Alone/Not Alone

Don’t automatically rely on family and friends to support your writing endeavours. They may be wildly interested and want to read everything you produce, but equally writers face indifference to outright ridicule. Bad enough writers must tolerate this type of apathy or attack from strangers (I’m not referring to your average reviewers), but when it comes from people we know, it’s personal and painful.

In my case, many of my family and friends don’t read. Many restrict their daily reading material to newspapers, a few to newspapers and magazines, and fewer to their choice of summer beach reading material, meaning they may read 2-4 books a year. For these and others, I don’t always write in their preferred genre. Them not reading my books isn’t personal. While one might think some would or even should at least give a book written by a friend a try, it’s still an unprejudiced decision on their part if they choose not to. Their preference has no bearing on my writing, or my wish to be a published author. I may sometimes feel disappointment, but it’s a bearable regret.

I’m happy to say I have four people related to me by kinship or friendship who want my work. My husband, my sister-in-law, and two friends. Out of these, one cannot afford my work so I provide it for her. Two only read print, so ebooks present a problem. One buys everything I produce, and my husband gets to read for free because… well, why shouldn’t he? He supports me most of all and reads anything and everything I write and is happy to do so. In that I consider myself lucky because there are many writers whose spouses resent their writing even when they reach publication, showing annoyance, irritation and jealousy because they don’t wish to share your time with something you love as much as you do them. And there are other reasons those closest to you don’t like writers’ writing. There are people who remain shocked to hear I’m still writing, as though it’s a phase I should have long grown out of. Some even treat it as crass a pastime as picking one’s nose. “I suppose you’re still doing that writing thing,” is one thing I’ve heard often.

Of course, most writers don’t earn a lot and still need at least a part-time if not full-time job, though that’s something I’d like to address separately. One can understand some basis for resentment if a loved one is neglecting all those around them, leaving jobs not done, and bills unpaid, but this is rarely the case. Usually resentments stem from a lack of shared interest, and the type of high expectations amateur writers often share when they first approach the writing market — that of success equaling substantial payment, media interest, and red carpet premieres.

But whereas writers love their craft and soon learn they need patience and perseverance ever to have a chance of making the hoped-for success of a best-selling author, while realising and accepting it may never happen and that success in writing comes in many forms and levels, those around seem far less able to cope with this reality. I’ve heard of writers’ families who have only come around once their writing spouses, daughters or sons, manage a major writing deal. Even then, success does not mean they’ll want to read your work. If family and friends are as excited about your book release as you are, congratulations, but don’t expect it. This can come as a tremendous shock to some new authors.

In short, to be a writer there are many reasons the craft can be a solitary pursuit, but if one of this is a lack of interest from those you love, and worse, ridicule, then although you’ll feel profoundly alone, I’m saying many writers suffer the same and in that you’re far from on your own.

Update April 2022

Hi Everyone!

AT HOME:
Got out to see some welcome signs of spring. Visited a couple of garden centres, including a new one, and got some much wanted plants. Now, to keep everything crossed the slugs won’t eat them. Also took a long trip to visit relatives and booked some breaks for later this year. I’ve been limping around on a sprained ankle because someone had put in a new drive by covering it with stones and grit and it was covering the road. Alas, rounded off the month with some sad news regarding the death of a dear friend.

FILM/TV:
Watching the last two seasons of Sleepy Hollow as we never saw them after our Sky box melted several years ago. I have mixed feelings about the show (especially the crossover episode with Bones — so peculiar to cross a supernatural programme with one so focused on science; it didn’t even feel as though the actors hearts were in it), but think it’s cast well.

Finally finished re-watching Star Trek The Next Gen, and now re-watching Deep Space 9, though quite a few of the early episodes seem to rely on the crew acting dumb to make the plots work. One series that surprised us was Only Murders in the Building, starring Steve Martin and Martin Short. Very well written. I see there’s a second series and we’re definitely interested.

A quirky little film is From the Vine, starring Joe Pantoliano. An Italian/Canadian production it tells the story of a man who makes a surprising career decision because of an ethical dilemma and returns to his roots to find a better life. Nothing exactly new about the plot, but it’s engaging.

READING:
The Cabin in the Woods (The Official Visual Companion), Drew Goddard & Joss Whedon
Companion book to the film which features interviews, cast comments, the script, design work, and concludes with a creature feature which I feel could have been longer, but I’m guessing they wanted to leave some surprises for the film alone. Also, a warning — the print is tiny. For anyone who loves the movie, this is a kind of must have. There’s a lot here that made me want to watch the film frame by frame to catch all the detail I’m sure I’ve missed, namely the wealth of creatures. I warn anyone who hasn’t seen the film and wants to, not to look at the book first. There will be no shocks left.

