Sunday, 18 August 2019

Children of Lir Takes Flight

Love it when people send pictures of them reading my books. Here's the latest, The Children of Lir. Find out more here, and join the UK giveaway.


David, Rwanda

What's in my Wonderland

Patsy, Wales

Friday, 16 August 2019

Children of Lir Giveaway


First review up for The Children of Lir on What's in my Wonderland, along with details of a UK giveaway. Head on over for details.

Purchase:

Kindle UK/US
Paperback UK/US

Monday, 12 August 2019

The Children of Lir Launch Week Blog Tour




Hello everyone!

My novel, The Children of Lir, will be launching this Thursday 15th August.

Here's a list of the participating blogs who will be running reviews, interviews, excerpts and giveaways. As the week progresses I will add direct links below, so check back each day to view them.

We'll also be running the hashtags #TheChildrenOfLir #MarionGraceWoolley on Twitter.

The Kindle version is currently here: UK/US and the paperbackis here: UK/US.


Thursday 15 August 
B for Book Review (interview)

Friday 16 August 

Sunday 18 August 

Monday 19 August 
Margaret Pinard (interview)

Tuesday 20 August 
Words and Other Malarky

Wednesday 21 August 
Forever the Wanderer 
A Book Devourer

Wednesday, 7 August 2019

A Short History of Nearly Everything



Recently finished A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson. It's my second adventure with him, and I'm a huge fan of his book Shakespeare: The World as a Stage. This one was first published in 2003, and although the audio book is considerably more recent, narrator William Roberts still manages to infuse suitable levels of horror that CFC won't be banned in developing countries until 2010. Like Bertrand Russel's History of Western Philosophy, though, it seems to have largely stood the test of time and still reads as highly relevant to today.

In A Walk in the Woods, Bill Bryson trekked the Appalachian Trail—well, most of it. In A Sunburned Country, he confronted some of the most lethal wildlife Australia has to offer. Now, in his biggest book, he confronts his greatest challenge: to understand—and, if possible, answer—the oldest, biggest questions we have posed about the universe and ourselves. Taking as territory everything from the Big Bang to the rise of civilization, Bryson seeks to understand how we got from there being nothing at all to there being us. To that end, he has attached himself to a host of the world’s most advanced (and often obsessed) archaeologists, anthropologists, and mathematicians, travelling to their offices, laboratories, and field camps. He has read (or tried to read) their books, pestered them with questions, apprenticed himself to their powerful minds. A Short History of Nearly Everything is the record of this quest, and it is a sometimes profound, sometimes funny, and always supremely clear and entertaining adventure in the realms of human knowledge, as only Bill Bryson can render it. Science has never been more involving or entertaining.

There was so much to unpack in this book, which stretched from the beginning of existence, through the first signs of life to the possibility of life on other planets and the future of mankind. Here's some of my favourite nuggets of knowledge:

Incidentally, disturbance from cosmic background radiation is something we have all experienced. Tune your television to any channel it doesn't receive, and about 1 percent of the dancing static you see is accounted for by this ancient remnant of the Big Bang. The next time you complain that there is nothing on, remember that you can always watch the birth of the universe. 

*

Even the Reverend Buckland, as pious a soul as the nineteenth century produced, noted that nowhere did the Bible suggest that God made Heaven and Earth on the first day, but merely “in the beginning.” That beginning, he reasoned, may have lasted “millions upon millions of years.” 

*

The confusion over the aluminum/aluminium spelling arose because of some uncharacteristic indecisiveness on [Humphry] Davy's part. When he first isolated the element in 1808, he called it alumium. For some reason he thought better of that and changed it to aluminum four years later. Americans dutifully adopted the new term, but many British users disliked aluminum, pointing out that it disrupted the -ium pattern established by sodium, calcium, and strontium, so they added a vowel and syllable.

*

You may not feel outstandingly robust, but if you are an average-sized adult you will contain within your modest frame no less than 7 X 10^18 joules of potential energy—enough to explode with the force of thirty very large hydrogen bombs, assuming you knew how to liberate it and really wished to make a point. Everything has this kind of energy trapped within it. We're just not very good at getting it out. Even a uranium bomb—the most energetic thing we have produced yet—releases less than 1 percent of the energy it could release if only we were more cunning.

