Of Fairy Tales and Lost Things

In keeping with the season, I thought I’d rehash (and tweak) an old review of The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly. No doubt better known for his crime novels, this may suggest a peculiar departure for the writer, but if so one he more than adequately explains in the last quarter of the book. This he dedicates to a discussion of the underlying themes and stories that have influenced him during his life, including their origins and a delightful reintroduction to, and the inclusion of, a few of these stories themselves. He incorporates these into the book expertly and chooses a style that is reminiscent of the rhyme and rhythm of those fairy tales that for most of us were the first introduction to story-telling.

In so doing he initially confused me, not because I didn’t understand his intention but because, as a writer, I couldn’t see the market from a publisher’s point of view. Clearly I enjoyed it and I could envision many adults doing likewise, yet initially, I could see this being a book many publishers often reject as seeing ‘no market for this type of thing’. This is not a book for children although a book that children of a particular age could read and doubtless gain from the experience. I agree with the author that an adult will likely read this in a very different light to that of a child. This makes The Book of Lost Things one of those novels that may need re-reading at a different stage in one’s life, possibly for the young adult and then as a mature one. I was pleasantly surprised to come across such a book for an audience of many ages, because of the writing ‘rule’ that dictates if the lead in a book is a child then it’s a children’s book.

This is most definitely a book for adults to enjoy, not solely because of the surprisingly bloodthirsty content. It’s amazing how many of us forget how dark, foreboding, and just plain violent those old fairy tales that we grew up with and loved so well indeed were. I didn’t need the book’s added sojourn through the world of fairy tales to know that in many versions of Sleeping Beauty she awakens while giving birth, or the wicked queen in Snow White is made to wear red-hot iron ‘slippers’ to dance in until she dies, just as I know that in Cinderella birds flew down to pluck out her stepsisters’ eyes. Fairy tales have always held great interest for me and have influenced my work. Indeed, my twisted semi-erotic story Rose Light is a retelling of Cinderella. Admittedly I had to heighten sexual content to satisfy the publisher who released it under a romance banner, but it’s a story that I intend to one day restore to its original form for a darker market. So nothing in the content of Connolly’s book surprised me. Nevertheless, I was amazed to find a book published that kept to the traditions of these stories and celebrating their content, of change, of choice, of triumphant, if often in a gruesome way.

Ultimately the strongest depth and substance to the book is grief, and loss, and how it changes us, becomes a part of who we are and, like stories, influences our lives. Overall because these are a ‘fairy tales’,  they resonate in the way good stories should.

Thanks for the memories, James

As it’s October I thought it suitable to mention a writer who has ‘been with me’ since my teens. True, one of the first horror books I ever read was by Stephen King. The book was Salem’s Lot if anyone is wondering. But for a long time, my favourite ‘horror writer’ was James Herbert. When I heard of his death, I experienced that jaw-dropping moment when one doesn’t want to believe the news and can remember the moment as though it happened this morning.

I place the term ‘horror writer’ in quotes because Herbert was never entirely happy with being categorised, and had his share of mixed reviews. He felt any violent or horror-related work met a certain brand of snobbery. It’s a problem I completely understand and why I label my own horror writing as Dark Fiction, precisely because many stories flank other topics and genres.

Some horror writers aren’t, truly, writing what I call horror even if there’s an element of that in the story. Some of Herbert’s work became blended with the paranormal (he said himself that his later works tended to lean to the supernatural), fantasy, and I have always felt a large part of his compositions contained humanitarian questions and shone an ugly reflection on society. In Herbert’s own words, some of what he had to say regarding his motivations and underlying themes might surprise many.

I recall one particular mention of the seemingly oversized rats in his books Rats, Lair, and Domain. The trilogy may have been inspired by a line in Dracula, but the description and size of the rodents came from the creatures he saw in the overrun areas of the East End of London in which he grew up. Having seen ‘Rodents of Unusual Size’ (some readers will know where I borrowed that from and it’s not Herbert), I’m prepared to believe. Some can look bigger or at least match the size of small dogs.

