Film of the Year 2018: Hereditary

I’m not saying Hereditary is a perfect film, but it comes so close. Combined with the sheer ambition and potential it shows in the first time director Ari Aster, it easily takes the spot as my Film of the Year 2018.

HereditaryHereditary tells the story of Annie Graham, a miniatures artist dealing with the recent death of her estranged mother. After hearing that her mother’s grave has been desecrated, Annie begins to feel her mother’s presence in the house in a reflection of how she had hovered over her in life.

It’s one of those films you can’t say too much about for fear of giving away too much of the story. I can say that members of Annie’s family all take time as the central focus; her social outcast daughter, her disaffected stoner son, and her husband trying to do the right thing as his wife, it seem to him, begins to display the mental illness that runs through her family. And a short way into the film there is a massive shift in direction that I did not see coming and completely changed where I thought the story was going. 

Hereditary, as I said, is not perfect. The opening is strong, as are the characterisation and story. However as you get into the second half it begins to lose its focus. This could have been studio interference, but I have a feeling that it was more a case of Aster wanting us to know the full details of his story and worrying the audience would miss bits. What could have been a tight and pleasingly open narrative that left the viewer to piece everything together gets wrapped nice and neatly so we’re in no doubt as to what has happened.

I’m a massive fan of horror stories that manage to leave you guessing as to whether the supernatural element is real or in the mind of the protagonist, and that’s where this film should have gone. The fact that they spell everything out in the final half hour is a disappointment.

However, it’s still an amazing film. It was divisive, and there were friends of mine I thought would love it saying they were completely disinterested. But for me, this just making the whole thing more interesting. And as I said, for all it’s flaws this film shows Aster as a directer well worth watching. I have very high hopes for what he will create once he’s a more seasoned filmmaker with the confidence to leave the audience guessing.

Book of the Year 2018: ‘Life After Life’ by Kate Atkinson

So my Book of the Year 2018 was actually published in 2013. Yes, I’m kicking these off with an “If I Haven’t Read It, It’s New To Me”. I’ve actually read more new releases this year then I have in the past and really wanted to pick one of those to have an actual book of 2018. (With that in mind I would have picked Laura Purcell’s The Corset, so you should definitely look into that one if you can). But my final choice had to be Life After Life by Kate Atkinson.

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This one grabbed the top spot both because of how good it is, and that it introduced me to Atkinson as a writer. I’ve since read more of her work and she’s shot right up to the top three or four of the list of my favourite writers.

Life After Life is the story of the multiple lives of Ursula Todd. The story starts with her dying at birth on a cold February night. Then it restarts, on the same night, this time with her surviving birth only to die early in childhood. Then it restarts, over and over, each time restarting on the same February night. And each time she brings with her small memories and feeling from her last life to help her shape the next.

While this may sounds a little Groundhog Day, it’s far more complex than that. Ursula doesn’t get reborn with all her memories. All that she retains are images, memories and vague feelings. For example, after one life where she drowns, in her next life when she goes to enter the sea on that day she has an unexplained panic attack, leading someone to notice her going in who is able to rescue her. But unlike Groundhog Day it doesn’t stick to the simplistic idea of retrying your life until you “get it right”. Some of Ursula’s lives are better than others, with each one echoing differently into those that come next. And while most lives are largely similar, some veer off wildly, showing how the smallest chance events can have a massive impact on your life.

What’s amazing about this novel is how Atkinson manages to entwine timelines together. I am a massive sucker for interwoven non-linear timelines in novels. I think it’s something that I know can only go one of two ways; perfectly or crash-and-burn. I’d also want to do something similar one day but I’m not sure I’d be able to pull it off.

Her style is so smooth and natural the concept never seems gimmicky or trite. And you honestly come to care about Ursula and her family. You truly get a feeling of relief when you see her avoiding an event that ruined a previous life.