*

The upshot of all this is that we live in a universe whose age we can't quite compute, surrounded by stars whose distances we don't altogether know, filled with matter we can't identify, operating in conformance with physical laws whose properties we don’t truly understand. 

*

As you might expect, oxygen is our most abundant element, accounting for just under 50 percent of the Earth's crust, but after that the relative abundances are often surprising. Who would guess, for instance, that silicon is the second most common element on Earth or that titanium is tenth? Abundance has little to do with their familiarity or utility to us. Many of the more obscure elements are actually more common than the better-known ones. There is more cerium on Earth than copper, more neodymium and lanthanum than cobalt or nitrogen. Tin barely makes it into the top fifty, eclipsed by such relative obscurities as praseodymium, samarium, gadolinium, and dysprosium.

Abundance also has little to do with ease of detection. Aluminum is the fourth most common element on Earth, accounting for nearly a tenth of everything that's underneath your feet, but its existence wasn't even suspected until it was discovered in the nineteenth century by Humphry Davy, and for a long time after that it was treated as rare and precious. Congress nearly put a shiny lining of aluminum foil atop the Washington Monument to show what a classy and prosperous nation we had become, and the French imperial family in the same period discarded the state silver dinner service and replaced it with an aluminum one. The fashion was cutting edge even if the knives weren't.

*

By and large, if an element doesn’t naturally find its way into our systems—if it isn’t soluble in water, say—we tend to be intolerant of it. Lead poisons us because we were never exposed to it until we began to fashion it into food vessels and pipes for plumbing. (Not incidentally, lead’s symbol is Pb for the Latin plumbum, the source word for our modern plumbing.) The Romans also flavoured their wine with lead, which may be part of the reason they are not the force they used to be. 

*
The dandelion was long popularly known as the “pissabed” because of its supposed diuretic properties, and other names in everyday use included mare’s fart, naked ladies, twitch-ballock, hound’s piss, open arse and bum-towel. One or two of these earthy appellations may unwittingly survive in English yet. The “maidenhair” in maidenhair moss, for instance, does not refer to the hair on the maiden’s head.

*

At least 99 percent of flowering plants have never been tested for their medicinal properties. Because they can’t flee from predators, plants have had to contrive chemical defenses, and so are particularly enriched in intriguing compounds. Even now nearly a quarter of all prescribed medicines are derived from just forty plants, with another 16 percent coming from animals or microbes, so there is a serious risk with every hectare of forest felled of losing medically vital possibilities. Using a method called combinatorial chemistry, chemists can generate forty thousand compounds at a time in labs, but these products are random and not uncommonly useless, whereas any natural molecule will have already passed what the Economist calls “the ultimate screening programme: over three and a half billion years of evolution."

*

Even thinking, it turns out, affects the way genes work. How fast a man’s beard grows, for instance, is partly a function of how much he thinks about sex (because thinking about sex produces a testosterone surge).

I also learned that Mary Anning was the inspiration behind the tongue-twister 'she sells seas shells on the sea shore,' that panspermia is the word for the theory that life on earth originated from outer space, and that English Sweating Sickness wiped out thousands of people in the 1500s before disappearing without a trace. 

It also took me on a nice trip down memory lane with an entry about the dinosaur display at Crystal Palace, where my dad lived for a time when I was a kid. And also when he was talking about dodos, it brought back memories of the New Walk Museum in Leicester, which I loved when I was young. It had ancient Egyptian mummies, a life-size diplodocus skeleton and a stuffed dodo. Most of which, thanks to this book, I now know are reconstructions, but it still fascinated me.

Enthusiastic thumbs up. History with a twist of humour.

Thursday, 1 August 2019

Two Weeks to Children of Lir Launch


With two weeks to go before the launch of The Children of Lir, here's the blog tour list. There will be interviews, giveaways and excerpts. Currently got a bit of pre-release nerves, but looking forward to it. Thanks to Fraser's Fun House for organising this, it's been a real pleasure working with them.

If you'd like to purchase this in e-format, please put in a pre-release order. This helps to give it a bump up the rankings on launch day. The paperback will be available from 15th August.

Monday, 29 July 2019

Amazon Fails Authors on Launch Day


My last post was a bit of a gripe about the difficulty KDP authors face getting hold of Amazon.