There’s also the issue of how much is too much? Yes, violence (and sex) can be gratuitous but I’ve also believed a writer should ‘write’ and not fear to show something as it is or would be. Herbert wasn’t a writer who feared to call a ‘spade a spade’ and preferred to give an honest portrayal of any scene. Of course, his writing, which was ignored or even banned when first published is thought of as more commonplace now. Books and films deemed once to be adult viewing can now be found in school libraries.

Some readers will be surprised that I read or even like the horror genre, despite my saying constantly that I read anything and everything. Truth is, I grew up on horror books. My teen years were romances (usually Mills & Boon because that was what my friends were reading), Herbert, King, and Steinbeck. I’m serious when I say my library is eclectic.

I suppose in a sense I also admired Herbert because he was a success story — well known and British. The young writer in me couldn’t help being a little envious. So much happened to me throughout those years. My life went through so many changes. What I read during that time is blended with all the other memories. Lately, I’ve felt the pull to return to those roots with my writing. Though to date, it’s been strictly short stories, I plan to try my first Dark Fiction novel soon and I’m sure I’ll be thinking of Herbert when I do.

My tribute will be a simple one: many, many thanks for the memories, James.

Lethbridge-Stewart Series Five Announced

PRESS RELEASE 18/09/2017

LETHBRIDGE-STEWART
SERIES FIVE ANNOUNCED

 

Candy Jar Books is pleased to announce the latest titles in its Lethbridge-Stewart range of novels are now available for pre-order!

Series five opens with The New Unusual by first-time novelist, Adrian Sherlock, who wrote the short story, The Playing Dead, in 2016.

It is followed by A Very Private Haunting by Sharon Bidwell, who is no stranger to writing novels, with quite a resume behind her, including the Lethbridge-Stewart short story, The Wishing Bazaar in 2016.

The series is wrapped off with The Man from Yesterday, by popular novelist Nick Walters, who returns with his much-anticipated second novel in the Lethbridge-Stewart series, following 2015’s Mutually Assured Domination.

Range Editor Andy Frankham-Allen says: “It’s quite an exciting series, with three very distinctively different stories. Each explores very different aspects of the Lethbridge-Stewart universe. A New-Age thriller taking the team to Australia, a ghost story set in and around a haunted manor, and an all-out adventure which pits very branches of Lethbridge-Stewart’s family against each other.”

The New Unusual sees our heroes being drawn to Australia after investigating strange goings-on at dream-ins, mysterious new age gatherings in which people explore their deepest desires through eggs of alien origin. This book features the return of Lethbridge-Stewart’s nephew, Owain.

A Very Private Haunting sees Arthur Penrose finally take ownership of a Scottish manor house that’s been in his family for generations. There are many secrets in the house, but what connects them to the mysterious shadow creatures that Lethbridge-Stewart and his men are investigating?

The Man from Yesterday sees Lethbridge-Stewart learn the truth behind his father’s disappearance at the end of World War II, when aliens arrive on Earth from a mysterious region of space known only as the Realm. This book features the return of Lethbridge-Stewart’s brother from another reality, James Gore, and his father, Air Commander Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart!

Andy continues: “This series of books sees our lead characters, in particular Lethbridge-Stewart and Anne Travers, dealing with the fallout from the losses they suffered in series four. The series ends on something of a cliffhanger, which will have repercussions for the series as a whole for a long time.”

Head of Publishing Shaun Russell says: “Series five is the last in the ongoing series for a while, as next year we’re stepping out of the usual narrative to present a special series of novels celebrating fifty years of Alistair Lethbridge-Stewart and Anne Travers.”

The New Unusual, A Very Private Haunting and The Man from Yesterday are all available for individual pre-order now, for £8.99 (+ p&p). Or you can pre-order them as part of the discounted UK bundle for only £26.25 (including postage), saving £9.72, or an international bundle for only £45.00 (including postage), saving £5.97. Or, you can buy it as part of our yearly subscription offer. Order early to avoid disappointment.

http://www.candy-jar.co.uk/books/nightoftheintelligence.html

-END-

www.candyjarbooks.co.uk

 

For more information, or to arrange an interview with the editor, authors, cover artist and/or license holder, please contact Shaun Russell at shaun@candyjarbooks.co.uk or 02921 15720

