Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Ringing in the new year and all the rest of that sentimental schmooze

New Year's Eve always sees me a bit more reflective than usual. Even in my wilder days I'd get a bit maudlin and wherever I was at whatever party I attended, I'd usually go off to the side and end up staring at the starry skies. Around me, everyone else would be, excuse my Afrikaans, poesdronk, and I'd already be quite sober.

Okay, nowadays the tendency of getting maudlin is far less (probably because I've stopped drinking) but I still get reflective on New Year's Eve. If ever there existed an evening where one has the opportunity to stand on the cusp of the past and present, it's this evening where we throw away our old calendar and begin marking off on the new. 

I can't help but think of the Roman god Janus, who looks both ways. And I'd like to touch on the act of self-remembering as a touchstone of where you've been, how you've been shaped by events, and how these impact on where you're headed for the future.

This year past had its ups and downs. I've functioned under extreme pressure at my day job as a sub-editor in the newspaper publishing industry. To be quite honest, I don't really have much of a passion for it anymore but yeah... Let's just put it down to mining for salt so I can continue to keep a roof over my head.

My father passed away in February, and that really sucked. Nothing can prepare you for the loss of a parent. Everything changes, and it really begins to hammer in the realisation that there is no magical "home" where Mom and Dad are there for you. But you deal with it, and you realise that although the person is gone, nothing can take away that love you shared. Therein lies much comfort. 

I'm also happy to report that I've managed to keep up my guitar playing. I'm definitely not the next Narciso Yepes or John Williams, but I enjoy my time making music purely for myself. Often when I come home in the evenings, the last thing I want to do is slide behind a computer again.

My world is already so focused on storycraft, it doesn't leave much room for anything else. If I'm not reading, I'm editing or writing. I'm blessed by having a husband who understands this and, besides, he has his films that he makes; not to mention all his photo shoots. Even when we put our feet up on a Friday for some movies, we can't help but dissect the screenplay. That's what we do. Why does this dialogue work? What could have fixed those plot holes? Why is this actor miscast? We have glorious arguments lively discussions about this. Two artists in the house... Need I say more? 

Plans for 2014? Of course!

Will I stick to them? 

I can try.

I'll be tentative, and my plans mostly involve writing: I'd like to finish three novels, namely my current WiP, The Company of Birds. Also, my readers have been clamouring after the third book in the Books of Khepera series. Khepera in Shadow is about half-written. I really need to dig it out and finish it. So that's on the cards. Then, I need to finish book two of my Those who Return series. Most of you will know all about Inkarna. Thanatos follows on where Inkarna leaves off, and I actually do need to catch a hurry-up as Carrie Clevenger and I are busy completing our next collaboration, which sees Ash and Xan team up once again after the events that happen in Blood and Fire. Which means there's a whole chunk of back story missing. 

And oh, yes... Try to also take more time to hang out in my garden, get exercise, and just enjoy living. I've been doing a lot more of that during 2013 and it's done wonders for my state of mind.

So, whatever your plans are, be safe and sane, and I'll see you back here for another round? 

Monday, December 30, 2013

SUBMIT! by David Youngquist

I've handed over my blog to David Youngquist, president and publisher of Dark Continents Publishing today, who's talking about a well-worn publishing topic... Over to you, David...

This subject may have been beaten so far into the ground most folks wouldn’t think it could drag its moldering corpse out of the fetid grave. And yet it manages to raise its rotted, festering head time and time again. So now, having seen this beast from both sides, I’m going to take my crowbar and bash the subject to a pulp yet again.

Don’t get me wrong. Every writer has a learning curve, and every newbie has to learn their lesson just like the rest of us. I say this sitting from the seat 21 years after I got my first paid gig as a reporter. In that time I’ve been a columnist, reporter, short story writer, novelist and finally, publisher. Just like everything else folks, there’s rules and regs for a reason. It makes all our lives easier. Here’s a short list to help you, help us, and make it easier for you to find success in your career.

Now, I’m going to assume this isn’t your first book. I’m going to assume this is maybe the fourth book you’ve written, and the first three taught you what you needed to know and you’ve established your voice. I’m also going to assume you’ve spent the $200-$600 for a professional editor. (Consider this one of the best investments you can make in your life). I’m also going to assume you’ve grown the mandatory rhino hide to take the rejections yet to come. You’ve got your search engine warmed up, or your Writer’s Market in front of you. Here we go.

Rule #1: Research the market! I cannot stress this enough. Research the market, find the publishers who work with the kind of book you’ve written, and target them for submission. You’ll find all you need about them online on their webpage, in the Writer’s Market, on Facebook. There are too many ways to count to learn about a publisher. DO NOT SUBMIT WORK TO A PUBLISHER IF YOUR GENRE IS NOT LISTED IN WHAT THEY HANDLE! We recently had someone submit an Inspirational Christian story to us for publication. Nothing against that market. Nothing against those stories. I’m of the faith myself. But Dark Continents is a Horror/Fantasy/SciFi publisher. Why would you send to us?

Rule #2: Read the publisher’s guidelines. These will give you specific ideas on what the publisher wants and requires. It will give you more information about the publisher. It will tell you if they are even currently open for submissions. In the example of DCP, we have a six-week submission period open in June and July. Some houses have year-round submission periods. Some houses want synopsis and first three chapters. Some want just a letter and synopsis. Find out exactly what each house wants through their guidelines.

Rule #3: Have a 100-500 word synopsis of your work. I don’t care if it’s 150 000 words, you better be able to boil it down to three paragraphs. Every writer hates doing it. I hate doing it. How do you take your baby, the child you’ve worked on and grown for three years of your life and raised to a beautiful Urban Fantasy novel of 130 000 epic words and sum it up in half a printed page? If you figure it out, bubba, let me know. I have a hell of a time. I have also had different houses require different length synopsis. One place asked me for 100 words for a 100 000-word fantasy novel. Others want more. I work with friends to create several synopsis for the same book of different lengths.

Rule #4: Make sure your work is formatted to industry standard. This means 10-12 font in Times New Roman or Courier New. I say this coming from a newspaper background. Nothing fancy. Nothing that’s hard to read. Pretend you’re writing something for the Chicago Tribune. It has to be clear, concise, and easy to read.

Rule #5: MAKE SURE THE WORK IS COMPLETED! Unless you’re Stephen King, don’t bother to try to sell a book on speculation. The work needs to be completed, and a word count included in the query letter.

Rule #6: Make sure your contact information is complete and up to date. I lost a wonderful Young Adult Fantasy novel this year because the author didn’t have her contact info current. Include a short biography. And by that I mean 100-400 words. We don’t need 20 pages of your life. Hit the highlights. If you’ve only been published in the local newspaper under letters to the editor, don’t worry about it. If you were nominated for a Hugo award last year, make damned sure to mention it.

