Monday, October 20, 2014

On Writing - The Slump

The slump after you have finished a book.

I have read a lot of blogs and books about the process of writing. Mostly out of interest rather than thoughts of educating myself. I say that not because I am arrogant enough to believe I can’t be taught anything, but because I firmly believe writing is a personal process and the only way to learn is to actually write.

All of the books and blogs I have read offer great advice, none more so than Stephen King’s, “On Writing,” but what I have yet to read is someone talk about the experience of finishing a project and starting a new one.

When I finished Ritual of the Stones I was elated. It was surreal to see my book out there on Amazon and garnering favourable reviews. It spurred me on to want to write the sequel and the one after that and the one after that.

I had the bug, I knew what it took now to get published and I had learnt a lot along the way. Even better, I could not wait to get back to the characters I loved and tell their story.

I remember sitting down at my laptop feeling invigorated and ready to take on the world. I sat there and I sat there and yep, you guessed it I sat there. “This is stupid,” I said to myself. I knew what I wanted to say, I knew the voices of my characters but I could not find them in my head.

I ground out a measly 300 words and put it down to a bad day and having a bit of rust. After all, with all the proofreading, formatting and cover designs it had been two months since I had written anything except blog posts.

However, the next day was the same and the one after that. After a month, I had around 10,000 words. They were 10,000 words I knew weren’t very good and knew I would be rewriting at some stage.

I decided to adopt a different approach. Something a reviewer said stuck with me. They had read my work before and liked my humour. They wanted more humour in my books. To be honest after the grim and dark, Ritual of the Stones, I needed it too. I came up with the idea of Pewtory the Lesser Bard, a bard who would travel around Frindoth and sing about the characters in the Ritual of the Stones. It would be a great way to garner interest of my first book and introduce the characters to a wider audience as I could give the book away for free.
Pewtory the Lesser Bard would be delivered in short snappy chapters of around 1,000 words. The formula worked, I committed to writing 1,000 words a week on Pewtory and writing book two for the remainder of week.

Pretty soon, I found my rhythm again and my output was tremendous. Pewtory the Lesser Bard failed in his purpose as a short piece of fiction and morphed into a story of his own. One I am very proud of. The only headache I now had was I wanted to concentrate on just the one story. In February I made the decision to focus on Pewtory and ended up with a novel of 53,000 words. Not too shabby at all, for what was only intended to be a gimmick piece of writing.

Meanwhile book two – The Stones of Sorrow, grew into a monster of a novel. Yes, I was worried at the size but I decided to just go with the flow and maintain the output I was producing.

By the time I had finished the book I had written more words then I had ever written in a single year. I had already sorted out the cover and knew where I was going in terms of the proofreading.

The whole process was a lot smoother then the first time as I was more familiar with it. Yes there were headaches but the sense of satisfaction was there. I was getting better at this. I was learning all the time and I was sure that the next book was even better.
I sent the Stones of Sorrow off to the proofreader allowed myself two weeks off and then sat down to begin work on book three. The aspiration was to publish it one year after book two.

I sat there, I sat there and I sat there. The same thing happened again. I could not find the words again. These were characters I had spent over 370,000 words with, yet I could not write more than 300 words on them.

No problem I thought. I will just write a short story like before. Only this time the formula hasn’t worked so well. It is not writer’s block as such. It is just that I have lost my rhythm. I know it will come back, I just need to get myself mentally prepared.

As I type this, it has been two months since I penned the last word on The Stones of Sorrow. This morning, I wrote 900 words. Yesterday I managed a 1,000. This afternoon I fancy writing some more. I am not saying I have the rhythm back just yet, but it feels like it is getting there. Do you know what else I realised? The “slump” is not a slump at all. It is my recharging time. Having made the switch from writing to editing it is the time I need to flick the switch back again.

I try not to focus too much on word counts, but I do have rough goals in mind. My aim is to write a decent amount of words on this new novella before November. I will then use NaNoWriMo again to deliver a large chunk of that book and maybe even finish it.. Only time will tell if I can achieve that goal. I think I might.

