Review: A Blink of the Screen

I can never quite get my head around Terry Pratchett doing short fiction. I don’t know why, but for me he’s a long form writer. That’s not to say anything in this collection is bad, far from it. Possibly its because he books usually have so many layers and meanings and shorter fiction doesn’t really have time for these. Pratchett himself says – in his notes – that he found short fictions hard to to, so maybe he thought the same thing.


So reading A Blink of the Screen is enjoyable, yet slightly weird. We’re in that strange place where you’re defining each work as inferior to his full novels, but inferior Pratchett is still superior to most writers. I think, if I had to put my finger on it, the issue I have is all of them feel like rough ideas waiting to be developed. As if Pratchett was simply putting down an idea on paper, fleshing it out a little bit with the intention of coming back later. I couldn’t help feeling like there was more there somewhere.

The most obvious example of this being that one of the stories in this collection is almost literally a synopsis of Truckers. Each of the other stories feel like they could be the same.

I did love the longer Discworld story, The Sea and Little Fishes though. That was a wonderful stand alone Granny Weatherwax story that could have been a subplot in a larger book, but actually works well on its own and made me want to pick up one of the older Discworlds that I haven’t read in a while.

I really enjoyed reading this collection, more-so than I did it’s companion collection, A Slip of the Keyboard, which collects his non-fiction works. Pratchett was never an author lacking confidence, style, or ability. But reading through this collection is an interesting way for a fan of his work – which should of course be everyone – so gain a snapshot of how his writing developed.


Happy World Book Day all you Comfortable Books, you…

Happy World Book Day, everyone.

As is tradition, children all over the UK have gone to school dressed up as characters from their favourite books. Or this year, more likely, stayed at home due to schools being closed by the snow and spent the day actually reading their favourite books.

That’s what kids do on snow days, right? Curl up and read? I’m not a parent, but I’m pretty sure that’s right.

Anyway, I thought that in honour of this day rather than talking about one of my favourite books I would instead discuss those comfortable books we all love. You know the ones I mean. The ones that have been on your shelves for longer than you can remember. The ones you have been read countless times; because you needed something familiar and friendly to get you through a tough time, had nothing new to read, or just wanted to re-read an old favourite. You know the story like the back of your hand, but they’re either so good or have such sentimental value that you could never lose interest. The ones with worn down covers and curling pages, adorned with multiple tiny tears that broke your heart at the time but now seem part of its overall cosiness. They are not something you bought with the intent of it becoming like this. It’s something that just develops over time. 

I love hardback books. They may be harder to carry around or read on the go, but there is just something solid and satisfying about them. Once an author is on my Favourites List I’ll always start picking up their books in hardback rather than paperback. But sometimes you just can’t beat a comfortable, beaten up old paperback. 

img_0118I’ve actually just finished re-reading one of these; Ken Follett’s Pillars of the Earth. Look at it there. I believe that I “acquired” this one from my parents. If I remember correctly, I borrowed it to read at university, and have simply never returned it. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve read and re-read it over the following 13 years, and I’ve no idea how many time other members of my family did so before me. Each time he published a follow up I bought them straight away, in hardback of course, but but I could never bring myself to replace this one.

Not all books like this survive. I remember watching as my family’s copies of the Discworld books were read into oblivion; slowly falling apart or becoming damaged until they were replaced, with like for like or by more durable hardcover upgrades. And when I left home and had to buy them for myself, I always picked them up in hardcover, or course. You don’t buy your favourite author of all time in paperback if you have the choice. 

But this one has lasted. It’s 28 years old now, and I’m sure within a few years I’ll feel the urge to pick it up, open it’s ragged cover and read the smooth, gently yellowing pages once again. Who knows, maybe it’ll last another twenty years or so until I have children old enough to give it ago and it will somehow transfer my my collection to theirs. Or maybe not.

I’ll never stop buying hardbacks. But whatever their qualities they’ll never quite have the same character as a good, well-worn and well-loved paperback.

Review: Uzumaki

When you’re reading horror, what you want to discover is a book that takes something mundane and everything and manages to make you see in it something new and unsettling that will make you question, if only for a short while, whether those things you’ve always considered safe are truly so.

And so when you find something as deliciously twisted and original as Uzumaki it’s impossible not to love it.


Uzumaki tells the story of a Kurôzu-cho, a town haunted not by ghosts or monsters, but by a pattern. A Spiral. The books is broken down into episodic stories, each one telling the next stage in the story of how more and more of the population first slowly become obsessed with The Spiral, that pattern that permeates the world. Through the eyes of Kirie Goshima, a teenager seemingly in the centre of it all, we gradually the episodes begin see how something so everyday as a pattern reoccurring in nature can in fact be a sign of something far more ancient and terrifying.