I honestly can’t recommend Kate Atkinson’s work enough. I’m only three books into her backlog and looking for the rest each time I’m out for a new read. 

2018: Looking back, then forward

Wow. Six months. I’ve really not been good and keeping this blog updated. I wanted to at least post once a month this year, to keep things alive and connecting to you all. That didn’t work out did it? I’ve had plenty of ideas for blog posts. I’ve just either lacked the time or motivation to put them down onto the page. So my bad, sorry.

But now it’s Christmas. The tree is up, the cards have been posted, and I off work until the New Year. So at last I can give this blog some love and catch up with you all.

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The bookshelf is feeling the Christmas spirit

2018, and things that have been

2018 has been a mixed bag. Some amazing highs, some deep lows. So overall, not great but not terrible.

Let’s start with a high, our new house. It’s been a year, and we still love living out here (unless we’re traveling back from Central London late at night). Most things are all sorted now. All the important things anyway. There’s lots of little things that still need to be fixed or put in, but they’ll get picked up as and when we save up the cash.

The biggest low was losing one of my good friends to cancer in the summer. I’ve had grandparents pass away, but that’s something you kind of expect. This is the first time a friend, someone my own age, has died. It’s something different entirely, and the thoughts I’ve had about it have been hard to express. The idea that one of those people I just unthinkingly expected would be around for decades to come has gone forever is… I think the best word to describe it is unsettling. I’ve had a post about my feelings on this in my head for months. I’ve just not managed to get it down onto the page yet. Maybe this year.

On to my writing. Despite my stated goals at the start of the year, I haven’t managed to get my latest book finished. In general my creative energy has been really low this past year. I just haven’t been feeling the mojo. Which is why there have been so few posts on here, really. When I’ve had the time and energy I’ve needed to focus it on the book rather than one off ideas.

One thing I did manage was to get to more writing events. These were a mixed bag.

York Festival of Writing: York, of course, excellent as always. I can’t really say much more about this event than I have before. Three days of writing courses followed by socialising (drinking) with agents and other writers. I caught up with old friends, left with some new ones, and had a couple of agents ask to see my manuscript. Hopefully we’ll see something come from this in 2019.

Edge-Lit / Sledge-Lit: These are one day events in Derby, and I had a great time at these. I stayed in Derby overnight both times, but next time I’ll probably just drive up and back on the day as nothing happens in the evenings. I got to catch up with friends and meet new writers, which was awesome. Also, Edge-Lit comes with a goodie back of books!

Winchester Writing Festival: This one was less of a success. I had high hopes for Winchester, as it looked pretty similar to York. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out like that. While the courses were fine and the Agent one to ones are there, it just lacked the social aspect. People were too spread out, the halls of residence were a ten to fifteen minute uphill walk from the campus, and the bar held a Open-Mic night both nights. While that’s a fine idea, it means you can’t actually talk to anyone. And if I can’t meet and connect with people. what’s the point? I might try it again next year, but I’ll just attend the Saturday and then go home.

 

2019, and things that are to come

My main aim in 2019 is to get What They Really Know 100% complete. It’s been over two years that I’ve been working on this one. It’s been just generally hard to write. The first draft just did not want to come together and while the rewrites were easier I just haven’t felt the creative mojo. I’m still proud of it though. Currently it’s with my Alpha Readers, and as long as none of them come back with any major changes it should be a final round of polishing and copy-edits and then I’ll be ready to send it out. Fingers crossed.

While I’m waiting to hear back I’ve started working on my next project. This one’s working title is A Better Thing We Do. It’s an idea I’ve had in my head for years, and it’s the one I’m most excited to work on next. I’ve been pulling together ideas over the last month, and actually in the last couple of weeks I’ve had a burst of creativity and have the first draft of several chapters in place. So, fingers crossed this one will be easier to write.

Finally, I want to keep this blog updated a little better. Even if all I put up are mini-reviews of books I’m reading or films I’ve seen. Hopefully I’ll manage more than that, but we’ll see.

