier than I recalled, maybe because you can feel a five-year-old’s panic.

Doctor Sleep, Stephen King
This novel returns to events which happened in the Overlook Hotel of ‘The Shining’, with Danny Torrence now grown. A well written and enjoyable paranormal thriller but don’t go into this expecting the same scares.

WRITING:
Alas, I missed out on being interviewed by Doctor Who magazine because I was out of the country. Nice to be asked, though.

Happy Reading!
Sharon x

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 Sept 2019 2/2

After our trip to Whitby, which I talked about last week, we went on to Center Parcs, Longleat, to meet up with family — a place we’ve not visited for years. Can’t claim we’re impressed. Amazed at the high ratings on reviews. Family had booked a 4-bedroom which turned out to be 5-bedroom villa with disabled facilities, a games room and sauna. I have to say none of us were pleased with the placement for a disabled property as Longleat is hilly. One has to wonder what designers were thinking as it would make more sense to locate the disabled accommodation near the Village Plaza where the Pinewood apartments are. The slope up to the nearest land train point would make pushing a wheelchair a considerable task, and, while I’m sure an official reply would be to order the park transport service for disabled visitors, it’s necessary to book it in advance. It’s not always possible to know what a person wishes (or is able) to do one minute to the next, particularly when a family member has difficulties. In additions, the décor was atrocious. Brown everywhere. Dark brown tiles in the bathrooms with dark grey trim made it feel as though I were walking into a cave. No exaggeration:

Bathroon in ‘daylight’.

Dark brown walls behind the beds. Brown carpet almost everywhere and laminate wood effect flooring in the bathrooms and downstairs added to the oppressive atmosphere. And I’ve never stayed in any place with such creaky floorboards which by the end of the weekend were driving everyone crazy.

Bedroom in daylight and with sidelights on.

Even worse was the food. We felt the dining in option okay but less than average food, the choice at Huck’s lacking, and while they ask about food intolerances, they should fill no menu with spicy food to the point where there’s little to no other choice. No Hassleback potato available. Really? At 7:45 on a Saturday night there are no potatoes unless they’re fries? The worst has to be Dexter’s, chosen for convenience and wanting to get on the road. If one wishes to eat the world’s worst burger at deluxe burger prices, then eat at Dexter’s at Center Parcs. My husband joked that ‘maybe we shouldn’t eat anywhere called Dexter’s’ — humour only those who watched the series will understand — but I think he had a point. I’m not sure WHAT was in that bun! While we didn’t try any other outlets this visit, we had the only good meal at the Pancake House.

The one thing I do like there is the spa, and we spent three hours enjoying the facilities in their refurbished suite of saunas and relaxation rooms — a place that would be more relaxing if other visitors understood the meaning of peace.

FILM/TV:
Welcome to Marwen is a great example of a story well told and special effects put to great use so I’m surprised to learn the film flopped, along with reviews calling Steve Carell’s performance icky, the story misconceived and misguided, and questioning its target audience. But then I’m often the odd one out in such things. Granted the way the female dolls are presented is perhaps a trifle unpleasant and overdone, and the way the antagonists take on the persona of Nazi soldiers unsettling, but as this is based on true events, without delving more into the facts I can’t comment. Based on the factual story of Mark Hogancamp, a man struggling to recover from a brutal assault that wipes away his memories, had anyone told me a blend of real life action and animation featuring dolls would be so engrossing, I doubt I would have believed them. While imperfect in places and not one I would wish to watch twice, sorry, I enjoyed it.

In preparation to watch the new Netflix series of The Dark Crystal, we watched the film, not having seen it since in the cinema back in 1982. Easy to recall the details as the heart of the tale is a simple story featuring many of the hero’s journey plot points. I don’t know whether I’m alone but the puppets for me were as grotesque as they’ve always been, and by that I also mean the Gelflings. Though I admire the artistry in all Jim Henson’s work this type of puppetry strikes me as repulsive…and possibly they’re supposed to be. Still, most of us, then and now, wanted a Fizzgig.

READING:
Jonathan Maberry while best know for his Young Adult zombie books also writes for adults and proves he’s capable of handling the vampire genre in V-Wars. I started this because the series is in production. The thing to stand out for me was I’ve never seen a multi-authored book arranged in this manner with the stories broken up into parts and a sliding timeline. I can easily see why and how this has been adapted for television.

Silent Night continues Jack Sheffield’s series featuring the headmaster, teachers, and children of Ragley school in the usual charming and gentle fashion, this one set in 1984. Followed by Star Teacher, the 9th book in the series set in 1985 and bringing more changes into the life of Ragley’s headmaster.

As I was on the road a lot this month I didn’t read as much as I hope and chose some lighter titles.

WRITING:
Working on a (possible) re-release of a book and two others to accompany it to create a trilogy. Also got edits (mostly to change my English spelling and punctuation to American) from Night To Dawn magazine for a short story of mine, a work of dark fiction entitled, Bead Trickling Laughter’.

Swansong Re-release

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.

Purchase from JMS Books and well-known outlets.

This story first appeared the charity anthology, I Do, published by MLR Press. Now re-edited by the author and re-published as a independent read by JMS Books, releases on Wedsnesday 21st August 2019. This is a short story with a more serious tone and literary feel.

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