Update Dec 2020

Hi Everyone!

AT HOME:

Though it would usually be our year at home, anyway, considering everything happening we stayed in. If nothing else, we expected the long trip we would have to take becoming gridlock, and I did not cherish the thought of stopping in motorway services for a break. The shops heaving have been bad enough. Then, of course, the rules changed and we couldn’t have made such a long trip to relatives in a day. Have spent a long, relaxed, peaceful time at home together, the only downside has been the almost constant rain, gusting winds from storm Bella, and waking up to a smattering of snow, quickly melting.

FILM/TV:

I thoroughly recommend Netflix’s Night on Earth series. I have relatives no longer here who would have cried to view such outstanding photography. Also, the more you learn about the planet and the creatures we share this world with, the little you realise you know. For writers everywhere, strange and wonderful creatures don’t have to be alien. They are right here.

We started the Christmas watching rundown with Netflix’s Jingle Jangle, a fine example of the quality viewing the service provides and why it’s giving other filmmakers migraines. We followed this with both films in The Christmas Chronicles. And watched all our seasonal favourites, of course.

I picked up a cheap copy of How Green Was My Valley on Blu-ray and cannot recommend it enough in a cleaned-up version. It’s like never having seen it before and a story I cannot help but love. Have also been watching an old British television series, Life on Mars, about a man hit by car catapulted in reality or his imagination back to the 70s. The series is full of nostalgia, both good and bad, especially a reminder of how sexist society was back then.

READING:

The Complete Tales of Edgar Allan Poe

I began The Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe back in May 2019, an enormous book I’ve had awhile and, as I thought, it took me ages to get through. Very much a book I intended to dip in and out of over several months. Many hidden gems here, though I have to say the reason his most loved and best-known poem is The Raven shines out. The cadence and emotional response it invokes never ceases to impress. In the story section, the first touch of the true Poe I know came with his story Berenice. The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether has to be one of the oddest tales in the book, aided by a modern day imagination. Once again, the reason his best-known works stand out becomes clear, for they are the most compelling. Yet if you think you know all there is to know about Poe in things macabre, think again. Some of his stories are light, even possibly satirical and intended to be humorous. It feels sacrilegious to give Poe less than 5 stars, but I have to be honest. Some work I adored, some I liked, and some I hated. As someone who has always been a great admirer of classics, even I struggled when the content failed to hold my attention. But there are many gems here, and one has to recognise Poe’s talent and influence, so I’m glad to have read through to pay homage to an amazing body of memorable work.

Dan Leno & The Limehouse Golem, Peter Ackroyd

I like how each chapter within the book jumps from one perspective to another, told in various styles. Alas, the parts that were far more tell than show made portions of the book less interesting, in particular because some information made me feel as though I was undergoing a lesson. I also feel having previously seen the film somewhat diminished my experience. Still, this is a wonderfully woven Victorian melodrama, perfectly historically blended. Both an excellent book and film, but not one needs to revisit.

The Other, Thomas Tryon

I’ve only read one other book by Thomas Tryon, many years ago, loved it, and still own. So I thought it way past the time I read another. I’d heard good things about The Other, and overall this is excellent. The trouble stems perhaps from the dated feeling of both the writing, setting, and how distanced a modern audience often is from subconscious scares. I wouldn’t categorise this as horror, though for those who like evil child stories, this undoubtedly deserves to be a classic. The construction that will meet with dislike from some was ingenious at the time it was written and remains good today. Most profoundly, a subtle unease exists within the pages that creeps into the mind. Unfortunately, the surprises didn’t feel all that big; again, perhaps because a modern audience is harder to shock.