Saturday, October 18, 2014


The Stones of Sorrow is out!!

The title says it all really. My third book and the second in the Ballad of Frindoth trilogy has been released. I would be honoured if you checked it out.
Here is the blurb:

The whole of Frindoth is in turmoil. After the catastrophic events of the Ritual of the Stones, King Jacquard dispatches a company of his most skilled subjects into the Calipion range to seek out the Kingdom of the Glooms and so put an end to their invasion and destruction of his realm. However, as events spiral out of control King Jacquard's once firm grip on Frindoth weakens as does his grip on reality.

Meanwhile having won a surprise victory against the usurper Vashna, Prince Althalos quickly finds that there is more to leading an army than winning a battle. Outmanoeuvred and outwitted, the prince must quickly learn how to rule if he is to retain the trust and the respect the warlords now have in him.

As war engulfs Frindoth new dangers emerge from an increasingly popular religion, whose followers are fanatical in their belief and devotion to their gods. And then there is perhaps the most serious threat of all - the threat from the sea.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Book Review - Moon Bear

Moon Bear – Gill Lewis
I can’t remember how I came across this book, but I am so pleased I did. Sometimes there is a stigma around young adult novels or even children’s novel. I have never been put off by such a thing. If the story is good and you can root for the characters then sometimes it is exactly what you are after.
The Blurb:
When twelve-year-old Tam is sent to work at a bear farm in the city, he has never felt so alone. He hates seeing the cruel way the bears are treated, but speaking up will mean losing his job. And if he can't send money home, how will his family survive? When a sick cub arrives at the farm, Tam secretly nurses it back to health and they develop an unbreakable bond. Tam swears to return his beloved cub to the wild, but how will they ever find a way to be free? Deeply moving and powerful, Moon Bear is an unforgettable story of compassion, hope, and bravery against overwhelming odds.
I loved this book. I devoured it in less than two days. I just simply could not put it down. At just over 300 pages it is on the shorter side, but it tells the story it needs to tell without drawing out any scenes unnecessarily. Gill Lewis could easily have been tempted to go for maximum empathy in describing in detail some of the horrible things that happen in this book, but she instead opts for the “less if more” mantra and it works a charm.
The book focuses on Tam, a boy who lives with his family in the mountains until they are relocated by the General Chan. Tam is promised a better life, with electricity, a school and even a village TV. The promises are half-truths though and when events go from bad to worse, Tam is forced to leave his family and work at a bear farm in the city.  
Tam is hugely likeable. He is undoubtedly a victim but he does not bemoan his fate. That does not mean he accepts it either. He is sensible enough to keep his mouth shut and head down when needed but also rebels in his own way. His friendship with the bears and the way he cares for them is truly touching.
What I liked most is that Lewis focuses on Tam’s relationship with one of the bears. Tam recognises there is little he can do for the other bears but when a young ill cub (Sook-dli) arrives, he takes it upon himself to nurse the bear back to health.  The bond the two forge is both tender and heart warming. The two souls are linked by the same lot in life in that they have had little choice or say as to what happens to them.
However, to just comment on Tam’s interactions with the bears would do the book a disservice. Everyone Tam converses with is affected by his behaviour in some way, mostly for the better but sometimes not. The only character that is not well-drawn is Tam’s supervisor Assang. He is your typical card board cut out caricature and is not really needed in the story. All the other characters are well portrayed and within a few short pages, Lewis establishes strong links between Tam and other characters such as his Granddad, his Ma and Kham.
In regards to the plot, there is nothing too surprising about it. A lot of what happens to Tam is not very original and nothing you couldn’t predict if you really sat down and thought about it. The beauty of the novel is that whilst reading the novel none of this occurred to me. I was so enthralled by the prose and swept up in Tam’s life that I was too busy enjoying the book.  I had never heard of bear milking though and it has truly opened my eyes to another of mankind’s atrocities inflicted on animals.
I said at the start of this book that this is classed as a children’s book. With all that happens to Tam it certainly does not read like one. With a children’s book (as true with a lot of adult books) the usually all of the plot points are wrapped up or loose ends tied. Gill Lewis does not pander to her audience. Sometimes in life there are loose ends and with one character in particular, she uses their actions to teach Tam this lesson. It is infuriating but realistic at the same time.
The ending is great. Normally I like dark endings, but I also recognise when a book needs to end in a certain way. I will not reveal which was this one goes, but to me it was the perfect ending.
My rating: 9.3