 

 

 

 

 

Previous series:

Lethbridge-Stewart series 1:
The Forgotten Son by Andy Frankham-Allen
The Schizoid Earth by David A McIntee
Beast of Fang Rock by Andy Frankham-Allen
Mutually Assured Domination by Nick Walters

Lethbridge-Stewart series 2:
Moon Blink by Sadie Miller
The Showstoppers by Jonathan Cooper
The Grandfather Infestation by John Peel

Lethbridge-Stewart series 3:
Times Squared by Rick Cross
Blood of Atlantis by Simon A Forward
Mind of Stone by Iain McLaughlin

Lethbridge-Stewart series 4:
Night of the Intelligence by Andy Frankham-Allen
The Daughters of Earth by Sarah Groenewegen
The Dreamer’s Lament by Benjamin Burford-Jones

 

September Garden Update

They say a photo speaks a thousand words so if I say we’ve gone from this:to this:

and this:

to this:

Well, I’m still not sure it conveys the amount of digging, moving, carrying, loading, unloading, building, muscle ache and expense. Or maybe it does. We’ve carried 3 bulk bags of ballast through, 2 of the red shingle, 1 of sand, 2 giant bulk bags of the cream/gold (below), and a pallet load of 20kg bags to make a whole ton of the Yorkshire Cream (up top), a pallet load of stones, and various smaller bags of bits and pieces. A neighbour shouted out to us the other week: “Every time I see you, you’re shovelling shingle.”

Raised beds to the left are for flowers. The beds to the right will be for a few veggies, or I’m thinking I’d like to grow blackberries and chard. We’ve shrubs in the back bed on the left, and grasses on the right. Don’t look like much now but give it a few months. We’ve planted two cypress trees.

The central back bed I decided to make decorative. I needed somewhere to put my seahorse. I’ve some more pieces I want to pick up for this — some glass floats, shells etc., but I love it so far. The light on the lighthouse revolves.

We’ve more screening to put up and I’ve some more plants I have my eye on. Also planning a seating area with a pergola so there will be some more updates to come.

Death Note Dismay

Netflix’s effort to create a live-action adaption of the Japanese Manga series Death Note (first serialised in magazine form and later as anime and then live-action television) is overall disappointing.

I dislike when the conception of a character changes, so in that regard would like the opportunity to see the live-action film released in Japan in 2006/8, and while the relocation might call for altered nationalities, I would have preferred a cast reflecting the original personas more. Not that there is anything wrong with the performances of the actors giving the story line and the limited time to execute it — and there lies the real problem, as I will explain further on.

It’s sad the cast does their best with limited material. In this revamp, Nat Wolff fits the lead role of Light (Yagami), and Margaret Qualley the lead female, Mia — a necessary change for the better. The anime characteristics of the earlier ‘Misa’ (who is erratic and immature) would never fully translate to a western culture. She was the most irritating female protagonist/antagonist (she reflects both at various times in the plot) I’ve seen in a long time.

In particular, although Lakeith Stanfield did a good job of perfecting the glances and mannerisms of ‘L’ the character dissolves into volatile instability in a way the original ‘L’ (Ryuzaki) never did, and it’s a shame they took his personality in that direction.

Ryuzaki’s story in the anime was expected and logical but no less onerous for all that and ‘L’ remains for me the most compelling character of the whole series and concept so I would have liked to see everything about the adaption more fledged. The interplay between Light and Ryuzaki is lacking in the Netflix edition, which at heart is not in any way captivating, or inspiring conviction.

The best thing may well be Ryuk as voiced by Willem Defoe, but I was sorry the whole mythology of the Shinigami wasn’t explained to the uninitiated, and the skilful twists of the plot compacted to such a momentary suggestion of the source material. I’ve read criticism that the film feels rushed and I wholeheartedly agree. The sheer haste of execution means none of the sub-text is examined and barely disclosed. I recommend checking out the anime series though for a serial running for 37 episodes it requires commitment.

August Garden Update

Long overdue but after another busy weekend I thought I’d provide an update on the rest of the tiers. Please excuse the lurking piles of rubbish.