Black Mad Wheel, Josh Malerman

While reading this I didn’t feel I was reading horror, more a dark thriller, yet as I neared the end I realised how insidious the horror is. This is a story of what happens to a man thrown in at the deep end, morally abandoned, and used. The novel reads as a multilayered allegory; much of Malerman’s work seems to. For me, this one perhaps tries to illuminate the futility of war. I couldn’t help a rather bleak thought at one point, that the only way to stop war was to kill everyone. Readers who like crystal clear details and simple endings may find this writer’s work is not for them, but like poetry or a song, it leaves some details for self-interpretation. Still, the second part feels like no ‘part’ at all, and over too fast considering the tremendous buildup. Despite this, and some question left hanging, I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

The Library at Mount Char, Scott Hawkins

One book that defies description. Though it has dark elements, it’s not listed as horror but as fantasy, but I cannot help feeling it’s all these things with a blend of an intellectual type of bizarro fiction. This is one book that acts as a lesson to writers everywhere, not to worry about reining in their imagination. Disbelief needs shelving. I couldn’t help feeling the opening section is almost designed to throw the reader off balance, though whether this was the author’s intention, it’s impossible to tell. The rest of the book is an easier if peculiar read, giving just enough away to hook the reader from beginning to end. For every revelation, there are bigger questions hanging over the story. Towards the end I felt the book (for me) was essentially about the pain of sacrifice (there’s a lot of pain throughout), though, like poetry is open to individual interpretation. I found it compelling and haunting despite being fantastical and confusing. This has to be one of the strangest books I’ve ever read, yet that’s why it’s amazing and completely unforgettable.

WRITING:

I came across a wonderful comment praising the Lethbridge-Stewart series of novels, and mentioning that my book, The Shadowman, evoked very strong emotions in one reader. Stunned me, frankly. A multi-authored series is hard work but lovely as ever to hear some readers find the effort worthwhile.

I’ve been doing some relaxed editing with a view to releasing an older work, editing that’s turned mostly into rewriting. Sometimes it’s a shock to realise how much you’ve improved.

Stay happy and healthy!

Sharon x

Update Oct 2020

Hi Everyone!
AT HOME:
I didn’t blog last week, too involved with a major sort out and tidy up in the house and the garage. I think this was in part to take my mind off things, but it also proved more exhausting than expected. It’s what comes of climbing up and down steps and lugging boxes around. The garage also has some pretty large spiders.

Not much in the way of walks to report and now we’re all in for another lockdown.

FILM/TV:
Been watching a few comedy series, and some horror films for October. Bit of juxtaposition, but suited my mood. Tried the BBC series, Ghost, and am in two minds. Quite dry humour, with a childish bent; the series really interested me because it’s so similar to something I wrote as a child. Of course, the characters and outcomes were different. My writing wouldn’t have been up to scratch, and I never completed it, but the inherited house full of ghosts and only the woman can see them was so my idea. I remember writing it in an old school textbook.

Though it received a love/loathe response from many I enjoyed The Haunting of Bly Manor on Netflix, not that I didn’t have issues with it. Not truly scary, it’s mostly a bittersweet love story. I had problems with at least one plot point (spoiler alert), namely what happened to the ghost that the principal character took with her? He served a purpose to give her a reason for taking the job, trying to start anew, and to let us know she could see ghosts, but then he vanished from the story to serve no other purpose. At one point, I thought he might have helped save her from one of the other ghosts, but the creators completely overlooked this possibility.

READING:
Lovecraft Country, Matt Ruff
I love books that blend genres surprisingly. With richly portrayed characters and a real feel of both fantastical magic, and the more frightening and bitter horror of racism, the historical setting adds an uneasy depth that’s all too realistic. My one criticism is that I felt a little detached from the true cruelty of the era, and would have liked more emotional insight to the characters’ feelings; saying that, it’s all too easy to fill in the blanks. The book is easy to read in a series of individual but linked stories with a noir pulp feel running through them. (Side note: the book is not the same as the series, with a subtle tone down of the magic and mayhem, and with less blatant sex.)

The Witcher: The Lady of the Lake, Andrzej Sapkowski
As this is the last of an 8 book read I committed to, I was looking forward to this. Felt a little disappointed at the start. Ironically, one character close to the start of the book states she doesn’t like legends that mix fables with reality. While we can hardly quote tales of King Arthur as reality they are of our world, and I’ve always preferred The Witcher to exist completely apart, not linked to famous myths and legends as we know them. The book also felt somewhat padded, but there are plenty of personal stories, and fabulous, bitter and sweet endings. Without spoilers, the most I can say is the conclusion felt a little nebulous, but the story of Ciri, Yennifer, and Gerait is a journey worth travelling.

