Autumn

Though famous as a time of harvest, turning, and falling leaves, a drop in temperature, and arguments over when it begins (equinox on 22nd or 23rd September, meteorological on the 1st, or traditionally known to occur on the 21st), the season no longer seems to offer the chill but crisp and sunny walks among crisp leaves it once did. I’m tired of hearing ‘it’s typical autumnal weather’ on the news reports when the weather forecasters speak of the recent deluge. Still, I cannot help but love the colours of autumn, in clothes and in nature, and the fun of Halloween. The weather doesn’t always obey the dictations of my heart but still for me autumn shall always remain the best time of the year. For me, ‘Tis the season.

Update Sept 2019 2/2

After our trip to Whitby, which I talked about last week, we went on to Center Parcs, Longleat, to meet up with family — a place we’ve not visited for years. Can’t claim we’re impressed. Amazed at the high ratings on reviews. Family had booked a 4-bedroom which turned out to be 5-bedroom villa with disabled facilities, a games room and sauna. I have to say none of us were pleased with the placement for a disabled property as Longleat is hilly. One has to wonder what designers were thinking as it would make more sense to locate the disabled accommodation near the Village Plaza where the Pinewood apartments are. The slope up to the nearest land train point would make pushing a wheelchair a considerable task, and, while I’m sure an official reply would be to order the park transport service for disabled visitors, it’s necessary to book it in advance. It’s not always possible to know what a person wishes (or is able) to do one minute to the next, particularly when a family member has difficulties. In additions, the décor was atrocious. Brown everywhere. Dark brown tiles in the bathrooms with dark grey trim made it feel as though I were walking into a cave. No exaggeration:

Bathroon in ‘daylight’.

Dark brown walls behind the beds. Brown carpet almost everywhere and laminate wood effect flooring in the bathrooms and downstairs added to the oppressive atmosphere. And I’ve never stayed in any place with such creaky floorboards which by the end of the weekend were driving everyone crazy.

Bedroom in daylight and with sidelights on.

Even worse was the food. We felt the dining in option okay but less than average food, the choice at Huck’s lacking, and while they ask about food intolerances, they should fill no menu with spicy food to the point where there’s little to no other choice. No Hassleback potato available. Really? At 7:45 on a Saturday night there are no potatoes unless they’re fries? The worst has to be Dexter’s, chosen for convenience and wanting to get on the road. If one wishes to eat the world’s worst burger at deluxe burger prices, then eat at Dexter’s at Center Parcs. My husband joked that ‘maybe we shouldn’t eat anywhere called Dexter’s’ — humour only those who watched the series will understand — but I think he had a point. I’m not sure WHAT was in that bun! While we didn’t try any other outlets this visit, we had the only good meal at the Pancake House.

The one thing I do like there is the spa, and we spent three hours enjoying the facilities in their refurbished suite of saunas and relaxation rooms — a place that would be more relaxing if other visitors understood the meaning of peace.

FILM/TV:
Welcome to Marwen is a great example of a story well told and special effects put to great use so I’m surprised to learn the film flopped, along with reviews calling Steve Carell’s performance icky, the story misconceived and misguided, and questioning its target audience. But then I’m often the odd one out in such things. Granted the way the female dolls are presented is perhaps a trifle unpleasant and overdone, and the way the antagonists take on the persona of Nazi soldiers unsettling, but as this is based on true events, without delving more into the facts I can’t comment. Based on the factual story of Mark Hogancamp, a man struggling to recover from a brutal assault that wipes away his memories, had anyone told me a blend of real life action and animation featuring dolls would be so engrossing, I doubt I would have believed them. While imperfect in places and not one I would wish to watch twice, sorry, I enjoyed it.

In preparation to watch the new Netflix series of The Dark Crystal, we watched the film, not having seen it since in the cinema back in 1982. Easy to recall the details as the heart of the tale is a simple story featuring many of the hero’s journey plot points. I don’t know whether I’m alone but the puppets for me were as grotesque as they’ve always been, and by that I also mean the Gelflings. Though I admire the artistry in all Jim Henson’s work this type of puppetry strikes me as repulsive…and possibly they’re supposed to be. Still, most of us, then and now, wanted a Fizzgig.