To recap we’ve gone from this:

To out of control:

and now we’re finally fully tiered:

 

The top tier is my herb garden with a lower level mostly decorative. There’s a wollemi pine in the planter. Herbs include rosemary, various thymes, sorrel, chives, garlic chives, sage among others.

On the far left we’ve a bank of various lavenders at the top, blueberry plants and wild strawberries in the middle, and an embankment of many different foxgloves.

To create the tiers, we’ve used a mixture of rustic sleepers and Marshall’s croft stone walling. A layer of ballast had to be laid for each section of wall and back-filled with gravel for drainage.

More soon!

Peach Custard Pie

Four years of upheaval not only interfered with my writing, but other pastimes. I used to enjoy baking and cooking to a greater degree than has been possible recently. Having had a chance to cook the other weekend, I thought, completely off the topic of writing, to share one of my favourite and easy dessert recipes. I found it in a cookbook many years ago (couldn’t tell you which one) and have adapted it a bit over the years so now make it following my own notes.

Ingredients at a glance:
Shortcrust Pastry
1 large tin of peach slices and/or fresh, or a mixture of both.
1/4 pint soured cream or yogurt
2 eggs
4 oz sugar
1 oz plain flour

Ingredients in more detail:

Shortcrust Pastry — I have to admit I tend to cheat with this, mostly because I’ve found a store bought one I like. Jamie Oliver has often said store bought pastry is fine so if it’s okay for him it’s good enough for me. I do sometimes make fresh pastry with a lot less fat than the recipe states. In fact, I often use less fat and sugar than most recipes stipulate. Atora suet or its equivalent (beef or vegetable), also makes good pastry BUT only if baking and eating fresh. I wouldn’t advise freezing suet pastry; it’s never the same.

Peaches — it’s fine to use tinned or fresh and I have used a mix of both when I didn’t have quite enough of one or the other. This recipe also works with other fruits. If using particular moist fruits drain first on kitchen paper. If using fresh peaches, peel or don’t depending on preference.

Soured Cream/Yogurt — the original recipe stated soured cream but it’s not something I have available as often as yogurt. If you want an especially rich dessert there’s no reason not to use cream, and for a more healthy option use a vanilla or natural yogurt.

Eggs — I’m sure the original recipe stated egg yolks, I forget how many. Again, if going for a richer dessert then use yolks but I’ve found this works fine using the whole eggs.

I tend to use 3 or 4 ozs of sugar. The actual recipe stated more but I always use less and even seem to recall halving the original amount. I made this the other weekend with 4 ozs and thought it a bit too sweet so I can’t imagine using more. Depends how sweet your sweet tooth is, I suppose.

1 oz plain flour — definitely needed to make the custard ‘set’.

Instructions:

Preheat oven to around gas 6 (that’s 200c and about 400f, I think — better check). Roll out dough and use it to line a 8-9 inch shallow pie dish. I use a fluted flan pan with a push-up base.

Arrange the peach slices in two concentric circles, one inner, one outer, slightly overlapping.

In a bowl, beat together the cream/soured cream/yogurt (whichever you’re using) with the eggs, sugar and the 1 oz of plain flour. Pour over the peaches.

Bake for approximately an hour, or until the custard sets. The tip of a knife should come out clean.

If the edge of the pastry looks as though it will burn it can be covered with some foil mid-way through cooking. I usually get away with it going a bit brown.

Note: this recipe also came with a streusel topping. I really don’t bother with it but, if wanted, make a crumble type topping and sprinkle on half way through the cooking time, or sprinkle with a little brown sugar and cinnamon or, as I often use, some finely chopped nuts with or without a little sugar and spice.

Serve warm or cold.

So, to recap: pastry in a flan dish, line with fruit, beat the rest of the ingredients together, pour in and bake. It really is simple.

 

 

 

Experience something bitter, something intoxicating

2011? How was this 2011? Seems like yesterday and still one of my favourite stories because I got the writing and story just as I wanted. Thinking of including it in a collection.

I also remember sshhhing the husband while putting on the final polish.

My inspiration was the title of the anthology and the ‘Green Muse’ painting by French history painter and illustrator, Albert Pierre René Maignan.