Midnight, Dean Koontz
A re-read for me. Not having read this book for more years than I care to remember, I confess I’d forgotten the story. This is a tight science-fiction thriller with the meaning of life subtext. Think The Island of Doctor Moreau crossed with any well made FBI crime show. And as with classic books like Frankenstein, there’s the underlying question of just because humankind can do a thing, it has an ethical necessity to consider whether it should. Alas, I don’t think the villain’s backstory with the Native American holds up well in more modern times; it’s cliched even down to the sense of this person being the source of corruption. And I’m not even sure it’s all that important, but there’s much to like here. I like what Koontz has to say about thought vs feelings and vice versa in this, and how humans cannot live without emotion. As is often the case, the author also includes a perfect doggy hero.

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, John Boyne
A well-known and international bestseller, this is a book set during the Holocaust and telling the story from the point of view of an innocent boy. On the one hand, this should be a classic for generations to come and required reading; indeed, many teachers in the UK use this for teaching already. However, Bruno would not have been so unaware; as a German child of the time, he would have been part of the Hitler Youth movement, taught (brainwashed from a young age) to swear oaths to support the Fatherland. The book suffers from other faults such as the unfortunately flat character of Shmuel, the boy Bruno makes friends with — a child who more likely would have been instantly murdered at Auschwitz, the obvious setting as Bruno calls the camp Out-With. Sadly, the book falls short by showing the atrocity though one point of view, and a blinkered one at that. I can’t help feeling this would have a greater impact on today’s youth were the reader to see through the eyes of both boys revealing the true horror in the camp. Still, simply told yet disturbing, this fictional work of a factual era is appropriately unsettling, and as a teaching tool is a fine stepping off point for the young. I felt irritated that even a 9-year-old could be so ignorant of the world but realised this reflects one facet of reality — that too many, aged 9 and older, remain or even choose such ignorance. Although I worked out the ending, there’s still something chilling about the conclusion and the closing sentence is one hard to forget.

Lord of the Flies, William Golding (audio book, read by Martin Jarvis)
Have to confess I’ve never read this, so I thought I’d listen to it as a compromise. Owing to its reputation, I expected a far more brutal story. No doubt much is lost owing to what once was shocking pales in significance as time progresses. Still, undoubtedly a classic and deserving of such status.

The Cuckoo’s Calling, Robert Galbraith
I bought this when it first came out, but have dithered whether to read it. Still, as I paid for this, I at long last got around to reading J.K. Rowling’s offering of her first detective novel. Cormoran Strike is a vibrant character and, along with the pairing of his Temporary Solution assistant, makes for a hard to forget duo. I decided on two killers and one of them was correct, but it took a long time for me to come up with a deduction. This was a surprising and well plotted read.

Bob The Book, David Pratt
Bob is a gay book looking for the love of his life. It’s a fun concept, a quick read, and a good allegory for life, love, and relationships. The story shows we don’t always get what we want, or we find it in a way that’s unexpected. Equally, it says that what we want isn’t necessarily the best thing for us or even what we need. And I’ll never be able to look at a book with a broken spine the same way again.

The Secret Scripture, Sebastian Barry
I understand this is possibly one of three novels starring the McNulty family, so perhaps reading them all would be more fulfilling. In this volume, the story of Roseanne is unsurprising given the way women have been treated historically, yet disturbing and anger inducing to a modern-day female audience, and I hope a male one. Ultimately a sad tale, and atmospherically put together. Unfortunately, although I empathise with Roseanne’s plight, I didn’t connect with her as much as I would have liked, and about halfway through I lagged and struggled, meaning this took me far longer to finish than it should have. Still, it’s well plotted, with an end that will surprise some (though I guessed the outcome, thinking the author surely wouldn’t choose it); therefore, will satisfy some, annoy others. It’s a good book, but one I could take or leave.

Norse Mythology, Neil Gaiman (audio)
I’m a Gaiman fan though I’ve not read this one. Not sure what I’d make of it in print, but I found the audio dramatisation thoroughly entertaining. This was an hour and a half of fun with a varied cast, including the author. The telling of Norse Mythology told as someone telling a story.

Alien: River of Pain (cast dramatisation), Christopher Golden (audio)
A rather unnecessary telling of what happened to the settlers at the start of the film Aliens, though entertaining enough to appeal to some Alien fans. This tells us what happened to Newt and her family, and the other colonists before Ripley & Co arrived to find out what happened to them.


