Update March 2021

Hi Everyone!

AT HOME:

Slowly gathering the supplies we need for the garden. Plants ordered. Have one more thing to track down and buy. Now we depend on the weather; however, as the world reopens after Easter, we’ll be staying home for the foreseeable future. If we go out for a walk, we’ll be playing things safe and certainly not even considering going abroad until 2023, being sadly realistic. Still, we’ve enough to do in and around the house… and I would love to get in the garden over Easter, but it looks as if winter will be back by then. Don’t mind it cold, but don’t relish working in the pouring rain.

FILM/TV:

We’re still watching The Black List and Resident Alien as episodes appear. Tuned into the few appearing episodes of The Walking Dead. Really, this series has carried on too long, but having stuck with it this long, with one season to go and one film, it seems a waste not to finish. I’ve read all the graphic novels.

Continuing with Black Mirror and it’s still not disappointing, and reaching the end of the comedy show, Community. I’d watched the first season of Virgin River, but not the second, so now we’re watching it all together. If I lived in a place with that kind of scenery, I think I’d cry, especially during a pandemic.

Irresistible, a film starring Steve Carell is an open look at politics which turned out to be far better than we expected. Highly recommend. We also sat through all of almost 4 hours of the Snyder cut of Justice League. Definitely better than the far more humorous theatrical cut, though to be fair they called Joss Whedon in the last minute to take Zack Snyder’s place; as much as I like Whedon’s work, and although the CGI still isn’t the best, it’s much more gratifying to see Snyder’s take.

READING:

The Duke and the Lady in Red, Lorraine Heath

Not the usual book I read, I picked this up on a friend’s recommendation and found myself pleasantly surprised. I can see some readers might complain about certain aspects, but this is historical romance for a modern audience so political correctness or errors of the era (and I’m not attesting whether there are any) will be toyed with for entertainment, much as the protagonists Rosalind and Avendale toy with each other. Their misconceptions and mutual attractions are well-played, but it was the perhaps unlikely but heartwarming way in which the story treats Harry that provided the greatest emotional impact. Alas, there’s no way to explain why without spoilers.

Twilight Eye, Dean Koontz

A re-read as part of a book clearance. When I started this, I couldn’t even recall reading it the first time around. The author rarely writes in first person, and perhaps this is why. The idea of someone with a second sight which allows them to see the ‘goblins’ among us starts off well, and overall is a decent book. Alas, it feels as though it goes on too long within a few pages, possibly to the sometimes enjoyable, sometimes eye-glazing descriptions. There are a lot of subtexts to this story of resistance to the evil among us, a perfect analogy of the evil in humans. Too much, perhaps, another of its faults. There’s meaning here that’s ultimately lost in what feels like an overly long book to get the point across. The book works as an allegory to human behaviour, particularly in how we treat each other, but doesn’t especially tell us anything new. The book suffers from excess. Well worth reading once, but not to revisit.

Malorie, Josh Malerman

The end of Bird Box led me to believe this book would take an entirely different route, that the reader would learn about a different section of Malorie’s life than the one in this sequel’s pages. That the story is so unlike what I expected isn’t a bad thing, making this tale a complete surprise. We continue to follow Malorie and the children, now grown, and inescapable hope in the bleakest of times. Malerman hits an emotional tone in this book that feels deeper than the one in Bird Box, driving Malorie on to face danger at the moment in her existence when she has even more to lose. Like most great suspense stories, both these books are not about the monsters, but those who struggle to survive against the odds.

Lassie Come Home, Eric Knight

What can be said of this original classic? Some situations In this book may strike younger generations as strange if they don’t know their history. The way of life, the cruelty, women’s work being very much a part of the home, but the only real warning this book requires for animal and dog lovers, is a box of tissues required. A beautiful keepsake featuring one of the most famous dogs of all time.

Finders, Keepers, Stephen King

Although Hodges doesn’t feature so heavily in this second book of the trilogy, each containing separate, tenuously linked stories, I preferred this to the first. Perhaps because the subject is an obsessed reader. Not only a more than decent thriller, this entire story is a disquieting examination of obsession. Though fiction is a way to explore the actual world, this throws an uneasy light on the reader/writer relationship, questioning expectation vs dictatorship of the writer’s imagination.

