OUT AND ABOUT:
Been to a few shops, garden centres, and craft fairs this month. Watched a Christmas light switch-on and a surprisingly decent firework display put on by a small town.
Finished watching Touch with Kiefer Sutherland, a series that only ran for two seasons. Admittedly, this story of an autistic boy who sees patterns in numbers connecting people and events, supposedly being one of 36 special and important individuals took time to get started but they cancelled it after it got interesting. I think it could have run for a third season. It’s intellectual and may be too intelligent to make it a commercial property. Viewers needed to stick with this awhile and the viewing numbers dropped off drastically after the first episode or two. A pity because it did have much going for it. The more action based plot developed likely as an effort to save it.
Following this we jumped back in to continue watching Ray Donovan, a series we’ve not seen since the end of season 2. Violent owing to the story, I’m unsure whether the series has got better or the ability to stream it and binge watch without adverts has made the difference, but we’re enjoying this more than we did previously. It is definitely a show made for Liev Schreiber.
I eased away from horror for this month, although The Chalk Man, by C.J.Tudor is termed as such. A book I thought might be more paranormal horror but is fitting in the thriller market, but has a good touch of creepiness. I enjoyed this book in the main for the way it’s plotted out, it’s never-ending cliffhangers and slow reveal.
I began The Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe, a huge book I’ve had awhile and it will take me ages to get through this owing to the way I intend to read it. Very much a book I intend to dip in and out of over several months so I’ve only completed the first 100 pages, the section of poetry. 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. Hoping there’ll be many gems and new tales to discover in the story section of the book.
The Essex Serpent, by Sarah Perry is a well-written book, with well-plotted layers and subtext. Alas, it’s not cohesive enough, maybe owing to the omnipresent head-hopping style. On occasion, I forgot I was reading a book set in 1893. It’s worse fault, though, is the likely error of the marketing department. The blurb promises one thing, the book another. Readers expect a developing romance wrapped around a mystery. The ‘Serpent’ of the title is a creature not so much myth as misunderstood. It is often figurative, a metaphor, subtext…which might be fine if readers were not led to believe otherwise. As for the romance, I had patience for that until around 60 pages from the end when my emotions turned to exasperation and disgust. I so wanted to say I loved this book but have to settle for liking it. The true heroine of the book reads, to me, as Stella and that’s a stretch. The writer may tell the story he or she wants, of course, and it’s true that humans are imperfect. Again, I sense that the marketing of this novel leads one to expect something it’s not and so does the author and novel no favours. This is not a mystery, and not a romance. It’s a set of characters and a slice of their shared histories.
Not much to tell you this month. I’ve been working on an as yet unofficial commissioned title and it’s one case of the nearer I get to The End the further away it feels.
We’re told beauty is in the beholder’s eye, but awful book covers exist and, for a peculiar reason, a high proportion of poor art has appeared on romance books. I’m glad to report this trend is shifting and, as with the content, many covers reflect a discerning audience; good news for writers and readers.
If you’ve not read a romance in a while, they have changed. Aside from classic literature from authors such as Bronte or Austen (my first literary introduction to a romantic heroine was Jane Eyre), most young girls of my generation had their first taste of romance in the form of a Mills and Boon’s book. At age fourteen or fifteen, this gave girls a perverse view of romance and of what men expected of women. For those that love such books, I’m not knocking them. There are many good examples and they are intended to be fantasies.
I’m referring more to a sign of the times and of how things have evolved from when I was a teenager. As a friend exclaimed there was never an erection in a Mills and Boon’s when she was young, and while I am sure that despite our feminist backbones, many women appreciate the image of a handsome man sweeping them off their feet, these days it’s more a case of mutual support. Today’s heroines are as likely to pick up a baseball bat, or gun, or sword, or high-power laser particle whangamado gadget in defence of their man should the need require they take action. Heroines and their heroes now stand together (or a hero with a hero, and a heroine with a heroine or whatever combination one wishes), as, in an ideal world, love should conquer ‘all’. In love, both parties fall at the feet of the other. Equality is the key and, even in surrender, both can stay equal.