See you all next year.

Out Now

And remember, both The Serpent’s Eye and The Æther Collection are available now. If you’re looking for a present for the reader or book fan in your life, or just want to pick up a good horror story as a gift for yourself, click the links to grab your copy now.

Happy New Year

I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas!

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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.

2018

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.

My 2016 Book of the Year

This year, I’ve decided to post a few of the highlights I’ve come across in 2016 to share with you all. They won’t necessarily be things published or released this year, but will all be relatively recent works that I – at least – discovered in 2016.

 

I had to put a bit of thought into my favourite book from this year, as the one that I’ve ultimately decided upon was actually released back in 2011. But as I was given this as a gift last Christmas, and therefore only read it for the first time in 2016, I have decided it can count. Because this is my personal list, and I get to make the rules.

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In a world where real-life has become almost unliveable, where the class and wage gaps are bigger than ever and a majority of people live in poverty, most of the world live within OASIS; a fully immersive virtual world, that functions as both an MMORPG and online society where most people go to school and hold their jobs. But when the creator and owner of OASIS dies, he leaves ownership of it to whoever can solve a complex treasure hunt based on obscure 1980s trivia. And whoever owns OASIS becomes one of the richest and most powerful people in the world.

When teenager Wade Watts manages to solve the first riddle, his life becomes a race between him, his friends and peers, and the multinational corporation which will stop at nothing to gain control of OASIS.

This book is just so fresh and clever. Well researched – Cline obviously has an encyclopedic knowledge of the ‘80s and early computer games – and expertly written, Ready Player One perfectly encapsulates my generation’s culture and attitudes. Cline manages to mine the current fashion for modernised nostalgia while commenting on how just fragile the line between the real world and escapism has become.

It’s just such a shame that his follow up – Armada – which did come out this year, is so mind-bogglingly awful. Seriously, don’t bother wasting your time unless you want a perfect example of an author buckling under the pressure of a smash hit debut.

2016: Looking back, then forward

So, that was 2016. It’s been a bit of a year all told, hasn’t it? Remember that old curse; “May you live in interesting times”? I think a lot of us have gained a new appreciation for that one over the last twelve months.

But anyway, the Christmas trees are up, the cards posted, and the final gifts are being wrapped, so as the year draws to a close let’s have a look back on everything that’s been happening here.

2016, and things that have been

The big news this year has been, of course, the publication of The Æther Collection, a themed collection of horror short stories. (If you’ve not picked up your copy yet, you can do so now in paperback or ebook now).

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My original reason for deciding to do a collection of short stories rather than a single full-length novel was that it would allow me to post them up as and when they were completed. After finishing The Serpent’s Eye I didn’t want to have another two years pass by without having anything new to release, so I thought rather than intersperse a longer project with breaks for short stories I would just do a full collection I could just release as I went.

It was an interesting experiment, but I’m glad I did it. It’s taught me a lot about structure and theme, as well as giving me very useful experience working in a non-linear fashion. I’ve always been someone who revises their book in a linear order and finds it hard to jump about their manuscript while being able to keep the overall picture in my head. Hopefully, I’ll now be a little better at focusing on small sections in isolation, working on the weakest points in a narrative without having to work through parts that don’t need work as urgently.

With this being a short story collection, I honestly wasn’t expecting any attention from agents. I’ve been told directly that authors aren’t picked up based on short stories. So the fact that I had three personal, positive responses has really picked me up. While – as I predicted – none of them wanted to sign me up this time around, each of them said they really liked my writing and asked me to send them a working version of my next full novel as soon as I think it’s ready. So that’s one step closer.

The decision to focus my time on The Æther Collection has meant that I’ve not been able to get much in the way of stand-alone short stories done this year. I have been working on a couple, as and when I could but, unfortunately, I haven’t been able to get any placed. I do have a couple nearly ready to go out, and a few submissions I’ve not heard back from yet, so fingers crossed for better luck next year.

