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.
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.
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
Jo Jones is travelling once again. Setting out from London Gatwick to
Mexico, she lands back at Gatwick with precisely the same crew and
Jo Jones is travelling once again…
Available for preorder at £2.99. Big Finish also offer the 12 episode series bundle (TBA) at £30.
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.
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.
OUT AND ABOUT: Got away for a weekend which was a much-needed break and a test of my present health for which I coped well but not brilliantly. Saw the new and mostly disliked Tintagel bridge. A controversial topic to be sure. I won’t walk across it for three reasons, possibly four. On principal, because I want to use the old steps, and because it wouldn’t surprise me if it gave me vertigo. The possible fourth reason is I don’t trust it. Maybe more on that another time but for now, this is what the first section looks like. There will be a one and a half-inch gap between the two halves. Most locals and visitors seem to admit the design is out of keeping with the area and it cuts across the face in the rock often referred to as King Arthur’s face.
TELEVISION: Watched AFTER LIFE written by and starring Ricky Gervais owing to recommendation. With his share of successes and failures, this series shows the best side of his personal take on life. Though, at first, one could be mistaken for thinking he’s portraying a horrid character, the truth is he’s merely saying a lot of things people think but don’t say, a flood of dislike and brutal honesty from someone who is grieving. All six episodes need watching to understand the creativity behind the show.
I also liked Netflix’s series, DEAD TO ME, because of the way they present the story with slow reveals in a non-chronological order, constantly twisting what you believe about the characters.
READING: Please, Sir! Jack Sheffield While it’s true, these books get a little repetitive, after reading a few it’s hard not to get wrapped up in the lives of those at Ragley School. Charming and touching, at times funny or sad, and this one comes with a true cliffhanger.
The Living, Isaac Marion The last in the Warm Bodies trilogy, a far superior Zombie novel that I would have loved to purchase in print to add to the two titles I already own. Alas, postage to the UK and import duties prohibited this (I purchased the ebook).
My favourite in the series is, and shall always remain, the first book, a title which perhaps says enough, but this takes the exploration further, giving us a beautiful, painful, and sad view of the world. These books are about so much more than a horde of walking dead — it’s about life, love, relationships, politics, society, racism, religion to name the most obvious, though I’m certain that to each the books will have something different to say. With each title the books grew darker in context. The writing felt poetic, at other times surreal, but always undoubtedly philosophical, which perhaps explains why the author has had to self-publish the third title. This is the most literary use of the zombie genre I’ve stumbled across, one that would be hard to exceed, and therefore publishers may have feared its lack of potentially purely commercial value.
I won’t deny moments where the story lost its grip on me, perhaps because each of the books has a decidedly different feel and the tone of the third was different to what I expected, but the way the author writes, the world he’s created, the intellectual significance behind the books are too eloquent to ignore. Though I enjoyed the last book the least, and it perhaps has some flaws, it completes an exceptional story arc, strong enough to be keepers for me.
The Rosie Project, Graeme Simsion
When I started this my first thought was OMG (the protagonist) is Sheldon (Big Bang Theory) but while it’s difficult for fans of the show not to see the inevitable similarities, it didn’t (as some people have pointed out) put me off reading but added another layer of amusement to the read. There’s a love story here with a difference. Intelligent, witty, at times throwing a light on human interaction in a way standard romances might not, this book is often joyful to read. I enjoyed this much more than I thought I would though the ending seemed a little rushed, perhaps explained because the book has sequels. I kind of prefer this as a standalone read but, if not for my to-be-read mountain, I might consider perusing the other titles.
Educating Jack, Jack Sheffield Another in the ongoing teacher series that I’m attempting to read through this year. Sweet, charming, and nostalgic.