This new era of romance crosses age, class-distinctions, social taboos, even universes, for it crosses genres. If you look for the animal in your man or woman, you will find them in the form of vamps and shape-shifters of every description. Whether you read sci-fi, fantasy, horror, or westerns, if you can think of it, likely there’s a romance to suit your tastes. These stories now contain adventure, danger, excitement, and a soupcon of erotica.
What has this to do with the cover? From the writer’s point of view, one of promotion. People often ‘do’ judge a book by its cover. What caught my attention was during an author chat someone raised the question how do authors ‘choose’ their covers. The simple answer is that they don’t, and this goes for all genres. Sometimes, an author may even face having their beloved title changed, either for better promotional purposes, or, in a case of a publisher having two books with the same title, a wish not to confuse readers; they will ask the second writer to choose another option, but I have heard cases of publishers doing so without consultation.
The same applies to book covers. many publishers will do their utmost to create something pleasing to both the author and the expected readership. Others… well, even with the best of intentions mistakes happen, and, depending on the company’s policy, the author may have no say, no comeback, not even see a preview of the work before publication, which can lead to proofreading errors that are beyond the writer’s control.
Fortunately, many reputable publishers consider their authors’ feelings. A poor cover is terrible news for everyone — the publisher wants a book to sell as much as the author does. Mostly, yes, a good cover can be a good indicator, but, making a decision purely on what the eye sees is risky. I’ve discovered treasures hiding under awful wrapping paper and some dreadful works presented with spectacular artwork.
With the gift-giving season fast approaching, I couldn’t help but think back on some of my childhood reads, which was my favourite type of gift to receive. I’ve never had a child in my life I haven’t given books to.
A few years ago I read The Owl Service by Alan Garner owing to a recommendation. I cannot say I found the writing charming and yet it has a haunting, surreal quality that makes for a memorable read. It’s supposed to be a children’s book but I can’t think of a reason apart from the adage in the publishing world that if the main character is a child, then it is a book for children. Publishers seem to think if the lead is a child, it will hold no interest for adults. The worldwide phenomenon of a certain wizard has turned this concept on the head. Whether you love or loathe the particular boy lead in question, I think this is a good thing. There are many books out there that cross the barrier between child and adult readers and I for one am not too proud to admit reading the occasional children’s book. I cannot imagine the inability to enjoy a pleasant afternoon revisiting some of my old favourite characters in their adventures. I have a quote on my website by C.S.Lewis: No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally (and often far more) worth reading at the age of fifty and beyond.
When I young, my reading material was Pooh and then Enid Blyton’s Mr Meddles Muddles, Mr Pinkwhistle or Mr Twiddle. I was also fond of her Wishing Chair series and to this day I own a copy of Mr Galliano’s Circus (although I used to call him Mr Galeeno as I couldn’t get my tongue around the pronunciation). I wanted to be young Jimmy Brown and run away to the circus. In a more enlightened time and as an adult I couldn’t imagine anything worse (I am not a supporter of animal circuses) but I understand it was the running away on an ‘adventure’ part I loved so well. In the Moomins books, I wanted to be Snuffkin and share his love of travelling. From there I went on to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory although I always preferred The Great Glass Elevator. Yes, there is a second book! I adored the Vermicious Knids far more than the Oompa-Loompas.
There was no stopping me. I loved The Water Babies because it touched my sense of fair play. Every child should hear of Mrs Doasyouwouldbedoneby or Mrs Bedonebyasyoudid. One Hundred and One Dalmatians a Disney film? I read the book by Dodie Smith and progressed to the sequel. Yes, once again there is a follow-up people seldom hear of called The Starlight Barking. Likewise, I read Bambi the book by Felix Salten and you’ll never see that story the same way again. As a child I lent it to an aunt and insisted she read it. After much nagging she (begrudgingly) sat down one day and only stopped when she realised it had grown too dark to see. She was that lost in the story.