Here's why I was trying to get hold of them - it's quite bizarre.

Any author, whatever they're publishing, knows the importance of launch day. Whether trad or self-published, it's the day you spend months leading up to. You advertise the date everywhere. You organise your blog tours and promotion around it. You set up your giveaways to go live at midnight.

Launch day is fundamental to, well, launching your book.

Which is why it's utterly unbelievable that Amazon doesn't let you set one!

You can set your launch date for a Kindle e-book, and even set up pre-sales so that people can order your book and receive it the moment it's released. But you can't do it for a paperback.

What's worse, is that you have absolutely no control over the exact release date of your book. When you hit publish, you're met with a message saying it can take up to 72 hours for your book to go live. 

Up to.

That means it could come out the day before launch date or even the day after. There's no way to synchronise it with your Kindle copy, and no way to set up pre-order.

Why is pre-order important?

Well, book bestseller rankings aren't based on how many books you've ever sold. They're based on how quickly your book is selling. Sell 200 copies over a year and you won't make a dent in the listing. Sell them in an hour and you'll zoom up the charts. Any pre-orders count as a sale on launch day, giving your book a much-needed bump up the rankings.

A paperback takes far more effort to produce than an e-copy. E-formatting is really simple, text layout on a print copy is not. Yet there's no benefit to creating a paperback with Amazon. Doesn't count towards launch day sales, can't even set the launch day.

KDP is a total mess for print books. If I'd known all of this a few months ago, I'd never have published through them. They really don't appreciate how long it takes to write a novel or the work that goes in to preparing for launch.

When I contacted them about this problem, they replied saying they'd enabled phone support for me because it was a 'unique issue'. It's not a unique issue. Authors all over the place are pissed off with Amazon for messing up their launch promotions. Here's a few comments from writing groups I'm in:

Signe: You can't [control the release date]. It was slightly easier to control with CreateSpace, but KDP is a mess. My clients have had numerous issues. 

Juliet: I've heard horror stories about this and lots of promotional work being ruined, because Amazon doesn't give a crap. I will never publish through them, not when there are far more reputable POD publishers like IngramSpark and BookLocker.com, Inc. out there...

Michelle: Doing audiobook releases is worse because ACX (Audible) doesn’t give an exact date just a (I think) two week range.

When I spoke to Amazon, they told me they understood the problem and that other authors had reported it too, but they couldn't do anything about it. Maybe in the future.

Well, maybe in the future I'll publish through them again, but for now I'm exploring other options.


UPDATE:  A friend in publishing just told me this:

Hi. I just saw your post about Amazon not allowing you to set up preorders for paperbacks. There is actually a way, but they won't tell you that. You have to set yourself up as a seller on Amazon and list the book as one of your items. Then you can do preorders. BUT just be aware that if you set it up for preorder and no one buys it, you doom your rankings. So it's not worth putting it up for preorder unless you've done a lot of promotion ahead of when you set it to preorderable. The algorithm does some weird math and a low sales rank will stop people from seeing the book in the ways that Amazon is actually good at promoting things.

I won't be doing it as I believe pre-order is a right for all authors - and that's a sucky system - but interesting to know.

Wednesday, 24 July 2019

Amazon's Non-existent Phone Support




Back in April, I posted about Amazon's non-existent customer contact form, designed to keep KDP customers from ever making contact with their customer care team.

This month, things get even more ridiculous.

There's a massive issue with their pre-order system - or lack of - which I'll go into in a separate post. Suffice to say, I needed to talk to someone who could fix that problem.

They seem to have sorted the e-mail system, so I was able to send them a message outlining the issue.

I received the following response:

Thank you for contacting Amazon KDP. I understand that you wanted information on coordinating your books release dates. I would be glad to assist you.

Due to the unique nature of your inquiry, I've temporarily enabled your account for phone support. Our phone support is available every day from 4:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Pacific time...

1. Sign in to your KDP account [...]
4. Follow Steps 1 through 7 above to request a phone call.

First off, this really wasn't a 'unique issue,' many other authors are hacked off by the same thing and have been vocal about it in writing groups - seems Amazon just isn't listening. 

Secondly, there were no steps 1-7. Not above, not below, not anywhere in the e-mail, not on the website.