Friday, October 3, 2014

Book Review - The Corninsh Coast Murder

The Cornish Coast Murder by John Bude (JS)
Review by Jacqui Slaney
I love murder… let me rephrase that, I love the old fashioned murder mysteries, that you get from Agatha Christie, Dorothy L Sayers etc, so when this title popped up as recommended for me as I like such and such, I could not resist.
This is the description:
Never, even in his most optimistic moments, had he visualised a scene of this nature - himself in one arm-chair, a police officer in another, and between them - a mystery.' The Reverend Dodd, vicar of the quiet Cornish village of Boscawen, spends his evenings reading detective stories by the fireside - but heaven forbid that the shadow of any real crime should ever fall across his seaside parish. However, the vicar's peace is shattered one stormy night when Julius Tregarthan, a secretive and ill-tempered magistrate, is found at his house in Boscawen with a bullet through his head. The local police inspector is baffled by the complete absence of clues. Suspicion seems to fall on Tregarthan's niece, Ruth - but surely, that young woman lacks the motive to shoot her uncle dead in cold blood? Luckily for Inspector Bigswell, the Reverend Dodd is on hand, and ready to put his keen understanding of the criminal mind to the test. 
I must admit I had not heard of this author, but within a few pages, I was hooked by the story.
The writing is descriptive, and sets the scene for the reader so you can visualise the characters in their daily lives and the dramatic Cornish coastline. A storm opens the story and this dominates all events. However, the description is not overdone and unlike in some stories, does not slow the narrative, which is good as the pace is brisk and enjoyable.
There are not loads of murders and action, just a cleverly written tale with loads of twists, turns and false leads that keep you entertained.
The character of the Reverend is excellent, I liked him a lot. I was a bit worried at the start that he might be pompous and overbearing, but he is a joy to read and gently points out to the usual police officers the error of their ways.
I suppose my only slight complaint is that some of the secondary characters are not fleshed out a lot, such as the niece, and the little you read about her, doesn’t make her very sympathetic, so you do not feel for her predicament.
The author cleverly changes the point of view between the Inspector and Reverend as well, so you can see the clues the Inspector finds and so agree that he has seemingly solved the mystery. Then however you jump to Dodd’s chapter and you realise that what you thought is completely wrong.
There are clues that let you solve the mystery, this is not one of those books where a surprise murderer appears with a motive that you had not been told about before. But the clues are cleverly hidden so when you spot them, you feel very pleased with yourself.
Whether you solve the murder yourself or just follow along with the Reverend either way I am sure that this story will be enjoyed, it’s not a long read, but definitely worthwhile.
8 out of 10

