Tuesday, 7 July 2020

The Book Cover Designer

Just a little shout out to The Book Cover Designer. It's a great place for self-publishers and small press to find decent covers for both e-books and paperbacks. I've used them a couple of times and had a great experience all round. They're currently having a 10% off summer sale:

The summer sale has arrived! All pre-made book covers on The Book Cover Designer website are on 10% discount for an entire month. How can you grab your discount?

Use the coupon code SUMMER20 at checkout between the 1st and 31st of July 2020.

We currently have over 17,000 pre-made book covers in every genre, created by hundreds of professional designers from all over the globe. You can narrow down the search by price, genre and key words and phrases. But the best part?

The coupon code is UNLIMITED per user! You can reuse it as many times as you wish!

Yvonne (on behalf of the TBCD team) 

Monday, 6 July 2020

My Bookshelf

After mentioning how hard it is to get physical books here, I thought I'd do a little tour of my bookshelf over the coming weeks. A look at what's on the shelves and how those books came to be here. I'll update the links below as the posts are made...

Top Shelf

Middle Shelf

Bottom Shelf

Shoe Rack

Sunday, 5 July 2020

Not My Father's Son

Recently finished this. A truly excellent autobiography. As it says in the reviews:

Equal parts memoir, whodunnit, and manual for living... a beautifully written, honest look at the forces of blood and bone that make us who we are, and how we make ourselves.  – Neil Gaiman

I'll admit, I was originally drawn to it because of The L Word. I don't read a lot of biographies, but I'm really glad I picked this one up.
In his unique and engaging voice, the acclaimed actor of stage and screen shares the emotional story of his complicated relationship with his father and the deeply buried family secrets that shaped his life and career.

A beloved star of stage, television, and film—“one of the most fun people in show business” (Time magazine)—Alan Cumming is a successful artist whose diversity and fearlessness is unparalleled. His success masks a painful childhood growing up under the heavy rule of an emotionally and physically abusive father—a relationship that tormented him long into adulthood.

When television producers in the UK approached him to appear on a popular celebrity genealogy show in 2010, Alan enthusiastically agreed. He hoped the show would solve a family mystery involving his maternal grandfather, a celebrated WWII hero who disappeared in the Far East. But as the truth of his family ancestors revealed itself, Alan learned far more than he bargained for about himself, his past, and his own father.

With ribald humor, wit, and incredible insight, Alan seamlessly moves back and forth in time, integrating stories from his childhood in Scotland and his experiences today as a film, television, and theater star. At times suspenseful, deeply moving, and wickedly funny, Not My Father’s Son will make readers laugh even as it breaks their hearts.

He really takes an extremely painful subject and examines it with humour, humanity and the wisdom that only comes with distance from the source material. 
You see, I understood my father. I'd learned from a very young age to interpret the tone of every word he uttered, his body language, the energy he brought into a room. It has not been pleasant as an adult to realise that dealing with my father's violence was the beginning of my studies of acting.

He examines a lot of questions common to people who have had difficult relationships with a parent, such as doubt over becoming a parent themselves and perpetuating those same behaviours, about subduing joy or attachment to things that might be taken away, and a desire for space and alone-time. 

I love long flights. The feeling of being completely unreachable is something I savour, and the limbo-like state of being, having departed but not arrived, somehow allows me to catch up with myself, to regroup and check in. It's a little contrary to think that I look forward to careering through the  skies in a metal-fatigued box in order to gain some feeling of inner calm, but that's the way I roll.

I've always felt that about service stations on motorways, too. You can just pull over, switch off your phone and rest from the world for a while. He also mentioned crying a lot on planes, which is a really common phenomenon. That article says there's no scientific research into this, but I thought I read an article about it some years back claiming it was partly cabin pressure. Anyway, we've all done it.

But alongside the immediacy of his childhood and his relationship with his father, runs the parallel story of his grandfather and the legacy of his life - and death.

I had lost a father but found a grandfather. One of them had never sought the truth and lived a life based on a lie. The other's truth was hidden from us because society deemed it unsuitable. Both caused strife and sadness, but now both combined to reinforce for me what I knew to be the only truth: there is never shame in being open and honest. It was shame that prevented us from knowing what a great man Tommy Darling was, and it was shame that made my father treat me and Tom and my mum the way he did. All those years ago, lying in the grass of the forest at Panmure, I rejected shame instinctively. Now, my forefathers had reinforced for me how right I had been all along.

Really makes you wish everyone in the world had access to in-depth information about their predecessors. It always amazed me in Australia that so many Australians could tell you how many generations Australian they were and how their ancestors had first come to Australia, and from where, whereas in the UK most people are hard-pressed to tell you two generations back.

It's also interesting, working with genocide survivors, the scientific evidence we see coming to light about transgenerational trauma and how exposure to stress and violence alters not just your neural pathways and emotional responses, but also your DNA, and that these changes can literally get passed down to affect the behaviour of future generations. So, our behaviour is deeply rooted in both our blood and the environment in which we grow up. The interplay of those two things is very real.