So there you have it. Six easy tips to make your submission process easier and hopefully will help you find a publishing house for your work. One last thing, if this is a multiple submission, let the folks know. Hopefully though, you’ll have the patience to bypass the shotgun method and start making surgical strikes with your creation. Good luck, and see you in print.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Editing highlights of 2013 #books

This past year I've had some stunning editing projects that I edited, which were totally fabulous and make it all worthwhile (editing, that is). I am utterly blessed to work with such fantastic authors, and I'd like to present ten of the titles (and encourage you to go out and buy them).

In alphabetical order... And as you can see I've had quite a varied range of titles genre-wise.

Ballintyne, Ciara
The first thing that struck me about Ciara's writing is that she reminds me a lot of Jacqueline Carey in style, so I am a more than happy editor to have her on board. Confronting the Demon is a novella about the machiavellian politics in which wizards engage, and the unintended consequences brought about by jealousy.





Black, Sorcha; Shaw, Leia; Silverwood, Cari
Sorcha, Leia and Cari are a devastating writing team and their Badass Brats series which I've had the opportunity to work on has completely changed the way I view the BDSM erotica genre. Their books are fun, kinky and the characters are not only sex fiends but people too. Granted, this won't be for everyone, but all I can say is that whenever one of these MSes land in my inbox, I know I'm going to have a huge amount of fun. It hardly feels like work!


Clevenger, Carrie
Traitors (urban fantasy)
I can't get enough of smart-mouthed vampire Xan Marcelles and I'm so glad Carrie's pushed through to write this little piece that slots in some time after the events in her debut novel Crooked Fang. This is urban fantasy of the highest order, with plenty of blood- and fuel-soaked action: fast cars and even faster vampires. Carrie's writing is slick and gritty, and as always totally enjoyable. Her narrator isn't one to sit about bemoaning his fate as a bloodsucker.



Hellisen, Cat 
It's not often that an editor gets to brag that she works with one of her favourite fantasy authors, but I can. Cat's writing sucks you into an alternative world that feels so tangible that it seems inconceivable that it doesn't exist somewhere. In House of Sand and Secrets she follows on from where her debut novel, When the Sea is Rising Red finishes, and returns us to her world where class means everything, and ... because, unicorns. 




Myrddin, Elizabeth 
Elizabeth has been incredibly to work with, and possibly one of my most satisfying projects this year when I look at the progress we made with Fun is For Shallow People. I absolutely adore her observations of human behaviour and in this novel she plays on the hijinks that ensue when two drama-prone ladies end up as rivals in what two detectives end up dubbing the "dead fop case". 



Petterson, David C
Lupa Bella (historical fantasy)
This one is difficult to classify. Its setting (1960s Italy) but it's also about werewolves, and I can't really put this either under the banner of urban fantasy or horror even. The closest authors I can compare DC Petterson to include SP Somtow and Alice Borchardt (for the wolves), and DC writes with that classic touch I love so much. This is officially the first title I've brought out as director of Dark Continents Publishing's Tales of Darkness and Dismay line of books.



Silverwood, Cari
Bind and Keep Me (#2) (BDSM erotica/dubcon)
Make Me Yours For Evermore (#3) (BDSM erotica/dubcon)
Cari's Pierced Hearts series is not for the faint of heart. Some of the elements that those who've read the Badass Brats series will recognise include the way ménage a trois is handled, but everything that is sane and safe about BDSM erotica is thrown out the window. The Pierced Hearts series goes places that make you question why you're suddenly okay with it, and therein lies the rub. Cari seduces you. Plain and simple.



Various authors
This is the project I do each year in conjunction with the South African HorrorFest. It's a multi-faceted project that started off with the annual Bloody Parchment event that happens at the same time as the SA HorrorFest (it's the literary component). Then we threw in a short story competition one year, which resulted in us bringing out the first-ever anthology. Since then it's picked up steam and we've had Random House Struik onboard for the past two years. The 2014 anthology will be brought out by Dark Continents Publishing.


Youngquist, David
Black Jack (fantasy)
David writes fantasy from the heart, and has an incredibly accessible style. I've said it before, but he reminds me a lot of Piers Anthony's early Xanth novels in this one and creates a fascinating world where the magic changes those who come to the world. This one is a glorious mash-up of eras, where villains from Earth's past are present and causing untold trouble for our hero, Jack, who finds himself reluctantly crowned king and saddled with the responsibility of winning a war he didn't ask for.


A note to authors and publishers: I am available to take on (limited) freelance work during the course of 2014. Please query me at nerinedorman@gmail.com to enquire about my schedule and rates.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The Lone Ranger #movie #review


As a wee sprog I remember watching The Lone Ranger on telly. South Africa was quite behind in the whole TV revolution, but I recall that particular show with great fondness and yes, my friends and I sometimes played Cowboys and Indians, which generally involve someone getting tied up and the rest of us making an awful racket.

I also remember having little plastic cowboys and Indian toys (other kids had those little green army toys and jeeps). Nope, I played with little cowboys and Indians. I think I really just dug the horses, and loved pretending to ride.

So it was with a fair amount of nostalgia that I looked forward to seeing what Johnny Depp would do with the Tonto role in the renewed The Lone Ranger. From the outside this looked like another Jack Sparrow but with warpaint, and as could be expected, Tonto completely outshines the rest of the characters.

There's been a fair amount of burrum-harrum and errrrrr blegh about Johnny Depp being seen as racist by donning redface, so to speak. Though he does have Native American heritage somewhere along the line, he's still very much perceived as a white man taking a native role. My feelings on the matter are complicated. I can see where folks who're angry are coming from, but on the other hand this film exists as a celebration of Western films as a whole.

The plot itself is nothing new; it's filled with archetypes like the brothel madame with a big heart, the evil railroad baron, the honourable if rather dead sheriff. And the little quirks ("There's something not right about that horse") were made of teh awesum. If you've watched many Westerns throughout your life, you'll appreciate The Lone Ranger for what it is: a homage to a particular brand of cinema.

So far as the recent rash of superhero films have gone, The Lone Ranger has been a breath of fresh air for its utter delight in the genre; what saves it is the fact that it doesn't take itself seriously. Yes, there's depth and breadth for some social commentary – and there's no escaping the issues of how the Europeans murdered the Native Americans.

As a South African, I'm acutely aware of racial issues; this is inescapable. There's a part of me that wishes we'd see more representative film offerings brought out by Hollywood (I mean, hello, as a woman I'm BEGGING for strong female leads). For what this film is, I feel Disney has done okay. But I also wish to view this through the lens as entertainment.

If this film does cause you to stop and think a bit, that's good. If you hated it because of the inherent issues of the subject matter, that's also fine. I've decided to just enjoy it for what it is, and overall it was a thoroughly entertaining Western. It doesn't break fresh ground but it made me laugh, and it engaged my attention. I couldn't ask for more.

Besides, Johnny Depp was in top form.

Let's just pray they don't feck things up by making a sequel, or that at least if they do, they pay attention to narrative structure so we don't have to apply the law of diminishing returns. The fourth Pirates of the Caribbean movie was forgettable, and not even Depp's presence could save that sinking ship.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Best #Books of 2013

I've been participating in the Goodreads reading challenge and set myself the goal of reading 100 books this year. At time of blogging I've managed 94, which isn't too shabby, and I might even make my goal. I've read a healthy balance of literature this year. Most of it's been pretty neat, but if I had to pull out the books (the ones I haven't edited, BTW) then these following titles are the ones that jumped out the most.

