Not wishing to be biased in any way, I have asked a guest blogger to review my new book!!
While travelling home from a wedding on the Scottish island of Garansay, the Fleming family’s chartered helicopter is caught in a storm. RAF Kinloss picks up the automatic mayaday signal at just after 9pm and the search for survivors begins…
It turns out that the only survivor is the nineteen year old Cameron Fleming who is befriended by one of his rescuers, Michael Nichols. But as the plot proceeds we discover that the young boy is not quite as innocent as he is making out. This second novel includes many of the characters from the first book, ‘Aoife’s Chariot’ and I really like the main characters, Imogen and Hugh so I was pleased about this. But the story itself stands alone so you don’t need to read the first one to enjoy it, but it does help if you have, because there is a back story that gets resolved in this book.
There are lots of plot lines in this novel and it is very cleverly written. I think that the twist is really hard to guess although when you look back all of the clues are there. I am really enjoying this series of books, mainly because the characters are so good and they develop as time goes on. But primarily, the books are beautifully written and the storylines are excellent. I would call it a ‘thinking person’s thriller’ as it is so much more than just a page-turner (although it is also that too). I, for one, can’t wait until the next in the series comes out.
This slim hardback edition comprises a selection of mini- biographies that were, at one time, all previously published within The Wisden Cricketer magazine.
It benefits from a broad and eclectic range of contributors; ranging from established sports journalists like John Inverdale to people such as the actor Stephen Tomkinson. The cricketers profiled in this book reflect an equally idiosyncratic selection. There are some very well known international players such as Mike Atherton and Allan Lamb, but this volume also greatly benefits from exploring the lives and careers of some of the more obscure, but equally fascinating players.
The entries are sometimes hilarious and sometimes deeply moving and poignant. They often reflect as much on the childhood cricketing memories of the author as they do on their sporting subjects. For instance, the late Hugh Massingberd’s piece on Ally Brown was written shortly before he died from cancer and he observes that he has relied on ‘this marvellous modern master to cheer me up’.
This is a very accessible book, packed full of excellent colour photographs of the exploits of its cricketing subjects in action on the field. You can easily dip ‘in and out’ of it as the mood takes you. Each entry also bears up to being read more than once and, if you are fortunate enough, as I was a couple of years ago, to meet one of the great cricketers who are discussed in this book you can add an autograph or two to its pages (I managed to do this when I met the wonderful Garry Sobers, who came to give a talk at the school where I teach).
This book is a real treat both for long time enthusiasts of the game and for those just interested in the human stories that lie within its pages. I would definitely highly recommend it.
As my second novel is on the verge of being released to the unsuspecting world, (this is the dust jacket of my first) I thought I would share some of the processes with you.
The production of my books is very much a family affair. My Dad provides the historical and geographical advice and my Mum helps me proof-read the final drafts. My sister is an artist and she also works in I.T so she designs the cover and helps me to format the text for createspace.
So, the creative writing element is only the start of the whole process. I have also learnt the basics of copy editing and I’ve picked up a few pointers from watching my sister at work which I have then used to design my own posters and leaflets.
Then there’s the marketing, once the product eventually goes live. This involves absorbing a whole new skill-set yet again, although it can also be the fun part as you get to meet and network with interesting like-minded people who you might not have come into contact with otherwise.
Now we are designing the cover for book number two, I am beginning to consider taking up photography so I can produce my own picture for the next one- or is this a step too far perhaps?
Possibly, but once you have got used to doing it all yourself, or within your close circle of family and friends at least, you do start to believe that you could take on anything!
Is our writing enhanced or denigrated when we use our personal grievances and prejudices to inform our work?
Plenty of prose is fuelled by a desire to describe and share experiences that are often tragic and disturbing. There is something cathartic about reading this type of book. More often than not, by the end of the piece, the author’s traumas (usually childhood) have been successfully overcome and you are left with a sense of hopefulness or, at the very least, a feeling of relief that none of the dreadful things catalogued happened to you.
But what about writers who fictionalize their own experiences and use their novels to have a dig at their enemies? This device has been used many times in the form of political satire. Probably most famously in George Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm’ where the leading figures of the Russian revolution were so cleverly parodied through his apparently simple farmyard tale. Individuals who are prominent in public life seem to have to accept parody by writers and artists as simply a hazard of the job.
So what about the rest of us? Should we be nervous when someone we know we have wronged at some point decides to start writing novels?
I have considered this question carefully myself since beginning to write my books. Of course, you must use your own experiences to inform your work otherwise it wouldn’t be convincing. But should you exercise the old maxim that ‘the pen is mightier than the sword’ by lambasting an old enemy in print?
My answer would be no. An incident which is too raw or sensitive is probably going to translate into poor writing. The example that springs to my mind is Evelyn Waugh’s novel ‘A Handful of Dust’. It’s a great book, don’t get me wrong, but Waugh wrote it just after his wife had left him for another man and the story outlines the very same scenario being played out between the two main characters; Tony and Brenda. Unfortunately, because of Waugh’s sensitivity to the subject matter the character of Brenda is utterly cold and unsympathetic and this makes the novel fall short of what it might have been.
