Tuesday, 22 January 2019

Happy Illustrator


Heehee.

It's always lovely to get pictures of people with your book.

This is José Manuel Bethencourt Suárez, the exceedingly talented illustrator of the Creeper's Cottage cover. Check out his website and Facebook page.

You can find out more about my book, Creeper's Cottage, here.

The other book he's holding is The Fifth Survivor Epsiode 1 by Angel Ramon. You can find out more about that here.

I absolutely love the collaboration that comes from putting creative projects together. Words are great, but words and art are better.

 

Saturday, 19 January 2019

The Frighteners




Huge thank you to my friend Emma at Beeutiful Creations for putting me on to this one. Also, for making the best honey in Rwanda. 

The Frighteners: Why We Love Monsters, Ghosts, Death & Gore by Peter Laws, the Sinister Minister - seriously, an ordained minister. 

I like this book a lot. Ronsonesque in his sincere desire to work out why people do stuff, and an avid horror fan himself. From vampires and werewolves, through to ghosts and serial killers, it's a tour de force of all that's fantastically freaky. But as well as being multi-genre in his approach, it's also multigenerational. It looks at the role gore and goosebumps have in child psychology, what we gain from it in adulthood, and where it takes us towards the end of our lives.

Very nicely researched and presented.

Laws is also a columnist for Fortean Times, which I was a huge fan of in my youth. I used to catch the train between my mum's place in the Midlands and my dad's place in Croydon once a fortnight in my mid-teens, and I'd religiously stop at John Lewis's in Euston Station to pick up a copy. This was back in the hay day of the X-Files, so the whole world seemed tinged with the paranormal. 

There's quite a few interesting statistics included. Things such as audiences flocking to horror movies in which people like themselves die. Such as teens flocking to teen slashers, men flocking towards apocalyptic bloodbaths and women, strangely, flocking towards horrors where women are the hunted. This is all apparently linked into our unconscious need to work through our worst fears in a safe environment. Or unleash pent-up aggression in an acceptable way - without actually harming anyone. Something also seen in children working through trauma and bereavement.

It also goes off on a thoughtful rumination on the dangers of not exposing young people to any form of darkness, with the example of an episode of Pepper Pig that was banned in Australia for suggesting that all animals can be friends, and that there is absolutely nothing to fear from spiders. It was meant to help against arachnophobia, but in a country where redbacks and funnel-webs are waiting round every corner - you really don't want to encourage children to hug one.

It's a really accessible read, and very well narrated by Mark Meadows, who is extremely listenable to. As someone who writes a lot of murder, but hesitates when swatting mosquitoes, I felt he really unearthed the truth behind what's going on there, as well as the bonding that comes with a shared love of horror with friends and family. It is a unifying thing - in a really good way. I've always loved watching really gory movies with my dad, the more realistic the better. That shared wince as the eyeball pops out of the head in Midnight Meat Train.

So, yes. Thanks Peter Laws for making me feel a little bit more normal. Or, if not normal, at peace with the kooky. 

I also found it refreshing to hear about his own journey to the priesthood and his inner struggle to reconcile faith and fear. I do like the way he settled that one, it makes a lot of sense. Once Pagan, and now mostly Humanist, I've never had that dichotomy, but this was a really excellent example of how honesty and self-reflection cut across faiths to the human experience. Really nicely written.

Thursday, 17 January 2019

Coming Soon: The Children of Lir


From 1st February 2019, I'll be posting chapters of my adult epic The Children of Lir every Tuesday and Friday on my Inkitt profile.

Wednesday, 16 January 2019

Perdido Street Station


Well, uh... that's interesting. I read a book and joined a political party.

Book first.

Was a fan of Tea & Jeopardy, where I first heard the name China Miéville. Then was sloshing down sangria the other night and a friend introduced me to a friend who runs a book club here. 

"Oh, who do you like to read?"

"China Miéville."

That name again. So, I Googled 'where to start,' and continued my love affair with Audible by downloading a copy of Perdido Street Station.

First of all, Jonathan Oliver deserves an award. That was one heck of a narration - thirty-one hours' worth of narration. And he didn't let the energy dip at any point. 

I was a bit of a reluctant listener to begin with. My preference is for magical realism - our, recognisable, world with a bit of weird shit happening on the sidelines. I find it creepier that way, when you could really believe something is true.