So, what I've decided to do is pull quotes (in italics) from my actual reviews (many of which appeared in print) then follow up with a few thoughts now, in hindsight.

1# The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
The Ocean at the end of the Lane is a tale filled with powerful archetypes, be it images of the Triple Goddess or the eternal ocean that links all things. This is more than just a story about childhood, and coming to terms with the fact that the world is a dangerous, unpredictable place.

Okay, I absolutely adore Neil Gaiman. Apart from JRR Tolkien, he's probably had the most influence on my writing. I'll admit to being a bit underwhelmed by most of his fiction recently because to me the Sandman graphic novels are *it* so far as I'm concerned, and are a tough act to follow. But The Ocean at the End of the Lane is nothing short of inspired. I get the feeling he wrote this book because he *wanted* to. For himself.

2# King of Thorns by Mark Lawrence
The Jorg we follow in book #2 is still impulsive, but his nasty side has been tempered somewhat. He's haunted by ghosts, and is vastly troubled by his connection to Katherine. So, though we can level accusations at him that he's a killer and capable of all manner of truly terrible things, it's also evident that he's matured.

I love Mark Lawrence's writing for a variety of reasons. Mostly because he effortlessly weaves pithy philosophical musings together with ultra-violence. His writing is unrestrained on many levels, unrestrained by genre, unrestrained by how far characters are allowed to transgress from what is morally acceptable. That being said, I don't think this writing is going to appeal to a broad spectrum, but if you love fantasy that's breaking fresh ground with old tools, then this is it. Watch Lawrence closely. He's nipping on GRRM's heels. (And if you don't know who GRRM is then jawellnofine...)

3# Passion Play by Beth Bernobich
Ilse as a character is resilient. Hats off to Bernobich for not wrapping her characters in cotton wool. Ilse’s choices are not always the wisest, and she gets hurt for her mistakes, and badly at the onset of the story. But she learns, and it is an absolute pleasure watching her come into her own. 

Beth Bernobich is one of those authors I'm so happy to have become acquainted with. Her writing is lush, her world-building endlessly intriguing. She allows you to gradually build a picture of the setting's history. Her style harks to the classic styles of fantasy writing with a slow pace and gradual unfurling. You'll have romance, courtly intrigue and ancient magics all rolled into one. Also, bonus points is she clearly writes PoC as the protagonists.

4# The Reckoning by Alma Katsu
What follows is a tangled, sensuous web of betrayal and obsession, as author Alma Katsu allows tantalising glimpses into the pasts of her tragic creations. None of her characters are wholly good or evil; all of them have some sort of dark past. Some are irredeemably sadistic, and gleefully set about finding new ways to express their cruelty to those they manipulate.

Emily Brontë meets Lestat-era Anne Rice. That's probably the best way to describe Alma Katsu's writing. Also, kudos to her for creating a departure from the standard paranormal fare. Though her writing is being packaged to *look* like The Series About Angels We Won't Mention by Name, her writing is definitely way above that league. Those looking for sta
ndard HEA are going to be disappointed and to be honest, I'd beat *those* sort of readers off with a big stick. ;-)

5# The Big Stick by Richard de Nooy
Somehow these assorted tellings hang together seamlessly and enrich the reader’s experience. Each narrator holds but a fragment of Staal’s life, coloured by their worldview. These are threaded together as one would create a beaded necklace, a bigger picture emerges.

Richard is absolutely fabulous, both as a person and a writer. I've been following him on Twitter for a while and am so glad I've had the opportunity to dip into his writing. From what I can gather thus far, he loves playing with people's perceptions and how one person can change depending on who is telling their story. The Big Stick is a beautiful work of fiction.

6# The Ward by SL Grey
What lies in wait beyond New Hope exists as a dark parody of the medical system, a world where patients are either donors or clients, and medical staff scuttle about like worker ants in a diabolical hive presided over by the scalpel-happy butchers. In a big way The Ward is about people getting their just deserts. 

The partnership between Sarah Lotz and Louis Greenberg can do no wrong. I often imagine the two of them conspiring while giggling madly over the next Terrible Thing they have planned for their characters. The Ward is a stronger novel than The Mall, and they're clearly more settled in their style. Mostly, I love them for their astute observations and their wicked, wicked black humour.

7# The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
Miller’s prose is lush, sensual and evocative, and she captures this age of heroes perfectly to the point where you can taste ripe figs or smell the stench of blood on the battlefield. Miller’s characters spring forth into startling life from the pages of one of the greatest legends.

Okay, I'm a HUGE fan of Mary Renault's writing, and if ever there was an author whom I'd peg as a worthy successor, it's Madeline Miller. I devoured this book in less than a week and almost cried at the end. There's just enough of a fantasy element to keep those aesthetic demands satisfied but as for the lush prose... This lady's onto something.

8# Zenn Scarlett by Christian Schoon
Zenn is the kind of protagonist whose mouth is often way ahead of her brain, and for a female protagonist, she’s a breath of fresh air. This young madam knows exactly what she wants and isn’t afraid to work very hard to get it—in this case she wants to be an exovet. 

Star Wars meets James Herriot and Gerald Durrell. Need I say more? Christian Schoon writes with great enthusiasm about his subject, and his love for animals shines through. Tag him with pics of otters on Twitter (yes, Mr Schoon, I can see you smiling right now as you're reading this).

9# Glitterland by Alexis Hall
Perhaps what makes this story for me is the way Hall effortlessly brings the characters to life in such a way that if we were to meet them on the street, we’d recognise them instantly (and it’s not just the way they talk). At times playful, and others quite poignant, Glitterland maintains a careful balance between its moods with a joyfully exuberant pace.

I so didn't expect to love this book as much as I did. Contemporary romance isn't really my thing but just occasionally a premise will bite me. I absolutely ADORE Alexis and I'm looking forward to reading his other books. His characters are utterly charming and authentic, or should I rather say totes adorbs, babes?

10# A Discourse in Steel by Paul S Kemp
A Discourse in Steel is exactly what it says: a straight-up adventure filled with snappy dialogue, a spot of tomb-raiding, breaking and entering, and general asskickery. The magical key that opened any lock once it had a taste of a particular fruit or veggie was just one of the quirky touches strewn throughout the tale.

Tomb Raider and Indiana Jones meet Terry Pratchett is how I sum this up. For the interaction between Egil and Nix alone I'd read this. Paul S Kemp knows how to keep the pace going and plays nicely with all the standard fantasy tropes in such a way that he is both light but with a wry undercurrent. You get the idea that the characters as people are quite damaged, but this doesn't bog them down in a mire of emo wangst.