READING:
Jonathan Maberry while best know for his Young Adult zombie books also writes for adults and proves he’s capable of handling the vampire genre in V-Wars. I started this because the series is in production. The thing to stand out for me was I’ve never seen a multi-authored book arranged in this manner with the stories broken up into parts and a sliding timeline. I can easily see why and how this has been adapted for television.

Silent Night continues Jack Sheffield’s series featuring the headmaster, teachers, and children of Ragley school in the usual charming and gentle fashion, this one set in 1984. Followed by Star Teacher, the 9th book in the series set in 1985 and bringing more changes into the life of Ragley’s headmaster.

As I was on the road a lot this month I didn’t read as much as I hope and chose some lighter titles.

WRITING:
Working on a (possible) re-release of a book and two others to accompany it to create a trilogy. Also got edits (mostly to change my English spelling and punctuation to American) from Night To Dawn magazine for a short story of mine, a work of dark fiction entitled, Bead Trickling Laughter’.

Update Sept 2019 1/2

I know I’ve been quiet for two weeks but then I’ve been away for much of the time, and it’s a good thing to take time with the bare minimum of electronics or none. That’s left me so much to tell I’m breaking up this month’s news into two instalments. The first dealing with our main trip.

Of three stops we made, two with the family, the highlight was our break in Whitby and not because we didn’t wish to see relatives but because, if I had such a thing as a bucket list, I guess I’d have to say Whitby would be on it. I fulfilled a longed-for wish. Ridiculous when it’s in my country, and I find travelling more difficult now so wish we’d done this sooner. Take advice — travel where you can when you can even if it’s on your own doorstep and you ‘think’ you’ll get around to it ‘one day’.

We booked through Whitby Holiday Cottages, but had I realised we needed to collect and drop off the key from/to their office at Flowergate, Whitby, I would not have done so, a fact I told them on the questionnaire they provided to return with the key. I expected to collect it nearby or from a lockbox which is far more common these days. Parking in Whitby is a nightmare. The Endeavour car park is the nearest at a cost of £3.60 for the hour, so dropping off and collecting the key will cost £7.20. You may be lucky enough to park in the Co-op car park for an hour at just £1 but I’m unable to advise that — it’s the shop’s carpark and likely not appreciated. Though, if you need a few supplies, this may be an option to do a little shopping at the same time.

Either way, after a long journey when tired and all one wishes to do is get in and put the kettle on, collecting a key is the last thing one wants to do and is little better when in a hurry to leave at the end of the holiday. According to Google we could park at the property and walk to the shop in 15 minutes. More like 25 at a clip, adding an hour to getting into the place. The property… We couldn’t ask for a more fantastic view. Alas, it’s the best thing the apartment had going for it. Photos of holiday lets are similar to Estate Agent details: misleading. The house is old — built in 1790, but it boasted a 4 to 5 star rating by Visit England. I’d say the place was average and I wouldn’t award it more than a 3 star. On the first night the wind whistled through the old single glazed sash windows so much I thought we might freeze to death, but I could forgive this in such a distinguished building that comes with a fire and central heating. Still, the property could have been cleaner, and we discovered the electrical and gas certificates were 2-3 years out of date and there were no PAT stickers on any of the appliances, not a legal requirement but advisable and something we appreciate in any place we stay.

But let us get back to that fantastic view:

We went up to the Abbey on our first full day, and the visit was everything we hoped it would be. I took loads of photos in standard, black and white, and sepia. The differences in these options is surprising and the amount of detail still to see is amazing.

Whitby Abbey, though originally a 7th-century Christian monastery, later became a Benedictine abbey. The ruins still overlook the North Sea and is a major feature and attraction of visitors to Whitby in North Yorkshire, England. I’ve heard the town called a typical seaside resort and while in some ways this is true so would not usually appeal to me, I found the town well worth wandering around. During our week we visit Pannett Park with its rather bizarre yet intriguing museum and popped in the RNLI lifeboat museum to support such a worthy cause. It’s a must to buy a delicious smoked kipper from Fortune’s which has been there since 1872. We enjoyed the proverbial fish and chips, and spent a day hopping on and off steam trains choosing to alight at Pickering and Goathland, the latter used as Hogsmeade Station in Harry Potter and also seen in the series, Heartbeat.