Monday, September 29, 2014

Book Review - King of Swords

King of Swords – Nick Stone
It has been over four years since I read and loved Nick Stone’s debut novel Mr. Clarinet. I found the gritty mix of the detective story and the hint of the supernatural in the form of voodoo worship to be right up my street.
Quite why I waited so long to read the next in the series is beyond me.
Here is the blurb:
Miami, 1981. When Detective Max Mingus and his partner Joe are called to the scene of a death at Miami's Primate Park, it looks like another routine - if slightly bizarre - investigation. Until two things turn up: the victim's family, slaughtered; and a partly digested tarot card in the dead man's stomach. "The King of Swords" - an increasingly bloody trail leads Max and Joe first to a sinister fortune-teller and her scheming pimp son, then to the infamous Solomon Boukman. Few have ever met the most feared criminal in Miami, but rumours abound of a forked tongue, voodoo ceremonies and friends in very high places. Against a backdrop of black magic and police corruption, Max and Joe must distinguish the good guys from the bad - and track down some answers. What is the significance of the "King of Swords"? What makes those who have swallowed the card go on a killing spree just before they die? And can Max find out the truth about Solomon Boukman, before death's shadow reaches his own front door ...
As the blurb indicates, this is a prequel to Mr. Clarinet. I am not normally a fan of prequels unless they have relevance to future plot points. When they are just fleshed out stories of past events main characters happen to mention then I am normally disappointed. However, when they have a direct bearing on the way a character views their life and why their motivations are like they are, then I am much more invested in the prequel.
The latter is the case in point with King of Swords. The book focuses on three characters characters: Max Mingus, Joe Liston and Carmine. Max is the main character in Mr.Clarinet but he does not behave the same way. There are similarities of course, but in this story he is a lot more raw and despite having good intentions, he regularly walks the thin line between good and evil.
This is typified by the two people that influence his life the most. The first is his partner Joe and the other is his boss and father-like figure Eldon. Eldon is a complex character. He is as corrupt as they come but he truly believes he is delivering the greater good in his methods. His aim is to increase his empire in the police force and get the bad guys off the street. If this means cutting corners by sending known criminals down for crimes they did not commit, then so be it.
Max is only too aware of Eldon’s methods but is torn between the correct thing to do and achieving results. He can see the reasoning behind Eldon’s motivations but at the same time he recognises that he has lost his way in the implementation of those methods.
By contrast Joe is only too aware of what is going on and is deeply opposed. He has high morals and a belief in the system. He is a policeman and wants to do it the right way. It is only his like and respect for Max that clouds his judgement. The dynamic works, as rather than being a constant source of conflict and bickering, the two behave rationally and try to figure out the correct path.
Intermingled with all these politics of course is the enigmatic Solomon Boukman. A man that has built his criminal faction based on myths and legends. We mostly see Solomon through the point of view of Carmine his childhood friend. Carmine is a fascinating character in his own right. To the public he is a competent and feared pimp, but behind closed doors he is still a scared boy petrified by his despicable mother.
With such rich characters the book was always going to be readable, but the plot is tight, the pace is consistent and the criminals suitably sinister. Stone does a terrific job of portraying Solomon Boukman keeping him mysterious but at the same time believable. I know virtually nothing about the Haitian culture, but Stones description of it comes across as authentic and makes you want to learn more.
The ending is great, wrapping up all loose ends nicely. At times I was worried that it was being dragged out or in places rushed, but I think by the end of the book Stones got the narrative spot on. This was a pleasure to read and reminded me why I loved the first book so much.
My rating: 9.1

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Book Review - Thud! (JS)

Thud! by Terry Pratchett
By Jacqui Slaney
Anyone who reads my reviews knows that I reread Terry Pratchett regularly especially when faced with lots of sitting round hospital waiting rooms. I always worry that I will take a new book on such a visit and not enjoy it, and then will be stuck there with nothing to read, so I tend to fall back on a tried and loved book such as a Discworld book and especially a commander Vimes story..
This is the description:
'Some people would be asking: whose side are you on? If you are not for us, you are against us. Huh. If you're not an apple, you're a banana'
Koom Valley, the ancient battle where the trolls ambushed the dwarfs, or the dwarfs ambushed the trolls, was a long time ago. But if he doesn't solve the murder of just one dwarf, Commander Sam Vimes of Ankh-Morpork City Watch is going to see it fought again, right outside his office. With his beloved Watch crumbling around him and war-drums sounding, he must unravel every clue, outwit every assassin and brave any darkness to find the solution. And darkness is following him.
Oh . . . and at six o'clock every day, without fail, with no excuses, he must go home to read 'where’s My Cow?’ with all the right farmyard noises, to his little boy. There are some things you have to do.
The story line is the bubbling feud between the Dwarfs and the Trolls that is about to erupt again in a second Koom valley, which as described in other books is the only battle in history where both sides tried to ambush the other. Here trouble is stirred by a murder of a dwarf and everyone knows that a troll did it as one of their clubs was found next to the body, so how much more proof do you need?
But Sam Vimes refuses to accept such clues, even as his dwarf and Troll officers resign from the Watch and pressure is mounting on the streets, he wants the Truth no matter what. There is also fearsome talk of an ancient entity, shown by a sign written in the dark of the mines, a sign that once found must be surrounded by light to keep the fear away.
I like all Sam Vimes novels, but this is one of my favourites. There are so many elements here of a great read, not least amongst them is the idea of Nobby Nobbs, the only man who has to carry a certificate to proof his is human, going out with a pole dancer called Tawny. There is also the tension between Angua the werewolf and Sally the new recruit who just happens to be a vampire, and I am sure that everyone will love Mr A.E Pessimal the government inspector.
  Most of all you have Sam Vimes, and in this book you see more of the conflict within him. The darkness that is touched upon in other stories and you see the meaning of ‘Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?’ You also get to read about his story telling skills to his young son, as no matter at 6’oclock that is where he will be. The one time he is late is quite impressive.
As always I recommend this book to anyone, you need to have a little back ground knowledge of the series to properly enjoy, otherwise you might not understand why a man over 6 foot considers himself a dwarf, but there is still a lot that any reader will like.
10 out of 10