A note to authors and publishers:I am open to review requests for 2014. A warning though, I'm still quite back-logged and will only take on titles that knock my socks off with their premises. I will use my discretion and submit select reviews to print media. See my review policy above. Query me at nerinedorman@gmail.com 

Monday, December 23, 2013

Paint the Bird by Georgeann Packard #review #books

Title: Paint the Bird
Author: Georgeann Packard
Publisher: The Permanent Press, 2013

Seventy-year-old Reverend Sarah Obadias has run away from her life, and acts outside of what one would expect of someone of her profession: she goes home with a complete stranger – the relatively well-known painter Abraham Darby. Only things aren’t looking too hot for Darby either. His gay son, Yago, has just died due to complications related to antiretroviral treatment, and he’s struggling to come to terms with his son’s homosexuality and his death.

But Yago’s husband, Johnny, enters the mix as well, and they have a son, Angelo, and Darby is awkward around them as he is with most people. You are also eventually introduced to Yago’s mother, the painter Alejandra Morales Diaz (but she’s no longer married to Darby).

Put all these people in the mix, with Yago as the focus, and there are bound to be some interesting results.

The story itself is centred around the grieving process. Even Sarah finds herself touched by Yago’s spirit (perhaps almost literally) and the complex relationship between family is examined, as well as how one deals with death and betrayal. To a degree, both Sarah and Darby must face their past and find fresh current for the future in their latter years, by examining what they have harvested so far in their lives.

We are reminded that people perceive the selves of others in different ways – that we are multifaceted: parents, children, lovers, spouses – and that these states coexist in one person.

Perhaps the best illustration of this theme comes at a point where both Darby and Alejandra paint Sarah, whose role in the story as a whole appears to be that of a muse for the main characters during their time of grief – at least that is one way to look at her.

Paint the Bird I’d term as a surreal novel that flirts with magical realism, and might be a difficult story for some to connect with. The pace is slow and the prose textured – focused on seemingly random conversations between characters that somehow hang together within the context.

This is a slow-moving story. It doesn’t quite get off the ground or – much as in real life – have convenient conclusions to tie up the loose ends. At the end of the day, I took a step back, feeling a bit like a voyeur, with much to think about concerning perception, acceptance and rebirth.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Desperate Romantics #TV #miniseries #reviews

I've meant to watch the six-part BBC series, Desperate Romantics, one for a while now since the Pre-Raphaelite and the related Arts and Crafts movement numbered among my most inspirational when I was studying art. A little background about the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (PRB). The ringleaders were Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Holman Hunt and John Everett Millais, but there were other notables associated with and influenced by the movement. 


In essence, the Pre-Raphaelites rejected the artistic style of the time, which was heavily influenced by the classic artists Michaelangelo and Raphael et al, and sought to create art that was expressive, sensual, emotive and colour-filled as opposed to the oppressively dark and heavy painting styles of the time. Subject matter also changed, often harking toward the medieval and heavily influenced by nature.

Perhaps two of my favourite Pre-Raphaelite works of art feature the luminous muse Elizabeth Siddal. The first is Ophelia by John Everett Millais which depicts the doomed Ophelia floating downriver before she drowns. The second is the Beata Beatrix which was painted by Gabriel Dante Rossetti after the death of his wife, Elizabeth Siddal. 

As for the series, it was entirely delightful, starring the rather lush Aidan Turner (Rossetti), Rafe Spall (Holman Hunt), Samuel Barnett (Millais), Sam Crane (Fred Walters), and the rather captivating Amy Manson (Elizabeth Siddal), among others. Granted, I don't know all *that* much about the actual history related to the PRB's personal lives, so I vaguely knew "this won't end well" when I went into it.

Plus points subtle touches of humour, some wonderfully witty dialogue and beautiful styling if you're interested Victorian-era drama. This mini-series serves to remind exactly how steeped in custom the Victorians were. Reputation was everything, and if wanted to cock a snook at society, your path was fraught with difficulty. As an introduction to the world of the PRB I think this is a good departure point, but I do feel that they took more than quite a few liberties with actual history. 


Nevertheless, Desperate Romantics was eminently watchable, and has left me with a number of TBR titles on my book list. It's light, witty but has an undercurrent of tragedy. There are times when I'd really like to kick Rossetti hard – really, really hard – but his passion for creative expression is inspiring. 

Saturday, December 21, 2013

World War Z #movie #review

Okay, I have totally got a thing for post-apocalyptic stories; there's something about destroying the world as we know it and imagining how survivors will pull civilisation up by its bootstraps and begin again. Granted, post-Z stories are still pretty hot property right now, and most of my friends have been watching The Walking Dead. I've watched a bit of season #1 but to be honest, I got a bit meh halfway through. But that's just me, and I'm an odd one when it comes to TV etc. A series either grabs me by the short and curlies or I let it go just there.

A few years ago I picked up a copy of World War Z by Max Brooks. "Read that book, my friend told me. You won't regret it." So I did, and probably finished reading the entire thing within days. Wow. What a ride. Basically, the book is a fictitious collection of first-person accounts looking back at the zombie outbreak that almost wiped out the human species. This totally took the typical zombie outbreak story to another level examining the broader implications but also at human behaviour, and what makes a hero. (Sometimes the most unlikely people, according to Brooks). I'm not going to go all mushy with "triumph of the human spirt blah blah blah" but yeah... That.

So... [deep breath] Onto the film. First thing I'm going to say, the film is NOT the book. If you read the book, forget you ever read it. If you're looking for the book, you'll see a few small touches but that's it. The film is inspired by the book. In the loosest sense. Oh yes. There is Brad Pitt. And plenty of feel-good humanitarian social commentary shoe-horned in. But I don't mind either Brad or his soapbox. Because, yeah, this was a tight film.

Essentially, our protagonist, Gerry Lane, is a UN investigator who's retired, but his boss calls him into active duty when the zombie plague blooms into its full savage glory. And these zombies *are* savage. There's no slow slide into zombiefication. You get bitten and about a quarter of a minute later you've turned into a teeth-chattering, biting frenzy machine. And if you want to hold onto your grey matter, you had better RUN.

Okay, so I don't do zombie films. Yes, though I write horror, I struggle with zombie films. George A Romero does me in. Though I loved Planet Terror and Shaun of the Dead, I just couldn't sit still. Anyone suffering through a zombie movie will me will probably derive more entertainment thanks to my squirming and freaking out than the actual film.

I was in top form watching World War Z. Really. I was pretty much tap-dancing my anxiety. Yes, it's only a movie, but still... There's probably a lot wrong with the film when it comes to the screenplay. Perhaps the cyclic predictability: Gerry goes somewhere, someone does something wrong and BAM! THE ZOMBIES ARE COMING ERMAHGERD WE'RE ALL GOING TO DIEEEEEE!

Brad must've gotten super fit by the time he finished shooting this one. Gerry Lane spends A LOT of time running (or his extras did). Then again, I don't blame him. These are some of the nastiest zombies I've seen in cinema for a long time.

Stuff that's unlikely—like strapping magazines to your forearms to stop the damn things from biting you... I'm not sure that's fool proof but jawellnofine. To give Gerry some credit, he didn't stick around long enough to test that theory to the full.