I absolutely loved this story. I’m a total sucker for twisted horror like this, where the everyday world is gradually shifts and reveal that there is no place to hide from the things we thought were safe. Add to this beautifully grotesque artwork that seriously made me double-task several times while I read, and this becomes something you simply cannot put down.

My only quibble was that some of the middle chapters felt a little too stand alone. With some of the stories is was hard to put aside reality when wondering why people in the weren’t reacting more to what was happening to them. Even if it had been something simple like a few lines pointing out that it was strange how little people were reacting, rather than accepting and getting on with their lives.

But as the story continues and all the elements begin to come together this issue fades away. Once you’ve got to the end the way people act makes more sense. I would have just liked the final explanation behind to have been seeded a little earlier to prevent these niggling feelings.

But that minor issue aside I can’t recommend this book enough, and I will be looking for more of Junji Ito’s work as soon as my current reading pile goes down a little bit more.

Review: A Column of Fire

Once more this year I find a book I would normally love cursed by its own quality. Or in this case, the quality of what came before it.


This is the third book in the Kingsbridge series. Or at least I guess it’s a series now there are three books. The first book, Pillars of the Earth, told the story of the building of Kingsbridge Cathedral, intertwining the lives and relationships of all those involved against the backdrop of the national upheaval of The Anarchy. The second book, World Without End managed to pick up the story a couple of hundred years later, taking us back to the same place and the descendants of the original characters as the Cathedral undergoes further work. It succeeded in bringing together the same elements once again with enough change to create a new story without feeling like it were retreading old ground.

Unfortunately, while A Column of Fire is an amazing book in its own right it doesn’t quite hit the same notes as its predecessors. This time the story sits during the time of the Catholic/Protestant conflicts during the time of Elizabeth the First. However this time the national event take prominence, with the link to Kingsbridge almost coincidental. Again the characters are descendants of the previous casts, but this time the town of Kingsbridge is merely their home town and has no plot of its own, while the characters take part in the national drama.

This doesn’t make the book bad. It’s an excellent piece of historical fiction. But without the local point of view taking prominence it lacks the same grounded charm as its predecessors. I would definitely recommend this book, but if you’re a fan of the previous books don’t expect exactly the same feel this time around.

Review: Herring Girl

This is one of my “Pick A Random Book I Know Nothing About” purchases, and this time around I had great luck with my selection. Debbie Taylor’s Herring Girl is an amazing book. Almost perfect in fact, if it weren’t for the fact that it manages to disappoint me through its not living up to its own promise. It’s strange when the main thing that detracts from the quality of a novel is itself. That’s how I feel about Herring Girl.


The story is set up with Ben, a 12 year old boy with gender dysmorphia who’s desperate for a sex change before puberty sets in. Learning he has to have a psychological assessment he starts visiting a local doctor who leads him into past-live regression. Together they uncover the mystery of Anne, a young girl who went missing at the turn of the previous century and may, they believe, have been Ben’s previous life.

It goes on to explore the idea of reincarnation and group reincarnation, weaving together an incredibly compelling story and truly beautiful writing. I always take gushing cover quotes with a pinch of salt, but Taylor’s writing is so beautifully researched and realised that it’s impossible not to find yourself immersed in the world of an 1890s fishing town. The passion behind it shines through. I’ve never read a historical novel that managed to so complete put you right there in the immediacy of the period.

But the half of the story set in 1898 is told so well, the present-day sections just don’t keep up. The characters are great, but the story in these parts seems to coast along as a vehicle for the Past Life sections. That’s not to say they are bad, not at all. They’re just not as good as the other sections.

The main thing that bothered me was how the gender dysmorphia plotline fell back the wayside. I thought this was going to be a really interesting story, as it was clear Taylor had done her research and created the character so well that I wanted to know more about this side of them. But as soon as the past-life murder mystery kicks in the original plotline is barely mentioned again until the end.

I also felt that the reincarnation idea and past life regression therapy concept fell into place felt a little too easily. It seemed far to simple for someone to recall a previous life, and the way they were all linked was just a little too easy. The only obstacle seemed to be that certain people didn’t believe in it on principle. It has a lot of similar ideas and themes to Katherine Kerr’s Deverry Cycle, but where in a fantasy novel it’s easier to take outlandish ideas at face value, in a real-world setting I would have expected a little more difficulty.

It definitely picks up again towards the end, and the climax is astoundingly well written and wraps up the story perfectly. But such an intriguing opening and such a emotionally devastating ending, I just felt that the middle coasted along a little too much.

