Thursday, 23 February 2017

Thoughts from a Winter Break

For the first time in  years I didn't take my laptop away with me. Never, ever, again. I returned to over a thousand emails! Three hundred or so found their way into junk folders so I checked them first. I usually do it that way round cos then the ones that got misplaced are in the right folders when I get serious but hey, that many?

And then for the other seven hundred. Of course some of those were also rubbish but setting my spam filter higher just seems to syphon off more 'good' messages. A lot of the rest had to be filed in the right places so I could deal with them later, where deal is going to mean an awful lot of reading, critting, submission checking, but I'll get there eventually.

I say eventually cos going away hit one of my addictions; I'm a compulsive reader-for-the-fun-of-it. Make that a binge-reader? Once I start reading for time-out, as it were, I can't stop for quite a while, especially if I get hooked into a series - I have to read the lot. Which makes holidays rather dangerous as regards getting the more serious stuff done. I confess I also don't necessarily read 'worthy' fiction when it's for relaxation, although to be fair to self I stop reading pretty fast if something is actually badly written, usually in a few pages. But yes, I do read stuff  that isn't the best literature, or the most 'significant', 'meaningful', 'instructive' etc.

So what's the lure? Characters, every time. Every book I finish has characters I can't walk away from, whether they're mainstream or genre. Simple as that.

Plots, you say? Yes books need plot. Indeed I suspect publishers put that top of their lists. And I do look for a plot to be credible. But characters come first. I can tolerate a plot that isn't entirely credible before I can tolerate a character that does something 'out of character'.

Plus it's character that pulls me back to reread a book once I already know how it ends. Wanting to know how a story ends will only hook me once. It won't drag me back for a another visit.

To sum up:
bad writing - instant turnoff
consistent plot - credibility is necessary, but it doesn't always have to be perfect.
but the development of vivid, credible characters are, for me, the root of all good story telling.
Are you the same? One easy check is to identify which books you return to again and again?

You are free to argue, but honestly I don't see myself changing that opinion any time soon.

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

A promise is a promise...

Ok, so on Saturday I left you a puzzle to solve, and I promised to give you the solution so you could feel smug cos you'd worked it out, yes?

So here it is:

The nasty husband was indeed the murderer, even though he got to the pub much earlier. That's cos he packed the kettle with - you got it - ice. That way the kettle took much longer to come to the boil, and the 'alibi' was in place.

If you were right, award yourself a prize, beer, chocolate, five minutes peace and quiet - whatever does it for you?

Saturday, 28 January 2017

I'm back, with a little brain teaser to get the year started for you.

πŸ˜‰πŸ˜‡πŸ˜‡πŸ˜‡πŸ˜‡πŸ˜‡Christmas was good, got together with the family, the food, a joint effort, was good - and no one fell out.
After Christmas, not so good. I went down with a virus that put me out of action for two weeks and didn't feel very energetic for another, but now I'm back, almost caught up with things first on the list as it were, and my conscience keeps muttering "Blog!"

So I thought why not start the year with a puzzle, in fact a whodunit. The plot thickens...

Character A finds her sister, B, dead, struck down in her kitchen in the very act of making a cup of tea. The kettle still whistling. Unsurprisingly, A feared there was someone still in the house but whoever it was had obviously just gone.
The police were baffled but A suspected B's husband, who she disliked. It has to be said that the husband, C, had a history of bad temper and didn't display much grief at his wife's murder.
But the police ruled C out as a suspect. He had arrived at a local pub a full hour before the body was discovered and been there the entire time, and the kettle could not have boiled even half that long. So his alibi was cast iron.

So... can you solve the murder the police couldn't?

Note: this puzzle is also a review. 'The Hercule Poirot Whodunnit Puzzles' by Tim Dedopulos from Carlton Books, which I received for Christmas and contains a host of similar small 'crimes' to solve. A fun way to wake the brain up, and happily with solutions at the back! So if you liked solving this, there's more where it came from.

Oh, and I'll come back in a few days and give you the answer. As if you'll need it.

Monday, 12 December 2016

Tis the Season?

I was going to get round to wishing people a Merry Christmas, and probably still will, but this snippet of real life intervened...

Driving south on a British motorway to visit a relative this Sunday. For once the roadworks weren't actually holding everyone up, merely slowing us down to fifty miles per hour from time to time. The weather was, well, British December, ie grey to start off then foggy then wet. The other motorists could drive, only a rare roadhog sticking stubbornly to that middle lane, you know the one that's for going at least a bit faster than the slow lane?

So what jerked me out of my passenger doze?

A nondescript white car in front of us. First jolt: it had a large metal sticker above its number plate that said 'Trump' and 'Pence'.

OK, so while it was unexpected on a British road, people do have the right to their opinions, and on spending silly money to show complete strangers what they are.
On the right hand side of the boot, that spot some manufacturers add the name of that model, there were a row of silhouettes, black on white, and they were all guns, standing up largest to smallest.

