Update June 2020

Hi Everyone!

AT HOME:

As the world reopens, we’re buttoning down all the more to avoid the inevitable second wave. We’re lucky in that we can buy veg locally without risk — it’s a business unit on the outskirts of town and they put a table across the door. We go to the door, tell them what we want while those inside scurry around packing it up with gloved hands, then we step back, they place it on the table; we step forward to use the card machine to pay, pick up our veg and leave. No contact with anyone. I can see why many have resorted to more local sources, though we’ve always tried to use ours.

Our weekly routine has changed little (except that this time of the year we would have gone for some evening walks) but the weekends have started to drag a little. With that in mind, we’re thinking of tackling a couple of DIY jobs. I’ve had to order 4 tins of paint to redo our front door and the frame from three different outlets. Struggled to get a suitable colour, and it seems many shops still lack stocks.

FILM/TV:

Dipping in to series old and new. Watching the most recent season of The Black List and picking up Brooklyn Nine-Nine where we left off ages ago. Started Altered Carbon, definitely an interesting concept. Just watched Hereditary, a film proclaimed to be something incredibly original when it hit cinemas. Alas, I can’t decide whether it’s slow and dull, or insidious and disturbing. The horror is at times overly melodramatic, at others subtle, perhaps scarily so if you’re easily scared. I neither liked nor disliked it. I think they promoted the film inaccurately, especially when it first came out leading the viewer to expect something quite different which always harms the experience. On a side note, having a dog in the film was entirely pointless.

READING:

Another great month.

Forward Collection, Amazon Original Stories:
While I felt none of the stories were perfect, and often that they were a mere glimpse into a larger concept, I can see where the various subjects create a balance with this collection of six stories available together or individually.

The Last Conversation, Paul Trembley
Though I didn’t like the second person narrative, this may be my favourite of the ‘Forward Collection’ possibly made apt as it concerns loss during a pandemic. There’s a lot left to the imagination, and perhaps that’s why it will fail for some readers. The big reveal is not as grand as perhaps we’d hope it to be. Still, this story is multilayered asking many uncomfortable questions. I couldn’t help feeling there’s a longer story hiding within this shorter work.

Ark, Veronica Roth
Enjoyable, but I found this to be the weakest of the 5 Forward Collection stories. An evacuated earth requires too much suspended belief and though the narration is beautiful, there was no true forward momentum and the ending proved a disappointment. This reads more as a vignette rather than a full story.

Summer Frost, Blake Crouch
An exploration of artificial intelligence that perhaps offers few surprises and yet does so with style, asking all the right questions and offering a variety of conceivable answers, all excellent reasons to suspect the development of A.I.

Emergency Skin, N.K.Jemisin
I greatly loved the concept of this story of an explorer returning to Earth long after those who destroyed their planet having fled from it, to find things are not quite how it seems. Oddly enough, this is another timely story being that we’ve all seen during the recent pandemic how the Earth can regenerate without human interference, though any one group being at fault is subversive and plainly fallacious.

You Have Arrived at Your Destination, Amor Towles
At some future point should humans be able to choose not only the sex of their child but perhaps their life, too. And in doing so, does that parent abandon that child to a life that requires no guidance to a path already mapped out? For one man, it’s a question that makes him evaluate his own existence and choices. Alas, I didn’t find this drew me in deeply enough to more thoroughly explore this excellent concept.

Randomize, Andy Weir
This story made me smirk the most. While the technical jargon may fly over most heads, it’s easy to understand what’s going on here, leaving the question of what makes a crook and what part does technology play in the modern world. A reflection on techno highway robbery.

The Witcher: Season of Storms, Andrzej Sapkowski
A prequel to the first two Witcher books, reading much like a standalone book. I would advise to read this as the third instalment, otherwise the story may confuse as there’s little to no introduction of the main established characters. I enjoyed this as the story takes the form of political intrigue and the theft of Geralt’s swords. I’ve seen some criticise the writer’s style. The only thing I find slightly annoying is the repetitive ‘was’ — it was raining; they were walking; it was dark in the alley — style, though this writer is not the only one who over uses this type of narrative, and I don’t know whether it’s in part owing to the translation. The world of The Witcher remains rich and absorbing.