Also, my mind's a bit lazy nowadays. It can be quite challenging to imagine really out-there new species. Especially when you've grown up on Star Trek NG and CGI movies that do it all for you. And audiobooks make it even more challenging for two reasons:

1. You need to pause the story to give your brain time to catch up with the description.
2. You can't distinguish a homonym.

It was a revelation to find this list of illustrated characters. Unfortunately, I didn't see it until after I'd finished the book, so all the way through I imagined Wiremen as flying coat hangers.

Bottom right: Wyrmen
(click to enlarge)
What a difference a Y makes.

It's weird, because, as a kid, I spent hours playing Shufflepuck Café on my uncle's Mac. It was set in this alien bar with different species. I had robot colouring books I loved, and I used to imagine being on space stations and wandering through magical realms surrounded by all sorts of other-worldy beings. It disturbed me how difficult it was to get back into that. Definitely out of practise. But I got there in the end, and there's some incredible beings in this. The Weaver and the Slake Moths are just joy in a bottle. 

Then I was surprised at how invested I became in these characters I'd had such trouble imagining at first. Suddenly they were all there, and the story really took off. I was a mad Fighting Fantasy fan, and the prologue to PSS really brought back fond memories of Port Blacksand.  

Anyway, I was left smiling. I wasn't expecting quite the level of nuanced cruelty this book served up. You only have to say the name Andrej, really. Bad things happening to people who honestly don't deserve it, and then bad things happening to crooks and monsters who maybe do, but the things that happen to them are so awful, you feel horrible about it. 

All culminating in quite a deep and complex moral dilemma.

More than I bargained for. Still thinking about it now, and quite likely to continue with the series at some point in the future. Certainly got some rusty neural pathways back in action.

So, then what happened was, I went to look up China Miéville, because I always like to learn a bit more about authors I've been reading, and through that ended up reading the entirety of Left Unity UK's manifesto. And then joining. My goodness, I thought, think they're missing a trick here on Universal Basic Income, but on the whole, this reads exactly as I'd hoped the Labour one would. Plus they made a post commemorating Rosa Luxembourgh - so, y'know, what you gonna do?

Wasn't really expecting that when I set out to write this review, but hey ho, life is full of surprises. Just a little disappointed I came to it that way and had never heard of them before. 

So - yeah. Good book. Good politics. 


Tuesday, 15 January 2019

Still Life at 75

(article on wallpaper)

This is why I keep a blog. According to my posts, I've added 5,000 words to Still Life (working title of post-mortem photography novel) in the past four days. Which is a lot more than it feels like I've written. 

I've ditched the futuristic one because I can't split my head between Victorian England and the rest of the world post-2220. It's too much of a mind bend. I start putting the wrong things in the wrong era.

I have been struggling with this one, but struggling with writing doesn't always make it bad writing. Sometimes it's just a slow drip rather than a gushing font of creativity. Distilled goodness.

I'm doing something I've never really done before, where I find myself putting placeholders in bold for information I need to research later on. Like, She decided to walk in the direction of the medieval vault add description. Because I know that if I go off and start researching this place that I've never been to, I'll lose a day on Wikipedia and Google Image. I didn't really mind that with Rosy Hours, I did the extra research as I went along and enjoyed myself, but for some reason I want to get to the end of this story. I like the story. I believe in it. But I want to end it so that I can go through and flesh it out knowing that I know how it all turns out. 

That's new territory for me. It's that sentiment that's been attributed to a dozen different authors from Dorothy Parker through to George R. R. Martin: I don't enjoy writing, but I enjoy having written. I feel that one deeply, and once I know I've got a novel and it's written, I can go back and rewrite the bits I don't like, and add a few extra flourishes. I enjoy that part of it. 

I think a lot of authors would say the same, but few people say it out loud because it's not the sexy life of an author. There's a misconception that if a book was difficult to write, it's going to be difficult to read. That's usually not true. The hard work that goes into it is mostly down to working out how to make the book more readable and enjoyable for the person who picks it up after. Hard work equals easy reading. 