And underneath them all were the words, 'My Family'

So... am I being Scrooge-like, Grinch-like if you're American, to hope that the person who did this, who presumably believes this, is only visiting and will soon be returning to the USA? Not that I'd wish this person on anyone anywhere, but I could only wish they weren't British. It's now Monday and the image is still in my head.  I'm not a very political person; pretty much an 'as long as it doesn't scare the horses' type, but this? Very disturbing, and SO not Christmassy.

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Review The Great Zoo of China 4-5* :)

The Great Zoo of China, by Matthew Reilly
pub Gallery Books                                                                4-5*
"Action on a gigantic scale"

The Chinese government are about to unveil their new zoo. A party of Americans; political and journalist, are invited to the preview. CJ, a lady croc expert, tales up the offer along with her photographer brother. Needless to say the security they are allowed past hides a lot more than pandas, and it soon becomes a question of who will survive the experience.

This is a blockbuster of a novel with all the heroes, heroines and villains required for a James Bond script. Indeed, with its emphasis on action scenes, danger and good versus bad this is a very Hollywood storyline.

Add to that the characters are strong, the pace frenetic. I read this with great enjoyment, even after the opening 'spoiler' chapter screamed "I wanna be a movie" at me.

It was therefore just an enormous shame that despite all the publishers' arguments to the contrary this really is another Jurassic Park. It's a zoo. It's been kept secret till ready to wow the world. The black dragons are alternate raptors [yes, huge spoiler, or maybe enough to make you read anyway]. What more can I say, a very enjoyable book, if you don't mind it being such a spinoff, or you are a big Jurassic Park fan. Have to ask why this writer didn't produce something that was truly his instead.
I ended up wondering if the Chinese government will hack the internet - oh really?



This is where I say sorry, to the BBC
Well, half sorry.

I moaned about them accepting an offer from Nigel Farage - he who has a non English name, a home in France, but purports to speak for the Brits, even to the Americans? - to appear on a documentary about his life after politics.
Well, sorry BBC, I obviously read the wrong account. Turns out the 'Farage Show' was actually a spoof, not a serious item.

As is clear from every sighting, Farage loves media exposure, so I strongly suspect he viewed this as good publicity. [Just like hearingTrump trumpeting his name as his preferred ambassador?]

So maybe I'm not so sorry, cos BBC, you added to the celeb hype the man likes to bask in, and I'm not at all sure that was the action of a responsible impartial TV channel. Farage, and Trump, are not politicians, nor seeking to serve anything or anyone except their own egos. Why would you want to pander to either?

Friday, 21 October 2016


I've just read a really interesting blog article from Fox Spirit Books on the subject of writers promoting their work at cons, or more specifically on not being afraid to.

I agree there's a general feeling, at least in the UK, that it's only acceptable for a writer to reference their own work during a con panel in very small doses, and not say, more than 3 or 4 times overall, unless actually invited to.
I've pretty much subscribed to this approach, reasoning that the audience don't sit there for an hour to listen to someone boasting about how good their book is; that doing so is more likely to be counterproductive and put people off.

But maybe that's me, who always assumes other people don't really want to hear about what I'm doing and get uncomfortable doing it. On holiday recently I had real trouble talking about my work for long, even when people went out of their way to ask questions.

But Fox propose that audiences come to hear about such stuff, and a decent writer/speaker should talk about their work until they feel uncomfortable, that being the warning sign it's time to stop. Interesting?

I thought so, and it fell on receptive ears anyway because I had just contacted the fine people on the Bristolcon panel, 'Under the Covers' which I'm moderating.

[Bristolcon 2016, Saturday 29th October, Doubletree Hotel for anyone who isn't already booked - a seriously nice con folks]

What had I just said to them? That it would make a nice change to ask them to just plain recount the real life stories behind their book covers rather than answer more general questions on the topic as is usual.

Yay, someone else out there is thinking the same way for once. I'm feeling pretty good.

Only then...
I read a snippet about Nigel Farage, he of the so-British name. Apparently he's just invited BBC2 to follow him around and film his 'return to normal life'.
To be clear, I'm not surprised that he did this, that he wants to stay in the limelight; it's obviously the thing he craves most. And maybe he's feeling the need to repair the BIG error he made endorsing Trump - was he planning to become a celeb in the USA instead?
But that the BBC said yes? Now that does surprise me. Why? The guy's ostensibly retired from public life [hurray] and yuk politics apart he's not that interesting.
Though I guess this is the age of the celebrity, where surface remains more attractive to the media than substance. And I guess it's cheap television, right?

So here I am back on the fence; is talking about yourself [all right, what you do] a good thing or a bad thing?

Maybe it depends on who's doing it, and how, and how much. Or maybe, Mr Farage, it's better to wait to be asked first?