Mostly, the horrifying fascination with watching a pandemic outbreak of zombiefication goes all the way through this story, accompanied by the claustrophobic realisation that the characters have no safe haven, nowhere they can hole up that is ultimately protected. The zombies will get there in the end.

There were times where I felt the writers laid on the "I'm doing this to save my family bit" a little too heavily but this was mitigated by the relentless pace... You just don't get time to draw breath and worry too much about the fact that the sad wife is left at home with the brood of kidlets.

My final verdict: Yes, watch this if you're looking for something that's jam-packed full of loud explosions and people who're running for their lives in a kind of macabre treasure hunt. The clock is ticking, and time is running out. That is all. World War Z is a breathless race and if you don't think too hard about the stuff that's implausible, you're in for totally satisfying entertainment. Oh, yes, and there is Brad Pitt. He might be a little older but eish, my bru, I still dig him.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

In conversation with Jonathan L Howard #books #YA #SF

A big welcome to Jonathan L Howard, author of Katya's War (Strange Chemistry, 2013). He's allowed me to subject him to Six of the Best which actually turned into nine, but jawellnofine. So, Jonathan, for those of us who haven't read Katya's World, tell us a little bit more about Katya and the setting?

The novels are set on the colony world of Russalka. The place is one huge ocean, with no dry land unless you count the ice caps as land. It has a breathable atmosphere and the temperature is cold but bearable for humans, but there are constant storms and permanent 100% cloud cover. It’s a horrible, dangerous, hard place to live. The only reason it was colonised at all is that it has great mineral wealth in its waters. Both to be close to those minerals and to avoid the foul weather, the vast majority of the colonists live in settlements mined in the planet’s underwater mountains, and travel by submarine.

It was hard enough there, but then they were abandoned by Earth for a century and had to struggle through. Then Earth forces turned up again and tried to take over. This triggered a war that Russalka survived rather than won. The place is still badly mauled from the events of that war ten years after.

This is the situation when Katya’s World begins. The war may be over, but the scars run deep. Katya Kuriakova is just short of her sixteenth birthday when she joins her uncle as navigator aboard his minisub. The war messed up Russalka’s demographics badly, and the young are pressed into positions of responsibility early to make up for shortfalls. You don’t get much of a childhood on Russalka. She’s happily of the opinion that her life is pretty much mapped out now and she can just go ahead and do her job.

It doesn’t work out quite that way.

You have to sum up Katya's War in no more than 16 words, GO!

War is killing your world, and isn’t slowing. What would you sacrifice to save it?
(And I didn’t cheat by pretending “isn’t” is one word.)

Was there any particular scene from the novel that you found difficult to write, and why?

Yes, there is one scene that I found singularly difficult to write. I can’t detail it without spoiling the plot, but you’ll know it by the description, “When Katya realises what she’s looking at through the window.” I write the Johannes Cabal novels which are full of horror elements, but nothing in those has been so hard. I found it upsetting. It may be that many will read it and say, “So?” Fine, but I had to go for a walk after finishing that scene because it was horrible to write.

Your favourite bit of dialogue... 

From Katya’s War? Let me think. Hard to find a bit that’s not full of spoilers. Ah, this is fairly safe. Still, very mild spoilers ahead:

“Who’s going, captain?”
“Me, obviously, because I love risking my life. Ms Kuriakova here, also obviously, as she’s the one this is all being done for.”
“What? Me?” Katya looked at Kane as if he’d just ordered her shot.
“Well, yes, you. Why do you…”
“No. I mean, an ADS? Me? You want me to go outside?”
“Yes. You in an ADS. You could try swimming over there in your underwear, I suppose, but I wouldn’t rate your chances of making it.”
Katya was not in the mood for jokes; as far as she could see, sending her out in an atmospheric diving suit – an ADS – was tantamount to a death sentence anyway. “I… I can’t,” she stammered. “I’m not rated. No training. I’m not certified.”
Kane frowned. “Russalkin hydrophobia rears its ugly head again. I have to say, Katya, I’m surprised. After the things you’ve done, I really didn’t expect a drop of water to bother you unduly.”
“A drop… A drop of water? It’s Russalka, Kane! It’s the whole planet! The whole thing wants to kill us every day! Every single day! And you want to go for a stroll out there?”

Story seeds... They all have to start somewhere. What spark set fire to your imagination for this world? 

Oddly enough, the origin is sometime around 1998, I’d guess. I was playing around with ideas for Doctor Who stories for a hobby project and an ocean world suggested itself. That story didn’t gel properly, but there were intriguing elements to it, and some – notably the world itself and the hard lives of the colonists – came back to me when I was thinking, “Well, if I were to write a YA SF novel, it would look like this...”

If you have to profile who you think your readers are, who are they? 

At the risk of seeming egotistical, I think every author largely writes books for themselves. One has to; when you start writing books for what you imagine other people think like, you’re going to find yourself drifting into hackwork. It’ll feel artificial and shallow. So, I suppose I’m writing the Russalka novels for a teenage version of me, filtered through the sensibilities of current mores of style.

A writer's workspace often says a lot about that person. Can you give us a peek at where you create?

I don’t really have anywhere. I used to work in a box room, but the boxes took over. Now I write in the lounge. I really ought to clear out the box room and make it work as an office.

Which three books have had the most impact on your love of the written word? 

The playfulness with words of Lewis Carroll, particularly in Through the Looking Glass, the precision and dry wit of MR James in his collected ghost stories, and the brilliant explosions of texture and meaning in Ray Bradbury’s writing, especially in The Illustrated Man.

You get to create a soundtrack for readers of Katya's War and can choose five songs/pieces of music for them to listen to while they read. Go!

The Hut on Fowl’s Legs from Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition,” ideally one of the big, threatening orchestral versions like Ravel’s. I chose this partially because it’s Russian, even if the Russalkin no longer acknowledge their roots, but mainly because it’s a menacing, off-kilter piece.

Anderson’s Theme from the Dredd soundtrack, by Paul Leonard-Morgan. Cassie Anderson and Katya have a lot in common; decent people trying to make a difference in a very harsh environment. I think that comes through in the music.

One of Our Submarines by Thomas Dolby, because, well, it’s about submarines, obviously, but there’s melancholy there, too, and an appreciation of how impersonal and terrifying it is to die in the depths.

The Seaview Theme by Paul Sawtell, otherwise known as the theme to Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. It’s a really good piece for a programme about a submarine going on adventures, mixing a romantic Hornblower sort of theme over a lurking menace in the brass section while, in my favourite version, a sonar pings steadily in the background. It was probably the best of the Irwin Allen series, I think, certainly for the first and possibly second seasons before it turned into a cheap aquatic version of Star Trek. Jerry Goldsmith’s alternative theme was only used once, and was very different – all threat and no a
dventure. I love Goldsmith’s work, but – just for once – I’m going to side with the original theme.