I replied to point this out and received:

First of all, our apologies for the inconvenience caused.

The steps for the phone support were sent incorrectly previously, now you will be able to see steps 1 to 7 correctly...

The steps included:

1. Go to the Contact Us form: https://kdp.amazon.com/self-publishing/contact-us
2. Select your issue under "How can we help?"
3. Choose the subcategory that best describes the reason for your contact.
4. You'll see a "Phone" option under the section "How would you like to contact us?"
5. Under "Phone," click "Call us."
6. Under "Talk with KDP Customer Service," enter your contact number and country or region.
7. Choose "Call Me" or "Call Me in 5 Minutes," and be ready to provide your account information when we call. 

Yeah, I got as far as three. None of the topics under How can we help were remotely linked to my issue, so I selected book details and How do I change my book details? Nowhere under that subcategory was there an option saying phone or How would you like to contact us

So, I sent a miffy reply telling them to call me and including my number.

You could watch your entire life go by trying to get customer service from KDP. Amazon is worth almost $135 billion, yet they can't build a website. Rather backs up the theory that this is deliberate and that they're trying their very best to become a company that filters customer service requests out the back door. They can't genuinely be this bad, can they?

Anyway, I'll post an update if I ever get to talk to someone. 

Meanwhile, if anyone knows how to get around this and request a call back, I'd be grateful. 

UPDATE: So, a very nice man from Amazon did call me after I sent the e-mail. Worked out that there is a call back button on the website, but it's well hidden.

If I had chosen Moving from CreateSpace to KDP, I would have seen it immediately:


But because I chose Book details, I should then have guessed that I needed to click one of the additional links below, rather than looking to the right, where you'd logically expect it to appear.



Really unhelpful web design.

Anyway, the guy went off to talk through my problem with colleagues. He admitted the problem was a definite issue, but there was nothing KDP could do about it at the moment. Hopefully in the future.

Well, that was worth it.

Two days to get to talk to somebody, to get nothing done.

What's that IngramSpark - pick me, pick me?

Tuesday, 23 July 2019

The Children of Lir on Pre-order


My novel, The Children of Lir, is now available for pre-order on Kindle.


The official release date is August 15th. Any pre-order sales count on launch day and help to push it up the sales ranking. If you would like it in e-format, please do pre-order. Unfortunately, Amazon doesn't allow pre-order of print books, so that will be available after launch.

A curse that lasted 900 years, a legend that lasted forever.

From the Iron Age of Ireland to the dawn of Christianity, this epic retelling traverses the realms of magic and sorcery. From the fort of Fionnachaidh to the watery wastes of Sruth na Maoile, it tells of the downfall of an ancient race and the children caught in its wake.

Grieving for the loss of his wife, King Lir marries her younger sister, Aoife. Jealous of her husband’s children she calls on the power of the Aos Sí and their Phantom Queen, making a bargain that will cost her life.

The children, turned to swans, are cast out upon the waves in an adventure that sees empires rise and fall as centuries pass. Eventually, they must choose between the world they once knew and a future they do not understand.

Sunday, 21 July 2019

Drawholic


Recently discovered the YouTube channel of this incredible time-lapse artist, Drawholic. I'm absolutely mesmerised. As one blogger put it, a 'Prismacolor pencil savant.' So many incredible pictures, so perfectly drawn. I have trouble with stick figures, so this just blows me away. Follow the channel for more.

Saturday, 20 July 2019

The First Word


Well, it feels like an age since I wrote anything new. I've been busy preparing my next two releases, The Children of Lir (August 15th) and Secure the Shadow (TBC). Cover reveal on that second one coming soon.

All that proofing left little time for new endeavours, and the longer you're away from writing, the harder it is to get back to. I've also been torn between two separate story concepts, both of which had their merits, but I've finally settled on another stab at historical fiction. 

This one is a heck of a challenge, though. The Children of Lir was tough, but the characters were entirely fictional and the reading around them brief. This time, it's even further back in history, but the characters are historical and the reading around them almost as weighty as Rosy Hours. The books are academic and expensive, and the gaps numerous. I've just spent two days trying to work out viable dates for known family members to have lived and died. Trying to slot them all into a workable timeframe. Still not quite there.

