Recommendation: “Lost Empires” by JB Priestley

This is the second of J.B. Priestley’s novels I’ve read, and I am developing a definite love for his work.

Like The Good Companions – the previous Priestley novel I read – Lost Empires is a slice of life story set during the golden age of vaudeville and variety.The story is framed as the recollections of Richard Herncastle, an elderly painter, of the year he spent as the assistance and stage manager for his uncle, a successful magician on the variety circuit, before the outbreak of the Great War. The book read differently to more modern novels, and the plot isn’t set around some Big Adventure. The times and characters speak for themselves, portraying the tail ends of two worlds: The Golden Age of music hall variety, and English society before the destructive chaos of the War.

This isn’t to say that nothing happens, but rather that the event happen as they do in real life; as and when they come. Character come and go, in the way we expect in real life. Character grow no in sudden bursts of realisation and action, but over time and circumstances dictate.

But as much as you enjoy this beautiful written, soft depiction of a different time, when you reach the end you suddenly find yourself facing the sudden drop of “An Example Of It’s Time”. Throughout the book there are plenty of examples of what I came to think of as “patronising feminism”. Priestly clearly meant well, and was quite progressive for his time (Lost Empires was published in 1965). But that doesn’t free him from the prejudices of his time. You can’t say all his descriptions of women were complimentary, even if he meant them to be. We know better now. But while you can let these by, the ending is harder to swallow. The final climactic story consists of Richard and his uncle working to help a murderer flee the country because the girl he killed had been flirting with him for so long without any intention of sleeping with him that they don’t consider it fair for him to be arrested and executed for it, considering it the victims own fault that he snapped and killed her.

*Awkward cough*

So yeah, there’s that to be aware of. But as long as you can put that aside – like I said, this needs to be put aside as “And Example Of Its Time” and that the author had no malicious feelings other than the standard unconscious prejudices of the society he lived in – then this is a wonderful novel to sit back and enjoy.

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.

My 2016 Game 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.

 

While SOMA came out in 2015, I played it over the winter and completed it in 2016.

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Suffering from brain damage after a car crash, Simon Jarrett agrees to an experiment brain-scan. Blacking out half way through, he wakes to find himself in a seemingly abandoned deep sea research facility in the year 2104. What follows, as Simon tries to work out what has happened, is a terrifying exploration of the nature of the human soul and the sense of self.

This is one of those games you irritatingly can’t say much about in a review for fear of giving too much away. Half the appeal of SOMA is the experience of playing and discovering the story for yourself.

If you’ve played any of the Amnesia series of games, then you’ll have an idea of the gameplay. But SOMA is a massive step up in terms of story and voice acting. This is a story-driven, survival horror game, so you’re not going to be battling monsters. Rather, you’ll be running from them, helpless, as you solve puzzles and try to work out what the hell is going on. But as you creep or spirit through the game world you discover a plot that’s both depressing and fascinating. It will make you really think about who “you” are, and then leave you in a deep, existential mire.

Honestly, when I finished this game I lay awake at night with an honest to god existential crisis. It will make you question your very existence.

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I wouldn’t exactly call this a “fun” game, although I don’t want to give the wrong impression from that statement. What I mean is, this isn’t something you throw on after a stressful day at work when you just want to switch your brain off for some mindless entertainment. You’re going to have to think through this one. Not because it’s especially hard, but because the story is so smart and thought provoking that you will need to pay attention to get all the benefit. But don’t worry, it’s so well written and perfectly balanced that it never feels like a chore to do so.

I would say the better descriptions for this are “rewarding” and “satisfying”, rather than “fun”. But, damn, is it both of those in spades.

 

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.

 

 

 

Writing is hard work, but I love it

While I was finishing off The Æther Collection sitting deep within stories I’d read and reread so many times they had begun to loose all meaning, trying to polish them into their final shape, I couldn’t wait to wrap everything up so I could get working on something new. 

The idea of working on a fresh, first draft of a new story called to me. To be no longer polishing but just creating, with the excitement of new ideas and possibilities ready to be put onto the page. 

Now, as I struggle to make the third act of my new book work, I remember exactly how hard it is to do a first draft. How sometimes forcing a few interesting idea into a clear narrative can be so frustrating. How wrestling character arcs and plot threads into shape feels like an impossible task. When you just want to get a first draft created to you can have that reassurance that the story works, and you’re not wasting your time of a bad idea that just won’t work. When your word count mocks you, convincing you you’ll never get this thing up to the length of a full novel. 


Now I can’t wait until I’m redrafting again. To have the scaffolding up to work within. 

Sometimes, I have to wonder about how hard it can be to please ourselves. Is it human nature not to be satisfied with the now? Or is it simply that there is so much out there worth doing that even while we’re engaged in one thing we’re thinking about the other things we enjoy but can’t do at the same time? 