La Mer by Claude Debussy. All three bits of it, as I just couldn’t choose one. It describes the changeability of the ocean beautifully, although it also shows it when it’s serene, which isn’t really very common on Russalka. You can pretend those bits take place underwater in the context of the novel.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Stocking fillers #books #recommendations

It’s that time of the year when folks like giving things and these days it’s ridiculously easy to do so (one of the reasons I love Amazon so much when I know my friends have a Kindle). So today I’m going to give you ten gifting options. Some are my own, others are written by some of my friends, and a few of these outstanding titles I even had the opportunity to edit.

Camdeboo Nights was my only novel release in a year that I ended up inadvertently focusing on short stories. At its core, this novel is an urban fantasy misadventure involving a bunch of teens getting involved in supernatural conflict, featuring vampires, mages and classic automobiles. Essentially, I reckon fans of Harry Potter and Supernatural should get their jollies with this one.

Buy Camdeboo Nights at Amazon and Kobo.



Part of what kept me so busy at the end of the year and the start of this one was preparing both my Books of Khepera for self-publishing. The rights have long since reverted to me so I’ve dollied up the front covers with a little help from the super-talented Daniël Hugo. This is the ongoing saga of bad-boy black magician Jamie Guillaume, who tangles with militant fundamentalists and demonic entities.



Khepera Rising (#1) at Smashwords, Amazon or in print.
Khepera Redeemed (#2) at Smashwords, Amazon or in print.



Inkarna has hit the mark with many readers, and was born out of incredibly dark period in my life. Ashton Kennedy is a member of an elite reincarnation cult, otherwise known as Inkarna, but is reincarnated in the wrong body. Not only that, but he’s in possession of a secret that will see him a hunted man – throughout eternity. I’ve woven in plenty of Egyptian myth and magic into this one.


Buy Inkarna at Amazon or Kobo, or order it in print from your local bookstore.


Hell’s Music is one of my romance titles (writing as Therése von Willegen), and I continue playing on the bad-boy archetype when a totally withdrawn bookshop owner inadvertently gets involved with a famous alternative musician who I’d peg as somewhere between Ozzy Osbourne and Marilyn Manson. Not only that, but she’s got family issues with her troubled kid sister who has her own love problems.

Buy Hell’s Music on Amazon or at Bookstrand.



Tainted Love is hot and dirty (also written under the Therése von Willegen name) and takes a good girl next door who’s newly retrenched, and sees her finding her groove as a stripper. Not only does she have the moves, but she snags the attention of the owner of gentleman’s club where she bares all. But the environment is not the best if you’re trying to build a love that lasts, as she discovers.

Buy Tainted Love on Amazon, Bookstrand and Kobo.




I must make mention of Cari Silverwood now. I’ve had the pleasure of editing her Pierced Hearts series of BDSM erotica. She’s got book three, Make Me Yours Evermore, out this month but if you’re looking for top-shelf dubcon sizzlers, you cannot go wrong with this series. She gets into the hearts and souls of her characters, so much so that she completely subverts your loyalties by the last page.


Take Me, Break Me #1
Bind and Keep Me #2
Make Me Yours Evermore #3

Carrie Clevenger’s the mistress who brought the vampire Xan Marcelles into my life, and she’s recently celebrated the release of a novella, Traitors, which follows on after the happenings of her debut novel, Crooked Fang. If you’re looking for high-octane, bullet-riddled and blood-drenched vampire action, then this story will hit the mark. Xan is one of my all-time favourite narrators, and I love his dry humour.

Buy Traitors on Amazon.






The Circle: Blood Gift by Amy Lee Burgess has been a long time coming. I first encountered the story when she released it as a blog serial. Several hundred thousand words and a number of revisions later, she’s got this awesome novel unleashed upon the world. Becoming a vampire doesn’t solve the protagonist’s problems, and she must work through her past in order to claim her future.

Buy The Circle: Blood Gift on Amazon.


Trancehack by Sonya Clark is what happens when an author says “Screw it, I’m writing the novel I want to read.” I’m so happy for her that she’s had this success with this awesome story where magic users are marginalised in an uneasy, near future. While you’re at it, go check out her Mojo series. She has a way with music, magic and words that will enchant you.


Buy Trancehack on Amazon.




House of Sand and Secrets by Cat Hellisen follows on from her debut novel, When the Sea is Rising Red. It’s a lush, evocative fantasy read set in a world where your caste is everything, and a wealthy heiress does her social standing much damage by her unfortunate choice in marriage. Hellisen’s writing harks back to classic fantasy styles, and will draw you away from the humdrum of real life for a while.

Buy House of Sand and Secrets on Amazon.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Six of the Best with Jason Brawn #books

 Today I've invited Jason Brawn over. He's one of the Bestiarum Vocabulum authors, and he's willingly subjected himself to my magnifying glass as we talk about things of a beastly kind. 

What's your story in the anthology called and what seeded the idea for you?

The Birthing Lady. A haunting tale, fusing English folk horror with J-horror was an idea that struck me the moment Dean gave me the letter U for this anthology. To add to this question, I possess a library of books on myths and legends and crafting out a story on Ubume was the perfect fit for this project.


What got you writing in the first place? What excites you about stories?

It comes down to having a vivid imagination that sometimes runs riot.  Also I consider myself a storyteller as well as a writer. My fiction tends to be dark and suspense driven, whether it’s comedy, horror or science fiction.  I have no idea why, but I find writing relaxing and it demonstrates what I need to say about this world.  I started out writing screenplays, which is a long shot before committing myself to prose.    


Have you got any real-life stories involving animals that scared you?

Only one about an Alsatian wolf dog chasing me down the street, when I was nine years old and weighed over nine stones.  For a while I was scared of dogs.  Now I love them.  

Have you got any favourite animals stories?

Just one about a mischievous dog that was deeply loyal to its owner and whenever he wanted to make a mess, he would always tunnel himself through to next door’s rear garden to poop, burying his mess before returning to the patio covered in mud.  Naughty but nice.

Do you have pets? Do they have any quirks?

I have no pets, but if I were to get one it would have to be a dog because they are loyal and have a great personality.

And now for a short excerpt ...

There she was, gazing straight into the eyes of Lucie Morgan, demanding her full attention. Lucie was scared of this old hag, clad in a filthy white robe with her long, unbound and dishevelled grey hair. She was of Asian descent, Japanese to be precise.
    The air was warm, but Lucie shivered at the vision, knowing that the other figure was a ghost. In the village of Brays Beach, never had she seen a person of colour wandering around its outskirts.
    It was just the two of them, alone in the marshes, overlooking the grim countryside. The overhead clouds were black, and this strange spectre continued to transfix her with her freezing cold stare.
    Lucie wanted to run, but could no longer feel her legs. Movement was impossible.     It was as if her muscles had been crippled by this forbidding being, paralysing her with her glare.
    Black smudges covered the Crone’s wrinkled cheeks and forehead, deepening the shadows and making the ghostly apparition look as if she was centuries old.
    Then, Lucie noticed the bulging object buried inside the woman’s robe. Almost as if she’d read Lucie’s mind, she parted it to reveal a baby soaked in blood.