As usual with historical fiction, I'm taking time to go through the resources, make notes and watch documentaries. I'm slowly starting to feel a bit more confident and, as with The Children of Lir, it's one of those stories that seems to be all laid out. Political intrigue, power politics and a smattering of natural disasters. I'm just hoping I can cram it all into one volume. 

I'm just over the first thousand words at the moment, which is nothing. A story can shrivel up and die in the first ten to twenty thousand. I'll report back in a while, but hopefully it's a goer. It feels really nice to be back at the page with a sense of purpose. Too long a hiatus and you start to fear you can never write again. 

Here's an introductory bit, subject to tinkering:

It is only now that I can no longer write, that I wish to tell my story. Not the story of small things, of how I liked my hair braided as a child, nor the story of holy things, such as the temple hymns which caused the earth to tremble. Simply my story. The story of who I am, who I once was, and everything in between.
My hands, once supple, are clawed and caked in clay. The bones never truly mended. As I try to press the stylus against its soft bed, my fingers fail me. Instead of the clean lines and arrows of my thoughts, only deep grooves appear. Incomprehensible scars, malformed and incomplete. I collect the stories of other people beneath my nails. The silt of generations who drank from those waters, drowned in them, and made love beside the flowing depths of the Euphrates. Palil used to draw back in disgust when I laid out my slabs of clay. He never appreciated them for what they truly were, the bones and tears of time itself. To him, it was a mess. To me, it was beautiful. The remnants of bold warriors and widows’ sorrows. We write our stories on those who have gone before.
 

Beside my wrecked attempt is another tablet. This one touched by age. Baked by a thousand days of Sumerian sun. The stylus left its mark firm and unapologetic. Its patterns pressed by the hand of a man who forged both words and empires. My father, Sargon the Great.
 

When I look upon his writing, I feel a thousand snakes coil within. Yet, even as they bite, their poison tastes sweet. Everything wrong in him was wrong in me, and all his strength was mine to inherit. He gifted me an empire, but could not protect it from the enemy within. As the weather turns wet and my bones shriek mercy, I wonder what he would have thought to see the devastation his children wrought upon themselves. If he could have his life again, might he have taken more care?
 

When I ask that question of myself, it cannot be answered.
 

My end draws near. I am old, but it is not age that comes to claim me. As I sit, waiting, I am not afraid of what is to come. Without my hands, without the ability to even write my name, there is nothing left for me in this world. I have said all that I needed to say, to all who mattered. I spoke words of love, of vengeance, even of regret. Yet I have never spoken to myself. Never truly heard the story as I wished to tell it. And now, only the walls remain to hear me.
 

So, walls, built of the same simple mud as my tablets, dried by the same sun that hardened my father’s words and mine. Will you listen now? In this small space between midnight and dawn, will you accept the last of my breath? Will you hear my history as it was – entirely?

Then I shall tell it.

Friday, 19 July 2019

Tales From The Hanged Man


Really like this guy. His story is heavily influenced by David Southwell's Hookland.



If you want more Hookland, check out Twitter,  and my novel Creeper's Cottage.

Thursday, 18 July 2019

#FolkloreThursday Video



Just a reminder that every Thursday is #FolkloreThursday over on Twitter. If you love myths and legends, get on over there. You can find out more on their website, and find out how it all began in my interview with them.

Wednesday, 17 July 2019

Musical Interlude: Kennedy Thompson



I've watched this cover of You Are The Reason so many times. Outstanding rendition on a beautifully weathered piano.

Tuesday, 16 July 2019

Spiral Dance

Lovely surprise in the post box yesterday. 

A lovely lady called Adrienne K Piggott dropped me a line via my page a while back, saying how much she was looking forward to the release of The Children of Lir on 15th August. Like me, she loves the legend, and had released it as a track with her band, Spiral Dance. 

She was kind enough to send me a copy, all the way from Australia.

I love it when art attracts art. 

You can find their album, Land and Legend, here, and their website here.

 

Monday, 15 July 2019

The Nothing Girl


Picked this up in a massive promotional haul from Audible. I was reading through the blurbs and it intrigued me:

Getting a life isn't always easy. And hanging on to it is even harder...