But either way, I’m writing. I couldn’t be happier. It’s weird how the things we love are still so fulfilling even when they are hard. 

Change: as good as a rest

Well, Iceland is beautiful.The landscapes you find there just by driving down the main roads is amazing. It’s not even something you have to hunt for off the beaten track. I mean, look at it…

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We decided that this year we’d do something different for a holiday. Rather than find somewhere hot and read by a pool for a week, we would go for an adventure. Iceland is one of those places I’ve always wanted to visit. Partly for the scenery, and largely for the Northern Lights. Seeing the Northern Lights is one of my bucket list items. I can only imagine what it must be like to see them in person, dancing in the sky like ribbons of light. So flights and a hotel were booked, warm clothing was purchased, and off we went!

And did I see the lights?

Of course not.

Every single website and travel magazine on visiting Iceland repeatedly takes pains to point out there is no guarantee of seeing them when you visit. Unfortunately for us, we weren’t lucky this time. The weather wasn’t too bad, we had clear nights, it was just that the Lights didn’t show up for our week there.

Am I bummed? A little. How could I call the trip wasted when it consisted of views like this…img_0028

Or this…img_0070

Or this…img_8122
The entire country, at least the bits we saw, is breathtaking. We at least got snow, which covered the landscape in pure, white brilliance that didn’t melt for the entire week. It froze instead, which make walking an endurance test in most places, but that was a small prize to pay for the crystalline beauty that covered the world.

But my god, the wind! We were getting 46km/h gusts at points. We traveled down to Vik on the south coast on the Thursday and nearly lost one of the car doors to a gust. Literally. It almost came off the hinges and wouldn’t close. We had to call our emergency breakdown service and then drive to a garage whilst holding the door shut so they could fix it.

(Let this be a lesson in getting full insurance when renting a car, as doing so saved us over £1000 in repair fees for that one.)

But one thing this holiday lacked, in comparison to a beach holiday, was  reading/writing time. Normally I take a bag full of books with me, along with the Kindle App loaded onto my iPad. And I also fit in a large chunk of writing as well. This time the only reading I had time for was a little before bed. It felt odd. I don’t think I’ve ever had a holiday where I didn’t spend a large amount of my time reading. At least since I’ve been a teenager. One of the main points of a holiday has always been to relax and read.

The other thing way this differed from a traditional “summer” holiday is that by the end of it I was exhausted. By the time I got home I could literally barely think. I actually got quite worried that this trip wouldn’t have given me the rest I’d been needing, and would go back to the day job even more drained than I had been before, which in turn would lead to no energy for writing in my free time. Before I’d left I’d hit a wall with my new book and simply couldn’t see a way past, and was hoping the holiday would allow me to break through.

But it looks like I worried in vain. Yesterday lunchtime I sat down, and while I didn’t write any new words I was able to open up my notebook and start spilling out plot summaries and ideas, breaking down the first half of my new book in a way which seems to be allowing me to begin seeing past the block and into the second half!

So it looks like a change is as good as a rest. And even if you’re exhausted after your holiday, a week of sunrises like this really will refresh you mind.

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The Æther Collection – OUT NOW!

The Æther Collection is out now!

That’s right, as of today you can now purchase my new horror anthology in both e-book and paperback.

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Æther. The fifth classical element. A theory. A myth. A joke. A fringe theory no scientist in the modern age would ever take seriously.

That is until 1898 when Professor Goldfarn proves its existence and the possibilities it offers. Soon æther permeates every aspect of the of the scientific world, with research providing new technologies in power and communications the likes of the which the world has never seen.

But sometimes… sometimes things happen that can’t be explained by technology. What if æther could be more than simply a power source. What if it played a far greater part in human evolution that anyone has considered? What if is has other properties? What if it could be used to affect human emotion and thought?

What if could it even be a link between this life and the one that comes after?

 

Those of you lucky enough to be selected as winners in my GoodReads and Twitter giveaways should have already received your copies in the post. I hope you’re all enjoying them.

And for the rest of you, you can get your copies here:

A quick note; currently there is a glitch on Amazon stating that the paperback is temporarily currently out of stock. If you’re looking to buy from here, please ignore and go ahead and order. The warning should be gone soon. 

And please, once you’ve finished it please leave reviews or recommendations on places like Amazon and Goodreads, or any online reading forums you might use. Reviews and word of mouth are the self-published writer’s best friend. The more reviews I have online, the more likely it is people will discover my work. Even if it’s just an anonymous star-rating, every single one helps.

And, of course, I just like to know what you all think.

So go out and spread the word. Word of mouth is my friend, as are you, so let anyone you know who enjoys reading that The Æther Collection is available now.