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

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).

Daring Dexter

I was a latecomer to the Dexter series and, curiosity piqued, I read what I thought was a series of seven books. Turns out to be eight, and I needed to wait a short while for the publication of the last. Annoying to a reader who read seven consecutively all the way through, but an interesting exercise in comparing the books to the show. At the same time, I continued to watch the series and kudos has to go to the writer, the producers, and Michael C.Hall for creating what should be a despicable character and making him likeable. Michael’s portrayal is outstanding as a great deal of feeling for Dexter Morgan comes from his performance. Not that I’m forgetting the supporting characters cast equally well.

There are differences between the books and series—and I had no reason to worry about reading and watching simultaneously as aside from the first title the books approach a different tangent. There are as many similarities as there are differences, and someone can enjoy both without interfering with the other.

Having said all that, I will add something I rarely say. I prefer the series. This is not to belittle the books or the writer. Usually, I’d chose a book over a filmed adaptation or like them equally, but the series lasted for so long it explored Dexter’s personality to a greater depth and questioned many more issues. The books are lighter, although the series portrays a serial killer who delivers a quicker and cleaner death. The books aren’t explicit but delivers a far different scenario—the Dexter of the books likes to play a little. What I disliked most from the books was the paranormal aspects added to one story and the suggested evolution of the ‘Dark Passenger’. This appeared to provide an excuse and a pardon for every killer’s behaviour. I also disliked Dexter the most in book seven and in a way I’ve never disliked the character on screen. Television Dexter developed, became far more multi-layered than the book version. What’s not to prefer? Still, as always there would be no series without the books, without the writer. It’s too easy to watch television forgetting without the writer there is nothing.

My current dilemma is, owning both the series and the novels, and attempting to be more ruthless with what I keep…do I abandon the books to the charity pile? I guess maybe…though perhaps not yet. Should I want to write an anti-hero sometime, Dexter is a character worth more examination.

The Ritual and The Silence

Comparing books with other books, and films with other films I find dubious. But what of a film adapted from a written work? Here I’m not comparing the books or the films but adaptations of two novels.

The Ritual, by Adam Nevill is the story of a reunion trip gone wrong when one of the party of friends becomes injured and they choose the shortcut everyone knows is heading for trouble. More than they can prepare for when they find themselves hunted and the family of ‘crazies’ living in the woods turns out to be the least of their problems.

The book is two halves. I so wanted to give it 5 stars, but I preferred the first half of the book to the second, and, although I’m unsure what might be a better conclusion, the end felt abrupt. What I love in this book is the atmosphere the author creates capturing my interest in a way many books of this type fail to and making the author one whose works I want to read more. I imagine several readers may say they’d prefer to know the characters a little more, which occurred to me on some level, but in a horror story it’s not always necessary to know these men are little more than regular guys doing their best to get by in their average lives and who don’t deserve the situation thrust upon them. A wonderfully atmospheric lost in the woods horror story.

The film has sequences not present in the book and though well worked in confused me initially. Likewise, as is often the case with a novel to film adaptations, the ending is not quite the same. All the story is present on the screen and the film has a good cast, yet none of the actors presented, for me, the characters as I perceived them, although a good point of the film is that they come across as average people leaving viewers with the sense anyone could fall into the same predicament. The film lacks the creepiness of the novel and feels rushed.

The Silence, Tim Lebbon. When explorers discover a new breed of a flying bat type creature, existance for every living animal on Earth comes under threat. An excellent apocalyptic thriller, well plotted and disturbing, tugging the heartstrings in all the right places. The simple writing does nothing to reduce the tension but makes this accessible for most ages from young adult to adult in part because two main protagonists of father and daugther tell the story. As a side note the film based on the book does not do the novel justice.

When I  saw this was another Netflix adaption, I was…not excited but interested. Netflix make excellent series and films. This was a letdown of the highest order, mediocre. I felt no connection to the characters, not caring whether they lived. The only one I cared for was the dog. The reverend comes across as a cliche in a way he didn’t in the book. And while such a threat of a unknown species might kill thousands before humanity got to grips with a solution, in part owing to the slow reaction and internal politics of various authorities, these creatures were not impossible to overcome. Mentions of this being A Quiet Place wannabe or clone are unfounded as the book came out prior. However, in both cases the one thing that makes humans vulnerable to them — sound — would likely be their downfall. Create noise and draw them to a place where an ambush can take place (though one might claim the same for any zombie threat). The addition of the wood chipper in the film of The Silence, was ludicrous. Many films work better with additions, subtractions, or scenes shuffled, but not when doing so creates a fundamental flaw.