Known as 'The Nothing Girl' because of her severe stutter and chronically low self-confidence, Jenny Dove is only just prevented from ending it all by the sudden appearance of Thomas, a mystical golden horse only she can see. Under his guidance, Jenny unexpectedly acquires a husband - the charming and chaotic Russell Checkland - and for her, nothing will ever be the same again.

With over-protective relatives on one hand and the world's most erratic spouse on the other, Jenny needs to become Someone. And fast!

It was the bit about the golden horse which piqued my interest. It just sounded rather unlike anything I'd read recently. Plus, the cover is very nice.

This one took a little bit of getting into for me. Mostly because I don't suffer from a lack of confidence, so it was hard to warm to the character initially. I was more of the Russell Checkland camp of 'get a grip.' I'm also not really a major romance fan and, although it was a melange of mystery and romance, it was very much the latter by the end. I think the only contemporary romantic novel I ever kept on my shelf was Chloe by Freya North. I just really liked that book, though I can't place exactly what it was about it. Must have been Mr. and Mrs. Andrews.

As with Chloe, this one was very quintessentially British in its delivery, and narration. It's a book where desirable women are beautiful and slim, men call their wives 'wife', and all that rather heteronormative stuff that goes on in mainstream romance. It's definitely not bad, it just isn't me. 

On the upside, Jenny is a strong character, there's a poisoning plot and a donkey.

It's sometimes good to read things you wouldn't normally, because stories can surprise you, and I ended up enjoying this a lot more than I thought I would at the start. Listened to it for about four hours straight on a bus up to Gisenyi the other week. 

I think if you like quirky, British romance with a twist of mild peril, this may well be for you.

Saturday, 13 July 2019

Time for Tea


I love both tea and coffee, and I'm fortunate enough to live in a country that produces both. My friend manages a tea estate in northern Rwanda and took me on a tour at the weekend. Fascinating to see how something is made when mostly I just add hot water and don't think about it.

Monday, 8 July 2019

Classic Gothic

A little reading list on the evolution of Gothic fiction. There's a good article on The Origins of the Gothic Novel here:

Gothic fiction began as a sophisticated joke. Horace Walpole first applied the word ‘Gothic’ to a novel in the subtitle – ‘A Gothic Story’ – of The Castle of Otranto, published in 1764. When he used the word it meant something like ‘barbarous’, as well as ‘deriving from the Middle Ages’. Walpole pretended that the story itself was an antique relic, providing a preface in which a translator claims to have discovered the tale, published in Italian in 1529, ‘in the library of an ancient catholic family in the north of England’. The story itself, ‘founded on truth’, was written three or four centuries earlier still (Preface). Some readers were duly deceived by this fiction and aggrieved when it was revealed to be a modern ‘fake’.


The Romance of the Forest by Ann Radcliffe
Publication date: 1791

An early Gothic novel which inspired Austen's Northanger Abbey. It is a spooky tail of a young woman in a desolate forest in a remote region. An atmospheric story of romance and tragedy. 
 

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Publication date: 1823

A story exploring emotional abuse and revenge, posing the question: do the actions of others justify our actions against them. In a time when physical ugliness was said to be an outward sign of the ugliness of the spirit, here a beautiful soul is gradually deformed to match the character's outward appearance.  

The Masque of the Red Death by Edgar Allan Poe
Publication date: 1842

This is an extremely short story, but one that made a lasting impression on writers to come. A dark and mysterious dinner party with a sinister guest.

 

The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux
Publication date: 1910

A novel not dissimilar to Frankenstein in that the villain's personality is apparently moulded by public reaction to his deformity, so he dresses as the Red Death from Poe's work above. I read this in 2008, before I started this blog, so no review. But I did write a prequel.

 
I was prompted to write this list because, whilst reading Frankenstein, I began to wonder about the timeline. I'm always surprised Poe's work is so old, and Leroux's work not as old as it feels. The genre does span a significant time frame. What are your favourite Gothic novels?


Saturday, 6 July 2019

Mary Shelley's Frankenstein


After Bertrand Russell's inclusion of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein in A History of Western Philosophy, I decided to pick up a copy. It's one of those classics I'm familiar with but have never read:

Narrator Dan Stevens (Downton Abbey) presents an uncanny performance of Mary Shelley's timeless gothic novel, an epic battle between man and monster at its greatest literary pitch. In trying to create life, the young student Victor Frankenstein unleashes forces beyond his control, setting into motion a long and tragic chain of events that brings Victor to the very brink of madness. How he tries to destroy his creation, as it destroys everything Victor loves, is a powerful story of love, friendship, scientific hubris, and horror.