The Doll Who Ate His Mother, Ramsey Campbell
This is a tough book to rate, but when you understand this is Ramsey Campbell’s debut novel, the good and bad points fall into place. If you love Campbell’s work this is a glimpse of a fledgling writer. If you’ve never read Campbell before, don’t start with this for the author went on to bigger and better things garnering recognition well deserved. The story is also dated — understandably, written over 40 years ago. What people expected, accepted, and found frightening was entirely different back then. So was depth required. Both a horror story with satanic elements, and a thriller involving a disturbed boy perhaps corrupted by the perverse beliefs of those who raised him, alas, the book’s greatest flaw is the lack of menace (for a modern audience). I also spotted what should have been a surprise, but such is an annoying habit of mine. Some will dislike the surreal sauntering sensation the book invokes, but this lends a strange uneasy appeal to the narrative and can be forgiven as a writer finding his voice — and a distinctive voice it now is to those who appreciate his work. Still, there were moments when simple everyday things came across as overly described to where I had to read a sentence twice. Ultimately, the book fails to fall into the horror category for me, and it lacks a depth that left me feeling there’s more to explore, leaving characters shallow. The best and spookiest scene comes toward the end and takes place in a basement, and something about this still lingers, like seeing only the surface of a story through a murky window pane.

What Britain Has Done 1939-1945, Richard Overy (introduction)
Possibly glamorised considering its purpose, but What Britain Has Done was originally published in May 1945 by the Ministry of Information. Even if the facts and figures were half true, they are staggering. This is history as they never taught in school, and which should have been part of such education.

The Muse, Jessie Burton
When writers who can write this well receive such mixed reviews, it must frustrate all creatives. The book is multilayered taking place over two time lines. Jessie Burton excels with a rich, sensual vocabulary that makes her easy to read yet brings to life people, places, and the world of creativity without the reader being aware of it, blending it into the narrative seemingly without effort, though a great deal of effort must have gone into this work for the research alone. This book is about the impediments women face both practically and psychologically. It’s about the inspiration of creativity. When I purchased the book, I read a few reviews; some pronounced Odelle and Olive — the principal characters of the book separated by three decades — as irrelevant and unlikeable, but there’s much more woven into this story than we see immediately on the page. Odelle’s experience in unravelling the mystery behind a mysterious painting gives her the foundation to be herself, to push onwards against all obstacles. Olive is also a woman of her time, equally restricted because of it. Olive chooses secrecy; Odelle to claim what is hers. These women are bookends, the opposite of each other and of how society wants them to be as the times dictated, adding more depth. I’ve loved both this and The Miniaturist, but, if I had to choose, I would opt for The Muse. It is by no means a weaker second book, as some noted critics have suggested.

Orcs First Blood Trilogy, Stan Nicholls
Bodyguard of Lightning, Legion of Thunder, Warriors of the Tempest
Read back to back these books seem oddly poignant in today’s climate being that the not so subliminal subtext is one of racism and the environment. The author has tried to turn classical fantasy tropes on their head by making the orcs the protagonists. To an extent, he succeeds, although I’m left feeling these books could have been far deeper than they are. For the most part, they are a light, entertaining read. In other spots they are possibly overly violent, though in a world populated by magical beasts and humans perhaps the brutality is not so surprising. I’ve few problems with the author trying to get down and dirty, but I’m not so sure the lighter passages aren’t at odds with the darkness of the story, the writing akin to Young Adult novels in places. Still, I liked this not-so-merry band of orcs; sadly, they’re too humanised, and I often forgot they ‘were’ orcs, with the pacing uneven and the ending a little anticlimactic. Still, I enjoyed the read.

WRITING:

The re-release of An Act of Generosity took place, and I saw the cover to an upcoming edition of Night to Dawn Magazine which contains a poem and short story of mine.

Stay Well and Happy Reading!
Sharon x

Re-edited and re-released

Happy to announce I’ve taken one of my books from my backlist and given it a makeover. My writing has changed in recent years for the better and I felt this story deserved a wider audience as it was much loved in the past.

An Act of Generosity is now available from JMS Books (for those in the US) and widely in other recommended outlets.

Robert’s a responsible adult and a dedicated businessman. He hesitates to hire Lee, who’s applied for the position of PA at his firm, knowing how hard it will be to deny his attraction to the younger man. Lee knows Robert’s has feelings for him, but can he get the proper English gentleman to admit they might share more than lust? And what will happen when Robert discovers they share a past?