I did try to get back into the mood today by watching some post-mortem reels. There was no particular reason as that part of the novel had been written. I think it just brings up that question of why again. Why do we do it? Why do we photograph death up close and personal like that? I get annoyed by the old photo streams because half of them contain people who are clearly alive. Pictures of mothers with babies - neither of whom have expired. All mixed in with people who clearly have. 

But I do understand those ones as part of a wider, normal culture at that time. The modern ones raise more questions. Many are quite brutal photographs, or weirder still, taken from such an angle that you can clearly see cotton wool stuffed up the person's nose. The funeral home has gone to all the trouble of dressing them, applying makeup and making them look as natural as possible, and you take that one photograph that proves nothing is what it seems. 

That's definitely an outstanding question for me, and now that I'm actually thinking about it, something that deserves further exploration before I finish up.

I think it's about having that moment there in your hands. However disturbing, however upsetting - it's about that moment in time never shifting. Never distorting, never getting blotted out or re-imagined. About holding onto something you can't process in that instant, and taking all the time you need to process it. To revisit it, exactly the same, as many times as you need to. 

After all, photographs never change, but the way you feel about them does, over the days, the months, the decades. 

Perhaps that's why the cotton wool up the nose angle. The more shocking something is, the more time you need to examine it. Work out what the hell that feeling is and where it fits in your psyche. 

Most of these reels are compilations put together by people who didn't take the photographs themselves, but some people do share their own pictures. Maybe distasteful, maybe just a very reactionary urge to show something to the world and say 'Fucking hell, have you seen this? What's that about, then?' When you see something for the first time, it's shocking. When you see it a few times, it's disturbing. Eventually, it's just a curiosity. The power of a photograph, held privately or shared, to defeat the monster under our beds.

Right, well, got my second wind there. Should probably press on with it. 

Monday, 14 January 2019

Kigali Book Swap


Had a lovely afternoon yesterday, soaking up the sunshine at CasaKeza, my friend's Spanish restaurant in Kigali. Then these two wonderful people turned up, Rachael and Marisa, with a huge pile of books. It was Kigali's inaugural Book Swap Club. Every few weeks people will get together to swap titles they love. Books are quite expensive here and you can't always find something you want to read, so it's a great idea. Who doesn't love a cup of coffee or an ice-cold smoothie on a sunny day, whilst bending back the cover of a well-loved paperback? Long may it continue.


Saturday, 12 January 2019

Burnout


This year, I'm really taking hold of my online communications.

Starting to feel like I have too many in-boxes: Gmail, Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, etc. Sometimes I read a message, then forget which platform it was on and have to search through them to find it again.

It really isn't good for anybody, especially a writer. Too easy to get distracted.

I'm employing two methods.

One is putting my phone on aeroplane mode unless specifically checking messages. I know this means people can't call me either, but if they can't get through, they can always message and I'll see it later in the day. I'm definitely more of a messager than a phone speaker.

The other useful tool I've discovered is Boomerang.

If you're using Gmail, I think you get this automatically, or it's an app you can install.

Boomerang has two helpful features. One is that it allows you to schedule posts. It helps with those people who always reply to e-mails instantly. You don't want to reply, because you know you'll get another e-mail in the next five minutes and feel compelled to reply again - and the cycle continues. This way, you can reply, then schedule your post to send later in the day, late at night, next morning or next week. 

But Boomerang's best feature is Pause Inbox. You can stop anything new coming into your in-box for the next few hours, or until tomorrow morning, or Monday morning. You can even set it to automatically load new messages at your chosen time once a day.

It really does make me feel much lighter and negates that compulsion to keep checking my in-box. I can get through everything in the morning, then turn it off for the rest of the day.

Provided I don't open up Facebook or Twitter, I'm hassle free and able to focus on more productive things. And, if I do find myself actively looking for a distraction, I can always unpause my in-box and reconnect my mobile to the network.

Thursday, 10 January 2019

Futuristic


Well, that's the three books I was hoping to re/publish in 2018: The Tangled Forest, Lucid and Creeper's Cottage.

There's one more experimental publication to come next month, but more on that nearer the time. 

So, back to writing.

And I must admit, I'm finding it hard.

I had another novel on the go. It's at around 70,000, but I left it alone for a long time after accidentally deleting a couple of chapters.