I can’t help but feel I’m being unfair to this book, as I’m only being harsh due to it’s own high standards. But there we are. It’s still a definite recommendation.

It took 19 films, but it finally happened

I made it through Jessie’s song.
I made it through saying goodbye to Boo.
I made it through the garbage incinerator.
I made it through Andy giving away Woody for the last time.
I made it through Carl and Ellie’s life story. 
I made it through Bing Bong’s sacrifice.

But then he sang Remember Me to Mama Coco.


Apparently it’s Pixar’s goal to keep making movies until they’ve made everyone, ever, tear up in the cinema.

If you get the chance, go see Coco. I need time to let the immediacy settle, but this may be my favourite Pixar film yet. Certainly this is the first film in years I’ve actively wanted to go see a second time in the cinema.

On a break, or “I hate downtime”

When looking for tips on writing on a book, one of the big ones you’ll be given is that once you finish each draft you should put it away in a drawer for x amount of time. This gives you a break, letting you relax your brain and come back to it fresh.

What they don’t say is how hard this is!

Writing is, by its nature, something that totally engrosses your mind. You’re crafting something by putting yourself in the middle of an imaginary world, creating, destroying and rearranging every little piece one by one. First you work in broad sweeps, then slowly dig deeper and deeper until you’re swapping words and punctuation back and forward as you try and find the perfect configuration of language. By the time you’ve finished a draft you’ve thought and rethought over ever bit of it so many times it becomes impossible to see the wood for the trees. You can remember every change and option not chosen to the point where you honestly can’t tell whether or not you made the right choice.

This is why giving yourself that space is important. You need to be able to clear out your mind and come back to it later with a new perspective. It’s a simple thing, really. Often, problems you couldn’t get through for love nor money suddenly give up obvious solutions you just couldn’t see before. The mistakes that need correcting become clearer, as does the realisation of which bits work and no longer need as much attention.

The problem is how suddenly having nothing to work on is something I’m not good at.

After so long trying to cram as much writing into what free time you have – especially when you have a day-job or family – suddenly having that time free just feels wrong. Today on my lunch break I’ve gone through some messages, organised some photos from the holidays on my phone, browsed social media a little, and written this blog post. And there’s still ten minutes left to kill.

But all I want to is get on with my book!

I think a large part of this is down to the fact that when you’re still looking for your big break its hard to fight the feeling you’re not moving forward. I can’t get an agent without sending them my work. I can’t send them my work until it’s finished. It’s not finished until its good enough. It won’t get good enough without my putting time and effort into it.

And when I’m not actively writing, then it doesn’t feel like I’m trying.I want, more than anything, to get my writing career off the ground. I have a – relatively – organised mind and I know each of the steps I need to follow. But the main step – the process of actually writing the book – takes so long that it can feel like I’m not moving forward at all. I hate the people who say they want something and then don’t try as hard as they can to make it happen. I don’t want to be one of those people, but I can’t help the fact that’s how I feel between drafts.

And so here I am, not working on my WIP, and forcing myself to believe that’s okay.

Luckily I have the fact that there is no point in my working on my WIP until I get notes back from my Alpha Readers. Currently I’m waiting on two more people to give me their notes, and until then it’s pointless my doing any work. And so I’m forced to stay away from my manuscript until they’re done.

I often wonder if this feels different for established authors. I know they have a entirely different set of worries, but when you have a agent and a publisher, when your work has been published before and you have a solid book deal in place, and when you can know that whenever you finish your WIP it will almost certainly get published, is this need to keep writing to get to the point where you can actively push forward with the “real” steps towards getting published still such a big thing? Or are you able to step away when you need to without feeling guilty?

Maybe one day I’ll be able to look back at this post and answer my own question. I can but hope.

Happy New Year

I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas!


The fact that my jumper, Frankie’s top, and Frankie’s hair all match is a complete coincidence. Please ignore.

So, let’s have a look back at 2017 shall we?

The Year in General

People seem to have mixed feelings with this past year. Some focus on all the unsettled, worrying things that have been happening, while other seem determined to list everything good that’s gone unreported. I think I find myself more in the latter group. While there is certainly a lot of shit going on out there – shit that we certainly need to be paying attention too and using to wake everyone up to deal with – I believe that the general consensus of “It’s Been A Shit Year” is one of those things that people are buying into because people are buying into it. In the same way people go obsessed with the idea that 2016 was “The Year All the Celebrities Died”, I don’t think 2018 has been that bad. Overall, at least. 

It’s just that the bad stuff is so prominent that you can’t ignore it. People like to ignore the bad stuff. We don’t want to deal with it. But it’s important that while fighting the bad we don’t forget the good (in the same way we shouldn’t allow the good to distract us from the bad).

