Update March 2020

Hi Everyone!

OUT AND ABOUT:
Well, without the need of hindsight, we’d have preferred not to have gone away. Alas, rules stated that holiday companies have the right to insist you go so at the time of travelling we had little choice other than to lose a lot of long-saved money for a holiday we’ve been planning over several years and trying to take for the last three. The first year we couldn’t get a flight, the second I was too unwell, and, this time, though I’ve issues I now have to deal with the rest of my life, I struggled through and reached the Caribbean…only to have our holiday cancelled mid-trip. The good news is they brought us home on time and no one became ill. I still didn’t reach the islands I hoped to and now don’t know if I ever will.

On that note, and in this bleak time, I’ll leave you a view of what certainly looks like paradise.

FILM/TV:
As we’ve been away, we’ve not done much viewing but as we’re spending a great deal more time inside we quickly caught up with The Outside, Avenue 5, and Locke & Key. I enjoyed Locke & Key but had to cringe a little in episode 9 over several characters’ stupidity, and in episode 10 I guessed the outcome and all the ‘surprises’. Maybe it comes from being a writer, although I think I’ve always been a little like this.

READING:
Lanny, Max Porter
While it may not be for everyone, there’s no denying Max Porter has his own style. Written in an abstract, patchy way, Lanny reveals the story of a child gone missing, throwing an ugly light on the duplicities of human emotion and reaction. Though I found this style of storytelling a little too fragmentary, the book’s ultimately unsettling and effective in parts. Yet I can see how the style will frustrate many rather than seem artistic. Either creative or pretentious and difficult to choose which. Good for those who don’t mind the surreal, a departure from traditional narrative, though I would urge reading a sample before purchasing.

I’ve Got Your Number, Sophie Kinsella
My first read by this author, though it may not be my last. I’ve seen some reviews about the implausibility of the plot, but with this style of book I’m happy to hang up any sense of disbelief at the door. It’s light, fun, well plotted with characters well developed enough for the story. I found the footnotes annoying at first, but soon got used to them. I’d happily pick up another book, though this isn’t the type of story I often read.

Don’t Point That Thing at Me, Kyril Bonfiglioli
The first of the Mortdecai novels, though fun, was a little slower in pace than I expected and with sidetracks and wanderings as without restraint as Mordecai himself. I’ve never read what someone ate or the copious amounts someone drank (made my liver wince) to such a degree in a novel. Still, this is undeniably classic and I couldn’t help warming to Charlie Mortdecai and loving his thug of a servant, Jock.

WRITING:
None to report though now I’m back I’m diving into several projects. And don’t forget my short story, Bead Trickling Laughter, is in April’s edition of Night to Dawn, available from Amazon (print), search Night to Dawn 37, or directly from the publisher (print or pdf) https://bloodredshadow.com/ . “Carol Ann never expected to return to Aunt Margaret’s old house on Church Hill, but when her adopted sister, Cheryl, dies upon the stairs outside, a greater mystery than death calls her home.”

Happy Reading!
Sharon x

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

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

Autumn

Though famous as a time of harvest, turning, and falling leaves, a drop in temperature, and arguments over when it begins (equinox on 22nd or 23rd September, meteorological on the 1st, or traditionally known to occur on the 21st), the season no longer seems to offer the chill but crisp and sunny walks among crisp leaves it once did. I’m tired of hearing ‘it’s typical autumnal weather’ on the news reports when the weather forecasters speak of the recent deluge. Still, I cannot help but love the colours of autumn, in clothes and in nature, and the fun of Halloween. The weather doesn’t always obey the dictations of my heart but still for me autumn shall always remain the best time of the year. For me, ‘Tis the season.

How does one sleep in a snow hotel?

This post is premature but there’s a decided wintery nip in the air that brought to mind a memory of my night in a snow hotel.

The hotel build begins by blowing up giant balloons. They then compact snow around them, and pop the balloons, leaving the hotel behind.

Then Chinese artists spend two weeks of the year carving fantastical shapes in the walls of the rooms under an art project—the only way which allows them to enter the country for the specified time for this purpose. With the right lighting these carvings are truly beautiful. The weather wasn’t right this time, leaving about 2 or 3 of the rooms unfinished. Local people completed the work, in a simple Norwegian style leaving them fairly plain. This upset a few visitors as the choice of a room is a lottery. We were lucky—we got room 12 with a beautiful ship on the wall.