Disappearance at Devils Rock, Paul Tremblay
An author who writes in his own style and created his own genre bridging the supernatural and real life paranoia. Horror? I’m not sure I would categorise his novels in that genre, but horror covers such a wide spectrum these days. Sometimes his work has a Young Adult flavour, but then as many of his characters are teens or children, this is fine. This novel sums up a mother’s terror over her missing child well, yet the true horror here comes from the way Tremblay captures the flavour of social media, and journalism, the criticism and blame aimed at victims.

Relics, Tim Lebbon
I’m a little torn with this book. On the one hand, I love the human characters, Angela, Vince, even Fat Frederick, but when this seeming thriller becomes supernatural, the reader must completely suspend belief to accept the magical world surviving in the shadows around London. Unfortunately, I think other writers have done that better, which isn’t to lessen this book. It’s urban fantasy with believable characters, an array of villains, and a sometimes blurred line between good and evil. I enjoyed the read, but I did not realise this was a series and I’m uncertain it’s hooked me enough to continue.

The Troop, Nick Cutter
I would have finished this book sooner had time allowed; I didn’t want to put it down. At first, I wasn’t sure of the narrative. Being that the plot involved teenage boys, much of the tone expressed that initially, but then as things progressed so did the style grow more lyrical and tighter, edging along the sense of well-constructed doom. Scary? Yes, owing to the subject alone, the sense that one day this or similar could happen under humankind’s egotistical restructuring of the natural world. This is an amazing book. I’ve seen negative reviews and understand the dislike of animal abuse portrayed, but sometimes it’s necessary to reflect reality. Even then the story is painfully sad, making the reader feel for these boys. Other negatives, I don’t understand as there’s little point moaning about extremes when reading horror, as long as it fits the story without be gratuitous. The various personalities build a rich tapestry of human nature, good and bad. For me, the book ends on a perfect note.

WRITING:
I’m in the last quarter of the draft for my horror novel. Not that I’m anywhere near finished. I’ve been getting many more ideas I want to incorporate, and it won’t surprise me if the book ends up being longer than I expected. This book is important to me and I won’t rush it just to get it done, but I will shelve it, and work on something else next, likely around the end of the year.

Stay happy and healthy!
Sharon x

Update Sept 2020

Hi Everyone!

AT HOME:

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!

FILM/TV:

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.

READING:

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.

WRITING:

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!

Sharon x

Update August 2020

Hi Everyone!

AT HOME:
To start on a sour note, as I read a reference of people dying from the 1918 pandemic until 1923, it seems we all need to make the best of a bad situation and, though the onus is on the individual to keep themselves safe, we went for a walk with close friends, ‘together’ yet as separately as possible. Life won’t be without risk for no one knows how long. It’s hard to live in a tourist area with this going on, though some spots are less populated, so it’s safer than if we were still living in London. I would ask every visitor to remember that wherever they go, it’s where someone lives and to treat that area with respect.

Sadly, like warnings against piracy of books, music, films, etc., those who pay attention wouldn’t do it, and the rest don’t care or happily steal. So asking people to bin their litter or take it home is likely a wasted effort. I can’t help thinking we need to go back in time and run those Keep Britain Tidy campaigns once again. When I was a child, you dropped litter in the street and you could expect a clip on the back of the head from a parent. Rubbish and human waste are always a problem but have been a particular bane in the South West this year.

FILM/TV:
Nothing particular to report. We’ve started watching Star Trek Discovery but can’t say we’re taken with it. (Warning for spoilers.) Finding it slow and love…not…

…how the main character is getting her end away while the bad guys torture her captain. I’m afraid I fell about laughing. Also, major plot hole when doctor alerts the person who may not be who they think to their face without first telling the captain and ordering a security detail. I understand ‘why’ they did it that way, but if I could think of at least two alternative scenarios to bring about a similar outcome, I would expect writers of such a series to do the same. I would have previously voted Voyager to be my least favourite Star Trek series, but this may be a close call.