Then it was Ballet Shoes and What Katy Did. My most unusual children’s book has got to be Snowflake by Paul Gallico. Mine is tatty, gone orange and lost its cover, though I can remember the cover to this day: pale blue and white with a white snowflake with a child’s face in the centre. Snowflake is ‘born’, falls in love with ‘Raindrop’, goes on a journey and at last returns to her creator. It’s the first book that made my heart ache.
Later came Oscar Wilde. His Happy Prince story made me sob. Once I was old enough, we started on the classics. It’s amazing in this day that classic literature is often termed as stuffy. Maybe it’s the classic moniker that has done the harm. They weren’t classics when I was young; they were just books. I started with Heidi but was soon on to Gulliver’s Travels, Treasure Island, Robinson Crusoe, Oliver Twist, Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. These were my world. They were my friends. They never failed me, and took me adventuring with them. It’s a sad world where children don’t read these books today.
Then it was Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein — the name of the creature’s creator, not the ‘monster’ when the whole point of the book is the true monsters are the man who created him, and the society who hounds him. This so-called horror story isn’t only that. It’s a morality lesson. At once I fell into the richness of the language, some of which may seem superfluous in this modern age but even in Mary Shelley’s introduction doesn’t “Night waned upon this talk, and even the witching hour had gone by, before we retired to rest” much more engrossing than “We talked well into the night before we went to bed”?
One of my favourite works is the Gormenghast Trilogy by Mervyn Peake, for the involved story, the characters, and, most of all, owing to its rich language. I’ve enticed people to watch the BBC series but even though they often love the story, it disinclines them toward the book. I feel it’s a pity that children are often no longer raised on such rich prose. Not only are they missing out on such imaginative stories, one can’t help speculating whether it would do wonders for their verbal skills and their ability to communicate.
OUT AND ABOUT:
Spent a week in Pembrokeshire, Wales. Never been before, glad to have gone. The highlights were the Tudor Merchant’s House, Tenby; Barafundle Bay, and Pembroke Castle. Had the best Chinese meal we may have ever tasted. Stopped in Hay on Wye on the way home and like the look of the Brecon Beacons so may consider a trip there.
Patrick Melrose proved to be an unexpected watch, namely for the excellent performances. The first episode doesn’t quite prepare you for the serious undertones of the rest of the show, and a viewer may be forgiven for wondering what they’ve let themselves in for, but gradually, Cumberbatch’s portrayal of drug-taking Melrose reveals the father’s dark past in a way that makes a person realise people can fall into bad habits through an ordeal.
It may have occurred to some I’ve been reading a lot of horror. I think I covered before that it may surprise many to know was one of the first genres I was drawn to. Lately, it’s also a genre I’ve gyrated back toward, mainly owing to one of research — I am trying to write what I describe as a Dark Fiction Novel and I wanted to see what was out on the market. Much of what I’ve come across proves to me what I’ve said before: King is not a horror writer (and I don’t mean that as an insult). Clive Barker is. Jack Ketcham is. Brian Keene is. Graham Masterston is (someone I’ve not read in years but a scene in one of his books turned me cold and I rarely have such a reaction). King is a storyteller and much more the level of horror (if that’s what one wishes to call his work) that I prefer. I’m not into a gore-fest, and like most stories to at least raise some questions. King is always ‘comfortable’ even if he scares, which for me he doesn’t, much, if at all: the one time he surprised me was with the foot scene in Misery (the book not film as they changed it). I often read horror in October but stumbling across Adam Nevill made my return to horror worthwhile. His vocabulary and story weaving raises the (forgive the pun) stakes.
It may (or not) surprise you to read the list of ‘The Ten Best Horror Authors Alive Today’, as listed by booklaunch. Few surprises:
Stephen King — an easy choice.
Clive Barker — I agree, though his work has been more scarce in more recent years.