To purchase Bestiarum Vocabulum on Amazon.co.uk

Find Jason on Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin and Goodreads.

http://jasonbrawn.weebly.com/index.html
http://jasonbrawn.blogspot.co.uk/

Monday, December 16, 2013

Let the cat out of the bag... or should I rather say the dog out of the box...

Okay, it's sold! Wordsmack, an African publisher of speculative fiction, will bring out The Guardian's Wyrd some time next year. Some of you might recall me bashing away furiously at my computer during April this year. I had it in my head to write a story for kids. Only it mutated into something a little edgier aimed at a YA audience rather. Oh, and it has dogs. Or, specifically A DOG.

A Belgian Shepherd, to be exact. They're the next best thing to having a black wolf in a story (and the picture here is of my boy, Nietzsche, who is very good at doing an impression of being a thick, shaggy carpet).

I've had Belgies since I was 11, specifically the Groenendael variety. My first was Sandra, and she was my shadow from the age of 12 all the way to 26. Fourteen good years, and I still get choked up about having to say goodbye to her. I got Nietzsche in 2005 and he's been keeping guard at my gate ever since.

Belgies are very loyal to their people, and make highly alert watch dogs. Traditionally they were bred to be multi-purpose animals: they drew carts, guarded business premises and yes, were used to herd livestock. (Nietzsche, however, is only good at being a carpet, dragging my husband uphill on walks and howling at the moon.)

Nowadays, they're used in police and military work (the Malinois variety), as well as agility and obedience at shows.

I prefer them as the dog with the big heart who's your best mate, who'll go on all your adventures with you and will be your shadow, and The Guardian's Wyrd is a story about friendship, and not being afraid of going through dark places. Adventure, magic, devious beings and mysterious worlds: The Guardian's Wyrd is chock full of it, and I'm looking forward to sharing this tale with you soon.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

P is for púca – The Bestiarum Vocabulum #books

I have another short story out [sound of much rejoicing and fanfare]. P is for Púca, aka If Wishes were Horses is a tale that appears in Western Legends' rather interestingly named Bestiarum Vocabulum (Tres Librorum Prohibitorum). Never mind Roald Dahl's Dirty Beasts... I think this collection will offer some truly terrifying creatures.

Because I'd love for you to go buy this book and add it to your ever-growing pile of reading matter, I'll give you a little teaser of my tale.

“Hey there, lad,” I said to the horse. 
The animal shook its mane, but didn’t look otherwise perturbed by my presence. Then again, he—and I couldn’t help but think of it as a he—was much bigger than me. What did this beast have to fear from one scrawny human woman shivering outside in her nightdress? 
The horse was coal black and, when he moved, dapples of moonlight scattered coins on his hide. His tail swished with the sound of running water but it was his eyes that mesmerised me. They seemed to glow with an unearthly gleam. Or maybe it was just a quirk of the low light. I couldn’t be sure. I thought again of the little horse carving now on the mantelpiece. Of bone bearing a rusty smear of my blood. Here in the dark it was easy to imagine that I had somehow conjured up this steed of dreams whose hooves crushed the foliage in my garden. Even now he bruised the lavender bushes, and the scent hung heavy in the air.
Now go add this to your Goodreads and Kindle.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Six of the best with Tal Valante #books

Today's guest is author Tal Valante, and she's sitting in the hot seat today to endure Six of the Best here at my spot.

You're at a party, and some random stranger finds out you’re an author. You’ve got less than thirty seconds to explain to them what Mindscape is all about. Go!

Mindscape has space battles and an intergalactic war and the courage to serve something bigger than you are. But it’s not about that. It’s about how a man sets out to win the love of his heart. And how, once that love is won, his lover sets out to fight for it against an enemy no one could have imagined. It’s about the physical world and the mental one, and how they dovetail, serving both as a battleground and as the cradle of a great love.

It’s about the small things in life, set against a backdrop of sweeping events. But above all, it’s about two people that belong together and how far they’d go for love. And yes, I can say that in 27 seconds flat.

Tell us more about Mark and Shane’s world. What do you love about the setting and how it shapes them?

I love the concept of having a mindscape: a world with scenery and life that reflects our mental states, and can be shared among two people who are in Resonance. I like the idea that somewhere in the world is a person so attuned to you that the two of you can share much more than words. It feels to me like a natural extension of what we humans already have.

I think that mental bond affects Shane more profoundly than Mark. Shane is a man of rigid masks and control, and in comes this brilliant young fellow who can – literally – see past these things. It’s a new experience for Shane, one that gives him a measure of freedom that he’s never known—the freedom to simply be himself and be loved for it.

I think I would have liked it if someone special could simply see my true self. Imagine how scary it would be, being exposed like that. And imagine how rewarding it would be, being accepted completely for all you really are.

What are some of the themes that you treat in Mindscape? Can you share a little about the story seed that sparked off this tale?

Not without completely ruining the punch line, I’m afraid. Mindscape has started with the climax scene fixed clearly in my mind. The rest was background work, though quite enjoyable. In Mindscape, I tried working with themes of the little man against a backdrop of great events, of the meaning of serving in the army (or space navy, as the case may be), and of the world as we perceive it versus the way it really is.

I also gently explore some reaches of mental instability, and the dynamics of love. It’s an interesting combination that has drawn me before (in All My Crimes) and which I love to explore.

What do you love most about the genre that you write?

The freedom. The absolute, unmitigated freedom. And the paradoxical fact that building a story is all about limiting that freedom in new, interesting ways. Without limits you only get chaos. With boring limits you simply get our world again. But with strange, new limits you can get rich and brilliant worlds that are a pleasure to explore. The more you trust yourself to your invented limits, the more real and authentic the story will read. It’s a little like the paradox of true love – you choose to be chained, and because it’s of your choice, you are in fact free.

Dare I ask about Assassin’s Creed, which you mention in your bio? What do you enjoy about the game?

Oooh, gutsy! I’ll do my best to be brief(-ish). There are two reasons I love this series of games. The first one is the plot. I always feel like I’m reading an interactive book. The first time I sat down to play Assassin’s Creed, I accidentally played it for 27 hours straight – simply because I had to know what happens next.

The third game (Brotherhood) sucked me right in. In the fourth game (Revelations) I actually cried at the end, and I’m talking full fledged sobs here. The story is gripping. The characters are brilliant. There’s a reason AC is a highly active fandom with lots of gorgeous, well-written fanfics (and tons of slash to boot).

The second reason is that I really enjoy creeping up on people and killing them.

Kidding.

Sort of.

What’s currently on the boil with your work in progress? What can your readers expect from you during the next few months?

I have a confession to make: I write slowly. Imagine a crippled snail swimming in half-dry cement. I write even more slowly than that. That’s why it’s been so far between All My Crimes and Mindscape, and why it would probably take me a good while before I finish my current work in progress: In Shadows Made.

What can you expect from In Shadows Made?

Well, it’s a cross between epic fantasy, kinky romance, and a thriller. It’s the story of a young blacksmith and a great lord, set in a world ruled by two god-kings. One story arc is “from enemies to lovers,” which I greatly enjoy writing.