The Funhouse, Dean Koontz A re-read as part of an attempted book clearance, this one was fun to revisit though in the worst way. I’ve said a few times that early Koontz books seem much of a product of the time in which he wrote them. The Funhouse, with its matriarch that would give Carrie’s mother a run for her money, and carnival monstrosities, is the most dated yet. This book is for those who like B-movies so bad they are good…which is exactly what this is as it’s the novelisation of a film of the same name, directed by Tobe Hooper. Never having seen the film I tracked down the trailer and even from the one and a half minutes of excerpts I can tell the book is better. Not a keeper for me but a nostalgic look back at 80s horror. Too much tell rather than show but my biggest complaint with the book is the lack of payoff. To me the conclusion was less than satisfactory and somewhat abrupt when taking the amount of backstory into account.
Finished a basic edit of an older work, which doesn’t sound like much but it’s in a shape for me to re-edit/rewrite should I now choose to. Off on a break soon and when back I plan on starting something new though I’m not sure in which genre. Also signed the contract for another Lethbridge-Stewart book, this one part of a spin-off set of books heavily featuring supporting characters. Mine features Anne Travis, (now Anne Bishop).
OUT AND ABOUT: Got out to a knitting and wool fest, amazed by the number of people there but worth going if only to see the giant knitted dragon — not one I think I can add to my collection.
TELEVISION: Dirk Gently has to be one of the strangest programmes we’ve watched but as they’re based on books by Douglas Adams, we had to look. He didn’t write as much as his success would have many believe and now, I must check out the books.
The last season of Game of Thrones began and we’re having to keep avoiding spoilers.
READING: The Searching Dead, Ramsey Campbell First in a trilogy I’m working my way through. More of a slower pace than many modern day novels plus the protagonist is a teenager, unusual in a horror story though some may like to call this more supernatural than horror. It’s certainly not horrific, more creepy with some touches of sadness — the older generations do not seem to fair well, from Mrs Norris missing her deceased husband, to Mr Noble’s father and his dark memories of war. While I would have liked to discover more about the strange haunting presences (can’t say more without giving too much away), this is the foundation for a hoped-for deeper story. The setting makes for a nostalgic read, both good and bad, and I particularly felt the helplessness of being young and having no one believe or even listen to fears unfounded or otherwise.
Born to the Dark, Ramsey Campbell In the best sense this book is an exercise in frustration. Carrying on the story begun in The Searching Dead but now several years in the future when the protagonist is now an adult encountering the strange Christian Noble again. The threat, now largely aimed at his son, Dom is still unable to shake off the vexation of having no one believe him, least of all his wife. With more of insight to the great overall peril, a deeper mystery dragging Dom and his family and his friends into an impossible darkness…I hope the third book in this trilogy has the payoff the series deserves.
The Way of the Worm, Ramsey Campbell
First, I have to draw attention to the cover on this one. The more one delves into the story the more I realised how well suited the cover design is. The eyes grew creepier the more I progressed with the plot. Where the first of this trilogy portrayed the protagonist, Dominic Sheldrake, as a teenage, the second an adult, the third instalment enters his twilight years, which reflects the semidarkness that has plagued his life. His son is now an adult, but this only exacerbates both Dominic’s fears and the frustration the reader shares. The result convenes on a colossal scale and, if any parts of the tale come across as vague, or dreamlike, or illusory this fits with the tale we’ve followed, the half-truths and semi-falsehoods Dominic continues to battle. This reads as a modern Lovecraftian tale of a warped universe and fragile dimensions of tenuous existence. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the disquieting subtle horror.
The Silence, Tim Lebbon An excellent apocalyptic thriller, well plotted and disturbing, tugging the heartstrings in all the right places. The simple writing does nothing to reduce the tension but makes this accessible for most ages from young adult to adult in part because the story is told by two main protagonists, father and daughter. The Netflix film based on the book does not do the book any justice.
Finished editing Cosmic but needs a lot more work if I’m ever to salvage it. Undecided as of this moment. Edited more short work.
You’d have to spare 10 minutes for this but this video dealing with information for writers on promotion goes a long way to explain what it takes to be successful these days. Though aimed at self-publishing the same applies for any writer.