Dean Koontz — one I consider a paranormal/thriller writer rather than horror.
Anne Rice — once a favourite of mine and still much appreciated though I sometimes find her style a little too tell over show for me.
Peter Straub — a writer whose work I’ve not read extensively but have always enjoyed when I have.
Jonathan Maberry — a surprise on the list. I came across Maberry’s YA Zombie novels and picked one up because I wondered how the YA market handled such stories. Next thing I know I was reading him. He does also write adult books much focused on the zombie market and I’m happy to say he accepted my friend request on Facebook and Goodreads.
Mylo Carbia — a surprise because I’ve no idea who she is. It’s disappointing to see the only two women who made the list way down in spots 7 and 10, and neither being names I’ve heard. Booklaunch says Mylo is considered ‘The Queen of Horror’ by Hollywood insiders, and her latest release ‘Violets are Red’ ties with King’s ‘The Outsider’ for best novel out this year.
Ramsey Campbell — a well-known name and another Facebook ‘friend’.
Neil Gaiman — Hmm…is he a horror writer, though? Maybe my second favourite writer of all time after Pratchett, but though his stories have dark elements, I wouldn’t call him a horror writer.
Ania Ahlborn — Born in Poland, but I know little more about her though I’m hearing her books are worth the read.
Dodger, Terry Pratchett
I have the guilty pleasure of not having finished all of Terry Pratchett’s books. I’ve loved his work ever since I picked up The Colour of Magic more years ago than I care to recall. I have my favourites but never have I been truly choked over the death of a writer, possibly over anyone I didn’t personally know. Pratchett was a genius of satire. A friend of mine always took his work to be about ‘little wizards running around’. Like many it escaped her notice that the Discworld was our world, that the University of Magic was our Parliament, the wizards there our Government. I’ve a few books of his left unread. About 4 set on the Discworld, I believe; a couple of factual books, the fantasy series he wrote with Stephen Baxter, and the last book he ever wrote. They’re rare treasures awaiting my attention because once I’ve read them there will be no more.
Dodger stands alone. It’s loosely set in the first quarter of Queen Victoria’s reign as stated in the Author Acknowledgements — a section worth reading even if you pick up the book in a shop and stand there while you do. Pratchett wrote a number of books for younger readers and though the wordage in this book is an easy read and the plot rather uncomplicated, Terry gave it the spins only he could, setting up questions any decent society should ask itself, and showing how much has changed. Not my favourite of Pratchett but a thoroughly entertaining read.
I subbed a semi-new work to JMS Books, which comprises two of my previous releases at Changeling together with a third title creating a trilogy in one volume: Hounding the Beat, and Mistletoe and Whine, now concludes in Paws for Thought, under the combined title of Ruff Trouble. Yes, it’s erotic romance and a menage pairing but with a good deal of humour thrown in. Those who have read this will know two of my characters are shape-shifting huskies. I don’t intend to re-release all my ex-Changeling titles but this one has always been well received and is harmless fun.
Other than that, not a lot of news. Once again all I can say is I ‘do’ have a piece of writing news I had hoped to reveal by now, but not only do I not have permission yet, though I think no one I know would ‘blab’ I don’t want to jinx it. I’d say I’m not superstitious, but I like all my T’s crossed and I’s dotted.
I skipped last week’s blog but hope I’ll be forgiven as I was away for a break in Pembrokeshire in Wales enjoying what has surprised us all: a gorgeous autumn. There are warnings that with the roses still in bloom and some days feeling like summer we’ll pay for it with a harsh winter. As there’s nothing we can do to alter whatever is in store, I’ve been enjoying every moment with long walks in forests and on beaches, with some clambering about the occasional castle thrown in.
Continuing my autumn celebration here’s another little poem, this time an Haiku entitled Rust. Although the word is most associated with a type of decay it’s the perfect description of the colour of some of the leaves on the tree and notes a decomposition that creates one of our most lovely seasons.