Like Mindscape, it deals with what the world seems to be and what it actually is, and with the question of how far a man would go for the sake of love. It also plays with the theme of masters and slaves. That’s all I can give you without betraying critical details.

Mindscape will release on December 23.

In brief...
The truth will set you free.
Mark Sayre joins the Interstellar Navy for the money – his only goal is to keep his little brother out of the colony mines that sent their father to an early grave. With concepts like duty and honour floating high over his head, he hardly expects to fall for the serious, idealistic Shane Cawley. Not to mention that Shane is his commanding officer... and his Resonance partner, a one-in-ten-thousand mental connection so profound that they can travel in each other’s mindscapes.

Shane Cawley is carrying on the family tradition by serving in the Interstellar Navy. He hardly expects to fall for the quirky, happy-go-lucky Mark Sayre. But as the Resonance between them grows, neither can deny what he feels for the other.

When war breaks out, Mark and Shane find their military training and their Resonance link tested to the edge of sanity. Shane is haunted by memories and flashbacks, and Mark becomes trapped in his own mindscape. But with help from an unlikely ally, they may be able to salvage their futures and the love they share.

Monday, December 9, 2013

The Classic Horror Stories by HP Lovecraft #review

Title: The Classic Horror Stories
Author: HP Lovecraft
Editor: Roger Luckhurst
Publisher: Oxford University Press, 2013

HP Lovecraft is best described as the grandpappy of a genre that can be (un)comfortably labelled as Lovecraftian horror or as falling beneath the banner of the Cthulhu mythos. This particular brand has extended its many-tentacled nastiness into mainstream media, spawning comic books, films and even role-playing games.

If you’ve ever watched Alien, The Evil Dead, The Thing or Dagon, you’ve brushed up against Lovecraft’s legacy. And these are but a few of the better-known end results.

While diehard fans might be disappointed in the selection editor Roger Luckhurst presents in this collection, The Classic Horror Stories will offer newbies an opportunity to sample a range of Lovecraft’s writing in one volume. Some classics, such as The Call of Cthulhu, The Dunwich Horror, At the Mountains of Madness and The Shadow of Innsmouth are present, and Luckhurst includes exhaustive notes in the appendix, which help establish context (useful, if you’d like a little more background). The introduction will offer insight too.

My feelings about HP Lovecraft remain, as always, conflicted. His prose is ponderous, stilted and at times so flowery and dense that it’s impossible to read large sections of his writing in one sitting. To say that he was an eccentric is putting things mildly, and his misanthropy and fear of the other is glaring – amply reflected in the personal isolation of his characters.

Yet he offers a peculiar kind of allure. Mankind is but a fly speck in the greater scheme of things. Our existence inhabits a thin sliver of reality as we know it, and for us to consider that we are more is nothing but conceit.

In the face of Lovecraft’s vast, ageless entities and ancient aeons past, there is no hope for the human race. And those who wish to pry into the mysteries are often rewarded poorly as they try to assimilate their discoveries.

Once you read a handful of Lovecraft’s tales, you are faced with similar themes of gradually unfolding horror in which characters often become enmeshed, unable to extricate themselves from the often ghastly revelations. How the luckless narrator responds to his dilemma has only one of two options: death or madness. Connoisseurs of dark and dismal tales will, however, find this process oddly compelling.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Harvest (Hyddenworld #3) by William Horwood

Title: Harvest (Hyddenworld, #3)
Author: William Horwood
Publisher: Pan Macmillan, 2012

Many of us know William Horwood as the author of the popular Duncton Chronicles, featuring his anthropomorphosised moles. He later did something similar with wolves, and his great love for animals and nature shines through in all he writes.

With the Hyddenworld series, he offers his readers an entire culture attached to the Hydden, a diminutive race that exists parallel to our own but, as the name suggests, out of sight of our world.

Although I didn’t get round to book two of the series, I didn’t feel as though I missed out on key information and could pick up the thread quite easily (although it certainly helped that I’d read the first). Each novel is named after a season – the first is Hyddenworld: Spring, the next Hyddenworld: Summer, and so on.

We continue with familiar characters such as Jack, Katherine and Bedwyn Stort, who are continuing on their quest to find the missing gems – this time the gem of Autumn – before the Earth itself will come to a cataclysmic end.

The antagonists seem a little one-dimensional, with an unmistakable nod to the Nazi regime. Consequently, it’s easy to dislike the sinister, leather-clad Fyrd – which might work for some. I would have loved to have seen bad guys with a little more depth.

These obvious divisions between good and evil are even more apparent when viewing the protagonists – sometimes bumbling, decent folk who happily get on with their lives with good, British cheer.

Fantasy fans who are regular readers of the likes of George RR Martin and Mark Lawrence might find Horwood’s writing a little too sentimental for their GrimDark tastes.

That said, if you’re looking for fantasy that delivers a satisfying, rollicking epic with plenty of feel-good moments and a heavy dose of Celtic myth for flavour, then the Hyddenworld series will probably hit the mark.

Horwood remains a consummate storyteller, vividly capturing each moment. Though sometimes whimsical, his stories offer a deep resonance and tap into those universal myths that make for satisfying tales that stay with you for a long time after you’ve closed the book.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

A Triple-headed Serpent by Marié Heese #review

Title: A Triple-headed Serpent 
Author: Marié Heese
Publisher: Human & Rousseau, 2012

As always, Marié Heese brings the past vividly to life. Though I’ve not read book one of this two-book story of Empress Theodora’s life, I had no problems picking up what had happened beforehand. We join Theodora in the aftermath of a bloody massacre where 30 000 rebels were killed to prevent the overthrow of Emperor Justinian, and Theodora does a lot of soul-searching.

With echoes similar to issues raised in Heese’s The Double Crown, which illuminates the story of the female pharaoh Hatshepsut, we examine the lives of women who take power in a male-dominated society.

Though she started out as the mere daughter of a bear trainer, and was employed as an acrobat and actress, Theodora rose to power and proved herself capable of bearing the mantle of empress. Heese paints a picture of a woman fiercely loyal to her husband, the empire and the Christian faith.

Those interested in depictions of early Christianity might find this story especially fascinating. Heese writes with authenticity and great sincerity on her subjects. Her attention to detail provides a visual feast, especially when it comes to her delight in architecture.

For those who read her Afrikaans novel, Die Uurwerk Kantel (and remember her descriptions of the rose window in the cathedral), Theodora’s interest in the mosaic work and the construction of her Church of the Apostles, as well as the Hagia Sophia, will be a treat. All too often we forget the human elements that inspired these cultural treasures so long ago.

If one character deserves mention, it’s Narses the eunuch, whose journal entries intersperse Theodora’s narrative and offer a counterpoint to her side of the story. His devotion to her is incredibly touching – right until the end – and reminds me of Bagoas in Mary Renault’s The Persian Boy.

Heese’s writing evokes a contemplative mood. Characters reflect on the results of their past actions and, to a degree, there’s a sense of delicious gloom. Death is inevitable, but it’s how you live your life that counts. A Triple-headed Serpent is a fitting tribute to a woman who deserves to be remembered.