We watched to the end of the current series of The Blacklist — a series we’ve always enjoyed — that alas they had to finish partly by animation because of the pandemic. May be some time before we see the next season.

For fans of the actor and of Marvel, it stunned many this week to hear of the tragic death of Chadwick Boseman. I couldn’t imagine anyone else playing the role of Black Panther with a quiet regal dignity the character needed. Characteristics which seem to describe the man himself from what his closest friends say and the fact that he quietly battled colon cancer for 4 years.

READING:
The Witcher: Time of Contempt, Andrzej Sapkowski
While I’m not saying these books contain the best writing (perhaps a little becomes lost in the translation), they continue not to disappoint. In this volume, the situation heats up with all out battles and portents of war greater than the world of the Witcher has experienced to date.

Allotted Time, Robin Shelton
Not a laugh out loud read but still pleasantly humorous memoir/diary of two hapless gardeners who still made something grow. The only thing the book lacks is photos of the shed and the greenhouse which I would have loved to see.

Audrey Rose, Frank De Felitta (ebook)
The classic story of reincarnation. I’m unsure what genre I would place this in. It’s not scary and, for me, goes on too long, though it’s a perfectly excellent telling of a series of logical events including a court room enactment. Though some may say farfetched and it likely wouldn’t happen today, I particularly like how those in authority, including the judge, all put their own careers above the possible mental or physical safety of a child. Something rings true about the media circus and ‘trial of the decade’ debacle to this day.

Dead Trees Give No Shelter, Wil Wheaton (ebook)
The story of two boys, one who died young and one now an adult, still haunted by the mysterious circumstances of his brother’s death. While many could write this story, it’s expertly told, and, like most monster stories, the true face of the fiend may not be all it seems.

The Wise Friend, Ramsey Campbell
This story has the warm, welcoming tones of Lovecraft feeding on a sense of something otherworldly and disturbing. Worlds within worlds, and secret universes glimpsed but seldom seen. Disquieting in style rather than scary. I felt a few sentences were awkward and would have liked more dialogue tags but enjoyed the read.

The Witcher: Baptism of Fire, Andrzej Sapkowski
Though I’m not so taken with the tell rather than show sections of this series, I’m still absorbed in the world of The Witcher. This book reveals a new take on a classic monster and an ironic surprise at the end. On to the next…

A Head Full of Ghosts, Paul Tremblay
Feels wrong to say I enjoyed this book because of the subject and the outcome. Alas, this novel suffers from reader expectation, tainted by what the book’s blurb and endorsements promise, especially if the reader has loved a previous work of the author more. I would call this a book of suspense, or psychological horror…though, as Tremblay expertly questions in the end notes that may depend on your definition of horror. At times, the book has a Young Adult flavour, though that’s understandable as the main character imparts her story to another. Well written and constructed the unease (for me) comes filtered through the mind of an ill child… or does it? That’s for each reader to decide, but I know where my conclusion lies. It’s a fine novel and quality read, but never scared me. Still, I like Tremblay’s work and will read more as he seems to write subtle fiction open to question that lingers.

WRITING:
I’m approximately halfway through my first draft of my first horror novel. And I received my author copy of Night to Dawn magazine which features reprints of my short story The Wolf Moon, and my poem, Ichabod, Ichabod, Ichabod. It’s due for release in October.

Stay happy and healthy!
Sharon x

Public vs Private

During this pandemic crisis, with political tensions running high, this may be the perfect time to ask when should a writer (or anyone with a public persona) keep their beliefs private and when should they make them public?

Not all of us share the same beliefs. I’m glad of this. Not only would it make for a boring world but imagine if we all believed something horrible, such as cruelty to children or animals was fine and the fate of the planet wasn’t our concern. Strong beliefs make us stand up, speak openly, defend and protect those who cannot do so for themselves. Standing up for one’s beliefs can lead to changes for the better. Differences of opinion lead to breakthroughs.