The Castrato and His Wife, Helen Berry

A fascinating factual account of Tenducci and his bride, Dorothea Maunsell, this is not only a great insight to the life of a castrato and those responsible for the mutilation of young boys (unsurprisingly, in part the church), but a peek into the influence of opera on London and the lives of women back in the 1700s. Perhaps most amazing is the rebellious and staunch Dorothea during a time when a modern audience might expect a woman of that age to cower in fear. History may look at her two ways, either conniving or resourceful, the lengths women needed to go to in order to have any control of their lives, being the property of a man, either that of their fathers or husbands. It also throws a light on society of the time, revealing an inclination to live above one’s means even with the threat of debtor’s prison. Well, written and engaging, there are many reasons to read this book.

Slade House, David Mitchell

A house that only appears every 9 years with two of the strangest ‘ghosts’ ever sounds like the recipe for a true scare, but I never found this book frightening. The story’s told in 9 year breaks by each consecutive visitor, and like the one who believes she’s on a drug-induced trip, that’s how much of this book came across. Perhaps a little too surreal for me with too many obscure references in parts, though nothing that stops you from understanding the basis of what’s happening. Still, there’s something persuasive about the story and the writing which acts like glue. I’ve heard it’s a companion piece to The Bone Clocks, and as I’ve not read that, perhaps it’s why this fell short for me; alas, this didn’t entice me to pick it up the other novel (maybe one day but not immediately). Much of Mitchell’s writing has a dreamlike quality that pulls me in both directions, offering both something fascinating and yet inexplicable, leaving me uncertain as to my level of like/dislike. I guess the best word I have for this is intriguing.

WRITING:

I finished re-editing and adding to an older book and would have subbed it already had I not run into a word processing issue, namely that Mac’s current edition of Pages has a problem changing straight quotes to curly quotes after the writing. In Word (or Scrivener), you can do a simple search and replace, and the programme alters both forward and backward quotes in the right way. In Pages it makes them all face the same way so that half of them are wrong. So, I need to transfer the file to the Window’s computer and deal with this issue first. Then I’m going to work on a new idea.

Stay happy and healthy!

Sharon x

Dragon #10

Actually, two dragons. Quite fragile, and they feel like they’re made of clay. Feel homemade, though I’ve seen them around, and expect they’re more mass-produced than that, but still love them.

Have to keep these two together. I found them in a little shop in Dorset.

Update Feb 2021

Hi Everyone!

AT HOME:
Following on from last month, we finished the dining room makeover, taking down the curtains, painting two end walls the same colour as the hall (a much better shade to go with the wallpaper), swapping three pieces of furniture around, and putting up a window scarf in place of the curtains. A weekend’s work that’s given us a completely new feel to the room, one which makes us more interested in using the area. Next we have plans for the garden. Alas, I’ve had a few bad days again, which meant I didn’t get as much done as I would have liked in the home or with writing. I also missed a week’s blogging.

As for lockdown, saw a news item referring to home schooling, showed someone doing 250 x 10 with a group of children on zoom, and they were writing numbers in boxes below the problem. What the hell for? You put a 0 on the end and get 2500. No need to write anything. No wonder the parents struggle to teach them anything. I’d want to throw these new-fangled ways out the window.

FILM/TV:
We finished watching Fortitude, the British horror psychological thriller television series I mentioned last time, which grew increasing bizarre and violent, though overall we must have enjoyed watching as we finished all three seasons. Currently, we’re ploughing through the latest Death in Paradise (recommend every season), and the current series of The Black List — been good but can’t help feeling it’s overstayed its welcome now. We also started watching Resident Alien, for which I’m a little biased as it stars Alan Tudyk who I love mostly from Firefly. It’s quirky and madcap enough to make us laugh. We also started Black Mirror. Never realised this is individual stories or we might have watched it a long time ago. As with all anthologies, no doubt we’ll love some tales more than others, but so far so great.

Best film seen recently was likely Mank. Gary Oldman’s appeared on The One Show talking about the film on Netflix, the story of the man who wrote Citizen Kane. We watched it the other day, and it’s extremely stylish in the way it’s filmed with a beautiful look in black and white, and was way more interesting than we expected it to be.

READING:
Voice of the Gods, Age of the Five trilogy, Trudi Canavan
An interesting book to complete the trilogy, which certainly deals with the clash of politics and religions. One that brings the tale of Auraya and Leiard to a satisfying and hopeful conclusion. Some have said there are no big surprises in this trilogy, and for anyone who understands story construction in some ways, that’s true; however, I found this trilogy a joy to read and expertly told. I also wish I could adopt one of the adorable creatures called a Veez. I loved all the characters, and this author’s skilful plot.

The Accidental Werewolf, Dakota Cassidy
A light, fun read, well-written for the genre. Although I wasn’t sure about the high-maintenance protagonist Marty, I was pleased to see her over-talkative, somewhat scatty personality develop over the course of the story. The council issue and Keegan’s relationship with them might have benefitted from fledging out a little more. Summer holiday entertainment.