The Very First Damned Thing, Jodi Taylor (audio)
A prequel to a series of books of the Chronicles of St Mary’s featuring a group of time-travelling historians, this one read by the author. It’s entertaining and an interesting idea, and perhaps adds to the series for invested readers, but I’ve not listened/read any of the other books and I’m not sure this made we want to start another series, particularly as it has mixed reviews. Still, I like the idea enough that if I had enough time, I’d try the first book, so I can’t truly recommend one way or the other.

Anyone But You, Jennifer Crusie
A sweet, fun, feel-good romance featuring two people who are too good at assuming what the other one wants based on their own insecurities. This is a great summer holiday read. And if you like dogs, you’ll love Fred.

WRITING
Working on re-leasing a previous book and of turning it into a trilogy, so I’ve been writing that. Still not sure it will happen, but I had an idea which has brought me closer to making it a reality. As soon as I’ve finished this, I’ll be working on my Dark Fiction novel again.

Stay happy and healthy!
Sharon x

Dragon #17

With Easter coming up I won’t be blogging next week, and I thought I’d keep it short and sweet. Here’s another recent acquisition. This dragon is made from ground up quartz in a resin. I just loved the design and colour.

Wishing everyone a lovely break or an easy time if working.

Update March 2022

Hi Everyone!

AT HOME:

Started and finished a decking project. Nothing too fancy but welcome, as we can now step out of the living room on a clean, flat surface. We’ve also booked a couple of breaks for later this year. Will try to keep ourselves safe, and I will struggle through with health issues as best I can. We need something of a life. Still carrying on with acupuncture, though learned it could take weeks or months to help, which has eased my frustration somewhat as there’s still hope.

FILM/TV:

At long last finished Castle, then dipped into the last series of Peaky Blinders, and the 4th season of The Rookie. Can’t say there’s been much in the way of films. I’m not up to sitting through an entire film at the cinema (don’t know if I ever will be able to again), and what with the pandemic still very much running wild, I’m not overly interested in sitting in a closed room of any kind with people I don’t know.

READING:

Hell House, Richard Matheson

I usually love Matheson’s work, but feel rather disappointed in this. Although I didn’t expect the book to be scary — what scared people fifty years ago differs from what scares them now — I was unprepared for the sexual content and violence against women in this. Some sentences, dialogue, and character reaction also come across as clunky, though a few became clearer as the story progressed. It’s amazing how much incredible detail four candles reveal in a ninety-five foot room. I enjoyed much of this, but it seems largely a story of possession rather than a haunting.

The Only Good Indians, Stephen Graham Jones

I want to like this book. It’s got a plot with potential; a blend of an ill-conceived elk hunt, a vengeful spirit, and generations of faith and heritage, though I’m not sure I’d classify this as horror. Sadly, I feel I had to drag myself through its pages, so I took weeks to read this in small snippets, and skimmed most of the basketball sections, which is one of the many passages that go on too long. Many of the sentences are ropey, and, at first read, aren’t clear, requiring they be read as a whole to guess or piece together what’s happening. Many scenes are simply muddy owing to the convoluted style, which made the book rather boring. I’m sorry to say this writer’s style simply isn’t for me, but it seems to garner polarising reviews, so I’d suggest trying a sample and making up your own mind.

What the Lady Wants, Jennifer Crusie

Not Crusie’s best, but her work is always good, and this one is as fun and witty as others. This time, the relationship is between Mae and Mitch, who couldn’t be more different. Mae, a niece to three questionable characters, and Mitch a Private Investigator… or is he? The best thing about this book is the banter, which Crusie never seems to get wrong.

The Thursday Murder Club, Richard Osman

I thought I should get around to reading this as someone bought it as a present for me, shortly after I had bought a copy for someone else who I knew wanted it. Which makes it sound as if I didn’t really want to read this… and I have to confess I was at least on the fence. Richard Osman seems like a nice guy, but so many celebrities were penning books and obviously having little or no trouble getting them published during lockdown, it became a little depressing. Still, this is a light, fun, and well-plotted read. Not usually my kind of book, but perfect for those who like a lightweight, humorous murder mystery. And there’s one chapter in which we learn Bernard’s story that’s entirely heartfelt.

Fan Fiction, Brent Spiner

Apparently fiction despite the ‘men-noir’ line on the front suggesting otherwise. What strikes the reader is Spiner’s ability to poke fun at himself as well as his co-workers/friends, though never meanly. Ultimately, the book seems to be about the dividing line between actor and character, and a person and fandom. Enjoyable and unexpected.