So how does one sleep in a Snow Hotel? The easiest answer is ‘carefully’. The beds are mattresses on a block surrounded by ice. You don’t sleep on ice—that would definitely be too cold and impractical. The sleeping bags suit up to -35 so are more than adequate for the -3 to -6 degrees in the hotel. Also provided is a sheet (more on that in a moment), woollen socks if needed—your socks must not be thin or wet—and a balaclava. They also suggest you may wear your own hat.

So…to bed. Go to the toilet. Seriously! Even though we didn’t go to bed until almost midnight, and were sensible, I still needed to get up during the night. The information says you have to go outside. This is misleading. What it means is you need to leave the bed and your room and traipse along the hall to the door at the end that leads into the adjacent main building where the restaurant, lounge, and shower/toilet facilities are situated. You don’t go ‘outside’ at all. Still, as our guide told us, you go through the 5 stages of grief:

Denial: I really don’t need the toilet.

Anger: Why did I have that last drink?

Bargaining: (with God or whatever your faith) to please, please, please just let me make it through the night without having to get up.

Depression: There’s no getting away from the fact I need the toilet.

Acceptance: I have to get up.

Getting up isn’t as bad as it seems. Getting into bed is another story.

The sleeping bag is on the mattress. Put anything personal and valuable in the bottom of the sleeping bag. Visitors can keep an overnight bag upstairs in the lounge, but be careful what you leave there. So in the bag went my handbag including my phone, and the camera. Then comes getting undressed. First the boots. This is where you realise you’ve got to step onto the bed because you ‘must not’ get your socks wet and everywhere is ice. Off comes the clothes down to the thermals. These you sleep in. The clothes join the valuables in the bag’s base.

Now, in socks and thermals, you need to get into the sheet. My other half referred to this as a giant pillowcase and getting into it wasn’t easy. You’re trying to get into a sack on a wobbly base (the mattress) trying not to step on ice AND get you and the pillowcase into the sleeping bag. They had instructed us not to take the sheet until we were ready for bed because they’d get cold; we’re thinking they’ve got to be kidding, the sheet is cold because we can’t get into the bed! We don’t see that it made a difference and think it would have been easier had the sheet-sack been inside the bag to begin with. In the demonstration they told us that after you accomplish all this, you’d need to do some sit-ups to get warm. We weren’t the only one to say by the time you get into the bag there’s no need to bother—you’re warm enough.

At last inside the sheet inside the sleeping bag, it’s shuffle around time, making sure the sleeping bag isn’t on the ice and that the hood part is up over your head. On goes the balaclava. Now we both tried to wear them, but I could not cover my nose. First, I could smell soap powder and the scent drove me crazy. Second, it just didn’t work for me; I didn’t feel I could breathe. We wore our own hats.

We snuggled down and got the bags zipped. Bedtime. The DH is asleep at once. In fact, all the men seemed to do this and had a good night—the women all decided it must be a ‘man thing’. I stared at the ship. I closed my eyes. I opened them, looked at the ship. Closed my eyes, opened, ship, closed, opened, ship…you get my drift. I could not sleep. They gave the sleeping bags out by size but where the DH seemed to have some shoulder room, I felt like a worm, cocooned as if I would emerge as a butterfly come morning; and I reached a point where I couldn’t stand it. I wanted out, but leaping out into an icy room and giving up after ten minutes wasn’t really an option. We’d paid to do this. So the next best thing was to unzip my sleeping bag a bit, pull up the sheet, make sure my thermal was up to my neck, and the sides of the bag ‘around me’ and settle down. This time I fell asleep.

I woke up at 2, just knowing I needed to get up. Now the trick is not to go to the hassle of getting dressed. Put on your boots and coat and go off in your thermal gear. Decent enough. Back to bed it’s a much simpler transition of off with the boots, off with the jacket, and back into the bag. As the sheet is already in place, there’s no problem.

We went back to bed and to sleep and the next thing I know the DH is telling me it’s a quarter past six. I’ve apparently been snoring. Whether he did, I don’t know. There’s been a lot of snoring in the rooms and if you can get to sleep in the snow hotel, it’s apparently a good rest.

It’s a crazy thing to do when you think about it, but we’d thoroughly recommend it…the once; there’s really no reason ever to do it again. Still it was an experience we’ll never forget, not to mention incredibly artisitic and stunning.

Dragon #4

Not the most sophisticated of inclusions but this is my latest acquisition. I got him at the Brecon Beacons National Park centre. One of those instances where this little guy seemed to shout, “Pick me, pick me!” And as a red welsh dragon was one thing my collection lacked and I wasn’t taken with any of the ornaments, I brought this one home with me.

red welsh dragon soft toy

Update June 2019

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.

WRITING:
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).