It's a story split between Victorian England and the modern day, exploring the development of photography and how it can help us to evaluate death and mortality. I really want to finish it, but it's proving difficult to get back on the horse. I'm trying to eke it forward by 1,000 a day at the moment, until I can pick up the thread again.

In the meantime, I'm taking the advice of other writers and trying to get another project underway. It sometimes helps to have more than one thing to work on, so that you don't hit a wall and have no place else to climb. 

Unfortunately, I haven't chosen an easy one there, either. It's an idea I've had on my mind for a while. An attempt at futuristic sci-fi. Only, writing the future is even harder than writing the past if you want to do it in a realistic way. If it's post-apocalyptic fiction in which anything could happen, you have a lot more freedom, but I want this to be a continuum of our current path. If it were historical fiction, I'd be nose-deep in archive footage and Wiki pages about ancient civilisations. As it is, I'm watching lots of videos about technological advancements and predictive simulations. It's pretty tough because, when you research the past, only one history happened (although you can write that from many angles). Yet, when you look to the future, a thousand possibilities are all fairly feasible.

With historical fiction, you pause every page or so to look up a fashion detail, or whether a certain food was available, or whether people used a certain word. With the future, it's just as complicated. You find yourself stopping every sentence to think 'she opened the door - yes, but how did she open it? A key? A fingerprint? A mind transplant? Do they even have doors?' It's exhausting. 

And we're not even talking that far ahead. The internet was invented in my lifetime. It feels like only yesterday I was playing Lemmings in magenta and cyan on a CGA monitor. I even remember loading games on a tape cassette. Now look where we are in such a short amount of time.

Life two hundred years ago is as alien as two hundred years in the future. No antibiotics, computers, cars, aeroplanes, supermarkets, televisions, telephones. Iraq, Israel and Pakistan didn't even exist. 

I'm still not sure I can write this, but I'm going to give it a tentative try. If it fails, I do have another historical fiction to fall back on.

But I think I should at least have a go. And the universe agrees. This morning there was a very interesting article on the Beeb: The Perils of Short-termism.

Tuesday, 8 January 2019

Creeper's Cottage


A modest offering at the altar of Hookland:

“Hookland is that place you visited once, but cannot find on any map. Hookland is ghost soil.” – David Southwell

Barrowcross Moor is a barren, unforgiving place where trees twist in strange formations against ferocious winds. There is a new owner up at Briar Hall, some distant relative of Charles Evermore who died over forty years ago. 


The new master has new ideas. He’s going to build a Living Museum, and he needs Jenna Ashley’s construction company to help him do it. They’re going to gather up all the old and unwanted buildings around Hookland and rehome them on the Evermore estate.


As the project progresses, Jenna and her best friend Adam start to realise that it isn’t only the buildings that are getting a new lease of life. There is something primal at work between the bricks and mortar of these forgotten spaces.  

“A slow burn of Hookland weirdness, atmospheric and inventive. Fantastical, yet rooted in realism that is alive with mystery and rich with history.” – Ralph Pullins, author of Antiartists


“Chilling and darkly atmospheric.” – Laine Cunningham, author of Beloved: A Supernatural Thriller

You don't need to know anything about Hookland to enjoy this, but a little bit of background might help. The lovely David Southwell has created a mythical county in England where all the folklore you've ever heard of lives and breathes. His creation is creative commons and all artists of any walk - authors, photographers, painters, radio broadcasters - are welcome to come and play. He's in the process of completing the Phoenix Guide to Strange England, which will be a guidebook to the county. I was lucky enough to get my hands on a few rough cuts and the writer's guide, so a lot of those places have been incorporated into this novel. 

This edition contains a very rough-and-ready first draft of the map by David. Unfortunately, due to health reasons, an updated version will have to wait for a future edition. I hope this humble introduction to Barrowcross Moor will inspire others to write stories in and around Hookland. 

You can pick it up in paperback and Kindle formats internationally.


And thanks to José Bethencourt Suárez  for the fabulous cover. 

For more on Hookland, check out the Twitter feed or keep an eye on the website which is under construction.


Friday, 4 January 2019

Gisovu Adventures


Happy 2019 everyone. Hope it turns out to be everything you desire. Just got back from a fabulous adventure visiting one of the world's most beautiful tea estates right up in the mountains of Karongi. You can read about it here. Wonderful way to start the New Year.