I have, however, had a couple of articles published on the Huffington Post. The first was a defence of the NHS on the anniversary of my wife’s transplant, and the second was a few thoughts on the state of the UK Labour Party. I enjoy doing these more serious works every so often, but they tend to only get written when Inspiration and Having Time coincide.

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The Festival of Writing in York was again one of the highlights of my year. Getting to visit York is always worth it, and getting to spend the weekend hanging out with other writers is even better. I got to catch up with a couple of friends from 2015 and make a couple of new ones. I’d really love to go to more events like this. There are plenty of conferences and lectures around the country each year. I know it’s partly laziness that keeps me from properly researching, but I know that time and money constraints will always be an issue. Maybe in 2017 I’ll be able to put a little more effort into this side of things and I’ll get to a few more.

And the other new thing I tried this year was my Halloween Countdown. I had a lot of fun putting this together, and I think I’d like to make it an annual thing. Next year I hope to try and make it from films released during the previous year, rather than from the last few years. Not only would this mean I was helping share the work of hard working, aspiring filmmakers, it means I have an excuse and reasons to spend my time watching horror shorts online.

So hopefully this October I’ll be able to do a countdown of my favourite shorts released in 2017. Maybe I’ll even get the countdown right this time.

Oh, and thanks to my sister – who is also my designer – I was able to attend the memorial for Sir Terry Pratchett. It doesn’t seem much in the grand scheme of things, but being able to attend such a celebration, surrounded by other fans, was a really wonderful experience and helped me say goodbye to the man who really got me into reading, and therefore writing.

 

2017, and things that are to come

So, what do I have coming up next year?

My big project for 2017 is a novel, provisionally titled New Perceptions. (This is a very provisional title, mainly picked so I had something to name the Scrivener file when I started and so almost certain to change.) I’m not going to say much about it, as I don’t even have the first draft completed yet and there are likely to be many changes. Right now, I’m wrestling to get the third act together. I’m currently hoping to have something ready to get out to alpha-readers in the summer. Then, in an ideal world, I’d have something ready for agents by the end of the year, but I know full well it always takes longer than I’m hoping.

However, I can say that it will be a coming-of-age haunted house story and a full-length, single story novel. After a novella and a short story collection, I feel that my new project needed to be a full-length novel, both for creative and commercial reasons. Creative, because it’s the next logical step in my growth as a writer to show I’m able to grow and develop character and plot across 70,000 words. And commercial, as I’ve been told multiple times that agents and publishers will only pick up new authors with a full-length novel to sell.

And as I mentioned earlier, I’ve already had agents ask to see a working draft so I’m telling myself I’m starting this one already a couple of steps ahead. Fingers crossed.

Hopefully I’ll have time for a couple of side projects – stories or articles, and of course blog posts – in between drafts, but we’ll see. I really want to focus on getting this complete over the next year, so may really need to focus.

So, here’s wishing you a great Christmas and an amazing 2017! Here’s hoping this one’s a little less “interesting”. Or at least only exciting in good ways.

Out Now

And remember, both The Serpent’s Eye and The Æther Collection are available now on Amazon, iBooks and other online stores. If you’re looking for a present for the reader or book fan in your life, or just want to pick up a good horror story as a gift for yourself, click the links to grab your copy now.

 

 

 

2015: Looking back, then forward

Happy New Year, folks. How was your 2015? I think I can safely say that mine was definitely one of the more eventful years in my life.

2015 and things that have been

So, looking back at this year, was there possibly anything that kept me a little too busy to get as much writing done as I would have liked?

Oh yes, my wife going through a kidney transplant. That was it.

It has to be said my family started off 2015 on a bit of a stressful note. On February 9th my wife went through a transplant to receive a kidney from my sister. Understandably, this took all my focus and energy for quite a while. Between the build up, preparations, the stress of the day of the operation itself, visiting them both in hospital and then looking after Frankie during the recovery period, I think I can say the first 3 months of the year were a write off, writing wise.