Update Feb 2020

Hi Everyone!

OUT AND ABOUT:
Hit with the virus from hell (no, not the one in the news), and been battling to get well so there’s been little in the way of ‘out and about’ other than necessity, and we’ve also been getting ready for an upcoming trip.

FILM/TV:
At long last got around to binge watching The Good Place. So unique. Funny. Questioning and examining morality. And the ending is so touching. I cannot recommend this series enough.

READING:

Winter Rose, Patricia McKillip
Beautifully written and lyrical, Winter Rose can be viewed as many things. Supernatural, magical, surreal, reality, dream, or even a metaphor for a young woman’s desire and lost love. When I picked up this book some years ago, I knew nothing about the author, though the cover states she’s the winner of the World Fantasy Award. May not be for those who like straightforward stories with every t crossed but fans of the unusual may appreciate the book.

The Mask, Dean R Koontz
A reread as part of a book clearance plan. Though readers often find Koontz in the horror or fantasy section, the best way to describe most of his books is supernatural thrillers. This, one of his earlier titles, is well-plotted, perhaps a little simplistic for true thriller aficionados of today, but is a fast, well-paced read although the end feels a little too fast and abrupt to me.

The Vesuvius Club, Mark Gatiss
With a nod to Mordecai this is a somewhat fun Edwardian suspense romp, but the story felt as though it went on too long and waned.

In the Time we Lost, Carrie Hope Fletcher
I wanted to love this book but can only like it. This spin on the Groundhog Day type story is certainly inventive, I like the characters, and the setting. Unfortunately, during the early repeats my interest lagged, although my attention picked up, especially in the last quarter of the book. This is light reading, perhaps too light for me, so I’m not dismissing this author or the story, for I enjoyed this quirky romance despite feeling some vital element was missing. This would likely work much better visually, for I feel the problem might be this story is difficult to accomplish in the timeframe. Would people change intrinsically in such a short time? But to linger on too many repeats would make the book repetitive and boring, whereas, in the inspiration repeat story, we’re able to view hundreds of days go by in short snippets. A brave idea, sweetly executed that gain momentum and improves towards an end I unfortunately found disappointing. On another note there are some typos in the book for which I never solely blame a writer as it’s a responsibility shared with the publisher. Still, as this was a printed hardcover book, I expected better.

WRITING:
I received my first official review of my audio short by Big Finish, The Infinite Today, part of their Short Trips Doctor Who range is now available for download at £2.99. Blogtorwho said:

“As soon as the recognisable vocal tones of Katy Manning provide the introduction it is hard not to immediately begin smiling.”… “Manning is sublime at telling the tale.” … “This particular story, concocted by Sharon Bidwell, is an intriguing one.” … “In addition to bringing fans a dream Doctor/companion combination, The Infinite Today provides a thoroughly enjoyable short trip.” … “However, it was a beautifully executed moment of poignancy right at the very end which caused the tears to well up in this particular listener’s eyes. Unexpected but that little moment brings the whole thing together perfectly. Sublime stuff.”

Read the entire review at: https://www.blogtorwho.com/review-doctor-who-the-infinite-today-a-dream-doctor-companion-combination/

A Very Private Haunting is being prepared for its Second Edition printing, and, in the time leading up to a holiday, I’ve continued with basic editing in other ongoing projects.

Happy Reading!
Sharon x

Read by Katy Manning

My Doctor Who Short Trips story The Infinite Today is now available for download from Big Finish. Drop by to listen to or download the trailer.

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…

Doctor Who Short Trips by Big Finish
The Infinite Today by Sharon Bidwell
Performed by Katy Manning


https://www.bigfinish.com/releases/v/doctor-who-short-trips-the-infinite-today-1935

Update January 2020

Hi Everyone!

OUT AND ABOUT:
Nothing to report on the home front. It’s winter, we’ve both suffered ailments, and we’re preparing for a major and long-planned trip so we’ve stayed close to home and taken care of a few chores.