A little hindsight on an event could improve the standard of the storytelling, but I still have my doubts. You don’t want to become known as a writer who works out their frustrations in print. As an author, you can’t afford to alienate your friends, or, indeed, to make them feel that they must watch how they behave when they are in your company. Otherwise, you may find that your nearest and dearest begin to avoid you altogether- for fear of how they might find themselves portrayed in your next bestseller!
So, my advice would be to make good use of your own experiences to inform your writing, certainly- but just ensure that you keep your stronger emotions very firmly in check.
As many commentators have intimated, World War One is not an event to be ‘celebrated’. Which means that next year’s 100th anniversary of the start of the conflict is going to be tricky to get right. However, with my Historian’s hat on, I would say that we should endeavour never to forget the horrors of this particularly brutal war. If you are considering some reading materials to help you to understand the conflict better and the impact it had on the lives of contemporaries, these are my suggestions:
‘The Regeneration Trilogy’ by Pat Barker is in my opinion the definitive collection of fiction set during WWI. The first of the books won the Booker Prize in 1995 but don’t let that put you off!
Famously it deals with the relationship between an army psychologist, W.H.R Rivers and the poet Siegfried Sassoon. It chronicles the psychological impact of the war as well as its futility. It is a good book, but stick with the trilogy as the next two parts I absolutely loved.
‘The Eye in the Door’ continues with the story of Billy Prior, another damaged young man who has to return to the front after his treatment by Rivers. the next two books deal with the effects of the war on ordinary people’s lives. It also depicts women’s war work and the ‘Home Front’.
The whole trilogy is beautifully written and the psychological impact of the conflict is masterfully dealt with. To my mind these books give a far better perspective on the war than ‘Birdsong’ which I have always found to be overrated.
Other titles to try:
‘Strange Meeting’ by Susan Hill.
‘Journey’s End’ by R.C Sherriff.
For the German perspective:
‘Storm of Steel’ by Ernst Junger.
‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ by Erich Maria Remarque.
‘Lest We Forget’
When Gwenda and her husband move into their beautiful new house on the south coast of England, strange things begin to happen around them. Gwenda has an odd sensation that the place is somehow familiar to her. Then, when she starts to develop an unexplained sense of terror whenever she sets foot on the stairs, she knows they need to seek help…
Miss Jane Marple is brought in to assist when poor Gwenda begins to feel she may be losing her mind. As Marple investigates It becomes clear that the young girl’s fears are not quite so irrational after all.
This is a wonderfully plotted novel with a very clever ending. What I particularly enjoyed about it was the psychological aspect of the story. Christie has revolved the whole mystery around the memories and feelings of a little girl and it takes a very special insight into the human psyche to be able to pull it off so successfully.
My favourite part is when Miss Marple advises the young couple that they would be better off not finding out the answer to the puzzle at all. But she knows full well that the youthful and inexperienced pair will not be satisfied until they have discovered the truth, so she takes it in her stride when they disregard her wise counsel.
A great Agatha Christie novel, I really do enjoy the Marple books best of all.
The nights are drawing in, the pavements are strewn with orange and brown leaves. It’s getting nippier outside and we’re huddling up in our coats, boots, scarves and woolly hats. So what’s going to keep us company on a dark autumn night, curled up on the sofa? Here are a few little suggestions from the RetroReview:
‘Death in Holy Orders’ by P.D. James.
Anything to do with monasteries and windswept coastlines will make me blissfully happy on a dark and stormy evening. This book has a great ‘feel’ to it, wonderfully dark and atmospheric. It’s a great yarn set within an enclosed and claustrophobic religious community. Dalgleish also meets someone who is to become quite important in his life…
Other great P.D James’ for this time of year: ‘Devices and Desires’ and ‘The Lighthouse’.
‘The Box of Delights’ by John Masefield.
Yes, I know it’s a childrens’ book but it is so wonderfully evocative of the festive season I just had to add it to the list. I used to start reading this book during the October half term holidays so I would be reaching the end in the run up to Christmas and therefore get myself right into the spirit of noel. (I did this for about five years on the trot, pretty sad but hugely enjoyable)
Other tips for great Autumnal page-turners:
‘The Babes in the Wood’ by Ruth Rendell (see my review)
‘The Woman in Black’ by Susan Hill
‘The Mysterious Affair at Styles’ by Agatha Christie. This is Hercule Poirot’s first case and a stunningly well-written debut.
Rating: ***** Five Stars
A woman and her husband travel to Paris for the weekend, leaving their teenage son and daughter at home with a trusted friend. Whilst they are away, the village of Kingsmarkham experiences unprecedented levels of rainfall and the river has burst its banks. When the couple finally return home they find that the children have disappeared without a trace.