Mr Mercedes, Stephen King
Though widely known for horror, I’ve always said King is more than a horror novelist. In this thriller we meet Bill Hodges, a retired detective who crosses paths once more with one of his incomplete cases. I grew to like this character and have a good deal of fondness for him. Like all of King’s work, I found the storytelling comfortable and the work character driven. I did not like the tense changes, or what I felt was a rather stereotypical or ‘comic book’ bad guy, but for all I know King did his research and psychoanalysed his perp, or ‘perk’ as anyone who reads the book with come to know him. Also found a few elements (one especially) predictable, and a few details overlooked by a supposedly trained detective. But characters, even the good ones, make mistakes. I’ll move on to the second book in this ‘trilogy’ of what appears to be independent stories featuring Hodges.

I started a fourth book, but I’ve not quite finished so will include that next month.

WRITING:
Alas, nothing to report. I’m still doing some editing. Also, some research. I’ve plans for later in the year, but health and other issues mean that’s still to come.

Stay happy and healthy!
Sharon x

Dragon #9

Today I thought I’d showcase another of my favourite dragons. Came across this in a shop in Tintagel, Cornwall, and just love the twisted body and the way the Dragon stands.

These photos were not taken in my current home, but the dragon looks especially good against the rug I had at the time. So well balanced.

You better watch out! And no, cough; definitely not one of my cheaper ones, but liable to stay with me, always.

Update January 2021

Hi Everyone!

AT HOME:

As it’s still lockdown and you’re not meant to go further than your immediate town, we’ve got exercise from walking round what are some rather bleak roads this time of year, and for far too short walks up on our meagre bit of common. We realised the other day there is one garden we can reach and use our RHS membership to only pay for one of us, but it’s not our favourite and particularly not this time of year. This weekend just gone was miserable with icy rain. We’ve decided to make the best of this continued lockdown by giving our dining room a slight makeover, which only comprises painting two walls, and moving some furniture around. Maybe I’ll tell you the exciting details next month. Yes, that’s sarcasm. We may appreciate the necessity of staying in, but it wears thin on those of us even obeying the rules with the best intentions.

I’ve also had a few days struggling with pain. One of those days when acupuncture needles start looking good, even though I’m not going right now because of the Covid situation, and because it seems a bit of a waste trying when I don’t need to go out as have no one to visit and no travelling allowed. I’ve felt like a bouncing ball these days, which when you have to live with pain is understandable. I’m thinking there are few life lessons greater than living with pain. Focuses you on what’s important. So far, doing a little better as we roll into February. Missing a couple of friends as I could so do with a good vent, and I know they could, too.

FILM/TV:

We got through season one of Fortitude, a British horror psychological thriller television series the first season of which first aired in January 2015. Set in a fictional Arctic Norwegian settlement of Fortitude, I found the first series often beautiful in terms of scenery, very watchable, well-plotted, an eco warning in the sub-plot, with my only criticism being too many characters seem to suffer from the terminable illness of TSTL (Too Stupid Too Live). On to season two next.

Been watching a lot of old films at the weekends, like westerns or thrillers. Just watched Once Upon a Time in the West. You can see where Tarantino picked up ideas from. I’m fairly sure he’s mentioned work like this in the past, but even if he hadn’t, it’s definitely the same vibe. Also, made me think of my aunt who loved a) Doug McClure (got a signed photo from him and an invitation to drop by his place if she was ever nearby; alas, she never had the chance), b) Charlton Heston, and c) Charles Bronson (who is in this film).

READING:

How to Stop Time, Matt Haig

Sometimes you come across books with emotional meaning and theme tightly woven into the narrative, and this is one of them. Time is the enemy. Time is our friend. Maybe we don’t need to be told that (I see some reviews that seem to find this preachy), but I can’t help thinking we do (need reminding) in this modern world where we waste so much of it, and Matt Haig reminds us of what’s important superbly. The historical parts are vivid and highlight the stupidity of what we deem to be so important now. And I felt there was so much more to Tom’s life and experiences that we can alas only glimpse for the purpose of the story. The only flaw for me is I would have liked to have seen more page time spent between Tom and his modern day love interest. The book lacked the depth of love needed to make Tom want to live; his love for his daughter felt more real and a greater motivation, so if you’re looking for a hidden love story, it’s only vaguely there. Still, this is a superb book.