FILM/TV:
At long last watched both the first and second chapter of the film adaptation of Stephen King’s IT, my favourite book of his. I missed seeing this in the cinema for reasons I struggle to recall, though I know for the second part I was too unwell to consider sitting in a cinema for so long. Is the film scary? Depends on what scares you. I have at least one friend who would find the film horrible but you’ve got to understand the layers to the story which those who are long-term fans of the book will. I cannot fault the film for the cast, for the amazing and outstanding performance of Bill Skarsgård as Pennywise (I truly cannot imagine what the film would have been without him), and the fabulous settings and general look and feel. I can’t conceive of this made by any other director.

As for the story…why does it endure for so many? Clowns are frightening, wear a false face, aren’t quite one thing or another, and many find them spooky. Clowns to a child are surely as welcoming as a giant Mickey Mouse, which I believe Steve Martin once joked about saying to an infant Mickey is a talking rat. It’s all a matter of perspective but clowns endure in the scary bracket. Of course, Pennywise is no mere clown and overall he’s a metaphor for all those things that petrify us in childhood, fears we grow out of as we age, as our perception of the world changes. Children are more able to believe and only a portion of adults retain that sense of wonder and open-mindedness. And that sense of preservation. I’ve always said if I see a vampire or zombie I’ll at least regard it as a genuine threat regardless of what it may truly be — at the least, it may be a lunatic out to stab me. If it looks frightening, run. But the true reason I love IT is that the heart of the story is friendship. It’s about a group of children thrown together through adversity who rise to fight the unknown and form friendships that survive and bring them back together in adulthood — the losers who ultimately triumph. What many people don’t understand is there are different types of horror and many are about something deeper, that it’s the subtext that’s the most important element and IT excels in this.

Next, I can’t move on without recommending the Netflix adaptation of The Witcher. Many came to this world via the computer games but I’ve heard excellent recommendations for the books and have now bought the first two. Henry Cavill was both a fan of the games and the books and the moment he heard Netflix intended to make the series he got his agent to call them every day. I honestly cannot imagine anyone better suited. I loved this monsters and mayhem fantasy largely in part because of the amazing non-chronological storytelling, the production values, battle scenes worthy of a big screen film, and even the way the Witcher grunts and swears, utterances that Cavill intones to perfection.

READING:

A Life in Parts, Bryan Cranston
Though biographies aren’t my preferred reading material, no doubt I would read more if they were all written like this. With a warmth that draws you in instantly, if you’ve never enjoyed Bryan Cranston’s acting (though I cannot imagine why not), this is still well worth reading. This book not only gives the reader an insight to his life and career, it shows an actor with great instincts for the characters and roles directors should respect but whose writing ability might well make him an excellent author should he ever wish to pursue fiction writing. A favourite biography.

Doll Manor, Chantal Noordeloos
I’ve always liked this author’s vision and, while I feel parts of this book could be improved, I love the themes and imagery used. In a book intended as horror for adults, portions contained a Young Adult feel, particularly the interactions between Freya and Bam, though this could be representational of the characters’ ages and therefore I felt distanced from them. I would feel young women having gone through what these do they would grow up fast. This is the second in the Lucifer Falls series which began with Angel Manor which I preferred, and though I feel this series could be more intense, it’s difficult not to like stories that contain the best of creepy things: a haunted manor, nuns, angels, and dolls. I looked back over the first book after reading the second and will eagerly check out the final instalment when it appears.

The Miniaturist, Jessie Burton
It’s difficult to review this book without spoilers so the best I can say about the negatives is that the subplot/structure — that of the Miniaturist — didn’t quite work for me, although the background of the real Petronella Oortman and her dollhouse is fascinating proving writers get inspiration from the unlikeliest of sources. Despite any reservations I have, this is a wonderfully crafted novel of vibrant characters, carefully constructed with hidden clues concealing a wealth of secrets. Intense and haunting like the artistry of Amsterdam itself, this is one of those books worth reading even if it doesn’t make it to the keeper shelf.

The Outsider, Stephen King
I can imagine this book receiving mixed reviews. What starts off as a riveting thriller becomes supernatural at a slow enough pace many readers won’t spot the story’s direction. Still, the route to get there with seemingly unanswerable questions is well worth the read with a conclusion that’s logical if not the most exciting. One of the most disturbing parts of King’s book is the ugly face of human nature. The light shone on the fact that a man accused is no longer innocent until proven otherwise. That the absence of a shadow of doubt can be darker than the truth revealed.