***

Bitter and Intoxicating

Émile beheld the rough lines of age and labour in the hand before him. The network of passing years bisected by a scar and punctuated by torn cuticles threatened to entrap him in a labyrinth of wanting. If only he could capture the essence of that hand, the person it belonged to, in a drawing.

Where the Spirit of the Wolf and the Fox meet

That is in my short story ‘The Wolf Moon’ and ‘Fox Spirit’ books in their anthology ‘Winter Tales’, which appeared early 2016. When I saw the submission call, I instantly knew which story to send. ‘The Wolf Moon’ is one of a body of work, thirteen short tales based around a theme, equally possible to read independently (I’ve published more than one with magazines), but would make an eerie collection. Fox Spirit was the perfect match for ‘The Wolf Moon’ one of the last written in an project that’s taken me a few years from conception to completion.

Shortlisted for the Best Indie Press twice by the British Fantasy Society, Fox Spirit’s mission statement summarises the belief that day to day life lacks a number of things, namely the fantastic, the magical, mischievous and a touch of the horrific. They aim to produce books ‘full of wonder and mischief delivered with a sharp bite’. My short story definitely applies and I couldn’t ask for a better springboard for a ‘Kernow’ tale.

Diana may or may not be a hunter, but Gabriel is no angel.

Excerpt:

Minutes ticked by, the hush fragmented by whispers. The door creaked open, muzzling free expression. Diana became aware of a large presence, prodigious in stature, colossal in self-possession. The longing to look was almost too much for her, made more difficult by other people’s reactions. The tide parted, made way for the newcomer even if that meant they must move closer to her.

Carver suddenly had a dilemma. He stopped in mid-flow on his way to her, gaze darting from the man standing in front of him and down to the end where Diana stood controlling the urge to smirk. He compromised—shoved her goods into the hands of his helper, nodded to the new arrival, and hurried out back to get whatever he’d come for. Diana took her time placing the items in her basket, although there were only two, and only the small sack of flour was cumbersome. As she turned to leave she tried to make the act of lifting her head look natural, the direction of her gaze an accident or coincidence.

See me.

By wish or bewitchment, he did. Man and woman gazed at each other. She saw blue eyes so bright as to illuminate the darkness like moonlight, a head of shaggy peppered hair, dark stubble along a strong jaw, and muscle. Hunter and hunted. Diana suppressed a shudder.

Without pause, she completed the turn and headed to the door. Remarks followed.

‘Witch,’ one woman said, following up her pronouncement with spittle. Diana smirked at the thought of Carver having to wash the floor, ignored her, and enjoyed the woman’s confusion.

‘Those raised by wolves should stay in the wild,’ another said. Diana agreed and breathed in relief as the cold of the day held out its welcoming arms. She plunged into snow and freedom.

***

Frost pierces through everything. Your bones ache in the icy wind. Harsh winter storms rage and the sun is leaving, not to return for many months. The cheerful men arriving to the mountain bothy in the midst of the winter storm, why do they unnerve you so much? The hunter who follows after you on your way home from the store, what does he hunt? The old neighbour lady seems so innocent, but you know the truth: you saw her that night. Why will the police not listen to you?

Dark, grim, beautiful and grotesque. We are delighted to bring you a collection of speculative winter stories and poems from new and established writers. The collection is edited by Margret Helgadottir. Winter Tales released early 2016 from Fox Spirit Books.

Cover art is by S.L. Johnson

Garden update July 2017

A few weeks ago I promised to take anyone interested along with me in my latest and probably hardest garden project to date. I have to admit when we first saw our garden space we thought this was the smallest garden we’d ever had. Now it’s taking shape we’re realising it’s far larger than we first thought, and a lot harder work. There’s more than what I’m going to show today finished, but it’s difficult to reveal all at once when there’s stuff piled in the way making photo-taking impossible.

What I can show you is one side of our first three tiers, which, if you remember, we’ve taken from this (top view looking down):

with the help of these:

to this (view looking up):

Can’t wait for the plants to establish. Further along we’re getting on with the herb garden, and a lavender bed among other things. I’m shoveling dirt in my sleep and can barely keep my eyes open when awake.