In both cases I read the books before watching the films so wondered if my reaction was biased. My husband read The Ritual before seeing the film, but read the book of The Silence after watching the adaptation. In both cases he felt the same as I. The film of The Ritual would have enticed me to check out the book but the film of The Silence would not and so damages the book. Whilst both films lack the depth of the books, the Ritual does a better job of presenting the story.

Update April 2018

OUT AND ABOUT:
Got out to a knitting and wool fest, amazed by the number of people there but worth going if only to see the giant knitted dragon — not one I think I can add to my collection.

TELEVISION:
Dirk Gently has to be one of the strangest programmes we’ve watched but as they’re based on books by Douglas Adams, we had to look. He didn’t write as much as his success would have many believe and now, I must check out the books.

The last season of Game of Thrones began and we’re having to keep avoiding spoilers.

READING:
The Searching Dead, Ramsey Campbell
First in a trilogy I’m working my way through. More of a slower pace than many modern day novels plus the protagonist is a teenager, unusual in a horror story though some may like to call this more supernatural than horror. It’s certainly not horrific, more creepy with some touches of sadness — the older generations do not seem to fair well, from Mrs Norris missing her deceased husband, to Mr Noble’s father and his dark memories of war. While I would have liked to discover more about the strange haunting presences (can’t say more without giving too much away), this is the foundation for a hoped-for deeper story. The setting makes for a nostalgic read, both good and bad, and I particularly felt the helplessness of being young and having no one believe or even listen to fears unfounded or otherwise.

Born to the Dark, Ramsey Campbell
In the best sense this book is an exercise in frustration. Carrying on the story begun in The Searching Dead but now several years in the future when the protagonist is now an adult encountering the strange Christian Noble again. The threat, now largely aimed at his son, Dom is still unable to shake off the vexation of having no one believe him, least of all his wife. With more of insight to the great overall peril, a deeper mystery dragging Dom and his family and his friends into an impossible darkness…I hope the third book in this trilogy has the payoff the series deserves.

The Way of the Worm, Ramsey Campbell

First, I have to draw attention to the cover on this one. The more one delves into the story the more I realised how well suited the cover design is. The eyes grew creepier the more I progressed with the plot. Where the first of this trilogy portrayed the protagonist, Dominic Sheldrake, as a teenage, the second an adult, the third instalment enters his twilight years, which reflects the semidarkness that has plagued his life. His son is now an adult, but this only exacerbates both Dominic’s fears and the frustration the reader shares. The result convenes on a colossal scale and, if any parts of the tale come across as vague, or dreamlike, or illusory this fits with the tale we’ve followed, the half-truths and semi-falsehoods Dominic continues to battle. This reads as a modern Lovecraftian tale of a warped universe and fragile dimensions of tenuous existence. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the disquieting subtle horror.

The Silence, Tim Lebbon
An excellent apocalyptic thriller, well plotted and disturbing, tugging the heartstrings in all the right places. The simple writing does nothing to reduce the tension but makes this accessible for most ages from young adult to adult in part because the story is told by two main protagonists, father and daughter. The Netflix film based on the book does not do the book any justice.

WRITING:

Finished editing Cosmic but needs a lot more work if I’m ever to salvage it. Undecided as of this moment. Edited more short work.

You’d have to spare 10 minutes for this but this video dealing with information for writers on promotion goes a long way to explain what it takes to be successful these days. Though aimed at self-publishing the same applies for any writer.

So many books, so few stars

We’ve all seen it. A book we’ve loved that may have good reviews, but the reviewer hasn’t awarded many stars, which to the writer is confusing. Perhaps this is a question of personal semantics. I have my marking system for books. Five stars is for an outstanding read. It’s one of those I wish I had written myself. Four stars is for a book I’ve found exceptional. It could have been something about a character or the plot, but something in the book has made me remember it. I usually say it’s haunting. Then, where most people would think three stars is a mediocre title, I apply it to all the other good books I’ve read; the books I’ve truly loved and that will stay in my house, and I think worth anybody’s time of day. A three star review can feel like a letdown but truly it’s a decent rating. Two stars is for something I may keep but probably never read again. It’s one of those ‘if you’ve nothing better to do’ categories. One star I seldom apply because if a book is that unsatisfying I’ll likely never mention it.

