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.
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.
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.
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!