It was very well narrated by Dan Stevens of Downton Abbey and Beauty and the Beast fame, and I couldn't help imagining young Victor as Harry Treadway and the monster as Rory Kinnear from their roles in Penny Dreadful.

Penny Dreadful Wiki
When I was in college, I was a big fan of romantic poetry. I read a lot of Byron and Shelley, and in parts, especially early on in the book, thought I heard his influence, though none can say for certain. I saw their portraits once at the National Portrait Gallery in London. 

Shelley, Byron, Shelley
It was one of those novels that made me realise the passage of time and how my tastes have changed. I loved, and still do, the drama and imagery of Shelley's The Cloud, and Byron's Incantation and Darkness, but over the course of an entire novel, the 'woe is me,' gets a little harder to embrace. Really difficult moral dilemma - does mistreatment forgive the course of one's conscious actions - but I think we're just used to reading it in subtler forms nowadays, or perhaps more realistic. Not to say someone like Stuart was akin to a monster, but it's an example of the same dilemma played in modern times. It's how we frame the problem of cause and effect in a contemporary setting.

I'm glad I read it, though I feel, as with many classics, the idea has overtaken the original work. Elements such as the morality of providing the monster with a bride, which have since played out in Bride of Frankenstein and Penny Dreadful. Like most good Gothic novels, there's usually an untold story within a story lurking somewhere within the shadows.

It was true to genre and I enjoyed it, though, as with Lady Chatterley's Lover, I think it's difficult to fully appreciate how shocking the book was in its day.

Friday, 28 June 2019

Pagan Writers Community Group


Back in 2013, I ended up caretaker of a Facebook page called Pagan Writers Community. You can read about how it happened here. We've now got close to 56,000 followers. 

Three days ago, my friend Steve Sholl, who runs The Amateur Writers' Community, suggested opening a group alongside the page. A page is basically an advertising board. The page owner just posts what they like for people to see. A group allows members to interact and talk to each other. Active discussions rise to the top of the feed, whereas, with a page, everything sinks to the bottom. A group is more interactive.

Over the past three days, more than 100 people have joined. We're in the process of inviting all 55,000 page followers to join, but Facebook only seems to allow us to invite a very small number of people each day, so it's going to take a while. But, if you're interested, you can jump straight to the group here, and apply to join.

It's really exciting, but also a bit scary, as I already help moderate a local community group in Kigali with over 7,500 members. I enjoy doing it most of the time, except when you get arseholes and spammers, but I think I'm going to need to take on help with the PWC group, to prevent my life becoming one long Facebook feed. 

Thankfully, several good writing friends have joined, so I'm looking forward to reconnecting and making use of their time.

Wednesday, 26 June 2019

The Diary of a Bookseller


Finished this yesterday and missing it already.

Shaun Bythell owns The Bookshop, Wigtown - Scotland's largest second-hand bookshop. It contains 100,000 books, spread over a mile of shelving, with twisting corridors and roaring fires, and all set in a beautiful, rural town by the edge of the sea. A book-lover's paradise? Well, almost ...

In these wry and hilarious diaries, Shaun provides an inside look at the trials and tribulations of life in the book trade, from struggles with eccentric customers to wrangles with his own staff, who include the ski-suit-wearing, bin-foraging Nicky. He takes us with him on buying trips to old estates and auction houses, recommends books (both lost classics and new discoveries), introduces us to the thrill of the unexpected find, and evokes the rhythms and charms of small-town life, always with a sharp and sympathetic eye.

He does come across as a real-life Bernard Black, if rather more grounded and emotionally cognisant. I've spent time in the past following my friend Paul around a number of bookshops up near Stirling. I blogged about Kings Bookshop in Callander, and some fabulous old poetry tomes from Stirling Books. I adore the dusty back rooms and cobwebbed corners of a bookshop, more so now that I live in a country where bookshops are rarer than a first folio and those that do exist are dusted daily. The book certainly hit me with a tide of nostalgia.