Goathland Station

We also spent a (rainy) day in York, perhaps most famous for the Minister. For National Trust members I recommend a visit to the Treasurer’s House — a site we found by getting generally turned around and taking the longer route to, though it’s located close to the Minister. We also walked part of the wall and bought some goodies from the famous Betty’s Tearoom. If one wishes to eat there, I advise to book as the queue is out the door. Try a ‘Fat Rascal’ — their version of a scone.

Betty’s Cafe Tea Rooms

We left a day early not because of boredom but because we met up with the family again at Center Parcs, which I’ll talk about next week.

The beautiful blue waters at Robin Hood’s Bay

Update August 2019

OUT AND ABOUT:
I visited Tintagel on what must have been the hottest day of the month. Far too manic with many paying the exorbitant fee to cross the (IMHO) horrible bridge to the castle ruins. Not something I will do and, as the cost has risen so much, I dare say my walks on the island are now a thing of the past, remembered with some wonderful photographs of the view.

While there I met with a friend for breakfast and then went on elsewhere fast. I think I need to hibernate in July and August and go out the rest of the year. I wonder how many will be surprised to hear many living in the South West don’t go out on Bank Holidays. Was also unhappy that someone in a flash car yelled at my friend (who was driving) to ‘get over’. I quickly looked out of my side window and there was nowhere to ‘get over’ to. Unfortunately, visitors anywhere can be thoughtless. And yes, I’ve been one of them, but I’m always aware that the place I’m visiting is where people live and I act considerately. People playing music at volume, walking in the road, leaving dog mess behind…I did none of this and tire of this as anyone. Please be considerate when on holiday and on the subject of dog faeces, please bag up and dispose sensibly. I heard a news report of people regularly picking up down a country lane and throwing the bags into a nearby field. Ponies in the field accidentally ate the bags and died. Behaviour has consequences.

FILM/TV:
I’m more of a Marvel person than DC though both universes have wonderful characters. I had to watch Aquaman and not only for Jason Momoa. Unsure how I feel about the film, neither loving it nor loathing it. I found it enjoyable but likely forgettable, perhaps owing to the ladened effects although I cannot see a way to tell this story without them. For anyone still into their zombies, but who wants something a little more innovative complete with political machinations and if one doesn’t mind subtitles, they might want to check out Netflix’s ‘Kingdom’. I’m waiting for the second series now.

One noteworthy film for me was Bad Times at the El Royale. I’d not heard of this film but the cast caught my attention. Reviews seem mostly good though I’ve read mention of a Tarantino style film that doesn’t quite pull it off. I think it’s good that’s it’s not quite a clone of someone else’s work. People arrive at a hotel and then strange things happen. It’s not possible, to say much without spoilers. Turned out to be the circular storytelling I love with surprises thrown in. The type of thing I wish I’d written. Plus Chris Hemsworth. What can I say? Sue me.

READING:
NOS4R2, by Joe Hill reads like a children’s book for adults blended with a dark thriller. Though surreal, perhaps bizarre, the increasing conflict kept me enthralled. It’s been a while since I felt I couldn’t put a book down and while I maybe didn’t feel like that all the way through I did for most of the novel. This may be in part because Joe Hill has created a better heroine for me than many blockbusting movies. Victoria may be a mess but she’s a mess with reason, has stamina, purpose, tenacity, and a whole list of exceptional traits that many female leads lack. Perhaps some belief edged close to the line but in a world where Christmasland exists a thought or bike ride away I’m prepared to suspend my doubts for the sheer enjoyment of reading. I like the way he stretches the story over time told at different points in the characters’ lives. I may never enjoy Christmas in quite the same way but will happily live with that too for such a well-thought and excellently presented story which tugs on so many emotional strings.

Voice of the Night
A reread as part of a hoped-for book clearance though I didn’t remember this story at all so, first time around, it couldn’t have made an impact and I can’t say it did this time either. As with much of early Koontz it’s a book of its time. The oft sexual violence as imagined by one character is particularly off-putting as it should be but it’s still dated. Oddly, this book breaks a general rule of publishing in that if the protagonist is a child, then the book is for children but there’s no way this book would be for suitable for kids or, as the boys in question are teens, for a Young Adult readership. Nothing to do with the book but it crossed my mind to wonder whether this would have ever seen print these days. Another thing that ages the book is a ‘boy’ of Colin’s age would likely not, these days, sleep with a nightlight. I perceived the boys as much younger, maybe 7, 8, or 9, and Colin’s father is particularly devolved. The good parts of the book for me is Colin’s perceptions of the dark, a haunted house, a creature ready to jump out of the shadows having lain in wait for him, wonderfully described.