Hex, Thomas Olde Heuvelt

This book may well be unique in terms of a haunting. The setting is not a haunted house but an entire village, and the ‘ghost’ is that of a witch which has corporal form yet the ability to wander at will. Something of a slow burn in places it’s received a few mixed reviews, though fans who love not to be rushed and like Stephen King, might get on well with this. I hated every moment I had to put it down. Written in mostly omnipresent head-hopping viewpoints, the novel suffers from an overuse of cliches, but the story blows these minor issues aside. There’s so much subtext here, dealing with all we know about violence and fear, and of how humans don’t need true evil to misbehave. The revelation of evil is inspired, and the ending is a simply perfect conclusion, pulling all threads together. I’ve seen reviews from those who feel otherwise, but it comes down to what the reader wants from a horror story. I’ve yet to find such a book that truly scares me. Some have come close to disturbing me, but for me, that’s not quite the same thing. Hex does neither, but I loved this book, found it insidiously fascinating. This story will always be with me, as will my copy, and that’s what the best books have — an unforgettable quality. Would make an excellent film if done well.

Charlie All Night, Jennifer Crusie

Light summer reading, but a great deal of fun. I enjoyed the characters of Charlie and Allie, the rest of the cast, the little town they’re living in, and especially the puppy. Not sure all their disagreements were perfect, but then that reflects life. People say things they don’t mean, and can be misinterpreted, and that shows well here. An enjoyable read, perfect for a holiday or a lazy weekend. Though not as deep as some of her later works, there’s nothing wrong with that. This is another book showing an author’s developing style. Worth it for Crusie fans.

WRITING

Good and bad news.

Sweet Temptations released, and I also had a lovely surprise in the post — my contributor’s copy of Operation Wildcat featuring my short story, The Gift. So, this should be a wonderful month.

Alas, with Amazon’s refusal to do anything about the return of ebooks, they’re becoming more of a lending library than a seller, resulting in an active campaign on TikTok telling readers to read and return, that it’s an author problem, not a reader problem. Writers I know are reporting higher and higher returns, sometimes the same reader returning a whole series, so clearly reading and enjoying. Although the notion that if a reader isn’t 100% delighted with a book, the book is somehow faulty goods must stop. We (being publishers and writers) tried to talk Amazon into refusing returns once a percentage of a book has been read. Some are even happy for this to be 50% of a book.

The Kindle format allows them to know what page a reader has reached. They also allow for a sample to be downloaded before purchase, so there’s no excuse. As one writer said, you can’t buy a coffee, drink the liquid and return the empty cup for a full refund. The same should apply to a book. In short, right now, many of us are having half the books we ‘sell’ returned and making so little that many are thinking of giving it up. One author reported her average of returns going up from 1 to 3 copies to over 60. The idea of it not being a reader problem soon may be if the writers stop writing. Of course, what we really need is for it to affect the big names enough that Amazon has to listen. Either that or authors need to find another platform that doesn’t have to include Amazon.

Stay happy and healthy!

Sharon x

The Gift (Operation Wildcat)

Had this little beauty turn up at the weekend.

Join  the Brigadier and Benton in nine short stories looking at life in the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce.

Ever wondered what happened on Benton’s first official day in UNIT, or why he left to sell used cars? Ever wondered how Benton earned his sergeant stripes? Or what he got up to on his days off?

How Does UNIT select new recruits? And what happens when the clean-up after an alien incursion goes wrong? In Operation Wildcat and Other Stories, you’ll find these things out – and a lot more.

Features stories by Tim Gambrell, Simon A Brett, Iain McLaughlin, Sharon Bidwell, James Middleditch, Baz Greenland, Sarah Groenewegen and Jonathan Macho.

Dragon #16

The sixteenth dragon I’m showcasing is my latest purchase. You may have seen some fidget creatures advertised on places like Facebook, and they’re available from many sellers including online stores like Amazon or Etsy. I couldn’t resist. I mean look at that face.

The detail you can get from 3D printing is amazing. This may not be last 3D printer dragon. They’re very tempting and extremely flexible.

Sweet Temptations Excerpt

Sweet Temptations released this weekend. A new, never before published LGBTQ romance. I hope you enjoy this excerpt:

“So, you’re Mister Delvaux.” Sounded more like Jack took the declaration on board than questioned the fact. “The mystery purchaser.”

“Yes. And you are?” Not as he wanted more details, but knowing as much about this man as possible might prove useful if Jack became a real problem.