Alas, the sad, simple fact is that not of us can agree to disagree. That’s why the advice to be careful what you state publicly can be perfectly understandable. They say never discuss sex, religion, and politics…considering some things I’ve written there’s at least one of those topics that’s occasionally been unavoidable, but that doesn’t mean I have to let the public into my private life. Besides, what do you want to know? I’m a normal person, like my readers. I crawl out of bed in the morning, brush my teeth, stumble into the kitchen in search of that first coffee. I also wash clothes, clean the house, cook, shop…have friends and family. In addition, I make mistakes, apologies, laugh, cry, get sick, heal, and hurt, for myself and for others.

There are some things that are unavoidable. I can hardly write romance without declaring that I believe people should be free to love whom their heart tells them to love. I can’t write darkness without delving into the mysterious and questioning justice. You only have to read my work to know that. I realise there are those who will vehemently disagree with me and may even hate me for it. All I can say is that there is more than one element to my personality. I feel a view that dictates because our beliefs differ we cannot be friends is short-sighted.

Do I agree with all the things my friends believe in? Do I agree with all their decisions? No, of course I don’t. I have friends who are homophobic and rather than attack them for this, if they wished to discuss the topic I would hope we could do so sensibly and intelligently. I would like to know why they feel the way they do, and I would be open to explaining my viewpoint. Ultimately, they are entitled to their beliefs as long as they don’t victimise others for it. I don’t expect all my friends to like each other, but I expect all of them to respect they are all my friends and to be civil should they ever meet, especially if it’s under my roof. I don’t believe to like another person you both have to share the same sexual, religious or political belief. I’m capable of agreeing to disagree, and that’s one thing I wish was more widespread.

There are limits. There are some things in this world I couldn’t tolerate but they are usually in extremes and no one should want someone around who feels certain forms of abuse are fine, but I’m not talking about that level of animosity. I’m a different person to you. If we all wanted to love thyself to this extent, there’d be no reason ever to say hello to another human being.

Therefore, don’t assume that because I’m friends with someone in my private life, or elsewhere, is someone with whom I share the same beliefs, especially in this world of social media. I don’t know what may lurk in all those dark hearts, though the horror writer in me likes to explore this question. Never assume all the viewpoints in the stories I write are from my personal viewpoint. One aspect of a writer’s job is to show all sides of the argument, without getting into a public, personal disagreement.

Update July 2020

Hi Everyone!

AT HOME:
Have battled the weather to get the front door and window sills painted. We still have two window sills to do, but we cannot believe the difference. I won’t share what I called the colour they had painted the sills originally, but it’s so nice to see it going, if not gone. Looks like a new house.
Still not ventured out yet, in part owing to the weather which has been mostly miserable recently, but also because the Southwest is pretty much sold out with beach carparks closing early mid morning because they are already full. We’re considering this year to be a washout and have no plans to go anywhere or to meet up with anyone, but we do need to get walking. With that in mind, I’m researching some lesser-known walks of the type most tourists avoid.

FILM/TV:
Watched a series I won’t name because of spoilers but when the secondary character dies at the end (or does she?) and you’re relieved because she’d become annoying, and you feel the lead should have got over her long ago, it’s not a good sign. Unfortunately, nothing particularly wonderful springs to mind, though if you like Will Ferrell humour (for me it’s hit and miss), Eurovision was a better film than I expected. There’s not a lot of new stuff coming on anywhere, no doubt because things are on hold, not getting made, and the networks fear of running out.

READING:
Glad to say I’m keeping to a greater number of books read this year.

The Godsend, Bernard Taylor
If you love evil-children tales, this is for you. Though there are maybe few surprises it’s the author’s style that draws in the reader. And it’s written in such a realistic way, it’s entirely plausible. In one sense, it’s quite a basic book and when I began I didn’t expect to like it all that much, but there’s something about the pacing that makes this insidious. Big blue beautiful eyes have never been so untrustworthy.