Throughout the whole story, he's got a really lovely outlook on life:

I think I learned [from my mother] that having money could never be guaranteed. It could disappear at any moment, and so I've grown up wanting to feel secure when it comes to money, but doing so by treating it as something to be enjoyed, shared, and not given power.

Also, did you know Scots were the first to catalogue the word 'fuck'? 

The things you learn.

Wednesday, 1 July 2020

A Wizard of Earthsea

I've always been a fan of the Ghibli Tales from Earthsea, but never actually read the original series. I thought I'd give it a whirl with A Wizard of Earthsea (1968). 

I felt like I was fairly familiar with the world because of the Ghibli adaptation, but enjoyed getting the details. Weirdly, though, it reminded me a bit of Treasure Island in that you start off on this swashbuckling adventure... then the main character gets stuck on a boat for a few chapters. Very atmospheric though, and nice imagery.

Still the wind grew stronger, tearing the edges of the great waves into flying tatters of foam.


Once, in that court, he had felt himself to be a word spoken by the sunlight. Now the darkness had also spoken. A word that could not be unsaid.


Out of the sea there rise storms and monsters, but no evil powers. Evil is of earth. And there is no sea, no running of river or spring, in the dark land where once Ged had gone. Death is the dry place.


So, of the Song of the Shadow, there remain only a few scraps of legend, carried like driftwood from isle to isle over the long years.

There's a strong emphasis on needing to know the true names of things in order to hold power over them. It made me think of the cultures that refuse to speak a person's name after death, and those that sing the names of places in order to navigate the landscape. A very primal belief. 

Something that bothers me a bit is the fan art. I do like a nice bit of fan art, but in the case of EarthSea, it really seems to have been whitewashed. That's not unusual for anime, as, for some reason, Japanese anime seems to favour white-skinned and often blue-eyed characters. There's an interesting discussion about this. But, in this case, it's still very questionable. It's especially questionable when you Google 'EarthSea fan art.' There's a definite distinction between those who have drawn from the concept, and those who have drawn true to the book. The main character, Ged, is described as having 'red-brown' skin, whereas Vetch has very dark 'black-brown' skin, if I recall. Yet there's a significant amount of artwork that features an all-white cast.

A quick Google search reveals I'm not the only one to have noticed this. There are some truly indefensible examples in that article, such as casting Chris Gauthier as the black-brown Vetch in a 2004 mini-series. I wonder what Ursula Le Guin must have thought of that. It must be a bit soul-destroying to have the colour of your characters' skin changed, I assume, for marketing reasons? Rather disturbing.

Anyway, let's drift back into 'dream peace', that nice few moments before waking fully from a pleasant dream. There are some lovely turns of phrase in this. I may continue with the series at some point.

Monday, 29 June 2020

Tangle of Chapters


It's done.

Last Friday, I finished recording the final chapter of The Tangled Forest, which I've narrated myself.

I would not say I enjoyed it.

Things that I learned:

  1. My *click* gods, I have a clicky *click* mouth.
  2. When I was a kid, I played the trumpet. When you play the trumpet, your breath condenses against cold brass and periodically you need to open the 'spit valve' and empty the spit onto a 'spit cloth'. You need a spit cloth when recording audiobooks.
  3. Your mouth is either too dry or too wet - it is never the perfect humidity.
  4. Even though you spent nine months writing the sodding book, you're buggered if you think you can read it.
  5. Words are really hard.
  6. In your head, you might hear a strong accent, but weirdly, the microphone doesn't seem to pick it up - you are you, in every character.
  7. Two years of drama school and a three-year theatre degree don't actually  mean as much as you thought they did.  
  8. Crows are fucking loud.
  9. Neighbours are fucking loud.
  10. Put your phone on silent.
  11. Cats are fucking loud.
  12. I can get really angry with myself when I get things wrong.
  13. The thought crosses your mind that it might be easier to reprint the book, matching spelling to the way you want to pronounce things, than it is to go back and rerecord something with the correct pronunciation.
  14. Writers who requisition words they can't pronounce are dicks. You are a dick. 
  15. For some weird reason, you burp a lot when narrating an audiobook.

I found it fairly frustrating and I intend to nail together an out-takes reel for entertainment value. There were a few swears in there. I was working in very difficult conditions. Too early in the day and I had to speak between crow caws, too late in the evening and I had to speak between crazy cicada calls. I decided the only way to get through it was a regimented one chapter a day, every day, until the end. 

Ticking off that final recording was a real sense of achievement.

So far, I can't bring myself to listen to it. 

I plan to start work shortly. Clearing up some of the clicks and fiddling with the EQ and compression. Try and make it sound a bit more professional than some lass hiding in a shed with a mini-mic and a duvet over her head. 

We'll see.