A defensive expression passed over Jack’s face. “Jack…Brewer.” The slight hesitation didn’t pass Brinley by, though he didn’t know what to make of it, or the way Jack scanned the room again. The man still seemed unhappy, and about something more than Brinley skipping out, or leaving him a biscuit. “So, you’re opening a bakery?”

An attempt to change the subject? That suited Brinley. “Of a sort. Selective goods, one might say. All sweet. No savoury. At least, not right away.” Locals might want more variety, but once they tried his sweets, he doubted it. “I don’t intend to compete with any local pasty bakers.”

“Think you’ve picked the right spot? I mean, this is mostly a holiday crowd. They’ll be on the lookout for pasties, sausage rolls, chips. Fudge. They eat their share of cakes and cream teas—”

“No cream teas here,” Brinley declared, the reason he volunteered the information beyond him. “Only cakes. Cookies. Specialties. But trust me, the holiday crowd won’t resist. Neither will those in this parish.”

“So, you’re actually moving in? To work and live.” Gaze flicking over the ceiling, down to the windows, Jack appeared to absorb this information. He peered around, taking everything in. A confusing expression of regret appeared on his face. “I didn’t think the kitchen here would—”

“I’m changing all that. Changing everything.”

Jack took to nodding, slipping his hands into the back pockets of his jeans, hands pressed against the luscious curve of his arse cheeks. An unwanted shiver passed through Brinley.

“Still, it’ll take time. Cost a lot.”

“Jack, what’s truly going on here?”

Colour infused Jack’s face, though Brinley couldn’t tell if the cause was embarrassment or anger. “What do you mean?”

“The fact we’re here is a surprise to us both, but you seem angry with me. I’m sorry if you expected me to stick around to wake you with a kiss…” Though he wouldn’t have minded doing so, he couldn’t take the risk. Romance with the non-Gifted didn’t mix. Brinley gave himself a mental kick, finishing with, “I’m not the sort to pause long enough to lay roses on pillows.”

“No, only cookies on tables.” Jack grinned, but the gesture didn’t stretch to his eyes, his tone a blend of disgust and annoyance. “But why are you here at all? Why wander on in here? Can’t be a coincidence. Either you learned I arrived, though I can’t imagine how, or…” A flash of insight came to him. “You’re interested in the building.”

Jack’s eyes narrowed. He made chewing movements with his jaw. His hands, removed from his pockets, fisted. Long seconds stretched out, calculations speeding through Jack’s eyes, until he apparently settled on being honest. “You beat my bid. I stopped by to check who took the house, which should rightfully be mine.”

“What on earth are you talking about?”

“I bid on this place.”

“As did others.” Scanning the auctions, Brinley had spotted this building in an ideal location. “Anyone might have outbid you.”

“But you did. You’re the one. An anonymous bidder. On the phone.”

“I couldn’t get down here in time. I needed an agent to—”

“I put in the second highest. The most I could afford. You put in a jump no one could outbid. More than the place is worth refurbished.”

Jack sounded accusing and perhaps with reason, but his antagonism struck Brinley as excessive, not merely a pissed local angry with someone from outside coming in and taking over the place. This showed all the signs of something personal.

“It’s not listed as a commercial property,” Jack added. “So how you got by regulations—”

“The building was once a business venture. Many years ago, when first built. Because someone once used the premises for trade, planning gave the okay. How did you not know?”

Jack blinked, a frown and twitches running over his face. “I wanted this house for a home. Maybe to create an annex to rent to help finance the running. Not as…as…”

“As what, Jack? What’s so wrong with a bakery?” Not that his place would be any old bakery. “Once used as an apothecary, this is ideal for my needs.” Out back, a large apothecary cabinet covered one wall, a fine antique Brinley fully intended to utilise for his own supplies, the multiple drawer unit part of the house’s charm.

“You wouldn’t understand.”

“Enlighten me.”

Brinley Delvaux loves to bake tempting treats that can change people’s lives. But when he moves to a quaint seaside town in order to alter his own, the last complication he needs is falling for Jack Brewer, a man whose sudden appearance messes up Brinley’s timetable to renovate the old Holberton place, as well as his plans for a quiet future.

Worse, Jack is a normal human, whereas Brinley is one of the Gifted, with powers most people cannot comprehend and which Brinley isn’t at liberty to share. Spending time with Jack is potentially dangerous for at least one of them, and Brinley’s seeking a quiet future separate from his past with the Gifted community.

There’s only one answer… to use his powers to solve the problem of Jack. Aside from some personal trauma, what could possibly go wrong?

Available now directly from JMS Books for those in the US (please buy direct from publishers where possible), and from reputable publishers everywhere else. Currently in ebook. Print to follow.