Life After Life, Kate Atkinson

I really wish I could love this ‘Groundhog Day’ reflections of a life. Alas, it took me close to 300 pages to care about Ursula in any deep way, possibly because this is the page mark where the reader has the privilege of the longest (so far in the book at this point) chapter of her life without a restart. This happened at least three times — moments where I became engrossed only to get jerked away. Admittedly, there are joys and delight amongst the pages, and I cannot fault the writing or research, although the style is rather distinct in a way that doesn’t particularly appeal to me. Neither do I fault the author’s reasons for writing this novel, as detailed in the author’s footnotes at the end of the book. This may be for anyone who wants to ‘experience’ a historical reflection of English country life and wartime, of which this gives a real flavour. But sadly for me I felt this was time lost, reading a story that seems rather pointless other than several ‘what if’ snippets of life with no conclusions. Odd, how a book can be both excellent yet unsatisfactory, but that’s the only way I can refer to this. I have another book by this author featuring a character from this book, but though I’ve tried, I’m not sure I will read it.

Last of the Wilds, Book Two Age of the Five, Trudi Canavan

The second book in a trilogy, which I prefer over the first. This book is tough to review without giving major plot points away. Where the first book appeared to deal with a direct story of good vs evil, the second book has more layers, complicating the plot in excellent ways, making the reader ask the same questions as many characters come to debate. I often reserve 5 out of 5 scores only for books I adore and cannot stand to part with, but this book escalates the tale in book 1 to a new and more satisfying level. Whereas when I finished Book 1, I mostly delved into the second book out of curiosity, I now need to read the last of the trilogy to learn the outcome. With one or two perfect twists, I’ve enjoyed this much more than I expected to. An excellent blend of religion, and politics, and the dangerous quality of blind faith.

Incubus, Joe Donnelly

The first book I’ve read by Joe Donnelly, but it won’t be my last. Though distasteful things happen to women in this book, without them the story wouldn’t work. One might call this the ultimate in evil child tales, but it passes beyond into true monster territory. For some, the book may feel too long, but the strength comes from the inexorable build. The power comes from the writing, the sustained sense of menace, which creeps under the skin and into the mind. A brilliant idea for the horror genre, expertly executed.

The Door to December, Dean Koontz

Re-read as part of a hoped-for book clearance, though often listed as a horror writer, Koontz is really a supernatural thriller author. I’ve heard some complain about many of his recent books (of which I’m behind on), but it’s too easy to forget some of his old works are superb. Whether you like his work, many are well-plotted, well-written, create tension with simple sentences, and get in more than enough character development. Those who know about story structure can see in which books it shines out. Alas, the surprise twist is terribly simple to work out, and the ending, after a long but absorbing journey, seems to happen too fast. Still worth reading.

WRITING:

Well, I just finished the edit/partial rewrite of what I wanted to complete in January and in time for the last weekend. I’ll shelve it a little while now, but I think it’s okay to republish. I know it’s a lot of work but I’ve learned so much and changed my writing so much it does me a disservice not to improve things where I can. I know that’s not much news for now, but I am picking things up.

Stay happy and healthy!

Sharon x

Wishing you a Peaceful 2021

A strange year for all. One in which I started acupuncture (something I never imagined myself doing) to see whether it would help with a non-life-threatening but incurable complaint I was diagnosed with last year. Alas, owing to the Covid situation I could not complete the first set of sessions so still don’t know. And yes, despite what you may hear, sometimes acupuncture can hurt. Covid also interrupted a long planned holiday, especially two destinations we’ve been trying to get to and now may never reach. It’s also the year when a close relative had a serious health scare, but tests and months later they announced the all clear, so if I’ll take nothing else good from 2020, I will take that.

Towards the end of the year, I had to have an extraction owing to a wisdom tooth hooking under the tooth in front and killing the nerve. Unavoidable and didn’t go entirely to plan, but not as bad as I feared. Like most, we didn’t get out and about much this year. We’ve had a couple of distanced walks with our best friends, but aside from that have seen no one we know, including family.

I drafted several scenes for a ‘possible’ novel (yet to be confirmed/completed) and worked on an extremely rough draft of a first horror novel. I republished a romance, had a couple of short stories published in both the April and October editions of Night to Dawn magazine, plus republished my Sleepy Hollow poem, Ichabod, Ichabod, Ichabod, for the third time. I’m especially pleased to say I started drawing again, including learning how to sketch despite finding it a bit scary drawing straight off in black ink. And I read more than my planned minimal quota of books!!! Here’s to better in 2021. Best wishes, everyone!

Update Dec 2020

Hi Everyone!

AT HOME:

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.

FILM/TV:

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.

READING:

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.

WRITING:

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!

Sharon x