Saturday, 27 June 2020

Musical Interlude: Lullaby of Woe

I'm having a bit of a Gothic piano fetish at the moment. I'm currently rebuilding an old piano. A Soviet-era Lirika, only I've had it painted black, sprayed the string frame purple, and my dad sent some candle sconces for the front. I intend to add red leather braiding when I restring it, and possibly re-top the keys with mirrors. It's a long-term project, but if I ever get there, I'm going to need something suitably Alicia Gris to play on it.

I'm fairly adept at tuning a piano, I'm not bad at fixing one, but I'm a pretty poor player. I learned the intro to Corpse Bride a while back and play it whenever we get heavy rains and lightning. It's the only time I take the mute off. I'll never make it to Lucille Sharpe standards, but I do enjoy trying. 

I've recently discovered this guy called Lucas King, who does some delightfully Gothic tutorials. They seem deceptively simple, but can be a little tricky. My favourite is called Pain (below), it's satisfyingly funerary. He also does a nice rendition of Dark Fur Elise.

I'm always interested in dark music, so if you've got any other suggestions - and especially stuff that isn't too tricky to play - please do drop them below.

Thursday, 25 June 2020

The Labyrinth of the Spirits

This was a wild ride. Many mixed impressions.

First of all, I picked it up in an Audible sale because I thought, Oh look, it must be a sequel to Shadow of the Wind.

And it was, but Shadow of the Wind was book one of four. This was book four of four. I didn't know that until the very end. Which complicated things, because, like most people, I prefer to read a series in order. The Shadow of the Wind was published in 2001, which is about the time I read it.

Now, just as a little aside here. Good books are fairly hard to come by where I live. A couple of years ago, I asked my friend to build me a very small bookshelf. I didn't want a large one, because I knew I would never have very many physical books to put on it, and an empty bookshelf evokes sadness. However, there used to be a café called Acacia Book Cafe in Kigali. I'm not sure if it exists anymore. But one day, after a meeting, I went in to pay and they had a copy of The Shadow of the Wind on the counter. It was a café book, meaning it was there to be read by punters, but not for sale. The owner was sitting at a table nearby, and I eventually managed to persuade her to sell it to me.

It now resides on the top shelf of my bookshelf, where my favourite books live. Some are books I have read and loved in the past, and seem doubly special that I managed to find a copy in Kigali. For instance, there will always be a copy of Emergency Sex on any bookshelf I own. Others have been given to me by friends or sent to me by my Aunty Heron (Kate Tempest and Mary Beard). So I hoard them, like old friends, and I lend them out to people I know will return them. When my neighbour, Didier, discovered a love of fiction shortly before leaving to study in Canada, it was a great pleasure to be able to let him raid my small treasures, knowing that I had something worth offering.

There might be a clue to my next novel in here.

So, it's fair to say I enjoyed The Shadow of the Wind, but it's been at least fifteen years since I read it.

As such, I almost gave up on this one several times. It took about two hours to really get into it, simply because my memory was so hazy. I had to pull up Wiki and a couple of YouTube reviews to remind myself who everyone was.

That done, I proceeded to disappear into the labyrinth and didn't resurface until the last page. It was phenomenal. And, hand on heart, I am hopelessly and devotedly in love with Alicia Gris. Christ, what a character. Just delightful. The imagery of the entire thing, but really, she made it. I haven't enjoyed a character that much in a long time. I'll never look at a fountain pen in the same way again.

There was, however, a slight Game of Thrones tendency for characters to appear for the sole purpose of being dispatched, usually within five minutes of explaining what they were about to do with their day. I forgive them all except You Know Who - and, if you've read it, you will know who. I fully accept that it was necessary for the story to go where it did, but I cannot forgive it. I enjoyed the back-and-forth far too much for it to end so suddenly.

Carlos Ruiz Zafón is just a world unto himself. There isn't another writer who can twist a writer's guts quite like he can.

Stories have no beginning and no end, only doors through which one may enter them. A story is an endless labyrinth of words, images, and spirits, conjured up to show us the invisible truth about ourselves. A story is, after all, a conversation between the narrator and the reader, and just as narrators can only relate as far as their ability will permit, so too readers can only read as far as what is already written in their souls.


Every book, every volume you see here, has a soul. The soul of the person who wrote it and of those who read it and lived and dreamed with it. Every time a book changes hands, every time someone runs his eyes down its pages, its spirit grows and strengthens.


Every day, I became more convinced that good literature has little or nothing to do with trivial fancies such as inspiration or having something to tell, and more with the engineering of language, with the architecture of narrative, with the painting of textures, with the timbres and colors of the staging, with the cinematography of words, and the music that can be produced by an orchestra of ideas.


He never tired of telling me that in literature there is only one real theme: not what is narrated, but how it is narrated. The rest, he said, was decoration. He also told me that writing was a profession one had to learn, but was impossible to teach...


Sometimes it's best to put your mind to work and exhaust it, rather than let it rest, in case it gets bored and starts eating you up alive.

It is Gothically dark and wonderfully literary. 

Now, I just need to think on whether I can go back and read the other two, knowing how it all ends. I think for the sheer pleasure of his prose, I will have to add them to the list.

An outstanding author and a memorable tale.