OUT AND ABOUT: Not much to report in the way of going places. We’ve been working hard to finish all the window and floor trims they gave us in this house (they used sealant everywhere) and it’s a tedious job. Well worth the hardship, boredom and monotony but tedious all the same.
TELEVISION: Love, Adult and Robots on Netflix is definitely animation for adults. Sexual, violent, at time humourous… the one thing I can say is the various animation used is superb, and some stories from a storytelling perspective excellent.
We’ve also been catching up with series 3 and 4 of Gotham (being behind). If you don’t share an interest in these universes, the programme wouldn’t be for you, but I like taking the Batman realm and giving it a factual setting even though it retains some supernatural flavour. The portrayal of Penguin and The Riddler are my favourite characters though I’m always happy to see Sean Pertwee.
Films have been lacking though we watched another award-winning animation of Isle of Dogs, though I won’t be able to see Liev Schreiber again without wanting to call him Spots.
READING: The Key to Midnight, Dean Koontz A re-read for me after many years. The opening mystery drew me in as much this time around as it did before. Though I want to love this book, the sexual violence seems to be a product of its time — I couldn’t help feeling the book could have been as threatening without it. Still the reveal is big enough and logical and there are enough twists to make this an excellent thriller. A pleasure to discover an early kick-arse heroine, although she has flaws, and, in places, a naivete that’s questionable (can’t say more without spoilers).
Mister Teacher, Jack Sheffield A pleasant read of charming anecdotes. There’s little new to say after the first book, but it’s an enjoyable series when in need of some light, comfortable reading, no bad thing. I will read more in the series.
Mozart’s Blood, Louise Marley An interesting story told in a non-sequential order, hopping back and forth between the present and the past. I found Ugo more interesting than Octavia but the book didn’t dissolve into overplayed romantic cliches as one might expect from the cover. It’s not a romance at all, though it has a romantic tone but one more to do with the close bond of circumstances and friendship. A well plotted book, blended with the operatic and historical setting with a different spin on the vampire mythos. It’s very much a plot driven novel. I so want to adore this book but can only like it…a lot, the one improvement might have been a little more emotional investment. I can’t say why I’m not drawn to care as much as I want to but I’m still glad I read this and may well keep it and check out more of this author’s work.
Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury Hard to believe I’ve never read this classic before. The book opens to make the reader question what he or she is reading. It has a crazed, abstract poetry to it. It dawns the story is about much more than is on the page, questioning the meaning of books, the attention span of society, of works shortened, condensed into snippets, even of politics, censorship and, ultimately, war. The book feels timeless yet never more timely than now, speaking of people turning from books to technology. This story is visionary. Clarisse McClellan: ‘She didn’t want to know how a thing was done but why.’ Fantastic line. Even better ones: ‘If you don’t want a man unhappy politically, don’t give him two sides to a question to worry him; give him one. Better yet, give him none.’ This on a page well worth reading alone. A subliminal work perhaps, certainly supreme. Some say works of fiction aren’t real but no fictional work can get more real than this.
Icebound, Dean Koontz Another re-read for me that proved to be fun. This is the only real attempt Koontz says he made at a traditional thriller and he did a wonderful job. The factual details are enough to be engaging without boring and there’s a real sense of a ticking bomb. While there may be better thrillers on the market at the time Koontz wrote this he did a job good enough to translate to film although the ability to put this on screen likely didn’t exist to do the story justice. One particular mention, I love it when I’m reading and come across a sentence that expresses a perfect sentiment and in Icebound there is one: Politics was an illusion of service that cloaked the corruption of power.
Dear Teacher, Jack Sheffield Another good instalment, although the back-and-forth romance element started to annoy me a little, which the cliffhanger helped to make up for. I’ll keep reading.