Again, living in a world of eternal equinox (great name for a band, as someone recently pointed out), where the weather's sometimes a little wetter, sometimes a little dryer, but mostly constant, it was nice to be reminded of how extreme the seasons can be in the UK. Tales of warm fires and snow-laden drives through howling winds, and then the discomfort of a sweaty summer and the sense of renewal that comes with spring.

There were some extremely poignant reflections on mortality whilst clearing out the bookshelves of deceased estates, such as the daughter of an Italian immigrant who had inherited her father's thriving restaurant only for it to dwindle with the decades:

Downstairs, the big glass windows were boarded up, and the place, once busy, was as silent as the grave, save for the sound of the rain coming through the roof and dripping onto the floor. The optimism of that young Italian man, with his Scottish wife, his thriving business and his young daughter, the courage it took him to move to another country, learn a new language, and start a new business and a new life, could never have anticipated the sad end that fate dealt to his dream.

It also dropped some insider lingo that is rather fascinating, such as the word incunabula, referring to any book published before 1501.

I strongly share the author's dislike of Amazon, and have blogged before about trying to avoid it - with limp-wristed success. I have an uneasy love-mostly-hate relationship with it, and it was interesting to see how it's affected the second-hand book trade.

Diary of a Bookseller is well worth a read, and you can follow the shop on facebook and twitter. They also run a random book club, which is currently closed to new members, but worth keeping an eye on for the future.

Sunday, 23 June 2019

Circe


Only noticed Madeline Miller has another book out when I saw someone tweet about buying a copy during their weekly shop.

I really enjoyed Song of Achilles, and very glad she didn't take another ten years to write this one. I'm an absolute sucker for stories of gods and monsters. Fond memories as a kid of sitting on my aunt's narrow boat, Celia, with my nose pressed to the illustration's of a book about Greek legends. I love anyone who can make those larger-than-life characters live and breathe. 

In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. But Circe is a strange child - not powerful, like her father, nor viciously alluring like her mother. Turning to the world of mortals for companionship, she discovers that she does possess power - the power of witchcraft, which can transform rivals into monsters and menace the gods themselves.

Threatened, Zeus banishes her to a deserted island, where she hones her occult craft, tames wild beasts and crosses paths with many of the most famous figures in all of mythology, including the Minotaur, Daedalus and his doomed son Icarus, the murderous Medea, and, of course, wily Odysseus.

But there is danger, too, for a woman who stands alone, and Circe unwittingly draws the wrath of both men and gods, ultimately finding herself pitted against one of the most terrifying and vengeful of the Olympians. To protect what she loves most, Circe must summon all her strength and choose, once and for all, whether she belongs with the gods she is born from, or the mortals she has come to love.

With unforgettably vivid characters, mesmerizing language and page-turning suspense, Circe is a triumph of storytelling, an intoxicating epic of family rivalry, palace intrigue, love and loss, as well as a celebration of indomitable female strength in a man's world.

Bit of a canny marketing move to focus in on Circe, what with all that Game of Thrones hype going on. Lot of people searching for Circe, I just wonder how many get Lena Headey and how many get the book.

Whatever, I absolutely loved this. Think the cover's gorgeous, the writing is crisp and vivid, and the narration, by Perdita Weeks, was absolutely perfectly suited. 

Some choice lines:

I had never felt a lash. I did not know the colour of my blood.

... all I saw were faces bright as whetted blades.

Sorcery cannot be taught. You find it yourself, or you do not. 

What was the fight over?’ ‘Let me see if I can remember the list.’ He ticked his fingers. ‘Vengeance. Lust. Hubris. Greed. Power. What have I forgotten? Ah yes, vanity, and pique.’ ‘Sounds like a usual day among the gods,’ I said.

His guilt was thick in the air as winter mists.

Death's Brother is the name that poets give to sleep. For most men those dark hours are a reminder of the stillness that waits at the end of days.

If there was some other purpose, we would never know it. All the things he had done in life must stand now as they were.

For gods are the opposite of death.

[In the afterlife] Some walked hand in hand with those they had loved in life; some waited, secure that one day their beloved would come. And for those who had not loved, whose lives had been filled with pain and horror, there was the black river Lethe, where one might drink and forget. Some consolation.

This was a treat, and I look forward to finding out who she will write about next.