WRITING:
THE INFINITE TODAY, featuring Matt’s Smith eleventh Doctor and companion, Jo Grant, read by Jo herself ‘Katy Manning’ is up for pre-order at Big Finish Productions. https://www.jms-books.com/erotic-romance-c-29_94/swansong-p-2867.html

I also re-released a short GLBT romance story that previously featured in a charity anthology, a story I’m proud of for the layered construction. Swansong is available from JMS books and other reputable outlets for 99c/p:

Richard stands at the door of his living room watching a young man move about the room examining mementos of his life. He has brought this man here for one reason — to lay both he and a ghost to rest. Like the poster hanging on his living room wall, Richard has lived a sepia life for too many years. With his wife gone but not forgotten, his grief is complicated, yet Gloria’s presence lives on guiding him towards a happier future.

Richard believes what little love he had in his life has withered but before she died, his darling Gloria unlocked her silent throat.  Now the time has come for Richard to sing his own song, to face the future, to make the right choice.

Update July 2019

The long awaited exciting writing news (for me anyway) is coming at the end of this glance at the month’s news but I want to address a few other things.

OUT AND ABOUT:
Despite travelling being difficult I persevered and spent a week in the Brecon Beacons. One of my favourite towns in the area remains Hay on Wye but as it’s a town of mostly book shops how could it not. Had a noteworthy lunch at Talgarth Meal (seriously cannot recommend it enough), but only a passable dinner at The Dragon Inn, Crickhowell after waiting an hour (not recommended and I hate saying that about anywhere). The area deserves a mention for the amazing scenery and clean air — perhaps the freshest I’ve yet to come across in the U.K.

Talgarth Mill Sharing Platter (cheese option).

FILM:
I had high hopes for Possum directed by Matthew Holness and starring Sean Harris and Alun Armstrong, in which a disgraced children’s puppeteer returns to his childhood home, forcing him to face secrets that have tortured his entire life. Sadly, I feel this spiralled away into a missed opportunity. I watched this out of curiosity because it’s decidedly dark fiction, and the twisted plot contained touches of Iain Banks in style. The dark ‘Silent Hill; look of the protagonist’s old house held promise as did the posters, but this played too much on many people’s innate aversion to spiders.

This film is eerie rather than scary, though that might not have been a bad thing if played right. The initial sight of the puppet’s legs are definitely worth a shudder, and the head worth a yike, but, once fully revealed, the puppet quickly loses any hold over a large percentage of the audience, eventually looking laughable. Though surreal, we’re aware from the blurb that what Philip sees may be delusional and while we, therefore, cannot easily separate reality from fantasy, this tones down the scare factor still more. The one good thing about this for me is the questionable ending, though I cannot say why without a spoiler. Still, although the film is short at approximately 1 hour 20 minutes, the plot plods along at a slow build to reach an abrupt and somewhat predictable climax. I worked out the story of the parents, had ideas regarding Uncle Morris, and I suspected what was in the room Philip is reluctant to enter. Still, Holness achieves his wish and preference for films that ‘linger’, and nudge the viewer to contemplate later, plus there is no faulting the performances of the two lead actors. Reviews on this film are mixed. For me, this didn’t quite work, mainly because I expected something ‘more’ but it remains an interesting if surreal exercise. The thing I found most disturbing is the central poetic story behind the puppet’s creation.

READING:
Cross Stitch (AKA Outlander), Diana Gabaldon
Read this mainly because I’d heard good reports and because I considered watching the series based on this book. I detest giving negative views; unfortunately, I can’t give this more than a passing nod despite wishing I could. I found the writing excellent, and the history I imagine/hope well-researched though full of accuracies/inaccuracies as suited the story with sufficient plot to carry the content well. I can even get a handle on this is historical and women were treated differently (as was everyone in those times, but especially women at least when comparing with most of the western world today). Indeed, their treatment was likely far worse than portrayed in this book.