This is the nineteenth in the Wexford series so it is hardly vintage, however, I think its the perfect read for an autumn evening. This is my favourite era of Wexford novels and the descriptions of the floods and the atmosphere created by it are absolutely classic Rendell. The story is gripping too and the author very cleverly unravels the threads of her story towards the end. You also get a more intimate view of Wexford than you do in other books in this series. All of Rendell’s trademark observations on human nature are here. A great read, wonderfully descriptive and atmospheric. Get the logs on the fire, feet up and a copy of ‘Babes in the Wood’.
Finishing a novel is a wonderful feeling. It is the final accomplishment of a creative urge that has driven you along for several months, or even years.
But after the initial sense of elation that flows through your entire being at the blissful realisation the thing is finally done and dusted, some uncomfortable thoughts begin to edge their way into your consciousness. Did the kids do their homework this week? Or the week before, for that matter? When was I last in touch with my wonderful and witty girlfriend who I like to meet at least once a fortnight for a coffee and a catch-up?
Or, worse than this. You may find yourself trying to recall your last walk in the park. Or suddenly observing the untidiness and grubbiness of your surroundings and wondering why the scene you are currently surveying seems so oddly unfamiliar to you.
I am beginning to believe that writing is a kind of compulsion. For me anyway. I complete my books relatively quickly but they are not particularly short and they take up huge numbers of man-hours in their careful construction. But once I have started I find I really really need to finish. It isn’t as if I haven’t got anything else to do, oh no.
I have two young children and up until a couple of months ago a teaching career too. But that is just the way I write. The story feels as if it is forcing its way out of my brain and the characters are like petulant actors continually nagging me until they are given yet another scene to play out. I’m even starting to wonder if this whole book writing business is actually any good for me at all.
But then time will pass and I will lay my eyes upon that beautiful glossy paperback and marvel at people’s admiration and (hopefully) their praise. And, like a new mother with that gorgeous little bundle placed into their waiting arms, I will immediately decide that of course another must follow. The pain was all worth it in the end.
Perhaps next time I could give myself a little longer, though. I’m already telling myself the next one doesn’t have to come out for at least six months. But how I will feel when I actually get started is quite another matter and the compulsion might inevitably kick in.
There have been a number of great writers who could turn out books in super quick time. Agatha Christie and Josephine Tey, for example. For others it is a monumental task requiring immense preparation and years of writing and re-writing before the novel finally sees the light of day. The latter, I am starting to think, may be a healthier approach.
I left my career and took up book writing full-time; firstly because it was what I always dreamed of doing and secondly so that I would have greater flexibility to combine work and home-life. On the whole, the second objective I have achieved. However, once every few months my little darlings are going to have to accept that Mummy is not quite as switched on to the daily routine as she might normally be, and hey, after a while they’ll probably just get used to it, won’t they? Because my little ones also love to lay their hands on the pristine final product and to see their names set out in print within the first few pages. So, for as long as we all think it’s worthwhile, long may the compulsion continue.
I felt I had to write this post after watching a prime-time psychological/legal drama last night on T.V. I love the lead actor and really enjoyed the last crime drama he acted in so was looking forward to this one. I had also read an interview with the writer and was interested in his observations about the plotting and crafting of his stories.
I thought it was an intriguing plot and used the legal storyline in an original way, which was clever as the genre has been so well tread in the past. However, having got to know a rather endearing and normal family quite well through the subtle characterisation in this first episode, I found myself literally gasping in horror at the shocking final scenes.
This was the first of three instalments and I did not expect such an unpleasant event so early and I realise now this was exactly the point. Effectively, I was very skilfully manipulated by the writer to maximise the ultimate jolt of surprise.
This conclusion was masterfully created and pulled off but it did make me think very carefully about the responsibility that we take on as writers when we set out to manipulate the feelings of our readers/listeners and viewers.
Every piece of writing involves manipulation. Whether it is to make people empathise with your characters, like or dislike them. But I don’t think it does us any harm to be mindful of this as we write.
Ultimately, we want our readers to gain pleasure from what we have written. I have just finished my second novel and I would say the themes are a little darker than the first. However, I was still aware there had to be a sense of hopefulness running through the text. I have characters who appear throughout my series of books and I’m sure I could generate a real shock by allowing something terrible to happen to one of them. But I think this would be a betrayal of my readers, who expect dramatic events to occur around those protagonists but who want the characters they have invested time, emotion and feelings in getting to know to remain safe.
Will I watch the other two parts of this drama? I’m sure that many will want to find out the conclusion of this story- probably in the vain hope that justice will be done and they will be finally rewarded for having been made to feel so awful in episode one. However, I will not watch the rest. For me it was a step too far. My emotions were, I think, quite cynically played with and I’m not sure the story was enhanced as a result.
But it has made me think very carefully about my responsibility as a writer. People will be reading our words and it will effect them. We want to be popular, of course. However, in the end we want to enhance the lives of our readers through our words and not simply leave them cold.