As we head into winter, there surely cannot be a better time to reflect on a little summer sunshine. Earlier in the year, we were lucky enough to visit the Lost Gardens of Heligan, near Mevagissey in Cornwall. Some say they’re the most beautiful gardens in the UK. Though I wouldn’t go that far — there are many gardens which all have their own character and beauty — the Lost Gardens have long been a favourite of ours. Created by the Cornish family, Tremayne, the over 200 acres of garden was restored in the 1990s having suffered neglect following the First World War. One of the most notable areas is that of The Jungle, a wild area filled with subtropical ferns including a boardwalk and rope bridge, but there are also many other parts, including vegetable gardens, and animal enclosures.
I’ve not been able to share much in the way of days out for some time owing to the Covid situation and a few ailments, but with the lifting of restrictions and a little perseverance, I’ve managed to get out and about lately. Here’s one of my recent days out, walking around Siblyback Lake. We went on quite a cloudy day, but the sun showed itself enough to make for a pleasent visit.
Part of the S.W. Lakes Trust, Siblyback Lake sits within the stunning landscape of Bodmin Moor in Cornwall. Offering numerous recreational pursuits from a simple walk around the supposedly 3 mile circumference of the lake, which also provides an Activity Centre for those who wish to hire equipment for water sports.
Note: I say supposedly because many of these distances seem to be measured ‘as the crow flies’ and we measured with the aid of my pedometer and our judgement more at four to four and a half miles, but the path is well-laid out and the walk enjoyable lasting a comfortable time at a steady pace.
If you can believe anyone with half a brain cell would want to try it, there are signs instructing visitors not to dive from Siblyback Dam, or to cycle or skateboard down the steps.
There is a cafe which has a great reputation; unfortunately, the day we visited, although we arrived before 11am, they’d already run out of most supplies, and it was a 25 minute wait for anyone wanting cooked food brought to a table. I’m assuming this was something to do with misjudging the demand, a problem with the supply chain, and possibly staff storages owing to the Covid situation. If this was normal service, I don’t see how they would keep their high rating. We could only buy a single sausage roll and a brownie which we shared. Both were nice (brownie better than the sausage roll), though came at a price.
The way in isn’t too bad with only a small stretch being a single track road where you might meet oncoming cars, and there’s additional parking before you reach the Activity Centre which is where the main parking is situated.
We got out for two walks and spent some time planning others where we can keep to ourselves as much as possible. The garden earned a little attention, even though spider season started, and I’m still dabbling with artwork with lots of ideas. And we learned they’re getting round to at long last laying tarmac on some local roads, but apparently with no regard to waste collection getting through. Oh joy!
We finished Season 1 and 2 of Star Trek Discovery with mixed emotions. I liked some characters, but after season 2, I’m torn whether to bother when season 3 arrives. I felt quite satisfied with a partial open-ended storyline, especially as this should fit into earlier events around the time of the original series. I’m unsure where it’s going interests me all that much. May well shelve it until/unless there’s little else to watch.
Like many others we tuned into Ratched, the Netflix series based on Nurse Ratched from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. The series didn’t have quite the punch I expected, but I like how the line between good and bad blurred and they gave the storylines deeper consideration than they might have. And, although they directly took one element from Stephen King’s ‘The Green Mile’, they used it to startling effect. Not for anyone squeamish.
Darkness Comes (aka Darkfall), Dean Koontz
Very much a mixed offering, and even though this is an early example in this author’s career, it feels weaker than some others that came before. There was as much I liked about it as I disliked. I wanted to care about the characters more. It’s fun in a B-Movie way. The monsters of the story come straight out of Lovecraft. Whether this is a bad thing it’s hard to say. There are a few creepy moments but not as many as in other novels and the threat seemed diminished by introducing the antagonist who seemed rather cartoon-like to me. Still, I’m not knocking a novel that was perfectly acceptable at the time it released, but I reread this as part of a book clearance and have no problems letting go of it.
Lost Innocents (ebook), Jacquelynn Luben
This reads at first like a well-plotted standard detective story, but I especially liked that a journalist undertakes the detecting. The stories don’t at first appear to connect, but, of course, they do. Also, it’s towards the end of the book the subtext truly comes to light.
The Witcher: The Tower of the Swallow, Andrzej Sapkowski
This series reads as a set of three, and a set of five. The first three have an entertaining, jumpy, short story feel, with the following five more serious books making up a set of novels. The first three are much more fun. Book four of that five is the best yet with Ciri coming into her own and going through the worse trials, Gerait and Yennifer pursuing her for the right reasons with plenty of villains snapping at all their heels. Though the way the author writes and presents these stories receives mixed reactions, I like the non-chronological story telling. There were a few slower sequences that felt like a bit of an info dump, but otherwise I loved all the story elements.
Revival, Stephen King
This is one example of an author choosing a perfect title. The theme resonates throughout the book. Scary? Overall, I would say no, though the payoff is potentially terrifying. I found the story absorbing and well written.
Sophie’s World, Jostein Gaarder
A magical, mystical blend of fact and fiction that makes for an excellent teaching aid for anyone wanting to learn about philosophy. I felt a little disconnected with the book at first — as though the letters to Sophie were a bit too much like sitting in a classroom, but as it progressed, I became swiftly hooked. The ending also felt a little too long, but overall the experience is not unlike falling down the rabbit hole, and I wish I had read this many years ago. Though I knew some facts, I didn’t know them all. The book even touches on the subject of natural selection, and implications of more artificial selections/mutations caused by pesticides and disease control. The book is just as relevant today as when first written. It’s a lot to take in, but if you want a whirlwind tour of history and how philosophy has helped to shape our lives, this is an amazing book.
I must begin by saying that I heard at the beginning of September of the sad, sudden death of Celina Summers. She was a strong and talented woman. She, and the people she introduced me to when she ran Musa Publishing, taught me so much, and she was inspirational. She spoke up for others and I recall her work came close to attracting the attention of one of the Big Six publishers on two occasions, rejected once because they had recently published something similar. Having read her work, I can honestly state she was an excellent and imaginative writer who deserved recognition. I was disheartened by her near miss and am truly choked by her passing.
I’m reaching the end of the third quarter of my first draft of my first horror novel. I stress draft, purely because my novels to date haven’t had to joggle the cast in quite this fashion. I will shelve this for a while when complete before I rewrite some passages and edit. And as I stated last month, Night to Dawn magazine releasing in October will feature reprints of my short story The Wolf Moon, and my poem, Ichabod, Ichabod, Ichabod.
Stay happy and healthy!
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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,
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.