The reason this story fails for me is Claire, the protagonist herself. She lacks emotion in that she doesn’t suffer the right level of angst and heartache. The sense of her worry over her true husband missing her is less than if he were a brother or father who might discover her gone, and she hardly seems to miss him at all. While I could accept her going into another relationship through necessity (I won’t say more to avoid less than obvious spoilers), and even attraction making the reality less odious, still there’s no heartrending for this ‘lass’. Jamie is right approximately halfway through the book that she’s not taking her predicament seriously enough, although, of course, he doesn’t comprehend the true nature of her plight.

Claire seems to shake off dangerous situations like a dog rids its coat of water (oddly paraphrasing a line in the book I didn’t know existed when I started writing this review), in a way any person would be hard disposed to do, and with little physical, emotional, or psychological damage. Even a woman of the 21st century would feel terror let alone a woman, who should, by historical fact, have led a more cosseted existence. The idea she has nursed men injured by war seems used to inure her against the threat of rape, torture, and death itself even when it’s her own and hideous. And one moment I surmise they intended to be powerful (though many women will find off-putting as sexual violence) had me rolling with laughter and ready to cast the book aside. This book would have worked far better and might have had a chance of being a real love story had the man left behind in the future been a relative or dear friend (maybe even an adopted brother to avoid nasty associations with other characters in the book) instead of a husband. There would be no infidelity questions for one thing, which almost everyone in the romance market votes as the biggest turnoff.

The character of Claire is sometimes far too shallow and unbearably naïve, yawning in boredom even when her life is in jeopardy, making her appear plain foolish. Even when she’s at her most courageous, she spoils it by doing something reckless or stupid so dashed any hope moments later in disbelief. She has some redeeming factors, namely unwavering determination, but it’s not enough to present a strong well-rounded heroine. There’s a little too much deus ex machina, which in a novel of this length stretches even suspended belief to breaking point and there’s little regard whether her actions alter the course of history. In addition, some degrees of suffering best left to the imagination gets dredged out as though for perverse entertainment leaving me to question why. To show strength of character? By that point we already know the levels of pain endured, and how strong these people are. This left me feeling constantly flipped around and turned on my head as the book is neither one thing nor the other. The historical machinations were the only parts of interest to me and the repeated references to various forms of rape repellant. I don’t believe in prettying things up when writing, but this screamed of excess.

Yet…the book is epic and inspires emotional investment, even tugs at the heartstrings, and I was on the edge of my seat at one point hoping for a happy ending by which time realising there was no other (emotionally happy) future for Claire. It’s good but because of Claire’s impulsive and heedless nature I didn’t find it one to keep. I doubt I’ll read more, but I may check out the series.

Good Omens, Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
A reread of a classic (because I’m awaiting the DVD release so I can see Amazon’s adaptation starring David Tennant and Michael Sheen) by two outstanding authors who are also my favourite writers. This story displays both their talents, creating a meld of the sublime and ridiculous in all the right ways. Any fan of Douglas Adams would do well to pick up this story. The world would be a poorer place without this collaboration. Pure magic.

WRITING:
As to the big news… I’ve spent months unable to reveal the contract I signed with Big Finish for a story in their audio Short Trips range. My story, THE INFINITE TODAY, features Matt’s Smith eleventh Doctor and companion, Jo Grant, read by Jo herself ‘Katy Manning’. They invited me to the recording earlier this year but alas owing to health I could not attend. I need not say how I felt about a missed opportunity that may never occur again. Katy has apparently done a wonderful job bringing the story to life and I await hearing it. The story releases in January 2020.

The Infinite Today by Sharon Bidwell, January 2020

Dragon #4

Not the most sophisticated of inclusions but this is my latest acquisition. I got him at the Brecon Beacons National Park centre. One of those instances where this little guy seemed to shout, “Pick me, pick me!” And as a red welsh dragon was one thing my collection lacked and I wasn’t taken with any of the ornaments, I brought this one home with me.

red welsh dragon soft toy

Update June 2019

OUT AND ABOUT:
Got away for a weekend which was a much-needed break and a test of my present health for which I coped well but not brilliantly. Saw the new and mostly disliked Tintagel bridge. A controversial topic to be sure. I won’t walk across it for three reasons, possibly four. On principal, because I want to use the old steps, and because it wouldn’t surprise me if it gave me vertigo. The possible fourth reason is I don’t trust it. Maybe more on that another time but for now, this is what the first section looks like. There will be a one and a half-inch gap between the two halves. Most locals and visitors seem to admit the design is out of keeping with the area and it cuts across the face in the rock often referred to as King Arthur’s face.