Tuesday, 1 January 2019

Oath, Boast, Toast 2019


Time for my annual oath, boast and toast. It feels like it's been a fairly hectic year this year. Started slow but built momentum. The main highlights have included:

  • Giving a TEDx talk at the University of Luxembourg, which I was roped into by my lovely friend Harris. It was my first time in Luxembourg, and then my first time in The Hague, visiting my cousin Tamsin and partner Guido, who visited me in Rwanda last year. Had a fascinating time exploring the Escher Museum. Giving the talk was slightly terrifying, but I'm so glad I did it. You can find the full list of talks here.
  • Another, much less stressful, trip was to Idjwi with Maia and Taia. Idjwi is a huge island in the middle of Lake Kivu, between Rwanda and DRC. It's legendary as a place where unwed pregnant Rwandan girls would be thrown overboard in days of old. They'd wash up on Idjwi and Congolese men would come down to the shore to pick up a ready-made family. Getting there was a truly epic journey from Kigali, up to Gisenyi, taking the ferry down to Idjwi, staying at the north of the island before taking a two-hour moto to the south, a small boat across to DRC mainland to visit Lwiro Chimpanzee Sanctuary, a taxi down to Bukavu, then across to Cyangugu and a seven-hour bus ride back up to Kigali. An intrepid adventure. We also did a brief safari to Akagera earlier in the year. 
  • Also went back to the UK for the first time in two-and-a-half years. My first time experiencing British summer in about five years, and it was one of the hottest on record. I went back to attend Hollowell Steam Rally, a local village festival. Also celebrated my mum's birthday and had a lovely time wandering along the pier at Cleavedon and exploring country gardens in the Cotswolds.
  • Harris's family came to visit and we went up to Gisenyi for a few days. One of the most incredible memories of this year was our friend Sameer showing us around the tea estate he manages. That's where Yorkshire Tea comes from. We drove right out into the middle of nowhere, surrounded by swathes of rolling tea fields and the edges of Gishwati Forest. 
  • On the piano front, it's been a busy year. Unfortunately we're still quite a way off completing the first prototype, but we're getting there. Impressively, I strung an entire piano this year. Definitely a first. Désire has done amazing things with wood. I even took a mad trip down to Bukavu, DRC, to check out a grand piano - just for fun. You can follow the piano escapades at Kigali Keys. We've also done a few interviews, including with BBC World Service. For Christmas, I bought a Young Chang to massacre whilst I wait to put my Lirika back together. Hoping my extremely talented friend Bonanni will teach me to play.
  • On the writing front, not so good. I've done a lot of reading but not much writing. Though I have taken my first leap into self-publishing. I re-released Lucid when the rights ran out, and put out a short story collection called The Tangled Forest. Was hoping to have Hookland out before Christmas, too, but the post to Rwanda took a lifetime for the proof to arrive, so it'll be out first thing January.
The work I have been doing for other people this year has been fairly fulfilling. I've been making a pretty good living as an editor during the last half of the year, working for a number of development agencies worldwide on topics from global immunisation to preventing gender-based violence and promoting human rights. Even worked for the UN for the first time, training civil society organisations. Also ghostwrote a biography and helped edit the story of an inspirational cancer survivor. I'm lucky I get to earn a living through words, even when my own stories aren't flowing.

In other news, this might be my last year in Rwanda. I went to renew my visa the other day and instead of the usual two years, they handed me a one-year visa. Not sure what that means. I'm assuming it's nothing terrible, otherwise they wouldn't have given me a visa at all, but it's a little unsettling. So, this year is devoted to enjoying my time here whilst it lasts, and considering how to relocate five cats if it doesn't...

Anyway, down to business.

Last year's oath was to finish the piano. That's more work than we expected, but I have strung an entire piano for the first time. Dead proud of that.

I guess, this year...

Oath

I'll go to Italy to see my lovely friends Martine and Rauíri. It's been far too long.

*drink*

Boast

I strung an entire piano! And did a TEDx talk! Double whammy.

*drink*

Toast

To my family and good friends, who are all brilliant in their unique and freakish ways. And to my five cats, who are insane, murderous objects of chaos, but forever entertaining.

*drink*