Some sites, like Goodreads, have a recommended meaning for their ratings (there three stars is a perfectly decent score), and that can help, but I believe we all mark books based on personal expectations. This means the ‘score’ may not accurately reflect content.

I seldom give bad reviews for two reasons. One, I know how I would feel if it were me and two, I’m always aware that what I dislike someone else may well love. It’s all opinion. As a writer, I think sometimes it’s best to be careful what you say, but we all know there are some deplorable books out. Many on bestseller lists. I’m sorry to say publishing (especially in digital form) has opened doors for many good writers who may not otherwise have a chance, but many unscrupulous individuals have also seized the opportunity to set up as publishers and will take any standard of work to market.

This isn’t always the fault of the inexperienced author. Whether a person has the ability to write or not, without the right guidance they may never realise the difference between genuine talent and a gift that needs nurturing, though the truth is all writers need cultivating. An unscrupulous publisher will heap praise on the unsuspecting where it’s not warranted, and how is the writer to know? Please, as a reader or writer, one bad experience must not discourage, deter, or dishearten. There are reputable publishers out there, and there are excellent authors. Many of these books are as good as anything in print, maybe better. The format doesn’t change the quality of the work. Only the publisher does. When I give a review, I seldom award stars unless it’s where I must. I say what I think of a book and why.

November Update 2018

OUT AND ABOUT:

Been to a few shops, garden centres, and craft fairs this month. Watched a Christmas light switch-on and a surprisingly decent firework display put on by a small town.

TELEVISION:

Finished watching Touch with Kiefer Sutherland, a series that only ran for two seasons. Admittedly, this story of an autistic boy who sees patterns in numbers connecting people and events, supposedly being one of 36 special and important individuals took time to get started but they cancelled it after it got interesting. I think it could have run for a third season. It’s intellectual and may be too intelligent to make it a commercial property. Viewers needed to stick with this awhile and the viewing numbers dropped off drastically after the first episode or two. A pity because it did have much going for it. The more action based plot developed likely as an effort to save it.

Following this we jumped back in to continue watching Ray Donovan, a series we’ve not seen since the end of season 2. Violent owing to the story, I’m unsure whether the series has got better or the ability to stream it and binge watch without adverts has made the difference, but we’re enjoying this more than we did previously. It is definitely a show made for Liev Schreiber.

READING:

I eased away from horror for this month, although The Chalk Man, by C.J.Tudor is termed as such.  A book I thought might be more paranormal horror but is fitting in the thriller market, but has a good touch of creepiness. I enjoyed this book in the main for the way it’s plotted out, it’s never-ending cliffhangers and slow reveal.

I began The Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe, a huge book I’ve had awhile and it will take me ages to get through this owing to the way I intend to read it. Very much a book I intend to dip in and out of over several months so I’ve only completed the first 100 pages, the section of poetry. Many hidden gems here though I have to say the reason his most loved and best-known poem is The Raven shines out. The cadence and emotional response it invokes never ceases to impress. Hoping there’ll be many gems and new tales to discover in the story section of the book.

The Essex Serpent, by Sarah Perry is a well-written book, with well-plotted layers and subtext. Alas, it’s not cohesive enough, maybe owing to the omnipresent head-hopping style. On occasion, I forgot I was reading a book set in 1893. It’s worse fault, though, is the likely error of the marketing department. The blurb promises one thing, the book another. Readers expect a developing romance wrapped around a mystery. The ‘Serpent’ of the title is a creature not so much myth as misunderstood. It is often figurative, a metaphor, subtext…which might be fine if readers were not led to believe otherwise. As for the romance, I had patience for that until around 60 pages from the end when my emotions turned to exasperation and disgust. I so wanted to say I loved this book but have to settle for liking it. The true heroine of the book reads, to me, as Stella and that’s a stretch. The writer may tell the story he or she wants, of course, and it’s true that humans are imperfect. Again, I sense that the marketing of this novel leads one to expect something it’s not and so does the author and novel no favours. This is not a mystery, and not a romance. It’s a set of characters and a slice of their shared histories.

WRITING:

Not much to tell you this month. I’ve been working on an as yet unofficial commissioned title and it’s one case of the nearer I get to The End the further away it feels.