And then this autumn I’ve had a massive project at the day job that completely absorbed all my mental energy. I’m not complaining as such. I like my day job, and bigger projects means more responsibility means more chance of advancement. But between working through lunch breaks and coming home exhausted I essentially lost another couple of months of writing time.

So I think I can say I lost at least five months of 2015 for writing. That’s not to say I didn’t get anything done in that time. It’s just that I had other things on my mind that had to take precedence.

One thing I did get done was producing the paperback edition of The Serpent’s Eye. Like the e-book, putting this together turned out to be one hell of a learning curve, but I’m happy at how it turned out. Especially as I had very little idea what I was doing. There are a couple of small things I would like to tweak, but they’re tiny in the overall scheme of things. But my designer tells me there are a couple of little things she can see now it’s a physical book she would like to fix, so there may be an updated version sometime in the future if we get around it it. And at the moment that’s a big if, as there are plenty of more important things to get done first.

Short-story wise, it wasn’t a prolific year. The thing with so much else going on simply did not have the time to work on any independent projects. I had to prioritise. Annoyingly, the anthology with which I was involved, with Thomas Hill Publishing, fell through, so that story is now looking for a new home. However I was included in Verto Publishing’s Halloween Celebration. Those of you who caught it were able to read the first story in The Æther Collection, complete with a wonderful illustration from P. Emerson Williams. It’s still up, so head over if you want to check it out.

The rest of the year got taken up by working on The Æther Collection. 

And I feel I do have to mention that this year we lost possibly one of the greatest English writers, and the man who got me into reading; Sir Terry Pratchett. I’ve written about my feelings on his passing here, so I won’t go into them again. But it’s sad that 2016 will be the first year since I was born that there won’t be a new Discworld novel to look forward to.

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I will keep you all updated on my sister’s campaign/project to get a permanent statue of Sir Terry erected in Salisbury. I think we can definitely call it a project now as everyone involved seems onboard. Watch this space for updates.

2016, and things that are to come

So the big project for this year is, of course, completing The Æther Collection. At the start of last year I had hoped to get this done for Christmas, but obviously with everything going on it has been pushed back. I do have the first full draft completed and with my Alpha Readers (you can read more on that here) and should hopefully have notes to begin redrafting by the end of January. I’m not sure how many more drafts it’s going to need, but my gut is telling me a least four more; one from readers notes, another just from myself, a second round of notes, then a final polish and copyedit.

The Æther Collection - 4th Draft

Of course, now I’ve said this, it will take far longer. At this point I’m hoping for a June release at the latest. I want to have time to get it out to agents and small press publishers, but I will put this out myself if this process takes too long. June would be two years since the original release of The Serpent’s Eye, which would be nice timing. But of course I don’t want to rush anything. Watch this space for more updates.

Outside of this main project I do have other plans. I would like to get a couple more short stories done this year and get them into anthologies. I have one I’m finally getting to finish at the moment, and at least two more in early draft stages, waiting for their turn. Possibly these will be palette cleanser projects between drafts of The Æther Collection. I would really like to get these done early in the year and start submitting them, but we’ll see. The Æther Collection has to take priority.

I’m also beginning to get annoyingly excited about my next big project. It’s a haunted house story, filtered through the views of an adolescent girl trying to fight to discover her place in the world while insisting that she shouldn’t have to fight for it. Over the last couple of months various ideas have begun to slip into my mind, fleshing out the main concept and I’m ready to start writing. This is great, but not quite so much when I need to get the previous project completed before I can get started. But hopefully I’ll have a least a first draft of this done by this time next year.

I’ve had a great little break over Christmas. I’ve kept away from the keyboard almost completely to allow my brain to rest. Now I’m itching to get back to work.

See you all in 2016.

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