TELEVISION:
Watched AFTER LIFE written by and starring Ricky Gervais owing to recommendation. With his share of successes and failures, this series shows the best side of his personal take on life. Though, at first, one could be mistaken for thinking he’s portraying a horrid character, the truth is he’s merely saying a lot of things people think but don’t say, a flood of dislike and brutal honesty from someone who is grieving. All six episodes need watching to understand the creativity behind the show.

I also liked Netflix’s series, DEAD TO ME, because of the way they present the story with slow reveals in a non-chronological order, constantly twisting what you believe about the characters.

READING:
Please, Sir! Jack Sheffield
While it’s true, these books get a little repetitive, after reading a few it’s hard not to get wrapped up in the lives of those at Ragley School. Charming and touching, at times funny or sad, and this one comes with a true cliffhanger.

The Living, Isaac Marion
The last in the Warm Bodies trilogy, a far superior Zombie novel that I would have loved to purchase in print to add to the two titles I already own. Alas, postage to the UK and import duties prohibited this (I purchased the ebook).

My favourite in the series is, and shall always remain, the first book, a title which perhaps says enough, but this takes the exploration further, giving us a beautiful, painful, and sad view of the world. These books are about so much more than a horde of walking dead — it’s about life, love, relationships, politics, society, racism, religion to name the most obvious, though I’m certain that to each the books will have something different to say. With each title the books grew darker in context. The writing felt poetic, at other times surreal, but always undoubtedly philosophical, which perhaps explains why the author has had to self-publish the third title. This is the most literary use of the zombie genre I’ve stumbled across, one that would be hard to exceed, and therefore publishers may have feared its lack of potentially purely commercial value.

I won’t deny moments where the story lost its grip on me, perhaps because each of the books has a decidedly different feel and the tone of the third was different to what I expected, but the way the author writes, the world he’s created, the intellectual significance behind the books are too eloquent to ignore. Though I enjoyed the last book the least, and it perhaps has some flaws, it completes an exceptional story arc, strong enough to be keepers for me.

The Rosie Project, Graeme Simsion
When I started this my first thought was OMG (the protagonist) is Sheldon (Big Bang Theory) but while it’s difficult for fans of the show not to see the inevitable similarities, it didn’t (as some people have pointed out) put me off reading but added another layer of amusement to the read. There’s a love story here with a difference. Intelligent, witty, at times throwing a light on human interaction in a way standard romances might not, this book is often joyful to read. I enjoyed this much more than I thought I would though the ending seemed a little rushed, perhaps explained because the book has sequels. I kind of prefer this as a standalone read but, if not for my to-be-read mountain, I might consider perusing the other titles.

Educating Jack, Jack Sheffield
Another in the ongoing teacher series that I’m attempting to read through this year. Sweet, charming, and nostalgic.

The Funhouse, Dean Koontz
A re-read as part of an attempted book clearance, this one was fun to revisit though in the worst way. I’ve said a few times that early Koontz books seem much of a product of the time in which he wrote them. The Funhouse, with its matriarch that would give Carrie’s mother a run for her money, and carnival monstrosities, is the most dated yet. This book is for those who like B-movies so bad they are good…which is exactly what this is as it’s the novelisation of a film of the same name, directed by Tobe Hooper. Never having seen the film I tracked down the trailer and even from the one and a half minutes of excerpts I can tell the book is better. Not a keeper for me but a nostalgic look back at 80s horror. Too much tell rather than show but my biggest complaint with the book is the lack of payoff. To me the conclusion was less than satisfactory and somewhat abrupt when taking the amount of backstory into account.

WRITING:
Finished a basic edit of an older work, which doesn’t sound like much but it’s in a shape for me to re-edit/rewrite should I now choose to. Off on a break soon and when back I plan on starting something new though I’m not sure in which genre. Also signed the contract for another Lethbridge-Stewart book, this one part of a spin-off set of books heavily featuring supporting characters. Mine features Anne Travis, (now Anne Bishop).