Friday, September 19, 2014

Book Review - The Son

The Son – Philipp Meyer

I was looking for a Western and happened to spot this novel on the Audible recommendations list. The fact that it was narrated by Will Patton as well as two other actors furthered my interest. I had never listened to an audible book by more than one narrator before.

The Blurb:

Philipp Meyer, the acclaimed author of American Rust, returns with The Son: an epic of the American West and a multigenerational saga of power, blood, land, and oil that follows the rise of one unforgettable Texas family, from the Comanche raids of the 1800s to the to the oil booms of the 20th century.

Harrowing, panoramic, and deeply evocative, The Son is a fully realized masterwork in the greatest tradition of the American canon - an unforgettable novel that combines the narrative prowess of Larry McMurtry with the knife-edge sharpness of Cormac McCarthy.
The Son is divided up into three points of view (each actor logically reading from one character). What disappointed me was that the three characters all took place in slightly different time periods. I think I was expecting an audible book/play hybrid where the characters would be voiced by different actors but interact.

However, I will not mark the book down due to my expectations. What I will mark it down for is the quality of the points of view. The main point of view is from the Eli the Colonel and tells of his capture by Indians and his subsequent survival. For a long period of the book this is by far and away the superior narrative when compared to the other sections.

I say for long periods of the book because when Eli leaves the Indians his story loses its momentum. It is still interesting but not as intense.

The Colonel is a rigid character. He sees things from a black and white viewpoint and is uncompromising in his beliefs. Inevitably, he comes to acknowledge the Indian way of life and even respect them. The transition is superbly handled to the point neither Eli nor the reader knows it is happening.

The second character is his son Peter, who could not be more different from his father. Peter’s narration is told in the form of diary entries which could not be more tepid. He is an insular man not cut out for the bold and aggressive role that is required to him. Instead, what the reader gets is a depressive, limp specimen with nothing to endear the reader to.

His narration is a little repetitive and at times I just wished he would grow a backbone. Instead, his story seems to just peter out.

Finally there is Eli’s Great Granddaughter Jeannie, who through luck rather than tenacity becomes an oil tycoon. Again, there is nothing endearing about her character and at times I had to really force myself to concentrate on her sections.

Towards the very end, Philipp Meyer adds another POV character. This felt unnecessary and did not add much to the plot.

It is a shame as I really wanted to like this book. I kept hoping the stories would come together somehow but they never did. The ending was very disappointing with the chapters becoming increasingly shorter as if Phillip Meyer himself wanted the book to end and wanted to tie everything up.

Overall, I am a little bit mystified by the many 5* reviews the book has received. The 3* reviews sum up my feelings fairly accurately.  I could have done with a lot more of Eli with the Comanche Indians and with the stories of Peter and Jeannie cut out all together.

My rating 6.5