WRITING:
I received an early contributor’s copy of Night to Dawn issue 37 which contains my short story Bead Trickling Laughter, and my audio short by Big Finish, The Infinite Today, part of their Short Trips Doctor Who range is now available for download at £2.99. You can listen to or download the trailer for free and purchase the story at Big Finish.

I’m focusing on edits (short stories and other works) until our upcoming holiday. When I return, I’ll focus on the horror novel that I’ve been trying to get to the last couple of years.

Happy Reading!
Sharon x

Night To Dawn #37

Coming soon and featuring my dark fictional short story Bead Trickling Laughter.

Night to Dawn 37: The line between life and death is often fuzzy. At night, the dead slither from their crypts. Our conversations take on an unnatural cast, and the familiar landmarks of our lives are torn away. Are the shadows flitting across the wall reflections of the moonlight, or are they vengeful ghosts with unfinished business? Find out when you read tales and poetry by Marge Simon, Lee Clark Zumpe, Sandy DeLuca, Rod Marsden, Denny E. Marshall, Marc Shapiro, and other contributors.

Update Dec 2019

Hi Everyone!

OUT AND ABOUT:
Aside from visiting family over Christmas time seemed to get away from us, though we managed our annual trip to Killerton House, a National Trust Property, to see the themed decorations. This year was The Night Before Christmas but we were a little disappointed when comparing with the previous years. Still, the day we went was perfect with crisp sunny weather, particularly when in the days after much of the UK would see nothing but rain.

FILM/TV:
Have started Daredevil having watched the other Marvel series and so far find this to be my favourite, though I have one pet hate that seems to run through many television shows. There’s not a second to spare but the characters have time for a long heart-felt discussion.

Also spent time with our favourite Christmas films which invariably includes two black and white originals, It’s a Wonderful Life, and The Bishop’s Wife. Both have several messages as appropriate today as they’ve always been.

Though we enjoyed the BBC adaptations of His Dark Materials, and The War of the Worlds to various degrees and though I freely admit to only seeing the second part, I disliked their updated version of A Christmas Carol which I found distasteful and boring.

READING:
The Salmon of Doubt, Douglas Adams
A collection of essays and a well put-together but incomplete last Dirk Gently novel, I can see how this will always garner mixed reviews. Overall, I enjoyed this book as there’s something poignant about reading Adams’ words one last time that makes this a fond farewell, but the lack of an end to the Dirk Gently book left me disappointed and wistful, but the story was shaping up so well I’m glad to know as little as I now do. Maybe one for true aficionados but a touching book to add to a collection.

The Cabin at the End of the World, Paul Trembley
My first read by this author but not my last. I wasn’t sure about the style at first but that made it different and I was so quickly drawn in and almost instantly riveted. A cabin in the woods, end of the world, hostage situational horror story with a twist and real uncertainty that digs into surprisingly emotional depths, and an end I found satisfying. If this is indicative of this author’s work, I’m in for a treat with his other titles.

The Reddening, Adam L.G. Nevill
The Reddening paints a highly descriptive portrait of the South Devon coastline unlike any I’ve read before, bringing the setting to life and creating a realistic landscape in which anything, even the horrors of the book, seem possible. Nevill’s way of writing horror through not only what is said, but also what’s not said, and left to the imagination, is perhaps worse than the words on the page. Several scenes had me so engrossed I even jumped once when I lost track of time disturbed by someone coming home and opening the front door. Nevill writes intellectual horror enhanced with a rich vocabulary.

The Bishop’s Wife, Robert Nathan
As a fan of the original black & white film, I was curious to read the story. Only able to find this as a 99p download, I took the opportunity. Though the basis of the plot are present in both, they are very different expressing both similar and yet varying philosophies. I have to accept I prefer the film which injects humour and perhaps a greater depth to the story.

I’m reading two other works I’ll review in the new year.

WRITING:
My short story, Remnant of a Haunting, a follow-up to my novel, A Very Private Haunting, is now available as an exclusive edition anthology, Loose Ends, from Candy Jar Books.

A re-write and extended edition of a work I’m editing seems to want to change tense on me. I’ll be annoyed if I change my mind and have to set it back but it is tightening the story.

Happy Reading!
Sharon x