The Black Mariah, Jay R.Bonansinga Someone gave me this book as a freebie many years ago which I kept thinking I’d get around to reading it ‘one day’. That day came, and yet, doing only glancing at the cover, the author’s name still didn’t click. Little was I to know the day I received this book its author would become involved with the successful ‘The Walking Dead’. The book was a better read than expected with a sense of movement and time running out at the heart of the story. I couldn’t help viewing it as a film and there’s a mention on the cover it was in development though whether anything came of that, I can’t find any evidence. The story takes a few leaps of suspended belief but it’s an eventful read.
The Westing Game, Ellen Raskin The cover of this book says you’re in for a treat. I’m not sure I’d go that far but there’s something that oddly lingers. I can’t imagine I would have enjoyed this at all if I were younger reader and I admit I went into it not at all trying to figure out who did what or to whom so perhaps that would be half the fun. Still the quirky characters and the distribution of clues is hard to shake off. A classic book that’s bound to draw mixed reviews and muddled feelings. I’m most impressed that the writer wrote this straight off with no planning, but though I’m glad to have read it, I’m not sure it’s a keeper for me.
WRITING: I’m editing Cosmic for the romance market and have to say some of my writing is a little cringe worthy. Still, it was all a learning experience. Mostly, I would use 20 words when 10 would do, and these days I can see where to add more romantic elements and character development.
I still cannot announce the piece of writing I’m dying to talk about but Barbara Custer who edits Night to Dawn Magazine also snapped a quirky short story of mine. Not sure when it’ll come out but I’ll let you know as soon as I do. I’ve featured before in Issues 15 and 26.
A blanket of snow covered much of the UK last week. I love/hate snow though I dare say the same applies to many of us and the fun is over when it turns to ice. I remember visiting Canada and when they talked about the temperatures and conditions they face I felt embarrassed by how we struggle in the UK.
A friend of mine can be snowed in by a mere four or six inches. She lives at the top of a huge hill and no way can cars get in and out of those streets when they’re iced; she and many of her neighbours park at the base of the hill and walk up during winter. Bad planning on the part of the property developer. At times she’s walked out of her estate to take a bus… if buses are running. She’s been so cut off she’s trudged into town, hoping there are enough supplies, and carted food home on a sled. Every winter there’s often a shortage of bread or milk because of people stocking up. In some years this has left not enough for everyone. Some years shops have considered rationing, and I’ve never forgotten the year friends close to London tried to visit one of the large supermarkets only to discover it was closing the doors. They tried another and got told the same: closing early owing to staff shortages.
Fortunately, this year we’ve not had it so bad. Last year was worse. There’s a reason people and services are often caught out in the UK. We’ve gone from winters where many of us recall walking to school and disappearing into snow drifts up to our thighs (my husband used to tramp across deep fields of snow only to be told to turn around and go home; a health and safety nightmare nowadays), to winters that have for many years been mild. We’ve had several years without snow so local authorities got rid of the snow ploughs. Everyone has had to reinvest, including ourselves. We’ve bought good snowboots — the kind we can walk across a skating rink on and not slip. I make sure my husband has his in the car when he’s going to work as well as thermal gloves, hat, and scarf. I‘ve even made him wear a pair of my earmuffs when the weather’s terrible (though I gave him the plain ones, not the fluffy animal print ones I have).
Of course, it used to be we cleared our own drives, paths, and pavement out front. We didn’t just expect local authorities to do it. I can definitely remember my grandfather, shovel in hand, so why is it that street upon street these days there’s so much snow left untouched? There’s a good reason for it in the UK. Apparently, people are afraid to touch the snow on the pavement because if you clear it and someone slips they can sue you — a state of madness heavily discussed. The rules here aren’t entirely clear as this old article on the BBC clarifies: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/8443745.stm
Apparently, if someone slips on pavement you’ve cleared there’s as much of a slim chance you may be sued as there is if you don‘t clear your personal land — so drives and paths are the homeowner’s responsibility, but not the pavement. It’s difficult to decide the best answer — if the law stated we must clear the snow, this would cause hardship for those who cannot do so. And let’s me truthful — the days when people offer to do the ‘neighbourly’ thing for those who need help can be rarer than the snow.