Amuse Bouche, Anthony Bidulka
A light amusing read with a likeable protagonist in the form of Russell Quant, private eye. There seem to be complaints that this isn’t a gay romance, but I never thought it was or should be, least not in the first book. Fast-paced entertainment. The ending for me, unfortunately, didn’t come as a surprise.

The Witcher, Blood of Elves, Andrzej Sapkowski
From reviews, it appears the Witcher books are a little like marmite. While I found some passages in this book duller than any of the previous titles, those parts were necessary to the overall narrative. I like that these books come together with never the same pattern. A kind of tapestry of short stories that makes the Witcher so different. In this book we learn more of Ciri and what happened to her where the Netflix series left off.

Something Nasty in the Woodshed, Kyril Bonfiglioli
Though the subject of rape is definitely not one for amusement, it’s the only sensible choice to make the plot of the third Mortdecai book work, though it tarnishes an all too easily worked out (for me at least) implausible plot filled with tangents. Still, I continue to love Mortdecai’s manservant/bodyguard, Jock, most of all, and if you’re one upset by politically incorrect classism and sexism, then none of these books are for you. Anyone who’s reached book three knows how antisocial and pretty much anti anything except booze, Mortdecai is. Take him as he is or don’t. There are some classic lines, as always. There are two other books (one finished by another writer when the author died and murmurs are only one is worth a read) but for the moment I’m unsure if this is where I will stop.

The Vampyre, Tom Holland
A well thought out, well-written fabulous blend of fact and fiction, but as one character tells the story to another, I felt distanced from the action. The strange circumstances which take Byron to visit the ancient castle are all too reminiscent of the most famous vampire, with, for several pages, Byron taking on a similar role to that of Jonathan Harker, and Vakhel Pasha, that of Dracula. There were parts I found absorbing, other areas where my attention wandered. The creatures that occupy the castle give the classic Igor competition. Still, overall it’s an excellent work with ideas both incredible and ludicrous, often hallucinatory. I came to love the book, though some of my feelings remain ambiguous.

Phantoms, Dean Koontz
Another reread for me as part of a possible book clearance. Dean Koontz often gets shelved in the Horror category, when his work is more one of supernatural thrillers, some with science fiction or horror sub-genres. This book covers all these in a well blended, often edge of the seat chiller. When death comes to a small town in several bizarre ways, it raises questions about life, various belief systems, and the nature of good and evil. I’m unsure if the sub-story featuring a murderer’s arrest worked for me or was necessary to the overall plot. And the ending also took a little longer to complete than was ideal, but this is a well-written book with an excellent story. One I dither over whether to keep.

The Diary of a Nobody, George and Weedon Grossmith
A classic which I first read as a teen, surprising my then English teacher when I chose it from the school library. Loved it then, adored it now. Perhaps surprisingly, it first appeared in Punch magazine in the late 1800s. Though simplistic — a middle-class gentleman seems to think his diary has as much chance to see publication as anyone else’s — it’s an exaggerated, humorous look at society and social observations, yet contains an underlying sadness. Part of the fun (and less cheery tone) comes from the things Mr Pooter finds so amusing and which plainly are not. The tale remains charming, and the illustrations delightful.

WRITING:
I drafted some and wrote a synopsis submission for a story I’ve been asked to write, though it will go through many changes. I confess I hate writing this way. Usually, for fiction, you write before you submit. Having a story accepted based on a synopsis means a real deadline once given the go-ahead. It’s why, despite being told I shouldn’t, I’ve penned a ‘few’ scenes — it’s the way my mind works. I’m a pantser mostly and have no clue what direction the story will go until I write. The more I’m bogged down by plot, the less inspired I feel. It’s the age old argument between plotters and pantsers, but really one figures it out beforehand knowing things may change, while the other figures it out as they go, fixing things in edits. For me, the second option is definitely more fun. Having said all that, I’ve also been figuring out a rough guide for the horror novel I’m writing and I’m about a quarter done. I don’t have a market for this in mind, but the story has nagged me long enough. I need it out of my head before I worry over its future.

Stay Well and Happy Reading!
Sharon x

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