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

Subdued Creativity

Life on lockdown is strange. Yes, I know many are acting as though the whole thing is over, but I have family and friends in medical services, and I know it’s not. Even when your daily routine isn’t all that effected, there’s something about lockdown that seems to subdue creativity. I’m not the only writer who has complained about a lack of motivation.

Needing an outlet and something to lessen the stress of lockdown and that motivational abyss, I tried my hand at a more recreational pastime. Instead of fingers to keyboard or pen in hand, I picked up a pencil and paintbrushes. With the help of a few art project books, I started drawing again.

Coloured Pencil Layering

Life is never easy, though this time comes with its own range of particular difficulties. Hoping to pass on something a little inspirational here are a few of those practice pieces. One thing entirely new, I’ve been learning to sketch which is a distinct form of drawing and one that’s a little unsettling as most of these I’ve done straight off with a black pen.

Black Pen Sketch

I’ve tried to start drawing again before but it’s never felt as right as it does now. I think my focus was elsewhere and I was forcing it. Whatever you’re doing at this time, and where ever you find inspiration, many people are trying something new and I hope, along with reading (never stop reading), you find something else to do equally enjoyable.

Chances are…

You will write something you love.

You will write something you hate.

Something you once loved you will come to hate and wonder what in the world you were thinking.

Something you once hated will become loved because you will realise there was more going on in the story than you first thought.

Something you love and even believe is one of your best works will flop.

Something you consider to be weak will be well received and even be a huge success.

You will write jokes no one else gets.

People will laugh at points in the story where you least expect.

You may try a writing contest and get nowhere. The winning entry will leave you scratching your head or possibly sobbing into a pillow.

You will fall out with at least one editor, or one will fall out with you. (This doesn’t mean a screaming match. Fall outs are often quiet. It happens. Personalities clash. Opinions differ. Most publishers understand this and will assign the writer to a new editor.)

You will worry.

You will read something outstanding and wonder whatever made you think you could write.

You will read something lousy and wonder why you are getting nowhere when your work is so much better.

You will want to give up…

…and then get an idea you ‘must’ write.

You will be determined never to stop…

…until the next time you want to give up.

Update June 2020

Hi Everyone!

AT HOME:

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

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

FILM/TV:

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

READING:

Another great month.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WRITING:

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

Stay Well and Happy Reading!
Sharon x

Re-edited and re-released

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

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

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