Life is always a mess, is what I’m saying. Make of it what you will, I suppose.

So. What about me? Specifically about me. This is my blog, after all. I think I can allow myself a little vanity and assume you’re interested

New House

We’ve moved house. We’d been in out last one for just over seven years, and decided it was time for an upgrade. So we’ve moved another step out into the fringes of London and found ourselves something a little bigger.

The actual date was in late November, but the months prior were filled with planning, paperwork, house-hunting, packing, mortgage agreements, and – above all of that – that stress that permeates all house moves that comes from knowing that at any point the whole thing could fall apart and dump you back at square one. And the month since then has been an ongoing attempt to unpack boxes, tracking payments, and trying to turn out new house into our new home.

Overall, I have to admit the whole thing was relatively straightforward. We had one house fall through, but found a better one straight away and had a chain of just three, all of whom desperately wanted to have moved by Christmas. Apparently our estate agent couldn’t remember another time when there had been no more than three weeks between the offer being accepted and the completion date. So, go us! 

The problem was that all of this corresponded with the busiest month of the year at work. Yep, no big chunk of annual leave for me. No solid week taken to get everything done in a concentrated block. Just solid work all day followed by sorting out all the details of a house move in the evening. Which lead to exhaustion, and a month spent fighting off anxiety and depression. Just what you need in the run up to Christmas. 

But we’re here now, and slowly getting everything sorted. And as soon as I find my drill bits I’ll be able to get on with that. 

Work in Progress

As you will have seen back in July, I finally wrapped up the first draft of my WIP; provisionally titled New Perceptions. Just before Christmas I managed to wrestle the second draft in place as well. This has been greatly helped that my commute now involved a half hour on the tube which allows me additional writing time.

I’m handling my editing on this one a little differently that my previous works. In the past I’ve usually simply gone through the document from start to finish, moving things around as I find them and adding/removing as I go, with each new “Draft” completed as I reach the end of the document. This time I’ve tried something different and have spent more time analysing the structure and pace. I’ve gone through and broken the whole thing done and built it up again from scratch. I actually found an online course that serendipitously began just after I finished the first draft, which helped a lot working on my second.

So, currently I’m on draft two, which on my previous numbering would probably be around four or maybe five. I think this method is going to be better, as a problem I have is a reluctance to break my drafts up too much and give myself more work to do. This one has a more academic, structural approach. Let’s see where it takes me.

But now it’s with my Alpha Readers, giving me a nice break away from it while I await their notes. Although – literally which writing this post – one of them has come back to me already. All of them are this fast I may need to give myself more time.


So what are my plans for the coming year. At this point the only real goal I’m setting myself is to finish New Perceptions. Hopefully the day job will settle down in the New Year, and as I get everything sorted with the house I’ll have my lunch breaks back. Also, as I mentioned above my commute now includes at leat half an hour on the tube, which means more writing/reading time. I’m planning on reading on one journey, writing on the other.

Thank God for Scrivener on the iPad.

I have contact details for a couple of agents who have said they’re happy to see an early draft, so hopefully I’ll have it in a good enough state to send it to these ones in the spring. Otherwise, I want to have an agent ready version done for September and the Festival of Writing.

But, as always, I know it will take far longer than I’m planning. So who knows.

I do have a couple of other goals for this year, but as of the time of writing they are something I’m keeping secret. Hopefully by the time 2019 rolls around I’ll have already revealed these, but we’ll see.

That’s kind of it, for now. I’d really wanted to to do much more on here for the New Year, repeating my review of the year from last year. Unfortunately I was simply too burned out by the time Christmas came around. Combine that with falling ill once we were back from seeing the family, I’ve just not had the time or the energy.

So now I’ll leave you, and wish you all a wonderful New Year. And hopefully I’ll manage to stay in touch a little better in the future.

Bad 1970s designers. Shame on you.

I’ve been doing some research for my WIP, and has unfortunately meant I’ve needed to look up images of home decoration from the 1970s.
Is there any career more tainted, disgusting, or embarrassing to admit than to know you were once an interior designer in the 1970s? To have people know that you were one of those… creatures… who decided the world needed something like this to exist?
I know that every generation and era has a different style and aesthetic, and following generations will move on to something new and consider the style of the past laughable and old. But seriously, there’s a difference between people looking stupid in old photos and people making the conscious decision to make their homes as ugly as physically possible.
Seriously, anyone who lived through the 1970s has forfeited their right to ever comment on design of any nature. Ever.


So I managed to get The Æther Collection into a Book Bubs deal this weekend. It was expensive, but was it worth it?

It may not last long, but I’ll take being #1 across all horror short story collections on Amazon for however long it lasts.